Never in my lifetime would I have thought I'd see the day when Michigan wasn't a player in the race for the Big Ten title, but that's exactly what one horrible hire did. The Rich Rodriguez era will be remembered for having the most losses in any 3 year period since Michigan began playing Big Ten football in 1896. Fast forward to 2011 and fans of the Maize and Blue have their "Michigan Man" in Brady Hoke who comes back to Ann Arbor after leading a resurgence at Ball State and San Diego State. Wolverines fans got their 1st in person glimpse of the Brady Hoke era on April 16th, so what questions were answered and what question remain after the 1st public practice of the year?
2010 Season: 7-6(3-5) Tie for 7th in Big Ten
Postseason: Gator Bowl (14-52L to Mississippi State)
Head Coach: Brady Hoke - 1st year at Michigan (47-50 in 8 years overall)
Spring Game: 14-7 Blue over Maize on April 16th
Returning Starters: 19(9 offense, 8 defense, and 2 special teams)
2011 Outlook: Badgers fans were incredible in helping to support the School of Nursing this past Saturday and Michigan did something similar with their game on the 16th only not by charging admission. The estimated 25,000 people in attendance donated money at will to the Mott Children's Hospital to the tune of $352,000. A tip of the hat for that and it's a great way to get the Brady Hoke era off on the right foot.
O.k., enough with the charity and on to the things you are all here for and that's what happened on the field, right? 2011 should be a very interesting year of transition for this program as it goes from the Spread offense brought in by Rich Rodriguez to the typical Pro-Style offense of Michigan's past. Running that offense will be the man that took the Big Ten by storm last year, Denard Robinson. He's also the center of most of the questions surrounding the offense as his transition to a game behind center and becoming a more typical QB will be run through the ringer by fans and media alike. His Spring game started off well with a nice 55yd run that was designed to get him comfortable and he ended his day 5-14 passing for 68 yards and 60 yards rushing. Those numbers may not be all that impressive, but it is only Spring Practice and the point was made more than once that this was mostly about getting him reps under center and working on his fundamentals. OC All Borges did hint at how they would handle his transition, stating "in the real world, he'll probably run more than he did today." Borges also went on to say "We can facilitate that within our offense, we have to try to develop the other phases of our offense that are going to make us a better football team. One of them is power running and there was an emphasis on that today.”
To that end the Wolverines are going to have to count on Robinson to open up the running game for the regular RB's who are led by returning leading rusher Vincent Smith who only had a 4.4ypc average on 601yds. If the Spring was any indication it could be a year or two before the old smash mouth running attack of the Maize and Blue is back in full working order. It also has to do with the state of the Offensive Line, which has been in shambles over the past 3 seasons. At multiple points the QB's and in one case Hoke himself were left scrambling away from an onslaught of defenders.
Don't get it twisted though, the defense has it's own transition underway as it goes to a pro style 4-3 system under new Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison. He'd know a thing or two about the pro system having worked for the Ravens last year. The spring game provided some good work for his unit as it learns the ins and outs of a style of play they aren't used to. Luckily there are plenty of building blocks on this defense. Leading the way is the Secondary, yes the same secondary that struggled in 2010. The difference in 2011 is a healthy core of Cornerbacks(both J.B. Fitzgerald and Troy Woolfolk are back after missing the majority of 2010) who will be counted on a lot in the pass happy Legends Division. Overall the defense looked a bit more free and physical and can count on all-Big Ten Safety Jordan Kovacs(116 tackles in 2010) to be a more vocal leader. He seems to like this style of play a lot stating in his post game presser, “It’s an NFL defense, there’s a lot more stunting and stuff like that. It’s been a lot to get used to this spring. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, up and down, and there’s a lot of work to be done yet.” Also encouraging for Wolverines fans was the play of fellow Safety Carvin Johnson, who had 2 interceptions in the Spring Game. Even with that play Johnson wasn't the star of the game. That honor belonged to Linebacker Jake Ryan had a sack and an INT for a TD.
You'll find the Big Ten Network's highlights of the Maize & Blue's Spring game as well as a more in depth version below. It's really too bad the Badgers won't get the Wolverines for a few years though 'cause I have a gut feeling this program won't be down for long and should be back to it's normal heights soon meaning we'll catch them on the way up. As always... ON WISCONSIN!!
Full highlight video... Michigan 2011 Spring Football Highlights