First up from my interviews with Michigan's three player representatives at Big Ten Media Days: Troy Woolfolk.
On The Question Everyone Asks First
- Denard has been out for all the voluntary activities, regardless of whether he's hurting. Tate tries to come out, but he's not as consistent with his work ethic, which has let Denard get out ahead a bit. The upshot: "I think that Tate's gonna have to do a lot of work to catch back up to Denard in camp this year."
- Troy doesn't care which position he plays, as long as he gets to stick with one or the other. Switching back and forth between safety and corner helped Troy have a more complete understanding of the defense last year, but it hurt him to not be able to concentrate on one position or the other the whole time. Now that he's exclusively a corner, he'll be able to focus on that specifically.
- At corner, there's more of a focus on speed, whereas at safety it's also about being big enough to take on running backs and tight ends.
- There are no individual goals in terms of statistics, but Troy's personal goals are to not get beat deep and not miss any open-field tackles.
- Growing up, Troy didn't really know how good a football player his dad had been. Butch didn't really talk about it much. Still, by the end of this year, Troy hopes it's "Troy Woolfolk's dad Butch" instead of "Butch Woolfolk's son Troy."
- Vance Bedford would be shocked to know that Troy is one of the most knowledgeable players on the defense. He used to give him a hard time about not paying enough attention in film, but that's changed. Troy's no longer falling asleep in film room, nor is he "texting on my phone to my friends about how I'm about to go to sleep watching film."
- The main difference in this year's defense is that it's simpler. That will be a help because a lot of young guys will be able to catch on more quickly. This year's schemes have more of a zone emphasis than man.
- It's a little difficult to switch defensive schemes so frequently. there's been a different scheme or coordinator every year Troy's been at Michigan. The players have to make an effort to forget some of the old stuff to absorb the new stuff.
- A lack of defensive depth and injuries helped undermine the defense last year, but there are no excuses for how they performed. Troy had knee and shoulder injuries last year that might have hurt.
- Stopping the ground attack will be important this year, and it's up to the big guys up front to help with that. There's enough size there to do it.
- Everyone's "All-in for Greg Robinson," so the team will band behind him and perform well on D.
- "The Team. All-in for The Team" is the rallying cry this year. The players have to play for each other, not worry about fans and other external pressures. There's also a "we can" attitude instead of a "we'll try" attitude. There are senior leaders at every position group except wide receiver. Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms have stepped up as the leaders there.
- This is probably the best leadership group since Troy's been on the team. They're the last group of Lloyd Carr-era players, so it means even more that they've all bought in to the new regime.
- There have been nice crowds for summer workouts. It's about the same as prior years, even though the coaching staff has been more explicit that they aren't mandatory with the NCAA stuff going on. The senior leaders have come up with some ideas to get guys to come out.
- Obi Ezeh have gotten bigger in the offseason, but they're probably faster than they were before they added the weight. They're able to run with receivers deep, too. They "look like supreme athletes out there." Troy has confidence that they'll be able to put it all together this year, and be two of the best linebackers in the nation.
- Last year, Jordan Kovacs was a surprise to everyone. He brings attitudes of calmness and confidence, which are important on defense. When Mike Williams went down in the Notre Dame game, Kovacs was a pleasant surprise.
- Courtney Avery is the only freshman corner Troy's seen. He learns fast though, and when he gets beat deep he's able to forget about it and move on to the next play.
- Cameron Gordon is confident, perhaps overconfident. He's also very physical, even though he's a former offensive player (Troy thinks they're all soft). He needs to learn a defensive mentality a bit more, but he's getting there.
- Marvin Robinson has a natural gift at safety, and he's been playing the deep safety position.
- Terrance Robinson has been good in 7-on-7 drills. He was hurt his freshman year, then wasn't quite the same as before in his redshirt freshman year. This year, he should be back to the way he was.
- Troy was able to convince himself to prepare a bit more for rivalry games, such as ND, MSU, and OSU last year. Maybe he shouldn't focus more on them (and focus the same for the other games as well), but it helps him perform well.
- The Michigan State game is a cool rivalry because it's like a state championship game.
[Ed.: Don't forget Woolfolk's burgeoning career as a stand-up comedian. Via the message board and Joe Schad:
"When I see 'O' shaped objects I get instantly angry. I don't eat Cheerios, Froot Loops or Apple Jacks."
A Thing About Denard And Tate
The new official picture of "Denard Robinson is made of dilithium." Via MVictors.
Yet more on the quarterback situation because that's all anyone is talking about: it seems to me like the correct stance to take in the aftermath of Denard going 9/11 for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the air is to declare Game On. But only that.
I've seen a ton about how Denard is just a better fit for Michigan's offense and Rodriguez has wanted Pat White 2.0 since he got here and Tate is doomed because of the zone read and basically disintegrated over the course of the season and is probably going to transfer as he is destined to by his genetic heritage. I've also seen a lot of people saying "now wait just a minute" to the Forcier doomsayers, and I'm with them:
- Forcier had a midseason lull but two of his best games of the season came against Purdue and Wisconsin. Against UW he was 20 for 26; against Purdue he was a lot closer to 50% but suffered a ton of drops. His trajectory is not straight down. He even looked good against Ohio State when not offering up one of his hair-pulling, soul-destroying turnovers.
- Forcier's main problem on the zone read was making good decisions or fakes. These were made more difficult by the defense focusing on the run game because Forcier's ability to make decisions in the pocket was limited. He pulled the ball way too much, didn't let the fake "ride" a la Juice Williams, and faced down a defensive end as a result. He then juked this guy 80% of the time and picked up positive yardage. If the defense is sufficiently focused on the tailback and Forcier develops his fakes as much as Denard develops his passing, he can be an effective zone read alternative.
- Last year's offensive line was very shaky on the right side, which led to a lot of justified scrambles.
Tate is not out of it by any means, and since the two quarterbacks are so different it looks like the backup will get a large number of snaps anyway.
What the spring game (and spring in general) did was stand the horse race on its nose. Robinson looked better on Saturday. He looked better in the clinic scrimmage, when he was live and splitting first team reps with Forcier. He looked better over the entirety of spring, which is the reason he was afforded the easy matchup Saturday. One 97-yard touchdown to Roy Roundtree might not mean much, but 15 practices does.
The ones-vs-twos is a big deal, but maybe not as big a deal as the few remaining Denard skeptics—still clinging tight to that Betamax stock—have made it. Last year Robinson was having a Man vs Himself battle. Seeing him develop to the point where you need to see a Man vs Man conflict is immense. Hopefully by this time next year we're sending him off to fight Icelandic volcanoes.
Running Backs Are Indeterminate
Another source of persistent unexpressed disagreement in the last couple days: a steady pessimism about Michigan's tailback situation. I haven't seen anyone say "hey how about that run defense"; the assumption is a lack of big runs from the tailbacks means Michigan is going to be putting out some crappy tailbacks next year. I don't think that's necessarily true. Vincent Smith had a tantalizing cameo last year, and he did nothing of note in the spring game. A few carries here or there isn't a whole lot to draw conclusions about, and even so there were a couple of nice runs from Cox.
Michigan isn't going to have the best back in the conference or anything but they've got enough of a stable to have a good running game. And what would a discussion of the tailbacks be without Fred Jackson proclaiming something the best ever?
“I think I’ve got the best blocking tandem, I didn’t say running back tandem, but best blocking tandem I’ve had,” Jackson said. “I’ve got three or four guys that based on the pictures and movies, how you want to see it done. It’s more than I’ve ever had at one time.”
Never change, Fred.
Hell I if know. I'm planning something resembling a UFR and will be able to tell you more after that, but probably not that much with Martin and Woolfolk out and the first-teamers going up against second-string offensive lineman and not blitzing and etc. etc. etc. It's clear this isn't going to be a vintage unit. Latest hint from Woolfolk:
"We're mostly just focusing on zones, which is easier than playing man," said Woolfolk. "But I would like to go back to doing more man coverage and stuff. It's easier, but pertaining to the players we have on defense, that probably makes it easier for us to play. Keeping it simple allows us to play more instead of thinking too much and slowing down. It allows us to react and get to the ball faster."
My hope for the defense is something relatively stout against the run and functional enough in the secondary to force opponents into long drives if they want to score. Average would be fine.
Video Of All Varieties
Highlights and errata:
Here's an ebullient Denard Robinson in the locker room:
"Ebullient" as defined by answers.com: "zestfully enthusiastic." There's plenty more in a diary from Boyz in the Pahokee. TYT has posted an SD torrent; MGoVideo is planning an HD one tomorrow. There is also a browser-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football.
A zillion photographs
If you want more photographs than are crammed into this post, boy howdy are you in luck. AnnArbor.com has a flickr set, as does the Daily. MVictors and Maize and Blue Nation also file photoposts. MnBN found the letters from the top of the press box:
They're outside sections 2 and 44. It's too bad they couldn't find someplace a little more prominent, but at least they're still around. Also… isn't the S the wrong way?
Quarterback Stuff From Teammates
"He’s really been working on his technique," Roundtree said. "All the quarterbacks have, but Denard has really been working on his technique, his touch on the ball instead of throwing it so hard. And this year it shows so far what he did."
More Roundtreee on Robinson:
Roundtree said Saturday actually was Robinson's "second-best" practice of the spring.
"Last scrimmage (a week ago), he did really well," Roundtree said.
Thus both clinic observers giving the starting QB nod to Denard after that scrimmage. Of note: that was not a strictly ones-vs-twos setup like the spring game. In that scrimmage both Tate and Denard got extensive reps with the first team against various first and second team defenses, and Roundtree thought he did better than he did on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Van Bergen's full LAZERZ quote:
"I think Denard has probably made the most progression. I think he's developed a whole new aspect of his game as far as making great reads and making great throws.
"His throws are on lasers now. He's not throwing balls up for grabs. He's putting them right on receivers, and I think the fact he can scramble while looking downfield is really something that's helped him because last year when he pulled it down, he was going to run. But this year, he's got his eyes downfield, and they're making even bigger plays. He's dangerous. I think he's probably made the most progression, but I think they've all done really good things."
In the future, Denard Robinson will still be made of dilithium; his arm will be made of lasers.
There were plenty of folks who sat out Saturday with injuries of some varieties, including five or six possible starters. The good news is that only walk-on DE Will Heininger will see his injury last into the season. There had been some uncertainty about Vincent Smith but the latest on him is that he should be "fully recovered by preseason camp." If that holds up he's probably your opening-day starter barring a summer renaissance from the rest of the depth chart.
The rest of the injuries range from minor dings to stuff that happened a long time ago horrific bone breaks that just provide an opportunity to work on your standup. Troy Woolfolk's comedic alter-ego:
"I’m going to introduce you all to something," Woolfolk said. "Y’all know me, myself, Troy, but I have a split personality named T-Wolf. When I’m on the field, T-Wolf comes out. T-Wolf doesn’t know how to cry, that’s only a trait that Troy does. Right now, this is Troy. T-Wolf, he’s crazy and I can’t bring him out all the time, I only let him come out on the field. T-Wolf doesn’t have that ability to cry, so that would never happen."
Knock on wood and all that but sounds like everyone should be ready to go for summer conditioning. The most damaged Wolverine may actually be RB coach Fred Jackson, who got stepped on by Kevin Koger. Maybe:
"Supposedly, I'm the one who broke his foot - supposedly, though," Koger said. "It was a 86 on film, but there's no name on the back (of the jersey). So it could have been any 86."
Purdue's spring game saw the Boiler debut of Miami transfer and presumptive starting quarterback Robert Marve. Marve was meh:
Robert Marve talked about "putting on a show" for the fans. Quite simply, he didn't...But how could he with this format? He threw a couple of good balls (for instance, a long pump and go to Cortez Smith for the longest TD of the game), showed the burst of speed that Hope had bragged about...but never got into rhythm for multiple reasons...and just plain missed on quite a few throws. But, he does have an arm.
Iowa's spring game was a Carr special: sparsely attended and no different than a usual practice. Ohio State offensive line is in flux and Pryor didn't have a great day statistically but Buckeye Football Analysis is pretty sanguine about things.
A poster attempted to ferret out what's going on with UConn but didn't come up with much outside of the usual "is this good or bad" stuff.
As always: exploit your kid for youtube fame and I post.
Rich Rodriguez addressed the media for 20 minutes or so after yesterday's spring game, then a number of players spoke to small groups. Notes:
- Won't answer questions about a resolution to the quarterback situation, and they won't be available to the media. Pleased that the QBs have gotten better. It's nice to have competition, and not have one guy seize the job this early. Denard and Tate have both improved, but they still have more work to do. Devin has learned well, considering he's only been around for 15 practices. The #1 guy may not emerge until after the first game.
- The quarterbacks had a poor day compared to how they've been practicing the rest of the spring. It's OK for the QBs to scramble around, but the coaches don't want them to do that until the initial play breaks down. Still, their offensive creativity and explosion shouldn't be hampered.
- Having a QB competition will continue to elevate those guys. If multiple guys are ready to play in the fall, they'll play. The goal is for the whole team to get better, so the improvement by the quarterbacks is important to that. Denard got the first rep of the game because he's been more consistent over the course of the spring.
- Denard Robinson's grasp of the offense, and recognition of defenses has improved markedly since last year. Understanding the offense is important, but both Denard and Tate Forcier need to get better at reading the defense, now that they are able to execute the offensive plays. Denard's always been able to throw, it's just a matter of making sure his mechanics and reads are consistent. He's still learning the offense, because he's still just a first-year guy. Pat White redshirted his first season, and in that first spring, he was probably about at the same point in his development that Denard is now. He continued progressing, and hopefully all of Michigan's quarterbacks can do that as well. Pat and Denard are similar players, but it's unfair to compare them, because Pat was so good for a while, you can't expect that out of a young guy.
- Today was the first day of the spring that the quarterbacks weren't live. That changes the way they play a bit, and the defense might let up on them a little bit more.
- One of the emphases this spring was limiting turnovers and negative-yardage plays. The spring game was somewhat disappointing in that regard.
- Running backs: There will be more competition in August when everyone is healthy. More than one running back will play in the fall. Mike Shaw and Mike Cox, Stephen Hopkins, and Fitzgerald Toussaint will all be in the mix. Spring has given some new guys a chance to emerge.
- Jeremy Gallon's redshirt year helped him get into good shape. Right now, he's the leader at punt return and kick return, and he'll play in the slot as well as maybe some other places.
- They have more guys who are ready to play at the offensive skills positions. Some of the QBs have a bit of experience, which raises expectations.
- Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield have played pretty well. With Perry Dorrestein injured, they've have opportunities to progress. There are now two additional guys who can get in the rotation, and the coaches want to have more guys ready to play.
- The team wasn't as physical and good at tackling today as they were in other practices, maybe because they couldn't hit the QBs. The scheme was simple today, but fundamentals need to continue improving.
- Troy Woolfolk broke his finger on Thursday, but he'll be fine by fall camp.
- Mike Martin will play noseguard when he returns healthy, but he'll also play other spots on the defensive line. Adam Patterson and Will Campbell will also play "both nose and tackle."
- The kicking game was very uneven today. The situation is still wide open. Brendan Gibbons kicked well today, but Will Hagerup will have the opportunity to win the punting job in the fall. Tate had a good punt, and he's pretty good at it. The other guys practice it a lot more, because Tate has other things to worry about.
- The coaches got some answers this spring, mostly positive. They'd like to have more answers than they got, but most of what they see right now is positive. No negative surprises. Cam Gordon and Mark Moundros were positive surprises after position changes, as was the level of play at cornerback.
- The early enrollees provided some good moments as well. Jerald Robinson and Stephen Hopkins are probably going to get some playing time in the fall. The early enrollees were a little nervous playing in the Big House. It's nice to get those nerves out of the way early. Some of Devin's mistakes may have been due to nerves.
- Team chemistry is really good, and still improving. Players get closer together each day they work.
- The coaches have a week to look back on spring, then they'll hit the road for the Evaluation Period in the recruiting cycle.
- Hopefully in the future, the spring game will continue to grow. The weather wasn't great, but fans still came out. Maybe weather will be better and more fans will come out. Players appreciate the support from the crowd.
- The team has three spring scrimmages, and the Spring Game might not be the most useful for teaching, it does give players the chance to get in front of a crowd, and to adjust what they're doing without the coaches telling them exactly what to do after each play.
Notes from the players after the jump.
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.
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.
Let's get Denarded. Since it will be on the message board forever and ever amen and discussed until the weekend: e-reports say that Tate Forcier's facebook status yesterday was about having a bad day and somewhere in the comment thread spawned by that—probably made band fiasco look tame—Tate mentioned he would not be starting this weekend, and then hurriedly deleted that because duh. All of this is in the realm of quasi-fact that the efix* is so good at condescendingly mocking.
…but. But Forcier is probably going to miss a little bit of time against Wisconsin for an exceedingly minor violation of team rules. This is not for sure. It is probable.
*(see what I did there?)
Elsewhere in terrible diseases unfairly striking young ex-Wolverines, Vada Murray got some excellent news a few days ago:
We heard the word we long to hear......s
hrink...... from his recent ct. Both tumors are getting smaller and for the first time, his oncologist, who rarely shows emotion, was ecstatic.
The bus. You are under it. I can't believe we've gone this long without mentioning Troy Woolfolk gently depositing Scott Shafer in the wheel-wells of an AATA conveyance in the Monday press conference:
"Honestly, I feel way more comfortable in this system," Woolfolk said. "Last year, I think we had great execution, but just the defense wasn't working. Versus this year, the defense is working. ... It's just a matter of us being able to do it all the time."
In there is all you need to know about why Scott Shafer got cut loose. Everyone remembers that the staff's first instinct after Shafer was unofficially relieved of duties was to go to the disastrous 3-3-5 that Justin Siller will talk about when he is 65, but also remember what Michigan installed the next week: a dead simple 4-2-5 nickel with Brandon Harrison back in his old spot that shut down Minnesota and did well against Northwestern before getting overrun in the second half against Ohio State.
Yeah, pretty much. Orson's graphs touch on Michigan this week:
That is all.
What is with the cantankerous? Ex-Michigan folk in the coaching ranks are pre-disposed to mouthiness. Miles: "have a nice day." Harbaugh: "Pete Carroll, I bite my thumb at thee." Corwin Brown: "Navy is a dirty cut-blocking team that has no class."
Slightly touchy in South Bend these days.
Freshmen recast. It's typical that the LA Times put together a useful chart of freshman quarterback stats and then ordered them by yardage and didn't even bother to include completion percentage. The stats recast and ordered by YPA (asterisks denote redshirt freshmen):
|*Andrew Luck, Stanford||216||126||2076||11||3||58.3%||9.61|
|*B.J. Daniels, S. Florida||122||64||1096||10||6||52.5%||8.98|
|Matt Barkley, USC||221||125||1839||10||7||56.6%||8.32|
|Tom Savage, Rutgers||168||94||1341||8||1||56.0%||7.98|
|Tate Forcier, Michigan||217||122||1636||10||5||56.2%||7.54|
|*Kevin Prince, UCLA||184||105||1264||5||5||57.1%||6.87|
|*Landry Jones, Okla.||287||169||1902||17||11||58.9%||6.63|
|Jeff Tuel, Wash. State||121||71||789||6||5||58.7%||6.52|
|*Ryan Griffin, Tulane||135||89||838||4||3||65.9%||6.21|
|Cody Green, Nebraska||59||33||317||2||2||55.9%||5.37|
|Brock Osweiler, Ariz. St.||45||19||235||2||1||42.2%||5.22|
Forcier compares favorably to every true freshman on the list save maybe Tom Savage when you take rushing into account, and he didn't even get to play against Baby Seal U. Those are real numbers.
The culture of the thing. I've had this open in a tab for a while now and people keep emailing it to me, so it might be time to cite this post on Smart Football from a run-and-shoot devotee (and former Big 12 coach) about installing his offense and his culture. The key point from a Michigan perspective:
Before discussing the technical benefits, let me first say that operating exclusively out of a four-wide environment is the first step a coach makes towards acculturating his program to the offense. To run the run and shoot effectively, it is necessary to commit to it entirely. Coaches that retain the ability to use tight ends, h-backs, and multiple-back sets create a crutch upon which they can fall back on when things don’t go as well as they’d like in the early going. Inevitably, what happens then is that the team becomes a multiple-set team that uses some run and shoot packages on passing downs. What never happens, however, is that the team converts to the run and shoot culture. And without that, the coaches and the players never become fully comfortable in the system, and then when the team struggles more, they blame the system.
When you decide to run this offense you need to burn your bridges with the past. You have to declare, “This is what we will sink or swim with. We are a run and shoot team.”
If anyone is still cranky about Rodriguez installing his offense from day one—default link to "Golden Age Of Tin" here—there it is in black and white from someone who would know. Also you're asking a dancing bear to do your taxes, but whatever.
Quod erat demonstrandum. Deadspin runs anonymous email from asshat that claims Arizona State's baseball coach is a vile person and SHOCK SURPRISE ALARM it turns out the asshat's email was a complete fabrication. At no point does it occur to Deadspin that they are also acting like asshats. Meanwhile, Leitch returns to write an excellent column on Bill Simmons. Deadspin shark-jump QED.
Suggestion: write in totally fabricated stories to Deadspin and publicly retract them via this space when and if they get published. 1,000,000 mgopoints* to anyone who successfully executes this maneuver.
I stole this bit from Joe Posnanski.)
Em. Pahokee native, Michigan recruit, Florida decommit, Kiffin controversy source (who isn't), and current and possibly soon-to-be ex- Tennessee Vol Nu'Keese Richardson is in a spot of bother:
University of Tennessee freshman football players Janzen Jackson, Nu’Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards were arrested near campus this morning and charged in connection with an armed robbery, multiple sources confirmed to the Times Free Press.
That Mike Edwards kid was also nominally a Michigan recruit, as he's from Cleveland and went to "Glenville Academic Campus," the home of Ted Ginn Sr and a bunch of recruits who only list Michigan to screw with them.
Relevance to Michigan's program? Tangential at best. I guess it's good we dodged a bullet there.
Etc.: I can't believe Corey Tropp is playing against Michigan this weekend. Seriously: the hell. That kid should be in junior with his goon buddy, not facing off against Steve Kampfer.