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5 Reasons Michigan Football's Switch To A Pro Style Offense Will Work

For all the infighting, bitching and complaining about the Process, Transition, and what will  or may happen, every Michigan fan wants the same thing. We want Michigan to win. Yesterday I put up a lengthy post about why people's fears about the switch were overblown. In doing so I took the opportunity to point out that last season's offense was not as good as we want to believe (though perhaps that was the wrong track). We received a lot of great comments on that piece, some agreeing and some disagreeing. But there was a portion of one of the comments that stuck with me.

Why aren't we talking about why the new scheme will work?

We can point to statistics of all manner and go back and forth about the merits of each particular offense, but it doesn't really solve anything or get anyone excited. It's just a bunch of fans arguing over the past. The thing we should be doing is being positive and finding reasons to be positive about the coming season. The two big questions on every Michigan fan's mind are: "Will the pro-set work?" and "How will it work?" In an effort to be a good citizen of the blogosphere, we're going to do our best to give you reasons for hope. Enough complaining about the past, we're moving into the future. And we want you to join us (there are flying cars, robot butlers, and everything!).

Therefore, here are....

Five Reasons The Pro Set Will Work At Michigan

1. The Offensive Line - This is the biggest reason to feel optimistic that Al Borges' shift will work. Michigan is returning an awesome offensive line. The Wolverines return four starters, including potential all Big Ten LT Taylor Lewan (294), the guy who should be All Big Ten (if not All American) C David Molk (288), burgeoning bad ass RG Patrick Omameh (299), and RT Mark Huyge (306). Joining them on the line will be Michael Schofield (293 [who could replace Huyge at tackle]), Ricky Barnum (286 [at guard]) and/or Elliott Mealer (313). Not only is this a lot of beef that will keep Denard Robinsonupright, it's an experienced group that knows how to work together. The nice thing about the shift to the pro-set is that Michigan has a history of running a zone blocking scheme under Rodriguez and Hoke has coached the inside zone blocking scheme in the past. To borrow from Steve Sharik:

Inside zone is still zone blocking, but it's not about reaching the outside shoulder. It's basically the playside tackle base blocking the DE while the rest of the OL works combo blocks. The objective is to get vertical push on the DL, then come off to LBs working downhill--let them come to you. The RB is a downhill runner and he gets one cut into the hole. The hole isn't pre-determined, but the cut into that hole happens (in theory) at the LOS or on the defense's side of it. In outside zone, that decision (or cut) happens in the offensive backfield.

It's not the exact same set, but it's similar and I'm hopeful that this veteran group can digest it. Another thing to keep in mind is that the athleticism of guys like Lewan and Omamehwon't be "wasted" because power and zone schemes both require linemen to flow upfield and engage past the line on scrimmage. If you get excited about Omameh going upfield and smashing a DB, just think how much fun it's going to be when he pulls as lead blocker and levels some dumbass linebacker that gets in his way. Michigan has the TREMENDOUS benefit of returning almost all of it's starters on the offensive line and has some more than capable backups at every position. These guys are veteran enough, big enough, and smart enough to pave the way for Denard and the tailbacks no matter what scheme they're running.

2. Michigan's Running Backs Are Better Suited For The Pro Set - Think about Michigan's tailbacks. Really think about them. The only two running backs that legitimately fit in the spread offense were Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Both had injury issues and only Smith showed any consistency in the spread offense. Moving down the list you've got Michael Shaw who has never truly fit in the spread offense because his cutting and decision making in that offense were less than stellar. Then there's Michael Cox, a Carr recruit who we see every spring lighting people up but never made it onto the field for any appreciable amount of time for all manner of rumored reasons. Then there's the ultimate pro-set back in Stephen Hopkins, whose bulldozer frame and surprising balance and speed are better suited for straight ahead running than cutting and slicing. Of the incoming recruits Thomas Rawls is a cement truck along the lines of a Kevin Grady, and will probably end up at fullback either way. Only Justice Hayes really seems to fit the mold of a "spread" running back, but when you're as fast as he is, you'll fit in any system.

Michigan is stocked with big, fast backs that aren't all that good at dancing and cutting behind the offensive line. The Wolverines are also stocked with small, quick, breakable backs that don't have the durability or speed to be feature backs in either offense but provide a great change of pace and solid hands out of the back field. The move to the pro set will cut down on the decision making the backs have to do immediately after the snap and allow them to simplify their games. A perfect example of this is Mike Cox's run during spring practice's scrimmage last Saturday(@ :27). It's a quick hit, one cut running play and it's effective. As you can see it's also a "no think" kind of play that allows the players to simply react and run. I think this will have a TREMENDOUS positive impact on their production and allow them to showcase their speed. If you listen to Stephen Hopkins, he loves it.

More after the jump....

3. A More Potent Denard - I know you're thinking "wait... whut?" when I say this, but it's true, it's just going to be a little different. It's no secret that Denard wore down as the season went on last year. The reason for this is pretty obvious, Denard carried the ball 256 times last season. 256. That's more than any RUNNING BACK since Mike Hartwas on campus. The end result was a banged up Robinson by season's end and defenses keying on him to be the primary ball carrier. It'shard to be dynamic late in the season when you're dinged and the focal point of everyone's defensive schemes.

Moving forward, the switch to the pro set should not only keep him healthier but it will make the times when he actually runs the ball far more effective. Again, I know you're saying "WHUT!?", so bare withme. On the health front, the logic is fairly obvious. In 2010 Robinson absorbed (conservatively) 200+ hits on rushing plays. That adds up.  Denard got beaten up pretty badly last season and in many cases Michigan was lucky he didn't get hurt worse. When your season is so dependent upon a single player like Michigan was last year, it makes it even more vital to keep him healthy. Reduding his exposure to the constant pounding he took will keep him fresher and healthier as the season wears on.

Next, consider the defensive schemes that he faced and how he was utilized. In terms of raw numbers, Robinson was nearly triple Vincent Smith's carries and yardage (256 to 135 and 1702 to 601). This is important because Smith was second on the team in both those categories as a running back. Even if you combine Smith, Shaw and Hopkins' carries, Robinson still had more carries and almost double their yards. He was obviously option A and B in the offense. The result was that everyone knew he was keeping the ball on running plays. Defenses keyed on him in the running game and did everything they could to lay a licking on him. And it worked.

By bringing the focus back on the running backs (in a system they should thrive in, see above), it will drop Denard's carries down into the low hundred range and allow him to remain fresh(er) and healthier. There's also the aspect of Denard's mobility in a pocket passing system. Consider that this offense will allow for "scrambling Denard" more so than last season's. How many times did you yell into your TV "RUN DAMN YOU RUN!" when the passing play broke down and Denard had open grass in front of him? I don't know if it was Denard or system specific, but I have to think Borges and Hoke will tell him that once that 4-5 second clock runs out, RUN. If Kurt Cousins can run for 40 yards on a broken pass play, think of what Denard can do. I think the system, once he's used to it, is going to do a lot for Michigan's offense and a lot for Denard.

4. Al Borges Runs a Very Diverse Play Set - With all the talk about Michigan running the "Powerplay" it seems to have gotten lost that Borges' offense is really, really diverse. Our friends at Offensive Break Down(whom you should immediately put on your RSS reader), charted SDSU's play calling against Navy in the Poinsettia Bowland came away amazed by the diversity of the offense. Out of 64 different plays, SDSU ran 34 different formations. 41 of the plays were runs that broke down the following ways:

Inside Zone - 16 (1 being a zone read)
Power - 12
Toss - 3
Outside Zone - 2
Draw - 2

He ran 19 of the plays in the shotgun and remaining 49 under center. This isn't a static offense by any stretch, and it's one that seems to incorporate a lot elements our players will already be familiar with. Another thing that should quiet some nerves is that Borges and Hoke aren't replacing the zone blocking scheme in it's entirety. They're replacing the spread option. Borges offense at SDSU ran a lot of inside zone plays, for which this offense will be well adapted. Again Offensive Break Down brings you the truthz:

And unlike what many people believe, that Hoke is diametrically opposed to any zone running game, I just don't see that as being true. Here SDSU aligns in double tight one back formation and runs inside zone for a touchdown. I think Hoke is less anti-zone, and more pro man and zone concepts in his offense. The two can coexist.

There will be toughness here, but it looks like there will be toughness with brains.

5. OMG RECEIVERS - This is part Denardpart receiving corps, so bare with me on this one. When you look at Michigan's slate of receivers, it's arguable that this is one of the deepest groups that's ever suited up for the Maize and Blue. Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum, Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady, et al. Their is shake n' bake and pure speed to burn here. What shocks me the most about this group is that no one's got a 1,000 yard receiving season under their belt. Not even Roundtree, who caught 72 balls and racked up 900+ yards. That's going to change this season.

If there's one thing Borges can do, it's develop a quarterback. In his two years at SDSU he had a 3,000 yard passer. To put that in context, Michigan's only had ONE 3,000 yard passer in it's history. That was John Navarre in 2003 (remember then, the last time we beat Ohio State?). But for Robinson to hit those kinds of numbers he's going to have to have excellent receivers (check), an offense that loves to throw the ball (check), and a strong arm (check).

The set that Borges will be installing is a combination of shotgun and under centersnaps, with the emphasis on being under center. It's also an offense that likes to find creative ways of getting its receivers open by faking screens, overloading sides, disguised slants and deep fades. And Michigan's got the receivers to run those plays. Stonum going deep or giving the double move. Roundtreecoming out of the slot on a quick hitter over the middle. While the complexity of the passing game will increase, so will the options for Michigan. Think about a 3 and 4 receiver sets, with a tight end. Think about using Kevin Koger and Martell Webb (or whichever tight end was wearing #80 and is eligible) more. Think about the possibility of not just one 1,000 yard receiver but two (Roundtree and Stonum).

Borges'offense will ruthlessly exploit Michigan's depth on the edges and as a result should open up the running lanes for the tailbacks and Denard. But the only reason we can expect this is the quality of receivers we already have. All I can think of is Denard to Stonum on a deep fade, or Rountree scooting down the sideline on a shallow cross. It's going to be awesome.

Bonus 6th Point!

6. Borges and Hoke Have Transitioned From A Spread to a Pro Set Before - Yeah. This isn't their first time around the bend. As you'll note from Borges' interview, before they arrived at SDSUthe Aztecs ran a spread offense. They did the proverbial demolition of the spread, but for good reason. SDSU's QB was a guy that fit better in Michigan's Carr offense than in a spread. So they immediately set to loading up the passing game, and to great effect. Ryan Lindley had two straight 3,000+ yard passing seasons and the Aztecs went from a 2 win team in 2008 (before Hoke/Borges got there) to a 9 win team in 2010. They also sported a 1,500 yard running back and a 3,000 yard passer last season. And that's something Michigan's only had once, in 2003.

As you've probably noticed from the video and the links above, Borges offense is pretty diverse and incorporates a lot of different formations and plays. It even incorporates some zone read (@ :33). Borges has been adamant that he will build his offense around the capabilities of his quarterback, and he's got the track record to prove it (Did you know Cade McNown actually rushed the ball an average of 80 times a season under Borges?). He's said that he'll work on improving Denard's passing game and find different ways to exploit his running ability. The man has come out and said Denard will be a 1,000 yard rusher this season, so you know he's going to use Denard in the ground game.

Feeling good yet?

Michigan may be "blowing the whole offense up" but in a lot of ways they're keeping aspects of the old offense that made it successful (running QB, 3-4 WR sets, some zone blocking). The change will be finding ways to make Michigan's running game more controlling and less dependent on Denard. Based on the great backs I mentioned above, I think Michigan will be able to generate a more consistent ground game and avoid getting Denard killed. I think the offensive line is going to be great no matter what blocking scheme they use. I think this could be a break out year for Michigan's receivers. And I think this offense is going to be a lot of fun to watch.