Mailbag: Playing Early, SEC Basketball Vs Big Ten Football Derpoff, Press Pleas, Permissible Jerk Level
INSTANT IMPACT; LATER IMPACT
First, in terms of player development, which position is the hardest to develop a freshman at for them to see playing time immediately. Conversely, which position is the easiest for a freshman to make a significant impact at without needing to redshirt or know the system inside and out? (Excluding punter and kicker)
Offensive line is by far the most difficult. Most incoming offensive linemen are man-mountains who have never seen anyone on their level in an actual football game. That is why almost all OL redshirt even in times of extreme need. See: Michigan last year. The reason OL are so hard to project is because they are so much farther from finished products than everyone else, and technique is paramount.
After OL there is a big drop to the next most difficult spot, which is QB. Freshman quarterbacks are nearly always pick-laden disasters. Next is probably linebacker, which both requires a lot of bulking up to be effective and constant reading of plays to see whether it's run or pass.
The easiest spots to make a freshman impact are the ones where athleticism is paramount and intelligence a nice bonus instead of a requirement: skill positions on offense and cornerback. NFL Wonderlic scores by position are a good proxy for how difficult it is to play position X right away:
I'm surprised LBs aren't higher.
In fact, the post that comes from references Mario Manningham's 6 on that test; Manningham was Michigan's most productive freshman receiver in a long time. (Martavious Odoms has since surpassed his first year production, but in a context of total roster chaos.)
Secondly, which conference is worse: B1G at football or SEC at basketball? I was watching a Georgia vs LSU game and it was atrocious. However, a Purdue vs. Illinois football game would be just as bad. Which conference has the ability to turn the corner and be a nation powerhouse?
They're virtually identical: nationally embarrassing save a couple programs at the top. Big Ten football coaches don't complain nearly as much about their place in the firmament, so SEC basketball wins worst conference.
Seriously. Remember that bit last year where everyone in the SEC whined about their bubble teams getting shipped to the NIT, whereupon they would lose in the first round? It was recently compounded by Ole Miss's coach claiming the reason the SEC is perceived to suck is because they're too good at football:
“I just think it’s an easy company line, and I do think there is a bias in the national media. They get tired of talking about the SEC because it dominates in football. They just get tired of talking about it, so when there’s an opportunity to talk about something else, that’s what they’re going to do,” said Kennedy, who went on to use Kentucky as an example of the nation’s perception of the league.
Kennedy complained that the SEC teams getting snubbed had similar profiles to the mid-majors that got in, which 1) well, yeah, that's what happens, and 2) one of those mid-majors that got in, LaSalle, beat 4-seed Kansas State and then his own damn team to reach the Sweet 16. The committee's decision to pass over SEC teams last year was vindicated in spades and they're still complaining about it. So, yeah. Worst conference: SEC basketball.
WHEN CAN WE JAM AND SLAM MAN
Seattle won the super bowl and (sigh) sparty won the big ten playing virtually the same aggressive, almost illegal, defense. Countess returns, they have two 5 star recruits in Peppers and Thomas, and they have several larger DB on the roster who have had game experience. Have you heard/do you think Michigan will be playing more an aggressive defense similar to those teams this football season?
I know what you're getting at but first let me note that MSU and Seattle run different schemes. MSU is an aggressive cover 4 that keeps two safeties at about nine yards and uses them to hammer down at runs. Seattle is an aggressive cover 3 that keeps one deep safety for centerfield purposes and runs a lot of press coverage on the outside because they can get away with it.
But they do share one very obvious commonality. They have their corners at the line of scrimmage, ready to get in the opponent's grill and reroute them against their will. In contrast, Michigan's defense was a passive bend-but-don't-break unit last year. As per every coordinator in the history of questions about desired changes, Michigan wants to get more aggressive. I bet you one dollar that something along those lines is said at the first spring press conference.
And in this case I think you can see the direction Michigan wants to go is big ol' corners that will put you on the sideline and be generally huge when you try to go over the top of this. Hoke has brought in the following corners after the grab-anyone transitional class:
- 2012: Terry Richardson (5'9")
- 2013: Channing Stribling (6'2"), Reon Dawson (6'2"), Jourdan Lewis (5'10"), Ross Douglas(5'10")
- 2014: Jabrill Peppers (6'0"), Brandon Watson(5'11")
Michigan also recruited Gareon Conley, another rangy 6'2" guy, and has seen enough from their current secondary that Douglas has been flipped to tailback after his redshirt year. Other than Richardson, who is the traditional tiny Cass Tech corner Michigan is duty-bound to take, the only other short corners were another Cass guy Michigan was duty bound to take and a guy no longer at the position.
While grabbing Peppers doesn't tell you anything other than Michigan is not run by complete nutcases, Michigan extending a camp offer to Watson while they still had a number of high profile DBs on the board does tell you something. Watson is a press fiend. Hit 1:40 on this video.
All the buzz from his commitment was that he was capital-P Physical and the only guy in camp with a prayer of checking Canteen, and "physical" is the first word out of the coaches' mouths when he comes up as a signee. That indicates the direction Michigan would like to go in, and it is towards MSU/Seattle-type defenses that are inviting you to try and throw a fade over a big corner.
HOWEVA, I'm not sure we see much of that nose-to-nose play this year. Michigan didn't like it with their personnel a year ago and that personnel returns. The addition of Peppers figures to be a nickel package thing at first, when press is often counterproductive. Even if Peppers emerges into a starter, press + freshman is playing with fire. Seems like Michigan will have to wait for 2015 to seriously amp up the pressure on the outside.
CAN I TELL AARON CRAFT HE'S ADOPTED?
The recent "Marcus Smart pushes loudmouth fan" incident has me ruminating on what is the ideal fan behavior at sporting events. Many of us often decry the laid-back atmosphere at football games with fans showing up late or presenting a "down in front!" mentality throughout, but at the same we look on in horror at stories of verbal assaults or flying trashcans we hear about at Ohio or West Virginia. Where is the line? (Obviously physical aggression is well past the line.)
Does calling someone a "piece of crap" rise to an egregious level where one should remove themselves from attending any live events for a year as the Texas Tech fan is doing or is that overly sensitive? Should sporting events exist in a weird other world where things that would otherwise be off-limits are somehow acceptable (the same way one can wear a bikini to the beach but would be fired instantly if they wore it to work)? And if so, should that be the case?
Basically, I'd appreciate your thoughts on how one should balance their impassioned fan-dom with common human decency.
First, there is no way that guy called Smart a "piece of crap" unless it was part of a larger stream of profanity. The guy in question is apparently a legendarily yappy guy. He got what he was coming to him.
In general, anything that you could fire off at one of your friends while giving them crap is in-bounds. Justin Beiber chants, deport Stauskas, etc.: fine. Anything about a person's game, or lack thereof, is fine. Generalized group insults like "ugly parents" are also fine. No one is going to lose their head over an obviously general comment not individually applicable. And if someone is acting seriously outside the bounds of propriety, you may as well tell them. The Auburn fans in the infamous Marshall Henderson GIF are giving him both verbal barrels; they've been provoked and anything they happen to be saying about Henderson is probably true. It doesn't change anything, but it feels good.
Just don't bring anyone's sister into things. Making things personal is where things start getting into Smart/jerko territory. You can only yell that Aaron Craft is adopted if he's not adopted. Or you're his secret biological dad, because funny is funny.
Green redshirt? Er?
one dude is not enough
I was wondering what your take on Green getting a redshirt would be.
I know it's an unusual concept to redshirt a blue chip running back, or
an uncommon practice. But with Fitz Tousaint at 100%, who has proven his
abilities as a top tier back, and Michigan having a fully loaded stable of
RB's, is it a better practice to allow a player that is already this good
another year to develop before he is unleashed on the world for mayhem and destruction?
Is Michigan in THAT much need of another RB that Green should play immediately, or is offering him the redshirt the way to go? Will
offering him a redshirt cause atrophy in the competition between the backs
for the starting spot? Also, would Derrick Green transfer if he was
redshirted? Any insight you could give would be appreciated.
Even if Fitzgerald Toussaint is 100% healthy, someone else is going to get a lot of carries. Michigan ran 502 times last year, and even carry-magnet LeVeon Bell only scooped up 382 for Michigan State. Meanwhile, Toussaint has 130 and 187 carries the last two years. There are going to be 200 to 300 carries, minimum, handed out to other players, and with the situation at quarterback only a handful will be Devin Gardner's.
So someone's got to play. If Green is the second-best back on the roster it should be him, because:
- Michigan has a very legit shot to win their division
- Green is likely to start next year if he is the #2 back on the roster
- blue-chip freshman like to go places they play early
- with De'Veon Smith and Damien Harris waiting in the wings Michigan won't miss a hypothetical fifth year from Green much, and…
- if Green ends up being of interest to the NFL he will almost certainly not be around for year #5. Tailbacks have short shelf lives, especially when they're moosebacks.
Add in the uncertainty generated by Toussaint's miserable year and injury and there is absolutely no case to redshirt Derrick Green unless De'Veon Smith is obviously better.
What goes down at running back generally?
With all of the weapons that Hoke is stockpiling, I was wondering if you guys know the plan going forward at the running back position.
Running back seems the most interesting to me with Borges' pro style making a big return. That said, how will the staff balance Fitz and Derrick Green? Has Rawls proven to the staff he can be a 3rd down bruiser that can get the 1 yard when we need it? Are there roles for Justice Hayes, Drake Johnson, and Norfleet in the backfield this season? With the full stable back there is there any chance any of them convert to other positions?
I've been dying to know anything about the running backs and would love some insight.
These are many questions. The last one is the easiest: yes. Dennis Norfleet has apparently already been moved to slot receiver, which is fine by me as long as they use him.
Hayes, too, is likely to end up in the slot at some point. That's not insider information, it's just a guy looking at the depth chart, thinking about what Michigan clearly wants to do, and extrapolating. Hayes was regarded a guy who could move to wideout coming out of high school, and Michigan is about to be short on slots. Johnson is pretty much RB-or-bust; he'll stay where he is.
Answering the last question answers the second to last: not really. Hayes was nominally at the top of the depth chart after spring and Johnson was getting some practice hype, but I expect both to be marginalized. Third down back is up for grabs—my advice to those guys is to get really good at pass blocking.
Apparently I'm going backwards: no, Rawls has not proven he can be a third down bruiser. If anything he's proven the opposite, repeatedly going down on contact on short yardage plays. It's likely that not only Derrick Green but De'Veon Smith, Wyatt Shallman, and Sione Houma are better options for short yardage this season.
The first question is pretty much the thing. I expect Green to immediately take over short yardage duties, where his power is welcome and his potentially iffy pass blocking (freshman) is not relevant. Fitz should be fully healthy and he is a damn good back when he gets a little blocking, so the bet here is he starts the year getting the plurality of the carries. As things move along Green should come more and more into the offense, like TJ Yeldon last year, until they're about splitting carries evenly.
Making elite players elite… uh… players?
Graham and Martin were indisputably elite.
I was wondering about Michigan and player development. I completely understand the Heininger Certainty Principle, and how Mattison can take a average player and make him good. I also know that they can take a good player and make him great.
However, with getting Peppers and the possibility of getting Hand, is there any recent evidence from Mattison or Hoke that they can mold elite recruits into elite players. Or should I change my definition of elite from first round draft and successful NFL career.
That's a pretty high bar to clear. Mike Martin was indisputably elite in his senior season but does not meet the criteria as a third round pick. After one year he's being touted as a potential breakout player by people who have obviously never seen Martin play. But is it on Mattison and Hoke that NFL teams are sometimes dumb? I say it is not.
The thing about evidence that Hoke and Mattison can take a guy like Hand and make him into an elite player is that I know for a fact Hoke has never had a Hand-level guy to mold. Mattison did have a number of five stars to deal with at Florida, and we'll get into that.
First, Hoke. He was Michigan's defensive line coach from 1995 to 2002. During that period Michigan had the following players drafted from the DL:
- Will Carr (7th round, 1997)
- Glen Steele (4th round, 1998)
- Rob Renes (7th round, 2000)
- Josh Williams (4th round, 2000)
That, uh, isn't great. But how much of that was on Hoke and how much was on the fact that Michigan was recruiting and playing guys like Dan Rumishek, Norman Heuer, and Shawn Lazarus in 2001? While those guys were all quality pluggers, Hoke wasn't exactly working with Brandon Graham and Lamarr Woodley there.
Michigan's defensive philosophy in the late 90s and early aughts was to hold up offensive linemen with RVB types and let their athletic linebackers wreak havoc. They recruited NFL linebackers and put many of them in the league for long periods of time: Dhani Jones, Ian Gold, Larry Foote, and Victor Hobson all launched long NFL careers in a four-year span in the early aughts. They recruited blue-collar guys out of the Midwest on the line without regard to their rush abilities or hugeness: all three of the DL mentioned above were 6'4" and around 290. No matter how technically adept they were, the NFL wasn't going to be interested because they don't fit anywhere in an NFL 4-3 under.
The much-traveled Greg Mattison had a similar track record until he tapped into a geyser of talent:
- Renaldo Wynn (1st round, 1997, ND)
- Anthony Weaver (2nd round, 2002, ND)
- Justin Tuck (3rd round, 2005, which was the year Mattison left for Florida but he's worth mentioning.)
- Joe Cohen (4th round, 2007, Florida)
- Marcus Thomas (4th round, 2007, Florida)
- Ray McDonald (3rd round, 2007, Florida)
- Jarvis Moss (1st round, 2007, Florida)
- Derrick Harvey (1st round, 2008, again Mattison had departed)
At Florida it went: nothing, nothing, entire defensive line off the board before the fourth round ended. That tells you that the level of talent he was working with took off—he's pretty much the same coach at that point. Instead of coaching up blue-collar pluggers he was teaching explosive large versions of same to do the same things the blue collar guys did. And lo, they wrecked things.
Despite the rankings, Michigan has very rarely brought in the kind of top-tier guys they have lined up the next couple years, and when they did sometimes they were crazy. The touted Germany/McKinney/Slocum/Taylor recruiting class turned out to have three guys in it that couldn't stay enrolled for whatever reason. But other than that, Michigan's track record with five-star-ish defensive linemen has been good: Woodley, Graham, Branch, and Taylor were all quality college players and high NFL draft picks. Gabe Watson, popularly derided a guy as who never lived up to the hype, was still two-time All Big Ten and a mid-round pick. Pure talent busts are limited to Will Campbell, who should have been an offensive lineman all along… and still got drafted.
Player development is inherently difficult. Every year half of the first round of the NFL draft is comprised of relatively unheralded players. Busts are inevitable, talent is talent, and you just have to get piles of it to have a Florida-type DL. Michigan is going to approach that level of talent in the next few years.