if you seek an image of the most Wisconsin OL ever, enter here
First things first, the Michigan Spring Game will now serve as a fundraiser for Mott Children's Hospital. Though the event will still be free to the public, they will have the opportunity to donate money to Mott as they enter - with incentives!
- $5 Donation - "All in for Michigan Towel"
- $20 Donation - "All in for Michigan, All in for Mott" T-Shirt
- $250 Donation - 4 Passes to a pre-season scrimmage(!)
- $500 Donation - 2 pre-game sideline passes to a 2010 football game (BGSU, UMass, Iowa, or Illinois).
The Beam Family of Brighton, MI will also match every donation that is made during the Spring Game. This fundraiser continues Michigan football's long-standing relationship with Mott.
The Spring Game festivities kick off an April 17th at 11AM, with the Alumni Flag Football Game (gates open at 10AM). The team takes the field for warmups around noon, and the game itself starts at 1. Unfortunately, the team doesn't have enough healthy players to be able to do a full scrimmage with teams divided up, but they'll do more offense v. defense things. In future years, a game-like scrimmage will be possible.
- Injuries: Vladimir Emilien and Jared Van Slyke both sprained knees, and are out a few weeks. They're hopeful that Emilien will be back for the final week of spring practice. Je'Ron Stokes sprained his ankle and Anthony LaLota injured his elbow, both should be out about a week. David Molk is able to run a bit and snap the ball, but he won't participate in any contact this spring. Everyone who had surgery in the off-season is progressing on schedule or even faster.
- The team will have three scrimmages this spring. This upcoming Saturday will be the first one. There will also be one the week before the spring game, and the Spring Game itself.
- Offense: Last year's offense was decent, but there were times (especially with turnovers) that they missed opportunities due to poor execution. This spring, they're focusing on improving that, as well as becoming more physical.
- Quarterbacks: Denard Robinson hasn't played anything other than QB so far this spring, but if it becomes clear he's not going to get tons of snaps there, he'll play other positions in addition. Devin Gardner is behind the other two QBs, as he still needs to learn the offense. His throwing mechanics are looking good though.
- Running Backs: Even the guys who have some experience are pretty young. Mike Cox has a very good opportunity this spring, and he should contribute this fall.
- Offensive Line: Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge are the veterans at the tackle positions. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will push them. The freshmen have gotten bigger, and will try to prove themselves this spring. If multiple guys at a position are able to help the team win, they'll play at tackle.
- Defense: They'll tweak defensive packages for the various offensive schemes they'll see this fall. The challenge is to have a wide enough variety of packages to be able to play every offense, while keeping the overall defense simple enough for the players to be able to learn it well.
- Defensive line: There isn't a lot of experienced depth on the offensive line, but that just means guys who need lots of reps this spring will be able to get them. Will Campbell is improving, he added a lot of strength to go with his weight this offseason. The coaches are excited to see what Anthony LaLota can do when he returns from injury, as he had a good offseason as well.
- Linebackers - Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh have impressed this spring, as has Mark Moundros, who is moonlighting at linebacker since the fullback doesn't play that many downs in this offense. Rodriguez thinks Mouton played well last year, but Obi seemed to falter down the stretch. One of the big factors in lackluster LB play last year was a lack of depth - the D would play well for a couple downs or even a few drives, then opposing offenses would have their way with them.
- Safeties - With Emilien and Van Slyke out, a number of younger guys are getting a chance to play this spring. Cameron Gordon is playing well at safety. Brandin Hawthorne will play both safety and hybrid.
- Corners: JT Floyd has been playing well this spring. The coaches are putting some real pressure on him, and he's responding well. Justin Turner is also getting a lot of reps.
- The offensive line intensity has been good in the first few days. There is a lot of depth, and the young guys are ready to prove themselves. The guys are ready to hit.
- Schilling is excited to be a leader on the offensive line. He has lots of experience, and the rest of the guys who have been around a while are helping the young offensive linemen come along for the future. Stephen is up to about 305 pounds, after playing last year around the 295 range.
- Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington, and Michael Schofield are three of the hardest workers on the offensive line. Lewan and Washington in particular seem ready to prove they can contribute on the field. They're hoping to push for some playing time. Lewan has a nasty streak in the way he plays.
- The defense has been playing primarily a 3-3-5 this spring. Typically, Michigan's offensive front only sees odd front in passing situations, but Schilling thinks they'll be able to do a lot of good things out of this formation.
- Patrick Omameh is very comfortable at guard (from the way Schilling was talking, it sounds like this move is probably permanent). When Molk comes back from his injury, the interior of the offensive line will be very good. Molk played very well before getting injured, and Patrick finished the year very strong.
- The running backs got some reps last year, but Schilling is excited to see what they can do, especially with all the depth in the backfield. Michael Shaw is a good speed back, Cox and Toussaint can pound the ball well, and when he comes back, Vincent Smith can do it all - including catch out of the backfield.
- Schilling is bummed he won't be around for the first night game in Michigan Stadium. It's especially exciting for a game against a rival like Notre Dame. He'll try to make it back for the game if he can.
- This is Troy's first time in a 3-3-5 type of defense. It's the best formation for the personnel that this team has right now. Troy has built up a comfort level with Greg Robinson's coaching after being a bit skeptical at first last year. He likes the way GERG coaches, and believes in what he says. The coaches are working to make sure the players - especially the younger ones - are learning well.
- Switching positions all the time last year hurt him a bit, but for the long-term, it's actually been a help. At corner, he now understands what the safeties will be doing, and can trust in the scheme a bit more. He still has to work on his technique at corner a bit.
- Cameron Gordon has lots of natural ability, and is very good at reading his keys. JT Floyd has been looking really good lately, and understands the game a bit better. He had a nice interception the other day. Justin Turner is still young, but is coming along well. Mike Williams and Jordan Kovacs both like the positions they've moved to. For both of them, there's an emphasis at the new positions on coming up and making tackles, rather than playing in deep coverage. That plays to both of their strengths.
- With all the 3-3-5 talk, I've been assuming Craig Roh would mostly play with his hand down for more of a 4-2-5 look, but that wasn't the case. He was practicing with the other LBs, on the first unit with Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton.
- Tate Forcier is still clearly the best passer of the QBs. Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson were about even, with Devin maybe a liiitle more accurate (except on the longball, which he overthrew quite a bit). Denard probably has a much deeper understanding of the passing game, and would be more able to contribute.
- Looked like they might be preparing the throw it to the RBs a bit more this season. They went away from it a bit when Carlos Brown went out, but Vincent Smith did have a few catches last season.
- Mike Martin isn't practicing in the spring (shoulder surgery), but he was running laps around the indoor field. I guarantee you he's faster than me, despite being 300ish pounds and looking like the Hulk.
- MI DE Brennen Beyer was visiting practice today.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's press conference and the first day of spring practice. Follow me on Twitter (@varsityblue) for live updates.
- Injuries: David Molk and Vincent Smith are out for spring with knee injuries. Junior Hemingway and Brandon Herron had recent knee surgeries, hopefully Hemingway will be able to make it back for the end of spring practice. Zac Johnson and Mike Martin are limited (non-contact) for the spring with shoulder injuries.
- Nick Sheridan and Bryan Wright are no longer on the football team. Sheridan wants to go into coaching, but he can't work with the football team now, since he hasn't graduated. Wright's persistent back issues have led him to give up the game, and he's going to graduate and move on.
- Position changes: Cameron Gordon has been moved to safety, as has Teric Jones. This means Troy Woolfolk and Justin Turner will both play corner this spring. There's the potential that one or both of them can move to safety down the road.
- Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are options 1 and 2 at quarterback. When Denard isn't taking snaps, he's too valuable to take off the field, and they'll give him some run at wide receiver (there's enough running back depth that they won't need him there). Devin Gardner has a great work ethic, and he'll be willing to earn any playing time he might get. Rodriguez is glad he could get in for spring, because there's a lot to learn.
- At the running back position, a number of guys are competing with Vincent Smith out for spring practice. Michael Shaw, Mike Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will fill in, along with the two freshmen (Austin White and Stephen Hopkins), and there's a chance that some slot receivers get reps at that position as well.
- The team knows that they always have something to prove. Even if Michigan had performed better on the field in the past two years, there's always something to prove.
- Brendan Gibbons and Will Hagerup were the only two kicking specialists mentioned. Gibbons seems to be the favorite at kicker, and Hagerup won't arrive until fall, but will probably punt.
- Many offensive linemen worked hard to improve their bodies in the off-season, especially the freshmen Quinton Washington, Taylor Lewan, and Michael Schofield. They'll be in the mix for some playing time.
- Elsewhere on the offensive line, Rocko Khoury, Elliott Mealer, and Christian Pace will play center with Molk out for spring. Rodriguez likes to have four guys who can snap the ball. When Molk is healthy in the fall, there's a good chance that he'll be one of the best centers in the Big Ten.
- Brandon Graham will be missed from both a production and leadership standpoint. On the field, Ryan Van Bergen, Greg Banks, Adam Patterson, and even Craig Roh will play his old spot. RVB and Banks will play both inside and outside on the DL. As for leadership, the veterans will have to step up, even though there's a very small group of seniors this year.
- The defense should be able to take a step forward in the second year under the same defensive coordinator. A few schemes will be tweaked, but they'll try to keep them simpler, because there's a good chance some true freshmen will have to fill in this fall. The coaches are going to try for a bigger rotation defensively, so more guys will see the field.
- "Buying in" is not an issue for this team (anymore?), things now come down to a matter of executing properly to improve performance in games.
As for practice, most of the useful information will probably come from the pictures, but a couple quick observations:
- Vincent Smith was wearing a red jersey, but in his football gear. Dave Molk was practicing snaps.
- Nick Sheridan was hanging around watching in street clothes.
- Stephen Hopkins is frickin' huge. That kid will be a tank with the ball in his hands.
- Gardner's throwing motion looks improved from the end of his high school season. Once he is able to get actual coaching, it should continue getting better.
- I thought Christian Pace looked much bigger than he did on Signing Day, though it may have just been the difference in wardrobe (warmups on Signing Day). He didn't even look like an offensive lineman in February.
Apologies if the quality is a little worse than usual; I don't have the mad editing skillz that Paul does.
They're having the usual press conference and 30 minutes of drills and whatnot today, on the first day of spring practice, but there are a couple bits that have already come down. One is an updated spring roster that's missing Nick Sheridan—who is becoming a GA—and kicker Bryan Wright. Wright would have been a redshirt senior next year; apparently he's taking his degree and heading out. Wright did kickoffs last year, FWIW.
- As expected, Cam Gordon is listed at S. So are Brandin Hawthorne and Teric Jones.
- Mike Jones is listed at linebacker.
- Ryan Van Bergen is listed as a defensive end, providing yet further confirmation that he is the Graham apparent. Steve Watson, who was a quick end last year, is probably headed for strongside DE this year—he's listed at 257 and a DE.
Not a ton we didn't know about there. Roh and Herron are listed as linebackers, but they were listed as linebackers last year.
Significant weight changes:
|Ryan Van Bergen||271||280||+9|
All weight changes, positive or negative, will be portrayed as positive by fluff articles. The names that jump off this list to me are…
- Tate Forcier: slightly less likely to get broken in two.
- Hemingway, Moore, and Webb are now strapping fellows indeed. I can't imagine Hemingway is going to be much of a deep threat at 227; if he is he's going to explode. You can tack freshman Stephen Hopkins in here, too: he's listed at 236. That's a battering ram of a tailback.
- Losing Brandon Graham sucks hard but replacing his 263 pounds with Will Campbell's 324 and tacking on 21 pounds (Mike Martin gained a single pound) elsewhere on the line yields a starting defensive line twenty pounds heavier on average than last year's. The backups all put on six to ten pounds as well, and will presumably get bigger by August.
- The line should be about the same size. Ortmann (284) and Moosman (293) exit and are likely to be replaced by Omameh (293) and Barnum (282). Schilling is about the same size. Molk is actually lighter, though I assume that's an effect of his injury-wracked year and rehab more than a goal. The only presumptive starter who will be a lot bigger is potential RT Mark Huyge, up 17. The new kids will continue to put on weight and Molk should regain what he lost, so overall it will be a little bigger but not by much.
- Schofield and Lewan probably need another year.
- I can't imagine that Michigan actually wanted Leach to get smaller.
- It's good that Michigan is putting weight on Will Campbell now instead of taking it off, right?
This concludes your vastly too detailed review of the spring roster. Carry on.
Roh is certain. Everything else is chaos.
This is going to be extensive. It would be much, much quicker to rattle off a list of positions we know are set this fall:
- Craig Roh at quick defensive end.
That is literally all. We do know that a few other guys are guaranteed starters, but Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Troy Woolfolk could all switch positions. I should have thought of that before I did the offense. Now I'm stuck with this format.
Anyway. On with show:
Not Brandon Graham
Three defensive line starters return, but the best defensive lineman in the country does not. Normally you'd be looking at Brandon Graham's platoon of ready-to-go backups for an inadequate but functional replacement. Since this is the 2009 Michigan defense we're talking about that platoon is walk-on Will Heininger. The other options at his spot are freshmen.
So it's time to get creative, maybe…
Count me amongst the chorus suggesting that Ryan Van Bergen might move outside. Dubbing this position "Not Brandon Graham" is a clever way to not write "Ryan Van Bergen might move" at three different spots.
Michigan has three veteran backups at defensive tackle in sophomore Will Campbell and seniors Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks. All played last year, the latter two decently. Campbell was raw as hell but was one of them OMG SHIRTLESS recruits and can be expected to make a major jump his sophomore year. Putting one of those guys in the starting lineup seems less likely to result in disaster than dropping an underweight freshman into the starting lineup. Craig Roh did okay last year, but Michigan isn't bringing in anyone as touted as Roh was this time around. Also, Mike Martin is more of a penetrating three-technique tackle than a leviathan space-eater and moving him to RVB's old spot figures to get more production out of him.
If RVB doesn't move, then you're going to choose from Heininger, redshirt junior Brandon Herron,—Roh's backup at quick last year—redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota, or true freshmen. Herron was a linebacker a year ago and is likely to still be undersized and LaLota showed up two inches and thirty pounds lighter than people expected him to. He probably needs another year.
The thing to watch for this spring is the RVB move. Past that, the developmental paths of Campbell, Roh, and LaLota are the main points of interest.
Hoping for… as the guy that is not Brandon Graham? Will Campbell. This assumes RVB ends up at DE and Martin moves over to RVBs spot. Moving RVB gets a bunch of veterans and a five-star sophomore more playing time. It puts Mike Martin in a position to be seriously disruptive. And it doesn't force a freshman into the starting lineup. So this is a hope for the move and a hope for Campbell to explode.
Expecting… RVB moves, Sagesse and Campbell platoon. I was puzzled by Michigan's periodic attempts to give Campbell playing time over Sagesse last year. Campbell got sealed on a number of successful runs against Iowa; Sagesse wasn't Alan Branch but usually ended up with a +1 in UFR. I assume Campbell will show considerable progress but I'm also betting that Sagesse is basically a co-starter.
Over the course of a year, Stevie Brown went from whipping boy to reliable outpost on a defense of chaos. Was it a position move? Greg Robinson's Just For Men magic?
They're young but they're not totally green. Michigan got both Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones in early last year and put them through their paces; by the UConn game next year they'll have been on campus for almost two years. Both saw special teams action only. Hawthorne will apply for a medical redshirt. Jones played too much for one. That's him burning his redshirt on the right.
Those two will be the main competitors in spring since I believe Isaiah Bell, who redshirted, is moving inside to ROL. This fall brings crazy athletic Josh Furman into the mix. He of the 4.3 electronic 40 is probably even faster than Brown and could press for playing time later in the season if Hawthorne and Jones aren't working out. He's unlikely to win the job outright immediately.
Hoping for… Hawthorne or Jones doesn't seem like it makes a difference since they have near-identical recruiting profiles and experience. I guess I'm pulling for Hawthorne since he's got a redshirt on him and I like the Pahokee kids.
Expecting… Again, Hawthorne and Jones have almost nothing separating them. One of those guys.
Regular Ol' Linebacker
These two positions are here despite featuring two fifth-year seniors returning for their third years of starting because both Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were yanked for performance reasons late last season. Indecision ruled the day:
Mouton was pulled for JB Fitzgerald, a touted recruit entering his third year in the program. Ezeh was pulled for Kevin Leach, another walk-on. Both eventually won their jobs back when the replacements weren't much better.
Jay Hopson left to become the defensive coordinator at Memphis, and whether it was voluntary or not it's welcome. Ezeh went nowhere in two years under Hopson's tutelage and Mouton went backwards. If Greg Robinson can pull the same career revival magic he did with Stevie Brown on the two inside guys, he'll put to rest a large chunk of the skepticism at his hire and go a long way towards making the defense respectable again.
If he can't, then Fitzgerald and Leach will figure into the plans again, with potential assists from Kenny Demens and various freshmen. Demens hasn't gotten off special teams in his time at Michigan and got passed by a walk-on. That seems like a kiss of death there.
Ezeh and Mouton will be the main focus here.
Hoping for… I'd like Fitzgerald to emerge as a starter but in the place of Ezeh; last year the guy replacing Ezeh was Leach. Really I'd just like whoever plays at linebacker to look like he's got a clue. Obi-Wan Greg Robinson, you're our only hope.
Expecting… Ezeh and Mouton. They'll be better. Linebackers are the guys most screwed by Michigan's revolving door of defensive coordinators because they are almost always reading a play and executing a complicated assignment based on that. Also they've got a new coach who happens to be the defensive coordinator and thus knows exactly what he wants the guys to be doing.
Donovan Warren took his budding skills and five-star hype to the middle rounds of the NFL draft. Boubacar Cissoko couldn't keep it together off the field and is no longer on the team.
I'm assuming both spots are open because of the possibility Troy Woolfolk moves back to deep safety in spring. The defense started imploding for serious once he was moved to corner and Michigan's safety tandem became Kovacs and Williams
Outside of Woolfolk, the one guy with any experience is JT Floyd. Floyd was the guy the coaching staff turned to to replace Cissoko when he proved dreadful early in the year. He wasn't much better and Woolfolk eventually had to move despite the other options at safety being a freshman student-body walk-on and Mike Williams. In his brief time as a starter, Floyd played ten yards off wide receivers and looked totally overmatched. Maybe that's a mental thing, but he seemed just too slow for the Big Ten.
So… yeah. It's more freshmen, then. Super-hyped recruit Justin Turner got in late because of some difficulties with the Ohio Graduation Test and ended up out of shape and unprepared to play. He redshirted. Even if he came in looking like Will Campbell, if Turner couldn't play in that secondary by the end of the year people are right to be at least slightly concerned he may not pan out.
And then there's the flood of true freshmen. With Demar Dorsey starting out at corner, Michigan has four in the 2010 class: Dorsey, Courtney Avery, Cullen Christian, and Terry Talbott. None enrolled early—unfortunately, all of Michigan's early enrollees were on the offensive side of the ball—and they will be just rumors this spring.
We won't get a read on this position at all unless walk-on Floyd Simmons is ahead of someone on the depth chart. We will get a first look at Turner, the team's most important redshirt freshman.
Hoping for… Justin Turner and either Dorsey or Christian. No Woolfolk == considerably reduced panic at safety. One freshman is as good as any other at the other spot, I guess, but I'd rather have the higher-rated guys off to fast starts. No offense to Floyd, but he obviously wasn't ready last year and I'd be surprised if he was this year. Maybe 2011.
Expecting… Turner and Woolfolk.
Brandon Smith transferred to Temple.
It's clear that this is going to be another hybrid safety/LB type player. Early in the year, it was Mike Williams. A little later it was Jordan Kovacs. When Woolfolk moved to corner it was Williams again, and when Williams played poorly Michigan moved Brandon Smith and threw him in the starting lineup; Smith liked it so much he immediately transferred.
Of the two returners, Kovacs was by far the superior option despite being a walk-on. He's got the proverbial nose for the ball and was the only guy at the spot last year to turn in enough good plays to offset his poor ones. And he did this as a freshman walk-on. (He was technically a redshirt freshman but since he was not on the team last year he is much closer to a true freshman.) He showed himself way too slow to play deep safety, but the grit fantastic he is possession of should keep him in the mix despite a couple of athletes pushing him hard.
Athlete the first is incoming freshman Marvin Robinson, who everyone thinks is destined for linebacker except Robinson. At Michigan he may be a linebacker in spirit if not in name. This is a spot he's a superior fit for athletically but it may require some adjustment.
Athlete the second is hypothetical, but Rodriguez mentioned in a Signing Day press conference: they're looking at moving wide receiver Cam Gordon to defense, but to safety. [Update: YEAH THAT HAPPENED.] That's another indicator that Michigan's base set is going to be an eight-man front, as Gordon is a strapping 6'2" fellow who everyone expected would end up at… wait for it… linebacker. If Gordon makes the move it will give Kovacs and Williams some competition from an NFL-sized guy right away.
This is also where Carvin Johnson goes, but I'm guessing he'll redshirt.
Hoping for… I don't really know, actually. I guess I'd like Robinson to win the starting job, but a true freshman over Kovacs and Gordon could bode unwell for immediate production. Maybe Kovacs to start and eventually giving way to Robinson.
Expecting… I have no idea. Truly.
As discussed above, if this is Kovacs Michigan is at least kind of screwed. I mean no offense to the guy, but…
…he is not a deep safety*. In an ideal world, two of the young corners would establish themselves quickly enough for Michigan to boot Troy Woolfolk back here. That world is much easier to envision if any of those guys had enrolled early.
If Woolfolk doesn't make the move back, Michigan has a couple options not fresh off the turnip truck. Vlad Emilien and Thomas Gordon are redshirt freshmen who will be given a shot at the job. Emilien was more highly touted and actually held the starting free safety job in spring until late, when Woolfolk took over and he was relegated to backup duty. He saw some special teams time in fall but will apply for an injury redshirt. Gordon was primarily a high school quarterback at Cass Tech—he only started playing DB as a senior-year audition for a Michigan scholarship—and never threatened to see the field last year.
Freshman Ray Vinopal will reinforce in fall, but as the lowest-rated player in the class he will probably redshirt.
Hoping for… Woolfolk. I'd rather have the freshmen playing at corner, where Woolfolk can tackle their mistakes.
Expecting… Emilien. I'm a little hesitant about him since he enrolled early last year and still wasn't good enough to crack last year's secondary, but maybe he had a lingering injury issue.
*(RVB owned up to a botched line check on that touchdown but it was a lack of footspeed from Kovacs and, more disturbingly, Floyd, that turned that play from 20 yards into 90.)
What others? Apparently Teric Jones might stick on defense, apparently at box safety. I think I've mentioned every other scholarship defensive player on campus except Steve Watson and James Rogers.
The kids are in and the winter sports are slowly strangling whatever hopes you had, so the next major event you won't stare at a bottle of pills after is spring practice. Time for primers. Positions I'll be looking at hard in a month or two:
Fifth-year senior Mark Ortmann graduates. Ortmann was no Jake Long but by the end of his career at Michigan he was a solid pass protector and okay in the run game. If Michigan can get an equal performance from a freshman or sophomore that's a win.
The favorite is redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh, who drew into the lineup late last year when David Molk went down with injury and the right guard spot became persistently unsettled after David Moosman slid over to center. Omameh made a few impressive plays downfield…
…and was generally functional. Though he ended up at guard last year that was an effort to get Michigan's best five linemen on the field more than anything else. Omameh has always been regarded a left tackle prospect.
Omameh's main competition will come from two redshirt freshman. Taylor Lewan was a late-blooming prospect from Arizona who got acres of hype—the Long comparisons were rife—and has an enormous ceiling. Omameh has experience on Lewan but if those two are far and away the top two candidates for starting jobs they might leave Omameh at guard and insert Lewan. Michael Schofield is another redshirt freshman who was well-regarded as a recruit and will have a shot at the job, but he may be better suited for right tackle.
Hoping for… Lewan. Jumping into the starting lineup as a freshman would be Long-like for a guy who has drawn Long comparisons, and it would presumably allow Omameh to slide over to right tackle to help lock down the area from which most of Tate Forcier's wild-ass scrambles were born.
Expecting… Omameh. With three starts to his name and no current starters a threat to move to left tackle, Omameh is a prohibitive favorite.
The aforementioned Moosman was Michigan's most consistent offensive lineman the last two years when not forced to play center due to Molk's injuries. Though he was consistent, he wasn't great; his prominence says more about the state of Michigan's line the last couple years than his future in the game. He wasn't invited to the NFL combine.
Since Moosman spent most of the year at center and his replacement was a combination of Huyge, Ferrara, and Omameh with the latter performing the best, Michigan should expect improved production here.
Assuming the tackles are not in such surplus that Michigan can toss them about the interior line willy-nilly, Michigan faces a choice between old and young. The old guy in the mix is fifth-year senior John Ferrara (right), a guy who was flipped from defensive tackle in Rodriguez's first year at Michigan and saw spot starts in 2008. He was supplanted last year by a couple of guys who displayed serious limitations, but he's more seasoned than the other options.
The other options are a pair of highly-touted southerners. Redshirt sophomore Ricky Barnum decommitted from Florida just before signing day and was actually the second-team left tackle last year. The assumption here is that Omameh was more ready to play and left tackle was not open, so the best backup lineman practiced at the most available spot—right guard after Molk went down—and the second best practiced at the toughest. That would be Barnum. He came highly touted and after two years prepping he's the most likely guy. If it's close, Michigan will probably go with the younger player.
The other prime candidates are Elliot Mealer, who saw a little time last year as a backup, and redshirt freshman Quinton Washington. The soft-spoken Washington picked Michigan over South Carolina late in last year's recruiting cycle and drew lavish praise from the coaches:
"To my understanding, he's their number one lineman they are going after in the nation. That's point blank what coach Rodriguez told me Friday night."
Washington is a rare combination of size and linebacker-erasing agility and could be a major star. His ceiling is very, very high. If he doesn't win a job this year he will be the heavy favorite to replace Steve Schilling in 2011.
Hoping for… Realistically, Barnum. He should be ahead of Washington at this point and Washington getting the nod over him would probably say more bad things about Barnum than good things about Washington. In fairy land where Michigan embarks on a four-year journey with Lewan as Jake Long 2.0 and Washington as Steve Hutchinson 2.0, Washington. No offense to Ferrara, but I'd take a starting spot for him as a very bad sign.
No one. Whoever's here this fall should be better, whether it's the same players with more experience or someone displacing them.
The reason this position is listed prominently is performance of the two semi-incumbents. Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge (right, holding the hell out of a Penn State lineman) were functional in the run game but revolving doors in pass protection. A not so random protection metric from last year:
PROTECTION METRIC: 14/29. Huyge –5, Schilling –3, Minor –2, Ortmann –1, Shaw –1, Koger –1, Moosman –1, Omameh –1.
That is by far the lowest percentage in UFR history. The culprits are the usual by now: Huyge on the edge, Schilling getting blasted back into the pocket, and several other folk having individual moments of struggle.
That happened to be a game that Huyge played right tackle; when Dorrestein got the start he was the guy leading the way with big minuses.
Michigan had little choice but to rotate those two last year. This year they have options. The aforementioned Lewan and Schofield come off redshirt years; Omameh will probably move back to tackle in spring, too. All these guys have been talked about already.
Hoping for… in the scenario where Lewan erupts, Omameh.
Expecting… early, a rotation similar to last year's. Huyge takes over late and his pass protection remains a major issue.
Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were polar opposites in many ways but shared a knack for getting injured constantly. Despite having not one but two senior tailbacks, Michigan was forced to go to true freshman Vincent Smith late last year as both veterans looked on dourly from the sidelines holding various aching extremities.
Kevin Grady is also gone, though he was mostly a fullback last year.
Production should be about even; Brown and Minor were hardly at full speed last year.
They are diverse and sundry. With Vincent Smith out until fall with an ACL tear, five or six players will battle for carries. Mike Shaw is the one you've seen before. His freshman year was exciting, but his promise dipped as a sophomore. Shaw runs wildly. He's a zippy guy with the occasional fantastic move…
…but his vision is lacking and he's had fumble issues. This spring will be a turning point in his career. If he gets left in the wash by freshmen he's headed for kickoff return duties and not much else. Chances are he improves enough to be a part of the rotation; he has Brown-level speed.
Other folk are murkier. Mike Cox displayed impressive balance on a couple of garbage-time carries against weak opponents but has done nothing else so far and fell behind Smith almost as soon as he hit the practice field. He could find use as a short-yardage back or Soul Train extra. Cox is the only other player in the spring tailback derby to have seen a carry at Michigan.
The other three players are freshmen, be they redshirt or true. Fitzgerald Toussaint, the redshirt, is the most likely to have a breakout spring. He enrolled in fall—Smith got in early, giving us an early glimpse—and then broke his collarbone. That forced him out of a month of practice and relegated him to scout team duties, but before that he was a jump-cut maniac at Youngstown Liberty who racked up three or four 50+ yard touchdowns per game. When I profiled Toussaint prior to his enrollment, I was higher on him than Smith:
While I think Vincent Smith can be a good back in the Michigan offense, Toussaint has the bigger recruiting rep, better track numbers, and heart-stopping highlights; my bet is that he's the most successful tailback out of this class. I love the combination of moves, zone suitability, and flat-out speed cited by ESPN and demonstrated at track meets and football games.
And while Smith has outpaced even this site's positive take on him in year one, the main thing I'll be looking for this spring is Toussaint translating his sprinter's speed and audacious cuts to Michigan Stadium.
True freshmen Austin White and Stephen Hopkins have enrolled early and will get their shots as well. White is a slot/tailback who might be reminiscent of a Dorrell Jalloh or Darius Reynaud; he comes with less hype than Toussaint and I assume he will redshirt. Hopkins is the lowest-rated back of anyone on the roster but at 6-foot and 230-240 pounds there is a distinctly vacant role on the roster he might be the man to fill. Michigan needs a short-yardage moose.
Hoping for… Smith's healthy return and Toussaint living up to his crazy film.
Expecting… pretty much that, with Shaw factoring in as needed.
My assumption remains that Devin Gardner is headed for a redshirt. Still, getting a look at the future of Michigan's quarterback position will be a priority for many. Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms have a stranglehold on slot receiver, but an extended look at Jeremy Gallon with an eye towards "please God, send us a punt returner" will be welcome. On the outside, Junior Hemingway is a lock and it will take some doing to displace Darryl Stonum. With Ricardo Miller, Jeremy Jackson, and Jerald Robinson all in early there's a chance someone displays an ability to adjust to deep balls.
Finally, I wonder if any of the tight ends can catch now.
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.