Is Al Borges going to play to his strengths or Denard's?
Borges has been talking about lots of wide receivers and lots of shotgun since people started him asking the obvious question of the offseason. This has not kept people from asking him "yeah, but how much?" The only thing Borges could have done to get people to cease and desist is present a signed contract guaranteeing a certain number of shotgun snaps and QB Draw Oh Noes.
He didn't quite do that in his interview with the BTN crew when they hit up Ann Arbor, but he came closer than he ever had before:
Point blank: Denard "is the priority." (Readers wishing to contrast with Rich Rodriguez are asked to focus on his obsession with a poorly-run 3-3-5, not his inability to squeeze maximum production out of the ragtag 2008 offense.)
The spring game disputes this version of reality:
They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.
Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.
But after the game Borges said Denard would run more "in the real world" and that's a long time ago now and every indication we've had since is that the offense isn't going to be a whole lot different than it was last year.
ONE: it suggests that Al Borges is awesome. His career has hinted from this as it rambled from scrambling Forcier-a-like Cade McNown to brutal play-action annihilation with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Jason Campbell to a flexible multi-formation West Coast attack featuring Ryan Lindley in any formation you care to name. Now he's got the squarest peg he's ever run across and he's busily shaving his offense to match.
TWO: This is the way to go, especially now. In the NFL, shotgun formations are more efficient:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
In college, running quarterbacks have a real advantage that the Mathlete stumbled across while trying to figure something else out:
In Denard's specific case the threat of a run from him is the reason he could surge to 20th in passer efficiency (Chad Henne 2006: 26th) one year after being totally incompetent.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
How much will Borges's lack of familiarity with cheetahs in Porsches strapped to jet engines and dropped out of an airplane hurt the offense?
It is going to hurt somewhat. Pretty much the only thing Rodriguez was consistently awesome at was introducing wrinkles in the run game that consistently produced. Remember that dreamlike first half against Penn State in 2008 when Brandon Minor emerged from nowhere and raged his way down PSU's throat? Rodriguez was fantastic at that stuff.
It petered out in his first two years because he had nothing to go to—no constraints—when the defense started cheating on him. With Robinson the wrinkles not only to the run game but to the defense-crippling QB Draw Oh Noes resulted in either points or plays where the points were there for the taking if only the players could have executed. Maybe the fundamentals were lacking. I tend to think of these things as youth and bloody fate. Either way you could see the outline of something great and tentacled in Michigan's fumbling missteps and blown opportunities. Rodriguez's offense was gorgeous in how it gave defenses awful choices.
Al Borges can do that. In his first year at Auburn, Jason Campbell averaged 10 YPA. Ten! That is a great many yards per attempt.
I'm not sure he can do that with Denard. He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
Is anyone going to help Denard out?
I think so. Injuries laid up Shaw and Toussaint last year; both are apparently healthy. It's also possible that Vincent Smith will be closer to his late freshman form now that he's almost two years removed from his ACL tear. Add in a sophomore Hopkins and a couple freshmen and there are a lot more bullets in the chamber than there were last year, when Michigan was down to Smith and a fumble-prone Hopkins most of the season.
Without a similar plague of injuries, whoever emerges from those six guys is going to be better than the one who emerged from two. That's still going to hold true even when the grim reaper scythes one of Shaw or Toussaint down in the Big Ten opener. (Don't even think this isn't happening.) Getting production out of the tailback is key. If they can do that they can approximate last year's offense without putting undue pressure on Denard's bones.
In the passing game the #1 candidate to turn incompletions and short gains into longer ones is Junior Hemingway. He averaged 18.5 yards a catch last year and showed signs of being a guy you can just chuck it to because he'll come down with it. A fully healthy, senior Hemingway is a potential breakout performer.
Is the offensive line cut out for this?
Las year's offensive line was a B+. They didn't get an A because of a zillion Taylor Lewan penalties and mediocre play at right tackle. The interior line was very good. This year everyone is back save Steve Schilling and Perry Dorrestein. Dorrestein was a replacement level starter and Schilling has a touted, capable backup entering his redshirt junior year. Four starters return.
If this is not a great offensive line it will be because of a mismatch between what they were recruited to do and what they've been asked to do. Of late there has been a surge in OL skepticism from the premium practice reports on the message boards; I interpret this as a bunch of power being run not very effectively by a crew that should be running primarily zone.
If "this" is old-school MANBALL running, the answer is no. If it's a hybrid between last year and MANBALL, they'll get by. If they're making people cheat on the zone they will kill.
Michigan will backslide. But let's set the point from which they will backslide: I believe the advanced metrics. Michigan's field position was terrible, field goals were terrible, turnovers were terrible, and so forth and so on. We would have gotten a better picture of this offense if the field position they gained was honored either by the special teams or the defense. What happened last year was a lot of excellent play marred by turnovers from a true sophomore first-year starter with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
If Michigan did not have the #2 offense in the country last year, they weren't far off. What we had going last year was both explosive on the ground (5.6 YPC exceeded Carr's best effort this decade by almost a yard and a half) and in the air:
Last season, his first as a full-time starter in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson had 16 runs that covered at least 20 yards and seven that exceeded 30 yards. He had at least one 20-yard gain in nine of the Wolverines' 13 games last season. He scored touchdowns on runs of 87, 72, 47, 32 and 32 yards. He also had 12 pass completions of more than 40 yards. That's more than Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Criticisms about Michigan's inability to score points against elite defenses mostly boil down to inopportune turnovers and bad defense. In games against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, Michigan averaged nearly 440 yards. Because of the defense, special teams, and Denard's high turnover rate they didn't turn those yards into enough points—and they still scored 28 or more in three of those games. The bowl game was the only real clunker.
It was for real and it returns everyone save Steve Schilling, Martell Webb, and Darryl Stonum. Those three guys have upperclass replacements that should do just fine. The main issues with maintaining last year's level of productivity are:
- Regression to the mean.
- Keeping Denard upright.
- Not suffering more than two injuries on the OL or at TE.
- Having horrible enough field position to lead the country in long TD drives again.
- Not screwing it up.
#2 is the biggest problem. The most efficient version of the offense is also the one most likely to get Denard knocked
up out. They'll move away from that when they can, which will mean a hit. This is some version of #4: not screwing it up. I don't think they will. We will get some symbolic MANBALL—the first play against WMU is probably going to be power out of the I-form that goes for three yards—to please the Great Tradition and then Borges will get down to the business of being a coordinator instead of Mike DeBord.
Let's hit shift and comma!
- junior Denard > sophomore Denard
- Toussaint/Shaw/Smith/Hopkins > younger, more injured versions of same
- junior Patrick Omameh > sophomore Omameh
- sophomore Taylor Lewan >> Huyge/Lewan/Penaltyfest
- Huyge/Schofield > Huyge/Dorrestein
- David Molk == David Molk
- Junior Hemingway == Junior Hemingway
- Roundtree/Grady == Roundtree/Grady
- Ricky Barnum < Steve Schilling
- Kevin Koger/Brandon Moore < Koger/Webb
- Martavious Odoms < Darryl Stonum
- This is still going to be a very good offense, and this year they should have points to show for it.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Michigan 2010 finishes atop the rush YPC chart above without considering the UMass game and by a considerable margin.
Gardner ends up burning his redshirt in very, very frustrating fashion, because…
Check-ish. Michigan is trying to un-burn that redshirt.
Denard is pretty much your starting quarterback all year, but…
…Forcier plays in every game, bailing Michigan out in one critical fourth quarter.
Not quite every game but lots of them. Forcier did bail Michigan out against Illinois and came damn near doing so against Iowa.
Vincent Smith gets the most touches amongst the running backs. Second: Shaw. Third: Toussaint. Fourth: Hopkins.
Pretty close. Toussaint's injuries knocked him out.
Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher.
All too easy.
Darryl Stonum does not exactly go Chris Henry on the planet but does greatly increase production via a series of big plays: 30 catches, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Stonum did see his production increase to 633 yards but it took him 49 catches to get there. The Chris Henry lite of the offense was Junior Hemingway, who had 593 yards on 32 catches.
Michigan breaks out the triple option with regularity, using Hopkins as the dive back and Shaw/Smith the pitch guy. They also dig out those WVU formations where the slot motions into the backfield, with Grady the man beneficiary.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
- Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
- Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
- Michigan runs more zone blocking than gap blocking. When they do gap block they are a left-handed team thanks to Taylor Lewan.
- Koger's production is up a bit but total TE catches only go up slightly: 20 last year, 30 this year.
- Huyge gives way to Schofield mid-year.
- Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
[Ed: I just TL;DR'd myself, so I've reorganized the quotes into "non-fluff" and "fluff."]
- One day of practice has passed since the last press conference.
Greg Mattison knows that I am consistently failing to take pictures of him.
Opening remarks: "The thing I'd like to say is that it's great that it's close to game time. It seems like we've been practicing for three months now. I'm excited to see this defense, to see what they're going to do. They've worked very hard. It's not always been perfect, but everyday i still see that they come out with the attitude of trying to get better. (Saturday) is going to be an interesting day and a great day, to see these guys go out on that field. Some of them have never played. Others I know have something deep inside that they want to prove, that they're a michigan defense. It's going to be a great day."
Which position battles are still ongoing? "I think every position battle is still going. That'll always be the way it is with us on defense. Our guys know that. I don't care if you're a guy that started for four years straight. If you don't play up to your ability now, there's going to be consequences.
"I don't know if there's any specific (positions in question). The starting lineup, I don't know what that is really yet. We've got a couple practices yet to make sure everything is set. The one thing we'e gonna do is we're gonna try to rotate people. I believe in two starting lineups. That's how important it is. Whoever's not in there after the opening kickoff, whenever that next group of guys comes in, they're just as valuable as the ones that are there. When that second guy is in there, that first guy has got to get that rest and come back and he's gotta go as hard as he can possibly go. That's how we'll make it. That's one of the ways in which we will get where we have to get, is play as hard as you can. You can't do that 75 plays a game. You can't do it. So we've gotta have guys behind him, (and that second guy) goes in and goes as hard as he can. He may not be as good, but going hard is good enough."
Because it's a new system, are you more likely to improve as the season continues? "Definitely. A lot of times when a player isn't successful right now in practice, it's the mental part. Not understanding where all pieces fit in the defense. Right now it's not uncommon for a younger player to just do his thing and do what he thinks is right, and not knowing that he should have done this a couple steps to the left because there's somebody over here. And that comes and that's where the correcting comes in. You hope they don't make that mistake the second time. That's what we're all about right now, is every little thing there seems like there's a correction to be made, and that's why I respect these guys because they've listened, and they go, 'Okay!"
"We've done so many walkthroughs. Every second when the kicking game is going on, our defnesive line is walking through what they're supposed to be doing. They're not standing there watching. I think from the start of special teams, every defensive player is moving and working to get better. And that doesn't happen in a lot of other schools."
You've talked up Nathan Brink. What has Will Heininger done to stand out? "He's a big strong physical kid that's a senior. He's been around a long time, and that's what we're looking for. The two of them make one. Quinton Washington is the same thing. When he goes in that ball game, go as hard as you can, Q. as hard as you can. That'll be good enough. That's all you can give us right now until you get the experience and get the tehcnique things. and then you just keep going right down the line. Will Campbell, the same way. When he rotates in there, Go. Go. You dont' have to play 70 plays. Go to the plays you're in, get your rest, and go again."
What stands out about Western's QB? "I think he's a great quarterback. I think this guy is special. I think you're gonna see this guy playing on Sundays some day. Ge's got an arm that he can throw it from hash to sideline. The thing that impresses me about him is that he's a very tough kid. He takes some really really strong hits and he comes right back and he's going again. He's got mobility. He can run when he has to. I think this guy is the real deal."
Talk about Mike Jones. "He has consistently come out everyday trying to do what he's supposed to do. I got a feeling Mike Jones came from a program where he probably either blitzed all the time or played 'sic'em' football. Now all of a sudden he's getting coached every single second. Some guys can't do it. He is one that I've been really excited about. It looks like everyday he's looking to get better and he's listening. I see signs of him -- now you did it right, you stayed back, you didn't run past the hole -- that kind of thing. And hes' a sophomore, that's what should happen."
How often will you alternate starters and backups? How much playing time will each group get? "We haven't come up with a number yet, but some guys might go six (plays). Some guys might go six and sit two or three. Some guys might go four and four. All the way through the ball game. It all depends on how close at the end of the week we feel their talent level is."
Is rotation frequency different for D-line versus the secondary? "You don't do that as much with the secondary. In the secondary, you might go one out of the four. Or you might go one safety for two positions or one corner for two corners. The big boys, if this is going to be a game where they're throwing the ball, that'll wear you out right away. you can't compete if you don't go hard, so we gotta be able to (rotate)."
Talk about competition between Floyd, Avery, and Countess. "It's a great battle, and what happens is everyday somebody different seems like they're taking the step, and then the next day (another) guy steps. I'm hoping that all three of them are getting better. You can't ever have too many corners."
What makes Thomas Gordon special? "Great effort. He's played with a lot of energy. He's got versatility for us. he can be in some of our different packages where he cn almost be a linebacker at times, and then he can go be a safety, and then (he) can go be a nickel. He's understood the defenses. He's been a real student, and his flexibility has really helped us."
How many packages will you use? "We're gonna give our guys enough bullets. We're not gonna go out there and play one defense. My belief is always give your guys every opportunity to be successful. Now if they can't pick it up in the heat of the battle, and they're making mistakes, then that can't work, and that's why we've worked so hard on our walk-throughs and that's why we're constantly challenging them on, 'Here's the call, what do you do?' And they're stepping through chairs, stepping through bags, making sure everything is exactly right. If they know where to line up and if they know where they're supposed to be, that's half the battle. Now the rest of it's playing hard."
Do you prefer running different defenses out of same look or same defense out of differnet looks? "Both of them. I like to be able run the same defenses out of two different packages, like fast guys out there compared to this (other) group of guys. The reason I like that is because you don't ever want to get caught on the field with a certain personnel group and then you can't call some of the defenses you want to call. So whatever you call out there, you should be able to do what you want to do with your defense."
How are you going to deal with play-calling against no-huddle offense teams? "We've worked all camp on our wristbands. We will always be ready in every game, if a team's a no-huddle team, to go immediately to wristbands and all you gotta do is point to the wristband and give them the nubmer and they know exactly what defense it is."
What one-on-one matchups between your defense and opposing offenses are you most excited about? "I like Ryan Van Bergen in there, I like Mike Martin in there, I like Craig Roh. I think those are three positions right there where we gotta win. That's what you look at when you look at your defense. We gotta win some of these positions, and I think those are three guys where you say, 'Hey, we're gonna win these battles right here.' I want to win every battle, but those are ones that i think you gotta say, 'We gotta win these.' "
(First post! So we're trying to use more direct quotes from now on. Let's see how it goes.)
General: Seven [practices] left ... Proud of attitude and effort to improve. "Where we are? I don't know ... I see times out there when we're approaching a Michigan defense. And then I don't see it enough times. We gotta see it on a more consistent basis."
Seeing more of what you like? I am seeing more. "What I look at at every single position is technique. I'm seeing great improvement on their technique. I can't accept [excuses like] being a long camp and a lot of hitting, why I get tired and why I don't use my technique. There's going to be games when you're going to be out there more than you have to be. You got to rely on your technique."
Two-deep: "We have not filled out a two-deep. The scrimmage tomorrow, that will be a big key. We're going into our house -- we're going to the Big House -- and if you can't play like you have to play, then you're telling us a lot."
How many guys do you feel comfortable playing? For next weekend, "I hope it's 22." Needs to have 22 capable guys, and have seven more days to get 22. Won't ever be a coach who says we lost a game because a guy got injured.
What are your impressions of Troy Woolfolk? "I'm really, really impressed with a senior -- with a new staff, with a new system -- with a guy that comes out every day and says 'I'm going to do what you tell me to do, I'm going to do it how you tell me to do it, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to do it.' ... I think his technique is improving."
"I don't see any signs of (the ankle injury) at all."
On cornerback competition: "We've got a number of guys still battling for it ... One day you might say, 'this is the guy,' and then he may not be as consistent the next day." Happens to just about everyone. Can't name anyone in particular. Have to wait another week. "They're all in same boat."
On defensive standouts: "A lot of guys, different days." Mike Martin, Troy ... "probably would leave it right there" ... are guys that have more good days than bad. Needs everyone to be consistent all the time. "Those two guys haven't done it every day, either."
Marvin Robinson and Jake Ryan ... haven't heard about them in a while: "Marvin was a little bit sick, got through that. He's a guy, two days ago, [had me saying] 'yeah that's how I want you to play.'" Maybe today too, but hasn't watched film. Jake was out with minor injuries for almost a week, but came back yesterday. "(He) right away had a great hit." He knew what to do when new defenses went in, because "when he came back he didn't miss a beat."
"Our SAMs would also be guys that, in our sub or nickel packages, would be pass rushers." As such, Jake is playing SAM and big part of sub/nickel package.
Josh Furman? He is inconsistent.
Harder than anticipated to improve defense? "No, it's Michigan."
Battle at WILL linebacker: "A young man by the name of Desmond Morgan has shown some great signs." He got a little nicked up the past couple of days. They do a thing called "production points" where the coaches gives players points whenever defensive plays are made: interceptions = 10 pts, fumble recoveries = 7. tackles = 3.
"Hawthorne was in 10 plays in the live scrimmage, and I think he had 24 or 25 points. So I'm sitting here thinking, 'Wow, we got a guy right here.' And then he twisted his ankle a little bit, but he'll be back."
"A defensive player can have his technique be perfect every play, but if he doesn't make plays, you're not going to have a great defense."
"Jones showed some great things." Morgan, Hawthorne, and Herron. "All of them had their moments ... Now who's going to put the moments all together? That's what we've got to figure out."
Demens? Demens has been running with ones, had some good hits, but still not completely consistent.
Scrimmage: "I was pleased early." Got to be consistent. "When you're into your 60th or 65th play, what are you going to be like then? And that was what bothered me: I didn't see them stay the way they started out all the way through."
Is Craig Roh on the D-line? "Craig Roh is a rush. He's a rush outside linebacker for us. [Ed-M: This is a term for a 3/4 OLB with his hand on the ground. #FEARSOFGERG] Craig, Jibreel Black, and even the young kid Frank Clark. All three of those guys are working hard at that position."
Rapport with Denard: "I got on him today. He didn't play every play of yesterday's practice, and I yelled at him during stretch today: 'Boy, you must be as fresh as a daisy today,' and he gave me something back.' I love him."
The wide receivers are his adopted children. Goes over and talks crap to them every day.
General: "Our practices are not for the faint of heart. We get after them pretty good." It has been a real real grueling training camp. (We want to) see what they're made of when they're tired." But they're going to taper the intensity as gameday approaches.
On Denard: "He's picked it up. What we're trying to do is wean him a little bit. From the pass game perspective, we're not giving him so much that he's overwhelmed. It's what I call a starter set."
Right now this "starter set" of plays is about 65-70% of the SDSU playbook.
"As he feels better about it, we'll feed him a little more, particularly in the pass offense."
Chris Barnett? Talk to the hand. Or Hoke.
Starting RB: "Mike Shaw is definitely one of our ... if we played tomorrow, he'd probably be our starting running back." Has had a "heck of a camp, as has Fitz, and Stephen Hopkins, and Vince Brown" -- oopsies -- "Vince Smith." Smith is doing more situational stuff (aka 3rd down) but can still "run from the home position. We're not eliminating him from the fold that way."
There wasn't a lot of hype on Shaw before camp because of his hand injury. "He was not a participant in a big part of spring football ... I didn't really have a good bead on him other than what he had done before."
Freshmen? "We have two kids that are going to have a great future, but at this point, Justice Hayes is still developmental, and Thomas has had an injury that set him back ... Probably somebody will redshirt, but it's still too early to tell."
Expect to see just Shaw, Fitz, Hopkins, and Smith at this point. Rawls has missed a couple weeks with the injury, but he's back.
O-line: "We feel pretty good about our first five guys, first six guys, maybe even seven guys." It's a chemistry position, and likes the way it's shaking out. Funk is a very good technician. "He coaches them to the bone on the steps and all the things you gotta do to play that position, and they've come around."
Receivers: "I think you're going to see more than Junior and Roy out there." Hemmingway and Roundtree will start outside. Grady has done good job, and so has Gallon. Jeremy Jackson has good range because of his size. "Drew Dileo, he'll go in the middle and catch the ball. He's fearless." Will rotate often to keep players fresh because injuries occur more often when players are tired. WRs run a lot in camp, especially, but the coaches will be backing off on them for this last week.
Right tackle battle: "Mark Huyge has been very consistent. Mike Schofield has developed a great deal since spring - athletic, runs well. There will be a role for him, too." Feels good about the position. Good depth.
On Barnum: "Ricky is as athletic as anyone on our line. Ricky is a tough guy." Biggest problem is that he's a little underweight, but he's gotten stronger, doesn't get pushed around, and "looks like a back out there sometimes when he runs."
On scripting opening plays: "In the old days I used to script a lot more." Would script up to 25 plays, but is doing less these days. Never got to the last 10 plays, so stopped scripting so much. Just wants to call what they practice. "If you practiced it, you should do it in the game, otherwise that's bad economy of offense."
An esteemed Big Ten Network analyst said that Denard is going to be out of the shotgun more. "Dinardo said that, didn't he. Esteemed? Nah ... " JK. "Gerry if you're out there, you know I'm kidding."
"Shotgun is not deuce(?). We're tailoring the gun more to his skills ... We're going to use Denard the way he can best exploit the defense."
Which of his past offenses will this resemble most? "None." Nucleus of offense still same as when he started in 1986. QB skill set still most important aspect, so gotta tailor to that.
Thoughts on giving Devin PT? "I'm not promising anything on that, and if I was I wouldn't tell you anyway."
On last weekend's scrimmage: "Physical nature was good on both sides of the ball." Saw ability to create big plays, but too many self-inflicted wounds. We have to remedy that before we play. "When you're transitioning offenses -- and trust me guys I've done this a bunch, OK? -- you can survive if the damage you do (to yourself) is not excruciating ... you're going to have some pain, but if those aren't things that are catastrophic, you can survive."
Ryan Van Bergen
General: "We've had our ups and down like anybody would in camp." Still striving for consistency. "You probably question your commitment if you're not fully into it in practice. We go full pads every day. We bang everyday."
How much more physical, maybe percentage-wise, are the practices compared with last year? "I don't have the stats in front of me [zing!] but statistically offensive line and defensive line, we bang everyday. We probably have periods of five minutes each. We probably have close to ten periods that are full-go offensive line (vs) defensive line, and that's not counting individual periods where the defensive line is servicing the defensive line and we're going against each other. We're very physical." Very.
Are you 5-tech or 3-tech? Currently playing both "depending on situations, who we're playing. Right now I've been repping both of them, and I'm comfortable with both of them. I've played both of them in the past. Fortunately I'm 290 lbs now. The last time I played 3 technique I was 260 and I don't think that went too well. I'm much more comfortable with the weight I'm at."
"I prefer 5-technique because I get to go against my bud back there." (Hi Taylor!) "Me and Taylor, we're real competitive. You know, we're good friends -- best buds. We got rings. It's no big deal."
Does moving people around hurt D-line chemistry it at all? "I can see how that's the perception, but that's not the case at all. The D-line has been together for so long. When you have that many reps with each other, regardless of what positions you're playing, you're still pretty comfortable with each other. Everybody has been together long enough that we feel chemistry regardless of who's in."
On Frank Clark: He's got raw athleticism. He's a fast guy, did track in high school. Coaches have been impressed.
Did you say something about rings? "No, it's just that me and Taylor, we're best buds. We talk about it sometimes."
Personal record between him and RVB? "It was 2-1 (Lewan) before today, and then we did 1-on-1 drills. He beat me today. But a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right? So it's all good."
How's the O-line chemistry? Good. Lots of guys competing for positions. Mike Schofield especially. "He's everywhere. Right guard, right Tackle, left tackle, he's all over the place. It only makes everybody better. He pushes me, he pushes Huyge, he pushes Patrick Omameh, and that's awesome."
On Chris Bryant: "He's shown a lot of improvement. He got his weight down a lot, he's shown a lot of athleticism for a big guy. As far as playing this year, I'm not positive -- I'm not a coach, but I think he's doing some really good things, and I'm excited about his future."
Is this offense as efficient as last year? "We'll get four yards, and that's successful for us. We're much more into nickel and diming it, just moving the ball up and down the field. Controlling the game. That's a big part of us now, and how Michigan has been for a while."
On Barnum: "He's improved so much. He's playing like a redshirt senior." With Schilling gone, Barnum picked it up. NBD.
Molk's leadership? Quiet, sturdy. Like a rock.
Borges' coaching style: "There will be times in practice where he'll get up in our faces and tell us you need to do this this and this. Other times sit back, he'll get up on the thing where you film practice, what's it called?" The lift. "The lift! Thank god, you guys are smarter than me. He'll get up on the lift, and he'll call the play, read the defense, and he'll be out of it." Doing both is good for the offense.
First, Al Borges:
And then Greg Mattison:
Brink of the Brink. I jumped the gun yesterday by retweeting the Blade's Ryan Autullo, who reported Nathan Brink was hanging out on the first-team defensive line yesterday, and claiming this should deflate the Will Campbell hype balloon. It turns out reporters got to see a lot of stretching and not much else; the units out there were not exactly 20 minutes of solid evidence.
"I hate to ever talk about a young man because I think every time I do that they go right down in the tubes," Mattison said after yesterday's practice. "He has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to [defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery] on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries to step a certain way. And he's really, really physical." …
"In the spring it was mentioned a number of times because his toughness stuck out like crazy," Mattison said.
The word of the day is always "physical" except when it's "toughness." It's a good sign for you when the coaches are describing you with the attributes they've been preaching nonstop since their arrival.
Is it good for Michigan? If you were under the impression Michigan wouldn't be rotating through walk-ons on its DL, no. That's been unlikely since those dual DT decommits on Signing Day two years ago, though.
Now you should brace for zing:
"Everybody's a scholarship football player to us," Mattison said. "The best 11, the best 12, the best 17, those guys are going to play."
This walk-on may be on the brink of doing that.
The other change. Is it alarming that Jibreel Black, who the coaches have been displeased with, was the other surprise first-team-ish player on the line yesterday? Probably not. An emailer relates that Craig Roh is sick. Not good but not a major problem unless it's mono.
Don't be mono, k thx.
might not be much bench time for this pair. via GBMW
Insidery scuttlebutt. Fall camps are full of temporary surprise starters as coaches test new things or dole out rewards and reprimands, so reading too much into any particular lineup is a constant threat. That said, a couple folk close to the program say Hawthorne has been playing well enough to warrant his shot at the first team. Consistency remains an issue. If Michigan can get production out of him that will be a bonus.
Other insidery nuggets: Demens has MLB locked down and is playing as well at that spot as anyone has in a while; Cam Gordon should hold off Jake Ryan for the SLB spot; Marell Evans has been a bit of disappointment.
Position switches. As media day content continues to trickle out information missed by folks moving to and fro amongst the panoply of assistants and players comes out. For example, there's a new contender at Safety Who Isn't Kovacs. Curt Mallory:
"Thomas has been playing nickel and also been playing safety. We're moving him around," Mallory said. "They will eventually [be interchangeable]. We went into it playing sides, and now as they've learned it, you can play your next best safety rather than next best strong or free. As we get closer to it we'll hone it in a bit and get guys where they best fit the defense. …
"No one's hiding. They all want to be out there, involved, competing. That's probably the most encouraging thing. If Thomas Gordon could, he'd be out there the whole time, and he's not the only one. That's good. They all want to be out there—it's a healthy thing because they are all helping one another."
I liked Gordon last year in the limited role (and limited time) he was allowed. He's dropped some weight and I'd be surprised if he wasn't the fastest guy competing to start at safety. (Furman is probably faster but no one mentions him as a threat to start this year.)
Mallory mentioned Countess, Taylor and Hollowell first amongst the freshmen corners, FWIW.
Rivals also has an article on Brennen Beyer's move to SLB. He won't be required to play this year and that sounds like a good thing:
It's a change because I haven't really played that before, but it's fun trying to learn as much as I can as fast as I can," Beyer said. … "Pass dropping, for one. I've never done that before," he said. "Playing while standing up—that's a little different."
Anyone nervous? I'm nervous. Jeff Hecklinski on the receivers:
"It was such a drastic change offensively that it really hasn't been aided [by their experience]," Hecklinski said. "We have to understand the intricacies that go along with the pro-style offense and the throwing game like we have.
"But, to their credit, they've worked hard throughout the summer. You can see a lot of good things throughout the summer. They came through and did the 7-on-7s and now we get a chance to look at them, you can see they've started to develop that timing and put things together. Now, we need to build on it, and we can hone it down to every little detail."
Practice buzz has been extremely happy with the unit as a whole despite the change; I'm guessing we see a preponderance of three-wide sets this fall. Four is a thing of the past but SDSU ran a lot of three-wide last year. With little established behind Koger at TE their other option is all I-Form.
Gallon is getting talked up, which is surprising. He was an impressive player in the Army Bowl as a recruit but couldn't find the field in an offense perhaps better suited for his talents—he mostly spent his time screwing up painfully on special teams. If he gets his act together he'd bring a YAC aspect Michigan's receivers are currently lacking. I'd bet this is more like Johnny Sears hype, though: encouragement more than accurate reporting.
Standard. More Fred Jackson: "I’ve very, very confident [in the future] because those two freshmen are good players. They are better than good. Both of them.”
startled Borges is startled, from file
Does he still draw up plays? - "I'm always. I'm obsessive... I just, I like that part of the game. I like the tactics. I like to scribble." Denard's talent poses some interesting options in terms of new plays. The defensive-oriented head coaches tend to give the OC a little bit more freedom. "Brady know what we're doing, understands what we're doing, and monitors everything."
"There's so many frustrations out there" because guys aren't consistently performing perfectly yet. "It's just the way it is this time of year."
On Denard - "He's playing good. He's kind of a kick to coach. He's upbeat all the time." He's been receptive to every bit of coaching since he's been here. Timing is getting better in the passing game every day. The guys worked in the offseason, but there was room for improvement. "It's not there yet, but it's showing some promise."
On the tailbacks - "We still don't have a starting running back, but we've got a nice field to work from. Getting a little closer to that, I think." They'll cut down the running back competition when they start game-planning, instead of just going through camp.
There are nice inside and outside runners. "Michael Shaw, Stephen Hopkins, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michael Cox, all of them have just shown some great flashes. ... Cox and Shaw are very similar in that they've got some home run threat to them. Toussaint's a tough kid that makes no concessions to the defense. He to has a nice burst and he can go. Vincent's as diverse as any of them." Thomas Rawls is a tough inside guy, like Hopkins, and Justice Hayes has good cuts.
3rd-down role - Vincent Smith - "He's certainly a candidate." Not big, but can block and pass. He's in the running for starting RB too, because he's so dynamic. Need an RB who can test out a nickel back in passing situations. "You've gotta run tight routes and catch it when they throw it to you."
If it takes multiple games to find a starting running back, so be it. "This is a collaborative effort." Hoke, Borges, Jackson - everybody will have a say in it.
The biggest issue with young RBs is protecting the QB. They can see running lanes pretty well, but there are so many things defenses will do that figuring out who to block is the hardest part.
"We're moving some folks around" to figure out some of the fullback race - they're keeping it under wraps for now who is moving and from where. John McColgan is the primary guy.
On Wideouts - "We've got some guys that are playing well out there. Some of the guys played some last year. Jeremy Gallon, Kelvin Grady has done a nice job. Jerald Robinson who didn't play much, but he seems like he's got a future here. Drew Dileo, all those guys have worked their buns off." Receivers need to be able to play special teams to make travel squads. They've gotta block on the outside, as well.
"You always like to have a few rangy guys" at wideout, but any size is OK. "We would take a smaller, faster guy" at previous stops, because you get 6 points for a TD no matter how tall you are.
On the OL competition - With 5 top guys, "it kinda is what it is right now." There's a chemistry that's important to line play. You'd like to find five guys who can get used to each other. Michael Schofield will be a contributor, it's just a question of when.
Guys are demonstrating the want-to. They understand that they need to get to the level of Michigan expectations. "You never know when it's going to happen. The guys are consciously trying to work to get there. Whether that work is good enough right now? I can't say yes to that." Need to see more guys getting over "the hump."
Playing with great technique, playing with tremendous effort, and being very physical are the three most important factors. "We do those three things, now we're playing Michigan defense."
On Tackling - "It's always something that we have to work on." Had a couple disappointing reps on the goal-line drills today. Were just one wrapped tackle away from making some stops. Safeties, corners, etc. understanding to not give up big plays.
On playing rotations - the coaches need to determine throughout camp how many consecutive plays guys can play at their top level. "When they're tired, somebody else will come in for you. Get your rest, you're not demoted." Specifically along D-line. At Florida, had 6 guys who were worthy of being called starters, even though 4 played at a time. Helped to have a good rotation.
Defensive linemen need to be consistent. "We have to be a defense that you play with great technique on every player. Unless you are a dominant athlete."
On Mike Martin - "I think he's working hard, and I say this about every player on our team: they can work harder and they will work harder." Won't say anybody has "elite talent" until they prove it in games. "I don't know if we have any, and I don't know if we don't have any."
On Will Heininger - "I think he's much stronger. He's shown some signs of being very physical and strong at times." Like everybody else, he needs to develop consistency.
On Nathan Brink - "Played like a Michigan football player... This guy here has come out every day as tough as he can." He hit his weight goal of 260 by coming into camp at 264. "In the spring, it was mentioned a number of times, because his toughness showed up. He was only 250 at the time."
On walk-ons like Nathan Brink and Tony Anderson - "Everybody's a scholarship football player to us. The best 11, the best 12, the best 13, best 17 - those guys are gonna play." Doesn't matter if a guy is a walk-on or a 5th-year guy, they'll play.
On WLB - "That position - and again I hate to ever say anything positive - I love how those guys are playing at times. At times they're playing with such energy, such speed, and such explosiveness." That's a battle.
On Cam Gordon - "He's working really really hard at the physical part of playing SAM backer." He's working hard to meet the standards.
On the secondary - Safeties play a number of coverages, but priority is always to keep the ball inside and in front of him. Jordan Kovacs comes to work every day ready to do things the right way. All of the other safeties show flashes, but lose concentration at times. They need to improve their consistency.
Courtney Avery comes out trying to get better every day. "When he makes a mistake, it bothers him, and he tries even harder next time." Guys are learning that they need to have great technique.
Position changes - "Not drastic. We'll look at an outside linebacker who's kinda a hybrid to the rush backer, and we might switch those guys at times." There are no big, permanent changes.
Freshman contributors. "We've got some pretty good freshmen. Some of them have caught your eye," but they also make big freshman mistakes. They need to show consistent great talent to get on the field as soon as possible. "Frank Clark is a very talented... freshman." like all freshmen, he needs to do it right on every play.
Martavious Odoms still has a cast on his left arm, although it's coming off in the next week.
Vincent Smith, Terrence Robinson, Justice Hayes, Kelvin Grady, Thomas Rawls, Je'Ron Stokes, and Jerald Robinson were the players taking reps catching "kicks" from the jug machine. Fred Jackson made them all run through a couple different variations on the drill (turning around as the ball is launched, running five yards then turning around, etc.)
The defensive backs were working on proper alignments with coach Curt Mallory. He was running a group of DBs through their responsibilities as far as alignment, adjusting that alignment to motion and different offensive formations, and then their responsibilities depending on what certain offensive players would do. It was a very detail-oriented instruction.
During stretching (woo stretching!), one of the strength coaches reminded the players that they needed to take it upon themselves to have a good practice, saying "You don't have a great day by accident, you have it on purpose."
Also during stretching time, Brady Hoke was making his rounds and talking to a few players. He stopped and gave Stephen Hopkins a pat on the helmet and had a short conversation with him.
During the few plays of offense v. defense, it seemed there was a mixed group of starters and backups on the defensive side of the ball. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were flanked by Jibreel Black and Nathan Brink on the DL (Will Heininger rotated in as well), with Jake Ryan and Brandin Hawthorne in at LB with Kenny Demens. Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon (deep - Carvin Johnson also rotated in) were the safeties, with Troy Woolfolk and Courtney Avery at corner. A few expected starters rotated in with the other group, including Craig Roh.
Offensively, it seemed the units were a little more in line with expectations of a first and second unit. Fitz Toussaint and Michael Shaw got the first-team reps at RB. There were a couple plays of I-form, some shotgun, and a mix between run and pass as well.
On the "second" units, Michael Cox, Jeremy Jackson, and Tony Anderson were among the notable players. Shaw got a couple reps with Gardner's offense as well.
Even before Brady Hoke started answering questions like this…
Q: How will Denard Robinson fit in this offense?
A: This is Michigan!
Q: What do you think about the goings-on in Columbus?
A: Though we have great respect for the Akron State Golden Bobcats, this remains Michigan.
Q: What kind of off—
A: THIS IS MICHIGAN TREMENDOUS
A: TREMENDOUS VAN OUSTANDING RIVER
/teaches journalist about Mad Magicians
…he expressed a certain disdain for fancy things like zone running, which is neither fancy or new or soft and has been used by teams from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos to, you know, Michigan under Lloyd Carr. He swore up and down to everyone who attended the coaches' clinic that "A-gap power"—three yards and a cloud of dust, think Jehuu Caulcrick—would be Michigan's signature play. He has expressed a certain approach to offense that sends spread friendly folk like yrs truly and Braves & Birds into twitchy fits. His stated approach is neolithic.
So… like… WTF?
SAN DIEGO STATE 1st DOWN RUN/PASS BREAKDOWN, 2010
|09/04/10||Nicholls St.||Grass||W 47-0||10||12||1||23|
|09/11/10||@ New Mexico St.||Grass||W 41-21||8||13||3||24|
|09/18/10||@ 18 Missouri||Turf||L 24-27||5||10||2||17|
|09/25/10||Utah St.||Grass||W 41-7||9||9||0||18|
|10/09/10||@ Brigham Young||Grass||L 21-24||3||9||0||12|
|10/16/10||Air Force||Grass||W 27-25||8||8||0||16|
|10/23/10||@ New Mexico||Grass||W 30-20||8||12||2||22|
|10/30/10||@ Wyoming||Turf||W 48-38||2||15||3||20|
|11/06/10||Colorado St.||Grass||W 24-19||8||10||1||19|
|11/13/10||@ 2 TCU||Grass||L 35-40||1||6||0||7|
|12/23/10||+ Navy||Grass||W 35-14||14||12||1||27|
San Diego State passed on 63% of its first downs. In tight games* SDSU passed on 79% of first downs. This was not a catchup effect. Missouri led by more than one score for all of 41 seconds; against Utah SDSU ran out to a 27-10 lead before bleeding it away down the stretch. This has something to do with Ryan Lindley and some all-conference receivers but SDSU was very slightly run biased in 2010 (51%), managing a respectable 4.8 YPC. In 2010, especially when it counted, San Diego State passed to set up the run.
Where the hell is A-gap power? Why the hell did The Mountain West Connection write this about Hoke's candidacy for the job?
Hoke would bring in another non-traditonal Big 10 offense to Ann Arbor. It would be a spread offense, but instead of having an offense where there is a dual threat quarterback he plays three, four and five wide receiver sets.
Where's the manball?
*[Missouri, BYU, Air Force, TCU, and Utah. CSU excluded because the narrow scoreline was due to a touchdown with 2:43 left.]
Is the manball in previous teams?
Hoke's previous SDSU team threw even more but was not very good. They were especially un-good at running, so numbers from that season reflect necessity instead of philosophy. And Hoke only had two years in San Diego, so maybe he wasn't able to mold his team into the A-gap power six fullback monstrosity he yearns for.
How about the apex of his Ball State career?
BALL STATE 1st DOWN RUN/PASS BREAKDOWN, 2008
|09/13/08||@ Akron||Turf||W 41-24||14||13||3||30|
|09/20/08||@ Indiana||Turf||W 42-20||12||9||3||24|
|09/27/08||Kent St.||Turf||W 41-20||8||17||1||26|
|10/04/08||@ Toledo||Turf||W 31-0||11||13||0||24|
|10/11/08||@ Western Ky.||Turf||W 24-7||9||9||3||21|
|10/25/08||Eastern Mich.||Turf||W 38-16||8||11||2||21|
|11/05/08||Northern Ill.||Turf||W 45-14||7||14||4||25|
|11/11/08||@ Miami (Ohio)||Turf||W 31-16||9||12||0||21|
|11/19/08||@ Central Mich.||Turf||W 31-24||13||8||2||23|
|11/25/08||Western Mich.||Turf||W 45-22||8||11||0||19|
|12/05/08||+ Buffalo||Turf||L 24-42||10||19||1||30|
|01/06/09||+ Tulsa||Turf||L 13-45||3||6||0||9|
Hoke's first downs under Stan Parrish were also pass-biased. Again, Nate Davis had something to do with that but Ball State was significantly more run-biased than 2010 SDSU: 520 rushes to 405 passes, with those rushes picking up 5 yards a pop. A team that ran 56% of the time threw on 55% of first downs.
HOWEVA, that's not a huge difference from late-era Carr behavior. I know this surprises you. I clicked the link three times just to make sure it wasn't having fun, but in 2007 Michigan passed on 54% of first downs despite playing Ryan Mallett for significant chunks of the season. They also ran on 56% of all plays. That may be an artifact of Michigan not being able to run very well (4 YPC; insert infamous stretch against OSU here). In 2006, a monstrously run-biased outfit (62% at 4.3 YPC while the passing game was averaging 7.7) was 50-50 on first down.
Is the manball in the offensive structure?
Meanwhile, Chris Brown has the most interesting single factoid in Wolverines Kickoff 2011. It's about SDSU's bowl game, the one after which Ken Niumatalolo said "that's as good of an offense as we've seen." In that game, the Aztecs ran more zone-blocked plays than gap-blocked plays en route to a rout. Here's an inside zone:
A few plays later the Aztecs would bust out their first power of the night. Notably, it was a "constraint" play—one designed to keep the defense honest. They lined up in a pro set and handed it to the fullback for the second time all year. On third and two they manballed up. Result:
Starting running back Ronnie Hillman averaged 8.1 YPC without any distorting 80-yarders (long of 37) and finished the day with 228 yards. San Diego State's defense did not appear to have a stroke while watching this.
So how does that jive with this?
When asked recently about the influence of Oregon’s offense, Hoke subtly revealed his disdain for the tactical shift Michigan experienced under Rodriguez. He is convinced that modern spread option offenses can be counterproductive to the core values of smashmouth football and are, therefore, to be avoided.
“Right, wrong or indifferent, when you’re zone blocking all the time -- when you’re playing basketball on grass -- you practice against that all spring, you practice against it all fall and then you’re going to play a two-back team that wants to knock you off the football,” Hoke said. “I don’t think you’re prepared.
It… like… doesn't. Unless Hoke just wants to have some power around so his defense doesn't turn into a bunch of lily-livered ninnyhammers and doesn't actually care how much it gets deployed in actual games. This would be good for the next couple years when what Hoke wants and what Hoke has will be severely mismatched.
Is the manball curling up in the fetal position with a narrow lead?
Unfortunately for manball-is-just-talk theorists, that above-mentioned close-ish Colorado State game featured an event familiar to Michigan fans. After Colorado State scored with about three minutes left to draw within five, SDSU ran three times for two yards and gave the ball back to the Rams having run only 53 seconds off the clock. They ran on 2nd 7 and 3rd and 9. Very MANBALL.
The way the Aztecs lost the Missouri game is also terribly familiar. They picked off Blaine Gabbert with 1:47 left, ran 25 seconds off the clock, and punted on 4th and 8 from the Missouri 35. It took the Tigers two plays to score the winning touchdown. To be fair, freshman Ronnie Hillman caused coaching blood vessels to explode when he ran out of bounds on the first play of the drive and the Aztecs did throw on third down. To be ruthless, that throw was a screen or something equivalently conservative (it lost a yard) and once it was completed the situation was 4th and 8 for the win or a 20-yard punt. Hoke chose the punt. He chose poorly.
Against Air Force the Aztecs faced a 4th and goal from the two with about nine minutes left. They led by eight. Hoke called for the field goal team. That's not indefensible*; it is conservative. Hoke watched his kicker Broekgibbons it anyway.
On the other hand, in the Utah game San Diego State kept firing after leaping out to a big lead (obviously). There's no evidence they ever put the scoring offense away except in a couple of end-game scenarios.
*[It's probably the right call. Going from 8 to 11 forces the opponent to score two TDs to win instead of one and a two-point conversion. Getting the touchdown gives you a tie in the unlikely event an option team with 12 points so far gets two touchdowns and a conversion in the final nine minutes. A failure does leave the opponent on its own two.
As it happened, Air Force did score two touchdowns in the final nine minutes. Unfortunately for the Falcons, sandwiched between them was a one-play SDSU touchdown drive and they lost anyway.]
The things that are said contradict each other
Hoke says he wants the team to act in a certain way—toughness toughness toughness—while simultaneously saying he will not futz with Al Borges. Al Borges has shown a predilection for lots of vertical passing and apparently does not care one way or the other about gap vs zone blocking. Hoke says he dislikes zone running and uses it plenty. He's recruiting large men to squash men who are not quite as large but has maybe 1.5 tight ends and Denard Robinson right now.
What Hoke wants is clear, and what he has is not what he wants. The record implies that he'll be relatively flexible. Michigan will still see a drop in yardage/fancy metric performance because they're spending time revamping instead of refining, but if under center isn't working they'll ditch it. Hell, against Navy SDSU's first drive formations looked like this:
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
They even ran a zone read. It went for a yard, but by God they ran it. When push comes to shove I think Michigan will go with what works, whatever that is.