WolverineNation mailbag

Brennen Beyer will put his hand down this season and could be a surprise as a defensive end. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

It has been quite the summer for sports. Between the Euro Cup and the Olympic trials, LeBron James finally getting his first ring and Roger Federer picking up his seventh Wimbledon title, there has been no lack of athletic entertainment.

And even without football Saturdays, the questions still swirl about what Brady Hoke and Co. have in store for 2012. So, I'm here to answer a few of those questions.

Kevin Ujvary via Twitter: Who is the dark horse player to watch for in Michigan football this year, anyone similar to Fitzgerald Toussaint last season?

A: I have a few votes here. Defensively, I think Brennen Beyer -- the linebacker turned defensive end -- could turn a few heads. He was a solid linebacker for the Wolverines last season, but I think as a rush end he could experience more success. Offensively, I think Stephen Hopkins could solidify the fullback position and come in and give the Wolverines a different look offensively. At 6-foot and 228 pounds, he gives Michigan different options to run the ball that it hasn't really had in a few years. And, if you consider freshmen as dark horses, I would put some money on early enrolled linebacker Joe Bolden or offensive lineman Kyle Kalis.

Randy Moffett via Twitter: What can we do on "O" and "D" that will be difference-makers for us against Alabama in the season opener?

A: Offensively, it's pretty simple. Quarterback Denard Robinson needs to complete passes. We haven't seen him play since the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and while we know that offensive coordinator Al Borges has had great success in the past with quarterbacks between their first and second years in his scheme, we have no idea how Robinson has evolved. If his passing is as shaky as it was last year, it'll be a difficult game for the Wolverines. If he throws more than one pick, it'll be a difficult game to win for the Wolverines. If he and wide receiver Roy Roundtree or another receiver haven't established a connection and give Robinson a safety blanket of sorts, it'll be a difficult game to win for the Wolverines. (And honestly, if all those things do happen, it could still be a difficult game to win for the Wolverines.)

Defensively, Michigan needs to be strong up front. With all of the changeover in the line, teams are going to go right at the Wolverines. So if they can put up a strong front and have a solid first level of defense, it'll only help out the linebackers and the defensive backs. But if there are gaping holes and miscommunications, Alabama could run over Michigan with ease.

Dan, Cincinnati: With so many defensive linemen gone, do you think we'll see the same guys on the line against Alabama that we see on the line against Ohio State at the end of the season?

A: Most likely, no. I think Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will shuffle players in and out to see who has the best chemistry. So much of the success of the line is based on how players play together, so it's not always the four most talented guys, because sometimes those guys are the ones who have miscommunications or breakdowns when working together. There's a chance that once some of the freshmen get into their college shapes (Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley), we could see them on the line. But basically, I think the defensive line will be a place that will see lots of movement. As with the running back position last year -- which was wide open at the beginning of the season -- they'll try out players until they find their guys.