Monday, August 31, 2009

Michigan Football Preview - Special Teams/Overall

Last year was a trying year (to say the least) for Michigan football fans. Among the litany of problems: horrible QB play, young offensive line, turnovers, confusion with the new system, poor tackling, bad pursuit angles, etc. Believe me, I could go on. And on. Anyway, 2009 is a new year, and with it comes renewed optimism. Last year I predicted a 9-3 season. I was correct with the numbers, but I had them in the wrong order. My prediction for this year is at the end of this hastily assembled post.

Since writer/director John Hughes passed away recently, I thought I'd use some quotes from some of his best films (as a writer and director) to help me preview this year's Michigan Wolverine football team. Earlier I previewed the offense and defense. Today, special teams and the overall outlook:

Punt Team/Kickoff Teams
"Breakfast Club"
Richard Vernon: You ought to spend a little more time trying to make something of yourself and a little less time trying to impress people.

Well, we all know about the awesomely named Zoltan Mesko. He is already on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the best collegiate punter. Suffice to say, I think this is the only single position on the entire team that I have complete confidence in - rightly or wrongly. Zoltan will boot the ball downfield. I think RichRod should be able to find enough athletes to sufficiently cover his massive mortar shots into enemy territory. The return game is another matter. As Michigan fans, we have been pretty spoiled the last few years. Steve Breaston was steady, and at times spectacular. He was always a threat to take a punt for a TD. We've also had the likes of Charles Woodson, Leon Hall, and Desmond Howard back there in the recent past, so I think our expectations are pretty high. Last year shattered those expectations to the point that I was happy if the return man held onto the ball. I don't want to look at the exact numbers because it's too depressing, but we fumbled lots of punts last hear. Martavious Odoms (he did return one for a TD) probably was the most dangerous, but also had butterfingers. So RR put Greg Matthews, our most sure-handed receiver, back there. And then he fumbled. So did Donovan Warren when he gave it a shot. No one distinguished themselves as a reliable option as a return specialist, so my hopes for this year is for someone to catch the ball and hold onto it like it's his last dollar. The potential return men this year are Odoms, Warren, Matthews, Kelvin Grady, Cissoko, and all of the shifty little slot receivers and RBs (V. Smith, Gallon, T. Robinson, Roundtree, T. Jones, etc.). Just hold onto the damn ball.

For the kickoff team, Bryan Wright is the incumbent, and will probably hold onto the kickoff specialist job he performed pretty well last year. As for return men, see above. Hold onto the damn ball. It ain't gonna bite ya.

Quick Zoltan facts:
- He graduated this spring with a degree in finance and marketing
- Is currently working on his master's degree in sports management
- Was a Playboy All-American last season

Placekicking
"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
Ferris: Don't worry about it, I don't even have a piece of shit. I have to envy yours.

This is a real mystery position. After KC Lopata (who made 10 of 15 tries) used up the last of his eligibility, we have a severe case of inexperience in the placekicking duties. There are seven (SEVEN!) kickers listed on the roster, and that is one position where you can realistically expect that a walk-on might be able to win a job. With that being said, I still expect Brendan Gibbons or Wright to win the job. However, for some of you the name Eddie Murray might ring a bell. The Wolverines have a "preferred walk-on" kicker by that name this year, but he is no relation to the former Detroit Lions kicker. He has a strong leg and might manage to take the kickoff duties from Wright. I would be satisfied to have a kicker with the success rate of Lopata last year. Worst case: the 2002 season (post-Epstein, pre-Rivas) was the year that started with Phil Brabbs (3-for-9) and Troy Neinberg (2-for-5), and ended with punter Adam Finley (7-for-10) taking over. If that is in the cards for this year, just shoot me now and get it over with. That Washington game almost gave me a heart attack.

Coaching
"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
Ed Rooney: I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind.

Wow. Where to begin. Personally, I have a great deal of confidence in the head coach, Rich Rodriguez. He has a proven track record of turning around programs. The big leap typically occurs in year two. So, here we are in year two of the RichRod era. I expect big things. However, I understand why others have not embraced him: he's not a "Michigan man" (although his mentor, Don Nehlen, was); he's too nice to the media (many of the same people complained that Carr was too surly toward the media); etc. Some people are now pointing to the ridiculous "non-scandal" regarding offseason workouts - which will ultimately amount to nothing but a footnote at the end of a successful season. After a year in which the defense was a huge disappointment, RichRod made a bold move and hired Greg Robinson to coordinate the defense. Robinson has a proven track record of his own as a D-coordinator, despite his failings as the head man at Syracuse. I think Michigan has a coaching staff that will help them win games, this year and in the future.

Overall Outlook
"Breakfast Club"
John Bender: You know what I got for Christmas this year? It was a banner fuckin' year at the old Bender family. I got a carton of cigarettes. The old man grabbed me and said "Hey. Smoke up Johnny."

Okay, now for my prediction. I am pretty confident in the offense. With a new QB who is able to throw a reasonably accurate pass, an experienced offensive line that should have a grasp of the blocking schemes, and a deep stable of running backs, this offense could really be something to behold by midseason. The defense worries me, but bolstered by the addition of new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, should show improvement in most areas, despite being somewhat young and inexperienced. The punting game is solid. The return game is questionable at best. The kicking is a mystery. The Big Ten conference is weak. They'll probably lose a couple they shouldn't, and win a couple they shouldn't. The team will take these new allegations of NCAA violations and band together and adopt an "us-against-the-world" mentality that has served so many teams so well over the years. I see a 9-3 season.

And just one last quote from "Planes,Trains, and Automobiles," because I couldn't fit it in anywhere else ("that's what she said"):

Del: If they told you wolverines would make good house pets, would you believe them?

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