University of Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Nov. 19) following practice the four permanent captains elected for the 130th team in school history. Linebacker Stevie Brown (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East HS), defensive end Brandon Graham (Detroit, Mich./Crockett Technical HS), punter Zoltan Mesko (Twinsburg, Ohio/Twinsburg HS) and left tackle Mark Ortmann (Klein, Texas/Klein HS) were selected by their teammates as captains of the 2009 football team.
“Our players have selected four student-athletes who represent our program at the highest level both on and off the field,” said Rodriguez. “Stevie, Brandon, Zoltan and Mark have played at a high level all season and received the greatest honor that a player can receive, selection as captain by your peers. They, and our other seniors, will lead us into Michigan Stadium Saturday to play the greatest rivalry game in college football.”
Brown joins Graham as a defensive captain. He is the team’s leading tackler with 73 stops and is second with eight tackles for loss, both career highs. Brown has also contributed one sack, one forced fumble, one interception and four pass breakups. He has started all 11 games at linebacker and will see action in his 50th career game when U-M faces Ohio State.
Graham is the most dominant defensive lineman in the Big Ten, racking up a league and NCAA-best 21 tackles for loss. He has 8.5 sacks on the year and has contributed at least one quarterback stop in six of the past seven games. Graham has recorded a career-best 57 tackles, two PBUs, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He has also contributed on special teams, blocking two punts and returning another for his first career touchdown. An All-America candidate, Graham is second all-time at Michigan in sacks (27.5) and third in tackles for loss (51).
Mesko is one of the nation’s top all-around student-athletes, excelling on the field, in the classroom and the community. He leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally in punting with a career-best 44.7-yard average this season. A semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award for the second straight season, Mesko has punted 46 times for 2,054 yards. He had 16 fair caught, 15 boots of 50 yards or better and 13 downed inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Mesko is a finalist for the Lowes Senior CLASS Award, the Danny Wuerffel Trophy and has been named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. He earned CoSIDA Academic All-District IV first team honors and is top candidate for Academic All-America honors.
Ortmann has started all 11 games at left tackle and helped anchor the Wolverines’ offense that is rated top in the Big Ten in scoring (31.3 points per game) and is second in rushing offense (195.8 avg.). He has started 24 contests and played in 35 games during his career.
The captains will lead the Wolverines against No. 9 Ohio State Saturday (Nov. 21) at Michigan Stadium. The 106th meeting will be televised nationally by ESPN on ABC at noon EST.
Following is the team’s injury report for the game against the Buckeyes:
David Molk (knee)
Brandon Minor (shoulder)
Doubtful (25 percent chance of playing)
Mike Williams (ankle)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Martavious Odoms (knee)
Most obvious captaining ever, but good for them. I really wish Brandon Minor could, like, play against OSU. They've appreared to have left injured people off the report, but the coaches have never listed someone as out and then played them. Damn.
- Brandon Minor is still nicked up, but he'll go if he can. Carlos's knee is still bothering him a little bit. Vincent Smith played well, Shaw "did some good things." Backups will be ready if the starters can't go.
- "Legends are made in the Michigan-Ohio State game." Good feel for the rivalry. Doesn't take long to understand it. Don't have to coach or play here to get the intensity of it. What will it take to turn the rivalry around? Having a better team than the opponent. Emotion and passion will carry the team a little bit. The more experienced team (OSU) will be able to stem a tide of emotion. Use the big rivalry factor to help guys focus on preparation during the game. Win over OSU means something special especially for the seniors. Team has overcome a little adversity, that would be important for them. Try to accentuate the positives this week. It's an easy game to get them excited for. Our guys know it's a big challenge. You always have a chance. We have to play really well. Maybe they'll make a few mistakes.
- Hasn't heard from past Michigan coaches about the rivalry. He doesn't need to be lectured on the importance of the rivalry. He gets it. Just because he's not from Michigan doesn't mean he doesn't get it. Everyone gets it. He coaches as hard as he can in every game. Ohio State is just a whole lot more important. College football has the most intense rivalries, none more important than M-OSU. '69 team was one of the best M-OSU games. They'll be honorary captains for the game.
- A couple things different: Senior week. Practice won't be much different. There will be more in team meetings about the importance of the game, etc. Permanent team captains will be voted on this week.
- Senior class. All programs have something special for last home game. Best week of seniors' careers. Devoted 4-5 years to the university & team. Small group of seniors.
- We can play a whole lot better offensively. Defensively, we haven't been playing well. It's not a lack of effort, there are a lot of reasons. Solid on special teams. Have to make a lot of improvement on defense. Hopefully they rise to the challenge in the last game.
- Made D changes, guys played pretty well. Looking for the right combination. Defense maybe moved slower than he thought it might. Last year's team had more experience defensively. Knew we were going to be inexperienced. They might make personnel moves from offense to defense in the offseason. In next couple recruiting classes, add talent on defense.
- All coaches hate to lose. It eats at your soul. "I don't coach football, I live it." He loves what we're doing, so it eats at you to be unsuccessful. He's not used to losing, so it pretty much sucks. Each day is a new opportunity. This year or last year was the most emotionally taxing in his career. We've all fought through this thing together, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When the young guys lift weights, practice, etc., you can see that we're going to be back there. He likes winning too much to not evaluate everything the team does. If adjustments need to be made, they'll do it. Some of the problems are going to take longer to fix. "I feel very good about our staff." Good coaches, family men, recruiters. Scheme and stuff will be where the changes come. Personnel-wise it's tough to overcome. The players know how competitive the coaches are. As long as they're giving their best effort, that's all the coach can ask. This is a good group to coach.
- Not getting back as quickly as he'd like. Only had 1 full recruiting class. When those 18-19 year olds are 20-21, they'll look more like men. There's a group of 4-5 college head coaches he keeps in touch with for encouragement, etc.. Also the assistant coaches he's been with for a long time. Sometimes things come up that aren't in coaching 101.
- On offense, they feel a lot better than last year. Players have a better grasp of the offense. OSU will still be a huge challenge. Not showing up to hope it stays close, they want to win.
- Comparing leagues to leagues is misinformed, there's no reason that a different style of football can't be played in the Big Ten. Every league has a variety of styles, etc. Coaching the pro-style to fit the talent. Our guys that started on offense last year hadn't played in any system yet. No mattter what system you ran, they hadn't played in it. Same with defense this year. Need to recruit guys who can play at the highest level, but experience is a big player too.
- Tate - hopefully learned that you have to compete every week, continue to get better, different schmes and challenges every week. He and Denard are both very good for true freshmen. They'll get better when they have more practice time. Hopes everyone (not just tate) is committed to getting the seniors to a bowl game.
- Koger played some last year. He's played well sometimes, other games he hasn't taken the next step. He'll get better.
- Graham - doing all he can. He knows he's surrounded by inexperience. Still being a team guy and playing within the framework of the defense. Trying to free him up and use his ability.
- Kovacs is a tough guy. It's just his first year playing, so he'll keep getting better. Lack of depth gave him an opportunity.
- Boren: Doesn't do much good to go back in the past. "We pride ourselves on the closeness we have as a family." If you ask the players, they feel the closeness. Hasn't talked to Boren since he left.
- Pryor. He's done extremely well. Started games as a true freshman. Very talented. Won a lot of games. Don't really like to play him because he's a talented playmaker. Nobody on scout team can replicate him (obvs). Denard will play him a bit on scout team.
Ryan Van Bergen
- Scoring the touchdown against Wisconsin was pretty cool. He thought his days of scoring touchdowns were over after high school.
- It would mean everything to this team to beat Ohio State. Bitter taste after last year's game is still there. Want to beat OSU and get the 6th win for the seniors. Looking to stop the streak of 4-5 consecutive OSU losses. There's an external sense that Michigan doesn't stand a chance. A lot of people around the rivalry know that records mean nothing on the field.Practices will stay the same, but in the group preparation "you always do a little extra for Ohio State." Film room, etc.
- Defense is getting close, but they're still making fundamental and technical errors. They're getting better and better, but that's still not good enough. Can't lean on the offense. Mistakes this year aren't sustained drives or anything. It doesn't look better on the scoreboard, but if they can stop 4-5 plays of 60+ yards and TD, it will look a whole lot different. Guys aren't wearing out. Other teams have similar size and frequency of defensive rotation. Got away from scheming other teams, need to execute physically.
- Michigan Ohio State game has an intensity level that can't be matched in other games. It's like you're on the front line of a battle. We enjoy it, and it's great to get after it with passion.
- Never grew up an Ohio State fan. Always got chills watching the big game. "I'm a Michigan man, that's all I'm worried about right now." Roundtree born in Pahokee, big Miami fan. Miami-OSU game in '02. McGahee, etc. "Just can't go for Ohio State, don't know what it is."
- Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson. Great memories.
- Preparation started saturday after Wisconsin. Practice is going to have to pay off this week. Veterans say to go all out. You never know when it's your last play, especially against Ohio State. Have to go harder this week. Put in the hard work all season. Learn from mistakes, prepare for Saturday. Everybody's ready.
- Rodriguez toughest season. Just his second year, how the season is turning out. Roundtree and Hemingway sat together last year watching the game. "This year should be a turnaround."
- Won't have his phone on this week because he needs to stay focused.
- Big 2 weeks: It just happens. Shows the work he put in everywhere. Doesn't worry about how many balls he catches, etc., just worried about running his route. You can't back down in blocking.
- The QBs have to work with each other to improve. Tate has to do more to show what he can do.
- Same feeling against OSU every year (always do everything you can), but each year is different with his role increasing. "It'll be my last game in the Big House, I wanna go out with a win." This week, anything that's wrong has to be corrected Everyone has to be in watching film, everyone has to go hard in practice. Stevie and seniors lead by example. Getting to a bowl and beating Ohio State are linked together, so neither goal is bigger than the other, they're the same.
- Boren - did everything he could while he was here, he'll be the same for them. No personal vendetta, just another O-lineman.
- Pryor throwing it better this year. When the play breaks down, he's able to do things with his feet. Big guy, need to get a secure tackle on him.
- Stevie doesn't try to think about "if we lose, it's over" type stuff. Worries about preparing to win the last game. Doesn't look at beating them in terms of breaking the OSU streak, just want to beat them.
- Whenever we play very well, play together, we can shut teams down. We've shown flashes, just need to come together for 60 minutes.
- Graham provides a lot of vocal encouragement. Leads by example as well. Works as hard as he can, makes plays he's supposed to make. The team doesn't want to let Brandon down. Stevie's not vocal. You can come ask him questions, but he tries to lead by example.
- Hasn't looked at Ohio State film yet. Heard Herbstreit say that this is one of Tressel's best defenses.
- UT-A&M rivalry is the main one where Ortmann's from. The M rivalry is something he knew about, but didn't get to experience it that much.
- The preparation week for OSU his freshman year, their helmets were taped up like OSU, you can sense a different atmosphere .
- Loss= the end has been playing in everyone's mind. We've broken a lot of records and set some new ones the past couple years. Beating OSU would be a great spot to start a new record.
- It's been a while since we've beaten them. Go in with mindset that we are capable of winning. The tackling dummies with the block o are just a reminder that OSU is the biggest game every year.
- Boren - nobody has a relationship with him anymore really. Ortmann has talked to him just a couple times. They had a good relationship before. It was hard to hear him say what he did when he left. He was raised to be a Michigan fan and he loved Michigan. Had some underlying personal issues. What he said on the way out was unfair. People with their own individual reasons. Some statements have been inaccurate. They're entitled to their own opinions.
- Big difference between the OSU games and all the rest. "Growing up, you know that this is one of the biggest rivalries in college football." Big for both programs. Definitely have more intensity this week, get the guys riled up. Help the young guys understand how important this game is.
- Limit big plays. Make them earn everything that they get. Have to come out in practice, get some confidence rolling through the week. Believe in the gameplan, minimize what the opponent will do.
- At safety last couple weeks - do what the coaches ask, and what's best for team. Trying to help the team win. That was for Wisconsin, doesn't know if it will be this week as well.
- Discipline against Pryor. Tougher to stick to receivers because he might need help. Tougher to stick to receivers for longer. Posey - made some big plays with Pryor. Try to minimize that, make them earn it. Sanzenbacher started year as Pryor's go-to guy. Duron Carter is good too. Contain all three of those and the RBs.
- Little things add up and lead to opponents' big plays. Can't let that continue to occur. Have to just keep working on it. Don't let it disrupt your confidence. Confidence - if you can limit big plays, the defense has actually been solid. Hear outsiders talk about how bad the defense is. Can't let it get to you. Continue to work and get better. Do the little things.
- Is it disrespectful for Boren to go to the hated rival. "We're here and he's talking that the family values have eroded. Definitely, the family is still intact." He had to do what was best for him.
- Losing rivalry games is tough. Have to look on the bright side. Don't have anything to lose. Win this one, go to a bowl game. Something to look forward to winning this game. What's in the past is in the past, worry about what you can do in this game.
- Seen some great defenses this year - PSU, Iowa. OU has some solid guys, nobody stands out above everyone else they've seen this year.
- "I don't talk to him, I don't think about him. He doesn't come up in my daily life. I don't have to play against him on defense. I wish I could." Boren
- Tate and Denard don't need to be told things, they need to learn through intensity and preparation of teammates.
- This game is huge, last regular season game, last game of the year. It's everything. Unfinished business against OSU - haven't beaten them in 5 years. This is what we have, we're going practice hard. The context can only mean so much. Don't need a "little brother" mentality. It's Ohio State. Records mean nothing, etc. Don't need more analogies.Just prepare every day. This falls under every category - last game, bowl eligibility, OSU, etc.
- Hopefully we can get a big win, and the reality of never playing in M stadium again will kick in after the celebration.
- Scout team players go extra hard this week. Some guys that normally wouldn't be on scout team go down because they want to practice against the best.
- Omameh - nothing needs to be said to him. They'll watch film together. He'll show him what he needs to do to win. All we can ask is for him to play his heart out - and he will. As an OL, we are looking at their film to see how to attack their defense. I think we can do that.
- 70-80% underclassmen. Always great to see the young guys (tate) take leadership roles.
- Watched Purdue-OSU film. It's going to take our best effort to beat them. Purdue put together a great gameplan, and we've got one this week.
- When the offense goes in, no matter the game situation, they go in to score. The defense goes in to stop them. Our job is to score and win. We want to score more than the other team. Minor's gonna play. He'll play hard and run hard. This is his last game. Concerned about his health, but he'll do what he can. "He's gonna do great, he always does."
- Block-O tackling dummies are going to be in view all week. They have been all year. Lots of motivation to beat Ohio State. "If you can't get jacked up for this one, I don't know where you've been." If he doesn't beat Ohio State, it just wasn't meant to be. "We will beat them... sooner or later. Hopefully it's this Saturday."
- Defense wants to have their best game of the year. Even if old goals weren't achieved you have to set new goals. Time to play their best. They haven't had many games where they could say they played their best and got beat. Showed effort in the last game, but Wisconsin came out with a plan to exploit their weaknesses.
- BG trying to take it in now, since he's got one last game if they don't win. Kinda sad that his college career is done. Dreamt of this moment, now it's almost gone. Realized when he was watching Lamarr Woodley with the Steelers yesterday. Woodley told him to enjoy it, because it's over in a beat. Now he's telling the new young guys the same thing.
- He doesn't want to think about his kids now, but when he eventually has them, he'll tell them he got to play in the greatest game in the country. When his kids go here, it will always be something special when they play Ohio State. Couldn't send his kids to Ohio State "I'm not Justin Boren." He's got a lot of words for Boren. "Just somebody who shouldn't have been here in the first place... We'll see him Saturday." Our front four can get the job done. Boren's got to prove he's still got it. He was good here, but isn't as good there because it's O-State. Family values thing was just an excuse for Boren because he wanted to leave. Never gave the new coaches a chance. "Some people just leave because they feel like they're better than what they is. Not trying to put that much work into it.... a lot of people get lazy and feel like it's supposed to come to them."
- BG has noticed at times that he's a really good player on a bad defense. He doesn't worry about it, and just tries to get to the ball. He wants everyone else to play with the same attitude, they don't all grow as fast as others. Go hard every day. Whoever's in his way, he'll tell them to not come his way. He's in the best shape of his life, and he'll wear the opponent down.
- "It's about to be his last, next year" for Donovan Warren. Does he know Warren plans to stay or is he just saying that?
- Graham grew as a person and was humbled this year - can't take anything for granted. Feels like he could work harder or something to achieve success. My personal goals went OK, but it's about the team. I was happy to be able to help change the game and help my team. Stuff happens for a reason.
- Seniors want to leave with a win "What's a better way than to beat O-State?"
Your weekly dose of who's in and out for the weekend's game.
For the Purdue Game (Saturday, Nov. 7)
David Molk (knee)
Martavious Odoms (knee)
Questionable (50 percent chance of playing)
Greg Banks (foot)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Zac Johnson (shoulder)
In addition, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced the game captains for the game at Purdue: linebacker Stevie Brown, defensive end Tim North, left tackle Mark Ortmann and slot receiver Ricky Reyes.
We already knew about Molk, as he's done for the year. At his press conference yesterday, Rodriguez seemed moderately optimistic about Odoms's chances of playing. Losing the team's best slot player is a downer.
As the captains go, I wondered earlier today if Ortmann would be named a game captain to spite the people who said he should be suspended. Not sure if that's the motivation, but the senior is indeed a captain.
- There were no new injuries coming out of the Michigan State game that will keep guys out of practice this week. In existing injuries, David Molk is out of his walking boot, and started lifting light weights again yesterday. Mike Williams wasn't 100% going into the game, but taking him out for Kovacs was a substitution issue, not an injury issue.
- Donovan Warren is a very intelligent player. Rodriguez said, "Some of our guys need to follow his lead as far as how he prepares for games." A bit of a calling-out, it seems. At the other corner position, JT Floyd and Boubacar Cissoko are still competing.
- The offense struggled in part because they didn't have the ball a whole lot in the first half. 1 mistake here and there was enough to destroy a drive. Missing Molk drops the intensity of the line a little bit. The team wasn't sharp, and they needed to be in order to win. The receivers usually don't drop that many passes, and they need to improve their concentration. The Stonum touchdown helped them get some momentum going for the offense, which sparked the comeback.
- Tate's leadership is improving from week to week. That's the sort of thing that comes in games, and can't be earned as much in practice. He was a little nicked up in the game, but he warmed up as the game went along. When asked if he's more poised than most freshmen, Rodriguez answered "No question." He'll be a little limited in practice today, but should be full-go for the rest of the week.
- The defense has tackled well most of the year, but there have been times that they haven't been able to make the tackles. Rodriguez isn't sure if that's a matter of their conditioning wearing down, or breakdowns in technique. The defensive line is the most consistent unit on the defense from game-to-game. As far as linebackers, Rodriguez said every position is up for grabs, but praised the play of Mouton, Ezeh, and especially Brown. "We can all play better," he said, meaning that it wasn't just the linebackers that are the problem.
- They've been doing the rugby punt for a number of years. Zoltan had the option to run or kick on that play, and for the first time, he made the wrong choice. "We need to make sure our guys understand the parameters."
- Iowa has one of the best front sevens on defense - particularly the front four - that Michigan will see this year. It should be a big challenge for the offensive line. They have to step up their intensity in Molk's absence.
- In the team's workouts this morning, everybody came in motivated. They know they must have great practices this week and keep on improving. The team was hoping for a great season, and the loss hurt because of all the work they put in.
- Mike is friends with David Molk, and he can tell that it's killing Molk to not be able to play. He was finally able to lift today, and was happy.
- It helps Martin to play next to Brandon Graham. He's a great athlete with good experience. He motivates the defense on the field, and keeps them pumped up between plays. He never said anything about it, but he was clearly upset to not have a sack on the year until finally getting one against the Spartans.
- Going against Iowa is tough because the Hawkeyes have a great defense. Since the Michigan offense might struggle, the defense will have to step up. Martin likes night games, because he's not much of a morning person.
- The long touchdown was a big play for the team, and for Stonum personally: "It was a big play for me. I let the team down with two fumbles earlier, so I needed to step up and make a big play for us."
- There hasn't been an adjustment to the way Tate throws the ball this year compared to the guys that they had last year. The only difference is that he keeps his eyes focused downfield to make a play, even when he's scrambling. The receivers have a lot more confidence this year, which has led to big games for JR Hemingway (Western Michigan), Greg Mathews (Notre Dame), and now Stonum.
- Stonum loves night games. That's all you play in Texas high school football.
- The offense can only ask the defense to do so much, because the offense has to capitalize when they have the opportunities. The defense has put them in position to win three times now, and they jut couldn't pull it off against Michigan State for the third win. Offensive rhythm is important for the team, and the run game drives that. Though he watched the film three times yesterday, Mark couldn't tell where the issues came from. State was just firing off the ball better.
- The difference between last year's losses and this year's is confidence. This year's team has it, though it was a little shaken by the first loss of the year.
- Molk is a leader on the line, so losing him is drastic. There are still plenty of capable guys, so losing one player is no excuse for a performance like Saturday's.
- Ortmann has never played at Iowa, nor even been in their stadium. They are a good defense, and it should be a tough challenge. Regardless of how long the trip is, each game should be treated like a business trip by the players. Ortmann doesn't like night games, because it allows tension to build all day, especially from the younger players.
- He's kicked well this year. The weather on Saturday made it tougher, but he was still able to kick pretty well. Too bad he didn't get a chance at a game-winner at the end.
- On game-ending drives, it helps to focus on how many times he's been successful. It's easy to say that you just need to concentrate, but to do it is tougher. The guys on the team really help him deal with that. A lot of guys tapped him on the helmet going into OT, knowing that everyone else is confident in you helps.
Yet another in this site's series "counters to the scrape exchange."
This one doesn't take a whole lot of explanation. Michigan's in its H-back set and Notre Dame in the nickel it used all day. It's first and ten on Michigan's field-goal drive right before halftime:
Michigan's going to run something I called a "QB counter"; it, I believe, is not a read but a called QB run. Just like the dive play we saw yesterday, the TE (in this case Martell Webb) is going to pull across the formation and look for a block. LT Mark Ortmann, the topmost offensive lineman, is going to downblock on the weakside defensive tackle. But you'll do fine on this play if you just watch #80. He's the whole play.
Here we have a moment right before the key part of the play. Forcier has pulled the ball out of Minor's belly and Webb is approaching the point at which he's supposed to block the defensive end.
So Webb reaches the DE and… uh… runs right by him.
Here note two things. One: Ortmann has not done a great job with the DT, who has apparently read the play or was stunting or something and has shot into the backfield. This held the defensive end up. Normally on a scrape he'd be hauling ass after Minor, but since he got delayed he's right there and sees Forcier with the ball. Two: Webb ignored that guy and is heading right for the scraper. Tate has to deal with the DE.
Next, the moment of truth:
One: Forcier has beaten the defensive end despite the screwup/stunt by Notre Dame. This is MAKING PLAYS, and something it's doubtful either Threet or Sheridan could have pulled off. Two: Webb has blocked the scraper. Crushed him.
look at all that space
nooooooooo cut it up cut it up
- This is another scrape counter. This one didn't go very well for whatever reason and it still should have been 8-10 yards because Michigan has blocked the one guy tasked with the quarterback.
- Assuming your guy with the quarterback isn't going to get blocked can be dangerous for the defense. The scrape read presumes that your guy tasked with the QB isn't going to get lit up by a tight end, and it's hard to see any way to read what's going on to help out. The only player who can be of assistance is the backside DE, and that pulling tight end can do so many different things—block the scraper, block you and spring Brandon Minor up the middle, head out into the flat, pass block—that you're really picking your poison.
- I don't think it matters what side the guy gets blocked on… usually. Here Webb gets outside of the scraper and that's key because of the defensive end's presence, but if that guy's not there it makes no difference because Tate will be jetting up into massive space on either side of the block.
- Rodriguez's offseason planning was hugely focused on the TE. This was something we talked about in UFR, but it's worth repeating. There was a lot of hype about Michigan's tight ends and that hype has been more than met. A TE is on the field 90% of the time and has been a huge key in Michigan's ground game. Rodriguez has adapted to the scrape exchange and his counter is the tight end. At this point I'm actually a little concerned Michigan doesn't have a tight end in the recruiting class.
- Tate needs to realize he's no longer way more athletic than everyone on the field. He's done this three or four time in his first two games. It worked against Western, but not so much here.
This ended up being three yards, but it should have been ten, and holy God what if Denard Robinson was out there in that kind of space?
UPDATE: forgot the youtube-o-vision:
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
Rating: 3.5 of 5.
|Mark Ortmann||Sr.*||Steve Schilling||Jr.*||David Molk||So.*||David Moosman||Sr.*||Mark Huyge||So.*|
|Perry Dorrestein||Jr.*||Ricky Barnum||Fr.*||Rocko Khoury||Fr.*||John Ferrara||Jr.*||Patrick Omameh||Fr.*|
|Taylor Lewan||Fr.||Tim McAvoy||Sr.*||--||--||Quinton Washington||Fr.||Michael Schofield||Fr.|
Last year I grimaced at a two-deep that contained four freshmen, one of whom was slated to start, and one player (Steve Schilling) with an iota of starting experience and gave the sorry bunch the most well-deserved 1 rating since… well, 3000 words earlier when I slapped the dread number on the quarterbacks.
For six games this was painfully accurate. The Utah game was grim all around but perhaps grimmest on the offensive line:
Offensive line: their overall suck was obviously part of the gameplan in a huge way; I expect that will seriously impinge on Michigan’s attempts to forge an offense all year. Like 2005 except worse.
This persisted and persisted and we can skip the gory details but then something funny happened at about the same time Brandon Minor ascended to the starting tailback job: they got sort of competent. Let's hit this up one last time: over the last six games of the season Michigan outrushed a hypothetical average team by 25%. They didn't do this by piling on inordinate numbers of carries. If Michigan had extended that performance over the course of a full season they would have been 30th in rushing nationally.
This year, every single player who saw a snap last year is back. Intermittent starter Tim McAvoy has been booted to third-string, and Steve Schilling is no longer making a go of it at tackle, where he cannot pass block. Perhaps best of all, there are actual backups.
The line already took its quantum leap forward midway through last year and will be limited in certain spots, but further progress should see them end up… good? Yeah, maybe.
Rating: 3 of 5.
Fifth-year senior Mark Ortmann returns at left tackle. Jake Long he is not. Ortmann picked up his share of negatives in pass protection last year, most notably against Penn State when he was –5 on a day when Michigan only got to 21 total pass-pro points. The minuses came on two players where Ortmann was "beaten badly by [Maurice] Evans"; the latter resulted in a game-killing sack/fumble. The next week against Michigan State he picked up a –6:
Ortmann(-2) totally smoked by a blindside rusher… Ortmann(-2) took a poor angle downfield, though, and the MLB beats him, prompting Threet to pitch it despite a State LB having decent contain. … Ortmann and McAvoy just run by an MSU linebacker … A three-man rush; Ortmann's guy spins inside of him and dives at Threet's feet [to sack] … Ortmann(-2) beaten pretty badly [on a sack].
It wasn't all bad—there were a couple of good plays sprinkled in there—but the end result was "I'd be surprised to see Ortmann keep his job once Dorrestein is healthy." I was surprised, it turned out. Ortmann was an unquestioned starter through spring but it would be a Joppru-level breakthrough for him to become even an honorable-mention all conference sort.
Being functional and unremarkable is a good target for Ortmann this year; his upside is more Adam Stenavich than Long.
Right tackle, on the other hand, is a battle that promises to go until kickoff of the Western game and probably beyond. Redshirt freshman Patrick Omameh was everyone's heavy leader until a week before the spring game, when redshirt sophomore Mark Huyge was surprisingly inserted into the starting lineup. Until that point Huyge, a guy who was considering MAC offers before Michigan came along, had been an afterthought. Huyge got good reviews, albeit against undaunting competition, and is your tentative opening-day starter.
It's worth pointing out that Huyge, like stating center David Molk, was recruited by Michigan after they implemented Mike Debord's zone-heavy ground game and is thus more likely to fit in with the spread 'n' shred than guys in the classes above them. It's too bad that line class consisted of two-count-'em-two players.
Neither tackle is likely to be a standout—all Big Ten is not happening—but there are options and backups and they're entering year two of the Barwis program and year two of the same offensive scheme and we should see a considerable step forward from this position in the run game. Last year, Michigan's outsize zones never got outside because the tackles were getting pushed back, which led to a lot of plays where Moundros shot outside aimlessly as the player he was supposed to be blocking for was forced to cut it up. A large number of Slaton's big plays came from getting outside the tackle, and Michigan should see at least a few instances where they successfully spring Shaw or Brown outside this year.
Pass blocking might be more problematic. Ortmann struggled some last year and the right tackle will be a new starter. There will be some ugly sacks against top-flight defensive ends.
|Clearing for McGuffie|
|Sustained POA block|
|Frowns: Toledo holding|
Rating: 4 of 5.
Steve Schilling's long-overdue move to guard promises to end the parade of ineffective LGs Michigan deployed last year. Last year they tried Tim McAvoy, John Ferrara, and even obvious tackle Mark Ortmann there before going with Schilling after the Illinois game. Schilling was needed at tackle soon after and moved back out. Ortmann's one-game experiment ended with a –6 in pass protection, an de- and impressively large number for an interior linemen. Ferrara was a defensive tackle weeks before the season. And McAvoy was the reason Ortmann and Ferrara were tried out. Anything that looks like a steady starter will be a massive upgrade.
Meanwhile, Schilling probably should have been a guard from day one. His two years starting at tackle featured plenty of pass protection struggles—he racked up a record –12 against Vernon Gholston as a freshman. By the Purdue game last year I'd just about given up on the idea of Schilling as a tackle:
I am leery of both tackles these days, BTW, and wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of reconfiguration that sees Schilling slide inside to guard next year.
Lo, it has come to pass. As a tackle, Schilling hasn't had the opportunity to display the athleticism that got him five stars at the fervent attention of USC when he was a recruit, but it still exists and after two years in Michigan's new-look strength and conditioning program he should be about as strong and agile as he'll get.
What Michigan needs from Schilling is pancaked linebackers, and while he hasn't proven he can do that quite yet, he is a guy entering his third year starting that has all the guru approval in the world (for what little that means for linemen). Signs point to above-average, with "meh" and All Big Ten the ends of the reasonable spectrum of expectations.
|Sealing vs ND|
|Doubling ND wsg Molk|
|Good downfield stuff|
David Moosman returns at right guard. Like everyone at guard last year, he had some issues finding and taking out linebackers downfield—there's a Picture Pages with an example—but he wasn't obviously bad. This made him the line's best player early until the guy I am most unreasonably eeee about on the team came into his own. (That would be David Molk, about whom more next.)
The slightly problem is that Moosman didn't seem to improve much as the season wore on. He was just an okay player the whole year; in context that was a lot more impressive early than late. Another year like last, where he's functional but unremarkable, is on the docket.
Moosman is a really smart guy, for what it's worth, and not "for a football player."
This blog fell a little in love with center David Molk as the season progressed and Molk started anchoring better against defensive tackles 50 pounds heavier than he was. The affair started in the second game of the year when Molk successful impeded the progress of some MAC defensive tackles…
I thought David Molk was great a week after being hurled back into the ballcarrier more than once. Against Miami he consistently got across the face of the defensive tackle lined up to the playside, allowing the guard a free release into the second level where he would either whack a linebacker and someone would run for 20 yards or whiff that linebacker and Michigan would get zero.
…a week after getting Sam-owned against Utah:
The lingering fear is that this is more a function of the opponent than any great leap forward. In retrospect, against Utah Molk was getting the same excellent position on his man but after he got that position the DT picked him up and dropped him in the RB’s lap.
|Tough reach vs ND|
|Frowns: MLB whiff|
|Rare win v Newkirk|
|Sealing playside DTs|
|More of that|
|Textbook reach block|
The next week against ND, Molk, Moosman, and McAvoy were named "heroes" for consistently blowing up the interior of the ND defense; the UFR section titled simply "McGuffie!" immediately shot credit to the guys on the inside:
Michigan had great success with the zone stretch and occasional dive because Molk and either McAvoy or Moosman spent the day crushing the playside DT downfield.
It wasn't to last, though. Wisconsin's veteran defensive tackles "murdered" the interior line against both pass and run. By that point there was a pattern: the Michigan interior line was good, even great, against substandard opponents but could not cope with big, veteran DTs. This held true until the Penn State game, when Michigan and Molk went up against one of the best defenses in the conference and at the end of it Molk ended up in the "heroes" list. He even got his own Picture Pages:
He got dinged later in the year for being small, but in a system like this where he's reach-blocking all day his agility is an asset. Time and again against Penn State he successful executed these blocks, springing people into the secondary. Against Notre Dame he did the same thing.
The issues are obvious, though: too many missed blocks, and too many blocks where he's just not strong enough to deal with his man. But he's a redshirt freshman; strength should come.
I like him. I like David Molk. I think he can be very good at football. Is this clear? Probably not. What Michigan needs from Molk this year is twenty more pounds, more familiarity with the offense, and that's it.
BONUS: I don't remember any bad snaps last year except maybe one or two in the Northwestern game, when it was eminently forgivable.
Backups And Whatnot
Oh praise Jesus: there are some. Last year when Ortmann got dinged up early in the year, Michigan actually unearthed walk-on Bryant Nowicki to play left tackle until they could tell Perry Dorrestein to play on the other side of the line the following week.
Dorrestein and the loser of the pitched Omameh-Huyge battle will be the primary backups at tackle. If Huyge's grip on the job remains solid, the bet here is that Omameh flips to left tackle by midseason in preparation for 2010 and Dorrestein returns to the right, where the coaches apparently prefer him.
On the interior, redshirt freshmen Ricky Barnum and Rocko Khoury have been praised regularly in practice reports and are the top options at guard and center, respectively, in the event of an injury to one of the starters. Barnum's position is less solid than Khoury, as he's been afflicted with frequent minor injuries thus far in his Michigan career and missed most of the spring with a wrist issue. Also Khoury's the only guy around who's been snapping consistently.
Your other non-freshman options are John Ferrara, the converted defensive tackle who the coaches are keeping on the offensive side of the ball despite some serious depth issues at DT, tragedy-stricken Elliot Mealer, and journeyman Tim McAvoy. Of the group, Ferrara is the most likely to make an appearance. The coaches tried everything in their power to remove McAvoy from the starting lineup last year and moved Schilling inside to finally solve that particular issue. Mealer spent all of last year rehabbing a shoulder injury and is probably a year away from seriously competing for a job.
There are indeed freshmen, but if Rodriguez managed to redshirt all six guys from last year's class despite the patchwork nature of last year's line it will take truly epic misfortune for any of the incoming kids to see the field this year.
One man's guess as to the second unit: Omameh, Ferrara, Khoury, Barnum, Dorrestein.