Aug 31, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Derrick Green (27) rushes with the ball in third quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Football: Five to Watch This Spring

Posted at 6:00am — 2/23/2014

Michigan Football: Five to Watch This Spring

Here is my list of the five individuals whose development/success could be vital to a successful 2014 campaign. Rather than selecting obvious candidates, I tried to focus on five who are true question marks going into the season. While we may not know what to expect from James Ross as a “Sam” linebacker or Jake Ryan as a “Mike” linebacker, we know what we are getting with James Ross and Jake Ryan at this point.

Aug 4, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier signs autographs following practice at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

1) Doug Nussmeier (Offensive Coordinator):

Not a player, I know, but the most intriguing question of spring ball this year will be how will our offense look under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier? There are a few things we can expect to see based on Coach Nuss’s recent history:

– Expect to see a lot of Pistol and Shotgun formations.
– Expect to see much less variety in the run calls.
– Expect to three receivers on the field most of the time.
– Expect Coach Nuss to lean heavily on Devin Gardner.
– Expect play action calls to make sense (like not when it is 3rd and long and we come out in an I-formation).
– Expect bubble screens, quick outs and much rejoicing.

I don’t think Coach Nuss needs to be a miracle worker to get our offense back on track; he just needs a philosophy in system in place that we can learn. Sometimes when a coach just simplifies things (think English in ’06), great things can happen. If even good things happen this spring, I’ll be encouraged. Good things on offense would have allowed us to win the PSU, Nebraska and Iowa games (amazing to think we were a field goal and some competent second half play calling away from being a 10-3 team.)

Apr 13, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines offensive line gets set during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2) Patrick Kugler (Center):

I could have listed the entire offensive line but I wanted to focus on just one player at each position. If I had to pick one position on the offensive line that concerns me most going into the spring, it is center; no position may be more important to fix this off-season considering the botched snaps and busted line calls from 2013. Our best returning offensive linemen is arguably Graham Glasgow, but it is also arguable that he performed much better at left guard before being forced to move center. Glasgow never seemed comfortable at the position and a move back to guard or even tackle could turn a liability into an asset. But for this to work, we need Patrick Kugler to be ready to take over at center. We all know Kugler’s pedigree, but the question remains whether he has added the necessary size/strength to compete. If Kugler can start, Michigan will be in much better shape this fall. Considering an off-season shoulder surgery took him out of contention for any type of playing time last year, I have my doubts.

Nov 9, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Kenny Bell (80) stiff arms Michigan Wolverines defensive back Dymonte Thomas (25) as he runs the ball in the fourth quarter at Michigan Stadium. Nebraska won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

3) Dymonte Thomas (Defensive Back):

Dymonte gets first crack at starting safety and brings all the potential in the world. Wilson and Thomas would be our most athletic starting safety combo since … Shazor and Jackson? But the problem is Thomas spent the season taking reps at nickel so that’s an entire year worth of reps he missed out on. While I love the kid’s potential, I wonder how well he’ll hold up in coverage. Safety has been our weakest link on defense for as long as I can remember and it has gotten to the point where we get excited for competent play. Jordan Kovacs, Jamar Adams, Brandent Englemon; these were/are players on the fringe of a NFL roster who were much more effective in the box than they would ever be in deep middle coverage. Michigan needs to make huge strides on the back end of the D if they are going to have any type of success this year and Thomas developing into a viable starter would be a tremendous boost for this defense.

I expect stiff competition this spring from Jeremy Clark and Delano Hill who both bring size and athleticism as well.

4) Derrick Green (Running Back):

Let’s all agree we didn’t see the best of Derrick Green last year. He was overweight and certainly underutilized much of the season. I think we saw a clear case of a kid not ready for big time football last year. This off-season, Green is already in the 225 range and we can anticipate seeing a much more decisive and explosive version of the player we saw last year. Green’s success is vital to this team as he brings size that Justice Hayes can’t match and speed/explosiveness that De’Veon Smith lacks. Green could be a tremendous fit for Coach Nussmeier’s offense if he displays the vision and patience that zone runners need.

A.J. Williams5) A.J. Williams (Tight End):

One thing I’ll disagree with everyone on: the magnitude of the loss of Jake Butt. Jake’s a great player and a real weapon, but in his two years at Alabama, Coach Nuss never featured the tight end a major part of his offense. In fact, last year, both freshmen stud OJ. Howard and starter Brian Vogler combined for fewer receptions (22) than DeAndrew White (32), the backup for Amari Cooper. Even TJ. Yeldon had almost as many receptions as the two players combined (20). So we know AJ. Williams is primarily a blocking tight end who didn’t block very well. But with no true competition for him in sight, we need to see a “HUGE” improvement in Williams at point of attack. The outside zone is going to be a major part of our offense and if Williams doesn’t hold up, Michigan will be forced to move a player from defense. I wouldn’t mind seeing Keith Heitzman (which is rumored to happen this spring), Matt Godin or Tom Strobel tried there. We need a big, nasty kid there for the offense to improve.

Honorable Mention:

– Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley both need strong off-seasons to help the pass rush. Both a physical marvels who we need to take a step.
– Speaking of defensive line, can Willie Henry start at nose if Pipkins isn’t ready in the fall? If not Henry, Mone? Glasgow?!?!
– With Darboh still a big question mark, we need Jehu Chesson to start living up to the hype. He flashed at times against Akron and Michigan State and offers speed on the outside we lack.
– Are there any offensive linemen whose development isn’t vital to Michigan’s success?

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Written by GBMWolverine Poster — DieHard5661

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