Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Jeff we will miss ye

The big news today was that Jeff Tambellini has signed with the Los Angeles Kings and will forgo his senior season at the University of Michigan. I think that it is safe to say that this caught all the Michigan faithful off-guard. In the next couple of days, the doom and gloomers should take over the posting boards, but I'm not sold on this being the end of the world. Would Michigan have been better with Tambellini? Absolutely, but I continue to believe that the greatest question that this team needs to answer is whether or not the defense can improve. The Wolverines will still boast a likely top six of TJ Hensick, Andrew Ebbett, Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, Andrew Cogliano, and Brandon Kaleniecki. Mike Brown and Jason Bailey are the solid beginnings of a third line and there are a slew of freshman forwards ready to step in. Assuming that a couple of these players are able to step up and have decent first years, Michigan will fine on the offensive end of the ice.

Even if Al Montoya had returned, I would have still been a tad worried about the defensive play of this team. It is my opinion that last season Montoya let in several goals as a result of sloppy play due to overconfidence and boredom. Perhaps a rookie goalie is just what is needed to return a healthy dose of energy to the crease. I'm not saying that losing Montoya was a good thing or that Billy Sauer will be a better goalie than Al Montoya (although he certainly could be someday), just that Sauer has all the tools to have a Montoya-like first campaign.

I believe that the real key to this team is the defenseman. With Eric Werner, Nick Martens and Brandon Rogers graduating, there will be some real holes to fill. Jack Johnson is going to go a long way toward filling them, but can David Rohlfs successfully transition to the blueline? How will Mark Mitera adjust to college hockey? Will Tim Cook finally play up to his awesome potential? Matt Hunwick was very, very good a year ago and I expect him to be even better this year as the buzz on the USCHO boards is that he has been working very hard all summer to improve his game. Jason Dest was also solid a year ago and hopefully he is poised to take up some leadership on this team. In total then on defense, we have 3 "sure-things", 1 moderate question mark (Mitera) and in my opinion, two major question marks (Rohlfs and Cook). Whether or not Adam Dunlap (BU transfer) will contribute also remains to be seen.

In the end, I think that the loss of Tambellini will be similar to the football team's loss of Braylon Edwards and the departure of Montoya will mirror that of Ernest Shazor. In the first case, a true superstar will have to be replaced by a plethora of young but mostly unproven talent. In the second a talented but ultimately streaky and overrated individual probably cannot be replaced but that might not be all bad.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Let's take a look at the running backs

Running Backs (Michael Hart, HB)
Best Case: The sky is the limit for the Michigan ground game in 2005. Hart is the returning starter coming off a freshman season in which he led the Big Ten in yardage and was arguably the best running back in the nation for a month-long stretch last year. He will be joined by fellow sophomore Max Martin who was solid if not spectacular down the stretch and junior Jerome Jackson, the starter before Hart burst onto the scene. Also contributing will be true freshman Kevin Grady who graduated early from high school and enrolled for the winter term. While Hart is clearly the most accomplished of the quartet, Grady might just be the most talented.

Worst Case: This group is so ridiculously deep and talented, it is hard to believe that there could be a worst case scenario. Even if Hart doesn't perform as well as last year, Martin and Grady are more than capable of picking up the slack. The fullback position carries some concern, as Brian Thompson was banged up in the spring and Obi Oluigbo lacks big game experience. If this group falters, the plethora of tailbacks will surely allow some sort of a two halfback set. Frankly I cannot envision a scenario in which Michigan fails to field an above average rushing attack in the year to come.

Injury Case: As previously stated, Michigan's depth here is outstanding and as a result, injuries should not be a concern.

Best Guess: I fully expect Michael Hart to rush for less yards than he did a year ago, perhaps somewhere in the 1250 yard range with 10 TDs or so. Grady and Martin will take away a significant number of carries, although Hart should have a higher yards per carry average which should help elevate his numbers. Rumor has it that Hart has improved significantly at catching passes. 250 yards and 5 TDs shouldn't be out of the question. Martin and Grady will combine for 800-1000 yards rushing and 7 TDs. Neither will make a tremendous impact in the passing game. It is hard to believe, but all of the halfbacks should be back next year, meaning that this year could be a preview of even better things to come.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

In my rush to start my seven part Michigan Football Preview, I completely forgot that the polite thing to do would have been to introduce myself. My name is Tom and I am a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. Because I majored in Aerospace Engineering and neglected to bother myself with an internship, I am now officially an Unemployed Aerospace Engineer. In the near future I hope to find a job somewhere that will require me to move out of state and pay way to much for the College Gameday and NHL Center-Ice packages on DirecTV. This will allow me to continue to follow the Michigan Football team as well as the Detroit Red Wings. As for the Michigan Hockey team, I will have to content myself with cruising the USCHO boards and listening to the internet radio broadcasts of the games. In my spare time I also obsessively follow the Detroit Tigers and Lions. As for the Pistons and Wolverine basketball clubs, I am a committed fairweather fan who will enjoy watching them compete, just as long as they are winning and some more interesting sporting event is not being televised (like football, hockey, baseball, curling or swimming).

I like to think that occasionally I know what I'm talking about when it comes to baseball and football. Way back in high school I held the distinction of being the worst player on the worst team in the Greater-Lansing area. I feel that this more than qualifies me for talking-head/pundit status. I was slightly better in baseball, where as a statistician with a uniform, I managed to post a lifetime .050 batting average. In my defense I did post 6 walks in 26 career plate appearances at the JV level. As for hockey, I have no formal background in the sport but love to observe and comment on it nonetheless. As for curling, my New Year's Resolution is to figure out why they yell so much, then perhaps I will bother learning the rules.

That is just a little about me so that if anyone is paging through the archives, they can come to this point and say, aha!, the beginning! Keep your stick on the ice.

Football is coming!!!!

Well sportsfans, summer is winding to a close yet again and I think that everyone knows what that means...football is almost here. The NFL preseason has begun and just today Rex Grossman managed to become this year's first significant needless preseason injury. Congrats to the Bears on that. I know that every blog worth its salt is doing a college football preview, so I thought that I would join in on the fun with a slight twist. Instead of blathering on about how great Steve Breaston is going to be, over the next few days I plan to preview each position and try to give a best case scenario, a worst case scenario, an injury scenario and my best guess as to how the group will perform throughout the year. So with no further ado, let's take a look at the quarterbacks.

Quarterbacks (Chad Henne, returning starter)
Best Case: Henne is coming off of a spectacular freshman season and the obvious best case scenario would be for him to grow as a player and as a leader. Word on the street last season was that Terry Malone limited the size of the playbook Henne was expected to run. This season he is sure to have the entire playbook at his disposal, and that could be a dangerous proposition indeed for opposing defenses. Matt Gutierrez is back in good health and is perhaps the most talented backup quarterback in the Midwest, if not all of Division 1A.

Worst Case: Henne goes into a sophomore slump, the fans and media turn on him (John Navarre style) and Lloyd Carr is left with a massive QB controversy.

Injury Case: As I already mentioned, Henne has one of the country's better backups in Gutierrez. If by some horrible stroke of fate he is injured, Michigan should be alright at the position. Depth would become a concern though, as after Gutierrez there are a slew of scout team types and true-freshman Jason Forcier.

Best Guess: It is my opinion that many Michigan fans are expecting too much out of Henne in the year to come. I strongly suspect that his production will be better than last year, but not by much as he plateaus just a bit. Figure on 3000 yards and 25 TDs with 10 INTs.

[EDIT]: My good buddy Owais pointed out that he noticed that Henne had a tendency to "short" some of his passes last season, only to be bailed out by Braylon Edwards. Not to worry though, Coach Carr addresses this in a quote from ESPN's Michigan Preview:

"I think the biggest improvement Chad made is that he is much stronger through the hips, through the legs than he was a year ago," Carr said in the spring. "As a result of that, he is throwing the football better because he is stronger through the hips. You throw the ball through the legs to a great extent."