Michigan to start answering questions as football camp ratchets into high gear
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Positions that were settled -- quarterback, linebacker, safety -- remain that way. Positions with open competitions -- receiver, left guard, kick returner, punter -- remain fluid.
"They’re just running around in shorts," offensive coordinator Al Borges said last week. "Until somebody’s going to hit somebody and somebody’s going to do something, it’s really just kind of glorified aerobics."
Camp hit another gear Friday, when the Wolverines strapped on full pads for the first time and coach Brady Hoke cut his guys loose. He is about to find out a lot more regarding his team as it enters its second week of preseason workouts.
That's especially true for a team whose biggest problems reside on both sides of the line.
"I want to hear football," Hoke said, invoking a familiar refrain from last season. "I think that’s important because then the guys up front are getting off the ball and getting after each other, either creating some space for the back or we’re doing a good job of fitting the run."
Michigan will hold its first full-squad scrimmage sometime this week, and Hoke hopes to then begin whittling down some position battles.
That starts with left guard, which Hoke said he hopes to have decided in the next week. Candidates include sophomore walk-on Joey Burzynski -- who started the spring game -- and fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer. Freshman Kyle Kalis also is a possibility.
Now that players can hit, those guys should begin sorting themselves out.
Although the rest of the line positions are essentially settled, uncertainty abounds. Of the eight spots, only two feature the same starter as last year: Left tackle (Taylor Lewan) and right guard (Patrick Omameh).
When Michigan takes the Cowboys Stadium field for its season opener Sept. 1, with defending national champion Alabama toeing the other sideline, senior Ricky Barnum will be the starting center for the first time in his career.
Ditto for Michael Schofield at right tackle, Brennen Beyer at weak-side end, Jibreel Black at defensive tackle and Craig Roh at strong-side end.
By that standard, Will Campbell is the savvy vet. He will be making his second start at tackle.
That's one career start among six linemen at their current positions, with only three weeks to mesh before Michigan mixes it up with the fearsome lines of Alabama.
"Their offensive line maybe as good an offensive line I've coached against -- ever," Hoke said. "They're formidable."
So, it's going to be imperative the defense can settle in quickly now that the pads are on. Coordinator Greg Mattison said he's not sure yet if that will happen, but the foundation established last year certainly helps.
"You don’t know anything until the pads come on," he said. "Though, when you install the defenses, because there’s carryover -- they’re a lot more alert. They understand it a lot better. Last year at this time, it was probably like they were talking a foreign language.
"Now, they kind of understand it. When that happens, now you can get into the little things that make that defense better because they do understand it. I’ve been pleased with their awareness and their interest in learning.”
Elsewhere, position battles continue to rage at punter (between incumbent Will Hagerup and challenger Matt Wile) and receiver (between sophomore Jerald Robinson and freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson).
Hoke likely will be eager to close in on answers this week, as Michigan shifts to installing the Alabama game plan next week.
It's still uncertain if starting tailback Fitz Toussaint will play in that game, after missing the first week of practices due to an offseason drunken-driving arrest. He remains suspended indefinitely.
Michigan already has a contingency in place, though, with Borges all-but handing over the job to sophomore Thomas Rawls, one of the early stars of camp.
Weak-side defensive end Frank Clark also is suspended and not practicing, after being charged with second-degree home invasion. The new back-up there could be linebacker Jake Ryan or true freshman end Mario Ojemudia.
No one knows that answer yet -- not even coaches.
In other words, not a whole lot has changed in a week.
It soon will.