Predicting replacements for Michigan football's 5 open starting spots

Jim Harbaugh returns 17 of 22 starters this season

Shea Patterson, Josh Ross and Michael Dwumfour are among candidates for starting positions this offseason. (MGoBlue.com/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan football team will be dominated by familiar faces in 2018, as 17 of its 22 starters are still on the roster.

It's not a guarantee that all 17 returning starters will win their jobs back this offseason, but regardless, Jim Harbaugh will have at least five starting positions to fill.

Here's a look at the openings and who could fill them.

Quarterback

Who's being replaced: John O'Korn/Wilton Speight

Michigan actually had three starting quarterbacks last season, with Speight, O'Korn and Brandon Peters all starting multiple games. Even though Peters is back as a redshirt sophomore, there will officially be a new starting quarterback for the Wolverines.

The quarterback battle has long been considered a three-man race, with Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and Peters duking it out.

Peters and McCaffrey were elite prospects coming out of high school, but Patterson is the overwhelming favorite in this race.

READ: Is this the year Michigan finally gets great quarterback play under Jim Harbaugh?

The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the 2016 class, Patterson threw for 880 yards as a true freshman. As the undisputed starter last season, he threw for 2,259 yards and completed 63.8 percent of his passes.

Shea Patterson (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Michigan quarterbacks threw for 171.2 yards per game in 2017 and finished with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Patterson threw for 322.7 yards per game in 2018 and had 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Peters was Michigan's top quarterback recruit in 2016, coming in as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the class and No. 61 player overall.

In parts of six games, Peters completed 52.8 percent of his pass attempts for 672 yards and four touchdowns. He took better care of the ball than Michigan's other quarterbacks, but he wasn't a major threat to throw downfield and the coaches handled him with kid gloves.

Peters showed signs of being a solid quarterback, and he got plenty of experience against Big Ten competition last year.

Jim Harbaugh talks with QB Brandon Peters during the Rutgers game at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 28, 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

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McCaffrey is less of a known commodity. Fans didn't get much of a look at him during a redshirt season last year, but he definitely looked thin on the sideline. Injuries have been a major issue for Michigan at quarterback, so McCaffrey will have to prove he can take hits to win the starting job.

The No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the 2017 class, McCaffrey has the talent to start at Michigan. Even if he doesn't beat out Patterson this season, he'll be among the favorites heading into 2019.

Projected starter: Shea Patterson

Left tackle

Who's being replaced: Mason Cole

Michigan's offensive line hasn't been good the last several years, but Cole was a steadying force no matter where he played.

He finished his Michigan career at left tackle, and while it's not as flashy as the quarterback competition, this battle will be just as important.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Harbaugh could go one of three very different directions at left tackle: the safe route, the high-upside route or the return from injury route.

The safest choice would be Juwann Bushell-Beatty, a fifth-year senior who has played both tackle positions for the Wolverines in the past. Bushell-Beatty doesn't have the upside of some of the younger options, but he's started eight games at tackle during his Michigan career.

Bushell-Beatty took snaps at left tackle against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State in 2016, so he's seen the best of the Big Ten. All seven of his starts last season came at right tackle.

James Hudson would be the flashy choice, as coaches have been raving about his potential since he moved from defense to offense last year.

Hudson was a four-star defensive lineman coming out of high school, but Harbaugh immediately flipped him to the other side of the ball, and he's apparently showing promising signs during practice. He might not be as polished as someone like Bushell-Beatty, who has been playing on the O-line for much longer, but his potential is enticing.

The wildcard in the left tackle race is Grant Newsome, who won the job in 2016. Newsome was the team's best offensive lineman for the first five games before suffering a serious leg injury against Wisconsin.

Newsome has been fighting to get back on the field since Oct. 1, 2016, and it's unclear if he'll be able to crack the rotation this year. The best-case scenario for Michigan would be to have the 2016 version of Newsome back, but would he be at 100 percent if he's cleared to play?

The Wolverines have plenty of options to replace left tackle, and it will be the first critical decision for Ed Warinner at Michigan.

Projected starter: Juwann Bushell-Beatty

Fullback

Who's being replaced: Khalid Hill

There aren't many college football teams replacing high-profile fullbacks in the 21st Century, but Michigan is one of them.

Hill was a scoring machine after switching to fullback under Harbaugh, racking up 13 touchdowns on 42 carries the last two seasons. Now, Michigan needs a new short-yardage specialist.

The most obvious choice to replace Hill is sophomore Ben Mason, who checks all the boxes of a Harbaugh fullback. He was a linebacker in high school, he weighs more than 250 pounds, and he's even got a Mohawk haircut in his official team photo.

Ben Mason scores a touchdown against Wisconsin on Nov. 18, 2017. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Mason gave fans a preview of what to expect as a true freshman, scoring two touchdowns on just three carries. Harbaugh's fullbacks are asked to block and pick up short third- and fourth-down attempts, and Mason is built to do just that.

Fifth-year senior Jared Wangler could challenge Mason for the starting job after switching to fullback in 2017. He was mostly a special teams contributor and didn't get a carry, so he could end up at No. 2 on the depth chart.

Projected starter: Ben Mason

Defensive tackle

Who's being replaced: Maurice Hurst

There are no bigger shoes to fill than those of Hurst, but fortunately for Michigan, defensive line is the deepest position group on the roster.

Whoever replaces Hurst will play alongside Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Aubrey Solomon -- three of the most explosive players on the team.

Rashan Gary of the Michigan Wolverines is congratulated after a sack during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Michigan Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan beat Cincinnati 36-14. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Defensive coordinator Don Brown has a slew of choices in this battle. Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall are veteran linemen who have played several games at Michigan.

Marshall has never been a starter, but he's appeared in 18 games throughout his career. He was part of the defensive tackle rotation in eight games last season and while he's steady in the middle of the line, he's not a huge playmaker.

Mone has shown flashes of explosiveness during his career, but his production hasn't been consistent. He made five tackles against Ohio State last season.

But the talk of spring camp was junior tackle Michael Dwumfour, who saw limited action as a reserve last season.

Dwumfour has more upside than Marshall and Mone, and he's apparently realizing that upset during the offseason. As more of a threat to get into the backfield and rush the passer, Dwumfour fits the mold of a Brown defensive lineman.

With possible All Americans and a budding star on the defensive line, there's no reason for Brown to go with a safe bet at the other tackle spot. He can afford to go with Dwumfour and take a chance on the higher ceiling.

Projected starter: Michael Dwumfour

Weak-side linebacker

Who's being replaced: Mike McCray

Michigan has so many linebackers in the mix it's difficult to narrow down the list. Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson will be back in the starting lineup at middle linebacker and VIPER, but the battle to fill McCray's spot is one of the hottest competitions of the fall.

Mike McCray returns an interception for a touchdown against Florida State in the 2017 Orange Bowl. (Chris Trotman / Stringer)

If last season is any indication, Devin Gil is the frontrunner. He filled in for McCray in the opener against Florida and played on special teams all season. Gil made five tackles last season.

Two of his high school teammates -- Bush and safety Josh Metellus -- are already starters on the defense, so Gil is looking to complete the trio.

If it's not Gil, it will likely be sophomore Josh Ross or junior Josh Uche.

Ross was a special teams star a true freshman, but he's ready to step into a role on the defense. He was the No. 9 inside linebacker in the 2017 recruit class and the No. 3 player in Michigan. Ross is expected to be a playmaker in the backfield with his speed and tackling ability.

Uche is a more versatile defender who has played defensive end and linebacker for Michigan. He saw more time on defense last season, even picking up his first sack against Florida. He wasn't as highly touted as Ross coming out of high school, but Uche has worked his way into the competition.

Drew Singleton and Jordan Anthony could also end up in the mix as true sophomores. They were both elite prospects in the 2017 class -- Singleton as the No. 5 outside linebacker and Anthony at No. 8. Neither saw the field last season, but they have enough raw talent to crack the rotation in 2018.

Projected starter: Devin Gil

Michigan has so much young talent on its roster that several of these openings could initially be filled by veteran players who later give way to the less experienced players with higher upside.

James Hudson, Ross and Singleton are players who might not win starting jobs for the opening game but could earn more playing time down the line.

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