ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A total of 18 players made their Michigan football debut last weekend against Western Michigan. How many of those newcomers will continue to contribute for the rest of the season?
Here’s the breakdown of all the players who officially took the field for the first time in Maize and Blue:
- Eight true freshmen: Andrel Anthony, Rayshaun Benny, Greg Crippen, Junior Colson, Donovan Edwards, J.J. McCarthy, Rod Moore and George Rooks.
- Two graduate transfers: Daylen Baldwin and Jordan Whittley.
- Four redshirt freshmen: Matthew Hibner, Braiden McGregor, Jordan Morant and Dan Villari.
- Four upperclassmen: Keshaun Harris, George Johnson, Andrew Russell and Matt Torey.
Before the start of the season, I wasn’t sure if any true freshmen beyond Edwards would play a major role for Michigan.
After the opener, that’s still up in the air.
Jim Harbaugh said after the game that Edwards will continue to see his role increase after he carried the ball six times for 27 yards. At this point, he still figures to have the biggest role of any true freshman.
Anthony, Benny, Crippen, Moore and Rooks all got into the game late because it was a blowout. It’s unclear if they will see action in closer games, such as this weekend against Washington.
McCarthy is an interesting case. Cade McNamara is obviously the starter, but McCarthy showed off the strong arm and playmaking ability that made him a five-star recruit. It wouldn’t be unusual for Harbaugh to work him into certain situations, and he’s one injury away from inheriting the starting role.
Colson appears to be legitimately in the mix at linebacker. He made two tackles and defended a pass in the opener, and could see the field semi-regularly as part of the two-deep.
It doesn’t seem like Whittley has much of a role on the defensive line, and that’s not a surprise considering Michigan’s personnel.
Baldwin, on the other hand, could see even more playing time with Ronnie Bell now done for the season.
The Jackson State transfer caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from McCarthy on Saturday and has a combination of size and speed that Michigan lacks on the outside. There are plenty of speedsters in the Michigan wide receiver room, but Baldwin can go up and make a contested catch. That’s a valuable weapon for inexperienced quarterbacks.
Hibner (tight end) and Morant (safety) are talented four-star players from the 2020 class, but they’re somewhat buried on the depth chart at deep positions. Both will grow into bigger roles at Michigan, but it might not happen this season.
McGregor was one of the top recruits in that class before a high school injury cut his senior campaign short. Now that he’s back on the field, he could be a sneaky addition to the edge rush in Mike MacDonald’s 3-4 scheme.
If Villari ends up playing significant snaps at quarterback this season, it means something (well, multiple things) went horribly wrong for Michigan. McNamara, McCarthy and maybe even Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman are ahead of him on the depth chart.
But Villari obviously has a role in a specialized quarterback run package, as evidenced by Harbaugh’s decision to go for a two-point conversion while up 33-7. That could be his avenue for early playing time.
Russell and Torey are walk-on players who have been in the program for three years and contribute on special teams.
Harris is a former walk-on who has gotten offseason buzz each of the last two years as a defensive back. Michigan is pretty set with its first and second units, but this won’t be the last time Harris sees the field.
Johnson is a name to watch because while he might not officially be on the two-deep, he was mentioned as a tough matchup by multiple Michigan receivers in fall camp.
When he committed to Michigan in 2018, Johnson was a versatile high school athlete who played on both sides of the ball. His length and speed have translated well to cornerback and aided Michigan’s depth.
What to expect
The two most obvious contributors on this list are Edwards and Baldwin. Neither is a starter, but both will see the field regularly on offense.
From there, game situation will determine the rest of these players’ fates. If Harbaugh wants to mix up the offense for a series, Villari might get a few snaps. If the secondary gets dinged up, Johnson, Morant and Harris are candidates to slide in.
With a much tougher opponent coming to Ann Arbor this week, Harbaugh and his staff are likely to tighten the rotation. That will give us a much better idea of who has earned meaningful playing time.