Thursday, June 26, 2008

General concerns of the new regime

The change in the football regime at U of M has brought with it many positives: it's ousted a dusty outdated philosophy and consistently underproductive scheme, enhanced its strength and conditioning (eee...), and has brought with it a general change in attitude that will be in line with Michigan's winning tradition. To help bolster these changes, Michigan has also invested much dinero in brand spanking new (read: recruit-pulling) facilities: stadium renovations, new practice facilities, blank check to Barwis-ize the weight room, etc... These changes, hopefully, will produce stronger, faster more disciplined and motivated teams who can compete for a national championship (and beat Ohio State) annually. I, for one, am a believer and I'm extremely excited to see the new face of Michigan football.

A few concerns, however, with the New Michigan:

1) Uh... defense?

Michigan has long been known, especially during the Bo era, for its punishing defenses. Bringing in the offensive wizard (hat and snake oil) has done wonders for our offensive recruiting (8 of 12 recruits so far are offensive players). However there has been little noise at the position widely considered to be the heart of the defense: linebacker/DE. Good linebackers/DE's are a necessity against run-heavy teams of which there are a plethora in the Big Ten (Ohio State, Wisconsin). The only linebacker/defensive end the RR era has recruited is one undersized three star guy named Jordan Barnes. What gives Rich? Where are the Lamarr Woodley's and the David Harris's? Are we going to try and simply out-offense your opponents the way you did at WVU? I don't recall your teams being particularly strong on D. Who is Scott Shafer? Why aren't we focused on recruiting these EXTREMELY important positions of ILB, OLB and DE? Being a defensive-minded guy myself, I'm disappointed not to see more urgency on that recruiting front from the U of M coaching staff.

2) Character Issues

Another pivotal facet of Lloyd-era teams that the RR teams in past seem to lack is the emphasis on character and personal integrity. Like Bo, Grandpa Lloyd's overarching goal was to turn boys into men; to use football to teach the lessons of life. Let's take a look at two famous West Virginia NFLers who were under RR as of late: Pacman Jones and Chris Henry. Not to say that Lloyd's teams didn't have their problems, but at least he reacted, even if he let guys like Manningham (marijuana... 2x), Adrian Arrington (girlfriend choker), and Carson Butler (freshman puncher extraordinaire) back on the team. Coach Rod's emphasis on character building... doesn't really seem to exist. With coaches like Randy Shannon taking steps to clean up dirty programs, are we sacrificing our integrity to win? Are we becoming on the level with programs like (gulp) Ohio State? This is my greatest fear, that Michigan's tradition of winning with integrity will be replaced with simply winning.

3) Weather

Michigan is cold. Michigan is wet. What is the first thing to go in the snow/rain? Speed. What usually wins in the rain? Power. What is RR's offense predicated on? Speed. Uh oh.

These are my concerns with our new hillbilly coach's program. Let's just hope none of them come to fruition.

1 comment:

Stefan said...

While I appreciate your concerns, I do not share them (at least not exactly).

1. The defense: While it's true that "RR" did not land a prominent defensive player, he does get a reprieve here because there are enough returning players to still be the strength of the team. Our defensive line may be the best in the big ten with the return of Terrence Taylor, Will Johnson, Tim Jamison, and Brandon Graham. Additionally, Warren Donovan looks to be the next star in the long line of top-tier U of M cornerbacks (And he will not be playing pass coverage alone with Brandon Harrison patrolling at safety). Overall, 7 defensive starters are returning, and while RR didn't do anything to solidify the future of the unit, the more pressing needs were surely on offense where nearly every key player is now gone.

2. Character Issues: this is the pinnacle of dilemmas for every college athletic program. It has now unfortunately become the climate of college athletics that kids are offered money and cars and all sorts of other promises at a young age. Given that many come from poor families its hard to blame them for taking it. Since this has become an increasing trend, especially among championship-caliber teams (think Reggie Bush/OJ Mayo at USC) one wonder's if a team can even be competitive without it. I am not condoning this behavior of course, but in the light of money scandals going down at big programs all across the country I don't find it difficult to look the other way on a marijuana possession or a fight here and there. Lord knows I did both those things in college and I didn't even have to deal with the unimaginable pressure of living up to an entire universities expectations.

3. Weather: I reject this claim completely. OSU has been the best football team in the big ten since 2004 and they play the closest thing to spread offense in the conference until the arrival of RR. Their offense is predicated on speed (troy smith/ted ginn jr.) and works quite effectively. Snow is a rarity during the season, even in big ten country, because our conference finishes the season several weeks before the teams from the south. Rain happens everywhere in the country during the fall, and while it may make footing unsure, it makes the defensive secondaries job even harder when guarding a spread offense because they have to be reactive. One false step and it could easily be 6 points. Weather is no issue.

This brings me to my chief concerns:

First, RR has brought his fair share of controversy along with him to Ann Arbor. It is something that needs to be laid to rest, because the longer it hangs in the air the more of a distraction it will become for everyone involved in the program. I realize that his break from WVU was an ugly one, but he's here now and we have to embrace him as our coach regardless of whether we would have preferred a michigan man.

Second, I'm concerned to what extent he will try to implement the schemes he used at WVU here. While I appreciate the the spread offense is the way of college football now, I'm afraid our offense will struggle even more than it has too by virtue of a square peg/round hole experience. Most of the players on offense were not recruited to play in such a system and unless some adjustments are made it will be very hard for them to achieve success.

Third, While the earlier-discussed issue with defensive recruitment gets a pass this year, the general recruiting needs to take a big step up. Although the hype set the bar at an impossible level, losing out on the tyrelle pryor sweepstakes was a colossal blunder on RR's behalf. He had essentially everything going for him, and yet he still lost out to OSU. We need to beat the bucks early in RR's career to get out of this one-sided rivalry and give young talent reason to believe we will contend for titles again. We will need to focus on recruiting defense much more heavily next year. We cannot afford to lose 5-star prospects to other regional powers anymore.

I believe in our program, and I believe that if RR can get his troubles behind him that he will be extremely successful. Given that the offense is basically completely new it will be a tough season. Our defense will keep up in games, and our stable of running backs plus the individual excellence of Greg Matthews and Carson Butler will ensure that we aren't without claws on offense.