Brandon Graham (2009) & Lamarr Woodley (2006)
Slam dunk locks and mirror images, Brandon Graham and Lamarr Woodley set the standard for Michigan quarterback terror in the aughts. Wildly hyped in-state recruits and five stars, both spent a couple of years as underclassmen playing here and there and making people wonder if and when they would live up to their billings; both did so emphatically as juniors and then managed to top those performances as seniors. A large portion of last year's defensive UFRs not given over to rending of garments was spent wondering whether Brandon Graham was actually better than Woodley.
Survey says: yes, amazingly.
There was a mailbag question that explicitly addressed it:
I think Graham is better. I haven't gone over the UFR numbers yet—slightly busy this time of year—but I know Graham set a record against Michigan State earlier this year and has been owning offensive tackles all year. Woodley set standards by being consistently around +8 or +9 with forays up to 12; Graham's baseline is around 12 and ranges up to 18.
Though he didn't win the Lombardi like Woodley did his senior year, Graham led the nation in TFLs and was drafted about a full round higher by the NFL. While Woodley was more heralded in the award department, that had a lot to do with the other guys on defense. Woodley's compatriots will pepper the rest of this list. Graham's not so much. Woodley lined up next to Alan Branch, Terrance Taylor, and a senior Rondell Biggs; Graham's bookend was a true freshman and his other linemates were just sophomores.
Lamarr Woodley, meanwhile, did with the Lombardi in 2006, the first and to-date last time a Michigan player has won it. His season was statistically frustrating since, like Graham, he was close to a dozen additional sacks that a competent secondary would have seen him put up truly ludicrous numbers. Even so he had 12 sacks and 4 forced fumbles; outside TFLs were low (just three) but that can be chalked up to the rest of the defense taking up that burden. As mentioned above, he was the original gangsta of the UFR, averaging close to double-digit plus ratings on a weekly basis.
But all that pales in comparison to the play that finished the "Oh Wide Open" game in which Michigan established itself a contender. By scooping up an unforced Brady Quinn fumble and fending off ND tight end John Carlson all the way to the endzone, Woodley inaugurated the Yakety Sax era:
I just watched that three more times.
Second Team: Dan Rumishek (2001), Tim Jamison (2007 or 2008, take your pick)
It gets muddy past the slam dunks. Michigan's quasi 3-4 from the beginning of the decade makes decisions difficult, as does that one year Michigan switched to an actual 3-4. In 2001, Dan Rumishek was on the All Big Ten team with just 22 tackles. Seven were sacks, but man. That same year Shantee Orr managed 35 tackles with six sacks and 10 TFLs, but didn't show up on all conference teams. Later editions of defensive ends would have almost identical big play numbers but way more tackles. Tim Jamison had 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks as a junior and senior but had 52 and 50 tackles.
Past Rumishek, Orr, and Jamison pickings are slim. Rondell Biggs was the unheralded guy on the 2006 line, a decent plugger but nothing special. A post-career steroid bust also gives his career an unpleasant sheen. Larry Stevens's career was very long but largely anonymous. He's best remembered for being hog-tied on the Spartan Bob play.
We'll go with Dan Rumishek, the only other Michigan DE to get on an All Big Ten team this decade, and one of Tim Jamison's upperclass seasons. Which is entirely up to the reader since they are essentially identical; I lean towards '07 because Graham was not yet a beast and Jamison saw more attention.
Alan Branch (2006) & Gabe Watson (2005)
That will do.
His statistics were not ridiculous (25 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks in '06) but when he left for the NFL draft I thought to myself "this is a logical thing because he will go in the top five." Surprisingly he did not, falling to the top of the second round, but when you are primarily responsible for opponents going six of eighteen on third and one you get dropped onto the All Decade Team no questions asked.
Watson will be a more controversial choice but the guy was a two-time All Big Ten selection and is currently an NFL player. At Michigan he never quite lived up to his copious recruiting hype but he did have some pretty nice statistics for a nose tackle: 40 tackles, 6 TFLs, and 2 sacks as a senior with almost identical numbers from the year before. The primary issue with Michigan's run defense in '05 was that Watson would drive his guy yards into the backfield, forcing the tailback to cut upfield into the gaping hole left because Pat Massey was 6'8" and therefore getting crushed backwards as far as the guy futilely attempting to contain Watson.
The year before Michigan had their one-off experiment with the 3-4, leaving Watson all alone in the middle, where he dominated. In the aftermath of Watson's one-game suspension for being approximately spherical to start the '05 season, I attempted to adjust for Michigan's tendency to give up a lot of nothing and then a lot of huge runs in the spirit of Football Outsider's "adjusted line yards" and came up with the number 2.5, which was better than anyone in the NFL by three tenths of a yard. (Schedules are much more balanced there, FWIW.) Watson may have been an overrated recruit, but his Michigan career has been underrated.
Second Team: Terrance Taylor(2007), Grant Bowman (2003)
This is actually Taylor's junior season, when he lined up next to Will Johnson, a sophomore Brandon Graham, and Tim Jamison and managed impressive-for-a-DT numbers: 55 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks. He'd drop off considerably in his doomed senior year; whether that was a falloff in play or just collateral damage from the wholesale implosion around him is in the eye of the beholder. My opinion is the latter since Taylor tended to beat a lot of blocks only to see poor linebacker play rob him of opportunities in the run game; he was never much of a pass rusher.
We'll go with Taylor's statistically productive 2007 over 2008 because he was just about as good via the eyeball then and had more to show for it. Either way he is an easy pick.
The last spot is not easy. Early in the decade, Michigan defensive tackles were excruciatingly bored guys who spent football games blocking offensive lineman and letting linebackers take all the glory. In 2001 Shawn Lazarus started 12 games and managed 16 tackles. In the absence of accolades, statistics, or personal remembrances I can't put Lazarus or Eric Wilson or Norman Heuer in here even though I couldn't tell you whether or not those guys were even good. The guys not on the list who I do have personal remembrances of were not very good or are still on the team.
It's a debate between Grant Bowman, who I don't remember much about other than his mother was attacked by the usual band of Columbus idiots one year, and… yeah, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Bowman's 2003 featured 36 tackles, 8 TFLs, and 3 sacks; Van Bergen had 40, 6, and 5; Martin 51, 8.5, and two sacks. Bowman's defense was infinitely better (22nd nationally in rush defense) than either Martin's or Van Bergen's but without the UFRs sitting around it's hard to tell how much of that had to do with Bowman and how much was the contributions of Pierre Woods, Carl Diggs, Lawrence Reid, and the profusion of non walk—ons in the secondary.
The tentative nod goes to Bowman if only because the rest of the line that year was Heuer, Massey, and someone the Bentley doesn't even bother to list but is surely Larry Stevens. Even if he had more help behind him, being the best player on a line that did pretty well against the run is a tiebreaker here.
David Harris (2006), Larry Foote (2001), Victor Hobson (2002)
A couple years ago I was editing a Hail to the Victors article about the considerable difference between David Harris and Obi Ezeh that referenced a couple plays from the '06 season. The diagrams, as diagrams are often wont to be, were confusing so I set about looking at the play myself so I could break the diagram out into three or four separate ones that would explain things in a more leisurely fashion. This was the result:
I swear to God I saw David Harris read not only the direction of a run play, the blocking scheme of that play, and which offensive lineman was assigned to him but modeled the lineman's brain and duped him into thinking the play had cut back. I found this terribly exciting.
That was just another boulder on the pile of reasons I love David Harris. He looks like Worf. He tackled everyone all the time and never did not tackle anyone. He was the first player I felt I was ahead of the curve on thanks to UFRing the games—like David Molk I think I was the first person in the media to recognize that this unheralded player was the balls, which made me feel like Dr. Z. And he kept tackling people. At some point in 2006 the Greek gods descended from the clouds and borrowed him for a while because the eagle that eats Prometheus's liver was on strike.
Then the Lions passed on him and Lamarr Woodley to take Drew Stanton, guaranteeing that the pair would instantly become two of the best defensive players in the league. Yeah. David Harris. I miss him so much.
Larry Foote had a less tangential connection to the worst franchise in sports, but outside of that one-off decision his career has been a good one. As an upperclassman he was an all-around terror, notching 19 TFLs in 2000 and 26 in 2001 at the same time as he picked up a total of 16 PBUs. In 2000 he actually had more of the latter than Todd Howard, and Todd Howard got some of his when the ball deflected off the back of his helmet. Foote was what Jonas Mouton was supposed to be.
We'll go with Foote's senior year when his sack total leapt from one to six and he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year en route to a smattering of All-American honors. A fourth-round pick of the Steelers, Foote's NFL career has been long and productive; he gets a small dollop of bonus points for being one of the current NFL crew frequently seen hanging out with Barwis.
The final member of the first team had to beat out stiff competition but Victor Hobson gets the nod because he was by far the best player on his front seven (Rumishek, Bowman, Lazarus, Stevens, Orr, Diggs, and Zach Kaufman(!) were the other major conributors) in 2002 and racked up the best all-around numbers of any linebacker under consideration: 99 tackles, 13 for loss, 5.5 sacks, and two interceptions. One of those was the Outback-sealing reverse pass interception. Hobson was deservedly All Big Ten on a team that finished 9th in the final rankings and 31st in rushing defense despite having zero future NFL players other than Hobson and an injury-stricken Orr.
Second Team: Pierre Woods(2003), Shawn Crable(2007), Lawrence Reid(2004)
Pierre Woods did something almost but not quite bad enough to get booted off the team after his breakout sophomore season (68 tackles, 14 TFL, 7 sacks) and spent the rest of his career playing sparingly—probably the only thing that has infuriated both Ted Ginn Sr and myself—until injury forced Michigan to deploy him extensively in the '05 Iowa game, whereupon he totally saved Michigan's bacon. Though he'd moved to defensive end by then, his bust-out year was at linebacker so here he goes.
Poor star-crossed Shawn Crable will go down in history as the best player to ever put on a winged helmet who Michigan fans have exclusively terrible memories of. In the span of three games at the end of the 2006 season and beginning of 2007, Crable delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on a scrambling Troy Smith that turned a fourth-down punt into first down and eventually the winning points for OSU and failed to execute a simple blocking assignment on the field goal that could have turned The Horror into the worst win ever.
When he wasn't doing either of those things, though, he was a unique weapon. He is the current holder of Michigan's TFL record and spent his college days bouncing from linebacker to defensive end to crazy 6'6" chicken-legged defensive tackle in certain spread packages, finding ways into the backfield wherever he lined up. He also was the Ryan Mallett of defense as an underclassman, overran a bunch of plays even after he got his head on straight, and appears twice on the upcoming Worst Moments Of The Decade list. That disqualifies him from the first team, but not the second.
Finally, Lawrence Reid saw his career end prematurely as his back went out; late in the 2004 season it was clear he was laboring. Despite that he finished with 70 tackles, 12 for loss, 3 sacks, and an interception. Without the injury his senior season could have made it on to the first team… and seriously aided the 2005 team's efforts to not play the unready Shawn Crable.
Marlin Jackson(2002), Leon Hall(2006)
Leon Hall was sneaky great, one of the few players that the NFL ended up drafting well before I expected them to. Before Hall went halfway through the first round I'd pegged him as another LeSueur sort who'd go in the second and have a decent career; instead he's kind of ridiculously good. Hall leapt into the starting lineup midway through his freshman year an continued improving until he was a hidden beast on the '06 team. Hall's tackles declined from 61 to 45 as teams targeted neophyte Morgan Trent and whichever slot receiver Chris Graham had no hope of covering. At the same time his PBUs leapt from 5 to 15(!). That's impressive. Hall was a deserved Thorpe finalist.
Jackson, meanwhile, has the rare privilege of being the only sophomore to feature in the All-Decade first team. His opening-day matchup against Reggie Williams, Washington's star receiver and a player who had seriously considered Michigan before choosing to stay home, was electric. Jackson got in Williams's grill all day and the Huskies would not back off; by the third quarter he'd set an all-time Michigan record for pass breakups.
By the end of the year he was a second-team All-American to the AP, third team to Sporting News, and (whoopee!) first team to College Football News. He would spent his junior year at safety, battling injury, and though a return to corner as a senior found him on All-America teams again, Jackson never quite recaptured that sophomore magic.
Second team: Jeremy LeSueur (2003), Donovan Warren (2009)
LeSueur was a true rarity on the Michigan roster: a kid who managed to escape the state of Mississippi's immense gravitational pull. He started off slightly wonky—it was his face-mask penalty on Charles Rogers that extended Michigan State's final drive in 2001, setting up both the Spartan Bob play and Lloyd Carr's public dressing-down of Drew Sharp—but finally developed into the guy I thought Leon Hall was: an All-Big Ten type of player destined for a solid NFL career. That wasn't quite the case—LeSueur is currently playing for Bon Jovi, but no one else from the decade comes close.
The final spot is a tossup between Morgan Trent in the one year he wasn't clueless or unmotivated (2007), Donovan Warren this year, Grant Mason's year that exemplifies totally average play, and the nine starts James Whitley made in 2000 before succumbing to his personal demons. The vote here is for Warren, who I actually thought was good, over Trent, who I thought was okay trending towards good.
SAFETY… SORT OF
Jamar Adams (2007), Julius Curry (2000)
Michigan fans will be unsurprised to find a wasteland here after nine defensive positions occupied by world-wrecking All-Americans who have embarked on long NFL careers—everyone on the first team to this point is still in the NFL and almost all will start this year. Safety? Well, Cato June is still kicking around as a linebacker, but at Michigan he was a wreck thanks to an ACL tear that took years for him to fully recover from. And that's almost it.
The almost: Jamar Adams, bless his heart, was the closest thing to a star safety Michigan had in the aughts. He was actually good. Not good enough to get on the All Big Ten first team or get drafted, but good enough to be on the second team two years running and stick with the Seahawks long enough to actually get on the field in six games last year. This makes him a slam-dunk lock as the best safety in the last ten years of Michigan football.
And now: guh. After Adams it's a choice between the most massively overrated Michigan player of the decade—Ernest Shazor—or the guys towards the beginning of the aughts that no one remembers being specifically terrible. You can feel free to disagree but there is no way I'm putting Shazor here. While he did decapitate Dorien Bryant in that one Purdue game, his Michigan career ceased there unbeknownst to the coaches and most of the fans. He was about 80% of the reason Braylon Edwards had to hulk up and smash Michigan State in the Braylonfest game and when he entered the NFL draft he went from a projected second-round pick to totally undrafted, but not before various organizations made him a first-team All American. I will exercise my Minute Observer of Michigan Football privileges and say this: ha, ha, ha.
The problem then is that as I went through the names that vaguely occupied the safety spots for Michigan over the last decade I thought to myself "I should probably write down Willis Barringer and Brandent Englemon." Sadly, I cannot vouch for two guys who couldn't stay healthy or maintain their starting jobs, nor can I seriously support anyone I've seen take the field in the UFR era. So let's reach back into the long, long ago when memories are fuzzy and haul out easily the most unlikely member of the All Aughts: Julius Curry.
I can't tell you that I have detailed knowledge of Curry's play anymore, but I do remember liking the guy a lot and being seriously disappointed when his junior and senior years were wrecked by injury. As a sophomore in 2000, he put up an impressive collection of statistics: 59 tackles, 5 TFLs, 5 PBUs, and 3 forced fumbles, plus two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Ohio State in a 38-26 win. Michigan managed to scrape out the 49th-best pass efficiency defense despite deploying Todd Howard and a very confused James Whitley—this was the heart of the "suspects" era—thanks to Curry's unregarded efforts. Maybe he never decapitated anyone, but by God he definitely would have tackled DeAndra Cobb by the second time.
Patmon was the second member of the safety unit I remember not being specifically terrified about; Shazor was discussed above. He does deserve to be here because even if he gave up a ton of big plays he made more big plays in Michigan's favor than the other safeties kicking around this decade, and those guys gave up about as many plays.
Garrett Rivas (2006)
Rivas never had a huge leg but he was good out to 47-48 yards and stands as the most accurate kicker of the decade, hitting 64 of 82 in his four years as Michigan's kicker. That's a 78% strike rate; in 2006 he checked in at 85%. He was reliable, and that's all you ask for in a college kicker.
Zoltan Mesko (2009)
Obviously. All hail Zoltan the Inconceivable.
Previously: S Carvin Johnson, S Ray Vinopal, S Marvin Robinson, CB Courtney Avery, CB Terrence Talbott, CB Cullen Christian, CB Demar Dorsey, LB Jake Ryan, LB Davion Rogers, LB Josh Furman, and DE Jordan Paskorz.
|Wyoming, OH - 6'2" 255|
|Scout||4*, #15 DT, #174 overall|
|Rivals||3*, #25 SDE, #26 OH|
|ESPN||3*, 78, #45 DE|
|Others||#10 OH to JJHuddle.|
|Other Suitors||Michigan State, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Indiana|
|YMRMFSPA||Brandon Graham if Michigan is super lucky|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post|
Ever since Lou Holtz retired, it's been something of a Michigan tradition to get a small boost to the recruiting class whenever Notre Dame's coach gets the axe. When Bob Davie got the axe, Michigan picked up Jeremy Van Alstyne. When Willingham followed three years later, Michigan grabbed Brandon Harrison.
But when Charlie Weis went to the great Dunkin' Donuts in the sky, it looked like a battered Michigan program would not have the opportunity to cash in with a four-star-ish prospect. Then Notre Dame hired Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly and Jibreel Black finally took the visit Michigan coaches had been trying to get him to take for a solid year. A weekend later, he flipped his commitment from hometown Cincinnati to the Wolverines, keeping Michigan's opportunistic streak alive. (If only Notre Dame had hired a coach as clueless as their last three, but that's another show.)
The flip was actually Black's second of his recruitment. He originally committed to Indiana—where his brother Larry is a starter—last June before decommitting to sign up with the BCS-bound Bearcats in November. Along the twisting path of his recruitment he also grabbed offers from South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, NC State, Illinois, and South Florida, amongst others—a solid selection of programs outside the top tier.
What he lacks in decision he makes up for with quickness and on-field production. Black led his Wyoming Cowboys—yes, like the college—to a 13-1 record and an appearance in the state semifinals, winning a Cincinnati-area player of the year award, first-team All-State recognition, and co-Ohio defensive player of the year after racking up ten sacks on the year.
Black was named to the South team in the Ohio North-South All Star game, whereupon he unleashed his inner beast upon the poor Northerners. He had three sacks, a number of additional QB hurries, and was named his team's defensive MVP after killing the North's last threat with a fourth-and-goal sack. OSU site The O-Zone on his performance:
The star of the night, however, was Jibreel Black. He was constantly in the backfield and pretty much controlled the entire second half. He’s not the biggest guy (6’2” 255) in the world, but then neither was Brandon Graham. And when pressed for what was going to happen the next time he plays in the Horseshoe as a Wolverine, Black didn’t hesitate to answer.
“I’ll be doing the same thing,” he laughed. “Pryor better watch out.”
And though this Dispatch article doesn't specifically mention Black, it might as well:
Every bit as deserving of the honor were the South's quick and nasty defensive linemen, who worked over the North's huge counterparts in dictating the tone of the game. North quarterbacks were on the run all night, resulting in turnovers and impossible third-and-long situations.
"From watching practices I wasn't sure whether we'd be able to handle them up front," South coach Mark Crabtree of Dublin Coffman said. "Our guys on the D-line are not gigantic, but they're powerful and explosive and play with a mean streak. We were really hard to block, and we gave our offense some pretty good opportunities."
In the aftermath, a few Ohio State fans were regretting the Buckeyes lack of interest. The kicker: Black did all this playing as a three-technique defensive tackle after spending his high school career at defensive end. To get that kind of pass rush from an interior spot is doubly impressive.
Given that performance it's not a surprise that Black is often described as a DE/3-tech tweener who could play either spot in college. Scout's Dave Berk:
"Black is a player who could line up as a defensive end or at the tackle position," said Scout.com Midwest analyst Dave Berk. "He's got great burst and will give all out effort on each play. He does a good job going lateral and shows great strength and toughness. With good size and speed, Black is still learning techniques and moves that will take his game to another level."
ESPN's evaluation also touches on the positional uncertainty:
On film, he has kind of a thick and squatty build with less-than-ideal height. He almost looks like a defensive tackle, but plays the end position well. He has a good get-off and though we would like to see a little more consistency he can get moving quickly.
This makes him doubly interesting given Michigan's increasing desire to be multiple on the defensive front. Michigan has a guy in Van Bergen with the flexibility to line up inside and out and that versatility, combined with the versatility of Mike Martin, should give Michigan the ability to flip through three or four fronts without missing much of a beat this fall. If that works out well, Black will be part of a second generation of DE/DT tweener folk whose flexibility is part of their attractiveness to the staff.
And now here's a bunch of stuff that makes you think Brandon Graham. The direct comparison from Touch The Banner:
When watching his film, he looks almost like a clone of Graham. He's short-ish and thickly built. Perhaps the best thing I see on film is the way he keeps his shoulders square to the line. Too many talented athletes in high school fire off the ball and shoot straight for the ball carrier, but college opponents will take advantage of that lack of discipline. His fundamentally sound positioning shows that not only is he coachable, but the biggest obstacle for him might be his strength and conditioning. He does play a little upright, but at only 6'2" and going up against tackles who are three to five inches taller than him, leverage shouldn't be a major issue. I'm sure Michigan's coaches will work with him on staying lower, being explosive, and using that leverage to the best of his ability, but that's not a big concern.
The indirect comparison via a guy who was basically Brandon Graham on a good defense from Black himself:
“I have good quickness and speed off the ball. I have good athletic ability too. I play kind of like (former Michigan linebacker and current Pittsburgh Steeler) Lamar Woodley - fast, strong and powerful.”
“I want to work on my moves off the ball,” he said. “And I want to get faster overall. I’m also working on my hips and flexibility.”
The things that aren't actually comparisons but just sound a hell of a lot like Brandon Graham, first from his coach:
“He was great for us, I’ll tell you that,” Barre said. “He’s extremely quick, cat-like quickness I feel like, and he’ll get after the passer. He’s physical, strong, relentless, has got one of those motors that’s always going. I think they got a great player.”
Then from JJ Huddle:
He plays with natural leverage and balance and can shed blocks. Strong enough to anchor against verses the run and explosive enough to rush the passer. Does a good job a feeling blocks and fighting pressure.
And some more bits of the ESPN evaluation:
Displays the ability to stay low and is very active with his hands. He can punch, separate and shed from blocks. He is able to work laterally and stretch the play. He is tough at the point of attack. Does a good job of playing from the backside, though we would like to see him squeeze down more. He is very aware and is able to take on and strong-arm pulling linemen. As a pass-rusher, he is ready to face and defeat backs once he gets into the backfield. He has good speed and a solid closing burst. … He works to attack that outside shoulder and use his weapons to knock the blockers hands down and turn the corner.
If there was one move Brandon Graham trademarked it was blasting the OT's hands down as he and his squat frame got underneath the pads of the opposition and blew into the backfield.
And, finally, a Brandon Graham comparison would not be complete without a mention of positive off-the-field qualities from his coach
"It's extremely important to have kids like that who work hard and set a good example," he said. "Some of the kids we have now who are getting looks from college programs have benefited greatly from the role model that Jibreel has been."
"I ran into the coach of that team [the South All-Star Team], Mark Crabtree, and he let me know how much he enjoyed Jibreel and what a great kid he was and what a great leader he was for their all-star team," Barre said. "As soon as he got there for practice, he took over a leadership role and was named one of the captains." …
"It's tough to compare his position to a quarterback or a cornerback like Ahmed Plummer, but he was certainly the best defensive lineman I've ever coached," Barre said.
We're about to get into this section, but: it would be preposterous to declare anyone to be the second coming of Brandon Graham after he became the bar-none best defensive lineman I've ever seen at Michigan, especially given Graham's monster recruiting profile, Black's middling-to-good version of the same, and a lack of interest from other Midwest powers. That said, Black sounds an awful lot like Graham, stem to stern, and that's something to get excited about. If he's 80% as good as Graham and goes in the second round, everyone will be delighted with the kid's career, and that seems like a distinct possibility.
Etc.: Just don't put this on your eyeblack, kid:
Indiana assistant coach Mike Yeager, Black’s lead recruiter, told Black earlier Monday that he will make a difference at Indiana.
“I can be the Michael Vick of Indiana University,” Black said.
Why Brandon Graham? Slightly undersized strongside defensive end with outstanding character and a tendency to make quarterbacks run screaming from his frequent appearances in the backfield. Now… obviously Black is considerably short of Graham's recruiting hype and Black is not likely to be a first round pick in four years. A poor man's Brandon Graham, then, which would be fine by me.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Healthy kid but one who played at a small school, and one facing a significant split in opinion between ESPN and Rivals on one hand and Scout and the local evaluators on the other.
General Excitement Level: High-ish. Here's betting the negative evaluations would be more positive if they'd been made in the aftermath of Black's all-star game performance. He battled questions about level of competition through his recruitment and while he wasn't going up against BCS kids in the N/S game he was going up against the college bound, and he answered spectacularly.
Projection: Could play some this fall as Michigan will need someone to step into the rotation next year with the imminent departure of Greg Banks; could also redshirt given the two-deep at DE seems decent enough. If I had to bet I would say he plays as a backup to Van Bergen an occasional pass-rush threat in long yardage situations.
O let's not, I guess. Sam Webb was on the WTKA this morning, as per usual, and dropped some major news: everyone in the class save two players is good to go academically. The two players in question are no surprise, as they've been rumored to be in danger for months. They are Antonio Kinard and Demar Dorsey.
Webb specifically avoids saying anything definitive, but also makes it clear that his lack of clarity is a necessary evil when talking about something as sensitive as a kid's academic status (for one, if the player is displeased lawsuit noises result) but the money quote:
If I was a Michigan fan I would not be optimistic about that at this point, about Demar Dorsey. … Would not be optimistic about Kinard.
Kinard was a kid Michigan took really early and never got any recruiting traction after that; I haven't taken a hard look at him yet but there's not a whole lot in his dossier to indicate his loss is going to be a heavy blow, especially since Michigan has some time to replace him. Dorsey, obviously, was a major recruit at a position of critical need and his probable loss is bad news for a secondary that needs options this fall. I'm super glad we all spent a week talking about how Dorsey was a menace to society in February. That was time well-spent.
Barwis/Mealer, again. The Toledo Blade spotlights Brock Mealer and his progress towards walking once more. The progress Brock has made in six months has been considerable:
Determining just how close Mr. Mealer is to walking is not precise, but Whiteman believes the squat rack is a good indicator.
When Mr. Mealer began training at UM six months ago, he needed 200 pounds of squat assistance from an accompanying machine - as well as the guidance of his arms - to complete a repetition.
He has since reduced the assistance to 80 pounds, and his arms never leave his side.
The hope is that once Mr. Mealer needs zero pounds of help, he'll remove his harness and be able to walk again.
If he can maintain that rate he'll be 20 pounds short by the time the UConn game rolls around, at which point the only thing holding him back from walking will be his enormous upper body. He's already able to get across the field with crutches.
Youtube victory. No one will ever take Michigan's crown as the college football kings of youtube. Wolverine Historian alone is good enough for the gold, and then here's this random thing that popped up in the feed reader:
I think a few months ago someone around here was talking about "Ecstasy of Gold" as a terribly underrated intro/clip reel song. They were correct.
Dun-dun duh duh. So the Dispatch wanders around and notices this quote from OSU's Brian Rolle:
"It's time for us to get better," he said. "Have guys like Marcus Freeman, who's not our position coach, help us do small things and go over things with him."
Marcus Freeman is a… wait for it… quality control assistant. Though the article later states that support staff "can't help players with football skills in any way," this could be on the up-and-up. If Freeman is certified as an S&C instructor and available to any athlete in the department, he can conduct workouts:
Strength and conditioning coaches who are not countable coaches and who perform such duties on a department-wide basis may design and conduct specific workout programs for student-athletes, provided such workouts are:
- Conducted at the request of the student-athlete.
Since I'm guessing the folks in the OSU football administration actually respond to requests from compliance the Buckeyes have probably figured out a way to make this kosher. Also likely kosher: the activities of the 22 employees added by Tressel over the course of his tenure at OSU.
I've gotten some emails suggesting that if the wool would just be lifted from my eyes I would see the dark conspiracy behind the persistent unresponsiveness of Draper and Labadie, but examples like OSU—where reporting secondary violations is a way of life—further illustrate how complete the fail was on their part. If OSU did something wrong here they'll find it, impose some light tickling on themselves, and avoid a year-long media firestorm. The torrent of secondary violations OSU reports is a healthy relationship between an athletic department attempting to push the edges and a compliance office that is informed about their doings. I'm guessing Freeman has done whatever kabuki he needs to do to be considered a viable instructor-type person. Michigan's main sin with the QC guys was not doing that kabuki because Scott Draper didn't submit three-page job description for months.
The thing about "everyone is doing it" is that this is a literal truth: other teams are literally doing the same things with various support staff. But because they did not have a completely dysfunctional setup in the athletic department they will not get hammered by the law.
Meanwhile, the NCAA is considering major changes to support staff, including the imposition of limits on the numbers available and clarifications on what they can do. That lends credence to the idea that Michigan's mistakes were good faith misinterpretatios.
Further Graham. Brandon Graham is not having any of it. What? Anything:
"People didn't give Coach Rod a chance once he first got there," Graham said after practice Wednesday. "He made us all better players. And I'm happy for what he's done for me the last two years. it's just that a lot people who really just wanted Coach Carr never gave Coach Rod a chance. All of those people making those allegations are wrong because Coach Rod tried to do everything by the book. And he made sure he let us know it's all about family and being together. The people that left (the program) wasn't our family, really. That's why they left."
The 3-3-5 shift… eh… potentially overrated. Rodriguez on the shift to the 3-3-5, this time with some specifics that I think many of us thought might be the case after the spring game:
“The reality is Coach Robinson has run a lot of 3-4 and 3-3-5 stuff in his past and did some last year, even though people didn’t recognize it as much. And all we did in the spring was actually simplify things so there’s not a lot of big differences between what we did at times last year and what we did this spring. … It’s not what we ran at West Virginia, which when we left it was pure 3-3-5 and that was the deal and that’s what they grew up in. This was combining some things we did last year and simplifying some things so our young guys would be ready.”
I'm guessing the defense this year is a substantially more diverse version of the defense last year, and not particularly close to the pure stack Jeff Casteel runs.
Etc.: A man named La'el has committed to LSU. This, of course, is Spanish for "The The." Six Zero profiles the Mathlete who, like me, perceives a football game as an ever-shifting exercise in torturing probabilities. Oversigning.com continues to put the issue on more and more radars, largely by tweaking Alabama. God's work.
Bubbly. AnnArbor.com catches up to a smiling Brandon Graham after his selection by the Eagles:
Rarely have I been so happy for a Michigan player. After the last two years, Graham deserves every good thing that can possibly happen to him. I hope he learns how to fly.
(Also: can I take a moment to tout how useful UFRs have been in tracking Brandon Graham's impact? I was a little worried that BG was outperforming Woodley, but there he is in the top half of the first round after the NFL saw how unblockable he is.)
Denard-o. Gerry DiNardo has lost more football games than you've ever watched, but he's still on the television so people ascend to his yurt high up in the Indiana mountains to beseech him for his wisdom. Last year his wisdom was "Denard Robinson is going to start at quarterback," which is a strong indicator as to why he's lost more football games than you've ever watched. DiNardo single criterion for choosing a starting quarterback is "is it vaguely possible this kid was named after me?" By no other measure was Robinson a plausible starter in 2009.
In 2010 things are different. Denard Robinson is still named after Dinardo, though:
"I think it has to be Denard Robinson," he said. "If you think about the way Rich Rodriguez became so successful at West Virginia it wasn't with a drop-back quarterback that threw 50 times, even though that approached worked for him some as an offensive coordinator. He wants to play the game that Denard plays, with a greater emphasis on the running attack than the passing attack. He wants to have that guy that can tuck the ball and make you miss even when the blocking isn't perfect, that can make you miss even if he misreads the read-option, and from everything I've seen, Denard Robinson is that guy.
"In college football nowadays, defenses, as much as they try to practice this, cannot tackle in space. From the earliest age, you're not coached to tackle one-on-one without help. The instruction is always about rallying to the ball and then for your defensive backs to use the sideline as their friend. But when you're stuck in a one-on-one situation, against an athlete like Denard Robinson, most of the time you're going to be left grasping for air.
"So when I see what he can do, and then I see what Forcier did last year - to me there is no comparison for where this offense wants to go."
I'm not sure he's right that Rodriguez is dedicated to running 75% of the time, but his other points are solid. The bit about defenses being unable to tackle in space could be the operational philosophy of Rodriguez's entire offensive system. Tate missed reads on the option plenty last year—most of the time, it seemed—and while he was slippery enough to evade lumbering defensive ends he wasn't fast enough to turn his frequent missed reads into anything more than a few yards. A prime example from the Illinois game:
It's possible Robinson can turn this into another couple yards, or even break something long (although probably not on this particular play). A quarterback who can get that extra couple yards is an extremely dangerous option. For all Forcier's flaws, he was an effective runner. If you cut out the copious sacks Michigan gave up last year (24 for 184 yards), he averaged 4.7 YPC. (This is slightly optimistic since Robinson probably took a couple sacks, so you may want to mentally adjust that to 4.5 or so.) A version of Denard Robinson that can run the zone read and throw well enough to keep linebackers honest will obliterate that.
Keeping the linebackers honest will take some doing, but the nice thing about being Denard Robinson is that when you go to play action, it's time to cheat like a mother for all but the best defenses. I don't think Ohio State is going to be particularly vulnerable to a raw sophomore like Robinson, but I also don't think Illinois or Purdue has much of a chance to stop him.
Merrill rising, talkin' smack. Incoming defenseman Jon Merrill saw his stock slip slightly over the course of his final year with the NTDP, but a strong U-18 tournament (where the US is obliterating all comers) has seen Merrill's stock pop up into the rarefied air of a potential top ten selection once more:
At the beginning of the tournament Gudbranson had the inside edge as the potential top defender to be selected this year, battling it out with Windsor's Cam Fowler, but the gap is closing. The play of Merrill, along with the struggles of the Gudbranson-led Canadian team, may have catapulted Merrill into that coveted position and certainly into the overall debate.
Coming into the tournament many even felt Forbort would likely be ranked and selected ahead of Merrill, and even though Forbort has looked strong, the abilities that Merrill has showcased so far during this tournament have pushed him ahead in the eyes of many scouting circles. Merrill is a tall and lanky player with a lot of room to build on his frame. He has tremendous speed and has extremely good intelligence with and around the puck. Merrill has been the kingpin of the US's powerplay and quarterbacks it tremendously well.
Merrill will jump into Michigan's top four on day one and I'm betting he'll be on the top powerplay and top pairing by midseason at the latest. He was also interviewed by McKeen's, and because he's going to play in college he was asked to justify his existence. He did so with aplomb:
I think a lot of guys make the argument that the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) is the most similar to the NHL in style of play, and you play a lot of games, and things like that, but you’ve got to look at it from my perspective. I’m 18 years old. If I went and played in the CHL, there’s 15 and 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, in the league. There’s top-end 18 and 19-year-old guys, too, but if you go to college, everyone’s older than you. I’m a freshman in a bigger, stronger, faster game, and you get up for every game, because you only play 35, 40 games, or whatever it is. Every game is a big game. Whereas in the CHL, you’re playing in Sudbury on a Tuesday night, and how do you get up for that, you know?
Tuesdays in Sudbury is a best-seller by Bizzaro Canadian Mitch Albom, but not a particularly attractive option compared to playing outdoors in front of one million people, give or take nine hundred thousand.
Nothing on Moffatt, unfortunately. He has just one assist for a rampant USA. The U18s are the last opportunity to put it out there for NHL scouts and he's not drawing a whole lot of notice. Hopefully he'll slide in comfortably—a mid-round NHL draft pick is usually a good player—but an instant impact is unlikely.
Side note: please don't read anything about Jack Campbell. It will make you sad.
(Interview HT: Michigan Hockey Net.)
About the one million people. Sales for Cold War II have been ridiculous so far:
General ticket sales began Wednesday, netting 14,700 purchases by 4 p.m., according to an athletic department spokesman. When added to the that seats have already been sold or committed to by season-ticket holders, former players and other groups, officials announced Wednesday that close to 80,000 tickets have already been sold.
"This has just taken off. You knew it would when you have something this special at the Big House - the first time ever, maybe the only time ever," Berenson said in a statement. " Everybody wants to be there. I think we'll be sold out before we know it. It'll be a tough ticket to buy."
With the original Cold War still the all-time hockey attendance record, the question at this point is not if this December's game will break it, but if the record shatters with enough force to match the destructive power of a bear dropping a bomb into a volcano.
Probably not. But it will be close, yo.
Cancer, again. Chris Perry's arrest was a family thing in which something went down with a cousin, possibly because Perry's mom is terminally ill with the cancer she was battling when Perry played at Michigan. Irene Perry is the main reason Chris didn't transfer a couple years into his career. Best wishes, for whatever that's worth, to the Perry family.
The Eagles just leapt up 11 spots to draft Brandon Graham 13th overall and the NFL Network guy said he'd be a "situational pass rusher" his first year because he doesn't know. It's okay. You couldn't really without paying minute detail to a not good football team. May he destroy the universe from Philadelphia, where we always knew the end of civilization would originate from.
I think I might have to slightly care about the Eagles, who also have Jason Avant and Marlin Jackson, now. Someone make them trade for David Harris.
I remember when this guy was not just a photoshop creation but a
representation of the state of the athletic programs.
At this time it may be appropriate to purchase flowers. As it tends to do, getting obliterated by Michigan State has caused no end of soul-searching about the basketball program. Example: Genuinely Sarcastic is moved to write something featuring a Dire Straits song.
I don't know. I started fast-forwarding after about ten minutes and turned the thing off entirely once Michigan ended up down 34-14, invoking a personal rule from back in the Amaker days where any game that Michigan was 20 points down was no longer something I had to pay attention to. I wasn't exactly surprised. I know why people are leaping off e-buildings in the aftermath, but that seems like a willful lack of attention paid to results to date.
Now: since this is the 2009-10 season and we are talking about a team in maize and blue, evaluating the "when can we fire this guy?" question is inevitable. Proof: some idiot on the Rivals hockey board even asked it about Red. With Beilein, I don't think he can or should be axed any time in the next two years and that a sixth year is likely almost irrespective of Michigan's performance on the court.
However, I also don't have a lot of hope that things will change for the better. This year, exactly zero players showed any improvement as Michigan backslid. The offense looked positively Amakerian for much of the year. Aimless passing around the perimeter was a major feature. Outside of a game roleplayer in Zack Novak and a possibly useful point guard (albeit one who can't shoot) in Darius Morris, Beilein's first two recruiting classes look like anchors:
- The post recruits are basically Justin Turner minus the recruiting hype: how terrible do you have to be to 1) be a post and 2) get zero minutes on a team with two guys taller than 6'5"?
- Matt Vogrich was 5/5 from three against D-II Northern Michigan and then looked like a slightly larger version of Reed Baker the rest of the year.
- Laval Lucas Perry was on the bench behind…
- …Stu Douglass, who had an eFG of 42.7 and an offensive rating of 93.9 with a 15% usage rate. If Stu Douglass was a team, he would be Southern, a 5-25 SWAC team with the same overall eFG%. And those guys have to average 20% usage. In non-tempo-free numbers: made a third of his twos and 30 percent of his threes.
It's really hard to see how this team gets better next year with or without Manny unless Evan Smotrycz is Dirk Nowitzki. I am writing this right now and I think that's irrational because Michigan will return everyone other than Sims and will finally have enough size to play a proper 1-3-1 and etc etc, but if zero players on the team improved from year one to year two, why will they improve next year? Players are supposed to have their biggest leaps between their freshman and sophomore years, and Michigan's sophomores went backwards.
Votin'. I don't know if a Facebook page attempting to get Brandon Graham on the cover of NCAA Football 11 is going to overcome the fact that Graham didn't play in a bowl, but they make weird choices sometimes and it can't hurt. I bet a dollar it's Tebow.
Talkin'. I presented a talk called 'Building the World's Most Popular College Football Blog"—which, excluding large corporate conglomerations like Fanhouse, is troof—at Ignite 3 on Thursday. The title's sort of misleading, as they often are when you come up with them before coming up with what you're going to say. It's more about what I think is a generally applicable approach to becoming the head of your own nation of racist dwarves no matter what the topic area is.
Please excuse the various ums and ahs, as I didn't get to practice as much as I wanted, and the shirt I didn't realize could have been in the "Evenflow" video until a local wag brought it up. I didn't wear totally awesome cargo shorts, at least.
I'm the first guy in the second half, but you'll have to skip to 1:20 for the part that is not the emcee.
Everyone moves. The NHL trade deadline was devoid of blockbusters but ridiculously heavy on Michigan movement:
Anaheim: traded G Justin Pogge and Boston's fourth-round pick in the 2010 or 2011 draft (previously acquired) to Carolina Hurricanes for D Aaron Ward.
Colorado: traded LW Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix Coyotes for RW Peter Mueller and C Kevin Porter. …
Columbus: traded D Mathieu Roy to Florida Panthers for C Matt Rust. Traded LW Alexandre Picard to Phoenix Coyotes for C Chad Kolarik.
Montreal: traded RW Matt D'Agostini to St. Louis Blues for RW Aaron Palushaj.
Add in Steve Kampfer getting sent to the Bruins for a fourth-round pick—totally weird trade since Kampfer was a fourth-rounder—and that's six Michigan products moving teams in two days. Los Angeles, unsurprisingly, didn't pick any of them up.
Well, okay. I spent a large chunk of the last offseason blasting anyone who dropped Rich Rodriguez on a "hot seat" list as he entered year two. Even a crappy, bowl-free season would not result in Rodriguez's termination, and that has proved to be the case. Now, though, Rodriguez is. No protests when Tom Dienhart and that coaches hot seat whatever throw him on the list.
(One item of protest: throwing Ralph Friedgen in the "inferno" section is pointless when Maryland is already planning a transition to its offensive coordinator.)
Default Big Ten expansion talk. Gary Pinkel interviewed by a few locals, topic inevitably comes up, Pinkel responds with the usual:
one of the really big problems with this league is the TV contract. Two areas of the TV contract, really. First of all, the TV contract itself. In the next five years, per year Illinois will get about $12 million more (from the Big Ten’s TV contract) for their athletic budget. Multiply that by four years for the four years we have left in our contract. So, the University of Illinois is getting $48 million more. That’s hard to understand. I think it’s about $14 million more in the Southeastern Conference. It’s hard to explain that to anybody.
Another issue we have in this league is you look at the SEC and the Big Ten, and they have revenue-sharing. They understand you’re as strong as your weakest link and that the strength of your league is important. So, you share TV revenue. Even though we’ve been on the upper side of that ourselves, it’s not the right thing, in my opinion, for the Big 12. So, there’s some issues here. Those things are out there, and that’s kind of disappointing. Other than that, they’re not going to let me make decisions anyway.
It can be a great league, but there are things financially that are absurd. I can’t even explain it.
That's not much different from the president of the university or the governor's take; Missouri is going to make noise until such point as they cannot make noise because the Big Ten picked someone else or don't have to because it picked them.