With Football Practice starting up, there are going to be all kinds of questions about Michigan in the papers and on the 'net. Both the Free Press and the Detroit News are running "Questions AAbound" pieces on the 2009 edition of Michigan football before the first fall practice whistle is blown. The questions are obvious. So much so that we may very well forget that there are also a lot of critical positions and facts that are easily ignored amongst the angst of the pending season.
So, to kick off Fall Pratice on the right foot, here are:
10 Things We Already Know About the 2009 Michigan Football Team
1. The Offensive Line is Deep - Last year Michigan had one returning starter with any starting experience. This year the Wolverines return seven players with starting experience on the offensive line. It's no longer unproven sophomores, juniors and freshmen. Guys that'd never seen the field and weren't supposed to in 2008. No, now the line is veteran, experienced, and (frankly) huge. David Molk (12 straight starts at center) anchors this years line with third year starter Steve Schilling and David Moosman (19 career starts) on either side of him. On the edges, Mark Ortmann and Mark Huyge line up at left and right tackle, respectively. After them are Tim MacAvoy (ten career starts at Guard), Perry Dorrestein (four career starts at Tackle), and a horde of talented players that will challenge even the established starters for their jobs. Look for Patrick Omameh to challenge for a guard or tackle slot, same with Rocky Khoury. Other than tailback, this is the deepest position on the team.
2. Brandon Minor is the No. 1. Option at Tailback - At this time last year, Brandon Minor had a wrist injury to his right hand that non one knew about. It was so bad he was having trouble writing his name, let alone grasping a football with it. Even so, Minor was Michigan's most dangerous offensive weapon in 2008. Accoutning for 11 touchdowns and the bulk of Michigan's late season offense, Minor is one of college football's highest rated returning starters according to Football Outsiders POE ratings. He got there on one arm. This year, Minor is completely healthy heading into spring camp and the unquestioned leader in the Michigan backfield. With the health of Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw, and stable of freshman head turners and burners behind him, Minor will finally have the support necessary to have a break out year. Most importantly, he's got the support of his coach and teammates. It's going to be a big year for Brandon.
3. Michigan is loaded at Wide Receiver - Good lord. Look at the slot: Odoms, Robinson, Roundtree, Jones, Gallon. Look at the wings: Matthews, Stonum, Hemingway, Stokes. Throw in Kevin Kroger and, damn son, you've got some hands to throw to.
4. There will be two quarterbacks in camp who actually fit Rodriguez' system - A lot has been made of Tate Forcier's arrival on campus and his stellar performance in the Spring Game. But Tate's not alone under center. The forgotten man in the quarterback equation remains Denard Robinson. Sure Tate's early arrival gave him a leg up, but Denard's got a little sumpin sumpin that Tate doesn't have. Speed. Robinson in a Saturn V to Tate's F-22. Both bring the ability to change a game with their feet and their vision. Both are "spread" quarterbacks. Tate is the better passer. Robinson the better runner. But they are both better fits for Rodriguez system from the first whistle of 2009 fall practice than either Threet or Sheridan were at the final whistle of the Ohio State game.
5. Everyone is actually healthy - When was the last time Michigan could say that? Answer? 1997.
(more after the jump....)
6. 3-4, 4-3, Nickle, whatever... Brandon Graham is going to get to the quarterback - You don't rack up 20 TFL on one of the nation's worst defenses without being a special player. Graham racked up these numbers despite opposing tackles having oddles of help from Tight Ends and Running Backs. This season Graham may actually benefit from the switch to the 3-4, because opposing defenses won't just be able to scheme solely against him. They'll have to account for the hybird/deathbacker in Stevie Brown, as well as Unicron, Jr. (Mike Martin, consumer of worlds). Add in another year of Barwis' system and a better position coach in Greg Robinson, and Graham is poised for a monster year. Odds are 3:1 he breaks someone in half by midseason.
7. The Secondary will be stronger - Addition by substraction. Last year's secondard was an absolute mess despite two veterans at safety in Brown and Harrison. It was by far the worst secondary Michigan's seen in half a century. Morgan Trent, despite being a nice kid, wasn't a great or even a good cornerback. Brown and Harrison, even with their strengths, were lousy safeties. Donovan Warren was gimpy the entire year with a bad ankle. This season, Michigan plugs in Mike Williams and Vlad Emilien at safety (both natural safeties), and a healthy Donovan Warren and 5* sophomore corner Boubacar Cissoko. Two five star corners with starting experience. Two four star safeties who know what they're doing. Sure there are going to be mistakes, but based on everything I've heard and read, no where near as much as 2008.
8. Three of Michigan's four top tacklers from 2008 return, and they're all linebackers - For the first time in a long, long time, Linebacker seems to be a position of strength for Michigan. Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton and Stevie Brown were 1, 2, and 4 last year in tackles. All three will man the middle of the field for the Wolverine defense. Their speed and experience will pay dividends for Michigan this year.
9. A lot more of the playbook will be used this year - As much as we'd like to blame the limited playbook Michigan used last year on Threet/Sheridan's shortcomings, the reality is the entire offense was learning it's first real offensive system last year. Even if Threet or Sheridan had the play book down pat, those plays coould only be used if the entire offense could execute those plays as well. The result was an offense limited by 11 players, rather than just one. This year, with 10 starters back, the Michigan offense is light years ahead of where it was at this point in 2008. I think it's a fair assumption to state that Michigan offense, minus the quarterbacks, can successfully and routinely execute 60% of Rodriguez' play book. Additionally, rodriguez and staff don't have to waste time this fall teaching the basics to the nuts and bolts personnel, they can actually focus on execution and addition. As Forcier and Robinson start to grasp the offense, you're going to see a whole other side to the system's capabilities.
10. A lot of weird news is going to surface over the next two weeks - Well. It's already started. Whether it's an alleged team meeting that never happened or the WTF news of Feagin's dismissal, you're going to get some surprising things in the paper. You're also going to get a lot of rumor mongering on the boards because everyone is back in school. You'll see Facebook posts of players hanging out. Hear about parties gone bad. Injuries that never happened. Player fights that may or may not have occurred. It's just what happens. So when this stuff pops up on your RSS or in your inbox, take a deep breath and wait a day for confirmation or debunkment before going insane.