Yesterday, Michigan formally released their spring football roster as practice started this morning in Ann Arbor.
The gains and losses for returning players is always something that generates a lot of discussion with football starting to reenter the radar of football fans across the country. In most cases, the weight numbers can be somewhat misleading; there's still more than five months until the team takes the field. However, there are some clear good signs already and thankfully the bulk of them are at a very important position this season on the defensive line, with five players standing out early.
DE Frank Clark - +11 (277 lbs): Clark's number is one of the first that jumps out at you when going over the roster, and in a good way. We've discussed extensively Michigan's inability to get defensive line-generated sacks in the last few seasons, even under Mattison. One big reason for this is because the strong-side has not generated a consistent pass rush. With Clark bulking all the way up to 275, he may have put himself in a position to move over to strong side on passing downs, giving tackles on both ends a player capable of getting to the quarterback. His weight gain could play big dividends.
DE Chris Wormley - +11 (290): Wormley's freshman season was lost to a torn ACL in spring practice. The good news is he was safely able to redshirt. It looks like he did the most he could with the time he had off. Looking noticeably bigger than he did at this time last year, he's a player to potentially get excited about this season as a big and quick player also on the strong side.
DT Ondre Pipkins - lost 32 (308): One of the more memorable moments Pee Wee has provided since committing to Michigan was running across the sidelines at the Army All-American game in 2012 and picking up current Maryland star Stefon Diggs and throwing him to the ground. That was at about 340 lbs. He's now down to an amazing 308 and is poised to become the force he was recruited to be with a size, strength and quickness combination that's rare for a player his size.
TE AJ Williams - lost 18 (265): Williams didn't catch a pass last season but played a relatively important role as a blocking TE. His loss of weight is important as Michigan may start moving a bit more to a two-TE set with Devin Funchess and Jake Butt likely to see a lot of playing time this season. Williams may become a sneaky pass option in certain situations and the loss of weight could allow him to make an impact in that situation.
RB Justice Hayes - +7 (190): Hayes has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the running back rotation, but seeing him move upwards is an encouraging sign if he's going to stake a claim to get some carries this off-season. He's probably not going to be the guy who gets the most looks at the position, but could become a very dangerous third down option out of the backfield. He has almost 30 pounds on the player who was in that role last season in Vincent Smith.
Others: Weak-side defensive ends Tom Strobel and Mario Ojemudia saw solid gains as well. The bulking of the defensive line as a whole is very encouraging. Senior Richard Ash is up to 316 in the middle as well.
Freshman offensive lineman Kyle Bosch comes in at a solid 307 to start his Michigan career as well. He is definitely the freshman up front who is most likely to see playing time. Seeing him already up over 300 is a good sign this early as well.