2011 Countdown: #5 David Molk

Tag: 2011 Season Countdown

26Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #5 David Molk

David Molk (#50) and Taylor Lewan
(image via AnnArbor.com)

Name: David Molk
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 286 lbs.
High school: Lemont High School in Lemont Township, IL
Position: Center
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #50
Last year: I ranked Molk #1 and said he would be the starting center.  He started every game at center.

I hate to think about how bad Michigan could have been over the past three seasons if Lloyd Carr hadn’t recruited Molk to Ann Arbor back in 2007.  Molk has started since his redshirt freshman season in 2008, and the only things that have beaten him have been foot and knee injuries suffered in 2009 that cost him eight games.  Otherwise, he was a rock for the zone running system implemented by Rich Rodriguez starting in ’08. Molk has often been mentioned as the strongest offensive lineman on the team; that title was briefly stolen by Quinton Washington, who has since moved to defensive tackle.  Regardless, Molk complemented that strength with enough intelligence and quickness to be recognized as a first team All-Big Ten center by the conference’s coaches and was a finalist for the Rimington Award, which is given to the nation’s top center.

Molk isn’t necessarily the ideal center for the power running game that new head coach Brady Hoke wants to implement at Michigan (think of someone who’s 6’4″, 310 lbs.), but you can bet that Hoke will enjoy Molk’s presence while he’s giving it one last hurrah for the Maize and Blue.  His strength will prevent him from being a detriment on power plays, and his quickness will continue to be an asset while offensive coordinator Al Borges looks to be in the early stages of phasing out the heavy reliance on the zone running game.  Molk will spearhead an offensive line that returns four starters (the lone new starter will likely be left guard Ricky Barnum) and the five average out to be in their 4th year of major college football.  The five have 67 starts among them, tied for 10th in the country in sacks allowed (11) last season, and paved the way for the #13 rushing offense (3,101 yards).  If games are won in the trenches, consider the offensive battle to be a likely victory.

Prediction: Starting offensive center; Second Team All-Big Ten

25Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #6 Kevin Koger

Kevin Koger (#86)

Name: Kevin Koger
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 258 lbs.
High school: Whitmer High School in Toledo, OH
Position: Tight end
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #86
Last year: I ranked Koger #20 and said he would have 18 receptions for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns.  He caught 14 passes for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Koger is that rare (soon to be) four-year starter at tight end.  Having been recruited by Lloyd Carr, he probably expected to be utilized like a Michigan tight end of old, grab 25-30 passes as an upperclassman, and move on to a journeyman NFL career.  Instead, he averaged 12 receptions and about 170 yards a season under Rich Rodriguez.  There was all kinds of scuttlebutt in the Rodriguez years that his coaching staff visited Oklahoma and got some tips on how to utilize the tight end in the spread offense, but the bottom line was that Rodriguez never used the tight end much at West Virginia and didn’t see a need to do it at Michigan, either.  So Koger was underused and became a glorified walk-on fullback, albeit one who can make maddeningly athletic catches before disappearing for long stretches and/or dropping a couple passes in between.

Now Koger enters his senior season with a coaching staff that seems to appreciate the tight end a little bit more.  Rumors out of August practices even indicate that Koger could end up being the player the offense targets most, that he might go from an afterthought to a primary target.  I have a hard time imagining such a drastic change for a player who has been exciting, frustrating, and underused so far in his career, but it’s very probable that we see an uptick in Koger’s production in his final year.  The Borges/Hoke offense at San Diego State last season had a freshman tight end, Gavin Escobar, who finished the season with 29 receptions for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Considering that Escobar was 6’6″, 230 lbs., and a true freshman, I have to think that Koger will squeeze some better numbers out of Michigan’s offense.  He ought to be the beneficiary of some waggles and bootlegs, not to mention a downfield threat on some quarterback play action much like (a slower) Roy Roundtree circa 2010.

Prediction: Starting tight end; 35 receptions, 420 yards, 5 touchdowns

Poll results: You people finally guessed correctly – Koger got 73% of the votes for the #6 slot, while Taylor Lewan got 16%.

24Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #7 Patrick Omameh

Patrick Omameh

Name: Patrick Omameh
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 299 lbs.
High school: St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus, OH
Position: Offensive guard
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #65
Last year: I ranked Omameh #19 and said he would be the starter at right guard.  He started all 13 games at right guard.

Omameh was an under-the-radar recruit coming out of Columbus DeSales in 2008, and credit should be given to Rich Rodriguez for seeing how much talent he had.  Omameh was quite slim as a senior in high school, but it only took him until his redshirt freshman season to play – and play well – on the offensive line.  He has the athleticism to start at any of the guard and tackle positions, and he looks like a brick wall.  Last year’s big play out of Omameh was the one on which he sprung Denard Robinson for his 87-yard touchdown gallop against Notre Dame, but that was just one of many nice blocks that Omameh made on the season.  He did an excellent job of getting to the second level, and when Michigan ran power last season, he was excellent at pulling and leading for Robinson.

This season’s scheme ought to suit Omameh well.  While he’s superb at blocking in space, he also has the technique and the mass to be a powerful in-line blocker.  Add that to his pass blocking ability, and he might end up being Michigan’s best interior lineman since David Baas.  I see very few weaknesses in Omameh’s game, and he should be a key player in 2011 as Brady Hoke and Al Borges work both the zone and power run games.  He has a shot to be an All-Big Ten player this season.

Prediction: Starting right guard; All-Big Ten Second Team

Poll results: Kevin Koger got 51% of the vote, while Omameh was second with 38%.

23Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #8 Junior Hemingway

Junior Hemingway (#21) runs away from Mississippi State’s Disgusting Shin Man

Name: Junior Hemingway
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 222 lbs.
High school: Conway High School in Conway, SC
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #21
Last year: I ranked Hemingway #26 and said he would make 25 receptions for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns.  He caught 32 passes for 593 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Well, I was close to being right on the number of receptions, and I was exactly correct about the touchdowns.  Where I missed big-time was on the yardage.  Michigan’s Denard Robinson’s running game opened up some deep throws for the Wolverines in 2010, and Hemingway took advantage whenever Robinson threw the ball in his vicinity.  Hemingway caught a slant against Indiana and rambled to the endzone (he’s not blessed with great speed), and he also outjumped a Hoosiers defensive back for a 42-yard reception at the end of the game, which set up the game-winning play.  Perhaps his biggest highlight was the 45-yard catch and run against Illinois, in which he shimmied and shook on the sideline until the Illini defensive backs flailed miserably as he slipped past them down the sideline.  Things were about as exciting as they could get for a receiver who had less than 600 yards and only four scores.

Hemingway is poised to expand on that production here in 2011.  Michigan will still run plenty of plays from spread formations, but when the Wolverines get into the I-formation or split backs, Hemingway should see plenty of throws coming his way.  Whereas the other wideout, Roy Roundtree, might be hampered by his lack of size as he moves out of the slot, Hemingway is more familiar with playing outside and will still be bigger and stronger than the cornerbacks covering him.  His ability to go up for jump balls and shield defenders from passes should serve him well.  Hemingway might not be the next great receiver in the mold of Braylon Edwards, David Terrell, etc., but he should be a very solid target for Denard Robinson.

Prediction: 70 receptions, 1000 yards, 7 touchdowns

Poll results: Kevin Koger got 40% of the vote while Patrick Omameh got 27% and Hemingway finished third with 21%.

22Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #9 Troy Woolfolk

Defensive back Troy Woolfolk with his father, former Michigan running back Butch
(image via DetNews.com)

Name: Troy Woolfolk
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 191 lbs.
High school: Dulles High School in Sugar Land, TX
Position: Cornerback
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #29
Last year: I ranked Woolfolk at #2.  But by the time I got to that ranking, he had already dislocated his ankle and been declared unable to play.

Thank goodness Woolfolk is back.  With the overall lack of speed and athleticism in the defensive backfield, he will be a welcome sight on September 3.  Last year I was expecting big things from the kid, and he had an unfortunate practice incident that caused his senior season to be delayed.  That absence meant that the cornerback positions were left to senior James Rogers and redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd, neither of whom was particularly impressive; Floyd suffered an ankle injury halfway through the season that forced true freshman Courtney Avery into starting action, too.  By the end of the year, Michigan was starting cornerbacks #3 and #4 on the pre-season depth chart.  Rogers played admirably with 40 tackles and 3 picks, Floyd made 66 tackles and 1 interception, and Avery made 36 tackles, but getting 4 interceptions out of your cornerbacks – not to mention oodles of completions in front of them – was hard to watch.

Woolfolk has been earning praise this August for his off-season preparation and his knowledge of the defense, despite being unable to practice full speed in the spring.  Comments from defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke suggest that Woolfolk will be a starter in the defensive backfield on September 3.  But once again, his position has been muddied.  Michigan technically has three returning starters at the cornerback position with Woolfolk, Floyd, and Avery; meanwhile, only Jordan Kovacs has started at a safety spot (Carvin Johnson started a few games last year, but as a hybrid outside linebacker).  If the Wolverines want to get their best four defensive backs on the field, that might be a combination of Floyd and Avery at cornerback with Woolfolk and Kovacs at safety.  Whether he’s at safety or cornerback, I’m guessing Woolfolk will be Michigan’s best defensive back.

Prediction: Starting cornerback; 45 tackles, 2 interceptions

Poll Results: You guys really disagreed with me here.  Woolfolk only got 7% of the votes, while Koger (51%), Omameh (20%), and Hemingway (17%) all had more.