Michigan is entering the 2020 season with a fresh start at key positions on offense and returning youth on defense. With Shea Patterson and multiple members of the offense departing the program, the opportunity exists for offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to take the offense and mold it further to his liking. That, of course, starts with the quarterback competition between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton. On defense, coordinator Don Brown has a lot of intriguing pieces to work with and the luxury of not worrying about a complete overhaul on his side of the ball.
Previewing Michigan’s Offense for 2020
The direction of the offense rests squarely on the quarterback position. McCaffrey and Milton, two quarterbacks who have limited on-field experience, both bring unique skill sets to the position. McCaffrey, who is an efficient runner, hasn’t been able to showcase his arm talent fully as he has been mostly utilized on the ground during his appearances. For Milton, it’s the opposite. Milton has been able to show off his arm talent while not being able to show whether he is capable of running quarterback keepers in Gattis’ offense. No matter which direction the offense goes, expect to see both quarterbacks featured heavily.
The Wolverines will need to retool their offensive line as well. Four of five starters have departed, with only right tackle Jalen Mayfield returning. Expect to see players such as Andrew Stueber (who missed last season due to injury), Ryan Hayes, Zach Carpenter, Chuck Filiaga, Joel Honigford and others compete for starting roles in position battles that should be considered wide open heading into fall camp.
Elsewhere, the Wolverines return an exciting pair of running backs in Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet, who carried the bulk of the workload last season. Christian Turner and Chris Evans, the latter of whom did not play with the program last season, will feature on the depth chart as well.
Wide receiver Nico Collins’ return to the program was a major victory for the Wolverines this offseason. He will lead a young group of receivers that will include leading returning receiver Ronnie Bell, Giles Jackson and others competing for expanded roles.
Previewing Michigan’s Defense for 2020
The Wolverines welcome back a number of familiar faces on this side of the ball. The defense will be led by stalwart ends Kwity Paye, who decided to return for his final season in Ann Arbor, and Aidan Hutchinson. Carlo Kemp received a sixth year of eligibility and returns at defensive tackle. At the other tackle position, Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton will compete for snaps.
The linebacker position returns a promising member in Cameron McGrone, who took over from Josh Ross after Ross’ injury and never gave up the position on the depth chart after that. Ross will likely be bumped to one of the outside linebacker roles, as Brown likes to shuffle his linebackers to maximize the unit’s versatility. Michael Barrett, who has shown promise on special teams, should be considered the favorite at the VIPER position — a hybrid linebacker-safety-pass rusher — to replace mainstay Khaleke Hudson.
Elsewhere, the Wolverines will see a new crop of cornerbacks competing for playing time. Ambry Thomas returns after a solid 2019 campaign. Players like Vincent Gray, DJ Turner, Gemon Green and others will be locked in a fierce competition for the other cornerback spots. The safety position returns a talented duo in Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill. A true freshman last year, Hill should take another big step this season.
Previewing Michigan’s Specialists for 2020
Special teams for the Wolverines won’t change much from a season ago; the only difference is that Jay Harbaugh will take over special teams duties full time after Chris Partridge departed the program during the offseason. Harbaugh appears set to take a two-man kicking rotation into the 2020 season after Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin both had their fair share of kicks last season. It doesn’t appear that the Wolverines are set on one kicker over the other. Will Hart is the returning punter.
The Wolverines will have a new full-time punt returner after Donovan Peoples-Jones’ departure. A player like Jackson, who returned kickoffs for the Wolverines last season, makes sense as someone who could fill that role and not miss a beat. Ambry Thomas and Jackson will return kicks.
It’s clear that the Wolverines will be going through some changes on offense. In Year Two of Gattis’ offense, it’s crucial that the Wolverines settle on the right quarterback. While no clear favorite is apparent right now, both have the talent to take the position and make it their own. It’s up to the coaching staff to make the right call, as very little can be discerned from existing game film and spring practice was wiped out. Of course, it goes without saying that the quarterback needs to be protected. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has done a good job building talented depth, and the O-line should be a secondary worry for fans.
On defense, Brown has a lot of pieces to work with, as many familiar faces return. Don’t expect wholesale changes on defense this season, as many of the returners understand the defensive concepts and can be shuffled around as needed.