...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
- Brandon Minor practiced a little bit yesterday, and they're hoping he can go today. Minor is day-to-day with a shoulder injury from the Purdue game. Playing can't do any more damage, but he needs to get practice reps in order to see the field Saturday.
- Carlos Brown should be fully healthy for this week.
- Junior Hemingway is day-to-day with a back issue.
- Martavious Odoms is still day-to-day with his knee injury.
- David Molk's knee surgery will take place tomorrow.
- The coaches are still looking for linebackers that they can trust to play downhill. They aren't sure whether Obi Ezeh or Kevin Leach will start against Wisconsin. Both guys will probably play a lot. At 200 pounds, Leach is more the speed guy.
- More backups will probably get in this week because they're playing a physical opponent. It can destroy a young guy's confidence for the future to go in before he's ready.
- William Campbell got increased reps the other day. He still has a lot of technique to work on, but should be a very good player down the road. He's got the size that Michigan's defense needs.
- Patrick Omameh has won the right guard job. Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein will compete for the right tackle spot.
- The coaches wish they had been able to redshirt both Denard and Tate, as with all freshman quarterbacks. Denard is improving each week.
- The Wisconsin offense is different than Michigan has seen this year. They have big linemen, tight ends, and backs. They'll be a challenge for Michigan's smaller lineup.
- Michigan's troubles covering tight ends have been different issues each time. Wisconsin has 3 good tight ends, and they'll be a challenge.
- The team needs to move on from the last game, and just worry about this one.
- Players practice well, but sometimes they don't take that solid play from the practice field to the game. The coaches just have to keep on coaching them to fix this.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
Rating: 3.5 of 5.
|Mark Ortmann||Sr.*||Steve Schilling||Jr.*||David Molk||So.*||David Moosman||Sr.*||Mark Huyge||So.*|
|Perry Dorrestein||Jr.*||Ricky Barnum||Fr.*||Rocko Khoury||Fr.*||John Ferrara||Jr.*||Patrick Omameh||Fr.*|
|Taylor Lewan||Fr.||Tim McAvoy||Sr.*||--||--||Quinton Washington||Fr.||Michael Schofield||Fr.|
Last year I grimaced at a two-deep that contained four freshmen, one of whom was slated to start, and one player (Steve Schilling) with an iota of starting experience and gave the sorry bunch the most well-deserved 1 rating since… well, 3000 words earlier when I slapped the dread number on the quarterbacks.
For six games this was painfully accurate. The Utah game was grim all around but perhaps grimmest on the offensive line:
Offensive line: their overall suck was obviously part of the gameplan in a huge way; I expect that will seriously impinge on Michigan’s attempts to forge an offense all year. Like 2005 except worse.
This persisted and persisted and we can skip the gory details but then something funny happened at about the same time Brandon Minor ascended to the starting tailback job: they got sort of competent. Let's hit this up one last time: over the last six games of the season Michigan outrushed a hypothetical average team by 25%. They didn't do this by piling on inordinate numbers of carries. If Michigan had extended that performance over the course of a full season they would have been 30th in rushing nationally.
This year, every single player who saw a snap last year is back. Intermittent starter Tim McAvoy has been booted to third-string, and Steve Schilling is no longer making a go of it at tackle, where he cannot pass block. Perhaps best of all, there are actual backups.
The line already took its quantum leap forward midway through last year and will be limited in certain spots, but further progress should see them end up… good? Yeah, maybe.
Rating: 3 of 5.
Fifth-year senior Mark Ortmann returns at left tackle. Jake Long he is not. Ortmann picked up his share of negatives in pass protection last year, most notably against Penn State when he was –5 on a day when Michigan only got to 21 total pass-pro points. The minuses came on two players where Ortmann was "beaten badly by [Maurice] Evans"; the latter resulted in a game-killing sack/fumble. The next week against Michigan State he picked up a –6:
Ortmann(-2) totally smoked by a blindside rusher… Ortmann(-2) took a poor angle downfield, though, and the MLB beats him, prompting Threet to pitch it despite a State LB having decent contain. … Ortmann and McAvoy just run by an MSU linebacker … A three-man rush; Ortmann's guy spins inside of him and dives at Threet's feet [to sack] … Ortmann(-2) beaten pretty badly [on a sack].
It wasn't all bad—there were a couple of good plays sprinkled in there—but the end result was "I'd be surprised to see Ortmann keep his job once Dorrestein is healthy." I was surprised, it turned out. Ortmann was an unquestioned starter through spring but it would be a Joppru-level breakthrough for him to become even an honorable-mention all conference sort.
Being functional and unremarkable is a good target for Ortmann this year; his upside is more Adam Stenavich than Long.
Right tackle, on the other hand, is a battle that promises to go until kickoff of the Western game and probably beyond. Redshirt freshman Patrick Omameh was everyone's heavy leader until a week before the spring game, when redshirt sophomore Mark Huyge was surprisingly inserted into the starting lineup. Until that point Huyge, a guy who was considering MAC offers before Michigan came along, had been an afterthought. Huyge got good reviews, albeit against undaunting competition, and is your tentative opening-day starter.
It's worth pointing out that Huyge, like stating center David Molk, was recruited by Michigan after they implemented Mike Debord's zone-heavy ground game and is thus more likely to fit in with the spread 'n' shred than guys in the classes above them. It's too bad that line class consisted of two-count-'em-two players.
Neither tackle is likely to be a standout—all Big Ten is not happening—but there are options and backups and they're entering year two of the Barwis program and year two of the same offensive scheme and we should see a considerable step forward from this position in the run game. Last year, Michigan's outsize zones never got outside because the tackles were getting pushed back, which led to a lot of plays where Moundros shot outside aimlessly as the player he was supposed to be blocking for was forced to cut it up. A large number of Slaton's big plays came from getting outside the tackle, and Michigan should see at least a few instances where they successfully spring Shaw or Brown outside this year.
Pass blocking might be more problematic. Ortmann struggled some last year and the right tackle will be a new starter. There will be some ugly sacks against top-flight defensive ends.
|Clearing for McGuffie|
|Sustained POA block|
|Frowns: Toledo holding|
Rating: 4 of 5.
Steve Schilling's long-overdue move to guard promises to end the parade of ineffective LGs Michigan deployed last year. Last year they tried Tim McAvoy, John Ferrara, and even obvious tackle Mark Ortmann there before going with Schilling after the Illinois game. Schilling was needed at tackle soon after and moved back out. Ortmann's one-game experiment ended with a –6 in pass protection, an de- and impressively large number for an interior linemen. Ferrara was a defensive tackle weeks before the season. And McAvoy was the reason Ortmann and Ferrara were tried out. Anything that looks like a steady starter will be a massive upgrade.
Meanwhile, Schilling probably should have been a guard from day one. His two years starting at tackle featured plenty of pass protection struggles—he racked up a record –12 against Vernon Gholston as a freshman. By the Purdue game last year I'd just about given up on the idea of Schilling as a tackle:
I am leery of both tackles these days, BTW, and wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of reconfiguration that sees Schilling slide inside to guard next year.
Lo, it has come to pass. As a tackle, Schilling hasn't had the opportunity to display the athleticism that got him five stars at the fervent attention of USC when he was a recruit, but it still exists and after two years in Michigan's new-look strength and conditioning program he should be about as strong and agile as he'll get.
What Michigan needs from Schilling is pancaked linebackers, and while he hasn't proven he can do that quite yet, he is a guy entering his third year starting that has all the guru approval in the world (for what little that means for linemen). Signs point to above-average, with "meh" and All Big Ten the ends of the reasonable spectrum of expectations.
|Sealing vs ND|
|Doubling ND wsg Molk|
|Good downfield stuff|
David Moosman returns at right guard. Like everyone at guard last year, he had some issues finding and taking out linebackers downfield—there's a Picture Pages with an example—but he wasn't obviously bad. This made him the line's best player early until the guy I am most unreasonably eeee about on the team came into his own. (That would be David Molk, about whom more next.)
The slightly problem is that Moosman didn't seem to improve much as the season wore on. He was just an okay player the whole year; in context that was a lot more impressive early than late. Another year like last, where he's functional but unremarkable, is on the docket.
Moosman is a really smart guy, for what it's worth, and not "for a football player."
This blog fell a little in love with center David Molk as the season progressed and Molk started anchoring better against defensive tackles 50 pounds heavier than he was. The affair started in the second game of the year when Molk successful impeded the progress of some MAC defensive tackles…
I thought David Molk was great a week after being hurled back into the ballcarrier more than once. Against Miami he consistently got across the face of the defensive tackle lined up to the playside, allowing the guard a free release into the second level where he would either whack a linebacker and someone would run for 20 yards or whiff that linebacker and Michigan would get zero.
…a week after getting Sam-owned against Utah:
The lingering fear is that this is more a function of the opponent than any great leap forward. In retrospect, against Utah Molk was getting the same excellent position on his man but after he got that position the DT picked him up and dropped him in the RB’s lap.
|Tough reach vs ND|
|Frowns: MLB whiff|
|Rare win v Newkirk|
|Sealing playside DTs|
|More of that|
|Textbook reach block|
The next week against ND, Molk, Moosman, and McAvoy were named "heroes" for consistently blowing up the interior of the ND defense; the UFR section titled simply "McGuffie!" immediately shot credit to the guys on the inside:
Michigan had great success with the zone stretch and occasional dive because Molk and either McAvoy or Moosman spent the day crushing the playside DT downfield.
It wasn't to last, though. Wisconsin's veteran defensive tackles "murdered" the interior line against both pass and run. By that point there was a pattern: the Michigan interior line was good, even great, against substandard opponents but could not cope with big, veteran DTs. This held true until the Penn State game, when Michigan and Molk went up against one of the best defenses in the conference and at the end of it Molk ended up in the "heroes" list. He even got his own Picture Pages:
He got dinged later in the year for being small, but in a system like this where he's reach-blocking all day his agility is an asset. Time and again against Penn State he successful executed these blocks, springing people into the secondary. Against Notre Dame he did the same thing.
The issues are obvious, though: too many missed blocks, and too many blocks where he's just not strong enough to deal with his man. But he's a redshirt freshman; strength should come.
I like him. I like David Molk. I think he can be very good at football. Is this clear? Probably not. What Michigan needs from Molk this year is twenty more pounds, more familiarity with the offense, and that's it.
BONUS: I don't remember any bad snaps last year except maybe one or two in the Northwestern game, when it was eminently forgivable.
Backups And Whatnot
Oh praise Jesus: there are some. Last year when Ortmann got dinged up early in the year, Michigan actually unearthed walk-on Bryant Nowicki to play left tackle until they could tell Perry Dorrestein to play on the other side of the line the following week.
Dorrestein and the loser of the pitched Omameh-Huyge battle will be the primary backups at tackle. If Huyge's grip on the job remains solid, the bet here is that Omameh flips to left tackle by midseason in preparation for 2010 and Dorrestein returns to the right, where the coaches apparently prefer him.
On the interior, redshirt freshmen Ricky Barnum and Rocko Khoury have been praised regularly in practice reports and are the top options at guard and center, respectively, in the event of an injury to one of the starters. Barnum's position is less solid than Khoury, as he's been afflicted with frequent minor injuries thus far in his Michigan career and missed most of the spring with a wrist issue. Also Khoury's the only guy around who's been snapping consistently.
Your other non-freshman options are John Ferrara, the converted defensive tackle who the coaches are keeping on the offensive side of the ball despite some serious depth issues at DT, tragedy-stricken Elliot Mealer, and journeyman Tim McAvoy. Of the group, Ferrara is the most likely to make an appearance. The coaches tried everything in their power to remove McAvoy from the starting lineup last year and moved Schilling inside to finally solve that particular issue. Mealer spent all of last year rehabbing a shoulder injury and is probably a year away from seriously competing for a job.
There are indeed freshmen, but if Rodriguez managed to redshirt all six guys from last year's class despite the patchwork nature of last year's line it will take truly epic misfortune for any of the incoming kids to see the field this year.
One man's guess as to the second unit: Omameh, Ferrara, Khoury, Barnum, Dorrestein.
O'Neill, a Grand Haven product and the younger brother of current Bronco tight end James O'Neill, said Saturday that he's been granted his release to WMU and will join the football program this August.
There are quotes about O'Neill thinking he fits better at Western and all that. From what'd I'd heard (repeatedly and well in advance of O'Neill's transfer) it wasn't so much an issue of fit but one of technique and talent.
Eyeing talent. John Beilein swooped in on Evan Smotrycz ten seconds before he blew up, and there have been some scouting reports on Tim Hardaway Jr in a similar vein. The Chicago Sun-Times reports back from a local AAU tourney:
Speaking of the Mac Irvin Fire, the Hoops Report continues to be impressed with Tim Hardaway, Jr. The Class of 2010 2-guard out of Miami will be a perfect fit at Michigan. If Hardaway were in the state of Illinois he would certainly be one of the top five prospects in the senior class and probably check in at No. 3 overall behind Richmond and Leonard.
That's quite a statement. Illinois has nine kids in the Rivals 150, and if they happened to agree with the Sun-Times guys' assessment they'd have to slot Hardaway somewhere between #61, where Leonard sits, and #86, where the next Illinois player—PG Crandall Head—is ranked.
"He's done the unexpected, and he's really turned it up a notch," Daniels said. "At some big-time events, he proved himself against top competition. His performance at the NBPA camp was tremendous, and he showed parts of his game I didn't know he had."
Smotrycz's ability to handle the ball in the open floor and his passing ability was especially surprising.
"People are starting to catch on with him," said Daniels, who reiterated that Smotrycz is still solid with the Wolverines. "I'm sure some college coaches are sorry they missed out on him."
More of the same: skilled 6-9 forward who can handle, pass, and shoot.
Inflate, calculate. 1) Patrick Omameh is in engineering. 2) He is now much huger:
"I feel I play a whole lot stronger than when I came in, and I've put on about 30 pounds," Omameh said. "I weighed about 250-251 coming in, and the heaviest I've been since I've been here is 287. I still move as well as I ever did. ... I feel I'm ready to (compete for a starting job). Competition is always good."
Zounds. It says a lot about both Omameh and the shocking lack of depth on last year's offensive line that Omameh was on the travel team at whatever his weight was mid-season last year, which was not 287, or probably anywhere particularly close.
Boise? We will know about Boise State as the 2010 opener soon:
Boise State is close to finalizing a deal to fill the final slot in its 2010 nonconference schedule, and all signs point toward it not being UC Davis. With the Broncos already full up with nonconference games in weeks two through four, the thinking is that Boise State will be scheduling its big-time opponent for opening week, September 4, 2010.
The announcement should be sometime this week. Though Michigan, as discussed earlier, would make sense as an opponent I haven't heard anything specific in this instance. There have been general rumblings that Michigan is looking to upgrade the nonconference schedule a little bit with respectable-not-enormous opponents to go with ND and the usual rotation of MAC opponents and whatnot.
Assessed. Michigan has come in for evaluation by the good Doctor, and the upshot is pretty much what everyone's upshot is: eh, 7-5 and an uninspiring bowl game against an ACC also-also-ran. There's not a whole lot to disagree with, but I do think this is an excessively pessimistic take on the offensive line:
The '08 offensive line was an unmitigated, all-hands-on-deck disaster that sent the offense spiraling into one of the deepest, darkest holes in the universe -- last in the conference in passing, pass efficiency, scoring and total offense, and truly among the worst overall units in the country. So this is one area where returning seven different players who started multiple games last year -- four of whom began the season as backups, including one who entered fall camp as a defensive tackle -- is equal parts blessing and burden.
It may be some comfort that this isn't a young group: Six of the seven returnees, all but redshirt sophomore center Dave Molk, are in their fourth or fifth years, and should be further whittled into the nimble zone blockers Rodriguez's scheme requires, as opposed to the steamrolling grinders they were recruited to be.
This has been asserted before: there was a major difference between the all-and-by-all-we-mean-desperately-few-hands-on-deck disaster that the offensive line certainly was early in the season and rather non-disastrous performance of the offensive line the second half of the season. The tackles' pass protection and guards' second-level blocking remained issues, but those issues should both be mitigated by Steve Schilling's move inside. And to those seven returners Michigan adds five able bodies (the four redshirt freshmen and injury-stricken Mark Huyge), amongst them the two tackles who allowed Michigan to move Schilling inside and salve the most consistently irritating rash of a position.
I use the same heuristic DocSat does here—large numbers of returning starters are not necessarily good when they are upperclassmen who have proven extremely poor—in season previews, but usually reserve it for the Indianas for the world. I don't think it applies here. Michigan doesn't just return a bunch of sucky players, it adds significant depth and enters its second year in a new system on and off the field. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance.
Normally the start of spring practice would have been a bigger deal around here, but the basketball team's late season push and 21st-century tourney debut relegated the football team to the back burner, which is a first for this blog.
Yes, spring practice has started. Get a load of our new savior at the gun show:
Vernon Gholston's got nothing on Tate Forcier. At some point this year when Michigan is flailing about in a fashion reminiscent of well, last year, keep this image in mind and think "he's just a freshman" to yourself over and over again. Apparently Forcier spent 100% of his time getting quarterback tutoring and 0% of it picking things up and putting them down, which is all well and good until someone snaps him in half.
But, hey, the news isn't all bad. Friend of blog and practice attendee Craig Ross:
Forcier’s arm is stronger than I thought it would be. Most of the balls he threw looked pretty crisp. He looked terrific in the drills. Running right or left he puts the ball on the money. I didn’t see him throw a poor ball.
And of course there's the other guy:
I felt Nick Sheridan looked better than last year at this time.
Woo! A roundup of other items:
- Toney Clemons is gonzo. See the previous post.
- So is Andre Criswell. He'll be a grad assistant. He was a fifth year senior, so that doesn't change your scholarship projections for the 2010 class.
- Adam Patterson got his redshirt. He is now a junior, which removes a scholarship from the 2010 class and reduces the urgency at DT and DE. Michigan is still waiting on word about Kenny Demens. That should be a formality
- Mouton and Shaw aren't participating. Also, Tim McAvoy has been out with an ankle issue. Ricky Barnum has a wrist issue he's playing through.
- Steve Schilling is probably moving to guard and Patrick Omameh is legit. Intermittent friend of blog and general correspondent Craig Ross has attended some of the sections of practice open to the media and reports that the apparent first-team offensive line reads like so from left to right, with changes from last year bolded: Ortmann, Schilling, Molk, Moosman, Omameh.
Ross elaborates: "I was told by one media guy that Schilling asked for the move and so far it has worked out. RR talked briefly to the media and said that it seems likely "Schilling will stay at guard." Barnum is running at LG with the second team---or was this AM at least."
That fits with the practice buzz over the last year that had Barnum and Omameh closest to the field amongst the freshmen; you can pencil Omameh in at RG in 2010 if you want to get seriously premature.
Things That Are As Factual As Rosters Ever Get
- Anthony LaLota is pretty small. He's listed at 6'4", 235, which is not ready for primetime on the defensive line. Redshirt beckons.
- Junior Hemingway is crushing your head. 6'1", 226. Dang, man, hope you can still run.
- Vince Helmuth is on the Gabe Watson diet. Helmuth got up to 299, which probably bodes unwell for his shot at playing time. VB noted he looked "tiny for a DT," which means he'd be better served being quick instead of flabtacular. Rodriguez made a comment about his conditioning at the press conference. Sounds like he's unlikely to see the field.
- Kenny Demens seems field-ready. The roster has him at 237; at 6'1" that's pretty hefty.
- Smith: quarkback. We got ourselves another kid who can do a credible impression of Paper Mario: 5'6", 158 pound Vincent Smith. Hopefully this one doesn't get concussed into oblivion.
Position switches, or not position switches, or things that may or may not be position switches
- Brandon Hawthorne is running with the defensive backs. I said he was safety-sized, but I didn't actually expect he would be a safety. Blip or serious "what?" moment? Eh… survey says blip. Varsity Blue attended a Rodriguez presser at which the headman said Hawthorne is expected to be an outside linebacker.
This is more fuel for the fire of this spread-combating LB/S hybrid sort, FWIW.
- Ferrara is still on the OL. Given the sudden reversal in depth on the two lines—the defense has seen two starters depart and two recruits fail to sign while the offense gets six-count-em-six redshirt freshmen to play with—this may not last. But word is the coaching staff likes Ferrara's potential on offense more than they do on defense; a switch back would be an ominous indicator about the defensive line.
- Stevie Brown is sort of a linebacker. This will meet widespread joy, I'm sure, though it does beg the question "who the hell is going to play safety?"
- Steve Watson is doing okay at DE. I still think he's a longshot to contribute what with the move and all, but he's a high motor individual.
Something Not Particularly Fact-Like
You might remember defensive ends like James Hall and Juaquin Feazell—who should be referenced whenever the opportunity arises just so you can say "Juaquin Feazell" as mellifluously as possible—being listed as the "RLB" or "rush linebacker" during the heyday of Jim Herrmann's tenure at defensive coordinator. These folks were no more linebackers than your average defensive end. That nomenclature was a holdover from days when Michigan did actually have a "rush linebacker" that lived on long after Michigan had departed from the land of the hybrid 3-4.
This style of defense has worked in the Big Ten recently. You may remember Penn State deploying one of its many, many talented linebackers as a standup DE in a year when injury and malfeasance had robbed them of their standard complement of edge-rushing terrors. I think it was 2006. Though it was an ad-hoc solution to a severe personnel deficiency, at the end of the year Penn State's defense occupied its customary position near the top of the Big Ten rankings.
Word around practice is that Michigan is going to adopt something similar, with a lighter DE dubbed the "spinner" who can move around and play with his hand down or up. Or at least they're practicing it to see if it's a good idea.
Persons you might see do this: Steve Watson is practicing there along with a couple of the thicker linebackers—Evans and LaLota have been mentioned. This corresponds with other rumors to the effect that Adam Patterson and Ryan Van Bergen may end up as three-tech (i.e., penetrating) DT sorts, if not permanently than on an occasional basis.
Of course, this could all be declared a bad idea and shelved before fall until the Purdue game. But it's worth knowing.