With the recruiting class of 2010 signed, Michigan football fans can officially turn their attention to spring practice, and ultimately how the team will look come fall. With some assistance from MGoBlog’s depth chart by class and the resources available at The Wolverine (including Michael Spath’s very early look at the 2011 depth chart and Matt Pargoff’s in-depth look at this year’s recruiting class), I’ve done my best to project how the depth chart will look like this fall. Today, I’ll break down my outlook on the offense, and tomorrow I’ll do the same for the defense.
I’ve tried to include every notable scholarship player, including all the true freshmen. Because of this, and the uncertainty of many player’s positions heading into spring practice, I recommend taking the positions listed below with a grain of salt, especially along the offensive line and defensive secondary — at this point, it’s far too early to know who will be playing where. Instead, I wanted to do this to get a feel for the talent and depth of the team, and also be able to use this as a reference for player eligibility. For player eligibility, I’m using what MGoBlog has listed, and for player heights and weights I’m referring to last year’s official roster or Rivals’ recruiting data — I’ll do my best to note if a player has made reported weight gains or losses where applicable. Without further ado, let’s check out the depth chart:
Quarterback: No surprises here — Tate Forcier should head into the fall as the team’s starting quarterback, and I expect Rich Rodriguez and his staff will do their best to keep true freshman Devin Gardner on track to redshirt. Denard Robinson will remain the backup quarterback, and true freshman Conelius Jones will only see the field if the quarterback apocalypse occurs (nothing against Jones, but I don’t think anyone wants to see our second-choice true freshman athlete get forced into action).
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Running Backs: The most interesting position battle on offense will be for the starting tailback spot, but with sophomore Vincent Smith sidelined for spring practice with a torn ACL, Michigan fans will have to wait for the fall to see how that one turns out. Smith appeared to be the probable 2010 starter until tearing that ACL against Ohio State, but by no means was he a shoe-in for the spot — junior speedster Michael Shaw, 2009 scout team standout (and former Rivals four-star) Fitzgerald Toussaint and athletic redshirt sophomore Michael Cox will all compete for snaps with the first team in the spring. Freshman Austin White is a solid pass-catching threat who could see situational time in the fall as well.
[UPDATE: Thanks to JC for bringing to my attention that Kelvin Grady is moving over to running back for the spring. That change is now reflected in the depth chart, as well as Teric Jones moving back to offense. For now, I’ve put Jones in the slot, but he may also see snaps at running back as well.]
At fullback, Mark Moundros returns, although he saw his playing time diminish as Michigan further implemented Rich Rodriguez’s offense last season. A player to watch will be true freshman Stephen Hopkins, a 6-0, 235-pound bulldozer who could see time at both tailback and fullback — the coaching staff has expressed interest in using him like West Virginia used Owen “Runaway Beer Truck” Schmitt, who lined up both as a traditional fullback and as the only back in single-back sets. Hopkins could be called upon in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
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Wide Receiver: This would be one of those instances where you can basically ignore my guesses at position — I didn’t make much differentiation between X and Y, so treat all these players as simply outside receivers if you want to make things more simple. Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway both started at times (read: when healthy) last season, and should reprise their roles in 2010. Sophomore Je’Ron Stokes saw intermittent playing time as a true freshman, and should have a much larger role with the departures of Greg Mathews and LaTerryal Savoy. Of the incoming crop of freshmen receivers, I think Ricardo Miller has the best chance of seeing early playing time — both Robinson and Williamson could use a redshirt year to develop physically, while Jeremy Jackson could have a difficult time earning a role over more athletic receivers on the roster. If Cameron Gordon stays on the offensive side of the ball, he could be a guy to watch next season — he has great physical tools for a receiver.
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Slot Receiver: Michigan has an abundance of talent at the slot, including arguably the two best receivers on the roster in Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms. Both players will see the field plenty in 2010, and I expect to see Michigan go to more four-receiver sets in order to get their best players on the field as much as possible. Kelvin Grady should show improvement after spending last season struggling with the offense, but he will be pushed for time by promising redshirt freshman Jeremy Gallon, a player who many thought would contribute immediately after stepping on campus. That didn’t happen, but the talent is still there — the only question is whether there is enough playing time at the slot to go around. Terrence Robinson appears to be the odd man out at slot receiver at this point — unless he shows better hands and a great deal more comfort with the knee injury he suffered as a freshman, he’ll have a hard time cracking the lineup. Drew Dileo could contribute on special teams, but expect him to redshirt unless he wins a job as a returner.
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Tight End: It will be interesting to see how much the tight end position gets utilized in 2010 — starter Kevin Koger’s role diminished as the season wore on last year, and Rich Rodriguez hasn’t taken a recruit at the position since he took over at Michigan. Still, Koger finished fifth on the team in receptions last year, and early in the season appeared to be Tate Forcier’s go-to guy in the red zone, so I’d be surprised if the tight end position was phased out completely. That’s good news for Koger, but Martell Webb and Brandon Moore may have a tough time seeing the field in the fall, as I’m guessing Rodriguez would prefer playing one of his talented slot receivers instead of a backup tight end. This position group could be one of the keys to Michigan’s offense in 2010 or completely gone from the depth chart by 2011.
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Offensive Line: Please, please don’t take these position groupings too seriously — there are several players on the line who could start at multiple positions, especially Patrick Omameh and Mark Huyge, who both could start at either tackle or guard. The wild cards along the line are Ricky Barnum and Quinton Washington, who could easily challenge for a starting guard spot over Huyge/Omameh. I expect Omameh, who showed a lot of promise at guard last season, to start somewhere along the line, but more experienced linemen like Huyge and Perry Dorrestein could be bumped from the lineup in favor of younger (but more highly-touted) linemen. I don’t think the coaching staff would be very comfortable with a line full of freshmen, sophomores and Molk, but they’ve been steadfast in their assertions that the best players will see the field regardless of age. Other than Molk at center and Schilling at left guard, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any combination of players along the line in 2010.
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Kicker: Redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons has the inside track for the placekicker position, but he was supposed to win the position last fall before giving way to walk-on Jason Olesnavage. Olesnavage has graduated, but don’t rule out the possibility of walk-on Scott Schrimscher winning the job. Redshirt senior Bryan Wright has lost multiple battles for the placekicker position, and likely will be relegated to kickoff duties again in the fall.
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