A return to its old offensive and defensive philosophies will catapult Michigan back to the top of the Big 10 standings in 2011. The Rich Rodriguez era was over before it really ever began in Ann Arbor, and the beleaguered head coach never recovered from his inaugural 3-8 campaign--Michigan's first losing season in over 40 years.
Rodriguez led the Wolverines to a 15-22 record over three seasons with a mix of players recruited by both him and his predecessor, Lloyd Carr. Many of Carr's recruits either transferred or were seldom used by their new head coach. The skill sets required to operate in pro-style offense and a 4-3 defense vary greatly from the preferred skill sets of spread offense players and 3-3-5 odd-stack defenders.
A change in offensive and defensive philosophy will bring a handful of talented--but mostly unproven--players into the spotlight this fall. Say goodbye to hybrid defenders and hello to four down linemen. Back are tight end waggles, and gone are bubble screens (over, and over again). The pro-style offense and 4-3 defense have returned to Ann Arbor, thanks to new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
Michigan struggled in short-yardage situations in 2010, as the team would often line up the 180-pound Vincent Smith at running back in such situations. The offense also struggled to stretch Big 10 defenses last year, especially once it was apparent Denard Robinson was playing hurt the second half of the season. Linebacker and secondary play were problem areas for Rodriguez throughout his stay in Ann Arbor. How will the new staff fix all of this?
There are five players--all recruited by Lloyd Carr--who will turn last year's weaknesses into strengths. Who are these playmakers who will help Michigan capture the Big 10 title in 2011?