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Brady Hoke has Michigan poised for a run at its first Big Ten Championship game
It didn't take Brady Hoke long to get Michigan back into contention for conference titles and BCS bowls. He also ended the long losing streak against Ohio State. Yet, the Big Ten championship and trip to the Rose Bowl has eluded this coaching staff as it enters its third season in Ann Arbor. And now, for the first time in four years, the Wolverines will enter a season without Denard Robinson under center.
Michigan Wolverines 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 8-5 (6-2)
Spring practice dates: March 16-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6
Passing: Devin Gardner, 75-of-126, 1,219 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Fitzgerald Toussaint, 130 car., 514 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving: Jeremy Gallon, 49 rec., 829 yards, 4 TDs
Tackles: Jake Ryan, 88
Sacks: Jake Ryan, 4.5
Interceptions: Raymon Taylor and Thomas Gordon, 2
Redshirts to Watch: OG Kyle Kalis, OG Blake Bars, OL Erik Magnuson, WR Jehu Chesson, DE Chris Wormley, DE Matthew Godin
Early Enrollees: DB Dymonte Thomas, OL Logan Tuley‐Tillman, DE Taco Charlton, OL Kyle Bosch, TE Jake Butt, DB Ross Douglas
Aug. 31 Central Michigan
Sept. 7 Notre Dame
Sept. 14 Akron
Sept. 21 at UConn
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Minnesota
Oct. 12 at Penn State
Oct. 19 Indiana
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 1 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State
Offensive Strength: Potential. There is a lot to like about what Michigan returns on offense but senior leadership and experience isn't a part of that. However, there is a ton of upside and potential in this group with players like Gardner set to take on bigger roles.
Offensive Weakness: Skill playmakers. Finding a workhorse tailback and a No. 1 wide receiver will be key for this offense. Can an injured Fitzgerald Toussaint or smallish Jeremy Gallon be those players?
Defensive Strength: Linebackers. This is as deep a position as Hoke has on his roster. There are veterans, rising stars and young depth to pick from.
Defensive Weakness: Star power. There is a lot of depth and a lot of young talent returning to the defense, however, four All-Big Ten performers depart this offseason. Talented rising stars need to take the next step and develop into household names — and team leaders.
Spring Storylines Facing Michigan:
1. Replace three starters on the O-line. Patrick Omameh was an All-Big Ten player and Ricky Barnum and Elliot Mealer combined for 26 starts last year. Filling these three voids are made much easier by the return of tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, but this is still a major concern for Michigan. The interior of the line will be an area of focus this spring as Hoke looks to rebuild the heart of his O-line. Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow will battle it out for the pivot position while talented youngsters Kyle Bosch and Kyle Kalis will duel for the right guard position. Ben Braden, Blake Bars and Joey Burzynski are the top candidates at left guard.
2. Fill gaps along the defensive line. Craig Roh wasn't a flashy player but was dependable and consistent. Will Campbell earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year as well. Both are gone and Michigan needs to replace them. There is little in the way of experience up front on defense and Hoke needs to find bodies who can play. Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia, Brennen Beyer and Keith Heitzman all got playing time a year ago and all four will vie for time at end. Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington return to the middle while the coaching staff is still waiting for Ondre Pipkins to break out. This area of the team must be stabilized to make a run at the Big Ten title in 2013.
3. Develop Devin Gardner. Gardner took over in difficult circumstances a year ago and made the most of it. In five games under center, he threw for 11 touchdowns while rushing for seven. He won his first three starts before the competition level took a big jump (Ohio State and South Carolina) and Michigan lost those games. He has all the tools needed to be a superstar but needs to develop as a passer and leader for Hoke. This team needs a definitive voice pacing the huddle and it needs to be Gardner's. Look for him to take command of the team this spring.
4. Find a workhorse tailback. The best way to help Gardner will be if Hoke can find a power running game. Prized recruit Derrick Green won't show up until fall camp and Fitzgerald Toussaint will be out until then as well. This spring is the time for the Wolverines tailbacks to shine if they want carries. The path is clear for Thomas Rawls to take a huge step forward while Justice Hayes figures to be the mix as well. Hoke craves a workhorse back, and he may have to wait until the fall to find him, but fans can bet the runners on the roster will get a heavy workout this spring.
5. Reaplce two All-Big Ten defensive backs. Jordan Kovacs was the leader of the defense as he patrolled the back end of this unit for years. J.T. Floyd was the top cover corner. Both All-Big Ten players must be replaced this spring. Hoke is hoping that Blake Countess, who missed all but one game a year ago with a torn ACL, will be back to man one corner spot while Raymon Taylor, Courtney Avery and Delonte Hollowell will compete for the other. Thomas Gordon returns to his free safety spot while a host of new faces will battle for the starting strong safety spot.
6. Make some big-plays down the field in the passing game. Jeremy Gallon is a solid player but is he a superstar wide receiver that makes a difference on the outside? That remains to be seen, so Hoke and Gardner need to find some big-play weapons they can trust on the outside to go with Gallon. Jerald Robinson has loads of ability while Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson also return. The continued development of Devin Funchess and early enrollee Jake Butt at tight end will help in the passing game as well.
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