First up from my interviews with Michigan's three player representatives at Big Ten Media Days: Troy Woolfolk.
On The Question Everyone Asks First
- Denard has been out for all the voluntary activities, regardless of whether he's hurting. Tate tries to come out, but he's not as consistent with his work ethic, which has let Denard get out ahead a bit. The upshot: "I think that Tate's gonna have to do a lot of work to catch back up to Denard in camp this year."
- Troy doesn't care which position he plays, as long as he gets to stick with one or the other. Switching back and forth between safety and corner helped Troy have a more complete understanding of the defense last year, but it hurt him to not be able to concentrate on one position or the other the whole time. Now that he's exclusively a corner, he'll be able to focus on that specifically.
- At corner, there's more of a focus on speed, whereas at safety it's also about being big enough to take on running backs and tight ends.
- There are no individual goals in terms of statistics, but Troy's personal goals are to not get beat deep and not miss any open-field tackles.
- Growing up, Troy didn't really know how good a football player his dad had been. Butch didn't really talk about it much. Still, by the end of this year, Troy hopes it's "Troy Woolfolk's dad Butch" instead of "Butch Woolfolk's son Troy."
- Vance Bedford would be shocked to know that Troy is one of the most knowledgeable players on the defense. He used to give him a hard time about not paying enough attention in film, but that's changed. Troy's no longer falling asleep in film room, nor is he "texting on my phone to my friends about how I'm about to go to sleep watching film."
- The main difference in this year's defense is that it's simpler. That will be a help because a lot of young guys will be able to catch on more quickly. This year's schemes have more of a zone emphasis than man.
- It's a little difficult to switch defensive schemes so frequently. there's been a different scheme or coordinator every year Troy's been at Michigan. The players have to make an effort to forget some of the old stuff to absorb the new stuff.
- A lack of defensive depth and injuries helped undermine the defense last year, but there are no excuses for how they performed. Troy had knee and shoulder injuries last year that might have hurt.
- Stopping the ground attack will be important this year, and it's up to the big guys up front to help with that. There's enough size there to do it.
- Everyone's "All-in for Greg Robinson," so the team will band behind him and perform well on D.
- "The Team. All-in for The Team" is the rallying cry this year. The players have to play for each other, not worry about fans and other external pressures. There's also a "we can" attitude instead of a "we'll try" attitude. There are senior leaders at every position group except wide receiver. Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms have stepped up as the leaders there.
- This is probably the best leadership group since Troy's been on the team. They're the last group of Lloyd Carr-era players, so it means even more that they've all bought in to the new regime.
- There have been nice crowds for summer workouts. It's about the same as prior years, even though the coaching staff has been more explicit that they aren't mandatory with the NCAA stuff going on. The senior leaders have come up with some ideas to get guys to come out.
- Obi Ezeh have gotten bigger in the offseason, but they're probably faster than they were before they added the weight. They're able to run with receivers deep, too. They "look like supreme athletes out there." Troy has confidence that they'll be able to put it all together this year, and be two of the best linebackers in the nation.
- Last year, Jordan Kovacs was a surprise to everyone. He brings attitudes of calmness and confidence, which are important on defense. When Mike Williams went down in the Notre Dame game, Kovacs was a pleasant surprise.
- Courtney Avery is the only freshman corner Troy's seen. He learns fast though, and when he gets beat deep he's able to forget about it and move on to the next play.
- Cameron Gordon is confident, perhaps overconfident. He's also very physical, even though he's a former offensive player (Troy thinks they're all soft). He needs to learn a defensive mentality a bit more, but he's getting there.
- Marvin Robinson has a natural gift at safety, and he's been playing the deep safety position.
- Terrance Robinson has been good in 7-on-7 drills. He was hurt his freshman year, then wasn't quite the same as before in his redshirt freshman year. This year, he should be back to the way he was.
- Troy was able to convince himself to prepare a bit more for rivalry games, such as ND, MSU, and OSU last year. Maybe he shouldn't focus more on them (and focus the same for the other games as well), but it helps him perform well.
- The Michigan State game is a cool rivalry because it's like a state championship game.
[Ed.: Don't forget Woolfolk's burgeoning career as a stand-up comedian. Via the message board and Joe Schad:
"When I see 'O' shaped objects I get instantly angry. I don't eat Cheerios, Froot Loops or Apple Jacks."
Most of it is platitudes and evasion, and what we did learn was mostly that decisions will be made in the future (there is a 30-45 day window in which divisional alignments will be determined) and that foregone conclusions are happening (Big Ten championship game).
Q. Jim, in order to preserve some of those rivalries and create appealing match-ups for television, do you anticipate going to a nine-game football schedule in the future?
COMMISSIONER DELANY: I do. I think that would be really helpful to us. I think there's a consensus among our athletic directors to do that. How quickly we can do that, we can't do that in the next year or two. I'm hopeful we can make progress in years three and four. Hopefully it's not more than that. But it could be depending upon contractual commitments. It would have to be modified.
But I think it would be really good. I think to play each other more is what our fans want, and I think that's what the athletes want. And to be honest with you, the nonconference schedules that we've seen develop as we've added a 12th member have not been good for I don't think the fan base nor have they necessarily been embraced like they might be embraced by the players. I think players want to compete. And I think fans like to see good competition.
So I understand why things happen that way, and I think a ninth game at this juncture would serve everybody's interests.
If Delany is willing to be that blunt about the average quality of the 12th game and the "consensus" amongst athletic directors a ninth conference game is less a possibility and more a thing that is definitively, if only eventually, happening. Because teams have full schedules for the next few years the date this would go into effect is probably 2013.
Coaches seem opposed to the move—Jim Tressel dropped a line about how he "worries about meeting payroll"* that will be someone's signature on MLive for the next 50 years—but screw those guys. I've written a lot about rising payouts for body bag games and an increasing desperation for television inventory combining to ease out this era of dire nonconference scheduling, but that was more in hope than expectation. Delany saying "this is happening as soon as possible" is a major win for everyone except the accountants of I-AA.
As a bonus, a nine game conference schedule will make the divisional alignments less of a hissy-fit kind of deal. You'll miss two opponents from the other division instead of three, making it impossible to entirely whiff on the M/OSU/PSU or the NU/Iowa/UW group.
*(Your conference payout doubles in five years and you're worried because you'll lose something under half a home game every year? Lawya, please.)
In the future they'll call them Lonbrays. You know who else has joined the Braylon Edwards Historical Reenactment Society? Braylon Edwards:
In other facial hair news, Mustaches for Michigan is launching the 2010 campaign.
I would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Not really, desperate newspaper executives, but Darren Everson provides some reason for hope going into year three of the Rodriguez era:
Year three, statistically speaking, is when it all starts to come together—when the no-longer-new coach's recruits and systems settle into place, and the team reaches new heights. The records of college football's current major-conference coaches bear this out: They had a .548 win percentage in years one and two combined, then a .627 mark in year three.
This bodes well for our current head man, Rich Neuheisel, Bo Pelini, Bobby Petrino… and uh… Paul Wulff.
Right before practice. This is probably the second-best thing in the history of MVictors' trawling of Michigan's football heritage, a form Fritz Crisler had one Tom Harmon fill out before the 1939 season:
#1 is still the drunk guy trying to tackle Harmon, but it's close.
Half the specialists should be fine. Excellent dairy from "Wonk" addresses Michigan's punting situation by looking at the recent track record of true freshman at the position. It's not exactly quarterback:
The total averages for all of the years:
- Average Rank: 73.42
- Average Punting Average: 39.30 yards (editors note: yecch)
- Average Rivals Rating (for those who were actually rated): 5.21
So a true freshman punter is going to be just a little below average, as you might expect, and Hagerup comes in with more recruiting pedigree than anyone save Zoltan (38th in 2006) and Wisconsin's Brad Nortman (32nd in 2008). Hagerup should be fine.
Another winner. The first time a coach does something self-evidently petty and dickish, you can write it off as generic coach stuff. They've very stressed people. The second time approaches a trend, and Derek Dooley has just executed Dick Move 2 in his first offseason as Tennessee's coach:
As of Tuesday, a Tennessee spokesman said that request had come without a face-to-face meeting with Dooley, who seemed to confirm to the Knoxville News-Sentinel that he hadn't talked with the younger Brown at all throughout the saga: "The reason it has continued on (since the spring) is because Bryce has not come to me, looked me in the eye and said 'I want a release to so-and-so school.' At some point, that's got to happen." Arthur Brown told Schad, however, that there was a meeting between Dooley and Bryce last Saturday, before Bryce returned home to Kansas, which Dooley mysteriously asked the family to keep under wraps.
So not only is he not releasing Bryce Brown to Kansas State—who is not on Tennessee's schedule for the duration of his eligiblity—but he attempted to keep a meeting between the two parties secret, then lied to the media about whether it had taken place in an effort to make his decision seem more legitimate. This comes on the heels of his petulant decision to make Aaron Douglas transfer at least eight hours from Tennessee's campus (and his home). Douglas ended up at an Arizona JC; hopefully he'll cool his heels for a year and then stick it to Dooley by transferring back to the SEC.
Tennessee hasn't even played a game since the unceremonious end of the Kiffin era and the tune is already sounding disturbingly similar when it comes to euphemisms:
This story does once again confirm the notion that Dooley plays things close to the vest, having met with Brown on Saturday but denying it in the media.
Lane Kiffin Knows Exactly what he is doing
…Kiffin's schtic [schtic sic] in the SEC did exactly what he wanted it to do. Gain attention for his program, he admitted as much in Part II of my interview with Kiffin at the Pac-10's media event here in NYC.
Sure he does. Note: USC is down to 71 scholarship players and will lose 20 seniors this offseason, of whom they can replace 15. They'll be down to 66 next year if they miraculously suffer zero attrition.
(HT: Team Speed Kills.)
Fiutakin' it. Via WolverineWill, Rick Reilly takes up the banner for Lane Kiffin. It was inevitable that some sportswriter would do this eventually, and it was just as inevitable that it would be shoddily argued to the point that it could appear on CFN:
And don't forget, Kiffin knew USC was about to be hit with some whopper sanctions by the NCAA over the Reggie Bush case, sanctions he had no hand in creating. He came anyway. And now that the sanctions are twice as bad as he thought they'd be, is he leaving? Is he complaining? No, he's trying to make filet mignon out of horse meat. He's stuck with 71 players when every other team with have 85. He's stuck with trying to sell kids on a school that will have no bowl games for two years and a Swiss-cheese roster.
Lane Kiffin told every high school kid in America that USC was going to get a stern look and a belly rub from the NCAA, so either he didn't know USC was going to get nailed or he merrily lied to USC's entire recruiting class. Also he is complaining. Rick Reilly is Fiutakin' it, man.
Etc.: GS continues its series on the instate recruiting war by looking at some recent history. You probably already know the way this ends—recruiting 40% of the top-quality instate prospects and a bunch of the rest gives you a program that looks a lot like Michigan State.
Previously: S Carvin Johnson, S Ray Vinopal, S Marvin Robinson, CB Courtney Avery, CB Terrence Talbott, CB Cullen Christian, CB Demar Dorsey, LB Jake Ryan, LB Davion Rogers, LB Josh Furman, DE Jordan Paskorz, DE Jibreel Black, DE Kenny Wilkins, DT Terry Talbott, DT Richard Ash, C Christian Pace, and WR Drew Dileo.
|Canton, OH - 6'2" 185|
|Scout||4*, #40 WR|
|Rivals||3*, #48 WR|
|ESPN||3*, 77, #99 WR|
|Other Suitors||Committed too quick to have any, but Pittsburgh definitely and maybe Ohio State(?)|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post; Tom broke that commitment. Tim & Paul took in a Canton South game and came back with video, though Robinson didn't do anything in any of it.|
If you prefer your highlights with more METAL this is your best bet.
Jerald Robinson was another recruit who committed during Michigan's early flurry of wide receivers. He had been beaten to the punch by Ricardo Miller and Jeremy Jackson by the time he committed on February 9th. He, too, drew skepticism because of the lack of other offers but unlike Drew Dileo some encouraging early rankings and an impressive appearance at Michigan's summer camp muted those fairly quickly.
And that's about it as far as Robinson's recruiting story went. Saddled with a substandard quarterback, a team that graduated 20 starters, and a lingering injury, his senior season was statistically and visually unimpressive—when Tim and Paul went down to catch his season opener they came back with footage of one four-yard catch and a lot of disinterested ambling. Compounding his obscurity, he avoided the camp circuit:
''Jerald Robinson is an underrated player,'' said Steve Hare, a recruiting specialist for Rivals.com and the publisher of OhioVarsity.com. ''He committed early and didn't hit all the combines and camps like all the kids looking for scholarships. Michigan is certainly getting a steal.''
Robinson low profile saw him drop a bit in the rankings (he started out in the Rivals 250), and a lack of late drama like Terry Talbott's UNC flirtation leaves him a guy sort of off the radar screen.
That's not to say he lacks promise. ESPN's department of redundancy department take($) says he's "extremely athletic and fluid as an athlete" and talks up his skills:
Possesses a lean frame that should continue to fill out nicely and complement his big-catch ability in traffic. Robinson will attack the jump ball and plucks it effortlessly with his long arm extension, soft hands, timing and leaping skills. Shows good overall concentration in traffic and body control adjusting to the deep ball. He often comes down with the difficult receptions in a crowd. … Consistently gains proper body positioning on one-on-one matchups by shielding defenders and utilizing a subtle push off to create space. Snags the ball smoothly in stride, particularly on difficult over-the-shoulder grabs.
His main drawback is a lack of top-end speed; ESPN complains they "rarely see him run by defensive backs or separate in the open field." They call him "crafty," which is a superb backhanded compliment. The lack of speed sees ESPN chuck him well down their rankings. Meanwhile, Rivals and Scout are basically in agreement (and considerably more optimistic) despite the star difference; Robinson is the first three star in the Rivals WR rankings and one of the last four stars in Scout's.
ESPN's take, minus the downers about athleticism, is echoed all over the place. Here's an interesting take from Bobby Swigert, a fellow Ohio recruit who Michigan recruited for a while but eventually settled on Nebraska:
So this season, Robinson often has to fight through double and triple coverage, or outleap defenders to get the ball.
''He can jump, pretty much, over me,'' Swigert said. ''He almost picked off about five passes last year [on defense], so he has a great feel for the game and is just an awesome football player, and I have a lot of respect for him.''
This guy catches everything within reach and makes spectacular catches outside his frame. He runs precise routes, is a playmaker from the word go, shows good leaping ability, catches the ball at its highest point, and can create after the catch. … A very good all-around athlete, he may not have blazing speed but it is definitely workable speed, particularly when you throw in his great hands, concentration, and work ethic. He always snatches the ball out of the air instead of using his body to bring the ball in and is not afraid to go over the middle.
Meanwhile, his coach($) acknowledges that he might get caught from behind but when they chuck it 40 yards down the sideline he comes down with it "every time":
"He's such a natural at the receiver position," Daniska said. "He's got a basketball background – in fact I had to talk him into coming out for the team as a sophomore – and he can just leap out of the gym."
Robinson did hit the combine circuit as a sophomore, where he put himself on the map by making "incredibly acrobatic leaping catches" and catching "everything within reach." Soon after that Robinson found himself on Rivals's early watchlists, where he was declared "the most polished wide receiver" in the Ohio class of 2010. The usual praise for his hands and routes are offered. Devin Gardner's(!) assessment focuses on his ability to catch the ball: "when the ball’s in the air he attacks and doesn’t wait for it to get to him." Elsewhere, his coach praises his ability to "go up and fight for the ball." Some MGoSources who attended the Coaches' Clinic praised him as "rangy" and a guy who "knows how to get his body in position.
The evaluations here are all consistent, painting a picture of a guy like Marquise Walker or Junior Hemingway (if Hemingway could ever find himself on the field). He is a Leaping Twisting Jump Ball Guy; the level 60 version of Robinson is Larry Fitzgerald.
About that safety possibility: due to Robinson's widely quoted 4.59 40 (not even a little fake), the seven interceptions he had as a junior, his large frame, and the composition of Michigan's recruiting class people keep bringing it up. Lemming's breathlessness above continues by calling him a "potential All-American" at safety, and the opposing coach he victimized for three interceptions in a state playoff game reacted predictably in the aftermath:
"We throw the ball around pretty well, and I trust my quarterback completely, but in that first half, every time we threw to Robinson's side of the field we got burned," Ifft said. "At the half, I grabbed my quarterback and said, 'I know you've got pride on the line and so do I but we have to avoid this kid. You find No. 4 every time you drop back and you throw somewhere else.'
But he wants to play offense and when he showed at Michigan's camp most observers thought he was the most impressive kid($) around because of the hands and the leaping and you know by now. Afterwards, Michigan receivers coach Tony Dews told him he was playing offense($) "for sure." He's been on campus since January and has gotten more buzz than the other freshmen; with Michigan's two-deep at outside receiver guaranteed to have either a freshman or a slot playing slightly out of position Robinson's no farther from the field on offense than he is on defense. He's likely on offense to stay.
As far as offers go, Michigan was his first and his total disinterest in looking around…
"But I have no second thoughts. Coach Rodriguez said if I wasn't sure, I didn't have to decide now. He said there have been a lot of kids de-committing lately, and he didn't want me to make a commitment I wasn't ready to make. But I'm not that kind of person. I'm a Wolverine now and I'm going to be a Wolverine for the rest of my life."
…limits information about how college coaches regarded him. We do know that Pitt was after him…
"…the Pittsburgh coach called me after I told him I committed, he came to my school and I told him I committed. He told me that Michigan wasn’t the right place for me and that I could come there to get NFL ready."
…and there are a couple unverifiable claims out there about offers, including the Evil Empire. The article above in which Swigert talks about his ability to leap over high school kids in a single bound claims Robinson landed offers from "every Big Ten and Big East school," which latter okay believable, but the former? GBW's Signing Day capsule directly claims an OSU offer, and a couple of Robinson quotes suggest serious interest…
"Michigan offered me before Ohio State, and that showed me how much interest they had," Robinson told The Wolverine.com. "It's almost like Ohio State was waiting for something, and it's funny because I talked to my coach and he said the OSU coaches wanted to know if I was committing to Michigan because they were getting ready to offer."
…but I'm skeptical of an actual offer since there's an undercurrent of bitterness in his quotes. On the other hand, kid committed February 9th (and still managed to declare "Ohio State waited so long") so it's not like he was waiting for OSU with bated breath.
Why Marquise Walker? I've dragged Walker in previous years, as he's my default whenever there's a big leaping jump ball machine coming in, but this is a tight comparison. I mean…
Scouts for the professional football teams described Walker as a "Big physical receiver, who uses his size to muscle the ball away from defenders...Lacks explosive speed, but has exceptional body control and balance." In another scouting report he was described as a "Striding-type runner who is not quick or sudden. Dominates average defensive backs but has a hard time getting separation vs. a good corner."
…which are almost transcriptions of the above scouting reports for Robinson. Both are 6'2"; Robinson will probably exit Michigan around the 210 pounds Walker did.
There is a considerable difference in hype level, as Walker was part of the #1 overall Henson recruiting class and was rated the #2 receiver in the country—behind only future teammate David Terrell. His high school career numbers were ridiculous; Robinson's are meh. But if Robinson turns into a star player, he'll be a lot like Walker. One thing in Robinson's favor: Walker's hands weren't great after he took a hellacious shot from some safety or another, leading NFL teams to criticize his "double catching and body catching"; Robinson's evaluations make him out to be Avant on a pogo stick.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. They all say the same thing but Robinson was hidden in plain sight on Canton South, injured and saddled with a high school version of Sheridan and allergic to camps and combines after his sophomore year. The 4.59 commonly cited as his 40 is a two year old number; though the criticisms are being made on his tape
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Seems like the opposite of a boom-or-bust type. Very likely to be a reliable option as early as this year—either a freshman or a slot has to be on the two-deep—but a guy who will probably top out as a guy you'd really want to be your #2 receiver.
Projection: Plays this year, mostly on special teams, and racks up maybe 10 catches. Sees more action as a sophomore and has a good chance of starting in 2012 when Hemingway and Stonum move on.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez at Big Ten Media Days, including a few items after he left the podium (and weren't on TV):
- He 's excited to be coaching football again (implied: instead of worrying about off-field stuff). The off-field adversity has helped the group band together. There's no way it can add any more pressure than what the coaches always feel internally.
- Nobody's happy how the past two years have gone. Fans are supportive, but asking when Michigan is going to win more. Players have taken their lumps in the past couple years, but now they're experienced, and they've taken their lumps.
- RR doesn't know much about what's been going on in the summer, but he had all 16 seniors over at his house recently, and they were saying good things about a few players here and there. They were more focused on their own goals for the season, and ready to get on the field. Nobody likes what's been happening on or off the field the past two seasons. The goal is always to win the Big Ten, and the Wolverines will be able to do that once they've earned it.
- Rodirguez leaves for Michigan's hearing in front of the NCAA August 13th. Michigan has adjusted their fall practice schedule so that RR won't miss any practices.
- The league can concern itself with divisions and alignment, Rodriguez doesn't know anything about it and is more concerned with planning how to get first downs against UConn. The more important thing is to play Ohio State every year, and he prefers that it would be on the last game of the regular season. The chance for a rematch the following week isn't as big a deal, because Michigan-Ohio State is always going to sell out, even if they played "three times a week."
- Tate and Denard have an open competition, as it was in the spring, and they're also being challenged by Devin Gardner. The staff is looking for two guys they can win with, and hopefully a third. It might take a couple games before a starter emerges from the pack - if someone becomes a sure #1 at all. Tate, like all the players, needs to be mature on and off the field, and all the quarterbacks need to do a better job taking care of the football. They were just freshmen last year, so they should be improved as sophomores. Tate is strictly a quarterback, but Denard could potentially move to other positions. He's only been at QB so far.
- At running back, Vincent Smith should be 100% by the start of fall camp. Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint are also going to play important roles at the running back position. Michael Shaw still has two more weeks of summer school left, so Rodriguez won't speculate on his eligibility for fall. [Ed: if that's his answer to a question about Shaw's eligibility, he's on a knife edge.]
- There's a common misconception out there that wide receivers don't play a big role in this offense. Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway are tasked with changing that, along with a few younger guys. Stonum will not face any additional discipline for violating his probation.
- The offensive line should be improved this year.
- At linebacker, Greg Robinson is the new coach. That's been his position for the majority of his career, so Rodriguez is excited to have him there. Mark Moundros moved to that position in the spring, and should be able to contribute - even if it's just with his leadership. Jonas Mouton, Craig Roh, Obi Ezeh, and Kevin Leach were also mentioned, along with Kenny Demens. Rodriguez expects 5-6 guys to compete at linebacker this fall.
- There are a couple productive guys from last year's secondary returning, but they did lose some pieces. Jordan Kovacs, Troy Woolfolk, and Mike Williams all have some experience, and JT Floyd had a great spring. Cameron Gordon hasn't played in a game yet, so they're hesitant to anoint him before he plays. He was one of the best players on the whole team this spring, however. True freshmen might have an opportunity to contribute at safety.
Other newsbits and general observations can be found on my Twitter account (@varsityblue), as well as a few notes from other coaches. I'll update this post with embedded video of Rodriguez's main presser once it's available from Big Ten Network.
UPDATE. Transcript of Rodriguez's time on the podium is available here, and the video is here