While the Michigan Wolverines will share a taste of it during the upcoming Outback Bowl, they won’t actually reveal their new power-I offense until next fall.
After five straight seasons of the read-option attack, Michigan finally has the personnel in place to make the switch.
The new offense features a smash-mouth, between-the-tackles tailback and a quarterback who is comfortable throwing play-action passes from the pocket.
Devin Gardner, who has shown signs of brilliance in a reserve role this season, takes over from option specialist Denard Robinson, who is headed for the National Football League. At 6’4”, Gardner has both the vision and the arm strength to be a successful dropback passer. In addition he has the necessary quickness to escape blitzing defenses.
Identifying that special tailback won’t be possible until at least spring practice, since incumbent Fitz Toussaint is recovering from a severe lower-leg injury. .
Let’s take a look at how Michigan’s depth chart will most likely look when spring practice begins in March.
Devin Gardner (12)
Before backup quarterback Russell Bellomy’s meltdown at Nebraska, the quarterback picture for 2013 was muddled, at best.
Bellomy, converted-wide receiver Devin Gardner, preferred walk-on Brian Cleary and incoming freshman Shane Morris all had their eyes set on Denard Robinson’s job.
But Bellomy looked terrible when subbing for Robinson in Michigan’s 23-9 loss to Nebraska. In just over 30 minutes of work, Bellomy completed only three of 16 passes for 38 yards and three interceptions.
With Robinson still on the mend, Gardner moved back to QB from his receiver position and showed why he was recruited as a 5-star quarterback.
Gardner led Michigan to three victories in four games, completing 57 of 90 passes for eight touchdowns and four interceptions in the process.
The 6’4” 203-pounder from Inkster gets another chance to cement his status as 2013’s starter during the New Year’s Day battle with South Carolina.
He is also awaiting word from the Big Ten on whether he’ll get a medical redshirt for the 2010 season, since he played only three games. Head coach Brady Hoke expects the request to go through, so Gardner could be Michigan’s starting signal caller through 2014.
Starter: Devin Gardner
Backups: Brian Cleary, Russell Bellomy, Shane Morris
Thomas Rawls (34)
In Michigan’s new offense, the primary tailback must be strong enough to break tackles and move the chains. Sure, there will be times when a flashy scatback carries the ball, but someone built more like Thomas Rawls or incoming freshman Deveon Smith will get the bulk of the carries.
If Fitz Toussaint’s future wasn’t in question because of a nasty leg injury suffered in the Iowa game, he still would have trouble retaining his starting job.
Toussaint had a very productive 2011, but his mantra wasn't to bowl over defenders.
Rawls (5'10" 218 lbs), who played sparingly in his two seasons at Michigan, gained 321 yards on just 70 carries. At times the sophomore from Flint looks like the next Anthony Thomas (1997-2000, 924 carries, 4,472 yards), but he is sometimes reluctant to hit the hole as quickly as necessary.
Should Smith learn the offense in a hurry, he could give Rawls and Toussaint a run for their money.
Justice Hayes, one of those scatbacks, will get plenty of work in specialty situations like screens and circle routes out of the backfield.
At fullback, Joe Kerridge should keep his starting role but watch out for incoming freshman Wyatt Shallman from Detroit Catholic Central. At 6’3”, 245 lbs, Shallman is headed to the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl with visions of carrying the ball. Because of a hamstring injury, he spent most of the season at defensive end.
Starter: Thomas Rawls
Backups: Deveon Smith, Fitz Toussaint, Justice Hayes, Drake Johnson, Dennis Norfleet
Starter: Joe Kerridge
Backups: Wyatt Shallman, Sione Houma
Devin Funchess (19)
After Roy Roundtree and Darryl Stonum caught 72 and 49 passes respectively in 2010, Michigan's passing stats took a plunge during the past two seasons.
The Wolverines caught 155 (13 games) and 151 passes (12 games) during the last two years, a huge difference from the 273 receptions back in 2010.
The main reason for the decline was that Coach Hoke junked the no-huddle offense and that quarterback Denard Robinson's passing stats dropped as well.
So with those gaudy 2010 numbers still in mind, Jeremy Gallon's team-leading 40 catches shouldn't look all that bad.
Even so, the receiving corps might be the weak link of Michigan's 2013 squad. With the graduation of Roy Roundtree (28 catches), the sudden departure of Jerald Robinson and Devin Gardner's move back to quarterback, the Wolverines are short on experienced wide receivers.
Shifting to the pro-style offense might help, as the I-formation attack will sometimes feature two tight ends, a fullback, a tailback and only one wide receiver.
The Wolverines will be strong at tight end however, as true freshman Devin Funchess (6'5", 229 lbs) emerged as a formidable target. Versatile enough to play h-back, the slot or even wide receiver, Funchess was able to turn five of his 14 receptions into touchdowns.
A.J. Williams, who will occasionally line up opposite Funchess, uses his 6'6", 283-pound frame primarily as a blocker.
Aside from Gallon, look for reliable Drew Dileo to win the other wide receiver spot. Although he's not a breakaway threat, Dileo always seems to find the vacant area in zone defenses.
Starter: Drew Dileo
Backups: Jeremy Jackson, Jehu Chesson, Da'Mario Jones
Starter: Jeremy Gallon
Backups: Amara Darboh, Joe Reynolds, Jaron Dukes, Csont'e York
Starter: Devin Funchess
Backups: A.J. Williams, Jake Butt, Khalid Hill
The most important component of Michigan's new power offense is obviously the offensive line. Based on the recruiting classes of the past two years, Michigan will no doubt have a formidable offensive front. It's just a matter of when.
With the Wolverines replacing three—if not—four starting linemen from this year's team, fans in Arbor might have to be patient.
Left guard Ricky Barnum, center Elliott Mealer and right guard Patrick Omameh will all graduate, while All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan might forego his senior senior to enter the NFL draft.
Fortunately, Michigan did a superb job recruiting offensive linemen during the last two seasons. Hoke signed five linemen to the 2012 class and has five more committed for 2013.
The first of this group to get playing time will either be Erik Magnuson or Kyle Kalis, both of whom entered with the 2012 class.
Magnuson, a 4-star recruit from San Diego, will most likely start at left tackle if Lewan leaves early.
Kalis, who de-committed from Ohio State to join the Wolverines, has a good shot of winning the competition at left guard.
The three potential starters with the most experience are redshirt junior Mike Schofield, redshirt sophomore Joey Burzynski and redshirt freshman Jack Miller. Schofield started all 12 games at right tackle this season, while Burzynski saw action in 11 games over the past two years and Miller played in six games this season.
Starter: Erik Magnuson or Taylor Lewan (expected to leave for NFL)
Backups: Erik Gunderson, Logan Tuley-Tillman, Kristian Mateus
Starter: Joey Burzynski
Backups: Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars
Starter: Jack Miller
Backups: Patrick Kugler, Graham Glasgow
Starter: Chris Bryant
Backups: Chris Fox, Kyle Bosch
Starter: Mike Schofield
Backups: David Dawson, Ben Braden