A little while back I sent out a series of questions to Maize n Brew's outstanding contributors Beauford, SCM and Markus about each position on the 2010 Michigan Football team. The idea was we'd be able to give you a full rundown and preview of every position on the 2010 Michigan Football team, strengths and weaknesses. So I sent the guys a six question setfor each position, starting with offensive line (Part I and Part II), to mull over. As usual, the guys went above and beyond in answering these questions.
The next in our series is a look at Michigan's Wide Receiving Corps. Similar to the Offensive Line, Michigan's wide receivers are extremely deep and extremely talented. Another alarming similarity is the fact that, just like the Offensive Line, the Michigan's wide receivers underachieved last year. But after talking with the guys, there are a multitude of reasons to be really, really excited. So without further delay, let's get to the questions.
1. As a passing offense Michigan was at best below average last year (ranking 9th in the conference). How would you rate the performance of Michigan's Wide Receivers and Tight Ends last year?
Beauford Bixel: It's hard to evaluate receivers independently of quarterbacks, and I won't pretend to know what makes a receiver great beyond the ESPN boilerplate evaluations that I hear. "Runs good routes" seems to be one that is sticking in my head. I just don't know. I was actually pretty pleased with the WR's and TE's last year given the obvious limitations our quarterbacking put on them. I mean, when Denard was in there was no chance that he was throwing the ball (well...almost no chance).
If I could shift the question just a bit, and ask "how would you rate the type of athlete that we're recruiting/playing at WR?" I would say that I'm very excited about the potential. This offense is never going to utilize a 6'5" outside receiver (although I'm sure they'd find a way if they had one...). Instead, they've got a bunch of kids who are super fast, and super adept at making people miss. I think that WRis actually the one position where Rodriguez has gotten exactly the kind of athlete that he wants, and our roster is now populated with people who he knows will work in his system. This is exciting.
Maize n Brew Dave:Maybe I'm being harsh here, but I wasn't to pleased with the performance of Michigan's receiving corps. With the injuries to Stonum, Hemmingway, et al, no one really seemed capable of giving Michigan that extra dimension it so desperately needed. J'ron Stokes could've been that guy, but it didn't work out that way as he didn't contribute much. Really, the most dependable receiver we had was Roy Roundtreeand he didn't emerge until the middle of the season. Tae Odoms was good, but he didn't spring anything big in the passing game either. Greg Mathews was there... sort of... but he couldn't get loose from the DB's to be very effective. And everyone, everyone, everyone seemed to have the dropsies all season. Sure, quarterback play makes this a ridiculously hard thing to accurately judge, but last year was not a good year for Michigan's receivers.
Markus: My view is that anyone waiting for Michigan to explode for 3,000 yards and 30+ touchdowns in the air over 12 games will:
a.) have a long time to wait,
b.) be generally disappointed with Rodriguez’s offensive philosophy.
Michigan threw for 15 touchdowns passes in 2009. That’s pretty much in alignment with some other Rodriguez teams like 2000 Clemson (15) and 2007 West Virginia (also 15). 15 touchdownsis not alignment with1998 Tulane (38 aerial touchdowns), but hey, at Michigan Rodriguez is throwing the ball quite a bit more than he did at Clemson and West Virginia, and the Wolverines achieved 15 TDsthrough the air with two freshman signal callers, a banged up offensive line, and a comparatively young receiving corps. Michigan will throw more in 2010 and should be more accurate and successful. I look at Michigan’s wide receivers roster and see a lot of talent, size, speed and experience. If practice observers are right and the quarterback confidence and accuracy has improved, then having targets like Odoms, Roundtree, Stonum, Hemingway and Koger are going to be a major bonus for Michigan’s attack.
SCM: The best word is inconsistent. Some of it has to factor in Forcier's shoulder injury after the fourthgame of the year, some of it falls on an O-line that was forced to jumble after losing it's leader early in the year. The other adjustment here is that Michigan fans are used to a largely vertical passing game composed of a possession guy, a tall burner prototypicalal deep guy to stretch the field, and tight ends that play key roles in the intermediate game. This receiving group has a different makeup and this offense has a different emphasis. I think the positive things to emerge from last year were the emergence of Roy Roundtree as a go-to guy and the continued all-around performance of Martavious Odoms. The concerning issues to me center on a couple of themes... Greg Mathews not really grabbing the mantle as "THE guy", Junior Hemingway's health, Stonum's disappearance for the majority of the year save for a few flashes of brilliance, and the diminishing role of a guy like Kevin Koger in last year's schemes. While Rodriguez's offense doesn't appear on the surface to be as vertically oriented, it'd be really nice to have someone...anyone step up as a deep threat.
2. What was the Wide Receiving corps greatest weakness in 2009 and going into 2010?
Beauford Bixel: Um...is quarterback a weakness? How about offensive line? It's almost a domino effect. Last year, when Molk went out, there were very few times where Tate could plant, drive, and throw a dart to a receiver. To his great credit, when he was afforded that chance, he generally put it on the money, but a lot of his throws were made on the run, and nobody is as accurate as they could be when they're running for their lives. Additionally, there were plenty of times where Tate, being as young as he is/was, would just say "screw it, I'm running" and pick up 3 or 4 yards instead of keeping his eyes downfield for just one more second to see if he could pick up a receiver for a gain of 8 or 10. I'm hoping to see more maturity out of Tate/Denard in that respect, which should lead to better numbers for the receiving corp.
Maize n Brew Dave:To me depth was the biggest issue. When Stonum and Hemingway didn't pan out or were injured, there wasn't anyone stretching opposing defenses. Then injuries at the slot made it even harder to getpeople in the places they were supposed to be in. Maybe this is an experience thing, but with the majority of the players on the field being freshmen or sophomores and no upperclassmen behind them or infront of them, there really was NO ONE who could step in an perform. The lack of outside receiving depth was a problem, but so was the lack of game ready talent in the slot.
Markus: The greatest weakness of this group in 2009 was a case of the drops and a lack of sync with the two new quarterbacks. As a result, UM’s receivers didn’t get enough touches. I liked watching Forcier frustrate defenders with his scrambling - to a point. He often scrambled himself way out of position to see all of the "oh wide open" receivers down field. I believe the quarterback-receiver timing should get a lot better in 2010. The case of the "dropsies" should also diminish. Notunlike the Bo Schembechler offenses, the primary responsibility of slots and receivers in this offense appears to be blocking secondary defenders either into the turf or the bleachers. I think this group improved its overall blocking performance in this category last year. Judging from their weight and conditioning gains over the off-season, this group should be stronger and much more physical in 2010.
SCM: Lack of said deep threat and for whatever reason, we really weren't very good at running those bubble screens that so many other spread teams utilize so effectively. So many other spread teams are able to run the WRbubble screens very effectively, more often than not we do nothing with them. Whether that's on the receivers and a lack of solid blocking or just a general scheme thing I don't know. I think the emergence of Roundtree as a go-to-guy was great, but we just don't have a consistent game-breaker on the outside yet.
3. This season Michigan's only legitimate receiver loss is Greg Mathews (LaTeryalSavoy is gone, but... yeah), looking at this season, what is the Receiving Corps biggest strength?
Beauford Bixel: As I said in #1, there are a whole slew of guys at the WR/SR position that are "Rodriguez guys" so to speak. The pool at WR is deep, and while none of the guys are BraylonEdwards, they can all hurt you. I think the biggest strength is the ability for these guys to get open, and make a play. Last year, there was no indication that Roundtree was going to be a breakout player, but he created opportunity for himself, and now is amongst the leaders at the position. I'm not sure if Roundtree himself has a set of skills that nobody else has, but he excelled at making the most of his opportunities when they were presented. I believe that any number of our receivers will be given that chance to excel this year - and hopefully they'll make the most of their opportunities as well.
Maize n Brew Dave:Strange that I go from depthbeing a big issue to being a strength in a single question, but so be it. For all the depth and experience issues that Michigan faced last season, it seems as though those issues may have been resolved in an offseasonand a recruiting class. Rodriguez recruited three stellar outside receivers, one or two of which may see the field this fall at that outside position. At the slot position I think Michigan is absolutely loaded with talent and experience. Tae Odoms, Roy Roundtree, Terrence Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, et al, Michigan has more options than it knows what to do with. Even Kelvin Grady looks like he's going to contribute this season. [Ed Note - after the first scrimmage, holy hell does he look like he'll contribute! Wooooo!] Then there's Kevin Koger and Martell Webbwho should contribute this season as well. Koger is a sure fire All Big Ten tight end if Tatenard gets him the ball. Even Webb showed some good progress during the spring.
This season there are a number of people who can contribute and there is experience all the way down the roster. Sure there's talent, but most importantly, there's a lot of it.
Markus: In my opinion, the biggest strength is wideoutJunior Hemingway. Unfortunately, he’s been on a hospital gurney most of his career at Michigan. He had a great season opener versus Western Michigan, but overall Junior didn’t enough touches last year. He’s big, strong, a good blocker, has sure hands, and is tough to bring down. If he could somehow stay healthy, he could have a breakout season. Also, the other wide receiver, Darryl Stonum, looks like he’s having a great fall practice.
SCM: Numbers. Losing Mathews is tough from an experience standpoint, but for a number of reasons his role last year was diminished. Otherwise, Michigan is deep in this group, both at the slot and at the outside. I think this also presents the difficult situation of how do we manage to get the likes of all of the slot guys Odoms, Robinson, Gallon, Roundtree, Stonum, Hemingway, Koger etc enough touches?
4. Last year Michigan only had one receiver with more than 30 catches (Roy Roundtree). Was this a function of inexperience at the QB position, inexperience at the WR position, or simply a case of guys not getting open? Or was it something else? Clue us in.
Beauford Bixel: I think it was quarterbacking. Also, the offense is clearly a run first offense, which limits opportunity further.
Maize n Brew Dave:My take is that it was a combination of all the above. One of the reasons 'Treecaught all those balls was because he was the only one getting open on a consistent basis. Another reason was that Tate wasn't progressing through all his reads and dumping it to the first open guy. The big thing this season is going to be the short passing game withRobinson and the deep passing game with Tate. Regardless of who starts, the improved line is going to give them a lot more time to throw and the coaching staff will adjust the offense, a tad, to their strengths. As a result, the receivers are going to have to make the most of the balls thrown their way because they're not going to be able to say the QB didn't know what he was doing this season.
Markus: 32 receptions is below average for receivers under Rodriguez’s offense. I would expect the leading receiver to have anywhere between 40 to 55 receptions per year, 5 to 10 TDs max, and close to, but rarely, 1,000 yards receiving. It’s hard to blame the receivers for the low number of catches. While we remember plenty of disappointing drops last fall, a combination of other factors really hurt Michigan’s passing/receiving yardage performance. The quarterback play overall was impatient and too prone to improvisation last year (i.e. "Oh god…no..must….scramble!"). Added to this, the offensive line pass blocking technique was far from stellar. Roundtree and Mathews probably did the best job of getting open for Forcier during his scrambling sessions.
SCM:I think inexperience at the QB position played a bigger role after tate was injured. Of course we also have to keep the following in mind: Roy Roundtree had TWO catches heading into the last four games of the season, in those finalfour contests he accumulated 30 more receptions. The emergence of him as a consistent targetis something that needs to carry over to this year and can hopefully kick-start the rest of the passing attack. I would really like to see us incorporate more screens and intermediate routes with the TE into the offense as well.
5. Who are you most excited to see play this season at Receiver and why?
Beauford Bixel: I'm excited for a few guys:
a) I want to see if Roundtree can be as solid as he was last year.
b) I'm hoping that Odoms can be as explosive as he was as a freshman. He continues to be the best blocking WR we have; I'm looking forward to his physical play
c) I want to see Terrence Robinson get the ball in space.
Maize n Brew Dave:I'm pretty geeked to see what Kevin Koger can do. Last season he made some incredible catches and if rodriguez really wants to open up the field, he's going to have to use the talented, speedy tight end. After Koger, I crossing my fingers that Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonumlive up to our expectations. They're bothso talented that if either of them can catch a break health wise, they'll be somethign special to watch.
Markus: I’m excited about Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum as experienced juniors at wide receiver. But in my opinion the main reason opponents will go shopping for brand new straight-jackets has to be the Wolverines’ slot receiver position. Roy Roundtree, Martavious Odoms, Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Terrance Robinson (also tailback) are probably going to make more noise this fall. Also, tailback Vincent Smith is kind of a slot receiver as well. He’ll be a very dangerous receiver for Michigan too. I just can’t wait to see this group hit the field. I’ve watched some of the older West Virginia and Clemson passing offense footage under Rodriguez. If the quarterback confidence and accuracy improves, then I think Saturday afternoons could be very entertaining viewing for Michigan fans.
SCM:I will cheat because I am going to split this into slot and outside guys: First: Jeremy Gallon. I have no rationalexplanation of this other than what I saw in the spring, he looked great, he looked like a guy who can do some serious damage with the football in his hands. Huge fan of Odoms, but I'm anxious to see Gallon get some touches. Outside: Daryl Stonum. Stonum has all of the makings to become the next great M outside burner, and he's shown flashes of it, but it's time to put consistency into the equation and become an "every game" type of impact player.
6. Name your starting two outside, your slot receiver, and your starting TE:
Outside: Stonum and Stokes
Slot: Roundtree/Odoms/Robinson/everyone else. I'm not sure you can peg a true "starter" here, just like I'm not sure that Stonum and Stokes are going to see outside WR duties over anybody else. If you're going traditional, then you start Stonum, Stokes outside/Roundtree slot/Koger TE. But I expect to see a LOT of variation featuring a LOT of different personnel.
Maize n Brew Dave:
Outside: Hemingway and Stonum
TE: Kevin Koger (I'm crossing my fingers for a MONSTER year)
Slot: Roundtree and Odoms- Though I think Michigan will start out with only a single slot receiver, you may see two slot and two outside receivers and no tight end as the season goes on. That's going to be really hard to defend against.
X - Darryl Stonum (outside)
H - Roy Roundtree (slot 1)
Y - Martavious Odoms (slot 2) or TE Kevin Koger
Z - JR Hemingway (outside)
SCM: If there's another position group that will have more people see the field, I don't know which one it would be.
Outside: Roundtree and Stonum