Three freshmen to watch in Michigan’s season opener

via Shane Morris' Instagram @shanes_world7
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By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 29, 2013

The freshmen on the Michigan football team are an interesting bunch.

On one hand, you’ve got the players that are expected to make an immediate impact. There are enough of them to give defensive coordinator Greg Mattison enough confidence to rattle off a list of whom he thought could play immediately.

On the other hand, you've got offensive coordinator Al Borges, who was a little more tight-lipped about who might see playing time. And then you’ve got Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who’s reluctant to put any in at all.

Hoke is hesitant to call Team 134 a “veteran” squad, though he is fortunate that there are enough returning players that no true freshmen will be expected to start.

“You’d hate to have to rely on a true freshmen, not because they’re not smart enough. It’s inexperience,” Hoke said. “Putting a freshman in that situation is something that you really don’t want to have to do. It’s been done, we’d rather not.”

Despite what Hoke says, here’s a look at a three freshmen to keep an eye on in the season opener, and beyond.

DERRICK GREEN, RB: Derrick Green should have been one of the crown jewels in the Wolverine’s freshman class. He was the No. 1 tailback recruit in the country, expected to be a serious contender with fifth year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint as the Wolverines’ chief running back.

But, that of course, was before Green’s most recent weigh-in earlier this month. Green has put on almost 20 lbs since the beginning of the summer, now checking in at a hefty 240 lbs. The coaching staff isn’t overly concerned with his weight at the moment, but it is something they will be monitoring in the coming weeks.

So now, in lieu of competing with Toussaint for the starting nod, Green is instead competing for fifth-string duties with fellow freshman De’Veon Smith.

It may not matter on Saturday, though, as this past week, both Hoke and Borges confirmed that no one beyond Toussaint is guaranteed to see reps against Central Michigan.

But Toussaint is still assisting with the learning curve of the young running backs, Green in particular.

“My best advice is to just go out there, take a fast game and slow it down,” Toussaint said. “You have to know exactly what’s going to happen.”

SHANE MORRIS, QB: If backup quarterback Shane Morris does take to the field against Central Michigan this weekend, as Hoke would like, hopefully his first play will go a little better than Devin Gardner’s did against Connecticut in 2010.

Between all the noise that 100,000 fans in Michigan Stadium tend to make and trying to yell loud enough for his teammates to hear, Gardner called the wrong play and ended up losing yardage.

It’s something that could happen to any freshman. But that kind of situation is a Catch-22 Hoke has to consider when it comes to playing Morris — and he would like to play him briefly on Saturday.

“You always want to be able to get guys in games,” Hoke said. “Obviously, the quarterback position being what it is, if that ability came, we would want to get him as much work as we could. (But), going down that tunnel the first time, (there are) distractions that can come with that.”

Playing Morris likely means having to burn his redshirt — something that could have possibly been avoided had redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy not injured his knee last spring.

With Morris as the sole backup scholarship quarterback, the coaches will have to put his inexperience on the backburner, try to forget the fact that he missed most of his senior season to mononucleosis, and hope that his first play goes a little better than Gardner’s botched play call.

DYMONTE THOMAS, DB: Enrolling at Michigan last winter could end up being one of the best decisions that five-star recruit Dymote Thomas could have made.

Now, he stands out to Mattison as one of the least "freshman-y" freshman on the team, partly because of his skill, but mostly because he’s been around the program for half a year. And now, the coach seems confident that Thomas will be the primary nickelback.

But those extra months of practice are even more important now that Thomas may have to step in for injured senior Courtney Avery at free safety as well. And Hoke is happy with his flexibility as a player.

“That helps us when you look at what we want to do back there,” Hoke said.

Mattison said that sophomore Jarrod Wilson will start in place of Avery on Saturday, and that he doesn’t want to rotate between safeties. If Thomas does run away with the position, it’s likely his until Avery returns. And that shouldn’t be a problem for Thomas if he keeps up his preseason level of performance.

“(Thomas) has been trained throughout camp so now it’s how (he) finishes out the week,” Mattison said.