Some have already wondered aloud if Michigan's wide receivers cupboard is bare after this year, with the exception of shorter stalwarts like redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon and junior Drew Dileo. Captain Jordan Kovacs has witnessed first-hand evidence to the contrary.
Kovacs was one of the defensive backs looking up in practice when rookie Amara Darboh made a leaping, one-handed grab in yesterday's Outback Bowl practice. Junior quarterback Devin Gardner tweeted about it, saying it was one of the best catches he'd ever seen.
The fifth-year senior safety acknowledged the catch was, indeed, something special, when talking about both Darboh and fellow freshman Jehu Chesson.
"They're very explosive athletes," Kovacs said. "They've got great hands. Yesterday, Amara made a couple of big-time catches, and really just caught my eye. I'm sure there will be a learning curve for them, like there is for everybody. We look forward to their development, because there are some very good athletes.
"They run good routes and have great hands. They'll continue to work in the weight room and continue to get better from there."
Kovacs focuses most of his attention on the defensive side of the ball, and knows there is plenty of talent coming along there as well. He first cited freshman safety Jarrod Wilson, a strong candidate to slip into the lineup at next year. Kovacs also noted junior safety Marvin Robinson is "a very good ballplayer," and was impressed by the play of two freshman linebackers.
"We've got a lot of talent," Kovacs said. "There are linebackers as well - Joe Bolden and Biggs [James Ross III], we've seen them. We've got some defensive linemen. It's going to be exciting. It's exciting to see how they've progressed so far."
Another true freshman, Dennis Norfleet, has been seen plenty on kickoff returns, but not heard from much on offense, where he served as a backup running back. He's switched to cornerback for bowl practices, and Kovacs thinks he can stick there.
"Dennis is playing very well," Kovacs said. "He's a good athlete. You've seen him on kick returns. He's quick, very explosive. He's not very big, but he makes up for it. He's very physical, a strong kid who I think is going to contribute."
Some are questioning whether a 5-7 cornerback can make it at that position, but Kovacs ranks as an expert at overcoming doubters. He's at least willing to wait and see what happens.
"He's played corner a lot in high school, and it's been a pretty smooth transition," Kovacs said. "We're only a few practices in. We have to see how much he really will develop. He's a great athlete, and has very good feet. I'm excited to see where he can take it."
"If he plays with proper technique and fundamentals, he'll be just fine. He's excited. He's a good kid. He's just one of those guys who is passionate about football, and he's fun to play with, because he truly enjoys the game. I don't think he's discouraged about it, or anything like that. He's just excited to have an opportunity to play."
Michigan's young offensive linemen are no doubt itching for a similar opportunity, and fifth-year senior guard Patrick Omameh insists there are some definite candidates for playing time in the bunch. He just won't differentiate between them, at this point.
"They're young," he said. "It's never easy coming into a college program as a freshman, especially as an offensive lineman. But they're all doing good, and I'm excited to see what they can do in the future.
"I'm sure any of them will be able to put themselves in a position where they can help the team. It's up to them to do what they have to do in the offseason
we have guys who can play. It's just a matter of guys preparing themselves, learning the system to a point where they can handle it in a game situation."
The All-Big Ten offensive lineman noted that younger blockers have a challenge in getting physically ready to perform at the college level, but that the mental aspect of performing on the offensive line might even be tougher.
"The physical aspect, it might even take a backseat to technique and learning different things that you might not necessarily know at the high school level," he said. "There are different things you have to acquire during your time as a college athlete.
"I'd say they are adapting more quickly. It also helps that a lot of these guys came in physically pretty ready to do what it takes at this level. They know what they have to work on, the mental aspect, to do what they have to do be successful."
Those linemen have yet to see the field. For the host of younger players who did get snaps this year, Kovacs knows they've gained a major boost toward 2013.
"Experience is invaluable," he said. "When you can get guys game-like repetitions, or scenarios, it's huge. Coach [Greg] Mattison has done a great job of working in the young linebackers, working in the young safeties and corners whenever he can, to get those guys that experience.
"At the end of the day, you can't create that scenario in practice, where you're in front of 110,000 fans. It takes a game-like scenario to do that
with two minutes to go you're up by four. The game is on the line, and the pressure is on you. That's an invaluable experience."
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