Post-spring Hot 11: Injured stars generate excitement
Though they didn't participate in team drills this spring, injured starters Blake Countess, Jake Ryan and Fitz Toussaint still moved the needle with promising news on the health front.
bgcolor="#000080"> TheWolverine.com Hot 11
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align="center" bgcolor="#c0c0c0"> The Analysis
style="font-family: verdana;">Could it have been anyone else? This is Gardner's team. The offense and the Wolverines will go as he goes. Good news arrived when U-M learned Gardner was granted another season of eligibility, and it continued into the spring as he proved to possess the leadership skills to rally his teammates. Gardner figures to be Michigan's top performer week after week this fall.
style="font-family: verdana;">Lewan passed up a likely top-five selection in the NFL Draft to return for his senior season with the hope of capturing the Big Ten title that has eluded him thus far. According to those close to the program, Lewan has grown up considerably, and is ready to lead a young offensive line to its potential. He'll do so while showcasing himself as one of the nation's premier offensive linemen.
style="font-family: verdana;">Frank Clark,
face="verdana">The junior defensive end put his teammates on notice to expect big things from him this fall. The linemen he wrestled with in the spring raved about his play, pushing the bar to double-digit sacks for the 6-2, 277-pounder. In the absence of Jake Ryan, he could become the game-breaking performer this defense badly needs.
style="font-family: verdana;">style="font-family: verdana;">Sure there was a lot of talk about Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, but Gallon just went about his job like he has for two seasons -- with stubborn consistency. The 5-8, 187-pounder remains Gardner's No. 1 target and because of that, he should put up big numbers this fall, challenging for all-conference first-team honors.
style="font-family: verdana;">James Ross,
style="font-family: verdana;"> While Clark is making life chaotic for QBs, Ross will be wreaking havoc on running backs (and some quarterbacks too). He has the explosion and acceleration to fill the gap created by Ryan's absence, emerging the dominant playmaker defensively. It would be disappointing if he finished with anything fewer than 10 tackles for loss.
face="verdana">Coordinator Al Borges has told anyone willing to listen that he intends for the tight ends to be greater utilized this season and in future campaigns. That's good news for Funchess, who has added weight to become a more powerful blocker, and thus a player that never has to come off the field. Still, Funchess won't make his mark engaged in a one-on-one but as a downfield and red-zone target capable of 50 receptions.
face="verdana">This was supposed to be the year that Morgan got forced out of the starting lineup, but no one told him that. The junior instead asserted his hold on the middle linebacker post ahead of sophomore Joe Bolden, showing he can be the rock that cleans up every ball carrier funneled to him.
face="verdana">He didn't participate in full-contact drills during the spring, and he hasn't busted out a max effort yet, but the junior cornerback is expected to be at full health by the time fall camp opens in August. And while his secondary mates have forged on without him, Countess brings an element the backfield currently lacks -- a playmaker.
style="font-family: verdana;">There is no set timetable for when he will return, but Ryan could be back in October coach Brady Hoke said at the conclusion of spring ball. If that were to be the case, the Maize and Blue would welcome their top defender just in time for a brutal five-game November stretch that will determine the fate of the Big Ten Championship.
face="verdana">Toussaint also sat out most of the spring while recuperating from a shattered leg that occurred late in the 2012 season. But while he mended, his competitors for carries unfortunately proved they're just not up for the job. That puts the onus back on Toussaint to be the first-string tailback come Aug. 31. A slot he promises he'll be ready for.
style="font-family: verdana;">Ryan's immediate replacement at the SAM linebacker position, Gordon impressed his coaches in winter conditioning and then had an even better spring practice. He's not as strong against the run as Ryan, and will likely rotate with Brennen Beyer, but he's showcasing himself as an animal in passing situations and could benefit greatly from rushing the passer opposite Clark.