Michigan spring football practice preview for 2017. The Wolverines will try to punch their ticket to an elusive first College Football Playoff appearance after falling just short last season.
Year 3 of the Jim Harbaugh Era is about to get underway at Michigan, and anything less than a College Football Playoff appearance will be a disappointment. The Wolverines likely would’ve gotten there last year had it not been for the 30-27 double-overtime loss to bitter rival Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
Michigan’s quest to reach the CFP will have to come without Jabrill Peppers, one of the most talented and versatile players in the country, who if off to the NFL. Also gone from the defense are Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis, leaving defensive coordinator Don Brown with some pretty big holes to fill.
But the Wolverines still have plenty of talent remaining and coming in that can help them compete for a Big Ten and national title. Here are three storylines to watch as Michigan’s spring football practice starts Friday.
Michigan Spring Football Practice Storylines
1. The Italy trip
It wouldn’t be a college football offseason without Harbaugh doing something controversial. Last year he took his team down to Florida to practice, drawing criticism from many coaches around the country. This spring he’s decided Rome would be a good destination for a week of practice, which will take place from April 22-30. A donor is funding this trip, and Harbaugh announced the Wolverines have other overseas trips in the following years, including to South Africa, Japan and Israel. Let’s see if this idea works first, though.
2. Wilton Speight’s passing targets
Speight had a respectable season in 2016, completing 61.6 percent of his passes while tossing 18 touchdowns. He also had quality receiving options in Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, all of whom won’t be around this year. Fullback Khalid Hill caught the most passes of anyone returning with 16. Grant Perry had 13 catches, but he’s had some legal troubles recently.
One has to wonder if Harbaugh employs a big chunk of Michigan’s stellar recruiting class immediately to give Speight more talented targets. Receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was a 5-star recruit and has immense potential, and 4-star standout Nico Collins could see some time, too.
3. The running game
De’Veon Smith, who ran for 846 yards and 10 touchdowns, exhausted his eligibility, leaving the starting running back job all to Chris Evans. As a true freshman, Evans rushed for 614 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.0 yards per carry, but the questions whether or not he’ll be able to handle a full load of carries.
If he can’t, that might put more pressure on Speight and his inexperienced pass-catchers. Michigan ran for fewer than 100 yards in three of its last four games. The Wolverines lost each of those three games.
Michigan will not hold a spring game this season because of its trip to Italy. Instead, the Wolverines will open practice to the public April 15.