Spring practice starts this afternoon for Michigan football, and somehow the athletic department decided it’d be a good idea to let me in. Who knows what they were thinking, but I’ll be at this afternoon’s practice trying to absorb as much information as possible about next year’s team. Here are five players I’ll be keeping a close eye on throughout the spring:
- Devin Gardner, QB: Okay, I’m not exactly going out on a limb here, but any Michigan fan who says they’re not interested in seeing what Gardner will bring to the table this year is lying to themselves. I still hope Gardner is afforded the luxury of a redshirt year, both for his sake (those mechanics need work) and Michigan’s (no more true freshman starters, please), but if Gardner can show the ability to contribute immediately it makes this team that much more stable: who knows how healthy Tate Forcier will be this season?
- Justin Turner, DB: Turner, one of the top prospects in Michigan’s 2009 recruiting class, is a redshirt freshman who could hold the key to the secondary’s success this season. If he can show the type of ability that made him a can’t-miss prospect, and locks down one of the starting spots at either cornerback or safety, that’s one fewer question mark for Michigan’s struggling secondary in 2010. My hope is he’ll lock down one of the starting corner spots and allow Troy Woolfolk to play at safety come fall.
- J.B. Fitzgerald, LB: If someone is going to unseat Obi Ezeh at middle linebacker, it’s Fitzgerald, who saw some playing time when Ezeh was benched in the latter half of the 2009 season. With a year of playing experience under his belt, Fitzgerald can now make a serious push for a starting role. Whether he gets one or not, the competition should help the inside linebackers improve after taking a big step back last season.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB: Another redshirt freshman, Toussaint was a standout on the scout team last year and could be in line for a lot of carries with Vincent Smith sitting out spring practice with a torn ACL. Toussaint put up ridiculous numbers in high school and has a ton of talent, and even when Smith returns he could be the guy getting the majority of the carries this fall. With the numbers of competing players at tailback, however, Toussaint could just as easily be sitting third- or fourth-string in 2010, so performing well in spring practice is as important to him as it is to anyone on this team. With Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown gone, the tailback position is there for the taking — someone just needs to step up and perform.
- Taylor Lewan, OT: Yup, another redshirt freshman. Lewan has drawn comparisons to Jake Long since the four-star prospect signed with Michigan in 2009, and if he adds enough size and strength to his huge frame (he’s listed on the spring roster at 6-8, 283), he could follow in Long’s footsteps and have a starting tackle spot as a redshirt frosh. It may be a year or two too early for Lewan, who didn’t start playing on the offensive line until his senior year of high school, but the competition for both tackle spots will be wide open. If Lewan has the strength, he may be the most talented lineman on the roster, and he has “prototype left tackle” written all over him.
I’ll check back in after practice with my initial impressions, an update on the new spring roster, and hopefully some pictures from the first day of spring ball.