You can see them making plays on both sides of the ball. A key catch here, a big sack there.
They are Michigan’s future, the players who will become the first nucleus of Brady Hoke’s legacy at Michigan.
These are the underclassmen who Hoke will later count on to convey his message.
Players like Jake Ryan, Thomas Gordon and Taylor Lewan will be the spokesmen during practice, in the locker room and in the heat of battle.
They are part of a small group of leaders Hoke will be counting on.
They will be expected to lead by example, to reflect the character of a Michigan athlete and to display the toughness it takes to win in the Big Ten.
Here’s a list of underclassmen who will eagerly take on that role:
When Darryl Stonum was redshirted for the 2011 season, it was time for Jeremy Gallon to step up.
And step up he has.
The redshirt sophomore not only leads the team in receptions with 23, he’s carried the ball twice, has returned punts and a kickoff and has one solo tackle.
From Apopka, Florida, Gallon was a high school quarterback, running back and safety.
In a recent interview with scout.com, Gallon talked about playing as a team, but his signature line will probably be, “Win one for the seniors.”
Sophomore Courtney Avery is part of the youth movement at cornerback with freshman Blake Countess.
Avery was a two-year starting cornerback and four-year starting quarterback at Mansfield (Ohio) Lexington.
At Michigan, Avery has started seven games in his two-year career.
This season, he has one interception and a record-tying fumble recovery. Against Minnesota, Avery tied the Michigan record for longest fumble return for a touchdown (83 yards).
Possibly Brady Hoke’s largest project, Taylor Lewan may also be his most talented lineman.
Lewan, at 6’8″ and 302 pounds, is already being compared to former left tackle and All-American Jake Long.
Lewan has also been known to be a touch on the undisciplined side. He supposedly was the instigator when he took a punch from Michigan State’s Vernon Gholston a few weeks ago.
A high school teammate of Craig Roh at Scottsdale (AZ), Chaparral High, Lewan was a SuperPrep All American and a scout.com 4-star prospect.
The key words describing Lewan are controlled aggression.
To be the leader Hoke and the staff expects him to be, Lewan will have to eliminate the personal fouls but not the aggressiveness.
So far this season, he’s already caught someone’s eye. Lewan’s been named to Phil Steele’s Midseason All-Big Ten second team.
Another high school quarterback, Thomas Gordon starred at Detroit Cass Tech, passing for 2,917 yards and rushing for 2,051 in his three-year career.
He was recruited to Michigan as a safety, was redshirted in 2009, then had an inconsistent year as a hybrid linebacker in 2010.
Hoke, as he did with several players, asked Gordon to rededicate himself to the game after this year’s spring practice.
Gordon was moved back to safety next to Jordan Kovacs. The move paid off, as Gordon is second on the team with 52 tackles and has three fumble recoveries.
Gordon, who is also in line for a leadership role, was in the National Honor Society in high school.
Jake Ryan came onto the scene in this year’s spring game by taking an interception to the house.
The 6’3″, 230-pound redshirt freshman has taken the injured Cam Gordon’s SAM linebacker spot.
Gordon has played sparingly the last few weeks, but his back is still not 100 percent.
Ryan, on the other hand, has taken advantage of the situation. Already this season, he has five tackles for loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries.
An All-Ohio selection as an outside linebacker at Cleveland St. Ignatius, Ryan comes from an athletic family. His brother, Connor, plays at Ball State, while both his father and grandfather played college ball.