I think you will get your wish.
Needs Going In: Minor since uber-LB recruit Brandon Graham showed up weighing 270 pounds and was immediately moved to DE. He joins raw but athletic Adam Patterson in the freshman class. Three more players from said class could end up at DE: John Ferrara, Greg Banks, and Quintin Woods. Woods is slated to start at TE but the other two will be somewhere on the defensive line.
Commitments To Date: Whitehall, Michigan's Ryan Van Bergen commited a month or two before camp
Potential Commitments: Four-star Delaware end Devon Still claimed a Michigan lead a few weeks ago but after him the prospects are few and far between. Perhaps he's enthralled with the uniform after years of growing up with Delaware Blue Hen football. Illinois five-star Martez Wilson continues to list Michigan but is widely presumed to be destined for ND -- there's no accounting for taste. Ryan Kerrigan from Indiana and Eric Thomas from Ohio were mentioned as Michigan possibilities a while ago but are marginal prospects who may not get offers.
You Should Panic This Much: Little. Van Bergen's been tearing it up over the summer. With a couple of top-100 athletes in the previous class and a multitude of Biggs types available, Michigan is probably done unless a pass-rushing Carlos Brown falls into their laps.
Needs Going In: Like quarterback, Michigan has numbers over the past two classes but is short on high end prospects. Two of the aforementioned defensive ends will end up at tackle, probably Ferrara and Banks. As recruits neither was pursued heavily by high end schools; the gurus rated them regarded them as just another guy.
Commitments To Date: None.
Potential Commitments: With Joseph Barksdale and Josh Brent probably headed elsewhere the top name on Michigan's board is Louisiana's Rolando Melancon. Instate defensive/offensive tackle Ryan Wheat could get an offer sometime during his senior year; if he gets one he's likely to commit immediately.
You Should Panic This Much: Quite a bit. The only player who's favoring Michigan at the moment is Melancon and Louisiana prospects have a tendency to zig-zag dramatically. The last class is devoid of potential difference-makers and this one will probably be too.
Needs Going In: Depends on how many linebackers Michigan actually got last year. Quintin Patilla, Obi Ezeh, and Cobrani Mixon are all definites. Brandon Graham now seems like a defensive lineman. Nominal safety Jonas Mouton could go either way. In any case, Patilla and Ezeh were both lightly regarded by recruiting services and
Commitments To Date: Depends on how you view Jerimy Finch. Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? He's filed under safety here.
Potential Commitments: There aren't any names I can give you aside from Lorenzo Edwards, a safety from Orlando Edgewater (freshman WR Greg Mathews' high school) who plans an official visit in the fall. Michigan is pursuing a couple of Tennessee linebackers likely to remain in the SEC and a couple of guys from New Jersey who seem only vaguely interested.
You Should Panic This Much: Somewhat. Michigan needs one or two linebackers this year and will probably end up offering someone obscure during the fall to make up their numbers.
Needs Going In: Pick an excessively dramatic noun and double it. Jai Eugene's inconvenient decommit late in the process left Michigan without a cornerback last year; the year before that they picked up two California sleepers and fast but molecule-tiny Brandon Harrison. Three commits are probable and if there's a fourth player who wants to commit Michigan will probably take him.
Commitments To Date: Michigan legacy Troy Woolfolk, Butch's son, was offered and committed at Michigan camp. He's a three star to everyone; ESPN likes him least of any of Michigan's ten commitments.
Potential Commitments: Two instate badasses have been presumed Michigan's to lose for about a year now: everyone's five star Ronald Johnson and everyone's near five-star Dionte Allen. That would be reassuring if Michigan hadn't just lost Allen to Florida State. Johnson remains interested. Highly regarded Californian Michael Williams has been down to Michigan and Notre Dame for a while now. Both are top-100 players.
You Should Panic This Much: Allen's FSU commitment removes Michigan's margin for error. Insiders are confident on both Johnson and Williams but were also making assurances that Allen would end up at Michigan right up until he committed to FSU. As long as Johnson continues looking good things will be all right, but you should be spooked.
Needs Going In: Moderate. Michigan picked up two top-100 players a year ago in Steve Brown and Jonas Mouton but was skunked the year before and needs some depth, especially since Brandon Harrison has returned to corner. Mouton is also a candidate to end up at linebacker.
Commitments To Date: Indiana's top two players, Jerimy Finch and Artis Chambers both commited a couple months into the recruiting year. Finch is well-liked by Scout and ESPN, featuring on their top-100 lists. Rivals, apparently deprived of film, said "meh" in their initial rankings but will move him up when they re-rank.
Potential Commitments: Michigan has offers out to Ohio's Eugene Clifford and California's Malachi Lewis but isn't expected to land either. Clifford seems earmarked for OSU; Lewis is being pursued by a ton of west coast teams.
You Should Panic This Much: You might privately express concern about depth in the future, but Michigan has stockpiled a lot of talent across two classes.
Michigan finds itself in a precarious position. Much like quarterback, Michigan doesn't need numbers at defensive tackle but could very much use a star. They probably won't get one with Brent and Barksdale looking to go elsewhere. They need numbers and talent at corner after two consecutive years of striking out on big names. All the right things are being said by and about Ronald Johnson but if he, like Allen, were to decide on another school Michigan would be staring at an unmitigated disaster on the defensive side of the ball.
Finch is an excellent player and the buzz on Van Bergen is growing, but Michigan has no linebacker prospects, only one defensive tackle who seems like a candidate to commit, and is living on the edge at cornerback.
Right-now grade: C+. Ron Johnson officially committing would bump that up to a solid B.
Football will continue in Evanston after Randy Walker's shocking midsummer death but wins and losses will be beside the point. That's probably a good thing for Pat Fitzgerald, thrust into the head coach spotlight at only 31 without four-year starter Brett Basanez or much hope on the other side of the ball. Northwestern will enter the year without the two men who came to symbolize the program over the past four years, adrift and looking for purchase on the harsh terrain of a Big Ten schedule without Minnesota or Indiana. The defense also lost a star contributor in painful fashion when defensive end Loren Howard was injured on the eve of last season. He decided to redshirt and bolt to Northwestern's Pac-10 doppleganger, Arizona State. Left in his wake is the usual array of pedestrian linemen and overachieving linebackers, though the defensive backs resemble helpless kittens far less than usual.
The outlook is grim, especially when you consider Northwestern's outlying turnover ratio: they were +9 despite having a terrible defense because said defense managed 30 takeaways, including 20 interceptions. That is well into the land of flukes. With a mewling babe replacing ancient Brett Basanez, Northwestern's turnovers figure to shoot up. Probability and common sense declare that their takeaways will travel in the reverse direction. Presto: likely two-game swing to the bad.
This is all terribly unfortunate for one of college football's most likeable programs. Northwestern churns out a steady supply of moxie-filled quarterbacks, glass-eating linebackers, and dramatic instant classics full of last-second twists M. Night Shyamalan would dismiss as implausible. But the facts are the facts, cruel as they may be; one can only hope that this year is the opening act in a tale of redemption that culminates in the two years Northwestern is off Michigan's schedule.
Last Year: A machine led by Basanez with plenty of help from Sutton, Herbert, Strief, et al. Talented and forced to get every point available from first play to last by the nation's worst defense, Northwestern churned through its opponents to the tune of 500 yards per game, finishing 26th nationally in rushing and 7th in passing.
Rating: 1. The only thing anyone knows about Northwestern's starting quarterback is that he isn't Brett Basanez. Sophomore CJ Bacher and his six career completions are projected to start, and this concludes the Bacher scouting report. I've scoured the Internets for any information on him and every preview -- every preview -- says "Bacher is in competition with Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka." Some venture to guess he will start, probably because Kafka keeps turning into a beetle. None deigns to speculate on his strengths aside from CFN's usual "this stud has incredible accuracy and blazing speed but is still searching for consistency. If he finds it he could be nasty."
So. Bacher was a three star recruit a couple years ago with offers from an array of Mountain West and WAC schools plus Arizona, Oregon State, and Northwestern. He committed to the Beavers, visited Northwestern, and switched. Though he was listed as a dual-threat QB by Rivals he ran for a mere 170 yards as a junior (senior rushing stats were not mentioned). Over the last two years of his high school career he completed 64% of his passes for over 3,000 yards. The always excessively positive scouting reports mention an extremely accurate arm and "improved decision-making," which is a backhanded compliment at best.
The projection? Bacher's going to get an opportunity to live up to that dual-threat designation. Northwestern ran the zone read years before Vince Young made it cool and if you remember the early days of Basanez back when the horseless carriage was new, he was more likely to grit out a first down by absorbing a punishing blow from a linebacker than by actually completing a pass. With Tyrell Sutton in the backfield, one experienced wide receiver, and a veteran offensive line all signs point to a rush heavy version of Northwestern's spread chameleon in '06. If Bacher's arm is as accurate is reputed he'll get the opportunity to toss a lot of short throws to possession receiver Sean Herbert and Sutton, but Northwestern is going to revert from hoping their quarterback wins games to hoping he doesn't lose them.
Pint-sized Tyrell Sutton's first collegiate season was a hit. Reminiscent of fellow miniature powerhouses Mike Hart and Brian Calhoun, Sutton's quick cuts, excellent vision, and surprising power after contact were good for 1474 yards at 5.9 per carry and freshman All America teams far and wide. His 44 catches out of the backfield were vital icing in Northwestern's offense of a thousand papercuts. Lest you believe that Sutton's numbers were a mirage of cheap yards against terrible defenses, he picked up 112 against Penn State and 93 versus Ohio State (on only 14 carries!). Sutton is poised to be a thorn in Big Ten sides for the next three years.
However, without Basanez's arm keeping safeties honest Sutton may find the sledding significantly tougher as a sophomore. If we make the safe assumption that whoever the starting quarterback is can't approach Basanez's efficiency and command of the offense, the only way to keep that eighth man from finding his way into the box will be to establish someone, likely Kim Thompson, as a deep danger. That requires not one but two untested players to step up -- unlikely. All eyes will be on Sutton* in '06.
He'll have more backup this year as Brandon Roberson and Terrell Jordan both return from injuries. They'll share the load, but this is Sutton's show.
*(As long as he's not standing behind anyone bigger than him, e.g. a six year old girl.)
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. Northwestern returns Sean Herbert, their leading receiver a year ago with 79 catches, but loses Mark Philmore and Jonathan Fields, who combined for 115 catches of their own. The departees should be relatively replaceable: combined they averaged barely over ten yards a catch and were summarily ignored by the NFL. While Herbert is likely to meet the same fate upon graduation ( he wasn't much of a deep threat either with just 862 yards on his 79 catches) he is a reliable cog in the offense and a player many teams could use.
Kim Thompson, suspended for academics before the Sun Bowl, is eligible once more and will no doubt be referred to as the "X factor" by dozens of analysts, color commentators, and pundits by the time the season ends. His 19 catches a year ago came with 326 yards and he was one of many to burn the Wisconsin secondary, catching a 53 yard touchdown in a wild 51-48 Wildcat win. Thompson has speed few Northwestern skill players do and could, given the right confluence of circumstances, emerge into a feared weapon.
Rasheed Ward and Ross Lane will platoon at the third wideout spot. Lane was mostly quiet a year ago before torching UCLA for seven catches and 136 yards; Ward had seven catches in the first three games and zero the remainder of the season.
Rating: 3. Despite the departure of longtime right tackle Zach Strief, Northwestern returns five starters of a sort. Center Trevor Rees, the starter in '03 and '04, has resolved the academic issues that kept him out last year. That allows poor, poor Austin Matthews, he of the four-second half holding penalties versus Gabe Watson, to move out to Strief's old spot where he will be given the opportunity to hold the various defensive ends of the Big Ten.
Matthews' presence in the starting lineup sounds a note of concern. He was bewildered and overmatched most of last year, losing his starting spot partway through the season before reclaiming it for the Sun Bowl. The offseason losses of Thomas Bemenderfer (transfer) and Tyler Compton (academics*) stripped the staff of options; now Matthews is going to try a switch similar to the one that Rueben Riley did and Michigan fans feared. This does is not likely to work out well.
The rest of the line is experienced and competent. There's no star to build around and they'll have to do a lot more run-blocking, but survey says they will be decent.
*(Northwestern's dedication to suspending the hell out of any athlete who so much as looks at a professor funny is the true mark of an academically rigorous program.)
Last Year: Typically repulsive: better than only Illinois against both run and pass in conference in total yardage terms and the worst in the entire country when the two are combined.
In reality, it probably wasn't quite as bad as all that. Northwestern's defensive numbers have long been depressed by their frenetic style of offense, which leads to more drives against. In terms of yards per play Northwestern was a shiny tenth in conference, 0.4 better than Illinois. Their pass efficiency defense, fifth in conference, was downright average. They probably weren't the worst defense in the country.
So they've got that going for them.
Rating: 1. Starting tackles Barry Coefield, second-team All Big Ten a year ago, and Trevor Schultz are gone, leaving little in their wake. Sophomore John Gill got seven starts a year ago -- Schultz was in and out of the lineup with injury and academic issues -- but he's the only player with anything more than spot plays. Redshirt freshman Adam Hahn has leapt into a starting spot. Defensive coordinator Greg Colby is frank about his expectations:
"We feel like we have to do more of that (play a 3-4) simply because it's hard for anybody to find those Loren Howards out there that can pass rush on the edge," said Colby. "But we can find a lot of those 6-2, 6-3, 250 pounders that are kind of 'tweeners,' between linebacker and (defensive) end. It's easier for us to find those kids.
"We don't enough (ends) to play 3-4 exclusively and we don't have enough linemen to play 4-3 exclusively, so we're going to play them both next year."
(And it's a punch in the guy when you do find those Loren Howards, but they decide to screw off to Arizona State for their senior seasons.) It's fairly easy to read between the lines of this quote: "we don't have anybody and will attempt to confuse opponents into thinking otherwise." Linebacker Nick Roach has said that the 3-4 will be a situation defense employed exclusively on passing downs in an effort to get a pass rush.
Sophomore end Kevin Mims was pretty bad last year, but as a true freshman he has an excuse. Junior David Ngene, who was clearly not as good as Mims despite being a year older, steps into the starting lineup with 12 tackles from last year. The Colby quote above indicates that he isn't expecting either Mims or fellow starter to provide much in the way of disruption; Mims might improve on his two sacks as a freshman but Northwestern's pass rush is going to have to come from a creative array of blitzes.
This is probably going to be the worst defensive line in the conference other than Indiana.
Rating: 3. Far down the list of Northwestern's offseason losses is "Best Nickname in College Football," which belonged to middle linebacker Tim "Angry Irishman" McGarigle. Northwestern will probably feel the loss of McGarigle's 548 career tackles -- the all-time NCAA record -- more keenly.
Northwestern does return starters Nick Roach and Adam Kadela; the pair were functional a year ago but at least partially to blame for Northwestern's ugly run defense. With only seven TFLs and two sacks between them, the stats paint a picture of a lot of tackles eight yards downfield. A mitigating factor: Roach broke his tailbone in the Iowa game and played through the pain for the last portion of the season.
Senior Demetrius Eaton steps into a starting spot on the outside (Kadela moves inside to replace McGarigle), but at 250 pounds he joins a remarkably uniform group: both other starters are 245. No one is particularly athletic -- giant fast guys generally attend places best described as "not Northwestern" -- and if they find themselves out of position they will not get back. The linebackers will be solid up the middle but vulnerable to play action, misdirection, and plain old outside running.
Cole with the tackle.
Long Northwestern's glaring weakness, it would be folly to expect sudden improvement from this unit but for the first time in a long time there is something resembling a flicker of hope. Senior cornerback Marquice Cole was actually kind of all right last year, though his second-team All Big Ten award came from the media and is largely attributable to his shiny 5 in the interception column. Cole is limited by his size, generously listed as 5'10", but is incredibly fast and more than capable of covering smaller wide receivers man-to-man. He's the closest thing to a good corner Northwestern's had... well... ever. He could get drafted(!)
The catch is that opposite Cole is a giant question mark and question marks, lacking arms, are distinctly poor in coverage. Junior Deante Battle was coming along nicely until being hit with an academic suspension before the Sun Bowl. His status for the upcoming season is still in question. The other options, senior Cory Dious "Mio" and sophomore Eric Peterson, do not inspire confidence. Peterson was a wide receiver until spring practice; now he is the leading candidate to start at corner. As frequent readers will no doubt recall, position-switcher-to-potential-starter is a primary MGoBlog panic heuristic. Wildcat fans should be holding prayer vigils for Battle.
[Update: Battle is eligible; rating bumped up to 3.]
Senior strong safety Bryan Heinz is the other solid player in the Wildcat secondary. He returned for the Sun Bowl after blowing out his knee right before the '05 season. With two years of starting experience under his belt and some mild regional buzz before his knee injury, he'll do his best to slow the horde of running backs and wide receivers threatening the endzone.
Brendan Smith and Reggie MacPherson are competing for the other safety spot. Both started four games a year ago, but Smith, a freshman, would have started more but for a midseason injury. Both will play; Smith will play more.
Kickers & Coverage
Rating: 1. You may remember kicker Joel Howells from disasters like "Missing two extra points, having a field goal blocked, and two onside kicks so incompetent that the same guy returned them for touchdowns against UCLA" and "going 11 for 21 despite attempting only short field goals." He's not good. He's better than Brian Huffman, who singlehandedly sabotaged the '04 TCU game, but that's not much of an accomplishment.
Punter Ryan Pederson was no better. Despite averaging under 40 gross yards per kick, he (and
the coverage units) allowed teams to average eight yards a return. Northwestern was 103rd in net punting.
Non-Conference: Soft but not terrible. New Hampshire is a good I-AA team but still a I-AA team; Eastern Michigan would probably be a bad I-AA team. Two weird road games will pose challenges: Nevada and a team Blue Ribbon describes as "MAC power Ohio," by which they mean "MAC Power Miami(Ohio)."
Miami-Northwestern might not seem like must-see TV, but Walker attended then coached there before arriving in Evanston. As the season opener for both teams it'll no doubt be Randy Walker's unofficial testimonial game and quite moving despite ESPN's best efforts to ruin it.
Conference: Ugly. Off the schedule are Indiana and Minnesota. The road slate, well...
- @ Penn State
- @ Wisconsin
- @ Michigan
- @ Iowa
Adding injury to throbbing, pulsating injury: the first two and last two games are back-to-back.
We're Sure About
Sutton. He's good and, like Javon Ringer, has found an offense perfectly suited to his talents.
The Defensive Line. Will be terrible.
We Have An Idea About
The Offensive Line. By now they've established themselves for what they are: all right, but nothing more. The situation at right tackle gives this unit some bust potential, though.
The Secondary. They could be all right, but first they'll have to find a corner other than Cole.
We Have No Clue About
The Quarterbacks. Ciphers all! Whoever gets the start will no doubt be the proverbial heady winner who makes the most of his ability despite physical limitations, but he's not going to be first team All Big Ten.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
There isn't much upside in this team without giving the Wildcats quarterback, whoever he is, way more credit than is reasonable. Sure, Bacher or whoever could be fantastic out of the gate, but realistically this is going to be a season to watch and learn. 5-7.
The quarterback situation degenerates into farce, leaving Sutton staring down eight- and nine-man fronts the bulk of the year. The defense performs like one expects a Northwestern defense to perform. At some point, they throw the towel in. 3-9.
The defense should improve statistically -- it would be hard not to -- but probably not meaningfully. There's no one to rush the passer and blitzing leaves whoever isn't Marquice Cole on an island with a big neon sign that reads "toast." The rush defense was ugly despite the presence of three veterans right up the middle; now those veterans are gone. The linebackers should be serviceable but there won't be much contribution from the line.
The offense will drop off some without Basanez. He was quietly outstanding a year ago, one of the more underrated players in the country, and there's no replacing his experience. Tyrell Sutton and a veteran offensive line should keep the Wildcats competitive, but it will be a rough year for a program that deserves better.
Wins: EMU, New Hampshire
Probable Wins: Illinois
Tossups: @ Miami(OH), Purdue, @ Nevada
Probable Losses: @ Wisconsin, @ Penn State, MSU
No Chance: @ Iowa, @ Michigan, Ohio State
It looks like 4-8.
Harrison, of course, was the Michigan defensive lineman who made a habit of strolling around Ann Arbor masturbating in front of alarmed coeds. When caught by police he was booted from the team and transferred to I-AA North Carolina A&T. (It's unclear whether Harrison had the option of remaining a Michigan student or not.) His year was as uneventful as possible for a famous for masturbating. He started on the defensive line, made 39 tackles, and kept his pants in an upright and locked position at all times as the wheels of justice ground slowly towards him.
Harrison was convicted in December and dismissed by A&T pending a standard review of his case. Eventually the school, working with the Michigan legal system, agreed to re-admit him so he could continue with the rest of his life. Six days ago, The Greensboro News-Record, a classy newspaper way more responsible than crazy bloggers, slapped this headline across their front page six days ago:
Sex felon returns to N.C. A&T
Two days ago the editor put up a blog post defending their decision to continue their series on Harrison (one of the letters mentions this is the second front page story on Harrison within a week) with the following rationale:
- "The young man has had a high profile for a year." Just a thought: maybe this is because the Greensboro News-Record keeps putting him on the front page.
- "Last week, we learned the university had readmitted him and he was going to play football again. Then, once we asked about his status, the acting chancellor got involved and determined that Harrison would not be play football." The News-Record must have a very large front page if it covers every A&T student who doesn't play football -- and thanks to their diligent pursuit of the truth Harrison has joined their ranks and can no longer do the one thing he knows he's exceptional at. No doubt that will straighten his life out. Hey, it worked for Maurice Clarett.
- And, of course, the News-Record has to save the children: "* Most important, a convicted sex offender is going to attend a state university alongside many students who are going to be away from home and unchaperoned for the first time. We believe that is important information for the A&T community to know. (As a parent of a college-age student, I find that information relevant.)" Because this "high profile" young man is a complete unknown to the A&T community. No doubt everyone plum forgot after the last front-page article.
- ...but not the Duke children: "Quick add: I should emphasize that it makes a difference that A&T is a state institution. It has, in my mind, responsibilities to taxpayers and citizens that private schools don't necessarily have."
All you need to know about the legitimacy of these articles is contained in the last pathetic bullet. "N.C. A&T is a public school" is not a reason for or against informing your readership of the re-admission of a sex offender, dangerous or no. The straws strain from the various clutchings going on.
Yesterday the AP published a completely quote-free story on the university's reaction to the manufactured scandal:
Officials of North Carolina A&T State University say they want to know more about how a former University of Michigan football player was allowed back into school after being convicted of a felony sex offense.
Shirley B. Frye, special assistant to interim Chancellor Lloyd V. Hackley, plans a trip to Michigan this week to review documents in the case of Larry Tarone Harrison Jr., university spokeswoman Mable Scott said Tuesday.
Harrison's status as a college student is in danger of being revoked once more.
I have no wish to defend Harrison's actions. I have always held that no one should be forced to watch a 300-pound defensive lineman masturbate.* No doubt the women he approached were scared out of their minds -- if a three-hundred-pound man approached me with his poxy mast rigged and ready for sail I would be frightened, too -- but the only person Harrison touched was himself. At its heart this story is about Harrison doing something weird and frightening, but not evil. It's his misfortune that his particular weirdness is a hanging curve for a horde of loud, twitchy people.
Despite harming no one, Harrison has lost any opportunity to make a living in football and is on the verge of being run out of college entirely. He's is clearly in need of counseling or (helpful prescription) drugs or psychiatry but, in a word, this is insane. Sure, he's a "sex felon," but to paste that into a splashy I-A headline is irresponsible. It conjures images of violent sexual assault; the only reason it's not libel is that it's technically true. The only reason that provocative headline was on the front page was to sell papers, whether or not the N-R will admit that, and that's despicable. But we do what we must for circulation numbers.
If Harrison was a Dungeons & Dragons aficionado instead of a defensive lineman, this story would have elicited mild titters when he was caught and then faded away. Harrison would have dealt with the justice system, transferred somewhere, and not been the focus of stories on the front pages of totally classy newspapers. Well, Greensboro News-Record: Harrison's not a football player any more. He's just a guy who may or may not like Dungeons & Dragons, so you can ignore him like the rest of the area sex offenders.
And kids, please: Don't be Harrison or Mike Cooper. Masturbate in the comfort and privacy of your home.
*(That sentence is a candidate to go on my gravestone.)
Yes, kids, this happened:
After an illegal U-turn, Clarett led police on an OJ-like chase from one Columbus suburb to another and then back before the cops managed to spike-strip his car. Clarett was drunk, wearing a bullet-proof vest, and in possession of four loaded firearms and a hatchet. The DJL Zone was there!
This is part funny -- a superfluous hatchet is funny in any circumstance -- but mostly tired and sad. Clarett is clearly even more deranged than the average player who chooses Ohio State and in need of (helpful prescription) drugs or psychiatry or both.
Question: what in the hell is Clarett still doing in Columbus? The entire city hates him after his sordid journey and revelations to ESPN (good job following up on those bad boys, NCAA!). He'd be better off literally anywhere else. Two-second pop pyschology: Clarett desperately needs any kind of attention, even raw hatred, and Columbus is the place he's most likely to get it. Hopefully prison treats Clarett better than life -- it can't be any worse.
Side note: Watching "American Dragon: Jake Long" right now. Jake speaks in a weird kid-ified Snoop shizzle speak. He's currently fighting an infestation of wedding-ruining gremlins by dancing something called the "hubba-hubba hula." It's working! GO JAKE LONG. Now he's rapping. CEASE AND DESIST.
Memorize this phone number:
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get hammered at some point during the season, call it, and leave a profane message directed at the college football antagonist of your choice.
Not dead yet: Antonio Bass. Sam Webb -- a GBW writer I have no problems with, for the record -- has an article on the star-crossed wideout's status. Money graf:
"I'm having a basic knee test just to check my whole knee...to check out everything to see if everything is going right and if everything is going as good as it possibly can," Bass explained. "That's all it really is. It's like the whole knee procedure. It's like a checkup. I'm not concerned at all. I'll be back next year and I'll be back better than ever."
The "basic knee test" Bass refers to was the source of much consternation when Carr referred to it as a make-or-break examination that would determine Bass' fate. We won't really know if he's going to return to full health until he steps on the field next year but at this point it sounds like he'll be given the opportunity to do so.
Also not dead yet: Anthony Thomas. The former rookie of the year has found something of a home in Buffalo:
There's one running back on the [Bills] roster who I fully expect to eat into McGahee's workload. Former two-time 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Thomas had his best seasons in Chicago under Dick Jauron and appears set to become a factor on the field once again after two lost seasons. He looked quicker than I've seen him since his days with the Michigan Wolverines and hit the corner on sweeps with power and authority, even seeking out contact downfield.
... There's some speculation that Jauron will give his former No. 1 back a shot to become a goal-line vulture.
Rivals has re-ranked their 2007 basketball 150. Alex Legion moves down to #38 but Manny Harris moves up to #36. Kelvin Grady is still not listed, which is not a surprise.
Etc.: Jim Carty on Kolodziej; Vijay digs up video from... 1903(!); Ohio State tight end Marcel Frost -- the projected starter -- has been suspended for the entire season. Reason given: "violating team rules."
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.