Tyree Kinnel has been playing free safety and Josh Metellus has been playing Rover (strong safety). If the season started today, those are your starters
Rotating guys is always an option; Kinnel and Metellus played both positions last year (and Metellus played some VIPER, too)
The biggest challenge for Smith this spring has been getting the safeties to “open up and communicate.” The natural ability is there, but their communication skills (i.e. getting everyone lined up) are being refined.
How enjoyable has it been for you this spring with all the new faces you’ve had to coach and get used to?
“It’s been really enjoyable. Like you said, we’ve had a lot of new guys in the room, a lot of young guys that don’t have much experience, but they’re eager to learn. They’re starting from square one so they’re listening to everything you tell them. They’re holding on to it, so it’s been good so far.”
Who has stood out?
“Well, from the safety position, I think J’Marick Woods has had an outstanding spring. He’s kind of earning his nickname; we call him Woods because he brings the wood. He’s a physical player, he’s a hitter…I mean, he’s what you look for back there. He’s got good range and some other things he needs to work on still, but he’s shown a lot of potential and enthusiasm for the game.
“Jaylen Kelly-Powell, he’s done a nice job. He comes in from a good high school program. He’s been well-coached. He’s really technically sound for a young defensive back. His man-to-man skills are definitely there. They flash. He’s done a nice job so far.”
For Khaleke [Hudson] and Josh [Metellus], for them to be kind of moving back and forth between safety and that VIPER position, does that help them or does it hurt them not being able to focus on one spot?
“I think it helps them. After last year having a whole season under their belts just playing one position for Khaleke, now having to play another position, I think it gives him a better understanding of the defense. You know, once you play different positions, things start to make sense and they come together. You see the big picture. I think it’ll help them definitely in the long run. I think VIPER’s a good position for him with his physical traits, Khaleke, and I think he’s done a nice job so far.”
[After THE JUMP: the differences between a Rover and VIPER, and what the staff looks for when recruiting those positions]
Headline news is not at all surprising: Rashan Gary is like dang. Palpable excitement from the coaches about getting to line up Gary next to Maurice Hurst and God help anyone assigned to block those guys on a stunt. Or not on a stunt. Gary remains extremely coachable and is on track to deliver on that #1 overall recruit hype. The end. Gary talk this year == Peppers talk last year. Everyone knows he's coming so it's almost beside the point to mention it.
Carlo Kemp looks set to back Gary up at strongside end:
"Rashan's a great person to definitely model your game after and follow up," Kemp said. "Especially because he goes in there, sets the tempo. For me, backing him up, I want to be as close as I can that there's no dropoff. When Rashan's in, we already know what he can do, and then when I come in I try to mimic his game a lot, so that when he's in and I'm in, it looks the exact same."
That would be nice. Kemp has impressed the coaches after a rough start that was partially because he was being played out of position at linebacker. (Remember that Michigan had a crisis at LB before the emergence of McCray last year.) Kemp on his interactions with Don Brown:
"He said when we first started spring ball 'I don't even know who this guy is anymore, last year I'd have traded him away for two used footballs' " Kemp said. "So that felt good. Last year I might have done the same thing, traded me away for two used footballs.
"Maybe we're up to three this year."
Kemp has the bloodlines and good size (265 now, probably approaching 280 by fall) so backup snaps at the anchor should be relatively productive. Early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter is also impressing, and right now he and Kemp are both wearing #2. Winner gets to keep it, I guess?
At the other end, Chase Winovich has added another chunk of weight as he attempts to replace Taco Charlton; hopefully this will allow him to hold up against the run while not sapping his ability to get around the corner. All weight gain or loss is good in the spring. Haven't gotten anything about the folks pushing Winovich on the depth chart so that might be a spot of worry. Jeter is probably more of a SDE/3T than a weakside end.
DT starters are established and I cannot tell you anything about them that you don't already know. Mo Hurst should be an All-American with increased playing time and the shiny stats he racks up. Everyone is waiting for Bryan Mone to finally display the potential people have chattered about for years. Chatter remains the same on Mone, and he did flash talent late in the year. If he can stay healthy dot dot dot.
Very thin on the interior with few of the freshmen on campus yet and Michael Dwumfour frequently limited with minor issues. As a result Michigan is experimenting with redshirt freshman Ron Johnson on the interior, which is very much a work in progress. Johnson arrived as a 245-pound edge rush type. I would interpret that as distress about backup DTs. Lawrence Marshall is also on the interior and has not drawn much buzz.
Depth is a concern. Starters should be bonkers.
Mike McCray is an obvious starter and looks like you'd expect. Leader, thumper. Michigan's offense isn't of the variety that frequently tests McCray's main 2016 weakness—operating in space—so I assume you're going to get a lot of very positive reports on him that are about the stuff he was already excellent at, and we'll have to wait for live fire this fall to see if he's made progress on the downsides.
The other spot was presumed to be Devin Bush, but don't sleep on Mike Wroblewski, who keeps getting brought up by Don Brown for a reason. Wroblewski is an "A-gap player," which means he's a guy to take on fullbacks and hammer the interior run game but might be limited in sideline-to-sideline range. He's taken over some of the calls from McCray, which is quite a thing to do when you're taking them from a returning starter and fifth year senior who is presumably going to be a captain. He is on the two deep, legitimately.
Bush is also very much in the mix and will at least rotate through a la Gedeon when he was the third guy behind Morgan and Bolden. He could start, as well—he seems a much more natural fit for Michigan's forays against spread offenses.
FWIW, one report that Ben Mason "looks the part" at LB, so they are giving him his shot there and he may yet defy this site's oft-stated opinion that he's destined for fullback. Redshirt freshman Josh Uche Is "laying the wood" a lot and should get some playing time this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist, with a productive career in the offing.
The VIPER(!!!) spot is addressed in the next section because it should be.
Michigan looks set to go with a three safety look again—the defense is a bonafide 4-2-5 and we should get used to it—in a slightly different configuration than last year. This is not insider chatter but rather something the coaches have directly stated:
"We'll see in the Spring Game how those guys line up in live competition, but right now Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, those guys are leaders of the pack [at safety] in my eyes," Smith said. "They've done a good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."
Tyree Kinnel is your free safety and will play the Dymonte Thomas role; Josh Metellus is the strong safety and will replace Delano Hill. Both are heady and "kind of going Jarrod Wilson," which is music to your author's ears. All hail boring safeties, with a side of Metellus thumping people in their earholes.
Meanwhile many reports have it that Khaleke Hudson is your leader at VIPER(!!!) and will seek to replicate Jabrill Peppers. Hudson was a bit slow picking up coverages per a couple people; he is physically capable of the slot coverage that Hill was so good at a year ago, and as he gets increasingly comfortable people in his vicinity have a tendency to get "jacked up," as the kids say. One report notes he's making a number of spectacular, freaky plays. As we've asserted about Hudson since he popped up on our radar, he's not Peppers but he's basically Peppers. The emergence of Metellus gives Michigan the opportunity to use him in that spacebacker spot he was born to man.
Meanwhile in news I find very important indeed, people think J'Marick Woods has a nickname but he does not.
Brian Smith says J'Marick Woods has stood out to him this spring. Says he's earned his nickname of "Woods" - is a big hitter
— Orion Sang (@orion_sang) April 11, 2017
This aggression against nicknames will not stand. That is just his name. Hockey nicknames that are "last name followed by -y" are bad enough. Come back when you've named him "Scooter" or "Booger" or "Dump Truck." Preferably all three.
All systems go for David Long and Lavert Hill, who have been gathering extensive praise as physical, sticky corners. Hill is currently stickier but Long isn't far off. When the projected starters are in it's been difficult for Michigan's receivers to get separation.
There is a significant dropoff after those two, with Brandon Watson and Ambry Thomas currently drawing the most mention. There's no such thing as a second unit yet, of course; those two guys are a nose ahead of the pack after the starters. Watson was meh as a slot corner a year ago and is past the age where rapid progress is likely; I assume he'll have a role similar to last year's unless he gets passed by Thomas right out of the gate. Survey says: possible.
Overall, practice insiders are positive about Michigan's ability to weather all the departures. Don Brown's said as much publicly, and privately he's saying basically the same things: there's no reason this defense shouldn't be in the same ballpark as last year's. #1 is a tough ask because of randomness and whatnot, but Don Brown has put together top end defenses without having a guy like Rashan Gary. He remains a hard-boiled cop one day from retirement in a candy store.
[This series is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:
Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style]
This one confused us when Michigan ran it. In the above Poggi was trying to go between Braden and Butt while a middle linebacker got to sit free in a hole. Smith kind of challenged that guy, then bounced outside for a big gain. Brian guessed it was some sort of split zone that Poggi biffed. But after a twitter conversation and a few recent trips through Bo’s old playbooks I theorize it was Duo.
Also known as Double, or “Power without a puller,” Duo is a man-blocking play that apes inside zone while actually leaving the reads to the running back. Sometimes it looks like inside zone except the center ID’d the wrong guy and the running back fixed it by setting up the middle linebacker. Sometimes it looks like inside zone with a planned backside cut. But apparently it’s a whole different tree.
Duo concept (Power O w/o pull) vs Over Stack front. Two double teams inside w/ the C & BSG working Nose 2 Will. B gap read for the back. pic.twitter.com/0hqngDUNvS
— Anthony White (@AWhite_73) April 8, 2017
Anthony White and James Light and Ted Nguyen were talking about this play a few weeks ago on Twitter, and Zach Dunn of Inside the Headset wrote a whole article on it called “Duo/Double: The Best Play in Football.”
With Duo the Running Back is reading the Mike linebacker. The Running Back will press the ‘B’ Gap and read the movement of the Mike. If the Mike plays over the top and outside of the second double team, the Running Back can bend it back to the first double team. If the Mike presses and steps up into the line of scrimmage the Running Back can bounce the play out and cut off the Tight End’s block.
Then Geoff Schwartz did a video about how to differentiate it from backside inside zone, and found Bob Wylie giving a seminar on it. So as you can imagine I was feeling a bit left out. Let’s fantasize for a moment that there’s any value I can add to these guys who know way more than I do, and draw it up.
This play is not only a staple of the Harbaugh running game, but one he almost certainly took from Bo. Old timers, get your nodding muscles ready, because this is bar none the Schembechleriest play we’ve ever drawn here:
It’s called “Duo” or “Double” because of all the initial double-teams. On the above example from backup hour in the Hawaii game you can see both defensive tackles are getting doubled initially.
[Feeling the Bo yet? Hit the JUMP]
IT IS 1998 and hockey is dying.
Its executioners are its own coaches, who have strangled opposing offenses with a variety of neutral zone traps. Scoring is down almost two and a half goals a game from the firewagon 1980s. Jacques Lemaire wins three Stanley Cups playing the most stultifying brand of hockey imaginable. At Michigan State, Ron Mason seeks to win games –1 to –2, and does with depressing frequency. Your author is mere months away from swearing off the Red Wings forever after attending two games at Joe Louis Arena at which the only reaction from the crowd comes on goals, of which there is about one a period, and when a man named "Mo Cheese" does a jiggle-dance on the jumbotron.
That fall, two people walked into Yost Ice Arena for the first time: Mike Comrie and I. I sat in the student section; Mike Comrie set people on fire and laughed about it. I don't know anything about Mike Comrie's childhood but I know it involved ants and a magnifying glass.
I just missed the Brendan Morrison era but even if I'd seen it, I'd probably still believe Comrie is the closest thing to an on-ice avatar of the Red Berenson era in existence. He was a tiny puck wizard who defied all logical modes of playing hockey with sheer talent. It was not uncommon for Comrie to make a zone entry by himself, then tool around the offensive zone like Spike Albrecht doing donuts in the lane. The opposition allowed this because the alternative was approaching Comrie and risking an explosive moment after which Michigan would have another goal and you would have no pants.
Over the next decade it seemed like Michigan had an infinite supply of these guys. After Comrie came Mike Cammalleri, Jeff Tambellini, Eric Werner (who belongs on this list despite being a defenseman), TJ Hensick, Andrew Ebbett, John Shouneyia, and Andrew Cogliano. They were all different versions of the same assassin. Collectively they are this Cammalleri goal.
Under Red Berenson, Michigan hockey was an electric middle finger to the neutral zone trap. It defied NHL norms of the time, and sometimes basic physics itself. It took no quarter, and gave none. It lived in Yost Ice Arena, which for about 15 years was the most intimidating environment in sports.
YOST WAS BLACK, pitch black. Literally so. The shot at the top of the post is one of the bleachers that I had the good fortune to acquire when Dave Brandon's renovation of Yost was literally throwing them away. It is not the bright and shiny anodyne chrome of the current building. It is not even the respectable deep blue that Michigan has on hand for uniforms, logos, and what-have-you. It is black.
It is unnecessarily black. At one edge the paint has worn down and you can see that underneath there is a layer of blue. Someone erased that blue, probably for no reason at all other than hockey was a non-revenue sport and black paint was cheaper. So they painted it black.
To walk into Yost Ice Arena in 1998 was a mindblowing experience for someone raised on the relatively genteel ways of Michigan Stadium. To be a Michigan fan is to have your nose in the air about the unhinged activities of those people; Yost was the Scarface coke bender kept hidden from public view. It is the only environment in the history of Michigan sports that can be compared in any way to Miami and its general attitude.
I have thought long and hard about why this might have come to be and still have no unifying theory, but by the time you arrived in 1998 at the same time as Mike Comrie it took about three games to fully assimilate into the baying hive mind. Then-Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone once told me to "shut the fuck up" between periods, and while I don't remember why he did this I assume he was 100% correct to do so.
And I was just a guy, really, not one of the gentlemen in the section behind the opposing bench. One of the Superfans was there, the guy with the Flintstones water buffalo hat. Next to him was the guy with the megaphone, and around them was a cadre of the dirtiest dudes in town.
The megaphone, I think, is key to understanding the allure here. We have all had the experience of shouting something in anger at a referee at a football game. This is exactly as effective as shouting at your TV. There are one hundred thousand people in the stands and you are some vast distance away from the field even if you're in row 20; you are just a voice in the crowd.
At Yost, amongst six thousand people, in row ten, with the ears just the other side of some plexiglass, you know damn well that everyone can hear your every word. With a megaphone or without. By the time I had arrived there was a culture that understood and sought to exploit this, and it worked. I can't tell you how many times opposing players tried to spray people in the crowd with water bottles. The opposing parents were seated directly behind their bench, and directly in front of the dirtiest dudes in town, and since the dirtiest dudes in town had a tendency to select one player for excessive torment it was a semi-regular occurrence for a hockey parent to respond in kind. Rarely you'd catch a slightly unhinged one who would fume his way up the stairs and try to get in a fight.
The stupidity and the gloriousness of this should be apparent. For a period of several years the opposing parents had to be located across the rink, the ice serving as a demilitarized zone. Yost got people shook.
The creation of this seething cauldron in the context of dead-puck-era hockey, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of the great miracles of sports. The none-more-blackness of Yost had something to do with it. So did the basketball team's malaise.
But the primary factor was Red Berenson, who never gave a damn about what you thought he should do. Berenson spent four years in college when college was not a path to the NHL. He was literally the first player to ever go directly from the NCAA to the NHL. He was the NHL coach of the year at one point and could have continued being an NHL head coach indefinitely if he so chose. Instead he came back to Michigan. At a time when the primary way to win hockey games was by murdering the game itself he played balls-to-the-wall.
Yost was a magnet for sadists because it was a place you could go and see someone blown off the ice 8-1. A promotion where attendees got free tacos if Michigan scored ten goals had to be discontinued because it was costing too much. Here is an arena where the residents are chanting for more goals when they are already at nine—nine! They are no longer beating the dead horse, but gleefully spitting on its grave. Yost was a reflection of the product on the ice.
Red Berenson did a lot of great things for his university, his players, his student managers, his coaches, his alumni, and they will all remember him for the things he did for them. The thing Red Berenson did for me is turn Yost Ice Arena into the greatest sports environment I've ever been in. He did that because he is metal. Bite-the-head-off-a-bat metal.
Black fucking metal.
[Ed. A- David Nasternak, our hockey beat writer, did the heavy lifting in compiling this article and also helped author it.]
At some point today, Warde Manuel will sit down in his office overlooking Hoover Avenue and State Street, check his to-do list, and find an item at the top wholly unfamiliar to him as Michigan’s athletic director, a task that was also wholly unfamiliar to the seven men who previously sat behind his desk: hire a new men’s ice hockey head coach.
Most of the buzz on this site and around the local scene has been centered near Mel Pearson, Red Berenson’s longtime assistant turned Michigan Tech head coach. There is probably a good case for him (particularly if based on his teams’ Corsi over the past few seasons), and he might be a fine head coach and quality option, but there are also a couple of reasons to remain skeptical. We’re not saying that they cannot be ironed out or that he would not succeed as Michigan’s next head coach. We do think that there are other options out there to consider as well.
David talked to a handful of people and did a lot of digging. These are the upper-echelon alternatives that we think should at least be investigated. For the record, very established guys at programs that aren’t a step down from Michigan have not been included on this list, so you’re not going to find Don Lucia or Jerry York on here.
SUCCESSFUL COLLEGIATE COACHES
Norm Bazin, UMass Lowell
He’s only 46 years old and already has nine years of head-coaching experience and an additional 11 years experience as an assistant. Eight of his years as an assistant came at Colorado College; those years nearly killed him. Seriously. His incredible survival story is a must-read.
- Three years as an assistant at UML
- Eight years as an assistant at Colorado College
- Three years head coach at Hamilton College
- Six years head coach at UML
Over the course of his six years at UMass Lowell, he has: twice been named Hockey East Coach of the Year, won the Penrose award for Division I coach of the year, finished with a winning percentage >.600 each of the last seven years, won the regular season Hockey East title two of the last five seasons, won the Hockey East conference tournament three of the last six seasons (while making the final five consecutive seasons), made the NCAA tournament five of the last six years, won at least one game in the NCAA tournament each of those five times, and made the Frozen Four in 2012-13.
Unfortunately for Michigan, given all that he has been through and that he is coaching at his alma mater, he may be happy at UML. Regardless, he should be first on the list. He might be the list. And he’s young, too. Give him what he wants.
[After THE JUMP: other current collegiate head coaches, guys with Michigan connections, and a couple wildcards]
Michigan landed its second commitment in a four-day span with today's addition of three-star Atlanta (GA) Buford RB Christian Turner, who announced his commitment on Twitter. Turner visited Michigan last week between two trips to rival schools; the former had him leaning hard towards Notre Dame, while the latter, as is tradition, sealed the deal for Michigan:
Turner is the fifth commit in the 2018 class, joining IN OG Emil Ekiyor, MI DE Aidan Hutchinson, GA OLB Otis Reese, and GA DB Myles Sims. Yes, 60% of Michigan's class is comprised of Georgia recruits.
|3*, #72 RB||3*, #26 RB||
3*, #19 RB,
3*, 87, #29 RB,
4*, #30 RB,
Turner's early rankings peg him in the 20-30 range among 2018 RBs, with Scout as a low outlier. That's likely to change. According to The Mathlete's rank-by-offers method, Turner is the #10 RB and #161 overall prospect in the class. He's also coming off a strong performance in March's The Opening Atlanta regional that had Scout calling him one of the surprises of the camp.
At the Atlanta regional, Turner measured in at 5'11", 187 pounds. While not a huge back, he's got a solid build.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, class impact, and more.]