Let’s get to know what team Michigan will play in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 in Atlanta.
Kirkland Crawford, Detroit Free Press
Michigan football’s prep for the Florida Gators in the Peach Bowl is underway.
But in modern terms, the month of December for anyone not in the College Football Playoff is truly spent working on your future.
The Wolverines have a lot to accomplish this month, on the field and off. Here’s a look at a few on the top of the list:
This seems like a major month for true freshman quarterback Joe Milton. Dylan McCaffrey has been out with a shoulder injury and Milton appeared to be at least even, perhaps even ahead, of Brandon Peters on the depth chart behind starter Shea Patterson at the end of the regular season.
It’s unclear what Patterson will do next season, whether he’ll return for his senior year or declare for the NFL draft. Either way, bowl practices are major growth opportunities for young players. And Milton is at the top of that list.
The 6-foot-5, 234-pounder may be the most physically gifted passer on the roster, though he’s raw. Milton entered late in the second half at Ohio State. He can appear in the bowl game and keep his redshirt. But this month will be more about next year and beyond for him.
If Patterson returns, he’s clearly the favorite to start. But Harbaugh will no doubt let everyone else compete. Michigan loves Milton’s ceiling. He could benefit from these extra workouts more than anyone on the roster.
Cornerbacks Lavert Hill and David Long are NFL draft prospects. Neither has said anything about their future plans. But the Wolverines will have to prepare for the possibility of playing next season without either of these two. Senior Brandon Watson will also be gone.
Michigan knows what it has with Ambry Thomas in terms of speed, but Thomas will likely move into a starting role next season and his preparation for that situation has to begin now. Who starts opposite Thomas? There’s a good question.
This isn’t like 2017 when Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark left and both Hill and Long were simply waiting to take over as sophomores. Michigan has Thomas, who has played some, but little experience otherwise at corner if Hill and/or Long depart.
Freshmen Myles Sims, Gemon Green, Sammy Faustin and Vincent Gray all redshirted this season. They’re now facing opportunities. Sophomore Benjamin St-Juste hasn’t been healthy yet at Michigan, so it’s tough to predict what he might be able to give. Maybe a safety like Jaylen Kelly-Powell starts working more as a cover man.
Michigan may lose a lot on defense after this season. But the lack of answers at corner after Hill and Long has to be the biggest area of concern.
Corner is the biggest mystery, perhaps, but Michigan will have a lot of work to do at a number of other areas defensively. The offense will lose Karan Higdon and offensive tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, though it could return most everyone else. Defensively? There will be holes.
Rashan Gary is already gone, and senior Chase Winovich will be too. Devin Bush Jr. is a projected first-round draft pick. We’ve already mentioned Hill and Long. Josh Metellus is going to weigh his options.
Michigan knows it has Josh Ross and Devin Gil at linebacker. It’ll need to develop more players. Someone like true freshman Cam McGrone, perhaps. Ends Kwity Paye and Josh Uche will see increased roles next season, as will Aidan Hutchinson. But Michigan needs more. At least one new safety will be needed to fill Tyree Kinnel’s void. And further development on the interior of the defensive line is needed.
The defense needs a shot of confidence back after falling apart at Ohio State in the biggest game of the season. This is a critical month for coordinator Don Brown’s group, because a lot could be changing very soon.
The coaching carousel will spin into the beginning of 2018. If history’s any guide, it’ll last well into February. So Michigan’s answers to who stays and who goes on the coaching staff probably won’t be resolved for some time.
But Harbaugh has had 10 staffers leave this program since his first season in 2015. Jim McElwain is Central Michigan’s head coach. The odds of him being the only departure seem slim, based on history and the nature of the profession.
Pep Hamilton interviewed for the Maryland job and didn’t get it, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be other opportunities.
Harbaugh will spend time thinking about what he wants to do with the one opening he already has, and what might be on the horizon.
It’s no secret Michigan’s passing offense has to advance schematically the same way the run game did this season. Michigan needs more growth. And it’ll be interesting to see which direction Harbaugh goes with this.
The early signing period begins Dec. 19. Harbaugh and his staff will spend the bulk of this month checking in on the 24 prospects already committed, while trying to finish the job on some other important battles.
Michigan is still pushing hard for 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison, 5-star RB/LB Quavaris Crouch, 4-star OL Trevor Keegan and a host of others. Harrison still seems like he’s in reach. Crouch might be a tougher pull. Still, you finish your current cycle in December now, but you also spend as much time as you can working ahead for next year’s class.
It’s a true juggling act with the early signing period. Michigan needs to get the most out of its roster development right now.
But more than anything: U-M has to keep pushing for as much talent as possible on the recruiting trail.
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Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter nickbaumgardner.