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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Crappy table legend:

  • * == redshirted
  • bold == key players

2005Chad HenneSo.Matt GutierrezJr.*Jason ForcierFr.
2006Chad HenneJr.Jason ForcierFr.*David ConeFr

Should improve, though how much I have no idea.

I guess it says something when your true sophomore quarterback completes 58% of his passes for 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions and is regarded as a big fat disappointment. For the 2005 edition of the Michigan Wolverines it says "Jesus we ran a lot of wide receiver screens," because Henne was indeed a big fat disappointment no matter how slightly above average his stats look. We've gone over this before, so suffice it to say that Henne's inconsistency caused more than a few people to curse their television (or eyes) out and definitely cost Michigan more than one game.

This will be Henne's make or break year. With two full years of starting under his belt, he's as experienced as John Navarre--who has a third of Henne's natural talent--was when he led Michigan to the Rose Bowl and was named All Big Ten. If he doesn't improve his accuracy significantly, Michigan's offense will end up spinning its wheels much like it did last year. The good news: towards the end of the year his accuracy and pocket presence both improved, especially against Ohio State.

2005Mike HartSo.Kevin GradyFr.Jerome JacksonJr.*Max MartinSo.
2006Mike HartJr.Kevin GradySo.Jerome JacksonSr.*Carlos BrownFr.

Should improve moderately.

Predictions of a three-headed demon backfield did not materialize. Mike Hart limped through the season, alternating dominating, saliva-generating performances with pensive standing on the sideline. Kevin Grady's often ended up running into his own offensive linemen or the waiting arms of tacklers surprised at the young man's generosity. Max Martin, well... I called him a greasy-armed malcontent and I'm sticking with that. Though they were hamstrung by an offensive line best forgotten, the position group was an overall disappointment.

With a healthy Hart, a more experienced backup, and some OMG speed in freshman Carlos Brown, the running backs should come closer to the lofty expectations placed upon them before last year. That won't necessarily mean the running game becomes crushing--the mess on the offensive line will have to get resolved before that happens--but goddammit Hart's going to be on the field instead of on the sidelines (knock on wood). That's improvement.

2005Brian ThompsonJr.*Will PaulSo.*Obi OligiboJr.*
2006Will PaulJr.*Brian ThompsonSr.*Andre Criswell

Should remain level.

I suppose returning both players who saw extensive time is good, but Paul can't catch and Thompson can't block. With a couple of capable tight ends and a veritable armada of wide receivers, Michigan should rely on the fullback less this year--though whether they actually will is a matter of some debate.

Tight End
2005Tyler Ecker
Jr.*Tim Massaquoi
Sr.*Mike MasseyFr.*
2006Tyler Ecker
Sr.*Mike Massey
So.*Carson ButlerFr.*

Should decline slightly.

Massaquoi was never a great receiver, especially when he was running around with a club in one hand, but the fleeting glimpses of Mike Massey demonstrated that the freshman's blocking has an epic distance to cover before it can be considered adequate, let alone good. Assuming Tyler Ecker has plateaued, that indicates a slight decline.

Even so, the tight ends should be good. Ecker is athletic for a guy his size and has good hands. Even when Massaquoi's cast came off it was clear that Ecker had passed him for the starting job. Massey--who has received buzz as an excellent receiver--also contributed a few catches. Neither of these guys is going to pound your head into the ground, but as a pass-catching duo they'll probably be formidable and heavily relied upon, as the receivers do not appear to have a possession type in their midst.

Keep an eye out for hulking manbeast Carson Butler, who has Bill Brasky of College Football potential down the road. Butler--6'6", probably getting towards 240 or 250--played mostly basketball in high school before switching sports as a senior. He spent his senior year running fly routes as a hilariously oversized wide receiver. If he can actually play football he could find himself starting as soon as next year.

Wide Receiver
2005Jason AvantSr.Steve BreastonJr.*Antonio BassFr.
Mario ManninghamFr.Carl TabbJr.*Doug DutchFr.*
2006Mario ManninghamSo.Antonio BassSo.Carl TabbSr.*
Steve BreastonSr.*Adrian ArringtonSo.*Doug DutchSo.

Should be approximately level.

Jason Avant will be missed, but the next five guys on the depth chart return. Antonio Bass and Mario Manningham got unprecedented levels of playing time for true freshman, Manningham in particular. One of them will have to make the leap from intruigingly fast youngster to "Oh God, Not That Guy." Indications are that this will likely happen: after all, Manningham had a better year than any freshman wide receiver since AC. He's on the fast track to stardom. Michigan's hopes for the WR corps rest on just how fast that track is.

There is an issue with size. Michigan has always had a selection of big, physical players. None of the projected top three wideouts next year matches that description, but sophomore Adrian Arrington and redshirt freshman Laterryal Savoy will audition for the role of deceptively tan white possession receiver.

Offensive Line
2005Adam Stenavich
Sr.*Leo Henige
Sr.*Adam Kraus
Matt Lentz
Rueben Riley
Mike Kolodziej
Jr.*Alex Mitchell
Fr.*Mark Bihl
Jeremy Cuilla
Jake Long
2006Mike Kolodizej
Jr.*Rueben Riley
Sr.*Adam Kraus
Alex Mitchell
Jake Long
Mark Ortmann
Fr.*Justin Boren
Fr.Mark Bihl
Jeremy Cuilla
Cory Zirbel

Should... improve I guess.

Normally losing three starters would be major cause for concern, but since two of the starters were obviously quite bad at the whole blocking people thing it's a mixed blessing. Add in the fact that both Jake Long and his backup missed most of the season and Michigan should have a bounceback year on the OL. Four of the projected starters have about a season's worth of experience, though Rueben Riley's has come at a mishmash of positions. Only projected RG Alex Mitchell is totally inexperienced.

Despite Mitchell's youth, the blinking question mark is new left tackle Mike Kolodziej. Lost in the wailing over the revolving doors at guard was how the departed Adam Stenavich quietly erased anyone who attempted to get past him. Kolodziej is regarded as an able pass blocker without the mean streak needed to do much in the run game, but has not been extensively tested. He's seen time here and there, usually against weak competition, and is now thrust onto the most important spot on the line.


Hail! Hail! to the champions of the Crab
Nebula... or something.
Looks good, doesn't it? Projected improvement from the returning offensive backfield, the cornucopia of top-100 wide receivers coming of age, an offensive line that has both experience and functional knees... Michigan's offense will explode across the stars in a glorious supernova of points, leaving a white-hot glowing Crab Nebula that future football teams will marvel at for millennia to come!

Wait, that was what I said last year. Or words to that effect. Consider me chastened and newly humble. There's a lot of good out there but three major ways it can fall apart:
  • Evil Henne. This is obvious: he has to play better. He should have more opportunities to actually do something right with a (please, God) better offensive line and the threat of an actual running game, but even accounting for the myriad problems he had to deal with this year he was an average Big Ten quarterback at best, which doesn't cut it.
  • Hey, offensive line, it's your mom! She says you still suck? Yoda says if the OL does not improve, the skill position talent matters not.
  • Proving message board retards right. This is not a place where lamentations about Carr's utter unsuitability for anything other than janitor at a meat packing plant are offered up constantly, but Michigan has shown a tendency to fritter away offensive talent on a regular basis. This usually happens when Michigan has found itself in a "comfortable" lead (like, say, 3-0 in the first quarter) and decides to pack away the scoring offense for another day. Stay aggressive.
If none of these three things come to pass, the Michigan offense really will be nebula-causing. That's unlikely, though. Pumpkin Henne is probably not going to go back to Cinderella without a half-season of growing pains. The offensive line is not likely to be magnificent, and Lloyd Carr is too set in his ways to change completely.

Yes, it should be better, but better does not necessarily equal "good." Michigan finished 55th in total offense, and that likely understates how crappy they did. Tomato-can defenses occupied a wide swath of the schedule: only three opponents (Penn State, Ohio State, and Nebraska) had defenses ranked higher than 50th. Michigan could improve a great deal and end up average.