to play football, not to play trumpet
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
Rating: 5 of 5.
|Brandon Minor||Sr.||Mark Moundros||Jr.*|
|Carlos Brown||Sr.||Kevin Grady||Sr.|
|Mike Shaw||So.||Anonymous Walk-on||----|
|Mike Cox||Fr.*||Anonymous Walk-on||----|
|UW veer TD|
|Used as H-back|
|PSU TD #1|
|More PU RAGE|
It's no coincidence that Michigan's running game took a quantum leap forward when Brandon Minor was installed as the starter against Penn State and told to run very hard in one direction until the gore covering everything proved too slippery to get a foothold on. MINOR RAGE was born in a shocking first half against Penn State and all other options were instantly demoted to second-best. Gone was the preseason depth chart that featured a whopping three "OR" denotations. When healthy, Minor was the guy. It was obvious from his first drive against the Nittany Lions. It was obvious from his first thumping run:
After weeks of watching a couple freshmen zip into linebackers or, more often, linemen and then attempt not to get killed, Minor blasted into the secondary and left one of Penn State's safeties in a heap. Debate: over.
So what the hell took so long? Well, Sam McGuffie did flash hints of talent, most impressively against Notre Dame, before opponents figured out that you could just murder his brain. Minor, battling a wrist injury all year, put the ball on the ground with alarming regularity when he got the odd carry early in the season. And there were persistent rumors that Minor found himself amongst the discontented masses on the team that did not fully buy in. (Yes, this which makes Minor's post-season callout of any lingering Zion Babbs a bit odd, but it is what it is.)
Also, Minor hadn't been that impressive in his first two years at Michigan. This preview last year noted the gap in YPC between Minor and Carlos Brown—one that persisted even if you chopped down Brown's 85-yard ramble against Minnesota to something more reasonable—and came down on the skeptical side of things:
Minor runs too upright and stiff for my tastes. He's clearly slower than Brown and the fleet freshmen, has little wiggle, and tends to plow over and through defenders instead of trying to avoid them. Sometimes this ends with Minor spectacularly trucking someone; sometimes it ends with Minor taking a wicked shot from a headhunting linebacker or safety. …
IMO, he gets his fair share of carries throughout the year but is clearly less effective than at least one other tailback and possibly two.
This prediction looked bang on for six games, at which point Minor's projected best case—a poor man's Darren McFadden—sort of came true, didn't it? Minor's not going to go in the top ten of the NFL draft but he had his moments of thunderous downhill stomping, slashing through holes and over and through and past out-of-position defenders. He was one of the few players to seem a physical match for Penn State and Ohio State defenders and should improve further with a year of buy-in and Barwis. Evan Royster may be an obvious selection for All Big Ten tailback this year, but they put two on the team and from this vantage point Minor's as likely as anyone to claim that second spot.
There is a caveat, though: if healthy. I may have been wrong about Minor's overall efficacy but the ominous injury note above was borne out. Minor's early fumbling problems were caused by a wrist issue that lingered through the year and he missed the Northwestern game not with any specific issue but just because he had gotten the hell beaten out of him the past few games. Minor missed sections of camp after an offseason car crash left him with persistent headaches. Asking him to be a Ringer-level workhorse is a bit much.
|Loping vs Purdue|
|Tripping over Leman|
|Nice first down|
Meanwhile, the man this preview thought would claim the starting mantle, albeit nominally, came down with the usual array of nagging ailments from hamstrings to hangnails to exploding penguins. Carlos Brown hardly found the field all year. In fact, he was en route to a medical redshirt before Minor came down with that comprehensive ass-kickage and he was brought out of mothballs to play in the most unpleasant game ever staged. Despite the rust, wholesale lack of a passing game, and driving sleet, Brown impressed, racking up 115 yards on 23 carries—five per—with a long of only 17 against Northwestern's fair-to-good rushing defense.
Carlos Brown, this is your abridged Northwestern UFR:
Brown splits them and is a safety away from six points. … I really wish Brown didn't go down so easily on this one; with Mathews blocking downfield a cut outside might make this a touchdown. … Brown runs through the flailing arms and is away for a good gain. … Brown splits the two linebackers, then jukes a safety(+1), picking up the extra five yards he needs for the first. … should try to bounce it all the way back behind Sheridan—Steve Slaton used to do that to good effect—but instead just runs into a bunch of dudes. … makes a sweet spin move to evade the rolled up corner and safety. Free of those two, he picks up the first down. Major + play from Brown here. … Brown is indecisive with the safety and gets taken down. [Ed. Note: after ten yards.] … Here's the season for you: Michigan runs against what's essentially a five man front, gets a vast gaping hole and will pop Brown into the secondary for somewhere between eight and a zillion yards, and Brown falls harmlessly to the turf three yards in the backfield.
Carlos Brown got out of the grave and turned in an excellent running day, though a series of slips and stumbles prevented him from breaking a long one, and that last zone stretch on which he turned a likely first down into third and thirteen was a killer.
That's consistent move-the-chains production from a guy we know has gamebreaking speed. Combine the two and you might have something resembling the top-50 player Brown was coming out of high school.
That's the trick though, that and not having a series of freak hand, ankle, groin, hamstring, thigh, spleen, and pancreas injuries that limit him to one 85-yard touchdown against Minnesota and a lot of dour, beslinged observation from the sideline. There's no time like the present for Brown to live up to the extensive recruiting hype and occasional 80-yard touchdown—he had another one in the spring game.
If Brown is healthy and if Minor is healthy at the same time, expect to see a heavy dose of two-tailback sets that allow Michigan to zone read in either direction, run plenty of triple option, and prevent opponents from teeing off towards one side or the other. Rivals actually ranked Minor as a fullback coming out of high school and last year Minor's occasional deployment as a lead blocker was effective, as this Michigan State defensive end can attest:
Unless, of course, he's still wondering why his legs are made of eels and the sky smells so prickly.
Backups And Whatnot
|Season's first TD|
|Gets tackled oddly|
With Sam McGuffie wisely choosing his ability to remember where he lives and Conference USA over a sophomore season at Michigan, Michael Shaw is other experienced option on the depth chart. Last year he did his best Brown impression, alternating impressive, zippy runs with groin injuries. He added some bonus freshman stuff, too: the occasional horrible decision that ended in a seven yard loss or fumble, either of which events ended with Rodriguez spittle arcing across the field.
Like Denard Robinson, Shaw is made of dilithium, the winner of the 200, 4x100, and 4x200 at the Penn Relays his senior year of high school and a guy who was shocked when someone, anyone managed to track him down from behind once he broke into the open field:
"I broke a long run and got dragged from behind. It was then that I was like, 'I'm really hurting. I've never not been able to run, not been able to explode.' "
There was good reason for the slowdown, a groin injury that would eventually require offseason surgery for a "sports hernia." If Angry Michigan Running Back Hating God doesn't get involved again, Shaw should see extensive work as a slot-capable tailback on passing downs and all-purpose injury/fatigue backup as he's groomed for the (or, more likely, a) starting job in 2010. Somewhere between 50 and 100 carries at a high YPC and one or two runs where he goes so fast he mutates into a frog-like thing and everyone pretends it didn't happen afterwards would be a tantalizing sophomore year.
Past Shaw there's a cavalcade of freshmen in two groups. Group one—pounding Minor sorts—is Mike Cox. Cox is a redshirt freshman out of a New England prep school better known for producing hockey stars than football players. They only play nine game seasons; Cox was hurt for most of his senior year; no one scouted him before that because right New England prep school; then he redshirted. So, yeah, we don't know much about Cox. There have been erratic positive practice mentions that make the Minor comparison and suggest Michigan made the right choice when they went for Cox over instate star Jonas Gray, now at Notre Dame, after seeing the two side-by-side at camp. Cox should see some time spelling Minor, as Michigan doesn't have anyone other than him to pick up the thundermoose mantle.
Group two—spread ninjas—has two guys in it, both true freshmen. Ohioan Fitzgerald Toussaint was the higher-rated by the recruiting sites. He spent his senior year either shredding defenses for like 250 yards on 10 carries or getting swamped for like 40 on 20. There was little in-between. His highlight video is full of fancy jump-cuts and serious change-of-direction skills; he's slightly undersized but who cares, right? Toussaint's had some injury issues in fall camp and it sounds like Michigan is looking at redshirting him, which they obviously should since he's fifth string at best. Recruiting profile here.
And then there is tiny, zippy Vincent Smith, who arrived for spring and did this during the Michigan drill…
…impressing everyone and reminding us all that Rich Rodriguez might have some idea what he's doing when it comes to tiny who-dat running backs.
Smith's spring game was just okay, but the practice buzz up until that point was very positive. The buzz since has remained equally positive, with teammates dropping his name apropos of nothing. Here's the always-excitable Fred Jackson:
“Small guy, but a big back. He plays big. The way he blocks you and the way he’ll run over you. I’m going to bet that he’s 170 pounds, I don’t know exactly. But I’m going to say he’s 170 pounds and he runs like he’s 200 pounds.”
It's Smith, not Shaw, who's listed as the first backup to the two seniors on the initial roster. That means no redshirt and frequent duty; I'm betting he's the fan favorite in the race for the starting job next year. His recruiting profile beckons for the curious.
I have a hunch that Michigan fans and opposing linebackers are going to become very familiar with redshirt junior fullback Mark Moundros this fall. We know that Rodriguez likes to feed his ogres, and last year Michigan had some success passing to Moundros out of the backfield until opponents caught on to that one play they can actually do and shut him down.
This year Michigan figures to have several plays they can actually do and one spectacularly accurate short-range passer. You can see a glimpse of a Moundros-heavy future in the Forcier
porn highlights from the spring game: Forcier gets pressure from an outside blitzer on a rollout and hits Moundros dead in stride. Moundros turns it up in front of a trailing linebacker and picks up a first down. Shades of Aaron Shea there. Shea was Michigan's last frequently-used H-back, an all-purpose fullback/tight end who hauled in 38 catches in 1999. While that number might be a stretch for Moundros something like 20, most of which turn into first downs, isn't out of the question. The occasional carry might be in order, too.
|Blocks three guys|
|Crushing a corner|
As far as backups: with Vince Helmuth's move to the defensive line and eventually the MAC, there really aren't many options. Kevin Grady is still around but he's not much of a fullback and after four years disappointing on and off the field the chances he picks up a major role are slim indeed. He's listed second on the depth chart at the spot, FWIW. Michigan's best bet for a backup will probably be a to-date anonymous walk-on. Both Owen Schmitt and Moundros started as walk-ons, after all, and Rodriguez has directly stated he won't recruit scholarship fullbacks in the future. He prefers to breed them in Barwis vats in the IM building basement.
Guest post from Jon Chait, who needed a platform via which to respond.
So Brian yesterday noted Deadspin’s foray into the “Let’s Accuse A Coach We Don’t Like Of Violating NCAA Regulations Without Bothering To Learn What The Regulations Say” genre popularized by the Detroit Free Press. I wanted to chime in because that same post featured a not-very-insightful shot at yours truly.
Yesterday I wrote a column for Rivals pointing out that, while it’s fine for Michael Rosenberg to express his strong anti-Rich Rodriguez opinions in his sports columns, allowing a columnist with such a strong viewpoint to write an anonymously-sourced investigative news article on the same topic of his obsession is improper.
Deadspin’s Dashiell Bennett drops the gotcha on me:
Jonathan Chait stepped down from his high horse at The New Republic to lambaste the Freep's Michael Rosenberg for his anti-Rich Rod bias, stating that no place he worked would ever let an opinion writer do hard news about a subject he was so "passionate" about. Interesting, if true. I wonder if any of those fine, upstanding newspapers Chait's talking about would let an alumnus (UM, Class of '94) attack another writer because they published dirt about an organization he used to be associated with?
Jesus. Was I writing an investigative news article in a newspaper about a topic which I have strong opinions on? No, I was not. Nor should I. Having lambasted the Freep’s journalistic ethics, if I were to go to the Detroit News and propose they hire me to write an expose about how Freep sports editors are laundering money for the Cali drug cartel to fund their kitten-strangling hobby, the News should definitely not hire me. In fact, I hereby authorize every newspaper in the country to reject any future entreaties by me to report and write investigative news stories on any subject in which I have previously expressed strong opinions.
It’s perfectly ethical for Rosenberg to wage his anti-Rodriguez jihad in his sports column. Dumb, unpersuasive, misleading, sometimes factually inaccurate, yes, but not unethical. It’s likewise perfectly ethical for me to opine about the University of Michigan, despite having graduated from it. But if Dashiell Bennett learned he was the subject of an investigative news story in the New York Times, authored by me, reporting on the scandal of people who are allowed to write sports blogs despite having IQs under 90, he would probably feel that something unethical had transpired.
Part two of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009.
Once upon a time, the Edmonton Oilers—of whom I am a fan mostly because of Mike Comrie and Chris Chelios, but that's another post—did something right. At the advent of the salary cap era in the NHL they traded an array of prospects and spare parts to Saint Louis for Chris Freakin' Pronger and signed him to a five-year deal. They surrounded Pronger with an array of steady old hands and overachievers and then set about deploying the NHL's best defenseman en route to the Oilers' traditional position when the trade deadline rolls around: on the fringes of the playoffs, unsure whether to buy or sell. Ah, the Oilers.
They bought, shipping a first-round pick and conditional third-rounder to the Minnesota Wild for elderly platoon goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who was not and is not Marty Brodeur. A meaningless move and wild overpayment? Maybe for anyone else in the NHL.
When looking at save percentage relative to league, I use something I call relative save percentage. … I’ve got the numbers for every team since 1987-88; that’s 435 teams in all. Guess how many of those teams have put up a relative save percentage worse than the Oilers' 982.
Oilers blogger Mudcrutch—the statistically inclined fellow above—ended that pre-trade post above by muttering that it was "depressing to think how good this team could be with half-decent goaltending." When Roloson came in, he whipped out the Godfather references and declared the new guy would make the Oilers 12 goals better over the remainder of the regular season, a "ridiculous number."
He was right. The Oilers made the playoffs, charged through the Western Conference, and made the Stanley Cup finals. There they fell in seven games after Roloson was injured in game one, leaving Ty Conklin to commit one of the all-time worst gaffes in Stanley Cup history and be exiled from Canada forever. Conklin is currently a hobo living in Venezuela and definitely didn't latch onto the best organization in professional sports; Pronger would demand a trade ten seconds after the season ended. Edmonton's team has an average age of 12 and hasn't sniffed the second round since. But for one shining moment, a league-average goalie made all the difference.
I think you see where I'm going with this.
Nobody held out much hope last year when Rodriguez's top two options post-Mallett were a walk-on who was honorable mention All-Conference in high school and a guy who got beat out by a walk-on who was honorable mention All-Conference in high school. But even what little hopes were proffered (Sheridan "could be a non-liability who successfully keeps the heat off the other skill position players," said this blog) turned out to be wildly optimistic.
Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet set the bar for quarterback futility so high (low?) they shattered this blog's horrible-quarterbacking touchstone from years past: 1993. Brian Griese and Scott Dreisbach played Sheridan and Threet, respectively, en route to this:
Those numbers are ugly. They are also vastly better than what Michigan endured last year. I'll spare you the full horror show and just highlight the most important number, yards per attempt. Griese and Dreisbach averaged 7.1 YPA between them. Threet and Sheridan? 5.1. Even Tacopants—Jason Avant's eleven-foot-tall imaginary friend—was discouraged:
Dude, Tacopants is going to catch 400 balls this year.
No, because even he’s watching these sail over his head, and he can be whatever height he wants to be because he is made of dreams and snails and puppy dog tails.
So, yes, Michigan is staring down the barrel of a depth chart that features true freshmen at spots one and two, and people are pretty sanguine about that. Let's just embed this artifact one more time to reinforce why:
Tate Forcier, spring game, 11/14 for 130-ish yards, fifty more on the ground, five total touchdowns, complete failure to heave looping balls that nestle gently between the numbers of opposing defensive backs. Forcier was the easy winner of "Most Encouraging Development" after the spring game. You've heard, seen, and possibly cleaned up after it all before.
Normally this would be the section of the preview that discussed Forcier's performance to date, or in the event of a new starter, summarized the behind-the-scenes fawning and tried to take it down to a reasonable level. But every iota of information we have on Forcier's been hashed and rehashed in this space already. The executive summary:
Tate Forcier is the one who didn't get away, the one who was planning on committing even when Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver hadn't twirled their mustaches in dastardly fashion and tied Michigan football's hopes to the train tracks before effecting their getaways. His brother is my favorite Michigan player of all time who never played. He is a relentlessly trained quarterback prodigy ready to step in on day one—which was a month ago—and challenge Steven Threet for the starting job. God help us if he flames out.
Here's the world's most succinct scouting report($), via a story title from the Nebraska Rivals site: Forcier Equals Accuracy.
Two thousand other words await you at the link if you're interested in a recap and haven't already committed them to memory. (Which bad form, MGoReader, bad form. Downvote yourself in your heart.)
Forcier has been shaped to be a quarterback since he was a wee tyke. The younger sibling of two Division I recruits (who, it must be said, never actually played), Forcier is the smallest, most consistently drilled, and best mechanically. He's had college-level coaching for years on end now and should be considerably more prepared to play than your average freshman quarterback.
Since we have a general idea of what to expect in Forcier's specific case relative to other freshmen, let's examine what other freshmen thrust into the spotlight tend to do. Doctor Saturday's spent a lot of time this offseason pondering the direction of the Michigan program, and in one post he surveyed the brief, undistinguished recent history of true freshman quarterbacks. Stolen table coming atcha:
If you scanned that like I did your first reaction was "holy hell, Threet & Sheridan's YPA was well worse than everyone on this list except Jimmah." And yes, it's true. Taken as an aggregate, this random sampling of who-dats and future stars comes out to 6.7, a little worse than Dreisbach-Griese and vastly better than Threetsheridammit.
The upshot: freshman quarterbacks suck, but on average they suck far less than Michigan's two-headed monster of yesteryear. An average-for-a-freshman performance from Forcier will be a huge step forward for the offense.
Note also the tendency of spread—or at least mobile—quarterbacks to cluster at opposite ends of the spectrum. The #1, 2, 3, and 5 quarterbacks were all spread-ish, mobile-ish types. So were the worst, fourth-worst, and eh, maybe fifth-worst. In conjunction with Rodriguez's success with relatively inexperienced quarterbacks (Rasheed Marshall and Pat White at West Virginia) this looks like something of a theory: spread offenses lend themselves to early success as long as you have one-and-a-half talents. Williams, Ball, and Freeman did not. Williams and Ball couldn't throw worth a damn and Freeman was a Spread In Name Only quarterback shoehorned into a spread offense despite his inability to run.
But maybe as long as you're a polished, super-accurate short passer (Leak) or thrilling athlete (Pryor, Griffin), you can get away with your half-skill well enough. (Not having taken in much of a horrible Pac-10 team, I'm not exactly sure where Tuitama fits.) If spread quarterbacks are either surprisingly good for freshmen or horrible, the horrible ones tend to be undercoached, sushi-raw fast guys with the accuracy of a tommy gunner on amphetamines.
This is the precise opposite of Tate Forcier, long may he remain unbroken and functional.
Backups and whatnot
Everyone's hoping that incoming freshman Denard Robinson earns the out-and-out backup spot by the Big Ten schedule because the alternatives are Sheridan, about whom scroll up to the Conklin/Markkannen analogy, and David "Coner" Cone. Since Robinson just arrived a few weeks ago and didn't get the spring exposure Forcier did I've got nothing more to offer on him other than what got dumped out in his recruiting profile and what's been said about his crazy ninja speed by coaches and teammates.. The executive-executive summary: Pat White. Except maybe… faster?
Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said Robinson is bigger than Pat White was when he came to West Virginia as a freshman, and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said Robinson's speed compares favorably to White's.
“I don’t want to blow him up, but he’s fast," Smith said. "He’s fast. It’s fun to watch because when he breaks through - and I love Pat to death, but I’m not so sure this kid - he’s fast. They’re close."
His high school coach gets misty:
"Oh my god, Michigan is going to get an explosive, explosive quarterback," Taylor said. "He's a leader, he pushes his will to win on others. I've never seen a kid so competitive."
Stevie Brown on Michigan's jackrabbit:
“I remember one time Denard (Robinson) broke. When Denard opens up and runs there is nobody that is catching him. He hit a little seam, we lost contain on him and I think he probably hit 80 yards and it felt like five seconds.”
Question: Nobody in the Big Ten is catching him?
"I can't say that. I don’t really know how fast everybody is, but I doubt it.”
He is made of dilithium, and reports from practice are surprised at how accurate his arm is on short stuff.
Robinson will probably work his way into the offense in a version of the Feagin package from last year—ESPN will dub it the "Wild Dawg"—except he's actually capable of throwing so defenses will have to respect that.
I'd been hoping Forcier puts a stranglehold on the job and Robinson would end up redshirting in 2010 before emerging as a hyper-fast skill position player or cornerback, but given all the practice buzz you have to keep him around at QB until such time as he doesn't provide an element of explosiveness far beyond the alternatives. IE: Devin Gardner starts, which is still very much up in the air. This year he's the only thing standing between Michigan and…
Nick Sheridan. I nicknamed him DEATH just in time for the Minnesota game, where he proceeded to play sort of like a good, if physically deficient, Division I quarterback. It couldn't last, though, and Sheridan finished the year by going 8 of 29 against Northwestern and 8 of 24 against Ohio State. Across both games he totaled 148 yards. No offense to his work ethic or general standing as a person, but if he sees the field it's time to cower.
I know, I know, I know. He will probably play against Western and he's listed amongst the great wide ORs on the quarterback depth chart. But I refer you to the stats above and this blog's pre-jihad obsession with debunking the idea he will start. I won't belabor it further.
And this is probably the last time I'll get to use a sentence that's sat untouched in this preview since he matriculated, so prepare to shed a single tear: if David Cone sees the field something has gone very wrong.
Site note. I've gotten a lot of reports that certain ads served by the third-party provider I use have been popping up antivirus notices about malware. I've been told this issue has been killed dead, so if it happens to anyone else please let me know immediately.
I noticed a few people in the comments helping others out with the program by recommending adblock, which is fine by me; I use adblock. Just one tiny ripple-of-guilt note: last I checked, about 20% of expected ad revenue gets eaten up by it. If you'd like to avoid that feeling of regret and horror currently racing through your body, you can either turn off adblock for this site or chuck ten or so dollars at the beveled guilt donation button.
WTKA-in'. My appearance on WTKA in one section thanks to Paul. John U Bacon is the host, as he often is, and the third guy in the booth is Wayne Drehs of ESPN.com, who's in town for the year on a Knight-Wallace fellowship. You should skip to six minutes in because the first caller goes forever.
Bonus: I'll be on WJR today at 5:15 with Mitch Albom.
I'm also scheduled for a Thursday appearance on WRIF, a Saturday morning appearance on WJR, and I will be rocking it at WCBN on a regular basis this fall.
For the record. You could attempt to deal with the specific points and accusations leveled by this here blog, or you could try to paint the author here as an anonymous internet nutjob and avoid any substantive discussion. The Free Press chooses Door Number B, link omitted for obvious reasons:
Twitter is also being used to pass links to the petition as well as share links to mgoblog.com, which has emerged as a go-to place for displaced U-M fans who have given up on the Free Press.
In a blog post on Monday, the site said traffic was temporarily crashing the server.
The Michigan fan blog has branded its coverage of the Free Press report as "Jihad the second," alluding to a holy war on the behalf of Islam.
Most of the posts are written by someone who identifies himself as Brian.
No contact information is given.
I don't know, guys… is the link that says "contact" on top of the blog too obscure? I know it's not huge and red and blinking. For the record, I identify myself as "Brian" because that is my name. My last name is Cook. I even have a bunch of biographical details up. My email address—which plenty of people seem able to find—is [email protected]. If you click the link, it will email me.
There's even a picture at right which was good enough to get into the second round, but no further, of some ridiculous good-lookin' blogger competition that turned into a total fiasco.
I hope this suffices to identify me. I have slightly less hair now, for the record. And I don't always give things a thumbs-up. Sometimes… eh… thumbs in the middle.
Dude… what? Carson Butler, what say you?
"It was just a different structure," Butler said.
Butler said it didn't seem as if the players were forced to spend excessive time training and practicing.
"I don't know all of the exact rules, but I don't remember anything that seemed like it was too much," Butler said. "If the weight room was open, you went. If there was a run, you went. It's just what you do to be a better football player."
I… you… how? What? I can't comprehend this. If Carson Butler, who was basically told to enter the NFL draft because he was not welcome back, has Rodriguez's back here, I need to find anyone who will take bets on Michigan picking up a major violation and put the farm on "nay."
Guess who's pissed off? If you said the family of Je'ron Stokes, you win.
"My wife [Juanita] and I talk to Je'Ron every day. We follow him through the internet, by phone, and we've been up there on a couple of occasions," he said. "We spent an entire Thursday through Monday up there, and I'd see guys voluntarily go into that weight room on Sunday and Saturday and put in extra work.
"I know [the allegations] are not true, because I know how [strength coach] Mike Barwis cares for these kids. He's taken my son to bible study and to church. These are the kinds of things that impress us about the program and Rich Rod and his staff. They are good people, and I hate the fact that every negative thing put out there brings the wrong perception to the Michigan program.
University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez is being sued for defaulting on a real-estate loan to build high-end condominiums in the shadows of Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium.
Rodriguez's financial advisor says he's the "victim of a real-estate Ponzi scheme," FWIW.
Recycle. I'm sure Tim will cover this in Tuesday Recruitin' but it's worth a mention here, too: Devin Gardner's bounced up to the #53 player in the Rivals 100, which makes him the #1 QB in the country of any variety. This is where I remind you that MGoBlog got swank HD video of Gardner from Saturday's Inkster-Pioneer game. Yes, we are going to link this until everyone who reads this blog watches the video.
Back and forth. I never actually got around to addressing the ethics of the whole Rodriguez thing, instead choosing to focus on the potential penalties and overall picture, and now I don't have to because the WLA has a couple of articles on the thing that cover it. CFaller's is required reading:
Workouts are voluntary, but so is playing time” is not, in my e-pinion, a wink and a nod to the NCAA rules, but an actual credo embraced by most of these kids. The way I see it the coaches don’t say this as a way to force kids into “volunteering” for workout, but rather to remind them of the environment they are part of.
dex also has an extended post.
Etc.: Smart Football tackles the zone read and the scrape exchange.
Part one of the all-singing all-dancing season preview.
This is literal and metaphorical. Yesterday I got up at eight and shut off at some point between at 3 or 4 AM. I've spent the last two days discussing probably nonexistent NCAA violations instead of putting the final touches—read "writing the last third of"—this year's season preview. In the last year and a half I've spent one summer rolling my eyes and beating back an incredible wave of idiocy about Rich Rodriguez shredding every last bit of information on the West Virginia program and another attempting to explain to pastors and civilians the odd circumstances that led to a 3-9 season at hallowed Michigan. In between, hallowed Michigan went 3-9. None of it was particularly enjoyable.
I'm tired of reading obvious bullshit and having to explode it. I'm tired of filing particularly annoying articles in the folder where I keep the stuff to unearth and laugh at later. I'm tired of explaining and debating and debunking never getting around to the statistical work I did the first couple years of the blog's existence. I'm tired of oscillating between anger and uncertainty, apathy and sadness. I wanted to become unmoored from the static existence that was late-era Schembechler football, but it turns out the current is mostly undertow.
Most of all, though, I'm tired of this backup laptop, its half-gig of RAM, erratic wifi, and maddening inability to understand that I've plugged it into the damn wall. Seriously. Hurry up, Malaysia.
Rich Rodriguez is tired, too. He stood in front of a room of cameras and reporters yesterday and the first thing he said was "I don't usually have notes, but…" and then he sort of trailed off and fumbled with some paper and for a moment it seemed like he forgot how to read or just had to stare at the paper and wonder what had happened after Pat White injured his hand against Pitt, how he had gotten here and what a mistake it had been.
There was nothing for it, though, so the words formed themselves and stumbled out. Time goes one direction, at a constant rate.
As you might guess from the title, I write one of these every year. Last year's documents the whole sordid Rodriguez-defection-West-Virginia-hissyfit in elaborate detail—it comes complete with a Shot At Love With Tila Tequila reference—before wandering around to Michigan's prospects going into 2008 somewhere about 80% of the way through. It was that kind of offseason. This offseason was that kind of offseason, too.
Though the outlook was "grim," good God I had no idea how accurate this statement would turn out to be:
Michigan’s going to run out on the field and play like they’re one of those teams trying to make inferior talent work.
Yes, yes they did. Not so much with the working, and sometimes not even so much with the trying, but by God yes the running and the inferior talenting. "Great fun" it sounded like. Great fun it was not aside from a couple improbable plays against Wisconsin and an impossible afternoon against Minnesota.
The final paragraph was half-right:
It’s going to be a fiasco. It’s going to be ugly and tantalizing and dispiriting and awesome. I can’t wait.
Fiasco, ugly, dispiriting: check. Those other two qualities are pending.
A brief tour of the depths my mind sunk to when it wasn't turning in 200-word game columns featuring Henri, The Otter of Ennui:
DESPAIRING ASSERTIONS ABOUT THE STUPIDITY OF INFORMATION FLOW
Rich Rodriguez takes some time to talk about the internet's depressing tendency towards mocking and anger in some depth. The media takes the three sentences sure to generate the most outrage and create the dumbest image of Rodriguez, and the internet responds with mocking and anger.
I mean… what can you even say here?
IMAGINED CONVERSATIONS IN THE STYLE OF THE BIG LEBOWSKI
We've been frantically trying to reach you, EBay.
Where are my goddamn wins, you bum?
Well… we, I don't…
They did not receive the wins, you nitwit! They did not receive the goddamn wins. OUR STREAK WAS IN YOUR HANDS.
This is our concern, EBay.
EXTREMELY LOW-GRADE ASSAULT BEEFS
A couple rows above me, a middle-aged man stood on a bench and booed and booed.
He was angry. I was angry.
I stooped to pick up whatever flingable bit of detritus I could find, seized upon an empty water bottle, and chucked it at the booer. I missed,* lightly damaging an older man a row behind him. But I did get his attention. And the old guy looked like he was on The Other Side, so eff him.
WHATEVER THIS WAS
Fear/Paranoia Level: 0 out of 10. (Fear is the mindkiller. Fear nothing anymore; in your despair you find the freedom only the forsaken can experience.).
Desperate need to win level: 0 out of 10. (Needs lash the soul to the rack of imperfection. You need nothing. You experience all things, and all things experience you.)
It was a tough, apathetic year in which the main goal of the blog was to yell at people I thought were stupid or shortsighted, which is, I imagine, like getting in a knife fights against an endless army of Skip Bayless clones. There is a certain grim satisfaction to the work that must be done, but eventually you end up covered in viscera and no closer to making the world a less annoying place.
The team, meanwhile, left or sucked or sucked and left with a few notable exceptions. They looked lost, caused my brain to fritz out as per above, and drove poor Johnny into a malaise that saw him pop up infrequently and then only to level a complaint we all felt at some level: this isn't my team anymore.
This, as did everything last year, caused a small internet war to break out. People were booers or bottle-tossers, skeptics or believers. Michigan fans probably put more time into flaming the hell out of each other than any fanbase has in history. But nothing is good for unity like a war.
I had a hard time parsing out the emotion I felt yesterday, a melange of anger, skepticism, selfish pathos, scorn, more anger, and something strange. And then I'm on the radio yesterday and I think of something. I signal to John Bacon that I have something to say and once Wayne Drehs finishes up his thought I say it. I don't remember it exactly what I said but I remember the thought.
Rich Rodriguez is a fundamentally artless person.
I have winced at many a Rodriguez press conference. Corny jokes about the Lion King, awkward phrasing, distinct lingering unflattering accent, typical coaching banalities, etc etc etc. Basically all the cultural things that differentiate Rodriguez from Carr are negative to me except insofar as he doesn't tolerate 350-pound starting offensive linemen who just quit the team a few weeks ago. That I'm with. It's just all the peripherals that I'm leery of.
This is some part of why portions of the local media have gone bats lately and a major source of ammunition for the little guy with a pitchfork who sits on your shoulder and whispers "doooooooooooom… doooooooooooooom" into your ear. But it was incredibly helpful yesterday when Rodriguez was trying to work through his statement. Because not for a moment did it cross my mind, or apparently the minds of even the most cynical observers, that Rodriguez's emotion was not genuine. The Free Press folk immediately scurried back to their cave to write an editorial that opened with "The issue is not how much Rich Rodriguez and his fellow University of Michigan coaches care about the young men who play football for the Wolverines."
Lloyd Carr might have handled that differently, been snappy or angry or more aggressive but one of the things that became clear as his tenure lengthened is that a journalist that unfairly attacked one of his players would find himself between a grizzly cub and his mother. The most important thing to Carr was the making the kids under him happy and successful. Though Rich Rodriguez has different ideas about what qualifies, yesterday it appeared that went for him too. For the first time (and possibly the last time), Rodriguez reminded me of Lloyd Carr. I want the head coach at Michigan to react like that when his reputation is threatened.
So this is bizarre after everything. But this year one of the many, many reasons I want Michigan to win—you try hitching a career to your favorite team—will be a new one. I'll be rooting on a personal level for Rich so he can have a press conference during which he can make an awkward comment about all this with a smile on his face, and I can wince inwardly at it.
This is slightly dated but we know why, right? Let's just skip the recriminations and go to the bits. Bits about the first depth chart release:
- Rumors of Greg Mathews' demise are apparently exaggerated, as he remains atop the depth chart at outside WR.
- Kelvin Grady is second to Odoms, and only Odoms, at slot. Massive rise there.
- Offensive line is exactly as expected.
- Adam Patterson is over, man. He's behind a redshirt sophomore walk-on. That's Will Heniger, by the way, and if Graham goes boom we're in serious trouble.
- Roh is second to Herron at deathbacker.
- Yikes: Brandon Smith is idling behind Kevin Leach; hopefully just inexperience at the position there.
- Where's Hawthorne in the Brown backups? 5-10 guy who I thought was a corner Floyd Simmons is third string.
- Mike Williams has apparently wrested the starting job opposite Woolfolk from Vlad Emilien.
- Oh, god, starting secondary, remain healthy.
- Olesnavage, as expected, is slightly ahead at kicker.
- Morales may have shaped up but he's not even on the depth chart at long snapper. Ryan Van Bergen(!) is.
- Odoms. Hold on to the ball. Hold it. Love it.