good luck with that
Kyle, a lot’s been made about your maturity and now you’re in your third year here. Just talk about how you’ve grown and how you’re ready for this role as a leader.
Kyle Kalis: “I think a lot of it was the offseason condition. You know, we grew a lot as a team through coach Tolbert’s workouts and stuff, and a big thing not only personally but as an O-lineman and concerning my unit is coach Drev’s ability to coach us.
“He’s taught us stuff that we had no idea was even out there, and his experience, his vast knowledge of O-line play and the way you have to do it, the way you have to take that mentality every day has been huge for us. So that’s probably the biggest thing is coach Drev.”
I know that you guys are probably tired of the offensive line improvement talk, but last year it was said that the offensive line had improved. Do you feel that this season there is real, tangible improvement? Is this finally the year that the offensive line will come together?
KK: “Yeah. I mean, the past couple years we’ve been good. It’s just hard- it was hard to find…to look through the cracks and see us doing well. But this year I think as a team us being able to come together [and] have all the parts working together as a cohesive unit is going to be huge to not only be successful as a team, but also, you know, get the big guys some love. That’s the thing [is] you have to be successful as a team to let everybody have the spotlight.”
You mentioned the spotlight. Are there any guys out there that have impressed you? A lot has been said about Mason Cole. Talk about some of the guys who you’ve seen a lot of improvement from.
KK: “Yeah, Mason’s definitely…Mason’s Mason. He started all last year as a freshman. That’s huge. I mean, no one does that really anywhere, and so that’s huge for him. He’s improved a lot. Again, with coach Drev he’s been able to make some strides. Dave Dawson did really good. Tulley- Logan’s been doing really good. Blake’s [Bars] had a really good camp. A lot of guys have been really coming along and it’s been good.”
[After THE JUMP: More Kalis and Houma, plus Desmond Morgan and Chris Wormley]
[Photo: Press of Atlantic City]
Egg Harbor City (NJ) Cedar Creek WR Ahmir Mitchell chose Michigan over fellow finalist Ohio State
in a press conference this evening by having a dang plane fly over his hometown with a "GO BLUE" sign trailing off the back. While the Buckeyes reportedly didn't push hard for a commitment—they've got a numbers crunch of their own and several top-flight WRs interested in the 2016 and 2017 classes—Mitchell is far from a consolation prize; he's a strong four-star with the capability to contribute in all three phases of the game.
Mitchell is the 23rd commit in the 2016 class, the third from New Jersey (Brad Hawkins, Ron Johnson), and the second at wide receiver (Hawkins).
4*, #24 WR,
4*, #19 WR,
4*, 82, #31 WR,
4*, 94, #8 ATH,
4*, #7 ATH,
Mitchell's rankings on both Scout and Rivals fell recenty from ~50 overall and I don't think the 247 Composite has entirely caught up yet; he's still regarded as a very good prospect. He's the type of athlete who could easily shoot back into the top-100 range with a strong showing his senior season.
All four sites are in relative agreement on his size; they all list him at 6'3" and 195-206 pounds. He's got a Junior Hemingway type frame and he's a couple inches taller than Hemingway.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and more.]
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This preview, two years ago
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
-This preview, last year
IT PUTS THE FOOTBALL IN THE GAP OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||Jr.||De'Veon Smith||Jr.||Ty Isaac||So.*|
|Ty Isaac||So.*||Derrick Green||Jr.||Drake Johnson||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Jr.*||Ty Isaac||So.*||Karan Higdon||Fr.|
This was a straight-up mess for much of last year. De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green had little idea of what functional blocking looked like (understandable after 2013) and a tendency to run at random. If—and this is entirely hypothetical—you were to rewatch some of these runs in detail you may—again, entirely hypothetically—find yourself reduced to screaming Happy Gilmore quotes about being too good for your home and then self-abasing because Happy Gilmore is a very bad movie enjoyed only by children and Ace. Hypothetically.
Late in the year Michigan tried out Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes and that went better, particularly with Johnson. Over the last four games of the season—Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland, and Ohio State—Johnson got the plurality of the carries and averaged 6.0 yards a carry to Smith's 4.7. Johnson had a reasonable day even against Ohio State, with 15 carries for 76 yards… and then he tore his ACL. Again. Sam Webb reported he only got fully cleared on Monday.
So it's back to those other guys, oh and Ty Isaac. Let's try it again, this time with coaching.
ARBITRARILY ORDERED TAILBACK CANDIDATE #1
HAIR ZOOM 2015 [Fuller]
My Bayesian estimation is that Smith has a tiny lead that wouldn't even be worth mentioning except for the fact that I have to talk about someone first.
This year: ditto.
The first arbitrarily ordered running back is DE'VEON SMITH. Your author does admit that the order of this list may contain some meaning. He is of the opinion that Smith is the most Harbaugh-friendly of the guys currently on the roster.
At his best, Smith is a beefier version of Mike Hart. He's got great balance and generally feels like a nuclear-powered icebreaker.
If you're in an offense where the line consistently delivers you three yards, Smith's ability to bash out another two or three with his balance and power is hugely powerful. That turns third and medium into third and short or a first down. It radically changes the percentages you're working with. This is the kind of gentleman Harbaugh made some headway with at Stanford. Going over all my Smith clips from last year is an exercise in YAC YAC YAC, to the point where the times he doesn't scrape out something after contact come as a shock.
[After THE JUMP: Smith downsides and three other arbitrarily ordered guys.]
“Nice to see everybody. I just spent a nice 45 minutes over at the Weber’s with the M Club of Ann Arbor. Now I get to be here with you to follow that up. It doesn’t get any better!”
What have you seen from your offense so far, and what do you like about the competition?
“What I love about the competition is that…oh, where you talking about offense?”
“It’s been good. Intense competition, which it always is on a football team. There’s a great deal of honor and satisfaction to be one of the 11- a starter. Competition for those roles has been intense, as you would expect. Offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”
Any updates on the quarterbacks?
“I was informed that our competition for Thursday night’s ball game, Utah, would be sending us their official depth chart Monday, and in the interest of fair and healthy competition we will also send our official depth chart on Monday as well.”
Does that mean you’ll have made up your mind by Monday, or are you still hashing it out?
“Like a lot of positions there are some that are very close, some are closer than others, some are still being competed for, and some positions there’s individuals that are ahead. To give you an example, the kicking position is very tight right now and still playing out. At some positions it might continue into the ball game itself. Yeah. I think we’re getting a good idea of things, whether it’s even, close, or someone’s ahead at this point.”
Is it important for you to tell your QBs or team who that is so they can rally behind that one guy?
“To the team? Yeah, I think that’s something that’s been ongoing and that takes place.”
I don’t know if you-
“And they do. They do. It’s been a tight, close competition. Especially at that position.”
[After THE JUMP: “You can also say we really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion”]
to be the man you gotta recruit the man
It's a new era in all possible ways at quarterback. Michigan has exhausted their supply of raw passers with thrilling athleticism; they have also cast aside the previous coaching staff in favor of one in which the head coach is also the QB coach. He is one of the best in the country. Possibly the best.
In Harbaugh's tenure as a coach he…
- helped Rich Gannon(!) win the 2002 NFL MVP award,
- developed non-scholarship San Diego's Josh Johnson into a third-place finisher for the Walter Payton, the I-AA Heisman, and the first draft pick in school history,
- recruited and developed Andrew Luck,
- made Alex Smith look like a legit NFL QB just long enough for him to sign what some regard as the worst contract in the NFL, and
- advocated for, drafted, and developed Colin Kaepernick into a legit starting NFL QB when few thought he could make the transition from the Nevada pistol.
That is strike after strike after strike in not only player development but also talent identification. The contrast between Harbaugh and Al Borges*, who has still never seen a quarterback he recruited start as an upperclassman, could not be greater.
So when Harbaugh saw the state of the most important position in football at Michigan, it's no surprise that he reacted like Kirby. Harbaugh imported a grad transfer (Jake Rudock), a regular transfer (John O'Korn), a second quarterback recruit in 2015, and two recruits in 2016.
Only one of those guys is relevant to this preview: the graduate.
*[Doug Nussmeier has a good track record but only had a year in which it was difficult to make an impact. The only QB on the roster he is responsible for bringing in is freshman Alex Malzone.]
HE CAME FROM DEEPEST IOWA IN SEARCH OF RECEIVERS AND LOVE
Rudock was kind of a big deal at media day [Bryan Fuller]
JAKE RUDOCK will find at least one as long as he keeps his interception rate where it was last year.
Michigan's previous quarterback, Devin Gardner, turned into a turnover piñata sometime after his soul left his body for the third time. While it's hard to blame him much when his career seems like the kind of experiment that ends in a war crimes trial, the sheer quantity of errors he dished out over the course of last season will make a boring quarterback seem like a godsend.
Rudock is just what the doctor ordered in that department. Of the 100 quarterbacks with the most attempts last year, Rudock was 11th in interception rate. 1.4% of his passes got picked off last year. Gardner was dead last, with a rate almost quadruple Rudock's.
There is a cost associated with that, as any Iowa fan still capable of speech will tell you. This is it:
That is Jake Rudock's reputation: a boring boring boring game manager who idolized Brian Griese and dry toast growing up.
[After THE JUMP: Are Iowa fans wrong? Does Rudock have upside? Whither Morris?]
"DARK DAYS," PUP
August. Thrice-accursed August.
Back when I had a commute and a job that didn't have anything to do with Michigan football, there was a feeling that hit me at some point in August. An unseasonably cool day might set it off. The sound of a light plane trundling along. An unbidden memory. A random association. Anything.
You probably know it, or at least remember it. For college football fans who get 11 12 maybe 13 days a year of the most important thing in the world it was the feeling of cresting the last dune and seeing a glittering city on the horizon.
Only college football makes you wait so, so long. The NFL has been in swing for a couple weeks now and will go until February. Also, it is the NFL: the Dave Brandon of sports. Most other sports barely have offseasons. There is nothing more irritating than the baseball reporter exclaiming "pitchers and catchers report!" thirty seconds after the World Series ends. Baseball would like some space. Baseball cannot breathe, baseball fans. Baseball would like to see other fans, but baseball is stuck with you because it is baseball.
College football annihilates you and leaves you. Then it comes back.
When that feeling hit me I wanted to fast-forward through the nothingness of thrice-accursed August and get back to living. Since this proved impossible I turned to the next best thing: my Michigan Marching Band CD, A Saturday Tradition. (At this point in time, CDs were conveniently small places to put music. Millennials may recognize them as "coasters.")
I kept it in my car, and when that feeling hit me I put it in for my morning commute and turned it up as loud as my janky old-school Jeep Cherokee would go without turning the music into blaring smears. This was not that loud. Most of the time I'd skip back to the entry cadence after Hawaiian War Chant in an effort to maximize the ROCK METALLLLL in my veins.
At one point the AC broke on the Cherokee for the same reason the last lemming jumps off the cliff. I had to blaze my way to Novi with the windows rolled down precisely enough to churn hot air around the car without blowing my face off… while I had that feeling. So the janky speakers in my janky car were literally turned as far up as possible to mitigate the wind noise. I started slamming the roof of the car with my palm at some point. Probably Temptation. I couldn't type very well that day.
"Pitchers and catchers report." Cumong man.
That feeling left me. As much as you try to insulate yourself from the changes wrought by turning Michigan football into your job, when you have a 50k word deadline in late August every year the start of the season ceases to be something you would like to fast forward to. Precious, precious August. Each day a treasure.
It did not help that about as soon as I stopped having a commute (they said "you don't seem to be working very much"; I said "thank you for taking so long to notice") Michigan started beating anticipation for the season out of its fans. This was a gradual process, of course, but I thought Michigan might go 8-5 in the first year of Rodriguez and I don't think I've predicted double-digit wins since. Michigan has generally underachieved even the modest expectations placed upon it. Denard and the Sugar Bowl year provided a momentary respite; the overall mood of Michigan fans has been on a steady downward trend since Football Armageddon. Since the day Bo died.
By the time 2013 happened things were already balanced on a knife edge, and there was no question which direction they went after. Last year's Story is blunt:
Michigan football is a white tub proclaiming to be a memory of a feeling. It is on the shelf next to things that still provide dat mouthfeel tho. … when we cleared the NBA draft and the World Cup, the cliff loomed ahead.
The dread was palpable. Dread. Unprecedented, but true.
Even that post proved to be wildly optimistic ("Brady Hoke does provide a good deal of hope. Seriously!"). Since anything that accurately projected Michigan's 2014 season would have induced a visit from Homeland Security I'm fine with that; I was not fine with, you know, everything else.
In that I was not alone. Michigan executed what is to my knowledge the only war against an athletic director in history. Those who weren't incensed were gone. Collectively, we were just done. You know how long it takes to get there? Brady Hoke doesn't; you do. We were about to lose our religion.
That sounds melodramatic, but when presented with a Maryland game in which the Big House was maybe 75% full and the prospect of Dave Brandon staying until April and keeping Brady Hoke around, and… well, I don't know. That kind of program murder has never been attempted. That it was at all possible was the culmination of a thousand different things. It doesn't matter now.
I had that feeling again, out of nowhere. It stopped me dead in my tracks; I knew what it was and it still brought me up short.
We have an alarm that plays a bunch of songs I pile into a playlist every few months or so. The pile is deep and if you're busy doing things you may not notice a song for weeks. I had just finished a post and was walking to some point or another in my house and I heard this song that I'd used on the podcast back in March after the season and it was just like
the light will falter and will fade
and in the darkness we'll say
this winter hasn't been so rough
oh it was cold but still IT WASN'T COLD ENOUGH
to freeze the blood beneath my spine
and at least I survived
And man. Upbeat pop-punk isn't supposed to do that do you.
I recommended PUP on Twitter shortly after that podcast by calling them the Japandroids—a relentlessly peppy indie band that mostly deals in WOO and is still good—that sang about the apocalypse largely because of this song. And then I forgot about it despite the fact that it was playing most mornings.
But yes. We survived. At the crucial point, various bits of the thing that is collectively Michigan booted Dave Brandon and went and got Jim Freakin' Harbaugh. Many bits played parts in this, from the student government going hard in the paint on Lochdogg, to the students mad enough to protest, to tie-buyin', Harbaugh-conspirin' Todd Anson, to Jim Hackett and his hipster dad outfits, to Jamie Morris and all the lettermen making sure Harbaugh knew how much he was wanted.
Things were bad, man. Ruinously bad. Seven-plus years of infighting and mismanagement and ego had Michigan at the edge of something truly disastrous. But in the depth of winter there was something invincibly Michigan. The place still means something other than a number in a spreadsheet despite the best efforts of the previous gentleman in charge to change that.
I mean, look at this guy.
He made them make a hat. It is the Bo hat. A block M like that has not been seen in many a year and Jim Harbaugh went to someone and he said "I want this hat and no other hat" and they made it for him. When they asked him at Big Ten Media Day about this job they got one of those honest Harbaugh answers that come out of nowhere sometimes:
“It’s more than personal. I grew up there as a youngster, went to school there as a student athlete in college and now back coaching. Can’t screw it up. I have to do good."
Then he told them he had the same path to work that Bo did and the exact sequence of streets involved.
The thing after "Dark Days" was "Bombs Over Baghdad." I used that on the season preview podcast this year for probably the third or fourth time because it's just… it's just itself, man. I had a conversation once with Spencer Hall of EDSBS, a longtime Atlanta resident, and he told me that the day that song came out you could go anywhere in the city and it would be playing. When it was over, it started again. It was instantly part of Atlanta's DNA.
Harbaugh is part of Michigan's DNA, arrogant and weird and irascible and unable to suffer fools. The Bo drips off him. And he is good. So damn good. His goal after coaching is to die. He is of Michigan; now he is Michigan. I thought about that, and Atlanta suddenly having a national anthem, and about how it wasn't cold enough yet, and about Jim Harbaugh's Bo hat. I put on A Saturday Tradition. I turned it up.
I turned it up all the way.