A position group of concern and great mystery heading into the 2012 season for the University of Michigan are their wide receivers. However, true freshman Amara Darboh (West Des Moines, Iowa) has the size, athleticism and most importantly a golden opportunity to become the Wolverines' No. 1 wideout for the next four years.
Michigan's top wide receiver and star quarterback Denard Robinson's safety net from a year ago, Junior Hemingway, used up all of his eligibility. The Wolverines also lost depth at the position with the departures of Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady and reliable tight end target Kevin Koger.
The Wolverines top returning wideout is the undersized Jeremy Gallon, who plays primarily out of the slot and according to Michigan's offensive coordinator Al Borges is their best blocker at the position. Gallon only accrued 453 yards and three touchdowns on 31 receptions in 2011, which is not great considering the fact the Wolverines receiving corps was fairly average last season.
Fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree saw his numbers dip significantly in Borges' first season at Michigan. After leading the Wolverines in receptions (72) and yards (935) in 2010, Roundtree managed to only catch 19 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan's 2011 campaign.
Roundtree had been making the transition from slot to flanker receiver effectively until he had arthroscopic knee surgery less than two weeks ago. The coaches expect the Ohio native to be back for the season opener against Alabama on September 1st, but it is unclear whether or not he will truly be at full strength when Michigan's season kicks off.
Backup quarterback Devin Gardner has been taking reps at wide receiver as well as under center so far during Michigan's fall camp and is expected to play a part in the Wolverines passing game, though his exact role as a wideout has yet to be determined.
Gardner, who is entering his junior season in Ann Arbor, stands 6'4" and tips the scales at 203 pounds giving him the body of a No. 1 wideout in addition to his top flight speed.
All of this sounds great in theory, but the only reports out of Michigan practices so far is that Gardner has been used to give the Wolverines more depth at the position and to give the current receivers some breaks at practice.
"It was a mutual agreement," Gardner said last Monday according to Kyle Meinke of AnnArbor.com. "There wasn't a lot of depth (at receiver), so guys would be dog-tired in practice if we didn't get a chance to get them a break. So I'm basically giving guys breaks."
The only thing Michigan fans know for sure is that Gardner will likely see some game action at wide receiver this season. However, fans may be a little overzealous in believing the Inkster High School product will be the Wolverines top receiver in 2012.
This leaves the door wide open for Darboh, who was a 4-star recruit and the nation's No. 215 overall prospect in the class of 2012 according to Rivals.
Darboh's coach at Dowling Catholic High School told TheWolverine.com shortly after the 6'2", 220-pounder committed to Michigan that his former star wideout will bring a "bigger physical presence" to Michigan's receiving corps.
Who will be Michigan's leading receiver in 2012?
The Iowa native has already used his 4.42 40-yard dash speed and his athleticism to impress Michigan's veteran receivers.
"He can spread the field," Roundtree said to Borton after Michigan's first practice earlier this month. "He's a pretty skinny guy, but he's tall, and he can run great routes. He goes up for the ball...He's going to be good."
Robinson also had nothing but good things to say about the young receiver with the potential to become one of his most reliable targets during his last season in a winged helmet.
"He had a couple catches that shocked us," Robinson informed Meinke. "He competed today. You could tell he wants to play."
Michigan's running game should be strong this season with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls carrying the load, but the Wolverines' success will ultimately come down to how effective Robinson is as a passer. That is exactly why he needs Darboh to be a legitimate threat down the field.
After all, this used to be how Michigan won Big Ten titles in the early 2000s.
Remember Chad Henne throwing deeps balls to Braylon Edwards all season en route to a Rose Bowl berth in 2004? How about Tom Brady and Drew Henson to David Terrell from 1999-2000, or John Navarre to Marquise Walker in 2001?
Michigan fans could have flashbacks to those famous connections this season if Darboh has the breakout season the Wolverines need him to have and becomes the top dog at wide receiver.
Zach Dirlam is the former Lead Editor of the College Basketball section as well as Big Ten columnist for the FOX Sports/MSN/YardBarker affiliate website Sports at Work. Check out his blog, Dirlam’s Dirty Dugout Sports Blog, which features this story, along with other articles and video reports on major sports.
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