The Michigan football team’s Maize and Blue Spring Game on Saturday served as a capstone for the last couple months of work, with the Wolverines getting their first chance to showcase their new roster to the fans in attendance.
For a select few returnees, it was an opportunity to display their successful offseason transformations.
Senior Mike Sainristil, a former wide receiver, took his snaps at cornerback — and he didn’t have to wait long to make a play on the ball.
A few weeks ago, senior quarterback Cade McNamara admitted that Sainristil had been the first player to intercept him in spring ball. In McNamara’s third pass attempt of the game, he challenged Sainristil once more, targeting sophomore wide receiver Andrel Anthony on a deep pass down the right sideline. But Sainristil proved he was up to the task.
He elevated, getting his hands in front of Anthony to swat the pass away. He then turned toward his teammates to show off his newfound cornerback swagger, signaling incomplete for all to see.
“Mikey has been one of my favorite guys to see throughout the first part of spring,” defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said on Mar. 18. “On both sides of the ball, he plays with a level of toughness and maturity. He’s a really good football player. I think he’s a guy you could put anywhere.”
Throughout the offseason, Sainristil has emphasized his commitment to being physical and how his understanding of the offense has helped prepare him for what he needs to do on defense. In the few series he played, those intangibles were on display.
With Michigan needing to replace three starters from the secondary last season, Sainristil proved he could be the guy to fill the void.
A position where the Wolverines do have depth at, though, is linebacker; so junior Kalel Mullings is finding multiple ways to be a contributor. In the spring game, Mullings lined up for a few series at linebacker, but also took snaps as a running back.
“He’s a baller,” junior running back Blake Corum said after the game. “That’s what I call an athlete. I’ve seen some great things from him at the running back position. Obviously, he plays linebacker, but I mean, shoot, he’s a dual threat. He can do both.”
Mullings picked up one tackle during his brief time playing on defense. He made more of an impact coming out of the backfield, rushing for 36 yards on four carries. His best play came early when Mullings bounced outside to the left and burst ahead for a 21-yard pickup.
Converting from linebacker to running back has been a successful blueprint for Michigan before. Former running back Hassan Haskins came into the program as a linebacker before making the switch to running back. Haskins excelled last year as a powerback, with Corum’s speed being a formidable complement.
With Haskins’ departure, the Wolverines are in search of a new bruiser to pair with Corum. Mullings — who’s 6-foot-1, 230 pound frame is nearly identical to Haskins’ measurements — might be primed to step into that role this fall.
“Everything you’ve seen out there (shows how) he’s just elevated his game,” sophomore linebacker Junior Colson said. “He’s been tearing it up this offseason.”
Coming off a season that surpassed all expectations, Michigan knows the challenge of reaching that pinnacle again will be to replace talent that’s no longer on the roster. Part of the solution could be having players who are willing to embrace new roles.
While both only saw game action in the first quarter on Saturday, it was evident Sainristil and Mullings — at their new positions — have the potential to help the Wolverines have some repeat success this fall.