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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Congratulations, your baby is 6'8" and 300 pounds.
I imagine you'll be wanting some morphine.

Jake Long is Michigan's first #1 overall pick since Tom Harmon was pwning the Amazon. Congratulations. By my calculations, Long can now make over 200 million cheese sandwiches. But we're all Michigan fans here, so let's focus on the negative: Long is the odd exception to the general slide experienced in Michigan's offensive line production over the past few years.

A dossier of recently departed linemen who started:
  • 2007: Jeremy Ciulla and Alex Mitchell quit football for medical reasons; before that were distinctively uninspiring. Medical reasons kinda suspected to be an allergy to Barwis. Adam Kraus is a three-year starter unlikely to get drafted. Jake Long can buy and sell you sixty times over.
  • 2006: C Mark Bihl goes undrafted, as does Rueben Riley. Riley sticks on the Panthers' practice squad for the 2007 season.
  • 2005: G Matt Lentz and T Adam Stenavich, three-year starters both, go undrafted. They've both been on a couple practice squads. G Leo Henige is undrafted and out of football.
  • 2004: C/G David Baas is the first pick of the second round.
  • 2003: C Dave Pearson is undrafted. He does manage to make Lions in 2006 but is cut soon thereafter. Tony Pape goes in the seventh round to the Dolphins; he's never started a game in the NFL.
  • 2002: T Courtney Morgan starts ten (TEN) games. Obviously, he is not drafted. Neither is G Dave Petruziello.
Mysterious unexplained era shift!
  • 2001: G Jonathan Goodwin goes in the fifth round to the Jets. Now a backup for the Saints, Goodwin has started 15 NFL games. C Kurt Anderson is undrafted.
  • 2000: Jeff Backus, Maurice Williams, and Steve Hutchinson are all currently NFL starters. Hutchinson will be in the Hall of Fame. Slacker C David Brandt went undrafted but spent a couple years at the end of NFL rosters. Note that G/T Ben Mast also graduates this year; Mast was a starter in '99 but lost his job to Goodwin/Williams as a senior.
  • 1999: T Chris Ziemann goes undrafted (I think) but makes the Giants in his first year, playing in eight games but starting none. That concludes his career.
  • 1998: T Jon Jansen is a second-round pick of the Redskins and has started every game he's been healthy for for a decade. G Steve Frazier goes undrafted and does not make the NFL -- though he only started six games with Williams, Brandt, and Mast picking up the other starts.
  • 1997: C Zach Adami is undrafted.
  • 1996: C Rod Payne is a third-round draft pick but his NFL career is cut short by numerous injuries. G Damon Denson goes in the fourth round and spends three years with the Patriots. T Thomas Guynes -- who I don't remember even slightly -- is undrafted and spends one year with the Cardinals.
In the six-year block of time from 2002 to 2007 Michigan graduated 14 starters, three of whom were drafted. It's a little early to close the book on everyone's career in this timespan, but it would be really surprising to see anyone other than Long or Baas to ever start an NFL game.

In the six-year block of time from 1996 to 2001 Michigan graduated 14 starters, seven of whom were drafted. Five of those players are still in the NFL; four have been starters for between seven and nine years. Two have made Pro Bowls. One is probably going to be in the Hall of Fame.

This is a pretty stark difference that gets even starker when you consider that many of the undrafted-non-NFL sorts in the second group started for a year, or even less than a year, while the Jansens and Hutchinsons and Backi started for three or four. Meanwhile, the Suck Era often saw three years of starting from NFL nonfactors.

The thing that jumps out the most are the fates of Mast and Frazier, who saw their jobs come under severe fire from future NFL players. Can you imagine that happening at any time in the last five years? Absolutely not. The hallmark of the Suck Era was scrambling to find someone, anyone, to play the last couple spots on the line.

Leo Henige was operating on knees made of testicles and valiantly limped through a mediocre season that was in no way his fault. Alex Mitchell was pressed into service whenever he could be bothered to grease up and slide into his uniform. Rueben Riley played two years at tackle when he should have been a guard; for the last half of his senior year he was playing with a dislocated shoulder. Steve Schilling was hurled onto the field at least a year too early, and Justin Boren's saw the field as a true freshman -- the first time that had happened at Michigan since men hunted stegosaurus and JoePa was competent.

Is it a coincidence that Andy Moeller was appointed the Michigan offensive line coach in 2002? Can it possibly be? No. It's not all his fault -- linemen got fatter and less athletic as the program lost its edge, injured more often and softer because the injuries made the healthy off-limits; recruiting was increasingly erratic at identifying players who actually wanted to play football -- but a large portion of the blame falls on the position coach's head.

This is the wishful thinking of Michigan fans: Moeller was so bad and the linemen so coddled that despite the exit of the #1 pick in the draft and three other starters, there will not be a dropoff. Because whatever Greg Frey might lack in people skills he also might lack in suck. Note that Frey isn't the son of a former Michigan head coach who counts the current Michigan head coach a dear friend. He's not even a Rodriguez crony, having come to West Virginia from South Florida just a year before Rodriguez left for Michigan. He is here because of his performance.

Hey, it could be true.