"Though I received no official response to these sophisticated and elegant tweets to the Illini Athletic Department, I would like to think that Beckman spent the evening prank calling everyone in Illinois named George McLellan and then ordering an absurd amount of hats off an internet haberdashery to hoard in his home's hat annex."
The second of the three niblets of information to come out of spring practice is Lloyd Carr's post-spring press conference, which was yesterday. You can listen to the press conference (evil Real Player link) yourself at MLive; I condense and interpret below if you don't have 35 minutes. (Also: Scout transcript.)
The third niblet is the spring "game" or practice-type-thingy, which is Saturday at 1 PM. I'll attend and file a report -- hopefully it'll be useful.
Bass is out, but not that out. Carr confirmed that Antonio Bass is expected to miss the entire 2006 season with a severe knee injury. He did leave the door open a crack with some vague references to extraordinary rehabilitation, but the upshot was don't expect Antonio in '06. Carr did allay fears that the injury might be career-ending, saying that he "didn't expect" that to be the case.
Other injuries: John Thompson, Mario Manningham, and Rueben Riley have all missed portions of the spring with injuries described as "minor." Freshly-scoped Doug Dutch returned to practice last Tuesday.
More seriously, Chris McLaurin, who underwent shoulder surgery last year, may have to get a similar surgery on his other shoulder. Even if that should happen Carr said he "should be back by fall."
Chad Henne is "right where he needs to be," according to Carr. There's not much to discuss here -- Henne is the starter and good things will be said about him no matter how he performs until fall. Forcier is the backup and will hopefully not be heard from until Henne departs.
Mike Hart is going to be the starter, but Carr also had high praise for the rest of the backs, especially Kevin Grady:
[Grady] had the best day of his career on Saturday. He ran with power. He's much more comfortable with making the cuts and finding the hole. He's a guy who likes to compete. He's very tough. He has made wonderful strides. His weight is down, which has really significantly helped him.
Of note is that fifth-year walkon/dustmite Alijah Bradley may actually be in line for some playing time:
Alijah has put himself in position where we know he is a dependable guy. He can do a lot of things. He's an outstanding pass protector and pass receiver, a guy who is very quick.
Bradley did have Michigan's longest run in last year's Ohio State game, a nine yard draw that put Michigan in a fourth and short they converted on their final scoring drive. Also, Carlos Brown has terrific "breakaway speed" and is working at cornerback some.
At fullback, Carr had extensive and specific praise for fifth-year senior Obi Oluigbo:
Obi Oluigbo has had a terrific spring. My guess is this guy is going to be a dynamite fullback in the fall. ... I think he is much, much quicker. He's had some plays where everybody on the team is impressed. 'Wow!' â€“ Those kinds of blocks on linebackers. He really feels comfortable with the things we're asking him to do. He's using his athletic ability to get there, he's got his pads down and he's been exploding into the defender. He's been lights out.
Pencil him in as the starter and hope the praise is warranted.
Wideouts and Tight Ends
Manningham's been out with a minor knee sprain, so he didn't get much mention. Redshirt freshman Laterryal Savoy did, however:
[Savoy] has really shown the ability to help us this fall. He's a big guy, and he can run. He's going to be a factor.
The rest of it is unilluminating praise. At tight end, Massey and Ecker have "improved significantly," and FSF Carson Butler gets an implied superlative from Carr:
Carson Butler is going to be... [what? going to be what?] if his attitude and his work ethic... [aaaargh! whatwhatwhat?] he needs more strength, but he is probably as athletic as any tight end we've had.
Carr at his rambling best.
Tackle is sure to be the main focus of preseason panic. The first sign the coaches were scrambling was the move of natural right tackle Jake Long to the left side. Now Carr is mentioning anyone and everyone other than fifth year senior Mike Kolodziej opposite Long, including redshirt freshmen Mark Ortmann and Corey Zirbel. Yikes. Double yikes: the guy tabbed by Carr as the likely starter is Rueben Riley, who was the source of much anxiety a year ago. Remember the Penn State preview? The passing offense's "key matchup":
OTs Ruben Riley/Mike Kolodziej ("small animals in my immediate vicinity post-game") versus Tamba Hali ("wood chipper").
That prediction turned out about as well as all the rest -- Riley turned in a nigh-heroic performance against Hali -- but it was rooted in the events of the previous week against Minnesota. During that game true freshman Steve Davis repeatedly ownzored Riley and singlehandedly snuffed out three or four drives.
Anyway, with your mind properly calibrated, check this quote out about who's been playing at RT and try not to curl into the fetal position:
Brett Gallimore is lining up there, I mentioned Cory Zirbel, of course Rueben Riley and Mike Kolodziej. Kolodziej is playing at both tackles. Mark Ortmann is at left tackle. Zirbel has gotten the majority of the snaps, and Kolodziej's gotten some.
Yeesh. That probably has something to do with Riley missing hunks of practice time but it means that Zirbel is at worst second on the depth chart.
Also in limbo: right guard. Carr mentioned redshirt sophomores Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Cuilla as the main contenders, but had caveats for both:
Alex Mitchell has done some good things. He's going to have to compete. He's going to have to lose some weight, and I think the same is true of Jeremy Ciulla. The right guard is a position where we'll go into training camp having to make a decision at that position.
The nominally good news is that three positions appear to be set: Jake Long ("great spring") at left tackle, Adam Kraus ("very good spring") at left guard, and Mark Bihl ("outstanding spring") at center. You might do well to be a bit wary about Bihl's insertion into the starting lineup. He's been given every chance to grab a starting spot for the past two or three years and has never lasted more than a couple games before getting yanked.
This seems worthy of a sigh of relief...
Tim Jamison didn't have a very good day on Saturday, but up until Saturday, I would say he probably has had as good a spring as anybody on our team.
...as it lessens the chance of a re-Massey. Also coming in for praise: Terrance Taylor ("has a chance to be a great nose tackle... much stronger"), Marques Walton("played very well"), and James McKinney ("made very good progress") -- now a DT.
Ut-oh? Shawn Crable received extremely high praise...
I think Shawn Crable has had a terrific spring. Crable, if he continues, there's no way Crable is not going to be on the field, because he has really turned it up.
... but the rest of the linebackers got a big, fat raspberry from Carr:
The rest of them are up for grabs. ...
On if he is disappointed with the linebacker play this spring:
"I'm a little disappointed at certain places in there, but I expect before we're done there that they will be a strength of this team."
Since David Harris was the one thing standing between the Michigan defense and Indiana-level run defense last year, I would assume his job is safe. I would read the ominous doom-saying about the linebackers as an indication that both Prescott Burgess and Chris Graham are in serious danger of finding themselves on the bench come fall unless they stop playing like Jim Herrmann is still their coach.
The battle at corner has a surprising contender in Charles Stewart. When asked about who would start opposite Leon Hall, Carr said that both Stewart and Johnny Sears were having "very, very productive springs." Trent was not mentioned until specifically asked about later; Carr took the opportunity to say this:
He's in a very competitive position because he came into the spring as number one. Sears and Stewart have really come on. He's like a lot of guys. He's got to step up."
If I had to put together a corner depth chart right now I have no idea who would end up opposite Hall -- and it would probably be a distinction without a difference. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, since Trent seemed to perform very well for a freshman in '05.
At safety, the first name out of Carr's mouth was junior Jamar Adams:
We've had one safety I think has really ... I don't like to say solidified, but Jamar Adams has had an excellent spring.
Carr also mentioned that there were a "couple of freshmen" -- Steve Brown and Jonas Mouton -- who would be candidates for time in the fall, but I don't buy it. With Harrison, Adams, Englemon, Mundy and Barringer all returning, Michigan has no fewer than five safeties with starting experience. If Brown and Mouton are going to see the field it's going to be at corner (Brown) or linebacker (Mouton).
"no question, Zoltan has improved from the fall"
Four Heismans are still in reach.
Update 4/9: Linked to article on MI LB Chris Colasanti. Removed OR DT Myles Wade (dropped us) and CA QB Chris Forcier(UCLA). Linked to meatnormous article on NY QB Mike Paulus. Added FL LB Ronnie Lillard. Linked to article on MI OL Darris Sawtelle -- sounds like it's Tennessee before too long (er... I mean "it's Tennessee now") and article on MI DE Ryan VanBergen -- yes, a DE.
Also: added OK RB Gerald Jones.
Editorial Opinion: Gone are Forcier, Wade, and Sawtelle. No surprises in the bunch. Michigan is after Ryan Mallet and never offered Forcier, Wade is from Oregon, and Sawtelle's grandfather fought for the Tennessee Volunteers in the Civil War or something.
The VanBergen article has this sentence:
He is projected to play defensive end in college, however, a switch to tight end hasn't been ruled out, according to VanBergen.
I'll move him accordingly. Since the article also lists him at 253 pounds, a move inside is a possibility as well. More stats:
Last year, VanBergen finished with 59 solo tackles, including 32 for loss, seven sacks and four interceptions. Offensively, he had 20 catches for 274 yards and four TDs despite suffering a shoulder injury midway through the season for the 4-5 Vikings.
Chris Colasanti is going to make an early decision:
"My coach is pushing for me to decide by mid-summer. That's why I have taken so many visits. I don't know how to tell who are my top five without taking these visits. I'll probably narrow to a top five at the beginning of the summer, then a top three, and then make my decision."
Michigan's extensive linebacker haul last year might hurt our chances:
"My goal is to play early," he explains. "My dad and I are always on the Internet - how many linebackers a school takes each year and how many are in front of me. I work hard and believe in myself, but don't want to wait four years for my chance."
Colasanti is probably going to end up more highly ranked than anyone from last year's class other than Brandon Graham, though.
The New York Times has an unfortunate habit of bothering with goings-on at the University of Michigan only when extremely silly people are talking. Since the Times is the national paper of record, this has the even more unfortunate effect of legitimizing whatever the silly people are talking about. Exhibit A: a half-dozen years ago a motley crew of student activists and Detroit communists made a statement by decrying the existence of a "secret society" at Michigan that used Native American imagery in offensive ways. Or at least had done some at some point in the past. So incensed at this society that no one was supposed to know about that may or may not still be doing offensive things, they occupied their office, sent out a lot of email, and some months later had their own article in the Times. This only encouraged them further, much to everyone's detriment.
In 2006 a similarly well-intentioned crew of complete and total loons has garnered a Times article and thus stature wildly out of proportion to the merit and importance of their cause: protesting the planned renovation of Michigan Stadium, specifically the addition of what Martin terms "enclosed seating" and the loons term "luxury boxes," a distinction I could not care less about. If I have any preference, I prefer "luxury boxes" because they sound more likely to really soak some of the crotchety elderly I have to contend with whenever I attend a home game.
Do we really have to delve deep into the win-win of luxury boxes at Michigan in order to dispel this ridiculous idea that they will have a negative effect on the game experience for anyone? We shouldn't, but... NYT and all. Okay. Stakeholder-by-stakeholder:
- Loaded old people: Muffy and I no longer have to risk death by frostbite every fall. We obviously enjoy the idea of boxes, as we've voluntarily shelled out the GDP of Belize to sit here. I do sort of miss screaming "down in front" at impudent 50-year-olds with their crazy hair and stupid pet rocks and hula hoops and music videos applesauce applesauce let's sing the applesauce song.
- Joe Plebian in the stands: My, this extra 1.5 inches does make a difference... and there are many fewer crotchety old people yelling at me to sit down during exciting plays.
- Bill Martin: Now I have even more money I can roll around in, Demi-Moore style.
- Michigan players: Yes, it does seem somewhat louder in here, as the higher walls tend to keep in a bit more sound and those displaced to the luxury boxes never said peep in the first place.
- The basketball team: Yay, if Martin ever stops rubbing the money all over his naughty bits, we get the facilities we need to compete with George Mason.
All this can be yours if only one gets on board. Truly, the luxury box is marketing alchemy on par with bottled water. You take the worst seats in the house, add some appetizers, and voila! Millions of dollars. Who are we to discourage the foolish rich?
In any case, you would do well to consider the source: other than the founder of the extremely silly website behind all this, the main source of anti-box quotes is former university president James Duderstadt, who hates everything about collegiate athletics and is as predictable on this topic as a partisan talking head is about, well, anything. It's akin to asking Ann Coulter if she thinks Hillary Clinton would make a good president: you're going to get a lot of spittle and exactly zero information other than "Coulter hates Clinton," something you knew before. Add in the fact that Duderstadt is so out of touch that he pulls a T. Herman Zweibel by referring to the NCAA basketball "final-four" tournament and what you get is less the wise tidings of a respected member of the community and more the crackpot natterings of an angry old man. There's little value in his opinion given his wider worldview.
While Duderstadt dislikes the idea of luxury boxes because he dislikes the idea of intercollegiate athletics that people care about, the other protestors think that Michigan operates outside the rules of thermodynamics. Ignoring entropy, their solution to keeping Michigan relevant is the same that keeps the Sphinx and Hunter S. Thompson in tip-top-shape to this very day: leave it alone and let time's stewardship see it through. Michigan is already in an excited, untenable state by rejecting the advertising that makes the interiors of Spartan and Ohio Stadium corporate eyesores. As a result our stadium is both pristine and badly out of date in dozens of ways -- access to seats, sufficient bathrooms, ugly tin on the outside of the stadium. Michigan has already slipped far behind the average college stadium's amenities -- let alone the NFL so abhorrent to the letter-writers -- and must provide a source of revenue going forward that can make up this slippage and more. Otherwise Michigan's most important tradition, winning*, will start to suffer at the hands of its lesser brethren.
Oh yeah, PS: Let this in no way be construed as an endorsement of that other main bugaboo, advertising. If you've ever been to a road game at OSU or MSU and weren't repulsed by Jewel Osco and the Michigan Marinated Soybean Board bringing you OMG OMG OMG Tractor Racing(!!!) during a commercial break, please deport yourself immediately.
*(And don't let anyone tell you different. Northwestern has traditon-laden program and a history of academic excellence unparallelled in the Big Ten and still plays road games at Ryan Field whenever Michigan wanders into town.)
So: revamped sidebar with a few additions, including two new Michigan blogs:
- Michigan Against The World, from a former student manager.
- Stadium & Main: check out Nick's review of the bizarre 2001 season.
There is also a promising new Badger blog in town @ Bucky Blog. Still on the lookout for MSU, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa football blogs to complete the set. (Minus Indiana, of course.)
Also... don't click here. (audio)
Only the penitent wide receiver shall pass. A previous UV pointed out the sweet AC/BE video up at Braylon Edwards' site. As you likely know, Edwards is endowing a scholarship for the #1 jersey. You probably did not know that receiving the #1 is going to be a trial by ordeal:
"No freshman will be allowed to wear the No. 1," Edwards said. "The number holds too much significance and too much value. There are three criteria to receive it: first, no freshmen; second, the GPA (grade-point average); third, off-the-field conduct."
I assume there's an unspoken fourth requirement for total awesomeness. This takes away a recruiting inducement -- Lloyd would dangle the #1 in front of top WR prospects -- but the prospect of getting passed the #1 after earning it is kind of cool. Also of note:
Edwards, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, has created the largest endowment ever given by a former athlete at U-M.
Good on yer, BE.
We'll miss Friday nights in the Metrodome. Or perhaps we won't. But we're sure that there will no longer be any, as the Minnesota legislature has approved necessary funding for an on-campus, outdoor stadium for Gopher football. Three things of note:
- It's only 50,000 seats, which seems small for a Big Ten team not named Northwestern or Indiana.
- In exchange for a piddling $35 million, TCF gets to call the thing "TCF Bank Stadium," which would make it the only stadium in the league whored out to a corporation.
- It's a good thing that Minnesota president Robert Bruininks doesn't live in MGoBlog's America, where tortured sports metaphors like this...
He said the House action "gets us to the 50-yard line. Now we're looking to the Senate to get us into the end zone."
... are firing-squad offenses.
The stadium is supposed to be ready for the 2009 season.
And in this week's edition of "Video because I can": YouTube brings us what the Syracuse area simply refers to as "The Run," featuring one Mike Hart:
My favorite part is the 150-pound tailback who's like "yeah! yeah! I am so awesome. I sort-of-blocked half a person on a play where Mike Hart schooled each member of the defense twice."
This is your cue to go "mmmmmm... Mike Hart's healthy ankle."
...and by "light posting" I mean "I didn't think this would get finished today."
Alex Legion's mother lives in Inkster, Michigan. Alex Legion does not. Legion lives in Southfield with a man named Tim Green, who is his AAU basketball coach. Green is applying for legal guardianship of Legion.
Take the previous five sentences, mix them with the vapors of dozens of similarly creepy stories involving young men with unusual basketball ability and their assorted hangers-on, and you have world-class agar for investigative journalism to bloom in. Perhaps Alex Legion's situation is on the up-and-up. Perhaps Tim Green's motivations for taking Legion under his wing are totally altruistic. But unless stunning ability with a basketball goes hand-in-hand with a level of charm so absolute that total strangers nationwide are taking in basketball non-orphans simply to be charitable, there is a class of men somewhere between agents and parasites attaching themselves to every prospective NBA player in the country. Shoe wars have turned high school basketball entirely upside down: nowadays your AAU team is more important than your high school one. Where, then, is "Game Of Shadows: College Basketball Edition"?
Don't expect that question to be answered with a "coming right up" any time soon. As Mark Jurkowitz recently detailed in The Phoenix, a Boston alt-weekly, when it comes to muckraking, sportswriters have a rich history of sitting on their ass eating donuts. "Game of Shadows" itself was penned by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, men who
are not the kind of reporters found walking around post-game clubhouses armed with microphones and notebooks. Fainaru-Wada, a former sportswriter, was working on a campaign-finance project for the Chronicle's investigative unit when the BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) drug story broke. Williams, a traditional courts-and-cops reporter, is a long-time investigative journalist.
While Jurkowitz's article has an odd concept of stories of import -- he cites work done that showed that certain pro athletes' charitable contributions were not as charitable as all that -- it stands as a damning testament against the sportswriter's feeble plea that their access to athletes and coaches can serve as their aegis against the unwashed blogging hordes. It took ten years, a federal investigation, and two non-sportswriters to break the "news" that Bonds was on 'roids, something that had been conventional wisdom for a half-dozen years. In the interim, sportswriters asked Bonds
- if he liked winning,
- if he liked hitting lots of home runs,
- if he thought home runs were fun to hit,
- and if winning and hitting home runs was kind of like being tickled by ponies.
"Squandered" doesn't seem to cover the totality of the failure here.
Meanwhile in college basketball, the conventional wisdom is not that a few coaches are bending, breaking, or flaunting the rules -- it's that all of them are. At least, everyone who isn't Tommy Amaker is. Even not-a-coach-but-a-leader Mike Kryzwesksisetc,etc,etc ended up entangled with Brett Bearup via Corey Maggette. The coach of your 2006 national champion Florida Gators was publicly accused of being an ATM with Eddie Munster hair by then-Stanford coach Mike Montgomery (though the uproar over those comments caused an epic CYA backtrack by Montomgery in their wake). The NCAA had to rejigger its rules because Jim Calhoun was funnelling thousands of dollars to AAU programs via sham exhibition games. That's just the tip; the iceberg is composed of recruit after recruit ending up at a funny destination for no reason in particular. There's nothing you can say about each individual case -- kids do indeed choose schools for a lot of funny reasons -- but taken together they compose a black mass lurking just under the Greg-Gumbelized surface of college basketball.
And this has been going on for not ten but thirty years (at least!), to the detriment of many but most importantly
me Michigan. It's just our luck that basketball's unspoken reptilian tail has smashed Michigan both coming (Ed Martin sinks the program) and going (Crawford, Hairston, Horford, Legion leave before even coming). We swing back and forth from a program not clean enough to one that seems too clean to do the bending that teams far below the corruption median are willing to do: Tory Jackson's scholarship was pulled, so he took off for noted nest of corruption Notre Dame. (That was sarcastic, Irish fans.) We sit idly by, wondering if there are tournaments other than the NIT. We suck, waiting for that one guy with stunning basketball skills to suck the suck away.
"We decided to open it up," Legion told Scout.com. "I'm going to Oak Hill and I'm starting over so we opened it up.
... but tells his mom different...
"Like he told Amaker today, 'I'll be away from Mr. Green and my mom and get a chance to think things over,' " Williams said of her son, referring to his guardian Tim Green. " 'I'll think about my own self and my own choices.'
...it's hard to go with mom over he person he lives with -- and what an odd sentence that is. It's hard to be the kind of person who makes his own choices when you've never done so before. Is it "we" or "I"? And will Legion pick a place his mother wants him to go, or a place that might make Tim Green some money? No one knows right now, but I've got a nickel on green, capitalized and un-.
That's not to say I know Tim Green from Adam. As noted, this could all be completely legit and Legion will call Tommy Amaker to recommit and go where his mom wants him to go... but you'll forgive my cynicism. Occam's Razor and all that.
Meanwhile, we're left with sports journalists that Ball Four author Jim Bouton describes in the Phoenix article as "fans" who are "in it because it's fun" -- an assertion that any actual fan is taken aback by, since most sportswriters are about as fun as a bag of tacks to the face. For that matter, sportswriters seem to recoil from the term "fan" as if it was three letters of hydrochloric acid. As Colby Cosh noted when Bob McKenzie said that the "fan in [him] died long ago":
McKenzie certainly doesn't mean that he no longer gets pleasure from hockey: he's using the word "fan" as a pejorative, the way Nietzsche used "human." McK's saying he has transcended, attained a higher state. The fan had to die to make way for the expert. It's kind of like a political columnist describing himself as no longer a mere voter.
It should be noted that McKenzie is an MGoBlog favorite and all-around good (seeming) guy, but Cosh is right. Anyone who's read Drew Sharp or any of his legion of crabbed clones across the country knows they're no good at fun or fandom. But they do have that precious access, and so I ask: if you'd like to prove your vast superiority to blogs, why don't you do college basketball a favor and rake some muck? We'll save the bearclaws until you get back.
(Cosh's pith via Offwing)