ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After leading Michigan to its first Big Ten championship in 16 years, Cade McNamara could be excused for expecting to be the quarterback getting the most attention at Saturday’s spring game.
He'll be lucky to get third.
That's nothing new - any quarterback at Michigan is going to be in the shadow of head coach Jim Harbaugh. Not only was Harbaugh successful as the Wolverines quarterback in his day, but he has also now gone from the coach who can't win the big one to the man who delivered a victory over Ohio State and a Big Ten championship.
H e also went to Minneapolis to look at the Vikings job, but that didn't work out and he's back at the Big House.
There will also be another big-name passer in Ann Arbor on Saturday - honorary captain Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick will also put on a passing showcase at halftime as he tries to make it back to the NFL; he last played in the NFL in 2016, the same year he started kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.
Once that's done, though, McNamara will get his chance to run the offense without the pressure of the past. He beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten title and advanced to the College Football Playoff, all with J.J. McCarthy looking over his shoulder. On Saturday, McCarthy will be sidelined by a sore shoulder, so that battle will have to wait for fall camp.
McNamara will have plenty of weapons coming back to help. Running back Hassan Haskins (1,327 yards, 20 touchdowns) is gone, but Blake Corum had 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Donovan Edwards already looks like the next breakout back.
The receiving corps is deep, led by senior Cornelius Johnson, and the offensive line has several key members back from last year's winners of the Joe Moore Award for the nation's best.
Replacing center Andrew Vastardis, who finished his career with six seasons of knowledge of Michigan's blocking assignments, will be tough. However, the Wolverines grabbed Virginia's Olusegun Oluwatimi out of the transfer portal. He started 32 straight games, and while he'll take a while to learn Michigan's system, he gives them a solid option right off the bat.
The question, of course, will be on defense. Few teams had a pair of pass rushers as good as Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who combined for 25 sacks last season, but both are off to the NFL.
No one on this year's roster had more than Taylor Upshaw's 2.5 sacks. Now a fifth-year senior, Upshaw will need to take a big step forward to help fill the two massive holes on the defensive line. Redshirt junior Mike Morris will also get a long look as an edge rusher.
The secondary also has some holes to fill, but D.J. Turner and Gemon Green give Michigan a pair of experienced cornerbacks and R.J. Moten and Rod Moore should be able to step into the safety spots.
Michigan has the talent to compete for just as much success as it had a year ago.
They just have to find a way to replace Haskins, Hutchinson and Ojabo.