One day 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, Running Backs (mostly, now that Brandon Minor is out with a plethora of injuries), and Quarterback (Tate Forcier will start), we're left with one group to discuss.
2009 Michigan Football Season Preview, Part IV: The Receivers
If you're looking to talk about Michigan's receivers last year, it's going to be hard to find a lot of things to discuss. A year after fielding arguably the best set of receivers on the field Michigan has ever had, the Wolverine's fielded arguably their worst group ever. There was almost no production from the receivers last year. Bad quarterback play, new system, loads of injuries, loads of freshmen, and the drops, oh god, the drops. This was not a good unit by any standard and it got worse when the inadequacy at quarterback became so apparent that if you found a safety deep it was because he'd fallen asleep on the previous play. How Michigan amassed 11 touchdowns through the air is a complete mystery to me. There was the Utah touchdown bomb to Hemingway. Threet's over the middle lob to Koger against Wisconsin. Mathew's circus catch against Illinois, and Minor's "god that was cool but that was in no way a real touchdown grab." There are your highlights.
Negativity aside, it's not like this isn't a talented group. It's an insanely talented group. And it was yooooooung last year. Really young. Time to strike of the meme of the off-season: "It's year two, they're older, more experienced. They're gonna RAWK!" Well, they've certainly got the opportunity this year with a new QB who can throw on the run and a line that'll give said new QB some time to throw. If all goes well, this team should double it's production from last year.
The unquestioned leader, guru, and best receiver at Michigan is Senior Greg Mathews. Mathews isn't a burner. Mathews isn't that tall (but compared to Odoms he's a giant). But he's got hands, hands, hands, brains, and outstanding body control. No one on this offense knows the system better than Mathews does. When I interviewed his roommate, Stevie Brown, he told me that everyone on the offense young and old was calling him on assignments, routes and blocks. Mathews is everything you want in a receiver, with the unfortunate exception of speed. Greg's awesome, he's just not fast. There have been numerous comparisons to Jason Avant. I wish I said I could agree, but I don't. Avant was out of this world talented as a receiver, who could make the circus catch look easy. Just because Mathews isn't that fast doesn't make them apt analogies. I'm still waiting for that big game out of Mathews. The reason he hasn't had it is through no fault of his own, but until I see him change a game the way Avant did, I'm still pegging him as best suited to be a number two-three type guy who is being counted on to be a number one receiver. I think Mathews should hit fifty-five catches this season, doubling his yardage, while reaching four or five touchdowns.
On the opposite side of the formation will be Junior Hemingway. You remember him as the "OMG! Did he Desmond that catch!1?!1!!" receiver against Utah who promptly injured everything in his body and caught a case of Mono that I hope came from a really hot girl because it cost him the 2008 season. Hey. That's the risk in college. If she's hot, you can say "Yeah, but you would've" to anyone giving you crap. If fugly? Dude. If that's the case, the penalty suits the crime. Anyway... Hemingway's shown flashes of being the sickeningly awesome deep threat that Michigan so desperately needs. He's a decent route runner, but seems to excel getting off the line and into a race with an airborne football. Personally, I'm really excited about this kid. He's got that extra gear the way Manningham did. Use a stop watch? meh. Let him run in pads? Hellz yeah. That said, it's really hard to project how he's going to perform after missing so much time and having seen so little of him. Honestly, if he chips in 400 yards and pulls in five touchdowns, I'd be pretty happy. But he's certainly got the potential to do a lot more.
More on the receiving corps after the jump...
Moving inside we get to
midget slot receiver and tight end. Michigan's leading receiver last year was slot receiver, Martavious Odoms, with 49 catches and 443 yards. Unfortunately, Odoms didn't find the endzone until the Purdue game - and that was on a punt return. Odoms performance elicited strong reactions from just about everyone who watched him. He is obviously an extremely talented football player. He just has problems holding onto the ball. A lot of problems holding onto the ball. As a receiver, I was never particularly taken with the offense's use of Odoms as a primary receiver. He's just too small. Linebackers and safeties engulfed him when he caught the football in the middle of the field. But when he had the ball glued to his hands, he was a lot of fun to watch. Odoms' strengths appear to be those specifically suited to a slot guy. He's good in the short passing game. He's too fast for a Linebacker in one-on-one coverage. He can flare out for a screen. But he wasn't particularly good gauging the ball in the air on the deep throw. I'm willing to attribute a lot of that to a total lack of chemistry with either Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan. There are a pile of talented slot receivers behind him, so Odoms should have a great year. He'll have to in order to keep his job.
At Tight End, star of the Wisconsin game, sophomore Kevin Koger will start. At 6'4" 250, Koger another prototypical tight end in a system that's not so tight end friendly. Howeva, Koger has wheels. Really good ones for a big man. As a result Rodriguez is going to find a way to get him the ball more often. As an added bonus, his being above 6 feet tall should help Tate/Denard see him when they get in trouble. Koger only caught 6 passes last year, so it's tough to gauge him as well. But when you consider he was a four star recruit with a good offer sheet, you can expect good things from him, especially when you consider he seems to be putting the work to be a better player. Maybe 20 catches this year a 2 or 3 TDs.
On the outside, Michigan has sophomore Darryl Stonum and freshman Je'Ron Stokes waiting to be unleashed. Of the two, Stonum is the more polished guy simply because he's got a year on the freshman. Stonum's another guy with that extra gear in pads that makes football nerds all tingly. Both Stevie Brown and Mark Ortmann praised the work Stonum put in over the winter and spring, and indicated that Stonum was starting to come into his own. Unfortunately, Stonum reported had a bout of the dropsies and hasn't quite done enough to hit the field as a starter yet. Like Stonum, Stokes is another high four star receiver who is in need of some polishing. At this point I don't have a lot to go on with Stokes other than his recruiting hype. That said, I have to imagine we'll see more of him as a freshman than we're going to see of LaTerryal Savoy or James Rogers.
Savoy and Rogers are upperclassmen who simply haven't panned out. Savoy pulled in a sprig practice touchdown, but that probably sums up his career as a Wolverine. Practice game hero. Savoy does have some game experience and has hauled in a few catches, but he's not a viable receiver in this offense, or at least he's never shown himself to be one. Savoy will see some time by virtue of being a senior with more experience in the system, but if he's in the game late, either he's turned into an incredible receiver over night, or we're screwed. For Rogers, replace "Savoy" with "Rogers" in the preceding four sentences.
At slot, Michigan's cup runneth over with small, darty, fast dudes. The first option on that list is currently former Michigan Basketball Point Guard, Kelvin Grady. At 5'10", Grady is easily the tallest of the slot receivers and frankly probably one of the best. Grady killed his football recruting hype by publicly declaring he wanted to play basketball exclusively before his junior year. The football services therein turned off. It's a shame too. Grady had some "dear holy god" type runs for East Grand Rapids as a junior and senior. He generated plenty of practice buzz by making some sick catches and showing everyone that three years away from football, all while playing D1 basketball, has positive effects on the body. Think about it. Three years without getting the crap knocked out of you but still running, cutting, getting banged around some, and drilling your body into peak physical shape without a 317 lbs dude diving at your spine and/or knees. So Grady walks onto the field healthy, with excellent peripheral vision, and faster than he would've been as a freshman. Not bad. I don't think Grady will over take Odoms for the starting slot, but the fact we can discuss it tells you just how talented a football player Grady is after a month of practice. Grady's probably the best story I've heard of, football wise, in a long time. So naturally, I'm really pulling for him to succeed. Why else would I devote more space to him than a couple of the starters?
Immediately after Grady, if not before, is Roy Roundtree. A slot receiver who is curiously between six feet and six-three, and just learning how to see. Apparently, Roundtree's eyesight was horrid and he was somehow making catches without being able to really see the ball clearly. How the hell does that happen? Now he's got contacts and is, according to Stevie Brown, was of the fastest, quickest players on the team. At 6'3" with speed and quickness I've gotta imagine he'll eventually get split out wide, but he's listed at slot so that's where we'll keep him. Behind Roundtree is Terrance Robinson. Robinson was a mid-high recruit whose size limited his recruitment. There's been little buzz about him at camp. He's there, he's had a year in the system, but until he starts catching the ball consistently enough to find his way onto the playing field, I really don't know what to tell you about him.
Finally, at the Tight End position, Martell Webb will back up Kevin Koger. Webb had a good freshman season but didn't see much time last year. Like Koger, Webb was a highly rated recruit who may have had a little too much culture shock from Barwis/Rodriguez arrival. As a result, he saw Koger take the starting job from him. This year, Webb had a fairly good camp and should be able to step in immediately without any drop off in production at the TE position.
The Take Away
Though it might not sound like it from the snarky comments above, I do like this group. I'm just not in love with it. There isn't the presence of a bona-fide No.1 receiver right now. Our lead pass catcher is a slot guy I can fit in my pocket and our best deep threat is a sneeze away from injuring himself again. But there is a lot of speed on the outside. Michigan does have a guaranteed catch in Mathews. And there's actually going to be a quarterback who can throw the ball to them this year.
A lot of the negatives I saw last year can probably be attributed to the horrid play under center, but there is plenty of room for improvement here. Most critically, holding onto the ball. Drops were an issue last year just as much as fumbles were. I think a year of practice will help that, but i also think a year of playing will ease a lot of other maladies as well. No more stopping just short of the first down marker on a pattern. No more juking around and losing six yards instead of falling forward and gaining two. Youth and inexperience are usually cured by the passage time.
Well, it's a year later, so we'll find out shortly. I figure this group should be good for 14-16 touchdowns and just under 2,000 yards receiving. That's a pretty optimistic view. If they crack 1,700 yards and 12-14 touchdowns, I'd still be fairly happy.