Continued from yesterday's extended look at the offense.
Scheme vs. Fundamentals: Fight
If you ask about the 3-3-5 and pull the string on a Michigan coach, this is what you get:
"Too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise," Rodriguez tells Ryan Terpstra on ESPN 96.1. "I mean, a lot of people are saying we're doing this or that, but basically, what we're doing this spring more than anything else is fundamentally trying to get better – trying to tackle better, trying to be able to react to the ball better so we get more people around the ball."
Greg Robinson said much the same thing to Adam Rittenberg and reiterated that to the folks at the coaches' clinic: "The fundamentals of leverage and angle and how a player uses his eyes and hands is more important than any scheme." I'm sure if you bugged any of Michigan's position coaches they would robotically intone a similar paean to fundamentals.
To this I say: 50% bollocks! It's not that fundamentals aren't important. Anyone who saw the performance of Craig Roh and Stevie Brown relative to expectations last year knows that how you tackle, cover, and read the opponent is a huge part of a football team's suck or lack thereof. You can ask Florida State about that. But I interpret "too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise" as "I would not like to talk about the details here; let's focus on platitudes." Certain defenses have strengths and weaknesses and fit other players better or worse, and while a defense that is robotically efficient is probably going to be decent that will depend on how well the players fit into the scheme.
The line should be the strength of the defense again. Will Campbell is rounding into a load, a true NT who requires a double team and holds up against it most of the time. At other times he gets too high, but they're working on that and by fall they hope he can be an anchor in there. Van Bergen is a redshirt junior who played well in a tough spot as a starter last year and is at a more natural position where he's doing well. No one's 100% sure that Mike Martin is going to be the other DE—the coaches will try him at both spots in fall—but Campbell "needs to be on the field" and Martin is likely to be Michigan's best defensive lineman, so that's the logical spot.
Michigan would like to get Campbell down another 10 pounds or so.
At end, Banks is starting in Martin's absence. Rodriguez mentioned yesterday that they've moved Adam Patterson to the nose, which 1) just about spells the end of Patterson as a potential contributor and 2) hints that Martin is going to start in the spot Banks currently occupies. I can't imagine a 272 pound senior is going to get substantial playing time as a zero-tech NT. He may be a situation substitution in pass-rush situations, but I kind of thought they might move Martin back inside and let Banks or even Roh take a crack at a speed rush when that happened.
The backups here are pretty sketchy without the freshman reinforcements, but Anthony Lalota was a regular entrant into the backfield against the second-string offensive line. He's RVB's backup with Heininger out.
There were some concerns about Craig Roh, who's a great athlete going directly upfield but doesn't have the lateral mobility to shuffle a step or two one way and then re-route his body in time to avoid blocking angles or get a proper zone drop. He'll be blitzing a ton; Michigan will be vulnerable when the opposition is running misdirection and Roh is being asked to execute linebacker responsibilities. Think waggles, counters, reverses, that sort of thing. He has displayed an aptitude in one-on-one coverage, though. He tracked a Michigan State tight end down and raked a ball free last year in a matchup that you'd think heavily favors the receiver; there were a couple other instances where his ability to cover a guy downfield was a surprising bonus.
There didn't seem to be a whole lot of progress with Ezeh and Mouton, though it's hard to tell with the move to the new system. Their responsibilities have changed and there's a learning curve that anyone would have. Moving to the 3-3-5 should allow Mouton to blitz almost as frequently as Roh; this is Mouton's main strength.
A surging Kenny Demens has been held out the last few days.
Observer A is a major believer in Robinson, though, citing that Roh play and a few others as an example of Robinson's ability to coach up players in a short amount of time. He was in charge of Roh and Brown last year; this year he's got all three linebackers. Robinson himself believes Mouton could be a breakout player. Here is a classic Robinson-ism that will make Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician delighted: "We just need to get him to slow down to play faster." Mouton overruns plays because he's "too instinctive" and doesn't always follows his keys, as anyone who remembers his 5-minus 8-minus 3 lines in UFR can tell you.
I've been pretty positive about the idea of running Jordan Kovacs out as a box safety since he was a heady kid and solid tackler and in the 3-3-5 DVD I have that is no longer a wasted purchase, Jeff Casteel repeatedly emphasizes that those characteristics are by far the most important when it comes to spurs and bandits. As a bonus, as the weakside guy Kovacs has the luxury of playing in space (usually) unblocked, so his size won't be a major hindrance.
HOWEVA, discussions with Observer A made it clear that running a 1-high defense* constantly is a recipe for getting four verticals in your face time and again and that teams could force Michigan into a two-deep alignment by formation or playcall. Jordan Kovacs being a walk-on sort of guy, they will do this constantly until Michigan proves they can deal with it.
Why not just deposit Marvin Robinson or Josh Furman at this spot in fall? Think about it: the bandit has to roll up to the line of scrimmage and act as a force player in the 3-3-5. Force players are important. It's their job to funnel everything inside of them. (This is often called "leveraging the football.") If they screw up, the runner is outside everyone and loping for a first down. In pass coverage they have to read and drop into flat zones, play something called "flat buzz" that I'm not quite clear on yet, and generally act as a cover two corner would. So there's all that. Then the bandit will have to rotate back into a two-deep on occasion, play a deep third when they switch up coverages, blitz, respond to motion, etc etc etc. It's probably the most complicated position on the defense. Throwing a freshman in there is asking for it.
Kovacs is Michigan's best option at the bandit, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a good option.
Spur is also sketchy. Mike Williams has plummeted down the depth chart and is now behind both walk-on Floyd Simmons and redshirt freshman (and scholarship possessor!) Thomas Gordon. Williams is healthy, FWIW. Gordon did get some daps/love/props from observers who thought he was aware and athletic enough to deal with the coverages he'll be asked to run—a "pleasant surprise"—but he's safety-sized and is going to be asked to play over a tight end. He's also a redshirt freshman. Simmons also made a few plays and might be an okay option as a backup.
Observer A evaluated this group of eight players as "slow, small, inexperienced, or injured." He didn't add "pick three," but my brain did. Michigan's got a couple of fantastic prospects for the future in Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson (plus Carvin Johnson), but a couple of painful years beckon before Michigan has any chance of getting a guy who has both athleticism and a clue on the field.
The combination of cluelessness and lack of crazy athleticism led to a couple plays were Michigan just ran a tight end straight down the seam without a bump and gave up 30-yard plays. Michigan has an adjustment they want to install, but they haven't done it yet.
*(A one-high defense has one safety in the middle of the field and is usually cover 1 or cover 3 unless the defense is playing a disguised coverage. A two high defense has two safeties approximately on the hashes and usually suggests cover 2 or 4.)
The three members of the secondary proper actually didn't scare Observer A very much. Woolfolk is pretty good, Floyd is improved—though he shared my skepticism he would ever be above average because of his speed deficiencies—and Turner, while rougher in drills, got the proverbial "just makes plays" endorsement. It's tough to tell a kid's playmaking rate based on limited observation, but the general impression I got was that Turner should be okay eventually. It seems logical that when the freshmen arrive, there might be some reshuffling with the spurs and safeties. Observer B also thought Turner "was OK."
James Rogers seemed to be doing well in drills, too. He's "beginning to learn the position," which is a sad thing to say about a
fifth year senior who's bounced around so much.
Cam Gordon is the guy at free safety, but you knew that.
Robinson's entire session at the coaches' clinic was on his tackling system, which is unusual in a couple ways: it uses different aiming points than conventional systems and doesn't ask the player to break down and wait for the ball carrier to arrive; you "shimmy" to the ballcarrier. It's also unusual because Robinson picked it up from a high school coach, something the old regime "wouldn't be caught dead" doing. Michigan's current group of guys seems far more likely to pick up an innovation being run by high schools or lower division schools than the old guys, who talked to the NFL and only the NFL, which is probably why they couldn't defend the option worth a damn for almost a decade.
Here's how Greg Robinson explains Braithwaite's hire:
Robinson used the new coach, Braithwhite as a demonstrator of technique. He said the “best demonstration” coach he ever saw in his life was Jim Colletto but he says that AB is every bit as good. The impression they give is that this guy was hired because a) he knows what he is doing and (b) he is great at demonstrating techniques to the players.
Observer B notes a difference between the offensive and defensive coaches: the offensive guys are "tireless" explaining and drawing their schemes, but it's hard to get anything out of Robinson. Where Robinson gets expansive is when it comes to the aforementioned fundamentals. There was a chalk talk in which Robinson spent a good deal of time illustrating the right way to do a "dip and rip"; Bruce Tall was also in the midst of an animated technique discussion that lasted two hours.
One of the best things about having a hybrid-laden defense is it minimizes situational substitutions in today's fast-paced modern football environment. You should be able to respond to whatever the offense throws at you without having crazy packages where non-starters get pushed into the lineup, and can adjust to bizarre formations (wildcat) on the fly.
Defense In Toto
I got a vastly different perspective from defensively-oriented observer than was provided by the posters here over the weekend. We're going to have to score some points. I think in objective "this is Michigan" terms the defense is going to be bad, but one of the main confusions batting about the internet at the moment is someone asking "is this defense going to be (as) bad (as last year)?" and someone answering "(in terms of what I have come to expect from years of watching Michigan play and taking that as a baseline) yes."
I had this same sort of foreboding Q&A with Observer A, but when I asked point-blank "will they be better" I got a pretty solid "yes," albeit with the caveat that the same guy thought they'd be considerably better than they were last year.
That doesn't mean the defense is in a spot where it will remind anyone of 2006, or even 2005. In the Saturday scrimmage the defense did well on the first couple series but "after that the carnage was brutal," with the offense moving the ball "almost regardless of what unit was facing what unit." You can get a hint of that in the quarterback stats provided by MGoBlue in the most recent Inside Michigan Football, which are 9/11, 9/12, 100 yards rushing, made a pony sort of things.
There aren't any walk-on punters who are serious threats to play; the best guys they currently have are averaging in the 30 to 35 yard range. This is Will Hagerup's job as soon as he steps on campus.
Placekicking will be an adventure. Brendan Gibbons has a big leg but is "erratic at best." Walk-on Justin Meram was the other kicker who participated in the scrimmage; he seemed accurate on short stuff but his range might top out at 40 yards on a good day.
As always, the information is archived in one place on the 2011 Michigan Football Recruiting Board.
SPRING GAME WEEK!
The Spring Game has finally arrived, and this Saturday, the Wolverines will welcome a number of prospects to Michigan Stadium on unofficial visits. Tom's post has a constantly-updating list of kids he's confirmed with over the phone, and here's the cliff's notes version of who you can expect this weekend:
OH LB Percy Johnson
OH DB Greg Brown (commit)
MI DE Brennen Beyer
MI CB Delonte Hollowell (commit) [By the way, Hollowell has been invited to the Army All-American game]
MI OL Anthony Zettel
FL RB Demetrius Hart (Mom coming too.) [Fluff on Michigan's chances to land him.] [Pictured above].
FL S Dallas Crawford This is a big one for Michigan.
FL WR Sammy Watkins Also big. [Confirmation on the last two]
MD DT Vincent Croce - Yes, as of now.
TX RB Jarrell Oliver (same school as Stonum, Herron, Woolfolk)
NJ WR Damiere Byrd - Coming with Antoine Pozniak.
NJ LB Antoine Pozniak - He's coming with the "Top Prospects Family." Je'Ron Stokes dad is the founder of Top Prospects Family.
NJ ATH Miles Shuler
For the most recent update, and to see which prospects are "maybes" and "nos," and why that's the case, check out Tom's list.
For those who were worried about Rich Rodriguez picking up a commitment from OMG UNRATED MI WR Shawn Conway in (Jan/Feb), Rivals.com's Jamie Newberg should assuage those fears:
Conway, a wide receiver from Birmingham, Mich., looks like a big-time recruit and one of the better wideout prospects from the Midwest.
At 6-4 and 183 pounds, Conway has great size and decent speed. He's big and rangy and great in air, showing very good body control and concentration. Conway has a knack for catching the ball well, especially in traffic. He can get behind the secondary and is not afraid to go over the middle. Conway also has a long stride and deceptive speed, and he looks like a very good outside receiver. He's also productive; Conway caught 70-plus passes last season as a junior, and is a good punt return man.
Yes, Michigan fan, you should be excited to have this wide receiver.
So there. "One of the better wideout prospects from the midwest," as I understand it, means there are only a couple guys (DeAnthony Arnett and Davaris Daniels, along with maybe another guy or two) that Newberg thinks are better. Conway was also selected All-OAA in basketball, and is pictured at right dunking over some poor fool.
Scout updated their Scout 300 list last week, and The Other Brian hooks you up with the info on prospects of note:
23. Doran Grant, 5*
27. Sammy Watkins, 5*
57. DeAnthony Arnett, 4*
62. Michael Bennett, 4*
82. Brennen Beyer, 4*
120. Anthony Zettel, 4*
121. Justice Hayes, 4*
129. Damiere Byrd, 4*
155. Andre Yruretagoyena, 4*
168. A.J. Jordan, 4*
178. Vincent Croce, 4*
231. Cyrus Hobbi, 4*
233. Demetrius Hart, 4*
237. Antonio Poole, 4*
266. Cardale Jones, 3*
275. Ray Hamilton, 3*
276. Devin Smith, 3*
300. Jarrell Oliver, 3*
All three of Michigan's commits are now 3-stars to Scout (as noted in this week's Recruiting Class Rankings).
The Buckeye Leaves column on TheClevelandFan.com discusses the recruitment of OH QB Braxton Miller, but doesn't actually give a whole lot of information. Miller showed up to Ohio State practice last week wearing Buckeye gear, so it sounds like the status quo is maintained. VolNation breaks down his game. Having seen him play in person, I'd say it's a fairly accurate synopsis.
Crimson Confidential talks to OH LB Trey DePriest, who mentions that there's a possibility he and Miller might go to school together. Unless DePriest goes to OSU, that seems unlikely, but the article says Alabama might be an option as well.
FL WR Ja'Juan Story (pictured at right) received his Michigan offer a couple weeks ago, and he's come in for quite a bit of fluff lately.
As a Shark he flourished, capturing the attention of colleges with his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame, scorching speed and raw talent. Story has the versatility to play quarterback or on defense, but he doesn't mind being recruited as an athlete; he believes he could make his greatest impact as a receiver.
His dad also seems very level-headed when it comes to recruiting, saying that Ja'Juan will be comfortable in any type of offense:
With offers from programs that feature a spread scheme, traditional offense and the triple-option of Georgia Tech, picking the correct scheme to fit a skill set can be challenging. For Rudy Story, it's about trust and the ability to fit in any scheme.
"I think any school that Ja'Juan goes to, they will use him properly," he said. "Coaches are wise, and they will definitely get the best out of his talent. I'll be happy no matter what type of offense they run. If he went to an offense like Georgia Tech, they would use him and he would get one-on-one opportunities and be a blocker. If he went to a spread team like Texas Tech or somewhere, that would be good for him, too."
He'll take his time making a decision, trying to visit every school that offers. The potential for playing time will be a factor in his recruitment, though not the deciding one, as he says he just wants the opportunity to compete for a spot on the field.
FL S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix says a package deal with FL RB Demetrius Hart is "pretty much sealed." He says there's no way Hart could convince him to go anywhere other than Alabama (where, I should point out, neither of them is committed at this point). Clinton-Dix also drops the following quote:
Is there not a chance Hart might fall for the Wolverines and then try and persuade Clinton-Dix to switch, too?
"No way!" Clinton-Dix said emphatically. "No way!"
So why is the 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back, who, like Clinton-Dix, is an ESPNU 150 Watch List prospect, visiting Michigan? Basically, just because he can.
"He's just pretty much having fun with the recruiting process," Clinton-Dix said. "I know where his heart is."
Funny, considering all conventional wisdom says Hart's heart (ugh) is in Ann Arbor, but his brain is telling him to wait to commit until after he can make sure Rich Rodriguez won't get fired - the exact opposite. I wouldn't get too worried about Clinton-Dix's talk until after Hart's visit. South Carolina now leads for their teammate, FL LB LaQuentin Smith.
Michigan has offered FL LB Keith Lewis, bringing his total into the double digits.
Sam Webb's weekly column in the Detroit News this week covers MI CB/RB Valdez Showers, who is hoping for a Michigan offer down the road:
"Michigan was out front a little bit (in getting in on Showers' recruitment) because we went up to their camp last year and he did well," said [Madison Heights Madison assistant coach Chanterius] Brock. "He ran a 4.4 up there and did some good things in the drills. They liked him. At the corner, everybody is coveting his size. He has a great size/speed combination, so that's really big."
The Wolverines haven't extended a scholarship yet, but that could change in a matter of weeks. "They want to get me up to their (one-day) camp this summer so they can see me in person and everything," Showers explained. "Hopefully I'll be able to make it there. If nothing else pops up, I'll be there."
Michigan State has already offered along with a host of MAC schools and others, and Showers doesn't want to talk about where the Wolverines stand on his leaderboard, since they haven't. Extending one would probably put them at or near the top of his list.
Michigan has offered FL RB Mike Blakely ($, info in header). MI OL Bryan Bell will try to earn an offer at the Michigan Elite camp. Recent Michigan visitor PA LB Ben Kline hopes to make a commitment during the summer ($, info in header). OH S Ron Tanner is "still high on Michigan." MD Ath Darius Jennings is pausing his visits ($, info in header). LA OL Jonah Austin is "High on Michigan" ($, info in header, question to which the answer is always "yes"), but his teammate LA S Renaldo Thomas may pick LSU soon ($, info in header).
No practice report today, but Paul managed to come through with the audio from Coach Rodriguez's press conference.
- Vlad Emilien came back to practice recently, and he's full-go.
- Kevin Koger missed a couple practices last week, but he returned to practice today.
- Quinton Washington was able to scrimmage a little Saturday.
- JR Hemingway practiced with limited contact today, as did Je'Ron Stokes.
- Renaldo Sagesse has been out for a couple weeks. They've moved some other guys to interior DL to help account for him and Mike Martin both being out.
- David Molk is running, and taking part in some of the non-contact drills. He should be ready to go for summer workouts. He's ahead of schedule with his rehab.
Spring Game and More
- The Spring Game is a real scrimmage, and hopefully a nice crowd will turn out and make the young guys nervous to get it out of their systems. The previous scrimmages were at least as important to the players for learning, however.
- This time, guys are going to have to correct mistakes on their own instead of relying on the coaches to help them after each play.
- Some of the proven guys coming off injuries will be held out a bit on Saturday. They'll only play a few series. There will be a game-like environment for everyone who's healthy. There are too many injuries to play a full game, but they should be able to do it in the future.
More after the jump.
See what I did there?
The Zeiglering. According to Trey Zeigler, Trey Zeigler will announce his college destination on ESPNU tomorrow. A guy named Drew Ellis said he was delaying his decision, but on matters related to Trey Zeigler my number one source is Trey Zeigler. His destination is unknown but Michigan and Central Michigan, where his dad just picked up a four-year extension, are usually the teams mentioned as having the best shot. UCLA doesn't think it's part of the festival and Arizona State didn't get a visit and is almost definitely out of the picture. Michigan State is the other team in Ziegler's top five. They have a logjam at the three with Keith Appling and others, though.
ESPNU's signing day special kicks off at 4 PM, which means we'll be waiting anxiously for an hour before Zeigler shows up. No one has anything approaching solid information. I think it's Central but I am biased to believe nothing good will happen with Michigan basketball recruiting.
Fun. I don't know if this means anything other than the NCAA doing its due diligence:
"The NCAA has met with individuals involved with the West Virginia football program to identify any potential rules violations," school officials said in a statement, released on Tuesday. "The university has fully cooperated with the NCAA during this process. West Virginia University and its department of intercollegiate athletics is committed to operating its athletics department in conformance with the legislation and policies of the NCAA and the Big East Conference."
We'll see if anything comes of it. Right now it's just a phone call and another opportunity for people to restate their opinions about how Rodriguez should or should not be fired.
Epic Red. The Daily continues its series of articles that have no-foolies established it as probably the best newspaper of any variety covering Michigan sports. Seriously. the sort of long-form profile/investigative pieces that are the main thing people point to when they lament the coming end of newspapers have been almost exclusively the province of the Daily this year. There was the Pahokee article, the Antonio Bass profile, and now a look at Red Berenson 26 years into his career as Michigan's head coach. Here's Red recruiting Chris Fox:
“If you want to be a Michigan Man, you should know in the next week,” the coach said to the recruit, who looked and felt much more like a kid than he did when he walked into the office just minutes before. “It will just become clear.”
It became clear.
Quarterback. Rapper. Auteur. David Cone has a short film in the Statesboro Film Festival. Seriously.
/in before lame freep joke based on ending.
A "these are my readers" moment. So a junior clarinet major at Michigan sends me this Microsoft paint reimagining of Tom Harmon:
It's a revamp of a Terran Marine:
By his account, this took Andrew Kobalka seven hours. He asked I not retouch it before posting.
Yeah… these are my readers. I am a privileged man.
Vada update. It kind of sucks that I'm tracking the progress of three separate former Michigan players battling cancer, but at least the news on all three has been encouraging of late. Vada Murray's wife has just updated their caringbridge site and the news in it seems positive:
We needed more tissue in order for the tissue to be tested to get Vada into a very promising clinical trial. In order to get into this trial, Vada's cancer needed to carry a particular mutation. After lots of waiting for the trial to be approved, a screw up at the lab, and many sleepless nights, we learned recently that Vada's cancer does carry this mutation. The presence of the mutation is significant. Only 7% of non-smoking adenocarcinoma patients carry this mutation. We haven't felt recently like the odds have been in our favor, but now they are. We plan to head to Karmanos shortly for some tests & his official "start" of the trial.
Vada has felt great physically but emotionally has been out of gas, especially for the last two months.
So there's that. Phil Brabbs just underwent a bone marrow transpant and seems in good spirits.
We cheer and cheer again. Touch The Banner brings a reveal and a story. The reveal: epic MGoCommenter Magnus was in the glee club. The story comes from the GC's 150th anniversary celebration, which featured one Lloyd Carr:
Coach Carr told a story about former UMMGC director Willis Patterson, who directed the group from 1969 to 1975. When Carr was head coach, he invited Patterson to teach his players how to sing "The Victors," Michigan's fight song. After ten years of teaching the team the song, Patterson once said to Carr, "You know, those players just aren't very good at singing that song."
Carr responded, "Well, who's teaching them?"
Etc.: BHGP's latest linkdump post notes that Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has stricken all three of Iowa's potential starters for their upcoming spring game, documents the annual refugee camp forming outside Carver-Hawkeye, and embeds a truly epic redneck video. WLA propaganda posters ho.
Michigan just let in all manner of heathens to observe a couple practices, ping various coaches for information, and take in a Saturday scrimmage; naturally, this has created a ton of internet chatter. Also naturally, large portions of it conflict with other portions of it. There's a faction of super insiders on Rivals declaring Denard Robinson to be a complete disaster and one focused here proclaiming him to be Pat White—except fast! Tate Forcier is either looking like a "walk-on" or the obvious starter, and Devin Gardner is either a total n00b or Vince Young—except fast!
So… yeah. I don't know. Here's my contribution to the melee. First, a non-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football featuring all quarterbacks doing something awesome:
Whenever I hear one of the freshmen speak I get annoyed at all the Dorsey stuff. Yeah, Michigan is totally turning into Jimmy Johnson's Miami.
Anyway, in addition to the posters who got bumped to the front page over the weekend, MGoBlog had a couple of sources who took in the activity late last week. Observations gleaned:
Terminology, or: The Quick And The Dead
One of the toughest things to do as a guy who tries to figure out football and communicate it as a layman is figure out what to call something. Every time I decide to call something X, well meaning folk tell me it should be Y or Z. I tend to apologetically ignore them just so things are relatively clear for readers.
However, if the coaches are all calling something one thing and it's not counter-intuitive I'll go with it. So:
- Michigan is calling the dual SS in the 3-3-5 "spur" (strongside) and "bandit" (weakside). Some 3-3-5 teams make no distinction between these guys, but it appears that Michigan will flip these guys strong and weak. This leaves the bandit as the guy who will be tested in the occasional deep half, about which more later.
- The coaches were actually calling the deep safety "strong" for a while but they've reverted to calling him "free." There are good football-related reasons for that weird nomenclature but since they're gone, whatever. I'll return to calling Cam Gordon and other guys who line up there free safeties.
- The north-south MINOR RAGE run that Michigan's used to good effect the past couple years is something I've been calling "veer," which has been the nomenclature that's drawn the most protests. Michigan calls this their "belly" series.
Spinner: dead. Quick: dead. With this jargon we will ascend to the pillars of knowledge.
My initial reaction to the Denard Robinson hype was the same as Doctor Saturday, who has lumped Tate-Denard-Devin into a list of "specious spring quarterback controversies," but both observers gave tentative, caveat-laden nods to Robinson as the starting quarterback. The difference between last year and this year is vast. That falls just short of incredible since Robinson arrived without any ability to even run the zone read. Many of his plays were Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Zone Stretches run from an empty backfield. Robinson's high school coaching amounted to nil, so it's obvious that he would have a bigger leap forward than Forcier and his years of intensive training.
Robinson is still light years away from Forcier as a passer—his ability to "see and understand the field remains limited"—but in the open field he is ludicrous and now that he's gotten the hang of the zone read he gets in that space frequently. Craig Roh on Robinson:
"I hate Denard on the football field," Roh said. "I love him outside of football, but on the football field, he's just such a nuisance. The quarterbacks here are too fast, and Denard, I just can't catch him. It's ridiculous."
Observer A, a defensively oriented guy, said "as a coordinator you watch him come around the corner on the naked boot and you say uh-oh." Another high school coach told observer B that Denard "runs into traffic just to make defenders look silly." Robinson's athleticism will force defenses to overplay that threat and open up other opportunities.
Tate Forcier remains Tate. One of Michigan's coaches praised Tate's "great strides" in his understanding of the playbook, but what you see is what you get with Forcier: accurate on the run, good scrambler, shortish, meh arm strength. Meanwhile, the undercurrent of coaching discontent with his dedication as a freshman has added another pebble:
"Maybe some of the things that happened early in the season happened a little easier for him," Rodriguez said. "It kind of felt right to him. At the end of the year, he played more like a true freshman at times. And he got banged up a little bit and his concentration wasn't as sharp.
"As coaches, it's our job to make sure he maintains that focus."
The most worrisome thing I hear about Forcier is actually a positive thing related about Gardner. Gardner sets in the pocket and has less of a tendency to start running around than either of the other two quarterbacks, which allows him to go deep more regularly. The offense is a lot of broken plays with both of the short guys. While that's obvious with Robinson, I was hoping Forcier would get more comfortable throwing in the pocket.
Despite that, it will be all but impossible to pull Forcier in favor of Robinson full time when their skill sets are so divergent; a platoon beckons.
As for Devin Gardner, raves about his "incredible feel for the game" from QB coach Rod Smith were relayed via both observers. Other spring hype: "huge," "covers ground without seeming to move" like Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor, and… wait for it… "well ahead of both at this stage." Gardner is a "gym rat" who will happily spend all day watching film. However, he's "nowhere near" having a grasp of the offense and his throwing is erratic. When he's good, he can make deep throws with touch unlike either of the other two, but his overall accuracy lags because of the mechanical issues. His delivery isn't consistent yet. This will not be an enormous surprise to anyone who saw the difference between Camp Devin and Degraded Devin over the course of this high school football season.
This position remains a mess that will not be resolved until UConn, and frankly I'd be surprised to see a single game this year where Michigan goes exclusively with one quarterback. With two polar opposites at the spot, the nominal starter may depend on the relative strength of the opposing defense.
That's just this year. The vibe I got was that Gardner is the future of the position. Maybe not this year, but all bets are off in 2011. The position was described as "loaded," albeit young.
Running Back Battle
Zero clarity here as well. As mentioned earlier, Stephen Hopkins was impressive to Observer B; A was pretty noncommital about the tailbacks. Mike Cox has slipped for whatever reason. Observer B on Hopkins:
The guy is just a freaking monster and he breaks tackles. Now, I can’t say he can block, or knows the offense or can catch the ball. Plus, he fumbled twice (once he was hit at the handoff, on the other instance it might have been the QB’s issue). But man is he a tough tackle on the belly if he can get (even) a yard of momentum.
Shaw and Toussaint seemed like better runners than Cox, as well. This is another spot that will lack clarity until deep into fall unless Vincent Smith (who is jogging but limping badly) comes back fully healthy and establishes himself as the guy.
At fullback, Mark Moundros is playing mostly at linebacker, leaving McColgan the starting FB. He seems okay. Made a couple catches, made a couple blocks. Fullback isn't a huge priority.
Still hard to tell much of anything with two of the top three guys on the outside missing and Michigan focusing on the short stuff, but the freshman making the most of his spring is Jerald Robinson, who is "rangy" and "knows how to get his body in position." That's similar to assessments coming out of his strong summer camp performance.
Jeremy Jackson is also on par with expectations: smart, good routes, great hands, approximately as fast as a tight end. Could this be the guy who actually warrants the incessant Jason Avant comparisons I make? Miller didn't impress in the brief window provided.
Meanwhile, the guys in the slot are reputed to be extremely slippery. Terrance Robinson and Jeremy Gallon are described as "better than a pretty good Big Ten player" in Odoms as long as they're catching the ball. This is not assured: Robinson's hands were the main reason he didn't see the field last year and Observer B praised Odoms's hands while complaining about too many drops in the slot. Coaches were talking up Robinson as a potential contributor, FWIW.
Offensive line being an esoteric position, I don't have much other than the general positivity even absent David Molk. Taylor Lewan could use another 15 pounds but is still holding down left tackle. Perry Dorrestein is nicked up, which may explain the move. More than likely this is an opportunity Lewan won't pass up and Dorrestein is going to have to battle for the right tackle spot. Insert now-default Jake Long comparisons here. Lewan's not likely to be the #1 pick in the NF L draft but his career trajectory is zipping along at the most optimistic level possible.
The most encouraging thing on the line is the depth. Even with Washington and Dorrestein nicked up there's almost a solid two-deep of players who Michigan could throw on the field without panic:
Getting Molk back will give Michigan a buffer of three or four competent backup offensive linemen.
Remember last year's complaint about Michigan potentially tipping their run plays based on the position of the quarterback? This was the setup position on a zone stretch…
…and this was Michigan's belly (which this blog called "veer") series:
From the sideline shot it's pretty obvious what's going on here. QB in front of RB: north-south. QB behind RB: east-west. I'm not entirely sure a defense is going to be aware enough to make an adjustment based on this—it's a lot easier to tell when you're way far away on a sideline—but it can't help.
The coaches apparently have the same concern. They've moved away from this paradigm in favor of something they believe will disguise their intent better. What it is I don't know. It sounds like at the very least the QB is going to move late, like a split second before the snap, if not after. This strikes me as something that Debord would never do.
(FWIW: They did try to mix it up some after practicing for Illinois' zone read veer—which I think is, like, really a veer until someone corrects me on it in the next 60 seconds—but that wasn't successful and was abandoned. I wouldn't write it off entirely, FWIW. It's possible a newly capable Denard Robinson makes that crazy effective.)
|Tuesday 3:05pm ET, Ray Fisher Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|Matt Miller (0-2, 6.89 ERA)||vs||TBA|
|Stats||Audio (WCBN)||BTN.com ($)|
|Notes: 33-11-1 All Time, Last game was a 12-4 W in 2008. No game |
notes yet, so no official probable starters in either game. This gets
addressed in Series Thoughts below.
Bowling Green State (9-17-1)*
|Wednesday 3:05pm ET, Ray Fisher Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|Matt Gerbe (1-0, 2.84 ERA)||vs||TBA|
|Notes: 38-13-1 All Time, Last game was a 3-8 L in 2009. *Record is |
as of Tuesday morning. They have a game with Cleveland State
Michigan takes on the second highest ranked remaining team on their schedule on Tuesday with a game against #83 RPI Toledo and will follow that up with a game against a lower tier MAC opponent (RPI of #215 is about equal to that of Purdue or Northwestern). Dare I say Michigan may lose to a MAC opponent this week?
Take the jump to find out: