BY BEN ZAILAGY & CHRIS ZADORZONY, Staff Reporters
As the weather gets warmer, and the winter semester winds down, the Michigan Wolverine football team is gearing up for their annual Spring Game. This coming Saturday, the Wolverines will play themselves, giving both the offense and defense and a good look at each other.
Before we get to the Spring Game, we will preview the offense and the defense.
Offense: It’s pretty obvious that Denard Robinson will be starting for the Wolverines come September. He has had stellar years in the maize and blue and you shouldn’t expect it to stop anytime soon. Although he will be a senior this coming year, he will definitely be a Heisman candidate.
Devin Gardner will back him up as usual, as he will become a junior. Ideas have been thrown around about using him in a different way. A slot receiver perhaps? It probably wouldn’t be the best idea, although running the wildcat with Robinson as a wideout isn’t a bad idea. In fact, its been used before.
As for the running game, Fitzgerald Toussaint will more than likely carry the load of the running game, with Stephen Hopkins as the backup. Toussaint had a huge impact last year and coming back as a redshirt junior won’t stop him. Vincent Smith will also be a part of the three man backfield, which has some great depth. Smith also contributed last year with some great runs.
The tight ends weren’t much of a factor last year at all, considering Robinson was usually running half of the time. It’s not expected to have much of a factor this year either although the position has some great depth too. Redshirt seniors Mike Kwiatkowski and Brandon Moore could have the edge, considering they are seniors.
On the wide receiving side of things, well it seems the Wolverines have depth in that department too. Roy Roundtree is a redshirt senior, allowing him one more year of eligibility. The Wolverines also have junior Drew Dileo, who is important on special teams, and redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon. Expect all to start at some point this coming season. Michigan also has five other wide receivers ready to play.
Taylor Lewan returns for his junior year as an offensive lineman, and will lead the team as one of the captains. Elliott Mealer, a redshirt senior will get a chance to start this year replacing some seniors lost to graduation. Also returning for his senior season is Patrick Omameh. He will be key in helping to keep the offensive line sturdy throughout the season.
The offense will look to improve on its second year under Al Borges, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Darrell Fulk, offensive line coach, Jeff Hecklinski, wide receivers coach, Fred Jackson, running backs coach, and Dan Ferrigno, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach.
Last season the Wolverines resurgence on defense was a pleasant surprise under first year head coach Brady Hoke. The numbers don’t lie: No. 108 in the nation in scoring defense in 2010 (35.23) to No. 6 in 2011 (17.38). No. 110 in total defense (450.77) to No. 17 (322.15), No. 95 in rushing defense (188.92) to No. 39 (161.59), No. 112 in pass defense (261.85) to No. 16 (190.46), No. 103 in pass efficiency defense (144.79) to No. 36 (120.49).
So, what will Team 133’s defense look like? Here’s a preview for Saturday’s spring game.
Michigan looks to replace seniors Mike Martin and Will Heininger who anchored the defensive line last year with seniors Craig Roh and Will Campbell. Roh is experiencing his third position change in as many seasons to SDE where his hand will be in the dirt and his responsibilities will be less about chasing and more containing ball carriers. Campbell will finally get his moment to shine as the centerpiece of the d-line along with Jibreel Black, who has added weight to play DT. Sophomores Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer are competing hard at the rush end spot, a completion that will go into fall camp.
Senior Kenny Demens, the team’s leading tackler from a year ago, leads this group and is holding his starting spot a middle linebacker. However, according to reports he’s getting a strong push from early enrollee, Joe Bolden who will serve as his backup for now. SAM linebacker will be anchored by Redshirt Sophomore Jake Ryan who leads journeyman Cam Gordon and Desmond Morgan will return to the weak side where he started most of last season. Another player to look out for is early enrollee Kaleb Ringer, who according to reports is adapting well to the college game.
It’s hard to think of a time when the Wolverines had solid depth at cornerback. But, in Hoke’s second year, the depth looks pretty good. So good, in fact Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison is challenging senior J.T. Floyd by having Terrence Talbot, a player who has impressed coaches when before he was considered an afterthought. Sophomore Blake Countess has been focusing on building off an impressive freshman debut concentrating on the nuances of the position like footwork and breaking to the football. Junior Courtney Avery is getting work in nickel situations as well being a solid option for the Wolverines.
Senior Jordan Kovacs has been a staple in Michigan’s secondary and this year will be no different. Kovacs along with Thomas Gordon both have had solid springs maintaining their roles, keeping backups Jerrod Wilson and Marvin Robinson at bay. Wilson, Michigan’s third early enrollee, has also caught Mattison’s eye picking up the defense exceptionally well.
While we don’t know if Team 133 will make leaps and bounds like their predecessors, we’ll get to see what this defense can really become since this is its second year in Mattison’s system. It should be exciting.