Spring Position Battles: Offense

Submitted by Brian on 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.


name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 2:40 PM ^

Can someone please explain to me, and talk slowly, why we cannot use DR in other areas of the offense? I get it, if Forcier goes down we need him at QB or we lose. Well, we lost anyway. So whats the difference? Don't we need the play making ability more to avoid losses than the possibility of an injury?

And this yr, whats to stop DR from having a dual role. 2nd string QB, but starts at a receiver spot or some type of offensive back. We need him on the field. Am I wrong or is he perfect to return punts and or kickoffs?

If Forcier goes down, we lose. Its that simple. DG is not acceptable at qb. So we might as well pull Gardner out of red shirt at that point, if it comes to it.

I like and support RR, my biggest BIGGEST question is his ability to utilize his talent. I just don't see it. I see him much like Carr, cept with the opposite offense. He has his scheme, and tries to fit the players into it. Doesn't seem to be able to adjust for the talent he has today. Or I am wrong.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:45 PM ^

1. What makes you think he's such a good WR

2. We already have competent WRs

3. It's like studying for 2 different classes (learning a position) sure you can study for both of your exams at the same time but if you study for only 1 you will do awesome at that one and okay at the other.


A: We already have WRs

B: We have no back-up QB except for another true freshman (UGH NOT AGAIN)

What do you think our student will be doing in this case (RR)

1. Cram for one exam or study for both?

name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 2:57 PM ^

1. The point is getting your best talent on the field in position to make plays. I wasn't trying to pick a specific position. Any. If he is indeed one of our best play makers, what the hell is he doing on the bench 95% of the game.

2. So Michigan football is all about "competent". Or is it about excellence? I'll shoot for excellence, even if falling short means total failure, over 'competent' anyday. Competent is for the weak. I thought that was the reason for bringing in RR in the first place.

3. I agree for the most part. Again, its about getting play makers on the field in a position to make plays. Isn't that what RR's offense is all about? Then lets see it. AND, like DR is even 'ok' at qb, he was terrible. Like I said, if Forcier goes down we are done. With or without DR as a full time backup.

You since statement was totally non-logical to me, maybe it sounded good when you typed it but I am not feeling the RR/student/exam metaphor. Your talking about one student taking one exam. What if you have 6 exams and 20 kids to decide who takes which exam. Wouldn't you pull the best student in each exam subject and have them take that exam? To continue your metaphor, our coach has our best history student, DR, backing up the kid who is going to take the Chem exam...


February 9th, 2010 at 3:08 PM ^

RR has 2 exams this week:

His courses are:

Organic Chemistry (C grade currently) (QBs)


Economics 401 (A grade currently) (WRs)

If he doesn't study for Econ that's okay because he'll still get an okay grade (IE if he doesn't put DR at WR the WRs will still be GOOD to FUNCTIONAL, DR will not make our break them *this is assuming that DR is a good WR*)

If he doesn't study for Chem (Akin to TF getting injured) he will either get a very terrible grade or maybe even fail (get fired)

So the options are:

1. Study for Econ (get a sweet grade and make Orgo suffer)

2. Study for Orgo (Improve orgo and let Econ suffer since it's already an okay grade)

3. Do both and probably keep the same grades (akin to letting him try to learn both positions)

IMO #2 is the most logical answer because DR is having a tough enough time learning QB let alone QB and WR and if TF gets hurt again you do not want a TRUE FROSH coming in again.


name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 3:23 PM ^

hah, dude i got your metaphor, I've read Soar With Your Strengths, I get it. Its not just about DR and HIS grades, its about the entire team. Maximizing the overall talent you can put on the field.

I'd still like someone to explain how having a top 3 play maker on the bench maximizes our talent on the field, which gives us the best chance to win. Its really that simple.

The entire structure of your argument is that if, IF, Forcier gets injured, then we need DR because he is substantially better than Gardner would be. I don't agree. DR or Gardner at qb means a loss. I don't care if its by 3 (DR) or 33 (Gardner).

We're not winning, why wouldn't we want to play the team that gives us the best chance of winning. That entire journey you just took with your school metaphor is constructed around something that hasn't and might not occur. If it does, we're screwed regardless.

Don't be so risk adverse. Don't be afraid to reach for excellence (cue inspirational music)

name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 3:48 PM ^

Well Mr Risk Analyzer, what was our record in the B10 last year? You are clearly not doing your job, what risk is there? Losing? You mean losing MORE than all but 1 conference game??? Seriously??

I would not hire you.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:51 PM ^

The risk is that if TF goes down and we don't have a serviceable backup in DR then RR gets fired.

If he moves DR to WR and he wins us 1 game I don't think that that'll make or break the season.

And last I checked we won 5 games last year and the coaches success is not just judged by the Conference schedule. If that was the case Michigan would have been in the NC hunt under Lloyd Carr a lot more.

Finally I don't give a shit if you would hire but I trade for a living so I'm pretty sure that I know more about risk reward than you do.

name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 4:10 PM ^

What??? Conference first, always. Go back and read you bible, of Bo Schembechler. Every year your first and main goal is win your conference.

Ugh, again, not DR in any way position specific.

AND, you SEROUSLY think he is a serviceable QUARTERBACK??? Holy good god man. Better than Gardner, yeh maaaybe. Maybe. Regardless we lose with either of them.

Its good to know you are proud of a 5 win season. Losing to Mich St and OSU is ok? Shit man. You are the same guy who wanted Carr out because he could only get us a 8-9 win season, and now you are ok with 5 because it currently fits your internet argument.

Is football only about risk reward? I know plenty of traders, and few FEW do risk reward analysis themselves. Their firm does it for them. Maybe you are a basement trader, and if so I really don't need you to profuse your risk reward expertise to me.

My position is a bit different, but only a bit. I am a marketing analyst, the point of my existence within this corporation is to maximize output. You want to get to the goal in baby steps, I want to sprint. I promise you, in athletics, the sprinter wins.

Seriously, I am surprised you didn't tell me your dad can beat up my dad.

name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 4:21 PM ^

You're absolutely right. I will refrain from using metaphors and analogies from now on. The conversation then just erodes in an argument on the validity of the metaphor and not the original topic.

Course, and don't answer this, is a football game an endurance race? Sure endurance is important. But, and at a different time and place, I think the argument can be made that a football game is made up of a bunch of sprints...not one lone endurance race. Especially in RR's offense.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:28 PM ^

"I'd still like someone to explain how having a top 3 play maker on the bench maximizes our talent on the field, which gives us the best chance to win. Its really that simple."

Because Robinson will touch the ball LESS as a wide receiver than he did last year as a change of pace QB. Repeat... he'll touch the ball LESS. If you want the exquisite playmaker that is DR to touch the ball more, you do not move him to WR.


February 10th, 2010 at 6:51 AM ^

Because Robinson is NOT a better receiver than Roundtree, Odoms, or hell even Gallon in the slot. He is NOT an outside receiver nor would he be a better option than Hemingway, Stonum, or Stokes. He is NOT a more natural runner or better RB than Smith, Touissant, or Shaw. Finally - Tate is the more advanced QB of the two at this point. Robinson is a guy with tremendous speed who has a high ceiling as an athlete but based on the evidence so far I'm not so sure I understand why everyone has the "get him the ball at all costs" mentality. He has the ability to be exciting. Key word - ability. I think everyone saw that first busted play against WMU and thought that would be the norm but really how many more times did that happen over the season? Not as many times as he fumbled or threw an INT.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:15 PM ^

Our best receiver last year was Roy Roundtree who had 32 receptions on the year. Let's use that as a baseline for DR as a receiver.

32 receptions is less than 3 a game. By contrast, Robinson RAN the ball 69 times last year, more than twice as many times as our leading receiver touched the ball. If you really want the ball in his hands with some frequency, the perfect situation is an occasional wildcat formation. If he takes ONE SNAP a quarter, he will have the ball more than Roy Roundtree had it last year. The idea that we need to take our superstar athlete QB and make him a receiver to let him touch the ball more is silly. Receivers touch the ball so infrequently during a game that is would be a waste of practice time and effort, given that we WILL need him as a back-up QB, regardless of the other uses of him.

The best way to get him some "touches" is to do what RR was trying to do last year. Work him into the game at strategic times as QB where he will have the ball on his hands.

If you think that is a risk, or that he sucked at that, fine (and I agree fors last year) but you can't argue "I want him to have the ball a lot" and at the same time think that is going to happen MORE if he is moved to wide receiver.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:19 PM ^

That's fine, double it, or add Odom's 22 to Roundtree's 32. The point remains that Robinson ran the ball more than Odoms and Roundtree caught the ball combined. Look, I'm not advocating the wildcat as an option, just pointing out that a switch to WR to get him the ball more is silly. He'll have the ball less.

name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 3:30 PM ^

Thats cool, and I wasn't specifying receiver. We all agree he needs the ball more, BUT in a position to make a play. IMO, at qb, hes not in a position to make a play. He can't throw, and its ok guys, not everyone can play qb at a high level we can admit our super fast qb recruit can't throw. So when DR was in at qb, everyone and their moms (who are generally not football fans) knew what was coming. Its not about getting DR the ball. Sure line him up for a series every quarter at qb then. Its about getting him the ball in a position to make plays. Why not kick returns? Because he might get injured? Seriously? Thats playing football to not lose, not to win. Difference in philosophy i guess.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:35 PM ^

What makes you think he can return kicks? Wasn't Terrence Robinson supposed to be a super-star return guy... until it became clear he couldn't catch the ball?

I'm going to go out on a limb... the UM coaching staff has considered various ways of using young Mr. Robinson's talents. I think if he could significantly help the team as a kickoff or punt return guy (and be significantly better than the others who were doing the job) he'd be there. I know... a pretty big leap of faith, but there it is.

name redacted

February 9th, 2010 at 3:52 PM ^

Again, not specifying any position. But you seem hell bent on internet fighting. So here, I like RR. I support him. But coaches are very risk adverse. They make decisions all the time factored on not losing (see: Llyod Carr). Are you going to tell me because RR (I checked, not god, actually less god than Carr at this point) can't make wrong decisions? If he and his decisions are infallible, then what is the point of even having a community like this if every comment can only consist of GO BLUE or HAIL! So Carcajous..



February 9th, 2010 at 7:09 PM ^

1. He was a F-r-e-s-h-m-e-n that didn't enroll until June.
2. He had to learn the QB position because we had no depth.
3. There are these things that get monitored all the time called practice limits, they don't have time to moneky around for a couple of hours with Denard figuring out what he can do, while you are trying to get 100 guys ready to play a game. They can do that in the spring.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:23 PM ^

Stevie B led the team in Receptions (I think that this is WAAAAAYYYYYY too high of numbers for DR but hey what do I know)

rec yds yd/rec long td
Steve Breaston 58 670 11.6 62 (TD) 2

58/12=4.833333 receptions a game. I also very much doubt that he will have the same type of production that Steve Breaston a #2/#3 WR in the NFL that had been playing WR for several years.

Again even if he gets 5 receptions a game is that better than the impending DOOM that will ensue if Tate gets hurt and he hasn't spent all of his practice time getting ready to be the #2 QB.



February 9th, 2010 at 10:43 PM ^

Certainly it's not optimal to start a true freshman at QB. However, it also doesn't have to be a death sentence either. Three bowl winning teams started true freshman last year (Wyoming, Rutgers and USC). That's almost 10% of bowl winning teams!

A fourth team (Texas) was lead by a true freshman QB and was within three points of a MNC with three minutes to go in the game. Sure, he imploded at that point....but he also hadn't been on the field very much that during the previous four months of the season.

I'm not necessarily in favor of burning DG's red-shirt next year. However.....I don't necessarily think it would be a bad thing if it came down to it, especially considering his high recruiting class ranking (and he's enrolling early). If DG is better than DR, he needs to be on the field.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:44 PM ^

Back to the DR issue, I agree with those who think we have to keep him at QB for at least one more year.

But I think that in addition to being a change of pace QB, the extra year of practice will have allowed him and the coaches to come up with some packages at RB/WR where he can showcase his skills.

The key to getting DR more touches is that it cannot be obvious what he is going to do when he comes in the game. If he's in at QB he has to actually be a threat to run or pass consistently. And if he's in at another position, it cannot be obvious that the ball is going to him. We have to occasionally use him as a decoy so that defenses cannot key up.

Anyways that is my take. I know some people get annoyed by all speculation this early, but I personally am excited about the possibilities.


February 9th, 2010 at 7:18 PM ^

Last year was only the second year that any of these guys had in this system, and the first for many of them (including the 2 guys leading the offense). Even though it was so new to them all, RR still put in a few tricky packages to use DR. This year, these guys will all have a solid grasp of the O, and I think we'll see even more creative ways to get the ball in Denard's hands. Even though the opposing defense knew DR would almost always run when he came in, he still averaged over 5 yards a carry (and his long was only 40 yards so it's not like he had a bunch of long runs running up the average).

Let's wait and see what happens before we complain about it.


February 9th, 2010 at 3:57 PM ^

Great stuff Brian. Lots to talk about.

Fitz is one of the main guys I'll be watching this spring. Very excited about this guy.

But, the real news of the spring will be just how that OL shakes out. I think we have more talent on the bench than we had on the field last year. It'll be interesting to see which of these younger players steps it up in a few weeks.


February 9th, 2010 at 4:00 PM ^

So there is a lot of dicussion regarding Denard. I have no doubt that the coaches will find more exotic ways to get him on the field next year and I cite the OSU game as Exhibit A.

I also think that Rodriguez, unlike Carr, has a better concept of getting your best athletes/play-makers on the field as much as possible. Carr would have waited to use Denard at RB until he learned to pick up blitzes.

But before anyone can really say that Denard is an asset to this offense, he needs to show significant improvement. He had HORRIBLE hands last year. He fumbled all the time and cost the team on numerous occassions. I love his potential, but turnovers have been arguably the biggest problem with this team the past two years and if he can't hold on to the ball I don't want him on the field as much as some of you do.

Also, it concerns me that they couldn't even implement some of the most basic offensive sets with him at QB. So to expect him to learn a bunch of RB, WR, and QB plays all at the same time may be asking a lot. We'll see. It takes more than speed to be a good WR.

I think with a year under his belt, other viable QB options in an emergency, and an entire spring to implement some other plays that you'll see Denard get plenty of touches. But to expect him to be a focal point of the offense at this stage is asking too much.


February 9th, 2010 at 5:24 PM ^

Carr's MO on offense was to get a drop back passer with a strong arm. With a few exceptions, they weren't that mobile. You better make sure you have a rb who can pick up the blitz or you're leaving your offense susceptible to a lot of sacks and possibly injury to the QB. Didn't Carr and the offensive staff come up with plays to get Bass on the field and the ball in his hands when he was a freshmen? I remember Breaston's freshmen year they had him run an option type play on the goal line against OSU that went for a TD.

Agree about Denard learning the offense from the QB perspective. They never even ran the zone read with him last year. It was essentially snap the ball the Denard and use the rb as an extra blocker. There's probably a lot that he still needs to learn about the offense without trying to learn plays at WR/RB/etc.


February 9th, 2010 at 10:04 PM ^

We scored enough points to win 8 or 9 games last season, and the offense should be even better in 2010--more consistent at least, if not more explosive. Therefore, I think we are better off developing our "regular offense" with Denard as a solid #2 QB than messing around with gimmicks and trick plays to get Denard the ball more often.