ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football returns to action, as spring football practices begin Friday.
Michigan has a few questions to answer following its 8-5 2017 campaign. The Wolverines need to name a starting quarterback. That may not come until the fall, but spring practices should provide clarity on the competition. Michigan also needs to find out how far its wide receivers and its offensive line have progressed; both were problem areas last season. The Wolverines return all but two starters on defense, but have two big holes to fill at defensive tackle and weakside linebacker, with the graduation of fifth-year seniors Maurice Hurst and Mike McCray.
Here are five players to watch as Michigan opens spring practice Friday:
QB Shea Patterson
Ever since Shea Patterson announced his intention to transfer to Michigan (and then joined the Wolverines for the spring semester), he’s had the highest profile of any of the Wolverines. The biggest — and only — question surrounding Patterson, a sophomore, is his eligibility. He awaits the outcome of a waiver petition he submitted to the NCAA that would grant him immediate eligibility to play this fall.
Patterson joins Michigan’s quarterbacks as the front-runner to start in 2018. He threw for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns in 10 games at Mississippi in 2016 and 2017. He is lauded for his ability to improvise on the field and for his athleticism.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
Donovan Peoples-Jones came to Michigan as an early enrollee, surrounded by extremely high expectations as a 5-star recruit from Cass Tech High School in Detroit. Inserted into Michigan’s lineup at wide receiver and as a punt returner, he showed signs of inexperience but had to learn on the fly in 2017. He finished with 277 yards on 22 catches as a true freshman in 2017.
Expect Peoples-Jones to be a starter, but as a sophomore, there’s no room for error. Peoples-Jones has to build on what he learned as a true freshman, and put himself in a position to succeed.
WR Tarik Black
Tarik Black made a seamless transition into Michigan’s offense as a true freshman. He was en route to becoming the Wolverines’ strongest contributor among the wide receivers before he sustained a broken left foot in the fourth game of the season. In those four games, he caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.
If he had been healthy the entire season, he would have led the Wolverines in receiving as a freshman. Prorated, Black would have finished with 484 yards and 3 touchdowns. As a fully healthy player this spring, Black has a strong upside for 2018.
DT Aubrey Solomon
Aubrey Solomon joined Michigan as a 5-star recruit in 2017 and earned playing time on a defensive line loaded with talent in Rashan Gary, Hurst and Chase Winovich. He has athleticism, size and quickness, and he has the chance to make significant gains in his first full spring session at Michigan.
Solomon is projected to play at tackle as a sophomore, as the successor to Hurst. He made a solid progression on Michigan’s defensive line as a true freshman in 2017, recording 18 tackles in 13 games.
LB Devin Gil
Devin Gil could become the starter at weakside linebacker. He’s one of a handful of players who could fill a spot vacated by McCray. McCray graduates and prepares for the NFL. Gil started one game for the Wolverines, when McCray was injured in Michigan’s 2017 season opener against Florida. A healthy McCray started the next 12 games, and Gil contributed primarily off the bench on special teams and defense.
Gil, however, gained a familiarity with the defense, and he, Josh Uche, Josh Ross and Drew Singleton will contend for the opening at weakside linebacker. If Gil wants to become Michigan’s starter, he needs a strong showing in spring practices.