House of cards

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Denard Robinson lay on the Nebraska turf, trainers looking at his elbow and wrist, and the reality of Michigan's season moved right into crystalline focus.

The Wolverines have, for the most part, skirted serious injuries on offense this season, which is part of the reason they are 5-3 and contending in the Big Ten Legends Division race. For as talented as some of Michigan's players might be, on offense there are far too few of them to be able to survive almost any injury.

Depth everywhere is lacking, from having only three recruited scholarship tight ends to two recruited scholarship quarterbacks -- Robinson and Russell Bellomy -- with a third, Devin Gardner, moonlighting at receiver. Lack of depth shows on an offensive line where one injury sends almost the entire line into a merry-go-round shift of positions with a walk-on, Joey Burzynski, coming in.

While depth isn't Michigan's only issue on offense this season, it is one that is glaring when one considers who is available on a weekly basis.

"Yeah, a little bit, but it is attributed to so many things," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "The media, everybody wants to always blame it on one thing, whether it is depth or the quarterback or play-calling. I heard Bill Parcells say this years ago and it is true: It is never one thing. It's always a bunch of things."

Part of it is traced back to depth, though. When Borges sees players make mistakes -- and he says it is rarely the same player again and again -- he does not have many experienced options to turn to if he would like.

The injury to Robinson merely underscored what is an issue for the entirety of the Wolverines offense this season. At many positions, the Wolverines have been dancing with the knowledge that one injury could derail everything they are trying to do. On Saturday, it was to Robinson, who has a history of getting banged up throughout the season.

Such a situation could have happened earlier and it could have been much, much worse. Take the season opener, when left tackle Taylor Lewan rolled his ankle late in the game. Or this month against Illinois, when left guard Ricky Barnum left the game for a series with an injury.

Both injuries looked much worse than they were in the moment they occurred, and they briefly showed the vulnerability of Michigan this season. On the line, at quarterback and throughout their offense, the Wolverines are talented, but not deep at all.

When this happened, tackles and guards all flipped into different positions, enough so that any lineman might have to move and play a different spot, depending on who got hurt.

Consider that, often this season, Michigan's coaches have brought up how their offensive line has struggled to finish run blocks, but their options beyond their five offensive linemen are limited to walk-ons and burning the redshirt of a freshman, which Borges said Tuesday they would not do. And this late in the season, they shouldn't.

"No way," Borges said. "We went about it the way we should have."

Even where Michigan appears to have depth, it doesn't. Running back has been unproductive this season and choices other than starter Fitzgerald Toussaint and main reserve Thomas Rawls are limited.

At receiver, Michigan's options have also struggled. They have dropped easy passes, especially when Bellomy has been in the game. They have not always run crisp routes and their second-most productive receiver is Gardner, a converted quarterback.

Transfers and a youth infusion have caused a lot of Michigan's offensive problems. At quarterback, Michigan had one player, Tate Forcier, leave and Gardner temporarily switched positions. At running back, Stephen Hopkins converted to fullback, Michael Cox transferred to UMass, Austin White left and Teric Jones' career ended due to injury.

D.J. Williamson never made it as a receiver and Ricardo Miller flipped between receiver and tight end and is now injured. Je'Ron Stokes transferred to Bowling Green and Darryl Stonum was kicked off the team, so only Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo remain from the classes of 2008, '09 and '10. Michigan's prior coaching staff did not use tight ends, so when Hoke and his staff took over, they had to find tight ends fast.

The offensive line didn't fare much better. Rocko Khoury chose not to pursue a fifth year. Kurt Wermers and Dann O'Neill transferred and Christian Pace's career ended due to injury.

While not all could have been productive at Michigan, they would have given the Wolverines some depth and options. Instead, the Wolverines -- for this year at least -- are playing with a skeleton crew and a bunch of freshmen who have yet to see any time.

This doesn't explain all of Michigan's offensive woes this season, but when a player goes down, the Wolverines just don't have much experience to turn to.