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Michigan Spring Preview 2015: Harbaugh Homecoming a major rebuild

(Over the next few weeks we’ll be digging in to each Big Ten team as spring football gets closer to a reality)

Spring is a time where hope is renewed for just about every college football program, but nowhere in the Big Ten is hope bigger than at the University of Michigan. After all, the program’s favorite son is coming home to coach his alma mater.

Previous Previews: Illinois |

Of course, we’re talking about Jim Harbaugh, but the honeymoon phase is only going to last so long…probably as long as it takes for him to lose his first game. Good thing there’s no such thing as losing the spring game, or is there?

Harbaugh will look to avoid the problems that plagued the Wolverines over the last few years this spring. That means righting a sinking ship full of plenty of highly regarded recruits. Just how long will it take? Michigan spring football will go a long way towards answering that very question and a few more too.

 

Spring Football Starting Date: Feb. 24th

Spring Football Game Date: April 4th

Key Returning Players: Derrick Green, RB; Amara Darboh, WR; Mason Cole, LT; Blake Countess, CB; Mario Ojemudia, DE

Key Losses: Jake Ryan, LB; Devin Gardner, QB; Raymon Taylor, S

 

Wolverines Spring To-Do List:

– Find an Offensive Line: It’s not secret that the biggest reason the Brady Hoke era failed is because he failed to build and develop a quality offensive line during the final two years in Ann Arbor. However, he left behind a ton of 4-star talent along the line and with the right coaching one has to think something would click with a group of players that highly thought of coming out of high school.

Most thought that would click last season with the coaching change that happened on the offensive side of the ball. However, the play of the offensive line wasn’t much better than it was with the previous offensive coaching staff in place. Michigan went from averaging 125.7 yards per game in 2013 to 162.8 yards per game. Sure, a 30-yard a game difference may seem like a lot, but not so good when you consider the touchdown production dropped from 27 in 2013 to just 17 rushing touchdowns last season.

So, perhaps it is great news that USC’s run game coordinator and offensive line coach, Tim Drevno, is now the offensive coordinator at Michigan. The question will be if he can turn around a line that wasn’t great even with a coaching turnover before last season too.

Michigan quarterback Shane Morris (7) throws a pass in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 59-9. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

Michigan quarterback Shane Morris (7) throws a pass in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 59-9. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

– Find a Quarterback: What the Maize ‘N Blue need to avoid is a quarterback group that feels more like being called up to the bidding area on the Price is Right. That very well could happen with Devin Gardner gone and Shane Morris unable to take his big opportunity and run with it last season.

Although, to be fair to Morris, he isn’t exactly the type to be running around for his life either and that offensive line wasn’t helping him be the pocket passer he is. So, perhaps this battle will go as the offensive line goes.

Still, there is some potential in this group with sophomore Wilton Speight showing promise as a freshman last season and with Harbaugh’s hand-picked guy — 4-star Zach Gentry — arriving in the summer it promises to be a long-term battle for the starting job.

However, it would be ideal if either Morris or Speight come out of spring ball with a firm grasp on the job, but given all that needs work around them that could be a big ask.

– Who Will Lead the Defense: Jake Ryan was the heart and soul of the Michigan Wolverines defense for the last four years. So, his graduation won’t just hurt in terms of production it will hurt in leadership and building a defense that’s a cohesive unit.

It also doesn’t help that there isn’t a very strong personality or leader that really emerged on that side of the ball last season. Blake Countess could be that type of guy, but he’s out there playing on the island of cornerback.

Spring ball will be as much about chemistry and leadership as it will be about specific job duties and depth chart stuff for the Michigan defense. The talent and production have been there enough to know this group will be the better of the two coming in to spring, but will it be once spring is over? That all depends on finding that guy who will take on the leadership role as well as Ryan did throughout his career.

– What Role Does Jabrill Peppers Have: Last season’s biggest recruit ended up injured and redshirting, so the hype machine around former 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers will have a whole offseason to get ramped back up. The question is, will Peppers force his way on the field this season or will he continue to play a smaller role like he was going to last season?

After all, Jourdan Lewis and Blake Countess are back as starters. However, there isn’t a lot of big time depth behind the two and a good spring camp and game by Peppers will go a long way towards helping him play at cornerback.

However, the new coaching staff may have other plans for him, as reports back in January indicated Peppers was moving to safety. It would make sense given the depth at cornerback and the need to get him on the field more often than not. Still, nothing has been set in stone by the current coaching staff and until we actually see it happen as more than an experiment we’ll reserve judgement, just like our friends at MGoBlog.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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