"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Do not read if you only care about the next 2 years - Michigan football will be a veteran group. However, due to the disaster class of 2010 and resulting imbalanced classes the 2017 squad could be among the youngest we've seen in a while. Hence the 2015 and 2016 classes will be critical to make 2017 (2018) a success; we need both the correct positions filled, and a great majority of those players to "hit".
Below is a table showing each position and who on the current roster + the six 2015 commits fits into those positions (excluding kickers). As I was doing my position by position analysis for 2015-2016 I unfortunately noticed some serious "donut holes" (i.e. upperclassmen not followed by a bevy of underclassmen) in quite a few spots, bringing up some similar worries to the 2013-2014 OL situation.
Per the MGo depth chart here is how many openings we currently have in each recruiting class (of course there will be attrition to increase the #s) but it showcases the massive departures post 2016.
- 2015: 12 (this assumes both Glasgows and Kerridge get scholarships as they should and accounts for Bosch/Ferns departues) - 6 spots are already filled
- 2016: 17
- 2017: 26(!)
- 2018: 18
Put another way 43 (17+26) current scholarship players will use up eligibility by the end of 2016. That's 50% of the roster - and it's not far away. Hence a very young 2017 squad. Normally it would be something closer to 38-42%.
Again reverse engineering:
- A 2015 recruit will be either be a true JR or RS SO in 2017 - that's fine, but currently we only have room for 12 of them and 1 is a kicker.
- A 2016 recruit will be either a true SO or RS FR in 2017, not ideal for front line starter especially for line play or places like safety.
So a lot of the 2015 and 2016 recruits will be playing in 2017 with those class designations just due to vacancies.
|FB||1||Above Ave||W. Shallman|
|WR||6||Average||J. Dukes, R. Douglas, F. Canteen,|
|D. Harris, M. Ways, B. Cole|
|TE||2||Above Ave||K. Hill, I. Bunting|
|OT||5||Average||M. Cole, C. Fox, LTT, JBB, G. Newsome|
|OG||3||Above Ave||D. Dawson, D. Samuelson, J. Runyan|
|C||1||Above Ave||P. Kugler|
|NT||2||Urgent||B. Mone, B. Pallante|
|DE||2||Urgent||H. Poggi, L. Marshall|
|LB||4||Above Ave||M. McCray, C. Winovich, N. Furbush,|
|CB||3||Above Ave||R. Dawson, J. Peppers, B. Watson|
Surprising areas of concern - DTs and RBs.
- I've been in the camp that this class is so small we don't need a RB. I was wrong. We have 1 - count him - 1 RB on the roster for 2017. You need 3 to account for injuries and competition. Due to small class size can only take 1 this year but we probably need 2 next year to account for 1 of those 3 not "hitting".
- Our DTs are loaded for 2015-2016. But they almost all go away by end of 2016. For some reason we were not recruiting this position under Hoke for the 2015 class. (Swim lanes Brady! Swim lanes!) Do we really want RS FR or true SO starters on the interior of the line? It's not ideal - we've been overpowered there so often the past 2 years. We need a 2015 DT who will be a true JR or RS SO in 2017. And the 2016 class of DTs - probably 3 of them - will be primary backups even as true SO or RS FR. This all assumes Mone doesn't blow up the next 2 years and goes pro. In that case, well it gets worse.
Major areas of concern - S and DE, CB*
- No surprise on the DEs. With the misses of Hand, McDowell (who is probably more of a DT down the road), and now Roseboro we are thin in 2015 (4 DEs on roster), and very thin in 2016 (3). An urgent need for both the 2015 AND 2016 recruiting classes.
- S is scary. Again boggling why we stopped recruiting Montae Nicholson. At this point Kinnel is starting in 2017 no matter how good he is and his running mate at the other S is a blank space. If we don't have room for a 2nd safety in 2015 it will be a true SO or RS FR from 2016's class next to Kinnel - ugh. Assuming Kinnel is not a miss. And those 2 guys will be backed up by solely class of 2016 guys in 2017. The first solution coming to mind is "convert some corners" - well we don't have any to convert - we are thin at corner too!
- CB* - I am placing this here because of the increased reliance on 3 CB defensive sets... and Peppers. If Peppers leaves for the NFL you basically have 2 CBs - Brandon Watson and Reon Dawson. For 3 spots (incl a nickelback). That math doesn't work. We need 5 to account for flameouts and injuries. We will be young herein 2017 - again.
Hate to say it but some attrition in the next few weeks would do the balance of the depth chart between years some good in the long term.
Ignoring names here is what is most urgent in the 2015 class in the remaining 6 slots. I am creating an "up to" 9 slots for an "up to" 15 person class, assuming "up to"3 attritions from here. I mean we are not going to say no to Clark and TE is a need but in the big picture unfortunately we have needs even greater than TE (not that TE is not a need, we only have 2 of those in 2017)
- S #2 (S #1 is Kinnel)
- DE #1 (was Roseboro)
- DT #1
- CB #1 (was Taylor or Crawford)
- RB #1 (was Weber)
- LB #1 (was Kirkland Jr)
- CB #2 (was Taylor or Crawford)
- DE #2
- Best available player - Clark
*No room for a 2nd OG - this means Dawson, Samuleson Runyan are your only choices for 2 starters in 2017 unless we have a RS FR starting from the 2016 class. Not preferred.
*No room for a 2nd LB to provide competition and account for injuries and flameouts. So the 2016 LBs - true SO or RS FR will be at minimum key backups. People want to convert Furbush to fix the DE issue but we have a LB issue too - 4 guys for 3 slots.
*No room for a center so if Kugler is a flameout or is hurt not sure what we do here - you would normall say "convert a guard" but we only will have 3 of those so it's a class of 2016 RS FR or true SO backing up Kugler.
*No room for a FB on a manball team. In theory you could get a walkon in 2015 but for now it's Shallman backed up by a class of 2016 FB in 2017.
The curse of the 2010 class continues to haunt us.
The second part of the scheme, we are going to look at the Florida State game. While I focused on the front 7 in the Alabama's post, I'm going to focus on the exotic parts of Durkin's game in this post. As usual Durkin ran the 3-4 under on almost every 1st down. It's on 3rd down against a NFL ready QB is where Durkin convinced me he is going to be a HC one day. He played the ultimate game of chess against Jameis, and as a coach should he won every single time. When I say he was always one step ahead, he was. He knew what checks Jameis would resort too based of off previous knowledge, and had the perfect counter every single time.
In this game they assigned the Sam to follow the Tight End post huddle who happened to be their second leading receiver on the season. Creating what you would call a normal 3-4 Over look, but the Defensive Line and Line Backers never shift out of the normal 3-4 Under alignment, and if the Tight End motions post snap the Sam never follows. Durkin has learned from that Alabama game, and I didn't see him have his LB following a motioned Tight End the rest of the season, he got beat deep on the first play of Alabama game, and never allowed his defense to be beat that way again.
Okay, on the first 3rd & 6 Jameis is facing a front he hasn’t seen from Florida.. Florida has the Defensive End standing, and have put the Mike right on top of the Center. Showing a heavy pressure look but a completely even one blitzing wise. You have what you call immediate threats, each side had two with the Mike in the middle. Once Jameis makes his blitz protection calls and switches the blitz pickup, Florida shifts into a completely different look, bringing 7 in the box, overloading the right side of the Offensive Line. This creates a situation where the Left Tackle & Running Back doubles a Defensive End, the Center & Left Guard doubling the Nose Tackle, and the Right Guard being left to block both the Mike & Will. This almost forces an interception, and but settled on being a 3 & Out.
On the very next drive Jameis is facing a 3rd and 8, and Florida again comes out in the look they showed on the previous drive. FSU comes out in a Bunch Left look which should based on the pre-snap look should flood the middle. Florida only rushes 3 while FSU only sends out 3 WR's, the numbers every coach wants. Florida does what I like to call Charka defense, it’s where the LB’s play three level of zones directly on top of each other. They have one spy and then blitz, one play shallow for quick posts and then blitz, and one plays man to man on the first WR who crosses into his zone. He throws an interception to the deep post who had ran a deeper route than Jameis expected because of how crowded the middle was.
On the next drive Jameis facing a 3rd and 11 sees the same front he's faced the previous 3rd downs. He goes to the Line of Scrimmage checks out, because of how bad it was I'm not sure what he checked into. Florida only sends four and has immediate a-gap pressure from the who is there almost as soon as Jameis catches the snap. He manages to break the sack and just throws it away, causing another 3 and Out with a win on 3rd down.
And finally, facing 3rd & Goal, Durkin comes out in the same pre-snap look as he have before. FSU comes out in an empty look, the Sam that has been following the Tight End in coverage all game is assigned to blitz this time, with the Free Safety asked to roll over and play Man to Man on the Tight End. Jameis comes up to identify the Sam & Will shifting his entire OL to the left to accommodate pending blitz. The Mike comes free, every WR is covered, Jameis just makes a tough throw to the TE scoring a TD. This was a perfect defensive call, and on 4 consecutive 3rd and distance Durkin called up the same front and ran 4 different defenses. With 1 Interception, 2 Incompletion, and 1 TD(on an impossibly hard catch), I believe he confused the most NFL ready QB since Luck. He knew Jameis had the ability to change protection schemes, and used that as his advantage.
This is my first diary, I am sorry if the up to par. I'll attempt to get better with each one I make explaining things in better detail, or simplifying things if need be. Or futhering explinations on others.
Since JH was hired, I have spent time watching Florida game film seeing what type of defense Durkin might run. While everything you've read on him online says he runs a 4-3 scheme, from the tape I've watched I've come to the conclusion this is a 3-4 Under scheme almost akin to what the 49ers ran. I heavily broke down Florida's games against Alabama, Missouri, Florida State, and East Carolina to see how they've handled the four main offensive systems in football. A smash mouth run game, a spread passing attack, a pro style route tree, and a no huddle offense. I'll start this by showing his tape against Alabama.
What I've noticed is he doesn't deviate from 4 basic coverages. Quarters, Cover 3 Press, Cover 1, and his favorite blitz is the Fire Blitz from the QB's blind side. He hardly ever runs Man Under, Tampa 2, or Cover 0. He values speed and isn't against running a 3-4 with 3-3-5 personnel. After the first touchdown by Alabama, I found him running 3-3-5 personnel, on around 75% of the snaps, occasionally using a 4-2-5. While they'll never call it that, I expect the 3-3-5 to be Michigan's most used personnel grouping in 2015. I hope that doesn't scare anyone because this was one of the most fundementally sound defenses I've seen. I seen few blitzes out of him, he sent 3 on more snaps than he sent 5 on. He makes that up by changing which 4 he sends and by rotating out his players a lot. It's not
On Alabama's first snap of the game they broke with 11 personnel, which is 3 WR's, 1 TE, and 1 RB. They created a twist by showing a Empty look, and then motioned the TE to the opposite side and the Mike followed him in man coverge and was out of place immediately post snap. They were in a Cover 1 with the Sam & RCB playing Press, and the LCB and FS playing off. Alabama runs a screen to the right with the TE and RB with the opposite side doing what the defense presumes to be a Shallow Cross. The Mike who was assigned to spy Sims dropping back to take away the first read, and the screen being well covered, Kenyan Drake ran a well timed double move route beating the cheating LCB and SS deep for an 87 yard touch down. The SS being out of position stemmed from the motion pre-snap, he looked there immediately post snap becoming flat footed and out of position deep.
On Alabama's third drive of the game they faced a 2nd and 3. As usual with Alabama they rolled out a 6th OL and a TE in the pistol. Florida responded with their usual 3-4 Under look, but with a unique twist they subsituted a LB for a safety in the box. They also only had 10 men on the field for this snap. That doesn't matter as much because this play is a schametic marvel. Alabama is running a Run, Option, Hitch play. Where Sims can hand it off, keep it for an option, or throw a quick out/hitch to either WR. They crash of all their LB's into the gaps and left the WR's on man to man coverage. Instead of press, they back up the CB's almsot forcing Sims to throw the quick out which is the correct read based on the defensive look he was seeing at the time. But, to his surprise the subbed FS immediately pull up, and the CB crashes causing what should be an automatic first down just a 2 yard gain.
Later in the game facing 2 WR - 2 TE - 1 RB, Florida comes out in the 3-4 Under look again, once again with an FS subbed in as a LB. Once again the LB's play sound gap technique forcing only a 2 yard run on an inside zone. Alabama calls a no huddle, and runs a play action off ot the inside zone which the FS immediately sniffs out playing perfect contain on Sims getting 5 yards of penetration as soon as the fake was done. This forced blake to nervously throw the ball away which was tipped and intercepted by Florida's defense. Subbing in the speed of a FS to play contain absolutely amazing adjustment against a team that was running Inside Zone and showing Empty looks out of the same 11 personnel.
Finally,in a tied game on a 1st and 10 Alabama ran no huddle after a 3rd and 1 pickup with 6 Offensive Linemen, a TE, 2 WR's, and a RB. Florida responded by bringing 9 in the box, arguably 10. Once again the FS is playing as a LB in his 3-4 under alignment. Blake audibles out of the run into a play action. I find this play interesting because not one player became flat footed and fell for the play fake. The Ends pinned their ears back and rushed down field, and the LB's immediately went into coverage. As Sims is finishing his 7 step drop back, the end meets him 10 yards in the backfield on his blind side. He ends up sacking Sims while the rest of the defense plays a Quarter with inside releases forcing the entire play to develop inside of the hash marks keeping sims relatively simple, but also garuanteeing he stays within the pocket.
Whoever the Quarterback is at Michigan, Harbaugh will teach him that “He needs to win at everything he does”.
He made it, and Maryland won the game (source)
Your Weekly B1G Hoops Column
Table of Contents:
Week I results
Introducing the Big Ten Schedule Matrix
Team of the week: Maryland
Player of the week: Jarrod Uthoff
Stat of the week: Melo’s free throw parade
Post-Week I Big Ten standings
Michigan’s week that was
Michigan’s week ahead
Week II schedule
1. Week I Results
After the first week of Big Ten play, there’s a little more clarity. Wisconsin dispatched Penn State and Northwestern with ease in what were the two biggest blowouts of the week. Maryland managed a double-overtime win in East Lansing over Michigan State – even if it isn’t a vintage Spartan team, it’s still a very impressive Big Ten debut for UMD – and Iowa came away with a road upset over Ohio State in two of the more notable results of the week.
Elsewhere, Purdue defended its home court with back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Michigan; Penn State lost two on the road (including an ugly game against Rutgers at the RAC – Rutgers had lost a similarly hideous contest earlier in the week to Northwestern) and tripled their loss total on the year in the process; Illinois also lost both games of a tough road swing against Michigan and Ohio State – they let the one in Ann Arbor slip away; Minnesota started their season on a two-game road trip and lost both, to Purdue and Maryland.
At the end of the week, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Purdue are the only teams sitting at 2-0. The newcomers have been the most impressive, as Wisconsin faced weak opponents, and Purdue held serve at home.
2. Introducing the Big Ten Schedule Matrix
Over the weekend, I threw together a handy way to visualize which teams only play an opponent only once this season, when two opponents play each other at a give location, and how a team does at home or on the road, among other things.
As the season progresses, the graphic will become much more informative, but it’s a convenient reference point and will be a weekly fixture in this space.
Click on image to enlarge
3. Team of the week: Maryland
Winning at the Brez isn’t easy; Maryland did it on their first try (source)
With apologies to Wisconsin – who overwhelmed two far inferior opponents and posted the week’s two highest points per possession totals – Maryland deserves this spot after winning in East Lansing and holding off Minnesota at home.
The game against Michigan State was a slog. From the 15-minute mark to the 5-minute mark in the
second first half, the Terrapins outscored the Spartans 4-2, concurrently one of the roughest offensive stretches that either team will see all season; MSU recovered to lead 17-14 at halftime (the aggregate score of the two overtimes – in ten minutes – was 20-18, Maryland).
Aside from that, it was a surprisingly great, back-and-forth game that featured a few amazing plays from Maryland senior Dez Wells, who hit a last-second, game-tying three pointer at the end of regulation and had a beautiful steal and breakaway dunk in the second OT (both highlights in this video). There were enough high-leverage plays near the end of regulation and in both overtimes – enough to make up for the brutal first half and the teams’ combined jump-shooting (0.54 points per shot on 84 attempts) – to make it a good game, in the end.
Dez Wells and Melo Trimble is looking like the conference’s best backcourt: key plays from Wells and nine made free throws from Trimble helped steal the win against Michigan State, and the duo combined for 32 points in the game against Minnesota. Most impressive against the Terrapins was Damonte Dodd: in 20 minutes, the big man scored an efficient nine points, hauled in 12 rebounds, and had 3 blocks. The Terps opened up a 11-2 run to open the second half and pull away from the Gophers on Saturday.
Right now, Maryland looks like Wisconsin’s best challenger. They don’t travel to Madison and they’re currently projected to finish 13-5 in the league by Kenpom’s algorithm (though Wisconsin, incredibly, is projected to finish 16-2). UMD is balanced – 30th offensively, 25th defensively, per KP – and although their defense may regress some due to their untenably outstanding 3-point defense, they’ll be a tough out for anyone in their first year in the Big Ten.
[Hit the JUMP for No. 4-10]
We looked at offense in a prior post, today we'll switch sides. As outlined previously:
...this an overview of UM Football position by position (as a group not player by player) for 2015 and 2016 so we can have a little bit of an understanding of what is coming down the pike. Of course going out even 1 year is fraught with unknowns (who will bust, who will come out of nowhere) so looking out 2 years will provide you with many more LOL moments when we look back at this in December 2016. But we have a long offseason ahead with a lot of open spots on our roster and this helps one begin to roadmap where we really need players in the 2015 class.
My caveats are I don't give a damn what a guy did in HS or how many stars he has, I need to see it on a college football field. I've been burned too much - and yes I will root for every damn 5 star to show up on campus and drink Maize Kool Aid when it happens but I've seen enough Henrys (throwaway 3 star added to the class in the closing days) over Pipkins to take HS ranks with anything but lots of grains of salt. So my "assessment" will be more pensive than yours will be, because there are certain positions we are relying on guys that have not done much at all. I realize most today will just say "Harbaugh" as an answer - and I hope it is simple as that!
I'll do a 1-5 grade for 2015, 2016 (1 being best, 5 being Danger Will Robinson) and then a variability (1 being most certain and best, 5 being least certain).
This post will focus on defense
2015 - Defensive end is one of 2 key areas of concern on the 2015 defense. Both starters from 2014 leave and what returns is anywhere from backup type players to unknown commodities. One injury in this position group could be devastating. A huge issue in 2013 was the lack of pass rush ("the right to rush 4"); 2014 saw improvement on that front, especially with Frank Clark (Beyer generally did his damage vs average to weaker teams). Worries now return that 2015 might look a lot like 2013 in terms of pass rush. Production leaving is 42 tackles, 5 sacks + 35 tackles, 6 sacks. One assumes the starters will be SR Mario Ojemudia and JR Taco Charlton (yes he is already a junior!) Mario was a decent backup in 2014 (31 tackles, 4 sacks) and getting his stamina up to play a ton this year will be important. Taco (19 tackles, 4 sacks) in many ways is a lot like Clark (although Clark was much smaller) as a raw product that is becoming more refined year by year. But Beyer and especially Clark played monster minutes last year so this will be a sea change in expectation for both new starters. Taco seems much more explosive but in limited time, doing it play after play is a different animal then coming in as a specialist.
Behind them it gets welp-ish. RS SO Henry Poggi (2 tackles, 0 sacks) will need to step it up - probably expectations were too high for him early but right now he seems more like a run stopping end than a pass rusher type but this was a guy with offers from schools like Alabama. He played little in 2014. RS FR Lawrence Marshall will be getting his feet wet and fast. He simply cannot be a guy we whiffed on based on roster depth.. i.e. there is no one else but him left. Recruiting losses of Hand and McDowell hurt here - although McDowell is at 280 lbs so probably ends up at DT down the road. Again I cannot stress enough the inability to withstand an injury in this group of 4. You'd have to take a Wormley type and flex him out I suppose as that is the only guy on the roster who seems applicable as a "kinda defensive end".
2016 - Everything said above applies again but remove Mario who graduates. SR Taco is on 1 end and one of 2 unproven products - RS SO Marshall or RS JR Poggi on the other. A 3 man rotation going all year is bad. We need two 2015 recruits at end. And they will be guys who will be playing possibility as true FR in 2015 and certainly as RS FR/true SO in 2016. Urgent needs here.
2015 - a year ago we entered the year saying S and DT were the 2 big unknowns. But I was outlining how a year from "then" DT could be the team strength. That came to be but not necessarily with the players I assumed. I thought it would be Pipkins, Henry, Wormley, and Hurst. Instead the Order of Kovacs was reborn on Sir Glasgow and he combined with Henry and by year end Mone to provide a pretty stout interior. Unlike DE not only do both starters return at DT in 2015 but both just flip over to upperclassmen for the first time. That's exciting. Unless SO Mone makes a move upward in camp it would appear the RS JR team of Henry and Glasgow will be the starting DTs. Stats for DTs never tell the tale but IMO Henry (20 tackles, 3 sacks) was becoming the 2nd best player on the defense last year until his injury slowed him down late. Behind Henry at the 3T will be RS JRs Chris Wormley (21 tackles, 3 sacks) and Matt Godin (9 tackles, 1 sack). Wormley seems like a guy who either makes a splash play or disappears - not much in the middle. Godin is not going to wow you but seemed to gain coach's trust with a limited role as the year went by. RS JR Strobel at this point seems to be a lost cause.
At the NT, run stopper Glasgow (22 tackles, 0 sacks) went from "haha motivation technique" starter in the spring game to "uhh, what?" starter from day 1 in fall 2014 and never gave it up. While Mone (9 tackles) was getting better and gaining playing time as the year progressed, it appears SR Pipkins (9 tackles) is facing a William Campbell career. Mone had passed him by the back third of the season and unless something changes dramatically it appears Pipkins won't be getting enough playing time to even try to recreate the one good year Campbell had as a SR. RS SO Hurst is listed as a NT on the Mgo depth chart but at his size (280ish) he seems more like a 3T; either way the bowl hype of December 2013 didn't lead to much in 2014 (3 tackles); but he is still a baby in football terms.
2016 - No one but Pipkins leaves. (Unless Henry has a Jerel Worthy type of year and goes to the draft - boo). So the potential exists for RS SRs Henry, Glasgow, Wormley, Godin along with RS JR Hurst and JR Mone to all be here. Damn. Unfortunately that is offset by the scary things I wrote earlier at the ends - can't we have nice things all along the D-line at once?
Also, if this was a 3 year outlook I'd be damn worried about 2017 - we lose everyone but Hurst and Mone (and Pallante). So we actually could use a 2015 tackle although Hoke was not recruiting that position. If no 2015 DTs we have a donut hole in the roster like we had at OL for a few years. A 2016 recruit would redshirt in 2016 (or not RS and be a backup) and then likely be forced into either a starting spot or serious backup immediately in 2017. So if you are looking a few years ahead, and you want your linemen to be redshirted we actually need some DTs in the 2015 class. And then another batch in 2016's.
2015 - Jake Ryan and his 112 tackles (2 sacks) leave; SR Joe Bolden and his 102 tackles (2 sacks) return. Both lacked in the "splash play" department in 2014 but logged crazy playing time. RS SR Desmond Morgan will return from injury, and one assumes he takes Ryan's MLB role. With Bolden and Morgan we more or less know what we are getting and there is little variability - if we don't change scheme from 2014 those 2 will play massive minutes (assuming Morgan beats out Gedeon) From there it's a bit more murky.
2014 was a strange year for what looked like the once sterling career for one SR James Ross III. He seemed to be squeezed out of a ton of playing time due to scheme and sticking with 2 LB formations for long portions of each game. I have no idea what to expect out of him in 2015 but this was the 2nd leading tackler on the team in 2013 and sunk to 32 in 2014. SR Royce Jenkins-Stone is a career bit player and despite tons of spring camp hype in 2014 never delivered (6 tackles). JR Ben Gedeon (17 tackles) seems the other player destined for decent playing time in 2015 ...leading to a starting role in 2016. Or maybe he surges ahead of a SR this year? This is all fine for 2015 but looking out a year it is important that guys like RS SO Mike McCray and RS JR Allen Gant get SOME meaningful playing time if they are future heirs to the starting roles. This unit overall is solid and relatively assignment sound but seems to lack the heat seeking difference makers you see in the SEC. Or hell MSU. We need splash play LBs once again.
2016 - Along with the DEs this could unit could be very troublesome in 2016. The loss of Michael Ferns to transfer creates 1 less lottery ticket, and the highest ranked one. Unless someone outside of Bolden, Morgan, Gedeon, and Ross play significant minutes in 2015 you will essentially be returning SR Ben Gedeon and a cast of unknowns. RS JR McCray and RS SR Gant will have being upperclassmen on their side, and guys like RS SOs Chase Winovich, Noah Furbush, and Jared Wangler will hopefully be providing pressure. That entire group of 5 is just one big batch of "unknown quantity". With that said OSU's LB group this year was very young so no excuses for youth - these guys need to be developed and ready to contribute meaningfully in 2016. But sitting today there is simply no visibility outside of Gedeon. Unlike DE however there is at least a decent size pool of players to create options down the road. We need an ILB + OLB in the 15 class.
2015 - Ok maybe I am drinking too much Kool Aid but I could see a 2nd team All Conference award for JR Jourdan Lewis (39 tackles, 2 INT) in 2015. He - not SO Jabrill Peppers - is right now the best CB on the team BASED ON EVIDENCE ON THE FIELD. Maybe I just want to see what I want to see but I felt teams began avoiding his side of the field late in the year. The much hyped Peppers (8 tackles) barely had a chance to get his season off the ground - an injury vs App State, and then another more mysterious injury later (bone chip in knee?) saw him exit stage right. Essentially we saw 1 full game vs a very bad opponent (Miami OH), and half a game vs I believe Utah - and who knows what % he was in that game. He did win the starting job out of camp so there is reason for promise but what he actually is or will be in 2015, no one knows. I am going to assume he and Lewis man the corners. RS SR Countess (24 tackles) regressed badly in 2014 after a decent 2013. Confidence or injuries piling up or what it is - no one knows. But seeing the 2013 Blake v 2014 Blake would be a welcome addition; for now maybe we pencil him in as the nickelback (NNTNB). Those are the starters and unfortunately there really doesn't seem like anyone behind them to really push based on the rotation of 2014.
JR Channing Stribling (7 tackles) is the only backup who really played last year that returns for 2015 - and he seemed to play less than as a freshman. I said a year ago at this time dude needs to put on 15-20 lbs before 2014, and he came back at the same weight. So same mission for 2015, go eat man. RS JR Terry Richardson was a major recruit whose career just hasn't worked out. With Ray Taylor and Hollowell out of the rotation the question is who becomes the 5th CB after Stribling? This is another position where injuries can quickly cause issues as a 3 CB formation is becoming relatively standard. Options include RS SO Reon Dawson or RS FR Brandon Watson. As a group the INT production was pathetic in 2014 (2 INTs from the DBs) - we need to see a massive improvement in 2015.
2016 - Blake graduates and one hopes SR Lewis and JR Peppers make up the best CB pairing in the conference. At this point the guys we have seen little of will be nickelbacks and primary backups to Lewis/Peppers so visibility is very low. We don't have any 2015 recruits to begin plugging in as backups at this moment. The 2015 class could use two corners, hopefully Marcus Lewis is one. Obviously Iman Marshall would be a dream catch but he is basically a Trojan until further notice. My low grade here doesn'y reflect the 2 starters but just a complete lack of visibility on a nickelback and depth - and one injury seems like it could derail this group quickly as the dropoff from Peppers and Lewis to "anyone else" seems severe right now.
2015 - Safety has not been a very good position for UM since Kovacs left and frankly it's not been a defensive strength for most of what seems 10+ years. SR Jarrod Wilson (50 tackles) will return and while not dynamic seems like the only sure thing back there. The other S position was a revolving door of RS JR Delano Hill, RS JR Jeremy Clark, and JR Dymonte Thomas. Hill (20 tackles) won the job out of camp and promptly got hurt. Then got hurt again. 2014!! His play late in the year was not inspiring. Clark (18 tackles) looked good against App State - that was pretty much his peak for the year. Thomas (27 tackles) was a top 100 recruit who apparently struggles in space - not a great scouting report for a S. I think under another staff he'd be asked to put on 20 lbs and be an ultra fast OLB who can keep the game simple and attack. But it seems strange we cannot find a fit for this type of athlete. Time is running out. Maybe he turned the corner late in the year? (5 tackles v Maryland) but with Brian throwing away UFRs mid way thru the season it's difficult to assess. So that's your 4 man rotation and we seem to have another donut hole with no safeties listed on the MGo depth chart... until you get to 2015 recruit Kinnel. I think we converted 1 of our safeties to RB last year, and guys like Reon Dawson were a S/CB hybrid? There were some rumors of Brandon Watson playing S in camp last year but with the lack of depth at the CB position he is probably more needed there.
2016 - Wilson i.e. the only sure thing in the S group, graduates and we're left with same crew as above, all a year older. And RS FR/true SO Kinnel. Why the hell we dropped the recruitment of Montae Nicholson who already received a few games of starting time for a program that nearly universally redshirts freshmen is beyond me. He'd probably be starting next to Wilson in 2015 and be the one sure thing in 2016. Your guess is as good as mine what happens in 2016 - I assume it's Hill and Thomas with Clark and Kinnel as backups. I hope I feel a lot better about that arrangment on Dec 1, 2015 then I do now. The grade is low but could be higher if we get good S play from non Wilson's in 2015. Needless to say, we need recruits at all spots in the secondary.
Overall - Overall I like the general direction of our 2015 defense but it lacks depth at some key places (DE) and reliability at others (one S). It's strangely thin in some spots - CB and DE can barely absorb an injury which is not a good way to go into a season. I think Henry and Lewis will be the 2 stars (replacing Clark and JMFR) and then Peppers is your wildcard. The LBs seem more like solid guys than splash players. Mone might take a big step. DTs and the starting 2 CBs should be the strength. A surprise from a player like Taco and/or Gedeon would really help. I assume run defense will remain solid but pass defense is a question. Even star CBs need DEs who can pressure. This unit NEEDS to create turnovers unlike the 2014 unit.
2016? Welp - after multiple years of being EMO about the offense it might be time to switch that to the defense in 2016. Looking at it from a full team perspective, 2015 is a year to win more with defense (yeah we said that last year too) and 2016 more with offense. A lot depends on development and hopefully this coaching staff is an improvement in that regard but all 3 LBs, one DE, the only sure S will all be gone. There are some donut hole roster issues that I thought we had eradicated but seem to have popped back up. 2015 needs to show development of safeties, backup CBs, defensive ends, and backup LBs to flow into 2016. If 75% of the 2015 recruiting class is defense I would not be against it. And 60% of the 2016 class.