With new coaches, inevitably, players come and go.
And the Michigan football team experienced that in full this offseason, as it lost senior cornerback Blake Countess and saw the early retirement of starting center Jack Miller, while adding graduate transfers in quarterback Jake Rudock (from Iowa), corner Wayne Lyons (Stanford) and punter Blake O’Neill (Weber State).
Those three will join a team loaded with players who were highly touted out of high school but haven’t lived up to their billings in college.
Now, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will see whether that was a result of faulty scouting or untapped potential. Harbaugh inherits a veteran-laden roster that returns most of its offensive line and a remarkably seasoned defense.
The depth chart Harbaugh sent the Wolverines’ first opponent, Utah, listed a few notable positions — quarterback, kicker, receiver — with an “OR” distinction, a tactic in gamesmanship that shouldn’t surprise the Utes one bit.
Not to worry, though — the Daily broke down Michigan’s lineup from top to bottom. Here’s what you can expect at every position.
Harbaugh says his quarterbacks know who will start, but as of now, we still don’t. Rudock seems like the logical pick, though, as he has two years of experience at Iowa and looked much more poised than junior Shane Morris at an Aug. 22 open practice.
Rudock won’t win many games on his own, but he has proven himself as a game-manager, and the word out of camp was that his deep ball was good too. He didn’t show off any long throws at the open practice, but he was on the money most of the night, throwing a pair of touchdowns.
If Rudock is the guy, expect consistency and reliability, even if he isn’t drawing headlines.
Senior De’Veon Smith is listed as the clear No. 1 on Michigan’s depth chart, but expect juniors Derrick Green and Ty Isaac to see time as well.
Isaac transferred from USC to be closer to his mother, and he and Green were both five-star prospects in the class of 2013. Green’s production was strong last season, though he developed a reputation for missing holes at times.
If his vision is there, Green could have the highest ceiling of the bunch, with an enticing speed-power combination. But as of now, Smith’s physical brand of running seems to have won over Harbaugh, and he’ll get the first carry against Utah.
Smith ran the ball 134 times for 636 yards and 6 touchdowns last year, and he has the skills to eclipse all those marks this year. But Green and Isaac will be pushing him, and that’s to say nothing of senior Drake Johnson, who emerged late last year before tearing his ACL for the second time.
This will be a battle throughout the season, but Michigan has plenty of options.
The breakout star from camp was redshirt freshman Drake Harris, but redshirt juniors Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are the more known quantities. No one in this bunch has been a go-to target, but someone will have to emerge for the Wolverines to be successful.
Darboh had his left pinky in a splint at the open practice, but if he’s healthy, he’s the most likely candidate. He caught 36 balls for 473 yards last season, showing reliable hands.
Chesson is the fastest and has deep threat potential, but he’ll need to show improvement in his route running and with his hands. Neither is a bad option, but neither is a star either, though both are capable of being the deep threat.
Harris is the most exciting prospect of the bunch, with great leaping ability and ball skills, but injuries are always the question with him. He hasn’t played a competitive game since he was junior in high school, when he went over 2,000 yards receiving. If he’s healthy, his ceiling is high.
Grant Perry is the other name to know here, as the freshman slot receiver earned first-team reps in fall camp.
Say it with me: Jake Butt. Start stockpiling puns now, because come Thursday, Michigan’s offense will have Butt on the brain morning, noon and night. That’s how it should be — he might be the biggest strength the Wolverines have on offense.
The junior tore his ACL in spring practice in 2014, but he came back to make a handful of eye-catching plays last season. And with all of Butt’s talent, he’s a safe bet to be a focal point of the Michigan offense, especially deep in opposing territory. He caught 21 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s due to break out in a big way in 2015.
Harbaugh called Butt “as good a prospect as we’ve coached at the college level,” in early August, high praise from a man who also coached Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and Colts tight end Coby Fleener at Stanford.
The rest of the position group is solid too, with senior AJ Williams, sophomore Ian Bunting and junior Khalid Hill. How Harbaugh and tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh choose to allocate playing time between everyone behind Butt is yet to be seen, but suffice to say they have plenty of options.
Once a glaring weakness, the Wolverines’ offensive line finally looks like a strength. Michigan returns every starter but Jack Miller, who retired this spring, but senior Graham Glasgow steps in to fill the slot.
Sophomore Mason Cole has bulked up to man the left tackle spot, and redshirt junior Ben Braden is completing the switch from right tackle to left guard, complementing Cole with great size at 6-foot-6, 322 pounds.
Glasgow has been steady for the Wolverines, and there’s no reason to think that changes with a move to center. Redshirt junior Kyle Kalis earned rave reviews from camp at right guard, fostering hope he may finally live up to his high billing as a recruit.
Redshirt junior Erik Magnuson will start at right tackle, rounding out a veteran line that should finally be one of the conference’s top units.
Look for David Dawson, Juwan Bushell-Beatty and Logan Tulley-Tillman to come in if any injuries arise, but otherwise, the line looks set.
There may not be any one superstar on the defensive line, but the word to remember with this unit is depth.
Redshirt junior Willie Henry was a standout at defensive tackle, but is listed as a starting end on Michigan’s depth chart. It’s an interesting move, but Henry’s athleticism and size should mean he can still be effective. Senior Ryan Glasgow will lock down the nose tackle slot, while seniors Chris Wormley and Matt Godin will both play in the defensive tackle, rotating to stay fresh.
Wormley had an impressive spring game, but the position lends itself nicely to rotation, and Godin will be plenty serviceable as well. Expect to see junior Maurice Hurst get some run at nose, as well.
This should be the strength of the team.
Three seniors — Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and James Ross III — will start at the traditional linebacker spots, and another senior, Mario Ojemudia, will play at the hybrid buck position.
And aside from being the most veteran position group the Wolverines have, it might also be the most talented. Morgan was a standout in 2013 before he missed most of 2014 with a hand injury. Fortunately for Michigan, Morgan was able to redshirt the season, and he’ll now get a do-over for his senior year.
Bolden started every game for the Wolverines in 2014, registering 102 tackles and four for loss. He’s always been a practice warrior, earning one of the captaincies for 2015, but has yet to become a true superstar on the field. If this is the year he breaks through, Michigan will be in great shape.
Ross saw his playing time drop in 2014 after a strong showing in 2013. A transition to SAM was the problem, as his tackles dropped from 85 to 32. Ross is athletic and has proven he can make plays, but he’ll need to recapture some of what made him great as a sophomore to solidify this unit.
Redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers is the linchpin of this group. Peppers could play any of the secondary positions and will be counted on as a security blanket over the top. A top cornerback recruit out of high school, Peppers transitioned to safety this offseason and, according to his coaches and teammates, hasn’t missed a beat. The hard-hitting playmaker from New Jersey has the talent to be a game changer, but he remains relatively unproven in games.
Alongside Peppers is senior Jarrod Wilson, a proven force at free safety. Wilson isn’t flashy, but he’s sturdy, and that’s all you really need from your safeties. Junior Delano Hill, who drew rave reviews out of fall camp, backs Wilson up and could see some playing time depending on the package.
Lyons is listed on Michigan’s depth chart as a safety despite playing corner at Stanford, and could also get some reps at nickel corner.
Junior Jourdan Lewis is a lock to start at corner after an impressive sophomore campaign and a good camp, while junior Channing Stribling appears to have the spot opposite him for now. The second corner could be a revolving door, though, with senior Jeremy Clark and sophomore Brandon Watson also in the mix.
This was the haziest part of the depth chart Michigan released.
Kicker was listed as either senior Kenny Allen or sophomore Kyle Seychel, punter was listed as either Allen or O’Neill, and returners were listed as either Peppers or Chesson.
With no real answers, it’s hard to analyze this bunch. But from what we have seen, kicking will be a question mark. If Allen and O’Neill are truly close, that’s a positive for Michigan, because O’Neill has drawn praise throughout fall camp. If Allen is at or near that level, the Wolverines have two capable punters. If he’s not, and the “OR” on the depth chart is a ruse, Michigan will be just fine with O’Neill.
As for the return game, it’s safe to say we’ll see both Peppers and Chesson this season.