Spring ball is in the books, so the focus will be on fall camp for the defending Big Ten-champion Michigan Wolverines. Following an 11-1 regular season punctuated by a win over Ohio State and making the College Football Playoff certainly has created a buzz around Jim Harbaugh’s program.
Ann Arbor, once again, has become a hotspot for college football. Not long ago, jokes about UM being a basketball school were strung throughout the interwebs — now, after its accomplishments from this past fall, Michigan is being viewed as a potential power — in the Big Ten and at the national level.
Harbaugh finally has things cooking his way. His dreams of winning a conference title and beating the Buckeyes came to fruition in 2021, so now he’s bent on repeating that success. When doing “way-too-early” pieces, there is always plenty to dissect. During this installment, we’ll focus on the offensive side of the ball — specifically, who could/should do what, and how’ll they do it.
Why do we even talk about this?
The starting quarterback is the most discussed position at Michigan, especially since the arrival of Harbaugh in 2015. Regardless of Harbaugh’s decision, the keyboard warriors and clueless fanboy media insisted on posing arguments for the Other Guy (insert name/year). Since taking over the Wolverines, Harbaugh has yet to make the wrong decision on a starting quarterback.
He knows how to pick his QB1, so deal with it.
Cade McNamara is the starter, and has been since dethroning Joe Milton during the 2020 season. He was the clear No. 1 during spring; he’s the clear No. 1 going into fall. It would take a massive set of disappointing circumstances for McNamara to lose his role as the shot-caller of the offense.
Statistically, McNamara was middle-of-the-pack among Big Ten quarterbacks. But stats don’t always tell the entire story. Without McNamara, the Wolverines wouldn’t have won 11 games — there is no questioning that. Of course, there was the typically way-too-optimistic/unrealistic crowd that supported true freshman JJ McCarthy being the No. 1 quarterback.
“He was a 5-star! He’s going to be a legend…” so on and so forth…
You know the type.
Harbaugh has always been loyal to his quarterback, showing incredible faith and admiration for the guy he tabs as the leader of the offense — and that’s McNamara, barring a complete change of schedule.
Corum and Edwards put up 20
Michigan has the right ingredients to easily score 30 points per game, if not a little more. In 2021, the Wolverines ranked No. 16 among FBS programs in scoring, averaging 35.8 points per game. With running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, UM has a sophomore punch that’s in a class by itself. Corum can blaze the field with speed and Edwards can run, catch and throw the ball.
In 2021, Corum had 11 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving touchdown; it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to project him totaling 13-15 all-purpose TDs in 2022. This past fall, Edwards had 3 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving, so he should easily double that total this fall. Corum and Edwards should combine for 20 touchdowns when it’s all said and done this upcoming season.
In regard to UM’s backfield, there are more players to talk about prior to the start of fall camp. However, focusing on the obvious pair of stars makes perfect sense at this time of year. Fall camp will provide answers to the many conclusions (some of them outlandish) that spawned from the spring game.
AJ Henning goes wild
Michigan has one of the most athletic wide receiver groups in the Big Ten, so it’s easy to project big seasons from the pass-catchers. We’ll cover the rest later, but today we’re starting with one of the most versatile players on Michigan’s roster.
During the spring, Harbaugh said that WR AJ Henning could serve as UM’s Deebo Samuel. While the comparison seems cool and all, let’s face it: Henning is nowhere the size of Samuel. We’re talking 5-10, 185 compared to 6-0, 215 pounds. But in terms of being versatile like the NFL star, yeah …. Henning could offer something very similar this season. A big play waiting to happen, he averaged 29.8 yards per kick return, while simultaneously serving as a weapon on offense this past fall.
Rushing, receiving, — Henning is one returning of Michigan’s do-all utility guys who should have a massive season. Rushing for more than 150 yards and ending up with 300 receiving yards seems like a good starting point when predicting Henning’s fortunes in 2022.
Erick All emerges as a top TE
Throughout the past 3 seasons, Erick All has had moments — both good and bad. He’s had bad drops and great catches. In 2021, he became more consistent, finally allowing the public to focus on his talent, rather than his faults. If not for a game-winning, 47-yard touchdown etc. Penn State, Michigan may have not finished at 11-2 and in the College Football Playoff.
Not saying All was the only reason, or that he was responsible for the Wolverines’ season — but let’s be honest: That was probably the biggest TD of the season for the Wolverines, who had plenty during big games and against rivals.
With 38 catches, All had the 2nd-most receptions on his team last year. Against Michigan State, he had 10 catches for 98 yards — one of the greatest TE showings in the UM vs. Michigan State rivalry (from either side) — and that game, alone, proved that he had the ability a consistent target for 4 quarters.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see All finish with 10 touchdowns and 600 receiving yards, especially since he’ll likely be targeted much more this season. Despite having a 10-catch game vs. the Spartans, All averaged about 3 catches per game en route to finishing with 437 receiving yards.
But make no mistake, the 6-4, 250-pound senior has qualities that should put him among the nation’s top tight ends this fall.
Michigan has at least 5 players — of course, the players mentioned in this article — who should be on every Big Ten follower’s radar. McNamara, Corum, Edwards, Henning and All all deserve spots on the yet-to-be-created, 3-level (1st, 2nd, HM) preseason All-Big Ten team.