With the 2009 season so close at hand, most eyes turn to the offensive side of the football, where Michigan has 10 returning starters. The offensive line returns seven guys with starting game experience as well as a better knowledge of the spread system.
There is a bevy of talent at receiver as well as better depth in the backfield with dazzling freshman Vincent Smith joining Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor and sophomore Michael Shaw, among others.
In the midst of all the offensive clamour is the quarterback position, bringing both excitement and concern. Excitement because we have two talented dual-threat guys in Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Concern because neither have taken a snap in a real live college game. The major concern for the 2009 Michigan Wolverines however, may not surround the fact they have two true freshman competing at quarterback.
In fact, success may not hinge on the offensive side of the ball at all.
If you examine Michigan's defense there are some major question marks in the secondary. The defensive line looks fairly solid as Brandon Graham returns to anchor a mostly 3-4 defensive scheme.
Alongside Graham is Mike Martin, a true freshman All-American at defensive tackle. With veterans Ryan Van Bergen and Adam Patterson, and newcomer William Campbell, this position group may not see much drop off, if any.
The linebacker unit will definitely be an upgrade from last year from a couple of standpoints. Obi Ezeh returns as a third year starter, and Jonas Mouton also returns as a starter.
Ezeh and Mouton were the top two tacklers on 2008's squad. They are also joined by Stevie Brown, who started at safety last season. Brown has good size and speed but often struggled in deep coverage in 2008, and is moving into a hybrid safety/linebacker position, where he will play closer to the line of scrimmage and add support against the run.
Also, the depth looks solid with J.B. Fitgerald, Kenny Demens, Brandon Smith and Marell Evans adding solid athleticism to the two deep along with incoming ESPN All-American Isaiah Bell. Brandon Herron has drawn rave reviews this spring for his performance at the "quick" position, which is basically a pas-rush focused linebacker spot.
Marell Evans and ESPN All-American Craig Roh will add competition to the mix at the "quick" position. Roh could be an early impact player as a pass rusher, as evidenced in the Under-Armour All-American game.
Overall, the front seven on this defense could grow into a solid unit, but examination of the secondary is a little less of a confidence booster. Starting at the cornerback spots are a couple of talented kids with starting experience.
Junior Donovan Warren was essentially a consensus five-star talent out of high school. Warren returns for his third season as a starter and is by far the most proven commodity.
Opposite Warren is sophomore Boubacar Cissoko, who played in all 12 games last year and started two at corner. Cissoko was also an elite high school recruit, although he is still young and somewhat inexperienced.
The depth behind these guys at corner and safety is a bit of a concern, though. Michael Williams is probably the odds-on favorite to take over at strong safety. He was a solid four star recruit and got some decent playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2008. Troy Woolfork leads at the free safety position, but one might question his elite status.
The coaches love true freshman Vladimir Emilien's potential, but having to count on him in the two deep or as a possible starter might be a cause for some concern. Ultimately, this a group that has the talent to be a solid unit if a leader or shutdown guy emerges, but they must remain healthy or things could get sticky!
REASONS WHY THIS UNIT COULD BE A BUST
1) Too much youth and inexperience. This unit features a true junior and a true sophomore at corner, along with a true freshman (Justin Turner) and redshirt freshman (J.T. Floyd) in the two deep.
After that it's pretty much walk-ons. The safety spots feature a junior in Troy Woolfolk, and a redshirt sophomore in Michael Williams. Again, Vladamir Emilien mixes in a true freshman, so alot of youth. Only one technical returning starter.
2) No senior leadership. Not to say young guys can't step up or become leaders, but it helps to have a handful of guys who have been in the program three or four years. Michigan simply doesn't have that luxury right now.
3) Lack of size and overwhelming talent at safety. All the safeties are either young, inexperienced, smallish or just don't stand out yet. Michael Williams was a quasi-top 10 safety in high school, but lacks great height and bulk at maybe 190 lbs.
Emilien is around 200, and could develop into a hitter. He would have been more highly sought after if not for an ACL injury, but who is to say he is even 100 percent?
4) Lack of depth everywhere! Even with the addition of Justin Turner, the corner positions are riddled with question marks. Turner may be great, but he is a true freshman, so it is a lot to expect he won't get burned a couple times early on.
Cissoko is only a sophomore and could get "jinxed," and I for one feel more comfortable with J.T. Floyd in the fifth spot as opposed to the fourth (or possibly third)! Will Donovan Warren look like he did in 2007 or 2008?
WHY THIS UNIT COULD BE A SUCCESS
1) They could get help. Michigan's 2009 squad returns only five starters, but about 60 percent of it's tackles, sacks and TFL. They return their top two tacklers, four of their top six tacklers and five of their top eight. Michigan has 10 players that recorded at least 15 tackles last year.
2) Stevie Brown. Although a linebacker by design, Steve Brown will still be reading coverages and playing the pass on some downs. Throw his name in the hat with some of the other guys mentioned above, and we at least have better experience back in the secondary.
3) Greg Robinson's defense, which deploys looks more like those under Ron English, whose defensive backs fared much better against the pass than those of Scott Schafer. The corners and safeties also practice together, which should help them play together with better synchronicity.
4) Donovan Warren developing into a shutdown cornerback.
5) Luck. If they are fortunate enough to not have any major injuries this unit could be very successful!
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