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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Michigan Football: 5 Biggest Questions Heading Into 2015


                                                Michigan Football: 5 Biggest Questions Heading into 2015


The 2015 Michigan Football team has drawn tremendous interest due to the programs recent lack of success (3rd Coach since 2008, 4 bowl bids with 1 win in that time ) and the hiring of ex star Quarterback Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Wolverine fans see a several returning starters plus recent highly ranked recruiting classes and a star studded new staff as well as a favorable schedule (Both MSU and OSU visit Ann Arbor) as points of optimism.  Here is a breakdown of the 5 biggest questions heading into next season.


1-      HEAD COACH HARBAUGH- 4 Returns?:  To say this move has drawn some attention and praise is like saying the internet has changed society. The Michigan program has lost its way, how it got there requires a book the size of a bible but the football wise, the team was not tough, well conditioned or coached.  That ended December 30th, 2014. Enter Jim Harbaugh.  The hiring of Harbaugh ensures those 3 will be fixed or many Wolverines will be sitting on the bench, in the stands or on other teams. This man preaches physical football, team play and toughness and his track record shows it. He also brings natural leadership, enthusiasm and charisma, traits you are born with. Quite simply, Jim Harbaugh was born to do this job. The Wolverines got the best available coach in America and fans worldwide are ecstatic. The fact that Coach Harbaugh starred for Michigan in the 80s and gets Ann Arbor and Alumni cannot be understated. As one of his former players on the San Francisco 49ers said, Jim Harbaugh turns losers into winners. Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett hit a home run- no Grand Slam- with this hire.


2-      QUARTERBACK QUANDRY- Who is Under Center?: Michigan enters the 2015 season with only Shane Morris having experience under center in the program and several promising youngster, led by true frosh Alex Malzone and  Sophomore Wilton Speight. Highly regarded recruit Zach Gentry and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock, who started 2 seasons for the Hawkeyes, will arrive this summer as well. After seeing the strides Morris made in the spring, I am confident that this team will get solid QB play. Again, check Harbaugh’s track record: When has he not had a good passing game and/or QB? Look at his 49ers teams- the 1st season he took over, he turned Alex Smith around and they came within two fumbled punts of a Super Bowl. Something to store away: Michigan’s new Quarterbacks/Wide Receivers/Passing Game coordinator Jedd Fisch has a list of credentials that would rival anyone in the business in both the NFL and NCAA. Bet against the Wolverines QBs and you will fail with this tandem coaching these kids.



3-      BACK BONANZA-Which Runner Emerges?: Which Runner emerges?:New Running Backs Coach Tyrone Wheatley leaves the NFL to return to his alma mater and sees a deep, talented group that would remind him of the teams he played on in the early 90s--- depth, variety and competition. Top recruits Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith enter their junior seasons with some highlight moments but injuries and inconsistencies have held them back. Senior Drake Johnson was clearly the top runner in 2014 but a 2nd ACL tear in the OSU game might hold him back. Ex USC runner Ty Isaac, all 6-3,240 of him, could be the man. Also keep an eye on hybrid Wyatt Shallman had a great spring and could see reps at both fullback and tailback, think Leroy Hoard of the Late 80s Rose Bowl teams.  This position group is VITAL to any success for Michigan in 2015 with a young Quarterback taking over and a potentially top flight defense in place.


4-      SPECIAL teams- IMPACT Hire!: Michigan’s kicking game has been an issue for years particularly in the return game. Add in the fact that both the starting punter and kicker graduated in 2014 and some Wolverine fans would be nervous. Enter John Baxter, the 1st full time special teams coach in Michigan history. Well known throughout football as a master of blocking field goals and punts as well as developing all aspects of the kicking game, this is the single most understated hire by Coach Harbaugh. I remember the Utah game at the Big House last year where I saw the Utes make 4-5 special teams plays: returns, covering kicks, etc. and how they impacted the game and helped Utah win. With Coach Baxter here, this is how I envision The Wolverines special teams performing. The man has a track record of excellence at every coaching stop and his units at both Fresno State and Southern Cal were among the elite in the country. Some names to keep an eye on for both the punting and kicking jobs: Ryan Tice, Kenny Allen and Grad transfer Blake O’Neill, who is from Australia and punted for almost a 45 yard average at Weber State in 2014.  



5-      COORDINATED CHANGE-Leaders=Best: With a new head coach, new coordinators also are part of the process and Coach Harbaugh has brought in two of the top names in the business in Tim Drevno(Offense) and D.J. Durkin(Defense). Both have worked with Jim at either Stanford or the 49ers and bring almost 40 years of coaching experience to Ann Arbor. For folks who want Michigan to be more physical and return to a more run heavy attack, you will like Drevno, who is an offensive line guru and pieced together strong lines at a USC program limited by NCAA sanctions. Durkin ran the highly ranked Florida Gators defenses of 2013-14 that were hamstrung by a lack of offensive support and continuity at the QB position, the man was competing in the toughest league in the country with his hand tied behind his back. After UM alternated between 4-3 Over and Under fronts the last two seasons, look for more 3-4 and even some Bear 46 looks as well.  Confusing the offensive blocking scheme and timing is key defensively and the ability to play different fronts is a huge part of pressure. Durkin is a top coach and he turned down several high profile jobs to come to Ann Arbor,  after the Gators fired their Head Coach late in 2014, Durkin was named interim HC and served in that capacity in the Florida Bowl Game.  Also keep in mind that UM has a many returning veterans on defense particularly in the front 7. Again, two great hires by Harbaugh and Hackett.



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