Well, I promised this article a few days back and I'm finally going to deliver. Instead of getting overwhelmed in the excitement of 2012 and some 2013 recruiting, I've decided to focus on the 2011 football season. Obviously, there are a lot of question marks going into next season on both sides of the ball and accurately predicting each player and unit's output is quite difficult this early, but I do think there are a few people on the roster that will likely change the team's dynamic from last season.
Overall, the entire defense is probably going to go through the most improvement of any unit over the off-season, but the unit that will probably improve the most is the secondary. The return of Troy Woolfolk alone is going to add a lot of depth and experience to a beaten up secondary from 2010. Troy was no Charles Woodson, but his 46 tackles in 2009 would have surely improved what many believe was the worst unit on the football team (though the kicking was pretty horrendous). Woolfolk missed all of last season due to an injury in the pre-season and his experience is going to have a huge impact on the defense.
Another player I expect great things from next season is Craig Roh. Mattison has already moved him to the defensive line instead of in a "hybrid" linebacker position and the Detroit Free Press reported that he is eating up to 5000 calories a day to bulk up for his new position. With Mattison's 4-3 defensive scheme, the defensive line should have much more of an impact next season and I think Craig Roh has the most to gain from these changes.
Though it may seem surprising that the best new impact on the defense next season could potentially be a returning player, I think this illustrates many of the problems with Rich Rodriguez's defenses at Michigan; plagued with injuries and coaching mismanagement. The constant changing of schemes and lack of depth (caused by a multitude of factors) made it almost impossible for defensive players to prosper. Mattison's new schemes should help players like Roh have a significant impact every play.
I think the obvious improvement from 2010 could be the pick-up of the kicking recruit from San Diego, Matt Wile. With the horror of the kicking game last season, or lack thereof, even the slight existence of a field goal threat will be an improvement. If this guy turns out to be the real deal and can make some decent kicks, the team is going to experience a significant gain. Instead of being forced to go for a ton of 4th down situations, the team can put some points on the board which could really help them stay close and win games.
Hagerup will probably also become a little more consistent in his punting and tone down his off-field antics, but Wile is probably going to be the biggest improvement from 2010, unless of course the rumors are true and Hagerup attempts to become the kicker as well, then Hagerup could realistically dominate all the kicking on special teams.
On a side-note, Stonum's loss is going to be a big setback for special teams as he was the first returner to have more than 1000 yards in Michigan football history. Granted, he did much less returning in 2010 and yielded fewer yards, his loss will impact special teams.
Obviously, the biggest question mark for the offense is Denard Robinson. Though I think the negative speculation is overblown and unlikely to come to fruition, Denard's prominence in a pro-style system is still unproven, so this will likely determine the success of the entire offensive unit.
Hoping that Denard can at least run the system with some effectiveness, I think Martavious Odoms is lined up for a improved season. With the new offensive scheme, there should be an increase in the total passing yards in comparison to rushing and with Darryl Stonum likely out for an extended period next year, someone is going to be needed to fill his the gap at wide receiver. Odoms may not pass other players stat-wise, he was actually behind Roundtree, Stonum, Hemingway, and Grady for receptions, but he did have the second-highest yards per reception on the team (excluding Terrance Robinson who only had one reception). To me this signals that he can be a big-time player, especially since he missed a huge portion of a season with a injury. Odoms was ranked as a 3 star recruit by Rivals in 2008, but he will surely have a better season stat-wise if he can finish the year without injury and with Stonum out.
The final player that I think is going to make a big new impact next season is Justice Hayes. He's a running back recruit out of Grand Blanc, Michigan and has some epic highlights. According to Rivals, he's a 4 star recruit and really only lacks in terms of size and strength. To me, if you are forced to have a downside, I'd rather be undersized than missing the speed and other skills. If he's able to bulk up a little over the summer and fall, he could be doing a lot of damage late in the season. The current running backs aren't bad, but none of them have made that leap from average or above-average to great. Until one of them steps up, I think Hayes will able to make a direct impact, unless of course he is talked into red-shirting, which I don't think is likely with the running back situation right now.
So there you have it, not very scientific, but hopefully done with at least a good bit of logic. I think there is going to be improvement almost across the board, but in review, here are my picks for best new impact players in 2011:
Troy Woolfolk - S
Craig Roh - DE
Matt Wile - K
Martavious Odoms - WR
Justice Hayes - RB
Look for my next article where I'm going to follow-up on the recent post by Everything Michigan and more regarding the NBA Draft and the Laker's selection of Darius Morris. Most people know LA is Morris' hometown, but I'm sure people are wondering how much they will see Morris play next season (assuming there is a NBA season). As always,
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*Credit Jake Fromm and Michigan Daily for Troy Woolfolk picture