Who are these guys?
No, seriously. What the hell is going on? Where's Henne? Hart? Long? Is that a running back taking snaps? Do they know you're allowed to take a snap from under center? Who stole my football team and replaced them with Valdosta State?
Exciting new kids in order of projected use this year:
- Martavious Odoms. He’s the only healthy slot receiver and is the Chad Henne of WRs: a starter from day one in high school. He’s ready-ish to play and will be counted on heavily; may return kicks.
- Darryl Stonum. Michigan needs someone to put the fear of God into opposing safeties and Stonum’s the guy with that rep. Early enrollment means he’s not as clueless as your average freshman; hell, he’s got just as much time in this system as anyone on the team.
- Michael Shaw. Slightly ahead of McGuffie because I think they’ll use him in th slot a bit.
- Sam McGuffie. Run, annoyed man. Run.
- Terrence Robinson. Injury sets him back, obviously, but once he’s back he’ll rotate into the slot.
It is possible this ends well. Michigan will surround Sheridan with a deep and varied set of receiving targets, and the spread ‘n shred can turn a wobbly-armed but heady passer into Zak Kustok or Bret Basanez. It doesn’t demand the precision howitzer Carr’s pro-style system did. The physical limitations (and senior year injury) that forced Sheridan to walk-on somewhere don’t have to be fatal.
But if we’re being honest with ourselves there’s little chance it starts well. The note of distress coming from practice observers and press conferences is clear, and the scary thing is a lot of the reported problems are things like “throws bubble screens backwards.” (Michigan fans are going to find out how spoiled Chad Henne’s unerring accuracy on screens made them.)
Though practice reports got less alarmed as fall camp progressed—there was even video evidence of Sheridan completing passes farther than six yards downfield—Michigan's best hope here is for something functional, a guy who can throw a bunch of screens and keep the offense moving.
This offensive line can’t be as bad as Notre Dame’s, can it?
This was going to be a “definitely not” until the Zirbel injury and John Ferrara’s move from defensive tackle to potential starter. Now it’s just “probably not.”
There’s a fair quantity of talent slated to start. Schilling, of course, was an OMG shirtless recruit waylaid by injury. He should be much better this year. Moosman and Molk were both four-star sorts. That’s three of your starters with guru approval, and the guys who didn’t get it are both redshirt juniors who’ve seen a series here and there.
Plenty of teams have gotten away with worse outfits. Georgia and Auburn both started multiple freshmen last year and that worked out pretty okay; just because the nearest and dearest line to go through a painful youth movement became Most Extreme Epic Disaster Challenge does not mean this is Michigan’s fate. Whenever it’s dark out and your thoughts turn to Notre Dame’s 2007 season replicated in winged helmets, just remember that Charlie Weis spent fall camp installing a spread option look for one game against Georgia Tech and neglected things like technique or pads. It was coaching malpractice on an unprecedented scale; Michigan won’t go down the same road.
HOWEVA, there are some major concerns. We know these things about Mark Ortmann:
- He was not a big time recruit.
- The coaching staff thought he was clearly worse than a guy (Schilling) who was not ready to play last year.
- He’s the starting left tackle virtually by default.
Unless we’re lacking some critical piece of information like an undisclosed, lingering injury or Ortmann’s sudden improvement, that looks a lot like a recipe for blindside hits galore assuming Michigan ever tries a pass longer than ten yards. Which they may not. But that’s another question.
And then there’s Zirbel injury, which puts Michigan one ligament away from starting a true freshman or a guy who was playing defensive tackle two weeks ago. Even if the line stays miraculously healthy, the lack of confidence in Molk is troubling.
If a couple of guys don’t pan out or, worse, get injured, darkness threatens to warsh over the dude at quarterback.
Will Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee be inherently better than Carr and Debord?
Michigan fans have complained for years on end about the predictability of Michigan’s offense. Whenever Michigan replaced its starting receivers, it was a guaranteed run. Whenever a tight end lined up at fullback, it was a guaranteed pass. Fullback shuffles were 90% runs to the side of the shuffle, and the few times it wasn’t didn’t justify the expense in yards and downs expended to launch the surprise.
This differentiates them from zero fanbases nationwide. Hell, West Virginia fans had a field day decrying the “predictable” offense Rich Rodriguez ran after his departure. Seriously:
“i will be glad whenever mcgee is officially gone. his 'i will only call 4 different plays' mentality can suck up in michigan right now for all i care.”
In a way, it was predictable: you run 70% of the time and a hefty chunk of the passes are bubble screens. In another way it obviously wasn’t. Touchdowns don’t score themselves.
Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows my opinion, and it was best summed up in the aftermath of the Horror:
If every Michigan fan can tell you certain things obviously tip Michigan's plays, what are the chances opposing coaches don't know this? Zero. Everyone knows what Michigan is going to do. This is something we've heard every time a bowl opponent is asked about us for the past half-decade and probably longer. It's an arrogant waste of expectation because you expect that you won't need to fool the other team. It's like playing poker without ever bluffing.
This opinion is apparently shared by many, including current members of the team. This is perhaps the most damning quote I’ve ever read on the topic, and it comes from Brandon Graham:
“Everybody knew exactly what we were going to do. That was like the arrogance of being at Michigan. ‘Our players are better than yours.’ That’s how it was. That kind of got to (players) when it stopped working. The big games, like Ohio State, we would want to show them something we didn’t do during the season. But we’d go out there and do the same thing.”
This thinking is ancient, dating back to Bo and the days of unlimited scholarships. Michigan assumed it was inherently better than its opponents and every game was an exercise choking out the variance so that superiority could show.
It is also the complete antithesis of Rich Rodriguez. This was an opinion expressed earlier:
Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage against the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.
To me, the exciting thing about Rodriguez is not necessarily his system but his mindset. He's looking to squeeze out every ounce of expectation, make every resource stretch as far as he can, and now he's been provided resources few other coaches have.
This is the Coal Spoon theory, and it answers this question simply: yes.
You know, I get emails from time to time complaining about how negative I’m being, but not in a “you’re just incorrigible” way. They mostly complain about the depression induced.
What can I say? For the first time, Michigan is violating several of the preview heuristics: don’t switch a guy at the last second and give him playing time. Don’t completely change your system—not that the change is bad, but it will be painful in the short term. Don’t start a walk-on at quarterback. Have something other than crippled goats backing up your offensive line.
These things are nigh insurmountable obstacles in the quest for a non-ugly offense. There’s just too much that can go wrong (or already has) for the offense to function at an aesthetically pleasing level.
It shouldn’t get anywhere close to the radioactive mess Notre Dame was, or even be the worst offense in the league. The Rodriguez system doesn’t demand that much out of either of the shaky position groups. It does demand that the skill position players be able to beat their guys one-on-one in the open field, and Michigan should have the athletes to do this with regularity.
I think we’ll see an offensive of extremes this year: good or better against teams with shaky athleticism, bad or worse against A-level opponents. Scanning the schedule I see only three or four of those.
One major caveat: the situation at quarterback and on the offensive line is extremely fragile. If a guy goes down or just doesn’t pan out the dropoff as you go back is severe; there is a small chance a couple guys implode and the offense makes a short trip off a cliff.
- People are very excited about Martavious Odoms going into 2009, like Steve Breaston excited.
- Sheridan starts off the starting quarterback, is replaced at some point, but ends the season as the guy.
- Junior Hemingway establishes himself a starter midseason.
- The running back situation involves a mess of players; Minor, Brown, McGuffie, and Shaw all see 100 carries. Brown has the best YPC.
- Michigan has a better offense in-conference than they did last year. (Ninth.)
- Ricky Barnum ends up starting five or six games.
- Michigan is around 50th in yardage.
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.
Ugh. Michigan’s offensive line, already paper thin after a wide variety of departures, is the last place Michigan can afford an injury. So this is lame: reports from Fan Day indicate that Mark Huyge has a high ankle sprain and the injury that held Corey Zirbel out of the last week of camp is going to last into the season. A high ankle sprain can linger a long time, so Huyge might not be heard from until midseason. He wasn’t being mentioned as a potential starter, but he’s one of the few non-freshman (of the true variety) available past the starters. Zirbel’s issue is apparently less severe but there’s talk of minor knee surgery and he will miss at least the Utah game. If you’ve got a Rivals subscription you can hear him say it sucks about 30 times in four minutes. Zirbel had locked down a starting guard spot. His loss presses Dave Molk into the lineup at center; David Moosman slides over to guard.
In the absence of the two injured linemen, Michigan now has one backup who’s not a true freshman: redshirt sophomore tackle Perry Dorrestein. Hopefully Zirbel returns ASAP.
How have you been in the last 30 seconds? Rodriguez’s press conferences are coming so fast and furious that they are now largely devoid of information that hasn’t already been relayed. The latest was Media Day, and it was mostly been there, done that. (The injury information above was pried out of the players themselves by inquisitive fans.) A few points of interest, though:
- “It's pretty exciting, but at the same time, pretty nerve-wracking, when you're going to have upwards of eight, nine, 10 true freshmen that may play significant time in your first ball game.”
- This was followed by the usual list of players: Odoms and Robinson—mentioned as a slot unit—, McGuffie and Shaw—also mentioned as a unit. Stonum and then a surprising mention for stick-thin Roy Roundtree. On defense: Floyd, Cissoko, safety Brandon Smith, and DT Mike Martin.
- Rodriguez was really noncommittal about who’s going to start at running back. Brown and Minor, the two presumed leaders, “will play” because they are “good players” but there was no indication anyone had any sort of hold on the job.
- Fast guys will return kicks. Greg Mathews was mentioned at punt returner but that was after Donovan Warren and along with the two slot electrons; kick returns will fall to Shaw, McGuffie, Trent, and Harrison.
- Feagin is suffering from “information overload” and a shoulder injury; he is not in the mix to start: “He's not close to being ready, but I wasn't overly optimistic he would be because there's so much you have to learn here in the first year.”
- Cheery: “There will be some anxious moments in a couple weeks.”
- Also cheery: “Offensively, we still have depth issues, all across the board at every position, and particularly up front.” More on the offensive linemen: “Some of the offensive linemen, the true freshmen, they're not quite ready, but some of them are in the two deep by default. It's a little nerve wracking, but they're working really hard. I like that class. It's a really good class.”
So there you go. Very little in the way of actual news outside of kick returners, but a totally awesome sense of foreboding that I am digging right now.
One thing you can glean by reading between the lines: Shaw’s position has been in doubt ever since he signed with Michigan, but it’s clear now he’s a tailback first despite the fall roster listing him at wide receiver. Rodriguez talked about him as a running back several times usually in concert with McGuffie. Also, that “Michigan drill” thing in which Shaw was so impressive is a RB drill. Running backs can line up all over the field in Rodriguez’s offense, so we’ll probably see him in the slot from time to time.
Terrence Robinson looks pensive. And short, short, short.
“Camp Confidential” comes to you courtesy Carlos Brown. Mostly fluff, but further confirmation that Odoms, Robinson, and McGuffie are looking good. Also this:
We'll have a Gong Show next week, which will be interesting because I've never been a part of something like that before.
Some bullets from MGoBlue indicate that freshmen are getting the opportunities they are because minor dings are holding certain players out of the lineup. Reports are Minor has a hamstring issue—nasty, as those can linger—and Brown has yet another undisclosed minor ding. Given the current trajectory of his injuries (broken hand last fall, finger injury from “freak weightlifting accident” this spring), I assume he had the tip of his pinky finger bitten off by a grue.
Senior/junior punter Zoltan Mesko has continued to impress in camp.
Space aficionados will enjoy this minute and a half of Zoltan punts:
Why? I don’t know. I don’t care.
Eroc has some interesting stuff at his site, including an extended discussion of quarterbacks. Some items that jumped out:
Regarding Chambers playing this weekend, it seems that Coach Shafer and Defensive staff have put in a dime package off the nickel look.
So Chambers is playing some WLB/safety hybrid thing. Interesting. Michigan had high hopes for him before a Big Ten eligibility snafu booted him from the field, but that says to me that Michigan’s linebackers aren’t impressing. Also, Babb and Herron are mentioned as guys who might end up transferring for more playing time. FWIW.
Other stuff: more stuff on quarterbacks from Mark Snyder; Rivals has a freebie interview with JT Floyd; Carty picks out ten things we don’t have to worry about and starts the list with Fred Jackson and Zoltan, which, like, no offense to either of those guys but shit.
Carlos Brown pitching the ball; via the Daily.
There was another open-ish practice yesterday. It was significant for two events. Event #1 was Mike Shaw smoking guys. Jim Carty:
The freshman from Ohio sprinted past the first defensive player, then cut back around the second. If that had been all he did, it would have still been an impressive display of speed and shiftiness, but highly touted freshman corner Boubacar Cissoko was still between Shaw and the end of the cone.
Shaw hinted at a move and then simply squared up and pancaked Cissoko. Rolled right over him. With authority.
"Ohhhhhhh!" went the team.
"Wow," whispered a reporter.
Shaw and McGuffie were specifically called out as freshmen who will be contributors this fall:
"(They) are two guys who will not be redshirted," Rodriguez said Tuesday. "The biggest (issue) as freshmen coming in is, can they mentally handle the schemes and the pace? Those two have shown they can so far. They've done enough to convince us they can contribute as freshmen, and I think as much mentally as physically.
"They're both fast, explosive players that I think are good with the spread system, so we're excited about it. As much as anything, I like the way they practice. Coming here in the summer helped. They're practicing like they've been here longer than a couple weeks."
Elsewhere in the youth movement on offense: Odoms and Robinson are obviously taking hold of the slot position. Toney Clemons, the nominal spring starter at the position, is now moving between the slot and outside receiver. Kevin Koger got special mention when tight ends were discussed; sounds like that DE move is off the table; Barnum and Khoury mentioned in a question about which true freshmen OL have a shot to play. No O'Neill, about which more later
Event #2 was a seismic shift in the quarterbacks competition. You can read this on any of the premium sites or in the Carty article, and I believe it to be true: Nick Sheridan, not Steven Threet, is your probable starter. The media got to see Sheridan significantly outperform Threet yesterday in the 30 minutes they were allotted. I have some inside baseball on this one suggesting that this is no smokescreen or motivational ploy and that Sheridan is currently the legitimate favorite to start against Utah. Hide the children.
This may not be hugely important. No matter who starts chances are he struggles at some point and the other guy gets a chance to prove himself. But the assumption that it was Threet with Nick Sheridan an emergency option is right out. According to Rodriguez, Feagin...
Justin has been okay. He was a little hampered the last couple days with a sore shoulder. This morning he looked a little bit better, but he has got a long way to go, more mentally than anything else, because there is so much for him to learn.
...does not seem a viable option yet.
Inside bits! A previously-reliable emailer provides practice insights from someone with an opportunity to take in an entire practice session:
- Practice is extremely intense and the tempo is high. This would normally be blah blah blah but this individual has seen a lot of different colleges practice; this is a notable difference between Michigan and the typical program. Coaches were a little too intense, maybe, choosing to yell at guys instead of showing them how they screwed up. Notable exception: DC Scott Shafer, who was a technique hound instructing everyone on the defense.
- The offensive line, as expected, looks rough. O'Neill has a great frame and upside but is not ready to play this year.
- Confirmation that the young tailbacks looked excellent; Shaw "one of the fastest players I've ever seen in college."
- Thumbs up to Cissoko.
- Regarding EEEE Barwis: it's not so much that Barwis is a god who raises wolves and all that, but that Michigan's previous regime was hopelessly out of date. Of all the football factory schools, Michigan had a reputation around the NFL for having the least prepared, least conditioned athletes. [I find this a little hard to believe given all the guys who leap directly into NFL starting roles, but this guy's assessment comes from a place of great credibility. It does seem clear that some guys had ample motivation and training (Edwards, Hart), but others (Watson) were just this side of "blogger." -ed]
- Trent is "way ahead" of where he was last year at this time and is the best NFL prospect on the defense. (Of players eligible for the next draft, so it's basically just him and the DL. I don't know if that's good. Next bullet.)
- The defensive line plays too "stiff" -- not exactly sure what the upshot of this is -- and was not as impressive as Michigan fans might hope.
- Not shocking: things are "ridiculously open" compared to the Carr regime.
Let's see Weis try this. Entertaining tidbit from Mark Snyder:
[Rodriguez was] standing over kicker K.C. Lopata as well, trying to rattle him on each successive kick, wagering something out of our earshot. Yet it became abundantly clear when the kicking drill was done and Rodriguez himself hit the deck and cranked out a bunch of pushups in the middle of the field. Rodriguez's energy with the players was clear and they all seemed to be engaged by his interaction.
And finally we can say what we've been waiting to say. The uniforms are official, the pads are on, and there's no quarter left for Michigan football fans:
The away jerseys suck.