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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lists are one of the hackiest forms of writing anything, but I, too, succumb to the occasional bout of offseason glazomania. The following five players are the people on the team who should be happiest about the start of the Rodriguez era.

Included in these evaluations are recruits who picked Michigan before the changeover; those who signed up afterwards knew what they were getting into and are thus disqualified.

5. Corey Zirbel. You wouldn't know it from the deep insecurity emanating from any Michigan fan considering the 2008 offensive line, but M has a top-100 tackle entering his fourth year in the program ready to step into Jake Long's oversized shoes. The problem is that top-100 tackle is Corey Zirbel.

Zirbel, reportedly frustrated by his inability to move up on the depth chart, believed that the existing Michigan coaches had already decided he was not going to contribute; his effort thus flagged. Now he's starting with a fresh slate in a new offense and there's a big vacancy at left tackle (and, if Steve Schilling's pass protection doesn't improve, maybe right tackle*). It's now or never for him.

*(implication is that Schilling starts at RG, not loses his starting spot entirely.)

4. Avery Horn. The word on Horn from fall practices was "fast as hell, tiny, has no idea what he's doing." The redshirt that followed would normally be a red flag for a program bound and determined to see anyone with a chance of contributing blow a year of eligibility on special teams. Add in Michigan's historical inability to make use of tiny fast guys and Horn's middling guru rankings and you have a recipe for a mediocre career of about 50 carries and a brief stint as a returner ended by a single fumble.

Enter Rodriguez, who hears "fast as hell" and falls into a reverie that makes the buts inaudible. Though Horn has a lot of competition with three juniors in front of him and the McGuffie-Shaw-Cox class behind him, his career prognosis got a lot better when Rodriguez was hired.

3. Marcus Witherspoon. Witherspoon is something of an OLB/DE tweener, a high school defensive end who most project to OLB in college because of his size. Usually this would entail a year or two of learning just WTF "coverage" is and maybe some discussion of "angles" and "not being Chris Graham", and that was likely to be the case with Witherspoon. But when Michigan landed Stanford's Scott Shafer they picked up what looks to be one of the nation's most blitz-happy defensive coordinators. Marcus Witherspoon had 27 sacks as a senior. Marcus Witherspoon likes rushing the passer. Marcus Witherspoon should be happy.

2. Slocum, Kates, Taylor, Jamison, Graham... basically any DL who survive. Though Michigan defensive line finally started moving away from its 90s paradigm of blue-collar white guys who the NFL wouldn't draft in a hundred years, motivation and weight issues still plagued them. Not that this is unusual: you show me a program without at least one 350-pound waddler whose idea of exercise is picking up three Big Macs at once and I'll show you a school with a direction in its name and maybe a "State," too.

But Michigan's program seemed especially content with rolls of blubber around their linemen's midsection. Anyone who had the misfortune to tune into one of many, many Brent Musberger segments on former defensive tackle and moonwalking expert Pat Massey's rigorous weight-gain program knows this. According to Musberger, Massey was told to eat a whole pizza every night in an effort to keep his weight above 285. Pizza? This is the diabolical plan of secret master Mike Gittleson? Argh! Last year even purported speed rusher Tim Jamsion looked pregnant, gut hanging over his belt.

I don't know how much impact Mike "Satan" Barwis is actually going to have, but I am sure that the canary in this particular coalmine will be the composition and performance of the defensive line, and that Mike Barwis eats your soul if you think midnight pizza is a workout regimen.

1. Sam McGuffie. This blog has already chronicled the division of opinion on Mr. McGuffie, which is wide as the sea. The one thing everyone did agree on: get this guy and space and let him spin like a top, and you've probably got something. Skeptical Rivals analysts openly questioned why McGuffie wasn't heading to some place like Texas Tech, where he could become the next Wes Welker. (Welker -- surprise! -- is also white.)

And, you know, they kind of had a point. On the face of it, McGuffie heading to the Michigan zone game, where he would almost never be the target of a a pass (in the last two years, screen attempts by Michigan have collapsed) or be directed to get out to the corner, didn't make a whole lot of sense. Though he's got some nasty cuts, McGuffie is no Mike Hart. When someone hits him, McGuffie just goes down. The thing that struck me when I watched the video from his final playoff victory: "jesus, that guy's tiny." And so he is. Also tiny: Noel Devine.