"It's a lot easier being a drug dealer than an AAU coach" - this guy. Tell me something I don't know. I mean, don't think but have never tried either.
Is this not what you expected to see?
This week we're going to try a little Michigan defense word association. I'm gonna say a phrase and you're going to tell me what you're feeling. All set? Okay:
3rd and 1.
Lemme guess: Confidence? Excitement? Anticipation? A center sent airborne by a launching pad named Martin?
It is that, and Jake Ryan coming off the edge and hugging an opponent's running back two yards behind the line of scrimmage. And then it is RVB past his block and stopping all forward progress even though the running back's legs are still moving because Ron Zook told him if he keeps his legs moving he can still get yards. Then Heininger arrives. And maybe Demens, or a safety, and you know for certain it is over. You know, and now you've seen it so many times you think you knew before they even snapped it...
Dragging behind you the silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes…
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
Now I want you to wind your mind back one year. Michigan has just defeated Purdue to get to 7-3, with Wisconsin and Ohio State left. Same exercise, I say a phrase, you tell me what your last year brain is feeling:
3rd and 1
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter?
This isn't just your imagination. Opponents' conversion rates on 3rd- or 4th and 1 the last three years, from UFR-ed drives plus Illinois (:
- 2009: 15 for 22 (68.18%)
- 2010: 20 for 28 (71.43%)
- 2011: 12 for 27 (44.44%)
What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?
The going rate, I've been told, is generally 70% so those '09 and '10 numbers are average-ish (help me Enjoy Life, Mathlete, anyone?) That would make sense with RVB and Martin around both years. But it makes this year's numbers just ridiculous. Michigan has stopped their opponent at least once in every game this year. Two of those conversions were from Illinois's 4th quarter drive down 24-7 versus Brink-Campbell-Heininger-Roh-Beyer.
This isn't a competition thing either. When I excise MAC and FCS opponents from all years it's far more pronounced:
- 2009: 10 for 13 (76.92%)
- 2010: 15 for 19 (78.95%)
- 2011: 6 for 19 (31.58%)
Notre Dame (0 for 3), Michigan State (0 for 1), and Iowa (0 for 3) have extant pound-it tailbacks and went a combined zero first downs in 7 attempts. Thanks to the above-mentioned Letterman-collaring 4th quarter TD drive, the Illinois game actually made Michigan look worse than they've been since conference play started.
Of all the things Michigan's defense is doing this year, the sudden and remarkable ability to stone teams on 3rd and 1 is likely a big part of the Mattison Renaissance. Using a simple calculator (made for the NFL), that stop in the 1st quarter was worth 1.56 expected points for Michigan, the equivalent of a 28-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.
Who could be responsible for such success? Just a couple bricks in the wall:
Don't leave me now. How could you go, when you you know how I need you
to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night? (Greilick|DetNews)
We are really, really going to miss these guys next year, period. But a glance at this year's UFR tracking of 3rd and 1, 4th and 1, and anything from the Michigan 1—not a perfect resource but useful for this at least—and it shows those aren't the only two guys showing up in the hole this year:
|Kenny Demens and Ryan Van Bergen each||6.5||0|
|Campbell, Hawthorne, and Heininger each||2.5||0|
|Black, Morgan & Woolfolk each||1||0|
Just a little pinprick. There'll be no more aaaaaah!
Keep in mind these sorts of plays make guys look overly good in UFR since giving up one yard generally doesn't net anybody minuses while stuffing them in the backfield causes them to rain. The encouraging part is many of these plus-earning pieces will be around next year. Even Campbell (who moved the line backwards in two chances v. Illinois) looks to be an asset in short situations. The cleanup crew of Demens, Roh, and Ryan should be around next year. Of course with freshmen etc. at the big man DL positions next year I expect this outrageous level of success to regress. /shakes Brian's fist at Rodriguez DT recruiting.
After the jump you can re-live the UFRs of every 3rd/4th and short since 2009 (but not Illinois 2011 'cause it's not written yet). This is entirely optional since hopefully my point has been made already. By clicking you agree to absolve MGoBlog of all damages from GERG-related coronary failures, strokes, embolisms, and/or cranial pyrotechnics. Fortunately, I have become comfortably numb.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||THREE-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Will Heininger||Sr.*||Mike Martin||Sr.||Ryan Van Bergen||Sr.*||Craig Roh||Jr.|
|Nate Brink||So.*||Richard Ash||Fr.*||Will Campbell||Jr.||Jibreel Black||So.|
|Chris Rock||Fr.||Quinton Washington||So*||Kenny Wilkins||Fr.*||Frank Clark||Fr.|
We'll start with the good. Last year, freshman Jibreel Black showed up and got an eyeful of what college defensive linemen were like when he laid eyes on Mike Martin. He came away from the experience with his eyes opened and his grammar damaged:
"When I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
|LOL single block|
|LOL zoning him|
|LOL double block|
|LOL triple block|
|blasts through line|
|driving the center|
|zips between the C and G|
|consumes Chappell's soul|
|made every play|
In the right situation (three-technique instead of the nose) with the right amount of healthy ankles (two instead of zero), Martin could make All-America selectors be like dang.
Unfortunately, it seems like Martin is never going to get to move to that three-tech spot it seems he was made for. It's not that he's a bad nose tackle. Martin is big and strong and can take on double teams just fine. But he's also amazingly quick for a 300-pound squat-beast, so much so that the first thing Greg Mattison thought when he saw him was "we should use him like Shawn Crable." In the spring game passing downs Martin was in on often featured him in a two-point stance, hopping around like a linebacker. This is not your typical nose tackle.
If permitted to go one-on-one with guards used to holding off slugs and the results could be spectacular, like Jonathan Babineaux 28-TFL spectacular. But with no one else on the roster who won't get annihilated at the nose, Martin will have to tough out the double teams.
If you flip through the videos at right you'll see an awful lot of Martin crushing people until the Michigan State game, and then hardly anything. That's because a Spartan lineman chop-blocked Martin at the end of a game that was well in hand. Martin limped off and was diagnosed with the dreaded high ankle sprain. From then on he was not himself.
Sometimes this manifested by not being on the field at all. Martin missed most of the Iowa and Penn State games, big chunks of Illinois, and didn't play at all against Purdue. He started to get his mojo back afterwards but only gradually. You can see the effect in his UFR chart:
|UConn||8||3||5||Late minuses for getting too pass-rush-y. Demands doubles. Good start.|
|Notre Dame||12||0.5||11.5||Beast mode. Best game of career.|
|UMass||25||-||25||I just write the numbers down!|
|BGSU||7||1||6||Quick passing offenses reduce DL impact; still did well when called upon.|
|Indiana||11.5||3||8.5||Actually got beat out by someone, also round this down to +7 or so.|
|MSU||8||1||7||A good performance, but coming down from his ridiculous nonconference level.|
|Penn State||-||1||-1||I'm going to throw myself off a bridge.|
|Illinois||8||1||7||Was more back than it looked live, but still out a lot more than usual.|
|Wisconsin||8.5||2||6.5||One old-style "I destroy this play" plus a few more scattered good bits and some half points.|
Martin was a nonfactor the next two weeks and only moderately effective against Illinois (remember that the wacky nature of that game meant more plays for DL to rack up points). To preserve my sanity I didn't UFR the dismal final two games of Rodriguez's career. Martin had two tackles and four assists against OSU and one measly assist in the bowl game; none of those were behind the LOS.
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
Ryan Van Bergen is your new starting three-tech. Great at nothing but consistent and durable, Van Bergen is a lot better than he gets credit for. As a put upon 3-3-5 DE last year he had 5 sacks and 9.5 TFLs despite getting very little help from the structure of the defense. He was often left by himself against two defenders, especially when it came to the passing game. GERG loved him some three-man rush.
Van Bergen graded out almost as well as Martin over the course of the season thanks to his steady acquisition of points and half points for standing his ground against doubles or pushing offensive linemen into places they don't want to be. The UFR chart is really impressive:
|UConn||3||-||3||Not exactly BG, but I don't think he has to be if it's a stack.|
|Notre Dame||4.5||3||1.5||Unproductive until late; irresponsible on midline zone read.|
|UMass||5||1.5||3.5||Lots of half points for doing decently on run plays.|
|BGSU||5.5||2||3.5||Decent impact in little opportunity.|
|Indiana||12||-||12||Excellent against the run, got some pass rush, mentally round this down to a +8.|
|MSU||9.5||1||8.5||One impact sack, some additional pressure, solid against the run. Good player.|
|Iowa||5.5||1||4.5||Best performance on the day but that's just average.|
|Penn State||10||3||7||The solitary player to have a good day.|
|Illinois||10.5||3.5||7||Developing into a fine player. Now consistently putting up points.|
|Purdue||7||3||4||May have been unfairly blamed for the big Henry keeper.|
|Wisconsin||3||6||-3||Did not make many plays; seemed to give up big cutback lanes easily. Maybe an RPS thing.|
Van Bergen got better as the season went along and kept playing well in the face of total annihilation. He produced, and then Martin went out and he kept producing. A lot of the things he did were not explosive look-at-me plays, but the meat-and-potatoes grunt work required to keep your linebackers clean. This is emblematic:
That's not even an assist but by slanting past his blocker and then holding his ground he occupies two blockers and closes the hole so far that the RB runs into one of the guys trying to block him.
There were also a few explosive look-at-me plays, like this one:
|RYAN VAN BERGEN|
|annihilates guy trying to downblock him|
|slants into the lane|
|swims past Iowa OL|
|bounces off to tackle|
|picks off a pulling guard|
|all too easy|
|needs more beef|
|Wisconsin too much|
That is Van Bergen lined up as a three-tech between Craig Roh and Mike Martin smoking MSU RT J'Michael Deane. Deane was apparently not much of a pass protector, but he's representative of the sort of guys RVB will be going up against this year—guards who are crushing run blockers but maybe not so good at pass pro.
His rushing isn't on Brandon Graham's level—last year's prediction he would "brush up against double digit sacks" fell three or four short. As the third-most-threatening guy on the line he's pretty good. If Michigan can get him single blocked by rushing more than three guys he might get there this year. He had five sacks from the three-tech spot as a sophomore; two years of experience and the luxury of being flanked by Martin and Roh will give him opportunities to slant past one-on-one blocking.
What's more, Van Bergen was an ironman last year. On a defense saddled with mediocre or worse backups at every spot, Van Bergen saw more snaps than any DL, often going entire games without being substituted. This year's line has no depth, either. That trait is going to be useful.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
Come On Backups
yes, I wrote this section when I thought he was going to start
Well… there's Will Campbell. The all-everything recruit (except to ESPN, where he was their #22 OT) has languished on the bench, bounced to OL, and then gotten bounced from the starting lineup by a walk-on.
ESPN's skepticism about Campbell's tendency to stand straight up turned out to be right. When placed on the field as a freshman he struggled badly. Canonical example recycled from last year:
Description recycled from last year:
I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?
You'll note that Campbell was playing a three-tech and got smoked one on one. The hype about how Campbell is an obvious three-tech and having him at the nose was another symptom of GERG's madness still has to combat Campbell's pad level, man.
At least his weight is back on the downswing. Last year he was listed at 333, significantly up from his freshman weight. Rodriguez was openly displeased with his conditioning last year, and he never saw the field outside of the goal line package. That's not good; it's even worse when Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse are the guys getting time instead of you. He's down eleven pounds this year and it's safe to say that's for the best. There is no good weight above 320.
Teammates and coaches have started talking Campbell up. While anyone who remembers the three weeks that Ron English spent talking up Johnny Sears knows that's not necessarily an assurance the player in question will be good, or even not-awful, at least this time around the conditioning grumblings are being directed elsewhere. Nose tackles do tend to take some time, as last year's West Texas Blue diary on Campbell's DT classmates demonstrated. Most redshirted as freshmen; few of the ones who didn't had any impact. (DeQuinta Jones was instantly productive for Arkansas, of course. That's just what happened under Rodriguez.)
He's further behind the curve now but even fellow uber recruits like LSU's Chris Davenport (one tackle), and Texas's Calvin Howell (two tackles) are struggling to find the field. They're not idling behind Greg Banks, sure, but Campbell's not dead yet.
He can be okay if protected. I spent large chunks of the spring game focused on him and he was mediocre:
All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.
A moderate amount of penetration is worlds better than that clip above. He'll feature in the goal line package and against teams that want to run.
Past Campbell the only player anyone's seen on the field is redshirt sophomore Quinton Washington, who Rodriguez flipped from guard during the bye week last year. Washington got in on a few goal line plays, proceeding to drive his guy back and fall over.
That's fine on a goal line play. Taking that limited skillset and expanding it to the point where he can play defensive tackle on the other 98 yards is going to be trickier.
With Terry Talbott's medical redshirt there are just two other options, both redshirt freshmen who have survived the harrowing that's befallen much of Rodriguez's recruiting classes. Richard Ash is a nose tackle sort from Pahokee who briefly featured offers from USC and Florida before abruptly losing those. Over the course of a year he went from 260 to 320, which scared a lot of people off. Last year his corpulence was notable even amongst the defensive tackles. He's back down to about 300 now and will have to see some time spelling Martin. The sum total of Ash knowledge other than his weight loss is still in his recruiting profile.
The other option is Kenny Wilkins, who was initially supposed to be a weakside DE but showed up at 270 and is now 280. He's now listed as a DT and presumably will back up the three-tech spot. Wilkins was memorably pwned by walkons in the spring game on Mike Cox's long touchdown and has been called out by the coaches as a guy who needs to get his act together; if he plays this year he probably won't play well.
Strongside Defensive End
This was Van Bergen until Campbell's failure to emerge sucked him back into the interior. Now you get your choice of walk-on. First on the depth chart is senior Will Heininger, who missed last year with an ACL tear and used that opportunity to expand alarmingly fast. After adding six pounds two years ago he threw on 28 over this offseason to end up at 295.
My assumption was that kind of weight gain from an injured guy who'd been in the program for years was a Posada-like sign, but after being all but ignored during fall camp he popped up on the two-deep as a starter and Hoke said that was a real thing. He must have spent every waking hour in the weight room.
"Experience" was why he got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
One mitigating factor here: Michigan showed a three-man line in their two-minute defense. That package removes the walk-ons in favor of a zone-blitzing 3-4. These guys aren't playing on passing downs and may not see a lot of time against spread outfits. All these guys have to do is not get pounded on the ground. Pass rush is a bonus.
Nate Brink; where Nate Brink came from
More walkons! Sexy. With Van Bergen held out, Nate Brink was the starter at SDE in the spring game. Everybody assumed that didn't mean anything and focused on Campbell, so no one can tell you word one about how he did.
He faded back into Bolivian until the Van Bergen move, whereupon press conferences started talking about him and insiders started dropping what knowledge they had. The insiders said their usual bits about Brink being a diamond in the rough—one report claimed Mattison said he'd be in the two deep of any college team he'd coached. The press conferences were similarly predictable. This bit from Mattison is the most encouraging:
He's played like a Michigan football player. I hate to talk about a young man because I think when I do that they go right down in the tubes but this guy has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to Coach Montgomery on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries, and he's really, really physical.
I think he was probably 250 in the spring and we told him to get to 265 and when he was reporting, I yelled, 'What do you weigh?' He said, '265' and I told him to drink some water and sure enough he started drinking water. Now I think he's 267 or 268.
In the spring, his toughness showed up and he was only 250 at that time. But his want-to and toughness stuck out like crazy. And that's what we want - 11 guys that play with that kind of attitude.
He's a guy that if he keeps doing what he's doing, Michigan people are going to be very happy with him.
I know this will end in tears but that's actually coachspeak that seems meaningful.
Holding The Rope has the complete presser dossier and all of his other biographical information. It adds up to:
- is 265 pounds, up from 220 in high school
- is a redshirt sophomore
- coaches have said nice things about him
- named "Nate Brink"
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
There's obviously no depth when the first two guys are walkons. In the event injuries hit them, Michigan will grit its teeth and slide Van Bergen back outside. True freshmen Chris Rock (Not That Chris Rock) and Keith Heitzman should be headed for redshirts (Heitzman actually might be headed for TE). If they don't it's a Ray Vinopal situation.
Weakside Defensive End
Rating: a speculative 4.
what do you mean by "I don't want to play corner" again?
The only thing Michigan fans will miss about the deathbacker position is the name, and even then the group of people who know its true nomenclature is even smaller than the already-pretty-small group who know Craig Roh was a "spinner" and vastly smaller than the masses who know Roh is "that defensive end Michigan insists on pretending is a linebacker."
Craig Roh is not a linebacker. He has never been a linebacker, and this year he cranked himself up to 270 pounds to evaporate the last vestiges of confusion. Look at my giant skull crushing muscles, he says. Just try to put this in a two point stance.
|you can't see me|
|avoids a cut|
|speed rush for sack wsg Martin|
|smokes Illini T for holding call|
|sweet spin move|
|crunch, fumble, TD|
|not a lb|
|no depth on drops|
|dl run game|
|comes through TE|
|slants into lane|
|slants under TE|
|power right at him|
And the thing is, last year Roh wasn't that exploitable as a defensive end. He was certainly no more so than the other non-Van Bergen options, and when Michigan put his hand in the dirt against Notre Dame they got dividends from it:
Hit up those videos on the side to confirm. For a guy who was supposedly a liability he made his share of plays against the run in trying circumstances. Notable is that many of those were plays on the backside where he got under his blocker in a flash and sped down the line. On the weakside in the 4-3 under this is what he's going to be doing a lot.
Roh was so badly misserved by the previous defensive staff that he had to tell them what the hell he should be doing on defense. He requested a move back to the DL and got it, whereupon he was decent despite all this 3-3-5 business not suiting him at all. Talking about what happened to Roh last year makes me stabby. I called him the "Denard of the defense" because he was a uber-touted recruit forced on the field way too early by necessity; Denard became Denard and Roh dropped into short zones. Other than everything else, that was the clearest evidence GERG was sacrificing our defense to Xenu.
This year, though… this year Craig Roh is 270 pounds and will be playing the spot literally every scouting evaluation ever issued about him has begged—demanded—plead for him. This could yield one of those breakout year things. Here's what he did in the games Michigan played him mostly as a lineman:
|Notre Dame||11||-||11||By far best game of his career.|
|MSU||6||1.5||4.5||Wasn't a liability in the run game against a pounding team.|
|Iowa||5||1||4||Okay, but not making a big impact.|
|Illinois||10.5||8||2.5||Eventful; some minuses may be someone else's fault.|
|Wisconsin||3.5||2||1.5||Basically one nice play and then not much.|
He was much less a part of the tire fire when he had his hand in the dirt, and that was frequently as a 245-pound DE on a three man line. He is now 270 and going one-on-one with weakside tackles. He should improve from average-ish (remember that UFR slants towards the DL) to good.
At least good. We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
There is one. Hooray. The aforementioned Jibreel Black saw time spotting Roh last year; he showed some pass rush flair. His run defense was abject. He prominently featured on a Michigan State touchdown drive where cutback lanes were always open because Black wasn't flowing down the line. He was targeted for dismantling every time he hit the field, and more often than not opponents got exactly what they wanted. Except Penn State, weirdly.
- True freshman and all that, though. Black should be significantly better this year. Like Roh he'll benefit from the extra protection afforded the WDE in the 4-3 under and the triple threat DL coaches in the Hoke era. There is a significant downer, though. Black actually lost weight over the offseason, going from 265 to 260. This is one weight gain/loss that is not always good. After the spring Black was a guy who needed to change his body:
"Jibreel is a guy that, as his body composition changes a little bit, he's gonna be a good football player. I think him and Craig at the rush have had pretty good springs."
- Though I can't find the quote I'm thinking of, the coaches seemed irritated when he came into camp five pounds lighter than he was as a freshman. Early in camp, Mattison responded to a question about Black by highlighting his inconsistency:
“Jibreel has a lot of talent, but right now, Jibreel is a little inconsistent. … That’s not a knock on him, but he’s just like a lot of talented young guys. I’m not ready to say this guy is the next Terrell Suggs (of the Baltimore Ravens)."
- They have to play him; he might need another year to get his head right and muscles all powerful and stuff. Brandon Graham, who everyone has compared him to, took a couple years to get his head and body right, too.
Clark @ Glenville; the only extant photo of Paskorz on the field
But wait, there's more! On scholarship, even! True freshman Frank Clark defied his middling recruiting rankings and status as a WR/TE/LB/DE tweener to feature on the depth chart at WDE. He's supposed to be fast—very fast. An insider I've corresponded with noted that players say "he can catch Denard." He "just has a lot of athleticism" according to Van Bergen.
Clark's quick rise caught Mattison's eye when he was asked about freshman in general, not Clark specifically:
I think Frank Clark has a lot of ability. You can see a different speed at which he goes.
In his recruiting profile I said he had a long road ahead of him to productivity. Clark drove fast.
- Redshirt freshman Jordan Paskorz may as well have been in the witness protection program since he enrolled. Not a peep has been heard about him since he arrived, and I have no recollection of the guy even playing in the spring game. But he is totally a defensive player on the roster who is not a true freshman. So we've got that going for us.
- Paskorz was a generic three star coming out of high school; his recruiting profile is where the infos are. I wasn't that enthused about him a year ago but just by remaining on the roster he's ahead of a lot of his classmates. With Clark impressing and a serious need at TE he's another candidate to switch.
JoePa as Rivers Cuomo.
Apparently JoePa is a closet hipster. I knew it all along! Just look at his shirt in the golf cart at practice. Couple that with the short pants, white socks, thick-rimmed glasses...hipster all the way. Thoughts?
Paterno vs Hipster: FIGHT
Emailer: flawless victory.
A manball transition theory.
After reading your posts on Denard and the shotgun, I began thinking about what might be an appropriate Way Forward for Hoke, Borges, Denard and U-M fandom.
I agree with most everyone that last year's spread-and-shred offense was very good despite having a first-year QB starter, turnover issues and the lack of a consistently dependable RB in the backfield. However we all know that was last season, and the new coaching staff isn't going that same route. I think a three-year transition from spread to West Coast offense is what Borges needs to consider. It could go something like this:
2011: passing spread, a la Missouri with Chase Daniels or the Michigan-Florida Cap One Bowl game in 2007. Plenty of shotgun, still plenty of Denard dilithium. The distribution of running/passing plays goes from 60/40 last year to something approaching 50/50. Borges gets the benefit of the short passing game that he desires, takes advantage of a very skilled WR group and the learning curve for the whole offense is a lot less steep.
I'm not sure anything featuring Denard Robinson at quarterback can ever be described as a "passing spread," but it stands to reason that as he develops he'll throw more. In any case I'm less concerned with the development of the passing game than what happens on the ground. While what Denard ran last year was effective in the structure of the offense—how many times did he have nowhere to go?—I got the impression it wasn't very sophisticated. They kept updating it. That's fine as far as it goes. I'm guessing Borges's system is more robust.
The ground game is more of a concern. It was pretty good a year ago and with everyone save Schilling and Webb back it should be better this year. It seems doubtful they'll be able to take that incremental move forward if they're changing their bread and butter.
2012: West Coast/spread hybrid, a la last season's Philadelphia Eagles with Michael Vick at QB. A senior Denard should be able to handle most anything thrown his way by this time, and hopefully a consistent threat at RB emerges. Meanwhile, Devin Gardner is getting ready for the spotlight because the transition is nearly complete.
Where are they going to get the personnel? With Barnett out they've got very little at TE/FB. They'll be choosing between Moore/Miller/Kerridge and a third or fourth WR. It's hard to see two of those three on the field for big chunks of the game when the WR options beyond Stonum and Roundtree will be veteran and decent: Gallon, Jerald Robinson, and Dileo will all be juniors—you can split Hayes out as well. The WRs have been getting talked up while no tight end save Koger is mentioned.
Unless Moore and Miller come on big time, Michigan will be all but locked into three-wide sets in 2012.
2013: full-blown West Coast offense. Devin should be ready to take the reins of a team that might resemble last season's San Diego State offense, or U-M teams from the early 2000s.
This seems like the first year they could plausibly run most of their offense from under center. Gardner's big enough to be comfortable in the pocket, they'll have some sophomore tight ends at their disposal, etc.
Maybe this is something that Hoke and Borges are considering and for their sake I hope so. This seems plausible to me but I'm no coach. What do you think?
I don't know yet. We'll have a much better idea when we see this year's offense. If it's as spread-like as Dinardo keeps saying and it performs well it's hard to see them moving away from it for Denard's senior year.
If I had to guess I'd say they are installing a pro-style passing tree right now and will use the parts of it they can with Denard and a bunch of short receivers. By next year that will be almost totally installed. We won't see a drastic shift in the run game until 2013, when the entire interior line ages out and is replaced by Hoke-recruited beef machines. That will be the dawning of the age of Manball.
Someone asks about technique.
I apologize in advance for not already knowing this, but my time on the football field was limited to middle school. I hear Hoke…
Excerpt from interview on Scout.com: "Ryan has been playing the three, Mike Martin has been playing the shade, the one and then a combination of guys, Will can play both the three and the five and the three and the one. Will Heininger can play all three and has.
…talk all the time about the different places our D-linemen can play, but what is the difference between all the different Techniques?
Techniques are addressed in the incomplete but not totally useless UFR FAQ. Here's a recap/primer for people who haven't been around for one of the previous explanations. First, the explanatory image:
Your question addresses the leftmost DE, the NT, and the DT. Bullet time:
- THE FIVE TECH: The leftmost—strongside—DE lines up shaded outside of the strongside tackle. He's a defensive end but he's half DT, too: he often has to take on double teams as teams try to hook him and get outside. When doubled on the line he's usually trying to fend off a TE as the second guy so his task is not quite as difficult as the NT in this regard, but when the offense goes to a spread look he's got a lot more pass rush responsibility. The ideal guy here is someone like Brandon Graham, equally capable of ripping through that double or annihilating the tackle if left alone on pass protection.
- THE ONE TECH: This is the nose tackle. He is supposed to be enormous and immobile. If he's not you can still get a lot of production out of the spot if the guy can split doubles. Martin is the latter variety. "Shade" is a synonym for one-tech/NT—shade means he's not directly lined up over an opponent but he's not halfway between two. In the diagram above the NT is shaded left of the center.
- THE THREE TECH: This is the DT on the weakside. Because of the alignment of the defense he usually gets a one-on-one matchup with the weakside guard. He's got to win that battle for the defense to be effective. Usually this is the smaller, quicker DT, but the best ones are huge and quick. If we had a nose tackle Mike Martin would murder folks here. Being able to go one on one with the G is how Warren Sapp was so much of a factor in the backfield.
The oft-mentioned Theory Of The 4-3 Under states that the five tech and three tech are somewhat interchangeable. Both need to be tough run defenders with a secondary focus on pass rush. They're big hulking plus-sized DEs or somewhat smaller DTs; sitting and anchoring against doubles is less important than getting penetration by beating your opponent. The strongside DE is usually a more important run defender because he's vulnerable to a lot more double teams.
Are we still better than State at basketball?
Michigan swept Michigan State last year. (awesome)
Compared with last year, how does Michigan match up with Michigan State this year? More favorably, worse, or about the same? I know it is way early, but considering player losses, incoming players, and current player development.
That depends on how much value you place on Darius Morris and how well you think Trey Burke can replace him.
In terms of players, minutes, and usage lost Michigan has an advantage. Michigan lost only Morris, who was on the court 86% of the time and used 29% of possessions when he was out there. Michigan State lost:
- Kalin Lucas (83% minutes, 27% possessions)
- Durrell Summers (73%, 21%)
- Garrick Sherman (30%, 14%)
- Mike Kebler (24%, 9%)
At first blush that's encouraging, but losing low-efficiency usage is not a big deal. Morris combined massive usage with a high ORtg (109); all of the players State lost save Lucas had turrible numbers. The departures are a push at best. State's only going to miss one of the absent. Both teams replace their offense's main engine. Michigan's engine was significantly better.
Year-to-year improvement should be advantage Michigan. As we've discussed over and over again, last year M was one of the youngest teams in the country. Michigan State was about 70th percentile. Juniors like Draymond Green and Delvon Roe are not likely to get a ton better; freshmen like Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz, and Jordan Morgan are. State has a couple wildcards in Keith Appling and Adriean Payne. Michigan has the above three plus the ever-expanding Jon Horford.
State's best argument is their recruiting class, which includes five star Branden Dawson. Depending on the service you prefer, Michigan can match the rest of the class with Brundidge, Burke, and Bielfeldt. Not Dawson. He's kind of a big deal.
I'd guess Michigan is narrowly better next year unless State gets an extra quantum leap from one of their young guys. Burke and Dawson's adjustments to college will be the biggest factor.
UPDATE: I totally forgot MSU's addition of Valpo grad-year transfer Brandon Wood, an All-Horizon first team player who might swing the advantage to MSU. /shakes fist at grad transfer rule
This is exactly how I imagined it would go down, except for the part where Roh is lining up behind them. I mean, that would be silly!
Before I get into the historical journey, a word on OSU's idea of appropriate sanctions (pdf): I must be really biased. I mean, I know as a Michigan fan I am not going to be impartial when it comes to Ohio State anything. My understanding of NCAA's "sweet spot" for penalties is to take the perceived benefit of the violation and double it as a negative. If five guys played ineligibly, 10 schollies amortized. If a bowl game was involved, 2-year bowl ban. Here's Gene Smith's latest sweet spot:
In its response to the NCAA, the university addresses the NCAA’s specific allegations and also highlights steps the university has already taken, including:
• Suspending five players for the first five games of next season;
• Accepting Tressel’s resignation;
• Vacating the football program’s wins in the 2010 season, including its Sugar Bowl victory in January 2011;
• Self-imposing a two-year NCAA probation; and
• Implementing additional measures to enhance the university’s already extensive monitoring, educational and compliance programs.
Notice how nothing from the above will have any long-term effect on the program. The suspended players were already suspended. Tressel already resigned (and having him promise not to coach anyone else just gives OSU exclusivity on his legacy). The probation and fixing the oversight problem by raising their monitoring of players' cars all the way up to the level of a sleepy MAC school are givens. As for vacating wins, to this History baccalaureate that's an empty gesture which creates more problems for historians than the school. If you never see this:
The Queen of England has admitted that William the Conqueror provided improper benefits to Norman knights when seizing the throne of England in 1066, therefore the monarchy is hereby striking the Battle of Hastings from the History books, and removing the Bayeux Tapestry.*
…then why do teams get to cross out history? If the Final Four banners from the '90s still hung at Crisler, wouldn't that just be a greater reminder of their tarnishing?
Through my very biased eyes, it looks like they're asking to walk away with less than Michigan got for clerical errors on practice time. Other than the duh parts, there is nothing here that's substantive.
If I understand this correctly, OSU is basically responding just to the original notice of allegations, and leaving it to the NCAA to prove anything beyond the Original Tat Five and Tressel's e-mail cover-up campaign. Now it's the NCAA's turn: if they don't reschedule the Aug. 12 meeting with the Committee of Infractions it means they don't think they can make the bigger case. Everyone who doesn't live in Ohio knows there's something funky with the borrowed cars, but Ohio State's betting the NCAA can't prove it now that Pryor can't be forced to testify. It's a hardball move, a mobster's move, and puts the NCAA Committee of Infractions in the tough spot of either choosing to respond with the heartless indignation they used on USC, or the wilt. I honestly couldn't tell you what they'll do.
* Yes, I know Bayeux is in France. It's a metaphor.
From 2007 to 2010 the offense was deconstructed and rebuilt, the secondary was nuked, and the linebackers plinked along with terrible coaching. Faced with replacing Woodley and Branch (plus consummate other-guy Rondell Biggs), the 2007 outlook for defensive line might have been scary had the next generation not been there ready to rock. Well the next generation was there, and they were ready to rock, and as a result Michigan's defensive line churned along through the Dark Times.
Not that everything was rosy. By 2010 the depth beyond the starters was a trio of senior disappointments who, while not disastrous in the way that various walk-ons and freshmen were in the secondary, were a pretty big drop-off from the regulars.
Re-Stating the Premise:
Why are we 'Predicting the Past' again? This series is meant to be a long reply to those board posts that pop up a lot between Spring and Fall practices where we list the young guys and recruits on the depth chart and predict wonderful things for the future. The idea is to take our collective DeLoreans back to 2007 and get a sense of how those expectations turn out. Are the alarmists justified when they see highly regarded juniors backed up by just a smattering of guys who got a 3rd star with their Michigan offers? What happens to the "studs" versus the 4-stars? Next week is a summary piece where I'll try to find any common threads. Bonus: some of the situations that characterized '07 are relevant today. Double-bonus: walk down memory lane.
Tackles: Terrance Taylor (Jr/Sr), Will Johnson (Jr/Sr), Marques Slocum (Fr/So), Jason Kates (Fr/So), John Ferrara (Fr/So), Renaldo Sagesse (Fr/Fr)
Attrition: Alan Branch (2004), Chris McLaurin, James McKinney and Eugene Germany (2005), Quintin Woods (2006)
Incoming: Mike Martin
LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch made Michigan's defense one of the best in the country. Looking to open up opportunities for these two (and cover the loss of space-eating DT Gabe Watson), M in '06 moved back to a 4-man front with now-ready Terrance Taylor as 1-tech and Rondell Biggs as other-guy DE. The setup was not so different from Mattison's 4-3 over, and played to the team's strengths. Taylor could sit home and clog, Biggs could hold up his edge, and this left Woodley to scream in from 2011 Roh's spot while Branch feasted upon single-blocking guards from the 3-tech spot.
Opposing offenses were left with the choice of using more backs and ends as blockers, or leaving one of Michigan's monsters one-on-one with some mortal likely to require extensive therapy afterwards. When feeling particularly maniacal, Crable could blitz from the SAM. If an opposing quarterback was lucky, he might be able to launch a back-foot prayer before his respiratory system collapses. Yes, this is a setup for that picture.
After '06, Woodley graduated and Branch rode those single-teams to an early NFL departure. The other DE spot was losing its two-deep, graduating Biggs as well as fellow "solid" DE (and RVB Dutch-acronymical predecessor) Jeremy Van Alstyne. Except for Branch, a post-'06 exodus was expected, and the staff had been hard at work building the next generation.
Going into 2007 with one returning starter, the line was young and expected to take a step back as the sophomores took over. DL recruiting was a big thing for M for both '05 and '06, though attrition had already done a lot of damage to that. The '05 group had the highly rated Taylor from Muskegon, plus winter enrollee high-4 Eugene Germany, 4-star 3-tech James McKinney, and a sleeper rush end in Carson Butler. The '06 class, already having lost some of the oh-five-ers, had the high-4 star Adam Patterson, 5-star in-stater Brandon Graham (considered an LB but a move to DE was expected), and four depth dudes in space-eating 1-tech Jason Kates plus three middly 3-star types in Greg Banks (SDE), Quintin Woods (WDE) and John Ferrara (3-tech).
Then those classes got thwacked by most of the Decimated Defense's Carr-era attrition. Germany was a 4.5-star '04 USC recruit who got squeezed out by Carroll's oversigning and ended up enrolling at Michigan in winter as an '05 guy. In March '07 he was kicked off the team for taking part in the St. Patrick's Day Nerd Massacre, an incident quite similar to the annual Dantonio Dorm Raids at MSU except involving 17% less of the team (other culprits: DB Chris Richards, and Manbearfreak). He ended up at Minn-Duluth and was the best player on a team that made a surprising run to the DII Top 10. McKinney had some medical issues early on, and groused after the '07 spring game about his depth chart spot. By this point in '07 insiders were on to what became an Aug. 12 transfer; he was later dismissed from Louisville. McLaurin left in '06 due to health issues. Quintin Woods didn't qualify. Butler had moved to TE, earned the moniker of 'Manbearfreak,' and was thought to be following Richards and Germany out the door for the Nerd Massacre.
Despite that attrition, and just two DLs in the 2007 class, the immediate future had Michigan stacked at DE and serviceable inside on the 1-deep, but thin on the 2-deep with a major 2008 haul expected to shore that up. The key players all had time logged in previous DL rotations, promising a step back but a smooth transition nonetheless. Tim Jamison had earned playing time as a true freshman in '04 – before Branch did actually – but lost that season and much of '05 to injury. Brian in his 2007 preview:
Tim Jamison is finally the weakside defensive end after three years of nonstop hype interrupted by injury and Rondell Biggs. It is time to step up, as they say. Jamison's featured as a pass rush specialist for the last few years and has done well. Last year five of his thirteen tackles were sacks. Given the constant torrent of practice hype, Jamison's recruiting rankings, and his evident ability in small doses, Jamison should also be an instant star.
With his RS junior and senior years ahead of him, the WDE spot was set through '08. Opposite him, 5-star sophomore Brandon Graham earned time as a true freshman in '06, but as a flabby 290-lb. tackle. Graham slimmed to 262 for '07, and was expected to end in SDE competence with a chance of greatness down the line.
Adam Patterson was supposed to be a big deal. A high 4-star, Patterson was tagged as Woodley's heir apparent in '05, despite a (in retrospect important) quiet senior season in high school. He was a Lloyd Carr Inexplicable Burned Redshirt in '06 and saw erratic garbage snaps.
At DT, Taylor had established himself as a strong, compact, but not very mobile DT, basically what we want Quinton Washington to be (though that's wrong because Q is pretty mobile). The lone returning starter on the D-line, Taylor was expected to be rather close to his ceiling as a super-strong but no athletic redshirt junior, though that ceiling was All-Big Ten. Will Johnson had earned extensive playing time as a freshman and sophomore, even in place of Branch. The coaches loved him and while not Branch, Johnson was expected to more than ably fill Branch's 3-tech spot through 2008.
Depth-wise, Marques Slocum was finally past a two-year, FCK LION-enhanced qualifying odyssey. An OL recruit before, now Slocum was a backup DT with freshman eligibility.
The depth guys were all recruited as depth guys and expected to be depth guys. Among them Greg Banks seemed to be the closest to something that could draw in regularly to the lineup. Ferrara was the hard-working DT-type who invariably brings up comparisons to Grant Bowman. Kates as a 400-pound thing you put in the middle of the defense because nobody can move 400 pounds anywhere it doesn't want to go. In true freshmen, Renaldo Sagesse was a big Canadian who was already in his 20s as a true freshman and thus drew into the lineup immediately. Ryan Van Bergen was a 4-starry 4-star, ranked about even or just above the committed 2012 DEs. Or Anthony Zettel maybe.
For 2008, Novi's Mike Martin (fringe 150 and rumored strongman) had signed on June 5, and M was fighting Ohio State for similarly rated Garrett Goebel. Recruiting hype on Martin:
Out of high school he’s a smaller version of Terrance Taylor, a shortish but stocky NT sort who was a state champion wrestler and powerlifter. A true freshman at DT would normally be cause for concern but Martin is reputed to be a gym rat much better prepared for the rigors of a college weight program than most. His highlight film is pretty impressive, as he shoots through the line and drags down ballcarriers like he’s a middle linebacker.
Detroit Martin Luther King HS's 5-star Nick Perry, a rush DT, visited Ann Arbor on July 2 and named Michigan his leader over USC, Miami (YTM) and MSU, though Dantonio was hard after him.
All told the D-line was set for 2007-'08. After that it would be up to the next generation, meaning one of the 3-stars has to pan out inside or the '08 class provides.
How Did That Work Out?
For awhile, meh. Then came Barwis and…
D-Line is a little different than the other positions. Typically (unless GERG is running a 3-3-5) it's four guys versus five OLs. If you have a weak point and three solids, the offense can double-team your weak link and the rest look more pedestrian. If the offense has to throw two OLs at one star to save their backs' lives, it gives the other DLs more chances to blow up the play. It was hard to judge any DLs for much of 2010 as GERG put them into 3-man rushes so often.
This is most evident when you look at Terrance Taylor next to Alan Branch, versus Terrance Taylor next to Will Johnson. Taylor was exactly what we said he would be. He was no Suh and shouldn't have been the main guy inside, but as a second guy who does his job he didn't disappoint. I've never been able to find it again but at some point Carr called Taylor the "fullback of the defense," which if he actually said that and it wasn't my mind making it up would be apropos.
In 2007 I got down on Will Johnson – my snide nickname for him was the "Yellow Brick Road." This was mostly because I wanted to blame someone for Michigan being unable to stop a shotgun zone running game, which usually seemed to run right by Johnson. His UFRs were usually okay-ish (5+, 3-) but he got splinched often against Wisconsin (mixed in with some great plays) and was ineffective against Ohio State. Versus bad interiors (Minnesota, Penn State) he was spectacular. In the Horror and against Oregon he was victimized by doubles. Less Barwicized than the other linemen in '08 he nonetheless progressed to graduate as a totally acceptable interior player.
Ferrara played the younger-Bowman role of workmanlike backup okay, but in '08 he was called upon to (not terribly) fill the depleted offensive line when neither Tim McAvoy nor the recycling bin he was competing with proved effective.
On the ends, Jamison was not made for spread defending. Then he exploded against Ohio State in 2007, the only thing about that game that's not worth forgetting. He lost a lot of "bad" weight between his junior and senior years and was a plus guy on the 2008 team.
Brandon Graham in summary:
Graham missed the first two games of 2007 (you know how those went) but when he was inserted in Game 4 the defense all of a sudden could stop the run. However Graham was still a bit out of shape and this showed when MSU ran him ragged in the 2nd half with double teams. Then Barwis came in, deconstructed B-Grammy into small parts, and chose the most Woodley-esque to rebuild him. The result: by mid-way through '08 teams were staying away from Graham's side of the field with Woodson-esque regularity. In 2008 and 2009 Brandon Graham was probably one of the best players in college football; a dark horse Heisman campaign for Brandon (then and now I believe Suh should have won that one) appeared on M boards in late 2009. By the time he left as a fringe Top 10 draft pick (he went 13th overall), Brandon had gone from vague hope of another Woodley to winning a head-to-head comparison with a Lombardi winner.
Other wonderful news: Mike Martin = The Incredible Hulk. And Ryan Van Bergen, whether at DT or DE, has proven an effective starter since his redshirt freshman year (and the consummate likeable team guy to boot). You know these guys, and Brian's about to go into detail on the 2011 preview so I'll leave it there. Here's a mid-2010 season eval on RVB:
Van Bergen has also checked in around expectations. He wouldn't look out of place on Michigan defensive lines of yore when the defense was actually good. He's not making a ton of tackles (just twelve) but has two sacks and four of Michigan's eleven QB hurries on the season. He's been hovering around the +4/+5 area that's a decent to good day for a 4-3 DE, and since he's not a 4-3 DE those numbers point towards an above-average player. He was even an impact player against MSU with a drive-killing sack and solid play against the run. He tied Martin's numbers on the day.
RVB is also reportedly the only living human to actually catch and sack Denard Robinson in 3 out of 3 attempts, though this is disputed by Robinson. [EDIT: embedding disabled. Fast forward to RVB's number]:
Adam Patterson was the real disappointment, football-wise. A Top-100 recruit in his day, Patterson's quiet senior year of high school now seems a portent. Adam finally played regularly at DT in 2010 after receiving a 5th year for an injury redshirt in '09, and he was not so good. Best guess on him is the speed and size that came before his classmates and made Patterson so devastating as a junior in high school did not mature beyond that. His frame never filled out, and that made him eminently moveable by doubles. When Martin was knocked out/hobbled for the latter part of last year by a late MSU cheapshot, Patterson got to play extensively (he found out minutes before the Purdue game he would start) and Michigan was ripped by teams doubling up on the inside. That said Patterson stuck it out through the transition, and was always good for positive quotes about his teammates – how many Top 100 players can you think of who will stick it out for his teammates after all of that?
Neither Banks nor Sagesse were any better than their quiet recruiting profiles, which that's not their fault either. Coaching might have been wanting here too – Banks had a tendency to not work down the line of scrimmage when the play went away from him, which further exposed the young secondary and linebackers. Both were behind walk-on wee wittle guy Will Heininger in '09, and would have been again perhaps if Heininger hadn't missed 2010 for injury.
Other than that it was basically what could be gathered in 2009 and 2010 recruiting. Rodriguez & Co. picked up certifiable crab person Craig Roh (right), rated only moderately shirtless because of his size but otherwise a Ryan Kerrigan-level guy. Michigan also picked up a 5-star 2009 in-state Gabe Watson-like guy in William Campbell, but to date Campbell's technique has never managed to catch up to his talent. Whether the new, DL-oriented staff can turn Campbell into a effective (3-tech) DT this year could determine the fate of the 2011 line.
Nick Perry turned out not to be among them* – the 2008 class ended with just Martin on the line, and two 2009 DT recruits chose to back out of their verbals on Signing Day. M whiffed on an SDE-type in Anthony LoLata (since transferred), and have let in-state 4-stars slip away to Penn State in consecutive years. But brought in a smattering of 3-star guys in 2010 and 2011 who run the gambit from promising borderline 4-stars who probably just needs to add weight (Jibreel Black, Richard Ash) to lots of depth-y fellas. In other words, it looks a lot like 2007 all over again.
Ultimately your defensive line from 2007 to 2010 was saved by several extraordinary gentlemen, all recruited under Carr: Super All Star Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and RVB, and when those guys weren't available the line suffered. Craig Roh is the most likely star to emerge from the Rich Rod classes, especially as he returns from being miscast as a linebacker in a 3-3-5 to the terrorizing edge rusher in a 4-3 under so like where he was most effective as an underclassman.
* This pissed me off so much at the time that my friends used to call out "Nick Perry!" to psyche me out of disc/darts tosses. This has now morphed into "Steve Perry!" because you try throwing a dart with this in your head.
Rescue_Dawn has updated his recruiting map. Behold the Mighty Midwest Kingdom of Hoke the Magnificent:
Since we don't count republished press releases and TomVH can't win it, this is your default Diary of the Week. Not that he doesn't deserve it.
The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.
In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.
We start with the defensive line.
What we were forced to watch last year
Michigan stemmed into four man fronts occasionally but spent most of its time with a three man front featuring a traditional nose tackle who lined up directly over the center and two defensive ends. It was unclear to me if these defensive ends were intended to slant one way or the other at the snap—an aggressive "one gap" system—or if they were reading and reacting—a "two gap" system—because of the massive confusion surrounding them. It was hard to tell if Greg Banks was trying to cover two gaps unsuccessfully or just getting single blocked all the time.
They did typically line up slightly outside (lingo: "shaded outside") the tackles, indicating that it was probably the former:
You'd have to be the sort of idiot that would have Craig Roh play linebacker to play Craig Roh as a two-gap DE at 235 pounds, but… yeah.
At other times Michigan would switch to a four-man front in which their linebackers did things that made no goddamn sense at all, like on this soon-to-be 61-yard-touchdown…
…but that's another show. I bring it up to point out that in this situation you see Greg Banks as the weakside(!) defensive end, Craig Roh as the strongside guy, and Ryan Van Bergen folded inside to be the three-tech defensive tackle. This is a shifted line rather than an 'even' line, but more about that later.
What we were forced to watch the year before
Michigan ran mostly four-man lines and while they varied they usually put Brandon Graham on the weakside-ish of the formation. Here Illinois presents a balanced line with two TEs but you can see Martin lined up over the nose tackle and Graham to the bottom of the screen with a big gap between the two. Banks and Roh are to the top of the screen:
The linebacker walks down to the LOS in an effort to prevent Graham and Martin from getting double-teamed. When there is no TE on the weakside teams had a choice between singling Graham or Martin, which is why Graham got to eat the universe so often.
Sometimes they would line up differently. Here's another play on which Graham is on the weakside, well outside of the tackle as Martin lines up directly over the guard:
This is actually an "even" look where Michigan's not shifted. The DTs are over the guards, the ends line up outside the shoulder of the tackles.
They did occasionally stem into 3-3-5-ish looks, but note here that the defensive "ends" are lined up inside the tackles—this defense is designed to push runs to the outside.
Michigan ran this front most of the day against Ohio State and had success against their traditional I-form game, but struggled when the Buckeyes went to unbalanced spread sets. USC ran this quite a bit in the last few years of the Carroll regime; they called it "double eagle".
What can't possibly be quite as bad next year
My assumption is the defense is going to look a lot like the 2009 one did. That was a 4-3 under. I was going to go dig up old Michigan rosters featuring the "rush linebacker" to demonstrate that Michigan's old school defense also tended to have a guy hanging out on the edge made of menace and sacks while the other guy enjoyed fighting off tight ends but then I remembered Hoke obviated the need for circumstantial evidence:
“We’re going to be a four-three defense, either an over or under front.”
Those sound like two totally different things but they're not. This from above is an "over" front:
This is an "under" front:
And you're probably like "that's the same damn thing except Craig Roh is standing up." You're right. The difference in the pictures is the offense. In the MSU still there are more DL to the side with the TE and FB; in the Western still there are more DL away from the side of the formation with more dudes. Both have a one-technique DT and a three-technique DT. Both leave a big gap between the one-tech DT and the DT to his side. They're just mirror images of each other. A couple of helpful graphs from Shakin' The Southland to clarify. Michigan's overshifted line in the State image:
And the undershifted line against WMU:
The only player that ends up aligning differently is the strongside DE; it's really just flipping the tackles over.
That's still a useful distinction Hoke made for us, though, because a team that is under/over is going to have different requirements than a team that aligns even like Michigan did on that Iowa play above. We get to keep our terminology from two years ago when we talked about the three-tech DT and the one-tech DT.
Every team is "multiple" these days and will run under/over/even fronts as changeups. Also, the generally accepted theory is that under is better against pro-style teams that will bang your head and over is better against spread teams that will take your strongside linebacker into the slot. So when Hoke says "under/over" he probably means Michigan is going to run both depending on situation, not that they'll pick one when they figure out their personnel a bit better.
What you need at each spot
From right to left in the second graph above:
- The weakside defensive end is going to get a one-on-one matchup with the tackle most of the time and needs to turn that opportunity into plays. Think Shawn Crable, Pierre Woods, etc.
- The three-tech DT also usually gets a one-on-one matchup with the guard. He should be a penetrator that gets into the backfield with regularity. NFL DTs you've heard of (Warren Sapp is the canonical one) who aren't barely mobile piles of goo are probably three-techs.
- The one-tech DT is going to experience a ton of double teams as the offense attempts to attack the "bubble" in the front the defense leaves but not putting someone over the other guard. You know all those successful zone running plays the site has explained over the years that start with a guard blocking some DT and end with that guard plugging a linebacker as someone else slides over to finish the job on the NT? That's what you don't want your nose tackle giving up.
- The strongside DE should be Brandon Graham. Failing that, he should be a big, strong guy who's good against the run and can add some pass rush here and there.
A post from Battle Red Blog provides more detail on what your 4-3 under requires—at least on an NFL level—if you're interested.
Who goes where
Craig Roh is the weakside defensive end and will be backed up by Herron/Paskorz/Beyer/Heitzman. Attempts to move Roh elsewhere will be thwarted by a plucky band of kids and their dog ripping the Mattison mask off of a dastardly Greg Robinson.
There are two scenarios for the rest of the line. In the happy fairy dance scenario, Mattison, Hoke, and Beyonce are so much better than Bruce Tall and Greg Robinson that they transform the platoon of Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, and Richard Ash into a functional one-tech DT. Here's what happens if they don't and they move Martin:
Yeeargh. I'll believe Will Campbell can play D when I see it but Ash and Washington got some praise last year so you've got three bullets. It's possible this happens, if not probable.
If you can assemble a frankentackle in the middle then you can slide Mike Martin out to the three-tech spot he doesn't know he's been coveting for years. Imagine senior Martin getting single blocked on most plays. Tingling is normal when contemplating this scenario.
As a bonus, successfully moving Martin to the three tech allows you to leave Ryan Van Bergen at DE, where he is the kind of solid run defender you need on the strongside. He'll chip in a half-dozen sacks and be the B+ version of a strongside defensive end and that will be fine.
The realistic-thing-that-will-be-called-pessimistic-in-the-comments scenario is that Campbell/Washington/Ash produce a guy or two worth platooning but actually running those guys out as starters is asking to be smashed. This strands Mike Martin at the one-tech and essentially forces them to move Van Bergen back to the three-tech spot he occupied in 2009. Redshirt freshman Terrance Talbott is the only other three-tech on the roster until fall. Neither of these things are necessarily bad. RVB graded out decently in UFRs a couple years ago and picked up six sacks; Martin is good enough to play either spot.
What is bad is what that does to the strongside defensive end spot, where Jibreel Black would be an all-but-certain starter as a true sophomore. Black had some promising moments last year… as a pass rusher. He had many more in which his terrible run defense hurt Michigan, and while he'll get better it seems doubtful he'll get better fast enough to be an asset. The only other option at SDE is redshirt freshman Ken Wilkins.
It is possible that in this scenario they put Roh on the strongside since he'll be a junior and he's been less prone to crippling mistakes against the run. His main problem has been a lack of size that the offseason should come close to erasing. That would take a guy who's presumably going to be Michigan's best pass rusher and put him in a position to get doubled lots, though.
Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale
Depends on scenario but this shouldn't be too bad. In the happy fairy scenario Michigan's personnel fits a shifted line like a glove. You've got three battleship type NTs, two guys on the weakside who will wreak havoc, a solid guy at SDE, and a scattering of decent backups.
Even in the regular non-fairy scenario you've got good personnel at three spots. SDE would probably be an issue. Either way it's way better than trying to use Craig Roh as a LB or three-man-line DE.
This was the one beacon of hope on the defense, provided mostly 4s. The preview was extremely high on one Mike Martin:
… it's time for Martin to make the same leap Brandon Graham did between his junior and senior years. I can't offer anything more powerful than this wonderfully ungrammatical assessment from Jibreel Black:
You look at the rest of this defensive line and there’s a lot of talent there, but is there anyone in particular that you look at and say, ‘wow man this dude is better than I thought he was? ‘
“Not necessarily better than I thought he was, because I know all of them are good, but when I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
I hope to be like dang for large sections of the season. … I'm not sure if Martin will be on All Big Ten teams after the year, especially at a position at which statistics don't always tell the tale, but I'm confident in asserting he should be on them.
The preview misidentified the Banks/Sagesse combination as the other defensive tackle when it's primarily been Banks on the field and he's always a defensive end when Michigan goes to its four man front. The two were regarded as meh interchangeable pieces on par with Rondell Biggs, the Other Guy on Michigan's ridiculous '06 line. In sum:
Michigan's formations will go some way to determining which player gets more time. In three-man lines Sagesse is clearly going to be a pass-rush liability as a defensive end, but when Michigan goes to four (or brings in the "double eagle" package with the DEs lined up over the opposition guards) Sagesse's got more heft. I wouldn't be surprised to see both lifted for Jibreel Black or maybe Craig Roh on passing downs.
Take your pick of adjectives: workmanlike, yeoman, gritty, etc. Expect something okay here; the upside is low, but so is the downside.
Backups were not encouraging: "Everyone is worried" about Will Campbell's ability to stick after getting lit up in limited time as a freshman and falling behind Adam Patterson on the depth chart. Patterson was not projected to be good:
He'll play; I don't think he'll be much good. The dropoff after Martin will be similar to that Michigan experienced when Graham came off the field, though less severe since Martin won't be Graham and the backup is at least a senior.
Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh were treated as defensive ends, something that's been true for them about 50% of the time. When Michigan goes to a four-man line Roh is the weakside DE; he's a linebacker otherwise. When they're in a three man line Van Bergen is the strongside DE; he's still a three-tech DT otherwise. RVB in a nutshell:
Van Bergen knows the position [DE], was recruited to play it, and is entering his fourth year on campus with a season as a solid starter under his belt. Least useful phrase ever: he's not going to be Brandon Graham. Mitigating phrase: but he should be solid. At a spot more amenable to pass rush and with more experience, RVB should brush up against double-digit sacks and see his UFRs climb into the consistently good realm inhabited by, say, Tim Jamison as a senior.
Roh was given a 3 as the deathbacker and dubbed "the Denard Robinson of the defense," which was true last year but cannot be true this year since Roh hasn't decapitated three opponents.
The catch in the Craig Roh explosion is this niggling move to the 3-3-5, where he's a strongside linebacker. …No one's sure how much Michigan will be running a three man line this fall but it will be some, which will give Roh the ability to attack from surprising angles and use his vertical speed to get into the backfield. It will also expose him to play action, counters, and other plays he's not used to dealing with much that can take advantage of the inability to change direction that had everyone projecting him as a defensive end despite being linebacker size. Now, you could just say he'll blitz all the time but that would get predictable; it would also impinge on Jonas Mouton's ability to do the same thing, and Mouton's a guy who has the exact same strengths Roh does. They'll have to split the fun bits where they tear into the backfield.
All this makes it difficult to project what Roh will do this season. A guess: doubling his 7.5 TFLs and significantly adding to his two sacks is a good bet. I don't think he'll be a crazy star just yet, but I expect to be saying the same things about him next year that I'm saying about Mike Martin this year.
Fast forward to NOW!
I be like dang about Mike Martin. Fears about turning him into a mediocre nose tackle proved unfounded. The move to the 3-3-5 has actually freed him up to slant past offensive linemen and splatter running plays or unleash thumping pass rush up the middle. Despite essentially missing the Iowa game he's amongst the team leaders in TFLs with 5.5 and has 2.5 sacks. He's got 23 tackles, as well, an impressive 16 of those solos. He went into beast mode against Notre Dame, racking up an 11.5 and proving himself too quick for one guy to do anything with:
He followed that up with an +8.5 in his toughest matchup to date against Michigan State:
At the end of that game he got hit with a cheap block and sprained an ankle that saw him play like a ghost of himself in the Iowa game. He eventually missed the second half.
Van Bergen has also checked in around expectations. He wouldn't look out of place on Michigan defensive lines of yore when the defense was actually good. He's not making a ton of tackles (just twelve) but has two sacks and four of Michigan's eleven QB hurries on the season. He's been hovering around the +4/+5 area that's a decent to good day for a 4-3 DE, and since he's not a 4-3 DE those numbers point towards an above-average player. He was even an impact player against MSU with a drive-killing sack and solid play against the run. He tied Martin's numbers on the day.
The Banks/Sagesse combination has disappointed. Sagesse hardly sees the field. Moving him to the outside when he seemed like a functional DT last year is and was a strange move. It's hard to imagine he'd be less effective than Patterson, and with Michigan moving towards four-man lines against pro style offenses he could have reprised his role from last year as an okay backup to Martin. Though Banks leads the team in sacks that's because Ricky Stanzi inexplicably ran out of bounds, Indiana busted a protection, and one of the nonconference snackycakes was a nonconference snackycakes. He delivers no pass rush and often finds himself single-blocked effectively. Michigan's been trying to get freshman Jibreel Black more playing time in response; they're finding it hard to keep him on the field because right now he's horrendous against the run.
Finally, Craig Roh has not made the hoped for leap in production. This is largely not his fault. He's not a linebacker, he's a weakside defensive end, and when you put him in space he makes a lot of bad zone drops and is often beaten in one-on-one situations by far more agile receivers. He's okay in man coverage against a tight end, but he's hovering around 250 pounds—he is the wrong kind of mismatch against a WR.
Michigan put his hand on the ground against Notre Dame to good effect…
…until Brandon Herron went out with injury and Michigan felt forced to put him at linebacker. Roh had a +11 on the day; Herron hasn't seen the field since and Roh's been stuck at LB in Michigan's 3-3-5. As a result, he ended up solidly negative against Indiana. The pro-style attacks of MSU and Iowa saw him put his hand on the ground 70-80% of the time; Roh ended up in the +4/+5 RVB zone after both games.
Fast forward to LATER!
At this point it's obvious that Will Campbell is not going to have an impact on the defense this year, so things are settled and relatively static at three positions.
Martin's ankle is 90% of the variance in future performances from the Michigan defensive line. Since he was healthy enough to at least try against Iowa and has had a bye week the assumption/hope is that he's shaken it off and can resume his backfield-terrorizing ways. He should continue to perform at an all conference level; his numbers will probably come up short because no one can cover long enough for Michigan to get sacks.
Roh and Van Bergen are a level of play down from Martin; at this point in their careers they're both good Big Ten players but not stars. Roh should be improving more quickly than anyone else on the line because of his relative youth. Hopefully by the end of the year he can make more impact in the pass rush and Michigan can reliably get pressure with four.
The strongside DE spot currently manned by Banks could see a late switch as Michigan coaches keep trying to get Black playing time. Unfortunately, he's an obvious liability in the run game and opponents will have scouted this by now. They've already installed a run/pass platoon there, so all that's left is to throw Black in the game and hope.
Prediction accuracy to date: Complicated by the error when it comes to positions. RVB is about a 4, as is the combination of Martin and Banks. Roh is about a 3. If I'm ranking them by actual position the strongside DE is a weak 2, the DTs a 5, and Roh still a 3.
Level of play relative to prediction: About right; main error was being too optimistic about the Banks/Sagesse combo.
Expected level of play for remainder of season: No change unless Michigan manages to get Herron back and decides to roll with Roh as a 3-3-5 DE, something that will only be relevant against Purdue and maybe Illinois.