ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team opens spring practices on Friday, and plenty of questions surround the Wolverines after an 8-5 2017 season.
Among those questions: Will the NCAA grant Shea Patterson immediate eligibility following the spring game? What will the impact of new assistant coaches be on the players and position groups?
More than five months remain until Michigan opens the season Sept. 1 at Notre Dame, but that’s meaningful time to regroup, in hopes of orchestrating a turnaround for 2018. That work continues with spring practices and the spring game on April 14.
Here are five predictions for what could unfold during the next few weeks of the Wolverines’ spring practices.
Shea Patterson will gain eligibility for 2018 by the spring game
Shea Patterson’s playing status for 2018 has been the hottest question of the offseason. Will the NCAA grant him immediate eligibility following his transfer to Michigan for the spring semester? He’s filed a waiver appeal to the NCAA, a process that, as of last week, was at a “standstill.” We should find out his playing status sometime in the next few weeks, and by the time the spring game kicks off April 14, Patterson will be ensconced in the quarterback competition.
Kareem Walker will factor into the running backs competition
We’ve been waiting for Kareem Walker to break out since he arrived on campus in January of 2016, as an early enrollee. The running back from Irvington, N.J., has had his moments when he’s had the ball in his hands. He had 20 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown in 2017, but his playing time was minimal. Michigan has a hole to fill in its running backs rotation following the graduation of Ty Isaac, and this will be Walker’s chance to prove his worth in Michigan’s offense as a redshirt sophomore.
Michigan’s WRs will flourish under the tutelage of Jim McElwain
Michigan’s wide receivers in 2017 were, in a word, green. When Tarik Black sustained a broken left foot four games into the season, it left Michigan with minimal experience within the position group, and no receiver had more than 307 yards in 2017. Passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton oversaw both the quarterbacks and the wide receivers, but the hire of McElwain allows one coach to focus on one position group. This is where isolated work with wide receivers such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Kekoa Crawford and Grant Perry will pay dividends. You’ll see receivers who develop better timing, stronger moves and more confidence in working with McElwain.
Michigan will get at least one commitment from a 2019 prospect the weekend of the spring game
With the incoming 2019 class at six verbal commitments, Michigan hosted a cadre of high school juniors this weekend. Michigan will spend the spring beefing up its list of future prospects, who are poised to sign in the December early period. The Wolverines don’t usually land verbal commitments on the day of the spring game (though Brandon Peters committed on the day of Michigan’s 2015 spring game), but several players have committed to Michigan in the days immediately after, including defensive lineman Phillip Paea and running back O’Maury Samuels in 2016 and defensive backs Gemon and German Green in 2017. Anticipate that run to continue this April.
A non-starter will make gains in the secondary
Michigan’s secondary will be crowded with the addition of Casey Hughes, who joins the Wolverines as a graduate transfer from Utah. Hughes started 11 games at cornerback in 2017 at Utah and had 35 tackles (2½ for loss), a sack and 2 forced fumbles. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said in February that Hughes could be used as a safety in Michigan’s defense. Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus plugged the holes left by Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas, who graduated after 2017, but struggled in man coverage. Whoever has a strong spring will get a leg up on one of the two starting safety positions in the fall. Given his experience, Hughes could be a candidate to supplant someone at safety.