"(I) think about 'The Lion King,' Simba gets hit over the head and (he's told) 'the past can hurt,' " Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. "'You can either run from it or embrace it and learn from it.'
The Ballad of Boubacar is brief and unfortunate
This is the second part of an in-depth look at the 2008 recruiting class, and more specifically Brian's recruiting profiles for that class. You can find part one, covering the offense, here. If you'd like to peruse the recruiting profiles yourself—a highly recommended time-waster—you can find links to each position group here. Without further ado, let's look back at the eight-member defensive class of 2008. This one's not for the squeamish.
Mike Martin Wrestles Not Mike Martin, Which Goes As Expected
Let's start with the good, yes? Mike Martin not only stands as the clear-cut best player in the class, but outside of two-star Patrick Omameh may very well be the only player to surpass expectations from when he hit campus. Those expectations, at least from Brian, were pretty high:
Guru Reliability: High.
General Excitement Level: High. The highlight reel is totally impressive, there are zero questions about work ethic or how in shape he is, and he's got pretty good guru rankings.
Projection: Will play in the DT rotation immediately, and will probably leap past Ferrara, Kates (if Kates remains on the team), et al to claim a starting spot once Taylor and Johnson graduate.
The remarkable strength that helped Martin excel for four years at Michigan was also on full display during his high school wrestling career, and fortunately there is video evidence of a young Martin perfecting his Hulk Smash. A Simmons-style running diary follows:
0:00 — Martin and his opponent—"Mo" is his name, judging by the cheers from people around the cameraman—jog onto the mat.
0:07 — Mo removes what appears to be an ankle tether, so maybe this is just an elaborate criminal punishment that almost certainly violates the 8th Amendment.
0:14 — Martin shakes Mo's hand. Martin releases his grip and Mo's hand goes limp, never again to function properly.
0:16 — The match begins. Martin begins stalking his prey, who ignores his coach's cries to "circle, circle!" and instead backpedals furiously to avoid Martin's grasp. Within seconds, Mo finds himself out of bounds.
0:36 — At the restart, Mo goes for an ill-timed high-five. Martin ignores this desperate plea for peace and immediately dives for a single-leg takedown.
0:44 — Mo manages to ward off the takedown, but once again backs himself out of the ring. When facing Mike Martin, this is not cowardice, but simply a display of proper survival instincts.
0:56 — On the second restart, Mo lightly pats Martin on the head. If you consult page 56 of your Worst Case Scenario handbook, you know this is the last thing you want to do when encountering a Mike Martin in the wild.
1:12 — Martin gets his hands on the back of Mo's head then explodes for a takedown, knocking Mo to the very edge of the mat. Mo sees an opportunity for escape and frantically crawls for the exits. Mike Martin is having none of that:
1:20 — As Mo's compatriots cackle at his misfortune, Martin assumes control and pins his convulsing opponent, ending this match with relative humanity.
1:50 — The two shake hands as Martin is declared the winner. Martin goes on to star at Michigan. Mo reattaches his ankle tether, vows to straighten his life out, and hastily seeks both physical and emotional therapy.
This Did Not Go As Planned, Part I
The first, and highest-ranked, of the Cass Tech Lollipop Guild line of cornerbacks was Boubacar Cissoko, a top-50 overall recruit to every site save ESPN, where he was outrageously(!) pegged as the nation's #28 corner. Regrettable statement goes here:
Guru Reliability: Maximal. The unified chorus: this is a perfect cornerback except he's 5'8".
General Excitement Level: High. Obvious physical limitation aside, the perfect corner.
Projection: Plays as a freshman and is starting next to Warren by his sophomore year.
Cissoko flashed promise as a freshman in 2008, even starting two contests. Then Michael Floyd and Golden Tate lit him up again and again in 2009 before Cissoko went on a crime spree that quickly found him off the team and then incarcerated. While Cissoko obviously never reached anything close to the potential that had Brian so excited, his recruiting profile did feature one bit of eerie foreshadowing [emphasis mine]:
A couple years ago, I watched [current Detroit Lions CB Chris] Houston and Arkansas play South Carolina. Redshirt sophomore Sidney Rice was the Gamecock's big star and Houston lined up nose-to-nose with Rice in eff-you press man on every single play. Spurrier went after him again and again; sometimes he won and sometimes he lost, but usually because Rice reeled in a perfectly-thrown fade. It was a fantastic individual battle and I came away impressed with both players. So did the NFL: Houston went with the eighth pick in the second round; Rice went just four picks later.
Maybe this isn't the most reassuring comparison, as Rice did end up with 7 catches for 128 yards and Arkansas lost, but... hey... free second round pick!
Michael Floyd vs. Michigan, 2009: 7 catches, 131 yards, and a touchdown. Somehow, the Wolverines won anyway.
Instead of 3-4 years of Cissoko stardom, this was the guy who ended up as a multi-year starter at cornerback:
Guru Reliability: High. No reason he'd be under the radar; offers about commensurate with ranking.
General Excitement Level: Meh.
Projection: Though he's being brought in as a corner a move to safety is likely given the above, where he'll probably end up buried behind Stevie Brown, Artis Chambers, Stewart, and maybe Brandon Smith until his junior year, at which point he might develop into a contributor.
If you read that and went "sounds like J.T. Floyd," give yourself a cookie. At least, "meh" was most everyone's general impression of Floyd until last year's Illinois game; his emergence as a reliable starting corner means he's surpassed most reasonable expectations for his career.
The final secondary recruit was safety Brandon Smith, whose guru ratings took a Marvin Robinson-like dive for very similar reasons:
Smith looks like a prototypical collegian at a strapping 6'2", 210, but the lack of big time offers is telling. It's easy to believe Smith could lure the gurus in with his impressive frame at various combines and inflate his ranking while leaving college coaches relatively unmoved.
Excitement level was only "moderate" and a move to outside linebacker predicted. Smith moved to linebacker, then announced his intention to transfer before the end of the 2009 season. He landed at Temple and is not listed on the 2012 spring roster.
This Did Not Go As Planned, Part II
Michigan's recruiting haul included four linebackers rated as four-stars by Rivals, providing promise of much-needed depth and versatility for the position group going forward. The class included New Jersey's Marcus Witherspoon (Spoon!)...
An explosive edge rusher who's probably too small to be a fulltime defensive end in college? Add four inches and some chicken legs and that sounds like Shawn Crable, who actually spent quite a bit of time as a defensive end anyway.
...as well as Youngstown product Taylor Hill:
What does Michigan have in Hill? The comparison above, Larry Foote, is a strong one. Like Foote, Hill is an undersized WLB who played his high school ball as a defensive end and specialized in getting into the backfield.
As you know, the Wolverines did not end up with new versions of Crable and Foote. Instead, Witherspoon hit a snag with the NCAA Clearinghouse and eventually signed with Rutgers, while Hill was on the team for all of one game before transferring to Youngstown State.
Fellow linebacker recruit J.B. Fitzgerald—"a good bet to be a multi-year starter"—also joined the ranks of the disappointing. Kenny Demens is the only class of 2008 linebacker to make a significant impact despite being pegged as a "low upside sort" and getting a less-than-complimentary player comparison:
Chris Graham may not be the most appealing comparison, but the elements are all there: a little undersized (I am of the belief the 6'1" frequently thrown around as his height is overstated), has difficulting getting through traffic, praised for his short range burst and thumping tackling. Graham never figured out how to play in control or get to the right place at the right time and was thus a disappointing starter; if Demens can play smarter he could be anything from a decent starter to a borderline all Big Ten pick.
Admittedly, that's a pretty accurate assessment. Now let's try to forget about the carnage of this class, which featured the legal adventures of Justin Feagin and Cissoko, not nearly enough Sam McGuffie YouTube magic, transfers from several critical commits, the hope that Witherspoon could mitigate the loss of Nick Perry to USC, and no Terrelle Pryor. Though, on second thought, that last bit turned out just fine.
Quick reminder. If you haven't filled out Toby Hopp's survey about social media in the sports blogosphere, you should even if you never comment/diarize around these parts. It'll help me as I direct the future evolution of the site, and reward/punish the progenitor of the naked man banner, whichever you prefer.
Roundtree, one of about 10 players and staff members to volunteer at The Salvation Army of Washtenaw County’s toy shop for needy families Wednesday, said he hasn’t talked to Smith recently, but Smith missed a team meeting earlier this week and it’s “looking like” he’ll leave.
AA.com even linked it. I feel all legitimate. To restate the previous opinion: losing a highly-rated guy at a position of need is obviously bad. At least we have clarification now that Michigan will be able to bring in a recruit to replace him.
On the other hand. At the same event, Rodriguez cracked the door open for Boubacar Cissoko:
"I'm under the impression he's trying to work his way back," said Wilcher, who speaks to Cissoko a few times each month. "I know he's working hard at school."
Wilcher said Rodriguez should be applauded for at least giving Cissoko an opportunity to potentially rejoin the team.
"I think the most important thing is that Rich Rodriguez has opened up the door to the thought of letting the kid entertain the thought of working his way back," said Wilcher, who played running back for Michigan from 1983-86. "That should be focused on -- how Rich Rodriguez is not going to turn his back, and at least lets you try to crawl back and prove you can get back by going through the proper procedures."
Michigan obviously needs help in the secondary even of the very short and somewhat toasty variety, and if he manages to limp through the rest of this year without getting in a hint of trouble there might be a rewarding comeback story in there. I've gotten a couple of independent, consistent reports that Cissoko's troubles weren't limited to missing class or practice, so he should have a long way to go. I still think he's a longshot to get back on the team and a longer shot to be a contributor, but I'd love to see the guy work through this and stick, if only for his own sake.
Also, Donovan Warren is at least keeping his options open when it comes to a return:
Michigan’s defensive backfield for next year is still in flux. Teammates have raved about freshman Justin Turner, but cornerback Donovan Warren could return after flirting with the NFL. Rodriguez told people last night that Warren is keeping in contact with the coaches while gathering information.
So I'm saying there's a chance.
Kiper == Gladwell. What do you do when Mel Kiper is seemingly wise by rating Zoltan Mesko and Brandon Graham the best available players at their positions but at the same time declaring this:
Redshirt junior guard Steve Schilling is the No. 4 performer in his class at the position, while redshirt junior Obi Ezeh is the No. 5 inside linebacker among those with a year of eligibility remaining.
This isn't even an old rating; Kiper published this list two days ago($). Has anyone ever made it in the NFL after being benched for a walk-on?
Word. A couple of Florida recruits saw a small sports blog dig up photos they posted on MySpace in eighth grade. In one the kid in question is holding a plastic gun and sixteen dollars. In another, he is wearing a bandana and throwing up an ooh scary gang sign. Naturally, this was picked up by the two big sports blogs that strive daily to become Perez Hilton, with Deadspin's Barry Petchesky opining like so:
"Not for nothing have they garnered the "University of Felons" nickname," Deadspin's Barry Petchesky wrote. "I'm not saying a top recruit posing with a gun and $16 is necessarily a crime, but it's not going to change any impressions."
Raise your hand if you thought you were hard in eighth grade. Thought so. SI's Andy Staples does something unusual and fantastic by getting in touch with the two kids to get their side of the story:
Trail said he's heard from plenty of people about the hand gesture in his picture. "That supposed gang sign I'm throwing up? That's where I stay. That's my neighborhood," he said. "I've thrown that up on the field a lot, and no one has said anything." …
Trail said he couldn't believe an adult would scour recruits' social networking pages looking for embarrassing photos. "If you really care about me that much to go on my MySpace to get a picture of me, point blank, get a life," Trail said.
Where is the right place to draw the line here? The City Boyz Inc. social media pictures were newsworthy because they were current photos of Hawkeyes who had just been arrested for credit card fraud doing unsanitary things with large amounts of money. At that point it's reasonable to say "hey, look at this picture of a guy with thousands of dollars in cash." Scouring the internet for pictures of a kid with sixteen dollars and a plastic gun… eh… not so good.
Since I do a lot of media bashing around here, let me praise Andy Staples: he's been consistently useful since his hiring at SI and is a guy I look forward to reading. With Luke Winn diving into Kenpom stats on a regular basis, SI has a great 1-2 punch in college sports.
Etc.: If you have ESPN insider, Bruce Feldman asked me to argue that Notre Dame should have taken a bowl bid this year. Apologies in advance: it's strictly above the belt. Steve Hutchinson and Jake Long make SI's All-Decade team.
This has been the hot rumor the past couple days and TomVH has confirmed that redshirt freshman safety/LB Brandon Smith has received transfer papers and is looking to move on. Hurray.
Smith was a top-100 "athlete" in the hybrid Rodriguez/Carr class who technically committed after the transition had been announced but, like JT Floyd, was a Carr recruit all the way who was just stringing out his commitment for reasons unknown. So this could be a "Carr guy" moving on to a place he'd rather be. In any case it's the departure of one of the most highly rated players in a class entering its third year at a position, be it linebacker or safety, of desperate need.
Smith didn't seem to be working out, as he was too big and slow for safety and spent his game as a quasi—linebacker starter on skates, but there's zero upside here. He could have put on 20-30 pounds easily—his "frame" was a reason he was rated so highly—and eventually turned into a contributor at linebacker. At the very least he would have been a relatively veteran body on a defense that needs every last potential contributor. BONUS: Michigan can't even add anyone to replace him because of a mysterious but apparently real oversigning change that prevents Big Ten teams from backdating players who enroll early*. DOUBLE BONUS: Before the season I took a look at Michigan's APR and concluded that sanctions resulting from transfers were unlikely, but the attrition has continued at a pace that makes me nervous.
*(Which will definitely help the struggling conference compete nationally.)
Personnel notes: Smith replaced Williams for the whole game, and the linebackers were always Ezeh and Mouton. On (rare) obvious passing downs Floyd came in for Smith. I think there may have been a few plays where Floyd subbed in for Woolfolk, too.
Formation notes: Michigan spent the whole game in an eight-man front; late they moved up Kovacs for nine.
Video note: there was no HD torrent this week so the quality is poor.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||Ace||4-4 under||Pass||Dig||Ezeh||27 + 15 pen|
|The first of a thousand of these. Wisconsin goes play action and sucks the linebackers up a little but the problem is that Ezeh(-1) and Mouton(-1) don't get deep enough drops (cover -2) and leave a wide receiver wide open on a two-man route. There is no one threatening either of those guys underneath as Wisconsin goes max protect. Graham had worked underneath and nailed Tolzien just as he throws and picks up a terrible roughing the passer call. Egregiously bad call.|
|Aaand Graham(+1) owns the tackle and is blatantly held, which allows Tolzien to escape the pocket; Brown(-1) hesitates in case Tolzien decides to throw and gives up the corner, allowing a nice scramble.|
|M26||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Inside zone||Martin||2|
|Martin(+1) takes on a double team and gives a little ground but not that much; Mouton(-1) is attacking the line of scrimmage and picks the wrong hole, which gives Clay an open cutback that he attempts to take; he trips over one of the offensive linemen trying to block Martin. Kovacs was filling strongly.|
|M24||2||8||I-Form Twins||4-4 under||Run||Inside zone||Graham||1|
|Graham(+1) gets off the ball quickly and gets inside of his blocker, convincing Clay to attempt to cut it behind that mess; Martin(+1) is looping around after taking on a double team and the two of them meet Clay to nail him at the LOS. Pretty sure this was a stunt that worked. (RPS +1)|
|M23||3||7||Ace bunch||Base 3-4||Pass||Dig||Ezeh||23|
|Three man rush gets no pressure(-1), partially because Graham is again blatantly held as he attempts to go around the corner. The Wisconsin OL has his hand outside Graham's shoulder pads and is hanging on for dear life; no call. This allows Tolzien to find his TE between Ezeh(-1) and Mouton(-1) wide open (cover -2); Mouton overruns the play, opening it up; Kovacs(-1) then misses a tackle(-1) to give him the last ten.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 0-7, 11 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Martin||-3|
|Martin(+3) blows past the down-block attempt from the playside guard and is into the backfield like a shot, destroying the play. Clay tries to cut back and is swallowed by Martin(tackling +1). Major TFL by one player = +3.|
|Michigan tipping cover three and Wisconsin goes after the edge, which Smith cannot cover in time (cover -1). Throw is marginal but catchable; it is dropped, costing Wisconsin ten or so yards.|
|O17||3||13||Shotgun 2-back bunch||4-3 under||Pass||Sack||Graham||Inc (Pen -15)|
|Smith out, Floyd in. Wisconsin going with a screen that Michigan has killed because the DTs stunt and by the time Martin(+1) cuts through the trash it's obvious and he gets out on it, causing Tolzien to hesitate and Graham(+1) to hunt him down. Tolzien ends up turfing a ball five yards from the receiver and gets called for grounding. RPS +1|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-7, 5 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O8||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Mouton||3|
|Mouton(+0.5) is a little late but does scrape to the hole past a center coming through the middle and meets Clay there, tackling(+1) with help from Kovacs. Ezeh got outside the pulling guard and forced it back.|
|O11||2||7||Ace Twins Twin TE||4-4 under split||Pass||Sack||Martin||-1|
|I mean, really, what is it going to take for an official to throw a flag on the Wisconsin offensive line? Martin(+3) zips around the center and is instantly into the backfield on this play action; center then grabs his shoulder from behind and starts slowing him down; no flag. Tolzien tries to evade Martin and manages to do so at first but Martin is agile enough to change direction and drag him down from behind. (Pressure +2)|
|Good time (pressure -1) on a four man rush before Martin(+0.5) does work his way through a double and to the quarterback. Tolzien fires to a guy open between Ezeh and Brown, but before the ball can get there Mouton(+1) deflects it and Kovacs(+2) digs out a tough, low interception of the deflected ball. (Cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Interception, 7-7, EO1Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O25||1||10||Ace Twins Twin TE||4-4 under||Pass||Waggle hitch||Roh||9|
|Absolutely no one on the corner (pressure -2) and Tolzien has epic time to wander towards the sideline in case someone gets open. Eventually, someone does. Roh(-1) got himself way far inside in anticipation of the stretch.|
|O34||2||1||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Iso||Heininger||9|
|Martin(+1) gets playside of his blocker and cuts off the intended hole but Heininger(-1) has gotten upfield and gets crushed/sealed out of the play, opening up a cutback lane. Mouton(-1) overpursued to the front of the play, which might be understandable, but then he misses a tackle(-1) and cedes another five or six yards.|
|O43||1||10||I-Form Big||Base 3-4||Run||Power O||Ezeh||11|
|Wow. Watch Ezeh(-2) on this play. He watches and watches and waits and then he's got a center on him blocking him and he's about five yards downfield without having moved as this play develops and as a result there's no one at all to help after Brown forces the play upfield; Roh(-1) also looked pretty goofy as he goes to cut the FB at the wrong spot on this play, which allows a pulling guard to come around; he neither delays the RB nor takes out two-for-one.|
|M46||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Smith||8|
|Hey, same exact play, virtually identical result. Here Graham(-1) cuts inside and gets absorbed by single blocking; he's cutting out of the area in which he can help. Smith(-1) gives up the corner and no one can flow to the ball carrier.|
|M38||2||2||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Iso||Graham||3|
|Graham(+1) zips around the tackle trying to block him and is in great position to potentially make a TFL if Martin(-1) can just hold up better against single blocking; he doesn't, getting banged inside and giving the RB a crease. Graham makes a diving tackle with help from Kovacs and Mouton, but not before the first down line.|
|M35||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Pass||Out||Smith||Inc|
|Smith(+1) is blitzing from the edge and is in lighting quick, too quick for the RB to slide over to get much of a block. RB does get a cut; Smith ends up falling into Tolzien's knees as he throws. Resulting pass is inaccurate. (Pressure +1) Good thing, because out was wide open in front of Kovacs (cover -1)|
|M35||2||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||End around||Brown||5 (Pen -9)|
|Brown(+1) is flowing down the line to string this out when the TE grabs him, holds him up, and then cuts him to the ground. Gilreath gets a crease for a few yards; comes back for the hold.|
|M44||2||19||Ace 4-wide||4-4 under||Pass||Corner||Mouton||Inc|
|Mouton(+1) gets a good zone drop as Wisconsin is running a couple of routes to the short side of the field, one a short out and the other a corner. Mouton does take a step to the out, which is not his responsibility, before recovering deep and getting enough depth to deflect the ball; TE catches it on the deflection but out of bounds. (Cover +1) Pocket was too clean: pressure -1.|
|Graham(+1) is shooting inside his blocker and reads this screen, possibly because Tolzien is dropping too deep for it to be a real pass, so he peels off to tackle with help from Roh(+1), who also stopped in his tracks and recovered. (RPS +1, cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-7, 11 min 2nd Q. Roughing the kicker on Smith(-2) gives Wisconsin another opportunity. More about this later.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M30||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Heininger||4|
|RVB(-1) blown off the ball by a double; not a real surprise with that guy going up against the Wisconsin line. Heininger(+2), however, fights inside of his guy on the backside and gets inside quickly enough to make a diving tackle on Clay as he nears the LOS. Ankle tackle = YAC, but still a remarkable play; good thing, too, because Ezeh(-1) again sat around aimlessly near the hole and got blocked right out of it; Mouton(-1) had picked the backside of the line and without this play from Heininger Clay is probably scoring a touchdown.|
|M26||2||6||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Smith||7|
|Wheee they do the same thing to one side or the other over and over. On this one Smith(-1) shoots upfield instead of getting into the pulling guards and spilling the play, leaving Ezeh and Mouton one-on-one with two pullers; Mouton has to get outside of one and does; Ezeh(-1) is crushed by the other one and can only make a desperation tackle eight yards downfield.|
|M19||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||End Power O||Smith||13|
|Em. Well, it's the same play except this time they hand it to the pulling TE instead of Clay. Smith(-2) again gives up the corner, getting crushed backwards and giving Kendricks acres of space to head out in; Clay had fallen and if this play got forced back inside it probably wasn't getting much. Smith is every bit as bad as Williams.|
|M6||1||G||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Graham||-1|
|Graham(+2) ducks under the offensive lineman trying to down-block him and ends up in the backfield, where the pulling TE attempts to block him; too late, he's in the path of the play, and Clay goes down meekly.|
|M7||2||G||Ace||4-4 under||Pass||Rollout corner||Woolfolk?||7|
|Ezeh heading out for some contain if Michigan can get this covered, though he runs himself right into a cut block and falls. Doesn't really matter because Woolfolk(-1) got sucked out his zone by the outside receiver and opens up the corner. (Cover -1)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 10-14, 8 min 2nd Q. Smith is not a panacea.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O25||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Pass||PA TE Corner||Brown||Inc|
|Roh(+0.5) gets outside and avoids a cut to provide decent pressure on Tolzien, forcing a throw; Tolzien tries to hit his TE on the corner route that's killed M all year but on this one Brown(+2, cover +2) is running the TE's route for him and if this pass is accurate can intercept. It's not.|
|O25||2||10||Ace Twins||Base 3-4||Pass||Hitch||Mouton||Inc|
|Mouton(+1) blitzes through and does a good job avoiding the RB's block, forcing a throw (pressure +1) to a guy who looks like he's plenty covered(+1) downfield. Doesn't matter since Campbell(+1) bats the ball away.|
|O25||3||10||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Sack||Graham||-25!|
|Both LBs blitz, leaving Graham(+3) one-on-one with the backup RT, and Graham duly destroys the guy and then destroys Tolzien, sacking him and forcing a fumble that RVB(+1) sees, scoops up, and runs into the endzone. Replay.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble + defensive touchdown, 17-14, 3 min 2nd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O26||1||10||Ace 3-wide tight||4-4 under||Pass||Counter pitch||Brown||6|
|Brown(-1) bites on the counter action, stepping inside. Roh(-1) gets blasted down the line and tries a futile spin move past the UW TE as three OL pull around. This wastes a good play from Banks(+1) who gets out, avoids a cut block, and is flowing down the line to tackle if only someone can force the play back to him. Not possible.|
|No pressure(-1), allowing Tolzien to step and fire to a TE underneath the zone.|
|O38||1||10||Ace||4-4 under||Pass||PA Dig||Various||35|
|Incredibly open dig #3. Ezeh(-1), Mouton(-1), and Kovacs(-1) are the nearest players(cover -2); no one anywhere near Tolzien(pressure -2). I mostly blame Ezeh: he's just sitting there with no one in front of him. He should be drifting back the whole time and in position to do something about this.|
|M27||1||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Pass||PA TE Seam||Ezeh||24|
|Incredibly open dig/seam #4. Partially on Roh(-1), who doesn't get an effective chuck on the TE; partially again on Ezeh(-1), who has no one in front of him and still doesn't get a good zone drop (cover -2). No pressure(-1) again.|
|M3||1||G||Goal line||Goal line||Run||Power O||?||2|
|Wide angle on this makes it really hard to tell what happens; I'm using an SD torrent this week... so I can't really tell you much other than it looks fairly well defended and Clay pops outside where he's met by a couple tacklers and John Clays his way for two yards.|
|M1||2||G||Goal line||Goal line||Run||Power O||--||1|
|Clay leaps over the top and is thumped back by Graham, but apparently not before he got the ball over the line. It's reviewed and stands; I think this is one of those plays that's so inconclusive that the call on the field will stand whichever way it's called.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 17-21, 1 min 2nd Q. RR should have called time out after the first and goal play.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||End around||Graham||3|
|Fake the power O and use the TE coming around on the end-around. Graham(+1) tears through the line and into the backfield; he can't make a tackle but does delay the TE. Smith(+0.5) gets deeper into the backfield this time and manages to occupy two blockers but does let a crease develop between himself and Mouton, which the TE hits; delay allows Ezeh and others to close it down. Runner fumbles; Wisconsin recovers but loses a couple yards. Kovacs(+1) forced it.|
|O23||2||7||Ace Twins||4-4 under||Run||Down G||Smith||21|
|Man, Smith(-2) just sits at the LOS with no idea what to do here instead of coming up to the line and forcing the play inside. He gets nailed by a G and driven literally ten yards downfield, which allows the RB the corner; Warren(-1) comes up to whiff a tackle(-1) that was made hard by the Smith crushage.|
|O44||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Martin||-2|
|Smith does attack on this one as Wisconsin goes back to the power O scheme. I think they spent halftime coaching him up on this but he failed to recognize the down G scheme. Not much a hole as a result but it doesn't matter because Martin(+2) ripped through the line and tackles(+1) in the backfield, crushing the play by himself. I think Michigan was misaligned here because there are two guys on the backside who end up unblocked; this could have broken for a lot without Martin's play.|
|Tolzien has time for a quick throw and finds a receiver moderately open in front of Woolfolk but the pass is poor and not caught.|
|O42||3||12||Ace 4-wide bunch||4-3 under||Pass||Post||Mouton?||21|
|Graham(+1) tears around the corner and hits Tolzien in the back with one arm as he throws; a half-second more in coverage and this is a sack. But... no. This has got to be a huge zone bust by someone... it's third and freaking twelve and three players to that side of the field are short; I get Roh and RVB since it's a zone blitz but Mouton is covering no one. (Cover -2) ARGH. Is this Warren? How the hell do you cover this?|
|M37||1||10||Ace||4-4 under||Run||Down G||Smith||2 (Pen -10)|
|Smith(+1) does get upfield on this one, taking a blocker and forcing the play inside. Ezeh and Warren are there; two guys on one blocker, and they get a stop. Smith draws a holding call. Not that it will matter.|
|Incredibly open dig #4. I don't know what the coverage is here, but it looks like man, which would make Brown(-1, cover -2) the culprit. Or maybe it's zone? I have no damn idea. If it's zone it's Ezeh again getting ridiculously dragged out of position and opening this up. All these can't be on Ezeh, right? They'd pull him, right?|
|M29||2||2||Ace||4-4 under||Pass||Waggle comeback||Woolfolk?||14|
|Waggle gets Tolzien forever(pressure -2) and allows him time to set and fire to a receiver on a comeback (cover -1) in front of Woolfolk.|
|M15||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Mouton||0|
|Linebackers read the play direction and are all flowing into the hole; Ezeh's headed outside in case it spills. Line creases because RVB is slanting away from the hole and he gets down-blocked; Mouton(+2) makes a really nice play to dodge the pulling guard and tackle(+1) at the RB's knees.|
|M15||2||10||Ace Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Waggle throwaway||Roh||Inc|
|Michigan better prepared for this as Roh(+0.5) does not get sealed inside by the tackle and eventually shakes free, drawing Tolzien's lead blocker and allowing Ezeh(+0.5) to shoot into the backfield, forcing Tolzien to chuck it. (Pressure +1) Graham was, of course, coming hell for leather from the backside. Whatever hell for leather means.|
|M15||3||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Fade||Warren||15|
|Warren(-1) has great position but doesn't get his head around and ends up allowing Toon to make a spectacular catch; Warren also gets flagged for PI. I've made my opinion on PI known. No cover +/-.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 17-28, 10 min 3rd Q. Aaaaaaaaaaargh|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O34||1||10||Ace||4-4 under||Pass||Deep out||--||25 (Pen -10)|
|Tolzien has a zillion years (pressure -1) as Wisconsin max protects and Graham is getting a breather. He eventually finds a receiver wide open (cover -1); can't blame the secondary too much because of the protection but maybe a little bit. One reason for the time: Roh(+1) is getting held by the LT like whoah. It comes back, not that it will matter.|
|O24||1||20||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Ezeh||33|
|Nine frigging guys in the box and this still happens. Jesus. Heininger(-1) gets crushed inside and pancaked by the down-block. Kovacs(-2) totally misreads the play and actually tries to tackle the TE, and Ezeh(-2) hits inside of the Kovacs mess, leaving no one in the secondary. I can't believe he hasn't gotten pulled yet.|
|M43||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Ezeh||6|
|Ezeh does a good job of banging into the lead blockers right at the LOS, cutting off the hole, but then inexplicably starts spinning, which allows an OL to start driving him downfield. Brown(-1) then eats a block passively, allowing Clay to lurch forward.|
|M37||2||4||Ace Big||4-4 under||Pass||Waggle cross||Floyd||13|
|Floyd(-1) in man on the outside WR and is nowhere near the route; no pressure(-1) on the edge. (Cover -1)|
|M24||1||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Mouton||4|
|Mouton(+0.5) does a good job of getting into a lead blocker behind the LOS, forcing Clay behind him; he trips over his OL. Graham(-0.5) had gotten caught by the snap count and blown off the line, ceding the room that Graham uses to pick up the yardage he gets.|
|M20||2||6||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Naked boot||Kovacs||1|
|Odd. Fortunate, too, as Graham had torn into the backfield and would have tackled this for a four yard loss. Instead Tolzien takes it himself and gets on the edge one-on-one with Kovacs(+1, tackling +1), who forms up and takes him down.|
|M19||3||5||Ace||4-4 under||Pass||TE Hitch||--||12|
|Brown(pressure +1) gets a free run at Tolzien on a blitz but Tolzien impressively stands in an nails a tight end (cover -1) in between like four guys. At this point, I am swearing like a sailor. ARGH|
|M7||1||G||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Graham||0|
|Graham(+1) is just a beast, tearing through the backside(!!!) tackle and pancaking him(!!!) en route to the tailback, who runs into Graham's side and slows, allowing Roh(+0.5) and Ezeh(+0.5) to converge and tackle for no gain.|
|M7||2||G||Ace Twins||4-3 under||Pass||TE flat||--||7|
|Wisconsin basically blocks Kovacs(cover -1), who's got coverage on the flat, and gets away with an obvious offensive PI. Touchdown. Anger.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 24-35, 2 min 3rd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O40||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Martin||7|
|Actually well defended at the POA with linebackers rushing to the FB and taking out the hole right there but Martin(-1) attempted to come inside of the center and got sealed out of the play, opening a cutback lane.|
|O47||2||3||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Mouton||3|
|To the other side of the line. Kovacs is rolled up so this is a true nine-man front. He takes out a lead blocker, allowing Mouton(+0.5) to scrape to the hole and meet Clay there; Clay pops through a tackle somewhat and manages to fall forward for the first down.|
|50||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Mouton||13|
|Mouton(-2) gets lost in the middle of the field and there is no one to take on the tailback after Ezeh gets outside of the lead blocker. He's supposed to be there, unblocked, on this play and he's not, so it's a huge run.|
|M37||1||10||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Mouton||3|
|Mouton(-1) manages to get it right this time and shows up in the hole but misses the tackle(-1) and allows the RB to fall forward; Roh(+0.5) had peeled off to help.|
|M34||2||7||Ace||4-4 under||Run||Counter pitch||Brown||16|
|Roh(-1) gets crushed inside and Brown(-2) gives up the corner, then gets escorted almost 20 yards downfield by a pulling UW OL.|
|M18||1||10||Ace Twins||4-4 under||Run||Power O?||Smith||-2|
|Maybe? I think the center is pulling but he gets delayed because Graham(+0.5) blew into him, allowing a blitzing Smith(+1) a free run at the tailback, which he uses to tackle.|
|M20||2||12||Ace Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Waggle flat||Ezeh||6|
|I can't help but notice both Mouton and Ezeh are two feet from each other as the rollout begins, which opens up the little flat route as Ezeh(-1) slowly chases. Quick fill from Brown(+1, tackling +1) ends up as a solid tackle to keep the gain down.|
|M14||3||6||Ace Twins||4-3 under||Run||Down G||Mouton||14|
|Both the C and the playside G pull around to the short side as UW overloads the wide side and there's no one except Roh and a couple of quasi- or actual defensive backs over there. Roh(-1) gets crushed back, and Mouton(-2) overruns the play, giving the RB a crease between Roh and Warren when if he had just taken the inside gap this is little or no gain.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 24-42, 12 min 4th Q. Wisconsin gets the ball back up three scores with nine minutes left and chokes out the rest of the game. Charting ceases.|
Let's just get to the chart.
Before we get to this, I should say that I might have lost my mind at some point in the third quarter and started shooting out minuses to particularly incensing players on particularly incensing plays and some of the numbers may be exaggerated. It's tough to say that given the end result of the game, but I kept attempting to check my desire to throw out huge negative numbers; some rage probably slipped through into the numbers.
But, yes, chart.
|Graham||13.5||1.5||12||Poor pressure metric should slightly degrade your opinion here, though he did get two sacks and forced a defensive TD.|
|Heininger||2||2||0||One impressive play, a couple not so impressive ones.|
|Roh||4||6||-2||Wisconsin was always going to be the team to own him.|
|Martin||12.5||2||10.5||Huge day, especially early.|
|Van Bergen||1||1||0||Not a major factor.|
|Banks||1||-||-||One nice play for naught.|
|Campbell||1||-||-||Batted a pass.|
|TOTAL||35||12.5||22.5||21 tackles from the big two… you should have a great day against the run with that contribution.|
|Ezeh||1||11||-10||I can't believe he didn't get pulled.|
|Mouton||6.5||11||-4.5||Jonas Mouton: big positive, bigger negative.|
|Brown||4||6||-2||Gave up the edge a few times.|
|Warren||-||2||-2||Had no work, basically.|
|Smith||3.5||7||-3.5||This should actually be filed under LB, maybe.|
|Woolfolk||-||1||-1||Also mostly a non-factor|
|Kovacs||4||4||0||Did pretty okay. No idea why they moved him to deep safety; he's pretty effective in the box.|
|TOTAL||7.5||15||-7.5||Not much to do.|
|Coverage||7||19||-12||Ratio is awful.|
|Tackling||6||4||2||Still need to definite this more precisely.|
|RPS||3||0||3||Small number because UW just did the same thing over and over.|
[A reminder: RPS is "rock, paper, scissors." Michigan gets a + when they call a play that makes it very easy for them to defend the opponent, like getting a free blitzer. They get a – when they call a play that makes it very difficult for them to defend the opponent, like showing a seven-man blitz and having Penn State get easy touchdowns twice.]
If I'd charted Wisconsin's last grinding drive that ended in a field goal and game over, man, the numbers here would have been even worse but general policy is not to chart stuff after the game is effectively over, and down three scores when the other guy has the ball with nine minutes left is over.
You rage, contrary to the above statement, seems particularly well-focused.
Yes. Most of the poor performances on the chart that can be explained by size or youth or confusion or all three. Roh was always going to get pwned by beef machine OL 100 pounds bigger than him. Brown is basically a safety playing LB. And poor Brandon Smith is a redshirt freshman with no playing experience who has flipped positions twice this year.
What positions can't be explained by talent or youth or whatever… well, you know the story: Mouton and Ezeh. Wisconsin's passing game was almost exclusively zingers over the middle to incredibly open receivers 20 or even 30 yards downfield. On every damn one both MLBs were vastly out of position and the throws were easy. The pair was also very poor in run support: Graham and Martin combined for 21 tackles. They combined for eight!
These are returning starters and redshirt juniors. They have gotten so much worse this year, and it's obvious to everyone from Bret Bielema to stupid bloggers with charts. There is not quite enough data to outright support the ouster of a coach but I find it hard to believe that Jay Hopson could be any good. Maybe he just got stuck with mugs, but Jesus these guys can't even scrape to the right hole when Wisconsin is literally running the same play to different sides of the line four times in a row. Is this a defensive scheme change? I don't think so. Run to the damn hole.
The only possible mitigating factor is that maybe I'm not perceiving some errors by the defensive line that make it really difficult for guys to play linebacker. If one of the coaches who hangs around these parts thinks this is the case, please let me know and I'll post something about it. But I don't think that is.
Q: where were Leach and Fitzgerald? They busted a couple times against Purdue but good lord at some point I think you have to put them in just in case they do better. I thought they were okay.
Is Brandon Smith better than Mike Williams?
No. His contributions were on a couple of unblocked blitzes; he was very hesitant in the run game and often got blocked into the next county. He looked like a freshman in his first game in a new system, which he is. He's still got a lot of time to get better, but having Williams on the field was a necessary evil.
Is there anything we can take out of this for next year?
Well, Mike Martin probably turned in the best game of his career. He was in the backfield a ton, picking up a sack and a couple other TFLs amongst double-digit tackles, and nearly matched Graham's typically Graham-like performance. It's just one game and Martin fell off after a gangbusters first quarter, so it's possible that Wisconsin was just not prepared for his quickness, but if he can do something half (maybe two-thirds) as good against Ohio State that will be a step towards Martin turning into the death beast everyone thinks he can be and Michigan will need with Graham off to terrorize people in the NFL.
The rest? Bupkis.
Graham and Martin.
MLBs. See above.
What does this mean for Ohio State and next year?
See above about Martin. For Ohio State: doom.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|Jonas Mouton||Jr.*||Obi Ezeh||Jr.*||Stevie Brown||Sr.|
|Kenny Demens||Fr.*||JB Fitzgerald||So.*||Mike Jones||Fr.|
|Kevin Leach||So.*||Brandon Smith||Fr.*||Brandin Hawthorne||Fr.|
Here's where we have to start talking about the changes Greg Robinson hath wrought. In this defense there's a large distinction between the outside linebackers—"spinner" and deathbacker—and the inside linebackers. In this way it's more of a 3-4. Jay Hopson doesn't even coach the guys on the outside, he only gets the WLBs and MLBs. These guys will be operating off the line of scrimmage at all times and acting like conventional linebackers.
The outside guys are the hybrids, with the deathbacker somewhere between a defensive end and a linebacker and the "spinner"—a term that Greg Robinson claims does not exist—somewhere between a linebacker and a safety. On any particular play they could be tight to the line of scrimmage or dropped off. This helpful screenshot from diarist remdies should help clarify:
There's been a lot of debate on the blog about whether the base D is a 4-3 under or not; this alignment, for one, is pure 4-3 under. In any case, you can see the spinner and deathbacker at or near the line of scrimmage; Brown, if called to do so, can drop off onto the slot receiver. That's why he's on the strongside: to cover. I assume this will be the base formation against spreads, with adjustments for pounders.
Going into last year, Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense. Oh, hell, let me quote myself:
Sophomore middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense in 2007: a redshirt freshman pressed into the starting lineup before his time, he was unprepared and often bad. Now he’s the “veteran” anchor of a shaky unit, counted upon to improve massively.
Going into this year, Obi Ezeh is still the Steve Schilling of the defense: a two-year starter entering his redshirt junior year without having done much to distinguish himself and rapidly running out of upside. Schilling's got a fresh start and bonus round of practice hype based on his position switch, but Ezeh's not been so lucky. Though he's been showing up on some preseason All Big Ten lists, that's strictly a Matt Lentz phenomenon. Lentz entered his third year as a Michigan starting guard in 2005 with a ton of accolades; he left without even getting drafted. Winged helmet momentum sometimes carries meh players to lofty preseaon heights; Ezeh appears to be one of these folk.
There's a theme in the videos at right: the good ones usually involve Ezeh shooting towards the line of scrimmage on a blitz. The bad ones see him getting lost: see "hesitant, booted" or "suckered by PA" or "WHERE ARE YOU GOING"; the theme is clear here.
A lot of Ezeh's issues at right came in the Illinois game so let's check that game's UFR:
The first of Williams's crazy ninja ballfakes. This one suckers an unblocked Ezeh(-2) despite the fact Mouton is racing up into the same hole, beating a blocker to tackle the guy. … Ezeh(-1) fails to read this, hesitating long enough for the C to get out on him on the second level. … Ezeh(-2) took an upfield angle around a blocker [on a 57-yard screen touchdown]. … Problem: Ezeh(-2) overruns the WR as he cuts back since Mouton has forced him back upfield. He whiffs a tackle, allowing Illinois to convert. … Ezeh(-1.5) completely overruns the play, turning two yards into first and goal.
Now, Ezeh did have +8.5 scattered across that game but it was outweighed by a –12.5, which whoah. Most of the plusses came when Ezeh was permitted to attack the line of scrimmage immediately on a blitz or Illinois decided not to go with misdirection; you have to set people up sometimes, right? When they weren't doing that, they confused Ezeh. A lot.
Part of that was uncertainty about just what the hell he was doing. After I slammed Johnny Thompson for his performance in the Notre Dame game, high school coach and excellent diarist Steve Sharik came to his defense by way of blamin' Obi:
The mistake was by Obi Ezeh. By design, Ezeh is supposed to fast flow over the top and be outside of Thompson. If the back sees this and cuts back, he does so into the waiting arms of Terrance Taylor. Ezeh's used to the old way--which was played as you suggested. If you re-examine "bad iso 3," Ezeh is flat-footed instead of screaming over the top, which is what the scheme calls for. And that's why Thompson spilled the block again on the next play. The bad part is that Ezeh messed it up again.
It's not like Ezeh was the only one who had no idea what he was doing last year, but as the middle linebacker it's just way more apparent when you get lost because you're reading and reacting on every play.
Will it be better? Michigan, after all, has just switched schemes again. That will depend on Ezeh's increased experience giving him added flexibility and how much better Greg Robinson is compared to Scott Shafer at, you know, teaching people things. Everyone knows he's not David Harris but Harris didn't start until he was a redshirt junior; Ezeh will be one this fall. If he can just get his head on straight he should be average or slightly better.
will pop your lid
|Play action fail|
|Chasing down end around|
|Frowns: poor zone cover|
|Stands up FB, tackles|
|Stands up G, tackles|
|Improved coverage late|
|Destroys triple option|
The other starting spot is technically an outside linebacker position but the two spots are far more similar than WLB is to spinner/SLB so I'll slot Jonas Mouton here. Mouton's star was fading rapidly after he arrived out of California a top-50 recruit. Despite Chris Graham's persistent mediocrity, Mouton never threatened to start after moving from safety. And when Michigan opened last season, Mouton was behind two-star recruit Marell Evans.
Evans fell by the wayside when Michigan revamped its linebacker corps after the Utah un derneath coverage fiasco, paving the way for Mouton to chip in a +7 in his first extended game action against Miami Of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio). Ah, but not so fast my friend:
Mouton was overrated by the numbers, IMO. I gave him credit for blitzing up into the heart of Miami plays over and over again; that credit should probably fall to Shafer and not Mouton. Overall, though, I did think he played well and was a major upgrade over Evans.
That he was. Evans fell into the background and hardly saw a defensive snap the rest of the season; Mouton dropped off from his dynamite debut into a series of performances that were only okay but promised better once Mouton found his feet. That he did. Amongst the debris of the Purdue disaster his "continued good play" was about the only positive I could find
The praise Mouton started picking up late last year in UFR is echoed by Hopson. No, scratch that. It is amplified considerably (further quotes in this piece from Hopson are all from this link):
I’ve been really pleased with Jonas. Jonas is a kid that has worked extremely hard. He’s a kid that’s an explosive player. He’s a kid…he’s my kind of guy. Jonas is a tough guy. He’s physical and we expect Jonas to make some plays for us. … I think he’s ready to have a big year. … I think he’s an NFL player all the way. I’ll sell him to anybody. I just love him.
This dedicated amateur concurs. Mouton's uptake last year was swift and by the end of the season he was easily Michigan's best linebacker. Chart? Chart.
|Wisconsin||6||4.5||1.5||Had a tough time against Wisconsin's mondo players and is still learning; potential is there.|
|Illinois||5||2.5||2.5||Was better suited to defend this offense than the more lumbering guys. BONUS: “solid day”|
|Penn State||7||6||1||Still terrible in coverage; turning into a good blitzer.|
|Michigan State||5.5||3||2.5||Stood up MSU's fullback time and again, clearly surprising MSU. ... pleasantly surprised by both OLBs in this game.|
|Purdue||5.5||3.5||2||The closest thing M has to a player in the back seven right now.|
|Minnesota||2||5.5||-3.5||Off day from him; was culpable on one of the GDCDs.|
|Northwestern||9.5||1.5||8||Monster day, best of his career. Really got freed up to attack and constantly shot past guys trying to block him.|
I could go through more of it but it's all the same in the comments: Mouton's an excellent, explosive blitzer and surprisingly stout when it comes to taking on fullbacks and even guards at the point of attack. He's still vulnerable to misdirection some and has coverage issues—though they weren't as severe as Ezeh's. He's got the athleticism to be a pass-rush threat and should get more capable in coverage this year. He'll be drawing easier assignments, for one, as Stevie Brown replaces Johnny Thompson in the lineup.
Mouton is poised for a breakout.
Backups and Whatnot
This is about the only spot on defense where there is reasonable depth. Two second-year players back up Ezeh and Mouton. Ezeh's primary backup is JB Fitzgerald, a sophomore who got special teams time a year ago. As a recruit, Fitzgerald was just outside the top 100 on the recruiting sites and has gotten the sporadic positive mention in practice reports and coach recaps. Hopson recently said that Fitzgerald is "really in a battle" for a starting job, and though that may be optimistic about his chances it says something about him that he's not just shoved into the background.
More from Hopson:
JB … knows both positions. JB is smart. He’s also very much like Obi. He is mentally sharp. He’s physical and JB is a competitor. He’s not going to give in. JB wants a job too. He’s going to work hard and I’m fortunate to have guys like that. … He might be a little bit further ahead at MIKE right now, but I probably practice him a lot more at MIKE right now.
He should be reasonably prepared should he be called upon, and his talent level seems high. He's probably the player outside the starting eleven you should be least terrified to see on the field.
Kenny Demens is a classmate of Fitzgerald's but got an injury redshirt last year after appearing on special teams in the first couple games. He wasn't a huge recruit or anything, but the practice buzz has been positive. He'll be Mouton's primary backup.
There is also converted safety Brandon Smith. Smith was a big recruit—about on par with Mouton, actually—who stayed at safety his first year mostly because Michigan had few other options. When it became clear he didn't have the speed to stay there in spring, he was moved to linebacker.
Hopson is very positive about him:
They have to have an awareness. … That’s the one thing that has impressed me about Brandon Smith, moving from defensive back. When you’re far away from the ball sometimes you have time and distant on your side, you have a little bit more time to decipher. Brandon came in and in two days, okay this kid has that ability. He can see right now. A lot of players are big, physical and fast, but they can't see all the stuff that a linebacker has to see. It is truly that natural instinct.
Question: Is Brandon Smith catching up?
Jay Hopson: “Yes, he really is. He is a kid that’s worked extremely hard. I see him making one more step every day."
Even so, it will take at least a year for Smith to get comfortable enough to be a viable option. If we see him this year the linebacking corps will look like a MASH unit. Look for Smith to idle away on the bench until Mouton and Ezeh graduate, then battle for a starting job as a redshirt junior. He should be a special teams mainstay.
|The Horror Begins|
|Frowns: Utah overrrun|
|PBU leads to int|
|Blanket in man|
|FROWNS: Blown post|
|FROWNS: Slant = TD|
|FROWNS: tackle whiff|
|FROWNS: flat fail|
|Actually appears to be a safety here|
I don't remember where I read this but it sounds like the sort of quote that must have been on a message board somewhere, penned by one of those insider-type folks. Wherever it was, it lodged in my head and won't leave. Here's a possibly apocryphal quote about Stevie Brown from Greg Robinson: "he's a hell of a lot better player where he is now."
For the love of God, let that be true. A brief tour of Stevie Brown's 2008 can be found at right, or you can just read this in-depth scouting report: ack.
Brown … seems hopeless. He was quiet for a few games, then returned with a vengeance in this one. Some guys just can't figure out how to play, and at this point it would be shocking if the light ever went on.
Oh and the Northwestern one:
that's quintessential Brown: poor angles and poor awareness of the situation on the field.
And some others but you get the point. Brown was a horror show at safety.
But he's no longer a safety and if you look at the few highlights at right that don't start with the word "frowns" you'll find the athleticism that made Brown a big recruit out of high school and some good examples of man coverage. If he's not the last line of defense and he's in a lot of man against tight ends or tailbacks coming out of the back and maybe a slot receiver or three, maybe this could be okay? It certainly addresses one of the dumbest traits of Scott Shafer's tenure as defensive coordinator: leaving dinosaur MLB Johnny Thompson on the field against spread teams and asking him to cover… well, anyone. At the very least, Brown is more suited for modern football than a guy with a neck roll. Who covered slot receivers. Argh! That's another post, though, and one for tomorrow.
Brown, for one, thinks his move is a good one:
“It’s been going well. It was a little different for me at camp having to actually hit the O-lineman and tight ends all day, every day. Thus far, it’s been fine. I’ve been able to adjust to it very well. Coach Robinson does a good job teaching it and I think it’s going to work out very well for me.”
I do too, but man that incident in the spring game where the Coner juked him out of his jock, combined with, you know, everything else in his history, makes me leery. I do think he'll be in position to make a lot of plays, and I love the flexibility and common sense of putting a virtual safety in a spot where he can blitz, play zone, or man up. I like putting him behind deathbeast Brandon Graham, which should make it harder for defenses to exploit his lack of size. And people get better as they age. Michigan's put Brown in a spot to maximize his assets and minimize his downside, and I kind of sort of think it will work out.
Backups and Whatnot
None with experience. Michigan brought in three safety/linebacker hybrid freshmen, though. No one's heard much about Isaiah Bell (recruiting profile) so far because IIRC he's been injured. Mike Jones (recruiting profile)is second on the depth chart after enrolling early; Brandin Hawthorne (recruiting profile) also enrolled early but is, for now, behind a walk-on. Jones will play in an effort to get someone ready for the spot once Brown graduates; Hawthorne and Bell are likely to redshirt.
Spring practice continues and there's the usual mix of unwarranted excitement and unwarranted doomsaying; that combined with the incestuous nature of the whole enterprise makes information wobbly. But wobbly is better than nothing.
A rundown of scuttlebutt received in my inbox and published elsewhere:
The conflicts start hot and heavy with Forcier, who has articles like this written about him:
"Coach Barwis, he's shown me a whole different life," Forcier said, chuckling. "But I'm getting a lot stronger, and that's a good thing."
On the field, Forcier, who is expected to compete with Nick Sheridan for the starting QB job, said one of the biggest challenges is adjusting to the snap, which he's had some trouble hanging onto during spring practices.
"It's just getting comfortable with how they snap it to you," he said. "In high school, you get these slow shotgun snaps. Here, these come back like rockets."
Yikes. There have been plenty of reports citing the usual harsh transition from college to high school, with balls zinged into linebackers' chests and hilariously arrogant attempts to reverse field resulting in 20-yard sacks.
On the other hand, multiple attendees have noted the positives to Forcier's game, especially in relation to Rodriguez's offense: he's elusive, extremely accurate on the run, and has enough zip to get the ball where it needs to go. Much of the practice time has been devoted to tougher passes—no bubble screens—and things the offense isn't good at yet, which makes them look worse than they might if they were operating with some of the easier stuff to execute.
At least that's the positive way to look at it. The other way to look at it is basically "we're going to die." One viewpoint is in relation to what happened last year—even skeptics have been very clear that the quarterback situation is vastly improved over DEATH. The other is comparing freshman Forcier to quarterbacks who are actually, like, good. The overall impression is that Forcier isn't a 9-3 QB, but neither is he a 3-9 one.
"Out of the freshman, they're all doing good, doing what I expect them to do, but Vincent Smith is showing a lot of potential. He's not backing down ... He's got real used to hitting early on. He does that very well."
"Vince, whewwwww. Vince Smith, he can move, he can run. He's out there running like the wind. He makes a lot of guys miss. I think we might be able to use him this year."
(Note the assumption in Forcier's quote there.)
"He's really come along," Rodriguez said earlier this week. "He's still confused sometimes, as all the freshmen would be, but he's shown some flashes in (Tuesday's) practice and he's a guy that's probably going to play some as a true freshman. I love his attitude, he loves playing and he's a quick learner on the field and he's got some natural ability, so I'm pretty excited about him."
This isn't wholly surprising. Smith's initially lukewarm reviews gave way to a more positive take after his impressive senior season. Though he didn't scrape his way out of the three-star ghetto, he moved way up on both major sites as they refined their rankings and Smith powered Pahokee to another state title. A couple of Florida correspondents said he was a terrific back whose ratings were held back by his size and a lack of pure white-hot speed, much like Oregon State's Jacquizz Rogers without the Name of the Year potential. (Vote for Mingo!)
Smith's got a number of veterans in front of him and isn't going to be an instant feature back with Minor looking like a beast and Brown (mostly) healthy, but it sounds like he's hopped in front of Cox and Grady and will spend this year vying against Michael Shaw to see who starts next year.
(At right: Brandon Smith tackling… uh… Brandon Smith? Is this like that A-Rod picture? Or one of those mirror universe episodes of any sci-fi show that goes on so long the writers get bored to tears with the characters?
One thing I definitely know: that's not some walk-on. Nope, it's definitely Brandon Smith in some sort of weird temporal vortex.)
This won't be surprising to anyone even vaguely familiar with Michigan football since Marcus Ray, but, yeah, argh safeties. Stevie Brown has been moved down into a nickel/OLB spot, much to the relief of everyone. This Free Press article says Brown "didn't have the impact many expected," which is a nice way of saying "had exactly the impact everyone feared." Now he's elsewhere:
"He's going to be a multipositional player for us," coach Rich Rodriguez said before practice Thursday. "Obviously, he's playing a lot of nickel back, in kind of a nickel-back situation. It's kind of a hybrid of an outside linebacker/strong safety position, which I think he's perfectly suited for."
Actually, he does seem well suited for that sort of role. Brown only got more frustrating last year when he started making the occasional sweet play to go with his free touchdown per game. Highly rated out of high school, Brown's a capital-a Athlete and seems an excellent fit for this coverage/blitz/tackle hybrid spot. An emailer reports back from the coaches' clinic:
Also there was some promising news on Stevie Brown. Greg Robinson talking about Stevie Brown said “He’s a hell of an athlete and he’s a hell of a lot better football player where we have him now (strong side LB)."
So hurray for all that.
However, moving him leaves just two returning players at the position: Mike Williams, who saw some playing time a year ago and didn't do anything of note good or bad, and redshirt freshman Brandon Smith. That's a horrifying lack of depth at a position we're all well aware can be an instant 60-yard touchdown for the opposition.
That was ominous enough. Then various reports came back that neither was starting. Longtime Michigan insider Maizeman:
Starting safeties (Thursday) were Woolfolk and Vlad. Yes, Vlad as starter. He looked, on Thursday, to be our best safety -- not even close.
Oy. That's a true freshman and a position switch starter at a position where Yards After Mundy can rack up in a hurry. When I profiled Emilien I noted he was an early enroller, an honor-roll student, and had a serious flirtation with Ohio State (which unearths functional-to-excellent unhyped safeties on a frustratingly regular basis). All of these things point to a sunny future for Emilien and I think sooner or later he'll be a good safety for Michigan. But by "sooner or later" I mean "later".
Woolfolk, meanwhile, was running at corner as of a week ago. With his departure the current two deep there is:
- Cissoko and Warren
- JT Floyd and Floyd Simmons, redshirt freshman walk-on.
Argh. It's hard to see the position switch as anything other than a condemnation of the projected starters at safety. The chatter now has Smith moving to linebacker eventually due to a lack of speed. You can see a hint of that in this Rodriguez quote:
"He has not played, he's a redshirt freshman, but he's got a lot of ability," Rodriguez said. "He's still got to get in shape to be able to play on the back end, like our safeties have to do sometimes. You've got to be able to run a lot, a whole lot, and they're still adjusting to that. But I think he's going to be able to help us in a lot of spots this year."
With Brown a senior and Smith a little ponderous for safety we might see the latter move to this hybrid spot during the year if Emilien and Woolfolk work out.
About That Defense
I got a number of emails from people smarter than me about football in regards to this 4-3/3-4 distinction; happily, none of them call me an idiot. A coach who attended the clinic a few days ago:
The report that the defense would come to resemble a 3-4 seems a little off base. After attending the Coaching Clinic and seeing the defense in action it is the same thing that you see at a lot of programs. First it is considered a 4-3 but it is a multiple 40 defense where you are going to see numerous adjustments (the same as any college program). They will slide into some 3-4 sets by dropping their Quick (strong side end speed rusher/lb hybrid) This can be called for coverage or zone blitz scheme.
The biggest improvement I believe you will see come in the form of tackling and angles. Greg Robinson has already overhauled the pursuit angles and has really stressed proper body mechanics when tackling. You could visibly notice the change in tackles and finish. Jay Hopson also commented that “Greg has really made a huge improvement to how we tackle. It’s night and day from last year.”
This sounds much like what was mentioned in What Is It. Michigan is basically going with a 4-3 that has the flexibility to drop into a 3-4 when the situation warrants it or Robinson just wants to throw a curveball. To do this you need a chunky linebacker at the standup end spot, a guy who can hold up (or penetrate) against a tackle on a run to his side, rush the passer, and credibly drop into a short zone. Shawn Crable would be an excellent fit. So would prospective recruit Will Gholston. (HINT HINT, MR. GHOLSTON.)
The closest analogue to what Michigan appears to be installing is the defense of the Arizona Cardinals, who run a "4-3 under" most of the time with a weakside DE/LB they call the "predator," thereby soundly defeating Michigan's nomenclature. As hybrids go, it's hybrid-y:
…in the 4-3 “under” front, like the Cardinals use as their base defense, which looks similar to the 3-4 to the naked eye, the biggest difference is in the outside linebackers. The strong-side linebacker is still outside the tight end. But the other outside guy — the Cardinals call this player their “Predator” — is almost always rushing the passer, although the Cards will occasionally drop him into coverage to mix things up. Other differences: The nose tackle shades to the A-gap (in between the center and guard) on the tight end side, and the end on that side moves between the tackle and tight end.
explained that the 3-4 defense creates the most confusion for the offense in terms of which outside linebacker is doing what, and the standard 4-3 offers the least unpredictability. The Cardinals’ 4-3 “under” scheme is somewhere in between the two in terms of causing the offense to guess who is rushing and who is dropping.
There is one uncovered linebacker—eg, "man who must take on unblocked guard"—in the 4-3 under, which is different from the 4-3 (none) and the 3-4 (two). That's the MLB, meaning Obi Ezeh. Onus, meet third year starter who's been fairly disappointing so far. You'll be good friends all year.
Also, here's Tyler Sellhorn, who's sent in an email or two before and contributed to Doctor Saturday, on what the whole "rush end/linebacker" thing was:
The Hermann era defense was better known in its day as a 5-2. 3 DTs and 2 DEs; however, the strongside and weakside specialized by personnel, tactics, or alignment. The weakside DE was called the "drop end" an excellent deployment of a SS type player (Stevie Brown). The strongside DE was called the "rush end", think Lawrence Taylor/Derrick Thomas. Calling it a 3-4 is "sexier" because safeties and speedy big guys would be prefer to be called linebackers than defensive ends. As an offensive line coach and former lineman, I hated playing "odd" fronts (with a nose guard). The angles for your usual blocks change significantly and when the defense chooses it is easier to bring up support from the outside and from the safeties. 3-4 is more flexible in the secondary as well because linebackers can be put in coverage much easier.
IMO, I think the (very) early returns are good for GERG.
So there you go.
A Brief Summary Of My State Of Mind
Look: we're not going to be good. There is a true freshman quarterback who, while as ready as he can be, is still not ready at all. The line is probably going to be okay, but not dominant. They're installing a new defensive package and holy God is the secondary thin. They'll get some reinforcements in the fall but it's like quarterback: when you've got six highly-rated options for two spots whoever wins that job is likely to be good. When you've got two, you're hoping that both pan out, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble.
Position switch starters—one of MGoBlog's primary "uh oh" heuristics—seem likely at safety (Woolfolk), DE/spinner (Herron), LB/SS (Brown), and LG (Schilling). None of those are huge deals in and of themselves as they don't involve flipping sides of the ball, like Ferrara did last year, and generally see players moving into spots where they are faster than the opposition or just plain better suited; together that's a lot of flux. Digging out of this hole is going to be a multi-year project, and I don't mean we'll only make the Alamo this year. Notre Dame went from 3-9 to 7-6 and though they had a bigger hole to dig out of they weren't starting over at quarterback. A similar improvement seems realistic.