We can discuss and debate from now until November, what position players are going to play next year and how many minutes they are going to get. Coach Beilein has recently stated that he feels good about the flexibility of next year’s team, meaning that many players can play multiple positions. I approached this from a player position point of view and tried to see if we would likely be better or worse than this year.
1 Spike, Walton
Walton’s minutes increase as he earns them and he will likely be the starter at some point next season (likely sooner than later). Less scoring than last year, but hopefully they can both run the offense and get shots for others. A big step down from this year's POY, but we should be solid.
2 LeVert, Irvin, Spike, Stauskas
A 5 star player who was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, needs to be on the floor somewhere. With Hardaway’s departure, there is an opening here. LeVert has a year of experience and knows the system. Both players should give us length on the perimeter, outside shooting, dribble penetration and be good in transition. Solid on defense. Even with this year.
3 Stauskas, LeVert , Irvin, Robinson
Expect Nik to be bigger and stronger and a better ball handler. As a second year player, he will have a better understanding of the offense and defense and should be a better defender. Several guys can play this position. Experience makes this is an upgrade from this year.
4 Robinson, Donnal, Bielfeldt, Morgan, Horford
Expect GRIII to be bigger, stronger and a better defender. Donnal could be the perfect stretch 4 that we thought Smotrycz would be, but probably not this year. We can go with 2 bigs for stretches with Morgan, Horford or even Bielfeldt at the 4. An upgrade from this year.
5 McGary, Horford, Morgan
We should count on a double, double (15+ points & 12+ rebounds) every night from the 5 position. Improving defense from McGary. His threat to score should open things up for the other positions on offense. A big upgrade from this year.
This year, during most of the regular season, we started 2 freshmen, a sophomore and 2 juniors. With this lineup, we would be starting 2 freshmen (Walton & Irvin) and 3 sophomores. Still a very young team. Who will be the leaders? We lost the leadership of Burke, Hardaway and the 5 seniors.
I would expect a slower start to the non-conference portion of the season. Hopefully, they grow up fast and come together by late season. This team could be a Big Ten title contender and a NCAA Sweet Sixteen or better.
[Ed-S: bumping this to diaries. I wonder who the Diarist of the Week will be...]
After picture paging a play from the spring game in which James Ross makes one of his several TFLs on the day, I was trying to think of his best comparison. Forgive me for going outside Michigan lore, but I think he compares decently well to Sean Spence, or at least has the potential to in the future. For those unfamiliar, Spence is an outside linebacker from Miami(FL) who was selected in the 3rd round, #86 overall by the Steelers in the 2012 draft. In full disclosure, I'm a Miami grad, (currently at Michigan and don't worry, Michigan always comes first) so that's where my knowledge of Spence's career comes from. It is also likely the reason why I was able to quickly connect the two's similarities. Anyways, here's the meat of why I think they're similar:
Recruiting and Measurables
Both were 4-star outside linebackers, but Ross may have been a little more impressive. Spence's offer list looks lacking, made up of Rutgers and North Carolina types, but he committed early enough to explain that away. Spence was part of the famous 2008 Miami Northwestern High ("national championship" high school team) of which Miami pulled basically their entire number one class that year, most of which turned out on the bench or became an interception machine (Jacory Harris), but I digress.
Spence was listed as 6'0 and a tiny 186 lbs (!!!), whereas Ross was listed as 6'0, 209. Spence ended up coming in at 5'11", 231 lbs at the Combine, and I wouldn't be surprised if Biggs was trying to sneak in an inch or two. Ross is listed on the latest roster at 6'1", 223. I think around 230-235 is reasonable to expect Ross to end up at, although if he actually is north of 6', he could end up a few pounds larger.
Strengths and Weaknesses
If it wasn't obvious yet, one of the reasons I think this comparison works is because they both could be classified as under-sized. Ross may outgrow that moniker, but for now, it's appopriate. Additionally, they're both quick, smart, instinctual linebackers who can bring the wood, despite their size. Dan Gibbs can vouch for Ross. Here's a few snippets of Spence's draft profile from NFL.com; tell me it doesn't sound familiar.
He was a four-year starter at Miami, and although undersized he makes up for this deficiency through speed, instincts and overall athletic ability
He can quickly diagnose a play and use his explosive hips to meet running backs and deliver the blow.
Spence is undersized and needs to play free of big blockers on him to be productive. He can flow to plays but "rides the pole" and falls off tackles at times.
I'll confess, but I don't know what "rides the pole" means in a football context, so maybe Ross can be free of that weakness. I'd assume it's a bad habit of making initial contact and stopping his feet, but that's just my guess.
Spence played in every game as a true freshman, and only didn't see the field a handful of times in his career - due to injury and a pesky little Nevin Shapiro related suspension. Happy that Ross won't have that on his resume. Spence made a name for himself with a couple plays in a loss to Tebow in Gainesville his freshman year, and eventually became the leader of Miami's defense. He played some at the MIKE his senior year due to injuries and the graduation of Tennessee Titan starter Colin McCarthy. He ended up a Butkis semifinalist and earned All ACC honors (har har har ACC, but still) before graduating and heading for the NFL.
This started out as a focus on a great play that James Ross made en route to 8 tackles and several TFL in less than a full games snaps. Safe to say this kid might be pretty good. Anyways, it somewhat evolved into realizing that however talented and large our interior offensive line may be, they're still developing and gelling this spring. Usual caveats apply, I am not a football coach, just an educated fan and former high school player - let me know if you disagree with any assesments.
Link, thanks to mgovideo, one of the biggest free perks for Michigan fans. Play starts at 1:11
Michigan comes out in what Al Borges would probably draw on the first page of his autobiography: offset I with a tight end (the size of a small tackle) and a full back with his hand on the ground. All that's missing is Funchess lined up next to Lewan with Jake Butt in motion and this would turn into what Al Borges probably dreams about at night. The tight camera angle doesn't show the wide receiver personnel or formation, but I'd bet it's some combo of Gallon/Darboh/Jackson/Chesson based on my memory. Lewan appears to be trying to make a check of some kind, but that's just my hope based on the breakdown that happens on the interior. It was not uncommon for him to make line calls last year apparently, so it wouldn't surprise me if he's still encouraged to do so, if not moreso.
The defense, meanwhile is lined up in basically its base 4-3 under, with Beyer and Ross only slightly outside of their normal positions. Ojemudia is offsides, too. Get onsides there, terminator eyes. Your D-lineman are Ojemudia, Willie Henry (who played a lot), Pipkins and Godin (I think).
As the ball is snapped, it's apparent why James Ross was a half a yard closer to the line of scrimmage than Desmond Morgan - he was real excited about his A-gap blitz. Coach Mattison probably was too. We already see that Kalis is pulling: he's opened up his hips well and his first step is directly for the spot Devin Gardner is vacating. Everyone save Kalis and Williams will down block. Kerridge is headed for Godin. Notice that Miller has his sights set on double teaming Henry despite James Ross and his reckless abandon for the A gap. I think this is the first breakdown, and Miller ends up being a non-factor when he probably could have picked up Ross and turned this into a gain. I think he could be good, this is just a growing pain of a young center in the spring.
As Devin reverse pivots and prepares to hand off to Drake Johnson, most of the offensive lineman have done their road grating jobs. Lewan has joined Braden on Pipkins, and Peewee doesn't have a shot against the All-American and his young giant friend. AJ williams has left Ojemudia for Willie Henry and Schofield is prepared to help see him off. Miller, in hopes of sealing off the back side, has now taken himself completely out of the play as I mentioned. Desmond Morgan has read run as well, but I think he heads for the wrong gap. James Ross is already going to be in Kalis' hip-pocket shortly - that's his guard read anyways. Guard pulls, you run right through where he left straight to the ball carrier. Meanwhile, Morgan should be scraping playside as fast as possible until he sees daylight and or Drake Johnson with the ball.
Kalis has his sights for Brennan Beyer. Schofield has Henry sealed and Williams has left him to chip Ojemudia and keep ole laser eyes away from flying down the line. Ross continues his plan to arrive early for his scheduled meeting with Johnson.
Kerridge has stalemated Godin, Kalis is headed upfield ready to for either Beyer, a hypothetical Desmond Morgan or a safety. But, James Ross is not only deadly, but apparently silent. Kalis needs his head on a swivel here - I have a feeling he got a little excited for 5 yards of momentum and a one-one matchup in the open field. Then again, he thinks the backside should have been handled. Anyways, at this point it's pretty clear to Drake Johnson that things are not going to end positively. Could Braden have left Pipkins earlier and found Ross? Possibly, but I'm pretty sure his job is to donkey the guy who is head up on him until there can be no more donkeying and then find someone else.
Drake Johnson, I have a Mr. James Ross here to see you. Again we see Morgan could've taken a better angle, and if Ross were picked up, there is a lane and a freight train named Kyle Kalis headed downfield.
Two yard loss.
P.S. Devin please calm down when celebrating and wrap yourself in bubble wrap.
The ongoing "DESMOND JOINS THE FOOTBALL TEAM"
storyline returns next week. Until then, this is for
Trey, Glenn, Tim, Nick, Mitch, Spike, and the rest of the boys...
(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
Very happy with how this one came out. Obviously I have a storyline to get back to with Desmond, but I wanted to address the basketball team in some special way, let them know that we're far more thankful for the season than disappointed in that last game.
What a run. Thanks guys.
Friday Fun tomorrow will be an ode to spring. Yes, an ODE.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every week here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.