Say it with me: Freshman Wide Receivers Suck. Last year this space faced down an outside WR situation featuring true sophomore Kekoa Crawford and a fleet of freshmen. Numbers were cited. Folks checked the recent history of the highly touted. It was hoped that one of Michigan's four lottery tickets would come good immediately. And one probably did! Then he broke his foot in game three.
Also the sophomore was a complete disaster...
Michigan's opening snap was a bomb in [Crawford's] direction, and hoo boy do I hate this:
Crawford has no idea how to judge this ball. It's in the air, he's staring at it, and he still fades to the sideline like he's Kevonte Martin-Manuel trying to bring in a Jake Rudock seam throw. (YES I AM STILL BITTER ABOUT THIS.) The ball hits about a yard from the sideline, and it's a little short. A ton of wide receivers catch this ball, or at least force a PI out of the DB. Crawford does neither, and I'm immediately reminded of Darryl Stonum. This is the kind of throw where you have given your WR a shot, and it deserves better.
...to the point where he transferred out despite getting the second-most targets of any outside WR last year. It's bad when a returning starter transfers for playing time. On the bright side, it does give me an excuse to post this photoshop.
With the lottery ticket sidelined and the sophomore auditioning for an Unnecessary Roughness reboot, Michigan turned to five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was definitely open on several hundred deep shots, half of which were not thrown because of QB or OL malfeasance. The other half sailed forlornly into the East carrying a bunch of damn Elves. Why are we talking about this again?
The combination of youth and a lack of coaching was poison to an already extremely dead passing game. The players hope to repair the youth by being slightly older. The program did get an actual WR coach after a year of pretending Pep Hamilton had anything to do with being that sort of position coach. And yes, for all his many flaws Jim McElwain does have a decade-long tenure as a WR coach in his past. It sounds like he and GA Roy Roundtree are doing some stuff the previous setup was not:
This spring, Martin says, the coaching staff - led by new wide receivers coach Jim McElwain - has made it a point to emphasize point of contact at the line of scrimmage.
Getting clean breaks. Not getting jammed up. Both were issues last season, evident by Michigan's difficulty finding an open receiver.
"Just getting our feet active, swiping hands off of us," Martin said. "They've broken it down from a technical standpoint really well, and we were able to do the releases that we are equipped with."
So stay healthy, get crafty, and-
#Michigan WR Tarik Black sustained a right foot injury at Saturday's practice. He's being evaluated and no definitive time frame has been determined for his return to play.
"He'll be out for some weeks," Harbaugh said of Black. "He has a right foot injury. He had one fixed last year, this injury is very similar to the one he had last year. The good news is that both will be fixed. He's being evaluated right now."
"some weeks"? eh? eh? eh?
Fine. So. TARIK BLACK
TARIK "Ol' Santana Guitar Solo" BLACK [recruiting profile] has been hewn down before he can even build up a head of steam and will once again observe Michigan's progress from the sideline. For... a while. An unspecified while. One that if it is indeed similar to last year's injury should take him out for at least eight games and possibly longer.
The amount of suck this contains is lots. Black's 11 catches in his two-and-change games project out to a palpable freshman hit; 8.8 yards per target was nearly two yards better than Michigan's #2 WR in that department. That's a little data we are making big, but also Black just felt like he had The Proverbial It. Every other word in his above recruiting profile was "smooth," thus the prospecting name, and that translated. His touchdown against Florida was a post on which his drift outside seemed to dupe the UF safety into passing him off...
...and when he set up for shorter stuff it was just... smooth, man.
His high school coach got into some detail about what all the smoothness actually translated to on the football field, and we were in the early stages of seeing a college version of that when the above play knocked him out last year:
"It was clear to me two weeks into his freshman year how special he was going to be. Unbelievable ability to catch the ball, run routes. … I think his route-running ability is freakish, to be honest. He has an innate ability in and out of a cut and create separation, no matter what you're doing."
You said in the game column that you thought there were a bunch of subtle WR screwups that were hurting the offense. Find any?
Yes. Some weren't that subtle. Black twice failed to crack block, once on an Eddie McDoom bubble that he juked back into productivity...
...and once on one of those redzone plays.
But the combination of early productivity, recruiting hype, and program chatter pointed towards a genuine breakout year last year, and talk this year was that Black had maintained his lead over his classmates despite missing all that time at the worst possible juncture. This space was going to project an 800 yard season. Instead it will kick dirt and be sad. I won't bother you with the various hype items he's gathered over the offseason; they would only depress.
[Ed. A—Thanks to Orion Sang and The Michigan Daily crew for passing along audio]
This is kind of interesting for us.
Just last year we were on the other side—
“Oh, that’s right, on the other—”
How’s it been for you?
“Uh, this has been just a great opportunity and coach Harbaugh has been a guy that obviously I’ve followed for a long time, and the opportunity to come and learn from him and kind of see how someone else kind of does it and puts it together, it’s really been a lot of fun.”
Can you take us through how he contacted you, and how long did it take you to jump on this offer?
“Well, kind of, maybe, I don’t know if he got the wrong number and I answered. You know, I don’t really know how it came about but we got a phone call and was obviously very excited to come and, if nothing else, just getting an opportunity to kind of stand in the background and see how something’s operated, and that’s what’s been really good. He extended the offer and I was really excited about that. My wife and I are really excited about being in Ann Arbor.”
Taking over the wide receiver group, what was the first thing you wanted to teach this group of wide receivers?
“Well, I think there obviously is a lot of talent there, and good, young talent. The thing I really enjoy is being in that room with them. They’re really good people, good young men.
“For us, one of the focus areas has been ability to, number one, get open, especially against all the press coverage that you see. They’ve really worked on honing their skills and trying to do what we’re trying to teach them to do, and yet we’ve got a long ways to go, but at the same time it’s really a fun group of guys and it’s great to be around them.”
[After THE JUMP: Curr Dogg, SEC speed, and how the basketball team could fuel the WR group’s success]