Mike Lantry, 1972
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.
Prepare to be ensmitened by links!
Update 1/5: In an effort to cut down on the size of the board, I've excised the list of changes that lurk at the bottom. All relevant articles are linked, and if you want to see each change as it happens you can check the revisions tab at the top.
Linked to articles on TX CB Demontre Hurst, FL CB Jayron Hosley, OH CB Justin Turner (and FL WR Jeremy Gallon), FL RB commit Vincent Smith (another one), SC DE Sam Montgomery (second), MI DT Will Campbell, SC OL Quinton Washington, FL LB Brandin Hawthorne, LA DT Dequinta Jones, OH CB Mike Edwards, FL CB Mywan Jackson, OH OL Henry Conway. Added OH CB Dale Peterman, FL CB Adrian Witty. Moved MI DT Will Campbell to committed. More on Campbell.
Removed GA S Darren Myles (dropped us), CA OL Michael Phillip (no mention of he and M for a long time).
Editorial Opinion: Recruiting board lives here.
William Campbell AKA The Otter AKA Thor AKA MI12 is was covered yesterday. Now onto other folk.
Interviews with people who are hopefully not vampires
A lot of GBW interviews with the Michigan commits at the Army bowl showed up on the Myspace recently. There are too many to embed them all but summaries of anything noteworthy follow:
NJ DE Anthony Lalota: didn't mention OL when asked about position versatility; did say he might slide inside on passing downs. Sounds like he doesn't expect to redshirt.
FL WR Jeremy Gallon: not much of note, but he seems like a really good kid.
OH CB Justin Turner: wants to play corner at Michigan and Michigan wants him at corner; after his performance that's likely to be his spot. Turner knew what Campbell was going to do.
FL K Brendan Gibbons: he's never kicked off the ground before, which may have contributed to his missed FG. Recruited Campbell pretty heavily. He did mention he'd been talking to VA QB Tajh Boyd—one of the game MVPs—and that Boyd was "interested." That's the first indication Michigan had been conversing with Boyd.
There's also an interview with on-again, off-again Michigan prospect OH OT Marcus Hall, the highly-rated Glenville tackle. He did confirm his Michigan official coming up this weekend, and cited Campbell as a friend and Michigan recruiter. If he "had to pick today" it would be Ohio State, but that's because it's the only place he's been.
As mentioned previously, I'll believe Hall is a Michigan commit when he's a redshirt sophomore living on Geddes and no sooner, but a visit raises the chances from zero to something that's not zero. Hall's teammate and OH CB Mike Edwards, about whom more later, is also supposed to be in this weekend.
Corners in(?), corners out.
The defensive coordinator change has given TX CB Demontre Hurst pause:
Although Hurst was scheduled to visit Michigan on Jan. 9, he says that trip is unlikely to occur. "I'm not sure about that one anymore," he said. "I know they just lost their defensive coordinator (Scott Shafer), so I'm holding off.
"I talked to (linebackers) coach Jay Hopson about it and he said they'll get someone great," he said. "But I don't want to take a visit there if they don't have a defensive coordinator yet."
I've left him on the board for now; he's unlikely to end up at M, obviously.
Also looking like a longer shot is the aforementioned Edwards, who picked up a Tennessee offer. Sayeth Edwards:
“Tennessee definitely has the edge right now."
If he doesn't come out of his visit this weekend with Michigan at least equal with UT you can cross him off the list.
FL CB Mywan Jackson would like to decide soon:
"My mind's not made up yet, but I should know by next week," Jackson said. "Definitely next week. It'll be exciting to get it over with and let everyone known where I'm going."
Jackson has UL, UNC, and Michigan on his list; that article says Jackson claimed all three of the schools were even but said UNC "might have the inside track" because his teammate and friend Angelo Hadley is committed to the Heels. Jackson took an unofficial to Michigan in the summer and had an official scheduled for the 23rd; if he decides before he takes it the end result is very probably UNC. Update: announcement scheduled for Thursday, and the article comes from the UNC scout site. Meanwhile, no Michigan site has gotten hold of Jackson in a long time. All signs point to UNC.
With these guys all looking like longshots it's no surprise there are some new guys on the radar. One might commit soon, if he gets offered.:
Only one player, Ursuline's Dale Peterman, who is expected to announce early next week that he will be attending the University of Michigan to play football, fouled out.
That's OH CB Dale Peterman, to be specific. When it comes to recruiting, you take random one-liners in local newspapers seriously at your peril, but Rivals put out a followup article($) so there are some legs to this one. Peterman had grade issues that held his recruitment up but does have South Carolina and Wisconsin offers, so at least a couple other schools think he's a BCS-level talent. He's rated a meh three star by Rivals, a 73 (meh three star) by ESPN, and is currently unrated at Scout. IMO, Michigan is considering an offer only if guys like Jackson and Jayron Hosley go elsewhere. Which, yeah… well.
The other new name is FL CB Adrian Witty, a teammate of quarterback recruit Denard Robinson. Both Robinson and Witty will be up this weekend; Witty lacks an offer but "feels" he'll get one on the visit. Even if he does it might be hard to convince him to like snow:
Kansas State and FIU are the only two in that list to officially offer the 5-foot-10, 160-pound cornerback yet. FIU being the local school may have an advantage.
“If I have to leave the state I do, but I’d like to stay in state,” said Witty.
Yeah, Kansas State and FIU offers don't scream super-stud, but a knee injury that robbed him of much of his senior year has something to do with that. Witty is unranked by Rivals and Scout. Let's not mince words: he's a complete wildcard and would be an Englemon-type late offer, a backup plan. But Englemon turned out okay.
Back to Hosley, Luke Stampini updates his status:
The Michigan staff better have a hill and a sled for Jayron when he visits Ann Arbor Jan 16. He heard about the snow Michigan received a week or so ago and is not feeling that. “I heard they got a bunch of snow and some people even lost power, I don’t want that [laughing].” Michigan seems to be behind the 8 ball now, but like I always said, sell him early playing time. The early playing time, showing him snow actually can be fun [sledding is fun for all ages], and see where it gets you. …
Jayron is still being coy about naming a leader with his usual “I’ll know more following the visits”, but just me reading between the lines, I say the Hokies lead.
Columbus and Blacksburg aren't exactly Florida, either, so I don't know if the cold will be a determining factor. Visits, obviously, will be important.
Ain't gonna lie: at this point it looks like Michigan will be taking a suboptimal flier on a second cornerback unless they pull a rabbit out of their hat.
I'm a get you
Pahokee LB Brandin Hawthorne is the Palm Beach Post's small schools defensive player of the year and gets the requisite fluffy article to accompany the award. This one's got a hell of a quote*:
Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson has a nickname for senior linebacker Brandin Hawthorne.
It's "psycho." But he means that in the nicest way.
"He says that because there's nothing I fear," Hawthorne said. "I don't care how big you are, I'm a get you."
Hawthorne has an "audio slideshow" up, too.
*(I mean this sincerely, btw, not in any sort of mocking fashion. Sometimes on the internet it's tough to tell.)
He a get you, too
The Post's small schools offensive player of the year is none other than Pahokee RB Vincent Smith. His article starts off with a flagrant lie about his height and a nice quote from his coach:
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Smith never disappointed and eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns his senior season, earning him the Palm Beach Post's Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year.
"He hit the scene confident and motivated," Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson said. "His maturity outside the football field has been measurable. He's just a great kid. Everyone just looks at him and says, 'I hope he succeeds. I hope he's successful' and everything's coming together for him."
This is the second consecutive year a Michigan recruit has captured this award; last year it was Justin Feagin. Smith also reeled in the Sun-Sentinel's area POY award.
Smith has his own slideshow up, BTW.
DeQuinta Jones' Status
I think this contains a typo, but this comes from a paper covering Oklahoma State:
Bastrop, La., defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones has set up a Jan. 13 [sic?] visit date, according to Scout.com. Currently committed to Michigan, Jones is also planning to visit Arkansas this month, as well as take an official visit to Michigan.
That's probably a January 23rd visit, as midweek visits are unusual what with the whole "I am nominally supposed to be in school" thing. In any case, Jones earlier listed Oklahoma and Alabama as potential visit destinations, and there's no mention of either here. Oversight or change in plans? Eh… don't know. I do know I feel much better about Jones sticking if Alabama and Oklahoma aren't two of the competitors.
Rounding out the line
Michigan would like to pick up another offensive lineman or two and the highest-rated guy left on their board is SC OL Quinton Washington. He's been quiet of late, so information about his preferences is scarce. Michigan and South Carolina are kind of sort of believed to be a tenuous top two.
Washington still hasn't taken any visits except the one he took to M in the fall, but Tennessee would like to change that. They've hired away one of South Carolina's top recruiters and have Washington scheduled for an official on the weekend of the 23rd. South Carolina will get their shot on the 17th, and no one really knows where he's leaning now:
No announcement is pending.
“I really couldn’t tell you,” the standout from St. Stephen High School in Timberland, S.C., said. “I might make it the day after my final visit. I might make it on Signing Day. I might make it a few days after. I really don’t know.”
Washington said distance from home won’t be a factor in his decision. As for playing in cold weather, he said, “I’ll get used to it.”
Having Michigan's chief rival for Washington's signature see the guy who was recruiting him switch has to be a benefit.
One indirectly encouraging indicator comes from OH OL Henry Conway. Conway was planning on coming up this weekend but has canceled that trip:
Scout.com’s No. 85 offensive tackle was originally supposed to visit the Wolverines on Jan. 9, but says he will likely not take the trip to Ann Arbor. “I’m not gonna take a visit there unless they offer me,” Conway said.
“They’ve made a lot of early offers and don’t have any scholarships left,” he said of the Wolverines. “So unless someone commits somewhere else or tells them ‘no’ there won’t be an offer to open up.”
Conway's a decent recruit with offers from State, BC, and Illinois amongst others so Michigan must be confident they'll pull in Washington, Hall, or NC OL Travis Bond.
As recently as a few days ago the status quo with Sam Montgomery held: LSU leads, Michigan trails but will get a visit, longshot. But ESPN's JC Shurbutt got a sunnier vibe from the UA practices than you might expect:
Everyone who spoke with uncommitted defensive end Sam Montgomery (Greenwood, S.C./Greenwood) got a LSU-North Carolina-Michigan feeling from him. That makes sense as Montgomery has named the Tigers his leader in multiple news articles during recent weeks, citing his relationship with defensive line coach Earl Land [sic; his name is Lane] Also, North Carolina defensive line coach John Blake has made a huge impact on his recruitment and Michigan is working him hard as well (fellow defensive end Craig Roh, a Wolverines commit, has struck up a friendship with Montgomery this week).
Okay, so, that's better. There were heavy rumors that Lane was about to be LSU's ex-defensive line coach and that this would blow that LSU lead into tiny bits. Hopefully this happens posthaste.
(Sidenote from the above ESPN article on 2010 WR Kenny Shaw: "word is he could be a player whose stock really rises once schools find out about him." Shaw is FL WR commit Ricardo Miller's teammate.)