By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 20, 2013
Michigan coach Brady Hoke feigned offense.
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After spending much of his Tuesday press conference talking about positional battles, a reporter asked him if, with 10 days left before the season starts, he might have quietly chosen his starters.
Hoke, after all, closely guards his game plan. The players benefit from competition, or at least the appearance of it. But privately, might he have penciled in the depth chart?
Hoke pretended to be taken aback, but then grew more earnest and said that, in fact, four or five starting spots still must be decided. Maybe the most pressing is at center, where redshirt sophomores Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow are battling for the nod.
The position is especially important this year, with an entirely new interior on the line. Whoever wins will make the calls for the entire line, and he’ll do it with players on either side with no significant game experience.
Both Miller and Glasgow have taken reps with the starting line. Tuesday, Miller said he didn’t know who has the edge. At some point before the season starts, he said, he’d prefer a decision so he could prepare mentally, but he doesn’t know when that day would be.
“Frustrating’s not the right word,” he said. “I wish I was Taylor Lewan. I wish I was an all-American and didn’t have to worry about it, sure.”
As Michigan’s offense continues its evolution to a more pro style, the line must grow more physical. This year, more plays will require downhill blocking. Miller said the quarterback has lined up under center more often, which means there is a snap count that allows the line to fire off the ball more quickly.
Redshirt freshmen Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden will likely start at the guard position.
FOR NOW, FITZ FITS: Hoke almost, maybe, theoretically named Fitzgerald Toussaint the starter at running back. For now, he’s the favorite to start in the opener.
“If we’re going to get technical about it,” Hoke said, “Fitz would be the starter.”
Still, that can change before the season starts Aug. 31 against Central Michigan. But back from injury, Toussaint has looked best, Hoke said.
Toussaint injured his leg during a game against Iowa on Nov. 23 and spent much of the offseason rehabbing. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said he has recovered so well, it doesn’t look like he was ever injured.
Derrick Green has the physical tools to challenge Toussaint for the job, but he has been hampered by an ankle injury and has received limited reps. Each back, in fact, has shown flashes, Hoke said.
“But I think there’s a clear separation, and Fitz is the guy,” Hoke said.
CLARK EXPERIMENTS AT THE THREE-TECHNIQUE: No player on the team has received more offseason hype than junior defensive end Frank Clark. Kalis was the latest to join the chorus on Tuesday.
How would Kalis, an interior lineman, know the difficulty of blocking Clark? That’s because defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has been experimenting with Clark on the inside. Kalis said he has taken some reps at the three-technique.
Clark, of course, is most effective on the outside, and he’ll likely play a majority of his snaps there. Periodically moving him inside, though, can help Mattison generate extra pressure. The Wolverines are deeper at end than they are at tackle. If Clark can be effective on the inside, that allows an extra weakside end — potentially a player like freshman Taco Charlton — to enter the game in passing situations.
Kalis said that for a guard who don’t have the finesse of a tackle, Clark is “the kind of guy who makes you shaken and makes you nervous.”
NOTES: Kalis said the offensive line had no “loafs” out of 120 plays in the team’s scrimmage this weekend. … Hoke was pleased with the team’s physicality but wasn’t sold on its speed. “I don’t know if our speed is all — I don’t know how good our speed is to be honest with you,” he said. … Freshman Shane Morris, the backup quarterback, hit his finger while throwing in the scrimmage, and he was pulled as a precaution. … Sophomore receiver Amara Darboh was also shaken up, as was redshirt freshman linebacker Allen Gant.