"(I) think about 'The Lion King,' Simba gets hit over the head and (he's told) 'the past can hurt,' " Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. "'You can either run from it or embrace it and learn from it.'
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|James Ross||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.*||Joe Bolden||Sr.|
|Allen Gant||Jr.*||Ben Gedeon||Jr.||Jared Wangler||Fr.*|
|Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Mike McCray||So.*||Noah Furbush||So.*|
This is music to a new defensive coordinator's ear: Michigan sports an all-senior linebacker corps. All have started for multiple years, give or take a hand injury or benching here and there. They've even got a high-quality backup. Senior leadership is out of control, man!
Approximately the fourth-best* thing to happen to the 2015 team's chances over the last year was DESMOND MORGAN breaking his hand after the first game of the season. That didn't have much impact on where 2014 went; it gives this year's team a three-year starter to slot in the Jake Ryan-shaped hole at middle linebacker.
By this point you're probably tired of me extolling Morgan's virtues, and since he didn't do much last year other than fall behind Joe Bolden just long enough for me to eat a lemon this is going to be a rehash.
Morgan is a heady, athletic enough, stick-em tackler who's been yelling at the rest of the front seven to get in the correct spot for a few years now. He is your proverbial quarterback of the defense. That role will probably be lessened this year since the entire front seven consists of upperclassmen, but expect him to thwack Lawrence Marshall and maybe Mo Hurst should the need arise. Mike Spath got a great quote about Morgan's ability in that department:
On U-M's linebackers: "We played them two years ago and the guy that everyone seemed to listen to was [Desmond] Morgan. Those guys are invaluable. Everyone respects them.
"Last year, you didn't hear a lot of talk from the middle linebacker. I don't think Jake Ryan was a talker. He just wanted to do his own thing. He was very good at it, but he wasn't that guy in the middle of a defense that was taking care of the other 10 guys on the field."
When called into duty to make a tackle, he brings the wood.
During the 2014 Minnesota game he uncorked this ridiculous thing where he flew in on a blitz, had to leap over a guy, kept his feet, held up two blockers, and helped stuff a third and short.
When he's not making eye-popping plays he's keeping things going down-to-down. The one glimpse at him we got last year was enough for me to bring out a Picture Pages about Morgan's LB instincts.
Morgan found himself in a bad stop here, taking on a free releasing lineman in a bunch of space. He popped that OL back; the RB ran into said OL, and Michigan saved some yards.
When Jake Ryan faced the exact same situation later on that drive, he tried to make a spectacular play. His attempt to teleport around that OL was an instinct that served him well as a chaos-sowing SAM linebacker; when moved to MLB that instinct meant he didn't delay the back at all. Instead of six yards, Michigan gave up 11.
That's Morgan in a nutshell. He will hit guys hard and funnel back to his help and drop into his zone. He'll make it difficult for a QB to get a completion on him; he'll make it difficult for a running back to get YAC on him; he'll make it difficult for an OL to stay attached to him. He's not going to turn in Ryan's Tarzan plays, but you don't have to do that to be a great middle linebacker.
As David Harris demonstrated, MLB is a thinking man's spot. Harris was just about flawless with his reads, and his understanding of the game extended to ways to get off blocks without even taking them—one of his trademarks was in effect juking OL by momentarily fighting to one side of a block and then cutting back once the OL took a false step. Morgan had some moments like that a year ago:
Do that consistently and you get to be David Harris too.
Morgan's coverage is good. Very rarely does he vacate big tracts of land, as both Ryan and Bolden were prone to last year. He of course saved Michigan's bacon in the 2013 UConn game (for all the good that did them in the long run) with a leaping spear of an interception. Add it up and you get a 2013 UFR in extended, trying circumstances that looks like a guy who is on the verge of stardom:
|1||CMU||4||0.5||3.5||Crunch crunch bang bang|
|2||Notre Dame||7.5||4.5||3||Coped pretty well in coverage. Responsible for both EZ deflections.|
|3||Akron||6||3.5||2.5||Negative coverage number should be factored in here.|
|4||UConn||6.5||3.5||3||Saved the game.|
|5||Minnesota||11||3||8||First real test this year passed easily.|
|6||Penn State||9.5||4||4.5||Rough start, strong finish.|
|9||Nebraska||5||4.5||0.5||Blew one TFL big. Otherwise solid.|
|10||Northwestern||6||5||1||Drawn in by some misdirection.|
|11||Iowa||1||-||1||Pulled early with injury.|
UFR is tough on linebackers, so anything above zero is good. To consistently go over it over the course of a season, generally on heavy usage is very difficult.
The main drawback here is explosiveness. Morgan doesn't rack up TFLs and sacks; he's not great at getting to the quarterback on blitzes. (Run blitzes, on the other hand, he is excellent at, especially on short yardage.) He is not the kind of athlete that is going to make the NFL salivate.
But there are few guys I'd rather have on third and one. Morgan should reprise his 2013 with some incremental improvements. That would make him an All Big Ten level guy even if the lack of fancy stats prevents that from happening in real life.
*[Your top three are Dave Brandon late night email sessions, Harbaugh, and Jake Rudock's transfer.]
[After THE JUMP: seniors are made of leadership]
What's the status of Bryan? Can you comment on Bryan Mone at all?
“Yeah, Bryan is a great kid and a great player for us. We really like him.”
If he’s not able to play how does that affect how you use Hurst? Do you use him more at the nose tackle spot?
“A great thing about our team right now, when you go through camp, is that we’re building depth at all positions. That's what this time of year is for is find where we’re strongest at and where our depth is and so I think across the board you've done a good job of that. We've developed some guys and we've got depth at all positions.”
So how do you expect to use Hurst then?
“Mo Hurst? Mo is definitely part of that depth up front and he can play all the spots too. Really he can play inside [or] outside, so he's a guy we’re counting on. He'll play a lot for us.”
What were some of the positives that you took away from Saturday as far as the defensive line is concerned?
“I think it was good. I think the biggest thing is probably that was the first time we were out with crowd noise and it was good seeing them communicate on their own. You know, coaches, we like to– either you're standing out and you cheat a little bit, you're yelling and you're kind of helping the guys out because you're into it, and we weren't able to do that. That was the first time they were out there on the field on their own, no one out there helping them make checks, and they really communicated well and for the most part were assignment-sound.”
What's the most interesting thing you’ve learned about your secondary in these last 2 1/2 weeks?
“The best part is we’ve been finding out the competitors, because there's good competition back there and we've put them in a bunch of spots where they’ve got to show up. And they know its competition. We've moved guys around a little bit and so I think it's been great. You find out the guys who really thrive in that type of environment.”
What do you like most about your defensive front?
“I think just their work-type mentality: blue-collar. We've brought it every day. This has been a tough camp, and they've responded every day. I mean, they've been locked in in meetings and done well on the field. There've been a few instances where I could say it wasn't that type of mentality, but really when you look at the whole grand scheme of camp they really brought it. They've done great.”
[After THE JUMP: I ask about the secondary and someone asks about Freddy Canteen. Also Jabrill, because there’s always a question about Jabrill]
- Derrick Green and Brennen Beyer have returned to practice. Green is a full go while Beyer is still limited.
- The team will scrimmage at the Big House on Saturday.
- A lot of position battles will be settled next week.
"This is the 12th practice. We've really practiced pretty well most days. I think yesterday we didn't practice as well as we'd like to have. But I thought they came out -- we had good walkthroughs in the morning. We really did a nice job competing this afternoon. You know, you're trying to still put all the pieces together. Great competition at a lot of positions. That hasn't changed. We'll go about another week and then we'll start really game planning for central. We'll make some key decisions probably Sunday, Monday, Tuesday with where we want to be. A little more scrimmage situation on Saturday so that we can get a lot of guys in high pressure situations."
- Brennen Beyer and Derrick Green have boo boos. They sound minor and are expected back as early as Saturday.
- Allen Gant's move to SAM has been confirmed.
- MGoLeadingQuestion reveals that Devin Gardner loves the pistol formation and that they are running read options out of it still.
"Day four, shoulder pads and helmets for the second day. Full pads tomorrow. Not doing any tackling or anything like that, but a lot of good competition. Hasn't changed much. Guys are competing, learning the system a little more, especially when you've got some guys who have only been here a year, so they're going through that process. Things happen fast, so they have to adjust. When you have to adjust on both sides, tracking the line of scrimmage as an offensive lineman, we have to do a better job of. Defensively, we have to make sure we're putting ourselves in position to feed the defense and leverage the defense. It's pretty easy against barrels when you do that, but when you start doing it with live bodies, we have to do a better job of that and not give up any big plays. I think all the guys are competing very well. It's really been physical. We'll be in full pads tomorrow. The first doubles on Saturday will be good for us."
<More after the jump>
The great coach smackdown of 2013. Sound Mind, Sound Body—an offseason camp that is set up such that college coaches can go—is too good to be true and will flame out in the near future when sixty other camps imitate it and the NCAA closes the loophole. But for now, we get things like Michigan coaches doing drills right next to Ohio State coaches that can be bothered to show up.
This is the setup for an uncomfortably hilarious moment. Mike Vrabel gets done with his drill segment early, badgers Mattison about finishing his bit when there's still time on the clock before the next rotation, and Mattison Is Not Having That. Via Sam Webb($):
“How about you coach them as hard as you can for as long as you have them?” Mattison yelled back tersely. “YOU GIVE THEM EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT!!”
Mattison then donned his swag glasses and told Lawrence Marshall "that's why you don't go to Ohio State, Lawrence."
There's a great Greg Robinson story behind that paywall still.
Run, don't walk. Outside of paywall is a terrific article by Mike Rothstein on the basketball program's unique approach to recruiting, in which Michigan offers only after June 15th of a prospect's junior year and maintains a sedulous respect for the process of getting to know kids.
“I’ll throw this at people,” Jordan said. “‘What’s your mom’s name?’ Because there’s a curiosity of why haven’t you offered. ‘How many brothers? How many sisters? What’s your family like? Have you considered the fact that we don’t really know each other, but there is a desire for a scholarship offer?’
“So now it’s like, ‘OK.’ It’s the education.”
It does seem like the Michigan offer is now something that means something, unlike a number of other schools.
There’s another, almost unintentional, byproduct. By having prospects wait for an offer and go through myriad steps, Michigan has created more perceived value around an offer from the school. Instead of just another scholarship offer on a list, it is one the player had to work for.
“To see that they still wanted to offer me, it meant a lot after recruiting me for a year and seeing how well I developed and saw how much potential I had,” Irvin said. “That was really special to me.”
Rothstein noticed that Beilein often goes after kids who are young for their grade—Caris LeVert is a recent prominent example—and got shot down when he asked the coaches about it. So he's on to something there.
Brady Hoke problems. ESPN gives Maurice Ways a fourth star, which means the list of current commits eligible for this site's Sleeper of the Year designation reads:
- Michigan State commits
If I have to I'll open it up to kids who got just one four-star ranking, which opens the door to a whopping three guys at the moment: Ways, Chase Winovich, and Wilton Speight.
ESPN also moved Drake Harris up 25 spots to 71st; the rest of Michigan's commits had insignificant drops of a spot or two.
Sense. And sensibility. And zombies. This bowl news is trickling out so gradually it begins to remind me of the Big Ten's realignment, which was announced weekly for two months. But I think one of the priorities fans had was being able to you know, watch the Big Ten's bowl lineup and Delany has confirmed that is something on the docket:
"I think what you'll see is a truly national slate of bowls," Delany said. "I think you'll see us probably stronger on the West Coast than we've been. You'll see us as strong in Florida as we've been, but probably not as much on New Year's [Day]. I think you'll see us in Texas, and you'll see us with some games in our region, some games on the East Coast. I think it's going to be a great slate. We've made a lot of progress."
Also, the league is about to force bowls to take at least five different teams over the next six years, so no Yet Another Orlando Trip. I'm a little leery of that. The impulse behind the idea is a good one but that threatens to screw with bowl matchups.
Finally, a chorus of angels sounds from above!
"We've been trying to create a model that's more realistic," Delany said. "We'll take fewer, better tickets. If that means the payouts have to come down some, that's OK. Because it makes no sense to overpay on tickets, over-commit and find out you're really subsidizing the bowls, financing your own game."
I'm going on six years of bitching about this. No more. Freedom! (Have I told you how terrible the scholarship model is?).
Could make the West more… nahhh. Tim Beckman picks up Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt, who started six games as a true freshman for the Cowboys. Michigan won't see him unless Illinois rotates onto the schedule in 2016, but the addition of a quality quarterback could make the Illini the scariest 4-8 team in college football.
The one time when a coach really could claim to block a player's transfer for their own good, and Gundy doesn't. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ –edsbs
Just once, Illinois, you could try looking at a photograph of the guy you're hiring before doing so. Then you would not hire the people you hire. I challenge anyone to find a picture of Tim Beckmann that does not beg to be captioned "derp" or "hurrrr durrrr" or "is what how can do?"
NOPE NOPE NOPE
Okay guy. It must be brutal to write something for a newspaper in June, but uh.
Freep Guest Column: Alternate jerseys and helmets continue to impress recruits
I don't think it's working. Next time put actual fireworks in the helmets?
Gant move confirmed. Brady Hoke confirmed that Allen Gant was now at SAM, stating thusly:
"He's a rangy guy and he's got length to him," Hoke said last week. "His body has the opportunity to put weight on, the structure and the genetics of the body.
"I think that's the biggest part of it."
If he tops out at 230, think Stevie Brown rather than Jake Ryan.
We missed this, but it's a little explosion-y so let's just do it now. Sam Webb puts out a Da'Shawn Hand article about two seconds after I do a final scan through my RSS feed for the recruiting roundup. Well played.
Most of it is stuff you've heard before about Professor Needs A Raise and how the Michigan staff is his favorite staff. But while I think a version of this quote was in a video somewhere this is the first time it's in text:
"My goal is try to make a decision before December,” Hand reported. “At first I was going to stretch it out, but then after talking with my pop -- we kind of had a heart to heart -- I kind of have to make up my mind. It’s a big decision, but at the same time I kind of have a gist of knowing where I’m going, but I ain’t gonna say that.”
GO LITTLE GUY GO. RUN IN CIRCLES. YES. GO.
Gant == Cam Gordon
In news without explosions, Sam Webb reported yesterday($) that Allen Gant is moving down from safety to SAM in a shift reminiscent of Cam Gordon's, albeit without a bunch of painfully long touchdowns preceding it.
Gant [recruiting profile] was an early commit in the 2012 class who never really turned into the touted recruit he was supposed to be; at 6'2", 203 he'll have to add 20-30 pounds before he's a plausible option there. As a redshirt freshman behind two or three guys, he'll have time to do so. Meanwhile, allow me to congratulate myself at this juncture, as Gant's profile compared him to none other than Cam Gordon:
Gordon's listed at 6'3", 222 on the current roster after a few years on campus, which is where Gant will end up, give or take an inch and five pounds. Gordon came in as a WR, ended up moving to free safety in an ill-fated 3-3-5, and then slid all the way down to spur halfway through the 2010 season; he now mans an analogous position for Greg Mattison at SAM.
As a 3/4-star tweener Gordon was a little bit better regarded than Gant, and he's a little bigger. Both are thick guys who don't seem to have the speed to play WR or S despite being ticketed for those slots and might eventually find themselves somewhere else after a period of positional vagabondage.
SAM makes sense if Gant's natural inclination is to bulk up to 230, as Webb was told. It also suggests that Gant just wasn't much of a safety, as now the position verges on alarmingly thin. Next year's depth chart:
- Jarrod Wilson/Dymonte Thomas
- Jeremy Clark/Delano Hill
- Josh Furman/air
And that's if Furman returns for a fifth year and Thomas doesn't get himself locked into the nickelback spot long term, which I kind of hope he will since nickelback is capital-I Important these days. It looks like Michigan will be relying on three of four plausible options to log significant playing time, and while I'm pretty high on Thomas and Hill that's not many bullets for 2.5 starting spots.
Other roster upshots:
- Mike McCray may not be SAM-sized after all. If McCray is projected to play SAM Michigan is fine with Gordon/Ryan/Beyer/McCray and Winovich on the way. The Gant move suggests McCray will compete at the ILB spots, as does Michigan's continued pursuit of guys like Noah Furbush, who is 6'4", 240 and a SAM/WDE all the way.
- Michigan will take at least three DBs and possibly four in this class with a pure safety a priority. I know this is not what the insiders are saying at the moment (two or three, they assert), but I expect they will change their tune once the coaches get a good long look at the secondary depth chart and get a feel for how much they like Thomas at nickel. They've already backed off their assertions this would be a 16-man class; once a natural amount of attrition brings that number up between 18-20, safety is going to look like a—probably the—major area of need. None of the four incoming corner recruits looks particularly like a safety to me, as they are small or lanky.
- Hello certain recruits. Hopefully when PA S Montae Nicholson ramps up his recruitment there is strong mutual interest. Nicholson is reputedly a bit concerned about the number of DBs Michigan has brought in recently, but for a pure safety prospect like Nicholson there is plenty of opportunity. Also, a guy like IL CB Parrker Westphal, who some are speculating may wait himself out of the class, is going to find a door left open for him for a long time. He has the flexibility to go boundary/nickel/SS, either freeing up Thomas to move back or just plain being an athletic safety; a guy like him is just what the doctor ordered.