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August 16, 2013

The Week That Was: Depth chart to be decided

The Wolverines' 2014 and 2015 recruiting efforts garnered some mad respect this week while preseason Top 25s rank Michigan in the high teens. We start, though, with continued coverage of fall camp in The Week That Was.

Michigan continues fall practices

Michigan's fall camp entered week two as the Wolverines looked to begin separating themselves into starters and backups. Head coach Brady Hoke told the media that following Saturday's scrimmage, the staff will make decisions Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on who they like on the two-deep in getting them a greater majority of practice reps as they prepare for game week Aug. 26.

What They're Saying

MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner said the most interesting thing gleaned this week is that freshman QB Shane Morris is getting more snaps than redshirt freshman Brian Cleary in the race to be U-M's backup:

"While Michigan has nothing even remotely resembling a quarterback controversy this fall, the battle for the backup spot remains crucial due to the fact that starter Devin Gardner is the only healthy signal caller on the team with real game experience.

"So, basically, Michigan finds itself in the position of having to get two quarterbacks -- Morris and Cleary -- up to game speed before Aug. 31.Because, simply, if Gardner goes down -- they're up.

"It remains to be seen whether or not Michigan will blow his redshirt during garbage time simply to get him some in-game experience, but the Wolverines certainly aren't against the idea of him entering a game at some point this season. Honestly, they have no choice."

Over at The Detroit News Angelique Chengelis says Saturday's scrimmage will go a long way towards determining who is Michigan's opening-day starter at tailback.

"With preseason camp approaching the days during which the Michigan coaching staff will begin to give structure to the starting lineup, the running back situation continues to be hotly contested.

"While Fitz Toussaint is the leading returning back and a strong contender, for the No. 1 job -- even coming off a broken leg suffered late last November -- there's a tremendous amount of depth at tailback. That includes freshmen Derrick Green and De'veon Smith, and returning backs Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson.

"Offensive coordinator Al Borges said Friday that while he and running backs coach Fred Jackson are getting closer to determining a running back hierarchy, they're not there yet. No doubt, Saturday's scrimmage, the first of camp, will play a major role in making those final decisions."

My Take: Even if the coaching staff is not overly forthcoming in the decisions they make on likely starters, having no good reason to tip off the opposition until they absolutely have to, those jobs are going to be decided over the next few days, making for an exciting time behind the walls of Schembechler Hall.

At this point, it would be a surprise if Toussaint wasn't the starting running back and Morris the backup quarterback, but other jobs - center, strongside defensive end and SAM linebacker - are still very much up in the air. The good news defensively is there will be such heavy rotation at end and linebacker that declaring an official starter takes on less importance.

However, at center, U-M will not rotate redshirt sophomores Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow. One must grab the gig outright and they know these next couple practices will largely determine who is the man.

We don't yet have the media schedule for next week (probably Hoke twice, the coordinators once), but certainly with the head coach giving a timetable of Aug. 18-20 for deciding the two-deep, he will be asked what conclusions they've reached. If it's still a battle, Hoke will keep that to himself, but if guys do separate, he'll probably share.

Watch out to see who comes to the press conferences too. As we indicated in Inside The Fort this week, the four players chosen to represent the team twice a week for media sessions say a lot about their standing on the team. So if we see Miller on Tuesday, that will be a strong indication he's won the center battle.

The preseason rankings list Michigan in the teens

Both SI.com and CBSSports.com unveiled their preseason Top 25s this week, with Sports Illustrated ranking Michigan 18th (three spots behind Michigan state) and CBS putting the Wolverines 17th. CBS also forecasted that U-M would meet Stanford in the Rose Bowl, but not as the Big Ten champion. That distinction belongs to Ohio State.

What They're Saying

In its recap, SI.com writes: "The Wolverines bring back four starters on offense, and they'll reintroduce the pro-style attack that was the maize-and-blue's hallmark for decades. The change should work well for quarterback Devin Gardner, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound redshirt junior who completed 59.5 percent of his passes with a 2.2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in five starts at the end of last season.

"He'll be protected by arguably the nation's best offensive lineman, left tackle Taylor Lewan, who passed up NFL riches to return for his senior year. Senior wideout Jeremy Gallon is poised for a breakout season, and the country's No. 1 running back recruit, Derrick Green, will be pressed into immediate action."

My Take: Fans may raise a din over the fact MSU is ranked higher but Michigan's spot seems about right for a team coming off an 8-5 campaign, changing its offensive scheme, without its best defensive player (to start the year), and breaking in an entire new interior offensive line.

Winning will change everything. Both polls have Notre Dame ranked ahead of the Maize and Blue, and if U-M bests the Irish, they will likely vault into the top 10 by week three. Go 4-0 in the non-conference and open the Big Ten 3-0 before a bye and Michigan likely sits in the top five, probably fourth behind undefeated Alabama, Ohio State and Stanford.

Regardless of what happens in November, the Wolverines will be the talk of college football during their bye week as fans, reporters and TV executives build the excitement of a potential undefeated Michigan-Ohio State matchup in Week 12.

Five future Wolverines named USA Today Preseason All-Americans

USA Today unveiled its 2013 preseason All-American team and it included 2015 WR pledge George Campbell, 2014 OL Mason Cole, 2014 WR Drake Harris, 2014 LB Michael Ferns and 2014 CB Jabrill Peppers. 2014 DE target Da'Shawn Hand also made the list.

My Take The story just hit the internet today so there hasn't been much written about it other than links to the information I just gave. Still, any media outlet would probably have the same reaction: 'Whoa.'

My first experience with the USA Today All-American team was on Jan. 1, 1998, waking up in the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood as my brother and I waited for our car to the Rose Bowl. It was then that he showed me the paper, which included four Wolverines (that I can recall) - receivers David Terrell and Marquise Walker, tailback Justin Fargas, and punter (he wasn't listed at QB) Drew Henson. I believe DL Dave Armstrong was on that list too but I'm not 100 percent.

Newspapers have lost their momentum considerably over the years but USA Today remains one of the most well-read and respected publications out there. They don't just put any kids on this list and the paper doesn't play politics. Its goal is to recognize the top performers in the country.

That Michigan has five commitments and a sixth on the way speaks volumes to what this coaching staff has been able to accomplish on the recruiting trail. U-M's 1998 haul is considered the best (on paper) the program has ever signed. The 2013 classes and 2014 classes are very strong but not quite at the '98 level. The 2015 class, with two potential five-stars in Campbell and tailback Damien Harris, will be limited in size (probably 14-16 scholarships) but it could rival the 1998 class in star power.

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