"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Also Previously: Podcast 5.0.
I had this thing I was always going to write about Denard, and I said I'd put it in Hail To The Victors, and Seth really, really wanted it because we really, really had to send everything to the printer, and I sat in front of my keyboard and could not do it. As you're about to find out this week, putting words into a computer is something I do quite frequently. My problem is usually keeping those words relatively concise. This time I sat there, and the thing I'd had in my head for years sat there too.
We stared at each other. Nobody moved.
This is a program that has been in flux for nearly a decade now. The first indication was Jim Herrmann's one-year experiment with the 3-4 in 2004. Like everything in the Late Herrmann period, it worked just enough to make you crazy when it didn't. A year later, Michigan was running a 4-3 again, had a 9-point lead against Ohio State with 7:49 on the clock, and blew it.
Herrmann was given the NFL position coach gold watch, and because any motion towards the future must be paired with an equal and opposite motion towards the past a year later Mike DeBord was re-installed as the offensive coordinator. He completely overhauled the offense, dumping pulling linemen for a zone-stretch running game. Two years later, Rodriguez came in, overhauling everything except David Molk. Three years later, Hoke came in, overhauling everything except David Molk.
All along, the panic grew. Michigan started casting about for anyone they thought could help, whether it was mentally unbalanced defensive linemen or guys with no offers who showed at camp or defensive backs who hadn't ever played a varsity game. Or Mike DeBord. The decisions being made became increasingly unmoored from reality in the late aughts. Something named Appalachian State beat Michigan. At some point Greg Robinson was hired.
Here is a Hieronymus Bosch painting, because nothing else can represent the thought process that ended with that decision.
Chaos descended on Michigan gradually, until a bird-man and spiky monkey and plague dude and bird-hippo-thing murdered it and its magnificent beard. You can assign the various actors their roles based on your preferences, except the plague guy has to be GERG.
This is still a team in flux. Rodriguez got axed just in time for Michigan to complete its transition to spread personnel, echoes of which are still on the team today: a right tackle who was high school hurdler, a #1 receiver standing 5'8", a quarterback who's probably going to jet for 60 yards at some point this year. There are two (two!) upperclass offensive linemen.
This will be the first time since 2003 that anyone at Michigan has entered his third year—let alone fourth—in the same defense, under the same coordinator. Even as the defense settles in, the offense prepares for a drastic change in its nature. The Hoke recruiting classes are just blooding themselves in the two deep; the disastrous 2010 recruiting class looms in holes across the roster.
But for the first time in a long, long time, you can see the trajectory. No one's clamoring for the defensive coordinator's head; no one's looming over the shoulder of the offensive coordinator, ready to pull the plug on anything that looks remotely dangerous. For the next half-dozen years, Michigan is going to be an aggressive 4-3 under defense paired with an offense of titanic humans who will make safeties choose between pounding on the ground and long-range aerial bombardment. The coaches will be the coaches with the exception of a position coach or two who will probably be replaced by a Michigan legend.
On fourth down, they're going.
Deadlines are deadlines, so I wrote the thing eventually. It wasn't what I wanted. It was supposed to have turrets and buttresses and run a 4.1 40. Instead it was… okay. It's not the worst thing I've written. None of that mattered. Time was up. It was done.
In the aftermath a peculiar feeling descended on me. If I spoke German, I would crush together several contradictory words into a multi-syllabic monstrosity that would not quite entirely fail to communicate it. It was over, and that was terrible. It was over, and that was necessary. I wanted to go back, and wanted to go forward.
The thing that was keeping Michigan between states of being had dreadlocks and could outrun a photon. Denard could not do the things Al Borges wanted him to do, and Al Borges could not figure out other things to ask. And yet there he was, so we kept banging that square peg against the round hole. To do otherwise was incomprehensible.
Regrets, I've got 'em. Everyone's got 'em. But there's no going back. Finally, it's in the past. Finally, everyone can focus their efforts on refining what is there instead of throwing it all away and starting over, and then throwing it away next year and starting over again.
This is Michigan, a guy said once. What does that mean? Now we find out.
HEY KIDS: This is an overview of all of Michigan's passing plays against OSU, which is an important data point for Devin Gardner. I'm not doing the run offense, because it was Denard doing Denard things and Rawls doing Rawls things and no one getting blocked ever—ie, not relevant, really.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O35||1||10||I-Form 3-wide||2||0||3||Nickel over||Pass||Hitch||Gallon||7|
|A little longer than a quick pitch and catch as Gardner resets in the pocket and hits Gallon, who's covered pretty well. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|O24||1||10||Pistol Diamond||3||0||2||Nickel over||Pass||Throwback screen||Gallon||2|
|Backside DE forms up and threatens to bat the pass down; Gardner pumps and then lofts it. This takes a long time to develop and busts up the play's timing; Omameh(-0.5) and Schofield(-1) don't get blocks and Gallon has to dance to squeeze out anything. (CA, 3, screen)|
|Gallon runs this well and gets a couple yards of separation; Gardner steps up and fires but a little wide and high. Gallon can only get one hand on it. Protection was good off a blitz, though they held seven guys in. Borderline MA/IN. (IN, 1, protection 2/2)|
|O22||3||8||Shotgun double stack||1||1||3||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||Sack||N/A||-8|
|Gardner is just about to step into this and throw when Washington comes around the back to strip/sack as Lewan(-3) gets beat clean. (PR, N/A, protection 0/3, Lewan(-3). The worst thing is that Gallon was breaking open for a touchdown.|
|M17||1||10||Ace 3TE||1||3||1||4-3 even||Pass||Fly||Gallon||Inc|
|Max pro, two man route going deep. Gallon gets a step and Gardner fires it out there; the throw is absolutely perfect but the OSU safety reaches out and grabs Gallon by the back of the shoulder pads, slowing him a hair. Ball is now just past his oustretched fingertips. Outrageous no-call. (DO, 0, protection 2/2, refs -3)|
|M25||3||2||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||Rollout deep hitch||Roundtree||75|
|M gets the edge easily and Gardner can survey; Michigan high-lows the corner, who sucks up on a Gallon hitch for about five. Roundtree behind is open; Gardner hits him. That's about 15 yards, then the safety who just almost got burned (CJ Barnett) takes a horrendous angle to Roundtree and turns it into a huge touchdown. (CA+, 3, protection 1/1, RPS +1)|
|M30||1||10||I-Form twins||1||2||2||5-2 bear||Pass||PA comeback||Roundtree||12|
|Good protection but no one's really going for the QB because of play action, I guess. Gardner steps up and has a very strange no-step throw that floats a bit. Either terrible mechanics or a great improvisation to get it over a DE in the throwing lane who endeavors to bat the pass down. Accurate, though, and Roundtree can turn it up for a first down. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|M48||2||4||Offset I-Form||2||1||2||4-3 over||Pass||PA rollout Hitch||Reynolds||Inc|
|Counter PA to Kerridge does not hold the backside end because obviously. He gets out on the edge to harrass. Denard is underneath and covered. Gardner goes deeper to an also-covered Reynolds and misses, but Reynolds is off balance and may have stumbled out of his break or gotten interfered with. Can't tell and no replay. He probably should have gone to Kwiatkowski further inside but not possible with the pressure. So... I want to punt. (MA, 0, protection N/A, RPS -1)|
|M48||3||4||Shotgun double stack||1||1||3||Nickel even||Pass||Cross||Gallon||36 (Pen -15)|
|Initial protection is good but Smith(-1) doesn't perceive the late blitz coming and leaks out of the backfield; pocket opens up and Gardner steps forward just as the blitzer does. He's got little time but does have Gallon on a crossing route. It's time for an Uncannily Accurate Gardner Flick, which is off his back foot and has no impetus, but goes right to Gallon for big yards. (DO, 3, protection 1/2, Smith -1). It's wiped out by a dubious offensive PI on Roundtree. (Refs -3!)|
|M33||3||19||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||Rollout Fly||Dileo||Inc|
|Another rollout; edge rusher gets too far inside and Smith chops him down well. Gardner has a lot of time and finds Dileo, but doesn't step into this one either, and that's bad. Dileo has two steps to the endzone and the throw is way short and inside. (IN, 0, protection 2/2, RPS +2). I may be harsh here because there's a shot of Gardner talking to Dileo that seems to be Dileo saying my bad just from the body language, but it really looked like a bomb into the endzone was six.|
|O25||1||10||Shotgun 2-back TE||2||1||2||4-3 over||Pass||TE jailbreak screen||Kwiatkowski||6|
|Fake flare screen to Denard followed by a dumpoff inside to Kwiatkowski. Accurate, but Kwiatkowski got bumped off his route and away from his blockers and gets chopped down after a moderate gain. (CA, 3, screen)|
|O19||2||4||Shotgun double stack||1||1||3||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||Dig||Dileo||Inc (Pen +10)|
|Another delayed blitz bothers Gardner, who feels he can't step up in the pocket because a guy beat Omameh(-1) and can't step into the throw because there's a guy flying at Smith. Gardner has another back foot fling that's a bit wobbly and a little behind Dileo, but Dileo still gets both hands on it and drops it. (CA+, 3, protection ½, Omameh -1). Roughing the passer bails M out.|
|M13||1||10||Ace FB motion||1||2||2||4-3 over||Pass||Corner||Gallon||Inc|
|Gallon's got himself a window here and Gardner just misses by throwing it too far downfield. Good protection. (IN, 0, protection 2/2)|
|M19||3||4||Shotgun double stack||1||1||3||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||Scramble||Gardner||4 +15 pen|
|A ton of time as OSU only rushes three. Finally flushed out, Gardner evades a charging LB and tiptoes down the sideline for the first down. (SCR, N/A, protection 2/2). Late hit adds on; it seems like they actually shorted Gardner a couple yards here, FWIW.|
|M38||1||10||Ace FB motion||1||2||2||Nickel over||Pass||Sack||N/A||-9|
|More max pro two man route stuff. OSU using delayed blitzes to get pressure after M OL commit. On this one Williams(-1) refuses to pass his guy off as he goes upfield and lets a LB in unmolested. However, this blitz is both delayed and slow, so Gardner should be able to do something. He pumps, hesitates, and is lost. (TA, N/A, protection ½, williams -1, RPS -1... both deep guys bracketed)|
|M29||2||19||I-Form||2||1||2||4-3 over||Pass||Waggle drag||Roundtree||5|
|Instant pressure as end man is thinking QB first. Gardner makes another awkward-looking but effective throw and Roundtree has a step on the LB, but a hard corner prevents any sort of large gain. (CA, 3, protection N/A)|
|M34||3||14||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||Sack||Smith||-9|
|Robinson at RB, releasing immediately, just brushes a LB blitzing. Smith(-2) doesn't get over to block that guy for some reason, and Gardner gets chased and sacked. (PR, N/A, protection 0/2, Smith -2)|
|M31||2||4||Shotgun 2TE||1||2||2||4-3 over||Pass||Hitch||Gallon||9|
|Gardner looks to Roundtree first and then goes to the other side of the field for a short hitch that Gallon turns into a comeback, evading tacklers and grabbing some YAC. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|M14||1||10||I-Form 3-wide||2||0||3||Nickel over||Pass||Post||Gallon||30|
|A perfect downfield strike to Gallon, who is a shoestring tackle away from a touchdown. (DO, 3, protection 2/2, RPS +2)|
|M23||2||8||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Nickel even||Pass||Hitch||Dileo||6|
|All hitches; Gardner finds the right one. Throw is a little bit off, so Dileo can't get YAC, but not quite MA territory. (CA, 3, protection 1/1)|
|OSU showing a three deep shell all the way so this is an easy pitch and catch. Gardner's throw is a little upfield and outside, safe, but if he didn't pull Gallon that far out he could have picked up the first. Still not quite an MA. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|M8||1||10||I-Form||2||1||2||4-4 over||Pass||PA hitch||Gallon||Inc (Pen +11)|
|OSU playing press and rolling safeties to the line for an aggressive look. Denard's looking for Gallon on a hitch and the ball ends up turfed in front of him... because Roby yanked Gallon all over the field before it got there. Looked like a good timing throw in the right spot without it. (CA, 0, protection 2/2)|
|M19||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 over||Pass||PA sack||N/A||-15|
|Inverted veer look into a pop pass. OSU stunts and catches this play perfectly. LB immediately in Gardner's face with no hope of any one blocking the guy. Gardner spins away from that guy and starts scrambling, but fumbles as he gets banged from the side. (PR, N/A, protection 0/3, team -3, RPS -3)|
|M31||1||10||Ace twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 even||Pass||PA crosss||Roundtree||Inc|
|Max pro, two man route, Gardner does have Roundtree if he leads him to the sideline but throws it inside and upfield, which is dangerously close to an interception. (IN, 0, protection 1/1)|
|Gardner misses Roundtree wide, wide open on a dig and goes for Gallon on a corner route that is bracketed. He might have a tiny window but to get it over the guy sagging and there fast enough to beat the safety is a near-impossible task. The ball is a little late, too, and Bryant breaks it up. (BR, 0, protection 2/2)|
|M31||3||10||Shotgun 4-wide||1||1||3||Nickel even||Pass||Hitch||Gallon||10|
|Just a simple hitch; coverage is a step off; Gardner fortunate that the Buckeye CB stumbled because he put this too far upfield and if not for that he would have had a play on the ball. Gallon grabs it and gets the first down. (MA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|M41||1||10||Shotgun 2TE||1||2||2||Nickel even||Pass||Scramble||Gardner||10 (Pen -10)|
|Schofield(-2) gets beat by an edge rusher and tackles the dude as he flies by, drawing a flag. Gardner gets flushed, notices a big lane, and takes off for near first down yardage that gets wiped out. (SCR, N/A, Protection 0/2, Schofield -2)|
|M31||1||20||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Nickel over||Pass||Improv||Funchess||Inc|
|Blitz overloads the M edge and gets two guys through. Not much the linemen can do about this, the blocking scheme just got beat. Gardner spins out and gets the edge, then decides to chuck it up across his body way downfield to Funchess. That's way short and inside. He had the corner easy and would have picked up maybe ten yards if he took off. Frustrating. (BR, 0, protection 0/2, team -2)|
|M31||2||20||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Nickel even||Pass||Rollout corner||Dileo||INT|
|Tough as he's a righty rolling to his left and can't get set here. He does have Dileo on a corner if he can get it to the sideline, but it's way, way inside and picked off (INX, 0, protection ½, team -1)|
Let's get to it.
|2011 through MSU||13||66(12)||11(1)||34(1)||17||2||3||10||4||55%|
|2011 after MSU||9||77(9)||7||17||9||6(1)||5(2)||9||5||69%|
|Ohio State (pending)||3||11(1)||2||5*||2||1||-||3||2||62%|
Like the South Carolina game, Gardner's accuracy let him down at points. This was mostly late, when Michigan was forced to abandon the run entirely with six minutes left in the game and Gardner was making deep throws outside the pocket by reason of rollout or pressure. It is rarely Gardner's mind that lets him down, but rather his feet. While his ability to get velocity and accuracy when he's not even stepping into throws is hugely useful in short-area flips, when his mechanics break down on deeper throws bad times result:
This was most apparent on the (eventually) game-ending interception, where a rollout to Gardner's left resulted in pressure and an awkward throw that sailed for days:
When Gardner does make a wrong read it usually results in a pass that's difficult to complete but not, say, a horrendous interception. In this one, he avoided serious mistakes entirely. This, however, was painful:
That was first and twenty and Gardner ended up trying to bomb it to Funchess way short and wide of the target. Runnnnn.
For 2013, it's all about getting set and throwing with good mechanics, because then this happens:
Gardner's relatively pedestrian numbers (11 of 20, ) are a bit harsh on his game. When you throw a perfect deep ball only for OSU's very crappy CJ Barnett to yank Gallon back the foot he needs to catch in stride, you have been robbed:
And when you have one of those little short-area flicks that turns into 36 yards but gets wiped out by a dubious penalty on the other side of the field, ditto:
That is the area where Gardner's ability to pull throws out of nowhere with terrible mechanics is a great asset. That broom-wielding chaos theory quarterback guru was probably like "whoah" about the guy, because when things break down he can get crazy throws off.
[Passes are rated by how tough they are to catch. 0 == impossible. 1 == wow he caught that, 2 == moderate difficulty, 3 == routine. The 0/X in all passes marked zero is implied.]
Feast or famine here, as Gardner either put it right where it needed to be or missed completely. Except for the third-down drop by Dileo that was repaired by a roughing the passer, the wideouts did as expected.
This is every pass worth charting this year now, and you can see that Gallon, Funchess, and Dileo are extremely reliable options who drop balls rarely and have an excellent bail-out rate on tough throws. In years previous to this one a 20% hit rate on 1s would maybe be the best on the team; the three main returners were at 41%. That is somewhat mitigated by Gallon and Dileo's stature, which tends to move throws into harder categories. There are passes that are zeroes if thrown at them that would be 3s to Funchess. On the other hand, the percentage of balls marked uncatchable to Gallon is much lower than those to Roundtree and Funchess. Gallon's quickness means hitch after hitch is open, and it's easy to hit those. The stature, it gives and takes.
Upshot: Michigan returns a sure-handed and potentially prolific wide receiver corps, even without Darboh potentially emerging to replace Roundtree. Chesson and Reynolds should be able to at least keep Michigan even at the 'Tree spot, and then the Big One And Little Two should all improve, Funchess vastly.
Huber Heights (OH) Wayne defensive back Tyree Kinnel waited a while for Michigan offer; though the Wolverines began looking at him during his freshman season, Kinnel went without one through several campus visits and even Michigan's technique camp this summer. After an outstanding performance at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights camp last month, Kinnel finally received the offer he coveted, and today he became Michigan's sixth commit in the 2015 class and their second in two days following Shaun Crawford's pledge yesterday.
4*, #24 CB,
|NR CB||3*, NR S||4*, 90, #18 S||
4*, #20 S,
Rivals still hasn't released 2015 rankings; the other three sites are split on both Kinnel's talent and his future position. Scout likes him as a cornerback and puts him well within their top 300; 247 pegs him as a safety and has him just outside their Top 247 (the #16 safety is #241 overall); ESPN also has him as a safety and gives him a three-star rating.
Scout lists Kinnel at 5'11", 170 lbs., ESPN at 5'11", 183, and both Rivals and 247 have him pegged at 6'0", 190; he's got the size to play either safety or corner. According to multiple reports, Michigan recruited Kinnel as a safety; Ohio State was looking at him as a bigger corner, and with the Wolverines looking for similar attributes from their cornerbacks it's possible he could end up there as well.
Although Kinnel has started at Wayne since his freshman year, there's surprisingly little scouting material on him from anything aside from last month's Friday Night Lights camp. Since that's the most recent look at him, we might as well start there; here's Scout's Dave Berk on Kinnel's FNL performance ($):
Damon Webb would be hard to knock as the top defensive back at Friday Night Lights, but Kinnel was extremely impressive in coverage. Much like he stated, I agree that he can play either safety or cornerback at the next level, and that will all sort itself out over the next two years of high school football. Kinnel is a bigger corner, and college programs love this size out on an island. He is one of Ohio's top 2015 prospects, and he certainly raised his stock with his performance at Friday Night Lights.
Rivals's Josh Helmholdt delves into more detail about Kinnel's coverage skills ($):
The 6-foot, 190-pound Kinnel appears headed for the safety position in college, but he has excelled this summer in camp settings where he is asked to cover like a cornerback. His best attribute at this stage is his break on the football, but the rising junior also shows fluid hips and the speed to cover downfield. He is thickly built and has the frame of a future college safety, but his coverage skills may allow him to play anywhere in the defensive backfield at the next level.
Like Berk, Helmholdt had Kinnel behind only Damon Webb among defensive backs at FNL.
One more bit from FNL from Rivals Ohio analyst Marc Givler ($):
Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne defensive back Tyree Kinnel continues to turn in special performances on the camp circuit and was outstanding once again showing the size and strength of a free safety but the cover skills of a corner. It won't be long until Kinnel is a 20 offer kid.
Kinnel's excellent performance in one-on-one WR/DB drills at FNL—a true test of a defensive back's man coverage ability in a drill that favors the receiver—negates the only negative from ESPN's evaluation that isn't the usual call to add bulk that applies to just about every high school prospect:
STRENGTHS: A savvy player with good instincts and vision. Shows good playing speed and strength. A playmaker in defending both the run and pass. Excellent in zone coverage reading the QB's eyes and making a break on the football. ... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Will benefit from adding bulk to his frame. Lacks experience in laying [sic] man to man coverage. ... BOTTOM LINE: Kinnel is a solid all-around safety that does many things well. Shows the potential to be productive in man coverage with good physical tools.
ESPN gave Kinnel a three-star rating and has yet to give a specific grade or include him in their position ratings, so I don't think they're done evaluating him; then again, this is fire-and-forget ESPN we're talking about, so who knows.
Here's Berk again from a Sam Webb feature in the Detroit News pointing out an important area for improvement:
“I project him as a safety with solid ball skills,” said Berk. “At the same time he is aggressive, has good strength, and is able to support the run extremely well. He needs to work on better tackling technique, but overall he has got all the skills that you’d see in a top level safety at the next level.”
Considering Kinnel has shown a willingness to come up in run support and be effective in doing so, and he's got two more season of high school ball before he gets to Michigan—where he'll be coached up even more on technique—this isn't something I find particularly concerning.
Steve Lorenz caught up with Kinnel's high school position coach after his commitment to get a few more details about his game, specifically his advanced knowledge of football for a rising junior ($):
"He's a person who is still learning the game, but you don't get a player like Tyree very often," Powell said. "He has the size and speed, but he has something that you can't teach a lot of players: he has the instincts to see things before or as they are happening. This gives him the ability to make reads quicker and make plays. He knows how to disguise coverages and he knows how to read opposing offenses. As his position coach, I've given Tyree the permission to call audibles on our coverage. This off-season he really improved in that aspect and can pick up the tendencies of a quarterback with relative ease. He's ahead of his age in terms of understanding the game. The other intangible he has that I really admire about him is his passion and love for the game itself. He's a young man who goes out every day and works his tail off."
Powell also said he expects Kinnel to be named captain, a high honor for a junior, and relayed a story from a recent intrasquad scrimmage in which Kinnel, disappointed with the play of the defense, actually ordered the first team off the field and brought the second team on with the full approval of the coaching staff. Again, The Pattern™ emerges.
Kinnel had offers from Arkansas and Kentucky when he made his commitment, as well as interest from Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Huber Heights Wayne is a solid program in Ohio's Division I, making it to the state championship game (and losing, unfortunately) in 1999 and 2010. Their most notable football prospect is current Ohio State QB Braxton Miller; the school also produced former Wolverines Terrence and Terry Talbott, both of whom had injuries cut their college careers short.
Cincinnati.com has a game-by-game breakdown of Kinnel's sophomore season, in which he recorded 30 solo tackles, a fumble recovery, and two interceptions.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 4.40; this has the look of a self-reported time and I can't find any electronically-timed combine figures, so this gets a solid four FAKEs out of five. While I don't doubt Kinnel's speed, 4.4-flat is an elite time for a college player, let alone a high school junior.
As usual, more highlights and individual game cut-ups are available at Kinnel's Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
If Kinnel, as expected, ends up at safety he'll have the opportunity to compete for playing time at a relatively early juncture. When he arrives in 2015, Michigan will have a senior Jarrod Wilson and juniors Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill, and Jeremy Clark on the roster, plus a 2014 recruit (Montae Nicholson is currently the top candidate to fill the open safety spot in the class; Erick Smith and JuJu Smith are other, less likely options). That should afford Kinnel a redshirt year and then a one-year apprenticeship as a backup before he competes for a starting job; unless Michigan decides to move one of their young corners to safety, he's got a relatively clear path to playing time.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Slightly edited from yesterday's Hello post:
With a very small projected class and plenty of depth in place, the Wolverines would likely take just one more defensive back—NJ CB Minkah Fitzpatrick is a top national target who's shown some interest in Michigan, and five-star CA CB Iman Marshall has an offer in hand, though he's a longshot. [EDIT: I should also mention four-star MI ATH Brian Cole, who projects to corner and is strongly considering both Michigan and Michigan State—the Spartans may actually be the team to beat for him; he's still a more realistic option than Fitzpatrick or Marshall at this juncture.]
Kinnel is Michigan's sixth commit in the '15 class (seventh if you count grayshirt DT Brady Pallante); that group may only expand to 15-17 signees, so Michigan will be very selective about whom they offer. Top priorities include quarterback, at least one more offensive lineman, defensive end, and outside linebacker.
Pull up the NCAA official stats and Michigan’s red zone efficiency looks great, ranking third with scores on 93% of trips. Brendan Gibbons had a lot to do with that as Michigan connected on 14 field goals in 46 trips. But as tends to happen in these situations, the truth is much more complicated the NCAA would have you believe.
After the concept of fumble luck, 3 <> 7 may be the second statistical pillar of MGoBlog. The NCAA’s stat does not believe what we believe. Their rankings are based on a simple equation:
[Times scoring in the Red Zone]
[Trips to the Red Zone]
For the NCAA 3=7. An equally simple measure that has been strangely ignored is Points Per Trip (PPT). By that measure (and taking out meaningless second half trips and games against FCS teams), Michigan drops to 44th at 5.2 PPT in 36 qualifying trips.
Red zone Efficiency is a very easy stat to overreact to. The sample size is small and a couple of fluky plays can swing the ranking either way. When you expand the study beyond the end result of the trip and look at the 110 individual plays that comprised Michigan’s 2012 red zone offense, there is at least a little more sturdy basis for evaluation, although the smaller the sample set, the more likely there is a large piece of luck involved in any outputs, whether positive or negative.
Second Down was not our Down, and Other Findings
To evaluate each play I looked at the touchdown percentage for drives at each possible possible down, distance and yardline from inside the 20. Every play either makes the offense more or less likely to score a touchdown on the drive. A first and goal from the 1 yard line results in a touchdown on the drive 91.4% of the time, therefore a touchdown is worth 8.6%. Second and goal from the 1 results in a touchdown 87.3% of the time so getting stopped on first down is worth –4.1%. Each play is evaluated based on its impact to Michigan’s chances of scoring a touchdown on the drive. Even though the odds of a field goal dropped slightly as you move back within the 20, for this study I just wanted to focus on the effect on potential touchdowns.
Michigan ran 43 first down plays on their qualifying red zone trips last season and put themselves in a situation more likely to result in a touchdown on 47% of them. Even though their plays were slightly more likely to be negative than positive, the positive plays had a higher magnitude, resulting in a net positive of about 52%, or half of a touchdown.
Second down was where the problems started. Michigan ran 39 qualifying second down plays in the red zone and only 14 of them bettered their chances of reaching the end zone. Michigan finished at –221% on second down, a loss of over two touchdowns due to poor second down performance.
Michigan actually held up well on second down rushes, improving their odds on 12 of 23 second down rushes. The problems were centered around second down passing. After the Robinson to Gardner touchdown on the first 2nd down red zone pass of the season, Michigan went 0-9 with 2 sacks on the next 11 pass plays. Michigan quarterbacks locked into Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon in these ill-fated situations as the were targeted on 7 of the 9 incompletions. The incredibly surprising play action was not the only issue, only 2 plays were noted as play action in the UFR’s and another 3 were listed as waggle or rollout, but one of those was the initial touchdown.
Where Michigan struggled on second down they excelled on third down. Michigan got a first down or touchdown on 16 of 28 third down plays and reversed their second down loss with a +324% change in their touchdown odds on third and fourth down. Michigan’s binary down success was largely driven via the pass but the situation greatly changed when Devin Gardner came on for Denard Robinson. Denard was 1-5 with a sack on third down while Devin Gardner went 5-5 (all for first downs or touchdowns) with a sack. Where the second down plays were focused on two different players, Gardner third down passes were to 4 different players on the five completions.
Gardner’s third down prowess continued on the ground with a +122% rating on five third down red zone carries. The lack of confidence in the traditional running game around the goal line was evident as only 4 of 13 red zone carries on third and fourth downs were taken by running backs. Toussaint and Vincent Smith both went 1/2 on their attempts.
Devin Gardner Devin Gardner Devin Gardner
So Devin Gardner was pretty good in the red zone. Over all plays he was +432%, or over 4 touchdowns added over the course of the season. In fact, Gardner’s success was probably unsustainably good. I don’t have touchdown’s added for all players, but if you look at pure points added in the red zone, Gardner’s five game red zone average was the second best season ever to Tim Tebow’s 2007 Heisman season. Gardner is really good in the red zone but it is going to be very tough to sustain this level for a full season, only one player ever has.
But what about the other Wolverines?
The only other Michigan player to finish with a positive number was Justice Hayes, by a hair. Hayes’ singular red zone carry against South Carolina netted him a 2% increase. Among the other running backs, Thomas Rawls was –12%, Vincent Smith was –66% (although he was actually the most valuable receiver) and Fitzgerald Toussaint was –117%. All three were making positive plays less than 50% of the time.
Denard finished with a slightly negative red zone contribution for the season, with –39% but on a team low 39% positive ratio. As mimicked by his career, Denard showcased a lot of valuable game changing plays in the red zone, but struggled with consistency. In the end, his 2012 red zone negatives outweighed his positives.
On the receiving side, targets of Vincent Smith, Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Devin Funchess all finished on the positive side while Roy Roundtree was the sole receiving target to end with a negative rating with pair of 3rd and Goal targets from the 7 falling incomplete.
What It Could Mean for 2013
As noted above, red zone efficiency is fickle stat and can easily swing. With that said, based on small sample size splits, here are some pros and cons heading into the season.
- Keep taking care of the ball, no QB interceptions or RB fumbles in the red zone is a great streak to keep up
- Even with rocket-shoes Gallon and The Funchise, Michigan was at their best when spreading the ball around
- Devin Gardner will probably not be as good in the red zone as he was last year but his success was strong enough that it was more than just sample size
- Stay aggressive and hopefully the third down success can hold, but hopefully more trips can be resolved before then
- Fix second down passing, 1-10 with 2 sacks, was really ugly
- Need contributions from the running backs in the run game. Too many trips were dependent on Gardner/Robinson bailing the offense out.
The two biggest things that seem like more than just fluky outcomes of limited play counts are the success of Devin Gardner in the red zone in both running and passing and the failures passing the ball on 2nd down. Some of this is due to the incredibly surprising play action, 5 of the 12 UFR’d plays where listed as PA, rollout or waggle, but the other six plays weren’t any better.
At this point I have no clue how to keep my expectations for Devin Gardner on earth. There are lots of sample size issues with only five games under his belt but those were five pretty spectacular five games from him and he was at his best in the highest leverage situations. I don’t think he can do it for a whole season and hopefully the defense and running game mean he doesn’t have to, but man, that guy made a lot of plays last year.
As expected, Lakewood (OH) St. Edward cornerback Shaun Crawford announced his commitment to Michigan via a live stream on ESPN's Recruiting Nation, choosing the Wolverines over fellow finalists Florida State, Miami (FL), and Tennessee. Crawford is the first defensive back and fifth prospect overall to commit to Brady Hoke's 2015 class.
4*, #10 CB,
4*, 83, #5 ATH,
4*, 91, #17 CB,
4*, #9 CB,
Of the three services that have released 2015 rankings, ESPN is the most bullish on Crawford, and all are in agreement that he's a solid four-star who easily makes their top-n lists. Rivals is the lone site that hasn't unveiled 2015 rankings; their Ohio state recruiting analyst, Marc Givler, gives us an idea of where Crawford might be end up there:
@FergodsakesUofM He is my No. 3 junior in the state of Ohio.
— Marc Givler (@MarcGivlerBG) August 21, 2013
ESPN also has Crawford as the third-ranked junior in Ohio; if Givler's opinion holds, Crawford should end up ranked in the #50-overall range on Rivals.
Crawford's size has been and will be a topic of much discussion, especially given Michigan's recent proclivity for recruiting big cornerbacks; all four sites list him at a diminutive 5'9" and 165-175 pounds. Most corners that size have issues playing man-up on larger receivers and holding up in run support. With Crawford, the latter part, at least, is not an issue...
...because his highlight tape is essentially eight minutes of this:
Crawford can bring the wood and he's got the play recognition ability to make a big impact in the run game and defending the flats. But don't take it from me. Take it from everyone else. Here's Givler again after taking in a St. Edward scrimmage last week:
Shaun Crawford is as good in run support as any corner I've seen come out of Ohio the last few years.
— Marc Givler (@MarcGivlerBG) August 17, 2013
Rivals analyst Josh Helmholdt after watching St. Edward in a game last fall ($):
Shaun Crawford, ATH, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward (2015): The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Crawford plays both wide receiver and nickel cornerback, but I listed him with the defense because that is where he was most effective. Crawford had a few drops on offense, but he is an outstanding open-field tackler on defense.
Crawford on Crawford ($):
Playing as a sophomore at St. Ed's is not exactly a common thing and making an impact on both sides of the ball as a sophomore is even more uncommon. So where does Crawford like playing the most?
"I like playing corner the best," he said. "I just like hitting people."
You get the point.
Of course, tackling is but one small part of playing cornerback — the whole covering receivers part is a pretty big deal. Bucknuts's Duane Long ranked Crawford as his #8 rising junior in Ohio, and the writeup makes it sound like he probably should've been higher on the list ($):
8. Shaun Crawford, Athlete, Lakewood St. Edward: As much as it pains me to rank a Michigan lean in my top 10, Crawford is too good to ignore. He has all the tools. He is the best cover corner in Ohio regardless of class but I have a hard time placing a player with this much game-breaking ability on defense. Crawford is just as impressive on offense. Crawford has the hips and feet to be an elite cover corner but he is such a fine tackler he could be a safety. His speed is something special.
Someone is going to get a great player whether he plays offense or defense. Right now it looks like Michigan. An offer might help the situation. He was supposed to be a huge Michigan lean and has an offer. What is he waiting on? Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe we are looking at an Ohio kid being brought up to speed on life after football for someone who intends to return to Ohio. We will see. Love to see this one in Scarlet and Gray.
Yes, that second paragraph is particularly delicious.
Crawford's cover skills are bolstered by his top-notch speed; he was regarded as a big-time track prospect before he even got to high school and has since posted electronic times of 10.80 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.80 in the 200. Between his speed and willingness to throw his body around, Crawford's dispelled many of the concerns about his height, as evidenced by this quote from Scout's Bill Greene:
Said Greene, “That’s the only drawback (to his game) -- his height. But it doesn’t bother me because I’ve seen him play live and he is a great football player.
“His speed is amazing, but he’s got hips so he can turn and run. If he does false-step or get beat, he’s got lighting speed to catch up. And he will come up and hit people. There is no worry about if he can tackle coming up from the corner spot because he comes up and hits people. So he is a great athlete and a great kid. He comes from a great family, he is unbelievable in the classroom (and) he is a leader. There is nothing not to like about Shaun Crawford.”
Run support: check. Cover skills: check. Track-star speed: check. Fits The Pattern™: check.
Greene added in the same article that "[i]f he was 6-1 he would probably the top cornerback in America," and noted that Crawford plays against some of the best high school competition in the country at St. Edward. Crawford's height may hold him back a little against taller college receivers, though it seems that it'll be more of an issue for NFL scouts; he's an elite talent with a skill-set that covers for his lone apparent shortcoming.
Crawford held offers from Arkansas, Cincinnati, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Ohio State and Notre Dame both showed interest but didn't offer prior to his commitment, much to the dismay of Duane Long in the former case.
Lakewood St. Edward is one of the top programs in Ohio's Division I, producing a number of top recruits in recent years and winning the state title in 2010. Notable former prospects include five-star Michigan guard Kyle Kalis (2012), five-star Ohio State tackle Alex Boone (2005), four-star Ohio State safety Nate Oliver (2007), four-star Northwestern defensive tackle Nate Kuhar (2012), four-star Iowa safety Diauntae Morrow (2007), and a long list of three-stars that contains former Michigan target and 2012 Oklahoma signee TE Sam Grant.
According to 247, Crawford recorded 66 tackles (three for loss), a sack, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in his sophomore season. He also netted 438 yards and five touchdowns on 24 catches as a receiver.
FAKE 40 TIME
Crawford ran a laser-timed 4.51 40 at February's Nike Combine in Massillon, a very impressive figure that gets zero FAKEs out of five. He posted a 37.4-inch vertial leap at the same combine; that leaping ability should help him in defending taller pass-catchers.
Sophomore highlights courtesy of ScoutingOhio:
Here's video of last weekend's scrimmage courtesy of OhioPreps — Crawford appears with big hits on the two plays beginning at the :55 mark, a short touchdown catch at the 2:30 mark, consecutive TFLs at the 3:13 mark, and another huge hit at the 4:00 mark. Not bad for a day's work:
More clips, including individual game highlights, are available at Crawford's Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Despite his size, Crawford is an ideal candidate to play boundary corner. He's got the speed and cover skills to match up with outside receivers and more than enough tackling ability to hold up on the edge. Much like Michigan is doing with Dymonte Thomas this year — and may do again next year with Jabrill Peppers — the coaches could also give Crawford a first-year internship at nickel if he's ready to see the field that early before moving him to the outside.
When Crawford arrives on campus, Michigan will have a senior Blake Countess, a junior Terry Richardson, this year's freshman crop of Reon Dawson, Ross Douglas, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling, and of course 2014 commits Jabrill Peppers and Brandon Watson. That's a lot of older players to pass on the depth chart, though if Crawford continues to develop it could be tough to keep him off the field regardless. I really like his game and expect him to be a multi-year starter.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has one defensive back in the fold for 2015 and could very well add another tomorrow in Tyree Kinnel, a 3.5-star safety prospect who could also project as a bigger cornerback. With a very small projected class and plenty of depth in place, the Wolverines would likely take just one more defensive back — NJ CB Minkah Fitzpatrick is a top national target who's shown some interest in Michigan, and five-star CA CB Iman Marshall has an offer in hand, though he's a longshot.
Crawford is Michigan's fifth commit in the '15 class (sixth if you count grayshirt DT Brady Pallante); that group may only expand to 15-17 signees, so Michigan will be very selective about whom they offer. Top priorities include quarterback, at least one more offensive lineman, defensive end, and outside linebacker.
CAN THEY ZOOM THIS THING ANY MORE? For pants' sake. Devin Gardner takes a shotgun snap and the only other guy in the frame is Justice Hayes. I think this is negatively affecting camera guy in games—the replays in Michigan Stadium are invariably pore-o-vision, too.
Jack Miller's hand is not broken. The video of Tom Brady's speech featured a guy saying "his left is broken" right at the end, and people thought it was Miller, and now there is an e-rumor to that effect. Obviously that is not the case. The MGoStaff has looked at the back of a lot of heads and we're pretty sure that's Tom Strobel, the redshirt freshman three-tech.
Lewan was held out. The line on the first snap is Schofield-Glasgow-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, and Lewan makes no appearance. Since the line is completely out of many shots it's hard to tell anything definitive about who's playing, but if Chris Bryant is pressing to start, where is Chris Bryant? He does get in on at least one snap here, FWIW, but if we're going by the scraps in these videos it looks like Glasgow is the leader.
I assume they also held Gallon and Fitz out for obvious reasons.
Wormley looking good. On one snap sure, but he beats Magnuson to the inside on a Justice Hayes carry.
Justice Hayes sure seems like your third down back. There have been few shotgun snaps in either of these that don't feature Hayes next to Gardner. There is a small chance it's actually Fitz and he's being held out because he doesn't need to prove anything, but with the Green injury and Toussaint obtaining a death lock on the starting job, Hayes is in a good spot to take snaps away.
Hey: Shane Morris. Man that hoser can hose. Throwing rope after rope, though dollars to donuts this video elides three terrible interceptions.
Hey: Channing Stribling. Gardner almost throws an ugly pick to Stribling. Stribling dives to break up a dig route. Stribling tackles Chesson after a hitch. Stribling breaks up a well-thrown fly route to Chesson.
Also, Hollowell is all over Da'Mario Jones.
Hey: De'Veon Smith. Flashes shades of that high school tape when he spins through three guys on his single carry and then drags Jourdan Lewis on his back for five or six more.
Also, Green makes a slick cut to the backside of a power play and runs through an arm tackle. His single carry looked a lot better than his single carry in the other video. #samplesize
Apparently Drake Johnson is now #20. This was news to me.
Slow-mo Reynolds catch is pretty good. First, Morris moves around the pocket like a pro before unleashing a rope, then the DB (never see a number) is a fingertip away from a PBU and may actually get a deflection, then Reynolds makes a diving catch.