and... i like them? I think I like them.
Programming Note: I'll be on WTKA with John U Bacon this afternoon from 4-5. WTKA streams live for those in the diaspora.
It wasn't a total head implosion weekend. Lost in the dual frustrations from hockey and basketball was the baseball team's strong start: 4-0 against an array of Big East teams (and, oddly, Purdue), including two walk-off wins to open the season. Formerlyanonymous is now blogging up a storm about the baseball team at Varsity Blue; his article on the weekend is probably the most detailed recap of a Michigan baseball weekend ever written(!).
Michigan is in Jacksonville Wednesday through Sunday taking on a wide array of meh-sounding teams: North Florida, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jacksonville, and Akron. Their major opportunity to get some committee-impressing nonconference wins comes in mid-March when Michigan goes to Arizona for a three-game series.
Hello again, Elliot. Elliot Mealer's unfortunate life story has made him perhaps the most-chronicled anonymous redshirt freshman offensive linemen ever(!). His local paper has a story on him, and this one deviates from the usual fluff and goes for a couple of interesting quotes:
"The speed of the game is just incredibly different from high school," reflected Mealer. "I talked to guys who I had played with at Wauseon and told them about the first time I faced speed in practice. I was playing left tackle against Tim Jamison (2008 starting defensive end). He comes at me and in high school you are taught to get your hands on him and move, but he slapped my hands down before I ever got them up. The next thing I realize I'm on the ground asking what happened and he's sacking the quarterback."
There's also a story about John Thompson crushing Mealer backwards, causing him to wonder if he'd been concussed; it's a step up from the usual stuff you get in these things.
One downer: it sounds like Mealer's on-field future may have been damaged by the car crash.
For Mealer, the challenge is restoring lost shoulder strength which may never return.
"The team has been doing a lot of upper arm strengthening in the weight room, but I'm not allowed to start that until after spring break (Feb. 20-28)," said Mealer. "At that time, I will start out with two to three days of upper body strength training and I'm not sure how long that will last, but it could last my whole career just to stay on top of it."
Mealer was a top-250 sort who certainly projected to playing time; with lingering effects from the injury he won't be in the conversation to start this year, at the very least.
…Rodriguez is in danger of falling behind in the spread offense arms race in terms of sophistication. I discussed that phenomena with Purdue as a pass-first spread team over the last decade, but it's of a slightly different order with Michigan. In the spread's nascent days, the spread-to-run innovators included Rodriguez and Kevin Wilson and Randy Walker at Northwestern, with Urban Meyer following shortly after. Wilson is now at OU and of course Meyer is at Florida. Compare their offenses with Rodriguez's: there's not much difference from a run-game standpoint (though Meyer and OU mix up their sets a bit more and use more tight-ends now), but the passing games have seen a wide departure. Wilson now uses what Chuck Long put in at OU, with some schematic residue lingering from Mike Leach and Mark Mangino, while Meyer, along with Dan Mullen and Mike Sanford, assembled a pro-style one-back approach gleaned from John L. Smith and Scott Linehan from Louisville and Joe Tiller and Jim Chaney from Purdue. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Meyer's passing game, but it's definitely more sophisticated than what Rodriguez has going on.
But Rodriguez is a bright guy and his passing game originally derived from (though is a long way now) the old run and shoot. So you'd think he could remedy this. Yet with nothing but true freshman, that evolution will have to wait. The longer they wait, however, the farther behind they fall.
This is more of a restated concern than a new one, and it's worth pointing out that the situation Rodriguez inherited last year was not conducive demonstrating any sort of great leap forward in passing sophistication. The larger issue is that Rodriguez, scrambling to do a thousand different things to reshape the Michigan football program, is probably not spending a lot of time keeping ahead of the game. It's all conjecture until walk-ons have been banished from the depth chart, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
I'm hoping this is more of a Pat White effect than a Rich Rodriguez one; West Virginia's passing offense of late didn't look sophisticated because 1) it didn't have to be and 2) it didn't play into White's strengths. Even if White did well at the combine keep in mind that Rodriguez was deploying the guy as a freshman/sophomore/junior, so the bulk of his recent forays into passing games were with a wobbly underclass jet engine; risk would be stupid in a situation like that. Tate Forcier, the most accurate passer EVER, figures to change that equation significantly.
More attrition? Buried in this recruiting chat from Josh Helmholdt is an interesting bit of speculation:
The WR position was a disappointment this past year, so I certainly understand the need to recruit as many WR's as possible. Also, the depth at the slot WR position is shallow and could get even thinner before the freshmen come in next year.
That points squarely the departure of a slot receiver currently on the team. Martavious Odoms was Michigan's leading receiver a year ago and has two teammates joining him, so it's unlikely to be him. Terrance Robinson is a redshirt freshman who didn't play because of injury. Rodriguez recruited him to play in the slot, too. He's probably going to stick around and try to earn playing time. There's only one other guy on the roster who played in the slot last year: Toney Clemons. There have been erratic transfer rumors about Clemons for months now, but never anything concrete. This is also not concrete, obviously, but Helmholdt doesn't just say things without sourcing.
Guess it didn't go good. You might recall the stunningly annoying/developmentally disabled Notre Dame fan/future player standing behind yrs truly at the ND-M game at Yost; if so, know that I and a few others have concluded that that fan must have been Cam Fowler simply because he was too tall to be any of the other USNTDP kids committed to ND for next year. At one point Fowler jawed that if his grades went "good" he'd be playing for ND next year.
2010 NHL draft stud Cam Fowler of the U.S. under-18 squad has de-committed from Notre Dame. This is the first step toward an official announcement of his signing with the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.
Algebra and geography and, you know, like, stuff did not go good, I guess. That's a major blow to ND; Fowler may have trouble spelling his name but is widely regarded a top-ten NHL draft pick.
Ha. I love this verdict to tiny little bits:
A Washtenaw County jury today found former Wolverine Marlin Jackson was defamed by a fellow student who falsely accused him of assault with a bottle at an off-campus party in 2003. The six-member panel also awarded Jackson, a defensive back with the Indianapolis Colts, $225,000 in damages --roughly the equivalent of a draft slot in the NFL, said his attorney, Ellis Freatman.
One Shahin Farokhrany—who certainly looks like an eminently punchable douchebag—sued Jackson for ten million dollars after accusing him of striking him with a bottle. Evidently this did not occur, and now EPD Farokhrany is on the hook for a cool two hundred grand plus attorney's costs. Score one for Jackson.
Croosh the Illini. I haven't embedded a Wolverine Historian video in a while, so here's ten minutes of Michigan beating Illinois 38-14 in 1995:
Speaking of. The JCCW says a prayer for beatwriters:
It's flattering, but the ironic truth is that I leach (not unfairly, but still) off the work of Auburn's beat writers 10,000 times more than I'm sure they leach from me. The number of times Messrs. Woodbery, Goldberg, Tate, Bitter, and Brietzke have felt the need to link to me can still be counted on one hand. … Without those guys, the JCCW doesn't have any news to report, no breaking stories to react to, no quotes to parse. At that point it's all Rumor and Speculation, and while there's always ways to dig through the topsoil of Rumor and Speculation to get to the truth buried underneath, it's not an easy or particularly fun process. Beat writers, in my view, are an essential set of cogs in this great big machine we call Being an Auburn Fan.
Which is why it always makes my skin crawl a bit when I see bloggers celebrating the death of the newspaper.
While newspapers are imploding in spectacular fashion you're not going to see them disappear of the map entirely.
Given the current vectors a couple of these guys will end up locked behind paywalls, but there's always going to be at least one free beatwriter sort; failing that you're going to see athletic departments get involved with the dissemination of information. How many articles about Steven Threet's transfer do you need? Before the internet the answer was "as many as there are newspapers"; now the answer is "one." Not one two three four five six and probably more that I can't be bothered to turn up right now. Unless said writer has some sort of special inside relationship with the program or coaches, as Angelique Chengelis did with Lloyd Carr, their work is completely redundant with everyone else out there, with limited exceptions. And since in Michigan's case those exceptions seem to be limited to the student newspaper unearthing more actual information than the professionals, let's not get too worked up over the imminent departure of some random guy writing the same exact stories as some other random guy at another news organization.
A beatwriter is important, and the one or two or three folks best qualified will see it through. The rest of them have a future in PR; their departure will be felt by no one. Kids, if you're angling to write about sports for a living don't make the vast bulk of your writing a commodity replicable by anyone with an editor. Pretend you're going to be asked to justify your existence, Onion-style, every week.
Do we have expectations? The good doctor has been wondering about Michigan with frequency of late, and his latest runs down the list of true freshman quarterbacks deployed at power programs with an eye towards the Forcier/Robinson pairing that will, ready or not, be thrust into the Michigan QB job come fall. The results are predictably grim, with no team on the list finishing with fewer than three losses and several cratering spectacularly:
A quick check of the successful teams reveals things like Beanie Wells and Braylon Edwards and Darren McFadden and Knowshown Moreno, and while Michigan isn't as bereft of talent as Baylor they aren't exactly sprouting obvious top ten draft picks from every available orifice.
DocSat ends on a grim note:
In the wake of last year's Chernobyl-like meltdown, .500 and a middling bowl game with a true freshman starter who eventually solidifies himself as a long-term answer might suit Michigan just fine. If you compare the Wolverines to the handiest available precedent, Notre Dame's rebound campaign last year, that's as far as the Irish bounced off their 3-9 disaster, and that was with a sophomore with a full season under his belt and the world at his feet as a recruit. Forcier is very, very reminiscent of a less-hyped, more athletic Jimmy Clausen, another relatively polished California kid preceded by in the big-time college ranks by his older brother. Unlike Charlie Weis, though, who was coming off a pair of BCS bowl bids in his first two seasons in South Bend, Rich Rodriguez can't really afford another mulligan.
I was basically with him up until the final sentence, which suggests that expectations for Charlie Weis' fourth year were softer than they will be for Rodriguez's second, something which might be true if Rodriguez had the same sort of head coaching resume Weis did: none. The BCS bowl bids Weis picked up his first two years may have bought him some time; shouldn't the BCS bowl bids Rodriguez acquired at West Virginia afford him the same sort of leniency?
Walkin' on. The Big House Blog has been rounding up various kids who have accepted preferred walk-on spots. There are a couple of linemen unlikely to ever see the field, but fullback Calvin Smith seems pretty relevant given Mark Moundros and Owen Schmitt and so on and so forth:
Smith, who played his senior year of high school at Joliet Catholic Academy after three years at Providence Catholic, has accepted an invitation to attend the University of Michigan as a preferred walk-on.
Michigan's coach, Rich Rodriguez, was at West Virginia through the 2007 season. He brought Schmitt on board as a walkon. Schmitt, now a rugged 6-foot-2, 247 pounder, earned a scholarship and, eventually, the opportunity to hear his name called on draft day.
So why not the 6-2, 235 Smith?
Michigan is going to need a fullback after Moundros graduates this year, and with Vince Helmuth currently trying to scratch out a living as a defensive tackle Smith looks to have the inside track. More walk-ons will join him, but Rodriguez isn't going to recruit anyone to be the heir apparent:
"There's only true fullback at Michigan now," Smith said. "Coach Rodriguez said all his fullbacks start out as walkons. But he has had 30 walkons total in five years who eventually were on scholarship.
Etc.: Ticket prices decline slightly; a diarist interviews TX DT Jay Guy but cannot forestall him from committing to Cal, unfortunately. Deadspin, which jumped the shark about six seconds after Leitch left, is now taking body blows from the internet for being wantonly retarded.