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:
- There are no “major” coaching changes this off-season.
Losing Coach Jackson does not qualify here as his role is limited in scope.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.