"He's a hard worker, and he watched me and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and Nik (Stauksas) put work in to become (first-round picks), and I'm just happy he's getting better," Burke said. "It's great for the program, too. It shows what type of program the University of Michigan is and the direction it continues to go in."
Now that Brian has burned through the position previews and depth charts in beautiful excruciating detail, there is little for me to add to the personnel side, so I wanted to look a little deeper at the schedule portion to see how we got to the 8-4 I projected last week.
I also wanted to add a bit of addendum to the Denard struggles on passing downs meme, so to not clutter the site any further I have dropped that at the end of this column for those interested.
Throughout the season, I will be posting a weekly column on Wed/Thurs. I will try and pick out interesting tidbits and trends from the numbers as the week goes. If you have any questions you would like to see answered in the column or ideas on angles, don’t hesitate to hit me up on the twitters.
As always, your handy reference guide is here.
So which are the 8 wins?
Well, it doesn’t really work that way. Obviously no game is certain and no prediction is either. To get to 8-4 I assign values to each team based on the prior three seasons' performance and returning starters at QB and defense. These are factors that I have found significantly improve a season’s forecast.
Each team is then pitted against their schedule, accounting for home field which is worth about 3 points for the home team each game. Each game then gets a spread and a likelihood of winning. When you play out those probabilities, some seasons ended up with as few as 1 win and some ended up with 12. Nearly three quarters ended up with seven, eight or nine wins. My calculated odds of missing out on a bowl are about 1 in 29, about the same odds of winning 11. Going 12-0 is rated at 1 in 327. This is all assuming that Michigan plays at the projected level. If they play better or worse than I have projected, the numbers can and will change.
All that was to say, the eight wins and the four losses change each scenario. The most likely version has losses to Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan St and Notre Dame, but even that scenario is only a 1 in 60 shot. In fact the most likely specific scenario is 6-6 with losses to Illinois and Iowa added to the mix, but that’s still a 1 in 55 shot.
In summary, here is how the percentages break out:
The Individual Teams
|Opponent||2010 PAN||2008-'09 Avg||Returning Starters||Total PAN||Michigan Odds|
|San Diego St||6.3||-6.0||-0.6||-0.5||85%|
The numbers quickly break out into four groups:
Eastern Michigan and Minnesota coming into the Big House without much hope. Eastern was bad every year considered and only gets a slight uptick from returning starters. No points awarded for hiring Mike Hart.
Minnesota saw last year plummet below already-low-for-a-Big-Ten-team values and returning starters push them down slightly further.
Just Don’t Screw It Up
Western Michigan, San Diego St, Purdue, and at Northwestern all seem pretty safe on their own, but there is only a 55% chance we go 4-0 in these four games. Successfully do that and a nine-win season becomes a more attainable. Dropping one or more will make it tougher to top last season’s win total in the regular season.
Notre Dame, at Iowa and at Illinois all place Michigan a percent or two below 50/50. 5-2 between these last two groups keeps us on pace to 8 wins. Iowa overachieved last year but is brought down to earth thanks to a depleted roster. Illinois is heading in the opposite direction after [NAME REDACTED] made one last run to save his job. Notre Dame is the highest rated of the bunch as Brian Kelly begins to purge the Weis ratings from the books. The Domers get the benefit of a strong returning group but are in the mix with Iowa and Illinois thanks to an under the lights meet-up in Ann Arbor.
There’s a Clock for That
OK, so we don’t have a countdown clock for that school down south and four states over (Nebraska), but Ohio and State form the last group. To hold serve on an 8-win season, expect one win out of this group. Ohio has been the cream of the Big Ten for the last several years, but graduation and Tressel-gate have dropped the Buckeyes into the mix. Michigan State and Nebraska both saw 6+ point improvements last season and have a decent group returning. Nebraska should definitely be the better team, but they won’t have the luxury of home field.
PS: Denard and Passing Downs
In general, my data supports what Burgeoning Wolverine Star found on Denard and passing downs. I was curious about which down and distances that Denard excelled and what was their value. For the season, Denard was a non-opponent-adjusted +70 for the season. This includes rushes, passes, sacks, fumbles, picks, everything but garbage time. This is a huge number.
I broke down where the +70 came from situationally.
|Down & Distance||PAN|
|2nd & Long (8-10)||21.5|
|1st & 10||21.2|
|2nd & Med (4-7)||18.7|
|3rd & Short (1-3)||12.0|
|2nd & Short (1-3)||6.9|
|3rd & Med (4-7)||1.5|
|2nd & XL (11+)||(0.4)|
|3rd & Long (8-10)||(4.9)|
|3rd & XL (11+)||(6.6)|
Denard was light years ahead on 1st and 2nd down but considerably below average on 3rd down with at least 8 yards to go. In fact, he was pretty good at 3rd and short and started quickly falling from there.
Ultimately, as long as the offense didn’t lose ground on first down they were still in good shape. Denard could turn a mediocre 1st down around quickly, but if Michigan wasn’t able to get into a third down distance that was manageable, the offense quickly become below average.
No more pictures of multiple dudes we've never seen play at media day. No more projecting things from a spring game performance. No more first-year starters, walk-ons, underclassmen, uncertainty, or woe. No more charts about how some guy was pretty good for a freshman.
There is only one person we are going to talk about this year.
On a paper-thin roster lacking in stars Denard Robinson stands alone. For all the fretting about a lack of playmakers on the offense, basically the same set of guys finished 8th in total yardage last year and better than that in the advanced metrics that try to account for variations in schedule strength and opportunity.
Denard is an offense worth of playmakers himself.
|HE RUNS||HE THROWS|
|he runs draws!||whippy, live arm!|
|the ur lead draw||zings to covered 'Tree|
|no soup for safety||zips one in|
|darting past hands||slant rope|
|"that's six"||tight window|
|also six||nails Grady|
|part of good UW day||plausible deep!|
|he runs power!||gorgeous deep ball|
|shoestring tackle||deep corner|
|barely run OOB||steps back to bomb|
|he improvises!||the heave|
|zipping by the MLB||back shoulder toss?|
|weaving read keeper||developing touch!|
|actual scramble||gorgeous floater pass|
|he zone reads!||down in the hole|
|keeper W TE assist||beauty soft fade|
|wide open corner||qb oh noes!|
|he jukes !||fake bubble doom|
|Wisconsin TD||blindingly wide open|
|four missed tackles||cover zero in the alps|
|WOOPS Calabrese||dart to Hemingway|
|WOOPS a safety||when bad is really bad!|
|he punts!||gets 'Tree killed|
|Pooch punt||The X is for XTREME|
When it was all said and done Denard Robinson had shattered a half-dozen team and NCAA records. This is the kind of thing that gets you on All-America teams, so a bunch of different organizations put him on All-America teams.
These organizations go back to the days when passing was for communists and every team was led by a quarterback with more rushing attempts than passing yards. They should be used to the Fraziers and the Crouches that show up on their lists.
They are, but Denard was something else, something that caused the Football Writers Association of America to dump the word "running" from the previously very explicit "running back" spot so they could cram Robinson on their first team next to LaMichael James and Kellen Moore. Denard's 2010 was spent redefining what one man can do.
That was damn near everything. Robinson was the nation's fourth-leading rusher with 1702 yards on 256 carries; he shattered the I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Vincent Smith was second on the team with 601 yards. Denard was 20th in passer efficiency with 2570 yards on 291 attempts, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He averaged just under 20 carries per game in addition to all his passing attempts, got knocked out of damn near every game, watched Tate Forcier lead comebacks against Iowa and Illinois, and listened to every pundit in the world say the offense must not rest entirely on his shoulders lest we break him.
Do I even need to tell anyone this? Recapping Denard Robinson's 2010 is like reminding you about the time you fell out of an airplane. You remember. It was exhilarating, terrifying, and is etched into his memory forever. I probably don't need to tell you this. But here are some fun highlights anyway.
THE TOP FIVE THINGS DENARD ROBINSON DID IN 2010
5: I'M FROM TECMO BOWL, SORRY
4: WOOP WOOP SCORE
3: RANDOM LONG DRAW TOUCHDOWN THAT IS ALL RLDTDS
2: MAN UP CRAB
1: DENNIS BERGKAMP DENNIS BERGKAMP DENNIS BERGKAMP
That felt nice. Now to this year's business.
WE CAN MAKE HIM BETTER
Denard has spent the offseason working really hard and smiling at people. What are the areas in which Denard can improve? There are some. Really. There are three.
It's okay to scramble. This would be a much better example if it wasn't a spectacular long touchdown but sometimes your negative Denard Robinson highlight is also a spectacular long touchdown. Raise your hand if you had a slow-motion "nooooo" moment the instant Denard cocked his arm to throw that one pass to Junior Hemingway against Illinois.
Well done, well done YOU'RE DENARD ROBINSON AND THERE'S NO ONE WITHIN TEN YARDS OF YOU JUST RUUUUUUN.
Borges has been harping on this since his arrival. The latest version:
"If nobody's open, the broken play is probably the hardest play to stop in college football, any football," Robinson said Wednesday during a break in the Wolverines' preparations for their opener Saturday against Western Michigan.
He had been asked if he's been encouraged to scramble if the read isn't there.
Reading between those not-so-subtle lines, the answer was a resounding yes.
Hopefully we see some movement forward with the legs when Denard breaks the pocket.
If you miss, don't miss so spectacularly. Robinson's never going to be Ryan Mallet when it comes to zinging it in between levels in the zone, and that's fine. His accuracy isn't as thrilling as it seemed in his first couple games, and that's fine, too. It's still pretty dang good. Here's his UFR chart:
|2009, All Of It||1||7||6(2)||3(1)||4||4||-||-||?||-||44%|
Those numbers are slightly south of Chad Henne but not by much. But we start having issues when Denard not only misses but misses by a country mile. Many of his interceptions were like this:
LOL WUT. The chart shows he was performing at a near-Henne level when it came to downfield accuracy last year, but it doesn't show this:
That success rate has to be wrong.
It's not wrong, it just doesn't weight passes based on how damaging the particular inaccurate ball is. Against MSU, Denard threw the following balls not to his receiver:
- Endzone interception #1 on route Roundtree had two steps on. [Zero points]
- Wide open Stonum on fly route about 20 yards downfield that's airmailed. [Three points]
- Hitch to Odoms on second and nine from the 11 that would have been first and goal. [Zero points]
- Endzone interception #2 on slant that Hemingway was open on. [Zero points]
- Covered slant zinged over Grady [Zero points]
- Bubble too far in front of Roundtree. [Seven points]
- Other interception on route where Grady had plenty of room to the inside of the field but the ball was way, way too far outside, allowing sinking corner to react and intercept. [Zero points]
How big of a deal is it to throw a bubble screen a step in front of a receiver? One unit of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw a makeable 20 yard touchdown over someone's head on third and three? Two, three units of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw endzone interceptions when you have open receivers? Five units of big deal.
Denard had too many units of big deal per miss last year. This is because he was one year removed from being a novelty freak show.
He will get better. Robinson's decision making is always going to be easier than your average quarterback because he doesn't get a heavy rush and can use his legs as the world's most deadly play action fake. He's just got to throw it to the guy.
That Denard managed to finish 20th in passer efficiency despite being 84th of 100 qualifying QBs in interception rate is testament to how deadly the offense is if he can just throw straight. Hopefully Borges's focus and Denard relentless workrate cuts down on the throws that are Pryor armpunt specials. He just needs to miss less badly.
Shift the ball outside and when you get hit hold onto it like whoah. Robinson's turnover issues are not limited to the passing game. Michigan lost 14 fumbles last year, tied for 15th-worst in the country. Though I'm not sure how many were on Denard since he was the offense it's safe to say a high proportion of them were his. His ball security needs to be improved.
Also he could get out of bounds if they've got an angle on you.
Chris at Burgeoning Wolverine Star had an intuition about Robinson's effectiveness that he put into numbers. Those numbers bore his intuition out spectacularly. It's about Denard on passing downs. You'd expect he was less effective, but how much less effective is impressive and sobering:
||Passing Downs||Season totals|
|QB runs (YPC)||19 (7.9)||256 (6.6)|
|Scrambles (YDs)||5 (31)|
When robbed of his legs Robinson went from lethal to slightly better than 2008's Threet/Sheridan combo and their 5.1 YPA. A freshman Tate Forcier hit the NCAA mean of 7.2. Last year Michigan was an offense that had to stay ahead of the chains like those old Nebraska options teams. Third and long was over.
He'll do better this year. He remains a guy who gets his yards because the opponents are so focused on his legs that they do stuff like you see in the highlight clips above. I've trashed Gerry Dinardo for some goofy tweets about Michigan needing to run power to help the defense, but his analysis about the offense is hauntingly on the money:
"If you put Denard under center and you don't run designed quarterback runs — and I'm not sure whether they are or not — I think you become very easy to defend. They don't have a dominant tailback, Denard's not a typical under-the-center, drop-back or play-action quarterback, so I'm not sure where the offensive explosion is going to be generated.
"I think we've just watched this in Columbus when Terrelle Pryor is underneath the center and doesn't have a designed run, they struggle. So I think as you continue to put (Robinson) under center, if he's not moving the ball, and you put him in the shotgun, it's the same as last year — nobody can tackle him even if you don't block everyone you're supposed to block.
"What happens if you're not as explosive with him under the center as you are in the shotgun? You're going to revert back to some of the things they've done the last couple of years."
This is what I was talking about when I described my fear they would turn Robinson's legs from a threat you have to account for on every play into a nice bonus. Unless Michigan gets a bust-out year from one, possibly two, skill position players, the only thing on the offense that will force opponents to cheat is Denard Uber Alles. You either build your offense around that and roll the dice on Denard staying healthy or you degrade the offense's effectiveness until you need Superman to stop being Clark Kent and get in the damn phone booth.
This is an incredibly tricky balance. The instant Denard gets dinged everyone will moan that they're relying too much on him. Every drive that sputters because Denard is not deployed at maximum threat level will cause people to moan they're not relying enough on him. If Michigan had a defense that could give the offense some cover they could play it conservatively. Instead they have a tire fire Greg Mattison is valiantly hosing down.
If Michigan is going to keep Denard upright without sabotaging their offense, they will have to get progression from Denard as a passer even when he can't threaten a run. Running power with these running backs and this line isn't going to cut it.
When Denard inevitably gets banged up, Devin Gardner will be the guy flinging his helmet on and handing off a couple times. He filled that role in the first few games of 2010 before Tate Forcier reasserted himself in the backup role, whereupon Gardner came down with an extensively documented back malady en route to a medical redshirt. A recent NCAA policy change means we don't know if he actually got it or not, but that's a worry for 2014.
Gardner's action consisted of ten passes, seven of which were complete for 85 yards and a touchdown, and seven rushes for 21 yards and another TD. Everything except one negative four yard rush was against Bowling Green.
His other appearances on the field have been in a couple of spring games and the fall scrimmage/punting demo. In them he's looked kind of horrible. Disclaimers about practice apply, but I haven't seen what the usually glowing reports about him are talking about. I place equal faith in my lying eyes observing practice and someone else's lying eyes observing practice, so that's a push. If pressed into service this year he'll be an obvious downgrade; next year is when he'll be truly serviceable.
The third guy on the roster is Russell Bellomy, who is a true freshman. All knowledge about him is encapsulated in his recruiting profile. Unless disaster hits the two guys in front of him he'll redshirt. He's a raw, athletic thrower who's kind of like Tate Forcier if Forcier had played baseball during his summers instead of hanging out with Marv Marinovich. That's good and bad.
This was filmed last year. I know this seems very 2008 Ohio, but they're behind the times. It was 2010.
This is also by Pop Evil. They turned into a bunch of hair metal posers just last year. Before that they were were "Muskegon's Menudo," and before that they were dog groomers. They're still dog groomers but now they have a band so they can test out exciting new techniques on each other.
Doubling down on… us? Bill Connolly is a smart person who does good things with stats, so he (and his models) know Michigan had a hugely positive yards per play margin last year and that turnovers don't correlate that well year to year and Michigan finally has a returning quarterback so they could bounce significantly forward this year.
This is a little much, though:
Five Predictions for the Big Ten in 2011:
1. Michigan wins the damn Legends Division. That's right.
5. Oh why the hell not ... Michigan beats Wisconsin in the conference title game. Might as well go all-in, right?
That is all in like whoah. If any part of this transpires Brady Hoke is king and Bill Connolly will be assaulted for lottery numbers.
The main problem with this is his model takes recruiting into account and Michigan's recruiting has been a paper tiger for a while now.
I'll take it! An NFL scout type guy on SI.com drops David Molk on his list of NFL prospects… but only to call him overrated. Still, I'll take this description:
Overrated: David Molk, Michigan -- Molk is considered the top center in the country by a number of scouts, yet in our opinion there are better senior centers in his conference.
I'll take "a number of scouts" believing he's the top center in the country over one dude disagreeing.
This is a fake thing. Iowa graduated leather magnet Tyler Sash last year. They are Iowa so they'll replace him with a walk-on. This is the filthy lie about this walk-on's name that BHGP expects us to believe:
Collin Sleeper (#16, Junior (RS), 6'2", 200, Solon (IA) HS)
We know absolutely nothing about Collin Sleeper.
It's not that we know absolutely nothing. It's that we know exactly what we're supposed to know. He's a junior walk-on from Solon who has never played a down of college football and is now the starting strong safety. He was completely unrecruited and unscouted by the services. According to him, he's fast. He played halfback for the James Morris-led Iowa high school juggernaut 10 miles up the road from Iowa City. He reportedly played Denard Robinson on the scout team last year. His name is Sleeper, for chrissake.
THAT IS A LIE, SIR. Your walk-on safety is named "Sleeper" and my new running back recruit runs a 4.3 40. Eighteen fakes out of five, you Hawkeye bastards. Eighteen fakes.
This is a dumb thing. WMU beatwriter Greg Couch on the state of Michigan's quarterbacks:
I think Alex Carder is the best college quarterback in the state. Denard Robinson is a great athlete, but I'd bet you if Carder were in that program, they'd find a different role (flanker, perhaps) for Robinson. MSU's Kirk Cousins isn't even close.
That is literally the dumbest thing I have seen written about football in the state of Michigan not related to Rich Rodriguez. In games against ND and MSU last year Carder averaged 5.4 YPA—Threet/Sheridan numbers—and threw two TDs to three interceptions. He had 104 yards on 33 attempts against Idaho in a 33-13 loss. Playing a MAC schedule he finished 35th in passer efficiency. Cousins was 18th and Robinson 20th playing in the Big Ten.
This is not a surrounding talent issue. According to Couch WR Jordan White "would be an All Big Ten wideout." He proved this by averaging a whopping 10.5 yards per catch against MSU and Notre Dame. But sure, a MAC team with a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson and an All Big Ten wideout went 6-6 last year in the MAC.
This guy also thinks Denard Robinson is "Juice Williams with wheels," which is like saying "Carlos Brown but fast." Guh. Insert Billy Madison quote here.
I hope Chris Brown didn't get fired… or do I? He's gone from near-hibernation to putting out ridiculously good content consistently. There was the speed option post I linked in a previous UV, then a description of the inverted veer option Michigan tried a couple times last year and Auburn rode to national title. I don't think we're going to see it again, which is sad-making. I was so excited about it last year even though they never quite got it right.
End. The USHL's president is awesome. Some Canadian hockey radio guys were pondering a USHL-CHL matchup as a way to get a true North American junior championship, which prompted USHL prez Skip Prince to write them an open letter that said "Ready to do it" and bombed the CHL's model. This is a dagger. I'm going to quote a big chunk of it:
It’s odd to hear second-tier status ascribed to the USHL, the notion of “Well, if you’re going to go to college, then the USHL is the best place to go.” There’s an implicit demotion there – an implied statement “…because I guess you’ve decided you’re not good enough to go pro.” Really? So that’s an either-or decision?
No. It’s not. Our website equally celebrates the 165 NHL alumni we sport and the 283 college commitments we have in hand. They go together. It’s our pyramid at work. The fact is, 35% of the young men wearing an NCAA Division I sweater this past year – more than one out of every three rostered players in college hockey – is a USHL alum. That’s extraordinary. That 3% of those kids make it to the NHL is also extraordinary. The fact that’s right on par with the CHL is not extraordinary – not to us – but somehow that gets lost in translation.
So we are damn proud of that special 3% - and the other 97%. Every – every – player departing the USHL this year, who was eligible for NCAA play, had a Division I commitment in hand. Last year we were one short of perfect, a great young man who chose Division III instead. Match that.
Sure, there are those who depart from the USHL-to-college-to-NHL route, and take the CHL direction instead. We’re well aware of the four well-publicized de-commitments this past month. Point given. The CHL gets four great players. Hey - we celebrate them, and hope they all do well. That’s American freedom of choice.
We just think it’s a risk they didn’t need to take. Each and every one of those players had just as great a chance of making the NHL playing college hockey, lifting and getting better, over a time period they control, as they do with the two-year bet they’ve now made. But we know each of those young men, and our competitiveness does not stop us from wanting that bet to play out for all of them.
About 95% of the CHL would be better served in college. There's not enough room for all of them, unfortunately, but unless you're getting a massive under the table payment or can't hack classes you should probably go to college.
Flyover spoilers. Stop reading now if you like your planes all surprising. Notre Dame is going to be overkill city:
10 Sep vs. Notre Dame: The Yankee Air Force's C-47 Skytrain "Yankee Doodle Dandy" will conduct a pregame flyover and a two-soldier parachute team from the 101st Airborne Division (The Screaming Eagles) will drop into the stadium during the halftime program (one each in the two end zones). Prior to the game, the Michigan and Notre Dame NROTC Units will contest their annual flag football game on Friday, 9 Sep at 7 pm at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse. Stop by and cheer on your fellow students.
Nebraska and OSU will also have flyovers; Purdue(?!) is tentatively scheduled for one as well. Not sure why they'd do one for Purdue unless they're bombing the World's Somewhat Large Drum.
Etc.: Jason Whitlock writes a panting piece on Hoke day after he writes one of his odious race-baiting idiot columns, this one directed at the incredibly irresponsible Charles Robinson. Yes, that Charles Robinson. As a result I can't really take the former seriously. The lesson is always that Jason Whitlock is an asshat.
Rating: 3 of 5.
|Mike Shaw||Sr.||John McColgan||Sr.*|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||So.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
|Vincent Smith||Jr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.|
For some reason I feel real good about this group of guys.
The Tenuous Starter
|carlos brown fast…|
|just runs by the SLB|
|make a decisive cut|
|burst into the open field|
|cuts hard backside|
|…but doesn't fall over if you breathe on him|
|runs through three tackles|
|spins for YAC|
|keeps balance on goal line|
|always falls funny|
|just UMass but still|
|vision can be laughable|
|complete stop in hole|
After two years of injury, redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint seemed on his way to Bolivia. Maybe that judgment was a bit hasty, but he was healthy for chunks of last year and couldn't push his way past a thoroughly mediocre group in front of him (he had eight carries), so the internet jumped to conclusions. That's what the internet does.
The internet has recently jumped to another conclusion based on rapturous scrimmage reports and Toussaint getting the Golden Carry in front of the media before they were abruptly ushered out of practice. Everyone else can go to Bolivia: we're going with Fitz.
The thing is this also happened last year. Toussaint redshirted due to a shoulder injury, then started building up the hype train. By the time last fall's preview rolled around, Fred Jackson had called him Mike Hart (except fast) and Chris Perry (except fast) and local insiders were saying he was a "clear #1" in the tailback derby.
Toussaint followed this surge in momentum up by damaging himself. An ankle injury took him down late in last year's fall camp. He was was listed as "out" on the injury report for UConn and Notre Dame and didn't play against UMass. When he got on the field against Bowling Green he ripped off a long run and a touchdown… and then immediately hurt his knee. He was then out for Iowa, MSU, Illinois, and Penn State. To date he's been china in a bull shop.
While the Jackson hype spotlight has moved on to the new freshman hotness, Hoke and Borges have focused on Toussaint. So have the papers, though when they focus on him they are lying like a boss:
"I wasn't as comfortable (last year) as I am in this offense," said Stephen Hopkins (6-0, 228).
Fitzgerald Toussaint, like Hopkins, is a bigger back — stronger and more physical, and this type of offense fits his style.
"I like this offense a little bit better," said Toussaint (5-10, 195). "It's smash-mouth football."
Guh? Toussaint is not large. He is a bigger back in the way Mike Hart is a bigger back: not at all (except fast!). All round knowledge must be reshaped to fit into the new square knowledge holes.
If Toussaint grabs the job he'll be closer to Hart than Shaw or Hopkins. I'm not sure if he is Except Fast—that long run above features BGSU players running him down from behind, but he was the 60M state champ in high school. Hopefully his injury issues were the cause.
Because of those issues, we have little more than the BGSU runs and his high school tape to go on. That tape again:
I like it. It makes me tingly. Tousssaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Third Down Back
|gets what you give him…|
|here's a free touchdown|
|Y U NO FAST|
|…and sometimes more|
|whiffed Purdue tackle|
|dancing past Huskies|
|slips through small holes|
|flare screen specialist|
|LB + Smith = easy slant|
|srsly about slant|
|still flare specialist|
|cuts charging slot LB|
|pops S pretty good|
When Al Borges said Michigan had settled on a third down back but he wouldn't tell the public who it was, the existence of the role was far more interesting than who it might be. It was bloody obvious who it was: Vincent Smith. He is 5'6" and the coaches have spent the fall gushing about his toughness. He played as a freshman because he was a better pass blocker than anyone else after Minor got too banged up to stay in if he wasn't running. If you need some one to leak out into the flat or annihilate a blitzer, he's your guy.
That's what they mean, right? They don't mean to run him on third and freaking one over and over again, do they? I'm not thinking about this possibility. Eat it, paranoid fears of irrational coaching decisions past.
Those taken care of, Smith has actually suffered a demotion by taking the new role. He was the only Michigan player to exceed 50% of Denard's carries last year. He didn't tear up the field with them, averaging a meh 4.5 YPC. The clips at right are not exactly "wow" moments. Smith seems to have a good sense for how his blocking will set up; he does not break many tackles or drag carriers for YAC, nor does he juke guys out of their jocks. He's just a guy.
The hope with Smith is that the ACL injury he sustained in the '09 Ohio State game was not entirely healed last year, or at least Smith had not recovered the jitterbug agility that caused me to attribute "top-end shiftiness" to him, channel my inner Fred Jackson by comparing Smith to Hart after he did this…
…and declare "I will not be dissuaded" that he would start next year (check) and be good (eh… not so much). This year will determine whether that was excessive enthusiams based on small sample size or the real, ACL-having Smith.
Smith's lack of rushing yards was one thing, but the weird thing was his lack of involvement in the passing game. After making ten catches in less than a game and a half at the end of his freshman year, he made only 15 during the entirety of 2010. That's quite a bit what less than the "30, 40, even 50" I predicted before the season. This year he'll probably get towards the 30 range; his rushing attempts will dip but not that much unless you believe the two guys in front of him are going to be super mega healthy, which would be a silly thing to believe. Like his Pahokee teammate Odoms, Smith is a useful piece opponents won't lose sleep over.
|massive short yardage overreaction|
|not Vincent Smith|
|can move laterally|
|good agility for beef machine|
|lead block for Denard|
|kicking out for Denard|
|great vision here|
|clubs PSU LB|
Now we descend into the woolly depths. Sophomore Stephen Hopkins is a surprise find down here. A big mooseback with no competition on the roster when it comes to being 230 pounds and capable of carrying a football, Hopkins was hailed as the obvious solution to the tailback issue once Hoke installed MANBALL. Hell, I was arguing that even sans manball Hopkins and his blocking heft were the best fit in a Denard-heavy running offense.
So of course Hopkins has been a virtual non-entity this fall. He did show up in a Media Day interview seeming chipper and vowing he hadn't played a snap at fullback; other than that he's been invisible save a couple of "oh and that guy" references from the coaches.
The insider chatter keeps mentioning the doghouse, and eagle-eyed observers of the season preview of Inside Michigan Football caught him doing something called "log rolling," which I thought was when you tried not to fall off a log into a lake. It turns out to also refer to a punitive activity people inflict on football players. Hopkins is doing it. So… yeah, he's in the doghouse. Since that doesn't seem to be a weight problem it's an off-field issue.
Whatever it is it will have to be serious if it's going to knock Hopkins off the field long term. He's the only guy on the roster with a plausible claim to being a short-yardage mauler, and we're all sick of watching Vincent Smith on third and one. He fills a role and fills it well; unless the Rawls hype is something other than the usual Fred Jackson stuff Hopkins will be the guy they call on when they want to MAN some BALLS in a VAN down by the FIRST DOWN MARKER.
I think he'll have a role elsewhere as well. That thump-thump section at right makes a good case that if you're trying to maximize Denard's effectiveness Hopkins is your guy. While Smith is the best pass blocker available, when he impacts a linebacker he's just trying to stall him. He does not do this:
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
After Hopkins it's freshmen and obscurity. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Jackson family the least obscure kid down here is Thomas Rawls. He's Mark Ingram except faster… or Kevin Grady not asked to run stretch plays. Even before he was laid up with a shoulder issue in fall camp he'd fallen behind the veterans. Catching up now is going to be difficult. If he's as difficult to tackle as the Jacksons say he could wrest the short yardage job from Hopkins while he's in the doghouse; more realistically he'll get a few carries here and there in preparation for more serious efforts in 2012 and beyond. Fellow freshman Justice Hayes [recruiting profile] looks like he'll redshirt. A move to receiver is a possibility.
Finally, redshirt junior Mike Cox finds himself buried on the depth chart even after the coaching change he celebrated with some unwise tweets. He can be the most physically talented running back on the roster all he wants. He's just about out of chances, and he's nowhere near the field. We'll always have long runs in garbage time, Mike.
We've seen very little from Michigan fullbacks since the advent of the Rodriguez era. When it came time to bulk up Rodriguez would just run Robinson at the line, bring in Webb and Koger at the same time, or use one of the tailbacks as a lead blocker.
Appearances by John McColgan were infrequent, too infrequent to draw conclusions. He did catch one of those two-yard touchdown passes fullbacks are always reeling in and whack Clayborn with help from Huyge on a third and short against Iowa.
He's a senior and should be all right. Moving Steve Watson to an H-back type spot suggests he won't be anything more than a specialist. I'm betting fullbacks are only more prevalent when Michigan is "imposing its will" on an opponent, and by "imposing its will" I mean "boring the hell out of everyone in the third quarter against a MAC opponent." Here is the mandatory fluff article about his increased role in MANBALL anyway.
This is my first time doing a [day of the week] Recruitin' post, so please let me know if you have any comments, criticism, suggestions, etc. — as always, I'll be reading the comments, and you can also reach me on Twitter or via email, where I'll also encourage you to send any recruiting articles of interest that you think I should include for the next week's edition.
Drop Everything and Read This
Most Michigan fans who follow recruiting know that Des Moines (IA) Dowling Catholic senior Amara Darboh is one of the class of 2012's best wide receiver prospects, but I personally had no idea what it took for him to get to that point. As it turns out, he is by no means your typical four-star football prospect — to reach Des Moines, Darboh had to flee Sierra Leone at age seven and landed in Iowa as an orphan in a refugee program before being adopted by the family that would eventually introduce him to football. His incredible story is detailed in the Des Moines Register, and I can't encourage you enough to read the whole thing:
Though Darboh was too young to remember details, his father, Solimon, and mother, Kadita, were slain during Sierra Leone’s civil war that started in 1991. Darboh and other family members were left without any recourse but to flee.
He first went to Gambia, then to Senegal, before eventually ending up in the United States — and finally in the Des Moines home of Dan and Mary Schaefer.
Darboh has grown into a young man, a senior at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. He has become such a good football player that big-time coaches throughout the country, including those from the two major programs in Iowa, have offered scholarships.
From his initial Who’s Who list, Darboh narrowed down finalists to Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
That's as small a chunk as I could bring myself to block-quote, and like I said, seriously read the whole thing. Wherever Darboh ends up playing out his collegiate career, I'll be rooting for him.
Awesome Fluff-like Substance
Scout released an online portion of Allen Trieu's magazine profile of defensive tackle commit Ondre Pipkins, who was apparently quite the Herculean child:
Al knew his son just had something, but it was even before he coached him at Central Middle School in Saginaw. He says the moment he knew his son may someday be a great football player came even earlier.
“When he benched pressed 80-lbs at six years old on a stationary weight machine.”
Good lord. When I was six, I needed help opening jars of apple sauce. Ondre, not so much.
Tom Strobel sought the advice of an NFL star who ultimately helped him decide upon Michigan, and of course that NFL star was Drew Brees. Wait, what?
"Drew Brees is such a great guy," Stroble [sic] said. "I was fortunate to talk to him on the phone when I needed advice about choosing a school. He called me and he just gave me great advice with his main point being to take football completely out of the equation and at the end of the day just choose a place you want to be if you were not playing football. For me, that place was Michigan."
Please tell me Danny Hope read this and had his mustache spontaneously combust as he screamed "Damn you, snake oil!" to the heavens. Thanks, Drew!
Also filed under 'things that make little sense': Ben Braden, behemoth offensive lineman, finally turned his full focus to football in his sophomore year of high school after giving up his first sporting love... hockey. Obvious quote is obvious [emphasis mine]:
"I played hockey from fifth grade until my sophomore year," Braden said. "I started out as a defenseman and moved to left wing and right wing. I played football once in fourth grade, and again in eighth grade, but I loved hockey.
"There aren’t too many 6-7, 320-pound hockey players."
If former Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig was nicknamed "Godzilla" while standing at 6'3", 221 lbs., I can't even imagine what Braden's hockey nickname would've been (maybe just "Sir," as in, "please don't leave me broken in a thousand places, Mr. Braden, Sir."). In article bits that are actually useful, Braden does say that playing hockey did help him with his flexibility, footwork, and ankle strength, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.
Tight end A.J. Williams may hail from Cincinnati, but a local newspaper feature reveals that he has "a little bit of country" in him:
"I love to fish, said Williams, who orally committed to Michigan April 22. "I try to do it all. I try to be a well-rounded person."
Williams said his grandfather is from Georgia and that helped influence his love of the outdoors. Williams said he also likes to ride a four-wheeler while he is with his family.
1) Please don't crash that four-wheeler, A.J., and 2) He says he plans on trying to catch catfish with his bare hands (a technique called "noodling"), which is pretty badass.
MaxPreps profiles Terry Richardson as part of their "Top 50 recruits in 50 days" feature (T-Rich is #33).
When driving to a photoshoot featuring Northeast Ohio's top offensive linemen, always call shotgun. Also, Tom Strobel's feet aren't the same size, which is kinda strange and gives me a probably-irrational fear of future injury, though at least he isn't the player in the article whose feet are compared to Yao Ming's.
The Seattle Times has a piece profiling blue-chip offensive linemen Zach Banner and Josh Garnett, who are part of a pretty outstanding class of O-lineman in the state of Washington. They say they'd love to form a "Dream Team" of the top five guys in the state, but that appears pretty unlikely, especially since even two-man package deals always seem to fall through.
Actual, You Know, Recruiting News
Rivals released its updated Rivals100 and Rivals250 rankings this week, and you can track the movement of Michigan's commits in two posts at Touch the Banner. While several Michigan commits fell in the new rankings, Pipkins made a huge leap from #246 all the way up to #53:
"Pipkins was impressive when we saw him at the U.S. Army Junior Combine in January, but he had trimmed some of the bad weight by the time he showed up at the Ohio State NIKE Camp and looked to be in much better shape," said Helmholdt of the 6-foot-3, 325-pounder from Kansas City (Mo.) Park Hill who is committed to Michigan. "He is explosive off the snap and once he gets that big frame moving up field offensive linemen have trouble slowing him down. Pipkins uses his hands well and is a potent combination of quickness, power and technique."
"Pipkins has added some muscle since the U.S. Army Combine in January," Perroni agreed. "He has an extremely strong lower body and uses it to overpower most opposing offensive linemen. He proved that he can play the pass just as well as he stuffs the run on film."
Another defensive tackle of great interest made a similar jump, as Danny O'Brien moved up 68 spots to #154:
"O'Brien has always had an explosive first step, but what was holding him back from a higher ranking early in the process was that he did not play with the power of other elite defensive tackles," Helmholdt said.
"Over the course of the spring, however, O'Brien added 25 pounds to his frame and with the weight gain came the needed strength. He was impressive at the Ohio State NIKE Camp in May, then went out and had increasingly better performances at college camps and The Opening over the summer."
Speaking of O'Brien, Sam Webb's latest DetNews column focuses on his recruitment. O'Brien plans on taking an official visit for the Notre Dame game, and had this illuminating quote about being recruited by Michigan [emphasis mine]:
"Hoke said to me, 'Take your time. I know you're one of those guys that is really making a decision in cutting them down.' He said, 'Take your time and we will take you whenever.' That stood out to me. I was never the guy that had a dream school picked out. That was big for me because I've been down to Tennessee a few times and that's what I liked about them. They said, 'Take your time. It's your decision. You are your own man and you have to make your own decision.' When Coach Hoke finally said that (also), that was big for me with Michigan."
The Flint Powers standout says he's considering announcing his college decision on October 7, during his high school's homecoming week. He has an official visit planned for Michigan State for October 15, when they coincidentally play Michigan. You do the math there.
Lakewood (CA) wide receiver Darius Powe plans to visit Ann Arbor for the Notre Dame game ($, info in header).
Adolphus Washington and Dwayne Stanford will take official visits together to Michigan, USC, Alabama, and Arizona State, but Tim Sullivan (yes, that one) says not to expect these guys to become Wolverines, in so many words. All signs, especially with Washington, point to Ohio State at this time.
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep cornerback Yuri Wright, who is now Rivals's #51 overall prospect, is keeping his options open ($, info in header). He recently said Rutgers and Cal stood out among his leaders, which also include Michigan, Georgia, Notre Dame, and Michigan State, but he has backed off that statement and claims he doesn't have any favorites or a timeline. Wright plans on taking all five official visits.
Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu claims to be down to a top three, and it doesn't include Michigan ($, info in header). I'm not sure if the coaches would take him at this point regardless.
Josh Garnett is still figuring out where to take his official visits ($, info in header), and the Wolverines appear to be in the mix.
Offensive lineman Jordan Diamond was one of the standouts at the Chicagoland Pre-Season Prep Bowl, according to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports in a free article.
Happy trails to defensive tackle Jarron Jones, who somewhat surprisingly committed to Notre Dame on Monday. Many experts expected he'd end up at Penn State. He teams up with Sheldon Day to give the Irish a really good pair of DTs in the class — their defensive line is going to be scary good in a few years. Blergh.
The Detroit News names Terry Richardson the top prospect in the state. There's a disappointing lack of actual scouting reports throughout the entire countdown, but here's a quote from Cass Tech head coach Thomas Wilcher:
"He's one of the biggest recruits we've had," Wilcher said. "People asked me why Terry is so good. He's a great cover guy and he's fast."
Other players of interest in the countdown: James Ross (2), Mario Ojemudia (3), Royce Jenkins-Stone (4), Ron Thompson (5), Aaron Burbridge (6), Matt Godin (8), Devin Funchess (9), Danny O'Brien (10), Ben Braden (12), and LEVITICUS PAYNE (19).
Meanwhile, Duane Long has rated 11-50 of his top 50 prospects in Ohio [parts 1, 2, 3, and 4], and here's the Michigan commits included so far: Tom Strobel (12), Pharaoh Brown (17), Jarrod Wilson (18), Joe Bolden (26), A.J. Williams (31), and Caleb Stacey (48). That means Kyle Kalis and Chris Wormley are almost assuredly in his top ten, but it'll be interesting to see if Kaleb Ringer and Allen Gant make the cut or are (unjustifiably, in my somewhat-biased opinion) left off the list entirely. For context, the #50 prospect, Mason Monheim, is unrated on Rivals and holds offers from Illinois and a handful of MAC schools.
Dave Berk, who covers Ohio high schools for Scout, tweets that Joe Bolden is the "top pure linebacker" in the state in the 2012 class.
Scout released their initial list of five-star recruits for the class of 2013, and Shane Morris is one of them. Analyst Bill Greene on the future Wolverine quarterback:
"I've never seen him play in pads yet, but I've seen him at Pittsburgh, seen him in Florida, saw him in Cleveland, NIKE, four or five times. The thing that sticks out is arm strength, one of the strongest arms you'll ever see, especially on a kid that young. He's still developing. What I got to see in the 7 on 7s, is competitiveness. His team had been on road a lot. He hadn't been home in awhile, and it was about 100 degrees in Florida, and I think a lot of kids mailed it in that day, and that kid wasn't going to mail it in. He wanted to win, and they did. He couldn't just gun it into windows down there either, he had to show touch. There was speed all over the field, and he had to throw over linebackers, underneath safeties, and he did it. You saw how much he loved to compete. It meant a lot to me too, that, at NIKE, Elite 11, they made them do a lot of things they don't do at any other event, with throwing on the run, the targets they have to hit, and his accuracy was impressive. I didn't know he had that type of accuracy. He's as good as it gets as a quarterback prospect. I like what he does with footwork, release, and he'll only get better, bigger, and stronger."
Scott Kennedy piles on with more hype, saying, "I don't know where he'll be ranked overall in the Class of 2013, but he'd easily be a Top 10 guy in the Class of 2012." It's not clear whether he means overall or among quarterbacks, but regardless... word.
Scout also posted a breakdown of recruits in the Midwest who could earn the coveted five-star rating or at least crack the Scout 300, and those players include:
- Fort Wayne (IN) ATH Jaylon Smith (not offered yet)
- Midland OL Steven Elmer (offered)
- Marlington (OH) ATH Dymonte Thomas (offered)
- Trotwood-Madison (OH) S Cameron Burrows (interest, no offer)
- Hudson (OH) OLB Ben Gedeon (offered)
- Huber Heights (OH) Wayne OL Lovell Peterson (interest, no offer)
- Joliet (IL) Catholic Academy RB Ty Isaac (interest, no offer)
- Avon (IN) DE Elijah Daniel (interest, no offer)
- Detroit Catholic Central ATH Wyatt Shallman (offered)
- Brother Rice DE Jon Reschke (interest, no offer)
- Grand Blanc Community DE Luke Maclean (interest, no offer).
Got all that? There will be a quiz next week.
The Saginaw News prominently features Steven Elmer in a preview of Midland's season, and despite drawing interest from schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Syracuse, and Mississippi State, it sounds like he'll be holding off on a decision for the near future:
"Steven's been recruited heavily, while Wylie, Vieau, Alek Swiercz have been going to some MAC and GLIAC schools," [Midland head coach Eric] Methner said. "I'm not worried about it being a distraction because their focus is on Midland High School right now. The recruiting stuff was for the spring and winter. They are absolutely focused on their role as Chemic football players. Our coaches are doing a good job of keeping them focused."
Lake City (FL) OL Laremy Tunsil was named one of 24/7's first five-stars in the class of 2013 ($, info in header). He's been hearing from the Michigan coaches, and I'm guessing an offer will come sooner or later. The 6'6", 275-pound junior already holds scholarship offers from Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, USC, Arkansas, and South Florida.
Finally, Farmington Hills Harrison sophomore running back Lorenzo Collins is profiled by 24/7's Steve Wiltfong. Collins talks about attending Michigan's camp with teammates Devin Funchess and Mario Ojemudia:
“[Fred Jackson] told me a lot of speed things and things that would help me with my footwork,” Collins said. “He was just telling me and actually motivating me. He told me he’d be looking at me. I’ve never been a big fan of Michigan, but I’m really starting to like it. It’s a fun school. I like the coaches. The coaches are real motivating.”
Unfortunately, no glowing Fred Jackson quotes comparing Collins to a young Bo Jackson with more speed were readily available.
|Junior Hemingway||Sr.*||Martavious Odoms||Sr.||Roy Roundtree||Jr.*||Kevin Koger||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||So.||Jeremy Gallon||So.*||Kelvin Grady||Sr.*||Brandon Moore||Jr.*|
|Drew Dileo||So.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.*||Terrance Robinson||Jr.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
Yeah, I know the depth chart lists a fullback and crams the wideouts into two spots, but Al Borges keeps saying shotgun and wideouts and even Lloyd Carr rocked three-wide for much of his later period. The slot lives here, for at least another year or two. The slot lives on like whoah, actually: six of the nine guys on that depth chart can't get on the rides at Cedar Point, and one of the exceptions is the returning starter in the… slot.
So they're going to be short. And you should take the above depth chart with as much of a grain of salt as I did the official one and its lack of a slot and placement of Martavious Odoms on the third string. Any of these guys could pop up anywhere save Hemingway, Jackson, and Robinson, who are outside guys exclusively. It sounds like everyone is an outside guy now:
"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."
That is a lot more complicated than what they did last year when the entire passing game was a constraint play. This is necessary to move the offensive forward. I'll discuss it more in the quarterback section, but when Denard's legs were removed from the equation on passing downs YPC dropped to an ugly 5.7—not much better than the 2008 disaster.
There are downsides to this. For example, in the two minute drill stuff after the punting demo Jeremy Gallon twice broke off option routes only to see the quarterbacks chuck it deep. There's going to be an adjustment period here. Roundtree:
“You have to have the timing down in this offense because if the timing is off, then the quarterback is off,” junior receiver Roy Roundtree said. “Our receivers want the ball, so we got to get open and keep the timing good for Denard.
Where is that timing at now?
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We still have two more weeks to get ready.”
Timing's always important and in the long term this passing offense will be more robust. I just hope we get plenty of last year's stuff in appropriate situations.
|like Marquise Walker|
|we totally planned this|
|drags a toe|
|also totally planned this|
|a back-shoulder leap|
|little high, no problem|
|cover zero in the alps|
|inexplicable yac knack|
|Purdue orbit step|
|Illinois Houdini act TD|
|tough to tackle|
|yac knack attack|
|not a replay of YKA|
Over the summer Junior Hemingway ventured into the heart of a South American jungle to perform an arcane rite that would free him of the injury jinx that's plagued him since his arrival Ann Arbor. It worked. It wrought a price on Martavious Odoms, but it worked. Hemingway hasn't been laid up with mono, an ankle sprain, a shoulder problem, or the Black Death in quite a long while.
If he can manage that through the season he's going to end the year with a ton of catches. Even if the Michigan offense doesn't go full MANBALL right away continued development from Denard Robinson will make difficult pro-style throws that frequently target outside wide receivers more feasible; Borges's offense will make them more frequent. Combine that with Hemingway's main skill and there will be jump balls for the taking.
That's convenient. That main skill is being enormous and jumpy. As the table says, he's like Marquise Walker. He's not a guy who's going to blaze past the secondary. There's going to be a corner in the vicinity. If it's going well they're going to watch Hemingway make the catch anyway. What you see at right emphasizes that theme: there's always a guy around, but he's often six inches too short to do anything about it.
A number of the catches are back-shoulder throws that don't necessarily seem intentional. If they aren't they might become so as Borges emphasizes a more sophisticated, they-tried-to-man-up-Crab passing offense.
The canonical example follows.
It might be a mirage conjured by playing next to Darryl Stonum for the last three years, but Hemingway does adjust to the ball in the air pretty well. He doesn't get a ton of separation, but his leaping/box-out ability is top shelf. He does do a good job of finding the ball and bringing it in.
He's also got this strange knack for picking up yards after the catch. He's a 230 pound monster who should get tackled on the catch every time, but this fails to happen with some consistency. There was that ridiculous touchdown against Illinois, for one. The highlights above have a few more examples.
Put the inexplicable YAC knack with his ability to snag downfield jump balls and good enough hands (he had four routine drops on 27 opportunities last year—not good—but snagged 3/5 circus attempts—very good) and you've got a solid Big Ten receiver. He'll see his production increase significantly. If he can maintain his 18.5 YPC he'll challenge Roundtree for the most receiving yards on the team. Expect a bit under 1,000 yards from him.
|quicks way past safety|
|will headbutt you|
|extended screen block|
|opens the corner|
|comes back to ball|
|wide open downfield|
|guy on his back no problem|
Martavious Odoms showed up way down the depth chart a few days ago. I'm not buying that. Hoke wants experience, toughness and blocking, and Odoms provides that. He's going to have to put a third wideout on the field, and Odoms is going to be #3 in snaps after Hemingway and Roundtree. So he's a quasi-starter.
He's probably way down the depth chart because his injury thing is becoming a problem. He missed the second half of last year with a broken foot, spent a big chunk of fall camp sporting a cast, showed up with his shoulder in a sling in a CTK episode, and apparently has another cast on now. In context it seems like his depth chart demotion is a health issue and he'll bubble up (HA!) when and if that gets resolved.
When on the field Odoms has been a reliable, unthrilling option. Odoms is from Pahokee, so he's small and would headbutt a goat if he thought it would get him two yards. His elusiveness is just okay—Roundtree and Hemingway probably have better YAC stats. His hands are good. Over the past two years he's 26/27 on routine catches, 7/10 on somewhat difficult ones, and 2/4 on very difficult ones. On the downside, his lack of height makes him a tougher target. Sometimes balls that Hemingway would grab zing way over his head.
The total package is a useful player but not one that's going to show up in the opposing team's gameplan. If healthy he'll at least double his 16 catches from last year; 45 is the guess here.
Jackson; Robinson (not that Robinson, or that one, or that one)
Since we've shuffled Roundtree off to his old position, there's only two guys bigger than a breadbox left. Jeremy Jackson is the one you've seen. The son of running backs coach and hyperbole enthusiast Fred, Jackson is a lanky, "lumbering" possession receiver who seems like the cream of the four-person WR recruiting class of two years ago. That's not a big hill to climb since DJ Williamson transferred, Ricardo Miller moved to tight end, and Jerald Robinson can't get on the depth chart.
He only managed four catches last year but at least they were all against Wisconsin and Ohio State. He'll see his involvement rise as Michigan spreads Stonum's catches around; 15 catches is as good a guess as any. Hope for reliable hands and an ability to get open thanks to his sizeable frame—a poor man's Avant is the goal.
Jerald Robinson also exists, but not on the depth chart. His recruiting profile makes him out to be a rangy leaper with good hands and some upside on deep balls. His omission from the depth chart was a surprise after the coaches and teammates had spent time talking him up:
“I feel like he’s going to get time,” Roundtree said. “I talked to him the other day, like, ‘Look man, this camp, you got to stay focused, don’t get down because your legs are sore. That’s supposed to happen.’ Jerald’s been having a great camp because he wants to learn and he wants to get better. He can play.” …
“Jerald doesn’t know how good Jerald can be,” wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “There’s a lot of times where he’s really, really come along. It goes back to this is just a process.
“There’s some things he looks really, really good at, and there’s some things that we’re going to continue to work with him on.”
There were reports that Robinson did not Get It and may be in the process of doing so, FWIW. Hecklinski evidently thinks he has not fully acquired It and will wait to put him on the field until he has safely done so. He's a guy to look at for next year. Borges says "he seems like he has a future here," which is not a present here. He's just a redshirt freshman, after all.
Though the short guys are probably going to play outside as much as they do inside I'll cover them in the slot section.
Roy Roundtree is an eventful dude whether he's hand-wavingly wide open for a touchdown or dooming Michigan to turn the ball over by dropping the ball. Thanks to a massive game in the insane triple-OT Illinois thriller he finished as the Big Ten's second-leading receiver.
A large chunk of that is thanks to Denard's legs. There's a certain theme running through many of Roundtree's long receptions: desolation. When Denard catches the safety the resulting throw looks like post-apocalyptic football. Where is everyone? They're dead. Let's run through this tumbleweed-infested secondary.
That did not take a ton of skill on Roundtree's part.
But there is a reason he leapt off the bench during the 2009 Michigan State game and has been the favorite target of whoever's at QB since. For one, he's more slippery than you'd think. Michigan's recruited a horde of 5'9" YAC guys but it's Roundtree who gets targeted on bubbles. It's easy to see why:
|the worst waldo|
|blindingly wide open|
|Indiana oh noes|
|breaks wide open|
|safety just barely gets him|
|fourth down TD|
|gets crushed; hangs on|
|20 against UW|
|guy on his back|
|over the shoulder|
|jukes two different guys|
|smokes him on a juke|
|shakes CB for TD|
Odoms doesn't have much like that on his resume and Gallon is just a rumor. Roundtree's only competition is Hemingway's inexplicable YAC knack.
And his hands are pretty good despite the drops—four in 41 opportunities in the first 11 games last year. He gets targeted a lot. They could be better, sure, but I think everyone remembers them more because instead of converting a first down after Roundtree drops a ball Michigan immediately turned the ball over on three separate occasions. Those tend to burn themselves into your head. Hemingway had the same number of drops in 27 opportunities last year but you only hear about Roundtree's fumblefingers moments. Not that they don't rankle. It's just that I think our subjective memories are not 100% reliable in this matter.
If they move him outside he'll lose his spot as the designated hand-wavingly-open dude jetting past safeties. I think that would be a mistake since he's an easier target to hit than any the other options. When things opened up for the slot last year they often opened so wide that the only things that mattered were 1) how easy is it for Denard to hit him and 2) being faster than a tight end so no one catches him. Roundtree fit on both counts.
Meanwhile, moving outside may make him vulnerable to getting jammed at the line. As a slight guy who hasn't had to deal with that much in his career I can see that going poorly. A corner can get into him—under him—and disrupt his business. He's probably still the second best option out there in those circumstances; he's just not going to be as effective.
Roundtree's production will drop this year as Michigan tries to get Hemingway and Koger more involved. He can't expect set the single-game receiving record every year. He'll still run neck and neck with Hemingway fro the most receiving yards on the team.
If there's one thing that is a must-recycle from last year's preview it's this stunning Kelvin Grady wallpaper:
DOWNLOAD NOW INSTALL NOW KEEP FOREVERRRR
|over the shoulder|
|gets nailed but hangs on|
|a bullet he snags|
|spins to catch it|
|lit up and hangs on|
|designated reverse guy|
|an alley outside|
|just outruns dudes|
I have no memory where that came from, unfortunately. I would like to find this person and see if they have excessively dramatic wallpapers for Nate Brink yet. I bet the text reads "on the BRINK of a REVOLUTION."
Anyway: Grady. He moved over from the basketball team and dropped a lot of balls two years ago, whereupon he was dropped from the lineup when Roy Roundtree burst onto the scene. When Odoms moved outside last year he got another shot and did surprisingly well with it. The hands issues disappeared—while he did have one routine drop on nine attempts he was six of six on more difficult stuff—as he became the designated reverse guy. By the end of the year it was a litte disappointing they hadn't used him more.
Entering his final season Grady's best shot at extensive playing time is based on 1) a lot of three wide and 2) Roundtree playing mostly on the outside. In that situation he's the established veteran. He'd get a crack at screens and seams and whatnot en route to a breakout mini-'Tree year. More likely is a moderately increased role as Roundtree bounces inside and out with around 30 catches.
It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time. Gallon came to Michigan with a ton of hype and a stunning resemblance to The Wire's Snoop…
Normally this would spell another year on the bench making people wonder what the big deal was all about. Stonum's suspension and the injury curse migrating to Odoms gives him an opening. If you listen to the coaches he seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.
As a result he passed Odoms on the official depth chart, though this preview assumes that's because of injury. Perhaps more interesting is surging ahead of Jackson and Robinson, who are closer to the strapping downfield leapers the pro-style offense generally prefers. Gallon had seemingly fallen behind Jackson in particular late last year.
(Gallon's special teams contributions are covered in a separate section.)
Sophomore Drew Dileo is basically Wes Welker, of course. He had one catch for three yards a year ago and will probably have to wait another year for some of the small guy logjam to clear before he gets significant time. I can't understand why he's not returning punts since that's supposedly what he was recruited to do and Gallon has been maddening, but there are now two coaching staffs who have come to the same conclusion about the depth chart there.
Finally, Terrance Robinson's still around. He's been conspicuously absent from both press conference chatter and the depth chart. He's been passed by younger guys in Dileo, Gallon, and Jackson. He's probably not going to see time. Here's this catch he had last year, though.
Kevin Koger can't go twenty minutes without someone asking him if he's excited for an increased role in the offense as if he or Martell Webb weren't on the field for 80% of Michigan's snaps last year. The conventional wisdom holds that blocking ain't playin', apparently.
Koger did a lot of that last year and was effective but not stellar. Webb was clearly a superior blocker and was the preferred choice when Michigan got close to the goal line and things got hairy. While Koger was preferred in the passing game, it wasn't by much. His 14 catches were nine more than Webb's five.
Is that going to change this year? If they run the I-form a lot, maybe. That takes the slot off the field and makes the tight end the natural target in the seam areas that are so deliciously open because of Denard's running. I'm not sure how you get opponents to vacate those when you're under center (fake QB draws?), but if anyone can do it it's Denard. When Michigan's in the shotgun he'll have competition from Roundtree, et al., in those zones and it's clear Denard's comfort level is higher with 'Tree.
Koger's lack of participation in the passing game may be his own doing. Two years ago he started the season by making a series of ridiculous catches, then blew all that goodwill and more by catching just 7 of 11 routine opportunities. He was 9/9 last year on those, which helps but still gets him to 16 of 20 all-time— still worse than anyone on the team last year. If he's dropping stuff in practice the lack of attention is not related to the spread. I know there was that one year that Tim Massaqoui broke his hand and Mike DeBord kept throwing to him, but I choose to believe that little wrinkle was unique to The Avalanche.
Koger's role will be up to him. He'll be somewhere between a B- and B+ blocker and will have opportunities to establish himself a major part of the passing game. Our sample size on his hands is still very small and the bad part is now two years removed and he's quite an athlete—his upside is high. I can't help but think he's been held back by things other than Rich Rodriguez's preferences, though. I'm betting on a good but unmemorable senior year.
Moore; weird guy with weird hat and Watson
There are a couple scholarship options behind Koger but they're not particularly encouraging. Despite being a big time recruit, redshirt junior Brandon Moore has hardly been seen on the field outside of baby seal clubbings. Even if he did have a couple of quality options ahead of him on the depth chart, the third tight end should see snaps here and there if he's quality.
More ominous yet has been the total lack of buzz surrounding him in fall. Borges's only mention of the guys behind Koger was when he was directly asked about TEs other than the starter. The result:
I think Brandon Moore has done a nice job. He is still climbing if you know what I mean. He is getting better every single day and Steve Watson is a solid player. I think we’re pretty deep there. I think we’re pretty deep. Because Kog got hurt in the spring, those other guys got a lot of reps.
That seems to be something to file under coachspeak. We'll see; given Moore's physical talents he could surprise.
And then there's Steve Watson, who came in as a tight end, got moved to DE, linebacker, TE again, and then started playing FB—he appears on both depth charts. I imagine he'll get some time near the goal line as a threat out of the backfield and out of necessity when Borges feels the need for a big set. At this point it's hard to think he'll do much with it.
Ricardo Miller's the lone other TE on the roster. After moving from WR he's up to 234 pounds, which is far too little to see the field unless the roof caves in.