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Published: Saturday, 8/24/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

U-M still determining starters

OL, LB as well as receiver spots remain competitive

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
 University of Michigan center Jack Miller is competing for the starting center on an offensive line that graduated three players. University of Michigan center Jack Miller is competing for the starting center on an offensive line that graduated three players.
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ANN ARBOR — The Michigan football team is now a week away from the start of college football season, and while there’s more clarity now for the Wolverines in terms of personnel, is the exact picture clear for the Wolverines? Not quite.

Outside of their starting running back and No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks, Michigan’s coaches say they’re still determining starters at several positions — decisions that could be made over the weekend, and decisions that some players say may not be made public until game day.

STARTING CENTER: Jack Miller appears to be the front-runner for the position vacated by Elliott Mealer and is competing against Graham Glasgow for a spot on an offensive line that graduated three players and returns an All-American. While left tackle Taylor Lewan’s spot is secure, there’s still some tinkering with the line.

“I trust the coaches,” said Miller, a St. John’s Jesuit graduate. “When they feel they’ll have the best five guys out there I’m sure they’ll let us know.

“No matter what position you are, you’ve got to focus on doing your best, no matter what group you’re rolling with or where you’re lined up. Not, ‘oh, I wish I was declared the No. 1 center.’ ”

LINEBACKING CORPS: Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon are the top candidates at strong-side linebacker, in line to fill in for Jake Ryan, whom coaches project to return in October from surgery to repair a torn ACL.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to make plays there,” Gordon said. “You’re in on the tight end, you’re split out on the No. 2 receiver. There’s a lot of room to really be able to play free. This year, I know what we’re installing, I know the plays and it feels good.

“We don’t want there to be any drop-off with Jake gone,” Gordon said. “There’s always been a standard for the position.

SECONDARY: The graduation of Jordan Kovacs and J.T. Floyd created holes in Michigan’s secondary, which also took a hit early last season when Blake Countess was lost for the season after tearing his ACL. But there’s confidence in the unit, which returns safety Thomas Gordon, defensive back Raymon Taylor and Courtney Avery, who has been working at free safety.

Countess underwent surgery nearly a year ago and says he won’t wear a brace.

“When you've been out for a year, there's always that under-the-lights [feeling], that you have to get back out there and do it again,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said of Countess. “It's been a year. I think he's working through that right now, but I think he's doing a very good job.”

RECEIVERS: Height, height, height. Or experienced lack thereof. With a season-ending injury to 6-foot-2 Amara Darboh, Michigan’s top three returning receivers are of the diminutive nature. In order to make up for the absence of size plus experience, the Wolverines may have to turn to rangy yet inexperienced players, including Jehu Chesson, a redshirt freshman that make up the trio Hoke labels “The Three Js.”

“You’ve got Jehu, Jeremy Gallon and [redshirt senior] Joe [Reynolds] and those are the guys,” Hoke said. “With Amara being out for the year, they’re going to carry a little bit more of the load but they’ve been able to do that. All three of them understand the positions and can do a lot of things.”

GETTING REST: There’s a sure sign that Michigan is a handful of days away from the start of the season: During Thursday’s scrimmage, the coaching staff rested running back Fitzgerald Toussaint in favor of freshmen De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green.

"I thought De'Veon had a couple good runs in there," Hoke said. "I thought Derrick looked a little sharper. Their timing was a little better, and they did a great job picking up protection, blitzes, those kind of things."

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



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