At this point in their careers, it's not entirely impossible to look at certain players and know what you're going to get out of them. Even the schematic changes won't affect, in general, what Denard Robinson is capable of - both his abilities and limitations. Mike Martin, Troy Woolfolk, Kevin Koger, Roy Roundtree, David Molk, Jordan Kovacs; these guys I'm pretty comfortable with what we'll get out of them, from potential all-american buzz to playing over their head athletically and relying on wits and cat-guts to be in the right place.
There are other players that are wildcards. Beyond practice rumblings, and coachspeak, we don't have a lot to go on. Here are two such players that can make Michigan's season. If you've got more, or others, let's talk about it in the comments. I'm already too fired up to work anyways...
When the depth chart was released earlier in the week, every eye went immediately to the defensive secondary (ok, maybe tailback first, but whatevs). With Troy Woolfolk the holy lock to start at one corner, the battle was between JT Floyd and Courtney Avery for that other starting spot. The depth chart appears to your left.
|Corner 1||Yr||Corner 2||Yr|
|Troy Woolfolk||Sr||Courtney Avery||So|
|JT Floyd||Jr||Tony Anderson||Sr|
|Terrance Talbott||So||Blake Countess||Fr|
It appears that Courtney Avery has won that starting spot. JT Floyd will back up the two starters, and will likely see significant playing time in nickel situation, etc. After Floyd? It's collar tugging time. However, the mere fact that there is a two deep not featuring true freshman that cause opponent QB's eyes (and scoreboards...) to light up is a plus.
Avery's recruiting profile was Michigan and a bunch of mid-tier MAC type offers. He did claim Indiana, Loisville, and Vanderbilt if that helps. Part of the issue with his recruiting was that he played high school quarterback [update - he did indeed play highschool qb, but the rest of this stuff was indeed me confused with James Rogers...can we get to the season?]. Last year, after JT Floyd left with injury, he stepped in a performed admirably, but given the triage in the secondary a baby seal might have performed admirably as well. However, when he was put on the field last year, his "corner-ness" wasn't really very well developed - he had only just switched positions. Given that he is younger that Floyd, seemingly performed as well or better than Floyd last year, and has had a year to actually play corner, he might be fringing towards "better than average."
On the other hand, Crazy Old Testament God really really hates him some Michigan DB's. Should Woolfolk or Avery go down to injury, we're left with JT Floyd - which, OK - then a gaping maw of 2010-level secondary horror unless Countess turns out to be the second coming of Freshman Donovan Warren. It was a theory, back when we were truly grasping at straws, that Corner was one spot on the field where a Freshman could step in and be servicable. That was before Cullen Christian (no longer with the program) stepped out on the field last year and performed about as well as Bambi's mom.
Bottom line: If Avery and Woolfolk stay healthy, there is actual (gasp) reason for optimism out of the corner position this year. If Avery turns out to be something approximating "good" then we'll be dancing in the streets. The dropoff, however, is precipitous after the one backup, JT Floyd.
The apparent winner of the great Running Back Derby of 2011 is Michael Shaw. Your depth chart appears to the left.
I've always kind of irrationally liked Shaw. I like that he's fast, and I think that generally when you put the ball in his hands, good things happen. I was rooting for more playing time for Shaw last year, and am happy that he's won the starting gig. This doesn't mean that he doesn't have some pressure from the rear. Fitzgerald Toussaint put some heat on Shaw for that starting gig, and will likely be the one who spells Shaw in the event that he can't go for a Chris Perry like 53 carries.
Shaw, a senior, was a 4-star out of Trotwood Madison in Ohio. His recruiting profile was impressive, but lacked the true top-tier offers you'd expect a can't-miss prospect to have. His headliners included Penn State, Clemson, and Nebraska to go along with a smattering of other BCS level schools. His strength will always be his straight-line speed. The most frustrating part of his game, aside from numerous injuries, has been his lack of vision and decisiveness. He dances. He flirts. He gets tackled. Running power, whereby there are established lanes that a running back will hit come hell or high water, might mitigate this slightly, but Shaw still needs to have the mental wherewithall to understand when he just needs to plow for 4 yards rather than dance at a 1% shot at a homerun only to be tackled for a loss of 2.
It's not as if backups don't exist here, but Borges has made it clear that he wants a number 1 guy, and right now Shaw is it. Borges:
It's not as if Borges hasn't been successful at "running back by committee" before. He's had Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown in the backfield at the same time, and they went undefeated. However, those were two NFL-locked backs. From the rumblings in Spring to Fall camp, one message has been consistent: none of the running backs have established themselves. This offense is going to need a go-to guy at tailback who can step up to the workload of being the every down back. Michael Shaw, if he works here, will provide continuity in the run game, take some pressure of Denard to carry the rushing load, and perhaps most importantly establish some trust in pass protection.
Bottom line: If running back becomes a carousel of different players it's likely because none of them are really that good, and if this transition is going to work it needs a good running back. Last year, our rushing yards were made by Denard's ability in a spread-out attack. This year, Denard's carries are going to be reduced. The differential in yards is going to have to be made up somewhere, and having a primary back who can do it will be a key factor in this year's success.