2012 Look Ahead: The Offense

Last time, we took a peak at the 2012 schedule in the first of a brief series of mid-winter posts previewing the upcoming season. Today, we'll look at the offense for 2012, which might not look or feel that different from the offense from 2011...and why that might not be such a bad thing.

More of this?
Follow the break for some in-depth goodness.
So you're interested in what the offense could look like next year, are you? Think Al Borges could add some new wrinkles to Denard's repertoire? Maybe substitute some new ones for some of the old ones? Will we look more like a traditional pro-style offense, or stick with this last year's hybrid system with an emphasis on the spread?

These are all great questions. But no good answers until we see something at the spring game.

But let's not let that stop us. Here we go.

Leaving: None
Returning: Denard Robinson (Sr), Devin Gardner (Jr?), Russell Bellomy (So)
Incoming: None

No surprises here. The pieces and parts are in-place and won't change from last year to this year. Anyone predicting a senior Denard getting sent to WR in favor of a relatively untested Devin Gardner are just plain wrong.

The best way I can explain Denard as a QB is he's more of an art than a science. What he can do when he's playing his game defies logic. When Michigan is at it's best is when Al Borges simply let's Denard be Denard.

Shoelace battled a couple nagging injuries/ailments in 2011, and that hindered his ability a bit. But 2012 is the year he needs to let it all hang out. I like the idea that he can be just as effective in a pro-style offense, but that's just not the reality. For Denard to be at his best, he need to right on the edge of control. That means a lot of shotgun, a lot of improvising, and unfortunately, a lot uncertainty. I love that Denard is so good at what he does, but I'm also fearful of it.

I suppose that's the price you pay for magic. Hopefully we haven't seen the best Denard has to offer just yet.

When he's on, he's really on. But when he's not, it can be brutal. His arm can be very hit or miss. Downfield passes are usually misses, but his 10-15 yard range is usually spot on.

I'm assuming Gardner won't get a red-shirt, but I could be wrong. Thus, he will be a junior this year, not a sophomore. That decision won't be made until his senior year.

Running Back, Full Back
Leaving: Michael Shaw, Michael Cox
Returning: Fitzgerald Toussaint (Jr), Vincent Smith (Sr), Stephen Hopkins (Jr)
Incoming: Dennis Norfleet, Drake Johnson, Sione Houma (FB)

We're pretty well taken care of in the running back department for 2012. Fitz should continue his success as Borges continues to get him more carries. As long as he can remain healthy, I see him being the premier back in this offense for the next two years.

I don't think we miss either of the Michaels, Shaw and Cox. Both had their moments at Michigan, but neither were able to become that feature back that we needed. Having Rich Rod and Magee calling the offense probably didn't help either of their careers. By the time Borges got here, both of their ships had sailed.

Vincent Smith will be relegated to a 3rd down back. He's small, but very quick, which is good in certain circumstances – for example the screen pass used late in the game against Notre Dame which Smith took to the house to give Michigan it's first lead. We saw that same screen a handful of times the rest of the year with moderate success.

Hopkins is a good runner who will surely see the field this year...but he must take better care of the football. He needs to shake the label he got last year of not being dependable.

As far as the new kids on the block, Norfleet and Johnson, Norfleet probably has the better shot at playing early. But again, Fitz has the starting RB spot on lockdown barring an injury. Thus, we're pretty well stocked with two backups with solid game experience.

I like the addition of Sione Houma at full back. Expect that position to grow the longer Hoke/Borges are here.

Receiver, Tight End

Leaving: Kelvin Grady, Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum
Returning: Roy Roundtree (Sr), Jeremy Gallon (Jr), Drew Dileo (Jr), Brandon Moore (Sr, TE)
Incoming: Devin Funchess (TE), Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson

This is an area of concern. In 2011, we had depth at WR and TE, but it was all relatively equal. There were no real standouts. Hemingway only had one or two catches a game, but they were usually dramatic. The rest of the time Denard would spread the ball around to a combination of RBs, TEs and slot WRs. While this worked well most of the time, our downfield passing game was pretty much non-existent. But I can't put all the blame on the receivers or the play-calling. Denard's arm didn't always deliver.

Both the receivers and tight ends are groups in transition – for similar reasons. Receivers need to get bigger. And with Darboh and Chesson, we're seeing that progression. We do lose some good guys in Grady, Odoms – who really came on late in the year, but the role of the slot receiver is going to be minimized substantially as time goes on.

We will miss Darryl Stonum. Although he didn't play in 2011, we were expecting him back this year. But I applaud the decision to kick him off the team. It was a tough decision to make, but it needed to be made. But his absence, with Hemingway gone, does leave a big hole at the wideout spot. Roundtree will likely be the marquee guy going into 2012 with Gallon and Dileo adding to the mix in the slot role.

Tight end is another big concern with Koger leaving. He was a dependable pass catcher who had good size and could move well, and was a tremendous team leader. Steve Watson, also leaving never really produced any results. Which leaves Brandon Moore and incoming freshman Devin Funchess. Expect Funchess, #8 TE in the country, to contend for the starting gig.

There's some message board banter going on about AJ Williams, incoming OT recruit, making the switch to TE. This could happen if: Omameh steps up at RT, and Williams can do more than just block. I expect the TE position to grow more crutial in the Borges offense.

Offensive Line
Leaving: C David Molk, RT Mark Huyge
Returning: LT Taylor Lewan (Jr), LG Michael Schofield (Jr), RG Patrick Omameh (Sr), Rocko Khoury (Sr), Ricky Barnum (Sr), Elliot Mealer (Sr), 
Incoming: Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, AJ Williams, Ben Braden, Blake Bars

Make no mistake, David Molk will be missed tremendously. I have no idea who replaces him at center. Rocko Khoury has some center experience, but we saw what he did in the Sugar Bowl when Molk was hurt, and it was ugly.  Granted he was sort of thrown to the wolves at the last second, so hopefully an entire off-season to prepare will do him good. Either way, I think he starts the season at center, but hopefully he's challenged for that spot.

I really like our prospects for this group for 2012. Incoming guys like Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson could potentially start in game one. I fully expect Kalis to start at right guard against Alabama.

The left side of the line is going to be solid. Lewan and Schofield have those position on lockdown for the next two years. The center spot and the right side will see some shuffling early in the year. But with a returning starting RT, three seniors with solid experience coming back and two really good prospects coming in, I don't think filling in those three spots will be difficult. I don't think Huyge will be missed.

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