Defense may win championships, but a balanced football team is really the key to getting to said championship quality. Michigan won 10 games in 2015, but if it is going to make the next step up the ladder in the Big Ten and nationally, it is on offensive-minded head coach Jim Harbaugh to make this team more balanced.
A lot of that balance will hinge on a few key additions and subtractions being replaced by better players on offense in 2016. That includes a new quarterback, some changes along the offensive line and a recharged receiving game.
So, basically a step up from every aspect of the Wolverines offense (not that it was bad, but it could’ve been more helpful).
No question is bigger for the Michigan Wolverines heading in to fall camp than what is going to happen at quarterback. With one-year replacement Jake Rudock gone, Harbaugh must find a consistent starter and didn’t find a winner coming out of spring camp.
Instead, it appears to be a two-man race between Houston transfer John O’Korn and sophomore Wilton Speight. O’Korn certainly has the experience advantage, but Speight appeared to have the better spring on an individual level.
However, our guest on the talking10 podcast, Mlive.com Michigan beat reporter Nick Baumgardner believes that it will be the experience of O’Korn that eventually wins the day. If that is the case, Michigan coaches are going to need to see a quarterback who is better than a career that has seen him complete 56.4 percent of his passes for 4,068 yards and 34 touchdowns to 18 interceptions.
Unless something crazy happens, former highly touted recruit Shane Morris appears on the outside looking in for the third year in a row.
Chances are we aren’t going to get a real read on this battle given the closed-off nature of Michigan’s fall camp, so don’t believe anything you hear until we actually see someone go out and take the first snap of the opener.
While the overall running game needs an upgrade (just 8th in B1G last year), it has little to do with the talent on the field at the running back position. Senior De’Veon Smith is the unquestioned starter, after leading the team with 753 yards and six touchdowns last season.
But, it won’t be Smith alone at RB again this year as the top three rushers from last season are all back. That includes Drake Johnson and Ty Isaac. The trio combined for 1,229 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
The wildcard may be the entrance of freshman Kareem Walker, who was the No. 4 running back in the 2016 recruiting class. He has been in the program since January and could be the dynamic back this program needs now and in the future.
The key to a more successful season in 2016 seems to simply be more consistency and less injury issues. It also will have a lot to do with the play of the offensive line in front of them, as the running game steadily declined throughout the year to the point of averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in the final month of the season.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Look no further than the pass catchers of the Michigan Wolverines for the biggest strength of this offense heading in to 2016. With the likes of veteran wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt all back for a final season in Ann Arbor, there are plenty of helpful options for whomever wins the starting quarterback battle.
However, Chesson enters fall camp with a bit of an injury scare and may need some time to work in to the mix during camp. That opens the door for what is the biggest issue for this group — quality depth.
Grant Perry had the third best reception total for any wide receiver in 2015, racking up 14 catches for 128 yards and one touchdown in his freshman season.
Some depth could come from the likes of 2016 recruits Amir Mitchell (who has been on campus since January) and Dylan Crawford depending on how far along they are in development and the playbook. Given the lack of depth overall, there is likely a lot of help on the way from young receivers.
Change is afoot as long-time center Graham Glasgow graduated and former left tackle Mason Cole has been put in the critical position in the middle of the line for the 2016 season. This group also needs to put together a good season to match year after year of top recruiting talent coming on board along the offensive line.
The good news in Cole’s move is it has more to do with some impressive play from sophomore Grant Newsome at tackle and he will be the starting left tackle this season. Joining him on the left side of the line is senior Ben Braden.
Meanwhile, to Cole’s right will be a pair of seniors in Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson and this is the side of the line with the most to prove as they’ve been around and starting for most o the last three years with little to show for it.
Depth has become better, with the likes of Jon Runyan and Nolan Ulizio taking up spots in the two deep as just sophomores and Juwann Bushell-Beatty appearing like he is close to turning the corner after two years buried on the depth chart.
Our Projected Starting Lineup
WR: Amara Darboh, Sr.
WR: Jehu Chesson, Sr.
TE: Jake Butt, Sr.
LT: Grant Newson, So.
LG: Ben Braden, Sr.
C: Mason Cole, Jr.
RG: Kyle Kalis, Sr.
RT: Erik Magnuson, Sr.
RB: De’Veon Smith, Sr.
FB: Henry Poggi, Sr.
QB: Wilton Speight, Jr.