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August 22, 2013

News & Views: Hoke names Shane Morris backup QB

Michigan coach Brady Hoke sat down with the media Thursday evening and talked about Shane Morris, Dennis Norfleet, the wide receiver situation and more. Here are the highlights:

Hoke: "We've got him doing both of them now. He's done a very good job. Cracked one the other night, which was live for about 35, 40 yards. There was some good-on-goods competition. So that was good to see. Gallon and Dileo obviously are still two guys that we like. Jehu Chesson in the kickoff returning, and then Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis have been doing some of the punt returns."

News: Freshman quarterback Shane Morris has won the backup spot behind starter Devin Gardner.

Hoke: "We just thought he moved forward. We pretty much decided after Saturday. He had done a good job before then. … "He's learning the offense every day. He throws the ball, spins it, really well. The timing's pretty good."

Views: The Wolverines have a firm No. 1 quarterback in Gardner, who is poised for a big season after an impressive five starts at the end of 2012. But depth at the position has been one of the biggest question marks this fall camp, especially considering redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy is out for the year after an ACL injury sidelined him during spring practices.

With the news that Morris has won the backup role over redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Cleary - who participated in spring practice, whereas Morris did not - Michigan has a little more clarity in the backfield.

The coaches have made the decision to vault the true freshman to second string, they have to go all in on the decision. It is very important to get Morris in-game experience. Not only has Morris never seen playing time in a college game, but he contracted mononucleosis last September and missed most of his senior season in high school.

If he's the guy, he needs playing time. And if Cleary had been the guy, he would have needed to see the field. In all likelihood, the Wolverines will beat Central Michigan handily - and once they're up by a comfortable margin, it's time to bring in Morris.

Michigan cannot find itself in a similar situation as last year's Nebraska game, when Denard Robinson left the game with an elbow injury, and Bellomy stepped in with almost not playing experience whatsoever.

I have a lot of confidence in Morris' abilities. He has a big arm and a huge football IQ. But until he's in there when the bullets are flying (and remember, he's got on the orange jersey in practice, so defenders can't tackle him), he won't have a full understanding of the level of play on the field.

News: Sophomore slot receiver Dennis Norfleet, the team's kick returner last season, will be the Wolverines' primary kick and punt returner in 2013.

Views: Norfleet showed serious promise as the Wolverines' kick returner last season, racking up 827 yards on 35 attempts, both of which rank No. 2 in single-season program history.

Fans were waiting for him to break the big one every time he set up shop at the goal line - though the big one never came (his long on the year was 38 yards).

After seeing the small, shifty, fast freshman on kick returns, many thought the Wolverines should give him a shot at returning punts, too. Michigan was 61st nationally in average yards per return (10.8) and returned just 16 on the year (which ranked 89th nationally).

And when Norfleet did get an opportunity to field punts, he showcased an explosive that Michigan has sorely lacked in recent years, returning one against Illinois for 42 yards.

But there's a good reason why Jeremy Gallon was the coaches' choice on punt returns: he knew when to return a punt and when to fair catch it.

Norfleet had no filter last season - he would have taken a chance on whatever came his way. Wide receiver Drew Dileo was back on kick returns with Norfleet, not to return kicks but to coerce Norfleet to stay in the end zone and take a knee when it was appropriate to do so.

It would have been extremely high risk, high reward to put Norfleet back there on a regular basis in 2012. Now, with a year under his belt with special teams coordinator Dan Ferrigno, Norfleet has a better understanding of the logistics.

He'll know when he needs to simply secure the ball and let the offense take over - and when to take a chance.

And when he takes those chances, look out.

News: The Wolverines are moving on after the disappointing loss of sophomore wide receiver Amara Darboh, who suffered an injury last weekend and will miss the 2013 season.

Hoke: When asked who will replace Darboh, Hoke said, "The three J's: Joe Reynolds, Jehu Chesson and Jeremy Jackson."

Views: It's a shame the Wolverines will be without Darboh this season. From what the coaches have been saying since spring practice, Darboh looked like he would have a breakout year in 2013, helping to diversify the passing game alongside the proven commodity of Gallon.

But they have to move on - and although the pieces behind him aren't all battle-tested, there are things to like.

For starters, Reynolds, a fifth-year senior who originally came to Michigan to run track, was going to see the field this year, regardless of Darboh's health status. He may not have put up the numbers on the box scores - three catches for 22 yards last year - but he played in 11 games.

The coaches really like what he brings to the table. He knows the offense as well as anyone; he has solid fundamentals; and he blocks with the tenacity the coaches have come to expect from their wide receivers.

Now, he has to prove he can move the chains. Jackson is another player with experience - and he has improved solidly in the last few years.

Chesson is the x-factor. He's a fast, lanky guy. Can he provide the deep threat the Wolverines are looking for? He redshirted last season, so we really haven't been able to see him perform.

Time will tell, but the pressure is on those three to step up. And someone is going to heed the call.

News: Former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady visited the team this morning to give a pep talk and discuss what it means to play for the Wolverines.

Hoke: "You talk about a guy who truly has a passion for competition and how your prepare. There's a legacy. He'd be in the room watching tape of an opponent until 12 O'clock, thinking, 'How can I be the best quarterback for Michigan.' … There were some wide eyes in that room."

Views: How cool is that?

Not every program can invite an alumni - who happens to be the greatest active quarterback in the world - back to speak with the team.

I can't imagine how jacked up the guys were when they learned that Brady was coming to the team meeting. And after watching the video of him speak (available on MGoBlue.com), I'm sure these guys were itching to kick off the season Aug. 31.

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