[UPDATED 12:25p.m. Now with 100% more Ace]
The Q: Michigan graduated much of its 2013 receiver depth chart and did away with the fancy Borges stacks and routes. In this new world, after Funchess, who's going to be Gardner's favorite target this year? Who are we going to see more or less of among the receivers/tight ends?
Brian: 1. Amara Darboh. Darboh was going to start last year and the buzz there was palpable. He brings physicality against what I promise you will be the grabbiest set of Big Ten pass defenses you've ever seen—the MSU effect—and he's even got mutant muscles in his arms, which I assume will be the entirety of Ace's response. He should ease past Canteen for the starting job, at least to start, and Canteen will have a tough time catching up since he's not going to drop off the face of the earth.
2. Dennis Norfleet. This is an artifact of some assumptions about the rest of the offense. Namely, that they won't be able to run that well and the tight end situation is going to be suboptimal. With reports that Norfleet looks great in space and an offensive coordinator who's not afraid to throw to his WRs on the perimeter, Norfleet's catch volume should spike as Michigan looks to him for easy yards that get defenders out of the box.
3. Freddy Canteen. Yeah, he's probably Manningham again, but even Manningham had a bit of a slow start. It'll be close with Norfleet.
4. Jehu Chesson/Jake Butt. Your guess is as good as mine about relative frequency here. I have a hunch we're going to see tight ends stay in to block frequently this year what with the lack of NFL OTs, and Butt is going to miss at least a game or two after his ACL tear. But he's got a much clearer path to playing time than Chesson and already had more catches than Chesson did a year ago.
Everyone else gets scraps, maybe a dozen catches spread between AJ Williams, Keith Heitzman, Da'Mario Jones, and Jaron Dukes and another dozen to the tailbacks. I hope we don't see any of the true freshmen other than Canteen, because there's not much need either this year or next and all could use work.
[Jump for the rest of us twisting ourselves to not have the same responses]
The big one. With Braxton Miller out for the year, Ohio State needs a new quarterback. It looks like it is going to be JT Barrett, a well-regarded but not elite recruit out of Texas. His OC talked about him when he was declared the #2 recently:
"Gets the ball out quickly. Very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate. Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader. I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him."
"We've got to work on strengthening his arm. He's a distant third to Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don't have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I'm very pleased with his continuing growth."
He has sort of won the job by default, though. OSU has had surprising issues recruiting QBs. Cardale "I ain't come to play SCHOOL" Jones and middling true freshman Stephen Collier are OSU's other options.
Shaky QB play has not prevented OSU from beating Michigan lots in the recent past, unfortunately, and Meyer runs a system that's pretty forgiving to young guys because big chunks of it are "you: run".
Frank Clark profiled. Clark's background is highly improbable:
Frank Clark can't provide a last known address in Los Angeles. He and [his mother] Teneka, along with his two older siblings, were nomadic. They rambled around town, sleeping in a shelter one night, in a random friend’s house another night. Teneka had drug problems, Frank explains, and this was the fallout.
“I’d walk for hours with my mother, wondering where we were going next, what we were going to do next,” Clark said.
He was handed a plane ticket in 2003 and deposited with relatives in Cleveland, whereupon he grew large and went to Glenville:
“Frank wanted to do everything except what I wanted him to do,” Ginn said.
Ginn wanted Clark to play defensive end and the two locked horns.
“So I fought with Frank from his sophomore year to his senior year,” Ginn said. “In his senior year, he finally decided to listen.”
That is the flip side to Csont'e York. Clark had issues even at Michigan, stealing a laptop and getting a year of probation after being put in a diversionary program, but has come through them and stands on the verge of a Michigan degree and an NFL career. That is how you want it to work when you draw the NCAA up.
Making it work. The NFL has gone from dismissing Chip Kelly to imitating him, says Chris Brown at Grantland, and interestingly for Michigan fans he specifically cites a number of tackle over formations the Eagles went with a year ago as part of Kelly's success:
Why is this a component of Kelly's offensive genius and Borges's failure? Tempo. The Eagles run a high-paced no huddle system that only allows the defense to substitute when they do. The defense is under constant pressure to recognize and adjust to new formations on the fly. In this and another example the end result of going tackle over is confusion and blown assignments because of the pressure Philly's tempo puts on the opponents. Brown's key insight:
This breakdown occurred not because Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers doesn’t know how to match up against an unbalanced set. (He does. I think.) It happened because, against Kelly’s offense, it doesn’t matter what the other coaches know. The 11 defenders on the field need to be able to identify the unbalanced set and call the right adjustments, on the fly, at a super-fast tempo, while worrying about 50 other things.
When you go at Borges tempo, you get a different result:
4 DTs and an SDE with PSU's best player (Jones) lined up over your tackle over. Penn State did this only three or four times in that game but that they were able to do it at all is a condemnation; meanwhile there was absolutely no way that PSU was going to blow an assignment when Michigan was barely getting the play off before the clock expired.
High tempo takes defensive coordinators out of the game and puts the responsibilities they generally have on the players on the field—a big advantage at the NFL level and and even bigger one in college.
Meanwhile you hear dinosaur coach types talk about how the spread makes your defense soft, but you never hear them talk about how living at walking pace makes your defense unprepared to face teams like Indiana.
All of the shirts all of the shirts. Jared Shanker takes a look at how many kids redshirt at last year's conference champions, and comes back with the startling news that over the last three years all of seven MSU recruits have played as freshman—12%. Alabama and FSU are at 45%, with Oklahoma and Oregon at 33 and 35%, respectively. Other powers are closer to the FSU/Bama numbers than anything else, with only South Carolina coming anywhere near MSU—they play only a quarter of their freshmen.
A lot of this has to do with recruiting rankings. FSU and Bama tend to get freshmen who are physically ready to compete right away, and Bama in particular tends to toss guys out the door if they're not panning out. MSU has limited access* to high-level players and is trying to get the most out of each one. They've done so successfully.
What about Michigan? I went back and checked:
- 2011: 8 out of 20 played in the Hoke/RR emergency transition class by the standards of this study, but circumstances conspired to hew this class down before it even reached the opener. Three players (Kellen Jones, Chris Barnett, and Tony Posada) didn't even make it to game one; Greg Brown transferred midseason.
- 2012: 12 out of 25 played, with Terry Richardson and Amara Darboh redshirting their second years.
- 2013: 13 out of 26 played. (I'm not counting long snapper Scott Sypniewski for this purpose).
Michigan's numbers are skewed by the disastrous 2010 and sort of disastrous 2011 recruiting classes, but seriously about a third of those burned redshirts the last couple years were questionable at best: Dymonte Thomas, Da'Mario Jones, Csont'e York, Ben Gedeon, and Taco Charlton contributed little in 2013; Joe Bolden, Amara Darboh, Sione Houma, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and Terry Richardson did little in 2012.
How much of that is down to recruiting promises is unknown, but it just seems silly not to give yourself a fifth year option. Hopefully Michigan can start upping their redshirt percentage now that they have stabilized the roster.
*[This is changing somewhat this year, but for the period covered in this study it was certainly true.]
They had a competition, and now they don't. Utah names Travis Wilson its starting QB. Wilson had a rocky 2013, throwing 16 interceptions to 16 touchdowns and losing his job after a 6 for 21 performance against Arizona State. He did have a nice YPA for the year (7.7), but he also threw a Demetrius Brown-like six interceptions in a 34-27 loss to UCLA. Woof.
Wilson beat out Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, FWIW, so maybe he's improved.
I can't do better. Get The Picture nails the headline on this quote:
The NCAA has reached the point on unfavorable legal rulings that retiring University System of Maryland chancellor William Kirwan, co-chair of the reform-minded Knight Commission, said he now views Congress as “our last, best hope for getting anything right with intercollegiate athletics.”
Oh god the tedious Knight Commission, constantly seeking ways to divert the surplus of revenue athletes to the academic side of colleges, go away.
Etc.: Michigan's student advisory council rejection letter ain't come to play school either. Here's to hope, says the Hoover Street Rag. High school QBs now planning to graduate in three years so they can transfer without penalty if it doesn't work out at school #1. MSU loses OG Connor Kruse for a significant period of time, one that probably does not eliminate him from the M game.
Michigan crushes another Italian team.
What is Draftageddon: In place of a trite and useless preseason "best players in the Big Ten" series, we drafted teams out of the the same pool and got into detail about our picks and what makes them worth picking. If such an exercise isn't your bag, I implore you to skip this one; a roundtable-y informative thing will follow later.
Previously: opening round, stupid round, hair round, corners round, a lineman from Rutgers round, Hack round, Peppers round, a member of the Illini secondary is drafted round, terp round, guards round, backups round, dramatic round, punting round.
Now we defend our teams, and make fun of each other's. Then you vote for a winner.
THE HALF-COOKED BRIAN ZOOKS
*Miller (and a couple hits to Seth's Wildcats) happened too late for more supplemental picks
Brian: On offense, I attempted to fuse Wisconsin's core rushing offense into a spread. IE: I tried to replicate last year's Ohio State team. Miller and Gordon are the backfield, with Ferguson in the Wilson/Harvin role and Stephon Diggs being just terrifying on the outside. The OL: Wisconsin. Hooray. Base defense is your standard 4-3. I guess I'm in an over since I've got two similar defensive ends and no obvious on-the-line SAM.
Strengths: every second down is second and two. Every third down is a first down because we picked up eight yards on second and two. The defensive line is highly stout, with upside in spades; the corners are excellent.
|Brian got out of a Michael Rose pick and drafted every Michigan linebacker but the really good one.|
Weaknesses: Pass protection. I don't have a left tackle. As we saw with Denard, though, having an incredible athlete at QB tends to turn pass rush off by itself. This was by design after I picked Miller and any true difference-maker tackles were gone by the next pick.
Also my safeties are both Northwestern safeties. And I guess I don't have a punter, but who cares.
Snarked by BiSB: Brian’s theory is pretty basic: find a unit that performed well, and draft The. Whole. Damn. Thing. Wisconsin runs the ball well? Take their running game. Michigan’s linebacker corps looks pretty okay? GOTTA GRAB ‘EM ALL (except for the best piece, of course, which I got). Northwestern’s secondary is outstanding on 3rd and 20? Say no more, give me them safeties.
The problem, of course, is that he’s left with a hodgepodge of assorted whatnot that doesn’t work together. Offensively, I don’t know what the hell Brian is. He took a spread option quarterback and outfitted him with a manball offensive line and running back. His receiving corp is a coming-off-an-injury Stefon Diggs, made-fewer-than-two-catches-per-game Jeff Heuerman, and… Tony Lippett? And of course there’s the whole two-vastly-different-quarterbacks thing he’s got going on with Hackenberg. After a year of lamenting an offensive system that lacked internal cohesion, you’re going to THIS? For shame, sir. For shame. You don’t DESERVE Kyle Prater.
On defense, Brian has a solid-ish defensive line, and absolutely nothing behind it in the middle of the field. His linebackers are Michigan’s current linebackers if you replaced Jake Ryan with
Michael Rose Joe Bolden. Does this sound like a good idea? No. No it does not. It does not sound like a good idea. But don’t worry, because Ibraheim Campbell and Traveon Henry are there to kinda keep the lid on. And again, you have your press-happy stud corner playing alongside a pair of bend-but-don’t-break safeties.
[Immediately after the jump, an image that will probably appear in all future Google searches for Ace Anbender, but just in case: Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender, Ace Anbender]
Shooting for the "most times a single GIF hits the front page" record.
Michigan lost one of the most genuinely enjoyable players to watch in recent memory with the graduation of Jeremy Gallon, and unfortunately, I don't think we'll be seeing a 5'8" dude with rocket boots and a cloaking device breaking school receiving records again anytime soon.
That said, the Wolverines don't lack players that can make your jaw drop. Inspired by this Matt Hinton piece on college football's most exciting players, here's my list of the Wolverines who should provide the most entertainment this season. Take note: this isn't a rundown of the best players, but a subjective list of who I think will be the most fun to watch—it's ordered by position, since what constitutes "fun to watch" varies wildly from person to person.
QB Devin Gardner
An obvious choice, especially since some of Gardner's bad habits—namely, reversing field when under pressure—can still produce spectacular results. He's an electric runner even when not at full health. He's got a heck of an arm; this throw against Notre Dame last year simply defies explanation. He continued the grand tradition of Michigan quarterbacks hilariously punking Tanner Miller. His ability to improvise has bailed out the offense on many occasions. Yes, this sometimes gets him into trouble—I know another throw from that otherwise amazing Notre Dame performance is going through your head right now—but it also poses a threat to opponents that is extremely difficult to defend, and it's sure fun to watch when everything clicks.
WR Devin Funchess
Again, an obvious choice is obvious, as evidenced by the GIF that graces the top of this post—and that wasn't the first time Funchess leaped over an oncoming defender:
The whole "hurdles defensive backs on the run" thing is pretty great, but that's just a small part of what makes Funchess so remarkable. He's a 6'5", 230-pound former tight end with legitimate top-end speed; his movements bear the grace of a much smaller player. Even when he slips, he seamlessly recovers, and the average defensive back is going to have a very difficult time contending with his ball skills or bringing him down once he makes the catch. Oh, and having oven-mitt-sized hands allows for him to make catches like this while on a dead sprint.
If Funchess isn't on the team in 2015, it'll be because he turned in a monster year and justifiably went pro, and I don't think anybody could begrudge him that move.
[Hit THE JUMP for eight exciting players not named Devin.]
ESPN's Brett McMurphy is reporting that Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who multiple outlets confirmed reinjured his right (throwing) shoulder at practice yesterday afternoon, is out for the 2014 season.
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller is out for the season, a source told @ESPN
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) August 19, 2014
NFL.com senior writer Gil Brandt said earlier today that OSU was "expecting" Miller to miss the season, and official word on the matter should come out later today. A Columbus television outlet confirms McMurphy's report, as well. Since last night, Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch—the first reporter to break news of the injury—filled in some details of how the injury occurred:
Neither a team spokesman nor coach Urban Meyer would confirm the news, but sources said that Miller, who had been considered a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy, suffered the injury while throwing a routine pass. He was not hit, having been off-limits from contact since off-season shoulder surgery.
Miller underwent an MRI this morning, the details of which have yet to be released. There's still no official word from Ohio State.
Before anything else, let me express my deepest sympathies for Miller; he not only faces what appears to be a tough recovery—if he injured the shoulder without any contact, it's likely his injury suffered against Clemson in January never fully healed in the first place—but he's in a very tough spot regarding his pro future.
Miller could take a redshirt and come back in 2015, but there were already serious questions about whether he could be a quarterback at the NFL level; if his best chance to make it is at running back or wide receiver, he's lost a critical year of development and faces a difficult choice: come back to school and take another year of punishment as OSU's QB, or go pro despite coming off a season lost to injury. Here's hoping he fully recovers his past form; he's a truly spectacular player to watch, and college football will be worse off this year without him.
As for the on-field ramifications, Ohio State looks like they'll enter the season with a redshirt freshman starting in Miller's place:
If Miller misses time, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett currently leads redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to be the next in at quarterback for Ohio State. Barrett redshirted in 2013 while recovering from a knee injury he suffered in his senior season of high school. Jones appeared in three games last season, completing 1/2 passes for 3 yards and rushing 17 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The Buckeyes must also replace RB Carlos Hyde, who rushed for over 1,500 yards in 2013, along with four starters on their offensive line. Their talent should allow them to contend for the Big Ten title anyway, especially if they can shore up their issues on defense under new co-DC Chris Ash, but this certainly hurts their chances at a national title run and likely makes Michigan State the frontrunner for the conference title.
UPDATE: Ohio State has released a statement confirming Miller will miss the 2014 season. Miller is on track to graduate in December; he plans to enroll in graduate school at OSU and return for the 2015 season.
Previously: Last year's profiles, CB Brandon Watson, CB Jabrill Peppers, LB Jared Wangler, LB Chase Winovich, LB Noah Furbush, LB Michael Ferns, DL Brady Pallante, DL Bryan Mone, DL Lawrence Marshall, OL Mason Cole, OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty, WR Moe Ways, WR Freddy Canteen, WR Drake Harris, TE Ian Bunting.
|Richmond, VA – 6'6", 234|
3*, NR overall
3*, NR overall
NR QB, #27 VA
4*, #257 overall
#13 pro QB, #8 VA
3*, NR overall
#23 pro QB, #16 VA
|Other Suitors||Miami, NC State|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
Also senior highlights on hudl.
It's back. The Michigan Artillery Piece QB has been revived and recruited in the form of Wilton Speight. Yes, Shane Morris before him is a pro-style guy. He is not a 6'6" man-mountain who will only cross the line of scrimmage in the event of an emergency or Buffalo Stampede.
Wilton Speight is. Seriously. Compare him to someone, ESPN!
Physically he reminds us of Brock Osweiler (the Arizona State Osweiler, not the high school version).
I think you mean "the 6'8" Brock Osweiler—the 6'8" Arizona Osweiler, not the 6'8" high school version." This is your context.
When we're talking about artillery pieces, it's about fitting footballs into tight windows at high velocity 99 times out of 100. That's why Tom Brady is married to a Brazilian supermodel; it's why people still put up with Ben Roethlisberger. Can Speight reach those heights? It's a bit murky right now.
Speight was going all out in high school, flying out to be tutored by Noted Quarterback Guru Steve Clarkson monthly. This is dedication. Dedication is good, and it comes with impressive quotes from Clarkson:
"His arm is every bit as strong as Ben Roethlisberger, and I've worked with Ben. … I've known Al Borges for well over 20 years, so we actually talked quite a bit before the commitment. He wanted to know what kind of player Wilton was.."
"His football IQ is very high, and he's just deadly accurate. … This is a kid that I think plays on Sundays, that's how good he is. I don't throw that around that often, but this kid, I think he plays on Sundays."
Clarkson and Speight did collectively take a radical step forward from his destiny. Scout's Greg Biggins:
At the time, I was at one of Steve’s camps and I was thinking, okay this guy is kind of tall, gawky, does not really look the par, kind of really over the head release. I thought he is a nice enough guy, maybe he will go to lower level MAC school if he is lucky kind of a thing.
I saw him again last year at the camp and he was incredible. It was a night and day difference in terms of just being comfortable as a quarterback. …. just from three years ago to today, it is like it is a different sport he is playing.”
This was not enough to get him a bump but recruiting sites succumb to momentum like any other human endeavor; it's generally the case that guys who improve a lot late remain underrated.
[After the JUMP: arm strength not in Morris's league, surprising mobility, Borges's horrific QB recruiting track record.]