With Fall practice right around the corner and summer camps ending at UM (more on that later), it begs the question: What kind of season is Michigan football going to have this year?
Most followers fall into three categories: (1) Those who think the Wolverines are in for a lot of adversity this year and predict a 6-6 record; (2) those who think Michigan will be 7-5 this year; and (3) those optimists who think Michigan will surprise with a 8-4 or 9-3 season. I'll give my prediction later.
Let's take a closer look at the current two-deep, as well as the incoming freshman class.
Obviously, there is a glaring question at the Quarterback position. Redshirt freshman transfer Steven Threet continues to hold the edge on the starting job, but that isn't saying much since his competition has been limited to junior Nick Sheridan, a coach's son who never saw the field under the Carr regime.
Sheridan is competing hard but lacks the talent or arm strength to truly challenge for the starting role.
Incoming freshman Justin Feagin is the closest thing to a Pat White clone that Michigan has this year. Feagin is expected to step in and compete on day one of Fall practice.
Even if Feagin doesn't win the starting job, and most expect he won't, he will most likely be used in a Tim Tebow-like role when Chris Leak was a senior. In other words, they'll dumb down the playbook for Feagin by giving him 15-20 plays or so and expecting him to provide a different look for defenses situationally.
Moving on to Running Backs, this position is loaded with depth for Michigan. Juniors Brandon Minor, Kevin Grady, and Carlos Brown all look to challenge for the starting tailback position.
Brown was injured in a freak weight room accident this past offseason, so he is behind both Minor and Grady. Minor is said to hold the lead as of the beginning of practice.
Grady is in the best shape of his life and has a terrific attitude, but one must be curious as to who many touches he'll see in the spread offense given his size and lack of elite speed.
Minor has adequate speed, but Carlos Brown is the true home run threat of the three. WOTS is that Brown will be used in the slot as well and maybe even at quarterback given the fact he played QB in high school.
Also challenging for reps will be incoming freshman running backs Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, and Mike Cox. Whoever loses the Shaw/McGuffie competition will find himself redshirting or playing the slot wide receiver position.
Cox is more of a big running back and could find himself at the fullback position if tailback doesn't work out. Redshirt freshman Avery Horn may also play a role if he impresses. However, most see him landing at the slot receiver position or simply providing depth.
With the new offense, it can be expected that Michigan will be employing four and five Wide Receiver sets routinely. Coach Rodriguez has sophomores Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway at his disposal, as well as senior Greg Matthews.
Early-enrolled Darryl Stonum is predicted to compete for significant playing time. Insiders close to the program believe Stonum may be special.
Incoming freshmen Terrance Robinson and Martavious Odoms will likely crack the two-deep from the get-go due to the demand that Coach Rodriguez's offense puts on having productive slot receivers or "slot dots." Both are 5'8"-5'9" and have incredible wiggle. This dimension of the UM offense will take some time for fans to get accustomed to.
At Tight End, Michigan returns senior Carson Butler, junior Mike Massey, sophomore Martell Webb, and redshirt freshman Steve Watson, plus incoming freshmen Brandon Moore and Kevin Koger.
While the tight end position was not used much in Rodriguez's offense at West Virginia, it is expected to be used more at Michigan due to the athletic supply that Michigan has been blessed with. Expect a big year out of Butler as he gets matched against linebackers and safeties and a redshirt for Koger or Moore.
At Offensive Line, Michigan will most likely go with junior Mark Ortmann, Tim MCavoy, David Molk/David Moosman, Cory Zirbel, and true sophomore Steve Schilling from left tackle to right tackle.
The group is going to be light on depth this year with Perry Dorrenstein, Molk or Moosman, and five incoming frosh backing up. Dann O'Neill and Ricky Barnum are most likely to step in as true freshmen and contribute. Elliot Mealer will most likely need a redshirt, as will Rocko Khoury and possibly Patrick Onameh.
On Defense, most believe that the defensive line should be Michigan's strength. However, that depends on depth. The starting Defensive Ends will be senior Tim Jamison and junior Brandon Graham, with Greg Banks, Adam Patterson, and Ryan Van Bergen backing up.
Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson will most likely start at Defensive Tackle with Renaldo Sageese, Jason Kates, and hopefully Marques Slocum backing up. Slocum has the most upside of the backup DTs, but rumors are his grades may be an issue.
Overall, the unit will need to play very well if Michigan is going to be successful this year.
No position is less set than the starting linebackers. Redshirt sophomore Obi Ezeh and senior Johnny Thompson will battle for starting Mike Linebacker, with the possibility that Obi could be moved to Sam or Defensive End if that's the direction the coaches go in Fall practice.
Juco transfer and senior Austin Panter and sophomore Marell Evans are competing at Sam backer, while sophomore Jonas Mouton should win the starting job at the Will backer.
Incoming freshmen Kenny Demens, Marcus Witherspoon, J.B. Fitzgerald, and Taylor Hill are probably not going to see much time, with Demens and Hill most likely getting redshirts. The depth at linebacker is more than adequate, and this area should be another strength for Michigan.
The Secondary should improve vastly this year. The Cornerback unit could be the best positional group on the team if certain players step up. Sophomore Donovan Warren has the looks of a future All-Big Ten and possible All-American, and senior Morgan Trent has consistently improved as a player and taken a leadership role.
Senior Doug Dutch and sophomore Troy Woolfolk, son of former Wolverine Butch Woolfolk, should compete for the nickelback position. Incoming freshmen J.T. Floyd and Boubacar Cissoko are expected to see PT early.
Safety-wise, Michigan will start sophomore Stevie Brown at Free Safety and either of seniors Charles Stewart or Brandon Harrison at Strong Safety. Redshirt sophomore Artis Chambers will push for PT as well. Freshman Michael Williams will contribute and incoming freshman Brandon Smith is maybe the most physically ready freshman on the team.
Sophomore Bryan Wright will do the placekicking while Zoltan Mesko does the punting.
Overall, I expect Michigan will struggle at times this year offensively due to the new system. However, I believe Michigan will most likely be 7-5 when it is all said and done. 8-4 is the ceiling in my opinion and 6-6 is the floor, barring any unforeseeable major injuries at the Quarterback position.
One thing is for sure: this year is going to be quite interesting as the Michigan and Rich Rodriguez experiment begins.