"It's not about last year or who's here or who's isn't here," says your head coach. "It's about getting out here and competing and seeing who is here, and that's where we're gonna go."
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
Rating: 5 of 5.
|Brandon Minor||Sr.||Mark Moundros||Jr.*|
|Carlos Brown||Sr.||Kevin Grady||Sr.|
|Mike Shaw||So.||Anonymous Walk-on||----|
|Mike Cox||Fr.*||Anonymous Walk-on||----|
|UW veer TD|
|Used as H-back|
|PSU TD #1|
|More PU RAGE|
It's no coincidence that Michigan's running game took a quantum leap forward when Brandon Minor was installed as the starter against Penn State and told to run very hard in one direction until the gore covering everything proved too slippery to get a foothold on. MINOR RAGE was born in a shocking first half against Penn State and all other options were instantly demoted to second-best. Gone was the preseason depth chart that featured a whopping three "OR" denotations. When healthy, Minor was the guy. It was obvious from his first drive against the Nittany Lions. It was obvious from his first thumping run:
After weeks of watching a couple freshmen zip into linebackers or, more often, linemen and then attempt not to get killed, Minor blasted into the secondary and left one of Penn State's safeties in a heap. Debate: over.
So what the hell took so long? Well, Sam McGuffie did flash hints of talent, most impressively against Notre Dame, before opponents figured out that you could just murder his brain. Minor, battling a wrist injury all year, put the ball on the ground with alarming regularity when he got the odd carry early in the season. And there were persistent rumors that Minor found himself amongst the discontented masses on the team that did not fully buy in. (Yes, this which makes Minor's post-season callout of any lingering Zion Babbs a bit odd, but it is what it is.)
Also, Minor hadn't been that impressive in his first two years at Michigan. This preview last year noted the gap in YPC between Minor and Carlos Brown—one that persisted even if you chopped down Brown's 85-yard ramble against Minnesota to something more reasonable—and came down on the skeptical side of things:
Minor runs too upright and stiff for my tastes. He's clearly slower than Brown and the fleet freshmen, has little wiggle, and tends to plow over and through defenders instead of trying to avoid them. Sometimes this ends with Minor spectacularly trucking someone; sometimes it ends with Minor taking a wicked shot from a headhunting linebacker or safety. …
IMO, he gets his fair share of carries throughout the year but is clearly less effective than at least one other tailback and possibly two.
This prediction looked bang on for six games, at which point Minor's projected best case—a poor man's Darren McFadden—sort of came true, didn't it? Minor's not going to go in the top ten of the NFL draft but he had his moments of thunderous downhill stomping, slashing through holes and over and through and past out-of-position defenders. He was one of the few players to seem a physical match for Penn State and Ohio State defenders and should improve further with a year of buy-in and Barwis. Evan Royster may be an obvious selection for All Big Ten tailback this year, but they put two on the team and from this vantage point Minor's as likely as anyone to claim that second spot.
There is a caveat, though: if healthy. I may have been wrong about Minor's overall efficacy but the ominous injury note above was borne out. Minor's early fumbling problems were caused by a wrist issue that lingered through the year and he missed the Northwestern game not with any specific issue but just because he had gotten the hell beaten out of him the past few games. Minor missed sections of camp after an offseason car crash left him with persistent headaches. Asking him to be a Ringer-level workhorse is a bit much.
|Loping vs Purdue|
|Tripping over Leman|
|Nice first down|
Meanwhile, the man this preview thought would claim the starting mantle, albeit nominally, came down with the usual array of nagging ailments from hamstrings to hangnails to exploding penguins. Carlos Brown hardly found the field all year. In fact, he was en route to a medical redshirt before Minor came down with that comprehensive ass-kickage and he was brought out of mothballs to play in the most unpleasant game ever staged. Despite the rust, wholesale lack of a passing game, and driving sleet, Brown impressed, racking up 115 yards on 23 carries—five per—with a long of only 17 against Northwestern's fair-to-good rushing defense.
Carlos Brown, this is your abridged Northwestern UFR:
Brown splits them and is a safety away from six points. … I really wish Brown didn't go down so easily on this one; with Mathews blocking downfield a cut outside might make this a touchdown. … Brown runs through the flailing arms and is away for a good gain. … Brown splits the two linebackers, then jukes a safety(+1), picking up the extra five yards he needs for the first. … should try to bounce it all the way back behind Sheridan—Steve Slaton used to do that to good effect—but instead just runs into a bunch of dudes. … makes a sweet spin move to evade the rolled up corner and safety. Free of those two, he picks up the first down. Major + play from Brown here. … Brown is indecisive with the safety and gets taken down. [Ed. Note: after ten yards.] … Here's the season for you: Michigan runs against what's essentially a five man front, gets a vast gaping hole and will pop Brown into the secondary for somewhere between eight and a zillion yards, and Brown falls harmlessly to the turf three yards in the backfield.
Carlos Brown got out of the grave and turned in an excellent running day, though a series of slips and stumbles prevented him from breaking a long one, and that last zone stretch on which he turned a likely first down into third and thirteen was a killer.
That's consistent move-the-chains production from a guy we know has gamebreaking speed. Combine the two and you might have something resembling the top-50 player Brown was coming out of high school.
That's the trick though, that and not having a series of freak hand, ankle, groin, hamstring, thigh, spleen, and pancreas injuries that limit him to one 85-yard touchdown against Minnesota and a lot of dour, beslinged observation from the sideline. There's no time like the present for Brown to live up to the extensive recruiting hype and occasional 80-yard touchdown—he had another one in the spring game.
If Brown is healthy and if Minor is healthy at the same time, expect to see a heavy dose of two-tailback sets that allow Michigan to zone read in either direction, run plenty of triple option, and prevent opponents from teeing off towards one side or the other. Rivals actually ranked Minor as a fullback coming out of high school and last year Minor's occasional deployment as a lead blocker was effective, as this Michigan State defensive end can attest:
Unless, of course, he's still wondering why his legs are made of eels and the sky smells so prickly.
Backups And Whatnot
|Season's first TD|
|Gets tackled oddly|
With Sam McGuffie wisely choosing his ability to remember where he lives and Conference USA over a sophomore season at Michigan, Michael Shaw is other experienced option on the depth chart. Last year he did his best Brown impression, alternating impressive, zippy runs with groin injuries. He added some bonus freshman stuff, too: the occasional horrible decision that ended in a seven yard loss or fumble, either of which events ended with Rodriguez spittle arcing across the field.
Like Denard Robinson, Shaw is made of dilithium, the winner of the 200, 4x100, and 4x200 at the Penn Relays his senior year of high school and a guy who was shocked when someone, anyone managed to track him down from behind once he broke into the open field:
"I broke a long run and got dragged from behind. It was then that I was like, 'I'm really hurting. I've never not been able to run, not been able to explode.' "
There was good reason for the slowdown, a groin injury that would eventually require offseason surgery for a "sports hernia." If Angry Michigan Running Back Hating God doesn't get involved again, Shaw should see extensive work as a slot-capable tailback on passing downs and all-purpose injury/fatigue backup as he's groomed for the (or, more likely, a) starting job in 2010. Somewhere between 50 and 100 carries at a high YPC and one or two runs where he goes so fast he mutates into a frog-like thing and everyone pretends it didn't happen afterwards would be a tantalizing sophomore year.
Past Shaw there's a cavalcade of freshmen in two groups. Group one—pounding Minor sorts—is Mike Cox. Cox is a redshirt freshman out of a New England prep school better known for producing hockey stars than football players. They only play nine game seasons; Cox was hurt for most of his senior year; no one scouted him before that because right New England prep school; then he redshirted. So, yeah, we don't know much about Cox. There have been erratic positive practice mentions that make the Minor comparison and suggest Michigan made the right choice when they went for Cox over instate star Jonas Gray, now at Notre Dame, after seeing the two side-by-side at camp. Cox should see some time spelling Minor, as Michigan doesn't have anyone other than him to pick up the thundermoose mantle.
Group two—spread ninjas—has two guys in it, both true freshmen. Ohioan Fitzgerald Toussaint was the higher-rated by the recruiting sites. He spent his senior year either shredding defenses for like 250 yards on 10 carries or getting swamped for like 40 on 20. There was little in-between. His highlight video is full of fancy jump-cuts and serious change-of-direction skills; he's slightly undersized but who cares, right? Toussaint's had some injury issues in fall camp and it sounds like Michigan is looking at redshirting him, which they obviously should since he's fifth string at best. Recruiting profile here.
And then there is tiny, zippy Vincent Smith, who arrived for spring and did this during the Michigan drill…
…impressing everyone and reminding us all that Rich Rodriguez might have some idea what he's doing when it comes to tiny who-dat running backs.
Smith's spring game was just okay, but the practice buzz up until that point was very positive. The buzz since has remained equally positive, with teammates dropping his name apropos of nothing. Here's the always-excitable Fred Jackson:
“Small guy, but a big back. He plays big. The way he blocks you and the way he’ll run over you. I’m going to bet that he’s 170 pounds, I don’t know exactly. But I’m going to say he’s 170 pounds and he runs like he’s 200 pounds.”
It's Smith, not Shaw, who's listed as the first backup to the two seniors on the initial roster. That means no redshirt and frequent duty; I'm betting he's the fan favorite in the race for the starting job next year. His recruiting profile beckons for the curious.
I have a hunch that Michigan fans and opposing linebackers are going to become very familiar with redshirt junior fullback Mark Moundros this fall. We know that Rodriguez likes to feed his ogres, and last year Michigan had some success passing to Moundros out of the backfield until opponents caught on to that one play they can actually do and shut him down.
This year Michigan figures to have several plays they can actually do and one spectacularly accurate short-range passer. You can see a glimpse of a Moundros-heavy future in the Forcier
porn highlights from the spring game: Forcier gets pressure from an outside blitzer on a rollout and hits Moundros dead in stride. Moundros turns it up in front of a trailing linebacker and picks up a first down. Shades of Aaron Shea there. Shea was Michigan's last frequently-used H-back, an all-purpose fullback/tight end who hauled in 38 catches in 1999. While that number might be a stretch for Moundros something like 20, most of which turn into first downs, isn't out of the question. The occasional carry might be in order, too.
|Blocks three guys|
|Crushing a corner|
As far as backups: with Vince Helmuth's move to the defensive line and eventually the MAC, there really aren't many options. Kevin Grady is still around but he's not much of a fullback and after four years disappointing on and off the field the chances he picks up a major role are slim indeed. He's listed second on the depth chart at the spot, FWIW. Michigan's best bet for a backup will probably be a to-date anonymous walk-on. Both Owen Schmitt and Moundros started as walk-ons, after all, and Rodriguez has directly stated he won't recruit scholarship fullbacks in the future. He prefers to breed them in Barwis vats in the IM building basement.
Programming note. I've accepted the daunting task of getting up at 7AM to sit in for Sam Webb on WTKA's morning show tomorrow. I'll be on from 7-10. Wooo Mountain Dew!
Charity note. If anyone's got some spare roller hockey equipment lying around, L'Hockey Folie would like to put it to good use.
Luxury box followup! Artist's rendition of the 2025 Big House:
The Shredder explains his masterpiece:
With all the HD Jumbo screen talk(and with my boring 3rd shift) I figured I would draw it using my awesome skills. Now every one can see it. The future of the Big House. Around 2025 I am guessing. I did remove the one press box so you could see the field, so just pretend it's there. I also added seats above the HD screens and on top of the press box. Bringing the total seating to 125,000. In the year 2025 we will have be playing night games and using Maize jersey's. Welcome to the future! Great Scott!
These were not the top secret plans I referenced this morning. But they should be.
Obvious quarterback questioning. Tim's getting frustrated with the nonstop quarterback questioning at the press conferences, but none of you are going so here you go:
The art of saying nothing in 1:14. I don't think there's much chance all three QBs play equally well for anything length of time, and neither does Rodriguez, but he refuses to rule out anything. All things are possible.
Mealer okay? Elliot Mealer's shoulder was severely injured in that Christmas Eve car crash and there were some rumors that the effects of it still lingered and may be a permanent hindrance to his ability to play. Apparently that's not true:
"I've come a long ways," Mealer said. "You know, My arm is actually stronger, I think. My bad arm, so to speak, is stronger than my good arm and it's been a long ways. I still rehab it to this day, and then do a little prehab, as they call it, just to keep it loose and it helps. So it's come a long ways."
Mealer's not likely to play this year but should work himself into the playing mix in 2010.
BONUS Kevin Koger hype (the article is about Toledo-area players for M):
"Kevin Koger's had a great great offseason," said Calvin Magee, Koger's offensive coordinator and position mentor. "He's done well. He's gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster, and it's a natural progression from freshman to sophomore year.
"He's changed his body. You know, his weight's around the same. He's more lean now. So naturally, he's got more muscle on him. That allows him to be faster and he's one of those kids that committed himself to the offseason conditioning and it's going to help him a great deal."
The Revsine return. The Big Ten Network has returned from its tour of Big Ten practices and Dave Revsine has superlatives:
Best Drill: The "M" Drill at Michigan. It's the Oklahoma Drill, but with a twist. There are three layers of blocking going on – linemen going 1 on 1, then a FB or TE engaged with a LB, followed by a WR and a DB. The back with the ball then tries to run through all three levels. Very intense and really well done. …
Impact Freshman: Tate Forcier, Michigan. I think Forcier is perfect for Rodriguez's system. Throws well, particularly on the run, and he runs well. He has everything they need. Seems Rodriguez isn't quite as convinced, given his plans to play three QBs in the opener against Western Michigan, but I still think that, ultimately, Forcier will be the guy. …
Honorable Mention: Vincent Smith, Michigan. Another tiny Smith who packs some serious punch, Smith absolutely bowled over a defender in a tackling drill, then, the next time he had the ball, juked another guy out of his uniform with a great move.
All that's cool, but Michigan didn't show up on any of Revsine's top position groups, or honorable mentions. Not that you expected them to anywhere except tailback, where Revsine bizarrely goes with Michigan State as his third-place team.
You said what? Gary Barnett talked crap about Gary Moeller's substitutions. This did not end well for him.
Isn't it strange that Barnett left Northwestern for Colorado and since that event Northwestern has probably been the better program? What happened to the Buffs?
Required. Hey here's a quote by new offensive line grad assistant Cory Zirbel that contradicts those of the discontent departures and by law I must post it:
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'How can you be a part of that coaching staff?' Those people aren't true Michigan fans. ... People don't understand how I accept my role, but those people don't know.
"It's an honor. It's Michigan, always going to be Michigan. Coach Rodriguez is a great guy, presented me an opportunity, and I took it."
So there you go, family values and so forth and so on.
Coner! It took four years but someone finally mentioned David Cone in a practice recap:
Speaking of Forcier, I'm really started to warm to the way he throws the ball. It looks much better than any of the other quarterbacks. Also, David Cone has an odd throwing motion.
I think I buried the lead there.
Etc.: Herbstreit says the M-ND game is make or break for Weis, which yeah probably. GBMW has a transcript of Rodriguez's appearance on the Dan Patrick show. Michigan's replacing its media guides with online equivalents. Volleyball and women's soccer are test cases.
We're in, and by we I mean Tim. Huzzah.
A few quick notes from today's practice. More coming this afternoon, since Rich will meet with the press at the conclusion of practice.
- If Vincent Smith is actually 5-6ish, there is no way Denard Robinson is anything taller than 5-10. Denard is overstated on the roster, but I also think Smith might be a little taller than previously thought.
- Denard didn't look too shaky during practice. I know other reports have been concerned with his throwing, but it didn't seem too bad. That doesn't mean he's the next Peyton Manning, but he's certainly capable of throwing it.
- A little bit more on this in the coming days, but it seems as though the infamous "Frozen O-line" play from the beginning of last year will be changed for 2009. [Editor's note: this was the play where no one on the offense would move except for the QB and the WRs; it was designed to pull opponents offside and prevent them from jumping the snap and only worked intermittently.] Instead of the QB floating a ball deep, he was taking a knee. This might will encourage the referees to actually make an offsides call.
- Kevin Grady was playing both fullback and tailback during practice. He lined up at fullback in the I-formation (as did Moundros).
- The most impressive player to me was Mike Cox. Especially during the "M" drill, he was running with authority, breaking a couple tackles, and using a combination of power and jukes to run it. He's not quite Brandon Minor (who did not practice), but he's definitely going to be a useful replacement when Minor moves on (or is inevitably injured during the course of the year).
- Speaking of Cox, Troy Woolfolk uncorked a big hit on him during one of the reps in the "M" drill.
- Darryl Stonum tweaked a knee blocking during the drill. He looked to be in pain, but got up and walked off on his own power. Hopefully that means it's nothing serious.
- In other minor injury news, Fitzgerald Toussaint tweaked his left biceps, but again, it didn't appear to be too serious
Previously: S Vlad Emilien, S Thomas Gordon, CB Justin Turner, CB Adrian Witty, LB Isaiah Bell, LB Mike Jones, LB Brandin Hawthorne, DT Will Campbell, DE Anthony LaLota, DE Craig Roh, OL Michael Schofield, OL Taylor Lewan, OL Quinton Washington, WR Cameron Gordon, WR Je'Ron Stokes, WR Jeremy Gallon, and RB Teric Jones.
|Pahokee, Florida - 5'6" 159
|Scout||3*, #102 RB|
|Rivals||3*, #36 RB|
|ESPN||77, #60 RB|
|Other Suitors||Tennessee, Wisconsin, Minnesota|
|Hello: Vincent Smith|
From Pahokee (Odoms, Hawthorne); early enrollee.
Life is rough in Pahokee, Florida, a place more swamp than land where the kids chase rabbits for something to do. Ask Vincent Smith:
"Life is a struggle," said former Pahokee running back Vincent Smith, now playing at Michigan. "It's a learning experience because you have to be able to adapt quickly or you can easily get into trouble. Playing sports helped put me on the outside of some of the circumstances and struggles in the town."
But not all of them. Smith's teammate and friend Norman Griffith was shot in the head on September 27th. Pahokee went out and lost its annual rivalry game against Glades Central, then ran off a series of victories that ended in a third consecutive state championship. Smith was the star of the game with 22 carries for 137 yards. Somewhere along the way, he committed to a Michigan program that had seen fit to offer him in February.
When he committed, I wasn't that enthused about a 5'6" low-three star who hadn't been the star of his offense as a junior. By signing day, though, Smith's zippy, productive senior year (2,119 yards on 248 carries with 20 touchdowns) had produced a steady climb up the Rivals rankings. Though he never escaped the three-star ghetto, he went from around the #65 RB to around the #30 RB. Then a couple folk who are employed to observe these kids emailed me saying that if Smith was three inches taller he'd be king of the universe. One did this apropos of nothing. And in retrospect, Smith's other offers—Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—came from a weird melange of teams that, though different in philosophy, know ground-pounding when they see it.
(On the height, make no mistake: though he'll be listed at 5'9" or whatever on the roster, the height above is much closer to accurate. Varsity Blue attended the spring press conference and reported back thusly:
Smith was at the press conference, and he is tiny. I’ve talked with Odoms face to face, and I’m pretty sure Odoms has 2-3″ on Smith. He’s listed 5′6″; I’m pretty sure there are rides at Cedar Point he can’t get on, but he can apparently run the ball really well.
Anyway, by signing day I had come around on Smith, repeatedly going back to little darting Blue Devil with dreads when pinged for a sleeper in the class. (Here's the CIL archive.)
Not to be That Guy, but, uh:
Smith enrolled early and was the non-Forcier buzz of spring practice. Despite having three or four viable options in front of him at running back, he's not going to redshirt:
Rodriguez said Thursday he does not foresee red-shirting Smith, a 5-foot-6, 158-pound back from Pahokee, Fla.
"He's really come along," Rodriguez said. "He's still confused sometimes as all the freshmen would be, but he showed some flashes in the last practice, and he's probably going to play some this year as a true freshman."
"He's a pretty quick learner on the field, and he's got some natural ability."
Though his slight frame, general youth, and Brandon Minor should keep him from serious time as a freshman, if you were to poll the vast universe of people with an opinion of Michigan's 2010 running back situation, he would probably be at least neck-and-neck with Michael Shaw.
So he's passed the first major hurdle by arriving on campus and seeming like a viable future option. Plenty of recruits higher-ranked than he don't manage that (think Cobrani Mixon). So the following scouting reports are possibly a little pessimistic. Anyway…
ESPN says Smith lacks size "on paper"—which uh what about real life too—and says he runs "low to the ground," as if he has a choice. They also note his ability to pick through the traffic inside:
Very slippery to wrap up as an in-line runner and utilizes smaller body structure to his advantage. Picks and slides through the initial traffic with great shiftiness and vision. Shows good suddenness hitting the cutback lane and small run creases. Runs low to the ground with great balance and body control; rarely gives defenders a clean shot to hit.
So that's nice, but the evaluation comes back to his size and declares him a "good prospect" and one who will be a "nice change of pace back" in the spread.
Since he's a tiny spread back it's not surprising that he's lethal in 7-on-7:
I thought the second most impressive back was Pahokee's Vincent Smith [Ronnie Wingo was #1, FWIW]. Playing on the championship team, Smith was dynamite all day with his speed and explosiveness.
"That running back really hurt us in the final game," said South Florida Express coach Brett Goetz. "He's a great player and really hurt us coming out of the backfield. We didn't do a good enough job against him."
Goetz and his team wasn't the only one. Smith made plays all afternoon and showed why he's considered one of the most explosive players in the state this year.
That event also featured Ohio State commit Jamaal Berry, FWIW. Since the spread can be looked at as an attempt to turn 11-on-11 into 7-on-7, it's not surprising that it fits Smith like a glove:
And then there's his build, which Thompson simply called "that spread-offense body.''
Small but powerful, Smith projects as the prototypical player for the offensive system that has grown from obscurity into a flat-out trend. … ''He can do a lot,'' Pahokee quarterback-to-be Nu'Keese Richardson said, ``as far as catching it out [of] the backfield, making guys miss and stuff like that.''
Added coach Blaze Thompson: "When he goes to camps, he'll go from wide receiver to running back, wide receiver to running back. "He runs great routes, and he's powerful. … If somebody puts him in the spread offense, he'll be successful.''
After his senior season he was named the small-schools offensive player of the year—which Justin Feagin reeled in last year. This generated a number of coach quotes:
"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."
And, hell, since he's a tailback I bothered to watch his highlight video and saw a one-cut-and-go player who picked a hole and zipped through it, capable of making the tiny lateral adjustments that get players past linebackers on the second level. He's not going to break many tackles in college but has the vision and quickness to burst into creases Brandon Minor perceives as defenders to maim. You can make a similar assessment while listening to the dulcet tones of Pat Summerall:
That's junior film, man.
Why Darren Sproles? He's five foot six! Virtually all 5'6" guys in college football are basically the same. Sproles is probably optimistic, since Smith would have to have spectacular numbers and deadly return skills to indicate the sort of game-breaking talent Sproles was.
Guru Reliability: Low. Huge spread, and Scout and ESPN didn't move him an inch after his senior season. They also aren't accounting for Smith's fit in Michigan's offense, and obviously didn't take his spring into account.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Though he's sort of proven himself already, there's a big difference between Michigan's second string and Big Ten first stringers. There's still a chance his size will be a significant hindrance.
Projection: Sees maybe 30 carries as one of Minor and Brown's caddies, then finds himself in a serious war to replace them next year.
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.)