A REVIVED RUNNINGGAME AND A MORE ASSERTIVE QB GIVE THE LEANER, MEANER WOLVERINES MORE BITE
2005 RECORD 7-5(5-3 in Big Ten)
August 20, 2006
KEY RETURNEES RBMike Hart (Jr.) Rushed for 1,455 yards as a freshman but was slowed by ankleand hamstring injuries in '05 and gained only 662 WR Mario Manningham (Soph.)Made 27 catches for 433 yards and six touchdowns as the third receiver lastyear CB Leon Hall (Sr.) Had a team-high four interceptions and nine passbreakups
BIG MAN ON CAMPUSA terror on a talented front four, 6'2", 268-pound defensive end LaMarrWoodley led the team last year in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (16). Heracked up most of those takedowns in the first seven games, then played in fourmore with a deep bruise on his right forearm that required heavy padding. Withhis injury healed, Woodley will wreak even more havoc as a senior thisfall.
No Wolverine'sreputation took a bigger hit last season than quarterback Chad Henne's. Afreshman All-America in 2004, when he threw for 2,743 yards and 25 touchdowns,he tried to carry most of the offensive load after injuries to Mike Hart andtackle Jake Long crippled the rushing attack. Though Henne had 23 touchdownpasses and only eight interceptions, he was inconsistent and, at times,ineffective--most notably in a 17--10 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 10, when heconnected on just 19 of 44 throws.
As the lossesmounted, so did speculation that Henne's brilliant freshman year had beenlargely due to the gifted hands and nifty footwork of Biletnikoff Award winnerBraylon Edwards. But a few incompletions aren't enough to turn a Big Ten powerinto a 7-5 also-ran. Says coach Lloyd Carr, "There was a lot more to [howwe finished] than the way Chad was playing."
Still, the6'2", 223-pound Henne took the criticism to heart and spent a healthy chunkof the off-season working exclusively with his receiving corps. Carr has madeit clear that he wants his quarterback to be more assertive in the huddle, andHenne has already taken steps to address that. "I'm not just leaving thereceivers to the coaches anymore," he says. "I'm trying to take overthe offense." He'll have no shortage of targets to throw to, includingMario Manningham, a budding star, and 6'6", 247-pound senior tight endTyler Ecker. If Hart can stay healthy, Michigan's offense should resemble theunit that ranked second in scoring in the Big Ten in 2004 rather than lastyear's squad, which was the league's third-worst.
Carr has beeninstilling a sense of urgency since the Wolverines' 32-28 loss to Nebraska inthe Alamo Bowl last December. He replaced longtime defensive coordinator JimHerrmann with secondary coach Ron English, who is under orders to build a moreaggressive unit. While the defense gets meaner, Carr instructed the offense toget leaner. "We need to be quicker," he says. Several players arenoticeably slimmer, including the 6'7", 316-pound Long, who dropped 20pounds during the off-season. Even Henne--not exactly beefy to begin with--hasshed 10 pounds since last winter as a sign of solidarity. "Our team has abond now," Henne says. "Last year there wasn't a whole lot ofleadership out there. Now, guys are quiet in the huddle when I'mtalking."