good luck with that
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Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker.Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.
The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
|2011||+0.54 (25th)||9||20||2.31 (29th)||16||6||1.38 (33rd)|
|2012||-0.69 (99th)||7||11||1.69 (69th)||19||8||1.38 (28th)|
|2013||+0.38(33rd)||17||9||1.9 (64th)||13||8||2.77 (109th)|
|2014||-1.33 (124th)||5||5||2.4 (49th)||18||8||2.2 (63rd)|
I'd say there's nowhere to go but up here, but I said that during the Rodriguez era and it never happened. /kicks dirt
But… seriously, this should be a place Michigan gets a ton better. Not only are they replacing Devin Gardner with a guy who had an interception rate a quarter of Gardner's, they had a turnover acquisition rate anomalously low for anybody, let alone a good defense. With a fifth-year senior quarterback this should at least be even and if opponents don't have option of throwing at the wide open guy on most snaps, both sacks and bad idea throws should increase.
Or, you know, they might not. Turnovers are low-incident, high-impact events and sometimes the don't make any sense.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Braden and Magnuson flip spots. A logical decision given Magnuson's left tackle frame and Braden's issues in pass protection. Braden is an awkward fit as a guard. Concern: moderate.
Poggi and Winovich move to TE. Poggi probably belonged there from the start. Winovich is odd. Speaks to concern about depth at TE. Concern: moderate.
Jeremy Clark moves to CB, Wayne Lyons to safety. Only possible interpretation is that Lyons is bad and they're scrambling a bit at the other corner. Concern: high.
Freddy Canteen moves to CB, sort of. Weird move, also speaks to concern at corner. Concern: high.
Willie Henry to SDE. The positions are similar, Wormley is a capable 3tech, seems to be looking for some extra pass rush. Concern: minimal.
Royce Jenkins-Stone to WDE. With Ojemudia and possibly/probably Lawrence Marshall in front RJS only plays if he's going to do okay. Concern: minimal.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Worst Case Barring Extreme Injury Scenarios
Michigan has a high-variance schedule this year with few outright tomato cans and few top 25 teams. The top 25 teams are both at home; Michigan has four road games (Utah, Maryland, Minnesota, and Penn State) against teams that project to be decent to good this year. Meanwhile they have a new coach. Many scenarios are plausible.
In the worst case, Michigan's second corner gets torched all year, they can't get to the QB, and the D tops out at the same good-but-not-great level they've been at for the last few years.
On offense, Rudock is a checkdown machine and Michigan is just Iowa instead of a Rich Man's Iowa. The Big Ten is weak and Michigan has a lot of experience and talent, so truly bad records are probably out of the question but it's not too hard to see them dropping two nonconference games and going 4-4 in conference to finish 6-6.
On the other hand, there are only two games that particularly alarm. Both of those are at home. OSU is a unanimous number one and is probably intractable given anything short of a miracle, but Brady Hoke played them tight the last two years with teams that were miserable. MSU is good; they have a few leaks this year.
Even if they win one of those there's enough rickety in this boat to assume they drop another game, probably the opener or road games against Minnesota and Penn State. 10-2 could happen.
I don't really know, man. I do expect a significant and immediate improvement in Michigan's play. They return almost the entire team. They plug Desmond Morgan, Jake Rudock, and Jabrill Peppers into three of the gaps—maybe up to five depending on if Peppers can hack 3-tech.
The only two guys who don't have immediate replacements or even upgrades are Frank Clark and Devin Funchess. Either would be great to have around; because of the way last season developed neither had as much impact on the field as their talent suggested they should.
Even if Brady Hoke was still around this would be a year in which the arrow should point the right way. Turnovers should head the right way. That swing should be large and could be huge. On a down to down basis Michigan was pretty good until their general derp kicked in.
Harbaugh's teams don't derp it much. That is worth a lot.
Residual chaos will still do Michigan in once or twice this year; the potential issue at kicker looms large for a team that figures to play a bunch of low-scoring slugfests. It'll look like football, though. That much we can promise.
|9/12||Oregon State||Lean to win|
|9/26||BYU||Lean to win|
|10/3||@ Maryland||Lean to win|
|10/11||MSU||Lean to loss|
|11/1||Rutgers||Lean to win|
|11/8||@ Indiana||Must win|
|11/22||@ Penn State||Tossup|
|11/30||Ohio State||Probable loss|
Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Nebraska
It says 8-4 here.
Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.
1. So what is this defense again?
Last year Michigan moved from the 4-3 under they deployed in Mattison's first three seasons in Ann Arbor to a 4-3 over. DJ Durkin seems set to return Michigan to a defense that's going to seem a lot like Mattison's earlier outfits. Whether you call this a 4-3 under or a 3-4 is mostly a semantic issue. However, it's one that's driving me nuts every time a writer for the Wolverine talks about Michigan's forthcoming 3-4 transition.
The disconnect here appears to be based on one spot, the "BUCK". Many, many teams have a fancy name for their weakside end. It often designates a guy who is a LB/DE hybrid:
"Watching film on Dante (Fowler) and experience this position has been a ton of fun," he said. " The BUCK is like the hybrid on the field. You're sometimes standing up and sometimes have your hand in the dirt. Wherever you're at at that position, you're expected to make plays. You gotta get to the quarterback as quickly as you can and make tackles."
Durkin apparently calls his fancy spot the "buck linebacker." Therefore 3-4. Durkin's buck linebacker last year was 6'3", 260 pound Dante Fowler. Fowler almost always rushed the passer from a three-point stance. Sometimes he would drop into coverage or fold back into a run fit.
In this he is exactly—exactly—like what Michigan did with Frank Clark in the under. We even have a mascot for this, Slanty The Gecko. Slanty was inexplicably the first hit in Google Image Search for "line slant football" and has featured in multiple posts that describe Michigan's nominal weakside end going SYKE LINEBACKER MORPH and dropping back as the SAM plunges willy-nilly into the defensive line. Here is an example:
According to Mattison, Michigan did this on maybe 40% of its snaps from a 4-3 in his first year at Michigan. I'd say the BUCK concept is that only more so, but I don't think it can in fact be more so.
To me the real distinction between a 3-4 and a 4-3 is in your interior line. Are your guys planet-shaped gentlemen? Do you have Louis Nix? You're probably running a 3-4. Do you have Ryan Glasgow? You're probably running a 4-3. People will talk about multiple fronts, and Michigan will run multiple fronts. All of those will be efforts to confuse the offense as they inject their DTs into gaps and get penetration.
The upshot: this is not a big change, if it's even a change at all. It is a nomenclature tweak.
[After THE JUMP: additional strategically located Peppers talk.]
2. But what about PEPPERS?
This was a PBU [Patrick Barron]
Ah yes. Now that is a change that could be seismic in its implications. I've probably beaten you all to death with this Hybrid Space Player stuff already. It is worth repeating, since it promises the ability to:
- mitigate issues with Michigan's pass rush as it opens up a new suite of blitzes
- allow James Ross to play SAM without being a quasi-DE
- nerf the spread screen game
- cover the slot when opponents try to hit big plays based on your aggressiveness
Collectively these abilities answer many of the questions spread offenses pose defenses. Running an eight man front also helps you clog up the run game against pro-style teams.
To do all of this you need the kind of superlative athlete that is basically a linebacker and a cornerback at the same time: Eric Berry, Charles Woodson, Patrick Peterson. Jabrill Peppers. You also need a free safety who is able to cover big swathes of ground in the middle of the field without giving up big plays—check. You need cornerbacks you can leave on an island. Check and… uh.
3. Shouldn't the idea of running man press coverage without a second cornerback give me hives?
You are no doubt remembering this kind of thing from last year:
Michigan's defense last year had one enormous hole, that being the corner opposite Jourdan Lewis. That single hole was enough to bomb the defense out of its professed hyper-aggressive approach, returning them to something approximating their 2013 coverage with Lewis nose-to-nose a lot.
I am relatively sanguine about this position despite the position switch near-starter situation going on with Jeremy Clark because if they do have a huge problem there, Peppers goes to boundary and Delano Hill enters the starting lineup. That will work just fine against a traditional offense. It does not get you out of trouble in nickel packages or against spread offenses, but the downside there is not, say, the kind of downside Michigan was facing without Jake Rudock's transfer.
That hypothetical switch does nerf most of the exciting things mentioned in the last question and probably means Michigan's defense isn't elite. They clearly do not want to do that, because they want all of the hybrid space things. It would be okay.
Meanwhile, Michigan does have a chance with Stribling and Clark. Both are much rangier than Countess was, giving them a large margin for error, and those guys are probably equivalent athletes. We saw Stribling stick to receivers as a freshman; Countess was getting blown out of the water by everyone from Freddy Canteen to Will Fuller to Leonte Carroo. Change of direction might be an issue; we'll see.
One advantage these guys have are two longtime NFL DBs as coaches. Last year the corners coach was Roy Manning, who had never coached or played the position. The other secondary coach was Curt Mallory, who probably would have gotten fired if Hoke ever fired anyone—remember when he was up for the Western Illinois job? He was encouraged to look around. In particular, Greg Jackson's track record in San Francisco was terrific.
But yes, this is the spot that freaks me out more than anything else, and WDE is the only thing even kind of close.
4. Aren't we a bit light on the interior?
Harbaugh will miss Mone's beef [Eric Upchurch]
Minus Brian Mone, yes. This is exacerbated a bit by Michigan's decision to flip their biggest guy out to DE. (Some people have dismissed that as a bit of depth chart hijinks, but I doubt it. Michigan's coaches have consistently maintained that Henry has been playing both three-tech and end; Henry played end during the open practice; the two spots aren't that much different; there is no gamesmanship advantage from falsely claiming the two guys have flipped.) Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley are both around 300 pounds but neither has demonstrated the ability to burrow down against an extended double team.
One or the other may do so this year; players are not static. I am still concerned about what happens when Michigan's defensive line meets the two ranked teams on the schedule, MSU and OSU. Both like grinding interior runs. Both overwhelmed the spine of Michigan's defense last year. Jeremy Langford had 35 carries for 183 yards with a long of just 27; Ezekiel Elliott and JT Barrett combined for 32 rushes for 218 yards.
Henry was a non-factor in both games and should help, as long as he's healthy. Otherwise the situation looks to be little different, as pretty much the same MSU and OSU OL will take on pretty much the same Michigan DL. Michigan will have to get better faster than their opponents to cope.
The 30-pound downgrade at WDE doesn't help matters, either. Michigan will have to make up for that with Peppers—see above—and hope that the Ryan/Morgan switch gives them a stouter and more reliable linebacker against the run, even if he's not quite as explosive.
This is not a situation where we can rely on a coaching upgrade. Brady Hoke was excellent at finding and developing defensive linemen, and Greg Mattison is in charge of them now. They'll be good—they were already good last year. They aren't the kind of world-wreckers that Stanford has used to beat Oregon, when they beat Oregon.
I mean… probably. Henry could get there.
Last year I projected they would kick ass. They did not because Countess was so far off expectations and Peppers got hurt, preventing him from stepping in. This year they've got Peppers back and damn near everyone else… except Clark. And that is a big loss.
If Willie Henry busts out, which I think he will, that will eat up a bunch of Clark's production. It is unlikely to get all the way, leaving Michigan trying to juggle blitzes to get adequate pass rush. That'll expose the three deep members of the secondary to repeated tests. I have faith that two of those guys will cope well… and then there's the second corner.
That spot will rankle all year, preventing Michigan's D from being truly lockdown. The good news is that the wide receivers in the league this year fail to intimidate—as do the quarterbacks. Teams that can expose that weakness will be few and far between.
More concerning is the interior line holding up against elite OLs. They did not last year. They probably won't this year, leading to a smattering disappointing performances interspersed with dominant ones.
- Older Glasgow, Wormley > younger Glasgow, Wormley
- Older Bolden > Younger Bolden
- Healthy, older Willie Henry >> Willie Henry (or ==, I dunno)
- Power Mushroom Ross > Ross/RJS
- Peppers >>> no Peppers
- Older Hill > Clark/Hill
- Stribling/Clark/Peppers in case of emergency > Countess
- Desmond Morgan == Jake Ryan
- Jourdan Lewis == Jourdan Lewis
- Jarrod Wilson == Jarrod Wilson
- Ojemudia/Marshall/RJS <<< Frank Clark
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Clark is not quite Brandon Graham but he is very good. Willie Henry busts out in a big way.
Clark was very good, but for reasons outside of his control didn't have the statistical year his play justified, and then he got kicked off the team. He was still drafted in the second round—not quite as high as Graham.
Willie Henry did not bust out largely due to injury; before that he was looking like he might be on his way. Incomplete.
Ryan makes a ton of flashy plays and in general plays at an All Big Ten level but there are a number of chunk runs that Michigan suffers because he screws up a run fit trying to be a Viking.
Correct-ish, but the problems were more in the pass game, where Ryan often got out of a zone drop.
Peppers has four sacks and seriously cuts into James Ross's playing time. We like him a lot and he is nice to have on the team. He starts off a bit shaky before rounding into a terrifying form midseason.
Peppers got hurt.
Jourdan Lewis does wrest a starting spot away from one of the incumbents by midseason and has a breakout season himself.
Michigan ramps up the aggression significantly. Sacks head to the top 20.
They tried to, but they had to back off when Peppers got hurt and Countess couldn't hack it. Sacks were 49th, but a large part of why had to do with the coverage, not the rush.
This is a top ten defense.
Technically correct in one sense: Michigan was 7th in yards per game allowed last year. In a broader sense, close but not quite. Michigan was 14th in YPP allowed. In an advanced stats sense, close or just no: Michigan was 18th in S&P, 41st in FEI. Big Ten offenses were terrible last year. I blame Peppers getting hurt.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Jourdan Lewis plays lights out and ends up in a position to consider entering the draft. All Big Ten.
- Willie Henry delivers on his promise this year, leading the team in sacks from a tough spot to do so.
- Ross == senior Stevie Brown, to put something on the record that I've implied several million times already.
- The front four demolishes teams with middling offensive lines, which will be everyone except Minnesota, OSU, and MSU; they have struggles that are deemed uncharacteristic against those three teams.
- Stribling holds the corner job, but tenuously. He gets beat a lot short because he's trying to to screw it up.
- Now it's a top ten defense that still gives up a bunch of points to OSU.
1. I bet you're mad because this isn't a spread offense amirite?
I am a spread zealot, it's true. However, I am not crazy. Therefore I am happy that Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan no matter what offense he wants to run.
Meanwhile, the Harbauffense is not a spread but neither is it the old style "expectation is for the position" offense. Harbaugh's offense has a certain reputation…
…and it does live up to that. It goes beyond that. Whereas the late Carr offenses tended to drive one thing into the ground over and over until it settled into a 3.4 YPC groove, Harbaugh loves to troll defenses with constant motion, trap blocking, and—yep—spread elements.
The Sugar Bowl demolition of a Virginia Tech team that a year later would hold Brady Hoke's first team under 200 yards of offense is the canonical example of the motion. Stanford shifted, and shifted some more, and continued shifting until grand cracks developed in VT's run fits.
That relies on the opponent screwing up because of your shifts and is not always going to happen… but it does sometimes. After Stanford had blown it open, Harbaugh deployed a play that I've used at various MGoEvents over the past few months. At each it plays like stand-up comedy:
They practiced that, and then used it as a middle finger.
[After THE JUMP: building Rome, explosions, Rudock]
Harbaugh's offenses put mental pressure on the opposition in a way that previous manball offenses at Michigan did not. This came up constantly during the Al Borges's tenure; I said that having to dodge a safety near the line of scrimmage sucked while Borges's defenders said they'd take it all day and twice on Saturday. It's clear that Harbaugh is in the former category. Like spread offenses, Harbaugh loves to screw with opposition safeties.
He is also highly flexible. If you invite him to throw, he will throw. He clearly desires quarterbacks who can grab yards on the ground, and will work towards offenses in which that is a moderately-sized component of the whole. QB rushing yards per year at various tenures, which I have not bothered to adjust for sacks:
- USD: -25, 400, 700
- Stanford: -150, 100, 350, 450
- 49ers: 180, 550, 550, 650
Harbaugh loves running his QB on third and short and will use zone read principles on occasion. Statues need not apply.
And, I mean, even the manball stuff is not garden variety. "Pro style offense" is increasingly a misnomer since it's generally used to talk about an Iowa-type outfit that operates from under center with two wide receivers instead of the passing spread that dominates the NFL. But even if we take "pro style offense" to mean 1980s NFL offense, Harbaugh doesn't fit that either. The number of pro style offenses that will happily line up in the formation generally designated "goal line" on first and ten from their own thirty is zero. Harbaugh, though:
In this Harbaugh gets some of the advantages that the spread had when it was first coming up. It was weird, and people didn't know what to do with it. This is weird, and people don't know what to do with it. If you can execute these blocks you have acquired an advantage because you've put a large man on cornerbacks who stay on the field no matter how much blocky/catchy you deploy. When those corners meet offensive linemen they go for a ride.
Not many football teams have not been able to execute these blocks well enough to make this an asset. Harbaugh's have.
I like the spread because it works. Harbaugh's offense also works. These days vanishingly few teams running traditional offenses can consistently crack the top 20 in rushing YPC. That list is basically Wisconsin, Alabama, and Stanford. Harbaugh built one of those teams from three stars. I'm cool with whatever he wants to run.
2. Can they build Rome in a day?
Much to our chagrin, Michigan fans have gotten used to the two-year process involved in digging out from a massive hole. The 2009 offense was meh but so so much better than 2008, which led to the Denard madness of 2010. The 2013 offensive line was a complete disaster; the 2014 line was meh. You don't just flip a switch; you spend a year cleaning yourself off.
I think that will be the case this year as well. So many of the problems with last year's team were players manifesting the overall chaos and incompetence of the program. Repeated failures to block the right guy on bubble screens—probably the easiest play in football to execute—stood out:
Then you had Funchess losing any ability to care and the tailbacks running at random and a much-reduced but still extant pile of OL errors and Devin Gardner. Poor Damn Devin Gardner.
Harbaugh is going to fix those things. It will take some time.
But I'm saying there's a chance. Michigan gets virtually the entire offense back save Funchess and Gardner, and the transfer of Jake Rudock is spackle for the enormous hole at quarterback. This is a veteran team all of a sudden: Michigan is set to start one underclassman (Mason Cole) against Utah, maybe two if Drake Harris beats out Jehu Chesson.
For Michigan to look HARBAUGH really quick there are four main things that have to happen:
- One of Ben Braden or David Dawson has to get good this year.
- One or more tailbacks has to go in the extant holes consistently—not even find cracks that are hard to find, just go in the damn hole the play is designed to open.
- Rudock has to be the guy I thought I saw during the UFR series on him instead of the guy Iowa fans think he is.
- They need someone to catch long passes. If the running game gets going, Jake Butt is a valid answer here.
Hitting on all of those at the same time is unlikely, but not so unlikely I discount the possibility entirely.
One other thing to consider: this might feel much better than it actually is. Michigan was close to last nationally in turnover margin a year ago and had special teams that were utterly incompetent in all the ways you gain and lose field position. They will be running downhill if those things get fixed, thus leading to lots of articles about a renaissance that hasn't quite happened.
3. Aren't we worried there will be a lack of explosion?
Next year we hope to have more than one picture of Drake Harris [Bryan Fuller]
Yes. Harbaugh's Stanford offenses got away with it because they were so damn good at doing what they do that their tight ends could double as downfield pass threats. That requires a ridiculous level of efficiency that Harbaugh only acquired in his third year. Also they had Andrew Luck.
Michigan does not have Andrew Luck and they do not project to be so good on the ground that opponents freak out about the run game to the point where TEs average almost 20 yards a catch. Neither do they have a back that feels like the kind of guy who will rip off 50-yard runs that should have been ten yard runs.
Either Drake Harris is instantly the truth—something I'm not banking on even if he remains healthy—or Michigan looks like a rich man's Iowa. Touchdown drives will be long, grinding, and relatively rare. Big plays will be thin on the ground.
That is the main hangup this year. The good news is that Michigan's defense and special teams should be well-suited to win the kind of field position battle a low-turnover, decent, boring offense will get in a lot of.
4. Which Rudock is it?
I explained most of my position in the quarterbacks preview, but I didn't offer a hot take. Here is that take: Rudock is a good, efficient, accurate quarterback who was making the best of a bad situation at Iowa. Accusations that he is a checkdown machine are vastly overstated because Iowa is in the last stages of the Ferentz death spiral.
I would like to re-iterate the pieces he was working with a year ago:
Mark Weisman, the main tailback, had the fifth-lowest "highlight yards" average in the country last year. In a nutshell, that means that once Weisman got five yards downfield he was one of the worst players in the country at getting more. That led opposing safeties to play in the parking lot. Iowa's receivers consisted of an inconsistent but promising downfield threat (Tevaun Smith), a mediocre slot receiver (Kevonte Martin-Manley), and a fast guy who was terrible at football (Demond Powell). Martin-Manley, the most frequent target, had a meh 58% catch rate despite being targeted mostly short by a very accurate QB. In pass protection, the Iowa offensive line was reminiscent of 2013 Michigan—a couple NFL draft picks at tackle and a disaster on the interior—except Brandon Scherff was no Taylor Lewan. (They were better on the ground.)
The one very bad no good read against Nebraska got inflated into a major problem when it was more likely a one-off issue; Rudock got dumped on because he was the quarterback and the quarterback always gets a disproportionate share of the credit and blame.
At Michigan, he will look like a different guy.
Rich man's Iowa it is. Michigan doesn't have the playmakers to have an excellent offense, nor will they be as efficient as they need to be if they're going to manball it the way Harbaugh wants. Those things are a year or two away.
In 2015 they will be a conservative outfit that punts after gaining 20 yards a lot. They'll grind out enough points to keep Michigan in games and win a fair few of them; they will not be mistaken for late Stanford.
Neither will they be mistaken for Actual Iowa, though: the talent is better just about everywhere. Someone in the running back corps is going to be good, and Jake Butt will paper over issues with the receiving corps because he can be that flex guy on the level of a Tyler Eifert.
It's gonna feel much better.
- Jake Rudock >>> Severely Broken, Out Of Warranty Devin Gardner
- Older Kalis, Glasgow > younger Kalis, Glasgow
- Older Cole >> freshman Cole
- Magnuson at tackle > Braden at tackle
- Healthy, older Jake Butt > ACL-recovering Jake Butt
- Williams, Poggi, Winovich, Hill > Williams, Heitzman
- Four-headed Harbaugh tailback > younger three-headed tailback
- Grant Perry == Dennis Norfleet
- Amara Darboh == Amara Darboh
- Drake Harris or Jehu Chesson <<< Devin Funchess
- Braden < Jack Miller
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Devin Funchess challenges but does not reach Jeremy Gallon's single season receiving record, and then gets drafted in the first round.
He did not challenge and got drafted in the second round. Half point for the second.
Devin Gardner is a slam dunk first team All Big Ten performer; he still makes too many bad decisions to be truly great.
- Slightly wrong. Devin Gardner was a mess.
Michigan's OL is Cole/Mags/Glasgow/Kalis/Braden for virtually the entire season unless Kalis's back flares up. If there is a change it is Glasgow shifting to RG with Miller entering at C.
Miller instead of Magnuson, but Magnuson got hurt. Pretty decent.
The running game improves significantly, starting out depressing and ugly but improving throughout the season until Michigan reclaims mediocrity at around 4.2 YPC. There is little separation between Smith and Green.
Highly accurate if you leave out the rote walkovers of Appalachian State and Miami (Not That Miami).
I complain about Norfleet being underutilized last year.
- Yep. Gimme, though.
Sacks plummet to the surprise of all. Cole is overmatched by elite rushers but handles the rank and file just fine; Braden is a bit of an issue that Michigan covers with tight ends. Tailback pass blocking gets so much better that it makes up for losing the tackles and then some.
Accurate. Michigan was middle of the pack in sacks allowed.
Michigan has a great passing offense, scraping the top ten in YPA.
My main error last year was not accounting for the fact that 2013 might ruin a quarterback in much the same way being on the front lines of World War I would.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Rudock starts the whole year and turns in a season like last year at Iowa except more efficient: 60% completions, 8 YPA, excellent TD/INT.
- Glasgow and Kalis perform excellently, with Glasgow getting drafted in the middle rounds.
- Both Braden and Dawson play early in the season, with Braden eventually winning the battle.
- Jake Butt leads the team in receptions and wins the Mackey award.
- De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson emerge into the two main backs, with Smith getting a plurality of carries because he's healthy to start.
- Ty Isaac functions as a weird H-back hybrid guy and third down back and makes 30-40 catches.
- The run game moves up to good-ish, as Michigan approaches five yards a carry but doesn't get there.
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Kenny Allen||Jr*||Blake O'Neill||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*|
|Kyle Seychel||Fr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Andrew David||Fr||Jehu Chesson||Jr*||Jehu Chesson||Jr*|
No coaching upgrade on the team is steeper than special teams. Under Brady Hoke and Dan Ferrigno, Michigan featured adequate kicking and terrible everything else. Their usual MO was one blocked punt against an early tomato can, archaic punt coverage that was terrible even with 11 guys on the field, and return units that did little except take penalties when Dennis Norfleet finally managed to escape from ravenous packs of defenders.
John Baxter's Fresno State teams led the country in blocked kicks over the course of his tenure there—one that overlaps with Virginia Tech at its Beamerball peak—and in his only year at USC took their special teams units from nowhere to 2nd and 4th in the country in blocked punts and kicks, respectively. Special teams is a low data, high variance enterprise but if anyone's got the track record to suggest he's going to make an impact, it's Baxter.
Now about that scholarship kicker…
The holder becomes the holdee [Fuller]
This is looking hairy all of a sudden. Scholarship freshman ANDREW DAVID was immediately dumped well down the depth chart, and Michigan must turn to the walk-ons that populate any D-I team's kicking roster. One, KENNY ALLEN [hello post], was the heir apparent at punter until John Baxter rolled into town with an Aussie in tow; the other, KYLE SEYCHEL, is a redshirt freshman who fans didn't even know was on the team until fall camp.
Reports out of said camp have been worried. Those coming out of the open practice were mixed, but guys who had been around for more than a few attempts were disquieted. There are reports Michigan is reconsidering their decision to forgo a scholarship guy in the 2016 class. That is not a good sign. Neither is that OR on the depth chart.
"I dunno, is kicker" is always a valid thing to say about kickers you have not seen much of; in this case I'm just hoping for a guy to bang them in from 40 yards and in.
wait isn't this guy in twilight or something [Eric Upchurch]
The OR is much more welcoming at this spot. Things are looking just fine at punter despite the departures of both Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Allen has been booming punts in practice for a few years now, and during the Hoke era we saw a lot of punts in practice.
And then there's that imported Aussie. BLAKE O'NEILL [g'day mate post] comes from a land down under where small children carry around football-shaped objects to punt at anything they run across that is poisonous. Everything in Australia is poisonous. (Yes, especially the koalas.) When the survivors reach adulthood, the resulting skills are impressive:
Asked if the 6-foot-2, 215-pound kicker is the type of special teams player who can change a game, Baxter nods, saying, "He's that."
"Listen," he continued, "if you put a trashcan out there 40 yards, he can usually hit it, OK? He's as accurate, and in some cases more accurate than, the quarterbacks."
O'Neill's first year in college football was last year, when he did this at Weber State:
O'Neill finished sixth nationally (Football Championship Subdivision) in punting during the 2014 season at Weber State. He played in all 12 games and averaged 44.1 yards per punt, setting a single-season punting average record for the Wildcats.
O'Neill tallied 62 punts for 2,737 yards with a long of 74 yards. He boomed 18 punts of 50-plus yards and notched 25 boots inside the opposition's 20-yard line. O'Neill ran for a first down on a fake punt and tossed a completion for a first down on another fake.
Are you ready for some punting highlights? Woo!
AUSSIE PUNTS: SKY TERRITORY sounds like a Chuck Norris movie
Not sure if he's going to be able to do the thing where he idles for a couple seconds before he punts at at D-I level, but Michigan now has a special teams coach with a terrific track record. If he can make it so, it will be so.
O'Neill can rugby punt with either foot and his directional kicking skills in the video above are creepy, Orin Incandenza-level stuff. Real life Blake O'Neill probably isn't going to be good as a fictional punter who is the highest paid player in the NFL. Probably.
[After THE JUMP: gratuitously placed Jabrill Peppers highlights designed to make you click through mooohahaha]
RETURN UNITS: CANNAH GET A HOT TUB TAKE TWO
LET'S GOOOOOOOO [Fuller]
Jabrill Peppers got one return in last year before he was dinged and then done for the season. It didn't get that far but was enticing all the same:
He sailed past those first two guys, and if you can do that on the regular you are going to have a good time returning punts. Also:
Peppers should have an impact even in the modern million-gunner world. He's listed with an OR next to Jehu Chesson, and I like Jehu Chesson, but cumong man. Unless he can't field them consistently it's going to be Peppers.
I'm not sure how much impact a special teams coach can have on this aspect of the game, since the schemes are all "try to get in this guy's way as he runs 40 yards downfield." Meanwhile the spread punt has nerfed return games nationwide. Last year's preview:
In just the last five years, punt return rate has dropped from 41% to 33% as the spread punt's tendrils reach across the nation, and the drop would be much more drastic than that if you took touchbacks out of the equation.
Still, there's a ton of upside here. Since Norfleet's touchdown against Maryland was erased by a block in the back, last year's returns consist of one 32-yarder from Ben Gedeon off a block in the Appalachian State game and just 13 others for 4.3 yards a pop. This was somehow worse than last year's numbers, which featured another touchdown block return and 18 additional attempts for 4.7 yards each.
This will be an interesting test bed for the possibility that coaching matters in this department. If Baxter can free up Peppers just a few times a game the payoff entices.
Kickoff And Punt Coverage
If Michigan doesn't block and cover better this year I am going to start grumbling about Dan Ferrigno.
"Grumble" was putting it mildly after Michigan conjured this up:
Everyone knows that is ten guys playing a sport in which you're allowed eleven, but also consider that this was yet another punt on which Michigan had two guys within 30 yards of the returner on the catch. That was above average for the Ferrigno era:
Last year Michigan was 97th in FEI's fancy punt efficiency metric, which was all the more impressive with Will Hagerup ending up 29th in raw average. Under Ferrigno, Michigan finished 97th, 60th, 91st, and 83rd. On the bright side, that's incredible consistency for such a low-sample, swingy thing like punt returns. That's the ticket.
Baxter used spread punting at USC a couple years ago and should bring that to Michigan. I say "should" because Harbaugh, bless his heart, has omitted punting from any open practice he's had since his arrival. That will significantly perk up the coverage teams, if there are even any punts to return.
BLOCKY BLOCKY TEAMS
This preview has never considered the idea that Michigan might go block a bunch of kicks and turn games around. This is because Michigan has never really done that. Occasionally they would overwhelm the special teams unit of a lower-level team. I can't remember the last time Michigan blocked a kick in a real game. 2008 Northwestern?
[Consults with MGoTeam] Best we've got since Brandon Graham got punts in back to back games against Penn State and Illinois is an extra point against MSU and a field goal in the Outback Bowl and some punters fumbling snaps. God. Five years of nothing, and no returns, and… ugh. Baxter feels it too:
"I do feel like we can make an impact," he said. "It's upsetting to me that the last time we returned a punt or a kick was in 2007 and 2008. The last time we returned a field goal for a score was 2003. That's way too long. I can tell you this: we can approach this camp and this season with tremendous urgency. When those things happen, it's when they happen, but I can tell you that we expect it tomorrow."
I have no idea what to expect here, but "something" is a massive improvement already.
Last year I told you to bet on Beckman, which was correct... in a sense
I thought a fourth kid had put me into full-fledged retirement, but apparently there are few of you degenerates out there who still think this is good advice to put your [theoretical] dollars behind. Here it is, your 2015 Stock Watch.
Before we get into this season, the annual transparent review of the prior year’s predictions:
I may not be sold on Tim Beckman, but my numbers are high on [no longer] his Illinois team this year. 762 out of 1,000 scenarios run have the Illini exceeding their projected 4.5 wins this year, with over half putting Illinois in line for a bowl bid.
A big ball of mediocre. Even more pronounced than the Big Ten, I have everyone but BC (over 4.5 wins) within 1.2 games of the Vegas win total. On top of that, 9/14 teams are predicted between 3-5 and 5-3 in conference.
The Pac 12
the numbers like Cal a lot more and Colorado a lot less than the projected win totals.
One of my biggest sells of the season are the Spartans with only 5.5% of simulations seeing the Spartans exceed their 9.5 win projection.
The model is predicting about 9 wins and a virtual tie with Oklahoma, right behind predicted frontrunner Baylor.
After picking Tennessee to breakout in previous years, the model has given up on the Volunteers this season, along with Les Miles’ LSU squad. Two teams projected to overachieve, are league favorite Auburn, which despite a brutal schedule, the model pegs at 10.5 wins, a full 1.5 wins above Vegas along with the rebuilding Kentucky Wildcats.
2015: The Season At Hand, and Other Obvious Subtitles
Buying one, selling the other Pac-12 opponent
Every year in the offseason I test my preseason prediction model, tweaking the coefficients to match the model with the most accurate prediction. Usually it’s just a small move here or there, not really amounting to much. This year I looked at a new variable I called MVP effect. MVP effect looks at the points per play for all QBs and RBs on an offense. Each players’ PPP on their carries+passes is compared versus what the PPP for the team on all other players. This is the gap. The gap is then multiplied by the numbers of plays that the player was responsible for to get their total contribution. I plugged in the MVP stat and took out any stats dealing with returning QBs+RBs and saw a 2.3% reduction in total offense prediction error, and a 2.0% reduction in total error. A pretty big jump for a well-established model. This is part of the reason you’ll see some of these teams as buys or sells.
Return a lot of key pieces on offense and the defense was pretty bad and just hired a new head coach who’s not too bad at coaching that side of the ball.
Selling: Virginia Tech
I know they were young last year, but it’s been a long time since this was a good offensive team and don’t know that the defense can get them over 8 wins.
Buying: Illinois, again
See 2014 notes. For the second straight year they have a 50/50 shot at a bowl game. And they don't have Beckman. Congrats Illini fans?
Selling: Indiana, Wisconsin
See the MVP effect. Tevin Coleman is gone and who is going to generate the Indiana offense? Corey Clement will surely pile up the stats again, but there was a big gap between Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement in PPP and I can’t see the QB play making up the difference. The West is thoroughly mediocre but I have serious doubts about Wisconsin’s ability to stay above the fray.
Selling: West Virginia, kind of TCU
Like Virginia Tech, I don’t see how West Virginia is getting past 8 wins. I think TCU will be good, my season simulations have them as the 3rd most likely team to reach the playoff. The problem is that they are the least talented team in the top ten and despite massive productivity last season, I think Trevone Boykin is due for some serious regression. Definitely a chance I am wrong on TCU but I think they have the most downside risk of any of the major preseason contenders.
Buying: Oregon St
Here’s the MVP effect working in reverse. Sean Mannion was not good for the Beavers last year and now he is gone. A redistribution of the offense should bode well for Oregon St.
Michigan’s other Pac-12 opponent falls on the other side of the ledger. I don’t think Utah was as good as their record last year and another team who is going to fighting uphill in terms of talent for most of their schedule.
Going back to the Malzahn well one more time. Elite talent, elite offensive scheme. 8.5 wins is very doable, even with a tough schedule.
Selling: Arkansas, kind of Texas A&M
Arkansas’s weird season last year has been well documented as several services have vastly overcorrected heading into 2015. Taking the over on 8 wins means you are predicting the Hogs to go at least 5-3 against the SEC West schedule. A&M has a weird setup. Like A&M there is a lot of potential and risk on the roster, I don’t think A&M win total is that far off (they’re the only team on this list where my pick is within 1.5 games of Vegas) but at +200 on the under, sign me up.
Last year I brought in one of my favorite heuristics: your national champion will be on the short list of most talented, experienced rosters. It is now 11 straight years that the national championship has ranked in the top 10 for roster talent (recruiting rankings adjusted for age) and 9 of 11 where the winner has been top 4 on at least one side of the ball. Last season OSU paid at 25/1 by checking in at #4 overall and top 4 on offense.
Here are this year’s top 10 with Top 4 O/D noted.
- Ohio St (O/D)
- Michigan (O/D)
- Alabama (D)
- USC (O)
- Auburn (O)
- Florida St (D)
- Notre Dame
My season simulations have Baylor, TCU, Oregon and Michigan St all with good shots at making the playoff (and odds much higher than several of the teams on this list). It’s not impossible that one of those four wins it all, but it would be the first time in a long time that it’s happened.
Will this one simple trick turn your under achieving team into a contender?
My model loves talented, under-achieving teams (see Texas, Michigan) and it has had some of its biggest misses on teams like this. Michigan will be a big test this season. There are two general ways it can go, depending on what your underlying opinion of the team is.
1. Brady Hoke was a terrible evaluator and developer of talent and the talent Michigan has on paper is a mirage and it’s going to take a couple years to get back on top.
2. Brady Hoke was just a terrible coach and the talent on roster is there, but as yet untapped, especially on offense. It’s less about a Harbaugh turnaround than it is about a loss of Hoke and anything from Harbaugh is gravy this year.
I tend to side with #2. It’s hard to believe that all the talent on the roster were misses. Add to that the defense was pretty good already and you have an opportunity waiting to be exploited and the perfect coach to do so. All preseason predictions tend to take last year’s record as status quo, adjust for the general consensus of returners versus departures and everyone ends up in roughly the spot they started it, adjusting for maybe a game or two in the standing.
If there is ever a case to throw out last year’s record as a starting point it’s this situation. A veteran team, low hanging fruit on turnovers and special teams, a proven defense and an offense that has talent but not production and a coach who has excelled on that side of the ball.
Put me down for 9 wins and a 1-1 record against Michigan State and Ohio State. It’s optimism, it’s the model, it’s the hope that #4 will get decent quarterbacking out of the team and the rest of the team can showcase the talent and experience they have on paper.
we have very reasonable expectations [Fuller]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
|Dymonte Thomas||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Wayne Lyons||Sr.*|
|Wayne Lyons||Sr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Dymonte Thomas||Jr.|
So, JARROD WILSON…
Never be too proud to recycle a joke, I say. I know what you animals want. You want the man I've listed on half the depth charts in this preview, most of them at least semi-seriously. You want…
HYBRID SPACE PLAYER: NICKELBACK WITHOUT THE NICKELBACK CONNOTATIONS, YOU KNOW, THE BAND, BOY DOES THAT BAND SUCK THEY'RE JUST NOT GOOD AT MUSIC OR BEING ALIVE
Everyone all together now: the hybrid space player is a reaction to the spread offense. He must be a triple threat, capable of blitzing, playing the run, and covering. He is very very important. They made Charles Woodson into a hybrid space player right before he was the NFL's defensive MVP, because the NFL is basically a passing spread league:
NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.
Michigan State's lack of appropriate HSPs last year led their defense to get torched by every decent spread they came across, because said spreads would put their #1 receiver in the slot and run 'em at MSU's inexperienced safeties, who were not cornerbacks. This has been your hybrid space player preview review.
So… JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile]. This is a man that has been hyped to the moon. Tellingly, his coaches aren't trying to put the brakes on. They have in fact shoveled on a little more coal. Harbaugh in spring:
"He’s been A-plus, he really has, all spring. He was just out there taking reps. … A lot of times a guy’ll get in the front of a drill, which he would do, but he would go through the repetition of the drill and I’d see him back in the front again and then again. It’s like, ‘Hey, come on. Jabrill Peppers isn’t taking every rep in these drills.’ But that’s the kind of youngster he is."
Harbaugh again in this fall:
"He's been good, he's been all the things that have been advertised about him. He's a tremendous football player."
The spring game indicated that Michigan had in fact built its defense around him playing HSP/nickel/whatever:
Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
That was the plan last year as well, but even before he got hurt Michigan was forced to adapt. Press coverage was a disaster in the Notre Dame game and Raymon Taylor was out, so Peppers was delployed as a boundary corner in the Miami (Not That Miami) game. (That's a spot he may resume if things don't go well with Stribling and Clark; he has been repping there a bit this fall.)
Miami did people wishing to have any useful scouting from Peppers's freshman year a favor by going at him over and over again on the usually-sound principle that freshmen seeing their first extended action should be slow-roasted until they can be pulled apart with forks. That didn't go the way the Redhawks thought it might.
They did get one completion on him, that a bullet skinny post against zone that Peppers still got a rake in on. His first extended playing time looked pretty damn exciting, and then his knee locked up and it was goodbye season. There are a ton of fascinating counterfactuals from the last year of Michigan football; "what if Jabrill Peppers is healthy?" is one of the best. Does he end up the starting running back halfway through the season? Does Michigan lose to Rutgers? (A: no.) Does Brady Hoke eke out his job at 7-5?
Anyway. That's in the past.
Also in the past is his high school scouting, but other than a bunch of talk and those clips above it's all we have to go on. Also it is fun to revisit, so let's revisit it.
"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
And this player comparison is a damn good one.
"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
That remains the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or Woodson. Judges will accept either.
I know it's a lot to heap on a dude who's barely seen the field but every indicator from the program is that this gentleman is the real deal both on and off the field. He will start living up to the hype this year.
[After THE JUMP: how many shoes are you wearing stop throwing them]
Michigan doesn't have another Peppers in the wings. Obviously. Should he get knocked out again—please no—Michigan would likely reduce their nickel snaps and go with a corner-type dude on passing downs, whether that's JEREMY CLARK or WAYNE LYONS or whoever.
Meanwhile in people you will forget about the instant after finishing this post, JARROD WILSON is a senior and three-year starter. You wouldn't know it because he is the dry white toast to Peppers's Flavortown USA, but Wilson is pretty good. Long plays last year were 1) quite infrequent (Michigan was 13th in 20+ and 7th in 30+ yard plays allowed) and 2) almost always not his deal.
We know this because lots of them were obvious; we asked after the ones that weren't and Greg Mattison respected the assembled media enough to tell us. So when Rutgers hits an 80 yard touchdown, this is what happened from the horse's mouth:
…we called a defense where a safety would be lower than usual to be able to help with the run and we didn’t get inside enough with another defensive back… The guy- we bit on it and they hit. And that’s what happened.
The worst thing I've got for him on a long play is a bad pursuit angle on a screen that went down the sideline. Compared to the decade pre-Kovacs that is unbelievable.
Wilson's worst outings at Michigan came when he got stuck in man coverage on Maxxxxx Williams and when Indiana tempoed the entire defense to death; one is not his specialty and the other is on Brady Hoke more than anyone. Michigan inexplicably pulled him for guys who played much, much worse than him shortly after the Indiana game in 2013, because it was panic time. I don't think that reflects on him.
Wilson is not the kind of guy who is going to be very comfortable rolling down into the box. That'll get him in man coverage, something he hasn't been great at:
In zone he rarely ends up circled on a replay, but PBUs like this are equally rare:
Wilson isn't the proverbial playmaker. Anonymous Big Ten opponent again:
"There's no one that really hits you like some teams so you knew you could get away with going over the middle or going up for a ball because you weren't going to take a lick. Some teams have these safeties that will just kill you, but Michigan wasn't one of them. They did have a guy [Jarrod Wilson] that was around the ball a lot but he wasn't a headhunter."
That's accurate. Wilson does not put the fear of God into guys coming across the middle. He neither MAKES PLAYS or MAKES PLAYS FOR THE OTHER TEAM.
Jarrod Wilson is This Is Fine if the building wasn't on fire.
This is fine.
Delano Hill has his Greg Oden face on [Eric Upchurch]
Peppers is nominally the other starting safety. He'll be in the box the whole time, though. When Michigan plays nickel, which will be a lot, DELANO HILL [recruiting profile] is set to get a bunch of snaps as a deep safety.
Hill was supposedly the leading candidate for the job next to Wilson last year until he broke his jaw just before the season. He missed the first couple games as a result and then bounced from the starting lineup to second string the rest of the season, switching with Jeremy Clark. (Part of the reason he got bounced around: a one game suspension for Maryland.) In his time he acquired 20 tackles… and did almost nothing I noticed. I have one clip that even involves him, a deep sideline route he couldn't get over to in time:
Not ideal; sophomore safeties in their first playing time have done worse, especially since in a sane world he'd have been a redshirt freshman:
• Earned first varsity letter
• Appeared in one game as a reserve linebacker
• Also contributed on special teams.
Marcus Ray has been very high on Hill for a year now, pumping him up as Michigan's best safety period… including Peppers.
That said, according to former All-American Marcus Ray another defensive actually earned the distinction of the spring’s top performer. Ray highlighted junior safety Delano Hill as the most consistent play-maker and on the back end and as a strong candidate for a move up the depth chart.
That is a bit hyperbolic, and we know from hyperbolic since we just talked about Peppers. Still, there was a consistent drumbeat of support last year and this fall Greg Jackson also made encouraging noises:
“He has got a bundle of talent,” Michigan defensive backs coach Greg Jackson said of Hill. “He just needs to focus each and every day, take one play at a time, and practice as a hard as he can. He can play so many different positions, which is a bonus for us. When you have a safety that can play dime, nickel or safety it’s great. You have two guys back there that can do all of those things.”
Moving Jeremy Clark, who started six games a year ago, to corner is another indicator of the faith Michigan is putting in Hill.
If he's mentally ready Hill provides an enticing physical package. He outran a lot of corners when he showed up at The Opening as a recruit and sounds a bit like Ray himself in scouting reports:
Hill is an aggressive run defender with good zone coverage skills; also displays the athletic skills needed to cover inside receivers. … a tough customer who demonstrates open field tackling skills … His run support is outstanding; will come up and force off the edge while demonstrating quickness filling the ally; is a very aggressive downhill run defender with the ability to move through traffic; displays very good long pursuit ability.
If Ray sees himself in Delano Hill… that would be just fine with me.
Hill should acquire either most of the nickel snaps or most snaps, period, depending on whether Michigan can make the Clark/Stribling boundary corner setup work. He will probably be less reliable than Wilson due to inexperience, but maybe he will make up for it by being able to make plays—something Michigan safeties have not been known for since I've been paying attention.
DYMONTE THOMAS [recruiting profile] is another guy in the the Aargh Y U NO Redshirt club, one especially painful because he's a terrific athlete who hasn't yet found the consistency he needs to see the field.
He saw a reasonable amount of time last year, especially late. Like the rest of Michigan's safeties his season was defined by the things he didn't do well instead of the plays he made. In Thomas's case the errors were frequent enough to draw mention.
Here he threatens to turn a first down into a very big play by losing contain on a jet sweep:
That's basic, and he didn't even make it particularly difficult for the guywith the ball to read. He just set up inside.
This kind of errant run fill isn't something we've seen from Wilson or Hill. (Clark was guilty of a couple.)
For big portions of last year it looked like he didn't quite know what he was seeing. He'd run a zone, see nobody anywhere near him, and just kind of stand around instead of trying to adapt his coverage to the situation. On that jet sweep above he waits for the hit and gets sealed inside instead of doing something, anything. He's far behind the other guys when it comes to understanding what the defense is trying to accomplish.
None of that is too surprising since he was a high school running back and linebacker. There have been the occasional blips of encouragement for him. Sam Webb:
While some have labeled Thomas a disappointment so far in his career, I can confirm that the new staff really, really likes what he brings to the table. The issue for him has been the fact that he's been moved around so consistently and hasn't been focused or told to focus on only one position.
Aargh /throws dart at Hoke dartboard.
Thomas's physical skills are not in doubt. He is of course the gentleman who did this en route to blowing that redshirt:
That is a punt on which Thomas hit the ball—with his foot!—before the punter did. If we could just harness that energy into something approximating consistency… man.
Thomas will get rotation snaps at safety and hopefully prove more consistent. While he waits for a shot created by Wilson's departure, look for Jon Baxter to use Thomas as a block generator on special teams. He can obviously do it, and now Michigan cares to try to make plays here. But that's another post.
WAYNE LYONS [hello post] and TYREE KINNEL [recruiting profile] round out the depth chart. Lyons was supposed to be in a battle for the starting corner job with Blake Countess; Countess transferred and Lyons has been taking backup safety snaps. I don't know what that means for the team; it's not good for Lyons. Lyons had a rep as a guy who had great athleticism but tended to get beat deep. If the "beat deep" is taking precedence; time will be scarce for him.
True freshman Kinnel could play some this year without it being a total disaster, but hopefully there's no need and he gets a redshirt. Long term he could be a non-Superman version of Peppers: a hybrid space player.