The series continues with a look back at the defensive prospects in Michigan's 2010 recruiting class. Rich Rodriguez took 16 defenders in the class; more of them failed to make it to the opening kickoff of their freshman year (four) than advanced all the way to Senior Day (three).
I apologize in advance.
Those Who Stayed
Especially in retrospect, Jake Ryan's recruitment was bizarre. Ryan was the most productive defender on a state-title-winning Cleveland St. Ignatius squad that got plenty of exposure; he played next to Ohio State commit Scott McVey; his highlight tape provided more than a glimpse of what he'd become at Michigan. He looked a whole lot like Jake MF Ryan, minus the flowing locks.
Yet Ryan went unranked for much of the process, and even after a strong senior season only earned middling three-star rankings. Michigan didn't offer Ryan until he took an official visit a couple weeks before Signing Day. Ryan, holding only MAC offers, committed the next day. Reading his profile today makes me wonder if I unwittingly ingested all of the drugs:
Why Obi Ezeh? Ryan is a big, slightly clunky middle linebacker who will easily reach Ezeh's current 245 pounds and may outgrow the position entirely. As a recruit Ezeh was an anonymous three-star in about the same range Ryan is; he was also a sleeper-type pickup who had not been on anyone's radar before Michigan grabbed him. Ryan is praised for his vertical attacking and dogged for his ability to cut through the trash sideline-to-sideline or effectively cover zones; Ezeh's career is ably summed up by those critiques.
Ryan has some assets Ezeh doesn't: a high school career at linebacker (Ezeh was mostly a running back), a head start on the system he'll be playing in, and Greg Robinson as a position coach. Hopefully he'll have some consistency in coaching as well.
Notably, Greg Robinson as a position coach was listed as a positive. Greg Robinson as a defensive coordinator was... not.
Jibreel Black's profile spent a lot of time hoping he'd become at least a poor man's Brandon Graham. While Black didn't come close to Graham's heights, he was a solid contributor his last three years, and he could've been more productive if Michigan's issues with D-line depth didn't force him into a role as a 275-pound nose tackle for much of his senior season. Black is one of many players from the Rodriguez/Hoke era whose career would've benefited from a redshirt year he wasn't afforded.
The career of Courtney Avery saw him go from promising freshman corner to clearly undersized spot starter to senior utility man—he'd finish his time at Michigan with 19 starts, five of them at safety in 2013. Avery was also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, which shouldn't come as a surprise since he flipped his commitment from Stanford to Michigan; his high school coach thought very highly of him:
“He’s the type of kid that if he wants to be president of the United States one day, he will be. I got two compliments I could give him. That’s the first, and the second is if my daughter was 18, she could date him."
"Thanks, Coach. I'm deeply uncomfortable."
[Hit THE JUMP, if you dare.]
Johnson flirted with starting jobs at spur (last year) and safety (this year) before getting displaced by Thomas Gordon (both years). As a freshman his displacement was due to injury; once he got healthy Michigan decided that Cam Gordon was not actually a safety and threw him in at spur, because if you ain't panickin', you ain't coordinatin'. He started the year as the nickel safety but eventually lost that job to Courtney Avery.
Johnson was not a big recruit but he was one I was irrationally optimistic about, and one that found some early playing time. Not sure what the deal is with his departure.
Losing him is a shot to the secondary's depth. With Kovacs questionable for this weekend and possibly longer, the depth chart after Woolfolk and Gordon is walk-on
Andy Jared Van Slyke, Marvin Robinson, and possibly Josh Furman. Next year Michigan will get three safety recruits and loses only Woolfolk, so the pressure eases somewhat.
By my count, two obvious fifth-year nonrenewals now gets Michigan to 28 in this recruiting class; with some attrition inevitable between now and signing day they'll probably go into 2012 light. Again.
Formation notes: Michigan spent the bulk of the first half in their nickel package with Ryan down on the line and Gordon and Johnson at nickel and safety, respectively. In the second half they took Johnson off in favor of using Ryan as a slot LB until Northwestern started their passing hurry-up on their fourth(!) drive.
Substitution notes: The usual defensive line substitutions, with Heininger and Black seeing frequent time, Campbell a little, and Washington maybe a snap or three. Michigan did briefly show Avery as the nickelback, but that only lasted a drive or two. Demens went the whole way; Morgan got a couple series late in the first half. Countess replaced Woolfolk in the second quarter and went the rest of the way.
Demens, Kovacs, Floyd, and Gordon didn't come off the field.
|O20||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Bubble screen||Floyd||7|
|Hawthorne starts flowing up into the playfake and there's no one to the short side, leaving the slot all alone; Floyd is playing ten yards off. With Hawthorne positioned like he is there is no way he's making this play anyway. RPS -1.|
|O27||2||3||Shotgun trips||Nickel press||Pass||4||Out||Floyd||Inc|
|Floyd(+1, cover +1) is right there on the receiver's cut, forcing Persa to throw it perfectly—upfield and away from Floyd. He does so; WR has a shot at a decently tough catch and cannot make it. Rushing lane was opening up but Persa did not take it.|
|O27||3||3||Shotgun trips bunch||Nickel press||Pass||5||Drag||Demens||Inc|
|Demens lines up right over the center and rushes, trying to take the center out of the play as Martin(+0.5) stunts around. This basically works; center slides off on Martin and Demens(+1) uses that opportunity to shoot up into the pocket. He's about to sack when an in the grasp Persa chucks it inaccurately in the vicinity of a receiver Hawthorne(+1, cover +1) is all over; may have a PBU if ball is accurate. Pressure +1, RPS +1. This is really close to a sack, BTW.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 14 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||Shotgun empty quad bunch||Nickel press||Pass||5||Drag||Van Bergen||Inc (Pen +15)|
|Avery in as the nickelback. NW has a tight bunch to the wide side of the field and motions the tailback outside of those guys. Michigan is confused, with Demens eventually heading out there to deal with him, but late. Doesn't end up mattering this time. Michigan runs a twist that gets Roh(+0.5) through thanks to Martin(+1) threatening to shoot past the C. He's screwed either way. Persa has to dump it; RVB(+1) reads Persa's eyes and starts moving into the throwing lane, batting it down. Hawthorne(-1, cover -1) got beaten by Ebert on this drag and would have been able to turn it up for big yardage. Pressure +2. Roh picks up a roughing the passer call that is horsecrap. That's one step and then hit. Awful call. Refs -2.|
|O35||1||10||Pistol 2-back offset||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Veer triple option||Kovacs||5|
|Colter in at QB; Michigan seemingly misaligned with no reaction to the strong side and Kovacs lined up a couple yards behind the LBs. They do not comprehend Colter is in at QB. NW runs an option to the wide side. Both LBs and Roh(-2), the playside DE, suck up on the dive fake. Mattison said DE == QB so I'm –2ing every DE who tackles a dive guy or lets the QB outside. Even Kovacs hesitates; no one is tracking the pitch back at all. Roh does recover to string the play out a bit, and Kovacs flows hard, forcing a pitch a few yards downfield. Colter didn't make Kovacs take him, though, and he flows down to tackle, preventing this from becoming a big gain. I have no idea who's at fault here. Either Roh or Demens needs to get out on the pitch and Kovacs needs to do so as well. Kovacs(+1) for getting out as secondary support and making a tough tackle(+1). RPS -1.|
|O40||2||5||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Woolfolk||14|
|Bler bler bler. Michigan has two guys to the wide side of the field that possesses three NW WRs. Those two guys are seven and ten yards off the LOS. Woolfolk(-1) then misses the tackle(-1) and turns this from seven into 13. RPS-1.|
|M46||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Improv||Avery?||27|
|Black drops off into a zone before the play and Woolfolk blitzes from the other side. Unsurprisingly, this is picked up. Martin(+1) is coming through the line and is held; no call; Persa can flush outside of the pocket because Woolfolk got upfield. Outside of the pocket Persa is deadly; he finds a guy for a big gainer. Cover -1, Pressure -1, RPS -1.|
|M19||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Dumpoff||Hawthorne||4|
|Yeesh, looks like Demens(-1) doesn't get enough of a drop and Johnson(-2) pulls up on a dig, leaving a post wide open for a touchdown (cover -2). Persa misses this and checks down. Hawthorne(+1, cover +1) with an immediate tackle. With Martin out and Campbell in there is no rush at all (pressure -2).|
|M15||2||6||Shotgun trips 2back||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Veer triple option||Kovacs||15|
|Trips plus two backs equals a covered up WR, equals run, equals massive frustration that this catches Michigan off guard. Ryan(-2) crashes down on the dive fake; Demens and Hawthorne move forward despite this obviously being an option and get sealed away; Demens is playside so –1. Kovacs(-1) misses a tackle(-1) at the ten but that could be harsh since he is the only player on the edge against two other players. If he takes a more conservative angle Colter pitches and the RB walks into the endzone. At least Kovacs had a shot here. RPS -2.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-7, 8 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O37||1||10||Pistol trips TE||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Speed option||Demens||12|
|RVB(+0.5) and Martin are coming at the QB hard, forcing a quick pitch. That should be advantage D since the DL are stringing the RB out quickly. Gordon(+0.5) comes up to maintain leverage, at which point... no one comes up to tackle. Demens(-2) had gone upfield around a blocker for no discernible reason and is late as a result. Martin can't quite make up for his mistake; Hawthorne(-0.5) is there seven yards downfield. His tackle(-1) is run through but does force the RB OOB.|
|O49||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Flare screen||Van Bergen||3|
|Woolfolk(-0.5) is caught up in man coverage here and never realizes this is basically a run play; he ends up on his butt. Gordon(-0.5) has the same thing happen to him. Maybe that's harsh for press coverage. Demens(+1) and Van Bergen(+1) read the play and get out on it to hold it down, with RVB actually making the tackle.|
|M47||2||7||Shotgun empty TE||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Shovel pass||Hawthorne||2|
|Yeah, technically a pass, but this is a run play in UFR's book. This is a variation on the Florida TE shovel this blog raved about the past couple years, with Persa running outside at first and taking Gordon with him, then shoveling inside to the pulling TE, who is actually WR Drake Dunsmore, as they run power. Ryan(-1) blown up and out. Big hole. One guy in space against Hawthorne; if Dunsmore cuts behind the block either Roh hacks him down or it's a big gain; instead he runs right into Hawthorne. I guess Hawthorne gets a +1, Demens a +0.5, as they tackle(+1) in space for a minimal gain, but we got lucky.|
|M45||3||5||Shotgun trips bunch||Nickel press||Pass||6||Out||Gordon||6|
|Again with Demens lined up over the nose; Michigan sends the house. They don't get a free run and don't get a hurry (pressure -1) but they didn't give up anything big so no RPS -1. NW running some man-beater routes that force Gordon into an awkward path; this gets Ebert the step he needs to stab this pass one-handed and turn up the sideline for the first. Gordon was there to tackle so it's not like he did a bad job.|
|M39||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||3||Scramble||Ryan||5|
|Tempoed, Michigan only has two down linemen at the snap (RPS -1). As a result, Ryan is lost in no-man's land. Coverage(+1) is good downfield; Persa takes off, diving as Ryan comes in on him.|
|M34||1||10||Pistol 2-back offset||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Veer triple option||Hawthorne||23|
|Colter magical option formation, and they give despite again having Kovacs versus two guys on the edge. Maybe Colter was worried about Black. I'm not entirely sure about what goes wrong here but it seems to me like Campbell(+1) takes on a double and beats his man to the inside as the interior guy peels off, which means the RB has to go behind him and the C trying to get out on Hawthorne(-2) would have no angle if Hawthorne read this and made his NT right. Instead he and Demens are a foot away from each other and when the RB cuts behind Campbell there is no one there.|
|M11||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Scramble||Hawthorne||4|
|Good coverage(+2) means Persa can't find anything despite having a long time (pressure -1). He eventually rolls out; Roh(+0.5) and Hawthorne(+0.5) remain on their receivers long enough to force a scramble and then come up quickly to hold it down.|
|M7||2||6||Pistol trips TE||Nickel press||Run||N/A||Speed option||Johnson||7|
|Demens(-2) again heads too far upfield too fast and gets himself into a lineman who ends up cutting him to the ground after they run down the line for a while. This is a speed option! Get outside! RVB(+0.5) forced a pitch and flowed down the line to make it difficult for the RB; Carvin Johnson(-1, tackling -1) comes up hard around the LOS and whiffs entirely. He does force a cut upfield, but because Demens is on his stomach the cut is not a modest gain but a touchdown.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-14, 4 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O7||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read dive||Morgan||2|
|Morgan in for Hawthorne. Morgan(+1) bashes into the center at the LOS and drives him back on the dive; Martin(+1) fights through a double team, refusing to get sealed. When the G releases he's still playside of the T. With Heininger(+0.5) beating a single block there's nowhere to go.|
|Good coverage(+1) causes a flush but because the DL split so badly that was kind of obvious; no second read here. (Pressure -2). Not sure who to minus specifically because tape is cutting out at the beginning of this play.|
|O15||3||2||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Speed option?||???||12|
|Technical difficulties. We come back with the pitch already made. I am somewhat certain this is largely Demens's fault(-1), as he was lined up playside of Morgan presnap but when we come back Morgan is actually closer to the play. He then gets shot past the play. Morgan(-1) took a too-aggressive route around a WR and couldn't make the play; Johnson(+0.5) does come up to make a fill on a dangerous play, though his ankle tackle is maybe less than ideal.|
|O27||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||???||???||???||Inc|
|Apparently this is just a misthrow, but I don't know.|
|O27||2||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||???||Sack||Demens||-2|
|Oh, hell, BTN. I guess Demens(+1, pressure +1) is a minimum?|
|O24||3||13||Shotgun trips bunch||Nickel press||Penalty||N/A||False start||--||-5|
|O19||3||18||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read dive||Black||6|
|Give up and punt.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-14, 11 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|M41||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Hitch||Martin||7|
|Zone blitz drops Roh and sends Morgan. Martin(+1) slants around the G and C to get a run at Persa(pressure +1) and bats the ball. The thing still finds its way to the receiver, but the delay allows an immediate tackle... that Demens(-1, tackling -1) does not make.|
|M34||2||3||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read stretch||Van Bergen||2|
|RVB(+2) shoves the playside OT back two yards, cutting off the outside and forcing a cutback. He disconnects when this happens and tackles himself for a minimal gain. Nice play; scary if he doesn't make this. Think he missed a check when Dunsmore motioned into play H-back, but he made up for it.|
|M32||3||1||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read dive||Heininger||1|
|NW goes tempo. Heininger(+2) takes on a double and holds, going to his knees in the backfield and absorbing both guys without budging. Martin(+1) is single blocked. He stands his guy up and sheds inside to meet the RB a yard on the backfield. Momentum from him and a blitzing Morgan coming from behind gets the pile to the LOS but no farther.|
|M31||4||In||Pistol 2-back offset big||46 bear||Run||N/A||Speed option||Roh||-1|
|Roh(+3) takes on the playside TE and sheds him to the outside, then shoots up on Persa, forcing the pitch. Getting a forced pitch from a blocked guy is clutch here. Before the snap, Kovacs motions to Morgan, who takes a step shortside and then starts flowing hard; he takes the leading fullback's block, leaving Kovacs(+2, tackling +1) alone on the corner with the pitchback, who he cuts to the ground in the backfield. Watch Kovacs take the lighting quick path to the ballcarrier after the pitch. Baller. Also make no mistake: this is Roh's play at its heart.|
|Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 7-14, 8 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O18||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Floyd||6|
|There by alignment with no one on the the slot and Morgan reacting to the zone fake. Floyd does as well as he can to get into the blocker at about five yards but help can't converge for seven. RPS -1|
|O24||2||4||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Johnson||9|
|Another bubble by alignment; Gordon is over the slot but in these situations the guy grabs it and goes right up the hash, where there is no one. Johnson eventually fills and makes a dodgy tackle. RPS -1|
|O33||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Johnson||7|
|Exact same thing as NW goes tempo. RPS -1. Better tackle from Johnson.|
|O40||2||3||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Van Bergen||Inc|
|Morgan(-1, cover -1) is now paranoid about the bubble, though he's not aligned any better, and starts outside as NW runs actual patterns. Slant is wide open. Persa throws it; Van Bergen(+1, pressure +1) bats it down as he's come inside on a stunt.|
|O40||3||3||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel even||Pass||5||Drag||Martin||19|
|Zone blitz sees Martin left in man coverage on Dunsmore on a drag. That goes about how you would expect. (Cover -1, RPS -1)|
|M41||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel press||Pass||4||Fade||Countess||39|
|No pressure(-2); huge pocket for Persa to step into. Countess(-1, cover -1) gets flat beat on a go route and is a step and a half behind the WR; even though it's a little underthrown and definitely in the defeat-Michael-Floyd zone he cannot catch up and gives up the big completion. Does get a hand on an arm, but it's that half step that kills him.|
|M2||1||G||Shotgun trips 2back||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Speed option||Gordon||2|
|Covered WR with Colter in. RB motions to the other side; Kovacs goes with him. Speed option to the plentiful WR side. Gordon(-1), Demens(-1), and Floyd(-1) get blown up and after Ryan forces the pitch the RB walks into the endzone. This is clever by NW: Kovacs is the guy with the pitchman so they get him out of the picture and exploit the LBs. RPS -1.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown,14-21, 2 min 2nd Q. This was pretty terrible on Mattison's part. Bubble bubble bubble Martin on drag no answer for option.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O48||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Drag||Roh||16|
|Martin(+1, pressure +1) goes right around the center and gets a hurry as Roh drops off and Morgan comes. Another zone blitz gets burned by the drag route as Roh cannot keep pace with Colter, RPS -1.|
|M36||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Comeback||--||13|
|No pressure(-2); Persa has plenty of time to survey and find the deep comeback coming open. Gordon the nearest guy but not really on him.|
|M23||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Morgan||16|
|Morgan(-1, cover -1) beaten easily by Colter. Morgan(-1, tackling -1) then fails to tackle. Quick throw leaves little time for pressure but the lack of push from the DL is worrying. Why is Morgan in the game against a spread offense when you have Hawthorne available, especially on a two-minute drill?|
|M7||1||G||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read keeper||Demens||4|
|Black(-1) doesn't get upfield, causing a pull. If he was crashing on a scrape that's one thing. Here he's in no-man's land. Demens(+1) sets up a lineman, getting into him and then pushing out into the space Persa occupies; Gordon(+0.5) also flows down to help tackle, though he had an easy time of it because Colter didn't even bother blocking.|
|M3||2||G||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel press||Run||5||Snag||Woolfolk||Inc|
|Pick play designed to beat man coverage. It does so but Persa is late, allowing Woolfolk(+1, cover +1) to recover and knock the ball out as it arrives. Pressure(-1) not getting to Persa.|
|M3||3||G||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||3||Post||Johnson||Inc|
|Three man rush gets nowhere (pressure -1); Johnson(-1, cover -1) gets outside and opens up the post. Persa hits him; dropped.|
|Drive Notes: FG, 14-24, EOH. Refs are idiots about the time either way here.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O40||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Speed option||Ryan||-1|
|Ryan back at LB instead of DE and hanging out over the slot. They run a speed option; Ryan flies up on the edge. It kind of looks like he comes up on the QB and has just given the pitchman the edge but Persa doesn't think so, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Ryan's(+2) excellent positioning prevents a pitch, forces Persa to cut it up, and results in nothing thanks to RVB(+1) and Martin(+0.5) flowing down the line well.|
|O39||2||11||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||4||Sack||Martin||-5|
|Persa apparently looking at a hitch Floyd(+1, cover +1) has covered; he hesitates and never gets a second read because Martin(+2) bull-rushed the center back into him and Roh(+2) came under the left tackle; the two combine to sack. (Pressure +2) Hawthorne appears to have the TE seam covered; Countess is way off the hitch on the other side of the field.|
|O34||3||6||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel press||Pass||4||Seam||Van Bergen|
|Van Bergen(+2, pressure +2) rips through the RG and gets immediate pressure up the center of the field. Persa fires too far in front of his receiver; Johnson nearly digs out the pick. Route was a seam or skinny post that Gordon(+1, cover +1) was in coverage on; incidental contact with the feet caused the WR to fall. He looked in pretty good position, FWIW.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-24, 9 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O18||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||--||6|
|Yay. Ryan is on the wide side slot but there's still no one over the short side, so they throw it. With Floyd playing very soft, no chance this doesn't pick up a pretty decent gain. Hawthorne does well to get out there and push him out before it's eight, I guess. RPS -1.|
|O24||2||4||Shotgun empty||4-3 under||Pass||4||Rollout||--||9|
|No one on the edge (pressure -2) and Persa can run or throw for the first. He chooses the throw, hitting the second receiver, who's drifting outside of Demens's zone. (Cover -1) Countess makes a quick tackle.|
|O35||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 under||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||--||6|
|argh argh argh. Ryan blitzes off the corner; Persa sees this and immediately throws the bubble without a mesh point. Gordon(+1) is the only guy out there. He gets into the slot guy at the LOS, getting outside and forcing a cutback, then disconnects to tackle after just five. RPS -1.|
|O41||2||4||Shotgun trips||4-3 under||Pass||5||Drag||Hawthorne||Int|
|Michigan tempoed and not aligned at the snap. Zone blitz gets Demens in but Martin(-1) has vacated his lane and Demens can't do anything about it as Persa steps up into the pocket. Receiver is moving to give Persa an option; he throws it to him for what will be seven yards and a first down if it doesn't derp off the guy's pads, allowing Hawthorne(+1) to make a diving interception.|
|Drive Notes: Interception, 28-24, 1 min 3rd Q. Dude... how was this not overturned? Poopin' magic yo.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O19||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 even||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Martin||6|
|Michigan spread out with LBs shaded over the slots so NW hits them inside. Martin(-1) fights through a block way upfield and opens up a big hole in the middle. Demens(-0.5) and Ryan(-0.5) sit back and accept blocks but at least they combine to force the guy into a tackle.|
|O25||2||4||Shotgun empty||4-3 even||Pass||4||Hitch||Countess||6|
|Schmidt motions out; there is a bunch to the wide side and then the RB outside of them. Quick hitch to the RB that Van Bergen(+1, pressure +1) actually deflects, but the ball still goes right to the RB. Countess(-1, cover -1) is really soft, giving up the first down despite the ball taking a long time to get there because of the deflection.|
|O31||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Hitch||Floyd||10|
|Floyd(-1, cover -1) beaten pretty clean by Ebert; this is a five yard route on which Floyd is at the sticks on the catch. Ebert picks up the rest of the first down as a result.|
|O41||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Martin||2|
|Martin(+1) and Heininger(+1) hold up to blocks, closing off holes up the middle of the field. Mark manages to pick his way through little gaps for a few yards, but that will happen.|
|O43||2||8||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||5||Fly||Floyd||Inc (Pen +15)|
|Floyd in press; Michigan zone blitzes behind it. Gordon gets in free (pressure +1, RPS +1); Persa throws it to the fly route without really knowing if it's open. Floyd is there, gets his head around, and seems to break up the pass... and gets flagged. On replay, yes, he got his hand on the shoulder pad and prevented the guy from jumping for the ball. I'll take that though, since it's subtle and you can miss it. I still have to (-1, cover -1)|
|M42||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Ryan||4|
|Finally something that looks like defense. Gordon(+0.5) flows up hard and Ryan gets outside of the slot blocker as Demens reads the throw and gets out there usefully. Ryan gets cut under; Gordon and Demens are there to tackle. As the WR is digging for an extra half yard Gordon(+3) strips the ball loose.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 35-24, 12 min 4th Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O31||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Drag||Demens||5|
|M sitting back in an obvious four-man-rush zone as they work to not blow it; grades handed out with that in mind. Persa hits Colter underneath on a drag; Demens(+1, tackling +1) comes up to tackle immediately.|
|O36||2||5||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Hawthorne||9|
|Hawthorne(-0.5) comes up on a not very convincing run fake and opens the slant up for a first down.|
|O45||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Jet sweep||Gordon||6|
|Glerb. M blitzes into the sweep and Gordon(-1) widens out to blow it up; he misses the tackle(-1). This makes good play from Hawthorne and Demens to get outside their blockers bad play and the DL, slanting away from this on the snap, cannot pursue fast enough to prevent a gain.|
|M49||2||4||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Circle||Floyd||6|
|Circle route high-lows the corner and Floyd sinks, opening up the short stuff.|
|M43||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||3||Cross||Gordon||Inc|
|Line slants right and Black drops off into a short zone... I think one of the LBs forgot to blitz. This means Persa has acres of space; he steps up and zings it to Colter... behind him. First down otherwise. (Pressure -2, cover -1)|
|M43||2||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Johnson||5|
|Late-arriving WR doesn't actually get into position so NW has five in the backfield. No call. These refs are idiots. NW throws the bubble and Michigan is finally playing it well. Gordon(+1) gets into the slot guy at the LOS in a good spot to force the WR upfield; Demens flows but misses; Johnson(+1) comes into finish with a good hit.|
|M38||3||5||Shotgun trips||3-3-5 press||Pass||4||Hitch||Countess||Inc|
|Michigan in tight man on the first down line; Persa's first read is Floyd(+1, cover +1), which is not a good idea. Second is Countess, still not a great idea but gotta throw it, so he does; Countess(+2, cover +1) breaks it up.|
|M38||4||5||Shotgun trips bunch||3-3-5 press||Pass||5||Sack||Kovacs||-10|
|Mattison sends Kovacs on a crazy ninja blitz from way deep; at the snap he's hurtling at the LOS at full speed. The seas part. Kovacs goes too high, though, and Persa ducks under his tackle. Tackle attempt pulls the helmet off, though, and that's a sack. RPS +2, Pressure +3—this was instant. Kovacs... +1, results based charting. And well timed blitz. Also wag of the high tackle finger. Gordon(+1, cover +1) breaks up the desperate improv throw Persa gets off after the helmet incident.|
|Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 35-24, 7 min 4th Q. Northwestern's last drive is down 18 with 2 minutes left and is not charted.|
SECOND HALF DOMINANCE
Er. So. I don't really think so.
Yes, yes, probably, but the things that happened in the second half were:
- Three and out, one contained speed option, two incompletions thanks to DL pressure.
- Bubble, easy rollout hitch, bubble, drag route for first down that bounces off receiver's numbers to Hawthorne (sort of).
- Inside zone, hitch, hitch, Inside zone (defensed!), legit pass interference on deep ball, bubble leads to fumble.
- Hurry up pass mode w/ Michigan in soft zone, drive ends with Persa IN, five-yard bubble, and two good plays by the D.
So… the move to have Ryan in the slot didn't really slow down the bubbles, which went for 6, 6, 4, and 5 yards. This is better than the 8 they seemed to average in the first half, but it is not a thunderous shutdown of the spread.
There were three drives on which NW was actually running its offense. On one the adjustment got a speed option contained and then Michigan got some pressure. On two NW has just picked up its second easy first down if the WR doesn't bat it into the sky. On three they have second and six after picking up a couple first downs when Gordon yanks the ball loose. What happens if the WR doesn't DROPX the drag? If Ebert's knee is down? What is your confidence level that Michigan is going to stop Persa & Co. if these things don't happen?
VERY HIGH THANK YOU
Wait… are you Joe Paterno?
NO I AM YOUR FILTHY IRISH ALTER-EGO
I see. So… what I am saying is that the vaunted second half adjustments are little data being made big and what we saw in the first half was very frustrating to me. How do you stop a bubble aligned like this?
You don't. On Northwestern's final touchdown drive they ran three straight bubbles for 22 free yards. This is 2011. You should not have to adjust to the staple constraint play of the spread 'n' shred.
Yes, well… I don't want to make too little data big again. I sure as hell don't know 10% of what he does and rushing to judgment about what Michigan's defense will look like once he's had them for three years is stupid. Mattison uber alles.
HOWEVA, it seemed like he was caught off guard by the spread 'n' shred. He's been in the NFL for three years but he was also the DC at Florida and Notre Dame over the increasingly spread-mad last decade of college football, so he should be familiar with it.
Were players not reacting appropriately? Maybe. Late the secondary did get more aggressive and helped hold the bubbles down. But that was the difference between 8 (or even 13) yards and 4-6. As I was UFRing this I was again thinking of Magee describing his philosophy, or rather WVU's defensive philosophy: they run the stack because it's built to stop the spread. Maybe Michigan needs a three-man-line package for games like this?
In any case, Mattison's admittedly hypothetical inability to deal with the spread 'n' shred in year one of his regime is a moot point. The remainder of Michigan's opponents are either pro-style (MSU, Iowa, sort of OSU), triple option (Illinois, Nebraska), or so incompetent it shouldn't matter (Purdue). I'm a bit worried that Fickell is installing a ton of bubbles right now, though.
DO YOU FIND THIS DEEPLY IRONIC
That Michigan can't defend a bubble but won't run a stretch because it's not preparing you for the Big Ten? Kinda. /ducks
I REQUIRE NOTES OF THE HUN
|Van Bergen||10||-||10||Pressure and PBUs. I enjoy his contributions.|
|Martin||10||2||8||Not as many plays as you might want but it's hard when everything goes outside.|
|Roh||6||2||4||Fourth down play; needs moar pass rush.|
|Heininger||3.5||-||3.5||No real problems, but not tested much.|
|Black||-||1||-1||Not much PT.|
|TOTAL||30.5||5||25.5||Step back from last couple weeks.|
|Demens||5.5||9.5||-4||Did not get outside even on speed options.|
|Hawthorne||4.5||4||0.5||One big error on dive; good in coverage.|
|TOTAL||13||21||-8||Major problems containing.|
|Floyd||3||3||0||Push is good against Persa.|
|Kovacs||4||1||3||Mostly neutralized because he had to try to tackle two dudes.|
|T. Gordon||8.5||2.5||6||Fumble half of the plus.|
|Countess||2||2||0||Beaten deep once, but also a push.|
|Johnson||1.5||4||-2.5||Not as bad as you might have thought.|
|TOTAL||20||14||6||Wow. I mean, no long stuff, right? Except the one.|
|Coverage||13||15||-2||Not bad. Some issues getting RPSed.|
|Tackling||4||6||40%||Not a good day; this is what the spread tries to do.|
|RPS||4||15||-11||Killed by easy bubbles.|
So… I ended up thinking that it was crazy that none of the linebackers could contain on the outside and hardly tried. When people keep leverage and force the guy inside, as Johnson did and Kovacs did and Gordon did, and there is no one to clean up from the inside that is a problem with a linebacker, and that linebacker was more often than not Demens. An example from Blue Seoul:
Seoul says Gordon has to do a better job getting off the block but he forces this upfield at the numbers and there is no linebacker to clean up; backside guy Hawthorne is even with Demens.
Seoul also caught my complaint about Demens on one of the option touchdowns:
Okay, Johnson missed. He missed to the inside, at which point a good D rallies to tackle.
Here a slow-reacting Demens gets caught up in an OL and cut to the ground. This is not even a triple option, it's a speed option, so, like… go. I've been taunting other LBs for being too aggressive this year but this is the alternative.
Demens did have a good blitz or two, FWIW.
The rest of the chart is basically as expected. No safety got burned on the pass and the missed tackles from Johnson were not too bad; he is still a clear downgrade from the starters. Van Bergen and Martin are high quality players; Roh is doing better but we still need more pass rush from both defensive ends. The cornerbacks are much improved but still not outstanding. Michigan got about a push in both pressure (four sacks but also a number of plays on which Persa had a ton of time or broke contain) and cover, and Mattison was slayed dead on RPS.
What was with the option success?
If you were suspecting that Heiko was the guy who asked this of Mattison…
Northwestern ran the veer option with a lot of success against this defense, and there seemed to be some confusion with the assignments. For those plays, whose assignment is the quarterback, and who has the pitch man? “That’s why people run the veer option. And again, to play an option team, you have to be very very disciplined. You have to really feel confident in what you’re doing, and it’s happening really fast. There was a number of times where you might have seen Jake go down and hit the dive. Well, our ends had the quarterback all day, so right away you knew, ‘Uh oh,” and sure enough, now you have two guys on the dive and nobody on the quarterback, and that’s why people run that offense. It taxes young guys. It really does. So your next thought is to stunt it a little bit, move it a little bit, to try to make a play, and that quarterback was pretty good. Fortunately we settled down in the second half and the guys said, ‘Okay I got it now.’ Every guy that made a mistake like that during the game, they came out, they looked right at you, and they went, ‘I know.’ I said, ‘I know, too! That’s 20 yards down the field.’ But I was really proud of them.”
If you had to defend them again, who would be assigned to whom? “We do the same thing. The only thing we do differently, if we defended it again, is we would play it more honest like you’re supposed to and not cheat to take away one part of the game and not the other.”
Did Kovacs have the pitch man? “That was his job. When you’re playing the option and you’re playing man coverage, there’s a guy with a blocker on him. A guy who has man coverage and still is supposed to get off and try to make that play. Well if you’re stronger, better, faster, you can throw that guy away and make that play. So we had Jordan going through the alley, meaning he would go dive, quarterback, to pitch, and he made some good plays on it.”
…you are wise in the ways of how MGoBlog differs from other media. I wanted to know how Michigan planned to defend the option so I thought I'd have Heiko ask and Mattison gave a terrific, useful answer*. So now we know that…
…defensive ends were a big problem. QB outside of DE without pitching is a problem. Here Kovacs gets a 2-for-1 by forcing a pitch and still getting out on the RB, but Colter would learn from this and juke Kovacs on his first touchdown run. I don't blame Kovacs much, if at all, because he's on the edge against two guys. Forcing it back inside and getting any tackle attempt at all is better than letting the pitch guy walk in.
It wasn't all bad for Roh:
That is one of the plays of the game and it happens because he beats a block to force a pitch and allows Kovacs to do what Kovacs does best: take a great angle at speed.
Ryan had similar problems, and then there is the Demens complaining. So: better play from the DEs to force the play inside of them or at least force a quick pitch and getting those linebackers to the edge more quickly.
*[How much does everyone love the coordinator pressers? One million points worth, right? I mean, they give it to you straight and give you actual information and reassure you that the guys in charge are really smart.]
Yes, again this week:
When those guys miss their tackles there is no one within 15 yards. Result: 20 yard return.
Martin, Van Bergen, and Gordon. Gordon's strip was a 100% player-generated turnover that is a reason to believe they are being coached on these things.
Demens, and the inability to line up to defend a bubble.
What does it mean for Michigan State and beyond?
Well, I'll be extremely nervous when we come up against Nebraska and Ohio State since their mobile quarterbacks could force us into situations that will exploit the same things. I just watched that game and it doesn't seem like either team spends a lot of time threatening bubbles; both enjoyed themselves some pistol offset stuff with Nebraska having great success running the inverted veer out of that diamond formation becoming all the rage. Either could gameplan for the M game—Ohio State might well start preparing whatever package they think will beat M because it's not like they have anything else to play for.
As for this weekend, Michigan State is the opposite of Northwestern and the 4-3 under will be a much more comfortable fit against State's largely pro-style offense. HOWEVA, we have seen State prepare special packages for M since time immemorial and one of the recent ones was a trips-TE bubble package that exploited M in 2008 like whoah. If that's still on the shelf they might bring it out and force Michigan to line up against it. HOWEVA HOWEVA, that year they could run the ball; this year M might be able to defend it without giving up those pitches that killed them that year.
- Michigan continued to prove the secondary is much improved and the safeties are for real, especially the starters.
- Heininger held up pretty well, caveats about limited tests included.
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.
Previously: The Story.
The existential crisis that was last year's secondary has been the subject of emo rehash and frequently-updated "Never Forget" banners in this space for going on a year now. In mid-August of 2010, Troy Woolfolk did something strange and painful to his ankle and I—and I assume a good chunk of the Michigan fanbase—decided ankle-exploding time was drankin' time. Twitter archived the results; read from the bottom.
The headache I had the next morning did not subside until Greg Mattison was hired.
Woolfolk wasn't going to cure last year's secondary issues by himself but he was going to be a decent returning starter in a secondary without any other than Jordan Kovacs. Without him this section of last year's preview started "What's the point of anything?" because everyone left was either a freshman, walk-on, or JT Floyd.
After a deceptively promising start courtesy of the vast incompetence of Zack Frazer and Notre Dame's backup quarterbacks, the doom took hold. Everyone who saw a snap last year contributed to it but if we have to pick a single moment that best represents Michigan's 2010 secondary it would have to be this:
JT Floyd picking up a –3 against Penn State
That is how Matt McGloin tears you up for 41 points on nine drives. Let's never speak of this again.
While this year's secondary won't bring back memories of Charles Woodson, improvement is almost a given. It could be vast, even. Every contributor returns save James Rogers. Woolfolk is back and healthy, and there's a small horde of freshmen.
If you believe the message board chatter about Tony Gibson's coaching acumen, Curt Mallory is a huge upgrade. My favorite apocryphal story is that when Scot Shafer resigned he told Rodriguez he would take all the blame publicly if Rodriguez admitted to Shafer that Gibson was "the worst secondary coach in the country." Shortly after his resignation, Shafer did pop up in the News stating it was all his fault. Poppycock? Probably, but you can't rule it out.
Things are looking up. They could be okay. Not okay for Michigan, but okay for a mediocre Big Ten defense. They've got a cap—like everywhere on this attrition-wracked team the depth is a little scary. The starters still include a walk-on and the talent level as measured by stars is strictly second-rate. They haven't disproved that on the field, so expectations should be kept in check.
That there are any except doom is pretty cool. Bohemian Crapsody begone.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|Troy Woolfolk||Sr.*||Courtney Avery||So.|
|JT Floyd||Jr.*||Tony Anderson||Sr.*#|
|Terrence Talbott||So.||Blake Countess||Fr.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Woolfolk in T-Woolf mode
Unless something very depressing happens in the near future I will not need any power tools this year. Troy Woolfolk is healthy, and while he's probably not going to be All Big Ten he's fast and steady enough to get good reviews a couple of years ago when he split time between safety and corner. There is empirical evidence for this, and how: Woolfolk's absence from the safety spot marked the point the 2009 defense went off a cliff. Michigan went from giving up 23 points per game with Woolfolk at safety to 37 without.
Those reviews have moved from potentially ignorant bloggers to the head coach. Woolfolk was one of three defensive Wolverines to be named a starter by Hoke weeks before the season (Kovacs and Martin were the others) and is conspicuously first when Hoke talks about his corners:
"(Woolfolk is) is a guy who I think, as a senior, has taken some ownership and he's done everything," Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "J.T. is fighting. Courtney Avery is fighting, Terrence Talbott, they're all fighting with each other to see who's going to be the guy."
Mattison joined in as well:
What are your impressions of Troy Woolfolk? "I'm really, really impressed with a senior -- with a new staff, with a new system -- with a guy that comes out every day and says 'I'm going to do what you tell me to do, I'm going to do it how you tell me to do it, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to do it.' ... I think his technique is improving."
That bit at the end about his improving technique is a little ominous. Woolfolk's injury and position switches may leave him vulnerable to Morgan Trent-like deficiencies. The two are similar players: very fast, rangy corners who are tough to beat on a fade but can struggle when opponents are changing direction rapidly. Woolfolk's main advantage over Trent is want-to. Trent spent his senior year raging against the new regime and saw his play suffer. Woolfolk should have no such issues.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
|juuuuust evades the fingertips|
|jars the ball free|
|comes up too hard|
|pwns a UW guard!|
Opposite Woolfolk the battle is on between sophomore Courtney Avery and redshirt junior JT Floyd. The bet here is that Avery wins that battle. Avery drew into the starting lineup last year when Floyd exited with yet another injury and seemed to outplay the guy he was replacing.
What he brings to the table is still up in the air. He was seeing spot duty relieving Floyd and Rogers even before Floyd's injury; he also split time with Terry Talbott when Michigan went to nickel and dime packages. In that role he was erratic. He wasn't good, per se. But in the tire fire that was last year's secondary he showed a little spark. This spark allowed other portions of the tire fire to spew ever more pitch black tar smoke into the observers face, yes. The spark remained.
Here's an erratic UFR that might not mean that much because he's a corner and his playing time was highly variable:
Zone vacancy II.
|MSU||-||-||-||Didn't register. Yay?|
|Iowa||-||5.5||-5.5||The whiff, the zone vacation, etc.|
|PSU||-||-||-||DNP, I think.|
|Illinois||3.5||0.5||3||Two key tackles.|
|Purdue||3||6||-3||Gave up the big screen.|
|Wisconsin||2.5||3||-0.5||Could have been harsher on him.|
It's not great, though a big chunk of his Indiana negative might have been erroneously given. The blogosphere ferociously debated whether a particular frustrating Iowa touchdown was mostly on the head of Kenny Demens or Avery and eventually decided it was kind of both but maybe probably mostly Demens. The UFR still registers Avery as the victim.
Given the circumstances—tire fire—he did well to not get hammered on a consistent basis. Try to judge him as a freshman by comparing him to his classmates: the highly-touted Cullen Christian was a blinking "throw at me" sign whenever he was on the field. Terrance Talbott was clearly behind. His main issue was playing zone coverage too aggressively, vacating his zone as he chased receivers across the field.
His quickness and aggressiveness bodes well. This is just Bowling Green (see also: the brief blip of Ray Vinopal hope) but Michigan hasn't had a corner who's able to recover like this in a while:
Avery's two years younger than Floyd and was healthy through the entirety of last year and spring practice. He played quarterback in high school; nagging injuries scuppered plans to play him both ways as a senior. He was just learning the rudiments of playing corner when he was thrust onto the field last year. Even if Avery and Floyd were close a year ago—something that is generous to Floyd—Avery should improve much faster than his competition. Avery has never seemed to "transparently lack the speed to be a Big Ten cornerback."
With practice buzz generally talking up Avery, it would be a surprise if he was not the starter. If not now, then by the Big Ten season. He should make a big leap forward in year two.
The primary backup and presumed nickel/dimeback will be the loser of the Avery/Floyd battle. This preview presumes that will be JT Floyd. Our last glimpses of him were against Penn State, when he turned in the coverage-type substance at the top of this post and a few other howlers. Here's one:
The game before that, it was Floyd who gave up slant after slant on critical third downs against Iowa. Even before that this blog declared his coverage "only brushes up against adequate."
|Iowa||2.5||11||-8.5||Oh my god the slants.|
|PSU||3||12||-9||Awful, awful, awful.|
Floyd was so overmatched as a redshirt freshman that Rodriguez and Robinson pulled him off the field, moved Woolfolk from his duties as a fairly effective free safety, and inserted Mike Williams to disastrous effect. Yeah, that could be another symptom of the insanity that ruled decision-making on the D these last few years. But unlike Kenny Demens's debut, Floyd's return to the field didn't make anyone think his removal was a mistake.
As you can see at right, Floyd started off well enough against the incompetent quarterbacks of the nonconference schedule. A number of whiffed tackles and Mouton-like angles against UMass were cause for concern. That concern bloomed, then metastasized in the Big Ten schedule.
|Nate Montana gift|
|breaks on to break up|
|reads and attacks|
|boxed out by Rudolph|
|sucks up on drag|
|allows Willis to drag him 15 yards|
First he was amongst the many Wolverines who were too confused or too slow to keep those four-yard Indiana routes from becoming eight. While he wasn't a major factor in the Michigan State game, he imploded against Iowa and Penn State.
In context it seems like his relatively benign Michigan State game was because the Spartans had even easier prey elsewhere on the field. And maybe Michigan protected him in favor of that prey. Remember the sinfully easy 41-yard touchdown Cullen Christian yielded? Yeah:
Why the hell is Cullen Christian the guy in man coverage on a receiver running a fly route? Why isn't it Floyd? Christian(-3, cover –3, RPS -2) is smoked crispy as he bites on an out and up gives up the touchdown. Roh was about to hit Cousins but no matter.
After that it was the elevator straight down and the injury. If he gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
If there are injuries, options past the top three are dicey. With Floyd and Woolfolk held out of spring practice the starting cornerbacks were Avery and Tony Anderson, who's one of many walk-ons threatening for playing time. Anderson played ahead of Cullen Christian and Terrance Talbott; Christian transferred soon after. Talbott remains.
The hope is that's motivational or Talbott can accelerate past Anderson's spot on the depth chart as his scholarship-having self surpasses Anderson's walk-on ceiling. Talbott got sporadic time last year and was okay for a freshman. He got lost on zone drops and was a weak tackler, etc. The book on him…
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
…seemed pretty accurate. He can be a contributor down the road… if he sticks with football. There were widespread rumors Talbott was off the team, by choice, for a period this offseason.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.) Greg Brown [recruiting profile] enrolled early and was decent in the spring game. Those two feature on the first depth chart. Talbott does not.
The rest of the n00bs: Raymon Taylor [recruiting profile] is speedy, might not have the greatest change of direction, and got a fourth star from Rivals. Delonte Hollowell [recruiting profile] is yet another smurfy Cass Tech corner who can't be put on outside receivers; he'll probably have to wait for time to open up at nickelback. He is rooting hard for Thomas Gordon to win the safety job opposite Kovacs. Finally, Tamani Carter [recruiting profile] is probably a safety; as a guy Michigan hijacked from Minnesota it will be a bad callback to Ray Vinopal if he doesn't redshirt.
That's five dudes instead of three; if it turns out some of the guys ahead of them on the depth chart can't play the one who emerges as a contributor will probably be better than Talbott and Avery were last year.
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.|
|Jordan Kovacs||Jr.*#||Thomas Gordon||So.*|
|Marvin Robinson||So.||Carvin Johnson||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Is it possible that last year's Michigan defense actually one-upped the safety horror on display in 2009? Yes. It was actually worse than even the situation that gave rise to this in last year's preview:
Their [Kovacs and Mike Williams's] powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
While the situation two years ago was never good it didn't drop off a cliff until Michigan moved Troy Woolfolk to corner. First Mike Williams and then Jordan Kovacs leisurely escorted opponents into the endzone for the remainder of the year, sure. But last year Michigan started out with this…
…and then pulled a similar switch by moving Cam Gordon to spur and inserting true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal. Vinopal wasn't quite as likely to take a terrible angle. Instead he was a 160-pound object in the way of Wisconsin's various house-sized Katamaris.
Artist's impression of Vinopal tackling Montee Ball
He also took some terrible angles. Kovacs was better but still kind of eh—he has not yet found that Iowa zen where the slow small white guy is always in the right place—and Michigan never got competent play from the other spot. Survey says increase doom panic victory 2010. And there was much rejoicing.
It can't be that bad again, right? I'm seriously asking this. Please, someone tell me it can't be that bad again. If no one else is willing to stand in front of that howitzer I guess it's up to me: they can't be that bad again.
|blasted all over|
|fends off the RT|
|shoots the gap|
|instant tackle on WR|
|tackles in the backfield|
|leaking out into the flat|
|capable zone coverage|
|almost a 95-yard Rick Six|
|not so smrt|
|inexplicably slows up|
It was already a foregone conclusion, but Brady Hoke explicitly confirmed that Jordan Kovacs will start for a third year this fall. He did so almost before anyone asked. The man once mistaken for Matt Cavanaugh by Greg Robinson is on track to becoming the first four-year starter at safety since
Jamar Adams [Ed-M: Marcus Ray ('95-'98). Adams's RS Fr year was Shazor/Mundy]
Unfortunately, thanks to the defensive implosion of the last three years this does not necessarily mean he is any good. Whether he is or not is a subject of heated debate wherever Michigan's starting secondary is discussed. His freshman year he was solid as a box safety. His instincts and tackling made him an effective force player and blitzer. Then the whole Woolfolk-to-corner thing happened and he got switched into a deep half role. To say he struggled was an understatement. Some UFR comments from that portion of his freshman year:
Just can't play a deep half.
Again burned as a deep half safety.
Enormous bust #3.
So that didn't go so well.
Last year Michigan tried to move him back into the box by switching to a 3-3-5 in which he was the "bandit" (a strong safety that spends his time on or near the LOS), but then they spent a lot of time in a two deep shell that saw Kovacs's deep limitations tested again. He did not pass with flying colors but thanks to his awareness and solid tackling was not the flaming dump truck the rest of the secondary was. It's not a coincidence that the new coaching staff has been talking him up. Hoke:
"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."
Kovacs did improve last year, and significantly. Kovacs went from deep half dead meat to "the king of moderate-moderate-0". In three different games (ND, BGSU, and Indiana) he had plusses that exactly offset his minuses; in four more (UConn, UMass, Iowa, and Penn State) he was just above or below breaking even. He was excellent against MSU…
…may have had his best game at Michigan. He's so reliable; on a day when Michigan couldn't find a tackle it didn't want to miss, Kovacs twice dragged down TEs in space to boot MSU off the field. Only one counted, unfortunately.
…but he broke down late, picking up negative days against Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
Even so, his season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
Thomas Gordon: prison abs, manages to look badass on last year's D
|sends the house|
|makes a solid TFL in some space|
|get outside his blocker|
|moves up into the gap|
|not brandon harrison|
|search and destroy|
The spot next to Kovacs is second to only weakside linebacker when it comes to mystery on this year's team. One candidate is sophomore Carvin Johnson, who had a plentiful helping of hype early and started in the spring game. The other is redshirt sophomore Thomas Gordon.
These two are familiar with each other since they spent last year duking it out with each other. The twist: they were doing so at Spur; Cam Gordon had locked down free safety. This year they're swapped.
The smaller Gordon has the advantage. He played at nickelback in the spring, swapping with the WLB on passing downs and covering slot receivers. He seemed well-suited for that spot. Moving him to safety signals some discontent with the options there, and since the move practice scuttlebutt has talked him up a bit more than Johnson. When Countdown to Kickoff flagged down DBs coach Curt Mallory he described the situation at safety like this:
It starts with Jordan right now. … He's done a great job, had a good two-a-days. Then we've got some younger guys in there. Thomas Gordon, I've been really pleased with how he's improved. [pause] And then with the two other guys…
That sounds like Johnson had eleven days to displace Gordon for Western Michigan. As of publication there's been no indication that switch has happened. Gordon was just named a starter by the WMU depth chart.
Gordon's 2010 was abbreviated. He started the season thanks to an injury to Johnson and played pretty well. Particularly impressive was his ability to roar off the edge without pulling a Brandon Harrison by zooming right by the quarterback. Gordon showed a knack for coming in at the fastest possible speed that would allow him to rope the QB to the ground, which accounted for many of his plus plays last year. Here's a good one against Notre Dame:
Outside of that it was minus half points here and there for poor coverage or missed tackles. He and Johnson displayed a knack for finishing his day with around three positive points and two negative ones. The spur was not a high-impact position either way last year until Cam Gordon switched to it and promptly got himself lost on flat zones he'd never been asked to play before.
Like Avery above, Gordon's ability to not be the most spectacularly flaming tire is encouraging. He came in with bler recruiting rankings but—again like Avery—he was a high school quarterback who got a Michigan camp offer and then did not play in his high school's secondary because of injury. He's beaten out some actual scholarship players and drawn praise from the coaches for his play. When I clipped something he did last year it was usually something positive.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
Carvin Johnson does not like losing.
Curt Mallory wants his safeties to be interchangeable, so this will probably be a situation like offensive line where there's a line behind the starters and whoever the top backup is will come off the bench no matter who exits. That is likely to be Carvin Johnson. Johnson shouldn't feel too down: what small tea leaves we've gotten from the defense suggest he will be the first defensive back off the bench when Michigan goes nickel—in the Saturday punting demo he was on the field plenty as Thomas Gordon played nickelback in Michigan's third down package.
His season was even more abbreviated than Gordon's due to injury. I clipped three events from him last year:
- A bad zone drop against UConn
- An Indiana touchdown on which he was playing some sort of weird ILB and got crushed.
- A nice open field tackle on Rob Henry.
#2 won't be an issue if he's playing a deep safety; #3 is an asset that was promised by his recruiting profile. One… maybe not so much. Though people talk him up Michigan felt it necessary to move Gordon back, whereupon he won the job. He's probably a little unreliable at the moment.
Past Johnson there are actual scholarship(!) players who weren't(!) in high school last year. One is Marvin Robinson [recruiting profile], he of the obligatory OMG shirtless pictures…
…and that thing he did in the spring game where he ran with a slant pattern while Mike Cox was waving at him en route to the endzone. Practice reports on Robinson alternate tales of massive here-comes-the-BOOM-type hits and equally massive touchdown-ceding errors. If you hit up that recruiting profile you'll see a lot of skepticism he can play safety; last year he spent a good chunk of his time at WLB. That may be his long term destination.
For now he's behind Kovacs. He seems to be the second guy in the pecking order; Michigan will try to avoid using him until he has that consistency thing every coach ever but especially Michigan's keep harping on.
The final scholarship guy is Josh Furman. Furman's a bit like Avery in that he was almost exclusively an offensive player in high school. (He put up some Rawls-like games in the Maryland state playoffs.) Michigan managed to redshirt him last year, so his recruiting profile is about all we know. He's reputed to be super athletic, like six FAKES out of five 40 athletic, and will have a role on special teams this year. When asked about the safeties for CTK, Mallory mentioned Kovacs, Gordon, Johnson, and Robinson but not Furman. He's still a year or two away from seeing the field on defense.
Notes from Brady Hoke's small-group interviews on Friday.
Pregame traditions: The Victors Walk will return this year. Brady has never touched the banner (he was already on the field as an assistant), but isn't yet sure if he'll do it going forward.
Captains will be voted by the team in the third week of camp.
Medicals: Teric Jones, Terry Talbott, Christian Pace are all done for their careers. Scholarship numbers: "I don't know... It's maybe 81 guys on scholarship right now.
On the #1 jersey: "They're going to have to earn it. And they're going to have to earn #2 after Vince [Smith] is gone." #1 will always be a receiver, and #2 will always be a DB.
"Football now at this level - for good or bad - is 12 months a year." It's hard not having coaching contact with the players in the summer, but he trusts they did the right work. "A guy like Denard who's played a lot of football and has a voice on our team, you give him that [summer leadership] responsibility." The strength coaches can help with workouts, but it's up to team leadership to hold guys accountable.
Strongest positions: "I think the wide receivers as a group, from what I can digest coming back, have done a good job. I think the O-line have done a good job." It's not fair to evaluate the overall talent level on the team at this point, but "I like our kids, how they've reacted to a transition." They're not a finished product at this point though. "We'll always have those discussions" about who will get serious playing time, but at the end of the day, the coordinators will get a lot of leeway, with Brady helping.
"I tell our coaches, when we start [summer camp] on the 9th, assume [the players] know nothing." They'll re-teach fundamentals to make sure everything is up to par. They didn't follow this approach following the 1997 season because they thought they could get by with three returning starters on the defensive line, and it backfired at the start of the '98 year.
Defensive line and offensive line are the two most important positions on the field. Everyone wants a great quarterback, but you can't move the ball (or stop the opponent) without winning battles up front. I think Al Borges [a QB-centric coordinator] would tell you that our offensive line has gotta be the lead for our football team."
Michigan is fortunate to have so many rivals. Lloyd did a great job handling the number of rivalry games, so Brady learned from him.
Possessing the ball, running it, and taking care of the football is an important part of team's success. "Mike Martin I'm sure would love to get zone-blocked all day long."[ed: bler.] The pro-style offense brings a different physical aspect that helps build team toughness. They need to hold onto the ball to help the defense, and the pro-style offense brings that. "We like points, don't get me wrong," they aren't going to hold the offense back from scoring, though, except in end-game situations.
Freshman contributors: "As we look at our depth, the two backs will get a chance. There's maybe some depth issues we have a little bit up front on the offensive line, there's maybe some depth issues on the defensive line." They might use freshmen to fill those roles, but he can't say which ones until he sees them play in camp.
"I think it's a shame - and I said this in my initial press conference - that we splintered or fractured, or whatever you want to call it, because that's not Michigan. We've moved forward from there." On "Michigan Man": There are just some guys who have integrity, love for Michigan, etc., that deserve the distinction.
"My expertise is not offense, and never will be. That's why we've got a great offensive staff." He meets with Borges about the offense twice a week during the season, and they discuss the offensive gameplan. "For me to go to Al and say 'we need to do this' ... that'd be a mistake." [ed: yes!]
The first thing Denard said to Brady was "Coach, I'm all-in." The value of a Michigan degree was important to his dad and him. He even said he'd help the team at another position if need be - but that didn't need to happen. Denard's speed is impressive, but his instincts and vision are great as well. "We're going to still keep some elements of what the spread gives you, because of his ability. But we're going to move to be pro-style offense, which he happens to be pretty good at that, too."
"There's no better running backs coach in the country" than Coach Jack. If they're three weeks into fall camp and there's still no starting RB emerging, then the concern will start to set in. He wasn't surprised or disappointed that nobody emerged in spring. They want to have one lead back carry the load (about 20-25 carries), and have a couple other guys help out with some carries. Stephen Hopkins can play both fullback and running back. He didn't shy away from blocking in the spring, which is encouraging. "Thomas [Rawls] is a bigger back who's got really good vision and balance and has explosion to him. Justice, I think he's got a real explosiveness to him, but also is physical enough to run over a guy."
"Kevin [Koger] I think is a guy who's on the line of scrimmage in some things we ask." There should be more tight end playing time available as well, because they'll use some bigger sets. Steve Watson has a great work ethic, and his skill set is a great complement to Koger. With so many tight ends on the roster, there will be some packages where they can get in and play FB as well, as an Aaron Shea-like position.
There are some pretty tough guys at wideout, which is where evaluations start for every position. WR blocking is crucial to creating big plays. "I think Junior has got a chance to be really a good player, I like Roy's work ethic, I like his attitude, I like Odoms's attitude. There's more guys there: Jerald Robinson has done some things that I'm a little more pleased with." He has matured, as players often do in their first couple years on campus. Junior has been doing great.
The players will weigh in at the start of fall camp. From the guys that have stopped by to talk to Hoke in his office, Taylor Lewan is 304. "By the time he's done, he'll be a 317 pound left tackle, or 320." All the other guys look pretty good. Molk is a bit bigger.
"I was talking to Bo a little bit - Pelini - and he had to build a confidence in the defense. We have to do that too, but the only way you do that is by stopping people." They still need to identify some guys who are playmakers, and put those guys in positions to succeed. That will take more than just fall camp.
Mike Martin has good movement skills, which is why they've been able to use him in different ways (along with his intelligence). That doesn't mean he is a perfect player, and they gave him some technique things to work on over the summer. Martin has the potential to be mentioned among some of the great defensive linemen at Michigan. He needs to improve using his hands.
Will Campbell has dropped 17 or 18 pounds - he was out of shape this spring. "Hopefully he doesn't eat it all back in the next 8-10 days." He has enormous potential that hasn't been realized yet. "Part of that is moving back and forth on both sides of the ball, and really finding a home. I think he's learning how to play up front, the expectations of how you have to play up front." He's had the opportunity to work with his teammates this summer, and hopefully he's taken advantage of that.
Craig Roh has matured, and has a better approach to the game now.
Jake Ryan can cause a lot of havoc on defense "because of the fanaticism that he plays with." He plays at a high level of energy, and the scheme needs to adjust to the personnel on the roster right now. "When you look at some of the different packages within a defensive scheme, I think there's some things he'll do a tremendous job with."
Kenny Demens is healthy now. He got scheme work in spring, just didn't do as much of the physical aspects because you want to be careful with shoulder injuries.
JB Fitzgerald needs to play more consistently to see significant playing time. "We'll have hopefully enough guys to have a rotation in there." They want to have guys playing hard for four quarters, which means depth is important. "He's had a really good summer, I'm sure of that."
Marell Evans did some pretty good things in spring practice, but there are some things he has to do better. "When you look at him from a guy who can be a good special teams guy for you, he fits that role. That's a big deal, because we need to play our best players on those teams also."
"I think Carvin [Johnson] had a good spring. He's a guy who is passionate and hungry and loves to play." He'll compete for a safety position. He's an intelligent competitor who likes to drop big hits. Courtney Avery had a good spring as well. "There will be a great competition between Woolfolk - because Troy'll be healthy - Courtney, JT Floyd will be healthy, and a young man named Greg Brown." Fall camp is important for Marvin Robinson, because he didn't get all 15 spring practices due to a class schedule. JT Floyd and Troy Woolfolk are both moving around fine and doing everything.
"We probably have more safeties than we do corners at this time, but it'll be fun to watch those guys compete." Corners need to learn to have a short memory if they get beaten.
Kicking will be resolved in fall camp. The young guy will be coming in (Matt Wile), but even during camp, they might not know because "kicking on State Street is different than kicking on Main Street." They won't know how guys kick in front of 113,000 fans until they get the chance. Dan Ferrigno will coach the kickers, and he's studied the fundamentals of kicking. However, they trust that the kickers are getting good advice from their external kicking coaches. "We're not settled in anywhere, honestly." There will be competition and expectations in fall camp.
Will Hagerup has an extremely good leg. "It's a weapon for you, and we want to make it part of our offensive package. From fakes and things that we might have to pooch punts." He needs to keep working on the finer points.
There are some candidates in mind for return duties, but it's too early to say who it might be.
Ohio recruiting: "There's a lot of familiarity, being from there." He's been recruiting there for 20 years. Michigan has 2 Heisman winners and plenty of great players from the state. Recruiting in the midwest is going to be an important part of the effort, but "also we're very fortunate that we're a global education." You can recruit nationally at Michigan, in addition to hitting the base areas. Georgia, Texas, Florida, California are other places to get talent. Big Ten Network is a good selling point for out-of-area kids, because it's nationally available.
Recruiting others' verbal commits: "We have a Signing Date for a reason, and that's the first Wednesday in February." In Brady's experience, the contact with soft commits has been from the kids reaching out, not the other way.
"Guys recruit well because they're honest and they work at it. Period. Michigan's not for every player. It's hard academically, and we're gonna have expectations of how you go to class."
It's tough to get junior college players into Michigan, so they won't really pursue that route. He didn't recruit JCs much at Ball State or San Diego State, either.
Jim Delaney's meeting with the Big Ten coaches on Thursday wasn't addressed specifically to Hoke and Fickell (whose schools he singled out in his speech at the podium), but to everyone, a reminder of the value of the Big Ten brand, and the importance of upholding that brand. "It's probably something that we all needed to hear to some degree. But at the same time, it's something that he felt - as the guy who leads this conference - he needed to make sure that we all were on the same page." Every conference commissioner that Hoke has encountered has taken advantage of similar opportunities. With so much change happening in the Big Ten (new coaches, new team), it was a good time.
Game day is more fun and easier with tough practices during the week. Even Hoke is hoping to have fun coaching.
It'll be a tough situation to play against San Diego State this fall, because there's a great group of kids there. They'll be a good team, with a 5th-year QB and a solid running back, and all 5 OL starters back. "Tremendous linebackers, that unit will be real solid for them." Rocky Long is a tough, no-nonsense coach.
Hoke is open to Full Cost of Attendance scholarships at Michigan, but there's a question of how far it goes. It is different from paying players, though. "I honestly don't have time to figure it out. That doesn't mean I don't care about it." It could create a bigger gap between the big and small schools. "Right or wrong, there's a division. We're fortunate because we're Michigan, with 110,000."
Hoke hasn't thought about proposals to raise minimum GPA requirements. [The interviewers tell him Bo Pelini and Kirk Ferentz said they support it, but SEC coaches were not in favor]: "I can't understand why" [Sarcastically].