Friday, April 17, 2009

Adam Rittenberg: Labeling the Rational Choice as "Desperate" since Yesterday

With Stewart Mandel off in Shangri-La and Terence Moore having given up the notion that Juan Pierre is the solution to the Braves' perpetual left field woes, I've been looking for new material. Adam Rittenberg, come on down!

Michigan offers Paulus chance to compete at QB

Wow, that's a big story! I'm very interested to know if you're going to have quotes from Michigan's coaches to back up the notion that a guy who hasn't played football in four years is going to step in front of two four-star recruits, one of whom has already gone through a spring practice as the starter and went 11-14 in the spring game.

As amazing as it sounds, former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus has an offer from Michigan to compete for the starting quarterback job this fall.


Paulus visited the Wolverines' final practice of the spring on Tuesday and met with head coach Rich Rodriguez and his assistants. He's receiving interest from other college teams, including his hometown Syracuse Orange, but right now Michigan is the only real possibility.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this wild story is the fact that Paulus didn't even throw or work out for Rodriguez or his assistants on Tuesday but still has a chance to join the team.

"It was a visit," Paulus said Thursday morning. "There was no throwing the ball around or anything like that. There was no workouts. There was nothing like that."

OK, so our news flash so far is that Greg Paulus visited Michigan and didn't throw the ball. Fascinating.

This is a guy who hasn't played football in four years. Sure, he was a great high school quarterback, but to expect him to grasp the spread offense in one summer and win a starting job seems pretty far-fetched. Reeks of desperation, don't you think?

File this under the heading of "no s***, Sherlock." Michigan's current depth chart at quarterback consists of the aforementioned true freshmen - Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson - and a walk-on - Nick Sheridan - who was atrocious last year. Forcier looked promising in spring practice, but he isn't the biggest guy in the world. Robinson is a great athlete, but he might be a little raw as a quarterback. He had offers from a number of major SEC powers, but probably not to play under center. (Insert wishful Pat White analogy here.) Faced with this situation, what coach in his right mind would not look to bring in additional options? So naturally, because Rittenberg wants to stir the drink and get suckers like me to link his article, the rational choice becomes desperation.

Paulus reiterated that holding a clipboard and wearing a backwards hat aren't what he's planning to do next fall.

"The chance to compete for a starting job is important," he said. "With me only having an opportunity to play for one year, the chance and the opportunity to compete at a high level is important. There is an opportunity to do that at Michigan."

The lead on this story strongly implied that Michigan has promised Paulus a shot as a starter. A casual reader would also infer that Michigan is not happy with the performance of its quarterbacks in the spring. When you get to the actual meat of the article, you get Paulus saying that there is an opportunity to start at Michigan. Tellingly, he doesn't say that he was told this by anyone at Michigan. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Paulus bases that statement on the fact that he has eyes and has seen Michigan's depth chart at quarterback. He's drawing his own conclusion as to the possibilities if he spends a year in Ann Arbor.

That's what makes the title of the article and the opening paragraph so f***ing misleading. You would think that Michigan is begging Paulus to come to school to be the immediate starter. Instead, there is absolutely no evidence to support the implication. I hate using this term because it makes me sound like Bernie Goldberg, but that's wildly irresponsible journalism. Did Rittenberg even bother to talk to Michigan's coaches about what they said to Paulus? Did Dick Vitale write this article?

Michigan has given Paulus no firm deadline to make the decision, but the former Duke point guard knows the sooner he finalizes his plans, the better off his chances are of grasping a new offense.

As for that pesky eligibility issue, Paulus is on pace to graduate from Duke in May. Since he never redshirted in basketball and will complete his degree in four years, he can go elsewhere, enroll in graduate school and play immediately. Paulus said a strong graduate program means a lot to him, and Michigan would certainly qualify.

Rittenberg might want to mention that the NCAA rule permitting athletes to transfer for a fifth year without sitting out if they have graduated in four years is a very new phenomenon. Urban Meyer made use of the rule in 2006 to bring in Ryan Smith in an effort to shore up a leaky defensive backfield. Smith was all-SEC in 2006 and Florida won the national title on the back of a terrific defense. Was Urban "desperate" when he brought Smith in? Or was he just being logical and using every available legal avenue to shore up depth chart issues?

I've gone back and forth on the Paulus situation.

This might be a low-risk, high-reward move for Michigan, which can move forward with Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson or Nick Sheridan if Paulus doesn't pan out. But it also sends a curious message to Forcier and Robinson as well as a fan base that seemed to be finally warming to Rodriguez. Couldn't see this happening at Michigan under the old guard.

It's not that this "might be" a low-risk, high-reward move; it is a low-risk, high-reward move. Michigan will have fewer than 85 scholarship players in 2009. There is literally no downside to bringing Paulus in as he is filling an unused scholarship for one year. I suppose you can claim that bringing Paulus in will unsettle Forcier and Robinson, but that is true any time a team brings in a new recruit. Did Michigan unsettle Forcier and Robinson when it got a verbal from rising high school senior Devin Gardner, who will likely be rated ahead of Forcier and Robinson by Rivals when the season is over? Is the lesson that a team should never bring in new quarterbacks once it has two freshmen ready to play the position? This is what Rittenberg finds "curious."

And what Michigan fan with an IQ over 70 finds this move curious? Again, the current starter is a 185-pound true freshman. Oddly enough, football players will occasionally sustain "injuries" that prevent them from playing. If one of these "injuries" should befall Forcier, then the options will be another true freshman whom most SEC programs saw as a great receiver or corner and Nick Sheridan. Michigan fans have seen Sheridan play. That's why they can't possibly find it curious that Rodriguez would bring in a quarterback who would make the prospect of Sheridan seeing the field less likely. This move is not an indictment of Forcier and Robinson. It's impossible to indict two quarterbacks who have 15 practices under their collective belts. Instead, it's an acknowledgment that Michigan needs more depth at quarterback other than Sheridan. Paulus may be rusty, but he was good enough four years ago to be a blue chip prospect. This means that he has (or once had) a strong, reasonably accurate arm and sufficient size. Nick Sheridan has none of these things. I'm sure he's a great guy and good to his mother, but any strategy that makes him taking a meaningful snap a less likely proposition is a good strategy.

And that last backhanded shot about the old regime not doing something like signing Paulus is total crap. First of all, the rule only existed at the very tail end of Lloyd Carr's tenure. Second, Lloyd recruited Russell Shaw from a junior college when Michigan's depth chart at receiver looked bad. He recruited Austin Panter from a junior college when Michigan's depth chart at linebacker looked bad. he recruited the academically dubious Marques Slocum when the depth chart at defensive tackle looked bad. If Lloyd were faced with two true freshmen and a quarterback whom MGoBlog subtly nicknamed "Death," he would also be scouring the waiver wires for options.

And what about me?!? Shouldn't I get the benefit of an entire year of Stalingrad references? If Michigan is going to get bad quarterback play, shouldn't I at least have the pleasure of imitating Hitler's rant when von Paulus surrendered to the Red Army rather than commiting suicide? (Note to self: I think the whole rant is in Alan Clark's Barbarossa. Make sure you read that section before we play Notre Dame.)

Got to run to Ohio State now, but I'll have more on this as it develops.

I can't wait.

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