RB Mike Cox
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?
RB Mike Cox brings a career 8.9 yards per carry average into the 2011 season.
Standing at just over 6-foot and weighing in at 211 pounds, Mike Cox has prototypical size to play tailback in a pro-style offense. While there are varying reports on his 40 time (anywhere from 4.46 to 4.52), Cox is generally thought of as the best athlete on the team. He ran the 100 meters in 10.8 as a high school junior, and has averaged 8.9 YPC in just 19 attempts over two years and has scored two touchdowns.
But why the limited playing time last year when Michigan struggled to find a running back to complement superstar quarterback Denard Robinson? Did he fumble a lot in practice or did he struggle with the playbook? Both reasons were given by the staff and insiders to explain his lack of playing time. For whatever reason, Cox just didn't fit into Rich Rod's plans at any point.
The new coaching staff gave hope to the redshirt junior to-be going into the spring game, and it was there he had the best showing of all the running backs with his breakaway 68-yard run. He'll reduce the wear and tear on Robinson in 2011 by decreasing the playmaking quarterback's carries. This is vital, as Robinson was knocked out of the last eight games of the year--for varying lengths of time--due to injury.
Kenny Demens was a bright spot on an awful 2010 Michigan defense
Similar to Cox at running back, Kenny Demens didn't appear to fit into Michigan's plans during most of the Rich Rod era. Rumored to be the best tackler on the team for two years, he sat on the bench and watched seemingly every linebacker available--including walk-on Kevin Leach--get playing time before him.
When Rodriguez finally turned to Demens out of desperation, he was far more productive than senior Obi Ezeh. While both played in 11 games last year, Demens made 14 more tackles in less actual playing time.
Demens, a redshirt junior to-be, stands 6-foot-1 weighs a beefy 250-pounds--perfect for physical Big 10 play.
Junior Hemingway will see the ball much more in 2011
Lloyd Carr recruited Junior Hemingway with the intention of making him the next in a long line of big-bodied, All-Big 10 receivers. Although we saw flashes of greatness last year (three games of over 100 yards), injuries and the slot receiver-friendly spread offense prevented Hemingway from reaching his full potential.
Barring injury, Hemingway will flourish in Michigan's pro-style offense. As a redshirt senior, he could double his 32 catches, 593 yards and 4 touchdowns from 2010.
Darryl Stonum ended 2011 strong, showing well in Michigan's three worst losses of the year.
For most of the past three years, Darryl Stonum has underachieved to his potential. He came to Michigan in 2008 in favor both University of Florida and University of Southern California back when it wasn't uncommon for receivers or defensive backs to do so. In short, his prototypical size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.4 in the 40) made him a prize recruit for the Wolverines.
Going into his senior year, Stonum is coming off his best year of 49 catches, 633 yards and 4 touchdowns. In spite of putting up respectable numbers in 2010, the Texas native was either shut out or caught only one ball in three Big 10 games.
The gaps in production had something to do with how much the spread offense catered to the slot receivers--but how much of that is on Stonum?
Along with Hemingway, Stonum will be counted on to stretch defenses and give Michigan the balanced offensive attack it didn't have at the end of the season last year.
DB Troy Woolfolk is still recovering from the ankle surgery which sidelined him for the entire 2010 season
A nasty ankle injury ended Troy Woolfolk's season before the first kickoff in 2010. He was coming into the year as Michigan's top defensive back, capable of playing either free safety or cornerback equally well. Without Woolfolk last year, the Wolverines finished 110 out of 120 FBS teams in pass defense.
Hoke and Mattison insist Woolfolk will start at cornerback this year, but is it realistic to think he will be able to cut, turn, and accelerate with receivers step-for-step coming off a surgery which put a six-inch metal plate and five screws into his ankle?
Reports from spring practice told of him beating the blazing-fast Denard Robinson in a race just two weeks ago. No matter if he plays cornerback or free safety, the Michigan defense will need his speed and senior leadership on the field