NCAA Football News
The Michigan Wolverines are the No. 17 ranked team in the nation, with excitement building as head coach Brady Hoke and his staff prepare for life without playmaker Denard Robinson. Whether he was at quarterback or running back, Robinson was a weapon, a threat to score every time the ball was in his hand.
Now, in 2013, without Robinson, the Wolverines are in need of another weapon.
A look up and down the roster shows names like Fitzgerald Toussaint, Thomas Rawls, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo as the leading returners for Michigan. Toussaint and Rawls on the ground, Gallon and Dileo through the air.
Quality players, but not guys that defenses scheme to stop on an every play basis. Not guys that create mismatches and put stress on a defense because of their athleticism and talent. Solid college football players but not the fear-striking ballplayer that keeps defensive coordinators up at night.
Enter sophomore tight end Devin Funchess. The 6'5", 235-pound second-year player caught just 15 balls for 234 yards, but led the team in receiving touchdowns with five scores. Funchess is the weapon. Funchess is the nightmare for defenses.
Funchess is the answer to the Wolverines' search for a playmaker.
After spending the offseason working on blocking to make himself an every down player, as AnnArbor.com points out, Funchess is poised to breakout. He will be on the field for run downs and pass downs, and that means defenses will have a more difficult time handling what he brings to the table.
And that's a good thing for Toussaint, Rawls, Gallon, Dileo, offensive coordinator Al Borges and the entire Michigan offense.
Tight end is the "it" position on the football field. The rise of the flex-move-H-back type players has created a problem for defenses, especially when those players are active in both the run and the pass game.
For defensive coordinators the problem comes in the form of sub-packages. When Michigan is in 21 (2 RBs, 1 TE), 22 (2 RBs, 2 TEs) or 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs) personnel, the normal move from defensive coaches is to keep base people in, because these are largely running personnel groups. As you can see here, run personnel plus a play-action fake gets linebackers and safeties creeping towards the line and creates space for Funchess to operate.
Here you see Michigan in 12 personnel, a heavy run set, and again, play-action makes the defense look foolish. The linebacker crashes to the run as Funchess sneaks out, leaving him wide open in the middle, an easy throw for most quarterbacks.
Thanks to the offseason, where Funchess improved his blocking to be an every down player, the sell of play-action will be easier on the entire Michigan offense. Defenders will have to slow the crashing into the box for the run. Linebackers and safeties will have to find and keep eyes on Funchess as they also try to stop the run game.
In that aspect Funchess helps open up the offense. Either defenders react in slower fashion to run, because of the possibility of the fake, or they fly into the box and give Gardner his tight-end target open with plenty of room to run.
The other area where Al Borges should have a field day with Funchess is in true to form, passing situations. On third-and-mediums or third-and-long situations, Funchess should be the first-down producer for the Wolverines, because he is such a difficult athlete to cover.
The sophomore is bigger than just about every defensive back in the country and he is faster than most linebackers that he will face. That creates a problem in zone and man-to-man coverages. Even when Funchess is not open on a safety or a nickel back, he is open; put the ball up in the air and let the big kid go up for the rebound.
That versatility gives Borges free reign to move the sophomore around, much in the way Notre Dame used Tyler Eifert. The kid can line up all over the field and remain effective. Line him up inside. Line him up outside. Line him up on the line. Line him up off the line. Send him in motion from inside to the outside. Send him in motion from the outside to the inside.
Move Devin Funchess around to get the mismatch in the passing game that the Wolverines are looking for on a given play.
Now, as an every down type player, Funchess should be the guy, the weapon, for the Wolverines in 2013. Being able to lineup all over the field is going to open things up for the sophomore. The threat of play-action to the tight end will help loosen up added bodies in the run game. The success of catching balls through the middle of the defense will open up the wide receivers on the outside.
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Most Big Ten football teams are returning their key players, as 10 teams return at least 13 starters. This is a perfect opportunity for squads to mix in freshmen to help them mature under veteran players. A combination of youth and experience can lead to a conference title and a possible national championship bid.
Every team in this conference will count on a mixture of freshmen, while some teams are expected to start a few first-year players.
There are three freshmen running backs to keep an eye on, as well as an offensive lineman in Ann Arbor who has All-Big Ten potential.
The 2013 season is sneaking closer and closer, and BYU's fall camp is in its second week. Already, it has become apparent that several players are rising above our expectations, and others are fading below.
For many transfers and freshmen, this is their first opportunity to practice with the team in front of the Cougar coaching staff. If they performed well, and exceeded our assumptions, their stock has gone up. If not, and they have failed to impress, their stock went down.
Here is the fall camp stock report at this point of camp.
The Michigan football team had its first fall practice last week, and its season opener against Central Michigan is just over two weeks away.
According to ESPN's Big 10 Blog, Michigan will return only 12 starters (six on both offense and defense) from last year's team.
This means that there will be many new faces at key starting spots for Michigan.
After a disappointing 8-5 season last year, the Wolverines will need some of their new starters to step up in a big way if they're going to contend in the always-competitive Big 10.
Competition for those starting nods will rage throughout fall camp.
Here's a look at three position battles that will have a huge impact on Michigan's upcoming season.
The competition to be the starting running back for the Wolverines is between senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and freshman Derrick Green.
Toussaint looks like the frontrunner thus far, even though he is recovering from a broken leg suffered at the end of last season.
Michigan's running backs coach even told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that he thinks Toussaint "will be better" coming off the injury.
Green has been limited in practice thus far, but he undoubtedly has the ability to challenge for the starting job.
He was ESPN's fifth ranked running back recruit last year, and they noted that he is "ready to make the college jump."
If he gets healthy soon, Green could give Toussaint a run for the starting RB gig.
It should be noted that Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News reported that head coach Brady Hoke has praised other running backs Thomas Rawls, Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes for their production in practice.
Still, these backs look like complimentary types rather than lead runners.
How this competition shakes out in the coming weeks will have a huge impact on the Wolverines' season.
Elliott Mealer was last year's starter at center, but he has since moved on to the NFL.
This year, competition to start at the position will come between sophomores Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow.
Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com called Miller the favorite early in camp, but Hoke has since said that Glasgow is right there with him.
With no clear favorite, center may have less clarity than any other position for this team.
Miller started the spring game in April and appeared in six games as a reserve last season, while Glasgow is a walk-on, so Miller certainly has the advantage there.
That limited experience may be enough for Hoke to make Miller the starter for the season opener, but there's no doubt that the player who performs best in practice will win the spot.
Sophomore Blake Countess has one starting cornerback spot locked up as he returns from a torn ACL suffered against Alabama last season (ESPN.com).
There is competition to start opposite Countess as Delonte Hollowell is looking to unseat last season's starter, Raymon Taylor.
It was Taylor that assumed Countess' starting role last season, but the junior Hollowell looks to have bridged the gap in the competition for that same spot this year.
Baumgardner of MLive.com reported that staff and players have "raved about Hollowell's speed and progression" in practices.
Hollowell got the starting nod in the spring game, though it's possible Hoke did this just to show Taylor that there would be competition at the spot.
After starting 11 games last year, Taylor has to be given the edge in the competition, but it's clear he'll have to work hard to keep that spot over Hollowell.
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