Mike Lantry, 1972
abs, special teams: out
They're dropping like not-particularly-likley-to-see-the-field flies up in here. Over the last 12 hours, Scout's Andre Barthwell and Sam Webb broke the news that Michigan has lost Marvin Robinson and Mike Jones from the roster.
As departure impacts go, these are near the bottom of the scale. Both were going to be seniors (Jones was a fifth year) and neither was likely to see much playing time outside of special teams. These exits don't affect the two deep or the projected numbers for the 2014 class.
Robinson and his heralded abs never got a foothold on playing time, probably because he never shook the sort of bad habits that made him the primary culprit on that long run a couple of spring games ago where Robinson never figured out the WR he was trying to check was blocking him. He'll have to sit out a year and then he'll have one to play if he doesn't go I-AA. He probably should have moved to WLB immediately upon his arrival at M.
Jones meanwhile was not a touted recruit and never saw the field even when Michigan was scrambling at the WLB spot in 2011. His main on-field contribution was to pick up a dumb personal foul against OSU last year. (Off the field, he provided many opportunities for people to say WHO? because of a rapper who is now ironically forgotten, or at least would be if his song wasn't about his name.)
The main downside is if their absence forces Michigan to play a couple kids who otherwise would have redshirted on coverage teams and the like. If Ben Gedeon plays despite not projecting to the two deep at MLB either this year or next, I'll be a little cheesed off.
Michigan now has a slot for a hypothetical fifth-year QB transfer, say Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell. Mitchell who is reported to be considering Michigan along with NC State and three smaller schools. As per usual these guys are leaving to play, though, so unless Michigan can sell Mitchell on a slash role a la Gardner he'll probably head to a place he can at least compete for the starting QB job.
Sinestral: Ross, Ryan and Clark|Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog. Dextral: Bill Walsh
First, a Chag Sameach to my fellow tribesmen and a Happy Turtleversary to the wingnuts.
We now continue with the Bill Walshian rundown of the 2013 roster. Since Michigan's offense and defense schemes are kindred spirits of the great 49er teams of the '80s, I've found it somewhat useful to re-scout Michigan's players on the same factors that the legendary coach used to evaluate his draft picks. How do we know what Walsh drafted on? Well wouldn'tchya know it, he provided it in a 1997 article for Pro Sports Exchange that Chris Brown (Smart Football) discovered.
Bruce Smith/ James Hall / Frank Clark by Upchurch
Walsh Says: 6'5/270 or 6'3/245 depending on type. It's complicated so I'm going to spend some extra time here. His DE descriptions bounced between what you want from 3-4 DEs, which is the 3- and 5-tech in Michigan's defense, and pure pass rushers. Ultimately Michigan's WDE is closer to the pass-rush-specialist-who-stops-runs-too job description of a Walshian 3-4 weakside linebacker than a blocker-sucking interior DL, so they go here with the LBs. Speed and quickness are now very much in play:
Must have explosive movement and the ability to cover ground quickly in three to five yards of space. The ability to get your shoulder past the shoulder of the tackle. This makes for a pass rusher. With that there is quickness because it sets up a lot of other things.
From the outside linebackers description we get this:
These pass rushing outside linebackers must have natural gifts, or instincts for dealing with offensive tackles who are up to 100 pounds heavier. Quickness is only part of it. They must know how to use leverage, how to get underneath the larger man's pads and work back toward the quarterback. And he must be strong enough to bounce off blocks and still make the play.
The rush DE needs to have some finesse. This site never misses an opportunity to knock on Will Gholston so I'll do that: Gholston has more than enough explosion and strength, and is an excellent tackler but the big hole in his game is he doesn't get leverage or bounce off blocks. This is why State deployed him mostly SDE this year while Marcus Rush was the premier pass rusher. Walsh says it's all the same if you can push a tackle as go around him, but being an okay jack of all trades here isn't as valuable as being super disruptive at one or the other.
Overall strength is important. You don't have to be a Mike Martin beastmonster in the weight room but a WDE has to be strong enough to not get turned by the tackle. This is also a technique issue though it's not a skill that needs years to develop—a big sophomore year leap is expected at this position as the kid gains weight, strength, and the footwork and balance to be able to keep his shoulders pointed toward the football.
As echoed in Mattison's statements in 2011 regarding WDEs, Walsh calls his rush DEs "the substance off the defensive team" since their ability to put pressure on the quarterback can make or break a defense. This is why great DEs are at such a premium in today's NFL.
The last piece is willpower, which in scouting parlance becomes "high motor." WDEs typically get rotated a lot because they burn a gazillion calories on each play. Because this spot is supposed to win 1-on-1 battles and kill plays himself, success on the second and third moves can make a huge difference.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: If James Hall and Larry Stevens had a baby, and that baby came out 6'5/260 and immediately ate the doctor. Michigan just hasn't had the freaks here unless you count Woodley and I'm saving him. Stevens didn't have the sacks but generated hurries. And Hall: because he's 6'2 every scout from the early recruiting years to modern NFL trade talkers underrates him, despite consistent production at every level. Hall is second (to Graham) in career sacks and 6th in TFLs among Wolverines and was the 1997 team's secret weapon. Both guys were often extolled for their virtues under the hood.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: EXPLOSIONS! I know I said this for SDE but even more so. You know these guys on sight because the innate quickness and strength makes them terrors against high schoolers. Skipping over the blue chips (or like Ra'Shede Hageman who would have been a blue chip if he accepted Florida's offer to play DE rather than Minnesota's offer of tight end) 3-stars who shine seem to have athletic tickmarks or the proverbial motor. I noticed some of the big performers from high school All-American games (Ray Drew, Alex Okafor, a million dudes who went to Florida) tend to fare well—about the worst among Army game standouts of yore was Victor Abiamiri, who was still pretty good. The pushers had ridiculous squats (Simon's was 700!)
What you can learn on film: How fast he gets into the backfield, adjusted for competition. You're looking for that quick burst. The great ones just look completely unblockable—like the guy blocking him doesn't seem to have any leverage.
What could signal bust potential: Size. Rivals tends to put its favorite DEs at "SDE" for this reason. If you browse through the five-stars you generally find two categories: high-effort guys who were early contributors and are or are on track to be NFL draft picks at defensive end, and Pierre Woods/Shawn Crable-like linebackers whose recruiting profiles said they would grow into Jevon Kearse. There's a reason they called Kearse "the freak."
How our guys compare: Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer are the two sides of the WDE coin. This refrain from MGoBlog is becoming tiresome but Beyer seems the stronger and more responsible one and Clark is the greater X-factor. We overplay this; both would still fall more into the finesse side than, say, John Simon, and both seem to top out as useful but not stars.
Ojemudia is kind of a James Hall but more akin to Shantee Orr. Where James Hall was small but had the size to stand up to a good shove when needed, here you have a dude with explosiveness and great hands for pass rushing but is going to be dead meat if doubled and run at, and is therefore best deployed as a 3rd down or [blank]-and-long specialist.
Early enrollee Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton, who's already 6'6/265 on Michigan's spring roster, is the closest thing to Walshian dreams. On film though a lot of times you just see him blowing something up because they didn't block him, and though this probably had a lot to do with being way bigger than high school tackles in Central Ohio he didn't play with much leverage after the snap. The reason for all the Tacoptimism is he blew up the camp circuit. He probably still needs a year to work on technique since he spent most of high school in a 2-point stance. Warning: he doesn't check the motor box.
[Linebackers, after a leap.]
This goes out to all those young linebackers out there who have given me your letters of intent:
♪ There was Bell, and a Hill, but I never saw them playing
No I never saw depth at all, 'till there was you.
There were safeties who gained weight, and a JUCO straight from Butler
But they were no Obianna Ezeh, 'till there was you.
Oh there were walk-ons, and converted fullbacks, they tell me,
And sweet freshman "Spinners," and Roh at "Quick"…
There was Ken-ny Demens, and a plush-toy Castor face-wash,
But no other linebackers at all, 'till there was you.
Till there was you! ♫
Linebacker depth: EXTANT!
This is Part III of the thing where I go over the depth chart and predict what will happen if the starter at any given position is hurt for an extended period of time in 2012: Who goes in?, What's the dropoff?, How do things shuffle?
And this time, there's goods here. There's depth in the SAMs and the WILLs and the MIKEs and the macks and the rovers. Whatayatalk whatayatalk: Where'd-we-get-it? With a Greg who knows the territory! With the jacks from the buckeyes, and the bucks from the mitten, and ROLBs from the overlooked, redshirted, 3-star, buck- and spart-passed over huckleberry bin. Whatayatalk, whatayatalk. Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker ya can talk, ya can bicker, bicker, bicker, ya can talk all ya want, but it's different than it was!
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
SAM (Strongside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Jake was a revelation last year as a redshirt freshman who as the season progressed kept giving the coaches less and less excuse to yank him. The nature of his position, which rotates often, and the nature of his cavalier game make it hard to quantify the effective difference of an injury here. By design he's the most replaceable guy on the defense; by the magnitude of his effect when he's in the game, there are few, if any, guys on the team who you'd less like to lose. He was far from perfect—his problems holding the edge led to some ugly things in the Northwestern-Michigan State part of the year—however there were also those times when a "running" quarterback would see this crazy freshman coming inside the edge blocker and think to himself "oh I'm so going around that idiot," only to end up flat on his back 20 yards in the backfield. Nothing was more satisfying to a fan base recovering from Passive 3-3-5 syndrome than seeing this crazed high-necked Viking bellowing something unintelligible at fast-retreating Logan Thomas.
Heiko took this
Cam Gordon is the nominal backup, and since the freshman who played ahead of him last year (Beyer) has made the move to WDE, you would imagine the onetime receiver, onetime epitome of ethereal spring optimism at free safety, and onetime 3-3-5 spinner will have finally settled into a useful something. He spent most of last year with a back injury that gives us precious little information on what he might become. So is C.Gordon a junior stunted by position switches, bad fundamental coaching and injury who's now ready to erupt, or a guy with bad fundamentals doomed to be remembered for that one time he was badly cast in the hero role of a box office flop?
What you want are his credentials for a position that rotates like a train of traveling salesmen; what I've got for you is a barbershop quartet of coaches singing songs about him. One thing they don't say is "platoon." Despite his safety pedigree and safety frame versus Jake Ryan's oft hand-down deployment, the coaches haven't indicated Gordon is a situational backup. The SLB in this defense is supposed to be more like a WDE than the other two linebacker spots, and Cam is not that. On the other hand he seems tailor-made for the side-job of the SLB: covering the guy in the slot.
So I'm saying if Ryan goes down, Michigan probably goes with Gordon and eases off the gas a bit, leaning less on pressure and more on coverage from the position. The real drop-off won't be too severe, as there are other guys who can blitz if the SLB becomes more coverage-oriented, and there are rush options extant. The apparent drop-off will feel like when we lost Marcus Ray—the defense is still the defense but that sense that somebody's about to lose an important body organ will be appreciably depreciated. You'll see Gordon plenty either way.
In case of dire emergency: Well like I said this position rotates. Don't know what will happen with Clark, but if he's in at WDE that means Brennan Beyer can easily reprise his 2011 role over here. Mario Ojemudia could be pressed into service. And any of the freshmen linebackers could end up here. Of the four, I picked Royce Jenkins-Stone as the SAM since Bolden already seems to be the two-deep man at Mike, and Ringer was here for spring practice at Mike, and scouting reports say Ross is a coverage-y WLB-type, while RJS has been described as a raw, blitz-loving knife. That's an SLB. It'd be best if he redshirts to learn how to be the second-most aggressive guy on the defense (WDE is the first) while holding the edge.
MIKE (Middle Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Responding to my size chart in last week's article, TSS started a thread about how Demens, who's listed at 248 on the spring roster (which is a copy of last fall's), has significantly more beef than the rest of the linebacking crew. The image above seems to reject the notion that he's the Carl Diggs among the Brackinses; the variability charts for the 2012 linebackers say he's huge (right, via TSS). So I checked the average listed size for a Michigan contributing linebacker since 1993, and it says he made big:
|2nd (Sophomore or RS Fr)||236||228|
|3rd (Junior or RS Soph)||246||232|
|4th (Senior or RS Junior)||248||233|
|5th year Senior||252||238|
Most of our starters played over 240 in their 4th or 5th years. Over 230 is where it seems the contributors need to be. And when you look at the depth chart for 2012 there are exactly three dudes who seem likely to fit that description:
|Kenny Demens||248||Jake Ryan||230||Desmond Morgan||220|
|Joe Bolden||230||Cam Gordon||222||Brandin Hawthorne||214|
|Mike Jones||224||Royce Jenkins-Stone||215||Antonio Poole||212|
|Kaleb Ringer||219||James Ross||209|
Knock-knock … Orange … yada yada … you have Joe Bolden, the 2012 recruit I am most giggity about, and for good reason. He had the kind of performance as the starter (Demens was wearing that club you see above) in the spring game that makes even the cautious prognosticators say "I think we have something here." Then they pull out the David Harris comparisons.
There's nothing I can really add to the recruiting profile or the lofty expectations except to focus on what he brings to the table right now. That is a guy with freshman-grade Kovacsian play-diagnosis skills that must be tempered by "is a true freshman," plus a lot of range and athleticism that must be tempered by "is probably not strong enough yet to get off blocks." I don't think Demens should be worried about losing his job this year unless he's banged up, however in that eventuality Michigan has something between what Desmond Morgan was last year and a freshman Manti Te'o on hand, and should be just fine. Orange you glad!
In case of dire emergency: The phrase "Who? MIKE JONES!" had a very short meme life on the MGoBoards, and it is the considered hope of every Michigan fan that it should never become the headline of an MGoInjury Roundup or uttered without irony inside Michigan Stadium ever. Before the injury that ruined his 2009 coaches were suggesting he might displace Mouton; alas that seems to have been motivational spring hokum. More hype/hokum was Mattison saying he's an unstoppable speed rusher. We saw Jones a bit while Michigan was killing clock against Minnesota and he looked, um, safety-ish. There is a job for a safety-ish linebacker in this defense—the Will—but there are so many other slight LBs on this roster that tripping the 220-something wire puts you into the mix at middle. I would think before we see Jones start, Morgan would slide down to MLB and Hawthorne become the full-time WLB. While time is running out for Jones, he's not ignorable.
WILL (Weakside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: You can argue about the stars being low for a sophomore whom I already said was at 3 stars when starting as a true freshman—that was at the end of last year and I expect Des should still be improving exponentially as this season goes on. I also predict this year you'll start seeing more Jake Ryan in him, since everyone from recruiting analysts to coaches have raved about grittiness, something we haven't had the opportunity to see much of just yet. If our next Eckstein McGritsalot loses that opportunity, the safety net is the the safety-like Brandin Hawthorne.
If you have the opportunity to give the coaches one suggestion for 2012, please join the MGoCrusade to have Hawthorne deployed as the WLB when Michigan goes to nickel. Until Morgan emerged in the second half of last year, Hawthorne had lain tenuous claim to defense's most open position. Brandon Herron, the beefy Yang to Brandin's Yin, dropped out of the race after the double-fumble touchdown rally and has graduated. Hawthorne was excellent in coverage, knifed into the backfield for a key stop against Notre Dame, and displayed Pahokeeian speed to all parts of the field … except when a blocker came near.
For you Tiger fans, Hawthorne is the Ramon Santiago of this defense. He is great at what he does, but playing him every down is going to expose his weakness against the run. So what does happen if Des goes down? It's probably Joe Bolden, but with more Hawthorne appearances.
In case of dire emergency: Trouble with capital T, rhymes with P, stands for…oh actually we don't know what we have in Antonio Poole except his name lends itself well to the Music Man theme. Really he's a redshirt freshman who was ignored by Rodriguez but picked up quickly by Hoke. His recruiting profile lists abilities of play diagnosis, tackling, and translating of the Facebook pages of CRex's in-laws. Third on the depth chart is where you'd want a redshirt freshman to be. Anyway if you see Poole that means he's better than expected, or that "dire emergency" includes the MLB depth chart too. Same goes for James Ross, who was at one point the highest rated linebacker of the 2012 uber-haul, and may yet have a long career beside Bolden (Orange!), however he's listed in the vicinity of 200 lbs. and would probably benefit from a redshirt more than Ringer, who was here for Spring ball. Since redshirting a consensus high 4-star is a luxury we haven't had around the linebacking parts in some time, I suggest we take advantage of it.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
Well… they're gone. For better or worse the two linebacking stalwarts of the Rodriguez era are out the door, destined for San Diego or the real world. Though no one's going to memorialize Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton in song, they endured the transition from Ron English to Scot Shafer to Greg Robinson to Dr. Vorax, the stuffed wolverine Robinson insisted was the real coordinator of the insane 3-3-5 Rodriguez demanded. If anyone can feel hard done by the Rodriguez era it's them.
HOWEVA, Dr. Vorax and other assorted coaching indignities cannot explain away much of the horror Michigan suffered at their hands. Mouton was linebacker Janus, singlehandedly crushing fullbacks and even pulling guards en route to TFLs a few plays before losing contain yet a-goddamn-gain against opponents as meek as UMass.
Ezeh, for his part, was first amongst equals as this blog's whipping boy the last couple years until the Penn State game, when Greg Robinson became public enemy #1. His trademark move was sitting completely still until an offensive lineman screwed him into the ground.
Midyear, former Michigan linebackers were dropping the word "inexcusable." A fresh start is called for.
|Cam Gordon||So.*||Kenny Demens||Jr.*||Mike Jones||So.*|
|Jake Ryan||Fr.*||Marell Evans||Sr.*||Brandin Hawthorne||Jr.|
|Brennen Beyer||Fr.||JB Fitzgerald||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Fr.|
Right: Demens hangin' with Doctor Vorax
MICHIGAN PROVIDES THAT with three relatively new starters. The most established new blood is redshirt junior Kenny Demens, the man who inexplicably languished behind not only Ezeh but walk-on and converted fullback Mark Moundros at the start of last year. That seemed like plenty of evidence to write the kid off, so this blog did:
The enigmatic Kenny Demens is third string in the middle; after a seemingly productive spring he dropped off the map and has generated zero fall mentions as Moundros climbs the depth chart. He played sparingly in the fall scrimmage; last year he was passed over for walk-on Kevin Leach when it came time to replace Ezeh temporarily. He's spinning his wheels, seemingly on track to watch this year. Next year both of the guys above him will be gone and he'll get one last chance to step forward; the tea leaves are not encouraging at the moment.
Demens then watched as Ezeh played at his usual level until the Iowa game. Desperate for anything after being gashed by Michigan State, Robinson finally put Demens on the field. We finally saw what was keeping him from playing time:
Only the machinations of the traitorous Vorax. That's not a play Ray Lewis is going to have on his hall of fame reel but it stood out to me after years of watching Ezeh try to clunk his way through traffic. Demens steps to the right as Iowa runs a counter but reads it, steps around traffic, and is there to tackle once Mouton forces it inside. Demens did that on a consistent basis against all opposition (except Purdue, oddly). The sumptuous conversation about him after the Iowa game was excited:
Yeah. Watching the game live I thought that he was an obvious upgrade over Ezeh but expected that when I went over the game in detail I'd find he was at fault for some of the longer Iowa runs or third down conversions, or had messed up in some way that had gone unexploited. I didn't. I found little things that I thought were good plays I hadn't seen live …
How many times did Iowa RBs find themselves facing a line with no penetration and no holes in it? Several. How many times did previous Michigan opponents face this? Essentially never. Good DL play with crappy linebacker play yields a lot of penetration and a lot of lanes where the DL aren't. Crappy DL play with good LB play is this, a bunch of bodies on the line with no windows to squeeze through.
At least, he did when he was not subject to further machinations. Vorax saw his nemesis had escaped confinement and immediately upped his insanity level further. Below are Michigan's alignments in the first and second halves of the Penn State game two weeks later:
left: first half. right: second half.
After getting annihilated by a terrible run offense in the first half Demens actually had to ask the coaches to move him more than a yard away from the nose tackle's rear. He struggled, but who wouldn't when the only thing between you and two guards is Adam Patterson and far too little space?
Demens recovered from that to register as one of the "heroes" of the Illinois game—he managed a +8, leading to cries of Anyone But Ezeh favoritism from readers—before registering his first clunker against Purdue. Demens got hooked pretty badly on a play that, in retrospect, I should have been harsher to the DL on since Dan Dierking roared through a truck-sized hole. Later he got lost and let Rob Henry rip off a big gain. He was one of few Michigan defenders to come out of the Wisconsin game with something approximating dignity.
|plays in space|
|quick but under control|
|make a leaping PBU|
|killshot shakes the ball loose|
|tackle on the catch|
|jars the ball free|
|picking through trash|
|goal line gap shoot|
|slants past the tackle|
|reads and fills|
|scraping, waiting, tackling|
|not quite harris|
|runs to the backside|
|pulls an Ezeh and sits|
When everything was over Demens had racked up 82 tackles despite playing sparingly in the first five games. If he'd gotten the whole season he would have had numbers like that random Northwestern linebacker who ends up with 130 tackles at the end of the season because he's the guy roping down tailbacks after they pick up six yards.
It's clear by the rating above that I'm a Demens believer. I liked what I saw last year and I've seen MLBs who are pretty good to compare him to. David Harris, for one. He's not Harris but I think Demens is closer to him than Ezeh already. He just has a knack for getting to where the play is going. Though his coverage still needs some work he was decently effective in short zones last year. As a bonus, one of the few things practice reports have been consistent in is their Demens praise.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
I can't believe we had commemorative spring game jerseys
Also: Evans left, Fitzgerald right
Prodigal son Marell Evans returned from exile at I-AA Hampton to rejoin the team for his fifth and final year of eligibility. He probably wasn't expecting to see too much time after doing so, but there he was in the spring game, starting in Demens's stead. How well he did was in the eye of the beholder; around these parts I was "extremely leery" of the depth but offered up no reason as to why.
If forced into action Evans will be a wildcard. He hardly played at Hampton because of injury and hardly played at Michigan because of youth. He's probably not going to be that good. Over the course of the last month I received a couple of practice reports that slammed him pretty hard. Those aren't gospel, but that and his vagabond career to date are all we have to go on.
Fellow senior JB Fitzgerald is also hanging around this area of the depth chart, though no one knows exactly what linebacker spot he's backing up. It's never good when you've been around for four years and no one knows where you're supposed to play.
At least Fitzgerald is used to it by now. He's been kicked around since he arrived. On occasion he's even been drafted to play DE terribly when Greg Robinson runs out of ideas. When he pops up in UFRs doing something well, as he's done from time to time for years, I get all excited he might be finally breaking through. Then he never does. Fitzgerald's about out of time and there's no reason to think he's suddenly going to get it. He was passed by Evans as soon as he arrived; Jake Ryan emerged to back up Cam Gordon in spring; Michigan has a vicious melee for the WLB spot that Fitzgerald isn't even involved in. Without a plague of injuries he'll spend most of his final year providing leadership on special teams.
less deep half, more linebacker plz
Cam Gordon has finally found a home. He can buy a new couch and maybe a speaker system that attaches to the walls and everything. That it took this long is another symptom of the madness on defense last year. Gordon is linebacker sized and plays like a linebacker, except he was playing receiver as a freshman and thus tackled people in the same way a coke machine would: by running your bulk into a dude and hoping he falls over.
This was Michigan's last line of defense, and they paid for it many times over, starting against Michigan State:
His shoulder-block style of tackling was something he got away with before he faced Michigan State but against MSU he was bouncing off ballcarriers because they were big and strong enough to take the blow. Then he would try to drag them to the ground, which only worked sometimes and always gave up YAC.
Worse yet were Gordon's angles, which alternated between vastly too aggressive…
…and vastly too conservative…
…depending on which flaw he had just spent the week getting chewed out about in practice. And then there was that rainbow thing. I'm embarrassed to have pumped him up a bit after the Indiana game, though to be fair he did have an interception.
Gordon got shuffled to spur, a position roughly analogous to the strongside linebacker in a 4-3 under, for the Penn State game. Thrown into the fire at yet another position he had only the barest clue how to play, he struggled there as well. He was emblematic of that game's defensive implosion:
It's symbolic that this is the play where it all went to hell.
Demens has that dead to rights if he can just get some gang tackling help. Marvin Robinson whiffs, Cam Gordon vacates the only area Royster can go, and Royster makes a terrific play to spin outside for the first down. Great play, but you can't spin past three guys without something having gone horribly wrong. That's a true freshman and a redshirt freshman who was a wide receiver last year and a safety last week. FFFUUUUUUUU.
|whiffs but gets lucky|
|takes a horrible angle on the pass|
|lost in coverage|
|too far off|
|some good stuff|
|delivers a nice hit|
Cam Gordon had a rough freshman year. Worse for our purposes is how useless it is for projecting his future. With half of his season spent at a position he'll never play again and the other half spent in an incoherent defense at a spot he'd learned for literally two weeks, his UFR chart isn't even worth looking at.
If you insist, it's not pretty even after he moved to linebacker. He managed to stay on the positive side against Illinois by blitzing a ton. I did note that "Gordon brings a physical intimidation factor the other two spurs don't." He didn't do much other than scoop up a fumble and run a long way against Purdue. Against Wisconsin he failed to register even a positive half-point and picked up this note: "Not involved much and didn't do well when he was." After that the malaise took over. He did have some TFLs in the final two games.
That doesn't mean much, though. Bounced from position to position and ill-served by the coaching of Greg Robinson and Adam Braithwaite, Gordon was put in a position to fail. He did.
Now he's at a spot that makes sense being coached by people who make sense. Since he wasted a redshirt year playing offense and his freshman year trying to play safety he'll be farther behind the curve than an average third-year player. He's also pretty light for a strongside linebacker at 224. That will serve him well when he's asked to drop into coverage but will make fending off tight ends a struggle. A reasonable level of development gets him to a bit below average this year.
There is one. The spring game was a dreary, depressing thing mostly notable for the various ways in which the quarterbacks looked awful, but one of the certifiable bright spots was the rampaging play of redshirt freshman Jake Ryan. Ryan had a pick-six, sacked Devin Gardner at least a couple times—hard to tell exactly what would have happened if they were live—and generally gave second-string OT Kristian Mateus more than he could handle. Mateus is a walk-on and all spring impressions come with free grains of salt, but as of the moment Ryan Rob Lytle-ed his helmet in spring, the hype train has left the station and will build up steam until such time as there's another guy to get hyped about.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Third on the depth chart is true freshman Brennen Beyer, one of the most highly touted recruits in this year's class. His recruiting profile has the goods: excellent speed and lateral mobility on a frame that needs and can put on a lot of weight. He was expected to play WDE and flipped to SLB after Frank Clark showed very well in fall. He was 100% lineman in high school and will need some time to adjust to new responsibilities. Hopefully they can get a redshirt on him this year.
it's tough to find shots of Jones and Herron in the wild
This is the most uncertain thing about the defense. Mouton left no ready heir apparent thanks to an injury that forced Mike Jones out for the entirety of 2009. Top competition Brandon Herron also missed a big chunk of last year. When he returned he mostly sat.
Jones returns atop the depth chart out of little more than momentum. Michigan fans haven't seen much out of him other than a few redshirt-burning tackles on kickoff coverage, so his recruiting profile will have to stand in for actual knowledge.
For what it's worth he does seem well suited to be one of those blitzer guys Greg Mattison promises will exist this year:
Exceptional edge blitzer that has great timing and quickness; speed rushes by the offensive tackle before he can get set. Offensive backs can't or won't block him when blitzing off the edge; really creates havoc in the backfield. Does a great job of using his hands to shed blockers in order to get to the ball carrier.
As a bonus, he's beefed up from 208 to 224, which is reasonable WLB size. Folks were talking him up as a "playmaker" during spring practice last time around. Little's been heard since. That goes for all of his competitors as well.
That position and again I hate to ever say anything positive, I love how those guys are playing at times. At times, they are playing with such energy and such speed and such explosiveness. One day one of them, I’ll go wow that’s what we’re looking for and the next day he may have not as good a day and the other guy will step up. I think that one is a battle. That one is a battle right now and it is kind of a good battle to have.
Reality or Johnny Sears airy pump-up? We won't know that for a while. There are three experienced scholarship options. Whoever ends up winning the job might be bad; they probably won't be awful. There are three upperclass options before we dig up a freshman.
The second guy on the depth chart is fifth-year senior Brandon Herron, who's bounced all over the front seven in his time in Ann Arbor without managing to see the field much. He's got thirty-four tackles to his name, many of them in garbage time or on special teams.
Just when it looked like he might have a role in the 3-3-5 he came down with an injury and forced Roh to move back to LB. As a recruit he was middle-of-the-road, reputed to be a raw athlete. He'll probably see some time and not do anything spectacular with it.
Junior Brandin Hawthorne and true freshman Desmond Morgan also feature on the depth chart. Hawthorne is one of the Pahokee crew. He was a hilariously undersized high school player and has been bouncing between linebacker and safety the past couple years. He's happy to be back in the front seven:
"I was actually recruited as a linebacker so to be back feels really natural to me," said Hawthorne. "This is the position I played my whole life until I got to Michigan so it's nothing new, but I've had to learn the system, my responsibilities, and that takes time." …
"I'm not a real physical player - I'm more finesse - but I'm fast and smart," he said. "You need a brain on defense and I'm smart enough to recognize formations, and help move guys around. And I think I'm pretty good at making plays. I know I'm not going to overpower someone but I'm pretty good at slipping through the cracks."
Now up to 214 pounds, Hawthorne was getting some time with the first team during the select plays the media was allowed to watch. If his self-scouting is accurate he may be more of an option against spread teams. The weakside linebacker does get protected in the 4-3, so if he's got the speed and smarts Michigan might deal with the size.
The Big Ten Network was told to watch out for Morgan when their tour hit Ann Arbor, so they did. Viewers were treated to a shot of Morgan getting plowed over and over again as Gerry DiNardo tried to convince them he was the new hotness on the weakside.
Hoke has been talking him up. When asked about the linebacker situation outside of Demens Hoke went to Morgan first:
I think Desmond Morgan is a guy who we think is going to play some football for us. Mike Jones, we’ve played a little bit of MIKE and a little bit of WILL. Marrell Evans is playing some in there.
That was just a few days ago. Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
Good news: I took pictures today. Bad news: I left my card reader at home.
- No one is seriously injured
- Mike Jones had pneumonia the other day, but was better today
- Fitz still has opportunity to earn start over Shaw this week
- Gibbons is solidly starting at placekicker, unless it's a long field goal, in which case Wile or (Kris) Pauloski might kick
- There will be an intense practice late Friday night
- There will be no Victors Walk
- Kick/punt returner situation is fluid (obviously)
Press Conference (this part was filmed)
"Finishing fall camp on Saturday morning, I think we were very productive in what we wanted to get done. You're never going to be satisfied, it's never going to be as good as you'd like it to be, and that's just part of being competitive. I think we developed as a team, I think we became closer as a team. I think when you look at us as a team, we're excited to get going and to have that first opportunity. We're guaranteed 12 opportunities, and we've made that known to our players. We want to play obviously 14, but the 12 opporutnities we have, we start with the first test this weekend."
"We voted on captains last night as a team. I think our players understand that our seniors will always be our leaders, and the three guys, with Mike on defense, Kevin Koger and David Molk on offense, have demonstrated an ability to lead. I think they all three bring a lot to our football team, when you look at the leadership roles that they'll play, and you look also at the roles from a production standpoint."
"Western Michigan is a well-coached, disciplined, tough football team. I've had a little bit of experience with Coach Cubit and how his teams play, offensively and defensively."
Offensively, QB Alex Carder is good. He's as impressive as anybody with 30 TDs, >63% completions. WR Jordan White caught 94-96 balls a year ago, challenge for Michigan secondary. LT Anthony Parker spearheads a big, physical O-line. They have some Juco transfers. Defensively, D-line has everyone coming back. Secondary is one of the better ones in MAC, very aggressive and like to attack the football.
"We're excited. We're not near ready to play, and I'll probably say that on Friday. We're not near ready to play, but we get to play, and that's a good thing. We get to see our first test, where we're at as a team and as a program, and to get out there and not beat up on each other, but you get to play with somebody else."
Looks like there are lots of "ORs" on the depth chart. What gives? "I just think there's great competition. At the running back, Fitz has done some good things, Mike [Shaw] has done some good things. Vince Smith's a guy we talked about being a third-down back for us for multiple reasons, but I think there's some great competition there. I think with JT and Troy, when you look at Courtney Avery ... Blake Countess is a young guy who's played pretty well ... Raymon Taylor ... all those guys are competing, and Greg Brown. I would expect JT and Troy would be the guys who would start the football game, but when we get into the nickel, then we get into the other situations."
Why is Will Heininger starting? "More than anything else, it's his experience. We like what Nathan has done. He's practiced very well, played well, been productive, but Will at the same time has done a great job -- Will Heininger -- but the other guy who has come on a little bit is Will Campbell. That will be fluid anyway because we want to play six guys during the course of the game so we can keep guys fresh and keep them healthy."
Any questionable players healthwise? "Healthwise we're in great shape. As good as you can be coming out of fall camp. We had a pretty physical fall camp, so I'm pretty pleased. Mike Jones had a little bit of a fever and pneumonia the other day, but I just saw him on the way here in fact, and feels pretty good."
Does it help that you've played against Western? "I don't think it helps, because you've got to go back to the tape you had from a year ago. First games are always a little bit different as far as when you start to study. Do you take the last four games, (or) do you take the first three from a year ago to see what they taught within their offense and defense? And then the last three games as far as when you start breaking an opponent down and looking at it.
"I really am impressed when you watch them play on the tape. Being a defensive guy, I'll always look at more offensive film of an opponent than I do defensively. I'm very impressed with Carder and how he handles this offense."
I'm writing some fluff about you coming out of the tunnel. Can you give me a some fluff about coming out of the tunnel? "It's a special place, being at Michigan. I'm sure that we'll be very humbled. But at the end of the day, we're playing a football game, and our consistency as coaches is important, so we'll move pretty quickly. I'm hoping we get to the sidelines the right way, and you're always as a new staff, you're doing things different. When we go to dinner on Friday night, we'll practice at 5 o'clock on Friday night, and all those things are different than what has been done in the past, so those things we'll all be worrying about until the game's kicked off."
Roundtable (this part was not filmed)
This is what Hoke sort of looked like when I took a picture of him.
Western has no idea what you're going to do. Is that an advantage? "They're a good football staff, and I'm sure that they got a hold of all the San Diego State film they could from an offensive perspective. I think defnesively it's always a little harder getting NFL film. I'm sure they've been able to see remnants of what we're trying to do."
RB's still have to prove themselves? "I think they all do, not just the running backs. We want to evalutate them every day, and if a guy doesn't meet the standard or expectation that we need to play with -- it could be any position -- if he doesn't meet that standard, then we gotta find someone else."
Do you evaluate players differently between practice and games? "I don't think so. I'm a big believer in that when you prepare and when you practice, you're going to play that way. So if we've got great intensity getting to the football (with the) eleven guys defensively, (or if) our wide receivers are sustaining blocks and harassing corners, we expect that to be done during practice. That's a demand that we have because I believe you have to play like you practice."
Will you give both kickers a shot in the game? "Right now, Gibbons is going to handle the field goals, and if we get into a long field goal situation, I think Wile or Pauloski would be next in line for that. Matt will kick off, and Matt's going to punt."
What's the range for Gibbons vs. Wile? "When you start getting over, I dunno, I would guess from my observation, 43-44 (yards), som'n ike that, Matt's just got a little ... I don't know if it's a bigger leg, a better leg ... he's got the opportunity to hit the ball more cleanly. Everybody attributes and compares it to golf -- and I can't tell you about golf, if you've seen me golf you would know why -- and it's kind of the sweet spot he hits it with."
How much has the offense changed from the spring re: Denard? "I think his knowledge of what we're trying to do as a whole package [has increased], and I think there's still some things Al hasn't added to the mix. I think his grasp of it is at a higher level than it was in the spring. I think when you put that together where he doesn't have to think as much, and now he can be settled in his fundamentals and techniques. I think that's where the growth has come, and then his growth being a leader, and that maturity level, is at a higher place."
Is the offense what you envisioned when you first came in? "That depends. I think the basic plays of a pro-style offense are a big part of it. The play-action game, all those things. There are some things out of the spread that we're obviously going to stay with, that kind of overlap a little bit with how you want to block at the point of attack and those things. We're still going to line up and run the power play a bunch."
Do you tell Denard the same things you tell a normal QB about getting out of bounds? "I think it's the same. You don't want him to take needless shots, and we wouldn't want Devin to either. We want to be aggressive and always know where the stakes are, but we don't want a guy to take needless shots if he can help it."
Most coaches play freshmen during a coaching transition because they recruited them. You're playing older guys. Is it because you value experience? "I think that's an important part of it, to some degree. Believe me, if we thought those younger guys were at a point where the older guys weren't better, the younger guys would be playing. I think we're growing with some youth, and probably more so on the defensive side of the ball. There are some guys who have a better chance to play than on the offensive side."
I'm going to ask a convoluted question about the guys who started last year. They worked to earn these spots collectively, maybe, you think. Hunger, winning, Michigan. ? "I hope they're hungry, first and foremost. I mean, this is a competitive game, this is the winningest program in college football, so I hope they understand those expectations that we have as a team and we have as a program. Um, you know, I think ... when you ... and I don't know if I understand the other part of your question."
Basically, I mean, the starting lineup, more or less, are guys that started last year, and yet, it wasn't handed to them, collectively, you know. "I think we had good competition, I guess that's what I would say. I think we had good competition, and it's easy to see. Our depth on both sides of the ball up front aren't exactly where you'd like it to be, and that's okay, because it's always an expectation for who's playing the position. It doesn't matter if they're a fifth year guy or a guy who's a true freshman, you've gotta play to a Michigan standard."
Were some of those decisions made during the scrimmages? "Everyday they're evaluated. And it doesn't matter if they're in the weight room ... I talk to Aaron everyday. Every night I talk to him and (ask), "How'd he do there?" Because you're looking for an attitude. You're looking for a team attitude first. And if a guy goes in there and doesn't do what he needs to do to help his teammates, then we're going to have a problem with it.
"It all starts there, and obviously when you're in those situational things that you do with the football aspect of it, you're expecting them to play at a fast level and a fast tempo with an enthusiasm for the game."
Is Van Bergen locked in at DT? "He's one of those guys who can play a lot. He can play in sub defense, he can be over the center, which [he] is at times. I'm talking about nickels and dimes and those kinds of things. He can do that, and he can swing back out to the 5 (-tech). Ryan brings a lot of intelligence to the game, and being an older guy who's been around football a lot, it really helps him out and helps our team out."
I'd like to ask another question that you will answer in a non-informative way. You haven't played a game yet, but you've been here seven months. Do you ... feel like the transition has been what you thought ... Has there been more you thought you would have to change? Or less? Or ... ? "Uh. It's about what you would think it would be. I mean, you know, it's, it really just ... trying to, you know, have a focus on what Michigan's all about, and starting there. You know, and, uh, I don't know if it's any different or not."
But History? And Tradition?? "Well, I think that's important, I mean, that's an important accountability that we have."
Thank you. That was a productive series of words.
You have four punt returners with "Or" next to their names. You gonna make up your mind or not? "It probably will be fluid. I wouldn't be surprised that we probably had two guys back there and switch them for punts to see who we think may be the best playmaker out of it."
You got any superstitions or rituals? "I would not share them with you if I did."
You doing the Victors Walk? "No."
But you said in Chicago you would do it. "Nope."
Could Fitz Toussaint still win the job this week? "Sure. Sure. No question."
Do you get nervous close to gametime? "My nervousness only comes that we're dottin' all the i's and crossin' all the t's. We talked as a staff -- number one, (we have to) have a great plan for (our players). And that's our responsibility, that we have a plan on both sides of the ball, in the kicking game, that's going to help these guys be successful. That's what you think about constantly. Did we cover this? Have we covered this enough? Taking a safety from a punt formation with 13 seconds left on the game, you know, what's the punter do? There's a lot of different ways you can do it.
"I don't know if it's a nervousness, because once we're here on Saturday, it's fun."
Do you meet with the captains? "I meet with the seniors every Sunday and every Thursday, so they'll be part of that group obviously. Captains, I'll meet with them periodically when I feel there's a need."
Countess and Clark made the two-deep. What'd they do to impress? "Frank is a guy we think can do something in those nickel and dime packages. Blake has got an opportunity to be a very good corner here. Very good feet, and he's got some make-up speed that corners need to have. He's tough. Both of them are tough. I think they both, from a defensive mentality ... we don't want to overload them so that they go out there and have paralysis by analysis. We want them to be able to go and play the game ...
"I like them, I'll put it that way."
Will it take some time to see the whole Brady Hoke system? "I think it always does. I've done this at two other schools. Every week's a learning experience. When I say that I'm going back to every week, how we travel. We're playing at home, but it's still, we're going to the Campus Inn, and how we meet, and all that stuff, it's a learning experience every week. The sooner that we feel ... I don't want to say comfortable, but that's basically what it is ... then the faster we'll start playing and then the more physical we'll play football."
You talked about corn chowder last week, are there other traditions -- "CLAM chowder."
Are there any other traditions that you've brought back, or that you're bringing, that are important to you this week? "We practice later on Fridays. There will be a little more intensity to it than maybe other programs have had, because I'm a big believer in that mental practice that we'll have. You have to have an intensity in how you do it, because then you're going to play fast. At the end of the day, you have to play fast in this game. I don't know what else."
(David Molk, Mike Martin, and Kevin Koger notes will be up later. [Ed: probably tomorrow morning.])
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.