The Summer of Harbaugh is finally coming to a close. It’s now time for the Michigan Wolverines to start focusing on actual football, as they open up fall camp this week.
While the tweets to Nicki Minaj and painfully-awkward radio stints are certainly entertaining, Wolverine fans remain anxious to see what the on-field product will look like under the new staff with plenty of questions still left unanswered as we head into the 2015 campaign.
Michigan’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who Starts at Quarterback
As many as five quarterbacks will compete this fall to be the first Wolverine signal-caller of the Jim Harbaugh era, but in the eyes of many, this is really just a two-man race. Junior Shane Morris closed the spring as the starter over a pair of freshmen, but Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock joined the group this summer with no intentions of riding the pine as a senior.
Coaches have stressed all offseason that limiting turnovers and a high completion rate will be key determining factors as to who will eventually win the job. This potentially gives the upper hand to Rudock, who threw just five interceptions all of last year while completing over 60 percent of his passes. This competition is likely to go deep into fall camp.
2. Will the Offensive Line Finally Produce?
The offensive front for the Wolverines is littered with former five- and four-star recruits, but very few, if any, have lived up to that potential. For better or worse, five players with significant starting experience return, including former Freshman All-American Mason Cole at left tackle and senior Graham Glaslow, who will move to center with the sudden retirement of Jack Miller. Juniors Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson are the other projected starters.
Perhaps the biggest addition is new offensive coordinator Tim Drevno who, after spending last season as USC’s offensive line coach, will join Harbaugh’s staff for the fourth time after previous stops with San Diego, Stanford and the 49ers. Drevno is expected to drastically improve the run game for the Wolverines after four historically bad seasons of the Brady Hoke era.
3. Improving the Turnover Margin
After finishing 33rd in the country in turnover margin in 2013, the Wolverines fell all the way to 124th in last year at minus-16. The three teams behind the Wolverines (Washington State, Georgia State and Eastern Michigan) had a combined record of 6-30. If Michigan is to get back to its winning ways, that is the No. 1 area that needs to be fixed. Better quarterback play and a more opportunistic defense will help immensely.
The Wolverines head into 2015 with four legitimate contenders to start at running back, but each comes in with their own set of concerns. Junior De’Veon Smith led Michigan in rushing last season (519 yards, six TDs) but lacks the breakaway speed to be an every-down back. Has that improved over the offseason? Former prized recruit Derrick Green showed glimpses of his five-star rating in 2014, but his season was derailed with a broken clavicle after just six games. Did Green keep his weight down while he was sidelined — an issue he has struggled with in the past?
Fellow junior Drake Johnson broke out in the final four games of 2014 (361 yards), but suffered a second ACL injury in as many seasons. Can Johnson stay healthy enough to be depended on? The wild card is USC transfer Ty Isaac, who is eligible after sitting out last season. This group looks to have all the makings of a running-back-by-committee unless one can separate himself from the pack.
5. Shortage of Weapons in Passing Game
Gone is leading receiver and lone red-zone threat Devin Funchess, who wound up a second-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. Junior Amara Darboh returns after finishing second on the team with 36 receptions, but other than that, no returning receiver caught more than 14 passes a season ago. The tight ends are expected to be featured heavily in the new offense, but the Wolverines will need one of the younger receivers to develop opposite Darboh. Likely candidates include Jehu Chesson, Freddy Canteen or redshirt freshman Moe Ways.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.