"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
David Guralnick/The Detroit News
Continuing my theme of getting super-meta this offseason, I decided to take a look back at the MGoBlog recruiting recaps from the class of 2008—hello, blogspot!—and see how they stand up now that those players have either moved on from the program or are fifth-year seniors. 2008, of course, was the franken-class of Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez recruits, a bizarre blend of pro-style plodders and size-challenged spread speedsters. While it boasted 17 four-stars among 24 commits, finishing a very respectable tenth in the Rivals team rankings, the class would prove to be an unmitigated disaster, ravaged by attrition and marked with disappointment.
So, let's go back to a time when Michigan fans still held out hope for landing Terrelle Pryor—when these were written, still
holding out for a better contract mulling his decision a month after signing day—to spearhead this newfangled spread offense. Today, I'll take a look at Brian's offensive evaluations, and the defense will be covered next week. For reference, links to the original posts: Quarterback and Running Back, Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line. If you're anything like me, perusing those is a remarkably fun way to waste time.
Easy Joke Is Easy
With a major change in offensive scheme, Michigan was in desperate need of a dual-threat quarterback. Pryor was the ultimate prize, and Rodriguez was forced to hedge his bets with Justin Feagin, an under-the-radar athlete from Florida whose best offers were to play wide receiver at LSU or defensive back at Miami (YTM).
Projection: Someone's going to play Tebow to Threet's Chris Leak this fall; unless Carlos Brown locks that down, it'll be Feagin. I have no idea what to expect, but think his future is probably somewhere other than quarterback.
Namely, the inside of a courtroom. ZING! (Really, when it comes to the 2008 quarterback situation, dark humor is the only option lest you want to break down in tears.)
Ironically, it was his off-field actions that made Feagin one of the recruits Brian was "baselessly excited about in defiance of recruiting rankings and reason," due to late-night workouts and multiple quotes expressing no concern about potentially having to compete with Pryor for the starting job. It was noted that Feagin required "a ton of developing to be a legitimate quarterback," which was readily apparent during his brief appearances as a freshman. Then came the cocaine stuff and subsequent boot, so we'll never know whether Feagin could've turned into a passable receiver.
I started following recruiting seriously when a friend showed me Noel Devine's highlight tape during my senior year of high school. Since I had little understanding at the time about how recruiting actually worked, I was bitterly disappointed when Devine seemingly had zero interest in Michigan (and vice versa), eventually ending up at West Virginia. I swore never to get my hopes up about highlight tape heroes again.
So the next year, when another atom-sized running back took the YouTubes by storm, I had little hope that this Texan doing heel-clicks on the backs of linebackers would even consider donning the Maize and Blue. Even so, I'd watch his tape on repeat, sharing it with friends whenever the opportunity arose; seeing their eyes bug while asking what in the hell they just watched never got old. This is what they saw [NSFW audio warning]:
Then, of course, the impossible occurred: Sam McGuffie signed with Michigan, though not before nearly shattering our dreams during a signing day flirtation with Cal. Brian, however, was nonplussed, proferring this muted reaction to McGuffie's inclusion in the class:
General Excitement Level: AAAAIIEEEE! Man... this offense is McGuffie's jam, man, and the Church Of Barwis will excommunicate anyone who doubts his his's ability to get up to 200-some pounds without compromising his lightning quicks. Steve Slaton says what.
Projection: He's the man, man. Will battle Brown and Grady for carries at first; probably a Noel Devine role his first year.
Oh. Unfortunately, you all know how this one went. McGuffie showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2008, but also the durability of a paper bag. After finishing the season as the team's second-leading rusher, he decided to transfer closer to home, ending up at Rice, where he'll be a redshirt senior in 2012. Not exactly what we'd all envisioned when the guy who frontflipped over J.B. Shugarts at the Army Game hit campus.
McGuffie wasn't the only back in the class, however, as he was joined by two other intriguing prospects. Rich Rodriguez earned the "snake-oil salesman" moniker for snatching Roy Roundtree from Purdue (more on him later), but his other signing day surprise was pulling Trotwood-Madison RB Michael Shaw away from Penn State. You'll never guess what Brian noticed on his film [emphasis mine]:
I am not a scout, but in the Shaw video at Scouting Ohio I saw a guy with a knack for catching the flare, good speed, and exactly one move: an upfield cut followed by a bounce-out that got him outside high school defenders with regularity.
And thus we find the origins of bouncebouncebouncebounce.
The final back in the class was a relative unknown from the football hotbed of Avon, Connecticut. Mike Cox's name required a disclaimer in the notes section of his profile—"Degree of difficulty applies on all jokes about his name. (IE: please no "Mike Cox is huge" jokes.)"—while his school's sporting pedigree invited a healthy dose of skepticism:
There's almost zero reliable data on Cox. His high school conference is well known for hockey -- read full of rich white guys named "Higginbotham" (no, literally) -- and is awful at football.
Until reading the profile, I had completely forgotten that Michigan took Cox over four-star Detroit Country Day product and eventual Notre Dame commit Jonas Gray. In retrospect, I think it's safe to say that was a mistake, even though Gray wasn't a major contributor until his senior season. At least we got four years of stale dick jokes, though.
NEVER FORGET, Part Deux
Rodriguez's hire brought to Michigan the era of the waterbug slot guy, which promised to be great fun for a fanbase used to watching tiny track-star guys tear it up only for opponents. The recruit expected to come in and make a big splash early was four-star Terrence Robinson out of Klein, Texas, and all it took was one physics-defying play to see why:
Commits pulling Hakeem Olajuwon post moves at warp speed during a football game understandably cause a fair amount of excitement. Brian busted out the obligatory Breaston comparison and projected him to be in the mix at both returner and slot receiver. Robinson finished his Michigan career with one catch, two kickoff returns, and one punt return for a grand total of 94 all-purpose yards.
Michigan's other slot ninja was Pahokee's Martavious Odoms, whose profile contains endless testimonials about his rabbit-chasing speed. Brian's comparison is Devin Hester and also a version of Steve Breaston that actually catches the bombs:
General Excitement Level: Moderate++. He's never going to be Braylon Edwards but if he's as fast as his reputation he could be a dynamite returner and even a deep threat: remember Steve Breaston's ill-fated career as the target of bombs? Well, he was open by yards time and again because opposing players got smoked by his moves and always dropped the ball. Odoms looks like he's pretty good at hauling in deep balls.
Projection: Will press for time as a returner immediately and is 50-50 to be the designated bubble screen guy, with Terrance Robinson the other option. Starts off with an advantage on Robinson because he's spent the last four years as a receiver.
Evaluation severely lacking in mountain goat blocking praise.
Despite the excitement over the tiny slot guys, the biggest expectations were reserved for consensus top-100 receiver Darryl Stonum, who chose Michigan over Florida, Alabama, USC, and Florida State. Breathless hype part one:
Natural change of direction? Fluid hips? Comes down with jump balls? A mix of Braylon Edwards and Mario Manningham... which, like, dude.
And part two:
General Excitement Level: Maximal. The second most likely kid in the class to have a long, productive career at Michigan, IMO, behind Dann O'Neill.
Stonum's production disappointed, even after it was discovered that he'd been playing half-blind and needed contacts, and his career came to an untimely end after a string of alcohol- and driving-related arrests.
The last of the four receiver recruits was Roy Roundtree, another Trotwood-Madison star whose projection was the closest to the eventual reality:
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Never going to be a gamebreaker, but a likely contributor. Has to add a lot of weight to be an effective player.
Projection: Redshirts, plays sparingly his second year, and is 50-50 to emerge into Michigan's #2 WR.
Roundtree redshirted, then led the team in catches in each of the next two seasons, though this was more the product of the offense—Roundtree was the main beneficiary of QB Oh Noes—than him being a true #1 receiver, though he may be forced into that role this season.
The 2008 class also featured two four-star tight end recruits, though both came with significant question marks. For Brandon Moore, the third of the Trotwood trio, the question was whether he was the future star who earned top-100 rankings and big-time offers after a standout junior season or the potential bust whose stock slipped significantly during a disappointing senior year. Scout actually started out with Moore as their #98 overall prospect before dropping him all the way to three stars and the #43(!) tight end. The verdict:
General Excitement Level: High, with caveats. Moore is a boom-or-bust guy with much potential but a long way to go.
Projection: Great success, great failure, or somewhere in between. Specific cat is specific.
Barring an out-of-nowhere breakout season in 2012, bust it is.
Meanwhile, Michigan took a head-to-head battle with Ohio State for Toledo Whitmer's Kevin Koger, but it was unclear whether he'd stick at tight end or eventually make a move to defensive end:
It must be said: Koger is widely regarded a prospect of equal or greater merit at defensive end, and with Nick Perry's escape to Southern Cal Michigan finds themselves with one defensive end recruit across two classes. Though it's possible one of the linebackers -- most likely Marcus Witherspoon -- could end up with his hand down, Michigan is critically short there.
A down-the-line move was projected, but that was largely based on the assumption that Moore would pan out. Instead, it was Koger who'd get the lion's share of the snaps at tight end for the next four years.
Brian's O-line Knowledge Has Come A Long Way
One of the staples of the recruiting recaps is the "YMRMFSPA" section, in which Brian compares the recruit's style of play to a notable former player (usually a Wolverine, but not always, as evidenced by the Hester comparison for Odoms). With Michigan pulling in six offensive linemen in 2008, coming up with the proper approximation got a little difficult:
Dann O'Neill: YMRMFSPA Jake Long. No pressure.
Kurt Wermers: YMRMFSPA Matt Lentz?
Elliott Mealer: YMRMFSPA Matt Stenavich(?)
Rocko Khoury: YMRMFSPA Uh, that other un-touted guard person.
Ricky Barnum: YMRMFSPA Rod Payne?
Patrick Omameh: YMRMFSPA ????
Dave Petruziello and Leo Henige feel very neglected, man.
As you can see above, before Taylor Lewan was the Next Jake Long, that distinction went to Dann O'Neill, a top 100 recruit from Grand Haven. Not only was O'Neill quite a talent, his services were desperately needed along a thin offensive line:
Dann O'Neill might be Michigan's most critical recruit. The only tackles in the last two recruiting classes are incumbent RT Steve Schilling, three-star Perry Dorrestein, and two-star sleeper (as in "only had offers from MAC schools" sleeper) Mark Huyge. Finding two starting tackles from that group once the Zirbel-Ortmann class graduates in two years was looking very risky.
Brian projected O'Neill to start "at some point, hopefully later (say, as a redshirt sophomore) rather than sooner (say, this fall)." Instead, he never played a down as a Wolverine, transferring to Western Michigan after his freshman year. He would eventually earn a start at Michigan Stadium in 2011, but as a member of the Broncos.
The other future washout on the line was Indiana guard Kurt Wermers, whose off-field hobbies were not exactly typical of a football player [emphasis Brian's]:
Wermers was also named to the stupidly named "Offense-Defense Bowl" in Miami. The OD bowl appears to be a sort of second-tier all star game. Big whoop, except for the press release announcing the selection:
"Wermers, a veritable renaissance man whose hobbies include weightlifting, playing guitar, singing, and reading, also enjoys spending time on the virtual field of battle in the wildly popular massively multiplayer role-playing game World of Warcraft when not battling in the trenches on the football field."
This dovetails with information from May about Wermer's participation in... an a capella group:
"I love it," Wermers said of singing. "It gives me a chance to get away from big jocky athletic guys and hang out with a different group of people."
I don't think we'll be having any discipline issues with young Mr. Wermers. It's just a feeling.
Wermers left the team before the 2009 season, saying he decided to transfer because Rodriguez was "bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd," and running the team like a business (Wermers signed when Carr was the coach, but obviously never played under him). It was later revealed that Wermers was academically ineligible when he announced his transfer, probably because he was playing WoW instead of going to class. Discipline issues: check.
The player who's actually panned out was the lowest-ranked among the six, Patrick Omameh, a two-star DE to Rivals and the #87 OT to Scout. There wasn't much comment on Omameh beyond addressing his sleeper status; speculation about his future position turned out to go 0-for-2:
There are conflicting reports as to whether Omameh was recruited as a center (where his intelligence would help with the line calls) or tackle; that will get sorted out somewhere down the line.
As you know, Omameh is entering his third year as the full-time starter at... right guard.
Finally, Ricky Barnum peered into the future and got a serious head start on his future team's biggest rivalry:
Various people are probably irritated with Ricky Barnum: Urban Meyer, for one. Also OH OL Zebrie Sanders, who tried to commit to Florida but was told to talk to the hand because Barnum and another player had filled Florida's OL quotient for the year. Sanders, also rejected by Georgia for the same reason, ended up at Florida State and Urban ended up short one highly recruited interior lineman. Not that anyone will ever shed a tear for Urban Meyer.
Well done, Ricky.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls is making a push for more carries this fall.
This Saturday marks the Spring Game, when we all watch a glorified scrimmage and make snap judgments like "Mark Moundros is going to start at middle linebacker," and "Tate Forcier has the Heisman in his future." (Okay, I admit, I said both of those things, but luckily the evidence has been wiped from the internet.) Nevertheless, it's the only semi-competitive football we'll see until the fall, providing us our lone peek into the progress of the team and the various position battles.
Here's what I'll be hoping to see from the offense on Saturday:
Mediocrity. I know, right? This is actually more of a defensive point, but I want to put this here: in the spring, the defense should be ahead of the offense in terms of installing their schemes and playing cohesively. It's no coincidence that we saw the offense absolutely wreck the defense in the 2009 and 2010 games, then look downright ugly at times in last year's edition. I don't need to tell you how those respective seasons turned out. After just two weeks of practice, the offensive line won't have gelled like they will in the fall, the timing between quarterback and receiver is often a little off, and the playbook is still very much in the installation phase. This plea may fall on deaf ears, but don't freak out if the offense isn't marching up and down the field; in fact, feel free to be a bit encouraged.
Gardner Gardner Gardner. All eyes will be on Devin Gardner, though the odds of the coaches trotting him out at receiver for a nationally-televised scrimmage are somewhere between zero and zero. He will be playing quarterback, however, and it's time to see a big step forward from him in the passing game. Practice accounts have been positive in that regard and it sounds like he's the clear-cut #2 QB ahead of Russell Bellomy, though we'll see how big of a gap there is between those two. If Bellomy looks like a passable second-stringer, you can keep hope alive for some Denard-to-Devin connections in the fall. If not, the coaches may find it too risky to split Gardner out wide.
Bowling Ball Rawls. I was pretty high on Thomas Rawls when he came out of high school, and after a freshman year spent mostly on the bench, he's impressed practice observers with his power as a running back and is making a strong push for the backup job. Vincent Smith will inevitably see snaps on third down, but there's still room for a back to spell Fitzgerald Toussaint on occasion and provide a different look in the backfield. Though Rawls won't make many people miss, he can knock them over, and if he shows that against the first team defense we can start thinking of him as a change-of-pace/short-yardage back. Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has also drawn praise in the spring, though he'll have to prove he's either a more effective runner than Rawls or a more explosive receiving option than Smith to carve out a role; neither is out of the question given his athleticism.
Number One Target? The general assumption is that Roy Roundtree will be the top receiver this year, but I'm not sold on that. His production dropped dramatically last season as he played more on the outside and was no longer the beneficiary of numerous QB OH NOES as a RichRod slot receiver. Jeremy Gallon flashed a lot of talent last season, and I think he'll be a very capable second option, but he's 5'8". Hope may come in the form of redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, who's been lauded as a potential go-to guy this spring despite never recording a collegiate catch. This may be your standard Johnny Sears-type spring hype, but let's withhold judgment until we see him on the field. If nobody looks like a solid #1 option, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Amara Darboh come fall.
My Kingdom for a Tight End. This is the scariest position group on the roster, and that's taking into account the fact that the offensive line has almost no depth. Redshirt senior Brandon Moore is the starter by default; he's had issues with drops in the past, so hope he holds onto the ball if it comes his way. Converted wideout Ricardo Miller will get time as an H-back (the "U" tight end in this offense), and he must prove he can hold up as a blocker if he wants to see much time. Behind them are redshirt senior walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski and converted DE Jordan Paskorz. If this unit isn't a total liability, I'll take it, especially with A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess providing reinforcements in the fall. If they are, Al Borges is going to have to get very creative with his schemes.
O-line Depth: Do We Have Any? The first-team offensive line should be just fine, with projected left guard starter Elliott Mealer the only unknown quantity. Mealer is a redshirt senior who's currently beating out a highly-touted (and massive) redshirt freshman in Chris Bryant, so I'm not too concerned about his ability to fit in. Ricky Barnum has reportedly adjusted well to his new role as starting center; again, I'm optimistic about the first team's ability. PANIC! will set in, however, if a starting lineman goes down, especially a tackle. The second-team line this spring features three(!) walk-ons, and while redshirt sophomore guard Joey Burzynski has impressed practice observers, color me skeptical of any 6'1", 284-pound walk-on being anything but a frightening liability in a game situation. The backup tackles are all walk-ons, at least until Kyle Kalis hits campus for the fall, so expect Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to be encased in bubble wrap until September.
Kickers. Make your field goals, please and thank you. That is all.
(Audio for transcription courtesy of WolverineNation)
vs. EMU / I don't think this was a very good day for Fitz.
How is the spring going, and how are the running backs competing?
“It’s just like last year. We’re all trying to get the No. 1 spot. We all do a pretty good job of learning things equally, and I think the coaches are doing a good job teaching it.”
Have you approached it differently this spring considering all the experience you got last year?
“A little more aggressive in doing what I have to do and everything.”
What did last year teach you about competing for that No. 1 job?
“Just to keep competing because somebody could be right behind you trying to take your spot.”
Have you been able to see any of the young guys a little more since the coaches have said they’re going to give them more snaps?
“Yeah, those guys are doing good. I feed off them and they feed off me. I think that’s really where the competition comes from, and we’re able to work off that.”
Which of them has impressed you the most?
“They’re all different, but equal. They all have different styles. Rawls is a little speedster, and Hayes has a little power. It’s kind of like the opposite.”
Opposite of what we think of them?
“Yeah. Rawls has a little more power, but I think both of them are equal.”
What did Saturday show about yourself personally and your team?
“That I’m willing to do anything for my team. I can be put in any position and handle it well.”
What do you mean by that?
“Just in terms of pressure things like that. Able to work out, just play my position, play my role.”
Borges said that you needed to work on certain things to stay on the field for every down. What have you done to work towards that goal?
“Just off the field things -- working on blocking right, proper techniques. Coach J does a good job of teaching us that.”
What are you doing to work on your blocking?
“Just things like bags, blocking with the other fellas, just working on proper technique. Sometimes we look at the linemen and see how they do it and try to translate that and do our thing with it.”
Do you watch film on Vincent Smith at all?
“Oh definitely Vincent. I think Michael Shaw did a pretty good job of picking [up] stuff like that, so I kind of watch film from last year and see how those guys [did] it.”
Can you explain why an effective and experienced offensive line is key?
“They’re feeding off what those guys did last year, and the expectation for the position -- I think those guys can handle it well.”
Where do you think you have made the most improvement?
“I’d say my blocking skills. Working on that -- I think that’s really heavy in this offense. You really have to pick up pass protection. I think that’s key.”
We saw a bunch of big runs from you on the Saturday scrimmage highlights. Can you describe some of those plays?
“It’s more the offensive line doing their job. I was able to go off of that and make big plays.”
Have you been making more of those plays this spring than last spring?
“I think it’s kind of the same.”
Borges talks about your vision having improved over last season. Do you feel like it’s still improving?
“Definitely. I think it’s just coming off of being more comfortable, not trying to hold pressure on myself. Just comfortoable, laid back, and doing my job.”
Do you feel yourself recognizing the play and anticipating where to go much quicker?
“Definitely. I can analyze more and just be patient.”
How much are you working on catching balls out of the backfield?
“I think I work on that equally as I do with anything else.”
How’s that going?
“Pretty good. I think I have pretty good hands and catch the ball well.”
Have you noticed that being a greater emphasis in the offense this spring, i.e. running backs catching ball out of backfield?
“I think that’s pretty important. We have to come out of the backfield and catch the ball pretty [fluid? fluent?]. I think coach really put the emphasis on that this spring, and we work with that well.”
You’re getting fewer reps this spring. Do you have to do anything to stay sharp?
“Just take advantage of the plays I do have … just do my job.”
Would you rather have more reps?
“I think that’s good for the young guys to be able to get in and do what they have to do to show the coaches something.”
Is it hard for you, though?
“Not really, because I can coach those guys up. I feel that my experience will go higher with that.”
Have any of the young linebackers impressed you?
“Desmond Morgan. But I mean we saw that last year.”
How has it been different this spring vs. previous springs when you had veterans ahead of you?
“It’s a lot different, but of course just like every spring, we’re working towards that goal, working towards getting better in every aspect of the game, so in a way it’s different because I’m expected to step up in my position. It’s also just the same because I’m just working towards getting better each and every day.”
How much further along do you feel compared with a year ago? Do you feel more responsibility on your shoulders?
“Of course there’s more responsibilty on my shoulders because I’m a veteran. I’m a senior, and this is our team, so of course there’s pressure right there. As far as my development, I feel like I’m getting a lot better and playing with a lot more speed because I’m more used to the offense. It’s not so much thinking within the offense. It’s just playing rather than thinking about what my assignments are.”
What part of your game has grown the most in spring camp so far?
“I would have to say my blocking. I’m thinking a lot less now, and I’m able to go out and make the blocks rather than thinking [I have to] make sure this guy doesn’t get over me and stuff like that. Definitely my blocking and thinking less and just playing.”
What do you feel like you need to improve most September 1st?
“Every part. I want to get better at catching the ball, I want to get better at blocking, I want to get better at running routes. There’s not a part that I don’t want to get better at.”
What do you mean when you say you’re thinking less?
“As far as just knowing how the offense works. Knowing where the play’s going. Knowing where the running back’s going. Not really worrying about the defensive lineman’s getting inside of me or outside of me. Just worry about knowing where I have to block.”
Borges emphasizes the tight end position. How confident are you that the current personnel on the roster can get the job done?
“I’m definitely confident with [the guys in] our room. We have a lot of great players in there. We have Ricardo Miller, Mike Kwiatkowski, and we have a couple freshmen coming in. I’m really excited about our offense and the tight ends. All of us are making progress every day.”
Last year there was open competition at running back. Do you see the tight end position similar to that situation?
“Of course, there’s competition at every position. There’s no position that’s set with a player. I don’t really see a difference between my position and any other position on the field.”
Do you feel more comfortable at the U or the Y position?
“I feel I can play either. Anywhere I can help the team out.”
What have Miller and Kwiatkowski done so far in spring practice? What kind of personality do they bring on the field?
“Ricardo, he’s a really good athlete. He moved from wide receiver, so he has the wide reciever skills at the tight end position. He runs fast. He runs really great routes. He has great hands. There’s a lot of things Ricardo brings. Mike is a big, strong guy, and he moves guys on the line of scrimmage, so he does a great job blocking, and he does a great job running routes, also.”
How hard has it been to wait your whole career to have this chance?
“Um, man … how difficult has it been … I want to say it’s been difficult because I’ve been working to this chance my entire career. Of course it’s been difficult to be behind great players like Kevin Koger and Martell Webb and Steve Watson, but I’m ready to have my chance.”
Can you talk about some of the guys who have switched to tight end recently, like Jordan Paskorz and Chris Eddins?
“They’re definitely adjusting to the position. They’re trying to learn the plays, understand the playbook and things such as that. Of course there’s a little learning curve as far as learning the position, but they’re working hard to get better each and every day.”
How is the chemistry between the tight ends and the quarterbacks?
“We have great chemistry. We’ve been coming in here on our own like throwing passes with the quarterbacks. There’s a good chemistry. He knows where we’re going to be at when we’re in our position, and stuff like that.”
What did you learn from guys like Kevin Koger?
“I was behind Kevin my entire career, and he’s a great player, but he’s an even better person. He’s a great leader, he knows how to get the team motivated. He kept a set of the playbook year round, and what I learned from him was just play like a professional. Just going out there each and every day and get better each and every day. Just doing everything to your greatest abilities.”
Kevin had to wait to be featured, too. Does some of his patience rub off on you, too?
“Oh yeah. Of course it did. Just being with him -- we’ve been together a long time. I knew him before we got here. Our personalities rubbed off on each other a little bit.”
He’s kind of a loud guy, right?
“Yeah, he’s a loud guy. I’m more of a quiet guy. I’m probably one of the more quiet guys on the team.”
As the team comes to understand the offense more, has the tight end role been changing at all?
“Yes, of course, because once everyone learns the offense they can play multiple positions. A tight end can move out to wide receiver, or a wide receiver can move to tight end. Just learning the playbook and knowing what everyone does on the field, you have a chance to play different positions.”
Does it help to have someone on the team that you went to high school with?
“Yes, of course. Coming here with Roy and Shaw, those were my two best friends. Those were my brothers. Having them here as support was one of the best things that could happen for me.”
Has Roy walked you through anything this spring now that you’re in this elevated role?
“I don’t want to say he really walked me through, but we’ve been going through this together for a long time. It’s not necessarily him walking me through it or me walking him through it. We’re just walking through this together.”
Do you think this offense will be more explosive than a year ago, and why?
“More explosive? Well yeah, we can be more explosive. Of course we want to be more explosive, and we have a chance of doing that because we understand the offense a lot better and we’ve been in this offense for another year now.
|Junior Hemingway||Sr.*||Martavious Odoms||Sr.||Roy Roundtree||Jr.*||Kevin Koger||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||So.||Jeremy Gallon||So.*||Kelvin Grady||Sr.*||Brandon Moore||Jr.*|
|Drew Dileo||So.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.*||Terrance Robinson||Jr.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
Yeah, I know the depth chart lists a fullback and crams the wideouts into two spots, but Al Borges keeps saying shotgun and wideouts and even Lloyd Carr rocked three-wide for much of his later period. The slot lives here, for at least another year or two. The slot lives on like whoah, actually: six of the nine guys on that depth chart can't get on the rides at Cedar Point, and one of the exceptions is the returning starter in the… slot.
So they're going to be short. And you should take the above depth chart with as much of a grain of salt as I did the official one and its lack of a slot and placement of Martavious Odoms on the third string. Any of these guys could pop up anywhere save Hemingway, Jackson, and Robinson, who are outside guys exclusively. It sounds like everyone is an outside guy now:
"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."
That is a lot more complicated than what they did last year when the entire passing game was a constraint play. This is necessary to move the offensive forward. I'll discuss it more in the quarterback section, but when Denard's legs were removed from the equation on passing downs YPC dropped to an ugly 5.7—not much better than the 2008 disaster.
There are downsides to this. For example, in the two minute drill stuff after the punting demo Jeremy Gallon twice broke off option routes only to see the quarterbacks chuck it deep. There's going to be an adjustment period here. Roundtree:
“You have to have the timing down in this offense because if the timing is off, then the quarterback is off,” junior receiver Roy Roundtree said. “Our receivers want the ball, so we got to get open and keep the timing good for Denard.
Where is that timing at now?
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We still have two more weeks to get ready.”
Timing's always important and in the long term this passing offense will be more robust. I just hope we get plenty of last year's stuff in appropriate situations.
|like Marquise Walker|
|we totally planned this|
|drags a toe|
|also totally planned this|
|a back-shoulder leap|
|little high, no problem|
|cover zero in the alps|
|inexplicable yac knack|
|Purdue orbit step|
|Illinois Houdini act TD|
|tough to tackle|
|yac knack attack|
|not a replay of YKA|
Over the summer Junior Hemingway ventured into the heart of a South American jungle to perform an arcane rite that would free him of the injury jinx that's plagued him since his arrival Ann Arbor. It worked. It wrought a price on Martavious Odoms, but it worked. Hemingway hasn't been laid up with mono, an ankle sprain, a shoulder problem, or the Black Death in quite a long while.
If he can manage that 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.
That's convenient. That main skill is being enormous and jumpy. As the table says, he's like Marquise Walker. He's not a guy who's going to blaze past the secondary. There's going to be a corner in the vicinity. If it's going well they're going to watch Hemingway make the catch anyway. What you see at right emphasizes that theme: there's always a guy around, but he's often six inches too short to do anything about it.
A number of the catches are back-shoulder throws that don't necessarily seem intentional. If they aren't they might become so as Borges emphasizes a more sophisticated, they-tried-to-man-up-Crab passing offense.
The canonical example follows.
It might be a mirage conjured by playing next to Darryl Stonum for the last three years, but Hemingway does adjust to the ball in the air pretty well. He doesn't get a ton of separation, but his leaping/box-out ability is top shelf. He does do a good job of finding the ball and bringing it in.
He's also got this strange knack for picking up yards after the catch. He's a 230 pound monster who should get tackled on the catch every time, but this fails to happen with some consistency. There was that ridiculous touchdown against Illinois, for one. The highlights above have a few more examples.
Put the inexplicable YAC knack with his ability to snag downfield jump balls and good enough hands (he had four routine drops on 27 opportunities last year—not good—but snagged 3/5 circus attempts—very good) and you've got a solid Big Ten receiver. He'll see his production increase significantly. 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.
|quicks way past safety|
|will headbutt you|
|extended screen block|
|opens the corner|
|comes back to ball|
|wide open downfield|
|guy on his back no problem|
Martavious Odoms showed up way down the depth chart a few days ago. I'm not buying that. Hoke wants experience, toughness and blocking, and Odoms provides that. He's going to have to put a third wideout on the field, and Odoms is going to be #3 in snaps after Hemingway and Roundtree. So he's a quasi-starter.
He's probably way down the depth chart because his injury thing is becoming a problem. He missed the second half of last year with a broken foot, spent a big chunk of fall camp sporting a cast, showed up with his shoulder in a sling in a CTK episode, and apparently has another cast on now. In context it seems like his depth chart demotion is a health issue and he'll bubble up (HA!) when and if that gets resolved.
When on the field Odoms has been a reliable, unthrilling option. Odoms is from Pahokee, so he's small and would headbutt a goat if he thought it would get him two yards. His elusiveness is just okay—Roundtree and Hemingway probably have better YAC stats. His hands are good. Over the past two years he's 26/27 on routine catches, 7/10 on somewhat difficult ones, and 2/4 on very difficult ones. On the downside, his lack of height makes him a tougher target. Sometimes balls that Hemingway would grab zing way over his head.
The total package is a useful player but not one that's going to show up in the opposing team's gameplan. If healthy he'll at least double his 16 catches from last year; 45 is the guess here.
Jackson; Robinson (not that Robinson, or that one, or that one)
Since we've shuffled Roundtree off to his old position, there's only two guys bigger than a breadbox left. Jeremy Jackson is the one you've seen. The son of running backs coach and hyperbole enthusiast Fred, Jackson is a lanky, "lumbering" possession receiver who seems like the cream of the four-person WR recruiting class of two years ago. That's not a big hill to climb since DJ Williamson transferred, Ricardo Miller moved to tight end, and Jerald Robinson can't get on the depth chart.
He only managed four catches last year but at least they were all against Wisconsin and Ohio State. He'll see his involvement rise as Michigan spreads Stonum's catches around; 15 catches is as good a guess as any. Hope for reliable hands and an ability to get open thanks to his sizeable frame—a poor man's Avant is the goal.
Jerald Robinson also exists, but not on the depth chart. His recruiting profile makes him out to be a rangy leaper with good hands and some upside on deep balls. His omission from the depth chart was a surprise after the coaches and teammates had spent time talking him up:
“I feel like he’s going to get time,” Roundtree said. “I talked to him the other day, like, ‘Look man, this camp, you got to stay focused, don’t get down because your legs are sore. That’s supposed to happen.’ Jerald’s been having a great camp because he wants to learn and he wants to get better. He can play.” …
“Jerald doesn’t know how good Jerald can be,” wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “There’s a lot of times where he’s really, really come along. It goes back to this is just a process.
“There’s some things he looks really, really good at, and there’s some things that we’re going to continue to work with him on.”
There were reports that Robinson did not Get It and may be in the process of doing so, FWIW. Hecklinski evidently thinks he has not fully acquired It and will wait to put him on the field until he has safely done so. He's a guy to look at for next year. Borges says "he seems like he has a future here," which is not a present here. He's just a redshirt freshman, after all.
Though the short guys are probably going to play outside as much as they do inside I'll cover them in the slot section.
Roy Roundtree is an eventful dude whether he's hand-wavingly wide open for a touchdown or dooming Michigan to turn the ball over by dropping the ball. Thanks to a massive game in the insane triple-OT Illinois thriller he finished as the Big Ten's second-leading receiver.
A large chunk of that is thanks to Denard's legs. There's a certain theme running through many of Roundtree's long receptions: desolation. When Denard catches the safety the resulting throw looks like post-apocalyptic football. Where is everyone? They're dead. Let's run through this tumbleweed-infested secondary.
That did not take a ton of skill on Roundtree's part.
But there is a reason he leapt off the bench during the 2009 Michigan State game and has been the favorite target of whoever's at QB since. For one, he's more slippery than you'd think. Michigan's recruited a horde of 5'9" YAC guys but it's Roundtree who gets targeted on bubbles. It's easy to see why:
|the worst waldo|
|blindingly wide open|
|Indiana oh noes|
|breaks wide open|
|safety just barely gets him|
|fourth down TD|
|gets crushed; hangs on|
|20 against UW|
|guy on his back|
|over the shoulder|
|jukes two different guys|
|smokes him on a juke|
|shakes CB for TD|
Odoms doesn't have much like that on his resume and Gallon is just a rumor. Roundtree's only competition is Hemingway's inexplicable YAC knack.
And his hands are pretty good despite the drops—four in 41 opportunities in the first 11 games last year. He gets targeted a lot. They could be better, sure, but I think everyone remembers them more because instead of converting a first down after Roundtree drops a ball Michigan immediately turned the ball over on three separate occasions. Those tend to burn themselves into your head. Hemingway had the same number of drops in 27 opportunities last year but you only hear about Roundtree's fumblefingers moments. Not that they don't rankle. It's just that I think our subjective memories are not 100% reliable in this matter.
If they move him outside he'll lose his spot as the designated hand-wavingly-open dude jetting past safeties. I think that would be a mistake since he's an easier target to hit than any the other options. When things opened up for the slot last year they often opened so wide that the only things that mattered were 1) how easy is it for Denard to hit him and 2) being faster than a tight end so no one catches him. Roundtree fit on both counts.
Meanwhile, moving outside may make him vulnerable to getting jammed at the line. As a slight guy who hasn't had to deal with that much in his career I can see that going poorly. A corner can get into him—under him—and disrupt his business. He's probably still the second best option out there in those circumstances; he's just not going to be as effective.
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 the most receiving yards on the team.
If there's one thing that is a must-recycle from last year's preview it's this stunning Kelvin Grady wallpaper:
DOWNLOAD NOW INSTALL NOW KEEP FOREVERRRR
|over the shoulder|
|gets nailed but hangs on|
|a bullet he snags|
|spins to catch it|
|lit up and hangs on|
|designated reverse guy|
|an alley outside|
|just outruns dudes|
I have no memory where that came from, unfortunately. I would like to find this person and see if they have excessively dramatic wallpapers for Nate Brink yet. I bet the text reads "on the BRINK of a REVOLUTION."
Anyway: Grady. He moved over from the basketball team and dropped a lot of balls two years ago, whereupon he was dropped from the lineup when Roy Roundtree burst onto the scene. When Odoms moved outside last year he got another shot and did surprisingly well with it. The hands issues disappeared—while he did have one routine drop on nine attempts he was six of six on more difficult stuff—as he became the designated reverse guy. By the end of the year it was a litte disappointing they hadn't used him more.
Entering his final season 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.
It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time. Gallon came to Michigan with a ton of hype and a stunning resemblance to The Wire's Snoop…
Normally this would spell another year on the bench making people wonder what the big deal was all about. Stonum's suspension and the injury curse migrating to Odoms gives him an opening. If you listen to the coaches he seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.
As a result he passed Odoms on the official depth chart, though this preview assumes that's because of injury. Perhaps more interesting is surging ahead of Jackson and Robinson, who are closer to the strapping downfield leapers the pro-style offense generally prefers. Gallon had seemingly fallen behind Jackson in particular late last year.
(Gallon's special teams contributions are covered in a separate section.)
Sophomore Drew Dileo is basically Wes Welker, of course. He had one catch for three yards a year ago and will probably have to wait another year for some of the small guy logjam to clear before he gets significant time. I can't understand why he's not returning punts since that's supposedly what he was recruited to do and Gallon has been maddening, but there are now two coaching staffs who have come to the same conclusion about the depth chart there.
Finally, Terrance Robinson's still around. He's been conspicuously absent from both press conference chatter and the depth chart. He's been passed by younger guys in Dileo, Gallon, and Jackson. He's probably not going to see time. Here's this catch he had last year, though.
Kevin Koger can't go twenty minutes without someone asking him if he's excited for an increased role in the offense as if he or Martell Webb weren't on the field for 80% of Michigan's snaps last year. The conventional wisdom holds that blocking ain't playin', apparently.
Koger did a lot of that last year and was effective but not stellar. Webb was clearly a superior blocker and was the preferred choice when Michigan got close to the goal line and things got hairy. While Koger was preferred in the passing game, it wasn't by much. His 14 catches were nine more than Webb's five.
Is that going to change this year? If they run the I-form a lot, maybe. That takes the slot off the field and makes the tight end the natural target in the seam areas that are so deliciously open because of Denard's running. I'm not sure how you get opponents to vacate those when you're under center (fake QB draws?), but if anyone can do it it's Denard. When Michigan's in the shotgun he'll have competition from Roundtree, et al., in those zones and it's clear Denard's comfort level is higher with 'Tree.
Koger's lack of participation in the passing game may be his own doing. Two years ago he started the season by making a series of ridiculous catches, then blew all that goodwill and more by catching just 7 of 11 routine opportunities. He was 9/9 last year on those, which helps but still gets him to 16 of 20 all-time— still worse than anyone on the team last year. If he's dropping stuff in practice the lack of attention is not related to the spread. I know there was that one year that Tim Massaqoui broke his hand and Mike DeBord kept throwing to him, but I choose to believe that little wrinkle was unique to The Avalanche.
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.
Moore; weird guy with weird hat and Watson
There are a couple scholarship options behind Koger but they're not particularly encouraging. Despite being a big time recruit, redshirt junior Brandon Moore has hardly been seen on the field outside of baby seal clubbings. Even if he did have a couple of quality options ahead of him on the depth chart, the third tight end should see snaps here and there if he's quality.
More ominous yet has been the total lack of buzz surrounding him in fall. Borges's only mention of the guys behind Koger was when he was directly asked about TEs other than the starter. The result:
I think Brandon Moore has done a nice job. He is still climbing if you know what I mean. He is getting better every single day and Steve Watson is a solid player. I think we’re pretty deep there. I think we’re pretty deep. Because Kog got hurt in the spring, those other guys got a lot of reps.
That seems to be something to file under coachspeak. We'll see; given Moore's physical talents he could surprise.
And then there's Steve Watson, who came in as a tight end, got moved to DE, linebacker, TE again, and then started playing FB—he appears on both depth charts. I imagine he'll get some time near the goal line as a threat out of the backfield and out of necessity when Borges feels the need for a big set. At this point it's hard to think he'll do much with it.
Ricardo Miller's the lone other TE on the roster. After moving from WR he's up to 234 pounds, which is far too little to see the field unless the roof caves in.
|Darryl Stonum||Jr.||Martavious Odoms||Jr.||Roy Roundtree||So.*||Kevin Koger||Jr.|
|Junior Hemingway||Jr.*||Je'Ron Stokes||So.||Kelvin Grady||Jr.*||Martell Webb||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||Fr.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.||Terrance Robinson||So.*||Brandon Moore||So.*|
The situation here is similar to tailback, where Michigan doesn't exactly have a proven star but they do have a ton of options. Outside, Darryl Stonum could blow up, Junior Hemingway could stay healthy, and Martavious Odoms could be a quick blockin' bugger that springs other guys to big gains. In the slot, Roy Roundtree will act as team safety blanket and any of the three guys behind him could provide the woop-gone YAC Darius Reynaud gave West Virginia. At tight end, if Kevin Koger can catch the easy ones he'll be a lethal complement to the zone read.
The bottom here isn't bad, as it consists of a ton of throws to Roundtree and decent contributions all around. The top is enticing, with silly yards per catch possible on the outside and chain-moving consistency on the inside.
Greg Mathews has graduated, a couple kids left the program over the past couple years, and Junior Hemingway is destined to be hit by a meteor in week three, so Michigan's getting creative at outside receiver by moving slot-sized slot Martavious Odoms outside. Despite Odoms' diminutive stature, this makes sense given the situation. Below you can see Odoms doing some catching and all that, but you can also see him chop much bigger guys to the ground time and again. When my Florida recruiting source said Odoms was a "tough SOB" he was not kidding:
|WILL HEADBUTT YOU|
|a precious thing forever|
|fantastic block on the nickelback|
|NOT BREASTON BUT WHO IS|
|squeezes up the sideline|
|avoids the tackle|
|digs this out w/ guy on his back|
|lays it in there|
|lays it in beautifully|
|Odoms reels it in|
Last year everyone was down on Odoms despite his productive freshman year (he was Michigan's leading receiver) because of a series of fumbles late, when it was cold and he was wondering how many limbs he had because he certainly couldn't feel more than two. There was a pretty terrible diary around these parts that met with a strong response. People got strained. Futures were question. It was tense.
For my part, I was "skeptical any slot would beat him out" and "bet on a lot of hurried backtracking" after the year; one half out of two ain't bad. Odoms didn't exactly get beat out but no one's wresting Roy Roundtree's job from him after he blew up in the last third of the year, and while people claiming Odoms sucks are thin on the ground these days any backtracking was steady, possibly even languorous. Fumbles were reduced but not erased as Odoms lost his punt return job to Junior Hemingway. He faded into Bolivian at the end of the year.
So he's at a crossroads. The question is how effective will Odoms be on the outside. No one really knows since all we have to go on are some vanilla scrimmages from spring and fall during which deep passes were anomalies. Things we do know:
- Odoms was 16/17 on easy catches last year (presumably these were a lot of bubble screens), 4/6 on moderately tough ones, and 1/3 on very tough ones.
- He was a receiver for five(!) years at Pahokee after signing up in eighth grade and has played inside and out since.
- He is really short.
We don't have a lot of information about his routes, but he did smoke Indiana safety Nick Polk on that game-winning touchdown. Limited touches after were probably not his fault. He certainly had decent enough hands, though a double-clutch here and there led to frustrating incompletions on the wheel routes he ran frequently.
By moving outside, Odoms has ceded most of the screens to Kelvin Grady and Roy Roundtree and will see his per-game production drop. He'll still be involved, though how much depends more on Roundtree, Stonum, the tight ends, and the tailbacks, all of whom seem to offer either more big-play ability or reliability than a 5'8" outside receiver. Odoms is likely to finish in the middle of the Michigan receiver pack with between 20 and 30 catches.
|in between levels in the zone|
|bursts open 20 yards downfield|
|Mike Floyd catches this, right?|
Darryl Stonum has been something of a disappointment his first couple years. Last year the conversation in re: Stonum was largely about pages and the benefits of getting on the same one with the coaches. When it wasn't, it was about dropped balls. When the season rolled around Stonum started every game but came up with such a paucity of highlights that I've got more on Patrick Omameh, an offensive lineman who played in three games, than him. HIs stats boggle the mind: 13 catches for 199 yards, one fewer catch than he managed as a freshman. End of stats.
As a result, Stonum came up for repeated psychoanalysis in UFR, most of it focusing on his inability to adjust to balls thrown downfield. Against Eastern this happened:
This occasioned a long section about how Forcier left this short but this was the week after ND, when 1) Stonum turned a very makeable deep catch into something almost impossible by turning inside when he had five yards of room to the sideline and 2) Mike Floyd turned Michigan cornerbacks into roadkill. The resulting consternation:
I'm grabbing this just so people can maybe talk about Stonum's adjustment to this. I think it's poor. He misjudges the ball and doesn't slow up enough and turn, which would probably have led to the DB running him over and a PI call. Mike Floyd [or Braylon Edwards] catches this, right?
This persisted; after the Wisconsin game I launched the "same old complaint" when Stonum failed to adjust to a poorly-thrown deep ball and allowed it to get intercepted when he really should have been able to at least bat it down.
Receivers often take time to break out, but the really amazing ones often get there their sophomore years (Braylon, Manningham, and Howard all blew up in year two), so expectations were busily being scaled back when… my gawd, that's Rick Vaughn's music!
Yes, for the second consecutive year Michigan has discovered one of their wideout needs glasses. You'd think that after the coaches discovered one of their wideouts was secretly blind as a bat they would have declared mandatory eye exams for all, but they didn't, so the above clips happened and everyone was very sad. Now? Well, Stonum's reportedly had an outstanding fall camp:
"This is the most consistent we've had Darryl on a day-to-day basis. He's going to be a big factor for us. He's a very talented guy that has a renewed sense of hunger."
As his recruiting profile suggested and kick returns showed, he has electric speed. The coaches seem to be on the same page with him. The quarterbacks are not going to be freshmen. He can now see the damn ball. He could totally blow up, or he could rack up 20 catches and have a version of that year Steve Breaston had after Edwards graduated where it became clear to all that he just didn't have it downfield. I have no idea what it will be, which makes Stonum the offense's #1 X factor going into the season. He can swing games by himself if he lives up to the chatter. A real live deep threat in an offense helmed by Denard Robinson can be preposterous: Chris Henry averaged 25 yards a catch(!!!) his freshman year at West Virginia.
That's Stonum's best case: not that many catches, but a lot of long ones and some game-swinging touchdowns. The worst case is more of the same.
|other end of Forcier improv|
|one little shimmy and is then by|
|caught from behind on bomb|
|big punt return.|
|leaping catch in traffic|
Odoms's move outside pushes Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God's favorite target to the bench, at least nominally. After Junior Hemingway missed spring ball to go along with missing most of 2008 and spending 2009 at half-speed with an array of Minor-like injuries that were just tolerable enough for him to play, it seems like the Michigan coaches finally decided they couldn't rely on him to be around long term and placed him on the bench. Since receiver's a spot at which rotation is incessant he'll get his share of time, leaving the move mostly symbolic, but it is a symbol.
Surprisingly for a guy who barely outpaced Stonum last year with 16 catches, he's got a substantial highlight reel you can see at right. He was also named "first among equals" after the Western game. It's mostly deep stuff: burning Western Michigan, exploiting Illinois over-reacting to a play, burning Illinois and then getting caught from behind, etc. As recruit his rep was an explosive leaper who lacked top-end speed—I compared him to Marquise Walker—and that has been borne out. It's tough to tell if his meh career to date is underperformance or just three years of terrible luck. If he can stay on the field he should be a solid, useful addition to the receiving corps. He's 225 pounds, which makes him a slant threat not duplicated elsewhere on the roster, and last year he was 10/10 on easy catches and 2/3 on moderate ones. His hands are good.
He should have a role and improve on his 16 catches of a year ago, although possibly not by much.
The single other outside wide receiver with any experience is sophomore Je'Ron Stokes, a six-foot guy with excellent athleticism who could have played in the slot if that wasn't already being fought over by four or five guys. Stokes was just outside of top 100 lists as a recruit. Michigan snatched him away from Tennessee after their coach implosion. The takeaway from the recruiting profile:
An electrifying game breaker with excellent speed, Stokes could use more size on his current 6’1” and 180 pound frame. He has great hands, knows how to get open, makes a lot of acrobatic catches and is terrific after the catch.
He's got a bit more size now, checking in at 193 at last report. He was another guy who blew his redshirt last year; his single highlight last year was digging out a low ball dubbed CONESTRAVAGANZA I in the late stages of the Baby Seal U game. He was injured in the spring and only came on late, but he was also pretty much absent from the fall scrimmage; another year mostly on the bench seems likely.
The third string is all freshmen. The only one to appear on the official fall depth chart was Jeremy Jackson (profile), the "lumbering" son of running backs coach Fred Jackson. Lumbering he may be but he's also the son of a coach and has the route running skills and hands you'd expect from such a gritty gritterson of a player. He'll play, likely sparingly. That should mean that classmates Ricardo Miller (profile) and Jerald Robinson (profile) are headed for redshirts.
Roy Roundtree's second catch as a Michigan Wolverine was a game-tying touchdown in the pouring rain against Michigan State. This was a good omen. Over the next few games his playing time increased, though his catches remained infrequent because he was seemingly targeted only when it was a terrible idea to do so. Then Odoms got injured. Roundtree announced his presence with that 77-yard catch-and-run against Illinois about which we will speak no more, then showed Purdue the true power of snake oil:
A good day from the receivers, and by "receivers" we mean "Roy Roundtree." The one drop didn't hurt much since it was on a screen that was going to get blown up anyway. Minor could have helped out by pulling in a low throw by Forcier, too. Other than that: Roundtree, Roundtree, Roundtree. The 1 he pulled in prevented an interception on Michigan's first drive of the day, converted a first down, and lead to a touchdown.
Plus he did this:
Martavious Odoms just saw his job come under howitzer fire. Odoms has been valuable, too, so he won't just go away, but Kelvin Grady's time just got eaten up and I think Roundtree is the starter even when Odoms is healthy. This might also presage some dual-slot formations that have been absent so far in Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan. Kid's pretty good, and quicker than you'd think given the Hawthorne incident last week.
|catching in the rain|
|trucks a safety|
|great, great block|
|inverting an interception|
|20-yard dart downfield|
|pitch and catch|
|dig it out, dig it out|
Did I mention that Roundtree was last year's Rick Vaughn? All hail occasionally checking your receivers' vision. Someone check Denard Robinson right freakin' now.
Roundtree continued his rampage over the last two weeks of the season against Wisconsin and Ohio State, yielding this season breakdown:
- First eight games: two catches, 44 yards.
- Last four games: 30 catches, 390 yards.
Project the last four games over the course of a season and you get 90 catches, 1200 yards, and a season second only to Braylon Edwards's 2004 campaign in the annals of Michigan lore. So… yeah. That's probably not going to happen. But it would be pretty cool i it did, huh? More realistically, Roundtree should double his output from last year, ending up Michigan's leading receiver with 700-800 yards.
For the record, last year Roundtree was 16/16 on easy catches, 4/8 on moderately difficult ones, and brought in his only super-tough attempt of the year by wresting away a sure interception from a Purdue linebacker. He's not that big. He's pretty fast but not that fast. He's not that shifty after the catch. But he's open and he's where he's supposed to be, which is right in front of the quarterback, and he'll catch the ball. So they throw it, and he catches it, and yeah he's basically the apotheosis of the Purdue receiver.
EXCESSIVELY DRAMATIC KELVIN GRADY WALLPAPER FTW
Basketball refugee Kelvin Grady's found himself in an impressive position on the depth chart by warranting an OR with Roundtree. This represents progress; Grady's 2009 was cut short by frequent dropped balls. By Iowa one was enough to yank him or the game. Late in the year UFR noted that nine of the twelve flat drops on the year had been turned in by the tight ends and Grady. After the Illinois game, Roundtree was contrasted with Grady because when Roundtree "is thrown a ball that hits him in the hands it does not fall to the ground." You get the idea: hands not so good.
That's perhaps understandable after Grady thought he'd left football behind for good when he signed up to play point guard for Tommy Amaker. After two years on the basketball team he found himself behind walk-on, read the writing on the wall, and picked up the cleats again. The rust was evident.
But Grady just keeps making plays in practice. That was the reason he was given the opportunity to drop those balls early in the year even with Odoms in front of him and Roundtree nipping at his heels, and the reason he's listed as a co-starter on the depth chart despite Roundtree's stunning end of year breakout. He featured in more "Countdown to Kickoff" highlights than any other non-quarterback; in the fall scrimmage he certainly looked like a top-level option, once taking a reverse from Robinson to score on a one-play, 30-yard drive. A review of his high school highlights reveals the sort of explosive agility that Michigan's other slots seem to lack:
As a bonus, since he was a high school running back he'll be better suited to those spread 'n' shred plays where a slot receiver motions into the backfield to become a second running back. It's hard to imagine Roy Roundtree doing that, so adding Grady to the rotation adds pages to the playbook. He'll see time, and could even supplant Roundtree as the preferred destination for quick screens… if the hands come around.
The backup story remains the same, except older. Terrence Robinson's first two seasons at Michigan have resulted in an injury redshirt and one catch for 13 yards against Baby Seal U. He was fairly prominent in spring and fall, though not nearly as much as Grady was, and is in competition for the punt return job. His problem has always been hands—he was mostly a QB/RB in high school—and that's prevented him from seeing the field. With two guys in front of him it seems like it will be another season spent watching. He'll probably get some real playing time when Grady is tired and Michigan is looking for their slot to be one of those RB/WR flex guys in the mold of Dorrell Jalloh.
Freshman Jeremy Gallon (profile) took a redshirt last year after arriving late because of some academic issues. He should find the field some this year but reports from practice suggest that Gallon did not put in the same sort work some of the other wideouts did and that this will hamper his playing time. Also an issue is a foot issue that isn't severe enough to keep him out of practice but does warrant walking around campus in a boot.
Gallon was a (figuratively) big recruit from a couple years ago, a one-time member of the Rivals 100 and solid performer at the Army Bowl who is by far the most guru-approved of any Michigan slot receiver. With two older and more established options in front of him, his best chance for playing time will be taking return duties away from Odoms.
Also, here is your annual reminder that he is a dead ringer for Snoop from The Wire:
Finally, freshman Drew Dileo (profile) looked pretty smooth this fall but is a very tiny true freshman. If he finds a role this fall it will be on punt returns.
Kevin Koger started the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by reeling in 3/4 passes rated 2 (difficult but makeable) and 3/4 rated 1 (great googly moogly). He then finished the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by dropping every routine ball that came his way. The result was schizophrenic: by the end of the year Koger was 7/10 on tough catches… and 7/11 on easy ones. Matters came to a head against Penn State:
Koger's great start came to a clunky halt with an 0/3 day, and no one really helped out except for the running backs. Forcier's day wasn't good, but it wasn't as bad as the numbers suggest.
He added another "bad drop" against Illinois. That and backup Martell Webb's similarly frustrating hands is part of the reason Roy Roundtree blew up in the last three games.
Koger did not exactly bounce back from this over the offseason, dropping a couple passes in the fall scrimmage and being conspicuously absent from offseason chatter both above- and underground. With depth at slot looking healthy, the entire tight end position could see itself minimized if they don't perform.
There's a good chance they will, though, with all three players returning. Koger himself is entering his true junior season; as a highly sought recruit with a year and a half of starting experience under his belt he should improve considerably. The downers from last season do consist of four dropped passes, after all. Two fewer and everyone's talking about how it will be pick your poison underneath. Small sample size disclaimers apply. When you look at the stuff at right it's hard to envision a guy with that much talent finding himself minimized, especially when Denard-related freakouts see him hand-wavingly wide open frequently.
|Webb's great block|
|picks the playside DT up|
|crushing downfield block|
|Kicks out LB|
|in a sea of green wondering where everyone else is.|
Senior Martell Webb has seen the most playing time to date. He was an infrequent target a year ago. The quarterbacks threw him six passes, one of which was uncatchable and the rest routine. He was only 3/5 on those routine balls, possibly explaining why he wasn't targeted on them more often. He put on 12 pounds from last fall to spring, then took a couple off during the summer and is now a solid 255.
Koger's blocking has been iffy, and while Webb didn't stick out in my memory as a crusher all but one of the clips at left are positive run blocks: he's likely to be the choice when Michigan goes to its I package. Unless he has an epiphany about having the ball in his hands (and Koger doesn't) his receiving stats are going to look a lot like they did last year. Throwing it to him is plan G when you've got three receivers, guys like Vincent Smith coming out of the backfield, and a considerably more dynamic starter at tight end. Webb's a fullback, basically.
The third and final scholarship tight end on the roster is redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore. He was a highly touted recruit with loads of offers when he committed to Michigan early in the hybrid Carr/Rodriguez class, but then dropped off with an indifferent senior year. Since his arrival he's been locked behind Koger and Webb—the only clip I have of him is a catch against Baby Seal U. Without any buzz otherwise, that will likely continue this year.
A disclaimer on the "You May Remember Me From Such Players As": YMRMFSPA is supposed to be a rough estimate of what kind of player the recruit could turn into if he pans out. It is not a projection. The players listed tend to be very good because no one knows what kind of player Doug Dutch is; we just know he can't get on the field. I am not saying that I expect Martavious Odoms to be Devin Hester, the best return man in the history of the NFL. I'm saying that Odoms is sort of like Devin Hester and if we roll a second critical hit on our critical hit roll he might be half as good.
End disclaimer. On with shew.
|Trotwood, Ohio - 6'6" 245|
|Scout||3*, #43 TE|
|Rivals||4*, #8 TE, #187 overall|
|ESPN||81, #4 TE, #115 overall|
|Others||#91 to Lemming|
|Other Suitors||Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Florida, Miami|
|Rapid Fire Commitment Party Hats|
|Notes||Teammate of Roundtree and Shaw|
Brandon Moore is a tough recruit to figure out. The good: He started popping up on recruiting sites after his sophomore year. As a 6'6" 200-ish pound freshman he ran a 4.61 at Ohio State's summer camp. Georgia and a few others offered him before his junior year even began, and the initial wave was followed up with offers from a who's who of college powers including LSU, Georgia, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Florida, and others.
By the time Moore short-circuited what looked to be a thunderous nationwide recruiting battle by committing to Michigan in mid-May he had his choice of virtually any school in the country except Ohio State. Scout ranked him the #98 prospect in the country; Rivals placed him #53 in their initial Rivals 100 for 2008.
Pro scout Randy Rogers on Moore:
Very impressive on tape. Long limbed, can really create space when he blocks. Has the frame to really fill out. Runs really well. His highlights have a heavy dose of "hitch screens", where you can really see him run after the catch. Has the potential for big "YAC yardage" (yards after catch). Big, soft hands. Is the type of player where you want him to get the ball early and often, because he can create big plays.
His junior year highlight reel agrees:
Then his senior season started and the slide began. Bob Lichtenfels, effusive about virtually everyone else in the Trotwood-Highlands game at the Kirk Herbstreit Classic this fall, said Moore was "disappointing" and "doesn't seem to like blocking very much." His stats for the year were underwhelming to say the least: eight catches. By the end of the recruiting cycle, Moore had dropped 100-some slots in Rivals' estimation and even further in Scout's, which now has him the #43 tight end, five spots lower than some kid going to SMU.
You take high school statistics for wide receivers seriously at your peril, and there are mitigating factors here for Moore: the presence of fellow D-I recruits Roy Roundtree and Michael Shaw absorbed a lot of touches. QB Dominick Britt ended up at a I-AA school and often decided to scramble when his first read -- usually Roundtree, according to his numbers -- was covered. But as a high-profile recruit at a heavily scouted program, the guru's reliability here is good. The picture painted is of a player with an enormous amount of physical ability that disappointed as a senior. There may be work ethic or motor issues that need hammering out --Moore doesn't exactly remind you of hulk-beast Mike Martin when his shirt comes off (eee!). Scout sees only the issues; Lemming only sees the potential, and Rivals a mix of the two. ESPN rated him last summer and then forgot about him.
You may note that Mario Urrutia, the "You May Remember Me From Such Players As" above, is not actually a tight end. Rather, he was Louisville's enormous, slightly ponderous jump ball threat the past few years. Moore will end up much bigger than Urrutia, but his film from Scouting Ohio reminds me of the ex-Cardinal. Trotwood often lined Moore up as receiver and, amazingly, tossed him WR screens. When they went deep he can go up and rip the ball away from smaller defenders.
If Moore isn't much of an inline blocker he could still be a hell of a weapon in the spread as a wideout, where his blocking would likely be crushing against defensive backs.
Guru Reliability: High, though the wild variance in estimated ability is offputting.
General Excitement Level: High, with caveats. Moore is a boom-or-bust guy with much potential but a long way to go.
Projection: Great success, great failure, or somewhere in between. Specific cat is specific.
|Toledo, Ohio - 6'4" 225|
|Scout||4*, #6 TE, #115 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #4 TE, #145 overall|
|ESPN||73, #113 DE|
|Other Suitors||Ohio State|
|YMRMFSPA||Carson Butler minus the attitude|
|Hurray For Being Wrong|
|Notes||Is not named "Kroger," message board doofi.|
One of two recruits Michigan really went head-to-head for against Ohio St ate this year, Kevin Koger is the one who picked the light side. (Defensive tackle Garrett Goebel is the darksider with Pryor still pending, obviously.) His father's lifelong Michigan fandom helped, as did Ohio State's attitude towards tight ends, which is roughly "block, son, and maybe drop a touchdown against Texas and get death threats."
Koger was a nonentity when he popped up on Michigan's radar. IIRC, both recruting services had him an uninspiring three-star recruit, though they quickly changed their tune once it became clear Koger was wanted badly by the two biggest programs in the Midwest. Koger's now just outside the top 100 on both major sites. ESPN lags, rating Koger exclusively as a DE and poorly at that. It's tough to give them any credence when they give the equivalent of a low three-star rating to a guy both M and OSU chased hard and ended up giving an early offer.
Koger's Scouting Ohio film reveals a very large man who can run very fast. You might be confused by a punt return midway through. Koger isn't the returner:
That's a lot of impressive athleticism split across two positions. It must be said: Koger is widely regarded a prospect of equal or greater merit at defensive end, and with Nick Perry's escape to Southern Cal Michigan finds themselves with one defensive end recruit across two classes. Though it's possible one of the linebackers -- most likely Marcus Witherspoon -- could end up with his hand down, Michigan is critically short there.
Meanwhile, Michigan has Martell Webb, Steve Watson, and Moore along with Koger for a single starting spot in the spread offense. This is not an efficient allocation of talent, and someone will end up moving.
At first it will not be Koger. A reader with a connection to the Toledo Whitmer program emailed a short while ago:
Last week Carl Koger(dad) had RRod at the Koger house for several hours visiting to secure Kevin. They had a great visit along with the O coordinator and yes they plan on using Kevin on offense.
So... not yet.
Guru Reliability: High, with the obvious exception of ESPN.
General Excitement Level: High.
Projection: I think the need at DE will eventually force a move, but not this year. He's a high-caliber athlete, but might need a while to learn his position.