"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
[Note: Mattison and Jackson’s availabilities overlapped so I missed the beginning, where Jackson compared Jabrill Peppers to Rodney Harrison. Luckily I managed to board the Peppers hype train after it left the station.]
With Jabrill, what are the things you see that are unique to him that other players might not have?
“Fire. His fire. His passion for the game. Relentless. His practice habits are off the charts. He’s coachable. He listens to everything you tell him and he tries to go out and do it each and every single day. He’s everything you ask for.”
He’s young, though. Does that emerge at all?
No. No. When you’re out there on the field you don’t even think of that with Jabrill. It’s funny you say that because it’s like he doesn’t even play like a freshman. I mean, he’s experienced out there. And the funny thing is that everybody looks up to him when he’s out there. He plays with a passion, he’s tough, he knows what he’s doing, he’s always around the football. What more can you ask for from a guy like Jabrill?”
How have you seen guys embrace or react to a new culture and all the newness?
“I think the players are excited and I think they’ve embraced it, and I think the most important thing is that the guys want to win. The players want to win. That’s the funny thing about it is that when you come in here as new coaches you’re [thinking] you’re going to have guys go this way and this way; nobody did that. Everybody came together, started listening to coaches, and starting doing exactly everything we asked them to do.
“That was the biggest thing is how when we got here everybody was coming and watching tape on their own and trying to learn the defense, which is great and that’s all you can ask for. Guys are wanting to get better, watching film with each other [and] doing the things that other schools are not going to do, and those guys are doing the extra [work].”
How big of a resource has Greg Mattison been?
“I think it’s been great, because when we first got here he told us about each and every player and he was dead on about each and every player. I picked his brain about each and every guy back there and he was dead on about each and every guy, and I think he’s been valuable.”
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
the background is devoid of people
College hockey is a lovely little sport with grandiose ideas that have harmed its growth for the past 20 years. For every jam-packed Yost regional with fans going bonkers—some of the best sporting events of my life—there have been ten antiseptic neutral-ice matchups featuring the barely weighted plinko of single-elimination hockey played in front of a crowd that could only be described as "dolorous" if you were feeling exceptionally generous.
The Frozen Four is a successful event that draws attendance from around the country annually; the rest of college hockey's playoff systems are inane at best.
Finally, this seems to be changing. Faced with the stark fact that no one even wants to host the NCAA hockey tournament anymore (ND is hosting this year despite having an odd 90-foot-wide rink because it was literally the only bid for the Midwest), a sensible new face on the competition committee has an innovative idea:
UND A.D. Brian Faison, new NCAA hockey committee chair tells me he will move for realignment of NCAA regionals to include home sites
— Dan Hammer (@Hamsbrew) March 18, 2015
Whether those are top 8 or top 4 hosting and format remains to be seen. Likely top 8. He believes there is growing support from coaches.
— Dan Hammer (@Hamsbrew) March 18, 2015
Do what they do in every other sport.
Seriously, though: fixing the worst tournament in American sports would be a personal relief and a step forward for a sport that is stubbornly fixated on playing neutral-site contests no matter how embarrassing they are. Yesterday's attendance at the Joe was scant:
This shot has people in it, unlike 90% of the sections
This will continue. Matt Shepherd yells at fans for not showing up, but that's a counterproductive point of view. The product sucks. The product wants me to drive 90 minutes round-trip to an almost-empty arena with the character of concrete during the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. It does not offer me the opportunity to go to a packed and buzzing Yost Ice Arena in the seat I bought all year. (The cokes are cheaper, I'll give them that.)
Calling people bad fans doesn't change any of that. I'm fed up with it—I did not go nor even think of going—and I have had hockey season tickets for over 15 years. If I'm a bad fan, college hockey has vanishingly few good ones.
Fans eventually notice when they are being pooped on. And I don't know how only MLS and WWE executives realize this in American sports, but the fans are a huge part of the show. I will watch chunks of anything that has folks going insane in a little bandbox of an arena. It shows that whatever's going on is important to somebody. Anybody could be forgiven if they tuned in yesterday for thinking hockey meant nothing to anybody.
If you want your championship to be something other than embarrassing, there is an option. Over the three weeks the CCHA tournament used to take, the Big Ten could have three-game home series all the way to the championship, which would make the regular season more meaningful, provide a more meaningful champion, get their players more games, and make vastly more money.
The reason they do not is still mysterious. Wisconsin and Ohio State objected to needing to keep their buildings free for three weeks when a lot of high school championships are being played in them currently, but Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all have dedicated facilities with no or little competition for time. They should be able to out-vote the stragglers. That they don't is an indication that the Big Ten doesn't take hockey seriously—something results on the ice have amply proven.
Here is a plan for making college hockey seem, you know, fun:
- The Big Ten plays all home-site playoff games. People will "attend." This is "good."
- Two weeks of home-site NCAA regionals, best two out of three. There's already a bye between the regionals and the Frozen Four anyway. For best results, fill with hockey.
- The Frozen Four continues being itself.
It is not a complicated plan.
The encouraging strides Michigan took late in the season have been discussed quite a bit around here, often by picking out specific plays representative of individual improvements. To add to that, I dug into the team's final season statistics to pull out some numbers that point to a whole lot more success in 2015-16.
Zak Irvin's rebounds per game before and after Michigan shut down Derrick Walton for the season. Walton somehow managed to haul down nearly five boards a game this season despite his lingering toe injury; he finished with M's second-best defensive rebound rate. When he went out of the lineup, Irvin made a concerted effort to pick up the slack, and in doing so he made it apparent that he can play the four in the Big Ten—he's not going to be Branden Dawson, of course, but Irvin brings a lot more potential to the other end of the floor. Add in Irvin's significant uptick in assists and suddenly he looks like he'll routinely stuff the stat sheet next season.
Michigan's season-long turnover rate, good for tenth in the country. John Beilein's squads have been so careful with the ball that we now take this for granted, but to pull that off while losing two of the team's three primary ballhandlers and replacing them with freshmen is astonishing. Much of the credit here goes to Spike Albrecht, who guided the team with a steady hand throughout; even more encouraging was Zak Irvin taking on a much bigger role handling the ball and still posting a top-25 turnover rate in the Big Ten.
Aubrey Dawkins' eye-popping 2P/3P/FT% splits in conference games, which led to him leading the Big Ten in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage (the latter factors in free throws). The three-point percentage is probably not sustainable long-term, but even with some regression, whatever the coaching staff did to tinker with Dawkins' shot clearly worked. His season-long shot chart shows a great spot-up shooter who can finish his forays to the rim:
Look closely and you can even spy the potential to add a lethal midrange game to the repertoire. That may take a while to bear out, especially if LeVert comes back, but if Dawkins simply comes close to replicating his freshman shooting numbers he'll be a valuable floor-spacer who occasionally swings games with huge point totals.
Derrick Walton's FTM/FTA in conference games, a figure as unsustainable as Dawkins' three-point percentage, so if you'd prefer, take comfort in his 82% clip for the season. While Walton's other shooting numbers took a significant hit due (mostly) to his injury and (somewhat) to fewer open jumpers created by Nik Stauskas and LeVert, his free throw percentage improved a few points while he continued to get to the line at an impressive rate. The best-case scenario for Walton next year has him becoming James Harden Lite, an efficient creator who's going to hit threes or get to the basket for layups and plenty of chances from the charity stripe. With two healthy feet, he's got a chance to be just that.
Spike Albrecht's two-point percentage in the Big Ten. Spike attempted 63 such shots in conference play this season; in his first two full seasons at Michigan, he took just 58 two-pointers combined and made 41% of them. Most everyone assumed Spike's game wouldn't evolve too much from there; he'd spend two more seasons Harlem Globetrotting around the lane before dishing the ball off, and that was fine. Instead, he honed that funky scoop layup and turned it into a legitimate weapon. Spike may never be a true threat to attack the hoop with efficiency, but teams have to respect him in the lane now, and that opens up a lot when he comes off a screen.
[why take a new picture when there’s perfection in your file?]
"What can I answer?"
Can you just tell us about the whole process of staying? There was some uncertainty there about what your future was going to be and then talking to Jim…
"Yeah. Whenever there's a changeover the head coach will always hire who he wants to hire and I feel very fortunate to be able to stay at Michigan. You know I love Michigan and I feel very strongly about the players coming back and the guys in this program and I feel very strongly about Coach Harbaugh. I've known that family for a long time. It's just great to be back. That's the thing I'll say."
Were you exploring other options in that interim?
"I had a number of offers. Some in the NFL and things like that, but I made up my mind that if I had the opportunity I'd love to stay and I did, so I stayed."
Talk about this defense. You were excited about it growing last year but obviously this year–
"Well, I'll tell you what. One thing: DJ Durkin is doing a tremendous job, and I think the defensive coaches– It's exciting because you see some of the things we're doing, some of the kids with experience, some of the kids picking it up and it's exciting to see it moving forward. It's exciting to see the kids getting really coached and wanting to get coached and it's good."
Do you have a preference between the defensive line and linebacker, because you've coached both?
"Yeah, I've coached defensive line my whole life. You know, I started out as a D-line coach and I coached the line, oh, I don't know, if you figure– I'd hate to say how many years because that'd give up how many years I've been coaching, but I do know I've coached defensive line probably a lot longer than linebackers and I really like the defensive line. It's a place where I think technique and teaching [are important] and you can get guys to be better. You can make improvements there through technique and hard work so I'm excited to coach the D-line."
There's been a lot of talk of running some 3-4 defense this year, which you haven't done a lot of. Is that different for the defensive linemen?
"You know, we're exploring everything. We did that last year. We ran that last year, but what we're kind of doing on defense [is] trying to see what scheme fits the players we have, so we're pretty broad with what we're doing."
What has your working relationship been like with DJ Durkin and how are you guys kind of feeding off each other?
"Well, Coach Durkin and I are very, very close friends. We coached together a long time ago at Notre Dame. I traveled down there two years ago back to Florida to talk to him about what they were doing and he's done a great job wherever he's been. I've known DJ for a long time and I've always felt that he's a tremendous football coach. Some of the things that he's done at a young age at Florida is remarkable and I knew that, and that's why it's exciting to work with him. It's fun because were not just coaches together, we're friends and that's – I've always liked to be a part of something like that."
[After THE JUMP: Position buzz and 2-gap talk]
Who are some of your pass rushers, and talk about the standup outside linebacker.
"We've had a number of guys get nicked up and guys are really working hard. Our numbers are down on the D-line and they just keep working through it. I'm not going to single out anybody because they're all working extremely hard, and we won't know until into the season who our pass rushers are. I hope every one of them are. I think the one position, if I did single one out, that I'm really, really pleased with is the noseguard position. I think Glasgow and Mone and Hurst are doing a really, really good job. And the other positions are working hard also, I just– that's the group that really seems like they've got a lot of experience."
Is Willie [Henry] playing the nose too?
"No, Willie will be playing tackle and end."
You have a good relationship with these guys on defense already. Have you served as a liaison between the players and the staff?
"No, I haven't needed to do that. I think somebody else asked me that one time. These coaches are so experienced and there's no liaison necessary. I think when the kids are in their meetings and they're being coached by them, players understand right away when a guy who's coaching them is really doing a great job and is really sharp and I think these kids knew right away. I mean, how could you help but not? I talked about DJ and you've got Mike Zordich and Greg Jackson, who played 12 years in the NFL. He coached at the highest level and both of them have coached in the NFL. They are very experienced, very good coaches."
How about from the other end? Have any coaches come to you and said, 'Hey, this guy responds this way' or 'This guy plays real well in this technique'?
"No, it hasn't been– we all speak so freely in our meeting room that if somebody would bring up something about a player and I've seen it before or I haven't seen it before I'll just say that. I kind of have the luxury of having been with them so I'll just say, 'This kid really is a good player, he really is doing a good job,' and I'll say, 'He had signs of showing that before,' that kind of thing. They've done such a good job, in my opinion, knowing what each player's strength is and each player, what he needs to work on so it hasn't been that kind of thing."
You were pretty adamant last season about the experienced youth on this team and that it was coming. You're here this spring now: Have you seen it?
"I have. Yeah, I have. I've seen these kids working hard. I've seen them be a lot more mature. I mean, these practices are tough practices, and if you're a young kid you kind of maybe fold. There's times sometimes where that happens. I've been real pleased with our guys as far as stepping forward and just keep going, keep going. That shows experience."
You talked about coming back to finish what you guys started. Is that the message from you to the guys you're coaching? I mean, you recruited a lot of those guys.
"Yeah, I don't know if it's to finish because when you finish you say it's over. I just wanted to stay a part of what Michigan is and what Michigan will be and what Michigan has been forever and I think that's coming. I just want to be a part of that and I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
You've worked for a lot of different guys at all different levels, including Jim's brother. What's it like working for Jim? What are his unique traits?
"Well, he's just a very, very, very sharp coach. He's really, really intelligent. He's demanding. He's very businesslike. Every day you're going to work to get better. He expects his coaches to work hard. He expects his coaches to do their job. You don't win 49 games in the NFL in three years and not be a great coach. And he's always been that; you don't do what he did at Stanford and not be a great coach. And everywhere he's been he's just done a great job."
There's a lot of guys on the staff with NFL experience, whether it's playing or coaching. How are you seeing details of that applied to this spring practice?
"I think the one thing when there's a lot of experience in a coaching staff [is] you can make adjustments very easy and be able to teach it. Sometimes what happens if you don't have a lot of experience and there's adjustments to be made [is] you have to teach the coaches first and then the coaches have to teach the players but this staff, they have so much experience that they've done that. They say, 'Oh yeah, we've done this. We can get this done' and it's easy to make adjustments that way."
What have you seen from Chris Wormley so far?
"Chris Wormley is working really, really hard. He seems every day to be taking another step toward being the Chris Wormley that we recruited and the Chris Wormley that you were really expecting to see before he had the knee [injury], and I'm really happy with the way he's been working. He's been very physical. He's totally into it. He's been a leader by example. I'm get pleased with what Chris has done."
MGoQuestion: Are there guys on this line that can play two gaps or are you not really looking at 2-gapping this season?
"Well, I think in every defense you have to 2-gap sometimes, so it's nothing different. But it remains to be seen. There's not a lot of people that do play 2-gap."
You've run the show here defensively for the last four seasons. How difficult is that transition to not be-
"Not at all. Not at all. Not at all because, as I said, I really respect the guy I'm working with and the guys I'm working with, and I've done that for so long that sometimes you say it's kind of enjoyable just to take these four guys and see how good they can be. And I knew that when Jim hired me, there's only one coordinator and what he says we do and once you get that you say, 'Okay, my job is to go coordinate the defensive line and to do a great job with that.' And I've done it so long, I've had so many opportunities to do it that it's really just about seeing how good we can get this team."
[Note: Mattison and Greg Jackson’s availability overlapped, so this transcript isn’t complete. I switched over to Jackson’s huddle at this point and missed 1-2 minutes of Mattison.]
The Best Players In Michigan Visit Michigan
While much of the early recruiting focus from the new staff has been on elite prospects in California, Texas, and SEC country, Jim Harbaugh has also made a concerted effort to lock down his home territory. This week, that continues with some of the top in-state prospects making their way through Ann Arbor.
Four-star Plymouth OT Michael Jordan stopped by for Tuesday's practice, and his father told 247's Steve Wiltfong that he's developing a rapport with the new staff ($):
The Wolverines are strongly in the mix for the No. 3 prospect in the state according to the 247Sports Composite, as are schools like Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
“It’s getting more and more comfortable with them,” the elder Jordan said. “He’s still trying to get to know everyone at this point. They’re definitely one of his top choices of schools to go to.”
Four-star Detroit King WR Donnie Corley also visited practice Tuesday and connected with recent staff addition Soup Campbell, per Wiltfong ($):
"Great visit today," Corley's father told 247Sports. "Learned a lot from the staff and the legend (Erik) Campbell."
Asked if the visit helped Michigan in his son's eyes, Corley's father responded, "Yes."
Steve Lorenz reports that four-star Cass Tech OG/DT Michael Onwenu will visit on Saturday ($). Onwenu's been a consistent presence on campus of late to the extent that Michigan has passed Ohio State as the favorite on his Crystal Ball; Onwenu has also mentioned that the Mike Weber situation affected his view of OSU. Three-star Canton OLB Jalen Cochran, who holds an Iowa offer, is also expected to be on campus Saturday.
Three-star Saline dual-threat QB Josh Jackson, son of Fred, was among last weekend's visitors. He told Scout's Allen Trieu that the coaches informed him he's "in the mix" for a potential offer, and they're planning to watch him throw this spring ($). With Harbaugh's preference for taking two quarterbacks per class, Jackson could be one to watch.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
3-4, 4-3, etc etc
I've said this before and I'll probably say it again several times before the season starts: Michigan is not likely to be moving to a traditional 3-4 system. Nor will they spend a lot of time implementing a traditional 3-4 to mix in with a 4-3. The time commitment to do so is prohibitive at the college level, and the kind of personnel who can effectively do both are too rare.
So what's with all the discussion about moving to a 3-4? It comes from the top, as this Sam Webb interview with Marcus Ray indicates:
Sam Webb: Michigan is telling kids that they are going to be basically 50/50 as far as 3-4, 4-3. As best you can without having a visual aid or a grease board, explain to people, how that will come to pass and why Michigan is saying that, why that makes sense.
Ray describes the 4-3 under as something that could be looked at as a 5-2…
Brennen Beyer, the stand-up SAM in this picture, bounced between SAM and DE for his career
…and says that a 3-4 can look a lot like the under. Both accurate, and as I've mentioned before you can look at the under as a defense halfway between the traditional Miami-style 4-3 even/over and a 3-4.
But I think the distinction here is a bit of a red herring. I asked Spencer Hall what Florida ran last year and he replied it was a 4-3 with a standup end (Dante Fowler); my observations of the Florida defense rarely encounter a nose tackle lined up directly over the center. He's almost always in a gap.
Could it shade to a 3-4? Sure, I guess. Why would they do that? There are two reasons:
- To run a 3-4! Obviously.
- To disguise their 4-3. Gap-sound unpredictability is a major goal of all defenses. Putting a nose tackle over the center gives him an advantage if he's going to slant one way or the other, but the idea is still the same: get in a gap.
"If you line up in that A gap or that center believes that they know you have this gap then it is easier for them to block you because you‘re more of a standing target, they know what gap you’re responsible for, but in that 30 front, you can slant and angle in either way. They don’t know which gap you are responsible for and they have to guess and try to figure it out once the ball is snapped, but it gives the D-lineman the flexibility to go either way. And then let the truth be told, in that same 30 front, if you have a noseguard that is lined up right over the center and he slants to the strong side, then that is technically going back to under. If that noseguard slants to the weak side, in the weak side A gap, then that technically puts you in an over front, because the entire front has to shift along with him, so now that gives you some 4-3 flexibility from a 30 front if you just slant and angle, it puts you right into a 4-3 defense.”
If you believe that Ryan Glasgow will hold the nose tackle job, a 30 front featuring him is an undeclared 4-3. Michigan doesn't have a Nix or a Gabe Watson to hold down the middle of that defense and two-gap the center unless Ondre Pipkins goes from afterthought to superstar in his final year or Bryan Mone is terrific as a sophomore.
Michigan may run a bunch of different fronts but at its heart the defense is probably a 4-3. And judging from Florida last year it's not going to seem that much different than Mattison's fronts.
Lawrence Marshall is a name to watch. [Bryan Fuller]
Anyway this is all a lead-in to an assertion that for now I'm still assuming Michigan has a traditional 4-3 look this fall and I won't be changing up the nomenclature yet.
If and when we get enough data to do so it looks like the first change will be at WDE, which Florida folks sometimes call "drop end." Reports hold that Mario Ojemudia and Lawrence Marshall are frequently in a two point stance—something Marshall had never done and was taking some time adjusting to—this fall. Again, this gives the impression of a 3-4. In my mind it's taking the Mattison 4-3 under a half-step towards a 3-4 but whatever.
Marshall is doing well. His athleticism stands out and he's already about as big as Ojemudia. Ojemudia had to put on a bunch of weight and topped out around 250; unfortunately he hasn't displayed the explosiveness he had in high school at the bulkier number. A platoon is certain… unless Marshall wrests the job away and Ojemudia is again called upon to be a guy who plays spot downs to rest the starter. Michigan is trying out the occasional linebacker there as well, with Royce Jenkins-Stone the most prominent.
The other three spots have seen a ton of rotation, some of it involuntary. Injuries have held out big chunks of the line for a practice or three. When present, Willie Henry has been impressive. Chris Wormley is playing SDE again($), which makes sense given the depth chart (especially with Henry Poggi trying his hand at TE, and double especially if Michigan is moving back to more of an under). 4-3 under SDE is a better fit for him, as he can be that RVB type with a bit more pass rush.
There's as of yet no movement away from the presumed lineup of senior starters: Ross, Morgan, Bolden. With Greg Mattison still around I'm not surprised. 247 does mention a competitor to the presumed starters($):
[Ben] Gedeon has popped out early as a potential contributor in this year's defense. He has potentially the best combination of size, athleticism and intelligence at the position and it might turn into a situation where it's difficult to keep him off the field. For the second straight season, linebacker may be Michigan's deepest position, so if he stays on the field consistently, it will be because he's turned into a good to great player.
Scout also mentioned Gedeon as a potential breakout performer.
True junior Gedeon is a prime member of Team Why U No Redshirt who needs to start making an impact now. Michigan has rotated extensively in the past—not so much last year—and I expect he'll get playing time almost in line with the starters.
That is about all the chatter, with Ross/Bolden/Morgan the presumed starters. They look good when the DL isn't having them catch blocks all day, which has been something of an issue since a lot of guys have been out.
There have been plenty of reports on Jabrill Peppers, who is looking like the Jabrill Peppers everyone dreamed about when he committed. Peppers bounces from safety to nickelback and looks like Jabrill Peppers should. He is taking ownership of his unit even as a sophomore:
"He's a high energy, high motor guy and he's going to talk trash," Countess said last week. "And he's going to get everybody going. He's been one of those guys you want on the field.
"Even if he has a bad play, he's going to let you know. And if he has a good play, he's definitely going to let you know."
Countess loves the energy and the intent. But when asked if there is ever a time when he'd like to have the ability to quiet his younger teammate, he's quick with an answer.
"I love it," he says with a smile. "He says the stuff that I don't say, but everybody's thinking."
As Michigan State demonstrated last year, one of the most important positions on the field as an aggressive defense going up against spread offenses is the slot-side safety. He often gets tested deep in cover four.
It'll be interesting to see how Michigan aligns. I'm guessing Peppers just gets the field side as they rely on the restricted space to help Jarrod Wilson out. An observer from the coaching clinic did note that Peppers is usually "aligning to pass strength," so that is encouraging in terms of keeping Wilson in a FS-ish role he's comfortable with and maximally utilizing Peppers's skills.
Jourdan Lewis is also drawing consistent praise. He was Michigan's #1 corner by midseason last year, passing both Countess and Taylor; it sounds like he has picked up where he left off plus a little bit of tackling strength. With Blake Countess set to be a four-year starter the top four guys in the secondary are pretty set. The main question is: can Countess bounce back from some rough times last year and play man to man? 247 has heard he is in "lockdown" mode, so there's that. I'm reserving judgment.
Freddy Canteen is getting a few reps at CB, so… that's odd. Harbaugh loves flipping guys around to see what they can do, and Canteen is a guy who could theoretically be a good corner. Doubt it sticks, but whatever.