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Published: Saturday, 3/16/2013

High expectations cloud Michigan’s future

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR — At a coaching clinic in January, Brady Hoke didn’t use polite or printable terms when he summed up his Michigan football team’s 2012 season.

But while some teams would put valuable stock into a winning record and would relish the chance at playing in a bowl game on New Year’s Day, an 8-5 record for 2012 and a loss in the Outback Bowl fell well short of the standard Michigan has set for itself.

“I don’t know if it will ever be where we want it to be,” the Wolverines’ head coach said. “That’s just the high standards that we have, because it encompasses everything, from the academics to social … and obviously, the competitiveness, how you win games.”

With the start of spring practices today [Saturday], it’s early enough to ask if Michigan football will either rebound or head in the direction of mediocrity.

1. Will Devin Gardner continue his hot hand at quarterback for a full season?

After Denard Robinson suffered a nerve injury in his right arm in October, Gardner moved from wide receiver back to quarterback and finished 75-126-5 passing for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Gardner’s challenge is to continue that progress through a 12-game season. While Hoke wasn’t ready to bestow the starting quarterback job on Gardner, he’s seen progress.

“I like how he’s handled himself,” Hoke said. “I like how he’s matured in his seriousness about being a quarterback at Michigan.”

2. Will the running game survive the loss of Robinson? More importantly, will the running game struggle, survive, or thrive?

With Robinson’s departure, the ground responsibilities rest with a group players who rushed for a combined 1,123 yards in 2012. In that group: Fitzgerald Toussaint, a tailback who is returning from surgery to repair a broken leg experienced late in the 2012 season, and Derrick Green, an incoming freshman who ran for 2,850 yards and 41 touchdowns in the last two seasons at Hermitage High School in Richmond, Va.

3. How will the offensive line regroup after the graduation of three starters?

The Wolverines lost center Elliott Mealer and guards Patrick Omameh and Ricky Barnum to graduation, a chunk of a 2012 offensive line that allowed 18 sacks for 131 yards — third in the Big Ten — and cleared the way for Michigan’s backs, who had 502 carries for 2,389 yards.

With Mealer’s graduation, Michigan will have its third center in four years. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk said last month he didn’t want to have another position battle at center, a spot where Joey Burzynski, Jack Miller, and Patrick Kugler could get looks in the spring.

4. And on that note, will Taylor Lewan stay healthy in his final season at Michigan?

The left tackle, a likely first-round NFL draft pick, turned down assured riches to return to Michigan for one more season with the Wolverines, in which he’s expected to anchor the offensive line.

“[Taylor] has done a tremendous job of leading by example,” Hoke said. “How he’s gone through those drills and the competitiveness you want to have in all those things, and having a guy who’s at that level, from a talent standpoint, I think he’s done a tremendous job of trying to improve technique and fundamentals.”

5. Will the Wolverines win the Big Ten championship?

Hoke hasn’t yet emphasized Michigan’s ultimate goal: win a conference title, which guarantees a spot in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Wolverines haven’t won a Big Ten title since 2004, when the Wolverines shared it with Iowa.

First, Michigan has to win the Legends Division and then advance to the Big Ten title game.

Consider this: Legends champion Nebraska couldn’t get to California. The Huskers lost 70-31 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

Mattison gets 3-year contract extension

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan athletic department has given defensive coordinator Greg Mattison a three-year contract extension.

Under Mattison, Michigan’s defense finished second in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation in defensive passing yardage (169.5 yards per game), and its scoring defense finished fourth in the Big Ten, and 20th nationally (19.8 points) in 2012.

Mattison enters his third season with the Wolverines and the final year of his original contract, which was set to expire Dec. 31.

Terms of the contract extension were not disclosed.

Under his current contract, obtained by The Blade through a Freedom of Information Act request, Mattison receives an annual base salary of $250,000, with additional compensation of $500,000 and bonuses of up to $150,000 for Michigan playing in bowl games and conference championship games.

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



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