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October 4, 2013

The Week That Was: Green's stock on the rise

Michigan is poised to unveil a new starting offensive line tomorrow, linebacker Jake Ryan is practicing more and more, and tailback Derrick Green is in line to earn some carries in The Week That Was.

Chris Bryant will start at left guard

On Wednesday, head coach Brady Hoke announced that redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant will likely be taking over at left guard, making his first career start when U-M hosts Minnesota. Classmate Graham Glasgow is poised to move to center, with Jack Miller losing his job after four games of ineffective performances.

What They're Saying

The Michigan Daily's Matt Slovin noted this decision was a long time coming: "After weeks of deliberation, the Michigan coaching staff has opted for a personnel change in the unit that has caused the football team the most strife through four games. The switch comes a week after Hoke's comments that he would only move linemen around if a suitable replacement at guard stuck out.

"Hoke also noted that the team's biggest obstacle to a successful offensive line thus far hasn't only been the center position, but rather finding the five players who will do the best job together."

MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner of course points out that it's do-or-die time for the unit: "Michigan's offensive line - especially the interior of it - holds the key to this team's success right along with Devin Gardner. If the Wolverines can't create a push soon, they'll be in the same situation they were at the end of last season."

My Take: Even though the issues along the offensive line first appeared glaring after U-M struggled to move the football against Akron, it was possible to write that performance off as an entire team letdown. But by the end of the Connecticut game, it was obvious to everyone that this starting five didn't deserve to stay together.

This isn't easy stuff. A guy like Miller has been working incredibly hard for two seasons to put himself in a position to start, then he earns that role, and now he's losing it, and not because of effort or attitude, but because he's just not physically talented enough to handle the responsibilities of the center. Whether he can do anything about that for the future remains to be seen.

The hope is that this singular shakeup makes the difference, and that a new starting five can develop the chemistry to move the pile and open up holes for the running backs more consistently. If it doesn't work - and let's face it, if the group can't get it done against a Minnesota team with only one great defensive lineman - then this issue will be the kryptonite for the Maize and Blue this year, most likely preventing any real shot of winning the Legends Division.

Jake Ryan could return against Penn State

Wearing the orange jersey reserved for non-contact players, redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan took part in greater practice drills this week and might be physically cleared to play when the Wolverines travel to State College, Pa., for next week's game at Penn State.

What They're Saying

The Detroit Free Press Mark Snyder recaps where things stand: "Hoke said injured linebacker Jake Ryan is doing individual drills and more team parts of practice. He will be involved in the three practices this week, but the expectation remains that he won't play against Minnesota. The following week, Michigan will see whether he's ready to play against Penn State."

When Ryan returns, don't expect junior Brennen Beyer to lose significant playing time, Baumgardner writes: "He's done a bit of everything for Michigan this season. And when Ryan returns from his knee injury, which could happen at some point this month, Beyer may be back on the move again. He may play linebacker. He may play defensive end. One thing's for sure, though. He'll be everywhere but the bench."

My Take: Ryan's status was the center of considerable discussion amongst the media this week, with most believing he will be back in some sort of capacity against the Nittany Lions. Probably not for more than 10-15 plays unless Michigan is in trouble, but just enough to bring him back slowly, giving him a greater run against Indiana in two weeks and then allowing him to rest again during a second bye week.

Almost everyone is confident he will play in at least one of the Penn State/Indiana games so he's not going into the Michigan State contest Nov. 2 without experience this season.

As many wrote this week, Beyer is playing too well to be benched. Fifth-year senior Cam Gordon had a big game in week one but hasn't produced much since so if anyone is forced to the sideline, it will be Gordon. More likely, though, Beyer slides to weakside end, rotating with junior Frank Clark while Ryan starts at the SAM and Gordon is his backup.

Hoke wants Derrick Green to get more carries

Hoke said earlier this week he'd like five-star freshman Derrick Green to receive some carries early in the game against Minnesota as both a change-of-pace back to starter Fitz Toussaint and also because he's a dynamic athlete that deserves to show what he can do. In four games thus far, Green has 13 rushing attempts, but he did not have one against Connecticut and had exactly one against both Notre Dame and Akron.

What They're Saying

Michigan has to stick to its plan and play Green, Baumgardner insists: "By getting Green -- Michigan's prized five-star running back recruit -- involved in the game early, Michigan is hoping it can accomplish a multitude of things.

"First, it would help keep current starting running back Fitz Toussaint healthy. Toussaint said earlier this week he was feeling pretty banged up after a 120-yard, two-touchdown performance against Connecticut. Over Michigan's last three games, Toussaint has received all but two of the 67 carries the Wolverines have given to a running back. So it stands to reason a pace like that will -- at some point -- begin to slow down Toussaint's production.

"The second factor here is Green's size. At 5-foot-11, 240 pounds, Green has a much better chance of wearing out a defense and succeeding in a downhill power rush attack than Toussaint, who weighs just 200 pounds. It'd be a change of pace, and something Michigan really hasn't had yet this season.

"And, of course, it'd help Gardner. To this point in the season, Gardner, Toussaint and Jeremy Gallon have basically been the only three consistent playmakers on offense. Any addition to that list would be a welcome change."

My Take: Running backs coach Fred Jackson has proven over his career a reluctance to utilize multiple ball carriers (even if that is the initial plan) because he becomes so confident in one guy, and has a hard time trusting other tailbacks to carry the football.

Part of that is good. Would you have wanted someone other than Mike Hart to carry the football during his career? Probably not, but sometimes the decision to stick with one person is detrimental to the individual (no rest, greater number of hits) and the team. The good news is that when Hoke says something publicly, he usually doesn't put himself out there without every intention of backing it up, so we should see Green.

For how many carries? That remains up in the air, and consistently? Again, we'll find out. He could get two carries in the first quarter and if he doesn't produce, might not see the field again. But this is what Green has been waiting for. Deliver, and those opportunities will increase, and certainly, as Baumgardner pointed out, U-M would be better for it.

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