Friday, July 31, 2009

2009 Countdown: #64 Steve Watson

Name: Steve Watson
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 257 lbs.
High School: Mullen High School in Cherry Hills Village, CO
Position: Quick
Class: RS sophomore
Jersey Number: #81
Prediction for 2009: Spot duty on defense, special teams contributor

Watson came to Michigan as a tight end and remained there through last season. But when new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson showed up and needed DE/OLB hybrids to play the new Quick position in the 4-3 under, Watson moved over to defense; it didn't help that he was buried on the TE depth chart behind then-freshman Kevin Koger and then-sophomore Martell Webb. Watson got positive reviews during the spring, but it seems he's been left behind by a couple teammates and incoming freshmen. He might be able to earn just enough snaps to prevent a freshman like Craig Roh from burning a redshirt, but he probably won't contribute significantly on defense.

2009 Countdown: #65 Brandon Smith

Name: Brandon Smith
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 209 lbs.
High School: New Brunswick High School in New Brunswick, NJ
Position: Linebacker
Class: RS freshman
Jersey Number: #4
Prediction for 2009: Bench

Smith spent last year practicing at safety. Despite his efforts to stay there, his agility and speed remained a concern, so the coaching staff moved him to inside linebacker during spring ball. He currently sits outside the two-deep. The skills are there, but it's a big mental adjustment for him. I wouldn't expect to see him on the field this year unless he can help out on kickoff or punt coverage.

Fun fact: Smith changed his number from #28 to #4.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

2009 Countdown: #66 Brendan Gibbons

Name: Brendan Gibbons
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 229 lbs.
High School: Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, FL
Position: Kicker
Class: Freshman
Jersey Number: #34
Prediction for 2009: Kicker

Gibbons is a true freshman with a ghetto booty (see photo above). Garrett Rivas was a bit chunky, and he turned out to be pretty good, so hopefully that bodes well for Gibbons, who is 229 lbs*. I put the three potential kickers (Gibbons, Olesnavage, and Wright) together in the list because none of them has proven himself or separated himself from the others, so an injury to one might not cause much of a dropoff.

On a side note, if Gibbons wins the kicking job, Michigan will have a left-footed kicker and punter. I just blew your mind.

2009 Countdown: #67 Jason Olesnavage

Name: Jason Olesnavage
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 213 lbs.
High School: Ferndale High School in Ferndale, MI
Position: Kicker
Class: RS senior
Jersey Number: #92
Prediction for 2009: Kickoff duty

Olesnavage is a walk-on kicker who ended spring as the leading candidate for the kicking job. He's never played in a game and might not keep hold on the spot, but there is a strong possibility that he'll be the kickoff specialist this year.

2009 Countdown: #68 Bryan Wright

Name: Bryan Wright
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 217 lbs.
High School: Salem High School in Salem, OH
Position: Kicker
Class: RS junior
Jersey Number: #43
Prediction for 2009: Bench

Wright is a scholarship kicker who has suffered recently from a back injury. It was thought that he might take a medical scholarship and end his football career, but he's still kicking for the team. At this point, Wright is battling a couple other kickers for playing time, but it looks as if he'll be on the outside looking in.

2009 Countdown: #69 Elliott Mealer

Name: Elliott Mealer
Height: 6'6"
Weight: 299 lbs.
High School: Wauseon High School in Wauseon, OH
Position: Center/guard
Class: RS freshman
Jersey Number: #57
Prediction for 2009: Mop-up duty

Hardcore Michigan fans are well aware of Mealer's plight. In December 2007, he and his family were involved in a nasty automobile accident at Christmas. Mealer's father and girlfriend were killed and his brother was seriously injured. Elliott himself injured his shoulder and spent a good portion of 2008 recovering from the crash. He instantly became a fan favorite as Michigan fans, future Michigan teammates, and Michigan coaches rallied around Elliott and his brother.

Mealer redshirted in 2008 and got a slow start on the strength and conditioning program due to his injury. His situation is similar to that of Stephen Schilling, who suffered from a shoulder injury and mononucleosis early in his career. With the offensive line pretty well solidified for 2009, Mealer is battling for a spot on the two-deep at center or guard. He may get some time in mop-up duty, but it will probably be a couple years before Mealer sees significant playing time. I think I speak for all Michigan fans when I say we'll be rooting for him all the way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2009 Countdown: #70 Michael Cox

Name: Michael Cox
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 208 lbs.
High School: Avon Old Farms in Dorchester, MA
Position: Running back
Class: RS freshman
Jersey Number: #15
Prediction for 2009: A couple carries in mop-up duty

As with the true freshman running backs, several underclassman RBs' paths are blocked by three seniors and Michael Shaw. Cox is no exception, although I imagine he'll get a couple carries in mop-up duty or if Brandon Minor gets injured. Supposedly, Cox is almost a clone of Minor, although he's a tad bit smaller. In 2010, however, I expect Cox to be the bruiser in the backfield with all the electron-sized slots and running backs darting around him.

2009 Countdown: #71 Vincent Smith

Name: Vincent Smith
Height: 5'6"
Weight: 168 lbs.
High School: Pahokee High School in Pahokee, FL
Position: Running back
Class: Freshman
Jersey Number: #2
Prediction for 2009: Redshirt

Smith was the talk of the spring with fans seeing him as an underdog due to his size. He supposedly played well in practices, but insiders have warned that he's not nearly as advanced as some fans are hoping. With three seniors on the team, as well as underclassmen like Michael Shaw and Michael Cox, Smith will probably watch from the sideline this year.

2009 Countdown: #72 Bryant Nowicki

Name: Bryant Nowicki
Height: 6'9"
Weight: 325 lbs.
High School: John Glenn High School in Bay City, MI
Position: Offensive tackle
Class: RS Junior
Jersey Number: #72
Prediction for 2009: Mop-up duty

Nowicki is a walk-on who played the majority of the Miami (OH) game in 2008 when Mark Ortmann injured his elbow. He's played sparingly the past two seasons and while he's behind Ortmann, Huyge, Dorrestein, and Omameh on the depth chart, he could see some mop-up time or be inserted if there are injuries. As we saw last year, Rodriguez would rather play Nowicki than burn a freshman's redshirt.

Fun fact: Nowicki won the Egg Eating Contest at the Night of Champions earlier this year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

2009 Countdown: #73 Anthony Lalota

Name: Anthony Lalota
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 256 lbs.
High School: The Hun School in Princeton, NJ
Position: Defensive end
Class: Freshman
Jersey Number: #90
Prediction for 2009: Redshirt

Lalota enrolled early and took reps at the Quick position in the spring, but it seems he'll play in a three-point stance as a more traditional defensive end. He was 230 lbs. on the spring roster and apparently has put on 26 lbs. over the last seven months, so that's a start . . . but if he has indeed gained that much weight, it's probably not all muscle. Still, he's extremely raw and those reps at Quick probably took away from getting reps at DE. We might not see Lalota get many reps until 2011, which is when Adam Patterson and Greg Banks will both be gone.

Monday, July 27, 2009

2009 Football Roster

The 2009 football roster was released on today, which is exciting for nerds like me. Some notes on changes and arrivals:

Freshman Justin Turner is #2 and listed as a cornerback.

Steve Brown is now listed as a linebacker, so apparently the coaching staff considers the Spinner position to be a LB rather than a safety. That was somewhat expected.

Brandon Smith is now #4 after having previously been #28. He's also listed as a LB instead of a safety, which happened during spring practice.

Freshman Je'Ron Stokes shares the #4 jersey with Smith and Brandon Minor. Stokes' jersey number could change if he warrants playing time, but I always figured he'd redshirt this season, so perhaps this is just another sign pointing in that direction. (Two players can't be on the field at the same time while wearing the same number.)

Freshman Adrian Witty is #13 and listed as a cornerback.

Freshman Teric Jones is #14 and listed as a slot receiver.

Freshman Thomas Gordon is #15 and listed as a safety.

Freshman Denard Robinson is #16 and listed as a quarterback.

QB David Cone has switched numbers from #16 to #17.

Michael Shaw is now listed as a running back after previously having been listed as a wide receiver.

Redshirt sophomore Kelvin Grady (the former basketball player) is #19 and listed as a slot receiver.

Freshman Isaiah Bell is #26 and listed as a linebacker.

Freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint is #28 and listed as a running back.

Freshman Jeremy Gallon is #29 and listed as a slot receiver.

Troy Woolfolk is now a safety after previously playing cornerback.

Freshman Michael Schofield is #75.

Freshman Quinton Washington is #76.

Freshman Taylor Lewan is #77.

Freshman Craig Roh is #88 and listed as an outside linebacker (as are all of the candidates for the Quick position).

Greg Banks is now listed as a defensive tackle after previously having been a defensive end. He's only 266 lbs., which shows how different this defense will be from years past.

2009 Countdown: #74 Fitzgerald Toussaint

Name: Fitzgerald Toussaint
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 185 lbs.
High School: Liberty High School in Youngstown, OH
Position: Running back
Class: Freshman
Jersey Number: #28
Last year: 237 carries, 2243 yards, 9.46 YPC, 24 TD (high school)
Prediction for 2009: Redshirt

Toussaint should probably redshirt, unless he can provide some help in the return game. However, with three seniors graduating at the position and Michael Shaw being the only other back to see game action so far, it's possible that Toussaint will see limited action. Game experience is overrated at the running back position, however, so a redshirt would be prudent.

2009 Countdown: #75 Isaiah Bell

Isaiah Bell makes a tackle in the Under Armour All-American Game.

Listed at 6' and 209 lbs. by Rivals, reports on true freshman Isaiah Bell's size varied significantly throughout the recruiting process. His height was anywhere between 6' and 6'2" and he weighed from 200 lbs. up to 220 or 225. So I'm just going to assume he's 6'1" and 212.5 lbs. He comes to Michigan from Liberty High School in Youngstown, OH, and was the high school teammate of Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Ultimately rated as a linebacker by the scouting service, I have always thought Bell would make a better safety. He has tremendous ball skills when the football is in the air and he was also a good kick returner in high school. I'm sure his return days are over, but I'd like to see him roaming centerfield for Michigan in the next few years. If Greg Robinson and his hybrid-heavy defense stick around for a few years, Bell is probably headed for the "Spinner" position, which is a safety-linebacker combo (the same position that Steve Brown will occupy this fall). But with Brown entrenched as the starter and a couple early enrollees (Mike Jones, Brandin Hawthorne) getting reps there in the spring, I'd guess that Bell is headed for a redshirt this year. But as with the entire defensive backfield, one or two injuries could change that in a hurry.

2009 Countdown: #76 Teric Jones

Another true freshman from Cass Tech High School, Teric Jones arrives as a slot receiver or running back; he is most likely headed for the slot receiver position, but he could provide depth and versatility in the backfield if necessary. Jones is listed at 5'9" and 186 lbs., so he'll have enough size to take a bit of a beating if he plays some running back.

Jones will probably watch from the sideline for the entirety of the 2009 season, but he has excellent speed (he reportedly ran a 4.37 forty at last year's Army All-American combine) and considering Michigan's poor return teams last season, if Jones can help in the return game, the coaches will let him. However, I expect that last year's skill players will iron out their issues with fumbling and muffed punts, so that probably won't be necessary.

2009 Countdown: #77 Thomas Gordon

Thomas Gordon is a true freshman free safety from recently-established Michigan pipeline Cass Tech in Detroit. His Rivals profile listed him at 5'10" and 199 lbs., although that seems a bit generous, at least in the weight department. Gordon played quarterback at Cass Tech for the entirety of his career until his senior year, when he also took over their starting free safety job.

Being a recent convert to the position, as well as being undersized, Gordon is almost surely headed for a redshirt in 2009. But because of a lack of depth in the defensive backfield, if there are any injuries at all, Gordon might find himself forced into playing time. Gordon's scholarship offers came mostly from MAC schools plus the two in-state powers, Michigan and MSU. I would find it surprising if Gordon plays a significant role on defense at any point in his Michigan career. He's a bit small, and late-high school or early-college position changes typically take a bite out of any chances to make an impact early.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Justin Feagin, ex-Wolverine

Michigan quarterback/slot receiver Justin Feagin has been dismissed from the program, according to a statement released by Rich Rodriguez. The statement gave no indication of the reason for the dismissal, merely stating that it was a "violation of team rules." Rumors are circulating that it's a particular action, not a "he kept falling asleep in team meetings" sort of thing. I won't speculate any further until those rumors turn into actual reports.

Anyway, Feagin was a late addition to the 2008 recruiting class, jumping on board only after Rodriguez took the helm. He needed a dual-threat quarterback, and Feagin wanted a shot to play quarterback instead of playing defensive back at a place like Miami. During the disastrous 2008 season, Feagin played sparingly at quarterback in relief of Nick Sheridan and Steve Threet, never being allowed to throw a pass. It boggled my mind that Rodriguez wouldn't allow Feagin to throw the ball even once when Michigan was down against Ohio State, but it happened. Feagin made a seemingly permanent move to slot receiver once Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson hopped on board in the 2009 class, but he was almost surely destined for riding the bench behind Martavious Odoms, Terrence Robinson, and perhaps others.

Moving forward, Feagin is at least the twelfth player to be dismissed or transfer since Rodriguez's arrival. Mallett, Boren, Hill, Babb, Chambers, McGuffie, Horn, Clemons, O'Neill, Wermers, and Threet are the others; Marcus Witherspoon enrolled at Rutgers, but technically, I don't know that he was ever admitted to Michigan. Ten of those departures have occurred since the beginning of the 2008 season. I'm sure that frequency will dwindle, but as I'm sure we all know, a team can't survive with 10 players leaving every year and a maximum of 25 incoming players per year. Something has to give.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Austin White, Wolverine

Yesterday morning on Sam Webb's radio program, Livonia running back Austin White committed to Michigan. I wrote up a scouting report back in March that will hopefully serve as somewhat informative if you're looking for that sort of thing.

White is the sixteenth commit in the 2010 recruiting cycle and possibly the last running back. It's quite possible that White saw players like Brandon Gainer and Eduardo Clements high on Michigan and realized that if either one committed, Michigan might not take on White, at least not as a running back (White could possibly play WR or DB, if necessary).

At this point, Michigan might take on one other running back or stick with White and Stephen Hopkins. There are a few backs available that Michigan would almost surely take regardless of numbers, such as Clements, Mack Brown, and Brennan Clay. I do not think Gainer falls in that same category. In my opinion, Gainer is overrated as a prospect and not good enough to warrant a scholarship with so many defensive needs still outstanding. However, in a semi-recent interview, Fred Jackson said we "have five wide receivers in this class" which hinted to me that the coaching staff views both Tony Drake and Drew Dileo as slot receivers. The team is losing three running backs (Brandon Minor, Kevin Grady, and Carlos Brown) to graduation, so don't be surprised if Michigan takes on one more running back.

White is #23 in the following highlights:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dann O'Neill, ex-Wolverine (update)

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, former Michigan tackle Dann O'Neill will be playing for the Western Michigan Broncos. He has an older brother there who plays tight end. I would assume that O'Neill is their most highly regarded recruit in the short history of regarding recruits, but I don't care enough about WMU to research the topic.

Also, this makes Anonymous in the comments section either a liar or a jokester or just plain gullible.

Of players who were on Michigan's roster last season, there's a long list of departures:

S Artis Chambers to Ball State
WR Toney Clemons to Colorado
WR Zion Babb to ??????
RB Avery Horn to ??????
LB Marcus Witherspoon to Rutgers
LB Taylor Hill to Youngstown State
OG Kurt Wermers to ??????
OT Dann O'Neill to Western Michigan
QB Steven Threet to Arizona State

I'm sure much of the attrition has been due to the new regime. But no matter how you slice it, you can't lose nine players early and field a team with any sort of depth. (I'm not counting Andre Criswell and Carson Butler, since they played for four years.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2009 Countdown: #78 Adrian Witty

Adrian Witty (left), Denard Robinson (center)

True freshman cornerback Adrian Witty committed to Michigan on National Signing Day, along with prize recruit Denard Robinson. Despite being recognized as "the other guy from Deerfield Beach," Witty could potentially be an impact corner down the road. At 5'9" and 175 lbs., he's approximately the same size as Boubacar Cissoko was as a freshman last year.

Fortunately for Witty, there's a dearth of scholarship players in the defensive backfield. Unfortunately for Witty, he's probably still headed for a redshirt this year. He missed his junior year and a bit of his senior year due to a torn ACL. But he's a track star with decent ball skills who, in my opinion, will be an impact player at Michigan before his career is over. Whenever Donovan Warren departs, I think Witty could make a charge for the open cornerback spot.

2009 Countdown: #79 Taylor Lewan

Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan reminds many (including me) of former Michigan player and former #1 draft pick Jake Long. Both are tall (6'7"), agile for their size, and relentless blockers. Extending that comparison, Lewan should redshirt in 2009 and when the Lions are the worst team in the NFL in 2013, Lewan can be chosen #1 and move an hour east and wear Honolulu blue.

Okay, it's over the top to expect Lewan to replicate Long's career. But I do expect him to be a good player in Rich Rodriguez's zone blocking scheme. He could push for playing time in 2010 when he'll battle Patrick Omameh, Ricky Barnum, Mark Huyge, and Perry Dorrestein for a starting spot. As for now, you can see in the picture above that he has some filling out to do. He also didn't play much offense until his senior year, so his technique is going to need refinement. I will be surprised if he starts any sooner than his third year.

2009 Countdown: #80 Quinton Washington

Quinton Washington will be a true freshman offensive guard in the fall. He's 6'3", 315 lbs. . . . and a true freshman. As with Schofield, it is extremely rare for a true freshman offensive lineman to contribute, especially when he's blocked by four guys with starting experience (David Moosman, Steve Schilling, Tim McAvoy, and John Ferrara). That roadblock might disappear somewhat after this season, with the graduation of Moosman and McAvoy and the impending decisions for Schilling and Ferrara of whether to return for fifth year status. Expect him to have only slightly better seats than you for Michigan's home games this year.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An indictment of Michigan's defensive coaching?

This afternoon I happened to be flipping through The Wolverine's season preview for the 2008 season - notice I said 2008, not 2009 - and I came across this quote from graduated defensive end Tim Jamison:

"That's one thing I noticed about the new coaches. We'd be doing a drill in spring practice, and they would tell me how I made a great play. I would say, 'I didn't use my hands or I stepped with the wrong foot.' And they would say no, I did great. I am always so hard on myself. I know you can't be perfect, but I'm always trying to improve the details so that I can be my best and help this team win."

I try not to read too much into isolated quotes, but this one stuck with me based on Michigan's historically bad defense last year. The entire article is about Jamison's desire for greatness and perfection, so his acknowledgement of fundamental errors might be expected from someone with such ambition. But that is not a trait that all players possess. Some players don't notice - or simply don't care - when they make mistakes.

Hopefully, the entire team is made up of players who strive to be better. But what if they don't? It slightly disturbs me that Jamison's coaches would have insisted that he made a great play when he knows he could have done better. I'm assuming those comments would have come from defensive line coach Bruce Tall or defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, the latter of which is also now departed.

Michigan's defensive production was not up to par last year. The Wolverines had three senior, multi-year starters last year and the only non-senior (Brandon Graham) was the best player. Two seniors - Morgan Trent and Brandon Harrison - started in the defensive backfield, along with talented but underachieving Steve Brown and former 5-star recruit Donovan Warren. The linebacking corps was admittedly short on talent and experience, but it's not rare for a team to have one unit lacking those things.

I hope this comment isn't indicative of Michigan's defensive coaches in general. Coaches, like Jamison, should strive for perfection; that doesn't mean they should yell and scream when a kid makes a tiny error, but fundamental errors should be fixed - that's why they're fundamentals. I'm perfectly happy with where Michigan's offense stands, but the jury's still out on Michigan's defensive position coaches. I wasn't impressed with much last year, and they'll have even less to work with in 2009 now that Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson, Morgan Trent, Brandon Harrison, Charles Stewart, John Thompson, and Austin Panter have headed off to pro football or insurance sales.

2009 Countdown: #81 Michael Schofield

Offensive lineman Michael Schofield, from Orland Park, IL, is scheduled to begin practicing with the Wolverines this summer. Listed at 6'6" and 272 lbs., he's probably headed for the tackle position; considering that his height seems to be exaggerated by the recruiting services, perhaps he could slide inside to guard. Either way, Schofield is the least prepared of the freshman lineman to contribute in the fall. With every OL starter returning from last year, plus players like Mark Huyge and a handful of 2008 recruits coming off redshirt years, Schofield is almost certainly headed for a redshirt in 2009.

2009 Countdown: #82 Cameron Gordon

Wide receiver Cameron Gordon will be a true freshman in the fall. A high school teammate of Devin Gardner's at Inkster, Gordon stands 6'2" and 211 lbs. He caught 49 passes for 863 yards as a senior, but also made 126 tackles with 5 sacks and 5 interceptions from the linebacker position. He said he wanted a shot at playing WR, but I think he'll eventually end up at linebacker (he could play safety, but I think he'll be too big).

The potential position switch notwithstanding, Gordon is blocked for playing time by several wide receivers for the time being. He has good hands but lacks the ability to separate from college defensive backs, so I think he's the most likely freshman to receive a redshirt this year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2009 Countdown: #83 David Cone

David Cone starts out the list. At 6'7", 222 lbs. and painfully unable to play quarterback at this level, Cone is extremely unlikely to see meaningful snaps in 2009. At best, he's probably fifth on the QB depth chart behind Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, and Justin Feagin. And based on what I saw in the spring game, I'd put walk-on Jack Kennedy ahead of Cone, too. If Cone takes a snap this season, it's because we're up 76-0 on Delaware State . . . or it's because we're getting blown out and the redshirt junior probably won't get offered a fifth year.

Countdown to the season

Over the next several weeks, I will be revealing a list of Michigan's most important players for the 2009 season. The list will include scholarship players and a few walk-ons who are likely to contribute. These players were chosen based on several factors, including:

1. How frequently they will see the field
2. Depth at the position
3. The drop-off between each player and his probable backup
4. Ability and projected production
5. If said player were injured or suspended for any reason, how much would it affect the team?