"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
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.]
FORMATION NOTES: On passing downs Michigan sometimes went with this 3-3-5-ish look with the line in a wide three-man front and the SAM hanging out next to one of the ends;
They also went with a weird wide even line against Ace, once:
M rolled down Gordon in their under early:
And occasionally split their nickel package, leaving just one LB. I called this 5-1.
Oh and on the final drive MSU pulled out an unbalanced formation with two inline TEs to the same side of the line.
Deliberately trolling Borges's unbalanced lines? Probably not, but I hope so.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Taylor, Countess, and Gordon went the whole way. When Michigan went to a nickel it was always Jourdan Lewis; Michigan also brought in Avery from time to time to spot Wilson, with iffy success.
Linebacker was the usual, except Brennen Beyer was moved to SDE, leaving SAM mostly Ryan with Cam Gordon backing; the three-man ILB rotation was still in place. Gedeon was sent to the bench again.
On the line Michigan did some weird stuff. Black(!) played nose tackle to open the game and would end up there periodically. Henry flipped between nose and three-tech; when it was Washington and Henry Michigan seemed to regard them as interchangeable. Clark went almost the whole way at WDE; very little Ojemudia. At SDE it was Beyer and some Wormley; no or very little Heitzman. Glasgow made a cameo or two.
[After THE JUMP: I mean, what did you expect?]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan alternated between their 4-3 with guys often split over the slots like so:
And their nickel package.
They also had some weird snaps where they would take their WDE and line him up like a SAM:
This was always a drop into man coverage on the TE by Clark. I did not call this out as a new formation. I probably will in the future.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary saw Avery replace the youngsters as the third corner when Michigan was in nickel, which was quite frequently. The rest was Taylor/Countess/Gordon/Wilson as per usual.
At linebacker the usual rotation of Ross, Morgan, and Bolden. Beyer went the whole way at SAM, I think.
On the line, another light day for nose tackles. Both got some run but it was a lot of three-techs out there. Clark got the most run at WDE with Ojemudia backing up. Black was out there almost all the time; Henry and Wormley got more snaps than any other SDE/3T type with Heitzman also participating quite a bit. Glasgow and Godin appeared rarely, if at all.
[After THE JUMP! Points! Yards! None of those!]
- Boo boo watch: Courtney Avery and AJ Williams are back at practice. This is not a drill.
- Boo boo watch part 2: Taylor Lewan didn't practice yesterday but will today. He's fine. Mario Ojemudia will be the most limited of the boo boo watchees. I don't know if he'll play.
- The offensive line is in an introspective phase. Changes might occur as early as this week. However, the bye week presents a much better opportunity to shake things up.
"Good practice yesterday. Thought we came out and competed very hard, which you expect every day. But I thought we physically were getting after each other, and we'll do the same thing today. We've got to play the run better, run the ball better, same old stuff you always hear, but it's the truth and it is what it is. I liked how we came out and competed with each other."
Noticeably different from last week?
"On a Tuesday? Probably a little bit."
A lot players said last Tuesday was lackluster. Can you tell that?
"They would know best if they felt that way. Maybe it's an individual thing, too."
Can you talk about UConn's defensive front?
"Yeah they're a big front. Not quite Notre Dame big in some ways, but they're a big front. Active in the linebackers. I think Smallwood is a guy who is their main bellcow when it comes to tackling and getting the ball on the ground. Just reading some of the comments Paul has made, I know they want to play better against the run also. I'm sure they've worked their tails off like we are."
Did Taylor Lewan practice?
"He didn't do anything yesterday. He did some alternate conditioning stuff, but he'll practice today. He's fine."
"Well, here we are again. I might as well answer it before you ask. What about the pass rush? You're going to ask that question and the answer I'm going to give you is one, they kept backs in a little bit more in passing situations than we expected. And the other thing I’m going to tell you is I have to coach it better. Our guys are working hard at it, and I’ll put that on me. We just have to get better at it. And we know that. We started working on it on Sunday already but we will be able to rush, and we’re going to do that.”
MGoQuestion: We haven't seen a lot of the nose tackles the last couple weeks. What's the reasoning behind that?
"Well we were in sub a lot. Some guys are better at playing the run and some guys are maybe better at playing able to play the run as well as rush the passer. We feel like those two guys are 300-and-some pound guys that might not give us quite the movement we’re looking for in pass rush.”
- Boo boo watch: AJ Williams is questionable, Courtney Avery is getting better, but still probably limited.
- It's Akron week. Yawn.
"Practice was pretty good on Tuesday. We've talked about it before, we're putting some wrinkles in, both offensively and defensively, for what you want to do and what you want to try and work on for the future. Some of it always is for that opponent. It was a pretty good practice. A lot of heat, which was good, because we were relatively, during fall camp, it really never got hot. So we got to play in the heat a little bit, and Akron is going to be a high tempo team. They like to get on the ball as quickly as they can. They like to throw the ball around, get on the perimeter of the defense some. From a defensive perspective for them, they're very aggressive. You know, they like to blitz, they like to play zero coverage, they like to play man free. So they'll stack the line of scrimmage a little bit and you have to take advantage of the shots you get."