ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan is entering spring practices needing to replace many senior leaders from a year ago. Not always an easy thing to do, but the Wolverines coaching staff is confident that the senior leaders can be replaced with ease.
Luckily for U-M, it probably didn't have to look very far for leaders that stand out on the offensive and defensive sides of the football. Both players also returned for one more season that could easily be in the NFL this upcoming season.
According to head coach Jim Harbaugh, being a leader is more than just being a good player.
"A lot of guys, so many guys," Harbaugh said. "Leadership is by example. You work hard and other guys work hard. They see you being lazy then they're going to be lazy. Doing things the right way and if you get it to where the best players are the hardest working guys, the 'do right' guys, then you're in a pear tree. I would point to, right off the bat, so many guys. Right at the top of the list, Jourdan Lewis. Here's a guy who is an All American but he has not missed a day of spring practice. Not a period, not a minute. He's gotten much better as a football player. Jake Butt, same thing. All American, fully engaged, always one of the hardest workers in the classroom, in the meetings and on the football field."
As a guy that's never a fan of comparing his players as some are always left out, Harbaugh also gave his unsolicited review of U-M receiver Amara Darboh's performance this spring.
With him and Jehu Chesson emerging at the wide receiver position last season, it appears Darboh has picked up where he left off and growing into a leadership role.
"Amara Darboh has really elevated his game," Harbaugh said. "I'll say this to Jehu as well, I thought Jehu was a little better receiver than Amara Darboh was last season. They were close... really close. But now Amara has surged a bit ahead of Jehu and he has done that by working this spring like he hasn't played a down of football at Michigan. He has been a fantastic worker the entire spring."
On the defensive side of the ball, there's more on the leadership side than just a Lewis or Jabrill Peppers. There's a laundry list of players that have stepped up and ready to lead the team. With a few key positions on the defensive side of the ball needing players to step up, it's safe to say that Harbaugh is pleased with how his defense is performing right now.
"Same guys you’d expect to be hearing are best players Taco, Wormley, Mason Cole – I don’t think he’s missed a practice since he’s been at Michigan – has really surged ahead," Harbaugh said. "The safeties, Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill have been players like that as well. They don’t have anyone behind them pushing them, those two guys at safety. We don’t have a lot of safeties on our roster right now. They’ve been working, improving and playing like they’ve got somebody right on their heels. Channing Stribling, another person, he’s a starter. It’s cold, it’s in stone. Him and Jourdan Lewis are our starting corners but they haven’t been practicing like that. Ben Gedeon is a rock solid stud, he doesn’t say a whole lot. Nobody is taking more reps this spring than Ben Gedeon. We count every rep each guy takes and he’s at the top of the list.”
Numbers might be a little tight right now as Harbaugh alluded to with the safety position but the cavalry is indeed coming this fall with U-M's impressive recruiting class coming. The Wolverines did see a handful of early enrollees this cycle as well and Harbaugh is extremely impressed with how each early enrollee has taken to collegiate spring practices so far.
"Not one of them has been a disappointment," Harbaugh said. "You could even say that they should be in high school right now but not one of those guys you’ve had to use that excuse or that crutch. They’ve all jumped in and been swimming… They’re all doing good. They’re all really doing a good job at improving. Each guy, Carlo Kemp, Kareem and Devin and Sean, Kingston, every single one... Ahmir, the same. They’ve all shown glimpses of being really good football players with their mistakes reduced each practice and they’ve been really solid already.
"That’s exciting and it’s also exciting knowing that there’s 30-35 more freshman that are coming in later this summer in July. There’s a lot of good players that are coming in as well. It’s encouraging that the seven that are here already are already fitting the bill. It’s very encouraging and it bodes really well for us.”