All week long we are talking everything Michigan Wolverines football for the 2017 season. Following another double-digit win total season and a whole lot of disappointment, can the Wolverines capture that elusive Big Ten division title and get to Indianapolis for the first time?
Preview Week: Lessons from 2017 |
Part of the answer comes from understanding what is happening with the offensive side of the ball. Up next on our preview week happens to be just that — a look at the state of the Wolverines offense heading in to the 2017 season.
Key Players Returning: Wilton Speight, QB; Brian Cole, LT; Ben Bredeson, LG
Key Players Gone: Jake Butt, TE; Jehu Cheson, WR; Amara Darboh, WR; De’Veon Smith, RB; Erik Magnuson, RT
So, let’s get down to understanding what the offense will look like.
The Good News is…
This was the Big Ten’s best offense last season. No seriously, it was. Michigan averaged 40.3 points per game to lead the conference and its 66 total touchdowns on offense were tied with both Ohio State and Penn State for the lead.
Sure, a lot of the parts of that leading offense are gone, but after waiting years for an explosive offense, the Wolverines faithful finally saw one. It’s leader is back, with quarterback Wilton Speight looking ready to move forward after his first season as a starter.
Additionally, there’s talent back at running back in Chris Evans. He ran for 614 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman season last year. There’s no secret that the running game is the key to Michigan’s success or failure and in Evans they appear to be in good hands (and legs).
Oh, and some guy named Jim Harbaugh is still at the controls along with Tim Drevno. I’ll take that combination every day of the week.
The Bad News is…
Outside of a returning Wilton Speight at quarterback there isn’t a whole lot coming back as known quantities at skill positions. Wide receiver has been gutted by graduation, the best tight end in the Big Ten also graduated and De’Veon Smith did the same. So, that means all the pieces to the puzzle around the quarterback are changing.
In total, Michigan is missing seven starters and 14 letterwinners from last season’s team. That includes Jehu Cheson and Amara Darboh at wide receiver, Jake Butt at tight end and the aforementioned Smith at running back.
Talk about brutal.
Even if you acknowledge the fact that Michigan has been really good on the recruiting trail, history suggests this kind of change can be really difficult to manage. It isn’t like Michigan hasn’t been a well-oiled recruiting machine in the past either. Scores of four and five-star players have come in to the program in the past two regimes and weren’t successful.
It should be a pause for concern this time around too, if for no other reason than the pure numbers of players gone.
The Good News is…
The two players returning at offensive line appear to be the best two players left from last season’s unit. Sophomore Ben Bredeson is the real deal at left guard and left tackle Brian Cole likely should’ve and easily could’ve left after his junior season.
With three other starters to replace, having two rock-solid players on one side of line is certainly a help.
Additionally, Bredeson and Cole were adept at opening holes for a really good run game. Michigan finished last season second in yards per game and scored 41 rushing touchdowns to run away (pun intended) with that stat in the Big Ten. Michigan was fourth in the conference, giving up just 22 sacks on the year as well.
That’s not the only good news here either, as we’re about to see if Greg Frey’s tutelage of the offensive linemen behind the scenes will pay off. It’s one thing to have three or four really good offensive linemen in the fold. It’s a totally different thing to show you really have some depth.
If depth was or is really there, we’ll see this offensive line not miss a beat from last season. That’s because freshman Michael Oneweu and sophomore Jon Runyan are likely to take over on the right side with exactly zero career starts between the two of them. Senior Patrick Kugler went from potential transfer to starting center this offseason as well, so it appears the starting group is there.
We’ll just have to wait and see just how quickly this group gels and moves piles.
The Bad News is…
Everything had to fall in place just exactly right for this team to be competing on the level everyone expects of them in 2017. Simply put, winning a Big Ten title is an annual expectation, and it may not be a realistic one this season.
What if the offensive line can’t stay healthy? There really isn’t a lot of depth there right now. Chris Evans isn’t healthy? Is Karan Higdon a featured back that can take over or is redshirt freshman Kareem Walker ready to go too…I think you are seeing the point here.
Everything has to go right for this offense to help make this team a success in 2017. One key injury or a few small ones and Michigan could be in some serious trouble on the offensive side of the ball this season.
What it All Means for 2017?
With this team going through so much change, it could either be a really good or really bad reset. In fact, this season may be all about testing just how good the coaching is on this staff.
Can the offensive line get things together? Are young skill position players ready to go? What about the growth or lack thereof at quarterback?
If the answers to those questions are all positive then look for the Wolverines to be a success in 2017. If the answers are a mixed bag or negative, this season is not going to be fun to watch in Ann Arbor. Simply put, the thought of “next man up” is going to be put to a severe test this season for the Maize ‘n Blue offense.