|Roy Roundtree||Sr.*||Devin Gardner||So.*||Jeremy Gallon||Jr.*||Brandon Moore||Sr.*|
|Jeremy Jackson||Jr.||Jerald Robinson||So.*||Drew Dileo||Jr.*||AJ Williams||Fr.|
|Amara Darboh||Fr.||Ricardo Miller||So.*||--||--||Devin Funchess||Fr.|
This bit could be better. Roy Roundtree suffered more than anyone in the transition from the spread 'n' shred to the spread 'n' pasted-on-West-Coast-stuff, plummeting from 72 catches to 19. Notre Dame and Sugar Bowl savior Junior Hemingway is off to NFL practice squads as a seventh-round pick; following him out the door are Martavious Odoms (replaceable) and Kevin Koger (uh…).
In their stead Michigan will field a forest of unproven guys with limited upside, freshmen, their backup quarterback, and Jerald Robinson, the one vague hope for a high quality downfield threat who is not the backup quarterback.
It should be noted that Michigan is running the opposite of the Holgorsen style "you came here an X, you learned it in three days, you repeated it 60 times, you are forever an X" specialization offense. Jeff Hecklinski said as much last year…
"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."
…and the frequent deployment of Junior Hemingway in the slot and Jeremy Gallon outside confirmed that over the course of the year. Therefore "slot" is used to denote the player who is going to get all the wide receiver screens, which will never be bubble screens.
Assertion: Junior Hemingway was the most valuable Michigan wide receiver since Braylon Edwards. Hemingway may not have been as good as Mario Manningham or even Adrian Arrington, but imagining last year without his ability to rise from a thicket of hands to snag "no no no no no no YESSSSSSSS" touchdowns is not a pleasant exercise. He is the undisputed king of yards per target since 2005. He was important.
Unfortunately, Hemingway's gone. Left behind is the mismatched collection of runty Rodriguez slot receivers, Rodriguez leapers who run like hobbled ducks, and… maybe Devin Gardner. Definitely Devin Gardner.
Aw, hell, I should probably start off talking about Roundtree and stuff but everyone wants to know about Gardner.
Yeah, man, he's going to play. Unless Jerald Robinson delivers on the perpetual low-level hype, no one else on the roster comes close to Gardner's combination of size, leaping ability, and speed. At the very least he'll frequently attempt the Terrelle Pryor "oops I'm huge" redzone fade…
…and it's hard to see him not being more than that given the alternatives. Gardner played exclusively at wide receiver at the Mott open practice, and with the first team. I've heard from multiple source since: that's no smokescreen.
While no one knows how this will go, the steady drumbeat of hype from players is encouraging. It took about all of a dozen spring practices for reports like this to reach my ears:
Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands."
Similar reports popped up on the premium sites, and when fall camp started and everyone asked anyone in front of the mic about the possibility, his teammates said "dang." Kovacs:
"He's a great athlete, I feel like he could play anywhere and he could probably take my spot if he tried," Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "He's a natural athlete, and if they play him at receiver, I'm sure he'll be pretty good.
"Wherever he plays, he's going to make big plays."
"When he gets out to receiver, you think he's a receiver," Robinson said. "He looks like he's been playing there for years."
And then there's this extremely reliable and not all dated video of Gardner screwing around at WR as a high school kid:
That's the ticket, man. They might have to protect him from getting jammed, but that's not too hard: line him up off the LOS, possibly in those stack formations, and there you go. Then it's about running the routes and catching the ball.
The possibility of a "devin gardner dunked on tacopants" tag and a paucity of options to fill the Junior Hemingway role that bailed the offense out time and again last year will see Gardner on the field. It may be sparingly at first, but if it's crunch time against Alabama do you want him on the bench?
Attempting to predict what happens here is very difficult, but I'm betting Gardner is one of four players approximately level on catches and yards at the end of the year, with no true star player. The upside is tantalizing, though, and your best hope for an offense that scorches both ground and sky. Devin Gardner, you've been X-factor'd.
[hit THE JUMP to read up on Roundtree, Gallon, and company.]
The tumultuous recent years of Michigan football have spawned some truly boggling "this hasn't happened since" statistics. Most prominent was the OSU streak, of course, but this year Michigan enters a year running the same defense it did a year ago since 2007. Next year they'll have guys with a third year in a single system for the first time since 2003—remember Jim Herrmann's one-year experiment with the 3-4 in 2004. I'm just wow, man.
Even more remarkable is that if Denard Robinson remains healthy they'll get a season's worth of starting from a senior quarterback* for the first time since John Navarre 2003 almost a decade ago. If I hadn't used the Grosse Point Blank "TEN YEARS!" joke for basketball's 2009 tourney bid, I'd deploy it now. I'll still use this:
Yeah, Piven, I feel you.
If you don't remember, senior quarterbacks are good to have. They're generally efficient, even when they aren't escapees from a top-secret government experiment attempting to breed a new race of Sonic The Hedgehog soldiers. They change plays at the line and don't throw interceptions and sometimes pilot the kind of offense that can sing your baby to sleep with its metronomic precision.
Is that happening? Uh… probably not. But the Sonic thing gives you a lot of room for error.
*[Chad Henne's '07 season does not qualify, as he missed games against ND, Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (basically—he threw five passes) and was wounded most of the rest of the year, most painfully when he was throwing up Sheridan-esque moonballs en route to 68 yards passing against OSU. That space station was not fully operational until the bittersweet Citrus win over Florida.]
|QB drawin'||Hopkins floater|
|juke in out in out in .||holds up Hemingway|
|drop snap deadly||ZIPPY ARM|
|bursts outside||no pressure == good|
|patience FTW||can zip it|
|damn Lavonte David||no pressure again|
|VEER ME BABY||no pressure rollout|
|gashing Purdue||UNLEASH THE DRAGON|
|woop woop||bombs it deep to Hemingway|
|zooooooom||chuckin' it up|
|shortie vs OSU||fires deep anyway|
|seeya Shazier||deep corner|
|SCRAMBLE MORE||back foot bomb|
|you never do this||bumpy bumps|
|hate you David||Odoms back of EZ|
|WTF READS||UNLEASH THE D'OHGON|
|looks open on the corner||this is more Smith's fault|
|again misses a keep read||PLAIN IMPRESSIVE|
|pitch the ball!||sets feet on roll|
|refuses to pull||nails Dileo|
The comedown was predictable, and a little sad. Denard Robinson's electrifying 2010 season saw him garner Heisman votes and All-American nods like they were rushing yards. He shoved a rainbow down Notre Dame's throat and made them pop out of your head. He shattered records, big records, NCAA-wide records for rushing quarterbacks, and if he hadn't been saddled with the Worst Defense Ever on the other side of the ball, he might have continued doing so ad infinitum.
But he was, so he didn't. Enter Al Borges, a guy who has about as much experience with running quarterbacks as Rich Rodriguez did with intricate West Coast passing games. Enter Brady Hoke, who declared that POWER would be run powerfully. Exit the Denard-iso-based offense that disguised for Robinson's many shortcomings as a passer by getting guys flabbergastingly wide open.
Down went many of the stats. Denard's rushing yards dropped from 1702 to 1176. His yards per carry went from 6.6 to 5.3. Passing yards dropped by about 400, yards per attempt went from 8.8 to 8.4, and Denard's already high interception rate ballooned from 3.7% to 5.8%.
There wasn't much compensation in terms of keeping Denard hale. His carries scarcely dipped (256 in 2010, 221 in 2011) and he got knocked out of games against Michigan State and Illinois. It just did not work as well.
That said, the offense didn't fall off too much. Buoyed by a tough schedule, Michigan's offense didn't slide much in advanced metrics (FEI went from 2nd to 9th) and had barely budged after the regular season. They put up more points against Ohio State than any Michigan team since Fritz friggin' Crisler. They return eight or nine starters depending on how you want to configure the offense and how you feel about tagging Ricky Barnum a starter. If they can refine things…
Denard just wasn't very good at reading defenses (or wasn't allowed to be) in any phase of the game. There's no reason he would be good at the passing stuff given the Rodriguez offense. He'd stare down guys, like when Kevin Koger ended up wide open in the flat against Purdue. If he got a little pressure he'd chuck balls off his back foot, like he did three times against Northwestern.
It didn't seem like the coaches had a whole lot of faith in Denard's decision-making on the ground either. While they showed various option looks, these were basically run plays on which opponents had to respect the RB. Denard pitched once, and that was a fumble. In the Nebraska game I became increasingly more perplexed at Denard's refusal to pull the ball, eventually giving him an epic negative score for not doing zone reads at all properly. In retrospect it seems clear that those weren't reads at all if they were being so consistently missed—they were called keeps or handoffs and if the defense did something unsound, oh well. Here's a paradigmatic screenshot:
That speed option was a keep for a loss of three, and Denard's not even looking at a potential pitch.
After arghing arghing I came to this conclusion…
The one time he did pull the backside tackle blocked the end inside and nobody scraped, which makes me wonder if I am putting all of this on his shoulders when Michigan has abandoned the zone read in favor of making it look like the zone read but not actually giving Denard the option.
…and after several months remove that still seems like the most likely explanation.
Hypothesis: you choose to rep one thing hard to be an expert. Previously, it was zone stuff that forced defenses to be wrong with certain players and get players wide open. Under Borges, it was West Coast passing. The read skills atrophied to the point where they were not reliable enough to use regularly, Denard was always coming from a thousand miles behind in the air, and the results were a step back all around.
Borges hasn't turned into someone else, so the way forward is obvious… but might not be achievable.
Denard's season trajectory told a story of real progress culminating in that brilliant Ohio State performance:
So… we have a pattern now. In the beginning of the year Denard had no idea what to do with this passing offense and his lack of comfort screwed up his mechanics. As he progressed and Borges adapted to his strengths the comfort level rose and he hit a plateau of totally acceptable performances before lighting up OSU. The progress is undeniable. He'll regress a bit against VT but if he nudges his DSR above 70% it's time to quietly hope he can have a ridiculous career capping year in 2012.
The best part of going 14/17 for ten YPA? Three QB draws for 10, 10, and 16 yards. Run and tell that, homeboy. If Denard is the QB he became after the trash tornado game, look out: 59% completions, 7-4 TD-INT, 8.4 YPA against Purdue/Iowa/Illinois/Nebraska/OSU translates into… I don't even know what.
Here's his UFR chart for the year:
[Hover over column headers for explanation of abbreviation. Screens are in parens.]
[I went back and did a passing chart for the Sugar Bowl FWIW.]
After the dismal Michigan State trash-tornado-and-double-A gap game, something clicked. Or he stopped being bothered by an abscess on his elbow (or "boo boo" in Hokespeak). Either way, the uptick was dramatic.
This is hard to see in the traditional stats for two reasons: Gary Gray and weak opponents early. Denard's YPA actually dipped by a yard (Sugar Bowl included). The closer look UFR provides shows progress, and a lot of it. After racking up 17 BRs in the first seven games, Denard had just one per game in the last five before the bowl. His interception rate plummeted from an insane 7.1% to a still-very-bad 4.2%. His downfield success rate leapt up into the same approximate range he spent his sophomore year in, and he even scrambled a little against Nebraska.
The Main Thing
This is not going to be news, but my God, the interceptions. Last year when Football Study Hall took the top 100 I-A QBs by passing yardage per game and ordered them by interception rate, Denard was 84th. His 2011 number (5.8%) would have been 99th(!) on the list. Worse than Jacory Harris, BJ Daniels, Stephen Garcia, and everyone else except Boo Jackson of OHIO.
Virginia Tech is of course the great raspberry in the narrative of progress here. Since I am the worst (seriously: I apologize profusely for not doing that UFR, I really am the worst) I'm more hand-wavy than usual about what went on but I did go back and chart all of Denard's throws. I found an MSU-like game in which he responded very poorly to pressure, and since VT pressures a lot and got Michigan behind the sticks all the time, he was often put in positions to fail.
I noticed a similar trend when I went back through my Denard clips from last year. Most of the throws filed under "zippy arm" are ones in which Denard can set up in the pocket and chuck it without having to re-set his feet. Por ejemplo:
It's when he has to move around and re-set that we get most of the erratic throws, and it didn't take much for him to revert to bad habits last year, as the first half of that Northwestern game showed. He backfooted a bunch of throws that he didn't have to:
Stepping into those gets them off accurately without getting you sacked.
It's no coincidence that Denard's by-far-worst outings of the year were against the two teams that got in his face over and over. All quarterbacks see their performance decline when they get pressure; few have as an abrupt a cliff as Denard did last year.
Rodriguez's solution to this problem—if he ever had to consider it—was to make the offense so heavily run-based that passes were rarely met with heavy pressure. Straight dropbacks were rare, and defenses were hesitant to blitz in case they got a constraint play in their face or blitzed up the wrong gap. Borges probably won't and probably can't assemble an offense where the parts move just so, and anyway Denard threw a bunch of interceptions as a sophomore.
There's only one thing that can fix this, and that's Denard not deviating from his mechanics as much and knowing where to go more. At the Glazier Clinic, Al Borges talked about the "backside cuts" that are built into Michigan's passing game. Those are deep routes that are supposed to be aborted to whenever the guy away from the main thrust of the play gets one on one coverage. Borges said Denard was "very aware" of these backside cuts, "very aware," and visions of double-covered WTF bombs danced in my head.
He should be more aware of the other guys running those routes (e.g., safeties) this time around, and have better timing on some of the underneath stuff that was an issue. He will get pressure, and I don't think his issues are the kind of thing you can fix in an offseason. There was a groaningly inaccurate pass at the open scrimmage in which Denard had to move around and he made a leaping heave across the middle that was yards behind a crossing route. That's just never going to go well.
Improvement should be expected, though. Denard was still super raw a year ago, he is entering year two, and you know he worked at it all offseason. How much will be the tale of the season.
A Couple Other Things
1. FOR THE EVER-LOVING SAKE OF SNEEZY JESUS WOULD YOU JUST TAKE OFF WITH THE BALL WHEN NO ONE IS OPEN?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Sorry. Sorry. I just don't get it, man. The ratio of ridiculous athleticism to passing skillz dictates that whenever Denard gets past read two he should be thinking about an exit strategy. But Denard all but refuses to run. He scrambled more than once in exactly one game last year, Nebraska.
It's almost as if he wants to prove he's a quarterback so badly that he refuses to use his legs when not required to. This combines with the feet-setting thing in a toxic cocktail. I'd prefer it if Denard either set up and threw without moving his feet or ran, with nothing in-between.
Survey says: unlikely.
2. Shorten the passing game.
The trend in the ND game—bombz—was one that lasted throughout the season. That trend:
Hoping for the fluke explanation, but there seems to be some merit to Door B. He's a breakdown of passes in last year's Notre Dame game:
- Hitch: 9
- Flat, seam, bubble: 6 (one waggle FB flat!)
- Deep curl, flare: 3
- Tunnel screen: 2
- Post, corner, fly: 1
- Throwaway: 1
- Run around like Tate: 2
This is a dedicated short passing game that ran a ton of curl/flat. Denard completes 60% for 1 TD and no INTs, averaging 6.1 YPA. This year we've got the eight downfield chucks, two throws behind the line (8% of attempts) instead of 11 (over 28%), and a total lack of free touchdowns in the seam or hitches to stationary targets that worked well last year when Roundtree wasn't dropping them.
Some sort of perimeter stretch would help Michigan a great deal. Those flats and quick hitches and bubbles are not only highly effective quasi-run plays but drag linebackers away from Denard in the middle of the field. Borges is still thinking like a guy who has a quarterback who happens to be the fastest kid in the country instead of a guy who has the fastest kid in the country at quarterback.
3. I-form snaps are inherently dumb with Denard.
Short yardage, whatever, fine, but any other I-form snap is burning money.
What to expect
I don't actually know, man. He's not going to do that Cade McNown thing. He should get a lot better. Extrapolate the back-half of his season out across a full year, add in a year of experience, and pray for health, and you've got a Heisman contender.
This is the worst thing I've ever said, but I don't think he'll get there. Thus the 4.5 above instead of last year's 5-plus-exclamation-point. There will be a game or two against elite defenses in which Denard's limitations are made plain, and that will keep him out of the running. His interception rate can end up halved and still be really bad. There's just too far to go in one offseason.
The projection in numbers: YPA remains static. Completion percentage jumps up a few points, scrambles are a little more common, and interceptions drop to around eight. Rushing is about the same as last year.
Devin Gardner spent last year making cameo appearances in the two-QB package Al Borges calls "deuce" but should by all rights be called "Fritz" and running the base offense when Denard was inevitably banged up. Neither of these things went that well except on that one pass in the Illinois game. Gardner rushed for 3.5 YPC even if you exclude the Michigan State game and its yakety sack, completed fewer than half his passes, missed a blitheringly wide open Hopkins against MSU and threw a fugly interception against Purdue.
Then spring practice hit and rumors leaked out that Gardner was not only playing wide receiver but playing it ridiculously well. Gardner has spent every waking moment since deflecting questions about his position; 42% of all sports content on the internet since has speculated about a potential position switch, its costs, and its benefits.
This site's been on Team WR from the beginning and became even moreso after an alarmingly poor performance in the spring game that caused me to survey the Gardner oeuvre with a suspicious eye:
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. … [The year before that] Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
When fall practice started up Hoke offered up the only piece of solid information he's provided in months by admitting that yes, Gardner was practicing at WR. His potential impact there will be covered in that position preview.
Gardner will have an opportunity to play at both spots. He's getting the same load of QB reps and moonlights at WR when other quarterbacks are taking snaps, and Borges pointedly defended Fritz from a reporter's question despite the thing seeming to run out of gas after the Denard end-around package was adequately scouted. He may not be the first guy off the bench if Denard needs to come off for a play, but any long-term issue will likely see Gardner ascend to the starting spot, where his performance is anyone's guess. He needs to get a lot better to be plausible; raw athletes going into their second year in the same system do that sometimes, but maybe not often when they're spending at least half their time at another position.
Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy [recruiting profile] is the third(?) stringer and only other QB on the roster. He was clearly more effective than Gardner in the spring game, but had the luxury of going against backups and was a checkdown-heavy dink-and-dunker. He went six of nine, sure, but he averaged six yards a completion. He displays some athleticism, though not anything in the same stratosphere as either of the veterans. Tate Forcier was his YMRMFSPA; former Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch is also a decent comparable.
The coaches have been talking him up some. When Tom Dienhart hit up a practice he returned back with this news about Bellomy:
…the guy to watch is Russell Bellomy. Brady Hoke told me he is faster than you think. I also asked him if he’d be comfortable if Bellomy had to play, and Hoke said he would.
It's hard to tell whether Bellomy's development allows Gardner to play wide receiver or the crying need at wide receiver forces people to play up Bellomy's progress. Either way the downgrade from Denard to Bellomy would be severe. A few plays here and there for dings will be fine.
Josh Furman, designated "guy who stands there and watches kickoffs sail over his head"
The media has apparently been handed the depth chart for Alabama, as Twitter is blowing up with tidbits from the two-deep. Kyle Meinke just posted the full depth chart over at MLive; breakdown is below:
- Brady Hoke will probably address this during his presser at 12:30, but the biggest news of the day is suspended RB Fitzgerald Toussaint sitting atop the depth chart for Alabama. On the one hand, depth charts don't mean much, so he could very will still be suspended. On the other hand, if he's suspended, why start a firestorm by listing him as the starter? If Toussaint doesn't go, Thomas Rawls will be the starter.
- Along those same lines, Frank Clark surprisingly edges out Brennen Beyer for the #2 weakside DE spot behind Jibreel Black.
- Devin Gardner is listed third on the depth chart at one receiver spot (Meinke's chart doesn't differentiate between X and Y) behind Roy Roundtree and Jerald Robinson; he also appears as the backup quarterback. Jeremy Gallon earns the other starting nod ahead of Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson. Gardner started at X receiver in the Mott practice, so we'll see if this holds up come Saturday.
- Brandon Moore earns the top spot at tight end, backed up by walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski, then freshmen A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess.
- Starting offensive line is as expected. From left to right: Taylor Lewan, Elliott Mealer, Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh, Michael Schofield. True freshmen Eric Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden are all listed as backups; my guess is Kalis is the first off the bench for either guard spot or right tackle. Magnuson gets the nod as the backup left tackle, and Kalis is actually third at both guard spots behind Joey Burzynski. Walk-on Eric Gunderson is the backup right tackle ahead of Braden. Please stay healthy, starting linemen.
- The defensive line is the same as what we saw at the Mott practice: Black at weakside DE, Quinton Washington at nose, Will Campbell at three-tech, Craig Roh at strongside DE. Nathan Brink is listed as the primary backup for both strongside DE and three-tech. Richard Ash is ahead of Ondre Pipkins at nose tackle for now.
- Linebackers are the same as last year. Two true freshmen earn primary backup spots: Joe Bolden at middle linebacker and James Ross on the weak side.
- No surprises in the secondary; nickel corner isn't separated into its own position, so we don't get clarity as to who would step in after Courtney Avery, though my guess is that would be Raymon Taylor.
- Perhaps the biggest surprise—save Toussaint potentially starting vs. Alabama—is Josh Furman earning the nod at kick returner. His speed is supposed to be one of his primary assets; we won't be able to see him use it much if the new kickoff rules have their expected impact. Dennis Norfleet will also return kicks, while Gallon returns to handle punt return duties.
- The only "OR" on the entire depth chart comes at punter, where Matt Wile and Will Hagerup are listed as co-starters.
UPDATE BEFORE I EVEN POST: Brady Hoke says he still hasn't made a decision regarding Toussaint and Clark.
Given the lack of "OR"s (in stark contrast to previous years, when they littered the depth chart), the heavy lean towards upperclassmen walk-ons over freshmen as backups, and Gardner's placement at receiver, this depth chart may mean absolutely nothing. I expect we'll see a very different rotation than what the above would indicate, especially at receiver, tight end, and along the offensive line.
[The Mott practice this year was not a punting exhibition (at which my internal monologue went WOOOOOO) so there are a few things to discuss.]
The biggest takeaway. Devin Gardner took zero QB snaps and was on the first team as a WR. I think they moved him full-time. Swingin' for the fences.
Gardner didn't do anything spectacular in his limited opportunities, dropping one long ball and not quite bringing in a high hard one, but he certainly looks the part. Seeing him in 12 is still weird, and now Dileo is 9, and if I was Brady Hoke I'd be all like "you get one number and that is your number" but he might have different priorities. Maybe.
Devin Funchess. As first impressions go… wow. He is lanky and doesn't look like he'll be much use as a blocker early, but man is that guy a big target. Looks all of 6'5" and has freaky long arms. He was the only TE to get targeted in their kind-of-actually-playing segment; he caught a touchdown on a corner route (it got raked out but after the catch was secured) and was targeted on a late-release wheel route. If he can catch, he is going to crush Mandich's TE receiving record.
Not a whole lot to decide. I expected to have a blizzard of things to try and figure out but when the first team defense came out in a nickel package I was like "oh, right, they return basically everyone." Other than the line, there were zero surprises except for a couple of Mario Ojemudia WDE cameos.
On offense, it was "is Mealer starting" and "OMG Gardner"… and that was it. Consistency is good.
DL starting Washington? This is tentative, but the first DL set they ran out there was Roh-Washington-Campbell-Black. (IE: Washington at the nose, Campbell at the three-tech.) Beyer also showed up at WDE; Brink was the backup SDE.) Apparently Jerry Montgomery told someone that those guys were the starters as of this instant, but I can't find it. People are talking about it on message boards like it's a real thing, though.
Anyway: they showed the usual nickel package where they lifted the nose tackle types and moved the SAM down to DE and the heavy package where both SAM linebackers are in the game. All was as expected except for a couple snaps in a dime package that they didn't show at all last year.
[UPDATE: Ace points out that this comes from Tom Dienhart's BTN coverage.]
James Ross. Ross was your backup WLB, which isn't much of a surprise with Poole and Ringer hurt. He'll play.
Richard Ash. I kept an eye out for Ash as I'm hoping he can give Michigan some snaps as a rotation DT after he made a couple of nice plays in the spring game. He didn't get in much, if at all, but he certainly looks a lot better conditioned. He used to look like a battleship that had no chance of moving; now he looks relatively trim.
Mealer started. Your first team LG was Mealer.
Chris Wormley. Hasn't had surgery yet for whatever reason.
No Rawls. No idea why. They ran some passing stuff with Justice Hayes that seemed to work pretty well, and did the Vincent Smith throwback screen that always works.
It was good to see football. You're just sitting in the stadium and there's actual snaps being taken in front of you and your lizard brain is going FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL and you're like "I know exactly how you feel, lizard brain."
Heiko takes. Are on the board. FWIW, they ran that hook and ladder a dozen times last year. I think it's just for show.
Several weeks ago Brian sent me an e-mail to say we're going to have a fantasy draft of Big Ten players called "The Draft Where Whoever Picks Denard Wins," and that I was on the clock. (Parts II, III, and IV)
People of the Earth: this is how you recruit for a fantasy league. Actually this is how if you're a college sports site editor you motivate your hypercompetitive (Michigan grads, remember?) staff to become insane experts on the rest of the conference right before football season begins. For that reason, despite quarterbacks chosen out of position and so so much snark, right now we feel as competent as anyone at putting out one of those All-Such-and-Such list things.
The draft is still going on and some of the picks we've made have yet to be revealed, however we have tagged enough positions at this point to post an official-ish pre-season All Big Ten team. There's a few specialists I'll include but won't reveal who drafted them. I'll also follow up either next week or later on this week with a "what we learned about the Big Ten" post that breaks down all the picks by team. This one's about the best by position.
Site note: We're bringing back jumps again so we can fit more content on the front page for you during the season. You see the "Read more" thing below this? CLICK THAT to get to the good stuff.
PREVIOUSLY ON "MGOBLOG WRITERS DRAFT THEIR OWN BIG TEN TEAMS FOR A GIMMICKY PRESEASON SERIES OF POSTS"…
SETH got Denard, and therefore won. He also drafted a killer 1-2 DT punch.
ACE drafted all the Wisconsin players he could think of and screwed me by taking James Vandenberg too early.
HEIKO drafted two spread quarterbacks and was being egged on to take more.
BRIAN is going to need all the pass rush he can muster since Nathan Scheelhaase is his quarterback, but he's got a lot of that and Taylor Lewan.
SNARK was passed back and forth.
READERS are reminded that the goal of this thing is to assemble the most impressive-seeming full starting 22 plus a nickelback and FB/H-back type.
When we left our noble drafters, BRIAN had just cursed fate and time, taken Scheelhaase due to rules he himself implemented, and then nabbed Denicos Allen. Our scene set, we return to the WAR ROOM of the TOLEDO RAMADA INN. The SECOND PICK of ROUND FOUR is set to happen…
/moans incomprehensibly about his QB situation
PICK: Michael Buchanan (DE, Illinois)
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, Illinois)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: This 6-6, 240 lb terror is statistically the B1G's best returning DE not named Tom. He racked up 13.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks last season. Illinois has had a pretty good track record with defensive linemen over the past few years, so I'm with Ron Zook on this one.
OPTIONAL SNARK ABOUT PICKS MADE EARLIER: Sucks to whoever has to pick Tom.
PICK: Ricky Wagner (OL, Wisconsin)
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Trenches. MANBALL. America. [ED: Also it turns out I was wrong about Lewan being the only elite LT in the conference this year—NFL types love them some Wagner.]
OPTIONAL SNARK ABOUT PICKS MADE EARLIER: Ignoring game theory + James Vandenbergy > Game theory + Nathan Scheelhaase. SCIENCE.
CURRENT O: Denard Robinson (QB, MICH), Michael Schofield (OT, MICH)
CURRENT D: Kawann Short (3T, PUR), Johnathan Hankins (NT, OSU), Jonathan Brown (MLB, ILL)
EXPLANATION: Ace can be the Badgers, my goal is to be the Wolverines on offense and the Lions on defense...the Detroit kind. That continues with the junior Brown at middle linebacker. He's 6-1/235, faster than Denicos Allen, more powerful than Chris Borland, and able to average 2 TFL PER GAME against Big Ten competition while just a sophomore. His positives are speed, tackling, play diagnosis, coverage, blitzing, picking through traffic, getting off blocks, and laying huge, fumble-inducing hits. His negatives are he once Karl Malone'd a Wildcat, which to the people who make Big Ten lists is the next worst thing to beating up a nun. Since Gunther Cunningham can't have him for two more years, I'm drafting Brown right here.
On Schofield: Okay so he's by far not the highest rated linemen left on the board and if he played for Northwestern I'd be saving him as a value pick, but there's a precipice from here on tackles who can move enough to fit the spread, and everyone but the Wisconsin Anbenders in this league is running a spread. So...Schofield, who thank-UFR has been as heavily scouted as any remaining tackle (for the year he was +97/-51.5/45.5, closer to Lewan than Huyge). Those reports, mostly from guard, say he's about as fleet-footed as 6-7/300 guys come. His best game last year was vs. Northwestern when Michigan started pulling with him; his only Kryptonite is Kawaan Short (and I have Short). There's a reason Rodriguez was hell-bent on getting Schofield and that's the same reason I'm reaching to make sure I have at least one spread tackle I'm absolutely sure of.
OPTIONAL SNARK ABOUT PICKS MADE EARLIER: Somebody make this into a graphic meme with the Brian photobomb: Spends year crediting interior DL for Gholston's sack numbers...drafts Denicos Allen.
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW)CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: I'm in desperate need of a pass-rusher, and with the available options dwindling I'm finding fewer and fewer reasons not to pick Gholston, the 6'7", 278-pound freak who's named to damn near every pre-season watch list out there. Gholston may not take on every block head-on, but he still managed to pick up 16 TFL and five sacks 2011, and that latter total should only increase this year. With 70 total tackles last season, 36 of them solo, he was no slouch against the run, either. If Gholston comes close to living up to his considerable hype this year, I just got the steal of the draft.
PREEMPTIVE SNARK ATTACK: Shut up, Heiko, and pick Robert Marve already.
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, Michigan)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: The B1G doesn't have too many speedy downfield guys, so I wanted another jump ball threat to complement Prater. I'm taking Gardner. He's another unproven commodity, but let's be real. He's 6'4", 203 pounds, and was "instantly Michigan's best receiver" this spring. Did you know that he can throw, too? Maybe he's not the best at reading defenses, but he is the missing component to my Wildcat/Flea-flicker/Triple Pass/Quadruple Option offense. He won't get used too much in Borges's offense this season, but I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that this isn't fantasy football (see rules/objective). Stats won't matter much. That inevitable instability in your knees when you picture Miller, Martinez, Prater, and Gardner simultaneously on the field terrorizing your 5'11 linebackers, however, does matter.
OPTIONAL SNARK ABOUT PICKS MADE EARLIER: If we were playing Settlers of Catan, this would be the equivalent of me taking all the ore. Except for the Denard ore. Seth got the Denard ore.
CURRENT O: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, ILL), Jared Abbrederis (WR, UW), Taylor Lewan(LT, M)
CURRENT D: John Simon (DE, OSU), Denicos Allen (LB, MSU), Terry Hawthorne (CB, ILL)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: There is no way Abbrederis should still be here. He's the Big Ten's leading returning receiver with 933 yards and by far its best punt returner. He's a rising junior, too, and should improve more than guys entering their senior years. He's 6'2"! He's fast! He led the conference with a 17.0 YPC! Nick Toon is gone and Abbrederis is about to get rained on by Danny O'Brien! Look at all the trophies and trees he's got! He's still on the board here!
You guys are racists. Seriously, you need counseling. Even Aceconsin left Abbrederis on the board.
All the better for me since I need a guy for Scheelhaase to throw 80% of his passes at whether he's open or not.
Speaking of counseling, the second pick here is a guy who's faster than Roy Roundtree. Yes: that Terry Hawthorne. He's now a senior corner coming off a strong junior year who projects into the top half of the NFL draft and is the Big Ten's surest bet to be a lockdown corner in 2012. He's bigger than the other candidates and is so important to the Illini that he's going to get the Woodson role and double as a wide receiver. And now no one can take Roundtree.
Side note: Four Illini went in the top 48 picks of the most recent NFL draft and they're flying off the board here. It's almost like Ron Zook was a good recruiter, but not a very good football coach.
EVIDENTLY REQUIRED SNARK ABOUT PREVIOUS PICKS: Michael Buchanan had his jaw wired shut and will hit fall camp a fairy-like* 156 pounds. And that's Heiko's least insane pick. I blame medicine. Meanwhile, Ace picks MSU's second-best starting DE and Seth talks some ish he knows not wot of.
Let me rap at you, Seth: I said Gholston's production was almost entirely on pursuit and that his big plays were the product of other guys forcing plays back into him. Guys like Denicos Allen and his manic blitzing. WORD TO YOUR MOTHER. ALSO FOOTBALL GAMES ARE WON IN THE TRENCHES AND WITH SHUTDOWN CORNERBACKS AND A LACK OF RACISM, RACISTS.
*[actual fairy, with wings and dust and all that]
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, Michigan), DeAnthony Arnett (WR, MSU)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: WHATEVA. I DO WHAT I WANT. And I want to add to my offensive star power with the selection of DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett is the quintessential "space player" in the Steve Breaston mold who has nice speed but more importantly ball skills and good wiggle after the catch. Even with Michigan State's recent glut of highly ranked receivers, I think Arnett is most likely to emerge as No. 1. I briefly considered Raheem Mostert for this duty, but I didn't like that he was lowly regarded as a receiver out of high school and barely contributed on offense last year despite clearly being the fastest guy on Purdue's offense. Someone else can have him.
SNARK: The funny thing is I also considered taking Abbrederis, but as I was google-scouting him, my search bar kept auto-completing to "Jared Abbrederis walk on." The guy's a (former) walk-on. Sure he's fast, but his production has been the result of other teams stacking up against Montee Ball and double-covering Nick Toon. Also, I personally checked up on Michael Buchanan in Chicago. His jaw was just fine.
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW)CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Adams can play either boundary or field corner for me, having started 11 games at field as a sophomore before switching to the boundary for all 13 games last season. While Adams isn't the biggest corner at 5'11", 177, he's a physical corner who plays big; he's recorded 50+ tackles in each of the last two seasons, and even added three sacks in 2011. The conference is short on elite cover corners, and while Adams doesn't fall into that category, he's solid against the pass (3 INT, 6 PBU LY) and gives my squad very solid run support from the secondary.
SNARK: Don't mind me, just drafting a team full of players who made the B1G title game last year. Meanwhile, Heiko's defense is comprised of stick figures and crushed dreams, but he's clearly unaffected by logic, reason, or even snark.
CURRENT O: Denard Robinson (QB, MICH), Michael Schofield (OT, MICH)
CURRENT D: Kawann Short (3T, PUR), Jonathan Hankins (NT, OSU), Marcus Rush (DE, MSU), Jonathan Brown (MLB, ILL), Micah Hyde (CB, IOWA)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Elite defenses start up front, and the aptly named Marcus KILLQUARTERBACKSACK further feeds my craving for 3-and-out bloodsport. Last year he was one of the best ends in the conference with 58 tackles, 4 sacks, and 12 TFLs from a mostly the 5-tech position (against M they split him out a bit more). And all this as just a freshman, meaning this year he should be as much improved as anyone else in the conference. Evidence of that: in the MSU spring game they had to pull him out early after he wracked up five tackles and three sacks. He can play WDE or 5-tech for me. DL count is up to 178 tackles, 29 TFLs, and 12.5 sacks, just slightly better than the combined production of 2011 Roh/Martin/RVB/Heininger with just 75% of the spots filled.
And just in case one of Heiko's 800 quarterbacks thinks to do something as womanish as throwing the ball OVER my DL of DOOM (please nobody teach Scheelhaase how to do this; Ace at least I trust to honorably run power), I've grabbed the last of the conference's highly rated cornerbacks. Micah Hyde is Marlin Jackson, down to the moonlight season at free safety. He''s 1st team all-conference to everybody, is the best tackler among Big Ten CBs, and can be trusted to shut down any one good receiver for a game (which is the most any of these teams is going to have anyway) and arrives with 39 games of experience.
SNARK: All ye holders of unblocked Spartan sack leaders, call me when your guy beats Lewan.
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW), Keenan Davis (WR, IA)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Davis was Iowa's secondary option last year due to the presence of Marvin McNutt, and he's still the conference's returning leader in receptions per game after hauling in 50 passes over 12 games in 2011. At 6'3", 215, Davis gives Vandenberg a big target; while he doesn't have game-breaking athleticism, he's got good hands and jump-ball skills, making him both a reliable possession receiver and a viable downfield threat. A four-star talent out of high school, Davis earned an offer from Oklahoma, and he's got the potential to be the Big Ten's best receiver now that he's out from under McNutt's shadow.
SNARK: It's difficult to bring the snark with this pick when Seth is putting together a really strong team. Thankfully, that team features neither Taylor Lewan nor the conference's second-best tackle (Wagner), but I guess it's cute that he's talking smack on Brian's behalf.
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, UM), DeAnthony Arnett (WR, MSU)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL), Jordan Hill (DT, PSU)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: We're approaching a big drop-off in B1G interior defensive linemen, so I'm taking a hiatus from drafting quarterbacks to claim Hill before I'm left with some guys from Indiana. At 6-1, 300 lbs, Hill has good size and leverage. His measurables have a slight edge over those of Illinois DT Akeem Spence, who was also under consideration and also very good. Hill had 8.0 TFLs and 3.5 sacks from the 3-tech position, which earned him some All-B1G love. When teams ran at him (to avoid Devon Still), they didn't get very far, as he ending up leading the Penn State defensive line with 59 tackles. The Nittany Lions are verging on becoming a tire fire, so who knows how their defense will do this year, but in a bubble Hill still has the talent and the potential to be drafted -- like, actually drafted, by like, a real NFL team -- in 2013.
SNARK: Seth's defense is only worrisome because his players are liable to ragdoll Denard Robinson or knee people in the nuts. Since Seth has Denard Robinson, worrying about the former can be his prerogative. And come on, Ace. Have a little imagination. Picking Keenan Davis is like picking Jared Abbrederis. Both will spend the rest of their careers gluing glow-in-the-dark stars to their 8-foot ceilings.
Uh, guys… are we getting worried about the season yet? Denard and Lewan went off the board early, Gardner was picked at WR, and Seth reached for Schofield, and that's it as far as M players. Meanwhile we seem to be drafting most of MSU's defense and the entirety of hypothetical conference title game foe Wisconsin.
CURRENT O: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, ILL), Jared Abbrederis (WR, UW), Taylor Lewan(LT, M)
CURRENT D: John Simon (DE, OSU), Akeem Spence (DT, Illinois), Jake Ryan (LB, M), Denicos Allen (LB, MSU), Terry Hawthorne (CB, ILL)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: I'll grab Spence, then, a guy who various folks are hyping up as a potential first or second round pick in next year's draft. Sixty-nine tackles is an impressive number for an interior lineman and Illinois's stout run defense was due in no small part to his contributions. Nine of those tackles came against Michigan, a team that kicked his ass the year previous. Three-tech: secured.
And then I will AMP my PASS RUSH with ELECTROLYTES. Whether it's at WDE or SLB, Jake Ryan is a guaranteed breakout player entering his sophomore year. He's got the defense down now, he's added 20 pounds, and he finished last year with a flourish--4 TFLs against Virginia Tech. He pairs with Allen and Simon to terrify your "quarterbacks," neutralizing any advantage...
/weeps in corner
EVIDENTLY REQUIRED SNARK ABOUT PREVIOUS PICKS: Dude, Abbrederis was Wisconsin's go-to-guy in their big games last year: 95 yards against Nebraska, 113 against OSU, 93 against PSU, 119 in the bowl game. And he averaged over 15 yards a punt return when Toon and Ball were on the sideline. Y'all be some Black Panthers up in here.
To be continued when Ace stops fighting the fact that he's slowly beginning to look like the unholy offspring of Dantonio and Bielema, Heiko finds moar quarterbacks to draft, Seth stops playing with his Denard action figure, and Brian talks himself into a "yeah, Nathan Scheelhaase… this could work!" narrative.