Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The future is now ... and that's good

I've been a little surprised by the reaction to Steven Threet's transfer from Michigan. A good amount of the responses I've seen so far -- from both fans and media -- have been negative in regard to the impact his departure will have on Michigan in the long term.

Dr. Saturday, in particular, had this to say:
Threet was the only buffer preventing the starting job from falling to either an incoming freshman (early-enrolling Tate Forcier or late signee Denard Robinson) or the most hopelessly overmatched quarterback in the country, walk-on Nick Sheridan ...
Obviously, losing a player is never ideal -- especially one who demonstrated the ability to be a solid starter. But I also don't know a single person who follows Michigan closely and expected Threet to retain the starting job throughout the upcoming season (and not very many expected him to start the season opener).

From the day he committed, it's been assumed that the job was Forcier's to lose -- he's a highly rated dual-threat quarterback who has been praised for his accuracy, received far more training than most recruits and enrolled early in order to spend as much time as possible adjusting to the offense. Robinson won't be in Ann Arbor until summer camp, but his ratings weren't far below Forcier's and he may also have surpassed Threet on the depth chart. It would have been nice to have Threet around as an insurance policy, of course, as there's no substitue for game experience. But to say that the job now is "falling" to a freshman simply isn't accurate.

And while I agree in general with Dr. Saturday's follow-up assessment that pointed out the danger of relying on a freshman quarterback, my disclaimer is this:

Michigan won't be relying on a freshman quarterback.

This might not be a team loaded with overwhelming talent, but the running game improved significantly at the end of last year: the yards-per-carry average finished just under 4.0, nearly equal to that of 2007, when Michigan boasted Mike Hart, Jake Long, all-Big 10 guard Adam Kraus and the actual threat of a passing game with Chad Henne, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. And as someone who watched nearly every down last season, I can tell you that the mere presence of a quarterback who commands respect with his legs will improve the rushing attack by leaps and bounds.

On top of that, every starter on offense returns (other than Threet, of course), and for a unit that had 10 (yes, 10) first-year starters last season, experience alone should provide a drastic step toward competency.

I'm not expecting a dominating, Oklahoma-caliber attack all of a sudden, but I'll be stunned if there isn't notable improvement in almost every category. This isn't an offense that relies heavily on its quarterback's arm to produce points -- Michigan was 89th in pass attempts in '08, despite trailing for much of the season -- so Forcier doesn't have to be better than Chad Henne, Terrelle Pryor or Matt Stafford when they were true freshmen; he just has to guide the offense to a better season than Threet and Sheridan did, which should be enough to get Michigan into a bowl game and create some positive momentum (not to mention media attention).

And with his athleticism and the improvement in the players around him giving him a huge head start, there's little doubt in my mind that he will.

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