The Wolverine Den Blogs
Craig's 2018 Pre-Season Report
By Craig Koss
August 21, 2018
The 2018 Michigan Wolverines are ready to return to the elite of college football. Consider that Michigan has not won a Big Ten Championship since 2004 yet have the most Big Ten Championships in history. Consider that Michigan has not won a National Championship since 1997 but have 11 National Championships in their history. After a disappointing 8-5 season in 2017, why are the players, coaches and fans of the belief that things are improved? Here is why:
- Nearly all the players on this year’s team are Harbaugh recruits. No excuses.
- With nearly 80% of the team’s production returning, Michigan has one of the most experienced teams in the country.
- Deficiencies from 2017 at QB, receiving and offensive line have been upgraded at both the player and coaching level.
- The Michigan Defense will once again be one of the top units in the nation and will keep the Wolverines in every game this year.
Then there is the schedule. Michigan plays five of the top 12 teams in the preseason polls with three of them on the road. The mid-season three game stretch of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State is quite a juggernaut. The Wolverines open at Notre Dames and close the regular season at Ohio State. Along the way, there are trap games aplenty (Nebraska, Northwestern). It is one of the most challenging schedules in college football.
Offense: Michigan was 105th in the nation last year in offense. QBs Wilton Speight and John O’Korn are gone. Brandon Peters returns. RS Freshman Dylan McCaffery is back after being the Scout Player of the Year last year. Joe Milton is the new Freshman stud. New to the team is Shea Patterson. For those of you without internet, Patterson was the #1 high school QB in 2016. He played 2016-2017 at Mississippi. He started 10 games and averaged over 300 yards passing per game with 23 TDs. He will be the starting QB for Michigan. He is the real deal. And the depth being developed will be useful in the event of injuries and future years. Patterson is the biggest position upgrade on the team.
The only position group on offense that does not have a major concern is the running backs. The top duo of Karan Higdon and Chris Evans are both back and should be the perfect compliment to each other in the running game.
Next is the offensive line. The line was, frankly, horrible in 2017. The scheme was complicated. The continuity was poor and the results were well below expectation. New to the scene is OL coach Ed Warinner. Considered to be one of the best O-line coaches in the country, Warinner has brought in a new scheme, technique and comraderie to the line. While there are on-going position battles, Michigan will have a much improved offensive line in 2018. Likely starters are LT Juwann Bushell-Beatty, LG Ben Bredeson, C Cesar Ruiz, RG Michael Onwenu and RT Jon Runyan Jr. This line will be the biggest in Michigan history, averaging 6’5” and 325 lbs.
Lastly, the receivers. Injury and inexperience limited the receivers in 2017. But the huge Sophomore class will lead the team this year. Expected to start are DPJ, Tarik Black and Grant Perry with Nico Collins and Oliver Martin earning snaps. At TE, the returning Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry are both improved after gaining valuable experience last year. New receivers coach Jim McElwain and TE coach Sherrone Moore have this group ready to perform.
The offense will be much better. Shea Patterson is a much better QB. The scheme will include a downhill running game and a version of the run-pass option offense. The line will be better.
Defense: Most observers would look at the Michigan defense and say they just need to maintain. But the goal is to be even better. And this defense will be better. The Wolverines only lose two starters and have built a tremendous amount of depth at every level. The only real position battle is at Will Linebacker. Expect this to be a platoon system as none of the young guys have separated themselves from the competition. Josh Uche, Devin Gil and Josh Ross will all get a chance along with RS Freshman Drew Singletary. Coupled with Devin Bush and Khaleke Husdon, this will be a very dynamic and fast linebacking corp.
The D-line has two potential All-Americans in Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Throw in Aubrey Solomon, Brian Mone and Michael Dwumfour in the middle and you have one of the best D-lines in the nation.
Not to be outdone, all the starters return to the secondary, a unit that led the nation in pass defense last year. Lavert Hill and David Long are lock-down corners. Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus are the safeties. And there is plenty of depth.
Special Teams was not great last season but everyone is back with better experience. I think we will wait on the assessment once we see who will be starting.
Non-starters: There are not many surprises but with talent and depth abound, who might we see contribute outside the starters? On offense, Ben Mason is the first that comes to mind. Mason should be the starter when Michigan is in a fullback set. He is a great blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Plus he will be the battering ram to pick up the first downs on 3rd and short. Christian Turner has also been impressive in fall camp and could be the 3rd RB. I also look for a couple of tight ends to emerge – maybe Nick Eubanks.
On defense, True Freshman Aiden Hutchinson is the clear choice at DE. He could be special. Jordan Glasgow, the youngest of the three Glasgow brothers that played at Michigan, has been moved to Viper behind Hudson and could see some important snaps. Utah transfer Casey Hughes may see the field as the nickel corner, along with Ambry Thomas and Benjamin Watson. And finally, Brad Hawkins is pushing Josh Metellus at safety.
It is time for Michigan to stop just talking and to start achieving. The prior three years weren’t bad, but they weren’t good. Jim Harbaugh went 8-5 in his 3rd year at Stanford before going 12-1 in his 4th year, including a win in the Rose Bowl. A similar elevation for Michigan in year 4 would land them in the College Football Playoff. The team has the talent, coaching and depth to overcome the adversity of the season and schedule. It could be a very special year and one that would be talked about for years to come.
See you at The Den!