Note: During the season I plan to post this kind of stuff on Tuesdays but since Aug. 30 set a new MGoRecord for total words on the front page, I waited.
On Monday Brian posted the secondary preview for 2011. It had its share of woe, and the "Never Forget" poster again. But among the now-usual fits of "this can't go well" at FS, tiptoeing around Kovacs's Ecksteininess, and general radioactive fallout from when having a pulse put you on the cornerback 2-deep, there were things that are not so familiar: a capable senior cornerback rescued from a bunker, returning starters, a few guys here and there playing positions that suited them.
Attrition was hell (see: Google doc) but the unit has begun the slow climb back:
|Team||Recruited||Diff v '09||Retention||Diff v '09|
The retention % is that of total defensive recruits '07-'11 still on the roster. Under two thirds is still bad but it's not worse than a team which signs five guys for every four available scholarships, like it used to be. Also when I first did this Michigan had lost 2 of 5 guys from a starting position more like Penn State. We needed dudes. As the secondary depth chart says, we now have dudes.
That's not to say everything's hunky dory in Hiroshima '46. Most of the casualties were upperclassmen and Michigan's more highly rated players.
|Team||Best 22||Best 22 left||Diff.|
I'll explain what these are in a second but you're meant to read it thus: imagine the two-deep of each team is made up of all upperclassmen with the above rivals ratings. So attrition has taken Alabama from a team full of Top 100 guys to a team of Top 250 players.
This is my attempt at taking the noise out and looking just at how much performance loss is caused just by attrition itself. It's a hack combination of Rivals Rating with the value of underclassmen adjusted down so that a 6.1 (5-star) is worth 5.7 (= a high three star) as a freshman, 5.9 as a sophomore, 6.0 as a junior, his full ranking thereafter, and on down. Then I just took the highest 22 scores for each team before and after attrition. It's a cheap formula that rates a player 80% by his rivals rating and the rest on account of his age but the image at right shows the concept works: the higher up the depth chart, the higher the ratings.
The thwack that Michigan took is more visible when you look at it from a depth chart perspective:
Click that to get it readable if you can't see it all from a glance. Also note the scales are a bit off; Bama goes up to 6.1 but OSU and ND stop at 6.0, PSU and MSU at 5.9. The visual here is you want your secondary color (attrition) to the left (see the devastation wrought on Bama 3-stars) and your starters to the right.
Bama took some big hits to its 4-stars but retains the highest value among starters. Michigan meanwhile seems like we were facing that guy with the unlimited airstrikes hell bent on killing any worm named "Safety*".
The result is a two-deep that doesn't really have options until the 3-star level whereas the other guys only have a few odd dudes who weren't heavily recruited on the field:
(Again, click = big). That's not…terrible. Given the players who've made it far enough to likely see the field, even with all the attrition Michigan could be expected to field a defense not so different from that of MSU, who should be…okay. Okay is better than we're predicting now. Then again, don't confuse this year's young MSU defense with last year's Greg Jones-inclusive defense:
Yes that's Michigan (demonstrating perfect pad level) with more 5th year seniors than anybody save Penn State, whose starting 11 have been around long enough to remember when their coach built the pyramids. And that's MSU starting a lot of sophomores and true freshmen. Bama, OSU and ND are mostly upperclassmen (ND is weird about redshirting still). Michigan leans much more sophomoric. This is a huge improvement from last year when the seniors were few and the freshmen were legion. Young means high variance—some days may go very well, others very not well.
..and there's the cheap flight. You can't blame Kovacs; I took out the walk-ons for this specifically because his walk-on-iness isn't the glaring problem. Sophomore 3-stars are. Now guess where Michigan was hit the hardest by attrition?
That shows the sum total of the projected value of middle-3 stars (5.6 to rivals) and higher recruited for each position. The primary color bits are the guys who are still around; the maize those who are gone. The Ohio Bobcats' colors are green and peach I think.
Unlike some other peoples' versions, my N.F. poster has Cullen and Vinopal on it!
Did we learn anything here, other than that you can print a chart to pdf in excel? Well yeah: attrition was a great big nuclear blast that will take years to recover from. Even if the talent on hand doesn't regress or get hurt, thus exposing further weaknesses, the starting point for this Michigan defense is that of a Same old Spartans unit.
Blame is a bit less easy to assign, though some of the flameouts and underclassman transfers in '09-'10 were either directly or indirectly pinnable on the old staff.** Two years of recruiting after bad years (2008 didn't seem to have the same effect) and some resulting recruiting holes at MLB and WDE make any climb back among elite D's a long-term project—probably not until 2015.
Yet there is hope all over the place, thanks to there being dudes. To some degree players retain most of the traits that went into their rating (Jordan Kovacs can't develop into Marcus Ray), but there will always be 3-stars who grow into defenders more than capable of playing, as Hoke/Mattison call it, "Michigan defense." The chances that 2/3 of Christian/Talbott/ Avery would be capable last year of said 'Michigan defense' was near nil. The chances that one or two decent players emerge opposite T-Woolf among five 3- and 4-star-ish freshmen, two 3-star sophomores and a 5th year walk-on is much higher. Eight shots in the dark (several after practice shots) are better than three.
And next year more dudes arrive. Hugely hyped, turned-down-offers-from-all-of-the-above dudes at defensive end and middle linebacker, and a smattering of the same at the other spots so that 2014 gets a nice selection (MOAR DTs please, kthx).
And though the odds be against us, you never know: Michigan could not have its best two defensive players knocked out by injury this year. Maybe (a planetary version of) Heininger or Brink will be the next Kovacs. Maybe Greg Mattison is a wonderful teacher who, like Pelini in '08 and Dantonio in '07, gets a few lights to go on from previously unheard of sources.
* Pro Tip: Don't name your worms for Michigan Heisman winners unless you want your MSU alum opponents to gang up on you (as if Desmond hasn't had enough harassment from that ilk!)
** Things you can blame on RR & Co.: 1) Not getting enough interior linemen after the two soft guys flipped in '09, 2) Recruiting four guys (Witty, Dorsey, D.Rogers, and Kinard) who couldn't get past the NCAA Clearinghouse or M's higher standards, 3) sucking so hard that by the Class of '11 the top regional recruits were looking elsewhere, and 4) A string of the worst LB coaches in M history and a manic concept of positional switching so that the guys on hand were hardly given opportunity to improve at any one position in one defense.
- Thomas Gordon had ice wrapped around his right knee.
- Will Heininger had ice wrapped around both knees.
- Junior Hemingway had no ice wrapped around either knee.
- It's probably nothing.
Thomas Gordon reminds Will Heininger of Shawn Crable.
There's ice on your knee. Is that bad? "Nah, just a little tender. It's been a long, tough camp, but it's got some ice on it as a precaution. It's not serious."
How physical has camp been? "It's something that I've never been in before. It was pretty tough. We got through it, and I think it's going to make us better as a team. We came together this camp, and I'm really proud of what we did."
You were playing nickel a while ago, and now you're starting free safety. What happened/Congratulations? "They got me in a couple places. I'm just doing what the coaches have asked me to do over the summer and camp. I've lived up to my expectations and I'm ready to play this year."
What did you do to earn the start? "I think it's more outside of football, just being more dedicated to football and being a team player. Coming along as an individual off the field has really helped me on the field."
How hard did you work this summer? "This summer, (I worked hard) with the new weight staff and Coach Wellman. They're a really dedicated staff, and they put their work in with me and all the other players, and it helped me tremendously on the field as far as size and speed. I hope it transitions to the field, and I'm waiting to see what the effects are going to be during the season."
How have you changed physically? "When the old staff left, I was at 213 (pounds), but when the new staff came in I moved it up to 217, and that's a good thing. As far as being more explosive -- as a DB, (that) is real key, and that's what they helped me do."
Mattison talked about different looks, different schemes. How complex is this defense? "It's a lot of stuff you need to get a hold of, but you just take it one play at a time and just focus and key in on what you have to do. It's not that hard. It's simple -- the same techniques. We've just been on top of it as a group and in the film room everyday as a group."
You guys feeling confident? "Yeah we're real confident. All those guys back there: Kovacs, Troy, Carvin, Courtney, all of us. We're real confident with the game plan."
Did you not feel confident last year? "I was still comfortable last year. I think last year it was more for me getting my feet wet, more of a transition (than) this year. I know what it feels like to be in a game. I'm ready to step in."
Do you feel like the game is slowing down? "Oh yeah, it's way slower now. Last year was kind of like a blur out there. Now I see what's going on, and I really got a grasp and understanding of it."
Why will this year's defense be better? "Effort to the football. That's been the key our whole camp. It's effort to the football. If you mess up a play, it's always effort to the football and getting to the football that's the big key."
Is Western's QB going to be a challenge? "Oh yeah, most definitely. I think it's Crader? That's the kid. He can put the ball in tight windows, and he's a real good quarterback, and we gotta be in our p's and q's when we go against him on Saturday."
How much will you move around pre-snap to confuse him? "There will be a lot of movement because he's a real poised quarterback, and he has experience, but we still can disguise our looks and kind of get him confused, and I think that will play to our advantage."
What do you like about the free safety position? "I just like sitting back and seeing everything. It makes me feel like i'm a ballhawk. I haven't really played that since high school, (and) when I came in with Coach Rod, I was a spur. But now I'm back there and I feel natural back there, and that's a good thing."
Will Heininger, middle, reminds Thomas Gordon of this guy.
How do you feel about rotating guys constantly on the D-line? "We've rotated in the past, but I think Coach Mattison and Coach Montgomery really believe in keeping guys fresh. There's no point in going 80% to the ball. You go 100% until you can't. That's why you gotta have depth and guys who can play, and that's why we're lucky to have that."
So is it effective? "I think it's a great feeling knowing that you have someone that you trust to come in for you so that you can go 100% all the time. I know times in the past, Brandon Graham would just go forever until he was on empty. It's good to have guys that you can rotate. I think the strength in our D-line is depth and guys who can play multiple positions."
What would it mean to be a starter on Saturday? "Those things are nice, and being from Ann Arbor, I don't think there's much more you can ask for than playing for this school, but in the end, those are coaches' decisions, and I'm just excited to play for Michigan and get wins. That's what i'm excited for more than (being a) starter."
How good will it be to have a SAM linebacker helping you out in the 4-3 under? "Without getting into scheme too much, it's fun to have a big guy out there with you who you know is going to come down and lay the wood on the power or whatever."
What do you see in Western Michigan? Western has a good O-line -- a big O-line -- so I think we're excited to go against them and get back to physical football, and test ourselves against them."
What's the deal with the fight song from Hoke's office? "Coach Hoke said that everyday between 1:30 and 2:30 we're going to have that music blaring out of his office, and that's something he chose to do, and we love it. It's great. We have the best band in the country, so why not hear it?"
Mattison said something about giving the defense enough bullets. "When he says enough bullets, he means that he's never gonna put us in a situation where we can't defend something or we don't have an answer for something. I can't get too much into scheme, but that's what he's talking about, and I'm comfortable with our package."
What does "Michigan defense" mean to Mattison? Guys flying to the ball and celebrating when you get there, celebrating with each other. I think we do get it, and you get feelings of it during practice."
What does "Michigan defense" mean to you? "David Harris flying to the ball. Charles Woodson ... Crable knocking people out. Just all those guys bringing this physical, in your face, I'm gonna beat you, that kind of stuff."
What's your first recollection of Michigan football? "Tyrone Wheatley, when I was probably five years old, that was the first player I remember, and the first game I remember was Coach Carr's first game when we beat Virginia on the last play. I was watching TV at my friend's house. Unfortunately their family's Ohio
State fans, but I went crazy in their living room and didn't know any better at the time."
What's the best part of game week? "Can I say Saturday? First play on the field, smack somebody."
If there was ever a point when Junior Hemingway passed on the injury bug, this was it.
Do you feel like you need to stay healthy this season to prove to NFL scouts you're not made out of glass? "I think that's one of my goals for this season because the past seasons I haven't been able to finish the season or (play in the) beginning."
Is this offense as explosive as last year's? "Right now we've been working day in and day out ... just growing and molding, but I think we have the potential to be real explosive this year."
Is this the offensive you envisioned you'd play in coming out of high school? " ... You know ... Yes. Coach Carr had more of a pro-style (offense), then Coach Rod came in with the spread, but I just need to be adaptable to whatever."
So is this a hybrid offense? "Denard had a really big year in the spread offense. Just keeping some of those things ... some of those (plays) stick, so why not use them?"
Let's do some Western secondary scouting. "They have a real good defense. They have a real good secondary. They have one corner, Lewis Toler. They got him as one of the best DB's on the team -- All-MAC."
Why is Odoms third on the depth chart? "Everybody has been taking a lot of reps. Everybody's been getting the same number of reps, so that doesn't affect anything."
You talk to Darryl Stonum often? "Yeah. He's my roommate." Aha. "I just gotta be like a brother to him, (tell him to) just keep his head on straight and it'll be all right. We got his back regardless. Good thing is he's still on the team."
[Ed: I just TL;DR'd myself, so I've reorganized the quotes into "non-fluff" and "fluff."]
- One day of practice has passed since the last press conference.
Greg Mattison knows that I am consistently failing to take pictures of him.
Opening remarks: "The thing I'd like to say is that it's great that it's close to game time. It seems like we've been practicing for three months now. I'm excited to see this defense, to see what they're going to do. They've worked very hard. It's not always been perfect, but everyday i still see that they come out with the attitude of trying to get better. (Saturday) is going to be an interesting day and a great day, to see these guys go out on that field. Some of them have never played. Others I know have something deep inside that they want to prove, that they're a michigan defense. It's going to be a great day."
Which position battles are still ongoing? "I think every position battle is still going. That'll always be the way it is with us on defense. Our guys know that. I don't care if you're a guy that started for four years straight. If you don't play up to your ability now, there's going to be consequences.
"I don't know if there's any specific (positions in question). The starting lineup, I don't know what that is really yet. We've got a couple practices yet to make sure everything is set. The one thing we'e gonna do is we're gonna try to rotate people. I believe in two starting lineups. That's how important it is. Whoever's not in there after the opening kickoff, whenever that next group of guys comes in, they're just as valuable as the ones that are there. When that second guy is in there, that first guy has got to get that rest and come back and he's gotta go as hard as he can possibly go. That's how we'll make it. That's one of the ways in which we will get where we have to get, is play as hard as you can. You can't do that 75 plays a game. You can't do it. So we've gotta have guys behind him, (and that second guy) goes in and goes as hard as he can. He may not be as good, but going hard is good enough."
Because it's a new system, are you more likely to improve as the season continues? "Definitely. A lot of times when a player isn't successful right now in practice, it's the mental part. Not understanding where all pieces fit in the defense. Right now it's not uncommon for a younger player to just do his thing and do what he thinks is right, and not knowing that he should have done this a couple steps to the left because there's somebody over here. And that comes and that's where the correcting comes in. You hope they don't make that mistake the second time. That's what we're all about right now, is every little thing there seems like there's a correction to be made, and that's why I respect these guys because they've listened, and they go, 'Okay!"
"We've done so many walkthroughs. Every second when the kicking game is going on, our defnesive line is walking through what they're supposed to be doing. They're not standing there watching. I think from the start of special teams, every defensive player is moving and working to get better. And that doesn't happen in a lot of other schools."
You've talked up Nathan Brink. What has Will Heininger done to stand out? "He's a big strong physical kid that's a senior. He's been around a long time, and that's what we're looking for. The two of them make one. Quinton Washington is the same thing. When he goes in that ball game, go as hard as you can, Q. as hard as you can. That'll be good enough. That's all you can give us right now until you get the experience and get the tehcnique things. and then you just keep going right down the line. Will Campbell, the same way. When he rotates in there, Go. Go. You dont' have to play 70 plays. Go to the plays you're in, get your rest, and go again."
What stands out about Western's QB? "I think he's a great quarterback. I think this guy is special. I think you're gonna see this guy playing on Sundays some day. Ge's got an arm that he can throw it from hash to sideline. The thing that impresses me about him is that he's a very tough kid. He takes some really really strong hits and he comes right back and he's going again. He's got mobility. He can run when he has to. I think this guy is the real deal."
Talk about Mike Jones. "He has consistently come out everyday trying to do what he's supposed to do. I got a feeling Mike Jones came from a program where he probably either blitzed all the time or played 'sic'em' football. Now all of a sudden he's getting coached every single second. Some guys can't do it. He is one that I've been really excited about. It looks like everyday he's looking to get better and he's listening. I see signs of him -- now you did it right, you stayed back, you didn't run past the hole -- that kind of thing. And hes' a sophomore, that's what should happen."
How often will you alternate starters and backups? How much playing time will each group get? "We haven't come up with a number yet, but some guys might go six (plays). Some guys might go six and sit two or three. Some guys might go four and four. All the way through the ball game. It all depends on how close at the end of the week we feel their talent level is."
Is rotation frequency different for D-line versus the secondary? "You don't do that as much with the secondary. In the secondary, you might go one out of the four. Or you might go one safety for two positions or one corner for two corners. The big boys, if this is going to be a game where they're throwing the ball, that'll wear you out right away. you can't compete if you don't go hard, so we gotta be able to (rotate)."
Talk about competition between Floyd, Avery, and Countess. "It's a great battle, and what happens is everyday somebody different seems like they're taking the step, and then the next day (another) guy steps. I'm hoping that all three of them are getting better. You can't ever have too many corners."
What makes Thomas Gordon special? "Great effort. He's played with a lot of energy. He's got versatility for us. he can be in some of our different packages where he cn almost be a linebacker at times, and then he can go be a safety, and then (he) can go be a nickel. He's understood the defenses. He's been a real student, and his flexibility has really helped us."
How many packages will you use? "We're gonna give our guys enough bullets. We're not gonna go out there and play one defense. My belief is always give your guys every opportunity to be successful. Now if they can't pick it up in the heat of the battle, and they're making mistakes, then that can't work, and that's why we've worked so hard on our walk-throughs and that's why we're constantly challenging them on, 'Here's the call, what do you do?' And they're stepping through chairs, stepping through bags, making sure everything is exactly right. If they know where to line up and if they know where they're supposed to be, that's half the battle. Now the rest of it's playing hard."
Do you prefer running different defenses out of same look or same defense out of differnet looks? "Both of them. I like to be able run the same defenses out of two different packages, like fast guys out there compared to this (other) group of guys. The reason I like that is because you don't ever want to get caught on the field with a certain personnel group and then you can't call some of the defenses you want to call. So whatever you call out there, you should be able to do what you want to do with your defense."
How are you going to deal with play-calling against no-huddle offense teams? "We've worked all camp on our wristbands. We will always be ready in every game, if a team's a no-huddle team, to go immediately to wristbands and all you gotta do is point to the wristband and give them the nubmer and they know exactly what defense it is."
What one-on-one matchups between your defense and opposing offenses are you most excited about? "I like Ryan Van Bergen in there, I like Mike Martin in there, I like Craig Roh. I think those are three positions right there where we gotta win. That's what you look at when you look at your defense. We gotta win some of these positions, and I think those are three guys where you say, 'Hey, we're gonna win these battles right here.' I want to win every battle, but those are ones that i think you gotta say, 'We gotta win these.' "
Walk-on defensive lineman Nathan Brink [photo credit: Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com]
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Nathan Brink's emergence this fall as a walk-on in line for major playing time has come as a surprise for many, and
begs raises the question: Who is Nathan Brink? Perhaps more importantly, at least to Wolverine fans, can he make a positive contribution this year on the field? To help us learn more about the walk-on, who's currently slated to back up Will Heininger at strongside defensive end, Brad Hoffman, who was Nate's defensive line coach at Holland Christian, was kind enough to answer a few questions:
ACE: What was Nate's football game like as a high school player? What were his strong and weak points?
ACE: As his high school defensive line coach, did you think he had the potential to grow into a contributor for the Wolverines? How do you think he'll fare this year as part of the D-line rotation?
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||THREE-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Will Heininger||Sr.*||Mike Martin||Sr.||Ryan Van Bergen||Sr.*||Craig Roh||Jr.|
|Nate Brink||So.*||Richard Ash||Fr.*||Will Campbell||Jr.||Jibreel Black||So.|
|Chris Rock||Fr.||Quinton Washington||So*||Kenny Wilkins||Fr.*||Frank Clark||Fr.|
We'll start with the good. Last year, freshman Jibreel Black showed up and got an eyeful of what college defensive linemen were like when he laid eyes on Mike Martin. He came away from the experience with his eyes opened and his grammar damaged:
"When I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
|LOL single block|
|LOL zoning him|
|LOL double block|
|LOL triple block|
|blasts through line|
|driving the center|
|zips between the C and G|
|consumes Chappell's soul|
|made every play|
In the right situation (three-technique instead of the nose) with the right amount of healthy ankles (two instead of zero), Martin could make All-America selectors be like dang.
Unfortunately, it seems like Martin is never going to get to move to that three-tech spot it seems he was made for. It's not that he's a bad nose tackle. Martin is big and strong and can take on double teams just fine. But he's also amazingly quick for a 300-pound squat-beast, so much so that the first thing Greg Mattison thought when he saw him was "we should use him like Shawn Crable." In the spring game passing downs Martin was in on often featured him in a two-point stance, hopping around like a linebacker. This is not your typical nose tackle.
If permitted to go one-on-one with guards used to holding off slugs and the results could be spectacular, like Jonathan Babineaux 28-TFL spectacular. But with no one else on the roster who won't get annihilated at the nose, Martin will have to tough out the double teams.
If you flip through the videos at right you'll see an awful lot of Martin crushing people until the Michigan State game, and then hardly anything. That's because a Spartan lineman chop-blocked Martin at the end of a game that was well in hand. Martin limped off and was diagnosed with the dreaded high ankle sprain. From then on he was not himself.
Sometimes this manifested by not being on the field at all. Martin missed most of the Iowa and Penn State games, big chunks of Illinois, and didn't play at all against Purdue. He started to get his mojo back afterwards but only gradually. You can see the effect in his UFR chart:
|UConn||8||3||5||Late minuses for getting too pass-rush-y. Demands doubles. Good start.|
|Notre Dame||12||0.5||11.5||Beast mode. Best game of career.|
|UMass||25||-||25||I just write the numbers down!|
|BGSU||7||1||6||Quick passing offenses reduce DL impact; still did well when called upon.|
|Indiana||11.5||3||8.5||Actually got beat out by someone, also round this down to +7 or so.|
|MSU||8||1||7||A good performance, but coming down from his ridiculous nonconference level.|
|Penn State||-||1||-1||I'm going to throw myself off a bridge.|
|Illinois||8||1||7||Was more back than it looked live, but still out a lot more than usual.|
|Wisconsin||8.5||2||6.5||One old-style "I destroy this play" plus a few more scattered good bits and some half points.|
Martin was a nonfactor the next two weeks and only moderately effective against Illinois (remember that the wacky nature of that game meant more plays for DL to rack up points). To preserve my sanity I didn't UFR the dismal final two games of Rodriguez's career. Martin had two tackles and four assists against OSU and one measly assist in the bowl game; none of those were behind the LOS.
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
Ryan Van Bergen is your new starting three-tech. Great at nothing but consistent and durable, Van Bergen is a lot better than he gets credit for. As a put upon 3-3-5 DE last year he had 5 sacks and 9.5 TFLs despite getting very little help from the structure of the defense. He was often left by himself against two defenders, especially when it came to the passing game. GERG loved him some three-man rush.
Van Bergen graded out almost as well as Martin over the course of the season thanks to his steady acquisition of points and half points for standing his ground against doubles or pushing offensive linemen into places they don't want to be. The UFR chart is really impressive:
|UConn||3||-||3||Not exactly BG, but I don't think he has to be if it's a stack.|
|Notre Dame||4.5||3||1.5||Unproductive until late; irresponsible on midline zone read.|
|UMass||5||1.5||3.5||Lots of half points for doing decently on run plays.|
|BGSU||5.5||2||3.5||Decent impact in little opportunity.|
|Indiana||12||-||12||Excellent against the run, got some pass rush, mentally round this down to a +8.|
|MSU||9.5||1||8.5||One impact sack, some additional pressure, solid against the run. Good player.|
|Iowa||5.5||1||4.5||Best performance on the day but that's just average.|
|Penn State||10||3||7||The solitary player to have a good day.|
|Illinois||10.5||3.5||7||Developing into a fine player. Now consistently putting up points.|
|Purdue||7||3||4||May have been unfairly blamed for the big Henry keeper.|
|Wisconsin||3||6||-3||Did not make many plays; seemed to give up big cutback lanes easily. Maybe an RPS thing.|
Van Bergen got better as the season went along and kept playing well in the face of total annihilation. He produced, and then Martin went out and he kept producing. A lot of the things he did were not explosive look-at-me plays, but the meat-and-potatoes grunt work required to keep your linebackers clean. This is emblematic:
That's not even an assist but by slanting past his blocker and then holding his ground he occupies two blockers and closes the hole so far that the RB runs into one of the guys trying to block him.
There were also a few explosive look-at-me plays, like this one:
|RYAN VAN BERGEN|
|annihilates guy trying to downblock him|
|slants into the lane|
|swims past Iowa OL|
|bounces off to tackle|
|picks off a pulling guard|
|all too easy|
|needs more beef|
|Wisconsin too much|
That is Van Bergen lined up as a three-tech between Craig Roh and Mike Martin smoking MSU RT J'Michael Deane. Deane was apparently not much of a pass protector, but he's representative of the sort of guys RVB will be going up against this year—guards who are crushing run blockers but maybe not so good at pass pro.
His rushing isn't on Brandon Graham's level—last year's prediction he would "brush up against double digit sacks" fell three or four short. As the third-most-threatening guy on the line he's pretty good. If Michigan can get him single blocked by rushing more than three guys he might get there this year. He had five sacks from the three-tech spot as a sophomore; two years of experience and the luxury of being flanked by Martin and Roh will give him opportunities to slant past one-on-one blocking.
What's more, Van Bergen was an ironman last year. On a defense saddled with mediocre or worse backups at every spot, Van Bergen saw more snaps than any DL, often going entire games without being substituted. This year's line has no depth, either. That trait is going to be useful.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
Come On Backups
yes, I wrote this section when I thought he was going to start
Well… there's Will Campbell. The all-everything recruit (except to ESPN, where he was their #22 OT) has languished on the bench, bounced to OL, and then gotten bounced from the starting lineup by a walk-on.
ESPN's skepticism about Campbell's tendency to stand straight up turned out to be right. When placed on the field as a freshman he struggled badly. Canonical example recycled from last year:
Description recycled from last year:
I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?
You'll note that Campbell was playing a three-tech and got smoked one on one. The hype about how Campbell is an obvious three-tech and having him at the nose was another symptom of GERG's madness still has to combat Campbell's pad level, man.
At least his weight is back on the downswing. Last year he was listed at 333, significantly up from his freshman weight. Rodriguez was openly displeased with his conditioning last year, and he never saw the field outside of the goal line package. That's not good; it's even worse when Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse are the guys getting time instead of you. He's down eleven pounds this year and it's safe to say that's for the best. There is no good weight above 320.
Teammates and coaches have started talking Campbell up. While anyone who remembers the three weeks that Ron English spent talking up Johnny Sears knows that's not necessarily an assurance the player in question will be good, or even not-awful, at least this time around the conditioning grumblings are being directed elsewhere. Nose tackles do tend to take some time, as last year's West Texas Blue diary on Campbell's DT classmates demonstrated. Most redshirted as freshmen; few of the ones who didn't had any impact. (DeQuinta Jones was instantly productive for Arkansas, of course. That's just what happened under Rodriguez.)
He's further behind the curve now but even fellow uber recruits like LSU's Chris Davenport (one tackle), and Texas's Calvin Howell (two tackles) are struggling to find the field. They're not idling behind Greg Banks, sure, but Campbell's not dead yet.
He can be okay if protected. I spent large chunks of the spring game focused on him and he was mediocre:
All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.
A moderate amount of penetration is worlds better than that clip above. He'll feature in the goal line package and against teams that want to run.
Past Campbell the only player anyone's seen on the field is redshirt sophomore Quinton Washington, who Rodriguez flipped from guard during the bye week last year. Washington got in on a few goal line plays, proceeding to drive his guy back and fall over.
That's fine on a goal line play. Taking that limited skillset and expanding it to the point where he can play defensive tackle on the other 98 yards is going to be trickier.
With Terry Talbott's medical redshirt there are just two other options, both redshirt freshmen who have survived the harrowing that's befallen much of Rodriguez's recruiting classes. Richard Ash is a nose tackle sort from Pahokee who briefly featured offers from USC and Florida before abruptly losing those. Over the course of a year he went from 260 to 320, which scared a lot of people off. Last year his corpulence was notable even amongst the defensive tackles. He's back down to about 300 now and will have to see some time spelling Martin. The sum total of Ash knowledge other than his weight loss is still in his recruiting profile.
The other option is Kenny Wilkins, who was initially supposed to be a weakside DE but showed up at 270 and is now 280. He's now listed as a DT and presumably will back up the three-tech spot. Wilkins was memorably pwned by walkons in the spring game on Mike Cox's long touchdown and has been called out by the coaches as a guy who needs to get his act together; if he plays this year he probably won't play well.
Strongside Defensive End
This was Van Bergen until Campbell's failure to emerge sucked him back into the interior. Now you get your choice of walk-on. First on the depth chart is senior Will Heininger, who missed last year with an ACL tear and used that opportunity to expand alarmingly fast. After adding six pounds two years ago he threw on 28 over this offseason to end up at 295.
My assumption was that kind of weight gain from an injured guy who'd been in the program for years was a Posada-like sign, but after being all but ignored during fall camp he popped up on the two-deep as a starter and Hoke said that was a real thing. He must have spent every waking hour in the weight room.
"Experience" was why he got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
One mitigating factor here: Michigan showed a three-man line in their two-minute defense. That package removes the walk-ons in favor of a zone-blitzing 3-4. These guys aren't playing on passing downs and may not see a lot of time against spread outfits. All these guys have to do is not get pounded on the ground. Pass rush is a bonus.
Nate Brink; where Nate Brink came from
More walkons! Sexy. With Van Bergen held out, Nate Brink was the starter at SDE in the spring game. Everybody assumed that didn't mean anything and focused on Campbell, so no one can tell you word one about how he did.
He faded back into Bolivian until the Van Bergen move, whereupon press conferences started talking about him and insiders started dropping what knowledge they had. The insiders said their usual bits about Brink being a diamond in the rough—one report claimed Mattison said he'd be in the two deep of any college team he'd coached. The press conferences were similarly predictable. This bit from Mattison is the most encouraging:
He's played like a Michigan football player. I hate to talk about a young man because I think when I do that they go right down in the tubes but this guy has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to Coach Montgomery on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries, and he's really, really physical.
I think he was probably 250 in the spring and we told him to get to 265 and when he was reporting, I yelled, 'What do you weigh?' He said, '265' and I told him to drink some water and sure enough he started drinking water. Now I think he's 267 or 268.
In the spring, his toughness showed up and he was only 250 at that time. But his want-to and toughness stuck out like crazy. And that's what we want - 11 guys that play with that kind of attitude.
He's a guy that if he keeps doing what he's doing, Michigan people are going to be very happy with him.
I know this will end in tears but that's actually coachspeak that seems meaningful.
Holding The Rope has the complete presser dossier and all of his other biographical information. It adds up to:
- is 265 pounds, up from 220 in high school
- is a redshirt sophomore
- coaches have said nice things about him
- named "Nate Brink"
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
There's obviously no depth when the first two guys are walkons. In the event injuries hit them, Michigan will grit its teeth and slide Van Bergen back outside. True freshmen Chris Rock (Not That Chris Rock) and Keith Heitzman should be headed for redshirts (Heitzman actually might be headed for TE). If they don't it's a Ray Vinopal situation.
Weakside Defensive End
Rating: a speculative 4.
what do you mean by "I don't want to play corner" again?
The only thing Michigan fans will miss about the deathbacker position is the name, and even then the group of people who know its true nomenclature is even smaller than the already-pretty-small group who know Craig Roh was a "spinner" and vastly smaller than the masses who know Roh is "that defensive end Michigan insists on pretending is a linebacker."
Craig Roh is not a linebacker. He has never been a linebacker, and this year he cranked himself up to 270 pounds to evaporate the last vestiges of confusion. Look at my giant skull crushing muscles, he says. Just try to put this in a two point stance.
|you can't see me|
|avoids a cut|
|speed rush for sack wsg Martin|
|smokes Illini T for holding call|
|sweet spin move|
|crunch, fumble, TD|
|not a lb|
|no depth on drops|
|dl run game|
|comes through TE|
|slants into lane|
|slants under TE|
|power right at him|
And the thing is, last year Roh wasn't that exploitable as a defensive end. He was certainly no more so than the other non-Van Bergen options, and when Michigan put his hand in the dirt against Notre Dame they got dividends from it:
Hit up those videos on the side to confirm. For a guy who was supposedly a liability he made his share of plays against the run in trying circumstances. Notable is that many of those were plays on the backside where he got under his blocker in a flash and sped down the line. On the weakside in the 4-3 under this is what he's going to be doing a lot.
Roh was so badly misserved by the previous defensive staff that he had to tell them what the hell he should be doing on defense. He requested a move back to the DL and got it, whereupon he was decent despite all this 3-3-5 business not suiting him at all. Talking about what happened to Roh last year makes me stabby. I called him the "Denard of the defense" because he was a uber-touted recruit forced on the field way too early by necessity; Denard became Denard and Roh dropped into short zones. Other than everything else, that was the clearest evidence GERG was sacrificing our defense to Xenu.
This year, though… this year Craig Roh is 270 pounds and will be playing the spot literally every scouting evaluation ever issued about him has begged—demanded—plead for him. This could yield one of those breakout year things. Here's what he did in the games Michigan played him mostly as a lineman:
|Notre Dame||11||-||11||By far best game of his career.|
|MSU||6||1.5||4.5||Wasn't a liability in the run game against a pounding team.|
|Iowa||5||1||4||Okay, but not making a big impact.|
|Illinois||10.5||8||2.5||Eventful; some minuses may be someone else's fault.|
|Wisconsin||3.5||2||1.5||Basically one nice play and then not much.|
He was much less a part of the tire fire when he had his hand in the dirt, and that was frequently as a 245-pound DE on a three man line. He is now 270 and going one-on-one with weakside tackles. He should improve from average-ish (remember that UFR slants towards the DL) to good.
At least good. We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
There is one. Hooray. The aforementioned Jibreel Black saw time spotting Roh last year; he showed some pass rush flair. His run defense was abject. He prominently featured on a Michigan State touchdown drive where cutback lanes were always open because Black wasn't flowing down the line. He was targeted for dismantling every time he hit the field, and more often than not opponents got exactly what they wanted. Except Penn State, weirdly.
- True freshman and all that, though. Black should be significantly better this year. Like Roh he'll benefit from the extra protection afforded the WDE in the 4-3 under and the triple threat DL coaches in the Hoke era. There is a significant downer, though. Black actually lost weight over the offseason, going from 265 to 260. This is one weight gain/loss that is not always good. After the spring Black was a guy who needed to change his body:
"Jibreel is a guy that, as his body composition changes a little bit, he's gonna be a good football player. I think him and Craig at the rush have had pretty good springs."
- Though I can't find the quote I'm thinking of, the coaches seemed irritated when he came into camp five pounds lighter than he was as a freshman. Early in camp, Mattison responded to a question about Black by highlighting his inconsistency:
“Jibreel has a lot of talent, but right now, Jibreel is a little inconsistent. … That’s not a knock on him, but he’s just like a lot of talented young guys. I’m not ready to say this guy is the next Terrell Suggs (of the Baltimore Ravens)."
- They have to play him; he might need another year to get his head right and muscles all powerful and stuff. Brandon Graham, who everyone has compared him to, took a couple years to get his head and body right, too.
Clark @ Glenville; the only extant photo of Paskorz on the field
But wait, there's more! On scholarship, even! True freshman Frank Clark defied his middling recruiting rankings and status as a WR/TE/LB/DE tweener to feature on the depth chart at WDE. He's supposed to be fast—very fast. An insider I've corresponded with noted that players say "he can catch Denard." He "just has a lot of athleticism" according to Van Bergen.
Clark's quick rise caught Mattison's eye when he was asked about freshman in general, not Clark specifically:
I think Frank Clark has a lot of ability. You can see a different speed at which he goes.
In his recruiting profile I said he had a long road ahead of him to productivity. Clark drove fast.
- Redshirt freshman Jordan Paskorz may as well have been in the witness protection program since he enrolled. Not a peep has been heard about him since he arrived, and I have no recollection of the guy even playing in the spring game. But he is totally a defensive player on the roster who is not a true freshman. So we've got that going for us.
- Paskorz was a generic three star coming out of high school; his recruiting profile is where the infos are. I wasn't that enthused about him a year ago but just by remaining on the roster he's ahead of a lot of his classmates. With Clark impressing and a serious need at TE he's another candidate to switch.
'Friday Night Lights' is now 'Weekday Warriors', and every week I'll be updating you on the latest performances from Michigan commits as they play our their high school seasons. If you see anything missing or can find an article on a game, please feel free to contact me via Twitter or email.
TN OL Blake Bars
Montgomery Bell Academy dropped to 1-1 on the season with a blowout loss to Louisville (KY) Trinity. Since Bars is an offensive linemen, there are no stats to report.
This week: The Big Red hope to move back above .500 at home against Brentwood Academy on Friday.
OH LB Joe Bolden
Bolden's Colerain squad won a nationally-televised matchup with last year's Florida 2A state champion, Cocoa, by a score of 17-7, snapping Cocoa's 38-game winning streak. Bolden did a little bit of everything, tallying eight tackles, tipping a pass that led to an interception, and completing a 36-yard pass on a fake punt (yes, Bolden serves as Colerain's punter). The win extended Colarain's home winning streak to a remarkable 60 games. ESPN's highlights of the contest prominently feature the future Wolverine, though also unfortunately Pam Ward. I can't embed the video without an ad autoplaying (seriously, WTF, ESPN), so you'll have to hit the link to see the highlights.
This week: Colarain looks to continue their home dominance on Friday against Ryle at 7:30.
MI OL Ben Braden
In a matchup of western (Michigan) powers, Rockford fell in their opener at Lowell, 28-7. Despite the loss, Braden came in for praise from Lowell's coach, Noel Dean:
"I'm not sure we'll see a team anywhere near that big," he said. "Their front seven on defense is as big as I've ever seen. And their front seven on offense -- I've never seen a human being move as well as that Ben Braden at this level. I was standing on that field, and I didn't feel good about putting my kids in front of him. He's huge, and he's a really good player."
This week: Rockford looks to right the ship in their home opener against Holt on Thursday at 7.
OH DE Pharaoh Brown
Brush fell to Eastlake North 51-20 in their opening game of the season. Though the Brush defense didn't perform, Brown reported to me on Twitter that he recorded three sacks, four tackles, and caught three passes for 86 yards, despite the fact that, according to him, Eastlake North widened the splits in their line to keep him from getting to the quarterback and refused to run in his direction.
This week: Brush hits the road on Friday at 7 to face Madison.
MI TE Devin Funchess, DE Mario Ojemudia, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, and CB Terry Richardson
As you all know, these four faced off in the Big Day Showdown at Eastern Michigan, with Farmington Hills Harrison (Funchess and Ojemudia) blowing out Cass Tech (RJS and Terry Richardson) 43-7. Funchess recorded three receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown, as well as tallying an interception while playing safety. Ojemudia dominated at defensive end, finishing with four tackles, three for a loss, 1/2 sack, six QB hurries, and a fumble recovery on a blocked punt, while also playing offensive tackle for most of the game. Jenkins-Stone had four tackles and a forced fumble (in a bizarre twist, that came on offense after an interception) and also caught two passes and carried the ball five times for a total of seven yards. Richardson finished with a pass breakup – in the end zone against State commit Aaron Burbridge, no less – three kick returns for 70 yards, and one catch for 13 yards. The game was the subject of this week's Creeper Van Originals, and the highlights are below:
This week: Harrison plays at Southfield on Thursday at 7, while Cass Tech hopes to bounce back on Friday at 3 on the road at Detroit Central.
OH S Allen Gant
Gant played on both sides of the ball for Southview in their 23-21 season-opening victory over St. Francis de Sales. According to an intrepid MGoPoster who was taking down stats for de Sales, Gant played receiver and finished with one catch for five yards and took a jet sweep for seven yards – there are no defensive stats to be found, though apparently Gant did not record an interception, in case you were wondering.
This week: Southview travels to Toledo Rogers on Friday at 7.
MI DT Matt Godin
According to Andrew at Touch the Banner, Godin recorded two tackles in the first half before sitting out the second with an apparent concussion in Detroit Catholic Central's 42-0 trouncing of Dearborn Fortson.
This week: DCC heads to Ohio to take on Delphos St. John's on Friday at 7:30. Let's hope Godin's injury isn't too serious.
UT FB Sione Houma
This week: The 2-0 Rams have their home opener against Provo at 7 on Friday night.
OH OL Kyle Kalis
Lakewood St. Edward defeated Glenville 17-14 in their season opener, but did so without Kalis, who was sidelined with an injury:
Michigan recruit and offensive tackle Kyle Kalis was in street clothes on the St. Edward sideline with a dislocated kneecap. Finotti said he's "day to day." He could return as early as next week or in two to three weeks.
This week: St. Edward travels to Pittsburgh to take on Penn Hills on Friday. We'll see if Kalis is able to suit up.
CA OL Erik Magnuson
Magnuson did not play last week, as La Costa Canyon begins its season on Friday against Marina.
MO DT Ondre Pipkins
This week: On Friday at 7, Park Hill has its home opener against Ruskin.
OH LB Kaleb Ringer
Northmont dropped its opener to Hamilton, 28-14, as Ringer sat out the game with a broken hand suffered in the previous week's scrimmage. Ringer said on Twitter that the injury might require surgery, but he's hoping to get back on the field in a soft cast next week.
This week: Northmont plays at Princeton on Friday at 7:30.
MI LB James Ross
Orchard Lake St. Mary's dominated their first game against Grand Rapids West Catholic, finishing with a 35-0 shutout. The Wolverine's Tim Sullivan (another name you might recognize) was at the game ($), and reported that Ross tallied three solo tackles (two for loss) and four assists.
This week: The Eaglets host Toledo (OH) St. John's Jesuit on Friday at 7.
OH OL Caleb Stacey
Oak Hills fell to La Salle in their opener, 42-21. No stats (obviously) or mention of Stacey in the game article.
This week: The Highlanders will try to pick up their first win of the year at Harrison on Friday at 7:30.
IL CB Anthony Standifer
Crete-Monee defeated Thornton Fractional South by a score of 32-8 in their opener. Standifer reported to me on Twitter that he finished with eight tackles, making sure to mention that Thornton didn't throw his way during the game.
This week: The Warriors head to Lincoln-Way West on Friday at 7:30.
OH DE Tom Strobel
Mentor defeated Euclid 49-21 in their first game of the season. No stats were readily available for Strobel, so this is the part where I remind you to contact me if you come across these kinds of things. Thanks.
This week: The Cardinals host Ursuline on Friday at 7.
OH TE A.J. Williams
Sycamore beat Withrow, 38-24, to open the season. Williams didn't record a catch, though his quarterback ran the ball 16 times for four touchdowns, so I'm guessing he didn't have many opportunities to do so.
This week: The Aviators, whose mascot is not a pair of cool sunglasses, bro, have their home opener against Springboro on Friday at 7:30.
OH S Jarrod Wilson
Buchtel's matchup with Ohio powerhouse Massillon Washington was featured in a Rivals AMP video, and Wilson was credited with 6 1/2 tackles, though his team ultimately fell by a score of 31-6. Highlights, including a couple nice tackles by the future Wolverine:
This week: The Griffins hope to notch their first win of the year on the road at Steubenville on Friday at 7.
OH DE Chris Wormley
Toledo Whitmer blew out Start, 42-6, and TomVH once again comes through with the stats – two tackles, one QB hurry, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery for Wormley. The Whitmer defense held Start to just 108 yards of total offense.
This week: The Panthers host some of our neighbors to the north as London (Ontario) Lucas travels to Toledo for a Friday night game at 7. I'll be filming this one for next week's Creeper Van Original.
KY S Jeremy Clark
North Hopkins went on the road to defeat Graves County, 42-13, and Clark had quite the game, finishing with 12 tackles, an interception, and capping off the scoring with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown, according to TomVH. It's great to see Clark do so well, but this is the point where I start to get nervous that a big-time program might offer him more than a grayshirt and he could jump ship.
This week: The Maroons look to improve to 2-1 when they host North Hardin on Friday at 8.
MI QB Shane Morris
Morris and his Warren De La Salle squad dominated my alma mater, Ann Arbor Pioneer, 43-28. Morris completed 12 of 15 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown, and Fox 2 has a brief highlight clip from the game:
This week: De La Salle plays Carmen-Ainsworth at Lake Shore on Friday at 7.