The season begins tomorrow against a tough, experienced Utah team. Michigan is favored, right now, by 3 points, but a majority of analysts are picking Utah. And for good reason. Utah is more experienced all around and a safer pick. Michigan is question marks all around. Making predictions for how Michigan will look is pretty pointless since we have no idea this season. But nonetheless I'll try to preview. Utah offense vs. Michigan defense In the trenches: When talking about Utah’s offense, before getting to the talented skill guys, the offense starts with their huge, experienced offensive line that returns 4 starters. All five linemen weigh 305 or more. They are led by returning 2nd team All-MWC players Junior LT Zane Beadles and Senior RG Robert Conley. The only newcomer on the line is Sophomore Center Zane Taylor. Yeah, two Zanes on one offensive line. This will be a tough opener for the center who will have to somehow read and audible to the elaborate blitz package put together by Shafer. On the other hand, it’s a tough opener for the Michigan D-line that has so much expected from them this year. While Brandon Graham and the line are confident in their ability, they acknowledge that executing with close detail to technique will be key against such a big experienced line. “The key will be to use our hands to make sure the tackles can’t get up in our chests and knock us down,” said Graham. So that battle will be fun to watch tomorrow throughout the contests. Jamison and Graham’s quickness should allow them to get to the quarterback, however, on run plays, they will have to be able to read the run quickly and swim towards the ball carrier, because as soon as a 300 pounder is able to get to their chest and get some leverage, Graham and Jamison will probably be done for. I don’t expect that to happen to much and we should see the staff’s emphasis on speed and Shafer’s emphasis on attacking really pay off for the Wolverines. Advantage: Michigan
Utah Passing: Even though Michigan’s line should stand up well to the experienced Ute O-line, unfortunately Utah has a great quarterback, running back, and some talented receivers too. We’ll start with Brian Johnson who has had a heck of a career, and a long one at that. He started in 2004 backing up Alex Smith under Urban Meyer. He started the next season as a sophomore and in only 10 games (injured his knee) Johnson completed 63% of his passes for 2,892 yards and 18 TDs to just 7 INTs, ran for 478 yards and 8 TDs, was 4th in the NATION in total offense per game (337) and 11th in the nation in pass efficiency. Before the injury he looked like he could be even better than Alex Smith in the future. But that injury kept him out of 2006 so he redshirted. He was ready to go and started in 2007, but injured his shoulder in the first game of the season which kept him out of the next two. Not to worry, though, he came back, went 8-2 as a starter, but was unable to put up the numbers he put up in 2005. Now as a fifth-year, he seems ready to play like the 2005 Johnson and if he does, Michigan is in some trouble. He did not run as much last season, but if his knee is now fully recovered and he does run, like he did in the Poinsettia Bowl (69 yards and a TD enroute to MVP honors) Michigan could be in some trouble. Yes the new scheme should help the D against the spread, but with those demons from the past against mobile QBs, I’ll believe it when I see it. What’s scarier is Johnson also has a very accurate arm.
He has a good mix of wide receivers to throw to as well. 5th year senior, Brent Casteel (#5) sustained a season ending knee injury in the second game last year, but in the two years prior he was explosive. In 2006 he had 9 catches for 600 yards and 10 TDs while also being used in the running game picking up 262 yards. If he is back in that form, and Michigan has tackling troubles, problems will ensue. And Rodriguez has expressed concern for the tackling in the open field since the team hasn’t gone “live” with full hitting much in practice. On third down situations, Johnson will probably be looking for 5th year senior Brandon Godfrey (#81). He’s a 6’3” sure-handed target who is Utah’s go-to guy over the middle. Michigan’s DB’s should be able to contain Godfrey IMO, but if the ghosts of Morgan Trent’s past creep in, things could get ugly. Casteel really concerns me, if he is back to full health. Utah will get the ball in his hands somehow and Michigan better be up to the task of tackling well in the open field. He probably will have a couple big plays since it is the opener, but when he’s out wide, the corners need to do everything they can to deny him the ball and when he has it the whole team needs to swarm to him. Utah has a six member rotation so other guys to look for are #88 Freddie Brown, #16 David Reed (JuCo), #8 Elijah Wesson (will be used in end-arounds quite a bit), and #85 Jereme Brooks (5’7” young speedster who will return kicks and punts too). Utah doesn’t use the tight ends much in the receiving game and when they are in, #84 and #45, it’s likely a run. Due to Johnson’s experience and dual threat ability, I actually give the Utes a bit of an advantage here. I hope I’m wrong and the D-line gets to him often, but until these guys stop a good mobile quarterback and the aerial spread attack, I give Utah a slight advantage.
Utah Running Game: Darrell Mack (#6) almost redshirted last year as a junior, but played in the 2nd game and then ended up starting the rest. He had 253 carries for 1204 yards and 12 TDs and also caught 21 passes for 144 yards and 3 TDs. He is 6’0” 220 and is a strong tough runner for the Utes. He will run up the middle and will look to run over defenders when in the open field. The other guy who will share the bulk of the carries is Matt Asiata (#4) who broke his leg in the first game last year and ended up redshirting as a junior after transferring from Junior college. Asiata is 5’11” 230 and is also a physical runner very similar to Mack. The speedy guy in the backfield for Utah is #36 Sophomore Eddie Wide. He played mainly special teams last season, and should see some more time in the backfield this year. In addition to the backs, Johnson can run and so can some of the wideouts. Expect some QB draws and some reverses to factor into the Ute running game. I think Michigan should be able to stop the run since Utah does not have speedy guys who can get to the outside. Shafer should throw in plenty of zone run blitzes to slow down the running game. One thing to watch for, however, is when Utah runs draw plays, if the ends are let loose and focused on getting to the quarterback for a sack, the young linebacking corps and safeties will have to step up and fill in the holes left by the ends on the outside. Utah could strike big on some of those plays. Obi Ezeh, however, should be up to the task of being the main guy to bring the runners down if they get through the D-line.
Michigan Offense vs. Utah Defense
In the trenches: Michigan’s combined 15 previous starts and lack of depth on the O-line should spell disaster. It’s not the worst D-line to start off the season against, though, with Utah’s tackles being meh, and the defensive ends each having only one year of experience under their belt. The standout on the line probably is sophomore RE Paul Kruger (#11) who was a freshman All-American last season. The Utes expect him to contend for national recognition and he could be explosive. Still this should be a D-line that lets the inexperienced UM O-line ease into the year. But let’s be real, the O-line cannot possibly have an advantage here. Advantage: Utah Michigan Passing attack: Predicting what Michigan’s offense will look like is very very difficult. The assumed starter right now is Nick Sheridan from all the signs Rodriguez has given, even though he has not officially announced a starter. Threet will play though so we will finally get to see if either of them could be any good or if we’re in for a long year. The passing attack should consist of a lot of quick flare passes to the running backs coming out of the back field, screen passes to guys like Odoms (#9), and quick short slant passes to the other wide receivers. Odoms should actually be the go to guy due to his speed. The quarterbacks shouldn’t be asked to throw it deep too often, but who knows. I really don’t want to try to predict what this offense will look like without seeing it ever. But with the uncertain O-line and, oh yeah, walk-on starter against an experienced Ute secondary that uses the Nickel package often, it doesn’t look so hot. Senior and 2 year starting corner Brice McCain (#1) could have a field day breaking up passes. He’s probably the best athlete on the team and is the fastest running a 4.28 40. And then there’s the Junior 6’3” corner on the other side, Sean Smith (#4), who led the team with four interceptions last season. They could have a field day with the inexperience at quarterbacks. I’m nervous thinking about it. Advantage: Utah
Michigan Rushing attack: Like with the passing game, its nearly impossible to predict what the rushing attack will look like without seeing a game yet. We know Rodriguez likes all four backs McGuffie (#2), Michael Shaw (#20), Brandon Minor (#4), and Carlos Brown (#23) and will use them all. It seems like he might even like the speedy freshmen more. I expect a lot of pitches or essentially anyway to get these guys in open field quickly. All four should play, but Rodriguez, like with the quarterback situation, says it will be a “feel” thing on who plays the most. So if one guy gets hot early, he will keep getting the ball until he cools down. I don’t know how much up the middle running we will see, but it will likely be Minor who handles those duties. Michigan will use a blocking scheme similar to the zone blocking we have seen the last couple of years. But running up the middle again depends on the O-line. Big question mark. Utah has a first year starter at middle linebacker, Mike Wright (#20), so Michigan might be able to exploit him on runs up the middle, if they get through the line. But on outside runs, Utah’s best linebacker, the rover linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (#10), might have the speed and athleticism to chase down Michigan’s backs and bring them down in the open field. Again, with Michigan’s O-line, they cannot have an advantage until we at least see what the offense can do.
Michigan probably will be punting a lot so it is good they have Zoltan Mesko. What is questionable is the spread punting formation Rodriguez is going to use. Remember the terrible rugby style punt Michigan tried a few years ago? Rodriguez has used it successfully in the past so it shouldn’t be a problem...hopefully. At kicker Michigan still has that consistent guy K.C. Lopata, and actually should be fine from within 40 yards. The return game should be fun to watch too because Rodriguez has emphasized the return game and is putting Michigan’s fastest guys at that spot. Warren and Odoms should return punts and Trent, Shaw, Odoms, or Brandon Harrison should return kicks. Someone is bound to be explosive, hopefully. I’m excited. Utah has an All-American kicker/punter in Louie Sakoda. Guy is very very good. His long is 51 yards, but he only missed 3 field goals last year in his All-American year. If the Utes get in field goal range, you can at least put 3 points up on the board. Jereme Brooks is the main guy to return punts and kicks and he never has scored a touchdown before, but that was as freshman. Brent Casteel is another guy who will get a chance, but he hasn’t done great in his career as a kick returner. Michigan should have the advantage in the return game, but they still don’t have as sure a guy as Sakoda kicking it. I want to give Michigan the advantage because I believe someone will be explosive as a returner, but there really isn’t any way of knowing so...until further notice... Advantage: Utah Seidman's Prediction: A battle is what I expect with the Mack Truck taking care of business for Utah. He will definitely find the end zone, once or twice. Brian Johnson is the key for Utah, and I believe that he is not ready to come back from the injury as the player he was in 2006. Expect him to be inconsistent throughout the game and commit a big turnover later in the game. The Michigan offense will have its inconsistencies as well that will see some tough points and some bright spots, with them putting up some points. The Michigan defense will get plenty of stops, being hurt by some runs by Mack and possibly Louks, the backup to Johnson. But they will make enough stops, I see the final score being Michigan 23-17. MVP - Brandon Graham
You can listen to the game LIVE at 3:30 PM by visiting wcbnsports.com and clicking on the link to the sportsstream.
On the eve of the Michigan football season, it's time for some optimism. Some of this might be overly optimistic, but I think everyone should have something to feel good about on the way to the game tomorrow. Here's ten reasons Michigan will be GOOD this season. I could have put Mike Barwis for all ten, but I chose to be semi-creative.
10. The players really seem to love Nick Sheridan Yes players usually back up their teammates to be politically correct; but after seeing what, or more importantly, how, Greg Matthews and Stephen Schilling spoke of Nick Sheridan, it seems as though his teammates have a great time playing with him and respect him. While asking about Threet drew a generic “He’s a more serious guy, but we feel comfortable with whoever’s back there,” Speaking of Sheridan drew laughs and “He’s funny, we really love having him in the huddle.” Now this could just mean he’s a funny guy, but usually fellow teammates won’t be laughing if a guy is doing a terrible job. As much as I have had a hard time excepting that anything good could come out of Sheridan starting, I’m starting to feel that there could be a great story brewing here with the walk-on turning out to be fairly good. I’m probably too optimistic, but his teammates do like and respect him it seems.
9. The schedule While losing to Miami and Notre Dame would be embarrassing, while a Utah loss might be expected by many, starting 0-3 is not a big deal considering none of the games are in Big Ten play. Those three games are followed by a bye week. I see this as Michigan having four weeks to get ready for Big Ten play where Michigan will truly be judged. Many people will disagree, but I tend to think Big Ten play is the most important, particularly this season with so many question marks. If Michigan wins a lot of conference games, people will start to forget about the first few weeks. Four weeks to prepare for the conference could lead to great success.
8. The Corners If two years ago someone said Morgan Trent would be a candidate for All-American, that person would have been considered a moron. After a decent season last year, and an offseason full of praise from the new coaching staff, and Mike Barwis, Trent could be terrific this season. Opposite him is a guy many fans think will be better than Trent, Donovan Warren. Warren played very well as a true freshman last year, and with a full year under his belt, and also drawing praise from the coaching staff this offseason, he’s primed for a great year. Both of these guys say they are faster than ever too and Warren will return punts while Trent may return kickoffs. Couple these two with sophomore Troy Woolfolk, who is also ridiculously fast, and incoming hyped freshman Boubacar Cissoko, the corners should be making plays with the aggressive front seven and safeties pressuring opposing QBs into quick decisions. They should force tons of turnovers this year and really make some big, big plays.
7. The offense shouldn’t tell defenses what they are going to run by the same substitutions over and over The last 5-10 years of Michigan football, Michigan has had one of the most predictable offenses in the country. If Mike Massey was in, expect run. If Mike Hart was out, expect pass. If the fullback was in, expect run. If the slot guy comes in motion towards the offense line, run. It’s amazing Michigan’s offense has been as successful as it has been, minus last year, with the predictability of the offense. With the no-huddle coming in with an offense that likes to get as many skill players on the field and get the ball to them quickly, those days should be over. Of course it’s tough to tell without seeing this coaching staff call a game here yet, and it’ll take a few games to start noticing any trends. But, the fact that Rodriguez will often play two “starting caliber” running backs in the backfield at once, and move the skill guys around from slot, to outside, to the backfield, it should be very difficult for opposing teams to guess what’s coming. That should help the inexperienced offense big time this season.
6. Scott Shafer’s scheme Blitz, blitz, pressure, pressure, stop the run, force turnovers, and score, is essentially Scott Shafer’s defensive philosophy. Yes, he does say scoring is something he wants this defense to do. With the talent that this defense has particularly on the D-line and at the corners, Michigan could end up with the best defense in the Big Ten IMO. Constant pressure on the quarterback will force them into bad decisions and beat them up quite a bit. Maybe we can see what happened in the ’06 Penn State game (down goes #1, down goes #2). Shafer has a very good track record of turning around defenses in his first year, particularly at Western Michigan when they led the NATION in interceptions and sacks in 2006. The year before that, the team was 1-11 so it is not exactly like he had much talent on his hands. Now, he has plenty of experienced talent and that should lead to disaster for opposing offenses. This defense should be extremely exciting to watch, and if they can force turnovers, they can give the young offense great field position and maybe even do what Shafer says he would like, score.
5. The freshmen While Michigan’s philosophy over the years has been to recruit bigger physical guys at the skill spots, Rodriguez seems to not care about size, but more speed. If they can’t catch you, you don’t have to be physical, right? That seems to be what Rodriguez thinks, and with true freshmen speedsters Martavious Odoms, Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, and Terrence Robinson (when healthy) contributing often if not starting. Odoms is starting tomorrow and McGuffie and Shaw could start and if not, will play a ton. These guys, especially Odoms, will be central to Rodriguez’s offense and their speed brings an extra dimension to the skill positions for Michigan. Matthews, Clemons, and Hemingway are all legitimate receivers for possession, but lack the breakaway speed that makes them a real threat every time they get the ball in the open field. If Odoms, McGuffie, or Shaw get the ball in open field, they should have a chance to break one each time. The freshmen will make the big plays for this offense.
4. The cupboard is not bare. Michigan does have talent even if we haven’t seen it yet on the field. When Rodriguez took over West Virginia, WVU did not have near the talent that Michigan has right now. I know recruiting services aren’t great to go by, but they are the only real source of rating incoming talent. WVU was full of 2-star talent when Rodriguez took over there. The last five classes for Michigan have been top 15 classes full of mainly 4-star guys and 3-star guys with some 5-stars there too. Rodriguez won at WVU with a bunch or recruiting classes full of 2 and 3-star players. Instead of trying to win with scrubs who don’t fit his system, Rodriguez has talent players to work with, even if they don’t fit his system. Obviously the quarterback spot is the exception to this and the depth on the O-line is not good either. But Rodriguez has never gotten to inherit a defense this good and talented, and skill guys as talented as the backs and receivers. There is a lot more talent at Michigan, comparing this team to the team in Rodriguez’s first team at WVU simply is not a legitimate comparison.
3. Defensive Line This D-line could end up way better or at least as good as the 2006 D-line (prior to O-State and USC). Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham in Shafer’s scheme, might end up with better numbers than any defensive ends in the country. Terrance Taylor’s off-season makeover should take him from good player to “beast” for four quarters, as his teammates are now calling him. If Will Johnson uses his strength (many team weightlifting records) to play more aggressively this season, he could end up being a beast too. Johnson has unparalleled size and strength, the only big question is whether he will actually use it this season since last year it seemed like he chose not to. The guys in the middle should be able to stuff the run, and the ends will get to the quarterback alot. If Shafer’s D at Western could lead the country in sacks and interceptions after a 1-11 season, the talent on this D-line could lead to similar success rushing and hitting QB’s all season. The D-line will be the heart and soul of this team and with their talent, they should succeed and help the team succeed too.
2. Rich Rodriguez has never had a first season at a new school with Mike Barwis Rich Rodriguez went through his first two seasons at WVU without Mike Barwis helping the football team. The Barwis came on the scene for the 2003 season, where the team was looking to replace WVU’s all-time leading rusher (Avon Coburne), three O-line starters, and their top two receivers. The team the year before went 6-1 in the Big East (with Miami and Va. Tech). Despite losing the talent, after Barwis’s first offseason with the team, WVU repeated that success after a rocky start to the season. Enroute to their 6-1 conference record, their lone loss came at the hands at the #2 Miami Hurricanes by a score of just 22-20. And the #3 Va. Tech Hokies came into Morgantown and got smacked 28-7 by the Mountaineers. Granted that Rodriguez’s system was already engrained in the kids and that type of success probably won’t be duplicated this year, but there is some merit to Barwis having an immediate impact. Oh yeah, and that year WVU made their first January bowl since 1996 and has gone bowling in January every year since Barwis’s arrival. 1. Chocolate Milk Mike Barwis. He seemingly has changed the culture and attitude of this team. I believe he is the reason that more people did not leave the team with the coaching change. The fact that the players could see physical results in their bodies within weeks of working out with Barwis, probably coerced them to buy into the system. Who would have thought Terrance Taylor would be the guy running sprints at the end of practice even when the coaches said he and the rest of the seniors didn’t have to. Yes the same Taylor that had a big bag hanging over his pants all year last season. It’s amazing to see so many players excited about conditioning and it seems to have helped their confidence greatly. This team truly believes they are the best conditioned team and that should give them a swagger unbelievable for a team that lost so much talent. Yes Barwis has gotten too much press this offseason. But buy into the hype, it is real. Mike Barwis’ intensity is contagious and this team should carry that from the weight room to the field.
The season is here!!! There's reason to believe!!!
Former Head Coach and Current Westwood One Radio Analyst Terry Bowden has confirmed that he will join us LIVE tonight at 7:20pm EDT on WCBN. You can listen on wcbn.org or on 88.3 WCBN FM. We will talk about the Michigan State-Cal game he is covering this weekend, Michigan's chances this year, Rich Rodriguez, and much more. Our coverage begins at 7pm tonight.
We are back in town and on the air again tomorrow night (FRIDAY) from 7-10pm. You can listen on 88.3 WCBN FM in Ann Arbor or online at WCBN.org. We will have a full preview of the upcoming Michigan football season, including the Michigan-Utah game on Saturday. Also, we have a SPECIAL GUEST scheduled to join us live from California at 7:20pm. Hint: a former SEC Football Head Coach.
On SATURDAY, we will have LIVE coverage of the Michigan-Utah football game starting at 3pm. You can listen on the WCBN Sports Stream, available on wcbn.org and wcbnsports.com
I'm not very big on making predictions, especially this season when really everything is a big question mark. You can find predicitions anywhere else and can hear them on our first show of the year Friday from 7-10 PM on 88.3 WCBN or WCBN.org. Generally the consensus has been 7-5 or 8-4 with some going well below that and predicting a 2007 NDesque year, and nobody seeming to go higher than 8-4. The next two days I'll give 10 reasons Michigan will be like ND in '07, and then 10 reasons Michigan will be decent to good and at least reach that 8 win plateau if not higher. I'm going to start with the bad news first and the top 10 reasons Michigan will stink this seasons. Alot of this is me playing the devil's advocate so don't bite my head off for saying some stuff. These are just the potential reasons Michigan will have the worst year ever and end their amazing bowl streak. Brace yourselves, after I finished writing this I was even getting depressed. I countdown from 10 to 1.
Top 10 Reasons Michigan Football will stink in 2008
10. Rich Rod’s offense won’t work in the Big Ten I don’t buy into the whole offense not working in the Big Ten thing, but it’s something people are talking about. Rodriguez has only played one Big Ten team throughout his career. It so happens that team is the prototypical smashmouth run every play, find the biggest guys we can to be on the line team, Wisconsin. Rodriguez and WVU had a home and home with Wisconsin in Rodriguez’s second and third year. They lost both of them scoring only 17 points in each. Still, this was in Rodriguez’s second and third year, and in the third year the team had lost a boatload of talent. But that’s the position Michigan is in right now with no quarterback, losing their all-time leading rusher, and losing practically the whole O-line. This could be ugly.
9. Family Values Hey Justin. How’s it going down there? The few insiders I’ve talked to at O-State say you may never get to start down there because of all the talent. Haha weird. Hope the snow-plow business does well this winter. Wouldn’t want to have to go to a practice and miss a big snow, right? Just like A.I. said, “We talkin’ ‘bout practice.” Yeah well at least you don’t have to get yelled at by Rodriguez anymore. He’s such an insensitive jerk and he must have caused you a lot of irreparable emotional damage. Doesn’t he know you have feelings too? I hope you’re doing better. And if Tressel does yell at you just come to me. Shh Shh little baby, don’t cry don’t cry. Everything will be ok.
8. Scott Shafer is too aggressive While Shafer’s scheme excites many, there is a fear, a slight fear that has been creeping into my mind, that maybe he will be too aggressive. It seems like his blitz all the time policy is a big hit or miss thing. If it clicks, and everyone gets in the back field quick enough, it will be great and one of the top units in the nation. But there will be times when the defense blitzes, if they do it too much, and a handoff on a draw later all 11 defenders will be staring at the back of the opposing running backs jersey as he walks into the endzone. I don’t think this will be the case and I do believe Shafer’s defense will be great. But it’s something to watch for IMO.
7. Morgan Trent return to ’06 form So Morgan Trent played pretty well last year. Not buying it? He had a decent year, didn’t make a whole lot of plays though. Maybe last year was just an aberration and we will watch get torched a ton this year. I wouldn’t count on it, as I think he will play great, but if he gets burned early it might be tough for him to get it out of his psyche. Again should be great, and I don’t think this is a problem, but I’m sure plenty of fans are worried.
6. Overrated D If Trent does play like that, it will be one example of why the defense is overrated. Everyone is expecting big big things from this experienced defense that have to live through a summer with Mike Barwis, but maybe there is too much expected from them. They do need to be great for this team to win, but maybe they just simply aren’t that great. Will Johnson was overrated and played weak last season; the outside linebackers have no experience and are a question mark; Obi Ezeh started and played well, but wasn’t outstanding; fans’ memories of Stevie Brown are him getting torched against App. State; Brandon Harrison is a starting safety and fans have watched him get torched on too many occasions; Morgan Trent (see #7); and if the defense is blitzing all the time, who’s going to stop the run when we can’t get to the back in the backfield. Get the picture? Maybe the defense has too much expected from them. They weren’t very good against the run last year ranking 58th in the country in rush defense. There is a chance for disappointment here.
5. Simply lost too much offensive talent Michigan lost the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft in tackle Jake Long. And, oh yeah, they lost 3 other O-line starters and a couple guys that provided depth. Lost the all-time leading passer in Michigan history in Chad Henne, and his heir apparent, Ryan Mallett. Lost Michigan’s all-time leading rusher in Mike Hart; and the big Blue lost their top two wide receivers, both of whom could have returned for another year. It would be tough, to impossible, for any team to succeed after that, let alone while undergoing a coaching transition. Not lookin’ too good.
4. Injuries With the thin O-line, it was pretty clear that Michigan had to stay healthy at that spot. So much for that as a starter, Cory Zirbel, went down with a knee injury and is likely out for the season. His replacement, Mark Huyge, soon also decided to go down with an ankle injury and he is out for a few weeks at least. This line is seriously paper thin right now and if one more starter goes down, might as well throw that paper into the fire and watch it burn. This is looking scary. Please no more injuries. 3. O-line Speaking of that O-line, even when healthy there is a combined 15 total starts of experience among those guys, 13 coming from one guy, Schilling. When starting a first year quarterback, you at least want to be able to say you have a solid offensive line that will make his life a little easier. Nope, sorry, this line could be just as big a liability as that walk-on, first year, 6’1” starting QB. There are some skill guys on the outside, but what does it matter if the QB doesn’t even have time to get him the ball. Oh yeah, and Michigan would like to run the ball too. How is any back supposed to run when the O-line collapses and lets the front seven into the backfield coming straight at him. OK it certainly won’t be that bad, but there are going to be some major difficulties running up the middle. Hopefully these guys gel together, but right now this O-line is one of the main reasons for Michigan to be dismal.
2. Quarterbacks Oh the quarterbacks. Remember that time the four-star 6’6” quarterback who was almost handed the starting job found a way to lose out to the 6’1” walk-on who only has a spot on the team because his Dad used to coach here? Well, you can say that come Saturday, as all indications point to Sheridan being the starter. And having watched the bits of practice that I’ve seen Sheridan does seem better, not only because he’s a little mobile, but he actually seems to be a more accurate passer too. Regardless of who is playing, this will probably be ugly and there could be a couple of interceptions PER GAME. Yeah, it’s looking that bad. In Rodriguez’s first year at WVU, he used three quarterbacks, though one significantly more than the others, but the results were ugly, very ugly. How about a combined 9 touchdowns to 19 interceptions, for a grand whopping total of 1811 yards on 357 attempts and a completion percentage of 53%. Oh yeah, and the guy who played the most at quarterback was a returning starter and Senior who was a drop back guy and threw 13 TDs to just 8 INTs the year before. How will it be with a guy without any experience, both of whom are drop back passers? Don’t answer that question. 1. Rodriguez’s first year Rodriguez’s first year’s have each been pretty bad. His first and only year at Salem as a 24 year old, Rodriguez was 2-8. His first year at NAIA Glenville State, a dismal 1-7-1. In his first year at West Virginia, he inherited a club that 7-5(3-4) the season before. He did not exactly lift that program up in year one going 3-8 and 1-6 in conference play. Sure he had great success after year one, but he’s in year one now. Please don’t let it be the same at Michigan. Unfortunately, it is a realistic possibility, especially if more injuries occur.
Now that I have thouroughly depressed you three days from game day, tomorrow I'll give 10 reasons why Michigan won't be so bad this year. It's always good to end things on a good note even if it'll be overly positive. I'm sick of talking about this and can't wait to watch them. As long as the above reasons don't all come true.
Rich Rodriguez, in a press conference two weeks ago after what seemed like it must have been a rough practice for the offense said, “Our special teams has to be great, I mean, making plays and everything, if we want any shot at winning any sort of championship.” Obviously he was a little distraught after a rough offensive performance, but it might be true. With the terribly thin and inexperienced offensive line, same with the quarterback spot, Michigan will need to find other ways to score. That’s why special teams will be emphasized. The offense might not be finding the endzone too much so Michigan has to be able to kick and make field goals whenever in field goal territory and you can be sure that Zoltan Mesko will be active this year punting with that spread punt formation. Yeah that terrible rugby punt thing that Carr tried out for a year and failed miserably with. Maybe Michigan will try to actually block punts and kicks this year too, an idea completely foreign to the Carr regime. And maybe, we can get something out of the return game for the first time without Steve Breaston. Some questions will be answered Saturday, but Rodriguez has made it clear that special teams has to be HUGE if Michigan is to have success.
Michigan should be fine here or great here with Zoltan. The only scary thing is that Rodriguez likes the spread out formation for punts. Rodriguez has had success with it, but the only time Michigan has used it worked out terribly as many Michigan fans remember and still have nightmares about. I’m guessing it will be fine and Zoltan will do better than his underachieving performance last year. He will be used often as this offense will probably stall quite a bit.
K.C. Lopata is a 5th year senior and the job is still his. And people should remember he was actually pretty good going 11-12 on field goals. He has reportedly hit some 50 yarders in practice this Fall and should be a little better than last year. He better be, because any time Michigan’s offense is fortunate enough to get to field goal range, he’s going to have to hit it. Points will probably come at a premium for this team, especially early, they have to capitalize every time they have a chance. And kickers usually don’t get hurt, but let’s hope no freak injury happens to Lopata. Because behind is GASP Jason “Gingy” Gingell. I hope he doesn’t have to kick anything this year.
1. #6 Donovan Warren Right now Warren is listed as the guy for punt returns, but Rodriguez said it is still up for grabs between him and Martavious Odoms. I get excited to see Warren returning punts because I am a dreamer and have been waiting for the next Charles Woodson since he left. It hasn’t panned out and this won’t pan out either because Woodson was one of the most athletically gifted players in college football in the last twenty years. Still, Warren is very quick and could be fun to watch return punts. Again, whoever returns here will need to be electric and getting in the endzone from time to time would be very nice.
2. #9 Martavious Odoms Odoms, if he stays healthy, looks poised for a Freshman All-American year because, well, he’s going to be playing all the time. The speedster is the only lock to start at receiver, he will return some punts, and is in the mix to return kicks. It’s obvious the coaches love him and his speed, coupled with the fact that he is so small it’ll be like trying to catch a fly for opposing defenses, he could be a great returner and have a freshman year like Breaston’s or better in the return game. I’m really getting tire of talking about this and can’t wait to see him play. Kick Returners:
Brandon Harrison and Morgan Trent are the guys expected to return kickoffs first. Arguably the two fastest guys on the team and certainly the two fastest veterans on the team, they could be pretty good. The two freshman behind them though, Michael Shaw and Odoms, might end up being better. The coaches love Shaw and his speed. The coaches are looking at a number of guys for these spots and its quite obvious they won’t stop until they find someone explosive who has a chance to break a big return everytime they touch it. Michigan should have great returners this year, if not immediately, as the season goes on and they try everyone out.
Bryan Wright is the kickoff man and while many have given up on him, he has the most powerful leg of the kickers. At the spring game, it was obvious his leg was the most powerful. His accuracy must be bad since the coaches don’t like him as a placekicker, but he should be pretty solid with his kickoffs.
Kick and Punt coverage:
Again, points will come at a premium for this season and because of that, special teams cannot give opposing offenses easy scores on special teams or great field position. Michigan will have to keep each game as low scoring as possible in order to win. Special teams has to make sure it does nothing to make the defense’s job any harder.
There is no way of predicting how special teams will look this season and we will find out soon enough. But they have to be damn good, as Rodriguez said, “in order for this team to win any sort of championship.” The coaches won’t stop shuffling players around in the return game until they find someone who is explosive. If they already had, the returns in the Utah game should be fun to watch, and be a source of points for the Wolverines that no one has really thought of up to this point.
My internet was out for some reason yesterday, so I couldn’t post anything. But I believe Stu will be posting audio from the press conference soon and I’ll talk about the issues on the depth chart quickly.
A lot of “ors” still there. On the O-line, only one true freshman, Ricky Barnum is on the two deep. Also, the right guard spot is listed as David Moosman or John Ferrara and Rodriguez clarified that if Ferrara starts at guard, Moosman will move to center and Molk out of the starting line up. Martavious Odoms is starting at slot, ahead of Toney Clemons and on the outside, Stonum is battling Matthews for one starting spot and Savoy for the other. Still listed as Sheridan or Threet, but from listening to Rodriguez and the players, it really seems like they like Sheridan a little more. Rodriguez said he has a feeling of who it will be, but won’t share it, but said he might say who it is on Wednesday. There is certainly a crowded backfield with Rodriguez saying there should be an “or” for all of the four guys. On defense, no “ors” for starting jobs, but Marell Evans will start at weakside backer above Mouton, Panter is the starter on the strongside and Brandon Harrison is the starting strong safety over Charles Stewart.
So speaking of those safeties, the secondary is now pretty much set as the season is days away. With Morgan Trent’s surprisingly decent/good year last year, and the emergence of Donovan Warren, the cornerbacks could become two of the best in the conference and even the nation. Many fans have questions about the safety spot since Stevie Brown has gotten a bad rep after starting that dreaded opener of 2007 and repeatedly getting burned, and with the loss of Jamar Adams. But the safety spot will be helped with the scheme which will have them blitzing a lot and with the constant pass rush from the front seven when they are in coverage. The coaches have not stopped praising Brown’s work ethic and play since the Spring, and Harrison and Stewart are seniors who should play with a chip on their shoulder. Yes Harrison was dreadful too, but the scheme will have him blitzing a lot from the strong safety spot so we won’t have to see him in coverage as much. Hopefully he has improved in that area as well. This unit should be very strong as well, and Rodriguez coached teams have done pretty well against the pass.
#14 Morgan Trent 6’1” 193 5thSr. San Diego, CA (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in MI) Following 2006, particularly the O-State and USC games, he was maybe the most hated Wolverine by fans. As 2007 came along, everyone was hoping that somehow, someone would take his job so we wouldn’t have to watch him get torched by opposing receivers. Well, he stayed as the #1 corner, much to our chagrin, but even when the defense struggled, it never seemed that Trent was the one being torched anymore. As the season kept going, it went from talking about Trent as a liability, to talking about Trent as one of the solid guys on the defense. Maybe a 100 degree turn from terrible to decent. He did not make too many big plays last year though, which is something some fans are waiting for. He now has a chance to take that one extra step up and complete a 180 degree reversal from two years ago. Throughout spring and fall camp, Trent has drawn the most praise from coaches as a playmaker in the secondary (even more than Warren). Two years ago I never thought I would say this, but he could be a second team or honorable mention All-American by season’s end. I expect big things from Trent, hopefully he does not return to his old ways.
#6 Donovan Warren 6’0” 185 So. Los Angeles, CA (Polytechnic) Coming off a great freshman campaign last year with 11 starts as a true freshman, many are expecting Warren to be the guy with All-America potential. The scary thing is, he does have that potential even this year and certainly in the future. He was a very reliable cover man last year and has probably even improved upon that. As long as he avoids a sophomore slump, he should be an All-Big-Ten corner.
#33 Boubacar Cissoko 5’9” 183 Fr. Detroit, MI (Cass Tech) Very highly touted freshman coming in and is listed as the potential backup to Warren, but is competing with Doug Dutch for that spot. The freshman has great cover skills and the coaches have said he will play quite a bit at corner this season. The only weakness for Cissoko is obviously his height. For those who watched him play in the Army All-American game, this proved to be a big disadvantage against those 6’3”+ receivers. He should be a great coverage nickel back, though, and will play extensively. He should be fun to watch.
#35 Doug Dutch 5’11” 204 5thSr. Bowie, MD (Gonzaga College HS) Yes Doug Dutch is still here. His disappointing career, to say the least, will finally wrap up this season and he could have a chance to make some plays in the secondary. He is competing with Cissoko for a backup spot and will probably see the field some this season. I certainly hope he makes the most of it.
#29 Troy Woolfolk 6’0” 189 So. Sugar Land, TX (Dulles) Probably should have redshirted last year as he played in 8 games and only two at the cornerback spot (Eastern and Purdue). In the Eastern game he had 2 pass breakups though. Carr had talked about playing his as a true freshman prior to last year, but only got around to it those two times. He has a promising career ahead of him. He is listed as the backup to Trent and probably will play a little corner in each game this year.
#12 J.T. Floyd 6’0” 190 Fr. Greenville, S.C. (J.L. Mann) He is not listed on the preliminary depth chart, but Rodriguez has continually said that Floyd will get a chance to play. Maybe the majority of that P.T. will come on special teams, but we could see him in the defensive backfield some. He should not see extensive playing time on defense though.
FS #3 Stevie Brown 6’0” 209 Jr. Columbus, IN (Columbus East) His only start at the spot came against App State last year and we all know what happened. He had a rough couple quarters, was pulled, and never started the rest of the year. While he did play terribly that first game, it was pretty quick to yank him for the rest of the year when the entire defense played terribly that day. Brown battled back and towards the end of the year, he saw himself on the field late in the fourth quarter of many close games, culminating in his 4th down pass breakup against Florida late in the fourth quarter. In the spring, he was the only player to receive two spring awards and received much praise from the coaches. The awards were for leadership and being the best conditioned athlete in the skill group. The coaches have continued to praise him through the fall, and there has never really been a doubt that he would be the starter here. That experience late in ball games last year should help him tremendously this year. But he’ll have to shake off those demons of the only start in his career. I think he will end up having a great year and make some big plays for the defense.
SS #27 Brandon Harrison 5’9” 208 Sr. Dayton, OH (Chaminade-Julienne) Harrison was the Nickel corner last season and started 10 games at that spot. He is not really a fan favorite, at least last year he wasn’t. He has been better known for getting burned than anything else so far. But his speed has been applauded as of late as he claims he is faster than Morgan Trent and probably the fastest guy on the team. That speed did not help him shut down wide-outs last season though. I love the switch for him to strong safety. One of the main reasons is that he should be in coverage a little less. In Shafer’s scheme he will probably be asked to blitz quite a bit and come up in run defense more too. He beat out Charles Stewart for this spot, but the two will probably rotate quite a bit. It’s Harrison’s last year and I’m sure he will want to redeem himself after struggling a bit the last two years. The switch to strong safety and decrease in his role as a cover man should help him change his own image.
SS #5 Charles Stewart 6’2” 208 5thSr. Farmington Hills, MI (Harrison) He has played mainly special teams and corner throughout his career, until last year where he some action at SS. He has never really been able to break through as a big-time contributor or starter on the defense throughout his career. Last year was his best chance with the departure of Leon Hall, and the questionable play of Morgan Trent. He was not able to break through however, and again this season he will start behind Harrison. The coaches seem to like Stewart though, and he will rotate in there for Harrison every game. If Harrison struggles too, Stewart might take hold of that starting role sometime during the season. Stewart should finally be a solid defensive contributor, but if he does not get ahead of Harrison, it has been a pretty disappointing career for Stewart. He will have a chance to make some plays this year though.
FS #40 Mike Williams 5’11” 186 RSFr. Camarillo, CA (St. Bonaventure HS) He redshirted last year despite being hyped up as a true freshman and having talk about him playing as a true freshman. He has a lot of talent and potential and is listed as the backup to Stevie Brown. He will get to play some free safety and I’m sure many are anxious to see him, me included.
#38 Artis Chambers 6’0” 207 So. Fort Wayne, IN (Snider) Artis didn’t get to play much with the ones in the Spring because, well, he was out of shape. That certainly has changed now as he has gone through a summer with Mike Barwis. Many thought he would be the backup to Stevie Brown, but, at least for now, this is not the case. Chambers should get to play some safety this season though. Last year he was limited to special teams play, when he was eligible (Big Ten doesn’t count grades earned in the summer, so his GPA was up to NCAA standards, but not Big Ten).
#28 Brandon Smith 6’3” 200 Fr. New Brunswick, N.J. (New Brunswick) Rodriguez has said that Smith will play at safety this year. I’m guessing he will play at the strong safety spot behind Stewart and Harrison. He should see some time there, but mostly will play special teams this season. People who have seen practice have been very impressed by Smith. He will be in the mix to start at strong safety next season. I don’t see him being redshirted this year though, so we will see him from time to time and a lot on special teams.
The corners are definitely very solid, but the safeties are unproven at those spots as starters. They are very talented and should end up being pretty good since they are athletic and experienced, but Brown’s and Harrison’s past troubles will keep many scared until proven otherwise. I think this will end up being one of the better secondaries in the conference and the country. The pass rush and frequent blitzing should help them tremendously. Trent and Warren are prime for big years and should make more big plays this year.
Current Grade: B+ Very good group, but not great until the safeties prove otherwise.
Former Michigan QB Drew Henson was signed today by the Detroit Lions to replace injured backup (and former MSU Spartan) Drew Stanton. Stanton sprained ligaments in the thumb on his throwing hand when he hit his hand on the shoulder of a O-Linemen during Thursday's practice. Coach Rod Marinelli addressed the media this morning about the issue, saying that the team "planned on working out a few quaterbacks this afternoon" but were not set on signing any specific player. Team doctors said that Stanton would be out for 4 weeks with a cast, but would be re-evaluated at 2 weeks. This is Henson's first NFL gig since getting cut by the Minnesota Vikings in 2007.
As for Wolverine fans in the Detroit area: Don't get to attached to the idea of Henson wearing the Honolulu Blue and Silver for the long haul. The only reason Henson was signed was to prevent having to send starting QB Jon Kitna back into the game if backup Dan Orlovsky were to get hurt during the pre-season.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Lions decided to save the paper and not give Henson a playbook, telling him instead, "It's fine!!! You just go have fun out there, OK?" if he were, in fact, able to get into the game.
Henson probably won't see the field, will most likely be cut after Stanton returns, and will only be a painful reminder to Detroit-area Michigan fans of what could have been had Henson stayed in school.
While the coaches praised the linebacking corps the most during Spring ball, most Michigan fans and followers were a little confused considering Michigan lost two main starters in Shawn (late hit) Crable and Chris (underachieving) Graham. Obi Ezeh comes back though and the coaches love him. It seems like the coaches love the speed of some of the outside guys too like Marell Evans and Jonas Mouton. There are five guys being talked about for the linebacker spots, and two freshman who may see some time as well. And while the coaches love this group, it still remains the biggest question mark since Ezeh will have to step up his play to be a leader, and two inexperienced guys will be starting at the other spots.
Middle (MIKE) Linebacker:
1. #45 Obi Ezeh 6’2”247 RSSo. Grand Rapids, MI (Catholic Central) Obi started 10 games last year at inside linebacker as a redshirt freshman. He played especially well in the last three games of the regular season recording 13 tackles and 2 sacks against MSU, 10 tackles at Wisconsin, and 12 against O-State. He will be the starter at MIKE linebacker this year and will play a pivotal role in run stopping for Michigan. As the MIKE backer, he is responsible for calling out any audibles for the linebackers. Also, he will be the guy who will have to read the draw plays and plug the hole left open by the attacking defensive ends. Linebackers coach Jay Hopson absolutely loves Ezeh and thinks he could be all-conference this year. Ezeh will have to play like that for Michigan to consistently stop the run. If you’ve seen Ezeh lately, he looks like a beast. I think he has the potential to be like David Harris, maybe not quite this year, but he’ll start getting close as the year progresses.
2. #49 John Thompson 6’1” 239 5thSr. Detroit, MI (Crockett Tech) Thompson has had a strange career in which he played very well his freshman year at times, saw his production actually decrease his sophomore year, and then played well the first half of the year last year as a backup, before getting injured for the middle part of the year and not doing much the rest of the season. The coaches also love Thompson, but say that it’s unfortunate that Ezeh is in front of him. Thompson is strictly a MIKE linebacker in this scheme so the coaches have experimented a little with moving Ezeh to the outside so Thompson can get on the field. We might see that a little bit this season, but Thompson will probably just rotate in for Ezeh when he needs a rest. Having Thompson as the backup though is a luxury because if he stays healthy, there should not be a huge drop off between the two. Thompson is a fifth year senior and has been waiting his turn for a healthy campaign. I expect him to be very productive when called upon.
3. #42 J.B. Fitzgerald 6’3” 230 Fr. Princeton Junction, NJ (West Windsor Plainsboro) Coach Jay Hopson has said Fitzgerald, along with Kenny Demens are the freshmen likely to see some action at linebacker. If that indeed does happen, Fitzgerald will contribute mostly on special teams and will play at MIKE if there is an injury or he will play sparingly. Fitzgerald was the player of the year in New Jersey and has great size. He was rated a four-star by almost every recruiting service and has the talent to contribute right away. I don’t think we will see him too much, but in the future he will be fun to watch.
Three guys are fighting for two spots here. I have a hunch on who the two guys will be, based on experience, but the coaches maintain it’s a three man battle.
1a. #54 Austin Panter 6’3” 231 Sr. Athol, Kansas (Kensington HS, Butler C.C.) Panter, the JUCO transfer, played in seven games last year and then did not see the field after the Illinois game. He did have one of the starting spots at outside linebacker in the spring, though, and received the Iron Wolverine Award for the best conditioned athlete in the “middle group.” I think he will grab one of the two spots at least at the start of the year, probably on the strong side. In this scheme, in addition to stopping the run and some coverage at times, he will blitz a lot and be asked to make plays in the backfield which is what he did his last year at Butler C.C. picking up 17 TFLs and 9 sacks. The three guys competing for these spots though will probably end up rotating in and out frequently. Panter has a chance to be good and I’m sure he will want to try and impress scouts as a senior to give himself a shot at signing as a free agent in the NFL. He’ll be tough.
1b. #8 Jonas Mouton 6’2” 230 RSSo. Los Angeles, CA (Venice) Mouton played as a backup weakside linebacker last season. Recruited as a safety out of high school, he switched to linebacker and has a lot of speed for a guy at that spot. This is why the current coaching staff loves him so much, and why he should be a big hit in this scheme. More so even than Panter, if Mouton is on the weakside he will blitz all the time. With his speed, he should make a lot of plays and has the potential to have a breakout year. I expect him to get the nod, though the coaches maintain Marell Evans is still in the competition and he will rotate in as well.
2. #33 Marell Evans 6’3” 231 So. Richmond, VA (Varina) Evans will play the weakside as well, and the coaches also like his speed. He only played in 6 games, all on special teams last season. Like I said, the coaches love his speed and he will blitz a lot when he gets into the game. I think he will not start right away since he has the least experience of the three and because Mouton might be a little faster than him anyway. He did not play much on kick or punt coverage last year, only on punt and kick return. He has not recorded a tackle, and that kind of scares me as well, that he might not have been on kick or punt coverage or at linebacker because of his inability to tackle. I’m sure the coaches have addressed that and he will be ready, but the fact that we don’t know makes me think he will not start.
3. #25 Kenny Demens 6’1” 226 Fr. Oak Park, MI (Detroit Country Day) Kenny Demens is a strong athlete at this spot which the coaches love. In high school he could already bench 375 and, in addition to recording 163 tackles his senior year, he threw for three touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. I have a feeling he will be a great outside linebacker for Michigan in the future and will probably play a little more than Fitzgerald this season. He also will be fun to watch for as the season progresses.
Other Backups: Coach Hopson mentioned two other guys as potential contributors at the linebacker spots, but they are unlikely to play much.
#58 Brandon Herron 6’2” 218 RSFr. Stafford, TX (Dulles) Herron is probably and outside linebacker and was pretty highly recruited out of high school receiving four stars from scout.com. I don’t remember watching him in the Spring game, but he is young and will likely contribute later in his career while contributing on special teams this year. #52 Kevin Leach 6’1” 202 RSFr. Kentwood, MI (Grand Rapids Catholic Central) Leach walked onto the team prior to last year and coach Hopson seems to be pleasantly surprised by him. He probably will get a chance to play some special teams.
Obi Ezeh has to play great this season in order for Michigan’s run defense to be great. If Ezeh gets off to a good start, I think the rest of the linebackers will follow his lead and also play great. While I have been skeptical of why the coaches like this unit so much, after looking at what is there, I see why the coaches like them. The middle linebackers have great knowledge, experience, and physical tools. And while there is not a whole lot of depth at the outside spot, the outside guys have speed to get into the backfield and disrupt the opposition’s offense.
Current Grade: B- This could go up, but I feel this is just right for a group with a lot of talent, but hardly any experience on the outside. The scheme will help those outside guys, but only time will tell if they do come along. This could end up being one of the better groups in the Big Ten by season’s end, surprising a lot of people. But for right now, Ezeh is the only sure thing to be good. But the talent is there to be great.
While the O-line lacks any depth, the defensive line has plenty of depth and plenty of talent. While the departure of Marques Slocum (grades) and John Ferrara (O-line) hurts the depth at Defensive tackle, there are still very talented young guys to step in and provide depth there. This is arguably one of the best defensive fronts if not the best defensive front in the Big Ten. Nobody will call them the best due to last year’s pretty bad performance, but enter Scott Shafer’s attack/react scheme and Mike Barwis, the talent here should shine brightly this season. The D-line will need to wreak havoc and lead the defense which needs to be outstanding and tremendous (hey Lloyd) to make up for the work-in-progress offense. They will get after the quarterback, and force the QB into bad decisions that will lead to turnovers. Scott Shafer stresses attacking, making plays, and SCORING POINTS for his defense. That would help too. It all starts up front.
#90 Tim Jamison 6’3” 263 5thSr. Riverdale, IL (Harvey Thornton) Jamison has plenty of experience starting all 13 games last season and playing in 38 games throughout his career. He was third on the team last year with 5.5 sacks while he had 5 sacks the year before as a backup. After going through Barwis’ strength and conditioning program and learning Shafer’s scheme of letting the D-ends go after the quarterback all the time, Jamison set this lofty goal of 24 sacks. He figured two per game for twelve games leads to 24. While there is no chance he gets to that figure, don’t be at all surprised to see him get half way there to 12 which would tie Lamar Woodley’s single season record. I have a feeling that either Jamison or Graham will reach this mark due to Shafer’s scheme. Jamison will be ready to prove himself again after a sub-par 2007 campaign. He should be great and fans will start to see him in the backfield a lot getting to the quarterback.
#55 Brandon Graham 6’2” 270 Jr. Detroit, MI (Crockett Tech) Despite only starting 5 games last year (in Carr’s doghouse), Graham still led the team in sacks with 8.5. That was just as a sophomore, without Mike Barwis, and without Shafer’s scheme which will have him go after the quarterback all the time. Did I mention he probably will start every game this year too. Big things are expected from Graham this year, and barring injury, he should deliver. Highly touted as soon as he stepped onto campus two years ago, Graham will be able to make himself a household name, not only for Big Ten football fans, but college football fans in general. He forced three fumbles last year, as well, and I expect to see those numbers go up too. It will be very exciting to watch these two guys play all year. The one concern I have, however, is that if they are always getting after the quarterback, draw plays could lead to big yards for opponents. I will talk more about that with the linebackers, but it is something to watch for IMO. But they will get to the quarterback often.
#92 Greg Banks 6’4” 258 RSSo. Denver, CO (Montibello) He played in eleven games last year on special teams and, towards the second half of the year, was playing a little D-end in almost every game. He should be one of the top backups this season at D-end and I think he will play well. He has good strength and speed off the end and, in this scheme, he should be able to make some plays.
#53 Ryan Van Bergen 6’6” 265 RSFr. Whitehall, MI Redshirted last year, but impressed the coaches a lot in the spring. Rodriguez has said he has continued improvement in camp and will play quite a bit this year at D-end. In the spring he rotated in and did look impressive, but that was against the Michigan O-line. Still, he has a lot of talent and in this system that will let him loose, he should also make plays. The coaches have said that defensive end is probably one of the most fun positions to play in this scheme. That plays right into the hands of Van Bergen who should be able to blow by tackles if put in one-on-one situations with them. He will be a key backup if not the most important by season’s end.
#99 Adam Patterson 6’3” 259 Jr. Columbia, SC (Richland Northeast) He has played in 18 games throughout his career as a backup D-end including 12 last year. He recorded a sack in the Northwestern game last year. Nothing has really jumped out at me watching Patterson, I just never think I noticed him, but he will probably rotate in a little bit. Again, the scheme should make all these guys look successful when they are playing.
#88 Andre Criswell 6’2” 264 RSJr. Detroit, MI (Renaissance) Yes, Criswell was a tight end last year. Criswell was also on the receiving end of the only returning pass completion (Yes, David Cone’s throw). But the coaches really liked Criswell at defensive end, and moved him there in the spring. Criswell now has played a different position each year he has played here. As a redshirt freshman he played some fullback. As a sophomore last year, he was a tight end. Now a D-end. They should have probably moved him to the O-line, I'm just saying...I don’t know whether he’ll play, but since the coaches moved him, they must like him there and he’ll probably play some.
#67 Terrance Taylor 6’0” 319 Sr. Muskegon, MI (Muskegon) Everyone has heard now that Taylor went on Extreme Makeover with Mike Barwis and he looks like he’s in great shape. The roster still has him at 319, but we’ve all heard that weight has gone way down. Despite getting out of shape last season, Taylor became the first D-tackle since 1997 to register over 50 tackles in a season with 55. He was All-Big Ten second team, and after his great conditioning in the off-season, he should make that a first team, and maybe get some mention for All-America, maybe. Taylor, like the rest of the D-line, is excited for the scheme and the shape that they are in. This should be a spectacular year for Taylor. While Michigan will play mainly a 4-3, on passing situations it seems like they will play something like a 3-4 except with the fourth “linebacker” being a defensive back. Taylor will be the main nose tackle in this formation. I think he will need to do very well as a run-stopper. With the ends going after the quarterback, Taylor is going to have to get a sense of where the hole is going to be in the O-line on running/draw plays, and get there to stuff the run. That will be more important for him than getting into the backfield for TFL’s IMO.
#97 Will Johnson 6’5” 285 5thSr. Oakland, MI (Lake Orion) This returning starter is best known for holding almost every current D-line record for strength and conditioning, while playing soft, or just not very well last year. While his size and strength have a lot of media who do not follow Michigan football closely hyping him up, many who follow Michigan closer say that they know better. I’m ambivalent on Johnson one day thinking he is overrated and will continue to play sub-par, and the next thinking he is going to play more aggressively this year and therefore better. Today, and seemingly more and more days as the season nears, I’m thinking that he will play more aggressively this year. For one, I do not think the current coaching staff would continue to praise him if they saw him playing soft. Two, it is his last season, and he has been Barwisified. We’ll find out soon, as in August 30th, when Michigan has to play a senior-laden, big Utah offensive line. I think Johnson will be good though and if he’s not, there are young talent guys behind him waiting for their chance.
#95 Renaldo Sagesse 6’4” 308 So. Montreal, Quebec (Vieux Montreal) He played in 6 games last year as a backup DT as a true freshman. His size, strength, and potential is what seems to have the coaches and fans excited. After Johnson and Taylor leave next year, he will be competing for the starting job. I’m sure the coaches have that in mind too and should rotate him in every game to get some experience. His size really sticks out and hopefully he can live up to the hype.
#93 Jason Kates 6’2” 339 RSSo. Harrisburg, PA (Bishop McDevitt) Kates played in five games last year and in the last three games of the regular season, he came in a lot for goal line defense. His size really jumps out too, though I’m sure he has gone down from 339 since Barwis and co. arrived. His size might keep him from playing as much, since the current staff seems to like players a little lighter at every spot, but he does have that goal line experience in three big time Big Ten games. He should rotate in there as well.
#68 Mike Martin 6’2 285 Fr. Redford, MI (Catholic Central) This hyped up Gatorade player of the year in Michigan will get to play as a true freshman at DT. With the departure of Slocum and Ferrara from the position, Rodriguez has said that Martin will play. He has a lot of talent and it will be interesting to see if he is up to the task at competing so early. These three backups might get to see an equal amount of time rotating in early in the season until a couple solidify themselves as the top backups. Martin will have his chance and should be fun to watch. He is very strong benching 420 and squatting 520 coming out of high school.
I think this defensive line is the best in the Big Ten especially under Shafer’s scheme. They will produce a lot of sacks, hit the quarterback a lot, and force him into bad decisions. They should also stuff the run in the backfield a lot. The one concern is draw plays with the ends attacking the quarterback so much. Holes should open up for off tackle runs and the DTs, linebackers (particularly Ezeh), and safeties, have to be up to the task of plugging up those holes. The D-line should do their part IMO, and the rest will be up to the LBs and safeties. This D-line will get a lot of national attention as the year progresses.
Current Grade: A-/A I really think the talent is here for something spectacular under Shafer’s scheme. Barwis got them ready, now they should really give OC’s nightmares.
Up next: Linebackers, the only big question mark on the defense.
Redshirt Junior Cory Zirbel will undergo surgery this week that will keep him out indefinitely. Zirbel was supposed to bring much needed experience to an already thing offensive line. Zirbel saw limited time last year, playing mostly on special teams and trying his hand at LT a few times to give Jake Long a breather in blowout games.
On Sunday at Michigan's Media/Photo day, Zirbel joined his teammates for the events, albeit on crutches. When I asked Cory what had happened, he said he had "torn some cartilage" in his knee and was planning on getting surgery ASAP. While walking out to take individual photos, a few teammates joked with Zirbel, telling him to "stop faking." Zirbel replied sarcastically, "Yeah, I'm faking. I'm getting surgery, but I'm faking."
Now, I'm not a doctor. But usually when a guy has torn some cartilage, the knee is scoped before anything else is done. The recovery time for a cartilage injury in the knee (without prior damage) is 3-8 weeks, depending on how severe the damage is. Assuming the damage is done only to the cartilage and not the ligaments, there is a slight chance he could be back this season after getting treatment. And with the Wolverines being as thin as they are at O-Line, they could use all the help they can get down the stretch.
Quick note: Terrence Robinson will be out at least for the opener and he’ll be out for a few weeks (small knee injury). And transitioning to offensive line, a HUGE LOSS as Cory Zirbel, starting RG, will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery and be out for a large part of the season if not the entire season. He was a projected starter and this is a huge loss for the O-line that has virtually no depth. Guard Mark Huyge is week-to-week and might be ready for Utah, but its doubtful.
Speaking of the O-line, it is the major question mark on this team other than the quarterback spot. With only one starter returning in Stephen Schilling, and, with Zirbel’s injury, only about 6 other offensive linemen with experience, this unit is inexperienced and absolutely cannot afford any more injuries. Having said that, the starting five, even without Zirbel, could be better than some think. The offense should involve a lot of quick 3-step drops where the quarterbacks get the ball to receivers or backs out in space. That should alleviate the role of the O-line. But there is no getting around an inexperienced O-line at times. At times, the quarterbacks are going to get banged up, the running backs will get stuffed. The offensive can find a way, however, to avoid that by getting the ball outside quickly. Here is the tentative depth chart, if you can call it that. I’m only going to go two deep, and I’ll still be guessing some there.
This is what it’s looking like for Utah, from LT to RT, if Huyge is injured:
Mark Ortmann-Tim McAvoy-David Molk-Dave Moosman-Stephen Schilling
Top back-ups: Perry Dorrestein (tackle or guard), John Ferrara (Guard), Rocko Khoury (Center or guard), Ricky Barnum (Guard), Dann O’Neill (Tackle who isn’t ready)
I think we are screwed with depth at tackle.
If Huyge is ready to go, move Moosman back to center, take Molk out, and insert Huyge as the starter at RG. Rodriguez has said that Ferrara (converted DT who never played O-line even in high school) will have a chance to compete for that starting job as well.
#71 Mark Ortmann 6’7” 294 RSJr. Klein, TX (Klein) Ortmann started two games at right tackle last year (EMU and Purdue). He also played in another four games. In 2006, he played in seven games mostly as a backup LT. So Ortmann has played some. Though he played tight end in high school, he was recruited mostly as a tackle and was a 3 star prospect by rivals. For this offense, one huge factor to note is that he ran a 4.9 40 yard dash in high school, pretty good speed for an O-lineman. I’m sure Lloyd and co. slowed him down, but enter Barwis and he is probably back at that 4.9 level. He is athletic and still weighs in the 290s, which plays right into what the coaching staff wants out of their O-lineman. This system might work out for him, I’m just confused as to why the inexperienced tackle is protecting the blind side while the only experienced guy (Schilling) is on the right. We’ll see.
#62 Tim McAvoy 6’6” 288 RSJr. Bloomington, IL (Bloomington) McAvoy played in five games last season as a backup guard and made one start at RG (Northwestern). He was injured the remainder of the season (sat out games and then just banged up) so he actually might have started a few more games or at least been a key backup. He also played tight end in high school, but was recruited as a tackle by some, and an interior lineman by others. He was actually pretty highly regarded with Tom Lemming ranking him as the 20th best interior lineman in the country. Rivals gave him 3-stars looking at him as a tackle. SuperPrep Magazine named him an All-American on the O-line, maybe a stretch, but that’s what they thought. McAvoy also ran a 4.9 40 coming out of high school and I expect him to be around there for the same reason I think Ortmann will be running that speed. This system, which values athleticism, could also benefit McAvoy. I would not be surprised if this left side does very well as the season progresses, but that’s hard to project when they have never started. Both do have plenty of playing experience though so it might not be too bad.
#50 David Molk 6’2” 282 RSFr. Lemont, IL (Lemont Township) Redshirted last year and has no playing experience which is scary since he is the projected starter for Utah. He was very highly regarded out of high school though. Scout.com gave him four stars and ranked him the 3rd best center in the country. Rivals named him the 5th best center in the country and gave him 3 stars. The one thing that concerns me with Molk is his size and strength. Hopefully Barwis has gotten him stronger because I keep picturing him snapping the ball and then a nose tackle getting under him and putting him straight on his back. I really hope I’m wrong and maybe his lack of height will help him get some leverage on guys coming at him. He is supposed to be good if not great at some point, but he was not supposed to start until the injuries and I don’t know if he is quite ready to yet. The coaches have said that there have been virtually no problems snapping the ball though which alleviates one concern.
#60 Dave Moosman 6’5” 292 RSJr. Libertyville, IL (Libertyville) Moosman played three games last year, and four games two years ago, all as a reserve center. Not much experience, especially at guard. But the coaches have taught him guard especially with the injuries to Zirbel and Huyge, and the fact that Molk only can play center right now. Hopefully Huyge gets back and Moosman can move back to center, but for now he has to be RG. He was highly regarded out of high school. Rivals gave him four-stars projecting him at guard, and naming him the 11th best guard in the country. Tom Lemming ranked him the 7th best interior lineman in the nation. He came out a bit slower running the 40 in 5.2, but hopefully Barwis has worked with him. We will have to see, but I think he will be better at center when Huyge gets back.
#52 Stephen Schilling 6’5” 295 RSSo. Bellevue, WA (Bellevue) Started 11 games at RT and moved to RG for 2 games when injuries struck the O-line (those two are when Ortmann filled in at RT). While people attack Schilling for getting blown up at times last year, let’s not forget, he was a RS freshman last year. Players improve, and with Barwis and co. I’m sure Schilling will too. He was voted second team freshman All-America by The Sporting News and is obviously the only returning starter on this O-line. He gives the right side more stability on the outside while the RG spot will probably remain questionable throughout the year IMO. Yes, Schilling was rated a five-star by BOTH rivals and scout. He will have to live up to the billing this year in order to keep that right side intact. I really think Schilling will have a great year. I wonder why they are keeping him on the right side though, and not moving him to the left to protect the blindside. Either the coaches have a lot of confidence in Ortmann or Schilling can only play the right. I hope it’s the former.
#79 Perry Dorrestein 6’7” 308 RSSo. Plainfield, IL (Plainfield Central) He played in four games last year as a back up tackle (2 at LT 2 at RT) and that is his experience since he redshirted his first year. He is a Carr regime tackle: big and slow, though I’m sure Barwis has tried to change that. Apparently it took a while for Dorrestein to get on board with the new staff, but he did, and hopefully he slimmed down a little and got a little faster. He will play a lot since he will be the backup for both tackle spots. Hopefully there are no injuries so he does not have to play extended time, but chances are there will be a game in which he will have to play extended minutes. He was a 3-star and the 43rd best tackle in the country three years ago, according to rivals.
#74 John Ferrara 6’4” 274 RSSo. Staten Island, NY (Monsigor Farrell) His switch really shows how desperate this team is for some depth on the O-line. He has played DT and was going to rotate in there this season. He played tight-end in high school, absolutely no offensive line. He has been on the defensive line since he stepped onto campus. Now, as of earlier this week, he is on the O-line at guard. There is no experience or any other way to guage how he will be at OG. The coaches think he can compete to be a starter right now, which again, is a sign that this offensive line, well, isn’t too great right now. He is athletic and quick for a lineman. And maybe he plays mean? I don’t know, but the coaches see potential in him to start and I have to agree with them because they know more about what they want from O-linemen than anyone else. I count this as a Rodriguez recruit to the O-line so he could be alright. But no experience here, ever.
#63 Rocko Khoury 6’5” 280 Fr. Traverse City, MI (Traverse City West) Khoury has been impressing the coaching staff at guard and particularly at center. At a press conference last week, Rodriguez specifically mentioned Khoury and Ricky Barnum as freshmen who will be on the two-deep for the O-line. Khoury was mainly recruited as a tackle and was a 3-star prospect by both rivals and scout. He played some D-line in high school and seems to be pretty athletic, which is probably why the coaches like him. He will rotate in there at times, and if Molk struggles at center while Huyge is out, Khoury might get a chance there early. This is really getting scary as we know that the third guy off the bench right now, will be a true freshman. But Khoury will certainly be good down the line, the question is how he will adjust being thrown into the mix right away. There will certainly be some growing pains.
#56 Ricky Barnum 6’2” 265 Fr. Lakeland, FL (Lake Gibson) He was highly recruited, remember the wizard hat RichRod wore to get him from Florida? Barnum comes in as a four-star by rivals, scout, and ESPN. He was in the ESPN top 150. Scout named him the fourth best guard prospect while rivals named him the fifth best center. He will play guard, at least this year. He played tackle in high school, so perhaps he will get in there as well considering Dorrestein is the only experience backup at tackle, and then O’Neill has been said by many to not be ready yet. Barnum will play, most likely at guard, but if the team avoids injuries, hopefully he won’t get thrown into the fire too much. But he is certainly on the two-deep.
#78 Dann O’Neill 6’7” 295 Fr. Grand Haven, MI (Grand Haven) O’Neill was the most anticipated offensive lineman in this freshman class with so going as far to say he is the next Jake Long. While I think that’s way too far of a stretch, he should be very good down the road. A four-star prospect by rivals and scout, and ranked 69th in the ESPN Top 150, O’Neill, a tackle, should be great. The only problem is, the coaches, and others I have talked to who have seen practice, say that O’Neill just is not ready yet. He has a great frame, but needs to work a little on his technique and grasping the scheme. Regardless, right now, with the injuries on the line, and the lack of depth at tackle, I think O’Neill will be on the two-deep and see some time. Hopefully he starts to understand the schemes better as the season goes on so he can fill in if needed. In an ideal world though, he would be redshirted. This season is not exactly what you would call ideal though.
#75 Cory Zirbel 6’5” 292 RSJr. Murray, KY (Murray) I won’t say much about him because it looks like he could be out for the year and it upsets me to think about injuries on the O-line. But he would have been the starter at RG. He’s played in 21 games in his career including all 13 last year along the offensive line. He was a four-star top-100 player out of high school and his talent and experience was sorely needed and it really sucks that he is injured. Hopefully he responds well to surgery and maybe, just maybe, we can get him back sometime in the second half of the year. Doubtful though.
#72 Mark Huyge 6’6” 292 RSFr. Wyoming, MI (Catholic Central) He is “week-to-week” and there is still a chance that he is ready for Utah, but I doubt it. He should be back sometime early in the season though. He redshirted last year and has no experience. He was an average guy coming out of high school getting three stars from rivals and two stars from scout. Still, he impressed the coaches enough to initially fill into the starting right guard spot vacated by Zirbel. His return will be huge, regardless of whether he is very good or not, because he is the only guy who the coaches trust enough at guard, that will allow Moosman to move back to center taking young David Molk out of the starting lineup. The sooner he gets back the better. He played hockey and basketball so he must be athletic (hockey? Really?). That’s probably why the coaches like him. He will start at RG at some point during the year, unless Ferrara catches on fast. Michigan needs to avoid any more injuries at the O-line or this will be a long year filled with watching freshman linemen getting bowled over, blown by, learning on the job, and getting the quarterbacks and running backs pounded. If you are a semi-religious Michigan fan, please pray for the health of these guys all year. I will be. Because if more guys get hurt, this could be that dreaded 4-8 season or even as bad as ND’s 3 win year last year. Hopefully the guys who are hurt return soon and those who are healthy stay healthy. There is enough talent among the starters to form a formidable Big Ten offensive line. There is virtually no depth here and that is scary thing. Please stay healthy O-line, PLEASE.
Current Grade: D+/C- This is not lower because I see talent in the starting five and see Huyge coming back. If he doesn’t or if one more starter gets injured, this is an F or D- though and I’ll be peeking through my fingers every time the offense takes the field. If they stay health though, they can be an average O-line IMO. They certainly won’t be great, and probably not good, but on the average/good borderline. Staying healthy is a tough task for O-lineman though, so we really just have to hope. PLEASE STAY HEALTHY.
Move to the more promising defense tomorrow! Thank God. We’ll start with the D-line.
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