2014 Michigan Preview: What You Need To Know
Michigan TE Devin Funchess
Michigan TE Devin Funchess
Posted Jun 18, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Michigan (Getty Images)

2014 Michigan Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Michigan Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The offense that was so hit-or-miss last season needs to find some semblance of consistency, and that's where new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier comes in. The first goal will be to establish more of a running game after sputtering and coughing last season averaging just 126 yards per game, and it stars with a rebuilt line that has to be more physical and has to start moving some people. See guy, hit guy – that will be the blocking scheme early on. The receiving corps needs to unearth some weapons for Devin Gardner – or possibly Shane Morris – to work with, but the upside is there in the backfield to start relying more on the ground attack. The Wolverines have talent, but now it has to all come together. Nussmeier has to be the one to make it happen.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It wasn't too bad, but it didn't dominate and it wasn't disruptive enough. Now the pieces are in place to be far better with a potentially dangerous linebacking corps headed up by the healthy return of Jake Ryan, who came back last season from an injury, but was merely average. Now he's a part of a deep and talented group working behind a potentially great line that should generate more pressure into the backfield from the ends and be stronger in the middle. The secondary has veteran talent with good versatility across the board, and there might be lots of tinkering once super-recruit Jabrill Peppers arrives – he needs to find a home somewhere, likely taking over a corner spot right away.

Players You Need To Know

1. LB Jake Ryan, Sr.
And now he's back. Not right last season after suffering a torn ACL, and this offseason he showed the range, mobility and burst that made him the team's best all-around defensive player in 2012 making 88 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss with four forced fumbles. At 6-3 and 235 pounds he has good size to go along with his athleticism and quickness, and now he'll move around a bit and be used in a different role. He might be a great hybrid-like outside pass rusher, but he'll see time in the inside this season where he should be among the Big Ten's leading tacklers. Will he still be a pass rusher and a playmaker behind the line? Absolutely, but he'll probably get the job done in a different way and from different areas. Last year he was able to get back in the middle of the season, but he wasn't quite himself making 30 tackles with no sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Expect all-star greatness again.

2. QB Devin Gardner, Sr.
There's way too much there not to be better. When he's on, and when he's focused, he has the look and the ability to be among the best quarterbacks in the country. At 6-4 and 218 pounds, he has the size, and fast enough to be used as a wide receiver early in his career, he has the speed and the athleticism. The problem is that he just doesn't move the offense consistently enough. The interceptions are an issue – throwing 11 last year – but he completed 60% of his passes for 2,960 yards and 21 scores, and he finished second on the team with 483 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Can he maintain a consistently high level throughout the season? He showed against Ohio State just how amazing he can be, hitting 71% of his throws for 451 yards and four touchdowns to go along with a rushing score as he almost won the game by himself, but that came a week after completing 46% of his passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Iowa. He's coming off a broken foot, and the sense of urgency is there with Shane Morris looking to take over the starting gig, and if there are problems, there will be a change, but No. 98 has to be great if Michigan is going to have a big season.

3. CB Jabrill Peppers, Fr.
For a defense that could use a little pizzazz and a lot of swagger, that's coming. It's not fair to start comparing him to Charles Woodson right out of high school, but there's absolutely no questioning his next-level talent with 6-0, 190-pound size, track star speed, and the potential and expectation to step in right away and be the best player in the secondary. At some point – and it might be from the first snap – he'll be a top corner, but he could play in nickel and dime packages until he gets his feet wet. No matter where he plays or what he does for the team – which could be a little of everything – he's as close to can't-miss as they come.

4. TE Devin Funchess, Jr.
There's a question mark about his consistency and his finishing ability on blocks, but in terms of pure talent, the 6-5, 230-pound Funchess is a next-level prospect as a receiving tight end/big wideout with the ability to stretch the field and the hands to be a No. 1 target making 49 catches for 748 yards and six scores, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. A tremendous prospect when he came to Michigan, he was a four-star get who needed to his the weights and fill out his frame a bit, and now he might be on the verge of blowing up bigger. He showed in back-to-back 100-yard games against Minnesota and Penn State what he could do, and now he needs to get the ball in his hands more.

5. CB/NB Blake Countess, Jr.
Working as either a corner or a nickelback, the 5-10, 183-pound Countess will find a way to the ball when it's in the air. He came up with 46 tackles and two tackles for loss, but he was at his best making big play and picks with six interceptions on the year, doing big things when getting the chance. He took away two against Notre Dame, and coming up with a 72-yard pick six against Minnesota. While he's not all that big and he's not built to take a pounding – he had to come back from a knee injury - he's not afraid to tackle. With corner a positive thanks to the signing of Jabrill Peppers, Countess will mostly work in nickel and dime packages.

6. DE Frank Clark, Sr.
After bulking up in a big way since coming to Ann Arbor, he grew into more and more of a top pass rushing prospect with good speed to go along with his 6-2, 270-pound size. Last year he started to put it all together with 43 tackles with 4.5 sacks and a team-leading 12 tackles for loss. While he might not be a dangerous and consistent pass rusher, he knows how to get behind the line from the weakside.

7. QB Shane Morris, Soph.
The superstar recruit of last year, he saw time in a few games and ended up getting the start in the bowl debacle against Kansas State. He wasn't awful, hitting on 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards, and he ran for 43 yards, finishing overall by completing 62% of his passes for 261 yards and two picks with no touchdown passes.

8. OT Erik Magnuson, Soph.
Is he going to be a guard or a tackle? He needs to first come back from the shoulder problem that cost him the spring, but when he's back, he might be ready to step right in for Taylor Lewan at left tackle if he doesn't get back the gig at guard. He'll have to fight off a few excellent prospects for the outside job, and he could end up kicking back inside to guard if need be. At 6-6 and 296 pounds he might not have Lewan size, but he can move.

9. RB Derrick Green, Soph.
Is he ready to turn into the star everyone assumed he'd be stepping off the bus last year? It's all there to be special with 5-11, 227-pound size and outstanding power and speed. The nation's top running back recruit looked the NFL part in terms of pure talent, but he didn't have much room to move behind the struggling offensive line finishing third on the team with 270 yards and two touchdowns. There's no one talking about him being a bust, but if the line and the blocking are better, he needs to be a threat and he has to start carrying the offense at times.

10. RB De'Veon Smith, Soph.
Is he prepared to push for the No. 1 running back job? He didn't receive the fanfare of Derrick Green, but he was a solid recruit who's working his way into a bigger role. At 5-11 and 223 pounds he's strong, tough between the tackles and with a little bit of work under his belt finishing fourth on the team with 117 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He might not be an every down back, but that's not his job – he'll needs to produce when he gets his chances. A blaster of a runner, the Ohio native could quickly take over the starting job and own the position.

- 2014 Michigan Preview