LIST OF WWE PERSONNEL?!?
First and foremost, I know it's been discussed here to some degree, and I'm certainly not going to list examples or try to flaunt it-- but I'm professionally involved in design and have done some sports branding and uniform design. I'm not saying that I know everything there is to know, and I certainly don't want to imply that no one else is entitled to their opinion.
BUT I have to say that uniforms, like anything really in the design world, can be a true art form involving sound decision-making with regards to aesthetic value, color balance, and innovation. It can ALSO be, and often is, an absolute train wreck when people with power make rash decisions without thinking things through-- remember the Islanders fisherman fiasco? Disasters can also happen when creative people are given the green light to run wild without proper respect to the brand-- i.e. Oregon State's sports bra look.
With that being said, let's be honest: THE HOME UNIFORM MUST NEVER CHANGE. No blue pants, no, maize jersey, nothing. It MUST ALWAYS be the same helmet, the blue jersey, and the maize pants. Period. We're one of the single most identifiable uniforms of the sport in any era, and must be respected as such. It'd be like the Yankees showing up in red dazzle.
Tradition in branding is something that cannot be invented nor neglected-- remember what happened when Coca-Cola traded in their tradition for something new? No matter how 'cool' you think it'd be to show up in black, or with maize shirts and blue pants-- we ARE tradition, and must be proud of that. The materials will change, the template of the shirt will be cut differently as pad design evolves, etc... but we must always wear a blue shirt at home with maize letters. To mess with this is to disgrace over 128 years of the winningest program the sport of football has ever seen. No one can boast that-- not even the Steelers.
Now, as for the AWAY jerseys, yes... I've been thinking about this recently myself. It's been established that the away will continue to change, simply because the icon is associated with the home design. We've seen many changes here, and we'll see more. I've been curious as to whether or not Rich will want to do something as early as next year, if only because he didn't actually have anything to do with the current design. It's also not uncommon to ditch a design after a particularly horrid year-- we see this alot in baseball. If Rodriguez did (or is) choose to ask for a new design, I suspect that in terms of simple sales strategy, Adidas will probably push to keep the same model on the shelves for at least one more year-- eating all of the replicas they've already produced would be a big loss. If they start designing now with regards to the 2010 season, they can assess their production budgets accordingly to phase the old design out.
Personally, my biggest beef with the current AWAY shirts is that they're a common Adidas template. Other than the maize piping below the back of the helmet, Arkansas wears the same shirt, albeit in a different color scheme. Other teams do as well-- Louisville? One of the biggest things that originally got me excited about the Adidas deal is that they promised exclusive Michigan designs-- things that would only be offered to us, like hoodies with winged helmet graphics, things like that. Then what do we do? Roll out in a stock Adidas jersey template that's just been re-colored to our specifications. Let's see something truly original, yet classy enough to hold a candle to our home shirts.
Either that or let's go back to throwback simplicity. Personally I've always loved the whites worn during the 80's, with the single color blue digits and the contrasting Northwestern stripes on the sleeves. Think classic Harbaugh on the road. We could possibly see an update on that basic idea. Who knows? I could even whip up some ideas just to illustrate my point. Either way, we have a reputation to uphold, and just throwing maize all over creation is not going to do it justice.
'N that's all I have to say about that.
While I am a relative neophyte when it comes to understanding how recruiting works, the one aspect that has really interested me is how the concentration of D-1 prospects breaks down amongst the states. Anecdotally, states like Florida, California, and Texas always seemed to create top-notch prospects, but that kind of made sense - those are three of the four most populous states in America. I always presumed, erroneously at it turns out, that fast, strong kids exist everywhere, and that the percentage of the population which embodied these desirable characteristics was pretty constant across the board. Thus, the reason the Big 3 fielded more D-1 football recruits than, say, Utah was more the result of population and "math" than something in the drinking water or the focus certain states place on football. Of course, there also seemed to be two glaring holes with this logic - the fact that many states in the Southeast (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.) produce an inordinate number of recruits compared to their populations, and the fact that relatively populous states in the Northeast (New York and Massachusetts) produce far fewer recruits than their populations predicted. But was this really true, or did these two anomalies exist more as a figment of recruiting services and media hype than reality.
Now, I was going to do all of this research myself, but then I was luckily able to stumble upon this page that broke down each state by number of recruits, population, and ratio of people to recruits for 2004-2008. I then wondered how this translated to the NFL - in other words, were the states that produced a large number of D-1 prospects also sending kids to the NFL. So after some more scouring of the interwebs, I came upon this page, which provided a really awesome user-friendly chart. After some more finagling and Excel-assisted sorting, I came upon this chart:
Big Chart of recruits/NFL players home states 2004-2008
|State||College Recruits||State Pop.||State Citizens/Per Recruit||NFL Players||State Citizens/Per Pro|
|District of Columbia||27||591,833||21,920||3||197,278|
So that really wasn't that surprising. Presuming that the distribution of football players was constant across the population (i.e. for every x people, y recruits exist), the ratio should be 1:40,380 - in other words, the population at large holds about 1 D-1 recruit per 40,000 people. Similarly, of those kids who went to the pros, the number was truly astronomical - 1:241,575, an astounding number considering that some of those positions are held by international players that were not listed on my chart. And yes, this statistic is not perfect, since the actual number of high school boys every year who could become D-1 athletes, and thus future NFL players, is far less than the population at large, people move in and out of states, etc. But for illustrative purposes I think it still supports my points, and I don't have the time or inclination to peruse government population numbers for a more true number. Plus, I doubt the ratios would be so greatly skewed as to dramatically alter the clear trends present.
So these results alone somewhat shocked me, but it has more to do with the illogical hopes so many kids even becoming D-1 college recruits, let alone professional football players. To put this into perspective, there are about 3 people sitting in the stands during a Michigan home game, on average, who have or will become D-1 recruits in their lifetimes. In another way, my hometown of Royal Oak has a little over 60,000 people in it, or about 1.5 D-1 football recruits per year if the model holds true. As for those who go on to play in the NFL, the entire state of Vermont, if my model held true, would produce 3 NFL-quality players per year - and that really isn't even true over the 2004-2008 span (0 players over that span).
But clearly, football talent is not evenly distributed across the country. While some more populated states come pretty close to the proposed distribution, such as California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, outliers exist in the expected regions of plenty (Southeast) and barren (NY, MA). Both Michigan and Illinois also seemed to produce far fewer recruits than their populations suggest while places like Hawaii and D.C. seem more fertile than expected, but not to an extreme degree that you see with some other states. And in Hawaii's case, a large percentage of those recruits are taken by University of Hawaii, so that situation is clearly atypical.
So what does this mean? - college
For one thing, some traditional "hotbeds" of talent may actually "under"perform their expected ratio of recruits given a linear distribution - I'm looking at you, Pennsylvania and California. At the same time, maybe some people are underselling certain areas, such as Virginia and Oklahoma/Kansas, who have decent-to-great in-state programs that recruit nationally but also seem to have pretty fertile backyards to pick from as well. But the real focus, though, must fall on the Southeast, where states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia continually churn out top-notch kids at a far greater rate than their populations suggest.
Despite what some Freep "columnists" opine as RR's apparent idiocy in not recruiting in-home talent at MSU's rate, it clearly makes sense to focus more of the staff's efforts on Florida and the Southeast compared to other regions in America. Sure, California and Texas are hotbeds that should be scoured, but the Southeast is where the money tends to be. Michigan produces a decent amount of recruits, but it is clear that outside of Ohio, the rustbelt just isn't a fount of top-notch talent the way some envision it. I'm sure there are a millions reasons why this may be, and I'll leave it to people in the comments to hash them out. My guess is that high school/college football has always been a more communal activity in areas of the South compared to the North, especially considering how few professional teams used to be located below the Mason-Dixon line compared to the population. Simply put, people "care" more about football down there, and that fervor translates to the youngest of children. They see football as a way to make a living, as a way to succeed and be a "god" in the community, and their environments seemed geared around making this dream a reality.
I don't think it has that much to do with the weather - sure, it helps to be able to play and practice outside more than in the north, but receivers can still catch balls, RBs can still squat and run wind sprints, and linemen can still work on their techniques indoors just as easily as outdoors. Plus, warm-weather states like New Mexico and Arizona produce recruits at a lower rate than expected, while some cold-weather states are able relative factories. To put it bluntly, I think kids in the Southeast "care" more about football than kids in the North. Now, that doesn't mean high school boys in Michigan and New York don't work hard or lack a will to win, but by and large I don't think the community rewards kids in the North as much for the success they experience on the football field as they do in places like Mississippi and Florida. I'm sure there are some socio-economic undertones to it, and some will say that kids in the Southeast see football as a way to escape the communities they are "trapped" in - see the Pahokee (?) pipeline as an example for crushing poverty pushing kids toward sports. But irrespective of the cause, it is clear that if you want the biggest payoff for your recruiting efforts, learning to whistle Dixie might as well become a requirement for major college recruiters. Now, that might not seem like a revelation to some, but it is interesting to see that anecdote play out in the numbers. I'm interested, though, to see how others feel.
So what does this mean? - NFL
As I mentioned above, I think a big reason more D-1 recruits emerge from the Southeast and Texas has to do with the relative importance the community places on football as a means to succeed. For better or for worse, a ticket to a D-1 school is viewed as a stepping-stone to playing in the NFL, and all the millions of dollars and notoriety that entails. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that the states which produce the most D-1 recruits per person also generate the most NFL players per person as well. Louisiana leads the way, with approximately every 82,000 residents producing an NFL player - a ratio about 3X greater than the expected! The same held true for most of the Southeast, with those states sending far more to pros than they have any business doing so. By comparison, Michigan is pretty average - it may be a little low on the D-1 recruits, but those who do emerge have a pretty average shot of making it to the NFL. So kudos to the Wolverine state.
By comparison, a pair of Ks - Kentucky and Kansas - seem to be the biggest "frauds" of the group in terms of overvaluing its D-1 recruits - both have pretty average or above-average number of D-1 recruits per population, but about half as many of those recruits wind up making it to the NFL as expected. So once again, Kentucky and Kansas underwhelm. As for New York and Massachusetts, they might as well focus on baseball - they just don't know how to create top-notch football talent.
But overall, this analysis proved what I expected - the Southeast produces a disproportionate number of D-1 recruits, and an inordinate number of these recruits are high-caliber enough to break into the NFL. Again, I have no scientific proof for the cause of this inequity, but I have stated my guesses. I am intrigued to see what other people believe is the cause, and I welcome anyone with more statistical knowledge than my one 400-level probability and statistics course to prove me wrong/drill down deeper.
What I'd like to do in the future:
* Breakdown for each state by high-school-aged boys, not the state population as a whole.
Michigan has announced its 12th opponent for the 2009 season. The Detroit News is reporting that Delaware St. will fill the remaining open spot on the schedule.
Luckily, it's not Delaware. Way too confusing with helmets. Delaware St. is a FCS school known mainly for the controversy of Delaware not scheduling them for a regular season game.
While a part of me wants to express outrage over scheduling a middling FCS team, a less indignant part of me would prefer a win by any means necessary. Western Michigan could be a tough game to open the season, and Notre Dame, in spite of horrible coaching, has solid talent. If Rodriguez can't up his win total a significant amount there will certainly be a bunch of business at Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork. I'm coming down on the side of this being a necessary evil and another easy $4 million for the Athletic department.
What do you guys think? Is Michigan at a point where it should try to be above the fray or should the schedule reflect the fact that this is still a rebuilding process?
There will be an informative update in a bit. There's actually a blog that covers Delaware St.'s conference. Awesome.
For reference, I was responding to this: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/college/chi-06-morrisseyfeb06,0,596...
Your column on coaching "decommitments" really evidenced a lack of familiarity with the college game, particularly with respect to Rich Rodriguez. Your portrayal of him as a money-hungry job-hopping "villain" followed a steady drumbeat pushed by some several months ago, but was inaccurate. I have never heard that Rodriguez is the "king" of pursuing verbally committed players. What is the foundation for this statement? Joe Tiller made one very public comment about this, but this is common practice nearly everywhere, particularly in the more aggressive conferences. If you followed recruiting you would know this.
You would also know that in transition years, when a class is partially completed and there is a change of regime/scheme this is even more common, and indeed, pragmatically necessary. Kids must reassess their destination when coaches shuffle around. A player from Detroit only suited for a spread offense might have committed to a school in another time zone, but would prefer to stay in Michigan if there is a spot for him. A player in another state may have always been interested in Michigan but thought he had no chance because the old regime didn't consider him a "fit." Is it that you think these kids shouldn't be able to switch to the better place for them, or that they should have to find these opportunities doing their own research on the web?
Also, coaches usually do not pay buyouts. Not fully. You must know this. If you even casually follow the game you would know this. Rodriguez is not unusual for not immediately paying his--to do so would be the oddity. Just one year prior the same two schools had been presented with a buyout situation and sliced the penalty in half. There is always legal wrangling. It would be malpractice if an attorney did not attempt to negotiate the liquidated damages provision of a contract when the specified damages far exceed the real financial losses incurred by the breached party. This is standard. In this particular situation it became a big deal because of (understandable) anger in West Virginia. The same anger pushed scurrilous news stories (e.g. someone operating a paper-shredder must be participating in a sinister conspiracy) that produced a stereotype. You lazily relied on that stereotype as exhibit A in your column, which actually makes a reasonable argument. Unfortunately you lost credibility with me, and others who are familiar with the operations of college football, because you used such sloppy and tired examples.
Too much sports writing is written only off of someone else's headlines. It is necessary to understand the subject matter directly, particularly if you are going to use the loaded character-attacking language you employed to criticize Rodriguez ("villain," "ooze"). I hope that you are fortunate enough to never be publicly slandered based on hearsay and the popular wisdom of your rivals. And I hope you show more diligence in your research the next time you trot out an easy victim in your writing.
At the top of his press conference Rich Rodriguez basically went through the list and talked briefly about each commit. A lot of it was coach-speak and praising the high school coaches, but there was quite a bit of useful information (as opposed to Lloyd Carr press conferences, which were awesome in their own way) on most of the players. One interesting thing in general is that Rodriguez let us know who the lead recruiter was for each player, and for just about everyone from Florida it was Rod Smith. I guess that's why need a de facto third QB coach. On to the players:
Coach mentioned that the staff is really tight with Youngstown Liberty coach Jeff Whittaker. It's not that stacked of a school, but seems to produce a bit of talent on a regular basis. He said that Bell would start competing as a safety, but if he can put on enough weight, may move up to outside linebacker.
Looking at depth chart would probably tell you this too, but Rodriguez said that Campbell will play defense only and will compete for playing time right at the outset. Campbell got the instant impact tag from the coach. Will said himself that his goal is to start his freshman year. Even though he is a really funny, kind of goofy guy, I get the feeling that he's super competative; I sure as hell wouldn't want to be a RB/QB playing against Michigan in two years. Campbell is now doing the full Barwis workout and says the toughest part was the running because since the all star game he's been relaxing and "got fat."
Coach said he could play either Safety position and will probably be moved around to positions of need.
Apparently in the Spring, Jason Forcier was in town and talked with Rodriguez. He basically said he'd recruit Tate for Michigan. I just can't help but wonder how different this last year would have been if Forcier hadn't transferred... Oh well. Obviously will come and compete right away for time at QB. When a reporter asked Rodriguez if he was confident that he'll end up with a really good quarterback he responded that "we'll have a really good competition." Tate says he works much more on accuracy and a quick release than arm strength. In some passing drills he claims he hit Mike Cox and Kevin Koger in the back of the head because they weren't expecting the ball to get there as quickly as it did. After his interview with the TV crews at the press conference, most reporters were surprised at how well he handled himself. He really seemed like a pro.
For some reason, I got the feeling that Rodriguez is especially excited about Gallon, but I'm probably just projecting my own excitement. Coach said he'll compete immediately at slot. Tim has made this argument that Odoms is a pretty good slot receiver, but the concept of the slot receiver may be more appealing than Odoms himself. Rodriguez also mentioned that he'll immediately be in the mix for returning kicks. Obviously, Coach didn't talk about grade issues in specifics, but he mentioned that there are about 2-3 recruits who haven't been approved by the Clearinghouse and that all of those recruits of realistic plans to follow that will allow them to qualify. Rodriguez didn't really seem to worried about grade issues.
Check out Varsity Blue throughout the day for the tidbits on the rest of recruits.
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.