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Posts Tagged ‘Elliott Mealer’

College football all-star games preview (Week 1)

Friday, January 18th, 2013

With the college football season over and next year’s freshmen getting ready to submit their letters of intent, the departing seniors get one last moment to shine in the winged helmet before heading to the NFL. Five Wolverines will take the field over the next two weekends along with the top seniors from around the country to give NFL scouts one more on-field look before February’s NFL Scouting Combine. Some will be looking to simply secure a draft spot. Others will be trying to improve their standing. Still others will be attempting to show they can improve their stock by switching positions. Let’s take a look at the games and the Michigan stars who will be competing in them.

Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 | 3pm EST
Raycom All-Star Classic | Montgomery, Ala. | CBS Sports

This year marks the first Raycom All-Star Classic, which was created to give more college football seniors a chance to participate in an end-of-season all-star game. It will be held at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. and will feature the Stripes team, coached by former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, and the Stars team, coached by former NFL coach Jim Bates. 

Receiver Roy Rountree will suit up for the Stripes team hoping to prove to NFL scouts that he’s worthy of a draft pick. He put up a productive career at Michigan, finishing sixth in career receiving yards, just six yards behind Mario Manningham and 13 behind David Terrell. He also has some experience in stripes, catching the game-winning pass to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game last season. ranks Roundtree the 44th-best receiver in the Draft and the 999th overall prospect, which may not be enough to get drafted. But with a good performance on Saturday and in Michigan’s pro day or the Combine, he could prove capable of being a dependable possession receiver like former Michigan receiver Jason Avant has been for the Philadelphia Eagles. Roundtree will wear No. 89 in the game, rather than his familiar No. 21 (or 12).

Other players of note in the game are: Iowa QB James Vandenberg (Stripes), Purdue QB Robert Marve (Stripes), Alabama DLs Quinton Dial and Damion Square (Stripes), LSU WR Russell Shepard (Stars), and Notre Dame WR Robby Toma (Stars).


Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 | 4pm EST
East-West Shrine Game | St. Petersburg, Fla. | NFL Network

The East-West Shrine Game has been in existence since 1925, benefiting the Shriners Hospitals for Children. As the longest-running college football all-star game, it typically draws a solid group of players, and 246 former players from the game are currently on NFL rosters. The East team is coached by former NFL and college coach Jerry Glanville, while the West team will be headed by former Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Leeman Bennett. 

Will Campbell never really lived up to the hype he arrived in Ann Arbor with, but became a senior leader this past season and helped solidify Michigan’s defensive line that entered the season full of questions. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the media and finished his career with 63 tackles, five for loss, and three sacks.

In order to earn a draft spot, he will have to shed the bust label with a solid performance and a good showing in the NFL Combine. By all reports, he has impressed in Shrine Bowl practices.’s Tony Pauline described him as dominant and unstoppable. ranks him as the 18th-best defensive tackle prospect and a late sixth-round pick. He will be wearing his usual No. 73 for the West team in the game.

Other notable players in the game include: Penn State LB Gerald Hodges (East), Purdue CB Josh Johnson (East), Iowa WR Kennan Davis (West), Western Michigan (and former Michigan) OL Dann O’Neill (West), Iowa CB Micah Hyde (West), Notre Dame S Zeke Motta (West), and Ohio State LB Nathan Williams (West).


Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 | 9pm EST
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl | Carson, Calif. | ESPN2

The third and final bowl this Saturday has been around since 2006 under the name Texas vs. Nation Game and last year moved to California and sponsored by the National Football League Players Association. It’s a chance for some of the lesser-known seniors to perform one last time as a college player and impress NFL scouts. It also allows underclassmen entering the Draft to play. The American team will be coached by former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards, while the National team will be headed by former Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil. 

Elliott Mealer earned a starting spot this season as Michigan’s center after serving as a reserve offensive lineman the previous two seasons. One of the most inspirational stories of the last few years, Mealer has been a fan favorite due to the accident that resulted in the loss of his father and girlfriend and the paralyzation (and comeback) of his brother Brock. Oh yeah, and the epic beard he grew this season.

He has a lot of work to do to garner a draft pick, given that he started only one season, but he’s a hard-worker and could wind up on an NFL roster somewhere even if he goes undrafted. ranks him as the 65th-best guard in the draft. He will wear No. 76 for the National team on Saturday.


Next week, we will profile the final all-star games that feature Michigan’s most well-known departing seniors, Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs.

The Michigan Medley salutes the seniors of Team 133

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

They arrived in Ann Arbor four or five years ago, to a program in a state of flux that no incoming class had seen in nearly 40 years. Unlike last year’s graduating class, none came to Michigan under the old regime of Lloyd Carr prior to his retirement. The 18 [Edit: 23] players that will play their last game in Michigan Stadium on Saturday came to Michigan full of promise with a new coach. While the first couple years of their careers didn’t go as planned, they laid the groundwork for the resurgence of Michigan football that we have seen last season and this. While they still have two games left and a bowl game, let’s take a look back at the careers of each of Michigan’s graduating seniors.

#16 – Denard Robinson

No player has meant more to Michigan over the last four years than Denard Robinson. His career began with an electric 37-yard touchdown run against Western Michigan in 2009 and has produced enough highlight-reel plays and legendary performances to assure that he will go down as one of the greats to ever don the maize and blue.

Denard currently ranks fifth in career rushing yards, third in rushing touchdowns, fourth in 100-yard rushing games, sixth in pass completions, fourth in passing yards, fourth in passing touchdowns, and first in total yards in the Michigan record books. He also ranks first all-time in Big Ten rushing yards by a quarterback, third in NCAA career quarterback rushing yards, and seventh in Big Ten career total yards. If he’s able to play the final two games and bowl game, he will surely move up even higher in most of those categories.

He arrived in Michigan a soft-spoken kid and became the face of Michigan football through the roughest patch in the past 40 years. Even when Michigan was barely competitive, Denard gave us a reason not only to watch but to be excited. This August, he delivered the keynote speech at the Big Ten Media Day and serves as team captain. This is all the more remarkable considering that Rich Rodriguez was virtually the only major coach that wanted him as a quarterback.

Denard will remain a Michigan legend long after he plays his final game, whether or not his number gets official legends status.


#32/11 – Jordan Kovacs

While Denard has been the face of the team and put up all the offensive stats over the past four years, Jordan Kovacs has been the face of the defense. And his story is even more improbable. A hardly recruited defensive back out of Clay High School in Ohio, Kovacs chose to walk on at Michigan instead of go to the only other school that showed any interest in him – Toledo.

In his first season, he was named to the Freshman All-America second team and was named Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. As a redshirt sophomore he finished second in the Big Ten with 116 tackles and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media. He also earned a scholarship. Last season, he was again named All-Big Ten honorable mention, and currently has 54 tackles through 10 games in his senior campaign. He also became a captain this season. From walk on to captain, he’s everything Rudy wasn’t.

Last weekend, Kovacs was awarded the Wistert brothers’ No. 11  legends jersey to wear for the remainder of his career. He has started 43 career games and has brought hard-nosed, high-energy defense every game. Every walk on from now on will aim to be the next Jordan Kovacs and he will be missed next season.


#21 – Roy Roundtree

A skinny kid from Dayton, Ohio, Roy Roundtree committed to Rich Rodriguez on his first National Signing Day. After redshirting his freshman year, Roundtree led Michigan with 32 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 while starting four games. He was named a Freshman All-America honorable mention and Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. In 2010, he broke out with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranked second in the Big Ten in yards and was named to the All-Big Ten second team by the media.

Last season, his production fell off considerably in Brady Hoke’s first season, but he provided one of the highlights of the season with the game-winning touchdown catch in Michigan’s improbable comeback against Notre Dame. This season, Roundtree has 20 receptions for 378 yards and one touchdown through 10 games, but no catch has been more important than the 53-yarder he hauled in in the final seconds last week against Northwestern to set up the game-tying field goal.

Although he won’t go down as one of the best receivers in Michigan history, he has shown a knack for big plays and won’t soon be forgotten. For the past two seasons, he has worn Desmond Howard’s No. 21 legends jersey, which was the first one given such status.


#88 – Craig Roh

Craig Roh was a big pickup for Rich Rodriguez when he committed on Sept. 18, 2008. The seventh-ranked defensive end in the nation out of Scottsdale, Ariz. held offers from USC, Stanford, and Nebraska to name a few, but chose to make the journey east.

As a freshman in 2009, he recorded 37 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks, and an interception, earning Freshman All-America honorable mention honors, as well as Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten. He upped his tackle numbers to 43 in 2010 and then was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media last season. He ranked second on the team with four sacks a year ago.

This season, he’s on pace for his best season yet with 37 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and four sacks through 10 games thus far. He has consistently represented Michigan well off the field and was named 2011 Academic All-Big Ten. He has started 48 consecutive games, 20 at linebacker, 26 at defensive end, and two at defensive tackle, showing his versatility and willingness to do what is needed to help the defense improve.


#73 – William Campbell

Will Campbell was one of the most highly touted in recent memory, a consensus five-star defensive tackle. He arrive din Ann Arbor weighing 356 pounds and never lived up to the hype through his first three seasons. At one point in 2010, he moved to offensive line, but that was short lived when Hoke took over. As a senior, he has finally earned a starting spot and done well with 32 tackles and a sack so far.

#2 – Vincent Smith

The diminutive back from Pahokee, Fla. was recruited for Rodriguez’s system and had a promising freshman season with 48 carries for 276 yards and a touchdown, as well as 10 receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. He earned the starting job in 2010, carrying the ball 136 times for 601 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 15 receptions for 130 yards and two more TDs. When Hoke arrived, Smith lost the job as the starter, but became the third down back. Against Minnesota last season, he became the first player in program history to record a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and passing touchdown in the same game. This season, he has just 24 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns, but has always shown an ability to pick up yards when needed.

#57 – Elliott Mealer

Mealer’s road to Michigan was filled with heartache when a car accident killed his father and girlfriend and left his brother Brock permanently paralyzed. But he has overcome the tragedy with a solid career as a backup offensive lineman. This season, he earned the starting nod at center, replacing David Molk and may be best known for his mountain man beard.

#25 – Kenny Demens

Demens was a highly sought after linebacker recruit in the midwest in 2008 but chose to come to Michigan at a time when linebacker play was less than stellar. He grabbed a starting spot midway through the 2010 season and never looked back, helping to solidify a position that had been a weak point for a couple of years. He was the team’s third leading tackler as a sophomore with 82 tackles. Last season, he led the team with 94, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the coaches and media. This season, he currently ranks second on the team with 67 tackles and five for loss.

#52 – Ricky Barnum

Barnum spent his first couple of seasons as a reserve offensive lineman before coming onto the scene a year ago. He started three games at left guard and finally earned a true starting spot this season, starting all 10 games thus far.

#65 – Patrick Omameh

Omameh has started 39 consecutive games at right guard over the last three seasons while being named Academic All-Big Ten twice. He was also one of 11 players nationally to be named to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team for his regular visits to Mott Children’s Hospital.

#8 – J.T. Floyd

Floyd wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school, but has been a fixture in the Michigan secondary for the past three seasons, starting 32 games at cornerback and playing in 40. In 2010, he finished sixth in the conference in tackles per game, and last season he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention. This year, he has 29 tackles so far for the nation’s top-rated pass defense. He has recorded three career interceptions and two career forced fumbles.

#89/87 – Brandon Moore

Moore hails from the same high school as Roundtree and former Wolverine Michael Shaw and came to Michigan as the nation’s eight-best tight end. He has been mostly a special teams player throughout his career, but has recorded two receptions for 28 yards. On Sept. 15, he was given Ron Kramer’s No. 87 legends jersey to wear for the remainder of the season.

#7 – Brandin Hawthorne

Hawthorne came to Michigan from Pahokee, Fla. as a three-star player and has spent the majority of his career on special teams. Last season, he started five games, recording 43 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. So far this season, he has 14 tackles, seven of which came against UMass.

Other seniors who will be playing their last games in Michigan Stadium are #14 Jack Kennedy, #20 Steve Wilson, #23 Floyd Simmons, #31 Paul Gyarmati, and #81 Mike Kwiatkowski. [Edit: Also, Al Backey, Nathan Brink, Seth Broekhuizen, Curt Garman, and Charlie Zeller].

Make sure to get into the stadium early on Saturday to salute each of these Michigan men for their hard work an dedication of the last four or five years. Give them a standing ovation to thank them for coming in during tumultuous times, sticking it out, and helping turn the program around.

2012 season preview: the offense

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Under Rich Rodriguez, offense was the name of the game and defense was an afterthought. The offense soared to heights Michigan fans weren’t used to, but it struggled against the tougher defenses. It was both exciting and frustrating at the same time.

When Brady Hoke took over and brought in Al Borges as his offensive coordinator, many wondered how the offense would change. Would he do what Rodriguez did in year one and immediately run his offense? This would mean completely transitioning from the spread to the west coast. Would he move Denard Robinson to receiver in favor of a quarterback that better fit the mold of his style of offense? Can the offense be as potent as it was under Rodriguez or would it be as inept as it was in Rodriguez’s first year?

All of those questions were answered convincingly as Borges put his faith in Denard and adapted his offense around Denard’s abilities. Sure it took a few games to really develop an offensive identity, but by the end of the season it was rolling.

This year, Denard and the rest of the offense knows the system and will look to refine  it. Borges knows the tools he has at his disposal and will look to  add wrinkles that will take it to new heights. So let’s take a look at the personnel that will make up the 133rd edition of Michigan’s offense.


# 16 – Denard Robinson
Games/Starts Passing TDs INTs Rushing TDs
38/27 338-580 40 30 546-3,229 35

Projected Starter: Denard Robinson

It has been five years since Michigan entered a season with so much promise at the quarterback position. In 2007, Chad Henne was a senior, fourth year starter and Michigan entered , but that didn’t end too well. Henne missed three games with an injury and the Wolverines finished a disappointing 9-4.

It’s no secret that Denard Robinson is the most exciting player in college football at the moment. He has two straight 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He’s poised to finish in the top five in Michigan history in most passing and rushing categories. The past two seasons have been new: in 2010, he was a first year starter and in 2011, he was learning a brand new offense under a new coach. This season, he knows the offense and can take it a step further.

Borges has seen first-hand the kind of improvement that can bring with quarterback he coached, Cade McNown at UCLA. McNown was last in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency during his first year in Borges’ offense, but ranked second in the nation in his second year. Expecting that kind of leap from Denard is probably asking too much, but a noticeable leap should be expected.

Backups: Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy are the backups, though Gardner will likely see more time at receiver this season. Bellomy isn’t the dual-threat quarterback that Robinson and Gardner are, but his progression since last season have allowed Borges to feel comfortable moving Gardner to receiver.

Running Back

#28 – Fitzgerald Toussaint
Games/Starts Rush Attempts Rush Yards TDs
17/12 195 1,128 10
#38 – Thomas Rawls
Games/Starts Rush Attempts Rush Yards TDs
8/0 13 80 0
#2 – Vincent Smith
Games/Starts Rush Attempts Rush Yards TDs
33/11 234 1,200 8

Projected Starter: Fitzgerald Toussaint*

The listing of Toussaint as the projected starter is to be taken with a grain of salt. Toussaint was to be the clear starter until is DUI arrest in late July. The junior gave Michigan a dangerous running game to complement and take some of the pressure off of Robinson last season. He was the first Michigan running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Mike Hart in 2007 and he didn’t really even break out until a few games into the season. This year, he was expected to improve on those numbers, but at this point it’s unclear how many games (if any) he will be suspended for.

His arrest opens the door for sophomore Thomas Rawls to step in. The likely starter in the season opener, Rawls has yet to start a game, but has impressed throughout the spring and fall.

“He’s got Mike Hart kind of feet, but a lot faster than Mike,” said running backs coach Fred Jackson. Granted, Jackson hypes every running back, but Jackson also compares Rawls to former Michigan back Chris Perry and former Alabama back Mark Ingram. That’s some good company to be in, and if he’s even close to that, we’re in for a treat the next few years.

Backups: It’s hard to classify Vincent Smith as a backup since he has so much experience and is essentially Michigan’s third-down back, but he’s behind both Toussaint and Rawls. He has started 11 games in his career and played in 33, so he’s the most experienced back on the team. He’s also versatile enough to do more than just carry the ball. Against Minnesota last season, he rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass, and threw a touchdown, becoming the first player in modern Michigan history to do so.

Stephen Hopkins is the biggest back on the team and will be the main fullback. At 240 pounds, he’ll be a force in the backfield when Michigan goes big. Justice Hayes is a redshirt freshman to be excited about. He likely won’t see much time in the backfield this season, but once Smith graduates, he’ll move into the role of third-down back. Hoke likes Hayes’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, so he may see time in certain packages.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Projected Starters: Roy Roundtree, Jerald Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, Brandon Moore

#21 – Roy Roundtree
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
37/29 123 1,724 12
#83 – Jerald Robinson
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
11/0 0 0 0
#10 – Jeremy Gallon
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
20/1 35 502 4
#89 – Brandon Moore
Games/Starts Receptions Rec. Yards TDs
16/0 2 28 0

A position with the most questions entering the season is receiver. The loss of Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady, and Kevin Koger to graduation, as well as Darryl Stonum who was dismissed from the team. The leading returning starter, Roy Roundtree, doesn’t have a lot of hype nationally because of reduced production last season. However, he proved in 2010 that he’s capable of thriving in a leading role. That season, he finished second in the Big Ten with 72 receptions for 935 yards and seven touchdowns.

The main question with Roundtree is how quickly will he recover from arthroscopic knee surgery? The coaches expect him back next week, in time to play against Alabama, but will he be at full strength?

The next most experienced receiver is Jeremy Gallon, a small slot guy who only emerged last season. He had his coming out party against Notre Dame when he caught two passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, the most important being a 64-yard reception to set up the game-winning touchdown. He’s sure handed and plays bigger than he is, but also has the quickness to make plays from the slot position.

Aside from Roundtree and Gallon, Michigan will need some guys to step up and the coaches are hoping Jerald Robinson will be it. He played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season but didn’t record a catch. He has the size (6’1″, 215) to fill Hemingway’s role.

The biggest wild card of the position is Gardner. He hasn’t played receiver in a game yet, but he has the athleticism and knowledge of the offense to excel at the position. At 6’4″, 203 pounds, Gardner will be Michigan’s tallest receiver. Since practices have been closed to the media and the players and coaches haven’t talked about or shown anything regarding Gardner at receiver, how well the experience works out will be a mystery until the season starts.

At tight end, Brandon Moore will get the nod. He was Koger’s main backup last season and Borges thinks he’s ready.

“Brandon’s got some talent,” Borges said. “In terms of understanding what we do, I don’t think there’s any issues there. He’s a smart kid. Now that he understands it, the paralysis through analysis should be gone, and pretty much is. He’s as aggressive as I’ve seen him and has demonstrated a certain degree of consistency that’s shown improvement.”

Backups: Jeremy Jackson will see a lot of time, especially if he proves he can catch the ball consistently and block on the outside. The son of running backs coach Fred Jackson has played in 22 career games but has just seven receptions for 91 yards.

Drew Dileo is similar to Gallon, small and quick. Last season, he caught nine passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, so he’ll see some tim ein the slot as well.

Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will both get a chance to contribute. Darboh already has the size (6’2″, 220) of a veteran receiver and Chesson was a track star in high school. Darboh has impressed in the first couple weeks of fall camp.

“He’s really fast and strong,” said Roundtree after the first practice. “He just showed out today. I feel like he’s really being comfortable. I told him ‘it’s football man. It’s just a faster pace,’ and he did it.”

Freshman A.J. Williams will be featured as a tight end backing up Moore. At 6’6″, 283 pounds, he’s a big body, but Hoke likes his ability to run as well. When asked if he was too heavy, Hoke responded.

“Depends on what you want him to do,” Hoke said. “He runs well enough. I shouldn’t say surprisingly, because we recruited him. We must have thought he ran well enough. But for moving that big body around, he’s not bad.”

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Taylor Lewan, LG Elliott Mealer, C Ricky Barnum, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Michael Schofield

#77 – Taylor Lewan #57 – Elliott Mealer #52 – Ricky Barnum #65 – Patrick Omameh #75 – Michael Schofield
Games/Starts Games/Starts Games/Starts Games/Starts Games/Starts
24/22 37/0 9/3 33/29 26/10

Lewan is far and away the star of the line. An All-Big Ten second team member last season, Lewan started every game at left tackle and will likely be a first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft if he foregoes his senior year. He has struggled with the mental side of his game and controlling his temper early in his career, but has grown up as a junior.

Barnum is the center, moving into the position from left guard to replace David Molk. Omameh has started 29 straight games at right guard. Though he hasn’t earned any conference recognition, he has been a solid member of the line. Schofield made 10 starts at left guard last year but is moving over to right tackle this season. Tackle is more of his natural position and will allow him to thrive.

The position that hasn’t been locked down yet is left guard where Elliott Mealer and Joey Burzynski are battling it out. I think Mealer will win the job to start the season, and not just because of his epic beard. As a fifth-year senior, he has played in 37 career games in a backup role. Burzynski is a former walk-on who saw time in four games last season. Neither is the future of the position, but Mealer’s experience should give him the nod.

Backups: Kyle Kalis is also in the mix to win the starting left guard spot, but as a true freshman it’s a very hard position to pick up quickly. He’s more likely to take over the center position in 2013. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant is trying to work his way into the lineup and will see reserve time at either guard position. Jack Miller is the backup center ready to fill in if Barnum struggles. Freshman Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden will also get a chance. Magnuson is the heir apparent to Lewan and will move into his role when he departs. Braden has drawn high praise from the coaches while working his way into the two-deep.

For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.

TomorrowDefense Preview
ThursdayRecord Watch
FridaySchedule Predictions

Fall practice primer

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The season opener against Alabama is 26 days away, but today Michigan begins its final preparations as Team 133 hits the field for fall camp. Freshmen reported on Saturday and veterans on Sunday as the team takes the field today for the first of 29 practices. With 15 returning starters most starting spots are locked up, but some questions undoubtedly remain to be answered over the next four weeks. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Position battles:

Left guard

The main position battle offensively is at left guard, which was vacated by the graduation of Mark Hugye. Taylor Lewan, Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh and Michael Schofield are solidified are all set (though Barnum is moving from guard to center and Schofield from left guard to right tackle), but who will be the final member of the unit?

The battle for starting left guard is one to watch in fall camp

The battle is between walk-on Joey Burzynski and redshirt senior Elliot Mealer. With such an experienced other four, especially at a school like Michigan that has made a name for itself churning out offensive linemen, it’s somewhat unfathomable that a walk-on could be the fifth starter, but Burzynski impressed throughout the spring. He earned the starting spot for the spring game and Brady Hoke came away impressed.

“Joey worked hard. Joy’s got some leverage naturally that’s pretty good,” Hoke said. “He’s smart, he’s tough, so as they come into camp, it’ll be interesting. He’s got good fundamentals, good techniques. He’s got nice leverage. He’s a pain, which is good.”

Although Burzynski won the job in the spring, don’t count out Mealer as he has more in-game experience, having played in 37 career games.

The wild card in the equation is incoming freshman Kyle Kalis. The five-star from Lakewood, Ohio will get a chance to win the starting spot. No Michigan freshman has started on the line since Justin Boren in 2006, and here’s to hoping that if Kalis does start this season he doesn’t go the same route Boren did.

Offensive line is a position that almost always requires a redshirt season, not only to add pounds and strength but to learn what it takes to be a college lineman.

“You have to black all these different defenses, and know what our numbering system is, what our rules are – that’s a monster for a young guy,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “Some handle it better than others, and obviously, the ones that do are the ones that play faster. There’s not enough time in the day to tell you the challenges a young player has to come in and play on the offensive line.”

Defensive line

Craig Roh is the lone returning starter on the defensive line

The second question is who will replace Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger on the defensive line? William Campbell likely has one tackle spot wrapped up but will he finally live up to the expectations he arrived in Ann Arbor with? Of course Craig Roh will start at defensive end as the line’s only returning starter. He beefed up to 278 pounds to switch to the strong-side, taking over Van Bergen’s spot. With 38 consecutive starts, Roh will be the leader of the group.

The main questions arise at the other two spots. Jibreel Black should get the nod at the other tackle spot, moving over from weak-side end. He’s up from 260 to 276 and is still working to add more weight. The weak-side end spot was to be a battle between Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, but Clark’s legal woes look to keep him out of at least a game or two. Beyer played in nine games last year as a reserve linebacker but is transitioning to the end spot and Clark’s troubles raise the pressure for him. Lewan has been impressed with Beyer’s play throughout the spring.

“His technique has gotten a lot better,” Lewan said. “As an offensive tackle, you don’t want to get your shoulders turned, and he’s done a nice job of getting the tackles’ shoulders turned. I think he’s made a lot of gains.”

If and when Clark returns, he’ll be an instant help for the line. He’s a great athlete for the defensive end spot and made his presence felt in the Sugar Bowl when he recorded five tackles and picked off a pass to set up Michigan’s first touchdown.

Quinton Washington and incoming freshman Ondre Pipkins will also figure in to the middle of the line. Washington, a redshirt junior, is the kind of big body the defense needs and came into spring in better shape than ever. If he can carry that into the fall, he’ll surely earn some time. Pipkins is a highly-rated tackle and the only question is how early he works his way into the rotation.


Devin Gardner will see time at receiver; the question is how much?

The final major position battle is at receiver. Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon are locked in, but who will emerge alongside them? The most intriguing storyline will be how much Devin Gardner factors in. He was the talk of spring practice as rumors swirled, but Hoke and Borges downplayed it all spring. But in Big Ten Media Days last week, Hoke left the door open.

“We’ve got a chance to get Devin on the field as a wide receiver some because of his athleticism, and he’s a big guy,” Hoke said. “We’ve got all kinds of different things we look for with Devin.”

And how has he handled the adjustment from quarterback to receiver thus far?

“He handled it well,” Hoke said. “He’s a competitor, he wants to play and we all want to play. He also has grown. If he can help the team wherever, he’s figuring that out.”

As far as true receivers, Jerald Robinson was the starter in the spring game. He has yet to catch a pass thus far in his career, but he turned a lot of heads with his performance and consistency in spring practice. Jeremy Jackson has good size for a receiver but has caught just seven passes in his career.

The two incoming freshmen will also get a chance to earn some playing time. Amara Darboh already has the body to play right away, coming in at 6’2″, 218 pounds. Jehu Chesson is more of a speedster, having won the Missouri Class 4 state title in the 100-meter dash and 300-meter hurdles last year. At 6’3″, 180, he’s pretty thin but his straightline speed will make him a downfield threat. It’s safe to bet that at least one of the two will win some time as the fall progresses.

Other questions:

• A lot of talk in the spring centered around Denard’s progression. How much has his passing technique actually improved, and how will his second year in Borges’ offense increase his comfortability and production?

• Can Thomas Rawls ease concerns about the starting running back spot given Fitz Toussaint’s legal troubles?

• Freshman Joe Bolden enrolled early and participated in spring ball. How soon will he make an impact at linebacker?

• How will the Navy SEAL training pay off in Michigan’s preparation, conditioning and leadership?

All those and more will be played out over the next 26 days, and by the time Team 133 sets foot on the Cowboys Stadium turf on Sept. 1 Hoke will have the team ready to make a title run against the defending national champs. Stay tuned for more coverage throughout fall camp.

Thanksgiving Food for Thought: UM Football ’09 (Part II: The Offense)

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

With another losing season in the books, the Michigan football program appears to be in disarray to many outsiders, as well as a fraction of the Michigan fan-base.

But is everything doom and gloom for this squad, or is there help on the way? Is head coach Rich Rodriguez in over his head in the Big Ten, or has he already laid the groundwork for success?

*Despite a 5-7 record, there is much to be thankful for in the Michigan football program, photo taken from

*Despite a 5-7 record, there is much to be thankful for in the Michigan football program, photo taken from

On this Thanksgiving day, as we visit with loved ones, stuff our faces with turkey and pumpkin pie, and watch the Cowboys and Lions, let’s take an early look at what the 2010 version of Michigan football will look like.

Certainly a lot of questions have to be answered, and I believe it starts with the players Rodriguez already has in the program.

Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier played the entire season and at times looked like a confident veteran, but at times looked every bit the 18-year old freshman he was.

He enrolled early at Michigan last January, a move that greatly helped earn him the starting job over last year’s returning starter, walk-on junior Nick Sheridan.

Forcier led comeback wins over Notre Dame and Indiana, brought the team back from 14 points down to force overtime at Michigan State, and performed well in late-season conference games against Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

But he was also prone to throwing the ball up for grabs, not securing the ball when scrambling, and making the wrong reads on zone option running plays.

These mistakes speak more toward his youth and inexperience than his true talent level. His solid performances showed he has the talent to be Michigan’s quarterback for the next three years.

The good thing is that the mistakes are correctable and will be cured by more time spent on the practice field, in the film room, and in the weight room. In short, we have a bright future ahead at the quarterback position.

Another off-season under strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis will help Forcier add muscle to his slight frame and help avoid injuries. Many forget that Forcier played most of the season with a sprained AC join in his shoulder – the same injury Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford suffered, albeit to a lesser degree.

As Forcier gets more practice time and learns more of the playbook, his understanding of Rodriguez’s complicated “spread-n-shred” offense will grow.

Many of those misreads when he kept the ball instead of handing it off, or when he handed it off and should have kept it, will be fixed next year and in the years that follow.

In addition, he will improve with his passing reads, as he gets more comfortable in the system. This season, he tended to pull it down and scramble the instant he sniffed pressure. His creativity and ability to throw on the run covered up some of these problems, but it also led to turnovers or a failure to throw the ball away.

You can’t fault the kid for trying too hard. Some of the ill advised throws were a result of just trying to make something happen, but will be fixed with experience. Some of the plays he made in the comeback against Notre Dame were the same type of plays that resulted in turnovers down the stretch, as was glaringly evident against the great defense of Ohio State.

*In Forcier and Robinson, Michigan has a bright future ahead

*In Forcier and Robinson, Michigan has a bright future ahead

Forcier’s background leads me to believe he’ll be a fantastic quarterback. He was groomed to play the position, trained under Marv Marinovich, and has two older brothers that play quarterback as well. The mechanics are there, as is the quarterback mentality. Now, he just needs to develop in Rodriguez’s offense and he’ll be fine.

Michigan’s other quarterback, fellow freshman Denard Robinson has a lot further to go in his development, but is also a great fit for Rodriguez’s offense.

Robinson didn’t enroll early, so he had only about a month of practice prior to Michigan’s opening game against Western Michigan. The majority of the action Robinson saw was designed runs to utilize his athletic ability.

Early in the season it worked. He scored four rushing touchdowns in Michigan’s first seven games. As the season progressed and the meat of the schedule was reached, opposing defenses caught on and stacked up to stop the run whenever he entered the game.

It was frustrating at times to see Robinson come in, knowing he was going to run, and get stuffed for little gain. Yet, we have to remember that he had very little practice time and doesn’t yet possess the passing ability needed to be a quarterback for a major Division 1 quarterback.

Unlike Forcier, who already possesses the mechanical skills, Robinson will take more work to develop. But his upside is his athletic ability, which is much greater than Forcier’s.

His touchdown run against Western Michigan left Michigan fans salivating for him to be used in a Percy Harvin-type role.

Late in the season we saw more plays in which Robinson lined up in the backfield next to Forcier or spread out wide running a fly pattern. Against Ohio State, he was thrown to deep a couple of times, although neither was completed, and one was intercepted.

I think we were all a bit impatient throughout the season, assuming that it would be easy to thrust him into plays at running back or receiver. However, with the dire need of quarterback depth in case of a Forcier injury, and merely the fact that Robinson was a true freshman, time spent practicing plays at other positions meant time spent not developing at quarterback.

In the future, when Rodriguez adds to the quarterback depth, he will have more flexibility in using Robinson in other roles. But during the course of this season, I think we overlooked the need to keep him where he was.

Next year, that depth will be added to by Inkster, Mich. quarterback Devin Gardner. The dual-threat quarterback fits the mold of Rodriguez’s ideal quarterback perfectly and his arrival in Ann Arbor is highly anticipated.

In his senior season at Inkster High School, Gardner has thrown for 1,472 yards and 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and rushed for over 700 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has led his team to the state championship game against Lowell on Friday.

*Devin Gardner hopes to enroll at Michigan in January and battle for the starting QB position

*Devin Gardner hopes to enroll at Michigan in January and battle for the starting QB position

Scouts compare him to Penn State’s Darryl Clark former Auburn (and current Washington Redskins) quarterback Jason Campbell. They are high on his size and strength, as well as his arm strength and running ability.

An ideal situation would be to redshirt him next season and allow him to develop and learn the system until Forcier and Robinson graduate and then take over for his junior and senior seasons.

But with his talent, will he be patient enough to wait in the wings for three years? In order for Rodriguez’s system to succeed, I hope he’s unselfish enough to do so.

Granted, there’s always the possibility of Gardner coming in and beating out Forcier and Robinson for the starting job next season or the year after, and if that’s the case, then by all means, the guy that gives Michigan the best chance to win should play.

Whatever the case, the centerpiece of Rodriguez’s system is in place and the future looks bright at the quarterback position.

The backfield is where Michigan loses the most talent, but due to the nature of Rodriguez’s system and the injuries that Michigan suffered this season, the stable is not empty.

Seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown will be big losses, and certainly their absences in many of the games hurt Michigan’s chances for success, but it also allowed young guys to gain experience.

The most impressive runner late in the season was freshman Vincent Smith. His performance in Michigan’s spring game last April gave Michigan fans a glimpse of what he is capable of, but he didn’t see much action through the first half of the season.

But in Michigan’s final two games, against Wisconsin and Ohio State, Smith emerged as Michigan’s go-to back, displaying quickness and pass-catching ability.

He figures to enter 2010 as Michigan’s starting tailback.

Sophomore Michael Shaw has also shown some ability and as his vision for the field improves, could develop into a nice complement to Smith.

His main problem has been that he doesn’t cut through the gaps quick enough, instead always relying on getting around the outside.

Redshirt freshman Michael Cox got some playing time as Michigan’s fifth running back and still has some time to grow. He’ll certainly get a chance to prove himself and earn some more playing time with the graduation of Minor and Brown.

True freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint is a guy that many Michigan fans were excited about coming out of high school. He redshirted this season and will also get a chance in the off-season to earn a role in the offense.

Incoming freshmen Tony Drake, Stephen Hopkins, and Austin White (all three-stars) should give Michigan plenty of options in the backfield.

Receiver is a position that Michigan certainly isn’t lacking talent. A go-to guy emerged in the second half of the season, in redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree. He caught 30 passes for 390 yards and two touchdowns in the final four games of the season.

Though he lacks elite speed, Roundtree showed great hands and a willingness to go across the middle. He should enter 2010 as Michigan’s number one receiver, but it will be interesting to see if he stays in the slot or moves to the outside to replace senior Greg Mathews.

*With Hemingway, Stonum and Roundtree, Michigan has three solid receivers for the next couple of years, photo by Lon Horwedel |

*With Hemingway, Stonum and Roundtree, Michigan has three solid receivers for the next couple of years, photo by Lon Horwedel |

By the time next season rolls around, Michigan will have a lot of experience with sophomore Martavious Odoms in the slot. Odoms started as a true freshman in 2008 and was one of Michigan’s lone bright spots, leading the team in receiving with 49 catches for 443 yards.

Injuries forced him to miss a couple of games late in the season this year, but that could be a blessing in disguise as it opened the door for Roundtree’s emergence.

Also in the slot, sophomore Kelvin Grady showed good speed early in the season, but dropped balls caused him to lose playing time. The former Michigan basketball player definitely has the athleticism to be effective; he just needs to work on catching the ball and he could develop into a weapon in the next couple of years.

A freshman that redshirted this season, Jeremy Gallon could factor into the equation as well. He was highly regarded coming out of high school last year, and a year learning the system should allow him to see some playing time next season.

A wild card in the slot could be incoming freshman Drew Dileo. A 5’9” 170 pound white guy, Dileo committed to Michigan over Tulane, Stanford, and Rice. I mention “white guy” only because of the inevitable Wes Welker comparison. If he can fit that mold, Michigan has itself a steal, but if his low rankings hold true, he could get lost in the mix.

On the outside, redshirt sophomore Junior Hemingway and sophomore Darryl Stonum bring a couple years of experience to the table and have at times shown considerable promise.

Hemingway started 2008 with a bang, catching a 33-yard touchdown pass in Michigan’s game against Utah, but an injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season.

This season, he came out hot again, catching five passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Western Michigan. But he didn’t catch a touchdown pass the rest of the season, and barely matched the yardage output in the rest of the games combined, finishing with just 16 catches for 268 yards.

Stonum started 10 games as a freshman in 2008 and had his best game against Purdue, scoring on a 51-yard catch and run.

This season, he hauled in only 13 receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown, though the touchdown was a thrilling 60-yard play to ignite Michigan’s comeback in the fourth quarter against Michigan State.

Je’Ron Stokes is a freshman that played primarily on special teams this season and could have an impact in 2010. The 6-0 181 pound speedster out of Philadelphia was a top-100 recruit and was rated the eighth-best wide receiver in the nation last season according to Scouts, Inc.

Stokes caught two passes for 16 yards against Delaware State in the only real action he saw this season.

Four-star receivers Ricardo Miller and Jerald Robinson and three-stars Jeremy Jackson and D.J. Williamson make up a solid group of incoming freshmen will help bolster the ranks of what should be the deepest position on the team.

On the offensive line, Michigan returns nearly everybody and should get a big boost from a group of redshirt freshmen that fit Rodriguez’s system.

*Michigan missed center David Molk's absense for the second half of the season

*Michigan missed center David Molk's absense for the second half of the season

Left tackle Mark Ortmann and right guard-turned center David Moosman both graduate, but neither is a huge loss. Ortmann was serviceable and Moosman was a solid guard, but struggled at the center position when David Molk went down with an injury.

Getting Molk back next season will provide Michigan a solid, experienced center who started every game in his redshirt freshman season in 2008 and would have this season if not for a broken foot. He was rated the No. 1 center in the nation coming out of high school.

Redshirt junior Steven Schilling will probably be Michigan’s best offensive lineman in 2010. Schilling was ranked as the second-best guard in the nation coming out of high school and has started for three seasons, counting this one.

Perhaps the most surprising player is redshirt freshman Patrick Omameh, who earned a starting spot towards the end of the season and played pretty well. Omameh is a Rodriguez recruit who was just a two-star, mostly due to a lack of size compared to the typical offensive line recruit.

His performance has earned him strong consideration to start next season, probably at either right guard or right tackle.

Redshirt sophomore Mark Huyge started much of the season at right guard and figures to start next season either there or right tackle.

True freshman and highly regarded recruit Taylor Lewan is perfect for Rodriguez’s offense, rated as one of the most athletic and versatile linemen in the nation as a senior. He should get a chance to start at left tackle next season.

Another freshman that could get some action next season is Quinton Washington. He was a four-star recruit and the sixth-rated offensive guard as a senior.

Redshirt junior Perry Dorrestein, who has seen some action, should battle for the left tackle spot, while redshirt freshmen Ricky Barnum and Elliott Mealer will have a chance to earn a spot as well.

Incoming freshmen won’t help next season, as offensive line is a position in which recruits need time in a college strength and conditioning program to develop, but the future looks pretty good with last year’s haul. Only one offensive line commitment is secured for this year’s class unless Rodriguez is able to snag the nation’s top recruit, Seantrel Henderson, but that seems unlikely at this point.

At tight end, Michigan is stacked with experience in sophomores Kevin Koger and Martell Webb.

Koger finished fifth on the team in receiving this season, catching 16 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He caught an important touchdown pass against Notre Dame, but had some problems with drops midway through the season and didn’t see as many balls thrown his way in the last few games.

Webb caught just four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown, but got a lot of playing time and was a fairly effective run blocker.

Webb was a junior this season and Koger just a sophomore, so the tight end position should be a strength for Michigan next season.

*Tight end Kevin Koger has been a two-year starter and looks for a breakout year in 2010

*Tight end Kevin Koger has been a two-year starter and looks for a breakout year in 2010

Overall, the Michigan offense made some strides this year, averaging nine more points per game and 95 more yards of total offense per game than last season.

In addition, the offense showed that it could sustain drives this year, and although turnovers were a problem, those are mistakes that are fixable.

We didn’t see all the negative yardage plays that we saw last year when the offense just completely bogged down.

Next year we can expect even more improvement as the Rodriguez system enters its third year. The losses of Minor, Brown, Mathews, Ortmann, and Moosman should not slow this team down very much, since their replacements all got a lot of experience this year.

Most importantly, the core is in place, and there won’t be fresh blood needing to play a crucial role, as there was this season.

So on this Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the seniors that stuck out the coaching change and put forth their best efforts. Let’s also be thankful for the young guys that got their feet wet this year and will pioneer our maize and blue back to prominence in the years to come.

And let’s be thankful for an offensive innovator as our head coach – someone who is a proven winner and cares as much about getting the Michigan football program back on track as anyone else does. He will take Michigan to a place far beyond what we have seen if we afford him the time to do so.

The offense is certainly on track. Stay tuned for my defensive preview in the next few days.