Michigan Football: Why Rebuilding Job Will Be Uphill Battle

Joel GreerCorrespondent INovember 26, 2012

Vincent Smith (2) has plenty of company
Vincent Smith (2) has plenty of companyAndrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Regardless of Brady Hoke's successful debut in 2011, Michigan's road back from the Rich Rodriguez years is most likely two years away.

Disturbing losses to Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and now Ohio State have exposed Michigan's major weaknesses.

It's no secret that the play of both the offensive and defensive lines have been discouraging, but what's worse, the rebuilding job won't be finished overnight.

The offensive line, and particularly its run blocking, might have been the biggest problem.

Sure, Denard Robinson accumulated 1,166 rushing yards (most from the quarterback position), but the entire tailback crew of Fitz Toussaint, Vincent Smith, Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet only managed 940 yards (a per-carry average of 3.8).

It's hard to fathom that they all had subpar seasons.

What's alarming are the total rushing yards against Alabama (69), Nebraska (95) and Ohio State (108). In the loss to the Buckeyes, the tailbacks did basically nothing. Smith had five carries for 12 yards, and Rawls had five carries for two.

What's even more alarming is that this offensive line was supposed to be decent. Redshirt senior center Elliott Mealer was the only starter who hadn't played considerably. LT Taylor Lewan, LG Ricky Barnum, RG Patrick Omameh and RT Michael Schofield were all previous starters.

While the 2012 offensive line was disappointing, the 2013 line will be one huge question mark. Barnum, Omameh and Mealer graduate, while Lewan may forego his senior year for the NFL draft.


That leaves Schofield as the only returning starter, with a group of untested backups vying for playing time next spring.

The good news is that Michigan recruited several outstanding linemen in the 2012 class and expect several signings in the upcoming 2013 class. The bad news is that freshman traditionally don't become offensive line starters, even though LSU is proving people wrong with a pair this season.

The emergence of Devin Gardner late in the season probably earned him next season's starting quarterback job, but with just three or four starts behind him, a young offensive line and a similar offensive backfield, it may be mid-season before Michigan's offense is clicking. 

Defensively, Michigan's front four has been anything but "fearsome."  In 12 games this season, the line recorded 12 sacks, just one per game. 

The Wolverines lose starters Craig Roh and Will Campbell, but there's plenty of depth if not experienced talent returning. Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington will be the only seniors back next season.  

Even without Kenny Demens, Michigan should be strong again at linebacker, and likewise in the secondary with the anticipated comeback of Blake Countess at cornerback. 

Overall, Michigan could be improved next season if a few of the highly regarded youngsters step up. If not, Michigan's run for a Big Ten title will have to wait another year.