The Spring Game on Saturday served as an indication that the
football season is just around the corner … or five months
away. Regardless, with the conclusion of the winter sports season,
gridiron gossip has started to reclaim Ann Arbor, and Big House
withdrawal is in full effect (as evidenced by the 18,000 fans who
attended the light-tackling, offense vs. defense scrimmage). The
Michigan Daily takes a quick look at what to expect from next
season’s team on both sides of the ball.

Michigan Football
(TONYDING/Daily)

Offense

Michigan should have an excellent passing attack, but success
will likely depend on how it runs the football. The Wolverines
return one of the best receiving corps in the country, but are
going to have some new faces up the middle at quarterback, running
back and center. David Underwood broke a couple of big runs on
Saturday, but the running game will likely be by committee. Alabama
native Max Martin fits the profile of a Michigan running back at
6-2, 210 pounds, and he also runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. Syracuse,
N.Y., native Mike Hart ran for more touchdowns than any high school
player in history (203), but will likely be featured just in
certain situations if he plays this season because of his smaller
size (5-foot-9, 185 pounds). Sophomore Jerome Jackson looked good
on Saturday and should also compete.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Gutierrez never lost a game
in high school, and looked to have a solid grasp of the offense at
the Spring Game. Gutierrez also showed some of his mobility,
something Michigan fans haven’t seen since Drew Henson. While
redshirt freshman southpaw Clayton Richard got a number of snaps,
it’s Gutierrez’s job to lose.

Although Gutierrez will be protected by returning starters left
guard David Bass, right guard Matt Lentz and left tackle Adam
Stenavich (who was held out Saturday because of injury), there will
be someone new snapping him the ball. Senior Leo Hinge started at
center on Saturday, but junior Mark Bihl may also compete for the
position.

The Rock

If there is one thing the Wolverines do not have to question,
it’s their receivers. Braylon Edwards’s announcement on
Detroit television that he would return for his senior season
solidified an outstanding returning group of Edwards, Jason Avant,
Steve Breaston and Carl Tabb. Incoming freshmen Doug Dutch and
Adrian Harrington could also receive some playing time if they do
not redshirt. Edwards’s return means that Gutierrez or
Richard will have favorable matchups to throw to all over the
field, as Avant and Breaston will likely face single coverage. This
will make the new quarterback’s job much easier.

Breakout player

On the field after the Spring Game, David Underwood compared his
upcoming battle to start at running back to a gazelle being chased
by a lion every day in Africa. Underwood never solidified himself
as the true backup to Chris Perry last season, but he ran on
Saturday like he has to potential to start. It was difficult for
Underwood to show all the strides he has made in Spring Practice on
Saturday because there was no tackling. But Perry improved
immensely between his junior and senior seasons, so there’s
hope that Underwood can do the same.

Defense

Two words best describe the Wolverines’ defense:
experience and speed.

Michigan has eight players on The Michigan Daily’s
projected No. 1 squad that started at least one game last season.
And many players that saw regular action in all 13 games are back
in 2004. Michigan returns its leader in tackles (Lawrence Reid with
82), leader in sacks (Pierre Woods with seven), leader in tackles
for losses (Woods with 14) and leader in interceptions (Leon Hall
with three).

This athletic crew may be the fastest defense Michigan’s
ever had. Defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann introduced many new
schemes to his players during spring practice. With two experienced
cover corners — Marlin Jackson and Markus Curry — and a
speedy front seven, the Wolverines should enjoy great success
blitzing and apply frequent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

With Jackson moving back to corner, sophomore Ryan Mundy —
one of plenty talented underclassmen in the secondary —
worked with the starting defense at free safety in the Spring
Game.

Young linebackers Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess, who came to
Michigan as a safety, worked with the second defense on Saturday.
But both players look to see significant time. Incoming freshman
Tim Jamison could make an instant impact. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder
boasts a 4.8 40-yard dash.

The Rock

After playing free safety last season in order to give Michigan
an opportunity to start its four most talented defensive backs,
Marlin Jackson moves back to the position where he earned second
team All-America honors from the Associated Press in his sophomore
season. Having made 27 starts over three years, the senior is tied
with Baas for most career starts. In 2002, Jackson had three
interceptions and set a Michigan record with 18 pass breakups at
corner. But, Jackson will be hard-pressed producing numbers
anywhere close to those achieved in his sophomore season —
the Sharon, Penn., native’s reputation will force opposing
quarterbacks to look away from him. Jackson carries the swagger of
a talented cover corner, as he referred to himself as “the
best corner in the country” following Michigan’s 28-14
Rose Bowl loss to USC.

Breakout Player

A USA TODAY high school first-team All American and
Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2002, LaMarr
Woodley came into Ann Arbor as one of the nation’s top
recruits. And he didn’t upset, recording 23 tackles, 4
tackles for loss and two sacks. The 6-foot-2, 268-pound specimen
played in all 13 games last season, and started two at defensive
end as a true freshman. “Wood” had his best game
against Minnesota, using his noticeable speed on the Metrodome turf
to compile nine tackles, including one tackle for loss. Looking to
start at outside linebacker, the light-footed 19-year-old boasts
sheer power and explosiveness off the edge that’s rare for a
player of his age.

2004 Michigan Schedule

Date      Opponent
          Location

Sept. 4   Miami (Ohio)
     Ann Arbor

Sept. 11 Notre Dame       South
Bend

Sept. 18 San Diego State  Ann Arbor

Sept. 25 Iowa
                 Ann
Arbor

Oct. 2    Indiana
             Bloomington

Oct. 9    Minnesota
         Ann Arbor

Oct. 16  Illinois
             
Champaign

Oct. 23  Purdue
             West
Lafayette

Oct. 30  Michigan State   Ann Arbor

Nov. 13 Northwestern     Ann Arbor

Nov. 20 Ohio State
        Columbus

 

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