Gardner's implied question is the same we're all asking [Fuller]
The 2014 football season hinges on whether the offensive line can go from one of the worst in the country to just mediocre. We've mentioned the downsides: it has to replace two NFL tackles. The upside is an offensive coordinator who plans to simplify the things they'll have to do, a ton of talent, and rather good excuses for why the bulk of guys weren't so good (youth compounded by panicky/insane coaching decisions). The competence of coaches replaced, arriving, or remaining can't be determined until they play, so guesses at their 2014 performance have to be extrapolated from what we know of the current players and the typical progression of men like them.
When Michigan was still putting together those 2012 and 2013 classes I looked over the history of our offensive linemen going back to the mid-'90s, because my memory before that is weak.
|Year in program|
|Not on team||1||6||13||17||29|
|% Solid +||1%||11%||21%||29%||37%|
The results were the growth chart below. I've reproduced it with updated data from 2013:
Really it's more specific than the above. If you're the backup to Steve Hutchinson in 2000 you could be pretty solid or terrible, but if you were an interior lineman on the 2013 team and hale and still couldn't crack the depth chart, you were obviously not good at that point. One thing working in our favor is Michigan has historically brought in offensive line classes rated about as highly as the recent crops. If you tried this with MSU over the same period there would be stretches of 2-stars (and, um, personal issues) to throw off the numbers.
A more precise way to show where our OL are at this point is to find closer comparisons to historic players at this point in their careers. I couldn't figure out a good way to show "tracks" before, but I think I've learned enough about table html now to make a crude flow chart. Sample sizes are way too small to say "Kalis will be X good by Y season," but if you can read it to say "At that age, Steve Schilling and Patrick Omameh were both about where Kalis is now." Usefulness is better at capping expectations: you can always say so-and-so was a backup at this point, but Miller's not going to be Molk.
|Not on team (x)||TransferRS||Backup||Solid||Star||Jonathan Goodwin|
|Solid||Star||Star||Jansen, Hutchinson, Backus, Long, Lewan|
|Star||Star||David Brandt, David Baas|
|Solid||Star||Tony Pape, Adam Kraus, Schofield|
|Liability||Solid||Frazier, Petruziello, Bihl, Ortmann|
|Liability||David Moosman, Perry Dorrestein|
|Backup||Ben Mast, Courtney Morgan|
|Backup||Solid||Kurt Anderson, Leo Henige|
|Backup||N. Parker, Denay, Kolodziej, McAvoy|
|Unrenewed||Partchenko, Potts, Christopfel, Gaston, DeBenedictis, Ciulla, Gallimore, Khoury|
|Injuries||Zirbel, Mossa, Sharrow, Brooks, Schifano, C. Bryant, Tannous, A.Brown, Simelis, Berishaj, C.Pace|
|Transfers||Ries, Moltane, Zuttah, Wermers, O'Neill, Posada|
[Discussion after the jump]
Hoke says Michigan really didn't find its top five offensive linemen this spring. And really isn't close to finding them either.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) April 5, 2014
WELP. In a word, Michigan's offense was ominous. It was ominous—worse than that—in Hoke's first year, though, and that worked out okay as long as Al Borges wasn't trying to make Denard Robinson into a pocket passer. Standard disclaimer about information value of spring.
That stated, yeesh. We knew the situation at tackle was going to be iffy, especially with Magnuson out. Having Mason Cole as the first option at the most important spot on the line was beyond those expectations. Meanwhile, Michigan is prepping the only remaining guy who started every game last year (Graham Glasgow) at right tackle, which they'll say is just precautionary but speaks of some trepidation about Ben Braden. I do not want there to be trepidation about Ben Braden.
Hoke did not mince words when asked if they thought they'd found their best five:
"I don't know if we can say that, honestly," Hoke said. "I know I can't.
"So, I guess the answer is no."
Are the Wolverines even close, really, to identifying the best five?
"No," Hoke said. "Not yet."
That was apparent on the field, where runs generally got to the line of scrimmage (hooray!) and no further (mutter). Pass protection was close to nonexistent. It was what everyone expected, which was bad. They've got five months to figure it out, whereupon they probably won't figure it out. Digging out of a hole as big as Michigan dug last year is a two-year operation.
Quarterbacking. Gardner was just two of ten, but Morris was hardly better. Gardner's interception was at least at his receiver; Morris threw one directly into Lewis's chest. In the aftermath there were the usual quotes about how it's an open competition, but, yeah, when the Big Ten Network's main Morris highlight is a pass thrown behind the line of scrimmage that guy isn't displacing a quarterback who averaged 8.6 YPA last year and can run.
Neither quarterback was helped by the pass protection, which forced them to move around and let Michigan's secondary recover. Gardner's move and re-set on one throw allowed Jarrod Wilson to get over to Canteen on a corner route, for example. We have a ton of Gardner data from a year and a half as the starting quarterback. One spring outing isn't going to move the needle.
Speight didn't do much; Bellomy didn't look better than he did against Nebraska.
Hayes should be a legit option. [Fuller]
Tailbacking. On the few runs on which tailbacks had an opportunity to do something notable it was usually Justice Hayes doing the notable thing. He had a couple of quality cuts in tight areas that got him a nice chunk. Derrick Green had one bounce outside on which he seemed quicker than last year but still not particularly quick; De'Veon Smith also turned in a leg-churning run.
They're all about even, it seems. Michigan will cycle through them looking for one to break out. That's a tough ask given the line. It's platoon time. Michigan still seems to insist that anyone who does not resemble a moose must be relegated to third downs:
"Right now, if we're not in a third down situation, it's De'Veon and Derrick. And then Justice if we get into third down."
There's no reason that Hayes shouldn't be given a look as the feature back after last year's lack of production all around and his evident ability. He was no slouch as a recruit, and being able to pick through traffic is a nice skill to have. You get the impression that Hoke would ride David Underwood for years before even considering Mike Hart. Size isn't everything. Ask the Kansas State team that just eviscerated you with a 5'8" tailback and 5'11" wide receiver.
It's also time for Fred Jackson to preach the simplicity line and throw shade on Al Borges:
"Guys are more consistent now with their reads, going from point A to point B with protections," Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson said last week on WTKA-AM in Ann Arbor. "By not having a ton of protections and a ton of different runs, it allows the guys to be more consistent in what they're doing."
/waves tiny flag
Of course, the main problem with the blitz pickups last year was not so much the tailback going to the wrong spot but what happened when he met the blitzer. That's on Jackson, not Borges. The thing about not doing every possible thing is great—I've heard that Michigan had 13 different protection schemes last year. 13!
MOS EISLEY FTW [Eric Upchurch]
Something about a wretched hive of scum and villainy I can't quite figure out. Freddy Canteen went from freshman to Manningham in the space of 15 practices, starting the day opposite Devin Funchess, making the one deep catch of the scrimmage session, and smoking Blake Countess over the top on another pass that Gardner threw short. Countess caught up; it was still reminiscent of 86.
Also reminiscent of 86, at least as a freshman: people screaming at Canteen about where to line up pre-snap. There was one memorable play in Manningham's freshman year where Fred Jackson was having a conniption fit on the sideline trying to get Manningham to relocate himself; Manningham did not and scored a touchdown anyway. Canteen dredged that memory up on Saturday.
Spring depth etc., but passing Jehu Chesson after a promising freshman year from him is a real thing. The tea leaves here suggest Canteen is the real deal—Michigan does not need a WR savior and has a veritable avalanche of bodies they can put on the outside. Canteen rocketed past last year's WR class and Chesson in 15 practices. It would be easy for Michigan to talk him up and throw him in the slot; instead they appear to be prepping him for a major role on the outside.
"I've been at slot and outside receiver, (I'm comfortable) at both, but I'll play probably more outside," Canteen said. "(I want to be a playmaker), to be honest. I just want to make plays."
Darboh and Chesson will also figure in; with Funchess that gives Michigan four guys with production or hype or both to their name. They're suddenly flush. With York and Dukes—who made a nice diving catch—also available, it seems like Drake Harris and Moe Ways should redshirt.
Let's think about the guy like a football player instead of a traveling circus. I can only assume the light deployment of Dennis Norfleet was for cackling-about-your-mad-plan-in-your-underground-lair reasons. It was encouraging to see them throw an actual route his way, a wheel on which Jourdan Lewis took an unnecessary pass interference flag on an overthrown ball. I support the integration of Dennis Norfleet into the base offense instead of having a completely separate Norfleet offense that always results in him getting the ball going laterally.
Hooray for efficiency. One of the most disconcerting things about Michigan's spring activity is how much standing around there is. For many, they're setting a countable hour on fire. This is apparently not how it works behind closed doors:
"Practices are really fast, we get a lot of reps," Gardner said. "This was probably the fastest practice I've ever been a part of."
There's been plenty of talk about the overall pace Nussmeier -- Michigan's first-year offensive coordinator -- works with in practice, and the overall level of tempo he chooses to play with during games.
Practices are quick. When a play ends, the next group -- according to players -- is expected to be out of the huddle and ready to snap the ball for the next rep. That concept is a simple one: It creates more reps, and for a young team, the more reps the better.
For any team, really. And that should serve Michigan well when they want to change the tempo, something Borges teams were mind-bendingly awful at. Here's a manna from heaven quote:
"I think the biggest thing, you always want to be able to control the tempo on offense -- whether that's to speed the game up or slow the game down," Nussmeier said during an interview with WTKA-AM 1050 in Ann Arbor on Thursday. "We practice at a fast tempo for a lot of reasons. One, it forces our guys to play fast and focus and always concentrate.
"And it also allows us to pick the tempo of the game up (if we need to)."
Random Mone quote I missed yesterday. This is an epic nonquote.
"I'm just having fun, being blessed," he said. "Just having fun playing the game is what I think my teammates have noticed. My enthusiasm is the main thing I bring to the field."
Our THREE weapons are having fun, being blessed, and having enthusiasm!
WE MUST MAN THE BARRICADES OR OUR FATE IS SEALED
The experience of being at the spring game was not a pleasant one. Brandon further pushed the limits of his promise not to put advertising in Michigan Stadium (a promise he's already broken in a dozen different ways) with large videoboard ads for Comcast and Allstate. There was also some dude kicking a field goal sponsored by PNC. Dude is just itching to turn Michigan's gameday experience into OSU or MSU where the scoreboard looks like a NASCAR driver's jumpsuit and each play is brought to you by Depends Adult Undergarments.
More maddening was the constant—and I mean constant—wedding DJ music, which only dropped out for brief periods in which the band was suffered to play. By the end of the day it appeared like the band just said "screw it, we're playing" and went about fifteen minutes straight. This was a merciful relief.
The music combined with the punting drill section of the day was typical Michigan at this point: we'll be shitty to you, fans, but here is this awesome guitar riff! Hunter Lochmann apparently believes that any deficit can be obscured by music. If things go poorly this season expect them to try two songs at once for the entirety of the Penn State game. One of them will be Phil Collins, because that's the soul of football.
The contrast between the NCAA tournament regional the week before and the spring game could not have been greater. The tournament is a great event the NCAA gets out of the way of. Michigan has a crappy event they try to dress up. Hoke's disregard for the fanbase hurts their ability to make it a non-crappy event, of course. Michigan remain focused on one thing and one thing only: strip-mining revenue from the banks of fan loyalty like it is an infinite resource.
Any things they do that are actually fan-friendly, like bringing in a slightly less rank standard of nonconference opponent, are because they have reached the limit of their ability to strip-mine. Michigan reminded fans in attendance to renew their season tickets—an announcement that never needed to be made before.
It would be one thing if the people making these decisions did anything but ape whoever their counterparts are in the ECHL. They have no concept of forming an identity to rally around. They just have spreadsheets.
wait spring football is what again
It's this practice thing that we used to think was super super important because the basketball team was a wet cat and the spring game was in late April. Now we haven't even thought about it because the basketball team is IMPORTANT and also still playing and they've moved the spring game up despite having horrible weather for seemingly the last decade solid.
So… yeah. It is a glimpse into what the football team might be like next year.
So last year's was a constant parade of quotes about how everyone was getting tackled for loss?
Well… no. It is a Pravda-like glimpse weighted by both the program's desire to look good in the absence of actual games and your hope that the next football season will be a fulfilling exercise in fandom.
Consider that hope to be disposed of in a dumpster behind a Five Guys.
All right, then. Let's enter the realm of football with a properly jaundiced eye.
Things To Watch
Will they be a single thing? "Aggression" is the guaranteed defensive watchword every time a coordinator change is made, and "simple" is the equivalent on the offensive side of the ball.
Kyle Kalis says Doug Nussmeier is gradually installing the offense. Much simpler. 'Last year, you never knew what was going to be called.'
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 25, 2014
How much of this is standard boilerplate and how much of it is a real problem that Nussmeier is going to solve is pretty much the question for the season. (No, it is not "who is going to start at quarterback?" You are a silly person, person who thinks that.) Lord knows that this site spent most of last year—most of the last three years—blasting Al Borges for not having anything resembling a base offense in his time. Last year's wander from stretch to power to tackle over to inside zone and all things in between was particularly egregious.
It was hardly unprecedented. Michigan never figured out how to run play action off their best play, the inverted veer, never figured out that having mobile quarterbacks run the waggle is just asking them to eat defensive end as soon as they turn around, never figured out what, in fact, they were. Having an identifiable identity is step one towards having one of those offense things.
Let's try to keep me alive this play, gents [Bryan Fuller]
Is the offensive line… tolerable? Extant? Sieve sieve sieve sieve sieve? I can't say the good feelings are pouring out of spring. This is not a world in which claims that true freshman Mason Cole has a great chance to play the most important position on the line…
Another early enrollee opening eyes at Michigan is OL Mason Cole. Competing for starting LT job. Funk says Cole has great chance to play.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
…can be dismissed as so much spring hogwash. I mean, yeah, it's almost certainly spring hogwash. But given the situation that buzz comes off as a negative thing about people not named Mason Cole as much as it is a positive one about Cole.
Meanwhile Graham Glasgow, the one returning guy who had a job for the entirety of last season, got held out for a while due to an issue that will also see him suspended for The Horror II, and oh good now I'm thinking about what might happen in The Horror II without Michigan's best interior lineman.
Thinking: try not to do it.
Anyway, injuries have held near-sure-LT Erik Magnuson out and forced Michigan to try a parade of guys probably better suited to play guard at that spot. Reading the tea leaves, the most likely starting line for the spring game reads:
- LT David Dawson
- LG Kyle Bosch
- C [Glasgow placeholder]
- RG Kyle Kalis
- RT Ben Braden
And in a perfect world that would remain the line through fall camp except for the insertion of Magnuson. When pinged for offensive line data, Hoke was his usual recalcitrant self but did not seem super enthused all the same:
"The physicalness isn't where we want it yet. I couldn't point out one guy who has been a great finisher.
"Probably Graham (Glasgow), as much as anybody, in some ways. Ben (Braden) is getting better. But we're not near where we need to be."
Not that they could be near where they need to be a few months after whatever that was.
Here's to this being the "before" picture. [Fuller]
Are Are De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green any diff—. Previous sentence was tackled for loss. Green's been tweeting out pictures of his weight as he strives to get back down to the bowling ball that was the #1 overall tailback in the country to a couple of different services instead of the bowling ball he was last year. Here is a swathe of boilerplate.
"De'Veon's had a very good spring, Derrick's had a better spring than he did in the fall," Hoke said last week. "Justice Hayes has done some really good things, and I'm really proud of him. Both carrying the ball and in the protection game. It'd be nice to get Drake (Johnson) back and put him in the mix."
Chances are it will be hard to tell much what with the offensive line coming together and folks looking confused, but give me one cut from Green that he probably couldn't have managed last year and I'll be happy.
Is Ross Douglas viable at tailback? I kind of think no if only because the Hoke era has expressed a preference for large men running the ball even if they bring little else to the table other than size. Meanwhile, Douglas's bounce to offense comes in the context of Taylor/Countess/Peppers/Lewis/Stribling, a veritable bounty at corner that Douglas didn't figure to crack any time soon. He's also down the depth chart on offense:
"Justice, De'Veon and Derrick are a little bit ahead still, but I think Ross is giving us a little bit more depth and that's really good for us.
"We'll do this through spring and see how he does, and then make a determination if he'll go back to DB."
This kind of positional uncertainty is never a good sign for a prospect's future. If Douglas was in the mix at corner he'd be at corner. Instead he's fourth at best at tailback and probably fifth when Drake Johnson gets back.
But there is a new offensive coordinator who may do things like see what happens if you give Dennis Norfleet the ball, so you never know.
But that probably means the secondary is loaded, right? At first blush Michigan has more corner depth than I can remember. They return both starters from last year plus a couple of promising freshman who did the really hard part—sticking with your man—last year before wilting at the last minute. And then there's that Jabrill Peppers dude. Douglas's positional vagabondery would not be taking place if Michigan didn't go five deep in solid options at corner.
Wide receiver war. With Devin Funchess entrenched at wide receiver, playing time there is now at a premium. The departure of Jeremy Gallon opens up scads of catches, some of which will go to Funchess and Jehu Chesson. The rest will get spread out. While a number of those will go to Amara Darboh, who was building up steam with his play in practice last year before a season-ending foot injury, Michigan is still being cautious with him. You won't see him on Saturday:
“Right now I feel like I’m 100 percent, but they’re keeping me out,” Darboh said Thursday. “By the time fall camp comes around I should be 100 percent.”
One gentleman you will see, and possibly see a lot of, is Freddy Canteen. The freshman early enrollee has been this spring's easy winner of the Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award. Almost literally everyone who has gotten practice buzz or been there themselves has come away talking about his quickness and advanced technique. One example of many:
WR Freddy Canteen creating a buzz this spring at Michigan. Players, coaches very impressed with early enrollee. Getting run with the ones.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
"Running with the ones" is a slightly overrated concept since in the course of a spring or fall practice just about everyone will get their shot on the top team to keep folks motivated and just to see what happens. Even so the Canteen drumbeat has been so consistent that he will be the guy everyone is watching for.
One guy you shouldn't expect anything from: Drake Harris. Harris has been shut down for the rest of spring with a hamstring issue. He had a similar problem for his senior year of high school and at this point it seems like he might be headed for a redshirt with Funchess/Darboh/Chesson/Canteen and last year's three-man class potentially ahead of him on the depth chart.
I'm looking at the man in the mirror. Middle. Whatever. [Fuller]
And then the weird thing. Jake Ryan, middle linebacker. I'm skeptical Ryan will be able to transition to a very different spot that asks him to read and react and then shed responsibly. If he does manage it, it seems like a part of his barbarian nature will be lost. Ryan is a shocking vertical attacker; middle linebackers are not generally tasked with that. When Ryan has been drafted into read and react situations by defensive alignment, it has gone poorly.
But they're going to try it, and spring will be an opportunity to see what's going on with that.
Safeties: we have them? Michigan was clearly dissatisfied with Thomas Gordon midway through last year, which just goes to show that Brady Hoke was in Muncie or San Diego for the decade of Michigan safety play between Marcus Ray and Jordan Kovacs. Great he may not have been; he was pretty much good enough, and when other guys got in the game the step down from pretty much good enough to not was obvious.
Now Gordon is gone and the list of potential replacements is short (inexplicably so given Michigan's apparent need): sophomores Jeremy Clark, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas. Michigan barely has enough dudes to put together a two deep, and there are few candidates to move from corner. Stribling's 176-pound frame would get him run over; ditto Lewis; they're not moving Countess; Taylor's run support is not a strength. That leaves Peppers (moving him away from boundary corner would be a travesty of justice) and redshirt freshman Reon Dawson, who's super super fast but raw and skinny.
So finding someone to play opposite Jarrod Wilson is an important target to hit with few bullets. Here's hoping Clark wins the job with ease; he's got the most experience.
Can a tight end hit something? One of the underrated problems with Michigan's offense a year ago was the tight end spot's total lack of progress. Devin Funchess proved that as a tight end, he was a good wide receiver; more worryingly, AJ Williams was hardly better despite not being, you know, a game changing receiver. Jake Butt was probably the best blocker Michigan had available, and he promptly tore his ACL. Jordan Paskorz left the program.
So. Michigan will hope Williams makes a step forward and turn to two guys coming off redshirt: Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman. They've also converted former SDE Keith Heitzman to that side of the ball. The freshmen are more H-back types than inline ones; Michigan may end up playing them both places just because they have to. Shallman's flirtation with tailback seems over:
Shallman has taken a few reps at running back this spring, but Hoke said he envisions him as a tight end-fullback hybrid.
Given the depth chart that makes sense. I'll be looking for anything resembling a block out of this crew.
Weather. Let's hope it's nice.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- LT Taylor Lewan. Four year starter took all kinds of heat for performance of Michigan OL as if he was able to play four positions at once or he had some sort of deficiency in his Leadership Aura and was not communicating enough Leadership to the rag-tag interior line. Was in fact the same player he was as a junior—a great one—and NFL draft slot in the first round will reflect this.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Michigan's all-time single season receiving yards record is now his, so at least I was right about one thing in the preseason. Short, but good at fades; eviscerated Notre Dame; eviscerated Indiana; eviscerated Ohio State; best pound for pound WR in country not named Lockett.
- RT Michael Schofield. Overshadowed by Lewan his entire career but emerged into a complete run/pass tackle as a senior. I know there was so much pressure up the middle that there were fewer opportunities than normal for tackles to biff, but when's the last time you remember Schofield getting beat by a pass rusher? That one time he miscommunicated with Toussaint doesn't count. I mean straight-up beat. It's hard to remember. Will be missed; will be drafted.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome sort of epitomized 2013 with ill-time drops, but was a reliable chain-mover and special teams tool. Will miss calling him "sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome" because obviously.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Final game saw him receive two carries; entire career one long comedown from explosive junior season; horrible, horrible pass blocker. Had mostly been replaced by end of year.
- WRs Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds. Little-used backups were good program guys but should be replaceable.
I may have reused these pictures. The numbers may be a give away.
- QB Devin Gardner. Chaos machine seemed to reduce interceptions as season went along, but how much that perception changes if some guys catch some passes in their guts is up for debate. Excellent YPA despite having most of his body ground into paste by year's end. Should take step forward as senior; still major X-factor.
- WR Devin Funchess. For the love of God, world, stop pretending this man is a tight end. Looking at you, Big Ten awards committee. Michigan's second-leading receiver with 49 catches for 748 yards and six TDs; works just fine as a jumbo WR, thanks. Hands issues late after fine start to career. Go-to WR next year.
- OL Graham Glasgow. Only returning OL to have and hold a job all year; had some struggles after move to center; has the size and athleticism for the major college level of competition, as ESPN is wont to say; will play somewhere but Michigan probably hoping Patrick Kugler bounces him out to guard.
- TE Jake Butt. Site tagline does not refer to him. Productive freshman season saw him add 45 pounds and catch 20 balls for 235 yards; was probably M's best blocker at the spot; 15 more pounds and he is the dual threat Borges has wanted from day one.
- OL Erik Magnuson. Entered on second line shuffle of year and stuck; now obviously moving out to tackle and must be quality, because options other than him are scanty indeed.
- OL Kyle Kalis. Recruiting sheen severely reduced after painful redshirt freshman season saw him benched, supposedly for an undisclosed ankle injury. Performance even before that was middling at best. But was FR OL.
- OL Kyle Bosch. True freshman showed some promise; showed a lot of true freshman business. Momentarily replaced Kalis but then lost his job to Kalis once again. Tentatively penciled in as a starter
- WR Jehu Chesson. Nominal starter hardly targeted in first few games and then saw Funchess eat his job; did grab 15 balls for 221 yards and crushed a few dudes, whether it was on special teams or after the catch. Probably still the #3 WR with Amara Darboh's return but a promising freshman year should see him eat up some of Gallon's targets.
- TE AJ Williams. Blocking TE seemed to regress after freshman year; could not block. Major issue needs repairing STAT.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Your primary blocking back. May be drafted as pass protector again, but hopefully not.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Kugler and Braden may step in
One or two or three guys on the offensive line. At this instant your leaders on the offensive line are probably Magnuson-Bosch-Glasgow-Kalis mentioned above and Ben Braden at RT, but that is the shakiest depth chart in the history of the concept. Magnuson is the only certainty, as Michigan isn't going to trust anyone else to be their left tackle a year after Braden went from sure starter to ghost because he didn't have the foot quickness to hack it at guard. Glasgow is also pretty safe, as he didn't get pulled from the lineup last year and can play any of the three interior spots.
Everyone else is 50/50 at best with Michigan getting five guys off redshirts and having a few veterans also competing. Will Patrick Kugler be the man from day one at center? Will Chris Bryant get it together? Will David Dawson beat someone out whether it's at guard or right tackle, where I've heard they expect him to compete? The answers to these questions will start trickling in during spring and not have a full resolution until Michigan's first offensive snap… if then.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball, again. I'm lumping Michigan's four returning tailbacks into the "new" category for reasons both obvious and hopeful:
- Drake Johnson tore his ACL covering a kick after two carries.
- Justice Hayes had two carries last year; De'Veon Smith had 26.
- Derrick Green did get 83 carries, normally enough to put him into the returning category, but with so many of those doomed by the OL in front of him and the hope that he goes from kind of plodding to the lean brute that impressed recruiting analysts, those 83 carries don't mean much.
For the third straight year Michigan will be looking for anything that works on the ground other than Denard Robinson, and what Michigan can expect from its tailbacks is still in doubt.
"The single greatest catch I've ever seen in person" –Devin Gardner
African refugee wide receivers, again. Amara Darboh's debut was delayed by a foot injury suffered late in fall camp; this year he should debut as something between an uninspiring chain mover and Jason Avant (but fast)! Darboh had buckets of practice hype after a series of spectacular catches put him on everyone's lips in press conferences. He was clearly ahead of Chesson at the time and probably still is after Chesson had a decent but not paradigm-shifting debut.
And we can throw in Chesson here, too: he figures to absorb a lot of snaps not just from Gallon but Dileo, Jackson, and Reynolds. With Gallon's targets spreading across the offense he'll get a shot to be an impact player he didn't this year.
Dennis Norfleet, for pants' sake. I swear on this bible factory that if Michigan can't find a productive role for Dennis Norfleet in this offense I am going to break every rule in the factory of bibles I have just sworn upon. This does not mean bringing him in motion every time he's on the field. It means looking at him as a slot receiver instead of a tiny bouncy freak show, which okay yeah he is but seriously people just imagine what West Virginia would do with the guy and do it.
More TE-ish guys. Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman come off redshirts and should bring blocky/catchy/runny aspects to the guys on the field who aren't WRs or RBs, whatever you'd like to call them. With Butt and Williams aging and hopefully improving, Michigan might have some options here to do tricky things, particularly in the redzone. If any of them can block.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Funchess. This was Gardner to Gallon last year. This year it is pretty obvious what replaces that: Devin Funchess blew up after his move to WR, taking end-arounds and leaping over people both before and after he acquired the ball. They even threw him a couple fades late in the year when it occurred to them that maybe that was a good idea.
Unfortunately, after a very strong start to his career in the catching department drops became an issue around the Michigan State game. The overall picture is still a guy with very good hands and a huge catching radius, though.
He's already the Big Ten's second-leading returning receiver, behind only Hoosier Cody Latimer, and Latimer plays in a light-speed offense that inflates basic counting stats. With a full season at WR and Gallon off to the NFL, a thousand-yard season is a certainty. The only question is at what point television accepts the fact that he's a wideout.
What happens if Gardner gets injured, at least relative to usual. Michigan seems to have itself a legit backup QB in Shane Morris for the first time in forever.
Passing weapons writ large. There is some projection in saying this, but it doesn't seem like Gallon's departure is going to leave Gardner bereft of options. He's got a #1 guy ready to step into that role and then you've got Darboh, Chesson, Butt, Norfleet, and possibly contributors from either the three-man 2013 class or Drake Harris/Moe Ways/Freddy Canteen in 2014. Five veterans plus six young options looks like a lot of options to me.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Pass protection. This was horrendous and doesn't figure to get a lot better with both tackles out the door. Magnuson still needs to add 15-20 pounds to hold up against bull rushes and the question mark at right tackle is highly ominous. Maybe I'm making too much of Braden's swift disappearance from the two deep in fall, but… man, to swiftly disappear from that two-deep would seem to bode unwell. If it's not Braden then it seems like Michigan is trying to shoehorn a guy who would be better at guard into the RT spot, whether it's Dan Samuelson or David Dawson or even Bosch. Add to that continuing uncertainty on the interior and it's easy to see Michigan QBs get harassed as much as they were this year.
The seeming certainty that there will be three (or more!) brutal clunkers from this unit. Three years in and Borges's crew has thrown up at least three horrendous games a year, every year, as whatever mad scientist stuff Borges throws at the wall backfires spectacularly when his team can't execute the new stuff and can't execute anything else because the offense is a chameleon from game to game with the exception of throwback screens.
How far they have to go and how much time they have to do it in. Discussed more in the next section, but it seems like the best case scenario next year is improvement by default that gives us little insight into what Michigan should do going forward. Regression to the mean should see Michigan uptick in many categories in which they set dubious records. Hooray, but if Michigan is 70th in TFLs allowed in year four that just puts us in an uncertain netherworld. Your options here:
- Michigan has a near repeat of last year. PRO: No uncertainty here as everyone is put on a donkey and ridden out of town. CON: Michigan has a near repeat of last year.
- Michigan is below mediocre on the line, but not a completely unwatchable tire fire. PRO: Manage to avoid stabbing other eye out. CON: No idea whether to stay the course and hope for further improvement in year five or move on after third consecutive mediocre at best season.
- Michigan is good! PRO: Michigan is good. CON: Drugs are expensive.
It's hard to see anything definitively good happening next year.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? This is a repeat from last year, because the offensive line was worse and now the offensive line is losing two NFL tackles. This year… they literally cannot be worse. Michigan finished 123rd of 123 in tackles for loss allowed and turned Devin Gardner into hamburger. So we've got that going for us. The offensive line can't be worse, because they're already at the bottom.
Okay but can they be massively better? That is the real question here. Michigan has to be vastly better on the offensive line next year or it's firing time: for Funk definitely, for Borges definitely, and after (hypothetically) three straight years of non-Denard utter incompetence on the ground probably Hoke.
And… yikes. Frankly, writing this bit makes me think they should just throw everyone over right now because how can you go from that to average in one year while losing your two best guys? These kind of reclamation projects are two-year deals, usually, and that's if they get reclaimed at all.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? This is also a repeat from last year, because the answer was NO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NO. For perspective, Michigan rushed for 3.9 yards a carry in 2008, with Brandon Minor leading the way at 5.2 yards a pop. Last year, Michigan had 3.3. This rushing offense was tons worse than the 2008 outfit despite having some very threatening weapons on the outside. No offense to Nick Sheridan, Steven Threet, Greg Mathews or Martavious Odoms, but in terms of loosening up a defense… uh… does this sentence need to continue? Nope. It ended right there.
Michigan must have a function running back for the first time in three years or it's head-lopping time.
Can Gardner get his interceptions down to a reasonable rate? You'd think this would improve what with experience and not getting annihilated all the time, but 1) he might get annihilated all the time, and 2) we saw with Denard that sometimes guys just don't get better at taking care of the ball as they acquire experience. This is pretty much another do or die here for Borges: have one of your quarterback show major improvement or GTFO.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Oh hell, I don't know. Things should get better on the ground and the pass protection won't be great… could be just as bad. Gardner's experience and a lot of options in the passing game should result in something more tolerable than 2013. How much and how much impact that has on the wins and losses I just don't know anymore man.
Selfie: Go save Christmas again.
Kids! Gandalf the Maize's follow-up on which factors seem to be the most predictive of offensive line play compared the r-squareds of 19 things, from o-line experience as a whole, to their recruiting stars, to the left tackle individually, depth, QB talent, how much the team goes long, etc., and found the ONLY factor with relatively high significance is…
Interior. Offensive. Line. Experience!
Let's get a DotW to the wizard, and tell Funk to put some years on his charges, RIGHT NOW.
Ron Utah followed up by showing the relative age of Michigan's whole roster versus teams of significance.
Part II by dnak438 on Michigan's offensive regression this week went back and added 2011-12 to the study of YPP versus opponents, tracking it by dividing Michigan's yards per play each game versus the average that team gave up. The results are charts that really show the history of Al Borges's various offensive strategies:
Here's the progression:
[after the jump]