With the first four spring practices complete from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, we were able to identify on both sides of the ball several that stood out by position. One of the biggest questions is who will earn the starting quarterback position, but there are certainly other questions about mostly the offense that will get answered as the team continues to practice. The defense will be one of the most talented in the country with seven starters coming back and freshman that may see playing time as well.
It was tough to see what the offensive line will be like over the first three practices from Florida without using pads. Friday’s open practice to the public allowed us to get a better idea. The front line was very surprising and played well in the 11 on 11 and 9 on 9 practice.
When looking at the center position, Mason Cole is the player many feel can fill that role after Glasgow moved to the NFL. Jim Harbaugh has zero doubt and there is not a more versatile lineman on the team. Grant Newsome is 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, and a sophomore with long arms. He looks like he is stronger than last year and it showed when playing against this talented defense on Friday. The front seems to be Cole, Newsome, Kalis, Braden and Magnuson. Kugler looks to be the sixth man, who can be used at center or guard. Cole can play just about any spot with Magnuson and Braden at guard or tackle. This group was very impressive working together as a unit against this strong defense.
Devin Bush Jr. is a 6 foot, 220 pound linebacker and looks like he moves really well with some quickness for his size. He may not start this year, but think he will get playing time, with a lot of potential to develop over the next few years.
Carlos Kemp is bigger at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds which may be a situation the staff evaluates to determine where they can utilize him the most; either at linebacker or defensive end by adding weight.
Mike McCray is a junior linebacker who may have a break out season. He is 6-foot-4, 240 and missed the entire last season due to an undisclosed medical issue.
At quarterback, Shane Morris waited to have his best practice for Friday. He had some great throws during the 11 on 11 drills. John O’Korn had a great week overall with a very consistent and comfortable performance. He seems to be the leader of the group but will also have several competing for the job, including freshman Brandon Peters. Even though he is a true freshman, he seems very teachable and a natural like this is not us first year of college.
Another freshman who may be one of the best of the class is Ahmir Mitchell. He was the only true freshman that played with the first and second stringers during the first two hours on Friday. He is 6-3, 203 having the physical aspects, now he needs to improve learning the route skills to earn playing time.
The defense is going to be very, very solid. We all saw what they were able to do last year and have the majority coming back. The group is very confident that they can be one of the best defenses in the country this season. Working under new defensive coordinator, Don Brown, his aggressive and attacking style is just what this groups can do very well.
Ben Gedeon is expected to be the leader of this group along with Jabrill Peppers and Jordan Lewis. When Lewis was asked the difference between defensive schemes he said, “Coach Brown says he’s going to being a lot of pressure. That’s different from Coach Durkin. We played a lot of man but not with as much pressure as Coach Brown has. Coach says he doesn’t feel the pressure, he’s applying it, and that’s a big up for me. I like playing aggressive so do all the guys back there and we’re excited for the season.”
Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley will also play an enormous role with this defensive group. They both know with where they were last year statistically and think they could be the best in the nation. Charlton said, “Last year we made a great step getting to a good bowl game, but we had bigger goals we wanted to achieve, like Big Ten champions.”
We were able to see the early enrollees at spring practice have a great week overall. Once everyone is in Ann Arbor, we will get a better idea of who from the impressive recruiting class will see early playing time, and also who will rise up and lead this offense as quarterback.