Notes from Rich Rodriguez's weekly press conference.
The team is relatively healthy, other than waiting on Fitzgerald Tousaint's status with a sprained knee, which they'll know in the next day or two. Outside of Troy, they've been fortunate through camp.
RR will talk to the QBs at the end of the week, and let them know the plans. Everybody gets reps in practice, so there shouldn't be a huge adjustment. "I don't think for our offense, they're worried about who's behind them. Everybody's gotta do their job." Could see scenarios where all three play during the season. "Everybody says, 'is Devin gonna be redshirted?' Probably not. Devin's probably going to play."
Starting QB - "I don't know if the coaches know yet, but I have an idea." Will know a guy or two who is ready to play, but he reserves the right to change his mind. As far as informing the players, "I don't need no Dr. Phil moment with the guys. 'Let me explain the situation and how do you really feel about it?'" QB rotation will be determined by "Basically a feel thing. How the game is going, how we want to attack the defense or how they're playing." Rodriguez won't have an itchy trigger finger if guys make one mistake. Seeing things from the sidelines will help them learn. When Denard played last year, he knew what the team was doing, not the why, or how it would be defended. Would have been nice to redshirt him, but needed him to play.
Shaw and Smith - "They've been the most consistent." Well-rounded with running, protection, and receiving. They understand offense the best. Michael Shaw's eligibility will be known in next couple days. Rodriguez is not sure all six tailbacks on the depth chart will play, but all of them have taken 1st and 2nd team reps. Teric Jones has moved back to offense. He showed enough in practice with other guys in class or injured that he'll settle there. "I think he likes, and probably can perform better offensively."
This fall is the most consistent Darryl Stonum's been in three years. Pleased with him this camp. He, Hemingway, and Odoms, are the most experienced. Stonum had to prove himself, but other guys did, too. "He's had to reach a certain maturity level. He's been very focused on it... He came into camp in great shape." He'll be a big factor.
The coaches are as comfortable with the secondary as you can be with freshmen. Rogers and JT Floyd provide a bit of experience. "The young guys will have opportunity, and have progressed well in practice." They'll improve during the season with experience. Rogers has been more consistent in practice. Some of the things that aren't "or" on the depth chart probably should be. More guys capable of contributing, you'll see more guys play this year.
Harder for the big guys to play a lot of plays. Martin is in good shape, but to play that much is a lot to ask. Ryan Van Bergen won't get that much either. Adam Patterson and Will Campbell will have an opportunity. RVB has a combo role - very athletic, and has a knack for pass-rushing. Jibreel Black is "readier than he was back then" at media day. The coaches have to play the best guys they have, and "right now Jibreel is good enough to play."
With a lack of experience in the secondary, they'll adjust scheme accordingly. "How do we limit the pressure on some of the young guys?" James Rogers and JT Floyd have played. The safeties are inexperienced. "That's the hope" to make up for inexperience with speed. They want to get a lot of guys to the ball.
Carvin Johnson as starter - "We probably could have put an "or" on there." There are still 3-4 practices before the UConn game. He's only played that position the last couple weeks. He gives the team athleticism at that spot.
True freshmen to play this fall will include all on the depth chart, and there could be others who "have a chance to sneak up in there." A lot of other guys are on special teams as well. In a couple years, Michigan won't be as reliant on freshmen, depending on recruiting and development.
It's not just the younger players who have nerves. "We're nervous too, as coaches." The only way to deal with that is play. Have young guys who need to play. "If they're not nervous, there's something wrong with them, or they're probably lying to you." They'll adjust. Eventually, you just are able to block everything out and play. Some young players will have to mature quickly.
Rodriguez doesn't worry about puffing up individual players. "It's all about The Team, The Team, The Team. That's why." Our guys aren't getting much national press anyway. Being one of 80 guys on a watchlist isn't that big a deal. He'll worry about touting guys at the end of the year. Is that just sandbagging? "I would never do that." Guys understand what team is about, and are working toward that. Their priorities are about the team, not individual glory.
"I'd rather have the element of experience than the element of surprise" as far as the depth chart. Might know eventually what we'll have, but there will be nerves through the first couple games. "Big Jonny [Falk] will probably have to bring a couple extra pairs of pants, in case they make a little mess, you know. If you see somebody running up the tunnel in the first quarter with big Jonny running behind him, carrying one of his books. Wardrobe malfunction or something."
"I hope it's not the case that we have to have shootouts. I think our defense would take exception to that."
"I think it means a lot, especially for our players and our staff" to start the season right. It helps with momentum for the following week. As for expectations, Rodriguez wants to play well, they haven't talked about win numbers. "Every team in America is excited about the first game."
Rodriguez doesn't worry about outside expectations. "Our expectations every year are to compete for the Big Ten championship." This year, keep showing progress, so the team can get to the point where they'll win close games and not beat themselves.
UConn is Big, physical team. Lots of experience. "Older group of guys that have kind of been-there, done-that." They won't make mistakes, so Michigan has to go out there to win it, not capitalize on the opponents' mistakes. Rodriguez's past experience against UConn helps a bit, but there are different guys, they've grown up, we're a younger team, etc. "We know a little bit about some of the things they do."
The key against UConn will be tackling well. The team does some live tackling in August, but they don't do as much as you'd like because you don't want to get hurt. UConn has great skill guys, so Michigan must tackle well.
The differences between Big Ten and Big East aren't as pronounced as some say. Schemes are similar - despite the reputation. There are some downhill teams, some spread teams. The Big East is underrated in terms of talent, they're just not as known. "I don't see it as a huge amount of difference." The Big Ten has more long-standing football traditions, which leads to a better reputation.
UConn's program has grown "quite a bit probably recently, because of the facilities." The University, state, and supporters have shown a level of commitment to go as high as they can in 1-A football. Coaching staff stability has helped the program achieve success.
"We have a rule anyway, once you score, you hand the ball to the official and celebrate with your teammates."
Two years ago, the team had no quarterbacks and very few guys overall with any experience. Even with young QBs, the sophomores are experienced. On defense, there are fewer guys who have played (particularly on the back end). It's OK to look at the last couple years to learn, but don't reflect too much.
"If we're recruiting you, it's because we believe you can play. how quickly you play" depends on you. won't put a guy in there unless he's ready physically and mentally.
The team might be more prepared for the no-huddle of UConn since they practice against it all the time. "They'll probably come right at us." Running downhill with play-action, and they'll take a couple early deep shots. "They'll run the ball right at us, they've got big linemen, and they'll see if we can hold up up front and tackle well." No huddle not a big deal.
Rich has played UConn 4 times "I think we won 'em all didn't we? So [the memories] are all good." The last one is memorable, because WVU was on a roll. The Huskies always played physical games.
On Thursdays, they practice in the stadium. Before the first game, the band comes out to perform. "As you all know, they're terrific." The players never get to see the band, so they'll get a chance to watch some performance, and sing The Victors together.
The team will see Brock Mealer walk out, but "once it's kicked off, we're worried about football."
For live updates of the games I'm attending, follow me on Twitter @varsityblue. If you can help out finding articles on any of the commits, @reply me on Twitter or e-mail me, and I'll try to include your contribution.
Performance of the Week:
MI DE/LB Brennen Beyer
Last week: Plymouth pasted Salem, 48-0. Beyer - from the start of the second quarter through the end of the game - had 2 receiving touchdowns for 43 yards, and a blocked punt, which he returned for a touchdown, to go along with several tackles. HD video highlights:
Seemed like a "man amongst boys" situation for the most part. Beyer is the standout performer this week.
This week: Plymouth takes on Howell on Thursday at 7pm.
FL QB Kevin Sousa
Last week: Lake Nona lost to Citrus, 0-14. This "Kickoff Classic" was a preseason game, not the start of the regular season. MGoReader Bob took in the game, and gave his impressions:
Even though half of the game was played in the rain, Sousa didn't look very sharp. Frankly, Lake Nona is not a very good football team. Citrus was equally as bad. Kevin had zero O- line blocking and was tackled many times for losses. His passes had zip but the wet conditions made them nearly uncatchable. I'm glad he fared well at the camps because the team he plays with is pretty sad.
Tom got in touch with Sousa's high school coach, and Kevin's approximate stats were: 15/34 for 136 yards and a pick, and 54 yards on 12 carries on the ground. The weather was a big factor as well.
This week: Lake Nona hosts Harmony at 7:30pm.
MI WR Shawn Conway
Last Week: Seaholm defeated North Farmington by a score of 26-6. Conway, predictably, was the star of the show:
Shawn Conway's 74-yard return on the opening kickoff proved to be a sign of good things to come for Birmingham Seaholm in their high school football season opener Thursday against North Farmington.
Conway added touchdown receptions of 6 and 15 yards, as Seaholm built a 26-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Maples held on to win by a score of 26-6 in the Oakland Activities Association game.
He finished with 169 all-purpose yards, and given his 4 catches for 32 yards, he his other returns totaled 63 yards. One more article. You can see video highlights from the game here, and Conway looks very impressive (the quarterback... not so much).
This week: The Maples take on Bloomfield Hills Andover on Thursday at 7pm at Seaholm High School.
OH OL Jack Miller
Last week: Paul and I were there (for the first half) as Miller's St. John's Jesuit team pasted an overmatched Toledo Scott squad 49-7, after holding a 49-0 halftime lead. Miller only played sparingly on either side of the ball after a couple offensive and defensive series. Here's the HD video:
By my count, Miller had 3 tackles, including two for loss, and nearly came up with a fumble recovery on defense. Offensively, he had pancake blocks on nearly every running play. I was more impressed with him on that side of the ball.
This week: St. John's travels North to take on Birmingham Brother Rice on Saturday at 1:30 PM at Farmington Hills Harrison. Alas, it is during the UConn game, so I'll be missing it.
MI OL Jake Fisher
This week: TC West welcomes Grandville to the Great North at 7pm on Thursday.
FL OL Tony Posada
Last week: Plant got killed by Manatee 10-48 in their preseason game on ESPN.
From what I saw, the criticisms we've heard on Posada are accurate. He will have to get into much better shape if he's going to be a contributor at the next level. At this point, he's much better as a mauler than a pass blocker, as well. He did get a little nicked up during the game, but nothing seemed serious. He showed off his versatility by playing both tackle positions, as well as guard.
This week: Plant heads to Tampa Bay Tech (the only team to beat them last year) on Friday at 7:30.
OH DE Chris Rock
Last week: St. Francis DeSales beat Gahanna Lincoln 28-14. No word on Rock's stats.
This week: DeSales welcomes New Albany at 7:30 on Friday.
TX LB Kellen Jones
Last week: St. Pius X defeated Trinity Christian Academy 33-7. I couldn't find stats, or even a game article.
This week: St. Pius X travels to Sealy on Friday at 7:30.
OH CB/S Greg Brown
Also very workman-like last night was Greg Brown. The future Wolverine was hammered by Spartan defenders every time he got near the ball. Greg kept his wits about him, got up, walked back to the huddle and played ball.
This week: The Little Giants take on Toledo Whitmer on Friday at 7:30.
MI CB Delonte Hollowell
Last week: Paul and I were at Eastern Michigan as Cass Tech escaped Ann Arbor Pioneer by a score of 44-42. Here's the HD video:
Hollowell had a handful of tackles and a pair of pass breakups. He didn't play on offense, and looked like he may have been dinged up, which could explain his "meh" performance (also explaining it - Pioneer's gameplan placed an emphasis on avoiding his side of the field). His younger teammates 2012 LB Royce Jenkins-Stone and CB Terry Richardson also impressed, with Jenkins-Stone pounding away as a fullback (though he was inconsistent at linebacker), and Richardson playing well at both corner and receiver. Richardson returned a fumble 60-pluys yards for one of Cass Tech's scores.
Next Week: Cass Tech plays Detroit Central at 6pm Friday at Cass Tech.
Previously: The Story.
What's the point of anything?
I ask this question for reasons existential and practical. Earlier this summer Eleven Warriors pinged me for some help previewing Michigan's defense, so I talked about Mike Martin and the rest of the promising defensive line and mentioned the trouble at linebacker; the section on the secondary was simply this: "rank them last." At this point Justin Turner was still on the team and Troy Woolfolk's ankle was unaware of what Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God had in store for it.
When it, he, and we found out AMSHG's true power in mid-August I started drinking immediately, resulting in a night where I finally used twitter as God intended by blathering about having a power drill, burning my elbow on tea, coughing, not coughing, and finally drinking a horrible concoction of Cointreau with anything (the whiskey had been exhausted) and eating cold squash pakora with a slice of American cheese while mournfully contemplating everything from Mike Floyd to whatever 5'8" guy UMass will throw out there this year. The next day Henri the Otter of Ennui made his earliest-ever appearance on the blog (setting a record that will probably stand for all time) while I enumerated the options left at corner, mentioning Richard Nixon twice before a nominal first-string player at the semi-public fall scrimmage. Even if I've calmed down since, and I have a little bit, that's the existential chunk.
The practical chunk: the probable starters at corner, safety, and the safety-ish position that was called spinner (except when Greg Robinson was denying such a concept ever existed) and is now called spur are:
- at free safety, a redshirt freshman
- at spur, a true freshman (who will be treated as a linebacker, FWIW)
- at bandit, a redshirt sophomore walk-on
- at one corner, a redshirt sophomore pulled in favor of Mike Williams last year, and
- at the other corner, a true freshman.
Meanwhile, literally every backup except the aforementioned Williams has never played a meaningful snap at Michigan because they arrived two months ago or, in the case of James Rogers, was just one of those guys who seems like they're never going to play from day one. I could just point you to their recruiting profiles, tell you they'll be in the conversation for worst secondary in the league, and resume cowering in a closet. Previewing this position group is almost totally pointless: I've never really seen anyone play. They're probably going to be bad.
If this is an insufficient description of the situation, though, well, here's all this stuff.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||So.*||Cullen Christian||Fr.|
|Courtney Avery||Fr.||James Rogers||Sr.*|
|Terrence Talbott||Fr.||Tony Anderson||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Technically, the position preview scale goes from one to five. Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
|SMOKED LIKE GANJA|
|The big touchdown.|
|doomed from the start|
|MADE A PLAY!|
|knocking it down|
The single person at this position who Michigan fans have seen on the field is redshirt sophomore JT Floyd. On the one hand, he was so overmatched last year that Michigan decided they should move Troy Woolfolk to his spot and unleash Mike Williams on the world; Williams promptly gave up a third-and-twenty-four conversion to Iowa and was subsequently swapped with freshman walk-on Jordan Kovacs, leaving a tiny, slow, inexperienced guy no one even recruited in the most critical spot on the defense. This went exactly as well as you might expect. The coaches thought this was preferable to having Floyd on the field.
For my part, the Indiana UFR waved a white flag even at 4-0:
Whatever lingering hopes you had that the corner spot opposite Warren could turn into a non-liability should be put in the corner and told to be quiet for a while. JT Floyd did better than I thought he did live but still remains a timid redshirt freshman who transparently lacks the speed to be an elite corner. Michigan is going to have to cover up for him.
So did the game column:
Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
Floyd held onto his job for the Michigan State game, but that game saw Michigan adopt a fundamentally unsound formation featuring Floyd in the parking lot. State exploited this with a ton of virtually uncontested wide receiver screens:
They then countered those with the outside pitches that were the only consistently successful running plays Michigan State managed all day (QB scrambles were another story). Floyd may not have gotten smoked deep but it was only because he was playing Hail Mary defense all game. Seeing how untenable that situation was, Michigan's coaches made the move to Woolfolk at corner, thus opening up the already pretty much wide open floodgates. Except for sporadic plays and special teams duty, thus ended Floyd's participation in the 2009 season.
On the other hand, the coaches have been talking up his improvement since spring and have continued to do so through fall. Rodriguez 4/13: Floyd has "played well." Rodriguez 8/2: Floyd is coming off "a great spring." Also on 8/2: Rodriguez expresses "particular confidence" in Floyd and drops the t-bomb—"tremendous." Greg Robinson 8/11: Floyd is showing "a lot of progress." A spring practice source: Floyd is "vastly improved." And Robinson and Gibson on 8/25:
"J.T. Floyd may have been the guy that made the biggest jump from last season to the end of spring ball in so many ways," Robinson said on Sunday. "There's nothing any different - he's just worked really hard. J.T. just has a way about him - he leads well and his work habits - he's just a harder worker than he was at this time last year."
Gibson concurs. "He's done such a complete turnaround. You just take last year at this time, and he was just a guy really trying to work to the point that he’s at right now, and he’s done it."
|Indiana||4.5||8||-3.5||Tries hard. Clearly
|MSU||3||3||0||I'll take it.|
How meaningful is any of this? The fear is not very. This is replica of the Johnny Sears hype down to the sweet dreads: after being largely responsible for that heart-stopping moment when Ball State had a first and goal with a shot to tie Michigan in the '06 season, Johnny Sears was in line for a starting cornerback job after the graduation of Leon Hall. Sears was talked up all offseason, failed miserably during the Horror, was quickly yanked for true freshman Donovan Warren, and was off the team a month into the 2007 season. While that outcome is an negative outlier even with Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God at full wroth, it goes to show that sometimes a coach praising a kid who's struggled and is being thrust into a prominent role is more hope than anything else. Our best hope may be that anonymous spring observer, who has no reason to pump up a kid in the hopes he'll keep it together.
Floyd was just a freshman last year and should improve significantly. The chatter's consistent enough and from enough sources that some of it is probably real. Average is about all anyone can hope for, though.
The other corner spot will probably (50.1%!) end up in the hands of freshman Cullen Christian. James Rogers had a tentative hold on the first string in the semi-public fall scrimmage that he maintained to the release of the fall depth chart, but since he hasn't played at all in his Michigan career—not even when the walls were falling in last year—he's likely to cede that by the time the season rolls around. If not by then, probably by the Big Ten season.
Christian gets the ultra-tentative nod here simply by virtue of his recruiting rankings, which were strong. He checked in a near five-star at Scout, a top 100 guy at Rivals, and hit three other top 100 lists. He's not a burner; his main assets are his size (6'1"), leaping ability, and excellent hips. ESPN praised his "coveted size, quickness, fluidity and savvy" and said he would enter college "ahead of the curve in terms of technique, understanding of coverages and size," and assessment basically echoed by Rivals and the rest of the chattering class. His main problem is tackling, at which he's pretty sucky.
How doomed is Michigan here? Still pretty doomed. But it is worth pointing out that if there's one spot on defense where a freshman can walk onto the field and not spoil everything, it's corner, where conservative play and safety help can mitigate the damage.
What, Me Backups?
The backups are unknowns or freshmen. The aforementioned James Rogers was a lanky high school tailback reputed to have great straight-line speed but no hips; Michigan took him as a flier recruit. He has not panned out, bouncing from wide receiver to cornerback for the duration of his career.
Rogers did come in for some fall fluff during Rodriguez's post-scrimmage presser:
James Rogers is a senior that has played over that position. He has had a really good camp. Some of the young freshman that are competing out there at that position … Again, James Rogers is a veteran. He has been around a little bit, so we have a little experience with James out there as well.
He has to play and may even get the bulk of the time early. The assumption here is that even if he's currently ahead of the freshmen he probably won't remain so for very long.
The two remaining freshmen are extremely similar. Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery are middling three-star types from Ohio; Avery is probably the better athlete, since he was a star quarterback; Talbott is more polished since he's been a full-time corner but spent a lot of his high school career injured. Both approached but did not get four stars on one of the big three recruiting sites; both got "meh" from the other two; both are generously listed at 5'10" and truthfully listed at 165 pounds. They need 20 pounds before they're anything approximating Big Ten corners. Instead they get thrown into the fire immediately.
Talbott in a sentence:
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
I don't have anything quite as neat on Avery but both Scout and ESPN praise his "exceptional athleticism" while calling him very, very small.
Reports out of fall camp have been conflicting, with certain folk claiming one or the other will play, possibly a lot, while the other is way too small and a guaranteed redshirt. There wasn't much to tell them apart during the scrimmage; whichever one does get drafted into playing this year is going to play a lot of conservative zone coverage and miss a lot of tackles.
There were rumors Kelvin Grady might get a shot at corner but with Martavious Odoms apparently moving outside full-time there's room for him to play at slot and he's been prominent this fall; if he does end up moving it will be a midseason panic thing. Teric Jones was moved back to offense after spending a year trying to learn cornerback, getting moved to safety, and then getting moved to cornerback again; obviously he's just not a D-I caliber player on D.
Rating: 2, generously
|Jordan Kovacs||So.*#||Cam Gordon||Fr.*|
|Marvin Robinson||Fr.||Jared Van Slyke||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Safety has been the positional bête noir of the Michigan fan for going on a decade now but things had never been as black or beastly as they were last year, when Boubacar Cissoko's epic flameout forced Michigan to go with the doomed Jordan Kovacs-Mike Williams combination. Williams was the most confused, least useful player I've ever broken down film of; Kovacs was just slow and small. Their powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
Williams has been shuffled off to third- or fourth-team spur to cover punts for all eternity, but the situation here is hardly less bleak than it was a year ago. Jordan Kovacs is now a sophomore walk-on and probable starter. Last year he debuted against Notre Dame, was one of two Michigan secondary members to be blazed on the infamous 85-yard Indiana touchdown, and then actually started making a name for himself as a solid box safety in the Michigan State game:
Jordan Kovacs registered a +4.5 and is single-handedly responsible for about half of the + tackles Michigan saw yesterday … Kovacs provided hard-nosed run defense that makes me think he'll be a positive contributor going forward.
Williams imploded in the next game, Michigan dropped Kovacs to free safety, and the walls caved in. The dividing line was clear as day in UFR:
|Notre Dame||1||-||1||Nice story.|
|EMU||2||1||1||Hasn't cost Michigan anything yet..|
|Indiana||3||4||-1||Hardy, but slow.|
|Michigan State||7.5||3||4.5||Some of these were just backside blitzes that he tackled on, but he did tackle. At other times he displayed a real knack for getting to ballcarriers.|
|Iowa||2.5||3||-0.5||Missed one tackle, made another few, good downhill box safety.|
|Penn State||1||6||-5||Just can't play a deep half.|
|Illinois||-||3||-3||Again burned as a deep half safety.|
|Purdue||1||5||-4||Enormous bust #3.|
|Wisconsin||4||4||0||Did pretty okay. No idea why they moved him to deep safety; he's pretty effective in the box.|
The Mike Williams bit is handled in the linebackers and has more on just how disastrous a switch this was, but the morals of the story: Kovacs cannot play free safety and is pretty effective as a tiny linebacker when he doesn't have to take on linemen.
|EFFECTIVE RUN BLITZER|
|jet past blockers|
|tackles Caper from behind|
|takes down the RB|
|WOULD BE A GREAT LB IF HE WAS 50% BIGGER|
|shoot up through a gaping hole|
|doesn't bite on the bubble fake|
|doomed from the start|
|bails and bails|
Michigan moves him back to tiny linebacker this fall, but it's not that easy. When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety is this year's Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype award: Cam Gordon. Though Gordon was recruited as a wide receiver, everyone on the planet expected he'd get his token chance at the position and then get flipped to defense, where Michigan desperately needed bodies and he projects better anyway.
This duly happened, except when Gordon and his 6'3" frame moved it was to free safety, not linebacker. This was pretty weird, and it got weirder still when the hype machine starter cranking out superlative after superlative. A sampling follows. Rodriguez:
“Cam Gordon has been really consistent all spring,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. We’re “really getting some confidence with him.”
MGoBlog's own Tom Van Haaren reporting back from some conversations with players on the team:
Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
By the spring game he was the undisputed starter at free safety; he managed to get through that without anyone even noticing him. In the safety business this is a win.
Unfortunately, Gordon struggled in the fall scrimmage, failing to wrap up on a number of tackles. Rodriguez was sticking to his guns afterward:
"Yesterday was not his best day practice wise, but other than that, he has a really good camp. He is a very physical guy and the game is really important to him. Again, he has not played. He has not played in the big stage yet. There is going to be nerves and there are going to be some mistakes, but he has just got to limit them… we look for a big year for him even though he is a redshirt freshman.”
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. With his lack of blazing speed and inexperience, actually making plays seems out of the question. Misopogon dedicated a couple of his epically researched posts to the safety play and found that Brandent Englemon's traditional 1-0-1 as a junior was actually the second best performance of any safety in the UFR era (with Jamar Adams obviously finishing first).
Repeating that +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Marvin Robinson is the most shirtless recruit in the world
If you've been watching the Countdown to Kickoff videos frequently, you've probably experienced the same sort of cognitive dissonance I have when #3 comes roaring in from somewhere else and whacks a guy to the ground authoritatively or picks off an errant pass. This is not the competent-to-good LB hybrid version of Stevie Brown, it's Marvin Robinson, Michigan's first great hope for bandit. As a true freshman, the book on Robinson is contained in his recruiting profile, but you're probably familiar with the general outline by now: hyped Florida recruit enamored with Michigan since a freshman trip to Michigan's summer camp, early offers from USC, Florida, and the rest of the world, precipitous fall in the rankings, still a highly regarded prospect with athleticism Jordan Kovacs can only dream of.
Robinson's early performance has him pushing Kovacs. Woofolk noticed him even before practice started, and Greg Robinson knows a lady-killer when he sees one:
"I know this: he walks around the building looking really good."
His performance in fall was highlight-heavy and caught the attention of his teammates. He finished second to Jonas Mouton when AnnArbor.com media day poll asked who the hardest hitter on the team was. Ricardo Miller was one vote:
"When he comes to hit, everyone knows it. I think he's cracked his helmet twice this camp, and if that doesn't show you enough that he can, I don't know what could."
Robinson has huge size and speed advantages on Kovacs and will certainly play this fall, possibly as a passing-down replacement, possibly as something more. In an ideal world he would be so good he would ease Kovacs out of his starting role by midseason. I don't think that's likely since the bandit position is extremely complicated, but I do expect some sort of platoon where Robinson gets ahold of some parts of the playbook he executes better than Kovacs and is brought in regularly.
At deep safety, Vlad Emilien still seems like the first option behind Gordon but his initial returns have been discouraging. He enrolled early—giving him just as much experience as Kovacs—and then never played, Turner-style, despite the debacle going down on the field. Word was that the senior-year knee injury that cost him almost all of his senior season and his Ohio State offer lingered through the year. With that almost two years in the past now that can no longer be an excuse—any damage still lingering is permanent.
There may be some, as it was Emilien who was left in the dust by Roy Roundtree on the 97-yard strike from Denard Robinson in the spring game; Teric Jones caught and passed Emilien en route. Getting instantly passed by a position-switching guy the same class as you is a bad indicator, as is ending up behind a walk-on on the depth chart.
That walk-on is Jared Van Slyke, about whom nothing is known except his father is really good at baseball. True freshman Ray Vinopal (recruiting profile) is also at free safety. Rodriguez did mention him as a guy who has "a chance" to play this fall, he didn't show up on the first depth chart and he's probably going to redshirt.
The deep safety situation is grim past Gordon; if he doesn't work out you're either starting two walk-ons, moving up Emilien, who doesn't seem ready, or shuffling Robinson and or Kovacs around.
"It's game week. Just more focused." Practice today, ready to see how fun practice will be. Excited to hit somebody new this weekend. Camp is tough and repetitive, but it makes the team better, and game week is time to focus on UConn. It's no different opening the season against a "tough opponent" than a MAC school. "Warmup game? I don't think no team on our schedule is a warmup game, man."
Michigan might surprise some people this year because they're putting in the work on the practice field. The schedule is 0-0 right now. "When we come to the game Saturday, and go out there and play our hardest, I'm pretty sure we can come out victors."
"This is Michigan, we have pressure every year." There's no use in worrying about past years, it's time just go out and "win for Michigan. That's our motive this year." Roundtree's confidence level is high, because Coach Magee has prepared the slots to know the game, and they don't have to think out there.
Work hard, stay focused to put himself in a position to succeed. "I know I have to go out there with a hard edge, I know I have to catch every ball that's thrown my way, I know I have to run decent routes, and get open where the quarterback can see me"
Rodriguez rotates the QBs a lot, so the receivers need to get used to all three. All three had fun and competed during camp. "I'll probably have to wait until Saturday to see" who throws the best ball. "I wish I did know [who the starter is]. If I did, I would have told everybody here." Won't find out until Saturday. "All three of them is pretty different," though there are explosive moments with all three. For UConn, it will be tough, and they'll gameplan around whichever guy starts.
Roundtree is comfortable playing slot or out wide, wherever he's needed more. He and Odoms can both play either, though Roundtree likes slot, because he played it in high school. Outside is a more physical position, and Martavious "likes that physical contact a lot."
First impression of Rodriguez: "Spoke to me like a real guy." Even before Roy was on the team, coach Rod was motivating him. "He never lied to me like other coaches did. He just always spoke the truth to me." Rodriguez used the upgraded Big House as a recruiting pitch. The players will get goosebumps to finally experience it. "I can't believe the stadium is looking like this."
"It's exciting. There's a lot of excitement around the building" getting into game week. The team is excited to finally go against someone else. There's plenty of motivation for a successful season. "My senior year, definitely want to have success, going out the right way." Schilling saw success as a freshman, and would like to bring back that feeling.
Three years into this offense, there's a much better comfort level for everyone, and they know more what's going on. The first year, they were getting used to it. Older guys can help teach the younger guys, which helps eeryone get into the swing of things. "We've had guys stepping up" as leaders on offense. Upperclassmen, QBs, seniors, etc. It's a good group of guys that have played the last couple years.
First impressions of RR - "I try not to make first impressions, really." Knew he was more fiery than coach Carr. Rodriguez has had success in the past, so he commands respect. That doesn't change even with the lack of success the past two year. Schililng has gained more respect for him past couple years as they've gone through adversity together.
The defense won't be quite the same without Brandon Graham. "It's different. Guys have stepped in. Brandon was a hell of a player, obviously." Other guys are working hard to step up. It's their time to shine. Greg Banks has experience, Ryan Van Bergen has experience, they understand what they're doing, and "the pressure it takes to play here, and play every Saturday at a high level."
Tate has responded well to the challenges of this fall. "Obviously he went through some adversity there with Troy's comments and the wings and all that stuff you guys know about." He's worked hard to prove himself, and show that he wants to be the team's quarterback. "I'm definitely gaining a lot of respect back for Tate," as are a lot of others.
Offense - "hopefully we can do everything well." The offensive line is proud of the team's ability to rush the ball.
Patrick Omameh has "grown up a lot, physically and mentally" the last three years. He got the chance to play some last year. He and Schilling can help each other out as the guards. "I think he's going to have a great career here. He's a young guy, and he's gonna need to contribute a lot this fall."
Mark Huyge has had some experience, and has played at both tackles (and even some guard). "That level of communication and trust is there between me and Mark and we know where each other's going to be, and what we expect out of each other."
Huyge and Dorrestein were motivated by the competition with the younger guys. Didn't want to lose their starting jobs. "Helped them get better, made them work extra hard in the off-season."
Taylor Lewan - "He's young, and he plays so hard." He has a bright future as he learns more and gets more comfortable there. He'll be able to contribute whether he's starting or not.
Mark Moundros listed first on the depth chart is not surprising given his work ethic and attitude. "He's a guy who'll do anything for Michigan." He has a defensive attitude, even at fullback. He's smart, and he's working really hard to learn.
Will Hagerup "kicks it a mile... I don't know anything about punting technique, but he can kick it far."
The defense will improve because they're more well-rounded. There are lot of different guys that can step up. Won't rely only on one guy or a couple guys. Lots of playmakers. Depth on the defensive line will help.
UConn "They're a good team... I know they've prepared for us, and we've done the same." Both teams will play hard and "we'l see who gets the 'W' at the end."
Martin has confidence in stopping the run against UConn. Getting to the ball, gap responsibility, more experience and depth on D-line and linebacking corps. GERG stresses minimum assignment - "getting in your gap and then playing football from there."
"As a defensive line we take a lot of pride in getting to the quarterback." Martin thinks they'll do a good job doing it this year. Not worried about the secondary: "They're gonna hold their own back there. They're going to do a good job with coverage, and we're gonna do our job with getting the rush."
"I'm definitely ready" for a big workload. BG played almost 700 plays last year, Martin only played slightly fewer, and he's used to a heavy workload. Patterson and Campbell will be good at backup. Ideal number of plays? Nose tackles don't usually play 70 plays a game. Martin is proud of his conditioning (thanks to Barwis) that will allow him to play so much.
Carvin Johnson is "a smart football player. He's always around the ball. He's a young guy, but he's a hard worker." He has "been getting interceptions, laying the wood on tackles." He doesn't say much, and wants to prove himself on the field. He's been impressive this camp. Like everyone on the defense, he has room to improve.
"I think they know that" the freshmen will play a big role on defense in the first game. Might need to calm them down a bit, because secondary players can't be quite as riled up as defensive linemen. "Just getting them relaxed, and getting them ready to play, and I think they'll do a good job."
The loudest crowd Martin has experienced at the Big House was Notre Dame last year, followed by Wisconsin the previous year.
Hasn't had the experience of going to a bowl game yet, team is hungry to do that. This game has a lot of excitement with the rededication, Brock, etc. The team is excited.
Leadership - "I'm not much of a talker, hoo-rah guy. I just go out there and play hard." Some of the seniors on defense - Mouton, Banks - pull guys together, and Martin has their backs.
It's a big week. Things change a lot in game week. "We all feel good as a whole." It's the third year, and they have a good grasp of the system. "We feel well-prepared, and ready to go."
"All three quarterbacks are great." Devin did a great job coming in and learning the offense. Other than how fast the balls come and where they come, it's all good. "I've developed timing and confidence in all three of them." Devin throws the fastest ball. No hand injuries from that yet.
The difference this camp is "I feel like I'm the oldest. And I have to step up and take that leadership role." The experienced guys have to step up and take leadership roles. "I had a great leader in Greg." Martavious, Stonum, and others have to be that for the young guys. "I just try to lead by example." In weight room, workouts, camp.
Contacts - "They're great. Did an eye test this summer, they wanted me to try out these new contacts." They help a lot, as he can see much clearer, and has an easier time focusing on the ball.
Stadium rededication - "I'm pretty sure it's probably gonna be a lot louder." The field is still 100x53.3, and "we just line up and play."
Stonum hasn't taken any big hits from Carvin Johnson. "Maybe not from Carvin, but Marvin... Luckily they haven't gotten any shots on me yet." "Carvin is like a ballhawk... Wherever the ball is, you're gonna find Carvin most of the time." He never gives up on a play, and gives his all on the fields.
Freshmen have all done a great job, especially defensive backs. With Troy going down, lots of guys trying to step in and prove they can fill his shoes. There's great competition in practice, which is improving the whole team.
Outside receivers not getting passes the last couple years could be attributed to getting used to the system. In Stonum's third year, he's worked hard in the offseason with the QBs. Used camp to prove the outside guys can be go-to and make big plays. We'll see a lot of that this year.
The first and most interesting of the year.
[Walk-ons denoted with #; players not on the official two-deep in italics.]
|MICHIGAN UNOFFICIAL TWO DEEP 8/30/2010|
Denard Robinson OR
Vincent Smith OR
|Mike Cox||4:Fitzgerald Toussaint
|WR1||Darryl Stonum OR
|Je'Ron Stokes||Ricardo Miller|
|WR2||Martavious Odoms||Jeremy Jackson||Jerald Robinson|
Roy Roundtree OR
|Terrance Robinson||Jeremy Gallon|
|TE||Kevin Koger||Martell Webb||Brandon Moore|
|LT||Mark Huyge||Taylor Lewan||Erik Gunderson#|
|LG||Steve Schilling||Quinton Washington||Elliot Mealer|
|C||David Molk||Rocko Khoury||Christian Pace|
|RG||Patrick Omameh||Ricky Barnum||John Ferrara|
|RT||Perry Dorrestein||Michael Schofield||Zac Ciullo#|
|DE||Ryan Van Bergen||Jibreel Black||Steve Watson|
|NT||Mike Martin||Adam Patterson||William Campbell|
|DE/DT||Greg Banks||Renaldo Sagesse||Terry Talbott|
|LB/DE||Craig Roh||Brandon Herron OR
|MLB||Obi Ezeh OR
|WLB||Jonas Mouton||Mike Jones||Kevin Leach#|
|Spur||Carvin Johnson||Thomas Gordon||
|Bandit||Jordan Kovacs#||Marvin Robinson||--|
|FS||Cam Gordon||Jared Van Slyke#||Vlad Emilien|
|CB1||James Rogers||Terrence Talbott OR
|CB2||JT Floyd||Courtney Avery||--|
|P||Will Hagerup||Seth Broekhuizen#||---|
|K||Brendan Gibbons OR
|PR||Jeremy Gallon OR
Martavious Odoms OR
Martavious Odoms OR
Gardner. You've probably already been bombarded by this fact on twitter, but Rodriguez specifically stated that freshmen on the two-deep are not going to redshirt this season, which includes Devin Gardner. Grumble.
Other freshmen slotted to play in groups:
- Obvious: all three cornerbacks, Stephen Hopkins
- Encouraging sign: Jibreel Black, Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson.
- Surprising: Jeremy Jackson
Carvin Johnson's audition at spur in the Beanie Bowl went well enough that he is the starter, no OR, there. This site's prediction that he'd outperform his recruiting rankings more than anyone else is moving along smoothly, but the secondary just got a tiny bit less experienced… or did it? More in the secondary preview dropping later today.
James Rogers is, at least temporarily, a starting corner.
Kelvin Grady's frequent appearances on fall highlight film have evidently paid off, as with Martavious Odoms' seeming permanent move outside he moves up to co-starter with Roundtree.
Teric Jones is back at running back, his defensive experiment over. Probably for the best given his performance against DSU last year and his obvious speed.
Veterans win at tackle… so far.
Bizarre switch: 289 pound Sagesse is the primary backup at DE/DT and 276 pound Adam Patterson is the primary backup at nose. Theory: Mike Martin isn't coming off the field much and M plans to platoon Sagesse and Banks extensively.
Should we start getting worried about:
- Vlad Emilien: behind a walk-on after a year and a half (he enrolled early).
- Anthony LaLota: behind Steve Watson, also after a year and a half.
- Will Campbell: behind perpetual non-entity Adam Patterson, a guy who moved positions this spring.
About a month ago the series of posts about the last decade of Michigan football struck upon the worst 11 plays the program suffered through since everyone started wearing those sunglasses with zeroes in them on New Year's Eve. The commenters were united in their opinion of these posts:
I was with them. But it seemed not only wrong but impossible to evaluate the last decade of Michigan football without enumerating the many offenses we have suffered. The story of the aughts was Roman decline. Skipping straight to Mario Manningham with one second on the clock would have been fiddling in the ruins.
It's about seven AM on the first game week of the 2010 season. Since I am a blogger and was an engineer before that, the last time I was up this early I was 19, in the second and last of the nepotistic internships I spent the first couple summers in college fiddling away at. My mom did the driving, so she set the schedule, and I spent a couple summers groggily pawing for an alarm clock with an "6" in the hour column and sulkily resenting how useless caffeine was for me. Mornings make me stabby.
But I'm up and the feed reader's here. This is what it provides around 7 AM on August 30th, 2010:
- Yost from the M-Zone unearths himself after two years of retirement to photoshop Jim Delany, David Brandon, Gene Smith, and Gordon Gee onto the horsemen of the apocalypse.
- UM Tailgate commemorates ten(!) years on the internet by reminiscing about old times when there were bowl streaks existed and no one wondered if the coach would get fired.
- Maize and Go Blue emerges from long hibernation itself to survey the state of the program, addressing the "constant ridicule" he is "bombarded with."
- In the aftermath of last night's Mad Men, GIF PARTY deploys this, in which we are Ken Cosgrove and Pete Campbell is the universe:
- The AP has another story on the one thing that seems to generate good press about the program: a Christmas Eve car crash in 2007 that killed people near and dear to Elliott Mealer, tore his rotator cuff, and paralyzed his brother.
It's been a ragged, weary summer, one that followed a frustrating collapse and a false but panicky NCAA apocalypse and the crater of '08 and I feel like I've been talking about how tired and frustrated and burned out I am for years now—the first sentence of last year's Story was "I'm tired"—which only makes the conversing about how it's tough out there for a Michigan fan more tedious and wearying and makes you want to go idle your time away on anything other than, say, the Ohio State UFR, missing for the second consecutive year. What felt like diagnosis and honesty last year now just feels like whining.
A brief survey of themes from last year's game columns:
I've got no real analysis of either team other than they're both worse than I thought. I'm burning out after two years of almost unrelenting misery, and looking forward to football season being over for the third straight year. I mean, when Michigan was down to Purdue in the second half, some fan ten or twenty rows behind me kept shouting "they've got no heart" over and over again as the guy in the row in front of me called for Rodriguez's firing. Having a conversation about Michigan football right now is trying to remember that episode of GI Joe where Destro finds a secret ninja manual in a volcano*** that allows him to kill people with precisely-applied touches: if you can just remember where the red dots are you can spare everyone a lot of pain.
EMO WHINING WITH MORRISSEY TITLE
A serious thematic analysis of the Wisconsin game is pointless. Michigan's defense is exactly as horrifying as it's been all year. Everyone wants to fight each other in the liveblog. When the MGoPosse assembled to record this week's podcast, Paul said "at least we didn't muff a punt" and I responded "they didn't punt." (It turns out they did punt once in the first half, and Junior Hemingway misjudged a short one, almost fumbling it.)
EMO WHINING CONSISTING ENTIRELY OF MORRISSEY LYRICS
Is a time
Which I must
Put out of my mind
Oh, one fine day
Let it be soon
She won't be rich or beautiful
But she'll be walking your streets
In the clothes that she went out
And chose for herself
THE GENESIS OF THE OVERUSE OF "DONG" ON THE MESSAGE BOARD WITH MORRISSEY REFERENCE… AND WHINING!
To paint with broad strokes, I probably don't have much in common with 6'3", 290 pound black guys from Miami who think it's a good idea to play for Ron Zook. Our worlds are unlikely to intersect at a Lil Wayne show or the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Cory Liuget has probably never thought to himself "that reminds me of a Morrissey song." Of late, I think that all the time.
But at around 6:30 on October 31st, 2009, we both felt like we had been punched in the dong. In Liuget's case, this is because he had been punched in the dong:
In my case, and probably in yours, you had not actually been punched in the dong unless you had decided at some point that going outside with your buddies and punching each other in the dongs was preferable to watching the metaphorical dong-punching that started when Roy Roundtree's knee hit the ground at the one yard line and has not, to my knowledge, stopped. If you managed to miss this play and its aftermath because you were outside getting punched in the dong, congratulations: this is the one and only time when your decision-making skills will ever be regarded above average. Punch yourself in the dong in celebration.
It is evidently my opinion that Morrissey sums up Michigan football of late better than anything else, and, well, yeah. Fey, petulant, wildly schizophrenic, once part of something great and now stuck in a self-loathing rut, extremely likely to fumble anything it's carrying if hit by a 250-pound linebacker, Michigan is Southpaw Grammar/Malajusted-era Morrissey to atomic precision.
But then there are the Mealers, who don't so much put the above rending of fishnet shirts in perspective as obliterate the petty concerns of everyone who pays into the fandom industry just so their boring lives can sometimes feel titanic. Elliott's mother from that AP article above:
"I questioned why I missed my opportunity to go to heaven," Shelly Mealer said Sunday night in a telephone interview as her voice cracked with emotion. "Still, I have my moments wondering if I can do this. But I know I'm here to take care of the boys because my husband always was the one who led us in his positive and optimistic way."
Elliott Mealer still feels a sense of regret and guilt for offering his girlfriend the outside seat in the back the car because she was feeling ill.
"It could've been prevented, I guess, and it could've been me," he said softly. "It's kind of a difficult thing to think about."
Elliott's brother Brock was told he'd never walk again and the "best he could hope for" was for the pain to go away in time.
Right now it's easy to be the world's most cynical man ("I don't always drink beer, but when I do I make sure to remind everyone it's made from rice and by Belgians"). This site's already thrown up Henri the Otter of Ennui and packed it in with the site slogan, until recently "nevermind, PANIC aaaaeeieieie," and every hot seat list has Rich Rodriguez foremost on the chopping block. The secondary preview begins with "what's the point of anything?" Penn State fans with short memories are making each other's dangly bits tingle by speculating about whether Michigan will ever come back. I just told that New York audience that I don't think Rodriguez is going to make it.
Brock Mealer's going to walk, though. On Saturday he's going to get up and walk under the MGoBlue banner in an act of defiance aimed at no one in particular. From the outside, what happened to Elliott Mealer and his family looks like an event that would physically and emotionally cripple anyone it happened to. It's orders of magnitude beyond any of the things I—we—have felt sorry for ourselves about over the past couple years. Something in them was resilient, though, and with the aid of this staff they'll reclaim a small part something they thought lost on Saturday.
They can—probably already have—transfer this to the people around them. As I said about Manningham :01:
In the end, the game served as a reminder that bitterness is no fun, faith is rewarded, the kids on the field are more resilient than we are, and sometimes they can let us borrow some of that.
For both us and the team it's time to put away the eyeliner and walk.