Denard Robinson was one of the most exciting players to watch over the past four years in the Big Ten. He also happened to be one of the most inconsistent passers in the Big Ten as well and that drove many a Maize 'N Blue faithful crazy. He wasn't exactly the worlds greatest quarterback, he may have been the best athlete the Big Ten has seen in years, but that's a whole different story.
Coming into 2013 a lot of people believe it could be addition by subtraction, with the Wolverines no longer needing to stretch an offensive philosophy around one specific player, instead they'll be able to fit the players into the system as a unit for the first time in the Brady Hoke era.
Frankly, 2013 could well be put up or shut up time in Ann Arbor as well – one has to ask at what point are excuses as good as you know what and results matter. This season on offense will tell the college football world a lot about where Michigan is headed. If they can find the balance they are looking for it could be a dynamic group that wins them football games, if they don't find the balance needed it could get ugly in the Big House.
No doubt about it, 2013 is a pivotal moment for the Michigan offense and it's up to a few names to show that this team is better now than it was with Shoelace at the helm.
The good news for this team is that Devin Gardner got a ton of playing time last season and it's clear that he can at least handle himself as a quarterback. However, one has to ask if he can be better than he was last season or was that all you're going to get from him?
Gardner threw for 1,219 yards while completing 59% of his passes and had 11TD's to 5INT's on the year. Not bad for a guy who was thrust into starting duty late in the season as just a sophomore. However, he wasn't exactly the picture of consistency as he torched Minnesota with a 12-18, 234yd and 2TD performance and then followed that up by throwing for at least an interception in each of the five games down the stretch. He wasn't awesome against OSU, his biggest defensive test of the Big Ten season either, going just 11-20 for 175 yards and 1 touchdown to 1 interception. South Carolina didn't let up on him either and Gardner was just 18-36 (50%) for 214 yards, yet managed to pull off 3 TD passes to just one INT.
However, he showed some great dedication to his craft in the offseason and during spring he looked every bit the improved player most thought we'd see. Look for him to be the guy most people are talking about come the end of the season.
Backing him up is likely "superstar" freshman recruit Shane Morris, who has speed and athleticism, but is also a great pro-style QB. HIs skill set is going to be interesting to see opposing defenses handle in the future, but the coaching staff is sure to want this to be a season for him to sit and learn before being thrown to the wolves. Regardless if it's Morris or Brian Cleary a freshman will be backing up the junior.
This is a true mystery spot and one no one should claim to know exactly what will happen. Yes, Fitzgerald Toussaint is back, but he wasn't exactly a raving success last season (and yes some of it was O-Line driven, we'll get into that later) averaging just 4.0 yards a carry and only rushing for 514 yards and five touchdowns. He's also coming off of one of last season's most gruesome injuries too.
He'll also have to fend off one of, if not the top running back recruits in the 2013 class in Derrick Green. He has superstar written all over him and while he does need to work on a few things it may be difficult for Al Borges and Brady Hoke to keep him off the field, especially if Toussaint isn't all the way back or he struggles on his own to start the season. I fully expect Green to be the better of the two backs honestly.
The other positive for this group is that they have a very experienced and good backup option in Thomas Rawls, who only had 57 carries last season, yet finished 3rd on the team in rushing. He's the big, strong, and just fast enough back you want out of a guy who is going to be a role player in this backfield.
Another name to watch would be Justice Hayes, who saw 83 carries a season ago, but his time moving up the pecking order is likely short lived with the arrival of Green and the veteran experience that Toussaint and Rawls bring to the table. On the whole this group has the potential to be one of the most explosive RB units in the league, but that hinges on the health of Toussaint and the expectations of a freshman – if they live up to what we all expect than the only group better may be Wisconsin.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Sometimes a QB is only as good as the options he has to throw to and in the case of the Michigan Wolverines in 2013 that's a major question mark. There are names people are likely to know in Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, but the question is can either of them fill the roles they are expected to play or will young talent need to step up and help this group fast.
Gallon was a god No. 2 option last year alongside Roy Roundtree, grabbing 49 passes for 829 yards and 4 TD's. Not bad numbers, but he's more of the possession type receiver than the home run hitter you need out of a No. 1 option. Dileo may actually be more of that type of receiving option, averaging 16.5 yards a catch in 2012, but the numbers overall need to better and with more of an opportunity in front of him look for Dileo to be the guy that emerges as the name you'll know most by the end of 2013.
The name that I'm most excited about is Amarah Darboh, who was one of the biggest gets of the 2012 class for Hoke and Co. He's all of 6-2 and 213lbs. and as a 3rd wide receiver that's a hell of a combo to posses. He saw limited action in 2012, most of it on special teams, and while he hasn't caught a pass his potential to be a star is clearly there. Look for him to emerge as the clear frontrunner for the No. 3 spot. Backing that group up, look for names like Joe Reynolds, Jehu Chesson, and Jeremy Jackson to be in the mix for rotation playing time, but don't expect them to become household names anytime soon either.
As for the tight end spot, no need to worry, Devin Funchess has it on lock following a 15 catch, 234 yard, 5TD performance as an undersized freshman last year. He's a quick study and a quick up the field target that can cause matchup nightmares. His blocking improved a ton this spring and he's still filling out his frame, which is a scary thought for a lot of opposing defensive coordinators.
If you are building for success it all starts up front and Michigan got a huge help in that department this offseason when Taylor Lewan chose to stay at Michigan for his final football season. Lewan was our Preseason No. 2 player in the Big Ten and he'll anchor a line that has a lot to prove, especially in the running game.
He's got Gardner's blindside and opposite of him will be the road-grading type tackle Michigan needs in Michael Schofield. Schofield is moving from left guard, but his natural position has been clear for awhile and that's right tackle. At 6-6, 303lbs. he's exactly what is needed to help right the ship in the running game.
Inside things are a bit more dicey in terms of experience, but what the youngsters don't know of the past could be a positive thing. Taking over where Schofield was at left guard is likely freshman Ben Braden, who at 6-6, 314lbs. is a mammoth of a man inside after redshirting and bulking up a bit last season. Braden's counterpart at guard is likely to be Joey Burzynski who is the smaller of the two guards. He's also a thinking man's thinker and perhaps his smarts are best used on the football field where leverage will come in handy for him. However, if Burzynski falters look for one Kyle Kalis, a freshman, to really make a push for playing time. He could be the next star on the Michigan offensive line and it won't be long before they end up finding him a permanent home on the line anyway.
The biggest question mark on the offensive line comes at the most important position – center. That's because it's likely that sophomore Jack Miller is going to the one taking over as just a sophomore. That's not a bad thing, expect for when you realize that Miller has next to no experience and is expected to lead a line that didn't exactly set the world on fire in 2012 to begin with. He's got a lot to prove and quick.
Questions to be answered in Fall Camp:
– Is O-Line going to gel and block well enough in the running game?
– Will Fitz Toussaint be back or is Derrick Green going to be the man in the backfield?
– Can this offense be better with Devin Gardner running the show?