Big Ten Team Previews: Michigan

BY DANNY PAYNE | AUGUST 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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Devin Gardner had strong words regarding his head coach — Brady Hoke — at Big Ten Media Days in late July.

“Everybody is going to say whatever they want to say. My job is to make sure he’s not on the hot seat, so that’s what I’m going to do,” the Michigan quarterback said. “I’m going to make sure we win football games … and we’re going to make sure that’s not even the talk anymore.”

Entering his third year at the helm in Ann Arbor, Hoke has led the Wolverines to a combined 15-11 record over the past two seasons after going 11-2 in his initial campaign in 2011.

It will start with Gardner, who was just shy of posting 3,000 passing yards to go along with 21 touchdowns and 11 picks and added another 483 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

But even with decent numbers from their quarterback, it seemed Michigan couldn’t put it all together in 2013. The rushing game was pedestrian, with only four Wolverines in triple digits and none eclipsing the 650-yard mark.

Much of that can be attributed to the offensive line, which allowed 25 sacks a year ago. One of the worst offensive lines in the Big Ten last season is going to have to make serious improvements, especially after Taylor Lewan (11th overall) and Michael Schofield (95th overall) were taken in April’s NFL Draft.

Hoke has brought in former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to take on the same role in Ann Arbor. He’ll work closely with Gardner, and hopes to kick start a lackluster offense.

Defensively, depth will be key while the Wolverines try to pick up some of the slack for the offense. The defensive line rotation might run fairly deep, with end Frank Clark leading the way.

Although depth appears to be available, Clark — who led Michigan with 12 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks, last season — said at he was in great shape before camp began.

“Right now?” Clark said in July. “I think I’m in great shape. I could play 10-straight plays without catching a breath or anything.”

In addition to a linebacking core — led by James Ross, who ranked second in tackles for the Wolverines with 85 a season ago — the defensive backfield has the chance to make plays.

It starts with Raymon Taylor, who led the team in tackles with one more than Ross, and Blake Countess, who tallied six interceptions last season. Taylor added four of his own.

They’ll get some help from highly-touted recruit Jabrill Peppers, who was listed as the starter at nickleback on Michigan’s first depth chart, which was released Monday.

With the offense and defense seemingly with different levels of experience and skill, along with the Wolverines coming off their worst season of the Hoke era, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Michigan.

Hoke isn’t worried — about his job, or about his team.

“You never know what kind of team you’re going to have until the season’s over,” Hoke said. “But the one thing I can tell you, that we’re encouraged by the qualities we have seen from our football team through the spring and throughout the summer.

“Again, I believe the foundation has been laid.”

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