Think we're still on the bubble? No? No?
Anyway, hockey is way less depressing. Tonight the playoffs open. Items:
Injuries. Kolarik is in, Vaughn and Rust are out. Both Vaughn and Rust may make it back next weekend; Rust broke a "non-weight bearing" bone in his leg.
Teevees. Saturday night's game is on Comcast for the super-duper package recipients of the world; Friday and Sunday are sorta available. Yost Built:
Friday's game and Sunday's if necessary game can be viewed (for free) at MGoBlue.com courtesy of WOLV-TV. Saturday's game will be aired on Comcast Sportscenter or whatever the hell the not-Comcast-Local station is called. It's in the 900s on your digital box. Thank God for Slingbox.
Elsewhere. Root against CC, North Dakota, and Wisconsin in their opening-round CCHA series.
ggggargharagharagh. See, my main concern with the basketball team is this: maybe Manny Harris just isn't good and won't get good. He's a second-team all Big Ten player as a freshman, but there's a severe Bracey Wright effect going on. Wright was the Indiana shooting guard who set Big Ten Wonk all a-frenzy because people kept insisting he was an All-Big Ten player:
Bracey Wright being named first-team All-Big-Ten ranks alongside Milli Vanilli's Best New Artist Grammy as the epitome of travesty-by-award.
Main point cited was Wright's tendency to score a lot of points by shooting without remorse. A table compiled from Kenpom:
|Player||Usage||eFG%||Ast Rt||TO rate||FT rate||Overall O RT|
Freshman Manny Harris is a much, much crappier version of senior Bracey Wright, which is not to say that he's bad, but to say that he's the basketball equivalent of Jimmy Clausen: the perfect kid to overrate. In Clausen's case the factors were multifarious (famous name, ND commitment, overcoaching, being older than everyone, playing solely against overmatched tiny schools). It's simpler for basketball players; all they have to do is take a buttload of shots.
This Harris did, with the 32nd highest usage rate in the country. Harris also had the lowest eFG% of anyone on the team except Anthony Wright and walkons. More damningly, the "best" player on the team also had a higher TO rate than anyone except David Merritt.
There are two large mitigating factors: he's a freshman, and he's dealing with a mini version of the Dion Harris effect wherein a high-usage player on a crappy team ends up taking a lot of horrific shots and turns the ball over a lot because he's playing one on five. This happened to Harris (Dion version) his sophomore year, when Abram missed the season, Horton got suspended for half of it, and the rest of the team was limping in slings and casts and the like. Everyone expected a breakout season when he wasn't playing with Dani Wohl, and they got... eh, pretty much the same.
My winding point: Harris is not one of the ten best players in the Big Ten, not by a longshot, and he will have to improve significantly or draw the wrath of the Ghost of Wonk. And the pained apathy of this space.
Like the other list, except with sad fugee faces.
5. Vince Helmuth and Mark Moundros. Maybe? Though the spread offense seems a wasteland for fullbacks and fellow lumberers, Owen Schmitt's "runaway beer truck" touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl was one more carry than Michigan fullbacks had last year, and Schmitt actually got to, like, carry the ball 46 other times. The Rodriguez system does have a place for a crushing lead blocker who can occasionally accept a dive handoff as part of the triple option, but does either fullback have that sort of ability?
Helmuth might. His final year at Saline he was the Dissolved Salts' main offensive threat, a pounding straight-ahead sort in the vein of Schmitt, and as Rivals #1 incoming fullback that year he has the sort of guru approval you'd like to see. And the offense last year was freakin' nuts for tight ends instead of fullbacks.
You know what? Scratch this. Fullbacks are probably going to be okay.
5. Brandon Graham, Terrance Taylor, Jason Kates, all other defensive lineman and so forth and such and such and so on. OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE THE RUNNING STOP I'M THE SIZE OF A REFRIGERATOR AND MY LIGAMENTS ARE MORE STRETCHED THAN JOAN RIVERS' FACE ZING THAT'S MY ZINGER OH THE PAIN RESUMES NOOOOOOOOOOO
4. Darryl Stonum. Stonum liked Michigan for a lot of reasons, including its inherent Michigan-ness and the presence of high school teammates Troy Woolfolk and Brandon Herron, but high amongst the list of reasons was probably the Michigan tradition of heavily featuring one bionic deathbot wide receiver who goes on to a long and fruitful NFL career.
West Virginia has not so much had this tradition. Their number one target in the White-Slaton era has been diminutive Darius Reynaud, who is on track to be a sixth-round selection in this year's draft and will have to return punts like a mother to not get cut two years into his career. Stonum, no doubt, has higher hopes.
There is a precedent for a larger, more traditional sort of receiver making waves in the Rodriguez offense: Chris Henry. Though most know him as one of the two legendary asshats (Pacman Jones, of course, the other) guaranteed to be referenced by rival fans in their grasping attempts to paint Rodriguez as Mengele in a track jacket, Henry was also one bad mother on the field. As a redshirt freshman, Henry caught 41 balls for 1006 yards and ten touchdowns, a whopping 24.5 yards per catch. His sophomore season was marred by intermittent suspension and behavior-related reductions in playing time (he only started seven games, though I believe he played in all except maybe Pitt) but still saw him catch 52 passes for 872 yards. Henry was booted after that year, and despite his obvious character issues he was still drafted in the third round. If he could stay out of jail he'd be on his way to a productive NFL career. Presumably the affable Stonum will not have those issues.
So It's not like Stonum is going to see 20 balls a year until he flips out and transfers to Texas Tech. Rodriguez will adjust to talent, and since the quarterback this year is probably going to be water-buffalo-era relic Steven Threet, Michigan isn't going to run 71% of the time. But the projected starting quarterback transferred and Michigan is down to one, maybe one in a half bullets in a sort of anti-Russian roulette game in which you really, really need the gun to go "bang" or you end up at the Insight Bowl surrounded by confused bowl officials asking you if you know where Purdue is, where's Purdue, are you sure you guys aren't supposed to be Purdue?
3. Mike Massey. Whereas Carson Butler has a chance to start over with a coach who he doesn't have a combative relationship with, Mike Massey no longer has the Massey family guardian angel guiding his steps.
Massey hasn't done much other than almost make big catches so far in his Michigan career, and though he's a better blocker than Carson Butler (as there are six-year-old girls who are better blockers than Carson Butler this should be interpreted as faint praise), blocking defensive ends and blitzers has just acquired a significantly lower priority.
But the main reason Massey's hurt by the coaching switch is less complicated: the number of TE snaps just got halved. The short-lived Debord zone scheme was mad for tight ends, always deploying at least one (even on four-wide plays, one of the "wideouts" was a split TE) and frequently (say, half the time) two. Under Rodriguez the only time you'll see more than one TE is short yardage and there will be a hefty quantity of plays with four actual wide receivers on the field; many of the snaps that do have TEs will feature them split out in the slot, where they'll be blocking linebackers or even defensive backs. This heavily favors Butler and sophomore Martell Webb over old-school slow guys like Massey and (probably) Steve Watson.
2. Brandon Minor. Late in Minor's freshman year he looked like Mike Hart's heir apparent, though that was on the backs of a couple long runs that obscured his tendency to pick up three yards at all other times. Minor's talent cleared up his sophomore year, when Mike Hart was out; Minor and Brown split carries in several different games.
In those games Minor had some nice runs, but didn't display any wiggle. His 4.3 YPC was nice, but Carlos Brown's 5.1 exceeded it by almost a yard. (For those skeptical that Brown's meaningless 85-yard sprint against Minnesota distorts those statistics, if you chop those 85 yards down to 46 -- equivalent to Minor's season long -- Brown still has a half-yard on Minor.) He did spectacularly truck a Notre Dame safety towards the end of FBDII, but that pretty much summed up his attitude vis a vis defenders: "maybe I can run through this guy." Sometimes he can. Sometimes you're aiming straight for the SS Concussion.*
Minor was apparently passed by Carlos Brown last year, and that was before Michigan imported a speed freak who likes his running backs short, shifty, and blazing. Brandon Minor is none of those things.
*(hell yes, I'm just waiting for Michigan to finally have one of those guided missile safeties who don't even look for the ball when they've got a 50-50 shot at shoving a helmet through the torso of a defenseless wide receiver so I can call him "the SS Concussion." Although I might call Carson Butler that for his blocking "skills.")
1. Ryan "Whoops" Mallett. Obvs.
Angry Michigan Safety Hating God is wroth at the hockey team for some reason. First, Kolarik went down, then Scooter Vaughn (in one of the all-time stupid Michigan hockey injuries, up there with Josh Blackburn slipping on a nut when carrying a fridge), and now Eric Elmblad may have broken Matt Rust. Yost Built:
Rivals reported yesterday that he went knee-to-knee with Eric Elmblad and apparently Red will update his status after practice today. Keep your fingers crossed on this one, because rumors are swirling that he has a broken leg.
There is a chunk of good news:
Senior Chad Kolarik, who has been sidelined since suffering a hamstring injury against Lake Superior State Feb. 16, is "99-percent sure" he'll play in Friday's game. He resumed skating with the team last Tuesday.
"I'm just getting my hands back, getting my endurance back," he said yesterday. "I'm feeling a lot better today. I was pretty excited out there, having a good time and joking around."
That article has some noises by Vaughn about trying to go this weekend, too, but those are shot down by Red. He might be back for the Joe, though. Also mentioned: the possibility of moving Hagelin to center in Rust's absence. I've been idly thinking about the composition of next year's top line: Pacioretty is obviously on it, and since Palushaj seemed much more effective with Porter and Patch than Turnbull he's probably next. But who centers? Bork? Bork. Either him or Caporusso, who seems wasted playing with Turnbull and Miller and Fardig and such on the third line, no offense to those fine penalty-killing wingers.
Anyway, the Nebraska-Omaha series opens tomorrow at Yost.
Victory! Michigan's road to San Antonio began today with a thrilling 6-4 victory over Iowa that featuerd a 12-minute field goal drought for both teams combined. Prediction for tomorrow's game against Wisconsin (noon, ESPN): Michigan 7,000, Wisconsin 5. Suck on that, BAD-gers. Zing! (UMHoops on the win-like substance.)
Also, confirmed white guy Kyle Cassity has been offered. You'll love this bit:
In addition to Michigan, Cassity has indicated that he also plans to visit both St. Louis and Evansville, with the possibility of a couple other visits being worked out after that. Nevertheless, a school that we believe is also very much in the picture for Cassity and cannot be counted out is Southern Illinois (Carbondale), as both head coach Chris Lowery and assistant coach Rodney Watson have been in frequent contact with Cassity and have expressed a high level of interest. While the Salukis are currently out of scholarships for the class of 2008, Cassity is without question Southern Illinois' #1 recruiting priority should something open up in that class. Even if it does not, there is still a strong possibility that Cassity could receive preferred walk-on status at SIU next season with the understanding that a scholarship would be available for him for the three years following that.
Why go to Michigan when you can be a preferred walk-on at Southern Illinois? In Soviet Russia, walk-on recruits you! What a country!
There's some speculation that Cassity hasn't actually actually been offered offered and that Michigan still prefers Georgia's Ebuka Anyaorah (given Beilein's tendencies and that guy's name, I should clarify that we're talking about Georgia the state, not Georgia the country), even though Anyaorah couldn't come on a scheduled visit.
And hey, that guy who was the crown jewel of Harvard's recruiting class decided he didn't want to spend four years thinking "for God's sake, put on a tie" and decommitted. Apparently West Virginia was on this guy previously, and we could use another post, no? For those doubting his ability to play at a Big Ten level, 1) alternative: Zack Gibson, 2)
Jackson said that in the past day, he had received calls from Connecticut, Boston College, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, DePaul and Rutgers about Ben-Eze's availability.
A final note in picture form:
That's from Spartans Weblog and is a game-by-game plot of Michigan's offensive and defensive efficency with a corresponding trendline. Is there improvement here? Defensively, it appears so. Offensively... no. And you should keep in mind that Michigan's schedule was heavily frontloaded; this does not appear to be the trajectory of a team on the upswing.
Etc.: Junior day is today; Varsity Blue has it covered.
Lists are one of the hackiest forms of writing anything, but I, too, succumb to the occasional bout of offseason glazomania. The following five players are the people on the team who should be happiest about the start of the Rodriguez era.
Included in these evaluations are recruits who picked Michigan before the changeover; those who signed up afterwards knew what they were getting into and are thus disqualified.
5. Corey Zirbel. You wouldn't know it from the deep insecurity emanating from any Michigan fan considering the 2008 offensive line, but M has a top-100 tackle entering his fourth year in the program ready to step into Jake Long's oversized shoes. The problem is that top-100 tackle is Corey Zirbel.
Zirbel, reportedly frustrated by his inability to move up on the depth chart, believed that the existing Michigan coaches had already decided he was not going to contribute; his effort thus flagged. Now he's starting with a fresh slate in a new offense and there's a big vacancy at left tackle (and, if Steve Schilling's pass protection doesn't improve, maybe right tackle*). It's now or never for him.
*(implication is that Schilling starts at RG, not loses his starting spot entirely.)
4. Avery Horn. The word on Horn from fall practices was "fast as hell, tiny, has no idea what he's doing." The redshirt that followed would normally be a red flag for a program bound and determined to see anyone with a chance of contributing blow a year of eligibility on special teams. Add in Michigan's historical inability to make use of tiny fast guys and Horn's middling guru rankings and you have a recipe for a mediocre career of about 50 carries and a brief stint as a returner ended by a single fumble.
Enter Rodriguez, who hears "fast as hell" and falls into a reverie that makes the buts inaudible. Though Horn has a lot of competition with three juniors in front of him and the McGuffie-Shaw-Cox class behind him, his career prognosis got a lot better when Rodriguez was hired.
3. Marcus Witherspoon. Witherspoon is something of an OLB/DE tweener, a high school defensive end who most project to OLB in college because of his size. Usually this would entail a year or two of learning just WTF "coverage" is and maybe some discussion of "angles" and "not being Chris Graham", and that was likely to be the case with Witherspoon. But when Michigan landed Stanford's Scott Shafer they picked up what looks to be one of the nation's most blitz-happy defensive coordinators. Marcus Witherspoon had 27 sacks as a senior. Marcus Witherspoon likes rushing the passer. Marcus Witherspoon should be happy.
2. Slocum, Kates, Taylor, Jamison, Graham... basically any DL who survive. Though Michigan defensive line finally started moving away from its 90s paradigm of blue-collar white guys who the NFL wouldn't draft in a hundred years, motivation and weight issues still plagued them. Not that this is unusual: you show me a program without at least one 350-pound waddler whose idea of exercise is picking up three Big Macs at once and I'll show you a school with a direction in its name and maybe a "State," too.
But Michigan's program seemed especially content with rolls of blubber around their linemen's midsection. Anyone who had the misfortune to tune into one of many, many Brent Musberger segments on former defensive tackle and moonwalking expert Pat Massey's rigorous weight-gain program knows this. According to Musberger, Massey was told to eat a whole pizza every night in an effort to keep his weight above 285. Pizza? This is the diabolical plan of secret master Mike Gittleson? Argh! Last year even purported speed rusher Tim Jamsion looked pregnant, gut hanging over his belt.
I don't know how much impact Mike "Satan" Barwis is actually going to have, but I am sure that the canary in this particular coalmine will be the composition and performance of the defensive line, and that Mike Barwis eats your soul if you think midnight pizza is a workout regimen.
1. Sam McGuffie. This blog has already chronicled the division of opinion on Mr. McGuffie, which is wide as the sea. The one thing everyone did agree on: get this guy and space and let him spin like a top, and you've probably got something. Skeptical Rivals analysts openly questioned why McGuffie wasn't heading to some place like Texas Tech, where he could become the next Wes Welker. (Welker -- surprise! -- is also white.)
And, you know, they kind of had a point. On the face of it, McGuffie heading to the Michigan zone game, where he would almost never be the target of a a pass (in the last two years, screen attempts by Michigan have collapsed) or be directed to get out to the corner, didn't make a whole lot of sense. Though he's got some nasty cuts, McGuffie is no Mike Hart. When someone hits him, McGuffie just goes down. The thing that struck me when I watched the video from his final playoff victory: "jesus, that guy's tiny." And so he is. Also tiny: Noel Devine.
Please note that grades handed out are strictly results-based. Obviously any recruiting class that undergoes a coaching changeover is going to suffer; given the circumstances faced Michigan did very well.
I know it's a month after signing day, but Pryor's still out there: 2008 is not over. The 1,000 foot view of this recruiting class with links to the street-level:
- Quarterbacks: D. Once Mallett transferred and Rodriguez came in, this became the biggest area of need by a mile. The results: one guy who might be six feet tall and might be able to throw. I like Justin Feagin as a player and a person (and by "person" I mean "disembodied quote machine"), but not so much as the QB recruiting class that will transition us into the RichRod era. Obviously getting Pryor, even with all the warning flags, bumps this up.
- Running Backs: A. Sam McGuffie has the potential to be Michigan's Noel Devine; I am driving his bandwagon. Michael Shaw may be a slot receiver -- though with Terrence Robinson and Martavious Odoms I think he'll start off in the backfield -- and may be a running back but is definitely fast, fast, fast. Picking him off from Penn State at the last minute was a major boost. Mike Cox provides depth.
- Wide Receivers: A. Darryl Stonum was heavily pursued by USC and Florida and has the ability to be a gamebreaker in the mold of Edwards or Manningham. Roy Roundtree is a possession complement to Stonum. And the two slot guys are exciting, man.
- Tight Ends: A. Brandon Moore slipped as the year went on but had the offers of an enormous national recruit by the time he committed to Michigan; a lot of potential that may go to waste. Michigan won a head-to-head battle against Ohio State for Kevin Koger, a guy just outside of the top 100 to both recruiting sites.
- Offensive Line: B+. Numbers and some quality. Dann O'Neill is a critical recruit, an impact left tackle. The late steal of Ricky Barnum gives Michigan one of the highest-rated interior linemen in the country. Mealer, Omameh, Wermers, and Khoury are in the nebulous mass of OL who can contribute; the way each was recruited implies that they're all worth having around to see if they pan out. Would have been nice to pick up a Zebrie Sanders or Lane Clelland instead of Khoury.
- Defensive Line: D. Michigan only needed one DT and filled that need with Mike Martin, a low downside, moderate upside sort who's very likely to be a multiyear starter. At DT, he alone warrants an A- given the four sophomores in front of him. DE, however, was a crying need and Michigan got no one, which is an F-.
- Linebacker: A-. Michigan needed some quality here and got it. Fitzgerald is a near-blue chip who picked M over Florida and Rutgers; I expect he'll get early PT and battle for a starting spot this fall unless Johnny Thompson turns a corner most think he's already skidded past. Marcus Witherspoon may be a DE, or may be Shawn Crable (who, come to think of it, might have been a DE). Michigan also got him away from Florida. Kenny Demens is kinda shortish but brings wood when he tackles; hopefully he's not Chris Graham redux. Taylor Hill is an edge terror.
- Cornerback: B+. Boubacar Cissoko is a smurf but is otherwise a perfect corner. If he can overcome the smurf thing he'll be smurfy. JT Floyd is generally regarded as slow and didn't get a ton of interest from anyone other than UT and M. Would like to have seen one more high caliber player here.
- Safety: B. Brandon Smith is a moderately shirtless recruit who slipped in the rankings throughout the year as he played all sorts of things for his high school team, including kick returner and quarterback. Though he might take some work he has the athletic ability to be an excellent safety. Again, would have liked to see another player here.
(Specialists were N/A this year with both starters returning.)
An overall grade: B+. There are two howling holes and I wanted one more four-star recruit in the secondary; other than that Michigan did very well. They held on to every recruit the Carr staff brought in except a QB (John Wienke) who no longer fit the system and an h-back (Christian Wilson) who Rodriguez just didn't appear interested in for whatever reason. The Rodriguez closing surge (LB Hill, CB Floyd, QB Feagin, WR Roundtree, RB Shaw, WR Robinson, WR Odoms, OL Barnum, OL Omameh) brought 3-4 of the speed players Rodriguez needs on his offense with McGuffie and Stonum already in the class; it also added two more OL to a group that badly needed more bodies. I was continually skeptical Michigan could fill a 25-man class with quality players, or even get close: they did.
I didn't expound on the WRs when their time came, so let me do that now:
Wide receivers: Stonum has the same high profile and potential as any of the guys who wore #1 (or should have) in years past. He enrolled early and will participate in spring practice; I expect he'll see Mario-esque playing time as a freshman and have a similar career path. Every indicator from offers to guru ratings to high school performance to personality is positive. I expect he'll be a huge success. Roundtree does not have the ceiling Stonum does and is going to have to put in serious time in the weightroom before he finds himself on the field; once there he can be a solid #2 in the realm of Mathews or Avant.
And the slot guys are awesome. Please take this with something of a grain of salt -- I am and have always been irrationally in favor of little ankle-breakers -- but man, I think these guys are good. After I did the WR summary I was stumbling around Scout and ran across a bunch of Klein Oak-Team About To Be Bludgeoned highlight reels (for those who subscribe, they're here: versus Spring, Woodlands, and Magnolia). Sometimes guys turn in dud performances in a single game or their 50 yard touchdown run is a simple matter of taking it off tackle and being faster than everyone who's not going to a BCS school, but in each of these highlight packages Robinson did something sweet.
I know the offers weren't the sort you get excited about (BC and Wake), but Robinson had to sit out his junior year because of a transfer. Since recruiting in Texas is so screwed up, by the time Robinson started lighting up opponents UT and A&M and OU were sitting on 25-man classes or whatever and going "whoah... f***!" Both recruiting services had him a four star largely because of his size, which is understandable, but Robinson's going to a system that wants him just the way he is and has a specific role for a guy with exactly his skillset. He's a five star in the Rodriguez system. Think Steve Breaston, hopefully during his freshman year when we all thought he was Black Jesus.
Klein Oak had a weird rotation going where they had a zone-read offense featuring Robinson and Hales alternate with a more conventional shotgun passing attack where some white guy would throw the ball (on third and long, probably); when this happened Robinson was a s
lot receiver. So he's not totally unfamiliar with what he's going to be doing this fall; I expect to see a lot out of him.
And then there's Odoms, who didn't do anything amazing on film and is short and is just the kind of guy who goes out there and reels in long touchdown catches. If I'm just totally wrong about Robinson they've still got this guy from the muck who everyone except ESPN thinks is the fastest electron they've seen this year.
2009? The board is under assembly and reaching the point at which it will be relased into the wild; probably sometime early next week. Varsity Blue has beaten me to the punch on this and has been flaunting a 2009 board for a few weeks. Though it's redundant to maintain my own, the board is the framework of the recruiting coverage around these parts. Maybe we can wiki-ize it or something and work on the same one.
Anyway, I'll accompany that with a look at Michigan's needs, early prospects, and various recruiting issues facing the program.