ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 10: Craig Roh #88 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a 35-31 over Notre Dame Fighting Irish with Mike Martin #68 at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
In what seems like a lifetime and a half ago, Craig Roh committed to play for Rich Rodriguez way back in September of 2008. As a four-star recruit out of Arizona's Chapparal High School--the same school that gave us future first-rounder LT Taylor Lewan--Roh was a coveted pass rusher, acquiring offers from Pac
10 12 schools like UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal, and Arizona State, in addition to Nebraska and, of course, Michigan. He's currently listed at 6'5'' 269 on mgoblue.com, but out of high school he was a mere 230; a bit undersized, to say the least. Nonetheless, he was a pass rushing demon, the sort of somewhat undersized end that you might find down in the SEC.
As a junior and senior in high school he broke the school record for sacks in a single season, notching a total of 30.5 sacks throughout his prep career. During his senior year, he tallied 140 total tackles, 56 TFL, and 16.5 sacks. Of course, he would need to add weight to play at the college level just like a significant majority of most high school prospects (even to play on the weak side or the now dreaded "hybrid" end/LB position), but one thing was clear: this was a guy who knew how to get the quarterbacks via motor, technique, and sheer intuition. Needless to say, doing that at the FBS level is a different animal entirely, but Roh's offer list and high school production suggested that he was a player who had the chance to be a very good one for Michigan.
If the offer list wasn't enough indication, Roh was (and still is) also a great student. You don't get offers from those schools without having it between the ears. Naturally, Roh was Academic All-Big Ten in 2011. He is the sort of player that coaches dream about: smart, talented, and the sort of player that you'll never find getting into any sort of trouble off the field. In addition to Roh's exploits on the field and in the classroom, he has also spent what little free time he may have doing some very laudable volunteer work. During his spring break in 2010, Roh, former Michigan basketball player Ben Cronin, and Jordan Reilley all went down to New Orleans to assist the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts through the Project Homecoming organization. In light of Bob Chappuis's passing last week, I have revisited the term "Michigan Man," one which we so often use somewhat indiscriminately, albeit with good intentions. If one needs to be pointed in the direction of what the hallowed term truly means, one needs look no further than Craig Roh. No matter how he performs this season, I can confidently say that the program and the Michigan community at large can be proud to say that Craig Roh was a Wolverine.
Of course, Roh's character and willingness to live up to the Michigan Man descriptor translates to the field as well. I don't need to tell you that it took a little something extra to commit to a program that had recently gone through a coaching change as philosophically drastic as the one Michigan experienced in 2008. Roh committed at the beginning of the 2008 season, so it's not as if he had an inkling of the hard times that Michigan was in for. Still, he had every opportunity to transfer and play elsewhere, an opportunity of which he thankfully never took advantage.
As an undersized underclassman, Roh was thrown into the fire as a freshman. Roh had a promising debut season as a pass rusher, racking up 37 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and 2 sacks, receiving Freshman All-Big Ten honors from the Sporting News and honorable mention from CollegeFootballNews.com. However, he started out playing at outside linebacker, which was perhaps a product of his combination of a lack of size and above average speed as much as it was the coaching staff's unique brand of incompetence when it came to the defense.
After what can be deemed a mostly positive freshman season (in spite of the defense's struggles as a whole), his sophomore year was somewhat of a disaster, although through by and large no fault of his own. The coaching staff slotted Roh at the hybrid end/OLB position, the so called "quick" or "deathbacker" position. Roh started the first eight games at linebacker before finishing the rest of the season at end; as such, it's difficult to look back at that year and not see it as one that stunted his growth as a football player considerably. For all of Roh's athletic abilities, it was obvious that he is not at his best when playing in space. One of the more telling comments of the Greg Mattison era thus far came earlier this spring (emphasis mine, via MGoBlog's spring presser transcript):
We did a lot of thinking about that, and Jibreel is the same thing. I want to always have a very very fast, disruptive defense. That’s what you always need to have, especially up front. Craig Roh has played some very very good football here. Craig Roh will be a better football player moving into a 5-technique than he would be out on the edge where there’s a lot of open spaces.
Well, there you have it. It may seem like a throwaway comment, but to me this is incredibly damning of the previous staff's inability to understand the skill sets of its own players, a fact which was was obvious vis-a-vis Roh's mostly ineffective deployment at linebacker.
The good news is that we now have a defensive staff that has not only simplified things, it has provided more pointed and consistent coaching (not that Greg Mattison's NFL schemes are "simple"...more "streamlined" is perhaps the better word). Roh is on the move once again, only this time he will merely be flipping from the WDE position to the strong side 5-tech vacated by iron man-warrior-poet Ryan Van Bergen. This is a good move because it not only provides a quick fix on the strong side, it allows rising stars like Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer the chance to put their pass-rushing talents to good use at WDE.
This may be a little extreme, but Roh's move to the strong side is in a way is a giving up of the ghost that is "Craig Roh as a traditional pass rushing monster" at the college level. While many Michigan fans--myself included--envisioned a player that would utilize his speed and overall athleticism to get to the quarterback with regularity, that has not quite come to pass for various reasons. However, as mentioned, this move is far from a "bad thing for Roh's career/NFL prospects, if for the simple fact that: a) this staff obviously knows what it's doing and b) expectations change over time, and just because Roh will be doing something different in 2012, it does not mean that he can't or won't be a plus player for the Michigan defense going forward.
As a guy who has notched a whopping 38 starts, Roh will unquestionably be the leader of the defensive line and the defense as a whole (along with guys like Kenny Demens and Jordan Kovacs). Position switches are always a cause for concern, no matter how good or experienced a player is, but I think Michigan fans can rest assured that Roh is a guy who is equal to the challenge, whether it's in the weight room, film study, or on the practice field.
The primary question going forward is a fairly simple one, one that harkens back to the career of Pat Massey. To put it simply: can Roh put on enough weight to hold up on the strong side? Roh has put on a remarkable amount of weight since coming to Ann Arbor, and one can assume that he's working hard this summer to add even more before fall camp begins. Attempting to figure out what players weigh during the nebulous summer months is somewhat of a struggle, but Roh is currently somewhere in the neighborhood of 280, 8 pounds light then RVB's 288.
Attempting to replicate the production of a run-stopping stalwart like RVB will be a difficult task, but if anyone is up to it...it's Craig Roh. I'm looking forward to a great senior season for the senior from Arizona, one hopefully capped by All-Big Ten recognition, a BCS bowl, and an NFL draft selection.