needs moar usage
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.)