The last time Michigan's quarterback situation appeared so dire it was 1995, Lloyd Carr's first year, and the quarterbacks were true freshman Scott Dreisbach and walk-on Brian Griese. Michigan was playing in the "Kickoff Classic" that year against Virginia. Michigan Stadium baked, Dreisbach started, and the team sucked. Down 17-0 at the half, Michigan looked lifeless.
One of the weirdly vivid memories of my life is listening to an affable Virginia fan tell us Michigan was not going to win the game if they kept letting that freshman throw the ball. We nodded in rueful agreement.
He would turn out to be wrong by one Mercury Hayes toe. Dreisbach finished with 374 yards on 52 attempts,* Michigan won, and all that quarterback stuff was quickly forgotten until the next week and the week after and especially when Dreisbach got injured and Brian Griese was called forth from obscurity and inserted into the starting lineup. This was good in the long term. In the short term, it was brutal:
Michigan quarterbacks combined for 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, completed about 53% of their passes, and struggled to crack seven yards per attempt with an All-Star cast of future NFL receivers: Amani Toomer, Jay Reimersma, Mercury Hayes.
So none of that was particularly good but the team didn’t exactly implode. Tim Biakabutuka ran and ran and ran and then ran some more in a 31-23 win over Ohio State and Michigan went 9-4. Not a nuclear waste site by any stretch of the imagination. So… there’s a chance.
This year, your nominal starter is the walk-on and the freshmen appear set to wait in line. Nick Sheridan (left) is the walk-on. He’s the son of Bill Sheridan, currently the linebackers coach for the Giants and for three years a defensive position coach under Lloyd Carr. He was honorable mention all conference in high school. He’s about six foot, maybe six one, supposedly more mobile than the competition but more limited in terms of arm strength. And that’s all anyone knows about him.
What limited intelligence we have from practice reports indicates Sheridan is a typical Northwestern quarterback, noodle-armed but bright and mobile-ish. He’s been more consistent than the competition, throws well on the run, and contrary to rumor can heave the ball farther than five yards, as this video of the “Beanie Bowl” indicates. He could be a non-liability who successfully keeps the heat off the other skill position players, and how’s that for Backhanded Compliment Of The Year?
Sheridan’s main competitor is redshirt freshman Steven Threet (right), who enrolled early at Georgia Tech only to bolt for Michigan when Jason Forcier saw the writing on the wall and transferred. In January the writing reformed itself to read “please come back Jason,” but what can you do? Hypothetical newspaper-bearing time travel guy should stop screwing with Michigan fans and tell Forcier to stick it out.
Threet is a classic dropback artillery piece in the Navarre/Mallett/Grbac mold, 6’5” and ponderous. He was a well-respected recruit, getting four stars from the gurus and landing in the top ten pro-style quarterbacks, but reports from practice have him tentative, erratic, and slow both mentally and physically. In the winter he was lauded as an emerging leader who the team actually liked, unlike that Mallett guy; this has not translated to the field. Sheridan’s likely to struggle at some point and Rodriguez keeps saying he wants “two guys he can win with,” so Threet will see the field at some point. He’s reputed to have a bigger arm and more big-play potential… for both teams.
Freshman Justin Feagin talks a great game. He’s got the meaningless puff quote down cold. See this on Pryor:
"What if he does go to Michigan? Shame on me if I sit back and think he's better than me. If he wants to play quarterback, we'll have to fight each other for the job. If I win the job, then I'll know I beat out the No. 1 quarterback in the nation."
He’s also a heck of an athlete, the small-school player of the year in Florida last year and third in their Mr. Football voting. LSU and Miami offered him as a WR/DB.
Unfortunately, he does not appear to be much of a quarterback at this point. Rodriguez claimed Feagin would “have to make an impression in the first two weeks” if he was going to be a serious candidate for playing time; a recent curtailment of his snaps indicates this impression has not been made. A week or so ago, Rodriguez made it clear he was not an option early: “He's not close to being ready.”
I do have some inside baseball indicating that the coaching staff expects to work him in at some point during the season just to see what he can do; the most likely outcome is a few drives here and there that end poorly and a position swap once Beaver and Newsome hit campus in January.
If David Cone sees the field something has gone very wrong.
Running Back & Fullback
|Brandon Minor||Jr.||Mark Moundros||Jr.*|
|Carlos Brown||Jr.||Vince Helmuth||So.|
|Sam McGuffie||Fr.||Kevin Grady||Jr.*|
Like quarterback, Michigan loses a four-year starter and program icon here. Unlike quarterback, there are six options of at least moderate viability and chances are some player or combination of players emerges into a strong Big Ten starter. Four players were listed as co-starters on the first depth chart; they’re discussed here.
|State's too easy|
|Zone during The Horror|
|ND’s too easy|
|MN is too easy|
Brandon Minor is your nominal starter. After a few exciting glimpses his freshman year, Minor proved to be just okay in the more extended audition granted by Hart's ankle problems. Minor was healthy during the spring while Brown was not and is reputed by all to be a demonic worker, so he is the first back in practice. For whatever reason, though, I remain skeptical of his ability. I went back and scoured the UFRs, finding these comments:
Minor is an obvious step down [from Mike Hart].
Brandon Minor missed an obvious read on one of the carries I charted above; I think the running back job is going to be wide open next year. Minor runs really upright and seems perpetually on the verge of getting his clock cleaned; he also clearly lacks Hart's ability to pick through traffic. The spin move on Zbikowski was sweet, though.
Both Brown and Minor showed some indication they will be decent to good Big Ten runners next year.
Minor, I thought, was the better of the backs, consistently running with power and picking up YAC.
That's not entirely helpful when I'm trying to make the case for someone else to start.
Numbers might be: he averaged 4.3 yards a carry, eight tenths of a yard off both Hart and Carlos Brown's 5.1. Even if you hack Brown's 85 yard touchdown against Minnesota down to Minor's long of 46 yards (also picked up against Minnesota), Brown holds a significant edge in YPC.
Minor runs too upright and stiff for my tastes. He's clearly slower than Brown and the fleet freshmen, has little wiggle, and tends to plow over and through defenders instead of trying to avoid them. Sometimes this ends with Minor spectacularly trucking someone; sometimes it ends with Minor taking a wicked shot from a headhunting linebacker or safety.
In the best case, Barwis gives Minor the half-step he needs to get the corner and he’s a poor man’s version of Darren McFadden. In the worst case he’s David Underwood. He must be physically dominant to be effective because he's not going to make people miss much and he doesn't have Hart's remarkable balance. IMO, he gets his fair share of carries throughout the year but is clearly less effective than at least one other tailback and possibly two.
|Loping vs Purdue|
|Tripping over Leman|
|Nice first down|
Carlos Brown has a knack for picking up annoying hand injuries. Last year Brown busted his hand in fall practice and missed the early portion of the season; in spring he cut or broke his finger or something in a “freak weightlifting accident.” I suspect Barwis bit it off and spent the summer growing a replacement in a jar.
He was also the more impressive non-Hart tailback in 2007, deploying his speed to good effect and, as noted, coming out of last season with a Hart-matching 5.1 YPC thanks to the exceptional generosity of Minnesota’s defense.
After his first extended action I summarized him like so:
He seems like the exact opposite of Hart: a guy with questionable vision and little in the way of moves who has the speed to jet into the endzone if you give him a crease (and he sees it). The questionable vision could be due to inexperience -- he spent the spring at defensive back, then broke his hand -- and might develop in the future; Hart-like moves are not likely to. His two slashing touchdown runs were encouraging and he seems much less likely to get decapitated by a charging safety than Minor; he'll have a shot at the job next year. We're likely to see a four- or even five-headed rotation early.
Brown's been moonlighting at quarterback in what must feel like a reprise of his high school career, when he was a quarterback in name only tasked with using his extraordinary athleticism to take Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws further than they had any right to go. If Brown does take live snaps at QB, it will be part of a Wildcat (or wild mustelidae) package; he's little threat to throw the ball except as a diversion.
Brown was a big recruit and has the sort of outside speed that Steve Slaton did; I think he’ll end up with the slight edge.
Sam McGuffie needs no introduction. Mixtape ho:
He flips over people for fun. People leap over him for fun. When he leaps over people for fun and there is no fun because people tackle him they post it on Youtube like it’s a big deal. He is an internet phenomenon. If you try to bring any of these things up to him he will scowl at you. His teammates call him “Vanilla Ice,” which no doubt also draws scowls.
I’m on record expecting McGuffie to kick ass:
I'm not one of those who scoffs at recruiting rankings, but their [Rivals’] continued skepticism about McGuffie is puzzling. He has the offers (Michigan, Florida, USC amongst a host of others), the stats at perhaps the highest level of competition available in high school football, and reel after reel of jaw-dropping highlights. He has the fourth-highest SPARQ rating in the history of whatever the hell a SPARQ rating is because he showed up at a combine before his junior year of high school and ripped off a 4.32 40, a 3.83 shuttle -- I'm not exactly sure if my calculations are correct, but I believe this means he finished the shuttle before he started it -- and a 41' vertical leap.
He's a little small, and his his disappointing senior season was injury-wracked to the point where his nationally televised showcase game saw him spinning 180 degrees before contacting tacklers and driving meekly at the feet of oncoming blitzers, but even the skeptical Rivals named him last year's best running back in space and publicly wondered why he was heading for Michigan instead of a school that would spread him all over the field like Wes Welker—white guy, natch—and take advantage of his crazy speed and cutting ability.
Uh, check. He’s nominally first on the depth chart already, and will see time all over the field. It begins.
A second freshman, Ohioan Michael Shaw (video), was listed as a wide receiver on the fall roster but features as a tailback on the depth chart. He was a running back in high school; he figures to spend quite a bit of time motioning to and from the slot.
The hype is building on Shaw because he chose the right time to juke a couple defenders and plow slot-sized freshman cornerback Boubacar Cissoko. The media was there doling out oohs and aahs as appropriate and a practice legend is born.
There’s more to Shaw than proficiency in the “Michigan drill,” though. He hovered just outside the recruiting sites’ top 100 lists and spent the spring tearing up the track until he was banned for transfer-related shenanigans. He is fast. And he is fast. And he is fast. At the Penn Relays, Shaw won the 200 meters and anchored his team’s winning 4x100 and 4x200 relays, causing his coach to break down in tears:
“I’ve been coaching since the ‘60’s,” Coach Waggoner said of his 46.4 anchor, Mike Shaw, “and I’ve coached a lot of guys, but he’s one of the best.”
He is fast.
He is also other things. McGuffie's not the only guy drawing superlative praise from Fred Jackson. Jackson on the nagging injuries picked up by the starters:
"Those two guys right there, I PROMISE you that you stay nicked up too long, it's going to hurt you tremendously,'' Jackson said.
Because Shaw and McGuffie can play right now, he said.
Shaw and McGuffie are two of the most exciting freshmen he has ever coached at Michigan, he continued.
They're Justin Fargas fast, but can cut better.
Fargas-who-can-cut is this program’s Loch Ness monster.
Avery Horn is fast as hell but redshirted last year because he wasn't ready to play in college. He ripped off a couple impressive runs in what passed for the spring game but has received little mention in the fall and seems far down the depth chart. Michigan picked freshman Mike Cox over top-100 instate back Jonas Gray when both attended the Michigan camp; he was a middling recruit with offers from Maryland and BC and will probably redshirt.
Both players who saw time return, but the position has changed significantly. Under Lloyd Carr the fullback was a thick-necked ogre tasked with smashing his face into linebackers. He was the target of maybe three or four passes a year and never, ever got to take a handoff (no, BJ Askew doesn’t count).
At West Virginia, Rodriguez deployed a thick-necked ogre who ripped off a 50-some yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Owen Schmitt was the hammer on option dives and an important outlet in the passing game; he touched the ball 59 times last year. Michigan fullbacks, as a unit, had three catches for eleven yards, all of them no doubt on third and long. This is why Rodriguez doesn’t actually have a “fullback.” Rather, he’s got an “MX” back, and he’s got to block and catch and run.
This is a projection based on some practice reports and common sense, but once Kevin Grady manages to process the copious amounts of alcohol no doubt still flowing through his veins, he might be the guy here. Grady doesn’t really fit in with the new offense except as a downhill runner and blocker and now that the "fullback" is a guy who is actually an important cog in the offense he might be amenable to a move, especially if/when it becomes clear that players quicker than he have a death grip on all the tailback carries.
Mark Moundros and Vince Helmuth are the more traditional options. You can find reasons either has an advantage over the other: Moundros is older and was the starter last year; Helmuth was more highly rated, should improve more quickly, and operated as a battering ram tailback at Saline High. I lean towards Helmuth.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
|Greg Mathews||Jr.||Toney Clemons||So.||Martavious Odoms||Fr.||Carson Butler||Jr.*|
|Junior Hemingway||So.||Darryl Stonum||Fr.||Terrence Robinson||Fr.||Mike Massey||Sr.*|
|James Rogers||So.||LaTerryal Savoy||Jr.*||Mike Shaw||Fr.||Kevin Koger||Fr.|
Despite the early departures of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington to the NFL, Michigan has stockpiled a considerable amount of talent at wide receiver and tight end and the dropoff shouldn’t be severe. There will be a dropoff, though, as no one on the roster save maybe Darryl Stonum can hope to replicate Manningham’s explosive deep routes, and Stonum is just a freshman.
|Easy ND score|
|Pride comes before the fall|
Junior Greg Mathews is the most experienced returning player. As a sophomore he was Michigan’s third receiver, catching 39 passes for 366 yards. A YPC under 10 always signals possession receiver and that’s Mathews’ rep going into his first year as Michigan’s primary target. The upside here is Jason Avant, a reliable guy on a variety of short routes with outstanding hands and the strength to get off a jam. (We haven't actually seen the outstanding hands, yet, as Mathews has been reliable but unspectacular in the catching-stuff category, but Avant's reliability was only a theory before Braylon left.)
Mathews is unlikely to be much of a vertical threat, however, and a credible deep threat will be important when it comes to keeping safeties from breathing down Sheridan's neck.
Past Mathews things are uncertain. Four or five players vie for one and a half spots. Sophomore Toney Clemons spent the spring working out of the slot because the only other alternative was walk-on Jim Potempa, a player so obscure that the Michigan Stadium public address announcer messed up his name more than once during his half-dozen garbage time carries last year. With the arrival of the impressive, tiny duo of Martavious Odoms and Terrence Robinson, Clemons is likely to move back to the outside where he belongs... eventually. Robinson's "tweaked" knee, about which more later, leaves Michigan with one credible slot option and that's a true freshman. Expect Clemons to move inside and out regularly; his long term home should be on the outside.
Junior Hemingway suffered a severe ankle sprain in the fall and remained limited by it throughout fall camp. Though recruiting guru opinions on him varied wildly, Hemingway had a ton of early offers from national powers and turned in a productive senior year. He seemed ahead of Clemons when the two were freshmen, but the new coaching staff hasn't seen him healthy. He may not make a contribution until midseason. The impression I got from the limited time he saw last year and all the recruiting info I gathered is that Hemingway was a version of Marquise Walker, a spectacular leaper and potential jump-ball threat that lacked something in top-end speed.
One player not lacking in top end speed, Darryl Stonum, was Michigan’s highest-rated recruit in the 2008 class. An NFL prototype wide receiver out of Houston, Stonum picked Michigan over USC, Florida, and everyone else. He’s a candidate for immediate playing time after enrolling early and participating in spring practices, and has a top-end ceiling on par with any of Michigan’s terror wide receivers from years past.
Normally the most optimistic projection for Stonum’s freshman year would be something similar to that turned in by Mario Manningham—27 catches, 433 yards, 6 touchdowns—but the early enrollment should help him see the field earlier and more frequently. Forty or even fifty catches is not out of the question.
Stonum’s listed as a co-starter at one outside receiver position with surprise LaTerryal Savoy, who’s seen almost no time in his three years in the program to date. Savoy was a sleeper out of Louisiana with no other major offers and seemed destined for a career of total obscurity until the moment the depth chart came out with his name atop the list. It’s doubtful Savoy’s suddenly become a much better receiver, so the bet here is that once Hemingway’s injury and Stonum’s inexperience subside so will Savoy’s prominence on the depth chart. He could be a Tyrece Butler sort who hauls in 10-12 catches.
Those five will be your main targets on the outside. If there is a severe need Michigan could strip the redshirt off freshman Roy Roundtree, the kid who decommitted from Purdue and set off the whole snake oil brouhaha. He’s gotten a few approving mentions from Rodriguez during his hourly press conferences, but Roundtree is about 6’3” and weighs as much as slot ninjas a half-foot shorter than him. A redshirt seems advisable.
Zion Babb and James Rogers are in hot competition for the title of most egregiously wasted redshirt of 2007; both bounced to and from the secondary, seeing meaningless snaps that did little to prepare them for roles they’re not going to have this year anyway. Neither was big recruit. Rogers was a high school running back plucked from obscurity at Michigan’s camp; Babb was a middling recruit out of California. Rodriguez hasn’t mentioned either of them this fall and playing time is likely to be sparing. Rogers is reputed to be ahead of Babb.
The arrival of Rich Rodriguez brings with it a smurfy new position: slot receiver. In the spread ‘n shred these guys are the targets of all manner of different things that aim to get a little electron-sized bastard in open space against a linebacker or safety: option pitches, bubble screens, reverses, etc. This is all terribly exciting, as Michigan now threatens to have four or five Steve Breastons on the roster at all times. This should be a great boon in the return game; in the context of the offense it provides a ton of YAC opportunities that reduce the burden placed on the quarterbacks.
Michigan had none of these guys on the roster, or even in the recruiting class, until Rodriguez came aboard, but in the brief time allotted him he filled the position with authority. Martavious Odoms is from small-school Florida powerhouse Pahokee. His recruitment was extremely strange. He picked up an early offer from Notre Dame, and some months later he had a truly impressive collection for a 5’8” guy: Iowa, Rutgers, South Carolina, LSU, Oregon, Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, and Rodriguez’s then-home of West Virginia.
Odoms’ reaction to all this was to sit around doing nothing in particular as most of those schools filled up their classes. There was a cursory visit to Auburn, some discussion of USF and a grayshirt offer from Miami—by then so jammed with players they were trying to get Odoms to campus as a track athlete—and then signing day came and Odoms... did nothing. He ended up signing a few days later, and Michigan fans scrambled to find out just who the heck this kid was.
He's small to the point where he only exists on alternate Tuesdays but he's been playing on Pahokee's varsity since he was 14 (he was an eighth grader at the time) and was smoking guys in the state championship game by the time he was a sophomore. Unlike many guys Odoms' size, he's always been a receiver, and few players can claim to have the extensive in-game experience he has. Practice reports have been universally positive, praising his hands, toughness, silky-smooth moves and ability to make the first tackler miss. I go back to what a Floridian high school football veteran and Friend of Blog told me unprompted when Odoms committed:
He's a tough SOB. Small cat, really tough, will remind you of Steve Smith. Very, very fast. I'm a huge Martavious Odoms fan, you'll love him.
Watch out for him; this is one of those guys you see named “Moss” playing for Miami and think to yourself "goddamn why can't we ever have kids like that?" Practice reports are very encouraging; he sounds like a Steve Breaston if Breaston had been a natural-born receiver. He’s listed as the starter in the slot for Utah. You will see plenty of him.
Meanwhile, Terrence Robinson’s recruitment got off to a slow start because a junior-year transfer forced him to sit out 2006; when he saw the field for Klein Oak in 2007 he outrushed, outplayed, and outshone top-100 Texas commit DeShaun Hales. He also did this:
Odoms spent five years at Pahokee smoking opponents and winning state championships while Robinson sat out with a transfer and played quarterback and running back and such; even if Robinson hadn’t “tweaked” his knee Odoms would be the odds on favorite to start in the slot. Robinson will be out for a few weeks and then work his way into the lineup.
|Iowa cross #2|
|Very bad block|
Rich Rodriguez is going to have to use his tight ends a lot more than he did at West Virginia, because he’s got six of them and one has the potential to be ridiculously good as long as he’s not asked to block anyone ever. That fellow is Carson Butler, who came back from Lloyd Carr purgatory to claim the starting tight end spot after Mike Massey’s season-ending knee injury against Northwestern. Butler is the combination of freakish athletic gifts and frustrating mental errors that always gets dubbed “enigmatic” and this preview will be no exception: Carson Butler is one enigmatic mofo.
His promise is obvious. In the Citrus Bowl, he took a tight end screen and loped 65 yards downfield (skip to 2:00) with the bulk of the Florida secondary in pursuit; no one on the Florida team could make up ground and it took a safety with an angle to force him out inside the ten. That is a very fast man in an improperly large body. Properly deployed, he could be an All-American.
Butler’s drawbacks were equally severe, though. He false-starts with frustrating regularity. Asking him to block a pass rusher is asking for a helmet in your quarterback’s ribs. This outing against Michigan State was a typical performance:
Ugly, ugly, ugly, especially on the part of Butler, not only complete fail in pass protection but also the culprit on several run plays that went nowhere and the recipient of two critical penalties, one a stupid personal foul and the other a comically inept holding call on Michigan's final drive.
Is it much of a mismatch when your super-athletic tight end blocks like a 180 pound wide receiver? Not really. Evidently Rodriguez agrees since Butler is listed as an OR with not only Mike Massey but freshman Kevin Koger.
I have no idea what to expect out of Butler this year. He could be an All-American caliber performer (he’s unlikely to get enough catches to be an actual All-American) in a contract year for him. He could lose his job in week two.
Mike Massey, meanwhile, returns from that knee injury. In three years of sporadic onfield action, Massey hasn’t done much except almost make a couple of spectacular catches. He was the tentative starter last year until the injury in the Northwestern game. He seems totally average, a guy who will catch the balls he should and make most of the blocks he should but excel in no way whatsoever.
Freshman Kevin Koger picked Michigan over Ohio State and has been mentioned as someone who could see playing time this fall; he is the third co-starter on the depth chart. The most likely outcome is a smattering of snaps in preparation for a starting job next year.
Martell Webb was Butler’s backup once Massey went down and sometimes the temporary starter when Butler had seriously pissed off the coaching staff; he made no catches and drew no notice in UFRs. He did have an excellent block against Minnesota, for whatever that’s worth. Webb was a nobody recruit when he committed to Michigan, but ended up a four-star to both Scout and Rivals; he’s also that 6’5” basketball player that’s all the rage at TE. He could be pretty good if given the opportunity. Given the surfeit of tight ends on the roster and some reported issues with drops in practice he probably won’t get that opportunity until 2009.
Steve Watson redshirted last year and seems to be way down the depth chart. Sparing playing time at best for him; watch for a potential move to the OL. Brandon Moore has an imposing frame at 6’6” and had been offered by a who’s who of college football programs by the time he committed to Michigan, but has gone totally unremarked upon this fall and seems a likely redshirt. If he fills out like whoah a move to tackle might be a possibility, but in high school he was regarded as a no-block TE with excellent hands.
|Mark Ortmann||Jr.*||Tim McAvoy||Jr.*||David Molk||Fr.*||David Moosman||So.*||Steve Schilling||So.*|
|Perry Dorrestein||So.*||Ricky Barnum||Fr.*||Rocko Khoury||Fr.||John Ferrara||So.*||Dann O'Neill||Fr.|
Perhaps the saddest indicator of the potential looming tragedy that is the Michigan offensive line is this: last year this depth chart went three deep. There’s no one but freshmen unlisted this year and, uh… four freshmen in the actual two-deep as hypothesized above.
The line took a hit it could not afford to sustain when certain starter and once upon a time touted recruit Cory Zirbel went down with a knee injury, forcing either David Molk or hastily converted defensive lineman John Ferrara into the starting lineup. Michigan is now one injury away from serious issues indeed.
Steve Schilling is the only returning starter on the line. Unfortunately for Michigan, last year he was frankly bad. There are a ton of mitigating factors—a freshman-year bout with mononucleosis was followed by a shoulder injury that spring, so he was basically being thrown on the field as a true freshman—but bad is bad. Vernon Gholston shattered him into little bits in the OSU game, which saw Shilling rack up a record –12 in pass protection. After the Illinois game he came in for a bit of criticism:
The problems in pass protection have been matched with frequent issues in the run game. One sack and a dangerously batted pass were on him as he failed to contain Illinois DE Doug Pilcher. At the moment, the great hope of the 2007 offensive line, that Schilling and Boren would turn out to be better than the departed Bihl/Riley combo, has not come to fruition. It looks highly unlikely to get there any time this year.
There is the potential for massive improvement here. Practice observers have indicated that Schilling now looks like a bonafide collegiate lineman after being far too small last year. As a freshman starter and former five-star recruit the expectation is he takes a major leap forward. He’d better.
Mark Ortmann draws the unenviable task of attempting to replace the #1 pick in the NFL draft. This is his fourth year in the program and practice reports had him on the verge of starting for the last two seasons, but there was presumably a reason he was stuck behind the uninspiring Schilling last year. This year he’s Michigan’s starting left tackle virtually by default, as there is one other non-freshman tackle on the roster. He could be okay. He could be really bad. We have no indicators either way.
David Moosman slides into Zirbel’s spot at right guard. He’s not from Wisconsin despite this blog’s repeated insistence that he is. He’s from Illinois, and I have inside info that he’s very nice to his GSIs. Moosman was a four-star recruit who picked Michigan over Wisconsin and is entering his third year in a college program, so he could be good.
Dave Molk is a feisty, undersized center from Illinois who was one of only two offensive line recruits in Lloyd Carr’s final Michigan class. He fits much better in this system than Carr’s, as it emphasizes his mobility and places a much smaller premium on size, but Rodriguez made it clear he was battling John Ferrara for a starting job. Two weeks ago Ferrara was a defensive lineman. Crap.
Tim McAvoy saw sporadic time last year at both guard spots due to injury and general lethargy on the part of others. Like Ortmann, he nas stuck behind an extremely uninspiring starter (Alex Mitchell) and doesn’t have much in the way of recruiting hype to fall back on. He’s been a defacto starter since the departure of Mr. Plow; lord knows if he’s going to be any good.
There are virtually no backups as long as Cory Zirbel's knee injury persists, and the word from Rodriguez is that could be the entire season. Mark Huyge exists, I guess, but he’s a redshirt freshman Michigan snatched away from the MAC. He’s unlikely to be ready. He’s also got a high ankle sprain and will miss a chunk of the season. As mentioned, John Ferrara was whiling his time away at defensive tackle until the Zirbel injury forced a position switch. Ferrara’s never blocked in his life. He may start.
At tackle, Perry Dorrestein is most famous for having his one-point-something GPA outed by the Ann Arbor News; insider buzz has been totally silent on him. He was a decent recruit.
It’s down to true freshmen, then. Rodriguez has specifically said these guys are not ready to play but the situation might demand it of them. Guard Ricky Barnum is the least unprepared. He was a highly-rated Florida commit until Rodriguez wandered by with his snake oil cart and has gotten some public praise; he’s probably the second guy off the bench in the event of issues with the interior line. Rocko Khoury has been garnering praise as a center and will start the season in the two deep.
God willing, four other freshmen will redshirt. Tackle Dann O’Neill was a top-100 recruit and has great upside but is not prepared to play this year. Kurt Wermers and Patrick Omameh would never, ever see the field in a normal year but this is not a normal year and they could wander onto the field if things get dire. Elliot Mealer is out with a shoulder injury suffered in the tragic Christmas Eve crash that killed his father and girlfriend.
The thing about time machines is this: you show up with a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper, and the day after tomorrow’s. On day one, you loudly proclaim “I AM FROM THE FUTURE” and people laugh at you and you make bold proclamations about newsworthy events, holding up tomorrow’s paper. The next day you’ve gained some credibility but skeptics remain, so this time you show them the day after tomorrow’s paper, which just has one story on the front page. The headline, in “WAR”-sized caps: “HOLY CRAP, THIS GUY IS FROM THE FUTURE.”
Your credibility established beyond a doubt on day three—which is sometime in late August, 2007—you sit the Michigan fanbase down and carefully explain everything that is going to happen to them over the next twelve months, at which point they laugh at you again.
Travelers pursuing this course of action are strongly recommended to depart before September. Buy stock in Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork, Inc., before you go.
If you’re not out by now, you screwed up, Bakula
Right, so all that happened. We didn’t listen! We didn’t listen.
It all went down. The Horror. The Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game. The resumption of normal service against Notre Dame and Penn State and a bunch of other teams before the Ryan Mallett Experience and Chad Henne’s traitorous shoulder submarined a promising(?!) season. Defeating the Tebow Child by scoring 41 points and deploying an all-shotgun spread offense that looked like it came from, well, the future.
Mike Hart fumbled twice inside the five in that game. Of course he did.
Then Lloyd Carr retired and things got weirder than the absolute weirdest things that had ever happened before. Kirk Ferentz was considered. Bill Martin was on a boat when Les Miles’ agent frantically attempted to reach him; Miles then theatrically signed a contract extension with his Damn Strong Team(tm). Greg Schiano chose Rutgers—Rutgers!—over Michigan. Brady Hoke was theorized.
A few days after the internet burned down, Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez, a man with a four million dollar buyout at his alma mater. Twelve months earlier he turned down six bazillion dollars from Alabama to stay at said alma mater, saying he planned “on being here a long time.” Michigan had acquired a former coal miner from Grant Town, West Virginia, running the swankiest offensive system this side of Urban Meyer. Mere hours before the news broke the most likely candidate seemed to be Hoke.
Michigan fans put the gun back in the drawer; the level of drinking remained constant but the intent shifted 180 degrees.
It was at this point the clocks started to melt. Some guy named Dave Hickman published a story in the West Virginia Daily Whatever claiming Rodriguez had somehow gained access to the Sacred Single Hard Copy Room where West Virginia kept the Sacred Single Hard Copies containing every piece of information WVU had about its football team. He then shredded all of it, laughing maniacally, as dozens of onlookers let Sacred Single Tears roll down their cheeks. The complete implausibility of it all was no obstacle to the story’s ascendance into fan lore; this blog started a series tracking the “West F-ing Jihad” as a nation got its clucking seriously in gear.
We could go over the events that followed, or we could just sum it up in video form:
Everything about this is perfect, from the impotent rage of the West Virginian to the skeezy hotness of the prize to the vaguely douchy New York frat vibe given off by the West Virginian’s target and eventual victor. Oh no he di’in’t, said everyone, and this blog attempted to slay all of them with the Power Of The Internet. It didn’t work.
Things reached their peak weirdness a week or two later, when Hickman – the guy who wrote the article that started the whole mess – wrote a column that actually contained this sentence: “Go ahead, name one thing WVU has done to antagonize anyone.” He followed it up with this defense of the article he wrote, which I remind you was written by him and was also authored by him and all other various sorts of things that involve choosing and ordering words to form sentences:
The shredding accusations, you say? Yes, WVU officials commented on it off the record, but the issue had festered for several days without a word from West Virginia until the media pressed the issue. [emphasis mine] At worst you can argue that was planted by WVU, but even if that were the case, the information about Rodriguez destroying files was true. [and, of course, by “true” he means “not true in any way whatsoever.” –ed]
I’m neither proud nor surprised that in the recesses of the old site there is a draft of a post titled “I want to fight Dave Hickman.” (On the other hand, I am a little surprised I had the sense to not publish it.)
Sample sentence: “Oh, I don't know, you stupid [redacted], maybe we could check the GODDAMN ARTICLE your GODDAMN IDIOT EDITORS APPROVED with YOUR GODDAMN IDIOT NAME ON IT and this GODDAMN IDIOT QUOTE IN IT:
“It’s unbelievable. Everything is gone, like it never existed,’’ said a source within the athletic department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Good, bad or indifferent, we don’t have a record of anything that has happened.’’
Which is an outright lie that you gullibly printed.”
And so on and so forth for the entire irritating summer. Some offensive lineman transferred to Ohio State, blasting the “erosion of family values” as he went. By mid-August more words had been written about a football coach accepting his second job in seven years than Tom Zbikowski’s boxing, Brady Quinn’s sister, and Joe Paterno’s potential retirement combined.
Now we play the games and put this all behind us. Thank God.
So. Here we are. Which is… somewhere. The acquisition of Rodriguez is thrilling in the long term but extremely painful as far as the 2008 offense is concerned. Mallett, Manningham, Arrington, and Mr. Plow all lit out. Terrelle Pryor chose the wrong school. The leftovers at quarterback are a walk-on, a Lurch-sized redshirt freshman, and a true freshman very few thought was a quarterback. One starter returns on the line and the first guy off the bench could be a true freshman.
The outlook is grim. For the first time since 1985, Michigan was omitted from the AP top 25. The coaches deigned to include Michigan at #24, possibly because they weren’t supposed to vote for Duke any more.
And you know what? This seems like great fun. Michigan’s going to run out on the field and play like they’re one of those teams trying to make inferior talent work. They’re going to line up in the shotgun without a huddle. When whichever quarterback happens to be that play’s piñata raises his leg, the team will glance to the sideline and get the new play in. On average, this will be a run that goes for six yards.
At no point will they assume physical or mental superiority over their opponent. Their plan is to raid the endzone as best they can, which may be “not very well at all,” but by God they’re going to try on every snap.
It’s going to be a fiasco. It’s going to be ugly and tantalizing and dispiriting and awesome. I can’t wait.
Talking. Fifteen minutes of Rodriguez talking to ESPN follows:
What does it mean to be a guy who asks only questions that start with “what does it mean to be”? It’s a challenge, I’ll tell you that.
Or. Or. Or. The first depth chart loves the word “or” and has some stuff that might be too weird to take seriously, like “McGuffie OR Shaw OR Minor OR Brown” at tailback—all four will play but the ORs are probably a matter of injury more than reality—and previously buried LaTerryal Savoy the tentative leader at “Z” receiver.
Other items of note:
- Panter listed as the starting SLB with Evans the starting WLB; walk-on Kevin Leach is Panter’s backup.
- Steve Brown and Brandon Harrison are the starting safeties.
- Mike Martin is on the two-deep at DT; Jason Kates is not.
- No Junior Hemingway, no doubt because of injury.
- I dare you to look at the offensive line backups without throwing up.
Rodriguez had yet another press conference at which he related mostly the same stuff he’s related at every other one. Some items of note:
- JB Fitzgerald was a new guy mentioned in line for playing time as a freshman.
- The punt return job is between Warren and Odoms.
- Grady suspended for Utah and possibly longer.
- This quote is characteristically blunt: “The most damaging part, injury-wise, in camp was to our O-line, which was an area we couldn’t afford. Cory Zirbel went out with a knee and his backup, Mark Huyge, went out with an ankle. Now all of a sudden, we’re really scrambling, with already inexperienced players.”
- Moosman will start at either center or guard and the ORs on the depth chart indicate a race between Molk and—gulp—newly minted OL John Ferrara.
Three down. Reports have both Mediacom and Time Warner reaching agreements with the Big Ten Network, which would leave Wisconsin-based Charter the lone holdout amongst the vast array of cable and satellite providers serving the channel’s footprint. One imagines they’d have to cave shortly.
Why don’t you sit down? This guy on “To Catch a Predator” possesses the archetypical buckstache:
I mean, that’s just spectacular right there. Straight out of Central Casting.
Etc.: Touted Minnesota freshman Marqueis Gray gets dinged by the Clearinghouse and will not play for the Gophers this fall. More speculation that VT QB Tyrod Taylor will redshirt this fall… I think Newsome is gone but that has to help.
Update 8/26: Linked to articles on NV DE Keenan Graham, AR CB Darius Winston, IN OL Kyle Koehne, PA WR Todd Thomas (second), GA LB Devekeyan Lattimore, IN LB Jordan Barnes (blurb), NJ DE Will Hill, NC OL Travis Bond, SC DE Chris Bond.
Moved VA QB Kevin Newsome from committed.
Roundup article from ESPN with mention of MN WR Bryce McNeal, free board scouting report on the two Liberty kids, who smoked a poor opponent to open their season. More on Newsome and TX K commit Anthony Fera.
As always, some links from Varsity Blue.
Editorial Opinion: Recruiting board lives here.
Default *#$& about quarterbacks, yes yes, but I made this prediction in June and I’m sticking with it:
IMO, a Newsome decommit will either be preceded or quickly followed by a Forcier commit.
Forcier’s coming in on Saturday for the Utah game.
Guys named Bond(s) from one of the Carolinas will feature heavily at a couple of spots Michigan has an obvious need. SC DE Chris Bonds plans on visiting and sounds like he has a top five:
Bonds said right now USC, Alabama and Southern Cal are tied for the top spot with him because he's visited each. "I still waiting to see Notre Dame and Michigan," he said before moving forward with his decision.
Tennessee is also on the table but obviously has a lot of catching up to do. Bonds is from the same school as junior Adam Patterson; the general opinion is that he’ll be a tough get but get them on campus and there’s a chance and etc etc etc.
Meanwhile, NC OL Travis Bond has one official visit set up and it’s to Michigan. He’s trying to set up some others. Some time ago a helpful reader sent this in:
I would probably slightly upgrade Travis Bond's interest in Michigan. Talked to a friend who knows his coach last night. Bond is visiting Michigan in October. He likes Michigan, South Carolina and UNC ahead of the others.
I think you listed Bond as being from VA, he is actually from Windsor, NC in Bertie County (sparsely populated place over on the Albemarle Sound). He's the second-best tackle in NC this year, behind Xavier Nixon.
There's nothing in Bertie County other than farms, marshland, a few thousand people and several billion mosquitos. But they turn out some good football talent.
South Carolina is not amongst the other teams Bond’s trying to set up visits with, but that could be a proximity issue. Often players will eschew visits to nearby schools since they can hop in a car and be there in two hours.
OH DE Cornelius “Tank” Carradine is a top-ten Ohio player at a position of crying need who claims offers from much of the Big Ten, but no one is talking about him. I just put him on the board because it wasn’t clear how much of a prospect he was or whether any of his offers were legit. FWIW:
Martin said Carradine has scholarship offers from colleges such as Cincinnati, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee and Miami University, but the player has remained quiet on his plans and wants to visit a few more schools.
"He's not even telling me," said Martin. "I think he has an idea - he's just not saying right now."
There are rumors of “personal issues,” which may be part of the holdup.
ESPN scouted some wide receivers, mentioning Michigan commit Bryce McNeal:
Normally Bryce McNeal (Minneapolis/Breck School) would be in the size/speed category for this piece, but he is so rail thin it negates his height. So he's in the speed category because he really does run extremely well, has a second gear and is very smooth. We are concerned about the level of competition he faces each week, but the Michigan commit will fit in very nicely in the spread and is faster than J.R. Hemingway and Darryl Stonum, two highly-regarded Michigan signees of the last two classes.
McNeal + Barwis == unstoppable lol.
Meanwhile, linebacker commit Jordan Barnes came in for some fluffery from the local paper. This has been in the whispers on premium boards for a bit:
“At the beginning of the year, he was a little underrated. But by the end of the year, a lot of the conference coaches knew who he was, and he got better and better as the season went on,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman said. “His athleticism got better over the offseason. His dad took him to some speed and agility stuff in Florida. He did a combine down there, and at that point, things started happening for him on a national level. After that, he got a lot of notice.”
This is where the guarded optimism Barnes might acquire another star comes from. Also, like, whoops:
Jordan Barnes, a Detroit native, had always wanted to play football for Michigan. So he sent a highlight tape to the coaching staff.
But because of the change in coaching from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez, it got lost.
“I wanted to go to Michigan really badly, so I sent them another tape when things got settled down,” he said. “Then they got back to me in a week, and they told me to come up for a visit. After that, they said they would get back to me, and a couple days later, they offered.”
Possible explanation for Michigan’s early difficulties with the 2009 class right there.
You can take this scouting report on Michigan’s two commits at Liberty High from Some Guy On The Internet with as much of a grain of salt as you like, but it is further confirmation Isaiah Bell is probably an outside linebacker in college. All “Isiah” mentions are [sic]:
Isiah Bell almost killed somebody. He cut this guy off running down the sideline and knocked him headfirst into some foldout chairs and injured the guy. Bell is really big he reminds me of Prescott Burgess--which is why it seems he will play OLB for UM. Isiah played receiver and scored a TD on a quick pass out to him and he faked out the defender and scored. Isiah was the only safety and he played pretty deep in the middle of the field so he wasn't involved in too many tackles, but when they get to him he really hits hard.
Fitzgerald Touissant was awesome. He is really fast and could not be stopped in the open field. He took a checkdown pass in the flat and ended up cutting it all the way across the field for about a 50 yard score. He showed really good patience and vision especially on the stretch play which he runs very well. He is a very tough kid too it usually took multiple guys to bring him down. Bell and Touissant were back to return kicks but they squibbed it every time and I can't say that I blame them.
Overall they were both really impressive. Isiah Bell could be a big Ernest Shazor type safety but I suspect they will put him at linebacker because he could be a beast there with his size and speed and he is a big hitter.
Etc.: UCLA leads for NV DE Keenan Graham; he does say some positive things and if we get an official there’s a chance. IN OL Kyle Kohene is still waiting on offers from ND, M, and Florida. GA LB Devekeyan Lattimore seems to be favoring Oklahoma State. PA WR Todd Thomas’s rumored grade issues make the PPG.
In less than a week, Michigan will run under the banner a team directed by Rich Rodriguez and the Bo Schembechler era will finally, permanently belong to the past.
It’s a change that most Michigan fans feel was too long coming after the tribulations in recent years: losses to Ohio State, Rose Bowls that end the wrong way, national embarrassment and the infamous picture that will stand as one half of the Carr era denouement:
It lived in the past and now it is of the past and it can stay there, to be memorialized in song and commemorative DVD. Amen.
But this is the other half of the Carr era denouement.
This picture makes me happy.
Over the past three years on this blog I’ve chronicled my endless frustration with Michigan football; I’ve also chronicled just how important it is to me. Carr is at least partially responsible for both these things. It has been a deeply schizophrenic existence, and the Citrus Bowl was everything about that existence wrapped into one three-hour summary.
You can check the UFR after most games for an explanation of the first. The second has something to do with Carr’s tireless scorn for those who deserved it, primarily the money-changers cramming into the temple of the game, his obvious devotion to his players, his desire to read things more stimulating than a playbook.
This latter item about reading is weird and useless—who cares if the football coach knows who Keats is?—but it’s also indisputably true. Former Daily sportswriter J Brady McCullough indirectly touches on it in his excellent article on the changeover:
“I’m studying up on it,” Rodriguez says. “Reading books. I got 500 books sent to me. I got four or five of the same book, ‘Bo’s Lasting Lessons,’ and it gave me some perspective on things.”
Rodriguez has realized Michigan is unique. Fans and former players who want their football coach to spend his time reading?
Yes. When I was editing Hail to the Victors 2008, space requirements forced me to cut down Craig Ross’s article about his experience at a Scot Loeffler quarterbacks meeting, and when I had to cut a small but telling paragraph about Lloyd Carr it lingered with me. This is it:
After a few minutes Carr appeared. He was relaxed and fresh, even though it was mid-evening and he had worked for the entire day. We chatted for a few moments about a book, The Long Walk, the story of a WWII prisoner of war who escaped from a Gulag and then trekked across Siberia, through the Gobi desert and then through the Himalayas to India.
I didn’t want to cut it but it was either that or something directly relevant to Ross’s odyssey so out it went. I wanted people to see it, to get the little glimpse into how odd Lloyd Carr—football coach, friend of Russell Crowe, strident Democrat—is. He reads books! About things! This is important.
There is something to the sometimes annoying “Michigan Man” thing. There is a mindset, an attitude, some characteristics that are shared by enough people that they characterize a program and a fanbase. (The annoying part is when people pretend all these things are positive.) Carr was of this and in more than a decade came to define some of it. Kipling and Into Thin Air and The Long Walk were part of the fabric of the program.
Few outside of Michigan fandom understood this or anything about Carr. How could they? Opposing fans took the opportunity provided by Carr’s cantankerousness at press conferences and one inopportune photo after a loss against Oregon to label him classless. Neutrals just thought he was a crab, because they experienced him as a crab. A month after the Bo memorial service at which Carr spoke, I found myself in a conversation with Orson Swindle of EDSBS fame. At some point I forwarded the video (part one; part two) of Carr’s speech to him. The response: “It's enthralling, actually. Lloyd is downright eloquent.”
The surprise was evident.
It was November when they memorialized Bo but it was nice enough out, I thought, and I thought the thing to wear was a suit so I did but I left the coat at home and this was fine for a while. But when the sun started setting the warmth leached out of the air and people kept talking and it was cold. And I wrapped my arms around myself as Bo’s son talked and kept talking and God bless him, I know he just lost his father but it’s cold and I’ve been here for hours. And he kept going.
So I’m cold and in a suit and my mind is wandering back to what Carr said to wrap up his speech. I recorded it with my MP3 player but old obscure-brand MP3 players being what they are and having no external mic the recording was nigh useless and when I discovered this later I was a little shattered but still posted the nigh useless thing on the blog.
Carr said this: “Bo will be remembered as the Michigan Man.”
No, not quite, I don’t think. Not “the.”
I’m happy that the empire of the fallen has finished its long slide into the sea. I’m happy it’s been replaced with something young and vivacious and very likely successful. But on Saturday something that lived for forty years sees the last shovelful of dirt on its grave, and I wish it hadn’t come to this.
People wish for a lot of things, though, and entropy always tells them to go to hell.
They are coming. If you ordered a Bo shirt and are wondering where the hell it is, 1) sorry about the delay—Rich Robots recently switched print shops—and 2) the shirts should start shipping either today or early next week, so you should have them shortly.
Sweet. The new hockey jerseys are pretty cool:
The Hoover Street Rag points out that the white home jersey is a virtual replica of Michigan’s uniforms when Red Berenson was skating for the team instead of coaching it. Michigan Hockey Net confirms that Michigan plans to have small numbers under the school name, much like Red.
Lame. Awful Announcing has your ABC/ESPN coverage teams for 2008. One bleah development:
- Jesse Palmer is in the booth instead of Doug Flutie on Thursday nights along with Chris Fowler, Craig James and Erin Andrews.
- Flutie will still be on the ABC Studio show with John Saunders and James.
Flutie was really good last year. I don’t think The Bachelor will live up to that high standard. Everything else is basically the same as it was last year—Paul Maguire continues to pollute the Nessler-Griese duo.
One potential change: did Ron Franklin get swanky games last year? He’s doing prime-time ABC games this year.
Also lame but in a more literal sense. The exact words that came from Rodriguez’s mouth about Zirbel:
“It is a knee injury. It is pretty significant. We are not even hopeful that he will be able to return this year. We are just waiting to see how he responds to surgery and when they get in there and do an arthroscopic surgery, then we will have more answers on that.”
And hey, John Ferrara could start!
“I think it is a good move and he is going to be battling for a starting job at guard by maybe by the first game.”
What does Ferrara think about that?
The move caught Ferrara a bit by surprise because he had no offensive line background aside from playing a bit of tight end in high school.
"I'm getting used to it now and working on my technique," said the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Ferrara. "I'm just trying to memorize everything I can. The one thing I think is I'm very coachable."
Carty suggests there is “panic in the streets” because of this; I suggest that if the panic is only in the streets gazebos, playgrounds, and all variety of enclosed spaces have a lot of catching up to do; the WLA notes previous unlikely triumphs of the will.
Some guys are back. Brown and Minor resumed practicing; Donovan Warren was held out of practice but that was only precautionary, and Marcus Witherspoon should be back on campus shortly:
The Courier-Post Defensive Player of the Year, Witherspoon confirmed Thursday afternoon that he did return home to Atlantic City and missed a week of workouts. The freshman linebacker was scheduled to return to the Ann Arbor campus today and continue with football-related activities, also stating that his leave was excused by the Michigan football staff.
Oddly, Witherspoon says not to believe the “rumors” his departure was related to academics. Source of those rumors: Rich Rodriguez directly stating Witherspoon had a Clearinghouse issue.
As far as a potential redshirt:
"There's no harm in redshirting," Witherspoon said. "It would just give me an extra year and I really don't mind."
So there you go.
The children! Notre Dame’s Jon Tenuta is unsparing with the swearing:
I await 400 newspaper columns decrying this. (Via EDSBS.)
Etc.: Matt Hinton, nee Sunday Morning Quarterback, has been redubbed “Dr. Saturday” and unleashed on the unsuspecting public by Yahoo; if you have Time Warner cable OSU’s AD suggests you flee screaming.