MICHIGAN

 

QUARTERBACK - Chad Henne. 2005 stats: 223-382, 2526 yards, 23 TDs, 8 INTs. Returning starter.

After a very solid freshman year, Chad Henne hit a bit of a sophomore slump. But I expect him to rebound and be one of the best quarterbacks that Notre Dame faces next season. His arm strength is top notch and as he enters his third year starting experience certainly isn't an issue. What remains to be seen is if he can improve his accuracy and touch on the shorter passes and become a trusted leader on offense. He can struggle on the road -- six of last year's seven interceptions came away from Michigan Stadium -- so that will be another obstacle for him to overcome. Still, he has the talent to make things very difficult for the Notre Dame defense in September. Depth: Redshirt freshman Jason Forcier is now the backup after 5th-year senior Matt Gutierrez transferred to Idaho State. Forcier is an extremely mobile quarterback but his passing at this point isn't probably where the coaching staff wants it to be. Forcier also hasn't appeared in a game yet, so lack of experience is also a concern. Senior career backup Jeff Kastl is another option but unlikely to push Forcier out of the backup spot.

 

RUNNING BACK - Michael Hart. 2005 stats: 150 carries, 682 yards, 4 TDs. Returning starter.

Michael Hart battled injuries all last year but if he's healthy when the Wolverines travel to South Bend, he's my pick as the top running back that the Irish will face. A starter since his freshman year, Hart has plenty of experience and has an innate ability to always get positive yards and turn something out of nothing. He also has one of the best traits you can hope for in a running back: he holds on to the ball. In 432 career carries, he has only lost one fumble. All that stands between him and a great junior year is his health. Depth: Kevin Grady did a solid job subbing for Hart last year, but didn't quite live up to the high expectations placed on the high school star. Now he's lost weight to get faster and should make an excellent 1-2 punch with Hart. Freshman speedster Carlos Brown enrolled early and did nothing but impress. The fullback position will be manned by one of three converted players. Obi Oluigbo switched from linebacker in 2003 and while he hasn't played much, might be the starting fullback in 2006. Converted defensive lineman Will Paul or converted linebacker Brian Thompson, both of whom started games at fullback last year, will fight Oluigbo for the spot.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Steve Breaston.
26 receptions, 291 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.
Mario Manningham. 27 receptions, 433 yards, 6TDs. Returning starter.

Steve Breaston returns for his final year wearing the winged helmet and is poised for a solid senior campaign. Often hobbled by injuries, the star return man seems healthy and ready to be even more of a dangerous weapon in the open field. And as with the Notre Dame game last year, look for Breaston on a number of reverses this year. Mario Manningham (right) had a breakout freshman year and if he can improve his route-running should have a great sophomore year. His 16.0 yards per catch was tops on the team and he will probably be the deep threat weapon for the Wolverines this season. Depth: There are a number of names here familiar to recruitniks, but not much in the way of experience yet. The depth chart took a hit when Antonio Bass tore his ACL in the spring. He's likely out for the entire season and definitely shouldn't be back for the ND game. Adrian Arrington is the tall target in the Michigan arsenal and if he can shake his ankle issues should be a solid #3 WR for the Wolverines. Rounding out the group are a senior, Carl Tabb, and a redshirt freshman, LaTerryal Savoy, with a fair amount of potential.

 

TIGHT END

 Tyler Ecker.
21 receptions, 285 yards, 2 TDs. Returning starter.

Tyler Ecker saw a lot of time last year as Michigan runs plenty of two tight end sets. He also notched a few number of starts when Tim Massaquoi was out with injury. Comfortable both blocking and receiving, Ecker is a versatile tight end who will see plenty of passes thrown his way. One third of all his 2005 receptions came against Notre Dame. Depth: Mike Massey isn't that big at 240 pounds and for now is more useful as a receiving tight end than a blocker. If he can improve his blocking and overall strength, he'll make a solid #2 TE for Michigan. If not, Brian Thompson is a darkhorse candidate to make a rise up the depth charts over Massey and current third-stringer Carson Butler.

OFFENSIVE LINE

 

LT - Jake Long. (#7 T) Returning starter.
LG - Adam Kraus. (#30 G) New starter.
C - Mark Bihl. (#16 C) Returning starter.
RG - Rueben Riley. (#16 G) New starter.
RT - Mike Kolodziej. (#44 T) New starter.

The normally solid Wolverine OL is in a bit of a transition year in 2006. It seems that all starting spots are still up for grabs and fall camp will determine which five actually get the starting nod. Jake Long is probably set as the left tackle and if he can stay healthy, he should finally have the big year Michigan fans expect out of him. Mark Bihl (left) took over the starting center job towards the end of last season and while he only started four games, he did play in big matchups like the Ohio State game and the bowl game against Nebraska. The other players are listed as new starters, but that's technically not the case as all do have starting experience from last year -- but it was a game here, a game there, and not always at the position they likely will be manning this season. Rueben Riley started 8 games last year, but 7 were at right tackle and 1 was at left guard. So, the starting five won't be totally new to starting, but they also won't be used to playing in this particular configuration either. Depth: Versatile Alex Mitchell will fight in fall camp for a starting spot along the right side of the line with redshirt freshman Mark Ortmann and Jeremy Cuilla adding more depth. Star OL recruit Steve Schilling might see action, but it's always hard for a freshman offensive lineman to crack the rotation early in the season.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Lamarr Woodley.
(#6 DE) - 48 tackles, 7 sacks, 14 TFL, 1 FR, 3 FF. Returning starter.
Alan Branch. (#12 DE) - 31 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF. Returning starter.
Terrance Taylor. (#60 DT) 1 tackle. New starter.
Tim Jamison. 10 tackles, 3 sacks, 3.5 TFL. New starter.

Seemingly the strength of the team this year, the Wolverine defensive line features a number of all-conference caliber players. The big name is LaMarr Woodley (pictured) who has starred as a part linebacker/defensive end at Michigan. With the new 4-3 alignment under Coach English, Woodley has very high expectations from the coaching staff and fans as a permanent defensive end. It's very possible that he will end the year as an All-America type defender. In the middle, Michigan has two huge bodies in 6-0, 305 pound Terrance Taylor and 6-6, 330 pound Alan Branch. Branch won the Michigan DL of the year award last year and the coaches are very excited about the potential of Taylor, who as a sophomore is already one of the strongest players on the team. On the other side of the line Tim Jamison is battling for the starting defensive end spot and if he takes it, will provide a pass rushing compliment to Woodley that will be hard for most teams to handle. Depth: Fighting Jamison for that DE starting spot is senior Rondell Biggs who very fast in his own right and if he can stay healthy has a very good shot at quality playing time. Will Johnson, who started one game last year, will provide depth at the tackle spot along with Marques Walton. One time ND commit Jeremy Van Alstyne might also work himself into a few snaps at defensive end.

 

LINEBACKERS

SLB - Shawn Crable.
14 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 PBU. New starter.
MLB - Dave Harris. (#12 - ILB) 88 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF. Returning starter.
WLB - Prescott Burgess. 81 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FF. Returning starter.

Another talented linebacker group, Michigan has three returning starters but one is in danger of losing his starting spot. Dave Harris returns as the middle linebacker after winning Michigan's linebacker of the year award for his play last season. A big linebacker at 6-2, 242 pounds, Harris is extremely effective against the run. Shawn Crable played himself into a starting position at the Michigan strongside position after being a backup last year. Another big 'backer, Crable is listed at 6-5, 245 pounds, which is huge for an outside linebacker. The final starter is the player with the most press, but also the one in danger of losing his starting position. Prescott Burgess (right) was honorable mention all Big-Ten last year, but might not even be the starter for the Wolverine opener against Vanderbilt. At 6-3, 245 pounds, Burgess is yet another huge linebacker giving Michigan the chance to have all three starting linebackers over 240 pounds. Depth: If Burgess is beat out, it will be by co-starter Chris Graham (#49 - ILB), who started four games last year at middle linebacker. Compared to the other players, Graham is undersized at 5'11, 225 pounds, but he is a consistent tackler and faster than Burgess in the open field. John Thompson is the main backup for Harris in the middle but the rest of the backups such as Brandon Logan and Chris McLaurin are inexperienced. Expectations were high for freshman linebacker Brandon Graham, but he has since been moved to defensive end.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

CB - Leon Hall. (#5 - CB) 61 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR. Returning starter.
CB - Charles Stewart. 4 tackles, 1 PBU. New starter.
FS - Brandent Englemon. 42 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 FR. Returning starter.
SS - Jamar Adams. (#13 - SS) 27 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU. Returning starter.

Leon Hall(right) is probably the most highly touted corner on the Irish 2006 schedule and should be in the running for All-American honors this year. He led the team in interceptions last year and is in line for a solid senior campaign. Both of his 2 sacks last year came against ND, where he was named ABC Player of the Game. Charles Stewart played in 10 games last year, but it was mainly on special teams. Now as a starter, he'll have to get ready as teams will probably throw to his man in an effort to stay away from Leon Hall. Free safety Brandent Englemon started 10 games last year, but it was as a strong safety. This year he has been shifted over to free safety, but his experience should ease the transition. Strong safety Jamar Adams came on strong during the 2nd half of the 2005 season as he started the final 6 games. Expectations are high that Adams will turn into a very good safety over his final two years of eligibility. Depth: Listed as a co-starter at free safety with Englemon is Ryan Mundy (#11 - FS), a very talented player who was lost for the year in 2005 with a shoulder injury in the first game. In 2004 he started every game at free safety so he certainly has experience. He might even regain the starting job for the ND game. Morgan Trent (#56 - CB) started five games last year at corner as a redshirt freshman and now will provide very capable backup for Leon Hall. One time ND commit Brandon Harrison has shifted back to corner from safety and now is listed as the backup to Charles Stewart along with fellow sophomore Johnny Sears.