SEASON PROSPECTS: TWO THOUSAND TWELVE
As the long shadows of fall begin to appear in Ann Arbor, the shadow of Wolverines Football is also lengthening, but for different reasons. Ann Arbor’s shadows will soon be lengthening because the sun will begin its determined annual march south. Michigan Football is casting a longer shadow because of Team 132’s achievements.
That successful season has catapulted Team 133 as high as seven or eight in national football polls and has given M 9 to 5 odds to win the B1G by some. It seems that the debut season of Head Coach Brady Hoke and his staff was an outstanding success. I already noted this in the spring, as I wrote a column that unabashedly lauded Team 132 and its team of coaches.
Coach Hoke’s take on whether he’s concerned about being ranked so highly in the preseason… “Our expectations are always the same and that’s to win the Big Ten championship. Year in and year out, that’s what the expectation is for the Michigan football team. We don’t really care too much about rankings. I think we were picked fifth in our division in the Big Ten a year ago, so that’s how much those things mean. Like in life, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. We have to finish in everything that we do to prepare to be the best Michigan team that we can.”
All the right things were, and are being said and done, even with the alleged DUI by Fritz Toussaint, and the alleged home invasion and alleged purloining of a lap top in a Stockwell residence hall by Frank Clark that placed imperfections on team 133’s debut.
Fitz Toussaint has figuratively shot his burgeoning career in the foot at an untimely moment. He had an outstanding 1,000-yard or so season, has obvious pro potential, but he has defaulted snaps to Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes, and the veteran Vincent Smith or others, and has taken himself out of consideration for prestigious awards.
Coach Fred Jackson had some nice words regarding his fleet of running backs other than Fitz, including Vincent Smith, saying that Rawls runs angry and fast, and, when asked, said he does not put the ball on the ground. Coach Hoke also mentioned Justice Hayes.
Instead of prime time, it may be splinter time for Fitz for a while. Sorry to see this happen on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Fitz seems to be an otherwise great kid.
I interviewed him his first year, and at the beginning of last season, as a relatively unproven back, he was always confident that he could wrest playing time at the tailback position. And he did. He was responsible for much of last season’s offensive success. I think he will do all in his power now to remedy his situation.
And he will get the chance to do so, as Coach Hoke today notified the media that FT would be allowed to practice tomorrow (Monday).
As for Frank Clark, I have never talked to him, but again the loss to the team could prove significant. He is one of the better athletes on the team. Remember that key Sugar Bowl interception? He too will resume practice Monday. The Wolverines season will survive the wait for their services, and prosper. Hoke’s punishment will continue for a time for both.
The above is by way of introduction that this year will be most challenging for the Wolverines. Unproven players will have to step up at key positions. A difficult schedule with tough competition must be mastered, and it won’t be easy.
On offense, replacing David Molk will be a problem, even if I do believe that the OL will become the team strength as the year progresses. Ricky Barnum should do well at center. Since depth may be a problem, they must avoid injuries. It will be interesting to see the starters when the list is finalized. Will Elliot Mealer finally break through at left guard? Or can the rising walk-on Joey Burzynski unseat him. According to Hoke, we’ll have the answer in about ten days. Will a freshman OL, such as Kyle Kalis, or another step up? Taylor Lewan, left tackle, and Michael Schofield, right tackle, are experienced and talented. Redshirt Freshman Chris Bryant will try to claw his way up.
The search for a Hemingway replacement remains an interesting proposition. Can an incoming freshman help (Amara Darboh), or will Devin Gardner provide a significant answer to the lack of a downfield scoring threat?
M SHOELACED INTO POSITION AT QB:
One position that will be no cause for concern is Quarterback. Denard Robinson has it all. Good attitude included. Not only is he the most exciting playmaker in college football, I think this is the year he will achieve his goal of proving that he is an gifted all around QB. He has fast developing leadership skills. His second year in the system, his Senior year, will be a charm. You can’t name many post season awards a QB can win, that don’t have Denards’ name in the mix, including the Heisman.
There will be no QB controversy as there was in the summer of 1997. Even though a national championship followed there were important unsettled issues then.
That summer I had the good fortune to often lunch with the coaches, including Stan Parrish, the QB coach. Scott Driesbach was battling Brian Griese. While Scott was a talent in his own right, for some reason I favored Brian. Stan quite naturally was evasive, and being affable, did not get offended by my constant commercials for Griese, but finally said that I would have to explain it to the press, if Brian was chosen over Scott as the starting QB. The back and forth was informative and entertaining, even if no secrets emerged.
The QB competition continued, but finally Stan picked Brian, and pointed out, with a smile, that my arguments played no part in the decision. I learned how much thought is necessarily put into such choices by good coaches.
EVERY YEAR HAS ITS CHALLENGES:
Even though a QB problem does not face the Wolverines this year, others do. One such is the schedule. Visiting Texas to meet Alabama in a highly hyped opener just heads the list. Games at South Bend, Lincoln, and Columbus will be tough. The Wolverines have not recently been a team that overwhelms away from home, and that is a credible concern. Fortunately the key game of the B1G season, MSU is at home.
You can argue either side of whether the choice of opening with Alabama at Arlington will be good or bad for the Wolverines. If they get thrashed in Arlington, obviously that’s not good. That would cause a mighty thud as season expectations shattered early. How much would that impact later expectations? We know the answer if the Wolverines win, or manage to hold it close. Expectation sky rockets will go off.
Coach Hoke on whether he sees an elevated intensity in the team because of the opener with the Tide. “You come to play football at Michigan to play in those kind of ball games. You’re expected to play and perform. Playing the defending national champs is always something that is a great challenge and a great opportunity. Going to play the game in a venue like the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington I think is going to be a lot of fun.” Let’s hope so. He also said you do not get a second chance to make a first impression.
On the uniform issue, in my opinion, which is probably only worth what it costs you, I can’t see toying with college football’s best uniform for reasons of commerce.
A lot of Team 133’s future rests on the large but slimmer shoulders of Will Campbell. Can he handle the load left him by Mike Martin? He is down to a svelte 310, and that should help, but he has not made consistent contributions to this point in his career. It is his last chance, and by all reports things are looking up for him. Martin, Van Bergen, and Heininger will be missed on the field, if not at the training table. Their replacements are not all that experienced. Even so Coach Hoke said he expects the line to develop into last year’s equal. I guess the real question is not if, but how soon?
Whether the Wolverines can plug the defensive middle is an important key to the success of this team this year, maybe the most important position group. Whether the well-known move of Craig Roh to strong side DE, and Jabreel Black moving inside from his DE spot makes the defense faster is yet to be seen in game action, but it should, even if both have gotten bigger. Brennan Beyer is rising on the outside and Frank Clark was too, but needs to regroup. Coach Hoke said today they are now a line.
Richard Ash and Quentin Washington need to develop. Unfortunately they are not very experienced. The incoming freshmen like Matthew Godin, Chris Wormley, and Andre Pipkin are strong and motivated as are the others. Andre’s size, reported at 6’5” and a moveable 320, is more than adequate now, and all bring physical credentials that might find them a place in the expected 8-9 defensive lineman rotation. The veterans better be good. It is nice to think that Montgomery, Mattison, and Hoke are looking at problems that are right down their alley.
Returning LB’s such as Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan should be better than last year and again there is freshman help such as Joe Bolden and others. Jake could spend some time at defensive end, in the absence of Clark. We will take a better look at them, next article. Hoke says this is a good group.
The DBs should be a team strength, and again we will look at them in greater depth next time.
Hopefully, Coach Ferrigno can develop a productive return game this year. It will be interesting to see if true Freshman Dennis Norfleet can help there. When I asked Coach about Norfleet he deferred the question because he has not had a sufficient chance to work with newcomers, which was a standard answer among all the coaches regarding the freshman. They do not want to distract them from the end of summer school. The turnabout of kicker Brandon Gibbons last year was remarkable. At punter there is competition as Will Hagerup and Matt Wile battle.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee has moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line from the 30-yard line, and touchbacks will now be brought out to the 25, not the 20. Additionally, the kickoff team cannot line up behind the 30 for a running start. This is to diminish injuries on these dangerous plays. What it does to return productivity is yet to be seen, but it will alter schemes per Coach Ferrigno.
Every year the on the morning of fan day (now called Kids day), the media meets the team after breakfast, and can talk individually to the coaches and players after the Head Coach’s talk. It is a most interesting experience even though the incoming freshman class is not included in this event. They have to pay attention to the end of summer school. In the afternoon the players meet their fans in the stadium to secure autographs.
Coach Hoke started his Media Day press conference off by commenting regarding Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark as follows: “they will begin practicing with the team tomorrow. They are still, obviously, the guys who as teammates we love them, but there are consequences for their behavior and they are paying the price, and they will continue to pay that price for a little bit. I think both of them realize that they have an outstanding opportunity to play at the University of Michigan and get a great Michigan degree. They understand that there is a standard of performance from the community and a standard of performance from the academic side and there is a standard of performance from a football side that they have to do a great job and understand. As coaches you are a teacher and you get an opportunity to teach life lessons. Believe me, they have paid a heavy price and will continue to pay a price for actions unbecoming of a Michigan football player”.
On how the start of the season might be impacted by Roy Roundtree’s recent knee surgery… “Having a scope to fix a little bit of cartilage, a lot of guys come back in two weeks. Our doctors do a great job and we have a great medical staff here. They all do a great job and I think everything went well from talking to them. You have a guy like Roy who is a committed guy — he’s going to do everything in his power to get back.”
I got to interview a dozen or so players, and some of the interviews should be on site soon for your listen. They are all tuned in to school, Ann Arbor and preparation for Alabama and the season.
It’ll be a great season. Better season record than last year, with a tougher schedule this year? Hoke reasonably states that if the do not win the B1G the season is a failure despite any win/loss record. Hard to tell where they are, they are only seven practices into fall camp, and after only two days or so in pads.
What is left to say but have fun and Go Blue!