Big Ten: A.J. Williams

2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges likes what he has to work with this spring. And who wouldn't be excited about Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint returning in the backfield as the offensive core?

But like every team, the Wolverines have some issues. One of the key concerns is building a solid two-deep along the offensive line.

"It's a position where we feel good about the kids who are playing," Borges said. "We just need to enhance our depth."

Michigan must replace Rimington Trophy winner David Molk at center, and Ricky Barnum will get the first crack at the gig. Barnum was injured most of last season, and has played left guard in the past.

"He's athletic," Borges said. "Ricky can move. He's really has the profile more of a center. He's smart, he understands who to block and he's played some guard, which should have some carry-over to center. So I think Ricky is going to be fine."

Making up for Molk's leadership might be the toughest task this spring. Borges said Barnum, left tackle Taylor Lewan, and senior guard Patrick Omameh should help pick up the slack in that area.

The starting group up front should be solid, with senior Elliott Mealer taking over at left guard, and Michael Schofield moving to right tackle to replace Mark Huyge. Behind them is a lot of inexperience. Borges said redshirt freshmen Jack Miller and Chris Bryant should contribute. And an incoming freshman like Kyle Kalis has a chance to crack the depth chart.

"We'll see how quick they can pick it up," Borges said.

Another area of concern is tight end, which loses departed seniors Kevin Koger and Steve Watson. Borges said senior Brandon Moore, who has played sparingly, and Ricardo Miller, who's more of a receiving tight end, will get the bulk of the work this spring. But it's a position that remains unsettled.

"We're looking at other kids, and the jury is still out," Borges said. "It's a position where, if a freshman came in and showed something, he could probably make a contribution."

Incoming recruit Devin Funchess could be that guy, though he'll likely need to put on some weight. The Wolverines also signed A.J. Williams as a tight end prospect.

"Seeing who's going to come to the forefront and be our starting tight end this spring, that's huge," Borges said.

Q&A: Michigan coach Brady Hoke

February, 2, 2012
Brady Hoke on Wednesday technically signed his second recruiting class as Michigan's coach, but unlike the first, this crop had his fingerprints all over it. Hoke and his staff had a full year to put the class together and rode some early momentum last spring and summer to a class rated in the top 10 nationally by the recruiting services. Michigan re-established itself on the home front with nine in-state players and nine more from neighboring Ohio. The Wolverines loaded up on both lines and added some decorated skill players as well. caught up with Hoke on Wednesday. Here are his thoughts:

What were your main objectives with this recruiting class?

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Chuck Cook/US PresswireBrady Hoke signed a class of 25 on national signing day, including 18 players from the states of Ohio and Michigan.
Brady Hoke: Number one, we had some holes that we needed to fill. We had eight guys on scholarship on the offensive line a year ago, and we needed to get some guys who will be great fits within the offense, and secondly, we need to get numbers and quality numbers. Same thing defensively. Coming out of a 3-3-5 scheme to a four-man scheme, you obviously have got to do a good job of changing and getting the bodies you need.

What stands out to you about the linemen you were able to sign on both sides?

Hoke: They're all quality kids and character kids. I think there's a toughness to them when you watch them play. There's great size potential and genetically, you've got some bigger guys.

A couple of those bigger guys are [offensive lineman] Kyle Kalis and [defensive lineman] Ondre Pipkins. What stood out to you about them?

Hoke: The movement a guy like 'Pee-Wee' [Pipkins] has. When you look at the size that he is and what the potential down the road is and how he plays the game. And with Kalis, he's a road grader. He's physical at the point of attack and finishes blocks.

How important was it to do well within the state? How big an emphasis did you put on Michigan and northern Ohio?

Hoke: Both states have outstanding high school football programs, and there's an emphasis and it's coached very, very well. Recruiting the state of Michigan is always going to be an important part of what we do, the heart and soul and core of your team, nucleus-wise. And Ohio is the same way. That is always a state because of population and the love they have for the game of football, it's always going to be a place we're going to recruit hard.

How important was it to get off to the start that you did last spring?

Hoke: That's always important, if you can get that done. Some years may be different than others, but you grab some momentum, and then kids start recruiting kids. They find guys they want to play with and be around for four or five years.

You played quite a few younger players, especially on defense, last year. Do you see that same potential with this class, guys able to contribute early in their careers?

Hoke: We're going to see. That's why it's an inexact science, but there's always opportunities out there for guys.

Was the competition recruiting this area any different this past year than when you were an assistant at Michigan?

Hoke: I don't think so. I didn't feel any different, let's put it that way.

How important was your vision for Michigan during this recruiting cycle?

Hoke: The more you know about the guys that you want to recruit, the more they know you, the relationships you build, all those things are important. Having 12 months to recruit a class is always beneficial.

How much were you able to recruit to where Michigan is going on the offensive side?

Hoke: We signed a fullback (Sione Houma), and that's an important position when you want to get in the two-back, I-back, and run the power play and the lead play and the play-action schemes off of it. A big back like Drake [Johnson] is an important piece to it. Tight end is an important piece, and signing the two tight ends [Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams] are going to help us down the road.

What's your take on the four-year scholarships that you and many other Big Ten schools began offering this year?

Hoke: I've got a feeling they'll revisit those things. There may have been a rush to judgment about how some of those things are pushed through six or seven months ago. I never saw a problem with the one-year, renewables. Maybe [the solution] is somewhere in the middle and they become two-year deals.