First look, obviously. More extensive previews coming as the season approaches. Highlighted players return for 2009.
Update: Pritchard redshirted his (first) junior season in 2007. He has 1 year of eligibility remaining.
Western Michigan Offense
5th-year senior Tim Hiller returns to helm the Western Michigan offense for the third consecutive year. He also got spot time as a freshman, but redshirted his sophomore year after an injury caused him to miss the entire season. Backup Drew Burdi is a more mobile option at QB, but has received only limited playing time so far in his career with the Broncos. Robert Arnheim has 1 collegiate pass to his name.
|Western QBs Passing 2008|
|Western Michigan QBs Rushing 2008|
At first glance, the Broncos seem to have two options that both strike fear into the hearts of Michigan fans: an experienced, 5th-year QB who is a 2-time returning starter; a scrambler with passing ability that can gash a team through the air or on the ground. In all honesty, Wolverine fans should be scared about the ability of Hiller, as well as Burdi’s complementary skill set as a backup.
Brandon West is another 2-year starter coming back for his third go-round in the Bronco backfield for his senior year. The primary backup will be sophomore Aaron Winchester, who did the majority of his work last year towards the end of the season when West was injured. Glenis Thompson is a senior who got a pair of starts last year, but didn’t register more than 7 carries in any game. DeShazor is a walkon who will likely only contribute in garbage time.
|Western Michigan RBs Rushing 2008|
|Western Michigan RBs Receiving 2009|
West is actually a very capable running back, averaging 4.6 yards per carry in 2007, and over 5 yards per carry last year. He is also the biggest of the Bronco stable (pun entirely intended), checking in at a mere 5-10, 188 lbs. The rest of Western’s backs fall primarily in the “speedy little bastard” category, though most of them don’t have particularly great speed of note. With several returning producers at RB, they may lean a little more on the running game this year – so we might see the depth of the RB group when they visit Michigan Stadium
The top 2 players depart for Western, along with their top tight end. Juan Nunez is a 6-footer who actually averaged the best yards per catch out of any of the players with an appreciable sample size. He’ll have to make the transition from 3rd option to the man that the defense will key on. Will he be able to maintain that big play ability? Though the top TE departs, then next two returning players after Nunez are tight ends. Senior Matt Stevens and junior Anthony Williams might be a good security blanket for Hiller, who will be looking for new players to fill the roles vacated by the departing players. The Broncos will really need some unexpected players to step up on the edges. Sophomore Deshon Lawrence might be that guy, for lack of other options. Caleb Clark was only a junior last year, but is not listed on the 2009 Bronco roster.
|Western Michigan Receivers 2008|
|Branden Ledbetter (TE)||45||464||6||10.31|
|Matt Stevens (TE)||6||93||2||15.50|
|Anthony Williams (TE)||2||28||0||14.00|
|Louis Delmas (DB)||1||19||0||19.00|
|Dervon Wallace (DB)||2||16||0||8.00|
|Austin Pritchard (LB)||2||2||2||1.00|
|Western Michigan Receivers Rushing 2008|
|Dervon Wallace (DB)||1||-2||0||-2.00|
The Broncos are seriously thin at receiver, which might prevent them from adequately taking advantage of their senior QB. With tight ends looking to be the strongest position, and a good running back group returning, play action passing might be a good option for the Broncos. They don’t have a big group of receivers to return to, so it seems as though teams may be able to key in on what few guys they do have in order to slow down the passing game.
The offensive line for the Broncos should be quite strong this year, with a number of returning starters. The tackle positions should be mostly locked down, with redshirt sophomore Anthony Parker, who started every game last year and was named all-MAC freshman, and Redshirt Junior Phillip Swanson, who made 13 starts last year, bookending the line. Redshirt senior Paul Wasikowski, redshirt junior Nick Clemens, and redshirt junior Nick Mitchell Manning the inside spots. The positions are a little flexible, obviously. Adding depth are redshirt sophomores Jonathan Jack and Lee Pathan. The only player the Broncos lost to graduation was Steve Ellingson.
The OL should be strong for Western, with a lot of game and starting experience coming back. They may not be the biggest line Michigan will face, nor the most talented, but they certainly make up for it in experience. They should be able to run the ball well and protect the passer adequately.
The Western offense returns some key pieces, mostly every important QB and almost every important RB. The receiving corps will be a serious question, and as mentioned above, I expect the tight ends to be some of the main receivers, especially early in the year before new wideouts are able to step up and prove themselves as playmakers. With a presumed strong running game and tight ends, play action is a likely bet for the Broncos scheme.
Western Michigan Defense
Defensive end Zach Davidson and tackle Nick Varcadipane led the line in stops last year, but they’ll both be gone in 2009. Senior tackle Cody Cielinski will become the main man in the middle. He will likely accompanied by sophomore Drew Nowak or Chris Pyant, whoever os bigger. The other, who had previously been a tackle, may slide outside to take on a strongside responsibility, and junior Weston Peiffer, who had very limited playing time last year, will be expected to step up as a pass-rushing option.
|Western Michigan Defensive Line 2008|
This is a super-weak group, with almost no depth at (actually, no depth beyond the starters). They’ll rely on guys who haven’t played a down of college football yet to be the backups. With Michigan’s offensive strength looking to be the running game, with 5 returning offensive linemen and Brandon Minor, they should be able to exploit this group.
Like the line, the Bronco linebacking corps loses its top two tacklers. Senior Justin Braska will have to take a huge leap forward for the Broncos, becoming the cornerstone of the position group. Sophomore Mitch Zajac will be expected to contribute as a starter for Western, and there is NOTHING other than those guys, based on the current roster. Porter and Krasinski both had eligibility remaining after last year, but neither is listed on the current roster.
|Western Michigan Linebackers 2008|
Wow, unless they have a true sleeper stud that redshirted last year, or coming in for the 2009 recruiting class, the Broncos have next to nothing at the linebacker position. Braska is your classic big ‘backer, while Zajac is more of a speedster who can play in space. This thinness of this unit (a theme on the defense so far, no?) should add to Michigan’s ability to pound the ball.
Louis Delmas, an NFL second rounder, is gone. So is corner EJ Biggers, who was also drafted by the NFL. Let’s add insult to injury by removing CJ Wilson, who exhausted his eligibility without being selected by an NFL team. The starters are probably up in the air, because that’s a lot of replacing to do. Strong safety Mario Armstrong, the only returning starter, has his spot in the secondary locked down. Junior Jamail Berry will probably be the other safety, though he is also listed at strong. Josh Price, a sophomore, will man one of the corner positions, and senior Andy Dorcely might step up to be the other. The defensive backfield will probably have more quality depth than the other defensive areas, but quality of the starters themselves is in question.
|Western Michigan Defensive Backs 2008|
Like all of the defensive positions, secondary will be a weak point for Western this year. Forgive me for making assumptions, but something tells me it’s not likely that the Broncos replace two NFL draftees with players of similar ability. If it was Ohio State, I might not make such an assumption, but Western is more geared towards hopefully getting lucky with a sleeper than recruiting can’t-miss prospects. The Broncos’ corners should be fairly weak, along with one of the safety positions.
Wow. This is not going to be a good defense at any level. With Michigan’s presumed leaps forward on offense, they should be able to tear right through Western up and down the field. 5 returning starters on the OL should be able to pound the ball right through the weak DL and linebackers (though the Bronco DL should have good size, which is important to note as far as not being crushed off the ball). In the secondary, I assume Michigan will keep the throws fairly simple for Tate Forcier in his first live college action, probably with lots of play action and screens to keep the throws easy. He probably won’t be run all that much, either, just enough to get his feet wet, so to speak.
Western Michigan Special Teams
The Broncos return all their kicking specialists from last year. In the return game, they loses every punt returner of note, but RB Brandon West was their top kick returner.
|Western Michigan Kicking 2008|
|Western Michigan Punting 2008|
Expect more of the same next year, with perhaps improvements from Potter, because he was a true freshman who improved over the course of last year.
Western should be a pretty darn good offensive team this year, though it remains to be seen how well they’ll respond to losing the most important pieces of their receiving corps. The run game should set up the pass with experienced backs and linemen, and Hiller will look to decrease usage some, but increase efficiency with easier passing situations. Defensively, however, the Broncos look like they might be a wreck, unless a miracle happens. I would expect this game to be something of a shootout, but with Michigan’s defense able to key on the run and the tight ends, and no proven threat on the boundaries for Western, they should be able to hold the Broncos.