Mailbag: On Nussmeier, position battles

The Michigan football team is off for spring break but will return for practices next week. The mailbag doesn’t take time off, though. Not for spring break (seriously, this is polar vortex break; let’s not joke). Not for nada. So let’s get to it.

Chris from Tecumseh writes: What’s the biggest difference we’re going to notice moving to a Doug Nussmeier offense?

A: Look for a running back-by-committee system rather than a featured back, and for multiple reasons. First of all, you will notice that Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson will all play. There will be multiple names and numbers taking multiple snaps, and that will be a systematic difference from the years of Al Borges. But it will also be more evident because the running backs, as a whole, should be more productive. With the interior offensive line possibly figured out already (Kyle Bosch, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis), that means running between the tackles might be a little easier than it was last year. And the more productive the offensive line is, the more productive the running backs can be, the more you’ll know those rushing stats and names.

Ron from Battle Creek writes: Are there any position groups that won’t be figured out this spring? Any “battles” that just aren’t worth watching?

A: The offensive line will be an interesting one. With Erik Magnuson out this spring, you just have to believe that they know the real competition for the left tackle spot won’t begin until the fall. Could David Dawson really take that position? I suppose. But he’s 2 inches shorter than Magnuson and his wingspan is likely shorter as well. On that left side, you’ll certainly have inexperience, but you hope that guy with less experience is one with more height and longer arms. The secondary is another interesting place to watch just because the coaches have been so unspecific as to how they’re going to use Jabrill Peppers. He’s going to see the field early. And he could likely be the most versatile player in that secondary as a true freshman. So will the coaches see where Michigan is the weakest after this spring and just move him into that spot to upgrade the secondary as a whole? Possibly. But he could battle any starter on that list for his spot. So while the defensive backs might be able to get some reps this spring, and there will be a projected two-deep emerging in the next month, just realize how much one name can shake that up.

George from Wixom writes: What Big Ten lower-tier team could beat Michigan next year?

A: I’m going to consider “lower-tier” right now to mean anything other than Michigan State and Ohio State. So there are a few options. Minnesota will be an interesting matchup because it’s earlier in the season, so the possibility of a shootout similar to Indiana-Michigan last season is a possibility. This is a time when both offenses will be further along than the defenses, and if neither defense really shows up then this could be an interesting matchup. The Gophers return quarterback Mitch Leidner and they’ll have an offensive weapon with freshman running back Jeff Jones. If the Wolverines don’t protect against the run better, Jones could have a field day. Michigan had interest in him late, but Jones stuck with his in-state commitment and could see this game as a personal test. Another possibility (and possibly the more likely one) would be Penn State. Neither the Gophers nor the Nittany Lions were on Mark Schlabach’s Post-Signing Day Way Too Early Top 25, so I think most fans would consider those as upsets if they can beat Michigan. But the Nittany Lions return quarterback Christian Hackenberg who, in his second season, is now transitioning into a new offense, which is always tough. However, James Franklin will likely keep with the things that Hackenberg does well, since so much of the team's success will be on Hackenberg’s shoulders. They’ll need to replace receiver Allen Robinson, but Penn State has a group of tight ends who can step up and catch passes, as well as some younger receiving threats. On top of that, the Nittany Lions return all three of their top running backs from last season, so again, if Michigan can’t get pressure up front, the Lions could have enough offensive weapons to make it a shootout in the Big House.