Tuesday, April 24, 2012

All's Well That Ends Well

As you know, the band is of course making the trip to the Lone Star State this fall. If you are shocked, then you are probably less than a year old and get startled every time a face is revealed via the always surprising peekaboo. If so, how are you even reading this?

MMB members' raucous reaction to the good news was as loud as the MMB had been since...

In any case, this should stem the tide of incessant complaining for a while (that is, until Dave Brandon does another UNACCEPTABLE thing) so we can focus on the important things in life, like Will Campbell's pad level and how Devin Gardner is basically Jerry Rice 2.0.

A few brief bullets:

  • Telling Michigan fans "no" is like telling a small child at Toys R Us that no, they cannot have that thing that they want. 
  • While the concept of a neutral site game is not ideal, the proceeds from the Alabama game (a pseudo-home game), plus the home game next year that would've been a trip to Tuscaloosa under a home-and-home setup>>>>>>>>>the revenue from one home game. Am I missing something? Let's not forget all the merchandise and other various streams of revenue related to this game that folks aren't thinking of at the moment.  
  • Let's remember that we're playing Alabama, the defending national champs, in primetime. Nobody wants this to become a regular thing (i.e. neutral site games) but this is still very cool and something that might not happen again in any of our lifetimes. 
  • I'm no expert on the band and its finances, but it has been stated numerous times that the band funds itself, not the athletic department, so...how was any of this even a thing? 
  • Let's recap. DB said he wouldn't pay for this--even though it's not his department's obligation to do so anyway--and in doing so riled up the Internet masses and got the wealthy donor(s) to reach into their Scrooge McDuck vaults of cash. The result? The band is going and the bill is being footed by a entity that is not the AD. The only fallout is a little bit of e-anger stretched out over a few days, and it's not like DB didn't anticipate--or care about--that anyway.
    • Is DB actually a contemporary Machiavelli? Maybe not, and maybe I'm giving him too much credit. However, I think it's completely plausible--and even likely--that he knew this would happen and that, ultimately, somebody would pay for it. As someone once said, "all's well that ends well." 
  • Dear MMB: next time, just take the bus. Road trips are fun. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 4/23/2012

VT Recruiters Channel Their Inner Hoke: Yes, I realize that there was a plethora of pun-tastic opportunity there but I passed...pretty sure I should be commended for that. Anyway, this past weekend the Hokies pulled in six commitments, reminiscent of Michigan's commitapalooza earlier this year. The Key Play summarizes all you need to know about this great bounty in gif form. Trust me, it's worth clicking through (a hint: Frank Beamer+Mike London=wrasslin' smackdown).

An aside, but after the Sugar Bowl I will be rooting for the Hokies (unless it negatively impacts Michigan, of course, which it probably won't). Great, loud fans--and considering my ongoing frustration with Michigan fans regarding the loudness point, is particularly laudable--and most importantly, exceedingly nice. I walked with a group of them on the way to the Superdome, talking about the coming game and HOW DO YOU GET TO THE SUPERDOME AHH WHERE ARE WE. Like Nebraska fans, they were all generally very pleasant, and given the location of the bowl game, there was essentially every opportunity in the world to be unpleasant.

No matter which colors you wear on Saturdays, the Danny Coale catch/no catch was an unfortunate way to end a hard-fought--albeit aesthetically, um, unappealing--football game. It will be fun watching Logan Thomas run over people not wearing maize and blue this fall.

Clearly An Omen: An Ypsilanti resident threw out the first pitch before Phil Humber of my Chicago White Sox--that's right Tiger fans, we are going to be division competitors for greater than 0.0 days this season--threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history. Now, the odds of an Ypsilanti man throwing out the first pitch before a perfect game thrown in Seattle by a pitcher from the Chicago White Sox seems a bit low. Therefore, it stands to reason via an enormous leap of logic that 2012 will, in fact be...

THE YEAR OF THE PROCESS. EMU football is going 12-0 in 2012, and you heard it here first.

In "the NFL is stupid" news: Apparently, NFL scouts have discovered that, gasp, RGIII has supposed character issues. This might come as somewhat of a surprise, but I actually agree with said scouts.

RGIII's 2011 season proves that he is, in fact, a selfish guy because he scored ALL THE TOUCHDOWNS  last year and wouldn't even share them with anybody else. He scored 38 total touchdowns in 2011, which I'm pretty sure accounted for at least 75% of all touchdowns scored. How dare he not purposely sabotage a few possessions per game in order to give the most glorious and important player on the team--the field goal kicker--the chance to shine. He's clearly not ready for life in the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE.

In any case, the NFL's amusing penchant for retroactively applying the dreaded "character issues" label on players is kind of like a derpier version of A Beautiful Mind in which NFL scouts attempt see things that aren't actually actually there.

Battle of WDEvermore: Pointless Zeppelin nod aside, the battle for the WDE position between Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer rages on, and it just might be most interesting position going forward and into the actual season. The same critiques continue to apply from Mattison. On Beyer:
"Beyer is a very strong football player and can run," Mattison said. "What Beyer has to work on a great deal is he gets a habit of getting high. He’s got to stay lower. Then he’s going to be a real force, I think." 
On Clark:
"(Clark) wants to run to make plays before he beats the block, at times," Mattison said. "He needs to take some of what Beyer does, and Beyer needs to take some of what he does." 
I hereby commission any and all UM geneticists to fashion this super WDE Brenk Cleyer. Reward: approximately one million Schrute bucks and one really great pass rushing end.

Spring game caveat goes here, but from what I recall Beyer wasn't making any pass rushing headway when up against Lewan, which probably doesn't mean anything because: a) spring game and b) Lewan is one of the best left tackles out there. Whether they're lined up against DJ Fluker or Cyrus Kouandjio on September 1st, Michigan will need these two to make some plays when McCarron drops back or it will be very difficult to come away with a victory.

Dave Brandon is terrible and a big meanie too: As you may have heard, Dave Brandon is the worst. The recent news is disturbing and only further demonstrates the fact that DB does not get it or Michigan, which is strange given the fact that he once kind of played for Bo. Yes, the recent news has without a doubt shaken me as it has you. First, the news itself:
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon announced Friday (April 20) the hiring of Kim Barnes Arico as the ninth head coach in the 40-year history of the Wolverines women's basketball program. The New York native joins the Michigan family after spending the past 10 seasons as the St. John's University women's coach. She will be formally introduced at a press conference Monday (April 23) at 12:30 p.m.
That's right, folks. I can hardly believe it either. Dave Brandon has hired a Big East (Wo)Man to coach Michigan. This is something for which Bo would have never stood. What's the word for this? Oh, yeah: UNACCEPTABLE.

In all seriousness, this sounds like a great hire for the WBB program.

More? The BCS times they are 'a changin'? Arkansas AD Jeff Long is about to hire a coffee and breakfast food chain as its new head football coach according to Barnhart (UPDATE: John L. Smith is your new interim HC...this is real). Based on trailers alone, I'm not sure which of these things is worse.

Profilin' the Tide: Quarterbacks

Previously: General Offensive PreviewOffensive LineTailbacksWide receivers, Tight Ends, and H-backs

Alabama quarterbacks through the [recent] ages; if you're reading this caption without the theme music from Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" playing in your head, you're doing it wrong 

As you can probably imagine, this preview will prove to be about as spicy as a Vanilla Wafer. That's not to say that they aren't good, but if you're looking for a more exciting snack item, you're better off looking to the Oreo or the Keebler striped cookie or perhaps a nice zesty piece of cardboard. I think we're still talking about football here but I'm not really sure. FOOTBAW. Okay, back on track.

Since time immemorial, the prototype for the Alabama signal caller has been fairly consistent. Somewhat surprisingly, Alabama has had one more All-American quarterback than Michigan since 1950 (Joe Namath-1964, Steve Sloan-1965, Kenny Stabler-1967, and Jay Barker-1994), but by and large the average Alabama quarterback has carried the cliched "game manager" label. While this is a label that I find to be somewhat useless--as if "managing a game" is as simple as making a sandwich or expressing outrage at any of Dave Brandon's doings via social media and/or the Internets, generally--it does carry some weight.

For an outsider, guys like Brodie Croyle, John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy, and AJ McCarron can seem somewhat indistinguishable. IME, Croyle was arguably the most talented of this group, and his career, as far as wins and losses go, was fairly nondescript. The obvious answer to this point is that, well, the teams that McElroy and McCarron have had the chance to lead were worlds better than those of the first two names on that list (minus the 2008 team that Wilson quarterbacked), not to mention the fact that Saban is just a tad better than Mike Shula at that whole coaching thing.

The Starter
Last season, the Tide looked to replace Greg McElroy, who after leading Alabama to a relatively disappointing 3-loss season in 2010, won the MNC in 2011. Leading up to the 2011 season, a mini-controversy existed at the position between Phillip Sims and AJ McCarron. Sims saw time in the opening game blowout against Kent State before not taking a snap the next week against Penn State, and so it was McCarron's job the rest of the way.

Just managing this game , you guys. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

There is no such controversy this time around, as the redshirt junior 6'4'' 210 AJ McCarron is firmly entrenched as the starter. McCarron, the leading hipster quarterback of our time, had an impressively efficient 2011 campaign. He went 219 for 328 (66.8%), passing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns to only 5 picks. For a point of reference, that completion percentage is appoximately 6% better than Chad Henne's best season, completion percentage-wise (2006), and the yardage total is about halfway between Henne's two best seasons (2004 and 2005). McCarron's 328 attempt's equals Henne's 328 in Michigan's successful 2006 campaign, and so completing a shade under 67% compared to Henne's 62% is fairly impressive, no matter how inflated by "safe" passes and having Trent Richardson might make you believe it to be.

Outside of the first LSU game, McCarron brought at minimum serviceable efforts against the best teams on the schedule. Against Penn State in Happy Valley, he went 19/31 with 1 TD and no picks. Against Arkansas, 15/20 with a pair of TDs and no picks. Against Auburn (not of course a "good team" but still, a rivalry game), he went 18/23 with 3 TDs (a long of 41 on a flea flicker to Kenny Bell) and no picks. In perhaps the most important performance of his career, he went 23/34 against LSU in The One That Counted, and although he didn't convert in the red zone he also did not make any mistakes.

He took 13 sacks in 2011, the same number as Denard, which speaks to the function of the offense and the strength of the offensive line. Beyer, Clark, Roh, et al have their work cut out for them when it comes to rushing the passer. As far as mobility goes, he is obviously not Denard but definitely not Navarre:

Even AJ McCarron looks like Denard against UT

Other stats of note:
  • On 3rd & 3-7, McCarron was 34/49 for 377 yards and a whopping 7 TDs. 
  • 151 of his 328 attempts (46%) came on first down. He completed 70% of these passes. 
In short, while it might be convenient to slap the "game manager" label on McCarron, he is a more than capable college quarterback. He has good size and serviceable mobility, and although he's not asked to make too many plays downfield, he has the accuracy and arm to do so when called upon. The primary concern for Alabama and McCarron going forward is whether or not the tailbacks can combine to replace Richardson and whether or not the relatively green receivers can produce against single coverage. Brad Smelley, who may have been his favorite target in 2011, is gone, and Bama will need to find a quality H-back to replace him as the checkdown option that McCarron looks to in the red zone and 3rd and medium situations.

We can only hope the passing game, what with all the new receivers, looks sort of like this

The Replacements
Barring injury, I wouldn't imagine that any of the backups here will see serious game reps. However, there are talented options behind McCarron. Phillip Sims will be a redshirt sophomore, and despite being a couple inches shorter than AJ, is also a pocket passer sort. He was a 4.5 star out of high school (5 on Scout, 4 on Rivals), as you would expect. As mentioned, he did see some time in the opener last season before ceding the position to McCarron, only seeing garbage time snaps thereafter against Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Texas, and Vanderbilt. He has a bigger arm than McCarron, but obviously the offensive staff felt more comfortable rolling with McCarron in 2011, and that seems to have worked out nicely for Alabama. 

After Sims, there is 3rd-stringer Phillip Ely, who redshirted in 2011. There's not much use in going too in depth here, but, FWIW, he's 6'1'' 198 and also of the pro-style mold, choosing Alabama over LSU and Clemson, among other suitors. 

General Spring Minutiae/Encomium That Results In a Bristling Saban 
You would think that a program like Alabama would strive to have a close to the vest and completely uninteresting spring game, but, surprisingly, Alabama aired it out quite a bit during the A-Day game. 

McCarron went 29/42, good for 304 yards and two TDs and three picks. 

Sims has been dealing with shoulder issues all spring, missing out on some valuable spring reps in regular practices and previous scrimmages. However, he did participate during A-Day, going 9/12 for 135 yards and two scores (although both touchdowns were short passes that TJ Yeldon and Chris Black converted into long touchdowns plays). Quoth Saban
"I thought he looked a little rusty in the beginning, but definitely played better in the third quarter," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who stressed that Sims still wasn't 100 percent. "He made some big plays, and that's good." 
Ah, spring ball. It's all about as stimulating as your average episode of Entourage (which, if you're confused, means "not at all stimulating").

Things Think About/Watch Out For/ARE WE GONNA DIE? 
  • As usual, the ARE WE GONNA DIE answer comes first: maybe. That is, if the ground game is churning along like it did in 2011--despite having replaced a Rimington finalist at center and a Heisman finalist at tailback--then McCarron will likely have a McCarronian game, meaning something like a completion percentage of 65-70%, between 200 and 250 yards, and 2+ TD passes with no picks. Additionally, the receiving corps, as already described, is potentially the biggest question mark on this team other than maybe the linebackers. Of course, by "question mark" I mean they might not be MNC caliber but still very, very good. So, most of what goes into the consideration of McCarron's 2012 prospects don't actually revolve around McCarron himself. 
  • I have no doubt that Barrett Jones could be an All-American at his new position by the end of the year, but you'd have to imagine that there might be some center exchange issues early on in the season. It's pretty unfortunate that this is one of the few things we can reasonably entertain with respect to things we can feel positive about vis-a-vis the Alabama offense. The center position is obviously very different from either the guard or tackle positions, so Michigan's issues up the middle might be slightly mitigated if Jones makes a few mistakes with his calls and on snaps come September 1st. 
  • What kind of new wrinkles will new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier bust out that we may not have seen under former OC--and new CSU head coach--Jim McElwain? The word around spring ball from AJ has basically been NOPE NOTHING'S CHANGED THE PROCESS CONTINUES ON UNCEASING AND UNBROKEN. Okay, not exactly like that, but basically like that. I would think that Alabama would like to save its sneakier wrinkles for SEC play, but if Mattison figures out a way to slow down the run then we might see some things from Washington's playbook the last few years come to Tuscaloosa (uh, Arlington, I guess). 
Meaningless Grade That I Will Give Out Anyway
There's no quarterback controversy, and the starter is coming off a season in which he caretakered/game managed Alabama to a MNC season. Phillip Sims (not that Sims) is a solid if inexperienced backup. I'll go with a solid B+ here; McCarron is much better than Michigan fans will probably give him credit for throughout this summer, but he is also not a star and probably isn't a guy that can win the game by himself, but, then again, Alabama doesn't ask him to do that and the only game that sort of forced him to try to get outside of himself was the first LSU game. But, given the structure of the offense and Alabama football as a whole--play defense, run the ball, don't make mistakes--handing out any sort of grade is more meaningless for this position than for perhaps any other. McCarron has seen it all at this point; it will take a good helping of coordinatin' sorcery on Mattison's part to hold this offense in check in order to give Denard et al a chance at notching the upset.

And with that, that's it for the offense. Due to being in Ann Arbor for graduation festivities this coming week, you'll have to wait till next week for the thrilling conclusion to these previews*, in which I'll take at a look at which future NFL first-rounders will replace the guys that are about to be first round draft picks on the defensive side of the ball for the Tide.

*That is, if this Blackhawks-Coyotes series doesn't knock me dead first...HHNNNGGGGGGiest series ever.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mo' Money Mo' Problems

I had an entire post ready to go this morning re: The Great Band Crisis of 2012, but, naturally, it seems that the Internet decided to eat it. This is somewhat irritating but also might have been the universe's way of saying "shut up, guy, the world does not need a 47,194th take on this issue." Duly noted, universe. In any case, I have reproduced the most important part of the lost post below. The rest would've been just noise, anyway.

I don't know what the want from me/
It's like the more money we come across/
The more problems we see

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Profilin' the Tide: Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, and H-backs

Previously: General Offensive Preview, Offensive Line, Tailbacks 

These previews have thus far featured a lot of doom and gloom regarding the Alabama offense, particularly in light of Michigan's potential issues on the defensive line. However, the concept that this offense is completely without weaknesses, an indomitable force destined to roll over all comers, leaving a tragic trail of depression and crushed Golden Flake potato chips? Charlie Murphy, what say you?

Thanks, Charlie. Of course, it's all relative; to call this particular personnel group an outright "weakness" might be a bit of a stretch, especially when the talent therein probably exceeds most of the receiver groups in the SEC (and the Big Ten as well). There are some talented options here, and while many of them are either very green or "are not Julio Jones," that's okay. This offense doesn't necessarily need them to be transcendent. At the same time, perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Alabama offense has been the guys on the perimeter, including guys like Julio Jones, Darius Hanks, Marquis Maze, Preston Dial, Colin Peek, and Brad Smelley. Alabama didn't have a Julio-level talent last year, but Hanks was a very solid option, and Maze is the speedy electron type that defenses don't like to deal with after they've been bludgeoned to death by that OL and Richardson, Ingram, etc. From the H-back position, Smelley was actually the team's second leading receiver, and an important blocker in the ground game.

It's fairly easy for one to predict that the Alabama ground game will continue to look supremely dominant, even in the post-Richardson era. The options there are plentiful and, as already detailed, Alabama's offensive line will probably be the best in the country this season. The same level of unadulterated confidence doesn't necessarily apply vis-a-vis the players on the perimeter. There are two schools of thought here:
  • Alabama's offensive line/running game will be so good that it will turn guys like Kenny Bell, Christion Jones, and Kevin Norwood into stars (or, at least, Darius Hanks-level producers). 
  • The perimeter guys won't be good enough to consistently take advantage of single coverage that it could end up hurting the running game's ability to find itself in situations with favorable numbers in the box. 
The Starters 
On paper, the starters figure to be Kenny Bell and Christion Jones, although Kevin Norwood is also in the mix for starters reps. Luckily for Michigan, none of these guys are too big. Bell is 6'1'' 175, Jones is 5'11'' 175, and Norwood is the biggest of the bunch at 6'2'' 193. This isn't a physically imposing group, but they are definitely athletic. If Jeremy Gallon has shown us anything, it's that you don't need to be 6'4'' to go up and get it (although a little bit of Gary Gray certainly does help the cause). Other than Julio, Alabama's receivers in recent years (and, really, throughout Alabama's entire football history) haven't necessarily been flashy guys, partly because of the offense. There's no need to air it out when you can run it for 200+ yards while also holding the opponent to less than 10 points on a regular basis. 

Bell, of course, was a 4-star guy out of high school, and has seen his playing time increase each of the last two seasons after a taking a redshirt in 2009. In 2010, he played in 10 games, only making two grabs for 26 yards. In 2011, his production increased significantly, as he made 16 receptions for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns (vs. Tennessee and Auburn). Bell actually started 4 games last year, with his first career start coming in Happy Valley. Since his TD against Auburn was on a flea flicker, here's his score against Tennessee: 

It is true that Dooley and his assistants were probably too busy admiring the pleats in his orange pants to bother to call a defense there, but that's still an impressive play (and throw) by Kenny Bell, beating the coverage over the top with his speed and having the strength and hands to make the catch with a defender draped all over him. With Maze and Hanks gone, I would expect Bell to be The Guy in 2012, as much as this sort of offense needs a The Guy. 

Christion Jones is a smallish type who is a bit of a question mark. Jones was a 4-star out of high school, but that was as a defensive back (although he did play offense as well, obviously). He played in every game last season but only netted 3 receptions for 49 yards, while also seeing some time as a punt returner. As you can probably imagine, his lack of size, time as a punt returner, and his time as a high school defensive back all indicate that he might be from the Gallon school of wide receivers (i.e. small and shifty). Based on his recruiting profile, he seems like a better athlete than Gallon (not to mention being a few inches taller), but can he replace Maze as the main spark plug guy on the outside? It remains to be seen, although there exists a bevy of standard spring hype around him.

Norwood 1, Honey Badger 0

Kevin Norwood is another former 4-star that has not seen much time on the field. He will be a redshirt junior in 2012, and he has 14 receptions, 246 yards, and 1 touchdown to his name. To his credit, Norwood showed up huge in The One That Counted, grabbing 4 receptions for 78 yards against the discombobulated LSU Tigers. Perhaps he just played out of his mind on that day, but since Norwood was helping in filling in for Marquis Maze--who had been knocked out early in the game--I'd be pretty encouraged if I was an Alabama fan because Maze is of course no longer on the roster. Like Jones, Norwood is not very game-tested, but getting it done against a defense like LSU's in the SEC West Title Game Rematch is nothing to scoff at. He certainly looked the part of a starting major conference receiver, and at a similar size, reminds me a little bit of slightly shorter Adrian Arrington. 

At the H-back position, Alabama looks to replace Brad Smelley, who was a very effective third option for AJ McCarron. Smelley lead the team in receiving touchdowns, and arguably his best performance came against LSU in the MNC game, in which he had 7 of the 34 receptions he notched in 2011. It's somewhat unclear whether or not the responsibilities of this position will remain exactly the same under a new OC, but I'm not sure why it wouldn't. Alabama has developed this position quite nicely throughout Saban's tenure, and it adds a little bit of excitement and versatility to an offense that many view as "boring" or "plodding." The oft-maligned concept of "manball" can in fact be interesting from an X's and O's perspective, and this position gives the Tide a way to get production in the passing game, especially if the wide receiver talent isn't above average. 

Looking to replace Smelley are Harrison Jones--Barrett Jones's brother--and Brian Vogler, both redshirt sophomores. Both were very solid prospects out of high school but Vogler is a little bit bigger, at 6'7'' to Jones's 6'4''. Each had only one reception in 2011. 

At tight end, the Tide have two-year starter Michael Williams. Williams will be a fifth-year senior in 2012 and has by and large been a blocking sort but has shown the ability to make some plays. In 2011 he reeled in 14 receptions for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Against Penn State, he had 3 receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown. He's far down the list of Alabama offensive players to focus the defensive gameplan on, but if he's making plays then Alabama is probably either near your end zone or the ground game is just generally humming along. 

The Replacements
Again, the common theme of this post is youth. After the aforementioned trio of receivers, the rest of the depth chart features a lot of inexperience and untested talent. DeAndrew White is another VHT guy that hasn't really had much of a chance to get on the field. As a redshirt sophomore, he'll have his chance this year. FWIW, he did grab a pair of touchdowns against Vanderbilt last year, but Vandy's defensive backs are all probably NERRRDDDDSSSSSSS, so, how impressive is that, really? 

Amari Cooper and Chris Black are talented true freshmen--of the 6'0'' and under variety--that should be in the mix for some playing time as well. The bad news for us is that both Cooper and Black enrolled early and have been going through the joys of spring ball and The Process. Black flashed some big play ability last Saturday during the A-Day game, grabbing a 44-yard TD pass from Phillip Sims. Marvin Shinn and Danny Woodson Jr. are class of 2011 4-stars that both redshirted last year, so it's hard to tell what to expect from them this year, if anything. 

General Spring Minutiae/Encomium That Results In A "Bristling" Saban
If you're the kind to pay spring scrimmage results any mind, here are the stats from Alabama first scrimmage a couple weeks back. If you don't care to click through, Christion Jones led the way with 7 receptions 83 yards, and two TDs, with Kenny Bell coming in second with 3, rec., 68 yards, and one TD.

Otherwise, nothing too exciting has gone on in the spring other than Brent Calloway's move to H-back. Calloway was a tailback out of high school but was moved to linebacker early this spring. Apparently, due to lack of numbers (insert your joke here), he'd been moved back to working with the running backs. However, Saban clarified that he was actually working with the H-backs, so, I guess throw his name in the mix along with Jones and Vogler for that position.

As for Bama's A-Day scrimmage, Kenny Bell hauled in a 47-yard TD on a flea flicker from McCarron. NOTE TO SELF (Cc: Greg Mattison): Alabama likes throwing the flea flicker to Bell (see: 2011 Iron Bowl, 2012 A-Day).

Things To Think About/Watch Out For/ARE WE GONNA DIE?
If there is any position group that will not cause us to die, it's this one. Again, that's not to say that it's lacking in talent, but it is lacking in overall experience and production, not to mention that replacing guys like Hanks, Maze, and Smelley--guys that have performed on the highest level--is never easy. 
  • Is Kenny Bell equal to the role of the #1 receiver? He is the most accomplished of the returning bunch, and has even started some games and shown some big play ability. 
  • Who will replace Marquis Maze as the speedy "just make a guy miss" receiver? It could be Christion Jones, but it might not be wise to rely on a guy as untested as Jones, but, then again, I'm not sure Alabama has any other options (other than freshmen). 
  • Perhaps the most underrated part of the Alabama offense--the H-back--will need to be replaced this year. Who wins the job, Jones or Vogler (or even redshirt freshman Malcom Faciane or true freshman Kurt Freitag)? If a solid option doesn't materialize, it could limit what sorts of one-back sets Alabama can run--in addition to what they can do in the red zone, an important point given Bama's often shaky kicking game--and the Michigan defense will take any help it can get in this regard. FWIW, Vogler (along with Michael Williams), were the first team tight ends during last Saturday's A-Day game while Jones, Faciane, and Calloway got reps with the second team. 
  • I didn't mention him above, but the status of Duron Carter might be one to follow. If you aren't aware, Carter--former Buckeye receiver Cris Carter's son--transferred from a JUCO to Alabama last year after leaving Columbus due to academic issues. After a drawn out debate leading up to last season regarding his eligibility, he ended up not playing a down in 2011, and it's looking more and more like he never will suit up for Alabama on Saturdays. Carter is still suspended according to Saban, although the door remains open for a return to the program, apparently, which is more than a little bit ridiculous but whatever. The chances of Will Campbell catching a 99-yard touchdown pass from Jareth Glanda this season are higher than that of Duron Carter ever playing for Alabama, ever, let alone against Michigan on September 1st. 
Meaningless Grade That I Will Give Out Anyway
I'll give this group a B, primarily because of the sheer talent available and the fact that the ground game will afford them copious single coverage. Odds are, this will be especially true against Michigan, which probabaly won't be bringing an extremely effective pass rush from the front 4 (at least during Week 1). Again, this is meaningless, but if I were to attempt to justify this assessment I'd say that Alabama's lack of returning production/gameday experience at both the receiver and H-back positions might be the biggest concern for the 2012 iteration of the Crimson Tide (aside from, possibly, linebacker). 

However, Alabama has the talent, and guys like Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood have made some plays in important games before. If these guys can be, at minimum, reliable chain-movers, then this offense will once again prove very difficult to stop. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Game Thoughts of Debatable Utility

A Preface: The Spring Game is meant to be a glorified practice. Nothing that happened in Michigan's spring game yesterday should be used to predict anything that might happen in the fall. It is an event that's simply meant to be a fun way for fans to watch some pseudo-footbaw in April. That's it. As such, all of the following are simply observations on what happened on Saturday, in a vacuum. 

  • On the brightness of the helmet numbers: I am about to give you all a history lesson, free of charge. Many grade school teachers will tell you that, back in the day, as the Roman Empire was collapsing in the west, that it was all the the product of multiple centuries' worth of societal, political, and economic strife, not to mention the incessant waves of Germanic invasions that eventually brought the empire to its knees in the officially accepted year of collapse, AD 476. Do you want to the real reason for the empire's collapse? The by and large  obscure Roman emperor Davidus Brandanius issued an edict that called for "the inscription of excessively shiny numbers and #GOROME on each Roman soldier's helmet." This was of course done in order to spread the brand of Rome far and wide, as conquered peoples would see this inscriptions and cease to resist the Roman intrusions on their land. I mean, who wouldn't want to engage in and be a part of such a thing? Exactly. Unfortunately, in later battles, the sun would reflect upon these brightly painted inscriptions, reflecting sunlight off of the helmets and into each soldier's eyes, leading to massive breakdowns in the phalanx formation, and, ultimately, defeat in battle and general ownage at the hands of the various Germanic invaders. We would do well to learn from the mistakes of the past. 
          Okay, that was stupid. Tl;dr--who cares. Moving on!
  • Devin Gardner: I guess you can't really start anywhere else. I spent last season defending Denard against the "play Devin" people and it looks like I'll spend this offseason defending Devin against the "move him to wide receiver" folks. For the record, I do think he should absolutely get on the field as a receiver if he proves to be up to it, but if Hoke says he's the QB2 then that's enough for me. 
    • A couple errant throws shouldn't be enough to freak people out, particularly since said people are probably the same ones who were calling for Devin to take over last year because of his passing ability. Remember, these guys haven't played in front of large numbers of people since January, and it's not like Devin has all that much game experience anyway. 
    • I understand the fact that, being a rising junior, many are expecting "more" from Devin, but it doesn't work out that way all the time. The INT wasn't great but it was just a solid break on the ball by Countess; Devin wasn't locked onto Jeremy Jackson, Navarre-style. Jackson also could have done a better job of understanding where Countess was and working his way back to the ball, but Gardner needed to either get the ball out a second earlier or he shouldn't have thrown it at all. You live and learn. I believe Denard when he says that this outing was not indicative of how Devin has performed in practice. 
    • He short-hopped one and then awkwardly shotputted a checkdown but looked much more comfortable looking downfield, where he completed an intermediate pass down the middle of the field to Jeremy Gallon (the pass was a little behind Gallon, but good enough to be completed). His footwork and mechanics weren't great on this day, but you have to figure that general rust and/or nervousness played somewhat of a factor. In short, better to get these sorts of things worked out now than in September. 
    • On the positive side, Gardner looked as athletic as ever when the pass wasn't there. Of course, it's easy to run when you know you're not about to get thumped. However, it is nice to know that if Denard has to step out for a play or two, we can bring in a supremely athletic 6'4'' guy at quarterback. 
Blake Countess getting some run with the offense...wait, what? 
  • Russell Bellomy: On a related note, Bellomy looked like he could be a capable option down the road (as much as one can say such a thing after watching a spring scrimmage). He left that pass to Jerald Robinson, forcing him to go to his knees to catch it, but overall it's difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about arm strength given the nature of the passes he was throwing. Bellomy does look the part of the ideal Borges quarterback, however, and with another year of seasoning and some badly needed time in the weight room, I wouldn't be surprised to see him challenge for playing time next year and the year after (and yes, I am figuring Shane Morris's arrival into that outlook). 
  • Wide receivers: It wasn't an impressive day for the receivers, but, again, general spring game caveat goes here. There was really no effort to stretch the field, and let's not forget that Michigan actually has competent to pretty good players in the secondary these days. It's difficult to make a real assessment here because I was watching on TV, but it's unclear for me whether or not the wideouts were simply not getting open or if Devin was hesitant to hit them, particularly after the INT. Whatever the case may be, I think it's fairly obvious that we need Jerald Robinson to step up or we're going to be hoping that Darboh or Chesson fill the big WR role when they get to Ann Arbor in the fall. He definitely looks the part but didn't seem to do much on Saturday (2 rec., 9 yards). 
  • Desmond Morgan injury: Let's hope that it isn't anything serious, because that would be an awful loss even if we're talking about him simply missing some summer conditioning/player practices. I didn't catch this live, but apparently this is what knocked him out. That's what you like to see from your tailbacks, and Fitz will definitely need to do that a few times against Alabama's 3-4 outside backers if Michigan wants to keep Denard in one piece. 
  • Hawthorne and Jones: Other than sounding like a law firm, these two had a productive day. Sure, they were up against walk-ons and backups most of the time, but they are experienced players that can fill in if injuries strike (knock on wood). This, folks, is what elite teams call "depth." Depth, meet Michigan football, Michigan football, meet depth. FWIW, the same positive depth-related sentiments apply for the secondary and guys like Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and Terrence Talbott. Hawthorne's hit on Justice Hayes was the speedy, slashing sort of play that we've seen Hawthorne make before, namely early on in the 2011 season (e.g. the Notre Dame game). 
  • Denard: A short day, obviously, but he did make a couple of crisp completions, first on the slant to Gallon and second on a rollout to Roundtree near the right sideline. These may seem like routine plays, but they really haven't been for Denard. If he can make these sorts of throws with consistency, the offense gets better by at least an order of magnitude. This will be especially true against Alabama, as I would imagine that Borges will look to move the pocket fairly often.
  • Thomas Rawls: A Bull Moose like Teddy Roosevelt. But, seriously, he looks like the stereotypical Big Ten mooseback. On the 21-yard TD run in the first half, Washington, Ash, and Heitzman were on the field for the defense. Rawls eluded a flailing tackle attempt from Heitzman in the hole, while Washington made a similar attempt but didn't come nearly as close as Heitzman did. On the second level, Rawls broke a tackle attempt from early enrollee Jarrod Wilson en route to daylight and the end zone. All in all a poor sequence of events for the defense, but it's nice to see Rawls hit the hole hard. It was very reminiscent of Kevin Grady's touchdown against Vanderbilt in 2006. No matter what Fred Jackson says, Grady is the obvious YMRMFSPA for Rawls. 
  • Defensive line aka I'M SO GLAD OUR FIRST GAME IS AGAINST ALABAMA WOO: This might be the only unit to add to any Michigan fan's list of THINGS TO BE DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT, but that's only because these concerns existed the second after the careers of Mike Martin, Ryan van Bergen and Will Heininger ended. Hoke calling the interior of the defense "soft" is not a good sign, but is also standard motivational verbiage. I will say, however, that people should be careful when they try to parse Hoke's pressers, especially when he uses words like "soft" or "physical." Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Hoke uses these words as a catch-all for "bad" and "good" play. Of course, the interior needs to get better, but I'm not sure that any problems on Saturday were the result of guys like Campbell, Washington, Ash, Black, etc. just not playing hard enough or tough enough. In any case, minus the TD run from Rawls and some nice runs from Fitz, it's not like the interior was getting blown up with regularity. On the flip side, there wasn't much push up the middle or general pressure, but, you know...whatever. There's a long way to go until September 1st. 
  • Chris Bryant: Is huge. Hoke emphasized that there's always competition for every position, which is typical coachspeak but you get the feeling that he means it more than a lot of coaches do when they say those sorts of things. Mealer and Omameh are ostensibly the starters at LG and RG if the season started today, but it seems that neither position is safe, which is a latter more worrisome vis-a-vis Omameh. 
  • Toussaint: There's not much to say. No offense to Brandon Minor, but Toussaint is Michigan's first All-Big Ten type player since Hart. Fitz looked quick, agile, and showed a bit of power in finishing his runs, namely one play which ended with him essentially bowling over J.T. Floyd near the sideline. There are some question marks on this team, but one thing I'm fairly sure of: Fitz is about to have a monster year.
Well-executed inside zone for 10 (HT: mgovideo)
  • The Michigan Defense's Excellent Adventure: Given Jake Ryan's neck roll and several other players sporting the half jersey thing, Michigan's defense looked like it arrived at Michigan Stadium straight from the 1980s via some sort of time traveling phone booth. Whatever works, guys. If the defense can continue to play like those vintage Bo defenses from the 1980s then keep on keepin' on. 
  • Philanthropy!: Spring game donations for Mott amounted to a whopping $161,080, and that is apparently before it will be matched by the Beam family. Well done everybody. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Profilin' the Tide: Tailbacks

Previously: General Offensive Preview, Offensive Line

While I would argue that an arthritic turtle could probably run for 1,000 yards behind the 2012 Alabama offensive line, we will never get to see such a thing come to fruition. This is upsetting because it means that Alabama will trot out a human being at the tailback position, and that is decidedly less novel/adventurous (but, then again, this is the Alabama offense we're talking about). But, believe you me, if Nick Saban could find a loophole allowing him to play a Chelydra serpentina at the position, oh he'd exploit it; ain't gotta give a turtle no scholarship. He might not be Forrest Gump but nobody ever questioned the ol' walk-on Snapping Turtle's want to.
Eddie Lacy against Michigan State (via Jacob Lanston/Orlando Sentinel
ANYWAY. Let's talk about the guys that will be replacing bench press extraordinaire--who, by virtue of his S&C in Tuscaloosa not allowing him to bench over 450 pounds or so, allows the space-time continuum to remain intact--Trent Richardson. The Tide are not afraid to use multiple backs, even when a talent like Ingram or Richardson occupy the starting role, and, as such, this will be be a tailback by committee type situation, not unlike 1997 Michigan. Part of this is due to the fact that Alabama has had unbelievable depth and quality, kind of like that one time when USC seemingly had 12 5-star tailbacks on their roster.

Alabama has been able to offer carries to Mark Ingram in 2008 when he was behind starter Glen Coffee, for Trent Richardson the next two years behind Ingram, and last year, when guys like Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler found a decent amount of carries come their way, considering that the starter was of course a Heisman finalist. The other logical explanation is that, well, Alabama has had the luxury of giving out a lot of garbage time carries the last few years.

The Starters 
The guy primed to get the most carries in 2012 is Eddie Lacy, who will be a redshirt junior, is a solid all-around back at 6'0'' 220. He racked up 684 yards on 84 carries as Richardson's understudy in 2011. If you're keeping track at home, that's good for 7.5 ypc. Obviously, it's safe to assume that that will come down as he becomes "the guy" instead of "the guy that comes in after Trent "Destroyer of Worlds" Richardson has bludgeoned the opposing defense to death." There's no reason to assume that he won't be at minimum a competent back.

Based on what I've seen of him thus far, there's absolutely no chance he can replicate the unadulterated power that Richardson brought on every run, but that's okay because I'm fairly certain very few people can. He also doesn't necessarily have an overwhelming burst, but I'm not an NFL scout and some of the holes that he ran through last year could've quite literally allowed an actual elephant the space to pass through.

However, he's got some nifty moves when he has to stop at or before the line of scrimmage, particularly a pretty great spin move. I have a feeling this is entirely wrong comparison, but his build and slashing running style sort of reminds me of Ryan Grant (they are almost quite literally the same height and weight).

With that said, Lacy can acquit himself well by doing one thing that Richardson was pretty good at: pass catching. Alabama threw to Richardson a decent bit last year (29 receptions, 338 yards), especially against the stingier defenses on the schedule. Richardson had 4 against PSU and 5 against LSU in The One That Didn't Count. Does Lacy have similar hands, and can he be the same dynamic playmaker that Richardson was with McCarron slinging him passes to the flat with Jimmy Clausen-esque poise? It's hard to say at this point, but Lacy does have a few grabs to his name. In 2011, Lacy reeled in 11 receptions for 131 yards, with a long of 48 yards against Kent State.

Unfortunately for Alabama (and for Michigan fans looking to see him in action this Saturday during the A-Day game), Lacy is out of commission this spring with a foot injury. In his stead, we will see prototypical rhinoceros-back Jalston Fowler as the main guy this Saturday.

Pretty sure this is Jalston Fowler. 

Fowler is 6'1'' 246, meaning it is time for some cliches. He's a north-south guy, he always falls forward, he's hard-nosed between the tackles runner, he looks to initiate contact, HERP DERP FOOTBAW, etc. You get the picture. Of course, a back such as this is nicknamed "Nudie."

Fowler has zero receptions in his career, of course. When he is in the game, odds are Michigan will know what's about to happen because it's a short yardage situation. Although Fowler is indeed a large man, it is important to note that 39 of his 56 carries came when Alabama was up by 22 points or more, typically after Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy had done their damage. Also, while Fowler is naturally not the fleetest of foot, he did have a 69-yard TD run against Ole Miss last year (I know, it's Ole Miss, but they're apparently in the SEC) and a red zone TD against Auburn in which he got the corner. Here's the Ole Miss score, with Fowler looking terrifyingly similar to a poor man's Beanie Wells (video in general is worth watching if you want to quickly familiarize yourself with what their running style looks like; again, level of resistance caveats re: the competition apply):

Similar to my comments about Lacy, but being bumped up a slot will likely see his effectiveness decrease as he enters the game earlier on than he did in 2011 (i.e. before the D is already been mentally and physically destroyed).

Still, behind that OL, this is not a person you want to have to tackle. He's probably not going to bust any long runs against us the Ole Miss one unless something catastrophic has happened, but he's not exactly slow for his size, and he seems to be surprisingly nimble on his feet. At the same time, I think this is just the sort of back that guys like Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan want to meet in the hole. After that sentence, all I have to say is CAN I GET A "FOOTBAW!"

The Replacements
As mentioned already, it gets a little murky here because Alabama figures to be in position to play multiple guys. If we're using the 1997 Michigan tailback corps as a point of reference, with Fowler as Howard/Floyd (really, they're both Chris, and in my mind they were essentially the same) and Lacy as A-Train, then our old friend Dee Hart is perhaps primed to be the Clarence Williams of the bunch. Hart is of course coming off of a knee injury that forced him to miss all of 2011, but he's participating in spring ball, albeit with a brace. We're all familiar with his skill set, and it seems that he's been taking advantage of Lacy's absence in an attempt to find himself a role in this year's offense, one which you would think doesn't suit a back of Hart's stature. However, he could carve out a very successful niche as the occasional spark plug/change of pace guy, as I don't think Lacy (and definitely not Fowler) provide the

There's also T.J. Yeldon, who switched his commitment from Auburn to Alabama, just like LT Cyrus Kouandjio. He was a Rivals 5-star (#2 RB, #12 overall, #2 in Alabama) as well as Mr. Football in Alabama, which is highly impressive considering he beat out FSU signee Jameis Winston for the honor. Yeldon is in Tuscaloosa for spring ball, and it's sort of terrifying to think that a guy that would start, right now, at a lot of places might be Alabama's fourth stringer this year.

Blake Sims is another guy in the mix, although he has been limited by injuries this spring. He seems to be attempting to get back into the swing of things, but, based on this recent practice footage, he does not seem like a guy that's ready for full contact this Saturday. It will be difficult for Sims to get much run this year, but he did see some time last season. He was a 4-star athlete out of high school, and was apparently being recruited by Tony Dews.

General Spring Minutiae/Encomium That Results In A "Bristling" Saban
With Sims and Lacy out, that leaves Hart, Yeldon, and Fowler as the primary participants during spring ball. Most talk re: Fowler centers around how huge he is and difficult to tackle. According to Adrian Hubbard, a potential starting linebacker:
"It's like trying to tackle a big train."
Fun times. In last Friday's scrimmage (the second one this spring), Fowler carried the ball 22 times, going for 151 yards and 3 touchdowns (although 68 of those yards came in a "situational drill"). However, the first scrimmage was decidedly less of a success for the ground game, as Fowler, Yeldon, Hart, and walk-on Ben Howell combined for 107 yards on 38 carries (2.8 ypc). Individual stats are available here at the athletics website. Again, it's spring ball, and here's a grain of salt for you.

I've also read various bits of Hart impressing, which could just be standard fare Internet hype. Mike Cox is generally all you have to say to anyone that wants to extrapolate grand things from spring ball.

Saban on T.J. Yeldon's performance in the second scrimmage--Bama didn't release rushing stats for anyone other than Fowler for some reason--has him explaining that Yeldon "did not gain a lot of yards but got a lot of good experience." With Lacy, Fowler, and probably Hart ahead of him at this point, I have a hard time believing that Yeldon will make a significant impact this year unless there are major injuries.

So, yeah. Nothing too revelatory here, as the only potential playing time controversy doesn't begin until you get to the third string. Here's a video of RB drills that is just about as exciting as it sounds; if you have exactly 2 minutes that you need to foolishly fritter away, watch this.

Things To Think About/Watch Out For/ARE WE GONNA DIE?
  • To address the not at all overdramatic question: it's distinctly possible. 
  • Can either Hart or Yeldon take ownership of the third string spot behind Lacy and Fowler? I could easily see Hart filling a Justice Hayes type slot/scat back role, but it remains to be seen if that is something that Bama/Nussmeier wants or even needs as a part of the offense. The Tide probably have room for a Wildcat package now and then, and I could see Hart filling that role with his quickness and his ability to get down in his cuts behind that enormous offensive line. 
  • Alabama will practice for the last time this spring today before Saturday's A-Day game; will any of the backs that aren't Fowler produce a little more results than they have thus far this spring? 
  • Can you tell that there's not a whole lot going on here? 
Meaningless Grade That I Will Give Out Anyway
It's very difficult not to give this group an A based on depth and potential alone, however I have to give it a tentative A-, which is admittedly a bit harsh. I'm confident that Lacy will be a very good player, but he just hasn't had a chance to truly prove it yet. Fowler looks like your standard issue bowling ball that runs angrily, but can he do it against, say, a fresh Michigan or LSU defense as opposed to mediocre to horrible defenses like Auburn's or Ole Miss's? He should be fine, but, again, it's not a given. After that, Dee Hart is a big talent but is coming off of a knee injury and is only a redshirt freshman anyway. Yeldon, similarly, will be a true freshman, and might not get much playing time regardless of how talented he is.

This is a deep and talented group, however, and the Michigan's front 7 will have its hands full as it attempts to account for each back's running style. Thankfully, there is a long summer of S&C and fall practice before Michigan has to think about corraling Eddie Lacy or bringing down Jalston Fowler.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 4/10/2012

Return of the King: As you know Trey Burke has decided to return and the pendulum of life, which swings back and forth between "OMG AWESOME" and "OMG THIS IS TERRIBLE WHY"--and only these two things--has swung back to the good side. Now that this mildly stressful ordeal is over (if you were actually freaking out about this then you need to reconsider the manner in which you deal with things), these are some points of note, for me:
  • On a less cheery note, if you think about leaving early for the NBA, Michigan fans will downplay your ability, backtracking only once you've decided to stay. 
  • With Burke returning, it's very hard for me to imagine a 2009-10 season Redux. This comparison will be drawn approximately 12, 485 times this offseason, but I think it's fairly clear that 2012-13 Michigan basketball>>>2009-10 Michigan basketball. It's not even close. 
  • I wouldn't get too excited about our newfound point guard "depth." It really wouldn't surprise me to see Trey play similar minutes again next year, even with Spike in the fold. 
  • An early 2012-13 forecast? Predicting how a team will perform in the NCAAT a year in advance is like trying to decipher Oregon football picturized offensive signals. With that said, this team is a Final Four contender. I think Michigan might have some minor growing pains as the freshman get up to speed and Michigan tailors the offense to its new personnel (see, "actually having bigs on your roster"). 
  • And, last but not least: be more than a little skeptical about CBS's investigative reporting. It seems that Goodman is arguing that it was a sure thing when he reported it, but, you know, people change their minds all the time, and it's his job to discern what the odds are of a change of heart. Does that sound sort of ridiculous and/or impossible? Yes, which is why the media should cool it with the "being the first to report something that really doesn't need to be known NOW NOW NOW" operating philosophy. It's almost as if some journalists are becoming professional versions of Internet commenters that post "first!!!11!!!" on things.
Spring Highlights: Some more spring scrimmage highlights, courtesy of MGoBlue.com. These little 2-3 minute videos don't mean much, but they are giving me the general feeling that Fitz is about to have a monster year. 

Urban Meyer: I gave the Sporting News piece on Urban Meyer a quick read and, to be quite honest, didn't find it to be all that surprising or revelatory in any significant way. As for the favoritism re certain star players and rampant drug use...does that really surprise anyone (not that either are of course desirable in any way)?The implication is that UF won in despite all of these problems simply because they were better than everybody else and it wasn't even close. I tend to believe this, but the problem is that guys like Tebow and Harvin don't come around all the time. At the same time, the talent gap between Ohio (and Michigan) and the rest of the Big Ten is typically far wider than that seen between the top SEC team and the next tier of teams in that league. So, maybe this sort of stuff can happen again and work out fine for Urban and the Buckeyes*. 

In short, find me in three or four years and maybe this will all be relevant again as part of some trend that I care to talk about for more than two seconds. While the writer here is of course biased, I had a somewhat similar reaction to all of this: 
"They were all smoking dangerous street drugs and choking coaches and doing all of their homework with the help of Wikipedia," said some bitter injured backup no one ever heard of who got a mercy invite to Florida's pro day because why not. "I read OverSigning.com and began to think I had lyme disease."
*And by "work out fine" I mean winning championships. 

Rivalry!: RR and Todd Graham throw out the first pitches at an Arizona Diamondbacks game. RR asks Graham if he's "ready" to throw before they toss to home plate in unison. This polite gesture shows that RR does not GET IT or the rivalry that is Arizona State-Arizona. Also, the RR I know wouldn't have waited for his opponent to get ready: RR clearly doesn't even GET his own offense anymore.

Jibreel Black Position Switchin': In light of my post on Alabama's OL yesterday, this piece on Black's switch to the inside has me thinking one thing and one thing only: somebody get this man a copy of "The Gittleson Diet: Weight Gain for the Modern (But Not Too Modern) Athlete," ASAP.

Black says he's upped his weight to 270 this spring (up from 260), and plans to add about 10 more by fall. This is encouraging, because there's no way in the world that a 270 pound 3-tech would be able to stand up against an interior line as large as the Warmack-Jones-Steen triumvirate. Then again, our own DL coaching triumvirate is pretty formidable, too.

In other "please be good" news: It's never good when something is referred to as a "carnival of missed assignments," but, nonetheless, Jerald Robinson has being acquitting himself quite well amongst it all. I very much want him to be good because he offers something that almost none of our other wideouts have (at least until the 2012 guys, Darboh and Chesson, come in), but, at the same time, Robinson seems like he's the only guy who even could be termed a "breakout" guy vis-a-vis this position group, so this sort of praise, while better no praise, might be indistinguishable from your common spring fluff.

History and Stats re: Burke's draft status: Dave Ryan over at Maize n Brew compares Burke to a mystery player who was at one point in a similar situation. I won't spoil the surprise, but the cogent points are many here, namely that "marketing" and overall exposure are often as important to NBA scouts' perceptions of a college player as cold hard stats. Trey might not have a "better" year in 2012-13, but it's hard to envision his draft prospects getting any worse as long as he has a comparable encore season.

More? In "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" news...yeah. "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" news, part II (also, coincidentally, SEC-centric). 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Profilin' the Tide: Offensive Line

Previously: General Offensive Preview 

The first position group I'll take a look at will be, naturally, the Alabama offensive line. In a game between two schools like Alabama and Michigan, known for their Brobdingnagian lines and power running--minus the failed RR Interlude--could it be any other way? Of course not. While this game might not exactly mirror the 2000 Orange Bowl (i.e. Alexander vs. A-Train), in that the Michigan offense is decidedly not yet synced with the Tao of Power, we will see an offense/OL that Michigan hopes to become by 2014 or so.

Power off tackle: a preview

In this way, this matchup is somewhat of a double-edged sword, for Michigan fans. Although the Bama OL is about as terrifyingly huge a line anywhere outside of Madison, and will consequently pose problems for a Michigan DL lacking in depth and beef, it's hard not to watch that line play and not imagine a line featuring Kalis, Bryant, Bars, LTT, Dawson, etc. doing similar things down the line. With respect to the line play, the Alabama OL will be somewhat of a sneak peek into the future for Michigan fans and/or Darrell Funk enthusiasts.

The Starters 
Although it is only spring, Bama's starting five is as close to set in stone as it could possibly be. From left to right, it looks as such:
Cyrus Kouandjio-Chance Warmack-Barrett Jones-Anthony Steen-DJ Fluker
 As mentioned previously, the lone departure is C William Vlachos, a Rimington finalist last season. Every starter save Kouandjio has multiple seasons worth in starting experience; these guys have seen it all, of course winning two of the last three national championships while facing some of the most ornery front sevens in the country. The lone newbie is Cyrus Kouandjio, a rising true sophomore who appeared in all eight games until getting knocked out for the season in the Tennessee game with a knee injury. Kouandjio was a big time recruit, most known for committing to Auburn, not faxing in his LOI and then signing with Alabama a few days after NSD. He is the lone green starter, but, unfortunately, he does have a little experience to his name. Overall, however, the returning guys have 95 starts between them. 

Let me reiterate: these guys are enormous. From left to right, this is what our front 7 will be looking at: 6'6'' 311, 6'3'' 320, 6'5'' 302, 6'3'' 303, 6'6'' 335. Forget about the defense, this is going to be the most dominant unit of the 2012 Alabama football team. This line is so mammoth that it can inspire headlines as ridiculous as "Is that big offensive line too big?" This sort of reminds me of NFL types wondering if a quarterback can be "too athletic" (re: RGIII), which, what are you talking about Merill Hoge. Fix your your tie knot and stop headbutting random people in the hallways of ESPN's Bristol HQ. It's uncouth.

Of course, the article linked above led some commenters to have flashbacks to the bowl loss against Utah. I don't think Alabama's line is the big but slow type, but if Michigan's front does have any advantage, it's with quick, somewhat undersized guys on the outside (Beyer, Clark, Roh, Ryan in passing situations) and on the inside with Jibreel Clark, who will hopefully have gained some weight by September but not lost his quickness.

These guys are big, experienced, and have won at the highest level while also paving the way for a Heisman finalist in the process. If these the aforementioned measureables don't shoot a little spark of concern up your spine, especially considering Michigan less than ideal situation on the interior of the defensive line, well, it should. That's not to say that we should run to the hills, but you can bet that Alabama won't waste a lot of time early in the game probing the edges; they're going right up the middle. Yes, this sort of line and this sort of stage lends itself to every football cliche in the book--pad level, point of attack, power football, etc.--but in this case it is actually warranted.

The Replacements 
On the bright side, like us, Alabama's situation past the starting five doesn't seem exceedingly rosy, although it's always hard to tell in the spring. Sophomores Arie Kouandjio (yes, another one) and Chad Lindsay are both out of commission this spring due to injury, leaving redshirt sophomore RT Austin Shepherd and Kellen Williams, a redshirt junior guard/tackle type. Shepherd appeared in 7 games last year and Williams appeared in 5; however, none of said games were against marquee teams or not blowouts (you tell me under which category Tennessee falls).

Kouandjio was the first right tackle off the bench early in the season against Penn State before going down with a season-ending injury, and also was a 4-star prospect out of high school. If he can get healthy by the fall, he would make a solid reserve lineman. Likewise, Lindsay was a VHT guy on the interior. He enrolled early in 2010 but went on to redshirt, and his profile on the athletics website doesn't list any activity for 2011, so, who knows. Either way, he's out with a "head injury" right now, which I would assume would be cleared up in time for the season.

General Spring Minutiae/Encomium That Results in a "Bristling" Saban 
As expected, Barrett Jones's move to center from left tackle (and previously starting at right guard in 2009 and 2010) won't progress without some sort of learning curve. He is by all accounts a smart guy, however, and most expect him to transition quite nicely. As of now, quoth Saban:
"Pleased with the progress he's made."
 Translated to the parlance of normal human beings: He's getting better every day, and there's nothing better than seeing someone improve before your very eyes. It's not about the wins and losses or the number of trophies in the trophy case, it's about getting better, being able to end each day with the understanding that you did a little bit better than you did the day before. This is all very fun and enjoyable. 

In the same article, Saban refers to Warmack--who should be at least Honorable Mention on the annual All-Last Name Team--as Alabama's "most consistent player" last year, which I'm not sure is in reference to just the OL or the team as a whole. Either way, it is strong praise, although it may be taken with a sizable grain of salt or two. Kouandjio is understandably described as a sort of work-in-progress, although being 6'6'' 311 probably helps to assuage any concerns that Alabama fans might have about him manning McCarron's blind side. Remember, Saban felt good enough to move Barrett Jones, a would-be surefire top 10 pick at LT, to center to make room for Mount Kouandjio (I'm going to assume this nickname has already been thought of but whatever).

Things To Think About/Watch Out For/ARE WE GOING TO DIE?

  • With Saban's comment about Warmack in mind, I would imagine that Alabama will probably be a left-handed team in the running game. I'd need to revisit the 2011 season to confirm this, but I would imagine that with Jones at LT in 2011, Alabama was inclined to run Richardson left more often than not. Despite Kouandjio being somewhat of a question mark due to his relative inexperience, run blocking is much easier to pick up for a young linemen, and allowing him to get out and attack would be a good way to get him some confidence when Alabama does choose to drop back. Thankfully, we have the defensive minds of Mattison and Hoke to figure out what tendencies may or may not exist, as one would imagine the offense will not change too much despite the Nussmeier taking over for McElwain. 
  • Similarly, can Alabama's reserves get enough reps in the fall to be anywhere near ready to fill in in case an injury to one of the starters does occur? The backup situation seems as dicey as ours from an outsider's perspective, but I could be overstating it. 
  • This is an obvious one, but Jones's transition to center is a position switch to watch. It's all relative, but Bama is stronger on the interior than the outside. Warmack and Steen are both very good and Barrett Jones is, well, Barrett Jones. If he makes the transition as seamlessly as many might be expecting, then Campbell, Ash, Washington, Pipkins, and the recently moved Jibreel Black will need to eat all the Wheaties and drink all the chocolate milk this summer. Football cliche forthcoming, but Saban knows that our interior isn't the strongest, and they will try to hit us in the mouth via the most efficient path: right up the middle.
Meaningless Grade That I Will End This With Anyway 
This group is without a doubt an A as arguably Alabama's strongest position group. Depth concerns and Kouandjio's inexperience are the only things preventing this from getting the coveted Holdin' The Rope A+*. Alabama had the #1 rushing offense in the SEC last year, with the OL paving the way for 2,788 yards at 5.5 ypc. I see no reason why they shouldn't be #1 in the conference in 2012. Whether the backs can combine to be as productive as Richardson was in 2011 is another story entirely.

*Not coveted at all. Also, doesn't exist. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

A PSA On the Rhetoric of "Readiness" and Why A Lot of People Should Probably Stop Talking

Listen up, kids.
When CBS's Jeff Goodman first "broke" the story that Trey Burke was going pro, it had all the signs of a story we'd heard before. Of course, by that I mean "journalists trying to be the first to break something that is only pseudo-fact at the time." Even if Trey ends up going pro, I have a hard time giving Goodman (or any other person that does this sort of thing) credit for breaking this story; that would be like giving yourself credit for the fact that your car had been cleaned despite the fact that it was the hard rain that did it and not you. The ends do not necessarily follow logically from the means.

This is all to say that this thing is ongoing despite the little "insider" tidbits that the Internet can offer us, such as a picture of Trey Burke's West Quad room, full of packed bags and a pervading sense of finality. Newsflash: I bet you a significant percentage of college dorms can look like that on a regular basis. Seriously. In college, it's normal to put your dirty laundry in garbage bags, right next to the mountain of Cottage Inn boxes. College is a weird place.

Then you've got texts from hockey players saying that Trey hasn't been in class for some time, and insider reports claiming, first, that Trey was definitely gone only to at some point thereafter have a "change of heart." This is all like watching the sausage get made, and I feel about this sort of how I'm starting to feel about recruiting: let me know when it's over and done. When it comes to recruiting, I'm no longer interested in the pointless minutiae that seems to drive adults to insanity and/or e-anger. Likewise, these NBA early entry situations, of which we've now had two in as many years, just seem so tiresome. Let me know when it's over and let the kid make his decision in peace.

"Can I have some peace and quiet, fergodsakes?"
We all knew this was an inevitable, that Trey would strongly consider leaving, and that although he is certainly not a top 10 prospect, that doesn't mean that he necessarily shouldn't leave even if there's no guarantee that he's, say, a top 20 guy. Maybe he should leave, maybe he shouldn't. This is a difficult decision, one that could irrevocably alter the path of a young man's life, for better or worse. The problem with this entire thing, for me, is the entire concept of "readiness." He's not ready, people will say, as they said after Morris decided to leave the friendly confines of Ann Arbor.

To that I say, with all due respect: please be quiet. Not only is this patronizingly offensive, it must be incredibly annoying for Trey, who is faced with what is probably the most difficult decision of his life. Think how he must feel, to have all the people that were rooting for him all year claiming that "he's not ready," that he's not good enough right now or would be foolish to try to jump to the NBA. Of course, the Internet being what it is, I've even seen some people go as far as calling Trey and his thought process "stupid," while others have expressed a good riddance sort of sentiment, which is horrible. They'll have you know that they're just sick of "all of these one and dones," which is hilarious for so may reasons. Continuing to exclaim that he's not ready is just so transparently selfish, but hey, this is a guy that plays for a team we root for, which seems like it gives some folks the feeling that they have free rein to act like an insufferable moron when someone like Trey Burke does something UNSPEAKABLE, like trying to parlay a lifetime of work and a season of essentially pro bono play at Michigan into an NBA career. How dare he do something that is contrary to my selfish interests as Some Guy On The Internet!

Imagine if, on any given day, a horde of anonymous maniacs was allowed to run into your office building and crowd you in your little cubicle, yelling that YOU'RE NOT READY to ask for that raise or YOU'RE NOT ENOUGH OF AN ENERGETIC SELF-STARTER TO MAKE IT IN THE WORLD OF MIDDLE MANAGEMENT. That would be a very not nice thing and you would be saddened indeed.

Then, there are things like this. Simply horrible from beginning to end:
I'm not here to give you an opinion, Trey. I'm here to state facts.
/proceeds to basically give opinion

Pst, Bob...nobody cares. That goes for the rest of you out there who continue to, seemingly without shame, rag on Trey for attempting to pursue his dream while offering passive-aggressive "advice." I understand people worrying that Trey is getting bad advice from someone out there, but I guarantee that more often than not this "concern" is a cover for an expression of personal interests (i.e. that Trey comes back and wins Michigan some more games, because that's all that matters).

Have some self-respect and support the guy, no matter what his decision ends up being. Believe it or not, there is in fact a compelling argument for him to enter the draft, even if it might be contrary to your personal wants, Guy on The Internet. As far as the case for jumping to the NBA goes:

  • Morris's NBA trajectory thus far is completely irrelevant to Trey's situation. 
  • There are very few point guards in this draft class that are obviously better than Trey and/or had better 2011-12 seasons. 
  • There are multiple NBA teams looking for a capable backup PG, with some even looking for a #1 guy. 
  • The potential for injury (knock on wood). 
  • Potential for a sophomore slump, as Trey's friend Jared Sullinger can attest to. 
  • While I have significant criticisms of the NBA, I don't think there's any denying that the only way Trey will get an order of magnitude or two better than he currently is is by playing NBA competition. Simply existing in Ann Arbor is not going make him any taller, and he can work on his outside shot, physique, and defense in the NBA just as well as he could in Ann Arbor. 

This just can't keep happening every time a Michigan player thinks about leaving early. I know we haven't had much experience with this sort of thing of late, but if Beilein's coaching of Morris and Burke is any indication, we haven't seen the last of this. Get used to it, because this is how things are for successful programs in modern college basketball. I would love for Trey to stay and improve his game in Ann Arbor, but if he chooses not to, that's okay. As for the people essentially writing next year off...well, you're probably the same people giving Trey flak for thinking about leaving.

Appreciate the good times that guys like Trey and Darius have given us, as Michigan fans, and stop acting like a petulant child. If this doesn't apply to you, then keep on keepin' on. That is all.