The quarterback position will be the focus of one of the most intense battles of the spring. Gone is much maligned John Navarre and in are a couple of young guns that will be vying to take his place. By most accounts, redshirt sophomore Matt Gutierrez is the heir apparent with redshirt freshman Clayton Richard right behind him. Gutierrez has excellent pedigree, coming from a program in Concord De La Salle that hasn’t lost a game in over 10 years. That background is part of what has fostered a supreme confidence in his own abilities. He’s fully over the wrist injury that bothered him coming in and has tuned his throwing mechanics, which has resulted in more zip on his ball. Furthermore, the mobility he will bring to the position is something that hasn’t been present in Ann Arbor in a number of years. The way he looked in practice last year has some team members, including star receiver Braylon Edwards, claiming that the passing game could be just as good if not better than last year’s. While it’s a bit too early for fans to have those same expectations, it’s a clear indication of how much confidence he’s engendered in his teammates.
The major advantage “Gutz” has over his QB counterpart is experience. That, however, doesn’t prevent the Indiana southpaw from being a major factor. Clayton looked outstanding in bowl practices to those who were able to observe. Some believed Richard would become disgruntled if he was not slated to start, but he has been the ideal kid. Physically, while not quite as mobile as Gutz, he has a much stronger arm. An insider commented on how the competition between Gutz and Richard is going to be more intense than when Navarre took over. There was no real 2nd option at that point (Henson left and it was Brinton’s first year in the program). Furthermore, many think that the 2004 defense is more talented than the one Navarre faced when he assumed the helm. This year Gutz and Richard are going to go up against a very athletic defense in practice against veteran CB's with a ton of kids battling for positions. It won’t be easy for either of them.
The recent news that Spencer Brinton is being granted a fifth year all but guarantees that incoming freshman Chad Henne will be redshirted. He’ll add valuable experience to the group and could take over should the other two falter. However, at this point look for Gutierrez and Richard (or Richard and Gutierrez) to be #1 and #2 this spring.
For much of last season the offensive line was a dominant force. Gone are two stalwarts in Tony Pape and Dave Pearson, but Michigan has the athletes to plug right in. In our spring preview in the football recruiting issue of GBW the magazine, we indicated that with the departure of Andy Christophel, redshirt sophomore Mark Bihl was set to step right in and take over for Pearson. He’s still the favorite for the spot, but the move of Adam Kraus from TE to interior line should provide him some formidable competition. He is working out at both OG and OC and was moved with good reason. The word is the coaches absolutely love his athleticism. He was already considered the top run blocking TE and has really been a "workout warrior" this off-season. Some already consider him as Baas’ replacement in 2005 and he just may push Bihl this season.
On the line’s exterior, Mike Kolodiej has long been thought to be Pape’s replacement. However, he too will see some competition. Jake Long has been so impressive during his short time as a Wolverine that he just may be the one to eventually assume that role. He’s already amongst the biggest and most athletic players on the line. Don’t be surprised if at some point he is listed at the top of the depth chart. Ruben Riley has made significant strides the past few seasons and is another player that may push for time. The same can be said for Leo Henige. Prior to getting injured last spring, Henige was giving Matt Lentz a run for his money at the right guard spot. With strong springs, Henige, Riley, Kraus, and Long, things could get very interesting.
Running back may be the position with the most uncertainty. There are a number of candidates, but none is a definite to seize the position. . Chris Perry leaves a huge void in the backfield that will most likely have to be filled by committee. Seniors David Underwood and Tim Bracken are the most experienced of the remaining backs, but sophomores Pierre Rembert and Jerome Jackson received most of the backup carries late last season. Jackson displayed a tough, hard-nosed running style reminiscent of his days at Saginaw high. His work ethic and instinctual running style will keep him right in the fray. Rembert brings more elusiveness to the table (as does Bracken) and also showed the ability to catch the football out of the backfield. For seniors Bracken and Underwood, it’s now or never. Carr mentioned toward the end of the season that Bracken had begun to resemble the player he was before he broke his femur prior to his redshirt freshman year. Underwood is the biggest and the fastest in the group and he got out of the gates quickly last year with a couple of superb rushing efforts, but he lost ground to the other players down the stretch. Each will have to take big steps forward this spring to hold off their younger counterparts.
Braylon Edwards has really stepped things up and is considered a team leader. His workout ethics are unquestioned and he is now a positive influence on almost everyone on the team.
Some of the players have described offseason as the most intense they’ve participated in during their time at Michigan.
Anton Campbell is still at RB for now.
Keep an eye out for GBW’s unofficial depth chart.