rundown of Michigan's riser
Walkons? Walkons.The always-awesome Jim Stefani has sleuthed out a number of preferred walkons for Michigan's class of 2009, and he has anointed New York Offensive lineman Tom Lindley the catch of the bunch. Lindley may have been deserving of a full ride elsewhere:
“Though he would have merited a ride somewhere else, lineman Tom Lindley of William Floyd will attend Michigan as a preferred walk-on next fall and try to earn a scholarship down the road.”
but will join Michigan's football team with the benefit of academic scholarship money, and will try to play for a scholarship in the future. Lindley was unranked by Rivals and Scout, while ESPN named him the nation's #131 offensive guard prospect and gave him a grade of 74.
Rodriguez, a former walkon himself (as I'm sure most Michigan fans are already well aware) has long championed having a robust walkon program at Michigan (again, most Michigan fans already know this). Lindley and AA Pioneer's Nader Furrha are the notable walkons for 2009, and the program will undoubtedly continue to grow in the future. As I've said before on Varsity Blue, I would love it if Michigan's program became renowned like that of Nebraska pre-Callahan, and prospect were turning down offers from the likes of Michigan State to try their hand in Ann Arbor.
Because mock press conferences haven't gotten old yet, I say! Presented without further comment:
Numbers. An unnecessarily high amount of fan attention and angst seems to go into which numbers the incoming freshman will sport in the fall. In MGoBlue's Wolverine Welcome series, the already-enrolled freshmen give a little insight as to (a phrase which here means "reveal") which numbers they'll sport come September.
Will Campbell - #73.
Vladimir Emilien - #5.
Tate Forcier - #5.
Mike Jones (obligatory "WHO?") - #27.
Brandin Hawthorne - #7.
Anthony Lalota - #90.
Vincent Smith - Hasn't been Wolverine Welcomed yet. Informative update when the information is available.
Basket-ed Ball. The Wolverines travel to Evanston on Sunday to take on Northwestern. The Wildcats may be a bit vulnerable, as they chocked away their tournament dreams, for all reasonable scenarios, with their EPIC FAIL against Illinois last night. They led by 14 in the second half, and by 6 with under a minute to go(!) before falling to the Illini. A Michigan win would go a long way towards ramping up toward a tournament push.
SMQ on M. Rivals' Dr. Saturday takes on the Michigan issue. Synopsis: Expect better next year, but certainly not a Flowers for Algernon-like leap.
The author's work can usually be found on his site, Varsity Blue.
Incoming recruit Michael Shaw saw his high school track career end prematurely when the OSHAA ruled he had transferred to Trotwood-Madison illegally, but dude got it awwwwn at nationals:
Trotwood-Madison OH coach Randy Waggoner, honored earlier in the day as the meet's Coach of the Year, couldn't help blinking back tears at the courage and gutsy efforts of his Waggoner's Raiders team after they toppled favored Dominguez CA in the marquee 4x400 (3:11.33 to 3:11.41).
"I've been coaching since the '60's," Coach Waggoner said of his 46.4 anchor, Mike Shaw, "and I've coached a lot of guys, but he's one of the best."
Shaw had a huge meet for his team from Ohio, anchoring the Raiders to a Friday win in the 4x200 (1:25.18), then taking the 200 title (21.19 in a headwind) and anchoring the 4x400 win on Saturday.
"We all promised each other we were going to lay it on the track for each other," Shaw said. "Last race of the season, and even though I was dead from the 200 [earlier in the day], I told them that if it was close, I'm going to win it."
Aye, that he did:
Shaw also qualified for the final in the 100 M but finished last. Dunno what happened there.
Dude is ninja fast, though. He runs the forty in femtoseconds. I use him instead of fiber-optic cable. I had him take a message to South America and when he got there it was Gonwanaland.
MIKE SHAW IS FAST.
sorry this is late, it had to be rebuilt after Firefox froze. I was asking for it though... something like 80 windows open.
If my feedreader is any indication, you're already stuffed with information about Michigan's spring practice and game. But I would be remiss if I didn't chip in with what I have.
First, something that purports to be the entirety of the spring game-like substance in four minutes and seventeen seconds:
Given other descriptions of the game I believe the above is missing a number of plays -- no dropped balls -- but it's still a quick primer on what went down.
You can get most of the same thing with better video quality and some guy who calls Troy Woolfolk "Woolfork" and Nick Sheridan "Andy Mignery"(!) twice(!!!), plus some interviews in the extended highlights provided on the Big Ten Network:
(What is with this "Woolfork" stuff, man? It's an error rampant on message boards and it even showed up in a Free Press article... three times! Who would make a fork out of wool? It would be floppy and when you got stuff on it, which you would constantly because that is the life purpose of a fork, you couldn't wash it because then you'd have mini-woolfork. And HIS DAD, who is also NOT NAMED "WOOLFORK," is ONE OF THE BEST RUNNING BACKS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM. I think I NEED TO CALM DOWN ABOUT THIS.)
Holy crap that's a lot of ugly interceptions. The only other thing that pops out: Avery Horn is as fast as rumored. Oh, and Threet looks a little like Justin Timberlake.
Michigan Sports Center has collected the media available on the game, and MVictors has an extensive photo gallery.
H'okay. In marked contrast to years previous, information about Michigan's spring practices is flying around, giving us a new problem: instead of one secretive and possibly sketchy source, Michigan fans are confronted with a wide array of often conflicting information.
Let's try to sort it out. In addition to the material published in the paper and online I'll intersperse some impressions from emailers; the largest bulk comes from Craig Ross, a dedicated observer of the program and author who's been to a lot of spring practices.
Quarterback. Rodriguez said Sheridan and Threet were both equal on Saturday but Threet had pulled ahead in the practices leading up to the game. In all likelihood, he is your Utah starter. Ross:
Threet was a bit better than Sheridan. But, man, this looks like a sore spot. Teams are just going to sit on the run and underneath stuff and ignore us deep. But, it was wet and cold. The ball was probably hard to throw. Antonio Bass would have been perfect in this offense. What a heartbreak for another truly kind and thoughtful person. [My guess is Carlos Brown will get some reps in the fall, unless Feagin can pick the offense up quickly and is better than most think.]
In the video above you can see the long bomb completed to Mathews was underthrown by about 20 yards. Chad Henne's deep ball will be missed. Oh, and his tendency to not throw six interceptions.
Fellow attendee Stephen Raines:
Threet looked really weak. Although, he showed good decision making at times, his passes were not pretty and often into tight coverage. Sheridan actually looked decent, at times, at others you could really see how his height will get in the way of him ever being a starter, but he had some good throws. Where he was a better runner than Threet, this benefit goes out the window when we tried to run the option and he completely missed the pitch.
The attempted options in the spring game were few, far between, and ugly as sin. As previously theorized, it's going to be confusing and ugly early. I expect at least three players (Threet, Feagin, and one or both of Brown/Minor) to take snaps at QB, though one or two of those players will be operating as an Incredibly Surprising Running Quarterback in the vein of Darren McFadden. Hopefully very much in the vein of Darren McFadden.
If David Cone strides onto any field of play when a game is remotely close, cower. (Ross repeatedly mentions he's a fantastic kid, though.)
Running back. This is one spot that will likely find a strong starter simply because Michigan has too many bullets in the chamber to miss with all of them. Mike Barwis ate Carlos Brown's finger, causing him to miss much of the spring as Barwis grows him a new one; Kevin Grady had a lingering knee injury of some variety that held him out. Grady did come back midway through spring practice, but most of the reps went to Horn and Minor.
Avery Horn was not mentioned in AA News today (at least I didn't see anything) but he has big play potential. The rumor is that he has had trouble learning the offense (moving to slot?) but he has remarkable speed. I thought Minor and Grady played hard and pretty well.
You can see Horn's lightning quicks in the video above. There are two sweep handoffs that together tell a story: on the first, Minor pops outside the defensive and and gets decent yardage but can't get the corner. On the second, Horn does the exact same thing, bursts to the outside, and ends up grabbing a big chunk of yards.
Still, it's Minor gathering praise for his work ethic and leadership and Horn who is still reputed to be having difficulties with all the things he has to do in the offense. And then there's Grady, who had one impressive run during the scrimmage and was the subject of Brandon Graham's violent attentions. Ever spring we hear he's driving bowling-ball shaped holes through defenders and rescuing the princess with dashing derring-do, then in fall we either get unimpressive performance or exploded ligaments.
Minor is your tentative front-runner now, but as many as six players (the four on campus now plus Mike Shaw and Sam McGuffie) will vie for carries in the fall.
Wide Receiver and Tight End. This position group was extremely thin due to NFL draft entry and Junior Hemingway's high ankle sprain. Greg Mathews, Toney Clemons, Zion Babb, and James Rogers were the only scholarship players available, and the latter two were DBs for part or all of last year.
Some positive indicators from Raines:
A plus here, M
athews showed that he can catch the ball, even on a bad pass. And because he was covered by Trent, this impressed me. Clemons looked pretty solid too. He had a couple quick slant passes that showed he can catch it in the middle.
Mathews will be reliable but not game breaking. Ross sounds an alarm about the general lack of speed in the unit:
But mostly we went with one tight end. Sometimes two. Rarely 4 wideouts. The fact is we have tight ends but not much in the way of slot receivers. ... Over the coming years, I would expect to see less and less of the tight end. The theoretical key to RR's spread is 4 wide----and my guess is he wants to get there. But not this year. I think we will see a lot of 11 packages [1 TE, 1 RB -ed] in the fall. Recruiting might look to TEs who can also play OT, as opposed to TEs who might be used as WRs---our current batch.
RR seemed pleased about the team understanding of his offense. From an intellectual point of view, the team is well ahead of where he guessed it would be at this time. The problem is (according to RR) "we are too slow." I think this references (primarily) the slot receiver position (and QB, of course). This will change with the 4 guys coming in---I know Odoms and TR and McGuffie ain't slow.
This is how bad it is: Jim Potempa, the little guy you might remember from the end of the Notre Dame and Purdue games, has been pressed into service as the wacky slot guy. The starting wacky slot guy. Terrance Robinson and Martavious Odoms are going to get all the snaps in the slot from day one.
Offensive Line. Justin Boren is a communist. Past that, the threat level here is pink or orange or whatever is equivalent to "the nukes are on their way." Virtually every observer has called the offensive line a Sauer -- zing -- this spring, and when Rodriguez made the quarterbacks live for a brief period Threet was immediately knocked out with a minor injury.
It looks like the first group right now is Moosman, Schilling, Ortmann, MacAvoy and Zirbel. My guess is Molk may still sneak in. But, for the moment, the first five seem like the leading candidates.
They weren't awful. At this time of year, that might be OK. I have seen some good lines look awful in the spring. On the other hand, they weren't very good---at least w/o looking at the tape.
I think this group would mean a move inside for Schilling, as Ortmann and Zirbel have always been tackles. Moosman and Schilling won awards are thus good bets to start. Ortmann basically has to be the left tackle unless Dann O'Neill is just awesome. MacAvoy and Zirbel should be considered provisional with David Molk and the true freshman threats to take their jobs. (Dey tik er jebs!)
I dunno. It's gonna be rough.
Defensive Line. Michigan's hopes for a good season rest on this unit being frickin' awesome. So... hope that Terrance Taylor's apparent demotion to second string is successful motivational ploy and not an indication that he's not taking to the Way of Barwis. I kinda think he might be, though:
Will Johnson won kind of a weird award for a fifth-year senior and returning starter to pick up:
Fifth-year senior Will Johnson (Oakland, Mich./Lake Orion HS) received the Meyer Morton Award, granted to the senior football player that experienced the greatest development and showed the most promise during spring practice.
Johnson was excellent in spot duty as a sophomore but only okay last year. He was pretty highly touted as a recruit before an ACL tear cost him his senior year, so he could have some upside left. He's always been renowned as one of the hardest workers on the team... hopefully he can make a big leap.
Meanwhile at defensive end, Jamison and Graham are both reputed to have lost 15 or 20 pounds during their period of Barwisization. Rodriguez has apparently gotten a little ticked at defensive coordinator Scott Schafer for unleashing the DEs a little too frequently and violently. There's certainly the potential for these guys to blow up. Jamison has alternated explosive plays with wheezing and Graham was clearly a physical marvel on par with Woodley but lost his conditioning late in the year, most prominently when Michigan State plowed him over again and again in the second half. Both of these players were top-50 recruits.
Behind them there's very little. Ryan Van Bergen did get an award of his own:
Freshman defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (Whitehall, Mich./Whitehall HS) led all newcomers, earning the John F. Maulbetsch Award. This honor is given to a distinguished freshman athlete on the basis of desire, character, capacity for leadership and potential for future success.
Michigan really needs him to work out given the way defensive end recruiting has gone the last couple years.
Linebackers. Obi Ezeh is penciled in as a starter somewhere, which is unsurprising. The surprising thing is the emergence of senior JUCO transfer Austin Panter. Ross on an earlier practice:
The LBs looked good, notably Panter (!!!!) who seemed to be running with Thompson with the top DL group.
Insert default moaning about blown redshirts here. IIRC, Panter was an MLB/SLB type, which would mean he's battling Thompson for one of the two big beefy guy slots.
On the weakside, I guess Brandon Logan is still technically a threat but it's Jonas Mouton and whichever freshman impresses the most. There were a few rumblings that Mouton looked pretty good but after last year, when he could not see a snap playing behind a poor Chris Graham, this blog is spooked about his ability.
Secondary. Except for the nasty rumors flying around that Donovan Warren might transfer, cornerback is set with three returning starters. As for the rumors: they're widespread enough that I give them credence but I think they're unlikely to come to fruition. If he was going to go he probably would have already announced it a la Boren. And if they were serious he probably would have missed some time in the spring a la Carlos Brown last year. Knock on wood.
The questions, then, are at safety, where both starters graduated. Stevie Brown was a special teams standout and practice hero as a freshman. He was given the starting spot for The Horror... and immediately gave up a long touchdown and entered the Hall of Infamous Michigan Athletes. Not bad for a first start. Brandent Englemon replaced him before halftime.
Yeah, now he's basically guaranteed a starting job. Ross says he looked "pretty good," and there is the potential that Michigan Safety Hating God has moved on to other pastures with the departure of Carr and his staff. I, and probably all of you, will be nervous until his play dictates otherwise.
The other spot is probably going to go to Charles Stewart, but sophomore Artis Chambers and redshirt freshman Mike Williams also played well. Ross says Williams was noticeable during the spring game and Chambers had the wherewithal to catch wounded ducks thrown directly to him, which will b
e a critical skill for the Notre Dame game (zing!).
Like the other list, except with sad fugee faces.
5. Vince Helmuth and Mark Moundros. Maybe? Though the spread offense seems a wasteland for fullbacks and fellow lumberers, Owen Schmitt's "runaway beer truck" touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl was one more carry than Michigan fullbacks had last year, and Schmitt actually got to, like, carry the ball 46 other times. The Rodriguez system does have a place for a crushing lead blocker who can occasionally accept a dive handoff as part of the triple option, but does either fullback have that sort of ability?
Helmuth might. His final year at Saline he was the Dissolved Salts' main offensive threat, a pounding straight-ahead sort in the vein of Schmitt, and as Rivals #1 incoming fullback that year he has the sort of guru approval you'd like to see. And the offense last year was freakin' nuts for tight ends instead of fullbacks.
You know what? Scratch this. Fullbacks are probably going to be okay.
5. Brandon Graham, Terrance Taylor, Jason Kates, all other defensive lineman and so forth and such and such and so on. OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE THE RUNNING STOP I'M THE SIZE OF A REFRIGERATOR AND MY LIGAMENTS ARE MORE STRETCHED THAN JOAN RIVERS' FACE ZING THAT'S MY ZINGER OH THE PAIN RESUMES NOOOOOOOOOOO
4. Darryl Stonum. Stonum liked Michigan for a lot of reasons, including its inherent Michigan-ness and the presence of high school teammates Troy Woolfolk and Brandon Herron, but high amongst the list of reasons was probably the Michigan tradition of heavily featuring one bionic deathbot wide receiver who goes on to a long and fruitful NFL career.
West Virginia has not so much had this tradition. Their number one target in the White-Slaton era has been diminutive Darius Reynaud, who is on track to be a sixth-round selection in this year's draft and will have to return punts like a mother to not get cut two years into his career. Stonum, no doubt, has higher hopes.
There is a precedent for a larger, more traditional sort of receiver making waves in the Rodriguez offense: Chris Henry. Though most know him as one of the two legendary asshats (Pacman Jones, of course, the other) guaranteed to be referenced by rival fans in their grasping attempts to paint Rodriguez as Mengele in a track jacket, Henry was also one bad mother on the field. As a redshirt freshman, Henry caught 41 balls for 1006 yards and ten touchdowns, a whopping 24.5 yards per catch. His sophomore season was marred by intermittent suspension and behavior-related reductions in playing time (he only started seven games, though I believe he played in all except maybe Pitt) but still saw him catch 52 passes for 872 yards. Henry was booted after that year, and despite his obvious character issues he was still drafted in the third round. If he could stay out of jail he'd be on his way to a productive NFL career. Presumably the affable Stonum will not have those issues.
So It's not like Stonum is going to see 20 balls a year until he flips out and transfers to Texas Tech. Rodriguez will adjust to talent, and since the quarterback this year is probably going to be water-buffalo-era relic Steven Threet, Michigan isn't going to run 71% of the time. But the projected starting quarterback transferred and Michigan is down to one, maybe one in a half bullets in a sort of anti-Russian roulette game in which you really, really need the gun to go "bang" or you end up at the Insight Bowl surrounded by confused bowl officials asking you if you know where Purdue is, where's Purdue, are you sure you guys aren't supposed to be Purdue?
3. Mike Massey. Whereas Carson Butler has a chance to start over with a coach who he doesn't have a combative relationship with, Mike Massey no longer has the Massey family guardian angel guiding his steps.
Massey hasn't done much other than almost make big catches so far in his Michigan career, and though he's a better blocker than Carson Butler (as there are six-year-old girls who are better blockers than Carson Butler this should be interpreted as faint praise), blocking defensive ends and blitzers has just acquired a significantly lower priority.
But the main reason Massey's hurt by the coaching switch is less complicated: the number of TE snaps just got halved. The short-lived Debord zone scheme was mad for tight ends, always deploying at least one (even on four-wide plays, one of the "wideouts" was a split TE) and frequently (say, half the time) two. Under Rodriguez the only time you'll see more than one TE is short yardage and there will be a hefty quantity of plays with four actual wide receivers on the field; many of the snaps that do have TEs will feature them split out in the slot, where they'll be blocking linebackers or even defensive backs. This heavily favors Butler and sophomore Martell Webb over old-school slow guys like Massey and (probably) Steve Watson.
2. Brandon Minor. Late in Minor's freshman year he looked like Mike Hart's heir apparent, though that was on the backs of a couple long runs that obscured his tendency to pick up three yards at all other times. Minor's talent cleared up his sophomore year, when Mike Hart was out; Minor and Brown split carries in several different games.
In those games Minor had some nice runs, but didn't display any wiggle. His 4.3 YPC was nice, but Carlos Brown's 5.1 exceeded it by almost a yard. (For those skeptical that Brown's meaningless 85-yard sprint against Minnesota distorts those statistics, if you chop those 85 yards down to 46 -- equivalent to Minor's season long -- Brown still has a half-yard on Minor.) He did spectacularly truck a Notre Dame safety towards the end of FBDII, but that pretty much summed up his attitude vis a vis defenders: "maybe I can run through this guy." Sometimes he can. Sometimes you're aiming straight for the SS Concussion.*
Minor was apparently passed by Carlos Brown last year, and that was before Michigan imported a speed freak who likes his running backs short, shifty, and blazing. Brandon Minor is none of those things.
*(hell yes, I'm just waiting for Michigan to finally have one of those guided missile safeties who don't even look for the ball when they've got a 50-50 shot at shoving a helmet through the torso of a defenseless wide receiver so I can call him "the SS Concussion." Although I might call Carson Butler that for his blocking "skills.")
1. Ryan "Whoops" Mallett. Obvs.
Lists are one of the hackiest forms of writing anything, but I, too, succumb to the occasional bout of offseason glazomania. The following five players are the people on the team who should be happiest about the start of the Rodriguez era.
Included in these evaluations are recruits who picked Michigan before the changeover; those who signed up afterwards knew what they were getting into and are thus disqualified.
5. Corey Zirbel. You wouldn't know it from the deep insecurity emanating from any Michigan fan considering the 2008 offensive line, but M has a top-100 tackle entering his fourth year in the program ready to step into Jake Long's oversized shoes. The problem is that top-100 tackle is Corey Zirbel.
Zirbel, reportedly frustrated by his inability to move up on the depth chart, believed that the existing Michigan coaches had already decided he was not going to contribute; his effort thus flagged. Now he's starting with a fresh slate in a new offense and there's a big vacancy at left tackle (and, if Steve Schilling's pass protection doesn't improve, maybe right tackle*). It's now or never for him.
*(implication is that Schilling starts at RG, not loses his starting spot entirely.)
4. Avery Horn. The word on Horn from fall practices was "fast as hell, tiny, has no idea what he's doing." The redshirt that followed would normally be a red flag for a program bound and determined to see anyone with a chance of contributing blow a year of eligibility on special teams. Add in Michigan's historical inability to make use of tiny fast guys and Horn's middling guru rankings and you have a recipe for a mediocre career of about 50 carries and a brief stint as a returner ended by a single fumble.
Enter Rodriguez, who hears "fast as hell" and falls into a reverie that makes the buts inaudible. Though Horn has a lot of competition with three juniors in front of him and the McGuffie-Shaw-Cox class behind him, his career prognosis got a lot better when Rodriguez was hired.
3. Marcus Witherspoon. Witherspoon is something of an OLB/DE tweener, a high school defensive end who most project to OLB in college because of his size. Usually this would entail a year or two of learning just WTF "coverage" is and maybe some discussion of "angles" and "not being Chris Graham", and that was likely to be the case with Witherspoon. But when Michigan landed Stanford's Scott Shafer they picked up what looks to be one of the nation's most blitz-happy defensive coordinators. Marcus Witherspoon had 27 sacks as a senior. Marcus Witherspoon likes rushing the passer. Marcus Witherspoon should be happy.
2. Slocum, Kates, Taylor, Jamison, Graham... basically any DL who survive. Though Michigan defensive line finally started moving away from its 90s paradigm of blue-collar white guys who the NFL wouldn't draft in a hundred years, motivation and weight issues still plagued them. Not that this is unusual: you show me a program without at least one 350-pound waddler whose idea of exercise is picking up three Big Macs at once and I'll show you a school with a direction in its name and maybe a "State," too.
But Michigan's program seemed especially content with rolls of blubber around their linemen's midsection. Anyone who had the misfortune to tune into one of many, many Brent Musberger segments on former defensive tackle and moonwalking expert Pat Massey's rigorous weight-gain program knows this. According to Musberger, Massey was told to eat a whole pizza every night in an effort to keep his weight above 285. Pizza? This is the diabolical plan of secret master Mike Gittleson? Argh! Last year even purported speed rusher Tim Jamsion looked pregnant, gut hanging over his belt.
I don't know how much impact Mike "Satan" Barwis is actually going to have, but I am sure that the canary in this particular coalmine will be the composition and performance of the defensive line, and that Mike Barwis eats your soul if you think midnight pizza is a workout regimen.
1. Sam McGuffie. This blog has already chronicled the division of opinion on Mr. McGuffie, which is wide as the sea. The one thing everyone did agree on: get this guy and space and let him spin like a top, and you've probably got something. Skeptical Rivals analysts openly questioned why McGuffie wasn't heading to some place like Texas Tech, where he could become the next Wes Welker. (Welker -- surprise! -- is also white.)
And, you know, they kind of had a point. On the face of it, McGuffie heading to the Michigan zone game, where he would almost never be the target of a a pass (in the last two years, screen attempts by Michigan have collapsed) or be directed to get out to the corner, didn't make a whole lot of sense. Though he's got some nasty cuts, McGuffie is no Mike Hart. When someone hits him, McGuffie just goes down. The thing that struck me when I watched the video from his final playoff victory: "jesus, that guy's tiny." And so he is. Also tiny: Noel Devine.
Right, I promised a look at Crable's culpability or lack thereof in the field goal. Here's the setup:
Questions, and a sincere one to anyone who's blocked for a field goal before: should Banks have taken the man Crable let go? Is the double team on this DE here necessary? Is the guy on the interior here any threat? Does your opinion change considering this guy plays I-AA? Why does this always happen to us?
My answers: yes, no, no, N/A because I of what I think on the first three questions, one of us must have killed Jesus. I blame Leopold and Loeb.