Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Half Full or Half Empty? Receivers

Moving outside for a look at the one position group that has largely failed to be relevant (for a variety of reasons not limited to skill level) in the last two years.

Gone are the days of Braylon Edwards, David Terrell, and Mario Manningham.  This much is certain.  UM won't be seeing any Navarre-esque pro style quarterbacks slinging fade routes 50 yards down the field.  What does this mean for the passing game moving forward?

More of this, please.
Looking back, we don't have too much to see.  '08 was a lean year at receiver as the two best options decided to try their luck in the draft following the '07 season.  Martavious Odoms led the team from the slot, but the production on the outside was lacking.  Last year, despite 2000 yards from freshman Tate Forcier, the passing game failed to be the kind of factor in the offense that it is capable of.

Believe that Rodriguez coached teams won't air it out at your own peril.  Each QB brings a skill to the table that should open up passing lanes, while the offensive line looks to be better suited to provide pass protection.  If there was ever a year for the receivers to take the next step, 2010 is it.

If we want to look at the glass as half full, we need only look at the potential that some of the receiving options bring to the table.  Darryl Stonum is the closest thing this team has had to a legitimate deep threat since Manningham hastily left campus.  Unfortunately it seems Stonum was playing blind the last two years, as he was finally diagnosed with vision problems this off-season that required contact lenses.  Reports out of fall practices have been largely positive, and the vision problems tend to explain his primary weakness the last two years:  adjusting to the deep ball.  It's hard for a big physical outside receiver to go up and get the ball when he can't see it.  Junior Hemmingway has also shown flashes to justify his hype coming into the program, but has been beset with such a wide array of injuries and ailments that he looked more and more likely to earn the Antonio Bass award for Four Year Health Meltdown.  Perhaps the most fitting example is the brutal injury he suffered last year as he was waiting to return a punt against Penn State last year.

The aftermath.

Moving inside, Roy Roundtree is fresh off the blistering pace that saw him become the teams leading receiver while getting most of his production in the last quarter of the season.  His sharp routes and comfort with the quarterbacks (both Tate and Denard seem in-sync with Roundtree) make him a potential break out performer when given a whole year to accumulate stats.  Odoms returns as a punishing run blocker who has the speed to break bubble screens and short crossing routes for long gains.  Even TE Kevin Koger has the potential to be an All-Big Ten weapon on the inside if he can continue to make the "wow" catches and cure the case of the drops that saw him phased out of the passing game last year.

The receiving options on this team have the potential to turn 2010 into the coming out party for the Rodriguez pass offense.

The problem is, potential doesn't win football games, production does.  Any discussion of the ability that the receivers have has to be tempered with the glass half empty realization that the unit has yet to deliver on the mounds of hype that have been swirling around the unit for the last couple years.

The outside receivers, Stonum and Hemmingway, are both highly hyped recruits that have struggled to find seams and make catches against better secondaries.  Hemmingway might have outgrown his potential as a deep threat by bulking up to 225 lbs.  Stonum on the other hand, still has the speed and physicality to be a true deep threat along the outside, but regardless of his ability to see the ball he has to show that his hands are consistent enough to catch it.

Drops plague others in the receiving corp.  Koger's hands were so inconsistent that it led to the TE being largely an afterthought in the offense by the end of the season.  The backups in the slot abound with scintillating speed and moves in space, but both Kelvin Grady and Jeremy Gallon haven't been able to bring the ball in consistently enough to show off those moves.  Odoms brings a great deal to the run game with his surprisingly great blocking ability, but with the possibility of a shift to the outside, at 5'8 he is going to have a hard time getting the ball.

Eat your heart out Danny Hope.
Which leaves Roundtree.  We know what he can do, but we haven't seen a full year of production.  Roundtree was just as much a surprise to opposing defenses   well maybe not Purdue's defense   as he was to UM fans.  Can he continue to produce now that he will be a prominent focus of opposing defenses' game plans?

This group won't be easy to forecast, or even judge once the season begins.  If the offensive line struggles to keep the pass rush contained, and the running backs can't keep defenses honest, this unit could be in for another year of limited opportunities.  Oh yeah, and the quarterbacks, they have a little bit to do with how this unit performs.

All in all, the receiver position has shown that it can at least be serviceable, and if the running game is as good as it could be in year three, life on the outside might finally start looking up.

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