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Posts Tagged ‘Jake Long’

Taylor Lewan drafted 11th by Tennessee Titans

Friday, May 9th, 2014


Lewan - Titans

Taylor Lewan was a first round lock, but the question heading into the 2014 NFL Draft was whether he would be the first, second, or third offensive tackle selected. The answer came just before 9:30 Eastern time on Thursday evening when Lewan followed Auburn’s Greg Robinson (second overall) and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews (sixth), as the 11th pick by the Tennessee Titans.

Most mock drafts had Lewan going sixth or ninth, so he fell slightly, but still becomes the first Michigan player drafted in the first round since Brandon Graham was taken 13th by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. He’s also the highest Michigan draft pick since fellow left tackle Jake Long was the first overall pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2008 and was the first Big Ten player selected in this year’s draft.

The question now is where Lewan fits at Tennessee. Michael Roos has started 143 games at left tackle since he was drafted out of Eastern Washington in 2005. He was a Pro Bowler in 2008. On the other side, the Titans just locked up right tackle Michael Oher, who has started all 80 games since he was drafted out of Mississippi in 2009, to a four-year, $20 million deal with $9.5 guaranteed. One possibility would be to slide Oher to guard, but last year’s first round pick, Alabama guard Chance Warmack, started all 16 games at right guard in 2013 and left guard Andy Levitre has started all 80 games of his career. Lewan is walking into a loaded offensive line, so there’s a chance the Titans could use him as a trade piece later in the draft.

Prior to the draft, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah listed Tennessee’s needs as cornerback, running back, quarterback, and offensive tackle, in that order. He notes Roos’ age, 32, as the reason for needing a tackle, but also says they should look to draft one somewhere around the fourth round. In other words, one that wouldn’t necessarily be ready to start from day one. Roos is in the final year of his contract, but Lewan certainly won’t be happy waiting a year to step into the lineup.

Lewan joins former Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin on the Titans roster. Martin was drafted by the Titans in the third round, 82nd overall, in the 2012 draft and has started two games over the past two seasons, recording 52 tackles (33 solo) and four sacks.

The draft continues with rounds two and three tonight at 6:30 p.m. and concludes with rounds four through seven on Saturday at noon. Michael Schofield and Jeremy Gallon will likely find out their destinations on Saturday, but there’s a chance Schofield could find his way into the third round.

Michigan-UConn game preview

Friday, September 20th, 2013


Seven years ago Michigan hosted Ball State in an odd November non-conference matchup. The Wolverines were 9-0 at that point, ranked second in the nation, but on that day the Brady Hoke-led Cardinals almost pulled of a shocker. In front of a stunned Big House crowd that Michigan squad, led by Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, Jake Long, LaMarr Woodley, David Harris, and Leon Hall, nearly suffered a demoralizing defeat. Henne threw a pick-six. Hart fumbled for the first time in two years. The defense gave up nearly 300 yards.

Hoke had some good teams at Ball State, but that wasn’t one of them.

Following the game, Henne acknowledged that with a showdown at Ohio State looming the team wasn’t completely focused.

“I think that is a lot of the reason why we weren’t focused,” Henne said. “Coming into the game, people were reading too many press clippings.”

Woodley agreed.

Quick Facts
Rentschler Field – 8pm EST – ABC
UConn Head Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 117-73-1 (10-14 at UConn)
Offensive Coordinator: TJ Weist (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Hank Hughes (1st season*)
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
Last Season: 5-7
Last Meeting: UM 30 – UConn 10 (2010)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 1-0
Record at UConn: First meeting
Record vs AAC Teams: Michigan leads 6-0
Brady Hoke vs AAC Teams: First meeting

“Coming into this game, everybody was talking about the hype about Michigan and Ohio State, and it kind of overlooked a team like Ball State. If you disrespect a team, they’re going to come out and give it their all.”

Michigan responded with a 34-3 thumping of Indiana, holding the Hoosiers to just 131 total yards and then played one of the all-time great games in the history of The Game a week later in Columbus, falling 42-39 to the top-ranked Buckeyes.

The point is that even great teams suffer letdowns every now and then. Ball State had a chance to tie the game twice in the final minutes just like Akron had a chance to win the game on the final play last Saturday. Michigan was fortunate to come out with a victory and the man who was on the other side of that 2006 affair knows that all too well.

All eyes will be on how this team responds this week against UConn. With all the negativity surrounding the team following last week’s performance, the Wolverines shouldn’t need anything else to fire them up, but perhaps the fact that it’s a primetime game on ABC rather than a noon start on Big Ten Network will be enough.

UConn is probably a team of a similar level as the Indiana team the 2006 squad rebounded with, and while no one is expecting this Michigan defense to put forth as dominant a performance, the expectations remain for a big, convincing win.

The Huskies enter with an 0-2 record, having lost to Towson of the FCS and Maryland, both at home. The Towson game was closer than the score indicates, but the Tigers racked up nearly 400 yards of offense including 201 on the ground. The Maryland game wasn’t quite as close as the final score shows as the Terrapins widened a 13-10 halftime lead to 32-13 before UConn scored with a few minutes to play.

Paul Pasqualoni is in his third season in Storrs and Husky Nation is already calling for his head after going 5-7 in each of his first two seasons. Prior to taking over in 2011, he spent 14 years at Syracuse, going 107-59-1 with six bowl victories, as well as six seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. In fact, as head coach of Syracuse, he went 1-1 against Michigan, beating the Wolverines 38-28 in 1998 and losing 18-13 in 1999.

In that 1998 matchup, Pasqualoni had Donovan McNabb at quarterback, a luxury he doesn’t currently have. Can he pull off the upset in front of the largest crowd in UConn history? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs UConn offense: When UConn has the ball

Chandler Whitmer has thrown 19 interceptions and 12 touchdowns in the past 14 games (Mark L. Baer, USA Today Sports)

Following a disappointing 2012 season in which the Huskies ranked 118th nationally in scoring offense, Pasqualoni brought in Cincinnati wide receivers coach TJ Weist to run the offense. Weist spent four seasons on Gary Moeller’s staff in the early 1990s, first as a volunteer graduate assistant and then as receivers coach, guiding the likes of Desmond Howard and working alongside Greg Mattison.

He inherited seven returning starters including junior quarterback Chandler Whitmer who completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 2,659 yards last season. But it was his 9-to-16 touchdown-to-interception rate that Weist is hoping to significantly improve. The results are mixed so far this season with 555 yards on 60.8 percent completions and three touchdowns, but he has also thrown three more picks. Against Maryland last week put up a lot of yards (349), but threw two interceptions and just one touchdown.

His main target is junior Shakim Phillips who has 15 receptions for 255 yards and all three touchdowns so far. By comparison, Jeremy Gallon has 18 receptions for 297 yards and four touchdowns through three games. The former four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant originally attended Boston College before transferring to UConn and sitting out the 2011 season. However, he strained a hamstring at the end of the Maryland game, so while he insists he will play he might not be at full speed. Fellow junior Geremy Davis is the only other Huskie with double digit receptions so far with 10 catches for 154 yards. He was UConn’s leading receiver last season with 44 receptions for 608 yards, but caught just one touchdown pass.

In the backfield, Lyle McCombs is the feature back for the third straight year, but is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on 36 attempts so far. He managed just 53 yards on 19 attempts against Maryland last week. In 2011, he broke the 1,000-yard mark with 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns, but those numbers declined last season due to injuries and off the field troubles. No other back on the team has more than three carries this season, so it’s clear McCombs will be the workhorse once again. He’s also the team’s third-leading receiver with eight catches.

Deshon Foxx plays the Dennis Norfleet role, a slot guy with four receptions for 54 yards and three rushes for 21 yards. Weist is counting on Foxx to be the speedy playmaker the offense needs with the ability to take a speed sweep for a big play.

Shakim Phillips is the danger man for Michigan's secondary to contain (Stephen Slade)

The offensive line returns four starters from last season. Sixth-year senior Jimmy Bennett is the left tackle with 16 career starts, while redshirt senior Kevin Friend brings 29 career starts to the right tackle position. However, Friend is questionable this week with a high ankle sprain, which could force Xavier Hemingway into his spot. The redshirt sophomore was pushed around the past two weeks, allowing a pair of sacks against Towson and a safety against Maryland. If Friend is out tomorrow, look for Michigan to pick on the right side of the Husky line.

Tyler Bullock, who started the last eight games of 2012, was supposed to be the starting center, but a leg injury has forced UConn to insert Penn State transfer Alex Mateas into the center position. He was routinely pushed back by Maryland’s defensive line last week. Bullock did play some at right guard at the end of the game last week, but it remains to be seen whether he will see more time this week. Left guard Steve Greene has 20 career starts under his belt, while right guard Gus Cruz started five games last season.

While the UConn offensive line has a lot of starting experience, it was the 121st-ranked rush offense last season and currently ranks 122nd this season. If there was ever a game for Michigan’s defensive line to get off the schneid it is this one. The Huskies have allowed 10 sacks through two games.

Whitmer operates mostly out of the shotgun with one back offset and one tight end. Weist likes to line up three receivers to one side and one on the other, which typically results in a throw to the single receiver, Phillips. This is how Phillips scored a 75-yard touchdown last week. Maryland used a blitz-heavy scheme to pressure Whitmer and attack Hemingway, which is typically Mattison’s style, but we haven’t seen it the past two weeks. After getting torched by Kyle Pohl a week ago by sitting back, expect Mattison to dial up the blitz early and often this week.

Michigan offense vs UConn defense: When Michigan has the ball

Both Maryland and Towson moved the ball well against the UConn defense, and both did so with a fairly balanced attack. Towson passed for 193 yards and rushed for 201, while Maryland gained 277 through the air and 224 on the ground. The 212.4 rushing yards allowed per game ranks 104th nationally and both the Tigers and Terps had individual rushers go over 100 yards. Maryland quarterback CJ Brown gained 122 yards on 16 carries, while running back Brandon Ross was five yards short of 100 on 18 carries. Towson running back Terrance West gained 156 yards on 36 carries.

Only five starters return form last year’s UConn defense which ranked ninth nationally in total defense. Three starters from that unit that are no longer around were drafted this past April, most notably tackle Kendall Reyes who was selected 49th overall by the San Diego Chargers.

The leading player on this year’s defense is the only returning starting linebacker, Yawin Smallwood. He led the Huskies with 120 tackles last season and ranked second with 15 tackles for loss. He already has 30 tackles in the first two games, which is twice as many as the next closest. Ryan Donohue and Graham Stewart are the other starters. You and I cheered for Stewart a couple years ago when, while playing for Florida, he blocked an Ohio State punt and returned it for a touchdown in the Gator Bowl. He played in 12 games for the Gators that season before transferring to UConn a year ago. Donohue is a Maryland transfer who played in 20 games for the Terps in 2009-10.

Linebacker Yawin Smallwood has 30 tackles in the first two games (Stephen Slade)

The four-man front includes redshirt senior tackle Shamar Stephen who has played in 34 career games. He ranks third on the team with 14 tackles so far this season. The other tackle is is redshirt sophomore Julian Campenni who started two games last season. End Tim Willman leads the team with 1.5 tackles for loss this season. He started the final game of 2012 and earned the starting role this year, while redshirt junior Angelo Pruitt is the other end.

The secondary is led (on the stat-sheet) by redshirt freshman safety Obi Melifonwu who has 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception so far. Free safety Ty-Meer Brown is the most veteran of the unit with 19 career starts. He has nine tackles and a fumble recovery on the young season. The corners are senior Taylor Mack and redshirt junior Byron Jones. Mack has the team’s only other interception this season.

Last week, UConn played Maryland conservatively, intent on not giving up the big play, which they failed to do. The Huskies didn’t blitz once and mostly sat back in a quarters or cover two defense. Against both Maryland and Towson, UConn’s linebackers were susceptible to the run fake, getting drawn up and allowing space behind them, so look for Michigan to take advantage of the play action.

UConn hasn’t sacked the quarterback yet this season, so the Michigan offensive line – which might be shuffled this week – has an opportunity to perform well. Maryland had good success running the zone read and inverted veer, which Michigan doesn’t do as much with Gardner, but has success with especially later in the game.

The other third: Special Teams

Redshirt senior Kicker Chad Chirsten has made all three field goal attempts with a long of 34. He converted 14-of-21 last season and has a career high of 50. He also handles kickoff duties. Last week, only one kickoff resulted in a touchback, so that could be beneficial for Dennis Norfleet. Fellow redshirt senior Cole Wagner was a second team All-Big East selection last season with a 40.5 yards per punt average. Through two games this season he has already punted 15 times and is averaging just 37.5 yards.

Phillips and Foxx are the kick returners. Neither has broken one yet, but Phillips has a long of 39 yards. Freshman receiver Brian Lemelle is the only Husky who has returned a punt – two for two yards.

Prediction

A more focused Michigan team will take the field tomorrow night looking to atone for a poor performance last week. Devin Gardner will be crisp like he was against Central Michigan and Notre Dame. Michigan will look to get Fitzgerald Toussaint established early to set up the play action. Later in the game, the offense will mix in the zone read and inverted veer and Gardner will have a big day with his feet and arm.

The defense will be more aggressive rather than sitting back and letting Whitmer pick them apart. It might give up a couple of big plays, but overall it will keep the UConn offense off balance and result in the best performance of the season to date, piling up several sacks.

The nation will be watching to see just how Michigan responds from the Akron letdown. Everybody wants to know if this team is as good as it looked in the first two weeks or if those were just a mirage. A bye week follows, so Michigan will play with a chip on its shoulder and win convincingly.

Michigan 45 – UConn 20

The Michigan Medley discusses the importance of Lewan’s return

Thursday, January 10th, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan announced in a press conference that he would return to school for his senior season. It came as a surprise to nearly everybody as the 6’8″, 309-pound junior was projected to be a high first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. It’s rare for a player of his caliber to forego what would have certainly been a large paycheck, but it’s very refreshing to see.

During the Lloyd Carr tenure, especially as his career went on, it seemed that making the jump was pretty much the norm, though Jake Long, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart all stayed for their senior season. Long, like Lewan, was a sure-fire high draft pick and parlayed the gamble to come back into the top overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Lewan has the potential to do the same as long as he can avoid the injury bug.

Lewan proved his NFL potential by shutting down Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl

It’s always a risky move to put on hold an NFL contract for one more year of college ball. Just ask USC quarterback Matt Barkley who would have likely been a first round pick last season, but chose to return and suffered through a poor and injury-riddled season that will likely hurt his draft stock this April. On the other hand, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck did the same a year ago and it payed off.

What’s most impressive in my opinion is the reasons Lewan stated for his decision. For one, he loves college, and that was evident more than ever during Wednesday night’s basketball game against Nebraska when Lewan got up in front of the band and led them in The Victors. Secondly, he stated that he has unfinished business, having not achieved a Big Ten title yet in his career. Third, Michigan has a long tradition of great offensive linemen such as Jon Jansen and Steve Hutchinson, in addition to Long, who have stayed through their senior years and still went on to long and productive NFL careers. Lewan realized that and what a special opportunity it is to play for Michigan.

“If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, there’s a tradition here and there’s something you want to be a part of,” Lewan said. “And if I do what I need to do, I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long, but you only get one more year of college.”

The other reason he gave for returning is the most telling and the most important: he wanted to be a leader the way last year’s senior offensive lineman, David Molk, was for the younger guys on the team. Brady Hoke has brought in a great haul of offensive linemen to fill a void that was left thin by the previous regime. While the young guys such as Kyle Kalis, Blake Bars, Ben Braden, and Erik Magnuson, as well as this year’s incoming class, are extremely talented, perhaps nothing is more valuable than being able to grow and learn alongside an All-American to see what it takes to become one and what it takes to be a lock for the first round of the NFL Draft.

The foundation that was put in place by Janson and Hutchinson and Long and Molk has now transcended three coaching staffs and personifies exactly what it means to be a Michigan Man. Had Lewan chosen to make the leap, no one would have blamed him for doing so, but it would have left next year’s offensive line extremely young and inexperienced. That’s not a recipe for success in college football. His return provides leadership in addition to talent and it sets an example for the talented young guys.

“Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, I want to be a part of their lives for one more year and help them develop into something where they can possibly be in my position in a couple years,” Lewan said.

Lewan’s return is probably the best news Michigan could have received this offseason – better than any recruit Hoke will sign on Feb. 6 – because it will have both an instant impact next season and a residual impact on the future of the offensive line. Bravo to Lewan for embodying what college football is supposed to be about rather than simply using it as a stepping stone to the riches of the NFL.

The State of Michigan Football (for Dummies)

Sunday, August 29th, 2010


Being a Michigan fan that grew up in Ohio and currently lives in New York, I’m constantly bombarded with ridicule from friends and family about the state of the Michigan football program.

“Wow, Michigan has really fallen apart; I don’t think they’ll ever be the same,” one will say, or “Don’t you wish you had a quality coach like Tressel?” another will ask.

In passing conversation, especially with an Ohio State fan, it’s impossible to adequately describe the perfect storm that has been Michigan football the past two seasons.

So as we enter Week 1 of the 2010 college football season, let’s put into words how Michigan’s recent demise, while frustrating, is not quite as bad as it seems.

Be Careful What You Wish For

On the surface, it’s easy to pronounce, “Carr never had a losing season and Rodriguez has losing seasons in each of his first two years, therefore, Rodriguez is a terrible coach and must be fired.”

Yet, a little critical thinking will tell you that there’s more to it than that. The blame for the past two seasons should be as much on former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin as on Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. It was Martin, after all, who decided to take Michigan down a completely new path to modernity following Carr’s retirement after the 2007 season.

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

Carr was a conservative coach who continued the success of his mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, combining with Bo and Gary Moeller to guide the program to 40 straight winning seasons and 33 straight bowl games. His teams were never going to go out and put up 60 points or step on an opponent’s throat while it was down. But they were never going to get blown out either.

That was both a blessing and a curse. Carr’s safe approach, whether it was punting on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 45 with a minute and-a-half left in the half, or running three straight times to wind down the clock late in the game while clinging to a two-point lead, worked out more often than not. However, in the few instances when it gave the opponent enough time to score before the half, or gave the opponent the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning score, it was enraging. Michigan fans were constantly calling for Carr to stop being so conservative and some were even calling for him to be fired.

When Martin went out and hired an offensive innovator from West Virginia, some Michigan fans were disappointed that he didn’t get former Michigan offensive lineman Les Miles, while others were intrigued by the notion of the spread offense in Ann Arbor.

Martin knew upon hiring Rodriguez that, while he was an offensive genius, that coaching IQ fit a certain system. His style of coaching doesn’t mesh with the 320-pound offensive linemen and statuesque quarterbacks of Michigan past. He needs smaller, quicker offensive linemen and dual-threat quarterbacks. Whether you think that’s the sign of a good coach or not, that’s what Martin hired.

Right off the bat, Michigan fans expecting a carry-over from the Schembechler/Moeller/Carr regime were in for a letdown. That blame cannot be pinned on Rodriguez.

An Empty Cupboard Won’t Yield a Feast

Carr officially retired following the 2007 season, but he seemingly checked out a couple of years prior. He first hinted at calling it quits prior to 2007 and many believe that had Michigan beaten Ohio State in 2006 and advanced to the National Championship game, Carr’s exit would have come then.

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

He entered 2007 with a senior four-year-starter at quarterback (Chad Henne) and a hot-shot freshman (Ryan Mallett) backing him up. Part of Carr’s bait to hook Mallett, the number two quarterback in the 2006 high school class, was that the job was his when Henne graduated and Carr wouldn’t recruit a quarterback in the 2007 class.

Mallett, however, had trouble adjusting to Ann Arbor, butting heads with Carr during his freshman season, while being thrust into playing time during Henne’s injury-plagued senior season. By all accounts, Mallett intended to return home following that season regardless of who the coach was in 2008.

Following that season, Henne graduated along with four-year starting running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long (the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). Junior wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington chose to enter the Draft and left guard Adam Kraus graduated, leaving Rodriguez with just a handful of returning starters on offense, none of which were suited for his offense.

The coaching transition was further slowed when Rodriguez lost out on Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and offensive lineman Justin Boren bolted for Ohio State, bad-mouthing the program on his way out.* Pryor’s talents fit Rodriguez’s system and would have made some difference in 2008 and Boren certainly had the talent, but wasn’t committed to working hard enough for Rodriguez’s system.

Instead, Rodriguez was left with less talent and experience on offense than the majority of college football. His choice at quarterback was a freshman (Steven Threet) or a walk-on junior (Nick Sheridan), neither of which had any game experience and neither was suited for Rodriguez’s system. That alone wouldn’t have doomed the Wolverines had there been an experienced supporting cast to make up for it.

The best running back Rodriguez had was also a true freshman, Sam McGuffie, a Carr recruit who would have redshirted in any normal situation. The top receiver was a true freshman as well, Martavious Odoms, one of Rodriguez’s first recruits at Michigan who is more suited to be a supporting receiver rather than the lead role.

It’s certainly no stretch to say that no team in college football history has succeeded with freshmen starting at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, no matter how highly-touted they are coming out of high school. It’s also no stretch to say that no coach in the country could have fared well with what Rodriguez had to work with in 2008.

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Essentially, Rodriguez had two choices: to design a completely new playbook to fit the talents of the players Carr left behind or to begin installing his spread ‘n shred offense.

The former might have yielded another win or two that season, allowing Threet and Sheridan to be drop-back passers and McGuffie to run for three yards and a cloud of dust. Yet it would have set back the progression of the offense Rodriguez was going to install – the one he made his living on in working his way up from Glennville State to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia and, ultimately, to Michigan.

The latter would at least get that progression started for Odoms and the rest of the players recruited by Rodriguez specifically for that offense.

Again, keep in mind that Martin didn’t hire a coach who then surprised everyone by running some wacky offense that no one knew about. Martin knew when he hired Rodriguez that he was essentially a system coach and the best in his field.

To expect that system to work from Day 1 is ludicrous even if he had Henne, Hart, and Long. Simply put, Michigan didn’t have the right players and that’s not Rodriguez’s fault.

Imagine if Schwinn Bicycle Company hired a new CEO who decided the company was going to start making airplanes. While the company is great at making bikes, handlebars and spokes will only fly so far. Mr. CEO would have to begin acquiring the necessary components to build airplanes and it wouldn’t happen overnight.

In the world of college football, players stay in a system for four or five years, making the roster turnover a slow process. It’s impossible to just get rid of 100-plus players of the old regime and bring in 100-plus of your guys. It takes four or five years to turn over the roster, and in theory, the results should progress each year.

By planting the seeds of his offense from Day 1, Rodriguez began to water the roots of his system.

In 2009, Rodriguez was able to land two quarterbacks that fit his offensive style, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Threet transferred to Arizona State when he realized he was a square peg in a round hole and Sheridan was relegated to third string.

In one sense, Rodriguez has progressed with Odoms and the rest of the returnees from 2008 already having a knowledge base of the system. But on the other hand, he was back at square one, having to start another true freshman at quarterback.

Even so, the offense showed marked year-over-year improvement, going from 20.2 points and 290.8 yards per game in 2008 to 29.5 points and 384.5 yards per game in 2009. It just lacked consistency as a result of inexperience.

Reporters With an Axe to Grind

The next fodder for the anti-Rodriguez crowd is the allegation of cheating which was exposed by the Detroit Free Press last August. While all kinds of conspiracy theories exist, the fact is that the Free Press’ reports were nothing short of slanted, biased and exaggerated.

The paper’s writers, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, succeeded in creating a national sense of animosity towards Rodriguez and ego-boosting by fans of other schools.

The NCAA’s probe, released in February found five violations that in any other situation would be considered the minor, slap-on-the-wrist types that are constantly self-reported or overlooked by other schools. However, as a result of the “Freep Jihad,” the NCAA came down hard, finding five so-called major violations.

While all are nothing more than what would be found at nearly every other school in the country, the national perception is that Michigan and Rich Rodriguez knowingly cheated. It’s easy to create that perception when you’re a reporter with an axe to grind. Just find a couple of disgruntled former players who will gladly trash their former coach as well as a few ignorant freshmen and distort their words. In that way, the situation in Ann Arbor is different than everywhere else.

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article being just one of many slanted pieces by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder

There is no doubt that Ohio State would find itself behind the eight-ball if the Columbus Dispatch decided to declare jihad on the school. Just this summer the Ohio State athletic department self-reported 13 minor violations between Jan. 1 and July 1, six involving the football program. In fact, since 2000, Ohio State has self-reported 375 minor violations (across all sports), the most of any school in the NCAA. By comparison, Oklahoma has self-reported 224 and Florida 112. 

This leads to two possible conclusions: either Ohio State purposely crosses the line just a little bit, and decides every now and then to self-report just to keep the NCAA at bay; or Ohio State’s athletic department and coaching staff don’t monitor the rule book well enough to know that they shouldn’t keep making these kinds of mistakes.

Either way, if the Dispatch decided that instead of just reporting these violations, they were going to dive in and blow them out of proportion, the NCAA would almost certainly have to come down hard.

So the issue isn’t that Rich Rodriguez is a cheating scumbag; it’s that he didn’t meet the standards of two local reporters.

I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t wrong, but failing to count 10 minutes of stretching as countable practice time certainly doesn’t justify the national perception created by Rosenberg and Snyder, nor does it create any more of a competitive advantage than those 375 minor violations at Ohio State.

To Paraphrase Arnold, We’ll Be Back

So now that Rodriguez finds himself firmly on the proverbial hot seat, many consider him all but gone if Michigan fails to have a great season this year. But that’s not the case.

If absolutely no progress is shown and another losing season is the end result, then it could happen. But a winning season, a bowl game, and signs of progress assure a fourth season on the job because 2011 promises to be a good one.

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Following this season, Michigan loses only one starter on the offensive side (left guard Stephen Schilling) and two on the defensive side (linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton).

When senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last week, it was both a blessing and a curse. Woolfolk won’t be able to help out a very thin secondary this season, but intends to come back for his senior season in 2011, so a position that will be a weakness this season will be a strength next year.

In addition to 18 starters returning (19 if you count getting Woolfolk back), quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be in their third season running the offense. By then, their comfort level will be enough to ensure an offense sure to be as vaunted as those Rodriguez featured at West Virginia.

The schedule also sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home, Penn State off the schedule, and Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State as the other non-conference opponents (although the conference schedule may change due to the realignment and addition of Nebraska).  

In other words, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon would be ill-advised to fire Rodriguez after this season unless things really blow up. I don’t support firing him this season anyway, since 2011 will really be the determining season.

Consider 2010 the primer for a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship next season. Don’t write off Rodriguez and the Wolverines just yet, because it’s not quite as bad as it seems.

________________________________________________________________________________

*Many have also piled on Rodriguez for the players that have left the program for various reasons, such as Boren and wide receiver Toney Clemons who transfered, Justin Feagen and Boubacar Cissoko who were kicked off the team, and others who failed to qualify. Yet they forget that Carr had the same troubles.

In 2007 alone, Carr dismissed tight end Carson Butler, defensive end Eugene Germany, and cornerback Chris Richards from the team for violating team rules, backup quarterback Jason Forcier (Tate’s older brother) transfered to Stanford, and linebacker Cobrani Mixon transfered to Kent State (all of which subsequently hurt the depth of Rodriguez’s teams).