Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Technically, Michigan improved in Year Two under Rich Rodriguez, going from 3-9 in 2008 to 5-7 last season. But the Wolverines won just one Big Ten game to finish tied for 10th in the league after a ninth-place finish (2-6) in 2008.
The offense showed signs of life last fall, ranking seventh in the Big Ten (384.5 ypg) and third in scoring (29.5 ppg). In 2008, Michigan had the worst offense in the league (290.8 ypg) and also finished last in scoring (20.3 ppg).
To take the next step, Michigan must improve its defense and add the finishing touches - i.e., finding a running back - to what should be a productive offense.
Here's a look at the Wolverines as they prepare to begin spring ball.
Sophomore Tate Forcier returns at QB, but there are a lot of holes to fill.
COACH: Rich Rodriguez LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 1-7 in Big Ten
SPRING DATES: March 14-April 17.
This will be a veteran offense that finally should be fully in tune with what Rich Rodriguez wants to do in his spread-option scheme. While the running back corps will be young, sophomore Tate Forcier has shown promise at quarterback. The line lost two starters, but there is good talent there. It's vital that junior C David Molk returns from a season-ending knee injury suffered vs. Penn State.
HELP IS NEEDED
A defense that ranked ninth in the Big Ten (393.3 ypg) has to get better under embattled coordinator Greg Robinson. The success of the defense hinges on the development of the secondary. The unit is filled with youth and inexperience, as freshmen and sophomores will have to contribute heavily. CB Donovan Warren declaring early for the draft really hurt, and star DE Brandon Graham is gone. Senior LB Obi Ezeh must regain his 2008 form after an inconsistent effort last season for a unit that struggled to stop the run (171.9 ypg, 10th in the Big Ten).
THREE GUYS TO WATCH
DT Greg Banks: He was expected to play a big role in 2009, but notched just five tackles. He has bulked up to 275 pounds and has the versatility to play tackle or end. With a big spring, Banks finally may secure a starting job as a senior and help stop the bleeding vs. the run.
LB Mike Jones: Among the five players who enrolled at mid-term last year, Jones looks the closest to earning a starting gig. Jones, a sophomore, is competing to replace Steve Brown at "spinner," a hybrid safety/linebacker. Observers say Jones is a mean, tough and nasty player who loves to hit-traits this defense lacks.
QB Tate Forcier: Yes, he showed flashes as a true freshman, when he started 12 games. But Forcier needs to take the next step as a decision-maker in the passing and running game. If he struggles, Forcier will be pushed by fellow sophomore Denard Robinson as well as true freshman Devin Gardner, who enrolled early and brings loads of potential.
It's an understatement to say Rodriguez must win this year. He has a two-year record of 8-16 and the school is facing NCAA sanctions. Oh, and RichRod also has a new boss in A.D. David Brandon. Suffice to say, Rodriguez needs to get the Wolverines into a bowl as he enters the 2010 season on perhaps the hottest seat in America. Spring practice is going to be big in terms of revamping the defense. Finding a feature back is important, as well.