“Thomas Rawls is fine.”
Why was he held out of practice this weekend?
“That’s injury information that’s not my area. Thomas Rawls is fine. That’s all that matters.”
How much are you emphasizing to the rest of the offense that they need to take the pressure off Denard so that the offense can succeed?
“Well, we don’t really put it that way. But that’s kind of the effect of how we approach it, is that when we came here, it became real apparent that he was the centerpiece of the offense, but we didn’t want 90 percent of the offense based on his production for obvious reasons because if you lose him you lose too much. We’ve been sending out the message since we got here is that we have to have other people involved, with our run game, our pass game, all that. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that. I hope like heck we can do the same thing this year. Yet at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that he is the centerpiece of the offense. When push comes to shove he’s going to play a big part in whether we win or lose.”
Rating: 4.5 of 5.
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Jr.*||Stephen Hopkins||Jr.||Vincent Smith||Sr.|
|Thomas Rawls||So.||Sione Houma||Fr.||Justice Hayes||Fr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.*||Dennis Norfleet||Fr.|
|FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THIS MAN A SLIPPERY JERSEY|
|MAKES YOU MISS|
|jukes three Gophers|
|cuts all the way back|
|stop and go six|
|ONE CUT AND GO|
|finds a gap on power|
|simply outruns Purdue|
|hits the edge vs UNL|
|NOT SMITH AS A BLOCKER|
|crappy cut block|
|find a man, man|
|WILL MISS A CUT OR TWO|
|wrong side of Schofield|
Fitzgerald Toussaint spent his first couple years at Michigan as china in a bull shop, laid up with various injuries that prevented his considerable talent from seeing the field. This did not prevent Fred Jackson from calling him both "Mike Hart but fast" and "Chris Perry but fast." God bless Fred Jackson.
In 2011 his bones and joints mended as Thomas Rawls's failed him at an inopportune time and Toussaint was thrown into a three-way battle with Vincent Smith and Mike Shaw for the starting job, one that last year's edition of this post hoped (and predicted) he would win:
Toussaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. … Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Bumps and bruises continued to dog him (he missed the ND game and his inexplicable two carries against MSU almost has to be injury related) but Toussaint actually delivered on Jackson's hyperbole.
He kind of is Mike Hart, but fast:
"full on Hart déjà vu," I said
Juking in a phone booth was Hart's specialty. Toussaint has that and sprinter's speed. As a bonus, he didn't fumble in 187 carries last year. He only lacks Hart's pile-pushing doggedness.
After the inexplicable MSU game, he blew up. His first 20-carry game was the next week against Purdue; he smoked five different Boilers on his signature run of 2011…
…and ended up with 170 yards. The offense imploded the next week and took Toussaint with it, but after that he laid waste: 192 yards against Illinois, 138 against Nebraska, and 120 against Ohio State. (Then the offense imploded again.)
At season's end Toussaint had become Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Hart and at 5.8 YPC its most efficient since Tim Biakabutuka was going ham on Ohio State in 1995. When he wasn't going off during his second half surge, it was because the walls were coming down around him and there was nowhere to go.
He is legit. He runs between the tackles, finding a crack and jetting straight upfield when it's there. He is a decisive cutter with good vision. When it's not there he can stutter-step and bounce outside. Once in the secondary his change of direction often leaves safeties flapping in his wake. If there's a downside it's a spotty blocking record and not much activity in the passing game (just six catches a year ago), but those are things that Michigan can fix as time goes by.
Toussaint would enter 2012 with a rock-solid lock on the job but for that offseason DUI, which should see him miss the Alabama game. (That assumption may be dubious given the depth chart, but I'm still guessing he gets the standard one game DUI suspension.) That gives Thomas Rawls a crack at the job, and the two subsequent games should be comfortable enough that Toussaint will get eased back into the lineup. By the time ND rolls around, he should resume his place as the feature back.
Toussaint's raw numbers won't reach Hart levels because of the suspension, the guy next to him in the backfield, and the potential emergence of Rawls, but a replica of last season beckons, plus 40 or 50 carries. He'll be All Big Ten caliber even if he doesn't get on the list.
[hit THE JUMP for the rest of the cast of characters.]
News bullets and other important items:
- This record is so broken, but no official decision on Fitz yet. Decision has been made but won't be revealed until the "time is right."
- Roundtree is back in full pads and practicing.
- Quinton Washington has won the starting nose tackle job. Will Campbell is the starting 3-tech. Jibreel Black is back at WDE because -- I'm guessing based on other Hoke comments -- he still isn't big enough.
- Brennen Beyer will float between WDE and SAM depending on the situation. It sounds like he's the primary backup at both positions rather than starting at either one.
- Will Hagerup is the starting punter. Matt Wile will kick off. Brendan Gibbons will kick field goals. Wile will handle "outlandishly long" field goals -- 55 yarders -- if it comes to that.
- Michigan shuffled the offensive line a lot during camp. Patrick Omameh spent some time at right tackle and Elliott Mealer spent some time at center.
- Dennis Norfleet will return kicks.
“It’s good to be in game week. It’s been a long camp. I think it’s been productive in a lot of ways. I think we found out a little more about ourselves. I think we finished and ended camp at the end of the week and really yesterday we had a really good practice. I think with being physical with each other, having a good mentality and toughness, I think we improved. I think they came in and competed every day, which is a big part of it. I think the other thing we talked about was coming in with a lot of energy. We voted captains last night, and I’m really proud of both guys who were selected to be captains by their peers. I think both of them, obviously, deserve that. Both of them have been tremendous when you look at their leadership and what they’ve done for us as a football team to this point. We also have a whole group of seniors who have really done a good job. With that being said, I’m real proud of those two guys leading this football team. We have a big week ahead of us. We practiced last night. Today we won’t practice. We’ll meet and have some meetings. Tuesday will be a normal work day. Wednesday we’ll be a little lighter, not a whole lot. Thursday will be our normal Thursday, and we’ll get on the plane and go. We’re excited about it. Excited about the opportunity, obviously. The defending national champs and the job that Nick’s done is one that we respect. It’ll be a lot of fun for us to go down and compete. To compete for Michigan and to compete for the Big Ten conference."
Not dog grooming. Good news! It seems like they're shelving "In The Big House" for something else. That would seem to be this from a couple of walk-ons:
According to the facebook, anyway. It's… not dog grooming. Horrible thought: this may have no impact on dog grooming. Let's move on to happier thoughts.
Vintage Fred Jackson. Man I just don't know how does this even:
"He's got Mike Hart kind of feet, but a lot faster than Mike."
That's about Thomas Rawls, and it goes in the Fred Jackson hyperbole hall of fame. Jackson also got this quote off:
"Usually a guy with good vision is a little bit taller," Jackson said. "Thomas is probably, maybe, 5-8. He tells me he's 5-11 and I'm 6-2, I think, and I look down on him and eat soup off his head."
Why are you eating soup off of someone's head, Fred Jackson? Why is there soup there anyway? What kind of soup? Does Thomas Rawls have a circular depression in the top of his head? Doesn't that seem unsafe for a football player? Are you #$*#$ing serious about this Hart thing? Do you remember Mike Hart? Fred Jackson I am confused.
BONUS I JUST DON'T EVEN HOW DOES I DON'T MAN: Rawls has a "bete noire" tattoo for this reason:
He says it's French for "accomplish your hopes and dreams."
I do not think your tattoo means what you think it means.
BONUS BONUS FRED JACKSON JACKSON:
Jackson said Rawls also reminds him of another former Flint star, Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama. Ingram (5-10, 215 pounds) and Rawls are similar in build.
"They were almost identical high school backs," said Jackson. "Obviously, Mark Ingram had a great (offensive) line at Alabama that helped him along, but Thomas is a lot faster than Mark, (and) has the same type of ability. I'm not trying to compare them in any way but when you watched them in high school, they were very similar running backs."
BONUS BONUS BONUS FRED JACKSON JACKSON JACKSON:
"Norfleet is as quick as any kid at Michigan since I've been here," said Jackson, in his 21st season. "I've not seen a guy that quick…."
But what about senior quarterback Denard Robinson? Is Norfleet faster?
"No, I don't think (anybody) is faster than Denard," Jackson said. "(Norfleet's) got the quickness that will put him in the same positions Denard gets in quicker than Denard will get in them."
Facial hair watch. Ace points out that walk-on and competitor at left guard Joey Burzynski has the makings of something special on his face:
With careful grooming and time, this man could be a facial hair All-American. This would give Michigan two, since Elliott Mealer either needs an acoustic guitar or a hammer fashioned by Odin to do justice to his face… thing:
STEP YOUR FACE HAIR GAME UP, KYLE KALIS WOOOOO
BONUS: Mustaches for Michigan, where have you gone?
They might do it. Brady Hoke's old defensive coordinator Rocky Long, now the head guy at San Diego State, has heard of Pulaski High School—the Arkansas outfit that never ever punts—and is thinking about doing it:
After reading articles about an idiosyncratic Arkansas high school coach who never punts, always onside kicks, and has tremendous success doing it, Long is toying with the idea for his Aztecs of no punts or field goal attempts once they’ve driven inside an opponent’s 50-yard line.
Conceivably, San Diego State would go for the first down whether it needed a couple of inches or 10 yards.
And yes, Long — who apparently hasn’t yet tried it all in his 40 years of coaching — is serious about this.
“It makes sense,” he said, seeming almost giddy in talking about the possibilities.
“Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points,” he said. “It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.”
It's not a sure thing yet, but I can't think of any better way to memorialize the WAC. Do it. You'd look so cool.
Oh my gawd. Please CBS, call this show "Boss Hog and the Zooker" and make it a crime procedural:
CBS Sports Network announces Houston Nutt will serve as studio analyst this year. He'll be joined by Ron Zook.
If college football does not take me up on my extremely reasonable plan to have JLS coach a different team on an interim basis every year, he could join up in 2013, and then our piss would indeed be hot.
Are these different? The M-Den says the basketball jerseys are different. I can't really tell:
I can still complain about it, right?
Jolly good show, catching me. I am quite elusive, you know. Fitzgerald Toussaint's OWI hearing is four days before the Alabama game. He's probably still getting suspended, but at least he's nicer than the average DUI recipient:
"He was extremely cooperative and gave us no problems at all," Saline Police Department Det. Don Lupi said Monday. "He was even more pleasant than the average drunk-driving arrestee. He was friendly and easy to deal with, unlike a lot of arrest situations."
"I say, you bobbies are really on your game."
Yes, imaginary Fitzgerald Toussaint is British. Because obviously.
The Fort. Man, running through my feeds and seeing open scrimmage reports from Arkansas and Ole Miss and Iowa plus A Lion Eye chastising himself for not checking out who the holders were at Illinois camp is a little depressing. Michigan's attitude towards this stuff is "please die, kthx." At media day it's clear the players were instructed to not answer questions about any freshmen:
I remember asking Jeremy Gallon how the freshmen receivers were coming along and his reaction was one along the lines of almost trying to keep things hush. He paused for a minute and then told me to talk to the coaches about it.
Will Campbell did the same thing on an interview I caught on WTKA.
Opening some stuff up is not just for mid-level programs (and Ole Miss), either: this space has noted some really cool access provided by Ohio State. Even Alabama, led by hater of all media Nick Saban, lets the media in to see some stuff. If Michigan's access is worse that Alabama's it's got to be the worst in the country, right?
I guess I get it since when Rodriguez was around the Free Press used the opportunity to talk to a couple freshmen to get them to issue misleading statements about how much time they were putting in, thus proving all long-held suspicions about the lizardmedia true. It's still frustrating that the hardest-hitting stuff we get is "what is your favorite Olympic event?" Not a 'wow' experience here. Someone put some pasta in a bread bowl or something.
It's on the up and up. The OHL came down harshly on Windsor for paying players under the table, which obviously never happens. My favorite part of all this is remembering the OHL's crocodile tears for their players when the NCAA was revamping their foreign player rules and hockey got an exception to keep CHL players out. They claimed it was just a shame that their entirely amateur league league was banned. Ugh. These guys are worse than the NCAA honchos.
Anyone want to bet a dollar that a pissed off Jack Campbell was a major source here? The WOTS about how these investigations came about fits Campbell's experience:
The league is choosing not to reveal names, though most believe some of the high-profile American players who played in Windsor could be responsible for the information leading to the sanctions. Some of those players were eventually traded, and it’s been suggested the trade could leave them feeling bitter and more prone to talk about their former team during an investigation.
But at least he's in the NHL already.
Etc.: More and more people are like WTF Emmert about this North Carolina thing. More photos from youth day, including a guy wearing an old old Rich Robots shirt. MVictors on achievable Michigan records. The Tigers are having a "Wolverines In The D" event next Friday—22 bucks gets you in, a shirt, and five bucks of it goes to the Pat Maloy Scholarship Fund.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls is making a push for more carries this fall.
This Saturday marks the Spring Game, when we all watch a glorified scrimmage and make snap judgments like "Mark Moundros is going to start at middle linebacker," and "Tate Forcier has the Heisman in his future." (Okay, I admit, I said both of those things, but luckily the evidence has been wiped from the internet.) Nevertheless, it's the only semi-competitive football we'll see until the fall, providing us our lone peek into the progress of the team and the various position battles.
Here's what I'll be hoping to see from the offense on Saturday:
Mediocrity. I know, right? This is actually more of a defensive point, but I want to put this here: in the spring, the defense should be ahead of the offense in terms of installing their schemes and playing cohesively. It's no coincidence that we saw the offense absolutely wreck the defense in the 2009 and 2010 games, then look downright ugly at times in last year's edition. I don't need to tell you how those respective seasons turned out. After just two weeks of practice, the offensive line won't have gelled like they will in the fall, the timing between quarterback and receiver is often a little off, and the playbook is still very much in the installation phase. This plea may fall on deaf ears, but don't freak out if the offense isn't marching up and down the field; in fact, feel free to be a bit encouraged.
Gardner Gardner Gardner. All eyes will be on Devin Gardner, though the odds of the coaches trotting him out at receiver for a nationally-televised scrimmage are somewhere between zero and zero. He will be playing quarterback, however, and it's time to see a big step forward from him in the passing game. Practice accounts have been positive in that regard and it sounds like he's the clear-cut #2 QB ahead of Russell Bellomy, though we'll see how big of a gap there is between those two. If Bellomy looks like a passable second-stringer, you can keep hope alive for some Denard-to-Devin connections in the fall. If not, the coaches may find it too risky to split Gardner out wide.
Bowling Ball Rawls. I was pretty high on Thomas Rawls when he came out of high school, and after a freshman year spent mostly on the bench, he's impressed practice observers with his power as a running back and is making a strong push for the backup job. Vincent Smith will inevitably see snaps on third down, but there's still room for a back to spell Fitzgerald Toussaint on occasion and provide a different look in the backfield. Though Rawls won't make many people miss, he can knock them over, and if he shows that against the first team defense we can start thinking of him as a change-of-pace/short-yardage back. Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has also drawn praise in the spring, though he'll have to prove he's either a more effective runner than Rawls or a more explosive receiving option than Smith to carve out a role; neither is out of the question given his athleticism.
Number One Target? The general assumption is that Roy Roundtree will be the top receiver this year, but I'm not sold on that. His production dropped dramatically last season as he played more on the outside and was no longer the beneficiary of numerous QB OH NOES as a RichRod slot receiver. Jeremy Gallon flashed a lot of talent last season, and I think he'll be a very capable second option, but he's 5'8". Hope may come in the form of redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, who's been lauded as a potential go-to guy this spring despite never recording a collegiate catch. This may be your standard Johnny Sears-type spring hype, but let's withhold judgment until we see him on the field. If nobody looks like a solid #1 option, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Amara Darboh come fall.
My Kingdom for a Tight End. This is the scariest position group on the roster, and that's taking into account the fact that the offensive line has almost no depth. Redshirt senior Brandon Moore is the starter by default; he's had issues with drops in the past, so hope he holds onto the ball if it comes his way. Converted wideout Ricardo Miller will get time as an H-back (the "U" tight end in this offense), and he must prove he can hold up as a blocker if he wants to see much time. Behind them are redshirt senior walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski and converted DE Jordan Paskorz. If this unit isn't a total liability, I'll take it, especially with A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess providing reinforcements in the fall. If they are, Al Borges is going to have to get very creative with his schemes.
O-line Depth: Do We Have Any? The first-team offensive line should be just fine, with projected left guard starter Elliott Mealer the only unknown quantity. Mealer is a redshirt senior who's currently beating out a highly-touted (and massive) redshirt freshman in Chris Bryant, so I'm not too concerned about his ability to fit in. Ricky Barnum has reportedly adjusted well to his new role as starting center; again, I'm optimistic about the first team's ability. PANIC! will set in, however, if a starting lineman goes down, especially a tackle. The second-team line this spring features three(!) walk-ons, and while redshirt sophomore guard Joey Burzynski has impressed practice observers, color me skeptical of any 6'1", 284-pound walk-on being anything but a frightening liability in a game situation. The backup tackles are all walk-ons, at least until Kyle Kalis hits campus for the fall, so expect Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to be encased in bubble wrap until September.
Kickers. Make your field goals, please and thank you. That is all.
You know the drill. Video via MGoVideo. Had to repackage the sound because the RAWK music got matched on Youtube.
Play 1: Fitz bursts off right tackle and picks up 8-10 before Raymon Taylor grabs him. Fitz then pushes Taylor five or so yards before the cavalry rallies. No idea what happened on the line but you can see Hopkins get a nice sealing block as Fitz hits the hole.
Raymon Taylor should probably not tackle high if a guy as slight as Fitz is going to bull him back.
Play 2: Inside zone (probably) to Justice Hayes is eaten up by Antonio Poole (#40) and an active Will Campbell. Looks like Poole was unblocked for whatever reason.
Play 3: Inside zone to Fitz. Blitzing Morgan is kicked past the play by Barnum; Fitz takes a stutter step to let that get past him and then flows up behind Barnum. Roh comes in from the right side of the frame to tackle near the LOS. Looks like a stunt blitz specifically designed to get this to happen. Mattison cackles in his laboratory.
Play 4: Joined in progress. Denard WOOPs around the backfield and slings a dart to… I think it's Miller but can't quite make out the number. Moore would be a bigger guy, though.
Play 5: Inside zone run with H-back (Miller) flaring weakside that we've seen for years now. Roh(+1) drives his man—probably Schofield—way down the line and Fitz decides to cut behind that mess. Bolden(+1) is there to clean up on the cutback at the LOS with help from Ryan. Miller's block on Ryan… eh… not so good.
Play 6: Play action from a zone read look; Roh smokes Omameh and gets pressure up the middle. Ryan and Bolden are coming free as well, so Denard can't do much except go down. Washington is in on this play.
Play 7: Gardner makes a read, doesn't like it, and takes off. Kaleb Ringer can't quite get off a block fast enough to bring Gardner down. Then Gardner jukes Mike Jones to the outside and picks up 15-20. Marvin Robinson runs him out.
Play 8: Rawls gets a belly handoff from Gardner and goes straight north and south, cutting to the backside of the line and running through an ankle tackle from Campbell and an arm tackle from Cam Gordon without slowing at all. Marvin Robinson fills pretty well. Best clip of Rawls we've seen. If he can shrug tackles off like that he's got a role.
Play 9: Rawls gets an iso from the I. He has to cut away from his lead blocker—something that has been very frequent when these clips show isos—and gets chopped down by Campbell.
Play 10: Zone read PA into a slant to Gallon; Countess is in Woodsonesque coverage and breaks it up. Cover +2.
Play 11: Inside zone to Fitz, who roars through a crease into the endzone from about 40. Someone blew that gap. No idea who without a wider view.
This does not end well for Jordan Paskorz
Play 12: Gardner hits Paskorz on a rollout; Paskorz double-catches the ball and gets crushed by Robinson.
Play 13: Gardner hits Jackson on a deep comeback in front of... I don't know. Lots of time to survey; this was his second read.
Play 14: Vincent Smith finds an inside zone gap and takes it into the endzone. The nose got crushed and allowed an easy combo block on Bolden, but I don't think it was Campbell since the guy looks white. Thomas Gordon could have done a better job filling near the LOS to hold it down.
Play 15: Russell Bellomy flings an out to Mike Kwiatkowski. Ball takes a long time to get there. Kwiatkowski then jukes Al Backey, which will no doubt be used to razz Backey forever and ever in film session.
Play 16: Denard hands off to Rawls on an under center stretch(?). Odd. Rawls finds a crease as Barnum, who's flowed well down the line, latches on to and eliminates Bolden. Gyarmati gets enough of a block on Morgan to get Rawls the edge and a nice gain.
Play 17: Hopkins FB dive from under center. Good push by Jack Miller on Ash and Hopkins makes a few extra yards by breaking tackles.
Play 18: Denard lofts a screen to Smith, who gets 8 or 10 before Jarrod Wilson comes in to tackle.
Play 19: Gardner waggle finds Joe Kerridge wide open for a touchdown.
Play 20: Short yardage Vincent Smith iso is… a touchdown? I don't want to talk about this. Bolden got rocked by Gyarmati, probably because he didn't read the play quick enough. That contact is not happening near the LOS and that's all she wrote.
Play 21: What looks like it might be an inverted veer by Bellomy ends abruptly when Cam Gordon roars in to sack.
Play 22: Smith iso w/ Bellomy in is swallowed by Campbell and Ash. Second team OL kind of got owned there.
Play 23: Denard surveys, comes off a first read, and zings it to Dileo for a touchdown in front of Avery. 10-15 yard slant.
Play 24: Rawls iso. Burzynski gets a good block on Morgan and Unidentified FB deals with Probably Bolden, no linebacker level. Kovacs is hovering around the LOS and makes contact to slow Rawls; Thomas Gordon finishes the play with a solid thump. Five or six.
Play 25: Kennedy hands off to Justice Hayes on a power with Mealer pulling. Hayes manages to dash through a small hole, run through an ankle tackle from Probably Safety, keep his feet, juke Wilson, and carry a pursuing Brandin Hawthorne into the endzone. Impressive.
Play 26: Wrinkle. Michigan runs the zone with pulling H-back thing; Denard pulls, probably on a called play. Miller hits a hole backside instead of flaring out and the net effect is a QB iso that looks like a zone read keeper. Miller blocks an unprepared Bolden and Denard glides into the endzone.
Takeaways? Barnum can move. In each one of these Michigan picks up a big gain because Barnum shows excellent agility and an ability to seal a guy on the move. Here it's a stretch play; other times it was a pull. I think we're going to be just fine at center.
Fitz is Fitz; in this one Hayes and Rawls showed a bit more than they have in previous editions of these tapes. The Rawls run right north-south was Minor-esque. The featured Hayes run was Fitz-esque.
Also both quarterbacks will be 100% accurate this year and there will be no turnovers.
Elsewhere: takes from Maize and Blue Nation.