Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring springiness has sprung (spring)

There's no real narrative to spring football. I/we only really pay attention because of the pure scarcity of actual football and the hope that I'll/we'll be able to glean something of value from a month of practice that's closer (from a time perspective) to the end of the last season than the beginning of the next one. That last thought is so depressing.

Anyway, the aforementioned stuff of value is still largely in the distance; it's freakin' March, so Steve Spurrier is like eight months away from picking a quarterback (think about it). That said, there's plenty of stuff that's become known because of obvious obviousness or coaches talking or dudes transferring or whatever.

This is where I write about that stuff so you know what you should, um, know. It's limited to what you should know rather than what's interesting to me since I'm pretty sure you don't care about Michigan's minor O-line adjustments and whatnot. You should also be thankful that I'm not Bleacher Report and therefore won't make you read this in an eyeball-gouging slideshow format featuring informative things like "The new-look Pac-12." Hooray.

The stuff:

Notre Dame has plenty of quarterbacks but no quarterback: My skepticism that Tommy Rees would start for pretty much an entire year and then eat bench in favor of somebody with zero meaningful experience is rapidly diminishing. Rees is obviously talented but alternates being making you say "wow" and "woooooooowww" (the latter one being not good), and he did way too much of the latter at the end of last season.

Andrew Hendrix is the obvious alternative and gets talked up primarily for his mobility, but the fact of the matter is that Brian Kelly needs a guy who can throw it downfield with some accuracy and preferably not to the other team. Everett Golson is a mystery outside of year-old spring-game footage that makes him appear to be Vince Young; that's probably not entirely accurate since he couldn't get on the field last year despite Brian Kelly's face spanning the color spectrum on a weekly basis. Requisite photo:


I'm intrigued by this quote:
"If we started the spring with page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. So not to put him at a disadvantage but to give it an equal footing for all, we've kind of scaled it back so the spring, it's going to give all the quarterbacks, including a midyear in Gunner and of course the two young guys, an opportunity to truly compete for the position."
Gunner is, of course, Gunner Kiel, he of the many recruiting stars. If he plays, it won't be for his mobility.

My interpretation of that quote is as follows: "For the love of all that is holy and the avoidance of future brain aneurysms, someone please take the starting job from Tommy #$!@&% Rees." You don't eliminate a year's worth of experience and development (stuff that's kinda important for quarterbacks) unless the guys who don't have those things are preferable to the guy who does.

As for which guy that is (or if there is one), I have no idea. I don't think Kelly knows either; that's what spring's for.

BTW, I'm with ya if you're wondering how playing somebody with zero meaningful experience is going to somehow decrease the number of HEAD-ASPLODE mistakes that Rees has already made and presumably learned from. That's some interesting logic right there.

Barrett Jones is back but not back at tackle: In the Offensive Lineman Position Switch Spectrum, which ranges from "I couldn't possibly care less" to "that's kind of interesting," this one definitely falls closer to the "that's kind of interesting" end. Jones is almost definitely the best lineman in the country. I say "lineman" in the non-specific sense because he was one of the top two or three guards in the country two years ago and then probably the best left tackle in the country last year. He could've been a first-rounder if he'd left; instead, he's back at Alabama and making the incredibly odd switch from All-American tackle to center.

There are two reasons for this: the first is that he's obviously very smart and very versatile and the second is the existence Cyrus Kouandijo, an OMG recruit last year who flip-flopped from Auburn to Alabama on Signing Day and ended up getting some time at tackle as a true freshman, which isn't common. Kouandijo apparently is ready, italicized for emphasis. Nick Saban quote (I like to read it in a robotic, emotionless voice to give it a little more Saban-ness):

"We thought (Kouandjio) was a starter last year," Saban said. "Obviously he's a freshman, but he made tremendous progress. Obviously his injury set him back a little bit but he's worked very hard and made a good recovery.

"We think he can be a very, very good player. There's no experiment involved in Barrett playing center. That experiment was all done last year. He got a lot of reps and played some in games. I don't think there's any question about the fact he'll do a really good job."

So there ya go. As Graham Watson (you're no Dr. Saturday) recently pointed out, no player has ever won the Rimington Award after winning the Outland Trophy at another position.

Kellen Moore definitely doesn't have any eligibility left: I'm pretty sure about this since the guy started for four years and won 51 (!!!) games. Something to think about: Only one year (2007) separated the Moore and Jared Zabransky eras at Boise State. Jared freakin' Zabransky. That's how long Kellen Moore was awesome at Boise State.

He's gone now, which means Chris Petersen gets to be reminded of the unsettling uncertainty of a quarterback competition for the first time since Obama took office. Jared Southwick is pretty likely to be the guy coming out of camp since he has two years of (mostly irrelevant) experience and has put up good numbers in said irrelevant time. Keep in mind that the pre-Moore guys all sat and watched a ton of wins before taking over as upperclassmen; that seems to be Petersen's SOP. Southwick's taking most of the first-teams snaps right now, FWIW.

The other guys are redshirt freshman and former meh recruit Jimmy Laughrea and somewhat-more-touted true freshman Nick Patti, an Elite 11 guy out of Orlando who's got a little more speed/athleticism than the others and enrolled early.

YES SEC RUNNING BACKS oh wait not really: I'm not gonna lie: I'm pretty excited (maybe unreasonably so) about Marcus Lattimore coming back from his torn knee thing. Knile Davis is also pretty dang good and missed all of Arkansas's 11-2 season with a broken ankle. So fluffety fluff fluff ...
RB Marcus Lattimore, who is rehabilitating after surgery to repair torn knee ligaments, might not be lateral running for another month, coach Steve Spurrier said. Lattimore, who rushed for 818 yards in seven games before his injury, is expected to be full speed this fall.
A month?!? Unacceptable. I'm actually a little concerned if he's not even moving laterally yet and it's only five months (argh) til the start of the season; running backs kinda need knee mobility and whatnot. I will be a sad panda if my concerns are anything other than baseless seeing as how Lattimore is probably the best running back in the country and definitely the most physically ridonkulous running back I've seen since Adrian Peterson.

There's also this:
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said running back Knile Davis is “100 percent and completely healed” nearly seven months after the fractured ankle he sustained last summer.

But is Davis ready for contact when the Razorbacks open spring drills Wednesday afternoon?

That still hasn’t been determined. ... Petrino said Davis will get plenty of work during the spring but couldn’t say if he’ll see live contact.

I see. Amusing/interesting tidbit:

Petrino said there has been plenty of proof in Davis’ progress during the team’s pre-spring testing, which leads into spring practice.

Davis already has set personal bests in a couple of categories, including a 40-yard dash time (4.33 seconds) he ran last week.

Petrino said it is the top time on the team.

Mmmmkay. To be fair, Davis might actually be that fast; he's also recovering from a broken ankle and supposedly just ran what would have been one of the five fastest times at the combine. Take that with as many salt licks as you like.

Oregon is having a make-believe quarterback competition: Bryan Bennett is going to start no matter how much Chip Kelly tries to convince everybody that there's an actual competition. The Oregon running game went from ridiculous to utterly horrifying with him in the game last year because of his ability to break stuff big; he's more of a young Jeremiah Masoli than a young Darron Thomas, who was always somewhat overrated as a runner and somewhat underrated as a passer. Bennett definitely hasn't shown Thomas' consistency in the passing game (albeit in limited attempts) but averaged 8.7 yards (!) a carry last year and produced 43 points per start, which is ... umm ... good. Oregon averaged just over 46 for the season, BTW.

Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota is the Thomas clone at 6-foot-4 and was allegedly The Greatest Athlete in the History of Ever while dominating the high school football hotbed of Hawaii. It's entirely possible that he'll get some playing time in a developmental-type role that could hypothetically become more significant if Bennett's 2011 awesomeness turns out to be a sample-size misrepresentation. I don't expect that to happen given what I saw with my own eyes from the Bennett/DeAnthony Thomas/Kenjon Barner backfield last year (keep in mind that LaMichael James didn't play in two of Bennett's three games).

Wisconsin might have to actually develop a young quarterback: The Russell Wilson think worked out pretty awesomely but leaves a gaping experience hole at quarterback. Jon Budmayr has been The Next Guy since like 2008 and has accumulated 10 career passing attempts, none of which have come in the last 20 months due to a chronic nerve problem that flared up again recently and required surgery; he's out for spring ball. Same for alleged dual-threat guy Curt Phillips, whose ACLs are so flimsy that he should probably be playing for Purdue.

The leftovers are redshirt sophomore Joe Brennan, who was Wilson's nominal backup last season and went an unimpressive 6 for 15, and lightly recruited redshirt freshman Joel Stave. True freshman Bart Houston came guru-approved and would probably be a viable option if he didn't need shoulder surgery that's gonna keep him out until at least the start of the season.

So yeah ... that's not much of a depth chart. Even the guys who might be good if they're healthy -- which they aren't as of right now -- have a combined 19 career attempts. That's not as big of an issue in the Wisconsin offense as it would be in some offenses, but it's still an issue of some degree for a team that's had an irritatingly effective upperclassman running things for about the last five years.

The reason I wrote "might have to actually develop a young quarterback" in the headline-type thing above is this:

Ex-Maryland QB Danny O'Brien will visit the Wisconsin campus and likely attend a spring practice session on Saturday, according to a Wisconsin State Journal source. O'Brien is set to graduate this spring and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

O'Brien would be a significant upgrade over everybody on the roster, even if those everybodies were all healthy. His hypothetical transfer = problem solved. What's much less certain is whether he'll pick Wisconsin since he's also visited Ole Miss and Penn State in the last couple weeks. If he doesn't, the Budmayr/Phillips situation becomes far more problematic and Brennan's development (or lack thereof) becomes far more noteworthy.

Mike Stoops can probably still coach defense: This topic is here for a reason. The 2011 Arizona defense is the reason. Relevant numbers: 110th in yardage, 67th in rushing, 106th in pass efficiency and 107th in scoring.

That said, Oklahoma is not Arizona in terms of talent. Last year's Arizona wasn't even Arizona in terms of talent: The Angry ACL God went ham on UA last fall, taking out linebacker Jake Fischer, safety Adam Hall and defensive tackle Willie Mobley before the season. That destruction combined with the graduation of three really good defensive end/outside linebacker types resulted in the complete and utter black hole of suckitude that eventually cost Stoops his job.

Before that, though, things weren't so bad:

2010: 33rd in yardage, 41st in scoring
2009: 25th in yardage, 53rd in scoring
2008: 24th in yardage, 33rd in scoring

That's ... like ... pretty good, actually, which is kinda crazy considering the train wreck that was last season. And Stoops was really good the first time around at Oklahoma: After his first year, OU's defenses finished in the top 10 in yardage every year thereafter until he left for Arizona.

The defensive talent this year isn't quite what it was back in 2002 but is still way better than what he was usually working with at UA; that's why Oklahoma expects national championships and Arizona expects to maybe possible one day think about playing in the Rose Bowl if the Mayan calendar is aligned just right. What I mean is that the expectations are raised accordingly, so 25th in yardage/53rd in scoring isn't "pretty good" anymore.

I suppose there's not much to be learned in spring other than "Stoops is doin' some good pointin' out there," but getting the secondary to look like something other than a sieve by the time the spring game rolls around would be a sign of progress.

Speaking of Arizona: There's a spring game in the Phoenix metro area scheduled for this weekend; I'll be there in a professional capacity and will relay any observations of note afterward.

I'm mostly interested to see exactly how much of the offense has been installed and whether Matt Scott (a) does anything other than wear bubble wrap and (b) looks like he has any idea of how to run the zone read, which isn't as easy as it looks. Competency at quarterback is an amazing thing that would probably allow Arizona to not have the negative-infinity turnover margins that killed RichRod's Michigan teams. KaDeem Carey's role and the O-line's zone-blocking coherence (or lack thereof) also will be noted, as will the deployment status of the 3-3-5, which will be of particular interest to me given AAAARRRRGHGHGHGH.

FOOTBALL WOO!!! Just because:

That's all for now. I will now sleep to ensure that Saturday's observations are reported in a readable format rather than "andasdf that's soopo azzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."


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