Jim Harbaugh Identifies Michigan's Top Players At Each Offensive Position
Michigan football is heading into the summer with the picture of who its top players are on offense becoming clearer coming out of spring ball.
As head coach Jim Harbaugh well knows, it all starts at quarterback, and there are some exciting possibilities surrounding the Wolverines' 2021 signal-callers. That begins with redshirt freshman Cade McNamara, who completed 43 of his 71 pass attempts last season for 425 yards and five touchdowns, and helped lead the Maize and Blue to a comeback victory in triple-overtime at Rutgers.
New quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss named McNamara the starter coming out of spring ball. While that could change before the season opener against Western Michigan Sept. 4, Harbaugh, while appearing on the 'In The Trenches' podcast with host Jon Jansen, also expressed how solid McNamara was in the spring.
"Cade just continues to play well. Just continual progress from Cade," Harbaugh said. "He had a great spring, so was super excited for Cade. He took what he did last fall in games and continued to build on it on a daily basis. Very confident, knows the system inside and out, been really fun working with him.
"Matt Weiss is doing a great job, and Cade is a sponge for knowledge, always trying to improve and add to what he’s doing."
There is also plenty of excitement within the Michigan fan base, and program, about freshman early enrollee J.J. McCarthy, a former four-star, top-50 recruit nationally.
"J.J. was terrific as a mid-year freshman, and got himself all the way up to No. 2 [on the depth chart]," Harbaugh revealed.
And then there is freshman Dan Villari, who did not appear in a game last season. At 6-4, 227 pounds, Villari is a dual-threat quarterback with a lot of strength. Harbaugh said the Wolverines are experimenting with some of the things they can do with Villari, moving him around and finding a way to get him on the field.
"Dan Villari, for those that saw the spring game, was really good, really effective," Harbaugh noted. "Excited about Dan. Was kind of looking at Dan in multiple ways. You could throw out the name [New Orleans Saints quarterback/tight end] Taysom Hill … we’re going to try to do some things like that with Dan Villari as a quarterback/athlete that can really help our team. I think he can do it. A lot to like about Dan Villari."
Michigan will also bring in Texas Tech transfer quarterback Alan Bowman, who has three years of eligibility remaining, this summer.
Lots Of 'Excitement' About Michigan's Running Backs
One of the strongest position groups on the squad is the group of running backs, who are being coached by newly-minted position coach Mike Hart, the program's all-time leading rusher.
Redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins emerged as the team's top rusher last season, registering 375 yards and six scores on 61 attempts, while freshman Blake Corum (26 carries, 77 yards, two touchdowns) showed some flashes last season. Freshman early enrollee Donovan Edwards has also turned some heads during his first few months on campus.
"Blake Corum, Hassan Haskins — they’re two tremendous players, and that’s where the bulk of the carries are going to go," Harbaugh revealed. "We’re going to lean heavily on those two players.
"And then Donovan Edwards, he’s come in as a mid-year and shown he’ll play; he’ll play a lot. I love Donovan. He can do just about everything — be a home-run hitter. The ball in his hand is exciting.
"He catches the ball really well out of the backfield, another real strength for him. He played in the state championship game in January and he had a cast on, and then started spring ball, same cast on the thumb. And ‘lo and behold, you look up and he’s catching seven balls in a practice, and he’s doing that with a cast on his hand.
"He’s got some real talent, and there are going to be exciting things that you’re going to see in Donovan right out of his freshman year. But he’s very much on track to do that.
"There’s definitely a lot of excitement in that room."
Three Michigan Wideouts, Two Tight Ends Have Emerged
Harbaugh acknowledged that he wants to see more explosive plays from his skill position players this season, and he believes the group of wideouts can provide just that after watching them this spring.
Junior Ronnie Bell has led the Wolverines in receiving yards each of the last two seasons and is a lock to start, while sophomore Cornelius Johnson appears to be the second outside guy trending towards a starting spot. Michigan lost Giles Jackson to transfer (Washington) this offseason, but sophomore Mike Sainristil has positioned himself nicely in the slot.
"The receivers really popped. It’s there — you talk about the playmaking ability and the talent and effort that go along with it," Harbaugh said.
"Mike Sainristil had a tremendous spring — there every day, making plays. Cornelius Johnson — big plays, a lot of them every practice. He is really honing into his game, and it’s fun to watch. I think he’s going to have a big year. Ronnie Bell — the consummate competitor and gamer."
Depth, especially with the way coordinator and position coach Josh Gattis likes to rotate the receivers in and out, is going to be crucial.
"[Freshman] Roman Wilson, I think he really would’ve had a big spring, but he was slowed by some soft tissue injury, but love Roman and have really high hopes for him — very fast, tough, the talent and the work ethic together.
"[Freshman] A.J. Henning, another exciting player as a slot receiver but also really working on his return ability and possible kick returner and punt returner and slot receiver. Makes a bunch of plays.
"[Early enrollee] Andrel Anthony made a play a day. I love Andrel as a mid-year freshman. Again, still should be in high school, but he’s out here doing 15 spring practices and every day making one or two big plays. Longer receiver that really runs well. I don’t know what his 40 is; it’s pretty darn good — he’s fast — but [has] really good game speed as well.
"Excited about that group. Cristian Dixon did some really good things as well as a mid-year freshman."
In the tight end room, now led by Jay Harbaugh, the leader is sophomore Erick All, who caught 12 passes for 82 yards last season, Harbaugh said. Just behind him is redshirt sophomore Luke Schoonmaker, who "looks tremendous," Harbaugh revealed.
Finding The Best Five Along Michigan's Offensive Line
This offseason, Harbaugh tabbed Sherrone Moore as the team's offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator, moving him over from tight ends coach. The early returns have been positive.
"Sherrone has done a great job," Harbaugh said. "He’s got a lot of good guys to work with there."
Three offensive linemen — redshirt sophomore tackle Ryan Hayes, freshman guard Zak Zinter and redshirt junior tackle Andrew Stueber — are more than likely going to be among the starting five in the trenches. The other two spots, well, there are a lot of options, with the versatility of Zinter and Stueber making it a complicated puzzle (a good problem to have).
"Ryan Hayes, Zak Zinter, Andrew Stueber — they are guys that have that experience, that are very good players, put an exclamation mark on that in the spring," Harbaugh said. "I would call them three solid starters of the top five. And then as you mentioned, there’s a group of other guys there that have gotten experience, have started, have played in games that are battling for those next two spots. And how it configures, we’ll configure with the best five being on the starting line."
So who could join them in the starting lineup? Harbaugh provided some names of players who have the chance to emerge.
"[Resdshirt freshman tackle] Karsen Barnhart, [redshirt freshman guard] Trevor Keegan, [redshirt junior guard] Chuck Filiaga all have played and started and had good springs," he said.
"[Sixth-year senior center] Andrew Vastardis, [redshirt freshman guard] Nolan Rumler, [redshirt freshman tackle] Trente Jones — three more guys that either have played a lot of football here or have had really good springs. Nolan Rumler and Trente Jones both are in the mix.
"There’s six guys right there that are very, very in the mix for a chance to start and be one of those in our top five.
Other guys like [early enrollee] Greg Crippen got himself into the two-deep after a really good spring. Just does everything right — weight room, field, classroom. He’s so motivated.
"[Freshman] Reece Atteberry really toward the end of spring, his last three four practices, really asserted himself, got himself in the mix. [Freshman] Jeff Persi’s got a lot of upside. Mid-year [tackle] Tristan Bounds, more developing but can see that he’s going to be a good player as well.
"Something I like about Raheem Anderson — also a mid-year — he’s going to be in the mix and a very good player, plays with a lot of energy and is very smart.
"There’s a big group. I would say there’s a top tier, three guys that have really shown that they’re going to be tremendous players for us, and then there’s another six there that are just right on the verge and competing for those last two spots, and players that are also fighting for those two-deep spots as well."
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