Michigan Football: Star QB Denard Robinson and Other Key Wolverines in 2011
Denard Robinson pretty much summed up the entire Michigan football team in 2010. He was the first player to ever go over 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 passing yards in a season in NCAA history, so it shouldn't surprise you that he is in fact a key player returning to the 2011 team.
But who else makes the list?
Michigan is deep at running back, defensive backs and receivers—but you wouldn't know it from last year as Robinson accounted for a huge majority of the offense and the defense was virtually nonexistent.
New coaches, new schemes but not new players. Let's take a look at some key returners for the Wolverines in 2011.
David Molk, Center
David Molk didn't get an inordinate amount of praise for his heroic performances as center on the field, as most people are not focused on the line. Molk is the glue that held a very decent OL unit together in 2010, and you could see the difference when he was in.
Without Molk—who was slowed by knee and foot injuries—the offense that came in at eighth in the nation in total offense in 2010 didn't look too stellar. With him on the field, the Wolverines drove—and let's not forget that he helped anchor a line that finished 10th nationally in sacks allowed.
He'll be a key part on what should be one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten in 2011.
Taylor Lewan, Left Tackle
At times he made Wolverine fans cringe with untimely, drive-killing penalties, yet other times he showed us the same flashes of brilliance that made friend and mentor Jake Long such a standout tackle at Michigan.
He's a defensive-minded offensive player, and told AnnArbor.com that his job is to "piss people off." And though his finger-mustache (tattooed on his index finger) may not do damage to the defender in front of him, his aggressive demeanor certainly will. He's a second crucial piece to a stellar offensive line.
He's going to wear No. 77 proudly this year.
Kevin Koger, Tight End
There was virtually no tight end in Rodriguez's spread offense—Koger had just 14 receptions for 299 yards and two TDs in 2010. That's going to change in Brady Hoke and Al Borges' pro-style offense. At San Diego State, the offense frequently used multiple tight ends and it appears Koger is going to become a lot more integral to the offense.
Roy Roundtree, Receiver
Roy Roundtree will lead a deep corps of very talented receivers—including Junior Hemmingway and Martavious Odoms (returning from a foot injury).
Roundtree has a chance to be a very special receiver at Michigan—he had 32 receptions for 935 yards and was easily Denard's favorite target. Roundtree had 246 receiving yards in a game against Illinois, now owning Michigan's single-game receiving record.
The downside? He tends to drop the ball—a lot. In fact, during the Michigan vs. Ohio State game, Roundtree had five dropped balls, all of which could have been game-changers for the Wolverines. If he can get that under control, there might be a couple more records he takes from past Michigan greats.
Al Borges told the Free Press that there would still be four and five receiver sets (like a spread) at times in his offense at Michigan, so look for everyone to get involved.
Mike Shaw, Running Back
Michael Shaw is probably Michigan's best running back—even after being out-gained by 200 yards by Vincent Smith in 2010. He's got a physical toughness that Smith can't match after his ACL surgery.
That's not to say Toussaint, Hopkins or Cox won't rise up—right now it just looks like Shaw will be our go-to back. Brady Hoke and Al Borges' self-professed goals are to have two 1,000-yard-plus rushers in the fall, and Shaw is an excellent candidate to be one of them.
Backs are especially important in the transition from the spread to a pro-style offense; hopefully Shaw and the others aren't too out of practice.
Denard Robinson, Quarterback
You knew it was coming.
Debatably the most electrifying player in college football in 2010, Denard Robinson will return to a team that looks considerably different. Against Western Michigan in the season opener, all eyes will be focused on how Denard has adapted to his new pro-style offense.
He was the first QB in NCAA history to pass for over 2,500 yards and rush for over 1,500 yards in a single season (2,570/1,702). While he probably won't be getting those kinds of rushing yards this season, as Hoke is determined to get the RBs involved in the rushing game, Borges is very impressed with his arm—a feature that was frequently overlooked behind the speed of his legs.
Yes, there will be the designed QB runs we all know and love, but there will be fewer of them. Denard Robinson had expressed happiness in the fact that he won't be taking so many hits in 2011—he had to come out for one or more plays in 10 games last year.
Denard, as a junior, will lead one of the most intriguing offenses in the Big Ten in 2011.
Mike Martin, Nose Tackle
Mike Martin was one of very few bright spots in a defense that came in at 110th in the nation overall. They underperformed consistently all season, and when Martin was out due to ankle injuries, the defense did worse. He'll return to a defensive line that, as of now, consists of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. They will be a group looking for an identity, and he is the player to give them one.
If he stays healthy, Michigan's defense might even find themselves around "average" this year. A dishonor by Michigan standards, but spectacular given the aberration of the past three years.
Carvin Johnson, Safety
There was no recruiting buzz around this product of Louisiana, but there certainly is athleticism. Last year, Johnson snuck up on the depth chart, edging out redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon and third-year sophomore Floyd Simmons for the top FS spot.
His debut was short, as he sprained his MCL in the season opener vs. Connecticut on September 4th. His play was rough around the edges, but the ability was there. He managed 11 tackles in his limited playing time, but will be coming back to fulfill a position desperate for talent, and he certainly has the talent to step up to the plate.
Will Hagerup, Punter
It was awful at times, beautiful at others. Hagerup opened the season with around a 40-yard average, but ended with a 46-yard average. More impressive than his improved average were his long punts, which went from the 50s to several in the mid-60s and a 72-yard punt against Purdue!
If the defense is still trying to figure things out in 2011, pinning the opponent as far back as possible is going to be paramount to Michigan's success.
Kenny Demens, Middle Linebacker
Kenny Demens didn't play much his first two years at Michigan, but after Obi Ezeh continued to play to less than his ability Demens got a chance.
And he seized it.
Demens exploded, racking up 69 tackles—58 of which came in the final six games. If he can maintain that pace into 2011, he could be looking at all-Big Ten honors. Perhaps most impressive is that so many of his tackles came against the better teams that Michigan played.
He'll be a huge part of the defense this fall.