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ANN ARBOR — A new offensive coordinator. A shuffling of the defensive coaching staff. A declared question mark at quarterback.
The Michigan football team opens spring practices today, and before the Wolverines can consider the prospect of their spring game on April 5 at Michigan Stadium, they have a stretch of five weeks in which they have plenty to rectify.
The Wolverines finished 7-6 and 3-5 in the Big Ten Conference, a subpar season that ended with a loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. To remedy that, changes began immediately.
Michigan fired offensive coordinator Al Borges and replaced him with Doug Nussmeier, Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013.
Last week, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced he had reassigned responsibilities within Michigan’s defensive coaching staff and earlier this month said Shane Morris and Devin Gardner will compete to be the No. 1 quarterback.
Michigan will have areas of concern as it begins spring practices, but here’s four areas of emphasis:
■ There will be a competition for quarterback.
Gardner started in 12 regular-season games but will be limited in spring practices, which begin nearly three months after he sustained an injury to his left foot during a 42-41 loss to Ohio State that sidelined him for the bowl game. Morris, a highly touted freshman, went 24-38-1 for 196 yards in place of Gardner in his first college start.
■ With the graduation of Jeremy Gallon, a thin receiving corps must be bolstered.
Michigan’s passing offense was fourth in the Big Ten (3,221 yards), with more than one-third of those yards belonging to Gallon. Devin Funchess had 748 yards and six touchdowns, yet after Jake Butt, who is out indefinitely after tearing his ACL, no returning player had more than 221 yards receiving in 2013. Amara Darboh is likely to return after missing all of last year with a foot injury, but Michigan also needs to cultivate its young receivers, including incoming freshmen Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways.
■ The maturity and progression of the offensive line will be key.
UM shuffled its offensive line numerous times last season, and the coaching staff continued to emphasize patience and experience as factors that would help the growth of the unit, yet the offensive line didn’t find its chemistry until it almost had to— against Ohio State.
The offensive line also loses All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Mike Schofield to graduation (and to the NFL).
■ Will a coaching shakeup ultimately benefit the defense?
Compared to 2012, Michigan’s defense was subpar: it allowed 371.5 yards a game — 140.2 rushing and 231.3 passing.
But Hoke made a statement in shuffling the staff, handing off his responsibilities of coaching the defensive line to Mark Smith and splitting responsibilities in the secondary between Curt Mallory (safeties) and Roy Manning (cornerbacks).