|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Kenny Allen||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Sr*||Jabrill Peppers||So*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Quinn Nordin||Fr||Quinn Nordin||Fr||Quinn Nordin||Fr||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.||Jehu Chesson||Sr.*|
John Baxter fled back to California after one Michigan winter and will get what's coming to him in the next ice age. Baxter is a uniquely good special teams coach and there wasn't an obvious replacement available; also Rashan Gary existed. So Michigan promoted Chris Partridge to a full-fledged assistant spot and split special teams duties between him and Jay Harbaugh.
There's probably going to be a dropoff in effort applied. Last year Michigan took timeout in a squib situation so they could insert Dymonte Thomas; they lined him up at the spot a squib should go and lo, he returned it to midfield. If that creativity persists it's evidence Harbaugh is pushing every available angle. I don't expect it to. John Baxter appeared to be a rare commodity: a difference-making special teams coach.
Even so, this should be a strength.
The dread was palpable last year when scholarship freshman Andrew David wasn't even in the conversation. A couple of walk-ons vied for the job and were by all accounts somewhere between vexing and terrible. So of course when KENNY ALLEN locked the spot down he hit 18/22, with one miss a bad snap and a second due in large part to a downright supernatural gust of wind that pushed a probable make wide. Allen was also 46/46 on PATs.
The catch, such as it is, is that Allen rarely attempted a field goal from outside 40 yards. Just six of his attempts were in the zone of mild difficulty; he went 3/6. He did hit a 47 yarder and he's a booming punter so the leg strength is likely there.
Even if Allen is unproven at longer distances, I will take a #collegekicker who is near-automatic from 40 and in every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Some additional range is the only improvement required.
If that range is not forthcoming, QUINN NORDIN [recruiting profile] also lurks. Harbaugh is uncomfortable with having Allen take every last kicking duty so it's possible Nordin gets some longer kicks. If Michigan does decide to spread the load out, kickoffs are a more likely deployment for Nordin.
KENNY ALLEN, yes that Kenny Allen, figures to win this job too. Allen in fact came to Michigan a punter, and a booming one at that. He's had two punts in games, both of which went 50+ yards, and since Brady Hoke's reaction to "you have to have an open practice" was to turn it into a special teams exhibition your author has seen Allen punt a ton. He's really good. He could challenge Will Hagerup and Monte Robbins for the all-time gross average, which currently sits at 45 yards even.
One department that figures to have a decline is pooch punting. Blake O'Neil's feathery touch on punts inside the ten was remarkable and unlikely to be repeated by any non-Aussie. When I caught Michgian's open practice at Ford Field, Andrew David was tasked with that nose-down pooch punting stuff that's all the rage. David's left the team since; that might signify Allen's not great at pinning the opposition deep.
QUINN NORDIN is also an option here.
Don't Buckle Up Yet, But...
check the 2:57 mark to see a defender get spot-shadowed before getting juked to the ground.
...stay vigilant? 247's Steve Wiltfong just put in a Crystal Ball pick for four-star CT WR Tarik Black to Michigan:
I was hearing rumblings coming out of the Barbecue at the Big House that the Wolverines moved into pole position for the Cheshire (Conn.) Academy standout.
I'm also told Stanford and Alabama are the biggest threats to Michigan. Notre Dame was once considered the top contender but the Irish have faded some. The Cardinal staff is expected out to see Black next week.
Black wants to announce at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl but I would not be surprised if he did something sooner.
Notre Dame was considered the leader for a long time; if they're not the main contender, that's great news for Michigan.
[Hit THE JUMP for a quick McCaffrey eval and more.]
This post is also sponsored by XFINITY, which does not have any rockets or landers or even probes because, as it has been carefully explained to me, they are cable company. If you're on on-campus student they'll let you stream live sports and other shows for free on your phone, tablet, or moon lander
you can rent from XFINITY I guess you have to get from NASA.
Off campus students can get both TV and internet for $79.99 a month. Adults and adult-type persons (you know who you are) can get the X1 system and its voice-activated remote which is just like Hal 9000 AND THEREFORE XFINITY IS A SPACE COMPANY AFTER ALL.
Bolded alter-ego, sometimes I just…
Can we get on with the preview?
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Dymonte Thomas||Sr.||Delano Hill||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Tyree Kinnel||So.||Khaleke Hudson||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.|
|Josh Metellus||Fr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Brandon Watson||So.*|
The Pax Wilsonica is over and Michigan moves into a less boring era, for better or worse. While the depth here gets scary quickly, Michigan returns two guys who were prominent contributors to a very good secondary. Both are touted recruits and seniors; both played better than they might be getting credit for. I was actually surprised at how many good things I had clipped and how few bad things there were other than the ones that stand out in memory.
Both starters are going to have a tougher job than they did a year ago as Michigan moves away from one super deep safety most of the time. They'll have to cover guys man to man, make checks, that sort of thing. So far, so good? When Delano Hill isn't trying to punch the ball out from behind, yes.
We're splitting the safety designation into defined "free" and "strong" halves instead of a single unified section. This would have been mandatory if DJ Durkin was still around since Jarrod Wilson and Not Jarrod Wilson were deployed very differently a year ago; since Don Brown will mix in one-high coverages with a designated FS, it's still appropriate.
So. For years this space called Jarrod Wilson a boring safety. We barely ever saw him on the screen because he was doing his job. When he did see him it was generally fine. He made tackles. He did not separate receivers from the ball or intercept passes or force fumbles. He was there to put out fires, not start them. Now he's gone, and more interesting times may beckon.
That's because DYMONTE THOMAS is still a bit of a wild card after a career that's been frustrating in more ways than one so far. Thomas was a high school linebacker and running back who Michigan first played at nickel, then at one safety spot, then another, then back to nickel, etc. Webb discussed the situation before last season:
The issue for him has been the fact that he's been moved around so consistently and hasn't been focused or told to focus on only one position.
Despite having no business on a football field as a freshman he set his redshirt on fire blocking a punt against Central Michigan; meanwhile the positional switching and Thomas's rawness made his brief cameos depressing. Last year's preview slotted him as a backup and mostly focused on various goofs, bemoaned the redshirt, and clucked about player development:
This kind of errant run fill isn't something we've seen from Wilson or Hill.
For big portions of last year it looked like he didn't quite know what he was seeing. He'd run a zone, see nobody anywhere near him, and just kind of stand around instead of trying to adapt his coverage to the situation. … He's far behind the other guys when it comes to understanding what the defense is trying to accomplish.
That take held for half the year. Against Oregon State, Thomas had a huge bust on a tunnel screen that could have resulted in a touchdown against a team better than the Beavers. Then he disappeared for three games. When he re-emerged it was in garbage time against Maryland and Northwestern; he played well enough for a couple of Delano Hill issues to open the door for live-fire snaps.
He did unreasonably well with them. One of my primary memories of Thomas's 2015 was that time he got shook big time against Minnesota in his first extended playing time:
I was prepared to talk about how his coverage was a mixed bag as a result. It wasn't. After this play, which I issued an excessively harsh –3 (it's –2, easy completion but he does tackle immediately) I didn't have a coverage minus for him the rest of the year.
And he was tested with some frequency. He's in press man to the top of the field on this play:
To try to chuck one receiver, have to bail to the other guy, and then have the speed to catch up is impressive. A better throw is probably a completion there, but to even be in a position to contest a reasonably good one is something not a lot of safeties can manage. Thomas drove on outs and shoved fades into the sideline and impressively mirrored wheels (while picking up ridiculous PI flags) and raked out near completions and on this play I misclassified him as Jourdan Lewis until I saw it for the third time:
Strange but true: Dymonte Thomas was good in coverage last year.
In addition to burgeoning man-to-man skills, Thomas has capital-R Range. He's always been fast as hell. See that punt block that burned his redshirt:
Not only does that hit his foot, it hits his foot before the punter can even strike it.
Late last year his newfound knowledge of what direction to go finally saw that speed start paying off. If you hesitate slightly even go routes down the sidelines become dangerous:
Thomas was lined up on the near hash on that one. In the spring game he intercepted a reasonably well thrown ball in the corner of the endzone despite being in the dead center of the field:
Jarrod Wilson does not make either of those plays. Thomas could have five or so interceptions if he carries that kind of thing over to 2016.
Even some of Thomas's bad plays were kind of good. There was that interception against Minnesota that not only clanged off his hands but went directly to a Gopher WR, and he managed to jet through a bunch of traffic against Rutgers only to turn a TFL into… not that:
I liked that ability to pick through traffic but not the missed tackle, and there were a couple other instances of bad play against the run. Shannon Brooks spun through another tackle attempt in the Minnesota game, and I thought Thomas overran the one long run Rutgers had. On the other hand, Thomas had a couple of extremely impressive open-field tackles against Ohio State:
His overall aura caused me to say he was "almost there" after Rutgers:
Dymonte Thomas could be putting it together. I don't think he's ever going to be a guy who's particularly good at preventing 20 yard plays from going 50, but with his athleticism he provides a suite of capabilities that can make up for that deficiency. He is a guy who you can put in man coverage relatively confidently, that Minnesota play nonwithstanding. He's come a long way this year; he has a moderate way to go. Cross your fingers.
With a season's worth of data, it maybe kind of sort of feels like he has arrived.
Thomas was "productive" per PFF, and my charting agrees. With increased playing time and considerable upside left to plumb, Thomas could blow up. He's not a physical guy and won't suddenly become one this year; you can chalk up a few missed tackles that add chunks of yards to plays that have already broken somewhat big. Everything else looks like a strength. He's good in coverage, he's fast as the dickens, and he's still got a solid bit of upside left.
Thomas should be good. It's hard for me to judge safeties since they're so rarely on the screen, but whatever extra deep stuff Michigan gets hit with because Thomas isn't Jarrod Wilson should be offset by the plays Thomas makes because he isn't Jarrod Wilson.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers is briefly mentioned!]
Your defensive line’s got some depth this season. Why is that depth going to be important for this team?
“I think depth’s really, really important with any defense nowadays with the way people like to run spread offenses and fast-paced offenses. A lot of them try to do that to try to negate a good defensive line. They try to tire them out, they try to get them running from sideline to sideline, and then they try to make them down to their level or average by being tired.
“Nowadays these D-linemen are bigger than they used to be and they’re carrying a lot of weight, so to have guys that rotate is really, really key for us. You saw that last year. We were a better defensive team when we had rotation, and when we got hit with some injuries it brought us down to not having the ability to rotate.”
Why do you see defensive linemen rotate and not offensive linemen?
“Well, offensive linemen don’t run to the football sideline to sideline. I mean, ours do. The good ones do, but there’s a lot of people that if you watch a defensive line, every play, whether it’s a pass all the way downfield or a sweep wide, you expect your defensive line to be running as hard and fast as they can to get there. Offensive guys are behind the ball sometimes so it doesn’t really matter to get down there that close.”
Have you found eight that have earned the right to be in that rotation at this point?
“Yeah, I think we have eight for sure, and there are more and more guys that are coming on. I would never rotate probably nine or 10 guys, but you always want the ability that if something does happen that another guy can come in and be one of those eight. That’s what we’re working for. Working for the ability to have a true rotation of guys.”
You really haven’t had a full, true eight guys here, have you?
“I think last year during the middle we were there. Then when Ryan got injured and Mario got injured, we bounced down under that.”
Who will you put out to start on Saturday?
“I really try to tell them that we have two starting lineups. You know, who goes out there for the very first play, we still have a couple days to decide that. Chris Wormley’s had a very, very good camp. Glasgow’s had a really good camp. Mone has really done well. Matt Godin’s doing very well. Taco. The whole group. I don’t want to single out one guy, because as we watch the film there’s an expectation, and to be in that first unit that takes the field very first of who’s in there the third or fourth play, they all have to do the same thing. I’ve been pleased with the effort and the work of all of them.”
[After THE JUMP: on communication during substitutions, working in Rashan Gary, and more Onwenu praise]
[Ed-Seth: We have the great pleasure of employing the services and serving utensils of the original barbecuing bloggerati Joe Pichey of GoBlueBBQ to write recipes for our most delicious sponsor, Stubb's BBQ sauce. It's kind of like that sweet brown ketchup everyone in this state usually buys, but with actual flavor. Also you can cook with it. For example…]
FINALLY!!!! The wait is over. We've made it to week one and the the biggest question of the offseason is about to be answered. Everybody has been talking about it and nobody knew the answer to the most asked question around Ann Arbor. No, I’m not talking about the starting QB for week 1. I’m talking about the first tailgate appetizer of the 2016 season. If you had Armadillo Eggs in the nonexistent, totally fictional office pool, congratulations. These are cream cheese stuffed jalapeños wrapped in breakfast sausage, rolled in crushed pork rinds and slow smoked for about an hour. Yes, you read that right. This is as close to tailgate perfection as you can get. Add a few frothy beverages and I am in heaven.
- Pork Sausage (I Like the Spicy)
- Cream Cheese (Jalapeño or pineapple flavor)
- Jalapeños (Halved and cored)
- Pork Rinds (Crushed)
- Stubb's Pork Rub
[After the JUMP: dippers at the ready]
Which freshmen do you NOT want to see burn their redshirts on Saturday?
BiSB: The blindingly obvious answer is Brandon Peters, so I'm assuming we won't spend much time on him.
As far as players who might actually play, I'll go with Josh Uche. Sure, Michigan needs to develop linebacker depth in a big damn hurry. And sure, Uche is a crazy athlete and has serious upside as an outside linebacker or weakside end. But he's skinny. Really skinny. He's listed at 6'3", 217 pounds. Remember how we all thought James Ross was too small as a freshman? He was 6'1", 225 pounds. But if Michigan wants some depth at SAM behind Peppers that brings some of the same pass rush and above-average athleticism, Uche might be it. He might be a fun toy to bring unholy brimstone off the edge, but I think an apprenticeship/eat-all-the-sandwiches year would be more valuable.
[Ace is typing]
[Hit THE JUMP to see who wants to redshirt Rashan Gary.]