Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lead Running Back Performance: Calvin Magee vs. Fred Jackson



In the previous post I highlighted some of the past coaching experience of Michigan’s current quarterback coach, Rod Smith. I wanted to explore this a little bit because the quarterback position is by far the most important on the field offensively and Michigan has a lot of youth at that position. Coaching up these kids requires experience, patience and a lot of knowledge.

Now I wish to take a closer look at the achievements of Michigan’s offensive coordinator, Calvin Magee, as well.

Both Calvin Magee and Rod Smith previously held assistant coaching jobs under South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt, but were not coaches at SFU at the same time.

While Magee’s role is today offensive coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, we need to bear in mind that for most of his career Magee's main expertise appears to have been coaching running backs and as running game coordinator at South Florida and West Virginia.

I took a brief look at Magee’s years as Running Backs Coach and Running Game Coordinator at both schools and found some interesting statistics about the players he coached during this period. I then wondered what that past experience might mean for Michigan’s leading ground gainer from last year, Brandon Minor, as well the future stable of Michigan running backs.

In addition, I wanted to consider Calvin Magee’s experience of coaching team leading rushers and compare that success with the past achievements of Michigan’s current running backs coach, Fred Jackson.


Year Zero at South Florida: The Running of the Bulls

When Calvin Magee became the Running Backs Coach for Jim Leavitt at South Florida in 1997, the program was in its very infancy. It must have been interesting to join a brand new college football program and be part of the team of architects that would build it brand new from the ground up. Magee coordinated the running game for South Florida for 4 years under then offensive coordinator Michael Canales, and as such Magee played a very important role is establishing SFU’s winning football foundation.

Magee’s first year on the job was a tough one however. South Florida’s first ever quarterback was a former South Carolina Gamecock recruit named Chad Barnhardt. Canales had South Florida running a spread offense from the very beginning. It was a very young team that would finished 5-6. Jim Leavitt said of the first season, "This should be the worst team you ever see here at South Florida. We only have two seniors, everyone's back." The first and best tailback on the Bulls team in 1997 was Rafael Williams. Williams played running back for SFU for 4 years under Magee's direction, and was the leading rusher for the team 3 of those 4 years. In 1999 Dyral McMillan was the team's leading rusher.

Under Magee’s instruction, South Florida’s first running backs were good enough to be quite dangerous. They achieved high yards per carry (5.2 average ypc over 4 years), which is a common characteristic of more run-centric, spread option teams. It’s also what one might expect to see anyway versus competition the likes of Kentucky Weslyan, Citadel, Western Kentucky and Cumberland! The other stat that jumps off the page is the 1999 season, when Magee coached Bulls tailback Dyral McMillan, the first ever 1,000 yard rusher for SFU with 9 TDs. Interestingly, McMillan’s millennial rushing statistics that year coincided with the first starting dual-threat quarterback in SFU history, freshman Marquel Blackwell.


NameYearSchoolClassRush AttYardsYds/CarryTDsRecord
Rafael Williams1997South FloridaFr.1397295.275-6-0
Rafael Williams1998South FloridaSo.985866.068-3-0
Dyral McMillan1999South FloridaSr.18110175.697-4-0
Rafael Williams2000South FloridaSr.1677044.247-4-0
Total


58530365.22627-17-0

In 2001 Magee left South Florida to join Rich Rodriguez’s new staff at West Virginia to coordinate the Mountaineer running game and serve as an offensive coordinator. Unlike the first year at SFU, Magee inherited a talented crew of bite-sized and lightning-fast tailbacks to work with including senior Cooper Rego (5-9, 190 lbs) and sophomores Avon Cobourne (5-9, 190 lbs.) and Quincy Wilson (5-10, 210 lbs) from outgoing head coach Don Nehlen.

Unfortunately, 2001 was West Virginia’s own "Year of Infinite Suffering" as the team tried in vain to overcome a slew of offensive turnovers (19 interceptions) from the quarterbacks (Lewis, Jones and Marshall), an inexperienced offensive line (only 1 returning starter from 2000 bowl team), and a veteran defense trying to understand just what the hell new defensive coordinator Todd Graham (future Tulsa head coach!) was trying to do with the linebackers. The Mountaineers finished a disappointing 3-8-0 on the season. Yet, despite the embarrassing losing season, Magee did a good job maintaining production with the running game. The Mountaineers' best tailback, Avon Cobourne, rushed for 1,298 yards (4.9 ypc) and 9 TDs. This was marked improvement Cobourne over his 2000 numbers (893 yards at 4.5 ypc).

In 2002, Rodriguez and Magee agreed to adjust their strategy. The quarterback position would now be occupied by a barely seasoned sophomore named Rasheed Marshall (played 5 games in 2000). The tailback spot remained in great shape, however. Cooper Rego had graduated, but Cobourne and Quincy Wilson returned and a star freshman Jason Colson would join the fray as well. Clearly, Rodriguez had had quite enough of the ridiculous interceptions from the year prior. Balanced attack be damned! Rodriguez and Magee would focus on taking greater advantage of a slightly more experienced and improved offensive line, and a quicker, more mobile quarterback (Marshall). The results turnaround in 2002 was staggering. Cobourne alone rushed for 1,710 yards (5.1 ypc) and 17 TDs! This meant, of course, that approximately every 20th carry, Mr. Cobourne would cue the Mountaineer marching band and proceed to perform a nice little jig with friends in the opponents end zone. Perhaps more surprising was that Magee coached Quincy Wilson to contribute as well with a shocking 901 yards (6.4 ypc) and 6 TDs!

Calvin Magee was a very successful running game and offensive coordinator at West Virginia. The team's record as well as the statistics of the lead running backs under his charge prove this:


NameYearSchoolClassRush AttYardsYds/CarryTDsRecord
Avon Cobourne2001West VirginiaJr.26712984.993-8-0
Avon Cobourne2002*West VirginiaSr.33517105.1179-4-0
Quincy Wilson2002*West VirginiaJr.1409016.469-4-0
Quincy Wilson2003West VirginiaSr.28213804.9128-5-0
KayJay Harris2004West VirginiaSr.1659595.8108-4-0
Steve Slaton2005West VirginiaFr.20511285.51711-1-0
Steve Slaton2006West VirginiaSo.24817447.01611-2-0
Steve Slaton2007West VirginiaJr.19813356.71411-2-0
Total


1840104555.710171-30


Looking at the aggregate statistics of team leading rushers at SFU and WVU, Calvin Magee’s instruction of running backs under his charge lead us into familiar territory:

About 19 rushing attempts per game and about 5.7 yards per carry.

See below:

NameYearSchoolClassRush AttYardsYds/CarryTDsRecord
Rafael Williams1997South FloridaFr.1397295.275-6-0
Rafael Williams1998South FloridaSo.985866.068-3-0
Dyral McMillan1999South FloridaSr.18110175.697-4-0
Rafael Williams2000South FloridaSr.1677044.247-4-0
Avon Cobourne2001West VirginiaJr.26712984.993-8-0
Avon Cobourne2002West VirginiaSr.33517105.1179-4-0
Quincy Wilson2002West VirginiaJr.1409016.469-4-0
Quincy Wilson2003West VirginiaSr.28213804.9128-5-0
KayJay Harris2004West VirginiaSr.1659595.8108-4-0
Steve Slaton2005West VirginiaFr.20511285.51711-1-0
Steve Slaton2006West VirginiaSo.24817447.01611-2-0
Steve Slaton2007West VirginiaJr.19813356.71411-2-0




2425134915.612793-38
* = In 2002, West Virginia had two tailback rushers with over 900 yards.

Comparing Calvin Magee with Fred Jackson

Fred Jackson began his coaching career at Michigan in 1994 under then head coach Gary Moeller. Jackson's responsibility was coaching running backs for the Wolverines. Just like Magee, Jackson had some pretty awesome material to work with in Tyrone Wheatley.

So how does Magee's work compare to what Michigan fans have observed from Fred Jackson? The answer is that Michigan running backs have historically performed extremely well under Fred Jackson too. A great many Michigan fans I speak with rave about Mike Hart this and Mike Hart that. I understand. He's in everyone's short term memory. I realize that Mike Hart's numbers probably lie about how mentally and physically tough he was on the field. But Fred Jackson did a great job coaching explosiveness and vision with not only Mike Hart, but especially Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas and Tim Biakabatuka. Their stats bear this fact out for all to see:

YearRunning BackAttemptsYardsYPCTDsRecord
2009?




2008Brandon Minor1035335.293-9
2007Mike Hart26513615.1149-4
2006Mike Hart31815624.91411-2-0
2005Mike Hart1506624.447-5-0
2004Mike Hart28214555.299-3-0
2003Chris Perry33816745.01810-3-0
2002Chris Perry26711104.21410-3-0
2001BJ Askew1999024.5108-4-0
2000Anthony Thomas31917335.4189-3-0
1999Anthony Thomas30112974.31710-2-0
1998Clarence Williams1466465.4010-3-0
1997Chris Howard1999384.7712-0-0
1996Clarence Williams2028374.128-4-0
1995Tim Biakabatuka30318186.0129-4-0
1994Tyrone Wheatley21011445.4128-4-0
Total
3602176724.9160133-53

So who has been the better running backs coach, Magee or Jackson?

In my view, Jackson is still coaching away and has many more career coaching stats to pad this fall with the likes of Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown. But comparing the aggregate lead back stats of the two coaching during their long careers, this is what I’ve found:


Running Backs CoachYearsSchoolsAtt/GameYrds/GameYPCWinning Pct
Calvin Magee12South Florida, West Virginia191035.60.710
Fred Jackson15Michigan19944.90.707

Fred Jackson has coached many more players into the NFL draft compared to Magee. Magee’s work with reduced running back talent versus much easier competition has yielded predictably better yards per carry and winning percentage during his career coaching ball carriers than Jackson. Interestingly, the average number of carries per game is identical at 19 for both coaches.

So what does this mean? To me it says that the Michigan Wolverines offense, particularly the running game, is in very competent hands with Calvin Magee and Fred Jackson. These too have a tremendous level of successful coaching experience and knowledge combined, which is very encouraging for the future of the Michigan program.
Both have done a good job of focused improved production from their running backs.

Frankly, I am surprised that more top-rated high school running back recruits don't make Michigan a first consideration for their football career at the next level.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Quarterback Achievement Under Rod Smith


It’s within the grave realm of possibility that the Michigan football team may start a true freshman at quarterback this fall for only the third time in over 40 years. The last two episodes of such daring ended well statistically for the Wolverines. First there was quarterback Rick Leach between 1975-1978 and then Chad Henne between 2004-2007 respectively. Both of these freshmen quarterbacks became two of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever wear a winged helmet.

Following a 3-9 season in 2008, the hand wringing over the new Michigan quarterback situation might have many Wolverine fans double-checking their blood pressure, taking yoga classes, confirming the on time delivery of that pre-ordered pallet of Pepto Bismol, and signing up for hypnosis sessions to prevent the sure-to-come thunderstorm of household swearing on Saturday afternoons this autumn.

Well actually, it might not be that bad.

Starting true freshmen at quarterback is certainly not Rich Rodriguez’s idea of fun for his second year at Michigan. The 2009 Michigan quarterback situation will require a great deal of coaching resolve, patience and expertise. Thankfully, Rodriguez doesn’t have to develop the new Wolverine signal callers all by himself.

After Rich Rodriguez accepted the job as Michigan head football coach in December 2007, he summarily fired the entire staff of former head coach Lloyd Carr, including Wolverine quarterback coach and recruiter extraordinaire Scot Loeffler. Only UM running backs coach Fred Jackson was rehired. Rodriguez decided to bring in many of his own assistant colleagues from West Virginia with him to Michigan, including offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith.

Prior to joining Rodriguez’s staff at West Virginia, Magee and Smith both coached at South Florida University in Tampa under Bulls head coach Jim Leavitt. Magee had been the running game coordinator for the Bulls for 4 years (1997-2000). Rod Smith was the quarterbacks coach from 2001-2004. Smith pulled double-duty as South Florida’s offensive coordinator and QB coach from 2005 to 2006. Jim Leavitt’s well documented disdain for Rich Rodriguez may stem from RichRod’s rather frequent raiding of his South Florida staff over the years, including Magee, Smith and even former USF offensive line coach Greg Frey (now also at UM).


Just one more! I swear, if that SOB steals just one more of my coaches....!

But before Michigan fans commence with the chugging of those bottles of pepto around kickoff September 5th, it might be interesting for them to first consider some thin slices of college football history. Let's go back to a time when Rod Smith first became the South Florida quarterbacks coach under head coach Leavitt.

When Rod Smith arrived in Tampa in 2001, South Florida’s football program was entering its 5th year of existence as an independent. Coach Jim Leavitt was on a streak of sorts, with three straight winning seasons since 1998, including a 7-4-0 record in 2000. The previous Bulls offensive coordinator, Mike Canales, had just accepted a new passing coordinator job at NC State. Canales left Rod Smith the keys to a pretty good quarterback situation at South Florida in junior signal caller Marquel Blackwell.

Blackwell, who was the Bulls starting quarterback for 4 years, recorded a spectacular career at South Florida. He was arguably one of the first key players to help put South Florida football on the map nationally.

Blackwell did not throw all that much his first two seasons – only between 23 and 26 attempts per game in 1999 and 2000. While his accuracy was over 50% during these formative years, the yardage totals were fairly low - between 150-180 yards per game:
NameYearClassComp.Att%YardsTDINT
Marquel Blackwell1999Fr.13626251.9%16201610
Marquel Blackwell2000So.17129657.8%2016134

While operating Canales’ spread option offense, Blackwell did showcase his elusiveness and foot speed. By his sophomore year, Blackwell had become a rather reliable ground gainer for the Bulls.
NameYearClassRush AttGainedLostNetYds/CarryTDs
Marquel Blackwell1999Fr.933942681261.43
Marquel Blackwell2000So.1287712055664.43

So when Rod Smith assumed the quarterback coaching role at South Florida in 2001, what he would prescribe for the South Florida quarterback situation must have seemed counter intuitive at the time. Smith apparently wanted Blackwell to do 2 things very differently:

Throw a lot more and run a lot less.

Of course, Smith didn’t exactly “discourage” Blackwell from running the ball. But he probably wanted his new student to start finding the right running lanes that the spread offense afforded him him. Overall, Smith wanted Blackwell to become more effective using his skills to execute the offense. The result?


NameYearClassRush AttGainedLostNetYds/CarryTDs
Marquel Blackwell2001Jr.923471062412.69
Marquel Blackwell2002Sr.894251133123.55

Blackwell’s rushing attempts and total rushing yards certainly declined his junior and senior seasons under Rod Smith. But Marquel lost less yardage per carry (hitting the right escape lanes, fewer sacks?), and scored far more rushing touchdowns. Plus, Blackwell maintained his yards per carry average at a level that opposing defenses simply could not ignore.

When it came to passing the football during his junior and senior seasons, the Tampa fire department must have been pretty busy because Marquel Blackwell could only be described as having been “awwn fiyah!”.

Rod Smith ordered passing attempts essentially doubled from the prior two seasons under Canales. Blackwell's passing accuracy stayed the same at <58%, but the yardage numbers and TDs thrown exploded.

NameYearClassComp.Att%YardsTDINT
Marquel Blackwell2001Jr.25845656.6%28822011
Marquel Blackwell2002Sr.23040856.4%2590183

Also, South Florida’s team reached new heights in the win column in 2001 and 2002, with 8 and 9 wins respectively.

In 2003 to 2005, Smith continued to coach South Florida quarterbacks Ronnie Banks (2003-2004) and Pat Julmiste in 2005. Both were considered “dual-threat” quarterbacks, but the on field results were more functional than stellar:

NameYearClassComp.Att%YardsTDINTRecord
Ronnie Banks2003Jr.12726148.7%1448887-4-0
Ronnie Banks2004Sr.11824747.8%1570784-7-0
Pat Julmiste2005Jr.12425249.2%14896116-6-0

Passing accuracy and attempts were way down, and productivity (yards and touchdowns) declined. Neither Banks or Julmiste produced remarkable rushing numbers at quarterback. SFU’s fortunes in the win column appeared to follow suit with only 7, 4 and 6 wins in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

The following year, a 2-star, unranked quarterback recruit from Lakeland, FL named Matt Grothe arrived on campus. Grothe was 6-1 and 190 lbs with 4.59 speed. He had an explosive quarterback resume from Lake Gibson Senior high school with fantastic senior stats for an unranked kid: 2,700 yards passing, 33 TDs, 1,500 yards rushing and 15 more TDs!

Grothe would battle senior Bulls QB Pat Julmiste for the starting spot in 2006 and would win that battle fairly easily. As the 2006 season unfolded, it would become quite clear to Rod Smith and the entire SFU staff that Matt Grothe might become the greatest quarterback yet at South Florida University.

Grothe’s 2006 freshman season performance was very revealing – and not too far removed statistically from what college football observers would come to expect from other spread option quarterbacks like Pat White at West Virginia and Troy Smith of Ohio State of this period.

As a freshman Grothe had, unfortunately, just sprinkled in a few more interceptions into the mix.

NameYearClassRush AttGainedLostNetYds/CarryTDs
Matt Groethe2006Fr.1788021806223.59


NameYearClassComp.Att%YardsTDINT
Matt Groethe2006Fr.20231763.7%25761514

Rod Smith left South Florida at the end of the 2006 season to rejoin Rich Rodriguez, at West Virginia and coach the Mountaineer quarterback Pat White in 2006 and 2007. Over his 6 years at South Florida, Rod Smith coached highly talented players like Marquel Blackwell and Matt Grothe and some slightly lesser talented signal callers as well.

South Florida’s aggregate quarterback stats between 2001-2006 (6 years) under Rod Smith were as follows:
NameCompletionsAttemptsCompl. %YardsTDINTTeam RecordWinning Pct
All SFU QBs 2001-20061059194154.6%12555745543-26-00.623

Rod Smith might not be Scott Loeffler (below showing only 4 year span of career):

Coach & PlayerCompletionsAttemptsCompl. %YardsTDINTTeam RecordWinning Pct
Scott Loeffler with Chad Henne 2004-2007828138759.7%9715873736-140.720

Yet from the historical record (without taking Pat White into consideration at all) Michigan’s quarterback coach Rod Smith is proven to be quite a good instructor. More importantly, he knows how to get good production out of his players, particularly when they already possess the basic, natural talents required for the job.

In my view, Smith's past performance bodes well for Michigan’s quarterback future even in the short-term with Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, as well as next year's incoming freshmen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michigan vs. WMU Game On ABC: Ready for Some Ridicule


The good news is that Michigan's opener versus Western Michigan is going to be televised by ESPN/ABC on September 5. The kickoff time has been moved to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Of course, the bad news is that this game will be broadcast by ESPN ABC.

You can bet your Maize & Blue construction hats that ABC's Bret Musberger will use an over-the-top, sensationalist lead in storyline that includes footage of Michigan's losses to Appalachian State, Utah, Toledo, Michigan State and Ohio State followed by a "Oh how the mighty have fallen!" schtick. Then he'll ask super genius Gary Danielson or some other sideshow tool the following: "Gee Gary, can these Wolverines even survive the Bronco stampede into this construction site called Michigan Stadium?!!!"

Pretty catchy, huh?

Well, you just know this is going to happen.

There you go Bret!

I give you permission to used the above material. Just include my name in the ABC program credits at game's end. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Michigan's Football Recruiting Yield Since 2005


In the history of college football, if we were to look up the most consistent and successful football programs, most of them have been true masters at recruiting top tier student athletes.

If you follow college football at all, you probably spend some amount of time looking at recruiting developments for your favorite team. While recruiting is not the most important factor to the success of a football program, it IS the FIRST most important step in terms of establishing winning consistency and long-term program success on the gridiron. The SECOND most important step, and one that that gets rather short shrift by Scout.com and Rivals.com and other sports media outlets, is the retention and development of recruits.

What makes college football recruiting so damn interesting (and worrying) is that fans consider it to be some kind of compass for the direction in which their favorite college football program appears to be headed. But we all know that getting kids signed is only the prologue.

Signing great classes is not the "be all and end all" of college football success:




Scout.comMichiganCoachRecordOhio StateCoachRecord
200219Lloyd Carr10-3-03Jim Tressel14-0-0
20038Lloyd Carr10-3-025Jim Tressel11-2-0
20045Lloyd Carr9-3-011Jim Tressel8-4-0
20052Lloyd Carr7-5-07Jim Tressel10-2-0
20068Lloyd Carr11-2-011Jim Tressel12-1-0
200710Lloyd Carr9-4-016Jim Tressel11-2-0
20086RichRod3-9-04Jim Tressel10-3-0
200914RichRod 1Jim Tressel 
Average9  9.75 

Good coaching, creative offensive schemes and defensive strategy, superior team conditioning, and overall team chemistry are extremely important factors to consider as well.

But how many times have we witnessed college football fans high-fiving and backslapping each other in self-congratulation whenever their favorite college football team lands a Top 25, Top 10 or even Top 5 ranked recruiting class?
It's even worse when their favorite team somehow recruited a better class than their rivals.

Unfortunately, one or even two good recruiting classes does not a conference champion (or national champion) make.

Fans who celebrate prematurely like this really are “counting their chickens before they even hatch”.

In early May of this year, I explored just one of Lloyd Carr’s recruiting misadventures and it’s aftermath: The 2006 football class signees.

I decided to take a broader look at this issue since 2005. My question is whether we might be able learn something new from recent years Michigan football recruiting. Are we right to be doing cartwheels in the living room whenever Michigan manages to sign a Top 10 recruiting class? Are we right to hold head in hands whenever a recruit leaves or is dismissed from the team?

What I decided to do was capture Michigan’s recruiting classes, player position ranking and player rating from Scout.com since 2005. I counted up the number of signees (scholarships) each year. I calculated the average player position ranking and average player rating for each class (according to Scout.com). I then factored in the impact of attrition, including career-ending injuries, departures, transfers and dismissals. This is fundamentally an exercise in player subtraction from each class. While the attrition losses themselves have been enlightening to view as they occur over extended periods of time (not always during the year signed), I wanted to see what the impact would be of such player losses in terms of Michigan’s “average player position ranking” and “average player rating” to uncover whether the remaining players strengthened or weakened the class recruiting scores. If anything, the main impact should be a negative one in terms of available players to stack the depth chart.

Here's a summary:

2005 Michigan Recruiting Class
Michigan signed 23 players in February 2006. Eleven (11) of these (50%) would eventually leave or be dismissed from the Michigan team under Lloyd Carr. This was one of the most disasterous recruiting classes in recent history for the Wolverines. Each departure had it’s own sad story. Some of the key casualties to Michigan’s future rosters included: DT Marques Slocum (academic), OL Cory Zirbel (injury), OL Justin Schifano, DT James McKinney, QB/WR Antonio Bass (injury), QB Jason Forcier (transfer to UCLA), Chris LB McLaurin, DB Chris Richards, TB Mister Simpson, DE Eugene Germany and DB Johnny Sears. Many of these players signed in February 2006 and enrolled in September 2006 and, assuming no redshirt, might have been seniors this fall.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 17th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.7 stars.


2006 Michigan Recruiting Class
Michigan signed only 19 players this time. Overall UM roster casualties were lowered to only 4: OL Justin Boren (transfer to OSU), LB Cobrani Mixon (transfer to Kent State), LB Quintin Patilla (transfer to GVSU), DE Quintin Woods (transfer to Kansas). Assuming no redshirt, these players would have been juniors in 2009. The total class yield (so far) is 15 players.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 27th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.5 stars.


2007 Michigan Recruiting Class
Coming off an 11-2 season, Michigan landed 20 signees and the 10th best recruiting class in the land. However, 20% of them would go eventually go bye-bye, including the No. 1 QB recruit in the country Ryan Mallett (transfer to Arkansas), Toney Clemons (transfer to Colorado), Zion Babb, Artis Chambers and Avery Horn. Once again UM’s recruiting yield would be 15 players. A good number of these remaining players are now sophomores on the 2009 Michigan roster.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 20th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.7 stars.


2008 Michigan Recruiting Class
Michigan finished 9-4 in what would be Lloyd Carr’s final year. Michigan embarrassed Gary Danielson, Kirk Herbstreit and Florida by winning a bowl game over a great SEC team. Michigan had just named Rich Rodriguez as the new head coach of the team. Rodriguez secured most of Carr’s commits and nabbed a few more for a big class of 24 players. Michigan’s 2008 class was ranked 6th in the land by Scout.com. Soon we would see attrition rear it’s ugly head yet again as 4 high rated players would depart the Michigan team: 5-star tailback Sam McGuffie (transfer to Rice), OL Kurt Wermers (left team), OL Dann O’Neill (left team), Marcus Witherspoon (transfer to Rutgers). This leaves a total yield of 20 players.
The average player position ranking for this class after attrition was 36th.
The average star rating per player after attrition was 3.6 stars.


2009 Michigan Recruiting Class
This would be the first full class brought in by Rodriguez. It followed UM’s first losing in football season since 1967. Scout.com gave Rodriguez's solo recruiting endeavors a lashing in the rankings ranking Michigan's haul 14th in the country. Rivals.com was more generous ranking it 8th. Rodriguez signed another big class of 22 players. The attrition numbers for this class are not yet known.
The average player position ranking for this class is 34th.
The average star rating per player is 3.4 stars.


Overall, the impact of class attrition does not always negatively impact the average player position ranking or average player rating (# of stars)for the remaining players of the class after the attrition takes place.

The main damage that attrition causes(aside from shaming the coach and the school's reputation through lazy journalism and media sensationalism) is as we expected. It completely screws up a football team’s future depth chart. Michigan has unfortunately served as a textbook example of this, but other schools must surely suffer under the same phenomenon.

Just look at the total loss of recruits since 2005 and then consider what this might mean for the 2009 team, particularly given the defensive positions of need like DE, DT, LB and the secondary:




No.NamePosNational RankNational RatingResultClass of
1Marques SlocumDT55Academics2005
1Cory ZirbelOL204Career ending injury prior to 2008 season2005
1Justin SchifanoOL164Gave up football, left team2005
1James McKinneyDT114Medical Release, Transferred to Louisville2005
1Antonio BassWR94Career ending knee injury2005
1Jason ForcierQB84Transferred to Stanford/UCLA2005
1Chris McLaurinLB583Left team, medical reasons2005
1Chris RichardsCB563Kicked off team2005
1Mister SimpsonRB533Transferred to Cincinatti2005
1Eugene GermanyDE333Left team, transferred to Ariz. State2005
1Johnny SearsCB313Kicked off team in 20072005
1Justin BorenOL75Transfer to OSU2006
1Cobrani MixonLB304Kent State2006
1Quintin PatillaLB583GVSU2006
1Quintin WoodsDENR2Left team. Plays for Kansas2006
1Ryan MallettQB52Transfer to Arkansas 20082007
1Toney ClemonsWR410Transfer to Colorado 20092007
1Zion BabbWR455Left team 20092007
1Artis ChambersFS334Left team 20092007
1Avery HornTB377Lef team 20092007
1Steve ThreetQB49Transfer to Arizona State 20092007
1Sam McGuffieRB57Transfer to Rice2008
1Kurt WermersOL411Left team Spring 20092008
1Dann O'NeillOL414Left Spring 20092008
1Marcus WitherspoonLB414Transfer to Rutgers2008
25GRAND TOTAL    

Assuming fewer recruit losses over this period, Michigan would almost certainly have far fewer worries than it currently does in the 2 and 3 deep for a number of key positions. Between 2005 and 2008 (so far) for ever 4 players Michigan successfully recruited, 1 player would "escape". This is about 6 players per year during this period.

This can only leave fans wondering all that could have been had Michigan just managed to retain even a few of these highly rated recruits.

Nevertheless, celebrating a strong, Top 10 recruiting class appears to be a rational response despite eventual player departures, as long as no consistent pattern develops that would resemble the train wreck that was Michigan’s 2005 recruiting class.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Michigan Football: Players Poised for Breakout in 2009


It's interesting that there are probably many more questions today of the 2009 Michigan football team than there ever this time one year ago.

For the quarterback position alone there remains some trepidation among UM fans. This is because the message from the cockpit (head coach Rich Rodriguez) is that this time around an 18 year old kid (Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson) both be handling take off and landing of the complicated spread option offense for the Wolverines this fall. So yeah, there may be one, two or more kamikaze nose dives before the season concludes.

On the defensive side, Michigan lost a slew of experienced playmakers along the front defensive line and secondary. The returning defensive players of the 2008 squad must adjust to another defensive coordinator and a new strategic approach for the fourth time in five years.

I have already outlined a fairly optimistic prediction of what college football fans can expect of the Wolverine football team in 2009.

Now I’d like to consider those few Michigan players that appear to be poised for a break out year this fall. Fortunately, there appear to be quite a few.

Let me first say that while there are a number of star and veteran players on the Michigan football team for 2009, this Wolverine team is comparatively young in the Big Ten conference right now. This team youth is the product of many factors, including a high-level of recruiting class injuries and flame outs (e.g. see UM’s 2005-2006 recruiting classes), considerable player attrition under Rich Rodriguez’s regimen, and considerable player outflow from senior graduation.

The numbers will gradually move upward again with the available scholarships at Rodriguez disposal, as well as the establishment of a new walk-on program at Michigan over the coming years, which should improve Michigan's ability to redshirt more players.

I summarize below several key Michgan players who I consider poised to have a “break out” season in 2009. By "break out" I mean that they will make a substantial impact. These are not necessarily the best players on the team. But they are the ones I feel will contribute significantly to Michigan's gridiron success in 2009:

OFFENSE

Tailback Brandon Minor
Brandon Minor led the Wolverines in rushing in 2008 with 533 yards in just 103 carries, for a 5.2 yard per carry average and 9 TDs. Minor’s career yardage at Michigan does not look very impressive at first glance. He was in second position both his freshman and sophomore years behind then starting tailback Mike Hart. A nagging wrist injury really hampered Minor’s performance in 2008, though he did come unhinged in road games versus Penn State and Purdue with 110+ yards rushing and 2 and 3 touchdowns scored in each game respectively. Minor’s running style is somewhat unorthodox. In the open field, he runs with shoulders back and knees high, reminiscent to me of the great USC tailback Charles White. But unlike White, Minor is particularly fast, nor a fancy dancer. Between the tackles, Brandon Minor is a punisher. During many plays last year, with linebackers approaching at angle to tackle him, we witnessed Minor frequently selecting confrontation over escape. Minor appears to relish the idea of dishing out just as he receives. Unfortunately, this approach has not productive for yardage nor points over the long-term. It has instead led to frequent injuries. The spread option offense takes good advantage of Minor’s pass catching ability out of the backfield, as he snared two TD catches in 2008. With Michigan’s offensive line expected to improve significantly in 2009, and an almost certain focus by Rodriguez on the power running game this season, Minor is uniquely positioned to have a “break out” year in 2009 for the Wolverines given his skills and experience. A 1,000 yard season rushing is certainly within reach. Opposing defenses cannot underestimate the danger of Minor as a receiver either. The only things standing in Minor’s way to greatness in 2009 appear to be the question of his overall durability, and, of course, a rather long and talented list of Wolverine tailbacks behind him. These reserves may take away some of the carries this year that under the Carr/Debord regime would have been Minor’s alone.

Center Dave Molk
A year ago, Dave Molk was a rather unknown and inexperienced sophomore offensive lineman. It's kind of interesting that for 2009 the 6-2, 280lbs junior center may be one of the best at his position in entire the Big Ten this fall. Molk is already on the Dave Rimington Award watchlist for 2009. Molk’s achievements at Michigan have already been somewhat overlooked by the media. Molk was a 4-star, No. 3 ranked center in the country in 2007 for Lemont Township High School in Illinois. At Michigan, Molk had to adjust his play from a pro-set, direct quarterback exchange to a no huddle spread option shotgun attack and to entirely new faces at quarterback. The offensive linemen tend to be the guts of any college football team, and usually receive most of the blame and little of the credit. This year should be quite different as all eyes will be on the new Michigan quarterback and offensive line in 2009.

Slot Receiver Martavious Odoms
Martavious Odoms is not big. In fact, he’s only 5-8 and 171 lbs. But Odoms possesses all the attributes coach Rodriguez looks for in the slot receiver position: speed, elusiveness in the open field, and good hands. Odoms barely led the Wolverines in reception yardage last year with 49 catches and 449 yards. Interestingly, Odoms did not catch any touchdown passes last fall. That stat is sure to change this year. Odoms also led the team in return yardage, averaging 23 yards per kickoff return and 13 yards per punt return. Given the high level of competition among Michigan’s corps of receivers including senior Greg Mathews, sophomore Darryl Stonum, junior JR Hemingway, junior James Rodgers, and RS freshman Terrance Robinson, Odoms should improve his game significantly in 2009. If the offensive line protection holds, and the QB throwing accuracy improves ever so slightly as anticipated, Michigan passing numbers should rise and lift all boats - including those that drive the Scarab-variety like Mr. Odoms.

Punter Zoltan Mesko
There was one guy in all of Division I college football who punted more than Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko. His name was Blake Clingan, who played for Central Florida and punted 88 times in 2008. Wolverine punter Zoltan Mesko punted only 80 times last fall – itself a pretty damning indictment on Calvin Magee’s play calling in 2008, as well as Michigan’s overall offensive ineptitude. Zoltan played his role and took out the team’s collective anger on the pigskin, punting for an amazing 3,436 yards (1.95 miles!) and a 43 yard per kick average. Mesko is expected to rule the Big Ten in punting stats again (hopefully in average yardage per punt only). He has the coolest name since Harlan Huckleby to ever bless the Michigan team roster. And, oh yeah, he’s a Ray Guy Award finalist again for 2009.

Tight End Kevin Koger
So you’re thinking: “Wait a second Markus. Michigan runs a spread option offense! Just what in the hell are you doing naming a freaking tight end as being poised for a “break out” season in 2009 for Michigan?” Well, normally I wouldn’t suggest that a tight end playing (or not playing) in spread option offense is poised for a “break out” year. But that off-season coaching clinic provided to Michigan’s offensive oaching staff by Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has me thinking that Rodriguez might change his evil ways to some degree with respect to how they’ll line up and make better use of the TE position. The no huddle offense should be faster and more effective this year, but the Wolverines could be showing some more single back formations and even more I-formation that would include one or even two tight ends. Koger is young and only a sophomore. He caught only 3 passes for 93 yards and 1 touchdown. Most readers are expecting me to write down “Greg Mathews” here. But I believe that the tight ends, specifically Kevin Koger and Martell Webb, will have a much larger role in 2009 than most expect. Koger is a big, welcoming target for whoever becomes the new Wolverine signal caller. At 6-4, 245 lbs. Koger is strong, has good hands, and considerable speed. His excellent blocking ability has already been mentioned a number of times by coaches as well. In my view, Kevin Koger is poised for a break out season.

Fullback Mark Moundros
Michigan conditioning coach Mike Barwis calls out players on occasion that have shown strong dedication to the new conditioning program. Fullback Mark Moundros is one of those players frequently mentioned as the team “gym rat”. It should start to pay dividends for Moundros in the form of playing time again this year. With Kevin Grady’s off-field issues, Moundros has all but solidified his position as lead Power Back in goal line, short yardage and even regular I-formation situations. Moundros is 6-1 and 212 lbs and a proven blocker. He also carried the ball well but only 3 times for 14 yards (4.7 average), rushed for 1 TD, and caught another TD pass. I expect Moundros, now a senior, to play a much bigger role in Michigan’s offensive attack in 2009 with far more opportunities to make bone-crushing blocks, catch many more passes, and help the Wolverine offense move the chains.

Tailback Carlos Brown
Carlos Brown has been bouncing in and out of the shadows of the Michigan football program ever since he arrived in 2006. That first freshman year, as Michigan’s No. 5 tailback in the rotation, Brown carried the ball 16 times for only 41 yards and no scores. In 2007, Brown was No. 3 on the rotation, carried the ball 75 times for 382 yards, with a 5.1 yard per carry average, and 4 touchdowns. Prior to kickoff in 2008 there were many college football nerds out there like me nerding out in my nerdery about the possibility of Carlos Brown playing some quarterback, or Wildback in some Wildcat formation, or other bullshit. Well none of that ridiculousness happened. Instead Brown proceeded to shred his hand up pretty badly in summer practice and would miss a good portion of the 2008 season. The lone bright spot was a 125 total yard performance versus Northwestern. Brown is big and fast at 6-0 and 206 lbs. He enjoyed a great spring practice session, and is reportedly in the best shape of his career. Opponents simply didn’t have to worry about Carlos Brown last year because his cleats rarely grazed the playing surface on game day.
Unless there’s another freak injury this summer (knock on wood), Wolverine opponents must learn to cope with far more than just an improved offensive line, a mobile QB that can hit at least the broad side of a barn, and a bruising tailback named Brandon Minor. In 2009 Carlos Brown assumes shotgun position in the Tailback Tandem from Hell lineup that should jam Rich Rodriguez’s spread option attack into a much higher gear. Prepare yourselves for maximum property damage.

Quarterback Tate Forcier
Since 1970 Michigan has started freshman quarterbacks in season openers on two occasions: Rick Leach in 1975 versus Wisconsin (W 23-6) and Chad Henne versus Miami (OH) (W43-10). Both quarterbacks proceeded to destroy multiple school passing, scoring and total yardage records in their respective careers. With the transfer of returning quarterback Steven Threet, the stars appear to be perfectly aligned for early enrollee and freshman quarterback Tate Forcier of Scripps Ranch, California to take up the reins and drive the UM offense. Forcier operated a spread offense in high school as a junior and senior, leading Scripps Ranch to consecutive successful seasons and tournament participation. His rushing and passing statistics were impressive given the level of California state competition that Scripps H.S. faced both years, and considering Forcier’s size at 6-1, 190 lbs. Preliminary indication is that Forcier had a very good spring, is a quick learner of the complicated Rodriguez/Magee playbook, and has started to spend more time in the weight room. Last year Michigan had the worst performance at quarterback since 1987. Anything better than 2008's numbers will be considered a “break out” season. The good news for Forcier is that he appears to be arriving at just the right time, with a more experienced offensive line, a deep stable of capable backs and slot receivers to throw to. Forcier will be pushed hard in practice all year long by incoming freshman Denard Robinson, who badly wants the starting job for himself.
Barring injury, Forcier’s first year at Michigan should be a memorable one.

DEFENSE

Linebacker Jonas Mouton
I might as well play the role of Captain Obvious here and state that 2009 is going to be rough year for Michigan defensively. All scientific observations point to this fact, as well as the one that says Michigan DE Brandon Graham will be double-teamed like a mad dog all season long. Brandon Graham is Brandon Graham. He’s going to bust some heads on national television from time to time. We all know that. But he’s grabbing way too much attention this off season. They know he’s coming. That’s why I like to spend inordinate amounts of times thinking about more obscure players that they don't or won’t see coming. To me Jonas Mouton is one such player. Mouton is a 6-2, 217 lbs linebacker and one of four very high talented recruits out of California on the Wolverine roster. Mouton is a senior this fall. He led the Wolverines with 36 solo tackles 40+ assists and 1 registered sack. The pressure on Michigan’s linebackers will be much higher this year given the departure of 3 starting defensive lineman from a year ago. Combining this aspect with more blitzing schemes by new DC Greg Robinson, more double-teams of Brandon Graham at DE, Jonas Mouton appears uniquely positioned to have a break out season for the Wolverines.

Defensive Tackle Mike Martin
Mike Martin was a freshman last year for Michigan and earned significant playing time at defensive tackle while competing against seniors Will Johnson and Terrance Taylor. This was valuable experience for young Mr. Martin. He racked up well over 20 tackles and 2 sacks in 2008. Martin is a big guy at 6-2, 291 lbs with good confrontation skills and nice footwork. He was a very highly recruited talent for the Wolverines in 2008: a 4-star, 12th ranked DT in the country in 2008. With Martin’s nice size and significant game experience, he’s the obvious choice to start for Michigan as one of the two defensive tackles in the 4-3 formation this fall. He’ll be pushed very hard by converted fullback Vince Helmuth, as well as upper classmen Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse. The incoming frosh, William Campbell and Anthony Lalota will also challenge Martin every week in practice for playing time. With Michigan opponents likely paying significant attention to defensive end Brandon Graham, opportunities will arise for Mr. Martin to uncork his own brand of havoc along the defensive front.

Cornerback Donovan Warren
Many UM fans may have forgotten that Donovan Warren was one of the best cornerbacks in the state of California in 2007. He was a 5-star, No. 4 ranked CB out of storied Orange County high school program Long Beach Poly. Warren started for Michigan as a freshman in 2007 during several games and played some safety and cornerback. Michigan’s pass defense took a serious dive in 2008, finishing 9th in the Big Ten in yards allowed passing (230 per game) and 9th in interceptions all year (only 9). With the loss of seniors defensive backs Brandon Harrison, Morgan Trent and Charles Stewarts, it’s hard to imagine that Michigan’s pass defense number might actually improve a year later. But they will. The reason is because far more talented players are getting their window of opportunity to start. Warren is 6-0 and 175 lbs. and extremely quick in the open field. A second full year of game experience has improved his coverage and tackling skills. He enters 2009 the most experienced defensive back on the field for Michigan, and will be the natural leader of the Wolverine secondary. I expect Warren’s tackle numbers and INT numbers to increase during his final season with the Wolverines.

Safety/Cornerback Michael Williams
Michael Williams was recruited by Michigan in 2007. He enters 2009 as a junior with a good level of game experience in the secondary and special teams. Williams was very highly touted coming out of high school, ranked the No. 5 cornerback in the country and a 4-star recruit from Camarillo, California. Williams had 18 tackles and 1 sack in 2008. With the more aggressive defensive style under new DC Greg Robinson, I expect Williams tackles and INT numbers to improve. I believe Williams will earn a starting spot at safety in 2009, but he will need to work extremely hard in practice and during games to keep that spot. Extremely fast and talented incoming freshmen will be challenging him every step of the way, including Troy Woolfolk, Vlad Emilien, Brandon Smith and Justin Turner.

Defensive End Ryan van Bergen
What I really like about Ryan Van Bergen is that he plays exactly the way he looks – mean. Except Van Bergen is big AND mean, and quick, at 6-5, 260 lbs. Did I mention that he’s only a junior? Van Bergen gained a good level of playing time last fall as a sophomore. Entering 2009, Van Bergen is the logical choice to take the other open DE spot replacing the graduated Tim Jamison. Unfortunately, there's not much competition behind Van Bergen other than converted tight end junior Steve Watson and true freshman DE Craig Roh. Van Bergen will be under considerable pressure to make plays this fall, as most opponents will run to his side and break his contain. For this reason, I expect UM fans and opponents to become well-acquainted with Van Bergen's name and talents in 2009.

The Michigan Secondary
On the question of the Michigan secondary in 2009, all eyes should be (and must be) on Assistant Head Coach/Secondary Coach Tony Gibson. Gibson has already proven to be an outstanding recruiter for the Wolverines. However, Gibson will need to quickly coach up this entire group of youngsters in the secondary. The thin depth chart here tell us something we all probably don't want to consider. We're going to see more freshmen playing in the secondary this year. I’m perhaps insanely optimistic about this secondary group over the longer haul. While extremely young in age and experience, this is without question the fastest group of players at Michigan in decades. Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson has helped coach some fantastic defensive backs in his day at both UCLA and in the NFL. This experience will hopefully rub off positively on Gibson and the Wolverine players over time.

While many rightly expect the Michigan offense to take positive steps forward in 2009, it is not unreasonable to expect Michigan’s defense (assuming it can stay healthy all season long) to improve as well, coming closer to the 2007 performance level in yards allowed and points allowed.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Controversy Over The No. 1 Jersey at Michigan


One interesting episode during of the off-season maelstrom of Rich Rodriguez’s first year as head football coach at Michigan was the controversy over issuing the No. 1 jersey to a freshman defensive back at the time, J.T. Floyd of Greenville, South Carolina.

Former Michigan WR Braylon Edwards was upset with Rich Rodriguez about this move because Edwards had just two years prior established a generous scholarship endowment of $500,000 to the University of Michigan Athletic Department that was to be issued to the worthy Michigan football player who would wear the No. 1 jersey. Edwards’ response on ESPN’s Mike Tirico’s radio show:

"I’m glad you gave me a Go Blue question because Rich Rod gave the No. 1 jersey to an incoming freshman DB and the No. 1 jersey has never been worn by anybody outside of a wide receiver,” Edwards said. “It dates back to Anthony Carter, (Greg) McMurtry, Tyrone Butterfield, Derrick Alexander, David Terrell, and yours truly. So I’m going to have a talk with him about that the next time I see him.”
When is that call coming, Edwards was asked?
“He’s getting that call soon -- very soon. Exactly, we have a jersey scholarship fund for this whole deal. What is he thinking?”

Here is the description of Braylon Edwards’ scholarship endowment from the Braylone Edwards Foundation website:

Former University of Michigan football standout and current Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards made history on Friday evening (April 14, 2006), announcing a $500,000 gift to create a scholarship endowment for the Athletic Department at the Junge Family Champions Center.

The gift is the largest pledged to the department by a current professional athlete and links the Braylon Edwards Foundation to the No. 1 jersey. The new endowment will be awarded to the Michigan football player who wears the No. 1 jersey. If no player currently wears the No. 1 jersey then the award will be granted to another player who exhibits exceptional off-field behavior and conducts himself as a team player.


I tried to think of other college football teams that may have jersey number traditions. I'm sure there are plenty. Penn State has it's No. 14. Ohio State has it's No. 45. And Michigan has it's No. 1.

Most schools are wise to retire jersey numbers when appropriate.

Indeed many great players at Michigan have worn the No. 1 jersey and a good majority wore it while playing the position of wide receiver:

Anthony Carter WR 1979-1982
Greg McMurtry WR 1986-1989
Derrick Alexander WR 1990-1994
David Terrell WR 1998-2000
Braylon Edwards WR 2003-2004
Greg Willner P/PK 1976-1978

In 2006 it was reasonable for Braylon Edwards to expect that many future UM wide receivers might end up wearing No. 1, and that his scholarship endowment would be in perfect alignment with that “tradition”.

His disagreement with Rodriguez occurred back in May 2008 and was eventually sorted out with a 1-on-1 conversation (forgive the pun) and there are no hard feelings. Rodriguez publicly admitted that he was clueless about the No. 1 jersey tradition at Michigan. Rodriguez also said he didn’t know about the scholarship endowment either, or it’s relationship with the No. 1 jersey. Rodriguez gracefully resolved the dispute by handing J.T. Floyd the No. 12 jersey instead, and then by publicly declaring that no Michigan player will wear No. 1 for the 2008 season.

While it has been a little over a year since that argument came about, I have to be honest with readers. I still don’t get it.

I’m a big fan of Braylon Edwards. He is a star professional athlete and a class act off the field. His Advance 100 scholarship initiative further raises the bar of charitable giving, and sets him far above most NFL players in terms of emphasizing the importance of educating our nation’s youngsters.

That said, no where in the description of the Braylon Edward’s $500K scholarship endowment to Michigan is there any stated link to the No. 1 jersey and the position the recipient player must play. I’m pretty sure the Braylon Edwards Foundation means what it says when it states:

The new endowment will be awarded to the Michigan football player who wears the No. 1 jersey. If no player currently wears the No. 1 jersey then the award will be granted to another player who exhibits exceptional off-field behavior and conducts himself as a team player.


So the endowment is linked to two things:

1.) The Michigan player who is handed No. 1 jersey

2.) The Michigan player who exhibits exceptional off-field behavior and conducts himself as a team player.

Therefore, it would appear that these endowment funds could be allocated to another worthy athlete playing a different position on the football team other than wide receiver. This is a smart distinction to make because a worthy recipient of the endowment may indeed play another position besides wide receiver. This may especially be true given the nuances of the spread option offense that Michigan now runs under Rodriguez. Rodriguez has coached several 1,000+ yard wide receivers over his career including Jujan Dawson (Tulane), Rod Gardner (Clemson) and Chris Henry (West Virginia).

From the endowment description, as I read it, nothing should prevent (or should have prevented) Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez from issuing the No. 1 jersey to any position player he wishes, including a 3-star defensive back recruit like J.T. Floyd, or a 4-star cornerback/quarterback like freshman Denard Robinson. Rodriguez could instruct senior WR Greg Mathews to accept the No. 1 jersey this fall as senior.

It doesn’t have to be worn by a wide receiver.

Or am I missing something?

Let me close by saying that I understand what Braylon Edwards is trying to do. The main idea is scholarship and education. It’s impossible for us to measure the total aggregate payback whenever you pay something forward in life, as he has clearly done, and continues to do in exponentially larger sums than most of us will ever be able to do. Edwards had a fantastic career at Michigan and deserves the gratitude of the students, the university and fans like me for what his foundation is doing.

But the No. 1 jersey was never an earned commodity at Michigan. If it was earned at one time, it does not constitute a long-time Michigan football tradition as such. That jersey number may have been “earned” by Edwards during the 2003 season while being coached by Lloyd Carr. Edwards previously wore No. 80 as a freshman and sophomore receiver at Michigan. The truth is that “earning” the No. 1 jersey was not a tradition at Michigan at all prior to the 2003 season. Anthony Carter, Greg McMurtry, Derrick Alexander, Tyrone Butterfield and even David Terrell were all handed the No. 1 jersey from the equipment manager as freshmen. They didn’t have to “earn it” per se.

It all depends when you start watching the movie. Edwards clearly started watching the film in 1979 when Anthony Carter showed up on campus and his father was the starting tailback. Peeling the onion a little further, in 1979 Michigan returned a massive number of returning starters on both offense and defense. The Wolverine football team was hands down the major favorite to win the Big Ten championship that year. Michigan did have 2 notable key losses to graduation: Quarterback Rick Leach and placekicker/punter Greg Willner.

But who was the greater loss? Leach or Willner?

As the 1979 unfolded, Michigan lost 4 games by a total of 10 pts (3.3 points per game).
Michigan missed a high number of field goal attempts and extra points in 1979 and had some of the worst punting statistics in the conference, if not the nation.

Football game crowds in Ann Arbor were electrified by a certain 5-10, “pelican-legged” kid from Riviera Beach, Florida playing wide receiver. Michigan had found relatively productive replacements for Leach at quarterback in BJ Dickey and John Wangler. But given the 1979 kicking game fiasco, the loss of Greg Willner – a reliable punter and place kicker for 3 years – turned out to be the biggest difference between an 8-3-0 season and a Gator Bowl visit, and another 10-1-0 season, a Big Ten title and another Rose Bowl invitation.

This fact got lost in the highlight reels of spectacular catches, TD runs and punt returns by Anthony Carter. This is completely understandable as Anthony Carter was the greatest wide receiver ever in college football history.

But Michigan football missed Greg Willner’s consistency in 1979. That fact cannot be disputed.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez should be free to choose which player wears the No. 1 jersey, regardless of whether that player eventually turns out to be the next David Terrell, Braylon Edwards, Charles Woodson or even the next Tyrone Butterfield. The Braylon Edwards Foundation should be free to continue it’s charitable scholarship endowment to the university.

As a fan of college football at Michigan, I would love to see a Wolverine quarterback, tailback, linebacker or defensive back wear the No. 1 jersey at Michigan. Maybe a kicker?

Jersey numbers for the 2009 Michigan football team season will be issued in the coming months.

Check your watches. We appear to be right on time for yet another episode of controversy.

Courtney Avery selects Wolverines over “El Palo Alto”


Mr. Courtney Avery, a 3-star, 23rd-ranked cornerback from Lexington, OH decommitted from Stanford last week and transferred his football loyalty to the University of Michigan.

Avery makes the 15th commitment for Wolverine head coach Rich Rodriguez this year. The Wolverines currently enjoy a 2010 recruiting class ranked 10th by Scout.com and 8th by Rivals.com recruiting sites.

This "Avery steal" is significant as it fills an area of dire need for Michigan – the defensive secondary. Interestingly, Avery also plays quarterback, which will only bolster Michigan’s depth at that position going forward.

The Avery commitment takes place as Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh is assembling an impressive list of 2010 recruits himself. Harbaugh's new Cardinal class already has 16 commits and is ranked 11th by Scout and 20th by Rivals.com so far. Harbaugh has been doing an excellent job this year racking up recruits on the West Coast, and giving USC and UCLA a run for their money. But replacing a solid recruit like Avery at cornerback is going to be a challenge.

The Michigan Wolverines now have between 8 and 10 spots open to recruit for 2010. Most will be likely be defensive position players.

Friday, June 19, 2009

2009 Michigan Wolverines: What to Expect and Why


Kickoff to the 2009 college football season is now 77 days away. Here are some things we should expect from the Michigan football team this fall:

Improved Quarterback Play
Just how bad was Michigan’s offense and quarterback situation last autumn? Oh let us count the ways:

1.)Michigan’s offense had a 3rd down success rate of 27.3%. The Wolverines finished 119th out of 120 division I football teams in this category. Only Paul Wulff’s Washington State Cougars were worse on 3rd down in 2008 with 26.8% success rate. This also explains Zoltan Mesko’s sickening 80 punts and 3,436 yards in punting. Only Central Florida punted more times (88)than Michigan did (80).

2.)The Wolverines’ scoring offense was the least potent in the Big Ten, averaging 20.3 points per game. This constituted a national ranking of 98th among 120 teams.

3.)Michigan finished 109th in the nation in first downs per game with an average of 15.

4.)The Wolverines fielded the worst passing attack in the Big Ten, finishing dead last with 143 yards per game average.

5.)Wolverine passers had the worst passing accuracy in the conference with a completion percentage of 48%.

6.)Michigan finished 7th in the league in aerial touchdowns with only 11.

7.)Michigan suffered 12 interceptions on the year, 4th worst in the league.

The lone positive statistic from the Wolverine passing attack last year might have been sacks. Michigan suffered only 22 sacks in 2008. Yet when one considers Michigan’s offensive time of possession last season (10th worst in the league), this “22 sacks” number shed a somewhat different light on the truth. Had Michigan’s 3rd down success rate not been so pathetic, the offense would have surely played more downs, and likely more passing downs, and UM’s sack numbers would likely have been far higher as a relation.

Quarterback play should be an area of moderate to good improvement in 2009 because the Wolverines have two quick, accurate and mobile quarterbacks to choose from, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, to run Rich Rodriguez’s no-huddle spread option offense. Both are inexperienced at the college level and will no doubt make many freshman mistakes this coming season. But these young quarterbacks will have a strong supportive cast of playmakers around them.

Michigan’s corps of receivers is deep, experienced and talented, including senior Greg Mathews, Darryl Stonum, Roy Roundtree, JR Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, LaTerryal Savoy and Terrance Robinson. There are also freshmen WRs Je’Ron Stokes and Jeremy Gallon to contend with.

Following successful off-season coaching clinics at Oklahoma to study Kevin Wilson’s no huddle passing attack, it is a possibility that Michigan could employ more I-formation and single back sets that include one or both tight ends in 2009. Thankfully Michigan is blessed with very high talent at the TE position with Kevin Koger, Martell Webb and Brandon Moore.

The Michigan offensive line returns intact with 5 starters and improved depth.

The combination of these factors should ease some of the pressure off of the new Wolverine signal callers this fall. It is therefore reasonable to expect passing attempts, passing yardage and passing accuracy to improve in 2009 over 2008.

Quarterback rushing ability is also a critical component of Rich Rodriguez’s spread option offense effectiveness. Given both Forcier’s and Robinson’s past experience in a spread option offense, and considering their rushing statistics and foot speed, it will not be difficult for Michigan to improve its quarterback rushing numbers from the 355 total yards gained and 3 touchdowns scored in 2008. Improved QB rushing will have the added effect of relieving pressure off the offensive line as well as freeing up the other UM running backs and slot receivers to make plays. Opposing defenses will not be able to center their attention around any one group of skilled players as they did a year ago.

An Improved Running Game
As stated above, the entire Wolverine offensive line returns in 2009. No other Big Ten team enjoys this luxury. With a 3-9 record from 2008 in Michigan’s rear view mirror, it’s somewhat difficult to imagine the possibility that, of all Big Ten teams this fall, the core of Michigan’s offensive line might be one of the league’s better units.

The Wolverine offensive line is anchored by veteran offensive guard Stephan Schilling, center Dave Molk, and guard David Moosman. Offensive tackle was a problem area last year for Michigan with numerous player shifts. With Schilling’s moving to guard, 6-6 298 lbs behemoth Mark Ortmann will take over one tackle spot. At the other tackle position, 6-6 280 lbs Mark Huyge, a 2-star recruit, may have beaten out experienced junior Perry Dorrestein, while Patrick Omameh appears to be competing very hard for playing time at tackle as well.

Overall, the offensive line depth remains good, despite the recent departures of tackle Dann O’Neal and guard Kurt Wermers. Backup guards include John Ferrara, Ricky Barnum and Elliott Mealer. Backup tackles/lineman include Bryant Nowicki, and the freshmen duo of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Tim McAvoy is a very experienced lineman who will back up Molk at center, but has started at guard in the past.

The Wolverine offensive backfield is also quite deep and experienced, but what challenges Michigan at this position is durability. Brandon Minor, Michigan’s leading rusher with 533 yards, 9 TDs and a 5.2 yard per carry average returns. Also returning are speedster tailbacks Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw. Minor and Brown are the most experienced Wolverine backs, but both have been injury prone throughout their careers. Michigan has two very good fullbacks in Mark Moundros and Kevin Grady. Expect to see a number of freshmen backs carrying the pigskin for Michigan in 2009 - particularly freshmen tailback Vincent Smith from Pahokee, FL, who might be the shiftiest tailback on the entire team. Other highly touted freshmen backs include Fitzgerald Toussaint, Teric Jones, and Jeremy Gallon. Sophomores Jimmy Potempa and Michael Cox may also get some carries this fall.

Factoring in Michigan’s continued inexperience at quarterback, a more experienced offensive line, the return of a power back like Brandon Minor, and the improved running back depth, it is entirely reasonable to expect Rich Rodriguez to employ a similar strategy to that of his 2002 season (2nd year) at West Virginia, where the rushing attack and ball control was highly emphasized in the play calling over passing. This approach should become blatantly obvious at the beginning of the season as the quarterbacks master the playbook and slowly build confidence passing.

An Improved Defense
The Wolverine defense was supposed to be pretty good last year. It was not. 2008 was one of the worst years defensively in Michigan’s storied football program. Let us again recount the ways:

1.) Michigan finished 10th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 28 points per game.

2.) The Wolverines finished 9th in defensive yardage in the Big Ten, giving up 366 yards per game.

3.) Michigan’s gave up 19 passing touchdowns (only Indiana gave up more with 20) and registered only 9 interceptions all season long.

The sins of the Michigan defense might have easily been placed at the feet of the anemic offense. Michigan’s 3rd down success rate, unbelievable number of turnovers and overall low time of possession statistics often cancelled out any positive game momentum that might have been gained by the UM defense.

Heading into 2009, the situation on defense is tenuous. Wolverine football players will need to adjust yet again to their 4th defensive coordinator in 5 years as Greg Robinson takes over the reins. This fact just begs us to question whether any other team in the country not named Michigan or Baylor has suffered so many DC coaching changes?

What is perhaps most troubling for 2009 is that 4 out of the 6 leading tacklers for the Wolverines have all graduated. The linebacker positions will be a major area of concern. The leading tackler on the team last year, LB Jonas Mouton, does return, as well as fellow LB Obi Ezeh. J.B. Fitzgerald, Brandon Herron and converted safety Stevie Brown will rotate in at LB given the new 4-3 set implemented by new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. However well or poorly this group performs, it should surprise no one that freshmen linebackers like Kenny Demens, Brandin Hawthorne, Isaiha Bell, Mike Jones or sophomore Marell Evans see some playing time for Michigan this fall.

The 2009 defensive line will be anchored by one of the finest defensive ends in the country in senior Brandon Graham. Graham was credited with 10 of Michigan’s 29 sacks last fall. The other DE will likely be Ryan Van Bergen who had 13 tackles last fall. The best down lineman is defensive tackle Mike Martin, who started last year as a freshman and played well, registering 20 tackles and 2 sacks. Converted fullback Vince Helmuth and freshmen William Campbell will get serious consideration for the other defensive tackle positions. Greg Banks, Adam Patterson, former TE Steve Watson and Renaldo Sagesse provide meager depth for the Wolverines along the defensive front. Unfortunately, Michigan’s 2009 defensive line may become somewhat of a “project” in 2009, much like the offensive line was in 2008. We should expect numerous player try outs and position shifts during the course of the season. One injury on defense could cause big problems for Michigan. Two or more injuries could seriously derail Michigan’s entire football season. In such cases, freshmen defensive lineman Anthony Lalota and Craig Roh might also be called upon for an early tour of duty.

Michigan’s pass defense last year can only be described as abysmal. Michigan’s secondary was frequently torched for big gains and scores throughout the season, despite a veteran crew that included CBs Brandon Harrison and Morgan Trent, Charles Stewart, Donovan Warren and Stevie Brown. There will be a new crew of defensive backs in 2009. Stevie Brown moves to the LB position. Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko will likely man the cornerback spots this fall, while the safety positions may be filled by Troy Woolfolk and Michael Williams. Like the defensive line and linebacking corps, Michigan’s secondary is “wafer thin”. One injury could mean big trouble for this unit. It’s a little bit scary when one considers the possibility that Michigan’s 2009 freshmen defensive backs may be the best in the unit. Providing Michigan some measure of nail-biting depth are inexperienced RS freshman Brandon Smith, and true freshmen Vlad Emilien, Adrian Witty and Justin Turner.

Despite the numerous strikes against it including 4th DC in 5 years, lack of depth, moderate level of game experience, if we assume no injuries in 2009, this Wolverine defensive unit should be far better than the 2009 defensive squad! How can this be so?

A run-centric offense, fewer stupid turnovers, and improved time of possession results should be just enough to move the scales in the defense's favor. The other good news is that Greg Robinson may be one of the better defensive coordinator at Michigan since Bill McCartney. Robinson certainly struggled as a head coach, but was a very successful defensive coordinator and DL coach in college at Texas and UCLA and in the NFL for Denver, KC and the NY jets. He has coached some fantastic college defensive lineman and defensive backs during his career with impressive scoring defensive stats to back it up. With Michigan’s recruited talent, Robinson should turn be able to turn things around in short order.

The Most Important Thing in 2009

The most important thing for the Michigan football team in 2009, and therefore a recommended team motto must be:

“Score. Score again. And then score some more!”

Of course, scoring points is important in college football or any sport. But it will be critical for the Michigan football team in 2009.

Why?

The Michigan defense is incredibly fragile this season. The lack of depth at almost every position is very worrying. The new defensive schemes will take considerable time to master.

It will simply not be good enough for the UM offense to move the chains and gain first downs – as remarkable an achievement over 2008’s performance as that might be.

No. In 2009 Michigan’s offense must score early and frequently just to win football games this fall. To take this a step even further, Michigan must significantly increase its scoring in the first half of games by scoring more touchdowns, gaining the lead and building on it. Settling for field goals will not be enough.

For several reasons outlined above, Michigan’s offensive strategy will likely be more run-centric in 2009. If opponents get ahead early, this strategy will be counter productive as it will be difficult for Michigan’s offense to come from behind to win the game.

Unlike last season, the greatest burden lies on the Michigan offense, particularly the offensive line and running backs, to control the ball, eat clock and win football games. The Wolverine defense will take time to adjust and gel as a unit. However, just like last year’s offensive line, the UM defensive unit will likely struggle early in the season and undergo several personnel shifts, but show considerable improvement later in the season.

Some ridiculously bold predictions for 2009:

1.) Brandon Minor will rush for less than 1,000 yards in 2009. This will be less due to Minor’s ability or even durability, and more due to the higher number of rushing attempts that will go to other backs like Brown, Shaw, the true frosh, and the mobile quarterbacks.

2.) Tate Forcier will rush for 400+ yards and over 1,500 yards passing.

3.) Three Michigan running backs will have 500+ yards rushing on the season.

4.) Michigan will defeat 2 ranked opponents

5.) Michigan will lose to at least 1 unranked opponent.

6.) Michigan will finish 7-5 and receive a bowl invitation

7.) Michigan will again have a 1,000 yard receiver.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Michigan Football Commitmas in June


National signing day for 2010 college football freshmen recruits is 8 months away, and the Michigan Wolverines football team has already chalked up 14 verbal commitments.

It's like "Commitmas" in June or something.

So far recruiting websites are tracking Michigan's 2010 class as ranked 10th (Scout.com) . Rivals.com shows Michigan's class ranked 8th .

Not too shabby for a 3-9 team that was thrown down the stairs and landed in the Big Ten cellar last fall.

Depending on available scholarships that may be doled out to walk-ons this year, Michigan may sign between 22 to 23 players and possibly more.

Michigan has received 4 verbal commitments in just the last 3 weeks:

Jordan Paskorz, Allison Park, PA 3-star, No. 58 DE/DL

Chrisian Pace, Avon Lake, OH, 3-star, No. 36 OG

Kenny Wilkins, Washington, PA, 4-star, No. 31 DE

Cornelius Jones, Spartanburg, SC, 1-star, unranked QB

Now I'm not suggesting that this is the part where everyone is supposed to be majorly impressed or anything.

I'm just saying that 14 commits by June is pretty freaking unusual for Michigan football.

And as remarkable as these commitment numbers might seem, verbal commitments are just that: verbal "promises" that can be rather easily and unceremoniously broken by the 17 to 18 year olds declaring them. Michigan football followers don't really need to be reminded of this painful truth.

I don't know whether racking up this many recruits this early is a good thing, or a bad thing. Personally I'd prefer to let this all play out a little longer and well into the regular season before anyone thumps their chest or decides to plant a victory flag at the 50 yard line.

This has been a fun off-season to observe. With our peripheral vision it's also been somewhat difficult not to notice how Texas has the No. 1 ranked class so far with the most verbals to date: 19! Jim Harbaugh at Stanford has 17 commits and Texas A&M has 16 so far, with pretty good quality players on the list.

From a historical standpoint, I don't know that this has ever happened before at Michigan. Let's take a quick look at Michigan verbal commitment tallies up to the June 15th date of each recruiting year since 2002:


  
YearCoachVerbal Commits Up to June 15
2010Rodriguez14
2009Rodriguez6
2008Carr/Rodriguez6
2007Carr 6
2006Carr2
2005Carr5
2004Carr3
2003Carr0

I have no idea how Schembechler or Moeller did in their day, but based on recent UM recruiting history, we are entering some uncharted waters folks.

Now I'm not trying to knock Carr at all here, because I know he had some fantastic recruiters on his staffs over the years, and Lloyd himself emerged as a fantastic recruiter for the Wolverines, BUT....I just get the impression that Rodriguez's recruiting strategy is far more relentless, and far more wreckless than Carr's ever was. And it's almost like there's an element of "fun" going on out there on the recruiting trail and during these camps.

I do believe Michigan will land a Top 15 class for 2010. Michigan will still need some excellent pick ups by February in order to close out a Top 10 class however.

In the end, I'm not even sure whether recruiting rankings matter all that much because of the system Rodriguez/Robinson run and the profile of offensive and defensive players that are matched to these systems. But more than this, Rivals and Scout have both lost control and have proceeded to drive their player rankings off a cliff. We're all supposed to shut up and keep buying it. And some of us recruiting addicts continue to do exactly that.

The interesting bit in my opinion is that camp isn't over and there are some indications over on the premium message boards that 1 or more pretty impressive recruits may declare their respective Michigan affinities before this week is out!

With a finite number of slots now available for the 2010, Michigan football coaches will likely continue to focus heavily on defensive positions, particularly the secondary, which remains an area of considerable need for the young Wolverine squad.
It'll be interesting to see how the undecideds react as these spots gradually get filled.

So yeah, it feels a little bit like "Commitmas" in June right now, and not only for the Wolverines. Other UM targets 4-star DE William Gholston and 3-star CB Mylan Hicks both committed to the Michigan State Spartans this week as well.