"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
The last time Michigan's quarterback situation appeared so dire it was 1995, Lloyd Carr's first year, and the quarterbacks were true freshman Scott Dreisbach and walk-on Brian Griese. Michigan was playing in the "Kickoff Classic" that year against Virginia. Michigan Stadium baked, Dreisbach started, and the team sucked. Down 17-0 at the half, Michigan looked lifeless.
One of the weirdly vivid memories of my life is listening to an affable Virginia fan tell us Michigan was not going to win the game if they kept letting that freshman throw the ball. We nodded in rueful agreement.
He would turn out to be wrong by one Mercury Hayes toe. Dreisbach finished with 374 yards on 52 attempts,* Michigan won, and all that quarterback stuff was quickly forgotten until the next week and the week after and especially when Dreisbach got injured and Brian Griese was called forth from obscurity and inserted into the starting lineup. This was good in the long term. In the short term, it was brutal:
Michigan quarterbacks combined for 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, completed about 53% of their passes, and struggled to crack seven yards per attempt with an All-Star cast of future NFL receivers: Amani Toomer, Jay Reimersma, Mercury Hayes.
So none of that was particularly good but the team didn’t exactly implode. Tim Biakabutuka ran and ran and ran and then ran some more in a 31-23 win over Ohio State and Michigan went 9-4. Not a nuclear waste site by any stretch of the imagination. So… there’s a chance.
This year, your nominal starter is the walk-on and the freshmen appear set to wait in line. Nick Sheridan (left) is the walk-on. He’s the son of Bill Sheridan, currently the linebackers coach for the Giants and for three years a defensive position coach under Lloyd Carr. He was honorable mention all conference in high school. He’s about six foot, maybe six one, supposedly more mobile than the competition but more limited in terms of arm strength. And that’s all anyone knows about him.
What limited intelligence we have from practice reports indicates Sheridan is a typical Northwestern quarterback, noodle-armed but bright and mobile-ish. He’s been more consistent than the competition, throws well on the run, and contrary to rumor can heave the ball farther than five yards, as this video of the “Beanie Bowl” indicates. He could be a non-liability who successfully keeps the heat off the other skill position players, and how’s that for Backhanded Compliment Of The Year?
Sheridan’s main competitor is redshirt freshman Steven Threet (right), who enrolled early at Georgia Tech only to bolt for Michigan when Jason Forcier saw the writing on the wall and transferred. In January the writing reformed itself to read “please come back Jason,” but what can you do? Hypothetical newspaper-bearing time travel guy should stop screwing with Michigan fans and tell Forcier to stick it out.
Threet is a classic dropback artillery piece in the Navarre/Mallett/Grbac mold, 6’5” and ponderous. He was a well-respected recruit, getting four stars from the gurus and landing in the top ten pro-style quarterbacks, but reports from practice have him tentative, erratic, and slow both mentally and physically. In the winter he was lauded as an emerging leader who the team actually liked, unlike that Mallett guy; this has not translated to the field. Sheridan’s likely to struggle at some point and Rodriguez keeps saying he wants “two guys he can win with,” so Threet will see the field at some point. He’s reputed to have a bigger arm and more big-play potential… for both teams.
Freshman Justin Feagin talks a great game. He’s got the meaningless puff quote down cold. See this on Pryor:
"What if he does go to Michigan? Shame on me if I sit back and think he's better than me. If he wants to play quarterback, we'll have to fight each other for the job. If I win the job, then I'll know I beat out the No. 1 quarterback in the nation."
He’s also a heck of an athlete, the small-school player of the year in Florida last year and third in their Mr. Football voting. LSU and Miami offered him as a WR/DB.
Unfortunately, he does not appear to be much of a quarterback at this point. Rodriguez claimed Feagin would “have to make an impression in the first two weeks” if he was going to be a serious candidate for playing time; a recent curtailment of his snaps indicates this impression has not been made. A week or so ago, Rodriguez made it clear he was not an option early: “He's not close to being ready.”
I do have some inside baseball indicating that the coaching staff expects to work him in at some point during the season just to see what he can do; the most likely outcome is a few drives here and there that end poorly and a position swap once Beaver and Newsome hit campus in January.
If David Cone sees the field something has gone very wrong.
Running Back & Fullback
|Brandon Minor||Jr.||Mark Moundros||Jr.*|
|Carlos Brown||Jr.||Vince Helmuth||So.|
|Sam McGuffie||Fr.||Kevin Grady||Jr.*|
Like quarterback, Michigan loses a four-year starter and program icon here. Unlike quarterback, there are six options of at least moderate viability and chances are some player or combination of players emerges into a strong Big Ten starter. Four players were listed as co-starters on the first depth chart; they’re discussed here.
|State's too easy|
|Zone during The Horror|
|ND’s too easy|
|MN is too easy|
Brandon Minor is your nominal starter. After a few exciting glimpses his freshman year, Minor proved to be just okay in the more extended audition granted by Hart's ankle problems. Minor was healthy during the spring while Brown was not and is reputed by all to be a demonic worker, so he is the first back in practice. For whatever reason, though, I remain skeptical of his ability. I went back and scoured the UFRs, finding these comments:
Minor is an obvious step down [from Mike Hart].
Brandon Minor missed an obvious read on one of the carries I charted above; I think the running back job is going to be wide open next year. Minor runs really upright and seems perpetually on the verge of getting his clock cleaned; he also clearly lacks Hart's ability to pick through traffic. The spin move on Zbikowski was sweet, though.
Both Brown and Minor showed some indication they will be decent to good Big Ten runners next year.
Minor, I thought, was the better of the backs, consistently running with power and picking up YAC.
That's not entirely helpful when I'm trying to make the case for someone else to start.
Numbers might be: he averaged 4.3 yards a carry, eight tenths of a yard off both Hart and Carlos Brown's 5.1. Even if you hack Brown's 85 yard touchdown against Minnesota down to Minor's long of 46 yards (also picked up against Minnesota), Brown holds a significant edge in YPC.
Minor runs too upright and stiff for my tastes. He's clearly slower than Brown and the fleet freshmen, has little wiggle, and tends to plow over and through defenders instead of trying to avoid them. Sometimes this ends with Minor spectacularly trucking someone; sometimes it ends with Minor taking a wicked shot from a headhunting linebacker or safety.
In the best case, Barwis gives Minor the half-step he needs to get the corner and he’s a poor man’s version of Darren McFadden. In the worst case he’s David Underwood. He must be physically dominant to be effective because he's not going to make people miss much and he doesn't have Hart's remarkable balance. IMO, he gets his fair share of carries throughout the year but is clearly less effective than at least one other tailback and possibly two.
|Loping vs Purdue|
|Tripping over Leman|
|Nice first down|
Carlos Brown has a knack for picking up annoying hand injuries. Last year Brown busted his hand in fall practice and missed the early portion of the season; in spring he cut or broke his finger or something in a “freak weightlifting accident.” I suspect Barwis bit it off and spent the summer growing a replacement in a jar.
He was also the more impressive non-Hart tailback in 2007, deploying his speed to good effect and, as noted, coming out of last season with a Hart-matching 5.1 YPC thanks to the exceptional generosity of Minnesota’s defense.
After his first extended action I summarized him like so:
He seems like the exact opposite of Hart: a guy with questionable vision and little in the way of moves who has the speed to jet into the endzone if you give him a crease (and he sees it). The questionable vision could be due to inexperience -- he spent the spring at defensive back, then broke his hand -- and might develop in the future; Hart-like moves are not likely to. His two slashing touchdown runs were encouraging and he seems much less likely to get decapitated by a charging safety than Minor; he'll have a shot at the job next year. We're likely to see a four- or even five-headed rotation early.
Brown's been moonlighting at quarterback in what must feel like a reprise of his high school career, when he was a quarterback in name only tasked with using his extraordinary athleticism to take Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws further than they had any right to go. If Brown does take live snaps at QB, it will be part of a Wildcat (or wild mustelidae) package; he's little threat to throw the ball except as a diversion.
Brown was a big recruit and has the sort of outside speed that Steve Slaton did; I think he’ll end up with the slight edge.
Sam McGuffie needs no introduction. Mixtape ho:
He flips over people for fun. People leap over him for fun. When he leaps over people for fun and there is no fun because people tackle him they post it on Youtube like it’s a big deal. He is an internet phenomenon. If you try to bring any of these things up to him he will scowl at you. His teammates call him “Vanilla Ice,” which no doubt also draws scowls.
I’m on record expecting McGuffie to kick ass:
I'm not one of those who scoffs at recruiting rankings, but their [Rivals’] continued skepticism about McGuffie is puzzling. He has the offers (Michigan, Florida, USC amongst a host of others), the stats at perhaps the highest level of competition available in high school football, and reel after reel of jaw-dropping highlights. He has the fourth-highest SPARQ rating in the history of whatever the hell a SPARQ rating is because he showed up at a combine before his junior year of high school and ripped off a 4.32 40, a 3.83 shuttle -- I'm not exactly sure if my calculations are correct, but I believe this means he finished the shuttle before he started it -- and a 41' vertical leap.
He's a little small, and his his disappointing senior season was injury-wracked to the point where his nationally televised showcase game saw him spinning 180 degrees before contacting tacklers and driving meekly at the feet of oncoming blitzers, but even the skeptical Rivals named him last year's best running back in space and publicly wondered why he was heading for Michigan instead of a school that would spread him all over the field like Wes Welker—white guy, natch—and take advantage of his crazy speed and cutting ability.
Uh, check. He’s nominally first on the depth chart already, and will see time all over the field. It begins.
A second freshman, Ohioan Michael Shaw (video), was listed as a wide receiver on the fall roster but features as a tailback on the depth chart. He was a running back in high school; he figures to spend quite a bit of time motioning to and from the slot.
The hype is building on Shaw because he chose the right time to juke a couple defenders and plow slot-sized freshman cornerback Boubacar Cissoko. The media was there doling out oohs and aahs as appropriate and a practice legend is born.
There’s more to Shaw than proficiency in the “Michigan drill,” though. He hovered just outside the recruiting sites’ top 100 lists and spent the spring tearing up the track until he was banned for transfer-related shenanigans. He is fast. And he is fast. And he is fast. At the Penn Relays, Shaw won the 200 meters and anchored his team’s winning 4x100 and 4x200 relays, causing his coach to break down in tears:
“I’ve been coaching since the ‘60’s,” Coach Waggoner said of his 46.4 anchor, Mike Shaw, “and I’ve coached a lot of guys, but he’s one of the best.”
He is fast.
He is also other things. McGuffie's not the only guy drawing superlative praise from Fred Jackson. Jackson on the nagging injuries picked up by the starters:
"Those two guys right there, I PROMISE you that you stay nicked up too long, it's going to hurt you tremendously,'' Jackson said.
Because Shaw and McGuffie can play right now, he said.
Shaw and McGuffie are two of the most exciting freshmen he has ever coached at Michigan, he continued.
They're Justin Fargas fast, but can cut better.
Fargas-who-can-cut is this program’s Loch Ness monster.
Avery Horn is fast as hell but redshirted last year because he wasn't ready to play in college. He ripped off a couple impressive runs in what passed for the spring game but has received little mention in the fall and seems far down the depth chart. Michigan picked freshman Mike Cox over top-100 instate back Jonas Gray when both attended the Michigan camp; he was a middling recruit with offers from Maryland and BC and will probably redshirt.
Both players who saw time return, but the position has changed significantly. Under Lloyd Carr the fullback was a thick-necked ogre tasked with smashing his face into linebackers. He was the target of maybe three or four passes a year and never, ever got to take a handoff (no, BJ Askew doesn’t count).
At West Virginia, Rodriguez deployed a thick-necked ogre who ripped off a 50-some yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Owen Schmitt was the hammer on option dives and an important outlet in the passing game; he touched the ball 59 times last year. Michigan fullbacks, as a unit, had three catches for eleven yards, all of them no doubt on third and long. This is why Rodriguez doesn’t actually have a “fullback.” Rather, he’s got an “MX” back, and he’s got to block and catch and run.
This is a projection based on some practice reports and common sense, but once Kevin Grady manages to process the copious amounts of alcohol no doubt still flowing through his veins, he might be the guy here. Grady doesn’t really fit in with the new offense except as a downhill runner and blocker and now that the "fullback" is a guy who is actually an important cog in the offense he might be amenable to a move, especially if/when it becomes clear that players quicker than he have a death grip on all the tailback carries.
Mark Moundros and Vince Helmuth are the more traditional options. You can find reasons either has an advantage over the other: Moundros is older and was the starter last year; Helmuth was more highly rated, should improve more quickly, and operated as a battering ram tailback at Saline High. I lean towards Helmuth.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
|Greg Mathews||Jr.||Toney Clemons||So.||Martavious Odoms||Fr.||Carson Butler||Jr.*|
|Junior Hemingway||So.||Darryl Stonum||Fr.||Terrence Robinson||Fr.||Mike Massey||Sr.*|
|James Rogers||So.||LaTerryal Savoy||Jr.*||Mike Shaw||Fr.||Kevin Koger||Fr.|
Despite the early departures of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington to the NFL, Michigan has stockpiled a considerable amount of talent at wide receiver and tight end and the dropoff shouldn’t be severe. There will be a dropoff, though, as no one on the roster save maybe Darryl Stonum can hope to replicate Manningham’s explosive deep routes, and Stonum is just a freshman.
|Easy ND score|
|Pride comes before the fall|
Junior Greg Mathews is the most experienced returning player. As a sophomore he was Michigan’s third receiver, catching 39 passes for 366 yards. A YPC under 10 always signals possession receiver and that’s Mathews’ rep going into his first year as Michigan’s primary target. The upside here is Jason Avant, a reliable guy on a variety of short routes with outstanding hands and the strength to get off a jam. (We haven't actually seen the outstanding hands, yet, as Mathews has been reliable but unspectacular in the catching-stuff category, but Avant's reliability was only a theory before Braylon left.)
Mathews is unlikely to be much of a vertical threat, however, and a credible deep threat will be important when it comes to keeping safeties from breathing down Sheridan's neck.
Past Mathews things are uncertain. Four or five players vie for one and a half spots. Sophomore Toney Clemons spent the spring working out of the slot because the only other alternative was walk-on Jim Potempa, a player so obscure that the Michigan Stadium public address announcer messed up his name more than once during his half-dozen garbage time carries last year. With the arrival of the impressive, tiny duo of Martavious Odoms and Terrence Robinson, Clemons is likely to move back to the outside where he belongs... eventually. Robinson's "tweaked" knee, about which more later, leaves Michigan with one credible slot option and that's a true freshman. Expect Clemons to move inside and out regularly; his long term home should be on the outside.
Junior Hemingway suffered a severe ankle sprain in the fall and remained limited by it throughout fall camp. Though recruiting guru opinions on him varied wildly, Hemingway had a ton of early offers from national powers and turned in a productive senior year. He seemed ahead of Clemons when the two were freshmen, but the new coaching staff hasn't seen him healthy. He may not make a contribution until midseason. The impression I got from the limited time he saw last year and all the recruiting info I gathered is that Hemingway was a version of Marquise Walker, a spectacular leaper and potential jump-ball threat that lacked something in top-end speed.
One player not lacking in top end speed, Darryl Stonum, was Michigan’s highest-rated recruit in the 2008 class. An NFL prototype wide receiver out of Houston, Stonum picked Michigan over USC, Florida, and everyone else. He’s a candidate for immediate playing time after enrolling early and participating in spring practices, and has a top-end ceiling on par with any of Michigan’s terror wide receivers from years past.
Normally the most optimistic projection for Stonum’s freshman year would be something similar to that turned in by Mario Manningham—27 catches, 433 yards, 6 touchdowns—but the early enrollment should help him see the field earlier and more frequently. Forty or even fifty catches is not out of the question.
Stonum’s listed as a co-starter at one outside receiver position with surprise LaTerryal Savoy, who’s seen almost no time in his three years in the program to date. Savoy was a sleeper out of Louisiana with no other major offers and seemed destined for a career of total obscurity until the moment the depth chart came out with his name atop the list. It’s doubtful Savoy’s suddenly become a much better receiver, so the bet here is that once Hemingway’s injury and Stonum’s inexperience subside so will Savoy’s prominence on the depth chart. He could be a Tyrece Butler sort who hauls in 10-12 catches.
Those five will be your main targets on the outside. If there is a severe need Michigan could strip the redshirt off freshman Roy Roundtree, the kid who decommitted from Purdue and set off the whole snake oil brouhaha. He’s gotten a few approving mentions from Rodriguez during his hourly press conferences, but Roundtree is about 6’3” and weighs as much as slot ninjas a half-foot shorter than him. A redshirt seems advisable.
Zion Babb and James Rogers are in hot competition for the title of most egregiously wasted redshirt of 2007; both bounced to and from the secondary, seeing meaningless snaps that did little to prepare them for roles they’re not going to have this year anyway. Neither was big recruit. Rogers was a high school running back plucked from obscurity at Michigan’s camp; Babb was a middling recruit out of California. Rodriguez hasn’t mentioned either of them this fall and playing time is likely to be sparing. Rogers is reputed to be ahead of Babb.
The arrival of Rich Rodriguez brings with it a smurfy new position: slot receiver. In the spread ‘n shred these guys are the targets of all manner of different things that aim to get a little electron-sized bastard in open space against a linebacker or safety: option pitches, bubble screens, reverses, etc. This is all terribly exciting, as Michigan now threatens to have four or five Steve Breastons on the roster at all times. This should be a great boon in the return game; in the context of the offense it provides a ton of YAC opportunities that reduce the burden placed on the quarterbacks.
Michigan had none of these guys on the roster, or even in the recruiting class, until Rodriguez came aboard, but in the brief time allotted him he filled the position with authority. Martavious Odoms is from small-school Florida powerhouse Pahokee. His recruitment was extremely strange. He picked up an early offer from Notre Dame, and some months later he had a truly impressive collection for a 5’8” guy: Iowa, Rutgers, South Carolina, LSU, Oregon, Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, and Rodriguez’s then-home of West Virginia.
Odoms’ reaction to all this was to sit around doing nothing in particular as most of those schools filled up their classes. There was a cursory visit to Auburn, some discussion of USF and a grayshirt offer from Miami—by then so jammed with players they were trying to get Odoms to campus as a track athlete—and then signing day came and Odoms... did nothing. He ended up signing a few days later, and Michigan fans scrambled to find out just who the heck this kid was.
He's small to the point where he only exists on alternate Tuesdays but he's been playing on Pahokee's varsity since he was 14 (he was an eighth grader at the time) and was smoking guys in the state championship game by the time he was a sophomore. Unlike many guys Odoms' size, he's always been a receiver, and few players can claim to have the extensive in-game experience he has. Practice reports have been universally positive, praising his hands, toughness, silky-smooth moves and ability to make the first tackler miss. I go back to what a Floridian high school football veteran and Friend of Blog told me unprompted when Odoms committed:
He's a tough SOB. Small cat, really tough, will remind you of Steve Smith. Very, very fast. I'm a huge Martavious Odoms fan, you'll love him.
Watch out for him; this is one of those guys you see named “Moss” playing for Miami and think to yourself "goddamn why can't we ever have kids like that?" Practice reports are very encouraging; he sounds like a Steve Breaston if Breaston had been a natural-born receiver. He’s listed as the starter in the slot for Utah. You will see plenty of him.
Meanwhile, Terrence Robinson’s recruitment got off to a slow start because a junior-year transfer forced him to sit out 2006; when he saw the field for Klein Oak in 2007 he outrushed, outplayed, and outshone top-100 Texas commit DeShaun Hales. He also did this:
Odoms spent five years at Pahokee smoking opponents and winning state championships while Robinson sat out with a transfer and played quarterback and running back and such; even if Robinson hadn’t “tweaked” his knee Odoms would be the odds on favorite to start in the slot. Robinson will be out for a few weeks and then work his way into the lineup.
|Iowa cross #2|
|Very bad block|
Rich Rodriguez is going to have to use his tight ends a lot more than he did at West Virginia, because he’s got six of them and one has the potential to be ridiculously good as long as he’s not asked to block anyone ever. That fellow is Carson Butler, who came back from Lloyd Carr purgatory to claim the starting tight end spot after Mike Massey’s season-ending knee injury against Northwestern. Butler is the combination of freakish athletic gifts and frustrating mental errors that always gets dubbed “enigmatic” and this preview will be no exception: Carson Butler is one enigmatic mofo.
His promise is obvious. In the Citrus Bowl, he took a tight end screen and loped 65 yards downfield (skip to 2:00) with the bulk of the Florida secondary in pursuit; no one on the Florida team could make up ground and it took a safety with an angle to force him out inside the ten. That is a very fast man in an improperly large body. Properly deployed, he could be an All-American.
Butler’s drawbacks were equally severe, though. He false-starts with frustrating regularity. Asking him to block a pass rusher is asking for a helmet in your quarterback’s ribs. This outing against Michigan State was a typical performance:
Ugly, ugly, ugly, especially on the part of Butler, not only complete fail in pass protection but also the culprit on several run plays that went nowhere and the recipient of two critical penalties, one a stupid personal foul and the other a comically inept holding call on Michigan's final drive.
Is it much of a mismatch when your super-athletic tight end blocks like a 180 pound wide receiver? Not really. Evidently Rodriguez agrees since Butler is listed as an OR with not only Mike Massey but freshman Kevin Koger.
I have no idea what to expect out of Butler this year. He could be an All-American caliber performer (he’s unlikely to get enough catches to be an actual All-American) in a contract year for him. He could lose his job in week two.
Mike Massey, meanwhile, returns from that knee injury. In three years of sporadic onfield action, Massey hasn’t done much except almost make a couple of spectacular catches. He was the tentative starter last year until the injury in the Northwestern game. He seems totally average, a guy who will catch the balls he should and make most of the blocks he should but excel in no way whatsoever.
Freshman Kevin Koger picked Michigan over Ohio State and has been mentioned as someone who could see playing time this fall; he is the third co-starter on the depth chart. The most likely outcome is a smattering of snaps in preparation for a starting job next year.
Martell Webb was Butler’s backup once Massey went down and sometimes the temporary starter when Butler had seriously pissed off the coaching staff; he made no catches and drew no notice in UFRs. He did have an excellent block against Minnesota, for whatever that’s worth. Webb was a nobody recruit when he committed to Michigan, but ended up a four-star to both Scout and Rivals; he’s also that 6’5” basketball player that’s all the rage at TE. He could be pretty good if given the opportunity. Given the surfeit of tight ends on the roster and some reported issues with drops in practice he probably won’t get that opportunity until 2009.
Steve Watson redshirted last year and seems to be way down the depth chart. Sparing playing time at best for him; watch for a potential move to the OL. Brandon Moore has an imposing frame at 6’6” and had been offered by a who’s who of college football programs by the time he committed to Michigan, but has gone totally unremarked upon this fall and seems a likely redshirt. If he fills out like whoah a move to tackle might be a possibility, but in high school he was regarded as a no-block TE with excellent hands.
|Mark Ortmann||Jr.*||Tim McAvoy||Jr.*||David Molk||Fr.*||David Moosman||So.*||Steve Schilling||So.*|
|Perry Dorrestein||So.*||Ricky Barnum||Fr.*||Rocko Khoury||Fr.||John Ferrara||So.*||Dann O'Neill||Fr.|
Perhaps the saddest indicator of the potential looming tragedy that is the Michigan offensive line is this: last year this depth chart went three deep. There’s no one but freshmen unlisted this year and, uh… four freshmen in the actual two-deep as hypothesized above.
The line took a hit it could not afford to sustain when certain starter and once upon a time touted recruit Cory Zirbel went down with a knee injury, forcing either David Molk or hastily converted defensive lineman John Ferrara into the starting lineup. Michigan is now one injury away from serious issues indeed.
Steve Schilling is the only returning starter on the line. Unfortunately for Michigan, last year he was frankly bad. There are a ton of mitigating factors—a freshman-year bout with mononucleosis was followed by a shoulder injury that spring, so he was basically being thrown on the field as a true freshman—but bad is bad. Vernon Gholston shattered him into little bits in the OSU game, which saw Shilling rack up a record –12 in pass protection. After the Illinois game he came in for a bit of criticism:
The problems in pass protection have been matched with frequent issues in the run game. One sack and a dangerously batted pass were on him as he failed to contain Illinois DE Doug Pilcher. At the moment, the great hope of the 2007 offensive line, that Schilling and Boren would turn out to be better than the departed Bihl/Riley combo, has not come to fruition. It looks highly unlikely to get there any time this year.
There is the potential for massive improvement here. Practice observers have indicated that Schilling now looks like a bonafide collegiate lineman after being far too small last year. As a freshman starter and former five-star recruit the expectation is he takes a major leap forward. He’d better.
Mark Ortmann draws the unenviable task of attempting to replace the #1 pick in the NFL draft. This is his fourth year in the program and practice reports had him on the verge of starting for the last two seasons, but there was presumably a reason he was stuck behind the uninspiring Schilling last year. This year he’s Michigan’s starting left tackle virtually by default, as there is one other non-freshman tackle on the roster. He could be okay. He could be really bad. We have no indicators either way.
David Moosman slides into Zirbel’s spot at right guard. He’s not from Wisconsin despite this blog’s repeated insistence that he is. He’s from Illinois, and I have inside info that he’s very nice to his GSIs. Moosman was a four-star recruit who picked Michigan over Wisconsin and is entering his third year in a college program, so he could be good.
Dave Molk is a feisty, undersized center from Illinois who was one of only two offensive line recruits in Lloyd Carr’s final Michigan class. He fits much better in this system than Carr’s, as it emphasizes his mobility and places a much smaller premium on size, but Rodriguez made it clear he was battling John Ferrara for a starting job. Two weeks ago Ferrara was a defensive lineman. Crap.
Tim McAvoy saw sporadic time last year at both guard spots due to injury and general lethargy on the part of others. Like Ortmann, he nas stuck behind an extremely uninspiring starter (Alex Mitchell) and doesn’t have much in the way of recruiting hype to fall back on. He’s been a defacto starter since the departure of Mr. Plow; lord knows if he’s going to be any good.
There are virtually no backups as long as Cory Zirbel's knee injury persists, and the word from Rodriguez is that could be the entire season. Mark Huyge exists, I guess, but he’s a redshirt freshman Michigan snatched away from the MAC. He’s unlikely to be ready. He’s also got a high ankle sprain and will miss a chunk of the season. As mentioned, John Ferrara was whiling his time away at defensive tackle until the Zirbel injury forced a position switch. Ferrara’s never blocked in his life. He may start.
At tackle, Perry Dorrestein is most famous for having his one-point-something GPA outed by the Ann Arbor News; insider buzz has been totally silent on him. He was a decent recruit.
It’s down to true freshmen, then. Rodriguez has specifically said these guys are not ready to play but the situation might demand it of them. Guard Ricky Barnum is the least unprepared. He was a highly-rated Florida commit until Rodriguez wandered by with his snake oil cart and has gotten some public praise; he’s probably the second guy off the bench in the event of issues with the interior line. Rocko Khoury has been garnering praise as a center and will start the season in the two deep.
God willing, four other freshmen will redshirt. Tackle Dann O’Neill was a top-100 recruit and has great upside but is not prepared to play this year. Kurt Wermers and Patrick Omameh would never, ever see the field in a normal year but this is not a normal year and they could wander onto the field if things get dire. Elliot Mealer is out with a shoulder injury suffered in the tragic Christmas Eve crash that killed his father and girlfriend.
I know everyone has been panicking about DE recruiting, but I'm wondering if the coaching staff might have a different plan. We've recruited 3 people who can or most likely will play LB ( Mike Jones, Bell, Barnes) and are expected to land a commitment from Brandin Hawthorne, another LB. It would seem weird to bring in all these linebackers after numerous LB recruits we pulled in last year, but it got me wondering: what if we are going to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base front? This could explain the lack of DE recruiting and the large amount of LBs we've gotten. Michigan can pull in just one DE and be done for the class, instead of 2-3 DEs that everyone is praying for. I'm curious what you think about this, and is 3-4 used in college, and if so, what's it's pros and cons?
BSE Electrical Engineering
University of Michigan '05
I don't believe this is the idea. Scott Shafer is an avowed fan of the 4-3 and has repeatedly stated his intent to use it, and not the 3-3-5 stack Jeff Casteel deployed at West Virginia, as his base set. In some more recent interviews, Shafer's talked about how quickly Michigan's picked up the scheme and his intent to be a "multiple front" defense, but the 4-3 is and likely will be the base going forward.
This probably makes the most sense given the personnel, too. In the 3-4 you're supposed to have one honkin' nose guard who will absorb two blockers on every play and two "defensive ends" who are 270-280 pound guys closer to three-technique DTs than true DEs. During Michigan's one-year experiment with the 3-4 in 2004, Larry Harrison and Pat Massey -- two guys who were 4-3 DTs --were the ends. The traditional defensive end sorts often end up as outside linebackers, like Lamarr Woodley did in '04 (and is now with the Steelers). I don't think the move actually lessens the need for DE sorts, it just changes where they're deployed. But I'm not intimately familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of the 3-4. (Maybe GSimmons85 will bless us with a breakdown?)
I do know it's extremely rare in college. AFAIK, no Big Ten teams use it as a base set, and I don't recall any in outlying territories that do so regularly, either. Michigan did see a number of 4-3 teams revamp their defense into a 3-4 look designed to stop the zone read (Iowa and USC most prominelty), but those were one-game adjustments only. The big exception: Notre Dame, which adopted the 3-4 when Corwin Brown became defensive coordinator. It's early, but the results weren't inspiring.
Meanwhile in the NFL, the 3-4 has spread from the Steelers to a goodly portion of the league. Why are colleges lagging? I don't know but theorize that the defense requires the sort of athletes college teams can't get their hands on with enough regularity to make it a consistent winner.
Brian- What do you think of the possibility of Brown taking Feagin's snaps and have Feagin red-shirt? If Feagin isn't going to be all that great of an option, what would be the point? (Unless you want to have both of them in the backfield, which could be frightening I suppose.)
I guess what my question boils down to is, what do you think of Brown actually taking snaps as a QB?
Brown at QB is strictly a Wildcat thing, IMO. He's playing McFadden.
On Feagin: Rodriguez made it clear in his last press conference that Feagin was not making the impression he needed to if he was going to be a candidate for serious playing time, but conflicting reports from practice indicate the coaching staff still has hopes of working him in midseason. I take this as a vote of no confidence in the current QB starters, or at least an acknowledgement that it's going to be rough at times and once Feagin gets acclimated they'll have to give him a shot just to see.
I do take your point, though: if Feagin just can't throw enough to make defenses respect him as a quarterback, you're basically running the Wildcat and you may as well do that with Brown. That way you can maybe redshirt Feagin, see how he does when Beaver and Newsome arrive in the fall, and move him to one of the positions LSU and Miami saw fit to offer him at.
This is not likely to happen, IMO, as Michigan will put Feagin on the field at some point just in case. It's hard to argue with that thinking, as anything that helps the Rodriguez era get off on the right foot will greatly aid recruiting. Expect Feagin to see the field unless one of the two guys in front of him is unexpectedly effective.
Speaking of the Wildcat:
I tend to believe that Michigan's offense, given the QB limitations this year, stylistically is going to look like some combination of Northwestern(base)/Missouri(TE use)/Arkansas(Wildhog). My question, what percentage of the plays run at Arkansas were run out of the Wildhog formation? Is there a quick answer out there?
Robert W. Petti
Unfortunately, there is no UFR-equivalent for Hog fans and no handy compendium of how often the Wildcat was deployed. I dug up a couple things, though. In Arkansas' ridiculous upset win over LSU, it was the majority of the Razorback offense:
Arkansas ran the Wild Hog formation 31 times for 294 total yards and four touchdowns - 11 times for 67 yards and one score in the first half, 15 times for 216 yards and three end zone celebrations in the second half, and five times for 11 yards over three overtimes. The Wild Hog accounted for 57 percent of the Razorbacks' 513 total yards of offense and four of UA's seven touchdowns.
Arkansas had 77 snaps in that game.
In the bowl game it was less prominent:
• When lining up in the Wild Hog formation, Arkansas accumulated 82 yards rushing on 14 plays.
Arkansas had 83 snaps in that game; across those two games the Wildcat accounted for 28% of the Arkansas offense. It's not just a trick play here and there, it can be a part of a pretty decent collegiate offense... if you've got Robotbeastpig taking snaps. I don't think Michigan has that guy, but they do have the wide array of potential ballcarriers that could make the Wildcat effective.