Heading into spring practice, I took a look at the five players with the most to gain — as well as the five with the most to lose — based on their performance in spring ball. With fall practices kicking off on Monday, I thought I’d update each list to see which players have the most on the line as we approach the beginning of the 2010 season. Today, the focus is on the returning players who stand to gain the most from a strong fall camp performance:
- Denard Robinson, Soph. QB: Robinson appears to have the inside track to the starting quarterback job after showing exponential improvement in the spring, but the race with Tate Forcier is far from over. It appears Robinson is the choice among his teammates, however, and if he continues to show the work ethic that helped him pass Forcier in the spring he should be the man taking the first Michigan snap in the newly-renovated Big House. Robinson must prove that he can be a consistent and reliable passer — something we can’t completely judge until the season starts — but if he makes enough progress in that regard, his prodigious athletic talents should make him the number one option at quarterback.
- Will Campbell, Soph. DT: After spending his freshman year working his way into shape and learning how to play with proper technique, the former five-star recruit will see the field more this fall — the only question is, how much more? Senior Renaldo Sagesse has been impressive in practices and could very well start next to Mike Martin, but no one on the defensive line has more talent than Big Will. If he can learn how to best take advantage of his massive size and quickness, Campbell could quickly become a force in the middle of the defensive line and force defenses to carefully consider whether to double-team him or Martin. It’s too early to say that Campbell has to deliver on his sky-high recruiting expectations, but I think it would be a great sign for the team if he carves out a big role on this year’s defense.
- Kenny Demens, RS Soph. LB: Demens could just as easily have landed on tomorrow’s list, but with Obi Ezeh’s starting middle linebacker spot still very much up for grabs, a good fall camp could quickly turn Demens from special teamer to starter. The former four-star prospect possesses more than enough athletic ability to be an impact player (just check out the football team’s performance from Mock Rock 2009, featuring Demens and Brandon Graham doing effortless standing back-flips), and as a redshirt sophomore Demens should be comfortable with the defensive playbook — now, it’s time to see if he can really play. Unseating a three-year starter is no easy task, but Demens has the talent to do so.
- Taylor Lewan, RS Fr. OT: Michigan returns two veteran players (RS Jr. Mark Huyge and Sr. Perry Dorrestein) at offensive tackle with starting experience, but the player everyone is raving about is Lewan, whose combination of size (6-8, 283 lbs.), talent, and a nasty streak has drawn comparisons to Jake Long. If Lewan can prove he has added enough size and strength to play in the Big Ten trenches, I’d be very surprised if he can’t earn a starting spot at left tackle. While it’s normally disconcerting to have a freshman starting at a critical O-line spot, if Lewan can unseat one of the seniors (likely Dorrestein) we could see him take a very similar career path to Long — a lofty comparison indeed, but the similarities between the two are impossible to overlook.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint, RS Fr. RB: With Vincent Smith still recovering from a torn ACL and Michael Shaw speculated to be on the edge of ineligibility, there’s a big opening for a running back to step and earn himself carries. Redshirt sophomore Michael Cox will battle Toussaint for snaps in fall camp, but Cox is in his third season under Rodriguez and has had difficulties absorbing the playbook, something which could keep him off the field if the coaches don’t trust him. Toussaint is a four-star recruit who put up absurd numbers in high school, and at 5-10, 199 pounds he has the size and frame to be an every-down back. If Toussaint can display the running ability he showed at the prep level (audio NSFW), he could take carries away from Smith and Shaw even if both are ready to play in the opener.
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the returning players with the most to lose in fall camp, and on Monday the focus will turn to the true freshmen who could have an immediate impact in 2010.