Michigan's biggest concerns for the 2021 offseason
Well, it looks like Michigan got one thing out of the way — or is close to doing so.
That “one thing” is the biggest thing surrounding the Wolverines’ offseason: The status of coach Jim Harbaugh.
According to reports, UM AD Ward Manuel is on the brink of inking an extension — which is a great idea, considering the timing — that would keep Harbaugh in Ann Arbor through the 2026 season. That’s a 5-year extension, counting the 2021 season — which is the final season of his initial contract signed Dec. 29, 2014. Jan. 11 is the expiration date of the existing contract, so it’s safe to assume that the new deal will expire Jan. 11, 2027.
Assuming that is out the way (though NFL rumors persist), let’s get into some other heavy concerns for the Wolverines, who finished 2-4 this past season — a season that included abysmal outings vs. Wisconsin and Indiana, not to mention a stunning loss to Michigan State.
There are a lot of things that need work in Ann Arbor. The most glaring issue, other than Harbaugh’s status, is that of starting quarterback. Who will be UM’s Top Gun in 2021? Who’s going to replace key players at important positions? Josh Ross-types don’t grow on linebacker trees, so there’s one gaping hole that will need to be filled. Kwity Paye is bound for the NFL, so the Wolverines will need to find another primetime edge rusher.
Let’s get into all of those issues before this lede becomes the actual article.
Who’s the next DC?
Well, Michigan fans … you wanted Clemson’s Brent Venables to take over for the recently dismissed Don Brown, who could end up at Arizona with former UM passing game coordinator/faux-OC Jedd Fish — the new head coach of the Wildcats. (Had to give a little backstory on that one.)
Anyway, Venables’ defense was torched by Ohio State, the very nemesis that has plagued the Wolverines since the turn of the century. UM has won just thrice since 2000, and future wins aren’t exactly in the forecast due to the state of Michigan’s defense and the potency of the Buckeyes’ everything — offense, defense, special teams, the Buckeyes are clearly at the top of the Big Ten in every way imaginable.
They were even able to dodge a now-infamous calling card of Venables — the whole ability to “read” on the fly thing. During the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes huddled up as often as possible in the interest of privacy.
“We didn’t want them stealing our signals,” said Ohio State QB Justin Fields, per the Spun.
So if Venables’ defense is good just because he knows how to steal signs and make quick pre-snap adjustments, is he really the guy who’ll get Michigan’s defense in position to stifle the Buckeyes? Probably not — at least not by what we saw during Ohio State’s 49-28 semifinal win over the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl.
At this point, any big name will be thrown into the conversation. But really, at this point, nobody knows who Michigan will assign as its next defensive coordinator. It’s just funny how UM fans are so quick to latch on to a name because of perceived superior track record — and then backtrack once that coach’s defense gets humiliated on national television.
So cross Venables off the UM fans’ wish list. That guy’s monumental defense just gave up 639 yards to Ohio State, which would have probably put up around 800 or so against Michigan this season had they played. Hard pass on that guy, right?
Who’s the QB?
Joe Milton won’t be the starting QB for Michigan during the 2021 season. Might as well bet the farm on that one, really. Chances favor redshirt-junior-to-be Cade McNamara or incoming true freshman JJ McCarthy. Everyone else is in the background.
With that said, Harbaugh — and Michigan, in general — desperately needs a star QB to emerge during the 2021 campaign. UM gets a pass on 2020 — the entire season was a crap-show and it really didn’t showcase the true level of talent in Ann Arbor; it was a hodgepodge mix just to field a team, as far as this writer is concerned.
Some teams benefitted from the shortened season. Some learned a lot of about themselves.
The past 6-game schedule — in which UM went 2-4 — did nothing for Harbaugh, and it really shouldn’t be used as any type of gauge when it comes to monitoring development within the program. Go ahead, argue that point — but in Michigan’s case, 2020 was a nothing year. All scrimmages. All practices leading up to what many anticipate will be a “real” Harbaugh team next year.
McCarthy and McNamara are in the driver’s seat for the starting QB position. Milton’s days were done once he threw consecutive interceptions against Rutgers, prompting Harbaugh to go with McNamara, who led the Wolverines out of a 17-o hole en route to a 48-42 triple-OT victory in New Jersey.
Replacing key pieces
Linebacker Josh Ross has reached the end of the road at Michigan. Through 6 games, the senior led Michigan with 53 tackles and 1 INT. In a year of uncertainty, Ross was one of the few steady constants that the Wolverines could count on week-to-week. To make matters worse, Cam McGrone declared for the NFL Draft — so Michigan will be in search of two starter-caliber linebackers next season.
Kwity Paye is off to the NFL Draft as well. The early departure shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Paye is rated as one the best edge rushers available in the upcoming youth sweepstakes. Yeah, QB is a major concern — but so is DE and LB for Michigan heading into next year.
The status of RB Zach Charbonnet also sparks interest. He was supposed to be the bell cow of the 2020 running game but was surpassed by Hassan Haskins in Week 2. Christian Turner, who figured to be an asset in the backfield, announced that he would transfer after completing classes this semester. Chris Evans announced the he’d forgo his final year of eligibility and take his chances in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That leaves Haskins and sophomore-to-be Blake Corum as the perceived experienced leaders heading into 2021 — the least depth of any Michigan RB group under Harbaugh.