2012 Michigan Preview – Offense
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Michigan Wolverine Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense might not have been as explosive as it was under Rich Rodriguez – finishing eighth in the nation in 2010 – but it didn't have to be thanks to a defense that didn't force the O to push to keep pace. The 2011 attack might have dipped a bit in total yards, but the running game stayed strong thanks to another phenomenal season from QB Denard Robinson. With Robinson and emerging star Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines have a 1-2 rushing punch that should combine for well over 2,000 yards if everything goes according to plan. The backfield is terrific and the line, with a little tweaking, will be more than fine if everyone stays healthy. The problem is a receiving corps that took a step back last season and needs Roy Roundtree to bounce back to 2010 form and Jeremy Gallon to shine as a possible No. 1 target.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Denard Robinson
Passing: Denard Robinson
142-258, 2,173 yds, 20 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: Denard Robinson
221 carries, 1,176 yds, 16 TD
Receiving: Jeremy Gallon
31 catches, 453 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Jeremy Gallon
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Michael Schofield
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Taylor Lewan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Robinson, 2) RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, 3) Lewan
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Denard Robinson
Weakness of the offense: Wide Receiver, Proven Line Depth
Senior Denard Robinson is what he is, and that's one of the most electrifying players in college football running for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010 and following it up by taking off for 1,176 yards and 16 scores last season. He's a mediocre passer – completing 55% of his throws for 2,173 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 15 picks last season – and he seems to have a habit of throwing bad interceptions at puzzling times, but any of the negatives are offset by his phenomenal playmaking skills.
While there was some discussion by Brady Hoke and the new coaching staff to limit Robinson's rushing attempts last year, he only carried the ball 35 fewer times than he did in 2010 and was the workhorse of sorts when the going got tough highlighted by a 26-carry, 170-yard, two-score rushing day against Ohio State. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he's not built to take a pounding, and he makes fans hold their breath on every run – partly because he's so dynamic and partly out of worry that he'll get hurt - but now this is 100% totally his offense and his season after two years of phenomenal, underappreciated-by-the-Heisman-types play. He'll be a receiver at the next level with his Florida state champion-level, 4.32 sprinter's speed, and the coaching staff will still do what it can to make sure he won't take more hits than he has to, but he's the key to the season. This will be a great Michigan team, but it needs No. 16 to shine to be truly special.
6-4, 205-pound junior Devin Gardner is supposed to be the passer in the equation, occasionally coming in when the offense needs a bit of a boost through the air, but he's been awful when given the chance completing just 48% of his throws last year for 176 yards with a touchdown and a pick. An elite recruit brought in to be a smaller, better passing version of Terelle Pryor, he hasn't been able to do too much with Robinson becoming such a star. He has the size, the mobility, the arm and the talent to be terrific, and he has to always be at the ready considering Robinson's history of getting banged up. This year, though, he has to be fantastic when he gets the opportunity with plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
6-3, 189-pound redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy is a dual-threat playmaker with nice size and a good arm, but the Elite 11 camper will have to keep working and has to keep shining when he gets his chances. Great this offseason, often looking stronger than Gardner, while showing he could be ready to step in and produce if Robinson gets hurt. This is an audition year with Shane Morris expected to sign on with the 2013 recruiting class. With a big arm and pro-style skills he's the exact type of quarterback Hoke wants for his attack.
Watch Out For … Devin Gardner, wide receiver? If Bellomy is terrific in practices like he was at times this offseason, and if Robinson is rolling again, just to get the 6-4, 205-pound athlete on the field there might be some discussion of putting Gardner at receiver for a stretch.
Strength: Denard Robinson. He's having one of the all-time great careers for a college quarterback with 3,229 rushing yards, 35 touchdowns, and 4,931 passing yards with 40 scores. Michigan is 10-4 when he runs for more than 100 yards, but it was 5-0 last season when he passed the century mark.
Weakness: Robinson's interceptions. It's a bit like complaining that Beyonce can't cook, but Robinson isn't a downfield passer and he throws way, way too many interceptions. His one great passing game last season – a 338-yard, four score effort against Notre Dame – also came with three picks. The 30 career interceptions are an issue.
Outlook: This could be a bit of a delicate situation. Robinson is a Heisman-caliber talent who can carry the offense by himself, but he needs to stay healthy and he has to be a more consistent passer. Gardner has a world of upside and has to start showing that he can be the quarterback of the future, if he's not thrown into starting role if something happens to Robinson. And then there's Bellomy, who could become a fan favorite in blowouts; he has to get a chance in live action to show what he can do.
Unit Rating: 10
The Wolverines have their No. 1 tailback, and it's not Denard Robinson. Junior Fitzgerald Toussaint emerged last year as a star to use as a nice complement to Robinson finishing the year with 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns with six receptions for 28 yards and a score. While he's not big at a slim 5-10 and 195 pounds, he's slippery through the line with excellent breakaway speed, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. While he was the perfect fit for the Rich Rodriguez spread attack – and was courted by Illinois to be its main man – now he should blow up with even more work and more responsibility.
5-6, 172-pound Vincent Smith is another speedster with the talent and ability to break off big plays whenever he has the ball in his hands. While he only finished with 298 yards and two scores, he was third on the team in rushing and averaged six yards per carry, while catching 11 passes for 149 yards and two scores. Tough for his size, he's not afraid to run inside when he has to.
5-10, 219-pound sophomore Thomas Rawls, a terrific recruit who stayed relatively close to home and got in a little bit of work last year running 13 times for 79 yards. Big, strong, and quick, he has just enough talent to be a part of the rotation, while 5-10, 176-pound redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has a world of upside as one of the team's star recruits from last year. Almost certain to go to Notre Dame, he changed his mind late in the game but now will have to fight to get work. At 5-10 and 176 pounds he's not all that big, but he has great hands, 4.45 speed, and has the look and the ability to be the exact type of back who can put up huge numbers in the Hoke/Borges attack. He's a flash around the corner.
The offense doesn't really use a fullback all that often, but 6-0, 228-pound junior Stephen Hopkins will occasionally be used like one. He's a tough, bruising back with 4.5 speed who ran for 151 yards and four scores two years ago and 43 yards last season. This year he'll be more of a short-yardage runner and blocker.
Watch Out For … Toussaint to go ballistic. MiQuale Lewis became a statistical superstar under Hoke at Ball State running for 1,732 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2008, and Ronnie Hillman went nuts running through the wide open spaces for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010 at San Diego State. If Toussaint can stay healthy he'll be a lock for 1,500 yards.
Strength: Denard Robinson. The Michigan running backs aren't going to be keyed on with all 11 sets of defensive eyes making sure No. 16 doesn't get into the open. The pressure is off. All the Wolverine backs have to do is take the ball and fly through the hole after everyone follows what Robinson is doing.
Weakness: Consistency. Toussaint might have been fantastic over the second half of last season, but he was stuffed by Iowa running for 58 yards on 16 carries and went nowhere against Virginia Tech running for 30 yards on 13 carries. Robinson is still the main man for the ground game.
Outlook: It's a terrific situation for the Michigan backs. Robinson is the lead dog runner while Toussaint is the main tailback. Smith, Rawls and Hayes will step in and work as role players and can produce when they get their chances, while Hopkins is a good option whenever more power is needed. It would've been nice if 2013 top running back recruit Ty Isaac was on the way next year instead of changing his mind to USC, but the future, and the present, are both bright.
Unit Rating: 9
Can Jeremy Gallon build off his terrific season? Mostly a kickoff returner under the old regime, the 5-8, 185-pound junior turned into a steady and productive part of the attack finishing second on the team with 31 catches for 453 yards and three scores, averaging 14.6 yards per play. While he didn't blow up in any one game, with a five-catch, 73-yard day against Northwestern his best performance, he was steady. Extremely fast, he needs to get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways.
With the emergence of Gallon, now it's up to Roy Roundtree to find his groove again after catching just 19 passed for 355 yards and two scores. The 6-0, 177-pound senior averaged 18.7 yards per catch, but he only made three grabs over the final four games and was non-existent for stretches in the passing game. The talent is there, catching 72 passes in a second-team All-Big Ten 2010 campaign, and he has the right jersey getting to wear Desmond Howard's No. 21, but he needs to be a big play performer with Junior Hemingway gone.
6-1, 206-pound sophomore Jerald Robinson is a big, physical target with just enough speed to get by. He'll be the team's No. 3 target in the mix, but he first has to show he can make a play with no catches and mostly special teams work last year. He'll start out working behind Roundtree but will see time in three and four-wide sets. Also in the mix will be 5-10, 172-pound junior Drew Dileo, a quick inside presence who caught nine passes for 121 yards and two scores in a limited role. While he made some nice plays for the offense, he'll likely most be remembered for completing a pass for a first down off a fake field goal attempt against Virginia Tech.
Replacing tight end Kevin Koger and his 23 catches will be a little bit of a problem. 6-5, 255-pound senior Brandon Moore looks the part, but he hasn't done much being used mostly as a special teamer. He has the size and can block, but he has to show he can be a receiver.
6-4, 234-pound junior Ricardo Miller will get a look at tight end with good athleticism and smarts, but the star of the position might be new recruit Devin Funchess, a 6-5, 205-pound pass catcher who has yet to fill out his frame but has tremendous upside. Scout's No. 8 tight end recruit, he might be ready right out of the box.
Watch Out For … Robinson. Gallon is solid and Roundtree should bounce back, but the corps needs another playmaker to pick up the slack with Hemingway gone. Robinson has the size and the upside to eventually be a No. 1 target.
Strength: The running game. It's not like the passing game is along for the ride in the relatively balanced offense, but it's not the main mode of transportation. Defenses cheat up to make sure that Denard Robinson and the running game don't hit the home run, and Michigan receivers benefit seeing plenty of single coverage.
Weakness: A sure-thing No. 1. Hemingway might be gone, but he only caught 34 passes last season. Roundtree should be a go-to, all-star type of target, but he had a rough 2011 and needs to bounce back. Gallon could use an explosive game or three to show he's ready to be the main man.
Outlook: The area needs some work. There's enough talent to get by, but Robinson isn't exactly Tom Brady when it comes to making the passing game shine on a consistent basis and the receivers have to do their part. The top three should be solid and Dileo is a good No. 4, but a tight end has to emerge and the receivers have to start doing more.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The line did a nice job last season and looks strong coming into this year if it can find a suitable replacement for David Molk in the middle. The leader of the line, Molk was the perfect fit for the transition of coaching staffs, and now it'll be up to 6-3, 292-pound senior guard Ricky Barnum to take over. While he might not be the talent that Molk was, he's bigger and he should be able to make the transition without too much of a problem. A career backup, he started three times last season at left guard but now has all the responsibility on his shoulders.
Bringing stability up front is 6-8, 302-pound junior left tackle Taylor Lewan, a second-team All-Big Ten choice after coming up with a solid season as a 13-game starter. More of a leader coming into this season, this will be his line with Molk gone, and he seems to be taking to the role. With his size, athleticism and frame he has the potential to be among the top 50 picks in next year's draft and could be a first rounder with a great final season and if he can stay healthy.
Taking over for Mark Huyge at right tackle is veteran left guard Michael Scofield, a solid run blocker who was always a bit out of position. At 6-7 and 299 pounds he's built like a tackle, but he wasn't going to move Huyge out of a spot. Quick and with a nice frame and a year of experience, he should shine with the move.
With Schofield moving out, 6-5, 310-pound senior Elliott Mealer will move into a full-time job at left guard. A good reserve for the last few years, he has mostly been waiting his turn on special teams and now will get to step in and blast away for the ground game. He's a huge body for the inside.
6-4, 299-pound senior Patrick Omameh is an academic all-star and a steady, unsung blocker who might start to get all-star recognition for what he does on the field. The Columbus, Ohio native is strong and versatile, able to step in if needed at just about any spot on the line, but he has settled in at right guard where he started every game last year and throughout 2010. He moves well for a right guard.
On the way is Kyle Kalis, a 6-5, 302-pound ready-made tackle who could take over a job from the moment he gets off the bus. Scout's No. 6 offensive tackle, he has the frame to add at least ten more pounds of good weight while he brings the versatility to play any spot on the line but center. The type of blocker who puts his man into the fourth row, but with the feet to play tackle, he'll be an anchor for the line in the near future.
For now, the hope is for 6-7, 285-pound sophomore Kristian Mateus to be ready to go after working as a practice player for the last two years. He has the frame and he has the size, but he needs game time to be ready to fill in for Lewan at left tackle if needed. Meanwhile, 6-8, 312-pound junior Erik Gunderson has seen just enough time at right tackle to potentially step in and not force the entire line to shuffle. He's hardly polished, but he's massive with long arms.
Watch Out For … Lewan to become an "it" prospect. It's early, but he projects right now to go anywhere from late in the first round to somewhere around the middle of the third. With rare size and good athleticism, he'll start to become the showcase blocker for a solid line. He'll start to move up draft charts as the season goes on.
Strength: Continuity. At times over the last several years losing a leader like Molk and a steady producer like Huyge would set the wheels in motion for a big shuffling job. But Barnum should be fine in the middle and Schofield won't have too many problems at right tackle. Lewan and Omameh are good blocks to build around, but there's not as much reworking as it might seem.
Weakness: Depth. There's size, and it's Michigan so there's talent, but there isn't much to count on in terms of developed depth. The front five was a rock last season with left guard the only spot without the same guy starting all 13 games, and Barnum stepped in for Schofield for a few games early on. It's asking a lot to get the same continuity again.
Outlook: After a rough 2009 season the line started to progress, tweak, and grow into a strength in 2010 and a force at times last year. There wasn't as much adjusting to styles as it might have appeared and everyone seemed to take to the new offense without a problem. This group will be fine with a simple job: let Denard be Denard. This line can do that.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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