Monday, July 31, 2006

New NCAA rules designed to speed up games

The NCAA has announced its 2006 football rule changes and while none of the modifications are extremely significant many of the alterations seem to have the common purpose of making the games shorter in duration. One of the more interesting rule changes for the upcoming season is that kicking tees cannot elevate the ball's lowest point more than one inch above the ground (as opposed to the traditional 2"). The idea behind this change is that with a lower tee there will be fewer touchbacks which will make the game go faster. Last year, Michigan's punter/kickoff specialist Ross Ryan booted 40 of his 69 kickoffs for touchbacks. He will be hard pressed to match that number this year using the lower tee. Go Blue!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Offensive Coordinator Merry-Go-Round

Lloyd Carr is entering his 12th season as Michigan's Head Coach and he has a new Offensive Coordinator for the FIFTH time. That is a lot of turnover (pardon the pun). Although this is the fifth time time that Michigan will have a new Offensive Coordinator it is only the 4th different person to hold the job as Lloyd has gone back to the well and re-installed his old friend Mike DeBord as the "new" Offensive Coordinator. DeBord previously held the post from 1997-1999 before leaving to become the Head Coach at Central Michigan from 2000-2003 where he posted a not-so-stellar 12-34 record. Michigan fans are hoping, once again, that a change of coordinators will bring new ideas to an offense that has long been incredibly predictable.

I find it interesting that while there has been almost constant upheavel on the offensive side of the ball that things have been comparatively steady on the defensive side of the ball prior to this season. Former Defensive Coordinator Jim Herrmann held his post from 12-17-96 (his first game as Def. Coord. was the Jan. 1, 1997, Outback Bowl vs. Alabama) until the off-season following the conclusion of the 2005 campaign. Thus, while Offensive Coordinators were coming and going, Herrmann was a constant on the defensive side of the ball. However, following last year's 7-5 season, Lloyd decided to bring in a new Defensive Coordinator as well. I hope that Ron English is able to establish himself and have a long run so that Michigan has stablilty at least on one side of the ball. I'm afraid that that a return of DeBord as the Offensive Coordinator may not be the answer to solve the Wolverines problems of lack of imagination in their offense and the Offensive Coordinator merry-go-round may not be done spinning yet. Here is a recap of the Offensive Coordinators under Lloyd. Hold on tight so that you do not get sick from all the spinning:

Fred Jackson (1995 & 1996): Coach Jackson served as Lloyd's Offensive Coordinator for Coach Carr's first two seasons as Head Coach. Coach Jackson had been on the Michigan staff since 1992 in the capacity as the Running Backs Coach when Lloyd tapped him to run the entire offense. Lloyd had seen enough after two seasons and made the decision to replace him as Offensive Coordinator. However, not wanting the move to appear as a demotion, Lloyd named Coach Jackson as his Assistant Head Football Coach in 1997. (Note: Coach Jackson has since been elevated to Associate Head Football Coach in 2003 which is his current title).

Mike DeBord (1997-1999): Coach DeBord's first stint as Offensive Coordinator started off with a bang as Michigan won the National Championship in his first year. Michigan won each of the three bowl games it played in (including the 1998 Rose Bowl) while DeBord was the Offensive Coordinator. As previously noted, DeBord left after three years to take the head coaching job at Central Michigan where his teams struggled. He returned to the coaching staff prior to the 2004 season replacing Jim Boccher on the staff. DeBord has been the special teams coach/recruiting coordinator for the past two years prior to being named by Lloyd to resume his duties as Offensive Coordinator. Will lightning strike twice with Michigan winning another National Championship in DeBord's first season back as Offensive Coordinator?

Stan Parrish (2000 & 2001): Coach Parrish was the Quarterbacks Coach for six years (1996-2001) at Michigan including the national championship season of 1997. He was elevated to Offensive Coordinator upon DeBord's departure but the team only went 17-7 during Parrish's two years at the offensive helm. That was enough for Lloyd and Parrish was out. Parrish is now serving as the Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach for 2006 Michigan opponent Ball State University which has another former U of M assistant (Brady Hoke) as its Head Coach.

Terry Malone (2002-2005): Coach Malone had the longest tenure of any of Lloyd's Offensive Coordinators by coaching (surviving) for four seasons. Coach Malone joined the staff in 1997 as the Offensive Line coach. In 2002, he became the Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends coach which are the titles he held until a few months ago when Lloyd informed him that it was time to explore other coaching opportunities. Malone landed in the NFL as the New Orleans Saints Tight Ends coach. While at Michigan, Malone's offense was ranked #2 in the Big 10 and #24 in the NCAA in scoring in 2004 by averaging over 30 points per game. Nevertheless, perceived coaching blunders during crucial moments at the end of games doomed Malone's return for a fifth season as Offensive Coordinator.

Hopefully, the recent Coordinator shake-up will produce the same results that occurred when new coordinators (DeBord on offense and Herrmann on defense) assumed their respective roles in 1997 for their first full seasons at the respective helms: a National Championship. Go Blue!

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

John Navarre: The Wolverines' All-Time Leading Passer

Michigan has rightfully earned the title of Quarterback U and of all the great signal callers that have donned the maize and blue Navarre leads the pack in almost every major passing category.

Navarre (2000-2003) is Michigan's all-time leader in passes attempted, passes completed, passing yardage and passes for touchdowns. He also holds the single-season marks in the first three categories as well. A three-year full-time starter, the team went 28-10 from 2001-2003 with a Big 10 Championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2003. Nevertheless, many die-hard Wolverine fans are reluctant to give much respect to the accomplishments of the 6'6" QB from Cudahy, Wisconsin. Those skeptics bemoan the fact that the team did not achieve more success during the "Navarre years" such as winning another Big 10 title or winning a Rose Bowl game. What these skeptics seem to conveniently forget, however, is that there is only so much that one player can accomplish on his own. Navarre's gaudy statistics demonstrate that he upheld his part of the bargain.

Navarre was thrown into a tough situation in 2001 as a redshirt sophmore when Drew Henson left suddenly and Navarre became the starter a year earlier than expected. Although Navarre had started the first 4 games of the previous season for an injured Henson, it was still a big responsiblity to inherit the job full-time on such short notice as a young quarterback. Navarre responded like a big-time player as he posted very solid numbers: 207 completions(#7 single-season best total in U-M history); 385 attempts (#4 single-season total); 2,435 yards (#10 single-season total); and 19 touchdowns (#8 single-season total). Although the Wolverines only finished 8-4 in 2001, that season gave them a foundation on which to build for the following seasons.

Navarre led Michigan to consecutive 10-3 seasons in 2002 and 2003. In 2002, Navarre's redshirt junior year, he set Michigan single-season passing records for passes attempted (448), passes completed (248) and passing yardage (2,905). In his 5th yr./senior year of 2003, Navarre broke each of those single-season records as he set new standards for passes attempted (456), passes completed (270) and passing yardage (3,331). Navarre is the only QB in Michigan history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. In his career, Navarre amassed 9,254 passing yards while the passer ranked #2 on the all-time yardage list did not even amass 6,500. (As an aside, Chad Henne has passed for 5,269 yards in two seasons and has a good shot of passing Navarre's all-time yardage mark if he stays and stays healthy for the next two seasons).

The often harsh criticism of Navarre is unwarranted. As previously noted, Michigan won a Big 10 Championship and made a trip to the Rose Bowl during his senior year. Furthermore, as borne out by the statistics outlined above, Navarre played at a high level during his three-year plus stint guiding the Wolverines. Navarre should be accorded the proper respect due him after such a stellar career leading the Wolverines. Go Blue!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Tyrone Wheatley: Clutch Rose Bowl Performer

Tyrone Wheatley's clutch performance in the January 1, 1993, Rose Bowl keyed the Wolverines 38-31 victory over the Washington Huskies. Wheatley, then a super sophmore, ran for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns on only 15 carries. He had touchdown runs of 88, 56, and 24 yards in the game and he was named the Rose Bowl MVP for his outstanding play.

Michigan (8-0-3) had a score to settle with Washington (9-2) heading into the 2003 Rose Bowl game as the Huskies had embarassed the Wolverines 34-14 in Pasadena the previous year. Tyrone Wheatley made sure that 2003 was a different story for the Wolverines as he ran through, over and by the Huskies' defense. Tyrone busted loose in the first half for a 56-yard TD run that put U of M up 17-7. On the Wolverines first possession in the second half, Tyrone broke loose on an 88-yard TD run. However, Washington battled back and eventually pulled ahead 31-24. U of M answered when Tyrone scored on a 24-yard run which was his third TD of the day. That knotted the score at 31-31 heading into the 4th quarter. U of M pulled ahead for good on a Elvis Grbac to Tony McGee touchdown pass with 5:29 left in the game giving the Wolverines a 38-31 lead it would never relinquish.

Michigan's win gave Coach Gary Moeller his first (and only) Rose Bowl victory. It also meant the Wolverines finished the season undefeated (albeit with 3 ties). Tyrone's Rose Bowl game performance ranks right at the top of all-time clutch bowl game performances by a Wolverine. Without his tremendous effort, it is possible that U of M may have suffered a repeat of the fate it had endured the prior year in the Rose Bowl. However, with Tyrone leading the way, U of M was able to find its way to a hard fought victory and exact a measure of revenge on the Huskies. Go Blue!


Monday, July 17, 2006

Dynamic Duos

U of M has had a string of standout receivers since the Bo era including Anthony Carter, Greg McMurtry, Desmond Howard, Derrick Alexander, Amani Toomer, David Terrell, Marquise Walker, Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant. Many, if not all, of these great receivers had to contend with double-coverages and defenses designed to stop them because defensive coordinators knew the ball was going to be thrown to them. Nevertheless, these receivers put up great numbers. However, receivers really get to shine when they have an equally talented partner-in-crime on the other wing so that defenses do not know who to key on. Here is my list of some of the best receiving duos in recent Michigan football history:

#3 Duo: 1998- Tai Streets and Marcus Knight

Tai Streets (67 rec., 1,035 yds., 11 tds.) and Marcus Knight (42 rec., 603 yds., 1 td.) wreaked havoc on opposing defenses in the post-National Champional season. Streets was the scoring threat while Knight kept the defenses honest as he was a great possession receiver. Defenses could not afford to focus too much on Streets as quarterback Tom Brady would repeatedly find Knight for first downs. The dynamic duo of Streets/Knight were by far Brady's favorite targets as they caught more than 50% of the passes he completed (214) on the season. Brady's season completion amount still stands as the fifth-best season total ever posted by a Wolverine quarterback. As Brady's main targets, the Streets/Knight duo was instrumental in leading the Wolverines to a 10-3 record in 1998.

#2 Duo: 2000- David Terrell and Marquise Walker

David Terrell (67 rec., 1,130 yds., 14 tds.) and Marquise Walker (49 rec., 699 yds., 4 tds.) were quarterback Drew Henson's main targets in 2000 when the Wolverines finished 9-3. Terrell was a member of the #1 jersey club and he wore the distinction well. He earned All-American honors in 2000 for his outstanding senior season. Terrell actually had more receptions (71) in his junior season but his overall statistics drastically improved with the emergence of Walker in 2000. In his senior year, Terrell doubled the number of touchdowns he scored (going from 7 the previous year to 14 in 2000) and he improved his yard per catch avg. from 14.6 to 16.9. These increases are directly attributable to the assistance Terrell was getting in 2000 on the other wing from Walker whearas in 1999 teams were able to game-plan just for Terrell. This dynamic duo also helped QB Drew Henson post what is still the fifth-highest season total for Highest Quarterback Efficiency Rating (159.4).

#1 Duo: 2003- Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant

Braylon Edwards (85 rec., 1,138 yds., 14 tds.) and Jason Avant (47 rec., 772 yds., 4 tds.) helped make quarterback John Navarre's senior year a memorable one. Navarre set U of M single-season passing records for most passes attempted, most passes completed and most passing yards. U of M finished the regular season 10-2 and were the Big 10 Champions and played in the Rose Bowl versus eventual National Champion USC. The ultimate dynamic duo of Edwards/Avant was the catalyst of the Michigan offense that was so successful that season. Go Blue!

Jamie Morris: All-Purpose yardage leader

Jamie Morris (1984-1987) is still U of M's all-time leading All-Purpose yardage gainer. Even though the A-Train, Anthony Thomas, passed Morris on Jan. 1, 2001 as Michigan's all-time rushing leader (4,472 yards to 4,393 yards), Thomas was not able to match Morris' All-Purpose mark of 6,201 yards. Thomas finished his U of M career with exactly 6,000 all-purpose yards.

Morris was a triple-threat player for Bo as not only could he run but he was also a good pass catching running back and he was a very dangerous kickoff returner. During his career, Morris hauled in 99 receptions for 756 yards good for a 7.6 yard/avg. He was even more dangerous when he was returning kickoffs as he returned 51 kickoffs for a total of 1,027 yards during his career placing him #4 all-time on the kickoff return yardage list for U of M.

In Morris' senior season (1987) he rushed for 1,703 yards which is the 3rd best single season total ever posted by a Wolverine. (Incidentally, #2 is Anthony Thomas who ran for 1,733 yards during his senior season). Morris is the only player in Michigan history to lead the Wolverines in rushing four years. Despite his stature, or maybe because of it, Morris was one of the best running backs to ever wear the maize and blue. Because of a similarilty in height, people often compare the Wolverines current star running back, 5'9" Mike Hart, to the legendary Jamie Morris. If Hart stays healthy for the next two seasons I think he has a real shot at breaking the all-time rushing record. However, Hart will not come close to catching Morris' all-purpose yardage mark. Thus, I think Morris' record is safe at least until the next #23 (Carlos Brown) takes the field.

Morris is still trying to set records for U of M these days but in a different manner. Morris works for the University's Athletic Department as a Development Manager and he is responsible for working on the Department's fundraising efforts as they attempt to raise $100 million by 2008. Morris also hosted the 2005 U of M Football Bust put on by the U of M Club of Greater Detroit. He, not suprisingly, was one of the best Master of Ceremonies they ever had host the event. Not only does Morris still hold the record for All-Purpose yardage, he still has his legendary smile. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Jamie Morris was taken by Brad Mills a former U of M student photographer.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Scoring by quarters

One of the biggest complaints Michigan fans had about the 2005 team was that the Wolverines could not seem to hold a lead and/or close out a game. Many theories abound to explain these difficulties but suffice it to say that as a result of last year's struggles Michigan is boasting new Offensive and Defensive Coordinators for the upcoming season. Taking a (sometimes painful) look back at last season's results, here is the 2005 team's scoring by quarters:


  • Michigan 94/1st 123/2nd 38/3rd 81/4th 9/OT 345/TOTAL
  • Opponents 51 71 22 97 3 244

By way of comparison, here are the scoring by quarter figures for 2004:


  • Michigan 78/1st 70/2nd 105/3rd 99/4th 18/OT 370/TOTAL
  • Opponents 66 64 55 84 10 279

The 2004 team finished 9-3 and played in the Rose Bowl while the 2005 team finished 7-5 and played in the Alamo Bowl. Yet, scoring-wise the two seasons were very similar. The 2004 (30.8 pts./game) and 2005 teams (28.8 pts./game) scored roughly the same number of points (370 vs. 345). Likewise, defensively the two teams yielded roughly the same number of points(279 in 2004 vs. 244 in 2005). Overall, the 2005 Wolverines outscored its opponents by a margin of 101 points while the 2004 Wolverines outscored its opponents by a margin of 91 points. However, as previously noted, the 2004 team won two more games and went to the Rose Bowl.

Four of U of M's losses last season were by a margin of four points or less (a fact that Wolverine fans seem to be able to recite with as much ease as they recite the lyrics of "Hail to the Victors!"). U of M got beat late in games. In fact, in 2005, the Wolverines were outscored in the 4th quarter by the score of 97-81. This was a virtual flip-flop from the 2004 season when the Wolverines outscored their opponents in the 4th quarter by a score of 99-84.

Everyone knows about the "4th quarter collapses" but it is also interesting to review what happened last year in the 3rd quarter with respect to a reduction in scoring. Traditionally, Michigan owns the 3rd quarter as the coaching staff makes adjustments at the half and emphasizes having a strong 3rd quarter to set the tone for the rest of the ballgame. The 2004 season was a typical dominating Wolverine performance as U of M outscored its opponents 105-55 in the 3rd quarter. However, last season the Wolverines only managed 38 third-quarter points and only outscored its opponents by the score of 38-22 for the season. Thus, the Wolverines were not entering the 4th quarter with big leads and this repeatedly spelled trouble for U of M when the play-calling became conservative as the game went down-to-the-wire.

To remediate last year's difficulties, Coach Carr has ordered the players to become more svelte so they will not wilt in the 4th quarter of close games and he has, as previously mentioned, hired new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, these changes will be enough to get U of M back on the winning track in 2006. Go Blue!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Where are they now? Paging Dr. Humphries.

Offensive tackle Stefan Humphries was not only one of the best offensive lineman to ever play for Bo but Stefan was probably also the smartest. Stefan was an All-American in 1983 and was also a two-time academic All-American. Additionally, Stefan was co-Captain of the 1983 U of M team that played in the Sugar Bowl. After graduating, Stefan played on multiple Super Bowl teams during a five-year NFL career. He then pursued his long-time desire to be a doctor. According to his biography, inspired by his sister's career as a physician, Stefan earned a Doctor of Medicine and interned at the University of Colorado. He is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, having completed a residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and subsequently served as Medical Director and President of Medical Staff at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Colorado Springs, Colorado. As the current Medical Director at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute, Stefan is a liaison between medical staff and hospital staff, and provides administrative leadership for St. Luke's in Spokane, WA.

In 1996, Dr. Humphries was awarded the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford Award, the highest honor bestowed on a former Michigan letterman. More recently, Dr. Humphries was honored in 2005 by his hometown when he was inducted into the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame. Go Blue!


Stingy "D"

Last year's Jim Herrmann coached defense allowed opponents to score an average of 20.3 pts./game. This was good enough for scoring defense rankings of 4th place in the Big 10 and 24th in the NCAA. These rankings were not great but not horrible considering the caliber of offenses the Wolverines were facing. However, the inability to keep opponents out of the endzone last year at key moments made me wistful for some of the Wolverines' past defensive units that were particularly tough to score upon. Some of my all-time favorite U of M defensive units include, but are not limited to, the teams discussed below.

The defense of the 1971 team was led by All-American defensive back Thom Darden and All-American linebacker Mike Taylor. The Wolverines yielded only 6 pts. to Northwestern in the season opener and then proceeded to play three (3) consecutive shutouts (against Virginia, UCLA and Navy). That means the "D" only allowed the opponents to score six points in the first four (4) games of the season! The dominating defensive play continued throughout the season as the "D" only allowed two of its 11 regular season opponents to score in double-digits as the Wolverines rolled to a perfect 11-0 regular season record.

The defense of the 1973 team was almost as suffocating as that of the unit from two years earlier. This team also featured two All-Americans: defensive tackle Dave Gallagher and defensive back David Brown. The "D" of the 1973 team yielded only 17 points in the season's first two games and then it played three (3) consecutive shutouts (against Navy, Oregon, and Michigan State). This defensive unit only allowed three of their 11 regular season opponents to score in double-digits and a mere 13 points was the most points it yielded in a game. The 1973 team finished the season 10-0-1 mainly on the strength of the performance of the defensive unit.

Bill McCartney was the Defensive Coordinator of the 1980 team which gave Head Coach Bo Schembechler his first Rose Bowl victory. Coach McCartney's defensive troops included an inside linebacker by the name of Jim Herrmann. This "D" stood tough as it did not allow a touchdown during the last 22 quarters (5 1/2 games) of the season including the Rose Bowl. Included in that streak were three consecutive shutouts against Indiana, Wisconsin, and Purdue in weeks 8-10 of the regular season. The Wolverines' "D" carried the team not only to the Big 10 title but also to a Rose Bowl victory for the first time since 1965.

The 1997 National Championship team had the afore-mentioned Jim Herrmann as its Defensive Coordinator. The Herrmann coached defensive unit keyed the team's drive to a perfect 12-0 record and the national title. The defense was led by, of course, Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson and All-American defensive tackle Glen Steele. The '97 "D" always came up big at the big moments. Through the first eight (8) games of the season, the "D" did not allow any second-half touchdowns or any 4th quarter points to be scored by its opponents. In fact, the Wolverines defense finished the regular season ranked #1 in the nation in scoring defense having allowed only an average of 8.9 pts./game. The "D" also finished the regular season ranked #1 in the NCAA both in Total Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense.

The 2005 defense allowed 97 fourth-quarter points and 3 overtime points in 12 games as compared to the 1997 defense which allowed only 24 4th-quarter points in 12 games. Now it might not seem fair to compare last year's 7-5 team to the '97 team which ranks among the best Wolverine teams of all-time. However, the '97 team's performance is the yardstick against which all other results will be measured as it shows how far U of M has to go get back to where it wants to be---in the hunt for the National Championship. Fans will be looking to new defensive coordinator Ron English to have a system in place that will stop teams from scoring at will on the Wolverines late in the game as seemed to happen so often during the past two years. Go Blue!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Splitting the Uprights: Garrett Rivas

Last year five of Michigan's 12 games were decided by a field goal or less. When a team plays that many close games it puts a premium on having a solid placekicker. That is exactly what Michigan has in Garrett Rivas. Rivas has been steady (for the most part) but not spectacular during his three years with the Wolverines. Rivas has led the Wolverines in scoring for two years in a row (94 pts. in 2004; 90 pts. in 2005). He has been almost automatic from within 40 yards (31 of 37 attempts during the past 2 seasons) but from beyond that range it is almost a 50/50 proposition (7 of 13 attempts during past 2 seasons from 40 yards and beyond). Here is a game-by-game breakdown of how Rivas has performed during the past two seasons:

*Numbers in (pararentheses) indicate field goal was made


  • Miami (Ohio) (31)
  • Notre Dame (38),(33),(22),(47)
  • San Diego State (39),49,29
  • Iowa (46)
  • Indiana 44
  • Minnesota (38),(29)
  • Illinois (31)
  • Purdue (30),38,(25),32,(35)
  • Michigan State (34),(24),(34)
  • Northwestern -
  • Ohio State -
  • Texas (Rose Bowl) (44),(32),(42)


  • Northern Illinois 48,(38),(23)
  • Notre Dame (38)
  • Eastern Michigan (37)
  • Wisconsin (44),(28)
  • Michigan State (20),27,(35)
  • Minnesota (23),(47),42,34
  • Penn State (35),43,(47)
  • Iowa (26)
  • Northwestern (26),(19),(38),(28)
  • Indiana 52
  • Ohio State (27),(19)
  • Nebraska (Alamo Bowl) 25

As a review of the charts reveal, Rivas actually had a slightly better sophmore year (2004) than he did a junior year (2005). In 2004, Rivas was 19-24 on field goals (79.2%) and 37-41 on PAT's for a total of 94 points. In 2005, his numbers dipped slightly as he was 19-26 on field goals (73.1 %) and 33-35 on PAT's for a total of 90 points. Interestingly, Rivas' performance did not improve in his junior year despite the fact that Coach Carr had him concentrate solely on the placekicking duties as the kickoff duties were handled by Ross Ryan. Whether that division of duties will continue in 2006 is yet to be seen. It did not seem to pay dividends last year in that Rivas' performance was approximately at the same level it was at the previous year when he did handle the kickoff duties.

One thing that I found of note was that Rivas did not make a single field goal of beyond 40 yards in the last five (5) games of the 2005 season. Of course, to be fair, the only one he attempted during that span was from 52 yards. However, I still believe it is telling that Michigan did not have a single field goal of 40 or more yards during almost the second-half of the season. I think it demonstrates a lack of faith Coach Carr had with regards to the kicking game. Costly misses in the MSU, Minnesota and Penn State games weighed heavily on Coach Carr's mind later in the season. Rivas' miss of a 25-yard chip shot during the Alamo Bowl did not do anything to relieve Coach Carr's mind heading into the off-season.

Rivas has shown he has the leg to be a solid kicker for the Wolverines during his senior season. However, he needs to keep his head straight during the 2006 campaign. I got a little worried about him at times last year that he was suffering a crisis of confidence. 110,000 "fans" raining boos down on you has a way of doing that to a person. Kickers have a tough job because they have to be perfect. Every mistake (miss) is magnified and the fans are not going to cut Rivas any slack. He is an easy target to blame for some of last year's close losses. People were already hawking him at this year's Spring Practice. I hope the fans get behind Rivas and maybe boost his confidence rather than tear him down because he is a proven winner who can be a good asset for the 2006 Wolverines as they make their Big 10 Conference title run. Go Blue!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Special Forces: Steve Breaston

Every time Steve Breaston steps onto the field he is the most dangerous player in the game because he is a threat to score each time he touches the ball. As he returns as a 5th-year senior, Breaston already holds Michigan's career record in punt return yardage (1,267 yards) and is second in kickoff return yardage (1,526 yards). Breaston has also racked up over 1,000 yards receiving (1,026 yards) thus making him only the second player in Big 10 history to amass over 1,000 career yards in three different categories.

With the graduations of Braylon Edwards (2004) and Jason Avant (2005) during the past two years, quarterback Chad Henne is looking for a new #1 receiver and Breaston wants to be that man. However, I would note that Breaston's number of receptions has steadily decreased since his redshirt-freshman season of 2003. A review of Breaston's statistics reveal that in 2003 he caught 38 passes while that number dropped to 34 in 2004 and dropped all the way to 26 last season. While reports are that Breaston has had a good spring, I believe that sophmore Mario Mannignham will be the first option in the passing game. Nevertheless, I believe Breaston will play a vital role for the team next season.

Breaston's development as a top-notch receiver has been hampered by a myriad of injuries that have plagued him during his college career. At 6'1",182 lbs., the knock against Breaston has always been that he is not durable enough due to his slight frame. Nevertheless, he has never been hesitatant to stick his nose in there to make a catch and take a hit. Maybe it is that willingness to get banged up that has led him to suffer so many injuries. I know Breaston really wants to have a break-out season as a receiver in his final year as a Wolverine. However, with Manningham as a legitimate #1 option and a receiving corps that is quite deep (see post of 5/28/06- 2006 Receiving Corps: Ready to Step Up), I do not believe that Breaston should be used more than sparingly at receiver lest he risk suffering another major injury. He is too valuable to the Wolverines as arguably the best special teams returner the team has ever had. His primary (and vital) responsiblity for the 2006 season should be as a return man for both punts and kickoffs.

I do not believe that having Breaston deployed almost exlclusively in his final season as a return specialist would sit well with him but it is what is best for the team. Carl Tabb, Doug Dutch, and/or LaTerryal Savoy can all spell Breaston at receiver but no one on the team can come close to matching what Breaston brings to the return game. Breaston holds the U of M single season record for most yards returned both for kickoffs (689 in 2004) and for punts (619 in 2003). However, he had to limit his return duty last season due to injuries. Although he played in 11 of 12 games at wide receiver he was only able to be used as a returner on kickoffs in nine of those games and as a punt returner in only 7 of those contests. Despite the limited action, Breaston was still able to gain 646 kickoff return yards (#2 U of M all-time season high total) and 356 punt return yards (#5 U of M all-time season high total).

Breaston is a game-breaker and the Wolverines need him to be healthy so he can do what he does best: return kicks on special teams. Therefore, I would like to see Breaston deployed almost exclusively on special teams where he is a danger to score every time he trots onto the field to return a kick. Go Blue!

*picture of Steve Breaston was taken by Robin Buckson/The Detroit News at the Alamo Bowl vs. Nebraska on December 28, 2005.

Trivia: Who are the only 2 Wolverines to be 4-time All-Big 10 performers?

Trivia Question: Who are the only two Michigan Wolverines to be named All-Big 10 performers four times?

Answer: Mark Messner (1985-1988) and Steve Hutchinson (1997-2000)

Since 1902, 261 Michigan players have been named All-Big Ten first team a total of 374 times, the most of any conference school. However, out of all those players during all those years only two Wolverines have been named four-time All-Big 10 performers. Those two are defensive tackle Mark Messner and offensive guard Steve Hutchinson.

Mark Messner was a co-Captain of the 1988 team that finished #4 in the rankings and gave Bo his second and last Rose Bowl victory. Messner was a two-time All-American performer having been awarded the honor in both 1987 and 1988. Messner holds nearly all of Michigan's records for sacks and tackles for loss.
He holds the records for most sacks in a game (5), most sacks in a career (36), most sack yardage in a career (273), most tackles for loss in a season (26), most tackles for loss in a career (70), and most tackles for loss yardage in a career (376). Among his other accomplishments, Messner was named the MVP of the Jan. 1, 1986 Fiesta Bowl (a 27-23 win over Nebraska) in which he had 9 tackles, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble to his credit.

Steve Hutchinson was a freshman starter on the 1997 National Championship team and was a two-time tri-Captain serving in that leadership role both in 1999 and 2000. Hutchinson was a two-time All-American who started 45 games for the Wolverines and he did not allow a sack during his final two seasons. Hutchinson was named the Big 10 Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2000.

Of all the great lineman Michigan has had on both sides of the ball, Messner and Hutchinson stand out as two of the all-time best. Go Blue!

*Note: The photo of Mark Messner was taken by Brad Mills, a former U of M student photographer.


Bring Back the Wolverine Helmet Decals

Back in the day (i.e., the Bo/Mo era), Michigan had a tradition of awarding a Wolverine decal for a player's helmet in recognition of the player making a significant play. The picture at right is, of course, Desmond Howard striking the Heisman pose after scoring a touchdown on a 93-yard punt return in the Ohio State game. Take notice of the number of decals that he amassed on his helmet during his Heisman Trophy winning season of 1991. However, if you take at look at a picture of Charles Woodson after he scored his touchdown on a 78-yard punt return in the Ohio State game during his Heisman Trophy winning season of 1997 you will notice that his helmet is sans decals. That is because when Coach Carr took over as Head Coach of the Wolverines he ended the tradition of awarding decals.

At the time Coach Carr ended the tradition, I believe he cited the need for team unity and the desire not to put individual accomplishments ahead of team goals. Admirable goals to be sure but I thought the decals looked cool. Now I know that does not sound like a very persuasive argument so I'll go back to my trump card. If it was good enough for Bo it should be good enough for Lloyd. I remember when Coach Carr got hit with that argument at the time he blew right past it with the rejoinder that he would coach the team as he saw fit.

Players are up for individual awards and honors all the time. The University and even Coach Carr himself often promote the candidacy of specific players for individual awards and/or honors. That being the case, I do not think it would hurt team morale if the coaching staff rewarded a player who made an exceptional contribution by awarding that player a decal for the player's helmet as was done under Bo and Mo. In fact, the decals are a source of pride to the players and they would make an extra effort on behalf of the team so they could earn a decal. Besides, they look cool. Go Blue!