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March 16, 2009

Offense the first priority for Michigan

Michigan's 2008 season was an adventure, if nothing else. The Wolverines had trouble adapting to new coach Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense, and the result was a 3-9 record the worst in school history and the Wolverines' first bowl-less season since 1974. The first priority this spring is getting the offense ramped up. The offensive line returns four starters, which gives hope Michigan can move the ball that is, if the Wolverines can find a quarterback.

Here's a look at the Wolverines as they prepare for the second spring under Rodriguez.

MICHIGAN AT-A-GLANCE
Running back Brandon Minor has never lived up to his high school hype, but he will have a chance to nail down a starting job this spring.
THE BASICS
Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Last season: 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten
Spring dates: March 14-April 11
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (6): WR Greg Mathews, C David Molk, G David Moosman, WR Martavious Odoms, T Mark Ortmann, T Steve Schilling.
Defense (5): FS Stevie Brown, LB Obi Ezeh, E Brandon Graham, LB Jonas Mouton, CB Donovan Warren.
Special teams (1): P Zoltan Mesko.
Positions of strength

The team's increased experience at a number of positions should help as the program continues to transition to Rodriguez's schemes and style. The squad entered 2008 with just one offensive player who had extensive starting experience. The offensive line should be appreciably better, mentally and physically. The linebackers should be solid, as well.

Help is needed

It's no secret that the Wolverines are desperate for a playmaking quarterback. Enter true freshman Tate Forcier, who enrolled early. He is a fine athlete who possesses a strong arm and nifty feet. Nick Sheridan remains after starting a handful of games in 2008, but he is limited. And don't discount true freshman Denard Robinson, who is lightning quick and arrives in the summer. There will be three new starters on the defensive line. And more playmakers also are needed at running back and wide receiver.

Keep an eye on

DT William Campbell: A five-star recruit from Detroit, Campbell must excel for a line that lost three starters, including nose tackle Terrance Taylor. Campbell already has enrolled to get a jump on learning the scheme and getting his massive 6-foot-5, 315-pound body in shape.

QB Tate Forcier: He already is a star on campus as he looks to stabilize this key position. Forcier, a San Diego native, is a threat with his feet and his arm, making him the perfect weapon for Rodriguez's spread-option attack.

RB Brandon Minor: Minor, a senior, never has lived up to his high school hype, but he will have the opportunity this spring to try to nail down the starting job. One wrist bothered him last season, but he is said to be healthy and in shape. Rodriguez's offense needs a sturdy back, and perhaps Minor can fill the role.

His time is now

It's now or never for senior free safety Stevie Brown, who excels in practice but struggles in games. Time and again, Brown gets beat for big passes, but he has the skills and talent to be one of the Big Ten's best if he can put it all together.

The buzz

There is much work to do following a horrid 3-9 season that saw Michigan miss the postseason for the first time since the 1974 season. Above all else, the offense must learn to block better, protect the ball and move the chains with consistency. New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson the former Syracuse coach has talent to work with but needs to teach his crew how to limit big plays, tackle better and play with discipline.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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