Asked to explain his offensive philosophy, Terry Malone, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator at the end of last season, sketches out "a system that will take advantage of our players. We are going to be a physical team, but we have to get the ball to our playmakers." Asked who those play-makers are, Malone laughs and says, "Good question."
That's the rub for the Wolverines. Seven starters return from the elite defense that allowed 19.8 points and 318.4 yards per game, both best in the Big Ten, but the loss to the graduation of wideout Marquise Walker (86 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last season) leaves an already struggling offense without a consistent big-play threat. As a result Malone has recast the attack and made establishing the run a priority, a challenge for a unit that last season gained just 3-6 yards per carry and 143.0 yards per game, eighth in the conference. "We start with being physical, an attitude that will affect the entire offense," Malone says. "We're going to knock people off the ball and give our backs a chance to get up into the hole and hit a defensive back, as opposed to trying to avoid a guy at the line."
Spearheading the offense will be 6'3", 228-pound senior B.J. Askew, who rushed for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Because of his value as a pass catcher, pass protector and lead blocker on counters and off-tackle runs, Askew will work as the fullback in multiple-back packages, but he'll also get touches as a single back. At tailback 6'1", 235-pound junior Chris Perry (495 rushing yards, two touchdowns) completes a supersized backfield.
The offense's most nagging question is at quarterback: John Navarre was last year's starter, but the junior's poor decision-making (he completed only 53.8% of his passes and threw 13 interceptions) and his lackluster conditioning drew criticism. Coach Lloyd Carr has so far refrained from picking between him and junior Spencer Brinton. "Brinton has an outstanding arm, and he improved significantly this spring," Carr says. "I look at it as, we have two guys who are going to compete and they'll make each other better."
Defense won't be an issue. Senior Dan Rumishek (22 tackles, seven sacks) and junior Shantee Orr (35 tackles, six sacks) were ends on a line that helped produce a conference-high 50 sacks last season, and senior linebacker Victor Hobson (80 tackles, five sacks) excels at both blitzing and pass coverage. The focus, then, remains squarely on the offense. Malone's ability to wring consistent point production from a playmaker-free cast will determine Michigan's fate.