Sunday, July 30, 2006

2006 WSOP

Good luck to Brian at the 2006 WSOP. I think he started play yesterday. No update to his blog yet, but here's hoping that a fellow Wolverine can have some fun out there in Vegas.

UPDATE: Brian done MGoneHome from Vegas. But hey, at least he played pretty good. And hell, he even managed to get a tidbit in a story about Annie Duke:

"Duke had had that reminder only moments earlier, when a young Michigan player, Brian Cook, crashed from Duke's table. Cook, who had earlier admitted to being "a little intimidated" by Duke when his own smallish starting stack grew large enough to allow for more creative play, lost his last $25,000 when his pocket aces were cracked by another player who called his pre-flop raise with 10-7, then put Cook all-in after a K-7-7 flop. This came only moments after Cook had lost a sizeable hand with pocket kings in a similar manner.

As Cook rushed off in frustration after his two-out ace failed to appear, the other players discussed his back-to-back, tough-luck hands. And as Duke offered, in the wake of Cook's departure, "He did nothing wrong."

Congrats Brian, and I look forward to some more unverified voractiy when you get back!


2006 Season Preview: The OL

Who are they?

Jake Long (RS Junior) - perhaps the most talented OL Michigan has had in years, he is coming off an injury plagued sophomore campaign at RT.

Mike Kolodziej (RS Senior) - has been a backup tackle for most of his career, but will get a shot at starting this year.

Mark Bihl (RS Senior) - part-time starter at center for the past 2 years will get a shot at being the full time starter this year.

Adam Kraus (RS Junior) - starter for most of last year at guard and center, and will again see work on the interior line.

Alex Mitchell (RS Sophomore) - former highly touted prep player has only seen limited action his first 2 years in Ann Arbor, but will be making a push for a starting spot this year.

Rueben Riley (RS Senior) - has been a starter for most of the last 2 years bouncing between RT and the guard positions. Not sure where he fits in this year, but he will again be a valuable contributor and likely starter.

There are also youngsters like Brett Gallimore, Mark Ortmann, Jeremy Ciulla, David Moosman, and Cory Zirbel that could compete for PT. Incoming freshmen Justin Boren and Stephen Schilling might be among the best in the nation, but I can't remember the last time a true freshman made an impact on the OL for Michigan.

What to expect?

Offensive line is a tough group to predict this year. They lost Adam Stenavich and Matt Lentz from last year, but also have a bunch of guys coming back from injury. Jake Long is the one constant. If healthy, he is perhaps the most talented offensive lineman in the Big Ten. He'll be the anchor of the line at LT this year. The rest of the line? Your guess is as good as mine. I think Kolodziej and Riley will compete for the RT spot, though Riley has seen quite a bit of PT at guard the past 2 years. Kraus and Bihl are likely front runners for interior spots, leaving either Riley or Alex Mitchell or somebody else to push for the other guard spot.

As you can see, there are lots of question marks surrounding the position this year. In my opinion, however, it is likely the most important position on the team. If they play well, we will have a phenomenal offense this year. Chad Henne will have all day to throw to a fleet of nimble footed receivers and Mike Hart and co. will have huge holes to run through. If they don't? Might not be so pretty and our O will likely turn the ball over more than a few times.

That finishes up the offense. We'll next turn our attention to the other side of the ball with the defensive line.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

2006 Season Preview: The WRs and TEs

Who are they?

Steve Breaston (RS senior) - kick returner extraordinaire who is what he is. He's deadly on screens and crossing routes, but has never shown the ability to make catches downfield. Hopefully they stick to using him from the slot and on crossing routes this year. Once he gets his hands on the ball he is deadly in the open field.

Mario Manningham (Sophomore) - coming off one of the best true freshman seasons ever by a Michigan receiver, big things are expected this year

Adrian Arrington (RS Sophomore) - missed almost the entire season last year due to injury. He's a 6'3" receiver with good hands in the mold of former Wolverine Marquise Walker.

Carl Tabb (RS Senior) - very good special teamer with speed to burn who has never made a lot of impact at receiver. The Ann Arbor native provides good depth at the position.

LaTerryal Savoy (RS Freshman) - big kid (6'3", 200 lbs) from Louisiana that will be battling Arrington for the right to snag some short yardage TDs.

Doug Dutch (RS Sophomore) - speedster will likely see time returning kicks as well as battling for PT at WR.

Greg Matthews (Freshman) - this Parade All American has the talent to get PT at WR, but as you can see there is quite a bit of talent in front of him on the depth chart. I'll be mildy surprised/pleased if he is able to avoid redshirting this year.

Tyler Ecker (RS Senior) - phenomenal talent, boneheaded plays. Yep, he's the total package. If you ignore the "staying in bounds instead of stepping out with clock expiring against OSU" and the "running out of bounds after time expired instead of pitching to wide open Steve Breaston on the last play against Nebraska", he had a great year. Hopefully he can put those two behind him because he could be one of the best TEs in the country.

Mike Massey (RS Sophomore) - he's big and has good hands. Not much in the speed department, but he's a capable #2 option.

Carson Butler (RS freshman) - let's just call him the X-factor. This former hoopster is very large (6'4", 250 lbs) and very fast. If he can consistently catch the ball, the mismatch possibilities are endless. I doubt you'll find a LB in the Big Ten that can run with him and there isn't a DB big enough to beat him on a high pass.

What to expect?

Mario Manningham - last year he broke out with 27 catches for 433 yards and 6 TDs including the game winner on the final play against Penn State. He's fantastic cutting in and out of breaks and he has good hands and a knack for making the difficult catch. Not the biggest or fastest, though not lacking in either department, but he is the most talented receiver on the Michigan roster. I'm expecting him to really make a name for himself this year.

68 catches, 1050 yards, 8 TDs (15.4 yds/catch)

Steve Breaston - he can return kicks with the best of them, but last year he proved he is not a downfield threat. He got the first chance to replace Braylon Edwards on the deep balls and looked clueless at times showing no ability to adjust to the ball in the air. But he's still deadly when he gets his hands on the ball. Will likely be a "starter" this year, but he should be the slot receiver in 3 receiver sets.

40 catches, 550 yards, 5 TDs (13.8 yds/catch)

Adrian Arrington - has not had much chance to showcase his ability, but reportedly had a good spring and is looking to make an impact this spring. He's tall and has good hands which makes him a candidate to do some damage in the redzone. Might also get some looks on deep balls with his size.

35 catches, 500 yards, 8 TDs (14.3 yds/catch)

Tyler Ecker - if he and Henne find a rhythm, I expect him to make hay in Mike DeBord's offense. Remember how good Jerame Tuman was for Debord, well Ecker is every bit as talented as Tuman.

30 catches, 350 yards, 4 TDs (11.7 yds/catch)

Carson Butler - might be #3 on the depth chart right now, but with his talent he will be pushing for a quick rise up the depth chart. I expect him to get a lot of action in 2 TE sets as well as getting split out wide at times to try to draw a matchup with a short CB.

20 catches, 300 yards, 3 TDs (15.0 yds/catch)

Everybody else? Savoy, Tabb, and Dutch are all likely fighting for the #4 WR spot this year. Based on past history, that will likely mean lots of practice blocking on running plays and not much else. Mike Massey is a decent TE, but he is simply not as gifted as Ecker or Butler.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

2006 Season Preview: The RBs

Who are they?

Mike Hart (Junior) - 2 year returning starter coming off an injury riddled 2005 season. When healthy, he's one of the elite backs in the nation and one of the best in Michigan history. But he wasn't exactly healthy last year and was only able to rack up 662 yards in follow up to his breakout 1455 yard freshman season.

Kevin Grady (Sophomore) - coming off a fairly good true freshman season, this former mega-recruit has slimmed down and is looking to do big things this year.

Jerome Jackson (Senior) - a solid, but not spectacular backup entering his final season for the Maize and Blue

Mister Simpson (RS Freshman) - from the same HS as BJ Askew and in the same mold. Not sure where he will fit in this year, but has some talent.

Alijah Bradley (RS Senior) - nice change of pace back and STs contributor

Carlos Brown (Freshman) - speed burner extraordinaire from Georgia who graduated HS early and has been enrolled at Michigan since January. He'll definitely be fighting for PT this year.

Brandon Minor (Freshman) - is he a speedy FB or a big TB? I'm not sure, but he's talented. But sheer numbers probably dictate that he'll redshirt this year.

What to expect this year?

Mike Hart - yes, he's still the man. Despite not starting until the 4th game of his freshman year and missing a ton of action last year, he already holds the Michigan record for 200 yard games in a career (4) as well as a single season (3). He's a threat to go over 150 yards in every single game. He's had 13 games in his career with at least 20 carries. In those 13 games, he has rushed for 1909 yards for an average of 147 per game and 12 TDs and Michigan's record is 11-2 with the only losses to Texas and Minnesota. When Hart doesn't get 20 carries, Michigan is only 5-6.

I think it's safe to say that Mike Hart needs a lot of carries if Michigan is going to win a lot of games. So what do I expect this year?

275 carries, 1500 yards, 5.45 yds/carry, 10 TDs

And on a purely subjective note, Mike Hart is my favorite back to watch in Michigan history. It used to be a tie between Tyrone Wheatley's blazing speed and Tim Biakabutuka's shifty feet, but Mike Hart is amazing. He's lucky if he's 5'8", yet the first tackler never gets him down. I've seen it take 4 players on his back to get him to the ground. His feet just never stop moving and he is always falling forward.

Kevin Grady - 494 yards and 5 TDs was a decent debut for the top recruit from the state of Michigan. This year he has trimmed some weight and is looking to hit the hole even faster. His bruising style is a nice change of pace from Mike Hart's quick feet and lightning quick change of direction. Grady has good vision to go with his size and should be a very good short yardage back.

100 carries, 500 yards, 5.0 yds/carry, 8 TDs

Carlos Brown - he's a speedster from down south that enrolled early and has been making a name for himself in practices and workouts. If Hart is the shifty back and Grady is the bruiser, then this is the blazer. Might not get a lot of carries this year, but he will likely break a few long ones. He's also in line to get some possible snaps at QB in trick play formations in place of injured Antonio Bass.

45 carries, 300 yards, 6.7 yds/carry, 3 TDs

Everybody else? I expect Alijah Bradley and Jerome Jackson to split garbage time carries as the #4 and #5 options on the team. Brandon Minor will likely redshirt. Mister Simpson might get a shot at some FB snaps.

Next up? The wide receivers and tight ends.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

2006 Season Preview: The QBs

Who are they?

Chad Henne (Junior) - 2 year incumbent starting QB with a 16-8 record as starter. Had a breakout freshman season and a not quite so spectacular sophomore campaign. But he's back looking for big things this year in the Big Ten.

Jason Forcier (RS Freshman) - very good athlete in HS, but it's unknown how much passing ability he has at the NCAA level. With Matt Gutierrez transferred off to Idaho State, Forcier is now next up if anything happens to Henne.

David Cone (Freshman) - big (6'6") kid who ran an option offense in HS. Unfortunately, he probably is only slightly more mobile than a statue. On the plus side, he's got a big time arm. Might push Forcier for backup duty, but unlikley IMHO.

What to expect this year?

Chad Henne - last year he didn't improve upon his great freshman season, but a lot of that has to do with several factors beyond his control. For one, Braylon Edwards moved on. Now Jason Avant was a very good receiver, but Edwards was sensational. Mike Hart was also really beat up last year and was rarely at 100% which put a lot more pressure on Henne. It's also worth mentioning that the OL was banged up for much of the year last year so Henne had even less help. But despite all that, he managed to put up nearly identical numbers from 2004 to 2005. Let's check them out:

2004 - 240/399 (60.2%), 2743 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs
2005 - 223/382 (58.4%), 2526 yards, 23 TDs, 8 INTs

So what is he going to do this year? Well, for starters almost everybody is healthy right now with the exception of Antonio Bass who would've been another playmaker on the outside. They lost Jason Avant and Tim Massaquoi, but return nearly everybody else from the 3 deep at WR, TE, and TB including returners and newcomers like Mario Manningham, Steve Breaston, Adrian Arrington, LaTerryal Savoy, Doug Dutch, Tyler Ecker, Mike Massey, Carson Butler, Mike Hart, Kevin Grady, Carlos Brown, and Brandon Minor. Plus the OL is at least as good as it was last year despite losing Adam Stenavich because they are finally getting healthy.

Henne has been through a lot at Michigan, and he's accomplished a lot. Now he should have great command of the offense and a very talented group of skill players around him. I'm looking for him to make a name nationally this year with a big season. Here's a guess at his numbers including bowl game:

265/405 (65.4%), 2950 yards, 31 TDs, 10 INTs

Those wouldn't quite get him up into Heisman consideration this year, but they'd certainly push him to the forefront of contenders in 2007.

As for Forcier and Cone? If Henne goes down we are in trouble. Forcier could probably do some damage with his feet, but the heat would really be on Mike Hart and co. to grind out yards. Speaking of Hart, I think I'll look at the running backs later on this week.


Let's Hear it for the Boy


Friday, July 07, 2006

It's only July

I know it's only July, but I'm starting to get that college football itch again. I think I'll go through a position by position preview of Michigan over the next couple weeks. I'll start with the QBs this weekend.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The New Arms Race

Welcome to the American League, land of dominating young pitchers. When people start talking about AL Rookie of the Year, there isn't a hitter in the discussion. And for good reason, the pitchers are just so damn good. Let's take a look around, but not limit ourselves to rookies, but players currently under age 25. You'll be amazed at how much young talent there is taking the mound in the junior circuit these days.

I'll break down the best by team...

Chris Ray (24) - 1-2, 3.44 ERA, 20/21 saves, 34 innings, 23 hits, 14 walks, 32 Ks

none (sorry, but Papelbon is 25)

New York

Tampa Bay
Scott Kazmir (22) - 10-5, 3.29 ERA, 109.1 innings, 101 hits, 40 walks, 118 Ks

none (sorry, Jenks is 25)

none (sorry, Sabathia is 25)

Jeremy Bonderman (23) - 7-4, 3.65 ERA, 111 innings, 101 hits, 30 walks, 107 Ks
Zach Miner (24) - 5-1, 2.68 ERA, 37 innings, 35 hits, 10 walks, 23 Ks
Justin Verlander (23) - 10-4, 3.13 ERA, 103.2 innings, 94 hits, 31 walks, 65 Ks
Joel Zumaya (21) - 4-1, 2.20 ERA, 41 innings, 23 hits, 20 walks, 51 Ks

Kansas City
Jimmy Gobble (24) - 2-1, 3.67 ERA, 41.2 innings, 36 hits, 13 walks, 35 Ks

Francisco Liriano (22) - 9-1, 1.99 ERA, 81.1 innings, 59 hits, 20 walks, 94 Ks

Los Angeles/Anaheim
Francisco Rodriguez (24) - 0-2, 3.09 ERA, 19/21 saves, 35 innings, 28 hits, 10 walks, 45 Ks
Ervin Santana (23) - 8-3, 3.92 ERA, 98.2 innings, 87 hits, 32 walks, 70 Ks
Jered Weaver (23) - 5-0, 1.35 ERA, 33.1 innings, 21 hits, 5 walks, 31 Ks

Rich Harden (24) - 3-0, 3.86 ERA, 35 innings, 24 hits, 18 walks, 34 Ks
Huston Street (22) - 1-3, 3.57 ERA, 18/24 saves, 35.1 innings, 26 hits, 8 walks, 32 Ks

Felix Hernandez (20) - 8-8, 5.04 ERA, 103.2 innings, 113 hits, 31 walks, 98 Ks


If you were to look around the National League, you wouldn't find much at all. The Marlins have oodles of good young players, but that's about it. The big names Matt Cain and Cole Hamels are both sporting ERAs above 5.00 after having gotten hit hard a few times. But teams in the American League are just stockpiling young pitching talent right now and frankly I cannot recall anything similar in the past 10-20 years.

So how do they stack up? Here's my ranking of these pitchers and how I'd peg them for their career value right now:

1) Liriano - he's only 22 and is a legit Cy Young contender. The last time that happened? I'm not sure, but it's been a long time.
2) Bonderman - Seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 23 and keeps getting better year after year. Hard to go wrong with a powerful righthander that gets a lot of strikeouts and not a lot of walks.
3) Verlander - a 99 mph heater and a knee buckling curve will win him a lot of games over his career
4) Hernandez - he might be the king, but he's been knocked around a bit this year. Still, he's so young and has such good stuff that he will be just fine and I'm probably underrating him here.
5) Kazmir - I almost feel guilty putting such a great young lefty this low on the list. Honestly, you could probably take #2-5 and put them in any order and not be wrong and they really aren't that far behind Liriano.