The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
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.
This actually comes from UM football spokesman Dave Ablauf, but it's certainly news nonetheless. Redshirt freshman corner JT Turner has asked for (and been granted) his transfer release from the University of Michigan. The request was made yesterday.
Now, onto the GERG:
The biggest questions for the defense on the whole are "How much can we develop by September 4th? How far can we take this defense by September 4th?" The goal is to be an excellent defense at that time. Robinson: "I like our movement on defense." Team success will come down to how the coaches are able to utilize people on that side of the ball.
The main changes in the defense this spring came in the usage of terminology. They went to some of the terminology that the defensive coaches (all of whom have been with Rodriguez since the West Virginia days) were familiar with. This was a suggestion that Rodriguez made that Robinson immediately thought was a good idea. Robinson had to take on a lot more terminology, but he's been around the block a few times, and had to do it before, including moving from defensive line coach to offensive coordinator at UCLA over the course of one offseason.
The change worked well in the spring, and by now "it's pretty much second nature for everybody." Prior to the terminology switch, there was potential for some messages to get lost somewhere in the chain, but now everyone's on the same page.
Robinson has used 3-3-5 and nickel concepts throughout his career, including in the NFL. With the prevalence of spread offenses in today's game, there's a need for a more athletic group of midrange players.
Robinson really likes coaching the linebackers, and this year's crop in particular. Linebackers are "the glue of the defense" between the defensive line (the heart of the defense - pumping everything) and secondary. Being right in the middle allows Robinson to work with all position groups more easily.
There has been some change since spring, as the players have been through summer workouts. The coaches are able to get their full attention during the beginning of summer camp, because most of them aren't in school.
It's "too early" to single out any freshmen that have emerged as potential contributors. The team isn't even in pads yet. There are still some young guys that the staff feels good about.
Lots of guys came back from the summer in great shape. When asked how Will Campbell looks: "He's very handsome." Marvin Robinson "walks around the building looking pretty good." (Second GERG evaluation of a player's appearance. [Ed: I bet Will Campbell tells his teammates how awesome GERG's hair looks.]) Robinson is one of the freshmen who has intentions on getting onto the field right away.
The defensive line has plenty of experience. Craig Roh, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen, and Greg Banks (who has "played a good amount") were all singled out. Craig Roh is a good athlete. He can run, is a good pass rusher, and is also a smart player. His intelligence allows the coaches to give him a variety of responsibilities (of which a hybrid player has more) with confidence he'll be able to carry them out.
Obi Ezeh is working very hard. He has "good intentions" but is aware that he has a battle for a starting spot with Kenny Demens and Mark Moundros the other contenders. Robinson is a "real fan" of Jonas Mouton. He has the physical abilities, and can process information well. He really wants to up his game. Kenny Demens and Mike Jones are challenging for playing time. Jones was injured last year, which held his progress back.
Moundros was a good selection by his teammates as defensive captain, though the whole senior class is filled with leaders. It's easy to see why Moundros was selected, because he has great work ethic, he's smart, he's tough, he loves football, and has a giving mentality. When GERG first arrived at Michigan, he saw Mark Moundros and thought he might be a linebacker before being informed he was the team's fullback. The position switch will work well because "he has linebacker skills."
Kevin Leach, Floyd Simmons, Thomas Gordon, and Josh Furman are some of the players at safety/linebacker hybrid spots. That's a competitive situation, and far from a done deal yet. They're willing to give up a bit of size at the position as long as there's still physical play. Stevie Brown was a good example of this.
Jordan Kovacs is the guy who's taking first reps at his position right now. There's nothing set in stone this early, of course, and there hasn't been enough time for anyone to make a push for his job. He's the type of player who makes everyone around him better with his communication.
In the secondary, Woolfolk is the experienced guy, and they feel very good about JT Floyd "showing a lot of progress." His spring was good, and it seems like he had a good summer. Cameron Gordon is mature, and a hard worker. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean he's ever seen a live snap at this level. Vladimir Emilien and Jared Van Slyke have both gotten plenty of reps in practice, but even they don't have much game experience.
The backups at corner include two true freshmen, Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery, and walkon Tony Anderson. [Not sure if James Rogers was just an oversight, or if he's unlikely to contribute this year].
JT Turner - :glances at Dave Ablauf, Football Media Relations Guy: "I don't know what's going on there." [See top]
Marvin in. There were some rumblings that incoming S recruit Marvin Robinson might have some academic issues after his plan to enroll early didn't come off. As seen on the board, these appear to have been false. Robinson just told Rivals he will be on campus June 1st($), whereupon he will try to take Jordan Kovacs's spot at bandit.
The More You Know, As Presented By Lil Wayne.
repeat after us: that's not my weed no matter how much my hat implies it is.
Notre Dame tight end Mike Ragone is the earthly avatar of New Jersey. Also he is a backup Notre Dame tight end, so he will get in minor trouble with recreational substances and get hellaciously disproportionate justice in return. The minor trouble with recreational substances:
The trooper making the stop smelled marijuana, searched the car and found two baggies of a leafy substance in the purse of Ragone’s girlfriend. A field test indicated it was marijuana.
According to probable cause affidavits filed by Trooper Tony LoMonaco, Ragone gave the baggies to his girlfriend to hide in her purse as they were being pulled over. LoMonaco said Ragone waived his right to remain silent and said the marijuana belonged to him.
Someone is not familiar with the concept of a weed carrier.
If precedent holds, Ragone is likely to be suspended for a year because the institution of Notre Dame has just finished watching Reefer Madness for the third time this week, finding nothing even mildly humorous therein. This would make him the third second-string Notre Dame tight end to feel ND's boot on his neck for typical student hijinks: Will Yeatman got booted in 2008 for moped DUI (seriously: moped DUI) and Joseph Fauria transferred to UCLA after he got suspended for something undisclosed; he dropped some bombs on the way out.
Q: Why is it always the backup tight end? Why can't it be the quarterback?
Christian said Beilein told him his role as a freshman could be to guard an opponent’s forwards, rebound, box out and offensively play around the high post.
His high school coach (Bellvue, not Hargrave) provides some additional information that suggests things by omitting them:
“Really athletic,” O’Connor said. “6-foot-6, long. Fills the lanes really well, rebounds really well, can defend people on the interior and out on the perimeter. He can defend inside and out.”
Mention of offensive skills: nonexistent. Even so, if Christian can be a 6-6 all-purpose defensive stopper and rebounder that's something unique on the team. His addition seems worthwhile as long as it doesn't impact Michigan's ability to take two more players in the 2011 class (which already features Carlton Brundidge). This would require a transfer or Laval Lucas-Perry not getting a fifth year.
Define "fair." The welcome news that the NCAA hockey committee is seriously considering dumping the failed regionals format for home series was covered on Friday. It's a move that makes sense on multiple levels. One of them is that going to less random format than one-and-done hockey properly rewards teams that have suggested they are amongst the best in the country. This is an asset in a sport that's so much of a random number generator that this year's NHL playoffs saw exactly one team of each seed advance to the second round.
So this is a supremely annoying argument:
Going to a 16-team four-regional format in 2003 was a signature moment for the sport. It eliminated byes, and at the same time, portended the move away from on-campus regionals as much as possible, eliminating a sore spot and unfair advantage. …
In Brad Schlossman's Grand Forks Herald report, he noted that from 1988-91, top seeds — which had a bye AND a best-of-3 quarterfinal home series — reached the Frozen Four 87.5 percent of the time. After the NCAA went away from best-of-3 series, starting in 1992, until the tournament expanded to 16 teams, the No. 1 seeds — which had a first-round bye only — reached the Frozen Four 65.9 percent of the time. Since then, needing to play two games, like everyone else, and not getting to play them at home as often, it's only 46.9 percent of the time.
But why is that bad? The whole point was to remove the unfair advantage of the top seed. This is what so many people clamored for. This would seem like a step backwards.
Argh. It is only an "unfair advantage" if the top seeds had not, you know, earned them by virtue of their play. You might as well say it's unfair that Michigan gets all those recruits. Honestly, if a four seed has no chance of winning a best two-of-three series on the road against a good team it shouldn't be in the tournament at all. In the NHL, the road team wins 45% of the time. If you want to make it fairer, the "road" team can get last change and the various other small advantages given the home team in game two.
Hockey's just too random to make any determination about a team's strength relative to another in sixty minutes. Over the course of a whole season, however, teams certainly distance themselves from others. The current tournament format tries as hard as it can to discard all that information about who is the best team in favor of weighted plinko, which yields tournaments so chaotic that they render regular season results virtually meaningless. This is "fair" according to the above argument.
Moving to home best-of-three regionals is more profitable, more exciting, provides fans a better experience, creates a tournament that is less likely to be the functional equivalent of a blender, and makes the regular season more meaningful. Protests that the Pairwise system is not precise enough to distinguish between 8 and 9 (or 7 and 10 and maybe even 6 and 11) are accurate, which is why the committee should move to a PWR system that is less stupid. If changing the tournament forces the powers that be to consider the many ways in which the Pairwise is flawed, it's a double win.
Define "rules." Literally. Also in the realm of college hockey changes, the committee is meeting for their bi-annual review. There is the usual fretting about player safety that will result in some vague redefinition of things that are already penalties. Other than that, though, there are some meaningful changes being discussed:
- Going to half-shields instead of full cages.
- Reducing ties by modifying the overtime session without resorting to the shootout: "There seemed to be more interest in reducing the number of tie games. In other words, not finishing the game with a shootout, but maybe tweaking the overtime rules that we have in place so more games end in overtime.” The proposals on the table are a mishmash of lengthening overtime to ten minutes and playing OT 4-on-4.
I think that's the right track. Shootouts are random and they're only acceptable in the CCHA because they don't count for the pairwise.
- The CCHA is the only league against the two-ref, two-linesman system, so at least they know they're icing some confused mofos.
- They're considering tweaking icing with weird rules about imaginary lines (to reduce whistles) or eliminating the wave-off if an attacking player misses a pass (to increase whistles) or removing the ability of a shorthanded team to ice it on a power play. The first two are dumb, but the latter is interesting to me: I bet they added the icing exception way back in the day because tired teams on the penalty kill were just going to ice it anyway and it was a way to not have ten of them in a two-minute span. Now that they've removed the ability to change after an icing, teams on the PK would have to legitimately attempt to clear the zone.
- It seems like they're going to get the d-zone dump over the boards right: "It looked like from the survey results that over half of the people would like to see something, but not a penalty. They’d like to make it so that they can’t change their players." This is right on. Make it icing, basically. Remove the incentive to do it without implementing the Dumbest Penalty In Sports.
- ARGH ARGH ARGH: "Requiring a team that has a delayed penalty in effect to clear the puck out of its defensive zone to get the whistle instead of merely gaining possession. That’s another topic that didn’t garner much in the way of support." Guessing one Red Berenson brought this up—it's something I suggested after the Miami debacle. There is no reason not to implement this immediately.
- They're also considering making all goals off skates legit, which they should do. Skate on ice: legit goal.
It sounds like at least a few of these will get implemented, and I like virtually all of them. (There is a goofy proposal to ban people from diving on the ice to block a shot, but there's no way that gets passed.)
|Winter Haven, Florida - 6'1" 204
|Scout||4*, #18 S|
|Rivals||4*, #20 OLB|
|ESPN||4*, 79, #21 OLB|
|Others||#42 to Lemming. #61 in Florida according to Orlando Sentinel.|
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, USC, Florida, UNC|
|YMRMFSPA||Stevie Brown with more lumber|
|Tom interviews Robinson in 2008. Commitment post.|
|Notes||This MaxPreps video of a game between Lake Region and Frostproof from Robinson's junior year contains multiple "power of Grayskull" references and the line "he had only one thing on his mind… get tackled at the four. So he did."|
Marvin Robinson's almost disturbingly chiseled abs—and the rest of him—could be considered the very last Lloyd Carr recruits. Robinson's been on the Michigan recruitnik's radar since he camped at Michigan as a sophomore and picked up an offer. Publicly enamored since, Robinson withstood a bizarre anti-M campaign (one that included multiple message board postings that were at least slightly unhinged). from his coach, an Ohio State fan*, and picked Michigan early in the recruiting cycle.
Robinson's long status as a Michigan lock and some explosive early hype—Ricardo Miller and Robinson populated top ten lists of Florida underclassmen forever—actually make his above rankings disappointing. He was supposed to be an uber-recruit. It's not hard to see why what with his offer as a 14-year-old from Michigan. A year later he had added offers from Ohio State, Florida, and USC. Zounds.
Early evaluations were similarly tantalizing. Rivals's Barry Every in 2008:
6-2, 205, OLB Eagle Lake (FL) Lake Region 2010
Assets: Has a tremendous burst and excellent ball skills.
What was most impressive at camp: For a guy who is making the change from safety to linebacker, he sure looked a natural.
Areas for improvement: He just needs to get reps at his new position because all the tools are there.
On the Hoof: Has good height, long arms and wide shoulders. Robinson's frame will fill out and enable him to play all three linebacker positions.
Here's another 2008 eval from a camp in which he was named to the Hot 11 while competing against a host of top recruits a year older than him:
6-1, 190, LB Eagle Lake (Fla.) Lake Region
Robinson admits he didn't have the best outing earlier this summer at the USC Rising Star Camp. Along with being injured, he just couldn't get in the zone. But he was there on Sunday, making big play after big play in drills and then in one-on-one battles. He was the one guy who was consistently able to hang with both the physical and speedy backs in the camp.
Those backs included top 100 seniors (and future Robinson foes) Cierre Wood and Edwin Baker. A game eval from his junior season was a little less rapturous but still pretty enthralled:
MARVIN ROBINSON (Jr., Lake Region): I’ve talked to Robinson a lot a over the last few months and his game film is impressive. What’s more impressive is his size and speed. He was bigger than a lot of the lineman on both teams and showed good speed while running downfield on kickoffs. However, he left his feet a lot when going for tackles on smaller guys and relies on a lot of arm tackles. Still, he is a great athlete and saved his team a lot as the last line of his defense.
Even in April of 2009, the reviews coming in were positive:
Defensive Backs Michigan commit Marvin Robinson (Winter Haven, Fla./Lake Region) stood out with the defensive backs. He is a physically imposing and athletic safety prospect. He showed good ball skills and moved well. On film, he displays a good feel for the game. In talking with Robinson after the camp, he said he still wants improve on his ability to read plays. Robinson said he plans to graduate early, and it looks like the Wolverines scored a good one from the Sunshine State.
Naturally, Michigan fans expected that a guy with those early offers and scouting reports would be shoved into national top tens, or at least top 25s, or at least given five stars, or at least put in top 100s or something. This did not happen. As you can see above, the scouting consensus on Robinson is good, not great, and almost frighteningly uniform.
Part of the drop is a re-evaluation when Robinson turned out to be one of those guys who gets big fast then stops growing. Another part of it is the perception that Robinson is a tweener between linebacker and safety. Robinson checked in at the tail end of top 100 lists when they came out. At the time of his commitment he was barely hanging on at #99. He slid in every rankings revision at Rivals until September when he was booted from the top 250 and ceased to exist in the realm of folks whose rankings fluctuate on the regular. Only Tom Lemming kept the faith: Robinson is his #42 player overall.
Why did this happen? Near as I can tell, Robinson showed up at a bunch of camps as a rising senior looking and playing like a linebacker but hanging out amongst the defensive backs. Mike Farrell's take from his appearance at "Gridiron Kings" that summer:
Robinson is bigger than his listed weight of 190 pounds, but he still has the body of a safety and not a linebacker. He's not a quick-twitch athlete, but he still closes well and keeps things in front of him. His coverage skills are OK, but not great, and he didn't stand out much.
Barry Every's version of events from the Tallahassee Nike camp referenced above:
ASSETS: Incredible body structure and very good speed for his size.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Struggles coming out of his breaks and may be better suited as an OLB at the next level. WHAT WAS MOST IMPRESSIVE AT CAMP: Without a doubt the prettiest looking prospect competing in the defensive back group.
CONCLUSION: This Michigan commit will either be a hard-hitting strong safety, or more than likely a super-athletic linebacker with the speed to track down any running back in the Big Ten.
In a separate article for a Georgia site, Every is blunter: "struggles in space and in the backpedal trying to cover receivers." On the other hand, he had "tremendous speed and side to side movement" going forward. Barton Simmons closes out the Rivals skepticism trifecta by saying he looks "unbelievable on the hoof" but "isn't totally comfortable covering receivers on an island." Scout echoes:
Robinson has enough size that some feel he will grow into a LB. His speed would be very attractive there. He is an excellent tackler, particularly in space and he has plus hitting ability. Robinson will need to improve his range to stay at S in college, however he has shown quality instincts and has plenty of athleticism for the position.
So he's a 190-200 pound guy who doesn't seem like a free safety and is somewhat undersized for linebacker. That plus loads of athleticism gets you a solid but unspectacular four-star rating despite a crazy flood of early offers. Fair enough.
Compounding matters was a senior-year injury. Robinson pulled his groin in the second game and missed most of his season. Lake Region was 0-8 and no one was paying attention when he did, so Robinson stayed put in the rankings. Even so, Florida, UNC, and Georgia were still poking around in December (and probably beyond).
Robinson was planning on an early enrollment but couldn't get himself squared away in time for that to happen, leading to scattered rumors he might have some work to do to qualify. Those seem to have been generated by Robinson's creepy Buckeye coach and may or may not have much validity.
*(Whose team went 0-8. Surprise!)
Why Stevie Brown? Brown was a heavily recruited, super-athletic safety recruit who was completely terrible in coverage as a deep safety and was a total bust until he moved into the spur-type role he occupied last year, at which point he became Michigan's third- or fourth-best player on defense. Hopefully Michigan won't make the same mistake here, assuming the gurus are right about Robinson in a deep zone.
Other Guy Named Marvin Robinson: Spirit Bear guide in the super cold parts of Canada.
Etc.: Signing day photo.
Guru Reliability: High. Robinson was a heavily scouted player from midway through his junior year and the guru consensus is almost uncanny.
General Excitement Level: High. I know the sites downgraded him but the main reason they did is it seems like a traditional 4-3 doesn't have a great spot for him. Michigan does, whether it's the spinner position that Stevie Brown occupied last year or a spur/bandit in the 3-3-5.
Projection: Michigan's move to the 3-3-5 seems tailor made for an athletic edge player like Robinson who can take on backs out of the backfield, cover the flats, blitz, and take on blockers. Jordan Kovacs has one of the box safety roles sewed up but with the other currently manned by a rotating combination of Mike Williams, Floyd Simmons, and Thomas Gordon there is an opportunity for Robinson to step directly into the starting lineup. All observers mention Robinson's throbbing, college-ready abs. A redshirt is not necessary and there is an open starting spot that seems tailor made for him. Robinson will feature. Even if he doesn't manage to start against UConn, he will probably work his way onto the field situationally with an eye towards starting by midseason.
I'll be embarking on a project similar to last year's recruit profiles in the near future, but that effort will last into the summer—the final profile last year (Tate Forcier) didn't go up until June 25th—and some words about how Michigan did will be far less timely then.
The other side of the ball was examined last week.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
We'll throw quick end in here, too, and why not? Seemingly half the defensive recruits in the class said they were recruited to play the spot. Michigan has plenty of needs elsewhere so this intrepid reporter is going to put Jordan Paskorz, and only Jordan Paskorz, here. Antonio Kinard and Davion Rogers will be filed as linebackers; Ken Wilkins is already pushing 250 and will be filed as a strongside defensive end.
On Paskorz: he is a generic three star to the world, a guy who gets 5.6 on the Rivals scale—5.7 is a high three star, 5.6 a middling one—and had offers that reflected that. Michigan's main competitors were Pitt and Virginia. He won't have to play much until he's a redshirt sophomore—that's when when Craig Roh backup Brandon Herron graduates—and we're unlikely to see him until then.
The strongside guys have a bit more to recommend them. Jibreel Black (right)and Ken Wilkins are 4/3 star tweeners (e.g., one of Scout or Rivals has them at four, the other at three). Wilkins hails from the same high school that Ohio State recruit Andrew Sweat and Penn State recruit Mike Yancich attended, and his coach believes he's more athletic than either:
"He is an unbelievable physical talent," Dalton said. "And he is only going to get better. I have had some great players here, but nothing like Ken physically. I am not saying he is going to be better than Yancich and Sweat, but he is the most physically talented player I've had."
Black, meanwhile, was a guy Michigan was hot after all year but could never get on campus until late January. By then he'd already committed to Indiana (where his brother had an excellent season) and Cincinnati (which is approximately three minutes from home). He's got the same body type as Brandon Graham, albeit without most of his hype. The insider-type folk say, and Michigan's dogged pursuit implies, that whatever the guru folk thought Michigan wanted Black badly.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B+. They got about the right number of bodies to fill out two thin spots on defense and I like the long term potential of both strongside guys. A blue-chip would have been nice.
Impact This Year?
Hopefully little, but given the depth chart at SDE it seems like either Black or Wilkins will have to burn a redshirt as a backup unless Anthony LaLota got a lot bigger during his redshirt year.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
Michigan missed out on a true nose when Jonathan Hankins picked Ohio State. They did grab two promising three-tech recruits in Terry Talbott and Pahokee's Richard Ash. Both have size issues: Talbott is currently around 240 and is a guy some observers thought would end up at defensive end. According to Rod Smith, Ash is now over 300 pounds; given his recruitment that seems more like a problem to be fixed than a solution to Michigan's nose tackle issue. Teams backed away from Ash when he showed up to Florida's camp overweight.
On the other hand, both have talent. Talbott almost defected to North Carolina late; when Tim went down to catch a Wayne game this fall he was a wrecking ball in the backfield. He's an excellent, disruptive fit for the penetrating defensive tackle spot he's slated for. The teams backing away from Ash after his weight issues, meanwhile, were USC and Florida. Ash has upside for Barwis to extract, and he's got a host of Pahokee folk up here to help him adjust. If he puts in the work, Michigan will have a guy who could play for Florida's defensive line.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B-. No nose tackle is a downer. Michigan will have one guy there next year if Mike Martin moves unless Ash can actually handle that weight. Outside of that, though, both recruits seem like they might be underrated.
Impact This Year?
Assuming the RVB move, Michigan will have a veteran two-deep at defensive tackle but Talbott and Ash will be next in line after that. If there's an injury, one or both might be pressed to play. I imagine Michigan will try to redshirt both; they might not be able to.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
A late flurry of offers and a little snake oil turned this position group from a gaping sore into… well, a considerably less gaping sore. Late additions Davion Rogers and Jake Ryan are just three star sorts, but given Michigan's situation before they hopped aboard they're welcome. Rogers is a 6'6" birdman of a linebacker/DE prospect who everyone, including me, will compare to Shawn Crable. Michigan pirated him away from WVU once Doc Holliday left. Early in his career he'll probably play the weakside linebacker spot occupied by Jonas Mouton currently; if he puts on enough weight we'll see him at quick.
Ryan popped up late after an Omameh-like senior year where he grew two inches and twenty pounds and outplayed Ohio State commit, teammate, and fellow linebacker Scott McVey en route to a state championship. McVey was playing with a busted shoulder, FWIW, but Ryan is a heady kid who actually played linebacker in high school—a rarity for Michigan of late—and is at least a reasonable prospect to start in a year or two.
A couple players may end up at spinner, the strongside linebacker/safety position last occupied by Stevie Brown, but for right now the only guy in the class this blog places at the spot is uber-athlete Josh Furman, AKA Dhani Jones 2.0. Furman was a ridiculously productive safety and tailback in high school who hit camps and dropped electronically timed 4.3 40s. Scout thinks he's awesome; Rivals again goes "meh." He's clearly got a ton of upside.
Antonio Kinard got a super-early offer and committed to it, but did little during his senior season to assuage concerns he was an iffy bet. He, too, might end up at quick but will be filed a linebacker for the moment.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
C-. The late pickups salvaged this grade but the emphasis is on "salvage." The only inside linebacker Michigan picked up in the last class was Isaiah Bell and the guys in the class before that are gone (Witherspoon and Hill), seemingly locked into special teams forever (Demens), and JB Fitzgerald. Michigan needed numbers here, and they ended up with numbers, but they also needed a blue chip or two and they did not get one. Furman is a recruit you can get excited about, but that's 1/4.
Impact This Year?
Redshirts for everyone, in all likelihood, except possibly Furman. Even Furman will have to beat out two guys with almost two years of experience in fall camp if he's going to win a job.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
Michigan will bolster its roster with four cornerbacks this fall. They come in two flavors. Flavor one consists of short three-stars from Ohio. They are Courtney Avery and Terrance Talbott. Avery was a prolific, tiny high school quarterback who only moonlighted on defense. He made first team All-Ohio and chose Michigan over a Stanford decommit not because of grades but because he wanted to stay closer to home. Talbott is the other Talbott's brother and struggled through injuries most of his senior year but has received positive reviews from local observers. There's some reason for optimism on both.
Cullen Christian needs no ball security
Flavor two consists of blue-chips anyone and everyone wanted who held preposterously long press conferences. Cullen Christian is the #3 corner to Scout and in the Rivals 100; he picked Michigan over Ohio State and many others after a long period of favoring Michigan. 6'1" and physical, Christian's YMRMFSPA is a holy lock to be Marlin Jackson. Demar Dorsey you may have heard about. He picked Michigan over Florida State and USC after being a Florida commit for over a year. He's the #12 player overall to ESPN and a four-star to the other sites.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
A. Four players, two of them blue-chips, at a position of crying need.
Impact This Year?
One of these kids is guaranteed to play unless JT Floyd takes a huge leap forward. A second is likely to find his way into a nickel package. If one of them is really good right away, you could see him start immediately and Troy Woolfolk move to safety. Michigan will probably redshirt one; the other three will have to play.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
We'll put Marvin Robinson (OMG HALFSHIRT) here because he's likely to play the box safety* we've been discussing extensively. Robinson is the defense's Ricardo Miller, a hyped-to-the-moon Florida prospect who seemed likely to be a five-star (or thereabouts) only to experience a precipitous drop in ranking. Robinson's drop came after a few camps he participated in. In the aftermath, Rivals gurus trashed his coverage ability and said he was a linebacker and nothing else. He still held on to a fourth star, though, and fielded offers from Ohio State and several other power programs before going with the Michigan program that had led for him seemingly forever.
The class rounds out with two sleeper-type prospects. I'm considerably more bullish on Carvin Johnson, who apparently avoided the combine circuit entirely this summer, was the best player on his team, and prompted an unsolicited email of praise from local coach (not his) when this site's initial take on him was "meh." He also won the MVP award in a state championship game his team lost by a billion points. Late LSU interest was not reciprocated.
Ray Vinopal is the kind of recruit that everyone on the internet hates on, prompting articles in which he declares a desire to prove everyone wrong and press conferences where Rich Rodriguez justifies signing the guy. The internet is not necessarily wrong, though. At the time of his commitment Vinopal was a who-dat with no recruiting profile despite his presence in Ohio power Cardinal Mooney's secondary. He apparently picked up a couple of good offers late (Wisconsin was the biggest) but the heuristics indicate a marginal contributor.
*(MGoBlog is officially adopting "box" and "deep" as its chosen lingo for Michigan safeties in what appears to be a permanent 4-4 front similar to that Virginia Tech runs. The way Michigan aligns apparently does make the deep guy the "strong" safety but since that goes against the popular conception of free and strong, it's confusing.)
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B-. One blue chip is nice and Carvin Johnson seems like the good kind of sleeper. Would have liked a true deep safety with more than two stars, but one of the cornerbacks could move back once the
Impact This Year?
If Robinson had managed to enroll early, as planned, we'd be anxiously observing him in the hopes he could lock down that box safety spot in spring. Things did not go to plan and we'll be anxiously waiting on his arrival instead. Even so, Robinson's main competition at the position he's slated for consists of a walk-on and a converted wide receiver. I don't think he'll start right away but Michigan isn't going to be able to redshirt him and he may find his way into the lineup by midseason.
Johnson and Vinopal are likely redshirts.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
With Zoltan the Inconceivable exiting to a long and lucrative NFL career, Michigan needed a replacement. They took a pass on in-state punter and reputed Michigan fan Mike Sadler, who ended up at State, to chase WI P Will Hagerup, who had offers from all over the country and was the highest-rated punter at Rivals. (He's the #4 K but the specialists in front of him are all placekickers.) After a few visits, Hagerup picked Michigan and its wide open job over Wisconsin, Ohio State, and others.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
A. Hagerup is either the country's top punter or in the top three to all ranking services.
Impact This Year?
Unless Michigan's offense is so awesome it never punts, Hagerup will be deployed this fall.
All Things Collected And Told
Numbers. That's the most important thing this class brings. Even if there are twice as many sleeper types as you'd like to see in an average Michigan class, getting two guys for every spot on the defense minus a few here and there puts Michigan in a position where the first guy off the bench when a starter gets dinged isn't a walk-on. He'll be a freshman, probably. But you can't recruit juniors.
And it's not all sleeper sorts. Michigan picked up two touted corners with blue chip offers, grabbed a linebacker from Virginia Tech, locked down Marvin Robinson's abs, and grabbed a collection of defensive linemen with considerable upside. It's a below average class, but it's not that far off. And given the context, it's fairly good.
A preposterously early letter grade: B+. For the class as a whole: B.
Roh is certain. Everything else is chaos.
This is going to be extensive. It would be much, much quicker to rattle off a list of positions we know are set this fall:
- Craig Roh at quick defensive end.
That is literally all. We do know that a few other guys are guaranteed starters, but Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Troy Woolfolk could all switch positions. I should have thought of that before I did the offense. Now I'm stuck with this format.
Anyway. On with show:
Not Brandon Graham
Three defensive line starters return, but the best defensive lineman in the country does not. Normally you'd be looking at Brandon Graham's platoon of ready-to-go backups for an inadequate but functional replacement. Since this is the 2009 Michigan defense we're talking about that platoon is walk-on Will Heininger. The other options at his spot are freshmen.
So it's time to get creative, maybe…
Count me amongst the chorus suggesting that Ryan Van Bergen might move outside. Dubbing this position "Not Brandon Graham" is a clever way to not write "Ryan Van Bergen might move" at three different spots.
Michigan has three veteran backups at defensive tackle in sophomore Will Campbell and seniors Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks. All played last year, the latter two decently. Campbell was raw as hell but was one of them OMG SHIRTLESS recruits and can be expected to make a major jump his sophomore year. Putting one of those guys in the starting lineup seems less likely to result in disaster than dropping an underweight freshman into the starting lineup. Craig Roh did okay last year, but Michigan isn't bringing in anyone as touted as Roh was this time around. Also, Mike Martin is more of a penetrating three-technique tackle than a leviathan space-eater and moving him to RVB's old spot figures to get more production out of him.
If RVB doesn't move, then you're going to choose from Heininger, redshirt junior Brandon Herron,—Roh's backup at quick last year—redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota, or true freshmen. Herron was a linebacker a year ago and is likely to still be undersized and LaLota showed up two inches and thirty pounds lighter than people expected him to. He probably needs another year.
The thing to watch for this spring is the RVB move. Past that, the developmental paths of Campbell, Roh, and LaLota are the main points of interest.
Hoping for… as the guy that is not Brandon Graham? Will Campbell. This assumes RVB ends up at DE and Martin moves over to RVBs spot. Moving RVB gets a bunch of veterans and a five-star sophomore more playing time. It puts Mike Martin in a position to be seriously disruptive. And it doesn't force a freshman into the starting lineup. So this is a hope for the move and a hope for Campbell to explode.
Expecting… RVB moves, Sagesse and Campbell platoon. I was puzzled by Michigan's periodic attempts to give Campbell playing time over Sagesse last year. Campbell got sealed on a number of successful runs against Iowa; Sagesse wasn't Alan Branch but usually ended up with a +1 in UFR. I assume Campbell will show considerable progress but I'm also betting that Sagesse is basically a co-starter.
Over the course of a year, Stevie Brown went from whipping boy to reliable outpost on a defense of chaos. Was it a position move? Greg Robinson's Just For Men magic?
They're young but they're not totally green. Michigan got both Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones in early last year and put them through their paces; by the UConn game next year they'll have been on campus for almost two years. Both saw special teams action only. Hawthorne will apply for a medical redshirt. Jones played too much for one. That's him burning his redshirt on the right.
Those two will be the main competitors in spring since I believe Isaiah Bell, who redshirted, is moving inside to ROL. This fall brings crazy athletic Josh Furman into the mix. He of the 4.3 electronic 40 is probably even faster than Brown and could press for playing time later in the season if Hawthorne and Jones aren't working out. He's unlikely to win the job outright immediately.
Hoping for… Hawthorne or Jones doesn't seem like it makes a difference since they have near-identical recruiting profiles and experience. I guess I'm pulling for Hawthorne since he's got a redshirt on him and I like the Pahokee kids.
Expecting… Again, Hawthorne and Jones have almost nothing separating them. One of those guys.
Regular Ol' Linebacker
These two positions are here despite featuring two fifth-year seniors returning for their third years of starting because both Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were yanked for performance reasons late last season. Indecision ruled the day:
Mouton was pulled for JB Fitzgerald, a touted recruit entering his third year in the program. Ezeh was pulled for Kevin Leach, another walk-on. Both eventually won their jobs back when the replacements weren't much better.
Jay Hopson left to become the defensive coordinator at Memphis, and whether it was voluntary or not it's welcome. Ezeh went nowhere in two years under Hopson's tutelage and Mouton went backwards. If Greg Robinson can pull the same career revival magic he did with Stevie Brown on the two inside guys, he'll put to rest a large chunk of the skepticism at his hire and go a long way towards making the defense respectable again.
If he can't, then Fitzgerald and Leach will figure into the plans again, with potential assists from Kenny Demens and various freshmen. Demens hasn't gotten off special teams in his time at Michigan and got passed by a walk-on. That seems like a kiss of death there.
Ezeh and Mouton will be the main focus here.
Hoping for… I'd like Fitzgerald to emerge as a starter but in the place of Ezeh; last year the guy replacing Ezeh was Leach. Really I'd just like whoever plays at linebacker to look like he's got a clue. Obi-Wan Greg Robinson, you're our only hope.
Expecting… Ezeh and Mouton. They'll be better. Linebackers are the guys most screwed by Michigan's revolving door of defensive coordinators because they are almost always reading a play and executing a complicated assignment based on that. Also they've got a new coach who happens to be the defensive coordinator and thus knows exactly what he wants the guys to be doing.
Donovan Warren took his budding skills and five-star hype to the middle rounds of the NFL draft. Boubacar Cissoko couldn't keep it together off the field and is no longer on the team.
I'm assuming both spots are open because of the possibility Troy Woolfolk moves back to deep safety in spring. The defense started imploding for serious once he was moved to corner and Michigan's safety tandem became Kovacs and Williams
Outside of Woolfolk, the one guy with any experience is JT Floyd. Floyd was the guy the coaching staff turned to to replace Cissoko when he proved dreadful early in the year. He wasn't much better and Woolfolk eventually had to move despite the other options at safety being a freshman student-body walk-on and Mike Williams. In his brief time as a starter, Floyd played ten yards off wide receivers and looked totally overmatched. Maybe that's a mental thing, but he seemed just too slow for the Big Ten.
So… yeah. It's more freshmen, then. Super-hyped recruit Justin Turner got in late because of some difficulties with the Ohio Graduation Test and ended up out of shape and unprepared to play. He redshirted. Even if he came in looking like Will Campbell, if Turner couldn't play in that secondary by the end of the year people are right to be at least slightly concerned he may not pan out.
And then there's the flood of true freshmen. With Demar Dorsey starting out at corner, Michigan has four in the 2010 class: Dorsey, Courtney Avery, Cullen Christian, and Terry Talbott. None enrolled early—unfortunately, all of Michigan's early enrollees were on the offensive side of the ball—and they will be just rumors this spring.
We won't get a read on this position at all unless walk-on Floyd Simmons is ahead of someone on the depth chart. We will get a first look at Turner, the team's most important redshirt freshman.
Hoping for… Justin Turner and either Dorsey or Christian. No Woolfolk == considerably reduced panic at safety. One freshman is as good as any other at the other spot, I guess, but I'd rather have the higher-rated guys off to fast starts. No offense to Floyd, but he obviously wasn't ready last year and I'd be surprised if he was this year. Maybe 2011.
Expecting… Turner and Woolfolk.
Brandon Smith transferred to Temple.
It's clear that this is going to be another hybrid safety/LB type player. Early in the year, it was Mike Williams. A little later it was Jordan Kovacs. When Woolfolk moved to corner it was Williams again, and when Williams played poorly Michigan moved Brandon Smith and threw him in the starting lineup; Smith liked it so much he immediately transferred.
Of the two returners, Kovacs was by far the superior option despite being a walk-on. He's got the proverbial nose for the ball and was the only guy at the spot last year to turn in enough good plays to offset his poor ones. And he did this as a freshman walk-on. (He was technically a redshirt freshman but since he was not on the team last year he is much closer to a true freshman.) He showed himself way too slow to play deep safety, but the grit fantastic he is possession of should keep him in the mix despite a couple of athletes pushing him hard.
Athlete the first is incoming freshman Marvin Robinson, who everyone thinks is destined for linebacker except Robinson. At Michigan he may be a linebacker in spirit if not in name. This is a spot he's a superior fit for athletically but it may require some adjustment.
Athlete the second is hypothetical, but Rodriguez mentioned in a Signing Day press conference: they're looking at moving wide receiver Cam Gordon to defense, but to safety. [Update: YEAH THAT HAPPENED.] That's another indicator that Michigan's base set is going to be an eight-man front, as Gordon is a strapping 6'2" fellow who everyone expected would end up at… wait for it… linebacker. If Gordon makes the move it will give Kovacs and Williams some competition from an NFL-sized guy right away.
This is also where Carvin Johnson goes, but I'm guessing he'll redshirt.
Hoping for… I don't really know, actually. I guess I'd like Robinson to win the starting job, but a true freshman over Kovacs and Gordon could bode unwell for immediate production. Maybe Kovacs to start and eventually giving way to Robinson.
Expecting… I have no idea. Truly.
As discussed above, if this is Kovacs Michigan is at least kind of screwed. I mean no offense to the guy, but…
…he is not a deep safety*. In an ideal world, two of the young corners would establish themselves quickly enough for Michigan to boot Troy Woolfolk back here. That world is much easier to envision if any of those guys had enrolled early.
If Woolfolk doesn't make the move back, Michigan has a couple options not fresh off the turnip truck. Vlad Emilien and Thomas Gordon are redshirt freshmen who will be given a shot at the job. Emilien was more highly touted and actually held the starting free safety job in spring until late, when Woolfolk took over and he was relegated to backup duty. He saw some special teams time in fall but will apply for an injury redshirt. Gordon was primarily a high school quarterback at Cass Tech—he only started playing DB as a senior-year audition for a Michigan scholarship—and never threatened to see the field last year.
Freshman Ray Vinopal will reinforce in fall, but as the lowest-rated player in the class he will probably redshirt.
Hoping for… Woolfolk. I'd rather have the freshmen playing at corner, where Woolfolk can tackle their mistakes.
Expecting… Emilien. I'm a little hesitant about him since he enrolled early last year and still wasn't good enough to crack last year's secondary, but maybe he had a lingering injury issue.
*(RVB owned up to a botched line check on that touchdown but it was a lack of footspeed from Kovacs and, more disturbingly, Floyd, that turned that play from 20 yards into 90.)
What others? Apparently Teric Jones might stick on defense, apparently at box safety. I think I've mentioned every other scholarship defensive player on campus except Steve Watson and James Rogers.