ANN ARBOR – Jim Harbaugh has never been afraid of giving freshman a chance to play, and that was especially true in 2022.
Of Michigan’s 22 freshmen last season, 11 burned their redshirt by playing in more than four games. A few, like cornerback Will Johnson, defensive tackle Mason Graham, tight end Colston Loveland, earned prominent roles by the end of the year.
With the Wolverines returning most starters on both sides of the ball in 2023, there might not be as many opportunities for the team’s freshman class, but it’s likely some will make a notable impact.
Here’s five freshmen to keep an eye on this season:
Receiver Fredrick Moore
There’s no question who Michigan’s top two receivers are in Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson, but the depth chart gets murky beyond the veteran duo. The team lost leading receiver Ronnie Bell to the NFL and A.J. Henning and Andrel Anthony to the transfer portal, leaving the Wolverines with little experience at the position. Besides Johnson and Wilson, the receiver room has a combined five career catches.
When Harbaugh was asked earlier this month about candidates to fill the No. 3 receiver role, the three freshmen were the first names he mentioned, including Moore.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was a three-star prospect from St. Louis, Missouri, but he enrolled early and was able to get his feet wet during spring practices.
Moore, who was ranked No. 520 overall in the 2023 class, received praise during the spring, and it continued into preseason camp.
“Fredrick Moore’s ability to track the ball is as good as I’ve seen,” Harbaugh said on Aug. 16.
Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore also said the plan is to give all the freshmen receivers a look this year.
“They’re going to have really good years, and I think they’re going to have help us early,” he said. “The whole room as a whole, but those three freshmen have done a really good job for us.”
As a senior, Fredrick Moore caught 67 passes for 1,504 yards and 24 touchdowns, helping Cardinal Ritter College Prep to a 14-0 record and state title.
Receiver Semaj Morgan
Morgan is only 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, but the former three-star prospect from West Bloomfield could give Michigan some playmaking ability at the position, especially in the slot.
Harbaugh has said all the freshmen have taken reps with the ones during fall camp. Like Moore, Morgan enrolled early and got a head start on learning the offense.
“Quick, fast and in shorter stature, but a very big catch radius,” Harbaugh said of Morgan. “He can catch the ball away from his body, he can high point. He’s been really good.”
Morgan, the No. 502 overall recruit in the 2023 class, did it all at West Bloomfield, playing receiver, safety and quarterback at times while also returning punts in kicks.
Receiver Karmello English
We’ll continue with the receiver theme here with the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder who was the highest-ranked of the group at No. 189 overall. However, English was not an early enrollee, so it might take him a little bit longer to get up to speed. Regardless, English has a high ceiling and put up gaudy numbers his last two seasons at Phenix Central High in Alabama, totaling 145 catches and 1,909 receiving yards.
Cornerback Jyaire Hill
The only other position where Michigan is lacking depth is at cornerback. Sophomore Will Johnson is penciled in on one side, but there’s an ongoing competition for the other outside corner spot. Graduate transfer Josh Wallace is the frontrunner, but the Wolverines will likely give some other guys a look during a soft nonconference schedule.
That could include Hill, one of three freshman cornerbacks. The No. 173 overall prospect was an important signing day coup for the Wolverines and participated in spring practices as an early enrollee.
Harbaugh said this preseason that all three cornerbacks, including former three-star prospects Cameron Calhoun and DJ Waller, are “coming on fast.” The Wolverines don’t have many other experienced options, opening the door for Hill and the others.
Sophomore Amorion Walker moved from receiver to cornerback late last year and was ascending during the spring, but he reportedly has missed time this fall because of injury. Redshirt sophomore Ja’Den McBurrows missed all of last season because of injury. Harbaugh also said redshirt freshman Myles Pollard and senior walk-on Keshaun Harris are in the mix. Michigan could move nickel Mike Sainristil to the perimeter as well.
However the cornerback situation shakes out, Hill will have a chance to quickly climb the depth chart.
Edge Enow Etta
Etta was Michigan’s top-ranked recruit last cycle following a standout career at Covenant Christian Academy in Texas. He racked up 59 ½ sacks over his final three seasons, but it was unclear whether he was going to play edge or along the interior of the defensive line when he arrived in Ann Arbor.
The former four-star prospect is listed as an edge and is the biggest of the bunch at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds.
The Wolverines have Braiden McGregor, Derrick Moore, Jaylen Harrell and incoming transfer Josaiah Stewart will receive a bulk of the playing time at the two edge spots, but don’t be surprised if Michigan gives Etta a good look in 2023.
With Etta’s size, there’s also a chance Michigan moves him inside, which Harbaugh hinted that he could be taking reps there as well.
The ninth-year head coach also highlighted two other freshman defensive linemen in three-stars Cameron Brandt and Trey Pierce.
“Those three have been outstanding and came in right on time,” Harbaugh said. “I just feel like that interior defensive line group has really been bolstered. We’ll see who the fifth and sixth defensive lineman is going to be in that rotation, but definitely those three will most likely be in. That’s how good they’re playing.”