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You can read the entire Michigan Wolverines preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 Big Ten magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Big Ten Legends PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Brady Hoke, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Al Borges | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Mattison
Led by Denard Robinson’s out-of-nowhere breakthrough last year, the Michigan offense ranked first in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 488.7 yards per game, a number also good for eighth in the country.
Now the school’s new coaching staff will attempt to fix what wasn’t broken.
Inheriting an offense that returns nine of 11 starters, Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have scrapped the spread-option offense that Robinson ran so well last year in favor of a pro-style set. It’s a bold gamble. But they believe a more balanced offense — in which Robinson is still the triggerman — will be more effective.
“We want our tailbacks to get more involved,” Borges says. Indeed, Michigan’s tailbacks were afterthoughts last season. This year, the position is as wide-open as any on the roster. Early indications are that sophomores Stephen Hopkins and Fitzgerald Toussaint stand at the front of a six-man pack vying for playing time.
Despite the change in offensive philosophy, Borges says he still expects to line up Robinson in the shotgun 10 to 12 times per game, and still expects to use three-, four-, even five-receiver sets at times. No matter the change, one maxim holds true: As goes Robinson, so goes the Michigan offense.
The good news for the Wolverines: They really can’t be any worse on defense than they were last year, when the unit allowed 458 points and 5,860 yards — the worst marks in the program’s 131-year history.
The bad news: The unit’s on its fourth defensive coordinator in five years, and that coordinator, Greg Mattison, will need to approach 2011 with largely the same cast of undersized players. Can he get more out of them?
Mattison, the architect of the Baltimore Ravens defense the past few years, will return the Wolverines to the 4-3 they played when Hoke was a defensive line assistant in Ann Arbor from 1995-02. It’s a move that, at the very least, highlights the strengths of a deep defensive line and weak group of linebackers.
The Wolverines will benefit tremendously from the returns of cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, whose injury-related absences left a secondary full of true freshmen in 2010. Both practiced in limited roles this spring.
Dan Ferrigno, Michigan’s first dedicated special teams coach in years, needs to spend most of his time tutoring the team’s kickers, Seth Broekhuizen and Brendan Gibbons, who went a combined 4-for-14 last season. They’ll get some needed competition this summer from Matt Wile, perhaps one of few incoming freshmen who could make an immediate impact.
Say what you will about Rich Rodriguez — his number of victories improved from three to five to seven in his three years in Ann Arbor. Hoke cannot backslide.
He inherits a 7–6 team that played in a Jan. 1 bowl, and he returns 16 starters. That’s not a bad base. Spread or pro-style, this offense is not a concern. If Michigan is going to improve, it will have to start on defense.
Seven true freshmen played significant roles last year. Their experience will help, along with the return of injured starters in the secondary. If they can find a linebacker or two, even a mediocre defense would be reason to celebrate in Ann Arbor this fall.
Other Michigan Content:
2012 Transfers to Watch
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