|Erick Lehman/Maize and Blue Nation|
It’s never too early to look ahead to next year’s team. For Wolverine fans it is without a doubt never too early, especially after the team’s 41-7 shellacking of the Florida Gators next year. So here is a position breakdown of what next season’s team could look like. Obviously we are still a month away from National Signing Day, which will be February 3rd, and after NSD the outlook could look much different but hey, let’s look anyways because who isn’t excited about the future of the program.
So we are going to start off with really the only position that isn’t solidified, or close to being solidified. Houston transfer John O’Korn will be eligible to play, O’Korn was able to practice all season with the Wolverines so he has a firm grasp on the system and will be able to run it cleanly from start to finish if he is named the starter. Nobody has seen O’Korn in person as he wasn’t around for the Spring Game and only worked in practice, but the coaches have raved about him and bigger media outlets have noted coaches and head coach Jim Harbaugh love him. O’Korn won the starting job at Houston in 2013 after the original starter ended his career due to concussions. O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In his second year at Houston, he was benched and remained the backup, finishing the season with 951 yards six touchdowns and eight interceptions. In total at Houston, O’Korn threw for 4,068 yards with 34 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in roughly two and a half seasons. Back in June, O’Korn was tabbed as one of the best “next” quarterbacks by 247 Sports. O’Korn will be eligible for two seasons with the Wolverines.
Shane Morris recently announced he will return to Michigan and compete for the starter spot his last two seasons. It seems unlikely that Morris will see considerable playing time for the Wolverines, but he could be a formidable backup quarterback for a couple of seasons. Unfortunately for Morris, his time at Michigan he will likely go down as the quarterback who went back in after getting concussed against Minnesota.
Wilton Speight played here and there in Michigan blowouts this season serving as the true backup to Jake Rudock. Speight filled in for Rudock at Minnesota and led the Wolverines down the field before tossing the eventual game winning score. While Speight didn’t light the world on fire, he showed at times his arm strength that accompanies his elite size. Speight has a chance to be a sneaky competitor to O’Korn.
Alex Malzone and Zach Gentry both took redshirts this season, and will be available for four more seasons for the Wolverines. The logjam at the position makes it all the more likely that Gentry will switch positions. It was reported that the 6’7 quick moving quarterback had worked out at tight end during bowl practice, and the likely scenario is that he switched officially to tight end this spring and works behind All-American Jake Butt and learns a thing or two. Malzone was someone Michigan fans thought could win the job heading into the Spring Game, but really did not dazzle. He now has a full season of the scheme under his belt, and could be yet another sneaky competitor to the heir apparent O’Korn.
Brandon Peters will be joining the team when the winter semester starts as an early enrollee and will have a chance to get a grasp on the playbook and make an appearance in the spring game. Peters has already said he is fine with receiving a redshirt in his first season on campus, which is almost guaranteed to happen at this point. Peters had a remarkable senior season in high school, and hopefully picks up the college game quickly, he could step in as a sophomore or junior.
With the graduate transfer quarterback being the big thing in college football today, you cannot rule that out. Harbaugh wants to win, and if the best position for his team to win right now is to bring in another grad transfer he just may do so to allow the other quarterbacks to learn from another seasoned veteran. The biggest name that has been linked to the Wolverines thus far has been BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill originally committed to Jim Harbaugh while he was at Stanford before going on his mission trip, and eventually quarterbacking the BYU Cougars. Hill was a Heisman contender prior to this past season before his season ended with a Lisfranc fracture. Injuries have plagued hill most of his college career. While the Hill transfer may not happen, and may be a longshot, it is a possibility for the Wolverines.
DeVeon Smith and Drake Johnson will both return to Ann Abror next season as seniors. Karan Higdon who had some carries throughout the season will be back as sophomore, as will Ty Isaac who will be a junior. Derrick Green is most likely to transfer as he never really got going under Harbaugh and seemed to be in his doghouse most of the seasons. Top rated running back recruit Kareem Walker will make his way onto campus, and could work himself into a timeshare with Smith and Johnson. The running back position is another logjam for the Wolverines, but it’s a good problem to have. Smith and Johnson are two different running styles, while Higdon is more balanced. Walker could come out light it up, or he could work slowly into the offense and develop into a star once the returners ahead of him graduate. Kingston Davis is another recruit who like Higdon could come in a get carries here and there. Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma are both graduating after having nice seasons under Harbaugh. Wyatt Shallman is likely the next man up. Shallman is listed as a running back on the roster, but the 6’3 244 pounder is a fullback.
The Wolverines will return their top two receivers in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, both will be seniors. The amount they developed throughout the season was astonishing, and they can only get better from here. With a quarterback that won’t be afraid to attack opposing defenses and throw it downfield they will likely put up big numbers. Grant Perry looked great against Florida and is poised to be a menace in the slot next season. Freddy Canteen and Drake Harris are both capable of stepping in as well and making plays. The Wolverines will also welcome in three freshman wide receivers (as of today) in Ahmir Mitchell, Nate Johnson, and Brad Hawkins.
All-American tight end Jake Butt announced he will return for his senior season, adding yet another elite target for whoever takes over at quarterback for the Wolverines. Returning with Butt will be Ian Bunting, Khalid Hill, Henry Poggi, and Ty Wheatley. Basically the entire tight end group is returning, and might be the most talented group in the country. As mentioned earlier, Zach Gentry is likely to make the switch to tight end and he could add another dimension as a solid catch and run tight end.
Graham Glasgow is the only offensive lineman that the Wolverines will lose heading into the 2016 season. Meaning Kyle Kalis, Eric Magnuson, Mason Cole, and Ben Braden will all return next year presumably as starters. The Wolverines will also return Grant Newsome, Jon Runyan Jr., Juwann Bushell-Beaty, Patrick Kugler, Blake Bars, and David Dawson. As well as bringing in recruits Ben Bredeson, and Michael Onwenu. The offensive line is looking like it could be a strong point for the Wolverines next season, something that has not been said about a Michigan O-Line in quite some time. Bredeson is one of the top offensive lineman in this year’s recruiting class and could see time as a freshman. Shifting will likely be needed across the line as the Wolverines will be without a center. However, Runyan Jr. could win the job in the spring.
As of right now Mario Ojemudia is the only causality the Wolverines will be suffering. Willie Henry applied to the NFL advisory board for the NFL draft, but has not yet decided whether or not he will forgo his final year of eligibility to go. Ryan Glasgow will return after a late season injury in the middle of the defensive line. Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton, Lawrence Marshall, Matt Godin, Bryan Mone, and Maurice Hurst will all return to anchor a deep defensive line for the Wolverines. Carlo Kemp could see time as a freshman on the defensive line, or could drop to an outside linebacker from time to time. Ron Johnson and Rashad Weaver are two more defensive line recruits who have already committed to Michigan, and could see time rotating in.
The only position other than quarterback that isn’t clearly solidified. It will be the weak point of the defense, as of right now. The Wolverines will graduate Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, and Royce Jenkins-Stone. Returning players will be Ben Gedeon, Allen Gant, Jaren Wangler, Noah Furbush, and Mike McCray. The Wolverines will bring in a few recruits that will push for playing time. Devin Bush, Dyatrious Johnson, and Sean McKeon could all see playing time for the thin linebacking core that the Wolverines will field. New defensive coordinator Don Brown will have his work cut out for him with the linebackers.
Michigan has their own version of the No Fly Zone, and they’re returning for 2016. Jourdan Lewis announced his return, a healthy Jabrill Peppers will be back as will Channing Stribling, Jeremy Clark, Dymonte Thomas, and Delano Hill. Brian Cole worked out at safety during bowl practice and was raved about by his teammates, while Tyree Kinnel could make an impact as a rotation guy. Sir Patrick Scott, Antwaine Richardson, Devin Gil, and Josh Metellus are all incoming recruits who will be playing behind some top notch talent. This is without a doubt the best secondary in the country and will create turnovers if opposing teams try and throw the ball on them.
Michigan will be without a punter as Blake O’Neill will be graduating. O’Neill was a graduate transfer from Weber State. Andrew David was a highly touted kicker when signed last season and could take over the place kicking duties while Kenny Allen moves to punter. Jabrill Peppers is likely to handle all the returning duties yet again for the Wolverines while Drake Harris may also be back deep on kick returns.
This team will without a doubt come into next season with an extremely talented team. The defense should be another top notch group, and if the linebacker situation is figured out early in spring, then the defense could easily be the best unit in the country. It is going to be an exciting offseason and I, like every other Wolverine fan is counting down the days until the Spring Game and Saturday September 3rd.