this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
I am enjoying this beverage.
Into the limo, you sonofabitch, no arguments.
Hey, there's a beverage here!
Brian is shoved in and awkwardly takes a seat facing the rear. The door is slammed behind him.
Start talking and talk fast, you lousy bum!
We've been frantically trying to reach you, EBay.
Where are my goddamn wins, you bum?
Well… we, I don't…
They did not receive the wins, you nitwit! They did not receive the goddamn wins. OUR STREAK WAS IN YOUR HANDS.
This is our concern, EBay.
No, man… nothing is fucked here, just…
NOTHING IS FUCKED? THE GODDAMN PLANE HAS CRASHED INTO THE MOUNTAIN.
Come on, man, just give it some time. We'll get the wins, it'll just take some time.
I—the royal we, you know, the fan we—he'll get the wins, exactly as specified—look, I've got certain information. Certain things have come to light, and, uh, has it ever occurred to you that instead of running around blaming Rich that this whole thing might just be, not, you know just such a simple, but uh—you know?
What in God's holy name are you blathering about?
I'll tell you what I'm blathering about! I got information—new shit has come to light—and, shit, man… we started a walk-on at quarterback!
Well, sure, look at it! Ridiculously young offense, gives turnovers all over town, including to known Domers—and that's cool, that's cool—but I'm saying, he needs time, and of course they're going to say he doesn't need any because they gotta feed the monkey—I mean, hasn't that ever occurred to you? Sir?
No. No, Mr. EBays, that had not occurred to me.
Well, okay, you're not privy to all the new shit, so, uh, you know, that's what you read me for. Speaking of, would it be possible to get some comped Rose Bowl tickets? I'm just worried with the demand and all…
Brandt, give him the envelope.
Well, okay, if you've got them right here.
We received it this morning.
Since you have failed to achieve, even on the modest EBay that is your site, since you have stolen my wins, and since you have unrepentantly betrayed my trust…
[opens envelope, looks inside]
DEAR MICHIGAN FOOTBALL PROGRAM,
It is our deepest regret to inform you that you are not qualified to take on the third-place MAC team in Detroit. We are probably going with Wofford instead.
…I have no choice but to tell these EBay bums that they should do whatever is necessary to recover their bowl streak from you, Brian of EBay. And with Brandt as my witness, tell you this: any further harm visited on my program will be visited tenfold upon your head.
By God, sir, I will not abide another Motor City Bowl rejection letter.
INT. COFFEE SHOP
The EBay and Michael sit at the counter, both staring off into space, both absently stirring their coffee with little clinking noises.
You want a bowl? I can get you a bowl. There are ways, EBay, you don't want to know about it.
Do they involve eating two large pizzas every night?
In less than a week, Michigan will run under the banner a team directed by Rich Rodriguez and the Bo Schembechler era will finally, permanently belong to the past.
It’s a change that most Michigan fans feel was too long coming after the tribulations in recent years: losses to Ohio State, Rose Bowls that end the wrong way, national embarrassment and the infamous picture that will stand as one half of the Carr era denouement:
It lived in the past and now it is of the past and it can stay there, to be memorialized in song and commemorative DVD. Amen.
But this is the other half of the Carr era denouement.
This picture makes me happy.
Over the past three years on this blog I’ve chronicled my endless frustration with Michigan football; I’ve also chronicled just how important it is to me. Carr is at least partially responsible for both these things. It has been a deeply schizophrenic existence, and the Citrus Bowl was everything about that existence wrapped into one three-hour summary.
You can check the UFR after most games for an explanation of the first. The second has something to do with Carr’s tireless scorn for those who deserved it, primarily the money-changers cramming into the temple of the game, his obvious devotion to his players, his desire to read things more stimulating than a playbook.
This latter item about reading is weird and useless—who cares if the football coach knows who Keats is?—but it’s also indisputably true. Former Daily sportswriter J Brady McCullough indirectly touches on it in his excellent article on the changeover:
“I’m studying up on it,” Rodriguez says. “Reading books. I got 500 books sent to me. I got four or five of the same book, ‘Bo’s Lasting Lessons,’ and it gave me some perspective on things.”
Rodriguez has realized Michigan is unique. Fans and former players who want their football coach to spend his time reading?
Yes. When I was editing Hail to the Victors 2008, space requirements forced me to cut down Craig Ross’s article about his experience at a Scot Loeffler quarterbacks meeting, and when I had to cut a small but telling paragraph about Lloyd Carr it lingered with me. This is it:
After a few minutes Carr appeared. He was relaxed and fresh, even though it was mid-evening and he had worked for the entire day. We chatted for a few moments about a book, The Long Walk, the story of a WWII prisoner of war who escaped from a Gulag and then trekked across Siberia, through the Gobi desert and then through the Himalayas to India.
I didn’t want to cut it but it was either that or something directly relevant to Ross’s odyssey so out it went. I wanted people to see it, to get the little glimpse into how odd Lloyd Carr—football coach, friend of Russell Crowe, strident Democrat—is. He reads books! About things! This is important.
There is something to the sometimes annoying “Michigan Man” thing. There is a mindset, an attitude, some characteristics that are shared by enough people that they characterize a program and a fanbase. (The annoying part is when people pretend all these things are positive.) Carr was of this and in more than a decade came to define some of it. Kipling and Into Thin Air and The Long Walk were part of the fabric of the program.
Few outside of Michigan fandom understood this or anything about Carr. How could they? Opposing fans took the opportunity provided by Carr’s cantankerousness at press conferences and one inopportune photo after a loss against Oregon to label him classless. Neutrals just thought he was a crab, because they experienced him as a crab. A month after the Bo memorial service at which Carr spoke, I found myself in a conversation with Orson Swindle of EDSBS fame. At some point I forwarded the video (part one; part two) of Carr’s speech to him. The response: “It's enthralling, actually. Lloyd is downright eloquent.”
The surprise was evident.
It was November when they memorialized Bo but it was nice enough out, I thought, and I thought the thing to wear was a suit so I did but I left the coat at home and this was fine for a while. But when the sun started setting the warmth leached out of the air and people kept talking and it was cold. And I wrapped my arms around myself as Bo’s son talked and kept talking and God bless him, I know he just lost his father but it’s cold and I’ve been here for hours. And he kept going.
So I’m cold and in a suit and my mind is wandering back to what Carr said to wrap up his speech. I recorded it with my MP3 player but old obscure-brand MP3 players being what they are and having no external mic the recording was nigh useless and when I discovered this later I was a little shattered but still posted the nigh useless thing on the blog.
Carr said this: “Bo will be remembered as the Michigan Man.”
No, not quite, I don’t think. Not “the.”
I’m happy that the empire of the fallen has finished its long slide into the sea. I’m happy it’s been replaced with something young and vivacious and very likely successful. But on Saturday something that lived for forty years sees the last shovelful of dirt on its grave, and I wish it hadn’t come to this.
People wish for a lot of things, though, and entropy always tells them to go to hell.
The highs dispensed of, we can focus on the real Michigan specialty: lows. This is an attempt to document the absolute worst players inflicted upon Michigan fans during Lloyd Carr's tenure as head coach. This is sort of a mean thing to do, since even the worst Michigan players are amongst the top 1% of football players anywhere. It's kind of like making fun of Darko, even though Darko's richer than you and way, way better at basketball than you.
Anyway, this is also a season-by-season evaluation, with special emphasis given to extended presence in the lineup. Tyrece Butler wasn't very good but he was the fourth wide receiver at best and thus did not impact Michigan's fate as much as Pat Massey did in 2005.
In sum: we're trying to find the guys at each position that make you think "how did that guy spend that much time on the field?" This is less laser-focused on years; some career aspects are taken into account.
Pat Massey 2005. Massey is one of four unholy locks that cannot be disagreed upon. (The others: Todd Howard, Ryan Mundy, and John Navarre.) A 6'8" defensive tackle instructed to eat a lot of pizza by cutting-edge S&C coach Mike Gittleson, Massey spent 2005 moonwalking downfield against single blocking. At no point did he ever threaten to enter the opponent's backfield. He spent more time on his back than former Notre Dame AD Kevin White at a meeting with NBC (zing!). He probably thought the line of scrimmage started somewhere around the safeties.
Choice bits on Massey from the blog's past follow. 2005's OSU UFR:
Massey(-1) is crushed off the snap ... Massey also gets crushed by single blocking. ... Running right at Massey again, who crumples backwards under the force of two blockers ... Clear evidence of Massey(-1) being a part of the opponent gameplan here. He's blown off the ball a couple yards by one blocker. The center doesn't even chip anyone and immediately plows into Harris.
If only Massey played as purty as he talked. He's 6'8", and there's a reason you've never heard of a 6'8" DT before: every play someone gets under this hypothetical giant's pads and drives him five yards backwards. Massey's only contribution this year was pursuing on screens.
Moving from defensive end in the 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive tackle was a disaster for Massey, who may as well have been named "Crumpled" by the end of the year. We should have seen it coming--when was the last time you saw a 6'8", 285-pound defensive tackle? When is the next time? I'm guessing "never" and "never again."
A review of the defensive losses after the 2005 season:
This is probably the most effective summary of his career: though he started for three years he finished with exactly four TFLs that were not sacks. All four came as a sophomore, two against Houston and two against Indiana. As a senior he had 29 tackles, one for loss. That was a sack against Michigan State where Woodley crushed two blockers, forcing Stanton to scramble back into a trailing Massey. Whoever replaces him would have to try very hard indeed to do less.
You get the idea. By all accounts he was a great guy Carr loved like a son, but... yeah. Crumplestiltskin.
Shawn Lazarus, 2001. I admit I'm guessing on this one, my memory of mediocre defensive tackles being sketchy. However, Michigan's had a parade of fringe-or-better NFL players at the position and Lazarus was one of the few to miss out. I do have lingering memories of him as the least productive of the Caucasian pride parade that was Michigan's line from about 1999 to 2002. The stats back me up:
|Career Defense for Shawn Lazarus|
2000 was a year mostly spent as a backup, but in 2001 Lazarus had 12 starts and turned in 16 tackles. Stats aren't the be-all and end-all for defensive tackles, but even so... that's not good production, and he was one of the few non-Massey defensive tackles at Michigan to be completely overlooked by all-conference teams and the NFL. (Lazarus turned in a better senior year, FWIW, with 30 tackles and 6 TFLs.)
Sidenote: Lazarus is now a motivational speaker of the Scared Straight variety:
"Where Can You Find Shawn Lazarus?"
Youth can either listen to me now or in the Juvenile Court System.
Honorable(?) Mention: The other guy considered for the second spot was -- gulp -- Will Johnson, who had a pretty meh 2007 and was partially responsible for the weak run defense last year.
Dan Rumishek, 2000. This could have been any defensive end on the 2000 team, which featured Rumishek starting ten games on the strongside and four players, all of whom were basically terrible, on the weakside: Evan Coleman, a freshman Larry Stevens, Alain Kashama, and Shantee Orr. Orr was the only one who would go on to the NFL, and he only had two starts. (Injury?)
At the time, Rumishek was a sophomore, and it showed. He finished the year with 24 tackles and one lonely sack. When that's your best defensive end... well.
Larry Stevens, 2003. This may not be entirely fair, but if the point of this team is to identify guys who had inexplicably vast amounts of playing time, Stevens has got to be up there. He arrived at Michigan a high school safety and was immediately placed on the defensive line, seeing a couple starts at DE as a freshman -- more evidence the 2000 season was not a banner year for the position.
Steven's junior year was mediocre at best, but it's Stevens' senior season that comes in for scruity here: 27 tackles, 4 sacks in 13 games. Three of those sacks came against Houston and the first Notre Dame team to get housed 38-0. (Towards the end, the student section chanted "Houston's better" at the beleagured Irish.) Against the rest of the schedule Stevens notched one sack, that versus Purdue.
Surprisingly, Stevens collected 16 tackles over a couple years with the Bengals.
Honorable(?) Mention: Larry Harrison's one year as a starter was as a 3-4 defensive end. He was okay at it, but spent his offseason showing his bits to anyone who didn't want to see them, which was everyone. Can we put David Bowens' junior and senior years in this category? They were spent at Western Illinois, after all, and just after Bowens broke Michigan's single-season sack record.
I'm out for the fourth tomorrow. See you Monday.
I get an email that starts like this about every week:
So I'm searching for reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming football season.
I got the first one ten seconds after Manningham, Mallett, and Arrington all lit out for the NFL or Arkansas. Each one drips through my consciousness, leaving a residue of paranoia. We can't really lose to Utah, can we? Or Minnesota? Or Notre Dame?
SMQB says... maybe!
The main reason I'm so much more skittish about the Wolverines, maybe the sole reason, is because of their nearest parallel entering the season: 2007 Notre Dame. This is not a logical comparison based on probabilities. ND was in the same kind of woeful shape, personnel-wise, heading into last season, and everybody knew it; the Irish didn't get a vote in anyone's preseason top 25, either, off back-to-back BCS games. Losing a slew of quality career starters will do that for a team. But it won't necessarily result in the worst record in school history, or one of the worst offensive performances of all time; there are no demerits for failure to predict depths so completely outside of anyone's experience. Applying the same pessimism to Michigan based on one nearby, at-the-ready example is beyond hyperbole, if for no other reason than the Wolverines won't be facing ten straight bowl teams to open the season; even if they did, two of them would play in the MAC and another from the Mountain West. It's not the kind of schedule that will let any halfway respectable outfit bottom out that quickly.
The incredibly incompetent Notre Dame team of last year also pops up in the season prediction of Nittany White Out, though as a Penn State blog that actually posts things like "Rich Rod is a traitor and a snake" their opinion must be taken with a grain of salt large enough to encompass a decade-long losing streak.
This is what every emailer that starts off with some plea to reassure him wants to know. Nobody expects to beat Ohio State or even make a New Year's Day bowl, but Jesus, did you see Notre Dame last year? Humans are exceptionally good at modeling others' emotions, especially when said others are rivals of yours, and it takes little cognition to arrive at the conclusion that Notre Dame 2007 was Not A Good Time.
Under a pale November sky in Palo Alto, Jimmy Clausen accepted a snap from center, trotted back a step or two, and dropped his knee to the ground, sending the final dozen or so seconds of the game clock spinning off into the history books. A strange, sullen silence draped itself over the Irish fans in a crowded bar on the north side of Chicago as it slowly dawned on everybody that the season was finally over. Thank you, sweet merciful Heaven, I thought to myself, taking a long swig from my tenth or fifteenth beer of the night, this godforsaken season is finally over.
Michigan fans appear to be kept up at night by the spectre of that emotion at year's end. And it's not just the Notre Dame parallel that many of the college football digerati draw that bothers. No one outside of East Lansing and Ann Arbor paid it any mind, but the Michigan basketball team just hired an offensive genius from Morgantown, bestowed upon him a rickety roster that was a poor fit for the genius's genius system, and had a Notre Dame of a season.
After a midweek game against Minnesota that saw 100 weirdly enthusaistic Gopher fans outcheer the entirety of a dismal Crisler arena, I wrote a post titled "It's Only Dark In Your Hearts" that concluded like so:
I have four more tickets sitting at a drawer at home; I don't know how many more of them I'll use. [I turned out the answer was 'all of them', by the way. I'm a sucker. -ed]
The idea of feeling like that after a football game against Minnesota haunts many.
So why won't this happen? First... it might. Michigan is unlikely to sink to the horrific depths Notre Dame did solely because of math -- hooray Gaussian distributions -- but failing to reach a bowl would be a real blow to the internet argument capabilities of Michigan fans. And that's totally within the realm of possibility, especially since the Big Ten mandates all 7-5 teams have to be picked before 6-6 teams. So this is not a "ha, that won't happen, you are stupid for attempting to predict the future because my ability to predict the future is much better than yours."
HOWEVA, I don't think it will. And I think so for these reasons:
1. Rich Rodriguez is not Charlie Weis. Charlie Weis is an immensely overweight sociopath who had never coached a team stricken by youth or, really, accomplished anything whatsoever without the aid of the opponent's defensive signals. Rich Rodriguez forged West Virginia into a national power despite operating with recruits far less highly touted than the ones Michigan has at his disposal.
This is by far the number one reason available. Outside of ludicrous pipe dreams like Urban Meyer or Mack Brown or Pete Carroll, Rich Rodriguez was perhaps the bar-none top candidate for any college looking for a coach. The only reason he was not a ludicrous pipe dream was the poisonous relationship Rodriguez had with West Virginia's dysfunctional leadership. He is proven. Over seven years at West Virginia he took a program that had fallen considerably during the last few years of Don Nehlen's tenure and turned them into West Fuckin' Virginia, and he did it with his system and his coaches and his players as the head coach. Charlie Weis was a below average offensive coordinator who left his team no worse off after he left.
Raise your hand if you think the Bill Stewart era is going to go well at WVU. Yeah.
How did Rodriguez do this? I don't know. I do know that some people can relate to the sort of people who end up as really serious college football players, can motivate them and organize them and inspire them, and that this is a real skill possessed by a very small number of very rich people.
Weis, meanwhile, implemented a half-ass version of the spread 'n' shred he would abandon a quarter into the season, neglected fundamental things like teaching people how to block, and alienated his players to the point where several of them bolted the team midseason despite plenty of opportunities for playing time. It was without question the most abysmal coaching performance at a BCS school since John Mackovic experienced armed insurrection at Arizona. It was three standard deviations below the mean.
2. Lloyd Carr was not Tyrone Willingham. Notre Dame fans' favorite excuse for the failings of Weis E. Coyote -- Tyrone Willingham likes golf -- was legit. The 2004 Notre Dame recruiting class was almost impossibly atrocious:
|SIGNED LETTER OF INTENT||Pos||Stars||Ht||Wt||40||RR|
Take away the names and this could be Michigan State or Oklahoma State or any crappy team that manages a couple of good athletes and backs it up with garbage. It gets worse when you consider that two of the very few contributors were the first rats to flee the Good Ship Weis: Darius Walker entered the NFL draft early (in the same way I could enter the draft: he was undrafted) and Ronald Talley decided he'd rather start at Delaware than start at Notre Dame.
But wait! It's still worse: in reality the class was worse than that as a lot of the guys in it got overrated because they committed to Notre Dame. There is one area in which recruiting sites do fudge rankings, IMO, and that's with the tail end of the class at big deal schools. Almost anyone who commits to Michigan as an unranked or two-star player will end up with three stars if the services have time to rerank them. Normally this is a small effect, but when ND starts bringing in a full class of questionable recruits the big school bump becomes a major factor.
These guys were the seniors and fourth-year juniors on last year's team, and the class after them -- the Willingham-Weis transition year -- was hardly better. Michigan's recruiting has never been close to that dire. The 2005 class was #6 nationally; 2006 was #13. Even with the outflux of talent to the NFL and Ohio State's bench, Michigan has far more talent than Notre Dame did last year. The Willingham classes started out with hardly any talent and then experienced major attrition; at least Michigan is starting from a lofty perch.
The magical 2007 Notre Dame season was a lethal combination of awful coaching and awful talent. Michigan has excellent coaching and okay to good talent. I'm not saying you should make plans for New Year's Day, but this ain't gonna happen en route to 3 and 9:
Clearly, there will be growing pains. A season like Tressel's initial foray at Ohio State -- a bleh 7-5 that would have been 6-6 without JohnNavarre's exceptional generosity -- is well within the realm of possibility. And by that I mean "is the most likely outcome."
This should be fine with you. Michigan needs a year to pupate, and then?
A day after I trash the Free Press for focusing on things like Tae Bo instead of information, Mark Snyder puts out an interesting piece about the '97 championship and the ballboys that saved it. This is literally the headline: "How 2 ballboys stopped opponent's signal stealing, saved UM's 1997 title."
The story: two student managers ferret out that Northwestern has somehow stolen Michigan's offensive signals, and run over to the other side of the field at half time to urge Lloyd Carr and company to change things up. After being bottled up in the first half, scoring thirteen points, Michigan explodes for... uh... ten in the second. Without the student manager's contribution, Michigan could have lost to Northwestern by negative one touchdown. The final score was 23-6.
Okay, so the story is oversold. It's still pretty interesting as a tall tale from the past, and you should read it if you've got a few minutes. My take-home message was vastly different from what was intended, I think.
Some key passages:
"There was a guy on their sideline that day, and he had our signals down pat," Datz said. "Every time, he would scream into the defense what we're going to do -- pass or run -- and he was almost always right. ...
"They were blowing up draws, calling our counters and destroying our screen passes -- all a big part of our plays that year. I was just screaming mad. Youtan and I are thinking to ourselves, 'This guy has us.' "
Raise your hand if you think you could predict with 80% certainty whether a Michigan play would be a run or pass. It is possible they just co-opted a cranky 50-something Michigan fan.
Anyway, the kids run across the field and tell Carr early in the third quarter. This is the result:
"I absolutely remember that," Carr said recently. "The reason I do remember it is I don't ever remember anybody else offering advice or information during a game.
"Those are all bright guys that get into those positions. But that's the only time I remember one telling me something."
But that still wasn't enough for the coaches to change their signal calling. So later in the quarter, Datz said he ran around the field to repeat the message to Magnus.
The play that finally sold the U-M coaches on the need to adjust came on a third-and-25 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. That's when U-M tailback Clarence Williams ran a sweep -- an odd call for that down and distance -- and two Wildcats grabbed him behind the line of scrimmage.
It's only after this play that Michigan grabs Jason Kapsner and starts sending in multiple sets of signals. But this is the kicker:
In 1995 and '96, Hansburg said, all he had to do was watch U-M center Rod Payne, a one-handed snapper who apparently placed his opposite hand on the ground for a running play and on his thigh for a passing play.
This was the plot of an episode of Coach. When the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles play for the national championship in the Pioneer Bowl, ditzy assistant coach Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) gets concussed and has to watch from the hospital, where he notices one offensive lineman has totally different stances for run and pass. He calls in the tip and Hayden Fox gets a Gatorade bath. I was 14, and 14 years later I remember this clear as day.
Reading Johnny's piece yesterday was the love side of my love-hate relationship with Lloyd Carr. This is the hate side. ONE: Michigan didn't bother employing multiple signal-callers -- a zero-cost activity -- from day one. TWO: It took them a full quarter and a second prodding to actually act on the information provided by the student managers when the cost of listening was zero. THREE: They ran a sweep on third and twenty-five. FOUR: Michigan football was outsmarted by Jerry Van Dyke.
Silver spoon, coal spoon
None of this should surprise you. This was a program that would run 95% of the time it lifted its starting wide receivers. Lloyd Carr thought deception and trickery had their place in football, and that place was Northwestern.
When you are at a place like Michigan and you have been inculcated in the culture of the program for the vast majority of your coaching career, I think you take certain things for granted. One of them is the belief that a paramount focus on execution is enough. That if you motivate and educate and drill better than the other team, you will win. It did very well for Bo until he got to Pasadena, and it did pretty well for Carr until Tressel showed up (and, it must be said, Carr had a real run of rotten luck re: actually getting to use his senior quarterbacks), but it was always giving something away. You have a limited amount of time with your charges every week; there is always time to work on your poker skills. Michigan's been bad at poker forever.
Rich Rodriguez focuses on execution and motivation -- see Barwis -- but he also makes deception his stock-in-trade, creating a modern version of the triple option that has intricate variations and one end result: linebacker confetti. In a way, the spread 'n' shred is terribly predictable. They run, they run, they run. But you do not run more than all but five other teams and finish top five in YPC three years running unless you know when to bluff and when to raise.
Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage agaginst the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.
To me, the exciting thing about Rodriguez is not necessarily his system but his mindset. He's looking to squeeze out every ounce of expectation, make every resource stretch as far as he can, and now he's been provided resources few other coaches have. When Moneyball moved to Boston in the personage of Theo Epstein, Pedro Martinez got a hat:
Now that Lloyd Carr is spending his days golfing and his nights at manga conventions, it's time to go over this career. First we play nice, assembling the Carr Era dream team. First up: the offense.
Rules: each season is judged independently. It makes no sense to compare one year of Drew Henson with four years of Chad Henne. Each player can only appear once: no receiving corps of Braylon, Braylon, and Braylon.
Update: Yes, NFL careers and draft positions do have some small bearing. These teams are based solely on college performance, but fans can wildly mis-rate players they've watched. NFL draft status and the performances they put in early in their careers can provide a valuable check.
Lamarr Woodley, 2006. Woodley was consistently excellent from the midpoint of his freshman year on, but it was in 2006 he did this:
co-captain ... Lombardi Award winner ... Ted Hendricks Award winner ... American Football Coaches Association All-America ... Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America ... Football Writers Association of America All-America ... Associated Press All-America first team ... The Sporting News All-America first team ... Rivals.com All-America first team ... Rivals.com National Defensive Player of the Year ... SI.com All-America second team ... CollegeFootballNews.com All-America second team ... Bednarik Award finalist ... Ronnie Lott Trophy quarterfinalist ... Bronko Nagurski Trophy candidate ... Outland Trophy candidate ... Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (coaches and media) ... Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year (coaches) ... consensus All-Big Ten first team selection (coaches and media)
The Ted Hendricks Award is another one of those fake-o awards that just popped up in the past few years and is awarded by the Upper Skokie Elks Club, but the Lombardi has been around a good long while and a Michigan player had never won it until Woodley reeled it in. Woodley was a killer pass rusher that year, tying David Bowens' school record with 12 sacks, and was also a major factor in Michigan's suffocating run defense. The only thing he couldn't do was run the 4.3 40 that would have gotten him to Troy Smith before he could get his passes to wide open WRs off.
MGoBlog is particularly indebted to Woodley, since it was his scoop-and-rumble to cap the f-ing beatdown of Notre Dame in 2006 that inspired "Brady Quinn for Heisman," which I can still watch six times in a row:
For this, and many other things, Woodley is the winnerest.
Glen Steele, 1997. Steele was one of a number of mid-nineties Michigan defenders with quintessential football names, (Jarrett Irons, Sam Sword, and Rob Swett were also charter members) and Steele lived up to his. The other All-American on the Michigan defense during the national championship season, Steele was a terror against both run and pass.
When Ohio State trailed Michigan by six points late in the 1997 edition of the Game, it was Steele who throttled the Buckeyes' final drive with two sacks and another TFL. It was also Steele, along with Swett, who forced Stanley Jackson into the worst interception ever (4:46 in) and gave Michigan the 20-0 margin they'd defend for the rest of the game.
Steele went in the fourth round to the Bengals and spent several years as a backup in the NFL.
James Hall was always terribly underrated. He didn't even make the All Big Ten team his senior year -- though, bizarrely, he was an All American to the Sporting News and a Butkus semifinalist -- and went undrafted. He's still in the NFL.
And, finally, the great disappointment of David Bowens, 1996. It was Bowens' record that Lamarr Woodley tied in 2006. Bowens' accomplishment may have been even more impressive since he did it in just eleven games (he missed the bowl game due to academic suspension, IIRC, and the twelfth game didn't exist then) and was just a sophomore when he did it. But he bombed out of school and ended up at Western Illinois. Rats.
Alan Branch, 2006. Defensive tackles are by nature statistical wastelands and must get by on reputation. Or, if you're Alan Branch, one of the most iconic photos in Michigan football history:
The 6'6" terror from New Mexico was statistically unimpressive during his final season in the winged helmet, racking up a paltry 25 tackles, 6 TFLs, and just two sacks, but the above impact and many others like it didn't register.
This is Alan Branch's impact, registered:
Every UFR that year was a rhapsody to Branch, and when I checked out Michigan's third down performance in 2006 this happened:
You can see 6'6", 330 of angry New Mexican hauling the tail end of that graph down like a black hole in spacetime. That's Alan Branch. 33 percent! On third and one! Six of eighteen! SIX OF EIGHTEEN!
When he entered the draft after his junior year, Michigan fans universally expected he'd be a top five pick and were notably disoriented when he fell to the first pick of the second round. No other Michigan defensive tackle under Carr has come close, statistics be damned.
Jason Horn, 1995. I confess I remember less than zero about Jason Horn. I was 16 when he was a senior and not quite the raving fanatic would become later. (When high school extracurricular events would interfere with games I would just find out what happened later I remember listening to Colorado try a Hail Mary the year after the one that worked in a car.) So when I perused the Bentley Library's records of the 1995 team and saw two All-Americans, one of whom was named "Jason Horn," I said "who?"
ell, in 1995 Jason Horn had 67 tackles, 11 sacks, and 18 TFLs and was named All Big Ten and All American by everyone. No Michigan defensive tackle can match that set of statistics and accolades, not even Branch.
Will Carr, 1996. For God's sake don't give him the ball. But, like, other than that Carr was pretty good, lodging an incredible 160 tackles over his last two years and being named a first-team All American in 1996.
Gabe Watson, 2005. It's either him, Rob Renes, or Josh Williams. Renes was an All American to TSN in 1999 and All Big Ten; he was drafted in the seventh round by the Colts and stuck around the league for a little while. Watson was a planetoid force of nature more interested in cheeseburgers than weights who spent half the game panting and half the game wrecking fools. Do you want the scrappy overachiever or the guy who kinda sorta wasted his potential? Maybe it's too much Fire Joe Morgan, but screw that Eckstein noise: I'm taking Watson.
David Harris, 2006. Harris will forever be the gold standard for Michigan middle linebackers. Agile, fast as hell, brilliant, and a crushing tackler, Harris probably should have won the Butkus his senior year. The insane badassery of Michigan's defense held his tackle numbers down, though, and the award went to some undeserving Penn State guy, like it usually does.
Harris started nine games in the NFL last year, racking up a season's worth of stats: five sacks, 127 tackles, and one traded Jonathan Vilma. Michigan's run defense took a spectacular nose dive.
Michigan listed two "inside" linebackers throughout most of Carr's tenure as Michigan stuck to Jim Herrmann's odd player designations that treated Michigan's players like they were in a 3-4, but in reality the two outside linebackers had more in common with each other than the true middle linebacker. Michigan would often flop players from the strongside to the weakside over the course of their careers, causing a logjam of killer weakside linebackers and a paucity of good senior guys on the strongside. So I'm discarding the distinction, declaring all OLBs OLBs, and picking two of these gentlemen:
|Larry Foote||2001||82||26||6||7||0||ABT, BT DPOY, 1 1st team AA||4th round, average starter|
|Pierre Woods||2003||67||14||7||N/A||2||ABT (2nd)||undrafted, end of roster|
|Victor Hobson||2002||99||17||6||1||0||ABT(1st), 1 4th team AA||2nd round #53, average starter|
|Ian Gold||1999||95||10||4||2||1||ABT(1st)||2nd round, #40, 1 Pro Bowl|
|Shawn Crable||2007||90||28.5||7.5||1||0||ABT(1st), many second-team AA||3rd round #78|
So there are two gentlemen here with eyepopping TFL numbers: Foote and Crable. Crable is out despite his Michigan record of 28.5. The defense this year was terrible against the run. Crable himself spent much of the year at defensive end against the spread, frequently gave up contain when not making his TFLs, took a bunch of personal foul penalties, and was the final goddamned nail in Michigan's coffin during the Horror. No.
Foote, on the other hand, is in, as the only Michigan OLB to come down with Big Ten defensive player of the year honors in Carr's tenure, and the only one to pick up a first team AA nod. For the other spot you're really splitting hairs between Hobson and Gold. My personal preference is for Hobson, who I remember being more of a safety blanket for me. Hobson was also the one really good player on a front seven featuring Zack Kaumfan as one of the other linebackers and a line of Rumishek-Bowman-Heuer-Stevens. Gold got to play with Dhani Jones, Rob Renes, and James Hall.
So there you go: Larry Foote 2001 and Victor Hobson 2002 join Harris.
In 1996, Jarrett Irons finished up this third straight year of more than 100 tackles and was named a first team All American by multiple outlets. Sam Sword ('97 and '98) and Dhani Jones (2000) can't measure up.
The outside linebackers: Gold and Woods from above.
Charles Woodson, 1997. This needs absolutely no justification, but I can give you plenty anyway. In 1997 Woodson had eight interceptions, second-most in Michigan history (Tom Curtis had ten in 1968) despite being avoided as much as humanly possible. Michigan finished #1 in total defense, scoring defense, and pass efficiency defense en route to a perfect 12-0 season and a national title.
And, like, all this stuff:
Update: oops... should probably include the Woodson highlights.
He also won that Heisman thing.
The obvious out of the way, we're left with two candidates for the other starting spot:
- Leon Hall, 2006. Hall was a Thorpe finalist and first-round NFL draftee and the best player in Michigan's secondary during their other great defensive year. Minuses: could to little to stave off Troy Smith's passing in the Ohio State game and got dusted by Dwayne Jarrett late in the Rose Bowl.
- Marlin Jackson, 2002. This was actually Jackson's sophomore year. In his first game he spectacularly battled Washington's Reggie Williams, who would be amongst the top receivers drafted that year, into an unproductive game. He would set a Michigan record for pass breakups in a single season.
Again, we're splitting hairs here. Both players were physical corners with great technique. Both were outstanding tacklers. Both were a little vulnerable deep. My slight preference is for Hall, who was slightly higher-rated by the NFL and made all manner of subtly excellent plays in 2006.
Jackson 2002, obviously, and then how about Jeremy LeSueur in 2003? LeSueur came a long way from his "brain freeze" against Michigan State in the Spartan Bob game. In 2003 he was second-team All Big Ten and Michigan's best corner on their excellent 2003 Rose Bowl team. He essentially shut out Mike Williams back when Mike Williams gave a damn. Unfortunately Markus Curry got burned twice by Keary Colbert, John Navarre was under siege all day, and USC got gifted a fluke touchdown when Braylon Edwards back-heeled a ball right to a Trojan defender, but none of that was LeSueur's fault. He was drafted in the second round by the Broncos.
This has been by far the weakest position over the course of the Carr era. The only All-American listed by the Bentley Library is Ernest Shazor, who was indeed an All-American up until the moment he disemboweled Dorien Bryant and saved the 2004 Purdue game. After that, uh...
And, like, there's more. (That first video was posted by a Spartan, who gloats that Shazor is slow and Spartan Bob must have crowned the field at the Big House... in a video from the 2004 Michigan-Michigan State game! Remind me how that turned out again? Sparty, no!)
Anyway, Shazor earned his rep the first half of the season and... er... blunted it in the second half. By the time the NFL draft rolled around, Shazor had plummeted all the way out of it. He cannot be added to the list.
Marcus Ray, 1997.
Ray's senior year in 1998 was marred by a six-game suspension for contact with an agent, so 1997 was it for Ray. It was a pretty good it, though: one #1 ranked pass efficiency defense, one SI cover, one national championship.
Jamar Adams, 2007. Don't get me wrong, Jamar Adams was a fine safety. I can tell because I didn't hate him despite his existence during the era when I carefully comb over every play the defense makes in case there's something to hate therein. Any college team would be totally satisfied to have him as one of their starters.
But Adams is the only player on the first team to never make first-team All Big Ten (he was second-team) and is one of very few to go undrafted. As one of Michigan's best safeties over a 13-year period, uh... that's depressing.
There is no second team. Seriously: Julius Curry? Tommy Hendricks? Ryan Mundy at West Virginia? There is no second team.