I bolded this in the announcement about Adam Braithwaite's hire but failed to grasp its oddness and potential significance:
University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Feb. 11) the hiring of Adam Braithwaite as the program’s safeties/outside linebackers coach. … Assistant head coach Tony Gibson will coach the cornerbacks and free safety position.
Your response in the form of a cat—which they should totally do on Jeopardy, BTW:
Braithwaite now coaches the safeties and the outside linebackers. Greg Robinson now coaches the inside linebackers, emphasis on the plural. Tony Gibson now coaches the cornerback and… uh… one safety position. What sense does it make? It makes none. It makes less sense if you believe the premium moderator folk who have been asserting that Michigan is in the odd habit of calling its deep safety "strong" and the guy who rolls up to the line of scrimmage on occasion "free."
So what the hell is going on here? First: however deeply screwed up Michigan's internal lingo about safeties is, my assumption is that the free safety is your deep-zone ballhawk and the strong safety is the guy who rolls up to the line as a semi-linebacker. It would be totally insane to give Gibson the guy at the line and some cornerbacks and Braithwaite one guy at the line and one guy in a deep zone. (Wags may joke here about Rodriguez's previous defensive hires. Take my defensive coordinator… please!)
So that means Gibson is the secondary coach and he is a man in charge of three people. Meanwhile, the outside linebackers coach has a safety or two. Hmm…
Now, I know what you're thinking: ack Donovan Warren is about to get an eight-yard screen in his grill. Or ack Andrew Quarless is about to run straight downfield untouched for a 60-yard touchdown. Or ack… well, we were all around last year. The walls have dents to prove it. The only thing you're not ack-ing is the defensive line. This is a digression.
The particulars of Braithwaite's hire indicate the eight-man front Michigan ran much the second half of last year was not an immensely unsuccessful attempt at emergency triage on a walk-on-laden matador defense but rather the intended base defense going forward. With so many bodies ticketed for Craig Roh's "quick" position, I don't think this presages a move to a straight 3-3-5 like West Virginia ran. The 4-4-ish set above is likely to be Michigan's most frequent alignment, with quick-as-linebacker sprinkled in as a changeup.
It's half 3-3-5, though. Aside from the disposition of the line and the middle linebackers, that's what it is. The secondary aligns like it's a 3-3-5. The "spinner," while technically a linebacker, was safety Stevie Brown last year and will be either Josh Furman, Mike Jones, Isaiah Bell—though he may have moved inside—or Brandin Hawthorne this year. All of the candidates were high school safeties tagged as tweeners except Hawthorne, who was a safety-sized defensive end. Last year the strong safety was Jordan Kovacs (tweener safety), Mike Williams (just a safety), or Brandon Smith (tweener safety), but this year it's likely to be Marvin Robinson, Carvin Johnson or Vlad Emilien: more high school safeties tagged as tweeners. The distinction between the OLB and safety is also in keeping with 3-3-5 principles: most teams have wacky names for the strongside (spur, spinner, ferret) and weakside safety types (hero, bandit, saber-toothed dragon) because they have different roles. As Jeff Casteel explained so elegantly on the incredibly expensive and totally useless (at the time) 3-3-5 DVD I bought, the weakside guy "gets his meat cooked"—does not have to deal with lead blockers—and the strongside guy "gets his meat raw"—oh God, that's Owen Schmitt and I weigh 210 pounds.
If I'm right, this is one hell of a bold experiment for Rodriguez. His ass is in the wind right now and last year's attempt to implement this was a flaming wreck unprecedented in the modern history of Michigan football. I'm not a coach but I do watch unhealthy amounts of college football and I don't think I've ever seen anyone try this 4-2-2-3 style of D—please correct me if this is not the case. It's a gamble.
[Update: Corrected. Virginia Tech does this plenty. Tyler Sellhorn:
Please don't freak out about the defensive changes. Mostly it seems like a move to VaTech's defense. The high school where I coach plays a very similar scheme to VaTech (visited Blacksburg twice to commune with Bud Foster and his staff) and has a similar scheme to what you are suggesting M is declaring.
I think the best terminology for the setup is the 4-2-5 is "multiple" meaning that most of the defensive calls are intended to trick the opposing QB/coaches at the snap. The OLBs are really more like SSs and rotate up and back based on d-call and opposition formation/personnel, and the "FS" is nearly an identical player who can roll down to play the OLB spot as well based on motion/personnel. Up front, lots of stunting (lining up in one gap, crossing into another), lots of gap exchanges, lots of rolling coverages where the OLB/SSs will drop into deep coverage. The scheme is sound. Maybe you should do your HTTV tape study this summer on 4-2-5/VaTech stuff?
The biggest reason teams use the scheme? OLB/SS away from two-reciever side/strong side plays tight behind backside ILB so that he can flow hard to action away, OLB/SS has what you have called the scrape exchange.
Two notes: "flowing hard to action ", whether it was away or not, is definitely what Michigan was doing with Jordan Kovacs when he was the box safety and Woolfolk was deep, and who was the other team hard after Josh Furman? Virginia Tech.]
On the other hand, going from year one in a system to year two will be a rare privilege for these Michigan defenders—it will be the first time in anyone's career other than fifth-year seniors this is the case—and I'm heartened that amongst the flaming wreck at the end of last year there was a semblance of a long-term plan. By God, they were terrible, but they were terrible with purpose. This passes as optimism for the 2010 Michigan fan.
Anyway, we'll find out in spring if my speculation here is correct. I think they've tipped their hand. I have no idea how it's going to work out but at least they're sticking to one thing for the first time ever-ever.
Side note on Gibson-related special teams bitchin'. I've seen or heard a lot of this over the past couple weeks, and have to provide a "dude wait what" to that, too. Michigan's coming off a year in which they finished third in net punting, 23rd in kickoff returns, 62nd in punt returns, and was 11 of 15 on field goals. Taken together, the metrics indicate one of the best units in the conference, if not the country. Critics are likely thinking of Michigan's persistent inability to field a punt in the Rodriguez era, Zoltan Mesko going blue screen of death on his rollout option punt against Michigan State, and a couple roughing the kicker penalties.
Those things do detract, but they're offset by the kickoff coverage—I can't remember a big opposition kick return—and a few punt blocks. Special teams were the least of Michigan's problems last year. They have to replace both specialists this year so there might be a hiccup. Even so, I'm baffled by special teams criticism outside of HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL issues that I think are a little fluky. (Yes, even now.)
|WHAT||Michigan v. Minnesota|
|WHERE||St Paul, MN|
|WHEN||7:00PM EST (6PM Local)
February 11th, 2010
|THE LINE||Michigan +8.5*|
*Line provided by online sports betting site Sportsbetting.com.
John Beilein has had plenty of time to scheme and prepare his team, which I still maintain he's among the best at doing, so that counts for something. The Wolverines also don't need to worry about preparing for the next opponent, since they won't hit the court again until next Tuesday, taking this weekend off.
However, there's still that tiny factor in play that this is a fundamentally flawed, and simply not good basketball team whether it's because Manny Harris has regressed or is otherwise struggling, or the team just can't shoot (or defend), something isn't right. The Wolverines have very little to play for, and that's not exactly a recipe for a stunning turnaround.
The Gophers, like Northwestern, are playing undermanned this year, though for totally different reasons. Royce White was booted from the team for a number of legal problems, Trevor Mbakwe is in a similar boat, and Al Nolen scoffs at your notions that he should do such things as "go" to "class." With all their personnel difficulties, the Gophers are very much a team in turmoil. HOWEVA, they are also very much a team on the bubble. With a strong finish to the year, they can make it into the NCAA tournament, and a win over Michigan is key to that scenario.
Forward Damian Johnson and center Ralph Sampson MCVII (actually the Third) are among the Gophers' leaders in offensive rating, though Sampson's effort has been called into question at times. Both of them are outdone by Blake Hoffarber, who leads the nation in offensive rating, with the best True Shooting% of any player in the country, as well.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Minnesota: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Minnesota Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Minn Def eFG%||226||67||GG|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Minn eFG%||206||26||GG|
|Mich TO% v. Minn Def TO%||21||11||G|
|Mich Def TO% v. Minn TO%||54||86||M|
|Mich OReb% v. Minn DReb%||266||123||GG|
|Mich DReb% v. Minn OReb%||211||210||-|
|Mich FTR v. Minn Opp FTR||335||124||GGG|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Minn FTR||12||255||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. Minn AdjD||126||21||GG|
|Mich AdjD v. Minn AdjO||43||75||M|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc. G is for Gophers.
Michigan has gone from a mediocre-yet-improving team to a flatly bad one over the course of a couple weeks. Minnesota is a pretty good squad, which means they will probably truck the Wolverines.
Michigan has an advantage in but two categories, which would be forcing the Gophers to turn it over (something they did well last year, forcing 30 Minnesota turnovers in two games), and not sending them to the free throw line. The flip side of that is that Michigan probably won't shoot a single free throw, and the Gophers actually have an advantage in forcing Michigan turnovers, something we won't see too many times this year.
On the road, against a team that is playing for its NCAA tournament life, I can't see the Wolverines emerging from the Barn with a win. Ken Pomeroy likes Minnesota by 9, and Vegas makes them the 8.5-point favorites. I see Michigan going to DeShawn Sims early, and managing to stay in the game, but not coming out with a win. The spreads look about right, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan cover.
FL LB Kent Turene (#6 to the right in above photo) is a junior linebacker from Boyd Anderson High School and a teammate of Michigan signee Demar Dorsey. He’s been in contact with over 19 schools already, including Michigan, and plans on hearing from more very soon. I caught up with Kent, and here’s what he had to say.
TOM: You’re not as high profile as some of the other Florida kids, but you’ve got a chance to be the one of the best linebackers in Florida. Tell me about your game.
KENT: I don’t like to give up yardage, I’m hard nosed to the ball, and I like to hit hard. I just go after the ball. I go 100% on every play. I play inside and outside linebacker right now. I like both, so it doesn’t really matter which one I play. I’m just trying to work on my speed, and how to read the offense a little better. I think I play the run really well, and I’m good in coverage, though.
TOM: What schools have been in contact with you so far?
KENT: Miami, Florida, Florida State, Michigan; around 19 schools. Most of them have said that the offer will be coming soon. They’re just evaluating me, and then they’ll get the offer out.
TOM: How many offers do you have?
KENT: FIU and Nebraska right now.
TOM: Do you have a list of favorites so far?
KENT: I’m open to everybody. I wasn’t really a fan of anyone growing up, so I just want to go where I can play.
TOM: Has Demar Dorsey said anything to you about Michigan, now that he’s committed?
KENT: Yeah, he’s always telling me that he wants me to come up there with him. He was telling me that if they offer I should go up there, and play with him. We’ll see. He was telling me about the stadium, the facilities, and the coaches. He really likes the coaches.
TOM: Do you think that will factor in to your decision? Does it help Michigan to have Demar up there?
KENT: I’ve thought about it, I think I’d like to go to Michigan. I would like to play with Demar. I had a great time playing with him, and he’s a great teammate. So, yeah that helps.
TOM: Are you going to try to visit Michigan over the spring, or summer?
KENT: I would like to, I’m going to see if I can. Money and time will decide if I do.
TOM: Being from the south, do you think distance will factor into your decision?
KENT: I’ve never been that far north, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to go where I can play. The weather wouldn’t bug me.
TOM: When are you going to make your decision?
KENT: I’ll make my decision pretty soon. I’m not going to wait until signing day. It will be before the season starts.
Who's Adam Braitwaite? He's just a guy no one has heard of because he was a quality control assistant and at some seriously small schools before that. Googling turns up zero about this version of Adam Braithwaite before today. Press release ho.
Rodriguez Names Adam Braithwaite as Safeties/Outside Linebackers Coach
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Feb. 11) the hiring of Adam Braithwaite as the program’s safeties/outside linebackers coach. Braithwaite joins the Wolverines’ staff as a full-time assistant coach after spending the past two seasons as a staff assistant.
“We are excited to promote Adam to be our safeties/outside linebackers coach,” said Rodriguez. “He has been a loyal hard-working member of our staff for several years and knows our system. I believe he will bring a lot of energy both in coaching and recruiting.”
As previously announced during Rodriguez’s signing day press conference (Feb. 3), defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will coach the linebackers. Bruce Tall will continue to work with the defensive line.
Assistant head coach Tony Gibson will coach the cornerbacks and free safety position. He will also add the responsibility of coordinating the special teams. Rodriguez will continue to have all of the coaches remain involved with a certain phase of special teams, but Gibson will manage that phase of the game on a daily basis and on gameday.
Braithwaite was the defensive coordinator at Hampden-Sydney College (Va.) during the 2007 season. He worked with the linebackers and coordinated the special teams for the program’s conference championship team and Division III National Playoff run. Prior to accepting his position at Hampden-Sydney, Braithwaite was a defensive graduate assistant for Rodriguez at West Virginia (2005-06). He assisted with the secondary and linebackers and helped the Mountaineers win a pair of bowl games (2006 Sugar and 2007 Gator) and the 2005 Big East title.
Braithwaite was the safeties coach at William & Mary in 2004 when the Tribe claimed the Atlantic 10 Championship and reached the semifinals of the Division I-AA National Championship. He gained his first college coaching position as the wide receivers and tight end coach at West Liberty State College (2003).
Braithwaite was a four-year letterman at defensive back for William & Mary (1997-2001), and was the starting strong safety on the Tribe’s 2001 Atlantic 10 co-Championship team. He earned his bachelor of arts from William & Mary (2002) and his master’s degree in athletic coaching education from West Virginia (2007).
So… uninspiring. At least they know the guy and the chances the transplanted organ doesn't take are low.
Whoah… Texas. I'm on druuuugs.
Overtures!!! Everybody PANIC:
A source with ties to the Big Ten said that while most people’s attention has been trained on the conference stealing Missouri, the Big Ten has engaged in “preliminary exchanges” with a much bigger fish from the Big 12.
“There have been preliminary exchanges between the Big Ten and Texas,” the source told the Journal-World on Wednesday. “People will deny that, but it’s accurate.”
Accurate though it may be, "preliminary exchanges" are just folks in suits keeping doors open in case of disaster. Texas to the Big Ten will never ever happen. Reasons:
- The Texas legislature would have the mother of all hissy fits and threaten UT's state funding.
- Texas would go from its usual diet of nummy goo-goo bears plus the occasional big game to a nonconference schedule with mandatory games against A&M and Oklahoma, and that's if Texas isn't forced to play more in-state teams as part of an agreement with the legislature.
- Texas's baseball team, currently a national power, would be playing in the college baseball equivalent of Conference USA.
- Texas has the mojo to have it own damn channel if it wants and won't have to share jack with the other Big Ten teams.
Note that travel costs are omitted, because putting the Big Ten Network on Texas channels means even the crew teams can fly first class. It would be ridiculous. Jim Delany would buy a monocle.
That goes for this Pac-10 expansion, too. I don't buy that adding Colorado and Utah does anything for anyone except bust up the one conference that makes total sense.
Plot against America update. So I toss a link to a USA Today article arguing that adding another 31 teams to the NCAA tournament wouldn't even make much money on mgolicious and the artist formely known as Wonk duly shreds it:
The larger issue here centers on what constitutes “loose change” for the NCAA. Let’s accept that the difference between what a network will pay for a 96-team field and what they’ll lay out for a traditional 65-team version wouldn’t be all that much in percentage terms. Hiestand’s right: The new games would be the least attractive ones and, anyway, they’d represent just 17 percent of the programming “tonnage.” But if you’ve ever bought or sold a house, you’re intimately familiar with the paradox at work here. You negotiate a price and give a few thousand here or take a few thousand there. Then you step away and think: Sweet mother of Ben Bernanke, that right there’s the equivalent of a new car or three years of daycare for your kid, or 50 HDTV’s, etc.
So maybe it's some money up front that's meaningful. Meaningful spread over 340-some D-I teams? Eh… probably not. Meaningful to one organization in Indianapolis? Maybe.
Not that the idea is any less terrible today than it was a few days ago. The proposed expansion would, for all intents and purposes, absorb the entire NIT into the NCAA tournament. Last year's editions of Northwestern, Penn State, Notre Dame (18-14), Nebraska (18-12), Virginia Tech (18-14), and Washington State (17-15) would all have weaseled their way in. That's nine of the Big Ten's eleven teams in the tourney plus an ugly assortment of teams who beat no one and have no chance of winning the tournament. At some point you have to say no.
John Beilein's on the side of justice, FWIW:
"I don't understand right now," he said during his Big Ten teleconference. "The 64 (teams) – I could see adding a couple more 'play-in' games if you have to. But going to 96 may be a hard thing to do. I think it's pretty good right now."
Unsurprisingly, Bo Ryan likes evil and preposterous generalizations:
“To me, it’s foolish for those people who are saying it’s perfect the way it is,” Ryan said Monday. “Obviously, they’ve lived a very shallow life when it comes to looking at change and what change can do and how it can affect things. The history of expansion with the NCAA has been very successful."
Yeah, well, you now, that's just, like, your opinion, man. We have lived a shallow life in which we have never considered how change can affect things.
Yet another way in which college football is like figure skating. Remember some time back when the coaches threw a hissy that people were paying attention to their votes and threatened to take the final coaches' poll private? This was roundly condemned and eventually dropped, but the scars still linger.
If they try it again, opponents should point to what went down when figure skating attempted to beat the corruption out of their judges by making their scores anonymous*:
[Dartmouth economist Eric Zitzewitz] finds that the home-country bias gets even worse when anonymous judges can hide from a scrutinizing press and public, despite the barriers that anonymity may create for effective backroom deal-making. The home-judge advantage under the new system is about 20 percent higher than in the days of full disclosure.
College football coaches already display serious biases when their votes are subject to scrutiny. It would only get worse if they weren't.
*(This seems insane but there is a plausible reason it might be a good idea: it prevents collusion amongst judges. Before there could be backroom deals where a couple countries conspire to rate each other's skaters higher. Now those deals can't be enforced.)
That is more like it. Fred Jackson gives us all hope that Fitzgerald Toussaint is in possession of all his limbs:
"He's as talented as anyone who walked in the door," said Jackson, who has coached Michigan career leading rusher Michael Hart, Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas and Tyrone Wheatley, to name a few.
Jackson said he had never before heard of a player breaking his shoulder blade. But before the injury, Jackson saw budding talent.
"He's got great feet, acceleration, strength, power," Jackson said. "I can compare him to somebody -- he's like a fast Chris Perry. He's going to be very good."
Fitzgerald Toussaint is like a Doak Walker winner who was a first round draft pick… except fast.
Etc.: Basketball recruiting remains dirtier than a dirt sandwich. What's with Ann Arbor as the epicenter of ice dancing? Russians. Obviously. What is the point of this new rule about head coaches in waiting? Manny Harris has never been that efficient in the Big Ten.
It's so crazy it might work
And now for something completely different: I'm on record that the idea of a 14-team Big Ten is basically insane. But if, hypothetically, this occurs, this is a completely insane way of tackling the insane topic of a 14-team college football conference that's so crazy it might work.
The Big Ten implements a limited promotion/relegation structure that sees full-round robins within each group and significant interaction between groups. They add a ninth conference game.
Top five teams.
Play: each other (4), three in group two (3), two in group three (2).
Middle four teams.
Play: each other (3), three in group one (3), three in group three(3).
Bottom five teams.
Play: each other (4), three in group two (3), two in group one(2).
At year's end, the following things happen:
1) the bottom team in group one and the top team in group two swap groups.
2) ditto for groups two and three.
3) the second-to-last team and second-place team in each group plays a playoff game to see whether they stay in their group or switch.
4) The top two teams play a championship game. One team is always the winner of group one. The other team could be the second place team in group one or a really good group two or three winner: any undefeated (in conference) group two/three winner gets an auto-bid to the championship game. If there are two, group two gets priority. If the second-place Group 1 team has the same record as a group two or three team and the lower team has a H2H win, they get the bid. There would probably be some complicated formula that would allow lower division teams into the game if they outperformed the group one teams sufficiently.
Why do this?
It would be pretty intense, right? Every team in the middle group would be clawing to advance or descend. Everyone in the top group would be clawing for the conference title or to avoid getting relegated. The teams at the bottom would be playing to advance and would have a better shot at bowl eligibility. Almost every game in the Big Ten would be critical. No one would be fighting for the Alamo Bowl, they'd be fighting for the right to compete for the conference championship.
Also, it creates a lot more quality matchups between top teams and minimizes face-beatings. All the good teams you want to see play will play. You can even protect a rivalry or two by guaranteeing that if rivals are in different groups they will play each other.
Bonus: It sidesteps the debate about whether to make Big X divisions geographically coherent or wildly unbalanced.
Why not do this?
College football teams can vary so wildly from year to year that the best team in the conference might not make the championship. Earlier this decade, Penn State went from two consecutive losing seasons that would have found them in the bottom group to an 11-1 Orange Bowl winning team.
It's really complicated.
The NCAA would have to sign off on not only a crazy championship game but two other championship-ish games, and they probably wouldn't. And it would blow everyone's minds.