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Posted on Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

5 questions swirling around the Michigan football team on eve of Big Ten media days

By Kyle Meinke


Brady Hoke will be joined by Denard Robinson, Jordan Kovacs and Taylor Lewan this week at Big Ten media days in Chicago. The event begins Thursday and ends Friday.

Melanie Maxwell |

The Michigan football team won 11 games last year, and already was named the media's choice to capture next season's Big Ten championship. It's the heavy favorite to win the Legends Division.

Yet, questions continue to swirl around the Wolverines as they prepare to embark on 2012, notably the status of tailback Fitz Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark after word broke Monday that they have been suspended.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke will field those questions and more this week during Big Ten media days, which begin Thursday in Chicago. Quarterback Denard Robinson, safety Jordan Kovacs and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan also will attend.

A look at the top-five questions the Wolverines' contingent can expect to face in Chicago, with camp set to open in 12 days:

1. Will suspensions to Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark cost them game time?
Hoke won't escape media days without being asked about the rash of arrests that have beset his team this offseason. Some were minor incidents, such as Jerald Robinson allegedly damaging a parking gate or Will Campbell denting a car. Both face destruction of property charges.

But Toussaint spent a night in jail last weekend after being arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. If convicted, it's difficult to believe the Wolverines' starting tailback will play against Alabama, and could be out longer.

Then just hours after news broke of Toussaint's suspension, Michigan announced Clark, a potential starter, was suspended shortly after being arrested in June on a second-degree home invasion charge. Will he miss time, if convicted?

Starting receiver and kick return Darryl Stonum also was kicked off the team in January for another arrest.

Does Michigan have a discipline problem? Will Toussaint or Clark miss time? What will they have to do to rejoin the team? What can be done to keep players out of trouble?

These are questions Hoke won't like, but these are questions he will be asked. The answers will say a lot about Michigan's competitiveness against Alabama and beyond.

2. Can the defensive line compensate for losing three starters?
The Wolverines have two major weaknesses, one of which is the turnover that has decimated the defensive line. Starting tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger have graduated, as has end Ryan Van Bergen.

The one returner, senior end Craig Roh, has moved from the weak to strong side.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison worked miracles with the defense last year, when he inherited the worst defense in school history and crafted it into a top-20 unit nationally. Michigan allowed 30 fewer touchdowns, and finished sixth in points allowed.

He'll have to start over up front, though, where junior Jibreel Black has moved from end to tackle and Campbell will be counted upon as a full-time starter for the first time in his career.

Sophomore Brennen Beyer, a converted linebacker expected to compete for the starting job at weak-side end, may have that job thrust upon him -- whether or not he's ready -- due to Clark's legal issues.

Mattison and Hoke will have their work cut out for them as they prepare the Wolverines for their opener against Alabama, which features three offensive linemen on various All-America teams.

The defensive line is Michigan's most questionable position group heading into camp.

3. Is the passing game ready to leap forward?
Brady Hoke will be speaking to the media. That means he'll be asked about Denard Robinson, his star quarterback.

The senior guided Michigan to 33.3 points per game last year, the Wolverines' most prolific season since 2003. He did it despite transitioning away -- at least incrementally -- from the spread-option he was recruited to operate.

Yet, Robinson's play was uneven. For as well as he played against Nebraska and Ohio State, he played every bit as poorly against Michigan State and Virginia Tech. Turnovers were his biggest demon, as he racked up a Big Ten-worst 15 interceptions.

Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges said turnover prevention was a focal point of spring camp, and that they saw growths from Robinson as he began to understand what defenses did to confuse him.

Is he ready to do it in live-action?

Robinson isn't in this alone, either. The receivers were not productive last year, chief among them Roy Roundtree, who went from catching 72 passes in 2010 to 19 in 2011. Keeping him active in the passing game is a priority.

Roundtree also has switched to Junior Hemingway's old flanker spot, a development that began in the spring, continued during player-organized workouts in the summer and will pick up in earnest in preseason camp.

Michigan also is searching for a third receiver to start alongside Roundtree and junior Jeremy Gallon. Hoke will be asked to address where his returners stand (Jerald Robinson is considered the leader), and how his freshmen might fit in (Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson could be factors).

4. How will the offensive line shape out?
Like the defensive line, Michigan has sustained significant personnel losses on its offensive line. It has lost two starters, including the best center in the country in David Molk, and is expected to debut new starters at three spots against Alabama.

Molk's loss could be the single most significant departure on the team, rivaled only by Stonum's exit. He was a four-year starter and the ballast of the offensive line, both in play and spirit. Teammates credit him for aiding the development of younger players, notably Robinson.

Robinson will be taking snaps from a center other than Molk for the first time in his career. His chemistry with senior Ricky Barnum, Molk's replacement, will be an ongoing storyline.

Junior Michael Schofield has moved from guard to tackle, but picked up experience last year. The bigger question is who plays left guard, where sophomore Joey Burzynski started in the spring over fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer. A freshman, perhaps Kyle Kalis, could also be a factor.

Michigan relied heavily on the running game last year, and is expected to do so again next year. But with Toussaint's status uncertain, and new starters at three spots on the offensive line, there are questions about how quickly the Wolverines can pick up where they left off offensively.

5. How will Michigan react to its rising expectations?
The Wolverines were picked by the media to win the Big Ten title, and are the heavy favorite in the Legends Division, even though they have lost four consecutive times to intradivisional rival Michigan State.

How will they react?

Michigan hasn't faced expectations like these since 2007, the final year of the Lloyd Carr era. That means no current player has had to play with this kind of pressure, and its worth noting how they handle it throughout camp.

The scrutiny also will ratchet up a notch because the Wolverines don't have a tune-up game in which to iron out the kinks. They open the season in prime time against the defending national champs, and the nation will be watching.

Hoke himself is in a unique position. He built Ball State into a winner, but left before the bowl game of his banner year. He guided San Diego State to its first winning season in more than a decade, but then bolted for Michigan.

He's never had to sustain something he built, and he's never had to manage expectations like he will this year.

How does Hoke plan to keep his team sharp?

We're about to get a peek.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

#5. It's obvious - between the rough schedule and problems with team player personalities, 2012 is sure to be a major let down from 2011. 8 and 5 would amount to a fairly good win loss record considering the mess we have to deal with. Michigan should hire a full time psychiatrist to help these kids think in a more mature and responsible way. I'm very negative about this coming season.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

#4. Offensive line won't be as good either. The coaches will need to use freshmen this season.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 9 p.m.

#3. Denard will never be a great quarterback in terms of passing percentage. It will depend on the new receiver guys as to whether Michigan remains as competitive. Can Darboh or Chesson compete on the grand stage? Getting Laquon Treadwell to commit for 2013 seems like a major need right now.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 8:55 p.m.

#2. The defense will not be as good - because too many good players have left the school. We will win less games this year but will fight hard in each game.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Let's review each question individually... #1. Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark will be hard to replace (they are both first string players). Michigan has a number of players who might be able to fill in effectively for Toussaint. Clark is more difficult to find a permanent replacement. Even so, I'd get rid of Clark now, and look for someone else. Toussaint will be pushed by tough competition this summer and fall. But I would allow Fitz the opportunity to repair his life. It isn't easy to deal with the stress that this man has to put up with. Passing college tests are never fun. The pressure is great.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

It's quite plausible that there is an alcohol problem with the young men that play ball for the Michigan Wolverines. Drinking has always been a part of college ball but, the difference now is that incidents arising from alcohol abuse are not allowed to be swept under the carpet. For years we heard, "Boys will be boys". well, times have changed, now it's more like, Boys will be boys right along with men in jail.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

Question 6: What kind of deal do you have with the local AA Bail Bondsmen?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:24 a.m.

that's the number ONE question asked in the sec. . . see, the sec does come in first sometimes!! GO BLUE!!!


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 5 p.m.

For a team that has questions about replacing players on both sides of the ball, lost their starting tailback and defensive end a QB that coaches are wondering if he has progressed and open against the defending national champs does anyone think they are going to win the big ten? Then Brady goes to the media event with Denard to speak????? His own teammates have trouble hearing him in the huddle. Can he handle the Media and can they hear him????? Locally fans have Blue winning the Big Ten National Championship and Denard with the top award. Lots of questions????? Just wondering what the answers are. Hoke is a good coach I'm sure he would rather wait and try to answer on the field, but it's not going to be so easy there either


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

Michigan winning the BTN championship lets see, don't we have a season to play ball, ahead of us ?

Terry Star21

Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 4:19 p.m.

1. Cut Toussaint and Clark and install players who want to be 'Michigan' and follow all the rules and regulations set for the nations best program. Hence, like Einstein believes - cut all the unnecessary talk. 2. I don't believe Hoke will worry/talk to much about what we don't have (lost). He will address the players that we do have and how they will fit the situation. He'll put trust into the nations best defensive coach in Mattison. 3. Hoke won't waste time talking about any inefficiencies, he will tell you what we have, the improvement we've made. I've said it all along, this second year of meshing DRob's technique and the nations best offensive coach in Borges will reap the benefits this year. 4. Again, what we don't have (lost) won't matter. Ricky Barnum will show all he's nations best center and the biggest threat up the middle. 5. Expectations are always great for America's best college football team. This is not new to Hoke, as he was on the coaching staff when Michigan won the National Championship as the nations best team. Additionally now as the nations best head coach, he knows the expectations, the heartache and what it takes to win that crystal football this year. 6. Although none of the coaches will mention it, the expectations are very high for Theo212 to return as the nations best Michigan football fan, as he was pre-2011. MgoBlueForTim...The Mighty Hoke, 'What, Me Worry ?


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 9:18 p.m.

What "spin" are you reading? Where did I say that these cases aren't "black eyes"? All that I said was that you still go through "due process" and don't make knee jerk decisions before all of the relevant information is available. For the moment, "suspended indefinitely" is appropriate (emphasis on the "for the moment").


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

Pillow, you can spin it any way you want. This is a black eye to the program especially a program on probation and in the wake of all the other BTN problems. For whatever the reason, our team seems afflicted with young men making dangerous mistakes to themselves and the public, DUI's and home invasion are no small matters. One kid with multiple DUI problems has left the program. At least he's another schools problem now. The question is, is alcohol a bigger problem with the young men , Wolverines, than we know of ? What's next, vehicular manslaughter ?


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

Scott, I don't think that is "the perfect statement". At least not at the media day this week. You don't kick people off the team for being accused of things, you kick them off the team for actually doing things. With Clark, you leave him suspended while the legal system runs its course. If, at the end of that, he is guilty of the theft, then by all means kick him off the team. But now isn't the time for that step. With Toussaint there's much less uncertainty: his blood alcohol was his blood alcohol. Still, there's no reason to rush a public announcement of the transition from "suspended indefinitely" to "suspended for a specific term" just because it happens to be a pre-scheduled "media day". He should make the decision at the pace that he would in the absence of the "media day", which probably means waiting for all of the police and court documents to become public so that he has all of the relevant information.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

Scott, your a man of few words but you express yourself clearly in a fashion I can work with. This plague of out of control behavior will only subside when Coach Brady Hoke, "lowers the hammer".


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

"Clark is off the team an Touissant won't play this year, for obvious reasons" would be the perfect statement from the hoke. Save us the garbage about building character, second chances, working with the kids. and please don't wish them well as they go off to play football somewhere else on another suckers dime- like with Stonum.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

I think we might see a list of things-- certain grades, this and that-- that Toussaint must do, and he could be back for the Alabama game. I trust Hoke with whatever it is. It totally depends on how Fitz behaves himself now. Frank Clark's is much worse. I don't think there is any chance of him being ready for the Alabama game. It also depends on the court's ruling for both, but I still think Fitz has a shot at being back in time as long as he does what is asked of him and more.

Robert Granville

Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

Brady Hoke talks like an amalgam of every good football coach I've ever had. If you want a clear answer, go ask an analyst. This is FOOTBAW.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Very good questions. No well seasoned Head Football Coach will give details to satisfy the media. If he appears honest, he'll certainly lower the bar. A few of these questions concern Denard so I would expect more questions about Denard's progress.

Paul R Lamse

Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

To me, the biggest unknown factor will be Denard's actual maturation. The great line coaches know what to do with the lines. Receivers will catch balls thrown near to them. And if the O-Line is any good, the running game will be good enough. But some freshmen will have to contribute. I can hardly wait. UM has no "warm-up" game, but neither does Bama.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Yep, Denard will be toe cornerstone of this offense. Denard can make plays. If Denard's passing game is consistently better and he can use his feet like a vintage Troy Smith or Vince Young, then he'll be a lethal as any QB in the country. With early season games against Alabama and Notre Dame, we'll know soon enough.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

Hah. Your probably right. He may just say he's not qualified to answer. Particularly on the Touissant/Clark issue. I can hear it now. "We have to do what's right for the kids, blah, blah, blah". The same silly song we heard with Stonum for two years. On the upside- Denard, the next Michael Vick (on the fields not off) is going to astound. Even if he has no one to throw to; he'll pass the ball and catch it himself.


Wed, Jul 25, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

Brady will answer these questions in the same fashion most politicians do. He won't give a clear answer to the question asked, he will give an answer to the question he preferred was asked.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:27 a.m.

Being positive is not political. He should not jump in the swamp just because the media wants him to.