- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our weeklong series looking at important gaps to plug at each Big Ten program stops next at Michigan.
This spring is about fresh starts in Ann Arbor. New coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of his staff have repeatedly told reporters that the entire team is starting with a clean slate. While every spot on the depth chart is technically up for grabs, there are a few that will be more of a competition thanks to departing players. The biggest shoes to fill this year in Ann Arbor are at quarterback and defensive end.
B1G SHOES TO FILL: Devin Gardner, QB
Why: Gardner was far from perfect during his two-plus years as the Wolverines’ starting quarterback, but this year’s team will miss his athleticism and his experience. The Detroit native started 27 games at quarterback for Michigan. He never outgrew his interception issues. Nonetheless, he threw for 6,336 yards and 44 touchdowns. Gardner might have benefited from a year under Harbaugh’s tutelage. Instead, the new staff has no choice but to start fresh at quarterback.
Replacement candidates: Shane Morris (6-3, 209, junior), Wilton Speight (6-6, 235, redshirt freshman), Alex Malzone (6-2, 218, freshman), Zach Gentry (6-7, 237, freshman), Jake Rudock (6-3, 208, redshirt senior)
The skinny: Michigan has eight total quarterbacks currently on campus with at least one more (Gentry) joining them in the summer. Morris is the only man in spring practice with any college experience, but he struggled in his lone start last year and is on equal footing with Speight and Malzone, the early enrollee. Rudock, who has started for the last two seasons at Iowa, remains the wildcard in this race. If he transfers to Michigan, his experience will make him the frontrunner. He visited the school in March, but it’s not clear if Michigan wants to add another arm to the roster. If he doesn’t end up coming, it’s anybody’s race to win.
B1G SHOES TO FILL: Brennen Beyer, DE
Why: The loss of both starting defensive ends this season leaves Michigan in search of a pass rush. Beyer was often overshadowed by Frank Clark’s explosive speed on the edge, but he was the more consistent of the two ends during their careers. Beyer started 27 games and played in 49 during his four years in Ann Arbor. Last fall he led the team with 5.5 sacks and played an important role on the Wolverine rushing defense that finished 15th nationally in yards allowed.
The skinny: New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin plans to experiment with both three- and four-man fronts, which muddies the waters of the defensive line depth chart this spring. Charlton, Ojemudia and Poggi are all expected to contribute on the edge of the defense. Ojemudia had a promising finish to the 2014 season after Clark was kicked off the team in November. Poggi and Charlton were both highly touted recruits who could be ready for breakout seasons now that the veterans ahead of them have moved on. Michigan needs contributions from its young defensive ends if Durkin is going to be successful in ramping up the pressure as planned in his first year with a new team.