Weapon of choice. Ace Anbender assembled a highlight video of Tate Forcier's spring game exploits:
Needs more Christopher Walken; otherwise excellent work. Most impressive to me was Forcier's little sling to Moundros in the flat. He's got a guy in his face and needs to put the ball on the money for Moundros to get anything out of it; he puts it right where it needs to be and Moundros can rumble for eight or so yards. That sort of short-range precision will help the offense immensely; too many times last year simple short passes turned into disaster. See: backwards lateral against Notre Dame, etc etc etc.
(Headline reference for the sadly deprived.)
The evidence lies in piles all around us. One has merely to pick it up and provide a cursory examination. I'm calling fair use on this because it is awesome and unbelievable. Ohio State's scrimmaging and the offense has just driven for a score that brings them within one. And then($):
Then, on the final series of the scrimmage, Pryor was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while jawing with defensive lineman Cameron Heyward with the offense poised to tie the game pending a point-after attempt. The penalty knocked the kick back to the 25-yard line, and Aaron Pettrey’s attempt sailed wide right to hand the defense a 56-55 victory.
So far in the brief, eventful career of Terrelle Pryor he's gotten in postgame near-riots after two high school basketball games, pioneered the drama-queen recruiting extension game, trash-talked Illinois fans, cried on the bench after blowing the Penn State game, and now he's taking unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for jawing at his own teammates in a scrimmage. Wheee!
Someone should start a Terrelle Pryor AK-47/Lint Roller Rampage Threat Level. You know, just in case.
DUDE: And you know Pryor has emotional problems!
WALTER: You mean, other than being a Buckeye?
DUDE: He's fragile, man! He's very fragile!
Lax bloggin'. It appears that Michigan swimming blog MGoSwim is no more; the registrations lapsed and domain tasters have replaced it with an ad-laced landing page featuring hotttt chicks…
…but there is another niche sport blog out there named in the classic "take MGoBlue and change it slightly" style: M Flow Blue, a blog dedicated to the very successful club lacrosse team. They're just getting ramped up; if you're interested in throwing little balls at high speeds I suggest you check them out.
Who is Jack Kennedy? One of the more mysterious mysteries of the spring game was the guy wearing 18 and playing quarterback. Despite being in a live-fire cannon fodder jersey, Jack Kennedy looked significantly better than nominal scholarship quarterback (and possessor of mad flow) David Cone. Surely this man must have a background? Eh… not so much.
Kennedy is apparently a 6 foot, 170 lb. freshman walk-on from Walled Lake Central H.S.. Kennedy is not listed on the spring roster on the team's website nor was a bio included in the Spring Football Media Guide.
Is it bad that our walk-on with no past is bigger than our anointed savior? Eh… maybe.
Brian, I liked your spring summary and I agreed with most of the points.
However, I left the spring game wondering if the performance of our offense (and Forcier, to be more precise) was more indicative of our lack of depth on defense. They played the second team defense and generally had their way with them. Considering how bad our offense was last year, does this just show that our defense has bad depth or that our offense (and Forcier) will actually be serviceable/good next year?
Obviously, this is the million dollar question, but I honestly left the spring game more worried about our defense than impressed with our offense.
Please allay my fears! Thanks.
I will attempt to do so via the magic of bullet points:
- That wasn't the second team defense, it was somewhere between the second and third team defense with half of the starters injured or largely held out.
- Depth should improve in the fall when the freshmen arrive.
- The defense is adapting to a new scheme, their third in three years. While this isn't good they should improve more quickly than a team that knows what it's doing and still sucks.
- Forcier may have had a lot of opportunities he might not otherwise but at least he took advantage of them in a way that I don't think Sheridan or Threet would have, at least not so consistently.
While I don't think Forcier is going to finish many games 11/14 with three touchdowns against no interceptions, the thing to watch for are things that don't depend on the defense: when a slant comes open does Forcier see it and throw it on time and accurately? When Roundtree bursts open deep does Forcier hit him? How many horrible interceptions, or balls that should rightly have been horribly intercepted, did he throw? By this measure, Forcier did very well.
Your larger point about the seemingly huge dropoff to the second-string defense, well… yeah. I got nothing for that.
This next one caused this late mailbag to be posted today, because today is "Michigan Football Solstice":
Today (April 15) is the longest possible point between actually, non-scrimmage Michigan football games.
There are 288 days between Nov. 22, 2008 (when Michigan last played, @ OSU) and Sept. 5 (when they next play, at home against Western.)
Nov 22. was 144 days ago.
Sept. 5 is 144 days from now.
We’re now closer to the next Michigan football game than we were to the last one.
I've got a listserv with fellow alumni where we're discussing how to celebrate. Pop in the DVD of the 2004 Michigan/MSU game? Scour the internet to discover if any former D1 athletes have a year of eligibility left and might be interested in enrolling at UM and trying out at QB? In honor of this year's Michigan Football Solstice falling on April 15th, maybe we could have a Teabag Paulus Party? Can we institute some kind of MGoBlog approved ritual for Michigan fans to celebrate this solemn occasion every year?
- Daryl Vautour
Well, hopefully Michigan football solstice isn't ever on April 15th again. This is usually going to be an early summer sort of event, so early summer sorts of activities would be best: grilling outside, having a beer, maybe lighting a squirrel on fire with a magnifying glass.* Most of the suggestions above are sad or temporary things, but setting aside some time to watch an old glory past sounds good. So: grill tubes of meat, drink beer, and watch… uh… something uplifting from the 1985 season, if available. And you're not doing anything RIGHT NOW.
*(Just me? Oh.)
Spring games don't lend themselves to narratives, so how about some bullet points? Bullet points.
Media explosion. If you missed it, there's a torrent. This would be a good moment to consider how vastly different the world is now than it was five years ago. There is a torrent of Michigan's spring game.
If you don't want to bother with that, four minutes of highlights from the Big Ten Network:
Also, Brandon Minor and his sweet beard talk to Shireen Saski: "that's like a real quarterback." Other interviews:
Photo galleries exist from the Free Press, Detroit News, Ann Arbor News, and various places on flickr: user dennisdolan3, the Daily's photostream, user snotzzz73, and Alex Karpowitsch. MVictors has photos of the locker room if you skipped the Line That Never Ends. Notice the U in "honour." Weird. Also from MVictors are alumni game photos.
Pleasantries dispensed, away we go:
Most encouraging development: The general existence of Tate Forcier. Forcier chucked one pass into a linebacker's pads but other than that was worlds better than anything Michigan's seen at quarterback since Lloyd Carr rode out of the Citrus Bowl on the shoulders of his team. Forcier was as advertised: quick and scrambly in the pocket, accurate on the run, worryingly small, &c.
He's not going to be great but his slipperiness and ability to operate out of a moving pocket—which should simplify reads, mitigate whatever issues his lack of height brings, and prevent his head from being taken off—should allow him to be effective without having total command of the playbook. Early competence beckons with the possibility for more down the road.
As always, you take intrasquad scrimmages seriously at your peril, but let's discount the effect of the defense and just look at the opportunities presented:
- Roy Roundtree bursts open deep and Forcier hits him between the numbers for a touchdown.
- Roundtree works free on a slant, upon which Forcier hits him between the numbers, on time.
- Forcier throws an okay fade to Mathews, which he brings down.
There was one overthrown screen and the shoulda-been interception, but other than that he was dead on. Unofficial stats had him 11/14 for 130 or so yards. That's worlds different from last year's spring game, in which both quarterbacks threw multiple interceptions to legends like Artis Chambers and everyone started panicking in earnest about what fall would bring. Forcier's first excursion as Michigan's quarterback could not have been more reassuring.
The final word goes to Greg Mathews:
"The fans were cheering his name before the game, and I said, 'Don't get nervous, Tate,' and he said, 'I'm not nervous. There's some times he gets confused out there, but he's a high school senior. But his poise is definitely what stands out about him. His command when we huddle up, or on the sideline, he's focused in practices instead of goofing around."
A close second most encouraging development: Insert praise about Lloyd Carr here but, man, am I glad Rodriguez has done a 180 on the spring game. That felt like an event. It was fun, and though the 50k reported seemed a little generous—I and most around me thought it was 40k—it was probably about four times the number who attended Carr's last spring game. The line to see the locker room snaked all the way around Crisler and might have impeded traffic on Main.
Least encouraging development: Stevie Brown put a stake through the now annual "this is Stevie's year!" meme by getting juked out his jock by the Coner. Coner has mad flow, and since he was a 6'5" option QB with all the mobility of John Navarre in high school he must have a wicked option fake, but… yeesh, man. At least we're going into the fall with our eyes open.
A close second least encouraging development: the second-team offense, led by the aforementioned Coner, drove the field for touchdowns a couple times despite Cone amply demonstrating why anyone who talks about him starts his paragraph with "Cone is a terrific human being." They did this against the first team defense. Yerk.
This isn't totally unexpected. When the second team running backs are Grady and Brown and Vincent Smith and the second team defensive line includes 5'7", 249 pound Dominic Ware, the talent is not exactly balanced. Once Van Bergen went out with a knee injury (it's minor; six weeks and he'll be fine) the first team defense was missing four sure starters to injury (RVB, Warren, Martin, and Mouton) and using another sparingly to prevent injury (Brandon Graham), putting further pressure on that lack of depth. Said lack of depth is severe, though, and Michigan looks like it will be facing huge dropoffs from the first to second team if they can't remain unusually healthy next year.
What it is. Staying with the defense, the projection about the new scheme was that it would look like a 4-3 with a standup defensive end, and this was for the most part true. Like the spread 'n' shred they're going to look pretty limited early, what with the lack of talent and the missing starters and the new alignment, but GSimmons picked out even, under, and 3-4 fronts even this early. Also picked out: very bad linebacker play from walk-ons.
Obviously. Martavious Odoms fumbled Michigan's first punt return attempt of 2009.
Ok, Carlos, now it's time to pull a hamstring. Tantalize us one last time, Carlos Brown. For old time's sake.
I was going to fret about the defense on this play and then I was like "oh those guys are all walk-ons." So, yeah, if walk-ons play they will not be good. This lesson you have already burned into your brain, so we'll skip the rehash.
A first depth chart bitch of the year. Junior Hemingway, stuck on the second team, had ample opportunity to prove he has nice body control and hands by flagging down a number of Coner ducks. Meanwhile, Darryl Stonum made one spectacular leaping grab… and dropped a screen right in his hands. I'm betting Hemingway emerges as the #2 outside receiver early.
As long as we're on receiver depth chart stuff: Terrance Robinson was also as advertised, quick but with a significant case of the dropsies. Odoms didn't feature much, leaving much of the work in the slot to Roy Roundtree, who looked excellent, sure handed and good with his routes. His rep is as a fearless possession receiver lacking in the speed, so I don't know if we'll see a whole lot of deep seams unless he has the good fortune to be going up against walk-ons in Big Ten play, but a reliable receiver is a reliable receiver.
Also, if Roundtree doesn't already have a nickname…
Roundtree had difficulty focusing on passes this Spring because he had trouble seeing the ball. The U-M staff ordered him contact lenses, which arrived just in time for the spring game. Roy put them in and then put on a show for the Michigan faithful, making big plays and catching a handful of touchdown passes, including a big 60-yard touchdown from Forcier.
"All Spring ball my coaches have been asking me when I'll get my contacts, when I'll get my contacts," laughed Roundtree. "I got my contacts today. I couldn't see the long balls in practice, but today I saw them just fine."
…he should be "Wild Thing". Rodriguez on this impossibility:
"In the first half of the spring, he was struggling catching some balls, and then we looked at him, and he'd squint at you," Rodriguez said Saturday.
"That was the first sign, 'You'd better get your eyes checked.' The doctor said he didn't know how he was walking a straight line."
How does a guy go an entire year at Michigan before anyone realizes he can't see? This is symptomatic of the chaos that went on last year. Deeply symptomatic.
Either that or Roundtree was afraid Carson Butler would give him a wedgie and leave him hanging on a bathroom hook.
Overly-optimistic post-spring chatter. (HT: Dr. Saturday.) I didn't watch Mark Huyge enough to confirm this for myself—and, honestly, I'm an amateur who needs to go over running plays a half-dozen times before I can form an opinion on who did what right—but the general opinion on his play was hugely (HA!) positive. Even without the benefit of tape review I can say this: if Huyge has surged in front of Perry Dorrestein, who was functional last year, and the much-hyped Patrick Omameh that bodes well for his future and for Michigan's line.
With the influx of the redshirt freshmen, maturation of John Ferrara, and healthy return of Huyge there are now a lot of lottery tickets on the line and chances are the guy who lays claim to the right tackle spot is going to be pretty good, at least eventually. This is a situation more akin to Chad Henne beating out Clayton Richard and Matt Gutierrez (sort of; labrum and all that) than Nick Sheridan beating out Steven Threet and No One.
Vincent Smith, on the other hand, was pretty easy to evaluate since he's a running back. He looked small and darty, tougher to tackle than you might imagine but not an instant impact sort. Smith has flashed Mike Hart's crazy ability to defy tackling in practice; too bad he didn't have some crazy spinning run for the crowd to ooh and aw at.
Vlad Emilien is the safety taking a poor angle and trailing Carlos Brown all the way to the endzone in the video above, but, again, people seem highly encouraged by his play. I've had Michigan safety skepticism beaten into me by Angry Michigan Safety Hating God and will remain skeptical until such time as I can't anymore.
Walk-on quarterback Jack Kennedy is so obscure that he sported a regular contact jersey and was used as cannon fodder repeatedly, but… uh… he looked way better than Cone.
The incoming and signed. Denard Robinson made his way up to check out the competition:
"I came up just for the spring game," Robinson said. "I wanted to see the game and the fans and stuff. It's good. It's got me speechless."
That article has an outstandingly FAKE 40 time for Robinson: 4.38. Justin Turner, Isaiah Bell, and Brendan Gibbons also stopped by to see the festivities.
The incoming but unsigned. This will get more coverage tomorrow in Tuesday Recruitin', but the recruiting weekend was a successful one. Thumping Texas back Stephen Hopkins committed. Four star Miami offensive lineman Torrian Wilson left saying Michigan was his leader. So did FL S Marvin Robinson. Unconfirmed chatter on MI CB Dior Mathis and—surprise!—presumed Spartan and MI RB Austin White was also highly positive.
Also hanging around was another Forcier: Jason, MGoBlog's favorite backup quarterback of all time. He's graduating from Stanford and plans to enroll in grad school at Michigan. Presumably he'll try to get on the football team, but he's only got one year of eligibility left and will have to jump through—or, more accurately, create—the proper NCAA hoops if he's going to be able to participate. If you recall Ryan Mundy's immediate playing time after his fifth-year transfer to West Virginia, also recall that the NCAA immediately repealed that rule after Florida pirated one of Utah's starting cornerbacks. He'll have to apply for some super secret waiver, which I don't think he'll get.
The previous mailbag was, uh, abbreviated. And caused great discussion about whether I should call people who send in emails dicks, to which I respond: probably not.
Anyway. This is a good question I don't have an answer to:
After Spring practice, exactly what do the players do (supervised or unsupervised) until official fall practice begins? I know there must be some restrictions on coaching but I'm very interested to know exactly what does go on.
Thanks, Marc ' 71
I am pretty sure S&C programs can continue being S&C programs year-round, so players will get a faceful of Barwis this summer. As far as what technically-not-but-actually mandatory, organized-but-not-technically summer sessions are and what, exactly, are the things prohibited… I have no idea. Anyone out there know the details on what college programs do when practice is officially verboten? What is Tate Forcier going to be doing in June related to his football pursuits? What about Will Campbell?
I saw that you thought Forcier will only get about half a dozen carries or so/game.
Do you think the QB/Forcier will be less involved in the running game this year? Sheridan and Threet combined for 118 carries last year - about 10 a game (I didn't include Feagin's runs cause I'm assuming the reason the coaches put him in was for him to run). A lot of complaints I read about Threet was that he didn't make the correct read on the handoff and should have kept the ball some more (to keep the defensive end honest and stop him from crashing in hard on the play).
I honestly don't care how much the QB carries the ball, it just seems that Forcier only getting a half dozen carries a game would a good decrease (assuming Threet should have carried the ball more).
Well, by half a dozen carries I mean voluntary carries. A significant number of those Sheridan/Threet carries from a year ago were sacks or scrambles, which should rightly be considered passing plays.
Also, the effectiveness equation is considerably different with Forcier. Forcier who presumably can throw better than the two guys from last year and Minor—now the undisputed #1 tailback—is way more effective than McGuffie was. So it'll make more sense to throw and run tailbacks than have Forcier keep the ball.
Reading between the lines, I sense some concern that Michigan's reluctance to run their only hope will make the offense less diverse and correspondingly less effective, and I agree. Last year teams ignored the quarterback on zone read handoffs to the point where I was typing "KEEP THE BALL DAMMIT" into the Purdue liveblog after every play. Michigan's fear of the great murky unknown behind Forcier will make their offense less effective. But that's a necessary tradeoff given the cliff Michigan steps off if Forcier is injured.
I do think you'll see Michigan try to make up that decrease with Feagin/Robinson packages. Those may be completely ineffective because of their predictability, but for some reason this wildcat thing seems to work well so maybe it'll do ok.
Speaking of Robinson:
I think we’re generally missing the boat on D Rob when we compare him with TF. I’ve watched all of the highlight films and I actually think D Rob has some very good skills as a QB. I think where we’ll see a separation between the two is the run game. TF is not built to run it 10-15 a game, but he could be enough of a scrambler to constantly keep a defender assigned to him, which opens up some underneath stuff for slot ninjas, TEs, and RBs out of the backfield. D Rob does have some excellent mechanics for a guy not highly touted as a QB.
I get blasted for this, but his foot work and release remind me of Peyton Manning when he’s pressured in the pocket. No, I’m not saying he is the second coming of PM, as some said when they read my post in the diaries, but there is some good things happening with D Rob in the pocket. He sets a good base and delivers the ball with a high and crisp release. The one thing they both did consistently in their highlight films was throw balls into tight coverage, lock onto one receiver, and hold the ball way too long. I think you’ll still see that this year no matter how much they get coached up. It’s just a lot to learn when it comes to reading defenses and then being able to process that information quickly enough to be able to make the correct decision. Again, I am going to the Spring Game to see how the team looks in person, but I think we’re realistically going to be a .500 team, plus or minus a game.
All in all, by the 4th game, I think D Rob gets some significant snaps because he brings the run dimension that RR so badly needs to make this offense work.
Steve's not alone in his assessment of Robinson. ESPN also thought his QB skills were underrated:
Robinson is just a flat out playmaker in every sense of the word and he will surprise you with his production in the passing game. If he were taller, there is no doubt he would be a serious QB prospect, but his overall skills will likely land him somewhere else. Has a quick, live arm and is very effective in the short and intermediate areas of the field. Can throw the ball vertically with touch and lay the ball in, but does not have the powerful arm to drive the ball 50 yards on a consistent basis.
Add that to his rushing stats—85 carries for 462 yards, which is actually less than Forcier rushed for—and it is possible we've got a completely incorrect idea about what sort of player Robinson is going to be. But then you've got the passing stats:
Key Statistics... completed 100-of-231 passes for 1,809 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior ...
There's a big, big gap between those numbers and Forcier's. That's a 43% completion rate. I know that high school passing is often a whole lot of bombing downfield (18 yards per completion!), but those numbers say "project" to me.
I'm noticing a disturbing trend with the '07 recruits transferring at a much more alarming rate than the usual fourth-string running back bolting for a D-2 school. How do you think this will impact the team in two years or so, when most of these players like Mallett, Boren, Clemons, Horn and others would have been seniors?
For the record, transfers out of the 2007 recruiting class; Mallett, Horn, Clemons, Babb and Chambers. (JUCO Austin Panter has also departed; Boren was part of the 2006 class.) Five guys gone in two years is somewhat alarming, but you can file Horn and Babb under the "fourth string player bolting for D-II." Mallett's departure is obviously a huge negative; Clemons was highly rated but ill-suited for the spread 'n' shred; Chambers was kind of an eh recruit but was getting a significant amount of practice buzz.
But I don't think the problem with the 2007 class is the transfers as much as that it just wasn't very good. Once you got past the two five stars there were a ton of reaches: Horn, Babb, Watson, Huyge, Sagesse, Evans, Herron, Panter, Woolfolk, and Rogers were low-rated players with virtually no offers comparable to the Michigan one. Watson was pursued by Colorado and Minnesota, Herron had a Nebraska offer, Sagesse was initially ticketed for Illinois, and that's it. Picking up the occasional sleeper isn't a bad thing, but this was class with really poor depth masked by the two big stars at the top of it. And now one of those guys is gone.
Combine that with a complete change in offensive philosophy and you're going to be looking at a lot of guys who are noncontributors. Michigan's already moved Watson and Helmuth to the other side of the ball.
So, yeah, I agree with you. Michigan's 2007 class is well on its way to bust status, one of a number of factors that will see Michigan struggle to put together an elite program until probably 2011. Fortunately, it appears both offensive linemen are panning out and most of the other guys who look to be contributors (Hemingway, RVB, Webb) have redshirted, so they've got some time.
Norm. Points for AJ Daulerio for locating Norm MacDonald's 1998 ESPY monologue, posting it, and making it un-destroyable. It's worth watching just for Ken Griffey Jr.'s reaction, but there is Michigan relevance here: Norm's closer is, as Daulerio says, an epically ruthless joke directed at Heisman winner Charles Woodson.
Personal anecdote: back around this time, Norm put on a show at Hill. At this show, 1) my friends and I started giggling as he walked out on stage, before he had even said a word, 2) he was obviously drunk, 3) at some point he said the words "see this cake here? Yeah, it's my girlfriend. I f---ed it last night." At some point early someone heckled him about his drunkenness and was ruthlessly dispatched of; at some point late he complained he wasn't feeling very good and someone, possibly the same person, shouted out "sobering up?" Norm, busted, had no reply.
For a certain type of person, Norm MacDonald is an American hero*, and I am one of those people. I even watched his sitcom.
*(even though he's Canadian.)
Porch couches shiver in the twilight, alone and flammable. We've established that I don't care whether or not you root for Michigan State tonight. For the record: I'm in the North Carolina camp, but I can understand people who want to see Digger Phelps eat his liver or for some good news in the midst of stories about the implosion of the auto companies and so forth and so on.
Pro- or con-, we can all look forward to the post game. This website will be relevant tonight:
I'm actually betting there's been enough shame beaten into the area that there won't be a riot, thus ending one of Michigan's most well-loved external traditions. But hope yet remains. Come on, Western students. It's not your town, and you don't care. Flip some cars.
Our only hope. Some more detail on what, exactly, Tate Forcier brings to the table:
[QB coach Rod] Smith likes his polished throwing mechanics -- "He's got a tight delivery, quick release, everything is nice and compact, it's out in a hurry and the kid's very accurate" -- and his willingness to study tape and prepare for practices. …
"He just seems to find people," Smith said. "Sometimes, you can't teach that. ... He understands when to step up, understands how to feel pressure, his eyes are always working forward even when he takes off. He's got a good feel, he really does, and that's important for that position."
Sounds like Michigan is going to incorporate a heavy dose of the rollout passes that were so infuriating for the defense a year ago; may they work as well.
Erm… come again? I don't want to alarm anyone, but Mark Snyder, or rather the guy who writes the headlines at the Free Press, has no such compunctions. Sims and Harris were supposed to be holy locks to stay. This is titled "Beilein not definite about Harris, Sims returning"…
Michigan coach John Beilein, interviewed Thursday on WTKA (1050-AM), was asked directly if Harris and Sims are coming back next year, bypassing interest in the NBA.
Beilein's answer was not definitive.
"There's a certain protocol you have to go through to end up doing that," Beilein said. "I can't answer that question just yet. I think it would be premature to answer that question. There are certain things we have to do to understand what happens with this whole thing. So we'll probably be able to give you more news on that in the weeks ahead. That doesn't mean people should start worrying out there, it just means I'm not going to talk about it."
The rest of it is basically Beilein being careful and is nothing to get alarmed about. Don't panic. The deadline to put your name in is April 26th, in case you're concerned.
Ohio, you disappoint but do not surprise. Barkevious Mingo is up for Name of the Year, of course. The site had a poll asking which member of the Mingo's pod would make the sweet 16 and their software has a cool state-by-state breakdown. Mingo was up against a plebian dick joke in the first round that Michigan rejected wholly but Ohio State ate up, as it were:
You can see in the results an obvious bias towards Mingo on the college football-obsessed sections of the country: outside of Louisiana, which is obviously in the tank, Mingo's biggest results are in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Georgia, and Michigan. (Montana and South Dakota both went 100% for Mingo but that probably represents one vote each.) Michigan has a sparkling 73% pro-Mingo number, of which we can all be proud.
Spring practice continues and there's the usual mix of unwarranted excitement and unwarranted doomsaying; that combined with the incestuous nature of the whole enterprise makes information wobbly. But wobbly is better than nothing.
A rundown of scuttlebutt received in my inbox and published elsewhere:
The conflicts start hot and heavy with Forcier, who has articles like this written about him:
"Coach Barwis, he's shown me a whole different life," Forcier said, chuckling. "But I'm getting a lot stronger, and that's a good thing."
On the field, Forcier, who is expected to compete with Nick Sheridan for the starting QB job, said one of the biggest challenges is adjusting to the snap, which he's had some trouble hanging onto during spring practices.
"It's just getting comfortable with how they snap it to you," he said. "In high school, you get these slow shotgun snaps. Here, these come back like rockets."
Yikes. There have been plenty of reports citing the usual harsh transition from college to high school, with balls zinged into linebackers' chests and hilariously arrogant attempts to reverse field resulting in 20-yard sacks.
On the other hand, multiple attendees have noted the positives to Forcier's game, especially in relation to Rodriguez's offense: he's elusive, extremely accurate on the run, and has enough zip to get the ball where it needs to go. Much of the practice time has been devoted to tougher passes—no bubble screens—and things the offense isn't good at yet, which makes them look worse than they might if they were operating with some of the easier stuff to execute.
At least that's the positive way to look at it. The other way to look at it is basically "we're going to die." One viewpoint is in relation to what happened last year—even skeptics have been very clear that the quarterback situation is vastly improved over DEATH. The other is comparing freshman Forcier to quarterbacks who are actually, like, good. The overall impression is that Forcier isn't a 9-3 QB, but neither is he a 3-9 one.
"Out of the freshman, they're all doing good, doing what I expect them to do, but Vincent Smith is showing a lot of potential. He's not backing down ... He's got real used to hitting early on. He does that very well."
"Vince, whewwwww. Vince Smith, he can move, he can run. He's out there running like the wind. He makes a lot of guys miss. I think we might be able to use him this year."
(Note the assumption in Forcier's quote there.)
"He's really come along," Rodriguez said earlier this week. "He's still confused sometimes, as all the freshmen would be, but he's shown some flashes in (Tuesday's) practice and he's a guy that's probably going to play some as a true freshman. I love his attitude, he loves playing and he's a quick learner on the field and he's got some natural ability, so I'm pretty excited about him."
This isn't wholly surprising. Smith's initially lukewarm reviews gave way to a more positive take after his impressive senior season. Though he didn't scrape his way out of the three-star ghetto, he moved way up on both major sites as they refined their rankings and Smith powered Pahokee to another state title. A couple of Florida correspondents said he was a terrific back whose ratings were held back by his size and a lack of pure white-hot speed, much like Oregon State's Jacquizz Rogers without the Name of the Year potential. (Vote for Mingo!)
Smith's got a number of veterans in front of him and isn't going to be an instant feature back with Minor looking like a beast and Brown (mostly) healthy, but it sounds like he's hopped in front of Cox and Grady and will spend this year vying against Michael Shaw to see who starts next year.
(At right: Brandon Smith tackling… uh… Brandon Smith? Is this like that A-Rod picture? Or one of those mirror universe episodes of any sci-fi show that goes on so long the writers get bored to tears with the characters?
One thing I definitely know: that's not some walk-on. Nope, it's definitely Brandon Smith in some sort of weird temporal vortex.)
This won't be surprising to anyone even vaguely familiar with Michigan football since Marcus Ray, but, yeah, argh safeties. Stevie Brown has been moved down into a nickel/OLB spot, much to the relief of everyone. This Free Press article says Brown "didn't have the impact many expected," which is a nice way of saying "had exactly the impact everyone feared." Now he's elsewhere:
"He's going to be a multipositional player for us," coach Rich Rodriguez said before practice Thursday. "Obviously, he's playing a lot of nickel back, in kind of a nickel-back situation. It's kind of a hybrid of an outside linebacker/strong safety position, which I think he's perfectly suited for."
Actually, he does seem well suited for that sort of role. Brown only got more frustrating last year when he started making the occasional sweet play to go with his free touchdown per game. Highly rated out of high school, Brown's a capital-a Athlete and seems an excellent fit for this coverage/blitz/tackle hybrid spot. An emailer reports back from the coaches' clinic:
Also there was some promising news on Stevie Brown. Greg Robinson talking about Stevie Brown said “He’s a hell of an athlete and he’s a hell of a lot better football player where we have him now (strong side LB)."
So hurray for all that.
However, moving him leaves just two returning players at the position: Mike Williams, who saw some playing time a year ago and didn't do anything of note good or bad, and redshirt freshman Brandon Smith. That's a horrifying lack of depth at a position we're all well aware can be an instant 60-yard touchdown for the opposition.
That was ominous enough. Then various reports came back that neither was starting. Longtime Michigan insider Maizeman:
Starting safeties (Thursday) were Woolfolk and Vlad. Yes, Vlad as starter. He looked, on Thursday, to be our best safety -- not even close.
Oy. That's a true freshman and a position switch starter at a position where Yards After Mundy can rack up in a hurry. When I profiled Emilien I noted he was an early enroller, an honor-roll student, and had a serious flirtation with Ohio State (which unearths functional-to-excellent unhyped safeties on a frustratingly regular basis). All of these things point to a sunny future for Emilien and I think sooner or later he'll be a good safety for Michigan. But by "sooner or later" I mean "later".
Woolfolk, meanwhile, was running at corner as of a week ago. With his departure the current two deep there is:
- Cissoko and Warren
- JT Floyd and Floyd Simmons, redshirt freshman walk-on.
Argh. It's hard to see the position switch as anything other than a condemnation of the projected starters at safety. The chatter now has Smith moving to linebacker eventually due to a lack of speed. You can see a hint of that in this Rodriguez quote:
"He has not played, he's a redshirt freshman, but he's got a lot of ability," Rodriguez said. "He's still got to get in shape to be able to play on the back end, like our safeties have to do sometimes. You've got to be able to run a lot, a whole lot, and they're still adjusting to that. But I think he's going to be able to help us in a lot of spots this year."
With Brown a senior and Smith a little ponderous for safety we might see the latter move to this hybrid spot during the year if Emilien and Woolfolk work out.
About That Defense
I got a number of emails from people smarter than me about football in regards to this 4-3/3-4 distinction; happily, none of them call me an idiot. A coach who attended the clinic a few days ago:
The report that the defense would come to resemble a 3-4 seems a little off base. After attending the Coaching Clinic and seeing the defense in action it is the same thing that you see at a lot of programs. First it is considered a 4-3 but it is a multiple 40 defense where you are going to see numerous adjustments (the same as any college program). They will slide into some 3-4 sets by dropping their Quick (strong side end speed rusher/lb hybrid) This can be called for coverage or zone blitz scheme.
The biggest improvement I believe you will see come in the form of tackling and angles. Greg Robinson has already overhauled the pursuit angles and has really stressed proper body mechanics when tackling. You could visibly notice the change in tackles and finish. Jay Hopson also commented that “Greg has really made a huge improvement to how we tackle. It’s night and day from last year.”
This sounds much like what was mentioned in What Is It. Michigan is basically going with a 4-3 that has the flexibility to drop into a 3-4 when the situation warrants it or Robinson just wants to throw a curveball. To do this you need a chunky linebacker at the standup end spot, a guy who can hold up (or penetrate) against a tackle on a run to his side, rush the passer, and credibly drop into a short zone. Shawn Crable would be an excellent fit. So would prospective recruit Will Gholston. (HINT HINT, MR. GHOLSTON.)
The closest analogue to what Michigan appears to be installing is the defense of the Arizona Cardinals, who run a "4-3 under" most of the time with a weakside DE/LB they call the "predator," thereby soundly defeating Michigan's nomenclature. As hybrids go, it's hybrid-y:
…in the 4-3 “under” front, like the Cardinals use as their base defense, which looks similar to the 3-4 to the naked eye, the biggest difference is in the outside linebackers. The strong-side linebacker is still outside the tight end. But the other outside guy — the Cardinals call this player their “Predator” — is almost always rushing the passer, although the Cards will occasionally drop him into coverage to mix things up. Other differences: The nose tackle shades to the A-gap (in between the center and guard) on the tight end side, and the end on that side moves between the tackle and tight end.
explained that the 3-4 defense creates the most confusion for the offense in terms of which outside linebacker is doing what, and the standard 4-3 offers the least unpredictability. The Cardinals’ 4-3 “under” scheme is somewhere in between the two in terms of causing the offense to guess who is rushing and who is dropping.
There is one uncovered linebacker—eg, "man who must take on unblocked guard"—in the 4-3 under, which is different from the 4-3 (none) and the 3-4 (two). That's the MLB, meaning Obi Ezeh. Onus, meet third year starter who's been fairly disappointing so far. You'll be good friends all year.
Also, here's Tyler Sellhorn, who's sent in an email or two before and contributed to Doctor Saturday, on what the whole "rush end/linebacker" thing was:
The Hermann era defense was better known in its day as a 5-2. 3 DTs and 2 DEs; however, the strongside and weakside specialized by personnel, tactics, or alignment. The weakside DE was called the "drop end" an excellent deployment of a SS type player (Stevie Brown). The strongside DE was called the "rush end", think Lawrence Taylor/Derrick Thomas. Calling it a 3-4 is "sexier" because safeties and speedy big guys would be prefer to be called linebackers than defensive ends. As an offensive line coach and former lineman, I hated playing "odd" fronts (with a nose guard). The angles for your usual blocks change significantly and when the defense chooses it is easier to bring up support from the outside and from the safeties. 3-4 is more flexible in the secondary as well because linebackers can be put in coverage much easier.
IMO, I think the (very) early returns are good for GERG.
So there you go.
A Brief Summary Of My State Of Mind
Look: we're not going to be good. There is a true freshman quarterback who, while as ready as he can be, is still not ready at all. The line is probably going to be okay, but not dominant. They're installing a new defensive package and holy God is the secondary thin. They'll get some reinforcements in the fall but it's like quarterback: when you've got six highly-rated options for two spots whoever wins that job is likely to be good. When you've got two, you're hoping that both pan out, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble.
Position switch starters—one of MGoBlog's primary "uh oh" heuristics—seem likely at safety (Woolfolk), DE/spinner (Herron), LB/SS (Brown), and LG (Schilling). None of those are huge deals in and of themselves as they don't involve flipping sides of the ball, like Ferrara did last year, and generally see players moving into spots where they are faster than the opposition or just plain better suited; together that's a lot of flux. Digging out of this hole is going to be a multi-year project, and I don't mean we'll only make the Alamo this year. Notre Dame went from 3-9 to 7-6 and though they had a bigger hole to dig out of they weren't starting over at quarterback. A similar improvement seems realistic.