dennis norfleet is the new bubble screen
I say we call him "Quick Burst, Mo Hurts." Nobody is on board with me on this. [Fuller]
- The Question:
- Seth: After the spring game which player are you bullish on, and which are you hedging?
Ace: Brian and I did a segment on this during the podcast, so I'll keep this relatively brief. (That's called a teaser, folks.)
MAURICE HURST had arguably the best performance of anyone during the spring game, lining up at multiple spots and blowing up plays at all of them. His first step, which was his greatest strength coming out of high school, is still very quick after adding weight, and he looks very ready to see a significant role this fall.
Given that some practice reports had him as a potential starter, it's hard not to be a little disappointed in Logan Tuley-Tillman's showing, which featured three flags and a couple olés. He was a major project coming of high school, to the point that this year was the earliest he could feasibly see the field, so it's not a devastating blow that he doesn't look ready yet. He has so much upside, though, that it would've been really encouraging to see him push into that starting five.
Adam Schnepp: I was looking for a weakness. There had to be one; the practice reports had practically reached tall-tale status, but now I see why. It almost feels like I need to pick someone else because this is too easy, but I'm bullish on JABRILL PEPPERS. I know that we've been bullish on him since last August, but now it's like Raging Bull(ishness). Except not about boxing. Or self-destruction. I was really just going for the bull imagery here.
As a hybrid space player, Peppers is going to have to read run/pass and react immediately. On the Blue offense's first play Peppers peers into the backfield, reads the handoff from Morris, and comes off the edge to take out Shallman, limiting him to a one-yard gain.
While his run stopping was adequate for an HSP, I was more impressed with Peppers' coverage skills. He played almost exclusively with a seven-yard cushion and not only was able to jam guys who had already built up a head of steam but consistently re-routed them to the side he had a help defender. I can't find a good example of this on the video thanks to BTN's zoom-o-matic cameras, but Ace can confirm that if I tweeted the above as many times as I said it to him you'd all either unfollow me or think I accidentally set up a scheduled tweet.
I'm hedging on BRIAN COLE. It's important, however, to delineate "hedging" as separate from "disappointed with." It's hard to judge a receiver when they aren't targeted often, and doubly so as the offense's predilection for two- and three-wide sets often left Cole on the sideline. I expected him to compete for time with the known commodities; I did not expect him to have the same number of receptions and receiving yards as 5-9 walk-on fullback Joe Beneducci. I wouldn't rule him out as a contributor in the fall*, but I expected the ball to be thrown his way more often last Saturday.
*(I don't think any of the receivers have locked down a spot with the exception of maybe Darboh, who was lined up against a dude who'd been a corner for maybe four practices.)
[Jump for the defensive backs are gonna be good, even if the passing game makes them look so.]
Not Just A Gimmick™, we hope. [Adam Glanzman/Special to MGoBlog]
For a player with a meager 113 yards from scrimmage in two years, Dennis Norfleet is the topic of discussion around these parts a whole lot, and that topic is usually "can we please get this guy the ball more?" This seems like an odd request to endlessly put forth regarding a player with 12 career offensive touches and zero touchdowns, but there's Norfleet atop the depth chart at slot receiver, and beyond that there's good reason to think he'll be a much bigger part of the offense this season.
Norfleet came to Michigan as the in-state recruit too talented not to offer late, even though he didn't fit the coaching staff's idea of... anything, really. He certainly didn't fit the MANBALL running back mold, nor the desire to head in the direction of fielding a receiving corps in which being 6'2" makes one a slot receiver. It felt like he was offered as an afterthought, and his usage in the years since reflected that; Norfleet would occasionally come into the game at the slot, get a totally surprising jet sweep, and head back to the bench to await his next special teams opportunity.
The problem with this wasn't so much the plays Norfleet was asked to run—getting a player that shifty in space is a good idea, and jet sweeps should accomplish that—but the obviousness of what he was going to do, and the fact that these plays often didn't fit into the larger scheme of the offense. This blog has extensively covered the constraint theory of offense—in essence, that an offense has a core set of plays, then "constraint" plays that take advantage of defenses overplaying those core plays—and that Al Borges went for more of a grab-bag approach.
Norfleet's longest career carry works as a great example of both the constraint theory and how he was misused, oddly enough. He broke a 38-yard run in last season's opener against Central Michigan when Michigan ran an end-around to him off a counter trap run; the counter action—especially the pulling right guard—drew the CMU defense to their right, and by the time the ball was pitched U-M's blockers had a very easy time sealing their men off from the real direction of the play:
This worked because Central hadn't yet learned that Michigan didn't ever really run the counter trap and that Norfleet's presence on the field almost certainly indicated he'd get the ball; it also helped that they were a 6-6 MAC team. Norfleet's runs after the opener weren't remotely as successful due to a couple factors: Michigan couldn't establish a base running game, and when Norfleet was on the field it was incredibly obvious what he'd do.
[Hit THE JUMP for the whole point of this post: how Doug Nussmeier can use Norfleet to boost Michigan's running game.]
Somebody's gonna give me credit for drafting C.J. Brown.
So we tried doing this big draftageddon thing to be all informative. Some people liked it; other people said they only care about their own fantasy teams. Fine. I get it. Some people like to read an average novel's worth of bloggers infighting over Rutgers offensive linemen, and some people prefer to use their football knowledge to make money for themselves.
To everyone but the 9 of you who voted for my Draftageddon team, if you think you can beat me, then I implore you: beat me. See that team above? That is my team for Week 1 of our fantasy partner Draft King's, now-totally-accepting-entries, college football contest, or "CFB $10K REDSHIRT" game as it's apparently named.
/offers to be official naming things guy.
/changes that to Executive Vice President of Titling Operations
My team. Yes, I took all Big Ten players except tight end because I feel like I've watched so much O.J. Howard while scouting Nussmeier's offense that he might as well be one of us. Can you do better? No. You can't. I'm so sure of it in fact that if you beat me I'll give you $5 off the MGoStore.
Your team. Details on the game in bullets:
- You're just drafting guys who play on Saturday afternoon, 8/30. No picking Nits who play at 8:30 a.m. in Ireland, etc.
- $10,000 prize pool.
- $2 entry fee. Entry is free if it's your first deposit.
- $1,000 1st Place prize.
- Top 1,150 are paid.
- Starts on Saturday, August, 30th at 12:00 EST.
- Salary Cap Style Drafting. $50,000 to select 9 spots.
- Roster Format: 2 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex.
- First time depositors at DraftKings receive a 100% bonus up to $600
Details on the contest:
- If you beat me (tie goes to the dealer yo) this week I'll email you with a code to use in the MGoStore for $5 off anything. Shipping still applies.
- Only one coupon per person. If multiple teams beat me (like that would ever happen) you still can only use the code once on your store account.
- BiSB isn't allowed to enter, else we'd have to give him the MGoStore.
Weird thing: You can still draft Jake Butt. Braxton Miller too but at least they have the red circle thing next to him to warn you not to draft him. Jake Butt: nothing.
Other weird thing: No NORFLEET?
/offers to be official Michigan roster insider guy
/offers to come up with a kickass name for that position.
[UPDATED 12:25p.m. Now with 100% more Ace]
The Q: Michigan graduated much of its 2013 receiver depth chart and did away with the fancy Borges stacks and routes. In this new world, after Funchess, who's going to be Gardner's favorite target this year? Who are we going to see more or less of among the receivers/tight ends?
Brian: 1. Amara Darboh. Darboh was going to start last year and the buzz there was palpable. He brings physicality against what I promise you will be the grabbiest set of Big Ten pass defenses you've ever seen—the MSU effect—and he's even got mutant muscles in his arms, which I assume will be the entirety of Ace's response. He should ease past Canteen for the starting job, at least to start, and Canteen will have a tough time catching up since he's not going to drop off the face of the earth.
2. Dennis Norfleet. This is an artifact of some assumptions about the rest of the offense. Namely, that they won't be able to run that well and the tight end situation is going to be suboptimal. With reports that Norfleet looks great in space and an offensive coordinator who's not afraid to throw to his WRs on the perimeter, Norfleet's catch volume should spike as Michigan looks to him for easy yards that get defenders out of the box.
3. Freddy Canteen. Yeah, he's probably Manningham again, but even Manningham had a bit of a slow start. It'll be close with Norfleet.
4. Jehu Chesson/Jake Butt. Your guess is as good as mine about relative frequency here. I have a hunch we're going to see tight ends stay in to block frequently this year what with the lack of NFL OTs, and Butt is going to miss at least a game or two after his ACL tear. But he's got a much clearer path to playing time than Chesson and already had more catches than Chesson did a year ago.
Everyone else gets scraps, maybe a dozen catches spread between AJ Williams, Keith Heitzman, Da'Mario Jones, and Jaron Dukes and another dozen to the tailbacks. I hope we don't see any of the true freshmen other than Canteen, because there's not much need either this year or next and all could use work.
[Jump for the rest of us twisting ourselves to not have the same responses]
It is spring, the season with all the rebirth and egg-laying rabbits and such. In this pastel, paschal period of the year, everything is positive. Your baseball team could win the World Series, your backups arrived with 20 lbs more muscle/less fat ready to decapitate enemies, and your linebackers exploding everything in the backfield says everything about your linebackers and nothing about your offensive line. So question:
I am about to devote all of my attention to Spring Football. What can I learn about this team with this exercise? Is there anything that my eyes can show me that the hype is hiding?
Ace: In previous years, I've had the opportunity to see a few spring practices (in the RichRod days, which coincided with my internship at The Wolverine) and get to know a few players both on Michigan's squad and at other levels of college football. Almost universally, the first thing I've been told about spring practices, and the spring game in particular, is to expect the defense to look well ahead of the offense—and that, if this is the case, it's a good thing. That's especially true when installing a new offense, as Michigan is this season.
|Mmmm true freshmen dominating walk-ons. [Fuller]|
If you're skeptical, think back to those Rodriguez spring games and the general excitement they brought as Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson slashed through the defense with ease. Those were fun games. Those were also bad defenses. It's a whole lot easier to install and run a base defense than to get the offense fully up to speed, even with a limited playbook; if the offense looks like they know what they're supposed to be doing better than the defense, it's a point of concern.
So, strangely, I'm hoping for an ugly spring game—if it even resembles a "game" at all, which it hasn't for years. That's not to say I hope the offensive line looks totally overmatched—quite the contrary—but with a Doug Nussmeier's system still being put in place, the defense should more than hold their own at this juncture. Since we'll be seeing a very unfinished product on offense, I think more than anything we'll learn where the defense stands as they also make a transition, albeit a smaller one, to playing more 4-3 over with a reshuffled coaching staff.
[After the jump: preparing for platitudes]
“What’s up. Did you count the bubble screens again?”
MGoRetort: You had two fakes.
“Oh those were actually laser screens.”
MGoABubbleScreenByAnyOtherName: Oh, laser screens.
“They’re different. A little different.”
Your daughter started school last week. How was that?
“It’s awesome. The teacher wants to take her home. [My daughter] is so cool, she’s great. She thinks she’s pretty cool, too. She talks a lot. She talks like four times more than my son. So she’s good at talking because she practices so much more, you know. And then I get home, she’s usually in bed, but if she’s up, she’s got so many things to tell me.”
So she takes after you.
“Yeah. A little bit. I’m going to start giving her like a word a day. ‘Condescending.’ ‘Exasperate.’ Stuff like that, you know. She’ll floor her kindergarten teacher if she throws that one in, if I can get her to say it in context. Pretty cool. What are you guys laughing about? There’s nothing wrong with that. My dad did that. My dad used to all the time give me a word a day.”
You never use those words in your press conferences.
“Oh no. Never. No. Sometimes I do. Okay.”
Did anything exasperate you Saturday?
“Uh, no, not really. Not too much. Not too much. It was -- other than not getting the ball to Fitz. We wanted to get Fitz off a little more. Obviously that didn’t work out real good, but we knew going into the game that they were going to have trouble with Denard because the speed factor in the secondary. We wanted to get our athletes out in space. He’s as athletic as anybody we have. That was an emphasis in this game, and we kind of accomplished that, so the next day what we have to do is we have to get our tailback more involved, working our tails off to devise a plan to do just that.”