this guy evidently hired to work for AD
While the NFL Draft hasn't been much of an event for Michigan fans in recent years, this year's iteration produced three Wolverine draftees, including the highest-picked Big Ten player in Taylor Lewan. When I'm not allowing the Lions to ruin my fall Sundays, I'm spending them watching the Red Zone channel, with one eye out for my fantasy players and the other hoping to see a former Michigan player in action.
I'm sure many of you are as curious as I am to see how the newest NFL Wolverines fit in to the squads that drafted them. While it's possible all three spend this year developing behind returning veterans, each has a chance to carve out a role for himself.
Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
Draft position: First round, #11 overall
New uniform number: #77, same as the old uniform number
Fit: The selection of Lewan surprised some due to the fact that offensive tackle wasn't their biggest need, but they clearly felt he was the best option on the board. The long-term plan is likely to have Lewan supplant 31-year-old stalwart Michael Roos at left tackle. That probably won't be this year, however, as the two-time All-Pro has started all but one of Tennessee's last 144 regular-season games. There are some rumors that Roos could be dealt before the season, but at the moment that appears to be speculation fueled by the Lewan pick.
That doesn't mean Lewan is destined to ride the pine, however, as he could provide fierce competition from the get-go for right tackle Michael Oher, he of Blind Side fame. While the Titans inked Oher to a 4-year, $20 million contract over the offseason, his on-field performance hasn't come close to living up to the hype since his standout rookie season—he was one of the more disappointing players on a Baltimore line that graded out as one of the NFL's worst by Football Outsiders in 2013.
In fact, despite Oher's new deal, SBNation's Titans blog projects Lewan as this fall's starter at right tackle. At the very least, he should push Oher for time this year, and with Roos in the final year of his contract, it's tough to see Lewan not starting by 2015.
Projection: Backup in 2014, starting left tackle in 2015
I can't say I expected to find a good blocking-related picture from this, of all games. [Fuller]
Michael Schofield, Denver Broncos
Draft position: Third round, #95 overall
New uniform number: #79
Fit: Denver's offensive line is in a state of flux, which could provide an opening for Schofield to crack the lineup, especially given his experience playing both guard and tackle. Last year's starter at left guard, Zane Beadles, signed with Jacksonville in free agency; one potential candidate to replace him, Chris Kuper, retired in March due to ankle problems. With two-time first-team All-Pro LT Ryan Clady returning this year after missing all but the first two games of 2013, RT Orlando Franklin is expected to shift down to LG while Clady's 2013 replacement, Chris Clark, fills in at right tackle.
That isn't set in stone, by any means. Per the Mile High Report, the Broncos picked Schofield for his versatility and potential to contribute right away at multiple positions:
The Broncos drafted OT Michael Schofield with versatility in mind. Denver's o-line is in the middle of some personnel shifting, with Orlando Franklin testing his mettle at left guard and Chris Clark possibly moving to right tackle. Schofield played both positions in college, giving the Broncos depth and experience - and another name to add to the competition.
"He's got a lot of upside," John Fox said of Schofield. "Very long, very athletic. A guy that we studied really hard in the Senior Bowl as well as his college tape and we think has tremendous upside and can come in and help us right away."
MHR's current projected depth chart has Schofield as the primary backup for both guard spots, which seems like a natural fit for him early in his career.
Projection: Backup guard, first lineman off the bench if an injury occurs
Sadly, Gallon can't bring Indiana's secondary with him to the NFL [Fuller]
Jeremy Gallon, New England Patriots
Draft position: Seventh round, #244 overall
New uniform number: #83
Fit: Given a cursory glance, Gallon to the Patriots seems like a great fit—New England had serious issues with their receivers last season and we all love the idea of a Brady-to-Gallon connection. The trouble is, with Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman on the roster, the diminutive Gallon will have to prove his worth as an outside receiver or special teams standout if he wants to make the roster. Amendola is signed through 2017 and Edelman got a four-year contract and a big pay raise this offseason; they're not going anywhere, and both play primarily out of the slot.
SBNation's Patriots blog, Pats Pulpit, sees Gallon as a low-risk, high-reward pick who could push one of New England's young outside receivers for a place on the roster:
Gallon is interesting because there's no real competition on the roster. Is he a slot receiver? Because Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have that covered. At 5'7 1/2, he's too small to be an X with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The only remaining option is the Z with Brandon LaFell and Josh Boyce- and it's likely that Gallon will be fighting with Boyce. Gallon always rises up against the top competition and I wouldn't be too surprised if was up for the task.
Boyce was a fourth-round selection out of TCU in 2013; despite some serious struggles from the non-Edelman receivers last season (Amendola was hurt for much of the year), he only managed to catch nine passes in nine games, so it's not unreasonable to hope Gallon can beat him out.
Boston.com, meanwhile, doesn't appear to expect Gallon to make the roster:
It's going to be real interesting to watch the training camp battle at wide receiver. Looks like at least one familiar name is going home. The way I see it, if you can only keep five (not including Matthew Slater, who is a specialist for all intents and purposes): Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell are the ones to keep.
Slater is an interesting name here; he's been with the Pats for six years despite catching just two passes because of his ability on special teams. If New England keeps just six receivers, Gallon's roster spot could depend on his ability to excel in that area of the game while biding his time for an opportunity to open up at receiver.
Projection: Cut by the Patriots. I'd be willing to bet he gets a better shot with another team, as soon as this year. Gallon's a good example of a player who may have preferred going undrafted—and subsequently choosing from multiple training camp invites—to getting picked up in the final round.
Undrafted Free Agents
I won't break down the situations for each UDFA, as they're all essentially in the same boat: it's an uphill battle to make an NFL roster from that position, and—like Gallon—the path to surviving training camp cuts often runs through special teams. Here's the list as it currently stands, culled from multiple sources:
DL Jibreel Black, Pittsburgh Steelers
LS Jareth Glanda, New Orleans Saints
OLB Cameron Gordon, New England Patriots
S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, Baltimore Ravens
DT Quinton Washington, Oakland Raiders
Former Michigan safety Marvin Robinson, who played his final season of eligibility at Ferris State, earned a training camp invite from the Dallas Cowboys.
A rather important thing like 15 minutes after I publish UV:
The 6-3 Harris, who averaged 17.2 points and 3.5 rebounds as a sophomore at West Virginia, visited Purdue on Monday and plans to visit Michigan and Michigan State once he can get it aligned. After that, the 2012 Lawrence North grad may be ready to make a decision.
"Those are my top three, basically," Harris said of Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State, adding that he's still hearing from a few other schools, including Auburn and Indiana.
Harris plans on making a decision after he makes his visits. Assuming that playing time is a key, approximate SG lineups for his three finalists in 2015:
- MICHIGAN: MAAR (So), possibly Caris LeVert(Sr)
- MICHIGAN STATE: Alvin Ellis (Jr), Javon Bess(So)
- PURDUE: Dakota Mathis(So), Kendall Stephens (Jr), Raphael Davis (Jr)
Michigan and State both have highly probable starters at the 3 in Zak Irvin and Denzel Valentine; Purdue also has Basil Smotherman and a couple other recruits amongst their wing-type gents.
If Michigan does expect to lose LeVert to the NBA after this year and this is communicated to Harris they've got a pretty attractive situation. Harris likely assumes he would play over Purdue's dudes and possibly MSU's. So then it's about who you want to play for, and whether you'd like to play in the tournament or at home.
A sign you may have broken things. ACC and Big Ten teams are considering playing nonconference games against… other ACC and Big Ten teams. IE, intraconference nonconference games.
Some Atlantic Coast Conference schools are considering scheduling future nonconference games against -- ironically -- other ACC schools, league athletic directors and coaches told ESPN.com.
This is because the ACC is even more totally borked than the Big Ten. They have crossover rivals and eight games so…
non-primary crossover rivals in the Atlantic and Coastal divisions may only play each other once in an 11-year span.
College football is so, so stupid.
As far as the Big Ten goes, it doesn't sound like anything is going to come of their mutterings:
… Penn State AD Joyner said some discussion about playing B1G opponents in non-con games. Former Mich AD Martin proposed this years ago.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) May 13, 2014
Martin was kind of a space cadet, and I think he "proposed" this one year when the Big Ten was still at 11 teams in an effort to have the Jug game played even when Minnesota rotated off the schedule. This is how far we've come: Martin was alarmed that Michigan would have Minnesota rotate off the schedule once a decade, and now ACC teams will see each other once a decade.
It may be time to go in the thinkin' tank and come up with another ludicrously complicated dynamic scheduling setup that provides something resembling satisfaction. Or I could just… not do that again.
Even if the infractions committee was a lazy committee, and the committee was most certainly was that, perhaps the laziest in the entire NCAA, which would place him high in the running nationwide…
A sign you have definitely broken things. The NCAA does not have a major violations case and has not had one in six months.
Last August, the NCAA trumpeted a new violation structure and additional committee members to review cases more quickly and efficiently.
How is that going?
So far, the NCAA has no Division I major violations cases on its public database since Fordham's baseball team was penalized last November. The nearly six-month stretch marks Division I's longest without a completed major case since an eight-month period in 1997 and '98.
Very, very quick and efficient, then. Add another reason to the enormous pile of reasons to deregulate kids getting money from wherever they want: they already are and the NCAA isn't even trying to do anything about it anymore. Even NCAA honchos admit it, and they won't admit anything.
“I think everybody would agree the NCAA enforcement procedures are broken,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “They haven't heard a case in eight months. Without the weight of perjury or the power of subpoena, it's a wonder they get to the bottom of anything."
Let's take all the money wasted on compliance people and spend it on anything else. Full cost of attendance scholarships. Non-revenue sports. Cotton candy machines. Whatever.
Excellent timing, at least. Caris LeVert had surgery on his foot to repair a stress fracture and will be out for a couple months. He should be back for Michigan's late summer training and make the Europe trip, so any effect on Michigan's season should be minimal.
Yup, definitely cursed. Rutgers picked up Minnesota transfer Phillip Nelson this offseason, just in time for Nelson to get into real bad trouble:
The unknown man then struck Kolstad, who witnesses say was knocked out before Nelson allegedly kicked Kolstad's head "like a soccer ball." Steph Stassen, who witnessed the incident, told the Star Tribune that Kolstad was "unconscious after the first punch" and didn't brace himself as he fell to the ground, hitting his head.
Rutgers dismissed the guy without saying anything horrendous, which qualifies as their best crisis communication in a decade.
Hair trigger. Michigan's axed men's tennis coach Bruce Berque after ten years, nine of which saw Michigan make the NCAA tournament. Berque was 66-25 in the Big Ten, and tennis has long been dominated by warm-weather schools. Firing the guy after one mediocre 6-5 Big Ten season that still saw Michigan make the tourney is very much on the Excellence Demander side of the scale.
Muddling through. Elsewhere in non-revenue sports in which guys have gotten a quick hook, baseball finishes its regular season this weekend with an odd nonconference series against #22 Kansas.
A late surge saw Michigan win 4 of their last six conference games and slide into fifth place. That puts them in the Big Ten tourney and lets them avoid a potential second-round matchup with 19-2 Indiana, one of the super-rare Big Ten teams that appears to be a threat to reach Omaha. The Hoosiers are 35-12 overall and #9 in the most recent Baseball America poll.
That's a lot. Penn State drew 72k to its spring game, which is kind of amazing since State College is tiny and isolated. That's more than the combined attendance for Michigan(15k… generously) and Michigan State(35k). Penn State did a big old thing with autograph lines and such, and held it late. Here's the impact of holding your spring game at the beginning of April versus the end:
Still, the April 26 crowd on the sunny, 55-degree day, was believed to be an unofficial spring game record in East Lansing and ranked as the 13th-largest in the nation.
Michigan, meanwhile, drew 15,000 for its spring game amid 38-degree temperatures on April 5 in Ann Arbor.
Also punting drills.
More hearings. Some Democrats are prepping another hearing for the NCAA, one which seems like it will feature fewer twits waving iPads around because they just googled something:
"As colleges and universities generate growing revenue and publicity with each passing year for colleges and universities, the NCAA, and sponsors, the potential for exploitation and abuse of student-athletes has never been greater. In turn, the need for an organization dedicated to protecting student-athletes is more important than ever."
Referencing Northwestern scholarship football players' effort to unionize and a National Labor Relations Board regional director's determination that that athletes are employees who can unionize, the letter says "if the NCAA were accomplishing its mission of protecting student-athletes from exploitive practices those efforts would be unnecessary and likely unsuccessful."
Protecting athletes from exploitive practices? This is its mission? It may be its mission statement.
Etc.: McGary won't work out at the NBA combine, which is not good for him. Talking Michigan with NW blog Lake The Posts. Illinois suspends C Darius Paul for all of next year. Paul was probably going to get 15-20 minutes backing up Egwu. Happy trails to UMHoops beat guy Joe Stapleton. Clay Travis is a twit.
|Jefferson Hills, PA - 6'4", 215|
Winovich is already Adam Jacboi's least favorite player
|Scout||4*, #281 overall
4*, NR overall
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#48 OLB, #13 PA
|24/7||4*, NR overall
#25 OLB, #7 PA
|Other Suitors||OSU, Pitt, MSU, Stanford, FSU, Miami, Oregon, VT|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
Eighty yard touchdown run on third and 25:
Senior year stuff is on HUDL.
It was pretty easy to project Chase Winovich's future until a few months ago. Winovich comes with the violent upfield acceleration that Jake Ryan does, so redshirt him, pack some pounds on him, and unleash once properly marinated to be Ryan 2.0.
Then Ryan got moved to MLB and Michigan decided they were going to be more of an over outfit and things got murky. Winovich is tall and fast and has played his share of high school MLB, so the obvious thing is to do the bit in the previous paragraph and hope it all works out. And it might. It's just less obvious that it will.
Nonetheless, Winovich has a number of arrows pointing in the right direction. He chose Michigan in a heated battle with OSU and had a smattering of other A-level offers. After he committed he had an outstanding two-way senior season that saw three of the four services offer up a fourth star to him.
Let's see what we've won. Scout's Brian Dohn:
He runs like a receiver and is flexible. He has a very good feel for the game, anticipates well, has speed and burst and plays a physical style. … explosion in two or three steps is outstanding. He closes quickly and gets to the quarterback to make the play.
…patient as he watches the play develop. There is no guessing on what is happening. When it sees it, he plants his left foot in the ground and explodes to the right to make a tackle and shut down what looked like a big running lane.
…instinctive first step and blows plays up before they even happen. Winovich plays with outstanding aggression and is very explosive. He has excellent speed and can make plays from sideline to sideline. Winovich has enough speed to chase down running backs far down field. He does a nice job of using his hands to shed blockers and scraping to get to the ball carrier…. a force coming off the edge as an outside linebacker and can really close on the quarterback. … great fit as an outside linebacker in college, where Michigan is recruiting him at.
"He's an all-out kid that's always playing at full speed, he's big, he can run, he just finds the ball and closes. He's a guy who is going to do whatever it takes to win, whatever he has to do. He's all about winning.
"We had him play on special teams, he played running back, he played quarterback -- whatever he asked him to do, he did it."
"A great family, wonderful family. Chase is going to remind a lot of people of Jake Ryan. Fun-loving, great to be around, great smile, great teammate."
Alright then. I concur; watching Winovich's tape was like seeing skinny Jake Ryan ripping around.
So that's the vertical attacking bit. How much he gets to do that is unknown; Michigan could flip back to an under next year; he could maybe get large enough to play nickel DE; etc. If he does end up on the interior long term, middle linebacker is something that he is at least a decent fit for. Multiple scouting reports praise his sideline-to-sideline range, coverage potential and tackling…
- Brewster: excellent pursuit speed and angles, as well as being able to drop into coverage and get in passing lanes. Winovich runs through ball-carriers instead of catching or meeting them.
- Kyle Bogenschutz: Winovich's athleticism and ability to run sideline to sideline stands out. In 1-on-1's, Winovich ran step for step with a wide receiver down the sideline and into the corner of the endzone before making a leaping and juggling one handed interception,
Finally, his ability to pick through traffic is also an oft-repeated asset. ESPN:
Maintains good leverage on the ball and isn't fooled by misdirection. Although he needs to become a more physical take-on guy, his quick hands allow him to shed and get off blocks. Demonstrates the quickness, balance and agility needed to avoid blockers and make plays in tight spaces. Moves through traffic very well, showing excellent sideline-to-sideline range.
… changes direction well and has very good feet, which allows him to navigate through congestion and avoid blocks. … Winovich shows his ability to run to the sideline and make the play. Again, he tracks it well and gets to the ball carrier quickly. He is also able to get through the traffic to make a tough play look simple and natural.
The MLB thing is actually rather plausible as long as he gets big and can shed guards.
Negatives are not mentioned much; when they are it is the obvious thing: he is 215 pounds. Brewster also mentions that he could "do a better job of getting his pad level down to take on contact" as a 6'4" LB, which is also something that shows up on film. Winovich tackles a lot of guys high. In HS this allows him to run through guys and flex afterwards; against guys his weight but squatter it might not work out so well. ESPN also mentions that he's inexperienced in coverage.
If you're thinking all this sounds pretty good for a guy who didn't crack anyone's top 250, well… yeah. The OSU battle even though OSU was already in possession of a couple of OLB types is also another positive sign. Even though Winovich got bumped by the recruiting sites out of sleeper of the year territory, it seems like he's still underrated.
As far as next year goes, a redshirt seems certain. Bogenschutz reported that Winovich was down to 208 by the time the O-D Bowl came around. That is well short of what he'd need to see the field at 6'4" even if he was at SAM, or WILL, or whatever the light, tight-end-tracking linebacker is going to be this year. Winovich doesn't appear to be the kind of guy who demands/asks to be on the field immediately; he told Nick Baumgardner that "my goal isn't necessarily to play as early as I can, it's to be the best player and contributor I can be for Michigan."
Etc.: Man, you could do a lot with high schools named these things:
The Thomas Jefferson football team shut down rival Elizabeth Forward last week in a sterling defensive performance.
"NOT SO FAST, FORWARD" SAYS JEFFERSON
ELIZABETH LEAVES THOMAS JEFFERSON ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD WITHOUT A CAR OR A GIRLFRIEND NOT THAT I'M BITTER THAT HAPPENED TO ME, THE HEADLINE WRITER
Also from that article, we may have a replacement for Jordan Morgan as far as trolling goes:
Q: Given the pre-game hype, do you consider the 42-0 win against Elizabeth Forward as a statement game for the TJ football team?
A: I think our true statement will come once we win the WPIAL championship, but beating Elizabeth Forward is simply a tradition to us at this point.
"I had Ohio State jerseys, I had Ohio State buckeyes in my room, I had the Ohio State flag in my room," Winovich recalls. "I even had an Ohio State-themed credit card."
Why Jake Ryan? Same frame, same five-yard explosion that makes Ryan so adept at finishing plays in the backfield. Ryan was bigger coming out of high school; Winovich sounds like he's less of a wildman—for both good and bad. Ryan was a true sleeper, but obviously an underrated player.
Guru Reliability: High-ish. Healthy, played for PA powerhouse, little projection in terms of position. Some disagreement, though an understandable one since ESPN is way more fire-and-forget with their rankings than others.
Variance: Moderate-plus. Has to add a lot of weight, and there is some positional uncertainty.
Ceiling: High. Small area burst like that is very appealing. If he works out can be the sort of LB who racks up 15-20 TFLs and gets confetti thrown at him in postseason awards and whatnot.
General Excitement Level: High. Variance is variable. But dat burst yo.
Projection: As mentioned above, redshirt should be a lock. Afterwards it depends on whether Michigan sticks with the over or goes back; if they go back he is a natural fit at SAM and will contribute immediately, fighting with McCray and lighter guys to start. The over is trickier; he'd probably be at WLB in that setup, as Bolden/Ferns/Gedeon are a bit shorter and stouter. That would allow Michigan to flip their setup, as well.
So it's a bit fuzzy. Winovich is likely to find some sort of role because of his ability to go from point A to point B in a flash.
No Cam you don't get points for setting up Morgan's one-timer.
Still playing with the big spreadsheet of stats. Sometimes I glom onto something interesting and sometimes, like today, I waste a lot of time to realize a stat they track has no bearing on play at all, and then I have to write my article, and then Comcast manages to make me wish Greg Robinson was my internet provider and, well, that's my excuse.
While Ace was writing the MSU preview for this year's HTTV (you are welcome to pester Brian to start the kickstarter) I was feeding him various kill-me-now defensive stats that showed State was really good at defense last year. One thing we pulled up was a larger percentage of tackles that were assisted, something MSU seemed to share with other teams.
This does make sense if you think of plays that are good for a defense, e.g. a lot of bodies going nowhere at the point of attack, versus how long gains tend to end. Likewise you'd expect the position of the player to make a difference just because of the variance in amount of space between him and the next defender. A typical distribution of tackles was as follows:
|Position Group||% of Total||% Solo|
Noise in the data: I built this from complete game stats, not play-by-play, so I couldn't separate special teams plays, etc. I did re-categorize a bunch of players listed at incorrect positions but I couldn't catch all of them. Tweener positions also throw things off: a WDE to a 4-3 under team is an outside linebacker to a 3-4 squad, 3-3-5 teams call the Spur a safety, Jake Ryan puts his hand down in the nickel, etc. There's tens of thousands of tackles in the above percentages but as we get into teams keep these inconsistencies in mind. FCS teams and stats accumulated against them were removed.
Who's doing the tackling? So in the above table defensive linemen have marginally more assisted tackles than linebackers, and both have significantly more tackles assisted than defensive backs. If tackle assists mean anything other than "more forward players are doing the tackling" we can see that by testing whether the % of tackles accrued by the front 7 or % of tackles assisted have a closer relationship to tempo-free defensive efficiency.
So yeah, it's where the tackle takes place, not some mystical ability of great defenses to get more people to arrive at the ball at the same time. And neither is that strong of a correlation. Sorry, every platitudinal defensive coach ever.
So how'd we do?
The Big Ten ranked by fewest yards ceded per play:
|Team||% by DL/LBs||Rk||% Solo||Rk||Def YPP|
That Illinois and Michigan State are the top two teams at getting assists on their tackles says tackle assists aren't a thing. Rutgers was great at getting linebackers to the ball, but not until lots of yards had been accrued. Northwestern's a good study in this: in 2012 they had safety Ibraheim Campbell racking up Kovacsian solo tackle numbers, but in 2013 they had greater contributions from up front…with little increase in productivity.
I don't even see much in the way of stylistic preferences coming through. Michigan and Nebraska and Ohio State I believe (gleaned from what their coaches say at clinics mostly) are "spill" teams—they try to occupy blockers so a free hitter can make his way to the ball. Michigan State and Wisconsin and Penn State, are the ones I believe were "gap" teams—every defender has a gap he's responsible for closing.
So…okay, this stat means nothing. Good to know I guess.
Whether or not Jim Harbaugh made this pick to get Carlos Hyde as far away from Michigan as possible, it's much appreciated.
The NFL Draft is over. The NBA Draft makes us all sad and alone. While the NBA and NHL playoffs have both been amazing, the time when regular season baseball is the only sporting entertainment available is nearly upon us. (Thank you, World Cup year, at least.)
This seems as good a time as ever to check in with our mortal enemies in Columbus. Over the weekend, I did a Q&A over at Eleven Warriors about the current state of Michigan football, the mindset of the fanbase—if you watch Mad Men, you'll guess the Pete Campbell reference without having to look—and the early outlook for this season. It's admittedly not the most pleasant read for Wolverine faithful.
Anyway, 11W's Michael Citro was kind enough to answer a few questions himself, and you may even be somewhat heartened by what he has to say about this year's Ohio State team—a contender, to be sure, but one that has a few holes to fill and issues such as "can we teach the secondary how to tackle with their arms?"
Thanks to Michael for his time and very forthright answers, and to John Cooper forever and always.
You asked about the mindset of Michigan fans now versus 10-12 years ago, and I'd like to turn that around with a bit of a twist. How do Ohio State fans currently perceive the rivalry, and do they truly believe it'll remain this lopsided over the long haul, or is the memory of John Cooper—and, say, last year's game—enough haunting context to keep y'all aware of the fickle nature of college football?
I think we fall into two camps here. There are those of us who suffered in the rivalry under Cooper who are content to count the wins one at a time on a micro scale—and keep score from Jim Tressel’s first year and forward on a macro scale. We enlightened citizens thank our various deities annually because we know that ka is a wheel and the cycle can change without warning (ask Lloyd Carr).
But, there is also a more arrogant and entitled (not to mention, generally younger) segment of Buckeye Nation that believes Ohio State is the one who knocks. They think Michigan is in the midst of becoming Nebraska-esque—a good team with a rich tradition and history that has lost some of its national relevance and is doomed to mire in decent-to-good seasons without ever truly being great again. This kind of hubris is foreign to a guy like me, who sweats out games against Indiana and Purdue until they’re well out of reach. Seriously, did Tresselball not teach us how not to take things for granted?
Do you believe it takes away from the rivalry when the two programs are in such different places for a prolonged period of time? I know it's easy to say as a Michigan fan—it sure feels more fun for everyone involved when both teams are not only competitive against each other, but playing for something more than just The Game itself.
I believe the rivalry is more intense when both schools are at the top and there is something of note on the line. I mean, come on, the 2006 version of The Game was insane, was it not? That said, I don’t think the rivalry is diminished all that much when there is disparity over the long haul, although many fans do.
I mean, we don’t have a two-front rivalry the way Michigan does with us and MSU. We have U-M and that’s basically it—although Penn State fans are constantly trying to drum up a rivalry where none exists and Wisconsin-under-Bert was soaring to heights of hatred never previously seen. Gary Andersen seems too nice to hate like that. So Michigan is the arch-rival and then there’s everyone else.
Okay, on to the actual team. Who are the main candidates to replace Carlos Hyde, and can any of them match what he was able to provide last year? How do you feel about the offense in general?
Many OSU fans are under the misguided notion that plugging in any of the talented Buckeye backs will magically produce the same results that Hyde manufactured. I am not among those fans. Hyde was a special blend of power and speed that we probably haven’t seen since Eddie George—and he was running behind one of the best two or three offensive lines in school history. You don’t just plug-and-play when you lose four steamrollers and a ball-carrying rhinoceros.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is the favorite to replace Hyde. He’s also a special talent but he doesn't have Hyde’s power and it’s unclear so far if he’ll have Hyde’s vision. Elliott is faster than Hyde, probably quicker to hit the hole, and more likely to break long runs as a result. But will the holes be there behind four new starting offensive linemen and Taylor Decker moving from right to left tackle? Unknown.
Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball and Rod Smith will likely all see plenty of time in 2014 unless Elliott just comes in and kills. I expect more of a committee approach but we’ll know more once fall camp gets underway.
As for the offense overall, I think Tom Herman will move toward more of a 60/40 run-pass distribution (it’s been about 65/35 the last two years). Rushing yards may be harder to come by under the revamped O-line and more passing may result. Plus, I would expect Braxton Miller to hang in the pocket more as a senior and try to make more plays with his arm. I feel pretty decent about the offense considering Ed Warinner has worked wonders with the offensive line the last two years and Herman has been generally great at everything except remembering he had Hyde in the backfield during the second half of the two biggest games of last year.
As for the defense, the line is absolutely terrifying, but I'd like to get your thoughts on the back seven. How does new co-DC Chris Ash plan to address the issues in the secondary, and who's going to replace the production of Ryan Shazier?
Sure, Ace. Go ahead and ask about Ohio State’s back seven [guzzles bleach, tucks into the fetal position and cries].
Honestly, it’s going to be fun to see the transformation Ash has in mind, should it actually happen. Ash plans to be more aggressive with coverage (but what new defensive coach doesn't?) and he has an actual defensive philosophy—something that seemed to be missing under Everett Withers. Ohio State will be younger but more athletic at safety and the secondary should communicate better. Ash will have the corners and safeties meet together, which is something that inexplicably wasn't happening the last two years. Oh, and the Buckeyes will likely play less nickel and dime and more base in 2014.
Josh Perry is the favorite to slide into Shazier’s role. Perry came into his own a bit last year but there is still concern. Shazier was a laser-guided Cloverfield monster. Darron Lee looks like he’ll join Perry and Curtis Grant as a starting linebacker, but Raekwon McMillan had a good spring and may force his way into the lineup. Lee is a former safety and has better cover skills, which is why Ohio State may play more base defense.
If you had to pick a breakout player or two on each side of the ball that Michigan fans may not be very familiar with, who would they be?
On the offensive side, Curtis Samuel should do the kinds of things Dontre Wilson did last year, now that Wilson is sliding into Philly Brown’s old spot. Samuel makes fast guys look slow. If it’s not Samuel that opens eyes, it may (finally) be Michael Thomas, a promising wide receiver that has been Ohio State’s best spring performer for three years.
Defensively, McMillan is one guy who will be noticeable if he gets on the field. But perhaps an even bigger threat to break out defensively is yet another young D-line prospect—Tyquan Lewis. He flashed all spring and literally everyone has been raving about him. He was destroying guys during the Spring Game. That’s not always an accurate barometer, but with Larry Johnson Sr. calling the shots on the defensive line these days, the rotation is going to expand to keep guys fresher. And yes, I just told you Joey Bosa will be fresh in the fourth quarter.
I know Wolverines and Buckeyes are strange bedfellows, but if I suggested we band together in a conspiracy to frame James Franklin for major NCAA violations, you're totally in, right?
I’m actually not that worried about James Franklin—yet. Sure, he seems to be killing it on the recruiting trail right now, but if anyone knows that there’s no such thing as a May National Recruiting Championship, it’s probably U-M fans. His record against the top teams in the SEC wasn’t great and until he shows me differently in the B1G, I’m not completely sold. Mind you, I didn’t say I wasn’t nervous. In fact, with recruiting like his, those major violations you refer to may take care of themselves (just kidding, Penn State fans….probably).
Related to the last question: how do you feel about the job Urban Meyer has done on the recruiting trail? How's the 2015 class shaping up?
Overall, Meyer has been about as advertised in recruiting. Of course, he made his biggest splash early by flipping a bunch of guys when he first arrived in Columbus. It’s strange to think some of those guys haven’t panned out (Se’Von Pittman transferred, Kyle Dodson is buried on the depth chart, etc.), but that’s recruiting. The start of the 2015 recruiting season has been very slow from an OSU perspective and it’s hard to say why that is. We certainly didn’t appreciate losing a prized QB like Brandon Wimbush to Penn State, which already has Hackenberg. Some people are nervous, but I get a sense that most Ohio State fans are willing to wait and trust Urban.
Not actually a question, but a pair of fill-in-the-blanks. If _________ happens, Ohio State wins the Big Ten. If ________ happens, Ohio State has a disappointing, title-free season. Go.
In the first sentence it has to be two things—if the defense comes together and the O-line gels, Ohio State wins the B1G. If those things don’t happen, Ohio State has a disappointing, title-free season.
Since you asked me, I'm required by law to ask you: what's your far-too-early prediction for The Game?
Whatever Brady Hoke is—and I still don’t think we quite know—he is not Rich Rodriguez. You can once again throw out the records when The Game is on the line.
My way-too-early prediction is that Michigan annoyingly hangs around until the final minutes again. But I think the home crowd and Braxton Miller make the difference in a one-score game. Remember, I am a product of the Cooper era and never ever feel secure about anything when it comes to Ohio State. I have been accused in the past by Michigan fans of being disingenuous when I downplay the Buckeye advantage, but last year I called a closer-than-expected game and look what happened—I spent the entire fourth quarter in cardiac arrest.
I’ve already ordered my defibrillator from Amazon for this November.