Mailbag: Grayshirting, DTs, More Borges Comment Count

Brian July 5th, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Brian -

I was wondering if you could answer the question as to why Jeremy Clark and Michigan would pursue a grey shirt versus a preferred walk-on.  In both cases the player has to pay their own way until a scholarship is available.  But with a grey shirt you can't practice with the team at all.  Is the thinking that they would then get a psuedo sixth year?  I would think having the player on campus and practicing with the team as a walk-on that first year would be better than hoping he earns a scholarship by sitting around doing nothing for a year. 

Also, I know we all share concerns about the size of this class and where the scholarships will come from - but I have a more specific question for you.  How do you feel about only taking one at the DT spot?  My thinking is that it is one of the hardest positions to project (cough-Will Campbell-cough), you need a healthy rotation of players, and you need size.  I have no idea why the staff wouldn't want two true defensive tackles in this class given the lack of depth and talent at that position.  I would even take one lower rated DT in this class if you get a star DT with another scholarship.  I think that's far more important than just about every other position at this point. 

Chicago, IL

On grayshirting: you do get a psuedo-sixth year since your eligibility clock does not start ticking until the subsequent year if you are a mid-year enrollee. Clark could enroll, redshirt, and have four years of eligibility starting in in 2014. Enrolling in the fall starts your clock, so the fall of 2012 would be Clark's redshirt year. Also, being a preferred walk-on costs money.

I'm not actually sure what path Clark will take since grayshirting is an overloaded term that refers to both enrolling without a scholarship and not enrolling until winter. It could be either depending on how quickly Michigan thinks they'd want to deploy Clark and if he wants to/can make the financial sacrifice to enroll without a scholarship.

On the defensive tackle spot: I don't think anyone gets Michigan's plan there. When the 2012 class hits campus the only potential nose tackles on the roster are Quinton Washington and Richard Ash; the only three-techs are Will Campbell and Terrance Talbott. Both Talbott and Ash have been dogged with rumors they have health issues and neither was exactly a slam-dunk recruit. No one has played; Michigan took no true DTs a year ago. Campbell will be a senior and Washington a junior.

Meanwhile, the defensive line sees more rotation than any other position in football—Michigan rotated four guys last year even when the options were walk-ons and journeymen like Adam Patterson.

So it seems nuts to me to turn down a consensus four star DT with the offers to match, as it seems they will if Pipkins and O'Brien both want to sign up. Even if they can move some combination of Godin/Wormley/Strobel/Rock/Wilkins inside, those guys are all tall dudes who probably can't deal with the nose.

That leaves essentially no one after Martin graduates. Hoke's made all the right moves so far but if he takes a scholarship fullback over a desperately-needed nose tackle people should question that.

Hi Brian,
First, the giant scoreboard at Yost:  on the post today it indeed appears to be gigantic and I was wondering if you had a chance yet to see if this thing might interfere with sightlines across the ice or corner to corner?  Don't know if anyone remembers/cares, but there was a giant block hangy-downy scoreboard there back at Yost in the early 80's and it hung down too far.  If you were sitting really high up in the endzones or even in the top couple of rows on the sidelines, the scoreboard actually hung down far enough to block your view across the ice.  It was worse than obstructed view at Tiger Stadium, though I guess that might be because Larry Herndon never ran very far.  So, the end-zone scoreboards were actually an innovation kind of because there were then no seats obstructed by the scoreboard hanging down.  Someone must have thought about that one before they hung this thing, right?  I am suspicious of change, get off the lawn, I miss the Apple IIC, etc. 

The board is currently closer to the ice than it will be when it is finally deployed, and while it's certainly larger than the current one I don't think it's significantly taller. And the top couple rows on the sidelines are now usually vacant because of overhangs.

Second, we've seen a lot of decision matrices about 4th down, go for it vs. field goal vs punt on different places on the field.  Would it be possible for someone to do a historic survey? 

For example, I bet that matrix looked a lot different for a 1972 Bo team than for a 1998 Lloyd team because of the efficiency - or not - of the passing game back then.  Bo going for it on 4th and 7 with his option teams was a totally different animal than Carr going for it on 4th and 7 with Henne and Braylon.  I guess what I'm asking is, can those 4th and charts be adjusted backwards for inflation?  I bet they would explain a lot about the evolution of 4th-and theory and about Carr's reluctance to not punt from the opponent's 41. 

A historic survey is outside the scope of a mailbag response but it's probably unnecessary anyway since the Mathlete tackled something similar in a past diary that got bumped to the front page. Two charts, one for high offensive expectation…

…and one for low offensive expectation…

…show the increasing viability of the punt as scoring decreases.

Game theory in the paleolithic era was probably better than it was over the past 20 years. It seems we've passed an inflection point where going for it is the choice, but teams are still being coached by guys who came up under old school coaches who had totally different probabilities in their head. It's like adding four cards to a deck and asking 1950s poker players to cope—eventually they'll make a mistake because the game has changed.

I think it is worth noting that the West Coast offense, which Borges favors, can be traced directly back to Sid Gillman, the same Sid Gillman whose offensive style was loathed by manball loving Woody Hayes when the two of them were rivals at Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio respectively. Also, the most famous west coast quarterback of all time is Joe Montana, and he was hardly an immobile pocket passer.

I am probably being overly optimistic, but do you think there is a possibility that Michigan's offense in 2011 will resemble Auburn's 2010 offense in that it will be a hybrid of spread elements and pro-style elements? Yes I realize that Denard's skill set is not identical to Cam Newton's, but based on some of the remarks Borges has made and Hoke's likely realization that Michigan fans aren't going to be patient for wins, I think this is the most likely direction for the offense.


I'm not sure I agree with the above emailer's police work there. Auburns' offense worked so well because they didn't even need any semblance of a pro-style attack because an inverted veer with Cam Newton was short-yardage gold. Newton was recruited to run the same offense he did run. When there was a mismatch between the offensive coordinator's vision, that of the head coach, and available personnel, both Tony Franklin and Tommy Tuberville got fired. Auburn is not a good analogue.

I'm not sure if there is in fact a good analogue for the transformation Denard is going to be asked to make. Usually when you have a talent like him at quarterback the head coach doesn't get fired because you win a bunch of games. I've searched my memory banks for an example of a successful returning spread quarterback dealing with a new, more pro-style system and can only recall the most ironic possible name: Pat White.

White, of course, was coming off of West Virginia's 48-28 demolition of Oklahoma; WVU was third nationally in rushing offense, 15th in yardage, and 9th in scoring. The next year Rodriguez was out and Bill Stewart brought in Jeff Mullen from Wake Forest; Mullen preached balance but seemed to respect the accomplishments of the previous regime:

“I don’t want it to be too much different. You’re talking about a group of men who left here who were very successful coaches, and they installed one of the best offenses in the country. I’m not going to come in here and turn it around,” he said.

WVU still ran the spread but lost some of its maniacal dependence on the run (70% in RR's last year, 63% in Stewart's first) and large chunks of its derring-do. West Virginia lost almost a yard per carry in the transition despite running less and retaining White and Noel Devine. Total yardage dropped to 59th, scoring to 73rd. You will not be thrilled to hear that turnover margin remained as ludicrously good as it was for the bulk of Rodriguez's tenure.

I think something like that dropoff may be in the cards for Michigan. Mullen was no slouch. He was able to staple together decent outfits at Wake Forest despite having a massive injury plague strike his already-depleted roster. But his expertise did not align with the skills of his offense and as a result a bunch of returning starters got a lot less explosive.

I do think Al Borges is going to put together something that tries to take advantage of the parts he has. If I had to guess I'd say Brady Hoke's public statements about manball are just statements—at San Diego State Borges had full sway to do what he wanted, and what he wanted was a lot of different things including quite a bit of zone running. But you can't expect Borges to be Rich Rodriguez when he's spent much of his career fiddling with passing routes instead of the slight adjustments Rodriguez used to keep Robinson ahead of the pack.

The falloff from the transition probably won't be as bad* but if Borges can just maintain Michigan's YPC I'll be thrilled.

*[Reasons: The offense wasn't as good as that WVU unit and shouldn't be exposed to such a withering regression to the mean, Denard is lower on his learning curve than White, there's no equivalent to losing Slaton, general coaching ept-ness will probably go up, field goals.]



July 5th, 2011 at 2:14 PM ^

I spend large amounts of time convincing myself that there isn't a mentality amongst the coaches that their extensive DL background will allow them to mold something greater than the talent on hand would suggest - maybe something akin to NFL coaches looking only at measurables and convincing themselves they can coach up a player who has [insert problem here]


July 5th, 2011 at 3:09 PM ^

... women who think, "oh, I'm the one who can finally polish off this guy's rough edges, though all before me have failed..."    Years later, they find they're married to a 35-year old frat boy.  Some groups of people, e.g. women, DL coaches, might simply be skewed as a population toward optimism.


July 5th, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

...a grayshirt > a preferred walk-on offer is that the grayshirt comes with a promise of a scholarship after only one semester in school while the preferred walk on offer only means the student-athlete is assured of making the team when you show up for practice. A future scholarship depends on performance and availability (a fairly remote probability of occurrence).


July 5th, 2011 at 8:55 PM ^

Yes, that's the difference between a typical greyshirt and a typical preferred walk-on, but I think what the emailer was asking about is something between. Not treating Clark as a typical preferred walk-on who would need to earn a scholarship, but have it be a situation where he had to pay his own way as a walk-on for his first semester while practicing with the team and redshirting, with the promise that in January he would be given a 4-year scholarship as if he had greyshirted.  The difference being he had that semester to practice with his position group and the UM coaches.  The downside being that fall would be his redshirt year and he'd only have 4 more years to play, unlike the greyshirt scenario where he could redshirt in 2013 after not playing at all in 2012. 

I'm thinking it's more beneficial, especially in the short term, for us to have a guy start practicing with the team ASAP than it is to have him for an extra year in 2017. 


July 5th, 2011 at 2:28 PM ^

When RichRod was hired I believed very much in his ability to 'stay ahead of the pack.' Having watched what looked like the pack catching up to him while he was at Michigan, I am no longer so positive about the magic of his tinkering.

Over the years, I have enjoyed very much the various post showing RichRod's schematic trickeration. However, I get the impression at Michigan he had mostly the same kinds misdirection run/pass stuff every good play caller. It just looked different. How was Denard stepping back and hitting Terrance Robinson down the middle any different from a Henne play action to Mario on a double move?

When push came to shove, it was Denard on the QB lead draw or QB sweep relying on his speed more than RichRod's brain. There didn't seem to be any magic left in RichRod's playbook to get the RBs working in 2010.

The offense was good but for me the bloom is off the rose in terms of the genius of Richard Rodriguez.


July 5th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

From what I've gathered, the "genius" of the spread comes from the simplification of 22 guys down to 1 or 2 keys on defense. The QB basically gets into a situation where he can think "If this guy does X, I do A, if he does Y, I do B." For example, Fake QB Iso Oh No! looks like this: step toward offensive line. Look at Safety. If Safety bites on the fake, hit guy hand-wavingly open. If not, run for daylight.

Don't ever forget that Denard was a true sophmore playing in that offense, and Tate did pretty well as a true freshman.The ability to change out of basic play looks, without tipping the defense until the play is under way, gives the offense a huge advantage. Zone read->Zone read keep->Zone read look veer-> Zone read look keep bubble screen->Zone read look keep fake bubble slant and on and on.


July 5th, 2011 at 3:25 PM ^

when they ran the offense, RR had 3 years of always having a first year QB running his offense.  That is one of the big reasons that RR (and many of us) would have liked to see him get a 4th year.


July 5th, 2011 at 3:26 PM ^

If anything, I think Coach Rodriguez over strategized for the players is his system.  You will find very few football coaches who question his genius, but imo his handling of personnel was the offenses achilles heel (example: using Smith in short yardage situations). 

MI Expat NY

July 5th, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

I'm ok with your opinion that RR was coming back to the pack in terms of innovation.  However, I think you're greatly devaluing the number of wide open TD passes the offense produced.  Yes, other offenses create wide open TD passes, but not nearly to the same degree.  The offense last year was able to consistently have a guy so wide open in the middle of the field that an extremely easy, not too deep pass was going to result in a TD.  To do that game after game was impressive.  To use your example, Manningham wasn't that wide open on double moves very often, and even when he was it took much more skill on the part of Henne and Manningham to execute.  


July 5th, 2011 at 3:42 PM ^

Probably because there was no double move, not even on TR's part.  A pump fake (vs. UConn)is a pump fake, and a step toward the line (ND, IU, etc) is a step. You can draw it up and anyone can run it. A good double move, for whatever reason, takes a special route runner to pull off.  Other than MM from time to time, I don't remember a lot of ridiculously wide-open receivers running loose in the Bo, Moeller, or Carr eras.  To me, that suggests Rich Rod's scheme had a lot more to do with the number of totally uncovered routes in 2010.  The rest might have been the serious case of the yips that Denard gave DBs by, oh, 1 quarter into last season. 

Bottom line on RR's offensive mind, for my part, is that the insane improvement from the ninth circle of (arguably schematically self-imposed) offensive hell in 2008 to an imperfect but fearsome offense in 2010 suggested (i) he earned the offensive genius title and (ii) even better things were probably coming in 2011 on that one side of the ball with the returning starters and the addition of Dee Hart.  We'll never know, and I'm one of those defense-wins-championships types anyway.  But that offense (FG kicking aside) was eye candy by the time he got it set up, and I give the man credit for doing that in the absence of a great back. 

The "it was all Denard Robinson" argument doesn't fly-- they were saying the same thing about Shaun King, Woody Dantzler, and especially Pat White.  All great coaches have some key talent.  Maximizing the return on the talent seems to be the appropriate measure, and he did well on that one side of the ball.  Elsewhere... eh, not so much. 


July 5th, 2011 at 6:29 PM ^

Denard, a person who I worried if he would ever remotely be an accurate passer during his freshman year, somehow by just doing a "QB lead draw or QB sweep relying on his speed" threw for 2570 yards last year. That's b/c the RR spread got people wide-freaking open more times than I can ever recall, including teams that had superstar talent at receiver (e.g., Howard, Alexander, Toomer, Edwards).  By comparison, Chad Henne threw for 2526 yards his sophomore year.

Even in games where Michigan underperformed (e.g., the 1st half of Wisconsin) the plays were there.  For example, I think we all remember on the first play of one the early drives, Stonum breaking wide-open (b/c the D bit on the play-action) for a likely touchdown and Denard airmailing it about 5 yards over his head.

Denard was a 1st-year starter who was still improving his decision making and accuracy.  It's extremely likely he would have been more efficient this year in an RR offense precisely b/c his skills fit it so well - that's why U of M got him instead of, say, Florida (to Urban Meyer's chagrin).  Hopefully, we'll somehow get lucky and Denard will continue to throw for 2000+ yards, with less INTs and only have to run for about 750 yards b/c Stephen Hopkins (or Fitz or Cox or whomever) turns into Ty Wheatley Jr - but that's not likely, just b/c a new offense takes time.


July 5th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

At least oficially. If we take 2 for 2012 then maybe the coaches were just slowing recruiting down with the "only 1 more" talk. With us taking 4 OL last year and maybe 6+ this year it's not out of the question for an interior lineman to move to DT, especially since several of last years kids played both ways in high school. Either way, no worries.


July 5th, 2011 at 3:06 PM ^

There's no way we say no to any of: Shittu, Pipkins, or Obrien. Yes I know that what I just said could conceivably yield 3 DT's, but that could be the case. There's alot of flexibility between now and February, and those 3 DT's would be all be considered "find a spot" type recruits given the giant question mark at that position in 2012 and 2013.
<br>If Kalis commits, the coaches may be done with OL; and the RB, QB, WR positions could see anywhere from 1-5 guys total, which would greatly impact the other spots.
<br>But all that being said, there's nothing more important for the coaches at this point in recruiting, than to find a WR or two and a DT or two, who can immediately contribute as true freshman.


July 5th, 2011 at 3:11 PM ^

I don't understand why anyone would cite turnover margin when talking about an offense since half the stat relies on defensive takeaways.

If we ignore games against non-conference opponents of highly variable quality and focus on  games against its Big East peers, WVU's offense was mediocre at turning the ball over under Rodriguez (5th in 2006 and 5th in 2007).  As soon as Rodriguez left, WVU jumped to the top of the pack (1st in 2008 and 2nd in 2009).  To me, this indicates Rodriguez ran an offense that was explosive against most everyone but was especially turnover-prone against teams of similar quality (i.e. conference opponents.)

This sounds similar to the performance of the offense in 2010 at Michigan: explosive against non-conference opponents and inconsistently explosive and highly turnover-prone in conference.


July 5th, 2011 at 3:20 PM ^

Brian wrote: The falloff from the transition probably won't be as bad* but if Borges can just maintain Michigan's YPC I'll be thrilled.

I respond: The offense will not be the unit that leads Michigan to 10 wins in 2011. I think we all just learned that lesson in the 2010 season.

El Jeffe

July 5th, 2011 at 11:23 PM ^

Word. It goes like this:

Slight regression to the mean on offense + big regression to the mean on defense = Happypantz.

The question will be just how big the two regressions are. Optimists say small on O and big on D. Pessimists say the reverse. That diagreement leads to either a sunny 10-win prediction or a gloomy 7-win prediction.

I tend to fall on the optimistic side because I want to have hope that Mattison is a genius and that young men get better at football as they get older.


July 5th, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

People forget that Denard Robinson was a true sophomore last year and that Michigan was not running very much, if any, of the WVU two-back spread option series plays.  I don't believe Rodriguez ever installed the offense completely at Michigan. Rodriguez definitely inserted new wrinkles and minor adjustments to increase productivity and variation.  But for the most part all we saw was Denard Robinson taking the snap out of the shotgun and running off tackle like something out of a 1930s-1940s vintage football film. 

And that's not what made WVU's offense finish No. 3 in rushing in 2007, No. 2 in 2006 or No. 5 in 2005.. The reason Michigan finished only 11th in the nation rushing last was because of

a.) Denard Robinson and

b.) no threatening alternative.  

Michigan hasn't had a healthy tailback on the roster since 2006 (Hart's jr. year).

So while it's really tough to project what DRob + Borges equals for 2011, we do know what Borges is really good at - and that's featuring explosive and dangerous tailbacks - whether off tackle or as receivers.   

Skip Hicks, Deshaun Foster, Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis, Cadillac Williams, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate, Ronnie Hillman were very successful and productive players in Borges' offense regardless.

If I'm a Michael Shaw or a Fitzgerald Toussaint or Vincent Smith right now, it'd be hard to conceil my grin.  And I'd probably want to buckle up. 

I watched the SDSU-Air Force game over the weekend on FSN.  Offensively, SDSU threw everything but the kitchen sink at Air Force ( I-form, pro set split backs, spread w/zone read) and still almost lost the damn game to a wishbone team.   SDSU was outrushed and outgained by AF, but it was Hoke's only win over a ranked opponent last year.

 Star player of the game?

Tailback Ronnie Hillmann with 191 yards on 24 carries and 2 touchdowns.

Robinson is without question the most explosive guy on the field, and I'm sure he'll be used.  But the players who stand the most to gain from this coaching change (Hoke, Borges) are not called Denard Robinson.  I would start looking at who UM features at the WR and RB spots, because with Borge up in the booth calling plays, the offensive productivity will be shifting over to those dudes starting this year.



July 6th, 2011 at 10:09 AM ^

One of the biggest problems with the offense last year (aside from redzone execution) was the fact that Denard had no help. By the end of the season, Denard was beat up and worn down from over use. I think everyone can agree that getting the RBs more effectively involved and reducing Denard's number of carries is necessary.

Borges has suggested he will do both of those things. While this scares people because Denard is so freaking good and he was Michigan's offense in 2010, it is necessary.

True Blue Grit

July 5th, 2011 at 3:45 PM ^

I agree with Brian that signing a fullback over a good DT or NT right now would be almost crazy.  I realize we need a true FB, but I think we could do without one in this class given our other needs.  And building a great defense starts with a great defensive line.  To me, Pipkins is a critical recruit given Martin's departure and the question marks with the other guys left.