Friday, August 31, 2012

Preview: Alabama 2012

#8 Michigan vs. #2 Alabama
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Kickoff 8:00 pm EST
Forecast: Indoors

Last year
Alabama: 12-1, National Champs :(. You probably already know Alabama's story. With the only loss on their schedule a plodding 9-6 game against LSU, Nick Saban's squad redeemed themselves by pounding Les Miles and LSU into dust in the national championship game. Led by returning quarterback AJ McCarron and NFL-bound Trent Richardson, Alabama's offense was good-not-great (16th rushing offense, 69th passing offense, 35th passing efficiency, 20th scoring offense).

What held the team afloat was a legendarily great defense. The Crimson Tide ranked first in most defensive categories last year: rushing defense (72 yards/game), pass defense (111.46 yards/game), pass efficiency defense, total defense (183.62 yards/game), and scoring defense (8.15 points/game [!!!]). Alabama had as many games last year in which they shut their opponent out (3; North Texas, Vanderbilt, LSU in the National Championship game) as they did games where their opponents scored more than two touchdowns (3; Arkansas, Georgia Southern, Auburn). They never allowed more than 21 points and only allowed teams to score in double digits in 5 games.

Michigan: 11-2, Sugar Bowl Champ. You also know Michigan's story. Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison, Al Borges, Denard, Brady Hoke, Junior Hemingway, Brady Hoke, Ohio, Suger Bowl LOLZ, Brady Hoke. Suffering only losses to Michigan State and Iowa, the transition from Rodriguez to Hoke went quite a bit smoother than the transition to the previous regime. Denard, though statistically worse, was still Denard and was able to sustain an effective (if often lucky) offensive unit.

On the other side of the ball, Greg Mattison turned a horrible defense into a, well, kind of a good defense. By the season's end, Michigan's defense was 39th in rushing defense, 16th in passing defense, 17th in total defense, and 6th (!!!) in scoring defense. That scoring defense was bolstered by an inordinate amount of recovered fumbles, but there are plenty of signs of tangible improvement brought about by the coaching staff. Departed is essentially everyone important from the defensive line, David Molk, and Junior Hemingway. Otherwise, Michigan returns almost their entire team, something Alabama doesn't have the luxury of in 2012.

Offense vs. Alabama

Fair or not, this game will determine whether or not Denard Robinson has a chance to win the Heisman. Aside from Heisman candidates needing big-game highlight reels, it's hard to see Denard having a mediocre game against the Alabama defense. It's either going to be an ugly 9-24, 3 INT-game or something approximating his performance against Ohio State (14-17, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). I'm not trying to project which will occur, but the former is probably more likely.

Though Alabama loses a ton of talent and starters from their defensive roster (Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, DeQuan Menzie, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, and Josh Chapman, among others), years of oversigning means that unproven 5-stars step in at almost every position; think Will Campbell only without the years of struggling with technique, weight, and motivation.

Alabama runs Nick Saban's traditional 3-4. He's very good at coaching it and his defenses are always very good. The secondary will run a man-coverage variant that involves pattern reading (read Ace's Fi Fie Fo Film for an explanation; as a side note Ace, change the name of this column). Unfortunately, Denard hasn't really seen a defense that runs these kinds of schemes. His ability to properly read and react to what the secondary is doing will go a long way toward determining if Michigan even has a chance in this game.

Up front, the 3-4 defense means that the linebackers will be looking run-first. With the expected suspension of Fitzgerald Toussaint for the game, finding any running lanes will be difficult. Hopefully--maybe?--Denard will be able to zone read the defense to death, but Alabama's defense didn't get to be great by being undisciplined.

My biggest concern is that Al Borges will refuse to stretch the Alabama defense horizontally. Without any true deep threats (Devin Gardner maybe?), Michigan will need to put stress on the Alabama defense by thinning them out across the field. The only plays we saw last year that would be able to do that were the tunnel screens to Jeremy Gallon and the throwback screens to Vincent Smith. Those are going to work approximately once each against this defense. I fear the rest of the offense will be Michigan running its head into a wall like the Sugar Bowl.

Defense vs. Alabama

Michigan returns a deep secondary, quality linebackers, and Craig Roh. Michigan can only beat Alabama if the defense shows improvement over last year, much of which has to start with the defensive line. Alabama is a run-first, pro-style offense with a spectacular offensive line. This is not the kind of game that you want to break in a bunch of unproven starters on the D-line, but that's where we are.

Alabama's offense frankly doesn't scare me that much. The loss of Trent Richardson should not be undersold. He was, without a doubt, the best offensive player on a relatively mediocre offense last year. Incoming junior starter Eddie Lacy is no pushover (151 carries, 1,080 yards, 7.15 yards/carry), but he's also not the guy that went #3 overall in the NFL draft. Lacy will get his yards in this game on the strength of his offensive line, not because he'll outrun Michigan's defense. If Will Campbell and Quinton Washington can hold up at the defensive tackle slots, Michigan might be able to shut down the Alabama rushing attack.

Stopping that running attack is crucial because it starts to negate the effect of AJ McCarron's play action. McCarron is basically a game manager with a really good cast of supporting players. Last year, he completed 66% of his passes but only accounted for 16 TDs (5 INTs). McCarron had a really high passer rating last year, but in the same way that Wisconsin quarterbacks (not named Russell Wilson) are ranked highly nationally.

With Michigan returning everyone on the back end of the defense, Alabama is going to have to win this game on the ground, which they can almost certainly do unless the defensive line ends up being much better than expected. The good news is that an oversized Jibreel Black at weakside defensive end is the kind of player that you want to try and stuff a punishing, downhill running attack. Keeping outside leverage will also be key. Pray that Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan have finally figure that out.

How does Michigan win: Michigan wins if Sugar Bowl. In terms of talent, Michigan is dominated at almost every position, and despite the advantage the Wolverine coaching staff has over most other play callers, Nick Saban is not to be trifled with. Alabama has a young, mostly unproven defense entering their first game of the season at a "neutral" site. There's a chance that Denard makes mincemeat of the Alabama defense, and the game's turnovers/broken plays all go Michigan's way. That's really the only shot the Wolverine's have unless Devin Gardner is instantly Justin Blackmon.

How Does Alabama win: If everything goes to plan. Vegas doesn't really get things wrong all that often, so an Alabama -14 line is not to be trifled with. They are vastly more talented and have an equal-or-better coaching staff. Michigan really does need a lot of breaks to win this game. Otherwise, it's about damage control and trying to not get blown out for the sake of the Big Ten's national reputation.

Arbitrary chance Michigan wins: 10%

Final prediction: I'd love to say Michigan can win this game but there's almost no logical way at looking at this and predicting an M victory. Alabama pulls away in the first half and Michigan tries to chip away at the lead as the game wears on but doesn't beat the spread. Alabama 31 - Michigan 16

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What to expect: The Team x3 2012

Previously: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversOffensive Line and Tight EndsDefensive LineLinebackers, Secondary

The Schedule
The worst thing Brady Hoke did last year (there weren't many things) was go 11-2 with some help from smoke and mirrors. Commanding losses to MSU and Iowa speak for themselves, but Michigan survived by the teeth of their skin against a crappy Notre Dame team, a crappy Ohio State team, and inexplicably beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. This could just as easily have been an 8-5 unit last year. We were not. For that, we rejoice.

Unfortunately, Team 133 enters the 2012 season with lofty expectations--ranked 8th in the country--and with one of the more difficult schedules to boot. Michigan is on the road against Alabama, Notre Dame, Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Ohio State. The only home matchup Michigan has against a top-level opponent is a rebuilding Michigan State team that frankly, the Wolverines would beat in East Lansing.

The point is, the schedule does not set up well for a team rebuilding its offensive and defensive lines and with shaky depth at just about every position ont he field. Though bye weeks aren't quite as beneficial the following Saturday as you would expect, to add to scheduling frustration, Michigan takes the week off before the Purdue game. Purdue.

But because predicting the season before it even starts is totally reasonable, here's a relatively positive spin (saywhatnow?) on this year's schedule:

Opponent Outcome
Alabama L
Air Force W
UMass W
@ ND L
@ Purdue W
Illinois W
@ Nebraska W
@ Minnesota W
Northwestern W
Iowa W
@ Ohio L
Before I started writing this, I was convinced this team would top out at 8-4, but I'm in a good mood, so 9-3 seems attainable. Alabama is a certain loss. Notre Dame is probably a toss up, depending on whether or not Brian Kelly can pick a decent starter from his gaggle of mediocre QBs. And Ohio State is, well, probably a loss. While Urban Meyer will turn his current roster into something special eventually, Braxton Miller is still the kid that led the team to a 6-7 record last year and probably still can't complete a pass. But it's in Columbus so, loss.

The rest of the games seem like lock wins (Air Force, UMass, @Minnesota, Northwestern) or at worse 60-40 Michigan wins (@Purdue, Illinois, MSU, @Nebraska, Iowa). Now, this is college football and an injury to Denard means 9-3 instantly becomes 6-6. But we're functioning under the impression that God wouldn't do that to us. Right God? Right?

Do I really feel like Michigan will end the season at 9-3? Probably not. The chances of the team upsetting Alabama, Notre Dame, or Ohio State--all on the road--are pretty slim. But the chances of at least one of Iowa, MSU, or Nebraska beating the team are relatively high; they're all more or less on the same talent level.

How will we get there, though? [Read after the jump for offense and defense in total]

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What to expect: Secondary 2012

Previously: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversOffensive Line and Tight EndsDefensive Line, Linebackers

Projected Corner Starters: Blake Countess, JT Floyd

Two years ago, starting JT Floyd in your secondary was a bad idea:

That was 2010 when Michigan had Penn State in 2nd and 21. For almost any functional defense, that's a "Keep it in front of you" situation. For Greg Robinson-led Michigan, it was a wide-open out route as Floyd retreated to the endzone because things like technique were not really taught during the Rodriguez years.
The PSU receiver takes one stop toward the inside of the field and then breaks to the outside. Floyd immediately turns his back on the play to run with the receiver to the inside, despite having help defense toward the middle of the field. By the time Floyd gets his head turned around, the receiver has settled into a completely vacated zone 22 yards down the field and makes the first down catch.
Absolutely everyone involved in this play is to blame, but almost all of it has to fall on Greg Robinson. These players have absolutely no idea what they're doing here. The underneath defenders get no depth. Floyd doesn't know where his help defense is and once again shows how poor his technique is (like on those wide-open slants against Iowa) by turning away from the play. I mean, this is 2nd and 21 against a walk-on quarterback in the second drive of his first career start. How does this happen?
Oh how things have changed. Over the course of last year, Floyd not-so-quietly became a really solid Big Ten cornerback. He struggled covering Michael Floyd against Notre Dame because, duh, but otherwise, he was aggressive, timed throws well, and stayed sound in the running game. He doesn't have elite speed but will be able to hang with most receivers he faces this year as long as he has help over the top.

Last year, Floyd racked up 31 tackles, 17 assists, 8 PBUs, a forced fumble, and two interceptions. For someone a year removed from arguably the worst coverage play I've ever witnessed, those are pretty impressive numbers. That's probably his ceiling though. As a senior, he's not going to get demonstrably better. Teams aren't afraid of his coverage abilities, so they'll probably throw at him about as much as they did last year, and his numbers will hover around where they did last year.

Across from Floyd will be Blake Countess who saw progressively more time throughout the year. As a true freshman, he racked up 30 tackles, 14 assists, 1.5 TFLs, 6 PBUs, and a forced fumble. Countess is about as natural of a cover corner as you can get. At 5'10" he'll never be elite, but he is basically Donovan Warren (though Warren was two inches taller, they play effectively the same game). Countess frequently got beaten on double moves last year in man coverage, but that's the kind of thing that's designed to beat man coverage. He'll probably get lost a few times this year on similar moves, but expect his technique to be better against those sluggos. Otherwise, by the middle of the year, he may supplant Floyd and take on the more difficult wide receiver matchups.

The Backup Corners: Courtney Avery, Delonte Hollowell, Raymon Taylor, Terry Richardson

Long ago, when Courtney Avery was just an inexperienced former quarterback recruit, he seemed to me like the kind of guy who found his assignment and stuck to him like glue. At a relatively diminutive 5'11", 173 lbs, Avery has become the premiere slot cornerback on the roster. His rookie season, I spent the year praising his ability to cover receivers in man-to-man coverage. Last year, he came off the bench in the nickel corner position as a relatively sturdy addition to the defense until the above picture when he picked off Braxton Miller to end the Ohio State game.

This season, Avery will continue his role as shifty slot corner and filling in for either Floyd or Countess should either of them get hurt. Come next year, Avery will be in a battle with Terry Richardson for the starting CB slot across from Countess, but that's for another preview.

Behind Avery on the depth chart are sophomores Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell, both of whom saw little action last year. Taylor only registered in the box score twice last year, and Hollowell didn't do much more, despite having an awesome profile photo on MGoBlue's site (right). Hollowell will likely be the first off the bench, but we won't see any of these backups unless there's an injury.

Finally, there's highly touted freshman Terry Richardson hovering somewhere around the depth chart. He's probably more suited to back up Avery in the slot given his diminutive size (5'9" according to MGoBlue), but his recruiting profile suggests he lines up to guard outside receivers.

For the first time in, well, a long time, Michigan finally has a talent and depth at the corner position. Without any true standouts at the spot, we'll probably see Hollowell, Taylor, and Richardson all rotating in and out of each position sporadically throughout the year with Avery as the primary backup and nickelback.

Projected Safety Starters: Jordan Kovacs, Thomas Gordon

You know Jordan Kovacs. Everyone knows Jordan Kovacs. Chances are you love Jordan Kovacs. In the long, long ago, I wrote a now hilariously wrong post on here called The Jordan Kovacs Problem in which I asserted,
The mere presence of Kovacs on the field presents a gaping hole in the defense and an obvious weak spot for opposing offenses to attack.
So, nevermind that. Over the last year, Kovacs has proven that 1) he's a really good strong safety and 2) Greg Robinson is an idiot. (Though that last point was proven by a number of players throughout the last year.) Expect nothing more or less from Kovacs this year: the defense's most consistent performer and one of the best strong safeties in the Big Ten, despite not having elite athleticism.

Playing across from Kovacs will likely be redshirt junior Thomas Gordon who was totally nondescript last year (in a good way). Free safety, like offensive line, is the kind of thankless job in which you usually only get mentioned if you're doing something wrong. Last year, Gordon was almost completely anonymous to your average viewer, but filled up the stat sheet: 41 tackles, 26 assists, 1.5 TFLs, 2 PBUs, and 2 force fumbles. Together, Kovacs and Thomas proved to be a pair of sure tacklers downfield and in space, and mostly negated the long touchdowns that plagued the defense for the previous few years. Expect the same from them this year.

The Safety Backups: Marvin Robinson, Jarrod Wilson, Josh Furman, Jeremy Clark, Allen Gant, Floyd Simmons

If you're thinking to yourself, "Wow, that's a lot of backups for only two safety spots", you're right. Under the Rodriguez/Robinson regime, hybrid linebacker/safety types were all the rage, so the team stocked up on them. Unfortunately, most of them have gone on to have completely ineffectual careers. Super recruit Marvin Robinson should be a linebacker but isn't. Josh Furman should be great but isn't (though his camp-legendary speed will supposedly be used on kick returns this year). And the rest are young recruits stuck behind two of the team's most consistent performers.

Kovacs and Gordon, barring injury--please God, barring injury--should rarely come off the field during the season. Kovacs is an every-down safety and Gordon proved himself to be reliable in almost all situations. Getting playing time for the backups will likely only come in mop-up duty against the early-season scrubs or if there's an injury to one of the starters.

For the first time in years, the secondary should be one of the strongest units on the entire team. Kovacs, Floyd, Gordon, and Countess are probably one of the strongest corner/safety lineups in the conference this year and we should expect a performance as such. A slight uptick in interceptions as Floyd and Countess both improve their technique can probably be anticipated, and the dirge of long touchdowns against the D should continue. This season, Michigan's defensive weakness is in the front end, not the back.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What to expect: Linebackers 2012

Previously: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversOffensive Line and Tight Ends, Defensive Line

Projected Starters (SAM, MIKE, WILL): Jake Ryan, Kenny Demens, Desmond Morgan

Last year, Michigan's linebacking corps hovered somewhere around Pretty Good, but that's to be expected when you're starting freshmen (one a redshirt) at both the strong- and weakside positions. In 2012, Michigan returns its entire starting linebacking group headlined by senior anchor Kenny Demens.

By this point, you probably know Demens' game: a downhill, hard-hitting middle linebacker. MGoBlog is high on his coverage skills, but I'm not quite as certain he's a great coverage linebacker. While Demens is able to run with linebackers heading down the field, he struggles mightily in zone coverage. His ability to cover seam routes is a bonus, but his underneath coverage stuggles because of his lack of route recognition. A number of times over the last two years, Demens has been frozen by play action and has struggled to defend underneath passing routes. He completely blew his assignment once against ND last year and showed his hesitancy against an EMU jet sweep. The good news is that during both his sophomore and junior seasons, he's quickly corrected his mistakes.

The point is, the strongest aspect of Demens' game is coming downhill on blitzes and stuffing the run. I don't think he'll ever be an elite coverage linebacker, which limits Mattison's blitzing schemes a bit, but not enough to be a hindrance. This year, expect the same from Demens: stout against the run, good at wrapping up tackles, and a suspect cover guy. It wouldn't surprise me to see Demens pulled off the field occasionally on nickel packages to get a more fleet-of-foot linebacker on the field. Otherwise, Demens is the defensive anchor in the front seven.

Flanking Demens will be sophomore Desmond Morgan (weakside/WILL) and redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan (strongside/SAM). Ryan was the talk of the town following the 2011 spring game and delivered on that promise during his rookie campaign. Ryan finished 2011 with 20 tackles, 17 assists, 11 TFLs, and 3 sacks. His season wasn't without hiccups though. Against MSU, he got confused on a zone vs man coverage scheme negating a great blitz by Michigan, and he showed frequent issues early in the season maintaining the edge against the run. As the year progressed, those freshman issues worked themselves out and Ryan proved to be one of the most consistent impact performers on the defense. Expect Ryan to maintain or slightly improve his numbers from last year while almost eliminating those mental mistakes. If he experiences the kind of freshman-to-sophomore year spike that you generally see, Ryan should garner All-Conference consideration by the season's end.

At the weakside linebacker spot will be Desmond Morgan once again. Morgan, like Ryan, exhibited a lot of rookie mistakes in run support, letting people get outside of the defense for big gains, but overall, he had an impressive season for being a true freshman probably playing out of position (he's more suited for the downhill middle linebacker slot than the rangy, lanky WILL). Even with some early struggles, Morgan charted 26 tackles, 37 assists, 4 TFLs, and 1 sack last year. Like Ryan, expect those numbers to rise slightly while cutting out many of the freshman mistakes. Morgan will never be the prototypical weakside linebacker, so expecting much more out of him is probably out of the question, but he'll be a player that will be in the right position and make tackles when they head his way.

The Backups (SAM; MIKE; WILL): Cam Gordon; Joe Bolden, Mike Jones; James Ross, Brandin Hawthorne

For the first time in three seasons, Cam Gordon is not coming into the season being hyped to the moon at a new position. This is a good thing for both the team (his previous appearances did not go as planned) and Gordon himself (he's finally playing the position he's supposed to). If not for the breakout season by Ryan last year, Gordon would be a serviceable starter at the SAM position. As it is, he will likely moonlight on nickel packages when Ryan bounces down to a defensive end position and Michigan needs more coverage skills in the field. Gordon will likely appear in every game and make a few plays that make you think, "Wow why doesn't that guy play more?" By the end of the season, you'll just be glad that Michigan finally has a quality backup at some defensive position.

Coming off the bench behind Demens will be true freshman Joe Bolden and journeyman Mike Jones. Bolden comes in with a load of recruiting hype and has impressed during spring and fall camp. Bolden is known for laying the lumber on ball carriers and proved to be an adequate coverage guy in high school. He'll get plenty of snaps this year and the hope is that he can approximate Demens' production without too many rookie mistakes. Playing time against Alabama will probably be scarce, but the next few games should see Bolden engrain himself in the rotation. Mike Jones will continue to be Mikes Jones: getting essentially zero snaps barring injury.

On the weakside of the field, true freshman James Ross and Brandin Hawthorne will give Morgan rest when he needs it. Ross, like Bolden, is a touted recruit who came onto campus and quickly became the #2 at his position, surpassing an upperclassman. The man that now sits third on the depth chart is Brandin Hawthorne who made a few game-changing plays against Notre Dame last year but remains a tiny, inconsistent linebacker. You'll probably see Hawthorne on occasional nickel concepts, but otherwise, he's deep in the reserves. Unless Morgan gets injured and Ross proves to be untenable at the WILL position, Hawthorne will spend most of his season on special teams.

(I probably should've done a conclusion section for each of these previous but I didn't. The more I wrote here, the more it seemed appropriate.)
Like most positions, Michigan's starting linebackers should all be somewhere from good-to-great this year, but injuries could send the unit into a tailspin. The backups are recruits with solid pedigrees, but they're still just freshmen for the most part. Unlike other positions, the 2nd and 3rd stringers probably have more of a purpose in the structure of the defense than at other positions. You can easily see Gordon and Hawthorne coming into games on situational downs that better utilize their skillsets. With Mattison's schemes intended to get blitzing linebackers into the backfield, this unit will probably show up frequently in the box score and could be the most disruptive force the team has defensively. With a suspect pass rush from the defensive line, the linebackers are going to need to find openings and land Mattison's blitzes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What to expect: Defensive Line 2012

Previously: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide Receivers, Offensive Line and Tight Ends

Defensive Tackle Projected Starters: Quinton Washington, Will Campbell
Perhaps the biggest question this offseason--certainly the question most frequently asked--was about the progress of former 5-star recruit Will Campbell. As the highlight of the 2009 recruiting class, Campbell drew effusive praise from just about everywhere. MGoBlog said thusly:
General Excitement Level: Very high. Ratings + offers = very high likelihood to be a multi-year starter and NFL draft pick.
Projection: Immediately into the defensive tackle rotation, probably behind Sagesse to start. Potentially works his way into a starting job by the end of the year; sophomore through senior year he should be somewhere between Watson and what Watson could have been if he was mean.
Unfortunately, things haven't exactly followed the script. Working under a bunch of incompetent defensive staffs for his first two years on campus, Campbell struggled with his technique, weight, and work ethic and rarely if ever saw the field. In his first three years, he has accounted for only 8 tackles, 11 assists, 3.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 4 pass break ups (appearing in 17 games). For comparison's sake, in just his senior season, Mike Martin accounted for 20 tackles, 44 assists, 6 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks.

After jettisoning three starters from the 2011 defensive line including standout nose tackle Martin, Campbell enters his senior season as the guy on the defensive line. The good news is that Michigan doesn't need Campbell to be Mike Martin to have a great defensive line. The bad news is we don't really know what we can expect from Campbell on a down-to-down basis.

What this team needs from Campbell is an every-down nose tackle/3-tech DT that can hold up against the run and generate nominal pressure against the pass. Having a penetrating DT the likes of Martin is a luxury, not a necessity for great defenses. The pass rush from the defensive line should be generated primarily by the defensive ends (about which more later), not the inside. If Campbell can stay gap sound and hold his ground against double teams on the run, Michigan's experienced linebackers should be able to make the proper reads and tackle.

Of course, Campbell won't be alone up front. Flanking him, presumably at the nose tackle position if recent camp reports are to be believed, will be Quinton Washington, the 2009 offensive guard recruit who has seen effectively zero time in his career. Washington is a redshirt junior who has spent more time blocking on extra points than tackling people smaller than him. Defensively, he's amassed a whopping 1 tackle and 2 assists.

Because he's going to be a starter, the coaches have been pumping him up throughout camp, praising his abilities. At 6'4", 300 lbs, he won't be much of a slasher, but he may be able to hold his ground much like Campbell. As a position switch, leverage and technique remain a concern, but if he can stay sound in the middle, Michigan should remain stout against the run and rely on blitzes and the defensive ends for pass rush.

The Backups: Ondre Pipkins, Richard Ash, Matt Godin, Willie Henry, Chris Rock
Backing up the defensive tackle starters are a bunch of true freshmen and unproven recruits. The first two off the bench will likely be true freshman dwarf planets Ondre Pipkins and Richard Ash. Pipkins has the recruiting profile of an early contributor but at 6'3", 340 lbs, conditioning and weight are a huge concern. Pipkins likely won't see much time early in the year, but as the season rolls on and he spends more time in the strength and conditioning program, we may see him slim down and start to get snaps.

The other likely backup is Richard Ash, a former Florida commit whose offer was rescinded after he showed at a UF camp wildly overweight. Rich Rodriguez snapped him up shortly after that, and Ash has spent his Michigan career--wait for it--sitting on the bench and out of shape. Coming in as a redshirt sophomore, Ash has lost a considerable amount of weight and should probably see plenty of time on the field this year subbing in for Campbell or Washington, whoever is more in need of a breather.

Behind those, it gets even more tenuous with true freshmen Matt Godin and Willie Henry, both middling recruits lacking the size needed to be competitive. Barring injuries, at least one of these two will redshirt--likely the rail-thin Godin. Michigan also returns redshirt freshman Chris Rock who comes in way underweight at 6'5", 267 lbs. The point is, pray for health and competency from the starting defensive tackles because behind them is basically a straw house.

Defensive End Projected Starters: Jibreel Black, Craig Roh

After a breakout freshman year, starting strongside defensive end Gavin Rossdale Craig Roh has had a relatively disappointing career. With 7.5 TFLs and 2 sacks in his rookie campaign, Roh's numbers dipped in his sophomore year (5.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks; playing primarily as a linebacker [!!!]) and rebounded slightly in his third season (8 TFL, 4 sacks), albeit not living up to the hype created by his freshman year. When this year is over, looking at Roh's stat line will likely be a good indicator of how successful the Wolverine defense was.

With Martin and Ryan Van Bergen gone to the NFL, production from the defensive line is going to rest solely on Roh and weakside defensive end Jibreel Black. As a consensus four-star recruit and with three years of starting experience under his belt, Roh is the unequivocal leader of the defensive line, and the box score needs to show as much. Since Michigan runs a 4-3 under, the defensive line is naturally shaded toward the weakside of the line, forcing Roh into double teams against tackles and tight ends, but he has the strength and speed to still generate some pass rush. Against the run, he'll need to maintain the edge and not get pushed off the line against those double teams. At 6'5", 281 lbs, he probably has the size to do that.

On the weakside will likely be Jibreel Black, a poor man's Brandon Graham, right down to his jersey. Black has shown flashes of greatness in his first two years but has never really made much of an impact in the box score. Charting only 1.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks in his career, Black will need to start lighting up the backfield the way Graham used to. Fortunately, he'll have every opportunity to. While Roh will be busy sucking up double teams on the strongside of the field, Black will be getting one-on-one matchups against tackles. While not the best speed rusher, Black should be able to combine his speed and strength (6'2", 279 lbs) to get around or through opposing offensive tackles.

For Michigan's defense to maintain its level of play from last year, Roh and Black will need to combine for somewhere around 20-25 TFLs and 15 sacks. Fortunately, they'll have opportunities to do this. Both Greg Mattison's schemes (able to free up just about anyone on the defensive line) and Michigan's experienced secondary (which should increase the amount of coverage sacks we've seen from the defensive line in recent years) should enable the defensive ends to light up the score board.

The Backups: Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer, Mario Ojemudia, Nathan Brink, Keith Heitsman, Tom Strobel, Chris Wormley :(

Melanie Maxwell |
First off the bench to relieve Roh will be former walk-on Nathan Brink who saw some snaps last year. Brink has come in for a ton of praise from the coaching staff during camp but will be a noticeable downgrade from Roh. Brink won't bring the penetrating athleticism that Roh offers, but if he's able to hold up against the run (and the double teams that come along with them), Michigan's secondary should be able to survive without much pass rush. Behind Brink is redshirt freshman Keith Heitzman as well as true freshman Tom Strobel. Chris Wormley, a highly touted recruiting, suffered a knee injury that will keep me out for the entire season.

While the strongside defensive end depth is a little harrowing, weakside has come in for a fair amount of praise during camp and has the recruiting profile to match. Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark each saw time last season, with Clark producing one of the biggest plays of the Sugar Bowl, intercepting Logan Thomas on a pass rush to set up Michigan's second touchdown. But the first guy off the bench (at least according to most camp reports) will be true freshman Mario Ojemudia. At 6'3", 231 lbs, Ojemudia is probably too small to get serious playing time, but everyone has been raving about his motor and skills during practice. If he can bulk up during the season, chances are he becomes the primary WDE backup at the end of the season.

Don't expect too much from the defensive end backups. Getting to the quarterback will probably be tough with this personnel, so with the backups in, I'd expect more blitzes from Mattison in an effort to generate some pressure. If these guys can simply hold up against the run and maintain outside leverage, once again, we can expect the linebackers to clean up. Injuries to any position on the defensive line is spooky for this team's prospects, but at this point, there are at least highly touted recruits backing up the more experienced starters. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What to expect: Offensive Line, Tight Ends 2012

Previously: QuarterbacksRunning Backs, Wide Receivers

Offensive line projected starters (L to R): Taylor Lewan, Elliott Mealer, Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh, Michael Schofield

I don't know if it's fun playing offensive line. It seems like the kind of position that only gets press when they're horrifically blowing out their knees or missing blocks. But I have to imagine that it's rewarding playing in front of Denard Robinson: make your blocks and something awesome might happen on any given play.

Regardless of your feelings toward Rich Rodriguez, the one thing he managed to do was put together a solid unit of offensive linemen (sparse though their numbers may be). With the departure of last year's Rimington Award winner (center David Molk) to the NFL and last year's right tackle Mark Huyge (probably Michigan's worst lineman last year and the inspiration of the Spartans In The Backfield tag on this blog), Michigan has a number of holes to fill. Fortunately, the team has just enough experienced linemen to fill those holes, while Hoke and Co. made it priority #1 to recruit the nation's best offensive linemen.

Michigan's starters will be good. The backups will be young and probably good. But it's difficult to quantify lineman production. Since showcasing some undisciplined talent in his freshman year punctuated by false starts and holding penalties, Taylor Lewan has turned into the best left tackle in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. Elliott Mealer will complete his tear-jerker story and take over the left guard position this year if recent camp reports are any indication. Ricky Barnum will look to improve on a shaky Sugar Bowl appearance that saw him chuck a few bad snaps by Denard when Molk went down early steps out from behind Schofield to take over for the departed Molk. Omameh will continue being Omameh: an agile, aggressive run-blocking guard. And Schofield will slide over to the right tackle spot after backing up Lewan last year.

That's about all that can be said. Despite a few new names, it's hard not to see this as one of the team's strongest units this year barring injury. The team has collectively averaged over 5 yards/carry each of the last two years, which is not something you can do without a stellar offensive line. Expect a few of these guys on the All Big Ten team by the season's end and some national recognition for Lewan, who, begin to pray now won't forego his senior year to enter the NFL early.

The Backups: Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson, Blake Bars, Jack Miller, Joey Burzynski, Chris Bryant, Ben Braden

Yes, four of the offensive line backups are true freshmen. Yes, the rest of the are unheralded recruits without much on-field experience. Yes, I am also terrified. The good news is, most of the true freshmen are highly touted recruits that come in around the field-ready size. Barring an injury to one of Michigan's starting tackles, the team should be able to (relatively) hide any of these guys on the inside. If Lewan or Schofield should go down for any significant time this year, Kyle Kalis will likely be the first off the bench at either tackle position. The rest will pick up time during blowouts early in the year as the coaching staff looks to solidify each position.

If you want to know more information on the respective freshmen, visit MGoBlog's recruiting round-ups (linked above).

Melanie Maxwell |

Projected Starters: Brandon Moore, Ricardo Miller
Because Michigan lacks anyone with the combination of size and athleticism that Kevin Koger brought to the team last year, the best bet for nominal starters are Brandon Moore and Ricardo Miller. Moore will spend most of the season as an extra blocker while Miller, at a slight 6'4", 226 lbs (!!!), will be the kind of flex tight end that is essentially a wide receiver.

Before I started writing this, I thought it wouldn't be that big of a deal. I didn't remember Koger catching a whole ton of passes last year, but unfortunately, I was wrong. Only two players (Jeremy Gallon and Junior Hemingway) caught more balls than Koger. In total, the tight ends last year accounted for 23 receptions (235 yards, 5 TDs).

The Backups: Jordan Paskorz, AJ Williams, Devin Funchess
The backups are either true freshmen (Williams, Funchess) or position switches. Williams is a battleship: coming in a 6'6", 283 lbs, recruiting sites weren't sure if he was an offensive lineman or a tight end. Williams will play alongside Moore in heavy sets on the goal line. Otherwise, he's on the bench and getting into better shape. Funchess is a highly regarded, Ricardo Miller-esque tight end/WR hybrid. Unless Miller proves unserviceable, Funchess will likely spend the season bulking up on the bench. Jordan Paskorz hasn't seen the field in two seasons on the team. He'll be a non-entity this year.

All-in-all, it's going to be touch and go at the tight end position this season. Unless Moore proves to be a more agile route runner and pass catcher, chances we'll see the tight ends used only when the offensive line could use some extra bulk in short-yardage situations. Expect their collective receptions to drop considerably: 15-18 would be a reasonable estimate. Instead, Borges will likely try and spread the field a little more with receivers and open things up for Denard as much as possible.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What to expect: Wide Receivers 2012

Previously: Quarterbacks, Running Backs
Get it? Because they're all short.
Projected Starters: Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree
Because much of the pre-season concern has been directed toward the defensive line and it's lack of proven contributors and depth, people have forgotten just how dire the wide receiver position is. Yes, Roy Roundtree had a great season in 2010 catching wide open passes that safeties gave up because of the threat of Denard's legs. Unfortunately, his hype came crashing back to the ground last year when he became That Dude That Lined Up Across From Junior Hemingway. After catching 72 passes for 935 yards in 2010, Roundtree caught only 19 passes (!!!!) for 355 yards last year. Great receivers find ways to get open and Roundtree just couldn't do that lsat year. An offense with Roundtree as the #1 receiver will have trouble in the passing game. His ceiling is Jason Avant, but I'm not sure that Roundtree has the athleticism to make the league.

You might remember Jeremy Gallon from his Houdini act against Notre Dame last year that set up the final touchdown pass to (hey!) Roundtree. Otherwise, Gallon was a nondescript slot receiver who ended up the second leading receiver on the team (31 receptions, 453 yards, 3 TDs).

The concern for this year is not that these guys can't catch. They're both sure-handed, underneath receivers with the ability to make defenders miss and gain yards after the catch. The problem is that Al Borges' offensive system emphasizes downfield routes and putting stress on a defense by stretching them vertically (maybe this will force Borges' hand with bubble screens). None of Michigan's returning receivers have the speed or size to scare any secondaries this year. The fear isn't that Denard will continue to heave balls into double coverage as Roundtree and Gallon get out-leapt and out-muscled for passes. It's watching these guys struggle to get separation from defensive backs and Denard being forced to make pin-point throws underneath, something he's capable of doing but not particularly consistently.

The Backups: Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Jerald Robinson
If you look at the names of the backups and think to yourself "Oh, those were all of the sleeper prospects that we haven't heard anything from the last few years" you're probably right, except for Wes Welker Drew Dileo. Dileo saw spot duty during Rodriguez's final year and caught a handful of balls last year. He's white and short, so people will naturally compare him to Wes Welker. Because that's reductive, suffice it to say that Dileo, though lacking in elite speed, has sure hands and can be relied on as a third-option. When Michigan has three- and four-wide sets on the field, Dileo will be out there. Otherwise, he'll probably spend most of his time on special teams.

Jeremy Jackson, son of running backs coach Fred Jackson, enters his third year as a slender (6'3", 204 lbs on the official site) outside receiver who has effectively zero on-field experience. Last year, Jackson caught only three balls during the season. He doesn't have top end speed or strength, but might be just tall enough to be a downfield threat. Jackson's development will go a long way toward this unit's effectiveness. If he proves to be contributor early in the season, that would give Michigan a legitimate outside threat with Roundtree and Gallon left to try and pick apart defenses underneath. This is a big "if" but there really aren't many other options.

The only others on the roster will be Jerald Robinson, a 6'1", 215 lbs redshirt sophomore who hasn't seen the field in his two years; true freshman Amara Darboh, a four-star outside type with offers from Florida, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame; and fellow true freshman Jehu Chesson who you can find out more about from MGoBlog. Long story short: Michigan's worst position on either side of the ball this year--barring tight ends, which will spend all season blocking and will be covered with the offensive linemen tomorrow--will be wide receiver.

The Possible Savior: Devin Gardner
If you don't recognize the picture on the right, chances are you follow recruiting less than I do, which, if you're reading this blog, is unlikely. That's Devin Gardner snagging a pass at a camp event during his senior year. He got so bored dominating everyone at quarterback, that he began taking reps as a wide receiver. Since Denard became a world-beater in 2010, the wheels in everyone's heads began turning.

After the spring game, the lack of viable receivers was one of the things that concerned me most about the offense. To wit:
Wide receiver. Holy smokes, Michigan desperately needs these. While most people are centering their concern on the offensive and defensive lines (and rightfully so, about which more later), wide receiver is nearly as barren as the linemen depth chart. If this game doesn't turn up the volume on the Gardner-to-WR chatter, nothing will. I didn't take note of everyone out there (did Roundtree even play in the game?), but regardless, Michigan has no one to catch passes that will threaten opposing defenses.
Michigan desperately needs to bolster its wide receiver corps and after yet another unremarkable year as a backup and lackluster spring game, Gardner-to-wide receiver only makes sense. With no chance that Shane Morris decommits from Michigan before the 2013 season, Hoke and Borges will finally have the pocket passer that they need to run their system. Gardner hasn't shown any signs of being the kind of quarterback that Borges needs: his mechanics seem beyond repair, his throws are inconsistent at best, and he still struggles to read defenses.

The reason to keep Gardner at QB rests on one question: If/when Denard gets injured will the team be noticeably better with Gardner under center than with Russell Bellomy? In my opinion, no. This is not to say that Bellomy is as good of a quarterback as Gardner, but if Denard goes down, this becomes Fitz Toussaint's team, regardless of who is taking snaps. Wasting Gardner's athleticism on the bench when Denard needs a legitimate deep threat to throw to is the kind of bet hedging that I don't expect Hoke to take part in.

Next year, this is Shane Morris' team. By that point, the roster will start to fill up with legitimate outside threats at wide receiver, at which point, you can move Gardner back to QB for depth. But this year, his talents are needed on the outside. I think the coaches are smart enough to realize this and won't waste Denard's final year with sub-par personnel.

Gardner spending the year at wide receiver (which I fully expect him to, FWIW) is the only hope for this offense to take any noticeable step forward. While Denard will show some natural progression during his second year in Borges' system, without adequate weapons, his performance will likely be stuck in neutral. Gardner can fill and possibly surpass the threat and production that Junior Hemingway brought last year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What to expect: Running Backs 2012

Previously: Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Fitzgerald Toussaint
After his 1,000 yard season last year, everyone knew Fitz Toussaint was Michigan's running back in 2012, the first established starter since Mike Hart left in 2007. Unfortunately, Fitz went and got himself a DUI and now his status with the team (in reality, just for the first few games) is in question. The chances are he misses the opener against Alabama or at least the first half of the game, depending on Hoke's disciplinary decisions, but we'll go forward assuming Fitz will retain his starting role once he's fully reinstated to the team.

Fitz didn't really break out until the Purdue game last year after he was given only two carries the week prior against Michigan State. He turned in solid performances against Western Michigan, Minnesota, and San Diego State early in the year, but none of those defenses showed much resistance; Fitz's performances could be written off as promising games against sub-par competition. After the MSU debacle, Fitz closed the regular season with 678 yards on 112 carries (6.05 yards/carry) until running into the Virginia Tech defense in the bowl game (30 yards on 13 carries).

Fitz has all of the traits you could want in a primary back: good vision, strong cuts, the ability to make people miss, ball security, and the strength to push the pile forward. Though not the workhorse that Mike Hart was, Fitz is a more complete back, and paired with Denard in the backfield, he presents a pick-your-poison proposition for defenses. Because opponents didn't want to risk Denard carrying the ball, that resulted in a lot of set-up blocking and open lanes for Fitz last year.

Barring a long suspension, Fitz should continue down the road he ended last season on: 5.5 to 6 yards/carry throughout the year and 15-20 carries a game. Even if he misses a game or two due to suspension, Fitz will likely surpass 1,000 yards this year, but won't get much higher than that.

The Backups: Vincent Smith, Thomas Rawls
With Fitz likely out for some or all of the Alabama game, the rushing load will fall on senior Vincent Smith and sophomore Thomas Rawls.

Preposterous though this may sound, Smith is probably the X-factor against Alabama if Fitz can't play--and probably even if he can. Though Fitz has proven to be a great ball carrier, Smith brings something to the table that no other back on Michigan's roster can: the ability to catch balls out of the backfield. Alabama's defensive line is going to nullify the advantage Michigan's offensive line will have against most teams, so the ability to keep the defense honest and account for a scat back coming out of the backfield could be valuable.

People have underrated Smith for the last year because of Toussaint's performances, but Smith was a dangerous back both carrying the ball and catching it under Rodriguez. Because of the Denardness of the 2010 offense, however, Smith has only garnered more than 15 carries twice in his career: against Purdue in 2010 and Delaware State in 2009. Smith is an exceptional blocker, but he can also make people miss in a phone booth. His ability to flex out as a slot receiver, catch balls from the backfield, and underrated running abilities make him a serious threat against teams (namely Alabama, the only team that he'll get significant touches against).

Next off the bench is Thomas Rawls. After the spring game, most spectators were convinced that Rawls is the future, but this won't be his year. My reaction following the spring game:
Thomas Rawls wins the annual Spring Game award for Most Impressive Player Likely to Spend the Season on the Bench. Rawls is a power runner that showed good vision and an ability to get upfield. This year still belongs to Fitz Toussaint, though. Rawls will be a good option when Toussaint needs a breather, but he doesn't offer much that Fitz doesn't already bring to the table. The biggest concern with Rawls isn't even about his play: I'm worried the coaches will try and revive the I-formation running game behind Rawls' shoulder pads. As we saw once again in the spring game, this team is ill-equipped to run from the I formation.
Those I-formation fears will be diminished next year when the Shane Morris show comes to town and the team plays from under center more, but this year, any I-formation running is conceding defeat. Rawls will be the short yardage back this year (with occasional appearances by bowling ball fumbleback Stephen Hopkins) but won't get more than 5 carries against any team that's not an early-season cupcake or late-season blowout. While promising, Rawls is still unproven, and though his spring game performance was impressive, it's still just a spring game.

The rest of the guys on the roster are just that: on the roster. The incoming freshmen (Dennis Norfleet and Drake Johnson) will spend the season on the bench, and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes is buried behind a bunch of competent-to-great backs already. Hayes might get some burn against Air Force and UMass, but otherwise, he'll spend the season riding the pine unless things go terrible wrong.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What to expect: Quarterbacks 2012

Russell Bellomy (aka Poor Man's Tate), a wide receiver, and Denard

Projected Starter: The Man Known by One Name
Prior to last year's season, I tried to project how Denard would fare based on his performance from the previous year on passing downs. The results:

Denard Robinson
Completion %
Passing Yards
Rushing Yards
2010 62.50% 8.8 2,570 18/11 6.6 1,702
Projected 2011 59% 7.5 1,950 15/15 7 900
Actual 2011 55% 8.4 2,173 20/15 5.3 1,176

Though his numbers dropped noticeably from his 2010 highs, the projected numbers, while pessimistic, were closer than not. The shift away from Rich Rodriguez's Denard-first offense saw #16's stats dip significantly, no more so than in his completion percentage and rushing numbers, both of which were to be expected as the team transitioned to a more "traditional" offense.

The good news: Michigan went 11-2 last year with Denard under center. The bad news: I don't expect him to improve much--if at all--this year, and Michigan's schedule becomes significantly more difficult.

Though Denard showed an uncanny ability to get lucky last year, his Leaping Leprechaun (Junior Hemingway) has departed for the NFL leaving him with Rodriguez's surplus of slot receivers to fight for downfield jumpballs. These will, predictably, not end as well as they did last year, when Hemingway was able to pull down seemingly everything thrown his way. Not only hasn't any Michigan receiver shown an ability to go up and fight for balls like Hemingway, but few even have the size to do so. The only hope is for Devin Gardner's (not pictured above) wide receiver potential to be fully realized early in the year.

Even with Hemingway's services, Denard's interceptions jumped last year. Much of this was from ill-fated passes thrown under pressure, but he also locked onto receivers and threw into double coverage... a lot. Though he only had three games where he threw multiple interceptions (ND, SDSU, Northwestern), Denard also avoided giving the ball away in only three games (Western Michigan, Minnesota, OSU). Al Borges is aware of these problems. From his book "Coaching the West Coast Quarterback", there's a section called "Cause of Interceptions" which lists...
  • Forcing the ball into coverage; not taking what the defense gives; not seeing throwing lanes.
  • Late throws in the middle of the defense.
  • Panic throws under pressure (e.g., desperately avoiding a sack).
  • Under-thrown deep balls. (The quarterback should throw it where only the good guy can get it.)
  • Throwing the ball in traffic with poor weight transfer (i.e., against a big pass rush).
...among other things. You could lump most of Denard's bad passes last year into at least one of those categories. Unfortunately, those rules are independent of Borges' system. Those are passes that every quarterback knows not to make. Entering his third year as a starter and his senior season, if Denard hasn't already learned not to make those throws, he probably never will learn. Count on Denard to average about an interception--to 1.5--per game.

That's the pessimistic angle (the one that makes more sense in my brain) though. The other side of the coin is Denard, Heisman Contender. While I think that's possible, he's going to need to show significant mprovement over last year while playing a more difficult schedule (don't undersell this as a potential explanation for a lack of improvement from Denard). I've never seen a quarterback go from Year 1 to Year 2 under Borges/Hoke, so I'm not really sure what to expect. Early camp reports say Denard is playing extremely well, but camp reports are camp reports. Can Denard surpass his numbers from last year? Yes, but he won't come close to his breakout 2010 season, the kind of numbers he would need really lock down the Heisman.

Realistically, given the lack of wide receiver talent (about which more later this week), Denard's totals will probably remain the same while things like his yards per attempt drop as his deep jump balls increasingly fall to the turn.

The Backups: Not a Wide Receiver, Russell Bellomy
With Devin Gardner finally (finally!) moving to wide receiver, hopefully for good, we can all agree that his time under center at Michigan is over. Despite his exceptional athletic gifts and dual-threatness, he possesses all of the mechanical problems Denard does without two years of playing time and proven performances. He will bolster a wide receiving corps that is in desperate need of playmakers.

If/when Denard does come out of the game, he'll be relieved by redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy, a three-star dual threat type out of Texas. I call him a poor man's Tate Forcier because, well, he is: a scrambly, pass-first type lacking top-end athleticism or arm strength. Bellomy looked Totally Serviceable in the spring game this year throwing dump down passes. I said after the spring game:
Russell Bellomy came in as the nominal #2 quarterback. Despite my desire to see Gardner move to wide receiver, I'm not sure I want Bellomy as Denard's backup. He showed good pocket presence and some ability to make plays, but he has a high school arm and only decent accuracy. He's not a quality backup yet.
Unfortunately, that's probably where Michigan is at this year. Sacrifice all of your spare goats for Denard's health lest Michigan turn into Purdue with a better offensive line. Should Bellomy have to go in for an extended period of time this year, expect lots of under center, I-formation hand offs and roll outs. Bellomy may have the skillset to run the traditional West Coast offense with quick slants and hitches, but that will only get this team so far. It's Denard or bust, but it's been that way for the last two years already.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The return

Seeing as fall camp has officially started and I haven't written anything here in over two months--and nothing about football since April--it may be time for an update.

In the last few weeks, I moved from the sunny concrete jungle of West Los Angeles and have returned to Michigan to pursue my graduate degree at U of M--FWIW, I'm going to the School of Information. What this means for the blog moving forward is uncertain. No, I will not be attending press conferences and reporting on them. For that, you can continue visiting MGoBlog or whatever source of actual reporting you frequent. I'm expecting my course load to put a strain on my free time and hence my ability to post daily updates, but we'll see whether or not that's the case. Currently, my biggest obstacle is my new computer and lack of Adobe Photoshop (no Wet Owls? ps, Fall Camp!) and Illustrator (those play diagrams that have become my bread and butter around here). I'm working on getting those but as a broke, unemployed student, getting the Adobe suite is tough.

As for any new content that you might want to read, my review of NCAA 13 went up on PopMatters today (we're very timely there). I don't think the game is very good. The money quote:
It’s clear that barring a massive upgrade in AI development in the next few years, EA’s football series is kind of stuck, a problem largely brought on by the rules of football more so than any failing of the developer. The main issue facing football video games currently is that there are too many players. Each team fields 11 men, but the player only controls one, meaning the outcome of any play is dependent on whether or not your AI wide receiver can get open against AI cornerbacks, for example. There are obviously considerations with regards to play calls—running man-beating passing routes against man coverage and vice versa—but anyone who has ever played an EA football game knows that there are just times when the game decides that you’re not winning. And these problems extend beyond the skill position players: if your offensive linemen are unable to block the defensive line, your play call hardly matters.
That's it for now. As news starts to float out from practice, I'll start posting more regularly. If there's anything you want to see me cover, let me know via e-mail or in the comments. Otherwise, welcome back. Go Blue!