Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reasons to be optimistic for 2006

My reasons to be optimistic for 2006:

-> Tim Jamison
Even if Jamison only sees the field 1/2 the time he has the potential to be disruptive. Honestly, after watching 240lb Steve Davis crush our rushing game last year I have absolute and full faith that Jamison can handle the run.

Part #2 of this would be the fact that the depth chart on thewolverine.com now lists Jamison and Woodley as the starting DE's. That doesn't mean squat as it will probably change but it can't help but make a UofM fan hopeful.

-> Strong secondary
Yes, even with an unproven starer aside Leon Hall I am optimistic about our secondary in 2006. Adams looks to be ready to step up and shine and whoever lands the FS job should be more than adequate. I'm also confident that depth won't be an issue as we have more than enough safety's and with hall/stewart/trent/sears at CB we should be good even in nickel/dime packages.

-> DT
Just having Branch in the interior makes me happy. I'm overlooking the fact that he seemingly balooned from 311 to 330lbs recently and hoping that a lot of that is muscle. Either way he should be a strong force in the middle. I'm confident that Stripling will work wonders with Taylor in his 2nd year and have him using moves instead of just brute strength to actually utilize his strength to his advantage.

-> A healthy Hart
Not much else to say about this. The little dynamo is almost as fun to watch as Barry Sanders was back in the day. (Yes, I did say almost)

-> WR's and TE's
We should field a good contingent of folks that can catch the ball. I'm not counting my breath that Ecker, Massey, or Butler turn out to be good blockers but those 3 should compliment our solid WR corps.

-> Ron English
I didn't list these in any particular order but this one would probably be #1. He hasn't proved himself but I for one am extremely optimistic. And anyone who has read even one of my articles should know that I'm a cautious pessimist at heart so that's saying a lot.

-> Alex Mitchell
This might be stretching things a bit but I'm hopeful that after fall practice reports come out I will be even more optimistic about Mitchell at RG.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pre-Camp recruiting compendium


Things will hopefully become a lot clearer after camp (I think camp is June 15-18 [Ok, so it's June 18-22]) but before then here is the recruiting landscape.

The list to the right represents all recuits that I think have at least a shot of going to UofM. I've left off some recruits that I'm really really sure will go elsewhere. There are a number of recruits, notably OT's and OG's, that have BIG hints in their rivals or scout profiles that point them to other schools. When someone says he wants to stay close to home and is either on the East coast, West coast, or way down South he ain't coming to Michigan.

Where does this leave us? Well, in my humble opinion not in great shape. Perusing the list to the right the biggest topics are:

1) Offensive line:
Folks, we don't look good this year for O-line recruiting. At all. There just doesn't seem to be a single OG/C that looks to be headed our way. The closest might be John Elliott but he's wide open right now in terms of recruiting and he might truly be an OT. We might have to dredge the bottom of the barrel this year for inside linemen and that is truly a bad sign.

OT's don't look that much better. Sure, we still have a 'chance' at getting Ziemba or Schwartz but aside from those 2 the only good one is Plouhar but he's a wildcard. After those the quality drops off. VanderMeulen will definitely commit if given an offer and he probably will if he has a good performance at camp. If not, things don't look good at all for OT.

If we get Ziemba or Schwartz, Vandermeulen, and 1 decent OG (high 3-star or 4-star) then I will be amazed but EXTREMELY happy.

2) Great class only in a few positions
Right now our 'Superb wonderlicious best-EVER' recruiting class is really only at QB/DB and possibly WR. And we really don't know about RoJo yet. Even if we get RoJo and Dionte Allen we are still only good in a few positions. If we get Hughes we could possibly add RB to the list of good.

3) Some MAJOR holes
->If we don't get Barksdale then DT will be a GAPING hole.
->ILB has a really good chance of being a BIG hole.
->OG will most likely be a GINORMOUS hole.
->OT could easily be a big ole hole.

Summary: At the moment, this class looks great in a few positions and absolutely pathetic in others. And honestly, my take on recruiting is that what matters most, in order, is:

1) QB
2) A good balance across all positions with no real holes.
3) O-line, o-line, o-line
(The top3 above are a LOT more important than the next few)
4) DB's
5) LB
6) WR
7) D-line
8) TE
9) FB

Therefore, we look to have a recruiting class that only has 1 of the top3 important critieria for a good recruiting class. As I said earlier, things could change after camp but from where I'm sitting right now the landscape looks pretty bleak. Sure, we landed a top QB but where will he be when he's getting sacked left and right? Not having a couple good o-linemen easily diminishes the fact that we got Ryan Mallett.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Off-season random stats 1


Well, it's 3+ months until the first kickoff of the season so what else is there to do but post a bunch of random stats. Today's edition is all about Michigan's o-line and stats taken from our trusty mgoblue.com. Taking a look at all current o-liners on the staff, grabbing 2 stats from their end of high-school days (bench press and 40-times), and compiling/sorting it gives you whats listed to the right.

[Keep in mind that the 40-times listed on mgoblue.com are sometimes a bit different than those listed on their rivals and scout profiles.]

However, one of the few observations that can be made from this random collection of stats is that it doesn't really translate into a list of good/bad players. For instance Pat Sharrow is at the top of both lists but is only competing for a backup spot and/or long snapper. Sure, injury is a factor there but his injury was back in 2004 and he only broke his foot. Plus, he actually played in 2005 which basically means that he's a non-factor for the rest of his UofM career.

Another item of note is that Kraus is basically at the bottom of the bench press list which is odd as he was one of the few o-liners to get any push last year.

Ortmann seems to be high on both lists and every UofM fan with a thewolverine.com account seems to be high on him so cross your fingers there.

Kolo seems to be a the bottom of both lists which could possibly explain why he's being trumped out of a OT position by a non-OT (Riley).

Gallimore also seems to be at the bottom of both lists which could possibly explain why he hasn't been anything but a 2nd/3rd teamer to-date.

It's interesting that the starting center and possible backup center are at opposite ends of the speed list. Bihl is the presumptive starting center with Moosman as the 2nd teamer. Sure, Kraus would probably fill in for any injury to Bihl but I'd have to say that Moosman is on a decent track for 2007 center.

What does this all mean? Nothing really but it does give fanatics like me something more to think about as we drone away the hours until the next kickoff...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Keys to the 2006 season

Yes, it's a bit early but the keys to a successful 2006 campaign should not change much between now and September 2nd. That being said, the precursor to my 2006 keys is a quick review of the main problems in 2005. They are, in order:

1) Offensive momentum
My biggest gripe with the 2005 team was the offense, not the defense. I truly believe that if the offense would not have given the ball up so quickly (fumbles, 3-out's, etc) then we would've, at the very least, triumphed against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska. Even if the offense didn't score any more points the defense would have had 2 crucial advantages; rest and a more positive psychological momentum. Continually having to hop back on the field when your offense fumbles the ball or goes 3-out is a killer for defenses. If your defense is continually on the field your opponent is eventually going to score.

2) RT
One of the biggest factors in Chad Henne's performance was the lack of a decent RT. Kolo and Riley both got beat by most DE's including Eastern Michigan DE's!!! If we don't shore up the RT spot this year it's going to be a long campaign. Early looks don't look good at all. I just can't see either Riley or Kolo doing a great job.

3) LB play
Michigan only had 1 good LB last year in David Harris. Whoever wins the starting SAM and WILL spot NEED to step up and a) contain contain contain and b) provide more pressure on the QB. Actually, maybe we need to throw in c) stop shooting up the wrong gap but that would mostly apply to Graham. Either way, the LB's need to shore up run support for the 2006 defense to be more than mediocre.

Thus, the keys to 2006 are:

1) Hennebrain
Which Chad Henne will show up? Simply put, the success of the 2006 season rests in his hands. Period. If the Henne of early 2005 shows up the Wolverines are a 4-5 loss team. If the Henne that continued to improve near the end of 2006 shows up then we could go 9-3 with a bowl win or maybe even 10-2. If miracle of miracles happens and Henne single-handedly takes over a big game ala Vince Young style then we could go 11-1 or even 12-0. 'Big' games this year would be ND/PSU/OSU and possibly Iowa with ND/OSU being the biggest as both are in most folks pre-season top5.

Sure, all the offensive problems last year were not all Henne's fault. However, he is the biggest cog in the offense and he needs to step up and really run the show.

2) O-line
The 2005 o-line in general had a lot of problems and no, they can't all be blamed on injury. What happens if, god forbid, we loose Jake Long for the 2006 season? Is our front wall so weak that a single hole will cause everything to come crashing down? The left side of the 2006 season looks to be pretty strong with Long/Kraus holding thing down. Center is where things start to get dicey however Bihl has supposedly had a great spring. Unfortunately all talk about Bihl's performance can be summararily thrown out the window as his main problem is bringing that to Saturday. He was good in practice last year but that did not in any way translate to good game performance. RG will probably be Mitchell who is inexperienced and slow but is touted as being pretty good. RT is where things go to hell. If Kolo doesn't step up and win the spot we will most likely be stuck with Riley who is more than likely going to be beat by all good DE's. Folks mention that he did a good job against Tamba Hali but when you look at things he was beaten a number of times including giving up at least 1 sack to Hali. Corey Zirbel might be able to do a good job next year but I just can't see him being an effective RT this year. The same could be said for Ortmann.

My 2nd biggest hope for 2006 is that someone (anyone?) steps up and does a good job at RT.

3) LB play
Looking at the defense for 2006 the biggest concern is easily the LB spot. Barring a rash of injury the front 4 should be good. Woodley/Biggs/Jamison and even Germany should all see PT at DE. The only concern there might be bad coaching decisions to possibly play JVA more than they should (at all) or to limit Jamison's PT which would be a HUGE killer. At DT we've got Branch and Taylor who should be able to hold the middle of the line fairly well. I'm not sure how healthy Johnson is but Walton/Mckinney and possibly even Slocum should add to the 'at-least-2-deep' depth at DT. CB should be at least ok this year if not better than last year with Hall and then Stewart/Trent/Sears as the 2nd DB. As long as the practice hype for stewart/sears translates to the field we should be decent to good there including nickel/dime DB. SS looks to be all Adams this year with a good backup in Englemon if healthy. FS is a good question as my initial prediciton was Barringer but Mundy might be back and Harrison could even figure in there. Either way we've got at least 5 safety's with starting experience. This leaves the LB spot.

SAM looks to be between Burgess and Crable. Is Crable really good enough to take this spot? Sure, Burgess didn't seem to be all that impressive last year but I'm still skeptical about Crable. Either way it will come down to 1 of them. MIKE is a lock in David Harris with John Thompson providing a more than capable backup. WILL is Graham or Logan or even possibly Burgess. Burgess was a safety in HS so realistically as long as he's fast enough for pass coverage we might have Crable/Harris/Burgess on the field.

Either way all indications point to LB play as the biggest factor for the 2006 defense.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Riley Riley Riley

According to mgoblue, Rueben Riley is now at around 6'4" 303lbs. Unfortunately mgoblue doesn't have any information on whether Riley can actually step up this year and show the needed ginormous improvement over last year to really be affective as the starting RT of which he is currently listed. However, a quick search of last years mgoblog archives gives us some information. Here is all relevant blurbs ordered by month on Riley from mgoblog:

December:
-Riley lets a blitzer through, forcing a Henne roll and throwaway. (TA)

November:
-When you’ve got a guy like Rueben Riley playing right tackle, you’re going to have problems running the ball and protecting the passer, and that’s what Michigan had to deal with for a bunch of weeks in the middle of the season. Riley’s probably not a bad fit in the middle of that line somewhere, but he just looked completely out-classed against some of the better defensive ends in the league.

October:
-Hali owns Riley and Henne has zero time to throw. (sack)
-Hart finds a cutback lane behind a beaten Riley as Ecker holds off Connor and Kraus kills Poz downfield.
-Screen is batted down. Riley doesn't really control his man. (BA)
-Screen is batted down. Riley doesn't really control his man. (BA)
-Tipped again; ominously, Riley just barely gets enough on the DE to push him past Henne. (BA)
-Riley gets destroyed by this Steve Davis kid, a freshman. At this point the elderly gentleman in front of me, who I do not know, turns to me and says "Is that Riley? Pathetic." I've got no response.
-Riley screws up his block, fouling this up and disrupting Thompson's blocking route. As a result the LB shoots up into the gap unmolested and makes a TFL.
-Neither Paul nor Riley gets anything approximating a block but Hart does it yet again.
-Riley gets shoved three yards into the backfield and Hart runs up his back.
-Riley has gotten pushed back several times but he is playing out of position with injured thumbs.

September:
-Ruben Riley has definitively proven that as a tackle, he makes a fantastic guard.
-Riley had trouble against Eastern Michigan.
-Riley, who gets beaten badly by the DE, who hurries the throw even though Riley held him.
-Riley beaten like something beaten a lot (insert domestic violence joke). (sack)
-Second incident of Riley being beaten by the EMU DE.
-Martin against cuts it up inside as Riley gets shoved back a bit.
-Kolodziej is still listed as second-team behind Riley, which is ominous because Riley had numerous pass-protection issues against Eastern. Eastern!
-Riley has to chop Abiamiri's legs out to open up the passing lane.
-Batted again. This is a three step drop, Riley has to get that guy's hands down.
-False start on Riley.
-False start on Ruben Riley

The good news is that the # of negative uses of the word 'Riley' seem to diminish as the 2005 season went along. However, that could be due to his moving to his natural guard position. As well, people talked up Riley's performance against Hali in the Penn State game but there are numerous negative reports on Riley for that game including at least 1 sack 100% on Riley. Sure, he had 2 broken thumbs for sections of 2005 but did he really improve?

Honestly, I just don't see a good 2006 season unless we can shore up the RT spot and quick. If the o-line doesn't have fall practice to gel we'll be RIGHT back in the same position we were in 2005.