2010 Outlook - The Offense

Submitted by AC1997 on November 17th, 2009 at 2:18 PM

Yesterday I posted a Diary about the options and expectations for the 2010 Michigan Defense.  The conclusion I made was that Brandon Graham's spot would make or break next year's team on that side of the ball.  There are options and flexibility at LB and the secondary, even if they are limited in their upside.  At DE the options are limited and I proposed doing something creative to fill that spot such as moving Ezeh and/or RVB.  The bottom line is taht we can hope for modest improvement on defense but we're not going to turn into a BCS bowl team thanks to anything on that side of the ball. 


(Refer here for yesterday’s post: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/2010-outlook-defense) 

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So that means we need our offense to improve significantly and win more shootouts than we have in 2009.  Is this a realistic expectation?  Maybe.  We’ve seen a significant improvement in one year despite still fielding a very young squad.  There will be some holes to fill on the offensive line and running back, but otherwise everyone of importance returns.  So what should we expect from the 2010 offense and will it be good enough to get us to 7 or 8 wins that will be needed to save this coaching regime? 

 

That’s the focus of this diary.  I’ve attempted to outline for each position what we might expect for 2010 and what the best case scenario is.  Obviously we’ll sprinkle an additional dash of hope and prayer on natural improvement from one year to the next in the same coaching regime.  I’m making the following obvious assumptions before we begin:

 

  1. There are no “major” coaching changes this off-season. 
    Losing Coach Jackson does not qualify here as his role is limited in scope.   
  2. The recruiting class stays along its current trajectory.
    This means we address the quantity part of the problem on our team but not necessarily the quality portion.  There aren’t any obvious 5-year stars walking through the door next season to fix what ails this team (including <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>Gardner)
  3. There are no unexpected defections from the roster.
    We don’t expect anyone of importance to defect from the offense, so that’s what I’m going to assume. 
  4. What is listed here is my opinion only.
    I’ve taken into account things I’ve read, seen, or heard but don’t assume I have any magical insight into 2010.  What I list here is just what I think COULD happen and what might be our best chance of improvement.

 

With those in mind, let’s get down to the positions. 

 

OFFENSE:  2010 Outlook

In 2009 we’ve seen a more effective passing game but one that still doesn’t stretch the field for various reasons.  The running game has improved but has been erratic at times.  The offensive line has been a mild disappointment but was hampered by the loss of David Molk.  So what can we expect?     

 

Quarterback:

  • Departures – Cone, probably Sheridan (so essentially no one of importance)
  • Outlook – I don’t buy into any theory that has Forcier losing his job to incoming mega-recruit Devin Gardner.  For the past three years I’ve watched a variety of freshmen QB’s make tons of mistakes (Mallet, Threet, Forcier, Robinson).  My expectation for Gardner is that he steps in as a viable back-up in the event that Forcier misses time for some reason.  In an ideal world he red-shirts, though I think that is unlikely.  Forcier is your starter and should be good.  I expect a significant improvement in his decision making, primarily on read plays in the run game.  But I also expect him to take fewer dumb sacks.  With some help from the WR and OL I think he can also improve his down-field passing.  To me the growth from year one to year two will be big for anyone, including Forcier. 

    I expect Robinson to remain in his current role as back-up QB.  The objective for the coaches is to find a way to use him effectively because right now he’s useless to them.  I would like to see him act more as a RB in the offense even with Forcier in the game and to use him in very limited situations.  Maybe he grows into something more than that, but I don’t see it right now.  They can start the gradual transition to his future “slash” role. 
  • Proposed Starter – Forcier
  • Best Case – Obviously improvement, possibly even toward the top QB spot in the conference….though that says as much about the conference as it does Tate.  Ideally Gardner redshirts because Forcier stays healthy and effective.  Robinson is more useful in his limited role instead of being the TFL-INT risk he is right now.

 

Running Back:

  • Departures – Minor, Brown, Grady
  • Outlook – At first glance you might freak out that our top two rushers are leaving town and will leave a gaping hole in the depth chart.  While that’s true to some extent, they struggled so much with injuries, fumbles, and inconsistency that it is probably not the catastrophic loss it appears to be on paper.  When was the last time they played in the same game?  When was the last time they played back-to-back effective games? 

    Michigan at the very least has quantity at this position with Smith, Cox, Shaw, and the incoming freshmen.  Smith has already shown flashes of being the next Mike Hart when it comes to vision, elusiveness, and toughness.  Shaw appears in my eyes to be a bust.  I see very little value when he’s on the field.  He reminds me of the Michigan version of Justin Fargas – fast but lacking vision, elusiveness, or power.  Fargas turned it around obviously.  I’m not sure Shaw will and I expect him to get passed on the depth chart by freshmen or Cox.   
  • Proposed Starter – Smith is your starter.  I expect Cox or a freshman to end the season as the second option.  Shaw will start in that spot in the fall, but be replaced shortly thereafter.  Moundros will be the FB in limited action.
  • Best Case – If they hold the ball that will already be an improvement over Brown and Minor (and Grady) in their careers.  I think it will take some time for the running game to figure out how to be fully effective, but by mid-season I think it will be just fine.   I expect fewer negative plays but also fewer huge plays.  That’s a tradeoff I can live with and so can the offense.  

 

Tight End:

  • Departures – None
  • Outlook – Koger was wildly inconsistent as both a receiver and blocker, but showed enough to expect big things from him in 2010.  If he just becomes more consistent that will mark a solid improvement and perhaps become a strength of this team.  As we know, not all B10 teams can cover the TE very well.
  • Proposed Starter – Koger
  • Best Case – Consistency would result in this being a strength of the team.

 

Slot Receiver:

  • Departures – None
  • Outlook – I still maintain that Odoms is one of the most effective members of the offense and part of the mid-season struggles were tied to his injury woes.  What was disappointing in 2009 was that Robinson and Gallon couldn’t get a sniff of playing time and were replaced by Kelvin Grady.  At the very least there is depth at this position, though it remains to be seen who can spell Odoms effectively.  In the end I expect this to be a solid weapon for Michigan but significant improvement is needed from 2009.

    You may have noticed that I didn’t mention Roy Roundtree in this category.  That’s because I want to see him taking over for Greg Mathews at outside WR.  I think he can run some plays out of the slot throughout a game and especially in 4-WR sets.  But he has enough speed and route running ability that I think we need him on the outside.  And I think this offense needs its best players on the field at all times, which means you need Odoms and Roundtree playing side-by-side. 
  • Proposed Starters – Odoms
  • Best Case – Odoms stays healthy and they find ways to get him the ball.  Roundtree spends most of the time outside.  Gallon, Robinson, or Grady are solid in limited back-up appearances without being a liability. 

 

Outside Receiver:

  • Departures – Matthews, Savoy
  • Outlook – Matthews has been reliable in his career but not much of an impact.  Savoy was basically a space-filling back-up who made the occasional catch.  Neither loss should have much of an impact on performance.  As stated above, I want to see Roundtree take over Matthews spot and I don’t see any reason why he can’t be equally or more effective in that role.  We need him on the field at the same time as Odoms.

    On the other side I think both Hemmingway and Stonum have the ability to be solid options over there.  I have no problem with a 3-man rotation at this position between the guys mentioned.  However, if there’s someone on the roster in 2010 who can turn into a viable deep threat who can go grab the ball in traffic or while running down the field, they need to get as many snaps as possible.  Maybe one of the freshmen or Stokes could be this person, but until we find out I would expect to see these familiar names on the field. 
  • Proposed Starters – Roundtree, Stonum/Hemmingway
  • Best Case – Roundtree is able to get open more than Matthews ever was and starts to create problems for opposing defenses.  That results in Hemmingway or Stonum getting more looks deep down the field.  It would be nice to see at least one freshman make an impact in limited action as well. 

 

Offensive Line:

  • Departures – Ortmann, Moosman, McAvoy
  • Outlook – I am someone who believes that the loss of Molk for most of the year cost us at least one or two wins.  The close games against MSU, Purdue, and Iowa come to mind immediately.  But so does the loss to Illinois.  If Molk helps punch that touchdown in from the one yard line and Michigan goes up 20-7 does Illinois ever rally?  I don’t think so.  Therefore the return of Molk cannot be understated and should help significantly.  Ortmann and Moosman were probably the best linemen not named Molk, but neither is going to spend much time on an NFL roster.  But are there viable back-ups?

    Omameh has shown a lot of potential in his recent appearances.  I think I want to see him at one of the tackle spots in 2010.  Let’s assume he starts out at left-tackle, which is probably a stretch but we’re talking best case here.  Replacing Moosman should be easier since there are viable experienced options like Huyge available.  I expect him to start the season in that spot.  Then you have the incumbent starters at the other positions.  It would be nice to see Mealer or Barnum challenge at RG.  I don’t think it is a good thing to see one of the RS-F challenge at tackle.  I hope that they will be the primary back-up and be slated to take over in 2011. 

    From a performance standpoint it comes down to pass blocking, which was generally bad this season.  Unfortunately neither Ortmann or Moosman were significant culprits in this area so it is hard to see vast improvement by next year. 
  • Proposed Starters – Omameh, Schilling, Molk, Huyge, Dorrestein
  • Best Case – Pass blocking improves greatly, run blocking doesn’t suffer any drop-off and perhaps gets better with Molk’s return.  Omameh starts turning into a stud LT and Molk stays healthy. 

 

Conclusion:

Forcier has been solid as a freshman but still has room to grow.  I think the biggest opportunity for improvement is in the read-option game.  If he makes better decisions there it could open up several bigger plays per game. 

 

In the passing game we need to find a down-field threat to open up more of the offense.  That starts with pass blocking, which has been bad all season.  Unfortunately I don’t know how likely it is to see significant improvement with at least one new starter on the line.  Molk’s return will help, but probably more in the run game than the passing game.  Finding a viable outside receiver who can stretch the field would help also.  I think that person will be on the roster in 2010, but none of us know who it will be or how long it will take for them to establish themselves in that role. 

 

The running game is the big question mark that will make or break this offense.  Part of that is in the read game with Forcier making better decisions, but another part of that is replacing Minor and Brown.  What I’m hoping for is a return to the Mike Hart era.  I don’t mean replicating Hart exactly, but in the style of running we witness.  When Hart was the primary back we never saw him break long runs like Carlos Brown.  But we also never saw him get stopped for a loss.  Everything was positive with Hart.  I think the stable of backs (aside from Shaw, who I’m down on) has the potential to perform like that. 

 

In the end that translates to positive yardage on first down.  To me that’s where the success of this offense will be found.  In 2009 they’ve put up yards and points, but lacked consistency.  I think that starts on first down.  This offense does not operate well in third and long for a variety of reasons.  Getting positive yards on first down, even when the play breaks down, sets up the offense for longer drives.  I felt like it was feast or famine at times in 2009 and you could almost predict a 3-and-out punt when they got stuffed on first down.  If Smith (or someone else) can turn a busted play into +3 yards instead of -3 yards in 2010 I think you’ll see the time of possession start to shift in our favor, you’ll see more consistency from drive-to-drive, and you’ll give the defense a break more often. 

 

In the end I think the offense will improve in 2010.  By the end of the season I think it will be consistent and Forcier will look like a veteran.  But I think it will take a few games to work out the depth chart and get the offense moving.  At the same time, I don’t see the offense taking a major step forward and being able to compensate for the defense.  I think the combination of the slight improvements on both sides of the ball result in the ability to go 7-5, but not much more than that.  If you’re REALLY optimistic you put a ton of faith in coaching consistency and experience turning good players into great players or bad players into good players.  I just don’t see it and I see us fighting for bowl eligibility all season. 

Comments

tdumich

November 17th, 2009 at 2:36 PM ^

i agree with everything except a couple points. i'm not as nervous about the running back position and i think vincent smith can be very productive (i love his pass catching ability he demonstrated last game). also, this is historically a position that younger players can excel at more easily. i'm also hoping for one of the younger lineman to make a strong push and be a starter on the o-line. i love the athleticism omameh has provided and i think a couple of the starters you noted are seriously lacking in this dept.

chunkums

November 17th, 2009 at 5:06 PM ^

I agree completely here. I liked the analysis except for the Shaw part. We haven't seen him very much, but he generally does well IMO and actually tries to get people to miss, which is something Brown tends to not exactly do.

msoccer10

November 17th, 2009 at 3:09 PM ^

Couple of disagreements.

I love Roundtree at slot. I agree Odoms is good, and I believe Gallon will be a stud, so I see more 2 slot sets, especially with Kogers inconsistency. I think there will be a heavy rotation at slot. I also think that Stonum and Hemingway are both better deep threats than Roundtree. The problem with our deep passing game is that our pass protection breaks down too quickly to run long routes. If that improves, and Forcier can stand in the pocket and chuck it, those two will deliver. Stokes will be the primary backup with a true freshman covering the other backup spot.

I like Vincent Smith, but think that Touissant will be really good. He is bigger than Smith, maybe not as tough, but faster and with equal quickness. Hopefully he doesn't have injury issues like our previous backs. I kind of agree with you on Shaw. He is really fast, has good height and nice quickness, but seems soft. Still, I have hope that one of those three will be very good. Cox I don't expect much from, but he could surprise me. He is big and runs hard so he may be a change of pace guy.

Totally agree on Tate and offensive line.

As for your conclusion, I am more optimistic. I was a 5-7 guy preseason this year, but I am thinking 9-3 next year. Only the PSU and OSU games seem like sure losses. We aren't losing much from the team besides Graham (I think Warren will be back) I think Turner will be good, we will find a competent replacement for Stevie Brown and that all the other starters and/or backups improve. We can beat UConn, ND, UMass and Bowling Green. None of those teams scare me and hopefully Clausen goes pro. The close and frustrating loses this year on the road all become home games. MSU, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. While the scores didn't show it, we were in all those games. And I think we can handle Purdue and Indiana on the road, the recent history not withstanding. We'll see. Continuity and experience will prevail.

brose

November 17th, 2009 at 3:19 PM ^

Unfortunately I generally agree with both you D and O assessments...wow - who would have thought 34 months ago that we would be reasonably expecting 7 or 8 wins in RR's third season.

I still think the future is very bright IF we don't fire Rich too soon...

Nice Work AC

GO BLUE

goblueritzy92

November 17th, 2009 at 3:42 PM ^

I think Shaw is very good and should be the #1 back net year. Toussaint could also be in the mix there, he is very good. Roundtree is too small to play the outside receiver, you have to be big and strong. I also think that DG should get redshirted because I don't see our QB's being a lot better next year just because DG is playing. You said that losing Ortmann and Moosman hurts because they are were our best linemen besides Molk. While I do think Molk is the best, Schilling is very good and is probably the 2nd best after Molk. We should have Huyge and Dorrestein at the tackles and Schilling and Omameh(who showed promise) at the guards. I don't think losing Molk directly lead to a couple of losses because one offensive linemen isn't important enough to make or break the whole team. I do agree with you that the read option could potentially become much better and lead to many more big plays. How many times did you see Forcier get tackled for a 3 yard loss and see the RB running through a hole big enough to drive a semi through? Good analysis though.

PhillipFulmersPants

November 17th, 2009 at 3:47 PM ^

were all about potential, and sadly, neither ever really healthy enough to demonstrate what they could do with any consistency. Pains me to say that I agree: not much is lost here.

I like Smith (and am not down as much on Shaw as you), but I some concerns about pass blocking, blitz pick-ups. Minor took after Hart in terms of pass protection. Not sure Smith or Shaw are physically capable of doing what Hart and Minor could do. Maybe they'll surprise me.

AC1997

November 17th, 2009 at 3:51 PM ^

On the OL I think the safe approach is to put Huyge and Dorrestein at tackle and leave Omameh at guard. But I haven't been that impressed with either of those guys at tackle. I think Huyge has been competent at guard, however. I'd take the risk with Omameh at tackle and hope his athleticism and upside win out. Regardless, there are options with those guys since they are all versatile.

I like the idea of more 4-WR sets with two slot WR and in that case going with Roundtree and Odoms. But I think Koger, Odoms, and Roundtree are your best receivers despite youth and inconsistency. I think you can generate the most mismatches with them on the field. So I think Roundtree spends all of next year bouncing between inside and outside WR spots to fully utilize them.

For those of you defending Shaw, I hope you're right. I hope he proves me wrong and is one of the top backs next year. But I just don't see it. I think he's too wiry to run between the tackles. I think he's fast, but not explosive. And I think he lacks elusiveness. In two years I've seen very little that gets me excited about him. Vincent Smith has played a fraction of the time Shaw has and yet I see a lot that I like.

I still see something like 7-5 next year if things go our way. Maybe I'm being conservative, but after the past two years I'd much rather set my expectations at something realistic rather than having them crushed for the fourth year in a row.

Kilgore Trout

November 17th, 2009 at 4:01 PM ^

Good overall summary.

I think you sell Greg Mathews a little short. To me, he's hands down the biggest casualty of this transition. He seems to have handled it well, but he never had a chance these last two years. He seems to run crips routes, be open on a regular basis, and pull in almost everything thrown his way. Judging by his sophomore year as the number three wideout, he was on course to be another in a long line of top notch possession receivers here (Calloway, Hayes, Alexander (though he was a good deep threat too), Walter Smith, Avant). Hopefully he still has a shot in the NFL.

AC1997

November 17th, 2009 at 4:17 PM ^

I have always liked Greg Matthews and what he gives the team. He may have been a bit screwed by the offensive transition. But I'm not sure what trajectory he was on. When he was the #3 guy with Manningham and Arrington he was strong because he is the type of guy that can find holes in zones, make tough catches, and get open enough against mediocre defenders.

But as a primary WR he was never going to equal the performance of those other guys. He has great hands and runs pretty good routes, but I don't agree that he can always get open. The catches he makes are the ones in traffic where the ball just gets past an outstretched hand of a defender. That's good, but that's not getting open.

If Jason Avant can be productive in the NFL, maybe Matthews can too. But if Marquise Walker and Adrien Arrington can barely stay on practice squads I'm not sure if Matthews can either.

Kilgore Trout

November 17th, 2009 at 4:33 PM ^

Agree that he wouldn't have been a strong primary receiver. I'm not really sure who Carr had lined up for that, if anyone. I know there was that guy from Minnesota that decommited at some point. Maybe Hemingway, maybe Stonum, maybe Clemons? One will never know.

Take a few plays out on Saturday to just focus on Mathews in obvious passing downs. I think he's open more than you give him credit for and the qb play / pass protection doesn't give him a chance.

TrppWlbrnID

November 17th, 2009 at 6:11 PM ^

"This offense does not operate well in third and long for a variety of reasons. Getting positive yards on first down, even when the play breaks down, sets up the offense for longer drives."