"It's not about last year or who's here or who's isn't here," says your head coach. "It's about getting out here and competing and seeing who is here, and that's where we're gonna go."
EDIT: Moved Grady to this group
I've written plenty about the guys from the classes of '07 and '08 who didn't make it to this week. This one's for the guys who did.
Many had to overcome hideous, season-ending injuries to get here. They also stuck around through two paradigm-shifting coaching changes, or watched the guy and the system they committed to run out of town.What they signed up for was multiple Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls, but what they got was the most tumultuous years at Stadium and Main since Yost dug a hole in the ground.
What they leave is a program on the verge of a BCS bowl, on the verge of another reshaping, on the verge of one final chance to beat Ohio State. The leadership they provided helped Michigan avoid another painful transition, and set the tone for more success to come. There have been many great seniors to graduate from Michigan, but it is no derogation of them to say that this class is a bit special. Here are their stories (in reverse order of commitment):
EARLY RICH-RODIGAN JET-SMURFS:
Michael Shaw was the wizard hat to Trotwood teammate Roundtree's snake oil, a Penn State commit (Carr had wanted him as a CB) who switched to Michigan at the last minute. Unlike fellow '08 RB recruits he had neither captured the imagination of the Internet by hurdling fools, nor did he have a name that 13-year-olds use on prank calls. What Shaw had was speed, hands, and a cut-and-bounce move. People thought he might be a slot receiver. The era Shaw played in was replete with RBs of various skillsets, and proximity to Carlos Brown made for exaggerated comparisons. Various injuries made for sporadic appearances. He started the '09 Ohio State game and was nominally the starter at the beginning of this year. Everyone will have to pick their endearing memory of bouncy Shaw; mine will be the block on McNaul against NU (the purple one) and Batman.
"Normally they're keying in on me. I don't know why, but they're keying in on me, so that's where [Denard] gets his yards from … We had an idea they were going to try to contain Denard, but we also thought Notre Dame was going to try to contain him."
Martavious Odoms was billed as the perfect slot bug, the prototypical Rich Rodriguez Pahokee speedster with skillz who's completely overlooked because he's tiny. He was brought in to return kicks and punts, block like a mountain goat, and catch bubble screens. Whenever someone of the old guard complained about "little Florida guys" who "won't make it in the Big Ten," they were talking about Odoms.
Tay almost immediately grabbed that slot position and led the team in receptions as a somewhat fumbly true freshman. His sophomore season it was his mountain goat blocking and magnificent TD against Indiana that prevented a Hoosier loss from ever being added to the pile of Rodriguezian indignities. But he sprained a knee against Penn State and missed the rest of the season while redshirted classmate Roy Roundtree exploded. Odoms returned as the world's smallest outside WR in 2010 until a broken foot knocked him out for the second half of the year. This year several broken bits kept Odoms on the sideline as Gallon emerged, until Odoms reprised the Indy TD (@8:51) against Nebraska.
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Kelvin Grady committed to Michigan before any of these guys, but for basketball. After his sophomore ('08-'09) season Grady left the backcourt to join his brother in Rich Rod's basketball on grass. Grady also left his sure scholarship, and had to compete with the rest of the walk-ons to earn a football one (he did). Grady19 immediately pushed for playing time in the now crowded slot rotation, showing great route running but not so great hands. Then last year the hands improved—as in he caught almost everything thrown his way—and also became the designated reverse guy.
This year he's rotated in every game, despite there being another guy who's "emerged" at his position every year he's been here (Odoms, Roundtree, Gallon). His eligibility will run out after this season, but Kelvin has already received his Bachelor's degree, and is a year into his Master's in Social Work.
"It crossed my mind that I wouldn't have anything," said Grady, who started 25 basketball games as a freshman before seeing his time reduced last year. "I'd be out. I'd be just like the rest of the guys back home who dropped out of college and didn't have anywhere else to go. But I'm too strong. I've got too much will. I've got a family that supports me. I've got a brother [Kevin, a senior running back for Michigan] that's working hard.
"I just want to say to you Florida boys it's not so bad in Michigan."
Terrence Robinson may not get a 5th year; the Texas 4-star was another slot bug who actually won the job in '08 before Odoms. He caused a Nebraska fumble on special teams this year—I don't know what his plans are if there's a scholarship available.
J.B. Fitzgerald got the Victor Hobson designation in the four-man YMRMFSPA haul of Foote-Hobson-Crable-C.Graham. This was thanks to um, large hands? Fitz also was considered quite raw, needing considerable coaching on his read and reaction skills. In this, it's hard to argue that Michigan didn't fail him, provided Jay Hopson then GERG as his position coaches. Fitzgerald was never a threat to displace Obi Ezeh or Jonas Mouton, except when the coaches got so fed up with those guys they put Fitz in (after they tried Kevin Leach). He did see some starting time at OLB late last year due to injuries, but has since been passed by the likes of Ryan and the freshmen. An academic All-American, Fitz will graduate with a degree in sport management.
"Physical's how we like it." (half of this guy's quotes can be taken out of context, the other half are about his family).
Until 2011, Kevin Koger (not Kroger) was the last head-to-head recruiting battle with [glances around, whispers] you know who in Ohio that Michigan actually won. Brian said he was Carson Butler minus the attitude and projected a future move to defensive end. Damn right about the attitude – Koger is a 2011 team captain and the Ryan Van Bergen of the offense.
Koger raised the hype meter a bit by scoring that TD versus Wisconsin in his first career catch, and then hauling in a one-handed flying stab in garbage time versus WMU in '09 that was more entertaining than Coner throwing D.O.'s to walk-on receivers with Mets' last names. This year he made another ridiculous catch over the middle versus Western. Koger's production on the field hasn't changed much from sharing time with Webb in 2010 (14 catches for 199 yards and 2 TDs) to being the guy in Borges's offense (17 catches for 195 yards and 3 TDs). Blocking Purdue's DEs (at top of screen, blocking 49) was a lot of fun.
In parts of the internet where trite metaphors are allowed, the phrase "Mike Martin is a beast!!!" is stated repeatedly, the number of exclamation marks varying from one to however many it takes to break a keyboard depending on how many yards backwards the poor sap charged with blocking him traveled before reestablishing radio contact. In less savage parts of the internet, people made things like this:
all the time. You can even put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him (below) and he still looks like he's about to kill a quarterback any second. So of course Michigan put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him. He was still the best player on the defense once Brandon Graham left; actually he beat out Graham for Michigan's '09 DL award.
A late-blooming prospect, Martin got his offer in June after Georgia DT Omar Hunter turned Michigan down. He committed immediately, and remained committed when a flood of others, including ND, came in after the coaching change. Martin arrived able to bench press like NFL first rounders, and ESPN said he looks like a crab.*
He immediately entered the DT rotation with Taylor and Johnson, and then spent the rest of his career here as a nose tackle because Michigan didn't have any other guys on the interior who could demand double teams. GERG's great idea to utilize Martin was to make him the centerpiece of 3-man rushes. After his junior year, Martin's personal accomplishments matched those of Alan Branch, with a far worse supporting cast.
*I think when people say "crab" what they mean is pad level. From now on when I hear "crab" I will declare that prospect someone Michigan must get. I want an entire DL that consists of nothing but crab people who squat 520 and chase QBs like they're Shawn Crable.
Despite having NFL prospects, despite a new coach and staff again again, he stayed. He said:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Tomorrow: Those Who Stayed (the Class of '07):
Martavious Odoms and Denard Robinson
Denard, did you have any idea that this kind of performance was in you guys today?
Denard: “Oh yeah. We play as a team and came out like we did. Of course, oh yeah.”
Martavious, can you talk about battling back from the slow start due to injury and the feeling of catching that touchdown?
Odoms: “It felt great. I got my chance. Coach called a good play. Denard threw the ball and I caught it.”
Denard, how important was field position for you guys?
Denard: “That’s the thing. We played as a team, and that’s what we needed. We got everybody executing. Those three teams [were] executing.” Were you just more comfortable today? That was probably your best game in a while. “Oh yeah. Everybody felt good today. The offensive line gave us time to do what we had to do and [gave] the running backs holes to run [through].”
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Martavious, Denard gets a lot of scrutiny about his arm, but can you talk about his perfect throw from the 50 to the back of the endzone?
Odoms: “Yeah a lot of people doubt his throwing because he can run so well, but when he needs to throw and make a play, he gets the job done.”
Your reaction to the “Beat Ohio” chant in the fourth quarter?
Odoms: “I knew it was coming. I was prepared for it.”
Denard: “We have to celebrate this one first. Tomorrow we’ll be on Ohio.”
Denard, you had the chance to talk to Lavonte David. What did you guys have to say?
Denard:“I told him to keep going and have a great rest of the season.”
Fitz had another great game. Can you talk about how he’s grown in the past four weeks?
Denard: “I mean, I knew he was a physical running back, and once he gets into an open field he can make guys miss and run the ball. I think he’s been ready. He just had a couple injuries.”
Was any part of Nebraska’s defensive play a surprise to you?
Denard: “I mean, it’s always a little surprise, but we kind of adjusted -- coach adjusted well and called some great plays, and we executed.”
Denard, today you matched Tom Brady’s 35 career touchdown passes. Thoughts?
Denard: “Oh I didn’t know that. I’m not a big stats guy, so I’m going out there having fun with my team, so that’s the biggest thing.”
Looking at where the season started to where you guys are now, especially given the expectations externally, how does it feel to be 9-2 heading into the Ohio State game?
Denard: “I can’t tell you how it is outside, because inside I know everybody in here knew we could have a great season this year, that we would go and do some special things this year. That’s the biggest thing everybody knew. We worked hard all offseason and that’s it.”
How big was the roughing the kicker penalty in terms of momentum?
Denard: “Oh that was big. The offense we knew we had to take care of the ball and do what we had to do.”
Martavious, did you feel like you were close to breaking a long run?
Odoms: “Yeah, I think I was really close to breaking through. There’s always the guy that I don’t see that so happens to trip my leg or hit me.”
Was this the best special teams performance you’ve had in a long time?
Odoms: “I wouldn’t say that.”
Is there another game that stands out more?
Odoms: “Um … not really. I mean, I feel like on special teams we really take pride and Coach Hoke takes pride in special teams. People just go hard on special teams and [in] regular play. I think special teams is a really big part of the game. It’s most of the game, really.”
Denard, did you appreciate the crowd counting down the play clock when the scoreboards weren’t working in the first quarter?
Denard: “Yeah, that was the biggest thing. I was supposed to send someone as soon as I walked in about it (Ed: I think that’s what he said. Denard was speaking Florida here.) I mean, I appreciate the fans helping us out because we really needed it. Shout out to the fans and I hope they’ll be ready next week.”
Denard, you can win 10 games, beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, and maybe Ohio State next week, but you can’t play for the Big Ten title. Can you talk about the good vs. bad of that?
Denard: “We can only control what we can control, so that’s the only thing we worry about. We worry about playing Ohio next week.”
Martavious, have you ever seen Terrence Robinson make a hit like that in practice? Can you talk about the emphasis on special teams?
Odoms: “We have some pretty fast people on our team, and Terrence Robinson is one of them. He does a great job on special teams getting down there. We knew if he gets down there he can make a hit, and that’s what he did.”
Denard, can you talk about cashing in our your opportunities today compared with last week when you were unable a couple times?
Denard: “We still think we had missed opportunities today, too. We have to still grow and start putting the ball in the endzone when we need to.”
Can you talk about the momentum going into the Ohio State game that may not have been there the past couple years?
Odoms: “Like Denard said, everybody knows what next week is. We’re just going to enjoy this one and prepare for next week when the time comes.”
Denard: “I feel the same way. We have to enjoy this win and tomorrow we’ll be preparing for Ohio.”
Do you feel this is the highest level you’ve played at in years?
Denard: “Not that Michigan has played at.”
Since you guys have been here.
Odoms: “I mean, games are up and down so you really can’t tell if you played at your highest level. When you feel like you played at your highest level, you go watch film and you didn’t do so well. Can’t really say.”
Is the team playing as well as it has since you’ve been here?
Denard: “You could say that because all three of the teams are playing well.”
Mark Huyge and Fitzgerald Toussaint
You guys held the ball for 40 minutes. How important was that?
Huyge: “Yeah I know for a fact that our defense plays better when they have a limited amount of time on the field. I didn’t know we held the ball for 40 minutes. It’s a good deal. Uh, yeah. It’s great when special teams can contribute like they did. I swear every time we’d come off the field and sure enough we’d be right back on with a quick turnover or a three-and-out. It’s a good deal.”
Both of you guys heard about the “Blackshirts” defense and watched them on film. Were they as advertised?
Toussaint: “I would say it was a very physical game, but we prepared all week for this game and we knew what was coming and we expected everything we were given.”
Huyge: “It was very physical up front. The main thing was that we knew we had to be physical throughout and just try to wear them down. With the time of possession, I think that helped.”
Can you talk about how the running game has evolved from the start of the season?
Toussaint: “I would say a little bit more execution. Up front the guys handled their business. We prepared for these moments, and that’s what happened.”
How much did the turnovers help your psyche today?
Huyge: “It’s great. I mean, we can get turnovers and even though you’re on the bench and you don’t expect it, I’ll take it any day of the week. Just to be able to run out there with great field position as an offense, we know we have to get it done once we get down in there.”
Hoke has said this is the most well-rounded game you’ve played. What’s the cause of that?
Toussaint: “I would have to say it’s more teamwork. Organize the team and focusing mainly on unity.”
Huyge: “Yeah, execution. Just executing on every play and in all three phases.”
Why is that better now than earlier in the year?
Huyge: “Maybe just time. More games, get more experience.”
Thoughts on “Beat Ohio” chant? Also, the fact that fans are calling them Ohio rather than Ohio State?
Huyge: “It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Re: Denard, there’s a lot of criticism about his quarterbacking. Can you talk about his game today as a runner and a passer?
Huyge: “Well Denard … I love playing for Denard. I really do, because I know in the run game he makes stuff happen all the time. In the pass game, he can pull the ball down and run, too. When he threw that ball to Martavious Odoms in the endzone there, that was a great throw and a great catch. That was something that we need.”
Mark, how much confidence does this win give you going into next week?
Huyge: “Well, it does give us a lot of confidence. In the past -- and I don’t want to bring up the past -- but past seasons we haven’t been playing well in November. It’s very important to be playing well at the end of the year. It’s a definite boost for sure.”
In the last couple weeks, you’ve really gotten the ground game going. How does that change the offensive scheme?
Toussaint: “I wouldn’t think it changes any schemes. It’s just the way we prepare and the guys up front execute.”
After you lost to Michigan State, guys like Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs said this year was different and there would be no second-half collapse. Why was it different?
Huyge: “I think it’s just an emphasis of getting better every week, where improvement was the key. You had to put the one behind that you lost and the fact that that was our main goal was to get better. We knew if we got better in November we’d be playing better football, and that’s obviously what’s shown.”
Molk said Monday that last year the philosophy on offense was “score score score” because the defense couldn’t stop anyone. How does the success of defense change how this offense operates?
Huyge: “It gives us more confidence, that’s for sure, that we know that if we do mess up or have a three-and-out, we can rely on our defense to make plays. Obviously they’ve been doing that all season, and special teams, too. That was huge.”
Senior legacies and rivalry games -- what does Saturday mean for that legacy?
Huyge: “It’s a big one. It’s a big one for all of us seniors, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Either of you guys catch yourself peeking at that countdown clock?
Toussaint: “Everyday. Everyday.”
Huyge: “You walk in that building it’s right there.”
Toussaint: “It’s right in your face. Can’t miss it.”
Do you guys do anything related to beating Ohio State throughout the year?
Huyge: “Yeah the emphasis is definitely on Ohio. When we bring it up in meetings, we talk about it everyday.”
You might not have been aware, but the power was out in Michigan Stadium. (surprised laughs) Could you hear the crowd chanting the play clock? Did it affect you guys not being able to see the play clock on that side of the field?
Huyge: “Well after the first little mishap, I think Denard didn’t know which ref had the signal that was making the calls, but yeah, you could hear it, 'Five, four, three, two,' and I’m like, 'Snap the ball … snap the ball …' ”
Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs
Mike, can you talk about Ryan Van Bergen’s impact the last few weeks?
Martin: “Yeah, he’s stepping up. The whole line up front is doing a great job of communicating and executing. Ryan does a great job on the vocal side of things. Helps us execute, and we all do a great job echoing the call so we can all play tough.”
How much did you focus on stopping the option?
Martin: “Yeah that was one of the main focuses we had during the week. Preparation was key and talk about that everyday on our team. Beginning Sunday to Monday watching film and getting looks from our scout team -- they did a great job. So I feel like we prepared well and it showed on the field.”
Anything you saw on film that made you think you could do certain things?
Martin: “You know, a few things -- coach does a great job of tweaking things week to week and giving them a different look on our side of it. For us to be able to execute and attack them differently with keeping in mind how dangerous they are on the perimeter with the option and everything, that was big for us.”
You’ve played in the first night game, now first game against Nebraska. In games like this, is it important to make a statement, or is it more like “another game, another win?”
Kovacs: “I mean, coming into the game we knew it was going to be a big game, both [teams] coming into the game 8-2. We want to make a statement every time we take the field. We knew it was going to be a big game, and we played pretty well in all three facets of the game, and we earned this one, so we’re excited about it.”
Hoke says this is first time you’ve played in all three phases. Why are you peaking now this late in the season?
Kovacs: “I just think we’re all starting to click. Defensively, we’re gaining some confidence every game. We’re improving every game. The offense did a nice job of complementing us. They did a good job of holding onto the ball and making some big plays when they had to. They moved the chains on third down, which always helps. And you can’t say enough about the special teams. Any time you cause two turnovers, it’s kind of tough to lose a game like that. I think you have to take your hat off to those guys. Offense, special teams, and defense played well. There’s a few plays we’d like to take back, but we’re always looking to impove, but we’re excited about next week.”
You’re allowing three touchdowns fewer per game this year compared with last year. You’re basically the same players. How does that happen so quickly?
Martin: “It’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but this is a new year. Really our mindset has just completely changed 360. This senior group, and this team, they learned when coach Hoke and the staff came that we were going to have to buy in. It really started from our winter conditioning, summer conditioning, fall camp, all those different phases leading up to the season, and now it’s showing with our focus and our dedication to this team and this coaching staff. We know we’re getting better, but the season is far from being over. We still have a lot of work to put in, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Kovacs: “Just to piggyback off that question, it’s guys like Mike and Van Bergen stepping up and being great leaders for our defense and for our team as a whole. But the same time I think our offense helps us out a lot. Anytime you’re not on the field as a defense, they can’t score too many points on you, so I think they do a great job holding the ball and moving the chains. They aren’t doing that hurry-up tempo anymore, so I think that’s really helped us out.”
After the Michigan State game, you talked about being out-physicaled and out-toughed. Is that what you did to Nebraska’s offense today?
Kovacs: “We knew that they were going to be a physical team, and that the tougher team, the more physical team, was going to win this game. To a certain extent, I think we played pretty physical, but like I said, there’s always some lapses and always some plays that you’d like to have back. I think that’s still an area that we need to improve on everyday.”
Jordan, can you talk about how huge this win is for this program, and where does it rank in your career?
Kovacs: “This was a big win. Huge. I can’t stress that enough. Like I said, we knew it was going to be a big game coming in. I think that this is the best win that we’ve had since I’ve been on the team just because it’s so late in the year. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a game this late in November that really meant as much as this one. I think it was a big for us. We played well in all facets of the game, and it was a fun win. I guess we’re looking forward to next week.”
Mike, how different will this week feel knowing that you’re on par/favored going against Ohio State for the first time since forever?
Martin: “Yeah, well, like I’ve said before, the mindset of this defense and this team is on a whole n'other level this year. We’ve had young guys step up. We’ve had great leadership with the seniors. A lot of juniors and the underclassment have gotten a lot of time. It’s really just putting all those pieces together knowing that we can play Michigan defense and Michigan football for a full 60 minutes. That’s what you need to win football games, because you can’t start a game out strong and not finish it. We’ve done those things before, and it’s never worked out. I feel like we’ve improved as a team each week, and we have to make sure we take a positive step for this week coming up.”
Can you talk about the pride that special teams players take in their job since most of them are backups? Also, their impact on this game?
Kovacs: “I think all special teams players take a lot of pride in that facet of the game because a lot of those guys don’t play on offense or defense so that’s their contribution to the game. I think a handful of them are walk-ons as well, so they’re excited to get out there and play in the Big House and wear that winged helmet. I think they played great today. They made a huge impact and caused some turnovers, and I think they won us the game.”
“Beat Ohio” chant ftw. Thoughts?
Martin: “We all know what next week has in store for us and this program. That’s the end of November, that’s the deal. This stadium, this team, and all of us, we’re just going to enjoy the win tonight, but tomorrow get focusing on Ohio, and that’s something that we’ve done each week for every single team. This is a huge game for our legacy as a team, for this senior group, for team 132. We just have to make sure we finish the season out the way we want to, the way we’ve envisioned the whole season.”
Jordan, you’re an Ohio guy. What does this game mean to you?
Kovacs: “I think that as the game winded down the last minute and a half, and we were kneeing the ball, I think that everyone was thinking that in the back of their heads, like, ‘All right. This was a big win, but it’s on to the next one.’ We’re excited about it. Like Mike said, this was a huge win today. We’re going to enjoy it for the next few hours, and then we’re going to come in tomorrow focused and ready to improve and ready to get after Ohio.”
Is it different going into the Ohio State game this season than in years past?
Martin: “I believe, especially as we progress through this season, this team has taken major positive steps. It’s showed every single week we’ve made an improvement. We know what our capabilities are as a team. We know [that if] we play together, play as a team, that good things are going to happen. We have to complement each other.”
Is there any extra punishment this week if you slip up and say “Ohio State” instead of “Ohio”?
Kovacs: “Not that I know.”
Martin: “I don’t know. This week’s going to be an intense week. I don’t know if any of you media want to come to practice. I don’t think you guys will be able to make it. This will be a good one.”
Mike, can you talk more about shutting Nebraska down on the perimeter?
Martin: “We knew how dangerous they were, the weapons that they had, Martinez and Burkhead. We knew we had to attack them a certain way. We took advantage of the strengths that we have on our side of it. I believe we did a great job with executing. We had a few plays here and there that we wish we could have had back. That’s something that we have to improve on and we will do that, but overall I feel like we did a great job executing.”
Did you feel like you were successful in accomplishing what you set out to do when the first half ended and Burkhead didn’t have very many yards?
Martin: “I have no clue what he had at hafltime, but I knew that we were playing together and we were playing hard. We were having fun playing defense and playing Michigan defense. We knew we had another half at that point to play. You clock in for 60 minutes, you have to make sure you finish them all out.”
What does it mean that this week will be intense? How much more intense than normal?
Martin: “Everyone knows how big this game is. From our side of it, from the other side of it -- that’s what makes it such a great game, because of how much time’s put in, how much it means to each program, and really playing this great game of football in the month of November. Can’t get better than that. This week has to be one of our best weeks of preparation, period. That’s what it needs to be.”
Can you talk about last night’s team meeting? You were tweeting photos.
Martin: “Today we honored the armed services for everything they do. We’ve embodied and embraced some of their principles and things that they believe in on their team. You can never compare it -- what those guys do is something that is just amazing, but accountability and the different essences of teamwork are something that we adopted, so they visited us, talked to our team, really gave us a few words of wisdom, and it meant a lot. They gave us a couple of their tridents that represent the U.S. Navy Seals. That’s something that represents what they embody. That meant a lot to us as a team.”
Just to follow up, from “Beat Ohio State” to “Beat Ohio” -- is that something you immediate adopted because of your head coach? Is “Ohio State” forbidden?
Kovacs: “That’s what he calls them, so that’s what we call them.”
Can you talk about the uniqueness of Greg Mattison’s defensive scheme?
Kovacs: “He brings an unbelievable scheme. Obviously he was coaching with the Ravens before and he’s established an NFL defense here. I think that we do a pretty good job disguising and giving them a bunch of different looks and giving the quarterback something to think about. But at the same time I think our D-line has really been playing great so far. They really help us out on the back end. You can’t tip your hat off enough to those guys up front.”
Mike, has it hit you that this is your last time preparing to play at the Big House?
Martin: “That’s something that I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks here. That’s why you have to take each day for what it is. It means a lot. You always tell those younger guys it’s going to fly by. You never listen, though. I didn’t listen. But this is huge for our program, for our seniors. Really I thought about my last time having clam chowder at the Campus Inn, because that’s the D-line’s favorite thing to eat on Friday. This is going to be huge, and we have to work hard this week.”
|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."
The Sandwich War. SI's Andy Staples was in town recently to cover something or another and took the opportunity to cast a vote in the ongoing blood war over the best deli sandwich in Ann Arbor. The contenders are Zingerman's and Maize 'n' Blue Deli:
Staples goes for Maize 'n' Blue, citing price and having to unhinge his jaw as major considerations. Message board duly blows up in a way that makes me think I should put conversations about Zingerman's in the verboten category with politics and religion. Clearly sandwiches are both.
I'm hoping to flag Staples down the next time he's in town so I can take him to Frita Baditos in the hope his mind will be blown and Satchel's in the hope he gives Northern barbecue at least a C-.
No. Stop asking. Kudos to the Big Ten for reassuring everyone that they're not going to pick off half the Big East for no reason. Via a press release:
"In response to a number of recent media inquiries received by several Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors regarding the likelihood of further expansion by the Big Ten, the COP/C would like to reiterate that it will not be actively engaged in conference expansion at this time, or at any time in the foreseeable future."
"We said that we will continue to monitor the landscape, but we have closed down active expansion and have no plans to seek new members."
Twelve and done and good.
Locks. In case this wasn't made explicitly clear by Tim's recap, Brady Hoke directly asserted three guys would be defensive starters. There are no real surprises in that group:
Hoke said he's filled "about two or three" starting spots on defense. When asked who they were, he responded:
"(Cornerback Troy) Woolfolk's had a nice camp, I think (nose tackle Mike) Martin's had a nice camp, (safety Jordan) Kovacs has had a nice camp."
If you were hoping Kovacs was overtaken by someone more athletic you can shelve that. I'm hoping he enters his Englemon phase where he doesn't do much that im- or de-presses anyone. Woolfolk shooting to the top of the cornerback depth chart isn't a surprise but there was a chance the lingering effects of his injury prevented him from being as effective; that apparently hasn't happened. Good news—in the secondary and everything.
I'm a little surprised Demens isn't on that list given the practice buzz. Bad sign? Overreaction? It can be both.
I'm getting the impression they might actually run more read option this year than they did last year.
You are feeling very sleepy. You are Desmond Howard. Jeff Hecklinski could have been a hypnotist if he wasn't a football coach. He also accuses Roy Roundtree of "prancing" and stands next to a short dreaded guy who's injured:
Unless I'm mistaken, that's Martavious Odoms getting his Bob Marley on. First the cast, now a shoulder injury—Junior Hemingway must have pressed a mysterious button that someone told him would make him resilient but turn someone else on the team into Glass Joe.
BIG TEN: STOP MAKING AND NAMING THINGS. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING US ALL. This is the new Cy-Hawk Trophy:
This is what "Iowa Corn" came up with instead of, like, a Hawk in an F16 launching a missile at a tornado that was reaching out a airy appendage of doom. That's a rivalry trophy. That thing above belongs at Art Fair. Adam Jacobi would like "a lot less of this effort to turn the conference into a bad Norman Rockwell painting." Co-sign.
It's not like they didn't know that was going to happen. Iowa Corn also came up with this:
Oh, no. Dave Brandon: do not slap a winged helmet on that thing and put it on the sideline. Please.
|Highland Park, MI - 5'10" 175|
|Scout||3*, #49 CB|
|Rivals||4*, #14 ATH, #6 MI|
|ESPN||3*, 77, #95 ATH|
|Others||3*, 88, to 247.|
|Other Suitors||Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana|
|YMRMFSPA||shorter Troy Woolfolk|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post.|
There are also some seven on seven highlights out there.
Bear with me here: Raymon Taylor is a reasonably-sized local cornerback who made it clear Michigan his his dream school from day one. An example from June($), five months before he'd actually get a Michigan offer:
“Whoo… (Laughing)… yeah, Michigan. That’s probably one of the biggest the schools. That’s my favorite pick if I ever had an offer. So I would definitely enjoy going there."
Martavious Odoms, meanwhile, is a diminutive wide receiver from Florida who had probably never thought about Michigan before Rich Rodriguez was hired. Despite this, they're analogous recruits.
Both got a fourth star from one, but only one, recruiting service. Both got a smattering of decent but not-that-impressive offers. Both were amongst the first recruits to sign on after a coaching transition and are therefore good gets in context, but not quite thrilling in the wider view.
If Taylor contributes at the level Odoms has it will be a win from multiple perspectives: Michigan will have a member of the secondary and they will have other members of the secondary, which is incomprehensible but sounds pretty cool.
Taylor's recruiting saga was an odd one if only because committing to Indiana and Michigan in the same recruiting cycle is a rare trick indeed (though Jibreel Black just made a similar switch last year). Once it seemed like no Michigan offer was en route, Taylor leapt on the Hoosier offer despite the fact it was far from his best: Wisconsin, Illinois, and Cincinnati all offered a chance to do something other than lose miserably for his college career*. Taylor chose the ineffable lightness of Bill Lynch.
After Lynch got axed, Taylor maintained he was committed but started looking around a bit. Michigan renewed its interest and Taylor prepared to commit just in time for Rich Rodriguez to meet his own demise. Undeterred, Taylor hung around for Hoke to get his bearings, figuring the first order of business would be "oh God, the secondary." It was. He got an offer and jumped on it. Word got out quickly:
"I went to the (Briarwood) mall and a guy already knew about it," Taylor said. "He was working at a store and me, Devin (Gardner) and Denard (Robinson) walked in and he said something. It was a Foot Locker shoe store. It's great, like an hour after it happened. It was real time."
Before that his renewed final five was Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and… uh… Toledo. With the by-that-point-withdrawn Wisconsin offer that's a solid list worthy of a guy somewhere between Rivals' rating ("basically Blake Countess") and those of Scout and ESPN ("bler").
As far as what sort of player Taylor is, change of direction appears to be an issue. At least, I imagine so if this is the top of the head comparison from Touch The Banner:
He reminds me of outgoing senior cornerback James Rogers. Rogers was a standout receiver/running back with great speed in high school, but he wasn't all that sudden of a player. Much like Rogers, Taylor doesn't exactly make quick cuts but catches the ball well and can run away from opponents. One thing Taylor has on Rogers, though, is that he's a little more physical.
No offense to a guy who stuck out the last five years and probably that many position changes, but James Rogers is not a very hopeful comparison, especially when Taylor is a couple inches shorter than Rogers.
ESPN rates him as an athlete but says in their scouting report he has the most upside as a "fiesty, tough" corner:
Is slightly undersized, but plays big. Likes to get up in the face of the DB and alter routes and releases. He has adequate hips, can mirror most receivers on double moves and shows good body control and balance. Can turn and run with speedy receivers. Shows burst out of his back pedal and shows very good closing quickness when driving on the ball in front of him. Has sound catch up speed and shows good acceleration when the ball is in the air. Has good leaping ability which helps compensate for his lack of ideal height, adjusts well to the ball in the air and has excellent ball skills.
They praise his open-field tackling and willingness to get after larger ball-carriers while complaining a bit about "stiffness," albeit mostly on offense. It a positive review but when it comes down to the numbers, #95 ATH is kind of not so much.
Scout's Allen Trieu scouted him($) when he was an Indiana commit; he didn't get much action on defense aside from laying a couple of "big hits in run support"; on offense he showed the ability to pull away from the pack:
… he made several big runs and he proved he had the one thing people questioned: speed. He can definitely run, as he pulled away from a fast Tigers team.
Hoke echoes the stuff about hitting dudes:
Hoke signed five defensive backs, including four-star recruit Raymon Taylor, who, as Hoke as said, can “line somebody up and go through the middle of them, like you’re supposed to play the game.”
There is another non-Manball aspect to Taylor's game, and it's the reason a number of sites rated him as an athlete even as they projected him to corner:
"He's real versatile, an athletic kid; he played running back, played receiver," Highland Park coach Cedric Dortch said. "He played quarterback, returned kicks, did some of everything for us. It looks like he'll be playing cornerback there. He was willing to do whatever. But that's his mainstay, when he can sit down and challenge the top receiver.
In college that's going to amount to a shot at returning kicks and punts.
Another coach quote:
“Automatically, even as a freshman you could tell he had a special athleticism," Dertch said. "Then, the past couple of years, he’s put the work in.”
That work eventually got him to Michigan even if he let the veil drop early; hopefully Michigan coming around will make for a productive relationship.
*[In Illinois's case any period of not losing miserably would be followed by a 1-11 crater, but by God they'd lose that BCS game like a fortunate-to-be-there co-champion first.]
Etc.: Trieu, who rates recruits, says he's "underrated," presumably by the Scout hive mind and not Trieu himself. Rivals named him second-team at the Army Combine. Head to head with Arnett at the Michigan Showcase:
Highland Park, Mich., athlete Raymon Taylor, who just added offers from Wisconsin and Indiana, also had a fair bit of success guarding Arnett. The 5-11, 170-pound Taylor could legitimately be either a wide receiver or cornerback on the next level, and he worked both sides on Sunday. Against Arnett he opted to play bump coverage at the line of scrimmage, which worked well on some reps and not so well on others.
Another way in which he's analogous to Odoms:
“My dad and uncle always say, ‘You gotta get out the 'hood’…Some guys on the street come up and they’ll put their arm around you and say, ‘Don’t do what I did.’ I just always looked at it like I don’t want to be one of those guys on the street,” Taylor said.
Why shorter Troy Woolfolk? Corners are always hard for me because so many are off limits: I'm not comparing anyone to Woodson or Todd Howard because either is unfair. Meanwhile, most people including myself don't really remember how corners play because they're not involved that often unless they've screwed up, etc. I find myself going back to the Grant Mason well time and again whenever there's a shortish guy with decent upside.
I grab Woolfolk here because Taylor is a guy who's basically a three star with decent offers and good straight line speed with some questions about his ability to change direction. Woolfolk's got a couple inches on Taylor, but Taylor sounds like a better tackler.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Healthy player who hit a fair number of camps and got senior-year scouting, but a large gap in evaluations across services.
General Excitement Level: Odoms-esque: moderate. Taylor seems to lack the physical ability to be a star but has enough to contribute as a third corner, possibly early, and should get a shot at returning kicks.
Projection: Will get an opportunity to play this year depending on how he does in fall against Countess and Brown; two of those three play as dime backs and special-teamers in preparation for the 2012 battle over Woolfolk's starting spot. The other redshirts. Long term he probably loses that battle because of numbers and Countess, but he's another reasonable bullet in the chamber at a position of great need.