Yeah, this one's shorter.
Steve Stripling. This may be in direct conflict with the whole run-defense-bad thing, but I think the defensive line showed much promise. Stripling can't make Massey four inches shorter and thirty pounds heavier or turn Gabe Watson from a teddy bear into a pitbull, but under his tutelage Alan Branch went from freshman role player to breakout star at both DT and DE, Lamarr Woodley improved his TFL and sack numbers despite missing about a quarter of the season, Shawn Crable became useful, and Tim Jamison flashed major potential in his limited time.
A first glance at the sack numbers is not impressive (Michigan finished with only 24) but as noted in the OSU preview, the imposing Buckeye defense got most of its sacks from non-linemen--they blitzed extensively. Michigan was allergic to the blitz, getting only six sacks from linebackers and defensive backs all year. The first year of the "actual defensive line coach" era was a success, and a line like Jamison-Branch-Taylor/Johnson/Slocum-Woodley should get a ton of pass rush without having a big sign that says "RUN HERE" between the DTs.
Freshman wideouts. Mario Manningham and Antonio Bass can play, and play they did with unprecedented frequency for freshmen wide receivers at Michigan, Manningham in particular. The New Math finished the year with six touchdowns, one short of Anthony Carter's Michigan record. Bass played the occasional snap at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback, even completing a wounded duck to Jason Avant against Iowa. Both are faaaaast and are the leading candidates to replace Jason Avant's catches next year.
Ross Ryan. If Ryan has been around for four years already, what was Troy Neinberg doing kicking off? Neinberg's kicks usually landed somewhere between the ten and the five; Ryan's usually ended up five yards deep in the endzone. We all enjoyed Neinberg's science-dork body flying downfield a lookin' to pop someone, sure, but surely Ryan's kickoffs did not drastically improve over the span of a single offseason three years into his collegiate career, so why give up the field position? Who knows?
Ryan's punts, a testament to how overrated gross punting yards are as a statistic, were also a welcome breath of fresh air. They were all about 38 yards long, high, and unreturnable, a welcome change from Adam Finley's 45-yard bullets that were touchdowns in waiting. The difference is stark:
|Tendency To Launch|
Balls Eight Yards Into
(Disclaimer: the Ginn fumbles are a major source of noise in favor of Ryan, but just look at the return percentage, and even before the OSU game Ryan's return average was about half of Finley's.)
They were ugly, dying quails that no one will mistake for NFL production any time this century, but they worked. A salute to Ross Ryan! (You know your team's in trouble when the punter comes in for a salute.)
The interesting case of Shawn Crable. Strange that Pat Massey's deployment as the world's least effective DT would come in the same year when Crable, a guy who's even lankier than Massey, gets deployed as a standup DT on passing downs (and even the occasional run play) to great effect. Several Crable stunts got pressure on the quarterback in fairly short order, he batted down a number of passes, and the one time they tried to run at him he dashed around the lumbering guard assigned to block him and made a tackle for no gain--one more play against the run than Massey had all year. Crable now has a role and a future.
Fourth and short is go time. That aspect of Carr's game coaching skillz did improve vastly, even if it backfired from time to time (like fourth and goal against Wisconsin). Henne even badgered Carr into letting him QB sneak it on fourth and short from his own 40 on a drive that ended with what appeared to be a game-sealing field goal. Let it be said that Carr's football thinking is evolving as time passes, however glacially it may be.
Hell, you know. The worst part of the whole Alamo Fiasco was watching Avant go out like that. I hope you won't think ill of me if I say that there aren't any players leaving other than Avant that I will think about next year (unless it's to think "wow, this new guy is much better than X"). It'll be strange not seeing #8 out there.
I probably missed some... any thoughts, commenters?