2011 Football Preview: Position Threat Levels – Guarded

Previously: Low

The explanation behind these posts, in case you missed it:

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? I’ll be placing each of the position groups into one of the above categories.

Today, I take a look at the position groups that inspire confidence, but just the slightest amount of trepidation — here are the three groups that fall into the ‘guarded’ category:

Quarterback (Last Year: Elevated): We’ve covered the quarterback situation in depth as we continue our 2011 preview content, but I might as well take another shot at it. This year’s cruel twist of irony for the Wolverines is that their best, most productive player in 2010 — Denard Robinson, in case you live under a rock — may also be the team’s biggest question mark heading into 2011. While there is little concern over Robinson’s ability to flummox defenses with his legs while being at least adequate in his efficiency throwing the ball, nobody knows quite how well he’ll mesh with offensive coordinator Al Borges’s offense, in large part because we have little idea what that offense will look like. Personally, I think Robinson will once again improve as a passer while continuing to be the team’s biggest threat on the ground, even if his rushing production drops off, so my concern here is minimal — simply put, Michigan returns a true junior with a full year of starting experience now under his belt, and have I mentioned he was an All-American last season? Yeah, there’s that. Backing up Robinson will be true sophomore Devin Gardner, who saw a few snaps here and there early on in 2010 before ceding the backup job to Tate Forcier due to (1) Forcier probably deserving it in the first place, once he’d re-earned the trust of his teammates and (2) a lingering back injury that hopefully will earn Gardner a medical redshirt season at the end of his career. As a 6-4 quarterback who was very comfortable throwing from the pocket in high school, Gardner may actually be better suited to this offense than Robinson, and he should be a very solid backup plan should Denard go down — and if last season was any indication, we’ll see Gardner a fair amount this year. If complete disaster strikes, true freshman Russell Bellomy — a three-star dual-threat prospect that Hoke snatched away from Purdue — would be forced into duty as the only other scholarship QB on the roster, but that’s a worst-case scenario. Michigan’s offense is in good hands this season with Robinson and Gardner at the helm.

Offensive Tackle (LY: Guarded): Redshirt sophomore Taylor Lewan came to Ann Arbor hyped as the next coming of Jake Long, and after taking over the left tackle job against Bowling Green he did a very good job of delivering on that potential. Lewan was named second-team Freshman All-American, shut down Adrian Clayborn, unveiled the greatest tattoo/pickup-line combination of our generation, and generally did everything awesome except when he was committing drive-killing penalties. The hope is that Lewan will chill out on the penalties — a distinct possibility, considering he was starting at the most important position on the O-line as a redshirt freshman — and continue to punish opponents with his unrelenting, physically-dominant style of blocking. Now listed — before fall practice — at 6-8, 294 pounds, Lewan should be a force this season and contend for a spot on the All-Big Ten team. His counterpart on the right side will be redshirt senior Mark Huyge, who started seven games last season at both left and right tackle. While he has never been a true standout, Huyge has started 16 career games and has improved each year he’s played, and at 6-6, 306 pounds, he should be a solid road-grater on the right side of the line. There’s a chance that Huyge could be beaten out for the starting job by Lewan’s classmate Michael Schofield, who came in with four-star hype and has earned praise for his play in practice, but that would only be a good sign for Michigan — Huyge has proven to be a solid Big Ten starter, so anyone beating him out will be a very good player. The depth behind Lewan, Huyge, and Schofield is almost non-existent at tackle, but those three players are versatile enough to play either tackle position and Ricky Barnum, the projected starter at left guard, could slide over to tackle — where he’s seen action in two career games — if necessary.

Interior O-Line (LY: Low): The interior of the offensive line should be strong as well, led by redshirt senior center and preseason All-American David Molk. At 6-2, 288 pounds, Molk may not have ideal size for an NFL center prospect, but he’s been just fine at the collegiate level, and although he’ll be asked to do more man blocking under Borges — as opposed to a lot of zone and reach blocks under Rich Rodriguez, which requires quicker, and therefore often smaller, linemen — he should still be one of the country’s best at his position. Returning at right guard is last year’s other breakout player, redshirt junior Patrick Omameh, whom you may remember blocking stud Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o a good 15 yards downfield on Denard Robinson’s record-breaking touchdown run. Omameh is fantastic at getting to the second level and is a very good run-blocker in general, but he did have his struggles with some of the Big Ten’s elite defensive tackles — he’ll have to step his game up against players like Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and Nebraska’s Jared Crick. The lone new starter on the line is redshirt junior Ricky Barnum, who was a key backup at both guard and tackle last season and should slide in comfortably at left guard. Barnum was one of the country’s top guard recruits coming out of high school, but was stuck last season behind senior Stephen Schilling and the emerging Omameh — reports out of practice were that he was ready to contribute last season, and he should be at least a solid starter after a three-year apprenticeship behind Schilling. For now, there’s still decent depth along the line (the big issues will come starting next year, thanks to Rodriguez not pulling in — and keeping — more recruits along the line), with redshirt junior Elliott Mealer as the primary backup at guard and redshirt junior Rocko Khoury ready to step in at center. Michigan’s offensive line should be quite good this year, which should help greatly in the transition to a new scheme.

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