Yesterday I posted the five players with the most to gain in Michigan’s fall camp, which kicks off in just three days. Of course, when you have players potentially moving up the depth chart, others are faced with taking on a diminished role, so today the focus will be on the players who will have an eye on the rear-view mirror when fall practices begin Monday:
- Tate Forcier, Soph. QB: Fellow sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson topped yesterday’s list, so it is only fitting that last year’s starter leads off today’s. Robinson appeared to hold the edge in the QB race after a strong spring performance that ended with him running the first-team offense in the spring game, and the stark contrast in media day comments about the two quarterbacks leads one to believe Forcier has some work to do if he wants to keep his starting job. The task could be very difficult for Forcier as he not only has to show strides on the field, but also regain the trust of his teammates after less-than-stellar attendance at voluntary summer workouts. Forcier has shown the ability to be a very good collegiate quarterback — now he has to show the work ethic necessary to be good on a consistent basis and the leadership expected from the chief signal-caller.
- Obi Ezeh, RS Sr. LB: The embattled three-year starter topped this list in the spring, and the pressure remains on Ezeh to prove he can be a solid starter at middle linebacker this fall. After falling well short of expectations the past two seasons, and with talented linebackers like Kenny Demens and J.B. Fitzgerald (who is practicing at OLB but has experience in the middle) each entering their third year in the program, Ezeh will have to perform if he wants to finish his career as a starter. The fact that senior Mark Moundros was moved from fullback to middle linebacker in the spring says a lot about the uncertainty at the position, and the coaches showed a willingness to shake things up when they benched Ezeh during the 2009 season because of ineffective play. This is his last shot, and he knows it — now it’s time to deliver or see if one of the other players can provide steady play in the middle.
- Vlad Emilien, Soph. FS: The former four-star recruit was expected to make a strong push for the starting free safety spot after spending much of 2009 still recovering from a high school knee injury, but instead redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon moved from wideout to safety and was the breakout star of spring practice. After burning his redshirt on special teams last year, Emilien is faced with looking up the depth chart at a guy with more eligibility — he’ll have to prove he’s fully recovered from that torn ACL and comfortable knowing the defense if he wants to pass Gordon and see action on more than just special teams again in 2010.
- Darryl Stonum, Jr. WR: Fans expected a breakout season from the former four-star prospect in 2009, and while he showed he could be an explosive kick returner, Stonum’s performance at receiver (13 catches, 199 yards, one TD) could only be described as a disappointment. While Michigan is very young at outside receiver, they do have a number of talented slots — if Stonum doesn’t display the game-breaking ability expected of him when he came to Ann Arbor, slot receiver Roy Roundtree could see an increased role on the outside, and underclassmen like sophomore Je’Ron Stokes and freshmen Jerald Robinson and Ricardo Miller could also push for playing time. This is likely a make-or-break year for Stonum as a receiver — if he can’t prove he can produce in his third season, he’ll likely have to move aside as the underclassmen get some experience under their belts.
- Vincent Smith, Soph. RB: This isn’t as much a reflection on Smith as it is the situation at running back — with Smith still recovering from a torn ACL, Michael Shaw (if eligible), Michael Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will battle in fall camp to prove that they deserve to be the guy at running back. Smith is expected to be 100% healthy for the season opener, but it’s impossible to tell how well a running back will bounce back from a major knee injury until he hits the field. Smith will have to show he’s fully back and ready to perform at a high level if he hopes to fend off the talented backs waiting behind him on the depth chart. It’s never fun to see a player lose his job because of an injury, but it’s a part of football (see: Tom Brady/Drew Bledsoe) — either Smith will prove he’s ready to build on a promising freshman season, or somebody else will get a their shot to prove they can start and excel.
That’s all for this week. Make sure to check back on Monday, when I’ll be taking a look at the true freshmen with the best chance to make an early impact in 2010.