ANN ARBOR — Wow, it’s been a while.
The mailbag is back for the first time this spring, with the Michigan football past the halfway mark and heading into its final stretch of practices.
The Wolverines were permitted 15 by the NCAA, with Saturday’s spring game (5 p.m., Michigan Stadium) set to count as one of them. And with a buildup of questions coming my way in recent weeks about various aspects of the team, I figured now is the best time to try and answer some of the most prevalent.
Surprisingly, the Michigan coaching staff — head coach Jim Harbaugh, especially — has been incredibly open this spring about injuries and the depth chart, leaving mystery out of the equation here for most of the spring.
Which, I must admit, is a nice change. Everyone seems like they’re on the same page, and we in the media aren’t left guessing or predicting like we usually are this time of the year.
Anyway, let’s get to it. Here are answers to some of your most pressing questions this spring.
Q: What will the format be for the spring football game? What can we fans expect?
A: As of right now, there is no format set for Saturday’s game, set for 5 p.m. at Michigan Stadium. Michigan announced fan information for the game earlier this week, and in it said the team “will conduct individual and team drills with a controlled scrimmage.” How much of it will be spent doing team drills and how much will be scrimmaging remains to be seen. Last Saturday at the open practice, the session was heavy on the former and light (like 10 minutes worth) on the scrimmaging.
As for expectations, the players will be in full pads and there will be contact. So, there’s that. Don’t be surprised if a good portion is spent on drilling, but I suspect there is plans for more live scrimmaging this time around. Jim Harbaugh has said he has no issues with showing the public portions of the new-look offense, which is really what the fans want to see right now. And we got a brief glimpse at it last week. But don’t be surprised if there is no score kept and the “game” is heavy on situational stuff.
Q: What are the chances we’ll see any of the injured players participate?
A: Slim to none with most of them — including wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, running back Zach Charbonnet and cornerback Lavert Hill. The coaches were more optimistic that they could get running backs Christian Turner and Hassan Haskins back by the end of spring. It’s not clear either is practicing at this point, and if they are not, the spring game might not be the best place to do that.
Michael Dwumfour, who Harbaugh said last week was still nursing a torn planter fascia, did suit up and take part in some stuff last weekend. I suspect that means we could see more of him this Saturday, which would bode well for a defensive line still trying to mesh with so many new guys called upon.
Q: What are the chances Chris Evans returns to the team?
A: It’s still possible, but don’t expect any movement in the near future. While no one is talking about it at the moment, the football program’s hands-off approach to the whole situation means they have little, if any, control over what happens. That means this thing is between Evans and the university, and whatever the school decides will be final. Harbaugh has said the door is open for Evans to return to the team, but until the presumed academic issue is cleared up, he will not be participating.
Which is a shame for Michigan, which is currently practicing with a severely depleted running back room.
Speaking of which, I’ve gotten this question several times in recent weeks.
Q: Can Tru Wilson be an effective No. 1 RB if need be?
A: The answer to this question might hold the key to success for Michigan this fall. Most folks assume Christian Turner and Zach Charbonnet, when they’re both healthy, are going to be in the mix here. And it’s certainly a possibility, which opens up the door to a running back-by-committee scenario. But Wilson did provide some optimism last fall with his team-high 5.9-yards-per-carry average. The issue here, however, is that Wilson only had 62 carries over the course of 13 games. If he can still hold water on 10-15 carries per game, he could certainly become a guy Michigan would rely on.
But right now, I have to think the coaching staff will do everything they can to mix in multiple backs and give opponents different looks. Make no mistake, there is no Karan Higdon the Wolverines can ride on the ground when the passing game is struggling. So, it’s going to force the staff to get creative in the way they use some of these guys, Wilson included.
Q: Who are the top four cornerbacks right now?
A: Lavert Hill (who has been sidelined all spring after having an undisclosed procedure), Ambry Thomas, Vincent Gray and Jaylen Kelly-Powell. Hill will be fine where is, while Michigan is counting on a breakout season from Thomas after sitting behind Long and Hill for two years. Gray is a redshirt freshman who’s impressed in spring, while Kelly-Powell has two full seasons in the Don Brown defense under his belt to know what he’s doing. But Thomas and Kelly-Powell will be counted on a bunch this fall.
Q: Can Michigan’s defense post another top-10 unit this season?
A: I think it can, just by nature of the scheme and the things in place. I seem to recall similar questions ahead of the 2017 season, and that unit finished third nationally. In fact, Don Brown has not finished below third nationally since he’s arrived at Michigan. Now, he’s been aided by some incredible talent — All-Americans and NFL draft picks, especially in the front-seven — but don’t count him out here. Michigan believes its done the job of developing the next wave of D-lineman, are betting on Josh Ross and Khaleke Hudson to both have big years, and return Lavert Hill and Josh Metellus in the secondary. The framework for another top-five defense is there. My only concern to threaten that is the new-look offense and how quick it might work, potentially leaving Michigan’s defense on the field longer than normal. That could in turn affect yards given up and points allowed.
But, we’ll see. This is Don Brown and no one questions the job he has done in Ann Arbor thus far.
That’s it for this week. Enjoy the spring game, if you’re going, and feel free to send any other questions for next time: @AaronMcMann on Twitter or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with “Ask Aaron” in the subject line.