also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
photoshoppers, start your GNUs
So we did the meet and greet Q&A thing, and other than the liveblog portion being pretty much a disaster, A+++ would do again. I couldn't type fast enough to keep up with all the good info in the Q&A so below I've written up those answers plus some we answered after the fact via email.
We're tentatively talking another one the Friday night before the Notre Dame game, so calendar that. If you're coming in from out of town, Jared of Sports Power Weekends, who sponsored this whole thing, mentioned he's putting together a trip for that weekend that includes tickets for the game and a private tour of the Big House before we do drinks and ALL THE SHANE MORRIS.
Some things went way better than expected and other things not so much. Didn't go well: We had no way to plug our mic into the speaker system, fortunately remembering just in time that bartenders have friends with guitar amplifiers. The other thing that could have gone better is we forgot to warn Brian that Jehu Chesson was in the audience before your favorite blogger launched into his heuristic reasoning as to why Amara Darboh would be more effective this year because Chesson is still a waif.
New heuristic: Chesson sitting = Heiko standing minus an inch.
Did go well: lots of luminaries showed up. Players current and former included Chesson, Countess, Donovan Warren, and John Duerr. An incomplete list of bloggers: Bryan Mac (aka BiSB), MGoPhotographers Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller, Burgeoning Wolverine Star, Lloyd Brady, M-Wolverine, Craig Ross, and LSAClassof2000. Epic shirts: Heiko's bubble screen smile, and a Branch-Morelli sweatshirt.
In things that surpassed all expectations, let me being with actual nicest guy in the universe Marlin Jackson himself. Walking out of the game to his car took about 25 minutes because he signed every hat, helmet, t-shirt or whatever thing put before him. We talked NBA decisions, how the Jake Butt TD was on Jarrod Wilson's as-yet-unadvanced field awareness, and that the biggest difference with this staff is they "teach football."
After being introduced by Brian as "the man who still has Reggie Williams in his back pocket," to kick off the Q&A Marlin talked about his Fight for Life Foundation. He was candid about his youth: Jackson grew up in the projects with a mother addicted to drugs and a father he never met. As you can imagine this isn't the best way to learn things like accountability, the value of an education, or even your own value and that of others. Marlin learned these things through Michigan; it's the goal of his foundation to give similarly underprivileged kids the opportunities he received because of his athletic talents.
Fight for Life runs three programs: Field of Dreams (link) is an in-school and after school program that basically helps get the kids back up to speed with their classmates. Seal the Deal (hyperlink) is a series of leagues and football camps for youth through high school with an educational/character-building component. R.A.P. (reach out and access your peers – url) is an SEL* program that gets kids to open up through, e.g. a discussion of their future aspirations or by presenting a paper on their favorite song lyrics. They need to raise about $200k per year to fund these programs.
* Social and Emotional Learning, the spread offense of education. Full context is linked above but you may cognate as learning that's the opposite of 'Another Brick in the Wall.'
We then talked about things like that one year the Colts paired Manning with a real defense, which receivers were the hardest to cover, and his impressions on the young defensive players at Michigan today. That after the jump. But first here's three generations of next-Woodsons:
Hoke said you talked to Shane Morris after Russell Bellomy’s injury. How does the injury impact Shane, and how does this impact how you coach him?
“Really not as much as you might think. He was going to come in and compete anyway. There’s one less slot there to go through, so that’s really all it impacted. He knows there’s one less body. Doesn’t affect him as much as you might think.”
Does Shane come around a lot?
“Oh yeah. All the time. He’s been around for a couple years, actually. He committed early, so he knows everybody on the team and they all know him. He’ll hit the ground running when he gets here.”
What do you like about what you see so far?
“Other than Angelique and Chantel, not much.”
“No, uh … I think we have some good enthusiastic practices and really good hitting, which has been fun. Competition is hot and heavy. Guys working hard. It’s been a fun first six days. Spring football is always kind of fun for the coaches because it’s all about teaching a system and evaluating the players without the pressure of playing a game. It’s kind of nice.”
|Roy Roundtree||Sr.*||Devin Gardner||So.*||Jeremy Gallon||Jr.*||Brandon Moore||Sr.*|
|Jeremy Jackson||Jr.||Jerald Robinson||So.*||Drew Dileo||Jr.*||AJ Williams||Fr.|
|Amara Darboh||Fr.||Ricardo Miller||So.*||--||--||Devin Funchess||Fr.|
This bit could be better. Roy Roundtree suffered more than anyone in the transition from the spread 'n' shred to the spread 'n' pasted-on-West-Coast-stuff, plummeting from 72 catches to 19. Notre Dame and Sugar Bowl savior Junior Hemingway is off to NFL practice squads as a seventh-round pick; following him out the door are Martavious Odoms (replaceable) and Kevin Koger (uh…).
In their stead Michigan will field a forest of unproven guys with limited upside, freshmen, their backup quarterback, and Jerald Robinson, the one vague hope for a high quality downfield threat who is not the backup quarterback.
It should be noted that Michigan is running the opposite of the Holgorsen style "you came here an X, you learned it in three days, you repeated it 60 times, you are forever an X" specialization offense. Jeff Hecklinski said as much last year…
"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."
…and the frequent deployment of Junior Hemingway in the slot and Jeremy Gallon outside confirmed that over the course of the year. Therefore "slot" is used to denote the player who is going to get all the wide receiver screens, which will never be bubble screens.
Assertion: Junior Hemingway was the most valuable Michigan wide receiver since Braylon Edwards. Hemingway may not have been as good as Mario Manningham or even Adrian Arrington, but imagining last year without his ability to rise from a thicket of hands to snag "no no no no no no YESSSSSSSS" touchdowns is not a pleasant exercise. He is the undisputed king of yards per target since 2005. He was important.
Unfortunately, Hemingway's gone. Left behind is the mismatched collection of runty Rodriguez slot receivers, Rodriguez leapers who run like hobbled ducks, and… maybe Devin Gardner. Definitely Devin Gardner.
Aw, hell, I should probably start off talking about Roundtree and stuff but everyone wants to know about Gardner.
Yeah, man, he's going to play. Unless Jerald Robinson delivers on the perpetual low-level hype, no one else on the roster comes close to Gardner's combination of size, leaping ability, and speed. At the very least he'll frequently attempt the Terrelle Pryor "oops I'm huge" redzone fade…
…and it's hard to see him not being more than that given the alternatives. Gardner played exclusively at wide receiver at the Mott open practice, and with the first team. I've heard from multiple source since: that's no smokescreen.
While no one knows how this will go, the steady drumbeat of hype from players is encouraging. It took about all of a dozen spring practices for reports like this to reach my ears:
Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands."
Similar reports popped up on the premium sites, and when fall camp started and everyone asked anyone in front of the mic about the possibility, his teammates said "dang." Kovacs:
"He's a great athlete, I feel like he could play anywhere and he could probably take my spot if he tried," Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "He's a natural athlete, and if they play him at receiver, I'm sure he'll be pretty good.
"Wherever he plays, he's going to make big plays."
"When he gets out to receiver, you think he's a receiver," Robinson said. "He looks like he's been playing there for years."
And then there's this extremely reliable and not all dated video of Gardner screwing around at WR as a high school kid:
That's the ticket, man. They might have to protect him from getting jammed, but that's not too hard: line him up off the LOS, possibly in those stack formations, and there you go. Then it's about running the routes and catching the ball.
The possibility of a "devin gardner dunked on tacopants" tag and a paucity of options to fill the Junior Hemingway role that bailed the offense out time and again last year will see Gardner on the field. It may be sparingly at first, but if it's crunch time against Alabama do you want him on the bench?
Attempting to predict what happens here is very difficult, but I'm betting Gardner is one of four players approximately level on catches and yards at the end of the year, with no true star player. The upside is tantalizing, though, and your best hope for an offense that scorches both ground and sky. Devin Gardner, you've been X-factor'd.
[hit THE JUMP to read up on Roundtree, Gallon, and company.]
Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DT Matt Godin, DT Willie Henry, DT Ondre Pipkins, OL Ben Braden, OL Erik Magnuson, OL Blake Bars, OL Kyle Kalis, TE AJ Williams, TE Devin Funchess, and WR Jehu Chesson.
|Des Moines, IA – 6'2", 220|
|Scout||4*, #32 WR, #205 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #30 WR, #215 overall, #1 IA|
|ESPN||3*, #82 WR, #1 IA|
|24/7||4*, #26 WR, #199 overall, #1 IA|
|Other Suitors||Florida, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, Okie State|
|YMRMFSPA||Aw, hell, Jason Avant|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim.|
|Notes||Born in Sierra Leone.|
Amara Darboh is prime Rinaldi tear-jerkin' steak #2, a refugee who landed in Iowa and grew into a college-level wide receiver. He comes to Michigan with more recruiting hype, muscle, and sweet offers than Chesson, but lacks the lanky leaping ability that could turn Chesson into a premiere downfield threat if Michigan gets lucky. Darboh is less of a wildcard… but that doesn't mean he can't be a high quality option.
Here again we have some conflicting opinions. Unusually, it's his high school coach who's saying the things that are not rapturous($):
"He runs 4.42 but I wouldn't say that he's a burner by any stretch of the imagination," said Wilson. "He's a reliable guy that can make the tough catches for you. … he's a bigger physical presence. He's not a make you miss kinda guy."
That a kid can run a low 4.4 according to his coach and get called "not a burner by any stretch of the imagination" by his coach shows you the tao of FAKE 40 times. On the high school level these guys usually are burners, and coaches call 'em that, and call 'em that even if they aren't burners. Allen Trieu is also in the anti-Trogdor camp, or is he?
Body Control / Elusiveness with Catch / Hands and Concentration
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Above average size and speed ratio. Maybe not a burner, but has solid deep speed. Excellent hands, ball skills, and ability to go up and get the ball in traffic. He tracks the ball well and has good body control. After the catch he has good ability and is a pretty strong kid that can break tackles in the open field.
Speed is a negative, deep speed is "solid." Searching for negatives is a good sign, or just a confusing one.
A couple of other recruiting guys give the impression that Darboh could be one of those weapon things. Irish Illustrated's Tim Prister got hyped($) after ND's extremely early($)—like October of his junior year early—offer:
Excellent size and length help accentuate his deer-like athleticism with the football in the air. Shows nice balance maintaining his feet and running after catches for which he leaves the ground to make. Very fast - probably in the low-to-mid 4.4s - with an effortless running motion. Shows a consistent ability to run away from the crowd in pursuit.
We seem to be in disagreement about whether 4.4 is fast (hell yes unless you're hand timing Denard to run 3.8).
And Rivals's Josh Helmholdt provides the most singularly useless comparison ever($)
I loved Darboh's highlight film the first time I saw it. He is big, he is fast and he is a playmaker. Unfortunately film is the only thing I have seen on Darboh. …
Who does he remind me of? I'll go with a poorer man's version of Fred Rouse circa 2005. Both good-sized receivers with that wiggle to turn a screen pass into a big gainer. Let's hope Darboh has a better head on his shoulders.
Rouse was a five star who flamed out before ever seeing the field, so exactly no one has any idea what that's supposed to mean. But it's good, right? Five star.
247's Clint Brewster says "burner for his size," FWIW
Darboh shows exceptional speed as a bigger receiver and has another gear once he gets free from a defensive back. Quickness is another aspect that separates Darboh from his competition, as he consistently picks up big gains from short screens or pass patterns. Darboh shows excellent strength and athleticism by breaking tackles from smaller corners and staying up-right.
ESPN is also a little uncertain about whether he's a possession guy or something more, calling him "part playmaker and part possession player($)"
…combination of strength and quickness as a big receiver with a sturdy build, long arms and nice height… will be at his best working against zone and soft-man coverage. Is adept at finding soft spots in zone and creating passing windows for his quarterback when working out of the slot. Not afraid to go over the middle and will make the tough catch in traffic. …does an excellent job of adjusting to the poorly thrown ball …Has some wiggle in the open field …real upside as a red area target on slants and fades as he knows how to position himself and use his size. We are somewhat concerned about Darboh's top end speed.
They also knock his route-running skills; Brewster did the same. That flaw is easily explainable. According to his coach he came to his high school program a blank slate:
“He was very raw,” Wilson said. “He could run and catch the ball, but he didn’t know anything about running routes or blocking. He had little knowledge of football. We got the chance to teach him from ground zero, and that might have worked to our benefit.”
It certainly benefited Darboh.
“He didn’t have any habits,” Wilson continued. “He was like a sponge. He would take in everything and he wanted to learn and become better. He never shied away from the work.”
Darboh was focused on soccer until high school, FWIW.
Like Chesson, Darboh comes to Michigan with a horde of people chasing after him saying great things about his work ethic, character, and academics, and thus seems like a good bet to stick and a good bet to become whatever his potential will allow him to be. Like Chesson, Darboh picked up football late and has some work to do before he has the little things positions coaches obsess over. Also: refugee.
Unlike Chesson, Darboh is approximately the size the coaches want him to be already, which will ease his glide path onto the field. Both guys will be primarily outside receivers, with Chesson more likely to end up on the backside of a play running those one-on-one cuts that Junior Hemingway went deep on this year. Darboh will be the guy running square-ins under him, for the most part.
“I think he’s a passionate kid that’s working to become the best he can be,” Wilson said. “I think he’s willing to push himself. I know the coaches are going to push to make Amara the best player he can be, and the best person he can be. Amara takes a lot of pride in what he does, and I know he’s not going to settle in doing anything less than his best.”
As a senior Darboh brought in 48 passes for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns in just seven games (a dislocated shoulder cost him four), which is high-quality production, albeit against Iowa competition.
Why Jason Avant? I know, I know: I drag out the Jason Avant comparison and nobody ever ends up much like him. It is impossible to project those hands onto anyone else. But Amara Darboh is a bulky four-star type with good not great speed and a reputation for going over the middle. He is not regarded as the ultimate jump ball artist, he is well-regarded despite that, and he seems to have the sort of A+ character that Avant had.
It's either Avant or Greg Mathews, but it's hard to know how well Mathews would have done if he had real quarterbacks. His coach has another suggestion:
"He's a big, physical player," Dowling coach Tom Wilson said of his 6-2, 200-pounder. "I've seen him compared to Roddy White of the Falcons — a bigger guy that can run very well."
Roddy White's actually a couple inches shorter than Darboh and smaller as an NFL player, FWIW. Another comparison that seems plausible: recently departed Iowa WR Marvin McNutt, a 6'3", 220 pound guy who was killer on slants, generally unjammable, and a bit of a late bloomer after coming to Iowa at QB.
Guru Reliability: Moderate-plus. They're all in agreement except for ESPN's off-the-wall GTFO that I don't care about because this is the geographical area ESPN couldn't give two craps about. OTOH, no camps, it appears, and no All Star appearance, plus an injury his senior year.
Variance: Low-plus. Already college-sized, character is sterling. Does need to learn the craft; seems like the kind of kid where that's just a matter of time.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. "Not a burner," but looks like a high quality #2 in an ideal situation.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. If I could guarantee those Avant hands it would be MASSIVE, but those have proven elusive.
Projection: Getting some early practice buzz and likely to play with the uncertain state of the WR corps. Sounds like he'll have to work his way into the lineup with better routes and blocking, but has a reasonable shot at displacing second-string guys for playing time at midseason.
In 2013 will fight with Jeremy Jackson and Ricardo Miller for the move-the-chains spot. I don't think Miller will be much of a threat given his interlude at TE, and Darboh has a huge advantage in athleticism. I'd give him the edge.
Fall Camp Presser Transcript 8-6-12: Will Campbell, Roy Roundtree, Denard Robinson, and Jordan Kovacs
We'll miss you, big guy.
What did you see out of your guys from Day one?
“I thought everyone out there was excited to play … We’ve been training all summer …”
Are you coming in more confident this time around?
“I mean, it was not more confidence. I just had to step up and this was the time to do it. This is my last go-around, and I owe Michigan and these fans a lot.”
When did that sink in?
“I mean, I had to change a lot. I was talking to a lot of guys who left. It’s just been a lot going on this summer and a lot of hard work.”
What do you mean by “owing the fans”?
“Well I came in with big expectations and I didn’t live up to them. And now it’s time to play.”
Can you tell the difference between guys who prepared well and guys who didn’t?
“I think everybody prepared the same because we all owe each other to play for each other. I mean I go out there to work hard every day for the guy next to me. Craig Roh. I work hard to go out there every day even for the freshmen. I work hard every day for Willie Henry, Peewee, everybody.”
(F-bomb after the jump)