The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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194 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW 1. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots The Patriots' offensive weapons were deci- mated before the start of the 2013 campaign with another injur y to star tight end Rob Gronkowski, the arrest and subsequent release of tight end Aaron Hernandez, the release of wideout Brandon Lloyd, and the free agent departures by receiver Wes Welker and running back Danny Woodhead, who factored heavily into the passing game. Gronkowski returned to play in seven regular- season games before a significant knee injury in December ended his campaign. The rest of the crew — which combined for 319 catches for 3,049 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012 alone — was replaced by free agent wideout Danny Amendola, the owner of 196 career catches, and a bunch of rookies. The rest of the Patriots' pass catchers on the roster had a grand total of 109 NFL receptions, led by Julian Edelman's 69. Brady got off to a slow start, but the turn- over in pass catchers did not prevent him from putting up another solid campaign overall. He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the third straight season and sixth time in his career, while he also finished with 25 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 87.3. The Patriots' co-captain for the last 12 years was honored with his ninth Pro Bowl bid, and he tied a career high by leading the team to five victories when New England faced a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. During his career, he has led the squad to a remarkable 41 such wins. I n 2 0 1 3 , h e b e c a m e just the fifth NFL quarter- back to reach both 140 victories and 340 career touchdown throws. He set a career record for four- touchdown games with no interceptions when he enjoyed his 15th against Pittsburgh, and he also became the first signal- caller to pilot his squad to 11 divisional crowns — the last five of which have been consecutive. Brady also became the first in league annals to record 6,000 passing yards in the playoffs and tied a league record among quarterbacks with his eighth start in a conference championship game. The former Wolverine owns the league record for playoff starts by a quarterback with 26 (Jerry Rice holds the all-time record for any position at 29) and he is currently tied for third with John Elway on the NFL's all-time win list for a starting quarterback with 148. 2. Charles Woodson, S, Oakland Raiders Woodson was limited to seven contests in 2012, his final campaign with the Green Bay Packers, due to injury and then the team cut the former Defensive Player of the Year. Woodson inked with Oakland, the team that drafted him fourth overall in 1998 but had not recorded a winning season since before the veteran left following the 2005 campaign. The Raiders weren't able to turn it around — nobody expected them to in year two under head coach Dennis Allen — but Woodson en- joyed a vintage performance. He started all 16 games for the first time since 2010 and logged a career-best 97 tackles. He also recorded a pair of sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and three passes broken up, while returning a fumble for a touchdown to tie the NFL record with 13 defensive scores. The season was enough to convince the vet- eran to return for at least one more year; he re- upped with the Raiders this offseason for another campaign. Woodson's durability was remarkable in his 16th professional season — he played in 1,067 of the defense's 1,074 possible snaps for the second-highest total on the squad, according to 3. Jake Long, OT, St. Louis Rams The Rams finished 7-9 in 2013, but it was no fault of their offensive line. Led by left tackle Jake Long, the front allowed just 36 sacks, which ranked eighth in the league, and paved the way for 1,752 rushing yards, which ranked 19th in the NFL. Those numbers are even more impressive when you take into account the fact that starting quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the year after week seven and the team replaced former first-round draft pick and 2012 leading rusher Stephen Jackson with rookie running back Zac Stacy, a fifth-round pick who ran for 973 yards despite not starting until week five. The former No. 1 overall pick was voted as an offensive team captain by his teammates in his first season with the Rams and started 15 games. However, he fell victim to his third straight sea- son-ending injury and must work his way back from the torn ACL and MCL he suffered in week 16. It was reported by ESPN in early May that Long is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. 4. David Harris, LB, New York Jets The veteran logged triple-digit tackles for the second straight campaign and started all 16 games for the fifth consecutive season. Harris' 124 tackles ranked 17th in the NFL, while he also logged two sacks, a forced fumble and one pass broken up. He notched four contests with at least 10 stops on the year, while his tackle total was the highest in his career since 2009, when he tied his previous best, set in 2007, with 127. 5. Jay Feely, K, Arizona Cardinals Despite battling a stress fracture on his right foot before the campaign, the longtime kicker still knocked in 30 of 36 field goal attempts and converted on all 37 point after tries for a total of 127 points. That marked his highest single- season total since 148 with the Giants in 2005 and the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Feely, who also handled kickoffs, set a career NFL WoLveriNes BY RYAN TICE Top Wolverine Matchups In 2014 All times listed are Eastern Sept. 14, 1 p.m.: Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants At least based on preseason rosters, this is the game in 2014 that will feature the most former Wolverines on the field at one time. Both squads boast a trio of former U-M standouts, although it is unsure how many times they will run into each other between the white lines. The Cardinals feature linebackers Larry Foote and Kenny Demens, who will be competing with each other for a starting inside linebacker job, as well as kicker Jay Feely, who will also have to hold off some preseason competition for the gig. Meanwhile, the Giants hope safety Stevie Brown can return to his 2012 form and undrafted rookie Thomas Gordon will provide some depth at the position if he can make the roster. Wideout Mario Manningham is also back in New York and could be a factor in the contest. Sept. 21, 1 p.m.: Oakland Raiders at New England Patriots A few of Michigan's longest-tenured and most accomplished NFL veterans will square off in this one. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is likely to be targeting seventh-round rookie receiver Jeremy Gallon at least on occasion. While the former Michigan stars will be looking to connect, Raiders pass rusher LaMarr Woodley will be chasing Brady, and Charles Woodson will look to limit the Patriots' aerial attacks led by his former teammate. The Pats also boast undrafted rookie Cameron Gordon, a linebacker who could make the team thanks to his special teams prowess. At the beginning of June, New England, Arizona and the New York Giants each boasted a trio of former Wolverines on their rosters. Oct. 12, 1 p.m.: Carolina Panthers at Cincinnati Bengals Here's an instance where a pair of former U-M standouts are likely to be in direct battle with one another. Panthers receiver Jason Avant could very well see former teammate and Bengals cornerback Leon Hall lined up across the field from him when he splits out wide. The two both played in Ann Arbor from 2003-05. BRADY Top 10 NFL Seasons In 2013 194-197.NFL Wolverines.indd 194 6/19/14 2:15 PM

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