10 Freshman and Unknowns to be Excited About for the 2009 Michigan Football Season: Part II

(You can find Part I here)

Ah. The 80's. Anyone who tells you there was a better genre for music is lying. Journey. Toto. Pat Benatar. Flock of Seagulls. Movies were better then, too. There weren't all these damn special effects, so you actually had to write something to keep people in the theater. The glorious apex of these two art forms was the 1985 cinematic classic, Rocky IV. Balboa. Drago. Incredibly hot, nine foot tall Soviet chick with a high top fade. Apollo Creed (which will be the name of my first born son).

Apollo Creed Brew. Got a nice ring, don't it? Mrs. Brew won't care. I've arranged for a Volkswagon sized epidural to be delivered, so she won't realize what's going on until long after the paper work is filed. But I digress.

What does Rocky IV have to do with Michigan Football? Everything. I give you Survivor's Opus "In the Burning Heart"

In the warriors code
There's no surrender
Though his body says stop
His spirit cries - never!

That's fall practice right there folks. You are Rocky. Exhaustion, pain, weakness... they are Drago. You must overcome Drago. Yesterday, along with Kenny Loggins, I gave you the first five freshmen and unknowns that will make a difference for Michigan in 2009. From the Danger Zone we move into the Burning Heart. The next five players aren't really Rocky-esque underdogs, but they're not prohibitive favorites in anything either. They're guys that have talent, motors, wheels, but have to put it all together to be successful.

Deep in our soul
A quiet ember
Know it's you against you
It's the paradox that drives us on

Hell yeah.

So without further ado, here are Five more Freshmen and Unknowns to Be Excited About for the 2009 Michigan Football Season:

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5. Junior Hemingway - Redshirt Sophomore - Wide Receiver - A 6'1" burner from South Carolina, Hemingway taunted us a bit last year. Flashing brilliance against Utah before tearing up his shoulder in that same game, following it up with a nasty case of mono, and missing the remainder of the season. A year and a medical redshirt later, Hemingway is being counted on to be Michigan's deep threat. The presence of a down field receiver is crucial in this offense, not just to provide quick strike ability, but to keep opposing safeties off the line of scrimmage or the slot receivers. Hemingway is kind of a Manningham type receiver, not the fastest guy with a stop watch but seems to have that extra gear in pads. He may not be the tallest guy on the field, but he can jump out of the stadium for those corner of the endzone jump balls. Hemingway has the services split on his upside, with Scout ranking him at 4 stars and Rivals at 3. But if you saw him against Utah, you know the potential is there. And now the expectation is that he's going to realize it on the field.

"Junior’s in probably the best shape he’s been in, but he’s still not ready where I think he’s going to be," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We need him to be - he and Greg Mathews in particular got to be two guys that we can count on as far as making plays and being able to do all the things we ask our wideouts to do. Those are kind of two of the upperclassmen that their time is kind of now."

Speed. Hands. Hops. Junior's our man.

The Rest of the Countdown, Links, YouTubes, and other Fun Stuff after the Jump.....

4. Troy Woolfolk - Junior - Safety - There's a fair amount of understandable trepidation about Michigan's safety situation. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't at the top of my 2009 Michigan Football "OMG!!1!!!1!!" list. But the more I look into things, the more confident I become that things are going to be okay. If not okay, then at least measurably better than last year. One of those reasons is Troy Woolfolk. Woolfolk played corner and safety in high school with success at both positions. In fact, Woolfolk's senior year was spent at safety and the 6'0" burner turned in a hell of a year:

Defensive back Troy Woolfolk was the first to commit to Michigan and followed up his verbal with superb play. The 6-0 defensive back excelled at safety, picking off six passes.

"Moving Troy to free safety made all the difference," Dulles coach Jim Creech said. "No one could break the long one on us because of his speed and he really helped us on defense with his physical play. I really believe he's a safety."

That comes from Woolfolk's high school coach, courtesy of MGoBlog's archives. Keep looking at my favorite word: "speed." People mention that a lot when they talk about Woolfolk. The kids ran the 100 meter in 10.28 seconds. Jesus that's fast. Faster than Denard Robinson's 10.3. ESPN says some nice things as well

He plays in a soft cover-two scheme or uses a soft shuffle technique with his back to the sideline always keeping the ball to his inside. He has quick feet and shows good overall quickness. Change-of-direction skills are adequate. He has decent short-area man-to-man coverage skills and shows good burst to make plays on the ball when in proper position. He has good ball skills.

The constant knock I see on Woolfolk is that he needs to work on positioning and technique. That seems to be a microcosm of Michigan circa 2008. But where safety depth is thin, where speed is at a premium, and a player has experience at a position, it means you're a little less concerned. The kid is confident. The kid is fast. The kid feels "natural" at the position.

"It seems like the position is more natural for me, because I actually played it in high school a little bit," Woolfolk said. "I started off at corner and toward my senior year, they stopped throwing it my way, so I moved to safety, and it just feels natural. It doesn't feel like I switched to a new position. It feels like I'm going back to an old position."

I think he's going to have a great year.

3. J.B. Fitzgerald - Sophomore - Linebacker - Part of Michigan's initially impressive linebacker haul of 2008, Fitzgerald and Kenny Demens are the only ones left on campus. But, clearly, the best two stayed. At this point Fitzgerald has begun to separate himself from the pack and is emerging as one of the first players off the bench to step in at Linebacker in 2009. Fitzgerald was a consensus four star recruit and appears ready to step into the primary backup role as a redshirt freshman, if not challenge for a starting job. ESPN loves him:

Fitzgerald blends great size and speed at his linebacker position. He possesses a tall, thickly-built frame that should allow him to play at 240 pounds in college while maintaining athleticism and range. He is very strong and physical stacking the inside run. He is best playing downhill and attacking vertically with his good short-area closing speed. Those vertical attacking skills could slide him down to defensive end in the right college scheme. Moves adequately well through the trash. He occasionally shows good agility and athleticism sliding under blocks and hitting the small inside run seams. Possesses the flat-out speed to turn and chase down backs to the sideline, rare and very impressive for size. He doesn't always look smooth in coverage but consistently positions himself correctly with good recovery speed and fluid hips and turns. Flashes the man skills to stick with backs and tight ends and possesses good range in the middle hook area.

This combined with a strong showing in Spring practice and the Spring Game, put Fitzgerald in a position to see significant playing time this year. Fitzgerald took a little bit of a pundit lashing for over pursuit, but that's something good coaching sorts out (at least, God, I hope so). Depending on the package Greg Robinson decides to run, Fitzgerald could see plenty of time at SAM or Will,  if Brown moves to the Quick position on any given play. Another theory, proposed by MGoBlog, is that Fitzgerald could move to MIKE if Obi Ezeh transitions to Deathbacker/Quick.

I don't think that's going to happen. Ezeh seems to have locked down the MIKE position, and at this point teaching him the new assignments with less than three weeks before kickoff seems like asking for trouble. As a result, Fitzgerald should be the first guy off the bench and will likely be groomed for the MIKE position when Ezeh graduates. The upshot is we've got a quick, hard hitting LB coming off the bench who was actually a LB in high school. Because we've got three upperclassmen returning to starting positions, we don't have to throw the kid into the fire. As a result, I think we're going to see some great things from Fitzgerald as a situational substitution and even better things from him down the road.

2. Mark Huyge - Redshirt Sophomore - Offensive Tackle - The Big Uglies never get enough love in the press, but they sure as hell do here. Huyge was another guy who's fall practice and Spring Game results were good enough to get him named by Gerry DiNardo as an unknown who will help Michigan this year during the BTN's college road show. There's good reason for this. Huyge is pegged to be our starting right guard at this point, if you're looking for a demonstration of his work, watch him at right tackle in the Spring Game (unless you like Fat Boy Slim, turn off your sound):

Like most linemen, Huyge wasn't a highly hyped prospect out of high school. But he was big, mean, and possessed a great frame to grow into. He's just one bige 'loe corn fed white boy who seems destined to play tackle. 6'6", now well over 300 bills, and fully recovered from a ankle injury that knocked him out of last year. It's worth noting that before the injury, Huyge was battling for a starting spot as a true freshman.

In 2009, however, Huyge is two years into Barwis' training program and seems to be filling out his considerable frame. Not just that, the kid really seems to move well for his size. Quick feet, active hands. ESPN didn't love him as a high school junior, but said the thing we all want to hear about Linemen at that level:

Huyge is a prospect who has some upside, but looks to need some time to continue to grow as a player. He would greatly benefit from a red-shirt and possibly more. He has a good frame and looks to be able to add more bulk which he will need. He makes good initial contact and is capable of getting push off the line of scrimmage in the run game. When he stays low and gets placement with his hands he can drive a defender. He needs to work on his pad level and stay low. He also needs to be more consistent with his hand placement as he will let defender's get into him. He has an adequate motor, but needs to work on moving his feet after contact and maintaining position. He tends to slip off blocks a little too soon. He moves well and looks comfortable when asked to pull. He does an adequate job of getting up to the second level, but needs to work on the angles he takes. He is adequate in pass protection and does a solid job of initially getting set. If he can get position he is solid and can mirror, but may struggle trying to shadow quicker more explosive defensive ends. Huyge has ability, but needs to keep improving. To play tackle he will fit best as a right tackle at the college level.

Everything ESPN said needed to happen for him to be a next level player happened. If you watch the Spring game footage, the thing that stands out to me the most is Huyge's movement. He slides well, doesn't get tangled up, has good blocking angles, and drives his blocks. Seriously, watch him drive the DE into the linebacker. That's not so good for our defense but oh so good for our offense. The peeps I've heard out of camp and over the interwebz say he's having a great fall and looks like he'll be the man on the right side. Remember last year when we didn't have a clue how this would all pan out? This year we do, and it looks like Huyge's going to be a huyge part of that.

Vanbergen-100908_300_medium

via www.mgoblue.com

1. Ryan Van Bergen - Redshirt Sophomore - Defensive End - You've gotta love this kid. Rivals sure did:

VanBergen's film is one of the most impressive of any player up on the Rivals.com network. He can't be blocked at defensive end and on offense at tight end he's often seen running downfield and away from would-be tacklers.

A consensus four star recruit at DE, Van Bergen is basically a very, very large Tasmanian Devil. He doesn't stop until he eats you. Ever. In high school, at only 250 lbs, Van Bergen terrorized Michigan HS football blowing past or bowling over everyone/thing in his path. One on one he was literally impossible to stop, polishing off every challenger at Michigan's camp in 2007. That kind of drive makes him one of the most important players on Michigan's young defensive line. Ryan won't let up, and in listening to his teammates, he won't let up on them either. A leader by example and effort, in just two years in the program, Van Bergen is already a team leader.

The upshot of this is he's got the real chance to be a difference maker on defense. Van Bergen will create a lot of problems for opposing offenses as Mike Martin requires two guys to keep him at bay, and anyone sending a single Tackle up against Brandon Graham is asking for quarterback puree. With two veterans to his left or right, Van Bergen's going to see a lot of single blocks. If he can show that same motor he displayed in high school, he's going to free up more and more opportunities for Graham and Martin as defenses learn to account for him. Maybe it'll be bringing in a TE to help with blocking. Maybe that'll take a receiver off the field. Van Bergen's as critical a piece to Michigan's season as just about any other player not playing quarterback.

For Michigan to meet or even exceed expectations, Van Bergen's going to have to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and use his speed and motor to control the end of the LoS. So far this off season, he seems to be living up to the considerable hype that surrounded his high school recruitment. But as a Wolverine, he's still a bit of an unknown, making only 13 stops last year as a red shirt freshman, contributing mostly on special teams. But, after two years on the bench and in the weight room, Van Bergen is No. 1 on my list of 10 Freshman and Unknowns who will make a difference in 2009.

(If you're looking for the remaining Five Players, here's Part I.)

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