- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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New Year’s Eve is always a fun time to set goals for the next 365 days. A lot of times those resolutions seem unrealistic -- like going to the gym every day or competing for national championships every year.
But with such a frustrating year for Team 134, it seems the best time to bring this chapter to a close and start looking forward to the next. Who knows if the team will be able to stick to these resolutions, but it’s a fun start. Happy New Year.
1. Figure out an offensive line during fall camp. Considering what happened last season -- the shuffling of the five linemen for not only fall camp but also nearly 10 games of the season -- this is at a premium. Devin Gardner and Derrick Green proved it in the Ohio State game: The offense can get going if the offensive line plays together. So whatever they need to do to get their five best on the field by the first game next season needs to happen.
2. Actually follow through on becoming a pro-style offense. Or at least admit your identity. This is Brady Hoke and Al Borges’ New Year's resolution that they’ve been saying forever, but it always gets pushed back. You know, you always find something that’s slightly more important. But, it’s year four. Now is the time. Figure out whether you really want to sit in that “pro-style box,” and if you do, go for it and commit. Otherwise, feel free to color outside the lines, but call it as it is. Honesty is key in these resolutions.
3. Replace Taylor Lewan with another player who gives funny quotes. Michigan has a way of making sure its players have taglines they always use (e.g. This is Michigan, the expectation for the position is, fundamentals and techniques). However, Lewan always brought some color to interviews, or, as he once referred to it ... sprinkles. With Lewan gone, someone needs to bring the sprinkles to the news conferences. Possible front-runners include Kyle Kalis, Joe Kerridge and Kenny Allen.
4. Explain “the expectation for the position.” Again … these taglines. Since Hoke got to campus, he has asked players to play up to the expectation of the position. So, what exactly is the expectation? “To play like a Michigan Man.” Follow up: How does a Michigan Man play? “Up to expectation of the position.” Basically, it’d be nice to actually get a definition of these cloudy words. Is this statistically based? Should a linebacker get X amount of tackles? Should a running back have X yards per carry? Should the offensive linemen all have beards? We need clarity in our New Year's resolutions. This seems like a good place to start.
5. Open up the QB competition. Shane Morris' one game definitely opened some eyes. He still has the issues of a freshman QB: good arm, lacking some touch. But an offseason should help that. On top of those factors, Wilton Speight is early enrolling, will be on campus for spring ball and fits a pro-style offense perfectly (see No. 2), and Gardner will be back for his fifth year. Why not really open up the competition for these three guys and may the best man win -- whether it be a true freshman, a sophomore or a fifth-year senior.
6. Reassure recruits. The final two performances of the season weren’t exactly promising or exciting for anyone associated with the program. For some recruits and commits, that might’ve actually been good because with as many holes as there were on the field, they can probably see themselves getting early playing time. But for other players who committed to Michigan because they thought there’d be good competition or they imagined themselves playing for national titles, the Ohio State and Kansas State games were likely quite disappointing. So, whatever phone calls or conversations need to be had, make sure those happen so that there aren’t any surprises come signing day.
7. Really examine the staff. There were too many breakdowns this season to believe it was just a fluke. The issues that were on the team remained all season long. Hoke needs to look at who’s on the payroll and decide if it really was an issue of the athletes failing to execute or whether it comes back to coaches failing to really get the best of their players or coaching them well enough. If the answer is the latter, moves need to be made.
8. Let Jake Ryan run defensive winter workouts. Ryan’s return to the field was pretty incredible this season. The commitment it took to come back from an ACL injury while still leading the team shows what kind of a player he is, and he seems to have the utmost respect from all of his teammates. Winter workouts are obviously optional, but if Ryan can get the defensive core to follow his lead and get them in the field house, the weight room, the film room, wherever they need to be and if he can get them to work like he works, then this defense will improve. Greg Mattison might not be able to be on every player all the time, but if this defense can have three or four Jake Ryans this spring and next fall, it’ll be far better off.
4dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
5dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
6dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman