Aaaargh. Right. If anyone has any computers they'd like to give boot-sector smallpox, I am charging a reasonable fee.
Anyway... The APR debate continues at the official NCAA blog The Double A Zone. To their credit, they left the rah-rah at home. Money graf:
The fact that some of the 99 penalized teams were significantly below the 925 cut score, which only correlates to a 60 percent graduation rate, makes me worry about what is happening on some of our college campuses.
Emphasis mine, because huh what hello? Knowing full well that the attention paid to the intricacies of the APR will be cursory at best by the vast majority of the public, the NCAA concocted a score with a maximum of 1000 and a stiff-sounding 925 pass/fail line... that happens to correspond to a 60% graduation rate? Fishy.
However, Pat Forde goes too far in his hatchet job:
The NCAA's new Academic Progress Rates benefit the big-time schools and hurt the small timers.
That's the primary conclusion that can be drawn from the report released Wednesday. (There is no truth to the rumor that the letterhead on the report read, "NCAA: Of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.")
Ouch... Forde just bludgeoned both the NCAA and his own credibility on this matter with said ill-considered cheapshot. Forde's argument boils down to this:
- Schools with money can spend it on keeping their athletes eligible.
- Schools without can't.
- This is cosmically unfair.
- Why does the Sun Belt exist, anyway?
Here at MGoBlog we're bang on with that last bullet, but in effect Forde is complaining that the NCAA is forcing its member schools to spend money educating its athletes. Um... okay. Good luck with that. In between complaining about the NCAA's "caste system"--Mr. Shirky would like to explain the power law on line two--he inserts small disclaimers that absolve him of responsibility for his words:
I'm all for rigorous academic standards for college athletic departments
No, you aren't. If you were, you would not have written this article.
How exactly is the NCAA supposed to deal with this other than setting standards for progress towards a degree for schools? You have two choices: this or nothing. It's telling that Forde's most damning accusations lay out like so:
Tennessee's athletic Web site lists 17 individuals who work at or with the Thornton Center -- not including tutors -- all dedicated to the academic advancement of Big Orange athletes. There are five academic counselors devoted to individual sports -- including one whose sole focus is the Volunteers football team.
I suppose it's reasonable to be angry at the NCAA for forcing Tennessee to care about the education of its athletes and thus undoubtedly accelerating the impending Apocalypse, but unless that's your plan of attack you'd probably be better off not attempting to portray tutors as a bad thing. Louisiana-Monroe can't afford them? Well, then ULM has two reasonable options:
- Don't recruit people who need tutors.
- Drop their ridiculous football program.
Elsewise: The AP now has a selection of podcasts for your perusal, including one about the weekly basketball poll. No doubt they fear the mighty BlogPoll.
...but seriously, folks, if you have any feedback I can pass it along to the nice man who pointed out the podcast's existence. They're just getting started and would like to hear what works and what doesn't.
Deadspin had a chat with Will Blythe, the author of the outstandingly-named "To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever," that briefly discusses how unfulfilling most professional sportswriting is. Succinct and less rambling than my occasional manifestos.
Sorry that this is late, but Blogger was weird all day yesterday, and I have one to three colds running through my system. If only I had ChickenSoupPal set up...
(BTW: The Reader Interaction Day stuff has been delayed to Monday.)
If the defensive ends formed a post-punk band with an ironically retro name they'd be called Woodley and The Question Marks.
Woodley, obviously, is the frontman and was described as such:
Metaphorical band frontman Lamarr Woodley should be on the verge of a monstrous season. He flipped from defensive end to outside linebacker for last year's switch to the 3-4 defense and was a terror against the run--16 TFLs last year and a series of huge plays that had mgoblog constructing a Jobu-like shrine to Woodley in secret--but strangely disappointing rushing the passer. Woodley had only four sacks, a number that I double check every week or so just to make sure that it isn't wrong. Maligned DT Pat Massey somehow exceeded his total.
... The practice buzz on Woodley coming into this year is unprecedented for a Michigan defensive lineman. If allowed to put his hand down and tear into the backfield at will, Woodley has serious All-American potential.
Well, not quite. Despite racking up seven sacks in about three quarters of a season, Woodley's pass rush was somewhat disappointing. He ended up an intermittent terror instead of a constant one. He was one of the consistent bright spots on the run defense and rumors of an early entry into the NFL draft made me go blind for five minutes earlier this year. Woodley was very good, but not great.
I threw two names out for the spot opposite Woodley, Jeremy Van Alstyne and Tim Jamison. Both struggled through injuries, opening the door for Rondell Biggs until he got injured. Alan Branch was eventually forced to move outside, where he performed admirably.
Jamison's continued absence is a mystery to me, since during my pantingly obsessive game reviews it seemed like more often than not when he was in the game he was teleporting past (or through in a couple of impressive cases) confused linemen and laying waste to the well-laid plans of opposing offenses. His production was not limited to pass rush, either: I distinctly remember instances where Jamison disrupted running plays against Iowa and Michigan State. He's not a beefy strongside end who will hold the corner against lumbering tackles, but he makes the proverbial things proverbially happen. Jamison is the official Ron English canary in a coalmine: if he starts over steady, lumbering Biggs and Van Alstyne, the defense is shedding the bellbottoms and buying itself an iPod.
The defensive tackles, projected to be "deep and talented," were among the biggest disappointments on the team. Gabe Watson was accurately projected, if somewhat overrated:
The headliner is senior Gabe Watson, a mountain range in a helmet who demands a double team on every play. Watson isn't much of a pass rusher but he was the key component of Michigan's fabulous interior run defense. Even when he takes plays off he holds his ground against a blocker or two. ... However, Watson does have intensity issues. He's not a motor-running wildman and he has an easygoing personality that Neanderthal-type fans find uncomfortable. It's probably true that a motivated, fiery Watson would be the nation's most dominant defensive tackle by a country mile, but that's not going to happen this year: Watson will probably underachieve relative to his talent. He'll still be one of the best DTs in the country.
Yes, I went with the old spelling of "Neandertal"--sue me. Watson was indeed one of the best DTs in the country... for about 20% of each game. Stunningly, Watson ate bench for awhile at the beginning of the year as Carr attempted to turn him into something other than a giant, talented nice guy. Still, Watson's probably going to be a first rounder in the NFL draft and made his share of plays during the year. It's just that he's top 30 instead of top 5.
Unfortunately, my defensive tackle accuracy stops there. Pat Massey was not labeled "vastly out of position":
Massey has been unfairly maligned by Michigan fans largely because he let Texas quarterback Vince Young escape from what looked to be a sure sack in the Rose Bowl. Young popped out of Massey's grasp and turned what would have been a fourth down field goal attempt into yet another frustrating touchdown run. Had he brought Young to the ground, Michigan probably wins the Rose Bowl, he finishes with six sacks from what's essentially an interior line position (DE in the 3-4), and he becomes something of a folk hero. He did not. Despite that, he does not deserve the dogging many Michigan fans have given him. Massey isn't a superhero but he was and is a useful player alongside Watson, honorable mention All-Big Ten a year ago.
Turns out that the dogging was totally justified and then some. Moving from defensive end in the 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive tackle was a disaster for Massey, who may as well have been named "Crumpled" by the end of the year. We should have seen it coming--when was the last time you saw a 6'8", 285-pound defensive tackle? When is the next time? I'm guessing "never" and "never again." Massey was a total nonfactor. He had one sack that came off of pursuit after Lamarr Woodley blew through two and a half blockers against Michigan State, but no other TFLs. I can't recall even one play where Massey forced his man into the backfield. He was a liability.
Not a liability: Alan Branch. Branch, plugged considerably...
The most likely [new face] to achieve stardom is sophomore Alan Branch. Branch saw meaningful time as a true freshman last year and showed great power and athleticism. He's extraordinarily agile for his 330 pounds and registered two sacks in his limited time, as many a Watson had all year. He will probably see almost as many snaps as the two starters.
... in the preview, went from promising to critical in about four games. Despite bouncing from tackle to end when Van Alstyne and Biggs went down, he was effective every game. He was excellent against the run, though many of the plays he strung out beautifully went for major gains when linebackers and defensive backs arrived late or not at all. He finished second on the team with five sacks. He was a true sophomore. Cue Mr. Burns' steepled fingers and diabolical "exxxxcelent."
What we learned: Pat Massey should have played OT. Gabe Watson is going to piss off whoever drafts him. Woodley and Branch are OMG freak studs. Whoever was determining the playing time alottments on the defensive line either was or should be stoned.
Next year? Michigan starts with two excellent players and and a bunch of potential. Lamarr Woodley teetered on the edge of stardom despite missing about a quarter of 2005 (Indiana, Iowa, and large swathes of the OSU game). If he had been healthy he would likely have been Michigan's first double-digit sacker since ... David Bowens? He's very good... but Alan Branch was named the team's best defensive lineman at the football bust, and he deserved it.
Past the two locks, you have Jamison, Biggs, and Van Alstyne competing at DE. My position was made clear above: it's Jamison time. The two backup defensive tackles from a year ago, Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson, will split time and rotate with Branch extensively. A three-man rotation is fine, but past that there's not much--unheralded, transfer-berumored rising junior Marques Walton, may-not-qualify freshman Marques Slocum, and then guys who are not likely to be ready. Michigan will be vulnerable to injury on the interior.
I said: This unit featured three new starters, only one of whom had seen appreciable action. Thus this section was buckets of hand-waving. I tagged them a 2, which turned out to be about right. David Harris showed himself to be a player, but the run defense's disintegration had much to do with the chronic inability of Chris Graham and Prescott Burgess to prevent running backs from breaking containment.
Graham was regarded warily:
Sophomore WLB Chris Graham has been generating hype since he stepped onto a Michigan practice field. It's always dangerous to buy into such hype, as about half the time the player in question fizzles away into nothing,
All right! Perspicacity at last! Comma? What is this comma you talk about?
but mgoblog is buying this particular variety.
Dammit. The hype was unwarranted. After a strong start during the panic-inducing Northern Illinois game, Graham became a ghost. He couldn't shed or avoid blocks and never found himself in position to make a tackle that wasn't of the damage-control variety. When redshirt freshman Johnny Thompson came off the bench during the second half of the Iowa game the run defense improved noticeably (why Thompson returned to the bench for the rest of the year remains a mystery). The stats are fairly damning: Graham was out-tackled by four members of the secondary. Harris and Burgess each broke 80; Graham had 42. At least I said this:
As a first year starter with wild speed, though, he is probably going to overpursue on a regular basis. Misdirection and play action, have long befuddled Michigan linebackers and there's no reason to think that Graham won't fall prey to the same disease. His first year starting will be a mix of good and bad.
Ding ding ding, save for the "good" bit. It was more "unnoticed and bad."
Burgess was the focus of whatever hope I held out for this unit:
Burgess is a superior athlete and is the best hope for a breakout star on the defense (discounting Woodley, who is already well known). If he can maintain his level of play from the Rose Bowl this unit immediately looks much more solid.
He remains an object of hope only. He alternated plays that demonstrated said superior athleticism with boneheadery reminiscent of Ernest Shazor. We'll go into next year saying the same things we said this year--"if Burgess can only put it together"--and hope that some NFL team doesn't say the same thing around this time next year.
The good bit: David Harris was a revelation at middle linebacker. He was one of the few players to receive less credit than he deserved:
Harris pushing him [McClintock] to the bench means that the coaching staff is willing to give a player who has little experience the nod over a senior who would normally have an unholy death grip on the position, which is not a vote of confidence in McClintock. The fact that neither player has asserted himself has to be a concern, especially since Harris is dinged up again. Average production from this spot would be great.
The instant Harris shook off that minor injury, he stapled McClintock to the bench and started thumping people far and wide. Though he faded somewhat late, Harris was a solid tackler who had surprising range for such a big dude. He was consistent and intelligent. He made plays in zone coverage. He was the best player on the defense not named "Branch" or "Woodley." Not bad for an in-state sleeper recruit.
What we learned: Linebackers aren't built in a day unless you're David Harris. Jim Herrmann is too smart for his own good; he confuses the hell out of his position group. And me. John Thompson is going to press for time sooner rather than later.
Next year? Everyone's back. Is that good or bad? The card says "nominally good." Harris will be on my preseason All Big Ten team. Burgess... well... if he can put it together. Graham should improve. They should be better, especially with Thompson and four true freshmen pressing them for time. The wildcard will be new linebackers coach Steve Szabo, who brings a wealth of experience. For the first time since Herrmann became defensive coordinators this position group has someone focused exclusively on their behavior.
I said they weren't going to be very good.
Michigan has one proven quantity in the secondary, junior Leon Hall.
I rated them a two after the Shazor/"Yards After" Mundy debacle in 2004, fretted openly about the second corner...
Michigan's problem is that Hall may end up irrelevant as teams pepper the other side of the field, going after the other starter or the nickelback, whoever they might be.
...and read fear into the tea-leaves of Brandon Harrison's position switch...
True freshman Brandon Harrison was moved from cornerback after a few fall practices, which is been regarded ominously in this space. Harrison is small (5'9") but a good hitter and frickin' fast. Moving him away from cornerback, an area of obvious need, in favor of safety implies that the coaching staff has some severe reservations about the quality of the players at the position.
... I expected something just short of a disaster. That did not come to pass, though it seemed like the reason it didn't was that the coaches were just as petrified as I was and responded by unveiling the revolutionary "eleven deep zone."
If anyone got a picture of a presnap alignment with any member of the secondary within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, slap it on one of those "I WANT TO BELIEVE" posters and open up an e-store--you'll hit high double digits by the end of the year.
Michigan went with all soft zone a year ago, which seemed to work well enough if you just look at the stats but undoubtedly had something to do with their near perfect record of late-game collapses. When the going got tough and Michigan was facing a cornered, desperate opponent, they folded every time. In a way, it was much like the offense's problems down the stretch: opponent's figured out Michigan's one trick, and after they had adapted to it they had nothing else to try.
Anyway, player-by-player. Leon Hall was nailed:
Hall, a lock to be Michigan's number one corner, is following Michigan's designated path to stardom at the position: emerge from nowhere as a freshman and act as a nickleback, wrest the starting job away from its holder as a sophomore, get everyone's hopes up, gather major media attention, and then mildly disappoint. Hall's not going to be an All-American but should press for All Big Ten Honors--he's probably on a level with Jeremy LeSeuer's senior year.
Essentially accurate. Hall was by no means a lockdown corner--and it's difficult to tell how well someone is playing in a zone--but he was above average. He turned in big plays on occasion--an interception that should have sealed the Penn State game, a pass breakup in overtime against Michigan State--didn't get burned, and tackled well enough when he found himself in position. That he did not find himself in said position often was more on the shoulders of the men who kept him at bay all year, not Hall.
Opposite Hall we were left with a big "who knows." I threw out some names and left it at that. I pegged Charles Stewart as the up-and-comer instead of Morgan Trent; I did not express major concerns about Grant Mason and the concept of tackling.
I obliterated Ryan Mundy in the safety preview:
Junior Ryan Mundy looked like a future star in his first couple games at free safety but as the year wore on it became clear that his angles and tackling were terrible. Many of the yards Michigan
State racked up in the first half of the first, ominous defensive debacle last year were "yards after Mundy"--a term coined by an inventive Rivals poster and a stat mgoblog will be tracking this year.
That turned out to be beside the point, as Mundy's year (and possibly his career) were cut short by a shoulder injury, but not before he managed to rack up 76 YAM on one carry against Northern Illinois. I'm just sayin'.
I feel fairly good about the other safeties, described as such:
Sophomores Brandent Engelmon and Jamar Adams are battling to replace Shazor. Adams is a physically imposing safety who looks like he hits like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, last year he was just a little off and whiffed like a ton of bricks. Sleeper Engelmon was snatched from Kentucky at the last minute two years ago and appears to have the inside track on the job. Small but smart is Englemon, and the Michigan coaches have seen out of position. They don't like out of position.
Adams remained an imposing physical presence that just didn't seem to click for whatever reason--personally I'd like to see him try WLB in Graham's stead--while Englemon won the hearts and minds of Michigan fans everywhere just by not screwing up.
What we learned: Almost nothing except how to pick apart a soft zone.
Next year? Only Mason is gone, but that leaves Michigan shorthanded at corner. As Charles Stewart saw no time a year ago when Michigan featured three corners, one of whom was wide receiver mere months before, I personally doubt he ever contributes. That leaves Hall and Trent backed up by the two undercover brothers from California, Johnny Sears and Chris Richards. Then there's... um. Zilch. Michigan is counting one of those two coming through, preferably both.
There is a sudden profusion of safeties. Willis Barringer, Brandent Englemon, Brandon Harrison, and Jamar Adams all started at various points last year; all return. Worry is low here, though the generally solid performance from a year ago could be a mirage based on passive play. We'll see.
Should actually be a net strength, a gasp-worthy assertion given the disasters of 2003.
And it was. Michigan averaged 11.8 yards a punt return; their opponents averaged 5. Michigan returned over 50% of their opponents punts; their opponents only returned 30%. Steve Breaston had a kickoff return touchdown and a series of long punt returns.
Garrett Rivas, who "[established] himself as a reliable kicker with slightly less than desirable range" as a sophomore, was a bit less reliable in his junior year... but not much. Yes, he missed critical attempts against Minnesota and Michigan State that were not particularly difficult. But the final line reads 19 for 26, which is north of 75%. You people remember Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley, don't you? Don't you?
Punter Ross Ryan was the very definition of quietly effective, meriting only passing mention in the preview. He won the job from Romanian superhero Zoltan "The Inconceivable" Mesko and proceeded to launch a series of ugly, short punts that had the important side benefit of being totally unreturnable. He also used some sort of Jedi mind trick to make Ted Ginn forget how to field said punts, which was extremely helpful for a time during the Ohio State game. Ryan also sent most of his kickoffs well into the endzone. As a result, Michigan's gross punting average declined but its net increased, opposing returners were neutralized wholesale, and that ulcerous feeling you got whenever the punt team staggered on to the field disappeared (and a good thing, too, because it got heavy use what with the offensive implosion).
A salute to you, Ross Ryan! Steady, unimpressive, and boring but reassuring nonetheless, you are Lloyd Carr incarnated as a punter.
What we learned: Short punts are okay; Garrett Rivas will never win the hearts and minds of the faithful; Breaston is oooookay; GUNNERS SHOULD BE BLOCKED. BLOCKED, I SAY.
Next year? MOTS, most likely, and that's a good thing. Everyone relevant returns. Hopefully our punt return strategy will prioritize something other than preventing fakes that never come.
Mike Leach would call it the AP-HYYYYAAAAARRRRRR, but to us non-pirates it's just the APR and--much like a class taught by Jim Harrick--everyone passes, at least for now. EDSBS pointed out a MiamiHawkTalk thread that spawned a HawkTalk article slamming the NCAA for "chickening out" by not dropping the hammer on the 53 I-A and I-AA programs that failed to make the 925 Mendoza line. The somewhat esoteric reason for sparing the rod is the "Squad Size Adjustment"--essentially the NCAA is claiming not enough data so not make big. Clearly this is more of an issue for basketball teams than 85-scholarship football teams. Thus the stink:
Moreover, this selective use of data allows the NCAA to dumb down its own standards, paper over its problems, and present a rosy picture to the press, even though without the "adjustments," over 40% of Division I-A and I-AA football programs would have flunked.
I think that goes a little far. The above backgrounder on the SSA indicates that teams should look upon this edition of the APR as a serious matter should they fail to clear the bar and that once they have a full four-year set of data--next year--the hammer will drop.
Is this an excercise for the press only, a paper tiger? Deduction says no.
As someone who wanders over to places where "scUM" is considered clever by the natives to scope recruiting information, I think that NCAA schools are taking the APR seriously enough. Witness the case of towering Ohio wide receiver Josh Chichester, who was committed to Ohio State until just before signing day. The Buckeyes cut him free, citing academics. Chichester ended up signing with Louisville; Ohio State ended up short a wide receiver they wanted. Why?
OSU wasn't concerned about Chichester not qualifying--the Big Ten does allow oversigning and the Buckeyes have taken advantage of that in the past. They didn't make up the academic issues as a cover for preferring another player--OSU ended up signing zero wideouts in the '05 class*. The answer can be found here (PDF):
Football (235) 925 40th-50th
925 is the drop-dead APR cutoff; OSU teeters on the edge of sanctions. Their sudden reluctance to take chances on the Josh Chichesters of the world is a direct reaction to the situation. OSU was reportedly slow to offer Florida WR Greg Mathews and Ohio LB Thaddeus Gibson due to academic concerns. The Buckeyes ended up offering both, but lost Mathews to Michigan and almost had the same happen with Gibson. Clearly OSU is taking 925 seriously.
Why can Michigan take these chances? Well, you can find Michigan's scores here--they're uniformly excellent. They can take some academic risks the Buckeyes can't because they've built a buffer between themselves and APR doom. (Cue be-tinfoiled Irish fans muttering about kinesiology and failure to graduate black players... now.)
While it's disappointing from a fan's standpoint not to see Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota's academic riskapaloozas take a lead pipe to the back of the head, this is the way the NCAA planned it from the start. If Michigan State can get their 907 up in two years, then more power to them (and good luck with that all 5'3"-Asian secondary). I suggest you reserve judgement.
(*Unless you consider 5'10" Ray Small a WR like Rivals does, but I think he's a cornerback to most. And Small was widely considered a Buckeye lock from birth, so there was no sudden swing in his attitude that made Chichester expendable.)
Update 3/3: Linked to UV on AZ OL Kris O'Dowd. In sum: his brother says OSU leads and that he didn't click with Michigan. The fact that "BigBroO'Dowd" hasn't ever posted before is a red flag, but he's made six coherent posts and I find it difficult to believe someone's spoofing the Buckeyes about an Arizona lineman. Call it UV3; I buy it.
Added MI QBs Justin Siller and Stephen Threet; linked to free Mike Paulus article; added VA DB Davon Morgan, a teammate of Brandon Minor last year. He's been offered. Also added NJ DE Justin Trattou, CA CB Michael Williams, and OH CB Marcus English, though this Scout article on English where he lists Louisville, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pitt implies that he's probably a plan B type.
Editorial Opinion: So we're not getting this random OL from Arizona if this poster is to be believed. Um... yeah. Nothing earth-shattering in this one.
It's been found. For your listening edification: "Measly Penny." (mp3 link) I haven't listened to it, as it seems unwise to do so when my headphones are at home drinking my beer, eating my nachos, and watching the US-Poland game I forgot to tape, but the blogospheric reaction is nonplussed. Deadspin is bored; Mr. Irrelevant is offering mic-handling pointers; Dan's Take says the gangsta-meter is reading zero.
All you really need to know, via Deadspin:
The song also is tame, lyric-wise; no "multiply the bitch up then you get my dick size" here.
Our Fulmer Cup dream: denied.
Damn, it's good to be... er? So The Jerome Jackson Walkon Rap Explosion failed in its attempt to be gangsta. Never fear, for another Michigan athlete has rode to the gangsta-rescue... Graham Brown?
Seriously? Seriously. The guy voted "Most Likely to Own Pat Boone's Greatest Hits" at last year's basketball bust has also been voted the guy most likely to bust your head open in a Sports Illustrated survey of Big Ten basketball players. The Detroit News reprinted said survey for free; Big Ten Wonk located it; I quote it:
Dirtiest player: Graham Brown , Michigan, 27 percent. "He throws his elbows all over the place, and it's not funny."
I'm totally fine with this, since most of Graham Brown's dirty plays consist of cleanly screening people into early graves--most notably when his immovable object met the barely-noticeable force (video link) of Wisconsin's Guy Who Looks Like Chris Rock Guy. Also of note is Brent Petway's runaway victory in the "Best Dunker" category:
Scariest dunker: Brent Petway , Michigan, 73 percent: "It's pretty much all he does. His warm-ups are like a dunkfest."... "He's a human highlight film. I've never seen anyone like him."
I would be remiss if I didn't point out the following:
Biggest crybaby: Paul Davis , Michigan State, 27 percent. "You see that sour face when he doesn't get a call or something doesn't go the way he wants it to."... "Even when he scores, he whines."
Most overrated player : Paul Davis , Michigan State, 36 percent: "He's supposedly been heading to the NBA draft since he was a freshman (he's now a senior), but he hasn't shown me that much."
I didn't say nothin'.
Michigan Internets report! It's getting to the point where there's an entire Michigan sports blogosphere; a year ago I was all by my lonesome. Yow. There's a NKOTB: Michigan Sports Center.
Also, Yost Built follows up his "panic" post with a harsh analysis of the opportunities Michigan's blown down the stretch this year. Please, no children, pregnant women, or people with heart disease. The M-Zone touches on one of my internet pet peeves: impossible juggliness in signature pictures (ironically, this post is NSFW). Any time you let me dig out an old bitchin' post, you get a link. As I said in the long long ago:
Ever open a fifteen-post thread at work and get two different 800x600 pictures of impossibly fake boobs alternating for pages and pages? And then have your boss walk up behind you? Thanks, internet hero, for turning my idle surfing of a sports site into a firing offense! No one needs to see the same set of fake gazongas eighty times accompanied by your three words of deep insight into the team of your choice.
(Gazongas: a hilarious word. Say it to yourself. Now give the Z some extra zzzzing. Now say it in outrageous French accent. I rest my case.) I offer this piece of advice to the world as my legacy: you can turn these off in your Rivals profile. Click your user name at the tippy-top of the page; click "Message Board Options"; click the check box that says "hide all signatures." Viola.
Maize 'n' Brew rose to the bait Drew Sharp threw out yesterday. It's okay, Chicago... we all have to get it out of our system. Finally, Johnny takes on the Vince Young wonderlic thing. Irrelevant, but good.
Long dreaded by me but much anticipated by the occasional gadfly who wanders by, here it is: the Michigan preview review. Warning: if you harbor some sort of respect for my opinions about things, I urge you to stop reading now. It'll be better for everyone.
The best thing I can say? Well, hell, no one else saw that coming. And I did offer a disclaimer at the beginning:
Right. The wonderful thing about this whole blogging phenomenon is that bloggers are not beholden to the neutral strictures imposed by journalism. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
So. I am a Michigan fan from birth. I have two degrees from the school. In 1997 I wandered around the field after the OSU game, dumbstruck, childlike. If anyone I know gets married during the fall I will not only avoid the wedding, I will deliberately sabotage the marriage by any means necessary. Take what follows for what it's worth. Feel free to look upon this preview with a jaundiced eye. I have this pattern: "This is the year, man, 2003! AAAAARGH THE PAIN THE PAIN AAAAARGH. Ok. This is the year, man, 2004! It's the year! AAAAAAAARGH MY EYES ARE BLEEDING. This. Is. The Year. 2005."
But... this could be the year.)
...I had to be so very right about the bleeding eyes, didn't I?
First: the raw material.
I said... May as well get the wrongest of the wrongy wrongness out of the way quick, eh? I rated this a 5 of 5, not entirely ridiculous when you consider Henne's unprecedented success as a true freshman. This, um, well...
The common refrain amongst people feebly attempting to justify why Michigan won't be particularly good this year always contains the following sentence or something like it:
Henne won't be very good without Edwards, all he did last year was throw it up to him and then he went and got it. This year we will see what a looser [sic] he is.
This is what I am here to say: poppycock. Piffle. Trash. Garbage.
Er... ridiculous, though to be fair Henne's deep ball was very good all year. It's just that there was no one to catch said deep balls--Avant was indeed a possession type guy and Breaston just couldn't catch them. While Manningham came on and showed he could be the guy to replace Braylon in the offense at some point in the future, he was a true freshman still attempting to learn the offense--not Braylon Edwards. Combine that with the injury ravaged offensive line, especially the turnstile interior, and the deep ball was largely excised from the playbook.
That gone, Michigan was forced to rely on Henne's accuracy on outs, crosses, slants, and the like, which turned out to be lacking. Many were the times when a flagrantly open Jason Avant watched a ball sail yards wide of him. Breaston's grab and go game never developed in large part because Henne couldn't be relied upon to place the ball where Breaston could catch it without breaking stride. He wasn't good.
What we learned: Henne still has a long way to go. Inaccuracy and poor reads doomed the offense from the get-go. Despite a bevy of wide receiver screens, Henne still ended up completing only 58% of his passes. This isn't the 70s. That's not good enough.
Next year? Unless you want an unheralded freshman taking over for Henne, we're going to sink or swim with him. Clearly he has a boatload of talent--one does not stroll in from a Pennsylvania high school and start at Michigan without one--but he was mediocre a year ago. Michigan's season again hinges on whether or not Henne can live up to the hype.
The much-ballyhooed troika of doom in the backfield never materialized. Max Martin?
Martin is reported to be the best combination of size and speed in a Michigan uniform since Tyrone Wheatley and may get some Reggie Bush treatment this year, lining up in the backfield and then motioning out to pick up mismatches against linebackers. We'll see how much Martin's practice ability translates to the field. He has ball security issues, a major no no for any running back, and has heavy competition from the Lilliputians around him.
Well, that tendency to gently nestle the ball into the arms of opposing defenders and a major attitude problem submarined his career. At the end of the year he transferred to Alabama. The extent of the Reggie Bushificiation of Martin consisted of one wheel route that was almost completed against Wisconsin. The rest? Bupkis. Kevin Grady?
...230 pounds of leg-driving, pounding power back. His low center of gravity and all around strength will make him one of the nation's toughest backs to stop in short yardage situations. Legend has it that in his first practice (Grady joined the team shortly before the Rose Bowl) he crushed all 11 defenders and went 140 yards carrying a half-dozen balls for the ever-rare sextuple-touchdown.
Grady did not live up to his press clippings out of high school, too often making the wrong cut and featuring some fumble problems of his own. And Mike Hart... oh, Mike Hart...
mgoblog is prepared to argue that Mike Hart is the best running back in the country. I'm content to lose that argument to Oklahoma and Minnesota fans and possibly draw it with a few others, but arguments will be had before yielding. Hart is an inexplicable combination of Barry Sanders and Jerome Bettis, a 5'8" marvel who can leave you grasping at air and then drive your teammate five yards from the point of contact before he is finally tackled (disclaimer: not a direct value comparison between two hall of famers and Hart, just a style thing).
The sight of adorable little Mikey on the sideline trying to fire up his flaccid teammates broke this (mentally) crotchety old man's heart every time the television cameras decided now would be a good time to stab various Michigan fans in the eye with the harsh truth of injury. The only pleasant surprise was Jerome Jackson--totally unmentioned in the preview--who got off the bench and scored the winning touchdown in the Iowa game... then authored a supposedly offensive rap opus with two walkons.
So, yeah, about that.
Though the predictions of usefulness from the backups were off (credit for skepticism about Martin, please), I don't think I was wrong about Hart. When he was healthy, he was great. He had the most memorable eight yard run you've ever seen against Penn State (video courtesy IBFC) and torched Michigan State despite having almost nothing in the way of run blocking. This year conclusively proved that Hart does not have the breakaway speed to match a Laurence Maroney or Adrian Peterson, but he does have everything else. I plead "incomplete."
What we learned: Max Martin's arms secrete olive oil. Jerome Jackson's music career is not a good idea. Kevin Grady's ceiling probably isn't that high--I don't think running backs can develop vision. Mike Hart should never be injured again.
Next year? Well, Martin's gone and Jackson's going to have to play very nice to see the field as a senior. That leaves Hart, Grady, and three freshmen: Mister Simpson (redshirt), Carlos Brown, and Brandon Minor. Simpson's been the subject of never-gonna-play-gonna-transfer rumors and both the incoming freshmen come in with more hoopla than him; personally I'd be surprised if he doesn't get passed over. Minor's a thumper who many projected at fullback; Brown is a speed merchant who, like Antonio Bass, played quarterback in high school because not pu
tting the ball in his hands on offense would be dumb.
a black hole of a wide receiver. ... Avant's hands are amazing, as any Spartan or Wildcat fan could tell you. He doesn't have the goodbye-foolish-mortal burst that Breaston does, but he's stronger than any cornerback he'll face this year and can dictate what routes he'll run. Avant will act as the possession alternative to Breaston and excel at his job. Period. There's no flash and dash with Avant, just relentless work, tough over-the-middle route running and those inconceivable hands. He is good.
I still think this. Avant ended up first team All Big Ten and that was with the aforementioned Henne "radio balls" (HT: electronic Kirk Herbstreit). If he wasn't consistently missed when wide open against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, he would probably have been a national name. He'll get drafted in the second round--not bad for a player without a top-level ceiling. Still... certain incidents linger in the mind. A dropped third down conversion against Wisconsin. A fumble against Nebraska. We had come to expect Avant to be perfectly reliable, something that turned out to be optimistic when he was pressed into the go-to role. The end result was mild disappointment, but he's still Jason Avant, and the next guy wearing number eight will be hard-pressed to make that his number.
I'll still battle to the death for Avant, but Breaston's assessment... eh... not so good:
You can call him a poor man's Ted Ginn if you want, but only because Ginn's probably been introduced to Mr. Such and Such.
Not that Ginn did anything in excess of Breaston's performance last year, but both were kicked around those mid- and end-of- season "biggest disappointment lists"--little to crow about there. To my credit, I did sound an alarm that was sadly relevant:
The catch with Breaston is health. .... Breaston is as vafer-theen as a chocolate mint and relies on his explosive cuts more than most wideouts--his health is both extremely precarious and vital for his effectiveness. The bottom line: if he's healthy he's going to blow up.
He wasn't really all that healthy for much of the year, missing the Michigan State game and seemingly absent his old magic for much of the time. But he was healthy enough to get yards open deep early in the year. Henne found him when he did; Breaston let sure touchdowns squeeze through his cradled elbows. Thus teams learned they need not respect the deep routes, closed down on his crosses, and severely reduced his effectiveness. Breaston did make some major contributions--the punt return that set up Mario Manningham's game winner against Penn State, a kickoff return touchdown against Minnesota, a slip-screen touchdown against Iowa--but he remained a complementary player. He did not blow up.
The rest of the preview touched briefly on the tight ends ("I personally don't think Massaquoi is the best tight end in the league (give me Minnesota's Matt Spaeth)") and the wide receiver depth ("Manningham, in particular, has built tremendous buzz following a pair of spectacular displays in Ohio All Star games over the summer."). Nothing was particularly wrong or right.
So what was off? The Breaston assessment, to be sure, but really the issue was that the throws that made Braylon so dangerous (bombs, mostly) were not nearly as effective with Breaston or Avant on the receiving end and Henne's accuracy on other routes was wanting at best. With a better quarterback more suited to short, accurate throws, the Michigan wide receiver corps would have merited the 5 I gave it, but my preview (and previews everywhere) failed to take into account the interaction between the strengths of the wideouts and the limitations of the quarterback and offensive line. Not that I fully understood what was going to happen with Henne anyway--but that's not the point. The point was that I never even considered it.
What we learned: That Steve Breaston kid can really return kicks; you do not replace Braylon Edwards; Jason Avant's hands are mortal--good, but mortal. Manningham and Bass are mmmm tasty.
Next year? It's Breaston, redshirt freshman Laterryal Savoy, and a cavalcade of sophomores: Mario Manningham, Antonio Bass, Doug Dutch, and Adrian Arrington. Manningham will probably go into the spring the presumptive number one; after him it's anyone's guess. Bass and Breaston will obviously see healthy amounts of time. Arrington and Savoy will compete to fill the possession receiver/designated fade guy role vacated by Avant. Dutch may end up the odd man out.
Yeesh. At least I acknowledged that Henne needed to improve. This has no redeeming qualities:
the Michigan line [even sans Long] still appears to be neck and neck with Minnesota's and Michigan State's at the top of the conference.
Having never attempted to analyze an offensive line's performance before, the preview continues on with vague, largely incorrect assessments of the linemen. I did accurately peg Adam Stenavich a "second-team All-Conference type" (he was indeed voted to the second team by the coaches--first by the media, but who counts? Yes. The coaches). I did not declare Matt Lentz and Leo Henige to be berry, berry bad.
This was the root of all evil for the Michigan offense, though it's not all on the players and coaches. Michigan operated with guard Rueben Riley gamely attempting to play right tackle once Jake Long and Mike Kolodziej went out with injuries. Calling testicle-kneed Leo Henige "healthy" should probably never be done even when his limp is looking relatively lively. Adam Kraus missed about a third of the season. Given all that, the line's performance or lack thereof can be explained... somewhat. Not entirely.
I'm confused by the apparent disconnect between my perceptions of Matt Lentz and the world's. After reviewing all of Michigan's games this year, I thought he was a major liability and a key reason Michigan could not put together anything resembling an efficient offense. The coaches then went and named him second-team All Big Ten. The media put him on the first team. Current draft evaluations say stuff that's not entirely uncomplimentary($):
At the very least, though, Lentz should develop into a good backup at both OG positions in the NFL and he's the type of high-character, hard-working reserve that NFL teams should want on the bottom half of their roster. As such, Lentz is worth selecting as early as the fourth round in 2006.
Fourth round? In the NFL--not CFL--draft? Great galloping goulash! The chances that both Big Ten coaches and NFL scouts are totally wrong about Lentz are small (the media is another matter). He couldn't have been that bad, I suppose. The finger thus swings to Leo Henige, the Kraus/Bihl combination, and whoever happened to be playing right tackle.
Whatever the reasons--and the answer was probably a little something from each position, depending on the game--, Michigan's offensive line was bad. Henne got a case of the yips when blitzers were not picked up time and again against ND. A comic inability to get Lentz to pull anywhere without falling on his ass cost Michigan a touchdown and possibly a win against Wisconsin (in fairness to Lentz, that particular incident was caused by a backwards step by Kraus that ended up tripping him). Rueben Riley was obliterated by a freshman defensive end in the loss to Minnesota. Michigan blocked no one against Ohio State. All told, the line was a major disappointment.
What we learned: Yes, David Baas was that important.
Next year? The line looks like it could be pre
tty good. Left to right, it's Mike Kolodziej-Alex Mitchell-Adam Kraus-Rueben Riley-Jake Long. Only Mitchell is totally green. Kraus has started nine games; everyone else has more than a year's worth of games under their belt. Still, if Lentz was not actually the liability he appeared to be, we may need more than just out-with-the-old to see significant improvement. Depth is an issue, with no experience at all behind the starting five and the rising redshirt sophomore class appearing to be teetering on the edge of bust, Mitchell excepted.
Coming tomorrow... er... Thursday: the defense. Either Friday or sometime next week, special teams and a more general overview of the less position-specific aspects of the preview.