ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Lloyd Carr emerged from his office at 8:01 a.m. Friday after a meeting, holding a cup of coffee and sporting a steely glare that was in midseason form.
It was four days before Michigan's first practice.
The Wolverines are favored to win the Big Ten and will begin the season highly ranked because of a talented offense, but they will have a tough time meeting expectations if a young defense and inexperienced specialists don't deliver.
The nation's winningest football program lost seven defensive starters, returner Steve Breaston and kicker Garrett Rivas - both of whom set school records - along with long snapper Turner Booth.
``In my career at Michigan, Breaston and Rivas rank with the very best,'' Carr said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``They were both great under pressure.''
The candidates to return kicks are: Carlos Brown, Stevie Brown, Brandon Minor, Greg Matthews along with freshmen receivers Zion Babb, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway.
Could a true freshman handle such a high-pressure role?
``Well, there was a guy named Anthony Carter that did OK,'' Carr said, referring to the two-time Wolverines' MVP.
K.C. Lopata, Jason Gingell or Bryan Wright will take over for Rivas.
``We're going to let those kickers decide who wins the job with competition during camp,'' Carr said.
Sean Griffin is expected to replace Booth and will likely only be noticed if he sails or skips a snap to the holder for a key kick.
The Wolverines are due to report to campus Sunday, and the first practice is scheduled for Tuesday.
Michigan bounced back last season from its worst year in two decades with 11 wins and entered the regular-season finale at Ohio State with a chance to play for its first national title since 1997.
But the Wolverines lost to the Buckeyes and in a bowl game for the third year in a row.
``In the last two games, our biggest issues were giving up big plays and not protecting the quarterback,'' Carr said. ``We need to improve in those areas, clearly. It started with winter conditioning, continued with spring practice and we'll be back to work at it soon in camp.''
Michigan's offense might be one of the best, led by quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart, receiver Mario Manningham and offensive tackle Jake Long.
Linebacker Shawn Crable - in ``great'' shape Carr said - anchors a defense with just four returning starters. Stars such as cornerback Leon Hall, linebacker David Harris, end LaMarr Woodley and tackle Alan Branch will be difficult - if not impossible - to replace.
``We have new players in every position group on defense,'' Carr said. ``We lost some players that had outstanding seasons and we're going to need some redshirt freshmen and true freshmen to contribute.''
Michigan won't lack for intriguing story lines prior to its Sept. 1 home opener against Appalachian State - before hosting Oregon and Notre Dame the following two weeks. But one story likely will endure for the entire season.
Carr's retirement plans have for years been a hot topic. It picked up momentum last winter when he altered his contract, allowing him to make this his final season as coach and still collect deferred compensation.
The 62-year-old Carr said he will consistently dodge questions about his future because it would be hypocritical if he didn't, entering his 13th season as head coach and 28th year at Michigan.
``Honestly, I've always been someone that tries to give complete focus on what I'm doing because that's what I ask our players and coaches to do,'' he said. ``It would be unfair. The only important thing is our team and this season. Period.''

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