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Freshmen heat up position battles at Michigan

Michigan’s youngest group of players is making a strong first impression at fall camp. The Wolverines’ freshman class is pushing for playing time as much as any group Jim Harbaugh can remember coaching.

Harbaugh said he’s been pleased with his team’s effort through the first nine practices when meeting with members of the media Monday night for the first time since camp began. He’s especially high on the rookie class that is putting pressure on the veterans above them on the depth chart.

"Those guys have heated some of the competitive waters at multiple positions, and that’s a good thing,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t see any of our older guys just giving their jobs away. I don’t see that happening, not through nine practices. Not saying that for one minute. It’s still to be determined, (but) heated-up waters more than you see on really probably any team I’ve ever been on where a group of new guys are showing that they are on track to be either starters or back-up players.”

Running back Chris Evans and lineman Michael Onwenu both earned high praise from the coach. Evans, an all-purpose back from Indianapolis, “may be one of the most outstanding of them all,” Harbaugh said. Onwenu has played with both the offensive and defensive lines during his first week of college football. The Detroit native, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds, could be a two-way player in the future for Michigan.

“I think he’s that good,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to school. He’s taking tests and he’s playing both ways. He might just be my favorite guy right now. He’s awesome. I really like him a lot.”

Fellow lineman Ben Bredeson (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) also has stood out to the coaches. He started camp as a guard but has since been moved to tackle. Harbaugh said he’s been impressed by -- among others -- tight end Devin Asiasi, kicker Quinn Nordin, safety Khaleke Hudson, receiver Dylan Crawford and defensive lineman Rashan Gary, the No. 1 prospect in the country this year.

Michigan’s freshman class was ranked as the sixth-best recruiting group in the country by ESPN when they signed in February. The group was headlined by Gary, who will begin his career at defensive end and who is “a really good football player,” according to his head coach.

Harbaugh did add that one highly touted member of that class currently is suspended along with a redshirt freshman. A Michigan spokesman later clarified that the two players were wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell and defensive end Shelton Johnson. The coach declined to provide details about why those players were suspended or when they might return to practice.

One of the few positions where it doesn’t appear a freshman will be pressing for playing time is quarterback. Harbaugh said upperclassmen Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and John O’Korn all have performed well to this point. Harbaugh said he hasn’t decided yet when he will name a starting quarterback, but he believes that the level of competition at this stage is better than it was a week into last year’s training camp.

“Better than most camps that I’ve seen at the start for the quarterbacks,” he said. “Sometimes they struggle with their accuracy or different things they’re communicating or fumble snaps on the ground. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing solid play. It’s improving too.”

Michigan will practice another 20 times before opening its season at home against Hawaii on Sept. 3.