The Michigan football team is coming off of arguably its best season since the 1940s, after Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines won the national champions with a remarkable 15-0 record.
The Wolverines knocked off Alabama and Washington en route to their national title, the program’s 12th claimed national championship and first since 1997.
Heading into 2024-2025, optimism abounds for new Head Coach Sherrone Moore and Michigan football. The Wolverines hired Wink Martindale as their new defensive coordinator and retained key position coaches Kirk Campbell, Grant Newsome and others.
The Michigan football spring game is scheduled for April 20 and the Wolverines have plenty of time to put a roster together before them.
Here are five position battles to watch heading into spring ball, that could define the Wolverines’ chances of repeating:
The contestants at this position include Alex Orji, who got a handful of snaps in meaningful games this season, Jayden Denegal, who looked good in mop-up duty vs. some of the easier opponents on Michigan’s schedule, and former walk-on Davis Warren.
Orji is the favorite based on his size, experience and athleticism. Denegal got a comparison to former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger recently from Coach Campbell, a note that bodes well for his future in the winged helmet.
Warren has looked good in limited action. He is an accurate passer with good pocket presence who has been in Michigan’s offensive system for quite some time now.
Jack Tuttle is a talented former Indiana Hoosier who is seeking his seventh year of eligibility. It seems unlikely that he will get it at this point but if he does he could be in the mix with Orji and Denegal.
Prediction: Orji starts the season and showcases his exciting run/pass skills. Michigan focuses on using the running game to bludgeon its opponents while alternating in Denegal at times when the passing game needs a boost.
2. Wide Receiver-
The Wolverines got lots of big plays from Semaj Morgan last season at the slot receiver and kick returner positions. Morgan is back for another year in Ann Arbor. The Bloomfield Hills, Michigan native is a home run threat with the ball in his hands and a great asset on jet sweep plays to both the wide and short side of the field.
Tyler Morris emerged as a go-to guy for Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy last season. Morris had a long catch-and-run score against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Rose Bowl and figures to be a big factor in both the passing and running games this season.
Between Morris and Morgan, the Wolverines lack size at this position.
Former four-star Karmello English hails from the ‘Yellowhammer State (Alabama)’ and is slightly bigger than Morgan at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds.
Kendrick Bell, San Francisco 49ers star Ronnie Bell’s brother, was a three-star in high school out of Riverside, Missouri.
Bell has the talent and the frame to grow into a star player in both the running and passing games similar to his Ann Arbor and Bay Area-famous brother.
His 6-foot-3, 180 pound frame and family lineage suggest that he could become a key contributor for Michigan this season, if he’s up to the challenge.
Frederick Moore is another former four-star. He brings size at 6-foot-1 and has a big opportunity in front of him to start or receive considerable playing time on the outside at this position.
A ready-to-go transfer portal addition could also factor in at wide receiver.
3. Offensive Line-
As anyone who knows Michigan’s new head coach knows, this is a keystone position for what Michigan football wants to do on offense.
Newsome’s group has a lot of potential but must gel quickly because Texas football is coming to town on September 7 in a grudge match between two College Football Playoff participants.
Myles Hinton, Giovanni El-Hadi, Greg Crippen, Josh Priebe (a Northwestern transfer), and Jeffrey Persi are the expected starters along the line.
Hinton is finally growing into the five-star talent and potential first round pick everyone thought he could be out of high school. El-Hadi didn’t play a ton last season but he has the strength, intelligence and experience to be one of the better linemen in the Big Ten as a 2021 four-star prospect from Sterling Heights, Michigan.
Crippen has been waiting in the wings for quite some time and has been a challenger to 2023 NFL draft entrant and former starter Drake Nugent, who played fantastically during Michigan’s title run.
Persi is the wild card at right tackle. He is 6-feet, 8 inches tall and and seems more built for the left side of the line with his height and length. Hinton is expected to start at left tackle because of his size, athleticism, quick feet and skill.
Persi is a former four-star from the Class of 2020 and not much is known about his aptitude as a potential first-time starter.
Other candidates for playing time here include Andrew Gentry, Raheem Anderson, Amir Herring, Dominick Guidice, and Tristan Bounds.
The prediction here is that Gentry beats out Persi for the starting job. Expect Anderson, Herring and Bounds to play significant snaps along multiple positions and expect Michigan to go fishing for additional help in the transfer portal.
There are big shoes to fill at this position with Mike ‘Mikey’ Sainristil headed for the National Football League.
Sainristil was one of the best playmakers and team leaders on the 2024 national championship winning team and now he’s off to greener pastures.
With Martindale coming aboard after his time with the Giants, Michigan will begin the search for a replacement immediately.
The good news is that Michigan has ample talent in the defensive backfield and versatile players abound.
J’Den McBurrows is the projected starter here according to MWolverine.com.
McBurrows’ diminutive size relative to the rest of the defensive backfield and scrappy play are reminiscent of Sainristil. Four-star class of 2023 player Brandyn Hillman has a chance to be the backup here and push McBurrows for playing time.
Freshman Jacob Oden also factors in as a potential contributor here, although Oden appears more suited for the safety role.