Michigan football: 5 position battles that will most impact this season

Multiple starting spots still up in the air six weeks before opener

Christian Turner #41 of the Michigan Wolverines runs the ball against the Florida Gators during the first quarter of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan football season will kick off six weeks from Saturday, but the Wolverines still have plenty to figure out before that point.

Most of the starting lineup is set in stone, barring injury. Shea Patterson will start at quarterback. Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones will start at receiver. Four starting offensive linemen return.

READ: Predicting Michigan's starting offense, defense

Some positions saw plenty of turnover this offseason, though, and Jim Harbaugh has multiple options to fill those holes.

Here are five position battles to watch over the next six weeks.

Free safety

This feels like it should be a no-brainer with Michigan bringing in the No. 1 safety from last year's recruiting class.

True freshman Daxton Hill is one of the fastest players in the country and would give a boost to a defense that got torched by Ohio State's speed last year.

As a five-star who could have started at most schools in the country, Hill should still be considered the favorite for the job.

Harbaugh also has a few veteran options to replace longtime starter Tyree Kinnel.

Brad Hawkins was a big part of the rotation last year after switching his position from wide receiver. He had a few rough moments against Notre Dame but got more comfortable as the year wore on.

Jaylen Kelly-Powell also figures to be in the mix after playing in 17 games his first two years on campus.

With senior Josh Metellus at strong safety, Michigan can afford to go with the upside here and add much-needed speed to the secondary.

Prediction: Daxton Hill

Outside linebacker

Michigan has its VIPER in Khaleke Hudson and its middle linebacker in Josh Ross. Who will nail down the final starting spot?

The presumed replacement for Devin Bush is his former high school teammate and roommate, Devin Gil. But Michigan has some interesting young options, as well.

Devin Gil in Michigan's 2017 opener against Florida. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Cam McGrone redshirted last season but was one of the top linebackers in the 2018 recruiting class. He was a four-star in the composite recruiting rankings, but 247 Sports ranked him as the top linebacker in the nation and the No. 24 player overall.

There's a ton of potential there, but Gil has much more experience. The redshirt junior has played in all 26 games the last two years, making 14 starts.

Jordan Anthony is also a wildcard in this race. He's only played in seven games his first two yeas on campus, but Anthony was a four-star outside linebacker and one of the top defensive players from the state of Florida in 2017.

Gil seems like a safe bet to begin the season as the starter, though McGrone probably has a higher ceiling.

Prediction: Devin Gil

Right tackle

Ed Warinner has Michigan in a really got spot along the offensive line, but in the present and in the future.

Four starters return for 2019 -- left tackle Jon Runyan Jr., left guard Ben Bredeson, center Cesar Ruiz and right guard Michael Onwenu. All four earned Big Ten honors last season.

Michigan has two good options at right tackle with redshirt sophomore Andrew Stueber battling redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield.

Stueber filled in as the starter when Juwann Bushell-Beatty got hurt in 2018, but that might have been more about preserving Mayfield's redshirt than an actual indication of their spots on the depth chart.

Either way, all reports from Michigan's staff suggest this battle will go down to the wire.

Mayfield played in an up-tempo offense in high school and has massive upside as a tackle of the future. Those factors might both work in his favor since the Wolverines can afford to take a risk.

The other four linemen have combined for 111 games and 87 starts on the offensive line. Whoever wins this battle will be in a very good situation.

Prediction: Jalen Mayfield

Running back

The official starter at running back might not be as important as people think because Josh Gattis will use all three members of this offseason battle.

Tru Wilson is the stready, reliable veteran who earned 62 carries and averaged 5.9 yards per attempt last year. It was an impressive showing for a former walk-on who came to Michigan as a two-star cornerback.

Tru Wilson celebrates a touchdown against SMU on Sept. 15, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Christian Turner started the Peach Bowl for Michigan with Karan Higdon out and showed flashes of the home run potential that caught Harbaugh's attention during the recruiting processs.

Turner was a three-star recruit two years ago, but he had scholarship offers from most of the Big Ten and Notre Dame. He might not be the most exciting choice, but he's got a combination of playmaking ability and some college experience.

The headliner in this three-man race is true freshman Zach Charbonnet, the No. 4 running back in the 2019 class and a possible difference-maker on offense.

Michigan has had solid running backs over the last decade, but no true stars. Charbonnet has a chance to be special, but is that enough to earn him the starting spot on day one?

He was an early enrollee, but had to sit out the spring after a knee procedure. Charbonnet probably won't be atop the depth chart when the season begins, but he might be by the time it ends.

Prediction: Christian Turner

Field goal kicker

Based on last season's performance, this shouldn't be much of a competition, but Michigan will likely give Quinn Nordin a chance to win back his old gig.

Jake Moody stole the job last season when Nordin missed five of 16 field goal attempts. Nordin has a huge leg and converted 19 of 24 field goals as a redshirt freshman, so he has shown he can be a successful college kicker.

Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

It'll be hard to take the job from Moody unless he has a terrible offseason. As a true freshman, Moody stepped into a difficult situation and went 10 for 11, including a record-setting 6-for-6 performance against Indiana.

Moody had a huge leg in high school and showed that with a 48-yard field goal in the Peach Bowl. He was only the starter for the final three games, but he made 10 field goals during that span and made both of his attempts in the toughest environment: Columbus.

Michigan Wolverines place kicker Jake Moody (2) kicks an extra point during a game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Michigan Wolverines (4) on November 17, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon…

It's a luxury to have two talented kickers, but Michigan will likely go with the player who was nearly perfect in 2018.

Prediction: Jake Moody

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