"The face of the operation is Briatore (referred to exclusively in the film by his colleagues and angry, chanting detractors as "Flavio"), an anthropomorphic radish who spends most of his time at QPR plotting to fire all of the managers."
At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
In an ideal world, senior Greg Mathews would play Avant to someone else's Braylon Edwards but unless Darryl Stonum explodes after a disappointing freshman year or Junior Hemingway goes from the walking wounded to awesome Mathews will be the #1 guy. That's not all bad; in the rare instances he had the opportunity to reel in a ball last year he displayed hands worthy of that guy currently being underrated on the Eagles. Witness this circus catch against Minnesota:
That's Mathews in a nutshell. He got zero separation from the (terrible) Gopher defensive back, which necessitated a difficult catch; this was no problem. By the end of the Northwestern game, Mathews had graded out better than any other receiver in UFR receiverchartin': 23/24 on routine catches, 5/7 on somewhat tough ones, and 3/10 on attempts to make circus catches. That's impressive. The only other Michigan receiver to reel in a circus catch last year (in a total of 18 opportunities) was Carson Butler, and he just did that to remind us exactly how much talent he was wasting. Even in excellence, Carson Butler annoys.
Back to players who play for Michigan: Mathews is a possession receiver. Though he managed to get his yards per catch above 10 last year, it wasn't by much. If he's interested in making announcer's lives easier this fall he'll undergo a blackendectomy a la Michael Jackson and allow people to talk about his grit, routes, and hands, all of which happen to be excellent even if he's a guy from Florida with loads of melanin.
The starter opposite Mathews is still to be determined and may end up a platoon. Two players figure to get significant amounts of playing time.
Door number one: redshirt sophomore Junior Hemingway, who must have irritated Angry Michigan Receiver-Hating Czarist Nobles at some point in the recent past. Not even Carlos Brown can claim a series of unfortunate events as ridiculous as that suffered by Hemingway, who endured a severely sprained ankle as a freshman, then sprained his ankle again as a sophomore, then picked up a nearly-as-severe shoulder injury that he managed to play through until mononucleosis finally struck him down. At least no one tried to drown him.
Tentatively healthy and in possession of a well-deserved medical redshirt after last year's trials, Hemingway enters the season in a pitched battle with fellow sophomore Darryl Stonum. In limited opportunities Hemingway's displayed superior hands—he reeled in a wide array of Coner ducks in the spring game—and serious leaping ability. He was impressive in the brief window before various limbs and immune systems turned against him. The Utah UFR looked for the tiniest sliver of a silver lining and found it in Hemingway:
Receivers: possibly a bit better than we expected if Hemingway can continue his impressive performance. He got behind a Utah defensive back who was bailing out into a cover three for the touchdown, caught a tough slant, and generally looked big, fast, and good.
He could not continue that performance because he was busy being shot, stabbed, and poisoned by chance.
Hemingway was a big recruit with a ton of early offers who got mysteriously downgraded because of his appearance in a South Carolina all-star game despite a high school career full of production and ridiculous circus catches. Even if he lacks pure deep speed his ability to sky could see him emerge into a new version of Marquise Walker; he's got the hands and the ability and I've been in his corner for a long time. I think he wins the starting job opposite Mathews and establishes himself a player to be excited about going into 2010. As of now he is the leader, and may actually be on top of the depth chart if a temporary Mathews demotion was something more than motivational. Rodriguez was explicit about Hemingway's spot at Media Day:
“Junior’s in probably the best shape he’s been in, but he’s still not ready where I think he’s going to be," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We need him to be - he and Greg Mathews in particular got to be two guys that we can count on as far as making plays and being able to do all the things we ask our wideouts to do. Those are kind of two of the upperclassmen that their time is kind of now."
One side note on "all the things we ask our wideouts to do": Hemingway is huge for a receiver, tipping the scales at 226 on the spring roster. This might go a ways towards explaining his rumored lack of elite speed. It should also help with the perimeter and downfield blocking that is critical in the spread 'n' shred. Hemingway is atop the depth chart and will be a prime target if the positive practice hype holds up.
The aforementioned Darryl Stonum is Hemingway's main competition and. The rumblings from fall camp are mostly about pages and getting on the same one and drops and so forth and so on; at one point when Mathews was out with a minor injury it was fifth-year senior and nonentity-to-date Laterryal Savoy who drew into the starting lineup opposite Hemingway. Stonum had bounced up to the top pair late, though, if that means anything. It probably doesn't.
Stonum's considerable recruiting hype (on the cusp of five stars, offers from USC, Florida, and the rest of the world) gave way to a disappointing freshman year during which, as 99%-apocryphal-but-still-telling rumor has it, he quit the team a half-dozen times only to return soon after. Stonum didn't do much last year, and that was at least as much on him as it was on the quarterbacks. The "forty or even fifty catches" that weren't "out of the question" last year turned into a measly 14 catches for 176 yards and one touchdown courtesy some seriously poor defense by an anonymous Boilermaker.
But you could form an NFL All-Pro team out of temperamental wide receivers who needed to get on the same page with their coaches and quarterbacks after a nothing freshman year. Divas are tolerated at the spot as long as they preen en route to the endzone.
Backups and Whatnot
Severe attrition in the wide receiver corps leaves options few and far between past the three potential starters. No one's sure if incoming freshman Je'Ron Stokes, who's about six-foot, belongs in the slot or on the outside. The depth chart would strongly suggest outside, though, and that's where we'll slot (ha!) him until disabused of that notion by events on the field. FWIW, Rodriguez has said they'll use Stokes here exclusively.
Stokes was a highly touted recruit in or just outside of the recruiting sites' top 100 lists who Michigan snatched away from Tennessee once the Vols told Tajh Boyd to talk to the hand and Stokes got concerned about four years of Cromptonesque quarterbacking. As with the other freshmen mentioned above, all of the internet's knowledge about Stokes can be found in his recruiting profile. A brief highlight from the Pittsburgh Sports Report:
An electrifying game breaker with excellent speed, Stokes could use more size on his current 6’1” and 180 pound frame. He has great hands, knows how to get open, makes a lot of acrobatic catches and is terrific after the catch.
Stokes will have the opportunity to find playing time; given his athletic gifts it's probably just a matter of time before he slides into the fourth outside receiver spot.
Just about everyone is waiting impatiently for fellow freshman Cameron Gordon to hit the practice field and get switched to linebacker, where he will be a reassuring athletic presence on a unit that needs the depth badly, but he is coming in as a wide receiver and may stick there. If he does, think Mathews and Avant: Gordon is a strapping fellow more suited to heading over the middle than going deep. Hopefully Gordon can redshirt and think long and hard about which side of the ball he wants to end up on.
LaTerryal Savoy and James Rogers also exist. If Savoy was ever going to find the field it would have been last year, when the receiving corps was wracked by injury, youth, and incompetence. He's a fifth year senior now; there's no upside to playing him unless he's clearly better than the other options, which he won't be. The Stonum depth chart hijinks above are not new: Savoy was supposed to be the star of camp last year and was even nominally first string in practice. When the season rolled around he was quickly shot down the depth chart.
Rogers has a bit more upside and time left, but he's failed to make an impact in three years at Michigan and has struggled to find a position after bouncing to and from the secondary. (He was a high school tailback.) His speed is bountiful but goes strictly in a straight line; younger, more agile options will probably eat up his playing time. The pair might see ten catches between them.
Martavious Odoms started every game he was healthy for, led Michigan in receptions and yards last year, added a punt return touchdown, and did all this as a true freshman. Normally, this would mark him as a future star and have Michigan internets abuzz about how the little bolt is going to dominate foolz with his mad skillz, yo.
…what you're not seeing in those stats is the number of drops he had. You're not seeing the number of times he gained 3 yards when we needed 4 on third down. And you're not seeing his pathetic work on returns.
Ouch. The lingering image of Odoms from last year is a man moving so fast you only catch a glimpse of his dreadlocks… as he futilely attempts to dive on his own fumble. Odoms coughed the ball up six times in the final four games of the year, permanently etching him into the James Whitley Memorial Hall of Men Not To Be Trusted With The Ball in the minds of many.
This is the part where I scour last year's UFRs for evidence for or against this position, but in this instance another diarist has beat me to it. jg2112's analysis:
…on Odoms' 26 catches that were executed with even marginal competence by the QB and the blockers, he averaged 14 yards per catch. His average was pulled down 5 yards a catch by crappy throwing and blocking. That's a significant variance.
…While Odoms' fumbles were disappointing, his receiving was not. In a normal year, Odoms wouldn't have seen the field. However, the experience will help him play even better this year, and the depth behind him (Gallon et al), Tate's accuracy, and better blocking will give the offense the versatility to use the slot more effectively this year.
I co-sign that. Odoms has a year of experience and production on anyone else in the lineup. I am skeptical any slot will beat him out. Odoms will see his playing time dip as the team brings in viable options other than him—they had none last year after Terrance Robinson's injury and Rodriguez specifically stated they'd like to have Odoms off the field more—but those expecting him to be replaced wholesale are going to be disappointed.
The book on Odoms from his critics is that he lacks the big-play ability you'd ideally have in a slot receiver. That seems to be grasping at straws after he turned in more big plays than any other member of the receiving corps despite being saddled with quarterbacks who couldn't chuck a bubble screen straight nor threaten downfield enough to back safeties and linebackers off. I mean…
…I don't think that's a fluke. If you want to claim the fumbles are intolerable I'm with you, but writing off Odoms' talent after a year that would have been promising in most other situations is a mistake. I still go back to what a close observer of Florida high school football told me unprompted when Odoms committed:
He's a tough SOB. Small cat, really tough, will remind you of Steve Smith. Very, very fast. I'm a huge Martavious Odoms fan, you'll love him.
I'm betting on a lot of hurried backtracking on Odoms after the year.
Backups and Whatnot
Roy Roundtree's about the same weight as your average slot receiver, but he's been put on the rack and stretched to 6'3". Last year he redshirted in an attempt to protect him from being split in half by linebackers. Roundtree was mostly forgotten about in the process, and no one expected much from him this year until he broke open deep (against walk-ons, yes) and reeled in that pretty 50-yard Forcier bomb in the spring game. He added an array of other catches across the middle and on fades and other things; if not for the presence of Forcier himself, Roundtree would have exited spring with more buzz than any other new face.
This sudden renaissance has an impossible reason behind it: Roundtree managed to get through and entire high school career and a redshirt season as a freakin' wide receiver without anyone noticing that he couldn't see anything:
"In the first half of the spring, he was struggling catching some balls, and then we looked at him, and he'd squint at you," Rodriguez said Saturday.
"That was the first sign, 'You'd better get your eyes checked.' The doctor said he didn't know how he was walking a straight line."
This, of course, is straight out of Major League. I assume that Brandon Graham is praying to Jobu as we speak and Denard Robinson is running around with a ridiculous nickname at incredible speed before starring in Demolition Man.
Roundtree figures to see time both inside and outside as a fourth receiver and should provide a reliable underneath option. With Koger and a bunch of other slots and three potentially viable outside receivers there's no telling where on the targeting chart Roundtree will end up but 10-20 catches, most of which move the chains but don't do much else, seems reasonable.
As far as slot ninjas go, the #2 guy on the roster is, shockingly, basketball refugee Kelvin Grady. Once he found himself stapled to John Beilein's bench in favor of walk-ons he read the writing on the wall and decided to try his hand at the other sport in which he was a spectacularly agile and quick, if undersized, star at East Grand Rapids. Check it:
Happily, an inability to shoot or defend won't hamper him in football. He's a redshirt sophomore by eligibility and hasn't played football in three years, but that hasn't stopped him from acquiring an impressive quantity of practice hype and coaching praise. Por ejemplo:
“Kelvin Grady has made a lot of big plays,” Rodriguez said this afternoon. “That’s been a – I don’t want to say a pleasant surprise, because we thought when he came over, he’d have a chance – but Kelvin has done well in camp.”
A leaping, one-handed catch started it all off when it got posted on the official site and it actually seems like Grady will play this year. Daver Birkett of AnnArbor.com thinks Grady is ahead of even Roundtree. Since he's already used his redshirt there's no reason to hold back if he can.
With Grady's star has experiencing an unexpected rise, Terrance Robinson's is dimming. Robinson missed all of last year with a severe ankle sprain and what few mentions he's garnered since have mostly concerned his inability to catch. There were some transfer rumors, and while AFAIK those were totally unsubstantiated their plausibility says a great deal about his position on the depth chart. With three players ahead of him and Gallon sure to push once he gets acclimated, Robinson's career needs defibrillation lest it end DOA. Robinson's main hope for playing time this year may be on punt returns.
Finally, incoming freshman Jeremy Gallon has a ton of hype behind him after three years as Florida powerhouse Apopka's single-wing quarterback and a dynamite showing at the Army All-America Game, but he battled academic issues to the wire and was the last freshman to arrive. He's only been on campus for a few weeks. A midseason emergence seems like the best-case scenario, perhaps with a side of being awesome at punt returns; if Grady and Robinson provide sufficient depth a redshirt seems preferable. Gallon, after all, hasn't been a receiver much.
Michigan's six-deep logjam at tight end has been seriously thinned by graduation, position switches, and compulsory early NFL draft entry, but there's still enough depth and talent to warrant an offseason visit to Oklahoma, home of the killer spread tight end passing game.
Kevin Koger is most of the reason for this after emerging as a true freshman starter halfway through last year when Rodriguez tired of the purse-swinging that passed for Carson Butler blocking. He didn't actually do much—a function of his youth and the quarterback situation—but did catch a couple touchdowns and now looks to blossom. Calvin Magee on Koger:
"Kevin Koger's had a great great offseason," said Calvin Magee, Koger's offensive coordinator and position mentor. "He's done well. He's gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster, and it's a natural progression from freshman to sophomore year.
"He's changed his body. You know, his weight's around the same. He's more lean now. So naturally, he's got more muscle on him. That allows him to be faster and he's one of those kids that committed himself to the offseason conditioning and it's going to help him a great deal."
As a recruit, Koger was highly sought, just outside top 100 lists and the subject of a pitched recruiting battle between Michigan and Ohio State that went the right way. That bodes well, as does the offseason hype and quick ascension up the depth chart.
There are twin drags on the Koger projections, though: Rodriguez's inexperience deploying tight ends and the likely presence of a freshman quarterback leery of going over the middle of the field. Rodriguez did claim in a press conference during fall camp that Michigan is deploying tight ends "80% of the time," however; with a mountain of hype behind him and questionable options outside of him, Koger should find himself open on many a seam this year.
According to practice reports, junior Martell Webb is running a strong 1A to Koger and should see extensive time himself after a wasted sophomore year in which he caught no balls and hardly saw the field even after Massey and Butler saw their playing time chopped or eliminated.
There's some corroborating evidence for the practice reports, too. Webb was a consensus four-star recruit and seemed on a stardom track as a freshman when he started after Massey was sidelined with a knee issue and Carson Butler pissed off the coaches—he was Koger before Koger was Koger.
Behind those two is redshirt freshman Brandon Moore, who had a boatload of offers before he made his early commit to Michigan but then struggled through an indifferent senior season and saw his rankings drop considerably. He was reputed to be a no-block TE, more of a bulky 6'6" receiver than an inline blocker. Practice rumblings were silent on him until just recently, when he was purported to be coming on. He'll rotate in some in preparation for bigger things once Webb graduates.
I think the receivers will shine this year. Last year was the perfect storm and that will not happen two years in a row. Hopefully the same with injuries. We've had more than our share for the last two years. Fewer injuries all around.
Life should not be a journey to the grave to arrive safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What A Ride!" HST
Between the ongoing (and epic) season preview, and the ongoing (and epic) Jihad the Second -- plus the usual recruiting updates, Unverified Voracities, etc. -- it's been a ridiculously awesome few days on MGoBlog. Hats off to Brian and crew, and please keep it coming. I so cannot wait for Saturday.
Gotta say it Brian, you write one hell of an article. Always entertaining to read, always easy to read. I love reading your stuff. Nice in-depth analysis, too. I'm really looking forward to seeing what all of these guys can to downfield catching balls. I'm hoping that Odoms has improved (hopefully considerably) at holding on to the ball. That's his biggest flaw. If he hasn't, then I'm hoping Grady has no such problem. I'm also really looking forward to how the TEs are going to be used this year. Rich seems to be trying to cook something up with the Oklahoma visit and all. Hopefully, and I don't see how Tate or Denard won't be an improvement, we have a QB that can get the ball out to these guys consistently.
As a construction worker I have been working at the stadium since February, and have had the honor of being the first one in the bowl on a daily basis for the past few weeks. It is eerily quiet in the morning, but I can't tell you how stoked I am to see this place come alive on Saturday. When that first TD is scored (by us, of course), the noise level is going to blow people's minds. The new structures are completely glassed in and the sound is going to rival Oregon, no joke. Just because the expansion isn't open yet doesn't mean the extra crowd noise has to wait. It will be in full Forcier(waka waka).
"And all I ever wanted was a good job and some bus fare, a rocket and a bomb."- Michael Knott
Brian, Traye Simmons is not a "(terrible) Gopher defensive back"
Simmons was voted 2nd team All-Big Ten in 2008 by both the coaches and the media. While I do agree with your overall assessment of Matthews, his inability to gain separation from one of the conference's top corners isn't the best way to prove that point.
RR: You know there is a lot of talent on this team Billy. The upperclassman are starting to play back to form and the freshman are developing faster than I thought. There's two or three potential All-Americans. I think we're a contender right now.
Martin: You really believe that don't you?
RR: All we need is something to bring it all together.
Martin: Micheal Rosenberg will never allow that to happen.
Brandon Minor: Well I guess there's only one thing left to do....win the whole fucking thing.