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Opening spring ball: Michigan

3/18/2011

Brady Hoke conducts his first practice as Michigan coach on Saturday as the team kicks off spring ball.

Here's a snapshot of the Wolverines heading into the spring.

The big story: Hoke and his assistants begin installing their systems, their expectations and their demands with their new team. Spring ball is the time for a new coach to establish a foundation for the future, and Hoke wants Michigan to be rooted in toughness. There will be schematic adjustments everywhere, as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Denard Robinson acclimates to a new offense and Greg Mattison begins the rebuilding process with Michigan's defense. Growing pains are inevitable, but Michigan will try to accelerate the learning curve.

Position in the spotlight: Defensive line. Many eyes will be on Robinson this spring, and any of the defensive position groups could fit here, but Mattison has made it clear that his system starts with the guys up front. Michigan will run a 4-3 scheme, and Mattison is on the lookout for playmakers. He has some pieces to work with in Mike Martin and Craig Roh, but the Wolverines are short on depth.

Coaching changes: Uh, just a few. Running backs coach Fred Jackson is the only holdover from Rich Rodriguez's staff. Hoke brought five assistants with him from San Diego State, including offensive coordinator Al Borges. Mattison will be working with a new group of defensive assistants, including secondary coach Curt Mallory, a Michigan alum and the former defensive coordinator at Illinois.

Keep an eye on: Stephen Hopkins. All of Michigan's running backs are in the spotlight this spring as Borges wants to lighten the rushing load on Robinson, but Hopkins could be the best fit for the "downhill" offense the Wolverines plan to use. At 6-foot and 227 pounds, Hopkins has more size than Michigan's other backs and averaged 4.1 yards a carry in limited work as a freshman last season.

Spring game: April 16