Michigan football: Biggest position group battles to watch
This has the potential to be a big season for the Michigan Wolverines. But for that to happen, some guys are going to need to step up and play well.
Three areas have been closely watched during the fall. Who’s going to be the starting running back, and who’s going to get the most carries? Will the offensive line depth be solid enough to contribute and who’s going to be playing at linebacker?
Let’s take a look:
Running backs need to break through
Replacing Karan Higdon at running back is one of the points of emphasis of fall camp. Senior Tru Wilson is the only back on the roster with more than 20 career carries, so the position is wide open. Five-star recruit Zach Charbonnet is turning heads at practice, and he could be one of those rare true freshmen to start at running back for Michigan.
“Zach Charbonnet is coming on like a freight train,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said the other day. “He is really, really playing well. He sees holes, can run. He’s got a real knack catching the football, and understands learning the game as well.”
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After just a few days of practices, Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said: “He’s such a good kid, and when you look at his work ethic — he’s always in the weight room, he’s always in the coaches’ offices. He’s a very smart, cerebral player. Even though he missed all of spring [after having work done on his knee], he’s made no mistakes this camp.”
Redshirt freshmen Christian Turner, Ben VanSumeren and Hassan Haskins are in the mix as well.
Securing depth along offensive line
There’s been some concern about losing Andrew Steuber to an apparent leg injury, because it forces Michigan to juggle some pieces around on the second group of offensive linemen. Steuber had been sharing first-team reps at right tackle with redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield, and if he’s out for a while, it could raise some depth concerns.
This is a veteran group, with four starters — Jon Runyan, Jr. at left tackle, Ben Bredeson at left guard, junior Cesar Ruiz at center and senior Michael Onwenu at right guard — that should be a strength of this team. But depth is always a priority up front, where injuries and fatigue — especially early in the year — can force teams to go deep with fresh linemen.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Hayes has impressed people and has been getting a lot of work in with the second group. Redshirt sophomore Joel Honigford can help out at tackle now too, since he moved outside from guard at the start of camp.
New faces at all the linebacker spots
Michigan lost a ton of talent along the front seven, with guys like Chase Winovich, Rashad Gary and Devin Bush all gone to the NFL as high draft picks. That’s leaving plenty of playing time and battles for positions, especially at linebacker, where Devin Gil, Khaleke Hudson, senior Jordan Glasgow, redshirt sophomore Jordan Anthony and redshirt freshman Cam McGrone are all fighting for playing time.
Anthony has been very impressive in fall camp, and finally seems to be reaching his potential. McGrone looks like the real deal, too. Senior Josh Uche is finally healthy enough to be a big help too.
“I do believe so. I definitely believe so,” Uche said. “Just from a pass-rush perspective, being able to actually drop and play traditional linebacker but as well come off the edge like a 3-4 outside linebacker, pass-rushing wise. So I feel like it’s very dynamic, and I’m trying to be the best that I can possibly be and try to be the best in the nation at that.”