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Michigan wide receiver Kekoa Crawford reaches for a pass in 2017 against Penn State. The wide receivers will be a particular area of growth for the Wolverines, who start spring practices Friday.

Michigan needs to upgrade at safety, wide receiver in spring practices

Rachel Lenzi

During the week, Land of 10 reporters following the Wolverines answer questions on the minds of Michigan fans. Submit a question or suggest a topic by sending a tweet here to Rachel Lenzi or here to Kevin Goheen. Check back Monday through Friday as we answer the Michigan Question of the Day. Go here to see our previous answers.

What is the biggest area that Michigan needs to improve in spring practices, outside of quarterback or the offensive line?

Several readers have asked this question, especially with so much attention on the quarterbacks and the offensive line.

Michigan needs to firm up its safeties in spring practice. The Wolverines also need to refine the experience they gained at wide receiver in 2017.

The safeties have a new look this season, with a new position coach in Chris Partridge and a potential addition to the group in Casey Hughes, a graduate transfer who played last season at Utah.

Both join a position group that needs some work in preparation for 2018. The Wolverines return starting safeties Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, but both struggled in man coverage last season.

Hughes is primarily a cornerback but Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said in February that he could be used as a safety in the defense. Hughes started 11 games at cornerback in 2017 at Utah and had 35 tackles (2½ for loss), a sack and 2 forced fumbles.

Michigan also has reserves at the position in Jaylen Kelly-Powell, J’Marick Woods and Ambry Thomas, all freshmen in 2017 and early enrollees who now have more than a year with the program.

The wide receivers must step up this season. They have no excuses after a year of learning on the job, an experience that was sometimes rocky. The addition of Jim McElwain as wide receivers coach will help both McElwain and the receivers he inherits.

The wide receivers will work with one coach who has distinct responsibilities. McElwain will work with one position group, rather than overseeing an entire program, as he did as a head coach in the last six seasons at Colorado State and Florida. Both the WRs and McElwain should flourish.

Tarik Black’s return should also take some of the pressure off Donovan Peoples-Jones. Peoples-Jones should return to the lineup with the confidence of having an entire season of experience. That’s an advantage for him. It’s something that most sophomores-to-be in an FBS program don’t have.

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