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Michigan determined to improve

08/04/2014, 12:00am EDT
By RACHEL LENZI BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Offensive line, RBs biggest question marks

Michigan determined to improve

Gardner ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANN ARBOR — The second half of the 2013 season turned into a struggle for the University of Michigan football team, and when it ended in December with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Devin Funchess made a declaration.

"We don't want this season ever to happen again,” the wide receiver said more than seven months ago. “Not a season where we’re 7-6. We don’t want that again. We’ve got to fight to a 10-win season.”

UM begins its preseason camp today, following an offseason that brought changes. The most notable change is a new offensive coordinator from Alabama, as well as the loss of two offensive linemen and the program’s top wide receiver who are now in the NFL.

Here are five points to to keep an eye on as Michigan prepares to open the season on Aug. 30 against Appalachian State at Michigan Stadium:

1. Quarterback play: During a day-long appearance at ESPN’s studios last week, UM coach Brady Hoke said he has a starter in mind.

“If we opened the season today, Devin would start for the Wolverines," Hoke said, in reference to fifth-year senior Devin Gardner.

During the spring, Hoke said the starting job at quarterback would be a competition between Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris.

Gardner went 208-for-345 passing for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions in 2013 and returns after sustaining a broken toe and torn ligaments in his left foot during a 42-41 loss in November against Ohio State.

Morris was primarily relegated to cleanup duty as a true freshman but proved he could hold his own in the bowl game loss to Kansas State, finishing 24 of 38 passing for 196 yards, with one interception. Barring an injury to Gardner, Morris will have another year to acclimate.

2. New-look offensive line: Taylor Lewan and Mike Schofield are now in the NFL, which leaves a young offensive line that got on-the-job training in 2013.

The 2013 line was constantly shuffled and gave up an FBS-leading 113 tackles for losses and 36 sacks, and Gardner was sacked 20 times in a four-game stretch.

Among the candidates to start are redshirt sophomores Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (who is recovering from shoulder surgery), and sophomore Kyle Bosch.

Graham Glasgow, a junior center, has been suspended from the season opener as the result of pleading guilty last month to a charge of operating a vehicle while visibly impaired. Hoke said either St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Miller or redshirt freshman Patrick Kugler could start at center against Appalachian State. Hoke hasn’t ruled Glasgow out.

“We’ve got some ideas,” Hoke said of the starting five. “But I wouldn’t anoint anyone today.”

3. Young running backs: Michigan hasn’t had a workhorse running back who has put up gaudy numbers since 2011, when Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns.

At one point last season, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith replaced Toussaint in the backfield. Now, they’ll contend to start at running back.

Smith (83 carries for 270 yards and two touchdowns), Hoke said, holds an edge over Green (26 carries for 117 yards). Drake Johnson, who missed last season because of a torn ACL, will also enter the mix.

4. Nussmeier’s offense: Michigan announced Nussmeier as its new offensive coordinator a day after firing Al Borges and shelled out top dollar to hire him from Alabama. Nussmeier, who oversaw a Crimson Tide offense that averaged 454.1 yards in 2013,will make $830,000 in his first season at UM.

Not many particulars of Nussmeier’s offense have been divulged, but last week Gardner gave a bit of a summation, saying it was more simplified and that he was spending more time identifying defensive schemes.

5. Defensive shuffle: UM’s defensive staff has been reshuffled. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is working with the linebackers, while Roy Manning moves from the outside linebackers to coaching the cornerbacks. Mark Smith is coaching the defensive line after coaching the inside linebackers last season. Curt Mallory is coaching the safeties after coaching the defensive backs last season.

The defense also will have a bit of a new look this season, as Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to middle linebacker. Touted freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers will also join the defensive fold.

YORK SUSPENDED: Sophomore wide receiver Csont'e York has been suspended indefinitely.

Hoke said in a statement that York failed to meet "team standards" and will not report to fall camp. An Ann Arbor police spokesman confirmed Sunday to The Blade that York is part of a police investigation, but could not give further details of the investigation.

York appeared in one game in 2013 as a reserve wide receiver.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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