2012 Michigan Preview: The Offense

It's time. Football is near. Let's dive in. First up is our 2012 preview of the Michigan offense.

Quick Facts
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 22/10
Starters Returning/Lost: 6/5

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

D ROBINSON132581425521738.42015139.7319.8167.2
D GARDNER9231147.81767.711117.762.619.6

This season marks the farewell tour for Denard Robinson. Big Ten defenses will breathe a sigh of relief when his senior year at Michigan is over. If you just look at his career stats alone, they're mind-blowing. Never in my lifetime did I ever expect to see a Michigan quarterback tally up over 8100 yards of total offense, throw 40 touchdowns and run for 35 more...going into his senior year!

Denard Robinson is truly a special football player, with more athletic ability than the last 3 Michigan quarterbacks combined – which isn't saying a whole lot. I'm going to really enjoy watching him this last season in Ann Arbor.

For as natural as it is for Denard to run with the ball, it's equally as difficult to watch him throw. Many NFL scouts predict that Denard Robinson will make it to the pro level, but not as a quarterback. He does have a decent arm, which has improved drastically from his freshman year. But he still struggles at times to put the ball where it needs to be. He's not a natural passer by any stretch. But he's worked very hard to get this far, and it shows.

But for Denard to be successful throwing the ball, he's going to have to rely on his receivers to make plays. We saw that a lot last year with Junior Hemingway. He's going to be missed at the wide-out position.

For as much hype as Denard gets as the starter, maybe no backup has had quite the limelight at Michigan since the days of Drew Henson and Tom Brady, as Devin Gardner. Gardner is still listed as a junior, even though he may still somehow be granted a redshirt. We won't know this until next year, I assume.

We've only seen glimpses of Devin these past 2 years, but nothing solid to go off of. His spring game performances are never really that great. But when he comes into games, he's not bad. He's clearly got a strong arm, and moves well for a guy who's 6-4. By now, he knows the offense as well as anyone. Should Denard go down for whatever reason, Devin aught to have the ability to pick it right up without a hitch.

Backing up the backup is redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy. He shined brightly in the spring game, getting the most reps of any quarterback. From there we have 5th-year senior Jack Kennedy and freshmen Alex Swieca and Brian Cleary. Should any three of those fellas be in the game for any reason, simply turn off your television.

Running Backs
Thomas Rawls at media day.
Leaving: Michael Shaw, Michael Cox
Returning: Fitzgerald Toussaint (Jr), Vincent Smith (Sr), Stephen Hopkins (Jr), Thomas Rawls (So), Justice Hayes (Fr)
Incoming: Dennis Norfleet, Drake Johnson, Sione Houma (FB)

D ROBINSON1322111765.32161790.5
F TOUSSAINT1218710415.6915.5886.8
V SMITH13502986.023.8522.9
T RAWLS1013796.101.307.9

We added Denard to the list of running backs here simply because we love to mention how great his numbers are. He's Michigan's leading rusher two years running...why not mention that?

Denard ran the ball a lot early in his career simply our of necessity. There were no other dependable backs. Well, I take that back. There were dependable backs, but the offense was not suited to their ability. Further, the offense was not suited to anything other than making the quarterback the focus and trying to win games simply by outscoring everyone. That worked a total of 15 times between 2008 and 2010.

And then in 2011, the running back was worked back into the offensive equation to the tune of 11 wins. Yes, Denard still led the team in rushing, but he was trailed just barely by junior Fitzgerald Toussaint who tallied just over 1000 yards and 9 touchdowns. Simply having a real threat in the backfield other than Denard Robinson really started to pay off by end of the season. Fitz, who might not see the field until week 2 because of a drunk driving charge, is clearly Michigan's top back.

We're hearing that sophomore Thomas Rawls has gotten off to a nice start in fall camp. He looked solid in the spring, so I'm not surprised. I love this quote from Al Borges:
He runs with a demeanor that's aggressive. Suffice it to say aggressive would be the best word. He looks like he's mad when he runs sometimes. He's a tough guy. You hit him, you're going to feel him, I promise you that. You are going to feel him. There are times he's just simply not interested in avoiding you.
I love that.

Senior Vincent Smith will get some reps as well this fall. He's small and fast. He's got good hands. I see a lot of this in his future. He's never be a 25 carries a game type of guy...but that's ok. I do believe the running back position is stronger this season than it's been since 2007.

Receivers/Tight Ends
Roy Roundtree after the Notre Dame UTL game.
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), AJ Williams (TE), Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson

J GALLON133145314.632.434.8
R ROUNDTREE131935518.721.527.3
V SMITH131114913.520.811.5
D DILEO12912113.420.810.1
J JACKSON1333612.000.22.8


How did we get here? Better days for Michigan's receiver corps are clearly ahead of us. The glut of small and shifty slot receivers from the RichRod era has left the wideout position pretty barren. Roy Roundtree will move out to the wideout spot, assuming his recovery goes smoothly...which is another hit for a position already in need of size and experience.

I expect to see some freshmen step up this year. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will the new names at WR. They're both tall and have the build you want for a wideout. But Michigan needs some of the veterans to step up as well. Guys like Jeremy Jackson, Ricado Miller and Jerald Robinson need to make an impact in one way or another.

The huge buzz around fall camp, and spring camp actually, was the decision to try Devin Gardner out at receiver. Coaches saw the need for experience and ability, and I think Devin was more than willing to get on the field more. Doesn't hurt that he's a 6-4, 200+ pound junior and has great athletic ability. According to coaches and teammates, Devin has been wowing everyone in practices catching the ball.

Between Denard's suspect arm and the lack of experience at WR, this is a major area of concern for the Wolverines. This will put a lot of pressure on the running game. Fortunately, our depth at slot is vast. Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon lead that group. I can also see Vincent Smith contributing to the short passing game as well.

Things don't get much better in the TE position. A massive hole was left behind by departing senior and captain Kevin Koger. Koger didn't rewrite the record book at Michigan, but his leadership was invaluable. Fifth-year senior Brandon Moore will step in to the starting role sorta by default, but he will be backed up by a host of inexperienced underclassmen. Incoming freshmen Devin Funchess and AJ Williams could push for playing time as well.

Offensive Line
All-B1G left tackle Taylor Lewan at media day.
Leaving: C David Molk, RT Mark Huyge, Rocko Khoury
Returning: LT Taylor Lewan (Jr), LG Michael Schofield (Jr), RG Patrick Omameh (Sr), Ricky Barnum (Sr), Elliot Mealer (Sr), 
Incoming: Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Ben Braden, Blake Bars

I put the OL last, but that certainly doesn't mean their role in the Michigan offense is diminished by any stretch. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I consider the OL to be the most important position on the field.

The major question going into 2012 is the center position. Gone is All-American David Molk. In his place is senior Ricky Barnum, who takes the place of the departing Rocko Khoury who would have at least competed for the role after being Molk's somewhat serviceable backup in 2011. No matter who the center is, it will be a step backwards from where Molk was last season...centers like that don't come around very often.

Also gone is RT Mark Huyge. Michael Schofield has shifted from his left guard spot to take his place. That leaves returning RG Patrick Omameh and LT Taylor Lewan as the only two OL spots that will maintain the same guy as 2011. Senior Elliott Mealer (and his beard) is going to fill in for Schofield at LG.

That brings us to depth. We don't have it...yet. There is a ton of incoming OL talent that could compete for playing time right away. True-freshman Kyle Kalis could be lining up at the left guard spot before B1G play begins. Erik Magnuson, Erik Gunderson, Chris Bryant and Kristian Mateus should also compete in backup rolls as well.

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