Last week, we looked at the #6 and #5 most improved returning players for the 2012 season, J.T. Floyd and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Today (Thursday), we move on to Part 2 of the 3-post series to look at #4 and #3.
4. Roy Roundtree (WR)
Roy Roundtree had a very quiet 2011 season with only 19 receptions for 355 yards. Of course, he had the catch of his life in the dwindling seconds against Notre Dame, but, other than that, there really wasn't anything to show for the talent everybody knows he possesses.
In 2010, Roundtree pieced together one of the finer seasons of any WR in the Big Ten, 72 receptions, 935 yards, and that was in an offense that didn't open up too many opportunities for its wideouts. The good news is that those numbers from 2010 are cold, hard proof that he can be an X-factor on this team.
The bar was set very high for last season, but it simply didn't work out. Roundtree was a minimal factor in a very powerful offense. It's hard to pinpoint an exact cause of a collapse like that, but it is usually both a mental and physical problem. It's not completely to blame on technique or speed, but a lack of focus or confidence also can't be the sole reason.
My expectations for Roy Roundtree in 2012 are: 55-65 receptions, 800+ yards, and to turn into the go-to target on 3rd down.
55-65 receptions in 2012 is obviously not quite what we saw in 2010, but, after 19 receptions in 2011, it would be a huge step up for the senior. Denard Robinson is developing his passing game into something that will be reliable for this season, so that is already one plus on the side of all WRs. The most talented WR in the world is next to useless without an accurate ball. You can probably some of that into account from last year's mediocre performance, but it isn't everything.
One of the aspects of Roundtree's game that will be discussed most often early on is his confidence. Critics will be questioning his ability to bounce back and make a statement with this offense. Getting off to a solid start is absolutely vital for Roundtree this season.
It's very hard to predict a WR's total yardage for a season with so many factors involved, but I believe 800 is a very good number for Roundtree. He has a little better than average speed for a wideout, and hopefully Denard Robinson will be able to hand him the opportunities to create for himself after the catch. Roundtree could become the favorite target for Robinson after the departure of Junior Hemingway.
Offensive Coordinator Al Borges has a plethora of plays he can turn to on just about any 3rd down situation, and we can probably expect to see more passing with the development of Robinson's throwing game. It's very hard to piece together a solid team without having a reliable, go-to target on 3rd down. The QB needs to know he has reliable hands to help move the chains, and I expect Roy Roundtree to turn into that kind of a player for the Wolverines offense.
3. Craig Roh
Senior Craig Roh will have to be anchor of the Wolverines D-Line in 2012 with the NFL departures of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. There are a lot of questions surrounding the men up front as Michigan tries to back up an outstanding defensive performance in 2011, but one thing is certain, at least in my mind: Craig Roh will be the star up front.
The play of Roh hasn't necessarily been over-looked, but unappreciated. He wasn't your typical third best big man on the D-Line because of all the talent across the board. Roh was some sort of a brick wall up front; if the ball came within arm length, the carrier was on the ground. It was a vacuum-like performance.
The absence of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen will be deeply missed, everything from their performance to their leadership. It's going to be hard to come across another player who can replicate that. However, I am very excited to see how Craig Roh does with the spotlight on him. He's had three years to prepare for it.
My expectations for Craig Roh in 2012 are: 4-6 sacks, 25+ solo tackles, and to become the undisputed leader of the D-Line.
In 2011, Craig Roh tallied up five sacks, which I would consider pretty fair under the circumstances. 4-6 sacks doesn't seem like a step up from five, but you have to understand that he will be receiving much more attention than he is used to, becoming the number one man up front now. I would be very surprised to see anything above six, but Roh will be more than up to the challenge. After all, he spent a lot of time with a couple of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten last year. My guess is he learned a couple of things in the process.
The biggest improvement I'll be paying attention to for Roh this season is solo tackles. Especially on the D-Line, the number of solo tackles a big man is able to tack up is usually a pretty good gauge on how well he is doing. 21 solo take-downs a year ago still give Roh something to improve on. He has incredible strength, as he consumes 5,000 calories per day in order to put on weight, and then he also has something that really can't be taught: a nose for the ball. If Craig Roh is on the field, he is involved in the play.
To become the undisputed leader of the Wolverines D-Line is just as much a physical task as it is mental. Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison has broken down Roh to his very core and the proceeded to build him back up. That is what a leader is made of. Even if he under-achieves this year, that doesn't mean the jersey with "Roh" on the back can't be respected at the highest level of respect. He has invested a great deal into the rebuilding of the program, and I absolutely cannot wait to see him get in his stance for the first snap of the 2012 season.
Stay tuned for Monday, as a I reveal the #2 and #1 most improved returning players for the 2012 season in the finale of the 3-post series.