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April 30, 2010

Spring revelations: Hopkins should play

When Michigan's seven freshmen enrolled early this past winter, everyone assumed quarterback Devin Gardner or wide receiver Ricardo Miller would be the best bet to play a big role in the fall. But classmate Stephen Hopkins actually appears the most likely to do so
Most Improved

A show of hands (and be honest) for those that thought sophomore Denard Robinson would primarily be playing quarterback at the end of spring practice? No one. A few in the back ... that's what I thought. The truth is, almost no one outside of Schembechler Hall could have predicted that Robinson would remain at QB and would develop as significantly in one spring as the Deerfield Beach, Fla., native did. The notion that he'll play running back or receiver in the fall garners laughter now. Robinson has improved his pocket presence, his decision-making and his accuracy while maintaining his electricity when carrying the football. But the easy part is over. Now he has to prove himself on game days.

Spring practice always provides a great opportunity for young players, especially redshirt freshmen that have yet to see the field, to improve and showcase their budding potential. We saw a number of redshirt freshmen move up the depth chart this spring, but perhaps none more convincingly than Taylor Lewan. The left tackle, now over 280 pounds on his way to 300 and known for his nasty attitude, will likely supplant fifth-year senior Perry Dorrestein as the starter at one bookend. Physical, and becoming even stronger as he continues to push himself in the weight room, Lewan is also extremely quick and has the ideal makeup to provide protection to the blindside of U-M's quarterbacks.
Breakout Starter In 2010

It's amazing how quickly redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh made us forget that he's still very young in terms of experience. The Columbus, Ohio, native started three games a year ago after rising up the depth chart steadily throughout the 2009 campaign. Possessing nimble feet suited for every run-blocking situation and the upper body strength and hands to ward off the defensive tackles attempting to force their way into the backfield, Omameh could emerge one of Michigan's top offensive linemen in 2010. And the best news of all? The redshirt sophomore talent is still very raw with a huge learning curve continually being tapped by the Wolverines' coaches.
Could Be Starting By Oct. 1

It was an unimpressive spring overall from Michigan's running backs, with junior Michael Shaw barely taking the lead over redshirt sophomore Michael Cox and redshrit freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint. The latter had good days and bad days and didn't quite look like the next coming of Mike Hart (as he was billed). However, Toussaint had a severe shoulder injury last fall and needs a bit more time before he'll feel like his old self again. The Youngstown, Ohio, native did show the ability to make guys miss, hit the home run, catch out of the backfield and block. If Shaw should struggle in the fall and if sophomore Vincent Smith takes more time than expected to return from ACL surgery, Toussaint could be the starter by October.

Lewan wasn't the only redshirt freshman offensive lineman creating a stir with his play this spring. Michael Schofield might not have generated as much buzz when he signed with the Wolverines or compared to Lewan this spring, but those who saw him consistently are confident the Illinois native is on the brink of playing time. As Lewan battles Dorrestein, and might have the edge after the fifth-year senior missed time with back trouble, Schofield is squaring off with redshirt junior Mark Huyge, who won't cede his spot without a heated battle. It's like Huyge starts the season but if he starts slowly or if an injury arises, Schofield will be waiting in the wings ready for his moment.
Freshmen Expected To Contribute In 2010

Stephen Hopkins is going to play this fall. To what degree and in which role ... those are the questions. The early-enrolled freshman wasn't as inconsistent as many of his veteran teammates in the Michigan offensive backfield, holding onto the football, blocking like an offensive lineman and carrying the ball with the ferociousness of a seasoned tailback. Hopkins will, at the very least, see opportunities in short-yardage situations or near the goal line. He could work his way into even more chances if he produces when given the rock. Hopkins may not be a home-run hitter, but he can move the chains and he reminds some of Brandon Minor, giving the spread offense a toughness quotient it needs.

Looking at the numbers, no other position has as many freshmen making up its total than at outside wide receiver where three rookies represent 50.0 percent of Michigan's six bodies. Redshirt junior Junior Hemingway, junior Darryl Stonum and redshirt sophomore Roy Roundtree are all experienced and will earn the starting assignments for the Maize and Blue, but the spread offense places a great emphasis on depth and all three of U-M's rookies should see the field. Of the three, Jerald Robinson showed the best hands, route-running , strength and ability to make every catch required.
Most Valuable Player

Tate Forcier wants you to know something: he's not giving his starting job away without a fight. True, the sophomore signal-caller did not have as good of a spring as his classmate, Denard Robinson, but he didn't regress either like so many assume. Forcier looked a lot like he did in 2009, capable, masterful sometimes, but prone to mistakes and turnovers. That won't be good enough to beat out Robinson in the fall, and Forcier knows it. Make no mistake, though, if he puts it all together and wins the starting job, Forcier has what it takes to direct this offense to success, and with no other strong candidates, he would be the likely MVP.

If it's Denard Robinson under center, it's not impossible to think of a scenario in which he throws for 1,500 yards and 12-15 touchdowns and rushes for an additional 750 yards and 12 touchdowns. It's a fun possibility to consider. Of course, there will be plenty of bad that comes with all the good Robinson does. That's to be expected considering he has never started a game for Michigan and will face 12 defensive coordinators and 12 defenses eager to expose his weaknesses.

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