By Ron Kremer
The Inside Scoop
Much time and energy has been spent in the offseason dissecting what went wrong in Michigan's skid to end the last college football season. The most popular conclusion: John Navarre was the culprit in the Wolverines' fall from the Big Ten roost and the BCS bowl series.
Navarre, then a sophomore, threw nine touchdown passes and two interceptions as Michigan jumped to a 5-1 start and first place in the conference race. He threw 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions as the Wolverines slumped to a 3-3 finish.
What bears repeating heading into Saturday's home opener (noon EDT) against Washington is this: Navarre, like any quarterback on any level, will be only as good as the players around him.
There is reason to believe Michigan's offensive line will take a step up this season, Tony Pape moving from left to right tackle to bolster the ground game and a couple of other new faces ready to contribute up front.
Keep an eye out for redshirt freshmen Matt Lentz and Adam Stenavich.
The big question is who will emerge as the Wolverines' top pass catcher following the departure of Marquise Walker. The answer is Walker will be replaced by a committee of receivers.
Fullback B.J. Askew has caught 47 passes for 497 yards in his career and will occupy the attention of opponents' linebackers. Ronald Bellamy, Tyrece Butler and Braylon Edwards are listed as the starters on the depth cart in the wideout positions. Bennie Joppru is the tight end.
Edwards, 6-3, 206, from Detroit, Mich., Bishop Gallagher, could be ready for a breakout season. He saw action in six games last season and caught three passes for 38 yards as a true freshman. He's big and talented. He's also cut from True Blue bloodlines. His father, Stan, played tailback for the Wolverines from 1977-81.
Then, there is Jermaine Gonzales, a sophomore from Orchard Lake St. Mary's who played in eight of Michigan's 12 games at both quarterback and wide receiver last year. He completed 7 of 13 for 88 yards. He also caught two passes for 71 yards and one touchdown. When he goes in against the Huskies, offensive coordinator Terry Malone could dip into his bag of tricks. How about Navarre to Gonzales and back to Navarre for fun?
Two true freshmen also might make an immediate impact on the receiving corps: Jason Avant from Chicago Carver and Steve Breaston from North Braddock, Pa., Woodland Hills. Breaston was an option quarterback in high school.
And, finally, could coach Lloyd Carr turn to sophomore defensive back Marlin Jackson and/or redshirt freshman safety Earnest Shazor for help? Why not? Both are gifted athletes. Both can run and jump. Jackson already is drawing comparisons to former Michigan standout Charles Woodson.
For Jackson to reach Woodson's heights, he'll have to contribute on offense and on special teams.
As for Navarre, he's shed 20 pounds, which should help him move around better in the pocket. His job will be to play like Jim Harbaugh in the early and mid-1980s. Harbaugh was not Michigan's most gifted quarterback, but there was no doubting his mental toughness, no questioning the fire in his belly.
Harbaugh was Mr. Efficient. He made the most of his talents not only while a Wolverine but also later in the NFL.
Navarre has a stronger arm. Time will tell if he has the willpower and the help around him to duplicate Harbaugh's feats.
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