With a new face at the helm of the Michigan offense in offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, the Wolverines are entering the 2019 season wide-eyed and full of ambition as they hope to improve on a 10–3 record and finally usurp Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten in Jim Harbaugh's fifth season. With that being said, if the bowl game was any indication of the kind of holes the Wolverines need to fill, there's plenty of work to be done on both sides of the ball to get back to the form they showed during their 10-game winning streak last season.
Previewing Michigan's Offense for 2019
The biggest question with Gattis' addition to the offense: What changes, exactly? The short answer: Gattis will introduce spread concepts and, in his words, completely remove the huddle from the equation.
This style of offense suits returning quarterback Shea Patterson, who finished last season with 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns through the air. Before his transfer to U-M, Patterson ran a similar offense at Ole Miss, so the spread isn’t exactly foreign territory for the senior.
His return is a big boost for a quarterback room that has plenty of unproven depth. Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton, Brandon Peters and Cade McNamara are all expected to compete for positioning behind Patterson.
While the offense has many familiar faces returning, perhaps the one position that was hit hardest by attrition is running back. The Wolverines will have to recover from losing senior Karan Higdon and, unexpectedly, senior-to-be Chris Evans.
Returning players Christian Turner, who saw expanded carries in the Peach Bowl, and Tru Wilson are the only returning running backs with starting experience. Players such as Hassan Haskins and Ben VanSumeren have been moved to running back to add depth to the position, as the Wolverines often tinker with positions to find the best fit. The coaching staff is excited to see true freshman and early enrollee Zach Charbonnet, one of the top-rated running backs in the 2019 recruiting cycle, get to work on the field. However, that work will have to wait, as Charbonnet missed spring practice due to a medical procedure he had upon arriving in Ann Arbor.
The offensive line will be a position of strength for the Wolverines, as every player returns except for Juwann Bushell-Beatty at right tackle. After missing a handful of games at the end of the year, Andrew Stueber filled in for Bushell-Beatty at the Peach Bowl and returns as the sole right tackle with game experience.
The wide receiver position features returning faces such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Ronnie Bell and Tarik Black. This group is very talented but has lacked consistency due in part to injuries.
Previewing Michigan's Defense for 2019
The Michigan defense was hit hard by offseason attrition. Losing players such as defensive linemen Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich and linebacker Devin Bush Jr. would devastate any defense. Of course, the player departures aren't the only losses, as the Wolverines also lost defensive line coach Greg Mattison to arch-rival Ohio State, leaving Mattison’s replacement, Shaun Nua, with some work to do.
With that being said, the cupboard certainly isn’t bare. Players such as Carlo Kemp, Michael Dwumfour and Aidan Hutchinson all return to the line and bring plenty of potential. Kwity Paye and linebacker/defensive lineman hybrid Josh Uche look to make the most of their expanded roles on the outside as well. Donovan Jeter and Luiji Vilain, both talented prospects coming out of high school, have yet to establish themselves due to injuries but are looking to stay healthy and make an impact. Other players who have a chance to work their way up the depth chart include Central Michigan transfer Mike Danna, Taylor Upshaw, Julius Welschof and true freshmen Mazi Smith and David Ojabo.
It was readily apparent during the Wolverines' bowl loss to Florida that replacing Bush, a consensus All-American who sat out the game to rest an injured hip, will certainly be a tall task. Returning linebacker Josh Ross worked the middle of the field in Bush’s absence in the bowl game and is expected to compete for the job. Outside linebacker Devin Gil will also compete at the open spot in a platoon-type role, with Jordan Anthony also in the mix.
Previewing Michigan's Specialists for 2019
An under-the-radar position battle to keep an eye on is at placekicker. Quinn Nordin won the starting job at the beginning of last season, but after an illness and an 11-for-16 conversion rate, Nordin was replaced by Jake Moody, who spent the year as the kickoff specialist. Moody kicked six field goals, a school record, in the victory over Indiana and never looked back. The choice to determine the starter won’t be an easy one.
While it'll be interesting to see how the Wolverines fill the holes on both sides of the ball, it's certainly not uncharted territory for Harbaugh and his program. After doing it once before with arguably a bigger rebuild in 2017, the Wolverines look primed to make another run at the Big Ten East title.