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Published: Wednesday, 8/3/2005

Replacing Edwards not easy for UM

CHICAGO - Michigan's Braylon Edwards was cocky, but he was confident.

Those two traits, along with his immense talent, helped make him the best receiver in college football last season.

Edwards could stretch defenses like few others.

He could out-jump and out-run cornerbacks.

Edwards was at his best in big games. The All-American had a knack for making big plays.

That's why the Cleveland Browns made him the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Edwards had 97 receptions for 1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He shattered all the receiving marks at a school that has also sent receivers Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard, Derrick Alexander, Amani Toomer and David Terrell to the NFL.

In his final three years in Ann Arbor, Edwards accounted for 31 percent of UM's receptions (249), 38 percent of the team's receiving yards (3,503) and 54 percent of the touchdown catches (39).

Edwards, who had his share of well-publicized run-ins with coach Lloyd Carr, was acrobatic and awesome.

With Edwards gone, you can only wonder how Michigan's offense will react this fall.

But the cupboard isn't bare. The Wolverines still have super sophomores Chad Henne at quarterback and Mike Hart at tailback.

But without No. 1 in the lineup, UM's offense could struggle to find its identity early on, and the Wolverines could be hard-pressed to three-peat as conference champions.

"We're going to miss Braylon a lot," tight end Tim Massaquoi said yesterday at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon.

Filling Edwards' shoes will be a gargantuan task.

"You seldom have somebody who can step in and replace a Braylon Edwards or an Anthony Carter," Carr said. "You have to do it with a combination of guys."

The Wolverines have two talented receivers - senior Jason Avant and junior Steve Breaston - who have wonderful potential and the ability to produce big plays.

But both must stay healthy to fill the huge void created by Edwards' departure.

Avant, a second-team All-Big Ten pick last season who was injured against Ohio State and missed the Rose Bowl with an injured right knee, has 87 catches and 1,240 yards in three seasons.

His numbers were second only to Edwards' totals during that stretch.

Breaston, meanwhile, had a breakout season in 2003, when he set Michigan season records for punt returns (45) and yardage (619) and was named the Big Ten's co-freshman of the year.

But the former high school quarterback battled injuries the entire season a year ago and was limited to 34 catches, 291 yards and three touchdowns.

With Avant out of the Rose Bowl, a healthy Breaston responded with 315 all-purpose yards against Texas, including three receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.

"Braylon brought the big play to our offense," Breaston said. "It's going to be hard to replace him. Jason and I still have high hopes. We have been around. We have accomplished some things over our careers so far.

"But we're both going to have to improve to replace Braylon."

The onus is on Breaston and Avant to deliver.

The young receivers milling around in the background are now on the clock.

Minus those elements, Michigan's offense will slip a gear, and that could be fatal in the conference race.



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