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Posted on Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 4:54 p.m.

While Rich Rodriguez rebuilds, he's leaning on not-so-young juniors and seniors

By Michael Rothstein

Rich Rodriguez is pleading for patience as his team spirals down the Big Ten Conference standings. The Wolverines have lost four in a row in the league - and each week look less competitive.

Meanwhile, the second-year Michigan head coach, the guy who admittedly is impatient when it comes to winning, seemingly expected this from the start.

Asked if he thought his team would be better sooner, Rodriguez said "not after I got here."

Many people point to the lack of depth as a reason for Michigan’s struggles - and there is an argument to be made there.


This team isn’t exactly the picture of youth Rodriguez projects, at least among its front-line players. This means that while Rodriguez’s rebuilding process may pan out, it might take longer than he thinks.

If there is one thing that is glaringly obvious on this year’s Michigan team, it is that the players who are performing at a level worthy of competing in the Big Ten are the same players who might not be here next season.


University of Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez talks with quarterback Tate Forcier on the sidelines in between plays during the first quarter of the Wolverines' 36-33 win against Indiana.

Melanie Maxwell |

Michigan’s most talented players on offense - Brandon Minor - and defense - Brandon Graham - are both gone. Graham, the only bright spot on a horrendous defense, will likely be a first-round pick in April.

On this week’s depth chart for Purdue (noon, Big Ten Network), Michigan will start eight players on offense who have been in college for three years or more, including redshirt years.

On defense, eight starters fall into the same classification.

Special teams features two fifth-year seniors in kicker Jason Olesnavage and punter Zoltan Mesko.

So to point to the roster and say 60 freshmen and sophomores are on it, including walk-ons, as a youth excuse a false truth. As is saying - as Rodriguez has - that Michigan’s talent level was left bare when he was hired in December 2007. Because he clearly feels a bunch of those players are good enough to win with this season.

The defense has five players who will have at least 19 starts - Graham, Jonas Mouton, Stevie Brown, Donovan Warren and Obi Ezeh. The offense has five players with 19 or more - Martavious Odoms, David Moosman, Mark Ortmann, Greg Mathews and Stephen Schilling.

All are major contributors to Michigan this season. But what is also happening is that by playing them, Rodriguez is slowing down the developmental clock on the players behind them. Part of building a program is taking significant lumps by playing young players in bunches and allowing them to grow through their mistakes.

It has happened all over the country, from Notre Dame to the beginnings of what ended up being USC’s domination of the Pac-10 over the past decade. Yet at Michigan, a lot of those young players are merely providing depth.

The exceptions are striking. Freshman Tate Forcier at quarterback, freshman Craig Roh at outside linebacker and sophomore Mike Martin at nose guard all have provided bright spots this year.

But there are spots where Michigan is playing walk-ons out of necessity, which means next year the Wolverines will either continue to play the walk-ons - it started two on defense last week in safety Jordan Kovacs and linebacker Kevin Leach - or it will be playing young talent again.

If this season has taught Michigan fans anything, it is that the younger the player, the more inconsistencies that player shows.

“It takes a little bit longer sometimes than anybody would want,” Rodriguez said. “Progress is being made, not as quickly as some people would like, but we’re going to press forward and get it done eventually. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

It is why he’s preaching patience, although it is tough to see where Michigan will make massive strides next year.

Besides Graham, there’s a chance Warren could forgo his last year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft because of a pending salary cap restriction on rookies along with potential labor issues in the NFL. This means the Michigan defense would lose its best two players and Stevie Brown, the most consistent of the Wolverines’ three starting linebackers, will also be gone.

Same thing on offense, where Michigan will lose its top two running backs - Minor and Carlos Brown - along with at least two linemen in Mark Ortmann and David Moosman. There’s the possibility of Michigan starting a freshman quarterback for the second straight year if Devin Gardner is as good as his four-star recruiting status would indicate.

All of this could lead to more inconsistency next season, when progress will need to be much more than just playing in a bowl.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Sat, Nov 7, 2009 : 6:50 a.m.

If you want a real picture of why this defense is so bad, please consult MGoBlog for a statistical analysis of our last few defensive recruiting classes. Blogs


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 10:26 a.m.

Michigans Starting Defense High School Grades from Rivals.coms Brandon Graham 5 stars Craig Roh 4 stars Mike Martin 4stars Ryan VanBergan 4 stars Donavon Warren 5 stars Troy Wolfolf 3 stars Obi Ezeh 3stars Mike Williams 4 Stars Stevie Brown 4 stars Jonas Muton 4 Stars Not sure why everyones buying the lack of talent excuse? The depth is young, but not untalented. I could list several more Freshman Sophomore 4 stars recruits as well that are still on the roster. I don't believe its a schematic issue either. Richrod is obviously an xs and os guy! Leadership? from the top down?


Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 7:03 a.m.

heartbreak, yes lloyd played henne and hart because of injuries. braylon and long were surrounded by upperclassmen. the MAJORITY of players that started under lc were jrs and srs that were 4 - 5 stars that had been in the system 3 - 5 years. nice attempt to back your arguement naming 4 players.....


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 6:42 p.m.

"I learned a whole lot from Ara (Parseghian) in my first year at Northwestern, but I learned a heckuva lot more from him that second season, when we lost 'em all. And what I learned was how a real leader leads when things aren't going his way...He not once blamed any assistant or any player for any loss we suffered that year. NOT ONCE. --- Bo Schembechler (Bo's Lasting Lessons) Shame on Rich Rodriguez for implying that he inherited a bare cupboard. What he inherited was the winningest program in college football history...not to mention that rated Lloyd's 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes #13 and #12 respectively in the country....oh and btw...Ohio State's were rated #15 and #12 in those years.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 9:32 a.m.

It is entirely possible that while Jonas Mouton, Stevie Brown, and Obi Ezeh have at least 19 starts each, they are not very good football players. Mental breakdowns and physical limitations have been the downfall of this defense.


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 1:06 a.m.

Tater, you just said in an earlier post this team started all freshman and sophmores. More bs


Thu, Nov 5, 2009 : 12:32 a.m.

Hey Marine: "anyone that has watched michigan for the last 10 years knows that LC didn't play UNDERCLASSMAN. " Can you say: Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long, Braylon Edwards? Makes me wonder who has not watched M football for the last 10 years.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 11:45 p.m.

Kiffen's record is 4-4 in the Sec the toughest conference in college football. That means he has already won more games his first year than RR. Is that so hard for you to understand maybe someone can read it to you.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 11:33 p.m.

lemans, what is kiffins record? what are the majority of kiffins players ranked and grade levels (jrs or srs)? your comment exposes you tremendously!!!!! LOL..... tennessee seriously????? you are the one that is _ame. you and the rest of the haters might as well stop. maybe you should check out mgoblog to get some REAL info instead of reading this garbage and believing it.....just like a little lamb...... baaaaaaaa!!!!!!


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 11:18 p.m.

Michael- Please help me out with the grammar used in this paragraph: "So to point to the roster and say 60 freshmen and sophomores are on it, including walk-ons, as a youth excuse a false truth. As is saying - as Rodriguez has - that Michigans talent level was left bare when he was hired in December 2007. Because he clearly feels a bunch of those players are good enough to win with this season." I think I understand what you're getting at, but you may have left out a word or two.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 10:27 p.m.

So answer this question.If RR gives the "media" all this access,exclusive coverage,etc.,etc.(b/c to NOT do so,like Carr did,would be "stupid and counter-productive")AND the media STILL throws RR under the bus every time they get a chance.Who's "stupid" then?Last I checked,Michigan football was here to win games, not entertain the frickin' media!!He will learn like ALL the top-notch coaches have that the media IS NOT your friend!They try to build you up so they can tare you down!! PERIOD!!!They don't care who you are.Ask Joe Pa!They tried the same thing with him when his team was struggling!Carr was SMART not "stupid"!He knew the drill(with the media.)And RR will learn it too(hopefully)!!GO BLUE!!!


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 10:16 p.m.

Their excuses are so lame they do not make any sense. How is Kiffen doing at Tenn in his first year he took over a bad team and look what he is doing and no his players now were not his excuses. What makes anyone think RR is going to learn how to coach in a year or two? His scheme is not working in the Big Ten. RR is the most overrated coach in football


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 10:02 p.m.

Just so I have this straight. LC only played upperclassmen so underclassmen didn't get game experience until becoming upperclassmen (Which is a fallacy, but for argument sake let's say it is true). Yet LC always had a winning season with inexperienced now upperclassmen. Hmmm, so how is it RR can't win with that same handicap?


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 9:35 p.m.

All I know is if Sheridan or Threet were starters again this year we would have the same record we had last season. I could see the two headed lame QBs losing to WMU, ND and IN. Tate is a freshman and he is a difference maker on offense! Also, last year our defense played poorly even though most of the starters were juniors and seniors. How come? Must of been poor coaching by LC in his last few years! Even though you would like to, you really can not blame this on RR. Let's see what you have to write about during the 2012 season when RR's first wave of recruits are Juniors and Seniors. Hmmm, I bet ya we won't see many freshman or walk-ons starting in 2012 will we?


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 9:08 p.m.

bhall.....not trying to insult anyone. this particular article speaks for itself. anyhow, you understood the words that was come'in out my mouth perfectly, hence your comment......


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 8:53 p.m.

So by your logic Kelvin Grady has 3 years learning and practicing in RR system? It doesn't work that way, right now I count 83 FR or SO, regardless of redshirting which is how you need look at it. Compare UMs team to Florida (since FL is very comparable to what UM wants to become), 51% of FL are FR/SO to Michigans 69%. That is 18% difference of more inexperienced players. 18% would equate to about 21 more players of either being a JR/SR if UM had the same numbers. If you don't think inexperience is at play right now, imagine if we could transplant 1 position, lets say we we could transplant SR Tim Tebow in Michigans offense right now, how many less turnovers would there be, how many more wins might we have, if he was at helm of UM right now? I don't know if RR is the right hire, however, let the team develop and give RR his time to do so, if I am seeing this play not next year but in 2011 then maybe the Fire RR bandwagon might have some creditability.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 8:52 p.m.

Stop the excuses and win a damn game against a losing team. Whatever the depth, this team had no reason to lose to a 3-9 MAC team last year any more than they should have been blown off the field by a 1-6 Big Ten team this year. This is Michigan and the guys that are here can play football. Period. We've got a losing team with a first year coach coming to OUR house. Our backs are to the wall and we need a victory to get to a bowl. Stop feeling sorry for any perceived notions of what we don't have, and WIN with what we do have. This is MICHIGAN! Bo would be ashamed at all of the excuses being made. Purdue sucks and if we play with any heart, we should pound them into the dirt. Go Blue!

Do Better

Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 8:44 p.m.

Is really that hard to see that Michigan does not have athletes on defense?


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 8:11 p.m.

finally rothstein, you write a story that blows up all your credibility. where are all the trolls on this one???? it is nice to see some legit comments the tell the whole story of what you failed to leave out! we all know that you have a agenda, sadly you didn't cover your rear on this one. anyone that has watched michigan for the last 10 years knows that LC didn't play UNDERCLASSMAN. he was too busy being a gentleman to get enough of a lead to get them some prime minutes. prime example was ball st in 2006. we crush them, get our back ups some good minutes, and we move ahead of osu or get a rematch. anyhow,we may have some jrs and srs but they have no "real" game experience. RR as a coach is going to play his frosh and sophs before them. nice work on this one, i applaud you............. btw... just because they have been "on campus" doesn't mean squat. you have to play the game, in game situations, under the same system to become proficient. obviously, something that you don't understand because, i can CLEARLY see that you have never donned a football helmet.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 7:45 p.m.

Macabresunset, he didn't "run them off", they quit. He tried to talk Mallett into staying, but RM still left. Boren quit because he didn't like RR. That happens after coaching changes. Bpo "ran off" alot of guys too. It happens.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 7:27 p.m.

Rather than counting the entire roster, a fool's errand if ever there was one, count the number of upperclassmen on the two-deep depth chart (offense and defense) and compare to previous Michigan teams or other Big Ten opponents. Do some research and earn my respect, Mr. Rothstein, and you'll earn my clicks.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 6:58 p.m.

I think Rothstein makes some good points, but also a fair number of bad ones. First, Odoms is a true sophomore, so to say that playing him is 'slowing the developmental clock' of those behind him is disingenuous. Second, what's the distinction look like if Rothstein uses the conventional analysis of upperclassmen -- juniors or seniors (regardless of redshirt)? Third, the team has little depth. Less depth means less challenges in practices, which means it's harder to improve. If you believe a team is only as strong as its weakest link, there's a lot of weak links in the Michigan 2-deep depth chart. My big question -- are the players that bad? How much responsibility does Rodriguez and his staff bear for not 'coaching them up'?


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 6:40 p.m.

Not only are we suffering from the noticable problems...we also need to remember that many of the juniors and seniors never saw the field their first two years because we were never in a position to play them. God forbid we get a 24 point lead and get some of these guys the experience they need to be great players now. Instead we were always squeaking (or getting beat) when we could have been dominating with our talent. Has anyone noticed that Steve Breaston has become a pretty darn good receiver? LC had no clue how to use him...or half the other guys on the team for that matter.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 6:13 p.m.

Seems pretty much like the same story from 2008. The big difference is that we didn't play Utah this year and we are beating the MAC teams now.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 5:54 p.m.

Michigan is relatively inexperienced. But not as much as some teams. Warren would be an idiot to pass up a year simply to enter the draft early. It's quite unlikely, unless he's a lock to be a top-15 pick, that he would benefit financially from coming out. And his play, to date, has not given me the impression he's all that ready. He'd be a project. One reason the depth chart isn't as deep as he would like is that he ran off a lot of good prospects.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 5:46 p.m.

Tare a few facts that we have to remember about our juniors and seniors that are the reason that they are not performing up to our lofty standards (and they are LOFTY). The seniors that are on the team are from LC, the first two years of their careers they were a part of a veteran laden team that was one game away from the National Championship. From there...there was a close loss to tOSU, a loss in the Rose bowl, a loss to App St., a blowout loss to Oregon, a season where we fought for respect the whole year only to lose the last two games, a final great win against Florida, a loss of a great coach (the man who recruited them), getting a coach that the news media instantly attacked because of the circumstances surrounding his leaving of WVU, a 3-9 season, no bowl game, a training scandal where former (and current) players attacked the team's character and pride. All of these facts (mostly bad) are now following this small group of seniors that came to Michigan to win. When it comes to college football, the game is 90% mental/emotion, we need to fight for our seniors, show them that this team and season can still mean something, because truly ONLY the seniors on the team can turn this thing around.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 5:44 p.m.

Watch it Mike - bringing in facts in a discussion of U-M football is going to get you in trouble! BTW - aren't universities only allowed to carry 85 scholarship players? I have heard this 120 number before - this would mean that almost a third of these players are walk ons that essentially help fill out the practice field. Can't really count on many of them for help


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 4:49 p.m.

Not to mention the fact that just because they have players with a lot of starts, doesn't mean those players are the ones we would play if we had decent recruiting and retention (particulaly on defense) since 2005. Remember some of these guys are the ones who got lit up last year, and for that matter against App State and Oregon under Carr and English. Mouton and Ezeh have both graded out poorly all year (if you read the reviews on MGoBlog and elsewhere). Ezeh was replaced by a walk-on Freshman in this last game (who graded out better than Obi did). Brown is improved in his hybrid role, but he's there because he was a disaster at Safety, and Safety is one of the positions we are definitely a disaster at this year.

Michael Rothstein

Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 4:48 p.m.

When you look at years on campus, there are 60 freshmen and sophomores. Just because a guy has a certain number of eligibility years remaining doesn't mean they haven't been on campus lifting and practicing and all of that. They are just preserving a year. But they are still learning the system and practicing.


Wed, Nov 4, 2009 : 4:37 p.m.

I see the writer conveniently forgets to mention that 89 of 120 players are either Freshman or Sophomores. Convenient memory for those writers who are portraying to be giving the whole story.