"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Last time on Picture Pages, Denard Robinson got Roy Roundtree killed against UConn by being too impatient to throw on a curl-flat combo. This time things will go a bit better.
The setup has Michigan in a four-wide formation with ND in a two-deep shell and a 3-4 defense—this is slightly unusual since ND spent most of the day in a 4-3:
Michigan starts the play with a zone stretch fake, pulling Schilling around to act as the lead blocker Shaw was on the previous play:
Roundtree's come in like he's going to block as Odoms heads upfield:
Roundtree then breaks outside as Walls rubs Odoms, pushing him out of bounds briefly. If this was man coverage Roundtree would be open, but if it's zone it'll be Odoms, or you can also take a look at Grady running well behind the linebackers, all of whom have sucked up to either the zone stretch fake or the threat of Robinson on the edge:
It was right about here, if not earlier, that Denard threw the ball against UConn:
But as you can see from the downfield perspective, that would have been a bad idea since the corner is disconnecting from Odoms and coming upfield. If he had thrown it above, the ball would be about halfway to Roundtree right here:
This probably would have led to another decleating hit. But Denard sees the play developing and waits. A split second later Odoms sits down on a fifteen-yard hitch. He's wide open:
ND's Harrison Smith doesn't know what to do with both Grady and Odoms open in front of him. Robinson zing:
Odoms picks up some YAC…
…and it's 21 yards.
- Most of the same stuff from the last post. Michigan will see a lot of zone. Most of the routes they run will be designed to beat it. Robinson is going to be expected to high-low cover two corners a ton, not least because a hard cover two corner gives the defense much better containment on the edge than a cover three where the corners bail out into deep zones.
- Holy pants wide open receivers again. The Roundtree and Odoms catches were more spectacular and the end result of this play had nothing to do with the linebackers, but Kelvin Grady is screamingly wide open on this play too because Manti Te'o is hurtling towards the line of scrimmage and Calabrese sucked in towards the zone stretch fake. Michigan should have run more play action, though I guess it's hard to criticize what the offense did when it wasn't getting flags in its face.
- Denard is learning stuff. Obviously. I haven't gotten through everything yet and do remember a period in the fourth quarter where he was looking pretty wobbly, but the coaches probably spent a bunch of time this week working on Denard's mistakes and getting his patience right for various plays. So far there haven't been any plays against Notre Dame where I thought "that throw is way too late/early" except one on which Robinson dodged a blitzer and had his timing disrupted.
- Odoms is just fine as an outside receiver. It would be nice if he was a towering colossus of speed but given Robinson's strengths it's better to have a reliable mountain goat and experienced route-runner who can sit down in the right spots and catch the balls zinged to him. It seems clear that going over the top is not one of Robinson's strengths, at least not right now.
|Darryl Stonum||Jr.||Martavious Odoms||Jr.||Roy Roundtree||So.*||Kevin Koger||Jr.|
|Junior Hemingway||Jr.*||Je'Ron Stokes||So.||Kelvin Grady||Jr.*||Martell Webb||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||Fr.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.||Terrance Robinson||So.*||Brandon Moore||So.*|
The situation here is similar to tailback, where Michigan doesn't exactly have a proven star but they do have a ton of options. Outside, Darryl Stonum could blow up, Junior Hemingway could stay healthy, and Martavious Odoms could be a quick blockin' bugger that springs other guys to big gains. In the slot, Roy Roundtree will act as team safety blanket and any of the three guys behind him could provide the woop-gone YAC Darius Reynaud gave West Virginia. At tight end, if Kevin Koger can catch the easy ones he'll be a lethal complement to the zone read.
The bottom here isn't bad, as it consists of a ton of throws to Roundtree and decent contributions all around. The top is enticing, with silly yards per catch possible on the outside and chain-moving consistency on the inside.
Greg Mathews has graduated, a couple kids left the program over the past couple years, and Junior Hemingway is destined to be hit by a meteor in week three, so Michigan's getting creative at outside receiver by moving slot-sized slot Martavious Odoms outside. Despite Odoms' diminutive stature, this makes sense given the situation. Below you can see Odoms doing some catching and all that, but you can also see him chop much bigger guys to the ground time and again. When my Florida recruiting source said Odoms was a "tough SOB" he was not kidding:
|WILL HEADBUTT YOU|
|a precious thing forever|
|fantastic block on the nickelback|
|NOT BREASTON BUT WHO IS|
|squeezes up the sideline|
|avoids the tackle|
|digs this out w/ guy on his back|
|lays it in there|
|lays it in beautifully|
|Odoms reels it in|
Last year everyone was down on Odoms despite his productive freshman year (he was Michigan's leading receiver) because of a series of fumbles late, when it was cold and he was wondering how many limbs he had because he certainly couldn't feel more than two. There was a pretty terrible diary around these parts that met with a strong response. People got strained. Futures were question. It was tense.
For my part, I was "skeptical any slot would beat him out" and "bet on a lot of hurried backtracking" after the year; one half out of two ain't bad. Odoms didn't exactly get beat out but no one's wresting Roy Roundtree's job from him after he blew up in the last third of the year, and while people claiming Odoms sucks are thin on the ground these days any backtracking was steady, possibly even languorous. Fumbles were reduced but not erased as Odoms lost his punt return job to Junior Hemingway. He faded into Bolivian at the end of the year.
So he's at a crossroads. The question is how effective will Odoms be on the outside. No one really knows since all we have to go on are some vanilla scrimmages from spring and fall during which deep passes were anomalies. Things we do know:
- Odoms was 16/17 on easy catches last year (presumably these were a lot of bubble screens), 4/6 on moderately tough ones, and 1/3 on very tough ones.
- He was a receiver for five(!) years at Pahokee after signing up in eighth grade and has played inside and out since.
- He is really short.
We don't have a lot of information about his routes, but he did smoke Indiana safety Nick Polk on that game-winning touchdown. Limited touches after were probably not his fault. He certainly had decent enough hands, though a double-clutch here and there led to frustrating incompletions on the wheel routes he ran frequently.
By moving outside, Odoms has ceded most of the screens to Kelvin Grady and Roy Roundtree and will see his per-game production drop. He'll still be involved, though how much depends more on Roundtree, Stonum, the tight ends, and the tailbacks, all of whom seem to offer either more big-play ability or reliability than a 5'8" outside receiver. Odoms is likely to finish in the middle of the Michigan receiver pack with between 20 and 30 catches.
|in between levels in the zone|
|bursts open 20 yards downfield|
|Mike Floyd catches this, right?|
Darryl Stonum has been something of a disappointment his first couple years. Last year the conversation in re: Stonum was largely about pages and the benefits of getting on the same one with the coaches. When it wasn't, it was about dropped balls. When the season rolled around Stonum started every game but came up with such a paucity of highlights that I've got more on Patrick Omameh, an offensive lineman who played in three games, than him. HIs stats boggle the mind: 13 catches for 199 yards, one fewer catch than he managed as a freshman. End of stats.
As a result, Stonum came up for repeated psychoanalysis in UFR, most of it focusing on his inability to adjust to balls thrown downfield. Against Eastern this happened:
This occasioned a long section about how Forcier left this short but this was the week after ND, when 1) Stonum turned a very makeable deep catch into something almost impossible by turning inside when he had five yards of room to the sideline and 2) Mike Floyd turned Michigan cornerbacks into roadkill. The resulting consternation:
I'm grabbing this just so people can maybe talk about Stonum's adjustment to this. I think it's poor. He misjudges the ball and doesn't slow up enough and turn, which would probably have led to the DB running him over and a PI call. Mike Floyd [or Braylon Edwards] catches this, right?
This persisted; after the Wisconsin game I launched the "same old complaint" when Stonum failed to adjust to a poorly-thrown deep ball and allowed it to get intercepted when he really should have been able to at least bat it down.
Receivers often take time to break out, but the really amazing ones often get there their sophomore years (Braylon, Manningham, and Howard all blew up in year two), so expectations were busily being scaled back when… my gawd, that's Rick Vaughn's music!
Yes, for the second consecutive year Michigan has discovered one of their wideout needs glasses. You'd think that after the coaches discovered one of their wideouts was secretly blind as a bat they would have declared mandatory eye exams for all, but they didn't, so the above clips happened and everyone was very sad. Now? Well, Stonum's reportedly had an outstanding fall camp:
"This is the most consistent we've had Darryl on a day-to-day basis. He's going to be a big factor for us. He's a very talented guy that has a renewed sense of hunger."
As his recruiting profile suggested and kick returns showed, he has electric speed. The coaches seem to be on the same page with him. The quarterbacks are not going to be freshmen. He can now see the damn ball. He could totally blow up, or he could rack up 20 catches and have a version of that year Steve Breaston had after Edwards graduated where it became clear to all that he just didn't have it downfield. I have no idea what it will be, which makes Stonum the offense's #1 X factor going into the season. He can swing games by himself if he lives up to the chatter. A real live deep threat in an offense helmed by Denard Robinson can be preposterous: Chris Henry averaged 25 yards a catch(!!!) his freshman year at West Virginia.
That's Stonum's best case: not that many catches, but a lot of long ones and some game-swinging touchdowns. The worst case is more of the same.
|other end of Forcier improv|
|one little shimmy and is then by|
|caught from behind on bomb|
|big punt return.|
|leaping catch in traffic|
Odoms's move outside pushes Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God's favorite target to the bench, at least nominally. After Junior Hemingway missed spring ball to go along with missing most of 2008 and spending 2009 at half-speed with an array of Minor-like injuries that were just tolerable enough for him to play, it seems like the Michigan coaches finally decided they couldn't rely on him to be around long term and placed him on the bench. Since receiver's a spot at which rotation is incessant he'll get his share of time, leaving the move mostly symbolic, but it is a symbol.
Surprisingly for a guy who barely outpaced Stonum last year with 16 catches, he's got a substantial highlight reel you can see at right. He was also named "first among equals" after the Western game. It's mostly deep stuff: burning Western Michigan, exploiting Illinois over-reacting to a play, burning Illinois and then getting caught from behind, etc. As recruit his rep was an explosive leaper who lacked top-end speed—I compared him to Marquise Walker—and that has been borne out. It's tough to tell if his meh career to date is underperformance or just three years of terrible luck. If he can stay on the field he should be a solid, useful addition to the receiving corps. He's 225 pounds, which makes him a slant threat not duplicated elsewhere on the roster, and last year he was 10/10 on easy catches and 2/3 on moderate ones. His hands are good.
He should have a role and improve on his 16 catches of a year ago, although possibly not by much.
The single other outside wide receiver with any experience is sophomore Je'Ron Stokes, a six-foot guy with excellent athleticism who could have played in the slot if that wasn't already being fought over by four or five guys. Stokes was just outside of top 100 lists as a recruit. Michigan snatched him away from Tennessee after their coach implosion. The takeaway from the recruiting profile:
An electrifying game breaker with excellent speed, Stokes could use more size on his current 6’1” and 180 pound frame. He has great hands, knows how to get open, makes a lot of acrobatic catches and is terrific after the catch.
He's got a bit more size now, checking in at 193 at last report. He was another guy who blew his redshirt last year; his single highlight last year was digging out a low ball dubbed CONESTRAVAGANZA I in the late stages of the Baby Seal U game. He was injured in the spring and only came on late, but he was also pretty much absent from the fall scrimmage; another year mostly on the bench seems likely.
The third string is all freshmen. The only one to appear on the official fall depth chart was Jeremy Jackson (profile), the "lumbering" son of running backs coach Fred Jackson. Lumbering he may be but he's also the son of a coach and has the route running skills and hands you'd expect from such a gritty gritterson of a player. He'll play, likely sparingly. That should mean that classmates Ricardo Miller (profile) and Jerald Robinson (profile) are headed for redshirts.
Roy Roundtree's second catch as a Michigan Wolverine was a game-tying touchdown in the pouring rain against Michigan State. This was a good omen. Over the next few games his playing time increased, though his catches remained infrequent because he was seemingly targeted only when it was a terrible idea to do so. Then Odoms got injured. Roundtree announced his presence with that 77-yard catch-and-run against Illinois about which we will speak no more, then showed Purdue the true power of snake oil:
A good day from the receivers, and by "receivers" we mean "Roy Roundtree." The one drop didn't hurt much since it was on a screen that was going to get blown up anyway. Minor could have helped out by pulling in a low throw by Forcier, too. Other than that: Roundtree, Roundtree, Roundtree. The 1 he pulled in prevented an interception on Michigan's first drive of the day, converted a first down, and lead to a touchdown.
Plus he did this:
Martavious Odoms just saw his job come under howitzer fire. Odoms has been valuable, too, so he won't just go away, but Kelvin Grady's time just got eaten up and I think Roundtree is the starter even when Odoms is healthy. This might also presage some dual-slot formations that have been absent so far in Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan. Kid's pretty good, and quicker than you'd think given the Hawthorne incident last week.
|catching in the rain|
|trucks a safety|
|great, great block|
|inverting an interception|
|20-yard dart downfield|
|pitch and catch|
|dig it out, dig it out|
Did I mention that Roundtree was last year's Rick Vaughn? All hail occasionally checking your receivers' vision. Someone check Denard Robinson right freakin' now.
Roundtree continued his rampage over the last two weeks of the season against Wisconsin and Ohio State, yielding this season breakdown:
- First eight games: two catches, 44 yards.
- Last four games: 30 catches, 390 yards.
Project the last four games over the course of a season and you get 90 catches, 1200 yards, and a season second only to Braylon Edwards's 2004 campaign in the annals of Michigan lore. So… yeah. That's probably not going to happen. But it would be pretty cool i it did, huh? More realistically, Roundtree should double his output from last year, ending up Michigan's leading receiver with 700-800 yards.
For the record, last year Roundtree was 16/16 on easy catches, 4/8 on moderately difficult ones, and brought in his only super-tough attempt of the year by wresting away a sure interception from a Purdue linebacker. He's not that big. He's pretty fast but not that fast. He's not that shifty after the catch. But he's open and he's where he's supposed to be, which is right in front of the quarterback, and he'll catch the ball. So they throw it, and he catches it, and yeah he's basically the apotheosis of the Purdue receiver.
EXCESSIVELY DRAMATIC KELVIN GRADY WALLPAPER FTW
Basketball refugee Kelvin Grady's found himself in an impressive position on the depth chart by warranting an OR with Roundtree. This represents progress; Grady's 2009 was cut short by frequent dropped balls. By Iowa one was enough to yank him or the game. Late in the year UFR noted that nine of the twelve flat drops on the year had been turned in by the tight ends and Grady. After the Illinois game, Roundtree was contrasted with Grady because when Roundtree "is thrown a ball that hits him in the hands it does not fall to the ground." You get the idea: hands not so good.
That's perhaps understandable after Grady thought he'd left football behind for good when he signed up to play point guard for Tommy Amaker. After two years on the basketball team he found himself behind walk-on, read the writing on the wall, and picked up the cleats again. The rust was evident.
But Grady just keeps making plays in practice. That was the reason he was given the opportunity to drop those balls early in the year even with Odoms in front of him and Roundtree nipping at his heels, and the reason he's listed as a co-starter on the depth chart despite Roundtree's stunning end of year breakout. He featured in more "Countdown to Kickoff" highlights than any other non-quarterback; in the fall scrimmage he certainly looked like a top-level option, once taking a reverse from Robinson to score on a one-play, 30-yard drive. A review of his high school highlights reveals the sort of explosive agility that Michigan's other slots seem to lack:
As a bonus, since he was a high school running back he'll be better suited to those spread 'n' shred plays where a slot receiver motions into the backfield to become a second running back. It's hard to imagine Roy Roundtree doing that, so adding Grady to the rotation adds pages to the playbook. He'll see time, and could even supplant Roundtree as the preferred destination for quick screens… if the hands come around.
The backup story remains the same, except older. Terrence Robinson's first two seasons at Michigan have resulted in an injury redshirt and one catch for 13 yards against Baby Seal U. He was fairly prominent in spring and fall, though not nearly as much as Grady was, and is in competition for the punt return job. His problem has always been hands—he was mostly a QB/RB in high school—and that's prevented him from seeing the field. With two guys in front of him it seems like it will be another season spent watching. He'll probably get some real playing time when Grady is tired and Michigan is looking for their slot to be one of those RB/WR flex guys in the mold of Dorrell Jalloh.
Freshman Jeremy Gallon (profile) took a redshirt last year after arriving late because of some academic issues. He should find the field some this year but reports from practice suggest that Gallon did not put in the same sort work some of the other wideouts did and that this will hamper his playing time. Also an issue is a foot issue that isn't severe enough to keep him out of practice but does warrant walking around campus in a boot.
Gallon was a (figuratively) big recruit from a couple years ago, a one-time member of the Rivals 100 and solid performer at the Army Bowl who is by far the most guru-approved of any Michigan slot receiver. With two older and more established options in front of him, his best chance for playing time will be taking return duties away from Odoms.
Also, here is your annual reminder that he is a dead ringer for Snoop from The Wire:
Finally, freshman Drew Dileo (profile) looked pretty smooth this fall but is a very tiny true freshman. If he finds a role this fall it will be on punt returns.
Kevin Koger started the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by reeling in 3/4 passes rated 2 (difficult but makeable) and 3/4 rated 1 (great googly moogly). He then finished the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by dropping every routine ball that came his way. The result was schizophrenic: by the end of the year Koger was 7/10 on tough catches… and 7/11 on easy ones. Matters came to a head against Penn State:
Koger's great start came to a clunky halt with an 0/3 day, and no one really helped out except for the running backs. Forcier's day wasn't good, but it wasn't as bad as the numbers suggest.
He added another "bad drop" against Illinois. That and backup Martell Webb's similarly frustrating hands is part of the reason Roy Roundtree blew up in the last three games.
Koger did not exactly bounce back from this over the offseason, dropping a couple passes in the fall scrimmage and being conspicuously absent from offseason chatter both above- and underground. With depth at slot looking healthy, the entire tight end position could see itself minimized if they don't perform.
There's a good chance they will, though, with all three players returning. Koger himself is entering his true junior season; as a highly sought recruit with a year and a half of starting experience under his belt he should improve considerably. The downers from last season do consist of four dropped passes, after all. Two fewer and everyone's talking about how it will be pick your poison underneath. Small sample size disclaimers apply. When you look at the stuff at right it's hard to envision a guy with that much talent finding himself minimized, especially when Denard-related freakouts see him hand-wavingly wide open frequently.
|Webb's great block|
|picks the playside DT up|
|crushing downfield block|
|Kicks out LB|
|in a sea of green wondering where everyone else is.|
Senior Martell Webb has seen the most playing time to date. He was an infrequent target a year ago. The quarterbacks threw him six passes, one of which was uncatchable and the rest routine. He was only 3/5 on those routine balls, possibly explaining why he wasn't targeted on them more often. He put on 12 pounds from last fall to spring, then took a couple off during the summer and is now a solid 255.
Koger's blocking has been iffy, and while Webb didn't stick out in my memory as a crusher all but one of the clips at left are positive run blocks: he's likely to be the choice when Michigan goes to its I package. Unless he has an epiphany about having the ball in his hands (and Koger doesn't) his receiving stats are going to look a lot like they did last year. Throwing it to him is plan G when you've got three receivers, guys like Vincent Smith coming out of the backfield, and a considerably more dynamic starter at tight end. Webb's a fullback, basically.
The third and final scholarship tight end on the roster is redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore. He was a highly touted recruit with loads of offers when he committed to Michigan early in the hybrid Carr/Rodriguez class, but then dropped off with an indifferent senior year. Since his arrival he's been locked behind Koger and Webb—the only clip I have of him is a catch against Baby Seal U. Without any buzz otherwise, that will likely continue this year.
Overall rating: 3.
|Punter||Yr.||Kicker||Yr.||Punt Return||Yr.||Kick Return||Yr.|
|Will Hagerup||Fr.||Brendan Gibbons||Fr.*||Martavious Odoms||Jr.||Darryl Stonum||Jr.|
|Seth Broekhuizen||Fr.*||Justin Meram||Jr.*||Drew Dileo||Fr.||Martavious Odoms||Jr.|
|--||--||Seth Broekhuizen||Fr.*||Terrance Robinson||So.*||Mike Shaw||Jr.|
Just don't fumble and we're good. Unless kicker is a black hole, but what's the worst that could happen?
After a spring in which the motley collection of walk-ons assembled to punt managed to keep just one of their attempts on the field of play, it was a relief to see Will Hagerup launch Zoltan-like bombs in the fall scrimmage. While he's likely to go through some growing pains as he adjusts to college, mgouser Wonk put together a diary demonstrating that punter is a spot at which you can throw in a true freshman without much worry. A three-year study of freshman punters sees them land around 73rd nationally—just a smidgen below average—with a 39.3 net.
So your average freshman punter checks in just below average, and Hagerup is not your average freshman punter. He got the rare third star from Rivals and is their #1 true punter after a senior year in which he actually bettered Zoltan's numbers:
As a senior, Hagerup punted 22 times, landing seven within the opponent's 20-yard line, and averaging 42.9 yards per attempt. By comparison, Mesko had a career average of 42.5. In a statistic suggesting Hagerup applies adequate hang time to be a factor at the college level, opponents averaged just three yards per return against him.
No word on awesome high-stepping fakes, or disastrous mind-meltdown ones. Rodriguez called Hagerup "a real talent" this fall, then repeated it for emphasis. I'm not saying he's the Space Emperor of Space or anything, but while no one can replace Zoltan in our hearts Hagerup probably won't be far off on the field.
As per tradition when this site attempts to project a kicker it's never seen play, we punt. (HA!) Projecting kickers remains a rube's game. For example, last year this preview expressed "disquiet" because projected starter Jason Olesnavage couldn't beat out mediocre competition in '08, sucked in the spring game, and wasn't the touted freshman Brendan Gibbons. Olesnavage proceeded to go 11 of 15, a 73% strike rate. So we won't really have a grasp on what's going on here until midseason.
Right now the tea leaves are grim things scattered everywhere except the center of the cup, however. Rodriguez has been openly fretting about the situation since spring. An example from Big Ten media days—here Rodriguez is asked what's his biggest concern:
"Probably the kicking game, particularly field goals."
Troy Woolfolk's ankle had not yet been smitten, but even at that point being more concerned with anything other than the secondary (which thankfully finished second) sets off alarm klaxons. More go off when AnnArbor.com quotes Rodriguez saying "guh," which is my line.
But I was pretty guh last year, too, and that worked out okay. Hopefully Gibbons can find the accuracy to live up to his scholarship status; if he can't the silver lining is that Michigan might be forced into correct fourth-down strategy. That's the ticket!
Michigan found its best kickoff returner since Steve Breaston in the form of blazing fast Darryl Stonum last year. Stonum ripped off this critical touchdown against Notre Dame…
…and took enough other kicks out to midfield to see Michigan into the top 25 nationally at #23. Stonum himself was actually better than that; his 25.7 yard average would have been good for 4th if he took back all of Michigan's returns.
Touchdowns are outliers and we should expect Stonum's production to fall back to earth a little bit this year; hopefully Michigan has a better second option and can maintain their above-average production here.
When it comes to punts,
HOLD ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL
was the directive last year. It was not followed very well. This was actually an improvement on 2008, when kickoffs were also 50-50 to be horrible turnovers, but it wasn't very fun. A rotating array of jelly-fingered receivers toured the position last year, with Junior Hemingway's 10 returns for 86 yards and Martavious Odoms's 6 for 54 leading the returning players. (Brandon Graham's punt blocks actually made him Michigan's best punt returner: two for 36 yards and a TD.)
This year it looks like Hemingway has been relieved of duties. The four guys in contention this fall are Odoms, Terrence Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, and Drew Dileo. Gallon reputedly did not seize his opportunity to perform over the summer* and then suffered an ankle injury in fall, Robinson's hands have plagued him since his arrival in Ann Arbor (he was the only player to fumble a punt in the fall scrimmage), and Dileo is a true freshman. Your punt returner by default is Odoms until such time as one of the guys who isn't a fumble-prone starting receiver steps up and takes it from him.
Will that happen? It's 50-50. If it does I wouldn't put it past Dileo to step forth and claim the job. The man himself said he was recruited primarily to return punts, and reports from the fall scrimmage said that he looked extremely smooth doing that. If Odoms makes some bad decisions it won't take Michigan long to yank him.
I suppose here's where we should make mention of Michigan's coverage units. A combination of Zoltan and the spread punt formation made the punt cover guys highly effective, with opponents managing just 5.6 yards a return. I put together a little stat that measures how many yards a team gives back on average (so a punt without a return is zero) and Michigan finished 28th last year despite Zoltan finishing 9th in gross average. That's pretty good; Michigan can probably expect similar.
On kick returns, opponents averaged 22.3 per, which was slightly below average. Stonum's Beanie Bowl-opening KOR TD and some disturbing half-speed practice returns in the fall scrimmage have people worried, but that's scant evidence to suggest last year's kickoff team, which returns largely intact, is going to fall off a cliff.
*(Mmmm David Brandon euphemism.)
A roundup of Spring Practice happenings, all of which should be taken only somewhat seriously. Steve Breaston was "Black Jesus" before he even set foot on Michigan Stadium turf. Patrick Omameh was instantly the star of Michigan's six-member line class despite his status as the least-heralded of any of them. Meanwhile, the warnings about future Bronco Dann O'Neill were immediate. On the other hand, Grady Brooks was supposed to be a ninja and Kevin Grady a ball of knives. Practice rumblings seem to have the same predictive power as recruiting rankings: far from infallible but equally far from useless.
Erm, so… yeah. I will believe this two to three years after I see it but apparently Denard Robinson is running with the ones a lot and looks "radically improved," according to one emailer. Forcier seems to have struggled in comparison. I'm a little leery of spring practice reports at all times and that goes triple when it comes to using a few spring practices to overrule what we saw in twelve games last year. The improvement Robinson would have to undergo—and the lack thereof from Forcier—to be a viable threat to start is vast. I'm filing this under "motivational tactic" for now. Jon Chait is on the "it could happen" side of the fence.
By all accounts, Gardner is considerably behind the two sophomores. If Denard is a capable QB this year his redshirt seems assured.
BONUS: here is Robinson running a long way, albeit with aid from crappy walk-on tackling.
I don't usually do this, but when you've spent a lot of time extracting the superfluous bits from AnnArbor.com's SEO-friendly headlines, this brings out your inner thirteen year old:
running backMike Cox closely this spring
Past the middle school bits is the picture of an emerging running back in Michigan's five-way spring derby. His high school coach hints at some of the practice reports coming from the usual sources:
“He’s tough as nails,” Driscoll said. “He’s very tough and they’re going to have a hard time with him because he’s a big guy that’s really fast. That’s the trouble. He’ll hit you, too. He’s not going to back down from anybody.”
Everyone else comes in for sporadic praise and criticism. There's no consensus on who might be emerging as a tentative (and largely ceremonial starter). Probably the biggest news is a lack of all-encompassing Fitzgerald Toussaint hype.
Wide Receiver And Tight End
With Junior Hemingway and Je'Ron Stokes out there's not much on the outside and Roy Roundtree has moved there intermittently in sets with Martavious Odoms and Jeremy Gallon at slot. When the outside guys return, Michigan will have three or four slots they'd like to work into the lineup.
Here's Odoms answering some questions:
Odoms remains an endearingly terrible interview, but the mention of more two-slot formations is something to pay attention to. Tight ends, like Toussaint, have been largely absent from the spring buzz thus far.
Jerald Robinson has been the most impressive freshman so far, but the outside receivers have been plagued by drops. Kelvin Grady has evaporated, for what that's worth.
On the offensive line, Schilling and Molk stand out to AnnArbor.com, which is not something I feel spectacular about since 1) Schilling is an established quantity entering his fourth year as a starter and 2) Molk is injured and not practicing.
Patrick Omameh is staying at guard for now, though I'm still holding out hope they shift him outside and let Ricky Barnum and Quinton Washington fight to the death for the spot. Four guys competing at tackle, two of them redshirt freshman and two of them upperclassmen who struggled badly in pass protection last year, is a sketchy situation. That has not come to pass, nor has either freshman pushed through into the nominal starting lineup.
I'm a little leery of a strapping 6'3", 208 pound kid who spent the brief duration of his Michigan career to date at wide receiver being the starting deep safety, but with Vlad Emilien out with a minor injury it's Cam Gordon who is the front-runner in the 2010 Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award chase. He comes in for mention by Rodriguez during a speech at a local football coaches' convention:
"Defensively, guys that have been impressive the last week or so, Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, Craig Roh’s had a couple good days. Renaldo Sagesse, we were teasing him, Thursday he had the best practice since I’ve been here. I asked him what he ate for breakfast. I didn’t know if it was Canadian bacon or something, but he’s had a terrific spring."
It has been Gordon this, Gordon that at deep safety. This may be largely due to a lack of bodies. Justin Turner is practicing at cornerback, Vlad Emilien is injured, and the three guys who played the spot last year are either box safeties (Williams, Kovacs) or corners (Woolfolk). It's gotten to the point where Brandin Hawthorne, who was a high school defensive end (albeit a tiny one), is splitting time back there.
On the defensive line there's been a consistent stream of positives about virtually everyone. Sagesse, Campbell, and Banks all came in for specific praise from Robinson at today's press conference. Even longtime non-entity Adam Patterson is getting some praise at the defensive end spot he and Greg Banks are keeping warm for Mike Martin. Perhaps the biggest news is the Sagesse praise. If Sagesse is a legit option at DT, Michigan doesn't have to think about sliding Martin inside to platoon with Campbell. I think he will be. I like him in UFRs last year.
Demens, meanwhile, has been the only linebacker to get a fair share of practice hype. Ezeh and Mouton have not been mentioned; Roh comes in for praise as a 250 pound outside linebacker but that's not a surprise. I'm not sure what to make of that: Demens was behind a walk-on last year and didn't see the field even when Michigan was rotating their linebackers so they could yell at them better. His only appearances were on special teams and Michigan's goal line package. Maybe he's a guy who is aided significantly by the move to the 3-3-5? If his issues were mental this defense allows you to do a lot of blitzing and play downhill.
And then there's corner, where Justin Turner still lags behind JT Floyd. No offense to Floyd, but I think that gives everyone hives. Even if Demar Dorsey comes in and is lights out as a true freshman, he's a true freshman and having a hyped guy like Turner struggle to break into the starting lineup in a secondary this chaotic is not a good sign.
Also, Craig Roh coughs and answers questions:
(Odoms, Roh HT: The Michigan Faithful.)
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.
This one's pretty simple because the blocking scheme is "hey, receivers, block that guy": it's the edge pitch Michigan debuted over the weekend.
A standard formation with Koger as the near-side slot receiver. Note Forcier's position: he's a yard in front of the tailback—in this case Michael Shaw. This usually means Michigan is running something intended to go up the middle. On pure stretch plays Forcier will be even with the tailback.
Iowa, for its part, is in the base 4-3 cover two they ran the whole game. More about this in UFR later, but if Iowa persists in running this scheme in the future I think Michigan is going to smoke them when their quarterbacks are freshmen who are freakin' out, man.
Here's the snap:
Forcier's got the ball already and you can see Shaw bugging out to the sideline to get a in a pitch relationship with Forcier. There's no counter action on this play, it's just get to the edge as quickly as possible.
A moment later:
Forcier's still got the ball and has hardly moved; you can see by the clock on the field that this is less than a second later. The only things to note here are Iowa's MLB, who's taken a step to the side of the field a stretch would go to, and the defensive end, who has also stepped inside in anticipation of one of Michigan's plays that attacks the backside DE's usual tendency to either crash or head out on the quarterback. His caution, usually rewarded, pulls him out of this play.
A second or two later, Forcier has ditched the ball and is a spectator:
Odoms has whiffed his cut block, unfortunately, leaving a linebacker in space. Iowa safety Tyler Sash is also filling, and the backside DE has reacted to provide some contain.
Shaw gets upfield quickly before the three Iowa defenders can converge…
…and picks up five yards despite Odoms whiffing on one of the two relevant blocks.
- It's hard for this play to not pick up five yards unless the defense is specifically gameplanning for it (which they probably will at some point). Michigan ran this a bunch and the worst it ever did was two yards on second and two, and that was because a receiver ran right by a safety and that safety bounced Minor—who's not the best guy to run this thing—out. At all other times it picked up four to six yards. Opponents will now start preparing for that, which will open up some other stuff, as the defensive end's tendency to slide down the line in an effort to defend the zone counter dive opened up the edge for this play. Cat and mouse goes on forever.
- It's probably never going to break big against a defense like Iowa's. Linebacker versus slot receiver usually doesn't go well and it doesn't develop fast enough to make a cut block, even a really successful one, more than an annoyance when those linebackers are five yards downfield. Then you've got that safety coming downhill unblocked, the backside defensive end peeling back, and linebacker help from the inside. It's weirdly like MSU's power off tackle game, which is likely to pick up 3-5 yards and unlikely to do anything more.
- It's something I bet they wanted to run against MSU, and might work better against an aggressive defense that's using a corner guy as a scrape exchange defender. Iowa plays two deep on every play, which always gives them a safety who can run to the POA and fill. If the corner guy is charging off the slot and sucks in on Forcier, then Odoms can go block the safety and Shaw ends up with a lot of room to run downfield. Or he ends up with that scrape defender in his face. About that…
- This is step one in the evolution of a speed option game. The solution to that is to turn this into a true option play where Forcier threatens to get upfield and takes that scrape defender before pitching, or turns it up himself for yardage. Right now this is just a safe little pitch play that has no read and is easy to run.