I GIVE UP ON HATING WISCONSIN
Since I'd rather not work on schoolwork right now, I decided to post a little position by position analysis of our football team for next year.
This was an utter disaster last season, but things are definitely looking up. Neither Threet nor Sheridan settled into the offense and got it moving consistently (that is, more than one game at a time). With two good new quarterbacks coming in, I think Sheridan has seen the field for the last time. I suspect that Feagin will shortly be moving to WR or CB as well. This is definitely going to be a three way competition. I expect Threet to start our first game, honestly. He has the experience edge on everybody else and I think he has the potential to be a decent Div. 1 QB. He was really hampered last season by injuries and his performances suffered greatly. I envision an offense with him at the helm running like it did against Notre Dame (minus the turnovers). But, the problem is injuries. Threet, while tall, is a little too wiry in my opinion to be able to stay healthy a full season with the offense we run. You could tell in the second half of the season he was a bit scared of being hit when he wouldn't keep the ball ever. Plus, there's all of the fumbles. He's just not used to being hit. So, while I see Threet starting, I would be surprised if he didn't end up the backup by our 3rd game or so.
That leaves the other two QBs. The good news it that we have two easier games than Utah to start out the season, which means we (HOPEFULLY) can ease in Robinson and Forcier. There is no doubt that Forcier will have an advantage because of the extra spring practices and semester, but Robinson will also see some time, I'd think. I hope one of these two will end up our starter, but you always have to remind yourself that they are just freshmen and who knows how good they are going to be. David Cone fills out the rest of the depth chart, but he's never seeing the field.
Overall, I expect an upgrade from last year at the QB position, but how much of an upgrade is unclear.
This is one position I'm not worried about AT ALL! Probably the only position. The only thing that will slow down these guys are injuries (knock on wood), but after last season I don't think it could possibly be any worse. Minor is the clear starter here. He has decent speed, very few moves, but excellent power. With the dearth of talent next season at runningback in the Big Ten, I fully expect him to be an all-conference performer (barring injuries). Backing him up are Shaw and Brown, both decent backups. Brown has shown a lot of potential but needs to avoid the injury bug. Personally, I would love to see Brown and Minor in the same backfield, one as the inside guy and the other as the outside guy, something Rich Rod loves to have (look at Schmidt/Slaton combo). Brown is also a good pass catcher, which could prove to be very useful. Shaw showed some potential early on with some good runs, even though he tailed off at the end. I feel confident in saying he can hold up his own when called on next year. Losing McGuffie will hurt next next season (2010), but for 2009, we're all but set.
Our depth after those 3 is still pretty good. Moundros is a good blocking back and a minor threat out of the backfield to catch balls. Grady, well, who knows what his deal is. Providing depth after that are: Michael Cox (redshirted last year), Teric Jones, Vincent Smith, and Fitzgerld Tooussaint. If we have an injury crisis on the magnitude of the Denver Broncos, I think we can count one of those 4 to set up and give us a viable option. In all honesty, I expect 2 of our incoming RBs to redshirt because of the depth we've got going.
RBs, barring injury crisis, should be an upgrade over last season.
Another position I feel pretty good about. Greg Matthews, for better or for worse is our number one. He's got great hands but isn't much of a deep threat compared to truly elite receivers. He fits the mould of a Jason Avant-type receiver. Not going to beat many people downfield, but he’ll make nearly every catch and make a few great ones. Odoms showed some promise last year in the slot and should improve his drops and fumbling problems. He’s an effective receiver on the bubble screens, which even though they are the bane of my existence when I watch college football, can be effective for us.
After that, the depth is a little more questionable. Kevin Koger did well as a TE last year, especially for a freshman, and he’ll contribute on offense for sure. The other outside receiver is a question mark for us. I think it’s going to be a battle between Daryl Stonum and Toney Clemons. Neither looked great last year but they are big and can stretch the field. Junior Hemingway is a question mark; he’s showed promise when he’s played and he’ll be in the mix as well. Je’ron Stokes will also look to pencil his name in as the starter. I suspect all 4 of these guys will see time at the beginning of the season with one or two eventually taking over the spot.
Filling out the receiver position are a bunch of slot guys including Gallon and Robinson. I would expect Gallon to challenge for playing time, but Odoms probably has his spot on lockdown for now. Other players who probably won’t be used are Roundtree, Savoy and Rogers.
This is a position where we could possibly survive an injury crisis. I like our overall depth even if the starting 3 aren’t top class proven talent yet. We should improve.
I won’t even go into much detail on how awful we were. The offensive line definitely improved as the season went on, which is nice to see. We were decimated by people leaving and injuries, which left us with an undersized center, a defensive lineman playing guard and a multitude of other problems. Now, the good news: there are tons of freshmen vying for playing time for next season. We have 6 freshmen from year on the roster, and I expect 5 of them to be on the two-deep. The question is going to be how much weight they will all put on, because almost all of them were undersized coming in.
Despite me just laying into Molk and Ferrera just now, they both showed promise on the line. The line noticeably improved with the addition of Ferrera and Molk, despite being a bit smallish for a top notch O-lineman, improved as the season went on. He’s going to be very valuable the next 3 years as the nimble center who gets to the second level and keys our running game. Think Tom Nalen of the Denver Broncos. Hopefully his strength will improve. Stephen Schilling is somewhat of a headscratcher. He had a subpar freshman season, improved this season, but not as much as we needed. There is no doubting his talent; Lloyd Carr called him one of the best athletes he’s ever seen. I expect him to improve by leaps and bounds. I feel that those 3 spots are pretty well nailed down. The rest of the spots are up for grabs between guys like Moosman, Ortmann and the 6 freshmen from last year. Adding into the mix are 3 very solid recruits in Schofield, Washington and Lewan. Washington is probably the only one with the size to compete right away, but you never know at this position.
There is no way we won’t improve on the offensive line after being so dire last year. Good news is that we let up fewer sacks than the year before with a worse quarterback and had a higher yard per carry. Even though those numbers are very suspect, it’s a good sign for next year. Except a big jump in yards per carry and fewer sacks with a better scrambling quarterback. Plus, the Big Ten defensive line talent is going to be a little down, which is never a bad thing.
I’ve been pretty positive about the team so far, mostly because I’m happy with the depth we have the position and I’m confident someone will step up. Really, it can’t get much worse for the offense. I wish I could say the same thing for the defense. Yes, they were awful last year. But, I look at the defense and wonder where the talent is at certain positions.
One thing I’m relatively confident about is our defensive ends. That’s because of Brandon Graham, who is becoming my new man crush on the football team. If he goes down, then I’m afraid about what will happen. Here are the names at defensive end after Graham: Ryan Van Bergen (gulp), Greg Banks (who?), Tim North, Adam Patterson, Anthony LaLota (recruit), Craig Roh (recruit). If someone can find me talent there, there’s a candy bar in it for you. Van Bergen saw some playing time, so at least he has some experience under his belt. I’m praying that either LaLota or Roh will have an impact, but my hopes aren’t high (how many freshman D-Lineman have an impact? Very few). If Graham goes down, we’re screwed with a capital S-C-R-E-W-E-D. But, despite all of that, Graham is awesome and I think we can find someone to be serviceable at the other position.
Defensive Tackle is another story altogether. The only player we have coming back with significant experience is Mike Martin. In fact, I believe he’s the only scholarship defensive tackle we have coming back with any experience. Taylor and Johnson graduate. Gulp. Sagesse, well, who knows? Will Campbell is the only DT recruit. We are paper thin here and who knows how great Campbell will be. Martin looked good last year, but I’m pessimistic about how he will fare as an every down DT. We’re going to have to rely on those two and then a position switcher from either DE or OL for depth. Not good.
Our defensive line was the only highlight of our team last season and it’s probably going to be the lowlight of our team this season. Not good. Definite downgrade and a big downgrade here.
Well, at least we have experience coming back here. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton have both showed potential playing LB. Ezeh is seemingly the bane of mgoblog’s existence, but I rate him slightly better than Brian does. He makes tackles, which is valuable to a defense, especially one that has a tendency to miss tackles in Michigan’s defense. Mouton is a pretty good tackler and a decent LB to have in coverage. He’s the faster of the two. I’m only putting those two down as starters because the college game has shifted to where it is extremely unusual to see 3 LBs on the field at the same time on defense. Plus, we are playing a lot spread teams, which will further limit the amount of time 3 LBs are on the field. So, my salient point really is that I feel good about our 2 starting linebackers. They are both young and have a lot of experience under their belts. They will both improve, and I actually feel very good about how they’ll stack up next season.
Here’s the problem: depth. We have a decent amount of bodies, but the talent is decidedly lacking. Let’s throw some names: Brandon Herron, Marell Evans, Kenny Demens, and J.B. Fitzgerald. If you are suddenly looking for cover you have the same feeling I do. Our recruits are decent but nothing to write home about it looks like: Isaiah Bell and Brandin Hawthorne. Similar to the defensive ends, what is going to happen if Ezeh or Mouton go down? We can’t afford an injury crisis at this position at all. Otherwise we’ll be throwing a lot of unproven and inexperienced players out at linebacker.
The verdict is an upgrade barring injury. Hope very hard for no injuries.
If the last two positions didn’t scare you enough about the defense, here comes the worst of the bunch. We return Donovan Warren (okay) and Stevie Brown (OH GOD NO!!!!!) from one of the worst secondaries in the Big Ten. I like Warren a lot. He didn’t perform quite to my expectations last season, but he’ll improve. I can see him as a shutdown corner who can match up with the best of the Big Ten on the corner.
I could write pages on Stevie Brown. About 75% of the time when there was a big play against our pass defense, he was at fault. There is no doubting his physical skills, but there is a lot doubt surrounding his mental attributes. That is, does Stevie Brown have a brain somewhere in that skull of his? Who knows? But I feel pretty confident in saying that he will continue to be the Achilles heel of our defense. I am holding out some hope that he could possibly blossom into a elite performer, but I really doubt it.
After those two players, there is NOTHING. Boubacar Cissoko is awesome, mostly because we can again do the Stevie Breaston squeeze (note: Breast and Boob in the names), but was pretty below average when he played against Purdue and State. His coverage abilities seem to be decent, but he is not a good run supporter and when he gets beat, there’s a tendency for the play to go a LONG way. I’m praying he’ll improve, and I’m more confident that he’ll improve more than Stevie Brown.
Continuing the theme of nothing is the rest of the players here. Michael Williams, Brandon Smith, Troy Woolfork are the players that are probably at least somewhat on your radar for defensive back. Plus, Vlad the Impaler (awesome nickname), Justin Turner, Mike Jones and Adrian Witty come in as recruits. Vlad and Turner look like good recruits, but I doubt Vlad adds much this season unless Brown, Smith and Williams are DIRE (which is possible) because he’s coming off a knee injury. Turner might add something because we’re weak, but I’d much prefer Woolfork to step up or something. After this, we’ve got a bunch of players nobody has ever heard of.
Okay, don’t jump. It can’t get any worse than last season, right? Charles Stewart is finally gone. However, Greg Robinson isn’t a strong Xs and Os guy and his weakness has always been pass defense. Crap. Honestly, I have zero expectations on our defensive backs. Yeah, we have some players with potential, but I could count on one finger the defensive back I feel comfortable with (Warren). Even though we could possibly be better in secondary, I’m not holding out much hope.
We will definitely be worse in the secondary than last year … and that’s saying something.
One great thing about the team last year was that we improved in special teams. More of a function of how bad we were in 2007 on special teams, though (which is what I’m hoping for on defense this year). KC Lopata was solid but nothing special. Our kickoffs were again, solid but nothing special. The candidates at kicker are Brandon Wright, random walkon or Brendan Gibbons. I lean towards Wright handling kickoff duties and Gibbons handling FGs, unless Gibbons turns out to have a great leg. I think probably a slight downgrade, if anything, at the kicker position.
Only one thing to say about the Punter. Zoltan Mesko. No problem here.
Returns were an adventure last year. When Odoms didn’t drop the ball, he was a decent punt returner. Cissoko was solid (when he held onto the ball) on kickoff returns. I think we’ll see an improvement with Odoms learning how to hold onto the ball and probably someone stepping up. We could really use a spark in our return game. Breaston has been a huge loss here ever since he left.
Offense should be a lot better with improvement on the O-Line and at quarterback. Defense is going to be down a notch with losses on our defensive line and secondary. Special Teams will improve.
What’s the outlook, then? Well, it could literally anywhere. Rich Rod has a good track record of improvement in the second season at a school, but there are a lot of things working against improvement. One MAJOR thing working for us is that the Big Ten is going to be a lot less talented next season. Ohio State has lost a ton on both sides of the ball. Penn State should still be pretty good, but other than that, almost every school has lost talent everywhere. Maybe Minnesota will be better. That’s a huge plus for us. I’m excited for next season to see what our offense will look like with an experience offensive line and a real quarterback.