Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hope Blooms Eternal in the Dog Days of August

Michigan fans have never seemed so divided about their boys in blue - are we hopeful for this season or dreading it? And some of the hopes have nothing to do with Michigan turning in a winning season and earn a bowl bid - there is a large contingent of fans who want to see RichRod crash and burn and earn his ouster.

The fact is this game is still played by 18-23 year-olds who will don the same uniforms as Tom Harmon, Dan Dierdorf, Rick Leach, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. They're our guys and you've got to support them. And let's just give AD Dave Brandon the benefit of the doubt that he's a pretty smart dude - he doesn't seem like he'd be the type to coddle any personnel he didn't agree with. I think if he'd wanted RichRod out, he would be out by now.

So could 2010 become the season to exorcise the demons? Tradition says hell yes - they can't be so bad three years in a row. Reality says let's hope so.

There are still a lot of unknowns with this team starting with who will be taking the snaps from center David Molk. The coach staff did not annoint Tate Forcier this year's starter despite starting every game last year. He was reintroduced to having to earn his spot. I think this is a good thing because no one from a 5-7 team should feel that comfortable.

The Bright Spots

Quarterback play will be so much improved from 2009 and may catch much of the league off-guard. Forcier has 12 starts and lots of Big Ten experience under his belt. Denard Robinson has full year of learning in the RichRod system and seemed poised to unseat Forcier at the end of last year. Both are freakishly athletic and should have a firm grasp of the system to go with their natural ability. Waiting in the wings is Devin Gardner who I'd love to see redshirted, but he may be too talented to not include on this year's squad.

The offensive line has more experience in this system than you might give them credit for. Stephen Schilling has been around forever and played very solidly toward the end of last year. I've long regarded David Molk and his play at center as vital for the success of the line. Patrick Omameh and Mark Huyge played in seven and nine games respectively, many of them as starters. Freshman Taylor Lewan is earning a lot of praise in camp and is expected to play a lot. This line has experience and should give Forcier/Robinson lots of time to make plays.

Roy Roundtree became the go-to receiver in the last few contests of 2009. He led the team with 32 receptions and 434 receiving yards - these numbers will go up significantly. With a cast of slot receivers led by Roundtree, expect Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady to also run through lots of defenses. That should open up some room for Kevin Koger at tight end and Junior Hemingway to become true impact players. Roundtree is the key to the passing game and should be significant contributor to the offense.

The defensive line quietly built up lots of depth last year while all the attention was paid to Brandon Graham. These seven players all saw significant time on the line last year: Craig Roh, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Will Campbell, Greg Banks, Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse. That depth should make them a solid group and with Van Bergen's leadership, you'd like to count on them for less flash than last year (without Graham) but with more consistency.

Troy Woolfolk may not be the "shutdown corner" Donovan Warren was, but he seems to be getting the attention of his teammates. The defense needs a vocal leader and Woolfolk seems to be the guy - he's already called out Forcier for not working out enough and earned his bona fides playing wherever the coaches put him last year (he played six games at safety and six at cornerback).

The coach staff should be a bright spot this season. Greg Robinson has had a full year to implement his system on defense and Calvin McGee and RichRod have a full complement of "their players" on both sides of the ball. Players seem to have genuine adoration for RichRod and while that's hard to quantify, I don't think anyone will argue that you work harder for someone you care about.

And that's the unceremonious end to the "bright spots." So as you might imagine there are plenty of uncertainties: who will play tailback, who will play linebacker, who will play in the secondary and who will kick?

There's some depth everywhere but kicker so hopefully these questions will get settled over the next three weeks during camp.

The countdown is on and let's all hope for a great season (and that means more wins than losses, folks).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Draft Thoughts

With the first round behind us, we can sit back and take stock of some of these picks. Overall, with some exceptions, I'd say it was a fairly conservative and deeply satisfying first round, with the focus being on O-Linemen and D for many teams. I'm old school, so in my opinion, great teams are forged from excellent defenses, great running games and solid O Line. Anybody else not in the least bit surprised that Tebow was taken and Clausen is still on the board? Not me!

Some notables:

Pick 1: St. Louis Rams - Sam Bradford (QB):

Welcome to the worst team in the NFL, Sam. With Spagnuolo at the helm, though, I see things looking up for the team that has assumed the crown formerly defended (or not!) by the Lions as worst team in the NFL. Putting a good young QB like this on a team on the will make for an interesting season to watch for the Rams.

Pick 2: Detroit Lions - Ndamukong Suh (DT)

Good, solid pickup for the Lions here. Though the Lions have needs on the O-Line, WR, RB.. well, everywhere... their run defense will certainly get a boost from this stout and dynamic player. I don't know if Suh was crying because he finally is living his dream of playing in the NFL, or if he was crying at the prospect in living in a detroit suburb and, well, playing for the Lions. I've got high hopes for the Lions, though, as they seem to be on the edge of putting it all together, which is a swift departure from their consistent lackluster and effortless play.

Pick 5: Kansas City Chiefs - Eric Berry (S)

Kansas City is getting one heck of a player in Berry. I'm very high on this guy, as from the games I've seen him play, I've seen a very solid safety with great instincts and great athleticism. This guy just. makes. plays. Nice pickup for KC to boost a really, really poor D. This team has some major issues, and they just addressed one of them.

Pick 7: Cleveland Browns - Joe Haden (CB)

Who knows what's going on in Cleveland now. This team seems to be caught in a confusing whirlpool after dealing their 2 starting QB's from the past 3 years (including bust Brady Quinn, who I never thought was that good in the first place). Their D also needs some help, and Haden has great athleticism in the defensive backfield to compliment the aging Sheldon Brown.

Pick 8: Oakland Raiders - Rolando McClain (LB)

Was anybody else surprised that the Raiders made somewhat safe and levelheaded pick?! I'm a big, big fan of Rolando McClain. I think he's a leader, he's tough, and he's a very solid linebacker. It's a shame he's going to play for such a completely disfunctional organization such as the Raiders. I was hoping he might go to the Giants and play for a team that, well, isn't in a perpetual state of self-destruction such as the Raiders.

Pick 9: Buffalo Bills - CJ Spiller (RB)

CJ Spiller is GOOD. Any team that gets this guy is getting a playmaker; Spiller is simply electric and has blazing speed. Even on the Bills, I think he can make an immediate impact and I'm excited to see him play. This alone will make me want to watch the Bills this season, like Adrian Peterson made me want to watch the vikings. If Spiller plays like he's capable of, dare I say potential rookie of the year candidate?

Pick 13: Philadelphia Eagles - Brandon Graham (DE/OLB)

I am ecstatic about this pick. The Iggles traded up several spots because they were enamored with B Graham, and they are getting simply the best DE in the draft. B Graham is not only quick off the end and extremely powerful (insert Dwight Freeney comparison here), but he's a leader and a true Michigan Man. B Graham is going to a team that consistently finishes near the top of the NFC every year (we'll see about that with the departure of Donovan McNabb). It's one of the best run organizations in the NFL, and they saw what all MIchigan fans know: B Graham is the real deal. Next year will be an interesting one for the Iggles.

Pick 18: Pittsburgh Steelers - Maurkice Pouncey (C)

The Steelers, along with the Patriots (and, recently, the Giants) are one of, if not THE, best drafting team in the NFL. They continue to amaze with heady, smart picks who almost always pan out. This is no exception, as the Steelers address their O-Line issues directly with a proven winner in Pouncey, who led the offensive line at Florida. Pouncy should be ecstatic, as he is going to perhaps the best-run organizations in the NFL. This is a player's team, and anybody should be excited to be on it.

Pick 21: Cincinnati Bengals - Jermaine Gresham (TE)

Gresham has been the best TE in the country for two years now, and the Bengals add a new option to their offense with this guy. Solid TE play is simply a thing of beauty and can really solidify an offense. I think a good TE is just what the Bengals need in order to get their offense going. That and a good lawyer (wah wah!).

Pick 23: Green Bay Packers - Bryan Bulaga (OT)

The Packers are another of the solid organizations that draft well. Bulaga is a great OT, a two time All-Big Ten selection, and simply looks like he's from Iowa. He'll be perfect for the blue collar Packers team.

Pick 24: Dallas Cowboys - Dez Bryant (WR)

Dez Bryant is spectacular. "Character issues" aside, this is a match made in heaven for an organization that seems to covet boneheaded, egotistical but incredibly talented WR's. I was a little bit mystified by this pick, as it appears Dallas is giving up on Roy Williams. I guess they want to free up Miles Austin a bit and inject some more playmaking into their passing game. It should be a good team to watch next year with a bunch of weapons on offense.

Pick 25: Denver Broncos - Tim Tebow (QB)

After a "WTF?! Dez Bryant is still on the board and you picked WHO?!?!" moment a few picks earlier, Denver surprises again and gets Tebow. I don't want to say I told you so... but I just did. Just yesterday morning, I was telling my friend Jon that Tebow is going to go to the Broncos. I just didn't think it would be a first round pick! The Broncos are the perfect home for Tebow, where he can sit behind Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn to learn the ins and outs of the position of QB. You can't hate Tim Tebow: not only is he perhaps the best college QB to ever play the game, but he's also passionate, cares about his teammates, will do whatever it takes to win, loves Jesus, is a hard worker and a fierce competitor. You want this guy in your locker room. It's a big risk, but IMO you want to draft QB's who know how to win. Name me one big game Jimmy Clausen willed his team to win in his entire career at ND. Neither can I. Now let's do the same for Tebow. Bingo. I want Tebow on my team, and I'm willing to take that risk. Again, going to a great organization and fanbase that will nurture him and give him some time.

Pick 28: Miami Dolphins - Jared Odrick (DT)

The Dolphins are my new favorite team. What with Parcells running the show, their affinity for Meech players, their dealing tOSU failure Ted Ginn (I hate that guy... overhyped, worthless) and the success of their Wildcat offense, I'm always pulling for the Fish. After addressing a lot of their deficiencies via trading (Brandon Marshall = excellent, excellent pickup), they addressed their need on the D Line with a great pick in Odrick. Exciting to see a team like the Dolphins get good again. Chad Henne!

Pick 30: Detroit Lions - Jahvid Best (RB)

I'm not so hot on Best. The Lions do indeed need help at RB, but I think the dropoff in talent is considerable after Spiller. Time will tell, of course, but Best is set up to fail as he is what I believe to be a mediocre to good RB at on a poor to mediocre team.