Remember the Homeland Security Department’s biggest PR move, the terrorist threat level indicator? You know, this thing. Well, I decided — in a desperate attempt to figure out what type of content to post during the slow summer months — to apply these threat levels (minus the whole, you know, terrorist thing) to Michigan’s position groups. In other words, which groups are the Wolverines comfortably stocked at, and which ones have you buying mass quantities of bottled water and canned foods to prepare for the football apocalypse? Over the next week, I’ll be placing each of the position groups into one of the above categories. Yesterday, I started with the spots that Michigan fans have the least to worry about — the “Low” threat category. Today, we move on to the positions I’m “Guarded” about:
Offensive Tackle: This may be somewhat surprising, considering Michigan has to replace a senior left tackle in Mark Ortmann, but I feel really good about the combination of talent and experience at the position. Redshirt junior Mark Huyge should hold down the right tackle position, and while he isn’t Michigan’s most talented offensive lineman, he’s a big (6-6, 305 lbs.) guy who can be a solid road-grater on the right side.
At left tackle, redshirt freshman Taylor Lewan has emerged in a big way this spring, and he will likely be the man defending the blind side of Denard Robinson or Tate Forcier (or both) this fall. Lewan is young and inexperienced, having not played on the offensive side of the ball until his senior year of high school, but coaches, scouts, and practice observers have raved about his talent. If he can add a few more pounds to his massive 6-8 frame by the fall, he could be a real force — Lewan hasn’t shied away from the Jake Long comparisons, choosing #77 at Michigan, and the similarities between the two are too striking to dismiss. I’m not saying Lewan will be the #1 pick in the NFL draft, but he has All-American level talent, and should be a four-year starter for the Wolverines.
Backing up Huyge and Lewan will be redshirt senior Perry Dorrestein, who provides starting experience and more great size (6-7, 305), and redshirt freshman Michael Schofield, a former four-star recruit who has also impressed this spring. I don’t expect the tackle play to be spectacular this season, but I think Michigan fans can expect solid play from the bookends of the O-line — combined with the strong interior line, the Wolverines should have their best unit up front since Rich Rodriguez took over.
DE/Quick: I realize Michigan doesn’t have a “quick” anymore with the move to the 3-3-5, but I thought it made sense to lump Craig Roh’s outside linebacker spot (which will blitz far more often than not) with the defensive ends (just Ryan Van Bergen’s position, not the DT/DE spot that Mike Martin will likely play).
Speaking of Roh, he could be poised for a breakout sophomore season now that he has had a full fall and spring under his belt in Ann Arbor, especially with the freedom to blitz he should enjoy in the new defense. After getting overpowered at times against the run as a freshman, Roh is now up to a solid 249 pounds, and should be a much better all-around defender who can hold at the point of attack.
At DE, Ryan Van Bergen will be charged with the unenviable task of replacing Brandon Graham. While nobody will expect him to replace Graham’s outrageous production, Van Bergen should benefit from a move back to DE after logging time at tackle last year, and he looked impressive rushing the passer in the spring game. The redshirt junior could also be poised for a breakout year, and should at the very least be a solid defender against the run after spending a season on the interior of the line.
Depth could be an issue among the pass-rushers, as most of Michigan’s backups fall squarely in the “unproven” category. Redshirt junior Brandon Herron should once again back up Roh — he is a solid option off the bench if Roh needs a breather or goes down with an injury, but he doesn’t have the sky-high potential that Roh has at the position. At defensive end, redshirt senior Adam Patterson and redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota should battle for playing time behind Van Bergen. Patterson has had little impact on the field in his four years at Michigan, while LaLota was a four-star prospect in the class of 2009 and an early enrollee — if he is physically ready for Big Ten football, he could be the guy who steps up and finds a spot in the rotation.
If Roh and Van Bergen can stay healthy, Michigan should get some very good production out of their pass-rushers, and Roh really has superstar potential as a pass-rushing terror. If Michigan is forced to play their backups extensively, however, they could be in some trouble.
Defensive Tackle: Michigan should be much-improved along the interior of the defensive line, with the emergence of former five-star recruit Will Campbell and Mike Martin no longer having to battle double-teams as an undersized nose tackle. Those two should be your starters inside, with the mountainous Campbell (6-5, 324 lbs.) over the ball at nose tackle and Martin playing the DT/DE spot across from Van Bergen. If Campbell can keep his motor going for every snap he’s on the field, he could be a brick wall that will be difficult to run against up the middle. Martin, who was out of position at nose tackle all of last season, should be better than ever at the DT/DE spot, where he can do what he does best: use his strength and quickness to penetrate into the backfield. Those two both have all-conference (maybe even All-American) potential, and should provide the Wolverines with a strong starting unit on the defensive line.
The primary backup at nose tackle will be senior Renaldo Sagesse, who has challenged Campbell for the starting job and really progressed as a player in the past couple years. He is a very solid option, and should see ample playing time as Michigan tries to keep Big Will fresh. At DT, Greg Banks has seen the majority of the first-team snaps while Martin recovered from a shoulder injury this spring, and he has stepped up and staked his claim to playing time with a very good spring performance. With Sagesse and Banks, Michigan will likely redshirt both Terry Talbott and Richard Ash — it would be very disconcerting if the Wolverines had to play their true freshmen extensively in the fall. This unit should be one of the best on the team, and the defensive line as a whole should lead the charge for the Wolverine defense.