Michigan's 2010 football season is now just over a week away and competitions at the three offensive skill positions are wrapping up with the end of preseason practice. Here's a breakdown of the competitions at QB, RB, and WR with my projected starters for the three positions as well as the rest of them.
The candidates: Devin Gardner, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson
Devoin, a highly touted freshman, came into spring practice with a red shirt season almost inevitable. However, Gardner has played so well for a freshman that he's likely going to avoid the red shirt and probably even see the field a tiny amount in 2010 even though a red shirt is not out of the realm of possibility at his point. Devin has great speed and explosiveness and a strong arm. However, he is just a freshman and his lack of experience has hurt him in camp. Devin should see the field for at least a handful of plays this year but he's not far along enough to grab the starting job.
Forcier (Sophomore, 2009 stats: Passing 58.7 comp.%, 2,050 yds, 13 TDs, 10 INTs; Rushing 118 att, 240 yds, 2.0 avg, 3 TDs):
Tate grabbed the starting job by the horns last year after stellar performances in the first two games of the season against Western Michigan (a 31-7 win) and Notre Dame (win 38-34). After some more heroics he became a legend on campus. However, late in the season Tate unraveled hitting rock bottom in the Ohio State game. This summer senior corner Troy Woolfolk called Tate out for a lack of work put in during the off season and Tate was forced to practice without wings on his helmet because Rich Rod didn't believe he had earned them (Tate has since received his wings). Tate has pretty good speed for a quarterback and a stellar arm when throwing on the run. He does struggle as a pocket passer and needs to make better decisions in general as he forced way too many passes last year.
Robinson (Sophomore, 2009 stats: Passing 45.2 comp.%, 188 yds, 2 TDs, 4 INTs; Rushing 69 att, 351 yds, 5.1 avg, 5 TDs):
The passing stats last year were ugly to say the least, but Shoelace's seemingly joystick controlled runs electrified the offense last year. Robinson easily has the best speed of any player on the roster and probably in the Big Ten. It's not even much of a stretch to say he is one of college football's fastest players. Last year his wild arm and poor decisions throwing the ball held him back. However from what I've heard (and saw in the spring game), Denard is a much improved passer. If Denard is indeed as good as advertised with his arm he could be not just the next Pat White, but even better.
Projected starter: Robinson
Tate and Devon will also see the field briefly but expect Denard to grab the bull by the horns after a few games.
The candidates: Michael Cox, Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith
Cox (Sophomore, 2009 stats: Rushing 13 att, 113 yds, 8.7 avg, 2 TDs; Receiving 1 rec, 11 yds, 11.0 avg):
We didn't see much of Cox last year but he's a promising young player. His high yards per carry average is impressive but slightly distorted considering he carried the ball the 13 times. To his credit he didn't fumble on 14 touches so he can hold on to the ball, a problem for one of the other candidates. Cox will definitely see the field in 2010 but he will not be the starter.
Shaw (Junior, 2009 stats: Rushing 42 att, 185 yds, 4.4 avg, 2 TDs; Recieving 2 rec, 5 yds, 2.5 avg):
Shaw is the most explosive of the three backs and probably the most speedy. Because Brandon Minor was the feature back last year, Shaw didn't get too much of a chance to showcase his talent but he did a decent job when an opportunity presented itself. One problem with Shaw has been his fumbles. Shaw coughs up the ball a lot and needs to improve that aspect of his game if he wants extended playing time.
Smith (Sophomore, 2009 stats: Rushing 48 att, 276 yds, 5.8 avg, 1 TD; Receiving 10 rec, 82 yds, 8.2 avg, 2 TDs):
Vincent battled injury for most of spring practice but has looked great in fall camp and says he's 100% healthy with no after effects of the injury. The coaches and trainers agree so the sky is the limit for Smith this year. Smith can slip and break through tackles better than any of the other running backs and his acceleration and agility is unmatched on the Wolverine squad. Vincent has a great chance to be a star this year.
Projected starter: Smith
Even though Smith will be the main back all three should see the field for extended periods of time with Shaw likely getting the second-most carries.
The candidates: Kelvin Grady, Junior Hemingway, Martavius Odoms, Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum
Grady (Junior, 2009 stats: 10 rec, 102 yds, 10.2 avg, 1 TD):
Grady, a former Michigan basketball point guard, is trying to work his way into the slot receiver spot in 2010. Grady's long arms allow him to reach up and grab errant screen passes and his quick speed and feet (his basketball upbringing likely helped him with this) allow him to run precise routes and break away from defenders. That said his small stature is an issue although not too much for a slot receiver. He also doesn't have great hands and that will limit him going forward.
Hemingway (Junior, 2009 stats: 16 rec, 268 yds, 16.8 avg, 2 TDs):
Hemingway was the Wolverines best deep threat early in the season last year and was Tate Forcier's go-to receiver against Western Michigan making both of his touchdown receptions in that game. However, he tailed off with the rest of the team towards the end of the season. He needs to work on his consistency and his 6'1'' stature certainly is not big. However, Junior has breakaway speed and good hands and will contribute this year.
Odoms (Junior, 2009 stats: 22 rec, 272 yds, 12.4 avg, 1 TD):
Despite Martavius's small stature (5'8'', 175 lbs) he has some serious speed and great route running skills. Odoms has a fantastic freshman season in 2008 but slipped a bit last year. He has great potential, much more than he showed in 2009. Odoms is at his best over the middle of the field and is also a good deep threat. Whoever ends up quarterback this year will be looking his way frequently. Odoms will also likely contribute on special teams but I'll have more on that Saturday.
Roundtree (Sophomore, 2009 stats: 32 rec, 434 yds, 13.6 avg, 3 TDs):
Roy became Tate Forcier's go-to receiver in the slot last season and had a huge part in the comeback against State, catching the game tying touchdown with just two seconds on the clock. Roy has the best hands of any of the receivers and can slip through tackles. His lack of breakaway speed is a concern (remember the Illinois game last year?) but as he matures and gains leg strength that will solve itself.
Stonum (Junior, 2009 stats: 13 rec, 199 yds, 15.3 avg, 1 TD):
Stonum probably has the best sheer speed of any Michigan receiver and definitely the best acceleration. Stonum is great at making catches over the middle and then making things happen in the open field. He also will be a big special teams contributor. However, Stonum does have problems with drops and fumbles, something he'll really need to focus on fixing this season if he wants to start at receiver.
Projected starters: Hemingway (Outside), Odoms (Outside), Roundtree (Slot)
Just like the running backs all of the receivers will see the field at one point or another but these three will play the most. Stonum will also get a lot of time on the field however so he is not out of the mix by any standpoint. The unfortunate banana in the bunch is probably Grady who's skills are just not up with the other receivers. Grady will get some playing time but it will be limited.
OTHER PROJECTED STARTERS:
FB: Mark Moundros (SR)
TE: Kevin Koger (JR)
LT: Dan O'Neill (SO)
LG: Steve Schilling (SR)
C: David Molk (JR)
RG: John Ferrara (SR)
RT: Patrick Omaneh (JR)