Spring Position Battles: Offense Comment Count

Brian February 9th, 2010 at 1:31 PM

patrick-omameh-pensive The kids are in and the winter sports are slowly strangling whatever hopes you had, so the next major event you won't stare at a bottle of pills after is spring practice. Time for primers. Positions I'll be looking at hard in a month or two:

Left Tackle

The Departed

Fifth-year senior Mark Ortmann graduates. Ortmann was no Jake Long but by the end of his career at Michigan he was a solid pass protector and okay in the run game. If Michigan can get an equal performance from a freshman or sophomore that's a win.

The Candidates

The favorite is redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh, who drew into the lineup late last year when David Molk went down with injury and the right guard spot became persistently unsettled after David Moosman slid over to center. Omameh made a few impressive plays downfield…

…and was generally functional. Though he ended up at guard last year that was an effort to get Michigan's best five linemen on the field more than anything else. Omameh has always been regarded a left tackle prospect.

Omameh's main competition will come from two redshirt freshman. Taylor Lewan was a late-blooming prospect from Arizona who got acres of hype—the Long comparisons were rife—and has an enormous ceiling. Omameh has experience on Lewan but if those two are far and away the top two candidates for starting jobs they might leave Omameh at guard and insert Lewan. Michael Schofield is another redshirt freshman who was well-regarded as a recruit and will have a shot at the job, but he may be better suited for right tackle.

Hoping for… Lewan. Jumping into the starting lineup as a freshman would be Long-like for a guy who has drawn Long comparisons, and it would presumably allow Omameh to slide over to right tackle to help lock down the area from which most of Tate Forcier's wild-ass scrambles were born.

Expecting… Omameh. With three starts to his name and no current starters a threat to move to left tackle, Omameh is a prohibitive favorite.

Right Guard

The Departed

The aforementioned Moosman was Michigan's most consistent offensive lineman the last two years when not forced to play center due to Molk's injuries. Though he was consistent, he wasn't great; his prominence says more about the state of Michigan's line the last couple years than his future in the game. He wasn't invited to the NFL combine.

Since Moosman spent most of the year at center and his replacement was a combination of Huyge, Ferrara, and Omameh with the latter performing the best, Michigan should expect improved production here.

The Candidates

john-ferrara-osu If Lewan or Schofield blows up, Omameh is the likely starter here… unless he gets shifted out to right tackle. But that's another spot.

Assuming the tackles are not in such surplus that Michigan can toss them about the interior line willy-nilly, Michigan faces a choice between old and young. The old guy in the mix is fifth-year senior John Ferrara (right), a guy who was flipped from defensive tackle in Rodriguez's first year at Michigan and saw spot starts in 2008. He was supplanted last year by a couple of guys who displayed serious limitations, but he's more seasoned than the other options.

The other options are a pair of highly-touted southerners. Redshirt sophomore Ricky Barnum decommitted from Florida just before signing day and was actually the second-team left tackle last year. The assumption here is that Omameh was more ready to play and left tackle was not open, so the best backup lineman practiced at the most available spot—right guard after Molk went down—and the second best practiced at the toughest. That would be Barnum. He came highly touted and after two years prepping he's the most likely guy. If it's close, Michigan will probably go with the younger player.

The other prime candidates are Elliot Mealer, who saw a little time last year as a backup, and redshirt freshman Quinton Washington. The soft-spoken Washington picked Michigan over South Carolina late in last year's recruiting cycle and drew lavish praise from the coaches:

"To my understanding, he's their number one lineman they are going after in the nation. That's point blank what coach Rodriguez told me Friday night."

Washington is a rare combination of size and linebacker-erasing agility and could be a major star. His ceiling is very, very high. If he doesn't win a job this year he will be the heavy favorite to replace Steve Schilling in 2011.

Hoping for… Realistically, Barnum. He should be ahead of Washington at this point and Washington getting the nod over him would probably say more bad things about Barnum than good things about Washington. In fairy land where Michigan embarks on a four-year journey with Lewan as Jake Long 2.0 and Washington as Steve Hutchinson 2.0, Washington. No offense to Ferrara, but I'd take a starting spot for him as a very bad sign.

Expecting… Barnum.

mark-huyge-penn-state Right Tackle

The Departed

No one. Whoever's here this fall should be better, whether it's the same players with more experience or someone displacing them.

The Candidates

The reason this position is listed prominently is performance of the two semi-incumbents. Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge (right, holding the hell out of a Penn State lineman) were functional in the run game but revolving doors in pass protection. A not so random protection metric from last year:

PROTECTION METRIC: 14/29. Huyge –5, Schilling –3, Minor –2, Ortmann –1, Shaw –1, Koger –1, Moosman –1, Omameh –1.

That is by far the lowest percentage in UFR history. The culprits are the usual by now: Huyge on the edge, Schilling getting blasted back into the pocket, and several other folk having individual moments of struggle.

That happened to be a game that Huyge played right tackle; when Dorrestein got the start he was the guy leading the way with big minuses.

Michigan had little choice but to rotate those two last year. This year they have options. The aforementioned Lewan and Schofield come off redshirt years; Omameh will probably move back to tackle in spring, too. All these guys have been talked about already.

Hoping for… in the scenario where Lewan erupts, Omameh.

Expecting… early, a rotation similar to last year's. Huyge takes over late and his pass protection remains a major issue.


The Departed

Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were polar opposites in many ways but shared a knack for getting injured constantly. Despite having not one but two senior tailbacks, Michigan was forced to go to true freshman Vincent Smith late last year as both veterans looked on dourly from the sidelines holding various aching extremities.

Kevin Grady is also gone, though he was mostly a fullback last year.

Production should be about even; Brown and Minor were hardly at full speed last year.

The Candidates

They are diverse and sundry. With Vincent Smith out until fall with an ACL tear, five or six players will battle for carries. Mike Shaw is the one you've seen before. His freshman year was exciting, but his promise dipped as a sophomore. Shaw runs wildly. He's a zippy guy with the occasional fantastic move…

…but his vision is lacking and he's had fumble issues. This spring will be a turning point in his career. If he gets left in the wash by freshmen he's headed for kickoff return duties and not much else. Chances are he improves enough to be a part of the rotation; he has Brown-level speed.

Other folk are murkier. Mike Cox displayed impressive balance on a couple of garbage-time carries against weak opponents but has done nothing else so far and fell behind Smith almost as soon as he hit the practice field. He could find use as a short-yardage back or Soul Train extra. Cox is the only other player in the spring tailback derby to have seen a carry at Michigan.

The other three players are freshmen, be they redshirt or true. Fitzgerald Toussaint, the redshirt, is the most likely to have a breakout spring. He enrolled in fall—Smith got in early, giving us an early glimpse—and then broke his collarbone. That forced him out of a month of practice and relegated him to scout team duties, but before that he was a jump-cut maniac at Youngstown Liberty who racked up three or four 50+ yard touchdowns per game. When I profiled Toussaint prior to his enrollment, I was higher on him than Smith:

While I think Vincent Smith can be a good back in the Michigan offense, Toussaint has the bigger recruiting rep, better track numbers, and heart-stopping highlights; my bet is that he's the most successful tailback out of this class. I love the combination of moves, zone suitability, and flat-out speed cited by ESPN and demonstrated at track meets and football games.

And while Smith has outpaced even this site's positive take on him in year one, the main thing I'll be looking for this spring is Toussaint translating his sprinter's speed and audacious cuts to Michigan Stadium.

True freshmen Austin White and Stephen Hopkins have enrolled early and will get their shots as well. White is a slot/tailback who might be reminiscent of a Dorrell Jalloh or Darius Reynaud; he comes with less hype than Toussaint and I assume he will redshirt. Hopkins is the lowest-rated back of anyone on the roster but at 6-foot and 230-240 pounds there is a distinctly vacant role on the roster he might be the man to fill. Michigan needs a short-yardage moose.

Hoping for… Smith's healthy return and Toussaint living up to his crazy film.

Expecting… pretty much that, with Shaw factoring in as needed.


My assumption remains that Devin Gardner is headed for a redshirt. Still, getting a look at the future of Michigan's quarterback position will be a priority for many. Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms have a stranglehold on slot receiver, but an extended look at Jeremy Gallon with an eye towards "please God, send us a punt returner" will be welcome. On the outside, Junior Hemingway is a lock and it will take some doing to displace Darryl Stonum. With Ricardo Miller, Jeremy Jackson, and Jerald Robinson all in early there's a chance someone displays an ability to adjust to deep balls.

Finally, I wonder if any of the tight ends can catch now.


Crime Reporter

February 9th, 2010 at 1:49 PM ^

I would like to see some of the new guys have good Springs, as last year's rotating line-up left a lot to be desired. Here's my early OL:

LT: Omameh (the guy showed flashes late last year, and I'd expect him to get better)
LG: Schilling (three-year starter)
C: Molk (please stay healthy)
RG: Barnum or Washington (I want to see what these guys can do, especially Washington)
RT: Dorrestein or Huyge (I wasn't really impressed with either last year, especially in pass protection, but I'd expect them to be starters at the beginning of the year).


February 9th, 2010 at 2:24 PM ^

that Molk stay healthy for next year. Michigan OL wasn't the same without him and he provides mean streak, toughness and is so competitive that his OL took on into his personality. After he was out, the OL as whole deflated and lacked toughness when it really counts.

Molk may not be the best OL in terms of talent, may not be the best fit in RR's scheme but he's our most important OL because of his personality and the ability to make a proper snap from the shotgun which is a quality that most people often overlook.


February 9th, 2010 at 4:42 PM ^

because he's not a great athlete(he's not terrible either) but he is so tough and competitive that he was able to overcome the deficiency. He has short arm which is harder for him to perform some of the difficult blocks that is being asked for a center. The center has to be one of the best athlete on the line because of RR's scheme.

RR doesn't necessarily need a smaller OL. He just want OL who can run regardless of the size. For example, Quinton Washington is not small, he's a large man who can run. The problem with finding big OL who can run are often 5* type OL and they don't exactly grow on tree.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:39 PM ^

lewan is beastly this spring and we can put omameh at RT. i've read that schofield is weighing in at 285 these days so i'd imagine that lewan is at about the same size. that leads me to believe that both of them will be at least 290-295 by the time the season starts. as long as lewan has his technique down, we should be ready to roll with he and omameh at the tackle spots


February 9th, 2010 at 2:07 PM ^

If Michigan did this, there's no way Gardner could red shirt. Doesn't make sense; I agree he's a play maker and Michigan needs to find ways to get the ball in his hands, but I think we need him at QB, particularly this coming year.


February 9th, 2010 at 9:39 PM ^

In case you didn't notice, Tate got pretty banged-up last year. He's an undersized QB running a spread offense, so he's going to take his share of licks. If Tate goes down, I want Denard coming in. Gardner can red-shirt and have two full seasons to play after Tate & Denard graduate (assuming he doesn't win the job before that, which I suppose he could do if the hype is anywhere close to accurate).

Section 1

February 9th, 2010 at 2:27 PM ^

1. Just because he is "QB" in the program doesn't mean that he can't do "RB" things, like, uh, run. Just eliminates the middle man, I say. You want Wildcat? We got you some Wildcat.

2. I have to think that little WR episode last year v. OSU won't be the last time we see that. But he's our Number 2 QB. We need a good Number 2 QB. I don't much care to see Denard reaching up for high passes on crossing routes with Kurt Coleman or Chimdi Chekwa bearing down on him.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:42 PM ^

That's essentially what Denard was last year, albeit a little more than that. He had 69 rushing attempts to go along with 31 pass attempts(completing 14 of them), which factors out nicely to say he ran the ball about 70% of the time he was taking snaps last year. While that worked in the beginning of the year because the opposing defenses weren't anticipating it and we were facing lesser competition, once Michigan got into their conference schedule, it was far less effective. Big Ten defenses were better at defending him, somewhat mitigating his speed. What we need from Denard, at least this year, is to develop into a serviceable enough backup who is not as predictable as last year and more consistent, but every bit as dynamic. That would be the ideal situation.

Pea-Tear Gryphon

February 9th, 2010 at 5:48 PM ^

You've heard of Change of Pace Runningbacks, well DR will be our Change of Pace Quarterback. The coaches will have a nice package of plays (running and passing) that DR will work on all spring and summer. I think he makes great strides in picking up the zone read and true option looks this year.

They will also get him involved in sets with Tate, either as a RB or WR position. Point is, he is our #2 QB this coming year. I don't think it matters what we do with him down the road. We need to get through 2010 first.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:09 PM ^

Brian (or anyone who knows)- perhaps I missed this a while back, but about a little over a year ago, you used to have links in your write ups, upon which if I put the cursor over, a video player would pop-up. Whatever happened to that?


February 9th, 2010 at 2:12 PM ^

Wait - aren't you excited to see our defensive backfield without Warren, Cissoko, or any of the 7 incoming freshmen? Tate will look like Drew Brees out there against that competition.

I still wonder whether they find a way for Roundtree to play more outside WR this year so that he and Odoms (their two best WR) can be on the field at the same time.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:17 PM ^

I'd admit that Koger wasn't absolutely perfect, and that he let the occasional grab get away from him, but I was overall happy with his performance. It wasn't like he got a whole lot of looks last year.

Not enough to my thinking.
I think he has the talent to be much more involved in the passing game than he was.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:32 PM ^

Look for Koger (and the Force) to have a big year. The first year a guy sees major playing time, he's bound to have a few head asplode moments. He had some drops, ain't gonna lie, but he has a knack for getting open and a 13.9 yards per catch, outstanding for a tight end. As Forcier develops (and QBs almost always improve dramatically between first and second year), he's going to realize what a disruption Koger can be to the defense. And then he will gleefully throw to him again and again. The only real limiting factor for the offense this year is the line; if they play well, UM will score on any and all.


February 9th, 2010 at 5:49 PM ^

I'm with you on Koger. He had some Braylon in him last year, making fantastic catches, dropping some easy ones, overall frustrating and capable of more. He does need more looks, as it seemed he was usually uncovered downfield in the slot.


February 9th, 2010 at 6:01 PM ^

Given his ability to outrun linebackers and overrun safeties, Koger should be getting 5 or 6 targets a game at least. Keeping him actively involved in the offense also keeps linebackers and safeties honest against the run, giving our backs the extra split second that turns a two yard run into a 5 - 12 yard run. Further, having him as a vertical threat keeps backers and safeties from cheating too much against the bubble screen. And thus, the beauty of the spread: if all options are actively involved, the defense is forced to guess and gamble to compensate for matchup and scheme shortcomings. And we can make everybody else's D look like ours did against Oregon when Dixon came town.

West Texas Blue

February 9th, 2010 at 2:24 PM ^

Omameh will be great this year; book it. Really hope Schilling steps up his senior year; he's been middling so far, although not alot of it is his fault. Wasn't really enamored with RT play last year; would prefer that Lewan, Schofield, or Omameh lock down the tackle spots, but Huyge is probably the low risk, low upside guy to go with. The OL battle will be the most important battle this spring and fall IMO; this team won't fire on all cylinders until the OL is working with the perfect precision that Rod and Frey require.


February 9th, 2010 at 5:16 PM ^

a) personal opinion. I was not impressed with Schofield as a high schooler.

b) odds. We can't expect every offensive lineman to pan out, and I expect that others (Washington, Barnum, Lewan) will be good. Schofield will be the odd man out, IMO.


February 9th, 2010 at 6:51 PM ^

Some predictions are based on more evidence than others. So no, not all predictions have to be considered premature. Which isn't to say yours necessarily is, but I think a lot of people would like to see the guy actually out on the field in a college game before they predict that he's going to end up having a mediocre college career. Or, at the very least, they would need to see him get leapfrogged on the depth chart in a year when he's not redshirting before drawing a conclusion. As a coach maybe you're a bit better than others at extrapolating a player's college career from his high school one, but there are enough variables you can't account for that I think it's a bit early to say with any confidence what kind of player he's likely to be.