Michigan Football fan’s expectations soar this time of year with the approach of every season. This upcoming 2006 season is no different. Most are hopeful, and there seems to be plenty to be optimistic about. Fans generally hope that a slimmer and better conditioned team will take the field against Vanderbilt for the season opener on September 2, 2006, and a meaner defense will man the trenches.
This season appears to hold great promise. Reports from media day indicate that players on both sides of the ball have indeed slimmed up. First year Defensive Coordinator Ron English has promised a more physical style of defensive football, a less complicated system then that utilized over the Michigan DC career of the now departed Jim Herrman. Coach English has a great opportunity to establish himself as a Defensive Coordinator at the D-1 level.
He has some experienced talent to work with, beginning with LaMarr Woodley. Woodley needs to have an outstanding year if Michigan?s defense is going to be better than last year. LaMarr has the physical tools. Ask the Spartan?s Mr. Stanton. Hopefully he will be placed in a system that better utilizes them.
Many seem to have the impression that Michigan will blitz, blitz, blitz this year, or this is what they hope. It is true Michigan?s defense needs to be much more aggressive than last year, but it would be nice if the defensive line could overwhelm some opposing offensive lineman on a reasonably regular basis so you don?t have to take the risk of a failed blitz, and its resultant big play.
Coach Carr said that LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch are two of the finest defensive linemen ever at Michigan. That?s the kind of praise that builds expectations. He has mentioned Terrence Taylor as potentially an outstanding nose guard that can build on his experience from last year. He should be developing and he seems to have an outstanding ?motor“.
Rondell Biggs is back, and with the rising Tim Jamison and Will Johnson, Michigan should be able to pressure the opposing QB, something that was not regularly featured by last year?s defense.
The defensive line should be improved even with the large-scale departure of Gabriel Watson.
At linebacker, we have the experienced and accomplished David Harris at the Mike (middle LB), the talented Shawn Crable on the strong side (SAM), with Prescott Burgess (now injury free) and Chris Graham competing at the Will (weak-side linebacker position). I am anticipating watching John Thompson, who has been struggling some with injuries, but as far as I know, is now ready to go.
It is difficult not to anticipate better performances by the linebackers this year than last. I am very interested in watching Crable go all out, and seeing how Chris Graham contributes. He will lay some leather. That is, he would, if there was any leather at all in their uniforms. He likes to hit. Then again, what LB doesn?t like to hit.
At corner I am particularly anxious to see what Charles Stewart can do. He?ll get some playing time, and was thought outstanding in the spring. Johnny Sears is another young talent at corner many fans want to see. Morgan Trent will be in the competition. Leon Hall will start at one corner and is recognized as best in the B10.
A healthy Ryan Mundy is back at safety, and I thought he had a good spring, and more importantly, so did Coach Carr. Some think Jamar Adams and Willis Barringer will start, and Brandent Englemon will certainly see time, as will Brandon Harrison.
The defensive back field should be one of the strengths of the team as the Wolverines are experienced, deep, and talented at those position. Further, there are worthwhile newcomers.
Coach Carr seems duly upbeat and optimistic in his public pronouncements as he always is this time of year. While that is as it should be, there are always obstacles to a championship season as the competition will be good, and there are a few questions for the Blue.
Can they win away from the home of fair play? Will Chad Henne step up to the next level and at least produce victories at two of the three nasty away games they face? Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State will be tough. He needs to beat two of the three and all three would be nice.
A positive answer to the next question will have a lot to do with whether or not the answer to the question above is also positive. Will Chad have an astute offensive line to work with on both sides of offensive center, and will the center position be outstanding? If Rueben Riley is playing right guard, you know that someone else stepped up at guard. Perhaps the experienced Kolo, or talented newcomer Steve Schilling will win the position. If Reuben starts at right tackle than perhaps Justin Schifano and Alex Mitchell will man the right guard spot after duking it out. It will be interesting to find out who else, if anyone, rises out of the pile.
How effective will Mark Bihl be at center? If a problem develops there, there could be a major reshuffling of the line. Mark has paid his dues and waited in the wings some. Hopefully he rises to the occasion this year, and is outstanding.
Chad is a very talented QB, and is now very experienced. He needs to rise to the top of the B10 QB?s if the Wolverines are to excel, but can only do so if that offensive line also excels at both run blocking and pass protection. Will Michigan be able to produce a running game that will facilitate Chad?s passing production, and be up to the high standards of past Michigan efforts?
How will coaching the special teams by committee work out?
I think Mike DeBord will spare no effort in trying to correct last year?s red zone woes etc. Will he be able to do so?
Where will the injury bug bite this year? And how deep will it bite? It is a fact Michigan does not have much depth at the Quarterback position behind Chad Henne. Jason Forcier appears to be the heir apparent, but is not creating many raves at this point. David Cone appears to be a work in progress.
And then there are several other imponderables like bad calls, the luck of the bounce of the ball, the weather, and emotional situations such as a legendary Coach announcing his retirement before a game. How emotional would Penn State be if Paterno announced before the Michigan game? That kind of thing has worked against Michigan a few times, but unfortunately did not help Bo in his last Rose Bowl game.
One great thing about college football is the fact that all these questions and others as or more important get answered during the course of the season. There is no place to hide from the results.
So far the most disappointing aspect this year is the fact that there will be no Bass season as the Wolverines troll Division One Football waters again for victories. As all of you undoubtedly know, our prize winning Bass, that everyone correctly thought would provide us with so many thrills this year, will not be onboard. It is difficult to tell just what the injury status of Antonio Bass is. A while ago Coach Carr said it could be that his collegiate career was over, depending on the outcome of a test. The family and Antonio so far have not agreed with that, so, insofar as I know, there remain the possibilities that either his football career is finished or will be resumed later. I hope everything works out for the young man whatever the case. Hmmm. Steve Breaston taking a few snaps, or Carlos Brown?
And of course, I hope everything works out for the Wolverines in the upcoming season. They will start the season picked as the second best team in the Big Ten, playing second fiddle to an Ohio State group that is wearing the twin targets of a prognosticated Big Ten Championship and National Championship. Gives you warm thoughts of 1969 again doesn?t it, especially since OSU lost so much defensively.
It is hard to over emphasize the importance of pounding out a victory in South Bend.
Vanderbilt appears to just the team for an opening game, Central Michigan can be dangerous, too, but the first true measure of this year?s edition of the Wolverines will come against the Irish.
There is no Michigan connection to Central Michigan this year, and their respected retired Coach and Athletic Director, Coach Herb Deromedi, is a Michigan graduate and is now a volunteer assistant on the Michigan staff. Don?t you think Mike DeBord would like to beat them as much as they must want to beat Mike. Should be a fun game!
I can?t wait until the season begins to unfold again. As you grow older, you get to a point where most of your future is past. As I have never been so old, I can?t wait too long for Michigan football success. Okay, I can still buy green bananas, but the clock is running. Success is needed now!