Big Ten Spring Review: Michigan

A season of change began with a spring of some substance at Michigan, where Jim Harbaugh began overhauling the program.

Quick 2014 review: Unlike several seasons during Michigan's 10-year Big Ten title drought, the Wolverines did not waste much time fooling anyone into thinking they would be contenders in 2014. A 31-0 white-washing by Notre Dame in week two and a three-game losing streak to close September and open October made the rest of the season a formality for the most part. By the time they played Ohio State, the Wolverines had worked out some of their offensive line problems, but inconsistent play from quarterback Devin Gardner and his receivers continued to plague the offense while the defense was continually put in high-stress situations.

Statistically, Michigan was among the worst offenses in the country and the defense, despite being stout against the run, was below average on third down and nearly the worst in the country at forcing turnovers.

Spring game recap: Shane Morris completed a 14-yard pass to Jaron Dukes for the only touchdown of a spring game won by the Blue 7-0 over the Maize on the first Saturday in April. Morris ran hot and cold through the afternoon, completing 11 of 24 passes for 135 yards with an interception, though the junior easily outdueled true freshman Alex Malzone, who looked shaky while completing 15 of 27 passes for 95 yards with a pair of interceptions. Morris' top target was Amarah Darboh, who caught for passes for 75 yards, including a long of 37. Linebacker Joe Bolden, a senior from Cincinnati Colerain, was among the standout defenders with 13 tackles for the Maize. That include three in the backfield, including a sack.

Issues addressed: After Brady Hoke manufactured a quarterback controversy last year, the Wolverines had a full-blown competition this spring that produced a No. 1 guy but did not eliminate many questions about the position.

New head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed after the spring game Morris left spring leading Malzone and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight (who did not play in the spring game, reportedly because of an injury) but added, "The competition will rage on, though starting tomorrow and into April and into May and certainly into June and July and August."

Joining this summer will be Zach Gentry, a four-star freshman, and Jake Rudock, a senior transfer from Iowa who is eligible immediately.

"He's hungry to compete," Harbaugh said of Rudock on the Big Ten spring football teleconference last week. "I think it will be good for him. First of all it's really good for him academically, very good for him athletically in terms of opportunity to compete for a role, whether that be a starting role -- I know that's where his goals are aligned, and I'm excited to watch it go down."

Tight end, where Pickerington, Ohio, native Jake Butt returns, may be the only position where much is sorted out on offense at this point. A largely unproven receiving corps struggled collectively with gaining separation and securing catches in the spring game, and the running game struggled mightily whether Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith was toting the rock (outside of Smith's game-opening 34-yard gallop). They will be joined by USC transfer Ty Isaac (who sat out last season and was limited by an injury in spring) and likely Drake Johnson, a former walk-on who energized the running game late last season but blew out his knee against Ohio State, this fall.

Despite center Jack Miller's decision to retire with one year of eligibility left, the offensive line will be more veteran this fall with four starters back, and Harbaugh is expected to build an attack with new coordinator Tim Drevno that will lean heavily on that group.

On the other side of the ball, there are a lot of familiar faces up front, but pure pass-rush ability may be at a premium unless spring game standouts Maurice Hurst Jr. (at tackle) and Lawrence Marshall (a sophomore) can build on their last showing of April.

Bolden and junior Ben Gedeon lead the linebacker corps while the secondary, which is hoping to rely heavily on press coverage after dabbling in it last season, figures to be built around redshirt freshman phenom Jabrill Peppers, a premium playmaker from New Jersey who missed most of last season with an injury and moved from cornerback to safety in the offseason.

Despite a lot of unsettled situations, optimism has been building in Ann Arbor since the school announced in late December that Harbaugh would return to the school where he starred at quarterback in the mid-1980s.

"To me right now the 2014 season is over," Bolden said. "The 2015 season is beginning. Nobody has won a game, nobody has lost a game. It's whoever gets their act together and comes to play this fall ready to compete in every game whether it's the last game in November or that first game in September or late August."


Buckeye Sports Top Stories