It's no secret that Michigan football hasn't exactly been the pinnacle of success recently, and with so many key players leaving on both sides of the ball (five starters on offense, including two of the team's captains) how can Michigan hope to bring themselves back to former glory?
Admittedly, there is probably no way that in one year Michigan will recapture the magic of the past, but the turnaround has to start somewhere and the success or failure of the following players will play major roles.
In the following slides I'll be focusing on the offensive players who will be stepping up and trying to take over the starting jobs from key players who are no longer with the team.
Brandon Minor - 96 Carries, 502 Yards, 5.2 YPC, 8 Rushing Touchdowns
Carlos Brown - 81 Carries, 480 Yards, 5.9 YPC, 4 Rushing Touchdowns
Next In Line
Vincent Smith - 48 Carries, 276 Yards, 5.8 YPC, 1 Rushing Touchdown
Michael Shaw - 42 Carries, 185 Yards, 4.4 YPC, 2 Rushing Touchdowns
If there is one thing you should know about having a successful offense in the Big Ten, it's that you need to be able to run the ball effectively. Last year, the top five teams in terms of point per game in the Big Ten were all also in the top six in terms of rushing yards per game.
With Michigan's top two rushers from last year graduating there will be quite a few questions marks around the running back position. Luckily for Michigan, they won't only be relying on their running backs to pick up yards on the ground. Also, the "starting" job will almost undoubtedly be more of a platoon situation, which will take some pressure off of whoever is named the "starter".
I expect sophomore Vincent Smith to grab the primary role in the platoon, with junior Michael Shaw spelling him when needed, assuming that Smith recovers fully from tearing his ACL last year. However, if Smith doesn't recover quickly enough or fully enough, I would look for redshirt sophomore Michael Cox to possibly win a job in the platoon.
At any rate, I actually expect the Michigan running attack to get stronger this year because of two main reasons. First, there should be more consistency. With injury-prone Brandon Minor as the starter last year, the fans were never quite sure who would get the bulk of the carries on any given week. Second, the play of the starting quarterback (whoever it ends up being) should be better than last year, as well, and that should relieve some pressure from the running backs.
Greg Matthews - 29 Catches, 352 yards, 1 Receiving Touchdown
Next in Line
Darryl Stonum - 13 Catches, 199 Yards, 1 Receiving Touchdown
At first look, this barely seems like a hiccup as far as making the transition goes. Matthews's production was far from overwhelming last year and by all appearances, Stonum should have no problem replicating Matthews's 2009 stats. Things start to change when you realize that Matthews had his worst year statistically in 2009 since his freshman year. Matthews had fewer catches, yards, and touchdowns than in each of the previous two seasons.
So you may be asking yourself at this point, "Russ, why is this a key replacement?" Because, Stonum needs to perform like Matthews was supposed to. The true receiving talent in Michigan's offense comes from their slot receivers, and without someone on the outside to stretch the field and keep opposing safeties honest, the slot receivers won't see much success.
Stonum, if he does win the starting job here, will need to quietly be a big part of Michigan's passing attack by establishing himself as a legitimate deep threat and open up the field for the slot receivers.
LT - Mark Ortmann
OL - David Moosman
Next in Line
OL - Patrick Omameh
T - Perry Dorrestein
OL - Mark Huyge
Everyone saw what happened last year when Michigan was left without starting center David Molk. Moosman moved over from right guard and there were growing pains, to say the least. Molk is back, but Moosman and Ortmann are gone, and that leaves Michigan with more questions than answers at this point.
Honestly, the only spots on the offensive line that are set at this point are redshirt junior David Molk at center and redshirt senior Steve Schilling at left guard. Everything else is up for grabs, and if this line is to succeed they will need Molk and Schilling to step up and take the lead from day one.
I personally expect Dorrestein to grab one of the starting tackle jobs, more than likely on the right side where he played last year, but if Omameh can't make the transition to tackle well enough I wouldn't be surprised to see Dorrestein take over on the blind side.
Huyge was slated as a backup tackle last year, but his experience relative to the other options on the roster, is what will more than likely earn him a starting spot somewhere along the line, possibly at right guard.
This unit as a whole will be one of the biggest factors of whether the Michigan offense sinks or swims. Until some more questions are answered and someone steps up in the left tackle spot, this unit is a little too shaky for my liking. Losing Ortmann and Moosman may be too much for the Wolverines to come back from this year, but obviously only time will tell.
Next in Line
Now, I know that the punter isn't widely considered "part" of the offense, but like it or not, it is. The truth of the matter is that the punter takes the field when the team has possession, read: "when they are on offense". Sure his job is to give the other team the ball, but I'll remind you all of fourth downs turned first downs by Mesko via fake punt runs (and ask you not to remind me of certain times that that risky call blew up in Michigan's face).
Anyways, back to my point. Mesko will undoubtedly be missed as much for his All-American talents as he will for his popularity amongst fans, caused by his name. No more will the "Z" be thrown up in the Big House, but hopefully Hagerup can eventually replicate the talent that Mesko showed on the field.
Hagerup comes into this season as a true freshman and an Army All-American, with only kickoff specialist Bryan Wright standing between him and the starting job. I have to figure that Hagerup is the favorite, but he will be hard pressed to fill the shoes left by Mesko. Ultimately, punter will be a position taking a step backwards this year for Michigan.
Well that about does it for filling the holes on the offensive side of the ball, next up comes the defense, but that is an article for another day.