[No coordinator or Wednesday presser this week, fyi]
News bullets and other important things:
- We might be seeing more of Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer, and Raymon Taylor.
- Woolfolk and Barnum seem to be better.
- Lewan had an ankle injury but is expected back on Saturday.
- With Barnum back, there also will be competition at right guard (currently Patrick Omameh).
Opening remarks: “It was good in some ways to have a bye week. From a health standpoint, I think it always helps you a little bit, no matter where you’re at in the season, to get a little more rested. I think our guys did a nice job with that. I thought our practices on Tuesday, Thursday, and yesterday were at a high tempo. I think there was a lot of good teaching that went on. When you look at the fundamentals of where we need to improve: blocking, tackling, all those things that go along with football, I think that was good. We’ve got five guaranteed opportunities left that we need to focus on, and obviously this week is Purdue.”
Any new players cracking the depth chart? “Frank Clark [is] one that comes to mind. I think Blake [Countess] has been playing, but I think that helps. Raymon Taylor, when you look at it from that vantage point, that’s good for them to get a little more work in.”
When did you move on from Michigan State, and how fired up are you for Purdue? “Well, we did that on Tuesday. Tuesday was the first time we met together as a team. [We] went through the film, met after the film, went out and practiced, and moved forward.”
You put a lot of emphasis on the trenches. How are they doing by your assessment? “I would say we are not where we need to be with the consistency of how we want to play on both groups. I think there’s been times when, from an offensive standpoint, we blocked the line of scrimmage pretty well and created movement and the things that you want to do at the point of attack. And then I think there are times we haven’t blocked it as well. I would say the same thing on defense. I think Mike’s been very consistent. He’s played better and better every week when you evaluate what he’s done in the middle. I thought Will Heininger played a better football game a couple weeks ago. Maybe one of his better games. But the consistency of all four guys is something we need to keep striving for.”
Greg Brown left the team. Why, and have you ever had guys leave in the middle of the season before? “Greg is no longer part of our team, and yes. I’ve had guys leave.”
(more after the jump.)
Does this game feel different for you because it’s SDSU? “Well, looking at that part of it, I guess is different. We’re obviously more familiar with this team because we just coached the team. It’s nothing to do with any of that stuff. It’s about San Diego State against Michigan. Anything else is just smoke and mirrors.”
Rocky Long said you have advantage because you know the SDSU players and their signals. How much does that come into play? “No. I really don’t get caught up in that too much. Signals and all that stuff, it’s overrated. Way overrated. There are 17 teams in the NFL that run the same offense. They use the same terms. Nobody changes -- they may change a little bit here and there, but not significantly enough to where it scares people.” Do you use the same signals here at Michigan as you did when you were at SDSU? “No we don’t. A lot of ours is sent in on wristband calls anyway, so it’s difficult for anybody to get what we’re doing because they’d have to have the wristband.”
Were you involved in recruiting Ronnie Hillman? “Hillman was already committed when we got there. Our job was really just hanging onto him.” Did he look good back then? “Oh yeah. The kids that we kept, we thought were pretty good players.”
Are you surprised by how prolific they are offensively? “No. No. Not at all. Not even a little bit.” Does that make you feel good? “No. We have to play them. Made me feel great last year. They’re a good team and they deserve respect, and we’re going to give it to them. Our kids are well aware of what they’re dealing with here. We’ve made it clear that this is going to be a tough contest. We better come ready to play.”
(more after the jump)
Last time on Picture Pages we saw how hopeless n00b Brennen Beyer made life very difficult for Michigan on a 25-yard counter play Western ran in the second quarter. Poor linebacker play from Kenny Demens and Carvin Johnson contributed.
A bit later in the half, Western would go back to the well. How would Beyer react?
It's first and ten at the Michigan 17 on Western's third drive. They've taken the ball from the Michigan 47 to get here. Western comes out in the same look-ma-spread-in-shred formation and will run the same counter play they ran before. Michigan is again in an aggressive one-high press look:
A lot of backups are in. The DL is Beyer/Heininger/Brink/Black. LBs are Herron, Fitzgerald, and Johnson walking down into the box.
On the snap it's the same business, with the backside G and H-back pulling around. This time Beyer's got it figure out, though. You can just see his head popping out from behind the tackle who is releasing downfield:
All right, now we are in the business. Or not. You can read the title.
Beyer disappears in the above frame because he is making contact with the G at about the LOS. Also look at the linebackers. Fitzgerald has not moved; Herron is starting to run at the play.
Beyer has run inside and gotten sealed at the LOS approximately where the center started the play. The fullback sails outside no problem. Instead of making a pile he's just created a huge hole by removing any leverage available.
Meanwhile Fitzgerald is getting cut to the ground. He's hardly moved despite a guard pulling in front of his face, and thanks to that Johnson can't flow. Neither can Brink, who is giving ground to pursue but just gets cut.
Herron, for his part, is going to blow the leverage again…
…but it wouldn't have mattered much because there's hardly anyone behind him.
Kovacs cleans up again.
Video with dramatic pause:
Someone took Beyer aside and told him how he'd screwed up on the first power and what to do. If you look at the comments on the last one there is some debate about whether or not Beyer was absolved because of a blitz. I don't think that's entirely possible; if you're blitzing and no one's blocking you off the edge while the QB executes a mesh point you need to slow your roll and adjust. Beyer didn't; someone told him he should do that.
Beyer took that advice and overcompensated a la Cam Gordon playing safety last year. I'm still not sure if they were playing to squeeze or spill. I'm guessing squeeze. This is the cost of playing freshmen. This kind of thing will get better.
I do wonder why he's even on the field. If they're going to run a four-man line I'd rather have Brink and Heininger out there than Beyer, since at least they've played football in college before. I guess you have to chalk that up to the heat and the necessity to play the walk-ons on the interior, which means just terrible things about Ash/Campbell/Washington. If Cam Gordon returns next week it wouldn't surprise me to see Ryan in Beyer's role.
Yet more indecisive linebackers. A guard pulling is a dead giveaway as to the direction of the play and twice we see Michigan players not reacting to it at all. If they're not reading the G whatever they are reading is not giving them a heads-up quickly enough.
This may be four defensive systems in four years with three coordinators; it may be a talent issue. Demens suggests it's at least some of the latter. Either way, Fitzgerald sits entirely still until he's chopped to the ground by a Western OL, which eliminates not only him but Johnson and Brink thanks to the location of the block. Meanwhile, Herron has a tough job that he does poorly with, losing leverage on the play.
I assume days that aren't blistering hot will see Demens on the field for every snap, but if he's hurt we're screwed and WLB is a real problem. Herron had two touchdowns and is going to end up significantly negative on the day.
Heininger does not accomplish what RVB does. He gets sealed away and is trying to spin free when the LB-FB contact occurs; he's in no position to help if Herron turns it inside, which he doesn't because no one turns it inside ever. This may be a slight exaggeration born of frustration.
People are worried about the defense, and with good reason. The worrying bit isn't so much the best quarterback in the state averaging 5.9 YPA and being forced into two turnovers by getting clobbered, but rather Western Michigan running for almost 5 YPC with guards they picked up at a yard sale in Jackson.
I have good news and bad news about this. The good news: a major reason for these issues was a true freshman in his first game who made obvious errors. He fixed some of those errors. The bad news: he fixed those errors so hard he made the opposite error. More bad news: he wasn't the only culprit.
We're looking at two successful first-half counters run by the Broncos. Here's the first. It's second and two on the Michigan 47 on Western's second drive of the day. Western's all like "look, ma, I'm the 2010 Michigan offense" and Michigan brings out its aggressive one-high press man for the first time:
You see the 3-4 front with three tight corners. Kovacs is out of the picture deep. The slot "corner" is Thomas Gordon. The LBs from top to bottom are
Herron Jones, Johnson, Demens, and Beyer, with Roh/Martin/Van Bergen the DL. Your key players are the bottom three guys in the front seven: Beyer, RVB, and Demens.
A moment after the snap:
The tackle blocks down on RVB, leaving Beyer free to fly into the backfield. This is an Admiral Ackbar situation that Beyer is too pumped up on adrenaline and youthful stupidity to recognize. He's all like "gonna get me some QB."
Meanwhile, the RB is moving right, but check out that OL directly in front of the QB: he's pulling left. This is a counter.
A moment later Beyer is recognizing his DERP far too late. He's already three yards into the backfield and his momentum is stopped as he tries to change direction now that the QB doesn't have the ball. the pulling G is going to hammer him.
Not all is lost, though: Demens has read it and is moving into the hole. And you see a lot more of Van Bergen's jersey, don't you?
RVB has given about a yard but now has his helmet across his blocker. Beyer defeats the OG's block and would have a shot at a tackle if he hadn't flown upfield so fast. There's that lead blocker and a lot of room for Demens to close down but he could…
…just about turn it back inside to RVB, who has now totally defeated his block, or he could…
…turn into Jonas Mouton and lose leverage.
That's 25 yards before Kovacs can come up and save the bacon.
Video, with annotation!
I learned this from Spielman. There are two main ways to defend the power play: "squeeze" and "spill." Squeezing is getting into the guard upfield a bit so that the RB has to take it inside into a more restricted hole. Beyer would have to be a yard or two closer to the LOS and to the inside to be squeezing. From that spot he can make a play, or at least make it harder to burst outside that LB.
Spilling is kind of a scrape exchange type deal where the playside DE roars down the line at the pulling G and cuts his ass to the ground. This is intended to create a pile that takes out the other lead blocker and forces the running back to bounce outside, where a linebacker scraping over the top should clean stuff up. Beyer would have had to shoot directly at the G as soon as he reads the pull.
Obviously, he does neither and gets kicked out of a very large hole. If he's in the right position he's dealt with the block well enough to make a tackle. He's not.
Demens did Mouton it. He's got a tough job here with the fullback and a big hole, but letting the guy outside of you is a cardinal sin—unfortunately, one we're all too familiar with. If Demens gets outside that fullback WMU might get a big run anyway but "losing leverage" (the jargon) guarantees it.
Another quiet Van Bergen plus. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say RVB is good but the things he does often go for naught. Here he beats a downblock, which is tough, to show up in the hole and potentially rescue Johnson, who you may note ran ridiculously playside and ends up farther away from the play than double-teamed NT Martin. Demens loses the plot and Van Bergen's reward is just a UFR plus and a chase downfield.
Ugh Johnson. To reiterate: the guard directly in front of Johnson's face pulls and he ends up yards away from relevance.
Kovacs. He tackles. He does not not tackle. Here he sort of misses, but this was very rare. This may not hold up against Big Ten teams but there were plenty of opportunities for the Broncos to pick up a touchdown that they could not because Kovacs tackled them.
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.
First, Al Borges:
And then Greg Mattison:
Brink of the Brink. I jumped the gun yesterday by retweeting the Blade's Ryan Autullo, who reported Nathan Brink was hanging out on the first-team defensive line yesterday, and claiming this should deflate the Will Campbell hype balloon. It turns out reporters got to see a lot of stretching and not much else; the units out there were not exactly 20 minutes of solid evidence.
"I hate to ever talk about a young man because I think every time I do that they go right down in the tubes," Mattison said after yesterday's practice. "He has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to [defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery] on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries to step a certain way. And he's really, really physical." …
"In the spring it was mentioned a number of times because his toughness stuck out like crazy," Mattison said.
The word of the day is always "physical" except when it's "toughness." It's a good sign for you when the coaches are describing you with the attributes they've been preaching nonstop since their arrival.
Is it good for Michigan? If you were under the impression Michigan wouldn't be rotating through walk-ons on its DL, no. That's been unlikely since those dual DT decommits on Signing Day two years ago, though.
Now you should brace for zing:
"Everybody's a scholarship football player to us," Mattison said. "The best 11, the best 12, the best 17, those guys are going to play."
This walk-on may be on the brink of doing that.
The other change. Is it alarming that Jibreel Black, who the coaches have been displeased with, was the other surprise first-team-ish player on the line yesterday? Probably not. An emailer relates that Craig Roh is sick. Not good but not a major problem unless it's mono.
Don't be mono, k thx.
might not be much bench time for this pair. via GBMW
Insidery scuttlebutt. Fall camps are full of temporary surprise starters as coaches test new things or dole out rewards and reprimands, so reading too much into any particular lineup is a constant threat. That said, a couple folk close to the program say Hawthorne has been playing well enough to warrant his shot at the first team. Consistency remains an issue. If Michigan can get production out of him that will be a bonus.
Other insidery nuggets: Demens has MLB locked down and is playing as well at that spot as anyone has in a while; Cam Gordon should hold off Jake Ryan for the SLB spot; Marell Evans has been a bit of disappointment.
Position switches. As media day content continues to trickle out information missed by folks moving to and fro amongst the panoply of assistants and players comes out. For example, there's a new contender at Safety Who Isn't Kovacs. Curt Mallory:
"Thomas has been playing nickel and also been playing safety. We're moving him around," Mallory said. "They will eventually [be interchangeable]. We went into it playing sides, and now as they've learned it, you can play your next best safety rather than next best strong or free. As we get closer to it we'll hone it in a bit and get guys where they best fit the defense. …
"No one's hiding. They all want to be out there, involved, competing. That's probably the most encouraging thing. If Thomas Gordon could, he'd be out there the whole time, and he's not the only one. That's good. They all want to be out there—it's a healthy thing because they are all helping one another."
I liked Gordon last year in the limited role (and limited time) he was allowed. He's dropped some weight and I'd be surprised if he wasn't the fastest guy competing to start at safety. (Furman is probably faster but no one mentions him as a threat to start this year.)
Mallory mentioned Countess, Taylor and Hollowell first amongst the freshmen corners, FWIW.
Rivals also has an article on Brennen Beyer's move to SLB. He won't be required to play this year and that sounds like a good thing:
It's a change because I haven't really played that before, but it's fun trying to learn as much as I can as fast as I can," Beyer said. … "Pass dropping, for one. I've never done that before," he said. "Playing while standing up—that's a little different."
Anyone nervous? I'm nervous. Jeff Hecklinski on the receivers:
"It was such a drastic change offensively that it really hasn't been aided [by their experience]," Hecklinski said. "We have to understand the intricacies that go along with the pro-style offense and the throwing game like we have.
"But, to their credit, they've worked hard throughout the summer. You can see a lot of good things throughout the summer. They came through and did the 7-on-7s and now we get a chance to look at them, you can see they've started to develop that timing and put things together. Now, we need to build on it, and we can hone it down to every little detail."
Practice buzz has been extremely happy with the unit as a whole despite the change; I'm guessing we see a preponderance of three-wide sets this fall. Four is a thing of the past but SDSU ran a lot of three-wide last year. With little established behind Koger at TE their other option is all I-Form.
Gallon is getting talked up, which is surprising. He was an impressive player in the Army Bowl as a recruit but couldn't find the field in an offense perhaps better suited for his talents—he mostly spent his time screwing up painfully on special teams. If he gets his act together he'd bring a YAC aspect Michigan's receivers are currently lacking. I'd bet this is more like Johnny Sears hype, though: encouragement more than accurate reporting.
Standard. More Fred Jackson: "I’ve very, very confident [in the future] because those two freshmen are good players. They are better than good. Both of them.”