Wednesday - August 20, 2008
What We See
Just to get this out of the way - players who may not play against Utah
Corey Zirbel (out - knee)
Terrance Robinson (out - knee)
J. R. Hemingway (questionable)
Kevin Grady (questionable - suspension?)
With that out of the way
What You Might See Against Utah
Quarterback: Nick Sheridan starting, but Steven Threet getting significant snaps. With Sheridan, the game plan is to get the ball out of his hands quickly and to players who can make things happen in one on one situations. The risk is that the opponent covers well, tackles well and our offense sputters its way to several punts. The game plan with Threet is to take more chances down the field, to hope that our wide receivers and tight ends can make plays by getting seperation, and then getting them the ball. The risk is negative plays - sacks and interceptions.
Runningback: At least four will play; Minor, Brown, McGuffie and Shaw, and not necessarily in that order. They will move all over the field, especially Brown and Shaw. They will be used in 18 different ways, some of which people who have only watched Michigan will have never seen before. There will be more confusion and misdirection than has been seen in Ann Arbor since the Mad Magicians of 1947. Expect to see any combination of two in the game at a time, not with one masquerading as a fullback but with both being legit RB and or slot receiving threats. Mark Moundros will get the bulk of the snaps at FB.
Wide Receiver: The short game will feature Greg Mathews, Toney Clemons and Martavius Odoms and be complemented by running backs lining up in the slot and catching passes out of the backfield. The downfield game will feature Mathews, Clemons and Daryl Stonum, and be complemented by tight ends Carson Butler and Michael Massey. With the exception of Greg Mathews, it will be hard to tell who is 1st string and who is the backup. Look for the tight ends to be blur the line between tight end and receiver. Both Butler and Massey will line up wide, away from the line, and try to create opportunities by dragging linebackers away from the box.
Offensive Line: Ortmann-McAvoy-Molk-Moosman-Schilling? Maybe the single most important thing to watch. Expect to see lots of movement on the OL and lots of substitution. Herd the opponent the wrong direction instead of trying to bull them out of the way. Zirbel was reportedly the best bull on the line, and he's not there. Expect some bad snaps and QBs diving on the ball, too. We appear to have a good stable of promising guards, but no shotgun centers. Don't be surprised if some backups get meaningful snaps subbing in one or two at a time. Some teams like to play units on the o-line and reserves only get snaps in garbage time. At least early this year, Michigan may not do it that way.
Defensive Line: Graham, Johnson, Taylor and Jamison starting with VanBergen, Martin, Sagesse/Kates and Banks/Patterson. Here, there's a clear 1st vs. 2nd string delineation. It will be interesting to see how much rotation and rest Shafer and Tall go in for. The 1st to 2nd string dropoff could be enormous.
Linebackers: Starters still up in the air. Panter and Ezeh will start. Maybe Evans at WLB and Panter at MLB. Maybe Thompson at WLB and move everyone around? Mouton and Chambers will get snaps at the WLB spot, almost turning the 4-3-4 into something halfway to a 4-2-5 (Mouton is 100% LB, but still in the "almost a safety" mold). All the players mentioned will play significant minutes, though Mouton's and Chambers's minutes may be scarcer against Utah than other opponents for matchup reasons.
Defensive backs: Trent and Warren with Woolfolk and Cissoko both getting ample chances to play as the #3. They'll play press, and look to see if Trent is more physical this year than he was last year. It's all that is standing between him and an All Big 10 caliber season. Harrison and Brown will start at safety, though you could see quite a bit of Stewart as well. Brown could be the wildcard and key to the prognosis of the secondary.
Return Game: I don't have a name, but look for big names. Don't discount the possibility of starters at return jobs, potentially Donovan Warren, Morgan Trent, Steve Brown, Brandon Harrison ... basically, the entire starting secondary.