Posts Tagged ‘Kelvin Grady’

Predicting Michigan: The point guards

Monday, November 4th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Over the course of John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, Michigan has gone from starting some combination of Kelvin Grady, C.J. Lee, and David Merritt at point guard to becoming a de facto Point Guard U with the likes of Darius Morris and Trey Burke leading the team over the past three years. Nobody is mistaking Beilein for John Calipari, of course, but the way Beilein has developed his floor generals, as opposed to hand-picking them, has certainly turned some eyes in the college basketball world. After Morris left following an incredible sophomore season and Burke quickly developed into the best player in the nation before departing after two years as well, Beilein finds himself in a familiar position, but this time has some leeway.

Let’s take a look at how the point guard position will shake out for this year’s edition of the Michigan Wolverines.

Projected Starter: Derrick Walton, Jr.

We’ve already taken an in-depth look at what Walton should be able to provide in his first season of college ball, but the exhibition opener over Concordia really confirmed what most have expected thus far. Walton is a very quick player with the ball in his hands who will be looking to create for others before looking to shoot himself. He will never be the same player that Trey Burke was in Ann Arbor, but Walton clearly has the potential to make a similar impact, and with the talent of this Michigan team, it should be felt instantly. Beilein continues to stress the opportunity created by the departures of Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Walton should be distributing a lot of assists as he learns the ropes and adjusts to a faster and more physical game. When no teammates are open and defenses start focusing on shutting down the passing lanes, however, Walton can also drain the long ball or drive to the hole, as he did in scoring 11 points Tuesday night.

Fortunately for Michigan, this is not the first time that a Michigan team enters a season with an inexperienced lead guard. Darius Morris had a year under his belt before taking the reins, but he had played just 24 minutes per game his freshman season before taking over while Trey Burke assumed the starting point guard spot in his first regular season game and never looked back. Assistant coach Lavall Jordan has proven adept at developing young guards, and Walton should be the next valuable protégé.

Projected Stats – Walton
Points Assists Steals Rebounds Turnovers Minutes
6.0 4.0 1.5 2.5 2.0 25.0

Primary Back-up: Spike Albrecht

The difference at point guard this season is Spike Albrecht, the late addition to the 2012 recruiting class who was offered primarily in case reports of Trey Burke leaving after just one year ended up being true. Alas, Burke was convinced otherwise and Albrecht, the guy who claims to go mostly unrecognized on campus because of his average size, was afforded the chance to learn from one of the best for a whole season.

Spike's performance in the NCAA Tournament allows the point guard position to remain solid despite losing Trey Burke

Spike Albrecht’s numbers will not pop out to anyone, and he will most likely spend the majority of his career at Michigan watching from the sidelines, but he is an invaluable part of Michigan’s program. Every team would love to have an experienced backup who can come in for a couple minutes here and there and be solid, which is exactly what Albrecht is.

On rare occasions, like the night of the national championship game last season, the starter will be in foul trouble, or perhaps injuries will cause some shuffling, but when that time has come in the past, Albrecht has stepped up and shown what he is capable of doing, scoring 17 first-half points against Louisville and making some forget about Trey Burke being on the bench for the majority of a half.

Albrecht certainly enjoyed that time in the limelight, making Sportscenter highlights and giving a shout-out to Kate Upton on Twitter, but he knows his role on the team. He didn’t come to Michigan expecting to be a house-hold name. He came expecting to help his teams accomplish great goals.

To date, the script couldn’t have gone any better for the son of a former bitty-ball legend. This season, if all is well, Albrecht will again back-up a hotshot point guard, enter the game to give Walton a breather from time to time, make a few shots, dish out a few assists, take care of the ball, and be happy to be a part of something bigger than him.

Last season, with no minimum shots required, Albrecht was actually the team’s best three-point shooter, and while a few more shots this time around will likely see that percentage drop a little bit, Albrecht will have the green light when he’s open and will make a good number of them.

Beilein does not hold back in his praise for Spike and unsurprisingly gave him the starting nod in the first exhibition of the year, in which Spike notched a quiet five points, four assists, two rebounds, and a turnover. Still, both Beilein and Albrecht are aware of the player’s limited ceiling. Albrecht will never be a bona fide defender, scorer, or creator, but if he can put forth full-hearted effort, Michigan fans will be happy with the results.

This year, expect a year of practice against Burke to pay dividends for Albrecht and a few more girls to flutter their eyebrows while walking by the boyish-faced Spike on the Diag. But most of all, expect to be happy with Albrecht’s contributions. Those contributions won’t be great, and oftentimes they will go unnoticed, but a back-up point guard who flies under the radar is usually a back-up point guard who is doing his job.

Projected Stats – Albrecht
Points Assists Steals Rebounds Turnovers Minutes
3.5 1.5 0.5 1.2 0.8 10.0
Career Stats
2012-13 2.2 0.7 0.3 0.8 0.4 8.1
47.5 FG%, 54.3 3pt%, 83.3 FT%
2013 NCAA Tournament Stats
2012-13 6.0 0.7 0.5 1.0 1.0 12.8
72.2 FG%, 90.0 3pt%, 33.3 FT%

Secondary Back-ups: Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas

Both LeVert and Stauskas will be examined more closely in the wing preview to come, but Beilein has been more open to discussing the variety of lineups at his disposal this season than in years past. At 6’6″, LeVert and Stauskas afford Michigan the chance to go very big and assuredly offer Beilein an opportunity to run the length-heavy 1-3-1 zone defense that has been mostly an apparition over the past couple seasons. Perhaps uninformed commentators will finally be right on occasion when talking about Michigan being a zone team then, but I still don’t expect to see either the zone or someone other than Walton and Albrecht at the point often.

For the most part, a change-of-pace with a wing running the offense will be used as a wrinkle and will perhaps occasionally be deployed against bigger teams; unless the true point guards are really struggling or go down to injury, however, this shouldn’t be a significant part of Michigan’s season.

Bottom Line: To be completely honest, Michigan’s point guards will probably not be looked at as an invariable strength, and that is fine for John Beilein. Pundits around the basketball world continue to question Michigan until Walton can prove himself as the heir apparent to Trey Burke, and many will continue to doubt Michigan’s chances as they realize that Walton will not fill up the scoring column like his predecessor.

But all Beilein needs is for his point guards to facilitate the show this time around. There is plenty of offense to go around on this Michigan outfit, and shots will be at a premium with potential stars like Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, and others littering the lineup. Walton and Albrecht will be more than happy to do that facilitating and should be able to take advantage from not being the opposing team’s focal point too.

So while most may not look at the Wolverine point guards this time around as the foundation of the team like they were in the past, Michigan will be just fine with Walton and Albrecht being the conductors of a well-tuned symphony.

Forecast Friday: What Michigan Needs to Gain from UMass Game

Friday, September 17th, 2010


Michigan enters Saturday’s matchup with UMass in a position it hasn’t been in very often in the past couple of seasons: the prohibitive favorite. You can go back to the Delaware State game last October 17 for the last time Michigan was a lock to win a game.

 

Michigan vs. UMass
Block M logo Sat. 9/18
12 p.m. ET 
Big Ten Network
UMass logo
2-0 Record 2-0
29.0 Scoring Offense 29.0
287.5 Rushing YPG 223.5
215.0 Passing YPG 258.0
502.5 Total Offense 481.5
17.0 Scoring Defense 15.0
146.0 Rush Defense YPG 76.5
293.0 Pass Defense YPG 195.5
439.0 Total Defense YPG 272.0
4 Takeaways 3
0 Giveaways 1
1/0 Sacks By/Allowed 1/1
49% Third-down Conv. 46%
1/4 Field Goals 1/2
36.1 Net Punt Avg. 24.1

After throttling favored UConn and outlasting Notre Dame in South Bend, Michigan is the talk of college football with electric quarterback Denard Robinson leading the nation in rushing and total offense. The schedule sets up nicely to go 5-0 with UMass, Bowling Green, and Indiana on the slate before rival Michigan State comes to Ann Arbor.

So what does Michigan have to do in the next couple of weeks to get ready for the grind of the Big Ten schedule?

It all starts with staying and getting healthy. The last thing you want to have happen in cakewalk games is an injury to one of your starters.

Robinson will play but certainly won’t need the whopping amount of carries he has had in the past two games. Rodriguez should let him keep his rhythm and build a good lead and then rest him to keep him fresh.

As dynamic as the offense has looked thus far, it’s still missing two players that figured to be big-time playmakers this season, wide receiver Junior Hemingway and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Hemingway has battled injuries his entire career, but when he has been on the field, he has stretched defenses as Michigan’s best deep threat.

Toussaint had a good camp and many considered him to be the best all-around back on the team.

Neither has played yet this season, but may return as soon as this weekend.

On defense, freshman safety Carvin Johnson suffered a knee sprain in the opener, and despite his lack of experience, Michigan needs him back sooner than later, especially given Cam Gordon’s propensity to give up the deep ball.

Secondly, Robinson needs to establish the passing game.

Everybody knows Robinson’s skills on the ground – that was evident from his first collegiate snap. The biggest question mark surrounding Robinson at this point is his passing ability.

He has shown great command of the offense so far this season, completing 69 percent of his passes, but has yet to show he can throw an accurate deep ball.

Rodriguez said the offense will flow depending on how the defense is playing them, so if teams are allowing the run, which is the bread and butter of the spread-n-shred offense, Robinson could keep on running.

But as the season goes along, teams will stack the box to try to stop Robinson, making the passing game all the more important.

Thirdly, find a running game outside of Robinson.

Michigan has a plethora of running backs competing for playing time, but so far Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith have carried the load. They have done okay, but neither has shown much of anything, averaging just 3.0 and 3.2 yards per carry, respectively.

The only other running back to get a carry was freshman Stephen Hopkins who scored from one yard out against Notre Dame.

Michael Cox and Toussaint (if healthy) should at least be given a chance to show what they can do. Michigan desperately needs a back to shoulder some of the load. Shaw, Smith, Hopkins, and receiver Kelvin Grady have combined for 44 carries, compared to Robinson’s 57.

 

Safety Cam Gordon lets ND tight end Kyle Rudolph run right by for a 95-yard TD catch (photo by ESPN.com)

Safety Cam Gordon lets ND tight end Kyle Rudolph run right by for a 95-yard TD catch (photo by ESPN.com)

Finally, Michigan needs to find consistency in the secondary.

 

The defensive line is solid and the linebackers have played well, especially senior Jonas Mouton, but the majority of the big plays given up have been on the thin and inexperienced secondary.

J.T. Floyd and James Rogers have performed admirably on the outside, but safety Cam Gordon has been the culprit for the big plays. It’s not necessarily a reflection on his talent, given that he is a converted wide receiver starting in his first season at safety, but he will only get better with time and experience. The more games he plays, the more he will figure out the position and the more comfortable he will get.

Prediction

UMass has a pretty good running game, with Jonathan Hernandez averaging 101.5 yards per game and John Griffin averaging 77.5 so far, and quarterback Kyle Havens has completed 65 percent of his passes for 516 yards and three touchdowns. But those two games were against Holy Cross and William & Mary.

The Minutemen find invade Ann Arbor ranked 16th in the Football Championship Subdivision, while Michigan finds itself ranked for the first time in a year, at 20th in the big boy division, the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Look for Michigan to set the tone early, jumping out to a comfortable lead by halftime. Robinson will work into the third quarter before giving way to Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner.

Michigan 41 – UMass 21

From their view…

MassLive breaks down what UMass has to do to pull off the upset and also estimates that UMass will bring 2,500 fans to Ann Arbor. The Daily Collegian has UMass coach Kevin Morris declaring, “We’re going to win,” while also talking about how hard it will be to stop Robinson.

The Daily Collegian also features this winner depicting the Minutemen mascot fighting a comic book character with the same name as Michigan’s mascot.

UMass header

Robinson’s Record-Setting Performance Shows What Rodriguez’s Offense is Capable of

Sunday, September 5th, 2010


While offenses around the country struggled to shake off the rust of the offseason, Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson led touchdowns on three of his first four possessions en route to a 30-10 win over UConn.

Robinson shattered the Michigan single-game rushing record for a quarterback, set by Steve Smith who ran for 147 yards on four carries on Nov. 12, 1983

Robinson shattered the Michigan single-game rushing record for a quarterback, set by Steve Smith who ran for 147 yards on four carries on Nov. 12, 1983 (Photo from the Toledo Blade)

Robinson, who got the start over last year’s starter, Tate Forcier, looked poised and confident all afternoon. The sophomore rushed 29 times for 197 yards and a touchdown and completed 19-of-22 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown against an experienced Husky defense.

He became just the fifth quarterback in the past five years to exceed 185 yards both on the ground and through the air, and if that’s an omen of what’s to come, things are certainly looking up in Ann Arbor. The others were West Virginia’s Pat White (under Rich Rodriguez), Texas’ Vince Young (twice), Missouri’s Brad Smith, and UAB’s Joseph Webb.

So is the performance against UConn what we can expect from the offense all season? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

It was certainly a great start to the season and refreshing for Michigan fans to see an offense that was virtually unstoppable for 60 minutes, but we have to be cautiously optimistic.

Last year started off with a bang as well, dominating Western Michigan and jumping out to a 4-0 record before falling back to earth in conference play and going just 1-7 the rest of the season. The true test of whether this offense is for real will be determined in conference play.

That being said, there were some very positive signs that point toward a much improved offense from a year ago.

1. Drive sustainability

Michigan had four touchdown drives of more than 70 yards, as well as a 75-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. Perhaps none was more important than the very first one.

After forcing a three-and-out on UConn’s first possession, Michigan took over just four yards in front of its own end zone. Fourteen plays later, sophomore running back Vincent Smith carried it in from 12 yards out, putting Michigan ahead 7-0. Call it a statement drive: 96 yards (plus 13 yards that Michigan lost on a personal foul committed by guard Patrick Omameh), 12 runs, two passes, and seven points.

Robinson rushed six times on the opening drive for 58 yards and completed both passes he threw for 23 yards. Just like that, questions of whether Robinson was ready to run the offense were answered.

Last season, Michigan had just 13 scoring drives of over 70 yards all year against FBS opponents (Michigan had four against Delaware State). For the Michigan offense to go out there with a quarterback making his first career start and put together five long scoring drives against an above average defense, it was quite a statement.

UM linebacker Obi Ezeh (45) recovers a UConn fumble inside the Wolverines' five-yard line (Photo from the Toledo Blade)

UM linebacker Obi Ezeh (45) recovers a UConn fumble inside the Wolverines' five-yard line (Photo from the Toledo Blade)

2. Ball possession

Robinson’s ability to move the ball kept Michigan’s suspect defense off the field. Michigan won the time of possession battle 36:52 to 23:08, the best since Rodriguez took over at Michigan in 2008. The next closest was in last season’s opener against Western Michigan, when Michigan held the ball for 34:20. In fact, that was the only game that Michigan won the time of possession battle last season and just the fourth time in his 25 games at Michigan.

While having the ball for longer than your opponent doesn’t necessarily lead to a win, it’s no secret that Michigan’s weakness this season is the defense. When UConn had the ball, it was able to move pretty effectively against the Michigan defense. Fortunately for Michigan, the Husky receivers didn’t help out quarterback Zach Frazer, dropping several open passes, and Michigan cornerback J.T. Floyd was able to force a fumble inside the five-yard line.

Make no mistake about it, the 10 points given up was not indicative of how well the defense played. It allowed eight plays of 15 yards or more and the game should have been much closer than it was.

The offense’s ability to keep the ball out of Frazer’s hands kept the defense off the field and the strength of the team on the field.

3. Ball security

Turnovers have plagued Rodriguez’s offenses the past two seasons. In 2008, Michigan committed 30, and in 2009, it gave the ball away 28 times. Saturday was the first time since Rodriguez’s second game in Ann Arbor on Sept. 6, 2008 that Michigan has gone turnover-free.

It was great to see Robinson hold onto the ball on his 29 carries and throw perfect passes to his receivers. His decision-making looked far better than last year and if he keeps making the right reads, the offense will continue to plow ahead.

4. Blocking

The offensive line is definitely a strength this season and that was no more apparent than on the first drive of the season. Center David Molk, guards Stephen Schilling and Patrick Omameh, and tackles Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge constantly opened up huge holes for Robinson and running backs Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith to run through.

Molk is definitely the heart and soul of the line, providing solid snaps and great protection. When he went down midway through the season last year was when Michigan’s offense started to struggle because it meant juggling the rest of the line to replace him. Provided the line stays healthy this year, it will remain a huge strength for the running game.

In a Rich Rodriguez offense, the receivers have to be just as adept at blocking downfield as they are running routes and catching passes. On several runs, the great blocking by Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum, Roy Roundtree, and Kelvin Grady sprung more yards than what should have been. That’s the reason Rodriguez starts Odoms, at just 5’8” and 175 pounds at outside receiver. Despite his small frame, he’s not afraid to throw a block to help earn extra yards.

Robinson and Rodriguez hope to sing The Victors many more times this season

Robinson and Rodriguez hope to sing The Victors many more times this season

5. Third-down conversions

Michigan converted 14-of-19 third-down conversions on Saturday, eight of them of more than six yards. Last season, Michigan averaged just under 40 percent on third-downs, which was exactly middle-of-the-pack in the national rankings.

That certainly won’t happen every week, but with a quarterback like Robinson, who can beat you with his feet and his arm, converting third downs is a little bit easier. In fact, this might be the most important aspect of the offense this season, since converting third downs keeps the ball in your hands, keeps your defense off the field, and gives you a chance to score.

It will be interesting to see how the offense handles adversity this season when forced to come from behind. Saturday’s game was never in doubt, as Michigan jumped out to a 21-0 lead before UConn closed the gap to 21-10 at halftime.

Michigan came out in the second half and used a 19-play, 74-yard field goal drive that took 8:05 off the clock. Robinson was effective when he established the running game, both on his own and with Shaw and Smith. That opened up the receivers, which made his throws that much easier. But what happens when Michigan is down 10 in the fourth quarter and can’t afford to keep running? I think that’s the biggest question at this point.

Rodriguez said after the game that he doesn’t plan to let Robinson run 29 times a game, and that’s a good thing. He took some hits and even had to come out of the game for a few plays with a hip bruise. According to Rodriguez, that’s what worked for this game, and Robinson didn’t need to throw more. But that won’t be the case for every game, especially since Michigan’s defense won’t be able to hold every opponent to 10 points.

Overall, it was a great way to start the season and even more encouraging than last season’s opener for a couple of reasons: because UConn is a good team, picked by many experts to win the Big East this season, and because while Robinson is a first-year starter, this is his second year in the system.

I’m certainly not knocking Tate Forcier, but last year no one knew what to expect. As a true freshman he came out of the gates hot, leading Michigan to a 4-0 record, but then everything caught up to him when conference play began and he fell back to earth.

This year, Michigan has a quarterback with a year of experience under his belt, so the performance was much more expected.

I still think a 7-5 record is where the team is headed this season, but next weekend’s opponent, Notre Dame, is one of the opponents I picked to beat Michigan. We’ll find out next Saturday if this week’s performance was indicative of the rest of the season or if it was just an upswing on the pendulum.

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 thesituationist.wordpress.com

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

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 | AnnArbor.com

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

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.