that is nice bonus change
We shall have to *press* our *quarters*. Ha ha! do you smoke the pun dear Maturin?
We've been talking about how Michigan State's defense worked and how Michigan's this year and in the future could be using that as a model. I've brought up how the 4-3 over works, but the genius of Dantonio's defense is really in how he does coverage. Since it seems this is what Michigan will be doing, I thought a lay understanding of it wouldn't go amiss just now.
Coaches, you can offer corrections or tune out because this is going to be a little more basic. Spartans, try not to be too offended at the butchery I make of your wonderful defense. You are truly our state's top program and in no way does continuing to whine about a statement a 21-year-old made in 2007 make you petty.
Now let's go to the alignment above. We're looking at a 4-3 over; the defensive line is shifted to the "strong" side (technically Michigan's offense is balanced but the side with the two TEs is strong. Also that's the field side). We're also looking at a defense that is really creeping up. The safeties are 7 and 8 yards off the line of scrimmage, the linebackers are 4 yards off, and the cornerback at the bottom of your screen is in press. The variant on the 4-3 over is the defensive ends spread out (the SDE is in a wide-9 tech, the WDE completely outside the RT's shoulder), and the linebackers group in closer to compensate.
This is "aggressive." The guys apparently in charge of the deep part of the field are further off the line of scrimmage than the running back. There's a mismatch on your right, where a cornerback is matched against a tight end (Butt), but that hardly matters since any run is going right into a pile of bodies.
Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man
Getting up and bothersome to any receivers near the line of scrimmage has big benefits. The receiver will have a hard time getting into his route, throwing off the timing of the play and ensuring the offense gets nothing cheap like a quick out or in. A good press corner will prevent his receiver from getting into an easy route like a slant (the old fashioned man-coverage beating route). The danger of this is the press doesn't work all the time and then you've got a receiver accelerating downfield past a cornerback who's facing the wrong way. For this reason press teams would leave the safeties back to help. It ends up functionally not that different from Cover 2.
Of course that has a downside as well. While each receiver has 1.5 guys occupied with him, you've got the safeties and outside linebackers chasing the passing game instead of manning the run gaps. Defensive rule numero uno is don't be easy to run on.
A very popular alternative these days is Quarters. The link will explain further but simply put, with quarters coverage the cornerbacks and safeties have option routes depending on what the receivers do. They watch the inside guy (in a stack it's the back guy). If he goes vertical the safety has him; if he goes into the flat, the cornerback does and the safety plays Cover 2.
Watch this gif from the above link until you get a feel; the left side is the #2 receiver going vertical and the right side is him going into the flat.
"Going vertical" as I learned it, is the receiver going 8 or more yards downfield before making a turn. This is a strong coverage technique to cover the outside and downfield stuff the receivers will do, and leaves the linebackers available to cover short Cov 2 routes and react to the run. It's very base; the best way to beat it is to have your running game outmatch their front seven. The safeties are able to stand back and read, so like Cov 2 they're available to cut down whatever made it through. That's good enough for Virginia Tech, who's been running Quarters and been solid against the run for a decade and a half. But it wasn't good enough for Dantonio.
Very Aggressive Quarters
You may have already smoked out the difference between Michigan State's alignment against Michigan and the Cover 4 look that quarters starts out in. You've got that cornerback pressing a guy, for one. And the other thing: if the coverage is waiting until the inside guy is 8 yards downfield to be sure of their decision, and the safeties are standing 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, aren't they setting themselves up for one of those "hey maybe I oughtta be chasing this guy who just ran by me." things?
State will pack their guys in the box so linebackers and safeties are right there to stop the run. The linebackers squeeze laterally into the box, so the coverage is strongest inside (knowing this, offenses don't typically expect to find open guys there, leaving those LBs free to run Narduzzi's favorite Double-A gaps blitz).
That makes them very stout against the run, but should have a weakness tradeoff against outside passes. If the #2 receiver goes vertical the safety has to turn and go with him, meaning there's zero help for the cornerback.
State's answer to that: "So what!" This is where stretching the boundaries of pass interference comes into play, because the cornerback's job is to grab anything, pay off anybody, or sacrifice however many livestock and virgins it takes to keep that receiver from getting downfield.
Here's where Dantonio's program development comes into play, because it takes a long time for cornerbacks to get to the point where their press will work often enough that the quarterback stops expecting that guy to be open. Also they have to be ready for what coaches will do to screw with them.
It's also where finding good players comes into play. You can't get away with this if you have crappy Indiana safeties. There's tremendous strain put on the defensive backs to play up and still cover deep; if they can't handle it (and the offense has any kind of downfield passing ability) the jig is up.
In the defense's favor: in the college game, especially the game today where Tom Brady wannabes are less common than Denard Robinson wannabes (i.e. guys who are running threats but hardly devastatingly accurate deep passers), an offense that can rip you over the top is a rare cove indeed. The talent-depleted Big Ten has been short on defense-stretching receivers; a good 40% of Big Ten wideouts who'd pose a major threat to this scheme play for Maryland. Braxton Miller has a lot going for him but he tends to sail such passes over his open guys' heads. Devin Gardner, especially a beat up Devin Gardner, has a tendency to underthrow, turning open receivers into a game of Five-Hundred. Hackenberg might have success but his best targets are tight ends; Sudfeld has a similar problem now that his slot dude is the last man standing. And omigod can you just imagine what happens when this thing meets Gary Nova? "Like a Wrecking Ball" don't enter into it!
Last year Borges tried to screw with the Quarters reads by making it unclear who's the #1 or #2 receiver to that side, either with stacks or putting 3 receivers to the same side or like this (watch the WRs at the top of the screen):
Michigan ran just a two-man route, motioning the outside receiver into the inside receiver. Ultimately Funchess leapt a million feet in the air to beat Drummond to the outside, but look how seamlessly the Spartan defensive backs executed this and made it hard.
A novice might have a hard time with who's 1 or 2, but not a 5th year senior. Dantonio built his program, like Wisconsin's, on retention. He'll hold onto guys for three or four years usually before they see the field (or else the kids have to beat out the upperclassmen). It also makes those elders kind of crucial because the depth chart carries a lot of pressmen in training.
So for the first few seconds of the play, it's kind of Cov 2 man with everybody so bunched near the line of scrimmage that the run game will be right there and obvious, and thus easy to stop. Then quarters rules take over. And it can't be cracked wide open because pass interference isn't likely to be called unless you're playing at Notre Dame.
Can Michigan do this? Actually it's probably the best thing for the defensive personnel the coaches have collected, since the one thing we seem to have a glut of is really good cornerbacks, and more in development.
Mailbag: Playing Early, SEC Basketball Vs Big Ten Football Derpoff, Press Pleas, Permissible Jerk Level
INSTANT IMPACT; LATER IMPACT
First, in terms of player development, which position is the hardest to develop a freshman at for them to see playing time immediately. Conversely, which position is the easiest for a freshman to make a significant impact at without needing to redshirt or know the system inside and out? (Excluding punter and kicker)
Offensive line is by far the most difficult. Most incoming offensive linemen are man-mountains who have never seen anyone on their level in an actual football game. That is why almost all OL redshirt even in times of extreme need. See: Michigan last year. The reason OL are so hard to project is because they are so much farther from finished products than everyone else, and technique is paramount.
After OL there is a big drop to the next most difficult spot, which is QB. Freshman quarterbacks are nearly always pick-laden disasters. Next is probably linebacker, which both requires a lot of bulking up to be effective and constant reading of plays to see whether it's run or pass.
The easiest spots to make a freshman impact are the ones where athleticism is paramount and intelligence a nice bonus instead of a requirement: skill positions on offense and cornerback. NFL Wonderlic scores by position are a good proxy for how difficult it is to play position X right away:
I'm surprised LBs aren't higher.
In fact, the post that comes from references Mario Manningham's 6 on that test; Manningham was Michigan's most productive freshman receiver in a long time. (Martavious Odoms has since surpassed his first year production, but in a context of total roster chaos.)
Secondly, which conference is worse: B1G at football or SEC at basketball? I was watching a Georgia vs LSU game and it was atrocious. However, a Purdue vs. Illinois football game would be just as bad. Which conference has the ability to turn the corner and be a nation powerhouse?
They're virtually identical: nationally embarrassing save a couple programs at the top. Big Ten football coaches don't complain nearly as much about their place in the firmament, so SEC basketball wins worst conference.
Seriously. Remember that bit last year where everyone in the SEC whined about their bubble teams getting shipped to the NIT, whereupon they would lose in the first round? It was recently compounded by Ole Miss's coach claiming the reason the SEC is perceived to suck is because they're too good at football:
“I just think it’s an easy company line, and I do think there is a bias in the national media. They get tired of talking about the SEC because it dominates in football. They just get tired of talking about it, so when there’s an opportunity to talk about something else, that’s what they’re going to do,” said Kennedy, who went on to use Kentucky as an example of the nation’s perception of the league.
Kennedy complained that the SEC teams getting snubbed had similar profiles to the mid-majors that got in, which 1) well, yeah, that's what happens, and 2) one of those mid-majors that got in, LaSalle, beat 4-seed Kansas State and then his own damn team to reach the Sweet 16. The committee's decision to pass over SEC teams last year was vindicated in spades and they're still complaining about it. So, yeah. Worst conference: SEC basketball.
WHEN CAN WE JAM AND SLAM MAN
Seattle won the super bowl and (sigh) sparty won the big ten playing virtually the same aggressive, almost illegal, defense. Countess returns, they have two 5 star recruits in Peppers and Thomas, and they have several larger DB on the roster who have had game experience. Have you heard/do you think Michigan will be playing more an aggressive defense similar to those teams this football season?
I know what you're getting at but first let me note that MSU and Seattle run different schemes. MSU is an aggressive cover 4 that keeps two safeties at about nine yards and uses them to hammer down at runs. Seattle is an aggressive cover 3 that keeps one deep safety for centerfield purposes and runs a lot of press coverage on the outside because they can get away with it.
But they do share one very obvious commonality. They have their corners at the line of scrimmage, ready to get in the opponent's grill and reroute them against their will. In contrast, Michigan's defense was a passive bend-but-don't-break unit last year. As per every coordinator in the history of questions about desired changes, Michigan wants to get more aggressive. I bet you one dollar that something along those lines is said at the first spring press conference.
And in this case I think you can see the direction Michigan wants to go is big ol' corners that will put you on the sideline and be generally huge when you try to go over the top of this. Hoke has brought in the following corners after the grab-anyone transitional class:
- 2012: Terry Richardson (5'9")
- 2013: Channing Stribling (6'2"), Reon Dawson (6'2"), Jourdan Lewis (5'10"), Ross Douglas(5'10")
- 2014: Jabrill Peppers (6'0"), Brandon Watson(5'11")
Michigan also recruited Gareon Conley, another rangy 6'2" guy, and has seen enough from their current secondary that Douglas has been flipped to tailback after his redshirt year. Other than Richardson, who is the traditional tiny Cass Tech corner Michigan is duty-bound to take, the only other short corners were another Cass guy Michigan was duty bound to take and a guy no longer at the position.
While grabbing Peppers doesn't tell you anything other than Michigan is not run by complete nutcases, Michigan extending a camp offer to Watson while they still had a number of high profile DBs on the board does tell you something. Watson is a press fiend. Hit 1:40 on this video.
All the buzz from his commitment was that he was capital-P Physical and the only guy in camp with a prayer of checking Canteen, and "physical" is the first word out of the coaches' mouths when he comes up as a signee. That indicates the direction Michigan would like to go in, and it is towards MSU/Seattle-type defenses that are inviting you to try and throw a fade over a big corner.
HOWEVA, I'm not sure we see much of that nose-to-nose play this year. Michigan didn't like it with their personnel a year ago and that personnel returns. The addition of Peppers figures to be a nickel package thing at first, when press is often counterproductive. Even if Peppers emerges into a starter, press + freshman is playing with fire. Seems like Michigan will have to wait for 2015 to seriously amp up the pressure on the outside.
CAN I TELL AARON CRAFT HE'S ADOPTED?
The recent "Marcus Smart pushes loudmouth fan" incident has me ruminating on what is the ideal fan behavior at sporting events. Many of us often decry the laid-back atmosphere at football games with fans showing up late or presenting a "down in front!" mentality throughout, but at the same we look on in horror at stories of verbal assaults or flying trashcans we hear about at Ohio or West Virginia. Where is the line? (Obviously physical aggression is well past the line.)
Does calling someone a "piece of crap" rise to an egregious level where one should remove themselves from attending any live events for a year as the Texas Tech fan is doing or is that overly sensitive? Should sporting events exist in a weird other world where things that would otherwise be off-limits are somehow acceptable (the same way one can wear a bikini to the beach but would be fired instantly if they wore it to work)? And if so, should that be the case?
Basically, I'd appreciate your thoughts on how one should balance their impassioned fan-dom with common human decency.
First, there is no way that guy called Smart a "piece of crap" unless it was part of a larger stream of profanity. The guy in question is apparently a legendarily yappy guy. He got what he was coming to him.
In general, anything that you could fire off at one of your friends while giving them crap is in-bounds. Justin Beiber chants, deport Stauskas, etc.: fine. Anything about a person's game, or lack thereof, is fine. Generalized group insults like "ugly parents" are also fine. No one is going to lose their head over an obviously general comment not individually applicable. And if someone is acting seriously outside the bounds of propriety, you may as well tell them. The Auburn fans in the infamous Marshall Henderson GIF are giving him both verbal barrels; they've been provoked and anything they happen to be saying about Henderson is probably true. It doesn't change anything, but it feels good.
Just don't bring anyone's sister into things. Making things personal is where things start getting into Smart/jerko territory. You can only yell that Aaron Craft is adopted if he's not adopted. Or you're his secret biological dad, because funny is funny.
Omigod omigod omigod omigod omigod omigod omigod omigod—YOU GUYS!
We got a recruit. Like a GOOD recruit. Like the best recruit we've ever got, in the if-he-stays-ranked-as-high-as-he-is-in-May kind of way.
How do we feel about this? Happy right? Extraordinarily happy? Off the roof happy? Roses in our teeth happy? Really really really happy?
Like, the scouting reports are nudging you toward "2016 Heisman!!!" happiness. But then the Buckeyes in your life are reminding you that it's an aggregate science, not an exact one—and oh yeah in ur cass, stealin ur non-smurf dude. And your Sparty co-workers and family members are all reminding you that recruiting ratings don't matter nearly as much as how good your school is at developing players (and exciting new types of dirt). And your brain is like "there's only ever been between four and zero humans in the last 70 years as good at cornerback as HIM."
Stupid Buckeyes. Stupid Spartans. Stupid brain. #yalljustjealous #iknowitsenvyshutupimtryingtohashtaginhere
Alas, you're a Michigan fan, meaning even in moments like these you can never shut these people up. So let's try to come up with a reasonable level of expectation by peering into the careers of the few other consensus 5-star corners in the history of recruiting databases.
Class: 2002. School: Texas. Ht/Wt: 5'10/190. Rankings: #3 CB (after Leon Washington & Devin Hester) to Rivals, #3 CB (Hester, A.J. Davis) to Scout.
Other Suitors: Texas A&M, Miami (YTM), Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan State.
Scouting Report: Speed in buckets; one of the fastest-ever high school players in the country. Also a great running back and accomplished track star. Academic and behavioral red flags: has 'em.
College Career: Started immediately at nickel back and kickoff returner. Was caught with pot with a big group of teammate but the case was dismissed. Academic problems forced him to sit out his sophomore year and finally get dismissed from the team, transferring first to a junior college and then signing a letter of intent to play for Oregon State. However he couldn't get academically eligible there either so he stayed at his JC in '05 then went pro.
Pro Career: Signed with Jacksonville as a free agent in '06, released in preseason. Appeared on NFL Europe teams and most recently signed with an IFL team in 2010.
Applicability to Jabrill: Track star and standout running back in high school. McCullough's best 100-meter was a 10.32 (versus Jabrill's 10.83) and Edorian's 21.0 in the 200 meters would easily be the record in New Jersey, where Peppers came close with a 21.37. Peppers is fast but probably not Edorian McCullough fast. Edorian was a pure cover corner and sized like one—his Scout report said he was 5'9, though he appeared on Rivals and on the Texas roster as 5'11. Had a 30" vertical, which is just okay. The academic problems that sank him are the opposite for Jabrill, who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon and has a 3.9 GPA. Notably, nobody called McCullough "aggressive"—he was an okay high school tackler rated highly for his Deion-like skills.
[Hit the jump for the others]
Sometimes I make my girlfriend read me MGoblog articles while I'm doing something else. That way, she learns a little more about football, and I get to multitask.
Today when she was reading to me the Hello: Ross Douglas post, she came up with a pretty good question. She wanted to know: does Douglas project to nickle-corner, vs. boundary or field-corner only because of his size? Her rationale was that with gurus praising his technique and reliability, but not labeling him a star because of his lack of big play risk-taking, wouldn't it serve better to put a CB who is more of a gunslinger risk-taker in the nickel role where he has safety help at all times, and line Douglas up outside at either field or boundary corner?
Don't worry, I know I have a keeper on my hands if she was able to come up with a question like that. :)
Size is a suggestive but not determining factor. When we do these things we're peering at the roster and seeing where player X fits in and trying to figure out how the coaches see their players, but often the coaches are surprised when the kid shows up and they figure out what they actually have. If Douglas is the best guy to play on the outside, he'll play on the outside.
With bigger and more touted corners in the same class it would be an upset if he's the guy tasked with running down the Michael Floyds of the world. Insert mental image of Boubacar Cissoko trying to do that here. Sometimes this happens: Desmond Morgan isn't the ideal size for WLB, Craig Roh is probably going to be a little light for SDE, etc. In an ideal world it seems like Michigan wants six-foot-plus guys on the outside.
That's easier said than done. Michigan is swinging for the fences with Conley and Stribling, hoping they can be 6'2" cover corners the NFL has a riot about. If that doesn't work out, Lewis and Douglas are less risky prospects with lower upside.
In re: wanting more of a gambler underneath with the solid and unspectacular guys outside: I don't think defensive coaches think like that. They give you an assignment and they want you to execute it, and not executing it is always very bad. If player X comes to college doing this thing a coach doesn't want, the coach will try to stop it. In Douglas's case that may be taking advantage of his athleticism and being more aggressive. In hypothetical gambler's case that would be not giving up big plays. Whether a corner is on the inside or outside, I bet they prefer the former.
I'm watching the a rerun of Under the Lights game on ESPN and watching some highlights of the 97 defense on my computer…
…and I can't stop thinking about what would happen in a matchup between Floyd and Woodson. Woodson has the speed and size to keep up with Floyd but then again Floyd looks so much bigger and stronger than CW. I know it's a huge hypothetical but what do you think would happen there?
And what size should we be looking for at corner to stop big receivers like Floyd in the future?
Also, I notice Mattison has a tendency to slant the DL pretty often in the 97 highlights and honestly, it's working. Is this the style of slants Mattison we should expect to see this season?
Thanks for the time and Go Blue!
- AJ, UM 2014
Woodson took on a huge, elite outside receiver in 1997: David Boston. He is 6'2" and went 8th overall in the next NFL draft. Floyd is 6'3" and went 13th overall. Boston had a body-building/roid freakout at the next level, but in college he was at Floyd's level. What happened in the 1997 game between the two was one Woodson slip and fall leading to an OSU touchdown and nothing else. Michigan won with 189 yards of offense.
Woodson's gone on to prove himself an NFL hall of famer (7 times all pro). Let's not forget how ridiculously good he was and is. Woodson probably would have fared a little worse than he did in 1997 since the personnel surrounding him wouldn't have been as good, but you can pick a college receiver in the past 20 years and I'm taking Woodson and the points.
In re: cornerback size, see above. Woodson is listed at 6'1", and Michigan is hoping to put out a steady stream of 6-foot-ish cover corners. Again, easier said than done.
In re: DL slants. Yeah, one of the advantages of the under is that you can have the line go one way, drop the WDE into coverage, and send the SLB. By doing this you've flipped your defense at the snap, and this is often confusing to opposing OL. I don't think it'll be much of a problem for Bama and its veteran, All-American-laden line; others may have a bear of a time trying to figure out exactly who they're supposed to block on any given play.
The upside of having a couple of undersized guys at the five and three is that Michigan will be much better able to play games that shoot guys into the backfield unblocked. The downside is when that doesn't work and someone gets manhandled one-on-one. The linebackers are going to have to take on a lot of blocks this year.
I spotted this graffiti on the back of a stop sign near my office in Los Angeles. Could Taco Pants be considering a transfer to USC?
A "these are my readers" moment.
A little something I made for you guys
Made it for my dad, who lurks on your blog. Thought I would share. You can use it if you like. There are definitely bronies reading the blog.
I have no idea.
Senior day fluff. But somtimes fluff is okay:
Please don't do this. People of the internet: UFR numbers are dangerous things when taken too seriously, and while I think they're on track most of the time—or I wouldn't do it—the place where they're shakiest is in the secondary, where players rarely get on screen unless they've screwed up. So if you're making a case for James Rogers as Michigan's best defensive back it makes me wince when UFR totals get brought out. MNB Dave doesn't go hog wild with it or anything but just to re-iterate, please take all numbers in the secondary with a grain of salt. I can't see the guys back there most of the time. I do the numbers because they're better than nothing at describing what happened but the why and how are not included.
As an aside, I actually kind of agree with Dave that Rogers has been Michigan's best corner by a nose since his wide receiver allergy hasn't been ruthlessly exploited by McFarve. That's the Michigan secondary in a nutshell.
Is this for real or for roster? A followup on ideal cornerback height finds that All Conference guys in the Big Ten have been 5'11", or at least listed at 5'11", far more often than any other height. Does this mean Michigan is recruiting guys too short to be big time corners? I'm doubtful. The table of filthy lies also known as Michigan's roster displays the scholarship cornerbacks like so:
|5||Courtney Avery||CB||5-11||174||FR||Mansfield, Ohio (Lexington)|
|12||J.T. Floyd||CB||6-0||183||RS SO||Greenville, S.C. (J.L. Mann)|
|18||James Rogers||CB||6-1||188||SR||Madison Heights, Mich. (Lamphere)|
|22||Terrence Talbott||CB||5-11||179||FR||Huber Heights, Ohio (Wayne)|
|24||Cullen Christian||CB||6-0||188||FR||Verona, Pa. (Penn Hills)|
|29||Troy Woolfolk||CB||6-0||195||SR||Sugar Land, Texas (Dulles)|
Avery is listed at 5'9" by ESPN, and Scout with Rivals giving him 5'10". He is not 5'11". Scout's number is from a combine. Talbott is listed at an exacting 5'9.5" at Scout, also a combine number. If you're 5'9" on a college roster you're truly tiny, because they let you wear sensible heels when they put these things together.
When almost half the All Conference guys are one exact height that says short guys get fibbed up to 5'11", I'm guessing.
In the year 2013 Stupid people at Oklahoma newspapers. Our kicker situation could be worse. Doc Sat links a post at the most-loathed Oklahoman, which auto-plays inane banter between Jenni Carlson, the author of the terrible cheap shot that spurred the "I'm a man" rant from Jeff Gundy, and perpetually hungover Barry Trammel. So that's not so good. But after you shudder, hit pause, and think seriously about noscript, you find this out about the Oklahoma roster:
Bob Stoops has granted scholarships to four kickers, with a fifth promised to yet another kicker.
I can hear the jokes now. How many scholarships does it take to screw in a field goal?
But it's true. Jimmy Stevens, Patrick O'Hara, Tress Way and Bryce Easley have scholarships, and Michael Hunnicutt has been promised one next year. None of the five are seniors.
There's an element of typical middle-aged white sportswriter misrepresentation in here since Tress Way is the punter and a very good one, but dude Oklahoma's going to have four kickers on scholarship next year… aww goddammit. I just fact-checked this dip. (Don't click any of these links unless you like inane banter.) Stevens is the starting kicker. O'Hara is a walk-on. Easley is a walk-on. Hunnicutt is not an incoming recruit but another walk-on. It's understood that if a walk-on gets a scholarship one year that's not guaranteed to continue unless the kid establishes himself a starter or major contributor. Oklahoma's going to have maybe two kickers on scholarship next year. BFD. The lesson, as always, is ignore Barry Tramel.
This was going to have something to do with Michigan's kicker situation, I promise, but then it degenerated.
Well, that could have gone worse. The basketball team moved the competition level up slightly yesterday and still made easy work of Bowling Green, winning by 19 and giving up just 29.6 eFG. This is not terribly exciting because last year BG was 14-16 in the MAC and checked in #206 in the Kenpom ratings. A final warmup against Gardner Webb (awful) is followed by tests against Syracuse and some other team in Michigan's preseason tournament.
Etc.: Troy Woolfolk explains the origin of "T-Woolf" in the Daily. I'll translate to internet: "Tloy Woorfork explains the origin of 'T-Woorf' in the Daily." T-Woorf sounds like a Klingon who raps in Dutch. Another Michigan Man podcast, this one previewing Wisconsin. Ricky Stanzi's pro-America stance takes a "darker, Nixonian turn." Soony Saad fluff and a reminder that there's an NCAA tournament game against hated UCF on Sunday.
Previously: The Story.
What's the point of anything?
I ask this question for reasons existential and practical. Earlier this summer Eleven Warriors pinged me for some help previewing Michigan's defense, so I talked about Mike Martin and the rest of the promising defensive line and mentioned the trouble at linebacker; the section on the secondary was simply this: "rank them last." At this point Justin Turner was still on the team and Troy Woolfolk's ankle was unaware of what Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God had in store for it.
When it, he, and we found out AMSHG's true power in mid-August I started drinking immediately, resulting in a night where I finally used twitter as God intended by blathering about having a power drill, burning my elbow on tea, coughing, not coughing, and finally drinking a horrible concoction of Cointreau with anything (the whiskey had been exhausted) and eating cold squash pakora with a slice of American cheese while mournfully contemplating everything from Mike Floyd to whatever 5'8" guy UMass will throw out there this year. The next day Henri the Otter of Ennui made his earliest-ever appearance on the blog (setting a record that will probably stand for all time) while I enumerated the options left at corner, mentioning Richard Nixon twice before a nominal first-string player at the semi-public fall scrimmage. Even if I've calmed down since, and I have a little bit, that's the existential chunk.
The practical chunk: the probable starters at corner, safety, and the safety-ish position that was called spinner (except when Greg Robinson was denying such a concept ever existed) and is now called spur are:
- at free safety, a redshirt freshman
- at spur, a true freshman (who will be treated as a linebacker, FWIW)
- at bandit, a redshirt sophomore walk-on
- at one corner, a redshirt sophomore pulled in favor of Mike Williams last year, and
- at the other corner, a true freshman.
Meanwhile, literally every backup except the aforementioned Williams has never played a meaningful snap at Michigan because they arrived two months ago or, in the case of James Rogers, was just one of those guys who seems like they're never going to play from day one. I could just point you to their recruiting profiles, tell you they'll be in the conversation for worst secondary in the league, and resume cowering in a closet. Previewing this position group is almost totally pointless: I've never really seen anyone play. They're probably going to be bad.
If this is an insufficient description of the situation, though, well, here's all this stuff.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||So.*||Cullen Christian||Fr.|
|Courtney Avery||Fr.||James Rogers||Sr.*|
|Terrence Talbott||Fr.||Tony Anderson||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Technically, the position preview scale goes from one to five. Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
|SMOKED LIKE GANJA|
|The big touchdown.|
|doomed from the start|
|MADE A PLAY!|
|knocking it down|
The single person at this position who Michigan fans have seen on the field is redshirt sophomore JT Floyd. On the one hand, he was so overmatched last year that Michigan decided they should move Troy Woolfolk to his spot and unleash Mike Williams on the world; Williams promptly gave up a third-and-twenty-four conversion to Iowa and was subsequently swapped with freshman walk-on Jordan Kovacs, leaving a tiny, slow, inexperienced guy no one even recruited in the most critical spot on the defense. This went exactly as well as you might expect. The coaches thought this was preferable to having Floyd on the field.
For my part, the Indiana UFR waved a white flag even at 4-0:
Whatever lingering hopes you had that the corner spot opposite Warren could turn into a non-liability should be put in the corner and told to be quiet for a while. JT Floyd did better than I thought he did live but still remains a timid redshirt freshman who transparently lacks the speed to be an elite corner. Michigan is going to have to cover up for him.
So did the game column:
Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
Floyd held onto his job for the Michigan State game, but that game saw Michigan adopt a fundamentally unsound formation featuring Floyd in the parking lot. State exploited this with a ton of virtually uncontested wide receiver screens:
They then countered those with the outside pitches that were the only consistently successful running plays Michigan State managed all day (QB scrambles were another story). Floyd may not have gotten smoked deep but it was only because he was playing Hail Mary defense all game. Seeing how untenable that situation was, Michigan's coaches made the move to Woolfolk at corner, thus opening up the already pretty much wide open floodgates. Except for sporadic plays and special teams duty, thus ended Floyd's participation in the 2009 season.
On the other hand, the coaches have been talking up his improvement since spring and have continued to do so through fall. Rodriguez 4/13: Floyd has "played well." Rodriguez 8/2: Floyd is coming off "a great spring." Also on 8/2: Rodriguez expresses "particular confidence" in Floyd and drops the t-bomb—"tremendous." Greg Robinson 8/11: Floyd is showing "a lot of progress." A spring practice source: Floyd is "vastly improved." And Robinson and Gibson on 8/25:
"J.T. Floyd may have been the guy that made the biggest jump from last season to the end of spring ball in so many ways," Robinson said on Sunday. "There's nothing any different - he's just worked really hard. J.T. just has a way about him - he leads well and his work habits - he's just a harder worker than he was at this time last year."
Gibson concurs. "He's done such a complete turnaround. You just take last year at this time, and he was just a guy really trying to work to the point that he’s at right now, and he’s done it."
|Indiana||4.5||8||-3.5||Tries hard. Clearly
|MSU||3||3||0||I'll take it.|
How meaningful is any of this? The fear is not very. This is replica of the Johnny Sears hype down to the sweet dreads: after being largely responsible for that heart-stopping moment when Ball State had a first and goal with a shot to tie Michigan in the '06 season, Johnny Sears was in line for a starting cornerback job after the graduation of Leon Hall. Sears was talked up all offseason, failed miserably during the Horror, was quickly yanked for true freshman Donovan Warren, and was off the team a month into the 2007 season. While that outcome is an negative outlier even with Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God at full wroth, it goes to show that sometimes a coach praising a kid who's struggled and is being thrust into a prominent role is more hope than anything else. Our best hope may be that anonymous spring observer, who has no reason to pump up a kid in the hopes he'll keep it together.
Floyd was just a freshman last year and should improve significantly. The chatter's consistent enough and from enough sources that some of it is probably real. Average is about all anyone can hope for, though.
The other corner spot will probably (50.1%!) end up in the hands of freshman Cullen Christian. James Rogers had a tentative hold on the first string in the semi-public fall scrimmage that he maintained to the release of the fall depth chart, but since he hasn't played at all in his Michigan career—not even when the walls were falling in last year—he's likely to cede that by the time the season rolls around. If not by then, probably by the Big Ten season.
Christian gets the ultra-tentative nod here simply by virtue of his recruiting rankings, which were strong. He checked in a near five-star at Scout, a top 100 guy at Rivals, and hit three other top 100 lists. He's not a burner; his main assets are his size (6'1"), leaping ability, and excellent hips. ESPN praised his "coveted size, quickness, fluidity and savvy" and said he would enter college "ahead of the curve in terms of technique, understanding of coverages and size," and assessment basically echoed by Rivals and the rest of the chattering class. His main problem is tackling, at which he's pretty sucky.
How doomed is Michigan here? Still pretty doomed. But it is worth pointing out that if there's one spot on defense where a freshman can walk onto the field and not spoil everything, it's corner, where conservative play and safety help can mitigate the damage.
What, Me Backups?
The backups are unknowns or freshmen. The aforementioned James Rogers was a lanky high school tailback reputed to have great straight-line speed but no hips; Michigan took him as a flier recruit. He has not panned out, bouncing from wide receiver to cornerback for the duration of his career.
Rogers did come in for some fall fluff during Rodriguez's post-scrimmage presser:
James Rogers is a senior that has played over that position. He has had a really good camp. Some of the young freshman that are competing out there at that position … Again, James Rogers is a veteran. He has been around a little bit, so we have a little experience with James out there as well.
He has to play and may even get the bulk of the time early. The assumption here is that even if he's currently ahead of the freshmen he probably won't remain so for very long.
The two remaining freshmen are extremely similar. Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery are middling three-star types from Ohio; Avery is probably the better athlete, since he was a star quarterback; Talbott is more polished since he's been a full-time corner but spent a lot of his high school career injured. Both approached but did not get four stars on one of the big three recruiting sites; both got "meh" from the other two; both are generously listed at 5'10" and truthfully listed at 165 pounds. They need 20 pounds before they're anything approximating Big Ten corners. Instead they get thrown into the fire immediately.
Talbott in a sentence:
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
I don't have anything quite as neat on Avery but both Scout and ESPN praise his "exceptional athleticism" while calling him very, very small.
Reports out of fall camp have been conflicting, with certain folk claiming one or the other will play, possibly a lot, while the other is way too small and a guaranteed redshirt. There wasn't much to tell them apart during the scrimmage; whichever one does get drafted into playing this year is going to play a lot of conservative zone coverage and miss a lot of tackles.
There were rumors Kelvin Grady might get a shot at corner but with Martavious Odoms apparently moving outside full-time there's room for him to play at slot and he's been prominent this fall; if he does end up moving it will be a midseason panic thing. Teric Jones was moved back to offense after spending a year trying to learn cornerback, getting moved to safety, and then getting moved to cornerback again; obviously he's just not a D-I caliber player on D.
Rating: 2, generously
|Jordan Kovacs||So.*#||Cam Gordon||Fr.*|
|Marvin Robinson||Fr.||Jared Van Slyke||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Safety has been the positional bête noir of the Michigan fan for going on a decade now but things had never been as black or beastly as they were last year, when Boubacar Cissoko's epic flameout forced Michigan to go with the doomed Jordan Kovacs-Mike Williams combination. Williams was the most confused, least useful player I've ever broken down film of; Kovacs was just slow and small. Their 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?"
Williams has been shuffled off to third- or fourth-team spur to cover punts for all eternity, but the situation here is hardly less bleak than it was a year ago. Jordan Kovacs is now a sophomore walk-on and probable starter. Last year he debuted against Notre Dame, was one of two Michigan secondary members to be blazed on the infamous 85-yard Indiana touchdown, and then actually started making a name for himself as a solid box safety in the Michigan State game:
Jordan Kovacs registered a +4.5 and is single-handedly responsible for about half of the + tackles Michigan saw yesterday … Kovacs provided hard-nosed run defense that makes me think he'll be a positive contributor going forward.
Williams imploded in the next game, Michigan dropped Kovacs to free safety, and the walls caved in. The dividing line was clear as day in UFR:
|Notre Dame||1||-||1||Nice story.|
|EMU||2||1||1||Hasn't cost Michigan anything yet..|
|Indiana||3||4||-1||Hardy, but slow.|
|Michigan State||7.5||3||4.5||Some of these were just backside blitzes that he tackled on, but he did tackle. At other times he displayed a real knack for getting to ballcarriers.|
|Iowa||2.5||3||-0.5||Missed one tackle, made another few, good downhill box safety.|
|Penn State||1||6||-5||Just can't play a deep half.|
|Illinois||-||3||-3||Again burned as a deep half safety.|
|Purdue||1||5||-4||Enormous bust #3.|
|Wisconsin||4||4||0||Did pretty okay. No idea why they moved him to deep safety; he's pretty effective in the box.|
The Mike Williams bit is handled in the linebackers and has more on just how disastrous a switch this was, but the morals of the story: Kovacs cannot play free safety and is pretty effective as a tiny linebacker when he doesn't have to take on linemen.
|EFFECTIVE RUN BLITZER|
|jet past blockers|
|tackles Caper from behind|
|takes down the RB|
|WOULD BE A GREAT LB IF HE WAS 50% BIGGER|
|shoot up through a gaping hole|
|doesn't bite on the bubble fake|
|doomed from the start|
|bails and bails|
Michigan moves him back to tiny linebacker this fall, but it's not that easy. When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety is this year's Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype award: Cam Gordon. Though Gordon was recruited as a wide receiver, everyone on the planet expected he'd get his token chance at the position and then get flipped to defense, where Michigan desperately needed bodies and he projects better anyway.
This duly happened, except when Gordon and his 6'3" frame moved it was to free safety, not linebacker. This was pretty weird, and it got weirder still when the hype machine starter cranking out superlative after superlative. A sampling follows. Rodriguez:
“Cam Gordon has been really consistent all spring,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. We’re “really getting some confidence with him.”
MGoBlog's own Tom Van Haaren reporting back from some conversations with players on the team:
Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
By the spring game he was the undisputed starter at free safety; he managed to get through that without anyone even noticing him. In the safety business this is a win.
Unfortunately, Gordon struggled in the fall scrimmage, failing to wrap up on a number of tackles. Rodriguez was sticking to his guns afterward:
"Yesterday was not his best day practice wise, but other than that, he has a really good camp. He is a very physical guy and the game is really important to him. Again, he has not played. He has not played in the big stage yet. There is going to be nerves and there are going to be some mistakes, but he has just got to limit them… we look for a big year for him even though he is a redshirt freshman.”
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. With his lack of blazing speed and inexperience, actually making plays seems out of the question. Misopogon dedicated a couple of his epically researched posts to the safety play and found that Brandent Englemon's traditional 1-0-1 as a junior was actually the second best performance of any safety in the UFR era (with Jamar Adams obviously finishing first).
Repeating that +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Marvin Robinson is the most shirtless recruit in the world
If you've been watching the Countdown to Kickoff videos frequently, you've probably experienced the same sort of cognitive dissonance I have when #3 comes roaring in from somewhere else and whacks a guy to the ground authoritatively or picks off an errant pass. This is not the competent-to-good LB hybrid version of Stevie Brown, it's Marvin Robinson, Michigan's first great hope for bandit. As a true freshman, the book on Robinson is contained in his recruiting profile, but you're probably familiar with the general outline by now: hyped Florida recruit enamored with Michigan since a freshman trip to Michigan's summer camp, early offers from USC, Florida, and the rest of the world, precipitous fall in the rankings, still a highly regarded prospect with athleticism Jordan Kovacs can only dream of.
Robinson's early performance has him pushing Kovacs. Woofolk noticed him even before practice started, and Greg Robinson knows a lady-killer when he sees one:
"I know this: he walks around the building looking really good."
His performance in fall was highlight-heavy and caught the attention of his teammates. He finished second to Jonas Mouton when AnnArbor.com media day poll asked who the hardest hitter on the team was. Ricardo Miller was one vote:
"When he comes to hit, everyone knows it. I think he's cracked his helmet twice this camp, and if that doesn't show you enough that he can, I don't know what could."
Robinson has huge size and speed advantages on Kovacs and will certainly play this fall, possibly as a passing-down replacement, possibly as something more. In an ideal world he would be so good he would ease Kovacs out of his starting role by midseason. I don't think that's likely since the bandit position is extremely complicated, but I do expect some sort of platoon where Robinson gets ahold of some parts of the playbook he executes better than Kovacs and is brought in regularly.
At deep safety, Vlad Emilien still seems like the first option behind Gordon but his initial returns have been discouraging. He enrolled early—giving him just as much experience as Kovacs—and then never played, Turner-style, despite the debacle going down on the field. Word was that the senior-year knee injury that cost him almost all of his senior season and his Ohio State offer lingered through the year. With that almost two years in the past now that can no longer be an excuse—any damage still lingering is permanent.
There may be some, as it was Emilien who was left in the dust by Roy Roundtree on the 97-yard strike from Denard Robinson in the spring game; Teric Jones caught and passed Emilien en route. Getting instantly passed by a position-switching guy the same class as you is a bad indicator, as is ending up behind a walk-on on the depth chart.
That walk-on is Jared Van Slyke, about whom nothing is known except his father is really good at baseball. True freshman Ray Vinopal (recruiting profile) is also at free safety. Rodriguez did mention him as a guy who has "a chance" to play this fall, he didn't show up on the first depth chart and he's probably going to redshirt.
The deep safety situation is grim past Gordon; if he doesn't work out you're either starting two walk-ons, moving up Emilien, who doesn't seem ready, or shuffling Robinson and or Kovacs around.