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.
Michigan P Zoltan Mesko ruined the punt return drills by being unable to kick the ball far enough to allow a return more often than not (my rough count was 2 returnable out of 7), and his kicks consistently bounce backwards or straight sideways.
I'm sure this person meant to say Mesko ruined the drills by punting the ball into low Earth orbit. Either that or Jeff Risdon—if that is his real name—of RealGM is a compulsive liar who lies. These are the only two options.
That goes for you, too, "Chad Reuter":
This year's class of specialists is not very strong, and Michigan's Zoltan Mesko has been rated as the top punter on the board most of the year. However, his punts have lacked height and spirals, rarely turning over to gain maximum hang time and distance. He'll need a strong game performance to regain the confidence of scouts.
During the game on Saturday, Mesko will shank a punt that nails both of these fellows in the head.
Yost Hall of Fame. You know the monster Swedish flag that's taken up residence in Yost?
Yeah… it's homemade. Engineering sophomore Rob Eckert's mother is a hero of the people:
“I asked my mom around Christmas time when I saw her if I could borrow her sewing machine," Eckert said. "She was like ‘What are you making?’ I (told) her I was making a Swedish flag, a big one. And my Mom made it for me for my Christmas present.”
I assumed that someone had purchased it off EBay or something, but it was a modern-day Betsy Ross. Someone get her a medal.
Expansion bits. Nominal Chicagoland/Illinois sports blog "Frank the Tank's Slant" has turned into an all-Big-Ten-Expansion-all-the-time sort of place, and it continues its long-running series with an analysis of the main thing: money. The Slant is a weird combo of useful information and totally bats conclusions like "Pitt is a ridiculous idea" and "a 14-team conference is worth spending 1000 words discussing."
I think the bats conclusions come from an excessive focus on money and only money. Pitt doesn't expand the BTN footprint but does make sense in a zillion other ways from academics to providing Penn State an actual rival to geography. A 14 team conference might make more money on average but is a nightmare on the field. Money is important—it's one of the many reasons Iowa State is not a candidate—but it's not everything.
Elsewhere, evidence that Missouri will give the Big Ten a good hard look continues to mount with a KC Star article on Mizzou's willingness to make a move. The main issues are Mizzou's century-long membership in the MVC/Big 8/Big 12 and the hit the Tigers would take in Texas, one of their main recruiting hotbeds, when they don't make regular trips to Tech, A&M, etc.
As always, it's dolla dolla bill ya'll making the most compelling case in favor:
“Illinois and Indiana will make $9 million more from its televisions contracts this year,” Alden said. “Arkansas and Mississippi will make even more. That’s our comparison. In five years, they’ll have generated almost $50 million more than us without selling a ticket.”
If Mizzou is willing to go, I think the additional markets they bring outweigh Pitt's superiority in basketball and academics.
You find a playlist 100,000 people can agree on, we talk. Maize n Brew Dave makes a case for improving the Michigan game day experience re: piped in music. My solution is simple: find Special K and have him transfer to Michigan State. His solution is removing stuff like "Lose Yourself" and "Don't Stop Believing" because while he likes piped in music "only when it's good." He suggests this playlist instead:
Guns n Roses: Paradise City, Nitetrain, Welcome to the Jungle
Motley Crue: Kickstart My Heart, Dr. Feelgood
AC/DC: Thunderstruck, Back in Black, Shoot To Thrill, Highway to Hell, Hells Bells (Defense only), Rock n Roll Train
Motorhead: Ace of Spades
Quiet Riot: Metal Health (opening scream only)
Metallica: Enter Sandman (Defense only)
KISS: Detroit Rock City
Problem: all this music sucks so hard. It's generic. It's played out. It's being RAWKED at an ECHL arena right now. And oh my god:
So how bout "Breakin the Law" by Judas Priest for penalties? "Why can't we be friends" for personal fouls? "Mama's little helper" when the refs screws us? "Sympathy for the Devil" when Tressel's around? "Play that Funky Music White Boy" for Tate Forcier and the "Speed Racer" Theme for Denard Robinson? This stuff isn't rocket sciene.
Dave is Special K. I can (barely) tolerate Don't Stop Believin'. When Special K plays Bob Seger at ear-splitting volume during a critical review I want to die. If he started making stupid little jokes about on-field events when I am on the verge of a panic attack it would make me want to stay home and that would make me feel terrible. The arrow on this points exactly one way: Joe Louis.
Dave makes this argument for piped in music:
The best example I can give is the Jagr-led Washington Capitals* … whose PA dude put together the most awesome montage-collages of heavy metal/death rock this pathetic planet has ever known. That Caps intro would melt your face right into your beer cup. … They knew their target audience and they fed it guitar heavy ROK like you'd feed makrel to a trained seal. We ate it up.
So… let's think about knowing your audience. At Michigan Stadium you have a vast variety of Michigan fans, students, and alums ranging from 18 to 80. Maybe 5% of them grew up driving a Camaro and rocking a rat-tail. "Knowing your audience" this is not. Keep the eighth-grade sense of humor ("boners!") and your 1985 hair metal where it belongs—everywhere else on the planet—, please, and let's go back to the things Michigan fans can actually agree on: Temptation, War Chant, Let's Go Blue, The Victors.
The thing that bothers me is that I really loathe the piped in music and, from the reactions I've gotten it seems like a lot of people do. For the people who hate it, the music ruins one of the few pristine sporting events luddites have left. For people who like it, it's just another opportunity to hear the same fifteen seconds of that one song you hear fifteen seconds of everywhere else. The cost to one group greatly exceeds the benefit to the other.
Rooting interest. I admit that I have no plans to watch ice dancing no matter what personal connection I have to it—I could be actively participating in a routine and be screaming "SWEEP" at my slingbox-enhanced smartphone—but others might be less curling-obsessed so it's worth mentioning that two current Michigan students are the sequined Brandon Graham and slightly-less-sequined-but-still-pretty-damn-sequined Brandon Graham of ice dancing. They are Meryl Davis and Charlie White:
White and Davis, both native Metro Detroiters, are University of Michigan students and die-hard Wolverine sports fans.
They're about to become very famous, as they head into the Olympics as the No. 1-ranked ice dancers in the world. White, a sophomore who has not chosen a major yet, and Davis, a junior in cultural anthropology, could become the most famous Michigan students in the Olympics since star swimmer Michael Phelps.
That's pretty remarkable. This bit goes beyond remarkable into the bizarre, though: the third-place team at nationals, and therefore the third Olympic qualifier, consists of fellow Michigan students Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. Four of the six competitors for the US at the Olympic ice dancing competition will be Michigan undergraduates. Bates and White are freakin' housemates. I bet one dollar the four hit the ice at Yost during an intermission sometime before the year is out.
So, yeah, Tanith Belbin and Anonymous Partner can fall in a ditch. I want big, sequined block Ms on the medal podium.
Ask Vlad Emilien anything! Seriously. However, he will sometimes answer incorrectly:
Who wins: Mike Barwis or Chuck Norris?
i dont really know maybe chuck norris
Has Barwis ever brought his wolves to workouts?
There's a couple of interesting responses, though. Molk is the "strongest, hardest working" player on the team, and this oddly grammatical question shoots down the idea that a lingering knee injury kept Emilien off the field:
Hey Vlad, Just curious, did a lingering injury keep you off the field last year? Did it affect your play? A lot of us expected to see more of you and that was the rumor. I'm looking forward to seeing you play next year. Thanks for making Blue proud!
to be honest i dont know why i wasnt playing... my coach told me he felt i wasnt ready yet
Sammi Sweatheart or Jwoww?
who is these people lol
So there you go.
Mike Cox is pretty. A reader who's way more familiar with the facial features of fifth-string running backs than even I am was taken aback by a Bivouac newsletter featuring a fellow who appears to be Mike Cox:
Cox's mgoblue mug shot:
That's the same dude, right?
Extremely important CORRECTION: The "death touch" cartoon referenced in the Monday column was not GI Joe but Batman: The Animated Series. A helpful reader provides details:
I believe this was the animated series of Batman. I very clearly remember an episode of this, but I think there was only one real "death touch", which Batman was able to find by feeling up the bad guy's sparring dummy. He then confronts the guy who hits him there!(!). BUT of course Batman is too smart for that and had armored that spot so he wouldn't die, and then pwns the fool.
Craig Flemingloss '07
I now remember this clear as day. Fools at the Ohio State game are going to get a swift jab that's a one-way ticket to hell. Or they're just going to get poked in the neck. 50-50.
CYA, chanter of CYA. I noticed this during the portion of the Saturday Miami game I didn't spend crossly drinking at home:
I was at the game for about 10 minutes, when after Miami (Ohio)’s first penalty, I participated in what has come to be known as the ‘C-Ya’ chant. …
Like usual, I said the same chant tons of times Friday night with thousands of other fans and nothing happened.
Saturday night, I got kicked out. Not cool, dude.
Two or three others in the immediate vicinity of one cranky usher also got the boot over the course of the game. I didn't see the guy the next section over executing similar justice, so I assume that these are the actions of one guy who's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore, not a Yost-wide thrust.
The uneven enforcement is annoying and will do nothing to stem the tide of that chant. That said, Michigan's been trying to erase or ease the cheer since I started attending games at Yost 11 years ago. In the long-long ago, Red Berenson even brought his adorable five-year old grandchild onto the ice to personally plead the student section to stop; no one did. They just added a sarcastic-seeming "we love you, Red" at the end of the thing. I thought that was pretty disgraceful: the only reason Yost is what it is today is Berenson, so if he wants you to stop doing something you should do it no questions asked.
Mostly, the chant's not clever. It's just a string of stuff that gets progressively further over the line every time something gets added. The things that used to get tacked on, like "Wildfong" in honor of a particularly annoying opponent or "Boren" for obvious reasons, are lost to history, replaced with generic swearing. I have been known to curse like a sailor from time to time; this is not mounting a high horse about vulgarity. The CYA chant is boring and embarrassing in the format currently served at Yost. It's not something worth fighting for when Red Berenson, who should be your God, wants it dead.
If the university actually wants traction on this, they should provide a carrot and stick to the entire student section in the form of ticket prices: higher if they continue, lower if they stop. Randomly tossing chickens* out of the game is just going to shame the Daily's editors even more than their humiliating defeat at the hands at a bunch of socially maladjusted engineers from the Every Three Weekly last weekend. It's not going to help, it's going to instill the Fight For Your Right To Party mentality that I saw after the Children of Red incident. The only thing that will work is a naked display of aggression on the part of the university. Either drop it or drop the bomb.
I will admit that I stood out from the other Children of Yost. I may or may not have had a megaphone. And I may or may not have been, ahem, dressed up — if you went to the game, you might have seen a six-foot chicken standing against the glass in section 18.
On a similar topic. I haven't ever heard Berenson tear his team a new orifice like he did in the aftermath of this weekend's pantsing at the hands of Miami. After the Redhawks scored to go up 4-1 on Saturday, the team started gooning at an alarming rate:
"I'm embarrassed," Berenson said. "We played like a bunch of spoiled brats, and we've gotta suck it up. When you're getting beat, you just keep working hard for the team. You don't take it out on the other team and take stupid penalties that are going to hurt your team even further. That's not the way we play hockey, and this team will learn that."
I wonder if this embarrassment extends to Tristin Llewellyn, whose spot on the depth chart opposite Chris Summers on what you assume is the #1 defensive pairing makes no sense to me. Llewellyn has been a dumb penalty factory ever since he arrived and makes a ton of chance-generating defensive mistakes. Putting him on the ice against top lines is asking for it; I don't get Berenson's faith in the guy when Kampfer is available.
On ice, but only metaphorically. Interesting bit from an AnnArbor.com piece on the freshmen getting redshirted:
Michigan has played 10 of 21 true freshmen this year, though linebacker Brandin Hawthorne has not seen the field since September and is in position to get his redshirt back.
…if Michigan has held him out because he is "injured," which I'm betting is the case. Michigan pulled medical redshirts for Adam Patterson, Junior Hemingway, and Kenny Demens last year and only Hemingway had injuries that were known to the public.
Mike Jones and Vlad Emilien continue to play on special teams but not on the defense, frustratingly, though I can understand why Emilien was put on the field given the situation at safety. Anything that can potentially get him ready sooner is more valuable than a hypothetical fifth year given Michigan's situation at the position.
The article also expands upon something Tim touched on in his press conference recap:
Rodriguez singled out cornerback J.T. Turner, safety Thomas Gordon and receivers Jeremy Gallon and Cam Gordon when asked what freshmen currently redshirting have caught his eye. He also said Michigan has "some really talented young offensive lineman" in Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington and Michael Schofield.
I am terribly pleased that Gordon is one of the guys mentioned, just because of his position and his low recruiting profile. Gallon has a nice two-year gap between himself and Odoms now; if he lives up the recruiting hype Michigan should have a nice one-two punch at slot until Roundtree graduates. And one of the tackles—probably Lewan—stepping forward to claim a starting spot would be… well, probably not great. Next year's line is probably going to be something like Omameh-Schilling-Molk-Barnum-Dorrestein/Huyge, with Barnum potentially replaced by whoever's not the RT if he can't hack it yet. If one of the tackles is breaking through as a redshirt freshman that's probably a negative.
Advertisin' note. The M-Den, which is fantastic in all ways that an entity can be, has a holiday promotion running: orders over $100 come with a ten-dollar gift card.
Vote of confidence. Rote:
"He's not going anyplace," Martin said. "Rich is an outstanding coach. There is no question he's got my total support. I think the world of that guy. Is he perfect in every respect? Nobody is. But he works hard. He'll get it right."
Honey, I'm the AD. In the vein of "Let's FOIA 30-year-old grade records" and "Michigan coaches have loans from a bank the AD founded": Martin's embarrassment that was on all the premium sites yesterday afternoon appears to be shoving past some clueless DPS workers who don't know what the AD looks like. This never happens on sailboats. That's probably why he's retiring.
To me this is more interesting as an information-on-the-internet problem: I got a couple of freaked-out emails because premium sites were dropping dark hints about an "embarrassment" that was about to come out about Bill Martin. That embarrassment is stating "Honey, I'm the AD" and gently pushing someone out of his path. If anyone on the premium sites had just said that, or if the information was not locked behind a paywall and thus subject to wild speculation by people outside of it, the minor panic would not have happened. The perpetual non-information being purveyed on subscriber message boards is annoying both as a recipient and a competitor. My favorite part is when moderators elsewhere say "as we've been telling you for weeks (in one-way ciphered Navajo)" after this site says something newsworthy in explicit detail. You'll note that if this site has information it just tells you what the information is and the context it was received in.
Example! I've received some solid information that suggests Fred Jackson is probably going to move on after the season by his own choice. This should not affect the status of his son's commitment; Jackson's probably going to head to the NFL.
Given my opinion of how important a running backs coach is—not very—I don't think this is a big deal and hope the replacement is one of those young, energetic recruiter types. The first guy who leaps to mind is Ty Wheatley, now on Ron English's staff at EMU. With all the Rodriguez stuff—and the rumors as to where some of it is sourced—that may not be an option.
Etc.: Thanks to BWS I spent 20 minutes yesterday watching some guy play impossible Mario levels. Craig Roh's dad says recruits and their parents have the internet too. Big Ten Tour hits Michigan, runs into a guy who looks like Scott Steiner but says he's Hulk Hogan. Side note: I am 100% sure that I saw Scott Steiner wandering around before a game last year.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
|Boubacar Cissoko||So.||Troy Woolfolk||Jr.||Michael Williams||So.*||Donovan Warren||Jr.|
|JT Floyd||Fr.*||Jared Van Slyke||So*.||Vlad Emilien||Fr.||Justin Turner||Fr.|
Christ, just look at this. Seniors: zero. Freshman starter: check. Converted corner starting at safety: check. One player with more than returning starts: check. Two, maybe three viable backups, only one of whom has ever stepped on a collegiate field before: check.
I don't want to talk about it. Brightside: no Stevie Brown?
This is two guys who should be nasty in-your-face press corners, one 6'2" corner recruit hyped to the moon, and a deep pit of terror and dismay after it. Verifying the press nasty business first:
"Boubacar and Donovan are outstanding cover guys," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Some corners don’t like to play press and get in your face. You want ones that want and relish that and want to get in and play some press one-on-one man coverage, be aggressive on the edge. And both those guys have that kind of mentality."
|Defending the edge|
|Snuffs a screen|
|UW buffalo stampede|
|BONUS: Incredulous Bielema|
|Tough press cover|
Second, the men who press nasty. Man the first is Donovan Warren, a true junior out of California whose hyped stardom track (be an awesome recruit, start as a freshman, blow up as a sophomore) fell prey to the injuries and schizophrenic coaching that befell virtually everyone on the defense last year. By the Penn State game I was actively hoping/speculating that Warren was laid up:
Donovan Warren. I really, really hope he's had one of those injuries that's just not quite bad enough to knock you out of the game, and I hope he's had that most of the year. Because he hasn't made a single play, and a lot of Penn State's success was going right at him.
This was the case. Warren had offseason surgery to remove bone chips and enters the fall healthier than he was at any point last year:
"Talking with trainers and Donovan, he's as good as he's ever felt," Gibson said this summer. "Nobody really knows it except (us what he endured). He wasn't healthy at all. There wasn't one game he was healthy. We had to sit him out of drills to get him healthy. We'd never get him right."
So Warren's plateau has a reason behind it and fans can again hope that the promise that got him rated five stars and saw him leap directly into the starting lineup will pay off. Even with the bone chips, Warren turned in most of the good plays the secondary deigned to provide Michigan last year, including a certain jumped slant that turned into a Johnny Thompson buffalo stampede and, eventually, one of Michigan's precious wins.
|Running a guy's route|
|Doing it again|
|FROWNS: losing leverage|
Sophomore Boubacar Cissoko is the other starter at corner. A highly rated recruit out of Cass Tech, Cissoko was reputed to be one of those feisty dwarf corners who just sits in your pocket all day and dares you to make a break. Gibson's impression of Cissoko heaven is 80 press man calls. And indeed, a couple of the highlights at right demonstrate his ability to run your route for you, thanks very much.
My go-to (and now rapidly aging) comparison was Arkansas corner Chris Houston, who I once saw battle the South Carolina star receiver before Kenny McKinley (his name escapes me) in a pitched Thursday night battle. Houston lined up two inches from his cover's grill and rode him into fades all night, some of which the opponent brought in spectacularly. That's life with feisty dwarves.
Cissoko got a start against Purdue because of Michigan's (insane!) shift to the 3-3-5 and struggled with it. Boubacar Cissoko, this is your abridged Purdue UFR:
This is just sickeningly open, with Cissoko(-1) offering an eight yard cushion and moving backward on the snap. He's nowhere near this, but is it bad play or is that just the coverage? (Cover -2) … Cissoko(-1) overruns the play and guys recover to tackle at the two. … Mouton(-1) gets too far inside and gives up the outside bounce, which Sheets takes. Good job by Cissoko(+1) to mitigate the damage. … Just to switch it up, this time it's Cissoko(-1) a couple yards off the wide receiver. Same technique as the earlier Trent thing. Purdue can run this route every damn down. … This guy is covered by Cissoko(+1) and he's got his head around looking for the ball … it looks like Orton is streaking for a touchdown until Cissoko(+1) makes it back to the ball, knocking it away. (Cover +1) Orton was open because he pulled Cissoko's facemask, FWIW. They call it; Michigan declines. … Cissoko(-1) is set up to tackle after two yards or whatever; Cissoko misses the tackle and Michigan ends up yielding six. … They're in man on this one but Cissoko gets lost, turning outside and leaving the initial hitch wide, wide open (-1, cover -2); the lateral isn't covered.
How much of this was actually his fault? Not much. Morgan Trent was doing the exact same "sickeningly" open bit on the other side, as noted above. It was clear the corners were doing what they were told, even when it made no goddamn sense.
Gibson, for his part says, Cissoko "has got to have a great year"—encouraging!—and that he loves his aggressiveness but "you kind of have to have him back up from that a little bit." It does sound as if the light has gone on a bit, if I can extrapolate:
We grade every rep that these kids take every day. The thing about him is that he is all over the field. We use him in the run game. He’s supporting the run, he’s playing man coverage. He’s playing zone coverage. You know just all those things and he’s getting them. That’s a relief for me. He’s figuring it all out and he’s feeling comfortable as he goes.”
That inexperience and aggression was the culprit on two of Michigan State's big gainers last year. In Cissoko Michigan is likely to find a source of big plays for and against; the balance will go a long way towards determining how good the team is. The prediction here: a rough start and strong finish.
Backups and Whatnot
This position was so thin in the spring that walk-on Floyd Simmons was on the two-deep, and there was nearly disastrous attrition from the reinforcements before they even arrived on campus. Both Adrian Witty and Justin Turner had clearinghouse issues; as of this writing, Witty is still in limbo after a test retake. Even if he makes it in at this point he's a guaranteed redshirt.
Turner, though, is in. And thank God for that. He was the #1 player in Ohio last year and a near five-star who showed up at the Army All-America game seeking to prove he could operate on the corner despite checking in at 6'2". Skeptics were converted and by the time he left Turner was ranked amongst the top corners in the nation. Turner's recruiting profile has his full dossier. Here's one of a half-dozen panting quotes in the aftermath of the Army Game:
“He played his way up the charts. We knew he was good. Everyone knew what a tremendous player he was before his senior year in high school, but he separated himself in the U.S. Army game. He was arguably the best player on the field, not just in the game, but in practices as well. ... It’s exciting to see how big he’s gonna be for the Wolverines."
The Clearinghouse troubles cost him a week of practice and he may start the year behind redshirt freshman JT Floyd, about whom more in a bit, but moon-hyped Michigan cornerbacks traditionally see the field after their first few games. Turner will be no exception given the crying lack of depth in the secondary. He's already started working in with the ones a bit. Tony Gibson:
He’s having a really good camp. He ran with the ones yesterday for a couple of series at the end and made some plays. I think he got 30 total plays in the scrimmage yesterday. … That’s the first time we’ve put him in there just to see what he would do. He did really well with them. We played him a lot of man coverage yesterday and that’s kind of his thing. He’s so long, he can get his arms on people and hands on people. I like the way he’s progressing.
Unlike OMG shirtless Michigan cornerbacks past, Turner has to contend with two players who have more experience and essentially equal recruiting hype. He is not likely to start, and with Stevie Brown's presence at linebacker dedicated nickel packages might be less frequent, but he's the best bet to come off the bench on passing downs.
JT Floyd, meanwhile, arrived at Michigan with little hype and redshirted. He was originally a Tennessee commit but it didn't seem like Fulmer & Co pursued him that hard when he started to look around. With Tennessee's recruiting class that year ranking amongst the country's most disappointing, that says something. What it says is that Floyd is physically deficient. Ask Gibson:
From a mental standpoint he is really good. Physically, he is a little behind, but he is faster now going through Coach Barwis’ strength and conditioning stuff. Mentally, he has it from day one but physically is where he has had to catch up and I think he is doing that.
If that sounds like a future safety to you, it does to me, too, but they moved Woolfolk instead so I don't know. Floyd's recruiting rankings and that Gibson quote peg him squarely in the realm of low-upside overachiever; with the hyped corners all around he'll probably be a career nickel/dime guy. Think maybe Grant Mason?
The last scholarship player before we get to the aforementioned Simmons—who this preview will not discuss due to a lack of information and desire to avoid contemplating a walk-on cornerback—is converted tailback/slot receiver Teric Jones, a true freshman from Cass Tech. His recruiting profile isn't particularly useful since it assumes Jones will play offense but it does point out that Jones ran the fastest 40 at the Army Junior Combine last year; if he can learn the position he's got the speed and agility to play it. Gibson says he's been one of the pleasant surprises of camp:
We got him the day before camp started. We had a staff meeting and talked about some guys that we could move over and he was the first guy we had mentioned. He’s been in the two deep the last couple of practices. He had a good day yesterday, had an interception. He’s playing well and learning the system. He still has a lot to learn obviously, but he’s getting better.
That's encouraging, but Jones didn't play a snap of defense in high school and if this isn't a redshirt year for him we'll be cursing Angry Michigan Cornerback-Hating God, because at least two corners will be laid up.
Stevie Brown and his reel of lowlights interspersed with good man coverage are off to the linebackers section, leaving Michigan's safety situation at the exact spot you would expect given that Brown was an unchallenged starter all last year despite stuff like this being a regular occurrence. But that's another show.
The remaining folk at this position are:
- a junior who was a cornerback halfway through fall practice
- a redshirt sophomore who did not challenge Brown or equally poor Charles Stewart for (much) playing time last year
- a true freshman who missed his senior year of high school with a knee injury
- a true freshman who was a quarterback until Michigan told him they'd offer if they saw him at safety as a senior
At least it can't get worse, right? I just checked all the defensive UFRs from last year and I can assure you that it cannot. Except that's what I said two years ago when Brown replaced Ryan Mundy, a guy with his own unflattering stat named after him and "the worst safety I have ever seen in a Michigan uniform." Brown was directly responsible for 14 points during The Horror and Mundy got drafted. By an NFL team.
Of course it can get worse. Do not doubt the power of Angry Michigan Safety-Hating God. Of all the gods that are randomly angered by various college football position groups only Angry Iowa Tailback-Hating God is as wroth.
Michigan was going with Mike Williams and Brandon Smith early in spring until their performance was clearly substandard. They moved Smith to linebacker, Troy Woolfolk to safety, and Vlad Emilien into the starting lineup.
Of the above options, one stands above the rest and it's the cornerback. Junior Troy Woolfolk, yes still the son of Butch Woolfolk and a man who will probably retain that status next year, has locked down a starting spot since he moved from corner just before the spring game.
Longtime readers of the blog will know this trips one of MGoBlog's heuristics for season prediction: any guy you swap from one position to another and then expect to start will be bad, and given that this guy moved and is your best option that probably goes for the whole unit as well. Now, this is considerably stronger when the player in question is flipping from one side of the ball to another or going from a position that's usually considered easier to play to one that's tougher. Last year's John Ferrara move from DT to guard was an obvious reason to groan at the state of the offensive line; a corner moving to safety is more likely to be a non-disaster. But it's still not good.
Maybe Woolfolk's history at the position—he played it his senior year of high school in an attempt to take advantage of his speed—will help out. Maybe the aforementioned speed, which is considerable, will. It won't take much to make Michigan fans, or Obi Ezeh, happy:
"Less so than last year is the play culminating in a 50-yard bomb, you know," linebacker Obi Ezeh said. "That's always a good thing when you don't have to worry about that."
What a remarkable quote. It says so many things. Some are about Stevie Brown. Some are about the recent history of Michigan safeties not named Jamar Adams. Some are about Troy Woolfolk. And some are abut life. There's never been a more appropriate spot to say this: so, yeah, we've got that going for us.
And for a throwaway quote with odd syntax it's pretty encouraging. Less so than last year is the 50 yard touchdown culmination. If we close our eyes and say it over and over again everything will be black and white and someone nice and matronly will be pressing a cold compress to our forehead as we detail the strange dream wherein our favorite football team went 3-9.
For his part, Woolfolk:
"You can be the fastest person in the world, but if you're not making the right keys, it can happen," Woolfolk said. "Like on playaction and not picking up the tight end, it's not only speed but also being smart and I'm working on the intelligence aspect of the game.
"But I think the speed will help as well."
I dunno. He could be okay. He's an upperclassman who put a death grip on the job as soon as he got it and safety is less physically demanding than cornerback. And though he's got the weight of history and heuristics against him, when I sat in for Sam Webb on WTKA both Craig Ross and AnnArbor.com's Michael Rothstein brought up their strange, unjustified confidence in Woolfolk based on their readings of practice tea leaves and the confidence both Woolfolk and his teammates had in him.
On Media Day, Tony Gibson called Woolfolk "his eraser"; if that's all he does this year he'll vastly improve Michigan's defense. It is too much to hope, and yet…
…there it is. Hope.
The player opposite Woolfolk is yet to be determined. True freshman Vlad Emilien, an early enroller who promises to have an MGoShirt (THE IMPALER!) sooner rather than later if he pans out, was the tentative leader at the spring game. He played opposite Woolfolk and didn't do anything particularly embarrassing. The other candidate is Mike Williams, the erstwhile leader before the spring switch and is the designated starter for Western; he's not big but has a reputation as a ferocious hitter. A ferocious, irresponsible hitter.
Emilien's been the presumed starter here and elsewhere but no one's really had much to go on since the spring position switch and there's at least one guy who's been taking in what practice he can who expects the (relatively) veteran player to get the nod. He's AnnArbor.com's Dave Birkett:
"I know I'm going to have a little jitters playing in front of 110,000," Emilien said. "But I’m looking forward to just showing my aggression, just getting out there and playing to my full potential." …
A January enrollee, Emilien is healthy now and has shown enough in spring practice and fall camp to crack the playing group at the thin safety position. Converted cornerback Troy Woolfolk and sophomore Mike Williams are the projected starters, with Emilien and Jared Van Slyke pushing for time as backups.
Here's something to shiver your spine: Van Slyke's one of them walk-on folk. Beatwriter depth-chart guessing is just above blogger deduction in terms of accuracy—not much to be found in either—but it's something at a murky, touchdown-scoring-shark infested position.
Back to people with scholarships: Emilien is a wild card after his senior year of high school was wiped out by a knee injury (recruiting profile for you). Before that he was on the verge of committing to Ohio State; after it Ohio State backed off and Emilien lost interest. When the Buckeyes came back in late, they were told to talk to the hand. This was the main factor in his decision:
"It meant a lot to me that U-M stayed loyal to me after I hurt my knee ... others stopped recruiting me at that time and that hurt. Michigan stayed with me; they showed me they will still be with me in tough times as well as good."
So Emilien's a risk because of injury and resultant inexperience but he's got four stars despite the senior-year injury and offers from Ohio State, which has a frustrating excellent safety factory right next to their frustrating excellent kicker factory, and a number of other high-profile schools. He arrived in spring and his knee is healthy. As a natural safety it's a matter of time before he sees the field in some capacity. There's reason for significant optimism for his career… but he remains a freshman. And never again shall I say "Player X couldn't possibly be worse than impossibly bad Safety Y."
Backups And Whatnot
What backups? It appears that Jared Van Slyke is on the two-deep for serious. Now, you can get away with the occasional walk-on safety—Jon Chait had the best zinger of a three-hour block on WTKA when he said Wisconsin had an "endowed chair" for walk-on safeties—but raise your hand if you're enthusiastic about that prospect given Michigan's safety play of late. Right: no one.
He's important enough to video but even Van Slyke admits he's "surprised" to be in a position to play before doing a 180 and declaring he's always expected it. I've got nothing on him other than what the coaches say, so Tony Gibson:
Jared has done a nice job. The deal with Jared, he was a quarterback at Southeast Missouri, transferred in here, was a wide receiver until right before spring ball and we moved Jared in right now. He’s battling obviously Troy for some playing time back there…. I kind of like my depth at safety. They’re young kids, but I like coaching them and they’re aggressive to learn and all that. I like what their doing.
That makes one of us, Tony Gibson.
He sat out last year in his redshirt year, but he’s been very active at safety for us. He’s a smart football player. He’s involved in a lot of the special teams. He’s going to get a chance to play next weekend.
I assume that's just on special teams. Also hope. BONUS biographical note: Van Slyke is the son of longtime baseball pro and Tigers assistant Andy Van Slyke.
The guy behind Slyke is true freshman Thomas Gordon, also from Cass Tech. (If Dior Mathis and 2011 CB Delonte Hollowell sign on, Michigan will be able to field an entire nickel package from one high school.) He was a high school quarterback who showed at summer camp, was told to play safety in the fall to get an offer, got one, and committed. So he's raw. He was also nicknamed "prison abs" by Rodriguez—causing several Free Press writers to faint—and therefore can be expected to have a good work ethic.
Like Jones, an appearance by Gordon this year means several players have been struck by lightning and bodes very unwell. A redshirt is best here, plz k thx. Here is Gordon's recruiting profile, by the way.
And that's it.
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.