5 questions for Jim Harbaugh, Michigan at Big Ten Media Days

INDIANAPOLIS — What was supposed to be a joyous, chamber-of-commerce week here was upended quickly by news of a possible suspension for Jim Harbaugh.
On Tuesday, just before Big Ten Media Days was set to kick off at Lucas Oil Stadium, news came down that Michigan had submitted a request for a negotiated resolution to the NCAA involving alleged rules violations leveled against the football program.
The reported agreement? A four-game suspension for Harbaugh, who would likely be sidelined for the Wolverines’ non-conference games against East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green, along with their Big Ten opener against Rutgers.
While a decision still has to be made by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, the accepted penalty would bring a swift close to an investigation ongoing for the better part of six months.
Still, Harbaugh and his players — a group that includes running back Blake Corum, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and defensive back Mike Sainristil — will have to answer questions about the uncertainty surrounding the start of the season, along the team itself, on Thursday.
STORY: Harbaugh energized, motivated by Michigan football’s ‘real momentum’
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh leads his team onto the field before the game between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on Saturday, November 26, 2022. David Petkiewicz, cleveland.comDavid Petkiewicz, cleveland.com
1. What happens if Jim Harbaugh can’t coach the first four games?
In addition to Harbaugh, reports say Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who also doubles as the team’s offensive line coach, and tight ends coach Grant Newsome could face a one-game suspension as part of the negotiated resolution. That could narrow the Wolverines’ coaching staff come Week 1, forcing someone like running backs Mike Hart or defensive coordinator Jesse Minter to step in and take the reins of the team. Neither has head-coaching experience, but it’d be a good test run for a young coach like Jay Harbaugh looking for an opportunity.
Michigan spring game 2023
Michigan offensive linemen Raheem Anderson (62) and Karsen Barnhart play during the spring game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 1, 2023.Neil Blake | MLive.com
2. Can the offensive line be better than last year?
Many believe last year’s offensive line was the best it’s been under Harbaugh, and who can dispute that? Not only did Michigan win the Joe Moore Award for a second straight year, but it had one of the best centers in the country in Olu Oluwatimi, an exceptional left tackle in Ryan Hayes and experience at guard (Trevor Keegan, Zak Zinter). Keegan and Zinter are back, and with them came an influx in talent via the transfer portal — center Drake Nugent (Stanford) and tackles LaDarius Henderson (Arizona State) and Myles Hinton (Stanford), all with starting experience. Throw in the returning Karsen Barnhart and players ready to break through (Trente Jones, Greg Crippen, Giovanni El-Hadi, Jeffrey Persi) and the Wolverines believe they have a true two-deep.
Now, injuries and transfers have slowed the acclimation period, making preseason camp crucial in helping the unit gel. But if what we saw last year was any consolation, it shouldn’t take very long for Moore and co. to get the group playing in unison. The line has the ideal blend of talent, experience and depth to be one of the best in the country once again.
More: Michigan the favorite to win Big Ten title in preseason media poll
Fiesta Bowl
Michigan wide receiver Darrius Clemons (0) warms up during the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. (Neil Blake | MLive.com)Neil Blake | MLive.com
3. Who’s ready to emerge at receiver?
We know Michigan has built its brand and identity on offense through the run game, and this year figures to be no different with the returning Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. But Harbaugh is on record as saying he hopes to have a more balanced offense this fall, suggesting that there might be more opportunities to throw it — especially with J.J. McCarthy back at quarterback.
Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson figure to be the leaders at receiver this fall, but this unit is desperate for someone else to break out. Could that be former walk-on Peyton O’Leary? Could Darrius Clemons finally find his opportunity? Maybe Tyler Morris? We expect the Wolverines to continue leaning on tight end (especially with the addition of Indiana transfer A.J. Barner), but they need more help and reliability on the outside.
Michigan football Spring Game
Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter watches from the sideline during Michigan football’s Spring Game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 2, 2022.Jacob Hamilton | The Ann Arbor News
4. What’s the identity of the defense?
Last year, Jim Harbaugh correctly anointed his defense — a new-look group led by a new coordinator, Jesse Minter — a “no-star” unit. There was one first-round pick (Mazi Smith) and a bunch of players asked to step up and step in, and they played their roles admirably. This time around, Minter will tap a new group of players to help lead — Jenkins at tackle, Jaylen Harrell and Braiden McGregor on the edge, Junior Colson at linebacker and Will Johnson, a sophomore, on the back end. Throw in a mix of youth (defensive tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant) and experience (safety Rod Moore) and there’s plenty of potential here. They can be good. Really good. But top-5 like much of last year? We’re about to find out how good Minter really is, now that he’s in Year 2 of “his” defense.
Michigan spring game 2023
Michigan edge Josaiah Stewart plays during the spring game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 1, 2023.Neil Blake | MLive.com
5. How many transfers will make an immediate impact?
Michigan capitalized on the transfer portal like never before this offseason, landing nine players at various positions to fill holes and solidify depth. Cornerback Josh Wallace (UMass) was a mid-summer add that should vie for the starting job opposite Will Johnson, edge rusher Josaiah Stewart (Coastal Carolina) figures to be a threat on the outside, and linebacker Ernest Hausmann (Nebraska) could easily slide in next to Junior Colson. These are all key pieces Harbaugh and his staff believe can help raise the level of competition in practice, and improve the team.

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