Mike over at Black Shoe Diaries offered up a roundtable following spring ball. Predictably, I'm a little late to the party. Nevertheless, thanks Mike, here are Maize n Brew's answers:
1. I love spring. Flowers blooming. Birds chirping. Bones breaking. ACL's tearing. List the injuries your team sustained and describe their impact on 2008.
Somehow, someway Michigan seems to have escaped the serious injury bug. Aside from the normal knocks, bruises and hush-hush running back injuries, no one (knock on wood) got banged up too bad. Kevin Grady and Brandon Minor were nicked up, and I've sent out an APB on Carlos Brown, who was nicked up early on and hasn't been heard from since, but the rest of the squad looks healthy. A couple of backups sat out the spring game, but no starters. All hail mighty Barwis. The non-ice cream diet combined with actual workouts seems to be working.
2. Break down the major position battles going on with your offense.
Is it cheating to say "everywhere?" Michigan lost basically its entire offense to graduation and people not wanting to actually go to the gym. There are questions everywhere from QB to wideout, and I'll try to break it down.
- QB - Despite a leg injury early in the spring, it looks like rsf Steven Threet will take over as Michigan's new singal caller. Threet was pushed somewhat by the far more mobile rsj Nick Sheridan, but ultimately Threet was simply a better passer and better at leading the offense. Threet will get an additional push from Justin Feagin, a darty incoming freshman, who is Pat White small and quick.
- Line - Observers at Michigan's spring game were pleasantly surprised by the work of the line. IIRC Schilling and Ortmann, Michigan's right and left tackles respectively, were the only "touted" high school players on this year's line. The rest of the line is a bunch of "huh"? And "who?" type players. Help is on the way in the form of Dan O'Neil, Michigan's highest rated offensive line recruit and a few other substantial sized freshmen. The ongoing "battle" is simply to field a competent line. One positive thing of note, Schilling had an awful year under Andy Moeller's tutelage of the "zone running game." The move to the spread is much more similar to his high school system, where he dominated. Expect a much improved right side of the Michigan line this year and, God forbid, a few runs to the right behind Schilling.
- RB - At this point Brandon Minor appears to have the inside track for the starting running back position. It also seems like Kevin Grady will slot into the Owen Schmitt full back slot. Two names to watch are Avery Horn and true freshman Sam McGuffie. Horn is blazingly fast and fits into the offense as that home run hitting little guy Rodriguez seems to love, and is IIRC a redshirt frosh. McGuffie? Do you really need to ask?
3. You knew this was coming. Break down the major position battles on defense.
The only "position battles" of note are at Linebacker and safety. The rest of the D seems set. At linebacker senior JUCO transfer Austin Panter seems to be pushing for a starting slot on the outside. Obi Ezeh will move to MLB and former high school safety Jonas Mouton will probably start at the other outside position. However, nothing appears set in stone, and it wouldn't surprise me if any one of our three incoming four star Linebackers takes over a starting spot as a freshman.
At safety things are a little screwier. Troy Woolfolk had a great spring game and my secure a starting spot alongside Stevie Brown. Neither player has much playing time under their belt and this position may be Michigan's biggest area of concern on defense.
4. Who are the unknown kids on your team that will be household names come December?
Like it or not, you're going to know Steven Threet's name really, really well by the end of the season. Despite the speed of incoming freshman Feagin, I don't see Threet giving up the starting slot. Therefore the praise and the fury will be directed his way depending on the outcomes of Michigan's games. On offense, look for Greg Matthews to be the teams leader in both receiving yards and on the sidelines. He's drawn praise from everyone watching as being both a playmaker and a leader. One coach even used the phrase "Braylonesque," though I can't find the link to it. If that's even partially true... oh baby. On defense, manbearfreak DE Brandon Graham is coming for you. He's a freak of nature and seems to have bought into Barwis system to the point that he could be Woodley-esque, except really big.
5. How would you describe the general mood around your program? Are you gearing up the tailgate party for a conference title run or do you get the impression there are going to be a lot of empty seats in your stadium this year?
Mood? Ha! We're Michigan. The mood is always one of cautious pessimism. If this team wins 8 games Rodriguez should get the coach of the year award not only handed to him, but have it re-named in his honor. It's going to be a rough year, especially early. The offense is going to turn the ball over. A lot. And the defense is going to have to carry the load, something it seemed incapable of doing last year. The seats will never be empty at Michigan, but expectations will be fairly low by Michigan standards. But let's be clear. A 3-9 record and torches will be lit and pitchforks sharpened.