Monday, July 18, 2011

Matt Chandik's Michigan Player to Watch

He might be the perfect microcosm that was the Rich Rodriguez era. During his first season, he was a badly undersized pass rusher who had an explosive first step, but not much in terms of bulk. During his sophomore year, he packed on weight to handle the rigors of being a full-time pass-rusher and was…consequently moved to coverage linebacker in a hideous 3-3-5.

Now that a more conventional defense is in town with some defensive-minded coaches, Michigan junior defensive end Craig Roh should be able to be a solid if not explosive edge rusher opposite of power end Ryan Van Bergen. If Michigan’s defense is going to get back to respectability, a good edge rusher is going to be paramount. For that reason, Roh is my pick as 2011 Michigan Breakout Player.

Roh showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman year that saw him come in off the bench to spell the likes of future Philadelphia Eagles first-round pick Brandon Graham and current UM strongside DE starter Ryan Van Bergen. Roh tantalized UM fans with his first step and explosiveness while operating at between 230 and 240 pounds. He notched a pair of sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, two passes broken up and an interception for a sad-sack Michigan defense. Naturally, Wolverine fans expected a spike in production after an offseason that saw him bulk up considerably.

That spike never came. Rich Rodriguez converted Roh to outside linebacker in the dreaded 3-3-5 scheme, asking him to cover more than he rushed and the results were, predictably, pretty bad. Roh was brutal in coverage and lacked linebacker awareness because, well, you know, he’s not a linebacker. He’s a defensive end and he should be a damn good one for Brady Hoke this year.

Roh will be asked to play a lot more with his hand in the dirt and that should suit him well. He’s got a set of skills tailor-made for a 4-3 weakside defensive end. He’s got the potential to eventually put up double-digit sacks as a senior, but I’d peg the expectations for him this year at about seven or eight sacks. Much depends on whether another defensive tackle can emerge next to Mike Martin from a pot pourri of unprovens, quasi-busts and former offensive linemen that includes Richard Ash, Quinton Washington, Will Campbell and Terry Talbott in a quest to free up Roh for single-blocking opportunities. Seven or eight sacks, three forced fumbles and 13 tackles for loss is my prediction.

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