A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Keith Heitzman||So.*||Quinton Washington||Sr.*||Jibreel Black||Sr.||Frank Clark||Jr.|
|Chris Wormley||Fr.*||Ondre Pipkins||So.||Willie Henry||Fr.*||Mario Ojemudia||So.|
|Matt Godin||Fr.*||Richard Ash||Jr.*||Ryan Glasgow||Fr.*#||Taco Charlton||Fr.|
Depth chart shows everybody just because.
Michigan has promise, depth, and even experience at defensive tackle that reaches three-deep. Greg Mattison's spent fall camp telling people that he feels he can rotate three-deep everywhere across the line, and I almost believe him. Aside from nose tackle, where it's doubtful Richard Ash gets a lot of playing time, Michigan does have three guys who can play.
At nose they just have an above-average returning starter and the sophomore year of five-star Ondre Pipkins. That'll be an okay platoon, I think. Three-tech is dodgier, with 280-pound Jibreel Black trying to hold up a year after 280-pound Jibreel Black was flipped out to end late so that Washington could make his way into the lineup. Even there they've got two guys they seem to like a lot behind Black.
It's weird, I know. Get used to it: this is a preview of what it's like when Hoke's recruiting classes finally take hold.
Instructed and instructor [unknown/Upchurch]
|slants for big TFL|
|painful looking tackle|
|and then SC never ran again|
|just UMass but still|
|pad level pt 2|
|refuses to get trapped|
|fights through scoop|
|sets up Ojemuda FF|
|pancaked vs ND|
|control and chuck|
|discards NEB OL|
|gets into the chest|
Will Heininger's progression from guy getting blown up against EMU to serious contributor and guy you worry a bit about replacing established this site's "Heininger Certainty Principle," which states that because of Will Heininger Michigan fans should have confidence that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison will get every ounce of talent out of their charges. That hypothesis graduated to theory when QUINTON WASHINGTON chiseled it in stone over the course of last season.
Washington was a converted offensive lineman with maybe a half-dozen snaps to his name when he was suddenly (and perhaps accidentally) announced as the starter at nose tackle when the Big Ten Network visited Michigan's practice. This caused the usual round of animated emoticons running in circles and a big "I don't know" in last year's preview:
I have no idea how Washington will do. … Washington is a redshirt junior and former touted recruit, so this could work out. Totally. Maybe.
So of course he was one of the strengths of the defense. Heininger Certainty Principle, you guys.
Washington was flat good last year. When I went back to the UFRs I had nearly as many clips for him as I did Jake Ryan, and in approximately the same proportion of good to bad. He combined power with a fair amount of penetration, and while he wasn't Mike Martin in the UFR charts he was a consistently positive presence. He was the top performer on the defense in the Alabama game, was only negative against Air Force (weird option cutting business) and Nebraska (a –1), and usually ended up solidly positive. His Notre Dame performance was a revelation:
Washington in particular was impressive with his repeated penetration. He's probably as shocked as anyone about this, so he's continually overrunning things, but whatever, man, he's blowing up blocking. I told you this would happen after UMass!
In fact I said that Washington seemed to play well but would obviously not do that against Notre Dame.
While it wasn't a secret All Big Ten season, he was probably better than any nose tackle in the league other than Kawaan Short and Jonathan Hankins. (And maybe Penn State's Jordan Hill; I didn't UFR a Penn State game last year.) Not bad for a guy who caused people to twitch a little bit when he was named the starter.
Along the way he did a number of impressive things. Here he clobbers a Purdue guard into a puller, who ends up clobbering the running back. Unsatisfied, he tries to put the guy in the band:
He gets under guys, rocks them back, and then can rip through at the proper moment:
When he got negatives, they were usually for getting hacked to the ground or not being mobile on stretch plays. Given his plus-level penetration I don't think the latter issue is set in stone. The balance thing isn't a huge problem. He's okay, he's just not Ryan Van Bergen.
Incremental improvement as a senior should get Washington's performance level to All Big Ten. As a nose tackle he may not have the requisite stats to get there, but I'll be surprised if he's not amongst the top guys in the league and a mid-round NFL draftee.
[After THE JUMP: depth! Undersized Jibreel Black! More depth! Seriously!]
"Well, it's about time to start, isn't it? We're excited about it and can't wait to see what this defense plays like. I'm excited about how they've prepared, how they're working, and now we have to get that first game."
What has Channing Stribling done to put himself in position to play?
"Made plays in practice. Practiced very hard. Has picked up the defense quicker than a lot of freshmen. He's a very competitive young man. He's got good range. He's done very well."
He had good instincts in high school football. Have you seen that?
"The thing about him is he came from a very strong high school program. That high school program that he's from coaches like we coach. He understands that everything he does will be critiqued and coached and he moves onto the next one. That sometimes separates freshmen from when they play or don't play -- understanding the toughness and the scrutiny that they go under to make sure they're ready to play."
Let's talk about the guys we haven't talked enough about yet. The breakout kids. The unexpected boons. Our pantheon of heroes:
- Capt'n Seth of the Comma Police
- An Bender, Flyin' Ace
- The Heiko Kid
- The Blue Creature from the Bend
- Brett Thiessen (secret identity remains hidden)
- Coach Unpossible
Casey Stengel used to do this thing with the media where every year he'd point to a player on his team who wasn't already an established star (Gardner, Gallon, Lewan, Norfleet) and say "that guy is a lot better than people think." And that guy would have a really big year. Mentally (or mathematically if you're Mathlete) subtract John Q. MGoReader's expectation for the guys from your expectation for the guys this year, and tell us who's going to be surprisingly good?
BiSB: I'm on Team ACL this year. On the "breakout star" front, I'll go with BLAKE COUNTESS. I think a lot of people are expecting, or even hoping, that he'll come back
|Rev up the Countess hype again | Fuller|
approximately as he was as a freshman (which would still be pretty good), thinking his injury would offset whatever gains he has otherwise made. But we live in a world in which ACLs are repaired with unicorn dreams (or at least that's how Heiko explained it to me) and heal in six to nine months. Jake Ryan tore his five months ago, and is already running and doing lateral stuff. Countess is a full year removed, which in modern ACL years is "what, me worry?" I think on the conservative side we're going to get the Blake Countess we would have gotten in 2012, and on the upside we're looking at a guy who will compete with Bradley Roby and Darqueze "You Spelled Denard Wrong" Dennard for first team All B1G.
My "breakout contributor" guy is CHRIS WORMLEY, who also tore his ACL about a year ago. Heitzman is the starter at SDE, but Wormley can be a difference-maker. He's bigger and stronger than Heitzman, and already has a year in the system under his belt (even if a lot of that year was on an exercise bike). He'll get plenty of snaps anyway because of the depth at SDE and Mattison's love of DL rotation. He may never take over the starter label because Michigan doesn't really do the whole "roster update" thing, but I think by the end of the year he's the most effective guy at the position, and he'll be getting ~40% of the snaps.
Also, Norfleet will be the new Steve Breaston, by which I mean at some point a tight end will maddeningly refuse to pitch him the ball and as a result you will scream terrible terrible things to no one in particular.
Seth: NORFLEET IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED (else everyone would pick him)
[After the jump: NOT NORFLEET]
"How we doin'?"
Great. Are you game ready yet?
"Getting there, yeah. We're getting there. Now that we've kind of shaved it down to the guys that we think are going to participate in a game, that's always kind of when you start making a little bit more progress. You're not working with your third team guys all the time. You're working with the guys that are actually going to play in the game. You can start getting a little chemistry, and it starts going better."
You have six running backs on the depth chart. How many do you think will actually get carries?
"Who knows? I don't know. Fitz [Toussaint] is going to be our starting running back, and we're going to play it by ear. I don't have an answer to that question because Fitz is going to be the running back and we'll just see how things go."
Have you ever listed six guys at running back before?
"I think so. At one point I did. It may not have been at running back. Yeah, I'm sure I have, yeah. At some place I've been. That's a lot, though. I will say that."
Jabrill Peppers and his Paramus Catholic squad scrimmaged against Red Bank Catholic today. I don't know the final score, nor do I care, because HOLY MOTHER OF GOD LOOK AT THIS RUN:
[Video version here for the GIF-averse.]
A smattering of Twitter reactions that didn't contain totally-justified expletives:
— Paul Bloem (@pnbloem) August 27, 2013
— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) August 27, 2013
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 27, 2013
— Jake Smith (@smithjb) August 27, 2013
247's JC Shurburtt went so far as to suggest that Michigan should play Peppers at running back, even with the presence of Derrick Green on the roster. If you've got the time, our whole conversation is worth checking out:
@AceAnbender I think he's worlds better than Green and Green/Smith could compliment him well in a two-back Brown/Cadillac/Borges deal.
— JC Shurburtt (@jcshurburtt) August 27, 2013
Anyway, just wanted to post that our cornerback recruit—whose next-best position is supposedly safety, followed by wide receiver—just broke the internet as a running back. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee.
UPDATE: Slow-motion with me...
From the top: Broken tackle, immediate juke right, juke left, dip shoulder, broken tackle, stiffarm(!), reverse field (time elapsed: 3.3 seconds thus far), broken tackle, spin move, spin move, spin move to break tackle, stiffarm, waltz into end zone. All of that happened in 8.5 seconds. I keep trying to write words and then get distracted by the pictures, so I'll just stop trying and let you do the same.
|Taylor Lewan||Sr.*||Graham Glasgow||So.*||Jack Miller||So.*||Kyle Kalis||Fr.*||Michael Schofield||Sr.*|
|Ben Braden||Fr.*||Chris Bryant||So.*||Joey Burzynski||Jr.*||Alex Bars||Fr.*||Erik Magnuson||Fr.*|
There's nothing in-between for this offensive line. Either it's the tackles, both redshirt seniors who will get drafted next April, or it's the interior, all new starters in flux. While things almost literally can't be worse…
A single zero yard run was –6?
I try to keep two things in balance: the same blocks get the same scores and a zero yard run adds up to about the same thing as any other zero yard run, but when three blocks get whiffed and any of them would have been sufficient to blow up the play, well, here we are. Thinking of that picture from the 2007 OSU game.
…Michigan can't tread water here and expect to tread water overall. Denard Robinson's 7.2 YPC is out the door.
The way this went down gives some reason for concern. Not at right guard, where Kalis was the anointed from day one, at the other two spots.It's clear Michigan wanted Ben Braden to lock down the left guard job, and clear that Braden just could not, for whatever reason. His move outside totally withdraws him from the competition on the interior and leaves Michigan starting at least one player by default. Michigan saw what "by default" can lead to last year. While that isn't likely to recur, neither does the situation promise an amazing one-year turnaround.
Rating: 5 of 5
|donkeys end to other T|
|does it again|
|go away DT|
|able to pull|
|well that'll happen|
You know, you hear a guy comparing some high school kid from Arizona to the best left tackle in the history of the program and you get a little excited but in the back of your head you think of Kevin Grady and countless other hype machines that turned to dust and you try to keep your head on straight. And then the guy shows up and is basically Jake Long, down to his decision to return for a senior year the NFL deems entirely unnecessary.
Yes: TAYLOR LEWAN is back for one last crack at a Big Ten championship. His last outing in a winged helmet was a titanic matchup with Jadeveon Clowney in which he held Clowney to three tackles (unfortunately one of them was a crushing TFL on which Clowney beat him straight up, see right) and no quarterback pressure.
Lewan is a returning All-American who kept Clowney quiet until he turned Vincent Smith into mist. (Smith immediately reassembled himself, T1000-style, and jogged off the field. Vincent Smith is from Pahokee.) In fact, you and I can both remember the only time last year when a pass rusher got the best of Lewan for a sack: it was Adolphus Washington in the Ohio State game. So… pretty much the worst time to give it up, but we'll take it.
FWIW, Lewan accumulated a total of –10 across 13 games in pass protection. This was significantly higher than his –4 last year, but 2011 Taylor Lewan didn't take on Alabama, suddenly great Notre Dame, and South Carolina. Adjusted for quality of competition, Lewan was on par with his sophomore year. The NFL liked it enough to project him around 10th in the draft.
But wait, there's more! While Clowney did secretly beat up on Lewan on the ground, he was far and away Michigan's best run blocker a year ago:
|Air Force||8||-||8||Blew some guys off the ball; locked out edge guys.|
|UMass||7.5||1||6.5||Dominating in this game.|
|Notre Dame||8.5||2||6.5||Got quality motion.|
|Purdue||10.5||4||6.5||Best drive blocker on the line.|
|Illinois||5.5||4||1.5||Would have been fine but pulled on a spring counter going his way.|
|MSU||6.5||4||2.5||Busted huge on one 6 yard loss, otherwise good.|
|Nebraska||2||2||0||They aren't really running any plays on which his blocking is relevant. That is bizarre.|
|Minnesota||8||1||7||Iso counter and sprint counter got tackles more involved.|
|Northwestern||5.5||2||3.5||Okay for him.|
|Iowa||7||1.5||5.5||More involved. Like it when he is involved.|
|South Carolina||4.5||9||-4.5||Clowney is like the endboss of Donkey Kong.|
He picked up some big minuses for busts; other than that he was impeccable. So why are those numbers topping out at +8 when a guy like David Molk regularly got into the mid-teens?
It's the same story from last year: pulling folks was futile. For whatever reason, Patrick Omameh was able to get out to the second level on zone plays like a mofo but never got the hang of pulling. Canonical example:
When the right guard does that on the regular, it's difficult to get your face-mashing left tackle involved. Darryl Funk inadvertently sums up the entire problem with Michigan's ground game in one painful joke:
I was kidding actually Taylor about this the other day. Every year we kind of recycle some pictures in the line room and I’ll get some action shots. I told Taylor, geez, ‘Schofield is in every one of these pictures and where are you?’ (Laughter).
That's too close to home, too near the bone, man.
Lewan's lack of impact in the run game is a problem with the offense, not Lewan, and it's one Michigan has to fix. You cannot have an All-American tackle that you can't use in the run game and be any good. Meanwhile if they can do that, the run game instantly becomes credible.
Lewan is likely to repeat as an All-American for a lot of reasons: talent, momentum, media profile after the Clowney matchup. He should be close to the same player he was in 2012, but with fewer mental mistakes and hopefully more involvement. Everything else should be about the same but the UFR chart, which should have consistent double-digit positive performances as long as Kyle Kalis is what he's cracked up to be.
[After THE JUMP: Schofield, Kalis, and then doubt. Plus backups, tons of 'em! Eventually!]