News (and other important items) bullets:
- Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
- Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
- Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
- Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
- Woolfolk will remain on special teams
- Barnum will be back this week
- <3 Kovacs
Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”
How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”
Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”
The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”
Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”
This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”
Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”
What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”
Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”
How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”
Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”
Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”
How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”
Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”
Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”
Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”
Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”
Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”
Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”
Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”
Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”
(more after the jump)
A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.
Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”
Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”
Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.
“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”
Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.
“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”
Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."
How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”
Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”
What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”
Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”
Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”
Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “
How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”
Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”
Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”
Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”
Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”
What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.”
Gratuitous Brian Kelly:
Further gratuitous Brian Kelly:
Big time highlights from parkinggod:
Presser items after the jump.
WMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Jordan Kovacs, Brandon Herron, Denard Robinson, and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Jordan Kovacs and Brandon Herron
Kovacs and Herron are in serious mode.
What did you think about the two TDs you scored? Herron: "For one, I want to thank God -- Jesus Christ my lord and savior -- and I also want to thank my team. This is a team effort, this is about a team, and I thank a lot of my teammates because we all work together as one. This is not about me all. This is about the team."
What happened on the INT? Herron: "Jake Ryan tipped the ball, and I was just looking up, and my legs just carried me. and I grabbed it, and then I just -- I remember Aubrey [Pleasant], our GA, he tells us, 'Any time you get an interception, run it back to your sideline.' So after I caught the ball, I just looked straight ahead --obviously no ball security whatsoever -- but I was just trying to get to the endzone."
Did it change the game? Herron: "Yes and no. It did change the game, but obviously you can have a score or you can run it in, and a lot of teams that lose a game ... so it was just a well-fought game that we just weren’t trying to give up. We were just trying to pound them, each and every play."
Did you feel like defense needed to make a play because of WMU's success earlier in the game? Herron: "Yeah, well this is our first time playing defense under coach Mattison. A real game, so it was a little shaky at first. We were struggling with the communication a little bit. We talk about poise and having that poise, so we just needed to sit down and just have that poise and just talk. We have to be able to communicate if we want to be a good defense."
Kovacs, how are you being used differently? Kovacs: "It’s a completely different scheme. I think we’ve got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try and make a play."
How do you feel about blitz call, and can you describe your hit on Carder? Kovacs: "When you get the blitz call, you’re thinking, 'I gotta come hard and I gotta make a play.' I gotta give a lot of credit to the defnese. That was a defensive effort. I think the front did a great job of disguising it, and we had great coverage, and I just came clean and made a play."
How close do you feel to playing defense the way coaches want to play? Kovacs: "We’re getting there. It was shaky at first no doubt, but I think that this film will be pretty good to look at, so we can improve before next game."
Talk about how much more effective the defense was when you blitzed. Kovacs: "I think you gotta give a lot of credit to Western. I think they came out with a great scheme, but we kind of settled in, and we got some blitzes we hit home with, and I think Brandon’s play was a big gamechanger for us, so we did turn it around after a couple drives."
What was the reaction when game was ended? Herron: "Yeah, I wanted to continue to play. We still had a job to do."
Defense played better after lightning delay ... what did the coaches tell you? Kovacs: "I mean, we just kind of settled in I think. I don’t think that we did change too many things. I think we came out at halftime with a better scheme, and we just executed, and we played hard"
How did you spend that time during the delay? Kovacs: "It’s different. I’ve never been here during a game like that. Just kind of relaxing in the locker room, we just kept quiet and stayed focused, and we honed in."
Was it difficult to keep game mentality with start/stop? Kovacs: "I've never been through anything like that. I think we traveled up the tunnel several times. I’ve never done that before."
Hoke said he didn’t feel very good about D. What’s is his major concern? Kovacs: "I think we didn’t do a good job first few possessions. They were running the ball on us. We still have a lot of areas to improve in, and we’re going to do that with this film, and we’ll be ready by next week."
Did you do anything special for HC’s first victory? Kovacs: "We do what we do after every victory, and that’s singing 'The Victors.' "
Does this feel like any other win, or do you feel a little empty inside? Kovacs: "I mean, it’s different, but we’ll take it. It’s a win. A win is a win, and we’re happy with that.
Either of you on the kickoff team? Kovacs: "Both of us." Herron: "Obviously our kickoff needs to improve, which we’ll focus on that tomorrow or whatnot. We kind of let things get away from us a little bit."
Kovacs, have you ever hit a quarterback that hard? Kovacs: "That was my first one I guess. Herron: "It was loud, too."
How much of an emphasis is put on creating turnovers? Kovacs: "I think not only coach Mattison but coach Hoke emphasized that. That’s one of our team goals is to win the turnover battle because if you do that you’re likely going to win the game. That’s something we strive to do as every team does."
Did the mood change when Woolfolk went down? Kovacs: "We’ve got a lot of guys that can step up and play. It’s tough to see a guy like that go down again, but at the same time we knew somebody else was going to have an opportunity to step in and play. We have some experienced guys at corner."
Herron, how do you build off your performance today? Herron: "It’s just about taking one day at a time, with the involvement of my teammates. Like I said, we have to work together. This is not about an individual. This is about a team, and the team coming out here and practicing everyday and trying to get better, this is what it’s about."
When was the last time you scored a TD in organized football? Herron: "I’ve never scored a touchdown -- well, I take that back. It was probably in eighth grade when I was playing running back. Coach Jackson was not the coach." Tee hee. "It’s been a while since I’ve been in the endzone."
When you got INT, what did you see in front of you? Herron: "I saw the left tackle, then I thought he hit me, but after I got past him, I didn’t see anybody else."
What were you feeling at the 10-yard line? Herron: "Gassed."
In endzone? Herron: "Obviously my teammates jumped all over me, so that took everything out of me as well. But with the love and help of my teammates, that carried me back to the sideline."
Talk about your position switch during camp. Herron: "I was just playing my new position, the WILL and the dime. This is something I had been practicing all camp, so it was my new position."
During the fumble recovery -- did ball just come to you? Herron: "First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."
[Ed-M: emphasis mine. Eeeeeeee!]
Did you think about falling on it? Herron: "No. I just -- I don’t know. [It was] something that just happened in the moment, and [I] just picked it up and just took off."
Can you talk about anticipation of the night game next week? Herron: "I think the night game is going to be crazy. I think our fans are looking forward to next week, so with that being said, against Notre Dame, especially wearing our throwback jerseys, it’s going to be amazing next week."
What were the conditions like before the rain? Herron: "Oh, it was hot. I was drained coming off the kickoff and then having to go [play] defense. But having that camp, it mentally prepared us, and like Coach said, we’re going to have adversity. It just matters how you get through it."
Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Denard and a guy who has more rushing yards than Denard.
Ever been through a game like that before? Denard: "No."
It looked like you wanted to stay out there before the second break. Denard: "We were ready to go. We were ready to keep playing, I mean, we get to play against somebody else! So we were ready to play."
What was your reaction to finding out you won the game? Denard: "When coach Hoke told us we won the game, everybody got quiet. It was like, 'Seriously?' Everybody wanted to play still."
How would you assess your performance? Denard: "I still got some learning to do, but I gotta do better. I thought I did all right."
How come there was so much shotgun and spread in the beginning? Denard: "Coach Al called all the plays, and I was ready. That’s all."
Fitz, talk about your emergence as starting RB. Toussaint: "I think it all started at the beginning of the week, we were still all competing, we still all need to work. We had to work on a couple things, and we had make sure everything was good with timing. We were just competing. I actually found out when I was taking more reps with the ones."
Can you describe the breakout run? Toussaint: "I was just running to daylight."
Any former michigan running backs get in touch with you to talk to you about the tradition or responsibility of your position? Toussaint: "No, sir."
Denard, what's it like handing off to Fitz? Denard: "I don’t want to juice his head too much. Fitz is probably one of the best running backs I’ve played with. When he gets the ball, he runs hard and he makes guys miss. He’s fast. He’s a good back."
What’s it mean for you to get two TD’s out of defense? Denard: "That felt good. I was kind of bored on the sideline. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way, we were ready to get back on the field, and when we saw B. Herron take it to the house we were like, 'Ahh' and we were rooting on the sidelines, but then it was like, 'man I want to get back on the field.'
"But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed it."
Does this feel incomplete not finishing the game? Denard: "Yeah it feels different. Everybody wanted to go back out and finish the game, but it is what it is."
How did you spend your time during the first delay? Denard: “We treated it like a halftime, and everybody was just getting focused and getting ready for the game.”
How many of old (spread) plays vs. new (manball) plays were there? Denard: “I thought it was 50/50. We did both, and I enjoyed it.”
Is that kind of balance what you expected? Denard: “I didn’t know what to expect. We were just excited and ready to play. Weve been working on all plays, so whatever they threw at us, we had to be ready.”
Fitz, you’ve been injured a whole lot. How does it feel to finish an entire game (sort of)? Toussaint: "It’s still a little new for me. It’s a new experience for me. I just want to stay healthy and continue to keeping pushing on with my teammates, and keep the unity."
So they really didn’t tell you you were starting until Friday? Toussaint: "I mean, I kind of had a clue, but it was announced [on Friday]."
Denard, talk about Alex Carder? Denard: "He’s a great quarterback. He’s probably one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. I enjoy watching him play."
You were the third leading rusher on the team today. Is that ideal? Denard: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I enjoy seeing [Fitz] running the ball, and Mike Shaw get the ball, and Vince. I love seeing those guys getting out in space and making people miss."
How do you feel about short gains vs. long runs? Toussaint: "We just chip away until we get a long one. Credit to the offensive line, who keep doing their job, and eventually it’ll come."
When do you start preparing for Notre Dame? Denard: "After tomorrow, we’ll watch film on the game, and get ready for Notre Dame."
You've had some fast starts in the past but then fell off toward the end of the season. Why is this year different? Denard: "I don’t want to compare last year to this year. This is a new era, and we just want to keep going and win for Michigan."
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
Well… they're gone. For better or worse the two linebacking stalwarts of the Rodriguez era are out the door, destined for San Diego or the real world. Though no one's going to memorialize Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton in song, they endured the transition from Ron English to Scot Shafer to Greg Robinson to Dr. Vorax, the stuffed wolverine Robinson insisted was the real coordinator of the insane 3-3-5 Rodriguez demanded. If anyone can feel hard done by the Rodriguez era it's them.
HOWEVA, Dr. Vorax and other assorted coaching indignities cannot explain away much of the horror Michigan suffered at their hands. Mouton was linebacker Janus, singlehandedly crushing fullbacks and even pulling guards en route to TFLs a few plays before losing contain yet a-goddamn-gain against opponents as meek as UMass.
Ezeh, for his part, was first amongst equals as this blog's whipping boy the last couple years until the Penn State game, when Greg Robinson became public enemy #1. His trademark move was sitting completely still until an offensive lineman screwed him into the ground.
Midyear, former Michigan linebackers were dropping the word "inexcusable." A fresh start is called for.
|Cam Gordon||So.*||Kenny Demens||Jr.*||Mike Jones||So.*|
|Jake Ryan||Fr.*||Marell Evans||Sr.*||Brandin Hawthorne||Jr.|
|Brennen Beyer||Fr.||JB Fitzgerald||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Fr.|
Right: Demens hangin' with Doctor Vorax
MICHIGAN PROVIDES THAT with three relatively new starters. The most established new blood is redshirt junior Kenny Demens, the man who inexplicably languished behind not only Ezeh but walk-on and converted fullback Mark Moundros at the start of last year. That seemed like plenty of evidence to write the kid off, so this blog did:
The enigmatic Kenny Demens is third string in the middle; after a seemingly productive spring he dropped off the map and has generated zero fall mentions as Moundros climbs the depth chart. He played sparingly in the fall scrimmage; last year he was passed over for walk-on Kevin Leach when it came time to replace Ezeh temporarily. He's spinning his wheels, seemingly on track to watch this year. Next year both of the guys above him will be gone and he'll get one last chance to step forward; the tea leaves are not encouraging at the moment.
Demens then watched as Ezeh played at his usual level until the Iowa game. Desperate for anything after being gashed by Michigan State, Robinson finally put Demens on the field. We finally saw what was keeping him from playing time:
Only the machinations of the traitorous Vorax. That's not a play Ray Lewis is going to have on his hall of fame reel but it stood out to me after years of watching Ezeh try to clunk his way through traffic. Demens steps to the right as Iowa runs a counter but reads it, steps around traffic, and is there to tackle once Mouton forces it inside. Demens did that on a consistent basis against all opposition (except Purdue, oddly). The sumptuous conversation about him after the Iowa game was excited:
Yeah. Watching the game live I thought that he was an obvious upgrade over Ezeh but expected that when I went over the game in detail I'd find he was at fault for some of the longer Iowa runs or third down conversions, or had messed up in some way that had gone unexploited. I didn't. I found little things that I thought were good plays I hadn't seen live …
How many times did Iowa RBs find themselves facing a line with no penetration and no holes in it? Several. How many times did previous Michigan opponents face this? Essentially never. Good DL play with crappy linebacker play yields a lot of penetration and a lot of lanes where the DL aren't. Crappy DL play with good LB play is this, a bunch of bodies on the line with no windows to squeeze through.
At least, he did when he was not subject to further machinations. Vorax saw his nemesis had escaped confinement and immediately upped his insanity level further. Below are Michigan's alignments in the first and second halves of the Penn State game two weeks later:
left: first half. right: second half.
After getting annihilated by a terrible run offense in the first half Demens actually had to ask the coaches to move him more than a yard away from the nose tackle's rear. He struggled, but who wouldn't when the only thing between you and two guards is Adam Patterson and far too little space?
Demens recovered from that to register as one of the "heroes" of the Illinois game—he managed a +8, leading to cries of Anyone But Ezeh favoritism from readers—before registering his first clunker against Purdue. Demens got hooked pretty badly on a play that, in retrospect, I should have been harsher to the DL on since Dan Dierking roared through a truck-sized hole. Later he got lost and let Rob Henry rip off a big gain. He was one of few Michigan defenders to come out of the Wisconsin game with something approximating dignity.
|plays in space|
|quick but under control|
|make a leaping PBU|
|killshot shakes the ball loose|
|tackle on the catch|
|jars the ball free|
|picking through trash|
|goal line gap shoot|
|slants past the tackle|
|reads and fills|
|scraping, waiting, tackling|
|not quite harris|
|runs to the backside|
|pulls an Ezeh and sits|
When everything was over Demens had racked up 82 tackles despite playing sparingly in the first five games. If he'd gotten the whole season he would have had numbers like that random Northwestern linebacker who ends up with 130 tackles at the end of the season because he's the guy roping down tailbacks after they pick up six yards.
It's clear by the rating above that I'm a Demens believer. I liked what I saw last year and I've seen MLBs who are pretty good to compare him to. David Harris, for one. He's not Harris but I think Demens is closer to him than Ezeh already. He just has a knack for getting to where the play is going. Though his coverage still needs some work he was decently effective in short zones last year. As a bonus, one of the few things practice reports have been consistent in is their Demens praise.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
I can't believe we had commemorative spring game jerseys
Also: Evans left, Fitzgerald right
Prodigal son Marell Evans returned from exile at I-AA Hampton to rejoin the team for his fifth and final year of eligibility. He probably wasn't expecting to see too much time after doing so, but there he was in the spring game, starting in Demens's stead. How well he did was in the eye of the beholder; around these parts I was "extremely leery" of the depth but offered up no reason as to why.
If forced into action Evans will be a wildcard. He hardly played at Hampton because of injury and hardly played at Michigan because of youth. He's probably not going to be that good. Over the course of the last month I received a couple of practice reports that slammed him pretty hard. Those aren't gospel, but that and his vagabond career to date are all we have to go on.
Fellow senior JB Fitzgerald is also hanging around this area of the depth chart, though no one knows exactly what linebacker spot he's backing up. It's never good when you've been around for four years and no one knows where you're supposed to play.
At least Fitzgerald is used to it by now. He's been kicked around since he arrived. On occasion he's even been drafted to play DE terribly when Greg Robinson runs out of ideas. When he pops up in UFRs doing something well, as he's done from time to time for years, I get all excited he might be finally breaking through. Then he never does. Fitzgerald's about out of time and there's no reason to think he's suddenly going to get it. He was passed by Evans as soon as he arrived; Jake Ryan emerged to back up Cam Gordon in spring; Michigan has a vicious melee for the WLB spot that Fitzgerald isn't even involved in. Without a plague of injuries he'll spend most of his final year providing leadership on special teams.
less deep half, more linebacker plz
Cam Gordon has finally found a home. He can buy a new couch and maybe a speaker system that attaches to the walls and everything. That it took this long is another symptom of the madness on defense last year. Gordon is linebacker sized and plays like a linebacker, except he was playing receiver as a freshman and thus tackled people in the same way a coke machine would: by running your bulk into a dude and hoping he falls over.
This was Michigan's last line of defense, and they paid for it many times over, starting against Michigan State:
His shoulder-block style of tackling was something he got away with before he faced Michigan State but against MSU he was bouncing off ballcarriers because they were big and strong enough to take the blow. Then he would try to drag them to the ground, which only worked sometimes and always gave up YAC.
Worse yet were Gordon's angles, which alternated between vastly too aggressive…
…and vastly too conservative…
…depending on which flaw he had just spent the week getting chewed out about in practice. And then there was that rainbow thing. I'm embarrassed to have pumped him up a bit after the Indiana game, though to be fair he did have an interception.
Gordon got shuffled to spur, a position roughly analogous to the strongside linebacker in a 4-3 under, for the Penn State game. Thrown into the fire at yet another position he had only the barest clue how to play, he struggled there as well. He was emblematic of that game's defensive implosion:
It's symbolic that this is the play where it all went to hell.
Demens has that dead to rights if he can just get some gang tackling help. Marvin Robinson whiffs, Cam Gordon vacates the only area Royster can go, and Royster makes a terrific play to spin outside for the first down. Great play, but you can't spin past three guys without something having gone horribly wrong. That's a true freshman and a redshirt freshman who was a wide receiver last year and a safety last week. FFFUUUUUUUU.
|whiffs but gets lucky|
|takes a horrible angle on the pass|
|lost in coverage|
|too far off|
|some good stuff|
|delivers a nice hit|
Cam Gordon had a rough freshman year. Worse for our purposes is how useless it is for projecting his future. With half of his season spent at a position he'll never play again and the other half spent in an incoherent defense at a spot he'd learned for literally two weeks, his UFR chart isn't even worth looking at.
If you insist, it's not pretty even after he moved to linebacker. He managed to stay on the positive side against Illinois by blitzing a ton. I did note that "Gordon brings a physical intimidation factor the other two spurs don't." He didn't do much other than scoop up a fumble and run a long way against Purdue. Against Wisconsin he failed to register even a positive half-point and picked up this note: "Not involved much and didn't do well when he was." After that the malaise took over. He did have some TFLs in the final two games.
That doesn't mean much, though. Bounced from position to position and ill-served by the coaching of Greg Robinson and Adam Braithwaite, Gordon was put in a position to fail. He did.
Now he's at a spot that makes sense being coached by people who make sense. Since he wasted a redshirt year playing offense and his freshman year trying to play safety he'll be farther behind the curve than an average third-year player. He's also pretty light for a strongside linebacker at 224. That will serve him well when he's asked to drop into coverage but will make fending off tight ends a struggle. A reasonable level of development gets him to a bit below average this year.
There is one. The spring game was a dreary, depressing thing mostly notable for the various ways in which the quarterbacks looked awful, but one of the certifiable bright spots was the rampaging play of redshirt freshman Jake Ryan. Ryan had a pick-six, sacked Devin Gardner at least a couple times—hard to tell exactly what would have happened if they were live—and generally gave second-string OT Kristian Mateus more than he could handle. Mateus is a walk-on and all spring impressions come with free grains of salt, but as of the moment Ryan Rob Lytle-ed his helmet in spring, the hype train has left the station and will build up steam until such time as there's another guy to get hyped about.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Third on the depth chart is true freshman Brennen Beyer, one of the most highly touted recruits in this year's class. His recruiting profile has the goods: excellent speed and lateral mobility on a frame that needs and can put on a lot of weight. He was expected to play WDE and flipped to SLB after Frank Clark showed very well in fall. He was 100% lineman in high school and will need some time to adjust to new responsibilities. Hopefully they can get a redshirt on him this year.
it's tough to find shots of Jones and Herron in the wild
This is the most uncertain thing about the defense. Mouton left no ready heir apparent thanks to an injury that forced Mike Jones out for the entirety of 2009. Top competition Brandon Herron also missed a big chunk of last year. When he returned he mostly sat.
Jones returns atop the depth chart out of little more than momentum. Michigan fans haven't seen much out of him other than a few redshirt-burning tackles on kickoff coverage, so his recruiting profile will have to stand in for actual knowledge.
For what it's worth he does seem well suited to be one of those blitzer guys Greg Mattison promises will exist this year:
Exceptional edge blitzer that has great timing and quickness; speed rushes by the offensive tackle before he can get set. Offensive backs can't or won't block him when blitzing off the edge; really creates havoc in the backfield. Does a great job of using his hands to shed blockers in order to get to the ball carrier.
As a bonus, he's beefed up from 208 to 224, which is reasonable WLB size. Folks were talking him up as a "playmaker" during spring practice last time around. Little's been heard since. That goes for all of his competitors as well.
That position and again I hate to ever say anything positive, I love how those guys are playing at times. At times, they are playing with such energy and such speed and such explosiveness. One day one of them, I’ll go wow that’s what we’re looking for and the next day he may have not as good a day and the other guy will step up. I think that one is a battle. That one is a battle right now and it is kind of a good battle to have.
Reality or Johnny Sears airy pump-up? We won't know that for a while. There are three experienced scholarship options. Whoever ends up winning the job might be bad; they probably won't be awful. There are three upperclass options before we dig up a freshman.
The second guy on the depth chart is fifth-year senior Brandon Herron, who's bounced all over the front seven in his time in Ann Arbor without managing to see the field much. He's got thirty-four tackles to his name, many of them in garbage time or on special teams.
Just when it looked like he might have a role in the 3-3-5 he came down with an injury and forced Roh to move back to LB. As a recruit he was middle-of-the-road, reputed to be a raw athlete. He'll probably see some time and not do anything spectacular with it.
Junior Brandin Hawthorne and true freshman Desmond Morgan also feature on the depth chart. Hawthorne is one of the Pahokee crew. He was a hilariously undersized high school player and has been bouncing between linebacker and safety the past couple years. He's happy to be back in the front seven:
"I was actually recruited as a linebacker so to be back feels really natural to me," said Hawthorne. "This is the position I played my whole life until I got to Michigan so it's nothing new, but I've had to learn the system, my responsibilities, and that takes time." …
"I'm not a real physical player - I'm more finesse - but I'm fast and smart," he said. "You need a brain on defense and I'm smart enough to recognize formations, and help move guys around. And I think I'm pretty good at making plays. I know I'm not going to overpower someone but I'm pretty good at slipping through the cracks."
Now up to 214 pounds, Hawthorne was getting some time with the first team during the select plays the media was allowed to watch. If his self-scouting is accurate he may be more of an option against spread teams. The weakside linebacker does get protected in the 4-3, so if he's got the speed and smarts Michigan might deal with the size.
The Big Ten Network was told to watch out for Morgan when their tour hit Ann Arbor, so they did. Viewers were treated to a shot of Morgan getting plowed over and over again as Gerry DiNardo tried to convince them he was the new hotness on the weakside.
Hoke has been talking him up. When asked about the linebacker situation outside of Demens Hoke went to Morgan first:
I think Desmond Morgan is a guy who we think is going to play some football for us. Mike Jones, we’ve played a little bit of MIKE and a little bit of WILL. Marrell Evans is playing some in there.
That was just a few days ago. Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
Left: Jake Ryan. Right: Brandon Herron
Do you think Jake Ryan has a chance to play WLB now that Kellen is off the team? The coaches seem to love what he brings so why stick him behind Cam Gordon when you can get him on the field? Thanks
I think that's unlikely. For one, in today's Countdown to Kickoff Brandon Herron announces he's moved to WLB now. When spring started he was at SLB. By the time it ended he was at MLB. Now he's at WLB. The coaches appear to like what they've got at the other two spots enough to roll with Gordon/Ryan and Evans/Demens.
For two, the Great Oft-Repeated Hybrid 4-3 Theory states that Michigan's 4-3 under is about halfway between a traditional 4-3 and a 3-4 and that the SLB actually has about as much in common with the WDE as the WLB. Very hypothetically certain SLBs could also play one of those other spots but they would have to be very versatile and very experienced, which Jake Ryan isn't really.
Ryan's strength appears to be hearing the lamentation of the women after he pillages the offensive backfield. In the 4-3 under the linebacker best suited to get upfield quickly is the SLB. His weakness is probably executing deep zone drops a la Mouton last year; at SLB his coverage responsibilities are usually "chuck this tight end and head out into the flat."
In this defense he's SLB all the way, as it plays into his vertical attacking style. If you were really going to move one of the SLB strivers Cam Gordon is probably the guy. People at least thought he could play safety. They were insane people, sure. Good point.
If you're looking for a backup option at WLB I think Thomas Gordon is your man. He's small and is specifically slotted into a nickelback role but if Jones falters he's got some of that experience stuff; I thought he played pretty well last year. He will be a fixture against spread teams and see quite a bit of time in other games.
I'm curious to get your take on how you think the running game is going to work out this year now that the weights of the OL have come out. As you briefly mentioned in the roster overanalysis, these guys are hardly designed for the power game. A cursory glance at Wisconsin's roster reveals that anyone even close to competing for a starting position is 315-330 and our linemen top out at 302. That's not exactly tiny, but clearly reflects the zone blocking system they were crafted in.
Everyone out there seems to regard the offensive line as a strength because they're experienced, but how skeptical are you that the line won't have it's troubles in running situations? And is there any sort of precedent out there for this o-line transition from the spread to more pro-style/west coast style offense?
Man, I don't know. Michigan ran some power stuff last year with decent success but that was as a changeup, not the bread and butter. As the bread and butter it's tough to see them battering opponents. If they really want to run I-form power all the time next year, YPC averages will drop to Carr-era levels (4 YPC) instead of the schwingy bits of last year (almost 6!).
How much of that schwing is the offensive line and how much is the vast superiority of Denard Robinson to the rest of the mediocre running back corps? Counter rhetorical question: how much can Michigan take advantage of that superiority without Rodriguez's constant subtle adjustments?
Aw, hell, those aren't rhetorical:
- Large chunks of it were just Denard being ridiculous. Run power with Denard from the gun and life will be okay.
- Quite a bit. A lot of the stuff Michigan ran last year was simple. They largely abandoned the zone read and the blocking flexibility I was so excited about is a trademark of Borges's most recent offense. I may have been overreacting to Rodriguez's genius-type-substance after the Debord years when literally everything was a goddamn stretch. Maybe I'd never analyzed an offense other than "you know what's coming, try to stop it, oops you did let's punt."
Michigan's not going to be able to run power 20 times a game and get by on sheer brawn. I don't think they'll try, though. Hoke talks about power but when the rubber hits the road Borges seems to play to his players' strengths. If they operate out of the shotgun and run Denard 10-15 times a game they'll still be decent. They can even run power from it if they want:
That's not the A gap, but let's work our way up to that. Part of effectively running power is getting to the place you're supposed to be. With this line getting that guard outside the tackle is going to be easier than obliterating the NT.
It will probably never happen, but what do you think about this proposal to address the lack of big time opponents in the non-conference:
Teams are allowed to schedule a 13th game as a "pre-season game" against a FCS school before the season starts. The schools could get a little more practice and charge half price for the game. You'd still get all of the parking and concessions money. By having that "half price" game then you offset the down side of playing a big away game. Then instead of making one of these cup-cake games count toward your overall record and take up a valuable spot on your schedule you can make it pre-season and then schedule a real opponent.
That's actually an idea Rodriguez promoted from time to time, and it's a good one. Institutionalizing the FCS game as an exhibition turns it from a waste of everyone's time to a mildly diverting opportunity for extra football without too much extra brain damage. You're kidding yourself if you think anyone will charge half price, but if I could get a guarantee that the extra game every year would be against a reasonable BCS opponent I'd happily shell out the extra whatever dollars.
But as you say, will never happen.
Are there any players on this team right now that you consider "sure-things" for their production? I would have said there are only two - Martin and Hagerup. Now one of those has been suspended. I think the OL should be good but is learning a new scheme. I like the thought of Demens and Woolfolk for a full season, but do we really know what to expect from them and this new defense?
Production is maybe not the right thing to be sure about. How can you be sure about any of that when schemes are changing?
I do think I have a handle on certain players. They might not perform as expected because they're being asked to do certain things they haven't done in the past, but Molk, Roundtree, Hemingway, Van Bergen, and Kovacs are pretty well established in my mind at this point. That's not very many, and I guess that's your point.
Via UM Media Relations:
OUT (0% PLAY)
Jones, Mike Leg
Shaw, Michael Knee
Toussaint, Fitzgerald Shoulder
Van Slyke, Jared Clavicle
Williams, Mike Head
Woolfolk, Troy Ankle
QUESTIONABLE (50% PLAY)
Ferrara, John Hand
PROBABLE (75% PLAY)
Herron, Brandon Ankle
Johnson, Carvin Knee
Robinson, Denard Knee
As for the gentlemen who are out, we already know Jones, Van Slyke, and Woolfolk are out for the whole year, and Mike Williams may have serious enough concussion issues to be at the end of his football career. Shaw being ruled completely out for the game is a huge setback, and though we don't have tons of information on Toussaint, the coaches certainly would have liked to have him available.
Ferrara is updated to questionable after spending the past few weeks inactive, which is good for him, but he's still down on the depth chart and unlikely to play.
As for the "Probable" contingent, Rodriguez (and OC Calvin Magee) have been saying all week that Shoelace hasn't missed practice all week, and is 100% outside of a bit of soreness. If Herron and/or Johnson can indeed play, that's a boost for the defense, giving Greg Robinson the flexibility with Craig Roh that he really likes.