July 7, 2008
Position Preview: Mathews leads receivers
Ron Bellamy can relate to Greg Mathews. In 2002, Bellamy was the lone established holdover from a team that said bye-bye to Marquise Walker in 2001. Braylon Edwards eventually stole the show, but that isn't expected to happen this time around
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Starters: Mario Manningham (24 career starts) and Adrian
Returning Starters: Greg
Starters: Junior Hemingway (1) and Toney Clemons.
Top Reserves: LaTerryal
Savoy, James Rogers, Zion Babb.
Freshman Impact: Darryl
Stonum, Terrence Robinson and Martavious Odoms.
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Mario Manningham's and Adrian Arrington's minds were probably long made up before Rich Rodriguez rolled into town in December -- the two juniors opting to leave Michigan early in favor of the NFL Draft. In a few years we'll know if it was a smart move for the fourth- and seventh-round selections, respectively. Certainly their absence will impact U-M's receiving corps this fall. However, first-year receivers coach Tony Dews is optimistic the Wolverines will produce at a high level.
"I don't think the cupboard is bare," he said. "I don't think it ever will be at a place like Michigan. The guys that are here, the only thing that is lacking is true game experience, with the exception of Greg Mathews."
In Mathews, the Maize and Blue return one upperclassman that has been there, done that. But outside of Mathews, the receiving corps is extremely young and inexperienced. Sophomores Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons emerged from spring practices the leading candidates to start alongside Mathews while freshman Darryl Stonum is also making a push. Combined, though, the four have five career receptions to their name.
An infusion of talent from a freshman class is expected to impact significantly and right away, but rookies are always a wildcard. Certainly, it's possible that Terrence Robinson, Martavious Odoms and Roy Roundtree are all ready to play a big role but it's just as likely that they will progress at the same slow pace that has defined the first-year campaigns of so many greats to come before them, including Edwards, Jason Avant and David Terrell.
Whoever emerges, however the coaches use them, this much is certain - someone has to produce. Rodriguez would like to employ a dominant offense that is built around the run, like he did at West Virginia, but with missing pieces and a quarterback that is a thrower first (and almost always) the passing game will have to carry a large load this fall. Thus, it is imperative the receivers, especially the returning veterans, blossom quickly.
THE PRO: Greg Mathews
Though only a junior, Mathews (6-3, 207 pounds) has seen more football action in his two seasons than all the other receivers on roster combined. He was an eight-game starter a year ago, playing the third role perhaps better than any U-M wideout since Steve Breaston in 2003. The Orlando, Fla., native nabbed 39 grabs for 366 yards with three touchdowns. He had a career-high seven catches for 62 yards in Michigan's Capital One Bowl win over Florida.
In the pro-style offenses run by Lloyd Carr-led teams, Mathews would be a guaranteed star this fall. He could probably be counted on for 75 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns - considered the standards for Michigan's No. 1 receivers during the past 10 years. However, in this offense, with a greater emphasis placed on the slot receivers, it's a bit uncertain what Mathews' numbers will eventually look like.
Even if he doesn't reach the receiver quota, Mathews should have a big year and is expected to be the Wolverines' go-to guy because of his previous experience of work in clutch situations.
THE RISING STAR: Junior Hemingway
Defensive teammates are always a good source and cornerbacks Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren couldn't stop raving about Hemingway following Michigan's spring practices. The sophomore wideout from Conway, S.C., has the size of a traditional Michigan receiver (6-1, 214 pounds) but he has shown enough wiggle to enter the fall the leading candidate to start at the Z position.
Hemingway played in 10 games a year ago, starting once against Eastern Michigan while Manningham sat for disciplinary reasons. In his opportunities, Hemingway caught four balls for 37 yards - hardly earth-shattering, but similar production to many of those that came before him. In fact, Edwards had just three receptions in his freshman campaign while Avant had two.
Hemingway, and classmate Clemons, won't have it easy this fall. Both are better suited for the old offense and each will receive plenty of competition from arriving freshmen, however, Hemingway showed in spring practices - prior to an injury - he has all the skills necessary to star in this offense. He only needs game experience to put it all together.
THE ROOKIE: Darryl Stonum
In a class of freshman that seems eager, and capable, of making a bigger impact than, potentially, any first-year receiving contingent previously, Stonum (6-3, 185 pounds) is the sure thing. He enrolled at Michigan in January, aiming to get a headstart on the competition, and that decision should prove dividends in the fall.
Listed second on the two-deep, behind Mathews, Stonum should make a strong push in fall camp for a pronounced role. His talent is a big reason why fans should expect four receivers on the field at the same time. However, it's also quite possible he could leapfrog Clemons or Hemingway for a starting role, maybe even Mathews.
Blessed with tremendous speed, Stonum is an ideal down-the-field target but he could be used on reverses/screens and as an inside guy. Manningham set a freshman receiver record with 27 receptions for 433 yards and six touchdowns. It's possible Stonum could eclipse each of those marks.
BATTLE TO WATCH: Clemons vs. the Freshmen
Mathews seems set to start on the outside and Hemingway, when healthy, a good bet to lock up one of the other receiver positions. Clemons had an impressive spring but he is not ideally suited to play the slot receiver position. Robinson is. So is Odoms or even Michael Shaw.
Shorter but quicker and faster, the three possess the lightning-in-a-bottle quality Rodriguez's offenses have always employed. In that inside position, the receiver must be able to handle short passes in space and create big gains. Clemons possesses some of that ability but not as much as the three rookies. The hype is especially loud for Robinson, a former quarterback that could be the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year if he receives 10-15 touches a game.
Like many of his receivers, Dews has much to prove at Michigan. He's replacing long-time assistant coach Erik Campbell - the guy that helped produce Terrell, Walker, Edwards, Avant, Breaston, Manningham and Arrington. His track record was special. Dews is still in the infant stages of building his. The good news is he has plenty of talent to work with
the bad news that it is inexperienced. However, the wideouts, blessed with overwhelming ability, should be fun to watch this fall.
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Coach Tony Dews: At A Glance
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Experience: 11 years.
U-M Tenure: 1st season.
All-Big Ten Performers: Joe
Cannon (1998), Dave Ibarra (1998), Jim Jackominic (1998), Kip Facer
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