True freshman Johnson breaks U-M’s starting lineup

Ann Arbor — Others were more highly publicized in Michigan’s recruiting class last February, but it’s Carvin Johnson who is expected to start as a true freshman in Saturday’s opener against Connecticut.

Barring a change this week in practice, Johnson (6-foot, 195 pounds) has taken the job from redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon at the hybrid linebacker/safety position.

Johnson was moved there recently after playing free safety and cornerback to open preseason camp.

“Carvin’s like a ball-hawk,” receiver Darryl Stonum said. “Wherever the ball is, you’re going to find Carvin most of the time. He never quits on a play.”

Nose tackle Mike Martin said of Johnson:  “He doesn’t say much. He just gets up and plays the next play, which is what I really like about him. He comes to practice every day ready to work.”

Coach Rich Rodriguez called Johnson a “quick learner” who brings impressive athleticism to the “spur” position.

Johnson was a three-star prospect, the 79th-best safety in the nation last year at Archbishop Rummel High in Metairie, La., according to Scout.com.

Johnson is one of 10 true freshman listed on Michigan’s depth chart released Monday. Each is expected to play this season, rather than get redshirted, said Rodriguez.

The others include quarterback Devin Gardner, running back Stephen Hopkins, punter Will Hagerup, receiver Jeremy Jackson, defensive end Jibreel Black, strong safety Marvin Robinson and cornerbacks Courtney Avery, Terrence Talbott and Cullen Christian.

“The only way to get those nerves out is to play,” Rodriguez said.  “We’ve got quite a few young players that are going to have to mature quickly. You’ve got to play the best guys you have. “

Rodriguez joked that equipment manager Jon Falkmight have to come to the rescue for some of the nervous  youngsters.

“Big Jonny will probably have to bring a couple extra pairs of pants,” Rodriguez said, “in case they make a little mess.”

Still no word on starting QB

The depth chart at quarterback reads: Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner or Tate Forcier.

Rodriguez concedes he knows, barring an unexpected development, who will start, but he’s not tipping his hand.

Certainly not to the media and Connecticut until game time, and perhaps not even to the team until later in the week.

“I don’t need no Dr. Phil moment with the guys,” Rodriguez said, when asked about informing the quarterbacks.

Rodriguez said his approach will be more like this: “This is the deal, go out and play.”

Robinson remains the likely choice.

What also seems certain is Gardner, one way or another, fits heavily enough into the plans that it’s worth not redshirting him this season.

“Devin’s probably going to play,” Rodriguez said.

Stiff competition

The word “or” appears on the depth chart 15 times, signifying extremely tight competition remains for first- and second-team spots.

Rodriguez said some other positions also were close enough that they could just as easily have “or” status.

“We’re going to play more people than we’ve been able to play the last couple years,” Rodriguez said. “We have more people we think are capable. I’m excited about that. It’s got the players excited. There’s not been a set 11 on offense and set 11 on defense. There’s been a lot of guys rolling in and out. I think that’s a good thing.”

Extra points

The starting running back is expected to be Vincent Smith or Michael Shaw. Shaw’s academic status is still unclear while he fulfills summer-school requirements in the next couple of days.

… Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, a redshirt freshman, is questionable for the opener because of a sprained knee.

Aug. 30, 2010