Part I: The Offensive Line, can be found here. Part II: The Running Backs, can be found here.
Three days till the 2009 Michigan Football season kicks off. If you're not bursting from the seams with excitement you should probably see a doctor. Or a mortician. It's almost kickoff time, baby. We'll get to the Western Michigan preview in good time. But for right now, we need to figure out what we've got on our side of the football. Now if you can't wait until the season starts to know how it's going to turn out, we got you covered there as well. Here are Beauford's, MnB Dave's, and SCM's 2009 Michigan Football season predictions. There's your quick fix if you need a baseline.
But this is the time of year when we break it all down. Position by position. So we're splitting things up in to a couple of separate posts to give you all the information you can handle on what to expect out of Michigan this season. The Depth Chart is out, so we'll break it down. Since we know what to expect out of the Offensive Line, and Running Backs (mostly, now that Brandon Minor is out with a plethora of injuries), lets move on to a position with a lot of expectations, and talent, but not a lot of experience.
2009 Michigan Football Season Preview, Part III: The Quarterback Position
To say Michigan's quarterback play was rancid last season wouldn't do justice to the word "rancid". Rancid as compared to Michigan's quarterback play would make rancid seem like your were in a field of blooming roses and strawberries. I've honestly never seen two young kids so overmatched by what they assigned to carry out in my life. It was like handing a six year old a pile of metal and telling him to build a nuclear reactor. Almost. You'd have to have the six year old running for his life from 300 lbs men while trying to build said reactor for the analogy to be apt.
Rodriguez spent the entirety of last year trying to run his spread offense with two kids, while upstanding, nice young men, were totally and completely ill suited for the task. This didn't stop me from predicted they'd be fine, by the way. Especially Steven Threet. Sigh....
Steven Threet is a *4 QB (in both services) with an Elite 11 camp pedigree. He's a bright guy, with a cannon for an arm. Hell, Shaun King excelled in Rodriguez system so there's no reason Threet can't.
However, Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan or Justin Feagin all ran the Spread in high school, so each of them has some knowledge of what the system entails and their better suited to run whatever version of the Spread Rodriguez installs than anyone who’s taken the snaps at Michigan for the last decade. So while the signal caller may not be Rodriguez prototypical player, whomever he names the starter will be more than capable for running the offense.
Oh God. Make it stop!
Obviously, there is peril in this. Reality loves nothing more than overblown expectations and denial. Hopes were made to be crushed, hearts made to be broken. Some might say such bravado is reminiscent of Icarus, overcome by his dreams and thoughts to the extent he failed to heed to the reality of the warming Sun....
I say if Icarus used a stronger glue, he'd still be flying.
Alright... (sniff... sob....)... I'm back.
(2009 Michigan Quarterback Preview after the Jump!)
I was horribly, horribly wrong about Threet's abilities. I was even more wrong about Sheridan's, if that's possible. I thought Nick could run. No. No, he can't. He runs like wood. You (desk bound, flabby you) have a better chance of escaping from a hungry bear than Sheridan had escaping the rush or getting to the line of scrimmage on a QB keeper. The numbers were horrific. Last year Michigan quarterbacks combined to go an abysmal 165/338 for 1718 yards, 11TD/12INT and a miserable combined QB rating of 95.2.
So, yes. It was as bad as you remember. Now maybe you're better at repressing memories than I am and have convinced yourself you were at Disney World all last season, but I can't get over how bad it really was. My Domer wife asking me, "Are these two bozos really your best options at quarterback?" My responding "yes" followed by her laughing at me and pointing to every barn we passed on the way back from South Bend and asking whether Threet or Sheridan could hit the side of it. Gentlemen. You have earned a place in my personal hell for that car ride. Well, Steven Threet is gone, transferring (again) to Arizona State. Justin Feagin is gone to who knows where, but sadly and most likely, on his way to jail. That leaves us with two freshman. A senior backup with mad flow. And Sheridan.
/tears welling in eyes... looking down... grabbing podium..../
Too soon for that joke? Anyway, hope springs eternal. So now that we've had our hearts ripped out it's time to rebuild. We can do it. We have the technology.
Yes. That is plural. As of today, Rich Rodriguez still maintains that we're going to see all three quarterbacks against Western Michigan. He just hasn't said how much of each and how often he's going to make a switch. The three options are Senior Nick Sheridan, and True Freshmen Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. You know about Sheridan. If not. Don't ask. Dammit. I told you not to ask. Fine.
Yes, that did just happen. via Mlive.com
Sheridan was and is a non-rated recruit out of high school who blew his knee out his senior year. As a result, any recruiting buzz disappeared and Sheridan walked-on to Lloyd Carr's program. It wasn't until everyone and their mother pulled up stakes following Lloyd's departure and Michigan was left with two scholarship QBs (Threet and David Cone), that Sheridan was brought out of the practice squad pads and put in as a scholarship QB. The result of which is captioned above. I will say that Sheridan looks very, very different this year. He A LOT stronger. His passes in practice have more zip. He seems confident. Not like the lost little puppy we saw last year. But he's still Nick Sheridan. As Rodriguez says, he's the "safe" starter. And if by "safe" you mean "not a freshman" or "player most likely to fan the fan base scream at throw things if he's under center." Sorry folks. He's a good kid. But unless he's undergone surgery and had Tom Brady surgically placed under his skin, I just can't see him as a legitimate D1 quarterback. But I'd love to be wrong on that.
The player with the second most experience (that will actually play) is Tate Forcier. Forcier was in for Spring Practice and started the Spring Game. Anyone who's followed the site or Michigan football knows all about the show he put on. I've covered Forcier in depth before, so I'll try not to rehash it too much. Forcier comes from a family of quarterbacks. His oldest brother Jason played at Michigan and Stanford. His younger-older brother was at UCLA before transferring, not so subtly. Tate, well, he's the culmination of all that breeding and labwork in the Forcier family labs. And, dammit, he showed it as a starter in High School. Last year Forcier's numbers are a shiny beacon of hope for this year. 208/326 for 3424 yards, 23/15 TD/INT ratio, 783 yards rushing on 92 attempts, and 12 rushing TDs.
Forcier is a solid, young QB. He throws an excellent deep ball. He's got great scrambling ability and actually possesses a "feel" for the pocket. He's a good improviser. He throws really well on the run (a staple of the Rodriguez system). He's a natural leader. Several TV commentators have said, he has "it" when they talk about his presence. A certain j'ne sais quoi, that makes him seem like the quarterback of the future at Michigan. Tate's been in the weight room all summer with Barwis. He's learned the playbook. He's been throwing and running just like what Rodriguez would want. He played every snap with the Spring #1 offense! With all this hype why isn't he the unquestioned starter?
Because of this guy.
Denard Robinson: Lightning bolt. Hands down the fastest player on Michigan's roster. There was talk about a show down between Troy Woolfolk and Robinson for fastest player on the team, but that talk seems to have died down when Robinson started busting off touchdown runs of 58, 68 and 72 yards in practice. My man's got speed. You can't teach speed. You're just blessed with it. The knock on Robinson, or at least the expectation was that he couldn't throw particularly well. His high school passing numbers were really suspect and his rushing number completely overshadowed anything he did throwing the ball. Come on. The kid ran a 100 meter race in 10.3 seconds. How can you not be excited about this and completely ignore his ability to throw the ball? Woo!
Well, it turns out the kid can throw the ball. Pretty well actually. During the close of practice a week or two ago he hit Mathews in stride for a 40+ touchdown pass. Reports out of camp say he's got the short passing game down pat and is advancing on the intermediate stuff quite nicely. He apparently throws well on the run. And he's only been practicing for real, for less than a month! Gerry DiNardo on the Big Ten Network put it best, (paraphrasing) "the fact that we're discussing whether Forcier or Robinson should start, especially when Forcier's been there longer, should tell you something."
Yeah, something wonderful. Michigan's got two kids who can and should start. While MGoBlog believes Tate Forcier is going to end up your eventual starting QB, I'm not so sure anymore. While going into camp I really believed that Forcier would grab hold of the starting job, a lot of that was based on my prior belief that Robinson was a non-arm. What's readily apparent is that by working with Coach Rod Smith, Robinson's really progressed quite nicely. And Robinson has something that Forcier doesn't have as much of, speed and elusiveness. Robinson is as close to Pat White as we've got right now. Quirky developing throwing mechanics, but space warping speed that actually sees him gain a ton and a half as he approaches light speed. That's right. I just dropped science on your ass.
Honestly, you can't go wrong with either Forcier or Robinson at this point. They're still freshmen. They're still learning. They're both going to make horrid mistakes. But they're also going to get better. My money has Forcier starting the Western game and being the better passer. Robinson rips off some huge runs against the depleted Broncos Defense and nothing is solved. What it'll come down to is Tate and Denard battling it out against Notre Dame. Against the Tenuta Blitz, I'm betting Robinson's elusiveness wins him the second half start against ND. You've got to be able to make the first guy miss in this offense. Based on what I've heard, Robinson's just a little better at that than Tate, and when they miss it's all over.
This is a good problem to have, people. After last year's lying to myself about the position and trying to ignore just how bad it was going to be, I'm not filled with the same dread. These two are light years ahead of where Michigan was at the end of last year. They have a decent returning line, lots of talent in the backfield, and a couple of players to throw to. Either one of these kids, by themselves, would be our opening day starter by a mile. Because they're both here, we get the benefit of their best every day in practice because they both want to start.
My prediction must be caveated on the assumption that Robinson can throw. What I've seem on video and the stuff I've gotten through sources says he can. But if Robinson's arm isn't as reputed, then it's Forcier all the way. Howeva, if Robinson can throw, I think Tate starts against Western Michigan but that it's the Denard Robinson show from thereon with Tate playing consistently as the second guy in the rest of the season. We'll see. But either way, it'll be better than last year. My guess? Combined the two go for 2,300 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, 15/9 TD/INT, 6 Rushing TDs. It's optimistic but reasonable at the same time. maybe the passing yards are lower. Maybe there are more rushing yards. But we're back to being excited about the quarterback position.