Monday, May 28, 2012

2012 Most Improved Returning Players #5 And #6

Today (Monday) begins a 3-post series that breaks down the top 6 returning players from 2011 that I think will make the largest improvements in the 2012 season. Many players improve on a yearly basis and I'm going to try to make some predictions about which players will improve the most.  There are a lot of question marks for next year's team, so this should help us get an understanding of who will be the best players for next year.

Each Monday and Thursday, I will reveal two more players. Today, we are looking at #6 and #5, Thursday we will be looking at #4 and #3 and next Monday I will be ranking #2 and the #1 most improved returning players.  Remember, this isn't necessarily the best players on the team, but the ones that will be the most improved.

6. J.T. Floyd (CB)
J.T. Floyd has been one of the most exciting players to watch develop over the past couple of years, and the improvement he has already made as a cover corner in the Big Ten is worth noting.

Floyd has made his trademark on the Michigan defense with his 1-on-1 abilities. The staple of Floyd's career at Michigan came last season in the Big House's first ever night game against Notre Dame. There was obviously the tremendous comeback in the fourth quarter, but J.T. Floyd was left 1-on-1 with Michael Floyd for most of the game and held his own. Minimizing the damage that came from the Fighting Irish all-star was a big part of that huge victory.

Floyd's biggest improvement will come in his deep coverage game. Last season, he had some trouble in defending the deep ball mainly by biting on a double move and then getting beat down the field. The good news about that is it all in the technique, which means it is easier to fix. We could also see more turnovers by way of Floyd this season. At 6-foot-1-inch, a good play on the ball could result in 3-4 INTs this season, after 2 last year.

My expectations for J.T. Floyd in 2012 are: getting better defending the deep ball, continued improvement in 1-on-1 coverage, and 3-4 INTs.

The number one key for Floyd in his improvement in defending the deep ball will be not biting so hard on the double move from receivers. Floyd is more often than not put on the opposition's best receiver in man-to-man coverage, so it will be a tough challenge. The main things I'm looking for with Floyd are recognition and reaction. Recognizing the situation and knowing what the receivers double move is going to look like, and then acting quickly enough to disrupt will be the difference.

1-on-1 coverage in the main characteristic of J.T. Floyd's play. His ability to lock in on receivers and track the ball is why this Michigan coaching staff trusts him on some of the toughest wideouts in the Big Ten, and I think he will continue to improve that aspect of his game into something lethal.

2 INTs for Floyd last year seemed average. I believe he is capable of more, and that should show in 2012. He does a nice job of breaking up passes, so the next logical step is getting two hands on the ball and not letting it go. Now, I'm not complaining about the break-ups, but it would be huge to come up with some turnovers, especially with the threats of an offense led by Denard Robinson.

5. Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB)
Fitzgerald (or "Fitz") Toussaint was the biggest offensive surprise from 2011. Al Borgess kept stressing his need to find a full-time back that could carry the ball 20-25 per game, and he got his guy about midway through the conference schedule.

Fitz Toussaint showed some potential early in the season with 80 yards in the opener against Western Michigan and then 108 yards in the blowout victory against Minnesota. But, at that time, he was getting equal opportunity with Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw. It wasn't until a 170 yard performance against Purdue that offensive coordinator Al Borges decided to stick with Toussaint through the rest of the season, and he did not disappoint.

Getting going early will be the biggest key for Toussaint next season. Consistency was never really a problem; once he was productive, he stayed productive. Obviously, getting the ground game going with a long haul, powerful back like Toussaint is what Michigan is wanting to get back to, but, at the same time, it helps out Denard Robinson in plenty of different ways. Robinson's running game can open up, he will find more 1-on-1 opportunities in the passing game, and play-action will be very affective. It's going to be exciting to see how big of an impact Fitz Toussaint can have on this Michigan offense next season.

My expectations for Fitz Toussaint are: 1,300+ rushing yards, 12 TDs, and to be reliable for 3rd and short situations.

Toussaint didn't really break into his 2011 prime until about midway through the conference season. Still, he rushed for just over 1,000 yards and punched a ticket into the end zone 9 times. If he can get started right away in 2012, I don't see any reason why 1,300 yards wouldn't be reached by the end, given he can stay healthy.

When Michigan got deep into the Red Zone last year, the most reliable play seemed to be letting Denard roll out and either dump it off or try to run it in himself. But in a perfect offense led by Al Borgess, the ball could be pounded in by the back. Fitz is turning into that kind of a player, and I think the Red Zone will be his "throne" this year. He's very strong, lets his blocks form, and has pretty good foot speed. Not to mention, he won't go down on first contact.

3rd and short is in the same boat as being as deep in the Red Zone. It used to primarily be up to Denard to find a way to move the chains, but that shouldn't be the case in 2012. Toussaint can use that same combination of power and speed in 3rd and short situations that he can use on the goal line.

Stay tuned for Thursday when I reveal the #4 and #3 most improved returning players for 2012.

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