2007 record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten) Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Michigan Players Drafted:
Jake Long - OT - Round 1 - Miami (1st overall pick)
Chad Henne - QB - Round 2 - Miami
Shawn Crable - OLB - Round 3 - New England
Mario Manningham - WR - Round 3 - NY Giants
Mike Hart - RB - Round 6 - Indianapolis
Adrian Arrington - WR - Round 7 - New Orleans
Top Recruits for Michigan:
Sam McGuffie - RB - 5’11” - 185 - Cypress, TX
Darryl Stonum - WR - 6’3” - 190 - Stafford, TX
Brandon Smith - DB -6’3” - 210 - New Brunswick, NJ
Boubacar Cissoko - DB - 5’9” - 175 - Detroit, MI
Brandon Moore - TE - 6’6” - 220 - Trotwood, OH
Dann O’Neill - OL - 6’7” - 295 - Grand Haven, MI
Elliott Mealer OL - 6’6” - 280 - Wauseon, OH
Kurt Wermers - OL - Crown Point, IN
JB Fitzgerald - LB - 6’3” - 230 - Princeton Junction, NJ
Marcus Witherspoon - LB - 6’2” - 225 - Atlantic City, NJ
Key Players Returning for the Wolverines:
Terrance Taylor - DT - Jr.
Brandon Minor - RB - Jr.
Donovan Warren - CB - Soph.
Stephen Shilling - RT - Soph.
Obi Ezeh - LB - Soph.
Tim Jamison - DE - Sr.
Brandon Harrison - SS - Sr.
Morgan Trent - CB - Sr.
Brandon Graham - DE - Jr.
The new look Wolverines have many questions on the offensive side of the ball with just three returning starters from 2007. With the implementation of the spread offense, it may be nice that Rodriguez can choose players that fit his style without the burden of keeping high-profile stars happy. QB Ryan Mallett had nice potential under Lloyd Carr, but Rodriguez gets a clean slate with Mallett’s departure to find a QB that will flourish in his speed offense. Once this offense finds a groove, the Big Ten could have trouble keeping pace, but fans will need to give Wolverines a little time to settle into the new offense.
Five key starters from the 2007 version of the Wolverines offense have moved on to the NFL. Record setting QB Chad Henne is gone, and with Mallett’s decision to transfer, the QB competition is on. Freshman Steven Threet, a transfer from Georgia Tech, has experience in the spread offense and is the favorite to run the offense. Sophomore Nick Sheridan and freshman Justin Feagan bring different qualities into the mix. Feagan, especially, has the ability to run with the ball which is a threat Rodiguez likes to have at QB. Sheridan also is more mobile than Threet, but Threet is a smart player and is most likely the best option for Rodriguez to start the season.
Mike Hart had an amazing career with the Wolverines, and his shoes will be hard to fill. Junior Brandon Minor emerged as the top runner during spring practices. Minor rushed for 429 yards last season, and junior Carlos Brown rushed for 399 yards with four touchdowns in 2007. Junior Kevin Grady provides depth in the backfield. All three runners are nice prospects, but Rodriguez will need to determine how to distribute the carries until one seizes the role as the feature back.
The receivers were a major threat in the Wolverines offense the past few seasons, but the loss of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington leave a void. Junior Greg Mathews returns after catching 39 passes including 3 touchdowns last year. Mathews will be the number one receiver, and a three other receivers will push to be the second option.
Junior LaTerryal Savoy and sophomore Junior Hemingway appear to be in line to see plenty of playing time, but freshman Darryl Stonum has made an impact during practices and will see time this season as well. Carson Butler returns at TE after starting last season when he caught 20 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite questions at the skilled positions, the biggest concern is on the offensive line. Coaches know that a team cannot move the ball with protection up front, and the Wolverines lost key components of the line from last season including Jake Long. Sophomore Steven Schilling is the lone starter returning from last year. It appears that four juniors will step in the round out the rest of the line. David Moosman will take over at center. Moosman has not started previously, but does have in-game experience. Cory Zirbel and Tim McAvoy will fill the guard positions. Mark Ortmann will replace Long, NFL’s number one draft pick.
While the offense may not have any seniors starting, the defensive has eight returning starters including six seniors. Much pressure is on the defense to hold the team together and keep them in games. The defensive line returns all four starters and should be one of the better units in the Big Ten. Seniors Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson will start at the tackles. Taylor is a monster in the middle of the line who can stuff the run and keep blockers off the linebackers. The Wolverines will get nice pressure from the defensive ends. Senior Tim Jamison finished 2007 with 5.5 sacks, and junior Brandon Graham led the team with 8.5 sacks last season.
Sophomore Obi Ezeh will roam the middle of the field at linebacker. Ezeh started last year and made 68 tackles. He will be relied upon to make plays, and should be free to run with a solid defensive line in front of him. Austin Panter and Marrel Evans will start on the outside. Panter, a senior, finally will see an expanded role as a defensive starter. Evans has speed to disrupt teams from getting around the outside.
The defensive backfield has nice talent returning. Senior Morgan Trent is a veteran starter and is able to shut down receivers with ability to cover. Sophomore Donovan Warren started as a freshman and will sure up the other side of the field. Senior Brandon Harrison will settle in at SS after making 42 tackles and an interception in a role at CB last year. Junior Stevie Brown will step in as the FS. Brown recorded 28 tackles and an interception in 2007, and was impressive during spring practices.
Michigan Special Teams
Senior K.C. Lopata won the kicking duties last season and was consistent. He only had 12 field goal attempts, but hit on 11 kicks. Zoltan Mesko returns for his third year as the punter. Mesko average 41.1 per punt last year.
The return game is not solidified, but Rodriguez has plenty of capable athletes to select from to find a playmaker. Greg Mathews averaged 8.0 yards on 28 punt returns last season. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor were used for kickoff returns in 2007. It is not out of the question that Rodriguez will find a new returner with Brown and Minor in the mix at running back. The talent on the roster provides Rodriguez with multiple options.
The Wolverines seem to have a free pass this year because of the turnover that occurred when Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor. Don’t expect the Maize and Blue to fall off the map this year. There may be struggles on the offense early in the season, but it just too hard to imagine that Michigan will flop.
The Wolverines should win at least eight games this year, and there will be surprises along the way. They may lose a game they are expected to win, but they could easily win games that many have already chalked up as a win. It wasn’t that long ago that a new coach at Ohio State beat the Wolverines in his first taste of the rivalry, and Rodriguez will have eleven games to build his team prior to the November 22 battle in Columbus. All eyes will be on the Wolverines in the home opener against Utah. This is a nice test for the Wolverines right out of the gate.