Michigan Football Team Has Several Holes to Fill for Return Trip to BCS
Wake up. It's the first of the month, and there are exactly four months (121 days) left until the first college football Saturday of 2012.
The spring season has come to a close. Official spring practices are over, and fans' opportunities to get their first look at their favorite college football team has come and gone.
But this is the time when good teams become great. This is when some of the hardest work gets done by players and coaches to prepare for the grind that is college football.
Last season, Michigan earned its first trip to the Bowl Championship Series since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and won its first BCS game since a 2000 Orange Bowl win over Alabama.
This year, with their highest preseason expectations in recent memory, the Wolverines open against the vaunted Crimson Tide Sept. 1 at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas.
Defeating the defending BCS National Champions will be a herculean task, but before Michigan looks at a single second of Alabama game film, the Wolverines need to address several departures from last season's 11-2 team.
Here are eight players Michigan needs to replace, and the potential candidates that will fill those voids:
Center: David Molk
Last season, senior David Molk won the Rimington Award as the nation's best center.
Molk was a four-year starter for the Wolverines and a team captain in 2011. It's been 41 games since Michigan started another player at center, and as a first-team All-American and recipient of the Rimington Trophy, Molk leaves incredible shoes to fill for his successor.
After two-year backup Rocko Khoury decided to graduate, foregoing his fifth year of eligibility, it became apparent that redshirt senior Ricky Barnum will likely be snapping the ball to quarterback Denard Robinson.
Barnum has never played a collegiate game at center, and after coming out of high school as a 4-star recruit, and the 2008 No. 5 prep offensive lineman in the country, according to Rivals.com, Barnum's career at Michigan so far has been a disappointment.
He played in just four games last season (started three) and has only appeared in nine games in his career.
Barnum made his debut at center in the Michigan spring game and had mixed results. He accepted responsibility for two botched quarterback exchanges and said he needs to put in extra work between now and Sept. 1 to refine his footwork, technique and strength.
"There's a lot I have to do to up my game," Barnum said to AnnArbor.com after the April 14 spring game. "I've got to get better."
In his second year under the tutelage of head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges, Barnum will need to excel because there isn't a lot of experience behind him.
Redshirt freshman Jack Miller and walk-on sophomore Joey Burzyinski are the back-up options on the Wolverines' depth chart.
Barnum is working hard to become a solid starter on Michigan's line and said he's putting in the extra work to live up to the expectations in Ann Arbor.
"That's something I'm going to work on (all summer). Even if I have to come in Saturdays and Sundays as well, that's something I'm committed to doing. We've been in the system for two years now, and we all have to step up," he said.
Nose Tackle: Mike Martin
Mike Martin made 64 tackles and 6.5 sacks at nose guard last year for Michigan and had the biggest game of his life on the biggest stage.
He tied a career high with 10 tackles in the win against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and was the first Michigan player selected in the 2012 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans in the third round (82nd overall).
But Martin's numbers didn't tell the whole story. The 6'1'', 305-pounder commanded a double team almost every play, opening up holes for other linemen and linebackers to evade.
Martin, who started 37 games and appeared in 49 for Michigan, was a leader and a team captain. Young players looked to him when things got rough because Martin went through it all donning the winged helmet.
Along with Ricky Barnum, senior William Campbell is another highly-touted player who's been a disappointment for the Maize and Blue and is expected to succeed Martin at nose tackle.
Campbell was a US Army All-American, a PARADE Magazine All-American, an EA Sports All-America First-Team selection and a top-10 prep defensive lineman coming out of Detroit's Cass Technological High School.
But Campbell hasn't made a single start for Michigan and has had his effort questioned by teammates, coaches and even himself.
Campbell, who's lost 50 pounds in the past two years, is taking accountability for himself and said being lazy won't be an attribute he accepts anymore.
"You're not playing for yourself," Campbell said to AnnArbor.com. "You're playing for your teammates, for Michigan, the block 'M.'"
Wide Receiver: Junior Hemingway
Last season, Junior Hemingway was given an honor like no one else in Michigan football history. Hemingway, who wore former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard's 21 jersey, was given a patch, signifying he wore a jersey formerly donned by a "Michigan Legend."
Hemingway took the honoring of Howard seriously and was Michigan's answer when it needed a big play last season.
The 6'1'', 225-pound receiver led the team with six touchdowns (two rushing) on 34 catches for 699 yards.
He was often counted on to make circus catches when Denard Robinson would impetuously heave passes into the air. Hemingway was expected to make plays when the ball was anywhere in his vicinity and was Michigan's only deep-threat receiver.
He saved his best effort for last, catching two touchdown passes in Michigan's win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and being named the game's MVP.
Hemingway, who was drafted in the seventh round (238th overall) by the Kansas City Chiefs, will be replaced by 6'0'', 177-pound receiver Roy Roundtree. Although Hemingway primarily was the Z receiver in Al Borges' system, and Roundtree was the X last season and will likely return to that role. Roundtree will be the No. 1 option for Robinson in 2012.
Roundtree, a redshirt senior who's started 29 games for the Wolverines, including 24 consecutive, is Michigan's active leader in career receptions (123) and receiving yards (1,724).
He has shown signs of brilliance in his career, including setting the Michigan single-game record for receiving yards with 246 against Illinois in 2010.
But he hasn't quite lived up to expectations.
His best season was in 2010, when he had 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns, but after being named to the Biletnikoff Award (nation's top receiver) preseason watch list last year, he had a disappointing 2011 campaign.
Roundtree played most of last season as the split-end after playing most of his career in the slot, but will move to flanker this season, replacing Hemingway.
Roundtree has never been the feature receiver in Ann Arbor, but as the go-to guy who runs a 4.38 40-yard dash, "Tree" will be Robinson's best friend and will be looked on to make big plays in big games.
"Because we split time with him and Jeremy Gallon (last year), Roy took some hits with his numbers," Borges said to AnnArbor.com's Kyle Meinke. "But going to flanker, a healthy Roy Roundtree could really have a good season.
"And out at flanker now, you get more balls thrown your way. I have no doubt Roy Roundtree will have a heck of a year," Borges said.
Wide Receiver: Darryl Stonum
Darryl Stonum didn't play a down in 2011, because after a breakout year, catching 49 passes for 633 yards and four touchdowns in 2010, the Michigan receiver was arrested for the second time on suspicion on drunk driving and suspended indefinitely.
Stonum was a 4-star recruit and a top-50 player nationally, coming out of high school in 2008, and Michigan expected to have the star receiver back for 2012. Stonum practiced with the team during his suspension in 2011 and stayed out of trouble, but after being stopped for driving with a revoked license in January, Hoke dismissed him from the team.
He compiled 1,008 receiving yards in 36 career games, and had a Michigan single-season record, 1,001 return yards in 2009.
With the departure of receivers Kelvin Grady and Martavious Odoms, Stonum's presence would exponentially help the Wolverines and take pressure away from Roy Roundtree.
But after his release, Michigan has to replace Stonum with receivers-by-committee.
Jeremy Gallon will likely start as the Z receiver this season and will get some competition from 5'10'' junior Drew Dileo, and 4-star 2012 recruit Jehu Chesson.
Gallon, a 5'8'' redshirt junior, has been primarily a return specialist in his two seasons for Michigan. He only had four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown in his redshirt freshman year, and last season, added 31 catches for 453 yards and three touchdowns, mostly playing out of the slot.
Dileo is inexperienced with only 10 career catches for 124 yards, but caught two touchdowns last season, has very good hands and is a good fundamental route runner. He won't be a No. 1 receiver, but can turn into a very dependable third or fourth option for Michigan.
At 6'3'', Chesson comes in as the second-tallest receiver on Michigan's roster, but the incoming freshman didn't graduate high school early, and wasn't able to attend spring camp, which may hinder his progress.
But he's a talented recruit with speed and size, who turned down offers from Missouri, Oklahoma State and several Big Ten schools.
Chesson was a three-sport star in high school, which probably weighed on his 3-star recruiting status. But Chesson's high school coach said once he puts his mind solely on football, his potential is limitless.
“Like a lot of kids, he’s a three-sport kid, so he’s not exclusively into the one sport,” Ladue Horton Watkins football coach Mike Tarpey told Tim Sullivan of the Detroit Free Press. “Once he’s focused on the one sport, I think there will be a tremendous amount of growth there for him.”
Cornerback: Troy Woolfolk
Troy Woolfolk was never the star Michigan expected him to be, but he played in 45 games in the Wolverines secondary (started 23) and had a key role in rejuvenating Michigan's defense, which was historically bad in 2010.
Woolfolk broke his leg during 2010 fall camp and missed the entire season. Michigan's defense ranked 99th nationally in points allowed in 2010, giving up 33.8 points per game, but with Woolfolk back in the secondary last season, the Wolverines defense was No. 6 in the country, allowing just 17.4 points per game.
He obviously didn't do it all and had help from a tremendous defensive line, but Woolfolk was a dependable veteran in the secondary, playing both corner and safety.
He started his career as a safety, but because of the depleted secondary, Woolfolk switched to corner to start his redshirt senior year. Last season, he recorded 30 tackles and two pass breakups.
Woolfolk didn't put up the greatest numbers, but he was a veteran presence in an inexperienced, injury ridden defensive backfield.
He'll be replaced this season by 5'10'' Blake Countess.
Countess played in 12 games last season, 11 of which were at corner, and he started the last six games. He recorded 44 tackles, broke up six passes and forced a fumble last season, and was named to the ESPN.com and BTN.com Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
Coming out of Good Counsel High School in 2011, Countess was a 4-star recruit and a US Army All-American. He played defensive back and wide receiver in high school and returned kicks.
He is a tremendous athlete who, for his size, is a very solid tackler, and with a year of Big Ten football under his belt, he could become a shutdown corner.
Running Back: Michael Shaw
Michael Shaw was always in the running back mix in Ann Arbor, but never set himself apart to be the feature back.
He played 39 games at Michigan, but only started 11. His best season was as a junior in 2010, when he had 75 carries for 414 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Wolverines were running back-by-committee, Shaw's whole career. He split time with Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins and the apparent incumbent starter, Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Toussaint, a redshirt junior, had a breakout season a year ago, rushing for 1,091 yards and nine touchdowns on 187 carries.
He started 11 games last season and became the 31st Michigan player ever to rush for over 1,000 yards, but because there were several backs vying for carries, Toussaint didn't see much spotlight.
With the departure of Shaw and Michael Cox, and with Hopkins converting to a Michigan-traditional fullback, Toussaint will be the feature back for the first time in his career.
At 5'10'' and 195 pounds, Toussaint has a low center of gravity and is a bull that hits the hole with force. But he also has the ability to mix in quickness and speed, running the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
His increased production will depend largely on Denard Robinson's improvement in the pocket. If Robinson shows opponents he can beat them through the air, Toussaint will see a lot more holes and have a career season.
Tight End: Kevin Koger
Before the Rich Rodriguez era, Michigan football has always depended heavily on its tight ends to produce in the passing game.
Rodriguez came in and for three years attempted to make Michigan into a spread offense, but with his regime gone and offensive coordinator Al Borges in his second year driving the offensive bus, Michigan is going back to what it's used to.
Koger was recruited by former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and did his best to keep his head above water in a Rodriguez system that could barely spell tight end.
Michigan employed a hybrid offense last season, attempting to blend both offenses, which succeeded for the most part.
Koger was a team captain and played in 47 games, starting 31. He had career highs last season in receptions (23), yards (244) and touchdowns (four).
It appears that seldom-used Brandon Moore is in line to succeed Koger at tight end for the Wolverines.
The 6'5'', 295-pound, fifth-year senior saw time in 12 games last season, but only has two career catches.
Moore has the job after spring camp, but he'll be challenged by incoming freshmen A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess.
Funchess is similar to Koger. He's athletic and can catch the ball, but at 6'4'', 204 pounds, he needs to put on weight to handle Big Ten defensive ends.
Williams is projected to see playing time first, but he's not a prototypical pass-catching Michigan tight end.
He's 6'6'', 275 pounds, and was moved to offensive line his senior year, to maximize his size and blocking skills. He doesn't run routes particularly well or have good hands, but could see time right away as an extension of the offensive line, while he develops his fundamentals in the passing game.
He wanted to play tight end in college, and Michigan agreed that was the spot for him.
“That’s also what made Michigan a great decision. They actually wanted me for the tight end position, which I want to play," Williams said Detroit Free Press.
Defensive Tackle: Ryan Van Bergen
Ryan Van Bergen played 50 games in his career at Michigan and started 38 times at defensive end and defensive tackle.
Van Bergen did everything last season, recording 45 tackles and five-and-a-half sacks, while breaking up four passes, recovering three fumbles and forcing one.
Last season, he was the co-recipient of the Robert P. Ufer Bequest Award, given to the senior demonstrating the most enthusiasm and love for Michigan. Although he wasn't a captain, Van Bergen was one of the biggest leaders for the Wolverines and found a way to make his presence felt every game of his career.
He'll likely be replaced by 6'5'', 225-pound sophomore Brennen Beyer. Beyer played primarily at linebacker last season, but looks to make the move back to his normal position at defensive end.
Beyer registered 65 tackles and 12 sacks at defensive end as a senior at Plymouth High School in 2010.
If it's not Beyer at weak-side defensive end, it could be sophomore Frank Clark.
Clark, a 6'2'', 228-pound sophomore put his name in the ring last season in the Sugar Bowl, when he recorded his first career interception which led to a Michigan touchdown.
Clark is undersized, but with his quickness and speed, a summer in the weight room could turn him into a dangerous pass-rush threat.