Michigan football mailbag: Rashan Gary hype, Wilton Speight’s accuracy, national championship chances

Have Michigan football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Michigan mailbag to talk all things Wolverines. This week, we’ll discuss the hype surrounding DE Rashan Gary, the competitive level of the secondary and Michigan’s national championship expectations.

What’s your prediction on [Rashan] Gary? Lives up to the hype?

To answer Joe Brocato’s question from Facebook, here’s a bold prediction/projection:

Gary, a sophomore defensive end, will emerge as a leader on Michigan’s defensive line this season. He’ll presumably be a starter. He’s poised to make a significant impact at the position.

But Gary will let his play and his leadership skills speak louder than he does. He’s a soft-spoken guy who is very conscious of the expectations upon him as he enters his second year.

For some of the bravado we’ve seen of Gary on the field, he’ll be conscious of what he does off the field, whether it’s how he carries himself with the media, how he interacts with people on campus and how he conducts himself in the college community.

How much of a step down is our secondary going to be this year?

To answer Jonathan Moody’s question from Facebook, while we haven’t seen anything of the secondary (Michigan doesn’t allow the media to watch its practices), cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich met Monday with the media and expressed his concerns regarding the young secondary.

“I’m not going to tell a story that isn’t true,” Zordich said. “We’ve got a game to play in 12 days. They’re working hard, they’ve just got to work hard more consistently and do the right things more consistently.”

Zordich spoke with the most candor I’ve seen of any Michigan coach this preseason. Here’s more:

“I don’t want to sound the alarm, but we’re just trying to get these guys to move along,” Zordich said. “You hear the youth thing, well, that’s no longer an excuse. You’ve had the spring and you’re freakin’ two weeks away from a big game. It’s time to go. I am very confident that within the next week, one or two of those guys is going to step up.”

It is no easy task to replace four defensive backs who A) were seniors and/or B) bound for the NFL. What made cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling and safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas so strong and so effective was the combination of skill, experience, smarts and instincts, and it takes a unique group not just to be as effective as Michigan’s secondary was in 2016, but to lead the nation in pass defense (142.5 yards per game).

However, Michigan’s incoming defensive backs have a strong upside, at least on paper, in that there is a lot of room for growth. But they also have to learn immediately, whether that includes being successful against an experienced team like Florida, or learning from their mistakes and recovering quickly.

What do you know about Wilton Speight’s improvement on his accuracy on short to intermediate throws and his accuracy when on the move?

We haven’t had any chance to watch Speight or any of Michigan’s quarterbacks during the preseason because Michigan does not allow the media to watch practice. So we can’t make that determination.

But Speight, who lost 23 pounds in the offseason, gave a self-critique last week, and is best answering Cedric Cain’s question, submitted via Facebook.

“I feel a lot quicker, coming from under center and being able to finesse around in the pocket and maybe get more than two or three yards like I did last year,” Speight said.

In regards to where’s improved last season: “I think the game of football has made more sense. This is the second time around. In saying that, there’s younger guys that we’re bringing along, and I think helping lead that way is probably better than where I would have been last year.”

Would it be possible to repeat ’97 in 2017?

Tony Harden, who submitted his question via Facebook, is referring to Michigan’s 1997 Associated Press national championship. We wrote at length about that team earlier this summer as part of our 100 Michigan Moments series.

One thing that stood out in interviewing members of the 1997 team is that they acknowledged how difficult it is to win a national championship. Jeff Del Verne even said, “it wasn’t anything we brought to a conscious level until the final two or three games. Then we started to believe it was in play.”

It’s difficult to go undefeated, and the dynamics are so much different than they were 20 years ago. We now have the College Football Playoff, which takes what are subjectively designated as the nation’s top four teams. Twenty years ago, we had two champions: the Associated Press champion and the coaches poll champion — the two didn’t even play for the national title, they were voted as national champions.

Many believe Michigan had its best opportunity to be in contention for the national championship in 2016, with a senior-laden team.

However, it’s never easy to project a national champion. Winning a title takes a certain shared mentality — and some luck along the way.

If you had to handicap it who do you think starts across from Kekoa Crawford? Eddie McDoom, Tarik Black or Donovan Peoples-Jones?

Nobody’s rushed to make Kekoa Crawford a starter yet, or Eddie McDoom, or freshmen Tarik Black or Donovan Peoples-Jones.

But if we had to formulate a depth chart right now, or assign starting positions to those four, let’s say Crawford starts, across from Donovan Peoples-Jones.

However, I wouldn’t expect everyone to have the same answer as I do. We’re drastically limiting the pool by having to pick from only four. Michigan also returns experienced players in Grant Perry and Maurice Ways. Perry and fullback Khalid Hill are Michigan’s top returning receivers, statistically; Perry had 13 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown in 2016, while Hill had 16 catches for 118 yards and 3 touchdowns.

We also have to bring freshmen Nico Collins and Oliver Martin into the pool. That pool, as one can see, is young and talented — but untested. It will be less about who starts among Michigan’s receivers. It will be more about who is productive.

Have a question about Michigan football? Tweet us @Landof10Mich and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Michigan football mailbags here

The post Michigan football mailbag: Rashan Gary hype, Wilton Speight’s accuracy, national championship chances appeared first on Land of 10.

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