Position Threat Levels: Elevated

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. So far, I have covered the “Low” and “Guarded” threat categories, and Today, we move on to the positions that fall under the “Elevated” category:

Quarterback: One should expect the quarterback play to improve for Michigan regardless of who wins the starting job, if for no other reason than that the Wolverines won’t be rotating two true freshmen at the position in 2010. In the best case scenario, Michigan will have two much-improved options at the most important position on the field, two players who can complement each others skill sets and allow the team to show multiple looks and keep the defense guessing. That, or Tate Forcier becomes the next Drew Brees or Denard Robinson becomes Pat White with a better arm. But that’s dreaming. In the worst case, Forcier plays like he did over the latter half of his freshman season, Robinson still proves ineffective at reading defenses and making accurate throws, and Devin Gardner is forced into duty instead of spending a redshirt year learning the offense.

Right now, it’s anybody’s guess as to what end of the spectrum the quarterback play will be at come fall — I personally think Robinson will have a solid season as the starter, and provide a big-play threat on the ground while still posing enough of a threat to throw that teams can’t just stack eight men in the box. That’s just conjecture, however, and the uncertainty surrounding this position puts it squarely in the “Elevated” category.

Running Back: There are two ways to look at the running back position as we exit the spring season. On the one hand, fans should be worried that the running game looked generally unimpressive in the spring, and no back stepped up and took control of the job in the absence of the injured Vincent Smith. On the other hand, Michigan gets Smith back in the fall, and there are four talented runners also competing for major playing time in Michael Shaw, Mike Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Stephen Hopkins — out of those five guys, Michigan should be able to find at least one effective running back, right?

At this point, I’d say Smith is your likely opening-day starter, given his performance from last season and the lack of an outstanding spring from the other backs. There will be lots of other options, however. Shaw is the most experienced back in the group, and if he can stay healthy, he could be the type of home-run threat Carlos Brown was on his good (read: healthy) days at Michigan. Cox may be the best all-around athlete of the backs, and if he can get the mental part of the game down, his physical tools will make it hard to keep him off the field. Toussaint came in as a freshman last fall with a lot of hype after putting up ridiculous numbers in high school — at his best, he can be a powerful runner with breakaway speed. Finally, Hopkins will almost certainly see the field as a short-yardage and goal-line specialist, and if he can prove he can grind out four or five yards from anywhere on the field, that role could grow larger.

The tailback position is much like quarterback right now for Rich Rodriguez: he has options, and talented ones, but the team needs one guy (or two) to step up and prove he can be a game-changer. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the fall to see if we have one.

Tight End: Early on last season, it looked like this position would be a very productive one. Then, Kevin Koger developed a case of the dropsies, as did backup Martell Webb, and the tight ends were marginalized in the offense. Both players return, as does former four-star recruit Brandon Moore, but the Wolverines have no other scholarship tight ends on the roster — not exactly a sign that the position will be deployed heavily in Rich Rodriguez’s offense, especially with the mass quantities of slot receivers fighting for playing time.

There is a lot of talent here, however, and if Koger gets a fair shot at ample playing time he could be a big factor in the passing game. Yes, he had a few bad drops last year, but he is also capable of doing things like this:

Early last season, Michigan utilized Koger on a lot of drag routes on zone read fakes, and those proved very effective when teams keyed on the run. I was a bit surprised to see Rodriguez and Co. move away from that strategy as the season went on, and would like to see the tight ends used more — I think Koger has the talent to be a real impact player and a reliable safety valve for whoever starts at quarterback. Two things must happen for that to come to fruition, however: Koger has to catch the easy passes, and the team has to commit to utilizing the tight ends. If those two things happen, this position could be a real strength for the Wolverines.

Punter: If you watched the special teams portion of the spring game, you witnessed one of the most horrific punting exhibitions in collegiate football history (OK, that may be slight hyperbole, but it was bad). Michigan will certainly miss the departed Zoltan Mesko, Space Emperor of Space, and clearly nobody on the spring roster is ready to hit the field in the fall — in fact, if Michigan had to choose a punter from the guys on campus now, Tate Forcier would likely be playing double-duty.

The good news is this: Rich Rodriguez secured a commitment from Will Hagerup (left), Rivals.com’s #3 kicker in the country, who punted in the Army All-American Bowl. There is little doubt that Hagerup will be the starting punter from the moment he arrives in Ann Arbor — the special teams performance at the spring game dictates that much. The question will be if Hagerup is ready to perform at the collegiate level. Fortunately, there isn’t any difference between punting a football in a high school game and punting in the Super Bowl — the changes are in the personnel around you, and how dangerous the guy is fielding the punt. Unless Hagerup forgot how to punt a football, he should be fine stepping in and becoming a serviceable freshman punter with good potential. If he gets hurt, however, all bets are off. Take care of that leg, Will — no Michigan fan wants to see Forcier left exposed as the opposition brings heavy heat to block a punt, but from what we have seen of the guys on the roster, he is the only viable option if Hagerup were to go down.


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