Michigan football: Players to watch ahead of kickoff

It’s game week for Wolverines

The Michigan Wolverines take the field for their game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 25, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (GAELEN MORSE, 2021 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s game week for the reigning Big Ten champions, and the Michigan Wolverines are coming into the 2022 season hungry for more. They’re looking to build on the structure set at the end of last season.

The Men in Maize finished with a 12-2 record, winning their first Big Ten championship since 2004 and earning their first appearance in the College Football Playoff, which is why they’ll open the season ranked No. 8 in the AP poll and No. 6 in the preseason Coaches Poll.

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff finally got over the hump by beating the Ohio State Buckeyes, winning his first Big Ten title, and advancing to the school’s first College Football Playoff in 2021.

Fans of Michigan are riding the wave from last season. Still, with all that had taken place after the confetti fell on the Wolverines in Miami, Florida, Harbaugh had one foot out of the door during the offseason.

But, he’s back to achieve the goals he and his team once set, which is to continue stacking victories and trophies, but it all starts on the defensive side of the ball.

Here is Harbaugh’s full press conference from Monday afternoon:

Here is Jim Harbaugh's full Aug. 29, 2022, press conference ahead of Michigan football's season opener.


A Harbaugh-coached team has always been known for its defense, but this year’s team will be without three prominent figures: David Ojabo, Aidan Hutchinson, and Daxton Hill, who’ve all taken their talents to the NFL.

Hutchinson and Ojabo accounted for 28 of the team’s 34 sacks last season, but new additions like former five-star edge recruit Eyabi Anoma, who led UT Martin with nine and a half sacks last season, senior Mike Morris, Junior Colson, and freak athlete Mazi Smith will look to fill those gaps this season.

Mazi Smith

Smith has transformed his mind and body ahead of the 2022 season, as he is looking to make a massive leap during his senior year, which is why Harbaugh named him a team captain.

Per the school’s social media, Smith benched 325 pounds 22 times and had a vertical leap of 44 inches while also clocking a 4.41 shuttle time. During the team’s Reactive Plyo Stair Test, which consists of seven 26-inch high stairs that players have to try to jump up as fast as possible, Smith, at 331 pounds, accomplished the set in 2.82 seconds.

Hutchinson, who was selected No. 2 by the Detroit Lions during the 2022 NFL Draft, did it in 2.57 seconds, but he is 60 pounds lighter than Smith.

Junior Colson

Colson is coming into the 2022 season with something to prove. He received snaps as a true freshman last season and accumulated 61 tackles to help the team advance to the CFP.

He accounted for a handful of tackles on one of the world’s biggest stages. His performance last season netted him Freshman All-American honors as a representative of the Maize and Blue. Look for the linebacker to make an enormous leap during his sophomore season.

Georgia running back James Cook is tackled by Michigan linebacker Junior Colson during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Quarterback battle

Reports indicate that the quarterback battle between team captain Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy has been epic this summer. From the looks of it, the battle will continue into week two of the regular season.

McNamara led the Wolverines to wins against Ohio State and the Iowa Hawkeyes, where Michigan captured its first Big Ten championship since 2004.

But McCarthy came in as a freshman and played some valuable reps.

His performance through camp had Colson calling him baby Patrick Mahomes, as he’s made unbelievable throws while also being able to become a duel threat.

“He’s still doing those Patrick Mahomes throws, it’s awesome,” said Colson to The Wolverine. “It’s awesome to see. Right now, he’s having a lot of fun with it. So he’s been comfortable. He’s making a lot of smart reads right now, so that’s the big thing that’s changed. Take the check-down as well as the deep ball. So I think he’s got a lot of maturity right now.”

Harbaugh spoke recently about the battle in a press release regarding both men as starters.

“We have made a decision,” said Harbaugh. “Both quarterbacks have played great-done everything they could have and, in every way, to win the starting job. Coming out of camp, I just feel like we have two quarterbacks, Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, that we can win a championship with either of those two behind center.

“It’s a great thing for our team but there’s only one ball and only one quarterback can be out there at a time. So we’re not ready to say who that starting quarterback is, but the decision that we have made is Cade McNamara will start the opener against Colorado State and J.J. McCarthy will start the second ball game against Hawaii, and then after week two we will make a decision going into week three on the starter and backup.”

Cade McNamara (left) and J.J. McCarthy (right) during a game against Maryland in November 2021. (The Associated Press 2021)

McNamara and McCarthy are starting to form into the Tom Brady and Drew Henson battle in the late 90s but hopefully, after week two, no matter who the starting quarterback will be for the rest of the season, let’s hope Harbaugh doesn’t pull a Lloyd Carr and insert the backup every time the new named starter struggles in order to win a game.

Plus, how do you sit a senior who accomplished so much during his junior season? If he starts, will the duel threat sophomore transfer?

Related: Arguing about Michigan football predictions: Final record, QB battle, best players, toughest game

Ronnie Bell

Michigan won’t lose much on the offensive side of the ball, as it’s returning some key players. But none of them will be more prominent than team captain wide receiver Ronnie Bell.

Coming into the 2021 season, Bell was hailed as the team’s best overall player. During his Week 1 matchup against the Western Michigan Broncos, he scored a 76-yard touchdown before suffering a catastrophic injury while returning a punt.

His re-entry into the lineup will do more than bolster the Wolverines’ young receiver corps.

Look for Roman Wilson, Cornelius Johnson, who was productive in 2021, A.J. Henning, Andrel Anthony, freshman Darrius Clemens (who shined during the spring game), freshman Tyler Morris, and Amorion Walker to rise to the occasion.

Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell (8) looks backward as he completes a 76-yard reception and rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Western Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (The Associated Press 2021)

Running backs

Hassan Haskins took his talents to the NFL, now learning behind Derick Henry and Michigan alumnus Taylor Lewan on the Tennessee Titans.

He finished his 2021 run to greatness, rushing for 1,327 yards while also setting a school record by scoring 20 touchdowns, landing him first-team All-Big Ten honors.

His historic 2021 season was the stuff made of legend, which is why the team will miss his massive production, but who will fill his shoes in the backfield?

Blake Corum

Insert speedster Blake Corum and pass-catching back Donovan Edwards, who shined down the stretch of the season.

Corum recently talked to the media about his and Edwards’ skillset as the team is looking for a third back to make the tailbacks room even better.

“I feel like we all have a one-of-a-kind (skill set) when it comes to our skills,” Corum told the media. “Donovan and myself, I feel like last year it was thunder and lightning (between Haskins and me), but this year it’s thunder and thunder. You know Tavi (Tavierre Dunlap) brings a little bit of thunder, but he isn’t slow. C.J. (C.J. Stokes) is fast too. It’s just a whole bunch of lightning.”

The Big Ten released their Preseason Offensive Player of the Year rankings, and they have Corum ranked No. 4, receiving eight votes. The media also are projecting Michigan to finish second in the east division.

“I don’t really care about those things as it’s only preseason,” Corum said. “The only thing that’s going to matter is who wins it at the end of the season, right? Obviously, I have self-goals, but I’m more focused on my team right now. I’m focused on beating Michigan State, beating Ohio State again, going to win the Big Ten championship but actually going all the way this. That’s my focus. I’m really not focused on myself as that’s going to come.

“The yardage and the yards per carry, the yards after carry, that’s going to come but as long as you’re focused on the team, focusing on what I can do to make my O-Line better, what can I do to help the defense get better. Like we say, The Team, The Team, The Team is what I am buying into. It’s really not about me at the end of the day, as I will get mine, but I’m here for my team, and I want to go all the way this year, and I think we can as long as we lock in. I don’t really care about the accolades as it’s preseason, it’s cool, it’s nice, but I don’t really pay attention to it.”

Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) leaps into the end zone for a touchdown in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Western Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (The Associated Press 2021)

How do you feel about the team heading into the 2022 season? Do you think they can run the table? Which quarterback do you prefer as the leader of men?

The Wolverines kick off the season at The Big House vs. the Colorado State Rams on Saturday at Noon EST.

About the Author:

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.