Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 52 of 179

Wilton Speight started strong in his first nine starts before get- ting hurt at Iowa, completing 64.5 percent of his throws for 2,053 yards and 15 touchdowns against three interceptions. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Top Five Question Marks 1. Will Michigan be strong enough at quarterback to win a championship? This was the number one question last year, and it remains so heading into this season. Redshirt junior Wilton Speight exceeded expectations early in the year and was the reason U-M stayed somewhat close in the Orange Bowl loss to Florida State when the offensive line was a sieve, but he also had some big turnovers and missed throws with the game on the line. Michigan needs a quarterback who can win a game or two when the running attack isn't working and one who can avoid the big, game-changing interceptions like we saw in a loss at Ohio State last year. Speight didn't impress in the spring game, and if redshirt freshman Brandon Peters somehow beats him out this fall, U-M will be starting a first-year guy under center … not ideal. 2. Can the offensive line become a strength? This remains a big question mark for the third year in a row, even with new per- sonnel. Senior Mason Cole moves back to left tackle from center due to junior left tackle Grant Newsome's redshirt, the result of a gruesome injury. The left side seems solid with Cole and sophomore Ben Bredeson, but the center position and the right side are up for grabs. There was a time Michigan lines were held to a higher standard than "adequate," but it hasn't gotten back there yet under head coach Jim Harbaugh. It will eventually, but it's a stretch to believe this will be the year — and given that a good line can make the difference late in games, that's a concern. 3. Can the back end of the defense hold up in defensive coordinator Don Brown's scheme? There's zero chance Brown plays a lot of zone or changes his schemes to pro- tect the young corners, so expect guys like sophomores Lavert Hill and David Long to be tested early and often. Penn State, for one, made a living on the deep ball last year, and it often worked. Throw in a couple of new safeties and potential communication issues, and there's a lot of uncertainty in the U-M back four. 4. Can the young kickers get the job done? The Wolverines will have two new kickers handling placekicking and punting duties, and the most likely replacements are freshmen. Redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin has a huge leg, but he struggled at times in high school in pressure situations. He did have a good spring, however, and should be able to handle kickoffs, as well. True freshman Brad Robbins will be called upon to punt, and the nation's No. 1 prep certainly has the leg. But there's no telling how freshmen will react to the pressure of playing in front of 110,000- plus people on Saturday afternoons. Several scholarship kickers have lost their jobs to walk-ons over the years, so these guys enter the picture with a world of potential but no guarantees. 5. Can the Wolverines find big-play threats on offense? Moving the chains and grinding out first downs is great if you can do it, but the margin for error — a drive-stopping penalty, a turnover — increases with every play. Big gains on offense are a must, and though U-M seems to have that threat in running back Chris Evans, who showed it off with a highlight-reel, 30-yard touchdown run against Florida State in the Orange Bowl, none of U-M's returning receivers have caught a pass longer than 22 yards. True freshmen Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones have great po- tential, but even the best Michigan rookie receivers weren't world beaters in their first year. A few of the U-M pass catchers are going to have to play beyond their years for the offense to reach its potential. THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 51

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