So it's been seven games and it's a bye week so TACO PARTY—
this is a thing you can purchase at "Fine Art America"
or steal from your crazy Aunt Betty in Pensacola
—also generic bullety midseason-type post.
BEST DEVELOPMENT. Confirmation of the offseason's Greg >>> GERG theory.
he's like defensive coordinator Zooey Deschanel.
There are still obvious weaknesses and no obvious stars past a slightly disappointing Mike Martin, but it turns out having a coherent defensive philosophy is a lot better than running around screaming "we're all gonna die but at least my hair is fantastic!!!"
Pick a metric, advanced or not, and the improvement is incredible. The advanced ones are even more enthusiastic than the regular ones: Michigan is actually a top-20 FEI defense. Top 20! They were 108th last year! Excuse me, I have to go list this pool of razorblades, despair, and misery on Craigslist! Where an Ohio State blogger will purchase it to talk about their offense!
You can apply every massively-deserved caveat you can think of and the author will nod sagely about how that is a concern and the end result is still something that should approximate giddiness. When the turnovers stop coming in droves and a smaller percentage of games are played in a trash tornado, Michigan will backslide. But, like… backslide into the 40s or something. IE: the offseason's best-case scenario that didn't involve installing robots from the future at key spots.
RUNNER-UP, BEST DEVELOPMENT. Jordan Kovacs ending the debate about Jordan Kovacs.
If you strain your memory you can think back to a time where it was very warm and people had heated debates about whether Jordan Kovacs was any good or not. This was summer, and it was a silly time. A major reason the defense is scraping the ceiling of the ceiling above its best-case scenario is the near-total absence of big plays. Michigan still hasn't given up anything over 40 yards. Kovacs and (to a lesser extent) Thomas Gordon are primarily responsible for shutting down the Wolverine Free Touchdown Factory and shipping it to Thailand. WOO OUTSOURCING JOKE
WORST DEVELOPMENT. Denard's inability to hit Charlie Weis in three tries.
Even if you ascribe to the theory that Denard's passing success last year was largely a mirage when it came to Actual Big Ten Defenses*, his numbers against the two actual-seeming defenses on the schedule thus far have been horrendous. At least half of that can be ascribed to Denard just missing dudes.
Even running in place would have been disappointing after the quantum leap it seemed he made last year. He was still raw as sushi and could still be expected to move more towards quarterback-dom than a guy who'd had the slightest amount of polish. Instead the Al Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine has shoved him back to being that guy who heaved it up against Iowa when he had a wide open Odoms running underneath. I didn't like that guy as much as the one from last year, warts and all.
*[Which I don't, FWIW. I UFR this stuff for a reason, and that reason is "so I can do something more than wave my hands in the air and say 'nuh-uh' when I would like to dispute someone else's assertion." I charted all of Denard's throws before the dismal end of the RR regime and there's a definite backslide.]
RUNNER-UP, WORST DEVELOPMENT. What happened, offensive line?
Last year you were all like blocking your way to an insane YPC and hardly giving up anything on the ground and this year you can't pull to save your life; the impregnable wall of no sacks was punched into smithereens by Michigan State. Now it's hard not to look at next year without a sense of panic.
MOST MIDDLING DEVELOPMENT. The tailbacks. It's still Vincent Smith and increasingly less Fitzgerald Toussaint (for reasons that are opaque to me). They're not awful. I still covet any tailback who wanders by to break a tackle or two.
MOST MISLEADING DEVELOPMENT. The defense's turnover-fu. It is not sustainable. Repeat this in your head a thousand times in a futile effort for its lack to be tolerable.
MOST DEVELOPING DEVELOPMENT. Special teams. They've been bad so far but the sample size is small. Brendan Gibbons made three(!) field goals against Minnesota and is 4/6 on the year. His two misses were both blocked. He might be serviceable. He might be benefiting from a bunch of chip shots—he still hasn't made one past 40 yards.
Meanwhile, the starting punter was suspended for the first four games and is averaging under 34 yards a kick because he was a nonfactor against Minnesota and Northwestern and seven of his punts came in a howling windstorm, six(!) of those from the Michigan State half of the field.
They can't cover kicks and can't return them, either. So… yeah. The jury is still out.
OFFENSE: FOCUS: OFFENSE
100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jeremy Gallon cloaking device engagement.
The play that followed it was pretty sweet, too, but that thing took Michigan from dead in the water to fightin' chance in The First Night Game Evar.
100% WORST THING EVER. Fourth and inches play action pass from the nine against Michigan State. I assume this needs no explanation.
THING THEY DO THE MOST. Run inside zone.
THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Throw deep.
THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Use stretch blocking and deploy the quick screen with the wide receivers to force a third defender to live outside the tackles. Michigan hasn't attacked the outside enough, allowing Michigan State's double-A-gap blitzes to be ludicrously effective.
BEST PLAYER. Well… Denard, despite obvious issues.
SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Taylor Lewan. Lewan has been near-flawless in pass protection, and has generally done well when the run game has come his way, which hasn't been often given their inability to pull left.
PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Michigan hasn't been able to pull left largely because Patrick Omameh can't get to the hole before the tailback, which is not so good.
GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Vincent Smith. He's a third down back and useful player who's not a guy you want to give 20 carries.
GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. Denard. Please, baby, please.
DEFENSE: FOCUS: DEFENSE
100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jordan Kovacs depositing his head into a ball Alex Carder happened to be carrying.
That sack is like the awful Nick Sheridan interception that kicked off the Rodriguez era and made its way into the Worst Plays of the Decade more for what it symbolized than the actual impact of the play. It heralds a sea change in Michigan's fortunes.
Caveats, caveats, caveats: Michigan is now deploying a zone-blitz heavy 4-3 under that will draw valid NFL comparisons and will hopefully start playing like Michigan defenses of old, and by "Michigan defenses of old" I mean "Michigan defenses of very old or more recent Ohio State outfits."
100% WORST THING EVER. It's a tribute to Michigan's safeties and Greg Mattison that the only long-ish touchdown they've given up was the no-safeties formation that handed Notre Dame a freebie right before the Gallon cloaking device play. But, man… that was kind of not good right there.
THING THEY DO THE MOST. Zone blitz.
THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Let guys outside the tackles.
THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Uh… you got me. /shakes fist at format established by himself
BEST PLAYER. Ryan Van Bergen, I think. It's close between RVB, Martin, and Kovacs, but Martin had a tough outing against Michigan State. Van Bergen played well. Kovacs had a storming game the first time out and is a major reason for the lack of long touchdown but has not has as much down to down impact. Maybe that's just the nature of being a safety. If Michigan gets through the rest of the year without getting bombed deep he'll win by default.
SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Kovacs. I don't hate Michigan's safeties except from time to time when Johnson is missing tackles.
PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Weakside linebacker du jour. Woolfolk hasn't been good but that's obviously an injury thing. I've been leery about Jake Ryan from time to time but he's turning in enough good plays with his bad ones to nose above even most days.
But whoever's been at weakside linebacker has had issues. Brandon Herron started the year, had two defensive touchdowns, and got benched. Brandin Hawthorne came in for him, played okay for a bit, made some mistakes, and has rotated in and out with true freshman Desmond Morgan the past couple weeks.
GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Will Heininger. Heininger hasn't been a disaster or anything but he is single blocked often, rarely makes plays, and is pretty much what you'd expect a walk-on to be at defensive tackle.
GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. There are two: Jake Ryan and Blake Countess. Both are freshman starters* turning in promising plays amongst the youthful head-vs-wall moments. Ryan in particular has cut down his blatant errors to getting cut to the ground a few times per game.
*[Countess is not technically starting. He is getting the bulk of the playing time.]
THE BIG TEN
THE WORST. Minnesota. We have a GopherQuest dedicated to their badness.
THE SECOND-WORST. Everyone else. This league is not so good. The team leading the East division starts Matt McGloin at quarterback and is coached by a guy without a headset who isn't on the sideline. The team leading the West division is Michigan State. There are no undefeated teams, no national powers, and it's inevitable that the league's bowl record is going to be 2-6.
FUTURE OPPONENTS IN ORDER OF CONCERN.
- @ Iowa
- Ohio State
- @ Illinois
BALLPARK RECORD AGAINST THOSE FOLKS. 3-2.
WHO'D TAKE 9-3. That's everyone.
WHO'D WHIMPER AND HIDE AT THE BOWL OPPONENT IN THAT EVENT. Also everyone. Okay, not you, message board hero who spent the last week calling Michigan fans whiners. You will say unreasonable things about the prospect of beating…
Wait. There are only two good SEC teams this year. Am I going to tremble at the sight of Arkansas or Georgia or South Carolina? No. Nevermind.
FIVE GUYS WHO SEEM PRETTY GOOD WHOM INSUFFICIENT DISCUSSION IS HAD ABOUT.
Bryce McNaul, Northwestern LB. (Heady, quick the hole, part of Northwestern's good run defense, injured too much, can do nothing about the nonexistent Wildcat secondary.)
Marcus Rush, MSU DE. (Rush has been overshadowed by the Gholston controversy but is actually a better player. Gholston does nothing once he is blocked; Rush will shed guys. Gholston would be on the bench if Tyler Hoover was healthy.)
Devon Still, PSU DT. (Still may be a reach since he is reaching tongue-bath levels but I was all about Still last year.)
Kawaan Short, Purdue DT.
Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota WR. (Winner: most futile B1G existence.)
Opening remarks: “Um, that was an exciting football game.” Har har. “Oh, you do have a sense of humor.
"I thought both teams -- I’ve gotta give Brian and his staff and his kids a lot of credit. I thought both teams fought, and they fought for 60 minutes. It wasn’t pretty probably at times on both ends of it. But like I told our players, it’s great to win. There’s a lot to learn from this tape, but to go out there and play for 60 minutes and win the football game in the manner that we won -- our kids, I’m real proud. Terrence Robinson, on the last kickoff [with] two seconds left, watching him bust his butt to get down the field to try to cover it. There were other guys doing the same thing, but that’s the thing, as a coach, that you take away from your team.
“We had some adversity, they fought back. We never really got on track early in the game. Didn’t have any momentum, any rhythm, when you look at it from an offensive standpoint. And defensively, we didn’t start as well as we’d like. Played a little better there for a while, and then it was back and forth. We have a lot to look at and a lot to work on. It’s great to win, and it’s great to win for our seniors -- [it’s] the last time they play in this great rivalry. So now we move forward.”
Did you say anything to Denard after he threw the pick in the endzone? “We’ll look at it tomorrow, and he may have seen something there that was better than maybe it was. I never said anything to him -- unless it’s really a poor decision throw. I didn’t think it was a poor decision.”
Do you think this win creates momentum for the program? "I don’t know. I think there is momentum. I think you do gain some momentum, and I think for us, as a team, it will be a great learning experience. It’s amazing when you do play 60 minutes of football, meaning you do stay together as a team. You compliment each other and you lean on each other. That, for us, will be part of the teachings and part of the lessons from this football game.”
Why were receivers so hit-or-miss, and what allowed them to be able to make spectacular catches? "I think it’s just being a human being. I think we all have good days and bad days. We all maybe write something good one time and maybe something not so good the next. I’m sure that never happens in here.” Aw, shucks. "I’m not being sarcastic. Really.” You shouldn’t have. “But, in truthfulness, there were probably three balls early in the game, in the first half, maybe one in the second -- maybe four total -- that I think would have moved the sticks for us, would have given us some more momentum. We weren’t very good on third downs on either side. They were 8 for 14, which is good for them, bad for Michigan defense, and I think 3 for 9 when you look at what we were. There’s no explanation besides we have to do a better job concentrating and focusing and catching the ball.”
How much did it help to have beaten Notre Dame in similar fashion the last couple of years? “I’m sure it helps. I think it’s a great question for them. I think anytime you compete -- but at the same time every team is so different. Your seniors are different. Your leadership is different. Playmakers, to some degree, may be different. I think it’s a great question for them, if they had a little more juice at the end because of that -- I don’t know.”
[More after the jump]
When you've been blogging almost daily for almost six years you end up writing a bunch of things you regret. Here's a all-timer from last year's special teams preview:
Just don't fumble and we're good. Unless kicker is a black hole, but what's the worst that could happen?
I am so, so sorry. This is the worst that could happen:
That's the best kicker in the country, Nebraska's Alex Henery, and the worst, Michigan's two-headed monster. The whole picture wasn't quite that bad—when not suspended, Will Hagerup was quite good—but the complete inability to kick a field goal overrode all other positives and negatives, casting a pall of total incompetence over the unit. Jeremy Gallon's remarkable knack for doing the exact wrong thing 80% the time and fumbling the other 20% was a significant aid.
But this year we've totally got a new kicker! And far more options in the return game! And Hagerup's back! That's the ticket!
WHAT THE BALLS WHY IS THIS MAN'S PICTURE HERE
Everyone was terribly excited about freshman Matt Wile. He kicked at the Army game. He was not either of the guys responsible for the above graph. Therefore win. Therefore kicker. Therefore 35 yard field goals are feasible.
So of course Brendan Gibbons wins the job. Gibbons made one of four field goals in the first four games last year and biffed an extra point, whereupon he was sat down until the Wisconsin game. He attempted one field goal the rest of the year, that in the Gator Bowl whitewashing. He missed.
The idea of Gibbons hitting the field again gives me hives. At least this time around there's another option, though it's an option that lost out to Brendan Gibbons. Guh.
I always punt on kickers I haven't seen play but the chances Michigan has come up totally incompetent on two straight scholarship guys is low. Either Gibbons has gotten a lot better or they're trying not to put too much on Wile's plate.
There's some case for the former. Last year Rodriguez was claiming field goals were his "biggest concern" on a team starting air at cornerback; Hoke has been much more sanguine. Maybe that's just bravado, but it seems like he's doing better in practice. Kickers are weird. It would be very kicker-y if Gibbons finally got it together.
Predictions? There are no predictions here.
Rating: 3, then 5
Will Hagerup is back. Everyone says he's thundering punts off the top of the practice facility, Zoltan-style. He is also suspended for the first four games of the season. If staying home for last year's Ohio State game was a warning shot across the bow, missing the first four games of this season is an out-and-out broadside. Whatever his issues are it's safe to presume he's on his last strike.
If he manages to get through September without immolating his career, Michigan will have one of those punters color commentators call a "weapon" whenever he strolls onto the field. In Hagerup's case this is almost not hyperbolic. His 72-yard bomb was indisputably the play of the Purdue game:
After a shaky start featuring shanks and a blocked punt Hagerup quickly became one of the country's best. In Big Ten play he averaged 44.0 yards a kick, which would have been good for 19th nationally if sustained over the entire season. He was just a freshman, so it's reasonable to write off the early struggles as nerves and project that Hagerup will at least match those numbers when he's not suspended. Improvement is likely, and that takes him into the top ten nationally.
But he is suspended for the nonconference season. It appears that Wile will take his place. Some guy named Tom hit up his high school coach for his stats in that department:
Here are Wile's stats from his senior, junior, and sophomore years as a punter:
Year Punts Yards Average Long Inside 20 2010 40 1447 36.18 54 13 2009 31 1247 40.23 61 6 2008 16 586 36.63 54 6
Here is a video of him in 2010 at a kicking camp. He kicks five balls and averages 51.2 yards. Probably the most recent data of his abilities. He was also the punter during the Army All American game.
The dip as a senior is a little bothersome but the surge in balls inside the twenty means he was doing a lot more punting on a short field. Hitting 38 or 40 on a regular basis is a downgrade from Hagerup but one Michigan will live with. More problematic is the possibility Wile did not win the kicking job because he's already slated to kick off and punt the first few games.
Kickoffs and Return Units
This was miserable last year and one of the main perpetrators of the misery, Jeremy Gallon, is back as the punt returner. This is inexplicable to me:
Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.
Gallon must be Steve Breaston in practice or something because he's held onto a job he's been terrible at through six million fumbles and a coaching change. Maybe he's better now. If he's not maybe they'll finally let Dileo return stuff. A change can't take as long as it did last year.
The other major issue in this department was (again) the kickers. Gibbons and Broekhuizen couldn't get kickoffs anywhere near the endzone and when Hagerup was deputized midway through the year he wasn't much better. Wile grabbed that job as soon as he showed up so improvement is expected here.
How much does this matter? After the Illinois game I pinged Brian Fremeau for advanced metrics on the special teams and he got back to me with numbers that said Michigan was well below average on kickoffs both ways, but had top-tier punting and only slightly below average punt returns. By that point in the season those four forces had combined to cost Michigan about a touchdown. I think that's low since Fremeau's numbers don't account for the field position Gallon gave up by letting punts roll all over the place*; add in a few more games and Michigan probably gave away two touchdowns of field postion over the course of the season. That's pretty significant.
Can a special teams coach fix this? Eh. One of the takeaways from the punting demo was the personnel: starters everywhere, lots of skill position guys. They'll head towards average because of that, reversion to the mean, and Wile.
Gallon and the kick returners? Ask again later. I'm not expecting miracles. Just HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
*[I assume so, anyway. I don't know how you'd even begin trying to account for that.]
|Junior Hemingway||Sr.*||Martavious Odoms||Sr.||Roy Roundtree||Jr.*||Kevin Koger||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||So.||Jeremy Gallon||So.*||Kelvin Grady||Sr.*||Brandon Moore||Jr.*|
|Drew Dileo||So.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.*||Terrance Robinson||Jr.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
Yeah, I know the depth chart lists a fullback and crams the wideouts into two spots, but Al Borges keeps saying shotgun and wideouts and even Lloyd Carr rocked three-wide for much of his later period. The slot lives here, for at least another year or two. The slot lives on like whoah, actually: six of the nine guys on that depth chart can't get on the rides at Cedar Point, and one of the exceptions is the returning starter in the… slot.
So they're going to be short. And you should take the above depth chart with as much of a grain of salt as I did the official one and its lack of a slot and placement of Martavious Odoms on the third string. Any of these guys could pop up anywhere save Hemingway, Jackson, and Robinson, who are outside guys exclusively. It sounds like everyone is an outside guy now:
"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."
That is a lot more complicated than what they did last year when the entire passing game was a constraint play. This is necessary to move the offensive forward. I'll discuss it more in the quarterback section, but when Denard's legs were removed from the equation on passing downs YPC dropped to an ugly 5.7—not much better than the 2008 disaster.
There are downsides to this. For example, in the two minute drill stuff after the punting demo Jeremy Gallon twice broke off option routes only to see the quarterbacks chuck it deep. There's going to be an adjustment period here. Roundtree:
“You have to have the timing down in this offense because if the timing is off, then the quarterback is off,” junior receiver Roy Roundtree said. “Our receivers want the ball, so we got to get open and keep the timing good for Denard.
Where is that timing at now?
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We still have two more weeks to get ready.”
Timing's always important and in the long term this passing offense will be more robust. I just hope we get plenty of last year's stuff in appropriate situations.
|like Marquise Walker|
|we totally planned this|
|drags a toe|
|also totally planned this|
|a back-shoulder leap|
|little high, no problem|
|cover zero in the alps|
|inexplicable yac knack|
|Purdue orbit step|
|Illinois Houdini act TD|
|tough to tackle|
|yac knack attack|
|not a replay of YKA|
Over the summer Junior Hemingway ventured into the heart of a South American jungle to perform an arcane rite that would free him of the injury jinx that's plagued him since his arrival Ann Arbor. It worked. It wrought a price on Martavious Odoms, but it worked. Hemingway hasn't been laid up with mono, an ankle sprain, a shoulder problem, or the Black Death in quite a long while.
If he can manage that through the season he's going to end the year with a ton of catches. Even if the Michigan offense doesn't go full MANBALL right away continued development from Denard Robinson will make difficult pro-style throws that frequently target outside wide receivers more feasible; Borges's offense will make them more frequent. Combine that with Hemingway's main skill and there will be jump balls for the taking.
That's convenient. That main skill is being enormous and jumpy. As the table says, he's like Marquise Walker. He's not a guy who's going to blaze past the secondary. There's going to be a corner in the vicinity. If it's going well they're going to watch Hemingway make the catch anyway. What you see at right emphasizes that theme: there's always a guy around, but he's often six inches too short to do anything about it.
A number of the catches are back-shoulder throws that don't necessarily seem intentional. If they aren't they might become so as Borges emphasizes a more sophisticated, they-tried-to-man-up-Crab passing offense.
The canonical example follows.
It might be a mirage conjured by playing next to Darryl Stonum for the last three years, but Hemingway does adjust to the ball in the air pretty well. He doesn't get a ton of separation, but his leaping/box-out ability is top shelf. He does do a good job of finding the ball and bringing it in.
He's also got this strange knack for picking up yards after the catch. He's a 230 pound monster who should get tackled on the catch every time, but this fails to happen with some consistency. There was that ridiculous touchdown against Illinois, for one. The highlights above have a few more examples.
Put the inexplicable YAC knack with his ability to snag downfield jump balls and good enough hands (he had four routine drops on 27 opportunities last year—not good—but snagged 3/5 circus attempts—very good) and you've got a solid Big Ten receiver. He'll see his production increase significantly. If he can maintain his 18.5 YPC he'll challenge Roundtree for the most receiving yards on the team. Expect a bit under 1,000 yards from him.
|quicks way past safety|
|will headbutt you|
|extended screen block|
|opens the corner|
|comes back to ball|
|wide open downfield|
|guy on his back no problem|
Martavious Odoms showed up way down the depth chart a few days ago. I'm not buying that. Hoke wants experience, toughness and blocking, and Odoms provides that. He's going to have to put a third wideout on the field, and Odoms is going to be #3 in snaps after Hemingway and Roundtree. So he's a quasi-starter.
He's probably way down the depth chart because his injury thing is becoming a problem. He missed the second half of last year with a broken foot, spent a big chunk of fall camp sporting a cast, showed up with his shoulder in a sling in a CTK episode, and apparently has another cast on now. In context it seems like his depth chart demotion is a health issue and he'll bubble up (HA!) when and if that gets resolved.
When on the field Odoms has been a reliable, unthrilling option. Odoms is from Pahokee, so he's small and would headbutt a goat if he thought it would get him two yards. His elusiveness is just okay—Roundtree and Hemingway probably have better YAC stats. His hands are good. Over the past two years he's 26/27 on routine catches, 7/10 on somewhat difficult ones, and 2/4 on very difficult ones. On the downside, his lack of height makes him a tougher target. Sometimes balls that Hemingway would grab zing way over his head.
The total package is a useful player but not one that's going to show up in the opposing team's gameplan. If healthy he'll at least double his 16 catches from last year; 45 is the guess here.
Jackson; Robinson (not that Robinson, or that one, or that one)
Since we've shuffled Roundtree off to his old position, there's only two guys bigger than a breadbox left. Jeremy Jackson is the one you've seen. The son of running backs coach and hyperbole enthusiast Fred, Jackson is a lanky, "lumbering" possession receiver who seems like the cream of the four-person WR recruiting class of two years ago. That's not a big hill to climb since DJ Williamson transferred, Ricardo Miller moved to tight end, and Jerald Robinson can't get on the depth chart.
He only managed four catches last year but at least they were all against Wisconsin and Ohio State. He'll see his involvement rise as Michigan spreads Stonum's catches around; 15 catches is as good a guess as any. Hope for reliable hands and an ability to get open thanks to his sizeable frame—a poor man's Avant is the goal.
Jerald Robinson also exists, but not on the depth chart. His recruiting profile makes him out to be a rangy leaper with good hands and some upside on deep balls. His omission from the depth chart was a surprise after the coaches and teammates had spent time talking him up:
“I feel like he’s going to get time,” Roundtree said. “I talked to him the other day, like, ‘Look man, this camp, you got to stay focused, don’t get down because your legs are sore. That’s supposed to happen.’ Jerald’s been having a great camp because he wants to learn and he wants to get better. He can play.” …
“Jerald doesn’t know how good Jerald can be,” wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “There’s a lot of times where he’s really, really come along. It goes back to this is just a process.
“There’s some things he looks really, really good at, and there’s some things that we’re going to continue to work with him on.”
There were reports that Robinson did not Get It and may be in the process of doing so, FWIW. Hecklinski evidently thinks he has not fully acquired It and will wait to put him on the field until he has safely done so. He's a guy to look at for next year. Borges says "he seems like he has a future here," which is not a present here. He's just a redshirt freshman, after all.
Though the short guys are probably going to play outside as much as they do inside I'll cover them in the slot section.
Roy Roundtree is an eventful dude whether he's hand-wavingly wide open for a touchdown or dooming Michigan to turn the ball over by dropping the ball. Thanks to a massive game in the insane triple-OT Illinois thriller he finished as the Big Ten's second-leading receiver.
A large chunk of that is thanks to Denard's legs. There's a certain theme running through many of Roundtree's long receptions: desolation. When Denard catches the safety the resulting throw looks like post-apocalyptic football. Where is everyone? They're dead. Let's run through this tumbleweed-infested secondary.
That did not take a ton of skill on Roundtree's part.
But there is a reason he leapt off the bench during the 2009 Michigan State game and has been the favorite target of whoever's at QB since. For one, he's more slippery than you'd think. Michigan's recruited a horde of 5'9" YAC guys but it's Roundtree who gets targeted on bubbles. It's easy to see why:
|the worst waldo|
|blindingly wide open|
|Indiana oh noes|
|breaks wide open|
|safety just barely gets him|
|fourth down TD|
|gets crushed; hangs on|
|20 against UW|
|guy on his back|
|over the shoulder|
|jukes two different guys|
|smokes him on a juke|
|shakes CB for TD|
Odoms doesn't have much like that on his resume and Gallon is just a rumor. Roundtree's only competition is Hemingway's inexplicable YAC knack.
And his hands are pretty good despite the drops—four in 41 opportunities in the first 11 games last year. He gets targeted a lot. They could be better, sure, but I think everyone remembers them more because instead of converting a first down after Roundtree drops a ball Michigan immediately turned the ball over on three separate occasions. Those tend to burn themselves into your head. Hemingway had the same number of drops in 27 opportunities last year but you only hear about Roundtree's fumblefingers moments. Not that they don't rankle. It's just that I think our subjective memories are not 100% reliable in this matter.
If they move him outside he'll lose his spot as the designated hand-wavingly-open dude jetting past safeties. I think that would be a mistake since he's an easier target to hit than any the other options. When things opened up for the slot last year they often opened so wide that the only things that mattered were 1) how easy is it for Denard to hit him and 2) being faster than a tight end so no one catches him. Roundtree fit on both counts.
Meanwhile, moving outside may make him vulnerable to getting jammed at the line. As a slight guy who hasn't had to deal with that much in his career I can see that going poorly. A corner can get into him—under him—and disrupt his business. He's probably still the second best option out there in those circumstances; he's just not going to be as effective.
Roundtree's production will drop this year as Michigan tries to get Hemingway and Koger more involved. He can't expect set the single-game receiving record every year. He'll still run neck and neck with Hemingway fro the most receiving yards on the team.
If there's one thing that is a must-recycle from last year's preview it's this stunning Kelvin Grady wallpaper:
DOWNLOAD NOW INSTALL NOW KEEP FOREVERRRR
|over the shoulder|
|gets nailed but hangs on|
|a bullet he snags|
|spins to catch it|
|lit up and hangs on|
|designated reverse guy|
|an alley outside|
|just outruns dudes|
I have no memory where that came from, unfortunately. I would like to find this person and see if they have excessively dramatic wallpapers for Nate Brink yet. I bet the text reads "on the BRINK of a REVOLUTION."
Anyway: Grady. He moved over from the basketball team and dropped a lot of balls two years ago, whereupon he was dropped from the lineup when Roy Roundtree burst onto the scene. When Odoms moved outside last year he got another shot and did surprisingly well with it. The hands issues disappeared—while he did have one routine drop on nine attempts he was six of six on more difficult stuff—as he became the designated reverse guy. By the end of the year it was a litte disappointing they hadn't used him more.
Entering his final season Grady's best shot at extensive playing time is based on 1) a lot of three wide and 2) Roundtree playing mostly on the outside. In that situation he's the established veteran. He'd get a crack at screens and seams and whatnot en route to a breakout mini-'Tree year. More likely is a moderately increased role as Roundtree bounces inside and out with around 30 catches.
It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time. Gallon came to Michigan with a ton of hype and a stunning resemblance to The Wire's Snoop…
Normally this would spell another year on the bench making people wonder what the big deal was all about. Stonum's suspension and the injury curse migrating to Odoms gives him an opening. If you listen to the coaches he seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.
As a result he passed Odoms on the official depth chart, though this preview assumes that's because of injury. Perhaps more interesting is surging ahead of Jackson and Robinson, who are closer to the strapping downfield leapers the pro-style offense generally prefers. Gallon had seemingly fallen behind Jackson in particular late last year.
(Gallon's special teams contributions are covered in a separate section.)
Sophomore Drew Dileo is basically Wes Welker, of course. He had one catch for three yards a year ago and will probably have to wait another year for some of the small guy logjam to clear before he gets significant time. I can't understand why he's not returning punts since that's supposedly what he was recruited to do and Gallon has been maddening, but there are now two coaching staffs who have come to the same conclusion about the depth chart there.
Finally, Terrance Robinson's still around. He's been conspicuously absent from both press conference chatter and the depth chart. He's been passed by younger guys in Dileo, Gallon, and Jackson. He's probably not going to see time. Here's this catch he had last year, though.
Kevin Koger can't go twenty minutes without someone asking him if he's excited for an increased role in the offense as if he or Martell Webb weren't on the field for 80% of Michigan's snaps last year. The conventional wisdom holds that blocking ain't playin', apparently.
Koger did a lot of that last year and was effective but not stellar. Webb was clearly a superior blocker and was the preferred choice when Michigan got close to the goal line and things got hairy. While Koger was preferred in the passing game, it wasn't by much. His 14 catches were nine more than Webb's five.
Is that going to change this year? If they run the I-form a lot, maybe. That takes the slot off the field and makes the tight end the natural target in the seam areas that are so deliciously open because of Denard's running. I'm not sure how you get opponents to vacate those when you're under center (fake QB draws?), but if anyone can do it it's Denard. When Michigan's in the shotgun he'll have competition from Roundtree, et al., in those zones and it's clear Denard's comfort level is higher with 'Tree.
Koger's lack of participation in the passing game may be his own doing. Two years ago he started the season by making a series of ridiculous catches, then blew all that goodwill and more by catching just 7 of 11 routine opportunities. He was 9/9 last year on those, which helps but still gets him to 16 of 20 all-time— still worse than anyone on the team last year. If he's dropping stuff in practice the lack of attention is not related to the spread. I know there was that one year that Tim Massaqoui broke his hand and Mike DeBord kept throwing to him, but I choose to believe that little wrinkle was unique to The Avalanche.
Koger's role will be up to him. He'll be somewhere between a B- and B+ blocker and will have opportunities to establish himself a major part of the passing game. Our sample size on his hands is still very small and the bad part is now two years removed and he's quite an athlete—his upside is high. I can't help but think he's been held back by things other than Rich Rodriguez's preferences, though. I'm betting on a good but unmemorable senior year.
Moore; weird guy with weird hat and Watson
There are a couple scholarship options behind Koger but they're not particularly encouraging. Despite being a big time recruit, redshirt junior Brandon Moore has hardly been seen on the field outside of baby seal clubbings. Even if he did have a couple of quality options ahead of him on the depth chart, the third tight end should see snaps here and there if he's quality.
More ominous yet has been the total lack of buzz surrounding him in fall. Borges's only mention of the guys behind Koger was when he was directly asked about TEs other than the starter. The result:
I think Brandon Moore has done a nice job. He is still climbing if you know what I mean. He is getting better every single day and Steve Watson is a solid player. I think we’re pretty deep there. I think we’re pretty deep. Because Kog got hurt in the spring, those other guys got a lot of reps.
That seems to be something to file under coachspeak. We'll see; given Moore's physical talents he could surprise.
And then there's Steve Watson, who came in as a tight end, got moved to DE, linebacker, TE again, and then started playing FB—he appears on both depth charts. I imagine he'll get some time near the goal line as a threat out of the backfield and out of necessity when Borges feels the need for a big set. At this point it's hard to think he'll do much with it.
Ricardo Miller's the lone other TE on the roster. After moving from WR he's up to 234 pounds, which is far too little to see the field unless the roof caves in.
(Newsy bits pulled out for easier digestion. Important stuff underlined for better clarity. [Ed: jk, I guess we're still bolding.])
Again, from not my file, but we'll get there soon.
- Gallon, Dileo, and Vincent Smith handling returns
- Odoms is healthy
- Starting O-line, from left to right: Lewan, Barnum, Molk, Omameh, Huyge
- Shaw starting RB, Fitz likely back-up (based on mention only)
- Thomas Gordon likely starting free safety, may play nickel along with Woolfolk
- Cam Gordon starting at SAM, no starter at WILL yet.
- Gibbons likely kicking FGs. Wile will kick off, also might punt.
- Started prep for Western Michigan two days ago.
Okay, on to the poetry.
General, aka fluff:
Footbawww. "It was really good to get up in the stadium, get up there and kind of go through our process on gameday, so guys get an idea what our expectations of mentally preparing for a game -- how you come out, where you go with your group to warm up -- all those things that we don't think about, but they're all organization things you've got to go through. We got to do that, we got to be in that locker room, go down the tunnel, and get a sense for playing in that great stadium."
Consistency. Toughness. Improving. "This was practice 23. We have six opportunities left. We have to keep grinding and keep improving as a team. There were some good things you saw on both sides of the ball, but at the same time we're a long way from where we need to be as a football team."
We need to stop false-starting. "We had a couple penalties today, two of them were composure and poise penalties. We had a full Big Ten crew working the scrimmage. It was a much lighter scrimmage than it was a week ago. Our composure and our poise -- we had a couple procedure penalties offensively that obviously don't help you. Instead of first and 10, you're first and 15 or you're second and 12 or whatever it might be. Those things bother you."
But we didn't fumble or throw INTs! "We took care of the ball pretty well. When you look at the ball security issues ... that's huge for us. We've been minus 32 in turnover margin the last three years. You can't play football that way."
What is the two deep? "I think there are things that are set. We'll do a good job of diving into the tape tonight and further some evaluations on guys. The corner position is hotly contested. I like how JT and I like how Troy have come back, but Courtney Avery and, oh, daggonit, uh..." Talbott? "Calvin! Yeah ... " No, Talbott. " ... Talbott is doing a good job. I just went blank... I'm good with numbers ... Number 18, Blake Countess is doing a good job. Greg Brown is playing well. There's great competition there."
How is health? "We're pretty good health wise." Nothing major? "No, no ... everybody's a little beat up." Tay Odoms? "He scrimmaged today. In fact, he's gone the last three days. He seems fine."
Return game? "Gallon -- both kickoff and punt -- has done a good job. I think Vince Smith in kickoff returns is a guy that would either be the off returner because he's not afraid to go hit somebody in the face, or return the ball. Dileo -- punt -- when you look at punts, you always want to make sure that guy first and foremost is going to be able to field the ball, and isn't scared. I think between those two right now we'll probably start that way."
How many plays did you run in scrimmage today? "We went 126 plays last week. If my count's right, we'll probably get 73-74 today."
How many 4th and 1s? "One."
Did you do anything situational? "We did black-zone coming out, trying to get a first down so you have room to punt and field position. We didn't put it on the 1-yard line. We had a bunch of shots last week at it, and that was a pretty phsyical deal. You're starting to get to the point where you want to get into game week."
Were you surprised by the transfers? "I think you're always surprised, but guys gotta do what they feel is right for them. This isn't for everybody here, and it never will be. They're great kids, and we wish them the best."
But you recruited them! "That happens."
Resolution at some positions, can you share? "Mike Martin's probably going to be the nose tackle. Denard's going to be the quarterback." Oh. Ha ha. "Koger's going to be the tight end. Molk will be center. Lewan will be the left tackle. Huyge will be the right tackle. Patrick will be the right guard, and Ricky will be the left guard. Running-back wise I think we'll look into his tape a little more, but Shaw's had a pretty good camp. Fitz has had a good camp. Safety-wise, Kovacs will be one of those safeties at our base, and I would think Thomas Gordon will be. Thomas is really having a tremendous camp. He had a tremendous summer, and that's why his camp was so good."
Whoa, wait, where did Gordon come from? You never talk about him. "I just think his whole attitude and how he approached the game of football, workin' out, all those things. He's really taken a conscious effort. He'll play some stuff in our nickel. Him and Troy, depending on what unit we have out, they're both playing some nickel. Thomas is basically a dime in another defense. There is a lot of learning that goes on, and he's done a really good job with it, and I'm proud of where he's at right now."
SAM and WILL: "Cam Gordon, I would think, is going to be the SAM. Jake is obviously pushing in there. Brennan Beyer has done a nice job for us. At the WILL ... I don't know yet. Mike (Jones) and Kenny Demens (?) have done a good job, but at the WILL, Hawthorne missed a couple days because of an ankle, and he's fighting his way back. Mike Jones is playing a little bit of both them, both MIKE and WILL. Freshman Desmond Morgan is a good football player. He's got a slight ham, so we held him out today. I don't know if we have a definite guy."
Kicking and Punting: "There's no doubt Wile will kick off. I think Gibbons has done a nice job. He's been accurate. [Ed-M: whaaah?] We did a lot of kicking again today. He's had a good camp. Wile has had a pretty good camp. I think Wile will probably punt, but Seth is a real good possibility there. I think that will probably be a decision made up Wednesday or Thursday to be honest with you."
But that's really late! "You can do that one late I think."
"They all have a real great mindset about their craft, and I like that about them. I don't know if I would have said that in the spring as much, but I think they all have worked hard at it. Every night they're evaluating their kicks because we film them a lot from all angles. You get a write-up from them, and some of them are a page, page-and a half about each kick and my plant foot and whatever it might be. I'm pleased that they're into football, let's put it that way."
You're a big tradition guy. What does it mean to be in stadium now? "Yeah it's always special to be in the stadium. We talk about that a lot, when we go up there, the expectation, how you play. We had one other date that we were going to be there, but we had the bad rain and the storm, so we had to stay indoors. We were at [Big Ten Championship site] Lucas-Oil Stadium indoors for that day because all those scrimmages are gamedays. And the championship is played in Lucas-Oil, so we had to go indoors, we just thought it was lucas-oil." (I think Hoke means that they were playing make-believe.)
Minus blitz, how is the pass rush? "Mike gets some good push. I think he is a guy that is aggressive enough, strong enough, pretty good technician in there to push the pocket. I think Jibreel has shown some life as a pass rusher, and Roh. Ryan's kind of a meat and potatoes guy. He works hard at it, and because of that, he'll have some good things happen."
What's your schedule the next two days? "We're going to have a very good mental practice tomorrow at the stadium. Probably about an hour and fifteen minutes. A lot of kicking, a lot of situational stuff. A lot of mental stuff. We'll do a two-minute at the end. We've started Western -- we started about two days ago on some of the switch personnel things, looking at them on both sides of the ball, and we'll have a couple of periods on Sunday. On Monday, they'll be off of meat," (No meat!?) "but there will be no practice for them. We're getting into the school-time schedule where we'll be off as far as practicing goes."
photo from file
Captains will be voted on Sunday.
Practice #20 done. Eleven days out from the first game [Ed-M: eeee foootbawwww!]. Starting scout team work for Western tomorrow. "I thought we moved the dial in every area." Need to improve consistency in competitive drills. Defense good one day, the next day it's the offense. You're neutral as head coach, but you want to see the consistency.
On the scrimmage: "Saturday, I thought we were physical. You could hear football being played." Great competition still going on. Saturday standouts: "I thought Troy played pretty well... Brandon Herron showed some signs that were real positive. Offensively, I thought Fitz [Toussaint] carried the ball well, Vince Smith carried the ball well, Michael Shaw has carried the ball well." It was a 120ish-play scrimmage.
Team needs to work on finishing, but goal line and 2-minutes drill had pretty good tempo and intensity.
On the two deep: Players will become aware of the 2-deep soon, but spots aren't locked in. "You can lose that [spot] pretty easily, because we're playing guys who can represent Michigan... They have to meet the expectations for that position every day."
On expectations: "We have high expectations. I really don't care what anybody else thinks." They want to help the kids succeed, both on and off the field. He doesn't worry about managing expectations. Gauging toughness starts during winter conditioning. Build mental toughness by making sure the locker room is disciplined, "mentally being tough enough to take care of that locker room."
"I think the jury's still out" on whether the team will be able to run the ball and stop the run to his satisfaction. They have some physical practices upcoming, but will taper that back as the season approaches.
Are they going to play a second QB in early games? "We haven't really talked about that yet." They may get Devin into early games, to get him experience. It also builds morale to get more guys in earlier.
On running back: Right now, Mike Shaw would be the starter. Toussaint has done good things, Hopkins was better today. "Vincent is a guy on third downs who can do an awful lot. He is a tough, tough guy." Shaw: "He's been more consistent on a daily basis. That's what he really shows the most."
Impressive position groups: The first five on the OL have good chemistry, and they play with good tempo.
Wide receivers: "Our wide receivers, I think they keep... [Ed-M: ?] Jeremy Gallon's a guy we think has done a pretty good job."
On OL depth: "Darrell's got six guys right now that can roll through, I think we're building the seventh." You want five top guys, then develop the young guys behind them as fast as you can. "I think Friday we'll get after it pretty good scrimmage-wise," putting together a couple different lineups.
On Brink: "If we play tomorrow, he'd be the starting 5-technique defensive end." He has great technique, and has to be because he's a little small. "You feel him a lot out on the field."
On the rest of the DL: "Will [Campbell] can play both the three and the 1, Heininger can play all three, and has." You want guys to settle into a comfortable position, but you also want versatility in their positions, so you have flexibility. "Will [Heininger] has the intelligence to do that, because of those different things."
On linebackers: "I think Desmond Morgan's a guy who we think is gonna play football for us. Mike Jones has played a little bit at MIKE and a little bit at WILL. I would say Kenny right now has a pretty solid lock on the MIKE linebacker. Cam is doing a good job. Jake Ryan and Brennen Beyer... All three of those guys are getting snaps." Desmond Morgan was limited today, but will be good. Brandin Hawthorne will be a good player.
On the secondary: "I can tell you that between Troy, JT Floyd, and Courtney Avery, there's tremendous competition." JT and Avery competing at one corner. "I think Thomas Gordan has had a really good camp... I think Kovacs has done a really nice job." He's smart, understands the concepts, can be a QB of the D. Carvin Johnson also good. "Three safeties and three corners right now that we have good competition with." Those guys are all on the field in the dime package.
On Matt Wile: "I think right now we're looking really at between him and Seth punting, and him doing the kickoffs, and between him and Brendan handling the field goals." They'll kick in the stadium Friday, Saturday, and know what they want by Sunday. Brendan Gibbons is kicking the best overall from distance.
On attrition: "It was the right thing for them and what they felt... Sometimes, kids move on for different reasons. Homesick, or whatever it might be." Too early to think if it will affect 2012 recruiting class.