The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 73 wide on his way to 49 catches for 748 yards and six scores. NFL teams could use Funchess in a plethora of ways, splitting him out wide as a big-bodied receiver who can get separation or moving him around the field as an H-back, like New England's Rob Gronkowski. Wherever he ends up playing at the next level, Funchess has the tools to be a success. 3. Fifth-year senior linebacker Jake Ryan: Some NFL teams may be cautious about Ryan, who tore his ACL in the spring before the 2013 campaign, forcing him to miss the first five games of the season. When Ryan returned to the fold, first seeing the field in Michigan's 43-40 quadruple-over- time loss at Penn State, he wasn't at his 2012 level, when he led the team with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Ryan has had another full offseason to get back to that elite form. He will also spend the 2014 season at middle linebacker, a new position for him. If he excels there, Ryan can prove that he has diverse talents that can be applied in a multitude of positions and defensive schemes in the NFL. 4. Senior defensive end Frank Clark: Big, athletic pass rushers are always at a premium for NFL teams, and Clark certainly looks the part. Eight pass-rushing defen- sive ends were taken in the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, including South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, who was the No. 1 overall selection by the Houston Texans, and Auburn's Dee Ford, who was selected in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. Clark, at 6-2, 270, has repeatedly been called a "freak athlete" by his coaches and fellow team- mates. He has the speed and sheer athleticism to chase down opposing quarterbacks and make an impact on the game. After recording 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss last year, Clark has a chance to post big num- bers this year and impress NFL scouts. 5. Junior safety Jarrod Wilson: Wilson has great size, at 6-2, 202, for a safety, and has a very high football IQ. At times this spring, the Michi- gan coaches asked Wilson to stay quiet during scrimmages, so other safe- ties competing to start opposite him could get a chance to get comfortable with calling out audibles and making sure everyone is lined up correctly. Wilson, who has appeared in 22 games at safety, including eight starts, is poised to be a veteran defensive back this year, and should have a very productive season. Last year, he tallied 50 tackles and two interceptions. 1. Fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner: Despite an of- fensive line that surrendered more tackles for loss than any other team in the country (114) and 36 total sacks, Gardner put up monster numbers throughout the 2013 season. He became the first quarterback in Michigan football history to cross not only the 400-yard threshold in a game, but also the 500- yard plateau, throwing for an impressive 503 yards in a 63-47 win over Indiana. He added 81 rushing yards in that game, breaking the Michigan single-game total offense record with 584 yards. He also finished with 451 passing yards and 10 rushing yards (461 total yards) in the 42-41 loss to Ohio State. In the first game in which he donned the No. 98 Tom Harmon Michigan Legends jersey, Gardner turned in a performance that garnered him Max- well Award National Player of the Week honors, leading Michigan to a 41-30 win over Notre Dame with 294 passing yards, 82 rush- ing yards and five total touchdowns. Gardner finished the year completing 208 of 345 attempts (60.3 percent) for 2,960 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, only three of which occurred after the first four games of the year. 2. Junior wide receiver Devin Funchess: Funchess, who won the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year award in 2013, will move to wide receiver full time in 2014. After finding great success when lining up wide as a deep threat last season, Funchess will lead the Wolverines' receiving corps this year. U-M must overcome the loss of Jeremy Gallon, who broke a single-season Michigan record with 1,373 receiving yards in 2013. Funchess proved he was a big-play threat last year, catching five passes that covered at least 30 yards, including a career-long 59-yard touchdown reception at Penn State. In his breakout game as a wide receiver, he hauled in seven catches for 151 yards and a score against Minnesota. He finished the year with 49 catches for 748 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and six scores — and those numbers should spike even higher as the No. 1 pass catcher in 2014. 3. Redshirt junior defensive back Blake Countess: It's not exactly clear where Countess will be spending the majority of his time this season. As a true freshman in 2011, he earned his way into the start- ing lineup as a cornerback with a knack for getting himself in position to make a play. After tearing his ACL in the first quarter of the 2012 season opener against Alabama, he returned last year. Back in the lineup at corner- back, he really found his niche in the nickel package, in which he would move from corner to nickel back, excelling in a position where he had the athleticism to stick with slot receivers and could be closer to the line of scrimmage to come up and make plays. He ranked seventh nationally and first in the Big Ten in intercep- tions, hauling in six on the year, including the first two of his career against Notre Dame and one he returned for a 72-yard touchdown against Minnesota. He finished the year with 46 tackles, two tackles for loss and four passess broken up. 4. Fifth-year senior linebacker Jake Ryan: Ryan is making a big switch this season, moving from strongside outside linebacker, where he has been a consistent, playmaking threat for the Michigan defense for the last three seasons, to middle linebacker. Ryan's position switch is part of an overhaul of the linebacking corps, which will see junior James Ross III move from weakside outside linebacker to the strongside, and senior Desmond Morgan from middle linebacker to the weakside, where he started his career. Ryan has posted 155 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and four passess broken up in his career, highlighted by his redshirt sophomore season (2012), in which he led the Wolverines with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Ryan missed the first five games of the season last year while re- covering from an ACL injury suffered in spring practice. He wasn't his usual destructive self, finishing with 30 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss — but he should have a highly productive season in the middle. 5. Senior defensive end Frank Clark: From the moment Clark stepped on campus, the Michigan coaches have talked about his un- believable athleticism and potential. As a freshman in 2011, he finished with 10 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. The next year, he tallied 25 tackles, nine tackles for loss and two sacks. Last year, he finished with 43 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Now a senior, Clark has one more chance to make a big splash at the end of the line — and the Wolverines, who had 25 total sacks last year, will need strong quarterback-rushing production from him. Top Five players Jarrod Wilson (22) and Frank Clark (57) will help lead the defense. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 72-76.Season Preview.indd 73 6/19/14 11:39 AM

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