For the second year in a row UM's linebacking core appears to be the weak link on defense late in the season. This is troubling, but can it be fixed...and quickly? Last year Ryan Glasgow's injury was a huge loss but we can't blame line injuries now. What can UM's staff do to help improve the play of say Mike McCray? Is the answer simply playing a more athletic Devin Bush Jr.? I'm not football smart enough to know but it sure seems ineffective linebacker play is UM's Achilles' heel versus the run and intermediate passes on an otherwise elite defense.
If the mods feel this has already been hashed out let's move on but I'm still unsure as to the answer.
Go Blue! A big Thank You to all student athletes for working your *sses off this season!
I was only planning to make the Mike McCray diary a one-off. But Bodogblog suggested I take a look at Devin Bush Jr. as well, so why not? Again, I used the MGoVideo every-snap videos from the spring game. Bush was on the blue team, so I used the Wilton Speight footage this time.
As you might expect of a guy who’d been wearing the winged helmet for only a few weeks, he looked a bit tentative and had some issues with getting overpowered—especially by some of the juniors and seniors. But he also looked like a guy who knew what he was doing out there; he did make a couple really nice plays and demonstrated the kind of potential that shows why Harbaugh made him such a big priority in the recruiting class. Here’s how I saw it:
Play #1: White running something resembling Power-O to the left, but with the LT kicking the EMLOS (Charlton). Bush makes a good read and gets to the point-of-attack quickly, but Khalid Hill comes through and clamps onto Bush, sealing him inside for the duration. No harm because Charlton won his block and white ran this into a corner blitz. Grade -1; Hill dominated Bush on this play.
Play #2: Play-action pass from an offset I-form. Bush reads and drops into underneath coverage. Ball thrown deep and Bush irrelevant.
Play #3: Shotgun formation with pocket moving right at the snap. Bush in man coverage on the RB, who stays in to protect. Bush attacks the QB late but is irrelevant as Speight releases the pass well before Bush arrives.
Play #4: White running some kind of trap or counter play that Wormely annihilates from the backside. Bush is charging downhill at the snap; he impacts Newsome, sheds, and works to the point-of-attack to assist on the tackle. Grade: =
Play #5: White fakes an iso to Isaac then tosses to Perry on the end-around, coming to Bush’s side. Blue wants to spill this to the sideline; Newsome gets out on him and shoves Bush ten yards downfield, but Bush does keep an outside arm free and doesn’t allow a cutback lane. Grade: =; made the right read, gave up a lot of ground to Newsome but the play was always going outside.
Play #6: Passing play; Bush covering the short middle zone and gets good depth; Isaac leaks out late but irrelevant as Speight throws to a WR on an out cut.
Play #7: Bush blitzing B-gap. It’s a running play. Jake Butt had come in motion behind the formation and set up as an H-back at the snap; Butt picks up Bush and stones him. Isaac has a huge hole to the backside on what looks like a designed counter, he hits it for a big gainer. Grade: -0.5; another play where Bush got his ass kicked but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Play #8: Play-action pass; white runs a mesh concept with TWJ and Mitchell coming from the left and Butt coming from the right; Blue busts and Butt winds up all alone in the left flat for a TD. I think this is on Watson, who followed Mitchell inside instead of passing him off to a safety. Bush was fine, I guess.
Play #9: White runs the banana-type play with the QB faking a pitch left, then rolling right and throwing to the fullback on a shallow cross—except in this case, the “fullback” is Khalid Hill, who started the play flexed out in the slot on the opposite side of the formation. Bush was off-camera for most of the play but is the LB chasing down Hill after the reception, FWIW. Grade: ??
Play #10: Inside run to the opposite side of the formation from Bush. He checks his gap, then pursues; Bush is not relevant as the tackle is made well before he arrives, but Bush does nicely shed an offensive lineman who tries to delay him.
Play #11: Quick-hitter to the fullback on Bush’s side. Bush and the fullback disappear into the same pile at the LOS. Not the most difficult play but I’ll give Bush credit here for a fast accurate read and for sticking his nose into the melee. Grade: +0.5.
Play #12: Bush’s best play so far. White does the same thing as on Play #7, where a TE (Sean McKeon) comes in motion behind the offensive line and sets up as an H-back right in Bush’s gap. This time, they run right at him. McKeon comes out and hits Bush, but Bush keeps his outside arm free, sheds, and fills to force a bounce. Good play, and I really like how he dealt with this the second time after seeing it earlier. Grade: +1
Play #13: This is either a bust by walk-on Mike Wroblewski or Blue got seriously RPSed by the alignment. White has three receivers in a bunch to the right side of the formation. The lead receiver, TWJ, runs a hook route; Wroblewski is lined up over him and follows TWJ the whole way. I think when TWJ released to the left, Wroblewski was supposed to have stayed home let Bush pick TWJ up—but since Wroblewski stayed on TWJ, Bush is covering air and Perry comes open in the area Wroblewski vacated. Both Bush and a deep safety head over there to bracket Perry. There is no way they can make it in time. Speight steps up in the pocket and could easily have Perry, but Bush has opened up a huge running lane, which Speight takes. Hard to ding Bush too much on the play, since neither of his choices were good—but if he’d stayed home, then Speight couldn’t have scrambled and the safety would probably have done more about Perry than Bush anyway. Grade: -0.5
Play #14: White runs a counter to the left side, away from Bush. An OL comes out on him and seals Bush away for the duration. Grade: -1.
Play #15: Another counter, with two OL pulling to Bush’s side this time. Godin, Mone, and Kemp destroy the blocking, however and Isaac is trapped in the backfield. Bush comes down and tackles for loss. Grade: =; competent play but not worthy of a plus.
Play #16: Bush times a blitz well and is quickly into the backfield; Gentry (seriously, did Blue draft ANY of the tight ends?) whiffs on him, then breaks Brian’s cardinal rule by going upfield and trying to still block him; Bush then knocks the mystery fullback (#33?) off his pins for a 2-for-1. Grade: +1; it was a good play by Bush, but mostly the function of the blitz call and the fact he was going against Gentry and an obscure walk-on fullback.
Play #17: Passing play, Bush comes on an outside blitz, isn’t going to get home. Speight throws in the opposite direction so Bush irrelevant.
Play #18: Power-O to the right side of the formation. Bush is aligned to the left; he can’t get off the downblock and is sealed the entire play. Grade: -1.
Play #19: The Wilton Speight bootleg touchdown. Bush not particularly relevant to the play, shoots his gap and gets hung up inside; Speight rolls outside and has clear sailing to the end zone.
Overall grade: -1.5. Felt worse than it was, I suppose, as Bush got pushed around pretty good by the upper classmen. But he usually seemed to be in the right spot, which is pretty impressive for an early-enrolled freshman in his first spring game. With more reps and some college S&C, looks like Bush will be a real factor down the road.
Was just reviewing some video on Mike McCray and thought I would share my observations.
MGoVideo has the spring game broken down into every snap taken by each QB. Since McCray wore white, I just pulled up the O'Korn footage (as O’Korn played for the blue team) and trained my eyes on #9. I didn’t see him do anything amazing, but he looked competent and physical.
Here’s how I saw it:
Play #1: a handoff to Drake Johnson; McCray has the backside B-gap; he reads, then rallies to the ball after Johnson commits to the frontside
Play #2: McCray feigns a blitz, but doesn’t come; Blue hands off to Johnson again; McCray reads, bounces off some trash, then comes free to help finish a tackle Charlton started
Play #3: Michigan in the shotgun, it’s a pass; McCray drops into a short zone and may be spying O’Korn, who winds up scrambling; McCray comes up to tackle and O’Korn gives himself up short of the sticks. Grade: =; McCray looked competent but this was a routine play.
Play #4: Play-action pass to the far side of the field; McCray in zone coverage, not really involved in the play
Play #5: Outside run to Drake Johnson; McCray checks his gap, maybe a false step or two; when Johnson heads outside, McCray has backside pursuit responsibility; McCray takes a bad angle and isn’t able to help. Grade: -1
Play #6: White in some kind of formation with eight defenders at the LOS; can’t find McCray and don’t think he’s in on this play.
Play #7: Passing play; McCray defending the short middle and definitely looks to be spying O’Korn, who throws an incomplete pass to the left sideline
Play #8: Passing play; McCray covering his middle zone; O’Korn hits a receiver to McCray’s left, the DB tackled immediately but McCray had come over and was in position to clean up if the DB hadn’t
Play #9: Play blown dead for a false start
Play #10: McCray fakes a blitz, doesn’t come; it’s a pass, McCray drops into his middle zone; O’Korn pump fakes to a receiver running an out to the left sideline, and McCray flows hard to that side; O’Korn then tucks and scrambles right, is pulled down by Charlton after a short gain. Grade: =; am tempted to give a minus here for biting so hard on the pump fake but I don’t think McCray would have been relevant to the outcome of this play anyway.
Play #11: Weird play. Looks like a screen as the offensive line blocks momentarily, then three release downfield and look for blocks—but there is no receiver to be found. Pass drop is too deep and too extended to be a QB draw. Maybe a bust by whoever was supposed to catch the screen pass? Whatever it was, O’Korn bugs out to his left. McCray has an offensive lineman coming to get him. McCray goes outside the block, closes on O’Korn, and tackles for loss. Grade: may have been a broken play but McCray looked good; +1.
Play #12: McCray does not appear to be in; Blue completes a bomb to Drake Harris.
Play #13: handoff to Drake Johnson, running off tackle to the far side of the formation from McCray; McCray reads it quickly, shoots a gap and gets an arm in on the tackle.
Play #14: McCray sent on blitz; several white defenders into the backfield, and the pressure (not McCray’s) forces a throwaway
Play #15: The double-pass. McCray blitzes through the A-gap and gets a shove on O’Korn, just as he releases the backward pass to Morris. McCray then bugs out for Drake Johnson, who is all alone in the end zone. Morris hits him for the score. I’m assuming Johnson wasn’t McCray’s responsibility, since McCray was blitzing; with that in mind, I appreciate McCray’s hustle on the play. Grade: = (would be -1,000 if the blitz was an ad lib, but I don’t think it was)
Play #16: Passing play; McCray one of three defenders near the LOS; ball thrown deep and McCray not relevant
Play #17: Blue running Power-O to McCray’s side of the formation. McCray flows to the point of attack and stands up the fullback, constricting the hole. Winds up being irrelevant as the back tries to bounce outside the kick-block on the EMLOS and trips over his teammate’s feet. Grade: + 0.5
Play #18: Passing play; McCray drops into a curl/hook zone and picks up Shane Morris; O’Korn scrambles, McCray ignores a feeble blocking attempt by Morris and tackles at the sticks. Grade: =; don’t like all the yards O’Korn got but probably not realistic to expect McCray to have done better with this.
Play #19: Another passing play, McCray in a curl/hook zone again, picks up Morris again; O’Korn steps up in the pocket, has running room; McCray closes quickly—and O’Korn flicks a beautiful deep bomb to Jack Wangler—which glances off Wangler’s fingertips and goes incomplete. Grade: + 0.5; McCray did his job here, even if the coverage (and the WR) did not. Impressive closing speed when O’Korn escaped the pocket.
Play #20: Blue in the shotgun; McCray heads to pick up a back releasing to the flat, O’Korn scrambles in the opposite direction making McCray irrelevant.
Play #21: Shotgun passing play again, McCray in zone coverage; O’Korn throws to a receiver blankeded by Jeremy Clark; McCray comes over to help but not needed as Clark gets the PBU
Play #22: Same play, but ball goes to Wangler in the zone to McCray’s right; the walk-on DB can’t get Wangler down, so McCray comes over to finish the job. Grade: =
Play #23: Passing play,McCray picks up the RB and chases him off the screen (assuming man coverage); O’Korn throws in the opposite direction.
Play #24: Passing play, McCray picks up the RB headed to the flat (to McCray’s right) O’Korn hits Shane Morris on the other side of the field.
Play #25: Passing play, McCray covering the short middle and may be spying O’Korn again; O’Korn has time, reads out his progressions, then throws it away. Grade: =; not going to award a plus but McCray had ensured no scramble yardage was available.
Play #26: McCray blitzing through the B-gap. Blue runs the waggle, trapping McCray inside. O’Korn rolls right into plenty of space, tries to connect with Drake Harris for a TD but Harris is covered and it’s incomplete. Grade: =; I think white just got RPS’d on the waggle call here
Play #27: O’Korn under center, drops back to pass; McCray is in short middle zone coverage, definitely spying; O’Korn has Kareem Walker open in the flat, doesn’t see him; white getting no pressure and O’Korn has all day to survey the field but can’t find anyone; finally throw, but arm hit on the release and ball bounces incomplete.
Play #28: Shotgun this time, passing play again; McCray in short middle zone, spying O’Korn, who scrambles; McCray comes up to tackle, but is out of control; O’Korn pump fakes and cuts back inside McCray, who whiffs; OKorn lurches forward and dives into the end zone. Grade -2; open field tackling is tough but you’re a linebacker, and this isn’t Vincent Young.
Play #29: 2-point conversion; white jumps offside and the ball inches closer.
Play #30: white teams stuffs the blue fullback at the goal line for the victory; McCray somewhere in the pile, probably did something to help. Grade: oh hell, +0.5
Overall grade: -0.5. Again, not amazing, but definitely the type of performance you can live with when you have a fire-breathing defensive line and lights-out secondary. Go Blue.
After the excitement that was NSD, I'm still starved for substantive discussion before spring practice starts. After reading some of the ESPN Way Too Early Top 25 thread, someone mentioned that they expect this defense to be tops in the nation. My question is whether anyone foresees any issues transitioning to Don Brown's defensive schemes coming off last year.
This defense will be crazy talented and experienced. The d-line has 7-8 starter quality players and multiple stars. The secondary has 2 incredibly high caliber athletes and good experience. The linebacker corps is definitely the weakest of the 3 defensive units, but with Peppers playing the hybrid blackhole of space position, UM will likely only need 2 fulltime 'backers.
Just as I expect the returning offensive players to improve after having another year in the Harbaughffense, I think it naturally follows to ask whether the defense may take some time to adjust to Brown's style. Fortunately, Michigan's first 3 games are against teams that were fairly abysmal last year and are all at home. Colorado had 4 wins last year which is more than Hawaii and UCF combined. That builds in some nice cushion for the defense to learn the nuances of the scheme. Frankly, the D line should have no problem adjusting because other than run fits and select drop coverages, their complexity is likely limited to stunts and twists. The secondary plays a lot of press man, and that won't change much. So it really boils down to the LBs.
While last year's D handled pro style offenses well, once Glasgow went out and they played spread offenses or IU, things went south. There are some potentially mitigating factors (read: Durkin packing his bags during OSU week), but nevertheless, do you expect there to be any growing pains as this talented, experienced D adapts to Brown's schemes and likely integrates 2 true freshmen and essentially a new LB corps?
So we all watched the game yesterday and yes, it sucked. However, looking at it as objectively as I can, I think we learned more about where M is at as a team than in any other game this season. Previous games, win or lose, all pointed out weaknesses in scheme or personnel that could, to varying degrees, be addressed on a week-to-week basis through tactical adjustments or player rotation to yield better short term results. I think the coaches did a stellar job doing what they could with what they had to work with and I think the players also put it all out there. Their combined efforts have completely turned the program around and we are headed in the right direction, though clearly with some distance to go.
The OSU game was a perfect storm of going up against a team that has aimed at and achieved a program that competes on a national level year in and year out and playing them while they were firing on all cylinders. In short, we don't quite have the horses to run with them just yet.
On the topic of horses then, one thing that has been discussed as a position of weakness most of the season is linebacker and at no time was this more apparent than yesterday, however it doesn't seem like the current recruiting strategy is focusing adequately on this as a position of need. I very much agree with the assertion of many that when at full strength and against certain run schemes our DL was able to cover for a linebacker corps that is ill suited for the task at hand and it seems like there is no help in sight, either as younger players currently on the team or commits, or even as targets for recruiting.
I'm not a recruitnik, but I kind of follow it and it seems like this could be an issue over the next 3 years at least. I see tons of recruiting focus on offense at QB, running back and the line and rightfully so, but on defense there is a focus on DBs and DL which appear to be in relatively good shape and a paucity of options at LB.
Are they counting on converting some of the ATH recruits? Is LB something that doesn't necessarily get specialized in high school and is a position that you evolve into in college? Am I missing something in our current recruiting?
The depth is there, as the potential for multiple breakout campaigns up front defensively for Michigan this season.
Michigan's defensive line wasn't the team's problem in 2014, and it likely won't be in 2015 either.
But, can this group take the next step and turn into an actual force in the Big Ten, as Mattison believes it can?
Up front, things are rock solid. But there is something to address here, as the depth behind those front three need to begin proving themselves to avoid a drop-off in 2016.
For now, though, the middle of D.J. Durkin's defense is in experienced hands