Alcohol, You Do Me Wrong
I was supposed to get home last night and bang out a Michigan preview following my last day of work at my old job. Instead, the partners took me out and half a bottle of Makers Mark later I was in no condition to drive, much less pen a literate preview of Michigan's season. I got up this morning and attempted to put something together, but the fates, and my own verboseness, conspired against me.
I'll be on a trip with Mrs. Brew celebrating our 1st aniversary for the next few days, returning to the keyboard officially on Monday. If there's internet access I'll post some updates. However, rest assured the game will be watched and comments will follow.
If you're looking to Preview Vandy, here you go. Stadium and Main has an insane amount of pre-game info links for your parusal.
I only managed to get through the Coaches, QB, and RBs. Sorry. Making matters matters worse, blogger ate my write on Lloyd Carr. But something is better than nothing. I'll be back in full force come monday.
Because the college football season starts today (8 hours and counting at the time of this writing) and because my usual superfulous background will largely be ignored by my preview hungry readers I'll get right to the nitty-gritty.
Good news: Our Offensive Coordinator has publicly acknowledged that this team will have to score points to win ball games (what a concept!). If this includes, and I think it will, downfield passes and use of a TE, I'm all for it. DeBord has promised to simplify the game plan, revamp our blocking schemes, and restart this offensive Hemi that sputtered all of last year. I've got faith he can do that.
Defensively, wholesale changes were made. Gone is Jim Herrmann and his soft zone. In is new DC Ron English. The former secondary coach has installed a similar yet far more aggressive defense for this year. As the DC he relinquished his hold of the CB's but maintained control over the safeties. The CB's are now coached by former Wisconsin DB's coach Ron Lee. Steve Strippling remains on as the Defensive Line coach, and with some changes in the athletes he gets to use should show why he managed to have Michigan State ranked first in the Big Ten and 5th nationally with 45 sacks in 2003. Finally, and critically, long time NFL linebackers coach Steve Szabo takes over the headless horsemen of the Michigan Linebacking corps. An unmittigated disaster last year, Szabo has plenty of talent to work with, but the question will be be he repair the damage that's already been done?
Michigan should expect to see the benefits of these changes come September 16, 2006. Because if Michigan's play hasn't improved by then, its going to be a long season. However, for the record, this is a very good coaching staff. The two main coordinators appear to have been given the green light in terms of aggressiveness. We'll have to see how long Lloyd stays on board with that.
Returning Starters: QB Chad Henne; RB Mike Hart; WR Steve Breaston; WR Mario Manningham; LT Jake Long; LG Adam Kraus; RT Rueben Riley; K Garrett Rivas
Third year quarterback Chad Henne has started every game under center for the Wolverines over the last two years. His first year was off the charts: 25 TD, 12 INTs, a 60% completion percentage, only one game where he threw below 50%, and over 2700 yards. He capped his year throwing 4 TD's and No INTs in the Rose Bowl.
Last year didn't go as planned. There was no running game. The Offensive Line couldn't stop a group of third graders on their way to lunch. The offensive schemes were so well known by the defenses that they were calling them out as soon as Michigan did. Henne got hammered by opposing defenses, officially getting slammed 24 times. He didn't post a single 300 yard passing game in 2005. Early in the season his passes were high, low, all over the damn place. He couldn't hold onto the ball on a 1 yard QB sneak. He was miserable in the loss to Wisconsin.
Statistically, Henne had a good year. He threw 23 TDs and only 8 INTs, an almost 3/1 ratio. Even though his passing yards were down, he did throw for over 2500 yards. This is a very good quarterback. While Brian correctly points out he throw a lot of wide receiver screens, those aren't his calls. Until the emergence of Manningham as a legit deep threat, Michigan was slow (but with sure hands). Everyone knew Steve Breaston wasn't capable of being that threat so they ganged up on Avant.
In Henne's defense I will say the following: 1) There weren't a lot of options for him to throw to early. It was either Avant, or, well, lessee, Avant. Breaston has not shown the ability to date to catch anything other than a punt or wide receiver screen. Limited options, limited results. 2) The play calling was horrendous. There was no creativity or originality in the offense last year. Hell, there wasn't much execution either. An offense cannot survive on screens alone. 3) Injuries. This goes along with 4) No running game. The line was decimated. Hart had one leg. Defenses tend to pick up on the fact that you've got one good receiver, a banged up running back, and no line.
In support of Henne, look at his last two games against quality opponents, OSU and Nebraska. 1 INT. 4 TDS. 493 passing yards. He controlled the offense. He was poised. He got rid of the ball when he should have. He argued with Carr on the sidelines, and won. In those games, if the refs open their eyes to see BLATANT PASS INTERFERENCE CALLS, or Carr lets him go for it against OSU, Michigan wins both. Henne was hitting his receivers where he should and looking off defensive backs. He was a winner at the end of the year regardless of the outcome.
What's most important to recognize from last year is Henne's prgression. He went from crap to outstanding as the year went on. He learned. He took more responsibility. He stopped depending on a single target the way he did in 2004. If the Line holds this year Henne will own the Big Ten. He is the best pure passer in the conference. Yes that means I think he's better than Drew Tate. Better game plans, healthy line, healthy running back = good things for all of us. Further, Henne stayed at school this summer to learn the offense, practice with his receivers, and even drop a little weight himself. He seems far more poised than he did a year ago and both coaches and teammates are raving about him. Look for big things from Chad this year.
You have to. Because after Chad there's no one else. Much like Notre Dame, Michigan is a one trick pony at QB. Jason Focier, a redshirt QB, has earned the nod as Henne's backup over true frosh David Cone. Forcier didn't see a snap last year and will likely not see anything other than mop up time this year. In short. hold your breath.
Mike Hart will determine how the year goes. Hart spent most of last year injured, banged up,and generally being a shell of himself. After coming in as a freshman and racking up almost 1500 yards in 8 starts as a freshman, Hart managed only 682 yards and 4 TDs last year. Kevin Grady, a heavyset freshman, was slow to adjust to the speed of the college game yet quick to take to th diet. Rumbling in at 245, he wa a step to slow for the big time and coughed the ball up on more than one noteable occassion. Uber-athlete Antonio Bass was thought to maybe-sorta-coulda do something last year but got the majority of his touches on goofy end-arounds or wide receiver handoffs. Jerome Jackson got 54 attempts and actually made the most of it with 3 TDs and 230 yards.
In short. The running game sucked last year. Blame the RBs. Blame the Line. Blame the coordinator. Blame whoevere you want. It wasn't good.
Chiefly responsible for the drop off was Mike Hart's ankle and hamstring. Now (hopefully) fully recovered, Hart looks to dominate the Big Ten this year. He's quick enough to make you look stupid. He's strong enough to run you over if he wants to. He's also Michigan's best pass protector behind the line. If he's healthy, he's the best back in the Big Ten. As he goes, so will our season.
Serving to spell Hart during game time will be the primary responsibility of Kevin Grady. Much has been made of his off season paunch reduction program, running the golf course, and intense study of the offense. Grady's dropped fifteen pounds, picked up the schemes, and is apparently running better than any time in his young Michigan career. Grady is a between the tackles type runner with the ability to turn the corner when called upon.
Backing him up will be two freshman, much hyped Carlos Brown and not-so-hyped Brandon Minor. Brown has been written up in this space before. He's got worlds of potential and Mercury's legs (the roman god Mercury, not Mercury Hayes' legs). Brandon Minor is a much less hyped, but very impressive looking tailback that Carr has crossed-his-heart-hope-to-die told us will see time. Even Craig Herbstreit's pimping him.