Friday, September 25, 2009

Programming Note: Game of the Week Tonight 7-10 PM

We will have three hours of sports talk tonight as Volleyball is out of town. Brian Cook should be joining us from 7-7:30 PM to discuss Michigan Football (for real this week).

We'll cover the world of sports the rest of the show, perhaps with some trivia later on. We'll end with our college football picks for the week. You can see which games we will be picking and the standings on the bar to the right.

You can tune your dial to 88.3 FM in Ann Arbor OR listen to us live online here.

Go Blue!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Highlights: Eastern Michigan at Michigan

Click HERE to listen to highlights of WCBN Sports' call of Michigan's third win, which matched the Wolverines' win total from one year ago.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Interview with Devin Gardner

Maize and Blog is delighted to bring you a special interview with Inkster High School QB Devin Gardner, the number 1 ranked QB prospect in the country, and current Michigan commit. Special Recruiting Correspondent and contributor (and current Michigan sophomore) Lauren Winfrey talked to Devin about his game, his season, recruiting rankings, and playing right away at Michigan.

Now that the season is underway, what expectations do you have for yourself as well as your team?

Answer: “I would like to improve not only as a quarterback, but as a football player overall. I also want to win a state championship.”

What are you looking forward to most this season?

Answer: “I am looking forward to playing all of the out of state teams this season, while proving that Inkster is a really good team by winning a state championship.”

The list of out of state teams that the Inkster Vikings will face off against this season includes:

St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio)

St. Ignatius (Cleveland, Ohio)

Steubenville (Steubenville, Ohio)

What do you still need to improve on as a player?

Answer: “Everything. I want to be perfect and since perfection is impossible to achieve, I will work everyday as hard as I can to improve on everything until I am as close to perfection as possible.”

What’s your record so far this season?

Answer: “1-2. So far we’ve played Pioneer (L) ,East Kentwood (L), and St. Edwards (W).”

What are you doing to prepare for your next game? Who’s the game against?

Answer: “I’m practicing, watching film, and studying my opponent. Our next game is against Highland Park (Friday September 25 at Highland Park High).”

Do you feel slighted by Ohio State’s lack of an early offer?

Answer: “I don’t feel slighted at all.”

Did that play a role in your commitment to Michigan, or were you always leaning more toward Michigan?

Answer: “No. I didn’t always want to go to Michigan and the lack of an early offer from Ohio State was never a factor, I just wanted to go to the school that was best for me.” has you pegged as the number 1 quarterback of any style in the country. Do you feel any added pressure to go out and prove you deserve that ranking?

Answer: “No. I just wanna win football games and whether I’m ranked number one or not I’m still gonna be the same football player, but it is nice to be so highly ranked.”

Do you think recruits in general pay too much attention to rankings?

Answer: “Definitely, because whether you’re highly ranked or not you still have to believe in yourself and your abilities to be the best player you can be—the rankings alone don’t make the player.”

There's a perception that "dual-threat" quarterbacks don't have as good a chance making it to the NFL and that "pro-style" quarterbacks do. You've obviously committed to Rich Rodriguez's spread offense - do you feel it gives you just as good a shot to make the NFL than any other offense?

Answer: “Yes, because I’m going to be the same player, no matter what style of offense I have to run, and I’ll always work on my game.”

Obviously it's early, but Tate Forcier has done pretty well for Michigan so far in the 2009 season. Does his performance have any impact on your commitment?

Answer: “No. I knew Tate was a good quarterback before he started playing for Michigan, and I expected him to do well.”

How do you feel about possibly ‘red-shirting’?

Answer: “I’m gonna do my best to prevent it by showing the coaches that I am too good of a player to sit out.”

What do you think about claims that Michigan State has dominated in-state recruiting in recent years?

Answer: “I don’t think they have dominated ‘in-state’ recruiting. Some people gauge recruiting statistics based off of how highly ranked a player is (on various websites, in the media, etc.), as a result the players that aren’t ranked as high don’t receive as much attention, but they’re still very good players who are being recruited just the same.”

Lastly, what keeps you motivated?

Answer: The nay sayers—the people who count me out of the QB race at Michigan when I haven’t even stepped foot on the field.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Michigan vs. EMU Live Broadcast

Andrew Goddeeris, Bill Rothwell, Steve Petras, and Rushi Vyas will have the call for WCBN's broadcast of the football game today.

You can listen live here.

Be sure to tune into the volleyball game on following the conclusion of the football game.

Thanks and Go Blue!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brian Cook on Game of the Week at 7 PM

Programming Note:

MGoBlog's Brian Cook will be joining us on Game of the Week at 7 PM today.

Our show goes from 7-10 PM and we will have Brian on from 7-7:30 PM, the Michigan Volleyball game at 7:30 PM and we will talk college football, NFL, MLB, and all major sports news.

You can listen on 88.3 FM in the Ann Arbor area, or live online here.

We will have full coverage of the Michigan football game and volleyball game tomorrow.

Check out for links to the football broadcast on the blog and volleyball on

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

WCBN Sports Mass Meeting WEDNESDAY SEPT. 16TH @ 6 PM

Any Michigan students interested in talking sports on the radio? Interested in getting passes to cover Michigan football, basketball, and hockey live over the internet?

If you are a sports fan and currently enrolled as a student at the University, drop by WCBN sports department's mass meeting tomorrow evening at 6 PM in the lobby of the Student Activities Building.

Meet others involved and learn how to get on the air in the very near future.

Again: Wednesday Sept. 16th 6 PM-Lobby of the Student Activities Building (across from the CUBE)

If you have any questions please email Rushi at OR Jeremy at

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Listen: Highlights of Notre Dame - Michigan Classic

Listen to WCBN's call of Michigan's biggest win in the Rich Rodriguez era, as the Wolverines come-from-behind to beat Notre Dame 38-34. Click HERE for all of the highlights.

Michigan is Ranked!

For the first time since the end of the 2007 season, the Michigan Wolverines are ranked in the Associated Press Top-25. Michigan's 38-34 win over then-#18 Notre Dame propelled the Wolverines to #25 in the AP poll, while knocking the Irish out of the Top-25.

Highlights of Michigan's dramatic win over Notre Dame will be posted later today.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Programming: ND @ UM Broadcast

Listen to WCBN Sports as Michigan looks to improve to 2-0 in 2009 against the Notre Dame Fightin' Irish. Since teaching the Irish how to play football, Michigan and Notre Dame have become bitter rivals as the two most winningest programs in college football history. Michigan holds a 20-15-1 edge in the history of the rivalry.

Time: 3:30 P.M.
Location: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI
Line: Notre Dame -3
Broadcast Link: YouCastr

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Week 2 Picks

A solid Week 1 (4-2) including picking Miami outright at FSU. A pretty weak slate of games for Week 2, so I had to dig deep to find 6 games. I'm not as confident this week but let's give it a shot.

USC (-7) @ Ohio State: Toughest pick of the week. I think USC will win the game but the 7 point number scares me. How will Matt Barkley perform in front of 100,000 in his first road game? Who knows? 31-23 USC.

Western Michigan (+1.5) @ Indiana: Western will prove to play more like their 2nd half performance at the Big House than what they showed in the 1st half (31-0) last week. Indiana is dreadful and I see a bounce-back performance for WMU. Forget the points, take the Broncos outright. WMU 31 IU 28.

Tulane (+18) vs BYU: Classic letdown/sandwich game for BYU after their big win over Bradford-less OU last week and with FSU on the horizon next week. Add to that Tulane has an extra day off of rest (played last Friday) and I'm fairly confident with this pick. Take the points. BYU 38 Tulane 28.

UTEP (+13) vs Kansas: This has all the making of a close game that goes multiple overtimes. In my mind, Kansas is overrated (#24) and is not used to playing non-conference road games. No question the game will be closer than 13 points. KU squeaks it out 45-42 in OT.

Notre Dame (-3) @ Michigan: If recent history is any indication, this game will not be close. 2006: 47-21 Michigan, 2007: 38-0 Michigan, 2008: 35-17 Notre Dame. My main concern for Michigan is in the secondary. While Cissoko and Warren played well vs. Western Michigan, I still have serious questions about the safety position. With the way Jimmy Clausen has looked in his last two games (granted it was against Hawaii & Nevada), defensive stops may be at a premium. The Irish have more talent on both sides of the ball and win going away. ND 34 Michigan 14.


San Jose State (+13.5) vs Utah: Sure, San Jose St lost 56-3 to USC last week. Let's hope they bottomed out. Utah has a new QB who will struggle in his first road game. A tough week for the Mountain West continues, SJST 20 Utah 17.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Listen: Today's Show

To listen to WCBN's segment with Brian Cook of, click HERE.

First Show of 2009: Today 3 PM-5:30 PM

We have our first show of 2009 today at 3 PM on 88.3 WCBN FM in Ann Arbor. You can also catch it live online here.

Brian from MGOBLOG will join us at 5 PM. All show we will talk about the Western game, college football in general, Michigan Volleyball!, perhaps some NFL and MLB, and then preview the Notre Dame game.

Of course we will be talking Michigan when Brian joins us at 5 PM complete with our weekly college football picks.

Here's what's on tap for our station the rest of the week:

Wednesday Sept. 9th: Andrew Seid and company will be broadcasting the volleyball game on WCBN will be the official voice of Michigan volleyball this year. Michigan volleyball is currently ranked at 7th in the country (highest ranking ever) and is 5-0 on the season including a win over #3 Nebraska (biggest win in program history).

Friday Sept. 11th: Two volleyball games as a part of the "Michigan Challenge." One at 12:30 PM and one at 7:30 PM. Will broadcast through, and it is YTD if we will be on the WCBN sports stream (still waiting on equipment).

Saturday Sept. 12th: We will be streaming the football game LIVE either through or the WCBN sports stream. We are still waiting on our new equipment so hopefully that comes in sooner than later.

Also: We will broadcast the volleyball game on at 12:30 PM, before the ND game, and the volleyball game at 7:30 PM post football.

Busy weekend coming up for us. We'd love it if you could provide us company by tuning in.

(Current U of M undergraduate students: If you are interested in joining the sports department at WCBN, come check out the WCBN table at festifall this Thursday.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Listen: WCBN Football Preview Podcast

Check out the segments of the WCBN Football Preview Podcast by clicking the links below:

Free Press Article Reaction

Position-by-Position Breakdown

2009 Schedule Breakdown

The Rich Rodriguez Argument

Western Michigan Preview

Week One College Football Picks

Programming: WMU @ UM Broadcast

Listen to WCBN Sports as the Rich Rodriguez era at the University of Michigan enters its second season against the Western Michigan Broncos out of the Mid-American Conference.

Time: 3:30 P.M.
Location: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI
Line: Michigan -13
Broadcast Link: YouCastr Sports

Also be sure to check the blog tomorrow morning when the WCBN Football Preview Podcast is posted before the game (time permitting).

The UM-WMU game will be replayed on the WCBN Sports Stream beginning on Monday after the first show of the year (3-5:30 P.M.), which will feature Brian Cook of MGoBlog!

Friday, September 4, 2009

2009 Michigan Football Season Preview: Special Teams

I'll start with the positive:

Zoltan Mesko and his 43 yard punting average will make him the Ray Guy Award winner.

Now for the questionable:

#92 Jason Olesnavage, a 6'6" walk on is going to be the kicker. In practice he has been very good lately knocking every field goal through the uprights backing up to around 50 yard range. But that was practice. We'll have to see how he handles the pressure of a big game. Behind him is RS Junior #43 Bryan Wright who has a heck of a leg, but wildly inconsistent accuracy. Tied with him for the backup spot is true freshman #34 Brendan Gibbons from Florida. Gibbons was Rodriguez's scholarship guy. He's from Florida and is a more accurate kicker than Wright. If Olesnavage struggles then Gibbons will probably take his place. I actually expect Olesnavage to do just fine from what I've seen of him in practice. Bryan Wright will handle kickoff duties which should work out well with his strong leg.

Now for the obvious:

Odoms, Mathews, and Terrence Robinson are slated to return punts and they are in that order on the depth chart. Odoms could be dangerous if he HELD ONTO THE BALL.

Cissoko, Odoms, and Grady are on the depth chart to return kicks and they are in that order on the depth chart. All could be dangerous if they HELD ONTO THE BALL.

Simply catching the ball will be a huge step up from last year when Michigan put the ball on the turf an astounding 38 times. Catch the damn ball.

Preseason Grade: B-
; Zoltan is saving this because it is so hard to put last season's disaster of returning kicks out of my mind.

For our predictions on the season, check out our football season podcast to be posted shortly by Jeremy.

Go Blue!

2009 Michigan Football Season Preview: Offense

Last season's offense was a disaster. I do not want to spend much time on it so here's the summary. Quarterbacks: Terrible; O-line: Terrible; Backfield: Injured and no blocking; Receivers: Bad QB play, no chance to make plays, turned the ball over on special teams. All of this led to an offense worse than I could have imagined. We should have known since Rich Rod is bluntly honest and almost always looked frustrated and claimed the offense was not up to speed during last fall's camp. But I chose to ignore the signs and naively expected an ok offense. Needless to say I could not have been farther from the truth. Time to move on.

The good news this year is that Rodriguez has seemed relatively happy after each practice and has been impressed with the way the offense has come along. Again, with other coaches this might be coach speak, but Rodriguez has proven to genuinely express his opinions on the team. Couple this with the fact that the entire offensive line is back with a year under its belt in the system, the depth has vastly improved, the backs and receivers are talented, and at least two talented QBs are on the roster, and this offense should actually be pretty good.

This offense is based around speed and getting playmakers the ball in open space. Michigan now has some relatively experienced, fast playmakers, two mobile quarterbacks, and a serviceable offensive line to give those guys time to make plays. While the youth at quarterback will lead to inevitable mistakes, there should be many less mistakes than we saw a year ago.


After last year, nobody wants to see #8 Nick Sheridan get any more snaps. Sheridan's numbers were god awful completing just 46% of his passes for just 2 TDs to 5 INTs in eight games played. Threet at least had more TDs that INTs throughout the year with 9:7. Coaches, however, maintain that Sheridan is a viable option at quarterback and that he has vastly improved from last year. While I'm sure Sheridan has the best knowledge of the system out of the three QBs (Sheridan, #5 Forcier, and #16 Robinson), one must take into account the ability of a quarterback to execute the offense against good competition under pressure. As far as talent and physical ability, Forcier and Robinson are way above Sheridan. From the few bits of practices that I have seen, Sheridan has improved his throwing ability. But it still lacks the pop that Forcier's throws have and even Robinson's throws. Forcier does have a confidence about him and arm strength and accuracy that Sheridan does not even come close to. Even Robinson has surprised many with his ability to throw the ball, in addition to being the fastest (or 2nd fastest) player on the team. His tendency from the first week of camp to overthrow receivers in the flats has diminished greatly and he is much more accurate now.

Still, perhaps Sheridan's decision making has kept him in this race. We will see Sheridan get snaps on Saturday, but we now know Tate will get the first snap of the game and likely the first drive or two. Due to Forcier's physical abilities, accuracy, and confidence many expect Tate to win the job. I agree with that assessment. However, Forcier still does not have the knowledge of the playbook that Sheridan has. This is evident in practice in that Smith still has to criticize Forcier of not going through his progressions in walk-throughs while Sheridan is often correcting his teammates throughout. In Forcier's final year of high school, his completion percentage went down from 77% to 63% and interceptions went up from 5 as a junior to 15 as a senior. He did lose a lot of talent around him, but those still are somewhat alarming to me. It seemed that his final year of high school saw him with an increased likelihood of taking risks through the air. If Forcier struggles with decision-making and starts to turn the ball over, do not be surprised to see Sheridan get increased playing time.

And oh yeah, Denard "Shoelace" Robinson. The lightning fast QB who also has an arm is in the mix. While many might assume he was a run first QB, he was far from it. His completion percentage in high school was below 50%, but part of that may be because he threw the ball an awful lot. For his career, the speedy Robinson had over 4700 yards passing to just 1300 yards rushing in 3 years as a starter. His senior year, Robinson threw for over 1800 yards while rushing for just over 500 yards. The main concern with his passing is accuracy with a senior year completion percentage of just 43%. My opinion on Denard is he will play in every game (barring-injury) but probably not as the full time starter. His speed and talent is just too great to keep off the field. As far as managing the game at the QB slot, I do not believe he could do as great a job as Tate just yet. It is just my opinion, but the fact that Forcier has been here 4-5 months longer, has the most accurate arm, and still can run the ball a bit just makes him the better game-manager at this point in time. Rich Rod insists that Robinson is taking reps as any other quarterback and is learning to run the offense. I do not doubt that he is. However, with Forcier as the leader as "game-manager" Rodriguez and the staff are not going to let Robinson stand idly on the sidelines throughout each game. From Robinson's high school numbers, I'm actually a bit concerned that he may try to pass too much even when he has a chance to break a big run. Hopefully he trusts his instincts and the coaches ensure that he uses that speed. Since Rich Rod asserts that all three QBs will play against Western, I expect Robinson will have a few drives as "the guy" as well. But, Forcier's mix of physical abilities and knowledge of the offense will win him the job. Robinson will still play every game and the coaches have a chance to create a great dynamic between the two, IMO. I believe Sheridan will end up being like another coach on the sidelines and waiting in the wings just in case Forcier goes down.

The lack of experience is the obvious concern here. Forcier and Robinson will make poor decisions at times during the season. The key is that neither of them tries to do too much. Forcier has said all the right things in that he says his only job is to "manage the offense" and not try to do too much. However, Forcier has a swagger about him that makes me believe he will force some ill-advised passes down field from time to time. Still that's better than the floating ducks Sheridan lofted up at times a year ago. So the freshmen will make mistakes. But to what extent can they minimize them? The coaching staff and teammates of the freshman QBs have to find a way to keep Forcier and Robinson relatively relaxed throughout the year. Judging from the last practice on Wednesday, this team does seem to be very relaxed and loose as well as very tight. This will go a long way to keeping Forcier and Robinson down to Earth and realistic about when to go for big plays and when to settle for less. But as Rich Rod says, we will not know until we see them in a game.

Preseason QB Grade: C+. Forcier and Robinson alone greatly increase the talent of this unit from a year ago. Last year was a disaster, but the fact that Rodriguez now has two of his own guys here (highly touted guys at that) will give this team a much higher ability to strike big plays. But they are freshmen and the uncertainty that comes with that means this position is questionable. Sheridan will play early in the season, but barring injury I expect him to be more of a coach as the year goes on (at least I hope so). David Cone's general suckiness brings this unit out of B range and into the Cs. I know he won't play, but why is he still on scholarship?

Offensive Line:

The quarterbacks will not be able to do anything without a drastically improved O-line. Last year's injury-riddled, depthless, inexperienced unit was the main reason for Michigan's offensive troubles last year. The QBs were not great, but they never really had time to show what they could do because the O-line was a sieve. This season, every one is back with a year under their belt, Schilling is at his natural position (Guard) and the addition of the talented redshirt freshman adds actual depth which was nowhere to be found last season. At the beginning of camp, I was shocked to see the great shape that all the linemen were in. Tim McAvoy was the only player with any sort of a gut and he is now injured and likely would not have started. Everyone else looked lean, quicker, and a little stronger. This should be a vastly improved unit, but not quite great.

The two tackles really struggled a year ago. #71 Mark Ortmann and #72 Mark Huyge are the starters at LT and RT respectively. Neither one is a great talent. However, both can prove to be serviceable this year after another year of Barwis workouts and having a solidified unit around them. Ortmann started every game last year and was expected to be the starter this year. He is a fifth year senior who was shaky last season, but came along and was decent as the season progressed. Huyge is a bit of a flier as a third year sophomore. Most people expected redshirt freshman and Rodriguez recruit #65 Patrick Omameh to win the job for RT. But Huyge really came along throughout camp and appears to have earned the job, at least for now. That means one of two things. Either Huyge has really stepped up his game and will be a solid option at RT or Omameh is not as good as we expected him to be. The coaches have praised Omameh and his development though making the latter unlikely. So, the optimist in me is saying Huyge will be solid and I am going with the optimist in me. Omameh should play plenty this year and provide very solid depth. If Huyge struggles at all then Omameh will be able to fill in his shoes. At LT, #79 Perry Dorrestein is the backup to Ortmann. Dorrestein started four games at the spot last year and was not very terrible in relation to last year's line (he was still pretty bad). He is big and was pretty slow a year ago. While he looks to be in better shape now, he probably will only play extensively if Ortmann gets hurt. The tackle spots seem alot more certain this year, but again they are not great. There will be times where they get beat, but those times should be less numerous than last season.

#52 Stephen Schilling may finally blossom into the lineman many have been expecting him to be. He is now at his most natural spot at LG after spending the last few years shuffling between tackle and guard spending most of his time at tackle. He is the most talented lineman for the Wolverines and is starting for the third straight year. Behind him is some actual depth this year. Redshirt freshmen #56 Ricky Barnum and #57 Elliott Mealer are both totally inexperienced, but very talented. They will both see limited action throughout the season, but hopefully Schilling can stay healthy so neither is forced into a full time starting role. Ideally, Barnum and Mealer would get a few reps each Saturday and slowly develop to where they can contribute on a larger scale next season.

To the right of Schilling, at center is second year starter #50 David Molk. Molk was forced into a role he should not have been playing a year ago. However, he probably benefited from the experience as a full time starter. He took some bumps and bruises especially early last season. He is an extremely hard worker and has bulked up a little this year. Molk has always put up big numbers in the weight room, holding seven S&C records for O-linemen, but it was obvious his lack of bulk and knowledge of how to use the strength was lacking a year ago. He holds the program record for squat by squatting 625 pounds, but that strength did not seem to translate to the field. A seasoned Molk should be much better this year, but as with the rest of the line, not quite great yet. I expect to see far less of Molk being shoved around as we saw last year. He should be able to hold his own much more consistently and be better able to use his strength. Behind him is another talented redshirt freshman in #63 Rocko Khoury. Ideally the coaches would like Molk to stay healthy while slowly working Khoury into some gametime reps. A Molk injury would not be good as Khoury is not ready to start yet. Moosman would then have to slide to center therefore reshuffling the line. That could be a big detriment to continuity.

Rounding out the interior linemen is right guard #60 David Moosman. Moosman was solid at times last season, but as with the rest of the line he was inconsistent. Out of all the lineman last year though, Moosman struck me as perhaps the least erratic along with Schilling. Moosman was for the most part a solid but not great player on the O-line last year. With that year of experience he may take a step up into "good" status. He had some trouble getting to the second level last year and that will have to improve if Michigan is to make the most of their great backfield. Moosman is pretty versatile on the line and if Molk gets injured, chances are he could slide to center with one of the freshman taking his guard spot. Hopefully this does not come to pass, though as guard is Moosman's more natural position. Listed behind Moosman is #74 John Ferrara. Ferrara switched from DT to O-line last year due to the scarcity of depth. Of course, now Michigan lacks depth on the D-line but the coaches have elected to keep Ferrara on offense. Ferrara was not good last year, but for a guy who had never played O-line even in high school, he showed some promise in his five starts. He will see limited action this year, but will probably not see extensive playing time unless the team has injuries. I also would not be surprised to see Mealer and Barnum get some time at right guard in relief of Moosman.

Preseason O-line Grade: B.
This unit was awful last year, but alot of that had to do with the constant injuries and shuffling of the lineup. If the unit stays healthier this year, they will actually be able to build some continuity. With veteran starters and young talent behind them, I think the line will be very solid this year. They will not be perfect and opposing defenses will get into the backfield from time to time, but hopefully far less than last year. These linemen appear to be in perfect shape for the Rich Rod zone blocking scheme that requires some mobility. I think this will lead to a much better running game for Michigan.

Running Backs

#4 Brandon Minor is now the guy to take hold of this team. After coming on very strong in the second half of last season, despite never being 100% healthy, many are expecting Minor to have a huge year behind the improved O-line. Unfortunately, his health may still prevent him from doing that. He has had a nagging ankle injury throughout camp and will not start this Saturday. He is expected to play, but probably not as much as was thought. Even though Michigan is really deep at running back, a healthy Minor with a solid O-line is poised for a huge year. Hopefully he gets back to 100% quickly and then stays there for a change. Minor averaged 5.1 ypc last season with a terrible offensive line and while being banged up. If healthy he will go over 1000 yards rushing on the year and challenge for 1st team All Big Ten. His combination of power, at 218 pounds, and deceptive speed will be perfect for the Big Ten in the spread and shred. Rich Rodriguez found this out last season against Penn State. Hopefully Minor is healthy enough for us to see more of that.

If he is not healthy, though, Michigan should be ok. #23 Carlos Brown will get the start against Western and also has the chance to put up give numbers IF he stays healthy. With Carlos, the IF is ginormous. He has not been healthy for an entire year at any point in his career. Right now he is 100%. If he can stay that way and Minor gets back to full health, they could be the best one-two punch backfield in the Big Ten along with Saine and Herron at O-State. Brown got his one start last season against NW and rushed for 115 yards. But that was pretty much his entire production for the year as he finished with 122 yards. Hopefully Brown can stay healthy as we all remember is 100 yard games in 2007. Brown is known for his speed, but also has good strength. He will be an interesting back who Michigan can use to manage the clock and at other times get him the ball in open field to showcase his speed.

Behind those two are two very talented young backs. Sophomore #20 Mike Shaw started a couple games a year ago despite being banged up for much of the season. He finished the year with 215 yards averaging 5.1 yards per carry. His best performance was at Minnesota where he had season highs in carries, yardage, and ypc. He had 8 carries for 71 yards at 8.9 ypc. He was not even 100% healthy that game. Shaw's key skills are his speed and elusiveness. I am not sure he is an every down back, at least not yet. But Michigan will probably get him a few carries each game and Shaw should be able to strike some long runs as he did a year ago even though he claims he was injured and would never have been caught from behind as he was in those runs. Shaw had surgery for a sports hernia in the spring and therefore missed much of the spring. He says he is back to full health and Michigan will find a way to get him the ball whether at back or at slot a couple times a game.

Surprisingly listed ahead of Shaw on the death chart is diminutive freshman #2 Vincent Smith. Standing at 5'6" Smith's quickness and "slipperiness" is what stands out. Many have seen the drill from camp where Smith somehow twisted his way out of what seemed to be a sure tackle or two, moving his body in ways no human should be able to. Smith is no doubt a "big play" back who Michigan will try to get the ball to in open space to showcase his quickness. Smith will play situationally in every game and will have a chance to make a big impression. He will play Saturday, perhaps more than Shaw, and will certainly bring the crowd to its feet a few times this season.

Overall, the tailbacks will be very fun to watch and if Minor and Brown stay healthy, this could be one of the top units in the conference. With a true freshman at quarterback, a solid running game will be critical to minimize the pressure the guys feel to force the ball downfield. If Michigan can have success on the ground early in games, it will take a lot of pressure off of whoever is the quarterback. This should lead to minimizing turnovers which were a huge problem last year. Of course they all need to hold onto the football, but none of these guys have been disastrous at carrying the ball lately.

The fullback position is also a strength for Michigan with #44 Mark Moundros as the starter. Moundros has been a block first fullback, but Rodriguez and the coaches rewarded him twice last year in the redzone giving him a rushing TD and a reception TD. Moundros has really developed into a good lead blocker for Michigan. He is not quite up to the status of the great Dudley, but he is a valuable blocking asset for the team. While many are sick of #24 Kevin Grady and his seemingly constant troubles, the coaches say he has been working very hard. That is why he is still on the team and now he is a fullback. I am very curious to see Grady play fullback and actually think he could be quite good. Grady is the strongest back on the team holding backfield records for bench and squat. He is also a huge 5'9" 230 pounds. If he has improved his blocking, he may actually end up seeing the field quite a bit this season. If he holds onto the ball, Michigan may give it to him a few times and he is a much more explosive and dangerous player than Moundros. While Moundros is the guy, I think it's something to watch for and see if Grady does start seeing the field.

Preseason Running Backs Grade: A-. Yes I am may be a little too high on the running backs, but this grade is assuming everyone is fully healthy. With an improved offensive line I really like this group. It also might be foolish of me to assume they will stay healthy given the track record of Minor, Brown, and even Shaw. If there are some injuries, this unit will go back to average in the B range. But when fully healthy there are just too many really good weapons back here and a back in Minor who is one of the best when healthy.

Receivers and Tight Ends:

While no one target really stands out as a go-to guy, Michigan has an absolute plethora of options to go to in the spread. Starting at outside receiver, #13 Greg Mathews is the top guy. He has yet to establish himself as a great receiver and go-to man, but he has been consistent. And last year, you cannot blame Mathews for the terrible QB play. Matthews ended up as the team's 2nd leading receiver with 409 yards on 35 receptions in 11 games. Now, he has an accurate quarterback, albeit a freshman one in Forcier. Forcier will have at least some time to throw. Mathews will see more balls and will have a chance to establish himself as a top tier receiver. I am not sure that he is at that level, but he is a solid receiver and will have chances to show he is more. On the other side, #21 Junior Hemingway has taken the starting job over #22 Darryl Stonum. Hemingway received a medical redshirt last season after coming down with mono for the remaining 8 games of the season. However, remember in the Utah game Hemingway had 6 catches for 79 yards and a score. If Hemingway was healthy last year maybe there would be no question that he should be a starter. It appears that it is still a close competition between Hemingway and Stonum though for the starting job and I expect both to get starts at the position. At practice on Wednesday, Stonum was playfully talking trash to Hemingway during the receivers' drills. Coach Dews heard him and jokingly said something along the lines of, "Keep talking Darryl. Get in his head. You're going to take his job right?" So it seems they are still battling. In Mathews, Hemingway, and Stonum, Michigan has three legitimate outside receivers who can all play for possession or go long for the deep ball. Having those three experienced guys should really help the development of Forcier and Robinson as they should be reliable targets in the ten to fifteen yard range. #12 Roy Roundtree is listed as a slot receiver, but coaches have stated he plays both outside and inside. Roundtree will probably get a few reps at outside receiver this season given his success in the spring and the depth at slot. #82 LaTerryal Savoy is listed as Hemingway's backup, but does anyone really expect him to get significant time? He is now a fifth year senior who has never cracked the starting lineup except for one game last year in which he did not play too much throughout. His career has been a disappointment. With his 6'3" size coming out of high school he was at least expected to become a decent outside target. It never really materialized. #18 James Rogers played a little bit last season making his first career reception against Illinois. He should not play too much if Hemingway, Stonum, and Mathews are healthy. One guy to watch out for is true freshman #6 Je'ron Stokes. The coaches have praised the high school All-American throughout camp and he is currently listed at third on the depth chart at X receiver (Mathews spot). My guess is that the coaches would actually like to redshirt him, but will play him if they see it necessary. We will find out more about the coaches' plans if he plays on Saturday. So there is quite a bit of depth at this spot. Again, nobody has asserted themselves as a go-to guy just yet. But there are a bunch of solid options and chances are that one or two guys will at least step up and prove to have great seasons. I expect one of Mathews, Hemingway, or Stonum to emerge as a great deep threat this year.

The slot position also has alot of options. Rodriguez will sometimes have two slots in the game at the same time and that is a good thing given the depth. The top guy is #9 Martavious Odoms who was the team's leading receiver as a true freshman last year. Odoms proved to be a pretty good receiver last year given the circumstances (no QB and bad O-line). The team likes to get the ball to Odoms quickly in the flats or send him on that wheel route deep. Odoms' quickness is what makes him so dangerous. This year, opponents will be more prepared for Odoms and expect them to get defenders to him much quicker thereby preventing him from making plays in the open field. I expect Odoms to have another good year and be able to go down field a little more with Forcier at the helm. He had pretty good hands a year ago (on offense; on special teams his hands turned to rock) and being a reliable target will help the freshman QBs. The execution needs to get much better on the bubble screens though. It will help having Forcier throwing the ball since he throws much more accurate screen passes than Threet. But Michigan needs to cut down on the negative yardage plays and alot of that was from those passes to Odoms. A good QB will really help fix those problems. Behind Odoms is a big surprise with former basketball player #19 Kelvin Grady moving up to 2nd on the depth chart. He made a splash early in fall camp with the play of the day with a one-handed grab. Rodriguez really loves his speed and insists Grady is going to play alot this year. Grady played running back at East Grand Rapids a few years ago. As a senior he rushed for over 2000 yards and 28 TDs. Grady is fast. Michigan will look to get him the ball on screens or slants and let him run really really fast after that. And there's more good talent at slot still with #7 Terrence Robinson next on the depth chart. Robinson was actually slated to start ahead of Odoms last season until a leg injury sustained in fall camp kept him out for the entire year. As a senior in high school, Robinson played quarterback in a wildcat type system rushing for over 2100 yards and 29 TDs. It is yet to be seen if he has the same agility and speed as he did before the injury. He will see some action, but not as much as Grady and Odoms early on. If one of them struggles or if he proves to be better than expected when he gets reps, Robinson could work his way up the depth chart. As mentioned above, #12 Roy Roundtree will play both slot and outside receiver. After his excellent spring game it should be fun to watch Roundtree and he provides yet another legitimate dangerous target for the Wolverines. Some of Michigan's backs will also get some action at the slot in different formations for the Wolverines. I especially expect to see this with Shaw and Vincent Smith. Both are smaller backs with quickness that is ideal for the slot. We saw Shaw there last season and he was temporarily shifted there in the offseason. With Stonum, Hemingway, Mathews and the four guys on the depth chart at slot, we are already at seven solid options in the passing attack not including the running backs.

Though Rodriguez's system seemed averse to tight ends at WVU, last year Rodriguez embraced adding the tight end to the offense. The same seems to be the case this year. Rodriguez's reason for keeping the tight end is Michigan's talent at the position. #86 Kevin Koger played in the final nine games last year as a very talented true freshman. While he looked like a freshman alot of the time, especially blocking, he made some big plays receiving with his athleticism. Koger had 6 catches for 93 yards and the touchdown against Wisconsin. As the season progressed, Koger's blocking improved and he started to look like an athletic veteran tight end. Expect Michigan to try to use Koger's athleticism even more in the passing game this year. With the emergence of #80 Martell Webb as even with Koger on the depth chart, Michigan has two dangerous, big receiving tight ends at their disposal. In addition, highly touted redshirt freshman #88 Brandon Moore will enter the mix. It is unsure how much he will play given the depth ahead of him, but depth never hurt a team. Webb was recruited by many out of high school to be a big receiver. Carr recruited him as a tight end. Webb will be used in the passing attack and should be another solid option.

Altogether, I believe Michigan has 9 solid receiving options not including the running backs. Noone is great yet, but all of these guys should contribute a little at some point during the season. Having this many options can only help the young quarterbacks in my opinion. There will be reliable underneath options on any given play with the tight ends, slots or backs. If Forcier and Robinson are able to improve at going through his progressions throughout the year, Michigan should have an open man on most plays leading to a much more efficient passing attack.

Preseason Receiving Corps Grade: B.
Nobody really stands out as a big time playmaker yet, but a solid group of decent pass catchers with talented quarterbacks who should have some time to throw will lead to good things. Very nice depth.

Offense As a Whole

The second year for Rich Rodriguez's offense leads to big improvement. In Rodriguez's first year at West Virginia, the team rushed for 1992 yards total. In year two the team rushed for over 3700 yards and 39 TDs. Passing yardage stayed about the same, but the TD-INT ratio went from 9 TDs:19 INTs to 11 TDs:9 INTs. Team scoring went from 21.4 points per game to 30.5 points per game. A second year in Rodriguez's system has a pretty large impact.

Since Michigan will be playing two true freshman quarterbacks, the leap might not be that drastic, but there will be a large increase in offense productivity. The main concern is turnovers. Michigan had 30 TURNOVERS last season. Michigan had 38 FUMBLES only 18 of them were lost. Those numbers are astoundingly horrific. Granted some of the fumbles happened on special teams, but they were committed largely by offensive players (cough cough Martavious). Even with freshman quarterbacks, I believe interceptions will be down unless Forcier tries to force the ball too much, which I do not think he will do. The main concern is fumbles. Last season, Rodriguez said the staff was working to correct the fumbles, but they kept happening. Rodriguez said Wednesday that he has hardly seen any balls dropped to the turf in fall camp. Hopefully he is right and God please let them hold onto and catch the football.

If the turnovers do go very far down, as I expect them to, this offense could actually be quite good. It would be much better if Forcier had a year or two under his belt, but having a one-two punch at quarterback with one of them being the lightning fast Robinson may help mitigate freshman error? (grasping at straws here). If quarterback play is above average this offense will be really good. Even if they play like freshman, though, it cannot get worse than last year's numbers. It is mathematically impossible for that to happen. Bottom line, offense much better.

Preseason Offense Grade: B-.
The offensive line is much better, the running backs should be great, the receiving corps has depth. It does come down to quarterback play this year. Forcier is very talented, so is Robinson, but they are freshman. They will do some things that make us scratch our heads at times. But this should happen far less often than last year when the quarterbacks did not even have time to do anything before a defensive lineman was breathing down their neck. Sheridan is very smart, but physically does not have near the tools that Forcier and Robinson have. The fact that Forcier can throw screen passes much better than Threet or Sheridan alone will make this team much better. The offense should actually be fun to watch this year, but they will struggle at times. The running game will be very important and should improve the most given Rodriguez's track record. Robinson will provide excitement with his feet, Michigan might have two backs go over 1000 yards, and we will actually see what Rodriguez's offense is supposed to look like.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 Michigan Football Season Preview: Defense

Moving onto football: The next four days could be the longest of many Michigan fans' lives. With all the ridiculous coverage of the poor journalism by the Freep, Saturday cannot come fast enough. Here's the first installation of our 2009 season preview and we start with the Defense.

As bad as Michigan's offense was a year ago, the defense was the worst in Michigan history. Yes, some of that had to do with an offense that could not keep the ball long enough to give the defense a rest. However, for a defense that was supposed to carry the Wolverines to a .500 record there is no doubt last season was a disappointment. The scene in the picture above was far too familiar with a number of Wolverines unable to bring down a man from the opposition. Highlighted by the record 347 points allowed, the veteran defense struggled through scheme changes, technique changes, and injuries to an underachieving season.

This year, 3 of the top 4 defensive linemen are gone. In addition, the secondary has lost players through graduation and attrition finding itself pitifully thin. Stevie Brown is now a linebacker at the "spinner" position in Greg Robinson's 3-4 scheme. The linebacking corps is the deepest position for the defense. Overall, this is a thin defense that will be playing a lot of young guys. This makes for a scary, uncertain forecast.


First, a little bit about the philosophy of Greg Robinson. Last year, the team could not seem to decide on what scheme of defense was ideal to run. Supposedly under Shafer, position coaches were not communicating as well as a team would like. This lead to a lot of situations where players seemed isolated and confused last year. This year, Greg Robinson has emphasized more of an entire team style of learning as opposed to only with their position coaches. Players have sited numerous meetings with all defensive players which did not occur a year ago under Shafer. Robinson emphasizes "playing to your help" which, again, is something that did not seem to be occurring much last season. Players were often found isolated in coverage and attempting diving tackles instead of getting to an offensive player, slowing him down, and waiting for help to bring him down. This led to the unbelievable number of painful big plays a year ago which the coaches have sited as the main source of the major problems. Hopefully, this philosophical emphasis on "playing to your help" should be enough to turn some of those big plays into only moderate gains.

Secondly, the X's and O's scheme of Robinson is a 3-4 based defense. However, the team will show a 4-3 base from time to time. The main nuances in the Robinson scheme come from the much over-hyped positions in the linebacking corps. These are the "spinner" position and the "quick" position (aka Deathbacker). The "spinner" is an outside linebacker who is the LB/S hybrid so to speak. This is the position Stevie Brown will be starting at. Robinson, insists that this is simply an outside linebacker and not necessarily a hybrid (but for our purposes, the spinner is essentially a defensive back who blitzes and supports the run more than any usual safety). The "quick" spot or as many on the Michigan Blogosphere have dubbed it "deathbacker" is essentially an OLB/DE hybrid. This will be a defensive end who drops back more than the typical defensive lineman. Sometimes they will line up with a hand down in a 3-point stance, and others they will be standing.

While everyone knows of Robinson's struggles (disaster) at Syracuse, he has not had awful stints as defensive coordinator. As far as his career within the last 15 years (I find what is past that to be less useful for our purposes given how much the game has changed) he won two Super Bowls as the Broncos DC, was DC for the terrible Chiefs' defenses from 2001 to 2003, came back to college as DC for Texas in 2004, and was HC at 'Cuse from '05 to '08. Given that the NFL is so much different than college and that he proved to be more inept as a Head Coach at 'Cuse than at any time as a DC, his one year stint as DC at Texas gives us the best insight, albeit a very uncertain one, into how he will be here.

What stands out is his emphasis on stopping the run and his apparent lack of emphasis at stopping the passing attack. The 2003 Texas team (year before Robinson), lost three games and gave up 21.5 PPG, 155 yds. Rush/game, and 170 yards Pass/game. Robinson took over in 2004, the team went 12-1 and the defense gave up 17.9 PPG 107.4 RYPG and 212.7 PYPG. Robinson left before 2005, Texas' Nat'l Title year where the D gave up 16.4 PPG, 130 RYPG, and 172 PYPG. Robinson's defense game up 50 less yards on the ground/game than in '03 and still 20 yards less on the ground/game than the Nat'l title team. So it seems that more recently Robinson has focused on stopping the run. This should bode well in the Big Ten. However, the passing yardage allowed raises a little bit of a flag. Robinson's team gave up over 200 yards/game through the air and even the 2003 Texas defense which was shaky gave up only 170. This reminds me of the Michigan defense throughout much of the Carr era, particularly under English. A defense that stuffs the run, but struggles when opposing teams spread the field.

Again, this is based off of ridiculous projections from one year of data from him as a DC. In reality, this tells us very little. But since this is a preview and the point is to predict and project, this is my ridiculous conclusion: a defense we were used to seeing with Carr/English except with the whole "spinner" and "deathbacker" thing. And, the personnel is not quite to where it was under the English defense experience and depth wise. So even though the philosophy and scheme may be ok, does M have the personnel to execute well enough?

Defensive Line:

Thank God Brandon Graham came back. In the Robinson scheme, the defense only has one full-time designated DE. For this year, that is a very good thing.

#55 Brandon Graham is the starter at DE. As most everyone knows he is probably the best player on the team and a projected first round draft pick. Barring injury, Graham will have a 1st team all-Big Ten season challenging for All-American if he gets help from some teammates and is not constantly double teamed. Behind Graham, though, it gets scary. On the first depth chart released from the team, a walk-on and Adam Patterson are the only backups listed. What's more is #39 Will Heininger, the walk-on with 5 games of special teams experience is listed ahead of #99 Adam Patterson who has 19 games of experience and has at least played some DE. From Brandon Graham to walk-on is quite a drop off in talent. Will Heininger does have size at 6'6" 261, but there is no way to project how good/bad he will be. My guess is that he an Patterson will split time in relief of Graham. The fact that freshman, early-enrollee #90 Anthony Lalota is not listed on the depth chart makes me believe the coaches would prefer to redshirt him. But, if Patterson and Heininger really don't work out or if Graham goes down, Lalota will very likely get his redshirt pulled and see extensive PT.

The Robinson scheme has a NT and a DT where the DT will sometimes play the role of defensive end. Due to this, it is kind of nice to have #53 Ryan Van Bergen as the DT. The third year sophomore used to be a DE and played in all 12 games for the Wolverines last year. So he has some experience under his belt. Alot has been expected from his since he's been on campus. He did not show a whole lot last year, but will have ample opportunity to make plays this season. Behind him is another converted DE in #92 Greg Banks. Banks seems to be one of those players who hasn't and just won't materialize into much at Michigan. He's now a fourth year junior and is still a backup. His experience should enable him to be an adequate backup, but you hardly ever hear the coaches mention him as a potential difference maker on the defense.

The NT position seems much more promising with returning sophomore #68 Mike Martin as the starter. Martin played extensively as a freshman last year which is extremely hard to do on the D-Line. Although he did not officially register a start in '08, he played in all 12 games and played alot more than many expected in relief of Terrence Taylor. As with the rest of the team, coaches have said Martin has worked extremely hard in the weight room bulking up to 292 lbs. He also holds 3 strength and conditioning records for the D-linemen and a team record for 30 reps of 225. Martin has a chance to break out this year and even be in contention for 2nd team Big Ten. He showed alot of promise last year and should only improve this season. Though many want to see true freshman #73 Will Campbell get alot of snaps this year, he is listed behind Junior #95 Renaldo Sagesse on the depth chart. Sagesse should get more snaps than Campbell at least at the beginning of the year. However, I would not be surprised to see Campbell step up and get on the field more as the season progresses. I was shocked to see him so slim on the first day of practice. He enrolled early and came into the Spring listed at 6'5" 330, and many said he came in at over 340 in the winter. He certainly has worked hard to get in shape to contribute. He is now listed at 318, but looks lean and under 310. He honestly did not have a gut (that much of one) when I saw him in practice. With his talent, I do not think Robinson and co. will be able to keep him from getting some significant time this year.

Overall, the D-line lost a lot in the three starters from a year ago. Graham coming back really salvages this line and gives them a chance to be respectable. If Graham and Martin build off the way they played last year and Ryan Van Bergen really steps up in his new role as starter, the unit could begin to gel and be very good midway through the season. Health is a huge factor, though. There is not real depth at any of the three positions. Graham and Martin must stay healthy and Michigan cannot afford to have 2 of the 3 starters out at any point in the season. Even if the backups play up to their potential, it might not be good enough when the Big Ten schedule rolls around.

D-line Preseason Grade: B-. Without Graham this line is in the C range with its lack of depth.

Outside Linebackers

Transitioning from the D-line we'll start with the "Quick" end or DE/LB hybrid. #58 Brandon Herron is currently listed as the starter with true freshman #88 Craig Roh as his back up. Herron is a third year sophomore who played special teams in all 12 games last year. It is very tough to judge his knowledge of the game and how he will play. But, from an athletic stand point, Herron should be fully capable of succeeding. He is arguably the strongest and fastest "linebacker" on the squad. Though he weighs only 220 pounds, Herron holds S&C linebacking records for the power clean, squat, vertical and 40. This combination of strength, speed, and jumping ability could allow Herron to have alot of success at the new hybrid position. The Quick will rush the QB alot and Herron not only could be quick enough to get into the backfield, but also should be able to tip alot of passes and intimidate opposing QBs. Again, he is completely unproven as a defensive player and if he has not grasped his responsibilities mentally he could be terrible. We will have to see. The good news is there is talent behind him on the depth chart in Roh. Roh impressed many with his performance at the Under Armour All-American game. He also appears to be in great shape for a freshman arriving this summer. He is very lean and possesses great quickness. The big question with him is his strength. While coaches believe he has come along well since arriving on campus, he still may have trouble with some of the bigger tackles and tight ends in the Big Ten. His speed, though should allow him to make some plays throughout the year. #81 Steve Watson is listed as the third string. Watson is the least athletic out of the three. If/when he plays, I expect that he will mostly be used more as a traditional DE with his hand down.

The other OLB spot, spinner, is the LB/S hybrid occupied by #3 Stevie Brown. The now infamous Brown had been picked apart by opposing defenses and fans the last few years at safety. Coaches and fans, are hoping this move to hybrid linebacker will make better use of Brown's skills (speed) and minimize his weaknesses (coverage breakdowns, poor angles, poor tackling). I was one of the last to try and stick by Brown, but he made it very difficult. While many want to believe this move will minimize Stevie's blunders, I am very skeptical. Not only has Brown been blown by in coverage, he has had his share of poor attempts at tackling and has taken poor angles time and time again. Those are fundamental mistakes that need to be corrected technique wise, not by a position change. Given the fact that Brown has impressed coaches in practice year after year, I am now convinced it is a mental thing for Brown when he is on the field on Saturdays. His intuition/game-sense or lack thereof has put him and his team in bad situations over and over again leading to some big plays for the opposition. In this new position, he better have learned to take better angles and tackle better since he will be playing in run support alot more. I am very scared that he may miss tackles on running backs who then will be able to get into the secondary for huge gains. While we might not have to watch Stevie blow coverages as much, if he does not start tackling better expect more of the same struggles. Stevie Brown is a great guy and I hope he succeeds, but he has repeatedly made the same mistakes for two years. Here's to hoping they stop.

The reason they need to stop, is that behind him on the depth chart are two or three freshmen in #27 Mike Jones, #7 Brandin Hawthorne, and #23 Floyd Simmons (?). The reason I put two or three and a "?" by Simmons is that Simmons has been previously listed as a CB and Hawthorne is not on the first depth chart released despite the fact that coaches have extensively mentioned him as in the mix at spinner above Jones. Either Jones has stepped up and they would like to redshirt Hawthorne or a mistake was made on the depth chart released to the media. I would assume the former and that, barring injury, Hawthorne will be redshirted with Jones playing. Simmons should not see the field much at this spot, if at all. Hawthorne and Jones both enrolled early and went through spring practice. They were both recruited for their speed and athleticism with Jones being recruited by most as a safety. They are both young and talented. Given that Jones is listed at number two, it would be safe to guess that he has come along a little further than Hawthorne at this point and has maybe has a better grasp of the defense. Jones should see the field for a few snaps each Saturday and if Stevie struggles, Jones may see his playing time go up as the season moves along. This position stands out as the biggest question mark on the defense given Brown's track record and the fact that freshmen sit behind him. Hopefully Brown has learned how to tackle. If he has, his time in coverage should be taken down enough to count this position switch as an improvement. One thing that may help Brown is Robinson's emphasis on playing to help. If Brown attempts to push opposing players to his help instead of diving at them as he did last year, that will be a definite improvement. We'll have to wait and see.

Inside Linebackers

At the MIKE or middle linebacker spot is #45 Obi Ezeh. Last season, I thought Ezeh played very well in the opener against Utah reminding me of a younger David Harris. As the season went on though, Ezeh was very inconsistent and often made poor decisions and poor tackling attempts. Now a fourth year junior, Ezeh has the most experience on the unit and will be the leader of the linebackers. There is no doubt Ezeh has the physical talent to be a very good linebacker. But his inconsistency last season leaves many wondering if his game instincts are not good enough to make him a great linebacker. While those concerns are fair, I am not in that camp. Alot of Ezeh's apparent problems last year, may have come from the confusion of the whole defense. Robinson has renewed an emphasis of meeting with the entire defense not just individual units. Ezeh and other players have said the whole defense rarely met as a group last season, whereas this year it happens frequently and reminds them of how English ran things. This should lead players having a better understanding of what their teammates will be doing on any given play. In turn, this could allow Ezeh to relax a bit more and make better decisions this season. Ezeh made some very bad decisions last year in run support as far as which gap to cover. I believe it would be very easy to second-guess yourself and think too much with a defense that obviously was not on the same page last year. I expect Ezeh to play much better this season, similar to how he played in the Utah game. But that's just me.

Behind Ezeh at MIKE are two very talented and highly touted second year guys. Sophomore #42 J.B. Fitzgerald and redshirt freshman #25 Kenny Demens both have good careers ahead of them. Both have good size weighing over 230 pounds and are known to be very good athletes as well. Demens especially was known for his speed coming out of high school. Fitzgerald played special teams last year in each game with a few snaps at linebacker. He will get alot more snaps at linebacker this year and it should be fun to watch him develop week to week. Demens redshirted last year and is behind Fitzgerald on the depth chart. Still, I expect him to get some playing time since Rodriguez likes to substitute often on both sides of the ball.

At the WILL or weakside linebacker spot #8 Jonas Mouton will start for the second year in a row. Mouton showed alot of upside a year ago despite being banged up for almost the entire season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 81 and made some plays behind the line of scrimmage with 6.5 TFLs and a sack. Many are expecting Mouton to have a bit of a breakout year. Provided he stays healthy, Mouton could surprise alot of people this season. Behind him is a walk on and a redshirt freshman. On the released depth chart, walk-on #52 Kevin Leach is listed ahead of up and coming redshirt freshman #4 Brandon Smith. I'm not buying it. Coaches have been talking about Smith all camp as a guy who will be able to contribute at linebacker. I think this might be a way to motivate Smith if he has been taking it easier in practice. However, Rodriguez has an affinity for walk-ons and that is what Leach is. You may remember Leach from recovering the opening fumble against Utah which led to Michigan's score. Leach also peaked last season seeing some time at linebacker against Toledo before getting injured for the remainder of the season. So that is Kevin Leach for you. Smith is certainly the more talented of the two and I expect him to play more. But Leach will get a few snaps as well.

Overall, the linebacking corps is the strength of the defense experience and depth wise. It still is far from being a great linebacking corps. Ezeh struggled at times last year, Mouton has not still solidified that he can become a great linebacker, and the two hybrid spots are somewhat foreign to any defense Michigan has seen in the past.

Linebackers' Preseason Grade: B. Talented, but the depth is young and the starters have been inconsistent.


The Secondary's depth is extremely frightening. If the starters do not stay healthy this defense will stand no chance against teams with any semblance of a passing attack.

At cornerback #6 Donovan Warren and #33 Boubacar Cissoko return. Warren's apparent decline in play last year has since been somewhat explained by the fact that he was playing hurt for nearly the entire season. He is now healthy, though not completely 100%, and should return to improving off of his freshman campaign. Cissoko played extensively last season as a true freshman. For the most part, he played well. This season he will step into the starting role and be expected to play well every down. Both Warren and Cissoko are very talented, but by no means are they All-American caliber just yet. If Warren bounces back, he could challenge for first team All-Big Ten. Cissoko is still young and relatively inexperienced. He will take some lumps along the way, but hopefully will be able to make some plays in the secondary on a consistent basis. The coaches have praised his ability to play in press coverage. Expect to see alot of press coverage from Cissoko this year. After those guys though, it gets scary. Redshirt freshman J.T. Floyd is listed as Cissoko's backup. He will probably play the most out of the backups, at least early in the season. Coaches have asserted that Floyd is their third guy, but he has not yet played a snap. He will have to learn on the job. The coaches have been searching for a fourth solid corner and that will be one of two freshmen. Michigan Cass Tech product #14 Teric Jones and Charles Woodson's clone, #2 J.T. Turner, are those two freshmen. I completely exaggerate Turner as Woodson's clone, but he was one of the top corner prospects in the country, has great size at 6'2" and many expect him to be the next great Michigan corner. He arrived at camp a little late due to some clearinghouse issues, but his talent has kept him in the mix for playing time. Jones is much smaller at 5'8" but has impressed coaches since his move from slot receiver. I fully expect Turner to be the one to get the most playing time simply due to his size and talent. But as you see, not one backup at corner has played a single snap. That means alot of uncertainty and trouble if Warren or Cissoko gets injured.

Safety is a similar story except neither of the starters have had a full time starting role yet either. #19 Troy Woolfolk is listed as the starter at strong safety with #40 Mike Williams playing opposite him at free safety. Woolfolk switched to safety from corner during the spring and is known for his speed. Woolfolk holds the title for team's fastest player, except Denard Robinson is now challenging him for that title. Woolfolk played special teams last year and did not see the field much in the secondary. Williams played safety in 9 games a year ago and perhaps has the best leg strength in the secondary. He holds DB records in the vertical, squat, and power clean. The coaches have both noted that Woolfolk and Williams like to play physically and will play some press coverage this year. Williams played well at times last year and many have been expecting him to get this starting role for a while now. Woolfolk is a bit of a flier, however and it is hard to judge him without seeing him in a game. Michigan better hope he plays well because the depth at safety is terrible.

Behind Williams at free safety is true freshman early-enrollee #5 Vlad (The Impalor) Emilien. Emilien was a highly touted recruit out of Florida and many have been expecting him to contribute this year. He is very talented with good size at 6'1" 198, but was playing high school ball a year ago. He will see reps each week and will be the top backup at the safety spot. Behind Woolfolk at strong safety, though, is very scary. The only listed backups are two, yes two, walk-ons. Third year sophomore #31 Jared Van Slyke is currently listed at number two on the depth chart. Other than his size at 6'3" 197, I have absolutely no clue how he will be at safety. The third string is listed as #22 Jordan Kovacs who stands at 5'10" 194 pounds. I do not know how good or bad either of these guys are, but we will probably see Van Slyke on the field this Saturday. Apparently the staff is electing not to play true freshman #15 Thomas Gordon who was actually recruited. This puzzles me because coaches have been saying he has been playing pretty well at safety. Perhaps the walk-ons are playing well too and they would prefer to redshirt Gordon. Regardless, if Woolfolk or Williams gets injured at any point in the season, do not be surprised to see Gordon get a shot.

Secondary Grade: C. Though the starters should be just fine, they cannot play every snap. The depth is so scary here that I could not give a higher grade.

Defense as a whole

This is the third scheme these players (the ones who have been around long enough) have had to learn in three years. While their is talent, most of it is young and inexperienced talent. For this defense to be good, they will have to stay healthy and have alot of young guys grow up in a hurry. Having said that, they cannot get much worse than last years' defense which gave up a Michigan record 347 points.

With an offense that should hang onto the ball for longer stretches of time, the defense should have fresher legs throughout the year. That should be enough to give them slightly better numbers than a year ago. Bottomline is Graham has to play like B.G., Martin has to step up, Ezeh and Warren have to bounce back, and the team, particularly the secondary, has to stay healthy. If these things happen Michigan might turn some heads in a good way. If not, it'll be another frustrating year of watching a sub-par Michigan defense, albeit one that is slightly better than last year's horror.

Defense Preseason Grade: C+/B-

Damage Already Done

For myself and many other Michigan fans, the last few days have been spent by incessant brooding over the journalistic childishness of Snyder and Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press. When I first saw the headlines of "NCAA Allegations" I was scared. After I read the article, however, all that fear went away and was transmuted into pure anger at how unprofessional, subjective, and one-sided the two so called "reporters" are allowed to be while maintaining their job. No players contacted them, they decided to write the story and called 10 unidentified "current" or former players. Do you think that was a random sample? It has come to light that the current players used for reference in the article were not even complaining about workload, but were two freshmen, questioned under false pretenses who feel terrible for the ensuing ordeal.

While I could go on for hours about the problems with the article and "research" done by the reporters, I will not. I have wasted too much time and already have given the two writers what they were looking for. Attention to themselves and negative attention towards the Michigan football program and Coach Rodriguez. What is going to happen from here on out is pretty clear to me. Investigations will be carried out, no punishments from the NCAA will follow, and eventually this will be put to rest. What will not ever go away, however, is the damage done to the public perception of Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez broke down yesterday in a press conference not out of remorse for anything he has done. He has nothing to be sorry about. He has given the local media more access and transparency than anything they ever had under the Carr era. Previously, local media would have to scramble to create a story since Carr would allow them very little access to players or the program. Rodriguez comes to Michigan and invites the media to observe practices, interview all players, and show them the program behind the scenes. Yet, instead of taking this gift and bringing more real news to the public, Rosenberg and Snyder twist the quotes of a couple freshmen they are now allowed to talk to and turn it against Rodriguez and make the kids look dumb in the process.

Those two so called "reporters" have succeeded. Rodriguez's reputation has gained another undeserving stain as someone who pushes his players too far and is too self-absorbed. Did Rosenberg and Snyder take the time to investigate or mention that the team's Winter semester GPA was the highest in over 20 years? No, they instead wildly suggested that the "over-demanding" workouts were making the kids suffer academically. Who mentioned to them that workouts were hurting academics? Kurt Wermers the guy who left because he did not put any work into school? Nobody will ever know because the Freep granted anonymity even to former players who would face no wrath from Rodriguez. The majority of the country will not look deeper into the gaping holes of the article. They will only read the headlines which say "Michigan and Rodriguez Accused of NCAA Violations." Other so-called "reporters" have started to say the Rodriguez should be fired.

The damage has been done and it is absolutely disastrous for Rodriguez and the program. I hope that Rosenberg and Snyder are happy for unnecessarily dragging their alma mater through the mud. If Michigan players were struggling academically and in life, or if Michigan was doing something corrupt such as paying players, then by all means investigating those as a journalist is what this world needs. But this was sloppy reporting on a very trivial matter that only does damage to another man, Rodriguez, and what he has spent his life doing. I have never seen more genunine emotion than Rodriguez in yesterday's press conference. Teaching those young men is his passion and has been his entire life. He's run such a transparent and open program that any truly frightening violations would have come to light already.

But a couple men who have disgraced their own profession are not content allowing Rodriguez to work happily in his own. They have succeeded. Rodriguez is unfortunately and incorrectly now seen as a man who puts greed in front of integrity. I hope the same public perception falls on the heads of Rosenberg and Snyder. Karma.