Peppers at 10, which seems low.
Background image by mgouser hillhaus
A thing I noticed this offseason while going over the depth and usage of various Michigan defenders is that Mattison used a lot more nickel than we gave him credit for. One thing Ace noted was that we're (finally) recruiting more cornerbacks. We shrugged a bit while losing two more CBs to playing time transferitis this fall, but I don't think we should be shrugging so much.
A little background (skip this if you already know personnel terminology and usage): Defensive coaches tend to match their personnel to the types of players on the field for the offense, NOT the formation. In general the number of backs and tight ends will be matched by linebackers, and the more that come out for receivers the more DBs the defense will send out. Three wide receivers generally means five defensive backs (i.e. nickel), two wide receivers equals four DBs (e.g. 4-3 or 3-4), etc.
The classic personnel shift is on 3rd and long, when the steady rock-pounders make way for the seven-yards-or-bust fellas. But it happens so often despite the situation that it's more accurate to see the game of matching personnel as another strategic aspect of the master's football game.
The offensive personnel is usually expressed in three digits meaning # of RBs, # of tight ends, and # of receivers, respectively. So 113 means 1 RB, 1 TE, and three WRs. Sometimes they'll call that same "eleven" personnel, referring to the first two digits. Examples below; click embiggerates.
How the matching up occurs is up to the coach. You could, for example, play a run-first OLB whenever a fullback is in, and sub him for a more rangy linebacker when the the fullback runs off the field for a tight end who's a known receiving threat. This happens all the time, but it's hard to track the defenses' reactions since we can't tell one linebacker in a formation from another in UFR. We do have data from which we can determine how many receivers were out there at any given time, and it's clear from these data that the more receivers the more defensive backs.
|WRs in Game||DL||LBs||DBs|
The last row is important because it shows Michigan left its base 4-3 Under set for an extra defensive back far more often than otherwise, usually at the expense of a linebacker. We didn't go to a nickel every time three receivers stepped on the field, in fact there were 22 plays charted where Mattison put his 4-3 personnel against four-wide (mostly against Northwestern and Purdue). But the charts not only say that Michigan was forced out of its base 4-3 set often; it says we played more Nickel downs than 4-3.
|Receivers in Formation|
If I remove 4th quarters and all plays that occurred when Michigan was up by more than one score, the 4-3 just barely edges the Nickel, 147 to 140. This isn't opponents trying to play catch-up. It's two things: the personnel that Mattison inherited, and the spread offense forcing Michigan to adapt to it.
Why all the nickel and diming? The first part is a story about outside linebacker. Early in the 2011 season Michigan played Brandon Herron and Brandin Hawthorne at WILL, while at SAM we lost Cam Gordon to injury and his backup was a redshirt freshman. That freshman, Jake Ryan, was earning his way toward more playing time, but in the meantime we still had Carvin Johnson taking snaps at free safety while Thomas Gordon was in at the nickel role. Watch what happened at about mid-season:
That is Gordon moving to free safety and splitting time with Woolfolk, while the freshmen linebackers had their usages increase. Greater faith in Jake and Des explains some of the variance, however the real story is matching personnel:
|San Diego State||2.51||4.38||1.88||43.21%||44.44%||6.17%||6.17%|
I pointed out the two extremes on the schedule with boldation: Northwestern used about twice as many receivers in their formations as Iowa did, but there was a limit to how many defensive backs Michigan would counter with. The nickel served as well for 4 WR as for 3, yet accounted for 4 in 5 plays. However when the opposition went to 2 WR (Iowa), Mattison could spend a majority of the game in the 4-3.
When Michigan's on offense. Nothing is out of the ordinary yet, but when we turn the tables and show how defenses have reacted to Michigan's personnel it gets interesting:
|Season||Avg. Receivers in Formation||Avg. DBs in Formation||Difference|
This is not including anything when Michigan was more than a score down, but the season averages counting everything say about the same thing. I went through the plays and even a few youtubes and yes, in 2010 they played one-high against us despite spreading the field to pass as much as Purdue. Michigan went bigger in 2011, and got more defensive backs, which is counterintuitive except for one factor: opponents in 2010 really really really feared the running game, and tempted Michigan to pass.
Okie dokie. | Greg Shamus via ESPN
One more table to break this down by Michigan's opponents last year, 4th quarters and two-plus-score leads excised:
|Opponent||WRs in formation||DBs in formation||Difference|
|San Diego State||2.44||4.89||2.4|
Nothing really jumps out except perhaps more spread in close games, and SD State's apparent paucity of linebackers (weird—didn't they just have that guy who recruits lots of linebackers there?) Actually that's Charlie Strong's 3-3-5, and the GERG numbers from 2010 are similar due to the same effect.
What it means for this year. Alabama and Air Force aren't going to be spread it out—their challenges are elsewhere. However the Big Ten schedule is spread-heavy, with Ohio State joining the ranks of the many-receivered. Due to recent attrition, Michigan goes into 2012 with just six scholarship cornerbacks for three positions that will be filled half the time. It's a good thing the coaching staff has four guys coming in at corner to replace the one expected departure. These days, in order to keep up with the Joneses, that nickelback position has to be considered as much of a starter as, well, a third receiver.
Not dog grooming. Good news! It seems like they're shelving "In The Big House" for something else. That would seem to be this from a couple of walk-ons:
According to the facebook, anyway. It's… not dog grooming. Horrible thought: this may have no impact on dog grooming. Let's move on to happier thoughts.
Vintage Fred Jackson. Man I just don't know how does this even:
"He's got Mike Hart kind of feet, but a lot faster than Mike."
That's about Thomas Rawls, and it goes in the Fred Jackson hyperbole hall of fame. Jackson also got this quote off:
"Usually a guy with good vision is a little bit taller," Jackson said. "Thomas is probably, maybe, 5-8. He tells me he's 5-11 and I'm 6-2, I think, and I look down on him and eat soup off his head."
Why are you eating soup off of someone's head, Fred Jackson? Why is there soup there anyway? What kind of soup? Does Thomas Rawls have a circular depression in the top of his head? Doesn't that seem unsafe for a football player? Are you #$*#$ing serious about this Hart thing? Do you remember Mike Hart? Fred Jackson I am confused.
BONUS I JUST DON'T EVEN HOW DOES I DON'T MAN: Rawls has a "bete noire" tattoo for this reason:
He says it's French for "accomplish your hopes and dreams."
I do not think your tattoo means what you think it means.
BONUS BONUS FRED JACKSON JACKSON:
Jackson said Rawls also reminds him of another former Flint star, Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama. Ingram (5-10, 215 pounds) and Rawls are similar in build.
"They were almost identical high school backs," said Jackson. "Obviously, Mark Ingram had a great (offensive) line at Alabama that helped him along, but Thomas is a lot faster than Mark, (and) has the same type of ability. I'm not trying to compare them in any way but when you watched them in high school, they were very similar running backs."
BONUS BONUS BONUS FRED JACKSON JACKSON JACKSON:
"Norfleet is as quick as any kid at Michigan since I've been here," said Jackson, in his 21st season. "I've not seen a guy that quick…."
But what about senior quarterback Denard Robinson? Is Norfleet faster?
"No, I don't think (anybody) is faster than Denard," Jackson said. "(Norfleet's) got the quickness that will put him in the same positions Denard gets in quicker than Denard will get in them."
Facial hair watch. Ace points out that walk-on and competitor at left guard Joey Burzynski has the makings of something special on his face:
With careful grooming and time, this man could be a facial hair All-American. This would give Michigan two, since Elliott Mealer either needs an acoustic guitar or a hammer fashioned by Odin to do justice to his face… thing:
STEP YOUR FACE HAIR GAME UP, KYLE KALIS WOOOOO
BONUS: Mustaches for Michigan, where have you gone?
They might do it. Brady Hoke's old defensive coordinator Rocky Long, now the head guy at San Diego State, has heard of Pulaski High School—the Arkansas outfit that never ever punts—and is thinking about doing it:
After reading articles about an idiosyncratic Arkansas high school coach who never punts, always onside kicks, and has tremendous success doing it, Long is toying with the idea for his Aztecs of no punts or field goal attempts once they’ve driven inside an opponent’s 50-yard line.
Conceivably, San Diego State would go for the first down whether it needed a couple of inches or 10 yards.
And yes, Long — who apparently hasn’t yet tried it all in his 40 years of coaching — is serious about this.
“It makes sense,” he said, seeming almost giddy in talking about the possibilities.
“Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points,” he said. “It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.”
It's not a sure thing yet, but I can't think of any better way to memorialize the WAC. Do it. You'd look so cool.
Oh my gawd. Please CBS, call this show "Boss Hog and the Zooker" and make it a crime procedural:
CBS Sports Network announces Houston Nutt will serve as studio analyst this year. He'll be joined by Ron Zook.
If college football does not take me up on my extremely reasonable plan to have JLS coach a different team on an interim basis every year, he could join up in 2013, and then our piss would indeed be hot.
Are these different? The M-Den says the basketball jerseys are different. I can't really tell:
I can still complain about it, right?
Jolly good show, catching me. I am quite elusive, you know. Fitzgerald Toussaint's OWI hearing is four days before the Alabama game. He's probably still getting suspended, but at least he's nicer than the average DUI recipient:
"He was extremely cooperative and gave us no problems at all," Saline Police Department Det. Don Lupi said Monday. "He was even more pleasant than the average drunk-driving arrestee. He was friendly and easy to deal with, unlike a lot of arrest situations."
"I say, you bobbies are really on your game."
Yes, imaginary Fitzgerald Toussaint is British. Because obviously.
The Fort. Man, running through my feeds and seeing open scrimmage reports from Arkansas and Ole Miss and Iowa plus A Lion Eye chastising himself for not checking out who the holders were at Illinois camp is a little depressing. Michigan's attitude towards this stuff is "please die, kthx." At media day it's clear the players were instructed to not answer questions about any freshmen:
I remember asking Jeremy Gallon how the freshmen receivers were coming along and his reaction was one along the lines of almost trying to keep things hush. He paused for a minute and then told me to talk to the coaches about it.
Will Campbell did the same thing on an interview I caught on WTKA.
Opening some stuff up is not just for mid-level programs (and Ole Miss), either: this space has noted some really cool access provided by Ohio State. Even Alabama, led by hater of all media Nick Saban, lets the media in to see some stuff. If Michigan's access is worse that Alabama's it's got to be the worst in the country, right?
I guess I get it since when Rodriguez was around the Free Press used the opportunity to talk to a couple freshmen to get them to issue misleading statements about how much time they were putting in, thus proving all long-held suspicions about the lizardmedia true. It's still frustrating that the hardest-hitting stuff we get is "what is your favorite Olympic event?" Not a 'wow' experience here. Someone put some pasta in a bread bowl or something.
It's on the up and up. The OHL came down harshly on Windsor for paying players under the table, which obviously never happens. My favorite part of all this is remembering the OHL's crocodile tears for their players when the NCAA was revamping their foreign player rules and hockey got an exception to keep CHL players out. They claimed it was just a shame that their entirely amateur league league was banned. Ugh. These guys are worse than the NCAA honchos.
Anyone want to bet a dollar that a pissed off Jack Campbell was a major source here? The WOTS about how these investigations came about fits Campbell's experience:
The league is choosing not to reveal names, though most believe some of the high-profile American players who played in Windsor could be responsible for the information leading to the sanctions. Some of those players were eventually traded, and it’s been suggested the trade could leave them feeling bitter and more prone to talk about their former team during an investigation.
But at least he's in the NHL already.
Etc.: More and more people are like WTF Emmert about this North Carolina thing. More photos from youth day, including a guy wearing an old old Rich Robots shirt. MVictors on achievable Michigan records. The Tigers are having a "Wolverines In The D" event next Friday—22 bucks gets you in, a shirt, and five bucks of it goes to the Pat Maloy Scholarship Fund.
Today's recruiting roundup discusses the Honey Badger; the latest on Alvin Bailey; scouting reports on Shane Morris, Dymonte Thomas, and Michael Ferns; and more.
Maybe He Just Has Glaucoma, Pawwwwwwl
You might find it unusual that a recruiting post starts off with a story about Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal from the LSU program, but Tony Barnhart's take on the matter is anything but usual. Mathieu reportedly failed multiple drug tests during his time in Baton Rouge, which of course means we should blame the recruiting process. Wait, what?
To some extent we're all guilty for the fall of Tyrann Mathieu.
• When we offer a 14-year old kid a scholarship, we're guilty.
• When we put four or five stars by a kid's name and hang on his every word until he signs on the dotted line, we're guilty.
• When we hold press conferences in high schools for kids to VERBALLY announce where they are going to school, we're guilty.
• When we hold press conferences on national signing day where kids play with hats, signs, dogs and the media turns out in full force and gives the process legitimacy, we're guilty.
• When college coaches tell teenage children anything and everything they (and their parents) want to hear in order to get them to sign because careers and millions of dollars hang in the balance, we're guilty.
• When the sense of entitlement created in high school is allowed to continue in college because winning (and making money) is all that matters, we're guilty.
• When we allow the primary (and sometimes only) goal of these kids to become holding up a jersey with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on a Thursday night in New York City, we're guilty.
• When we in the media go along with the process because we're trying to satisfy the public's insatiable appetite for college football, we're guilty.
I'm all for a good takedown of the current recruiting climate, but please, enlighten me as to how this has anything to do with Tyrann Mathieu. Yes, the "Honey Badger" persona took on a life of its own, but that happened once he was in college. In fact, if you bother to do so much research as clicking on Mathieu's old Scout and Rivals profiles, you'd learn that he wasn't even a consensus four-star. Oh, and he verbally committed in July of his senior year when Les Miles offered him after LSU's camp ($). No waiting until signing day, no press conference, no hats, and certainly no live animals (well, unless you count Les Miles).
If the attention went to Mathieu's head, it was probably the attention that came well after the recruiting process. Or, perhaps, it had nothing to do with attention at all:
We now know that whatever demons Tyrann Mathieu was fighting -- be they the trappings of fame or his difficult upbringing -- he simply could not overcome them. In short, Mathieu's biological father is in prison and his mother could not raise him. He was taken in by a grandfather who died in 1997. Then his aunt and uncle adopted him. The scars were always there.
That's from the same article. I don't think we need to spend too much time digging up reasons that a talented football star repeatedly—gasp!—smoked weed (in college, even!); we definitely don't need to use the fall of the Honey Badger to take on the state of recruiting. If you look hard enough, there are plenty of other stories that could accomplish that end.
But I Had So Many Kid 'n Play Jokes...
FL WR Alvin Bailey is moving closer to choosing a school, telling 247's Chris Nee that he'll probably decide a couple weeks into the season between Florida State, Georgia, UCF, and Michigan ($). Chances are looking, well, not so good:
The Tampa-area prospect once again confirmed that Central Florida is atop his list at this stage.
“They are,” Bailey said when asked if the Knights were his leader. “I feel like it has a great family atmosphere and it is a place I can make a great impact at.”
Bailey doesn't mention Michigan as a school he'll visit again before his decision, meaning it's almost assured that he and his magnificent flat-top will head elsewhere.
Set Phasers To "Effusive"
I've said this before, but I don't think people are properly excited about Dymonte Thomas, who would likely be a top 100 prospect at either running back or safety. According to Thomas's head coach, Ed Miley, he could see time at another position, as well ($) [emphasis mine]:
"We didn't do much with him in today's scrimmage, because we know what he can do, so don't let this fool you at all. He's way better than last year and it will show in the games, trust me," Miley continued. "Today was a day to see what our other guys can do. I spoke to (Michigan assistant coach) Greg Mattison the other day about Dymonte, and we talked about how much better he is this year. Michigan will probably use him as a kickoff returner too, and Mattison said he could help out on offense. Dymonte is on track to graduate early, but the decision hasn't been made about whether he will go to Michigan in January or not. A lot depends on how he feels about playing baseball as a senior, and if he still has thoughts about a pro baseball career. I think Dymonte knows it's all football for him, but we will see how that goes."
It will be interesting to see how Michigan ultimately decides to use Thomas; he might be too skilled and athletic to keep from playing on multiple sides of the ball.
Fellow early 2013 commit Shane Morris, meanwhile, should have no durability concerns if his QB guru, Donovan Dooley, is to be believed:
“Shane would go to his two practices,” Dooley said. “Then come to QBU, which shows his dedication and grind towards being the best in the country. He came to the Silverdome and went full throttle with me.”
He added, “He's a machine. Machines don't get tired.”
Shane Morris, Fall 2013, somewhere deep below Schembechler Hall: "I know MANBALL."
Michigan's latest commitment, 2014 OH LB Michael Ferns, has also come in for the coaching praise treatment in recent days. The Wolverine's Andy Reid caught up with a rival high school coach ($):
"He's very athletic. He's a great kid from a great family, and he has played very well, and he did great against us a year ago. He can do a lot of things. He played some fullback, running back. Offensively, he has good hands, but defensively, I think, is his strong suite [sic], and I believe that's what he's been recruited for. He has good size, range, speed. He finds the ball. Some kids have all the measurable, but they can't find the ball - but he's always around it. He makes a lot of plays for them.["]
Recruiting guru Jim Stefani dug up combine numbers from last summer that put Ferns squarely on his radar for the top 2014 prospects ($):
Ferns first came to my attention in June 2011 when I was perusing the results of a combine that was held in western Pennsylvania. As I was going through the list of combine attendees and making notes of ones who could have future D-I potential, the figures for one particular freshman stood out - Ferns, who measured in at 6-2 ½, 218 with a 4.72 forty and 4.29 shuttle.
These numbers were not just impressive, but virtually off the charts when it came to a high school freshman.
According to 247's Clint Brewster, 2014 TN OL Alex Bars, younger brother of current Michigan freshman Blake Bars, will visit campus for the Air Force game ($).
Chantel Jennings reports from Cass Tech's intrasquad scrimmage that 2014 prospect Gary Hosey is being looked at as a running back, not a linebacker, by Michigan ($). Deon Drake is generally regarded as having the highest ceiling among Cass Tech's rising junior linebackers, so this may be Hosey's best chance of landing an offer.
Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DT Matt Godin, DT Willie Henry, DT Ondre Pipkins, and OL Ben Braden.
|Carlsbad, CA – 6'6", 285|
||Scout||4*, #15 OT, #82 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #10 OT, #78 overall, #12 CA|
|ESPN||4*, #27 OT, #31 CA|
|24/7||4*, #6 OT, #71 overall, #11 CA|
|Other Suitors||Notre Dame, USC, Stanford, Oregon, Oklahoma, rest of Pac-12|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim. TomVH interview. Tom talks to his coach.|
|Notes||Not related to Magnus Magunsson. I may accidentally call him "Kevin" from time to time due to obscure old hockey defender.|
Ace didn't go to CA to scout Magnuson but a site called Sports On The Side did basically what Ace does, returning with five minutes of footage from La Costa Canyon's state quarterfinal:
Just-covered Ben Braden was the first guy to jump aboard a Hoke recruiting class, but it was Erik Magnuson that first indicated Hoke might have the recruiting mojo that sees him ripping dudes away from Ohio State and Notre Dame like it is not even a thing. A highly touted kid who had offers from virtually the entire Pac-12 (USC did offer, but well after his commitment), Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and others, Magnuson ignored everything within 2000 miles of home for one reason:
Choosing Michigan: "Well, it's pretty simple. It was coach Hoke. I wouldn't have much interest in Michigan if it weren't for Coach Hoke going there from San Diego State. So I had a relationship with him and I was pretty close with him. He started recruiting me early my sophomore year, and I had a good relationship with him all that year, and then he moved, and then I called and said, 'Get me on board. I want to play for you.'"
And so it began.
The reasons Magnuson could have gone anywhere are the usual ones when you're talking about a position with the exacting physical specifications required for a left tackle. 247's Clint Brewster)$):
…has everything you look for in a Big Ten offensive tackle in size, strength, quickness, toughness, and smarts. … Magnuson’s best attributes are his feet and his arms. He has a lightning quick kick-step when pass blocking so that his defender has no chance to get the edge on a speed rush. Once Magnuson gets his long arms on his opponent on a run block, you are caught in his web and are not a factor from then on… Magnuson plays with determination and passion as he doesn’t let up on a play until his man is buried beneath the turf.
Rivals's Kevin Scarpati($):
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound left tackle prospect has the kind of athleticism, size and tenacity that make him a great option to protect a quarterback's blind side. Magnuson displays quick feet, long arms and excellent technique in his pass-pro sets, but can seal the edge on weak side running plays.
Magnuson has an excellent frame, good feet and plays with a nasty streak. He was dominant in one-on-ones and looked good athletically moving around in position drills.
And Michigan's own Courtney Morgan(!), who was a position coach at one of the many camps Magnuson impressed at:
"Magnuson is a superior athlete," Morgan said. "He's 275 pounds, if he was 250, he could be a tight end. He has great feet. I could see him playing on the left side.
"Early on, he was overextending himself with his kick, he wasn't taking a short kick, he shortened it up in the second practice and I'm looking forward to showing him the film because he's a totally different player. …He really wants to learn."
247's Adam Gorney was at that camp scouting and came back with effusive praise; this is a take from an event that featured Zach Banner amongst others :
Magnuson was arguably the top offensive tackle at the event - and it was loaded with outstanding linemen. The recent Michigan commit is aggressive, tough, not afraid of anyone and also has great technique, extends his arms out and doesn't let defensive ends move and has great feet where he can move and block people out of the way. Magnuson continues to prove he's one of the nation's elite offensive tackles.
Those are the strengths; the weaknesses consist solely of the stuff Morgan coached out of him in a day and are declared "nitpicky." If we're trying to place all the guys labeled "tackle" into the right two-deep bin; Magnuson slots in on the blindside, fending off speed rushers and defeating pass rush arsenals. That's what Darryl Funk told him:
"Eventually I'll end up playing left tackle. . . . As far as anything he [Coach Funk] has ever said to me is that I could project to right tackle so I can play early, but eventually he wants me playing left tackle. That's what they recruited me as, and that's what they want me to play."
He's the leftest tackle in the class.
Despite that, Magnuson had a weird Army game. His coaches moved him across all five offensive line positions($) and ended up playing him at more than one. In the actual game he probably played more snaps than anyone else on either team…
Magnuson was a mainstay along the offensive line, sitting out only one drive and playing both guard and tackle. According to Magnuson, the West's ability to handle pressure up front was the difference in the game.
…and drew praise for his technique but knocks for his lack of hugeness—they were listing him at 275. Rivals named him an "Unsung Standout($)" in one article and listed him as a guy for whom there was a "Bear Market($)" in another. So… uh. Their final verdict was slightly on the negative side, as they dropped him about 40 slots after his commitment. They did leave him solidly in their top 100.
Also weird are the some of the other scouting reports, which directly contradict the stuff you see above. TTB noted his technique and mean streak but wasn't that impressed with his athleticism:
Something Magnuson lacks is truly elite athleticism. Although he has the traits I mentioned above, his feet aren't particularly quick. …seems like a LT/RT tweener to me. He doesn't have the elite quickness that I'd like to see in a left tackle, but he doesn't have the mass (right now) or run blocking technique to be great at right tackle.
His coach has the exact opposite take:
"He's one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the country," he said. "That's his big selling point is that he's a real athlete. At that size, a full 6-foot-6 and 280 plus pounds he can run with just about everybody on the team. It's ridiculous how athletic he is."
Meanwhile, Scott Kennedy praises his "power and strength"… something no one else did, and knocks his pass protection, something no one else did. This Rivals report from the Stanford Nike camp is 180 degrees in the other direction:
…Magnuson did the best in one-one drills, showing great lateral movement and balance in his kick step. At only 270-pounds, he is prone to being bull rushed, but that's not a problem coaching and weight won't solve.
I just don't know, man. The impression I get is that Magnuson needs a year, probably two, to get up to 290-300 and that plus quality coaching is about all he'll need.
We already did this bit about where he goes: left tackle, or right when Shane Morris ascends to the throne. There's some possibility he goes on the right if Braden works out really well or one of the 2013 guys ends up being Lewan/Long good, but not much of one. Guard doesn't seem likely given his size since Michigan probably won't be in need of any Schofield-like stopgaps during his time on the roster.
He's your Lewan heir apparent. Enjoy!
"That's a man right here," Pankey said. "He's a man. He has the mentality, he listens, he's a ballplayer. He's going to do well wherever he goes."
Why Michael Schofield? Man, it is tough to come up with a Michigan comparable here. We want a left tackle. Jake Long is pretty much verboten and probably too big anyway, Adam Stenavich is too small and lacked Magnuson's hype and ceiling, I don't remember Tony Pape really being that good, and don't remember Thomas Guynes at all.
So how about a guy who probably would be a left tackle if Michigan didn't have an All-American there? Michael Schofield has demonstrated the versatility to play guard at 6'6" or 6'7" and now moves outside to pass protect opposite Taylor Lewan. One of the recruitin' tidbits about him coming out of high school was that he was a high school hurdler, and this tidbit doesn't sound that different:
"He's big, but he's a trim big," Sovacool said. "Some big guys are big and sloppy, but there isn't anything sloppy about him. We were running on the track, doing some accelerated runs, and he was running as well as the secondary kids. On top of that he's dedicated. He hasn't missed one morning workout since the start of the semester. He's not afraid of hard work."
Schofield got approximately the same amount of recruiting hype (though Magnuson does pip him there) and came to Michigan an athletic, undersized guy with a reputation for meanstreakery. It took him a couple years to get up to the required size and strength, but now that he's there the expectations are high.
Jeff Backus is also a decent comparable.
Guru Reliability: High. All Star appearance, ton of camps. Some varying opinions.
Variance: Moderate. A solid bet to be a starter-level player with good upside. OL unpredictability factors in.
Ceiling: High. Short of very high; he doesn't quite seem to have that Long/Lewan length that would make him a truly elite tackle. A notch or two down from that is possible.
General Excitement Level: High-minus. All conference potential; is OL, so hard to project.
Projection: Should redshirt unless there's an injury disaster at tackle. Kyle Kalis is likely the first freshman OL off the bench, and Michigan may shuffle their line to avoid putting any freshman on the field, let alone the guy seemingly second in the pecking order. He may even be third since Braden is so much bigger at the moment.
After his probable redshirt, he'll have another year to learn the position and get stronger unless Lewan enters the draft early; assuming that doesn't happen Magnuson's first shot at starting will be as a redshirt sophomore. He'll be fighting Braden and redshirt freshman versions of this year's recruiting class; I'd peg him as the slight favorite on the blindside but it's going to be a rock-em-sock-em affair.
Rival fans are having their lol over this Denard Robinson statement from media day:
"I've watched him run, and I'm pretty sure I can beat him in a 40-yard dash," Robinson said at Michigan's media day on Sunday. "I'd get a better start, and I could take him.
"At 60 yards, I'd be in trouble, and at 100 meters, he'd be gone, but I could get him in a 40."
But this sort of thing has come up before. Two years ago, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Bolt would race Titans running back Chris Johnson, who ran a 4.24 40 at the NFL draft combine. That turned out to be total fiction, but it got people thinking.
It's complicated. Most 40 times are bunk. Combine times like Johnson's are not directly comparable to track sprints since the NFL uses a system that eliminates reaction time, doesn't use starting blocks, and is on FieldTurf in cleats. Also, yards are not meters and converting between the two requires integration and stuff since 100 meter athletes are accelerating until about the 65 meter mark.
Benchmarks are available. Robinson dabbled in track early in his career, winning some dual meets in the 60-meter dash indoors:
That was a 6.81 60. When Bolt set the 100 M world record in Germany in 2009, he crossed 60 meters at 6.29 Denard would get smoked at 60 meters, but it's worth noting that he'd get smoked by less than he would in the 100, where Bolt's world record time is a full second faster than Denard's best high school effort. Bolt's second 50 meters is where he makes his money.
So what about the 40? In his world-record run, Bolt hit 40 meters at 4.64. Meters are longer than yards, so that time translates to the exact same 4.24 Johnson ran at the NFL combine, give or take tenth given the fact that 40s are not track sprints. Chris Johnson's lifetime best 60m is… 6.83*. So… plausible for Denard to be in Bolt's stratsophere?
No. Johnson's best time at 60 meters was good for third place. In a semifinal. At a regional collegiate track meet. Denard's fast. He's not Usain Bolt.
*[According to a guy on the internet. Milestat confirms the time, FWIW.]
When it came time to interview players at yesterday's media day, it wasn't hard to pick out which players would draw the biggest crowds. Denard Robinson, of course, was the center of attention. Thomas Rawls, thrust into the spotlight due to Fitzgerald Toussaint's legal troubles, fielded questions about stepping into the starter's role. Devin Gardner talked about taking snaps at wide receiver. Lewan and Campbell and Kovacs never had to look far for a reporter. Pick a paper and you won't have to look far to see their stories.
Instead of jumping into the fray around Denard or Rawls or Gardner, I thought my time would be better spent getting quotes you won't see anywhere else. So, I tracked down long snapper Jareth Glanda and fullback Stephen Hopkins for some one-on-one interviews, and the results are below:
How did you get into snapping? Was it something you did to get a spot on a college team or did you just pick it up?
When I played offensive line in youth ball, one of our line coaches ... it was just something that he taught me and I did through youth ball, I did through high school, and eventually with the help of Coach Fracassa at Brother Rice I was able to get a walk-on position here. It was something I learned early and I was able to earn a spot at a major school doing it.
When did you realize that you'd be able to make it onto Michigan's team through snapping? Was that something you realized when you started?
Absolutely not. It was something that I learned and I did because I was lucky my coach taught me what to do. I tried to teach myself different things as I progressed, but it was never something I'd think I would be doing at a school like Michigan. It was just one of those skills that I had that I could do; I played offense, and then I was able to do that too. It was something I was able to do.
Going to Brother Rice, did you grow up a Michigan fan?
I grew up a Michigan fan. I played hockey too, so I was a Michigan football fan and a Michigan hockey fan. A guy from my hometown of Rochester Hills, Peter Vanderkaay, we watched him in the Olympics. So yeah, I grew up being a Michigan fan.
Obviously, Tom [Pomarico] was also playing last year, and he's gone. You're taking on a little more responsibility. How have you handled that so far?
I was able to take on the field goal and PAT position last year. Through spring ball I've been working harder on the traditional punt; I have to block after I snap, which is something I was struggling with but I made some improvements in spring ball. Curt Graman is the same year as me, it's his fourth year too, we've been competing during fall camp and during spring ball with the punts and he's been pushing the competition with the field goal snaps, too. It's always good to get competition in practice and during those live reps it's important, too.
You mentioned blocking as something that was a little different in the long snap versus the short snap. What other technical differences do you run into between punts and field goals?
On a punt we snap it 14 yards, a field goal is seven. You have a smaller area that you want to put the ball when you snap PATs and field goals. The velocity of the ball might be a little slower so the holder can control it; with the laces on the PATs it always helps the kickers to be out. Punters like it in the hip or in the chest area. Punts, I'm not looking at the punter, I'm looking forward. PATs I'm always looking at the spot I want to snap. It's different, but it's the same. They both have their difficulties and similarities.
Do you have a greater comfort level with the short snapping because that's what you were doing last year?
I got a lot more reps, obviously, with the PATs and field goals. I've been working with Drew Dileo, he's the holder, and Brendan Gibbons, especially on those left-footed kicks—the left-footed kicks are different from the right-footed kicks with the holder's position. I'm definitely getting more reps; you always feel more comfortable with the more practice you get. I've been trying to get a lot more punt reps in practice on the sidelines with Curt and the rest of the punters. I feel like I've improved on that as well.
Can you take me through a typical practice day for you? You guys are kinda off to the side doing your own thing, right?
Yeah. Most of the time we work with each other. We coach each other; I've learned a little bit about kicking, I can help some of the kickers and punters. Seth Broekhuizen has helped me with different aspects of punt snapping and blocking and PAT snapping. At the beginning of practice we'll have a specialist period. Outside, we snap punts, we get that on film, PATs and field goals from different spots, about five or ten minutes, that's pre-practice. During practice, it depends on the day, if we're working on punts, if we're working on half-line or full-line punts; field goal period is towards the end of practice, maybe we get some live reps with different rushes depending on who we're playing that particular week. All the other time is spent on the sidelines or in Oosterbaan trying to get our own work and trying to get as many reps as we can so we can improve.
With kickers you always hear about guys having their own routine before they go on, they're getting in the zone or whatever. Is it the same for a snapper where you've got to get that kind of singular focus before you go out there?
Yeah, you definitely can't be—whether it's a big game or not, you can't get all hyped up, you've got to stay focused. I know during games I'm down on the sideline, kind of where the O-line sits; that's where Gibbons is, that's where the kicking net is for them to warm up. You try to stay focused, you try to get some reps on the sidelines. It's not always easy to get some warmup snaps for field goals because Dileo is usually playing some offense, but you stay focused and try to stay in the game and stay ready.
Can you take me through the play against Virginia Tech last year? Obviously, that didn't go as planned. Do you guys practice when something goes wrong, do you practice the scramble afterwards?
Yeah, if there's a bad snap or a bad you, you have guys in a route and different fire calls and backup plays like that. Then you have called fakes depending on what that PAT or field goal block team is doing in a particular week, you try to scheme some different stuff. On that play, we had a fake going and it didn't go as we planned. Drew just tried to throw the ball up and I was lucky enough to make the catch on that one.
Can you tell me your thought process on that play? It looked like you had to throw a block in there and the ball just kinda ended up...
Yeah, I knew Drew was rolling out to the right, and I tried to block some guys who were flowing that way. Then I saw the ball come over my head. It went off the guy's helmet and right into my hands, right into my hands. It was crazy how that happened.
Were you worried at all, being an ineligible receiver, about touching the ball illegally?
That was my first thought. If you ask Will Campbell, [I asked], "Was that okay? Was I supposed to make that catch?" It was off the helmet, so... I was worried about being downfield and all that, but it worked out for our team.
With the punters, you've got Matt [Wile] pushing Will [Hagerup] a little bit for the starting job. What do you see out of those two guys?
All the guys are competing. Matt Wile, Will Hagerup, we've got a new guy, Kenny [Allen], Kenny's in here, and they're all working each other and they all push each other. When a guy sees another guy doing well, they grab me and they want to get more snaps out during practice. The competition is great, during spring ball and during fall camp watching film upstairs, seeing what each other is doing. When the games start, it'll be the best for us.
Long snapper is a position where you're usually flying a little bit under the radar, if you're hearing your name it's usually because something went wrong. You got a little bit of attention last year after the Sugar Bowl. Was that a bit of an adjustment to all of a sudden be in the limelight and get that attention?
Yeah, it was a little strange. I had a feeling that I would have to answer some questions. But I'm back to doing what I do, flying under the radar again. It's a new season and that was a long time ago, so I've got to focus on improving on the punt snaps and keep working the field goal snaps so we can win the Big Ten championship this year.
You made the move to fullback last year and that obviously was a transition. Now that you've been there do you have a much greater comfort level with the position?
I'm getting there. Since I didn't have any reps [at fullback] other than in-season reps, definitely there's a lot of things I'm learning, little things I'm learning to get better at the position so I can play like a Michigan fullback this year.
What was the greatest adjustment for you going from halfback to fullback?
When you're a running back, you don't really shy away from contact, but at the same time you're not trying to get tackled. At fullback, you're looking for the contact; you've got to be the initiator, you've got to be the devastator. That's a big change, but I think I've adjusted pretty well.
Do you enjoy the physical aspect of it now?
I do, I do. At first it was taking some time to get used to, and now I actually really enjoy it, beating my man on a block and driving him back and doing those things I'm supposed to do.
Coach Jackson mentioned you possibly taking snaps at both halfback and fullback this year. Have you been doing work at both?
I probably always will work at both. Running back is my preferred position and I'll always be able to play that a little bit; that'll probably never change.
With Fitz's availability in question right now, do you feel ready if called upon to step up and take more carries?
Yeah. I'm a fullback, I play fullback, but at the same time I'm still a running back. I'll be ready if my number is called.
Coach Jackson mentioned B.J. Askew as a guy that you remind him of as a running back who made that transition. Is that a guy that you maybe look to, and have you talked to any former players about the switch?
I really haven't. I thought about during this camp trying to reach out and see what they'd have to say, some advice for someone in the same position, so I'm probably looking to do that. But I've seen some film on [Askew], he's obviously a really good player, he played in the league for a long time.
Askew was very good catching balls out of the backfield. Is that something that you've been working on?
Yeah, this summer I've been working on my hands, and in this spring I felt like I'll get more chances to show that part of my game. I'll be ready to do that as well.
Fumbling was a little bit of an issue. What have you done to work on holding onto the ball better?
It's crazy because I was never someone who ever fumbled before I got to college, ever. Then it happens once, and sometimes it gets in your mind or whatever, but you've got to let it go and relax and do fundamentally what you've been taught—that's what I'm working on. So far, so good.
Is that something—you know, it's one or two fumbles and you might get that reputation, where maybe it doesn't reflect your actual ability...
...is that something that's mentally tough to get over?
Yeah, definitely, because I've never really been accused of that. I was always someone you could trust to always keep the ball secure. It didn't really affect me too much, I just had to go and show that it wasn't me.
In your position group, there's a lot of different types of running backs, with Fitz and Rawls and Hayes and Norfleet and Smith. Do you like the collection that you guys have in terms of their versatility?
Yeah, we have a really talented group of running backs. Whoever's number gets called on September 1st is going to be ready.
It seems like that may very well be Thomas Rawls. What do you see out of him?
He's learning still, he's young, but he's also really talented—very physical, runs really hard, runs angry. I like what I see out of him as well.
Alabama is a tough first test. Does that add a little bit of an extra edge when you're getting ready for the first game?
Absolutely. Respect to all of our opponents, even Western Michigan last year, but this is the defending national champions, so every time you get on the field you know you've got to get better because you know they're getting better.
You get to go back home for this one [Hopkins hails from Flower Mound, Texas]. How big of an effect does that have on your excitement for this game?
I mean, the game itself is huge enough, but to make things better for me I get to play in front of my hometown, basically. It's going to be a great experience and a great opportunity as well.
Have you been to Cowboys Stadium or will this be a first for you?
Actually, my senior year, for playoff games we played there twice, so I've seen it and played in it twice.
Have teammates been asking you about what it's like to play there?
Yeah, they have. Besides the Big House, there's probably no other place I'd rather play.