The Inside The Game Ohio State-Michigan positional previews with BuckeyeNation’s Austin Ward and WolverineNation’s Michael Rothstein continue today with a look at perhaps the biggest question marks on the offense for both schools.
The wide receivers and tight ends.
Ward: Urban Meyer didn’t sugarcoat his assessments in the spring, and those words have surely been ringing in the ears of the targets in the passing game all summer.
Maybe the new Ohio State coach was simply trying to send a message to the receivers about how important they are in the spread offense. Perhaps Meyer is truly concerned about the talent he’s inherited at those skill positions -- or maybe it’s a combination of the two.
Regardless, after posting some of the worst receiving numbers in the country last season, the Buckeyes are counting on more from the passing game and the group already on campus is going to be responsible for the improvement.
Devin Smith and Evan Spencer both have the ability to produce on the perimeter, and Corey “Philly” Brown has emerged as a viable candidate in the hybrid pivot position thanks to his speed and elusiveness. All of them earned a starting spot coming out of spring practice, but the player that perhaps excited the most for the Buckeyes during camp was Michael Thomas. The true freshman pulled down 12 catches in the spring game -- only two fewer than the highest total anybody posted for the entire 2011 season.
But the guy who might really help the offense and quarterback Braxton Miller take off is tight end Jake Stoneburner, an invaluable security blanket with a knack for turning his catches into points. Of the senior’s 14 catches last season, half of them went for touchdowns.
Rothstein: The biggest question for Michigan this season, offensively or defensively, is who is going to catch the ball consistently for the Wolverines. The coaches have preached having confidence in fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree and junior Jeremy Gallon, but neither has the size the graduated Junior Hemingway did.
Both have had productive seasons in the past -- Roundtree caught 72 passes for 935 yards as a sophomore in 2011 and Gallon had 31 catches for 453 yards last season -- but neither has shown great consistency.
Otherwise, Michigan is staring at a bunch of unknowns. Receivers Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson and Jeremy Jackson have shown promise, but hardly ever in game situations. Incoming freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson both have the size and speed potential offensive coordinator Al Borges desires, but no experience.
Tight end, where Kevin Koger was a reliable option the past three seasons, is an even bigger question. The tight ends on the roster combine for two career catches, 28 yards and even less experience.
Fifth-year senior Brandon Moore -- once a highly-touted recruit -- is the likely starter here but otherwise the Wolverines are looking at two freshmen, Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams, and a fifth-year senior walk-on, Mike Kwiatkowski, to fill the role.
As good as Michigan’s run game may be, its receivers and tight ends could stall the offense unless they are able to identify consistent producers.