Aug. 27, 2010
By Larry Watts
Rich Rodriguez has the weight of the world on his shoulders in Ann Arbor. After a streak of 33 straight bowl appearances came to a halt with two consecutive losing seasons under his watch, Rodriguez hopes that this is the season that he begins to turn things around on the field.
And now the Wolverines face the possibility of playing the 2010 season without their defensive leader. Senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk, a three-year starter, reportedly dislocated his ankle during the first week of practice and may be lost for the season. The loss of Woolfolk is a huge blow to a young secondary that yielded an averaged of 221.4 yards per game last season.
On the bright side, Rodriguez has brought in a number of great young athletes in his tenure, and hopefully now that they've got a little more experience in his system, they can begin to flourish.
OFFENSE: Rodriguez has yet to tip his hand on the starting quarterback. Sophomore Tate Forcier is the returning starter, but consistency is a big question, as it is with fellow sophomore Denard Robinson. Forcier started strong last year, leading the Wolverines to a last-minute victory over Notre Dame. He completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,050 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he also threw 10 interceptions, four coming in a loss to Ohio State. Robinson only threw 31 passes in 2009, but is extremely dangerous with his feet as he proved by rushing for 351 yards and five touchdowns (second-highest on the team). There's a good chance Rodriguez will have both players on the field at the same time this year. And not to be counted out of the quarterback derby is Devin Gardner, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound true freshman who has already raised a few eyebrows in camp. Although he isn't listed as one of the seven returning starters, sophomore Roy Roundtree is expected to be the go-to receiver among a very talent group. Roundtree led the squad with 32 receptions for a 13.6-yard average and three touchdowns in 2009. Junior starters Junior Hemingway and Martavious Odoms are potential game breakers. Junior tight end Kevin Koger has a knack for coming up with clutch receptions. The Wolverines have talent and depth in the running game, where it's now a matter of which player decides to put his best foot forward. Sophomore Vincent Smith is the leading returning rusher (276 yards), but he tore his ACL against Ohio State and missed the spring game. Junior Michael Shaw (185 yards) and sophomore Michael Cox (113 yards) will be ready for more carries while a big push is coming from redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint and true frosh Stephen Hopkins. The offensive line, which has three starters back, had its share of highs and lows last year. Junior David Molk (6-2, 270), who tore his ACL midway through 2009, is a force at center and senior left guard Stephen Schilling (6-5, 303) is as good as it gets. The coaching staff is looking for a big year from junior Mark Huyge (6-6, 305) at right tackle while sophomore Patrick Omameh (6-4, 293) and redshirt freshman Taylor Lewan (6-8, 283) secure the holes at right guard and left tackle, respectively.
DEFENSE: The loss of Woolfolk drops the Wolverine defense to seven returning starters and serves as a critical blow as they shift to a 3-3-5 alignment. Strong safety Jordan Kovacs, a sophomore who was second on the team with 75 tackles in 2009, now leads a very green secondary. Converted wide receiver Cam Gordon, a redshirt freshman, was a standout in the spring and will get the call at free safety. Redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon will be at the "star," a hybrid linebacker/safety. Sophomore J.T. Floyd saw action in nine games at corner last season and was counting on tutoring from Woolfolk. If senior James Rogers doesn't step in to fill Woolfolk's spot then look for incoming freshmen Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery to be on the field sooner than expected. Led by nose tackle Mike Martin (6-2, 294), Michigan's front line is solid. Martin, who missed spring action with a shoulder injury, registered 8.5 tackles for loss in 2009. Junior Ryan Van Bergen (6-6, 280), who had five sacks last year, is back at one end spot while senior Greg Banks (6-4, 274) gets the call to replace Brandon Graham, a first round draft choice to the NFL. All three starters are back at linebacker, where consistency was a problem in 2009. Craig Roh made the start on the outside as a true freshman last year, registering 37 tackles, and is being counted on to take his game up another level this fall. Fifth-year seniors Obi Ezeh (235 career tackles) and Jonas Mouton both earned time on the bench last year after not playing up to par. Look for converted fullback Mark Moundros, a senior, to keep the pressure on for playing time.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Until Woolfolk went down, the kicking game may have been Rodriguez's biggest concern because he has to find both a new kicker and a new punter. The Wolverines are looking to a couple of rookies to fill both needs. Redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons is the leader for field goals while true freshman Will Hagerup is being counted on for punts. Michigan is also breaking in new players in the return game. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Gallon and junior Darryl Stonum were the leaders coming out of the spring.
MISCELLANEOUS: Starting with Connecticut on Sept. 4, the Wolverines have seven home games on their schedule this fall, including dates with Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin. They end their season Nov. 27 with their annual rivalry game at Ohio State, where they are 0-4 since Jim Tressel became the Buckeyes' head coach in 2001. The Wolverines are 1-8 overall against Tressel's squads, posting their lone win in 2003. With new luxury boxes and renovations, Michigan Stadium is again the nation's largest stadium with a capacity of 109,901. Schilling and Moundros have been named the Wolverine captains for 2010, the first time the Wolverines have had full-season captains under Rodriguez. Of the 16 defensive backs recruited since 2007, only nine remain and one of them (Woolfolk) is expected to be out this season. The trip to Bloomington, Ind. on Oct. 2 will be a reunion for the Hagerup family. Will's older brother Chris, a junior, is the punter for the Hoosiers.