there would have to be some to wash away
Not Just A Gimmick™, we hope. [Adam Glanzman/Special to MGoBlog]
For a player with a meager 113 yards from scrimmage in two years, Dennis Norfleet is the topic of discussion around these parts a whole lot, and that topic is usually "can we please get this guy the ball more?" This seems like an odd request to endlessly put forth regarding a player with 12 career offensive touches and zero touchdowns, but there's Norfleet atop the depth chart at slot receiver, and beyond that there's good reason to think he'll be a much bigger part of the offense this season.
Norfleet came to Michigan as the in-state recruit too talented not to offer late, even though he didn't fit the coaching staff's idea of... anything, really. He certainly didn't fit the MANBALL running back mold, nor the desire to head in the direction of fielding a receiving corps in which being 6'2" makes one a slot receiver. It felt like he was offered as an afterthought, and his usage in the years since reflected that; Norfleet would occasionally come into the game at the slot, get a totally surprising jet sweep, and head back to the bench to await his next special teams opportunity.
The problem with this wasn't so much the plays Norfleet was asked to run—getting a player that shifty in space is a good idea, and jet sweeps should accomplish that—but the obviousness of what he was going to do, and the fact that these plays often didn't fit into the larger scheme of the offense. This blog has extensively covered the constraint theory of offense—in essence, that an offense has a core set of plays, then "constraint" plays that take advantage of defenses overplaying those core plays—and that Al Borges went for more of a grab-bag approach.
Norfleet's longest career carry works as a great example of both the constraint theory and how he was misused, oddly enough. He broke a 38-yard run in last season's opener against Central Michigan when Michigan ran an end-around to him off a counter trap run; the counter action—especially the pulling right guard—drew the CMU defense to their right, and by the time the ball was pitched U-M's blockers had a very easy time sealing their men off from the real direction of the play:
This worked because Central hadn't yet learned that Michigan didn't ever really run the counter trap and that Norfleet's presence on the field almost certainly indicated he'd get the ball; it also helped that they were a 6-6 MAC team. Norfleet's runs after the opener weren't remotely as successful due to a couple factors: Michigan couldn't establish a base running game, and when Norfleet was on the field it was incredibly obvious what he'd do.
[Hit THE JUMP for the whole point of this post: how Doug Nussmeier can use Norfleet to boost Michigan's running game.]
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: moderate. 1: difficult. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
|Devin Funchess||Jr.||Amara Darboh||So.*||Dennis Norfleet||Jr.||Jake Butt||So.|
|Jehu Chesson||So.*||Freddy Canteen||Fr.||Bo Dever||So.*#||Khalid Hill||Fr.*|
|Da'Mario Jones||So.*||Moe Ways||Fr.||Ross Douglas||Fr.*||--||--|
[NOTE: though flex tight ends are listed above since they will fill some of the WR snaps they are addressed in the TE & Friends post, not here.]
It's not often you lose a guy who broke the single-season receiving record and think that things could get better, but it's not often you come across a guy like Devin Funchess, either. Behind Funchess there's not a whole lot that's proven but there are sufficient numbers and hype to believe that Michigan goes five or six deep in quality options, especially after Jake Butt gets back.
If things break right, this unit could hearken back to the Breaston/Edwards/Avant days where you had the NFL-level ludicrous deep threat, the possession ninja, and the screen merchant all in one receiving corps, getting all mother/maiden/crone in your face. It'll take some luck… but not that much luck.
everybody get up [Fuller]
The charade is over. Devin Funchess is a wide receiver, 100%. Not that you had to be told that after he spent 87% of last year split wide, faking bubble screens and occasionally catching them and oh right running downfield and leaping over dudes. Funchess put his hand in the dirt in passing situations only, and no one has tried to suggest he might do even that much this year.
This is pretty terrific. Michigan had a guy break Braylon Edwards's single-season receiving record and there was still enough left over for Funchess to rake in 49 catches for almost 750 yards. By the Big Ten opener he was just, like, running right by cornerbacks.
At the end of the year Michigan was handing him the ball on end-arounds and watching him nearly break them for touchdowns, if only Devin Gardner could ID the safety he needs to block. Oh, and this!
A man that large should not be able to move that fast. Take it from someone who played against him:
"I can't believe he's that big and that fast. He made us look silly. You can't get around him. He's just such a big body that he's going to block you from making a play on the football. …
"He could be like Calvin Johnson in the red zone. Just throw it up and let him go get it. I bet we see a lot more of that this year."
I didn't say it! I may have thought it, but I didn't say it. I did call him Minitron a few times, and I may have wondered privately about whether Funchess could be, like… him. But naw. I mean, Calvin Johnson ran a 4.35 at his NFL draft combine.
Funchess proved last season he's capable of being an elite-level receiver. There were some dropped passes here and there, but his combination of size and speed (he clocked a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash in the spring) remains unmatched on the U-M roster.
FAKE! FAKE, I say! That is not a real thing, because physics. Only… you know, it's only almost impossible. Because Calvin Johnson. And when you watch him go up against top corners like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a second round pick last year…
…or Trae Waynes, a projected first rounder this year…
…it's just like… maybe I should make this comparison I should not make. Because he is smoking those dudes. Not every time, because it never happens every time, but enough. A lot. At 6'5".
BUT WHAT ABOUT HANDS, the bits of the internet with short attention spans ask. Okay, yes. The one catch was a late-season spate of dropped balls. He derfed three in the Iowa game alone, greatly contributing to Michigan's inability to move the ball. One of those was a very conspicuous one on a screen, and that is currently playing an outsized role in people's brains. Because the last thing that's happened is the thing that is always going to happen, Funchess now has a rep for having shaky hands. Once you see the first derf it is a natural inclination to start judging harshly, like when he gets hit in the back by Gardner because of a bad blitz pickup.
This is why we track the numbers, and the numbers say Funchess is anything but a problem:
But once you get a reputation in this area people start looking at anything you don't catch as a drop. This is probably one of the plays that stick in skeptics' minds:
That's crazy tough! That's low and behind him and it's only his freaky long arms and Brad Nessler that even give that pass the semblance of a drop.
Until the Iowa game, Funchess's catching ability was unquestioned. Don't let one bad game in the bitter cold overwhelm a large sample size that indicates Funchess's hands are in fact an asset, especially when you consider that the chart above doesn't take the fact that he's 6'5" and can leap over defensive backs into account.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT CALVIN JOHNSON IS A UNIQUE UNREPLICABLE HUMAN WHO IS PROBABLY PART ALIEN AND BITTEN BY A RADIOACTIVE SPIDER, says the tiny bit of the internet with common sense. And… okay, well, yeah. You should never project anything at the extremes of possibility because probability is going to make you pay for that, son.
So Devin Funchess probably isn't Calvin Johnson. Michigan should try to prove that assertion wrong. Expect something between first team All Big Ten and an All-American followed by an early entry into the NFL draft. He may even win the Mackey award, because people don't pay attention.
[After THE JUMP: refugees, JUNGLE BEATS, and tiny dancer.]
What the hell was this? Draftageddon is the MGo-version of those preseason all Big Ten articles it is mandatory that sports site generate. If we had titled it "Top 100 players in the B1G" and written one line about each guy it would be great clickbait and nobody would learn anything. So instead we activated our competitive natures, had the MGoStaff draft four 26-man teams, and learned waaaay too much.
Full details are in the first post. This is the "what have we learned" post.
PREVIOUSLY ON DRAFTAGEDDON (two rounds/post)
Devin Gardner, plus Braxton Miller, Brandon Scherff, Randy Gregory, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Shilique Calhoun, Carl Davis, Stefon Diggs
- Devin Funchess and Jake Ryan, plus Kurtis Drummond, Venric Mark, Jason Spriggs, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Melvin Gordon, Trae Waynes
- Frank Clark, plus Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Taiwan Jones, Christian Jones, Noah Spence, Maxx Williams, Rob Havenstein
- Blake Countess, plus Andre Monroe, Donovan Smith, Taylor Decker, Sojourn Shelton, Desmond King, Darius Hamilton, Theiren Cockran
- Darius Kilgo, Shane Wynn, Brandon Vitabile, Jack Allen, Austin Blythe, Kaleb Johnson, Kyle Costigan, Dallas Lewallen
- Matt Robinson, Mike Hull, Corey Cooper, Devin Smith, Jeremy Langford, John Lowdermilk, Jordan Lucas, Christian Hackenberg
- Jabrill Peppers, Desmond Morgan, and James Ross III, plus Connor Cook, Adrian Amos, Steve Longa, Jack Conklin, Tyler Marz
- Dontre Wilson, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Nate Sudfeld, Tre Roberson, Tevin Coleman, Earnest Thomas III, Jeff Heuerman, Ibraheim Campbell
- Jarrod Wilson, plus Adolphus Washington, Deon Long, Marcus Rush, Eric Murray, Sean Davis, Josh Ferguson, Tony Lippett
- Levern Jacobs, Pat Elflein, Jake Cotton, Warren Herring, Zac Epping, Chad Lindsay, Doran Grant, Michael Rose
- Darian Hicks, Tyler Kroft, Michael Caputo, Corey Clement, Kevin Snyder, Jordan Walsh, Michael Geiger, Traveon Henry
- Willie Henry and Matt Wile, plus Tony Jones, Ed Davis, RJ Williamson, Brad Craddock, Dan Voltz, Andrew Donnal
- Joe Bolden, plus Dan Voltz, Andrew Donnal, William Likely, Mike Sadler, Jesse James, Macgarrett Kings Jr., Cameron Johnston, Quinton Alston, Kyle Prater, C.J. Brown
- BiSB won the vote, Seth won the photoshop contest
Supplemental Left Behind series by BiSB: offense (defense not posted yet)
GUYS WE DRAFTED (VISUALIZED)
I thought you might appreciate seeing who did and didn't get drafted from among each teams' starters.
Click any to access the giant PDF of all 14 teams plus ND.
It doesn't tell you when they were drafted or by whom, or how big of a hole the non-draftees are, e.g. Maryland's defense looks like Michigan's at a glance, but Michigan has tons of quality LBs while Maryland has one of moderate value. Ohio State is strongest up front on both sides of the ball. Iowa is strong down the middle.
[Jump for are we homers, overrated rivals, deep positions, most overrated dudes, and answers to pretty much every other clickbait thing this offseason because we're nothing if not a thorough bunch]
Obviously your first game is this week. Just your overall thoughts- the offensive line is always a topic and you guys have a lot of good competition at running back. Just your overall thoughts on what you’re expecting Saturday.
“Well, I think we’ve progressed. We talked about coming out of the spring and as we started fall camp it needed to be practice #16 for us and it was and we’ve gotten better each and every practice. Now, you’re not going to see it all of the time. We’re not where we need to be as a whole unit. We get it right in spurts. The biggest thing right now is to find consistency in performance across the board but like you said, the one thing we have been able to do is create competition across the board and we are getting better.”
Is there a spot where you see a lot of competition at? Or you said you guys have it in spurts, where are you guys lacking and where are you guys doing well?
“Well, I think across positions you can see it at every position and we find that we can do things very, very well when we do them well and we go in stretches where we play together and we play well together and then we’ll have either a unit or an individual break down and that’s the part about playing football and playing at a very, very high level. You’ve got to have consistency and everybody doing the right thing on every play.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people are a little apprehensive of the offensive line and I wonder if your feeling from when you first got here until now, if that has changed and how much it’s changed because I assume you were somewhat apprehensive as well.
“Well, I’ve said it many times but there seems to be a focus on a unit on every team, a strength here or a weakness there. A lot of that’s perception, too. You talk about a quarterback position, for example. If a quarterback’s not being protected a lot of times it doesn’t look like he’s playing very well when at the end of the day it doesn’t really fall on the quarterback. When you look at an offensive line group there’s a lot of things that play into it. A lot of it has to do with the backs and the running game, making sure they hit the right hole, it has to do with the quarterback getting us into the right play so that we can get good angles for blocking schemes, it has to do with receivers winning at the line of scrimmage in press coverage so that the quarterback can get the ball out in time so that we’re not holding the ball so there’s a lot of factors that play into each and every group and that’s why it is a team game. Every unit we have takes pride in how they play and we all demand that each unit does their job and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
We saw that Derrick Green is at the top of the running back depth chart. What did he do in the last week or two to put himself there and separate himself?
“I think it’s been the overall body of work through camp and everything we try to do. We tell the players there’s going to be evidence-based decisions by what you put on film and what you do on a day-to-day basis and Derrick continually progressed and he continues to progress. Like I said before, as an offense and even at that position we’re nowhere near where we need to be or where we want to be but as far as when you look at the process of getting better each and every day and how you approach the day and he’s just continued to get better each and every day. We’ve talked a lot about his weight as he came into camp and that’s been one of the biggest things. He looks like a different back.”
What are your thoughts about the wide receivers? It seems like that’s a position group of strength, a lot of depth there. Is there any particular guy that stood out to you or just your thoughts on the receivers?
“Well, obviously [Devin] Funch[ess], his production speaks for itself. Very, very talented player. Like we talked about, you want to create depth and competition at every position and we feel like we have a good talent base there. A lot of different guys that can do different things and the goal will be ultimately to keep guys fresh and put guys in the right position where they can make plays.”
[After THE JUMP: more on the running backs, Devin Gardner’s growth, and all aboard the Mason Cole hype train]
News bullets and other items:
Captains will be voted on after the Ohio State game, with seniors representing the team at each coin toss
The depth chart was released prior to the presser. Read Ace’s take on it here.
Injury update: Kyle Kalis is fully healthy, while Delano Hill is meeting with doctors this afternoon to determine whether he can play Saturday
Hoke raved about Devin Gardner’s progression on the field and as a team leader
Ty Isaac’s status is still uncertain; they’re waiting to hear back about the appeal
The freshman and sophomore classes have an edge to them. Hoke does not know that he has said edge.
Brady Hoke “Well,…” count: 12
[After THE JUMP: a mini scouting report on Appalachian State, Devin Gardner’s development, and the captain situation (or lack thereof) explained]
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This Preview, Last Year
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||So.||Derrick Green||So.||Drake Johnson||So.*|
|Derrick Green||So.||De'Veon Smith||So.||Justice Hayes||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||So.*||Wyatt Shallman||Fr.*||De'Veon Smith||So.|
How did Michigan's current tailbacks do last year? I don't know and they don't either. The situation on the line and Fitzgerald Toussaint sucking up a bunch of carries left Michigan relatively short on snaps to give anyone still around, and then when they got those snaps they were immediately drowned in a pile of opposition bodies.
This was especially bad since Michigan has almost exclusively recruited guys with tree-trunk legs who aren't going to put a Hart move on you. An anonymous opponent talks to Michael Spath at Big Ten Media Days:
"They needed to have a really quick, change-of-direction back, kind of like [Nebraska's] Ameer [Abdullah], but they had two guys that were similar size that were more like the big, physical type. Like Carlos Hyde, but they weren't as fast as Carlos, they didn't have the holes to run through, and they didn't have the vision."
Or that vision was wall-to-wall doom. The jury is emphatically out.
THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER-TYPE SUBSTANCE
Unless Ty Isaac gets his NCAA waiver, something that does not seem likely, Michigan only has four-ish tailbacks on the roster after Ross Douglas's sensible move to slot receiver. Three of those have drawn heavy mention through fall camp, and one seems to be the very tentative #1 back. (Or at least he did until they released the depth chart this morning, but Rome wasn't written in a day, people.)
HAIR ZOOM 2014 [Fuller. Nice resolution, bro!]
That is DE'VEON SMITH [recruiting profile], a ball of muscle Michigan won in a head-to-head battle with Ohio State. Smith had a bit of a Braylon Edwards in him last year… the Braylon who was infamously Not On The Same Page with Lloyd Carr early in his career. Smith was left off the travel roster in early November for obscure reasons—Hoke gruffly explained that "De’Veon didn’t travel because I took him off the travel team"—that turned out to be some major friction about playing time. Smith couldn't understand why he didn't have all of it and had a rep for expressing that point of view… let's say passionately.
It seems like that friction is in the past now. Reports have varied as to who is at the top of the tailback depth chart, but they have varied in who, if anyone, is 1B to Smith's 1A. The BTN guys said Smith was at the top when they visited practice; our insider thought Smith was clearly at the top of the depth chart; Hoke told the assembled media that Smith and Drake Johnson were the top two guys. Then he said Green was the top guy with Smith just behind, and then they were neck and neck. so… yeah. My Bayesian estimation is that Smith has a tiny lead that wouldn't even be worth mentioning except for the fact that I have to talk about someone first.
Given Brady Hoke's favorite word other than "well" and its total lack of applicability to the last couple editions of the Michigan ground game, these presser statements are almost a coronation:
"The one thing I know about De’Veon is he’s probably as tough a guy as I’ve been around. His identity is toughness. The way he practices, he’s a guy who can get dinged up but he’s still going to go, and he’s going to go, and he’s going to go."
I'm totally fine with this. I predicted Smith would emerge as the #2 back last year; I preferred him when asked in a mailbag after the season.
I am bullish on him because people complain about his speed, and I like Mike Hart. Speed is an overrated quality for tailbacks because 90% of the time they never approach their top end, and Smith brings a lot of Hart-like qualities to the table.
One is the fact that if you used a giant claw to extract De'Veon Smith from the tumbling melee of a football game, his legs would keep going. Turn him over: still going. Etc. From the Northwestern game:
I liked Smith's "leg churn," as faux NFL draft analysts like to say. He seems to have a knack for keeping his thighs moving as the pile forms around him.
That ability to keep his stride when being harassed was key for his big run against OSU, when he ran through two tackles without even acknowledging their existence.
And since Smith barely got a carry with any room to do anything last year the GIF I asked Ace to pull from Smith's highlight film is still a good representation of his assets:
The man has uncanny balance and the ability to run through tackles. In addition, Smith had a Hart-like aversion to fumbling through his high school career and didn't put one on the turf in his freshman year.
What Smith didn't show in year one was anything approximating Hart's ability to ghost out of tackles he had no right to avoid. Smith needs more help than Hart did and hopes to make it up by being bigger and more powerful once he gets going. That was a major problem last year and might be one again.
The broken record bit: any attempts to predict production here are seriously compromised by the massive question mark on the offensive line. I'm guessing Smith and Green platoon just about down the middle, with neither really emerging into a star; both are decent, and just decent.
[After THE JUMP: Mega-recruit now mega-hulk, the pass-pro brothers, God willing, and a belated appreciation of Vincent Smith.]