Michigan opens camp today: A look at the team’s position battles

Today is Aug. 2, which means Michigan is set to open preseason camp today in Ann Arbor.
It marks the official start to the college football season, at least for the Wolverines, who play their opener in just a month’s time — Sept. 2 against East Carolina.
Under Jim Harbaugh, expectations have never been higher. The Wolverines are coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances, and enter the 2023 season as the favorite in the Big Ten.
Could a three-peat be in the cards? Could this be the year Michigan gets over the hump and plays for a national championship? Several players have described this fall in no uncertain terms, using the phrase “natty-or-bust.” And while Harbaugh and some others aren’t willing to go that far, the coach has said that he believes this is his most talented Michigan team yet.
While the Wolverines are set to return their starting quarterback, running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, along with plenty of help on both sides of the ball, that doesn’t mean that there is zero drama.
In fact, position battles loom at several spots, making the next three to four weeks key in determining what the startling lineup will look like this fall. Here’s a brief overview to get you started.
Offensive tackle
Both tackle spots are up for grabs following the departure of Ryan Hayes, and Michigan believes it has four real candidates vying for the roles. Incoming transfers LaDarius Henderson (Arizona State) and Myles Hinton (Stanford) will push returners Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones for the left and right spots, head coach Jim Harbaugh declared last week at Big Ten Media Days. Henderson and Hinton both held starting roles at their previous school, making them formidable competition for the two returners. Barnhart and Jones have the built-in advantage of knowing the Michigan offense and being available in spring, while Henderson and Hinton were not.
We expect this to go down to the wire since it takes time for an offensive line to gel, as we saw last year. But the Wolverines believe they have four starting-caliber tackles on the roster, a good problem to have as you enter camp.
Sticking with the offensive line, there are big shoes to fill (literally) in replacing the outgoing Olu Oluwatimi, an Outland Trophy winner and consensus All-American. But like tackle, Michigan believes it has two players up for the challenge in transfer Drake Nugent (Stanford) and returner Greg Crippen. Nugent is the early favorite, given his experience (24 starts) and accolades out west, but also enters camp behind — having sat out spring rehabbing an offseason injury. Crippen was the team’s No. 1 center in spring and had the chance to work with the offensive line and quarterback J.J. McCarthy, giving him a leg up to start.
Wide receiver
We know Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson are going to be big parts of the passing game this fall, but who else steps up? Michigan is in search of a reliable No. 3, a receiver who can step in and make a play on any down. Sophomore Darrius Clemons could be that guy, as could sophomore Tyler Morris. Former walk-on Peyton O’Leary is another option given his breakout spring. The Wolverines are going to need more than two receivers to be a functional passing operation, and an effective third option would go a long way in aiding that.
Edge rusher
Much like offensive tackle, Michigan believes it has four real options to rush the quarterback this fall following the departure of all-Big Ten end Mike Morris. Jaylen Harrell is the incumbent and presumed starter, but there are three others vying for a bulk of the playing time — Braiden McGregor, sophomore Derrick Moore and transfer Josaiah Stewart.
Moore made huge strides in the spring and figures to be a key contributor this fall, while McGregor has been tabbed as the next guy in line at the edge spot. But can he hold down the spot in camp with Stewart, an under-sized pass rusher who put up huge numbers at Coastal Carolina, growing more comfortable under a new system?
“We may find out in training camp who the two best are, who the starters are, but we may not,” Jim Harbaugh told reporters at Big Ten Media Days. “That might be something that goes into the season. We may start two one game and two the other game.”
Will Johnson is a definite lock as a starter on the back end after the way he finished the 2022 season. But who is going to line up opposite of him and fill the spot vacated by DJ Turner? That might be the biggest — and most intriguing — mystery of camp. There’s always the option of moving Mike Sainristil into the role, but Michigan would prefer slotting in a natural, experienced corner who can handle his own.
The experiment moving Amorion Walker over has been a mixed bag, and there’s a hope that things finally click in camp. There’s always Ja’Den McBurrows, too. But Michigan moved quickly this summer to find more experience in the transfer portal, landing UMass corner Josh Wallace. Wallace is the obvious answer here but today’s practice will be his first in a Michigan uniform. In a pinch, the Wolverines could also move nickel Mike Sainristil over and slot one of the aforementioned players in.
Corner remains one of the only real mysteries of the Michigan defense, a top-15 unit that brings back several key components.

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