First Look: 2016 Offense Comment Count

Brian January 6th, 2016 at 3:06 PM

DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.

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[Fuller/Fuller/Barron]

  1. QB Jake Rudock. Iowa transfer was a jittery mess for the first half and Andrew Luck Jr for the second. Cracked 3,000 passing yards with good efficiency and a solid TD/INT ratio; ended year by dicing up three top-ten pass defenses. Will be missed unless Harbaugh just Harbaughs himself another excellent QB, which is Harbaugh likely.
  2. C Graham Glasgow. Three year starter was always good even if it was near-impossible to tell without going into UFR-level depth. Stepped up as a senior and was, IMO, an All Big Ten-level performer. Michigan has a couple promising options to replace him; don't underrate his loss.
  3. TE AJ Williams. Went from symbol of the flaccid Hoke era to symbol of the player development Jim Harbaugh brings to the table. Improved his blocking immensely, quadrupled career receiving stats, was no longer a one-dimensional tight end who did not actually deliver on that dimension, blew guys off ball with consistency. I don't think I've ever seen a senior get that much better since… Bennie Joppru? Probably Bennie Joppru.
  4. FBs Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge. Treated as a unit. Solid to excellent blockers both with Kerridge a capable receiver and captain and Houma a promising mooseback capable of juking Florida linebackers. Normally a position met with a shrug these days, it's a much bigger deal under Harbaugh. Henry Poggi returns but hasn't touched a ball in anger yet.
  5. As of yet unknown attrition. Departures are on the way. Some of those will undoubtedly be on offense. Guys not playing at WR, RB, and QB are likely to be amongst the departures. None project to have significant 2016 roles unless the wild Rivals rumor about a starting OL not being asked back pans out. I'm skeptical about that.

WHAT'S LEFT

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[Upchurch/Fuller/Fuller]

  1. TE Jake Butt. 654 receiving yards a year ago with two-count-em-two drops all year. Blocking was finesse but relatively effective. Smoked touted Florida CB on route in bowl game. Should be nation's top receiving tight end and get that Mackey award he was inexplicably denied this year. A bit more oomph on the ground would be nice.
  2. OL Mason Cole. Emerged into a top-shelf run blocker in year two. Pass blocking was generally good but there were struggles against elite edge rushers like Yannick Ngakoue and Joey Bosa. Smart, technical player could get moved inside if Grant Newsome is Michigan's #5 OL.
  3. WR Jehu Chesson. Comparisons went from Stonum to Breaston to Manningham over the course of the season. Multi-use threat effective as a runner, blocker, and increasingly as a receiver. 764 yards and 9 TDs despite being chronically missed for the first half of the season, plus a KOR TD and a number of jet sweeps that went a long way. Has his shit together.
  4. WR Amara Darboh. Avant comparisons were on point, as he amply demonstrated on that catch. You know. That one. Solid intermediate threat with excellent hands and a large catching radius. Avant-esque. Like Avant. Reminiscent of Avant.
  5. RB De'Veon Smith. Nuclear-powered icebreaker back was frustrating much of the year but great against the Gators. If proverbial click has clicked and he knows where to go most of the time can be prototypical Harbaugh back. Superior blocker; may get drafted at fullback part-time a la BJ Askew.
  6. OLs Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden. All thrown into the same lump because they were more or less the same guy. All had their struggles, particularly the guards; all had their successes. All are likely to get incrementally better as senior returning starters, but it wouldn't be out of the question for one of them to get knocked out of the lineup if Kugler and Newsome emerge or Michigan picks up Texas grad transfer Jake Raulerson.
  7. FB/TE Henry Poggi. Last year's version of early AJ Williams. Had one catch for two yards, did not carry the ball, was a blocker and only a blocker. As a blocker he was generally effective when he made contact with a person. He failed to accomplish this with understandable frequency since he was flipped from the DL in spring. Should improve significantly in that department but must be more of a threat to have the ball.
  8. RB Drake Johnson. Michigan's quickest back by far but career has been limited by injury.
  9. RB/WR Jabrill Peppers. Oh right that guy. In year two under Harbaugh should emerge as a guy who gets ten touches a game on a variety of screens, sweeps, and straight-up runs and throws.

WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY

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O'Korn is generally considered the leader at QB [Fuller]

Probably John O'Korn. Michigan's QB derby is currently a five-way battle that will add a sixth contender in Brandon Peters and maybe a seventh if Harbaugh goes back to the grad-transfer well, but after a season of scout-team hype anyone other than Houston transfer O'Korn would be a moderate surprise.

O'Korn is the platonic opposite of Jake Rudock. He is Ryan Mallett, more or less, capable of throwing for 3,000 yards as a true freshman and equally capable of going full Hackenberg on WR screens in an increasingly frustrating situation and getting deservedly benched as a sophomore. He is a big, strapping fellow with good wheels who can uncork pinpoint 40-yard passes on the run. He threw an array of insane interceptions and made other mistakes in bunches at Houston, but given a year of understudy under Harbaugh both the natural maturation process and the coaching upgrade promise big things.

Half the running back rotation. This space projects that De'Veon Smith ends up absorbing most of the carries from the fullback spot and plays enough RB to remain Michigan's leading rusher. That will leave about half the total carries available. Peppers, Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, and freshmen Kareem Walker and Kingston Davis figure to scrap over the remainder.

Only Peppers is a lock to get a bunch of touches, because he is Peppers. The rest could go anywhere; Michigan fans are hoping the freshmen step up immediately. It could happen.

An offensive lineman, maybe two. Grant Newsome is a heavy favorite to be the fifth starter on the offensive line after Michigan burned his redshirt midseason so he could be a sixth OL in heavy packages. Newsome is an ideal left tackle, though, and Michigan has an incumbent. Look for Mason Cole to move inside, as his run blocking is considerably ahead of his pass protection.

It is possible that Michigan could mix things up more extensively if they feel their best five includes Patrick Kugler or Raulerson, potentially bumping Mason Cole to guard instead of center. If that happens it's probably a good thing.

Receivers and blocky/catchy types past the Big Three. We're filing Grant Perry as "new" since he made little impact last year except in the first and last games. In the former case that impact was massively negative; in the latter a pleasant surprise. Perry, Drake Harris, Moe Ways, and tight ends Ian Bunting and Khalid Hill will compete to fill snaps vacated by Williams and the departing fullbacks.

Unless there's an injury none will emerge into prime targets; the goal there is for Michigan to have guys ready to step in when Darboh, Chesson, and Butt all depart after next year.

WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1976

The peripheral nature of most of the previous section's bullet points. Michigan needs to find a QB, an OL, and half a running back. They have less to replace than 95% of D-I programs.

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[Fuller]

Three Amigos 2016. Butt, Darboh, and Chesson are a receiving trio that might be on par with the famous Braylon/Avant/Breaston set. If Chesson continues his development he is a legit #1; Butt probably would have been the second tight end off the board if he announced for the NFL draft; Darboh is a circus-catch wizard and burly possession guy to move the chains. Nobody in the league is going to have a set of pass-catchers like that.

Continuity. Hey look Michigan has the same coaching staff for the second consecutive year, running the same offense. They have the same players running it, for the most part. This has been a rare treasure of late.

Experience. Michigan projects to have seniors start at eight of eleven positions, and one of the exceptions is Mason Cole.

WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2016

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how much better can these gentlemen get? [Upchurch]

Blocking upside. I thought Michigan had two very good offensive linemen and three guys who were meh. One of the very good guys is gone; the three meh guys are all going to be redshirt seniors. I'm not sure how much any of them will improve. I mean, they should improve, but the kind of leap Cole took last year from meh to very good is unlikely.

Similarly, I don't think Jake Butt is suddenly going to be a murderous blocker. This doesn't feel like a run game that gets amazing unless it was really all targeting issues.

WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY

The O'Kornininging, or Speightininging, or Whoeverining. New quarterback is always a worry, albeit less so when Jim Harbaugh is his quarterback coach. O'Korn has all the tools you could want and seemingly went to Houston because he was wild and unrefined. He could be Ryan Mallett or he could be Ryan Mallett, if you get my drift.

Will the tailbacks be any good? I'd give that position group a D for the year. Kareem Walker may not be the quick fix everyone was vaguely hoping for when they heard the #1 back in the country was going to decommit from OSU and flip to Michigan. Recruiting consensus on Walker has dipped to the point where he's a good, not great prospect. (This might actually be good for Michigan given the track record of five-star backs in Ann Arbor.)

Smith and Johnson gave a glimmer of hope in the bowl game, enough to bump this from bad to dunno.

MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS

It all hinges on INSERT QB HERE. If he comes in hot and we get a year of Late Rudock production this should be an offense that takes a major step forward. Whoever does  get the job is going to have a terrific receiving corps, solid or better pass protection, and Jabrill Peppers hanging around.

The run game is a bit of a question mark still. Michigan has no slam-dunk back and probably won't see their OL take a quantum leap forward. Real improvement is likely, though. Michigan gets four OL back and will have continuity, plus both returning tailbacks who played in the bowl showed major improvement.

For context, Michigan finished 30th in offensive S&P+ this year, 43rd on the ground and 8th(!!!) in the air. They should be able to push the ground number up 10 to 20 spots, and if O'Korn hits the ground running and maintains that passing number—somewhat tough but he'll be operating in a friendly environment—Michigan should get into the top 20 teams statistically.

I'd say maintaining the passing production is unlikely,  but a quick glance at Jim Harbaugh's track record with quarterbacks suggests it is anything but.

Comments

readyourguard

January 6th, 2016 at 3:16 PM ^

I'm not convinced all eligible senior offensive linemen will be granted a 5th year.  One in particular caught my eye a lot this year, and not in a good way.  I believe you have commented in a previous post that this is crazy talk, but I think it's the cold, hard truth.  We can't afford a single man to get consistently stalemated, or worse, blown off the line. 

reshp1

January 6th, 2016 at 3:33 PM ^

I dunno, if that guy (I'm guessing you mean Kalis) really was that bad, Michigan had some options to replace him this year. I doubt you go from one of best five to not even good enough to be back-up depth in one year. Maybe if the best case scenario happens and Michigan gets all it's top targets, we'd think about cutting someone like that. 5th year senior, 3 year starter OL, even partially ineffectual ones are pretty precious commodities. 

JeepinBen

January 6th, 2016 at 3:26 PM ^

I'm less worried about the QB position for one reason - competition. Sure, OKorn could be Mallet or Mallet, but he'll also have RS Jr Shane Morris* - who also just redshirted under Harbaugh's watch, along with the other 31 QBs on the roster pushing him. As opposed to "After Denard it's Devin, after Devin it's Shane", we now have competeition. Whoever wins that battle will be OK to great, because Harbaugh.

*O'Korn has looked much better to date than Morris in terms of what they did on the field their first couple of years. Or at least, O'Korn has highs while they both have had lows. But O'Korn wasn't position-coached by Al Borges before going to a new QB coach before Harbaugh. So... I'm not sure who will win but they'll be good.

dragonchild

January 6th, 2016 at 4:24 PM ^

Rudock came to Michigan with experience, but didn't get Harbaughed until late.

Everyone left, including O'Korn, has had a year under Harbaugh.  Maybe not as much attention as the starter, but given the ferocity of competition, whoever's on top can't have wasted the snaps.

Similarly, the OL are now RS seniors but this will be year 2 under Drevno.

I think the fact that Michigan ended 10-3 with a bowl win has Brian forgetting this was a transition year.  Maybe not in word, but in mentality.

funkywolve

January 6th, 2016 at 4:58 PM ^

on expectations for next year even more, but if you look at some of the better coaches over the last 15-20 yrs, year 2 is when the jump usually occurs (Tresseel, Stoops, Carroll, Saban, etc).  Like you said, year 1 is usually a transition year - learning the offense/defense, learning what expectations are, etc.  Year 2 and beyond is upper level courses.  The only guys next year who will be taking Harbaugh 101 are the true freshmen, everyone else will be in upper level courses.

Double-D

January 6th, 2016 at 11:29 PM ^

With that much QB competition whoever starts is going to be good. Damn Ruddock will be hard to replace though!

Peters fascinates me. I am suspicious Malzone is ahead of Gentry. Not sure what to think about Shane.

OKorn
Malzone
Speight
Peters could be 2 if he does not RS and maybe you don't if McCaffery signs on.

Just a fun guess.

M Dude in Portlandia

January 7th, 2016 at 1:15 AM ^

And I saw film of this kid from Miami today (Uche?) he is listed as a DE IIRC but he plays on the field anywhere from DE to almost playing CB or at least Nickel. And IIRC he was recruited by Brown and we offered him the same day we made the deal with Brown.

I imagine a kid like this will find his way into an awful lot of zone blitz packages.

UMinSF

January 6th, 2016 at 3:28 PM ^

mold Andrew Luck into a superstar, transform a limited and absolutely broken Alex Smith into a top-half NFL starter, and create a devastating weapon out of an unknown Colin Kaepernick (not the shell he is now, the matchup nightmare he was under JH), I was more surprised by how long it took Rudock to take off.

There are many unknowns in college football; Harbaugh trotting out a competent QB is not one of them. 

reshp1

January 6th, 2016 at 3:37 PM ^

Jake Rudock got on campus late July, IIRC. He didn't even have 6 months with Harbaugh, and the last 2 he was awesome. Granted, some of the improvement was just getting comfortable with a new system and would have happened anywhere, but the magnitude of improvement was just insane. 

Ali G Bomaye

January 6th, 2016 at 3:43 PM ^

Remember, Rudock enrolled at Michigan after he graduated at Iowa last spring. He had a total of 29 practices with Harbaugh before he walked onto the field at Utah, and I'd bet a lot of those were simply learning the offense rather than refining technique.  Harbaugh may be a magician, but that's a pretty short timeframe.

East German Judge

January 6th, 2016 at 3:29 PM ^

I think that Blake O'Neil will also be very sorely missed.  Other than the 1 miscue against staee, he was an absolute weapon for us, best punting I can recall seeing in a long, long time.  Keep in mind, I'm sure he did not have the longest average vs. other Michigan punters, but he did an excellent job downing in inside the 20, if not the 10, while many other good punters we have had have boomed it for a touchback.  Is there a punting stat readily available regarding % of punts placed inside the 20???

Yessir

January 6th, 2016 at 3:29 PM ^

Drake Johnson wasn't mentioned in "Half the running back set" but he's back in at the "Will tailbacks be any good"  I was worried there for a minute.  I think DJ is a helluva back when healthy and think he will be next year. Hope Ty is back in the mix too. 

 

Great post.  Geat info.

MayOhioEatTurds

January 6th, 2016 at 9:57 PM ^

Drake Johnson is not mentioned as a contender for non-De'veon carries:

"That will leave about half the total carries available. Peppers, Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, and freshmen Kareem Walker and Kingston Davis figure to scrap over the remainder."

I'm sure it was merely an oversight, but after watching Drake run the ball I'm 100% sure he figures heavily into whatever rotation exists next year.  He just scored 2 touchdowns against Florida, and had the longest YPC among running backs.

I'm betting the coaches will continue to rely on Drake. 
 

dragonchild

January 6th, 2016 at 4:31 PM ^

Rudock was all but airmailed to Ann Arbor before spring practice.  There's a reason Harbaugh brought him in; with the disaster at QB he didn't have time to fix anybody.  So he got a barrel-aged commodity QB and had him learn the offense.  That he kept improving was a bonus, but the more telling action was redshirting Morris.  If he felt he could've just fixed Morris in time, he would've done it.  So, there was ample reason to UFR Iowa Rudock, because for at least half a season, that's what we were getting.

O'Korn has been Harbaughed for a year.  Houston footage may be useful to gauge his raw ability, but for UFR purposes you may as well burn the tape.