The 2016 college football season is right around the corner and expectations are sky high for the Michigan football team.
With 15 returning starters, the Wolverines are not only a preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, but to make the College Football Playoff as well. 2015 saw players like Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Chris Wormley breakout and have tremendous seasons. For the Wolverines to fulfill the lofty expectations bestowed upon them, other under-the-radar players will have to step up this season. Here’s my best guess of who they might be (this list does not include incoming freshman):
Bryan Mone, NT
After an excellent freshman season, Bryan Mone was set to breakout in 2015. The sophomore was having an excellent fall camp and was going to start nose tackle. In fact, Mone was playing so well that Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said he was the third best player on the team.
While lining up on special teams in practice, Mone landed on the bottom of a pile and broke his leg. Forced to miss the entire season, Mone had to watch the team’s depleted defensive line get run over by the likes of Indiana and Ohio State. At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds Mone is a rare mix of power and size has the ability to take on multiple interior lineman and clog up the middle.
With players like Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and incoming freshman Rashan Gary lined up next to him, Mone will not have to worry about potential double teams and will have every opportunity to rush the quarterback and devour running backs in their tracks.
Mone will have to battle for a starting spot, but will get plenty of playing time in Don Brown’s defense.
Dymonte Thomas, SS
An All-American safety/running back in high school, Dymonte Thomas was a top target for many schools, but ultimately committed to Michigan at the first “Under the Lights” game against Notre Dame.
Thomas has had to wait for his chance, sitting behind Thomas Gordon and Jabril Peppers, but with Peppers moving to linebacker, Thomas is penciled in to start at strong safety.
Thomas is not only fast, but has great size for a safety at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. With Jourdan Lewis locking down one side of the field and Channing Stribling/Jeremy Clark holding down the other, Thomas will be able to play up in the box and contribute on most plays.
Thomas showed off his athleticism at the spring game with his interception off Shane Morris in the end zone. If he can continue to develop, he could be in store for a special senior season.
Grant Perry, WR
Michigan fans were ecstatic when Perry flipped his commitment from Northwestern to Michigan just before National Signing Day in 2015 — and for good reason. The Brother Rice product broke many records in high school and was known as a “technician” out of the slot, something Michigan needed.
But his career did not get off to the start he had hoped. In his first game against Utah, his inexperience showed in his route running, resulting in three interceptions from Jake Rudock.
However, as the season went on, Perry got better and better and finished as the team’s number three wide receiver. His development showed in the Citrus Bowl against Florida, as he finished with 51 receiving yards and his first touchdown.
Perry’s role is likely to increase this season. Look for him to further develop and benefit from the attention Chesson, Darboh and Butt will receive from opposing defenses.