Wolverines OC Al Borges has his work cut out this fall.
Michigan Wolverines offensive coordinator Al Borges' job is similar to fitting together pieces of a puzzle.
Some of the pieces naturally bond, while others take time to form and mesh as one.
This fall, Borges faces a daunting task; he'll be expected to have a top-tier offensive line, a solid backfield and a viable Plan B in case starting quarterback Devin Gardner can't take the field behind center.
The scattered pieces, if properly constructed, should find their resting places and give the Wolverines something to rely on as Michigan forges ahead toward a run at the Big Ten championship.
Which Michigan coach/coordinator faces most pressure in 2013?
Greg Mattison, Michigan's defensive coordinator, is sitting pretty at this point; he's already proven to be a mastermind and ultra-talented organizer. Head coach Brady Hoke has spearheaded two incredible recruiting classes during the past two seasons—Mattison can rest assured that his job has been handled to the best of his abilities.
Borges, on the other hand, remains on the fence. In 2012, Michigan followers weren't quite thrilled about his play-calling—most notably against Ohio State—and they weren't ready to wholeheartedly back the maestro of the offense.
If Borges, now entering his third fall with the Wolverines, wants to gain the trust of his fanbase, he'll most certainly have to demonstrate an uncanny ability to manage personnel and mold together an up-tempo, strike-ready scoring attack.
His job won't be easy, but he has the tools at his disposal to fix an offense that was ranked 78th overall in 2012.
Running Backs are Getting There
Michigan was rather effective during third-down scenarios in 2012, ranking sixth in the nation with a 50.29 conversion percentage. Now that Borges has a more experienced quarterback, a great stable of young running backs and an up-and-coming receiving corps, moving the chains on third down and creating first downs shouldn't be much of a problem.
Thomas Rawls and Fitz Toussaint were the Wolverines' top running threats a year ago. Rawls was extremely effective on third downs, averaging 8.9 yards per touch (11 carries, 98 yards). However, Toussaint wasn't—he averaged just 3.1 yards per call (eight carries, 25 yards).
Denard Robinson's fleet feet obviously helped, but now that he's gone, Borges has to maximize production during third-down situations and make sure that his backs are up to the challenge.
Should Toussaint return this fall, one of his top priorities should be to improve during crunch time. Rawls just has to keep doing what he's been doing—running hard on third down, lowering his head and gaining valuable real estate when asked to do so.
Now, here's the other part of that equation: Borges will likely use two unproven running backs this fall—incoming freshman Derrick Green and redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson.
At 6'0" and 220 pounds, Green was known for his skillful power running while starring at Hermitage High (Va.). Johnson, a 6'0", 212-pounder out of Ann Arbor Pioneer, didn't see the field in 2012.
Michigan is young in the backfield, minus Rawls and Justice Hayes (an "ideal" third-down back?), both juniors. The youth movement, though, will be the bridge to the Wolverines' future on the ground. Players like Johnson, Green—and even DeVeon Smith, another freshman—will likely be forced into the role of the torch-carriers.
Running backs coach Fred Jackson is known for developing talent.
Borges recently expressed optimism in regards to his tailbacks (via the Detroit Free Press).
I think it will be (better). I think there will be some growing pains because they're new guys, but I think another year in the system, even though some of them didn't play (in games), they've heard the words, we had bowl practices, a lot these kids were in spring practices last year. So this isn't brand new to them.
Note: In the same interview, Borges said there weren't any immediate favorites among the group of tailbacks. That job, as expected, will be one of, if not the most, competitive roles to earn this fall.
Borges Has to Take Advantage of Solid O-LIne
With Taylor Lewan returning to his familiar post of left tackle, the Wolverines' offensive line has a solid backbone. The senior is more than just a great player; he's a coach on the field, too. During no-contact periods with the coaching staff, teammates will look to Lewan for guidance and motivation.
The O-Line was a weakness for the Wolverines in 2012. Opening holes for the running backs was a task, but the Wolverines' fortunes this fall could be drastically different because of the amount of skilled athletes ready to show their abilities in new roles in 2013.
Of course, Borges doesn't always have the final say in what goes on with the wall up front—O-Line coach Darrell Funk's input also determines decisions. But being the offensive coordinator, the onus will be on Borges this fall to fully utilize and implement the strengths of the group.
The Wolverines will replace three interior starters this season and fill those voids with relatively inexperienced youngsters.
While young, the newcomers to the line were highly touted recruits who shouldn't have much difficulty finding their way in 2013.
Kyle Kalis' move to right guard and Ben Braden's transfer to left guard are among the the biggest adjustments—they're both redshirt freshmen.
Michigan hasn't started freshmen on the offensive line since 2006, and there could be more on the line this fall depending on coaching decisions and results of one-on-one position battles.
The Quarterback Situation is Clear, Sort of
Gardner steps in as the true No. 1 starter for the first time during his career at Michigan. The top job isn't the concern—the backup role is.
Russell Bellomy suffered an unfortunate ACL tear during spring practice, and that setback could force either walk-on Brian Cleary or incoming frosh Shane Morris to take hold of the secondary position.
During an interview with TheWolverine.com, Borges didn't express much worry about who will or won't be the No. 2 behind Gardner. Borges is comfortable in knowing that he has two competent athletes ready to go if needed.
Borges on Morris (via TheWolverine.com):
He was going to come in and compete anyway. There is one less slot to go through now. That's all [Bellomy's injury] really impacted.
Shane is studious. He'll work hard, and we'll catch him up. For some guys, the playbook is overwhelming. I don't know he'll be that way because he's been here so much.
Borges on Cleary (via TheWolverine.com):
We were giving Brian reps from the beginning; it's not like we just tossed him in there recently.
He's real bright. He got into Michigan on his own. He's a very, very good student. His deal was to get football smart. Get him some reps, experience, learn a little bit through trial and error. But in terms of understanding, coachability, throwing ability -- if you watch Brian throw the ball you'd think he's a scholarship player.
Those are two proud statements on Borges' part. The uncertainty of depth at the quarterback spot is a concern. By Borges essentially lessening the importance of the situation at hand, he'll surely have his hands full defending himself should a debacle arise (e.g. Gardner injury, Morris or Cleary failing to deliver).
If Cleary or Morris rises to the occasion and dazzles in Gardner's absence, Borges, who is also the quarterbacks coach, will be praised and heralded as a genius. If the opposite happens, he'll endure a storm of criticism, citing his lack of preparation and readiness to handle such an ordeal.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football lead writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81