Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Things that might or might not be accurate

So ... I spent Saturday afternoon watching Arizona football while my neck and forehead turned a color of red that only Brian Kelly could accurately reproduce. This is a problem where I live: No matter how hot it doesn't seem and how much cloud cover exists, any amount of time spent outside will result in horrifying things happening to your skin. I forget about this every March and then am immediately reminded.

Anyway, football: It happened (inasmuch as an hour of scripted, half-speed plays with occasional tackling can be described as "football"). I learned some things that might or might not be useful. I also talked to Rich Rodriguez briefly, which would have caused my head to explode four years ago and seemed a little surreal considering that I was standing on a community college football field. More on that later.

The most interesting observation: The offense was surprisingly competent, and the reason for that competence was almost entirely Matt Scott. He's gonna be pretty productive because he has two things that are extremely useful (and basically necessary) in that offense: the athleticism to be a threat on the zone read and the ability to throw accurately on the run. Honestly, I thought he looked more accurate when moving than setting his feet, which is pretty odd; the comparison I've come up with over the past few days is Tate Forcier. They have comparable speed, too, although Forcier is/was a little shiftier in terms of avoiding pressure. That said, it would take me more than one hand to count the number of big plays Scott produced Saturday (in only about 40 snaps) while rolling off the zone-read fake or GTFO-ing the pocket.

The thing he has that Forcier didn't is experience ... and when I say "experience," I'm talking about both the understanding of what to do on the zone read (which doesn't seem that complicated but apparently is since Rodriguez didn't trust Forcier to do it much) and the wisdom to not make totally nonsensical throws into seven people. It occurred to me the other day that Scott's five full games (and various other cameos) of experience are five more games than any of the starting QBs at Michigan had going into a season. That obviously counts for something.

The only guy/guys who looked as good as Scott were the running backs. Shockingly, this does not apply exclusively to Ka'Deem Carey. Daniel Jenkins was actually the first-team running back on most snaps and looked the part of a RichRod back, by which I mean he's pretty small but has some shiftiness and burst. Carey was the other guy out there with the nominal starters and looked about like he looked last year; Jenkins might have a little better vision based on my admittedly amateur and brief observations. I'm curious to see what the carry breakdown looks like between those two this year. I'm pretty sure they're both better than anybody RichRod was starting at Michigan other than Brandon Minor, who was hurt 97 percent of the time but was an inside-zone beast on the rare occasions when he was healthy.

Anyway, between Scott and the running backs and an O-line that looked moderately coherent except when the center was snapping the ball 5 feet to the left of the quarterback, I think the first year (on offense) will be less ugly than it's been at most/all of RichRod's other stops. I reserve the right to reassess the offensive line pending actual competition; it's kinda hard to get a good read when there's no real pass rush (because of the no-contact jersey for Scott) and the linebackers are still figuring out what gaps to fill (more on that shortly).

Also, the receivers should be fine. A Juron Criner type isn't necessary in this offense. Dan Buckner is the most physically endowed (hur hur) but probably won't get as many looks since he's an outside guy; I could easily see Austin Hill ending up with like 70 catches out of the slot.

As for the defense ... ummm ... man, I just don't know. Like I said a couple sentences ago, the linebackers looked pretty hesitant and not totally sure about what they were doing, but that's not surprising given that it was the fifth practice those guys had spent in the 3-3-5. And there's no way to make any definitive statements about the secondary given what the offense was doing. Most of the big-ish plays were due to Scott breaking containment, which may or may not be an actual issue for the D-line; again, it's hard to say in a DON'T-TOUCH-THAT-GUY situation.

If you're looking for something, I'd recommend being concerned about the D-line. The complete lack of pressure and/or penetration was an issue ...

... and led to a lot of linebackers eating blocks, which in turn led to a lot of 8-yard runs. That won't go well against Oregon/USC/Stanford/any decent offense.

FYI, Jeff Casteel wasn't made available to the media. Boo-urns. I should also note somewhere that both Adam Hall and Jake Fischer looked physically fine, which is obviously good news for guys coming off torn ACLs just eight months ago. Their health will be a benefit of an undetermined amount (yay for specificity).

Oh and I almost forgot this hilarious tidbit: John Bonano missed one PAT and had one blocked. Wwwhheeeeeeeeee!!! Just plan on being in the fetal position for all kicking-related activities.

Going back to Rodriguez, the guy seems the same but not the same. The mannerisms/tantrums are still there but aren't backed up by the same RAGE and desperation because ... I mean ... obviously. The stress level has gone down by about a billion orders of magnitude from the last time he was publicly visible. The fact that there were maybe 1,000 people (I estimated more like 800) in attendance for something that would've drawn 60,000 people in Tuscaloosa kinda demonstrates as much. It also demonstrates all that is good and bad about his current gig: The bar is set low because (a) almost nobody cares and (b) Arizona has never sustained anything above "meh" for an extended period of time.

At least he'll have time; I had a brief conversation with Greg Byrne before the game-type thing and realized right away that he's not at all of the belief that this program is in an add-water-for-instant-greatness position. IIRC, he actually used the phrase "give it time" (or something very similar) just before he stepped away. Related note: I'm a fan of Greg Byrne. The guy gets it as an AD. He does his work to identify quality coaches, puts the cash together to hire said coaches and knows how to market the department/programs. That's how you athletic director (woo noun verb).

So ... I think that pretty well covers it. You've just read the most extensive spring analysis of an about-to-go-5-7 team you'll ever read on this site (until I get to ASU).


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