By Quinne Lowe @sports_qa on June 20, 2014
This is a pivotal third season for Brady Hoke and the U-M football team after a disappointing 7-6 2013 season. While he earned the job by being a "Michigan Man" and a great recruiter, those qualities must translate into more wins or risk having gap between them and "little brother" and the school in Ohio widen. A breakout season from these five players could go a long way in helping the Wolverines get back to their winning ways
Kalis, a former 5-star recruit, struggled in his first season of action in 2013, but what U-M offensive lineman didn't? With the hiring of Doug Nussmeier from Alabama as offensive coordinator, fans should see a vast improvement upfront with Kalis leading the charge.
After suffering a torn ACL in Week 5, Pipkins has become forgotten about when people talk about potential contributors at the defensive tackle position in 2014 -- a lot of publications don't even have him in the two deep. But if he can show that he has fully healed from the injury, Pipkins possesses the rare combination of size and athleticism that will have him in the starting lineup and causing havoc in opposing backfields.
Smith was the "other" running back in the 2013 recruiting class, but his 8.1 YPC average against Ohio St. proved that the back possesses the toughness and the vision needed to be a more integral part of the U-M rushing attack that desperately needs to improve its 125.7 YPG average. While he will have to split carries, his in-game impact will be more significant than the other running backs on the roster including USC transfer Ty Issac.
Another heralded freshman from the 2013 class, Thomas started off his U-M career with a bang after blocking a punt against Central Michigan in the season opener. The athleticism he showed early on is what the Wolverines coaches need out of him in 2014, and it was confirmed that Thomas will play exclusively at safety instead of bouncing between that and cornerback which should allow him to be a bigger playmaker this season.
While everyone expects Devin Funchess to be the primary receiver in the U-M offense with the departure of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, there will be opportunities for others to step up in the offense. Chesson possesses a nice combination of speed and size and will have the advantage of establishing a rapport with quarterback Devin Gardner. His stats from 2013 -- 15 receptions for 221 yards -- should easily double, if not triple, this season.
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