Spring Roundup The Second

Submitted by Brian on April 19th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

A Thing About Denard And Tate

denard-robinson-is-made-of-dilithium The new official picture of "Denard Robinson is made of dilithium." Via MVictors.

Yet more on the quarterback situation because that's all anyone is talking about: it seems to me like the correct stance to take in the aftermath of Denard going 9/11 for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the air is to declare Game On. But only that.

I've seen a ton about how Denard is just a better fit for Michigan's offense and Rodriguez has wanted Pat White 2.0 since he got here and Tate is doomed because of the zone read and basically disintegrated over the course of the season and is probably going to transfer as he is destined to by his genetic heritage. I've also seen a lot of people saying "now wait just a minute" to the Forcier doomsayers, and I'm with them:

  • Forcier had a midseason lull but two of his best games of the season came against Purdue and Wisconsin. Against UW he was 20 for 26; against Purdue he was a lot closer to 50% but suffered a ton of drops. His trajectory is not straight down. He even looked good against Ohio State when not offering up one of his hair-pulling, soul-destroying turnovers.
  • Forcier's main problem on the zone read was making good decisions or fakes. These were made more difficult by the defense focusing on the run game because Forcier's ability to make decisions in the pocket was limited. He pulled the ball way too much, didn't let the fake "ride" a la Juice Williams, and faced down a defensive end as a result. He then juked this guy 80% of the time and picked up positive yardage. If the defense is sufficiently focused on the tailback and Forcier develops his fakes as much as Denard develops his passing, he can be an effective zone read alternative.
  • Last year's offensive line was very shaky on the right side, which led to a lot of justified scrambles.

Tate is not out of it by any means, and since the two quarterbacks are so different it looks like the backup will get a large number of snaps anyway.

What the spring game (and spring in general) did was stand the horse race on its nose. Robinson looked better on Saturday. He looked better in the clinic scrimmage, when he was live and splitting first team reps with Forcier. He looked better over the entirety of spring, which is the reason he was afforded the easy matchup Saturday. One 97-yard touchdown to Roy Roundtree might not mean much, but 15 practices does.

The ones-vs-twos is a big deal, but maybe not as big a deal as the few remaining Denard skeptics—still clinging tight to that Betamax stock—have made it. Last year Robinson was having a Man vs Himself battle. Seeing him develop to the point where you need to see a Man vs Man conflict is immense. Hopefully by this time next year we're sending him off to fight Icelandic volcanoes.

Running Backs Are Indeterminate

Another source of persistent unexpressed disagreement in the last couple days: a steady pessimism about Michigan's tailback situation. I haven't seen anyone say "hey how about that run defense"; the assumption is a lack of big runs from the tailbacks means Michigan is going to be putting out some crappy tailbacks next year. I don't think that's necessarily true.  Vincent Smith had a tantalizing cameo last year, and he did nothing of note in the spring game. A few carries here or there isn't a whole lot to draw conclusions about, and even so there were a couple of nice runs from Cox.

Michigan isn't going to have the best back in the conference or anything but they've got enough of a stable to have a good running game. And what would a discussion of the tailbacks be without Fred Jackson proclaiming something the best ever?

“I think I’ve got the best blocking tandem, I didn’t say running back tandem, but best blocking tandem I’ve had,” Jackson said. “I’ve got three or four guys that based on the pictures and movies, how you want to see it done. It’s more than I’ve ever had at one time.”

Never change, Fred.

Defense

Hell I if know. I'm planning something resembling a UFR and will be able to tell you more after that, but probably not that much with Martin and Woolfolk out and the first-teamers going up against second-string offensive lineman and not blitzing and etc. etc. etc. It's clear this isn't going to be a vintage unit. Latest hint from Woolfolk:

"We're mostly just focusing on zones, which is easier than playing man," said Woolfolk. "But I would like to go back to doing more man coverage and stuff. It's easier, but pertaining to the players we have on defense, that probably makes it easier for us to play. Keeping it simple allows us to play more instead of thinking too much and slowing down. It allows us to react and get to the ball faster."

My hope for the defense is something relatively stout against the run and functional enough in the secondary to force opponents into long drives if they want to score. Average would be fine.

Video Of All Varieties

Highlights and errata:

Here's an ebullient Denard Robinson in the locker room:

"Ebullient" as defined by answers.com: "zestfully enthusiastic." There's plenty more in a diary from Boyz in the Pahokee. TYT has posted an SD torrent; MGoVideo is planning an HD one tomorrow. There is also a browser-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football.

A zillion photographs

If you want more photographs than are crammed into this post, boy howdy are you in luck. AnnArbor.com has a flickr set, as does the Daily. MVictors and Maize and Blue Nation also file photoposts. MnBN found the letters from the top of the press box:

michigan-stadium-lettering-1 michigan-stadium-lettering-2

They're outside sections 2 and 44. It's too bad they couldn't find someplace a little more prominent, but at least they're still around. Also… isn't the S the wrong way?

Quarterback Stuff From Teammates

Tim paraphrased Roy Roundtree's take on the guys throwing it to him earlier, but here's a fuller quote that we can read too much into:

"He’s really been working on his technique," Roundtree said. "All the quarterbacks have, but Denard has really been working on his technique, his touch on the ball instead of throwing it so hard. And this year it shows so far what he did."

More Roundtreee on Robinson:

Roundtree said Saturday actually was Robinson's "second-best" practice of the spring.

"Last scrimmage (a week ago), he did really well," Roundtree said.

Thus both clinic observers giving the starting QB nod to Denard after that scrimmage. Of note: that was not a strictly ones-vs-twos setup like the spring game. In that scrimmage both Tate and Denard got extensive reps with the first team against various first and second team defenses, and Roundtree thought he did better than he did on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Van Bergen's full LAZERZ quote:

"I think Denard has probably made the most progression. I think he's developed a whole new aspect of his game as far as making great reads and making great throws.

"His throws are on lasers now. He's not throwing balls up for grabs. He's putting them right on receivers, and I think the fact he can scramble while looking downfield is really something that's helped him because last year when he pulled it down, he was going to run. But this year, he's got his eyes downfield, and they're making even bigger plays. He's dangerous. I think he's probably made the most progression, but I think they've all done really good things."

In the future, Denard Robinson will still be made of dilithium; his arm will be made of lasers.

Injuries

There were plenty of folks who sat out Saturday with injuries of some varieties, including five or six possible starters. The good news is that only walk-on DE Will Heininger will see his injury last into the season. There had been some uncertainty about Vincent Smith but the latest on him is that he should be "fully recovered by preseason camp." If that holds up he's probably your opening-day starter barring a summer renaissance from the rest of the depth chart.

The rest of the injuries range from minor dings to stuff that happened a long time ago horrific bone breaks that just provide an opportunity to work on your standup. Troy Woolfolk's comedic alter-ego:

"I’m going to introduce you all to something," Woolfolk said. "Y’all know me, myself, Troy, but I have a split personality named T-Wolf. When I’m on the field, T-Wolf comes out. T-Wolf doesn’t know how to cry, that’s only a trait that Troy does. Right now, this is Troy. T-Wolf, he’s crazy and I can’t bring him out all the time, I only let him come out on the field. T-Wolf doesn’t have that ability to cry, so that would never happen."

Knock on wood and all that but sounds like everyone should be ready to go for summer conditioning. The most damaged Wolverine may actually be RB coach Fred Jackson, who got stepped on by Kevin Koger. Maybe:

"Supposedly, I'm the one who broke his foot - supposedly, though," Koger said. "It was a 86 on film, but there's no name on the back (of the jersey). So it could have been any 86."

Opponents

Purdue's spring game saw the Boiler debut of Miami transfer and presumptive starting quarterback Robert Marve.  Marve was meh:

Robert Marve talked about "putting on a show" for the fans. Quite simply, he didn't...But how could he with this format? He threw a couple of good balls (for instance, a long pump and go to Cortez Smith for the longest TD of the game), showed the burst of speed that Hope had bragged about...but never got into rhythm for multiple reasons...and just plain missed on quite a few throws. But, he does have an arm.

Iowa's spring game was a Carr special: sparsely attended and no different than a usual practice. Ohio State offensive line is in flux and Pryor didn't have a great day statistically but Buckeye Football Analysis is pretty sanguine about things.

A poster attempted to ferret out what's going on with UConn but didn't come up with much outside of the usual "is this good or bad" stuff.

Errata

As always: exploit your kid for youtube fame and I post.

Also, MVictors talks to Jimmy King and '64 captain Jim Conley about their performances in the alumni game. DocSat on Denard.  Game recaps from Maize n Brew and Maize and Go Blue. Daily on Cam Gordon.

Comments

Oaktown Wolverine

April 19th, 2010 at 4:45 PM ^

quote "If we take out DSU, Wisconsin, and OSU, Smith had 15 carries for 50 yards. That's 3.3 yards per carry. Any way you slice it (unless you slice it to include DSU), Smith's numbers were forgettable."

also quote "I know the other running backs have their faults, too, but 3.55 yards per carry and zero touchdowns doesn't show me that he's a gimme for being at the top of the depth chart"

I guess I took that to mean that you thought his yards per carry were too low.

Brian

April 19th, 2010 at 4:19 PM ^

We're talking about 15 carries? I think you jump to conclusions too fast. You assert that Schofield is never going to play and he's a redshirt freshman OL. I bet the coaches don't even know if he's going to pay. Now you're trying to pan Vincent Smith based on 15 carries as a true freshman. There's not enough data to confidently declare anything; we do know that late last year when Michigan needed a guy who was not Brown or Minor it was Smith who got the call ahead of guys with more experience.

Magnus

April 19th, 2010 at 4:46 PM ^

a) I'm not giving up on Schofield or Smith. My opinion on them coming out of high school was that they were not high-caliber players. I will still root for them out on the field. But I can't help it if I think that other players are/will be better than them.

b) I'm not trying to "pan" Vincent Smith. I'm saying his statistics aren't great, he's coming off of ACL surgery, and there are other decent options at running back. All of this does not equal FALL STARTER, in my opinion. In fact, I'd be much more inclined to consider Smith a possible starter for the 2011 season, since he'll be recovered further from his surgery.

c) Smith did get the call ahead of other guys, but that doesn't mean that pecking order will remain the same for the rest of Smith's career. Laterryal Savoy started and played a lot at WR in 2008; in 2009...not so much. Toussaint is healthy, Shaw will hopefully be healthy, and Cox has potential.

colin

April 19th, 2010 at 5:22 PM ^

that 15 carries is way too few to make judgments, but do we know about when yards per carry becomes a meaningful statistic? i've never seen a study like that done, but you could definitely use mathlete's database to figure it out.

chitownblue2

April 19th, 2010 at 4:28 PM ^

Hi Magnus.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sample_size

Remember 2 years ago when everyone (me included) was talking about Minor's fumbling problems, and how he was, at that time, the most fumble-prone RB Michigan had in over a decade - moreso than Kevin Grady and broken-handed Carlos Brown?

Remember when you told us, as it turns out, rightly, to shut it, because he was doing other things well, and we were basing our evaluation on a handful of plays? Remember this?

You should remember this when you start quoting a guys stats on 15 carries vs. the two best rushing defenses in the Big 10 as if they have any meaning, at all.

Magnus

April 19th, 2010 at 4:40 PM ^

FWIW, although I haven't included it in my argument, I have never been impressed with Smith's abilities as a running back. I wasn't high on him coming out of high school, and his stats as a collegian aren't impressive.

I admit that it's a small sample size. That doesn't mean that the sample set is completely useless.

chitownblue2

April 19th, 2010 at 4:53 PM ^

I admit that it's a small sample size. That doesn't mean that the sample set is completely useless.

Actually, it does. That's the point of "small sample size".

What YOU mean is that "That doesn't mean that my conclusion that I don't have sufficient evidence to support is wrong." Which is true. You may be right.

Magnus

April 19th, 2010 at 4:58 PM ^

A small sample size is inconclusive. This sample size is not the entire basis for my argument, only a part of it.

In addition to the statistics, I've seen these players play. They are not just numbers that popped up on the screen. It is the way in which those numbers were earned that leads me to the conclusion.

For example, even though neither Smith nor Shaw has had an 80-yard run, I think it's more likely that Shaw breaks a long run because he's faster. I think it's more likely that Cox breaks a lot of tackles, because I've seen how hard he runs and he has the size/strength to do it. Etc.

msoccer10

April 20th, 2010 at 12:28 PM ^

in that I think the Smith hype is exagerated, especially when you consider the ACL tear. But to be fair, if we are talking about skill sets we have seen demonstrated in a live college game, Smith definetely has shown the most lateral quickness and elusiveness in a tight space. He is less likely to take one to the house than Shaw or break a tackle than Cox but he is far more likely (when healthy) to juke someone or slip through a tight space for a few critical yards. That being said, I, like you, hope Toussaint elevates his game because I think he has the best combination of moves, speed and power of our current group of running backs. Unfortunately, we haven't seen him in a real college game yet, so we won't know for sometime if he will be the man.

Monocle Smile

April 19th, 2010 at 3:23 PM ^

I really don't understand the hype either.

Although Smith does have two non-Baby Seal touchdown receptions and can juke guys out of their shorts, I agree that Shaw and Cox (and hopefully Fitz) will be the lead guys. I think as a running back his surgery will have a much greater impact on him than on other position players.

That being said, Smith has demonstrated an aptitude for catching balls out of the backfield, although IIRC Shaw has good hands as well.

tspete

April 19th, 2010 at 3:00 PM ^

Aren't those the letters that faced out to Main? The ones inside the stadium were yellow. Plus at the OSU game, there were a similar set just laying on the ground at the football alumni tailgate (family) on the plaza next to the main stairs. I thought those were from the press box, but when we went in, the old yellow ones were still there. So maybe they'll find a better place for the yellow ones.

e.go.blue

April 19th, 2010 at 5:55 PM ^

Really people, I don't think you can neg him simply for saying he feels one way, hopes he is wrong, and can't wait for September. I mean, I feel that way sometimes. In fact, this is one of the more level-headed posts Mr. Hall has ever made...shouldn't we reward that by either ignoring it voting it up?

CWoodIsMyBoiii

April 19th, 2010 at 3:12 PM ^

I am sure somebody will neg me for grocery shopping with my eyes open, but I was at kroger the night before the spring game getting some food and booze for the tailgate and saw Mike Jones and Vincent Smith at the store. FWIW, Smith looked to be walking without a limp and seemed to be in good spirits.

FightForIowa

April 19th, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

The attendance was just over 23,000, but only the south and west stands were open. In the pictures you are seeing the east stands, so it looks like nobody was there.

Anyway, Robinson scares me as an Iowa fan, especially if he learned to throw. Last year's game Robinson came in and just ran the ball straight down the field when the entire world knew there was no chance he was going to pass. Luckily on the final drive there wasn't enough time left and he had to pass resulting in the game ending interception.

michgoblue

April 19th, 2010 at 3:19 PM ^

I don't think that QBB controversy is the proper term for what we have - the term has a negative connotation. What we have is two quarterbacks, both of whom are capable of starting. Both bring different strengths to the field, and both will help us next season. Ultimately, if DRob has really improved his accuracy and read as much as everyone is saying, I think that he will win the starting job. Remember that Tate's biggest advantage over him was his knowledge of the playbook and his accuracy. If DRob has acught up to Tate in these areas, then his immense advantage in the speed department should lead to him starting. BUT, that is not to say that both will not play. Regardless of which one starts, both are still young kids, and as young kids, are prone to have good games and bad games. It will be a welcome change to have a viable alternative to put in at QB when the starter is having a bad game.

Also, (and I am surprised that there have not been more comments on this), I think that if we line Drob up at slot or wide receiver on plays when he is not starting, it creates the ability for a multitude of trick plays, end arounds, etc., that will keep opposing defenses constantly guessing.

sharkhunter

April 19th, 2010 at 3:33 PM ^

I know it's spring, too early to predict and lots of things can happen including injuries, but Denard and Devin seem to have greater potential to improve and are working hard to do so.

"Tate and Denard are a little bit ahead of Devin, because they have a little more experience," Rodriguez said. "And Denard, overall in the spring, has probably had a few better practices than Tate has."

http://detnews.com/article/20100417/SPORTS0201/4170401/1131/sports/Mich…

Dr. BSD

April 19th, 2010 at 3:42 PM ^

I would be surprised if Smith was the starter to open the season. All the other running backs have had and will continue to have the advantage of improving during spring and summer practice.

jamiemac

April 19th, 2010 at 4:03 PM ^

We are fine at that spot.

Lets let these guys finally get their turn in the sun after waiting behind upperclassmen.

Shoot, two of the main dudes from Saturday have four freaking years of eligibility.

I honestly have no worries about who is going to carry the rock for Michigan in 2010 or beyond.

los barcos

April 19th, 2010 at 4:42 PM ^

is very high right now on denard, understandably. but remember: if he starts against uconn, that would be three (!) new starters in three consecutive years.

granted, it may be a little disingenuous to lump denard into the "new starter" category, but outside of iowa (and a concussed tate) denard was only used as a change-of-pace qb. right now, 1st and goal with a minute left against notre dame, i still want tate making the decisions....

Logan88

April 19th, 2010 at 6:56 PM ^

against Notre Dame, I still want Tate making the decisions." Interestingly, I feel the exact opposite.

I do not care one way or the other which QB starts next year, but in the situation you just mentioned I would much rather have Denard's insane speed on the field with the real threat of him rolling out with the option of throwing a short pass to score or using his feet to run it in. Tate would be more limited in his options in that situation. If UofM was at the 20 yard line with only 6 seconds left and HAD to pass, I would prefer Tate.

BornInAA

April 19th, 2010 at 6:54 PM ^

the leg coming toward us has a bluer sock and the leg kicking back has a more red-ish tone?
I wonder how many seconds Denard's watch is behind everyone else now?
At this rate he will always be a sophomore even 3 years from now.

aaamichfan

April 19th, 2010 at 8:27 PM ^

from one of the AnnArbor.com articles above:

"When he came in with this new offense, he really didn't have anything," Woodley said. "Now, he has an opportunity to turn that around and he's getting the guys he needs in the right spots and things will change up."

kurpit

April 19th, 2010 at 9:54 PM ^

TYPOGRAPHY LESSON

haven't read through all the comments but the "S" is definitely right.
the height of crossbar in the "H" and "A" are the same height as the crossing point of the "S"

it's called x-height

Hannibal.

April 19th, 2010 at 10:44 PM ^

I agree with Magnus on Smith. He has shown shiftiness, balance, and hands, but it hasn't translated into meaningful numbers yet. On top of that it looks likely that he has little to no upside. He's small and slow. He might be a functional stopgap until more talent arrives, and he'll probably be a good third down back. I don't see a lot more than that in his future. We're still looking for our Steve Slaton/Noel Devine.

c williams

April 19th, 2010 at 10:56 PM ^

In 1997, Michigan returned to the well many times on 3rd down in the form of a small, shifty back with good hands and balance.

That back was C. Williams, and he had approximately 30 plays of 9 yards with 8.5 yards to go, thereby keeping the chains and clock moving and scoring drives alive. We would not have been 12-0 without him. No shit.

In 2010, RRod seems to have a decent stable of backs with very different if limited skill sets. Hopefully, he can use them wisely to good effect.

c williams

April 19th, 2010 at 10:46 PM ^

I think Brian's point about both QBs playing lots because they are so different is a great one. Remember Tate's effectiveness was limited when teams starting game planning for him, and Denard wasn't very effective once everyone quickly learned all he could do was run wildcat. Now, what if Tate can run read option better and be more patient in the pocket and Denard can learn plays, run option and throw reasonably well? Now both QBs are pretty effective. If both take significant snaps, RRod can force teams to prepare for two effective QBs, and he can make in game decisions given that few defenses are equally suited to stop two very different, effective QBs. I think the best news by far is that Denard is likely now viable, as Tate already was for the most part. If one ends up with the vast majority of snaps, then he's likely making the offense really hum.

Now, if only they can hold on to the f-ing ball...

Don

April 20th, 2010 at 4:24 AM ^

The argument about who is our most promising RB perfectly captures why it's so hard to come to a strong results-based conclusion about how this team will do in 2010. The returning RB with the largest number carries last year is Vincent Smith, who carried the ball a whopping 48 times in '09. That is the smallest number for the most returning carries by one RB in any year going as far back as the team stats on MGoBlue list, which is 1997. We can analyze the data and refer to our own views of each of the RBs—or WRs, slots, TEs and probably a good number of defensive positions—yet the experience level is so small for so many of the returners at these positions that it's guesswork at a particularly high level of uncertainty. Trying to formulate confident predictions for any given year is always a crapshoot, but to me, trying to do so for 2010 requires a huge amount of faith (or cynical pessimism, if that's your inclination), because there ain't enough data to do anything else. Which is why this upcoming season is going to be so fascinating: a large percentage of the top talent on this team is so young and green that the possible variances in performance are just ridiculous. Some days I get seized with the possibilities of our talent and a giddy feeling that we're going to bust out a 9-3 or 10-2 season, and on other days I can't escape the conclusion that 6-6 is the best we're going to manage due to the inexperience of that same talent.

PeteM

April 20th, 2010 at 8:36 AM ^

I feel like I am (along with, to some extent, Brian) the lone remaining Tate defender. As Brian pointed out, Tate played pretty well all of last season despite the injury against Indiana. He certainly wasn't the reason we lost to Wisconsin or Illinois, and played alright against OSU after the fumble.

In the Spring game, he led one TD drive and one that got to about mid-field. Denard was more spectacular, but we have no idea how either one will stack up against defenses not made up of their own teammates. I'm not a skilled QB evaluator, but from what I saw it still looked like Tate could make more throws than Denard.

Bottom line -- I'd like to see them both play, but if I had my druthers Tate would start with Denard platooning in for significant stretches. If Denard shows he is clearly more effective in real games maybe the roles get reversed