It's go time people. There are just four days until kickoff. Frankly, those days can't end quick enough. After three weeks of practice. Months of tedium. Oh, and a two-day stretch of mind blowing incompetence from the Free Press editorial staff. Football is just about here. That means it's time to get a better handle on how the Michigan Football team looks heading into the 2009 season. In Spring practice we thought we had all the answers. After a week of Fall Practice, all those answers went out the window. So what we're left with is a pile o' questions about who is going to start where and whether talented player A will overtake talented played B for position X.
That's what we're here for. Over the next few days leading up to kick off, Maize n Brew will be providing you with some answers to your questions about the team, the season, and what to expect. We'll try to keep it grounded, but we're not guaranteeing anything. We are fans (compete and total homers), after all. If you can't wait for the season to get here and want answers on how it'll play out, we've already previewed the season in depth. Wins and losses too! Take a look, here are Beauford's, MnB Dave's, and SCM's season predictions. There's your quick fix if you need a baseline.
But this is going to be a little more indepth. That's why I'm splitting things up in to a couple of separate posts. The unit we know the most about at this point is the offense, so lets start there. The Depth Chart is out, so we'll break it down.
2009 Michigan Football Season Preview: The Offensive Line
The linemen do the dirty work, so they get top billing. They also get top billing because this unit, more than any other, will determine the fate of Michigan's season. Don't believe me? Ask yourself how much better Michigan's season would've turned out had Threet/Sheridan not been running for their lives and had time to throw? What about the run game? You saw the improvement as the line improved. For this offense to work, the linemen are the linchpin of the system. They have to be mobile, quick, and able to get to the second level of blockers; something they were rarely able to do last year.
This year Michigan returns 4 starters and 7 players with starting experience. From Left to Right, the line is as follows: Mark Ortmann (LT), Steve Schilling (LG), David Molk (C), David Moosman (RG), Mark Huyge (RT). Your primary backups will be Perry Dorrestein (LT), Ricky Barnum (LG), Rocko Khoury (C), John Ferrara (RG), and Patrick Omameh (RT).
While I'm confident in the Guards and Center (David Molk is a badass), I'm still a little concerned on the edges. Sure I think Huyge and Ortmann will be more than serviceable at Right and Left Tackle. But I don't think they're going to be dominant. Reports out of camp were that Brandon Graham was tearing through the tackles on a semi regular basis. Your reaction is probably "so what, it's Brandon Graham," but I think there's a little more to it. The Big Ten is absolutely loaded with excellent Defensive Ends this year. Top to bottom you could probably rank the ten best DE's in any order and make a legitimate argument for it. Want proof? Even Indiana has a pair of DE's that would start tomorrow at Penn State. Trevor Anderson is back at MSU. Thaddeus Gibson at OSU. Ryan Kerrigan at Purdue. And the list goes on. Wanna know what's weird, the tackles dodge a bullet because Correy Wootton and Northwestern aren't on the schedule. Ever thought you'd say that? Ortmann is a good Tackle, but he can get caught up in his own feet from time to time. Huyge moves well, but we only have limited video to go on. Honestly we're throwing darts with a partial blindfold on here because our info is so limited. Ortmann played last year with a series of injuries including a shoulder injury of some kind that meant he could barely move on of his arms. Huyge's ankle injury caused him to miss the entire season. When you combine uncertainty at the position with the depth of talent at the End position in the Big Ten this year, even optimistic fans have to admit the Tackles may be better than they were last year but could still have a rough year despite it.
The Back Ups
This is the biggest difference between this year and last. Depth. If someone goes down, we've got two guys behind him that are ready to go. Last year you were holding your breath because no one had played. If an unknown starter went down, you plugged in another young, unknown to get mauled. Notsomcuh this year. The line took its lumps last year, but in the process Michigan was still able to redshirt a number of talented players. A year later, they're much larger, much stronger, and have a full year of practice under their belt in Rodriguez' system. With Ortmann and Moosman departing after this season, they're ability to step in from time to time will critical not just to Michigan's success this year, but in 2010 as well.
At this point you're probably aware of who Perry Dorrestein and John Ferrera are. But just in case here's a quick catch up. Dorrestein was a middling recruit on the offensive line who actually walked on to the team sans scholarship. Ferrara was a low mid Defensive Tackle recruit who was moved to offensive line last year when the Coaches went "Holy hell, there's no one on the Offensive Line!" They are your primary backups at Left Tackle and Right Guard. Now before you go jumping out a window, keep this in mind, Ferrara started five games at Left Guard last year before Schilling moved inside. For a guy that played guard for all of fifteen minutes before the season started, he was actually pretty good. His experience and size (6'4" 280) make him a more than capable backup and fill in starter if need be. Dorrestein I'm not as high on, but the fact remains he started in four games at Tackle last year and acquitted himself well. He's not going to be a starter unless injuries require it, but he's a capable backup.
The rest of the backups you should be excited about too. Patrick Omameh is apparently going to be an absolute beast at right tackle. The very definition of a sleeper, Omameh was a lightly regarded prospect who everyone said had the "potential" and "body" to be something special. Just no one wanted to expend a scholarship in the Big Ten for the kid to develop. Michigan did. Now they get to reap the benefits as Omameh made a massive push to overtake Huyge for the RT slot. Not bad for a redshirt frosh. Ricky Barnum was one of the snake oil pitches that worked two years ago, as Rodriguez slithered Barnum out from under Urban Meyer. Barnum was the 5th rated center in his class and seems to have emerged as one of Michigan's soon to be stars on the OLine. He's another kid who made a push for playing time but ran into having Schilling ahead of him. Then there's Traverse City's own, Rocko Khoury. The big redshirt freshman likely won't see a lot of time at center with David Molk in front of him, but you should be glad to have him back there. The 6'6" 280 pound kid has a nice little mean streak and had enough of an off season of Mark Ortmann to throw some praise his way at Big Ten Media Days. One other guy to watch for in the back-up category is true freshman Quinton Washington. Washington shocked a lot of the older members of the team with his natural strength. Steve Schilling noticed it immediately when the freshman was standing up defenders on the first day of pads even though he'd only been in camp Barwis for a couple of weeks. I can't wait to see what happens to Washington after a year in the gym.
One guy I haven't mentioned is Tim McAvoy. Unfortunately, McAvoy suffered a knee injury in practice and Rodriguez indicated he be out for a couple of weeks. It's really too bad. McAvoy had a legitimate shot at playing time this year, but it's likely his senior season will mostly be spent in the trainers room and on the bench. At this point though, everyone else seems mostly healthy.
With the exception of tailback, the Offensive Line is easily the deepest, most experienced position Michigan has this year. The starting five are talented and mobile. The backups are experienced or brimming with talent and strength. As an added bonus, Michigan's ability to
tort trot three quarterbacks onto the field who can run or roll out of the pocket should greatly increase the line's effectiveness because it will prevent teams from pinning their ears back and bumrushing the quarterback like they did last year.
The strength on the line will clearly be it's interior. I suspect you'll see multiple plays this fall where the center or one of the guards is used to maul a linebacker or two. When you've got the strength and speed of the interior line, you can do those sorts of things. The edges won't be quite at the level of the intereior, but it should still be measurably better than last year. Ortmann and Huyge have without a doubt learned a substantial amount going face to face with Graham all summer long. I think Ortman should have a decent year, but he's not going to remind anyone of Jake Long. He'll be a good tackle, to expect anything more at this point is unfair and unwarranted. On the other side of the line I am very excited to see Huyge in game action. I can't really tell you why. Rumors, hype, TV, and spring film all make me think he's actually going to be pretty good. It's a total hunch, so take it FWIW.
One of the biggest differences you'll see this year the that you'll see all five linemen on the same page. For the majority of the 2008 season the Michigan Offensive Line was a mess in terms of execution. Players were blocking the wrong guy, they were running aimlessly after they released to the second level, they were telegraphing the snap counts. You're not going to see that this season. These guys actually know where they're supposed to go, who they're supposed to block, and how the plays work. The result will be our running backs and quarterbacks having room to run and not having to escape their first tackler five yards behind the LoS. In the passing game, we'll have to see. I think the group will execute much better than they did last year. But until we see Tate, or Denard or Nick throw the ball, I don't know how it'll turn out. What I do know is that they'll have a lot more time than last year.
Overall, this should be one of the most improved units in the conference, let alone the team. Play on playas.