Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
I say we call him "Quick Burst, Mo Hurts." Nobody is on board with me on this. [Fuller]
- The Question:
- Seth: After the spring game which player are you bullish on, and which are you hedging?
Ace: Brian and I did a segment on this during the podcast, so I'll keep this relatively brief. (That's called a teaser, folks.)
MAURICE HURST had arguably the best performance of anyone during the spring game, lining up at multiple spots and blowing up plays at all of them. His first step, which was his greatest strength coming out of high school, is still very quick after adding weight, and he looks very ready to see a significant role this fall.
Given that some practice reports had him as a potential starter, it's hard not to be a little disappointed in Logan Tuley-Tillman's showing, which featured three flags and a couple olés. He was a major project coming of high school, to the point that this year was the earliest he could feasibly see the field, so it's not a devastating blow that he doesn't look ready yet. He has so much upside, though, that it would've been really encouraging to see him push into that starting five.
Adam Schnepp: I was looking for a weakness. There had to be one; the practice reports had practically reached tall-tale status, but now I see why. It almost feels like I need to pick someone else because this is too easy, but I'm bullish on JABRILL PEPPERS. I know that we've been bullish on him since last August, but now it's like Raging Bull(ishness). Except not about boxing. Or self-destruction. I was really just going for the bull imagery here.
As a hybrid space player, Peppers is going to have to read run/pass and react immediately. On the Blue offense's first play Peppers peers into the backfield, reads the handoff from Morris, and comes off the edge to take out Shallman, limiting him to a one-yard gain.
While his run stopping was adequate for an HSP, I was more impressed with Peppers' coverage skills. He played almost exclusively with a seven-yard cushion and not only was able to jam guys who had already built up a head of steam but consistently re-routed them to the side he had a help defender. I can't find a good example of this on the video thanks to BTN's zoom-o-matic cameras, but Ace can confirm that if I tweeted the above as many times as I said it to him you'd all either unfollow me or think I accidentally set up a scheduled tweet.
I'm hedging on BRIAN COLE. It's important, however, to delineate "hedging" as separate from "disappointed with." It's hard to judge a receiver when they aren't targeted often, and doubly so as the offense's predilection for two- and three-wide sets often left Cole on the sideline. I expected him to compete for time with the known commodities; I did not expect him to have the same number of receptions and receiving yards as 5-9 walk-on fullback Joe Beneducci. I wouldn't rule him out as a contributor in the fall*, but I expected the ball to be thrown his way more often last Saturday.
*(I don't think any of the receivers have locked down a spot with the exception of maybe Darboh, who was lined up against a dude who'd been a corner for maybe four practices.)
[Jump for the defensive backs are gonna be good, even if the passing game makes them look so.]
Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog
Michigan entered the season with an ostensibly high-powered “Big Three” – Caris LeVert had superstar potential and a dazzling arsenal of offensive skills; Derrick Walton was an aggressive, tough, and relentlessly driving point guard; Zak Irvin was a reliable artillery piece with plenty of room to grow. In hindsight, all fell short of expectations in their own way: Caris suffered under the burden of being an alpha dog, Derrick was perpetually nagged by a toe injury, and Zak’s shot abandoned him without an offsetting improvement elsewhere.
Eventually, injuries whittled the Wolverines down to just one of their three musketeers – Irvin. With all three, Zak often took an overly deferential role; without his running mates beside him and with Michigan’s season locked in firmly as a disappointment, he thrived and expanded his game, finding success with the ball in his hands and providing one of the brightest spots of a largely wasted year.
* * *
A Rocky Position Switch
Judging Zak by his aggregate body of work as a sophomore provides a much different picture than evaluating his strengths near the end of the year. On the whole, he averaged 14.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45 / 35 / 69 (2P% / 3P% / FT%) – solid, albeit inefficient numbers. With his move from the four to the three, he assumed a much larger responsibility in Michigan’s offense: operating from the left side of the floor opened up dribble handoffs into the middle of the lane (as well as other opportunities driving with his dominant right hand) and offered a bigger role than the one he occupied in end-of-the-rotation minutes as a freshman.
He didn’t adjust well, especially at first. More so than most former threes in Beilein’s system, he still remained one-dimensional much like he was two years ago – though considerably less efficient. His playmaking – which was missing for the first several months of the season – was sorely needed after turf toe sapped Derrick Walton’s explosiveness and Michigan’s offense eventually contorted to put a nearly impossible amount of pressure on Caris LeVert to generate quality looks. Between uncertainty at the four and five spots (Kam Chatman, while playing, utterly wrecked Michigan’s spacing and the cast of inexperienced posts struggled to replicate Jordan Morgan’s pick-and-roll prowess), it was a mess – a stark departure from the two seasons prior.
Here’s how Zak compared to all of Michigan’s other starting three men (starting after Beilein’s messy first year):
Though it’s tough to compare a sophomore to some of Michigan’s better players in recent memory, Irvin was a five-star and did have an impressive and encouraging freshman season – one that suggested a possible breakout season as a sophomore. It didn’t happen. The two things that stand out most are his low assist rate and free throw rate (and percentage).
2011 Tim Hardaway and 2013 Nik Stauskas weren’t relied on to create offense because of the excellent passing of Darius Morris and Trey Burke, respectively – Zak wasn’t able to provide his teammates with enough quality looks and Michigan desperately needed that. Irvin’s low free throw rate is disappointing for a different reason: after a freshman year as Just a Shooter™, a natural development track and much more playing time might have made Irvin into a player who could attack the basket. Like his passing, his ability to drive and score improved over the course of the season, but on the whole, it was lacking. Because of his less effective outside shooting, a reliable way to score – from the free throw stripe – would have been ideal, but Irvin only averaged 2.4 free throw attempts in 36.2 minutes per game.
Even with the late surge, Irvin was too one-dimensional. In hindsight, expecting a Stauskasesque leap from spot-up shooter to all-around offensive menace was probably too much. Fortunately Zak did diversify his game and flashed signs of a well-rounded game on the offensive end, but Michigan’s season was effectively over at that point.
[Hit the JUMP for the rest of the analysis]
Not literally a comic book. 28 minutes of Charles Woodson highlights from high school do not quite feature him bounding over a tall building:
Full go minus one decision. John Beilein doesn't see anyone transferring this offseason:
"Everybody seems to be all onboard 100 percent," Beilein said Monday after attending a USBWA Final Four luncheon honoring freshman Austin Hatch. "Obviously, we're not with them 24 hours a day, but I love their attitude right now."
That does not include Caris LeVert, who is deciding on the NBA draft. It seems that people around the program are cautiously optimistic he will stay for his senior year, but we won't have certainty until the early entry deadline, April 26th.
That would leave Michigan with zero scholarships this year and two plus any attrition after next season in 2016. Unless Hatch goes on a medical scholarship that would cut out Mike Edwards, the various transfers looking at Michigan, and Jaylen Brown.
In related news, it looks like Max Bielfeldt will spend his grad transfer year at Bradley.
Meanwhile, another one bites the dust at Indiana. The Hoosiers get a commitment from prep post Thomas Bryant, bringing the number of Indiana players guaranteed to get run off this offseason to three. Someone please fire Tom Crean.
Spike surgery. Spike Albrecht will have surgery on both hips to eliminate the pain he played through this season. His projected return is in four or five months, which cuts him out of all the summer stuff but should have him back on the court a couple months before the season. That should be enough time to knock off the rust.
Soon, a fully healthy Spike will also be dunking on fools.
Out go the successories posters. Harbaugh on the weight room:
"It was shiny, like somebody from Chicago came in [from a ] P.R. firm," Harbaugh said. ""This isn't a slide show.
"This is work."
Don't get a DUI and then fail your probation. Harbaugh on Glasgow:
"The legal system has got as much hanging over his head as anybody else could possibly put on him," Harbaugh said. "There's nothing more that I, or the football program or the university could have on Graham right now than what (the courts) have.
"This is somebody who is taking a breathalyzer every morning and every night. He's got to be clean, 100 percent clean, not a drop of alcohol. And he'll either do it, or he won't. I believe in him, I believe he will. But we'll all know, there will be no secrets on that. Whether he does it or he doesn't, it'll be for public consumption."
He will have to do this through January, so he will either be clean as a whistle or you'll know he wasn't.
This is a lovely shot chart. Aubrey Dawkins did two things last year:
Threes and throwdowns. He was excellent at the threes, average at the throwdowns, which still means he was extremely efficient. Next year's project is getting some of those hexagons to be larger without changing their distribution. Oh, and doing the defense and rebounding stuff.
Adjusting for the matchups and expected points in each game, scoring in the smaller tournaments has been about 5.6 ppg more than the NCAA tournament. This is 2.4 ppg higher than the typical difference in these events. That's not something that will transform the game, but if you assume that boost applies to the entire 2015-16 season, it would take the sport to scoring levels not seen since 2003. (That statement excludes last season, when scoring increased dramatically, partly because a bunch of fouls were called.)
Not surprisingly, most of the scoring increase can be attributed to an increase in pace. Accounting for the teams involved and the increase in tempo normally seen in lower-level events, there have been two additional possessions per 40 minutes than we'd expect under normal rules. This is a more modest change compared to scoring and only turns the clock back to 2011 in terms of pace. This suggests simply reducing the shot clock to 30 won't produce significantly more up-and-down basketball. A surprising finding here is that slow-paced teams were affected as much as fast-paced teams were.
One of the concerns of the 30-second clock is that it may make offenses less efficient, but the postseason experiment isn't providing much evidence of that. Accounting for the quality of the teams and the usual increase in efficiency seen in the lower-level events, efficiency was actually up, though by a miniscule 0.6 points per 100 possessions.
The efficiency thing is almost certainly noise, but it looks like any effects are going to be minimal in that department. I don't think there's much wrong with college basketball other than the fact that block/charge is impossible to call and the refs are hilariously bad in general—but that's not something you can wave a wand and fix.
Final CSS rankings out. Minor movement for most players. Zach Werenski is 9th, down from 6th. Kyle Connor moves up a spot to 13th. 2016 recruit Cooper Marody moves up ten spots to 53rd. There were some more significant moves:
NTDP forward Brendan Warren dropped from 34th to 66th, which is an early third round pick to the fifth or sixth. He had an okay year only with the U18s.
Incoming defenders Joe Cecconi and Nick Boka went in opposite directions; Cecconi dropped from 70 to 88 and Boka shot up from 176 to 117.
Given Michigan's needs next year I'm happy that Boka's stock has apparently surged, even if Warren is less of a prospect than you think he might be. I wonder if Michigan will try to bring Marody or another 2016 recruit in now given Copp's departure.
The Hockey Writers have an extensive breakdown of Werenski that compares him to Trouba. I know I'm seeing Werenski a year younger, but he is not Trouba. Trouba was a commanding defenseman at both ends of the ice. Werenski really came on in the offensive zone late in the year but was a significant source of defensive problems.
Etc.: 1914 All-American ring for "Maully," which is either John Maulbetsch's nickname or a cartoon hammer. Bacari Alexander is up for the UW-Green Bay job, which is a pretty good mid-major posting. Various OMG Harbaugh stories on spring from ESPN, MLive, MVictors, etc.
Spike Albrecht gutted out this season through two bum hips. [Fuller]
The basketball program announced today that Spike Albrecht underwent surgery on his right hip, and still could undergo a similar procedure on his left hip this offseason. He'll recover for 4-5 months, so while he'll miss much of offseason conditioning, he shouldn't sit out any games in 2015-16. From the official release:
"There is no player tougher than Spike Albrecht," said Beilein. "He proved that this season playing through injury and continual pain in both hips. He never used it as an excuse and I will always admire him for that. We have some of the world's best doctors at the University of Michigan and we are confident he will only get better following this surgery and his summer of rehabilitation. I am not expecting Spike to dunk anytime soon, but we do expect a full recovery by the start of our September workouts. We just want Spike to be at his best for his senior year at Michigan."
"This is something I knew I would have to do and now is the right time," said Albrecht. "I am so appreciative of all the support I have received from the U-M medical doctors and staff, the U-M coaching staff, my teammates and especially all the Wolverine fans. I cannot wait to get back to the floor playing pain free."
"I am not expecting Spike to dunk anytime soon," is a gem of a press release quote. Here's hoping for a swift and full recovery; it's remarkable Albrecht was able to play as well as he did while dealing with that level of pain.
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]