devin gardner wide receiver possibility
I scrapped the original question because there's a burning one out there:
Gardner or Morris? Who should start, who will start?
Ace: Before the press conferences this week, I'd still have gone with Gardner—despite his awful performances against Notre Dame and Utah, I think he still gives Michigan the best chance to win. We've seen him at his best—and playing at his best while overcoming injury and a horrendous O-line—and that best is right up there with any college QB, while Morris has yet to show much other than similarly inconsistent, turnover-prone play in his short time on the field. If this team needs to win now, and to save Brady Hoke's job they clearly do, I think Gardner is the play unless he's so broken physically/mechanically that it's impossible for him to scrape his ceiling. (I'm about 80% there on thinking this is the case, by the way, but last year's Ohio State game lingers in my mind as a strong counterpoint—remember, that performance came out of nowhere, and he had a broken foot to boot.)
That said, the way this has been handled publicly makes me believe Morris will be the starter—why not dispel the speculation if there isn't going to be a change?*—and at this point I think they have to go with that. Most fans believe Morris will be the starter and most are ready for the change now whether or not they were on board; if they head into the Big House thinking that way and Gardner is announced as the starter, there are going to be boos directed at that decision—which is basically booing Gardner, probably the person associated with the football program who least deserves that treatment—and that's just not going to help anything. I understand the reasoning behind putting Morris in—he's the future, the present option isn't going so well at all, and he gets the chance to learn on the fly in a game setting and hopefully improve before our very eyes—but it's a huge risk for Hoke if he goes there, especially if he sticks to his word that he won't rotate QBs.
Playing Gardner comes with its own risks, of course, but the biggest risk is still playing a QB with this career stat line: 36/67, 340 yards (5.1 YPA), 0 passing TDs, 4 interceptions.
*Since the most common response I've seen to this is "so Minnesota has to prepare for Gardner," I'll note that there's no way in hell Minnesota isn't preparing for Gardner—and Morris, too—no matter what Brady Hoke says in a press conference.
[jump for the rest of us]
So you saw Michigan's backup plan in case Denard gets knocked out early in a competitive game. The plan was Bellomy. And you saw Bellomy. With regard to the skills, talent, and preparation required to be a competitive Big Ten quarterback, Bellomy was terrible. The offense immediately imploded, Michigan's Rose Bowl chances dropped to "not likely" and we were left facing the bleakness of a Robinson-less future.
So long as nards were left to nard we were perfectly content to ignore things like an apparent lack of receiver talent, or whether the redshirt freshman backup QB we snake oiled away from Purdue could perform well enough in an important game scenario that nobody would think to ask about Jack Kennedy. We could even be blasé about what appears to be persistent offensive coaching mistakes. It was all masked by Wheeeeee!! Saturday the whee was taken away and we got our first real glimpse of the structure they're building underneath it. We've got questions.
1. When your freshman QB is 4 of 21 with 4 interceptions on the year, why not try the junior 5-star quarterback you've got playing receiver?
Everyone can pick a moment. For me it was Russell's first completion of the game, a 12-yard pass to Kerridge:
Alright open man! Get there! … It's still not there. Okay coverage isn't there yet either. But what's taking so long? Did it just sail? No it's on target. Okay here it comes. Catch! First down on the Utah thirty-eigh…oh dear god.
We already knew how bad it could get, but this suddenly looked like we had an outer bound for how good it could get. The feet weren't set, and a guy was coming toward his face, and he got rid of it to the open receiver for 12 yards. Except Kerridge had been open over there for several seconds. And then with that entire windup the ball delivered is a full Sheridan.
With the opponent blitzing their brains out there's going to be open receivers, and Bellomy can learn to find them quicker. But the guys can't stay open so long that defenders won't arrive sometime during the three seconds the ball's in the air. The weird dropsies when Bellomy is throwing the ball could be related to this as well. Accustomed to catching zippy Denard passes, the receivers I imagine are getting thrown off by the the extra half-second of waiting for the ball to arrive. They're losing focus, putting their minds downfield or setting off internal alarms that the coverage is arriving. You'll note in this game more than a few of Russell's open targets were lit up upon reception—the personal foul on Jackson is a good example. Simply the anticipation of such a hit is a known cause of drops.
The scary lack of arm strength raised a few questions, like why he was recruited in the first place if a cannon is a pre-req for Borgesian offense, but a more pressing and more dire query is how bad can Gardner be if they've got this dude under center instead of him?
He's playing receiver. In fact, for all his faults at receiver, he's better at that than our other options. It falls a little flat to say if he's not out there Jeremy Jackson would be, since Jeremy Jackson is out there all the damn time. More to the point, Gardner practiced all week at receiver, and sending him in unprepared would have been unfair, would undermine his confidence, and probably resulted in yackety crap like that which ended the 2011 Michigan State game.
Your brain as it watched Bellomy could not compute this because fan brains tend to hit the panic button and authorize the flinging of excrement in the hopes of finding anything that sticks. This is why it nodded sagely at things like "throw Cullen Christian in there" when the 2010 secondary was staggeringly bad. It cannot compute that things could possibly get worse. The thing is, things can possibly get worse. Obviously the coaches felt that putting an unprepared Gardner in to run "Gardner and stuff" wasn't an option.
Hoke made sure to stress the "if you don't practice during the week at quarterback you don't play" thing in his postgame presser, getting it in as a response to questions about Denard's readiness for Minnesota. I take that as a not-so-subtle reminder that this staff has more patience than the last one, and more patience than the fan-brain. Their plan seems to be if Denard goes down in-game it's Bellomy, but if we lose Robinson for a week or more, Gardner will be preparing for that game.
[More things I don't want to ask after THE JUMP]
It's almost mid-season, so it's time to check in on the Draft-o-Snark teams and see how this whole Big Ten(nnnnnnnN!) thing is shaping up so far. Spoiler: euh.
Who we drafted:
The sacks have been removed, and I've combined the rushing and passing totals.
*Heiko took Martinez as a running back, and Braxton Miller was turned into a fullback when he drafted Danny O'Brien. Andrew Maxwell was a backup option chosen in lieu of having a punter. Gray and Colter were taken strictly as wide receivers.
Who's winning: Heiko's running back, followed by Heiko's fullback. He is better off with either of those guys than his designated passer Danny O'Brien, who lost his job to Joel Stave (stah-VAY) after Week 2. The competition matters, but Taylor Martinez has been the conference's best quarterback so far, and Braxton Miller holds a strong second.
Denard looks really good in most stats but already has 8(!) interceptions. He's faced the hardest schedule so far (Alabama and Notre Dame) though nobody else threw 4 picks against Notre Dame, and guys like Miller have already faced MSU's DBs. Also Michigan has had a bye week, while most of the competition has played 6 games, so some of his totals are not quite comparable.
Of Brian's two guys, Scheelhaase has been barely productive. Weirdly he hasn't rushed much, just 160 yards on 34 carries for 4.7 YPC with sacks removed. So much for the new coach being a perfect fit. If you don't believe me when I say Denard's interceptions haven't all been that bad, watch a few of Scheelhaase's. His O-line isn't doing him any favors, FWIW. Maxwell has been a bit better than his worse-than-Vandenberg stats might tell you; those stats have been suppressed by awful receiver play, though he's sent his share and some to Tacopants and Nachoshorts as his offensive line deteriorated. I'm all this is Threet if Threet was in the right offense for his abilities.
Vandenberg isn't helping the Ace cause very much, failing to throw a touchdown the first three weeks against not-good secondaries; Iowa currently ranks 95th in pass offense nationally and last in the Big Ten. He had a decent game last week against the toughest defensive backfield he's faced yet, unfortunately that was Minnesota's.
Guy we should have drafted (?): Nobody, really. Joel Stave's YPA will come down when a 62-yard screen to James White isn't 1/10th of his yardage, but he's still been impressive since taking over for O'Brien. That pass which ended with (Illini CB) Terry Hawthorne in the hospital was floated directly into the palms of his tight end along the sideline, in stride, and between two defensive backs. OTOH he has had the new-guy struggles.
QB Standings: 1. Heiko, 2. Seth, 3. Brian, 4. Ace. Should I penalize Heiko for turning the best two QBs in the conference (thus far) into RBs?
[Bad receivers, terrible offensive linemen, and an exclusive, dramatic reenactment of AIRBHG being foiled by Jewish Vin Diesel, after THE JUMP]
Of the totally surreal and unnecessary things that could ever happen, Denard Robinson issuing an apology for his play against Notre Dame ranks right up there with Ryan Van Bergen claiming fault for the 2010 defense. Not so much that he took responsibility—I wrote in my HTTV article that personal culpability is one the hallmarks of this team—but that watching from above I felt like he wasn't entirely at fault.
Part of that was the drunk dude in my section yelling "awwww c'mon!" at Denard, to which I felt responsibility to point out things like "play-action out of the I-form" or "Schofield just got beat bad." Part of it to was my own culpability for last week's article being all "hey Denard can pass and Borges is doing an incredible job!" So in the mea culpa spirit of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (pretty much our Christmas) which begins tonight, I admit I have sinned, and that I'm not quite sure who sinned on all of our six turnovers this week. Let's find out where responsibility lies in this six-play al chet, using a combination of Seth's pathetic attempts at UFR-ing, with a bonus chart of culpability.
1. For the sin we have committed against you by trying to get too cute with Vincent Smith, who is not Tom Brady
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O10||1||G||Ace TE Trips||1||1||3||4-4 under||Pass||RB Pass||Dileo||INT|
|Dileo and Roundtree lined up as H-backs on same side. Since it's a pass Dileo doesn't block Te'o, who shot into the gap the millisecond he read pitch and pressures Smith. Funchess blocked down an irrelevant crashing DE instead but that's the play. The CB bites hard so Dileo can leaks out into the end zone, where he has the safety beat to the corner, but Smith is 5'6 with the world's best college LB in his face. He jump-balls it way inside of his receiver, so when the safety looks back he is all "ooh, football--take." (INX, 0, Protection N/A, RPS –2)|
When Michigan tried this against Minnesota it was from 30 yards out, and against Minnesota. It did get a guy open in the end zone, and was set up a little bit I believe by some pitch plays earlier. However leaving Te'o unblocked versus a tiny RB is a risk, but Smith has shown in games (and presumably many more times in practice) that he can throw the ball accurately enough.
What I really hated about this play call is there was no reason to get cute. This was meant to be a dagger play, just like the fake dive on 4th and 1 vs. Michigan State was meant to be the dagger in the trash storm game.
Borges likes his daggers. When Brian queried my UFR database on Michigan passing from Ace 3TE sets, I found the Funchess 30-yard (PA TE corner) and Gardner (Waggle) TDs, plus a PA dumpoff for good yards (until it was fumbled) against SD State last year. Daggers. Thing is about the grab-bag and dagger offense is that it doesn't adjust for things that are working, and until that point the offense was working. When Pompey backed out of Rome because he didn't have the troops to defend it, Caesar didn't say "oh waitaminute, this is a trap, I'm gonna go attack the Barbary Coast—ha ha they'll never suspect!" He walked into damn Rome.
Chart of culpability: Borges x2,
ND Te'o is that good, Smith isn't Joe Montana
Mitigating Mitzvah: Jake Ryan sticks a receiver after he gains just 1 yard on 3rd and 4 from the ND37 to force a punt. ND shanks the punt.
After the jump, five plays more depressing than using a day off of work to fast and contemplate what a terrible person you've been all year.
Site notice: "Museday" (at times also known as "Musenesday" and other things), is now and hereafter "Hokepoints." Because football is about having more points. Get it?
So we noticed something when doing that pre-season draft-o-snark thing: The receivers in our conference kind of suck. More accurately I should say that there are precious few proven wideouts coming back this year. Here's what the receiver draft board looked like, not counting RBs, TEs, or moonlighting defensive backs and whatnot:
|Jared Abbrederis||WIS||6'2||188||JR*||66.6||17.0||8||20 (Brian)|
|Keenan Davis||IOWA||6'3||215||SR||59.4||14.3||4||26 (Ace)|
|Kofi Hughes||IND||6'2||210||JR||44.7||15.3||3||41 (Seth)|
|Kenny Bell||NEB||6'1||185||SO||35.5||14.4||3||57 (Seth)|
|Kain Colter||NW||6'0||190||JR||35.2||10.7||3||74 (Ace)|
|Jeremy Gallon||MICH||5'8||187||JR*||34.9||14.6||3||65 (Seth)|
|Roy Roundtree||MICH||6'0||180||SR*||27.3||18.7||2||97 (Seth)|
|Kevonte Martin-Manley||IOWA||6'0||205||SO||24.9||10.8||3||84 (Brian)|
|Devin Smith||OSU||6'1||196||SO||22.6||21.0||4||103 (Ace)|
|DeAnthony Arnett||MSU||5'11||170||SO||20.2||10.1||2||22 (Heiko)|
|Kyle Prater||NW||6'5||215||SO||0.6||6.0||0||11 (Heiko)|
|Devin Gardner||MICH||6'4||203||JR||-||-||-||19 (Heiko)|
|MarQueis Gray||MIN||6'4||250||SR||-||-||-||60 (Brian)|
They're listed here by yards per game, which Mathlete says is a better gauge for receivers than hype. But however you rank them, we took many transfers and QBs before even considering the myriad Keenan Davisii who played Avant to the Braylons of departed McNutts. And by the end of the draft most of the available options were assorted Boilermakers dudes with about 30 ypg.
Whence all the receivers in our once receiver-rich league? A few theories to test:
- Higher than normal attrition: Graduations being a relative constant, were there more juniors departing of the NFL, transfers, etc. than usual?
- Comedown from riches of 2011: Maybe the best receivers last year were inordinately productive, leaving little opportunity for the rest. Test by % of production not returning vs. previous years.
- Cascade effect from recruiting shortfalls: Perhaps there was a league-wide lull in receiver recruiting in '09-'10 that we're not feeling the effects from.
- Quarterbacks: the more they run the less they pass: This one's obvious but the conference has gone more spread-to-run, even at the top programs, meaning there's a lot fewer opportunities for WRs to show what they've got.
We dig in after THE JUMP.
[The Mott practice this year was not a punting exhibition (at which my internal monologue went WOOOOOO) so there are a few things to discuss.]
The biggest takeaway. Devin Gardner took zero QB snaps and was on the first team as a WR. I think they moved him full-time. Swingin' for the fences.
Gardner didn't do anything spectacular in his limited opportunities, dropping one long ball and not quite bringing in a high hard one, but he certainly looks the part. Seeing him in 12 is still weird, and now Dileo is 9, and if I was Brady Hoke I'd be all like "you get one number and that is your number" but he might have different priorities. Maybe.
Devin Funchess. As first impressions go… wow. He is lanky and doesn't look like he'll be much use as a blocker early, but man is that guy a big target. Looks all of 6'5" and has freaky long arms. He was the only TE to get targeted in their kind-of-actually-playing segment; he caught a touchdown on a corner route (it got raked out but after the catch was secured) and was targeted on a late-release wheel route. If he can catch, he is going to crush Mandich's TE receiving record.
Not a whole lot to decide. I expected to have a blizzard of things to try and figure out but when the first team defense came out in a nickel package I was like "oh, right, they return basically everyone." Other than the line, there were zero surprises except for a couple of Mario Ojemudia WDE cameos.
On offense, it was "is Mealer starting" and "OMG Gardner"… and that was it. Consistency is good.
DL starting Washington? This is tentative, but the first DL set they ran out there was Roh-Washington-Campbell-Black. (IE: Washington at the nose, Campbell at the three-tech.) Beyer also showed up at WDE; Brink was the backup SDE.) Apparently Jerry Montgomery told someone that those guys were the starters as of this instant, but I can't find it. People are talking about it on message boards like it's a real thing, though.
Anyway: they showed the usual nickel package where they lifted the nose tackle types and moved the SAM down to DE and the heavy package where both SAM linebackers are in the game. All was as expected except for a couple snaps in a dime package that they didn't show at all last year.
[UPDATE: Ace points out that this comes from Tom Dienhart's BTN coverage.]
James Ross. Ross was your backup WLB, which isn't much of a surprise with Poole and Ringer hurt. He'll play.
Richard Ash. I kept an eye out for Ash as I'm hoping he can give Michigan some snaps as a rotation DT after he made a couple of nice plays in the spring game. He didn't get in much, if at all, but he certainly looks a lot better conditioned. He used to look like a battleship that had no chance of moving; now he looks relatively trim.
Mealer started. Your first team LG was Mealer.
Chris Wormley. Hasn't had surgery yet for whatever reason.
No Rawls. No idea why. They ran some passing stuff with Justice Hayes that seemed to work pretty well, and did the Vincent Smith throwback screen that always works.
It was good to see football. You're just sitting in the stadium and there's actual snaps being taken in front of you and your lizard brain is going FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL and you're like "I know exactly how you feel, lizard brain."
Heiko takes. Are on the board. FWIW, they ran that hook and ladder a dozen times last year. I think it's just for show.