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8/26/2008 10:17 AM
2008 Michigan Wolverines  (United States)
College football
Michigan's depth chart has lots of holes
10 true freshmen could see field in Wolverines' opener
Tuesday,  August 26, 2008 4:43 AM
Associated Press
<p>Coach Rich Rodriguez, offering some advice to Vince Helmuth during practice yesterday, begins his Michigan career against Utah on Saturday.</p>
Mandi Wright Detroit Free Press

Coach Rich Rodriguez, offering some advice to Vince Helmuth during practice yesterday, begins his Michigan career against Utah on Saturday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is only days away from his Wolverines debut, but the team's depth chart remains murky.

Seven positions on the offensive depth chart did not have starters listed yesterday, including quarterback and tailback -- the highest-profile positions in the new coach's spread option system.

Rodriguez, hired last year to replace the retired Lloyd Carr, said he had a "gut feeling" about who'll start under center Saturday afternoon against Utah in Michigan Stadium, but he wasn't naming names.

Junior Nick Sheridan played briefly in two games last season and redshirt freshman Steven Threet, a transfer from Georgia Tech, who has yet to throw a collegiate pass, are fighting for the starting job. Rodriguez said both players likely will see time against the Utes.

"I would think that both of them have gotten to the point where we feel confident we can win with both of them," he said.

In the offensive backfield, freshman running backs Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw are listed alongside veterans Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown. The two freshmen were listed first, but Rodriguez said not to read much into it.

"I've got four tailbacks there. We may start two at one time," he said. "I know it's important who takes the first snap to a lot of people, but for us it's more important to play the guys we feel we can win with.

"If there's four, we'll play four."

Running back Kevin Grady, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drunken-driving charge during the offseason, will not play Saturday while he serves an indefinite suspension.

There's also uncertainty on the offensive line, where right tackle Stephen Schilling is the only man who started regularly last season. John Ferrara, a backup defensive tackle last season, moved to the other side of the ball after a series of injuries, and could start at right guard if the staff uses David Moosman at center.

Mark Ortmann, the listed starter at left tackle, and Tim McAvoy, who'll start alongside him at guard, are the only other linemen who have varsity letters.

"This is all new now, but I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did last year," Schilling said of the learning process the new offensive system required. "We've been putting the offense in, and I can't wait to finally put it on the field and see what we can do."

All told, as many as 10 true freshmen could see action Saturday afternoon.

"With the new schemes, everyone's a freshman -- mentally," Rodriguez said. "There's five or six on offense. We've got eight, nine, maybe 10 true freshmen that will play for the first time this weekend. That's why I'm a little nervous, but I'm also excited for them."

Players downplayed last year's embarrassing season-opening loss to Appalachian State and said they felt better about facing the Utes, who employ the same spread offense that befuddled the Wolverines in past seasons.

"We kind of deal with (a spread offense every day)," linebacker Obi Ezeh said. "It's an advantage practicing against the spread. We feel we'll be ready for an up-tempo pace."

Michigan might have thought last season's opener was going to be easier than it turned out to be, but Rodriguez said he was certain that won't be the case when Utah, which is ranked ahead of the Wolverines in the preseason media poll, comes calling.

"They're solid. There's really no weak spots, and they're a veteran team," he said of the Utes. "It's not like we're opening up against somebody we can mess around and play awful and win.

"We've got to play well to win this one."

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