The fantasy camp is a strange institution. Though the fantasies therein are always restricted to mere sport, they charge fees that imply otherwise. Grown men happily pay these fees. Why? Jon Chait explains below.
Make sure you pick up the next "Play" issue of the New York Times Magazine on October 29th for a full article on the experience
I attended the Michigan football fantasy camp last Thursday and Friday. The first thing to say is that it was an incredible experience. If you have the $2500 to blow, I strongly recommend that you do it next year. If you don't have the $2500, I urge you to start selling heroin to schoolchildren to raise the necessary funds.
The second thing to say is that the coaches deserve enormous credit. They volunteered their time teaching football skills to a pack of hopelessly over-the-hill super-fans. They took to the task with immense enthusiasm, and I think every one of us came away with a high opinion of them and the work they do. If I was a football coach, this is not the way I'd like to spend my last two days of vacation until Thanksgiving, but they all seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Let me first discuss the camp, and then after some takeaways.
Around noon on Thursday buses picked us up at the Campus Inn and drove us to the football locker room. It's a pretty cool place. We all had nameplates on out lockers, Michigan shorts and t-shirts, and socks waiting at our lockers. There were refrigerators with bottles of water and Gatorade. After we changed into that and cleats/gym shoes we filed out to the buses and were driven to Schembechler Hall.
First Scott Draper, the Asst. AD for Football, told us expectations â€“ feet on floor, eyes ahead, no hats, etc. Then Lloyd Carr came in and gave a presentation for an hour. It was basically the same spiel he gives the players for the first meeting of practice (last Sunday, I think.) One theme that emerged from it, and subsequent talks, is that the coaches obviously think their central challenge is keeping players who aren't playing happy. Their big fear is that bench guys bitch and poison the whole team morale. Over and over they hit on the need to not complain about PT, don't listen to players who are complaining, etc. Also the normal go to class, be on time stuff.
Then we had an hour long meeting with the offensive coaches, mostly DeBord. The meetings were leading up to a scrimmage the next day, and the program was to install two plays, a run and a play-action pass off the same run action. The offensive coaches were running through the diagram of the play and the description of every position's assignment. They moved really fast. It seemed most guys had some trouble keeping up.
Followed next an hour-long meeting with the defensive coaches where we put in one base defense. My main takeaway here: Ron English is awesome. When it comes to UM coaches there's English and there's everybody else. He has this Bo-like charisma and command. I was blown away by the guy.
Then we went outside for nearly two hours of position drills. We broke into 8 groups and rotated through, spending about 15 minutes with every position coach learning basic techniques. We had everything except tight end. Main takeaway here â€“ I never realized before how every minute aspect of what the player does â€“ stance, first step, second step â€“ is choreographed.
After that, bused back to hotel for shower, rest and then cocktail hour and dinner. The coaches were there and we got to schmooze them. Eric Campbell sat at my table. Bo was the keynote speaker. Some of his material was familiar but most of the campers hadn't heard it. Heck, Bo's delivery is good enough that familiar material isn't boring.
Next morning, bus to locker room to change (where clean stuff was waiting), bus to Schembechler for meetings. We reviewed the offensive and defensive plays, and the coaches showed us film of the players in spring practice running those plays. One run had Grady busting a long run, one pass had Breaston scoring on a deep post pattern. Breaston also had a knockout block. The coaches went over what every player did and showed you the way it's supposed to work, or what reads the defensive player should make. This was really cool stuff.
[Note: the victim of many offensive highlights was Charles Stewart. I jokingly asked Ron Lee about that later, and he said it was the first week of practice, and Stewart got much better after.]
Then the highlight (for me) of the whole time: 11 on 11 scrimmage. Bad thing is, it was just an hour. For the first half hour I was playing defense with everybody else who was in groups 5-8. The first 15 minutes of that was a scrimmage, where we ran through assignments against a scout team. It was still 11-on-11 and it was fun. After 15 minutes, we ran over to the offensive side to go against the offensive guys in a semi-live scrimmage. (There were no helmets or pads, so it was wrap rather than hit, but a few guys went down. It felt like football to me, but without the collisions.)
There were lots of guys, so we broke up into three units, chosen at random. I was the second unit in. We were jumping up and down on the sidelines cheering the defense, and telling each other that when we got in we wouldn't give up a yard. I don't think we did. I played strong-side defensive end. (I wanted to play safety because of English, but everybody seemed to have the same idea and we were six-deep there with volunteers. So I moved to d-line, which had barely enough for one unit, thinking I'd get more reps. But then they moved a bunch of guys from safety and it evened out.) I had three scrimmage plays. The first two were runs, and instead of holding my gap I was incredibly eager to make a tackle so I over-penetrated, opening up a seam. Fortunately my teammates bailed me out. Third play was a pass, and I blew past the tackle, blew past the fullback, and got to the QB just as he rushed off a pass.
Next was offense. Again, first we practiced, this time in separate units, then 15 minutes of scrimmage. This time they let people play wherever. I played o-line because we had only 8 guys there, as opposed to four deep or more at receiver, QB, etc. So I got to play nearly every down. It was a blast. One play we opened up a huge hole on a run. After the play, Andy Moeller looks at me and says, "where you on the right side on that play?" I say yes. "Nice job," he says. I should note that I have by this point become pathetically eager for their approval.
Last offensive play, and the coaches are making a big deal out of which side wins. DeBord comes into the huddle. He says we'll do the normal run, except the flanker will come around for a reverse around left end. As the right guard, I make an impromptu decision to pull around left end and lead the play. It works (I sealed off the rush end) and they were super-surprised. We got like thirty yards, and we thought it was a TD but later discovered the flanker was shoved out of bounds. Classic DeBord Ball: run the same thing hundreds of times in a row, then break tendency once for a huge play.
After that, bus to the locker room, shower and change, walk to Champions Center for lunch. More schmoozing. They had wide screen TVs lining the walls, alternating between the MSU game and the PSU game. Loeffler was at my table and gave the inside account of what went down on the last PSU drive. (When Henne threw short on the second-to-last play, he said, "I could have killed him.") Carr was 5 feet away from me, and we bantered a bit about the two seconds he got back. There was a pretty good talk/slide show on Fielding Yost by an author who wrote a book on the Big House.<
Bus to Schembechler for a film breakdown of the scrimmage. This was great. The whole conceit of the camp was being treated like players, and DeBord was ridiculing bad plays to much laughter. When an old guy limped out on a pass route he said "we need more speed at that wide receiver position." But it really did look like football for the most part. We sat in position groups, me with Stripling and then Moeller, and they critiqued every play we ran. Good coaching tips. Strip criticized my over-penetration on the runs. When my near sack came up, English yells out, "Who's the end?" I raise my hand. "Nice job, end," he says. Stripling says my over-penetration finally pays off. I tell him I'm a third-down defensive end, and he laughs.
Then Carr talks again and gives a Q and A session (whole thing was an hour). Then we bus to stadium, put on jerseys with out names, and run out the tunnel while being announced. Some friends and family were there. Pretty cheesy, I thought. There was a passing competition where you try to hit dummies from 10, 20, and 30 yards, and the winner got an autographed helmet. My brother and I straggle for a while, throwing passes on the field, and when we walk of Carr is there, and the two of us start chatting as we go through the tunnel. Then after like 30 seconds I hear behind me a woman calling "Chait? Chait?" I turn around and it's a woman saying she knows my dad and am I related. My brother, who was following behind me, has my back and goes over to take this one, but by then Carr was talking to somebody else. Thanks for rescuing me from that conversation with Lloyd Carr, lady.
Now, some thoughts on the coaches. First, of course, is Lloyd Carr. Carr was incredibly generous with his time. He gave a couple hour-long presentations, lots of us got to chat him up multiple times, and he was on the field throughout practice. He is on the whole a very good coach, and the thing he's great at is the most important thing to be good at: he knows how to recruit good players and mold them into a team. The camp gave a very good insight into the ethos of Michigan football, the way Carr emphasizes going to class, playing as a team, not taunting the opponent, never celebrating by yourself, and so on. Carr recruits great players because he has integrity and it comes across.
Of course, Carr also has a maddening tendency to sit on leads, and that came across as well. The common theme of Carr's presentation was fear, fear of turnovers, penalties, and mistakes. He has the mentality of a old man who lived through the Depression. When Ron English talks, the meta-theme is: if you do what I tell you and follow the correct techniques, we will dominate the opposition, and they cannot score. When Carr talks, he just conveys terror of things going wrong.
Carr is *explicit* about the offense and defense playing two different ways. When the offense is behind, we have to score. When the offense is ahead, we must protect the ball. When the defense is ahead, we must protect the lead, and when we're behind it must get the ball back. If there was any question that he has a fundamentally different mentality when we're behind and ahead, it was utterly dispelled.
Carr and other offensive coaches made it clear: When we have a small lead late in the fourth quarter, we are going to run the ball. We are going to do this even if the defense is in a ten man front. Most of the time we don't want to run against an overloaded defense, but at the end of the game strategy is out the window and it's a matter of willpower.
Now, does this mean we're doomed? I say no. Our running game had several interrelated problems. First, we ran in predictable situations, like the end of a game with the lead. Second, our formations tipped off when we would run and where, so the safeties charging the line knew exactly where to go to fill the hole. This has been the problem for ten years. It's just too hard to make the unblocked man miss when he know where you're going before the snap.
The reason I'm optimistic is that we're changing our offensive schemes. I can't say how because the coaches want to keep this secret. But it's an important change that I believe will make us better at running, and better at integrating the pass and run game. I say this as a fan who's grown exasperated with years of poorly-designed offenses. In years past we've seen, at best, tiny improvements invariably followed by slow regression. This year I think we're going to have real reform.
Now, some other coaching outtakes. Steve Szabo inspires confidence. He's a former Navy guy, and has a tough, laconic manner, kind of like Clint Eastwood, and an NFL background. (I have heard secondhand that he may not care for Charlie the Weis.) The linebacker style will be more aggressive. Here's one example: During linebacker drills, at one point we lined up across from a pair of backs and were told simply to flow to the ball â€“ go whichever way the backs go. My first time, I tried to do the classic Michigan linebacker thing. I shuffled parallel to the line, kept leverage on the ballcarriers, and closed in as they approached the line. Szabo did not like that. He wanted me to be more aggressive. Indeed, he was telling everybody to be more aggressive. So, next time up, as soon as the tailback took a step I made a beeline for him like he had just done something horrible to my family. Szabo liked that a lot. I think if I had snuck into the tailbacks room the night before and hit him while he slept he would have liked it even more. The linebacker style of play is going to be very different, and I'm basing this on more than just that one experience.
Some other impressions: Ron Lee is gregarious and funny. Andy Moeller may be the least awe-inspiring of the coaches (my brother called him "the coach most likely to be mistaken for a camper") but he's a good teacher and extremely likeable. No wonder he's such a good recruiter â€“ he projects integrity. DeBord is loud, enthusiastic, and pretty funny. Steve Stripling is low-key and a good technician. Ron English is a God among men.
Thanks to Jon for the fascinating look at the program. If the defense performs well over the next couple years, it sounds like English is going to be a serious candidate for head coaching jobs all over the place... including Michigan.
The House Rock Built thinks Jeff Carroll's set a swell example with his rad use of Google searches as proof of anything an everything and I concur. Finally we have a tool with which we can settle age old debates. I say let's get to settlin' things.
Jimmy Clausen most strongly resembles what flightless animal?
(all searches are jimmy.clausen ANIMAL)
Charlie Weis most strongly resembles what flightless animal?
What is the first name of Michigan's coach?
That's right, kids: Google predicts Michigan to go 12-1.
(If you input five Ls, Google helpfully asks if you might have made an error:
Also, the Google record for most Ls in "Lloyd" goes to an enterprising young fellow who didn't stop until #14 in a post on the recently canned pirate referee. Either he's from a dystopian future where LL Cool J forces colleges to play two more regular season games on motorcycles or he's projecting an NFL job for Carr in the near future. Yeah, "dystopian future" it is.)
...adds further to his mind-shattering girth.
I loathe to side with NDNation on any topic large or small, but when the opposition is provided by SportsJournalists.com -- the only board on the Internet that can give the Nationites a run for their money when it comes to ludicrous arrogance better placed in 1955 -- the pill goes down a little easier. The situation: Jeff Carroll of the South Bend Tribune writes a four-article series questioning the hoopla surrounding Jimmy Clausen. It largely exists to fill space in supposedly controversial fashion, tackling the proverbial tough questions facing the Irish program. Are they selling out for victories? Is Weis playing by the rules? How good can Jimmah be if he thinks that haircut is an intelligent decision? All you need to know about the articles is encapsulated in the following lines:
A Google search for the phrases "Notre Dame" and "Just like everyone else" finds 11,700 matches.
Another search, for "tarnished dome," returns 5,310 matches.
("Jeff Carroll" and "lazy" = 83 hits.) The same level of hard-hitting(!), solid evidence persists throughout. There are vague quotes linked by paragraphs that hint at potential troubles followed by more vague quotes. The only thing of interest in the entire series is a surprisingly liberated quote from incoming freshman Paddy Mullen (yes, his real name):
"He's cocky," Mullen said. "He's a typical quarterback. We'll see what happens when he's at Notre Dame and getting knocked around a little bit. We'll see when he has a defensive tackle tackling the crap out of him.
"I committed to Notre Dame. I told as many people as I could, people who called. But I don't have a PR firm putting my name out there. ... This guy better be unbelievable."
When the articles are published, NDNation and assorted party organs explode with hilarious outrage. Several posters urge the moderators to place the South Bend Tribune on their Nixonian enemies list and prohibit any and all outgoing links to those damn pinkos. Eventually the spittle ceases flecking Internets rubberneckers and the whole thing blows over... until yesterday, when Carroll is informed that he is on Weis's enemies list and can no longer be suffered to ask questions of the high holy one:
It didn't take Charlie long to flex some muscle. Former Times Sports Writer Jeff Carroll, now working for the Irish Sports Report, was informed by school officials that he could not ask questions of Weis, his staff or players during the three-hour session. It seems Weis and senior associate athletics director John Heisler weren't happy with some of Carroll's reporting endeavors.
Here's an idea: Have someone ask the questions for you.
Personally, I think the intention was to embarrass Carroll, publicly.
The Mullen quote -- obtained outside of approved channels -- is the pretext given. Cue second round of hilarious outrage from SportsJournalists.com. This has been great fun all around for yours truly, who loves seeing both Notre Dame fans and journalists tweaked.
To play Mills Lane for a moment: I side with Weis. The series by Carroll was indeed a hack job that attempted to spin Pulitzer gold out of not even hay but air. Clausen's a big recruit with a lot of pub. He committed to Notre Dame. End of story. There's no reason ND should be expected to put up with a reporter who has clearly attempted to damage the school for personal benefit. Jeff Carroll is not granted inalienable rights to ask questions of the high holy one and his actions -- no one else's -- got those privileges removed. There's a fine line here: a reporter with an actual story and actual, you know, evidence of malfeasance is duty-bound to report his findings. Giving such a reporter a similarly cold shoulder is poor form at best and more likely rampant megalomania. Carroll doesn't fall into that category. He wrote the stories because he wanted attention, silly things like evidence be damned. The articles had the air of careful phrasing to avoid libel suits and nothing approaching justification; the sympathy meter reads zero.
I've often wondered why Drew Sharp doesn't get the same treatment from the Michigan program. Even though he's a columnist and therefore not beholden to said facts, his relentless negativity is a drag on both Detroit-area fans and the teams they support. Lloyd Carr hates the guy -- and can you find someone who doesn't? Personally, if I was AD I would ban all Free Press reporters from press conferences and give the News unprecedented access until Sharp was sent packing. But I have been told I'm somewhat combative.
(HT: HP. Eek.)
This Youtube video would be quintessential Braylon with one small addition:
The addition would be a bonus twenty seconds wherein Braylon removes the blindfold, tells a six-year-old kid with lukemia to throw him a slant, and drops it.
I keeed, I keeed. We love you anyway, Moonbeam.
(Also: how is this the only result for "Braylon MSU" on Youtube? Hasn't someone stitched together the four catches from the end of the '04 MSU game and set it to the world's worst emo? Can we get on this? I would watch that in a loop if it was a TV show. Could I be more like Bill Simmons right now? Billy Zabka! Ian Ziering! Humiliating self at WSOP!)
Media Day orgy-type substance: Stadium & Main has linked the torrent of News/Freep/MGoBlue articles from yesterday's Media Day in one convenient post. Larry Lage has an AP article that again brings up the skinny bit:
Kevin Grady ran on the Michigan golf course so often during the offseason that he lost 11 pounds.
"We went up and down about four holes, and that's not as easy as it sounds," the running back said Monday at media day. "I feel a lot different endurance-wise. I feel like I can do some things I wasn't able to do last year."
Jake Long dropped 20 pounds, pushing himself away from the dinner table and into more workouts. Long hopes it will help him stay healthy and aid his transition from right to left tackle on the offensive line.
&c &c &c. A ploy to confuse women into watching, thinking that football is the new season of Desperate Housewives? Perhaps. More likely: an indication that the running game is changing. MLive echoes the weight loss yodeling -- noted bikini candidates include Grady, Alex Mitchell, Dave Harris, and Alan Branch; The Blade has an article on Hart; the South Bend Tribune cites Chad Henne's "new beard and re-sculpted body" in the lead -- yow!; Bass "not concerned at all" about potential career-endingness of knee injury; The Flint Journal profiles Jake Long.
Most important quote ever. Debord:
"I think you have to be more aggressive today," said DeBord, who also was the Wolverines' offensive coordinator in 1997-99.
"In `97, our whole thing was we want to control the ball and really continue to get first downs, three yards here, four yards here, five yards here. We were really trying to control it. But now you have to score. You have to put the ball down the field a little bit more than what we did then."
Brandon Harrison is returning to corner. From that same article:
Yet when injuries hit Michigan's secondary during the season, he moved to safety and played well.
Now he's headed back to corner to compete for the starter's spot opposite Leon Hall .
"There's a lot of competition at the other corner spot," he said, referring to Charles Stewart , Johnny Sears and Morgan Trent . "Instead of covering tight ends, I'll be covering receivers. ... I didn't think I was going to get switched back, but I'm glad to help the team."
The move makes a lot of sense with four experienced safeties -- Engelmon, Mundy, Barringer, and Adams -- returning but only two cornerbacks doing likewise, one of whom is getting pushed down the depth chart. Harrison showed that he was fast as all git out last year but overran a couple plays that lead to big gains and opposition touchdowns. He's got the hips and speed for press man over a slot receiver; I would expect him to see a lot of time in third-and-medium nickel packages.
Oh, yes. Aaaaaand now: Media Day OMG pepper banana pickle carrot!
Etc.: Mark May Be Wrong exists; check horrifyingly in-depth AP poll analysis; Deadspin highlights another terrifying woman who is A) a family member of a recently "graduated" Buckeye who went in the first round and B) is not Laura Quinn; SI On Campus says we have the best fight song. Like OMG duh.
Courtesy of The Wolverine. Newsworthy bits summarized below:
- DE/TE recruit Quintin Woods hasn't shown up yet due to a clearinghouse issue. DT Marques Slocum is also not on campus, having failed to get a qualifying test score after a long struggle. Slocum is in the process of an appeal, but he is a longshot to enroll at this point. Woods will probably end up on campus sooner or later. (<-- speculation)
- The offensive line is almost set. From left to right: Jake Long, Adam Kraus, Mark Bihl, ?, ?. One "?" will be senior Rueben Riley. If Mike Kolodziej is the fifth-best lineman Riley will play RG and Kolodziej RT; if one of the guards (Cuilla or Mitchell) is the best option, Riley will play RT.
- First player out of Carr's mouth when asked about the WRs was "underrated" Carl Tabb. Also getting plugged as a player with potential was drop-prone Doug Dutch, twice mentioned as a player with a lot of ability who needs to "step up."
- Carr continues to scare the crap out of me by mentioning Leon Hall as the primary backup to Breaston in the return game. Carlos Brown was also mentioned.
- Zoltan The Inconceivable is pushing Ross Ryan for the punting job. This is one area where I think Carr's focus on safety is correct strategically and wouldn't mind seeing Ryan handle the punting for a second year, as his ugly, short punts were almost totally unreturnable. ZTI's Heisman will have to wait a year... probably.
- Shawn Crable's slow start last year was due to him being a "huge disappointment" in training camp. He expected the job, didn't put in the effort and was relegated to the bench.
- Kevin Grady is going to be "much improved," having lost a bit of weight. Carr expects him to "hit the hole quicker and be better in the secondary."
- The much-discussed offensive line slimming got some additional airtime. Nothing terribly important was said, but Internet rumblings indicate a major shift in Michigan's running philosophy is on the way. Think Fred Russel.
- Somewhat frighteningly, Ryan Mundy's name keeps popping up as a candidate for playing time. I suppose it's good if he can wade his way through the four guys who started games a year ago, but the dread spectre of Yards After Mundy lurks.
- "Tremendous" watch: we've got two! Terrance Taylor has made "tremendous strides" in strength and workout ability. He is going to start opposite Branch. Also, Steve Breaston is a "tremendously committed athlete."
Update: MGoBlue has a veritable bevy of player quotes.