A guest post from Craig Ross, who took in the coaches' clinic this year, as he does most years. If you're not sure what "technique" means or the basics of cover X defenses the UFR FAQ should be of some assistance.
Greg is not impressed, GERG
On a personal level Mattison is charismatic and impressive. I can’t imagine that he won’t be a absolutely great recruiter. His enthusiasm is manifest. He isn’t a defensive personality (I don’t mean football defense) in the slightest. Media guys kept asking him about his salary (incredibly rude, I thought) and he just said he didn’t want to talk about. Not mean. Not tired. Not nasty. Just matter of fact. But after the second “no,” these reporters got it.
Unlike GERG he has patience with questions, especially football questions. GERG wanted little to do with the press and had no patience with anything resembling a football question. [I asked whether he would be playing “one or two gap” a couple of years ago. He looked at me like I was crazy (maybe I am/was, probably the question was idiotic) but he responded (and repeated himself) with “Let’s just say by the end of the season you’ll be happy with our defense.” Uh, well, not exactly.
I don’t want to beat on GR. The media can be pretty awful and he had a right to some disinclination to talk about anything other than superficial sound bites. But even in coaching clinics he seemed loathe to talk about defensive structure, which he perceived as overrated (maybe he is right). His obsession was technique, notably tackling technique—stunning given what our defense did the last two years. But Mattison is a whole different deal. He gives smart questions their due. He gives sloppy questions more thought than they probably deserve. And, yeah, he isn’t above the ordinary sound bite to the ordinary sorta-non-question.
The Ravens were a 3-4 team until Mattison took over the defense. In 2009 he changed the Raven to a 4-3 look and there is every reason to believe he will attempt to mimic the success he had in Baltimore. Mattison’s overall philosophies are
- stop the run,
- take away the offense’s best receiver (I assume this means the D may tend to roll a bit to the best WR’s side of the field), and
- keep the defensive formations stable but mix pressures and coverages.
Mattison will run a 4-3 with some nickel as a primary defense*. He was adamant about four things.
- Martin (or any NT) will never play right over the center, zero tech, that he will be shaded into the A gap, even if slightly**.
- He always wants four guys down. Always. He said “If I have to limp in there we are playing 4 guys on the line.” (A couple of times in the spring game it looked like we had three guys down. Reviewed this. On play one he had Big WC at NT and Mike Martin standing up on the edge. Denard breaks the play for 55 yards. Of course, we did have 4 DL in the game so he didn’t violate his abstract principle. Also, as noted, against spread looks he went with three DL. [Ed: my impression was that these sorts of games were reserved for passing downs, when run soundness goes out the window and you're just trying to hassle the QB.])
- GM prefers (strongly) that the defense generally have the same look. He stated that his defense will not “stem” into different looks. That said, he wants the defense to have variations out of the singular defensive formation.
- As every coach on the planet says and means, he wants the D to pressure the QB.
Mattison stresses that he has been left with attentive kids. He talks about their seriousness, that they have behaved and been supportive of each other. Unlike Borges, who spent a lot of time looking at last year’s offense, Mattison claims he did not watch “one minute” of last year’s tape. (I wish I hadn’t.) There are two reasons for this. First, he didn’t want to bias his impressions of the players. He preferred that he and his staff make their own valuations, as opposed to those that accrued in a different system. Second, he was going to run a different system anyway. Looking to last year’s model wasn’t going to provide any information likely to have value.
This is a treacherous judgment—my understanding of the lingo may hamstring my perceptions—but it looks to me like Mattison will to use a 4-3 under as his base defense. The NT will be shaded into the A gap toward the TE, the defensive end in 5 technique but slightly shaded to the outside, and the SAM lining up near the LOS outside of the tight end, assuming there is a TE on the field. On the weak side the tackle will be in 3-tech and the rush end will shaded slightly outside of the offensive tackle***. Basically this:
I think Michigan will look like this a lot but the black “elephant”—the rush end for UM [ed: around here we called it Deathbacker when Greg Robinson was trying to use that guy as in coverage more]—might be a bit closer to the tackle. Mattison’s drawing also had the Mike (Middle LB) and Will (Weakside LB) slightly more shaded to the TE. In the diagram above the Mike has the strongside B gap and Will the weakside A gap. The Will just has to make sure his gap isn’t threatened and then can flow to the ball.
Coverage: The field (wide side) corner and safety will often play “quarters,” while the other safety will be responsible for half the field. [ed: This is also known as quarter-quarter-halves. It's a cover three that splits the field unevenly. Hit up this Smart Football post for more detail—look for the first diagram with color in it.] If there is a receiver to the boundary (short side) that corner will squat, but if there is no WR he may have a “fire” read, rushing the passer or having weakside run support.
A couple variants: A primary variation of this will be the DL all slanting to the weak side of the formation, the Mike and Will dropping into hook and curl coverage, with the corners and weakside safety splitting the field into thirds and the strong side safety having responsibility in the flat. Note that this comes out of the same 4-3 under look. I assume, on this choice, the Sam (Strongside LB) has edge integrity and the Mike and strong safety have primary run support to the play side.
Mattison didn’t mention the 4-3 over but they definitely played a bit of that in the SG. In that the NT shifts to a shade into the weakside A gap and the linebackers are more balanced. I have to look back at the tape some---pretty sure they played a bit of it, at least late in the SG.
It also looks like they will play some “Bear” defense, bringing the Will down into the gap between the End and the SAM. In such instances he said they will always be in man defense, they won’t try to zone. Mattison also stressed that “setting an edge” to the defense is always important and on their base defense that’s up to the Sam on the field side. He said this was “a huge deal.”
In terms of personnel note that Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd were out in the spring, as was Kenny Demens. In a surprise Marrell Evans started with the ones (I didn’t know he was on the team until 10 days ago) in the Spring Game. Herron was there, too. Herron was shucked by Cox on his long run. I thought Evans played pretty well.
Tony Anderson and Avery both played pretty well at corner (or was this just the weakness in our passing game?) so with Floyd and Woolfolk healthy in the fall, there should be a lot of competition there.
In a huge surprise to me, I saw some really good play from Greg Brown—at corner—in the last Saturday scrimmage [ed: ie, the Saturday before the spring game]. This was mentioned by the coaches, so it is not a secret or my insanity. Brown did give up the TD near the end of the spring game but he was in great position and just misplayed the ball. Right now Carvin and Kovacs are running with the ones at safety, but Marvin Robinson is going to be a monster if he can learn the D. Parents of a player mentioned this to me, that Marvin had the chance to be awesome, once he steps up his understanding of the playbook. Josh Furman made a couple of plays but I didn’t focus on him so I can’t evaluate his play yet. Marvin made numerous big plays in the last weekend scrimmage.
The DL looks set with Van Bergen at DE, Roh at rush end, Big Will at the three tech and Martin at NT. However, Martin was moved around a bit in the SG so I have to look at the tape of that. Depth is thin, but I saw some good play from Black (inconsistent, but flashes), Wilkins (big plays in the SG) and the other Will (Heininger) who has been moved inside to NT.
The LBs were Jones (Will) and Cam Gordon (Sam) and I thought they did OK. Jake Ryan just stood out on the last scrimmage (with the 2s)—he made play after play—and he did the same thing in the SG. He was a way under the radar recruit but he really looks like he will be a player.
This was the worst defense in the history of the galaxy (maybe not universe, there may be a planet where some team was worse) last year so I am surprised by what I saw this spring. It was a more ordinary spring--- the UM defense making the offense struggle to get any run game going (except for Denard), though maybe two big plays were broken by the RBs. I predicted before the SG (based on the prior week’s scrimmage) that this would be an average or above average defense. I still think that. Something in the back of my head thinks it might even be an “almost good” defense but I suspect this is delusional. Now the coaches seem nervous. Mattison was unhappy after the SG but they sure seem ahead of anything I have seen for a few years.
*[Editor's note: given how much we saw Thomas Gordon in the spring game I'm guessing the nickel will be the base defense against spread looks.]
**[During the spring game it seemed like were pretty close to a zero technique at times, something he seemed to disavow. From the endzone, where I sat, there always seemed some shade. But on the Tivo of the game (from the side) of course, it seemed like we had a NT in zero tech every now and then. I reviewed it. Seems like this was when the offense was in a spread, when GM went completely odd with a 3 man front—as George Halas suggested against the single wing.]
***[Mattison is concerned that too many rush ends tend to get too wide as they attempt to speed rush the tackle. He thinks this is too easy a mark for an offensive tackle unless the end is a blur. He wants him closer to the tackle. He especially wants Craig Roh to not get too wide, allowing him to probe in either direction.]
So… that happened. As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. Whether your reaction to Saturday was "woo defense" or "ugh offense" depends on your state of mind and may oscillate wildly.
Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. Denard completed 5 of 14 passes for 5 YPA—2008 numbers—and ran six times for 60 yards, averaging 1 YPC after his first attempt. Insert the usual spring caveats and add a bunch more besides for small sample size and an awkward transition, but that is a far cry from the last spring game, and very little of it can be attributed to awesome defense. The QBs sucked on their own.
Here are highlight-type substances (which also feature the Most Legendary Press Conference Ever):
The official site version:
Other vague impressions:
The worst part ever. That guy who sung the anthem. I don't know why events that aren't actual football games are accompanied by some never-was with vibrato Tourette's singing the national anthem. This happened at the Big Chill, too. This is the last drip of Michigan football for five months—give me the band.
Obviously not so good. Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it. Denard missed a couple times but was obviously better. Both performed poorly in the game itself, which fine. Denard doesn't need a more practice on running plays that were beaten into his head last year, sometimes literally. If you're installing new stuff now is the time to see if it works.
HOWEVA, man… it did not seem to work. They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.
Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.
Mike Cox was the most impressive, scoring the only legitimate touchdown of the day for the offense—the second was an uncalled offensive PI that outraged Charles Woodson even if he wasn't watching it—on a 68-yard rumble through the middle of the defense. A few runs later he powered through a couple diving arm tackles for a decent gain. Notably, no coach dropped his headset in disgust without even yelling at the guy, which totally happened at last year's fall scrimmage. That was a sign Cox was going to be buried on the bench all year. Light going on? Let's hope so.
Stephen Hopkins seemed like Stephen Hopkins. Everyone else was pretty eh. Hayes and Rawls will have a shot in the fall.
With all but five Michigan receptions leaders returning there wasn't much new here, especially since the quarterbacks had such an off day. Hard to show anything when you're chasing Carvin Johnson down instead of vice-versa. A few items:
- It seems like Drew Dileo has risen to second on the slot depth chart.
- Odoms is still outside.
- Moving Ricardo Miller to tight end is a very bad sign for him. Seeing him next to the other TEs is like seeing that tiny third-string FB in the game. He just doesn't have the frame for TE, especially in a manball offense, so… what does that say about his potential future as a WR?
- The much-touted involvement of the tight ends did not materialize. I don't remember a single catch [Ed-M: Koger got one] and I think they only targeted TEs once or twice. This has been an exceptionally overblown meme anyway. Last year Michigan TEs had 20 catches. In Carr's last year they had 24. When you've got talent you throw to it; Michigan's talent is in the slot.
Michigan needs a couple big receiver recruits this year because the cavalry does not appear to be coming. Jerald Robinson may develop into a decent option but Miller's not even at the spot anymore and DJ Williamson didn't look good in drills or exist in the game; Jeremy Jackson is probably the best of all the receivers brought in last year and his upside is strictly possession.
It's all but impossible to pick out anything specific live unless you're a savant, which I'm not, so… uh… yeah. Michigan's attempts to run power didn't go so well—a follower tweeted that Michigan's guards were the equivalent of Michigan's kickers when they tried to pull. Again, with a veteran line that's got zone blocking down it's okay to work on the stuff they don't know yet. It seems foolhardy to dump that entirely and we did see a couple examples of Rodriguez's QB stretch, so let's hope the playcalling is less slanted towards the unfamiliar in fall.
The second team OL was walk-on infested with injuries to Molk (played but sparingly) and Lewan (out). They could not block the second-team DL, which contributed to Gardner's issues. Late it seemed like Mattison called off the dogs specifically so Gardner could see what it was like to not have someone breathing down his neck two seconds after the snap.
One guy I did think looked pretty good was Schofield.
All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.
As for the other guys, RVB was out, leaving Jibreel Black and walk-on Nate Brink alternating at SDE. We know what to expect out of Martin when his ankles exist, and now he's getting moved around on passing downs. Schofield seemed to win his battle with Craig Roh, but Roh made a couple of plays on runs and looks like an honest-to-God DE these days. Kenny Wilkins was the DE who got steamrolled on the Cox TD.
Everyone's talking about Jake Ryan after his pick six and constant pressure of Gardner, but his primary opponent was a redshirt freshman walk-on not very good at blocking people. Big difference between his setup and, say, Campbell taking on the starting guards on the regular. Cam Gordon's in front of him for a reason. Ryan does appear like he'll push for time.
On the whole this unit was surprisingly decent for one starting a guy who just transferred from Hampton after not getting any PT there. Often when I'd watch Campbell he'd get kicked out of the hole way too easily, but as I braced for a big run two linebackers would roar in from the backside and swallow the play. That's what a one-gap defense does as long as you get your "run fits" right, and it seemed like they were vastly improved over last year. I'm extremely leery of the depth when your best alternative to Demens is Marell Evans, but here it seemed like the transition was going smoothly. Caveats apply: could just be the OL not being any good at what they're being asked to do.
FWIW, it was Brandon Herron getting steamrolled on the Cox TD run.
With Floyd and Woolfolk out this was also a lot of walk-ons. It's not good for Terrance Talbott to be behind Tony Anderson; Cullen Christian was also behind Anderson but was apparently injured and did not play. This will be some combination of Avery/Floyd/Woolfolk this fall unless Blake Countess shows up extremely ready. Greg Brown showed better than most expected after he spent his senior year of high school at linebacker.
As for safety, Michigan certainly looks good there. Marvin Robinson, Josh Furman, and Carvin Johnson are physically reminiscent of NFL safeties. A dollar says that perception doesn't last into the Big Ten season, but in this game they only blew two plays—the Cox TD (overrun by a very confused Robinson) and Denard's game-opening 55-yarder (Johnson was understandably outrun). Oh, and there was that hopeless Gardner bomb that should have been intercepted but ended up a completion. I think that was also Robinson, but I don't remember exactly.
So… slightly encouraging here. While Johnson's interceptions were gifts he came up and put a lick on more than one tailback who had broken to the sideline. Robinson also bombed a couple tailbacks. Furman was in position to break up a couple of Gardner deep balls and could have had an interception or two if Gardner's passes had been a little more accurate. Unfortunately, I am constitutionally incapable of not panicking about safety play even if there is evidence I shouldn't.
Will Hagerup is sophomore Zoltan: still too inconsistent but if he gets hold of one look out. He's going to hit a 70-yard punt this year. He'll also hit some 35-yard dribblers, but he's getting there.
Kickers: aigh. [Ed-M: They say
Aslan Matt Wile is on the move.]
Other Video Type Objects
Important bit on Denard: “in the real world, he'll probably run more than you saw today.”
Photo galleries abound. AnnArbor.com:
If the spring game is any indication, Mattison is not afraid to bring the heat. One of the criticisms Ravens fans levied at Mattison was that he “didn’t blitz enough.” That is something that is said about just every defensive coordinator ever, so take it for what it’s worth. Still, the concern that Michigan is going to drop back into a cover-2 and rush four is something that I’ve been somewhat afraid of. I thought the 3-3-5 was going solve that, instead it proved to be the exact opposite of an aggressive, attacking defense.
As OHHW notes, rushing four would actually be an improvement on last year. Ace predicted and wanted ugly. Point Ace. The Big House Blog wonders where Roy Roundtree went. Hoke says Michigan has a "long way to go." Mattison says he "doesn't know if [Johnson] was responsible for" his big plays, which… yeah. Photos and bits from MVictors.
Yesterday we hit the offense; this is the other side of the ball.
Campbell Or Someone Else, Except There Isn't Anyone Else
All eyes not locked on Denard Robinson Saturday will be interpreting any signs of life from Will Campbell as prophecy of opposing offensive lines' impending doom. The facts are these: Michigan has three lock starters on the line, a big hole at three-technique, and a very big man who was a very big former recruit on his way to being a very big bust who is getting personal attention from no fewer than three Michigan coaches.
Michigan has put all their eggs in Campbell's basket. Quinton Washington is backing up Mike Martin—and doing so unevenly—and the only other options there are redshirt freshmen like Richard Ash (also probably an NT if he's anything) and Terry Talbott (probably another year away from being physically ready).
There's almost no way he's not going to start. This makes me nervous because it makes me think about Pat Massey. Massey was 6'8" and never should have been anywhere near DT, but he had a good amount of starting experience when he was inadvisably thrust inside after Michigan ended their one-year experiment with the 3-4. He still ended most plays in a crumpled mess several yards downfield. He was the three-tech next to Gabe Watson; hopefully Campbell doesn't go down as Martin's Massey.
Looking for: my skepticism about Campbell ever performing well is established. If the guy just holds his own and doesn't get blown up on the regular that will be major progress.
Fearing: The third string center getting under his pads and depositing him in Kovacs's lap.
Will only believe three games into the season: That Michigan's previous defensive coaches were even more incompetent than we already believe them to be.
Edge Terror: Yes, Please
Craig Roh is entering his junior year, and the clock has started ticking faster. As a freshman he was incredibly undersized; as a sophomore he was incredibly miscast. Now he's in an upperclassman in an under front as the weakside defensive end—this is his time and place. On a defense wholly devoid of established playmakers other than Martin he is the player most likely to blow up. Michigan needs him to or it's going to be another year in which opposing quarterbacks can finish their crumpets in the pocket before leisurely surveying to see which receiver is open by yards.
Here Michigan actually seems to have a decent second option: Jibreel Black was a complete disaster against the run as a true freshman but flashed disruptive ability when teams didn't run right at him. Like virtually everyone else on the team he should have redshirted; if he had everyone would be talking him up as the next coming because they hadn't seen his shortcomings. As it is a big post-frosh bump in performance can be expected.
Looking for: one-on-one pass rush from Roh against Schofield/Huyge/walk-on. He has to be able to beat those guys if he's going to take on the Big Ten this fall.
Fearing: Here I don't think we'll be too disappointed. There are two good options.
Will only believe three games into the season: That they can't get production out of this spot.
Michigan's veteran linebackers have shuffled off to their futures. Since Obi Ezeh was replaced at midseason by immediately obvious upgrade Kenny Demens, middle linebacker is set. Ready or not, Cam Gordon will be the strongside LB. That leaves Jonas Mouton's old spot as the only other in the front seven up for grabs. Despite collecting all manner of safety/LB tweeners answers are few. Candidates:
- Mike Jones. Jones was the primary backup to Mouton last spring and was getting hyped up as a playmaker; one season-ending injury later there are grumbles he is too small and does not fit the position in a 4-3 under.
- Brandin Hawthorne. Yeah… so… Brandin Hawthorne hasn't seen the field in any capacity other than special teams yet and seemed destined for a Darnell Hood sort of career and now he's kind of the only option other than Jones because all the rest of the guys are participating in a pitched battle elsewhere. Speaking of…
- Safety war losers. Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson, and Josh Furman all spent part of last year at linebacker and part at safety; this spring they're all trying to fill Michigan's perpetually gaping hole next to Jordan Kovacs. While they won't be playing WLB saturday, if someone establishes themselves as the guy they will probably throw one of these three back in the linebacker pool.
- Oh, and Thomas Gordon. Some reports put Gordon in the WLB battle while others think he's in a distinctly separate boat of guys playing a dedicated nickelback spot. Gordon was a pleasant surprise as the starting spur earlier in the year and if there are few other options at WLB he might inherit that spot by default, flexing out into the nickel when other teams go spread. That would have some obvious downsides—dude is not linebacker-sized—but Larry Foote is not walking through that door.
- Oh, and… um… Marell Evans? Apparently he's back on the team after not playing at Hampton, and while he's getting some practice buzz that's so far-fetched I'm not even going to list it under things I don't believe because obviously.
Hypothetically, the WLB is the best-protected linebacker in an under front and can be a little fast guy who pursues guys all over the field. More realistically you can shield him a bit but offenses will find ways to make your tiny guy go facemask to facemask with much larger folks, especially if the three-tech spot supposed to shield him is iffy.
Looking for: A weakside linebacker that does not blow outside contain constantly. If I had to guess right now I would say Gordon gets virtually all of the time against spread teams and eventually ends up dragged into the lineup against the coaches' better judgment simply because he can play.
Fearing: A major downgrade—Mouton also turned in his fair share of great individual plays.
Will only believe three games into the season: That having Hawthorne in the two-deep is not an ominous sign.
Squinting In The General Direction Of Safety
Well… at least they've got some athlete type substances. They're weakside linebackers mostly but they'd be really fast WLBs. As mentioned, Johnson, Robinson, and Furman are all fighting to be Michigan's scapegoat this fall; there is no clarity as to who will come out on top. Johnson has the initial edge since he's seen the field, but most of that was at linebacker and last year when he moved to safety he ended up behind the leetle tiny Vinopal despite his tendency to look like Jerry attempting to tackle Tom.
As per usual, brace yourselves.
Looking for: Johnson to be as reputed: a bit slow but reliable and an excellent tackler. Basically a scholarship version of Kovacs.
Fearing: Fear? There is no fear, only the cold hard certainty Michigan's safeties will suck.
Will only believe three games into the season: There are no hopes out there to deflate, so we can take a pass on this one.
Oh And Bonus
Looking for: Ball through uprights; more realistically, the matriculation of Matt Wile.
Fearing: Not through uprights.
Will only believe three games into the season: that I can watch a field goal attempt without throwing up.
On Will Campbell and Quinton Washington:
"We made a couple moves with some big guys, some backup linemen. Quinton Washington was a backup lineman; we moved him to nose guard. We kinda traded Will Campbell over to offense, where I think he's going to be a natural offensive guard. After a week and a half I think both of those moves will probably stick for now. I think Will's got a future at guard, I think Quinton Washington's got a future on the D-line."
On the secondary:
"We moved around Cam Gordon. We wanted him to learn—well, he played the deep safety, we wanted him to play the safety up tight. That was a process; he was able to do that. We got Ray Vinopal and Carvin Johnson some more work at the deep safety position to get some flexibility. We have Marvin Robinson, who's been a safety, playing a little bit of linebacker for us. He can help us in nickel packages."
On the D-line:
"We moved the D-line around a little bit as well."
Brandstatter asked "are these kids going to play?" and Rodriguez sayeth:
"Oh, yeah. You'll see Carvin Johnson and Vinopal playing. Ray is at the same position anyway, but it's a new position for Carvin. You'll see Cam Gordon playing more at both safety positions where as before he was just playing one. I don't know if Will is ready yet at offensive line or Quinton at defensive line but we tried to get them as prepared as we could for this ball game. We'll see what happens."
Obviously they saw the issues with Gordon had persisted too long and are trying to get some better play out of the FS position right now. Also, Cam's going to threaten Kovacs's job—could be a run/pass split there—and Robinson will probably displace Demens in nickel and dime packages.
Campbell's not going to play unless a bunch of people go down on the interior line, but Washington might. This would be alarming. It might not be much more alarming than seeing anyone other than Martin at NT.
Right: Marvin Robinson moves from safety to
No surprises, and no Denard:
University of Michigan Football Injury Report
Thursday, Oct. 28, vs. Penn State
OUT (0% PLAY)
Jones, Mike Leg
Odoms, Martavious Foot
Toussaint, Fitzgerald Shoulder
Van Slyke, Jared Clavicle
Williams, Mike Head
Woolfolk, Troy Ankle
More interestingly, Rodriguez dropped some science about position switches on his coaches show that is either earth-shaking or wildly misinterpreted by the internet. These are the supposed moves via the somewhat confused twitter feed of Angelique Chengelis:
- Marvin Robinson to linebacker. I have a source who tipped me off about this a few days ago, so that's for real. Robinson's likely to compete at WLB for the job Mouton vacates after the year.
- Will Campbell(OG) and Quinton Washington(DT) are sticking at their new positions. Since these moves had already been confirmed, that's legit, too. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but there's some insider hype about Washington being a "beast" on Rivals. So we've got that going for us. Not likely to impact anything until next year unless Washington is a miraculously fast learner.
- Cam Gordon to "both safety spots" and Ray Vinopal to "deep safety". Since Vinopal is already a free safety this position switch is more a depth chart thing. There have been rumors floating around about Vinopal playing with the ones and either starting (fanciful) or getting real playing time (apparently likely) on Saturday. These are confirmed now; the source also dropped that Vinopal was getting a serious look at deep safety. The Cam Gordon bit there presages a move closer to the LOS, whether it's spur or bandit, eventually. (ATTENTION BYRON MOORE: duuuude. Seriously.)
- They "moved defensive linemen." Vague but the only thing that makes sense here is putting Sagesse back inside at NT and moving Patterson to a backup DE position.
Also, Rodriguez promised more carries for ham fiend Stephen Hopkins and said Teric Jones(!) would see the field. I looked for podcasts on WTKA's site but couldn't find them; maybe MVictors will be able to dig out exactly what was said so we can parse that into molecules. He's clutch like that.
Previously: The Story.
What's the point of anything?
I ask this question for reasons existential and practical. Earlier this summer Eleven Warriors pinged me for some help previewing Michigan's defense, so I talked about Mike Martin and the rest of the promising defensive line and mentioned the trouble at linebacker; the section on the secondary was simply this: "rank them last." At this point Justin Turner was still on the team and Troy Woolfolk's ankle was unaware of what Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God had in store for it.
When it, he, and we found out AMSHG's true power in mid-August I started drinking immediately, resulting in a night where I finally used twitter as God intended by blathering about having a power drill, burning my elbow on tea, coughing, not coughing, and finally drinking a horrible concoction of Cointreau with anything (the whiskey had been exhausted) and eating cold squash pakora with a slice of American cheese while mournfully contemplating everything from Mike Floyd to whatever 5'8" guy UMass will throw out there this year. The next day Henri the Otter of Ennui made his earliest-ever appearance on the blog (setting a record that will probably stand for all time) while I enumerated the options left at corner, mentioning Richard Nixon twice before a nominal first-string player at the semi-public fall scrimmage. Even if I've calmed down since, and I have a little bit, that's the existential chunk.
The practical chunk: the probable starters at corner, safety, and the safety-ish position that was called spinner (except when Greg Robinson was denying such a concept ever existed) and is now called spur are:
- at free safety, a redshirt freshman
- at spur, a true freshman (who will be treated as a linebacker, FWIW)
- at bandit, a redshirt sophomore walk-on
- at one corner, a redshirt sophomore pulled in favor of Mike Williams last year, and
- at the other corner, a true freshman.
Meanwhile, literally every backup except the aforementioned Williams has never played a meaningful snap at Michigan because they arrived two months ago or, in the case of James Rogers, was just one of those guys who seems like they're never going to play from day one. I could just point you to their recruiting profiles, tell you they'll be in the conversation for worst secondary in the league, and resume cowering in a closet. Previewing this position group is almost totally pointless: I've never really seen anyone play. They're probably going to be bad.
If this is an insufficient description of the situation, though, well, here's all this stuff.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||So.*||Cullen Christian||Fr.|
|Courtney Avery||Fr.||James Rogers||Sr.*|
|Terrence Talbott||Fr.||Tony Anderson||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Technically, the position preview scale goes from one to five. Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
|SMOKED LIKE GANJA|
|The big touchdown.|
|doomed from the start|
|MADE A PLAY!|
|knocking it down|
The single person at this position who Michigan fans have seen on the field is redshirt sophomore JT Floyd. On the one hand, he was so overmatched last year that Michigan decided they should move Troy Woolfolk to his spot and unleash Mike Williams on the world; Williams promptly gave up a third-and-twenty-four conversion to Iowa and was subsequently swapped with freshman walk-on Jordan Kovacs, leaving a tiny, slow, inexperienced guy no one even recruited in the most critical spot on the defense. This went exactly as well as you might expect. The coaches thought this was preferable to having Floyd on the field.
For my part, the Indiana UFR waved a white flag even at 4-0:
Whatever lingering hopes you had that the corner spot opposite Warren could turn into a non-liability should be put in the corner and told to be quiet for a while. JT Floyd did better than I thought he did live but still remains a timid redshirt freshman who transparently lacks the speed to be an elite corner. Michigan is going to have to cover up for him.
So did the game column:
Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
Floyd held onto his job for the Michigan State game, but that game saw Michigan adopt a fundamentally unsound formation featuring Floyd in the parking lot. State exploited this with a ton of virtually uncontested wide receiver screens:
They then countered those with the outside pitches that were the only consistently successful running plays Michigan State managed all day (QB scrambles were another story). Floyd may not have gotten smoked deep but it was only because he was playing Hail Mary defense all game. Seeing how untenable that situation was, Michigan's coaches made the move to Woolfolk at corner, thus opening up the already pretty much wide open floodgates. Except for sporadic plays and special teams duty, thus ended Floyd's participation in the 2009 season.
On the other hand, the coaches have been talking up his improvement since spring and have continued to do so through fall. Rodriguez 4/13: Floyd has "played well." Rodriguez 8/2: Floyd is coming off "a great spring." Also on 8/2: Rodriguez expresses "particular confidence" in Floyd and drops the t-bomb—"tremendous." Greg Robinson 8/11: Floyd is showing "a lot of progress." A spring practice source: Floyd is "vastly improved." And Robinson and Gibson on 8/25:
"J.T. Floyd may have been the guy that made the biggest jump from last season to the end of spring ball in so many ways," Robinson said on Sunday. "There's nothing any different - he's just worked really hard. J.T. just has a way about him - he leads well and his work habits - he's just a harder worker than he was at this time last year."
Gibson concurs. "He's done such a complete turnaround. You just take last year at this time, and he was just a guy really trying to work to the point that he’s at right now, and he’s done it."
|Indiana||4.5||8||-3.5||Tries hard. Clearly
|MSU||3||3||0||I'll take it.|
How meaningful is any of this? The fear is not very. This is replica of the Johnny Sears hype down to the sweet dreads: after being largely responsible for that heart-stopping moment when Ball State had a first and goal with a shot to tie Michigan in the '06 season, Johnny Sears was in line for a starting cornerback job after the graduation of Leon Hall. Sears was talked up all offseason, failed miserably during the Horror, was quickly yanked for true freshman Donovan Warren, and was off the team a month into the 2007 season. While that outcome is an negative outlier even with Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God at full wroth, it goes to show that sometimes a coach praising a kid who's struggled and is being thrust into a prominent role is more hope than anything else. Our best hope may be that anonymous spring observer, who has no reason to pump up a kid in the hopes he'll keep it together.
Floyd was just a freshman last year and should improve significantly. The chatter's consistent enough and from enough sources that some of it is probably real. Average is about all anyone can hope for, though.
The other corner spot will probably (50.1%!) end up in the hands of freshman Cullen Christian. James Rogers had a tentative hold on the first string in the semi-public fall scrimmage that he maintained to the release of the fall depth chart, but since he hasn't played at all in his Michigan career—not even when the walls were falling in last year—he's likely to cede that by the time the season rolls around. If not by then, probably by the Big Ten season.
Christian gets the ultra-tentative nod here simply by virtue of his recruiting rankings, which were strong. He checked in a near five-star at Scout, a top 100 guy at Rivals, and hit three other top 100 lists. He's not a burner; his main assets are his size (6'1"), leaping ability, and excellent hips. ESPN praised his "coveted size, quickness, fluidity and savvy" and said he would enter college "ahead of the curve in terms of technique, understanding of coverages and size," and assessment basically echoed by Rivals and the rest of the chattering class. His main problem is tackling, at which he's pretty sucky.
How doomed is Michigan here? Still pretty doomed. But it is worth pointing out that if there's one spot on defense where a freshman can walk onto the field and not spoil everything, it's corner, where conservative play and safety help can mitigate the damage.
What, Me Backups?
The backups are unknowns or freshmen. The aforementioned James Rogers was a lanky high school tailback reputed to have great straight-line speed but no hips; Michigan took him as a flier recruit. He has not panned out, bouncing from wide receiver to cornerback for the duration of his career.
Rogers did come in for some fall fluff during Rodriguez's post-scrimmage presser:
James Rogers is a senior that has played over that position. He has had a really good camp. Some of the young freshman that are competing out there at that position … Again, James Rogers is a veteran. He has been around a little bit, so we have a little experience with James out there as well.
He has to play and may even get the bulk of the time early. The assumption here is that even if he's currently ahead of the freshmen he probably won't remain so for very long.
The two remaining freshmen are extremely similar. Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery are middling three-star types from Ohio; Avery is probably the better athlete, since he was a star quarterback; Talbott is more polished since he's been a full-time corner but spent a lot of his high school career injured. Both approached but did not get four stars on one of the big three recruiting sites; both got "meh" from the other two; both are generously listed at 5'10" and truthfully listed at 165 pounds. They need 20 pounds before they're anything approximating Big Ten corners. Instead they get thrown into the fire immediately.
Talbott in a sentence:
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
I don't have anything quite as neat on Avery but both Scout and ESPN praise his "exceptional athleticism" while calling him very, very small.
Reports out of fall camp have been conflicting, with certain folk claiming one or the other will play, possibly a lot, while the other is way too small and a guaranteed redshirt. There wasn't much to tell them apart during the scrimmage; whichever one does get drafted into playing this year is going to play a lot of conservative zone coverage and miss a lot of tackles.
There were rumors Kelvin Grady might get a shot at corner but with Martavious Odoms apparently moving outside full-time there's room for him to play at slot and he's been prominent this fall; if he does end up moving it will be a midseason panic thing. Teric Jones was moved back to offense after spending a year trying to learn cornerback, getting moved to safety, and then getting moved to cornerback again; obviously he's just not a D-I caliber player on D.
Rating: 2, generously
|Jordan Kovacs||So.*#||Cam Gordon||Fr.*|
|Marvin Robinson||Fr.||Jared Van Slyke||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Safety has been the positional bête noir of the Michigan fan for going on a decade now but things had never been as black or beastly as they were last year, when Boubacar Cissoko's epic flameout forced Michigan to go with the doomed Jordan Kovacs-Mike Williams combination. Williams was the most confused, least useful player I've ever broken down film of; Kovacs was just slow and small. Their powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
Williams has been shuffled off to third- or fourth-team spur to cover punts for all eternity, but the situation here is hardly less bleak than it was a year ago. Jordan Kovacs is now a sophomore walk-on and probable starter. Last year he debuted against Notre Dame, was one of two Michigan secondary members to be blazed on the infamous 85-yard Indiana touchdown, and then actually started making a name for himself as a solid box safety in the Michigan State game:
Jordan Kovacs registered a +4.5 and is single-handedly responsible for about half of the + tackles Michigan saw yesterday … Kovacs provided hard-nosed run defense that makes me think he'll be a positive contributor going forward.
Williams imploded in the next game, Michigan dropped Kovacs to free safety, and the walls caved in. The dividing line was clear as day in UFR:
|Notre Dame||1||-||1||Nice story.|
|EMU||2||1||1||Hasn't cost Michigan anything yet..|
|Indiana||3||4||-1||Hardy, but slow.|
|Michigan State||7.5||3||4.5||Some of these were just backside blitzes that he tackled on, but he did tackle. At other times he displayed a real knack for getting to ballcarriers.|
|Iowa||2.5||3||-0.5||Missed one tackle, made another few, good downhill box safety.|
|Penn State||1||6||-5||Just can't play a deep half.|
|Illinois||-||3||-3||Again burned as a deep half safety.|
|Purdue||1||5||-4||Enormous bust #3.|
|Wisconsin||4||4||0||Did pretty okay. No idea why they moved him to deep safety; he's pretty effective in the box.|
The Mike Williams bit is handled in the linebackers and has more on just how disastrous a switch this was, but the morals of the story: Kovacs cannot play free safety and is pretty effective as a tiny linebacker when he doesn't have to take on linemen.
|EFFECTIVE RUN BLITZER|
|jet past blockers|
|tackles Caper from behind|
|takes down the RB|
|WOULD BE A GREAT LB IF HE WAS 50% BIGGER|
|shoot up through a gaping hole|
|doesn't bite on the bubble fake|
|doomed from the start|
|bails and bails|
Michigan moves him back to tiny linebacker this fall, but it's not that easy. When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety is this year's Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype award: Cam Gordon. Though Gordon was recruited as a wide receiver, everyone on the planet expected he'd get his token chance at the position and then get flipped to defense, where Michigan desperately needed bodies and he projects better anyway.
This duly happened, except when Gordon and his 6'3" frame moved it was to free safety, not linebacker. This was pretty weird, and it got weirder still when the hype machine starter cranking out superlative after superlative. A sampling follows. Rodriguez:
“Cam Gordon has been really consistent all spring,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. We’re “really getting some confidence with him.”
MGoBlog's own Tom Van Haaren reporting back from some conversations with players on the team:
Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
By the spring game he was the undisputed starter at free safety; he managed to get through that without anyone even noticing him. In the safety business this is a win.
Unfortunately, Gordon struggled in the fall scrimmage, failing to wrap up on a number of tackles. Rodriguez was sticking to his guns afterward:
"Yesterday was not his best day practice wise, but other than that, he has a really good camp. He is a very physical guy and the game is really important to him. Again, he has not played. He has not played in the big stage yet. There is going to be nerves and there are going to be some mistakes, but he has just got to limit them… we look for a big year for him even though he is a redshirt freshman.”
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. With his lack of blazing speed and inexperience, actually making plays seems out of the question. Misopogon dedicated a couple of his epically researched posts to the safety play and found that Brandent Englemon's traditional 1-0-1 as a junior was actually the second best performance of any safety in the UFR era (with Jamar Adams obviously finishing first).
Repeating that +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Marvin Robinson is the most shirtless recruit in the world
If you've been watching the Countdown to Kickoff videos frequently, you've probably experienced the same sort of cognitive dissonance I have when #3 comes roaring in from somewhere else and whacks a guy to the ground authoritatively or picks off an errant pass. This is not the competent-to-good LB hybrid version of Stevie Brown, it's Marvin Robinson, Michigan's first great hope for bandit. As a true freshman, the book on Robinson is contained in his recruiting profile, but you're probably familiar with the general outline by now: hyped Florida recruit enamored with Michigan since a freshman trip to Michigan's summer camp, early offers from USC, Florida, and the rest of the world, precipitous fall in the rankings, still a highly regarded prospect with athleticism Jordan Kovacs can only dream of.
Robinson's early performance has him pushing Kovacs. Woofolk noticed him even before practice started, and Greg Robinson knows a lady-killer when he sees one:
"I know this: he walks around the building looking really good."
His performance in fall was highlight-heavy and caught the attention of his teammates. He finished second to Jonas Mouton when AnnArbor.com media day poll asked who the hardest hitter on the team was. Ricardo Miller was one vote:
"When he comes to hit, everyone knows it. I think he's cracked his helmet twice this camp, and if that doesn't show you enough that he can, I don't know what could."
Robinson has huge size and speed advantages on Kovacs and will certainly play this fall, possibly as a passing-down replacement, possibly as something more. In an ideal world he would be so good he would ease Kovacs out of his starting role by midseason. I don't think that's likely since the bandit position is extremely complicated, but I do expect some sort of platoon where Robinson gets ahold of some parts of the playbook he executes better than Kovacs and is brought in regularly.
At deep safety, Vlad Emilien still seems like the first option behind Gordon but his initial returns have been discouraging. He enrolled early—giving him just as much experience as Kovacs—and then never played, Turner-style, despite the debacle going down on the field. Word was that the senior-year knee injury that cost him almost all of his senior season and his Ohio State offer lingered through the year. With that almost two years in the past now that can no longer be an excuse—any damage still lingering is permanent.
There may be some, as it was Emilien who was left in the dust by Roy Roundtree on the 97-yard strike from Denard Robinson in the spring game; Teric Jones caught and passed Emilien en route. Getting instantly passed by a position-switching guy the same class as you is a bad indicator, as is ending up behind a walk-on on the depth chart.
That walk-on is Jared Van Slyke, about whom nothing is known except his father is really good at baseball. True freshman Ray Vinopal (recruiting profile) is also at free safety. Rodriguez did mention him as a guy who has "a chance" to play this fall, he didn't show up on the first depth chart and he's probably going to redshirt.
The deep safety situation is grim past Gordon; if he doesn't work out you're either starting two walk-ons, moving up Emilien, who doesn't seem ready, or shuffling Robinson and or Kovacs around.