Welcome to part 1 of our 3 part Michigan Football season preview. In this edition, I will focus on the offense. Last year, season one under Brady Hoke and Offensive Coordinator Al Borges, Michigan ranked 13th nationally and 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing offense (221.8). They ranked 26th nationally and 2nd in the conference in scoring offense (33.3).
Starter: Denard Robinson (Sr) – the electrifying QB has rewritten the record books during his 3 years in Ann Arbor. Barring injury, he will finish his career as the all-time leader in total offense at Michigan. He is the only player in NCAA history to pass for 2000 yards and rush for 1000 yards in back-to-back seasons – a feat he could easily accomplish for a third straight season in 2012. As a junior, he passed for 2,173 yards with 20 TDs. Robinson also rushed for 1,176 yards and 16 TDs. The blemish on his season were the 15 interceptions. Now in his second season under Brady Hoke and Al Borges, Robinson should be more comfortable running the offense and I am expecting he cuts those 15 picks in half.
Back up: Devin Gardner (Jr) – He is one of the best athletes on the team and the coaching staff will find a way to get him on the field. Could it be at receiver? At 6-foot-4, 203 pounds he has ideal size for the position. His primary position will remain QB, where he is always one snap away from taking over.
Notes: Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy has been impressive in spring and fall camp and gives Michigan depth at QB.
This was Fitz Toussaint’s (RS Jr) job to lose, which he took a big step towards doing when he was suspended for OWI in the off-season. The shifty and powerful Toussaint churned out 1,041 yards and 9 TDs last season and became the perfect compliment to Denard Robinson. He was cleared to practice with the team, but must fight off a slew of challengers for the job. Chief among those challengers is Thomas Rawls (S0) who was slowed by an injury last year, but showed flashes of his potential in a 10 carry, 73 yard performance against Minnesota.
Also in the mix: Vincent Smith (Sr), Justice Hayes (RS Fr), Drake Johnson (Fr) and Dennis Norfleet (Fr)
Stephen Hopkins (Jr): Hopkins is now fully transitioned to fullback and he told me at Media Day that he was excited about the position and the opportunities that come with it. He also said he was taking freshman FB Sione Houma under his wing and that Houma was going to be a good player.
Roy Roundtree (Sr) had a minor knee procedure and will miss a few weeks of camp. He is expected to be ready for the Alabama game. He is also the only surefire starter in this group. His numbers were down a bit last year, 19 receptions for 355 yards and 2 TDs, but he made some big catches during the season and is a leader on and off the field.
Jeremy Gallon (RS Jr) and Drew Dileo (Jr) will both see a lot of time in the slot and both are capable of making big plays. Gallon was identified by many of his teammates as the funniest guy on the team. At media day, I asked receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski about Dileo. “I love everything about Drew Dileo,” Hecklinski said. “I love his toughness, I love the fact that he’s a little pitbull out there. He’ll hit a 250 pounder just like he’ll hit a 190 pounder, no difference, no fear. He gives you everything he has, those are the guys that win you football games. You have your guys who obviously are very talented, but it’s the guys behind the scenes, guys that make the plays, that maybe the fans don’t see during the game, that win you football games. Drew is right at the top of that list.”
The graduation of “Big Play” Junior Hemingway presents an opportunity for somebody to seize. At 6-3, 204 pounds, Jeremy Jackson (Jr) is a big target and has some experience under his belt, he appeared in all 13 games last season and has 7 career receptions. Jerald Robinson (RS So) is a deep threat who can stretch the field and should be an integral part of the rotation. Meanwhile Ricardo Miller will split time between receiver and tight end.
Newcomers: Both incoming freshmen receivers, Amara Darboh (6-2, 220) and Jehu Chesson (6-3, 183) are long and athletic. Darboh has already impressed in fall camp with his playmaking ability and could factor into the mix this season.
Brandon Moore (Sr) would figure to be the heir apparent to the graduated Kevin Koger at tight end. He only has two career receptions and there aren’t any other tight ends on the roster with a reception. Jordan Paskorz (RS So) is a converted defensive linemen. Michigan does have two incoming freshmen tight ends; Devin Funchess and AJ Williams.
LT: Taylor Lewan (RS Jr) enters the season as one of the top offensive linemen in the country. He is big, 6-8, 309, fierce, and will anchor what should be a very good offensive line. Lewan has just scratched the surface of how good he can really be. With continued improvement he has a chance to be one of the truly great offensive linemen in school history. “The thing about Taylor,” explained O-line coach Darrell Funk. “You always knew you were going to get a guy that played hard, played tough, had energy, all that. he’s very athletic.”
LG: This position is wide open in fall camp. Elliott Mealer (Sr) and Joey Burzynksi (RS So) are battling for the honors, but keep an eye on true freshman Kyle Kalis as well.
C: Ricky Barnum started 3 games last year at LG, but has moved to center. He will be backed up by Joey Burzynksi and Jack Miller (RS Fr).
RG: Patrick Omameh (Sr) has started 29 consecutive games at right guard. He is poised to have an outstanding senior season and should be a mainstay on the line all year.
RT: Michael Schofield (RS Jr) started 10 games at left guard last season, but will move back to his natural position at right tackle this year. He has the size, 6-7, 300, of a prototypical tackle and is immensely talented. Schofield could have a breakout season for the Wolverines.
Reserves: Chris Bryant (RS Fr) checks in at 6-4, 318 and is a real road grader. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk said that Bryant practiced at both guard positions last season and could back up at either spot this year. Michigan has 5 incoming freshmen offensive linemen; Blake Bars, Ben Braden, Dan Gibbs, Kyle Kalis, and Erik Magnuson. One or two of which are likely to be in the two-deep.
Brendan Gibbons (RS Jr) was 13-17 on field goal attempts in his breakout season of 2011. He booted a clutch 43 yard FG, his career long, to help ice the Ohio State game. Gibbons followed that up by going 3-3 in the Sugar Bowl, including the game winner in overtime.
Matt Wile (So) will handle the kick off duties.