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April 14, 2009 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-04-14

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8- Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Backfield could be backbone

Sophomore Manny Harris (left) and junior DeShawn Sims say they're a package deal.
Harris and Sims
id i
conie oSptions

By JASON KOHLER
Daily Sports Writer
When sophomore guard Manny
Harris hopped onto the stage at the
Four Points Sheraton to receive the
Bill Buntin Most Valuable Player
award, junior forward DeShawn
Sims followed him.
Harris received the award from
Michigan coach John Beilein and
then handed it to Sims.
"He deserves it," Harris said.
As the two headed back the seats,
Beilein quickly joked, "Can we do
that? If both of you come back and
stay next year, we'll let you both
have it."
The big question surrounding
the Michigan basketball team at
its annual year-end banquet was
whether Harris and Sims would be
back with the Wolverines next sea-
son or bolt to the NBA.
After Michigan's second-round
loss to Oklahoma in the NCAA
Tournament, it seemed that there
was no gray area. Harris and Sims
were definitely coming back.
"I love the college game," Har-
ris said at the time. "I still have a
lot of work to do before I make the
jump."
Beilein has insisted all along that
his two stars make an educated

decision and explore their options.
"It's sort of a rite of spring where
I think they should think about
things for a long time," Beilein said
before the banquet. "They should
find out where they are and where
they would be if they ever did
decide to come out. But finding out
where you are and coming out are
two different things."
Harris and Sims are being coun-
seled by an advisory board led by
Stu Jackson, the NBA Executive
Vice President of Basketball Opera-
tions. The board has been giving the
players a sense of where they would
stand if they were to enter the NBA
draft in late June.
Beilein said he has a feeling of
what his players are thinking, but
he wouldn't comment on it.
Harris and Sims said they are a
package deal - if one goes, so does
the other - and they will make a
decision later this week.
If the Wolverines lose Harris
and Sims, they will lose 48.3 per-
cent of this past season's offensive
production. Harris was a first-team
All-Big Ten selection and Sims was
second-team. When asked what
they would do if they were forced to
make a decision today, both players
said they would be coming back to
Michigan.

By RUTH LINCOLN
Daily Sports Editor
Last season, then-junior Brandon
Minor led the Michigan football
team with just 533 total rushing
yards. It had been 45 years since a
Wolverine led the team with fewer.
But now, with
a solid offensive NOTEBOOK
core around him
and the other running backs, the
ground game could become one of
the team's biggest strengths.
The Wolverines return four run-
ning backs who started at least one
game last season. Veterans like
Minor, senior Carlos Brown and
fifth-year senior Kevin Grady have
shined in spring practice.
"I believe you've got to have a
number of tailbacks - more than
two, more than three," Michigan
coach Rich Rodriguez said. "You've
got to have at least four ready to win
with.... The more competition you
have, it raises everybody's level. We
have some backs that their role may
be different than others."
Rodriguez said he wanted to give
his younger players more playing
time Saturday and avoid injuring
his top players. Minor was limited
to just a few carries in Saturday's
spring game, but he will likely be
the Wolverines' top back in the fall.
Brown has had his moments, like
last season against Northwestern
when he rushed for 115 yards on
23 carries, or during a three-game
stretch in 2007 when he averaged
over 103yards per game. But injuries
have plagued his career and pre-
vented him from establishing much
of a rhythm in the backfield.
Now at full strength, Brown
showcased his speed and strength
allspring.InSaturday'sspringgame,
he broke free for an 82-yard run.
Grady looked good Saturday,

too. After promising freshman
and sophomore seasons, an ante-
rior cruciate ligament injury in
2007 and a DUI charge last August
marred Grady's career. But coach-
es have been impressed with his
recent spring performance.
"Part of what we've talked about
is that everybody is going to have
a role," Rodriguez said. "If they
embrace that role as well as they
can, we're going to be a better foot-
ball team. Carlos is one that does
that and understands that. Kevin
is the same way. They've both had
outstanding springs."
Early-enrollee Vincent Smith
showed off his speed towards
the end of the spring game with a
25-yard run in the "overtime" ses-
sion. Despite his 5-foot-6,158-pound
frame, Smith has shown toughness.
"(Smith's) probably one of the
most gifted guys we've got back
there, as far as being able to jump
cut, press a block and get north and

SAID ALSALAH/Daily
Senior Carlos Brown had an 82-yard run in Michigan's spring game on Saturday.

south," Rodriguez said. "From what
we've seen this spring, he's got a
chance to be in the mix. Again, there
is a lot of things that freshman backs
have to learn,but he's on his way."
Add sophomore running back
Michael Shaw, who missed the
spring to have surgery on a sports
hernia, and redshirt freshman
Michael Coxto the mix, and carries
this fall will be tightly contested.
ALUMS WEIGH IN: Several for-
mer players were on hand Saturday
for the alumni flag football game,
including quarterback Rick Leach
(1975-78), linebacker Larry Foote
(1999-2002) and receiver Desmond
Howard (1989-91).
All three were optimistic about
next season. Despite the Wolver-
ines' youth, Leach said he thought
the team would showvisible growth
in Rodriguez's second year. .
"I'm anxious to see what hap-
pens," Leach said. "I knew (fresh-
man quarterback) Tate (Forcier)

when he was being recruited. I've
stayed in touch. Iknowhis family....
There's going to beups and downs,
but he's tremendously accurate as a
passer, he's got great mobility and
he loves football."
Howard pointed to Rodriguez's
improvement in his previous stops
- West Virginia went 3-8 in Rodri-
guez's first season and 9-4 the next
year - as evidence that Michigan
will be better. And though the Wol-
verine defense still needs to adjust
to first-year defensive coordinator
Greg Robinson's system, the grow-
ing pains will be less noticeable.
"(Robinson) told me he's going
to have ... a defense that is going to
keep pressure on quarterbacks so
they can never get comfortable,"
Howard said. "He said it's like a
school of 11 piranhas. It's like 11
piranhas in that little fish bowl
your teacher used to keep on her
desk with the little goldfish in it.
Imagine 11 piranhas in that thing.
It's like a frenzy."
DEFENSIVE DOWNSIDES: How-
ard might see defensive piranhas
in Michigan's future, but few were
around Saturday. Robinson didn't
want to show too many of his
schemes too early, and the defense
looked less than spectacular.
Senior Brandon Graham saw
limited action for the same reasons
as Minor, and sophomore defensive
tackle Mike Martin did not play
due to injury. Redshirt sophomore
defensive end Ryan Van Bergen
-left the field midway through the
scrimmage with what Rodriguez
called "not a major knee thing."
"We have a lot less experience up
front and at the safety positions,"
Rodriguez said. "I like our gdlys'
attention to learning new termi-
nology defensively, but we've got a
lot of work to do there because of
inexperience."

I

0

0

0

The Daily: A trip to remember

t was 8 a.m. on a summer
morning in 2007, and my cell
phone was ringing.
Wondering who could possibly
be calling so early, I croaked a

groggy hello.
On the other end of the line was
Michigan alum J. J. Putz, then
the All-Star closer for the Seattle
Mariners. As the star ballplayer
apologized for
waking me up
- bethought
I was still in
Michigan,i n
not my home
state of Cali-
fornia - I ran
downstairs COLT
to put him on ROSENSWEIG
speakerphone, --
turn on my
recorder and conduct an interview.
A month later, I found myself
behind the scenes of the USA
Championships for men's gym-
nastics,just a few feet away from
the best gymnasts in the country.
Among the champion athletes was
a group of Wolverines, who wel-
comed me with big smiles and hugs.
None of it would have been
possible without the Daily. And
though nothing quite turned out
the way I expected - I thought I
was destined to write baseball - I
wouldn't change a thing. If Karl
Stampfl hadn't finally succeeded
in dragging me to 420 Maynard in
the second semester of my fresh-
man year, I wouldn't have stayed'at
Michigan for fiv vers T nhale

would have just gone to classes,
hockey and football games, and I
would not have had nearly so many
amazing memories.
I've covered the extraordinary
men's gymnastics team, made
the kinds of friends who will last
a lifetime and had unforgettable
adventures.
There was the game the Michi-'
gan men's club rugby team brought
me along for in Columbus, where I
stood in the drivingsleet and wind
for three hours with a coach using
me as a shield - and I couldn't stop
smiling the whole time.
There was the time in 2006
when, planning atrip to Okla-
homa for men's gymnastics NCAA
Championships, I unwittingly
booked myself a room in a hooker
hotel. Upon my arrival, I got myself
transferred to the cushy Sooner
Hotel by playing the Daily card and
then ended up hitching a ride to the
arena with an Oklahoma student I
met as I wandered around lost.
There was that 10-hour drive
to Minnesota at 4 a.m. with two
travel buddies - both of whom
instantly conked out as I attempted
to see the road through the pitch
blackness and snow flurries.
I've met wonderful people like
Russell Czeschin, Dylan Carney,
Kyson Bunthuwong, Derek Helsby
anri Mitchell1Mnv-who finncly

broadened my gymnastics world
beyond the Wolverines.
And one of the positive conse-
quences of this crappy economy is
that it was cheaper for me to ride to
away meets with the team I've cov-
ered for four years. I'll never forget
the impromptu karaoke parties
that sometimes rose in the back of
the bus, with 15 boys belting out
old songs because they were too
happy to do anything else.
Practice became as routine for
me as it was for the athletes I cov-
ered. Each day, as I sat down in my
"cozy spot" by the floor exercise, I
felt a quiet contentment that I don't
think I'll find elsewhere anytime
soon.
"There are six empty chairs
here," Michigan assistant coach
Scott Vetere used to point out
(before he realized it was futile):
"And you're sittingon the floor."
It was the best seat in the house.
I've gotten to watch this team
develop from a squad that missed
NCAA team finals in 2006 into the
confident group that won a confer-
ence championship this year. I've
watched these athletes get their
hearts broken and seen them rise
to unbelievable heights. The day
after Michigan won Big Tens this
year, one of the team moms hugged
me, saying she was happiest for me
- that, after years of covering the
team for the Daily, I got to go out
on such a high note.
When the Big Ten champion-
ship win got top billing on that
SportsMonday, I eagerly watched
the gymnasts pick up newspapers
at the Coliseum. I'll never forget
the smiles that spread across their
faces.
And without the Daily, I might
not have even known this team
existed. I'd never have found this
"job" that made me happier than
anything in the world.
It never felt like work.
So thank you, Ian Herbert, for
encouraging me when I needed it
most. Thank you, Jack Herman,
for teaching me (without knowing
it) that it is a beat writer's duty to
make the road trips. Thank you,
Scott Bell, for all the props that
made me feel valued. Thank you,
Andy Reid, for all the times this
season you've joked, "(Michigan
men's gymnastics coach) Kurt
Golder is goingto be pissed next
year!" Thank you to all my fellow
writers who have made this whole
crazy ride so-special, and thanks
to "the Kids," who always sup-
ported me.
Graduating into the frightening
"real" world, I know I'll treasure
these last four and a half years
more than ever. I've had the time
of my life.
- Colt is in Minnesota for
the men's gymnastics NCAA
Championships, just as she promised
her "freshmen" she would be.

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