It's typical during fall camp to hear a rumor about a catastrophic injury to a key starter, but most reports prove fictitious. On Tuesday, the gossip out there - a major injury to senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk - however, was confirmed by Michigan, sending a tidal wave through the Maize and Blue …
Woolfolk's injury may force him to miss the entire season, sources have informed TheWolverine.com, though the severity has not been confirmed nor denied by U-M. Head coach Rich Rodriguez may issue a further statement than the one he announced this evening, citing the lower-body injury that resulted in a trip to the hospital, or he may wait until his press conference Thursday.
With offensive coordinator Calvin Magee set to speak to the media Wednesday, though, (and with our sources digging) it is likely you'll know more soon.
Regardless of when the Wolverines confirm the injury, and regardless of whether the injury knocks Woolfolk out for a month, six weeks or (worst-case scenario) the entire year, the news is devastating. The senior was expected to be Michigan's top cover corner this fall and was set to lend experience to a secondary that will introduce new full-time starters at corner (redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd) and safety (likely redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon).
Now, Michigan must find a third starter and pray that Floyd, who had settled quite nicely into that second cornerback role, has the moxie to step up even more while keeping their fingers crossed that one of two true freshmen - Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery - or senior James Rogers, can somehow provide enough in an effort to stem opposing quarterbacks from simply gashing the U-M defensive backfield.
And make no mistake, that will be a very tall order.
So how did we get here? How does one injury, to a player with six career starts at cornerback, seemingly cripple a team and put the likelihood of a winning season and definitive progress in Rodriguez's third season in doubt?
It really has been a perfect storm, and began in the summer of 2009 when reports began emerging that cornerback Boubacar Cissoko, who had just come off an impressive spring, had disappointed his coaches with his commitment to academics during spring and summer semesters.
Cissoko, a freak athlete that played far more physically than his 5-8 stature, started for the Wolverines in 2009 but struggled against elite receivers while also struggling off the field. It was the latter that led to his first suspension and subsequent dismissal, and which forced Woolfolk to switch from safety to cornerback midway through the season.
It didn't help that highly-touted freshman Justin Turner, a four-star from Massillon, Ohio, had arrived to fall camp out of shape after spending the summer trying desperately to qualify academically. Turner redshirted with the promise that he would compete for a starting job in 2010. The only problem? He didn't show the commitment, in the weight room, the film room and at practice, to make that a reality.
Failing to see that Rodriguez's way was the only way to see the field this fall, Turner asked for his release and was granted the opportunity to pursue a new school just last week.
I wrote a column shortly thereafter that Turner's departure would not impact Michigan on the condition that Woolfolk and Floyd stay healthy this year because they would receive the vast majority of snaps at the two cornerback positions.
But his exit now appears a crushing blow. Maybe Turner never would have taken advantage of his chance but sometimes a star talent just needs that final push or that feeling of playing hero to rise up. He would have suddenly found himself in that role, but he's gone.
Michigan's cornerback depth of course took a hit months earlier (actually twice) when All-Big Ten performer Donovan Warren opted to forego his final year of eligibility for a shot in the NFL. He wasn't drafted and is trying to make the New York Jets as a free agent.
At the time, U-M's coaches felt it could survive Warren's choice because of Woolfolk's emergence, confidence in Floyd and an expectation they would sign an elite cornerback recruit. And they did - four-star Floridian Demar Dorsey.
There was only one problem; Dorsey had experienced brushes with the law and also lacked the test scores and grades to earn enrollment to Michigan. Earlier this summer, it became apparent Dorsey - rated a five-star by ESPN.com - would not wear the winged helmet, putting even more pressure on those that would to produce.
(As a side note, another recruit the coaches were high on - Adrian Witty - twice failed to qualify in the Class of 2009 and 2010).
So there you have it. The perfect storm. And it couldn't have come at a worse time. Michigan has to win football games this fall to guarantee the remaining suites and club seats at The Big House are gobbled up, to appease fans and alumni tired of back-to-back losing seasons and postseason absences.
Woolfolk's injury will put even more pressure on an offense that is expected to begin the season with a first-time starter under center (sophomore Denard Robinson) and on other units and positions defensively.
Gordon, or sophomore Vlad Emilien if he wins the job, for instance, will be afforded very little grace period to be an effective safety. With Woolfolk gone, U-M's free safety will likely be called on to offer tremendous help to the cornerback positions, and as first-time starters themselves, that's asking a lot of Gordon or Emilien.
This loss also puts a greater onus on Michigan's front seven to get to the quarterback, creating that havoc up front that will force the QB to make quick decisions. Of course, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson must also weigh when to blitz and how aggressive to be knowing his secondary could be exposed without help.