"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
As we all know, right now it is hard to watch <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Michigan football. And since the debacle that was the Illinois game it is getting harder to imagine a massive improvement next year. The defense is MAC quality at best right now and there are many reasons for this that have been discussed at length in other places. So the question we’re all starting to ask ourselves is this – how much better can we actually expect this team to be in 2010?
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That’s the focus of this diary. I’ve attempted to outline for each position what we might expect for 2010 and what the best case scenario is. Obviously we’ll sprinkle an additional dash of hope and prayer on natural improvement from one year to the next in the same coaching regime. I’m making the following obvious assumptions before we begin:
- There are no “major” coaching changes this off-season.
I haven’t decided if I think firing Hopson qualifies in this category because it could be a good thing (circumstantial evidence suggests he sucks at his job) or a bad thing (yet another coaching change for our linebackers to deal with).
- The recruiting class stays along its current trajectory.
This means we address the quantity part of the problem on our team but not necessarily the quality portion. There aren’t any obvious 4-year stars walking through the door next season to fix what ails this team.
- There are no unexpected defections from the roster.
I will address the obvious Donovan Warren situation, but aside from him I’m not projecting any other unexpected departures from under classmen.
- What is listed here is my opinion only.
I’ve taken into account things I’ve read, seen, or heard but don’t assume I have any magical insight into 2010. What I list here is just what I think COULD happen and what might be our best chance of improvement.
With those in mind, let’s get down to the positions. Today we’ll start with the obvious area of weakness- the defense.
DEFENSE: 2010 Outlook
There are no expectations of radical improvement from inept to spectacular. So the question comes down to how much less inept can this squad be in 2010. The two obvious departures are Graham and Brown. Warren is probably 50-50 right now to return.
- Departures – None
- Outlook – This group has performed well in 2009 and is young enough to expect incremental improvement in 2010. I’m advocating that on running downs you see Martin and Campbell starting. On passing downs VanBergen shifts back to this spot.
- Proposed Starters – Martin&Campbell (VanBergen in passing downs)
- Best Case – Solid play and a potential strength of the team.
Defensive Ends: (includes OLB for consistency)
- Departures – some guy named Brandon Graham
- Outlook – If our defense sucks this year, how will it be without Graham being triple teamed or held on every play? Roh should make a significant improvement with practice, conditioning, and experience, but he’s no Graham. Adam Patterson can’t beat out walk-on Will Heininger. The options are scary thin. I’m proposing that on running downs VanBergen gets this spot. On passing downs Obi Ezeh becomes your new DE. It strips him of his “read&react” deficiencies and turns him into a “go get the QB” player.
- Proposed Starters – Roh & VanBergen (with Ezeh in passing downs)
- Best Case – Only a moderate drop off from 2009 in pass rush, obvious improvement in run defense.
- Departures – None
- Outlook – How much improvement can we hope for with stable coaching and returning all contributors from 2009? That’s the real question. At this point I’ve given up on Ezeh and turned him into a DE (see above). I’m hoping for an improvement much like Stevie Brown had this season when his decision making was taken away from him and he could just react. Maybe there’s a possibility that Mouton could move to SLB, but I doubt it. At this point I’m hoping that Leach gets in better shape, Mouton goes back to 2008 vintage, and Fitzgerald turns into a quality starter. I have high hopes for Fitzgerald and think he could be solid.
- Proposed Starters – Mouton & Fitzgerald (Leach is the top back-up)
- Best Case – Something that doesn’t make me want to bash my head in each game.
- Departures – Stevie Brown
- Outlook – This is going to be interesting because Brown not only turned out to be surprisingly competent (though not actually what I would call “good”), but he also played almost every minute at this position. I don’t recall seeing Simmons or Jones on the field except against DSU. I’m advocating a move for Brandon Smith to this position. I think he is similar to Brown in his physical abilities but also lacking perhaps in his instincts. I think this might be the perfect place for him to get on the field and make an impact.
- Proposed Starters – Brandon Smith
- Best Case – Better run defense than Brown, the same pass defense or slightly better.
- Departures – Let’s all hope Warren stays. The whole house of cards starts to fall apart if he goes to the NFL.
- Outlook – If Warren stays I think there’s hope for this position. If he goes to the NFL then the secondary will potentially be worse than it has been in 2009 and it gets hard to see the coaching staff surviving another year. Assuming he stays, I would advocate giving the opposite spot to someone who isn’t playing this season. That means either Justin Turner or an incoming freshman. Floyd plays hard but has no physical talent. Everyone else is a special team player. If Warren leaves I think you have to move Woolfolk back to corner and hope for the best.
- Proposed Starters – Warren & Turner/Freshman.
- Best Case – With Warren there’s hope. Without Warren we’re in big trouble.
- Departures – None
- Outlook – In an ideal case I think Woolfolk moves back to the deep safety position. He’s not great at anything, but he’s good enough at everything - he’s fast, he can cover pretty well, and he’s not a total liability at tackling. I think he helps the team best if he’s playing deep safety. Likewise I think Kovacs is smart and gritty enough to be the other safety, but only if he’s playing in the box. Having Kovacs play deep, even with a year of Barwis training, is not a good thing for this team. So if Woolfolk moves to corner you either keep Kovacs in the box or you put him on the bench. After those two I think you have to hope that either Turner is a safety, Emilien gets his legs back, or a freshman like Marvin Robinson is a prodigy who can step in and be competent.
- Proposed Starters – Woolfolk & Kovacs
- Best Case – It can’t get any worse…..can it? Why do we keep asking that question every year?
A year ago you would laugh if you thought losing Stevie Brown would hurt the defense. Now you start to wonder. There are only two seniors in the entire two-deep that graduate, but both of those guys lack a viable back-up option. I am high on Smith replacing Brown, but that’s still a wildcard and there is no viable option for replacing Graham.
My suggestion of using VanBergen and Ezeh to cover for Graham attempts to replace his skills with two players. RVB can stuff the run with the best of them and has some pass-rush ability. You hope that the improvement of Roh will help mask RVB’s lack of pass rush ability on the other end. I also liked the idea mentioned on the MGoPodcast of moving Ezeh to DE. Why not? He’s big enough, he’s pretty athletic, and it helps to eliminate his lack of instincts by just having him rush the passer. It may even give you more flexibility on zone blitzes since he could (hypothetically) cover a TE….okay, strike that last sentence.
In the secondary I think they can find a corner among all of the freshmen next season. I also think Kovacs will improve a lot in a year as long as he plays near the LOS where his lack of speed can’t be exploited. But this all hinges on Warren returning.
If everything falls into place I see potential for a slight improvement if the LB improve, Warren stays, and they can find a way to mask the departure of Graham. Unfortunately this includes a lot of nested IF statements and I think the overall improvement will be minor. I have a hard time seeing this defense be any worse in 2010, but it is going to take a lot of good fortune for it to get significantly better.
Coming soon – THE OFFENSE.
To do our college loss; and if to win,
The fewer fans, the greater share of glory.
Rod's will! I pray thee, wish not one fan more.
By Bo, I am not covetous for rank,
Nor care I who doth rise upon our loss;
It yearns me not if men my colors wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet glory,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, brothers, wish not one more fan.
Rod's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one fan more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Wolverines, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this season,
Let him depart; his transfer shall be made,
And fare to Lansing put into his purse;
We would not lose in that fan's company
That fears his fellowship to lose with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Rich Rod.
He that survives this seasons, and comes home whole,
Will stand taller when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Rich Rod.
He that shall live this year, and see old age,
Will yearly on the season opener toast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Opening Day.'
Then will he strip his spirit and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I earned on Saturdays.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What Wolverines did that day. Then shall their names,
Familiar in our mouth as household words-
Tate the King, Hemingway and Matthews,
Koger and Shoelace, Graham and Roh-
Be in their righteous moves freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good fan teach his son;
And opening day shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we Wolverine fans;
For he to-day that cheers this team with me
Shall be my brother; be he formerly a state fan,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And Wolverines everywhere who missed the game
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their fanhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That cheered with us upon Rich Rods day.