Follow @LBeasley313After having a good camp over the last three weeks, the Michigan Wolverines are preparing to start the season off-in the right way this Saturday as they go up against Appalachian State, who they suffered a devastating loss to in 2007.
Going into their game against Appalachian State, their offensive depth chart is just about what you expect to be.
When it comes to the offensive line, Michigan listed true freshman Mason Cole as the starting left tackle, sophomore Erik Magnuson at left guard, sophomore Ben Braden at right tackle and junior Jack Miller at center. Now when it comes to the right guard spot, Michigan has currently listed senior Joey Burzynski or sophomore Kyle Bosch as the team’s starting right guard but that could potentiality change down the road once sophomore Kyle Kalis, comes back from his back injury.
Beyond the offensive line, Devin Gardner will be starting at quarterback while running back Derrick Green will line up in the backfield as the team’s No. 1 running back, ahead of teammate De’Veon Smith, who is second on the depth chart and Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson, who share the third spot.
Then at receiver, Michigan’s listed starters are junior Devin Funchess and sophomore Jehu Chesson, while junior Dennis Norfleet is listed as the No. 1 slot. Beyond that, sophomore Amara Darboh is listed behind Funchess, while freshman Freddy Canteen landed behind Chesson. Then you have junior AJ Williams listed as the No.1 tight end with red-shirt freshman Khalid Hill behind him at No.2.
Now when it comes to the Wolverines offense, many people still have questions and concerns, starting with Gardner and his ability to lead this offense at the quarterback position. While there will be always be those who doubt him, Hoke says Gardner has improved in a number of ways this off-season, starting with his consistency and leadership.
“Your quarterback in a lot of ways gets the good and bad.” Hoke speaking on Gardner. “I think the consistency that he has played with at times is what we are looking for. I think him understanding that throwing the ball away, is a good play and I’ve seen him do that more and more, which is awesome, instead of trying to force something. So from that standpoint, I think that consistency everyday, I think his leadership in the huddle is a hundred times better and I think his leadership over the team is a 100 times better.”
I must admit, I am eager to see Gardner this season. Watching Gardner in the open scrimmage a few weeks ago, I walked away seeing some improvements but I also walked away seeing some negative old habits. At times during the scrimmage, Gardner stared down his receiver, making it easy for the secondary to make plays on the ball. Then when he wasn’t staring down his receiver, he was at times, throwing the ball late, which once again put the defense in a position to succeed.
Nevertheless, I did see some improvement from Gardner. When given time in the pocket, he was able to make some nice throws, particularly two nice passes to tight end Devin Funchess. Of course, he showed the ability to make plays with his feet. However, I think the key thing for Gardner this season will be his ability to relax and take what the defense gives him. I’ve always felt like Gardner has a tendency to think too much and not let the game to come which is not uncommon since last season was his first year starting at quarterback with the Wolverines. However, if he comes into the this season relaxed and takes what the defense gives him, I think you will see a major improvement.
“I mean I feel like I was developing last year as a player and a leader.” Gardner said. “It was my first year starting at quarterback at probably the best program in the nation. So that was a learning process for me last year and coach Nuss has done a great job of helping me, with having a lot of control in the huddle and talking a lot and speaking to everybody and communicating. You know communication is so big in our offense, so I feel like I have done good job of embracing that and handling that.”
“I feel like improving as a leader was big thing for me moving forward and improving on trusting my teammates that they will make a lot of big plays and not putting so much pressure on myself to do it all. I feel like those two things I have worked on and gotten a lot better at.”
What I like most about Gardner’s statement is the fact that he understands that he has to allow himself to trust others to make plays, starting with wide receiver Devin Funchess, who is more than ready to show the country what he can do at the wide receiver position.
“I mean, yeah I’m excited but I just like playing the game of football.” Funchess speaking on his new role at wide receiver. “So I just got out there and give my best every Saturday, no matter what position playing and starting getting the job done for the team.”
I don’t know about you but when it comes to the wide receiver position, I like the depth that the Wolverines have going into the season and if you ask me, I think the versatility and depth of the Michigan’s receiving core will prove to be key as the season goes on.
However for the passing game to succeed, the running game must also succeed to bring balance to this new offense. As I mentioned above, Green is currently the team’s No. 1 running back, ahead of teammate De’Veon Smith who holds the No.2 spot and Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson who share the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. While many people look at the depth chart as big thing, let me say that their place on the depth chart, doesn’t change the fact that the Green, Smith, Hayes and Johnson all bring a lot to the table and to the offense as a whole.
“They are all different.” Hoke said. “Derrick brings an explosiveness in the hole with size, De’Veon’s mindset and mentality is to run you over. I think Justice out of the backfield with the ball in his hands, has been really good, protection for a guy who is not real big, has done a good job with it. Drake is every explosive speed wise and when he hits the hole.”
“I think what both of those guys [Green and Smith] have done, has been really productive. Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson have really been productive and just to see the improvement from that part of it, is exciting.”
Now I know what your thinking, how is the offense going to succeed at all, with all the continuous questions surrounding the offensive line. Well coach Hoke says that he is confident in how much this offensive line has improved since last season.
“I’m very confident in how those guys have progressed since the end of the last year.” Hoke speaking on the offensive line. “Through winter conditioning, the wight room, through spring ball and the summer, so I’m really confident with what these guys have done. We have to be good up front and dominate up front on both sides of the ball.”
While I can appreciate Hoke confidence about the offensive line, I must say that I am not sold. Coming out of Michigan’s open scrimmage, I am more convinced that the offensive line will come into the season inconsistent and not ready to go. When it came to pass protection, they allowed easy pressure, which forced Michigan quarterbacks like Devin Gardner and Shane Morris to have rush throws or scramble. Then if that wasn’t enough, the running game was obsolete because the offensive line didn’t provide any running lanes for the them.
Now I know some fans will say that we just need to give the offensive line time and normally I am all for patience but in this case, patience and time are not luxuries that the Wolverines have right now. Although, I have said this before, I will say it again, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how talented this Wolverine offense is, if the line doesn’t improve.
Nevertheless, I think there is a good chance for Michigan to have a solid season on the offensive side of the ball but if you ask me, their success or failure will be based on how they grow and get better each game and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmier agrees.
“We are nowhere near where we want to be.” Nussmier speaking on the growth of the Michigan’s offense. “We got to get better each and every day. Our guys, worked extremely hard and we have gotten better everyday. It doesn’t show, thats the thing with a young team you have to got to continue to preach. it may not show on every play but it’s about how you approach it and how you go about success and failure and how you continue to improve on a day-to-day basis. Just like everybody’s in our offense, I still feel we have a lot of growth and it’s going to be important through the season, that we grow each and every week.”
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
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