Watercooler Guide to 2009 Michigan Football: Offense Part 1

Welcome to the Watercooler Guide to 2009 Michigan Football. This is the first in a series of articles designed to give the average Michigan fan a fairly moderate understanding of various topics related to the upcoming 2009 season. With this helpful guide, you'll be armed with the knowledge that will help you sound like you know what you're talking about, and the confidence to back it up!

There are many places where this knowledge will come in helpful. Such venues could be, the office watercooler, the local sports bar, neighbor's backyard bbq, a friend's basement, or the pregame tailgate. 

In this edition, we'll start off with one of the most debated topics of all: The Offense, Part 1.

The 2009 edition of the Michigan football offense will look very similar in style to that of the 2008 offense. Rich Rodriguez didn't become the architect of the spread-option only to abandon it after one bad season. The one thing that folks will most certainly recognize, are the basic formations. The QB (whomever that may be) will most always line up in a shotgun formation, the lineman (all but the center) will be in an upright stance, and there will be usually 1 running back lined up left or right of the QB. Receivers and/or tight ends can and will be all over the field. Anywhere from 3 to 5 receivers can line up in any number of formations in this style of offense. Often, you'll have 2 wideouts and 1 or 2 slot receivers. We'll got into more what this means in a minute.

The design of this offense is to both spread out the defense, and get the ball to players in space. What that means is, to get the ball (often by passing) to running backs or receivers usually out near the sidelines where there are less defenders. The key to this style working is having skill position players who are very fast and very agile. If a player, let's say WR Martavious Odoms can get the ball on a screen and only has one defender within 5-10 yards of him, this is an ideal situation. He will be depended on to allude at least one guy. After that, it is up to his speed and quickness to gain extra yardage. Depending on the player, and the defensive formation, these types of plays could go for 5 yards, or 95 yards. That's part of the beauty (and frustration) of the spread-option.

***Player's names in italics are true-freshman***

16 David Cone, Jr.
5 Tate Forcier, Fr.
Denard Robinson, Fr.
8 Nick Sheridan, Jr.

No question the most dissected and pivotal position on the field...no matter what style of offense you run. But in the spread, this position is the heart and brains of the operation.

Last year we saw a very bad QB battle between two guys not really designed to handle this type of offense at this level. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan did a modest at best job last year. Both showed that even with sub-par talent, this system can and does work. Sort of like putting a 400-hp motor under the hood of a Ford Pinto. We had flashes of brilliance, but those were clouded by just not having the right players to run this system efficiently.

This year will be a turn in the right direction. Steven Threet has transferred to Arizona State. Last year's walk-on starter Nick Sheridan, now under scholarship, remains on the roster...but will likely drop to 3rd...or 4th on the depth chart this season.

Right now, the front-runner for the starting job is true-freshman, dual-threat style QB Tate Forcier. Tate is the younger brother of former Michigan backup Jason Forcier who left to pursue his degree at Stanford. Tate enrolled early back in January, along with 6 other recruits, to get a leg up on training for 2009. He participated in spring practice where fans got a really good look at his ability in the spring game in April. The general consensus was that Forcier did well in the scrimmage. For those who like stats...he threw 11 for 13, 141 yards and 4 touchdowns (and he ran for one). Of course those are scrimmage stats...which really don't mean much...but still, pretty good.

Tate Forcier Spring Game Highlights:

Incoming freshman Denard Robinson is also a dual-threet style QB who will most certainly contend for the starting position as well.

Robinson will make his way to Ann Arbor this summer to begin workouts with the team and start to get reps with the offense during summer camp. Most contend that Forcier is in the driver's seat as far as being the starter this season. But I predict we'll see both QB's on the field at least early on. The problem with 2 true-freshman as front-runners for the job is that we really won't know anything about how good they are until they see some real game experience. It sucks, but that's the reality.

Running Backs
23 Carlos Brown, Sr.
15 Michael Cox, Fr.
Jeremy Gallon, Fr.
24 Kevin Grady, Sr.
Teric Jones, Fr.
4 Brandon Minor, Sr.
35 Jimmy Potempa, Jr.
2 Vincent Smith, Fr.
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Fr.

For all of the inexperience we have at the QB position, we more than make up for at running back. Back for their senior years are Minor, Brown and Grady. These three guys are primed to have the kind of season we've all been waiting for them to have.

Minor should carry the load for the 2009 season. He's a big, tough back and actually has some decent speed. He has more than enough ability to put together a 1500 yard season. He won't get as many carries as Mike Hart did in the pro-style set he enjoyed during his tenure in the backfield. Minor will split carries with fellow seniors Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady. It was thought that Grady, who had some issues with drunk driving charges, might be kicked off the team. However he will be back for his final season in Ann Arbor.

Carlos Brown is also a bright spot for the offense with potential for great success. He can break long runs and pull away from linebackers with his speed. Expect to see Grady in the backfield for short yardage and goal line situations.

Freshman Vincent Smith enrolled early this spring to get a leg up on the competition. He wowed us with this YouTube clip:

We could also get away with listing the QB as a potential running back. In this style of offense, the QB is just as likely to run the ball as he is to pass. Tate Forcier showed us this spring that he can and will run the ball if nothing is open downfield.

Most Michigan fans who have tried to block out the 2008 season as much as possible will always remember Sam McGuffie. He came to Michigan with promise of being the great white hope for Michigan's spread-option future. But one too many shots to the head were enought to send McGuffie packing to Rice. He just wasn't cut out for the Big Ten. Way too many concussions and not enough time to prepare for life in college football.

Tight End
46 Jon Bills, So.
86 Kevin Koger, So.
88 Brandon Moore, Fr.
96 Mike Therman, Jr.
80 Martell Webb, Jr.

The misconception is that tight end is not as important in the spread-option offense. I can see how one might make that assumption. But TE is a vital role in this offense. It's like having a big slot receiver who can block for a scrambling QB. Its also a guy who can give a scrambling QB a short pass option. Don't think that just because the spread depends on small quick players that the big tough guys aren't just as important.

We have to replace 5-year senior Mike Massey who was the primary TE last season. Up and coming sophomore Kevin Koger impressed coaches with his play last year, and is poised to assume primary TE duties this season.

Coming up next, we'll take a look at Offense Part 2, which will include receivers and lineman.

1 comment

  1. Dude, I'm not trying to be a smart-ass, but I have to be honest -- I stopped reading after I saw you refer to Martivious (sic) and Sherridan (sic). Can't be doing that kind of stuff if you expect to be taken seriously (at least by me, maybe I'm too anal).