You might not feel it, but spring is soon to be in the air around the Big Ten. In preparation, we’re looking this week at key position battles for each program.
Next on the list is Michigan.
1. Quarterback: It all starts here for new coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines, now without Devin Gardner. Is that addition by subtraction for an offense last year that averaged 15.1 points against eight winning FBS teams? Shane Morris, the only returning quarterback with experience, committed six turnovers and did not account for a touchdown in 2014 as a sophomore. Wilton Speight enters spring as his main competitor after a redshirt season. Freshman Alex Malzone joins the Wolverines for spring. Signee Zach Gentry, an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-7 who was formerly committed to Texas, enters the mix in the summer. Michigan has also added ex-Houston quarterback John O’Korn, who is expected to sit out the 2015 season.
2. Running back: Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith enjoyed nice moments in their sophomore seasons, combining to rush for 990 yards and nine touchdowns. Green’s season was cut short by a broken clavicle after six games. They’ll compete in the spring with USC transfer Ty Isaac – like Green, a former elite recruit – who sat out last season after rushing for 236 yards as a freshman for the Trojans. Green, Smith and Isaac all weigh in at 220 pounds or heavier. Junior Drake Johnson also returns after rushing for 361 yards last season.
3. Safety: The intrigue here involves the potential position switch of Jabrill Peppers, Michigan’s top recruit from 2014 who played in three games as a nickelback last year before injuries ended his first season. Peppers is likely more natural at safety than cornerback and could make an immediate impact despite the return of established starter Jarrod Wilson in addition to Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark and Dymonte Thomas, all of whom gained experience last year. Michigan also appears set to add graduate transfer Wayne Lyons, a cornerback at Stanford who could fit among several versatile athletes capable of playing multiple spots in the defensive backfield. Secondary coaches Greg Jackson and Michael Zordich face several decisions in setting responsibilities in the secondary.