spoiler alert: i linked this
Alright... so some of you may or may not have been part of the discussion this weekend concerning the possibility of an away jersey re-design. Since Carr had already made the order long before RichRod was hired, he had no control... and in light of the abysmal season, the conversation was that he might want to revamp the away shirts. It then became an even bigger discussion about maize jerseys, blue pants, and white on white uniforms for the maize-and-blue (that sentence alone speaks volumes).
Of course, it was at that point that I went all Jerry Maguire and tore into a mission statement-esque rant about how we must adhere to tradition. At the end of my post (go into my recent blog entries if you missed it), I suggested that we go back to the Harbaugh 80's rendition of the away jersey, featuring one-color numbers and contrasting Northwestern stripes. For those not familiar with the term, NW striping refers to the pattern of thin-thick-thin originally worn by the Wildcats in the 50's, and most of you if you wore socks in the 80's. Here it is:
But I then offered the possibility that I might create some illustrations on how we could go back to that design as a sort of throwback, and I've done just that. My idea was to create a rendition of that same design on a current uniform template, complete with shorter sleeves, form-fitting fabric template, and of course, the Adidas logo. For the sake of updating, I used the #5 instead of 4 as recognition of Forcier's upcoming uniform-- quarterback of the future, etc. Note to any uniform design enthusiasts out there-- notice that I designed the uniform with both the pants and helmet together, since we're talking about a uniform design, not just a jersey design. Too often I think teams focus on the shirts too much, then when you pair it with the helmet it looks like crap. It's all about continuity.
So the first row here shows an updated throwback design, complete with an alternate version that incorporates a small block "M" in the stripe in blue. Of the two, I really like the first, without the block M. I'd be totally HAPPY with this on our boys-- the simplicity, the implied history. I also realized what I like the most about the 80's design is the single color number-- i.e. no maize stroke around the numbers. I think it looks clean and strong, and ties back to the home jersey. Ever bother anyone else that the home has one color numbers while the away has two?
I then went ahead and created a totally new design, as if my wildest professional dream came true and Bill Martin approached me to design Michigan's away jersey. After some deliberation, it made perfect sense to me to keep the same numbers, but the question was, "What about the sleeves?" I played around with a few ideas before ultimately settling on a wide navy stripe with curved maize perpendicular strokes... obviously a throwback to the helmet motif. I followed up this idea with an alternate that features a contrasting block M above the shoulders. Of these two, I'd probably still choose the one without the block 'M'. I love uniforms with logos on shoulders etc., because they leave no doubt about who the shirt belongs to-- but I just don't think the design needs it.
So keep in mind that none of this is official, no word has emerged that the uniforms will be changed in any way, and this is totally just for fun. But thought that you guys might get a kick out of these ideas, throwback or otherwise.
GO BLUE... as in MAIZE & BLUE.
Where are all these receivers coming from?
Many have noticed, and begun commenting, on Rich Rodriguez’s apparent stockpiling of receivers. This has been addressed a bit by Brian on the recruiting board, but I thought I’d go into a little more depth to explain why every RR is building up bodies at the position.
The depth chart looks awful large. Once the 2010 commitments step on campus, the receiver corps will include Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, Darryl Stonum, Junior Hemingway, JeRon Stokes, Roy Rountree, Thomas Gordon, Ricardo Miller, Toney Clemons, Jeremy Jackson, James Rogers, Jerald Robinson, and likely Justin Feagin. That’s 14 receivers, with only Clemons in his final year. And don’t forget there’s still four scholarship players, Kevin Koger, Brandon Moore, Martell Webb and Steve Watson, at tight end. That’s 18 pairs of hands to feed. How is he going to do it?
Rodriguez’s offense, is, of course, different than that previously used at Michigan. One important distinction is the position of Slot Receiver. RR likes to have a scat-back type of player here with a slightly different skill set than your prototypical wideout. Size and leaping ability are secondary for a slot receiver to speed and agility. Circus catches aren’t as necessary, since most routes are short. The slot is meant to catch the ball in space, then make defenders miss. Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, and, if he moves, Feagin fit this mold. Last year, Odoms pretty much dominated this spot, but that’s not typical of RR’s West Virginia offenses. Rather, Odoms got so many balls because once Robinson went down, he was the only man standing. Starting next year, I think you’re going to see a two-man rotation in the slot, with another man always ready to go for depth at an injury-magnet position.
In case this recruiting season didn’t clue you in, Rich Rodriguez is phasing out the Tight End position. I imagine, so long as he has Koger, the position will remain in the offense quite regularly through 2011. But come 2012, I wouldn’t be surprised to see just one or two Tight Ends on the roster for a change of pace, or goal-line situations.
That leaves Stonum, Hemingway, Stokes, Rountree, Gordon, Miller, Clemons, Jackson, Rogers, and J. Robinson. For one, we can imagine Gordon moving to linebacker, although this isn’t a given; since he was offered as a receiver, and unlike Feagin there hasn’t been mention from the coaches as to a positional change, I’m gonna consider him part of the receiver corps.
That gives us 10 pure receivers on the 2010 roster, all of them options. First of all, you’ll see some redshirts on some 2010 freshmen, probably J. Robinson and Jackson. Now we have eight. Eight is still a lot. And eight is actually what we’ll need!
THE SPREAD’S NOT JUST FOR RUNNING
Rodriguez’s offense at W.Va. was mostly about the run, particularly once the astounding legs of White and Slaton and Devine arrived. But I’m going to postulate, based on the recruiting focus since he got here, that plans are to make the passing game a greater part of the expected offensive output.
The formation I believe we’ll see more and more from Rodriguez will be the one-back, 4-wide. This includes a slot, and three wideouts. In a running-based spread, the wideouts head out on routes designed to open up space for the tailback, quarterback or slot receiver to function in. So long as they are all threats 1-on-1, they have to be guarded.
But other programs that use the spread have done a better job incorporating receivers. Brian commented this year that it sometimes seems like the receivers were running random routes – anything to get the secondary away from the ball. This was highly ineffective, especially since we didn’t have a quarterback who could get the ball to these guys.
I trust Brian in most things, but from everything I’ve seen of RR, if his receiving scheme was basically saying “get open,” then it wasn’t by design so much as he had other areas to focus on.
TALENT ATOP OF TALENT
This year, you can’t fault RR if the passing game wasn’t his primary focus. New team, new scheme, yada yada, but the talent really wasn’t there. Threet didn’t have enough time to pick apart a defense, nor was the redshirt freshman prepared by experience to fully utilize their talents. There wasn’t a true go-to receiver as we’ve had in past years. Greg Mathews was the most trustworthy pair of hands. After that, Stonum was a true freshman and played like one. Hemingway had mono. Roundtree was waiting for his muscles to grow onto his 6’3 frame. Clemons had catching issues.
There’s a progression formula I’ve been using to determine a player’s expected growth in value to the team:
Adjusted Star Rating * [1/2(years-in-school / years-in-school-plus-1)] plus (Adjusted Star Rating / 1.6)
(The “Adjusted” part means I change their star rating once we see them on the field. For recruits, I just use their star rating.)
Bigger jumps occur earlier in a player’s career. What we end up with is a level of expected performance based on their talent and their year, which is roughly equivalent to the familiar star rating system. A 2.00 player is what you’d expect for a typical starter at Indiana or Northwestern. A 3.00 player is a typical starter at Purdue or Michigan State. A 4.00 player is what you’d expect from a 4-star recruit in his 4th season. Over 4.50 is an All-Big Ten performer. Over 5.00 is a 1st round draft pick.
Here’s the receivers RR had available to him in 2008:
G. Mathews – 3.83
J. Hemingway – 3.50 (out for season)
D. Stonum – 2.81
T. Clemons – 2.63
Z. Babb – 2.63
R. Roundtree – 2.50 (redshirted)
L. Savoy – 2.50
J. Rogers – 2.19
Even though there’s talent there, it’s young talent. For Big Ten, that’s average. For Michigan, it’s mediocre.
Here’s projected 2009:
G. Mathews – 4.00
D. Stonum – 3.94
J. Hemingway – 3.83
R. Roundtree – 3.50
T. Clemons – 2.88
J. Stokes – 2.81
L Savoy – 2.56
C. Gordon – 2.50
J. Rogers – 2.40
That’s a huge difference. Your top three guys are expected to perform at or near what you’d expect from a senior 4-star recruit, whereas last year we had one guy near that level, and the next was below average.
From here, it’s all uphill.
D. Stonum – 4.31
J. Hemingway – 4.00
J. Stokes – 4.00
R. Roundtree – 3.83
C. Gordon – 3.50
R. Miller – 3.13
T. Clemons – 3.00
J. Jackson – 2.81
J. Rogers – 2.50
J. Robinson – 2.19
D. Stonum – 4.50
J. Hemingway – 4.10
R. Miller – 4.38
J. Stokes – 4.31
R. Roundtree – 4.00
J. Jackson – 3.94
C. Gordon – 3.83
J. Robinson – 3.06
And if you think that’s the only part of the passing game that will improve, look at what happens to our quarterback rating in that time:
2008: Threet/Sheridan – 2.27
2009: Threet/(Forcier/Robinson) – 2.69
2010: Forcier or Robinson – 3.50
2011: Forcier or Robinson – 3.83
The offensive line, too, will see a marked progression from about 3.20 to 4.20.
So in the years to come, Michigan is going to be stocked at receiver. In the 2011-2012 seasons, it is very conceivable, barring major transfers and losses, that RR will have at least four and as many as seven superb options at wideout. There will be a considerably better quarterback, protected by a considerably better offensive line. Is all this talent really just for show, or is there something more?
THE POSITION OF WIDE RECEIVER IN MICHIGAN’S OFFENSE, 2011 TO 2012
I have to imagine that Rich Rod knows what he has at these positions, and that Devin Gardner (who, if his 5-star is for real, would surpass Forcier or Robinson by 2011), is being made aware of it. The question remains, however, how do you utilize all of it.
The answer is a Spread and Shoot.
Look at the roster for Texas Tech’s Air Raid offense:
Missouri, too, had 16 receivers. Texas carried a ton. Florida and Northwestern had ‘em coming out of their ears. And note that Michigan actually carried 19 on the roster last year, though nine of those were non-scholly walk-ons.
Oklahoma, who uses a more Pro-Style offense, had considerably fewer.
Now, the spread has at most five receivers on the field. But in order to keep using the entire down-field as a threat, it's never the same guys. They rotate...a lot! For Michigan this year, however, the rotation wasn't there. If you sent Mathews and Stonum running in circles for five plays, you'd end up with Babb and Rogers. If I'm an opposing defense, and I've got to cover James Rogers down field, with Sheridan under center, then hell, I'm gluing a 3-star cornerback to him and telling the safeties it's backfield hunting season.
If RR has any specific plans for this kind of team, I imagine those plans are more vertical than anything college football has seen for awhile, and well more than anything we’ve imagined.
Most teams today – and we saw a lot under Lloyd – send a man on a deep route as a matter of course. But there’s a drawback – if you’re sending your Super Mario deep every play, he’s going to either let up on the gas, or wear himself out in three plays.
Go try sprinting 45 to 60 yards downfield, juking and turning various angles. Now hustle back to your starting point, and do it again. Repeat six times. Have someone whack you or knock you down a few times while you’re at it.
Two things will become apparent very quickly:
(1) Darryl Stonum is in much better shape than you, and
(2) huff....huff .... huff ..... there .... is. ....no...... huff ..... f’in .... way ...... someone ..... can ...... do ..... this ... huff .... 26 times in a row!
(the Barwis pit is over there, by the way. Help yourself)
I didn’t even ask you to out-jump someone and catch a pass.
BUT THERE'S NO "PASS" IN "RICH RODRIGUEZ"
What these spread offenses do a lot of is substitute. In a year with mediocre talent at receiver, horrible talent at quarterback, and a marked and stated preference for the running game, Rich Rod had 15 players catch a ball last year. Of course, many of these are running backs. So here’s another stat: James Rogers, the 8th man on the wide receiver depth chart, appeared in 9 games. Zion Babb was in 6. LaTerryal Savoy caught four passes all year, but lined up at receiver for 11 of the 12 games. Two safeties and three cornerbacks also lined up for the offense at times.
Those are slightly above what you’d expect from a Lloyd Carr team. But that’s a lot of receiver substitution for a team starting a walk-on QB and his noodly appendage.
They're also, by the way, WAY above what you'd expect from a Rich Rodriguez team, too. Clemson under RR utilized half as many receivers. Tulane spread the ball less as well. And West Virginia, as legend tells, was the runniest of the runny.
Yes, and you can't get Ricardo Millers to go to any of those schools, either.
In his previous gigs, Rich Rodriguez was very good at maximizing offensive output by maximizing certain positions. This is great at a school where you have to make recruiting decisions early and often. W.Va. can have a big season and be a player in the national dual-threat QB sweepstakes, but they were never going to be the kind of school that's on every kid's list in the country before they even get a call. RR didn't come here to turn Michigan into West Virginia. RR came here to further his career, to do better than he did at West Virginia. There's not much further you can go with the running game than he had with Devine and Pat White. What's wrong with imagining that he actually has designs on creating college football's ultimate offense?
The offense, I think, is going to make considerable more use of its receivers every year between now and 2012. The plan, as I see it, is to not just spread the field horizontally with a 4-wide alignment, but spread it vertically by having at least two receivers who can’t be left one-on-one going deep into the secondary on every play. It’s Terrell and Walker all over again, except while Stonum and Hemingway catch their breath, Ricardo Miller, JeRon Stokes and Roy Roundtree are doing the damage. Even if the ball doesn’t go that way, the simple necessity of covering multiple deep threats will keep the safeties back, and open up some space for the slot receivers, the crossing routes, and, of course, the slippery quarterbacks and smurfs-with-jetpacks running backs.
It makes too much sense not to. It’s the purest ideal of the spread, only realized here because Michigan can actually get enough talent so that the 4th or 5th receiver on the depth chart is worth double coverage. It’s the perfect marriage of the tried-and-true Lloyd Carr concept of maximizing talent differential, with the Rich Rodriguez ideal of making the defense cover the entire field, then beating them with speed and specialty-type players.
That’s why, at least in my opinion, Rich Rodriguez has stockpiled so much talent at the Wide Receiver position.
That, and because if you’re after a 2010 or 2011 5-star quarterback, already being stocked with targets for him makes an awfully good selling point.
But that still doesn't mean they're going to all be wracking up 1,000 yards. To that, I recommend reviewing the comments these guys made when they signed. They're not "I'm going there to be the next Braylon Edwards." If there's a theme to any of it, it's "this program is on the way up and I want to be a part of it!" He's getting guys who want to win championships; okay, every guy wants to win championships -- but he's getting guys who are picking their school based on where they think they can win championships.
And if you ask me, I believe RR thinks that way too.
I was one of several Michigan alumni who had the opportunity to speak with Coach Beilein and Senior Associate Athletic Director Joe Parker before the Michigan v. UCONN game in Storrs on Saturday. The alumni association tried very hard to make the experience enjoyable for alumni on the East Coast. We basically took over the only hotel on campus and owned the hotel bar for pre and post game activities. The hotel gave Michigan a conference room to gather, and treated us fairly well. I got there very early and got to meet the coach in the lobby at around noon. I was fairly psyched.
Here are a few items which came up, (some in the forum - some in the Bar) and general impressions:
• Parker, got hit with many tough questions and was honestly a class-act in his answers - both in the hotel forum and in the bar.
• Parker was asked about the scheduling of Delaware State and was fairly frank in his answer, stating that each home game is 4 million in revenue and DSU only needed to be paid aprox. $300,000 to come to the big house. One alumni kept hitting him on this issue, (props) but Parker intimated that in the BCS era Michigan was not looking to schedule a 1-and-1 with someone who had a small stadium, and that he felt Notre dame was a quality non conference opponent.
• Parker noted two future football plans. A plan “in the works” to get an east coast game at a large neutral site run by Michigan in the next five years, which would generate revenue similar to a home game, and a current initiative by the big ten to explore adding an additional big ten game.
• The president of the Mass area alumni chapter spilled a drink on Parker as Beline entered the room.
• Beilein noted that Michigan did not have much time to prepare for UCONN because he gave the team Friday off, which led to only one practice coming in.
• Beilein would not comment on recruiting.
• In response to a fan question, Beilein discussed players going pro and how he handles the situation. His response was rather rehearsed, except he noted that he discourages players from “testing the water” stating that his advice is to make the decision to leave and stay with it.
• I think Beilein is good coach. That said, Beilein was not overly optimistic before the game, and while I thought he was well spoken, I left the conference room wishing he had not said his goal was to prevent it “getting out of hand early.”
• The alumni made an attempt to do a victors walk to the bus for the players, but the players came down the elevator in groups of three and, it was not very successful.
• I expected more from the UCONN student section given they have the #1 Team. The MAIZE RAGE is far more spirited
So, recently, there has been a lot of gibberish about Rich Rod's in-state recruiting, or lack thereof, the general grumbling being that he is abandoning the homegrown kids in exchange for those wild speed freaks from down south. Perhaps this is true, but only insofar as Rodriguez isn't beholden to players from the state of Michigan if they don't fit his needs. He has the luxury, as the coach of a big time program, to go outside his state or region in order to try to recruit talent to his school.
Now, the thing that many seem to be overlooking here is that Michigan's recruiting efforts haven't been dominated by in-state kids for a while now. Digging into the Rivals database, this has been the in-state haul over the last eight recruiting classes:
2009 - 4
2008 - 5
2007 - 5
2006 - 4
2005 - 6
2004 - 6
2003 - 6
2002 - 10
With the exception of 2002, this year's recruiting class, in terms of in-state players anyway, isn't that much different from what Michigan normally hauls in. And let's not forget that this year, Michigan landed the number one player in the state in William Campbell.
I think where people are getting antsy is in looking at Michigan State's class and seeing seven of the Rivals top ten in the state heading to East Lansing. Okay, fair enough, but one year does not a trend make. This year's recruiting class is likely going to be a bit of an anomaly when you consider that Rich Rodriguez just took over in January of 2008, had to work double time to get last year's class firmed up, and was probably behind the eight ball when it came to developing relationships with many of the state's high school coaches. This will likely change, and the balance within the state will probably normalize. It might not go back to exactly the way it was, but some differences are to be expected with a new coaching staff, particularly one that has preexisting relationships with high school coaches in other parts of the country. To not utilize those in some grand gesture towards provincialism would be asinine.
Michigan's recruiting efforts don't seem to be that far out of line with how they were under Lloyd Carr. I'm not going to worry about State's class or their success in the state because it's one year, and because Rodriguez or Michigan can't really control how State recruits. In 2007, of the Rivals top ten players in the state, only one chose Michigan, but only one chose State. Eight of them went out of state. That was one year. The next year, seven of the top ten stayed in state, four of them to Michigan, three of them to MSU.
Simply put, Michigan has often times looked out of the state for what they needed. This year is no different.
After watching the film of both of these guys, I was totally impressed with their skills at the HS level and I wouldn't be surprised if Robinson really pushes Forcier for the starter's spot. Robinson really has great passing skills and his mechanics are excellent for someone billed as a dual threat QB, but recruited by some to play defense. Forcier is no slouch in his mechanics nor his accuracy either.
If you watch the film on Robinson and focus on his footwork and mechanics when he's not running the ball, his release reminds me of Peyton Manning. Seriously, he has a high snap release just like Manning and their footwork is similar. Robinson almost always sets his feet and squares his shoulders to his target and then delivers the ball with that high release point. If you compare his film to T Pryor, Robinson is a much better passer and much more polished. You can tell Robinson has been coached well. If you factor in his speed and running ability, he's more of the QB that RR has had success with in recent years. I can't say enough how impressive his skills are as a passer. Watch the film again for yourself and watch the footwork and the release.
Tate is a little more of a scrambler than a runner, but he definitely a very accurate passer both standing in the pocket and on the run. He also has good fundamentals, but Robinson was more disciplined in his delivery and set up than Tate, but the end result was the same. It ain't broke don't fix it. I think Tate can kill you with his arm and he can also extend plays with his legs, which in a spread offense really puts pressure on the defense to cover longer. I would give an edge to Tate in his accuracy but arm strength was not noticeably different between the two. Both of them forced the ball at times in the face of pressure, but show me a QB that doesn't do that to some degree at that level.
I think we have two great QBs in these recruits and the future looks really bright. Threet has the experience, but I just don't see how he can keep these two guys off the field. Tate will get 19-20 practices in the spring so he'll have a leg up on Robinson, but by the mid point of the season he should see some snaps if he can digest the offense and adapt to the speed of the game. Both of these young guys will see the blitz early and often IMO. If Forcier can be enough of a running threat and can take the pounding of the Big Ten then we'll see more of RR's offense than we have to this point.
I still think we're a .500 team +/- a game due to the other questions on the team, but if these guys can come in and make a difference and the OL can show continued improvement; that number could jump to 7-5 or 8-4. You have to take into account that these guys are true freshman and the team overall will be pretty young, but the future is oh so bright on the offensive side of the ball. I can't remember the last time we had so many exciting guys on the offensive side of the ball. All of the little slot ninjas, minor's power run, brown's speed, big physical receivers, and QBs who have to be accounted for will really open up the field. The biggest wild card on offense is the line, but I've got to think that we've got some depth and some guys who can add to the unit and make a positive contribution. I'm a defensive coach, so I would be very worried having to scout this many play makers and an offense with so many weapons.
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