ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As the Michigan football team prepares to take on Washington in a pivotal non-conference matchup Saturday night, the Wolverines do so with one key starter down, but one starter fully back from last week.
As Michigan warmed up Saturday night, the Wolverines were obviously without senior wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who was ruled out for the year due to a knee injury, believed to be an ACL injury. Bell led the Wolverines in receiving yards in both 2019 and 2020, and led the team with 76 receiving yards in Michigan’s season-opener last week.
On the plus side for Michigan is that interior offensive lineman Zak Zinter appears to be back in the starting lineup. Though he is still wearing a cast on his right arm, Zinter — at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds — is starting after playing as a reserve behind Chuck Filiaga last week while he dealt with an arm injury. Zinter has previously been cited as Michigan’s top offensive player in fall camp by teammates and coaches.
Reserve defensive end Gabe Newburg remained out of game competition, as he was seen on the sidelines in street clothes during warmups.
Bell, who led Michigan in receiving in both 2019 and 2020, endured an apparent leg injury in the second quarter of the Wolverines’ 47-14 win over Western Michigan. On a 31-yard punt return, Bell went down awkwardly when tackled, and remained down on the field for several moments before being helped off of it. Eventually, Bell was carted off the field, and was later seen in a wheelchair in the stadium’s tunnel.
“Unfortunately Ronnie will be out for the season,” Harbaugh told reporters on Monday. “He has a knee injury, it’s a shame.”
After the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he was “worried” about Bell, who was also voted by his teammates as one of two offensive captains this season along with Andrew Vastardis.
“Just worried about Ronnie Bell right now. As we come out of this game, this is the biggest concern,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll get an MRI tonight and we’ll find out the severity of the injury.”
He continued: “That’s a big deal. Ronnie is loved by everybody and captain of this football team. What can you say other than you hope for the best and expect the worst and wait until you get the MRI results. No matter what, he’ll be back. He’s got too much drive not to be.”
In the game, Bell caught one pass for a 76-yard touchdown to give Michigan a 17-7 lead. He also made a stellar one-handed grab near the sideline on the previous drive, but it was called back due to a controversial pass-interference call.
In Bell’s absence, Michigan will lean heavily on junior Cornelius Johnson to be its top receiver. Bell could be replaced in the starting lineup by the 6-foot-2 Daylen Baldwin, 6-foot Roman Wilson or 5-foot-10 A.J. Henning. The latter two are sophomores with track-level speed, while Baldwin is a veteran grad transfer from Jackson State with more size and strength. On Saturday, the three combined for a stunning 197 yards on just five touches, but none of the three have started for the Wolverines before. But none of them, of course, will match Bell’s 83 career catches, 1,380 career and five touchdowns.
As for Bell’s future, the receiver has not made an announcement about what he will do yet, but he does have a season of eligibility remaining. He also has not appeared on many NFL Draft boards, and was one of nine Michigan players to make the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list.
Last week, Bell was named one of two offensive captains by his teammates, alongside Andrew Vastardis. After leading the team in receiving in 2019 and 2020, Bell has taken on a leadership role in the receiver room this season.
“Yeah, I think it starts with Ronnie Bell and and Cornelius Johnson, those two, Mikey Sainristil, all three of them had great offseasons, really good camps,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “And none better than Ronnie Bell. This whole summer he’s been outstanding. He just goes and goes and goes, does the same thing in practice.
“Ronnie had a tremendous summer, tremendous training camp. I think it was so much by example, by what he did. And Ronnie definitely is, and has been for a while now, he’s a guy who holds people accountable to do things the right way in the receiver room. The guy that people really listen to, I mean that’s Ronnie Bell, it’s been that way for a few years now.”
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