Peppers at 10, which seems low.
1. It can't get any worse, can it?
It can always, always get worse.
1A. But it's not likely to, right?
good night sweet prince [Heiko Yang]
No, it's not. Yes, even though Michigan lost both starting tackles to the NFL. It takes a special kind of panicked incompetence to end up with results like last year's Michigan. Al Borges's final D-I offense ran outside zone, then it ran power, and then it ran inside zone. It heaped all of the possible base plays you can run on an offensive line that had zero upperclassmen on the interior. It wasted essentially a month of practice time on the "tackle over" gimmick that was ruthlessly exposed by the first opponent that knew it was coming.
Michigan had 13 plays on which a tackle lined up next to another tackle. These plays were 11 runs that gained 8 yards (more than all of them on Toussaint's long run of the day, a 12-yarder), a seven-yard sack given up by Williams, and a scramble that gained eight yards. That is the product of three weeks of practice time and the futility there was only stopped by Lewan's injury.
Many of these plays could not be blocked by anybody, because Penn State was so aggressively overplaying run that they were in the gaps before Michigan could do anything about it.
Three guys for two blockers with the WLB meeting Bryant a yard in the backfield. If Kalis tries to pursue #40, the MLB, he blocks no one instead of an irrelevant guy. On second and one, a great PA down that a lot of DCs will just give you.
They got to the line of scrimmage with under ten seconds on the clock most of the time.
GET OUT OF THE HUDDLE.
Yes. In addition to all the things previously discussed, Michigan's offensive line is looking at Gardner with two seconds on the playclock. Michigan snaps it with zero already showing—probably not actually a penalty because there is a natural delay before the ump looks at the ball to see if it's still there—and slides their line against a four man rush with no tailback to pick up the DE:
That turnover is a tangible cost of Michigan's inability to get to the line with 20 seconds on the clock consistently.
It moved linemen around almost literally every game after the first four. It was dumb.
How did this happen to a guy who was rather successful at San Diego State? Panic strangled reason in multiple ways. Michigan is stuck on this picture of itself as its 1990s self, and Al Borges was openly contemptuous of the spread both in press conferences and off the record (not to me, but to multiple people who covered the program over the last few years).
So they played a tight end who couldn't block. I'm not talking about Devin Funchess, who was eventually thrust outside. I'm talking about AJ Williams, who had one catch for two yards a year ago and was no better at blocking than Funchess. They had to know this. It jumped off the screen to me, an amateur. But instead of doing something about it they just kept plugging along with him on the field, to the point where people trying to evaluate Taylor Lewan got frustrated:
…why in the HELL did Michigan keep a tight end to Lewan's side so damn much? He obviously didn't need the help. The quarterback was right-handed anyway (with bootlegs you like for the tight end to be lined up to the side of the quarterback's throwing hand), and they could have potentially had a wide receiver there instead of a tight end. It would've increased the chances of success on passing downs as well as run downs if you get the opposing defenses to spread themselves out. But is that what Michigan did?
Here is the scenario I saw time and time again. So you have a tight end helping before he goes out into his route. Lewan, who doesn't need the help any damn way, blocks the hell out of the edge rusher. But the rest of Lewan's buddies on the Michigan O-line aren't quite as, well, good as he is, so the quarterback is under pressure and ends up sacked.
I mean. This is a guy who said he "didn't want to get in a chess match" last year. They're playing chess anyway, man. If you want to try to win with checkers, you're gonna have a bad time. Yes, even if you've got 75 different colors. The full results were detailed after Borges's firing. It just did not work.
[After THE JUMP: Nussmeier the savior(?), offensive line the achilles heel, Gardner the legend(?), stupid predictions.]
|Mason Cole||Fr.||Erik Magnuson||So.*||Graham Glasgow||Jr.*||Kyle Kalis||So.*||Ben Braden||So.*|
|Logan Tuley-Tillman||Fr.*||Kyle Bosch||So.||Jack Miller||Jr.*||Joey Burzynski||Jr.*||David Dawson||Fr.*|
starters arbitrarily decided to be people who started at least 7 games
I apologize. Last year's edition of this post started with an assertion that "things almost literally can't be worse." It wasn't sunshine…
The way this went down gives some reason for concern. … Michigan [will be] starting at least one player by default. Michigan saw what "by default" can lead to last year. While that isn't likely to recur, neither does the situation promise an amazing one-year turnaround.
…but I didn't recommend that you find a bunker and stock up on pudding pops. Last year did not recur. It went the other direction, hard.
In 2012, Michigan decided to flip their left guard to center on the eve of the season. In 2013, they got four games in before making the switch. Things were already bad. That switch made them worse, not so much because of what was happening at center—Graham Glasgow established himself a pretty good player over the course of the year—but what was happening everywhere else.
Specifically, what was happening around him. The Bentley Library lists starters through the years and one glimpse at left guard shows you the chaos:
A 6'1" walk-on got a start. A true freshman got three. A guy who retired after the season because he couldn't get breakfast without injuring himself got two. A 285-pound redshirt freshman got the other three. Reality mowed them all down, and by the end of the year the pile of skulls around the OL was not the enemy but Michigan itself.
Then their starting tackles went in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Have fun storming the castle!
Rating: 1 of 5
I mean, maybe it'll work out. Maybe this rating will seem very silly at the end of the year, an overreaction to past events that was not a good prognostication of the future. I dearly hope this is the case. Gardner claimed he'd been sacked once during fall camp. It could happen!
Unfortunately, I can't make a reasonable case that you should expect much other than problems. Michigan has zero (ZERO) upperclassmen. The projected left tackle is a true freshman. The projected right tackle was supposed to be the starter at left guard last year but got pulled from the lineup after spring practice. He was not an option during the anarchy when literally every other OL on the roster was. Backing these guys up are two redshirt freshman who were huge projects and are still that. Oh, and the starting guards.
Maybe it will all work out. These guys are universally touted recruits, after all. If only that meant very much on the OL.
He blocked Clark! Probably! It's a still shot! [Bryan Fuller]
Might as well start with the big flashing DANGER sign: MASON COLE [recruiting profile], true freshman, is your starting left tackle. This was all fun and games in spring when Erik Magnuson was out, but things got very real very fast this fall and the guy hasn't moved from LT since his arrival and campus and Brady Hoke is just like…
"Who knows what will happen. You ask me today? Yeah, he would start. We're not at Aug. 30 yet. But he's more ready than most freshmen are."
…so he's the guy.
Since he's a true freshman I don't have anything more on him than exists in the recruiting profile published about a month ago, which notes that 1) the entire world offered him early, 2) he was possibly the most polished guy at the UA game…
it was clear that the Michigan commit was one of the most polished and skilled offensive line prospects on the East squad. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Cole projects as an offensive guard long-term, but we aren’t so sure he could not be an excellent tackle in Ann Arbor during his college career.
…3) that he has the requisite athleticism and knee bend to be effective on the edge:
He is very athletic and plays with a lot of energy. Cole is able to bend and play low, giving him the leverage advantage over most opponents, though he needs to do so more consistently.
Cole is quick out of his stance and climbs to the second level using good angles. His feet allow him to play with good balance, which helps him not overextend for defenders.
All of this is great and Cole's trajectory is great; beating Magnuson inside authoritatively when Michigan seems to have a ton of guard bullets is impressive and there has been zero waver in any of this from day one. This is the profile of a guy who is going to be a draft pick very easily. We can discard the usual caveats about high school OL profiles because he has blown past all expectations immediately. Hooray for the long term.
This year? I don't know man. Let's check out
A RECENT HISTORY OF TRUE FRESHMAN TACKLES
Well, here's a thing: mighty Alabama is putting freshman Cameron Robinson out as their starter this fall. The slight difference: Robinson is a Peppers-level prospect, in fact ranked one spot ahead of him on the 247 composite. At 323 he's less of a size question than Cole.
In terms of guys who did play:
- Oregon State started Sean Harlow at right tackle. The Beavers were middling in pass protection… and 109th in YPC.
- Virginia played Eric Smith, also at right tackle. UVA was also middling in pass protection… and 91st in YPC.
- Maryland managed to start true freshman left tackles in consecutive years(!). Mike Madaras left abruptly after his first year, paving the way for Moise Larose to get four starts before a foot injury ended his year. Larose is now suspended for 2014. Feel the Terpitude. The 2012 Terps were completely terrible in all line-related stats; last year they were okay at pass protection.
- Virginia Tech started Jonathan McLaughlin all last year, and I don't even have to look their stats up to know they were a tire fire. Aaand yup: 99th and worse.
- Ole Miss started Laremy Tunsil, a Robinson-level five star. Mississippi was… okay! 42nd in YPC, 74th in sacks allowed.
So… that's not at all encouraging. Cole was a much more highly touted prospect than all of those guys save Tunsil, at least, and he 1) enrolled early and 2) came from one of those super serious Florida high schools that are almost college programs in their own right. Also the way he was the LT starter from about a week into spring without challenge is a hopeful sign.
The occasional freshman tackle can cope. I think Cole is one of those guys. But is he going to blow a guy off the ball and provide a big ol' lane at 292 pounds? Probably not. Our hope here is that Cole is a solid, agile pass protector in year one who is a meh run blocker. Chances are he has a wake-up call or two coming.
[After THE JUMP: large men, vague hope]
I'm in Turkmenistan. Seriously.
My name is Matan (Michigan '09) and I am a huge fan of MGoBlog. I am currently driving 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia in a beat up little car as part of a for-charity roadtrip.
A couple months ago (and two years ago), you posted a picture of the "Door to Hell" in Turkmenistan on the blog. We figured we'd put the Michigan flag on it and claim it for the MGoBlog community.
The second picture...well...when starring hell in the face, you might as well have some fun.
It's always nice when someone explains why we got that one hit from Turkmenistan. Papua New Guinea, you're next.
I am of the type that I really don't care about ANY info about the skill positions that is coming out of camp because it is pretty clear that this team will only go as far as the offensive line will take them. The chemistry issues on the team last season were well documented and some have been more specific and direct, that there were chemistry issues and a lack of cohesion on the O-Line. With that being said, is there any truth to this and may it be better for this team to have an entire O-Line with youth so that they collectively progress together?
That's a bit of a stretch. I'd think that having an older guy next to you who could explain why you screwed up would accelerate the learning process for the younger folk. Where that kind of thing might pay off is a year or two down the road; this year it's just going to add to struggles.
I've dismissed "chemistry issues" as they may apply to last year's line, but there's two kinds of assertion in that bucket and I'd like to disavow one but not the other. The one I think is pretty unlikely to have had a major impact: Taylor Lewan supposedly being a jerk. At worst this slowed the ability of younger linemen to progress, and probably not much.
However, if by "chemistry issues" you mean the offensive linemen not having a good idea of what the guy next to him is going to do, I very much buy that as an explanation for why Michigan couldn't get yard one on the ground. So what I can offer is this: if the line remains stable through the year and reps the same offense throughout they will get better as we go, and possibly much better. Their relative youth should mean they improve faster than older players.
Meanwhile, moving guys around is going to be less of an issue if Michigan does focus on inside zone as their base play. Positional responsibilities are a lot closer in zone offenses—nobody pulls, everybody frequently executes doubles that send one or the other OL to the LB level depending on what the player in front of you does.
Unfortunately they're probably going to start as a pile of suck. Judge them by what their pile looks like at the end of the year. Maybe it'll be okay!
[After THE JUMP: safety moves, a guy who is not taking this mailbag as seriously as he should, recruiting feels]
Tom always MIKEs before he hikes.
We here at MGoheadquarters recently received some disturbing news about today's youth:
Devin Gardner on SiriusXM: "Before coach Nuss got here, I never had to identify a MIKE ... now I know where pressure's coming from."
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 20, 2014
Kids these days are running around playing three or four years of Division I FBS major conference Block-M-Michigan football without ever identifying the MIKE. !. This sudden revelation has caused widespread histeria. Al Borges has been fired 180 times in the last several hours, and right now Dave Brandon and key personnel are closed off with Rich Rodriguez, deciding whether he needs to get a superfluous extra axe as well. This is calamitous. Catastrophic. Grievous. Pernicious. Regrettable. And avoidable.
What in the name of Double-Pointing Brady Hoke are you people talking about?
MIKE (v.): The act of identifying the middle defender inside the box on the 2nd level for purposes of establishing protection assignments.
It's basically calling out the defense's alignment, using a very simple mechanism: declare one linebacker—the one in the middle of the defense—to be a fifth guy that the five linemen are responsible for blocking.
|Chad always MIKEs before he hikes.|
This is often, but by no means always, the middle linebacker, which many defenses call a "Mike," which is where the term comes from. This is important: the [guy playing the defensive position called] Mike doesn't get to be all-time MIKE. In fact the very reason we MIKE is because Mike the Mike might not be the MIKE, and not knowing this might get your quarterback very badded.
Why is MIKEing important to my children?
Because if the MIKE blitzes there's no way for outside protection to pick him up, so the offensive line has to assign everybody's blocking with that guy accounted for somehow. Defenses LOOOOOOOOVE to screw with this because that's how you get unblocked blitzers, and unblocked blitzers right through the heart of the OL are the best!
When the defense screws with you, you don't have time to point at everybody and say "you block him; you block him." So ONE guy calls out the MIKE and everyone else in the blocking scheme already knows what that means. Usually they call out what sounds like a playcall—it's just a blocking call. "Tango!" "Lightning!" "Red!" "Green!" "Taupe Carpet!"*
|Brian always MIKEs before he hikes. [James Squire|Getty]|
Like in running, pass pro can be man or zone (slide protection). Man makes sure every defender who could be blitzing has a guy assigned to block him (or as is often the case, a man who checks one guy then looks to another). In zone they're blocking gaps: A gap, B gap, C gap, etc. Whatever protection scheme, they have to "declare the MIKE." What they do from there depends on the scheme.
* My dad used colors/nonsense words for playcalls: Blue Jumbo, Yellow Turbo, Purple Eskimo etc. Since he didn't like to use the same "play" twice he got pretty deep into the crayola box before parents' complaints in re: his Lombardi cigar ended his coaching career.
[After the jump, Y U NO MIKE, DG?, and you learn to MIKE]
why u no push [Bryan Fuller]
Might as well get it out of the way. The offensive line was pretty depressing. For big chunks of the scrimmage it was ones versus twos, which helps resolve the classic intrasquad "is this event good or bad" dilemma: when your second-team defense is stoning your first team offense, it is bad. And they did stone the offense:
The rotation Saturday was more stable in comparison with last season, but the three running backs gained just 33 yards on 20 carries with the first team, and the blocking issues haven’t gone away.
In this case it is maybe less bad than otherwise because there's little separation between Michigan's first- and second-team front sevens. But it is still bad.
One disturbing echo of last year: when Glasgow got dinged up and went out, it was Joey Burzynski who drew into the lineup at right guard on the first team. No offense to Burzynski, but the guy is a 6'1" gentleman coming off of ACL surgery. Surely one of the touted 6'5" guys should be ahead of him on the depth chart by now.
Kalis was out and I imagine he has managed to pass Burzynski, but his presence indicates that Samuelson and Dawson and Bars and so forth and so on are not yet viable options. And where's Bosch? On the second team, yes, but why isn't he pushing for a spot?
I can't tell you too much about any particular lineman without tape, unfortunately… Cole held his own in pass protection, so there's that.
in yo face [Fuller]
Aggression. If you needed further confirmation it is real, well, it's real. Michigan ran piles and piles of man-to-man—all the better to unleash Peppers on opponents with—and took a number of PI flags ranging from obvious to silly to questionable. They must clean those up, but with Michigan going hell-for-leather in your face this year the QB has to get it on target for it to count.
Encouragingly there weren't many biffs that led to wide open guys in the flat. Wyatt Shallman had one flare-and-run that broke for a bunch of yards when his man got picked off by the route. That will be a danger: if Michigan doesn't have a reasonable amount of zone those plays will be there.
Hello Mr. Hurts. I just misspelled "Hurst" but I'm leavin' it. Mo Hurst burst into the backfield three or four times, once getting a thunderous safety TFL. As a recruit he was reputed to be a first step that happened to be attached to a human body, and that looks on point. No doubt he will have issues holding up to double-teams as a 282-pound redshirt freshman; from here it looks like a promising debut season and considerable excitement going into next year are waiting in the wings.
Who is where at DT? And will they stay there? Your nominal starters were, unexpectedly, Matt Godin and Ryan Glasgow at three-tech and nose, respectively. There was a ton of rotation at those spots, so much so that determining a Real Starter seems not only futile but pointless, but if those two guys are actually viable that's interesting. Because it's not like Willie Henry is going away:
Willie Henry is looking really good out there. Pancaked Chris Fox on that play.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) August 17, 2014
He will start; Godin's existence is a nice bonus. I'm a little less enthused about the prospect of Glasgow as a candidate to start at nose because there isn't a groundswell of buzz behind a couple of established players like there is at three-tech. Pipkins has gotten some approving mentions but nothing like that accompanying Henry, and while Mone is set to be a contributor he is a true freshman.
Undeserved lemon? Bolden was first choice at WLB but Morgan rotated in so frequently at both positions it seems like they just have three starters for two spots. Like DT it is at times pointless to think one guy is a starter while the other is not. This bodes well.
Bolden did just annihilate one screen, laying the hardest hit he has on anyone since his arrival. Hesitancy has been the main issue with his game since his arrival. If it has truly clicked for him, that's exciting. He is not beating out a scrub here.
Youth movement at corner. Also in "not beating out a scrub here": Lewis and Peppers are definitely your leaders there; rotation will be frequent. Countess did have an excellent INT on a Gardner throw destined for Funchess, but even so it seems like two returning starters on a decent pass defense have been booted from the starting lineup.
Darboh and Gardner have chemistry. [Fuller]
Wideout depth is quality. Michigan has their big 5 (Funchess, Darboh, Canteen, Chesson, Norfleet) and then some: Moe Ways brought in four or five catches that were reminiscent of Junior Hemingway, and while he was working on a walk-on wearing 49 for some of those the way he found the ball in the air and brought it in was impressive.
Walk-on Bo Dever showed some promise as a Dileo-type in the slot; he was Speight's favorite target; fellow walk-on Jack Wangler was also reliable. No idea if either has the athletcism or route chops to get real playing time. They've got a chance. FWIW, Stribling had a nice interception on a Dever wheel route that he had blanketed. That is not his jam.
On the negative side, Da'Mario Jones had a bad night, dropping several balls that should have been catches. Jaron Dukes didn't do much.
Oh, and the top end is rather top end.
— Richard Blasey (@sockrrich) August 17, 2014
The first downfield pass was Funchess making a spectacular stab while well covered. Yes, please. In general, the WR/CB matchup looked top-notch all around. Michigan receivers found very few open opportunities and still made some great catches. Freddy Canteen once again reminded Jourdan Lewis that the gypsy he offended needs an apology. And Amara Darboh looked very, very Avant-like on a series of slants and digs that promise to be reliable chain-movers this fall.
If Michigan can pass protect there is the potential for a passing-oriented offense to work here. If.
All the zone reps. Every OL drill in the warmup portion was zone-oriented, and about 90% was inside zone. They worked in pairs against one opponent, reacting to his movements to execute combination blocks, and then worked on IDing and reacting appropriately to stunts. As the scrimmage showed, it is a work in progress. It's going to be a work in progress all year, and all next year, and the year after that. Inside zone is hard and competence is built up over years.
Another safety solution. Hill was held out; in his stead the first team safety combination was Clark and Wilson. The twist: it was Wilson frequently creeping to the line as the strong safety with Clark playing center field.
Gardner looked good. He's fast!. He's still a little wobbly with the decisions. He looked very accurate when given time, and stepped up through pressure more than once. His only flip-around-and-chuck was a ball he was throwing away; he did have one aimless bomb downfield that should have been out of bounds but was instead up for grabs that Nussmeier did not like.
Morris looked a lot more plausible than he did in the spring, more comfortable in the pocket and less prone to throwing directly at defenders.
Injuries. Butt and Hill were in no-contact jerseys; Reon Dawson had an arm in a sling; Delonte Hollowell had a hard cast on one hand for what looked like a thumb issue. Hollowell participated as normal. Drake Harris dressed normally but didn't even take the full warmup reps with his bros. Ty Isaac was held out with something minor, and Kalis had his back issue. He should be back today.
Meanwhile, any and all optimism about Butt's return seems reasonable. He went through warmup drills with everyone else and looked just fine. If he's at the stage where he can plant and cut at full speed with a month before ND he should be ready to go by then.
Return reversal. In a bit of an oddity, it looks like Peppers is more likely to get time as a punt returner than at kick returner, where Raymon Taylor was Norfleet's backup. Usually kickoffs are where you blood new guys because a muff just means you got a touchback or some bad field position instead of disaster.
Hagerup! Booted a 70 yarder, drawing the first applause of the night. #B1G.
The thing that is hilarious. Dennis Norfleet stacked behind Devin Funchess. We do not have a photo of this yet, but when we do… oh, when we do.
Phil Collins count: 0.
I think we killed it. I didn't mention this all last year because I didn't want to jinx it but after not only the nonstop music from the spring game but also this scrimmage, I think I can finally poke my head out and say: "In The Big House" is dead. Deaaaaaaaaad.
I swear to God, Special K, if you bring it back after I mention this I will find you. That's the best thing about making up a fictional bete noire DJ: you can threaten it all you want.
Formations. Michigan at least showed a lot of stuff, mixing under center snaps with the pistol and shotgun. The formations featured a lot of 2TE looks, and what seemed like a decreased emphasis on the FB. Nussmeier really likes motioning FB/RB/TE types out wide to trips formations, which gives the defense a dilemma: do I run a linebacker out there and tell 'em it's man coverage (and spread the box) or do I live with the potential mismatch that comes when one of my corners is dealing with AJ Williams?
This will get more interesting when Butt is on the field. Right now a 2TE lineup of Williams and Heitzman or Hill is emphatically 2TEs; with Butt you can really put a defense in a bind.
Corner blitz hot reads. Two or three times Gardner IDed a corner blitz and just threw a hot stop route to the vacated corner for nice gains.
FLEET house KO. High five!
Practice video. From Maize and Blue News:
Jane previews Michigan! Oh man this is just so dead on:
We long for a past that we hated while it was happening, in which Michigan would go 9-3 or 10-2 and people would complain like Michigan was a waiter who we couldn't find when we just wanted the goddamn check. If a Michigan fan tells you that they liked Tom Brady when he was playing at Michigan, they are lying because no Michigan fan ever liked whomever was starting at quarterback until Denard Robinson. We hated Elvis Grbac. We hated Brian Griese. We hated John Navarre. We hated Drew Henson. We hated - HATED - sad robot Chad Henne*.
I tended to like Michigan's quarterbacks who were not underclassman Drew Henson, and I knew the one guy who really really liked John Navarre. Like, he was super-enthused about John Navarre. And eventually correct!
More insider business. A gentleman who is probably too identifiable for his own good comes back with a very legit-seeming practice report that he's posted on a couple of different boards. The 247 version, all errors sic:
DL looked great, really great. all the hype is backed up. Pipkins looks the part, even coming off the injury. on friday he was easily the most impressive NT that they had, that by no means is discounting mone, hurst, or henry. Their depth and talent at the position although young, is very, very good. Even pallante looked good!! yes, he is small, but ive spoken to a few players who say he is as strong as a senior and one of the quickest most technically sound players there.
I imagine that if that's true we'll see at least one of those four guys (Pipkins, Mone, Hurst, Henry) at three-tech, which currently has Wormley and no one else who's gotten much hype.
That's not good. Nebraska lost three defenders for the season a couple days back, including two starters: Michael Rose and LeRoy Alexander. That'll help when Michigan… uh… we don't play them this year, or until all those guys graduate. CARRY ON.
That's not… uh… relevant. Reporting from media day!
“The job that he does and the job that he’s done since the day he got here, has been unbelievable,” Mattison said with a sweaty upper lip. “Me personally, there is no way I would have come here if it wasn’t for Brady Hoke.”
That typed itself, I bet. I bet Brendan F Quinn was mesmerized by the lip and when it came time to write the article that phrase slipped itself in there and if you ask Brendan F Quinn about that passage he will be shocked that it exists. You see, I've been there, down on ol' Lip Mesmerization Farm. It's a strange, sweaty place, but you get used to it.
No age gap now. Another article on how the offensive line is going to be better because they all like each other:
"There was an age gap last year, and it was just there," Bosch said. "It was just something that was obviously noticeable. You could tell 'these were the seniors, you were a freshmen.' That's how it was."
No chance of that this year, because there are no seniors. For the record I think the line will be better this year because they will be trying to do one thing instead of all things and not necessarily because they are more together. Or that they are Galvanized By Criticism:
Those stats and the barrage of negative press regarding Michigan’s offensive line have helped galvanize the linemen. Jack Miller, a redshirt junior who started the first four games at center last season, said they are more than aware of the doubters.
No doubt they will Shock The World and Not Listen To The Haters. I mean, Miller's following quote is twisted pretty hard to get into that narrative:
“Between last year and this offseason, you’d be hard-pressed to miss that if you pay attention to anything,” Miller said. “You run into fans who say stuff — ‘What’s going on with that offensive line?’ But that’s the way it goes with any program of this caliber. We know that. We know that’s part of the gig here, and that’s OK. Some of it is rightly so. We need to live up the expectations that people have here.”
A good rule of thumb: when someone cites chemistry as a reason for something it's because they don't know. Chalking it up to the undefinable cannot be disproved or really even argued.
Getting on the the WJC team. College Hockey News profiles Downing and Motte as they try to avoid being late cuts this time around. USA coach mark Osiecki on Downing:
“We’re still trying to identify what (Downing’s) strengths and weaknesses will be,” Osiecki said. “He has a bomb from the blue line, that’s for sure, there’s no doubt about that. His awareness from the red line back has continued to show improvement. It’s hard for a defenseman to jump into summer hockey. You haven’t done much defending at all, and he likes to get into the offense when he can, but he’s getting back to it on the defensive side of things.”
Downing says he's put on 25 pounds; hopefully he'll be more of a physical presence than he was last year, when he was more lanky than intimidating. Motte dumped in a hat trick in the USA's 9-1 thumping of Finland, playing with uber-prospect Jack Eichel.
For his part, JT Compher is not so much fighting to make the team as fighting to be named king:
While a few players have stepped up, it's obvious Compher has emerged as the frontrunner to be captain of the team.
"He's done a really nice job," Osiecki said. "There's a group of those kids that are similar, but you talk to any of the support staff, the trainers, the equipment personnel, and they say he's very vocal and takes charge of the group. We have to start that now and develop that relationship between him and the coaching staff."
I am looking forward to the Copp/Compher axis truly owning the team this year. Jack Eichel:
"He does everything on the ice so well," Eichel, a teammate on the USNTDP U-18 team in 2012-13. "He's a guy that you can just try to model your game after. He just so good wherever he is, in the faceoff circle, in the [defensive] zone, he's great killing penalties, great on the power play. He's a role model to me and I really look up to him. He's a great kid and a great leader. He works so hard everywhere. Everyone else tries to match him. A guy like that on your team, it's really good. Everyone tries to work as hard as him, and if everyone works as hard as J.T., you know you have a good team."
How do two stars get drafted? By adding half a person.
Ra'Shede Hageman, No. 35 overall, gained 60 pounds
Hageman was a well-regarded but raw tight end recruit who grew from a listed 6'6, 250 to 310 pounds while at Minnesota, moving to defensive tackle. He's expected to make an instant impact for the Atlanta Falcons.
Jimmy Staten, No. 172 overall, gained 86
Staten was a 6'3, 217-pound two-star defensive end in high school when he signed with Middle Tennessee State. The Seahawks drafted him at 6'4, 303.
At least nine other drafted two-stars increased their body weight by 20 percent between high school and the Combine.
You really shouldn't criticize recruiting services for missing on guys like Staten or Buffalo first-rounder Khalil Mack—everyone else did. There are always going to be guys who blow up in college.
Etc.: In news that you take for granted these days, all of Michigan's freshmen are enrolled and full go. A look at what Loeffler wants to do at VT. Autonomy details. Annual Michigan drill thingy. Gasaway on the O'Bannon ruling.