Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gulo Gulo Semper Accursus : Michigan Offensive Position 2009 Preview

No, I'm not pissed off.
I'm harmless.
Come over here and pet me.
Shred you to ribbons?
Now where on earth would you get a crazy idea like that?

My theme for the 2009 Michigan football season is going to be:

Gulo Gulo Semper Accursus.

This is not "Wolverines Perpetually Pissed Off"

It's “Wolverines Always Running”.

My justification for this theme is backed up by mountaineers of evidence and modern science. This is what inevitably happens on offense when Rich Rodriguez combines a more experienced offensive line, a mobile quarterback, and a deep stable of talented running backs, not to mention when wide receivers finally understand their place in the offense and sustain their blocks downfield. Michigan should witness some better throwing accuracy from the new quarterbacks, to be sure. As improved as the Michigan passing game should be this fall, you can take this to the bank:

Rodriguez is going to have the Wolverines running the football like no tomorrow in 2009.

Failing to heed the lessons learned from the Steve Spurrier Experience, the Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in 2009 will sally forth with, count ‘em: A Vun! A Twoo! A Trree! - Trrree! different starting quarterbacks this fall, including two true freshman Tate Forcier (Scripps Ranch, CA) and Denard Robinson (Deerfield Beach, FL). The third option will be much-maligned junior quarterback Nick Sheridan, who started on and off at quarterback for the Wolverines during the 2008 football season. According to fall camp observers, Forcier is a quick runner and the most accurate passer, while Sheridan apparently has achieved coach-level understanding of Rodriguez’s spread option playbook, while Denard Robinson is what you get when you find a genie lamp at a Michigan concession stand on game day, rub it profusely, and then ask for the Greek god Mercury to reappear, strap on his winged helmet again, and score 80 yard touchdown runs on zone read keepers in 5 seconds flat while opposing defenders drop their jaws and shields in amazement just like frightened 4th century Greeks obviously would. Some of them hail from Sparta, you know.

It has been argued by me that with mobile quarterbacks like Forcier and Robinson, Michigan opponents can no longer skip chapters 2 through 58 of the Rich Rodriguez spread option playbook. Like the magical appearance of Rasheed Marshall in 2002, alas, Wolverine opponents must finally hit the library and read all of the nasty bits to prepare for every possibility that will be on display Saturday afternoons. Finally.

Both of these quarterbacks can run and throw equally well, so every play involves considerable risk that simply did not present itself last fall with quarterbacks Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan. Forcier has a fake 40 time of 4.6 and Robinson of 4.3. So yeah, go ahead. Ignore these freshman quarterbacks if you wish. It's your funeral.

I will concede the possibility, however remote, that Nick Sheridan dramatically improved his throwing skills over the winter, spring and summer workouts and that’s he’s bigger and stronger than 2008. Also, we must recognize that Sheridan is being tutored by a fine quarterbacks coach in Rod Smith, as well as Rich Rodriguez himself. Game experience and knowledge of the playbook places Sheridan at No. 3 on the depth chart. The other reason why Sheridan is No. 3 is that David Cone and a walk-on are No. 4 and No.5 respectively on the UM QB depth chart. Next year the addition of a two more top rated quarterbacks will likely increase the competitive pressure even more the position. This is good news for Michigan.

So how will things end up in 2009 for the Michigan offense with these quarterbacks?
It’ll be a mixed bag of sunshine and tornados. I’ve been thinking a lot about Michigan’s 1981 season, when the Wolverines replaced a gimpy runner and pro-style thrower in John Wangler with a sophomore tailback, I mean quarterback, Steve Smith (who played only 3 games of garbage time in 1980).

Except Steve Smith’s throwing accuracy sort of sucked by modern standards (46% in 1981, and 50% over his career), but the guy rushed for 679 net yards and 12 TDs and threw for about 1700 yards, 15 TDs and 11 INTs.

I’m thinking whoever is quarterback for Michigan will have slightly greater stats passing that Steve Smith did, but it’ll be close. I certainly expect a lot more rushing attempts and yardage by the Michigan quarterbacks this fall as this will keep defenses much more honest. Wolverine fans should also expect increased passing accuracy, a lot more passing attempts than in 2008 on all downs, improved 3rd down conversion rate (27% in 2008!), and a significantly higher number of interceptions, plus muchos sacks ridiculosos.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: Tate Forcier’s scrambling ability and throwing accuracy

These QBs will remind us of: Zak Kustok and Troy Smith with two integrated Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines.

Michigan Offensive Position 2009 Preview: Running Backs
Most college football pundits and opponent homers have been harping on about Michigan’s 3-9 record in 2008. One of the things that stand out as I review this year’s running back depth chart is how deep and talented it has become. The future looks very pretty bright indeed for Michigan in this area. Michigan’s running back situation might be the best in the entire Big Ten right now in terms of overall experience, talent and speed. Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw all return at tailback, while new arrival true freshman Vincent Smith has tore up the floor and won significant favor with the coaches. Redshirt freshman Mike Cox and true freshman Jeremy Gallon might also see reps this fall at tailback. Michigan will employ more Ace and I-formation sets in 2009, featuring one of two talented fullbacks in Mark Moundros and Kevin Grady. Keep an eye on Moundros, given Rodriguez’s love for walk-ons that play the fullback position.

The only mark against this group is durability. Minor and Brown are arguably the best players at running back on the team, but both have been prone to injury throughout their careers. Last year, the lack of a mobile quarterback allowed defenses to hone in on the Michigan backs and they paid the price. The addition of Forcier and Robinson at QB should give reasons for defenses to slow down their pursuits or pause outright, to which the Wolverine tailbacks should be quick enough to respond and exploit. I seriously doubt this, but if both Minor and Brown can stay healthy for 12 games, ho man, Michigan might have one of the better running attacks in the Big Ten and perhaps the nation.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: A healthy Brandon Minor

That guy reminds me of: Michigan’s Billy Taylor combined with the weird high-knee, upright running style of USC’s Charles White

Wide Receivers
Michigan’s wide receivers are coached by Tony Dews. While I consider coach Dews to be a fantastic recruiter, his work coaching Michigan’s cast of 4-start wide receivers so far has left me longing. I say this in full understanding of the crap quarterback situation last fall (49% accuracy and 5 yards per attempt). The spread option offense absolutely requires excellent downfield blocking skills and execution by the outside receivers and slots on every down. In year two, this better improve. It’s not difficult to project significantly better receiving numbers for 2009 with Forcier and Robinson under center this fall. My God, the best receiver on the Wolverine team last year, slot receiver Martavious Odoms, caught only 49 passes for only 443 yards and no touchdowns! Of course, the football sails to only one receiver on any given play, so the other 3 or 4 guys have to block better than they did last year. If they do, Michigan’s rushing stats, yards per attempt and points per game should improve dramatically.

Odoms’ speed and elusiveness after the catch make him extremely dangerous. Two other slot receivers Kelvin Grady and Terrance Robinson are unknown to UM opponents, but offer speed and talented depth for Michigan.

The best receivers on the roster right now and the true deep threats for Michigan are probably Greg Mathews and Junior Hemingway. Darryl Stonum, James Rogers, Roy Roundtree and true freshman Je’Ron Stokes round out the depth chart of receivers. The Michigan receiving targets were a silent group last fall. That should change in a big way in 2009.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: Greg Mathews

The guy reminds me of: Adrian Avant, I mean, Jason Arrington. Alright, some combination of those two.

Tight Ends
Michigan is blessed with two fantastic tight ends in sophomore Kevin Koger and redshirt freshman Martell Webb. Tight ends have not been prominently featured in Rodriguez’s offenses in the past, but the coaching staff seminars with Kevin Wilson down at Oklahoma were very productive, and Rodriguez likes the ideas of employing TEs more effectively. We’ll see more Ace and full I formation sets that utlize these two players. I like this aspect because tight ends in general can be effective blocking instruments for the running attack on dives and option plays, as well as frustrating targets in the passing game. Most importantly, the tight ends add another passing option for the quarterback and just one more item that defenses must prepare for. This added TE weaponry in a spread offense will either create big mismatches in the secondary or massive openings for other receivers and backs.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: Kevin Koger

The guy reminds me of: Doug Marsh

Offensive Tackle
One of the things I like about Rich Rodriguez, and that I disliked about Lloyd Carr, was that Rich Rod dictates a policy of continuous improvement and competition at every position. This competition does not stop at fall practice. It continues on week after week at every single position from quarterback to special teams. No player can rest on his laurels. Incumbents, seniority and nepotism all slough off so that the most productive players displaying the least errors and the strongest drive see the football field first. What does this insanely competitive atmosphere yield for Michigan football? The answers lie with greater position depth, greater game preparedness, increased player confidence, greater team unity and an overall heightened sense of urgency. No where are these benefits more apparent than along the Michigan offensive line in 2009. A 2-star freshman named Mark Huyge actually beat out Perry Dorrestein, Patrick Omameh and Bryant Nowicki to be the starter at tackle. Fifth year senior Mark Ortmann has secured the other tackle spot. Dorrestein and Omameh will serve as the 2nd string backups at either tackle.

Huyge and Ortmann are both 6-6 and in the 290 lbs range. Not colossal in size, but big enough, quick enough, and good enough to do a satisfactory job. Run blocking should be their forte. The biggest question mark here may be their pass blocking, but it helps this group significantly to have two jitterbug escape artists like Forcier and Robinson at quarterback.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: Do DC’s throw down their headsets in disgust about offensive tackles? They do? Well OK, then Mark Ortmann

The guy reminds me of: Jeff Backus

Offensive Guard
If the Michigan Wolverines offense lives up to the motto Gulo Gulo Semper Accursus, it’ll be because this core of the Wolverine offensive line did a great job. In my view the guards and center of the Michigan offense line makes up this core and features the best players. Seniors David Moosman and Steve Schilling are poised to have break out seasons at the guard position for Michigan this fall. Both are essentially identical in height and weight at 6-5 and around 300 lbs. Both are very experienced veterans. Barring injury, this could be their finest season in a maize and blue uniform. Backing them up are John Ferrara, Elliot Mealer and Ricky Barnum. Tim McAvoy is the backup center, but he also played some guard last year and adds more depth if needed.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: Do DC’s throw off their headsets about offensive guards? They don’t? What about David Moosman!

The guy reminds me of: An unshaven, axe-wielding Brendan Gleeson in Braveheart

It certainly helps Michigan this fall to have a Dave Rimington candidate snapping the football on every down. It is fitting that Dave Molk, too, wears No. 50.
Molk, only a junior, is already very experienced and has become a vocal leader along a more senior offensive line. With veterans Schilling and Moosman at his sides, Michigan’s offensive line appears to be well-anchored and should be able to open good holes for the Wolverine running backs and quarterbacks, as well as provide sufficient pass protection. Fifth year senior McAvoy serves as a capable backup at center.

Defensive Coordinators will rip off their headsets in disgust most frequently because of: Do DC’s throw down their headsets about centers? They don’t?

The guy reminds me of: Steve Everitt

Pre-Season Grade Predictions:

Quarterbacks: C+
Rod Smith and Rich Rodriguez are handing over the keys to true freshmen and a mistake-prone junior walk-on. This group is going to make plenty of mistakes this fall folks, so I hope you ordered those crates of Pepto Bismol to arrive on your doorstep prior to kickoff September 5th. At the same time, the skills sets are in place to drive this offense the way it was always intended: With reckless abandon.

Running Backs: B+
The only thing preventing this group from getting into A territory is injuries. This is because we're unable to imagine a full 12 games where Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown escape unscathed. I don't believe these two can stay healthy. It will impact production to some extent. Otherwise, the running backs are the strength and bread-and-butter of this football team.

Offensive Line: B+
This should be a solid season for Michigan along the front. Injuries could really put the clamps down on this group, and I suspect we will witness some in 2009. The good news is that the mobile quarterbacks should lighten the load a bit and perhaps allow greater advancement to the second level. Of all the offensive position groups, if healthy, this crew could be really good.

Receivers, Slots and Tight Ends: B
Last year this group got about a D- in my book. The new quarterbacks will help, as well as increased competition and another year in the system. Hemingway and Mathews should make some exciting plays downfield this fall, while Odoms, Robinson and Grady will be dangerous dudes underneath and on the edge. Koger and Webb should become more prominent in the new Rodriguez packages this autumn.

1 comment:

Voice of Reason said...

When we consider the type of year that Michigan had in 2008 I can understand how fans can be concerned about the WMU game. WMU has an excellent QB and some good players on offense. They have a good coach and they believe they can win. However, I am still not convinced that Michigan has to be concerned about this game.

The hype has been that WMU has beated three Big Ten teams over the last three years. Of course a win is a win but...

2006 WMU 39 Indiana 20

Indiana 3-5 Conf. 5-7 Overall
2007 WMU 28 Iowa 19

Iowa 4-4 Conf. 6-6 Overall

2008 WMU 23 Illinois 17

Illi 3-5 Conf. 5-7 Overall

Illinois played WMU and lost the first of a three game skid to end the season. Furthermore, Illinois played WMU a week before they were to play Ohio State. This tells me that they may have overlooked WMU preparing for OSU. Illinois also ended the season with a 27-10 loss to Northwestern which has gotten beter but not an upper tier team.

My point being that even though WMU is a MAC school, they played and beat these schools while they were down or on the decline. In fact, although WMU beat Iowa in 2007, Indiana beat WMU that same year 37-27 and Indiana was weak that year 3-5 Conf. and 7-6 Overall, but they were improved from the previus year.

In previous years, Michigan may have overlooked WMU but this year Michigan is focused and they understand that this game is a statement game for them. Michigan is pretty healthy and I predict a big Michigan win with Michigan pulling away in the second half.

A key for Michigan not only for this game but for this year is the intangibles such as quality of their play. There will be mistakes and other growing pains, but we need to see intensity, focus and solid play. They need to be competitive in every play of every game. If we see these things Michigan will have a very good year as long as the defense is healthy.

Michigan is well coached on both sides of the ball.