This is a young team and they will only get more mature next season. Yeah, they will lose some guys. (This is not an exhaustive list and was mostly compiled from the Depth Chart by Class
and the 2010 Recruiting board
Zoltan Mesko--Sadly, the Space Emperor will rule another galaxy.
Next year's defense will certainly miss Brandon Graham. He's the only legitimate All-American (and all-Big Ten player--with the possible exception of Donovan Warren--for that matter) on the defense. No single player will be able to fill his shoes, but we hope that multiple players will step up to replace his production. Mike Martin will hopefully continue to develop into the First-Round draft pick/All-American that we all hope he can become. He really seemed to break through at the end of the season to my view. Ryan Van Bergen should continue to get bigger, faster and stronger. He may be asked to move over to Graham's position. This could be made possible by the continued development of Will Campbell. I think that he began making strides at the end of the season, even if they were only in flashes. Segasse should also still be around. Maybe he will make an impact in his senior season. With hard work, this can continue to be the strength of the defense.
Warren was quoted by (name redacted due to general evil) saying:
Just coming back in the off-season and just working hard. Trying to get this nasty feeling out of our mouths. Don't want to have this feeling next year.
If we assume Warren stays on next season (the only player that could leave), the secondary can only get better (young safeties and corners can gain experience). Woolfolk should be able to hold down a corner opposite Warren or one of the younger guys (Turner, Witty, Floyd?) should be able to step in. Perhaps one of these guys will move to Safety. Hopefully, with some coaching stability, the young guys will learn the defensive scheme and be able to execute it. Maybe some blue chip recruits will step up and contribute right away. Next season, this unit will mature and be better than this season.
Stevie Brown is the only linebacker who is graduating. While he was the best linebacker on the field, I think that it goes without saying that the linebackers left much to be desired. At worst, Brown should be replaced by Jordan Kovacs, who seems like he could also be well suited to a role where he plays the run, especially if he bulked up a bit (without getting any slower). Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton will be back, and these two players were often replaced by Kevin Leach and (especially at the end of the season) JB Fitzgerald. Hopefully the proverb, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," will prove to work in this linebacking corps. In order for this defense to make a marked improvement, this must be the most improved defensive unit.
With strong defensive development, solid and consistent coaching, and mental discipline, the "Tackling" metric should always find a strong positive number, and the RPS metric should die a swift death (because the defense doesn't need to attempt to "guess right" in order to stop plays). This defense will find that it can stop other teams and make it's way into the top quarter of the Big Ten statistical categories.
There is lots of good news at the QB spot. Tate won't be a freshman anymore. He will learn from many of his freshman mistakes, and improve. Oh, and he can get healthy over the off season! Hopefully tybert is right when he says, "I'm hoping to here RichRod say sometime next year: 'last year, Tate would have thrown it here (sic) and not waited for a another second or two, and that's why we got the winning TD today.'"
Denard is going to get more comfortable throwing the ball in the pocket. Also, as he gets more comfortable in the offense, Coach Rod may find that he can use him in some "gadget" ways. I'd love to see him next to Tate in a "single wing" sort of setup in the backfield. Perhaps, he will even be back there with another potential QB -- Devin Gardner. I hear he's good
The offensive line should be strong. Molk will be back and healthy. Schilling should be back. Omameh began to contribute at the end of the season. There will be seniors who can contribute. Also, there will be lots of competition from some redshirt freshmen and sophomores. I'm no expert, but I think that this will be a good situation, and the line should be able to crease defenses and protect the QB.
The running backs are, perhaps, the youngest and weakest group. But Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith found plenty of playing time due to the injuries to Brown and Minor. Also, there are plenty of athletes backing up these tailbacks in Cox and some incoming freshmen (White, Hopkins, Drake). With some consistency and some good health, this could still be a very strong unit.
The receivers will lose Greg Matthews. And he will be missed. However, Hemmingway and Stonum should be able to make their mark from the outside next season. Roundtree really impressed me late in the season. I believe that he turned into Michigan's most reliable receiver. Odoms should be healthy and use his speed to make plays in the middle. Koger can hopefully become more consistent and attack the middle of the field. Also, there are plenty of exciting players that look to find the field from this season's and last season's recruiting class.
This offense showed flashes of brilliance between fits of exasperation due to poor execution and freshman mistakes. With some improved execution and maturation, next season, this offense could return to the "point-a-minute" squads of yesteryear.
What made this season so difficult was the exciting start, especially beating Notre Dame. It turns out, Notre Dame is a 6-6 team searching for a legitimate bowl game to get drubbed in. (I'm assuming that Stanford destroys Notre Dame on Saturday. I don't think that this is a stretch.) We became irrationally exuberant and had Rose Bowl aspirations. Our young players need to spend this season growing both physically and mentally. The coaches need to take some hard looks at themselves and come up with some answers for what happenned against Illinois and Purdue. (I don't think that the coaches had the team mentally ready to play those games.) Everyone has work to do for the next nine months, and if they get it done, this team can be exciting next season.