Let’s get to know what team Michigan will play in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 in Atlanta.
Kirkland Crawford, Detroit Free Press
ATLANTA — Jim Harbaugh didn’t give a detailed opinion one way or the other.
Only offering his respect.
Asked Monday for his thoughts on three draft-eligible Michigan players who have decided to sit out Saturday’s Peach Bowl, Harbaugh simply said he respects every player’s right to do what they feel is best.
“It was their decision and we respect it,” Harbaugh said. “I have respect for them and that’s the decision for them to make.”
Michigan will be without at least three starters against Florida for the Peach Bowl on Saturday.
Junior defensive end Rashan Gary, junior linebacker Devin Bush Jr. and senior running back Karan Higdon have all decided to skip the bowl game to focus on their preparation for the NFL draft.
Gary and Bush are both projected as possible first-round picks, while Higdon is projected as a mid-to-late round prospect. Higdon has accepted his invitation to participate in Senior Bowl week.
Speaking with reporters Monday, a handful of Michigan players universally respected their teammates’ decisions to move on with what they believe to be the best decision for their future.
“Everybody has their reasons,” said Michigan junior David Long, who will play. “Other people have different things at stake. Different opportunities. I understand their reasons why.
“We understand the opportunities those guys have outside of Michigan football. I respect that. I respect those guys to the fullest. They laid their bodies and everything on the line the past (few) years and like I told Devin Bush, while it seems like this was short-lived, I appreciate everything he did for this team and this defense. It’s only right he does something for himself for once.”
Gary dealt with a shoulder injury for most of the year, a setback that caused him to miss parts of five games this season. Bush, meanwhile, suffered a hip injury in the season-ending loss to Ohio State in November and said he hasn’t been cleared to return.
Higdon was banged up earlier in the season, though he ultimately said he believed it was best for he and his family — which includes a young daughter — to focus on NFL preparations.
All three were at the Orange Bowl in 2016 when Jake Butt, a projected early-round draft choice, tore his ACL in his final college game.
“People talk about injuries in regard to that. I think back to the bowl game my sophomore year, Jake Butt getting hurt. He was projected as a late second or third-rounder and then he goes down in the second quarter of that game,” Michigan offensive tackle Jon Runyan Jr. said. “Some guys, business decisions for them. Karan, Devin and Rashan, you can’t blame them. They have to do what’s best for them in the end.
“We have guys that are willing to step up and take their place. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s up to them. We’d love to have had them one more game to finish out the season, but if that’s not what they want to do then we can’t really blame them.”
Other players, meanwhile, have seized hold of new opportunities this month.
True freshman running back Christian Turner has turned plenty of heads during bowl prep with added reps as Michigan moves on from Higdon. Runyan pointed to true freshman linebacker Cameron McGrone as a player who has seen more time than normal, though sophomore Josh Ross also figures to get more action in the Peach Bowl.
Sophomore defensive end Kwity Paye will take Gary’s spot at defensive end, something he has experience with already.
Shortly after the Ohio State game ended, Gary found Paye in the Michigan training room and told him he was moving on to the NFL. He also told him to keep pushing himself and to take hold of his new opportunity without looking back.
“Before he left he told me to play my game, just said ‘it’s all up to you now, just let the world know who Kwity Paye is,’ ” Paye told reporters Monday. “His work ethic, any time he was at practice he gave it everything he had. He’s really emotional, in games and in practice, gives everything he got.
“So that’s what I’ll take from him.”
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