Special Forces: Steve Breaston
Every time Steve Breaston steps onto the field he is the most dangerous player in the game because he is a threat to score each time he touches the ball. As he returns as a 5th-year senior, Breaston already holds Michigan's career record in punt return yardage (1,267 yards) and is second in kickoff return yardage (1,526 yards). Breaston has also racked up over 1,000 yards receiving (1,026 yards) thus making him only the second player in Big 10 history to amass over 1,000 career yards in three different categories.
With the graduations of Braylon Edwards (2004) and Jason Avant (2005) during the past two years, quarterback Chad Henne is looking for a new #1 receiver and Breaston wants to be that man. However, I would note that Breaston's number of receptions has steadily decreased since his redshirt-freshman season of 2003. A review of Breaston's statistics reveal that in 2003 he caught 38 passes while that number dropped to 34 in 2004 and dropped all the way to 26 last season. While reports are that Breaston has had a good spring, I believe that sophmore Mario Mannignham will be the first option in the passing game. Nevertheless, I believe Breaston will play a vital role for the team next season.
Breaston's development as a top-notch receiver has been hampered by a myriad of injuries that have plagued him during his college career. At 6'1",182 lbs., the knock against Breaston has always been that he is not durable enough due to his slight frame. Nevertheless, he has never been hesitatant to stick his nose in there to make a catch and take a hit. Maybe it is that willingness to get banged up that has led him to suffer so many injuries. I know Breaston really wants to have a break-out season as a receiver in his final year as a Wolverine. However, with Manningham as a legitimate #1 option and a receiving corps that is quite deep (see post of 5/28/06- 2006 Receiving Corps: Ready to Step Up), I do not believe that Breaston should be used more than sparingly at receiver lest he risk suffering another major injury. He is too valuable to the Wolverines as arguably the best special teams returner the team has ever had. His primary (and vital) responsiblity for the 2006 season should be as a return man for both punts and kickoffs.
I do not believe that having Breaston deployed almost exlclusively in his final season as a return specialist would sit well with him but it is what is best for the team. Carl Tabb, Doug Dutch, and/or LaTerryal Savoy can all spell Breaston at receiver but no one on the team can come close to matching what Breaston brings to the return game. Breaston holds the U of M single season record for most yards returned both for kickoffs (689 in 2004) and for punts (619 in 2003). However, he had to limit his return duty last season due to injuries. Although he played in 11 of 12 games at wide receiver he was only able to be used as a returner on kickoffs in nine of those games and as a punt returner in only 7 of those contests. Despite the limited action, Breaston was still able to gain 646 kickoff return yards (#2 U of M all-time season high total) and 356 punt return yards (#5 U of M all-time season high total).
Breaston is a game-breaker and the Wolverines need him to be healthy so he can do what he does best: return kicks on special teams. Therefore, I would like to see Breaston deployed almost exclusively on special teams where he is a danger to score every time he trots onto the field to return a kick. Go Blue!
*picture of Steve Breaston was taken by Robin Buckson/The Detroit News at the Alamo Bowl vs. Nebraska on December 28, 2005.