Monday, August 31, 2009

Our tight ends, Meech football, and YOU!

As the upcoming season approaches, there is much excitement surrounding our shiny new offensive weapons. We return an experienced and talented offensive line, a pair of game-changing QB's, five amazing running backs, ninja slot receivers and a handful of reliable split ends. But wait, there's more! Left over from the Carr recruiting era are also two freak athletes that play tight end. But wait, Rich Rodriguez's spread option offense historically doesn't use tight ends, you say? Will our best athletes be rotting on the sidelines?! NOT so fast my friend.

How are we going to involve these awesome athletes in our offense? I think the TE question is a good measuring stick for RR as a coach. The ability to adapt your scheme to your personnel, the ability to innovate and adjust, I think separates the incredible coaches from the very good ones. Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer have proven themselves as elite amongst the coaching ranks for this reason.

It is largely regarded that this year, the TE position is one of the most deep and talented on the squad with Koger and Webb. With QB's in the fold who can now get our TE's the ball, as well as two dominant athletes at TE, the responsibility for our TE success, I think, cannot be blamed on lack of personnel; this year it lands solely on the scheme. RR has been consulting with offensive coordinators in the Big 12 in the offseason, and will be implementing a new "Trojan" quick passing scheme this fall, so a new look is already in the making.

If RR is able to feasibly adapt his scheme to effectively use our TE's this year, it will be a matchup nightmare for defenses. I expect to see the tight ends line up in the slot a fair amount this year in our 4 and 5 receiver set formations. As an opposing defense, needing to prepare for having enormous quick humans as well as tiny lazer-powered electron athletes in the slot will be tough.

So I'm just saying, friends, that the involvement of tight ends will be a great subplot to keep an eye on this upcoming football season. Reports are that we're getting the TE's the ball in practice occasionally. Since, according to Calvin Magee, the entire offense is already installed, let's hope that we'll hear that the TE's are getting the ball more as we get closer to the season.

RR has innovated at every stop that he's made on the path to coaching at U of M. I expect Michigan to be no different. If the TE situation works out, hopefully we'll be seeing more of this (1:30 in the video).


Good summary and commentary over at Forever Saturday about the whole "mandatory practice" Freep nonsense.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I am a big Boubacar Cissoko fan. This pleases me. From this scout article, DB's coach Tony Gibson:
Question: Can you talk about the progress of Boubacar; last year, he kind of got his feet wet. It looks like you guys are going to depending on him quite a bit this year.

Tony Gibson: “Yeah he has got to have a great year. He’s a solid kid on the field. He loves to play football and he needs football. I love the way he approaches it. Once he steps between those white lines, it is all business for him and he competes on every single snap. He gets up in their face, press man. If we could tell him, you play press man 80 plays a game, he’d be in heaven. He's getting better every day and it's important to him. That's what I like."

Boubacar should have a big year. He's my second favorite player on the defense behind to Mike Martin (redshirt freshman LB JB Fitzgerald, who may get a few snaps this year, is my third favorite). I don't even count Brandon Graham since he's ridiculously awesome and everybody knows it. This whole interview is a gold mine for information on all the DB's. A must-read if you've got a sec.

With the most recent Heisman winner from Michigan being a CB, it's surprising that we've kind of had some uninspiring DB play the past few years at U of M. The last truly great CB's we had, I think, were Marlin Jackson and Leon Hall, both now in the NFL. As far as what we currently have, Donovan Warren came in a 5-star steal from the state of California, but has been hampered by injuries his whole career. With D. Warren finally healthy this year and Boubacar as a physical, very talented but undersized corner, I'm happy with our starters at the CB spot. Depth, as is the case with our entire defense, is a major concern. But right now we've got 5-star JT Turner impressing in camp with his size and athletic ability, hard working though physically-meh redshirt freshman JT Floyd in the fold, and true freshman Teric Jones catching on quickly after the position switch from RB. With underrated 3-star converted QB from OH Courtney Avery (As well as 5-star PA strong Michigan lean Cullen Christian and the physical CB from FL Tony Grimes, hopefully) coming in next year, corner is probably the position I am most comfortable with, barring injuries, for the present and future on the U of M defense.

Safety, however, is a different story entirely. Largely regarded as the weakest position on the Michigan defense for the past few years, the mere mention of safety play causes eye rolling and groaning from those who have closely followed Michigan football recently. The tendency for MIchigan to give up big plays of late has become more of a habit, and poor safety play is a large part of this. This year, hopefully, will be better than last. With perennial goat Stevie Brown's move to the hybrid position (a much better position to utilize his athleticism, size and coverage skills, IMO), let's give Troy Woolfolk and Mike Williams a shot. Though Coach Gibson has positive words for them (what is he going to say? We're screwed at safety?), the truth of the matter is that our safeties are unproven (T. Woolfolk and M. Williams have game experience, but not much), and our depth is scary. The GBMW guys seem to think the Strong Safety position battle between M. Williams and true freshman Vlad Emilien will be one to watch this year. After M. Williams and T. Woolfolk, we've got Vlad Emilien, and walk-on converted QB-->receiver--> safety transfer from Southeast Missouri State, Jared Van Slyke. After that, somewhat impressive (though injured: ankle) true freshman Thomas Gordon from Cass Tech and... well... Yeesh. Kind a terrifying depth for the position that is the last line of defense. Who knows how good these guys are, though, and I won't judge until I see them in a game. I'm hoping for a pleasant surprise, so let's keep our collective fingers crossed that the coachspeak from Gibson holds some water.

I'm not quite sold on Coach Gibson, but let's give him some good talent first and see what he does with it before we assess his ability as a coach. RR likes him (Gibson was a former player for RR at WVU), but then again RR doesn't seem to know squat about the defense. That's Greg Robinson's job.


Great RR interview from MLive, not just the same old media-spin questions.

Also, the suites are selling well.

Related to the Gruden post: the composer of the epic NFL Films soundtracks, Tom Heddon, talks to NPR.

What position will Zack Novak play for U of M basketball this year? Dylan at UMHoops has his take.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gruden, savior of MNF announcing

Finally, my friends, the anguish is over. For those of us who suffered through the dim-witted comments of Dennis Miller, the sheer stupidity of Joe Theismann and the awkward outsider/punditry of Tony Kornheiser, we can now rejoice. With the addition of Jon Gruden to the Monday Night Football broadcasting crew, we can now watch MNF football with the sound ON. Not only that, but we can enjoy it!

As they struggled to fill the gaping hole left by John Madden and Al Michaels at the end of the 2005, the process of the higher-ups at ABC/ESPN to find their perfect three man booth was painfully transparent. It felt as if they were trying to insult our intelligence by thinking that we could not fathom thoughtful commentary and analysis, but that we needed to be entertained. But by hiring former Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, ABC/ESPN has finally gotten back to the formula that John Madden had a pivotal role in carving out for football broadcasters and commentators.

Many do not know that behind Madden's seemingly aloof and befuddled grandfatherly facade, lies the man who helped make broadcasting what it is today. From a NYT article
Madden’s influence on sportscasting has been enormous. He parsed X’s and O’s in a clear but garrulous, even hyperkinetic, fashion never seen before. He turned the Telestrator into an onscreen tool to suit the antic personality he displayed as the Raiders’ coach and as the wild, red-headed, arm-flailing Miller Lite spokesman.

Whereas before Madden joined broadcasting, televised football thought to be more like a drama. With narrow camera angles on the person with the ball, all the pomp and bombast of a horn-heavy epic soundtrack, and with Keith Jackson eloquently narrating the action, NFL ball was more like a war film than a football game. John Madden felt the average football watching audience was adroit enough to grasp the X's and O's of football. He petitioned for wider camera angles so that one could see the entire field in order to better understand the game. He also brought the now-ubiquitous telestrator to pro football to diagram what was happening on the field. John Madden was a large player in bringing the audience into football, not holding it high above them.

Bringing Gruden into the booth is a tip of the cap to John Madden, acknowledging his spirit is alive and well on MNF. Aside from the fact that both were former head coaches of the Raiders and that they're both named Jo(h)n, Gruden is like a lusty reincarnation of Madden on Monday Night; Madden 2.0 if you will. Where the lovable senility of John Madden once reigned, the fire and vigor of Jon Gruden now resides, with some additional improvements over the old guard. Having been a head coach in the NFL as recently as last year, Jon Gruden is intimately aware of the up-to-date inner workings of personnel, scheme and culture of the NFL. He brings to the table enthusiasm, recognition and an incredible knowledge base to the booth, which serves as a great compliment to the almost transparent play-by-play of (Ann Arborite!) Mike Tirico, and the savvy commentary of the veteran broadcaster (and former QB) Ron Jaworski. Even in the waning minutes of the Jets-Ravens game last night, when the thirds battled it out for roster sports (as an aside: Danny Woodhead is awesome!), Gruden and Co's discussions were illuminating and riveting while the gameplay, simply, was not.

I for one am finally ready for some football.