Cracks in Fort Schembechler
This week we got a couple of very short glimpses into the otherwise locked-down existence of Michigan football. Normally under the current regime, we don't hear or see much of anything between the end of Spring ball and the beginning of fall practice unless a player is hit by a meteor (i.e. "suffered some off-season setbacks"), gets arrested ("has some learning to do"), or gets frozen in carbonite ("has struggled to get in game shape"). So when you get six seconds of live-action footage, YOU TAKE IT.
Enter: Devin Gardner's Vine account.
THINGS WE LEARNED:
- Fitz still has two legs. Those legs can support the weight of a human being as that human being does various physical activities. MEDICAL SCIENCE: HOW DOES IT WORK?
- Fitz has some dance moves. I have no idea what kind of moves, mind you... but they are moves nonetheless.
- Jeremy Gallon hates shirts
- Gallon's cloaking device still works, and is so now effective that the coaches have insisted that he carry a bell around with him so he can't sneak up on people anymore.
THINGS WE LEARNED:
- If you hang around on State Street long enough, Blake Countess and Devin Gardner will entertain you.
- Countess can do a standing back-handspring back-tuck.
- When Countess does a standing back-handspring back-tuck, I try to spot him through the computer screen so he won’t get hurt.
- Most urgently, the only logical explanation for this video is that the surgeons must have botched Blake Countess's surgery. It's kinda like Rookie of the Year, except instead of gaining a wicked fastball, Countess has lost the ability to backpedal. The only way he can move backwards is through some combination of back handsprings and back tucks. And sure, that might work on short and intermediate routes, but what of the deep ball? Even if he gets back there, he'll be too dizzy to make a play on the ball. No, no, no, this is all wrong.
[Side note: Countess is not the first Michigan football player with some gymnastics skillz. Brandon Graham was once a guest judge for the UofM Women's Gymnastics team's intra-squad scrimmage, and as part of that event he put together a video of himself doing some legitimate tumbling. If anyone has this video, you are needed at the Youtube. Also, it confirms Bo's lesser-known mantra that Those Who Do Gymnastics Will Be Really Good Defensive Players]
[ED: Ace has located additional backflip footage of Kenny Demens and Brandon Graham from Mock Rock 2009, starting at 2:00
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]
photoshoppers, start your GNUs
So we did the meet and greet Q&A thing, and other than the liveblog portion being pretty much a disaster, A+++ would do again. I couldn't type fast enough to keep up with all the good info in the Q&A so below I've written up those answers plus some we answered after the fact via email.
We're tentatively talking another one the Friday night before the Notre Dame game, so calendar that. If you're coming in from out of town, Jared of Sports Power Weekends, who sponsored this whole thing, mentioned he's putting together a trip for that weekend that includes tickets for the game and a private tour of the Big House before we do drinks and ALL THE SHANE MORRIS.
Some things went way better than expected and other things not so much. Didn't go well: We had no way to plug our mic into the speaker system, fortunately remembering just in time that bartenders have friends with guitar amplifiers. The other thing that could have gone better is we forgot to warn Brian that Jehu Chesson was in the audience before your favorite blogger launched into his heuristic reasoning as to why Amara Darboh would be more effective this year because Chesson is still a waif.
New heuristic: Chesson sitting = Heiko standing minus an inch.
Did go well: lots of luminaries showed up. Players current and former included Chesson, Countess, Donovan Warren, and John Duerr. An incomplete list of bloggers: Bryan MacKenzie (aka BiSB), MGoPhotographers Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller, Burgeoning Wolverine Star, Lloyd Brady, M-Wolverine, Craig Ross, and LSAClassof2000. Epic shirts: Heiko's bubble screen smile, and a Branch-Morelli sweatshirt.
In things that surpassed all expectations, let me being with actual nicest guy in the universe Marlin Jackson himself. Walking out of the game to his car took about 25 minutes because he signed every hat, helmet, t-shirt or whatever thing put before him. We talked NBA decisions, how the Jake Butt TD was on Jarrod Wilson's as-yet-unadvanced field awareness, and that the biggest difference with this staff is they "teach football."
After being introduced by Brian as "the man who still has Reggie Williams in his back pocket," to kick off the Q&A Marlin talked about his Fight for Life Foundation. He was candid about his youth: Jackson grew up in the projects with a mother addicted to drugs and a father he never met. As you can imagine this isn't the best way to learn things like accountability, the value of an education, or even your own value and that of others. Marlin learned these things through Michigan; it's the goal of his foundation to give similarly underprivileged kids the opportunities he received because of his athletic talents.
Fight for Life runs three programs: Field of Dreams (link) is an in-school and after school program that basically helps get the kids back up to speed with their classmates. Seal the Deal (hyperlink) is a series of leagues and football camps for youth through high school with an educational/character-building component. R.A.P. (reach out and access your peers – url) is an SEL* program that gets kids to open up through, e.g. a discussion of their future aspirations or by presenting a paper on their favorite song lyrics. They need to raise about $200k per year to fund these programs.
* Social and Emotional Learning, the spread offense of education. Full context is linked above but you may cognate as learning that's the opposite of 'Another Brick in the Wall.'
We then talked about things like that one year the Colts paired Manning with a real defense, which receivers were the hardest to cover, and his impressions on the young defensive players at Michigan today. That after the jump. But first here's three generations of next-Woodsons:
- Blake Countess and Fitz Toussaint should be back for the season opener.
- Jake Ryan could be available as early as mid-October.
- Devin Funchess got dinged up during the game but should be fine.
My nice camera is broken, so here is a high-res iPhone shot. Note the bling.
“I think we got 65, 66 plays in, which is about where we wanted to be. We got some situational work that I wanted to get done. We need to really get a lot of the young guys up front on both sides of the ball. We want to continue to improve some of the fundamentals on both sides of the ball. Running the football is one of them, and playing the run and getting off blocks -- we have to do a little bit of that. We got to do a little bit of red zone. That’s one area that we need to continue to work on on both sides of the ball. The guys went out there, it’s the first day we’ve been outside, which is unusual. But we got done what we wanted to get done.”
That was the first time you practiced outside all spring?
Talk about Devin’s first long completion, and some of the passes he threw today in this weather?
“Well, Devin naturally throws a tight ball. When you throw a tight ball, and he’s got good arm strength -- he has good velocity on it. He can cut through the wind pretty well. He’s always thrown a long ball pretty well. He had a pretty good day.”
Talk about Jack Miller at center and Chris Wormley’s return?
“You know, I think Jack has really -- there’s great competition, him and Graham Glasgow at the center position. I think Jack has really grown as a player. Again, so much of this is about the fact that he’s made some real strides in his accountability and about being the bell cow when you look at the offensive line. Chris was a little tentative early in the spring, but I think he’s had a good spring. His recovery, confidence and those things [are good].”
“I think the young guys and Jeremy Jackson -- I think Jeremy’s really having his best spring. You look at Jehu [Chesson] and Amara [Darboh], I think both those guys have really come a long way. They both are very talented and do a lot of different things. Joe Reynolds. I think Joe keeps pushing everybody. Joe’s a guy that’s played a lot of positions, and that’s real positive.”
What about Graham Glasgow makes him able to rotate through all three positions?
“Smart, number one. Very intellient. He’s tough, which you need to be, physically and mentally. He has a real passion for the game.”
Talk about your pass rush -- looked like Taco got to the quarterback a couple times and actually hit him …
Was that something that you saw consistently throughout the spring?
“Well I think we’ve grown. I think we’ve got some young kids who have some ability. With Greg and his passion with how he teaches rushing the passer, the work that’s been put in … and the guys are excited about it. They know what we want to do. We’ve worked on it. We’re not near what we can be and will be, but I think we’re a little better at it.”
Thoughts on Blake Countess’s spring and the secondary in general?
“Well, Blake, he’s healthy. Kept him out of contact. Same with Fitz [Toussaint]. I think that’s just the best way to go about it. They both played a number of snaps. The secondary, the competition level at a core position -- you want it there. You can say the same thing about the safeties. Jeremy Clark is a guy who’s a pretty good player. Marvin [Robinson] has shown great glimpses through his career here. Thomas is having a real solid, real good spring. He’s been very much the leader. And then Jarrod played quite a bit a year ago, but he’s come along.”
What was your evaluation of the backup quarterbacks today?
“I think with Brian [Cleary] and [Alex] Swieca, it was good to give them snaps with people here. People in the stadium, playing in this stadium. Both of them handled themselves well. We put the ball on the ground on a snap, which we can’t afford to do. Whose fault was it, I’m not sure. But we need to do a better job with that. As far as the growth that they both have made, it’s been positive.”
James Ross was in the middle of a lot of plays today. Have you been seeing that from him all spring?
“Yeah James has had a pretty good spring. He’s a good football player. Very instinctive. He’s got a burst, movement to the football. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s not afraid to take on blocks.”
Are Ross’s instincts unorthodox similar to Jake Ryan?
“No. No he’s not unorthodox. He’s going to be a little more of a technician, but it’s still football instincts.”
What are your thoughts on the transtion to pro-style offense?
“I think it’s gone very well. I think I’d be shocked if we didn’t show a whole lot of anything today as far as scheme and all those things. That’s what we’ve run before we came here. We still have elements -- you can still tell from the play-action game standpoint how comfortable Devin is and how good he can be.”
Offensive line was up and down today. How big of a focus is improving the interior line going to be moving forward?
“Look, we’re going to focus on all of it, what we do from here on as a team and what they do together, the seniors and all that. Objectively there were some good plays offensively and there were some good plays defensively.”
How likely is it that you bring in a JUCO transfer at quarterback?
“I -- I don’t know. It could happen. It couldn’t happen.”
Looked like something happened to Funchess …
“He’ll be all right.”
Any update on Hagerup’s status?
What would you need to see from a JUCO transfer in order to take him?
“He’d better be pretty good. That’d be the first and what would fit what we want to do with the scheme and what we want in a quarterback. ”
Talk about Fitz’s progress? Other running backs?
“Fitz, he’s made really good strides. He probably could have done a little more, but I think his progress is pretty good. I think Thomas [Rawls] made a nice run in there today, had a really nice cut. [Dennis] Norfleet made a guy miss in the hole. I think Drake [Johnson] ran hard, and Justice [Hayes] protected well a couple times there, but we’re a work in progress. Has there been any separation? I don’t think so yet. We’ll go through some of it in the fall.”
What kind of clarity did today provide as fars as your No. 2 quarterback?
“Well I think Brian is [No. 2].”
Is that your ’97 championship ring there?
Any significance to bringing that out today?
“Uh, I usually don’t wear it, so … just had it on.”
Just felt like putting it on today?
“Yeah. Went with my … shoes.”
Would you expect Fitz and Blake to be back for the opener?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt.”
What is the likely timetable for Jake Ryan?
“You know, I’m not a doctor. But. Possibly middle of October. Some people react differently.”
Impact of Taylor Lewan on offensive line?
“Taylor’s done a great job with those guys. That’s one reason why he wanted to come back. Physicalness that they need to play with, targeting, all those things that go with that. He’s taken that really personally. I think the group of them, and the competition will really -- it’s been great. They’ll be impactful.”
How much of a strength will the tight end position be, and what kind of role will Jake Butt have?
“Well I think Jake being here has made it a stronger position. He’s a guy who can catch the ball in space, run well, but he’s also a guy that blocks well at the line of scrimmage for a guy who’s been here since January. We’re excited about what he brings added to the guys we have here.”
- TE Nate Allspach, S Drew Offerdahl, and DL Kenny Wilkins have left the team.
- Everyone who was injured last season (Blake Countess, Chris Wormley, Fitz Toussaint, Chris Bryant) will participate in spring practice in some capacity. Wormley seems pretty far along and may be able to do everything. Fitz is recovering faster than expected.
- Will Hagerup is still suspended.
- Manball is still happening, even with Devin at QB.
- Interior linebackers will be expected to practice at both positions. Earlier I tweeted that Desmond Morgan will switch to MIKE and Joe Bolden will switch to WILL. Ignore that for now -- they'll be doing both.
“It’s exciting. I like how we worked during the winter and the winter conditioning and that phase of it. Excited for Saturday to get started. Spring ball’s for a lot of different things. You find out your competitiveness. You find out the guys -- who’s made the biggest improvements since fall and winter. [We’re excited to] have a great competition positionally on offense and defense. And just excited. Really, we all like how we’ve come to work every day and what the guys have done from a genetic (?) standpoint and what they’ve done in the weight room with Aaron Wellman. So we’re excited.”
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
- S Jordan Kovacs. Long time safety blanket specialized in open-field tackles, especially on fourth down, and was rarely victimized by his brain. Speed exposed by speedy South Carolina receivers, but you'll miss him early when someone screws up and you remember what it's like to have a safety biff a tackle and turn not much into lots.
- SDE Craig Roh. Journeyman switched positions every year, finally finding a home at SDE. Four sacks were second on the team to Jake Ryan; did a lot of non-boxscore stuff. Quality player; never quite panned out into the QB terror he was purported to be. Production should be replaceable.
- MLB Kenny Demens. Started every game, finished second on team with 82 tackles, 50 of them solo. Surprisingly quality in coverage; never great; guy you can win with.
- DT Will Campbell. Long-time disappointment got serious in 2012 and turned in adequate, blocker-absorbing season. Not an impact player—1.5 TFLs on the year. May go late in NFL draft thanks to sheer size.
- CB JT Floyd. Three-year starter turned career around after debacle of 2010, but was always kind of a sore spot as teams went after him and his lack of speed over and over again. Rarely cracked; had to be covered for at times. Iffy run defender. NFL FA type.
- WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Nonfactor.
Ryan, Ross, QWASH
- SLB Jake Ryan. Barbarian was Michigan's sole impact player on defense; shut down screens consistently, explosive rusher led team with 16 TFLs and four forced fumbles. Remember that thing he did? Yeah.
- MLB Desmond Morgan [probably]. With James Ross champing at the bit to enter the starting lineup, the stout Morgan is likely to move over to middle linebacker, allowing Ross to flow freely. Morgan was third on the team in tackles last year—M's linebackers were 1-2-3 like nature intended, with Gordon and Kovacs next—and displayed tackling prowess. He'll get pushed; he'll have to be forcibly unseated.
- NT Quinton Washington. Season surprise turned nose tackle from looming liability to actually kind of a strength. Not a Martin-type penetrator but ended up powerful and difficult to block. Range spans from merely okay to All Big Ten. Has future as wrestler named QWASH if football doesn't work out.
- CB Blake Countess. Freshman starter was hyped up as next great Michigan corner before being hewed down in the first game covering a punt. Will likely return to the field corner spot he locked down in the offseason.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Stepped in for Countess after Courtney Avery didn't seem up to the task and held his own for the most part. Teams mostly went after Floyd, leaving him alone. Did get burned for a touchdown in the bowl game. Tendency to get lost on zones should attenuate; has better size than any other experienced corner and will probably end up at boundary with Floyd's departure.
- WLB James Ross III. Bloodhound as a true freshman but too slight to take on blockers and big tailbacks effectively. With a season in the weight room should go from promising to excellent. 2012 : Jake Ryan :: 2013 : James Ross.
- FS Thomas Gordon. Unsung counterpart to Kovacs has not made as many flashy TFLs but is part of the Michigan defense's remarkable ability to prevent big plays over the last couple years. Probably takes over Kovacs's frequent blitzes.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Played a lot as a true freshman and will push Morgan and Ross equally. Survey says he loses the starting job but gets so much time he's essentially a third ILB starter. Needs to get a little meaner, work on pass drops, all that freshman business. Will be quality.
- Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
- DT Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
- WDE Brennen Beyer. Best of the three WDEs at run D; nonfactor getting to the QB. Let's all focus our Heininger Certainty Principle at him.
- WDE Frank Clark. Co-starter at WDE made more plays behind the line (9 TFLs) and batted down a lot of passes, but had trouble beating blocks—thus all the batted passes—and still blows contain responsibility on the read option a maddening amount. Up or out for him.
- SDE Keith Heitzman. Redshirt freshman flashed a couple things in the spring game and came on as a rotation guy about halfway through the year, grading out okay. Could emerge into SDE starter or could maintain that rotation thing another year.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Massively hyped recruit was rotation partner with Washington. Got knocked over by a running back once; did bull his way into the backfield impressively a couple times. DTs need time; Pipkins should make a leap in the offseason.
- WDE Mario Ojemudia. Hilariously undersized high school DT promised to be mini-Martin… still working on that. Needed size, technique; may burst past WDE competitors with strong offseason.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
A couple guys on the DL. Last season this post focused on the three departures from the line, found only Washington and Campbell and what seemed like a woefully undersized Roh, and was pushing any button available whether it was marked "PANIC" or not. A year later, Roh was good, Washington dang good, Campbell at least serviceable, and we're all like COME AT ME ATTRITION BRO.
The problems here are insignificant compared to last year. Michigan gets Matt Godin, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Tom Strobel off redshirts. They'll add an early-enrollee in Taco Charlton plus a couple of guys who just showed very well at their respective all star games in Maurice Hurst and Henry Poggi. They return Washington, Pipkins, Black, Heitzman, and three guys who saw time at WDE. They will find folks to fill in the gaps.
They do have to figure that out. First up: dollars to donuts Black moves to SDE. It's a better fit with his size, he spent that fateful final drive of the Outback Bowl running around the South Carolina left tackle, and even if it's a horde of redshirt freshmen who would hypothetically replace him, there is a horde.
At the now-vacated three-tech spot, pick from Wormley, Henry, and Godin. I bet Wormley is the winner there. There will be rotation, and improvement, and you will feel fuzzily positive about this in September.
Lineback—nevermind. Demens was missed in said bowl game, but with another offseason behind Morgan, Bolden, and Ross the ILBs should actually get better next year.
Not having an utterly reliable tiny linebacker at safety bailing your ass out for four years. Miss you, small guy xoxo.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Keith Heitzman is like a living breathing miracle of having a two deep
DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH WOOOOO! We covered the line. Each positions has a two-deep of non-true freshmen, many of them proven or hyped. At linebacker there are three quasi-starters plus a solid rotation at SLB. The secondary is a bit dodgier but Terry Richardson should be serviceable as a sophomore.
Experience. Michigan loses five starters, yeah, but that's almost literally all they lose. Mike Jones may or may not return for another season of staring from the bench, other than that the only player they lose is Brandin Hawthorne, who was exclusively special teams as a senior. They return 16 heavy contributors to the D, 17 if you count Jarrod Wilson.
Linebackers. Ryan, of course, and then you've got Ross/Bolden/Morgan returning in the middle. Many people will pine for Michigan's linebacking corps next year.
My difficulty in thinking about bullets for the following two sections. Only got two in each.
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
looks good; was Mattison getting a free rusher at Miller's backside
Getting to the quarterback. Mattison generates lots of free blitzers with his schemes; other than that the only guy to consistently generate pass rush was Ryan. WDE, the glamor spot in a 4-3 under, barely produced. Three guys had three sacks between them last year. All of those guys are back, and Charlton gets added in. The time for someone to step up is now.
Matters should be a bit better on the interior, as whoever replaces Campbell is going to be a leaner, quicker guy who can get more penetration than he did.
A lack of outright stars. You've got Ryan, and I think Ross will get there next year, and then… maybe Countess, but that's asking for a lot after an injury like he had, and… dot dot dot.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Will not having Jordan Kovacs doom Michigan to a Yards After Safety kind of life? I don't think so but the parade of incompetents (and Jamar Adams) before him makes me leery.
Can anyone step in right away and be a QB terror? Looking at you, Taco Charlton. He and Ojemudia seem like the best bets for a truly fearsome edge rusher—we've seen a lot of Frank Clark this year and he just hasn't done much.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
I was worried about a backslide last year. If there was one, it was exceedingly minor. In 2011 Michigan was 17th in yardage, 6th in scoring defense, 36th in pass efficiency D, and 39th in rushing D. Last year those numbers were 13th/20th/50th/51st, and if you'd added Blake Countess for the whole year, well…
I tend to trust the poorer numbers there since Michigan moves at such a slow pace and their YPC average allowed—3.8—is pretty meh. Pre-Outback Bowl, FEI has them 20th, and that feels about right.
Michigan is probably still a year away from being capital E elite, but you could see how they get there ahead of schedule. It requires three things:
Countess comes back and is a "war daddy," to use super secret football lingo.
Someone emerges as as serious pass rush threat at WDE.
Kovacs, peace be unto him, is adequately replaced by Jarrod Wilson.
#1 is possible. #2 seems doubtful, and #3… I hesitate to predict anything about that because it will blow up all over.
Anyway. Michigan tightens up its run D, moving from around 3.8 YPC allowed to under 3.5. The pass defense looks worse superficially because the Big Ten isn't as terrible at throwing the ball next year (right?) but is actually better since neither starting corner spends the entire year getting balls thrown over his head. The D moves up to around tenth in the advanced stats, stays static in yardage and improves pass D efficiency.