Life in 2013 will certainly be different for the Michigan Wolverines football team with Denard Robinson off to the NFL and the cover of NCAA Football 13. Expectations were extremely high for this team at this point a season ago coming off of a Sugar Bowl Victory in Brady Hoke's 1st season at the helm, but now the expectations entering year three aren't quite as high.
Don't get me wrong this team needs to make an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game sooner than later, otherwise that arms race that's heating back up between "Ohio" and Michigan could easily flop in the direction of the hated Buckeyes.
Hoke's no longer beholden to the crazy athletic abilities of just one offensive weapon and that means his true pro-style offense should be making it's debut in 2013. Can spring be a success in showing that off, or will this team struggle to make the transition?
Well, there are certainly enough holes to fill following the decleating loss to South Carolina and Michigan has to show it can win the big game. Spring will be all about making those changes and setting the course for a much needed Big Ten championship - something they haven't won even a share of since 2004.
2012 Record: 8-5 (6-2 B1G)
Bowl Game: Outback Bowl - Lost to South Carolina 33-28
Head Coach: Brady Hoke, 3rd year at Michigan (19-7 at UM, 66-57 overall in 10 seasons)
First Practice: March 16
Spring Game: April 13
The More Things Change...... Gone is the hybrid between the spread and the pro-style offense that Al Borges has used over the past three years as he looked to fit in a special talent (Denard Robinson) to his philosophy. In are quarterbacks much more suited to the style of play that Borges and Hoke are all about.
With that kind of change comes a bit of growing pains and that could happen this spring and is something to watch for. Will the offense change a ton? No, but it will see less of the zone-read than they used before. However, reports are that some form of a pistol offense is being worked on from time to time early in spring practice.
The More They State the Same..... While there is change at the QB spot it's not a change to someone unfamiliar to the team or fans and that's a good thing. Replacing Denard will be Devin Gardner who started the final five games during 2012 and showed enough to clearly stamp his presence as "The Guy" for this team. Now, it's about showing he can do it for a full season and that he can command the offense to the full extent. After all, Gardner was a wide receiver for part of the season last year too.
Let's Get Ready to Rumble: Offensive Line
Yes, the tackle spots are on lockdown with Taylor Lewan (the reigning Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year) returning for his senior season and fellow fifth-year senior Michael Schofield back after starting as bookends all of last season. However, the middle of the offensive line is going to be all new as both guards and the center graduated off of last years team.
That means competition this spring and likely into the fall. Look for Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow to be the two biggest competitors at center and for names like junior Joey Burzynski and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis to be in the mix at guard. The biggest competition will be at guard and don't be surprised to see a name not mentioned here possibly emerge as a leading candidate coming out of spring.
Nothing to See Here: Linebackers
The Maize 'N Blue loose only two players from the ENTIRE linebacking pool from a year ago and while one was a starter (Kenny Demmens) and one was little used (Brandon Hawthorne). Sure, Demmens was 2nd on the team in tackles, but there is plenty of talent at linebacker to replace him.
Besides they have leading tackler and All-Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan back alongside fellow junior Desmond Morgan. They've got plenty of depth with names like James Ross III and Joe Bolden getting valuable time as freshman last season and they'll be pushing this spring for starting roles too.
Other names that add to the depth of this group include seniors Cam Gordon and Mike Jones (insert mid 2000's reference here). No doubt about it, this is the group with the least to worry about thanks to a ton of potential
Name to Watch: James Ross III
Ross was impressive in his freshman campaign behind a pretty stacked group of linebackers, at least in terms of experience in front of him. Now it's Ross' chance to shine and possibly earn the starting middle linebacker spot. Watching his progression this offseason will be telling as to his ability to compete at the highest level and pull ahead to be a starter. I love his size at 6'1" and 223lbs.
Last year he had 36 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sack while appearing in 13 games and making 2 starts. That should tell you exactly what kind of potential he has to become a force on this defensive unit.
Spring Will Be a Success If..... Gardner shows he's comfortable at Quarterback.
Let's be honest, the passing game hasn't been the best it could be in the past few years and for the promise that Gardner showed last year he also made some mind boggling decisions throwing the football. So, this spring he must show he's dedicated himself to studying the offense and the defense in an effort to improve his decision making. If the Wolverines come out of spring happy with what they've seen from Gardner then this team is on the right track - everything else should fall in to place for this team to compete for a division championship again.