Biggest Storylines Heading into Michigan's Fall Camp
Brady Hoke welcomes his team to fall camp this weekend. Michigan is looking to forget last season’s 7-6 finish that forced Hoke to shuffle his defensive staff and hire a new offensive coordinator. The changes have stopped the grumbling in Ann Arbor for now, but pressure is mounting for Hoke to deliver a Big Ten title.
With scores of students foregoing season tickets, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, and Michigan’s weak home slate threatening to snap its consecutive attendance record, the focus now turns to the field, where Hoke faces a Big Ten division with both Michigan State and Ohio State blocking his team’s path to the Big Ten title game.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
Return of the Ground Game
Doug Nussmeier was hired away from Alabama to simplify the offense and get the running game back on track. He has a stable of solid running backs (De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green and Justice Hayes) but needs to rebuild the offensive line and find complementary receivers for Devin Funchess and emerging star Freddy Canteen. The injury of tight end Jake Butt (expected to return by the start of the Big Ten season) also needs to be addressed.
He has talented players, but few have game experience. If the running game struggles, will Michigan revert to overly depending on quarterback Devin Gardner?
Jake Ryan: Inside Man
Brady Hoke said in an interview with WTKA 1050-AM (via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com) that senior Jake Ryan was so dominant that teams were running plays away from him—the move to middle linebacker is designed to make Ryan unavoidable. It will also allow him to bring pressure up the middle and be in a better position to lead the offense.
Will Ryan be easier to block in the middle linebacker position? It’s a gamble that Hoke is willing to take.
Offensive Line: Work in Progress
The offensive line will depend on how sophomores Erik Magnuson, Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden improve from last season. Expect Magnuson and Bosch to be the tackles, with Kalis and Braden at the interior guard positions. Juniors Graham Glasgow and Jack Miller will battle at center.
Michigan’s whole season depends on how successful the offensive line will be in implementing Nussmeier’s inside zone scheme. Last year the line struggled to find consistency, and the team skidded to a 7-6 finish.
Can the offensive line stay healthy and improve over last year’s group? If not, Michigan will struggle again this season.
Jabrill Peppers: 5-Star Power
The first question during Big Ten Media Day was about top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers. Hoke will try to ease him into the lineup, initially getting him reps at nickel defensive back, but the questions will keep coming until Peppers is a full-time starter.
Both Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have said that Peppers will play wherever he is needed most, per Baumgardner of MLive.com. On this year’s team, that could mean on special teams and offense.
Wherever he plays, the spotlight will find him.
Devin Gardner: Faster, Better?
Devin Gardner is fully recovered from the foot injury that forced him to miss last season’s bowl game.
“I knew it was fully healed when I could keep up with our running backs during drills,” Gardner said at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago earlier this week. “The doctors said it would take some time and you never know how long.”
With Gardner back up to full speed, attention now shifts to his grasp of Doug Nussmeier’s offense. He said Nussmeier has simplified the offense, and that should help as the team prepares for the season-opener.
Michigan needs his experience to help stabilize an offense that will feature new starters along the offensive line and at wide receiver.
The biggest story heading into camp is Gardner’s ability to juggle the new offense and new personnel—the team’s season will depend on it.