Michigan football has had a quality problem this offseason: How will it appease all of its playmakers? The Wolverines enter 2022 not only with all but one productive receiver from a year ago, but they also return Ronnie Bell, the star playmaker who was injured and lost for the season in last year’s season opener.
On Saturday, we didn’t get those answers. But when Jim Harbaugh spoke to Jon Jansen on the “In the Trenches” podcast, we learned the Wolverines are even deeper than expected at receiver, with a walk-on wowing coaches and his teammates so much that he’s worked his way into the two-deep and is drawing comparisons to a star NFL player.
“Yeah, the top five is Roman, Cornelius Johnson, Ronnie Bell. No receiver ‘one’ — they’re all ones, along with Andrel Anthony and A.J. Henning. Those five will be strong in a rotation as starters,” Harbaugh said. “Another guy who’s surged is Peyton O’Leary. So, Peyton O’Leary is backing up Cornelius Johnson right now at the X-position. And he’s had a Cooper Kupp-like training camp. I mean, he’s almost got that nickname around here right now. So that’s been tremendous.
“And then also Tyler Morris, Darrius Clemons, Amorion Walker — and Cristian Dixon is surging at the receiver position. So, where we said we had like really six really good receivers coming into camp, call that 10 now. There’s 10 really, really good receivers. And it’s a strong group.”
Considering what we’ve heard about the three freshmen, it’s no surprise that they’ve impressed. But O’Leary has been getting mentions from all of his teammates at media availabilities and appears poised to see the field early and often in his second year on campus.
Surprise starter on Michigan football defensive line reveals overall depth
Jim Harbaugh announces Michigan football starting QB situation
Kirk Herbstreit gives a vote of confidence to Cade McNamara
While that covers one position group, we still don’t really know who will be the third running back, the thunder to Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards’ lightning, now that Hassan Haskins has moved on to the NFL.
It’s no surprise that Corum and Edwards have secured the starting positions — Corum shared starting duties with Haskins a year ago, and Edwards was being groomed for the top role, simultaneously. While it appears that Harbaugh will approach the third back situation by-committee, he says one has stood out above the rest. He’ll just need more time on task.
“Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards — they’re your two No. 1s,” Harbaugh said. “And they will, as we had foreseen, they’ll be getting most of the carries. I would call the third back right now C.J. Stokes for purely getting in there and running the football.
“And as he continues to learn the offense in terms of the third down and the protections, probably lean more towards Tavi Dunlap as the third guy. But they’re very close. And also the third guy — Isaiah Gash, because he’s tremendous, tremendous in the short yardage running right now and being the third down back. So feel really strong with those five backs going into the beginning of the season.”
Finally, Harbaugh said that the tight end group, led by team captain Erick All and fifth-year behemoth Luke Schoonmaker, will not just have two, three or four big contributors in 2022. No, he estimates there will be an unfathomable eight tight ends who will see the field this upcoming season.
“And the tight ends, we talked about two starters: Schoonmaker and Erick All. Joel Honigford will play a lot, Max Bredeson has surged into that two-deep, along with Carter Seltzer and Matt Hibner,” Harbaugh said. “Situationally, Hibner — him and Max are kind of interchangeable there as well. Colston Loveland has surged as a freshman, and Hunter Neff stayed completely healthy coming off of an ACL and he’ll get a lot of playing time. But you’ll see those eight really — eight tight ends all in the mix this fall.”
Back when Jim Harbaugh took over the program, he principally had three receivers who played early and often — Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Grant Perry — two tight ends — Jake Butt and A.J. Williams — and two running backs — De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson. Others were involved, of course, but with five receivers expected to be ‘ones,’ two ‘ones’ at running back, and two ‘ones’ at tight end, to go along with the pure numbers — 10 receivers, five running backs, and eight tight ends — it’s an embarrassment of riches on par with the elite programs in the country.
Now the program just has to figure out how to get them all the ball.