Friday, August 30, 2013

Q & A with University of Michigan football beat writer Nick Baumgardner from MLive

With Central Michigan getting set to square off at the University of Michigan Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., Wolverines beat writer Nick Baumgardner from MLive has taken the time to answer some questions about U-M football.

Q: Coming off a five-loss season last year, what have been the primary areas of focus in order to improve the 2013 win total?

A: I would say, if anything, the biggest thing Michigan needs to improve upon is its run game. This always gets skewed when you look at last season’s statistics, because Denard Robinson was around. But in terms of a pure, downhill power run game that can control the clock and dictate pace — Michigan didn’t have it last season. Fitz Toussaint never found a rhythm, and the interior of the offensive line really struggled when the Big Ten became difficult. Even when Devin Gardner gave the offense a shot of life late in the season, the interior of the line was still struggling. There’s three new starters now who have yet to record a college start (left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis). In a lot of ways, they hold the key to the offense’s true potential.

Q: ith Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off the leg injury, how has he looked the past few weeks? Are the running backs behind him on the depth chart going to share the carries fairly evenly?
A: Well, at Michigan, they don’t allow us to watch practice. Not a second. We’ve gotten snippets of scrimmage highlights here and there, and obviously we can go by what they tell us. From what we’ve been able to see, and what we’ve heard, he’s shown no lingering ailments from the leg injury. He won the starting running back job with almost zero resistance, he was the most complete back Michigan had in camp and the job is firmly his at this point — something we really didn’t expect going into camp. As far as the rest of the backs are concerned, we’ll have to see. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith — the two freshmen — are pretty low on the depth chart, but they’re going to get carries. At least Green will. Redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson will probably be the team’s true No. 2, and he’ll see time early to give Toussaint a break now and then.

Q: The injury to Amara Darboh seems like it leaves some question marks at wide receiver. How do the Wolverines fill that void? Does it make Devin Funchess more of a focal point at tight end?
A: The Darboh injury is a blow, no question. Michigan anticipated him being the guy on the outside, the big, rangy wideout who could stretch the field and make the big play. But, if we’re being honest, we really don’t know what Michigan’s missing there because he never recorded a catch as a true freshman last season. We can speculate, but that’s about it. Jehu Chesson, a redshirt freshman, will have to fill that void. He’ll be helped by seniors Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, and I think Michigan’s hoping a combination of those three can makeup for what they felt they lost with Darboh. As for Funchess, I go back and forth there. He was going to be a major factor in this passing game anyway. Does his role increase because of Darboh’s injury? Maybe. But, more than anything, the thing that’s keeping him from exploding is his blocking. Last year, he was barely 230 pounds and couldn’t block an end. So, when he entered the huddle, the defense knew it was a pass. This year, if he can be competent in the run game and keep people honest, he could be in for a huge season.

Q: How does the Michigan defense stack up? Who are some of the playmakers to watch on that side of the ball?
A: Michigan’s defense is a lot like it was last season. Very talented, but pretty inexperienced in a lot of spots. Hoke hopes to rotate up to three guys at every position along the defensive line, which is anchored by Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black in the middle — two seniors who have played a lot. With Jake Ryan out, Michigan turns to Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker. Both MLB Desmond Morgan and WLB James Ross were starters last year, and primary backup Joe Bolden played a ton as well. Michigan gets Blake Countess back at one corner, and Raymon Taylor started all but one game at corner last year. Thomas Gordon’s a two-year starter at strong safety. The biggest hole on defense, really, is the void left by Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs was such a heady player, he kept everyone in position at all times and always seemed to makeup for his lack of athleticism with angles and sure tackling. And, of course, Michigan still has Greg Mattison … which isn’t a bad thing.

Q: Any worries that Michigan might look past Central Michigan considering Notre Dame is on tap next week? A score prediction if you wish to give one?
A: Michigan, as a program, has lost to Appalachian State and Toledo in the past seven years. I can’t see them overlooking a pre-conference opponent ever again. Of course, never say never. But no, in all seriousness, Hoke loves the Mid-American Conference and has great respect for every coach in that league. They’ll be prepared. The score I wrote down earlier this week was Michigan 38, Central Michigan 10. I’ll stick with that — until it’s wrong, of course!


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