to play football, not to play trumpet
"Obviously, I'm pleased with the victory." The stats were pleasant, though maybe not a surprise. The only penalty in the game came on the first drive, and there were no turnovers in the game. Third down conversions were pretty good at 14/19. "Our goal offensively was no turnovers and execute, and I think we did that for the most part."
At the last team meeting last night, Rodriguez could tell that the team was ready to get out there and play.
"We were halfway down the tunnel" for Brock's walk. It was a touching moment because they know the whole story.
"When they announced 113 thousand - I normally don't pay attention, but by that time the game was pretty much under control" Rodriguez thought it was amazing to have that many fans at the game.
RR didn't realize Denard ran the ball 29 times. He was really sharp passing, with only three incompletions. There are a few things that he can fix after watching film, but his decision-making was great for a guy in his first start. Denard and the rest of the backs did a great job running North and South instead of moving around laterally.
Denard showed a lot of toughness, and he'll only keep getting stronger as he grows. Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith showed toughness as well. "It's a good physical team we played, and UConn's gonna win a lot of games this year." Is there anything about Denard that reminds Rodriguez of Pat White? "Yeah, he runs fast." He also has a sense of feel for the game, and maturity. "If he can carry it 29 times for 200 yards, he'll carry it 29 times again." He probably won't be able to carry that many times so effectively in every game. Rodriguez would like him to carry it a little bit less.
Denard has been showing his potential since the Wolverines recruited him. "That's why we signed him." In the spring, he took another step forward. His experience last year helped, but spring practice helped him understand. "He'll hit some bumps in the road, and he's going to play against a lot of good people, and there's going to be mistakes made." The key is minimizing those mistakes.
"I knew, most of the guys knew, and I don't think it was probably a big secret" that Denard would be the starter. The goal in practice is to get all three guys better, and they've done that. In fall camp, Denard solidified himself as the guy who should take the first reps.
"Part of it is just going from a true freshman to second-year player, and understanding the offense." All the QBs can make all the throws they need.
Will Denard start against Notre Dame? "Stay tuned. I think you'll see him starting."
Devin came in after Denard's injury "Because that was a coaches' decision."
If the team doesn't turn over the ball, they'll have a chance to win. They haven't held onto it in the past, so the key is to take care of it this year.
The wind was a big factor in the game. "I think it was a factor somewhat, particularly in the kicking game."
"I felt, from the first series, on that long drive, that we had some fast guys in the space that they may have problems with."
"I will enjoy the next three hours and ten minutes. Try to get me five hours of sleep tonight, and my wife will probably get a chance to sleep a bit tonight." The program has been through a lot, but the focus has never wavered. They have tonight to enjoy the win, but after that, it's Notre Dame time.
After last year's disappointing finish, it was important to start the season on the right foot. "I want our guys to get some confidence." The key now is to maintain the level of intensity.
The defense played hard and tackled well. "We gave up a couple big plays, the one on the tipped pass that the guy made a good play on." The defense had to be ready, because UConn was playing at a fast tempo.
"I'd like to score more than 30, but I like the fact when you don't have to punt." It was good to get Will Hagerup some experience on his only punt of the day, though.
"Everybody likes a win. Everything is better. The food tastes better, you're in a better mood, everybody's happy." Michigan's 110,000 fans (RR estimates there were 3,000 cheering for UConn) deserved the win. The goal and expectation at Michigan is to win championships, but there's a process to get there.
Brendan Gibbons's missed extra point was a snap/hold issue. The missed field goal was due to a stiff wind knocking it short. Rodriguez was going to kick another field goal at the end, but though they'd have a chance to get the first down and run out the clock. "Seth Broekhuizen is still battling for the job."
"One of the goals as a coach when you coach college football is for your players to truly enjoy the experience of being a student-athlete." It's easier to do that with a win.
James Rogers was really poised, and made a couple nice plays. "We're probably going to kick ourselves watching the film defensively, because it looked like we had a couple opportunities to get some BIG big plays: interceptions and something like that, and we just missed out on the ball." The secondary was well-prepared.
Jeremy Gallon's fumbled punt was a tough one. "He's going to be a very good punt returner. Terrence Robinson will be fine too." Both guys will still play in the return game, though Rodriguez was not pleased with the overall play of the unit today.
Obi Ezeh's fumble recovery was a huge play.
The only real injury was Carvin Johnson "I don't know what his status is." (Afterwards, it was revealed he's day-to-day with a sprained MCL). Junior Hemingway's hamstring is injured, but "our hope is that he'll be able to go this week." Terry Talbott is still working through a clearinghouse eligibility issue.
"They practiced hard, and they've got a chip on their shoulder; they've got some things to prove. Hopefully today was the start of something good."
Winning the home opener is a big deal, but there's a lot more season to go. "They're just going to go back and work hard - and I know they will. We've got a big game next week; let's see how it goes. But I'll tell you what: I love the start, love the start."
On Denard Robinson: "I'll tell you what, he's the fastest guy on a football field that I've ever seen." His toughness in taking a bunch of hits against a big UConn team is underrated, as well. He can outrun guys even when they have the angle on him. His passing stats were as impressive as his running. "If you think too much about the run, he's gonna burn you."
There will always be critics, even with a big win. "We'll let [the plaers and coaches] enjoy this, because they deserve it."
The Stadium Rededication was designed to be special, which was the reason for the multiple flyovers, fireworks, etc. Brandon challenged the marketing team to come up with some special things.
"Brock is an inspiration to this team. He's got a share of this victory today, too." When he touched the banner, "I held it together pretty well until that moment, and I'll tell you why. I sat with him, we planned this whole thing. I told him how we needed to make this happen and he was great about it. I'm getting ready to leave, and he kinda called me over and said 'Mr. Brandon, would it be OK if I touched the banner?' That's what he wanted to do, and that's what he did."
The big victory felt good, because that's what the team has been working hard to achieve. "We just wanted to come out and just play."
The first touchdown run "felt a little bit weird because I was like on my injury, coming out and just catching the ball. I wasn't expecting to break that many tackles and just head upfield and score." The knee is 100%, and even Vincent was a little surprised by that.
With the team so focused, they're able to run the offense at a faster tempo. They knew which plays were going to be effective against the UConn defense. The team has been running that tempo in practice, so they were ready to play that fast.
On Denard: "I knew what he can do, and he just needed to be put in the right positions and come out and just play." The offensive line did a great job clearing the holes. Smith didn't think Denard would run that ball 29 times. Despite the heavy workload, "he always gets up. Very tough."
Denard's first start was pretty much everything he's dreamed about. "I've got my offensive line to thank, and my coaches for putting me in the right situation."
The quarterbacks found out last night that Denard would be the starter. Rodriguez also told the other guys to be ready. "I was just playing well, and I'm going to continue to play well. That's how it gonna be." Despite that, Denard's not guaranteed to start next week.
Setting the QB rushing record: "That's crazy. That's a dream come true, I guess."
Denard didn't know how many times he'd be carrying the ball, but he was ready to do whatever the coaches asked of him. "Coach told me to be ready, and I was ready."
Denard didn't have first-game jitters, because he saw the field a lot last year, even though this was his first start. "My team, my offensive linemen, all the seniors told me 'we got your back.'" He din't have to try to win the game by himself.
The biggest change from Denard 2009 to Denard 2010 is knowing the offense more, staying focused more, and "giving my all in the offseason."
UConn's players were trying to take Denard's shoes at the bottom of the pile. They got one of them on one play. "Trying to slow me down, I guess. Or slow down the offense, because the offensive line was just killin' 'em."
"I knew I always could throw the ball, that was never a question. It was just, getting the offense down at, that's basically what it was."
Denard wouldn't say what the design of the play was for Terrance Robinson's 43-yard reception. After leaving the podium, Denard (jokingly) told Rodriguez that the media was trying to steal the play.
Denard took a shot to the hip when he had to leave the game for a play. "I feel alright, pretty good, pretty good." He had confidence that he was going to be able to come back in.
The adrenaline takes over during games, so Denard doesn't really feel the nerves.
"It was a pretty good feeling" to have the offense rolling along in rhythm.
Are you going to wear shoelaces against Notre Dame? "(laughing) I'm not changing anything."
"It was definitely a tribute to our coaches and our preparation" to beat a good team like UConn. It was good to finally have a chance to show everyone what the team is capable of.
"James played a heck of a game, man. I'm proud of him, man." He's been waiting a long time to play, so it's good for him to get a chance.
On forcing UConn's only fumble of the day: "I just put my hat on the ball. When you're in position to make plays, the coaches put you in position to make plays, good things happen."
On Denard: "Aw man, he's a crazy animal to tame. He gives every defense problems." It's good to see him get a chance to show off some of what he can do.
this game is a step in the right direction. "We're at no point to stop working. We've still got a lot of things we've gotta do." A good game for the defense should be a mental boost for the young defense.
"You're blocking, and two seconds later you just see Denard 20 yards upfield. There's nothing better than seeing that."
"It's amazing how far he's progressed in such a short amount of time, and really without any true game experience, and now he's just building and building and building on what he can do." His patience and knowledge of the game are the biggest jumps.
The goal of the offense is to get first downs all up and down the field, and wearing down the defense. There was no specific key to converting third downs, everyone just did their job and worked well.
It was nice to see a lot of young guys get out and have a chance to perform.
29 carries won't wear Denard down. "He's just a tough kid. He's tougher than I am. He'll push through anything."
"We were hungry, we were so hungry." The team was hungry last year too, but the defense didn't pay as well.
When people talk about the defense not being any good "if they can give even, a little bit more of a morsel of motivation, then we're just gonna come out and do what we did today."
Getting stops and turnovers at critical times is huge. Getting the 3-and-out right at the beginning of the game really boosted the defense's confidence. "It's great. Confidence is obviously a big thing. The whole team is going in hungry, and nervous too. So, winning this gives us a huge confidence boost."
It was nice to see somebody else chase Denard. "I had to chase that guy all spring, and let me tell you, it's not easy catching that guy."
There were no real surprises from UConn. "I felt like what our coach told us was exactly what happened."
"I'd say in spring, we were molding into what we would become, and what you see today." That was more of a learning experience, and fall camp is when the intensity came in.
Craig's hybrid position is a perfect fit for a guy with a hybrid skill set like him. He can take pass drops, rush the quarterback, etc.
Previously: The Story.
What's the point of anything?
I ask this question for reasons existential and practical. Earlier this summer Eleven Warriors pinged me for some help previewing Michigan's defense, so I talked about Mike Martin and the rest of the promising defensive line and mentioned the trouble at linebacker; the section on the secondary was simply this: "rank them last." At this point Justin Turner was still on the team and Troy Woolfolk's ankle was unaware of what Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God had in store for it.
When it, he, and we found out AMSHG's true power in mid-August I started drinking immediately, resulting in a night where I finally used twitter as God intended by blathering about having a power drill, burning my elbow on tea, coughing, not coughing, and finally drinking a horrible concoction of Cointreau with anything (the whiskey had been exhausted) and eating cold squash pakora with a slice of American cheese while mournfully contemplating everything from Mike Floyd to whatever 5'8" guy UMass will throw out there this year. The next day Henri the Otter of Ennui made his earliest-ever appearance on the blog (setting a record that will probably stand for all time) while I enumerated the options left at corner, mentioning Richard Nixon twice before a nominal first-string player at the semi-public fall scrimmage. Even if I've calmed down since, and I have a little bit, that's the existential chunk.
The practical chunk: the probable starters at corner, safety, and the safety-ish position that was called spinner (except when Greg Robinson was denying such a concept ever existed) and is now called spur are:
- at free safety, a redshirt freshman
- at spur, a true freshman (who will be treated as a linebacker, FWIW)
- at bandit, a redshirt sophomore walk-on
- at one corner, a redshirt sophomore pulled in favor of Mike Williams last year, and
- at the other corner, a true freshman.
Meanwhile, literally every backup except the aforementioned Williams has never played a meaningful snap at Michigan because they arrived two months ago or, in the case of James Rogers, was just one of those guys who seems like they're never going to play from day one. I could just point you to their recruiting profiles, tell you they'll be in the conversation for worst secondary in the league, and resume cowering in a closet. Previewing this position group is almost totally pointless: I've never really seen anyone play. They're probably going to be bad.
If this is an insufficient description of the situation, though, well, here's all this stuff.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||So.*||Cullen Christian||Fr.|
|Courtney Avery||Fr.||James Rogers||Sr.*|
|Terrence Talbott||Fr.||Tony Anderson||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Technically, the position preview scale goes from one to five. Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
|SMOKED LIKE GANJA|
|The big touchdown.|
|doomed from the start|
|MADE A PLAY!|
|knocking it down|
The single person at this position who Michigan fans have seen on the field is redshirt sophomore JT Floyd. On the one hand, he was so overmatched last year that Michigan decided they should move Troy Woolfolk to his spot and unleash Mike Williams on the world; Williams promptly gave up a third-and-twenty-four conversion to Iowa and was subsequently swapped with freshman walk-on Jordan Kovacs, leaving a tiny, slow, inexperienced guy no one even recruited in the most critical spot on the defense. This went exactly as well as you might expect. The coaches thought this was preferable to having Floyd on the field.
For my part, the Indiana UFR waved a white flag even at 4-0:
Whatever lingering hopes you had that the corner spot opposite Warren could turn into a non-liability should be put in the corner and told to be quiet for a while. JT Floyd did better than I thought he did live but still remains a timid redshirt freshman who transparently lacks the speed to be an elite corner. Michigan is going to have to cover up for him.
So did the game column:
Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
Floyd held onto his job for the Michigan State game, but that game saw Michigan adopt a fundamentally unsound formation featuring Floyd in the parking lot. State exploited this with a ton of virtually uncontested wide receiver screens:
They then countered those with the outside pitches that were the only consistently successful running plays Michigan State managed all day (QB scrambles were another story). Floyd may not have gotten smoked deep but it was only because he was playing Hail Mary defense all game. Seeing how untenable that situation was, Michigan's coaches made the move to Woolfolk at corner, thus opening up the already pretty much wide open floodgates. Except for sporadic plays and special teams duty, thus ended Floyd's participation in the 2009 season.
On the other hand, the coaches have been talking up his improvement since spring and have continued to do so through fall. Rodriguez 4/13: Floyd has "played well." Rodriguez 8/2: Floyd is coming off "a great spring." Also on 8/2: Rodriguez expresses "particular confidence" in Floyd and drops the t-bomb—"tremendous." Greg Robinson 8/11: Floyd is showing "a lot of progress." A spring practice source: Floyd is "vastly improved." And Robinson and Gibson on 8/25:
"J.T. Floyd may have been the guy that made the biggest jump from last season to the end of spring ball in so many ways," Robinson said on Sunday. "There's nothing any different - he's just worked really hard. J.T. just has a way about him - he leads well and his work habits - he's just a harder worker than he was at this time last year."
Gibson concurs. "He's done such a complete turnaround. You just take last year at this time, and he was just a guy really trying to work to the point that he’s at right now, and he’s done it."
|Indiana||4.5||8||-3.5||Tries hard. Clearly
|MSU||3||3||0||I'll take it.|
How meaningful is any of this? The fear is not very. This is replica of the Johnny Sears hype down to the sweet dreads: after being largely responsible for that heart-stopping moment when Ball State had a first and goal with a shot to tie Michigan in the '06 season, Johnny Sears was in line for a starting cornerback job after the graduation of Leon Hall. Sears was talked up all offseason, failed miserably during the Horror, was quickly yanked for true freshman Donovan Warren, and was off the team a month into the 2007 season. While that outcome is an negative outlier even with Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God at full wroth, it goes to show that sometimes a coach praising a kid who's struggled and is being thrust into a prominent role is more hope than anything else. Our best hope may be that anonymous spring observer, who has no reason to pump up a kid in the hopes he'll keep it together.
Floyd was just a freshman last year and should improve significantly. The chatter's consistent enough and from enough sources that some of it is probably real. Average is about all anyone can hope for, though.
The other corner spot will probably (50.1%!) end up in the hands of freshman Cullen Christian. James Rogers had a tentative hold on the first string in the semi-public fall scrimmage that he maintained to the release of the fall depth chart, but since he hasn't played at all in his Michigan career—not even when the walls were falling in last year—he's likely to cede that by the time the season rolls around. If not by then, probably by the Big Ten season.
Christian gets the ultra-tentative nod here simply by virtue of his recruiting rankings, which were strong. He checked in a near five-star at Scout, a top 100 guy at Rivals, and hit three other top 100 lists. He's not a burner; his main assets are his size (6'1"), leaping ability, and excellent hips. ESPN praised his "coveted size, quickness, fluidity and savvy" and said he would enter college "ahead of the curve in terms of technique, understanding of coverages and size," and assessment basically echoed by Rivals and the rest of the chattering class. His main problem is tackling, at which he's pretty sucky.
How doomed is Michigan here? Still pretty doomed. But it is worth pointing out that if there's one spot on defense where a freshman can walk onto the field and not spoil everything, it's corner, where conservative play and safety help can mitigate the damage.
What, Me Backups?
The backups are unknowns or freshmen. The aforementioned James Rogers was a lanky high school tailback reputed to have great straight-line speed but no hips; Michigan took him as a flier recruit. He has not panned out, bouncing from wide receiver to cornerback for the duration of his career.
Rogers did come in for some fall fluff during Rodriguez's post-scrimmage presser:
James Rogers is a senior that has played over that position. He has had a really good camp. Some of the young freshman that are competing out there at that position … Again, James Rogers is a veteran. He has been around a little bit, so we have a little experience with James out there as well.
He has to play and may even get the bulk of the time early. The assumption here is that even if he's currently ahead of the freshmen he probably won't remain so for very long.
The two remaining freshmen are extremely similar. Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery are middling three-star types from Ohio; Avery is probably the better athlete, since he was a star quarterback; Talbott is more polished since he's been a full-time corner but spent a lot of his high school career injured. Both approached but did not get four stars on one of the big three recruiting sites; both got "meh" from the other two; both are generously listed at 5'10" and truthfully listed at 165 pounds. They need 20 pounds before they're anything approximating Big Ten corners. Instead they get thrown into the fire immediately.
Talbott in a sentence:
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
I don't have anything quite as neat on Avery but both Scout and ESPN praise his "exceptional athleticism" while calling him very, very small.
Reports out of fall camp have been conflicting, with certain folk claiming one or the other will play, possibly a lot, while the other is way too small and a guaranteed redshirt. There wasn't much to tell them apart during the scrimmage; whichever one does get drafted into playing this year is going to play a lot of conservative zone coverage and miss a lot of tackles.
There were rumors Kelvin Grady might get a shot at corner but with Martavious Odoms apparently moving outside full-time there's room for him to play at slot and he's been prominent this fall; if he does end up moving it will be a midseason panic thing. Teric Jones was moved back to offense after spending a year trying to learn cornerback, getting moved to safety, and then getting moved to cornerback again; obviously he's just not a D-I caliber player on D.
Rating: 2, generously
|Jordan Kovacs||So.*#||Cam Gordon||Fr.*|
|Marvin Robinson||Fr.||Jared Van Slyke||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Safety has been the positional bête noir of the Michigan fan for going on a decade now but things had never been as black or beastly as they were last year, when Boubacar Cissoko's epic flameout forced Michigan to go with the doomed Jordan Kovacs-Mike Williams combination. Williams was the most confused, least useful player I've ever broken down film of; Kovacs was just slow and small. Their powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
Williams has been shuffled off to third- or fourth-team spur to cover punts for all eternity, but the situation here is hardly less bleak than it was a year ago. Jordan Kovacs is now a sophomore walk-on and probable starter. Last year he debuted against Notre Dame, was one of two Michigan secondary members to be blazed on the infamous 85-yard Indiana touchdown, and then actually started making a name for himself as a solid box safety in the Michigan State game:
Jordan Kovacs registered a +4.5 and is single-handedly responsible for about half of the + tackles Michigan saw yesterday … Kovacs provided hard-nosed run defense that makes me think he'll be a positive contributor going forward.
Williams imploded in the next game, Michigan dropped Kovacs to free safety, and the walls caved in. The dividing line was clear as day in UFR:
|Notre Dame||1||-||1||Nice story.|
|EMU||2||1||1||Hasn't cost Michigan anything yet..|
|Indiana||3||4||-1||Hardy, but slow.|
|Michigan State||7.5||3||4.5||Some of these were just backside blitzes that he tackled on, but he did tackle. At other times he displayed a real knack for getting to ballcarriers.|
|Iowa||2.5||3||-0.5||Missed one tackle, made another few, good downhill box safety.|
|Penn State||1||6||-5||Just can't play a deep half.|
|Illinois||-||3||-3||Again burned as a deep half safety.|
|Purdue||1||5||-4||Enormous bust #3.|
|Wisconsin||4||4||0||Did pretty okay. No idea why they moved him to deep safety; he's pretty effective in the box.|
The Mike Williams bit is handled in the linebackers and has more on just how disastrous a switch this was, but the morals of the story: Kovacs cannot play free safety and is pretty effective as a tiny linebacker when he doesn't have to take on linemen.
|EFFECTIVE RUN BLITZER|
|jet past blockers|
|tackles Caper from behind|
|takes down the RB|
|WOULD BE A GREAT LB IF HE WAS 50% BIGGER|
|shoot up through a gaping hole|
|doesn't bite on the bubble fake|
|doomed from the start|
|bails and bails|
Michigan moves him back to tiny linebacker this fall, but it's not that easy. When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety is this year's Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype award: Cam Gordon. Though Gordon was recruited as a wide receiver, everyone on the planet expected he'd get his token chance at the position and then get flipped to defense, where Michigan desperately needed bodies and he projects better anyway.
This duly happened, except when Gordon and his 6'3" frame moved it was to free safety, not linebacker. This was pretty weird, and it got weirder still when the hype machine starter cranking out superlative after superlative. A sampling follows. Rodriguez:
“Cam Gordon has been really consistent all spring,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. We’re “really getting some confidence with him.”
MGoBlog's own Tom Van Haaren reporting back from some conversations with players on the team:
Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
By the spring game he was the undisputed starter at free safety; he managed to get through that without anyone even noticing him. In the safety business this is a win.
Unfortunately, Gordon struggled in the fall scrimmage, failing to wrap up on a number of tackles. Rodriguez was sticking to his guns afterward:
"Yesterday was not his best day practice wise, but other than that, he has a really good camp. He is a very physical guy and the game is really important to him. Again, he has not played. He has not played in the big stage yet. There is going to be nerves and there are going to be some mistakes, but he has just got to limit them… we look for a big year for him even though he is a redshirt freshman.”
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. With his lack of blazing speed and inexperience, actually making plays seems out of the question. Misopogon dedicated a couple of his epically researched posts to the safety play and found that Brandent Englemon's traditional 1-0-1 as a junior was actually the second best performance of any safety in the UFR era (with Jamar Adams obviously finishing first).
Repeating that +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Marvin Robinson is the most shirtless recruit in the world
If you've been watching the Countdown to Kickoff videos frequently, you've probably experienced the same sort of cognitive dissonance I have when #3 comes roaring in from somewhere else and whacks a guy to the ground authoritatively or picks off an errant pass. This is not the competent-to-good LB hybrid version of Stevie Brown, it's Marvin Robinson, Michigan's first great hope for bandit. As a true freshman, the book on Robinson is contained in his recruiting profile, but you're probably familiar with the general outline by now: hyped Florida recruit enamored with Michigan since a freshman trip to Michigan's summer camp, early offers from USC, Florida, and the rest of the world, precipitous fall in the rankings, still a highly regarded prospect with athleticism Jordan Kovacs can only dream of.
Robinson's early performance has him pushing Kovacs. Woofolk noticed him even before practice started, and Greg Robinson knows a lady-killer when he sees one:
"I know this: he walks around the building looking really good."
His performance in fall was highlight-heavy and caught the attention of his teammates. He finished second to Jonas Mouton when AnnArbor.com media day poll asked who the hardest hitter on the team was. Ricardo Miller was one vote:
"When he comes to hit, everyone knows it. I think he's cracked his helmet twice this camp, and if that doesn't show you enough that he can, I don't know what could."
Robinson has huge size and speed advantages on Kovacs and will certainly play this fall, possibly as a passing-down replacement, possibly as something more. In an ideal world he would be so good he would ease Kovacs out of his starting role by midseason. I don't think that's likely since the bandit position is extremely complicated, but I do expect some sort of platoon where Robinson gets ahold of some parts of the playbook he executes better than Kovacs and is brought in regularly.
At deep safety, Vlad Emilien still seems like the first option behind Gordon but his initial returns have been discouraging. He enrolled early—giving him just as much experience as Kovacs—and then never played, Turner-style, despite the debacle going down on the field. Word was that the senior-year knee injury that cost him almost all of his senior season and his Ohio State offer lingered through the year. With that almost two years in the past now that can no longer be an excuse—any damage still lingering is permanent.
There may be some, as it was Emilien who was left in the dust by Roy Roundtree on the 97-yard strike from Denard Robinson in the spring game; Teric Jones caught and passed Emilien en route. Getting instantly passed by a position-switching guy the same class as you is a bad indicator, as is ending up behind a walk-on on the depth chart.
That walk-on is Jared Van Slyke, about whom nothing is known except his father is really good at baseball. True freshman Ray Vinopal (recruiting profile) is also at free safety. Rodriguez did mention him as a guy who has "a chance" to play this fall, he didn't show up on the first depth chart and he's probably going to redshirt.
The deep safety situation is grim past Gordon; if he doesn't work out you're either starting two walk-ons, moving up Emilien, who doesn't seem ready, or shuffling Robinson and or Kovacs around.
Quotes from some of Michigan's players at Sunday's Media Day.
"I wish [Troy Woolfolk] a speedy recovery, man. That was like my best friend. I looked across there and that was my man." Woolfolk has encouraged Floyd to keep his head up, and work to make the secondary as good as possible.
Floyd hasn't had to step up his leadership with Woolfolk going out. He's always been a high-energy guy, and will continue to be that way.
Floyd is excited for the opportunity to be the team's top corner. "Personally, I've worked hard for a very long time. I put a lot of time in this summer to work to get better. I just ready for the opportunity to really show what I can do."
Floyd had never played corner until he got to Michigan (he was always a safety in high school). He's now had two years at the position, and knows what to expect and how to prepare.
Stonum's biggest improvement this off-season has been in ball skills. He was already running good routes, had good speed, and was recognizing coverages. He just needed to catch the ball when it showed up. Contact lenses have helped with that, as did working hard individually this summer.
Stonum tried to get a little bit bigger, because he takes a lot of hits with kickoff returns and receiver duty. The team worked hard this summer to get into shape.
The whole wide receiver crew has worked hard to show that they can be the #1 guy. The competition makes everyone better, and makes the team better.
Spending a couple days in jail this summer was a learning experience. It's in the past, and it's something Darryl can look back at, making sure something like it doesn't happen again. Darryl, the coaches, and his family talked about it together, and made the best out of a bad situation.
Darryl and Junior Hemingway take a leadership role among the wide receivers. They're trying to show the younger guys the ropes. "Everybody's a leader. If you're doing what you're supposed to do, and you're someone that your teammate can look at and be like 'he's doing the right thing, he's doing what he's supposed to do' then you're a leader."
"Last year, I thought I was just going to play a role in the defense. I had no idea I was going to start." He didn't find out until Friday before the first game.
On whether there's more pressure to win this season: "More pressure? Nawww. We're at Michigan. We've always got pressure." The team just needs to go out there and play their hardest.
One of the reasons Roundtree came to Michigan is that he loves the tradition and academics (subtle Purdue dig?).
Even when he wasn't a big contributor last year, Roundtree was practicing hard every day. When he finally got his chance, he showed everyone that he had been working hard. "Now that I am almost like the head of the offensive corps, I still work my tail off and still the same things I did last year when I wasn't starting are the same things I'm doing now."
At first, Smith was a little worried about how his knee would hold up in practice. Now, "I'm just going out there to compete and just make it better and better every day." He's now feeling comfortable, and there's no pain in his knee.
Smith was never worried that his knee would never be the same. His lateral quickness means a lot to his game.
"It was pretty tough just going out there and seeing them playing" this spring, when he was held out of practice.
Everybody looked at Smith's size and height coming out of high school as negatives. Michigan saw more though, in his passion for football.
Despite Smith's size, he's more than just a third-down back. He's been preparing to be an every-down guy. He's gotten bigger and worked on the mental game this summer.
Michael Cox and Michael Shaw
Cox: "We've got a real good relationship with Coach J [Fred Jackson], we just gotta do what he asks us to do, and he'll be happy with us."
Shaw: "[Jackson] definitely knows what he's talking about. No question about it. Everything he says, you've gotta listen to it." The coaches have to be brutally honest in their constructive criticism, because that's the only way you'll get better and win football games.
Cox: The different backs give defenses more to prepare for. They can change up in the game and exploit different weaknesses.
Shaw: "I'm not gonna try to run over linebackers, but if Cox wants to do that - look at him - he's definitely a good fit for the job." Having a variety of roles for the running backs makes it better, because you can bring in a fresh pair of legs with no dropoff.
Rogers started the spring game with the ones, because Troy had just gone down with a finger injury. When that happened (and when Troy injured his ankle a week ago), Rogers knew he had to step up.
"I'm just here to play. I'm here to do whatever the team needs. I just get out here and I try to work hard every day." He can't worry about depth chart positions.
Rogers came in as a receiver, but told the coaches he was willing to switch positions to help the team as soon as he arrived in Ann Arbor. He's bounced around since.
Rogers is trying to prepare the young guys, and be a leader. Now that Woolfolk is out, he''ll have to step it up even further.
Woolfolk is a loose leader, and it helps calm down the players so they don't get too serious. Rogers's leadership style might not be the same.
Tim will spin out posts on his experience at Media Day over the first few days of the week, but right now how about a million embeds? Oh and this from the MVictors photo gallery:
"Please stop doing that, you're making me uncomfortable."
And then there's all the video Boyz n tha Pahokee and MGoVideo put in a non-browser-crippling format:
Denard Robinson (wsgs Mike Rosenberg and Mike Rosenberg's Tiny Afro!):
Several more after the jump.
Where the great plains begin. It will not be news to anyone that Ernie Harwell died yesterday. I'm sure most have youtubed a tribute or three in the aftermath; there are plenty. A year-long bout with cancer gives people time to prepare. I think the best, tribute, though, was an improptu one: Dan Dickerson relaying the news on the radio. Clearly heartbroken, Dickerson provides a few seconds of dead air, then gets out a few tear-stained words before managing to interject "Hudson takes a pitch high." Jim Price hops in at this point and the two talk about Harwell as Hudson takes a five-pitch walk. That's baseball.
Here's some of Harwell in his own words:
Chicago, my nemesis, we meet again. After standing outside Hugging Harold Reynold's room with a boombox for months they've finally relented and allowed me to be on one of the panels at Blogs With Balls 3.0. The title of our panel is "Democratizing Sports Media: How Blogging Players, Fans & Leagues Are Changing the Game," and like a good engineer I'll be frantically attempting to make that less vague over email in the next month. Joining me will be Henry Abbott of True Hoop fame, Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo's Big League Stew, Valli Hilaire of The Fast and The Fabulous, which is not New York's gay and lesbian bike club even if Google thinks it is but rather a NASCAR blog, and Robert Littal of Black Sports Online.
Some cursory googling reveals that Littal is an Ohio State grad and Kaduk went to Wisconsin and roots for Notre Dame, so if things get boring I we'll just have a triple threat match for bragging rights. If you want to witness rough country justice firsthand, you can get tickets. They're 50 bucks off until May 15th.
Zoltan, one last time. I read a lot of other college football blogs, so I state this with authority: we are living through a golden age in Michigan-football-related bizarre Youtube projects. There is not a school on the planet that can compete with Mike Cox getting it YGM style, Coner 2000 dropping mad rhymes (THAT'S FEBREZE PEOPLE) or killing some rich guy, Jack Kennedy auditioning for American Idol, O'Neill Depriest Swanson III pumping Vitamin Water, and Zoltan Mesko burning Meijer so hard:
Yea, truly we are the leaders and best.
JT Floyd would like to make cliches. Sometimes I feel deeply for beatwriters. This is one of those times:
J.T. Floyd’s motto as cornerback is simple.
“Make plays,” Floyd said last month after the Michigan football team's spring game. “That’s all you got to do to be successful out here.”
It's May. Football isn't until August. And you've got to publish something, so you grab an old quote in which a football player says "making plays" is the key to success. That article does have a couple encouraging quotes from teammates and coaches on Floyd, but… man. It's rough out there in May.
“It wasn’t my best year, obviously,” Ezeh said after the Wolverines’ April 17 spring game. “That’s in the past and try to move on and build a better future. I got to prove to people that last year was kind of a fluke and this is the (real) Obi.”
So there's that. Good luck in June, everyone.
Fightin' with facts. I don't believe I've mentioned the strange entity that is College Hockey, Inc. in this space, so here goes: USA Hockey finally got the same sort of giant developmental payment that the NHL has been forking over to the CHL for years. They spend some on the NTDP, some on the USHL, and some forming what can only be described as a propaganda organization called College Hockey, Inc. Its head is Paul Kelly and he's spent the year wandering around the country, advocating college hockey and pointing out that unless you're Patrick Kane the CHL is a rube's game. Kelly:
Our most important mission is to be an education and information resource to elite young players and their families on the many benefits of playing college hockey and why, if they're good enough and faced with the option to play for one of the junior teams in Canada or an NCAA Division I program, the option to play NCAA hockey is in most instances, the smarter and better course of action.
I love that there is an organization that causes CHL teams to complain about being "unfairly targeted" for pointing out relative graduation rates. Targeted, yes. Unfair… not so much.
Kelly also talks about future expansion of the USHL to a whopping 24 teams—Muskegon's picking one up this fall—and possible new markets for the college game. The great white sasquatch of the Big Ten is broached:
FTR: Penn State has been kicking that arena idea around for awhile now, and they also have a very good club program. Could they be next?
Kelly: They have been talking about the arena project and if you could ever get one other school from the Big Ten, you could create a Big Ten Hockey Conference. We'd have to shuffle the deck a bit, and reconfigure the WCHA and CCHA a bit.
I don't know how realistic any of these candidates are but if Penn State adds hockey I can't imagine it won't be at least revenue-neutral, especially if the Big Ten Network gets involved. Unfortunately, Title IX means a revenue-neutral men's sport can't be added without a women's sport that will be a money pit, and the economy and etc.
Kelly also suggests an Alaska-like exemption to keep Huntsville viable, something that I support.
Politics exception. There is one exception I will make to the otherwise iron-clad no politics law: copyright law is broken and stupid. Latest example is Google allowing the Downfall parodies to get yanked off Youtube when they could not be clearer instances of fair use. The precedent is worrying to me since I regularly post small snippets of a larger product I do not own for transformative purposes—ie, I employ fair use extensively. Here Google has failed to not be evil.
Etc.: I showed up on a podcast at Bucknuts. Warning: it looks like you have to register (but not subscribe) to get access to it. Also they make me state my opinion of Tressel, which I regret to inform you is respectful. Thus you are warned doubly. The hockey media's treatment of Alexander Ovechkin in the aftermath of the Caps' unceremonious first-round ouster is laughably inaccurate and totally predictable.
A roundup of Spring Practice happenings, all of which should be taken only somewhat seriously. Steve Breaston was "Black Jesus" before he even set foot on Michigan Stadium turf. Patrick Omameh was instantly the star of Michigan's six-member line class despite his status as the least-heralded of any of them. Meanwhile, the warnings about future Bronco Dann O'Neill were immediate. On the other hand, Grady Brooks was supposed to be a ninja and Kevin Grady a ball of knives. Practice rumblings seem to have the same predictive power as recruiting rankings: far from infallible but equally far from useless.
Erm, so… yeah. I will believe this two to three years after I see it but apparently Denard Robinson is running with the ones a lot and looks "radically improved," according to one emailer. Forcier seems to have struggled in comparison. I'm a little leery of spring practice reports at all times and that goes triple when it comes to using a few spring practices to overrule what we saw in twelve games last year. The improvement Robinson would have to undergo—and the lack thereof from Forcier—to be a viable threat to start is vast. I'm filing this under "motivational tactic" for now. Jon Chait is on the "it could happen" side of the fence.
By all accounts, Gardner is considerably behind the two sophomores. If Denard is a capable QB this year his redshirt seems assured.
BONUS: here is Robinson running a long way, albeit with aid from crappy walk-on tackling.
I don't usually do this, but when you've spent a lot of time extracting the superfluous bits from AnnArbor.com's SEO-friendly headlines, this brings out your inner thirteen year old:
running backMike Cox closely this spring
Past the middle school bits is the picture of an emerging running back in Michigan's five-way spring derby. His high school coach hints at some of the practice reports coming from the usual sources:
“He’s tough as nails,” Driscoll said. “He’s very tough and they’re going to have a hard time with him because he’s a big guy that’s really fast. That’s the trouble. He’ll hit you, too. He’s not going to back down from anybody.”
Everyone else comes in for sporadic praise and criticism. There's no consensus on who might be emerging as a tentative (and largely ceremonial starter). Probably the biggest news is a lack of all-encompassing Fitzgerald Toussaint hype.
Wide Receiver And Tight End
With Junior Hemingway and Je'Ron Stokes out there's not much on the outside and Roy Roundtree has moved there intermittently in sets with Martavious Odoms and Jeremy Gallon at slot. When the outside guys return, Michigan will have three or four slots they'd like to work into the lineup.
Here's Odoms answering some questions:
Odoms remains an endearingly terrible interview, but the mention of more two-slot formations is something to pay attention to. Tight ends, like Toussaint, have been largely absent from the spring buzz thus far.
Jerald Robinson has been the most impressive freshman so far, but the outside receivers have been plagued by drops. Kelvin Grady has evaporated, for what that's worth.
On the offensive line, Schilling and Molk stand out to AnnArbor.com, which is not something I feel spectacular about since 1) Schilling is an established quantity entering his fourth year as a starter and 2) Molk is injured and not practicing.
Patrick Omameh is staying at guard for now, though I'm still holding out hope they shift him outside and let Ricky Barnum and Quinton Washington fight to the death for the spot. Four guys competing at tackle, two of them redshirt freshman and two of them upperclassmen who struggled badly in pass protection last year, is a sketchy situation. That has not come to pass, nor has either freshman pushed through into the nominal starting lineup.
I'm a little leery of a strapping 6'3", 208 pound kid who spent the brief duration of his Michigan career to date at wide receiver being the starting deep safety, but with Vlad Emilien out with a minor injury it's Cam Gordon who is the front-runner in the 2010 Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award chase. He comes in for mention by Rodriguez during a speech at a local football coaches' convention:
"Defensively, guys that have been impressive the last week or so, Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, Craig Roh’s had a couple good days. Renaldo Sagesse, we were teasing him, Thursday he had the best practice since I’ve been here. I asked him what he ate for breakfast. I didn’t know if it was Canadian bacon or something, but he’s had a terrific spring."
It has been Gordon this, Gordon that at deep safety. This may be largely due to a lack of bodies. Justin Turner is practicing at cornerback, Vlad Emilien is injured, and the three guys who played the spot last year are either box safeties (Williams, Kovacs) or corners (Woolfolk). It's gotten to the point where Brandin Hawthorne, who was a high school defensive end (albeit a tiny one), is splitting time back there.
On the defensive line there's been a consistent stream of positives about virtually everyone. Sagesse, Campbell, and Banks all came in for specific praise from Robinson at today's press conference. Even longtime non-entity Adam Patterson is getting some praise at the defensive end spot he and Greg Banks are keeping warm for Mike Martin. Perhaps the biggest news is the Sagesse praise. If Sagesse is a legit option at DT, Michigan doesn't have to think about sliding Martin inside to platoon with Campbell. I think he will be. I like him in UFRs last year.
Demens, meanwhile, has been the only linebacker to get a fair share of practice hype. Ezeh and Mouton have not been mentioned; Roh comes in for praise as a 250 pound outside linebacker but that's not a surprise. I'm not sure what to make of that: Demens was behind a walk-on last year and didn't see the field even when Michigan was rotating their linebackers so they could yell at them better. His only appearances were on special teams and Michigan's goal line package. Maybe he's a guy who is aided significantly by the move to the 3-3-5? If his issues were mental this defense allows you to do a lot of blitzing and play downhill.
And then there's corner, where Justin Turner still lags behind JT Floyd. No offense to Floyd, but I think that gives everyone hives. Even if Demar Dorsey comes in and is lights out as a true freshman, he's a true freshman and having a hyped guy like Turner struggle to break into the starting lineup in a secondary this chaotic is not a good sign.
Also, Craig Roh coughs and answers questions:
(Odoms, Roh HT: The Michigan Faithful.)