The question on the tip of every reporter's tongue at this year's media day was how do the Wolverines rebound from a 7-5 record. Chad Henne may have faced that query more than most after failing to equal his freshman performance last year. The junior quarterback acknowledged that the team traveled a tough road in 2005, but like his teammates, he is very excited about the chance to redeem himself in 2006.
“It was difficult, but we learned how to fight back when difficult times were with us," said Henne. "Even when we lost a game we’d come back the next game and win. It’s been a tough road but we are looking forward to this season.”
In preparation for the 2006 campaign, Henne trimmed down during the offseason to increase his quickness. He also made an effort to take on more of a leadership role on the team.
“I lost a couple of pounds so I’m more mobile but, it’s just another year you become smarter, learn the game a little bit more and become more of a leader," he said. “I think it’s time for me to verbally commit myself to leadership instead of physically. It’s been difficult just because I was so young. Now I feel that I’m a little bit older and have more say.”
One thing that will make Henne's life easier this year is the presence of fellow offensive standouts Jake Long and Mike Hart for the entire season. Both players were missing from the lineup for long stretches last year due to health reasons. “They’re great attributes to our offense," Henne said. "If they stay healthy, I think we should do pretty well. Jake’s a great tackle…big and strong. With Mike (Hart) in the backfield, having a guy that knows the offense and protection and the running game will help us out.”
Having a healthy Henne for the entire season will also be one of Michigan's keys to success. With the departure of quarterback Matt Gutierrez to Idaho State, and no experienced depth left in his place, Henne now becomes the team's most indispensable player. That makes improvements in his protection one of this year's vital changes. Henne is confident that his line will prevent him from becoming battered, especially with the move of offensive tackle Jake Long from right tackle to left. “I think that’s where he belongs," Henne said. "That’s where they are going to be recruiting him on the next level. He’s the best offensive lineman we have, so he’s going to out there and give us great protection.”
If the protection holds, Henne will have an array of talented receive targets to throw to. However, the loss of reliable target Jason Avant to graduation leaves the third year signal caller without a definitive go-to guy. Henne indicated that there was one receiver stepped and showed that capability during spring and summer workouts. “Steve Breaston…he really didn’t see much attention as a wide out, he saw more as a specialist," said Henne. "The summer really proved to me that he can catch the ball and run great routes.”
Henne obviously couldn’t spill the beans about how the receivers will be deployed in Mike DeBord’s new offensive plan. All he would say is that there was reason to be excited. “It’ll be an exciting offense," he said. "We have a new twist in our offense that will help us out.”
When it came to talking about the defense, Henne was a little more forthcoming about what fans should expect. After seeing Ron English's unit during the offseason, the gunslinger said the defense will be much improved. He was particularly impressed with the play corner Leon Hall and that of the defensive line.
“Leon gives us a challenge every day because he’s a great athlete," said Henne. "He breaks on the ball very well so we are getting a new atmosphere with him out there just like we did with Marlin Jackson when he was here. It’s a lot of fun playing against him.”
“I definitely know they are very aggressive," continued Henne regarding the defense. "Just from spring I think our defensive line is excellent. It’s probably the best that we are going to see. That will prepare us for a pass rush and definitely on third down with them bringing pressure. They‘re a great defense. If they play together we‘ll be fine.”