"Mike Cox has slipped for whatever reason"
Coaches' Clinic Tea Leaves: Offense
Michigan just let in all manner of heathens to observe a couple practices, ping various coaches for information, and take in a Saturday scrimmage; naturally, this has created a ton of internet chatter. Also naturally, large portions of it conflict with other portions of it. There's a faction of super insiders on Rivals declaring Denard Robinson to be a complete disaster and one focused here proclaiming him to be Pat White—except fast! Tate Forcier is either looking like a "walk-on" or the obvious starter, and Devin Gardner is either a total n00b or Vince Young—except fast!
So… yeah. I don't know. Here's my contribution to the melee. First, a non-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football featuring all quarterbacks doing something awesome:
Whenever I hear one of the freshmen speak I get annoyed at all the Dorsey stuff. Yeah, Michigan is totally turning into Jimmy Johnson's Miami.
Anyway, in addition to the posters who got bumped to the front page over the weekend, MGoBlog had a couple of sources who took in the activity late last week. Observations gleaned:
Terminology, or: The Quick And The Dead
One of the toughest things to do as a guy who tries to figure out football and communicate it as a layman is figure out what to call something. Every time I decide to call something X, well meaning folk tell me it should be Y or Z. I tend to apologetically ignore them just so things are relatively clear for readers.
However, if the coaches are all calling something one thing and it's not counter-intuitive I'll go with it. So:
- Michigan is calling the dual SS in the 3-3-5 "spur" (strongside) and "bandit" (weakside). Some 3-3-5 teams make no distinction between these guys, but it appears that Michigan will flip these guys strong and weak. This leaves the bandit as the guy who will be tested in the occasional deep half, about which more later.
- The coaches were actually calling the deep safety "strong" for a while but they've reverted to calling him "free." There are good football-related reasons for that weird nomenclature but since they're gone, whatever. I'll return to calling Cam Gordon and other guys who line up there free safeties.
- The north-south MINOR RAGE run that Michigan's used to good effect the past couple years is something I've been calling "veer," which has been the nomenclature that's drawn the most protests. Michigan calls this their "belly" series.
Spinner: dead. Quick: dead. With this jargon we will ascend to the pillars of knowledge.
My initial reaction to the Denard Robinson hype was the same as Doctor Saturday, who has lumped Tate-Denard-Devin into a list of "specious spring quarterback controversies," but both observers gave tentative, caveat-laden nods to Robinson as the starting quarterback. The difference between last year and this year is vast. That falls just short of incredible since Robinson arrived without any ability to even run the zone read. Many of his plays were Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Zone Stretches run from an empty backfield. Robinson's high school coaching amounted to nil, so it's obvious that he would have a bigger leap forward than Forcier and his years of intensive training.
Robinson is still light years away from Forcier as a passer—his ability to "see and understand the field remains limited"—but in the open field he is ludicrous and now that he's gotten the hang of the zone read he gets in that space frequently. Craig Roh on Robinson:
"I hate Denard on the football field," Roh said. "I love him outside of football, but on the football field, he's just such a nuisance. The quarterbacks here are too fast, and Denard, I just can't catch him. It's ridiculous."
Observer A, a defensively oriented guy, said "as a coordinator you watch him come around the corner on the naked boot and you say uh-oh." Another high school coach told observer B that Denard "runs into traffic just to make defenders look silly." Robinson's athleticism will force defenses to overplay that threat and open up other opportunities.
Tate Forcier remains Tate. One of Michigan's coaches praised Tate's "great strides" in his understanding of the playbook, but what you see is what you get with Forcier: accurate on the run, good scrambler, shortish, meh arm strength. Meanwhile, the undercurrent of coaching discontent with his dedication as a freshman has added another pebble:
"Maybe some of the things that happened early in the season happened a little easier for him," Rodriguez said. "It kind of felt right to him. At the end of the year, he played more like a true freshman at times. And he got banged up a little bit and his concentration wasn't as sharp.
"As coaches, it's our job to make sure he maintains that focus."
The most worrisome thing I hear about Forcier is actually a positive thing related about Gardner. Gardner sets in the pocket and has less of a tendency to start running around than either of the other two quarterbacks, which allows him to go deep more regularly. The offense is a lot of broken plays with both of the short guys. While that's obvious with Robinson, I was hoping Forcier would get more comfortable throwing in the pocket.
Despite that, it will be all but impossible to pull Forcier in favor of Robinson full time when their skill sets are so divergent; a platoon beckons.
As for Devin Gardner, raves about his "incredible feel for the game" from QB coach Rod Smith were relayed via both observers. Other spring hype: "huge," "covers ground without seeming to move" like Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor, and… wait for it… "well ahead of both at this stage." Gardner is a "gym rat" who will happily spend all day watching film. However, he's "nowhere near" having a grasp of the offense and his throwing is erratic. When he's good, he can make deep throws with touch unlike either of the other two, but his overall accuracy lags because of the mechanical issues. His delivery isn't consistent yet. This will not be an enormous surprise to anyone who saw the difference between Camp Devin and Degraded Devin over the course of this high school football season.
This position remains a mess that will not be resolved until UConn, and frankly I'd be surprised to see a single game this year where Michigan goes exclusively with one quarterback. With two polar opposites at the spot, the nominal starter may depend on the relative strength of the opposing defense.
That's just this year. The vibe I got was that Gardner is the future of the position. Maybe not this year, but all bets are off in 2011. The position was described as "loaded," albeit young.
Running Back Battle
Zero clarity here as well. As mentioned earlier, Stephen Hopkins was impressive to Observer B; A was pretty noncommital about the tailbacks. Mike Cox has slipped for whatever reason. Observer B on Hopkins:
The guy is just a freaking monster and he breaks tackles. Now, I can’t say he can block, or knows the offense or can catch the ball. Plus, he fumbled twice (once he was hit at the handoff, on the other instance it might have been the QB’s issue). But man is he a tough tackle on the belly if he can get (even) a yard of momentum.
Shaw and Toussaint seemed like better runners than Cox, as well. This is another spot that will lack clarity until deep into fall unless Vincent Smith (who is jogging but limping badly) comes back fully healthy and establishes himself as the guy.
At fullback, Mark Moundros is playing mostly at linebacker, leaving McColgan the starting FB. He seems okay. Made a couple catches, made a couple blocks. Fullback isn't a huge priority.
Still hard to tell much of anything with two of the top three guys on the outside missing and Michigan focusing on the short stuff, but the freshman making the most of his spring is Jerald Robinson, who is "rangy" and "knows how to get his body in position." That's similar to assessments coming out of his strong summer camp performance.
Jeremy Jackson is also on par with expectations: smart, good routes, great hands, approximately as fast as a tight end. Could this be the guy who actually warrants the incessant Jason Avant comparisons I make? Miller didn't impress in the brief window provided.
Meanwhile, the guys in the slot are reputed to be extremely slippery. Terrance Robinson and Jeremy Gallon are described as "better than a pretty good Big Ten player" in Odoms as long as they're catching the ball. This is not assured: Robinson's hands were the main reason he didn't see the field last year and Observer B praised Odoms's hands while complaining about too many drops in the slot. Coaches were talking up Robinson as a potential contributor, FWIW.
Offensive line being an esoteric position, I don't have much other than the general positivity even absent David Molk. Taylor Lewan could use another 15 pounds but is still holding down left tackle. Perry Dorrestein is nicked up, which may explain the move. More than likely this is an opportunity Lewan won't pass up and Dorrestein is going to have to battle for the right tackle spot. Insert now-default Jake Long comparisons here. Lewan's not likely to be the #1 pick in the NF L draft but his career trajectory is zipping along at the most optimistic level possible.
The most encouraging thing on the line is the depth. Even with Washington and Dorrestein nicked up there's almost a solid two-deep of players who Michigan could throw on the field without panic:
Getting Molk back will give Michigan a buffer of three or four competent backup offensive linemen.
Remember last year's complaint about Michigan potentially tipping their run plays based on the position of the quarterback? This was the setup position on a zone stretch…
…and this was Michigan's belly (which this blog called "veer") series:
From the sideline shot it's pretty obvious what's going on here. QB in front of RB: north-south. QB behind RB: east-west. I'm not entirely sure a defense is going to be aware enough to make an adjustment based on this—it's a lot easier to tell when you're way far away on a sideline—but it can't help.
The coaches apparently have the same concern. They've moved away from this paradigm in favor of something they believe will disguise their intent better. What it is I don't know. It sounds like at the very least the QB is going to move late, like a split second before the snap, if not after. This strikes me as something that Debord would never do.
(FWIW: They did try to mix it up some after practicing for Illinois' zone read veer—which I think is, like, really a veer until someone corrects me on it in the next 60 seconds—but that wasn't successful and was abandoned. I wouldn't write it off entirely, FWIW. It's possible a newly capable Denard Robinson makes that crazy effective.)
That caught my eye too, since it's 180 degrees different from the other "INSIDERZ" info we have been hearing.
get your mind in the gutter and this is hilarious
I thought he transferred from U of D to Inkster, did he live in Oak Park?
No one has corrected them on the spelling of Rodriguez in the video thus far, so it could be a mistake.
Seemed very poised, thoughtful and intelligent - that is the difference between good and great (IMO). Being a great athlete will only get you so far...you have to have the brains to put it all together and reach your max potential. Very encouraged by what I have seen so far.
Maturity means so much when you're an elite athlete always in the spot light. A mature person is less likely to get overwhelmed with all the hype and attention being a division 1 athlete and is able to reach their full potential.
"The coaches apparently have the same concern. They've moved away from this paradigm in favor of something they believe will disguise their intent better. What it is I don't know. It sounds like at the very least the QB is going to move late, like a split second before the snap, if not after."
Can the QB be moving toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped? If the plan was to have the QB lined up by the RB and move towards just before the ball is snapped, they would have to have really good timing.
In the above video, you can see Gardner moving forward before the ball is snapped on several of the plays. The timing is a little off.
Not to mention, doesn't the QB have to be set for a full second before the snap, like all players, unless he's in motion, running laterally? As in, the QB can't just start early on the play. I am somewhat confused by this.
Yea I didn't think this was arena football. Hopefully this will be clarified soon, but I think they're trying to move forward and snap the ball simultaneously.
I must be going nuts, most the clips I don't even see the snaps from the gun let alone any of the QBs moving forward. Devin seems to be a little jittery when the balls is in the air but I must be missing something.
In some of the clips, Devin appears to move before the snap.
In addition, it looks like the RB next to him moves before the snap on some of these plays.
Again, I'm sure it's just a timing thing that they will correct before the season.
Yea my mistake, now that I've watched the video I see Devin moving around a little but there's not a conscious effort to be moving towards the LOS.
We teach our QBs to take a step towards the line in anticipation of the snap. Is it illegal? Technically, yes. But if it's done right, it's almost undetectable.
I have no doubt that our offense will be one of the Big Ten's best next year. The question will really be our defense. Let's not pull a Notre Dame, please.
You could not be more correct with the whole Dorsey, Jimmy Johnson thing.
I honestly don't know what this comparison means. Could somebody explain this to me? I was also confused by the Dorsey sentence. Am I just high?
They are good for motivating players, getting the most out of practices, and having depth. But, I think that over the course of a season, it is usually better to have go to starters at key positions on offense, if for no other reason than developming chemistry.
I know it is VERY early (other than the early enrolees, the true frosh have not even reported for duty), but I hope that by UConn, we have an established starter at RB, and at least a presumptive starter at QB, with the "non-starter." If one of the two QBs has not emerged as more effective, so as to justify locking down the starting job, then I do not think that this is a positive thing.
I think we can all agree that the QB position should be much more solid than last year. As far as this year goes, I think we'll see much of the same in that Tate will start and Denard will spell. Logically, a more experienced and better protected Tate will be more efficient and closer to the earlier portion of last season's form. The fun part will be seeing Denard come in and knowing that he has progressed greatly(at least from all reports). I think this will be trouble for opposing defenses because they really won't know what he'll be doing. If I'm reading between the lines correctly none of this will matter come 2011 as it seems Devin is the real deal. Then we'll be here wondering, again, what they'll be doing with all three of them. Should be fun. This is strictly my analysis and opinion, disregard if you like.
This position doesn't really need a "starter" if there are a couple of guys who are talented and prepared to play right now. Many teams employ the "dual" or platooning style of play for RB's and it's become a pretty popular way to maximize ability and keep legs fresh-which comes in handy in the 4th quarter. As this is a run heavy offense I think this style of switching out guys is imperative IF there is no "slaton" type guy that you must have on the field.
the coach gets to earn his salary (or keep his job). My spirits are much higher concerning this team.
And maybe we don't need to panic about the receiver corps.
I don't get Rivals, is Brian's "insiders" comment sarcastic? Or are there alleged insiders who have witnessed practice actually saying that DR is a "disaster?"
I think that Brian was just trying to make the point that comments are so conflicting that there are opposite comments on both sides of all of the issues that we care about. Not sure any of those comments were meant to be literal.
Rivals.....there is certainly one Insider account on Rivals that I think goes out of its way to bash Denard. Not mean like, but in the 'ha ha ha I told you fools a year ago he could never play QB' vein.....it is in stark contrast to most other reports that at least have allowed stipulated at a minimun that he's improving and him at QB isnt out of the question.
I could link it, but that's a no no.
I dont think its a regular rivals writer, but a longtime regular in the forum.
"a platoon beckons."
And that is great with me. I would be fine with multiple QB's and the "hot hand theory." I would love to see each QB get a series and the bulk of the rest of the game going to whoever the opposing defense has the most trouble with.
Then, when the defense figures out one QB, you bring in another one. I know this defies conventional "wisdom," but so did the spread option with RR created it. At any rate, it looks like we won't be worrying about the QB position being a weakness anymore.
I think it would keep all of the QB's fresh and healthy, and it would definitely be a recruiting positive for those QB's who see the potential in not being pounded into the ground by the end of every season. If QB's knew they could play at least a series or two a game right away, it might be more important than having to play every down of every game.
Quarterback platoons, like socialism, are only great in theory.
Seemed to work just fine for Florida 4 years ago.
I think Tate will ultimately mostly be the guy with Denard getting maybe 5-10 more snaps a game then he did last season, but likely not a full series at a time. The reason I say this is the pass Tate made around the 4:30 mark or so of the video. Hit the WR on the sideline 15-20 yards down field. We need our QB to be able to make that throw and I haven't yet seen Denard do that.
One exception doesn't make it a rule.
It's called an "example".
I generally agree with you. Platooning QB's isn't a good idea, but only if you're just trying to figure out who has the hot hand for a particular game.
I don't mind platooning QB's in for particular plays in particular down and distance situations. I don't see that as being tremendously different than what Florida did, what the Steelers used to do with Kordell Stewart (I still hate that man), or what is now common with the so-called "wildcat" formations. I'd like to see Tate be the starting quarterback but bring Denard in when we're in a position where we know we want to run read-option or QB sweeps, with Denard occasionally having a true passing play called in those situations just to keep the defense honest. This could be once a series, twice a series, etc.
...the use of Tebow as a Freshman a true platoon. Leak was the definite starter, Tebow came in for special situations. They eased him in his freshman year, IIRC.
4 yrs ago was essentially Tebow coming in for short yardage and goal line situations. One of the reasons being Florida didn't have a bruising RB to pick up those yards.
Tebow and Leaks roles were pretty well defined - Tebow short yardage situations, Leak most everything else. I'm not sure the roles for the UM QB's in the fall will be very clear other than - they both will see time on the field.
A platoon is what Florida did when Spurrier was there. I think it was Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer, but I might be wrong on the names.
The Leak/Tebow thing wasn't really a platoon, as a couple people have said. It was Tebow entering the game in certain short yardage situations.
I've said this in another thread, but that throw to the sideline didn't do much for me. That's the one thing Tate was able to do consistently last year - roll out and throw fifteen yards or so down the line - and defenses were smothering it by the end of the season. Show me some highlights of Forcier making confident reads from within the pocket and I'll get good and lathered up.
I wish we could turn back time so that the QB situation we have this year could have happened last year. I'm worried that while we have an excellent situation for long-term QB depth, we still don't have an ideal setup to win this year, which is exactly what we need to do. I'm really wondering whether the pressure on Rod is so great that, if things aren't going well at QB in the first few games, he might not be tempted to rip Garnder's redshirt off.
I'm torn down the middle between giddy with excitement about the offense this year and absolutely terrified ... gonna be a long time until Fall. Our slots and OL should be strengths, and the RB position looks great as well (I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Vincent Smith get buried on the depth chart for the remainder of his career, considering his lack of power and the plethora of options we have at the position.) But QB ... man, we'll see.
If you're expecting Forcier to stand in the pocket and throw consistently, you're going to be waiting a long time. He's too short to be able to see the field well. Rolling out and scrambling are the things he needs to do to be successful. That's always going to be one of his strengths.
Does it from time to time. If he's taller than Tate, it's only by about an inch.
I agree, though, that at this point, it might be unlikely that Tate is going to become comfortable in the pocket. I think that, in the back of my mind, I'm already moving on to Denard as a better option, because Tate's constantly rolling out without being a true scoring threat with his feet was something that defenses were able to contain pretty well by the end of the year.
Brees does stay in the pocket and step up when necessary, but I also think Forcier is more athletic/a better runner than Brees. That's why Forcier relies on scrambling more than Brees.
Great write-up on Carr at the UMMGC reunion, by the way. I was in the club, but only for a semester, so it was hard to justify the reunion.
Thanks. It would have been kind of an expensive endeavor - and time-consuming - if you didn't know that many people in the group and/or didn't have a strong connection. There were a couple guys there who were only in the group for a semester, but for the most part, the attendees were multi-year members.
Florida was socialist four years ago?
It did work well, largely because it was different than most platooning schemes. There was a very clear #1 and a very clear #2. Their relative roles were well-defined. I wouldn't mind seeing that at Michigan, but what I don't want to see is an in-game competition like what we saw with Brady/Henson.
Platooning is a baseball term for 2 guys with complimenting talents playing the same position. To me Tebow/Leak is much more of an example of a platoon than Brady/Henson.
Sometimes, however, they do work well in practice (say, Washington Huskies in 1991, Michigan in 1998 and 1999, Texas in 2003, Florida in 2006, Ohio State in portions of some games in 2009).
A couple other notes:
Perhaps a QB platoon works better in a run-based offense? I don't know how this offense will tend this fall, but if the team is running the zone read 60-70% of the time, having fresh QBs platoon in and out might be a good thing.
Second, if Tate is good at the pass, but okay at the run, and Denard is the reverse, having both platoon might make it easier to keep defenses honest. Having them both on the field could cause large sorts of havoc. And if Denard can improve his zone read / short passing, he may well be one of the most dangerous running QBs in the nation this fall.
Having them both on the field at the same time would certainly cause trouble for defenses, but if Denard's playing QB, Forcier is basically a non-entity at receiver/running back.
They won't be running the zone read 60-70% of the time. They might not even run the ball that much, let alone run that one single play.
Just because a team platoons quarterbacks and wins doesn't mean it was a great idea. Michigan could have been better if they chose one quarterback instead of playing two. Texas could have been better, too. Of course, it's all conjecture, but the team needs consistency after 2+ years of turmoil. I'm fine with bringing in the backup for a play here or a play there when he has a defined role, but I don't like the idea of giving a certain guy the 1st and 3rd quarters and the other guy the 2nd and 4th quarters or something like that.
In traditional offenses the quarterbacks are asked to be good at one thing either throwing (pro style) or running (option) the read-run asks the quarterback to be proficient at both. I can see why it might be slightly easier to have a the spread to lend itself to a platoon than the other two types offenses when your top two QBs are better at different facets of the offense. Like a thunder and lightning platoon at RB or blocking/catching platoon at TE. A platoon in baseball is generally with lefty/righties and offense/defense. You wouldn't platoon 2 right handed power hitters at 1b, you just let the best player play. Same thing for QB in a traditional offense, the best QB plays and if it's too close to call that's not a platoon that's a QB controversy.
It depends on how well we run it. If there are teams that can't stop it, why not run it 60% of the time? With how good our OL is shaping up to be, and how many fresh RB's we have (and also, how dangerous DR is with the ball in his hands) there could be games where we run it that much.
If we have a complete rushing offense, it will be hard to stop. And the nice thing about the zone read play is that it's an option, you can't just overload one area to stop it.
60% is a high run percentage, anyway. If we even run the ball 60% of the time, there are also quarterback draws, pitches, handoffs out of the I-formation, etc. to consider. There is no chance in H-E-double hockey sticks that we run the zone read 60% of the time.
I live in Austin, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that platoon did not work. Their final record was 10 - 3 (which does not cut it here). They lost 65 - 13 to Oklahoma. Chance Mock was a junior and had not proven himself to be a capable D1 QB. Matt Nordgren (the best holder of all time) was the only other QB on the roster. They had no choice but to play Vince Young to try to win and gain expereince.
Additionally the Major Applewhite and Chris Simms platoon did not work either. People still say what if about the Big 12 Championship.
This after Mack Brown had tried running a platoon at UNC that failed miserably, so the guy had expereince of how not to do it.
We didn't use a platoon in 1998. Brady took almost all the snaps outside garbage time.
The 1999 platoon was abandoned midway through the season after Brady showed himself to be generally much more effective than Henson. We probably would have been better off just using Brady, although I think we still would have lost the MSU game (Sparty D slacked off in the 4th quarter after bringing the pain in the 3rd).
platoons, right? This isn't exactly Spurrier going back and forth between two guys with similar skillsets. Platoons probably fail because they split reps allowing neither to gain mastery. But the alternative is throwing the playbook almost entirely to Tate's strengths which are fairly different from Devin and Denard. If Tate's upside isn't high enough to justify that, his current production is still pretty good and if he's only in situations where the defense is relatively more vulnerable to his skillset, he could certainly play up enough to go from average to above. But Tate's success is probably fairly circumscribed by the talent around him. If receivers can't shake their corners, the numbers in the running game require a good OL and RB. Denard otoh makes it easier on meh receivers because more personnel is committed to the run, makes it easier on the OL and RB because he draws so much attention and is so shifty. But even then, he ain't gonna do too much on 3rd and 10.