Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 52 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 51 Kyle Kalis and his linemates need to perform at a higher level for U-M's offense to succeed. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Top Five Question Marks The Wolverines finished with 29 sacks in 2014 to rank 42nd in the country at 2.42 per game after placing No. 64 nationally (25) in 2013, up from No. 77 (22) the previous season. Seventeen of the sacks came from returning players, so collectively there is some proven capability to get to the quarterback. Senior Mario Ojemudia and junior Taco Charlton both notched 3.5 sacks and have the skill set to shine in that role. However, the Wolverines have not had a consistent threat off the edge since Brandon Graham (2009). Graham tied for the Big Ten lead in 2008 conference games with eight sacks and was second a year later with 8.5 despite often being double-teamed. No Wolverine has recorded more than 5.5 since (Brennen Beyer last year and Ryan Van Bergen in 2011). Ojemudia and Charlton will get their opportunities in that role this fall, but there's also been plenty of buzz about redshirt freshman Lawrence Marshall. All should benefit from an interior line that could demand a few double teams and be among the Big Ten's best. 3 Can special teams help Michigan win a few games in 2015? 1 Is there enough talent on offense to consistently move the ball? Great offenses start with stellar offensive lines, and while there's experience left to right, there's still plenty to prove. Fifth-year senior Graham Glasgow is the rock at center, and the for- mer walk-on might be U-M's best lineman. However, offseason trouble has left him a mistake away from being booted from the team, and there's not much depth behind him. Redshirt junior right guard Kyle Kalis should be a star in his fourth year, but he's been incon- sistent, and redshirt junior Ben Braden struggled at right tackle to the point that he was moved to guard for the last few days of spring practice. There are still plenty of question marks up front, and they're accompanied by uncertainty at the skill positions. There's no obvious game breaker at wide receiver (redshirt junior Amara Darboh is the leading returner with 473 yards and two scores), three of four potential starting running backs (junior Derrick Green, redshirt junior Drake Johnson and redshirt sophomore Ty Isaac) have been hampered by injuries, and junior Jake Butt is the only proven pass receiving threat at the tight end position. And the biggest concern is quarterback, where Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock appears to be the most likely candidate to start the opener at Utah without having taken a snap with his future teammates. 2 Will Michigan be able to rush the passer consistently? Mario Ojemudia, who recorded 3.5 sacks in 2014, is one of the players the Wolverines need to provide a consistent pass rush this fall. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL First-year special teams coach John Baxter is known for being a game changer. His units blocked seven kicks in both 2010 and 2011 at USC, and 84 in his 13 seasons at Fresno State, including a national-best 49 from 2002-09. Furthermore, Fresno State led the nation in the fewest punt return yards allowed in 2004 and 2005, while return man A.J. Jefferson led the nation in kickoff return average (35.8 yards per runback) in 2007. Michigan's defense appears strong enough to compete with some of the best in the rugged Big Ten. The offense, though, seems to lack playmakers, and the field position game could be huge while head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno search for ways to get it in gear. Enter Baxter and his area of expertise. Redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers was an elite return man in high school and could get a look there, and Baxter has proven he can get the most out of his special teams when it comes to hidden yardage. 4 Who gets the carries at running back? Michigan returns three backs who averaged 4.8 yards per carry or more in junior De'Veon Smith (519 yards, 4.8 per carry), Green (471, 5.7) and Johnson (361, 6.0), plus Isaac also figures to be in the hunt after missing much of spring with injuries. Johnson might be the odds-on favorite if he's healthy, but there are no guarantees following his second ACL tear, suffered at Ohio State in last year's season finale. Isaac wasn't able to show much of what he could do this spring, while Green was slowed by a shoulder injury. Like his mentor, Bo Schembechler, Harbaugh demands that his running backs be fierce blockers. That alone may give Smith the edge in playing time — and as much as Harbaugh likes to use the fullback, expect fifth-year senior Joe Kerridge to get a few more carries there. True freshmen and former four-star recruit Alex Malzone is one of four players who will be in the mix for the starting quarterback job this fall. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 5 Who's the quarterback? Two players — junior Shane Morris, who emerged from spring as the No. 1 guy, and Rudock — appear to be the two most likely candidates, with the Iowa transfer the odds-on favorite. Much stranger things have happened than a talented freshman emerging to take the reins in year one, though — in fact, there have been several first-year signal-callers who have thrived, and the number seems to grow each year. Albuquerque, N.M., pro-style quarterback Zach Gentry was Texas' top prospect for a reason last year, and the 6-6, 230-pounder has all the tools to become a great one. He'll arrive at Michigan this summer, where he and four-star, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., frosh Alex Malzone will also prep for fall competition. De'Veon Smith, who rushed for 471 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry a year ago, has the early edge for playing time in Michigan's crowd- ed backfi eld. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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