A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
As far as massive disappointments go, linebacker outstripped even last year's secondary (which was clearly in trouble from the word go) and the series finale of Battlestar Galactica. With two returning starters entering their redshirt junior years and a hyped senior recruit moving away from the safety spot he could not manage, I was torn between a 3 and 4 last year. As the season progressed and both starters were replaced by their backups only to see those backups flail and the starters re-enter it became clear that something was drastically wrong.
Actually, it didn't even take that long. Even though Michigan won the Notre Dame game the linebacking corps came in for a hiding afterwards:
Words cannot describe how bad Obi Ezeh was in this game. It was a disaster, and this is a guy who's in his third year starting. Maybe the double switch of defensive coordinators has him behind the times for a third-year starter but that doesn't go much towards explaining a –8.5 that would have been worse if he hadn't been turned loose on a couple blitzes. Meanwhile, Jonas Mouton has been negative in both games so far after a promising finish to last year.
And the something didn't seem that mysterious:
Mouton and Ezeh belong to Jay Hopson, and the inside backers are the only guys who belong to Jay Hopson, and they're playing terribly. … Unless the two inside guys get radically better over the rest of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if Hopson was replaced.
The hope is that Hopson's coaching was as ineffectual as it appears—Mouton went decidedly backwards last year after a promising end to 2008 and Ezeh's gone nowhere in two years—and that the move of Greg Robinson to linebackers coach can adequately triage the two years of damage done.
This covers the middle and weakside linebackers since they seem close to interchangeable. Spurs are handled after; the bandit was classified a safety and handled in the secondary preview, the deathbacker is still a defensive lineman.
When The Sporting News's Dave Curtis published an article in early August declaring that converted walk-on Mark Moundros was the player on Michigan's team that needed to "step up" more than any other, that claim was met with derision on the message board. This was well and just because obviously that was insane. A few weeks later, Moundros is the projected starter at middle linebacker and one of Michigan's two permanent captains. Score: Dave Curtis one million, Everyone Else zero.
Moundros is a walk-on and spent last year playing mostly fullback, but his rise into the starting lineup has gone from probable motivational tactic to just plain probable as fall has gone along and Michigan's scrimmages have approached game conditions. In the semi-public fall scrimmage, Jonas Mouton was held out with a minor injury, leaving Moundros to start at MLB as Obi Ezeh tried out WLB. In Michigan's "Beanie Bowl" ones-vs-ones fall run-through, you can see Moundros paired with a healthy Mouton at around 2:00 minutes in the official site's highlight reel. It's too late for his prominence to mean anything other than a likely start on Saturday even if he is listed next to Obi Ezeh with an OR. He's some Rodriguez talking to confirm:
Rodriguez said he was initially opposed to fullback Mark Moundros making the move, but he came around quickly. "I told him I didn't think it made sense, but he said, 'I think I can bring something there'—and he has. It's not only learning the defense and the physical presence, but his leadership. He's going to compete and will be right in the mix based on spring."
This is a fantastic story but also a worrying one. The single clip I've got on Moundros from last year is a nice block on a linebacker in the Illinois game, which you'll note doesn't involve playing, you know, defense. One of this blog's primary heuristics for determining whether you can expect a position group to be good is the "position switch starter," which proclaims that any position group where a guy who played one thing last year is in position to start at another thing the next is always scrambling to control the damage as best they can. [Ed: Holy pants, I forgot about this in re: Cam Gordon, though that move was more foreordained than panicked.]
This comes in varying levels of severity: moving a weakside linebacker to the middle is not a big deal. Flopping sides of the ball is. For example, in 2008 when Michigan moved defensive tackle John Ferrara to guard and started him that was a definitive sign the offensive line was in shambles. In this context, "sparsely deployed walk-on fullback to starting middle linebacker" is as much of a flashing sign that says DOOM as anything I've ever seen.
On the other hand, during the Illinois game last year Ezeh actually ran out of a hole Juice Williams was about to enter with the ball so he could chase after a running back. It looked insane, causing me to dig out the "run away" bit of "Janie's Got A Gun" and the fake Magic card you see at right. By the end of the year whatever hope remained for Ezeh was vestigial indeed; merely having options other than him could maybe possibly hopefully slightly improve matters?
This is admittedly a faint hope, but merely going from whatever that was last year to okay would be a major step forward. Moundros is seriously pushing Ezeh at least gives the defense another bullet in the chamber. For what it's worth, I talked to a just-graduated walk-on in NYC would called Moundros a "beast" and thought he was at least physically capable of the job. Production from this spot should improve; Ezeh won't get worse and anyone who replaces him will be better since he's still around.
On the weakside, Jonas Mouton returns for his third season as a starter. In 2008 he started off wobbly (he actually spent the Utah game backing up Marell Evans, who is now playing for Hampton) but found his feet in the Big Ten season and looked for all the world like a guy ready to blow up. Last year's season preview approvingly cited his UFR chart—solidly positive in every Big Ten game save Michigan State—and proclaimed him "easily Michigan's best linebacker," "an excellent, explosive blitzer," and even "surprisingly stout when it comes to taking on fullbacks and even guards" before predicting a breakout season.
That didn't happen. Mouton's '09 via the lens of UFR:
Jonas Mouton 2009
Major regression from last year; often went into pass drops without bothering to see if it was a run.
Surprised he came out this close to even. Major culprit on a few big plays.
Exact same numbers from last week as he alternates great plays with killer mistakes.
Three weeks in a row: alternates great plays with killer mistakes.
The usual at this point. Excellent athlete, many mental mistakes.
Did this in like a quarter of playing time.
Jonas Mouton: big positive, bigger negative.
Instead of breaking out, Mouton regressed. His '08 numbers were the inverse of the above, usually a hair above zero with the occasional big positive. He was lethal in the Fandom Endurance III game against Northwestern; the only times he was lethal in '09 were to his own team. By the Iowa game the pattern was established, with Mouton turning in a series of excellent plays unfortunately outstripped by his tendency to run himself out of plays and get lost in zone drops.
This kept happening until Mouton, like Ezeh, found himself on the bench after taking a series of angles so bad they were immediately apparent even to the dedicated amateur. There was this one against Indiana, but even that can't live up to whatever this was:
It was around that point that JB Fitzgerald started getting more time, if only so the coaches could get in a proper row with Mouton on the sideline. Fitzgerald quickly proved himself just as liable to bust and Mouton got his job back, but only by default.
So that's the downside. The upside of Mouton can be found at right under "good vertically": when sent forward with malicious intent he's effective. If Michigan's actually moving to a 3-3-5 or is just set on letting Mouton go nuts in an attacking one-gap scheme, he might be able to shake off his '09 and recapture the erratic but generally positive form of '08. After I gave my grim assessment of the back seven to the New York alumni club last week, the same guy who said Moundros had a shot told me I was far too pessimistic about Mouton. He certainly has the raw athleticism—he was a top 50 recruit—to become a ruthless, Crable-like playmaker; he's also held off what seems like a serious challenge from comer Mike Jones. There are some arrows pointed in the right direction still.
Unlike the situation at middle linebacker, it seems within the realm of possibility Mouton's light goes on and the talent he's flashed the past couple years turns into an All Big Ten kind of season. To deploy a cliche, he is the X factor, the guy with the greatest possible variance in his play on the defense. I'd settle for a return to his 2008 level; he is capable of more. There's a 25% chance he's awesome, a 50% chance he's okay, and a 25% chance he gets benched.
Obi Ezeh came in for quite a bit of discussion above by way of figuring out how Moundros could possibly ascend to the top of the depth chart, so this won't be much of a surprise: wow, he was bad last year. This is my (least?) favorite demonstration:
I admit that when it comes to my knowledge of football, linebacker play remains an intricate mystery that I'm probably wrong about more than anything else, but whatever your scheme it ain't right when your middle linebacker doesn't move forward—like, ever—on a running play.
That Wisconsin game was the defense's nadir. The Badgers punted once en route to racking up 45 points and did this mainly by exploiting the linebacking. The sheer incompetence of it all, especially Ezeh's –10 on the day, prompted this response:
You rage, contrary to the above statement, seems particularly well-focused.
…you know the story: Mouton and Ezeh. Wisconsin's passing game was almost exclusively zingers over the middle to incredibly open receivers 20 or even 30 yards downfield. On every damn one both MLBs were vastly out of position and the throws were easy. The pair was also very poor in run support: Graham and Martin combined for 21 tackles. They combined for eight!
These are returning starters and redshirt juniors. They have gotten so much worse this year, and it's obvious to everyone from Bret Bielema to stupid bloggers with charts.
Ezeh hadn't developed one bit from the previous season and Hopson wasn't long for Michigan. Where Mouton has held onto his job and manages to enter his senior season with at some tattered hype dragging behind him, Ezeh's apparently lost his job to a walk-on, and not even the same one he was benched for last year.
With Moundros unlikely to nail down every snap, Ezeh will find himself on the field frequently. I'm not expecting a whole lot of improvement. But I think I am expecting some, for the reasons listed above: Greg Robinson in charge, another year of experience, a defensive coordinator who knows his name.
Demens left, Fitzgerald right
The enigmatic Kenny Demens is third string in the middle; after a seemingly productive spring he dropped off the map and has generated zero fall mentions as Moundros climbs the depth chart. He played sparingly in the fall scrimmage; last year he was passed over for walk-on Kevin Leach when it came time to replace Ezeh temporarily. He's spinning his wheels, seemingly on track to watch this year. Next year both of the guys above him will be gone and he'll get one last chance to step forward; the tea leaves are not encouraging at the moment.
JB Fitzgerald is now the third string at what this site dubbed "deathbacker" a year ago; since he's behind Roh and Herron at a spot that's at least half defensive end he'll get some further discussion in the defensive line section. But if he plays he'll probably play as a true linebacker; Rodriguez has called him a "swing" guy they can play at any of the two and a half linebacker spots.
Can he play well? That's the question. He didn't play well when the Jonas Mouton Suspension Fiasco forced him into the lineup against Eastern Michigan, committing some of the same sins Mouton does above. On the other hand, his most extensive experience outside of that game was a start against Purdue during which he got a 3-4-negative 1 line and I said he was preferable to other options because he "didn't make me want to die more than once or twice," which woo linebackers.
I may be reading too much into this, but after the fall scrimmage Rodriguez was specifically asked about Demens and Fitzgerald and rambled this out:
They have played a lot of special teams. They’ve had good camps. JB is a guy that we really like because we can swing him. He’s knows our defense, so we can put him at a couple of different linebacker positions and he’s had a good camp. Kenny Demens has had a pretty solid camp. So I think we’re going to have more linebackers to play, but the veterans, Obi Ezeh, Mark Moundros, even though he is new at linebacker, Jonas Mouton, those veterans are going to be the biggest key because usually when you’re a senior you’re going to have your best year, or at least that is what you hope.
That reads like "yeah, they're not going to play unless Ezeh, Moundros, and Mouton can't."
Jones burning his redshirt left, Leach tackling an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot right
On the weakside, sophomore Mike Jones is listed as the backup to Jonas Mouton. Jones spent last year taking a Carr redshirt by playing on special teams and driving me crazy about not having the option of bringing back a fifth year senior in the near future; he spent fall and spring lighting up opponents and building some real buzz for himself. He, too, was held out of the fall scrimmage with a minor injury; before that he was flying around like his recruiting profile suggested he might. The key passage from ESPN:
Exceptional edge blitzer that has great timing and quickness; speed rushes by the offensive tackle before he can get set. Offensive backs can't or won't block him when blitzing off the edge; really creates havoc in the backfield. Does a great job of using his hands to shed blockers in order to get to the ball carrier.
In his profile everyone from Jones to his coach to the gurus say "this kid loves to hit," a description that's being borne out by practice chatter. He's still pretty slight at 210 pounds, so a starting role is probably not in the offing. When Michigan's "multiple" defense phases into a 4-3 under, though, the weakside linebacker is a guy who doesn't usually have to take on linemen and can be a smaller, speedier defender. If Mouton's angles are still ugly and his are better he can find himself in a platoon role; he'll probably have to settle for providing breathers in anticipation of starting in 2011.
Walk-on Kevin Leach is third string here and should see his playing time restricted to special teams. It's a testament to something that Michigan's best option after Ezeh last year was a 205-pound sophomore walk-on. Leach actually got mixed reviews in UFR save the one "enormous bust" per game in his two starts against Illinois and Purdue, but at his weight he's not a long term solution at MLB and he obviously lacks the athleticism required at WLB.
both Johnson (left) and Gordon (right) rocked the #1 in high school
It's too bad the official depth chart had to go and upstage the prediction here that after Carvin Johnson's "Beanie Bowl" audition for the starting job at spur would be a successful one sooner rather than later. Rodriguez did hedge a bit in Monday's press conference by saying that position was "not set" and there could have been an OR there, but they didn't.
So it's his job. Despite Johnson's status as a true freshman, in some ways this is the more experienced player winning out. Johnson was 100% safety at Rummel, the "heart and soul" of the crushing defense that took his team all the way to the state final. A multi-year starter, Johnson's recruiting profile is full of praise for his football smarts and advanced technique. When Rivals bothered to rank him after his Michigan commit they were pleasantly surprised by what they saw:
Johnson is a fantastic tackler. He can tackle in the open field or fill the alley. He brings a pop at the point of contact and always has the ball carrier falling backwards. Johnson is a smart safety in the run game, picking his spots to make an impact and not overpursuing or being too aggressive.
The only negative mentioned was a "lack of elite straight-line speed," something that shouldn't be a problem at spur. There he'll be tasked with covering the flats in zone and riding tight ends into the deep seam. His recruiting profile picked him out as a true sleeper likely to exceed his relatively modest rankings based on local praise and late SEC offers, and while my usual heuristics lead me to be skeptical about a true freshman beating out a redshirt freshman with nary a fourth star to be seen, I've just got that feeling—what's it called—you know—optimism. Optimism enough to throw this position a 2, anyway. While two less-than-touted freshmen are not likely to be average Big Ten players in year one, I don't think we'll be looking back at 2010 and saying "oh God, what about that mess at spur."
Though Thomas Gordon has been on campus for a year, before he toured Michigan and Michigan State's camps before his senior year of high school he was strictly a quarterback. It was only the prospect of securing a D-I scholarship as a defensive back that saw him switch to defense, and that move was often restricted to passing downs by a hamstring injury. That combined with his status as the lowest-ranked member of Michigan's '09 class made his redshirt a fait accompli; that accomplished, he ascended to the starting job at spur in spring before Johnson's arrival put his job under fire.
Since Gordon hasn't played and I didn't pick up a word of practice buzz good or bad on him in his apprentice year—odd for a guy who was slated to start—I can't offer much more than what's in his recruiting profile. If I had to guess I'd say he's more athletic than Johnson since Rodriguez dubbed him "Prison Abs" and he played quarterback in high school, so if the two platoon for any reason other than keeping the two fresh, Gordon might be a passing-down substitution. More likely the PT he sees is in response to Johnson errors or long drives on which he gets tired.
Walk-on Floyd Simmons is third on the depth chart; he saw time on special teams last year and will again. Since he's a walk-on with scant playing time information on him is limited to his height (six foot) and weight (200 pounds).
Venturing into the wooly depths beyond the sanctioned two-deep we find Mike Williams, erstwhile free safety starter from last year. It looked for a second like he was being auditioned for that two-deep when he got plenty of playing time in the fall scrimmage, but now that he's still behind the guys he was behind in spring and the newly ordained starter, that looks more like an attempt to see whether or not Williams can contribute outside of special teams at all. The answer for a redshirt junior on the fourth string behind a walk-on is "no."
I won't belabor the point made in this space with DELICATELY PHRASED QUESTIONS during the season, but the video to the right should provide plenty of evidence as to why this is the case. That he's fallen so far down the depth chart after starting at the most critical position on defense goes a long way to explaining '09 and providing hope for 2010: Michigan may be losing crazy outlier Brandon Graham but they're also losing a crazy outlier in the opposite direction, too.
So I find myself in an extremely bizarre position: Michigan had a semi-public scrimmage on Saturday that I and a few hundred others attended after donating to Motts or buying the big baller seats. If you've been on the internet since Saturday you've noticed probably dozens of reports on message boards, the diaries here, otherblogs, and one local radio host's (pretty inaccurate) tweets. Also there's a highlight video from the official site:
But they specifically told myself, MVictors, Scout, Rivals, and Craig Ross that "nothing was to be reported" from the scrimmage. This worked as well as you might imagine, leaving us on the sidelines as everyone with a username throws vague information around. So here's a bizarre roundup of things other people said on the internets and in my inbox that doesn't involve personal reporting. This lion is caged.
Unless something crazy happens between now and September 4, Denard Robinson is your clear starter at quarterback. The quarterbacks weren’t live today, but Robinson still managed to carve up the second-team defense (running the first-team offense, of course) with his legs and his arm. His made good decisions with the ball and his passes were on the money, and he took a QB draw 40+ yards to the house — only Denard makes that play, and he made it look easy.
He will absolutely start as he is clearly the leader on the team. He had the most energy during warm-ups, was the first one and the fastest one doing stretch drills, and was clearly the first-team QB of the day during the 'scrimmage'. He hit a nice 23-ish yard pass on a WICKED play fake to Grady. And then ran it in for another 25 or so on a QB draw, juking a DB as he went. Enough to even get the sidelines "ooh-ing".
Prior to seeing this scrimmage I was a fan of Tate and would tell anyone who asked, that Tate would be the starter. After watching the scrimmage, D-Rob will be the starter. He was much better in the pocket, made good decisions when faced with getting rid of the ball or being sacked with loss of yards, and his exchanges were very good. Think about some of the ball fakes that Juice Williams had. D-Rob isn't there yet, but he will be.
That longish pass was the a half-roll at about 2:00 in the highlights on which Robinson pulled up and nailed Terrance Robinson between the numbers and between levels in the zone. An emailer suggested that he wouldn't have believed it possible without the spring game. Also, at the end of practice they had the team run a lap around the field four times. It's "a little tough to tell" because each position group starts from a different place on the field, but 3 of the 4 times Denard was the first player on the team to finish. (Ray Vinopal seemed to win the last one.) That's "more a measure of endurance than speed."
Robinson actually got a lot less run than the other two quarterbacks, finding himself on the bench as Forcier and Gardner (and Jack Kennedy) alternated series late; when he did get on the offense would score quickly, further depressing his reps. To me that reads like the decision is already made and they are being somewhat cautious.
Conflicting reports on Gardner and Forcier. Ace's take:
Devin Gardner, running mostly with the twos, looked at times like a seasoned veteran, but he had a couple throws — including an ugly interception to Marvin Robinson — that reminded everyone he is just a freshman. His natural ability could lead to him seeing the field this year, but I think it’s safe to say he’s probably a year away from really pushing for the starting job. Really like his poise in the pocked and running ability, however, and it would have been interesting to see what he could have done if the quarterbacks were live. Tate Forcier started with the threes but saw snaps with the ones and twos as well — he looked solid throwing the ball, but made a couple poor reads on zone running plays.
Gardner came in for a lot of praise but a trusted observer in the inbox says "Gardner made a number of bad decisions under pressure." There that Marvin Robinson interception reminiscent of the slo-mo-nooooo plays last year; observer also cited a strong tendency for Gardner to panic and chuck off his back foot when blitzers got through. He suggested that in a scrimmage with more blitzing—it was exceedingly rare—Forcier would have probably looked clearly better than Gardner. While a few folk are saying there is "NO WAY" Gardner redshirts, TO thought he was at best even with Forcier and given that should watch from the sidelines. He made more big errors than anyone else.
In drills, Tate looked best, FWIW.
Hopkins was the name on everyone's tongue after a day spent running through arm tackles and showing surprising shiftiness. He "hit the holes and was a load to take down." Trusted Observer said he had a hard time picking out Hopkins before the scrimmage, as he looked like PJ Hill in the spring but after losing ten pounds and reshaping maybe a dozen others into muscle "now looks like a tailback" instead of a moonlighting fullback.
I didn't think Hopkins looked as great as everyone else did. Not a diss on his play - he ran very hard - but I didn't see the world beater others did. Much like the other scrimmages, all the RBs looked good, but none really stood out. We have options in Cox and Shaw. Though V. Smith, as reported, looks great - no noticeable effects from the injury.
Ace and others also noted that Vincent Smith seems 100% healthy; you can see him dance his way down to the two in the highlights above on one of his better runs on the day. TO said it looked like he was tentatively first team with Mike Shaw second but "both those guys fumbled and I wouldn't put much stock in that."
Mike Cox continued to show that he might be the best athlete amongst the running backs, but on two separate instances he caused Rodriguez to "lose it" by cutting way back against the grain, turning a modest gain into nothing by dancing at the line of scrimmage. On one "there was a gap on the frontside but he cut all the way behind the backside tackle," losing yardage and causing RR to chew him out; on the second "RR just dropped his headset in disgust."
Toussaint did not play due to an injury.
If you're looking at playing time in this scrimmage as a signal as to which freshmen wideouts will play, your "leaders in order" are Jerald Robinson, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Ricardo Miller, and finally DJ Williamson. Yeah, Dileo, who looked "natural fielding punts and catching the ball in drills" despite being "fricking tiny." Robinson got a lot of playing time but "dropped everything."
As for the veterans, the nominal first team was the same it was in spring with Martavious Odoms spending a lot of time outside with Darryl Stonum; Roy Roundtree was in the slot but "did not play much" probably because "they know he's the guy." In his stead Robinson and Grady got most of the playing time, with Gallon around but "not doing much." Hemingway was on the second team with Stokes.
At TE, Koger, Webb, and Moore "seemed even," with Koger suffering a frustrating drop. Robinson added one, but otherwise the starting WRs caught everything that came their way. It was mostly underneath stuff, probably because of the open nature of the scrimmage.
Not much here. Molk was in a green shirt and played only sparingly (this was "precautionary"); Khoury was his backup and there were several poor snaps, two or three of which led to drive-killing fumbles. Huyge (left) and Dorrestein (right) were tackles on the first team OL. Lewan was on the second team and played beyond the whistle to the point where he got a personal foul. TO noticed Quinton Washington struggling badly in the post-practice runs, finishing last. Someone, possibly Elliot Mealer, spent practice on the bike with a red jersey. Barnum was a second-team guard and the third-team center.
Coaches kept yelling at Schofield to keep his pad level down.
TO says he spent most of the scrimmage watching the offense and didn't have much on the D. He did note that Mike Martin finished first easily in the DL group on the runs with Will Campbell lagging behind. Ace highlighted Jibreel Black, who looks like a quick contributor. Another emailer said "Martin is a beast" and didn't get much playing time for precautionary reasons:
“Defensively, Mike Martin has had a tremendous camp. We limited him yesterday because we know what he can do, but he’s been really good and probably our most consistent defensive player since camp started.”
Campbell seemed to be on the third team. Sagesse sat out with an injury, though he was in green, not red.
It does not seem like Martin is moving, so everyone figure out who Greg Banks's backup is.
Moundros starts in the middle, looks like he's been playing there for a while. A run stuffer certainly. Middle zone coverage? Not enough data. Ezeh also stuffed the run and took on blocks at Mouton's spot. Roh will be a beast, but given almost all of the throws were short, his pass rush didn't have time to get home.
Not much else here. Ezeh played WLB with Mouton in green. Davion Rogers is "a twig."
Ack. Cam Gordon, from reports ranging from some guy…
Vlad will hit you, but we all knew that. Cam Gordon is going to be very good, I think. Big boy. He was in position to make two great tackles, but unfortunately didn't wrapup and was pulled off the field. Later returned with the 1's. Going to take some time
“We were in position to make plays - I was in position - but we didn’t wrap up,” Gordon said. “I think we were all a little excited, especially us young guys to show what we could do and we had a breakdown in fundamentals. But those are easily correctable mistakes.
“Something Coach [Tony] Gibson said to me after our scrimmage was, ‘Cam, every hit doesn’t have to be a big hit.’ That’s a key for me and for all the guys. Any tackle is a good tackle. I don’t have to level somebody because in the stat book they all count the same way. I’ll get better and we’ll get better.”
…did not have a good day. Corners… not much detail. There's this:
JT Floyd looks good, Rogers looks big. Teric Jones and Christian are your 2's. Talbott and Avery don't look undersized, and don't look overwhelmed. Again, hard to judge corner play given the nature of the throws. But Christian has a way of moving that reminds one of Woodson.
If only. Floyd was pulled early, again likely as a precaution. Robinson looks good, a "big hitter and good tackler." Mike Williams spent a lot of time playing spur, not doing much of note. A push for a job or a sure starter (Thomas Gordon) getting held out of a high-contact scrimmage?
No worries at punter, where Hagerup's warmups were "just like Zoltan." The section of the practice dedicated to the punt team saw the punts "go straight" and were actually returnable. All were fielded cleanly except one fumble from Terrence Robinson. Here, too, Dileo "looked like a natural," executing a fair catch with aplomb and fielding an array of kickoffs and punts cleanly.
Field goal kicking was limited, with just two attempts. Meram missed from around 40, Gibbons hit from around 35. Kickoffs landed from the 2 to 10, which is about average these days. Kickoff coverage must be run at half speed because every one was returned to about midfield and then blown dead.
Do you think there is any chance we would see either Terrence Robinson or Kelvin Grady at RB in the fall?
With five somewhat viable options at tailback, probably not. The best chance to see that move is if Vincent Smith is not fully recovered from his ACL injury since all three are tiny jitterbug receiving sorts.
HOWEVA, if Michigan goes to more four-wide looks this fall you a dollar says whichever slot receiver isn't Roy Roundtree spends a lot of time motioning into the backfield to give Michigan some two-back looks. Martavious Odoms hasn't proven himself anything more than an okay runner, so Robinson and Grady might get some reps as the slot/RB hybrid. Both were tailbacks in high school (Robinson was also a spread 'n' shred quarterback and occasional receiver) and put up crazy numbers. They've also displayed or (been rumored to have) a hands of a stone-like substance.
Whether that happens will depend on a lot of things, primarily Smith's health again. If you've got Smith in the game you've already got a slot receiver who can play running back and then the other guy will probably be a Cox or Hopkins capable of going directly upfield with bad intentions. With that possibility, three veteran tight ends hanging around sucking up playing time that this slot/RB hybrid might otherwise get, and the presence of Odoms and Roundtree chances for Grady and Robinson to
Brian After reading the notes on RR presser, how concerned should we be about the LB unit heading into fall camp? I was already concerned with this unit, but then I read this…
If Mark Moundros wins a linebacker position, he probably won't continue playing fullback. He's not just at linebacker as a gimmick, and there's a chance he'll get minutes there.
UM has 2 guys in Mouton and Ezeh who have 20+ starts each under their belt. They've got a couple other guys, Demens and Leach, who both saw a decent amount of action last year. Now granted, the performance of the LB's last year was not very good, but now a guy who I believe has played fullback his entire career at UM might actually get some minutes at LB (and I'm assuming RR wasn't referring to garbage time minutes)???
Is Moundros blowing up at LB? Are the returning LB's just not progressing like everyone had hoped they would? A combination of the two?
Keeping my fingers crossed that the 2011 recruiting class is stocked with some stud LB's.
I'm also leery of the idea Moundros finding playing time signals anything but more DOOM this fall. I remember Fitzgerald Toussaint squirting through a weak tackle attempt in the spring game and being relieved that the guy who missed it was Moundros because the assumption was he wouldn't play. But I'm also skeptical of the veracity of press conference statements about team-favorite, hard-working walk-ons. Sometimes public comments are made less for their accuracy and more for their effect on the team—remember the Johnny Sears hype?—and the idea Moundros could play a lot this season falls squarely in that realm.
Moundros obviously works like a dog if he's a team captain despite being a walk-on who hardly played last year; I'm guessing this gives him an advantage over his competition that the coaches would like to reward in an effort to get other people to work as hard as he does. If I had to bet I'd say Moundros is a consistent participant in the short-yardage and goal-line packages but doesn't get regular playing time in the base defense.
On the other hand, it's not like he could be that much worse, right? Michigan football is fun!
I know you briefly mentioned WVU's sanctions and the effect they might have on Michigan in yesterday's Voracity and seemed to deem them minimal, but do you have any idea whether this could possibly result in us forced to get rid of Rodriguez because he is "blacklisted" in the NCAA compliance book? I am in the camp that believes another coaching change at this point would be disastrous, and really think we are starting to turn a corner. It would really suck to lose Coach Rod just when we might be able start something special.
I'm not sure even the Bylaw Blog would be able to say much for certain about whether Rodriguez could be singled out for special sanction, since history would suggest it's not likely but the NCAA is in an era when they're attempting to change precedents. I don't think the WVU allegations are a major factor since they are essentially identical to the ones at Michigan. They may even help since the new regime apparently changed nothing. This isn't the equivalent of Kelvin Sampson because Sampson had already been sanctioned by the NCAA and immediately went back to the illegal-call well. Rodriguez can reasonably argue he was not knowingly flouting the regulations at either school. If he makes that case successfully he should be fine.
Even if he doesn't, the NCAA generally imposes like-for-like sanctions. If you commit recruiting violations to get players they reduce the number of players you can have and put recruiting restrictions on the school. If you go over practice limits you give them back two for one. I'm not sure what a like-for-like penalty specifically directed at Rodriguez looks like—not being able to attend practice?—and in any case Michigan's bent over backwards to cooperate, Rodriguez has no track record, and the violations are so minor that I'd be surprised if the NCAA did anything except put a nasty letter in RR's file no matter how many newspapers call Michael Buckner.
And consider this a follow-up to yesterday's post about bowls:
Brian, There is an incredible reference that you might be interested as you rally the troops this year to start the season. In Nathaniel Philbrick's new book 'The Last Stand" there is a reference to Custer leading a charge at Gettysburg with a Michigan contingent that might have won the war (pre SEC). From page 48:
As it turned out, all Stuart(Jeb) had to do was punch his way through a vastly outnumbered regiment from Michigan and victory was his, but as the Confederates bore down on the northern counterparts (who were outnumbered by four to one), an event occurred that changed the course of the battle and, arguably the war.
Custer, dressed in an almost comical black velvet uniform of his own design that featured gaudy coils of gold lace, galloped to the head of the First Michigan and assumed command. Well ahead of his troops, with his sword raised, he turned toward his men and shouted, "Come on, you Wolverines!" With Custer in the lead, The Michigander's started out at a trot but were soon galloping, "every man yelling like a demon."
A union leader mentioned later that this "was the most gallant charge of the war."
We should start a campaign to have Rodriguez sport velvet and gold lace. It is in this way our ascendance will be assured.
The media had an opportunity to talk to Rich Rodriguez and the team's newly-elected captains Steve Schilling and Mark Moundros today. Notes follow.
Friday morning will be the first day in full pads. They'll finally be able to tackle and go live. It will only be about two hours and fifteen minutes, because Rodriguez has to leave for Seattle in the afternoon. On Saturday, there will be no practice, but payers will go to their position coaches' houses for a meal. 2-a-days start Sunday. They'll have a couple scrimmages in Big House, beanie bowl. Go through whole game routine. For the veterans, it shouldn't be a big deal.
We're in pretty good shape, not game shape. The weather hasn't been that hot yet. Need warm temperatures to get guys in game shape. Guys who weren't in shape have responded as you'd expect. If you fight through, practice will help get you in great shape, but guys who started in great shape recover more quickly. It will take 3-4 weeks for everyone to get into shape. "If you aren't in shape, you won't play."
They're a very attentive group, eager to learn, grasped concepts. Put more in than anticipated. Right on track installation-wise.
All the position competitions haven't been separated yet. Will remain that way until we see them in pads.
No injuries. Some guys have missed time for the end of summer school. Most finishing today, tomorrow, monday next week. Mike Shaw is practicing. Still involved in his class. "Ongoing with him."
They'll shift some guys in the secondary, Teric Jones will be a S/CB. JT Turner's departure did not create new concerns. When asked about a potential return from Turner, Rodriguez stated: "He doesn't play for Michigan."
We're all anxious to get NCAA stuff behind us. School, Administration, players, want the committee to reach a conclusion. As soon as the hearing is over, those involved will fly back and get ready for practice on Sunday.
Kickers: need to see them in pressure situations to evaluate them.
1st, 2nd, and 3rd teams are all getting plenty of reps. In a week or so, they'll reduce it to two main groups with the reps divided about 60-40.
QBs making a conscious effort to take care of the ball. Need to work on decision-making as well. Has Denard picked up where he left off? "I think so. He looks physically bigger. Mentally he's understanding a lot of the concepts." Eager to do well. Limiting QB contact, but they get banged around a bit. Tate and Devin have to assume leadership by position. Hard for frosh/soph to take control. Has to happen naturally. They'll get that as their play improves. Re: Tate. "We've challenged all our guys." Tate gets more attention, because he plays a high-profile position. Tate is responding to the challenges, not sulking or laying back.
Woolfolk probably feels more natural at corner. Could play at safety if need, has the physicality. Brings that to the corner position. JTF had a good camp so far.
Punt return will be taken care of by Martavious Odoms, Jeremy Gallon, Terrance Robinson, and Drew Dileo. All have really good ball skills. Kickoffs will be returned by all of those guys, plus Darryl Stonum.
Darty Stonum loks fantastic. Junior getting himself into better shape. Stonum good camp. Junior good last couple days.
Quinton Washington is completely healthy. He's been set back last fall and in spring with injury. Rodriguez is pleased at the conditioning of the offensive and defensive lines as they came into camp. Christian Pace is struggling health-wise (knee). They were already going to redshirt him, and he may need knee procedure, too.
A tentative depth chart will be released Monday of game week. A few "ORs."
At running back, nobody has separated from the pack yet. It should be one of the most interesting races, because there will be at least two, and probably three guys that will play quite a bit. That's a position that needs to be evaluated with full contact.
Schiling and Moundros: Team voted for those guys as permanent captains. They will do all they can to keep that honor. At least one additional game captain will be selected for every game.
Captain Stephen Schilling
We've had 4-5 senior meetings. Idea came up for captains, from nobody in particular. They discussed it a few times, then asked Rodriguez to come to a meeting. They brought up some of the ideas to him, including permanent captains.
Sometimes it makes it easier having two voices at the top, but all the seniors will be leaders. Schilling and Moundros look to the rest of the senior class to be leaders.
As for the distraction of the NCAA hearing, schedule was rearranged so that Rodriguez didn't have to miss practice. Most guys have put that on the backburner; they're not worried about that, they just want to play football and get ready for UConn. They see the headlines on ESPN, but it doesn't really cross their minds other than that.
"Definitely good to have David [Molk] back, it's been a while." He's shaking off some rust, but everybody's getting ready to work together. There's really high potential for this offensive line. They have depth and experience.
Progression among players is a lot quicker now that most guys know the system. Meetings with Coach Frey go quicker, and they can make corrections faster on the field.
Schilling has worked with all three QBs. They're all working hard and playing well - but it's only been a couple days. Offense has made big plays, "looks good to me." Tate's been working hard. Not saying much, just trying to prove he can be the QB. We see him working hard, and that's a good thing. Troy's comments could have affected him, but he's here working hard. Get better every day for the team.
We've had guys cramping, but you see that every year. Guys have been pushing through heat, and are doing better than expected.
The RBs all worked really hard this summer, because they knew they all had a chance to be "the guy." So many different guys are cycling through with the first unit. Competition will bring the best out of all of them. Cox and Hopkins bigger backs, can hit it up inside. Smith gets outside, Toussaint does both. Shaw has speed to burn. Smith "looks good to me." Knee not affecting him.
Captain Mark Moundros
Whole senior class thought it was necessary to have two captains. Great honor to be one of them. Texted his mom and dad first when he found out.
Very encouraged by hunger of team. "We're ready to prove ourselves this year."
Playing mostly LB - like the spring. Always had a defensive mindset. How many snaps can he play on both side of the ball? "As many to help us win." Doesn't regret waiting so long to try linebacker. He's happy where he is right now.
Signs of defensive progress? We have some good schemes, we're working together. That's key for defensive side of the ball. Different schemes will allow for different groups of people to play on front line (when asked if Martin and Campbell will play together).
Secondary doing great. Learning every day. Mistakes have been limited in first week. That'll continue to first game. They bring great energy from the secondary.
OL - the front five - great line. "We have some depth too." Can't pick out just one guy, they all have capabilities and potential. chilling great leader. Dorrestein and Huyge on the edges. The guys who rotate in - different positions - fun to watch that side of the football.
Always had the mindset of competing, play to best of ability. Wherever that puts him, so be it. Worrying about working hard to help the guys around him get better. His fellow MLBs Ezeh and Demens are great - competition will make them better.
When he came to Michigan as a walk-on, he never thought about being the captain one day. He never looked that far in advance, and just took everything one day at a time.
Even though he and Steve are captains, every senior got at least one vote for captain. That guy will have to lead by example to at least the one guy whose vote he got. Honored and humbled to be captain, but they'll lead as a senior class.
Every RB brings a different dimension. Cox power, Smith quick with cuts. Shaw with speed, Fitz is a factor, Hopkins (bigger back - hard earned yards).
Willingness to trust each other will help the team succeed.
Learn from the master. Not to be outdone by some twit in a hat, Nick Saban dropped the boom on two players on the eve of fall camp. One learned he'd "failed a physical" and is either going to be medially disqualified by Alabama's doctors and placed on a scammy hardship scholarship (someone should figure out how many kids have been placed on medical scholarships since Saban arrived; I'm willing to bet it's triple the rate of a sampling of representative schools) or transfer. The other was just straight up deferred because the wrong number of kids got eligible. The usual goes here.
Something unusual: it looks like we're at a turning point as far as media attention goes to this stuff. In the last week both SI's Andy Staples and CBS screedmaster Gregg Doyel have taken up the baton. If you've ever read a Doyel piece you can Mad Libs the nouns between the bombast but at least this time he's struck on something worthy of some portion of the usual outrage. The thrust of his piece is actually too kind since he focuses on exceeding the 25 player limit, which these days you can only do by three, instead of the disparity between some incoming recruiting classes and the number of scholarships available for them. Those can hit double-digits. In LSU's case, they had 27 signees and two early enrollees so they could have gotten everyone on campus if not for the 85 cap. I'll take any attention this issue gets but Doyel's got a lot of his facts wrong.
Meanwhile, Staples has been SI's main recruiting reporter for a few years now. He knows the field, and I'm not just saying that because he's on board with the idea that you shouldn't be able to sign a player unless you can show where the scholarship is coming from. A note on that—Staples says:
Yahoo!'s Matt Hinton and MGoBlog's Brian Cook, two people who have written thoughtfully on this subject in the past, had a brilliant suggestion so simple that even a heavy-handed bureaucracy should be able to bring it to fruition: Make a rule that requires schools to give an actual scholarship to every player they sign to a letter-of-intent.
Cook even suggested raising scholarship limits if necessary. I disagree. If a school has 22 slots on Feb. 2, 2011, it should sign 22 players. If three of those players don't qualify, that's the coach's fault for not recruiting more academically sound prospects. He can play the season with 82 players on scholarship and sign more next year.
I don't think I was clear enough when I suggested the same thing I always suggest. Two scenarios I think would be good for college football:
LOIs are binding both ways for one year. If you sign a player and he does not qualify or you can't fulfill the promise made, you don't get to use that scholarship the next year.
LOIs are actually binding for two years. If you lose a player like above, you can't use the scholarship for the next two recruiting classes. Since this one is more punitive I'd give schools the leeway of an extra scholarship or two.
Either one is fine by me; in scenario 1 I don't think you need more scholarships.
As this gets on the radar of more reporters, coaches across the country will have to start justifying departures from their program, and maybe in a year or two the noise will be enough to force the NCAA to take action. Coaches will caterwaul, but what are they going to do, quit?
Captains. I forewent retweeting the RR tweet announcing your 2010 permanent captains because if I had it eight times in my feed chances are everyone else had it at least twice already. For those opposed to societal ADD, the guys are Steve Schilling and Mark Moundros. Moundros is representing the defense. The official site's much less horrible video page has reactions from Schilling and Moundros on the honor; Michigan will still pick two additional game captains throughout the season.
This is undoubtedly overreacting to a tiny slice of information, but it's the day after the first fall football practice. If there's a national day of Overreacting To Tiny Slices of Information, it's today. So: guuuuh linebackers. Michigan's got a couple of fifth-year multi-year starters and they get squeezed out of the official captaincy by a walk-on who was a fullback until spring practice. This is the most circumstantial of evidence but since we have three years of direct evidence that the linebackers aren't very good, it does not make me feel awesome.
Who wants to bet that someone at a newspaper or in sports radio declares this a repudiation of Rodriguez? We should start a pool. I've got Jeff DeFran.
“We have quite a few guys in very good shape, a handful who are in OK shape and a small handful not ready to play Division I football,” he said.
Rodriguez specifically omitted freshmen from his crap list, so Richard Ash—listed at a flabby 320 on the fall roster—is not one of those guys. I'm afraid he might be making a pointed statement directed at Will Campbell, who is the biggest guy on the team at 333 (mark of the half-beast!). This would crush my dream of having a Sagesse/Campbell rotation at the nose free Mike Martin to wreak havoc as a 3-tech DT/5-tech 3-3-5 DE.
Graham is destroying. A steady stream of articles declaring Brandon Graham the next Dwight Freeney, except better, have hit the sidebar, and now here's some main column action:
"I look at him as another (Dwight) Freeney deal," said Cole, referring to the Colts' five-time Pro Bowler. "He's a great player and just keep watching because he's going to be pretty good."
Also Andy Reid dropped a quote that may lend some credence to both EEEE Barwis and a hopefully burgeoning EEEE Bruce Tall contingent:
"He's done very well with that," said Reid. "He's very strong in the lower body; he's very strong in the upper body, too. His lower body, he's got a nice anchor there and good core strength and understands how to use his hands and arms and plays with separation on the linemen."
If we see Roh and Van Bergen do this consistently this year, Tall will enter the pantheon of assistant coaches Michigan fans can't bitch about currently inhabited by Greg Frey, Calvin Magee, and maybe Rod Smith.
Rich Rodriguez met with the media tonight following the first day of fall camp. If you want the full audio, you can check out MVictors, but I've pulled out the important points below. The above photo comes courtesy of Bruce Madej. Your humbe blogger is just out of the frame to the left.
Vincent Smith, David Molk, and Mike Martin were all in practice today. The only guy who was out for the spring that's still out is Will Heininger. Smith did not seem to be favoring his knee.
A couple guys missed some team meetings today with summer school obligations. Those were mostly freshmen, but a couple upperclassmen as well. Michael Shaw was among those guys. There are a couple days next week before summer school is completely over.
No word on who took the first snap at QB today, but "all three guys are competing." Denard and Tate have a bit of experience, but Devin is in great shape and wants to compete. In camp, they'll limit QB contact in order to avoid injury. If a quarterback separates himself from the pack, he'll be the starter. Tate is competitive, and will work for the job. Tate, Denard, and Devin all had good moments today.
There's enough experience and talent at running back to win some games. Vincent Smith, Michael Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint were singled out. Stephen Hopkins should be able to fit the "big back" role that they're losing with the graduation of Brandon Minor. Kelvin Grady is playing both slot and running back. He's a full-time football player now.
The offensive line is bigger and stronger up front. The idea that RR offenses only want little guys is inaccurate - as long as a player can move, bigger is better. Experience will help the OL be better - and it will allow them to install more of the offense much more quickly. There was only one bad snap from the centers today.
The offensive and defensive lines look good (RR said Will Campbell looked "OK" before saying he didn't want to answer any more questions on individuals). There were no pads today, so it's too early to say how they'll be, but they look physical up front. The young offensive line is growing up, and this should be a deeper team up front.
Young guys (even true freshmen) will have a chance to contribute at safety and corner. It will probably be tougher for D-linemen to contribute this season - but we'll know more once they're in pads.
Within two weeks of practice, they should have a good idea of which freshmen will be able to contribute in the fall. The first full scrimmage in two weeks is a key to that: "The pads answer a few questions." This is a fast freshman class - including the guys up front. On top of that, they didn't make any big mistakes today - they're a bright group.
"Will Hagerup will be what we thought." He's got a powerful leg and is a good athlete. He should be the starting punter.
Team and Schemes
The team on the whole looks to be in pretty good shape. Some players are in very good shape, some are only in OK shape, and some are not physically ready for Division-1 football. "Goal and expectation" is to get everybody in very good shape. The expectations for freshmen aren't as high from a conditioning standpoint, but they were helped by making it in for summer school. Nobody that could be considered an "impact player" would ever show up to camp out of shape. The coaches ran a conditioning test at the end of practice, and there's just a handful of guys that are not ready.
The team will practice in pads on Friday, and Sunday will be the first 2-a-day.
This team has the ability to be faster than last year's team. The speed will be aided by players not having to think too much. The coaches might have tried to work on schemes a little too much today, causing the players to not play quite as fast.
It's too early to compare the overall talent level of this team to the 2008 or 2009 teams. What this team does have is more guys who can contribute, particularly on defense.
Practice is probably the best time to be a coach. It's good to be on the field teaching guys. The team is full of guys eager to learn.
The continuity at defensive coordinator means everyone is already used to the scheme and personality. Guys being in the program for a few years also helps: They don't have to explain the process of practice to guys, and can worry about teaching football.
They've been fortunate to be able to grant scholarships to some walkons each year Rodriguez has been here. They have a couple extra scholarships this year, but they don't like to announce which walkons receive scholarships because it makes the other guys feel unimportant. Earning the scholarship "is not the end of your goals, it's just the start."
You know a program is improving when you are able to play poorly and win. Michigan obviously isn't there yet.
When asked specifically about Woolfolk's comments on Tate: "I'm glad our seniors are taking some ownership and leadership in this team. They want everyone to work as hard as they have." When asked again, RR said it's good to see the seniors take ownership of this team (which sounds to me like a sign he doesn't think Woolfolk really did anything wrong). Everyone in the program ants to succeed, and they deserve a chance to enjoy their final season.
Rodriguez can sense the senior leadership on this team. They've had player meetings, and come over to his house as a group, etc. They will be vocal leaders (moreso than last year), and they know they have something to prove.
There will be two permanent captains for this team, and they've been announced: OL Stephen Schilling and LB Mark Moundros. On top of that, there will be two game captains for each contest "if they're worthy, which I think we'll have."
When asked specifically about the West Virginia notice of allegations: "I'm talking about Michigan football."
It's the head coach's job to handle outside distractions. As for the players, "they handle what's going on in Schembechler Hall." Players worry about getting their Michigan degree and winning football games. Michigan, the football program, and RR's family form a great support system that's helping Rodriguez handle the pressure of outside distractions.
Rodriguez would prefer that the players don't use Twitter and other social media, but if they like it, they can. It's the job of the football coaches and athletic staff to educate them, and remind them that they're not only representing themselves, but also the university.
The phrase "winning cures all" is accurate, because it puts the attention onto the game, instead of other stuff. "Let's just limit the drama. Let's just keep the main thing the main thing."
Rodriguez is strictly coaching this week. He'll worry about the NCAA hearing on the flight out there, and then it's back to coaching on Sunday.
Rodriguez saw Brock Mealer walking today. When the team has their "beanie scrimmage" in the Big House, Brock will practice running through the tunnel.
There's no real added sense of urgency to this season. Rodriguez has had a sense of urgency ever since he's been coaching - even as an assistant.
When asked specifically about Ron English's comments from earlier this week, Rodriguez responded that they don't pigeonhole recruitable prospects on the basis of their economic status or family upbringing. Anyone you recruit must be committed on and off the field.
A brief interview with Mark Moundros from Big Ten Media Days.
The more guys who are stepping up to compete, the better the team will be. That's one of the reasons Mark asked to play some defense. "Competition only makes us better as a team, and I just want to win. If I don't pay a snap and we win 12 games, then I'm happy."
Mark expects to compete for a linebacker spot, and if he plays, then great. Otherwise, he's willing to help the team.
The defense has put in a lot of different fronts this spring. That should help confuse offenses, and it's helped Mark catch up with everyone else, because they're learning too.
The coaches are preparing a gameplan for UConn already. The Huskies have different offensive sets. What the defense does will depend on that.
Mark hopes they keep the Ohio State game at the end of the year, but if that's not possible after re-alignment, then so be it. Everyone looks forward to that game over the course of the year.
Mark will play a bit of fullback as well this fall, but he plans to play linebacker. He wants to help the team in any way that he can. He told Rodriguez that he could compete on defense, so he's getting his chance. He might be in the mix for playing time, but "I try not to think about what's on the depth chart." Helping the team is more important.
Michael Cox is a physical back, Michael Shaw is quick and fast. Vincent Smith has good feet and "can cut like no other." Fitzgerald Toussaint is quick and powerful, and Stephen Hopkins has great power.
Moundros was nervous to be one of the team representatives in Chicago. He was excited for the opportunity though: "What a great school. What an honor to be a part of such a great tradition and a great team." Moundros grew up loving Michigan and the connection with his brother Kirk had a little to do with that. The great tradition of doing things the right way is what makes Michigan what it is.
The defense is much more deep this year than it has been in the recent past. Mark isn't sure exactly who will step up, but that's exciting because there are many viable options.
Mark approached Coach Rodriguez about playing defense, and after a couple weeks, Rich Rod decided to give him a shot.
Jon Bills update. Fullback/linebacker Mark Moundros, his brother Kirk, and fellow-walk on Jon Bills were in a serious car accident over the weekend, and while the Moundros brothers are "fine" according to their mother, Bills is set to undergo surgery today. According to a source close to the situation, the surgery will be an effort to repair a damaged vertebra. The situation is "very serious" but Bills has escaped worst-case scenarios to date. If you are of the praying inclination, keep Bills in your thoughts.
Alcohol didn't have anything to do with the crash, FWIW.
User TR Saunders is "still debating whether or not to add a scythe," and also claims the above is actually paint, which is… like… whoah. He uses source pictures; even so I fear him.
Steeleinfo, corrected. Phil Steel lists Michigan 72nd nationally in terms of experience on the two deep via a system in which senior starters are worth 3 points, backups 2.5, junior starters 2, backups 1.5, etc etc etc. That is not as disturbing as you might think. Michigan is tied with Penn State and West Virginia, teams that are going into the year hoping for something a little sexier than the Insight Bowl.
Yay? Nay. The reason Michigan's numbers are not hugely terrifying is that Steele's numbers are wrong. He mentions that two-deep changes since publication are not accounted for but swapping Lewan in for Dorrestein doesn't account for the differences, as he credits Michigan with six senior starters and six backups. That's not accurate:
He's not counting redshirt juniors as seniors because if that's the case he'd add Hemingway, Molk, Huyge, and RVB in and come out with eight senior-ish starters.
By my count, Michigan's numbers* this year:
In Steele's system this comes out to 50 points. This is good for 118th nationally, better than only New Mexico and BYU. There might be some systemic overestimation going on, but probably not enough to get Michigan back towards the middle of the pack. You may resume rocking back and forth about the safety depth chart.
Somewhat more encouraging: my off the cuff calculations see Michigan rise to 70 points next year, which is 1) probably optimistic since there is always some level of attrition and 2) would be good for 37th this year.
*(Note: I used Shaw and Smith as the two deep at RB, which is the maximum experience you can wrangle out of it. You could pick up another point or two by putting Fitzgerald on the two-deep instead of Demens or Mike Jones and trying to count Adam Patterson somehow, but since guys like Rogers and Floyd Simmons should fall out once the freshmen arrive, this is actually a more experienced two deep than we are likely to see against UConn. Most schools can say that right now, so we won't use projections. The point: this is not finagled.)
Elsewhere in Steeleology, Jamiemac has assembled a JAMPACKED Big Ten overview. Steele's projections are more optimistic than many to date, although that might be because he has significantly underestimated how young they are. This would be a positive step if it came true:
Regarding the Wolverines, he has them tying with the Spartans for fifth place in the league. Generally speaking, he’s optimistic about their chances and Rodriguez doing enough to keep his job. He doesn't have a whole lot of Michigan players on any of his top-4 All Big 10 teams. But however he manages his predictions, it must like the sum of Michigan’s parts. On his Big 10 page, he mentions that three of his nine ratings call for a 6-2 Big 10 season. More revealing is that on page 22 where he lists Michigan among his top-12 likely surprise teams for the year, he writes a stunning admission: “One of my nine sets of power rating has them going 11-0 before the Ohio State game.” I want those power ratings. I want to roll them up in joints and smoke them all summer long. More realistically might be 4-4 or 5-3 in the league for the Wolverines, but I’m going to dream about those ratings anyway.
Jamie then asks if Michigan fans want Notre Dame to be good. The answer to that is "no." That goes double for this year.
Indecision for the win. AnnArbor.com picks up on a polling website that's answered the question I get asked all the time about the general opinion of the fanbase towards Rodriguez. It's mostly "ask again later":
Of those polled, Rodriguez had a 20 percent favorable rating, 26 percent unfavorable rating with 54 percent undecided.
However, when those same people were asked if they'd like to see Rodriguez replaced as Michigan's coach, 51 percent said they'd like to see him continue. 20 percent wanted him replaced and 29 percent were undecided.
54% saying "eh, don't know yet" seems like an impressively high number given the last two years.
Some of the breakouts in the full report are bizarre and fascinating. Self described liberal voters have a 9% favorability rating for Rodriguez; conservatives are at 13%. Rodriguez pulls the vast majority of his support from moderates, who are 33%-22% in favor.
Meanwhile, my pet theory that Rodriguez drew most of his support from the younger graduates and was totally hated by old Bo folks—which I have told a dozen podcasts—is completely wrong. The rate at which people think Rodriguez deserves another year increases monotonically as people age:
18 to 29
30 to 45
46 to 65
I have no clever explanations for that. Later today I'll put up the same questions on the blog to see what this place thinks; results should be interesting.
[UPDATE: An emailer points out that the breakouts by age here are beyond insignificant: of the 890 respondents, 20 were Michigan fans under 30. Nevermind this last bit.]
Jackson goodbye. The departure of assistant coach Mike Jackson for Purdue has apparently moved from rumor-in-name-only to actual news now that folk like Angelique Chengelis are mentioning it on the twitters. This has caused a great deal of alarm on the premium sites, but from people who know Jackson personally and use him for information. Proclamations of doom… eh… whatever. If Carlton Brundidge sticks around, which it seems like he will, the impact will be minimal. Proclamations of Jackson's recruiting skillz fail to mention that Michigan hasn't landed a single recruit that had major offers from other programs—Smotrcyz blew up after he committed.
Is it going to get worse with someone new?
Well, he can do that thing. Widely unregarded WR recruit DJ Williamson is one of Michigan's least-heralded recruits, a guy with two stars on Scout and not much more in the way of praise elsewhere. However, he is real fast. He won the state championship in the 100 M dash as a junior and doubled that feat over the weekend by winning the 100 and 200. His 10.64 100 could have been better if he didn't pull up for some Usain Bolt action at the end:
Williamson pulled out a W, presumably to rep Warren Harding. With three receivers from this class already on campus, Williamson is a holy lock to be redshirted but if he can develop some that speed promises something better than his recruiting rankings do.
Etc.: Annual Izzo-to-NBA mild panic begins, this time starting MSU alum and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert as the guy angling for Izzo. Way uncool. Izzo, for his part, texts a swear back at a local reporter asking for comment. Jamiemac comes in for the Six Zero profiling.
It's no coincidence that Michigan's running game took a quantum leap forward when Brandon Minor was installed as the starter against Penn State and told to run very hard in one direction until the gore covering everything proved too slippery to get a foothold on. MINOR RAGE was born in a shocking first half against Penn State and all other options were instantly demoted to second-best. Gone was the preseason depth chart that featured a whopping three "OR" denotations. When healthy, Minor was the guy. It was obvious from his first drive against the Nittany Lions. It was obvious from his first thumping run:
After weeks of watching a couple freshmen zip into linebackers or, more often, linemen and then attempt not to get killed, Minor blasted into the secondary and left one of Penn State's safeties in a heap. Debate: over.
So what the hell took so long? Well, Sam McGuffie did flash hints of talent, most impressively against Notre Dame, before opponents figured out that you could just murder his brain. Minor, battling a wrist injury all year, put the ball on the ground with alarming regularity when he got the odd carry early in the season. And there were persistent rumors that Minor found himself amongst the discontented masses on the team that did not fully buy in. (Yes, this which makes Minor's post-season callout of any lingering Zion Babbs a bit odd, but it is what it is.)
Also, Minor hadn't been that impressive in his first two years at Michigan. This preview last year noted the gap in YPC between Minor and Carlos Brown—one that persisted even if you chopped down Brown's 85-yard ramble against Minnesota to something more reasonable—and came down on the skeptical side of things:
Minor runs too upright and stiff for my tastes. He's clearly slower than Brown and the fleet freshmen, has little wiggle, and tends to plow over and through defenders instead of trying to avoid them. Sometimes this ends with Minor spectacularly trucking someone; sometimes it ends with Minor taking a wicked shot from a headhunting linebacker or safety. …
IMO, he gets his fair share of carries throughout the year but is clearly less effective than at least one other tailback and possibly two.
This prediction looked bang on for six games, at which point Minor's projected best case—a poor man's Darren McFadden—sort of came true, didn't it? Minor's not going to go in the top ten of the NFL draft but he had his moments of thunderous downhill stomping, slashing through holes and over and through and past out-of-position defenders. He was one of the few players to seem a physical match for Penn State and Ohio State defenders and should improve further with a year of buy-in and Barwis. Evan Royster may be an obvious selection for All Big Ten tailback this year, but they put two on the team and from this vantage point Minor's as likely as anyone to claim that second spot.
There is a caveat, though: if healthy. I may have been wrong about Minor's overall efficacy but the ominous injury note above was borne out. Minor's early fumbling problems were caused by a wrist issue that lingered through the year and he missed the Northwestern game not with any specific issue but just because he had gotten the hell beaten out of him the past few games. Minor missed sections of camp after an offseason car crash left him with persistent headaches. Asking him to be a Ringer-level workhorse is a bit much.
Meanwhile, the man this preview thought would claim the starting mantle, albeit nominally, came down with the usual array of nagging ailments from hamstrings to hangnails to exploding penguins. Carlos Brown hardly found the field all year. In fact, he was en route to a medical redshirt before Minor came down with that comprehensive ass-kickage and he was brought out of mothballs to play in the most unpleasant game ever staged. Despite the rust, wholesale lack of a passing game, and driving sleet, Brown impressed, racking up 115 yards on 23 carries—five per—with a long of only 17 against Northwestern's fair-to-good rushing defense.
Brown splits them and is a safety away from six points. … I really wish Brown didn't go down so easily on this one; with Mathews blocking downfield a cut outside might make this a touchdown. … Brown runs through the flailing arms and is away for a good gain. … Brown splits the two linebackers, then jukes a safety(+1), picking up the extra five yards he needs for the first. … should try to bounce it all the way back behind Sheridan—Steve Slaton used to do that to good effect—but instead just runs into a bunch of dudes. … makes a sweet spin move to evade the rolled up corner and safety. Free of those two, he picks up the first down. Major + play from Brown here. … Brown is indecisive with the safety and gets taken down. [Ed. Note: after ten yards.] … Here's the season for you: Michigan runs against what's essentially a five man front, gets a vast gaping hole and will pop Brown into the secondary for somewhere between eight and a zillion yards, and Brown falls harmlessly to the turf three yards in the backfield.
Carlos Brown got out of the grave and turned in an excellent running day, though a series of slips and stumbles prevented him from breaking a long one, and that last zone stretch on which he turned a likely first down into third and thirteen was a killer.
That's consistent move-the-chains production from a guy we know has gamebreaking speed. Combine the two and you might have something resembling the top-50 player Brown was coming out of high school.
That's the trick though, that and not having a series of freak hand, ankle, groin, hamstring, thigh, spleen, and pancreas injuries that limit him to one 85-yard touchdown against Minnesota and a lot of dour, beslinged observation from the sideline. There's no time like the present for Brown to live up to the extensive recruiting hype and occasional 80-yard touchdown—he had another one in the spring game.
If Brown is healthy and if Minor is healthy at the same time, expect to see a heavy dose of two-tailback sets that allow Michigan to zone read in either direction, run plenty of triple option, and prevent opponents from teeing off towards one side or the other. Rivals actually ranked Minor as a fullback coming out of high school and last year Minor's occasional deployment as a lead blocker was effective, as this Michigan State defensive end can attest:
Unless, of course, he's still wondering why his legs are made of eels and the sky smells so prickly.
With Sam McGuffie wisely choosing his ability to remember where he lives and Conference USA over a sophomore season at Michigan, Michael Shaw is other experienced option on the depth chart. Last year he did his best Brown impression, alternating impressive, zippy runs with groin injuries. He added some bonus freshman stuff, too: the occasional horrible decision that ended in a seven yard loss or fumble, either of which events ended with Rodriguez spittle arcing across the field.
Like Denard Robinson, Shaw is made of dilithium, the winner of the 200, 4x100, and 4x200 at the Penn Relays his senior year of high school and a guy who was shocked when someone, anyone managed to track him down from behind once he broke into the open field:
"I broke a long run and got dragged from behind. It was then that I was like, 'I'm really hurting. I've never not been able to run, not been able to explode.' "
There was good reason for the slowdown, a groin injury that would eventually require offseason surgery for a "sports hernia." If Angry Michigan Running Back Hating God doesn't get involved again, Shaw should see extensive work as a slot-capable tailback on passing downs and all-purpose injury/fatigue backup as he's groomed for the (or, more likely, a) starting job in 2010. Somewhere between 50 and 100 carries at a high YPC and one or two runs where he goes so fast he mutates into a frog-like thing and everyone pretends it didn't happen afterwards would be a tantalizing sophomore year.
Past Shaw there's a cavalcade of freshmen in two groups. Group one—pounding Minor sorts—is Mike Cox. Cox is a redshirt freshman out of a New England prep school better known for producing hockey stars than football players. They only play nine game seasons; Cox was hurt for most of his senior year; no one scouted him before that because right New England prep school; then he redshirted. So, yeah, we don't know much about Cox. There have been erratic positive practice mentions that make the Minor comparison and suggest Michigan made the right choice when they went for Cox over instate star Jonas Gray, now at Notre Dame, after seeing the two side-by-side at camp. Cox should see some time spelling Minor, as Michigan doesn't have anyone other than him to pick up the thundermoose mantle.
Group two—spread ninjas—has two guys in it, both true freshmen. Ohioan Fitzgerald Toussaint was the higher-rated by the recruiting sites. He spent his senior year either shredding defenses for like 250 yards on 10 carries or getting swamped for like 40 on 20. There was little in-between. His highlight video is full of fancy jump-cuts and serious change-of-direction skills; he's slightly undersized but who cares, right? Toussaint's had some injury issues in fall camp and it sounds like Michigan is looking at redshirting him, which they obviously should since he's fifth string at best. Recruiting profile here.
And then there is tiny, zippy Vincent Smith, who arrived for spring and did this during the Michigan drill…
…impressing everyone and reminding us all that Rich Rodriguez might have some idea what he's doing when it comes to tiny who-dat running backs.
Smith's spring game was just okay, but the practice buzz up until that point was very positive. The buzz since has remained equally positive, with teammates dropping his name apropos of nothing. Here's the always-excitable Fred Jackson:
“Small guy, but a big back. He plays big. The way he blocks you and the way he’ll run over you. I’m going to bet that he’s 170 pounds, I don’t know exactly. But I’m going to say he’s 170 pounds and he runs like he’s 200 pounds.”
It's Smith, not Shaw, who's listed as the first backup to the two seniors on the initial roster. That means no redshirt and frequent duty; I'm betting he's the fan favorite in the race for the starting job next year. His recruiting profile beckons for the curious.
Rating: 4 or 5.
I have a hunch that Michigan fans and opposing linebackers are going to become very familiar with redshirt junior fullback Mark Moundros this fall. We know that Rodriguez likes to feed his ogres, and last year Michigan had some success passing to Moundros out of the backfield until opponents caught on to that one play they can actually do and shut him down.
This year Michigan figures to have several plays they can actually do and one spectacularly accurate short-range passer. You can see a glimpse of a Moundros-heavy future in the Forcier porn highlights from the spring game: Forcier gets pressure from an outside blitzer on a rollout and hits Moundros dead in stride. Moundros turns it up in front of a trailing linebacker and picks up a first down. Shades of Aaron Shea there. Shea was Michigan's last frequently-used H-back, an all-purpose fullback/tight end who hauled in 38 catches in 1999. While that number might be a stretch for Moundros something like 20, most of which turn into first downs, isn't out of the question. The occasional carry might be in order, too.
As far as backups: with Vince Helmuth's move to the defensive line and eventually the MAC, there really aren't many options. Kevin Grady is still around but he's not much of a fullback and after four years disappointing on and off the field the chances he picks up a major role are slim indeed. He's listed second on the depth chart at the spot, FWIW. Michigan's best bet for a backup will probably be a to-date anonymous walk-on. Both Owen Schmitt and Moundros started as walk-ons, after all, and Rodriguez has directly stated he won't recruit scholarship fullbacks in the future. He prefers to breed them in Barwis vats in the IM building basement.