Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 Most Improved Returning Players #2 and #1

So far, we have gotten a look at #6 through #3 in the "Most Improved Returning Players" series, so it is finally time to round it off with #2 and #1.  This list is highly speculative and could be adjusted, but I think going off last season and most of the projections for next season, this list is pretty accurate.  It's important to combine both of these elements because there is always a chance to use too much of last season and a tendency to overrate some players for the next season simply because of the tendency for players to improve themselves over time.

Here is a quick look at my list before finishing this off:

6. J.T. Floyd (CB)
4. Roy Roundtree (WR)
3. Craig Roh (DE)

Without further adieu, I give you the top 2 returning players for the 2012 season.

2. Jake Ryan (LB)
Of all the names to be questioned in this segment, I feel like Jake Ryan's will receive the most question marks. After all, he had a very solid first season with the Wolverines (after taking a redshirt his freshman year). But I see so much potential in Ryan as a linebacker at Michigan. I think they intensity he brings to the team makes a world of a difference, and he has one of the biggest impacts on how the Wolverines defense performs.

Last season, as redshirt sophomore, Ryan saw his first action in the winged helmet. He did not disappoint. 37 total tackles is a great way to start off your career, and his biggest game just so happened to come in the Sugar Bowl against Virgina Tech, showing his will on the big stage. One of my favorite things about this hard-nosed linebacker is his ability to get to the ball. It doesn't really matter if the ball is on the ground or in the hands of the running back, Ryan can sniff it out with the rest of his teammates and gang up on the ball carrier.

My expectations for Jake Ryan in 2012 are: 42-45 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.

The staple for any Wolverine linebacker is the ability to bring down the ball carrier, and I expect Jake Ryan to be one of the best at it this season. He showed his ability last year, and I believe there is even more in that tank of his. Ryan has an uncanny nose for the ball. Most tackles will show as assists because of the speed of the Michigan defense, but he also has the ability to go one-on-one with the carrier and win that battle.

Jake Ryan is a very hard-hitting linebacker. He centers his force into something that could probably bring down a building. That is going to end up resulting in some forced fumbles on his part. The Wolverines had a tremendous bounce back in 2011 in terms of turnovers forced, and Jake Ryan has the potential to be the biggest part of that formula this season.

Michigan linebackers aren't known for racking up interceptions by any stretch of the imagination, but hard work can get you anything. I'm expecting one INT for Ryan this season. Last season, he tipped a pass that was then intercepted by Brandon Herron and returned 94 yards for a TD. The next step is getting both hands on the ball and not letting it go.

1. Denard Robinson (QB)
Everyone knew Denard would make it on this list one way or another. Every snap "Shoelace" takes has the potential to be the most amazing thing you've ever seen, and you simply can't teach what he does for this program. I absolutely cannot wait to see what is in store for 2012.

The Denard Robinson trademark is obviously speed. His ability to quickly accelerate and then outrun everyone on the field is what makes him so exciting. But what about the passing game? After all, Robinson's title is "quarterback." That is the area of Denard's game that has been focused on since day one of the Brady Hoke era. He and offensive coordinator Al Borges have made some tremendous strides with Robinson through the air, and it is continuing to look up as we head into the 2012 season.

15 INTs led all Big Ten quarterbacks a year ago. Part of it can be blamed on mechanics; part of it can be blamed on decision making. The biggest thing I'm looking for in Denard this season is his decision making. Going through his progressions and ultimately making the right decision is what separates this offense from the very best in the nation. Fans have their faith in Robinson to continue his development, but, most importantly, he has faith in himself. It's no secret that Denard puts a lot of pressure on himself to become the very best he can be, and that has resulted in positive outcome lately. That will surely carry on over into the 2012 season.

My expectations for Denard Robinson in 2012 are: 2,500+ passing yards, 1,000+ rushing yards, and 65%+ completion rate.

Last year, Denard actually had more than 30 less passing attempts than he did in 2010. That is to blame on the more consistent use of a running back, but it also means Denard needs to be more efficient with less attempts. Robinson is always developing his accuracy and decision making, so the final step to the process is to be able to go out on the field against a live defense and deliver for the Wolverines offense.

I'm not expecting a great statistic year from Denard on the ground, but he also set the bar very high through his first 2 years of action. I expect him to break the 1,000 yard mark once again, and there will most certainly be at least one "how did he do that" play per game, but his attempts should continue to be cut down by Al Borges. The use of Fitz Toussaint in the backfield will have a huge impact on how many cracks Robinson gets on the ground. Cutting back on attempts will also make him even more affective when he does run the ball. The defense will now have to be prepared for a developed passing game, a legitimate running back, and a running quarterback. It will be fun to watch.

The number one thing I will be watching for with Denard Robinson is completion percentage. Robinson needs to become a more efficient passer, which would in turn make everything else in that offense work even better. If he can spread the defense with his arm, it makes both him and Toussaint that much more affective on the ground. A 65% completion rate for Denard would be the best of his career at Michigan, but the best is what he expects out of himself.

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