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
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
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!