ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan has one game before the brunt of its schedule starts, and the Wolverines have a lot of areas to work on.
Offensive line. Defensive line. Tackling. Running the ball well with someone other than Denard Robinson.
The WolverineNation crew discusses those issues, Brady Hoke’s no-visit-after-commitment policy and more in this week’s WolverineNation roundtable.
With Notre Dame looming next week, what area of Michigan’s game do you need to see the most improvement from against UMass?
Michael Rothstein: Michigan’s running backs. While Denard Robinson is an amazing player, Michigan has also seen the results for Robinson when he becomes the entirety of the offense -- and it usually ends with him missing parts of games. So Fitzgerald Toussaint and Co. need to figure out a way to establish themselves against UMass to help going forward.
Tom VanHaaren: Michigan's schedule has been pretty odd so it has been difficult to pinpoint one area. The Wolverines faced two completely different styles of offense but in both games the defensive lines have had issues. I know it's difficult to gauge against Air Force because of the midline option, but it just seems that Michigan's defensive line needs to improve in order for the defense to be successful this season.
Chantel Jennings: The offensive line needs to get some push. Whether it's Fitzgerald Toussaint or Thomas Rawls or Justice Hayes, Michigan's O-line needs to get yards for a running back. Michigan needs to get a running back going, and a lot of that falls on the offensive line and its cohesion. I haven't been too impressed by those five guys yet, and if they continue to struggle and Robinson is the only player who gets yards, it's going to be a very, very long Big Ten season.
Between Pharaoh Brown last season and rumors of David Dawson in the past and now Gareon Conley contemplating his situation, what do you think of Brady Hoke's no-visit-after-commitment policy?
MR: The policy preaches accountability to an athlete’s decision, however that is one of the reasons I am not a massive fan of it as well. The minds of teenagers change. Things happen. And what a player sees as a final decision at age 16 might be vastly different than February after his senior year of high school. Players are committing earlier than ever and it could force some into decisions they think they are ready to make but are not completely ready to make. Don’t know if there is gray-area flexibility, but there probably should be as long as everyone is up front with one another. I’d rather have a commit who is even more sold after wavering than one who is concerned about losing an offer if he takes a peek somewhere else.
TVH: I think the no-visit policy has worked well for Michigan. There have been a few guys out of many who have said they want to visit after committing. Pharaoh Brown so far is the only one who has taken visits out of 48 commitments between the 2012 and 2013 classes. That's a pretty good track record, and I think the policy has actually helped them keep prospects committed. I think it goes right along with how they recruit and what they want out of their commitments, so I think it's a good policy.
CJ: I'm surprised more coaches don't use the no-visit policy. It helps to retain commits, and it's a part of Hoke's program to teach these players how to be responsible, mature adults. I think a verbal commitment is something that should be held (there are situations that require otherwise, I know), but I think allowing a player to make a verbal to your school and then saying, "If you want to use other visits to double- or triplecheck that this is really what you want," doesn't really fit into the strict, straight program that Hoke is trying to run.
Through two weeks, what has surprised you the most about Michigan?
MR: Dennis Norfleet. While the coaches raved about his ability on returns when they signed him in February and again throughout August, hearing about it and actually seeing it are two different things. Norfleet may not have a role in the Michigan offense -- at least for now -- but as he continues to learn about the return game in college, he is only going to become better and more of an asset.
TVH: I know there were concerns about the defense going in, so that's not all that surprising to me. I think seeing some of the freshmen playing so well is probably somewhat surprising. They were all recruited for a reason, and they're all very talented football players but it usually takes a little bit to adjust to the speed of the game and the college level. Joe Bolden and James Ross specifically seem to be sticking out as guys that could be big contributors this year. Since the linebacker corps was a strength it's somewhat surprising that those guys could already be in competition to play.
CJ: I knew Hoke was going to play freshmen. I didn't think he'd play this many freshmen. I had my money on linebacker Joe Bolden and defensive lineman Ondre Pipkins, but the fact he has played 12 true freshmen (and many during crunch time) through the first two games has really surprised me. And honestly, if defensive lineman Chris Wormley and linebacker Kaleb Ringer hadn't gotten hurt, I think they'd be seeing reps, too. It's a youth movement and there will be a learning curve now, but in two to three years, this team will be very, very dangerous.