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”, “Guarded”, and “Elevated” threat categories, and today, we move on to the positions that fall under the “High” category. Ladies and gentlemen, buckle your seatbelts.
Outside Receiver: Simply put, Michigan just hasn’t been getting the production it needs out of its outside receivers so far in the Rodriguez era. Some of that blame can probably be placed on the quarterback play, but it’s time for guys like Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway to step up, or else be replaced by younger talent. Stonum and Hemingway, your likely starters at outside receiver, combined for just 29 catches and three touchdowns last season.
Stonum, a former four-star with great athletic ability, needs to show that he can adjust to the ball in the air — he often makes what should be simple catches unnecessarily difficult on himself. If he can do that, he could break out this year and begin to live up to his lofty recruiting hype. Hemingway has burst out of the gate the past two season openers only to have his season derailed by injuries and subsequent ineffectiveness. He showed against Western Michigan that he can be a dangerous deep threat, but he’ll have to stay healthy if he wants to hold on to his starting spot.
If Stonum and Hemingway prove ineffective, there are several young players who could see the field in their place. Sophomore Je’Ron Stokes is another top-100 level recruit, and he’ll likely be the third wide receiver after playing sparingly as a freshman. Jerald Robinson, Ricardo Miller, and Jeremy Jackson all enrolled early in preparation for their true freshman seasons — Robinson appears most likely to be an immediate contributor, though Miller probably has the highest ceiling and Jackson the best hands of the trio. There is also the chance that Roy Roundtree moves between the slot and outside — I’d prefer for him to work out of the slot, where he seems most effective, but if the starters aren’t producing he may be needed to shore up the position, especially with the depth at slot.
If Michigan hopes to take its offense to the next level, they will have to get more production from their outside receivers. Unfortunately, the depth behind the prospective starters is very young, and the starters have yet to prove they can consistently make plays at the collegiate level. This position is probably the biggest question mark the offense has, and could be the difference between Michigan boasting a juggernaut offense and struggling to consistently move the ball.
Linebacker: The picture to your right pretty much sums up Michigan’s linebacker play from last season — Obi Ezeh is on the ground, having been taken out of the play, and Jonas Mouton appears to have lost contain as the back breaks into the open field. Usually, a team would be very comfortable with returning two senior starters (and multi-year starters at that) at linebacker, but the lack of progression from Ezeh and the apparent regression from Mouton has left Wolverine fans very concerned with the heart of their defense.
The good news is that, despite a slight scheme change, Michigan will finally have the same man at defensive coordinator for two years in a row, and with Greg Robinson personally handling the inside linebackers, there should be improvement from the position. How much the linebackers improve will depend. Can Ezeh hold off redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens in the middle? If he does, can he show greater aggressiveness on the field? Can Mouton return to the form he showed in the latter half of 2008? There are a lot of questions here, and few answers will be given until the team hits the field in the fall.
The aforementioned Demens appears to be the most likely candidate to supplant the incumbent starters if one proved ineffective, although J.B. Fitzgerald actually saw more playing time last year when Ezeh was benched, and he could very well start if given the opportunity. Former walk-on Kevin Leach also saw action last year, but wasn’t particularly effective when he played. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Bell provides depth, but he’ll likely need a year or two of learning the position after coming to Ann Arbor as a safety.
With a strong front four and a shaky secondary, Michigan’s defense will need the linebackers to elevate their level of play in 2010. As fifth-year seniors, Ezeh and Mouton should be up to the task, but you could have said the same thing about them last year. Their experience keeps me from placing the linebackers in the “Severe” category, but they will need to step up their play on the field in a big way, or the defense could be spinning its wheels instead of moving forward from last season’s debacle.