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Published: Thursday, 8/7/2008

University of Michigan freshmen heavily counted on

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan QB hopefuls include, from left, front-runner  Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan, David Cone and Justin Feagin. Michigan QB hopefuls include, from left, front-runner Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan, David Cone and Justin Feagin.
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ANN ARBOR - Usually when a football team returns only one starter on offense, freshmen will be expected to step in to fill the void.

That more than likely will be the case this fall at the University of Michigan.

UM coach Rich Rodriguez said at his team's first practice of training camp that more than a handful of new arrivals to the Wolverines could contribute immediately.

"I was particularly pleased with the freshman skill guys on offense," Rodriguez said. "I think there's going to be a handful, five or six or seven, true freshmen that are picking things up pretty quickly."

Rodriguez singled out receivers Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Michael Shaw and Darryl Stonum and running backs Sam McGuffie and Michael Cox, along with quarterback Justin Feagin, as possible first-year contributors.

Also showing "some athletic ability," according to Rodriguez, were freshmen tight ends Brandon Moore and Kevin Koger, a Whitmer graduate.

While Rodriguez said he plans to rotate most of his offensive skill players between the running back, wideout and slot positions throughout training camp to build depth, Feagin remains the wild card.

Redshirt freshman and Adrian graduate Steven Threet enters as the favorite with sophomore Nick Sheridan to win the competition for the starting spot at quarterback, but Feagin is the most athletic of the bunch and could challenge them.

"He tries to learn a lot," Sheridan said of Feagin. "He asks questions, he's a good kid, I like him. He's a freshman, so he's swimming a little bit, particularly at this position. But so far, so good."

Another area on offense where freshmen could have an immediate impact is on the offensive line.

Stephen Schilling is the offense's only returning starter at right tackle, while upperclassmen Mark Ortmann, Tim McAvoy, David Moosman and Cory Zirbel fill out the rest of the line on the first depth chart released by UM.

Rodriguez said he plans to use an eight-man rotation on the offensive line, and freshmen Dann O'Neill and Ricky Barnum could factor into that mix once the team has its first full-pad practice tomorrow.

"The hardest position to evaluate in shorts are the guys up front," Rodriguez said. "They're just hugging each other up. They may be exchanging phone numbers for all I know."

With so many freshmen and first-year starters being thrown into the fire, coupled with the entire squad learning Rodriguez's spread option attack, there are definitely more questions than answers on what level of production to expect from the offense this season.

"The experience you can't get until you play," Rodriguez said. "Until we play a game, I won't know exactly how some of these guys will react. We'll try to put them in pressure situations in practice and get them prepared for the first game. But until we play Utah, there's still going to be questions, and even after that game, I'm sure.

"To sit here and say our offense isn't going to do anything, I don't want to discount them either," Rodriguez added. "We've got a lot more work to do, as far as being confident, right now on offense."

INJURY LIST: Only two players have been limited for the first week of the Wolverines' practices.

Sophomore wide receiver Junior Hemingway is still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered during spring practice but is expected to be cleared by the end of the week.

Freshman offensive lineman and Wauseon graduate Elliott Mealer, however, will likely miss all of training camp as he continues to heal from a torn right rotator cuff.

FAN DAY: Michigan will hold its annual fan day Aug. 17 at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse and the adjacent practice field behind Schembechler Hall.

The autograph session and opportunity to meet the Wolverines runs from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

The event is free. Fans will be allowed to enter the autograph area starting at 12:30 p.m. Parking will be available in the Blue Lot surrounding Crisler Arena.

For more information go to mgoblue.com.

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com.



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