here's one vote for "John Beilein's head in a Futurama jar"
Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the receivers, the offensive line, special teams, the conference, offensive questions answered(?).
1. What is it?
I keep trying to reconcile quotes like this from Rich Rodriguez…
How have some of the guys responded to the new 3-3-5?
“It is not a true 3-3-5. Again, there is as much as we were doing last year as there is new stuff from the spring. We’ve tried to keep things a little simpler, added a few new things simply because of the youth on defense and we need to play a little faster. ”
…with views of the defense in spring and fall in which Craig Roh hardly ever plays with his hand down. A quick review of Devin Gardner's time in the spring game—which I picked since it was mostly against the first team defense shows 17 snaps on which there's a three man line (a couple of these do have Roh as a standup DE, FWIW) and just six on which he is in a three-point stance, two of those plays where the offense is backed up on their own goal line and the D is expecting a run. In more open play the ratio is a striking 17/21. It certainly looks like Craig Roh is a linebacker who moonlights at defensive end a la Shawn Crable. It looks like a 3-3-5.
Maybe that's an artifact of playing a spread offense and in games against beefy, power-heavy teams Michigan will go to more of a traditional look, but I don't think that'll happen either. Michigan deployed a formation USC calls "Double Eagle" more and more as the year wore on, debuting it against Iowa and deploying it extensively against Ohio State:
This was responsible for Michigan's excellent interior run defense when Ohio State did it's usual DAVE SMASH plays. It was also fundamentally unsound when OSU went unbalanced, but hopefully they fixed that. Either way, only Ohio State has the ability to run it down your throat and switch to a spread n shred—the other beef machine teams in the Big Ten feature pocket passing QBs.
With Ryan Van Bergen and the Sagesse/Banks platoon at defensive end, Michigan's line is four guys who would or could be 4-3 defensive tackles. It seems natural to tuck people inside and and run this thing you've clearly been installing for over a year.
The verdict: it's a 3-3-5 base with four-man lines a "multiple" look Michigan will run for a curveball. The coaches can say it's not a "true" 3-3-5, but to everyone but a football coach it will look like one. Craig Roh is a linebacker, mostly, and Jordan Kovacs is a tiny linebacker. I expect three-man lines to be present on 60-70% of Michigan's snaps this year.
2. Why is the personnel still so doomy?
This is not actually a surprise. The ugly bit about Misopogon's Decimated Defense series—other than all of it—was how little matters were scheduled to improve this year:
…last year was very thin – one or two guys recruited at each level. All told, 11 recruits, meaning if everybody played up to their hype (which never ever happens), we would have had an upperclassman team with some really good players and some really mediocre players. This year, there's a little more play but it's not all that different. Specifically, the tradeoff in upperclass talent is a likely Brandon Graham (6.1) and Renaldo Sagesse (5.6) for two likely Ryan Van Bergens (5.8) and an Obi Ezeh (5.5).
Straight-up, it's probably not a difference, meaning the performance level that Michigan's defense gets from its upperclassmen in 2010 will probably be about what it got from its upperclassmen in 2009. It is still well below that of Ohio State, and like last year, is drawing from a significantly smaller but significantly more talented pool than Michigan State.
Put another way by diarist Jokewood in November:
Comparing Michigan's defensive upperclassmen not only to Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame, but to the rest of the conference as well...
Ohio State - 22
Northwestern - 21
Indiana - 19
Illinois - 19
Michigan State - 19
Penn State - 19
Iowa - 18
Wisconsin - 18
Minnesota - 17
Purdue - 15
Notre Dame - 15
Michigan - 12
The rest of the Big Ten averages 50% more upperclassmen on defense. We are dead last in the conference by a wide margin in terms of experienced defensive players.
Michigan's number in 2010 was scheduled to be a still really crappy 14 before Brandon Smith transferred (and subsequently washed out at Temple), Donovan Warren entered the draft, and Troy Woolfolk exploded. Michigan is down to 11 upperclass defenders, 12 if you count James Rogers, 13 if you count Steve Watson. They've gone nowhere.
The sudden fall attrition has hurt matters, especially since it's been concentrated at the position at which Michigan was most vulnerable, but this was always going to happen.
3. Is there any way the secondary is not a giant flaming disaster area?
The solitary hope is that Michigan was so bad at safety last year that even though they've lost two competent cornerbacks and replaced them with green players they will improve simply by playing bend-don't-break and forcing opponents to put together touchdown drives instead of touchdown plays. That could make the secondary a rickety cart balanced on the edge of a volcano, which sounds pretty good right about now.
How realistic is that? Somewhat, actually. After last season, Jon Chait had a post at the Wolverine with evidence the Woolfolk move backfired badly:
Michigan played six games with Woolfolk at safety -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State. (I'm ignoring the Delaware State game because the competition level was so abnormal.) Michigan played five games with Woolfolk at cornerback, which forced Michael Williams into the starting lineup and Jordan Kovacs to move out of his more comfortable position. In those five games, Michigan played Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin.
You can probably figure out where I'm going with this. In the six Woolfolk-at-safety games, Michigan's opponents gained 380 yards per game. Those six opponents averaged 374 yards on the season overall, which means that Michigan allowed its opponents to gain just a bit more than they did against the remainder of their schedule. This is a poor result, though not an absolutely horrendous one.
But in the five Woolfolk-at-corner games, Michigan gave up 445 yards per game, against opponents who gained 382 yards per game on the season overall. That is a horrendous result. That is a sieve of a defense.
The scoring numbers are even more stark: Michigan went from giving up 23 points a game to 37. Is it really possible that bringing in Mike Williams and moving Jordan Kovacs deep resulted in two extra touchdowns ceded per game?
Well… not quite. The Woolfolk-at-safety games include two MAC opponents, three approximately .500 teams, and Ohio State. The Woolfolk-elsewhere games are much tougher on average because the bulk of the MAC stats were racked up against other MAC teams. If you hack those out this is what it looks like:
|Opponent||Ydg||Scoring||M Ydg||M Score|
[Note: MSU's overtime period was removed to keep everything even.]
Against teams that didn't play a segregated, much easier schedule Michigan was about 20 yards worse than average in yardage and even on scoring. So moving Woolfolk only cost Michigan about 40 yards and nine points a game. That still overstates the effect since MSU did score a touchdown in their overtime period and Ohio State was Tresselballin' it like a mofo, only putting Pryor in the shotgun once Michigan became vaguely threatening. So let's knock our estimate down to 30 yards a game.
What's thirty yards a game in terms of national averages? Kind of a big deal. Michigan would have leapt from 82nd in total defense to 57th—basically average—if they'd just maintained their Woolfolk-at-safety pace.
Plugging the enormous hole at safety would be great, but even if you make the reasonable assumption that Gordon/Kovacs/Robinson is going to be way better than Williams/Kovacs, the massive downgrade at corner means you're probably just treading water. Treading horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water.
4. GERG: Brilliant? Terrible? What's Going On?
Punt. Punt punt punt. I have a tendency to get bitchy about coordinators doing things I see as strategically weird and slammed Scott Shafer over the course of the '08 UFRs for transparently nonsensical decisions like hardly ever playing senior nickelback Brandon Harrison (even against spread teams! In favor of Johnny Thompson!) and pulling one of his senior defensive tackles on downs like third and one. The end result:
The picture painted by the above is, in retrospect, one of huge incompetence. Last year Michigan regularly removed functional veteran players in favor of crappy ones that made no sense given the down and distance situations or the offense on the field, and those things only got fixed (-ish) once Shafer was removed from the decision-making process. It's not like the position guys covered themselves in glory with that 3-3-5 against Purdue but at least they pulled their heads out of their butts afterwards and put in the defense Michigan should have been running from day one against spread teams.
I didn't find that kind of complaining much when I went back over the UFRs for '09. The worst thing I found was after the Penn State game:
Why are you such a grump? Iowa put up 30 points and 367 yards of offense to Penn State's 35 and 396 , and Michigan managed to escape that game with way better numbers.
I think it was that all the stuff Penn State was doing came so easy. The Zug touchdowns, the Quarless touchdown, all the long handoffs: all of those plays required nothing more than Penn State not screwing up with wide open receivers. To Clark's credit, he hit all those guys. He then laughed about the primitive defense that Michigan was running, and on review I totally agree: Michigan telegraphed their now-predictable third and long redzone blitzes and got killed. They showed the long handoff was there and got killed. They put Obi Ezeh in man coverage on the edge against Evan Royster and got killed.
That's what the big minus in RPS is there for: I think Robinson got owned by Penn State's offensive brain trust (which is Galen Hall, not Jaypa). This game was slightly reminiscent of the Purdue game a year ago where Michigan switched to a new system and got their brains beaten in by it.
This was mitigated by the situation, obviously:
I don't know. I am sort of mad at Robinson for making it easy by not breaking tendencies with two weeks to prepare. But when you've got Kovacs as your deep safety, what can you do? Kid's smart and can be an effective player in the box but obviously lacks the athleticism to be a deep safety in the Big Ten.
Tactical complaining is absent in other UFRs, though if I'd actually manned up and done the Ohio State one I would have cited the Buckeye Football Analysis link above, in which the guy said he was surprised at how fundamentally unsound Michigan's scheme was, as another negative.
On the other hand, I've been pumping up GERG's work with Roh and Brown constantly and citing his move to linebackers coach as an indication the rest of the staff thinks he's the best option to undo the damage wrought over the past couple years. And, really, what can you do when you're handed the material he was given last year? This has been documented incessantly: given the personnel situation it is totally unsurprising Michigan's defense cratered last year.
So I punt. I'll be looking at the development of Roh and Mouton and seeing if the defense can get off the mat somewhat despite facing down a personnel situation that isn't much better, if it's better at all, than last year's. We'll have a much better idea about Greg Robinson in November.
There were many complaints when I started the preview series off with the secondary and linebackers. People were depressed. They found me depressing. Someone posted something on the message board wondering if I was okay. People of Earth: it is not my fault the back seven on defense is depressing. It just is.
Is there hope? Is there anything resembling it? Maybe. After the Iowa game this is how I diagnosed the D:
On the podcast this week I called the defense "competition-invariant": they have talent and do well when they use it but when they make an error it is so huge that even Indiana can exploit it ruthlessly, so the defense kind of plays the same against everyone.
Maybe GERG can reduce that tendency. Maybe Cam Gordon will 1-0-1 the season. Maybe the linebackers will get less frustrating, and maybe Michigan will give up an annoying number of long drives but not so many awful, really short ones. But here's the greater-thans and less-thans:
- Junior Mike Martin > Mike Martin
- Sophomore Craig Roh >> freshman Craig Roh
- Senior Jonas Mouton with competent coaching > Junior Jonas Mouton with headless chicken tendencies.
- Sophomore Kovacs >> freshman Kovacs/Williams/Smith
- Cam Gordon > Kovacs/Woolfolk/Williams
- Mark Moundros/Obi Ezeh == Obi Ezeh
- Ryan Van Bergen <<< Brandon Graham
- Sagesse/Banks < Ryan Van Bergen
- Carvin Johnson < Stevie Brown
- JT Floyd << Donovan Warren
- Whoever < Woolfolk/Cissoko/Floyd
It's going to be rough. Tony Gibson:
"If we get any more simple, I don't know what we're going to be able to do," Gibson said. "We can't just play one coverage and do that kind of thing.
"These other teams we're playing, they have scholarship kids. They're not going to say, 'OK, Michigan's young back there, we're not going to throw at them.'
I actually think the defense will improve simply by virtue of having some continuity and knowledge of the players, but not by much. Shootouts beckon.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
- I didn't do any for some reason, and that was the best prediction of all.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Fumbles recovered double to ten.
- The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.
- Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.
- Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.
- Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.
- Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.
1. Can you answer the same quarterback question everyone's been answering since the spring game?
Sweet hot pickle John The Baptist, the fictional questioners are just as persistent as the real ones. One last time: I expect Denard Robinson to get the start against UConn. Rumor has it the team has already been informed.
The premium sites are engaged in a war of information about the #2. Scout is claiming Gardner has haxored the offense and will plug into the matrix sooner rather than later; Rivals says Forcier's come on like gangbusters of late and is hinting he'll end up starting sooner rather than later. Both of their mumbles are of the "I'm just saying" variety where blame can't be assigned retroactively but credit sure can; both are seriously hedging on Denard Robinson.
I don't buy either much, but I buy the latter way more than the former. My personal obsevations are in line with UMGoBlog's assessment of the spring performances of each. Gardner:
@ the :24 mark: here you can see the game moving really fast around him. His feet slow down because his brain is working overtime to process all the info available. Finally, he leans back away from the contact on his delivery, which will normally cause the ball to sail, or fall well short.
@ the :38 mark: this may be his "can't teach that" moment. With Tate and DR, we have to roll the QB one way or the other to attack the middle. They cannot see over the line. Here, DG confidently steps into the pocket and throws a nice, although low, pass in a deep in route. As he continues to develop, he physical stature may end up being a large advantage for him in the QB race.
@ the 1:15 mark: we see some of the TF-like play making ability. He escapes the rush, but works back INTO the pocket to keep all his options alive down the field. Very good poise for the young guy in his first spring.
@ the 1:55 mark: this is not the first example on this film, but the ball HAS to come out quicker here. Giving the LB/DB time to read this play is a huge mistake and really hung the RB out to dry. Again, no doubt understandable with DG's inexperience, but this is a HUGE thing that must improve before I will call him "Game Ready".
@ the 2:23 mark: SHEESH! Protect the ball above all else, especially at your own goal line. As soon as he felt the hands around him, that ball should have been thrown to the Off. Coord. on the sideline. Live to fight another play.
It keeps going like that, promise alternating with the freshman mistakes we've gotten all too accustomed to the past couple years. Reports from the fall scrimmage, which was all of two weeks ago, are similar. Downplaying the one horrible interception is "a mistake but…" neglects Gardner's tendency to just chuck things when he got pressure. It didn't happen often, but when it did he responded—all together now—like a freshman. I'm done with this true freshman stuff. We've seen the chart, right? Michigan ran out a drilled-from-birth prodigy last year, got significantly above average performance from him, and still had a creaky offense. Devin Gardner is not that good yet. I have every confidence he will be that good in time, but not yet.
Forcier remains Forcier, hopefully minus many of the crippling turnovers. Denard, well;
@ the :59 mark: he is rolling left and fires a strike over the middle. I cannot overstate the difficulty of this throw. Very Impressive.
@ the 1:30 mark: he cannot find a target and tucks and runs. It will be beneficial at some point for him to learn to 1)identify targets earlier 2)throw it away 3)get out of bounds and avoid unnecessary hits.
@ the 1:40 mark: he makes a perfect read on the option. Watch the DE on the O's left side completely bite down on the run. Other Big Ten teams will not bite this hard. They know DR is the bigger threat. He will have to hand off more this year.
@ the 2:20 mark: he hits Roundtree for the 98 yarder. Beautiful touch on this pass! However, his throws out to the slots and RB's on the bubble screens and hitches need to be this accurate. They aren't yet.
Denard is ridiculous. He will be given the first shot because of this, and it will be up to him to keep it. No one can take it away from him; he'll have to give it away. If I had to put numbers on it, there's a 65% chance Denard is the primary quarterback, a 30% chance Tate is, and a 5% chance Devin is.
2. Why should I be excited at all when the "Rodriguez leap" amounted to finishing ninth in total and scoring offense in conference play?
Last year around about the Notre Dame game some very excitable people were proclaiming things about the Rodriguez Leap, something Doctor Saturday identified as a strong trend in Rodriguez-coached offenses to blow up in year two. Michigan's was coming from so far back and running in place when it came to quarterback experience, so that initial prowess ended up being a mirage. Michigan was way, way better, but still pretty meh. So the above conference stats exist.
While those may be literally true, they don't exactly feel right, do they? Michigan's offense did fall off considerably after a scorching start, but whenever that stat gets brought up it seems wrong. Michigan had the misfortune of missing two below-average defensive teams in Northwestern and Minnesota, after all.
That is more intuitively correct than raw things like points or yards per game and, since it is conference-only, sidesteps the Baby Seal U issue. Michigan's offense was seventh, a hair away from fifth. That's not good but it is a major step forward after they were last by a mile in '08.
Besides, it's possible they actually made the RR leap. Seriously. The problem is how far back they were coming from. As last year's preview noted:
…even if Rodriguez makes a leap similar to that turned in by his 2002 West Virginia team—probably the most comparable since they were coming from so far back—Michigan will only improve to 68th in total offense.
Sans BSU, Michigan would have finished 78th. With BSU they finished 59th, and since all the other teams that played super tomato cans didn't have them stripped out by when I say they would have finished 78th, splitting the difference seems reasonable. We're back to 68th in total offense again.
The best RR leaps to date were virtually identical improvements at Tulane and West Virginia where year two saw yardage output increase by 21%. If you discount BSU, Michigan went from 290 yards of total offense to 353. That's a 22% increase. While it's a lot easier to go from godawful to bad than go from bad to average or average to great, at previous stops Rodriguez had the luxury of installing an experienced quarterback in year two. With Michigan's chaos there (and Rodriguez's inability to get a viable quarterback in his first recruiting class), they did not have that luxury.
And here's the thing: with the quarterbacks going from freshmen to sophomores and some number of starters back ranging between seven and ten—depending on how you assess players like Roy Roundtree, Martavious Odoms, Patrick Omameh, Mark Huyge, Perry Dorrestein, and a couple others—isn't it plausible to expect another leap in year three? Tacking on 17%—the average yardage increase in previous RR leaps, discounting last year at Michigan—to Michigan's BSU-free yardage yields 414 yards per game for Michigan, which would be good for 32nd nationally.
- There was a leap,
- It was hard to find because they were coming from so far back, and
- There should be another leap this year.
This could be worth a small "woo," or something.
3. Can the running game take a… well… can it improve a… aw, hell, can it make a leap? The leap?
Last year Michigan obliterated their best YPC mark since the turn of the century, posting a 4.52 well clear of 2006's previous high water mark of 4.27. All right, yes, Michigan's demolition of Baby Seal U (54 carries, 461 yards) is heavily distorting, and if you pull it out Michigan's season YPC drops a half-yard. That drops it to third, as you can see at right. Since most of the seasons there had a nonconference cupcake that wasn't good but also wasn't quite as distorting (in 2006, for example, Michigan put up 246 yards on 51 carries against Vanderbilt in addition to their two MAC snacks), that sells '09 a short.
So. Despite missing their best and most critical lineman for most of the year, suffering a number of bad snaps that ended up looking like –20 yard carries as a result of that, and spending most of the year down at least one of their senior tailbacks, and running out freshman quarterbacks. Michigan posted one of the better YPC numbers of the last decade of Michigan football. They were solidly third. I'm throwing this on the pile of evidence that Rodriguez's approach to the ground game is just plain better than Carr's.
Meanwhile, I'm not too concerned about the lost personnel on the line. Omameh should be better than the Moosman/Huyge/frosh Omameh combo over the course of the year. Molk was clearly better than Moosman as a center, something that was addressed in the Illinois game:
Moosman is not as good as Molk on tough reach blocks. Lot of cutbacks against Illinois because the playside DT did not get sealed. Cutbacks are tougher sledding, usually.
Here's a successful run from Brown on which Moosman does not seal his guy and Brown has to hit it up behind Moosman in front of Schilling:
From what I've seen, Molk is more likely to actually get that block on the frontside. He won't do it all the time and the cutback can be effective but then you're relying on the backside block, which is often a tough one.
Ortmann to Huyge/Lewan probably won't matter much; tackles aren't that important in the spread 'n' shred run game. The only other losses are at tailback, where Minor managed just 96 carries a year ago. His average YPC was 5.2, only slightly better than the team average in I-A games. Brown, meanwhile, finished the above run like this:
It's not like either of the lost guys was 1) that great, 2) ever healthy, or 3) irreplaceable. Here's a preview of a stupid prediction: Michigan 2010 tops that YPC table.
4. What about the tackles?
Yeah… that's the thing. Michigan has depth and talent at the skill positions and the interior line. The quarterbacks have been discussed ad nauseum—while they won't be great the best of the three options available will be at least average and possibly (probably?) good. Michigan can take some hits and still expect good things to happen… except at tackle.
There Michigan has two guys who did not play well last year and two redshirt freshmen. Though Taylor Lewan has a boatload of hype he's just one guy, and a freshman at that. Meanwhile, Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein took turns playing Slight Hindrance To Guy Forcing Forcier Out Of The Pocket; both were benched for the other at some point. It's clearly the weak spot.
There are reasons to hope:
- Experience helps out offensive linemen more than other position groups.
- Huyge was undersized but is no longer.
- Dorrestein was struggling with a back injury most of this year.
- Frey's coaching saw Ortmann improve substantially in his final season.
- Lewan does have a boatload of hype and provides a viable third option if one of the starters struggle.
A step forward is likely. Even so, at the end of the year the thing that will have held the offense back from great heights will probably be an inability to keep defensive ends away from the quarterback.
This rocket has two stages, the second of which should kick in this year. There's more experience everywhere, plenty of talent to go around, multiple options at quarterback, some of whom are scholarship non-freshmen: Michigan's offense will be much better in 2010. Now for the greater-than-less-thans!
- Sophomore Tate/Denard >>> Freshman Tate/Denard
- David Molk >> David Moosman
- Senior Schilling > Junior Schilling
- Patrick Omameh >> Moosman/Huyge/Omameh chaos
- Stonum in HD > Stonum in black and white
- Roundtree/Grady > Odoms/Roundtree/Grady
- Tight ends > younger versions of themselves
- Five-headed running back monster == constantly injured seniors with younger versions of running back monster.
- Martavious Odoms == Greg Mathews
- Perry Dorrestein == The better of Dorrestein/Huyge
- Mark Huyge < Mark Ortmann
As stated above, RR Leap 2 would hop Michigan up to 32nd nationally in yardage even without the benefit of a tomato can I-AA game. Put that back in and Michigan should find itself in the bottom third of the nation's top 25 offenses.
Things that can make this not happen: tackles are bad and or injured. Quarterbacks do not progress like they should. The tailback situation is a muddled heap of mediocrity. Things that can make this pessimistic: Stonum blows up. Toussaint or Cox blows up. Denard really is that good.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
- ESSENTIALLY CORRECT IF SLIGHTLY OPTIMISITIC: Minor misses two games with injury [note: chalk!]. [Minor missed Western and Ohio State; he also sat out against DSU, if that matters, and was seriously limited for much of the rest of the season.]
- RIGHT DESPITE INJURY: People expect Vincent Smith to be the 2010 starter.
- WRONG BECAUSE OF INJURY: Junior Hemingway is your leading downfield receiver (ie: Odoms is in the running but we aren't counting screens). [Roundtree blew up late; Hemingway finished well behind Mathews amongst outside WRs.]
- PRETTY CLOSE: Denard runs for 450 yards and throws about ten times. [350 yards and 31 attempts.]
- NOT PARTICULARLY ACCURATE: Michigan uses a huge multiplicity of formations on offense, debuting new stuff frequently and ending the year with a huge (hur) package. [Michigan never busted out
- WRONG: A two-back three-WR set is most common, though sometimes that third WR will be a tight end in the slot. [Michigan went 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB most often.]
- OPTIMISTIC EVEN COUNTING BABY SEAL U: As noted, Michigan finishes somewhere between 40th and 50th in total yardage. [59th.]
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Michigan 2010 finishes atop the rush YPC chart above without considering the UMass game and by a considerable margin.
- Gardner ends up burning his redshirt in very, very frustrating fashion, because…
- …Denard is pretty much your starting quarterback all year, but…
- …Forcier plays in every game, bailing Michigan out in one critical fourth quarter.
- Vincent Smith gets the most touches amongst the running backs. Second: Shaw. Third: Toussaint. Fourth: Hopkins.
- Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher.
- Darryl Stonum does not exactly go Chris Henry on the planet but does greatly increase production via a series of big plays: 30 catches, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns.
- Michigan breaks out the triple option with regularity, using Hopkins as the dive back and Shaw/Smith the pitch guy. They also dig out those WVU formations where the slot motions into the backfield, with Grady the man beneficiary.
You are feeling a sudden sense of well-being relative to two years ago.
If I had to summarize the thousands of words poured out into this space previewing the 2009 Michigan quarterbacks in a single sentence, it would be "they are going to be much better but probably still suck":
The upshot: freshman quarterbacks suck, but on average they suck far less than Michigan's two-headed monster of yesteryear. An average-for-a-freshman performance from Forcier will be a huge step forward for the offense.
And lo: Michigan's quarterbacks combined to throw 14 interceptions against just 15 touchdowns, fumbled probably a dozen more times, averaged a meh 7.2 yards per attempt, and singlehandedly sabotaged a surprisingly winnable 2009 edition of The Game. This was vast, vast improvement—the 2008 QBs combined to average 5.1(!!!) yards per attempt—and also pretty much sucked.
|Quarterback||Team||Year||Comp. %||Yards/Pass||TD %||INT %||Efficiency||Record*|
|Terrelle Pryor||Ohio State||2008||60.2||7.9||7.2||2.4||145.6||10-3|
|Tyrod Taylor||Virginia Tech||2007||53.7||6.9||3.7||2.2||119.7||11-3|
|Jimmy Clausen||Notre Dame||2007||56.3||5.1||2.9||2.5||103.9||3-9|
|Josh Freeman||Kansas State||2006||51.9||6.6||2.2||5.6||103.5||7-6|
|Reggie Ball||Georgia Tech||2003||51.7||5.7||2.9||3.1||102.8||7-6|
|Brady Quinn||Notre Dame||2003||47.2||5.5||2.7||4.5||93.5||5-7|
A tick behind Chad Henne isn't bad. And since Henne's receivers were current NFLers Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, and Steve Breaston while Forcier's top target was a redshirt freshman who only started playing extensively at the tail end of the year—the senior "star" went undrafted—you could plausibly argue that the main difference between the freshman years of NFL starter Chad Henne and current sophomore Tate Forcier was the quality on the other end of the pass, especially since Forcier's YPA was superior. (Save your Baby Seal U protests: Forcier threw two passes in that game.)
To put the suck of '08 in perspective: '09 sucked but only because of the turnovers. The YPA average in I-A last year was 7.2, exactly what Michigan managed. A standard deviation was a yard. Michigan improved two standard deviations with a true freshman under center.
So of course everyone expects the guy who threw four interceptions in 31 attempts last year to start. This is Michigan, where things don't seem weird until the melting clocks drip PCP-tripping Gary Busey homunculi into swimming pools full of ham. We've seen stranger. Have you heard the one about the field goal that one of Michigan's players unblocked?
The Starter Right This Instant
Yeah: Denard Robinson. This is the part of the preview where I ignore the the guy with 281 attempts and 118 rushes in favor of the guy with the 31 attempts and 69 rushes because of an impressive spring performance, a bunch of practice reports, and some inflammatory comments from Troy Woolfolk. For the record, here they are again:
"Denard has been out there through the thick and thin and been out there all the time regardless if he's hurting," Woolfolk said. "And Tate, he tries to come out, but he's not as consistent as Denard is. And that's allowed Denard to jump a little bit ahead of Tate and I think that Tate's going to have to do a lot of work to catch back up to Denard in camp this year."
With Rodriguez and Steve Schilling essentially backing those up a couple days later and the general tenor coming out of spring practice, it seems clear that Forcier did not think his job was under threat, slacked off a bit, and has paid for it with his starting job. (Forcier: "I felt like I was working with the team, just not as much as I should have. Part of that is maturity." Rod Smith: "He didn’t come back in shape, and he’s competed as hard as any of the other guys.")
By now (and for now) this is assured. When Bruce Feldman was attempting to justify($) his out-there pick of Michigan as #25 on his preseason ballot, he deployed this conversation he'd had with Rodriguez:
Rodriguez is so fired up by the development of QB Denard Robinson, who is so dynamic he evokes memories of WVU great Pat White. Rodriguez says Robinson's presence and personality are similar to White's, and that Robinson is actually bigger than White was at the same stage. He doesn't quite play as fast as White did, but he will.
"Pat was so decisive," Rodriguez said. "He knew what he was doing. Pat was a fast player who played fast. Denard is a fast player who didn't play fast all the time, but I know he will play faster this year. He'll play faster and faster. He'll become more relaxed and calm executing the offense. There is a lot to learn, but at the same time, he is eager to learn it. And as he plays faster and his teammates play faster, we'll get a lot better."
Rodriguez added that the other two QBs Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner are very gifted too and will push Robinson, and if they overtake him, well, then the Wolverines offense should be in good shape.
We were at the point where the other two quarterbacks are "pushing" Robinson even before the fall scrimmage reports ("clear starter," "will absolutely start," "will be the starter") started rolling in. Perhaps more telling even than those rapturous reports was the substitution pattern: like David Molk, Mike Martin, and select other players too important to risk, Robinson saw his snaps limited. His time wasn't nearly as limited as that of the aforementioned duo—he had time to establish himself obviously the man before Forcier and Gardner mopped up during the last bit of the scrimmage—but the sign was clear. The competition is chasing.
I guess this is plausible. I mean, there's this:
Since that was done against the 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers it's pretty impressive. Yes, they had a 5'7" defensive tackle too.
So what does Michigan have in this guy? Anyone who attempts to tell you is having a moment of foolish arrogance. The guy who did this…
…also did this…
|has a lane|
|darts through this gap|
|easy QB draw|
|another one for TD|
|squeezes in for Iowa TD|
|a precious thing forever.|
|shoots into the secondary|
|six exciting yards|
|Iowa doom INT|
|underthrown DSU TD #1|
|fired it hard and high|
|okay Koger seam|
|zings one on the money|
…and was such an incredible neophyte that he never once ran the zone read despite its status as Rich Rodriguez's calling card and Robinson's ability to do that first thing above. Any program not digging out from a 100-year flood would have taken one look at the kid in fall practice and put so many redshirts on him that he'd be peeling the last one off right now. Michigan couldn't because its other quarterbacks were walk-ons or injury-prone freshmen.
The results were occasionally brilliant, sometimes promising, and frequently facepalm-worthy. In lieu of a full UFR passing chart here are all of Robinson's infrequent attempts rolled into one pretend game with around 30 attempts:
|Season||1||7||6 (2)||3 (1)||4||4||-||-|
That's three inaccurate screens and an 8/18 downfield success rate, which rivals Mallett's insane freshman performances, without even considering that four of those passes were terrible interceptions. This will not be news to anyone who saw Robinson play last year: he was in vastly over his head.
A guy that raw with that much speed has the ability to make a stunning improvement in a single offseason. And the above-linked spring highlights at least suggest that Robinson's improvement has indeed been stunning, especially since he followed that up with a similarly impressive performance in fall. He's added a non-insubstantial eight pounds to reach 193, and the offseason has come with a heavy focus on ending all the fumbling. Rodriguez:
“He looks to me physically bigger, and maturing physically,” said Rodriguez. “Mentally, he understands some of the concepts a lot better, which he should. I see his confidence continuing to grow. And he’s so eager to please and do well that he’s taking steps every day."
“There were a couple times today with ball security … even though they didn’t fumble, it wasn’t as good as we’d like,” Rodriguez said. “But you could see they were making a conscious effort to take care of the ball. Decision making, the same thing… they’re not just trying to force something in there."
This is the bit where I evaluate the player's strengths and weaknesses and offer up a projection for season stats and the like, but here the former is obvious and the latter a mystery. Robinson's radical improvement has come against Michigan's second and third strings, which are so thin as to hardly exist. How will he react when those seams are covered? How will he react when he gets pressure? Can he hold onto the ball when he's not playing two-hand touch? Run around, run around, don't know.
Let's take a wild-ass guess and ballpark it as Pat White, freshman edition. White was a redshirt freshman who split time with a pocket passer—Robinson is essentially the same thing. In 2005, White rushed for 952 yards at 7.3 a pop and completed 57% of his passes for 7.3 YPA, 8 TD, and 5 INT. Downgrade those YPA numbers 10-20% to take into account Michigan's presence in the Big Ten and that's your random guess.
Extremely Nominal Backup
Until about a week ago, virtually every scrap of talk about Tate Forcier this offseason had been negative. A quick scan of any Michigan message board will turn up a thread or four that someone in the Forcier family will screenshot and throw into the section of their personal site once embarrassingly named the "Hall of Shame" and subsequently nerfed to something less ambiguously bitchy and more clearly intended as motivation. The charges: Forcier is a douchebag. He's going to transfer. He's not going to get any better. He hasn't been going to workouts. He will pout when and if he doesn't play, destroying team chemistry. Etc. I've unpublished a couple around here.
How we got here from "Weapon of Choice" and Moxie Death Star is a matter of:
- lots of losses,
- Forcier's waning effectiveness as teams figured out they had to keep him in the pocket,
- Forcier's waning effectiveness after his shoulder was bruised/dislocated/LABRUM'D,
- five turnovers, many of them blithering, against Ohio State, and
- Let's Get Denarded in spring.
Still, the numbers on the above chart are just off future star status, especially when you knock Pryor and Griffin out for being athletic freakshows whose stats were inflated by the rarity of their throws.
Forcier didn't get a ton of help from his offensive line or receivers, either, which made a couple of his performances better than they looked. Michigan State provides a typical example:
You wouldn't know it because of all the pressure and the drops killing his stats, but Forcier had a spectacular day. His downfield success rate* was 71%, which is up there with Chad Henne's best game. Chad Henne's best games didn't come with game-killing overtime interceptions, sure. He made three and a half terrible decisions throwing the ball (with the half being the bomb to Koger) and some additional ones in the ground game.
But does anyone remember the "Sheridan Might Start!" meme? Will anyone own up to actually advancing that point of view? No? No.
After the great start (post ND: "two games in it looks like Tate Forcier has 99th percentile skill in accuracy on the run, pocket awareness, and (yep) moxie"), Forcier had a mid-season swoon with an implosion against Iowa in which his DSR fell to a bleah 50% that didn't take into account how "disastrous" some of the bad reads; the following week Forcier duplicated the 50% DSR performance against Penn State. He picked it up afterwards with a "decent" Illinois game and had "one of his best games" against Purdue before turning in a "good day" against a very good Wisconsin defense; though Ohio State didn't get charted I can tell you that his performance in that game was plain great except for the four awful interceptions, which is a weird thing to say but there it is.
So. By the numbers, both official and blogger-generated, his freshman season was promising. Unfortunately, the numbers aren't everything. Forcier made a ton of bad reads on the zone read and Michigan's rare option plays, one of which Burgeoning Wolverine Star documented in detail. Part of the reason he looked so ineffective on the zone last year was because he pulled the ball out too much.
Worse, the numbers capture Forcier's interceptions but not his massive fumble issues. Everyone remembers Tate gifting Ohio State the first touchdown of last year's game with a basically unforced fumble, and that was a problem all year. Illinois:
The fumbling issue remains a problem, though: Forcier was irresponsible with the ball and coughed it up twice, once on a QB draw he made a poor read on. Michigan lost one, causing everyone to turn the TV off. Hopefully this is a major point of emphasis in the offseason; Forcier can't be as careless with the ball going forward or the offense is never going to get off the ground.
The big downer was the fumble, which was a huge error on Forcier's part but also an understandable one since Purdue blitzed right into the option and Forcier was not prepared to deal with the corner there. He should have eaten the ball and taken the loss.
Robinson chipped in his share of mind-bending fumbles but Forcier, more than anyone else, was responsible for Michigan's crippling 13 fumbles lost.
But as training camp progressed, the Forcier vibe got better. Rodriguez:
“I’ve had quite a few talks with Tate and some of the other guys and said if you’re a true competitor, you’ll respond to it,” Rodriguez said. “So far he has. He’s responded … he’s not sulking and laying back. He’s working his way back and trying to prove himself.”
"Obviously he went through some adversity there with Troy's comments and the wings and all that stuff you guys know about." He's worked hard to prove himself, and show that he wants to be the team's quarterback. "I'm definitely gaining a lot of respect back for Tate," as are a lot of others.
With transfer and ineligibility rumors quashed and fitness levels approaching something the coaches consider reasonable, Forcier has bounced back and finds himself in position to play. Rivals has taken to using its insiders to talk him up like whoah, and while I don't share the point of view on offer there*, especially the lack of confidence in Robinson, it seems like his time with the third team is at an end. As I've asserted a thousand times before, the two sophomores are so different that Michigan has reason to play both, and can reasonably hope the platoon is greater than the sum of its parts.
What can we expect from Forcier's sophomore year? Beware linear projections. Way back in December, Ace took a look at a subset of those true freshman starters in the chart above and compared their sophomore performance to their freshman years. He found that sophomores improved their average yards per attempt by a full yard, completion percentage 5.5 points, and touchdowns by five. If you take those improvements and apply them to Forcier's freshman year you get ridiculous results: 65% completions, 8.5 yards per attempt, 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and the #12 passer efficiency rating in the country.
That's totally not going to happen. Ace took a bunch of really terrible QBs who became decent to good and applied that transition to a decent quarterback, resulting in a projection that says Forcier will be the greatest sophomore QB of the past ten years, and by some margin: only Chris Leak's sophomore year rating of 145 is anywhere close to Forcier's projected 151. More realistically, the hope is for Forcier to cut down on the crippling turnovers by a third, add some more touchdowns, merely maintain his YPA—only Chris Leak significantly exceeded Forcier's freshman YPA as a sophomore—and add a point or two to completion percentage. Forcier doesn't have a long way to go to be a good quarterback, but that means his improvement in all things other than holding on to the damn ball will be incremental.
*(Chances there's some serious fuddy-duddy-ism going on there: high.)
And then after all that there's Devin Gardner. Gardner just came in for an extensive recruiting profile last week, so I won't rehash that when virtually nothing has changed in the interim. The executive summary: massive upside, raw, needs serious work on his throwing motion. I've also made my opinion on the redshirt issue clear:
Should have the luxury of redshirting with Denard's emergence into a viable option. Given Rodriguez's statements on the matter…
There is also freshman Devin Gardner, but Rodriguez said he wouldn't burn Gardner's redshirt if it was for a couple of plays a game.
…you'll probably see him on the bench unless both sophomores struggle. After that it's kind of hard to see him unseating an established junior, but they'll mix him in when given the opportunity; a lot of people have claimed he's going to be the starter as early as 2011, but I think he'll have to wait until he's a redshirt junior, at which point he should be Awesome Devin through and through.
Rich Rodriguez is not of a similar mind. He told the media Monday that Gardner was on the depth chart and would play. I'm still hoping that the two sophomores play well enough to keep him on the bench, if not immediately then by the time the Big Ten season rolls around, at which point Gardner can come down with a strained whatever and get that year of eligibility back.
Surprise! Guess who's on the UConn injury report:
Out: Fitzgerald Toussaint (knee), Jared Van Slyke (clavicle), Troy Woolfolk (ankle)
Questionable: Junior Hemingway (hamstring)
Never doubt Junior Hemingway's ability to get injured.
Former Michigan great Desmond Howard is promoting the AllState Mayhem Football Challenge, which you can find here. I got the opportunity to ask him about that and Michigan football earlier today.
You were recruited by Bo, but you also played for Gary Moeller. What helped that transition be so smooth, and why isn't it the same now?
Well, it's the obvious, I'm not gonna tell you anything that you don't know. It's pretty much that it was within the coaching ranks. I think that when you hire within, then the degree of change isn't that great. When you hire outside the coaching tree, so to speak, then the degree of change may vary, because a person's going to bring in their own philosophies, their own style, their own way of doing things. To me, that's just obvious. When you look at the coaches who followed Coach Schembechler, they weren't outside the family tree, so they were kind of keeping things consistent. That's what any program knows across the country. Once you hire within, then there isn't the huge degree of change that can happen when you hire outside of the family tree.
We hear all this discussion of how many wins Rich Rodriguez needs to keep his job, but how many wins do you see Michigan getting this year?
It's tough to say because you don't know about the product yet, so everybody just throws out numbers. I'm not in the business of just throwing out numbers just to give people numbers [despite working for ESPN. ZING!]. I mean, you need to see the product first. I thought coming out of the spring that they have an opportunity to have a pretty productive offense. I thought they had some real good talent at the skill positions. I felt as though their Achilles heel could possibly be their defense. Not saying that they wouldn't be a good defense, but I wasn't sure and I'm still not sure that they're going to be the type of defense that's going to be able to come up with big stops in big games to win those games for them. My opinion is that they'll be able to score some points, there's no doubt about that. They're going to put some points on the scoreboard, but will they be able to come up with those big stops in some crucial games to give them the victories? That's what I think I would want to see at this point.
You're one of just three Heisman winners from Michigan. Do you see anyone on the current roster who has the potential to contend for the stiffarm trophy in future years?
That's a good question. I think that they have some talent there, but that's such a prestigious trophy, I don't just put a player up for that just because I saw him do some things in practice. I have a little more respect for that trophy than to sit here and tell you something like that. I think they do have guys who have great potential, but until that potential manifests itself on an actual football field in a real game, then I can't put those sorts of lofty expectations on the potential. Do they have potentially good skill position players? Of course they do, I said that earlier, I think they have some fantastic talent at the skill positions. But, they've gotta go out there and show it.
You heard about the "#1 jersey controversy" between Braylon and Coach Rodriguez when he first came in. You never wore the #1 jersey despite being a great receiver at Michigan. What do you make of it all?
I guess Braylon Edwards had endowed the jersey or something like that. From my understanding, when Braylon did what he did, he was under the impression that he would have some sort of say in who wears that jersey. That's the part that gets dicey. I heard it was agreed that he would be able to tell who would wear the jersey or at least it would go to a wide receiver. I think at the end of the day, when I spoke with Braylon, he had a conversation with Rich Rod, Rich Rod was new and he wasn't aware of that whole situation, and then like two men they talked about it, they squashed it out, and I didn't think anything else came of it after that. I didn't think it really blew up.
You've probably seen the Big Ten division split by now. What do you think of Michigan and Ohio State being in opposite division but still playing on the last week?
I thought that different divisions made sense if you want to be able to give the fans an opportunity to see two of the most storied programs in the history of college football play each other for the conference championship, which is what most fans were used to anyway. That game wasn't the last game of the year just because it was convenient for both teams. That game was the last game of the year for those two teams because usually, that game came down to who would represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. Now, not always, but usually. I think that now they're splitting them up so now you can till have a similar scenario.
After your days in the NFL ended, how did you start getting into broadcasting?
I graduated from Michigan with a degree in mass medium communications from the communications department. I guess that can help you understand how I was going that direction after I retired.
What can you tell us about the AllState Mayhem Football Challenge?
It's a great game, I think that they came up with an excellent concept. It seems like it could be win-win. Each week, there's going to be a prize given away, but the grand prize at the end is tickets to two huge games, They get tickets to the 2011 AllState Sugar Bowl and the BCS National Championship game. So I think it's a win-win for anybody who wants to play. It's in the spirit of college football; it just gives a lot of [armchair] college quarterbacks an opportunity to show how good they are at predicting the unpredictable. How good they are at trying to foresee mayhem, things that people normally don't think are going to happen, but end up happening, and can change the game. I think it's huge, it's a great opportunity for a lot of college football fans to get involved.
I want to make sure you understand the grand prize for this. They get tickets to both events - I wish I could play it. If I wasn't working, doing what I do for a living, I would play it, just for the opportunity to get tickets to the AllState Sugar Bowl AND the BCS National Championship Game. I mean, what college football fan wouldn't want to be a part of that.
Thank you, and thanks for the opportunity to hear about the AllState Challenge.
I'm telling you, it's a fantastic game. Have you seen the 3D TVs? I was at Best Buy a month ago, and I wasn't even in the market for a TV, I was just getting some other stuff. But wow, I stopped over there by the stereo and TV section, and they this 3D TV set up. What they were playing was this volleyball game. I'm not really a volleyball fan, and I mean, I must have sat there and watched that thing for 12 minutes. They're giving away 46-inch LCD screen 3D TVs, that alone would make me play either week.
|Darryl Stonum||Jr.||Martavious Odoms||Jr.||Roy Roundtree||So.*||Kevin Koger||Jr.|
|Junior Hemingway||Jr.*||Je'Ron Stokes||So.||Kelvin Grady||Jr.*||Martell Webb||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||Fr.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.||Terrance Robinson||So.*||Brandon Moore||So.*|
The situation here is similar to tailback, where Michigan doesn't exactly have a proven star but they do have a ton of options. Outside, Darryl Stonum could blow up, Junior Hemingway could stay healthy, and Martavious Odoms could be a quick blockin' bugger that springs other guys to big gains. In the slot, Roy Roundtree will act as team safety blanket and any of the three guys behind him could provide the woop-gone YAC Darius Reynaud gave West Virginia. At tight end, if Kevin Koger can catch the easy ones he'll be a lethal complement to the zone read.
The bottom here isn't bad, as it consists of a ton of throws to Roundtree and decent contributions all around. The top is enticing, with silly yards per catch possible on the outside and chain-moving consistency on the inside.
Greg Mathews has graduated, a couple kids left the program over the past couple years, and Junior Hemingway is destined to be hit by a meteor in week three, so Michigan's getting creative at outside receiver by moving slot-sized slot Martavious Odoms outside. Despite Odoms' diminutive stature, this makes sense given the situation. Below you can see Odoms doing some catching and all that, but you can also see him chop much bigger guys to the ground time and again. When my Florida recruiting source said Odoms was a "tough SOB" he was not kidding:
|WILL HEADBUTT YOU|
|a precious thing forever|
|fantastic block on the nickelback|
|NOT BREASTON BUT WHO IS|
|squeezes up the sideline|
|avoids the tackle|
|digs this out w/ guy on his back|
|lays it in there|
|lays it in beautifully|
|Odoms reels it in|
Last year everyone was down on Odoms despite his productive freshman year (he was Michigan's leading receiver) because of a series of fumbles late, when it was cold and he was wondering how many limbs he had because he certainly couldn't feel more than two. There was a pretty terrible diary around these parts that met with a strong response. People got strained. Futures were question. It was tense.
For my part, I was "skeptical any slot would beat him out" and "bet on a lot of hurried backtracking" after the year; one half out of two ain't bad. Odoms didn't exactly get beat out but no one's wresting Roy Roundtree's job from him after he blew up in the last third of the year, and while people claiming Odoms sucks are thin on the ground these days any backtracking was steady, possibly even languorous. Fumbles were reduced but not erased as Odoms lost his punt return job to Junior Hemingway. He faded into Bolivian at the end of the year.
So he's at a crossroads. The question is how effective will Odoms be on the outside. No one really knows since all we have to go on are some vanilla scrimmages from spring and fall during which deep passes were anomalies. Things we do know:
- Odoms was 16/17 on easy catches last year (presumably these were a lot of bubble screens), 4/6 on moderately tough ones, and 1/3 on very tough ones.
- He was a receiver for five(!) years at Pahokee after signing up in eighth grade and has played inside and out since.
- He is really short.
We don't have a lot of information about his routes, but he did smoke Indiana safety Nick Polk on that game-winning touchdown. Limited touches after were probably not his fault. He certainly had decent enough hands, though a double-clutch here and there led to frustrating incompletions on the wheel routes he ran frequently.
By moving outside, Odoms has ceded most of the screens to Kelvin Grady and Roy Roundtree and will see his per-game production drop. He'll still be involved, though how much depends more on Roundtree, Stonum, the tight ends, and the tailbacks, all of whom seem to offer either more big-play ability or reliability than a 5'8" outside receiver. Odoms is likely to finish in the middle of the Michigan receiver pack with between 20 and 30 catches.
|in between levels in the zone|
|bursts open 20 yards downfield|
|Mike Floyd catches this, right?|
Darryl Stonum has been something of a disappointment his first couple years. Last year the conversation in re: Stonum was largely about pages and the benefits of getting on the same one with the coaches. When it wasn't, it was about dropped balls. When the season rolled around Stonum started every game but came up with such a paucity of highlights that I've got more on Patrick Omameh, an offensive lineman who played in three games, than him. HIs stats boggle the mind: 13 catches for 199 yards, one fewer catch than he managed as a freshman. End of stats.
As a result, Stonum came up for repeated psychoanalysis in UFR, most of it focusing on his inability to adjust to balls thrown downfield. Against Eastern this happened:
This occasioned a long section about how Forcier left this short but this was the week after ND, when 1) Stonum turned a very makeable deep catch into something almost impossible by turning inside when he had five yards of room to the sideline and 2) Mike Floyd turned Michigan cornerbacks into roadkill. The resulting consternation:
I'm grabbing this just so people can maybe talk about Stonum's adjustment to this. I think it's poor. He misjudges the ball and doesn't slow up enough and turn, which would probably have led to the DB running him over and a PI call. Mike Floyd [or Braylon Edwards] catches this, right?
This persisted; after the Wisconsin game I launched the "same old complaint" when Stonum failed to adjust to a poorly-thrown deep ball and allowed it to get intercepted when he really should have been able to at least bat it down.
Receivers often take time to break out, but the really amazing ones often get there their sophomore years (Braylon, Manningham, and Howard all blew up in year two), so expectations were busily being scaled back when… my gawd, that's Rick Vaughn's music!
Yes, for the second consecutive year Michigan has discovered one of their wideout needs glasses. You'd think that after the coaches discovered one of their wideouts was secretly blind as a bat they would have declared mandatory eye exams for all, but they didn't, so the above clips happened and everyone was very sad. Now? Well, Stonum's reportedly had an outstanding fall camp:
"This is the most consistent we've had Darryl on a day-to-day basis. He's going to be a big factor for us. He's a very talented guy that has a renewed sense of hunger."
As his recruiting profile suggested and kick returns showed, he has electric speed. The coaches seem to be on the same page with him. The quarterbacks are not going to be freshmen. He can now see the damn ball. He could totally blow up, or he could rack up 20 catches and have a version of that year Steve Breaston had after Edwards graduated where it became clear to all that he just didn't have it downfield. I have no idea what it will be, which makes Stonum the offense's #1 X factor going into the season. He can swing games by himself if he lives up to the chatter. A real live deep threat in an offense helmed by Denard Robinson can be preposterous: Chris Henry averaged 25 yards a catch(!!!) his freshman year at West Virginia.
That's Stonum's best case: not that many catches, but a lot of long ones and some game-swinging touchdowns. The worst case is more of the same.
|other end of Forcier improv|
|one little shimmy and is then by|
|caught from behind on bomb|
|big punt return.|
|leaping catch in traffic|
Odoms's move outside pushes Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God's favorite target to the bench, at least nominally. After Junior Hemingway missed spring ball to go along with missing most of 2008 and spending 2009 at half-speed with an array of Minor-like injuries that were just tolerable enough for him to play, it seems like the Michigan coaches finally decided they couldn't rely on him to be around long term and placed him on the bench. Since receiver's a spot at which rotation is incessant he'll get his share of time, leaving the move mostly symbolic, but it is a symbol.
Surprisingly for a guy who barely outpaced Stonum last year with 16 catches, he's got a substantial highlight reel you can see at right. He was also named "first among equals" after the Western game. It's mostly deep stuff: burning Western Michigan, exploiting Illinois over-reacting to a play, burning Illinois and then getting caught from behind, etc. As recruit his rep was an explosive leaper who lacked top-end speed—I compared him to Marquise Walker—and that has been borne out. It's tough to tell if his meh career to date is underperformance or just three years of terrible luck. If he can stay on the field he should be a solid, useful addition to the receiving corps. He's 225 pounds, which makes him a slant threat not duplicated elsewhere on the roster, and last year he was 10/10 on easy catches and 2/3 on moderate ones. His hands are good.
He should have a role and improve on his 16 catches of a year ago, although possibly not by much.
The single other outside wide receiver with any experience is sophomore Je'Ron Stokes, a six-foot guy with excellent athleticism who could have played in the slot if that wasn't already being fought over by four or five guys. Stokes was just outside of top 100 lists as a recruit. Michigan snatched him away from Tennessee after their coach implosion. The takeaway from the recruiting profile:
An electrifying game breaker with excellent speed, Stokes could use more size on his current 6’1” and 180 pound frame. He has great hands, knows how to get open, makes a lot of acrobatic catches and is terrific after the catch.
He's got a bit more size now, checking in at 193 at last report. He was another guy who blew his redshirt last year; his single highlight last year was digging out a low ball dubbed CONESTRAVAGANZA I in the late stages of the Baby Seal U game. He was injured in the spring and only came on late, but he was also pretty much absent from the fall scrimmage; another year mostly on the bench seems likely.
The third string is all freshmen. The only one to appear on the official fall depth chart was Jeremy Jackson (profile), the "lumbering" son of running backs coach Fred Jackson. Lumbering he may be but he's also the son of a coach and has the route running skills and hands you'd expect from such a gritty gritterson of a player. He'll play, likely sparingly. That should mean that classmates Ricardo Miller (profile) and Jerald Robinson (profile) are headed for redshirts.
Roy Roundtree's second catch as a Michigan Wolverine was a game-tying touchdown in the pouring rain against Michigan State. This was a good omen. Over the next few games his playing time increased, though his catches remained infrequent because he was seemingly targeted only when it was a terrible idea to do so. Then Odoms got injured. Roundtree announced his presence with that 77-yard catch-and-run against Illinois about which we will speak no more, then showed Purdue the true power of snake oil:
A good day from the receivers, and by "receivers" we mean "Roy Roundtree." The one drop didn't hurt much since it was on a screen that was going to get blown up anyway. Minor could have helped out by pulling in a low throw by Forcier, too. Other than that: Roundtree, Roundtree, Roundtree. The 1 he pulled in prevented an interception on Michigan's first drive of the day, converted a first down, and lead to a touchdown.
Plus he did this:
Martavious Odoms just saw his job come under howitzer fire. Odoms has been valuable, too, so he won't just go away, but Kelvin Grady's time just got eaten up and I think Roundtree is the starter even when Odoms is healthy. This might also presage some dual-slot formations that have been absent so far in Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan. Kid's pretty good, and quicker than you'd think given the Hawthorne incident last week.
|catching in the rain|
|trucks a safety|
|great, great block|
|inverting an interception|
|20-yard dart downfield|
|pitch and catch|
|dig it out, dig it out|
Did I mention that Roundtree was last year's Rick Vaughn? All hail occasionally checking your receivers' vision. Someone check Denard Robinson right freakin' now.
Roundtree continued his rampage over the last two weeks of the season against Wisconsin and Ohio State, yielding this season breakdown:
- First eight games: two catches, 44 yards.
- Last four games: 30 catches, 390 yards.
Project the last four games over the course of a season and you get 90 catches, 1200 yards, and a season second only to Braylon Edwards's 2004 campaign in the annals of Michigan lore. So… yeah. That's probably not going to happen. But it would be pretty cool i it did, huh? More realistically, Roundtree should double his output from last year, ending up Michigan's leading receiver with 700-800 yards.
For the record, last year Roundtree was 16/16 on easy catches, 4/8 on moderately difficult ones, and brought in his only super-tough attempt of the year by wresting away a sure interception from a Purdue linebacker. He's not that big. He's pretty fast but not that fast. He's not that shifty after the catch. But he's open and he's where he's supposed to be, which is right in front of the quarterback, and he'll catch the ball. So they throw it, and he catches it, and yeah he's basically the apotheosis of the Purdue receiver.
EXCESSIVELY DRAMATIC KELVIN GRADY WALLPAPER FTW
Basketball refugee Kelvin Grady's found himself in an impressive position on the depth chart by warranting an OR with Roundtree. This represents progress; Grady's 2009 was cut short by frequent dropped balls. By Iowa one was enough to yank him or the game. Late in the year UFR noted that nine of the twelve flat drops on the year had been turned in by the tight ends and Grady. After the Illinois game, Roundtree was contrasted with Grady because when Roundtree "is thrown a ball that hits him in the hands it does not fall to the ground." You get the idea: hands not so good.
That's perhaps understandable after Grady thought he'd left football behind for good when he signed up to play point guard for Tommy Amaker. After two years on the basketball team he found himself behind walk-on, read the writing on the wall, and picked up the cleats again. The rust was evident.
But Grady just keeps making plays in practice. That was the reason he was given the opportunity to drop those balls early in the year even with Odoms in front of him and Roundtree nipping at his heels, and the reason he's listed as a co-starter on the depth chart despite Roundtree's stunning end of year breakout. He featured in more "Countdown to Kickoff" highlights than any other non-quarterback; in the fall scrimmage he certainly looked like a top-level option, once taking a reverse from Robinson to score on a one-play, 30-yard drive. A review of his high school highlights reveals the sort of explosive agility that Michigan's other slots seem to lack:
As a bonus, since he was a high school running back he'll be better suited to those spread 'n' shred plays where a slot receiver motions into the backfield to become a second running back. It's hard to imagine Roy Roundtree doing that, so adding Grady to the rotation adds pages to the playbook. He'll see time, and could even supplant Roundtree as the preferred destination for quick screens… if the hands come around.
The backup story remains the same, except older. Terrence Robinson's first two seasons at Michigan have resulted in an injury redshirt and one catch for 13 yards against Baby Seal U. He was fairly prominent in spring and fall, though not nearly as much as Grady was, and is in competition for the punt return job. His problem has always been hands—he was mostly a QB/RB in high school—and that's prevented him from seeing the field. With two guys in front of him it seems like it will be another season spent watching. He'll probably get some real playing time when Grady is tired and Michigan is looking for their slot to be one of those RB/WR flex guys in the mold of Dorrell Jalloh.
Freshman Jeremy Gallon (profile) took a redshirt last year after arriving late because of some academic issues. He should find the field some this year but reports from practice suggest that Gallon did not put in the same sort work some of the other wideouts did and that this will hamper his playing time. Also an issue is a foot issue that isn't severe enough to keep him out of practice but does warrant walking around campus in a boot.
Gallon was a (figuratively) big recruit from a couple years ago, a one-time member of the Rivals 100 and solid performer at the Army Bowl who is by far the most guru-approved of any Michigan slot receiver. With two older and more established options in front of him, his best chance for playing time will be taking return duties away from Odoms.
Also, here is your annual reminder that he is a dead ringer for Snoop from The Wire:
Finally, freshman Drew Dileo (profile) looked pretty smooth this fall but is a very tiny true freshman. If he finds a role this fall it will be on punt returns.
Kevin Koger started the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by reeling in 3/4 passes rated 2 (difficult but makeable) and 3/4 rated 1 (great googly moogly). He then finished the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by dropping every routine ball that came his way. The result was schizophrenic: by the end of the year Koger was 7/10 on tough catches… and 7/11 on easy ones. Matters came to a head against Penn State:
Koger's great start came to a clunky halt with an 0/3 day, and no one really helped out except for the running backs. Forcier's day wasn't good, but it wasn't as bad as the numbers suggest.
He added another "bad drop" against Illinois. That and backup Martell Webb's similarly frustrating hands is part of the reason Roy Roundtree blew up in the last three games.
Koger did not exactly bounce back from this over the offseason, dropping a couple passes in the fall scrimmage and being conspicuously absent from offseason chatter both above- and underground. With depth at slot looking healthy, the entire tight end position could see itself minimized if they don't perform.
There's a good chance they will, though, with all three players returning. Koger himself is entering his true junior season; as a highly sought recruit with a year and a half of starting experience under his belt he should improve considerably. The downers from last season do consist of four dropped passes, after all. Two fewer and everyone's talking about how it will be pick your poison underneath. Small sample size disclaimers apply. When you look at the stuff at right it's hard to envision a guy with that much talent finding himself minimized, especially when Denard-related freakouts see him hand-wavingly wide open frequently.
|Webb's great block|
|picks the playside DT up|
|crushing downfield block|
|Kicks out LB|
|in a sea of green wondering where everyone else is.|
Senior Martell Webb has seen the most playing time to date. He was an infrequent target a year ago. The quarterbacks threw him six passes, one of which was uncatchable and the rest routine. He was only 3/5 on those routine balls, possibly explaining why he wasn't targeted on them more often. He put on 12 pounds from last fall to spring, then took a couple off during the summer and is now a solid 255.
Koger's blocking has been iffy, and while Webb didn't stick out in my memory as a crusher all but one of the clips at left are positive run blocks: he's likely to be the choice when Michigan goes to its I package. Unless he has an epiphany about having the ball in his hands (and Koger doesn't) his receiving stats are going to look a lot like they did last year. Throwing it to him is plan G when you've got three receivers, guys like Vincent Smith coming out of the backfield, and a considerably more dynamic starter at tight end. Webb's a fullback, basically.
The third and final scholarship tight end on the roster is redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore. He was a highly touted recruit with loads of offers when he committed to Michigan early in the hybrid Carr/Rodriguez class, but then dropped off with an indifferent senior year. Since his arrival he's been locked behind Koger and Webb—the only clip I have of him is a catch against Baby Seal U. Without any buzz otherwise, that will likely continue this year.