March 19, 2012

Analysis: Khoury's departure will impact the most

Michigan began spring practice over the weekend with four fewer players than many expected, with head coach Brady Hoke announcing four seniors eligible for a fifth year would not be returning in 2012. Of the four, center Rocko Khoury's absence will impact the most ...

OL Rocko Khoury: Hoke said on Friday that the four soon-to-be graduates - Khoury, tailback Michael Cox, long snapper George Morales and wide receiver Terrence Robinson - all made this decision on their own, and while it makes sense for Cox and Morales, and even a little for Robinson, Khoury still had a legitimate chance to start for the Maize and Blue in 2012 with the departure of starting center David Molk.

A 6-4, 287-pounder, Khoury had played considerably at center against Iowa in 2010 when Molk suffered an injury, and was tabbed as the starter against Virginia Tech in last season's Sugar Bowl before Molk forced his way onto the field following U-M's first possession. While it seemed that classmate Ricky Barnum was the staff's first choice to replace Molk next year, that battle had been far from decided and Khoury could have at least posed a strong competitor this spring and into fall camp.

From a depth standpoint, Khoury's departure is an even greater risk to Michigan. With Khoury no longer in the fold, U-M is down to just five linemen with playing experience - Barnum, fifth-year seniors Patrick Omameh and Elliott Mealer, and redshirt juniors Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Omameh (right guard), Lewan (left tackle) and Schofield (left guard transitioning to right tackle) are returning starters.

The Maize and Blue are also counting on redshirt freshmen Chris Bryant (left guard) and Jack Miller (center), but even if both of those two are ready to contribute, that leaves Michigan with seven "veterans." At the very least, three true freshmen will have to make the two-deep (unless a few walk-ons are ready to help) and it seems a strong possibility now that someone like five-star Kyle Kalis will be one snap away from seeing the field in 2012, wasting a potential redshirt campaign that will bite U-M down the road.

Had Khoury returned, he held the capabilities to contribute at both guard posts and center. In his wake, both Mealer (all five spots) and Miller (guard and center) will have to expand their repertoires while the Wolverines will have to hope they prove as healthy along the offensive line as they were in 2011 when only one starter (Barnum, who later ceded his post to Schofield) missed significant time due to injury.

WR Terrance Robinson: Robinson was a huge get for the Wolverines in the Class of 2008, a speedy, four-star athlete from Texas that was supposed to be the slot receiver that would flourish in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. But a leg injury during fall camp of his freshman year sidelined him for his entire rookie campaign and left him timid and a shell of his former self for the better part of two years. In his place, Martavious Odoms became Rodriguez's go-to slot receiver and then Roy Roundtree.

Robinson appeared out of nowhere for the 2010 season opener, catching a 43-yard pass up the seam of the defense as he showed off his electric speed and soft hands, and the catch gave promise that he could still become a key contributor. But Robinson never again caught a pass and was relegated to a role on special teams for his junior and senior seasons. Still, he found a way to chip in, forcing a key fumble on a Nebraska kickoff return in last season's victory.

Could Robinson have been more than that in 2012? Perhaps, but even if he never saw the field as a receiver, he still proved his worth on special teams and could have been an asset on kickoff and punt coverage. If Robinson aspired for more, though, he can take advantage of a new NCAA bylaw that allows college graduates to play immediately after transferring if they take graduate classes.

But Robinson might have had that chance for the Wolverines next fall on a roster depleted at the receiver position. Roundtree is back for a fifth year and is one of only two U-M wideouts - redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon is the other - with more than 15 career receptions. Michigan is also counting on juniors Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson, and redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, who have combined for 17 catches. True freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will also vie for playing time when they arrive.

RB Michael Cox: Cox was originally a Lloyd Carr recruit, and in that mold as a 6-0, 214-pound tailback, but was re-recruited by Rodriguez and given the opportunity to compete for playing time. Unfortunately, Cox could never grasp the nuances of the Michigan offense, neither for Rodriguez or Hoke, and couldn't earn the coaching staff's trust especially in third-down situations in which he needed to serve as a bodyguard for U-M's quarterback.

Cox showed some flashes of his natural talent, rushing for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries (8.9 yards per rush) in blowouts of Eastern Michigan and Delaware State in 2009 and Bowling Green in 2010. However, at a position loaded with talent and experience, Cox was doomed by his inability to comprehend and put into practice his responsibilities.

In 2012, with 1,000-yard rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint back for his redshirt junior campaign, senior Vincent Smith a reliable third-down back, and burgeoning talents in sophomore Thomas Rawls and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes, there just wasn't room for Cox to contribute outside of special teams.

LS George Morales: Recruited by Carr and signed by Rodriguez, Morales was expected to compete at long snapper but never saw game action in his four seasons. The Wolverines are moving on with the departure of starter Tom Pomarico to heir Jareth Glanda.

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