Molk as Rimington finalist: check, plus. Kelvin Grady's 30 catches: not so much.
Spring football is over, meaning we're entering the darkest days of the offseason, the times when college football bloggers must get creative (aigh!) and come up with something, anything, to post while hoping nobody on the team gets arrested (usually as a product of being as bored with the offseason as us).
This is one of those posts.
Last year, Brian went HAM with his football preview, churning out so much content that I ended up previewing Western lest the first game pass without comment. Now I get to look back on all of Brian's hard work, use hindsight as a crutch to make me look intelligent, and critique his predictions. It's up to you to decide whether it's coincidence that I'm doing this while he's rather incapacitated.
This review will be posted in three parts. Today, I'll look at the offensive personnel. Later, I'll tackle the defense (ooh, role reversal), then finally look at special teams and Brian's "stupid predictions," (his term, not mine). This first post was less fun than I expected; outside of some inflated projections for the wide receivers, Brian kinda nailed it when it came to the offense. BOO.
Koger's role will be up to him. He'll be somewhere between a B- and B+ blocker and will have opportunities to establish himself a major part of the passing game. Our sample size on his hands is still very small and the bad part is now two years removed and he's quite an athlete—his upside is high. I can't help but think he's been held back by things other than Rich Rodriguez's preferences, though. I'm betting on a good but unmemorable senior year.
I have a difficult time coming up with a better description for Kevin Koger's final Michigan season. He was a solid, but unspectacular, blocker who recorded 23 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns. That was more production than he'd had under Rodriguez, but I had to check MGoBlue to see if he even earned All-Big Ten honorable mention (he did). My lasting memories of Koger will remain the insane catch against Western in 2009 and his battles with the dropsies the next year, along with his "KogerNotKroger" Twitter handle.
The Mouton comparison is ominous since we just watched that guy start for three years without getting any better, but Lewan hasn't suffered at the hands of poor coaching yet and won't in the future. This should be the year he drops the crazy hot girl act and establishes himself as an All Big Ten left tackle. He'll still be a little penalty-prone but it will be worth it.
Taylor Lewan earned second-team All-B1G honors from the coaches, honorable mention from the media, and generally was the team's best non-Molk offensive lineman. He still took a few dumb penalties, but not as many as he did in 2010. Again, spot on, old chap.
That is admittedly me trying to find a concern. David Molk is great. You can never tell which interior linemen are going to be up for postseason awards but I'll be incensed if he's not All Big Ten after a healthy year. I think he'll be a Rimington finalist.
See: picture at top of post.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
Check, check, and of course, check.
He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
It was a near-impossible task for Denard to replicate his 2010 rushing production under Borges, especially since the coaches explicitly stated that wasn't at all the goal. He still finished as the team's leading rusher, broke the 1,000-yard barrier, scored 16 rushing touchdowns, and averaged over five yards per carry. As for the execution of the offense as a whole: yup, there were some efficiency issues. Yards/attempt, completion percentage, and passing efficiency all dropped, while interceptions rose to an unsightly 15. This prediction didn't exactly go out on a limb, but that didn't make it any less right.
Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
2010 YPC: 5.58.
2011 YPC: 5.15.
If [Junior Hemingway] can manage [to stay healthy] through the season he's going to end the year with a ton of catches. Even if the Michigan offense doesn't go full MANBALL right away continued development from Denard Robinson will make difficult pro-style throws that frequently target outside wide receivers more feasible; Borges's offense will make them more frequent. Combine that with Hemingway's main skill and there will be jump balls for the taking.
ALL OF THE JUMP BALLS. This piece of prognostication would've made it into the above category if not for this next bit:
If he can maintain his 18.5 YPC he'll challenge Roundtree for the most receiving yards on the team. Expect a bit under 1,000 yards from him.
Hemingway actually averaged a tic above 20 YPC and still led the team in receptions, but leading the team meant catching 34 passes for 699 yards. Junior did manage to stay healthy, which was nice, and then stole all of our hearts during (and after) the Sugar Bowl. Y U NO PREDICT HE STEAL OUR HEARTS, BRIAN?
Huyge's flexibility will allow Michigan to flip Schofield onto the field if anyone other than Molk goes down. He's likely to start a few games in preparation for a full time role in 2011… unless he rips the job away from Huyge right now.
Given the way Huyge's career has gone and the general vibe coming from camp chatter and Funk's public statements, that's a strong possibility. Huyge's never been much of a pass blocker and Michigan's offense is going to require quite a bit more of that as Robinson starts making more and more five and seven step drops.
This was right on in that a non-Molk OL (Ricky Barnum) went down with an injury, and Michael Schofield was the man to replace him. What Brian didn't see coming—and I don't think anyone predicted this—is that Huyge would remain at tackle while Schofield filled in admirably at left guard, keeping the job even after Barnum returned.
Tousssaint [extra 's' there, boss] seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
No full credit here what with the significant hedging and the fact that Brian had Michael Shaw listed as the (tenuous) starter, even though that's because Brady Hoke flat-out said so before the season. Instead, Toussaint was the man all year, rushing for 1,041 yards on 5.6 YPC and surpassing all reasonable expectations in the process. Fitz's speed turned out to be more of the sprinter's variety than what he showed in his previous, injury-plagued season, and the jump-cuts were plentiful. He wasn't quite Mike Hart (except fast!); Michigan didn't need that with Denard playing quarterback. The potential is there, however.
Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
Brian actually underestimated the offense in terms of the advanced metrics—9th in FEI—though successfully predicted that it wouldn't quite match the #2 rank of the previous year. Yardage fell to 42nd in the country, and scoring offense was 26th. The larger point remained true—the offense was quite efficient, but not quite at the level of 2010's spread-and-shred—but the raw numbers didn't quite match up.
Not So Much
Roundtree's production will drop this year as Michigan tries to get Hemingway and Koger more involved. He can't expect set the single-game receiving record every year. He'll still run neck and neck with Hemingway fro [sic] the most receiving yards on the team. [Ed-S: hey, I remember that vacation--it was nice]
Roundtree's production did drop, just more significantly than expected. With QB OH NOES mostly gone from the offense (and Roundtree flat-out dropping the one such opportunity I recall), he finished with just 19 catches for 355 yards, well behind both Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon on the stat sheet. Speaking of Gallon...
Entering his final season [Kelvin] Grady's best shot at extensive playing time is based on 1) a lot of three wide and 2) Roundtree playing mostly on the outside. In that situation he's the established veteran. He'd get a crack at screens and seams and whatnot en route to a breakout mini-'Tree year. More likely is a moderately increased role as Roundtree bounces inside and out with around 30 catches.
First, a sadface— :( —for the lack of screens, not to mention blitheringly wide-open seams. Now, Grady's final stat line: five catches, 75 yards. Brian did recover with a nice hedge—"It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time"—especially since Gallon produced Grady's projected stat line: 31 catches netting 453 yards. Still, swing and a miss on which player would produce said stat line, and I'm really reaching for stuff to critique here
Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
Toussaint's rapid rise wasn't foreseen by Brian, who expected more of a backfield-by-committee, especially in the early going. Shaw never captured the starting job, appeared in nine games, and finished with 199 yards on 31 carries. That made Shaw a more effective runner than Smith, who had 298 yards on 50 carries, but both were surprisingly effective (6.42 YPC for Shaw, 5.96 for Smith, though obviously in limited action for both).
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
Or he'll continue putting the ball on the ground—see: Denard's immaculate rushing TD against Notre Dame—and get relegated to fullback.
“From an overall perspective, 15 days, I think we really had a nice spring offensively. We got a lot of questions answered, I think. Had a chance to do some experimenting, although we didn’t use any of it today, but we did some things and turned another page in our offensive approach. I think people we knew could play pretty much proved they could play, and we found a few guys along the way that I think are going to be contributors. We still have a ways to go. It’s still a typical spring game. The amount of times I’ve come out of a spring game and been happy I can count on two fingers in all the 26 years I’ve been coaching. That’s just kind of the way it is. But we got something done, and that’s what’s most important, is getting a chance in front of our fans to do some deals, do some things and I think we got something done, and that really was the goal for today.”
Can you talk about Ricky Barnum’s progress. Did he meet your expectations?
“Yeah Ricky’s come a long way for a position that he really hasn’t played very much. But I mentioned to you guys before, I think from a profile perspective, Ricky fits that position better than he probably does any other position. He’s a smart kid that plays with good leverage, knows how to use people around him. Now that he understands the calls and how to put everybody on the same page, that really makes a big difference at that position, because you’re not forced to block people one-on-one constantly. That’s the thing about playing center, is there’s a lot of that going on. He’s done a nice job. I’m really happy with Ricky.”
We didn’t see a whole lot from the receivers today. Who are some of the guys that can really step up and compete for playing time with Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon?
“Well I think Jerald Robinson is one guy you’re going to see more and more of. He got banged up a little bit I think somewhere, I don’t know, but nothing serious. But I think he’s a guy you’re going to see step to the forefront because he’s been very prominent in our practices. Jeremy Jackson and Drew Dileo have also been very very active in our passing game. So I think those people and then if some of the freshmen come in and show up and aren’t awed by their surroundings, they may be able to contribute. I think we’re good at the position. We’d like to be deeper, but I think we’re pretty good.”
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy. We have three quarterbacks who I think … I’m not sure when their major contributions are going to come -- two of them, anyway -- but I think there will be a point in time when they’ll make a major contribution. I’m happy with the position.”
Rawls had some nice runs. Can he potentially be the more physical back you’re looking for?
“Yeah. He’s a different kind of runner than Fitz and a differnet kind of runner than Vince and Justice Hayes too, in that he’s a battering ram type of guy. He goes in there and when Thomas hits you you’re going to feel him. He makes no concessions to the defense. He’s got a little bit of stop and go ability, but I would not say that’s his game. His game is running through people and making it very difficult to tackle, and following forward. He’s done that all spring. You only saw a little bit of it today. In the 14 days previous, we’ve seen quite a bit of it. He’s another guy that, you have to understand our appraoch was not to entertain today. Our approach was to find out more about our football team. He’s one of the guys we wanted to find out [about], and he was going to be featured. The players that we needed to know about were the guys we let play more, him being at the top of that list.”
What did Burzynski do to push his way into a starting spot than guys who have been there longer?
“Well he worked his butt off. He’s still not in the starting position but he’s competing for one certainly. He’s worked his butt off and he’s very coachable. He’s worked hard for Coach Wellman. He’s very attentive. He takes everything to heart. It’s very important to Joe that he improve, and a guy like that is going to improve if that’s your appraoch. When you’re a walk-on and you’re battling to get in that depth, you’ll never get in that depth until you get someone’s attention. He just did a good job. We’re not really deep at offensive line. He’s had opportunities, and he’s taken advantage of them.”
When did he get your attention?
“We saw some last year. More this spring, you know. Early on he became a factor and decided that he was going to step up and compete for the postiion, but I would say the first three or four days of spring football.”
What was he showing you?
“Good, explosive get-off, number one. Good hand placement. Good hat placement on his drive and zone blocks. Pretty solid pass protector. Had a good feel for playing games, working with the guy next to him. When you’re not the most gifted guy, you have to have something else that llows you to play. Joe’s not a bad athlete, but he’s probably not as athletic as some of the other guys. That means you have to study the game and play with awareness. And I think that’s what he’s done as much as anything to put himself in the position that he’s in.”
Did he show any of these signs last season?
“Yeah, some. Some. Because the depth was different, it wasn’t as critical that we have him step up. Well the depth’s not quite what it was, now there’s an opportunity there. We tell the players every time there is [and opportunity] to seize the moment. He’s seizing the moment.”
We heard more about Chris Bryant at the end of last season than this spring. What does he need to do to get better and get back on track to play?
“Just keep going the way he’s going. He’s been set back from being banged up a little bit, too. Nothing major. Chris Bryant’s going to be a good player. The one thing you have to understand about an offensive linemen: in my opinion, I think offensive line is the most developmental position on the entire football team. There are very very few that can step up on day one and be right with it. Now every so often you get a tailback. I know when I was at UCLA, I had DeShaun Foster. The day he stepped on campus he was the best tailback we had and we had to find a way to play him. But you don’t find many linemen like that. Usually they have to go through some growing pains, get a little stronger, get a little more aware, and do some of the things I’m talking about with Joe. Chris Bryant’s going to be a good player. He just needs a little more of that development.”
Denard said he only threw off his back foot one or two times this spring. Was that the major improvement he made? Are there other areas he’s improved?
“That was the biggest one. There are two things. And you didn’t see much of Denard today, but if you could have you would have appreciated this a little bit more -- and I want to see it [keep] going before I go on about it too much. I’d like to see some carryover, but the two things that have gone away in Denard’s game is falling off throws or throwing off your back foot as you say, and number two is indiscriminate decision making. He had very very few interceptions this spring. Very few. He had cut his interceptions from last spring to this spring four times. Four times [fewer] interceptions. And that’s not unusual now for a guy that didn’t understand the offense. I said that last year our passing game was a drastic disparity from what they had done in years past, and there’s going to be some growing pains. We have to take the step into the fall because it’s all irrelevant if you don’t, but our passing game is enhanced immeasurably.”
"I can sing, but I'm sure you don't want to hear that."
Have there been things that have surprised you since the last time you spoke to us?
“Uh, let me think about that question. No major surprises. I think things have followed suit pretty well. We’ve had a couple kids perform pretty well, maybe better than they have been. Joe Burzynski would be one. Joe’s had a nice spring. He’s done a good job. Elliott Mealer. The two of them are competing for the job, so that’s good. Those two come to mind right away. I’m sure there are others who would be subtle surprises, but those two have done a good job battling each other for that spot.”
How has Brandon Moore looked?
“Brandon Moore is playing right now better than he’s played since he’s been here. He is. He’s still got a little ways to go, but when he is technically sound, takes the right steps and comes off the ball with a little bit of an attitude, he’s a pretty good player. Brandon’s got some talent, but his consistency of play is a little erratic. In terms of understanding what we do, I don’t think there’s any issues there. He’s a smart kid. Now that he understands it, the paralysis through analysis should be gone and pretty much is. He’s as aggressive as I’ve seen him and has demonstrated a certain degree of consistency that’s shown improvement.”
What about the guys behind him?
“Ricardo Miller and Mike Kwiatkowski. Ricardo’s more kind of an H-back or what we call the U position. All of those guys still practice playing on the line of scrimmage, but Ricardo’s a pretty athletic kid. Runs better than any of our tight ends. Still has a ways to go as a blocker. And then Mike Kwiatkowski, if I had another surprise, he would probably be the next one that I mention. Mike’s always been a very good receiver. His only issue has been his ability to play on the line of scrimmage because of the bigger guys, but he’s improved that. He’s a strong kid, he has good power, but he’s done a pretty nice job. Those three are probably in the fold as much as anyone.
If you had to start today, how comfortable would you be with what you have at that position?
“Well I think we’d be fine. Yeah I think we’d be okay. We still need to improve. I’m not comfortable at any position right now game-ready wise. We will use our personnel accordingly. If we feel like that position isn’t as strong as other positions, we’ll find a way to play other positions. If that position gets up to speed and up to snuff, then we’ll let them play a little more. It’s up to them. It’s really not up to us. It’s up to them. We will totally evaluate and assess every player on the team. Playing time will be dictated by their productivity and nothing else.
Who’s stepping up at wide receiver this spring?
“The same cast of characters, you know, save Jerald Robinson, who’s really proven some toughness because he’s been a little banged up, but he’s not bad. He’s done a very nice job. I’ve been happy with Jerald. Jeremy and Roy are doing a nice job. They know what to do. That’s what’s really nice about it. Not just that position -- every position. But they know what to do. We get very few missed assignments now whereas last spring it would be a carnival of missed assignments. And it always is, it’s not their fault -- new system, that’s going to happen. But we just don’t get it anymore from those players that have played significantly. Drew Dileo, again, is consistent, smart, tough. Jeremy Jackson -- Jeremy’s been healthy, and because he’s been healthy, his game has taken another step. It’s good to have him because he gives us some range at the position that we lost in junior. I think those are the guys that have been the most prominent.”
How has the learning curve for the offensive line been like?
“They’re in the same situation, I think, as the receivers or anybody else. They’ve got a much better feel for what to do. You know what’s a significant advantage, and it’s an advantage that you gain -- and that’s playing in a bowl game. When you play in a bowl game and particularly a bowl game that’s in January, you get extra practices and that helps everybody and not least of which is the offensive linemen, particularly the kids that aren’t playing much. You don’t want to beat up the kids that are. That bowl practice was invaluable to some of those young players.”
Is that why Mealer and Burzynski have had a chance to step up this spring?
“You bet. Yes. Absolutely. Darrell had a chance to work with those kids. The issues we had during the season are preparing X amount of players -- usually around 18 guys -- the rest of the team was the scout team. Well other than individual drills, you just don’t get a lot of practical application of the offense, whereas when you get into bowl practices, you’ve got enough time now to go back and look at those kids run your offense, not running an offense off cards. Those reps running our offense for those kids are very valuable. It’s almost like having a second spring football.”
Are you feeling like the chemistry is developing well?
“Yeah, it’s starting to come. A lot of that now, you have to understand, is dictated by the center’s ability to be confident in his position. Ricky is a work in progress still, but as Ricky becomes more and more comfortable in there, it has an infectious effect on the rest of the players. They all kind of take his lead a little bit. Like I told you before, he kind of quarterbacks the offensive line. If he’s on the same page with everybody else, that chemistry tends to take.”
How has Fitz looked?
“He’s been good. Really good. Really good. We’re trying to be careful with him, because he’s kind of proven himself. Not that we’re ever -- a guy’s always going to work. We’re not going to give him an easy way out, but by the same token when we go live and such, he’s going to carry the ball so he keeps well oiled, but we’re not going to run him into the ground and get him banged up, but he’s had an outstanding spring.”
What areas specifically?
“Run the football, his blocking has improved, his receiving -- every area has improved. He’s become more complete, and that was our goal coming in. He’s still not a finished product, no, and I don’t think any of them are, but he’s a kid where as a coach, you’re always looking for a group of kids who you have complete confidence in their ability to do what you want them to do in a game. And I tell them, ‘If we don’t, we’re not going to put you in a game.’ But he’s probably reached that point.”
How much better is he at blocking?
“His biggest issue, and I’ve said it before, was his vision a year ago, but that’s gone away. I see no signs of that being around anymore. It’s just running the ball and seeing the holes and knowing where your help's coming from, but that’s really it. He had to improve his protection -- no issues with toughness, just understanding how to position yourself so you can get good leverage to throw the block. He’s done that. We’re throwing him more balls than we have. He’s a prideful kid, and football’s important to him, so those types of kids tend to get better, especially if they have a lot of skill.”
What have you seen from Thomas Rawls this spring?
“Thomas is a different kind of back. He’s more of a power back. He brings a load now, because he’s a thick, strong, solid player with good speed. He’s going to generally fall forward when he hits you, and there’s going to be some impact when he hits you. Whoever’s trying to tackle him, particuarly in the open field, is going to feel him. But he’s got some of the same issues that Fitz had last spring, but they’re starting to go away I’ve noticed, too. He’s starting to see the line of scrimmage better and make better cuts and not run into bodies. Thomas, when he came in coming out of high school, and a lot of the guys do this -- the power backs just tend to want to run straight ahead and run over guys because they can’t tackle them, and the scat backs tend to want to juke everybody and never get up the field. Well the perfect back is somewhere in between. They understand when to use their power and understand when to use their stop and go ability, and Thomas is now gotten to a point where he’s not simply trying to run over everybody every time he gets the ball.”
Do you think it helped that he watched Fitz’s development last season?
“I don’t think it hurt him any. I think those are good mental reps, I call them, where you can steal repetition from a guy who may not have done it right, and then not have to bull it yourself. Have the coach critique it. There’s nothing like doing. I’m a big believer in body learning. Body learning means physically going through the trial and error part of it so that you can fix the mistake yourself. Mental reps are great. You have to take them, but the body learning is even more important. I talk in coaching about two things really that are important for players: one is body learning, and that’s reptition and such, and functional intelligence. Functional intelligence simply is the ability to transfer what you learn in the film room or on the chalkboard or in the locker rooms and practically apply it to the game. The progression, of course, is practice first. But it’s really irrelevant what your IQ is when you take a test when in fact when it comes time to execute the responsibility you’re not able to do it. Those two things, being able to body learn it and being intelligent enough to execute it when it’s time to execute it.”
How do you like Rawls’ functional intelligence?
“Good, because he understands better. He is still going through a few growing pains with our protection, but it’s not because he doesn’t know it. He just needs to body learn it a bit more.”
What’s your philosophy on the spring game? What do you hope to get out of it?
“Same thing as everything else -- evaluation, system, that’s usually what spring’s all about. See if we can find another playmaker. See if somebody jumps to the forefront when everybody’s watching. That’s when it’s really the most critical is when the lights go on. Sometimes guys in practice are better than they are when it really counts. Freddie J has a name for it -- State Street players or Main Street players. We’re going to find out who the Main Street players are. Or at least, we hope to.”
With Devin, how much have you experimented with his role?
“A little bit here and there. A little bit. Part of spring is experimentation, but it’s not really the emphasis. What we want to do as coaches is install our offense, refine our offense. Because we’re constantly evolving and trying to professionally enrich ourselves, we take little bits and pieces that we’ve learned in the offseason and try to apply them in spring football and test them a little bit, but that’s a small percentage of what we’re doing. That’s basically testing schemes. We’re much more interested in seeing to it that these kids are developed within our system and we can evaluate their skill level so when it comes time to play we can decide who deserves to.”
Do you feel like you’ve found a role for Devin?
“Yeah, I think so. I think right now it’s quarterback. I think he’s going to be the No. 2 quarterback and we’ll see how things go. Our approach to Devin hasn’t changed much. We’re going to find a way to get him on the field because he’s got skills that go over and above your average quarterback.
Is he far and above Bellomy as the No. 2 QB?
“No. No. No one is far and above anybody right now that I can think of. Russ Bellomy’s made a -- he has people’s attention. Russ is another kid that's really athletic, can throw the ball. Good functional intelligence. He’s a kid that needed more body learning, more reps, but he’s had a pretty good spring, too. He probably doesn’t get mentioned as much as he should, but he’s a good player.”
Have you had the opportunity to identify any spots where you might have to play freshmen?
“Yeah, well first of all, the guys coming in, we have no idea who’s going to help us. Neither does anybody in the entire country regardles of what you told them in recruiting. No one does, because sometimes guys come in and simply -- they’re just not as good or they’re not ready. Either one of the two. I have no idea what going to happen with that. We recruit every kid assuming they’re going to play for us, and we’ll just go from there. But this isn’t about that. This is about trying to get a team ready in 15 days and find out do they know your system and who has got the best chance to play at that point. Now when we get into the first weekend in fall, we start all over again. You install your system, evaluate what you have, and see who’s got the best chance to play at that point. You have a new batch of players.”
Could you see yourself doing some tailback by committee this fall?
“No. I see no reason for that. Not at this point. Fitz is clearly our tailback. If he isn’t, I’m not very smart. We’re going to spell him occasionally. He’s not going to be in there every play, but our last five or six games, you saw what our appraoch wanted to be, and that’s pretty much how it’s going to stay until it isn’t productive.”
MGoQuestion: Speaking of experimentation, it looked like there may have been a couple bubble screens in the highlight videos from spring practice. Are you --
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Next question.”
BURKE ACK. Everyone's on alert after Sam Webb—previously confident—walked that back significantly last night on the premium Scout board. Rivals almost immediately provided a positive counterpoint but I think we all know who's had the better information over the last year or so. Dylan has "strong rumors on both sides of the coin." I'm stocking my bomb shelter.
Burke should hear an official word from the NBA advisory committee in two days. I haven't heard any analyst say he's a first rounder and the strong rumor I got said Burke wouldn't leave unless that's where he was projected; if that's the case we could get an announcement of a return shortly after. Once that date passes April 29th is the deadline. The April 10th date is meaningless.
This is wasting time I could be using buying canned goods.
This is cultural relevance. Via Matt Norlander and Jerry Hinnen, a curiosity left behind in the Kentucky locker room in the aftermath of their national championship:
It was probably inevitable that the end result of the Fab Five is the apotheosis of the one-and-done. Whether that's good or bad is in the eye of the beholder.
I WATCHED ALL-STAR HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL AND SURVIVED. It was a near thing, but I made it. Over the weekend I took in Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III playing in separate games of the ESPN something something classic something, and wondered why I was doing it. I can tell you these things:
- Mitch McGary is tall, but not as tall as some other guys.
- Glenn Robinson III can dunk very well…
- …but had a rough day at the free throw line.
Click through for McGary, who didn't look as good of a prospect in a barely-organized meaningless quasi-scrimmage that even the announcers regularly talked trash about. Hurrah for information.
Robinson looks like he'll be tough to keep off the court. After the game Dave Telep asserted that he and Sam Dekker were overlooked for the McDonald's game. It'll be interesting to see how the minutes shake out. Robinson says he's being looked at for the 2 and 3…
As far as next season goes, Robinson says he's currently putting in extra time on his 3-point shooting and his ball handling. He said the Michigan staff would like to use him as both a small forward and shooting guard next season, meaning he could be relied on to attack the rim off the dribble, distribute and score from deep.
…but I'm betting we see Michigan go with Robinson at the four for at least 15 minutes a game. That will depend on how Hardaway and Stauskas are playing and how comfortable Beilein is with a four who can't shoot threes.
Also a chic pick. Indiana is getting a lot of hype in everyone's way-too-early previews. Someone else getting hype: Michigan. Andy Katz:
The Wolverines will be in the top 10 if Trey Burke returns to school. He should. He would join freshman stud Mitch McGary and Tim Hardaway Jr., and a loaded class that also includes ESPNU 100 recruits Glenn Robinson Jr., and Nik Stauskas. The Wolverines have had a few defections, and that has disrupted a bit of their flow. But John Beilein has figured out the Big Ten, so Michigan will once again be in the mix.
Not to be outdone is Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star:
3. Michigan: Trey Burke is the big key here. If he stays in school, Michigan is loaded considering what it has back and the addition of players like Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. If Burke leaves, I think Michigan slips a few notches here. Losing Douglass and Novak would be bigger if a guy like Burke doesn’t return.
CBS has Michigan #5. Yeesh. I know we're talking Big Expectations next year but a one-seed is not the peak of my personal expectations distribution.
Twosie, the story. The Daily tracks down the man who sold Taylor Lewan his tandem bike:
Hakken asks Lewan where the coeds are going to sit, as he rides around with his friends. Tandem bikes are, after all, romantic.
“No girls are going to ride my twosie,” Lewan says, incredulously, and Hakken laughs again. He's never heard anyone call a tandem that before, but he chooses not to correct Lewan, who makes it clear he’s serious about buying the bike.
It's a story for the ages. In 2055 the most prestigious college football award will be the Taylor Lewan's Twosie, given to the best pair of starting tackles in the country.
Flufftasm. Not Michigan Replay is all "BCS Sugar Bowl champions but that's in the past," and MGoVideo has restored the rightful music that is right:
Reader Matt Stone points out that there's a (smoked) bubble screen around 8:52. Either way that's good—Michigan couldn't defend it at all last year, and never ran it in an effort to loosen up defenses.
Check out the segment on Michigan replacing Molk and Martin if only to hear Ricky Barnum pronounce hungry "hawngry." #doyouspeakflorida.
Talking to Al. I watched about an hour of this at the Glazier Clinic I went to and could have happily done another four:
"He invited me into a room…"
"…the film room."
Ohhhh oh. Oh. Carry on. Michigan Replay should be an hour of this every week. Two.
Overcoming tragedy, he selected extra value meal #3. If Elliott Mealer does end up winning the left guard job, you can ink the inevitable Tom Rinaldi feature in double-underlined ink. I just wonder if he'd like to be Elliott Mealer at this point instead of Overcoming Tragedy Elliott Mealer. Example AA.com headline:
Elliott Mealer overcomes tragedy, becomes leading candidate for starting spot on Michigan's offensive line
Maybe Elliott Mealer wants to be Guy With Mountain Man Beard instead.
Meanwhile, Brock update:
He continues to work out with Barwis three times per week, commuting from Ohio to BarwisMethods in Plymouth, and can now take 23 steps without any kind of support -- canes included.
A weakness! A palpable weakness! Alabama is moving Australian JUCO transfer Jesse Williams from defensive end to nose tackle, where surely he'll be an exploitable liabilit—
Dammit. Why are we playing a team with an entire extra recruiting class to sift through again?
Etc.: If Derrick Nix misses one minute against a real opponent this year for getting arrested for pot I'll eat… well, I'll be surprised. Unless he's got a couple of secret strikes already this will blow over before fall.
M has acquired its Sugar Bowl bling. Point of order: Michigan fans aren't "misinterpreting" Advice Columnist Mark Hollis's Burke-directed tweet. We know it's harmless greeting-card advice. We are mocking Hollis for being a 12-year-old who likes Twilight.
"I got you guys broken in."
How does Rocko Khoury’s departure affect the center battle?
“Well we do, yeah. We have enough guys to compete. You always would like more numbers, offensive line wise particularly because we’re not deep at the position. We have a couple kids, Ricky Barnum, Jack Miller -- I think will be good centers. Ricky has a good profile for the position, probably even more so than when he played guard.”
Are you experimenting with Devin Gardner at other positions?
“We’re doing what we did a year ago, pretty much. We’re giong to play the best 11 guys. Devin’s the backup quarterback right now. He’s number two, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get the best 11 on the field. Nothing’s changed in that perspective, so we pretty much have the same mentality that we had.”
Are you looking at him at wide receiver?
“Yeah … the practices are closed for a reason.”
Are you able to work on more experimental things now that you’ve had a year with this team?
“Later on, yeah. Not right now. First thing [is] we’re not going to get real fancy the first couple days of practice. We’re going to go through a little refresher course on the offense, take them about four or five days of practices to do that. Once we get to where we’ve pretty much got it back -- kids learn the stuff much faster now for obvious reasons -- then we’ll start dabbling more in some of the offseason research we’ve done on some stuff, whether it be deuce package or moving folks around. So we’re always evolving constantly, and we’re always trying to figure out how to get our best 11 on the field to do what they do best. That may not be not consistently be the same 11 guys all the time. You may change the the 11 so that you can get a guy out there that may be able to do something that may not be able to do it on some other plays. Devin’s part of that. We’ve got about five guys that are involved in that.”
Is it more difficult for an offensive lineman to switch to center than anywhere else on the line?
“Well, center, because the ball’s involved, you have the issues there in terms of snaps. But once a kid’s played center for a while, they usually prefer it. They know exactly when the ball’s coming up. They can control the line play a little better. But center’s a little different animal than tackle or guard. Mike [Schofield] had played tackle, so it wasn’t a huge transition for him.”
How do you balance being physical in practice with your lack of depth on the offensive line?
“Boy, that’s tough. That is hard. You have to be smart with it, but if you don’t get accomplished what you’re trying to get accomplished, then spring football’s a waste of time. We’re always going to err on the side of getting after it a little bit, and if you have to pull off, we’ll pull off. We just believe that the game’s played with a physical demeanor and we’re not ever going to stop that regardless of guys getting hurt. We’re going to be smart, but we’re never going to stop thinking that way.”
Where do you think Denard stands in terms of throwing downfield?
“I think the first two days of practice, he’s made a marked improvement in that because he basically understands the offense better. It’s always a work in progress. There’s still errors here and there, but there are less. I think as he goes and understands better and better you’re going to get a better product. There’s two issues with Denard, and that’s one: the overall understanding of the offense, which I know is going to be better, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, and the footwork issues, which generally cause a lot of the interceptions. We’re working on it everyday, and he’s so keenly aware of it. When he makes a mistake, he’s getting to a point now where he can almost coach himself. He’ll come out and say, ‘Oh I screwed up.’ He’ll tell me before I tell him. I’ll never assume it. I’ll still tell him. He’s tired of me telling him the same things, but he knows how I think as a coordinator and how I think as a position coach. One thing about the kid is he’s a very good football guy. He understands the game really well. He has great instincts. Now that he’s got a year in the system, I think some of those instincts will show up more than that, and that’s scary.”
What do you know about Denard now that might change the way you coordinate the offense?
“Well, not much than what I knew at the end of the season. He’s a great runner. He’s taken on a leadership role which is exciting to me. It’s exctiing to all of us. Those types of things. And we can probably do a little bit more now because he understands without doing it too much, where you get paralysis by analysis.”
Did he get enough time with Ricky in the offseason to get comfortable?
“Yes. Yeah, he did. He and Ricky have been working it out for a while and Jack too. All of them. They’re always on their own just go out and snap balls and working the skelly drills and all that. This isn’t the first time they took a snap. It wasn’t yesterday or the day before yesterday.”
How do you replace Junior?
“Boy that’s the best question that’s been asked so far. That’s not been easy to do. One way we are doing it is with Roy Roundtree. Roy is moving to flanker. Roy was a split end last year. He played flanker in some spots. Because we split time with him and Jeremy Gallon, Roy took some hits with his numbers, but going to Junior’s position, a healthy Roy Roundtree is really running well right now. Best I’ve ever seen him run. But a healthy Roy Roundtree could really have a good season. I’m thinking great things about Roy. Roy’s had such a great attitude. He did take a hit with numbers, and it would be natural to second guess a lot of things, but he didn’t, and because he didn’t, he’s improving daily.”
Was Roundtree unhealthy at all at any point last season?
“Not really. I think he stayed in one piece pretty good. But out of flanker now you get a lot more balls thrown your way. You saw Junior -- a lot of time you catch that thing and there’s some folks around you. But I have no doubt that Roy Roundtree’s going to have a heck of a year.”
Can he be your vertical deep threat?
“Yes he can. Yes he can. You bet he can. He’s got excellent speed. He goes and gets the ball. He can definitely be that without question, and so can Jeremy Gallon for that matter.”
Who besides Roundtree are you looking for at that position?
“Jerald Robinson. Jerald Robinson, in two days, has been very impressive. Big, physical receiver. Very much like Junior. Not quite as big as Junior, but still big. Has excellent hands. Ran on the scout team quite a bit. Not because he wasn’t good enough to play -- he was good enough to play, but we were pretty good at wide receiver and we never got a chance to use him. But this year Jerald’s going to get a great look. So far what we’ve seen, he’s going to make a contribution, and he is that big physical guy much like Junior was. If you’re aksing how to replace [Junior], he’s definitely at least one answer. ”
You saw Fitz Toussaint’s vision improve over last season. What’s the biggest thing you want to see take a jump up this spring for him?
“Well that to continue, number one, and improve his pass receiving skills. He’s got good hands, but we used Vince so much in that capacity that I’d like for Fitz to be equal to what Vince did so we don’t have to take him out all the time. Pass protection still can improve. We ask our backs to block. That can always get better. Those types of things. Refining more of the little things about his game, where a year ago there were some huge factors, the vision being at the top of the list. The more we learn with Fitz, the more he plays, the faster he learns and the issues go away with him. Some backs they never go away. They never gain good vision because they simply don’t have very good vision. He does. He just needed the time and I think that’s going to be the case with the other things we’re talking about.”
How do you envision using a player like Justice Hayes?
“He’s another one. We’re going to take a good look. Knowing that Fitz has been productive, we don’t have to overuse Fitz in the spring, yet still try to improve him. I’m not talking sit him on the sideline and let him watch, he’s still playing now. But that being said, it isn’t like last spring where we have to run him and run him and find out what he can do. We kind of know what he can do. That’s where we can use Justice now is give Justice a chance to carry that ball, tote it a few times, get him in some pass protection situations. He’s got some great receiving skills, see if he can do that, but this is a big spring for him.”
Switching between shotgun and under center puts a lot of stress on the center. How does Ricky’s transition to the position affect how you run your offense?
“Well, because we are under center some and because our center basically quarterbacks the offensive line -- he puts them all on the same page with regard to targeting fronts where it be in pass protection or running. That position is absolutely critical that we get productivity out fo the position. You need a smart guy that’s athletic and knows how to use his help. We don’t ask our center to consistently single block a nose guard, but he’s got to know how to make the call to allow for some help for him. I could go into all the nuances, but it’s endless what that kid's got to do. It’s not an easy position to play. ”
Do you anticipate being under center more this season?
“I don’t think it’s going to be much different. We’re still basically a shotgun team. I mean, we have a quarterback that can run, and the best way to exploit that is for him to be in the shotgun. Yet we still want to downhill run. You look the last two or three games of the season, that’s really what we want to be. We don’t want to be a total shotgun team. But knowing that the shotgun is going to be very very prominent simply because of the skillset of our quarterback. So in answer to your question, we’re basically going to be what we were a year ago.”
How quickly is Ricky learning how to make all the pre-snap decisions?
“He’s doing a great job. He’s still got a few deals. Now Greg’ll throw you some defenses that will test your center’s ability to adjust. It’s still a work in progress … and the more he sees it the better he’s going to get at it, the better he’s going to understand it and the better he’s going to get the other guys to understand it, because that’s part of his job, too. I’m not concerned about Ricky. He keeps progressing like I think he will. He’ll be a good center.”
Has anyone caught your eye at tight end yet?
“Not yet, but they’re not doing bad. No one has jumped out and said, ‘Oh my god, look at that guy.’ But they’re not doing bad. Brandon Moore’s been consistent. Ricardo Miller, who really is more of a move guy, but he’s played with his hand on the ground a little bit. He understands our offense. Very athletic. Very athletic. Athletic as any tight end we got. Used to be a wide receiver so he has speed and he has receiving skills. He’s another one that’s going to get a great look. Who knows, we have some freshmen coming in. If they show up, they’ll have an opportunity to contribute there, too. So we’ll see how that goes. It’s still too early. We haven’t put pads on yet. I want to save judgement on that position until we’ve been through a few practices with pads on and guys blocking at the line of scrimmage because that’s so critical to what we want to do.”
What have you learned about Devin, and how can that help you prepare for the season?
“Well he’s an incredible athlete. He has so many dimensions to him. He’s smart, so he picks stuff up fast. He doesn’t have any problem that way. That being said, every time you put together a plan, you have to find out how to factor him into it somewhere. Again, if it doesn’t sacrifice any other phases of your game. As you guys saw last year, we’re always looking for opportunities to get him in the game in some way shape or form without breaking the rhythm of the quarterback, which I don’t think we did. And seeing to it that we use him getting the ball, use him throwing the ball, and use him decoying. With that in mind, doing the same thing with Denard.”
Do you feel like you’ll use him more this season?
“I don’t know. I want to see. Maybe. I don’t know yet. We’ll see. It’s a matter of how. That’s the key. What are you going to do? We’ve done a lot with him, but there’s still a lot more that he can do, so we’ll see.”
Is his athleticism such that it’s better than your other skill position players?
“No. It’s very much like that -- he’s an athletic quarterback. I wasn’t here -- but Devin was recruited as the number one dual threat quarterback in the country, was he not? Generally those guys can do a lot of stuff. He was not a prototypical drop back passer type, although he was recruited by prostyle teams and spread guys, so he can do that stuff. He’s certainly one of our better athletes on the team, and we have to find a way to exploit that.”
Is he open to all of this?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. He wants to play.”
Are you concerned that giving him looks at other positions will disrupt his growth as a quarterback?
“Nope. Nope. Not at all. Smart kid, he’ll be fine.”
What do you like about Russell Bellomy?
“Russ is very athletic -- another athlete. Very good athelte. Can run the ball. He was recruited too by spread teams and pro-style guys. Accurate passer. His arm is improving strength-wise all the time. If you tell him once, he’s got it. He’s one fo those guys. You don’t have to re-tell him ten times. He’s got it down. He’s got composure. He can get himself out of a lot of messes when things break down, and he can run. He can run designed quarterback runs, although I don’t know you’re going to run as many as you would with Denard. But if you turn him loose he will hurt you. He has that kind of ability. We’re looking more at him because it’s spring time and we’re trying to give him some time. Like we’re talking about Fitz, where we’re giving Justice Hayes time and it may cost Fitz a few reps, we’re going to look at Russ more and cost Denard a couple reps or even Devin a couple. But we have to see them all now. This is our chance. Once we get into the season and we’re game planning all the time, it’s tough to give everybody enough chances.”
Do you start game planning at all for Alabama this early?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. We do. Kids are watching Alabama now. They come in on their own and they’ll look at Alabama. Right now it’s about developing our football team. We don’t have an opponent in front of us other than ourselves right now. We’re trying to develop our football team, try to get every guy a little better every single day and build up to that. Build up to that, get through spring fotoball, and as you get closer to the game, you get more focused on the task at hand, but right now we have a heavy emphasis this spring on becoming a fundamentally better offense. We talked about it. We’re allotting the time in practice for it. Whereas last year we were trying to be fundamental and installing our offense. That was a headache. Now second year, we have it installed, we’re just trying to get better with our footwork at every position -- offensive line, running back, you name it. Just doing the little things better.”
How confident are you in Schofield’s ability to transition back to right tackle?
“I think he’ll do fine because it’s really a more natural position for him. He has a tackle profile He’s 6-foot-6 plus. He was a hurdler in high school, somebody told me, and it’s obvious because he can move. He’s really more of a tackle body type than he is a guard body type, although he did a nice job at guard. This is where we need him now, he’s very receptive to it, and so far he’s done a nice job.”
The Old Man is coming. The Old Man.
The Old Man is coming.
The McCrayken is alive. All of the internets to user mdoc, who responded to the winged-helmet-kraken request instantly:
This blog is rooting for Mike McCray to be a destructive force so hard.
Penn State's death has been greatly exaggerated. OR: look what we can do when we have a head coach! PSU's 2012 class was terrible. All their good recruits ended up with Urban Meyer and they replaced them with two stars snatched from the MAC. That's going to hurt for a while. Despite that, Nittany Lions fans are probably feeling more chipper than they thought they would about their program's intermediate-term prospects. They've recently swooped in on the following recruits:
- QB Christian Hackenberg, a consensus four star claiming offers from Alabama and Florida.
- DE Garrett Sickels, who is rated a lot like Mike McCray (ie: top 50 on Rivals, solid four-star elsewhere)
- CB Ross Douglas, a three/four star tweener.
They are almost certain to add five-star-ish TE Adam Breneman tomorrow. By doing so they've become the only Big Ten team kind of sort of keeping up with the big two when it comes to shiny stars next to high schoolers' names. The Sandusky effect is looking pretty short-lived.
All you have to do is look at OSU's last class to know that this is good for Michigan. A strong Penn State takes recruits from teams who play Michigan all the time and puts them on one that plays Michigan 40% of the time; also it would be really nice if there was someone strong enough in the East to prevent an annoying B10 championship game instant rematch.
I'm with Fitz, sort of. Pat Fitzgerald does not want 6-6 teams to be excluded from bowl consideration:
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hopes the Big Ten does not support potential legislation to limit bowl games to teams with at least seven wins.
"The best part of bowl games is about the opportunities -- not just the teams, but for your students, your fans, your alumni, your fans in the area," Fitzgerald told the Tribune on Tuesday. "I'm not for limiting it."
Paging Captain Renault. I agree that if a couple teams want to play some football it's better than watching ping-pong, but I'm not a fan of goofs in blazers bleeding college tuition out of the system. Leave it at 6-6 and severely reduce ticket guarantees. That will cause a bunch of bowls to collapse and solve the problem organically.
And this is 95% of the reason I linked the article:
"I'm not for five-win teams even being able to receive a waiver," Fitzgerald said. "That's tough noogies. If you have a losing record, you are out. A .500 record should be the benchmark."
I love Pat Fitzgerald. May he coach at Northwestern for 30 years.
Al Borges and the interesting things. Borges was on the Huge show recently and the resulting conversation had an unusual density of interesting things said. Borges admits that the early-season (and Iowa) forays into a more pro-style offense were a mistake:
"I think had we had to do it over again, we would have been a little more spread offense early on and gotten better at that. We kind of weaned ourselves into more spread offense as we went. That's really what was best for Denard at the end of the day."
He also makes a great observation about where Denard is at his most dangerous in the passing game:
"Denard is better in the pocket than rolling out," Borges said. "The thing with Denard, where he scares the defense the most, is when he sits in the middle of the pocket, comes underneath the rush, and poses not just a passing threat to the defense, but a running threat too. If you roll him out all the time a lot of time what they did is they would pin us into the sideline where Denard's improv skills aren't used near as much."
Whole thing is recommended. Borges references the "drastic leap" from year one to year two in his passing game. If Denard can just set his feet regularly and not throw into double coverage, Michigan will be cooking.
Sounds good to me. Andy Staples has a fascinating article on the potential impact of full cost of attendance scholarships:
For years, doomsayers have predicted a scenario in which the wealthiest 50 or 60 schools compete only against one another. If such a scenario ever came to fruition, it would have its roots in the debate over the full-cost-of-attendance scholarship.
Doomsayers? As long as we're talking about football here that sounds like heaven.
The article goes into arguments both for and against, with the small schools making arguments that moving some of the money currently going to coaches and facilities to players exacerbates competitive inequity. They don't make the case that this isn't a good thing, and then Nebraska's chancellor just blows it up anyway:
"You can tell me that I can't give them bagels with cream cheese and I can't give them more scholarships and I can't do this and I can't do that, and I follow those rules," Perlman said. "But then what I do to recruit competitively is I spend the money on other stuff. So I build facilities where there is no limit on what I can do, and I make those facilities far beyond what normal students live in because there's no limit on that. There's a standard understanding about regulatory environments that if you regulate something, people will move to the part of their activity that isn't regulated."
At worst the proposal takes the middleman out of competitive inequity.
It sounds like the big schools are getting increasingly exasperated with small schools with no financial weight imposing restrictions on them because they like to pretend they're DI schools when they're really just Indiana State. Eventually some sort of split is coming.
BONUS WASHINGTON PRESIDENT MICHAEL YOUNG PROBABLY WORKS FOR ADULT SWIM ZINGER:
"The kids who are on solely need-based aid can basically work 20 hours a week or whatever and earn a little pizza money or earn a little money for tattoos or whatever they want," Young said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Our athletes, on the other hand, work 40-50 hours a week for the school, and they don't get anything except what these other kids get without having to work for it. It seems when one thinks about simple equity, from that perspective, it's hard to argue that these kids shouldn't get something."
You're all right, Washington president Michael Young.
Wat. Brady Hoke is going to loathe this:
Hoke, Beilein and Brandon —along with U-M softball coach Carol Hutchins and a handful of business professors— will host a six-day executive education program intended to teach business leadership through lessons learned in U-M sports. Those lessons, according to a recent U-M announcement, include the trick to "transformations in times of crisis," as well as how to teach people "new ways of doing things" and how to "take on fierce competitors and produce winning results."
Only $15,000! Some people have too much money.
Etc.: Possibly random Hardaway renaissance is retconned into narrative. Please be true, narrative. Mitch McGary's "defensive impact" draws high praise—that would be nice, wouldn't it? If you've got ESPN insider this Wolverine Nation piece in which recruits are anonymously surveyed on recruiting tactics they've faced is a must-read. Excellent Yost student section retrospective. John Beilein for everything.
Trade mag article on how Michigan Stadium amplified the band. Maybe next year they'll have a piece on how they made it sound better in section 44. : (