national champs baby
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.
11/20/2010 – Michigan 28, Wisconsin 48 – 7-4, 3-4 Big Ten
During my illustrious high school quiz bowl career* I ran across a question about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the Tom Stoppard play about a couple of bit players in Hamlet. It started off "the first 47 words of this play are 'heads,'" at which point someone else rang in and answered. Later I'd find out via the miracle of DVR that the reason the first 47 words of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are "heads" is because one of the characters flips a coin over and over again. It always comes up heads. Rosencrantz or Guildenstern—it's unclear who is who for the duration—arrives at the conclusion that they are "within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces."
This weekend I'm scanning the message board for threads to terminate with extreme prejudice when I run across something from Mgrowold about the events of Saturday's second half:
Wisconsin then proceeded to run the ball 32 out of 33 times in the second half of today's game. As I sat in the stadium it occurred to me that if a running play was "heads" and a passing play was "tails" then the Badger's play calling went something like this: heads, heads, tails, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads and then heads.
Wikipedia describes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as an "absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy." This is Greg Robinson rubbing a beaver on Kenny Demens's face in the midst of a game where the Michigan defense gave up 560 yards and Scott Tolzien's only incompletion was a James Rogers interception, his third in two games:
At this point the column writes itself.
Apparently this is not literally true and now I have to put words down.
This is disappointing; you always hope if you really, really nail it in the first couple paragraphs you can watch the words appear as if by magic and then you won't have to seriously think about what happened in a game where Wisconsin punted once for the second consecutive year. Not accurate.
Obviously that was awful. Michigan had no answer to Wisconsin's series of basic "hai guys we're Wisconsin" runs. They went back to the same stupid 3-3-5 with Kenny Demens lined up two inches from his nose tackle's butt that got Michigan obliterated against Penn State. Wisconsin's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern second half was immensely, grindingly depressive but did have a secondary effect: it mostly absolved the improbably young secondary from blame. The front seven/eight aren't universally freshmen and should be able to hold a team under, I don't know, 350 yards of rushing.
I said my bit on the job status of Rodriguez and Robinson already. Michigan put up 28 that would have been 31 if not for a missed 30 yard field goal. That's on par with Wisconsin's worst performances of the year—Michigan State put up 34 but got a punt return touchdown, Iowa put up 30. The defense was the same incoherent mess it's been the whole year. It was more depressing than I expected, but at this point whatever, right?
Saturday reinforced both positions. Our defensive coordinator literally rubs small stuffed animals on people's faces. Denard Robinson broke the I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback and is the first guy in history to have 1500 rushing yards and 2500 passing yards in the same season. Michigan is the most dichotomous team in at least the last decade of college football, and while I won't be horribly upset if Rodriguez does get the axe I still think the best thing for the next year or two is to see what happens when Denard Robinson is an upperclassman and the defense isn't starting four freshmen and three more sophomores. Michigan did manage to achieve the modest goals set before it, albeit in unimpressive fashion.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are boyhood friends of Hamlet summoned to a castle undergoing chaos. They've got no idea what's going on, are used as pawns, stumble around cluelessly, and end up hanging by their necks until they are dead. Woefully underprepared and doomed from the start, their deaths are both unfair and unavoidable. The third act is set on the boat they take to England and their deaths; they discover the letter sent with them says to execute Hamlet, then discover the Hamlet's fateful switch.
Much of the last bit is devoted to a discussion of how the pair can be so important as to necessitate their execution. I wonder if that's how Rodriguez felt as he watched the half of his team he delegates to someone else ground into a fine dust, like Jeff Casteel had switched his defense with one that read "execute this man."
*(We were actually pretty good, the Wisconsin/Iowa of Michigan high school quiz bowl at the time. We'd own most teams we played but would consistently lose close games to Salem, CC, DCD, and a Henry Ford Harrison team that had lucked into the National Geography Bee winner. We prided ourselves on not having uniforms, at least.)
Existentialist, Absurdist, Tragicomic Non-Bullets
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.
On the bright side, Michigan's kick returns finally seemed like a net positive aside from the Gallon fumble. Which aaaaargh. The strange thing about those returns was that Wisconsin seemed to be putting them exactly where they wanted—right along one sideline—and still gave up big returns seemingly every time.
A note on how meaningless the NCAA's official kick return stats are: in one game Michigan went from a horrendous debacle to essentially average. They're 67th now. I'll ping Brian Fremeau for his fancy stats at the end of the year to see what the actual damage was in the kick return game.
Small move towards Pulaski. Hey: surprise onside kick that absolutely should have worked but for two Michigan players whiffing on opportunities to recover. Since Wisconsin was going to score anyway, the only tactical error was not doing this two additional times. Also, the last one was not a surprise but it was beautifully executed by the kicker. Maybe that's what they've been practicing all year.
If Roy Roundtree drops a sure first down the next pass will be batted skyward and intercepted 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Fact. Please stop doing this, Roy.
First half struggles. The offense didn't score in the first half due to a confluence of events. Event the second: field goal kicker durrr combined with coaching durrrr about the field goal kicker durrrrr. Event the first and many other bits: Robinson couldn't throw straight. Wisconsin shoved guys up to the LOS and dared Michigan to throw deep. Michigan threw deep. Robinson missed guys by yards and yards, including an open Vincent Smith on that third and six that eventually led to field goal durrrr.
In the second half Robinson hit a series of bombs, forced Wisconsin to back off, and Michigan went TD, TD, TD, fate induced post-Roundtree INT, TD. Again, the design of the offense is excellent and while Robinson's lack of accuracy is now an established issue this level of performance with two seniors on the field is remarkable.
God, this was awful. I hate to embed this and inflict it on the public at large, but this was awwwwwful:
I'm actually a fan of Old Hat Creative's work with Michigan's hype videos but Notre Dame fans would laugh at this treacly debacle. Athletic department: I will write sentimental stuff with 10% of the schmaltz for free. I will pay you if this is the alternative. Guh.
Things that were good. A fond farewell to drum major David Hines Jr., whose backbend will remain legendary, and various other band seniors. The MMB bounced back from a year in which they forced Carl Grapentine to say "the clown who laughs outside as he cries inside" and deployed a series of accessible halftime shows that did not involve various operas of the 19th century. The Wizard of Oz halftime was good, Lady Gaga translates to marching band in a shockingly effective fashion, and the hockey band just played the old Hockey Night in Canada theme. Thumbs up.
Bret Bielema: still a huge jerk. This isn't a surprise from a guy who saw one of his special teams scrubs attempt to injure Steve Breaston and then pretended it didn't even happen, but Bret Bielema said his team sent "a message" by chop-blocking one of Michigan's linemen on that first-half drive that didn't end in a touchdown. You know, that one.
I should start regularly linking Mike DeSimone's comprehensive picture galleries, which collect everything shot on a game-by-game basis and act as a crutch here.
I made this facial expression at the exact same time!
Joe Stapleton says he feels sorry for Rodriguez. On RR's postgame mini-rant about the exceptional youth in the secondary:
It's an excuse and reality. As much as I would like to say it, the biggest problem with the defense isn't the abjectly awful coaching of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson (Though it certainly doesn't help — as gaudy as Wisconsin's offensive numbers were, they could have been a lot worse if the Badgers would've taken advantage of the WIDE-open middle of the field through the air). It's the youth in the secondary.
Some say, without thinking, that this is Rodriguez's fault. He should've recruited more (and better) defensive backs. Here's the thing: he had defensive backs. They all just kinda ... left. That, or they got injured.
I'm at the point where losing Vlad Emilien, no matter how not good he may have been, is a strike against you, but by in large most of the departures were ordained like a post-Roundtree drop INT. Wojo's column is along the same lines as this one.
AnnArbor.com runs a poll of their own about RR's job security; the ones run around here earlier in the year by The White Tiger are more extensive but MGoBlog actively discourages people from the militant wing of the fanbase from participating so the numbers at AA.com are probably more representative. They've got 3300 votes in with 41% saying boot him, 22% saying "one more year," and 33% saying "I support him." A very strange 2% of people took the time to vote "I don't care." That's a majority saying keep him but it's vastly short of the 81% who voted "keep him" at 7-5 in the poll around these parts. (Michigan had yet to play Illinois and Purdue when that poll was deployed.)
Across various blogs the reaction seems to be mostly "not surprised." Touch The Banner:
This is a game that I expected Michigan to lose. Almost everyone did. That's not to say that I wasn't frustrated by some of the things that the coaches and players did - and the offensive production in the first half was somewhat embarrassing - but ultimately, this outcome is what most educated observers foresaw.
TTB does say the constant use of Vinopal as a blitzer was stupid, which yeah. Burgeoning Wolverine Star:
Wisconsin is that good. It's not surprising, then, that Michigan struggled so mightily against an oversized, veteran unit that is unquestionably the best outfit in the Big Ten. That doesn't make Michigan's complete inability to stop the run or their general defensive incompetence any less disappointing, but it does mitigate it somewhat.
My prediction--Wisconsin 45-28--and similar ones around the blogosphere was closer than the Vegas spread (-4.5 Wisconsin). We knew we were outmatched, plain and simple. Too many things had to go our way and JJ Watt's self-tip and pick was not one of them. The disparity between Wisconsin's physicality and Michigan's, uhhh, collection of 18-year-old biceps was worlds apart. I'm sort of glad the game flew by.
The Hoover Street Rag busts out Jefferson's inaugural address in a plea for people who think one side or the other of the Rodriguez debate is full of idiots. MGoFootball peruses the board for choice bits.
Michigan just let in all manner of heathens to observe a couple practices, ping various coaches for information, and take in a Saturday scrimmage; naturally, this has created a ton of internet chatter. Also naturally, large portions of it conflict with other portions of it. There's a faction of super insiders on Rivals declaring Denard Robinson to be a complete disaster and one focused here proclaiming him to be Pat White—except fast! Tate Forcier is either looking like a "walk-on" or the obvious starter, and Devin Gardner is either a total n00b or Vince Young—except fast!
So… yeah. I don't know. Here's my contribution to the melee. First, a non-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football featuring all quarterbacks doing something awesome:
Whenever I hear one of the freshmen speak I get annoyed at all the Dorsey stuff. Yeah, Michigan is totally turning into Jimmy Johnson's Miami.
Anyway, in addition to the posters who got bumped to the front page over the weekend, MGoBlog had a couple of sources who took in the activity late last week. Observations gleaned:
Terminology, or: The Quick And The Dead
One of the toughest things to do as a guy who tries to figure out football and communicate it as a layman is figure out what to call something. Every time I decide to call something X, well meaning folk tell me it should be Y or Z. I tend to apologetically ignore them just so things are relatively clear for readers.
However, if the coaches are all calling something one thing and it's not counter-intuitive I'll go with it. So:
- Michigan is calling the dual SS in the 3-3-5 "spur" (strongside) and "bandit" (weakside). Some 3-3-5 teams make no distinction between these guys, but it appears that Michigan will flip these guys strong and weak. This leaves the bandit as the guy who will be tested in the occasional deep half, about which more later.
- The coaches were actually calling the deep safety "strong" for a while but they've reverted to calling him "free." There are good football-related reasons for that weird nomenclature but since they're gone, whatever. I'll return to calling Cam Gordon and other guys who line up there free safeties.
- The north-south MINOR RAGE run that Michigan's used to good effect the past couple years is something I've been calling "veer," which has been the nomenclature that's drawn the most protests. Michigan calls this their "belly" series.
Spinner: dead. Quick: dead. With this jargon we will ascend to the pillars of knowledge.
My initial reaction to the Denard Robinson hype was the same as Doctor Saturday, who has lumped Tate-Denard-Devin into a list of "specious spring quarterback controversies," but both observers gave tentative, caveat-laden nods to Robinson as the starting quarterback. The difference between last year and this year is vast. That falls just short of incredible since Robinson arrived without any ability to even run the zone read. Many of his plays were Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Zone Stretches run from an empty backfield. Robinson's high school coaching amounted to nil, so it's obvious that he would have a bigger leap forward than Forcier and his years of intensive training.
Robinson is still light years away from Forcier as a passer—his ability to "see and understand the field remains limited"—but in the open field he is ludicrous and now that he's gotten the hang of the zone read he gets in that space frequently. Craig Roh on Robinson:
"I hate Denard on the football field," Roh said. "I love him outside of football, but on the football field, he's just such a nuisance. The quarterbacks here are too fast, and Denard, I just can't catch him. It's ridiculous."
Observer A, a defensively oriented guy, said "as a coordinator you watch him come around the corner on the naked boot and you say uh-oh." Another high school coach told observer B that Denard "runs into traffic just to make defenders look silly." Robinson's athleticism will force defenses to overplay that threat and open up other opportunities.
Tate Forcier remains Tate. One of Michigan's coaches praised Tate's "great strides" in his understanding of the playbook, but what you see is what you get with Forcier: accurate on the run, good scrambler, shortish, meh arm strength. Meanwhile, the undercurrent of coaching discontent with his dedication as a freshman has added another pebble:
"Maybe some of the things that happened early in the season happened a little easier for him," Rodriguez said. "It kind of felt right to him. At the end of the year, he played more like a true freshman at times. And he got banged up a little bit and his concentration wasn't as sharp.
"As coaches, it's our job to make sure he maintains that focus."
The most worrisome thing I hear about Forcier is actually a positive thing related about Gardner. Gardner sets in the pocket and has less of a tendency to start running around than either of the other two quarterbacks, which allows him to go deep more regularly. The offense is a lot of broken plays with both of the short guys. While that's obvious with Robinson, I was hoping Forcier would get more comfortable throwing in the pocket.
Despite that, it will be all but impossible to pull Forcier in favor of Robinson full time when their skill sets are so divergent; a platoon beckons.
As for Devin Gardner, raves about his "incredible feel for the game" from QB coach Rod Smith were relayed via both observers. Other spring hype: "huge," "covers ground without seeming to move" like Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor, and… wait for it… "well ahead of both at this stage." Gardner is a "gym rat" who will happily spend all day watching film. However, he's "nowhere near" having a grasp of the offense and his throwing is erratic. When he's good, he can make deep throws with touch unlike either of the other two, but his overall accuracy lags because of the mechanical issues. His delivery isn't consistent yet. This will not be an enormous surprise to anyone who saw the difference between Camp Devin and Degraded Devin over the course of this high school football season.
This position remains a mess that will not be resolved until UConn, and frankly I'd be surprised to see a single game this year where Michigan goes exclusively with one quarterback. With two polar opposites at the spot, the nominal starter may depend on the relative strength of the opposing defense.
That's just this year. The vibe I got was that Gardner is the future of the position. Maybe not this year, but all bets are off in 2011. The position was described as "loaded," albeit young.
Running Back Battle
Zero clarity here as well. As mentioned earlier, Stephen Hopkins was impressive to Observer B; A was pretty noncommital about the tailbacks. Mike Cox has slipped for whatever reason. Observer B on Hopkins:
The guy is just a freaking monster and he breaks tackles. Now, I can’t say he can block, or knows the offense or can catch the ball. Plus, he fumbled twice (once he was hit at the handoff, on the other instance it might have been the QB’s issue). But man is he a tough tackle on the belly if he can get (even) a yard of momentum.
Shaw and Toussaint seemed like better runners than Cox, as well. This is another spot that will lack clarity until deep into fall unless Vincent Smith (who is jogging but limping badly) comes back fully healthy and establishes himself as the guy.
At fullback, Mark Moundros is playing mostly at linebacker, leaving McColgan the starting FB. He seems okay. Made a couple catches, made a couple blocks. Fullback isn't a huge priority.
Still hard to tell much of anything with two of the top three guys on the outside missing and Michigan focusing on the short stuff, but the freshman making the most of his spring is Jerald Robinson, who is "rangy" and "knows how to get his body in position." That's similar to assessments coming out of his strong summer camp performance.
Jeremy Jackson is also on par with expectations: smart, good routes, great hands, approximately as fast as a tight end. Could this be the guy who actually warrants the incessant Jason Avant comparisons I make? Miller didn't impress in the brief window provided.
Meanwhile, the guys in the slot are reputed to be extremely slippery. Terrance Robinson and Jeremy Gallon are described as "better than a pretty good Big Ten player" in Odoms as long as they're catching the ball. This is not assured: Robinson's hands were the main reason he didn't see the field last year and Observer B praised Odoms's hands while complaining about too many drops in the slot. Coaches were talking up Robinson as a potential contributor, FWIW.
Offensive line being an esoteric position, I don't have much other than the general positivity even absent David Molk. Taylor Lewan could use another 15 pounds but is still holding down left tackle. Perry Dorrestein is nicked up, which may explain the move. More than likely this is an opportunity Lewan won't pass up and Dorrestein is going to have to battle for the right tackle spot. Insert now-default Jake Long comparisons here. Lewan's not likely to be the #1 pick in the NF L draft but his career trajectory is zipping along at the most optimistic level possible.
The most encouraging thing on the line is the depth. Even with Washington and Dorrestein nicked up there's almost a solid two-deep of players who Michigan could throw on the field without panic:
Getting Molk back will give Michigan a buffer of three or four competent backup offensive linemen.
Remember last year's complaint about Michigan potentially tipping their run plays based on the position of the quarterback? This was the setup position on a zone stretch…
…and this was Michigan's belly (which this blog called "veer") series:
From the sideline shot it's pretty obvious what's going on here. QB in front of RB: north-south. QB behind RB: east-west. I'm not entirely sure a defense is going to be aware enough to make an adjustment based on this—it's a lot easier to tell when you're way far away on a sideline—but it can't help.
The coaches apparently have the same concern. They've moved away from this paradigm in favor of something they believe will disguise their intent better. What it is I don't know. It sounds like at the very least the QB is going to move late, like a split second before the snap, if not after. This strikes me as something that Debord would never do.
(FWIW: They did try to mix it up some after practicing for Illinois' zone read veer—which I think is, like, really a veer until someone corrects me on it in the next 60 seconds—but that wasn't successful and was abandoned. I wouldn't write it off entirely, FWIW. It's possible a newly capable Denard Robinson makes that crazy effective.)