There’s not much left to say about the 2009 season, so I’m going to go ahead and take a look at what the 2010 team will look like. First up is the offense, which should see little turnover from a very young unit. Just a note: I’ll be referring to players by what class they will be in for 2010 (for instance, I’ll be calling Tate Forcier a sophomore).
Quarterback: There will be a lot of speculation about the quarterback position, especially with the way Tate Forcier finished his freshman campaign. Forcier obviously has the inside track at the starting position in 2010, with a full season as the starter in Rich Rodriguez’s system under his belt. Denard Robinson has shown value as a situational quarterback, but hasn’t shown the passing ability to be a full-time solution at the position. The wild card will be the presence of incoming freshman Devin Gardner, Rivals.com’s #1 quarterback in the Class of 2010 and a threat to start from the moment he steps on campus. Unfortunately, Gardner will not be able to enroll early, and will have a tough time learning the offense quickly enough to unseat Forcier. In all likelihood, we’ll see the same quarterback rotation that we saw in 2009 — I doubt Rich Rodriguez wants to put his job on the line with another true freshman starting at the most important position on the field. Forcier should be an improved player when we see him next fall, and hopefully the rookie mistakes that marred the Ohio State game will be largely absent from his game a year from now.
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Running Back: Michigan loses two talented (but oft-injured) tailbacks in Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, but there is still a lot of talent returning at the position. Junior Michael Shaw and sophomore Vincent Smith should provide a solid one-two punch similar to how Michigan rotated Minor and Brown when they were healthy. They could be pushed for playing time by redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint (a highly-regarded four-star who put up very impressive numbers in high school) and redshirt sophomore Mike Cox, who at the very least will provide some depth at the position. Smith showed flashes of real promise in the second half of the season, and scored Michigan’s only touchdown against Ohio State on a nice 18-yard reception — he has showed an ability to run between the tackles despite his small stature, and could turn into a workhorse-type back. Shaw is more in the Carlos Brown mold (right down to the consistent nagging injuries), a guy with track-star speed who is a threat to take any run the distance. The Wolverines will also add Livonia Stevenson running back Austin White, a three-star tailback who is a very good receiver out of the backfield, and the large (6-0, 235 lbs.) Stephen Hopkins in the freshman class, although both will have an uphill climb for playing time. Despite losing two senior backs, Michigan looks to be in good shape at running back in 2010.
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Outside Receiver: Michigan only loses two players, Greg Mathews and LaTerryal Savoy, from a unit that couldn’t consistently produce in 2009. Juniors Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway are your likely starters for 2010, and have the potential to provide Forcier with two solid deep threats if they continue to develop as players. Michigan will also return sophomore Je’Ron Stokes and redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon, a couple of four-star players from the Class of 2009, and will add some young talent in incoming freshmen Ricardo Miller, Jerald Robinson, D.J. Williamson, and Jeremy Jackson. Miller, an early commit who moved to Ann Arbor after playing his first three high school seasons at Dr. Phillips (FL), has the best chance to see the field early, although Jerald Robinson is the highest-rated player (Rivals.com four-star, #45 wide receiver) of the true freshmen and could also have an impact early on. The issue with the outside receivers isn’t talent — Stonum, Stokes, and Gordon were all four-star recruits, and Hemingway has been impressive when healthy — but consistency. Expect to see a lot of rotation at receiver until somebody steps up and establishes themselves as a consistent threat.
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Slot Receivers: An injury to Martavious Odoms gave Roy Roundtree an opportunity to show his ability at slot receiver, and Roundtree may have edged out Odoms as the starter with his performance over the latter half of 2009. Both players should see ample playing time in 2010, and Roundtree’s emergence as Forcier’s go-to guy could mean Michigan shows more four-receiver sets next fall. Before his injury, Odoms had established himself as Michigan’s most consistent receiver under Rich Rodriguez, and also garnered praise for his downfield blocking and knowledge of the offense. Each player brings a different set of skills to the table, and Michigan will likely utilize both with regularity in 2010. There is a lot of depth at this position, with junior Kelvin Grady, sophomore Terrence Robinson, and redshirt freshman Jeremy Gallon all returning, to be joined by incoming freshmen Drew Dileo and Tony Drake. Grady, who saw his playing time decrease as Roundtree’s role expanded, could see more playing time as his transition from basketball to football continues. Many thought Gallon would contribute this season, but a late start because of academic clearinghouse issues forced him to redshirt — he’s a dark horse guy who could have a breakout season if he gets the opportunity. Overall, there’s a lot of talent in the slot, and Michigan should once again see the majority of their receiving production come from the position.
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Tight Ends: Big things were expected from the tight end position, especially junior Kevin Koger, in 2009, but a strong start from Koger was followed by a disappointing string of drops as the position became more of a non-factor as the season wore on. However, there is still a lot of talent at tight end, with Koger joined by senior Martell Webb and redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore. The position will be one to watch in 2010 — Rich Rodriguez rarely utilized tight ends at West Virginia, but Koger has shown the potential to be a huge weapon in the spread. Along with Webb, who also struggled with drops this season, Koger may just be playing for the survival of the tight end position at Michigan next season. If he can catch the ball, Koger could be an All-Big Ten player next year, and a great safety valve for Forcier.
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Offensive Line: The unit with the most turnover is the offensive line, which loses starters Mark Ortmann and David Moosman, as well as backup Tim McAvoy. However, Michigan returns five players who earned starts in 2009 in Steve Schilling, David Molk, Mark Huyge, Perry Dorrestein, and Patrick Omameh. Schilling (right guard) and Molk (center) will likely hold down their current positions, but the other three spots on the line are up for grabs, with a bevy of talented linemen all competing for playing time. Omameh performed well at right guard in the last few games of the season, and will likely earn a starting spot somewhere on the line. Huyge is another player that can play multiple positions, and should compete with Dorrestein and redshirt freshmen Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield for a shot at one of the tackle positions. On the interior of the line, redshirt sophomores Ricky Barnum, Rocko Khoury, and Elliott Mealer, as well as redshirt freshman Quinton Washington, will provide depth and push for playing time. Regardless of who earns starting spots on the line, the experience and talent at every position should mean an improved unit for 2010.
2010 Outlook: The 2009 offense improved drastically from a disastrous unit in Rich Rodriguez’s first year at Michigan. With Tate Forcier having a full year at Michigan under his belt — and hopefully with a greater appreciation for holding on to the football — the Wolverines should once again have an improved offense in 2010. Forcier will be the key — the offensive line should be better with experience, and there is a lot of talent and depth at all the skill positions. If Michigan can get more efficiency from the quarterback position — and they should — we could be seeing one of the nation’s most potent offenses next season.