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Roundtree casualty of system change

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan saw many positives this season. It had two 1,000-yard rushers, a former spread quarterback transitioning somewhat successfully to the pro style, and a team than went 10-2 this season to make the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

But not every transition is perfect.

As with any change in scheme, someone is going to see his role significantly changed.

For Michigan this season, the man hurt the most by offensive coordinator Al Borges' pro-style offense was junior wide receiver Roy Roundtree.

The Trotwood, Ohio, native had the worst numbers of his career this season, catching just 18 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. That was a massive drop from his breakout sophomore season, in which he caught 72 passes for 935 yards and seven touchdowns.

His numbers are even worse than his freshman season, when he caught 32 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns.

It should be noted, though, that while Michigan was posting two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time since the 1970s, it also was throwing the ball a lot less. In fact, the last times it attempted fewer passes was more than 20 years ago.

Another answer for Roundtree's precipitous drop in production is the change in the offense. Former coach Rich Rodriguez, in his zone read version of the spread offense, liked to feature the slot receivers.

It made guys such as Roundtree and Martavious Odoms immensely valuable, while it hurt the production of outside receivers such as Junior Hemingway and former Michigan receiver Greg Mathews.

Then Rodriguez was fired, Brady Hoke was hired, and Roundtree was a receiver learning a new position -- he moved from the slot to an outside receiver's role -- midway through his career.

"We took Roy and moved him outside. Roy was basically a slot receiver," Borges said. "He caught a lot of bubble screens, he caught a lot of short balls and a few balls down the field, too.

"But because of the nature of what we were doing, and because of the progress of a guy like Jeremy Gallon, Roy, he sacrificed some catches. But he's been absolutely awesome about it."

Roundtree, to his credit, didn't complain publicly the few times he talked to the media this season. He was not made available for this story.

It didn't help, either, that junior quarterback Denard Robinson was also essentially learning to play a new offense on the fly. Robinson was inconsistent for the majority of the season, failing to string together three straight games with a completion rate of more than 50 percent until the final three games of the regular season, when he was at 60 percent or better each game.

In many ways, Michigan turned Roundtree, who had always been known for his blocking, into even more of a blocking wide receiver. Add in his splitting time with Gallon opposite Hemingway, and his numbers were almost destined to fall.

Hoke explained it even more simply, saying they just weren't throwing the ball to Roundtree as much.

Frankly, Michigan wasn't throwing -- or completing -- many passes to anyone this season. The Wolverines' 145 completions are the lowest by a Michigan team since 1988, when Michael Taylor, Demetrius Brown, Greg McMurtry, Wilbur Odom and Ken Sollom combined to complete 130 passes.

The 262 pass attempts are the lowest since 1989, when Michigan attempted 245 passes.

That could change, however. As Robinson becomes more comfortable in the offense, Borges figures to feature the passing game more often.

"When they've all played in the offense more, Denard understands the passing game more and more, those kids are going to be catching more balls. They'll be more involved," Borges said. "At San Diego State, I had two kids -- wide receivers -- have over 1,000 yards receiving. There's no reason why you can't do that here, too. But we're not ready for that yet. That took us a year at San Diego State to reach that point.

"But once Denard understands our passing game in its totality, all those kids are going to catch more and more passes."

San Diego State provides an interesting example. In total, SDSU receivers caught two fewer passes (244) in 2010 versus 2009 (246). However, they gained 677 more yards in Borges' second season with the Aztecs than the first. And two receivers, Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, each gained more than 1,200 yards receiving and had eight or more touchdowns.

Whether that happens at Michigan during Borges' second season depends on the progression of Robinson and how he continues to adjust, along with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and the wide receiver corps that will lose Hemingway but return redshirted senior Darryl Stonum.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.