ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Not long ago Michigan was stuck on the wrong side of the transfer portal turnstile.
The Wolverines had 18 grantees or contributing walk-ons that entered the portal between August 2020 and July 2021. Aside from some timely graduate transfers like Olu Oluwatimi and Mike Danna, Michigan didn’t add much to the portal to make up for the attrition.
All of that reversed in the last cycle. Michigan’s portal losses have been minimal, with quarterback Cade McNamara and tight end Erick All being the most notable departures. On the other side of the ledger, the Wolverines bolstered their roster with seven transfers, some of which could struggle to include Jobs in the fall.
So what has changed? Was it a change of strategy? A more flexible approval process? Or is it, as coach Jim Harbaugh claims, because Michigan is proving to be an attractive transfer destination?
“People have heard how well Michigan treats people and how fun Michigan is and how Michigan develops players,” Harbaugh said. “I think the players want to be a part of it. We welcome that.”
Michigan will have to wait until fall for a full view of its incoming transfers, but several are on campus competing for jobs this spring. Here’s a look at the seven supplements and how they fit.
Edge Josaiah Stewart
Looking back at Stewart’s two years on the Carolina Coast, one question arises: Does Michigan get Stewart freshman year or sophomore year?
Anyway, the Wolverines are getting a good player. If they can get Stewart back into his Freshman All-America form, they might have a star. Stewart wasn’t bad last year, but if you watch clips from his first season, his engine jumps out of the screen.
Below are highlights of Stewart’s four-sack performance against Georgia Southern. As you can see, this wasn’t a fun day for Georgia Southern’s right tackle.
Stewart, a high school teammate of Michigan’s Mike Sainristil, had lost 12.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles as a freshman, with much of that performance coming in big games against Georgia Southern and Kansas. He had 3.5 sacks and 10 TFLs as a sophomore after transitioning from the defensive end to the hybrid “bandit” position, in part because teams were intriguing around him. Coastal Carolina’s defense collapsed late in the season, and a fresh start at Michigan may be what Stewart needs to get himself back on an upward trend.
At 6ft 2 and 230lbs, Stewart is shorter than the typical Big Ten corner defender, but he packs impressive strength into his compact physique. At the very least, he should be an effective situational pass rusher in the form of Danna or Eyabi Okie. If Stewart can regain his 2021 form, he could be significantly more than that.
OL LaDarius Henderson
Henderson isn’t enrolled in spring training, so Michigan will have to wait until preseason camp to see him in action. Based on his work at Arizona State, he should fit well with Michigan’s returning players on offense.
A three-star contender who didn’t grow up watching football, Henderson was thrown into the fire as a 17-year-old freshman when Arizona State’s left tackle began. He later switched to left guard and started 19 straight games before an injury ended his 2022 season.
Henderson has above-average athletics and ends up on a mean streak when given the chance. Relatively young for a fourth-year college player, he has yet to hit the top in terms of physical development. A year with strength coach Ben Herbert and offensive line coach Sherrone Moore should help Henderson with both his strength and technique.
The guard spots are closed with Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter but the fight for Ryan Hayes at left tackle is wide open. Jeffrey Persi assisted Hayes last season and started a game at Rutgers when Hayes wasn’t in the lineup. Henderson is an inch or two shorter than the prototype left tackle at 6-4, but he has the length and experience to handle that position and could be an intriguing option in preseason camp.
Center Drake Nugent
Stanford had one of the worst offenses in the Power 5 last season, but Nugent wasn’t the reason. He’s a burly blocker who charges at every snap and doesn’t give up easily. At 6-1 and 300 pounds, Nugent isn’t the most physically imposing player on the field, but he’s athletic enough to block in space and strong enough to lock down defenders in close quarters.
Nugent and fellow Stanford player Myles Hinton are recovering from injuries and will not participate fully in the spring, Harbaugh said. That creates a chance for someone like Greg Crippen, who was Oluwatimi’s backup at center last season. From Cesar Ruiz to Andrew Vastardis to last year’s Oluwatimi, Michigan has been absolutely the focus of recent seasons. Nugent, a fifth grader and two-year starter, has what it takes to keep the race going.
Tackle Myles Hinton
Hinton is the wild card in Michigan’s transfer class. He was a top 100 player graduating from high school and has the tools and pedigree to be an NFL draft pick. He’s also coming to a team that’s extremely deep offensively, with two players who came on with the right tackle last year in Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones. That should make for an intriguing competition at preseason camp once Hinton is in full swing.
Hinton has been up and down in his three seasons at Stanford. Even when he’s not in perfect position, defenders have trouble getting around corners to him due to his size (6-7, 320 pounds) and reach. He has the ability to move people as a run blocker as you can see in the clip below.
Consistency will be key for Hinton to establish himself at Michigan. He’s coming into a strained group of positions but has the tools to win a job if he can pull it all together.
Linebacker Ernest Hausman
Hausmann is an example of Michigan using the portal to build for the future rather than to meet an immediate need. With almost everyone returning to linebacker, the Wolverines don’t have many snaps to take, although Hausmann will have a say if he performs well enough in the spring. While not a Day 1 starter, his freshman season in Nebraska points to a bright future.
Like any newcomer, Hausmann had an adjustment period when he was accepted into the service. He played his best football by the end of the year with 10 tackles against Michigan, 12 against Wisconsin and six against Iowa. Hausmann is a strong tackler with impressive finishing speed, as he showed in the open with this JJ McCarthy sack.
Michigan is bringing back both starting linebackers in Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, as well as Nikhai Hill-Green, who started 2021 but missed all of last season through injury. Hausmann might not be an immediate starter, but he could end up being something even more valuable: a transfer with proven skills who can become a perennial collaborator.
Quarterback Jack Tuttle
Michigan had a spot for a veteran quarterback willing to fill a backup role behind McCarthy, and that’s exactly what Tuttle provides. He’s not coming to compete for the starting job, but he’s able to play in a pinch and offers a veteran presence for Michigan’s young quarterbacks.
Tuttle has spent the last four years in Indiana after starting his career in Utah. He started five games for the Hoosiers and completed 57 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and six interceptions. In his only start last year, he played well, completing 9 of 12 passes against Penn State and finding current and former teammate AJ Barner on that touchdown pass before ending the game with a shoulder injury that ended his season.
Signing Tuttle was a way to replace the experience Michigan lost with the departures of McNamara and Alan Bowman. Michigan’s staff like Davis Warren, who was McCarthy’s backup for most of last season, and the Wolverines are developing two quarterbacks from the 2022 class in Alex Orji and Jayden Denegal. Wherever Tuttle shows up on the depth chart, he’s the option, if McCarthy is on hiatus for some reason.
Tight end AJ Barner
Barner fits Luke Schoonmaker’s role perfectly as an all-around tight end who can be an inline blocker and a threat. Michigan listed both players at 6-6 and 250 pounds, and both have above-average speed for their size. Barner brings great advantages as a receiver, although he may have an adjustment on an offense that requires elite blocking from his tight ends.
Barner ran a route with 55 percent of his snaps last season, compared to 38 percent for Schoonmaker, according to TruMedia. Although used more often as a blocker, Schoonmaker was an extremely effective receiver when Michigan was looking his way. Schoonmaker had 35 receptions on 45 targets and averaged 11.94 yards per catch. Barner had 49 goals and averaged 7.11 yards on his 28 receptions.
Barner’s pairing with Colston Loveland should give Michigan two of the best pass-catching tight ends in the Big Ten. What Michigan lost last year is the blocking ability of Schoonmaker, Joel Honigford and All when he was healthy. That area could still be a work in progress, but adding another tight end who can go up and get the ball like Barner did with the aforementioned touchdown catch against Ohio State will make Michigan’s offense that much harder to defend .
(Top Photo by Josaiah Stewart: Joe Robbins / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)