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Varsity Blue

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Good question left in the comments by Max:
Will the aggregate transition of both new players and a new system make for a "whole is less than the sum of the parts" situation?

That is to say, while I'm sure the compounded issues will make for a more difficult transition than if the Wolverines had to endure only one or the other, perhaps the fact that the players are indeed "new" will help speed up the implementation of the new schemes.

Would you rather have Chad Henne step into the new offense after 4 years of being groomed in the old system, or Steven Threet (I won't use Feagin as an example since it's not really a fair comparison) take the reigns having not played a snap of college football in any other system? Henne is likely still the best bet, but the point is that the playing field is shifted in Threet's favor. Add Feagin into the equation and I think it becomes a dilemma that may even compel one to lean toward him and Threet.

While congruent comparisons are harder to draw with Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, and Mike Hart as their respective positions are more grounded in athleticism, they can still nonetheless be made.
I'll start with the easiest part of this question, which also happens to be the least important. In terms of other skill position players, I don't think the transition will have a huge effect. Wide receivers will still have to run routes (and many of the same ones). Players who have spent 2-3 years not having to block (that much) might resent that they now have to do so, and half-ass it, but the new scheme itself is not impeded by the fact that they were taught by other people before. Same thing with running backs, but they will be even better off. They have been learning a zone run scheme for the past two years, so they will be continuing to do that, with the patience, vision, and other skills they have learned over the past couple years. As a bonus, they still have the same position coach.

Moving along, offensive linemen might have to do a little deprogramming before they can learn the new system (meaning that incoming freshmen may be slightly better off because they don't have to unlearn anything - though they'll still be behind in terms of college conditioning programs). An offensive lineman who has, for example, spent three years knowing that his pass-protection first move will be X may take some time to stop doing X instinctually, and remember (through actual memory or muscle memory via repetition) to do Y instead. Same thing with run blocking. However, it can be said that, in general, pass blocking techniques and schemes aren't going to be vastly different from each other, and as far as run blocking, the linemen have been learning a zone scheme for the past two years. The returning guys might need to unlearn a few things, but they will also still start ahead of the incomers (who have to unlearn some of their high school schemes, anyway).

As far as QBs, this may be the area where your idea makes the most sense (and you seem to agree, as that was the primary framework in which you asked it). If we're going to start with all things equal, we would have to be talking about the same quarterback, since Steve Threet and Chad Henne have different natural skill sets and learning ability (not that I'm implying Henne is any smarter than Threet or vice versa, just that it's unlikely they are of the exact same intelligence - football or otherwise). So, we will start with a redshirt freshman Chad Henne who has learned under the tutelage of Scot Loeffler for one year (and, if we're nitpicking, GT's terrible QBs coach for one spring (not that I know anything about GT's QB coach other than that he must be terrible if Reggie Ball was able to start at Tech)), and a veteran Chad Henne, who has learned under Loeffler for four years, and see what we end up with.

I think I would still have the veteran Chad Henne, and have to deprogram him a little bit. First, there are some things that will apply to a quarterback, regardless of system. As long as he is able to memorize plays, he will be able to make the right read. Senior Chad Henne will invariably be better at recognizing coverages, and knowing which receiver to hit in said coverage, than Redshirt Freshman Chad Henne. In the passing game at least, SCH is definitely preferred. Of course, there are other aspects to quarterbacking. Having the confidence to ride out fakes, and being acquainted with the speed of the college game both benefit SCH over RFCH.

However, there is some unlearning to do that will favor RFCH. The footwork in the system is likely to be completely different, and SCH will have to forget all the old stuff if he wants to succeed. This is similar to the situation of the O-linemen. Also, SCH will be unfamiliar with reading the DE on zone-read plays (which we all know are a very important part of the RichRod offense). RFCH might have to adjust to the speed of DEs at the college level, but he won't be trying to wrap his mind (already filled with other information) around something completely new.

In all, I think it is preferable to have veteran players, regardless of whether you are teaching an entirely new system or not. While there is some unlearning to do, they are also more used to the process of learning football things than new players would have. They might make a couple mistakes by accidentally replicating the old system, but is that really any worse than a mistake of completely not knowing what you have to do? Also, there is the conditioning issue. Even if Michigan's old S&C regime was outdated, it was a college training program (and returning players have also had Barwis's winter program as well). Under almost any circumstances (i.e. you are not trying to re-teach a quarterback with the intellect of Anthony Morelli), you'd take the veterans. Alas, Michigan doesn't have that choice at many positions (especially quarterback), and will be starting young(er) guys almost all over the field.

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  1. Blogger RJHOVE Says:

    When do the freshmen get on campus for next fall anyway?

  2. Blogger Tim Says:

    I would assume they want (and the staff wants them) to get to campus as soon as possible, so they can participate in informal (player-organized) practices and Barwis's workouts, get some help learning the playbook so they are as ready as possible to contribute, especially in this transition year.

    The players will probably start getting to campus as soon as they graduate from high school, though I don't know when that is for each individual. If anyone didn't show up until fall camp, he would definitely start behind.

  3. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    "In all, I think it is preferable to have veteran players, regardless of whether you are teaching an entirely new system or not."

    Uhh, yeah.

    The OP asks an interesting question which includes his own viewpoint that is, it appears, a positive one with regard to M's chances for improvement in a different offensive system.

    There are too many variables, and I think you attempted to reduce these by comparing RSFCH to SCH, to predict that M will have abundant success with RR's read-option offense.

    I think it is safe to say that success WILL come. The pertinent question is when? .... and I'd add, to what degree?

    Steven Threet is the odds on favorite to start but I think, based on what we've been hearing, that Justin Feagin is going to play a role at QB as the season develops. IMO, his development, along with how effective the O line becomes in the new system, is going to have more to do with whether or not RR's offense is successful, to the extent it can produce key wins against ND, MSU and osu, among others, in 2008.

    You already addressed the obvious - receivers still have to run good routes, RBs still have to run well and so forth. But how well Threet can manage to keep RR's offense functional early (he's not any where close to the ideal candidate to do it no matter how prodigious his inate skills may be) until Feagin can assume a larger role in that offense later (Justin has the tools and more experience with the read option compared to Threet) is key along with one other aspect of M's game.

    You did mention the offensive line. However, the success of any OL is as much dependent on the skills/power of the individual players as it is on continuity. Injuries played a huge roll in M's mediocre performance in 2008. Its likely that the Barwis factor is going to make a difference here .... a big one.

    I'm going to take a different approach here. "In all," I think it is more likely that M will experience a marked inmprovment in their offense b/c the OL is likely to be much better in 2008 than in 2007, even if it is less experienced. That is b/c improving on Gittelson's injury record is going to increase continuity on the OL and inmprove the play of that unit substantially.

    In additon, the mere difference in football tactis (having to defend a much larger portion of the football field compared to Lloyd Carr coached teams) is an ideal set of new circmstances that, in my view, will help off-set the likely execution errors that are an inevitable part of installing a new offense.

    Furthermore, if Justin Feagin develops soon enough to see playing time in the OOC games and proves he is able to manage the offense, the chances of M being much better than the sports prognosticators are predicting, increases dramatically. That is b/c having a true dual threat QB back there that can play well increases the lethality of RR's offense exponentially.

    Thus, Feagin's development (or an utterly surprising capacity for Steven Threet to excell) IMO, holds the key for finding unexpected success for M football in 2008.

  4. Blogger Tim Says:

    Obviously, comparing old offense to new offense (and production for each), I would expect the new offense to be more successful, simply because it is a more prolific offensive scheme.

    However, in deciding whether completely new players or returning players would be more successful during the transition year, I still maintain that players who have been in a college system are more likely to succeed.

  5. Blogger Robert Says:

    My MSU friend contends that UM's defense will suffer against traditional big ten offenses because it only practices against the spread. Any thoughts which will address this/shut him up?

  6. Blogger RJHOVE Says:

    Florida National Title game against Ohio State?

  7. Blogger Tim Says:

    Good question, Robert. I'll look into it for a post sometime this week.