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2011 Season Preview – Backs and Receivers

August 29, 2011

The Wolverine Den’s Season Preview starts with the offensive skill positions – Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receivers


Key Losses: Tate Forcier

Returning  Starters: Denard Robinson

For those of you who were in a coma during last year’s football season, Denard Robinson is a stud.  In his first year as a starting quarterback, Denard not only obliterated the University of Michigan single season rushing record for a QB, but also the NCAA record.  His 1702 yards broke Air Force’s Beau Morgan’s mark of 1494, set in 1996.  Beyond being the most deadly running QB in NCAA history, Denard also got it done through the air, throwing for over 2500 yards and 18 touchdowns.  The biggest concern heading into this season is not whether or not Denard Robinson would find success in 2011, but whether or not Al Borges’ offense is going provide him with that opportunity.  Word on the street is that there is no need to worry, and that Denard will be even more lethal than last year.  His throwing has improved by leaps and bounds, and in doing so, he’s made his running threat even that more dangerous.  Though his stats may not be quite as gaudy as last year, there’s no reason to think he won’t be the most exciting player in the Big Ten, and probably the country. 

In the event that Denard goes down to an injury, sophomore Devin Gardner is ready and able to step right in.  Though he’s not as electric as Denard, Gardner is a star on the rise in his own right, and could easily be starting for several other Big Ten teams.  Recent word out of camp is that while Denard is clearly the #1 guy, having Gardner play significant snaps wouldn’t be a disaster.

The 3rd QB will likely be freshman Russell Bellomy, a dual threat QB that may be a starter one day, but he’s not ready at this point.  If he’s out there taking snaps, we better be up by 3 TD’s.

Running Backs

Key Losses: None

Returning Starters: Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith

As settled and comfortable as the QB position feels, the running back position is the exact opposite.  With no star emerging in the spring, the starting running back position is up for grabs, and there are no less than 5 possible candidates for the role.

Senior Michael Shaw has shown flashes of ability in his previous 3 years at Michigan, but staying healthy has always been a problem.  Given that Brady Hoke wants a back that can carry the ball 25 times a game, Shaw doesn’t seem to be the answer.  He’ll still get carries, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy first.

The other back with significant experience who is vying for the role is Vincent Smith.  Smith suffered an ACL tear at the end of the 2009 season, and though probably not at 100% last year, still managed to rush for 600 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Reports out of fall camp is that he looks like he’s back to 100% and is impressing.  At only 5’6, he may not be the in between the tackles running back Hoke and Borges are looking for, but his ability to break tackles and dance his way down field will certainly keep him in the mix.  His size, blocking and catching ability make him an ideal 3rd down back. 

Michigan has three other backs with limited experience who will try to stake their claim to the #1 role.  Fitzgerald Toussaint has shown flashes of brilliance in practice, but hasn’t shown a lot during his limited opportunities during games.  He also has had trouble staying healthy.  He’s come on strong as of late however, and has moved near the top of the depth chart.  Stephen Hopkins seems to fit the mold of what Hoke and Borges expect from their back, and bruising but speedy back who gets in done between the tackles.  Hopkins looked good in limited instances in 2010, but did have some trouble holding onto the football.  The final returning player is Michael Cox, who has wowed at practice and apparently has all the physical tools to be a success.  Unfortunately, he still has trouble with the mental part of the game.  If he can get that straightened out, he’ll see the field.  Otherwise, its doubtful.

Two other options are freshman Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes.  Early in fall camp, many thought that Rawls could emerge by the 3rd or 4th game as the go to guy, similar to Mike Hart in 2004.  More likely, he’ll have similar usage as Anthony Thomas in the 1997 season, where he was not the feature back, but received 10-15 carries a game.   A recent injury may also land Rawls a redshirt, with no reason to waste a year of eligibility if he can’t significantly contribute. With so much logjam on the depth chart, Hayes is probably a year away from contributing and will likely redshirt as well.


For the first time since 2007, it looks as though Michigan will be utilizing a traditional fullback as a lead blocker in many situations.  The player with the inside track to start at FB is senior John McColgan.  Like most fullbacks, McColgan is heavy on strength and smarts, but low on stats.  He’s been good in fall camp, and will be lead blocking quite a bit this fall.

Wide Receivers

Key Losses: Darryl Stonum (redshirt year for disciplinary reasons)

Returning Starters: Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, Martavious Odoms

Like the running back situation, there doesn’t appear to be a “go-to” back that has emerged yet.  However, there are plenty of talented receivers on the field, all of whom will have the chance to make plays this fall.

With Darryl Stonum is redshirting this year to deal with some personal issues, senior Junior Hemingway is the probably the most talented and of the receivers returning.  Although he has battled injuries throughout his career, Junior still managed 32 catches for almost 600 yards last year, and found the end zone four times. 

Right behind Hemingway is junior Roy Roundtree, who became Denard Robinson’s favorite target last year.  Roundtree was Michigan’s leading receiver last year with 72 catches and 935 yards.  With the ability to play both inside and outside, Roundtree’s versatility makes him a great asset to have.

Senior Kelvin Grady has been getting rave reviews from several who have seen practices this fall.  Grady had 17 catches last year for 211 yards, but should be even better this year now that he has a second full year of football under his belt after switching over from basketball.  Martavious Odoms has seen his production drop off each year from his stellar freshman campaign when he  had 49 catches for almost 500 yards.  Due to injuries last year he only played in the first six games, where he only had 16 catches.  His downfield blocking ability will certainly get him on the field a lot this year, and if healthy he has the ability to be an exciting player.

One surprise out of fall camp is former Florida player of the year Jeremy Gallon.  Gallon only had 4 catches last year has shown flashes of ability in fall camp and may get a chance to play.

Overall the receivers are a relatively deep group but lack a superstar go to receiver that Michigan has enjoyed in years past.  My prediction is that at least one of Roundtree and Hemingway will have the first 1,000 yard season by a Michigan receiver since 2007.  And depending on how things shake out, they both might.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kref permalink
    August 30, 2011 7:29 AM

    How can you say we don’t yet have a go-to guy at WR? Roundtree is the total package! He put up good numbers last year and should be even better this year. Hemmingway is a perfect #2 with his maturity and craftiness in finding ways to make a play.

    • August 30, 2011 9:33 AM

      I don’t totally disagree Kref, but until Roundtree can stop dropping some of the basic passes (which he had a tendency to do last year), I can’t call him a go-to guy. He’s definitely Denard’s favorite target though. Like I said, I see both Hemingway and Roundtree getting close to 1,000 yards.

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