2008 Michigan Football Season Preview. Part 1: Offense
So I wrote an article last summer previewing each position for the football team for some of my friends. Since I had fun writing it and apparently some of actually enjoyed it, I decided to write another for this season. Actually I wasn’t until my friend Montana got me excited to do it, simply by asking if I was going to do one. So if this article (can I call it that?) was sex, my conversation with Montana was foreplay. And yes, that is about all it takes for me to get excited. Since this is also for some of my friends who don’t follow the team religiously, I will try to make it readable to the casual fan. If you do follow the team religiously, read it anyway. It will give you my side of things and its always fun to read previews to get you excited for the upcoming season. Anyway, on to the preview. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading.
To give better perspective to my position ratings, here is the grading scale:
A: Obviously the best rating. Players at this position should compete for all Big Ten or be among the top players at their position in the nation.
B: Good players, but not good enough to carry or lead the team.
C: Average. Position will not likely make very many big plays and should be expected to give up a few/make mistakes.
D: Should be a significant liability to the team.
F: We are fucked.
With the graduation of a four-year starter in Sir Chad(wick) Henne, Ryan Mallet is going to be the starting QB. I wish that was true, but its not. Unfortunately, Ryan Mallet decided to be a bitch ass and transfer to Arkansas because he thought his skills were ill suited for the spread offense. Other than depriving me of the joy of continuously say “Texarkana, Texas” and the misery of watching him continuously fumble, he leaves Michigan without a QB with any real in game experience. While this is often overrated for many positions, it is not for QBs. Left on the roster are Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan, and incoming freshman Justin Feagin (at least in terms of the players who matter). Threet should be the starter come the first game of the season. He is a former 4-star recruit so he definitely has talent, but has yet to play in a game as he redshirted last season (Side note: I will bring up most players recruiting rating as an indicator of his talent level. Although a high rating does not guarantee success (i.e. there are many other mitigating factors), it is has generally proven to be a good indicator of what is the player’s potential.) He is also a poor fit for the offense. However, as long as he is not expected to run much, he should be serviceable. During the spring game, he showed some promise, although he supposedly struggled with throwing the ball deep, something that’s not too much of a concern in this offense and something that will improve with more practice time with his receivers. While the offense works at his best with a running QB, the coaches can adapt the offense to the players ability; I see no reason why the Michigan coaches wouldn’t do that this season unless they suck as coaches. Past evidence proves they do not.
With that said, I do think Justin Feagin will begin to see some playing time this year as the season progresses. He is more of an athlete than a QB so I see them using him in limited packages when the team could take advantage of his running skills (like Florida did with Tim Tebow his freshman year. I hate how everyone always brings up this example, but I am because it’s an excuse for me to spread the word that Tim Tebow touches little boys’ penises. Seriously. I often joke, but this is not one. He spent his last spring break helping circumcise little boys in some impoverished country. I guess its commendable, but funny nonetheless.) Many Michigan fans discussed the possibility of Feagin seeing extended playing time and possibly even starting towards the end of the year since he is a better fit, but I think this is unlikely as he is a true freshman, was only a 3-star recruit, and the fact that Rich Rodriguez has recruited two top QBs for next year. He likely wouldn’t do this if he was convinced he had a long-term starter on the team.
Nick Sheridan is the other QB of note. He is currently competing for the starting job, but should be relegated to third string once Feagin learns the offense. He is a former walk-on and Michigan would be in deep shit if he has to start, even though he fits the offense better than Threet.
This is probably the position with the most depth on the team; I don’t think there will be one player getting the majority of the carries a la Mike Hart. Instead we will likely employ some variation of a running back by committee. The candidates:
One is Kevin Grady (remember him). He came to Michigan as a 5 star, all-world recruit and was expected to take over many of Hart’s carries due to his size and speed. That never happened; he gave a few glimpses of why he was so highly sought after, but fumbled often all the time. He tore his ACL last year and has since recovered, but it takes most players another year to get back to their full potential. Regardless, he recently got a DUI where he was over three times the legal limit. Most people struggle to function in that range, but somehow he was able to drive, albeit not very well. Anyway, he is expected to be punished by the team and maybe sit out a short amount of gametime. This should hurt his chances to compete because . . .
The last year Grady did play, he lost the back up spot to Brandon Minor, who now a junior, has gotten fairly good reviews from the new coaching staff. Coupled with Grady’s legal situation, he is likely to take away some carries from Grady as the power back in the offense. My opinion of Minor is that he runs too upright and dances too much before he hits the line, resulting in lost yardage. If he finds the hole which is not frequent enough (this is not meant to sound sexual), he has break away speed and showed he could break tackles if he was running straight ahead (which again was not frequent enough last year). In all fairness, the line was not very good last year (not that it is this year). With another year of improvement, additional carries, and no Mike Hart, he might be poised to lead the team in yardage.
If Minor doesn’t get the most carries, Carlos Brown will. He was a highly regarded recruit who has struggled to stay healthy. This year he got injured in the weight room and last year he broke his hand. He is faster than both previous guys and hits the hole quick which is well suited for this offense. He needs to have more patience to let the holes develop and pick the best hole. When he doesn’t, he often just runs into the line for a yard or two gain, although if you give him space which this offense ideally creates, he probably can do more with it than Minor can. Also, he does not lose as many yards as Minor does since he doesn’t do much dancing in the backfield. If it wasn’t for the lost time due to injury, I think he is the better, more versatile back.
Lastly, there are a few freshman who could get some playing time as a RB. The most exciting one of the group is Sam McGuffie. He is a small guy who is really fast and jumps over people (watch his video on youtube). Besides being really tiny, he has one major flaw that might be too much to overcome which I will preface by saying I am not a racist- he is a white. I spent 15 minutes trying to think back over the last 20 years and could not think of a single good white RB- not a promising sign. However, I do think McGuffie looks to be a good receiver for screens and such (based on my limited knowledge of him).
FB: Who cares? (aka I don’t know what to rate it)
The two competing for playing time here are Vince Helmuth and Mark Moundros. Helmuth, the player I hope will gain the starting spot, was highly regarded for a fullback and played more as the season progressed last year as a true freshamn. I don’t think Moundros should be a starter in the Big Ten, seeing him more of a backup and career special teams type. I don’t think there is much else to say here since this is probably the least important position on offense and is not used as frequently as it once was. Furthermore, I think we will see many instances where we see two running backs in the backfield, one a power back (Minor, Grady) and one a speed back (Brown, McGuffie) to best take advantage of our depth at the position.
Although none of the WRs were seniors last year, this went from a position of potential strength to one that took a big hit with both Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington leaving early for the draft. Michigan is left with little playing experience and ill-suited personnel for the slot positions outside of true freshmen.
The team’s best receiver is likely Greg Matthews. He should be able to build off a solid last season where he was the third receiver, but was essentially a starter with how much 3 wide we played. Although I think he is a good player, I think he is a year away from being an elite WR (i.e. worthy of being named to the All Big Ten teams). Overall, he is a well rounded receiver with good size and speed and some ability to block. I think Matthews has a ceiling of being a very good college WR and a mid to late round NFL pick (think Jason Avant).
Starting on the opposite side will probably be sophomore Junior Hemmingway (I like the sound of that for some reason and already can’t wait till next year where I can call him junior Junior Hemmingway). He received limited playing time last year and would ideally be better suited with another year of seasoning before becoming a starter. However, Hemmingway was highly touted according to most rankings coming out of high school. I like him a lot and in very limited time, he showed the ability to eventually become a leading receiver who can adjust to the ball in the air and make some moves on short passes.
This position, which is generally filled by shorter, shifty, fast players, didn’t really exist in the old offense; it is also somewhat interchangeable with the smaller, speed RBs. While we have a few incoming freshman who fit the mold that will see playing time, Tony Clemons will be the starter initially, although he looks the part of an outside receiver. He received limited playing time last year, generally coming in as the token young receiver that signals a running play; hence, only one catch. He will be utilized in space and expected to make plays on short passes. He came to Michigan as a high 4-star type so hopefully he can still succeed playing somewhat out of position.
For the outside receivers, the leading backup will be a highly-touted freshman, Darryl Stonum, who enrolled early. He has gotten great reviews since he came on campus. Expect him to see the field quite a bit (similar to Manningham and Matthews their freshman seasons) as the spread offense uses many receivers at one time. I think he could become a great player down the line. Another backup WR is LaTerryal Savoy. He has consistently impressed during spring practice since he came to Michigan as a highly recruited WR, but has yet to live up to the hype during the season. I don’t think this is likely to change. More likely to me would be Clemons sliding to the outside and some of the freshmen, who are better suited for the slot, see the field at slot receiver. The three players likely competing for playing time there are Terrence Robinson, Michael Shaw, and Martavious Odoms. I know little else about these guys other than they are fast little fucks who should be able to best use their skills in the spread.
TE: B/B+ (with good depth)
Carson Butler, he of the alleged “St. Patrick’s Day Nerd Massacre” where a couple football players beat the shit out of some kid in West Quad, will be the starting TE. He is a pretty good pass catcher, especially off play action, but was the definition of a terrible blocker. In the new offense, he will be flexed out most the time (as opposed to lining up next to the OT) which is better suited for him since it will take advantage of his pass catching abilities and should simplify his blocking assignments. Mike Massey is recovering from an injury and is the backup. He sucks and hopefully will not play much because he sucks. He is not as terrible at blocking as Butler is though. Behind these two, we are pretty deep with four former 4-star recruits (1 soph, 1 rs fresh, 2 fresh). Martell Webb is the most likely of the bunch to see playing time this year, hopefully passing up Massey in the depth chart. At least one of the freshman will/should be redshirted.
Although this group performed well at the spring game against a very good DL, this is a position with maybe the most uncertainty. All but one starter is returning which is not a good sign since he played horribly last year. We lost players to graduation (Long, Kraus), to transfer (since he couldn't deal with the new staff's intensity, Justin Boren also decided to be a bitch ass and transferred to OSU), and to general fatness and laziness (Mitchell, Ciulla). As such, there will be redshirt upperclassmen starting who lack much experience and freshmen as backups due to the mass exodus of linemen.
Mark Ortman will be starting at LT and there will obviously be a large drop off from the all-world tackle Jake Long. Ortman was only a 3-star recruit coming out of high school, which is not a good sign for the most important position on the OL. However, he has some experience as he was the first off the bench last year and started a game or two at RT. He did not really do anything to stand out, which means he was not dominant, but at the same time did not consistently get beat by the defense. The kid wears pads that make him look like an unauthentic hunchback.
On the right side, the line returns its only starter from last year, Steve Schilling. He had a terrible season in both run and pass blocking. I can come up with two (biased?) justifications for his failure besides the fact he was a RS freshman starter. First, he had injuries and mono his redshirt year and consequently he was not able to get big/strong enough for last season. Second, he switched between RG and RT which stunted his learning curve. He has since apparently stayed STD-free and has likely gotten into better shape like the rest of the team. With a year of starting experience, strength training, and focusing on one position, he should be able to begin to develop like was originally projected coming out of high school (like a “can’t miss prospect”). I think if he performs well, Schilling will eventually be moved to the left side unless . . .
Dan O’Neill takes over as LT in the near future. Regardless, expect O’Neil, a true freshman and one of the top tackles in his class, to be the first back up for the tackle spots. Nearly all lineman redshirt, but he may need to play out of necessity and might be better than the options we currently have on the team and more physically prepared than the other freshmen. Sophomore Perry Dorrestein is also an option here, but I expect O’Neill to beat him out, at the very latest by mid-season, for the backup role.
It looks like the starting LG will be Tim McAvoy. He got some playing time last year in the RG rotation. So many players rotated in and out of that spot that I can’t honestly recall how well he played. However, he is another redshirt junior without much experience who is a former 3-star recruit, so don’t expect too much.
The RG position should be manned by Cory Zirbel. He is yet another member of the recruiting class of 2005 that has yet to play much, if at all. Unlike McAvoy and Ortman, he was actually very highly regarded coming into college. For reasons unknown to me, he has not gotten on the field ahead some very questionable competition. It is very possible he sucks or was just in Carr’s doghouse for one reason or another. Offensive line is a position where players sometimes take time to develop and bulk up, so it is still possible that someone highly rated like Zirbel could succeed (or maybe I’m just too biased to admit otherwise).
Michigan has some options on who the backups will be here. One option is to move one of the centers, Moosman or Molk, into one of the guard spots. Mark Huyge and whoever the most prepared of the freshman interior linemen will also be in the mix here. Never a good sign when you have a true freshman in the two-deep.
There is still supposedly some competition at this position, but the leader as of now is David Moosman. He is the fourth redshirt junior expected to start on the OL. While not as highly ranked as Zirbel coming out of college, he still was a 4-star recruit. He has not played much so I don’t really have an opinion to offer. (Side note: Moosman looks like what you would imagine a Moosman to look like. If he and Ortman start, we might have the most deformed looking line in college.) The other player still vying for the starting spot is David Molk. He was out most the spring (I think with mono. This is not a ringing endorsement of the cleanliness of women at Michigan or at least the players’ taste in women.) This time off should set him back in the competition and make it difficult to remove Moosman from the starting spot. He is only a redshirt freshman, but was ranked the #1 center in his class by some (most saw him as a 3-star type though).
The offense should be hit hard by all the talent that left the team which will make transitioning to a new offense even more difficult. Michigan is still Michigan and does have some talented players, especially at the skill positions. Will this matter if the line can’t block or the quarterback isn’t able to make the throws to get it to them? No, but I don’t think the situation is as dire as many fans think. The offense will struggle to start the season, but as the line jells and Threet becomes more comfortable with the offense, we should have a good enough offense to keep us in games considering our defense.
I will have the preview for the defense up by the end of the week.
I think you are pretty much saying the same thing as me, that RR will play to the strengths of his players.
Placing too much emphasis on stars:
Players recruiting rating is an indicator of his talent level, which has been proven on this blog many times already. Although a high rating does not guarantee success (i.e. there are many other mitigating factors), it is has generally proven to be a good indicator of what is the player’s potential.
“Feagin would have been a minimum 4 star in most other states”:
Stars are not assigned by state.
“None of our players suck":
True none of our players really suck, but there are some who are marginal players. And it is okay to admit that not everyone on the team is amazing.
Our TEs are good blockers:
I don’t know if you watched last season, but they continuously missed blocking assignments.
My perception of the FB;
I said they don’t matter too much because I expect us to play two RBs often and it is the least important position on the offense. I don’t think you can honestly say you rather have a good FB than QB? RB? OL? Etc. Even for all the hype about Owen Schmitt, he only had 49 carries and 12 receptions, although he was a good blocker.
Criticizing me for writing my expectations:
This is a preview written by me. It should include my expectations.
No no, it's okay for him to say that because he prefaced it with "I'm not racist."