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July 23, 2013

10 questions to ask at Big Ten Media Days

Big Ten Media Day begins tomorrow and with it the unofficial start of the 2013 college football season. With the arrival of Brady Hoke and three player representatives, we should know a lot more about this team by Thursday.

Here are 10 questions Hoke/U-M players will sure to be asked, and we'll follow-up with the answers the next few days.

1. Is Fitzgerald Toussaint 100 percent and ready to compete for the starting job when camp opens Aug. 5?

Toussaint is one of two favorites to win the job (depending on who you ask, either facing off with Derrick Green, Thomas Rawls or Drake Johnson) but only if he's physically and mentally at full capacity. The fifth-year senior suffered a badly broken leg last November and has been rehabbing the past few months.

Sources have indicated that medically, he's good to go, but that he's still working his way back mentally. Any hesitation, however, and the job will likely go to someone else so he needs to be at his best from day one.

2. Which freshmen have impressed the veterans since their arrival in June?

Among the early enrollees, defensive end Taco Charlton, defensive back Dymonte Thomas and tight end Jake Butt have the best chance to play right away, but the rest of their classmates joined them for the summer term and conditioning, and certainly a few of them - an average of 10 rookies have played as true freshmen since 2008 - will also suit up for the Maize and Blue this fall.

So who? The veterans will have a decent idea which running back(s) is capable of stepping in, who at wide receiver and among the six defensive backs. Of course, the big question will likely center on QB Shane Morris and his preparedness as camp is set to open. Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner was responsible for taking Morris under his wing this summer, and he'll be able to assess just how far along the first-year signal-caller is.

3. Is the roster, in its current state, reflect who is expected to be on campus when camp opens or will there be any more departures?

Since the end of spring, safety Marvin Robinson and linebacker Kaleb Ringer left the program (both for Ferris State) and while there have not been any new reports the past few weeks of an exit, the possibility remains as summer term wraps up and the Wolverines get set for camp and the fall semester.

In its current iteration, the roster is set at 83 scholarships, meaning two walk-ons could receive a scholarship this season.

4. Is Jake Ryan still on track to return by the first of November, at the latest?

When Ryan went down with an ACL injury in spring practice, the worst was feared - an entire 2013 season without the stud redshirt junior linebacker. However, Hoke said in April he expected Ryan to be back by November first and there is even speculation he could return to the field before that.

Michigan will be cautious, but the strongside 'backer is a rare physical specimen recovering at an accelerated rate, and if he is truly 100 percent by mid-October, we might even see him for the Oct. 19 matchup with Indiana to get his feet wet before the Wolverines travel to East Lansing Nov. 2.

5. Have any of the young offensive linemen separated themselves from the pack?

When last we left the Maize and Blue, redshirt freshmen Ben Braden (left guard) and Kyle Kalis (right guard) and redshirt sophomore Jack Miller (center) were in line to start along the offensive line. But much can change in May, June and July, and there has been considerable talk that others are pushing for playing time while Braden and Kalis are not displaying the consistency necessary to lock up those jobs.

Fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan is responsible for the line (along with classmate Michael Schofield) and he'll have a good idea on how close the competition is for the three interior positions or if Braden, Kalis and Miller have amped up their commitment this summer.

6. Is Blake Countess healthy and ready to go at cornerback?

Countess should be further along than both Toussaint and Ryan after tearing his ACL in the 2012 season opener. In fact, he felt like he could have practiced in the spring; however, there was no reason to rush him into full-contact drills.

The Maize and Blue are counting on Countess to return to form this season, emerging one of the top cover cornerbacks in the league and one of the top playmakers. If he can defend one side of the field, the Wolverines will be that much better off in the secondary as they look for performers at free safety and the opposite corner.

7. Besides Jeremy Gallon, which receivers/tight ends put in the extra time with Gardner to develop the chemistry needed to emerge a go-to target this season?

For interviews for our Football Preview Gallon and Gardner talked about how they spend hours after practice throwing together, with Gallon running routes until the sun goes down. That familiarity with each other was a big reason why Gallon blossomed as Gardner's No. 1 target over the final five games of the 2012 campaign.

Seeing that chemistry should have inspired many others, including sophomore tight end Devin Funchess and sophomore receiver Amara Darboh. For Michigan fans, good news will be if Gardner says those two, and others, have put in the extra effort this summer, eating into the time that Gardner and Gallon have had.

8. With the departure of Marvin Robinson and little experienced depth at safety, who has moved up in the eyes of the veterans this summer?

Fifth-year senior Thomas Gordon is a lock to start at strong safety, offering the leadership and guidance that Jordan Kovacs previously brought. But who will stand next to him? Sophomore Jarrod Wilson was the starter in the spring but redshirt freshman Jeremy Clark is said to have had a strong summer and there are other candidates too.

Michigan has to get some young players up to speed very quickly, and hope that redshirt junior Josh Furman is finally ready to make a contribution or the Maize and Blue will go into the season with true freshmen on their two-deep.

9. Which redshirt freshman defensive lineman have dialed it up as they battle for key spots in the two-deep?

Tackles Willie Henry and Tom Strobel, and strongside ends Chris Wormley and Matthew Godin are all in the mix at their respective positions to start or at least play as key reserves. There is no shortage of competition along the line and only the strongest, most dedicated will play. Is that Henry? Wormley? All four had much to work on in the summer, and those that put in the most effort will have the leg up when came opens.

10. Will there be any position switches in preseason camp?

Looking at the current 2013 roster chart, the Maize and Blue are weakest at quarterback and safety. At QB, there is not much that can be done besides adding more walk-ons to the mix. At safety, U-M could move in a cornerback - perhaps one of the true freshmen or someone like senior Courtney Avery, if he isn't going to win a starting corner job.





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