July 27, 2010

Borton's Blog: A Chicago warmup

Summer is slipping away like sunflower seeds out of Jim Leyland's mouth, with the Big Ten meetings in Chicago next week. Fifth-year senior Steve Schilling will make the trip to the Windy City, but he was willing to shoot the breeze on a couple of critical topics before taking off.

Schilling will get grilled about Michigan's younger players and how they looked in the summer. His offensive line group, though, features just one new face in Christian Pace. The 6-2, 259-pound youngster out of Avon Lake, Ohio will be on the normal, deliberate grooming pace for a true freshman offensive lineman, and Schilling noted he's working "very, very hard."

But another rookie - one with a better chance of contributing sooner, just because of position - has caught Schilling's eye.

"A guy that has been impressing me is Ricardo Miller," Schilling said. "He's a young guy, but he's trying to take a leadership role as far as the freshmen.

"He likes to talk to us seniors, and find out what he can do to help all the time. You can tell he really loves Michigan. He's wanted to come here his entire life. He's a young guy who could have a really bright future, because he's hungry and he works hard. He's going to be a good leader in the future, definitely."

Once Schilling and fellow seniors Mark Moundros and Troy Woolfolk head back from Chicago with U-M head coach Rich Rodriguez, the serious work begins. All eyes will be on two positions in particular on the offense - quarterback and running back.

Count Schilling among the many who have been very impressed by the way sophomore Denard Robinson has come on after getting used to the action last fall.

"You definitely saw a huge improvement in Denard, and Tate [Forcier] got a lot of experience last year," Schilling said. "For Denard, being around a whole year, he's more comfortable, knowing what he's doing, knowing the guys.

"He's definitely taken the initiative upon himself to be a leader of the offense this offseason. He's there all the time."

As for Forcier, Schilling certainly isn't counting out last year's starter behind center.

"Tate has just got to get back to what made him so successful in the beginning of the year - that young kid who was fearless," Schilling noted. "Just going after it, not really thinking too much and just playing football. After all that hype settles in, the excitement is kind of gone. Then he's probably over-thinking, trying to make the big play all the time.

"I don't know. But if he can just get back to having fun, playing football, not worrying about mistakes … I think that was when he was at his best."

Michigan's running backs situation is even more unsettled, with no starters returning and no one having really separated himself from the pack in the spring. Schilling longs to be part of an offensive line that opens holes for anyone to run through, but he's also expecting someone - or several someones - to get the job done at superback.

"No one is complacent in that position," Schilling said. "You might look at Mike Shaw as being the oldest and most experienced guy, but he's got tons of guys behind him that have played. They're all competing for his job.

"In a way, it's good. If we can have three or four backs that are all equal, or complement each other really well, that would work. It's nice to have a Mike Hart, obviously, but it's also nice to have a little bit of a rotation. Then if you have injuries, like we've seen the last couple of years, we'll be okay.

"Mike Cox has some of the craziest runs you'll ever see. He's got such amazing balance. He played hockey when he was younger. Some of the cuts he makes, you cannot believe he stays on his feet. He's used to cutting on the ice.

"He can make some pretty incredible runs, and he's a tough guy. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do this year, getting more reps in the games.

"It will be exciting to see Vincent [Smith] come back to full health. Mike Shaw is a burner - he can run. You open some holes for him and he can go the distance any time. It's pretty exciting."

It's also pretty far from settled. That's why Chicago, followed by training camp, gets all the talk stirred up again. With 39 days to go before the opener against the University of Connecticut, jobs are there to be won.

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