"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
This is in response to DeadMan's recent diary, which I appreciated, but disagreed with quite a bit, especially in relation to the young players (he tended to dismiss them).
I don't aim to include every single guy on the roster, just the possible starters and key backups I foresee. [note that I removed special teams tackles, thus "non-ST tackles" for some of the guys who had stats strongly inflated by them]
Brandon Graham (20 TFL, 10 sacks)
Ryan Van Bergen (13 tackles)
Greg Banks (6 tackles)
Adam Patterson (1 tackle!)
Graham will be all-Big 10 and maybe an all-American. Van Bergen had a solid season as a fFr backup and should be ready to be a competent but not special starter as a third year soph. Those pointing to Banks and Patterson should keep in mind how little time they saw last year as third year players (especially Patterson!). There is decent chance someone else could see significant time in order to be a starter for 2010, then, such as a converted TE or Roh.
Mike Martin (20 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
Will Campbell, Fr.
R Sagesse (3 tackles)
Martin played very well for a true frosh, and should be a competent starter, but not a stud (yet). Campbell will need to be a decent starter from Day One, as Sagesse barely saw the field, Kates left, and who knows if Helmuth can put on 30-40 pounds in a year. This position will clearly be a weakness, but hopefully not a 6.0 YPC size-weakness, and at least it is building for the future (better than a horrible DL with upperclassmen starters). Ferrara could come back from the OL if there is an injury. Others have mentioned the DEs, but they seem too undersized (260) to me. There would be less need for DTs if a 3-3-5 is frequently played, but a 5th DB isn't available that anyone would go out of their way to get on the field (if Turner is that studly, for god's sake please move him to FS).
Obi Ezeh (98 tackles)
Jonas Mouton (76 tackles)
JB Fitzgerald (2 non-ST tackles)
Marell Evans (4 non-ST tackles)
As was aptly pointed out, none of these guys have a David Harris 6th sense about LB playmaking. But with a 3rd year and a 2nd year starter, they should be solid. Fitzgerald should be competent at ILB while Ezeh (the leader of the group, obviously) moves to the outside. Demens, Evans and Herron are available, but none were able to break into (or stay in) the starting lineup last year, when the opportunities were golden. None of the true frosh seem to have the size or pedigree to play a significant role.
D Warren (52 tackles, 4 PBU)
B Cissoko (15 tackles, 3 PBU)
T Woolfolk (Mgoblue says 9 tackles, 10 of which were ST... ???)
J Turner, Fr.
Warren seemed to take a step back due to injuries, but should be a very good corner this year. Cissoko showed some flashes and some weaknesses, but he was only a true frosh. He should be competent (yes, that's my favorite weasel word) this year. Turner, being a borderline 5 star recruit, should be as useful as Cissoko as a 3rd corner and next option in case of injury, and maybe play some safety if the worst case scenario happens there. Hopefully Woolfolk (or JT Floyd or a position-switcher?) can provide another option for dime/quarter packages.
B Smith rFr
S Brown (64 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 int)
M Williams (7 non-ST tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack)
V Emilien, Fr
Brandon Smith was a very highly rated recruit who missed last year because of surgery. Plenty of good programs count on a guy like him to step up and be a decent starter as a rFr (Texas last year, for example, had two rFr safeties start, and they weren't higher-rated than Smith). I won't get myself started on Brown because I want to be positive about student-athletes, but... hopefully he can be somewhat better. Maybe Turner or Emilien could emerge, or Williams. Clearly the weakest spot, pending more information on the freshmen.
I'm more optimistic about youngsters like Van Bergen, Mouton, Fitzgerald, Cissoko and B Smith than DeadMan was. Nevertheless, this won't be even a very good defense, unless it lucks into some amazing sophomore starters like the 1997 team did. If Graham can command constant double teams, Warren shuts off WRs, and a safety emerges, it could be an average Big 10 defense. If it can simply be more consistent and slightly better than last year's--which I think it can--then the significant offense improvement should take this team to a 7-5 record with the weak non-conf schedule.
My summary of the starters:
All-Conference: Graham, Warren
Very Good: Ezeh, Mouton
Competent (replacement level): Van Bergen, Martin, Campbell, Fitzgerald, Cissoko, Smith
Frighten Me: Brown
Brian, in the comments, says it is not irrational to panic, given that we desperately need better quarterbacking and each option is like "a lottery ticket," so we need more of them. Now, I generally agree with Brian on most Panic or Don't Panic decisions, but here I'm going to come down on the Don't Panic side.
1. We only want people who want to be here. Remember last signing day with McGuffie saying he was going with his head instead of his heart? How did that work out?
2. A corollary to #1 would be: Better Now Than Later. There is a month and a half (minus dead periods) to get a replacement.
3. A replacement is quite possible. I don't know if it is realistic to expect one of the 4 stars left out there to switch, but a high-3 star "lottery ticket" would be fine.
4. He (probably) wasn't going to start anyway. It's true that Forcier could turn out to be mediocre, or break his leg. And Threet might not make the normal HUGE first year to second year of starting jump. Or break his leg. But chances are pretty high those weren't both going to happen. Yes, Troy Smith turned out to be better than Justin Zwick. But Zwick wasn't bad, and they weren't going to go 3-9. At this point, I think most of us are hoping for someone decent enough to sweep through 3 MAC teams, ND at home, and the weakest half of the Big 10 next year... = 8-4.
5. Although recruits are lottery tickets, in fact there is very little history at Michigan of big name QB recruits (I would include Threet and Forcier in this, plus, again, the excellent chance of another signee) crapping out. Maybe Beaver would have been marginally better than Threet and Forcier. But both crapping out? I can't think of this happening. I'll try to list big-name Michigan QB recruits in the last 12 years or so and see what we can find. Please correct my memory:
Tom Brady (Phil Steele composite rating, something like #25 QB): Umm, not crappy
Jason Kapsner (PS 7?): Never saw the field, seemed like a numbers game
Drew Henson (PS 1 or 2): Starter
John Navarre (PS 30-ish?): Pushes the edge of "big name recruit"; was 3.33 year starter anyway
Andy Mignery (PS 20s or 30s?): Crapped out, switched to TE
Matt Gutierrez (PS 10 or so): Was due to start, injured, beat out by Henne, would have been good
Chad Henne (PS 1): 4 year Starter
Ryan Mallett (PS 1): Started as true frosh, turnover prone and bad inter-personal skills, but will probably be good
Steven Threet (PS 26): Hot and cold as rFr. starter, but that is quite normal; should be a decent starter at least, although not ideal for this system
Coner (PS 40) and Jason Forcier (PS 42) are beyond my definition of big-time recruit. Clayton Richard was highly ranked, but chose baseball.
So, only Mignery (and he was very close to Cone in terms of hype, below Tate Forcier and Threet) came to campus and seemed like a waste of scholarship. Kapsner never did anything, but the reports were that he was competitive for a starting spot. Maybe there's one or two guys I'm forgetting who disappeared, but it seems at least 2/3 of guys who are 4-star quality turn out to be viable college starting quarterbacks.
Here--before we see what the next version of Madden looks like and their skills are rated as--is what it could look like. I’ve listed in parentheses Pro Football Weekly’s rank of them at their respective positions, if they are in the top 20-30. I’ve also not included some very marginal players (get cut every year in training camp) who are not needed to fill out the roster.
QB: Brady (1), Henne, Collins, Griese?
RB: Perry, Hart, Thomas, Askew, Dudley
TE: Campbell, Tuman, Massaquoi
WR: Edwards (8), Toomer, Avant, Manningham, Arrington
OL (best 5): Hutchinson (G-3), Backus (T-24), Jansen (T-22), Long (T), Williams (G-24)
Other OL: Baas (C), Goodwin (G), Kraus (G), an assortment of others
Offense summary: Best quarterback in the league. Rough RB and TE situation, unless Hart emerges or Perry stays healthy. Good WR, especially with the addition of two draftees to add depth. Very solid OL, although more of a focus on tackles. Would really have to focus on passing game.
DT: Watson, Branch
DE: Hall; would have to play some pass-rushing LBs such as Orr, Woodley, etc
ILB: Harris (14), Foote, Hobson
OLB: June, Woodley, Woods, Crable, Orr, Burgess, Jones
CB: Woodson (11), Jackson (22), Hall, Law, Curry, Mason
Defense summary: Quite mediocre DL. Good LB corps, with Harris and Woodley emerging stars and June having made a Pro Bowl two years ago, plus depth. Very solid CBs. Law and Jackson have to be switched to safety, which unfortunately puts the nickel/dime backs in the hands of Markus Curry and Grant Mason, who are still somehow listed as being in NFL camps.
Special teams summary: Breaston did well his first year; Feely is a solid if aging kicker. No punter. Plethora of depth at positions like OLB would be useful for coverage teams.
Final Summary: This would be a decent NFL team. There are some holes that simply wouldn’t allow it to be a real team over the course of a full season (lack of a DL second string!), but for a one-off exhibition game it would be good. There are 8 players listed by PFW as being among the top 20-30 in the league at their position, and most of the rest of the projected starters are actual starters in the NFL. If needed (and Madden might have them), some guys who recently played in the NFL could be brought in for the needed depth areas, such as Shazor (ugh) at S, Josh Williams at DT, Hayden Epstein at P/KOS.
After losing so many starters and back-ups, it is an obvious area of worry.
How bad is the situation? I'll look at the bad, the good, and then the questions. Many facts taken from Phil Steele and other previews.
- Long, Kraus, Boren, Mitchell (5 starts), Ciulla (5 starts) lost.
- Number of returning career starts for the whole offensive line is 118th in the NCAA (16: 13 for Schilling, 2 for Ortmann, 1 for McAvoy).
- Learning a new offense.
- Only 8-9 scholarship players, not counting true freshmen (of which, maybe only one or two have the size/skill to play immediately).
- Some of the projected starters are the kind of disappearing late-career players that would be the like of Doug Dutch acting as a starting CB or Anton Campbell starting at RB last year.
- The 4 new starters are all 4th year juniors. They are not 260 pound true freshmen.
- The 5 projected starters (Moosman-McAvoy-Zirbel-Schilling-Ortmann) were all highly rated coming out of high school. In Phil Steele parlance, VHTs. Let's compare their recruiting rankings, using the Phil Steele composite, to projected starters from schools like Texas and Ohio State. All are as OL unless noted.
Michigan: #39, #44, #20, #4, #33TE
Ohio State: #24, #25, #46, #6 (Adams, #39 [Browning] if not), #2
Texas: #35, #10, #55, #28, #23
As you can see, there is no significant difference.
- 6 true frosh are coming in, 4 of whom were very highly touted (4-5 star). At the very least, one would think Dann O'Neill has the size and skill and experience (played in a similar offense) to be a solid 2nd string and perhaps supplant another starter towards the end of the season. An OL starting as a true frosh is quite rare, but becoming less rare as HS programs become more sophisticated.
- Are these four new junior starters talented players who were just waiting their turn, or talented players overlooked by the previous coaching staff.... or, talented HS players who just don't have the skills to become real Big 10 starters?
- Will the new staff develop OL talent better? Others have pointed out the decline in Michigan OL quality and NFL draft picks recently, despite high quality recruiting.
- Injuries... the starters might be decent, but if a couple go down with injuries, who takes their place? There are a bunch of MAC-quality walk-ons/scholarship players (Huyge #275 OL in his class, Nowicki #233), plus 282 pound redshirt frosh Molk, plus the true frosh, plus Dorrestein on the outside. If you Molk and O'Neill have to see playing time on the inside and outside, respectively, this would probably be okay. But Nowicki, Huyge and Dorrestein?
- How will the freshmen develop?
- Does the new offense put less emphasis on high-quality pass-blocking skills (hard for a young player or MAC-level player to handle to handle) and more emphasis on Ninja Football trickery that an average OL can handle?
I look forward to comments from those who know football better and those who can correct any factual errors.