Michigan Football: 5 Players Who Surprised Us, 5 Who Need To Step Up

Austin FoxCorrespondent IIDecember 6, 2011

Michigan Football: 5 Players Who Surprised Us, 5 Who Need To Step Up

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    Now that Michigan has played its final regular season game, we can look back on the season and see what went well.

    Obviously, a lot of things went well, including contributions from some surprising players.

    Here's a look at the top five surprise players from this past year, along with five players that need to step up and play well next season.

5. Jake Ryan (Linebacker)

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    I have Jake Ryan as the fifth biggest surprise player from this past season.

    A lot of people would probably have him higher, but I honestly wasn't surprised to see him start this year.  What was surprising, though, is how much of an impact he had.

    He was a contributor right from the start, as he saw plenty of game action against Western Michigan.

    His playing time grew and grew, until he became a full-time starter.

    In fact, he finished with seven tackles for loss on the year, which was good for fourth on the team.

    Ryan always seemed to be in on every play and always seemed to be around the ball.

    He is absolutely perfect in Mattison's scheme, as he can play linebacker and/or come off the edge.

    Only a redshirt freshman this past year, Ryan should turn into an absolute monster over the next few years.

4. Desmond Morgan (Linebacker)

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    Again, it wasn't surprising to see Desmond Morgan get playing time as a true freshman, especially after the way he tore it up in fall practice.

    However, it was a surprise to see him become a full-time starter midway through the season.

    Brandin Hawthorne was benched in favor of Morgan against Purdue, and Morgan never gave up the starting spot.

    Linebacker was a huge weakness coming into the year, and Morgan and Ryan (both freshmen) helped make it somewhat of a strength this year and for years to come.

    Morgan definitely had a problem of over pursuing plays and playing out of position, but that's expected of a true freshman.

    He will only get better over the next few years.

3. Fitzgerald Toussaint (Running Back)

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    After the way the running backs were running early in the year, it looked like Al Borges would have to settle for a running back by committee system.

    No running back was even close to establishing themselves as a go-to, workhorse running back who we're so used to seeing in the Big Ten.

    In the blink of an eye, it seemed, Toussaint became that back.

    He broke out in late October against Purdue and really started showing signs of becoming a great back.

    He had a rough game a week later against Iowa, but his final three games were amazing.

    He tore up three solid run defenses in Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State, en route to a 1,000-yard season.

    In fact, Toussaint averaged 5.81 yards per carry on the year, good for fourth in the Big Ten.

    Only a sophomore, it's exciting to think of how good he may be next season.

2. Jeremy Gallon (Receiver)

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    After coming to Michigan as a huge recruit out of Florida, Gallon had become an afterthought in this offense.

    Figuring to be a nonfactor this season, Gallon had a huge impact in a passing game that lacked depth at receiver.

    With Junior Hemingway and Tay Odoms graduating after this season, and Je'Ron Stokes transferring, Michigan badly needed another receiver to step up this season.

    Gallon was exactly that guy.  With his surprising performance, he now gives Michigan at least three reliable receivers heading into next year.

    Although he tailed off some later in the year, he still had an amazing year.  He finished second on the team in both catches and yards, finishing only behind Junior Hemingway in both categories.

    Plus, he made big strides on special teams.  No longer is he fumbling the ball on punt returns.

    He could come into next season as possibly Michigan's second-most reliable receiver.

1. Brendan Gibbons (Kicker)

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    A lot of people thought Brendan Gibbons had absolutely no chance of being Michigan's kicker this year.  He was simply so horrible last year, that there was no way he'd ever kick successfully.

    Fans seemed to hand the job to true freshman Matt Wile.  Heck, Seth Broekhuizen was probably going to get a chance before Gibbons.

    Well, Gibbons proved everyone wrong this season.

    He went 10-14 kicking field goals and only missed two under 40 yards.

    He also kicked 48 extra points this season and made every single one of them.

    Whatever the reason for his turnaround can be debated, but hopefully, it will carry over into next year and throughout the rest of his career.

    Even though he doesn't necessarily need it, that would give Matt Wile plenty of time before he becomes the full-time kicker.

5 Players Who Need To Step Up

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    Michigan will need certain players to step up next season, just as some surprising ones did this year.

    Here's a look at five players who need to step up at crucial positions.

5. Brandon Moore (Tight End)

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    It wasn't long ago Brandon Moore was coming out of high school as an extremely hyped up tight end.

    Moore will be a senior next year and really hasn't done anything in his career.

    He has been playing behind Kevin Koger his entire career, and now that Koger is gone, Moore will have his chance.

    Whether he takes advantage or not remains to be seen.

    He will likely be the No. 1 tight end going into next year, as there is not much depth at the position.

    Ricardo Miller will likely be his main competition.

4. Marvin Robinson (Safety)

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    Seeing as how Troy Woolfolk will be graduating, and Carvin Johnson left the team, Michigan won't have much depth at safety next season.

    Marvin Robinson could be the first guy off the bench and really needs to step up.

    After seeing action as a true freshman, he was expected to see a bigger role this season, but injuries and off-field issues prevented that.

    He needs to get his off-field issues cleaned up by the time next season rolls around, so he can focus on football.

    Some fans wonder if he'll even be on the team.  Heck, some question if he's on right now.

    He is, and as long as nothing else happens, should remain on.

    If he can turn into the player that many were expecting of him out of high school, he could play a big role at safety next season.

3. Jibreel Black (Defensive End)

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    Black had a disappointing year this past season.

    After seeing crucial game time as a true freshman, he was expected to have a bigger role this past season but didn't.

    He certainly saw playing time but not as much as some people expected.

    With both Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger graduating, Black will need to step up next year.

    If he can play up to his potential, he and Craig Roh could form a dangerous duo at end.

    If Black doesn't impress, though, Frank Clark will overtake him.

    Either way, Clark will see plenty of game action next year.

2. Quinton Washington (Defensive Tackle)

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    Losing Mike Martin at defensive tackle will hurt immensely.

    Somebody like Quinton Washington will need to step up badly.

    The lack of talent and depth at defensive tackle is concerning heading into next year.

    Without a doubt, Michigan's defensive line will be the biggest question mark on defense for next season.

    Will Washington even start next year?  Who knows.  If Richard Ash starts coming along faster, he could potentially play a role.

    Maybe Nate Brink will see playing time after not receiving much late last year.

    Heck, maybe Ondre Pipkins will come in as a true freshman and play.

    The question marks surrounding the defensive line are concerning.

1. Will Campbell (Defensive Tackle)

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    This is actually an obvious choice for No. 1.

    It's now or never for Campbell.  He will be a senior next year and really hasn't done much so far in his career.

    Hopefully, he can play up to his potential and have a big senior season.  If so, that would help the defensive line tremendously.

    If he doesn't have an impact, he will be known as one of the biggest busts in recent memory.

    Learning under guys like Greg Mattison and Jerry Montgomery, you'd think he could turn into a star.

    It will be interesting to see how well he plays next year.