Stonum to Redshirt, Hagerup Suspended Four Games

Stonum to Redshirt, Hagerup Suspended Four Games

Submitted by Brian on August 7th, 2011 at 6:53 PM

091209_SPT_UM v Norte Dame_MRMWill Hagerup punts the ball during the Michigan Spring Football Game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. on April 16, 2011. Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com

nyet, 1/3 nyet

Press release:

U-M Football Head Coach Brady Hoke Announces Wide Receiver Stonum will Redshirt 2011 Season

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – University of Michigan football head coach Brady Hoke announced Sunday (Aug. 7) that senior wide receiver Darryl Stonum (Stafford, Texas/Dulles HS) will redshirt the 2011 season.

“While it would be great to have Darryl on the field this season, we feel it is in his best interest and the best interest of our program for him to redshirt,” said Hoke.  “Darryl will continue to be an important part of our team and family.  He has done everything we have asked him to do, but our number one priority is to help Darryl grow as a person.” 

Hoke also announced the suspension of sophomore punter Will Hagerup (Milwaukee, Wis./Whitefish Bay HS) for the first four games of the season and junior wide receiver Terrence Robinson (Klein, Texas/Oak HS) for the season opener for violating team rules.

Stonum's redshirt is obviously an effect of his second DUI in two years; Hagerup and Robinson's naughtiness is unknown.

Stonum's absence will be felt, as no one on the roster has his combination of size and speed. Michigan still has seniors Martavious Odoms and Junior Hemingway, though, and those two were about as productive as Stonum was. Folks like to rotate their wide receivers, though, and without Stonum the backups are untested Je'Ron Stokes, Jeremy Jackson, and Jerald Robinson. Michigan might think about getting Roundtree some reps on the outside now.

This is Hagerup's second strike after he missed the Ohio State game last year for the proverbial undisclosed violation of team rules. In his stead Seth Broekhuizen took over, averaging 29 yards a kick. Michigan will probably turn to freshman Matt Wile; Wile averaged 42 yards per attempt as a high school senior.

Robinson probably wasn't going to play anyway.

SILVER LINING: If Stonum can get someone to drive him around this year, his return in 2012 should soften the blow of losing Odoms and Hemingway. Michigan still needs receivers stat.

SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE W/ MICHAEL FLOYD: Floyd had two MIPs, which are nothing, and the one DUI. Stonum had two DUIs and went to jail for not doing the probation on the first one. Please refrain from outing yourself as a derp by derping about Notre Derp.

Preview 2010: Receivers of All Varieties

Preview 2010: Receivers of All Varieties

Submitted by Brian on September 2nd, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the running backs, the offensive line, special teams, and the conference.

Depth Chart

WR Yr. WR Yr. Slot Yr. TE Yr.
Darryl Stonum Jr. Martavious Odoms Jr. Roy Roundtree So.* Kevin Koger Jr.
Junior Hemingway Jr.* Je'Ron Stokes So. Kelvin Grady Jr.* Martell Webb Sr.
Jeremy Jackson Fr. Jerald Robinson Fr. Terrance Robinson So.* Brandon Moore So.*

The situation here is similar to tailback, where Michigan doesn't exactly have a proven star but they do have a ton of options. Outside, Darryl Stonum could blow up, Junior Hemingway could stay healthy, and Martavious Odoms could be a quick blockin' bugger that springs other guys to big gains. In the slot, Roy Roundtree will act as team safety blanket and any of the three guys behind him could provide the woop-gone YAC Darius Reynaud gave West Virginia. At tight end, if Kevin Koger can catch the easy ones he'll be a lethal complement to the zone read.

The bottom here isn't bad, as it consists of a ton of throws to Roundtree and decent contributions all around. The top is enticing, with silly yards per catch possible on the outside and chain-moving consistency on the inside.

Outside Receiver

Rating: 3.

martavious-odoms-game-winner-indiana martavious-odoms-purdue

Greg Mathews has graduated, a couple kids left the program over the past couple years, and Junior Hemingway is destined to be hit by a meteor in week three, so Michigan's getting creative at outside receiver by moving slot-sized slot Martavious Odoms outside. Despite Odoms' diminutive stature, this makes sense given the situation. Below you can see Odoms doing some catching and all that, but you can also see him chop much bigger guys to the ground time and again. When my Florida recruiting source said Odoms was a "tough SOB" he was not kidding:

Pahokee, man.

MARTAVIOUS ODOMS

WILL HEADBUTT YOU
a precious thing forever
great cut
thumps downfield
fantastic block on the nickelback
NOT BREASTON BUT WHO IS
squeezes up the sideline
jailbreak screen
extremely open
avoids the tackle
CATCHIN'
digs this out w/ guy on his back
lays it in there
lays it in beautifully
Odoms reels it in

Last year everyone was down on Odoms despite his productive freshman year (he was Michigan's leading receiver) because of a series of fumbles late, when it was cold and he was wondering how many limbs he had because he certainly couldn't feel more than two. There was a pretty terrible diary around these parts that met with a strong response. People got strained. Futures were question. It was tense.

For my part, I was "skeptical any slot would beat him out" and "bet on a lot of hurried backtracking" after the year; one half out of two ain't bad. Odoms didn't exactly get beat out but no one's wresting Roy Roundtree's job from him after he blew up in the last third of the year, and while people claiming Odoms sucks are thin on the ground these days any backtracking was steady, possibly even languorous. Fumbles were reduced but not erased as Odoms lost his punt return job to Junior Hemingway. He faded into Bolivian at the end of the year.

So he's at a crossroads. The question is how effective will Odoms be on the outside. No one really knows since all we have to go on are some vanilla scrimmages from spring and fall during which deep passes were anomalies. Things we do know: 

  • Odoms was 16/17 on easy catches last year (presumably these were a lot of bubble screens), 4/6 on moderately tough ones, and 1/3 on very tough ones.
  • He was a receiver for five(!) years at Pahokee after signing up in eighth grade and has played inside and out since.
  • He is really short.

We don't have a lot of information about his routes, but he did smoke Indiana safety Nick Polk on that game-winning touchdown. Limited touches after were probably not his fault. He certainly had decent enough hands, though a double-clutch here and there led to frustrating incompletions on the wheel routes he ran frequently.

By moving outside, Odoms has ceded most of the screens to Kelvin Grady and Roy Roundtree and will see his per-game production drop. He'll still be involved, though how much depends more on Roundtree, Stonum, the tight ends, and the tailbacks, all of whom seem to offer either more big-play ability or reliability than a 5'8" outside receiver. Odoms is likely to finish in the middle of the Michigan receiver pack with between 20 and 30 catches.

Michigan's Darryl Stonum leaves nothing but vapor trails behind him as heads 94-yards untouched into the endzone for a first quarter touchdown on a kickoff return against Notre Dame during the Wolverine's 38-34 win over the Fighting Irish, Saturday, September 12th at Michigan Stadium.
Lon Horwedel | Ann Arbor.com
vapor trails

DARRYL STONUM

CATCH?
in between levels in the zone
bursts open 20 yards downfield
POOR ADJUSTMENTS
Mike Floyd catches this, right? 

Darryl Stonum has been something of a disappointment his first couple years. Last year the conversation in re: Stonum was largely about pages and the benefits of getting on the same one with the coaches. When it wasn't, it was about dropped balls. When the season rolled around Stonum started every game but came up with such a paucity of highlights that I've got more on Patrick Omameh, an offensive lineman who played in three games, than him. HIs stats boggle the mind: 13 catches for 199 yards, one fewer catch than he managed as a freshman. End of stats.

As a result, Stonum came up for repeated psychoanalysis in UFR, most of it focusing on his inability to adjust to balls thrown downfield. Against Eastern this happened:

 

This occasioned a long section about how Forcier left this short but this was the week after ND, when 1) Stonum turned a very makeable deep catch into something almost impossible by turning inside when he had five yards of room to the sideline and 2) Mike Floyd turned Michigan cornerbacks into roadkill. The resulting consternation:

I'm grabbing this just so people can maybe talk about Stonum's adjustment to this. I think it's poor. He misjudges the ball and doesn't slow up enough and turn, which would probably have led to the DB running him over and a PI call. Mike Floyd [or Braylon Edwards] catches this, right?

This persisted; after the Wisconsin game I launched the "same old complaint" when Stonum failed to adjust to a poorly-thrown deep ball and allowed it to get intercepted when he really should have been able to at least bat it down.

Receivers often take time to break out, but the really amazing ones often get there their sophomore years (Braylon, Manningham, and Howard all blew up in year two), so expectations were busily being scaled back when… my gawd, that's Rick Vaughn's music!

charlie-sheen-major-leagueYes, for the second consecutive year Michigan has discovered one of their wideout needs glasses. You'd think that after the coaches discovered one of their wideouts was secretly blind as a bat they would have declared mandatory eye exams for all, but they didn't, so the above clips happened and everyone was very sad. Now? Well, Stonum's reportedly had an outstanding fall camp:

"This is the most consistent we've had Darryl on a day-to-day basis. He's going to be a big factor for us. He's a very talented guy that has a renewed sense of hunger."

As his recruiting profile suggested and kick returns showed, he has electric speed. The coaches seem to be on the same page with him. The quarterbacks are not going to be freshmen. He can now see the damn ball. He could totally blow up, or he could rack up 20 catches and have a version of that year Steve Breaston had after Edwards graduated where it became clear to all that he just didn't have it downfield. I have no idea what it will be, which makes Stonum the offense's #1 X factor going into the season. He can swing games by himself if he lives up to the chatter. A real live deep threat in an offense helmed by Denard Robinson can be preposterous: Chris Henry averaged 25 yards a catch(!!!) his freshman year at West Virginia.

That's Stonum's best case: not that many catches, but a lot of long ones and some game-swinging touchdowns. The worst case is more of the same.

Backups

21, Junior Hemingway during University of Michigan 31-7 victory against  Western Michigan September 5th 2009. (SAM WOLSON/Daily).

JUNIOR HEMINGWAY

NOT DAED
other end of Forcier improv
effective screen
one little shimmy and is then by
New item!
caught from behind on bomb
big punt return.
leaping catch in traffic

Odoms's move outside pushes Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God's favorite target to the bench, at least nominally. After Junior Hemingway missed spring ball to go along with missing most of 2008 and spending 2009 at half-speed with an array of Minor-like injuries that were just tolerable enough for him to play, it seems like the Michigan coaches finally decided they couldn't rely on him to be around long term and placed him on the bench. Since receiver's a spot at which rotation is incessant he'll get his share of time, leaving the move mostly symbolic, but it is a symbol.

Surprisingly for a guy who barely outpaced Stonum last year with 16 catches, he's got a substantial highlight reel you can see at right. He was also named "first among equals" after the Western game. It's mostly deep stuff: burning Western Michigan, exploiting Illinois over-reacting to a play, burning Illinois and then getting caught from behind, etc. As recruit his rep was an explosive leaper who lacked top-end speed—I compared him to Marquise Walker—and that has been borne out. It's tough to tell if his meh career to date is underperformance or just three years of terrible luck. If he can stay on the field he should be a solid, useful addition to the receiving corps. He's 225 pounds, which makes him a slant threat not duplicated elsewhere on the roster, and last year he was 10/10 on easy catches and 2/3 on moderate ones. His hands are good.

He should have a role and improve on his 16 catches of a year ago, although possibly not by much.

The single other outside wide receiver with any experience is sophomore Je'Ron Stokes, a six-foot guy with excellent athleticism who could have played in the slot if that wasn't already being fought over by four or five guys. Stokes was just outside of top 100 lists as a recruit. Michigan snatched him away from Tennessee after their coach implosion. The takeaway from the recruiting profile:

An electrifying game breaker with excellent speed, Stokes could use more size on his current 6’1” and 180 pound frame. He has great hands, knows how to get open, makes a lot of acrobatic catches and is terrific after the catch.

He's got a bit more size now, checking in at 193 at last report. He was another guy who blew his redshirt last year; his single highlight last year was digging out a low ball dubbed CONESTRAVAGANZA I in the late stages of the Baby Seal U game. He was injured in the spring and only came on late, but he was also pretty much absent from the fall scrimmage; another year mostly on the bench seems likely.

The third string is all freshmen. The only one to appear on the official fall depth chart was Jeremy Jackson (profile), the "lumbering" son of running backs coach Fred Jackson. Lumbering he may be but he's also the son of a coach and has the route running skills and hands you'd expect from such a gritty gritterson of a player. He'll play, likely sparingly. That should mean that classmates Ricardo Miller (profile) and Jerald Robinson (profile) are headed for redshirts.

Slot Receiver

Rating: 4.

roy

Roy Roundtree's second catch as a Michigan Wolverine was a game-tying touchdown in the pouring rain against Michigan State. This was a good omen. Over the next few games his playing time increased, though his catches remained infrequent because he was seemingly targeted only when it was a terrible idea to do so. Then Odoms got injured. Roundtree announced his presence with that 77-yard catch-and-run against Illinois about which we will speak no more, then showed Purdue the true power of snake oil:

A good day from the receivers, and by "receivers" we mean "Roy Roundtree." The one drop didn't hurt much since it was on a screen that was going to get blown up anyway. Minor could have helped out by pulling in a low throw by Forcier, too. Other than that: Roundtree, Roundtree, Roundtree. The 1 he pulled in prevented an interception on Michigan's first drive of the day, converted a first down, and lead to a touchdown.

Plus he did this:

Martavious Odoms just saw his job come under howitzer fire. Odoms has been valuable, too, so he won't just go away, but Kelvin Grady's time just got eaten up and I think Roundtree is the starter even when Odoms is healthy. This might also presage some dual-slot formations that have been absent so far in Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan. Kid's pretty good, and quicker than  you'd think given the Hawthorne incident last week.

ROY ROUNDTREE

DEBUT
catching in the rain
TRUCK
trucks a safety
great, great block
PUR-DOIN' IT
inverting an interception
20-yard dart downfield
pitch and catch
dig it out, dig it out

Did I mention that Roundtree was last year's Rick Vaughn? All hail occasionally checking your receivers' vision. Someone check Denard Robinson right freakin' now.

Roundtree continued his rampage over the last two weeks of the season against Wisconsin and Ohio State, yielding this season breakdown:

  • First eight games: two catches, 44 yards.
  • Last four games: 30 catches, 390 yards.

Project the last four games over the course of a season and you get 90 catches, 1200 yards, and a season second only to Braylon Edwards's 2004 campaign in the annals of Michigan lore. So… yeah. That's probably not going to happen. But it would be pretty cool i it did, huh? More realistically, Roundtree should double his output from last year, ending up Michigan's leading receiver with 700-800 yards.

For the record, last year Roundtree was 16/16 on easy catches, 4/8 on moderately difficult ones, and brought in his only super-tough attempt of the year by wresting away a sure interception from a Purdue linebacker. He's not that big. He's pretty fast but not that fast. He's not that shifty after the catch. But he's open and he's where he's supposed to be, which is right in front of the quarterback, and he'll catch the ball. So they throw it, and he catches it, and yeah he's basically the apotheosis of the Purdue receiver.

Backups

kelvin_grady-wallpaper

EXCESSIVELY DRAMATIC KELVIN GRADY WALLPAPER FTW

Basketball refugee Kelvin Grady's found himself in an impressive position on the depth chart by warranting an OR with Roundtree. This represents progress; Grady's 2009 was cut short by frequent dropped balls. By Iowa one was enough to yank him or the game. Late in the year UFR noted that nine of the twelve flat drops on the year had been turned in by the tight ends and Grady. After the Illinois game, Roundtree was contrasted with Grady because when Roundtree "is thrown a ball that hits him in the hands it does not fall to the ground." You get the idea: hands not so good.

That's perhaps understandable after Grady thought he'd left football behind for good when he signed up to play point guard for Tommy Amaker. After two years on the basketball team he found himself behind walk-on, read the writing on the wall, and picked up the cleats again. The rust was evident.

But Grady just keeps making plays in practice. That was the reason he was given the opportunity to drop those balls early in the year even with Odoms in front of him and Roundtree nipping at his heels, and the reason he's listed as a co-starter on the depth chart despite Roundtree's stunning end of year breakout. He featured in more "Countdown to Kickoff" highlights than any other non-quarterback; in the fall scrimmage he certainly looked like a top-level option, once taking a reverse from Robinson to score on a one-play, 30-yard drive. A review of his high school highlights reveals the sort of explosive agility that Michigan's other slots seem to lack:

As a bonus, since he was a high school running back he'll be better suited to those spread 'n' shred plays where a slot receiver motions into the backfield to become a second running back. It's hard to imagine Roy Roundtree doing that, so adding Grady to the rotation adds pages to the playbook. He'll see time, and could even supplant Roundtree as the preferred destination for quick screens… if the hands come around.

The backup story remains the same, except older. Terrence Robinson's first two seasons at Michigan have resulted in an injury redshirt and one catch for 13 yards against Baby Seal U. He was fairly prominent in spring and fall, though not nearly as much as Grady was, and is in competition for the punt return job. His problem has always been hands—he was mostly a QB/RB in high school—and that's prevented him from seeing the field. With two guys in front of him it seems like it will be another season spent watching. He'll probably get some real playing time when Grady is tired and Michigan is looking for their slot to be one of those RB/WR flex guys in the mold of Dorrell Jalloh.

Freshman Jeremy Gallon (profile) took a redshirt last year after arriving late because of some academic issues. He should find the field some this year but reports from practice suggest that Gallon did not put in the same sort work some of the other wideouts did and that this will hamper his playing time. Also an issue is a foot issue that isn't severe enough to keep him out of practice but does warrant walking around campus in a boot.

Gallon was a (figuratively) big recruit from a couple years ago, a one-time member of the Rivals 100 and solid performer at the Army Bowl who is by far the most guru-approved of any Michigan slot receiver. With two older and more established options in front of him, his best chance for playing time will be taking return duties away from Odoms.

Also, here is your annual reminder that he is a dead ringer for Snoop from The Wire:

jeremy-gallon-mug snoop-the-wire

Finally, freshman Drew Dileo (profile) looked pretty smooth this fall but is a very tiny true freshman. If he finds a role this fall it will be on punt returns.

Tight End

Rating: 4.

kevin-koger-wow

KEVIN KOGER

BLOCKING OKAY?
blocks two guys
crushes LB from slot
doubling DE into endzone
springing Brown
CATCHING
wide open in the back of the endzone
hugely vacant flat
brilliant adjustment
zip it in there for a first down
hits him as he clears the second level
OH MY PANTS
WOO HA!
This is just badass.
terrific leaping adjustment
adjusts to his back shoulder

Kevin Koger started the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by reeling in 3/4 passes rated 2 (difficult but makeable) and 3/4 rated 1 (great googly moogly). He then finished the year off in Braylon Edwards fashion by dropping every routine ball that came his way. The result was schizophrenic: by the end of the year Koger was 7/10 on tough catches… and 7/11 on easy ones. Matters came to a head against Penn State:

Koger's great start came to a clunky halt with an 0/3 day, and no one really helped out except for the running backs. Forcier's day wasn't good, but it wasn't as bad as the numbers suggest.

He added another "bad drop" against Illinois. That and backup Martell Webb's similarly frustrating hands is part of the reason Roy Roundtree blew up in the last three games.

Koger did not exactly bounce back from this over the offseason, dropping a couple passes in the fall scrimmage and being conspicuously absent from offseason chatter both above- and underground. With depth at slot looking healthy, the entire tight end position could see itself minimized if they don't perform.

There's a good chance they will, though, with all three players returning. Koger himself is entering his true junior season; as a highly sought recruit with a  year and a half of starting experience under his belt he should improve considerably. The downers from last season do consist of four dropped passes, after all. Two fewer and everyone's talking about how it will be pick your poison underneath. Small sample size disclaimers apply. When you look at the stuff at right it's hard to envision a guy with that much talent finding himself minimized, especially when Denard-related freakouts see him hand-wavingly wide open frequently.

Backups

martell-webb-blockin martell-web-rec

MARTELL WEBB

BLOCKIN'
Webb's great block
picks the playside DT up
crushing downfield block
Kicks out LB
CATCHIN'
in a sea of green wondering where everyone else is.

Senior Martell Webb has seen the most playing time to date. He was an infrequent target a year ago. The quarterbacks threw him six passes, one of which was uncatchable and the rest routine. He was only 3/5 on those routine balls, possibly explaining why he wasn't targeted on them more often. He put on 12 pounds from last fall to spring, then took a couple off during the summer and is now a solid 255.

Koger's blocking has been iffy, and while Webb didn't stick out in my memory as a crusher all but one of the clips at left are positive run blocks: he's likely to be the choice when Michigan goes to its I package. Unless he has an epiphany about having the ball in his hands (and Koger doesn't) his receiving stats are going to look a lot like they did last year. Throwing it to him is plan G when you've got three receivers, guys like Vincent Smith coming out of the backfield, and a considerably more dynamic starter at tight end. Webb's a fullback, basically.

The third and final scholarship tight end on the roster is redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore. He was a highly touted recruit with loads of offers when he committed to Michigan early in the hybrid Carr/Rodriguez class, but then dropped off with an indifferent senior year. Since his arrival he's been locked behind Koger and Webb—the only clip I have of him is a catch against Baby Seal U. Without any buzz otherwise, that will likely continue this year.

Coaches' Clinic Tea Leaves: Offense

Coaches' Clinic Tea Leaves: Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 13th, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Michigan just let in all manner of heathens to observe a couple practices, ping various coaches for information, and take in a Saturday scrimmage; naturally, this has created a ton of internet chatter. Also naturally, large portions of it conflict with other portions of it. There's a faction of super insiders on Rivals declaring Denard Robinson to be a complete disaster and one focused here proclaiming him to be Pat White—except fast! Tate Forcier is either looking like a "walk-on" or the obvious starter, and Devin Gardner is either a total n00b or Vince Young—except fast!

So… yeah. I don't know. Here's my contribution to the melee. First, a non-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football featuring all quarterbacks doing something awesome:

Whenever I hear one of the freshmen speak I get annoyed at all the Dorsey stuff. Yeah, Michigan is totally turning into Jimmy Johnson's Miami.

Anyway, in addition to the posters who got bumped to the front page over the weekend, MGoBlog had a couple of sources who took in the activity late last week. Observations gleaned:

Terminology, or: The Quick And The Dead

One of the toughest things to do as a guy who tries to figure out football and communicate it as a layman is figure out what to call something. Every time I decide to call something X, well meaning folk tell me it should be Y or Z. I tend to apologetically ignore them just so things are relatively clear for readers.

However, if the coaches are all calling something one thing and it's not counter-intuitive I'll go with it. So:

  • Michigan is calling the dual SS in the 3-3-5 "spur" (strongside) and "bandit" (weakside). Some 3-3-5 teams make no distinction between these guys, but it appears that Michigan will flip these guys strong and weak. This leaves the bandit as the guy who will be tested in the occasional deep half, about which more later.
  • The coaches were actually calling the deep safety "strong" for a while but they've reverted to calling him "free." There are good football-related reasons for that weird nomenclature but since they're gone, whatever. I'll return to calling Cam Gordon and other guys who line up there free safeties.
  • The north-south MINOR RAGE run that Michigan's used to good effect the past couple years is something I've been calling "veer," which has been the nomenclature that's drawn the most protests. Michigan calls this their "belly" series.

Spinner: dead. Quick: dead. With this jargon we will ascend to the pillars of knowledge.

denard-robinson-practice Denard Is Not Specious, Unless He Is

My initial reaction to the Denard Robinson hype was the same as Doctor Saturday, who has lumped Tate-Denard-Devin into a list of "specious spring quarterback controversies," but both observers gave tentative, caveat-laden nods to Robinson as the starting quarterback. The difference between last year and this year is vast. That falls just short of incredible since Robinson arrived without any ability to even run the zone read. Many of his plays were Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Zone Stretches run from an empty backfield. Robinson's high school coaching amounted to nil, so it's obvious that he would have a bigger leap forward than Forcier and his years of intensive training.

Robinson is still light years away from Forcier as a passer—his ability to "see and understand the field remains limited"—but in the open field he is ludicrous and now that he's gotten the hang of the zone read he gets in that space frequently. Craig Roh on Robinson:

"I hate Denard on the football field," Roh said. "I love him outside of football, but on the football field, he's just such a nuisance. The quarterbacks here are too fast, and Denard, I just can't catch him. It's ridiculous."

Observer A, a defensively oriented guy, said "as a coordinator you watch him come around the corner on the naked boot and you say uh-oh." Another high school coach told observer B that Denard "runs into traffic just to make defenders look silly." Robinson's athleticism will force defenses to overplay that threat and open up other opportunities.

Tate Forcier remains Tate. One of Michigan's coaches praised Tate's "great strides" in his understanding of the playbook, but what you see is what you get with Forcier: accurate on the run, good scrambler, shortish, meh arm strength. Meanwhile, the undercurrent of coaching discontent with his dedication as a freshman has added another pebble:

"Maybe some of the things that happened early in the season happened a little easier for him," Rodriguez said. "It kind of felt right to him. At the end of the year, he played more like a true freshman at times. And he got banged up a little bit and his concentration wasn't as sharp.

"As coaches, it's our job to make sure he maintains that focus."

The most worrisome thing I hear about Forcier is actually a positive thing related about Gardner. Gardner sets in the pocket and has less of a tendency to start running around than either of the other two quarterbacks, which allows him to go deep more regularly. The offense is a lot of broken plays with both of the short guys. While that's obvious with Robinson, I was hoping Forcier would get more comfortable throwing in the pocket.

Despite that, it will be all but impossible to pull Forcier in favor of Robinson full time when their skill sets are so divergent; a platoon beckons.

As for Devin Gardner, raves about his "incredible feel for the game" from QB coach Rod Smith were relayed via both observers. Other spring hype: "huge," "covers ground without seeming to move" like Vince Young and Terrelle Pryor, and… wait for it… "well ahead of both at this stage." Gardner is a "gym rat" who will happily spend all day watching film. However, he's "nowhere near" having a grasp of the offense and his throwing is erratic. When he's good, he can make deep throws with touch unlike either of the other two, but his overall accuracy lags because of the mechanical issues. His delivery isn't consistent yet. This will not be an enormous surprise to anyone who saw the difference between Camp Devin and Degraded Devin over the course of this high school football season.

This position remains a mess that will not be resolved until UConn, and frankly I'd be surprised to see a single game this year where Michigan goes exclusively with one quarterback. With two polar opposites at the spot, the nominal starter may depend on the relative strength of the opposing defense.

That's just this year. The vibe I got was that Gardner is the future of the position. Maybe not this year, but all bets are off in 2011. The position was described as "loaded," albeit young.

Running Back Battle

Zero clarity here as well. As mentioned earlier, Stephen Hopkins was impressive to Observer B; A was pretty noncommital about the tailbacks. Mike Cox has slipped for whatever reason. Observer B on Hopkins:

The guy is just a freaking monster and he breaks tackles. Now, I can’t say he can block, or knows the offense or can catch the ball. Plus, he fumbled twice (once he was hit at the handoff, on the other instance it might have been the QB’s issue). But man is he a tough tackle on the belly if he can get (even) a yard of momentum.

Shaw and Toussaint seemed like better runners than Cox, as well. This is another spot that will lack clarity until deep into fall unless Vincent Smith (who is jogging but limping badly) comes back fully healthy and establishes himself as the guy.

At fullback, Mark Moundros is playing mostly at linebacker, leaving McColgan the starting FB. He seems okay. Made a couple catches, made a couple blocks. Fullback isn't a huge priority.

jerald-robinson-canton Wide Receivers

Still hard to tell much of anything with two of the top three guys on the outside missing and Michigan focusing on the short stuff, but the freshman making the most of his spring is Jerald Robinson, who is "rangy" and "knows how to get his body in position." That's similar to assessments coming out of his strong summer camp performance.

Jeremy Jackson is also on par with expectations: smart, good routes, great hands, approximately as fast as a tight end. Could this be the guy who actually warrants the incessant Jason Avant comparisons I make? Miller didn't impress in the brief window provided.

Meanwhile, the guys in the slot are reputed to be extremely slippery. Terrance Robinson and Jeremy Gallon are described as "better than a pretty good Big Ten player" in Odoms as long as they're catching the ball. This is not assured: Robinson's hands were the main reason he didn't see the field last year and Observer B praised Odoms's hands while complaining about too many drops in the slot. Coaches were talking up Robinson as a potential contributor, FWIW.

Offensive Line

Offensive line being an esoteric position, I don't have much other than the general positivity even absent David Molk. Taylor Lewan could use another 15 pounds but is still holding down left tackle. Perry Dorrestein is nicked up, which may explain the move. More than likely this is an opportunity Lewan won't pass up and Dorrestein is going to have to battle for the right tackle spot. Insert now-default Jake Long comparisons here. Lewan's not likely to be the #1 pick in the NF L draft but his career trajectory is zipping along at the most optimistic level possible.

The most encouraging thing on the line is the depth. Even with Washington and Dorrestein nicked up there's almost a solid two-deep of players who Michigan could throw on the field without panic:

1. Lewan/Schilling/Khoury/Omameh/Huyge
2. Barnum/Ferrara/Mealer/?/Schofield

Getting Molk back will give Michigan a buffer of three or four competent backup offensive linemen.

Miscellaneous

Remember last year's complaint about Michigan potentially tipping their run plays based on the position of the quarterback? This was the setup position on a zone stretch…

zone-read-stretch

…and this was Michigan's belly (which this blog called "veer") series:

zone-read-belly

From the sideline shot it's pretty obvious what's going on here. QB in front of RB: north-south. QB behind RB: east-west. I'm not entirely sure a defense is going to be aware enough to make an adjustment based on this—it's a lot easier to tell when you're way far away on a sideline—but it can't help.

The coaches apparently have the same concern. They've moved away from this paradigm in favor of something they believe will disguise their intent better. What it is I don't know. It sounds like at the very least the QB is going to move late, like a split second before the snap, if not after. This strikes me as something that Debord would never do.

(FWIW: They did try to mix it up some after practicing for Illinois' zone read veer—which I think is, like, really a veer until someone corrects me on it in the next 60 seconds—but that wasn't successful and was abandoned. I wouldn't write it off entirely, FWIW. It's possible a newly capable Denard Robinson makes that crazy effective.)

Defense tomorrow.

Preview 2009: Special Teams

Preview 2009: Special Teams

Submitted by Brian on September 4th, 2009 at 10:17 AM

Part nine of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009, quarterbacks, tailbacks, receivers, offensive line, secondary, linebackers, and defensive line.

Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.

Overall rating: 4.

Depth Chart
Punter Yr. Kicker Yr. Punt Return Yr. SDE Yr.
Zoltan Mesko Sr.* Jason Olesnavage Sr.* Martavious Odoms So. Boubacar Cissoko So.
Bryan Wright Jr.* Brendan Gibbons Fr. Greg Mathews Sr. Martavious Odoms So.
-- - Bryan Wright Jr.* Terrance Robinson Fr.* Carlos Brown Sr.

Punter

zoltan-mesko zoltan-high-step 

Rating: 6!!!

One of my slides when I went out to New York to talk to the alumni club there was titled "I Love Rugby Punting And So Do You," and this command now extends to the entire readership. Michigan's punt game in 2007 and 2008:

  2007 2008
Kick Average 41 42
Return Pct. 41% 25%
Ret Avg 7.3 7.8
Net 35.9 39.3
Awesome Highstepping Fakes 0 2

Michigan increased the average distance of their punts and still managed to reduce returns by 40%. Across the 83 (ugh) punts Michigan launched last year, the increase in average was worth 282 yards. That's a huge source of hidden yards. And also awesome highstepping fakes.

And though the average doesn't actually show it, I'm of the opinion that the rugby punting significantly reduced the chances of an opponent breaking a big return. The delay allowed by the rollout coupled with the spread formation allows players to get free releases once the punt is off instead of worrying about blocking a guy and then releasing. Guys get downfield quicker, and there more of them.

All this resulted in Michigan's punt game finishing #5 nationally. Zoltan returns and should at least replicate last year's feats, perhaps with a side of curing cancer. If he does, this blog is going to try to get him a Heisman vote. Just one.

Kicker

Rating: ?

Projecting kickers you've never seen before is a rube's game, so this will be brief. But I have some disquiet for these reasons:

  • Olesnavage couldn't beat out the walk-ons who preceded him; Kickin' Competency Lopata was pretty erratic last year.
  • Olesnavage was the guy in the spring game; the kicking demonstration early was sort of a fiasco.
  • I'd rather see the touted freshman win the job because I assume he's got higher upside than the fifth-year walkon.

Rodriguez, FWIW:

Jason Olesnavage is the first one out of the gate right now. He has kicked pretty well, pretty consistent. Some days have been better than others. Brendan Gibbons, Bryan Wright and Kris Pauloski are the other three in camp and they’ve all had their moments. That’s an area that again none of them have kicked in a game quality kicks yet. We are going to try and put them under pressure the next few days and see if there is anybody else emerges or who kind of takes control of it.”

I'm slightly mollified by the idea that if Olesnavage is about equal with Gibbons, you might as well redshirt your freshman.

I don't know what happens here; I'll be happy with consistency from 40 and in.

Return Game

martavious-odoms-fumble cissoko-fumble

Rating: 3?

HOLD ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL

End preview section.

No, not really. Okay. Okay, so if you ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Michigan's returns last year were okay. Both units finished in the middle of the pack nationally and Martavious Odoms ripped off a punt return touchdown. Both primary returners—Cissoko took control of the kick returns by midseason—were freshmen and return, so you'd expect some improvement there, primarily in their effort to

HOLD ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL

One concern: Michigan's operating considerably shorthanded this year, which might cause the special teams to get filled out with walk-ons and whatnot instead of backup scholarship players. This might be a slight drag on Michigan's ability to block dudes.

Another note: Michigan's a lot deeper in little dodgy guys this year and so if Odoms can't

HOLD ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL

he'll get a quick hook, at which point it sounds like you might see Terrance Robinson:

On punt returns, Donovan Warren, Terrence Robinson, Martavious Odoms and Greg Mathews all worked on returns. In semi-live punt returning, Robinson made a couple of tough reads and catches. Granted, it's a small, small subset of what really goes on, but he seems to be separating himself a little bit.

I'd like to avoid whatever small possibility there is that Donovan Warren gets pwned on a return. It would be one thing if he'd shown any ability to actually return a punt; he hasn't. Throwing an average returner out there who happens to be one of your most critical players on a thin, thin defense doesn't make much sense.

I do assume that the fumbles will come down to a reasonable level; Michigan projects to be average here.