a terrible blight on our fine country
DJ Durkin inherits a Michigan defense that’s both experienced and talented, with good depth in most position groups. Durkin has promised to mix up the fronts we’ll see this season, and he expanded on that while also talking about his pass rushers, linebackers, and more at Media Day.
[I jumped in while Durkin was in the middle of an answer]
“The thought is now we get into camp [and] a lot of it is now they’re hearing it for the second, the third, the fourth time of what we’re installing so you can master it and play fast.”
You talked at the beginning of spring about how you didn’t really know your team. What do you know about your personnel now?
“Yeah, I feel we know them much better. We had four-hour practices in the spring [so] we got a lot of reps with those guys. We saw them do a lot, so that’s a good thing. There’s not a lot of angst from me or our staff of ‘What’s this guy going to do in a game?’ or ‘[How will he] respond?’ We have, number one, experienced guys on defense for the most part. And then, like I said, we had really competitive practices in the spring where we put those guys in a lot of situations that they had to show what they could do so I feel like we have a good evaluation and awareness of where they’re at.
“And now it becomes let’s go into fall camp and see what guys come in with that right mindset and what they did over the summer, see how they prepared and go through it all over again and re-evaluate everyone and get ready for the first game.”
What are you most excited about for tomorrow and then fast-forwarding to September 3rd?
“Tomorrow, just getting out there. I mean, it’s one of those things that there’s a build up of it and when you finally get out there and hit that first period and start moving, it’s always…I don’t know. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. You just get that feeling like ‘Alright, we’re back out on the field.’ All this stuff is fun and everything but talking about it is not the same as going and doing it, so that’s what I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
And then the opener?
“Yeah, the opener. I mean, wow, what a great test as an opener on the road in an environment that’s really loud. They’re into it; they’ve had great success there, especially recently, with their football program. So we’ll be tested right there, week one. Our guys know that, they understand that and we’re going to keep working towards that as we get through camp.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]
The first rule of Draftageddon is "you must complain about Draftageddon." The second is "the four people drafting assemble teams of Big Ten players in an effort to seem the best at drafting."
THAT WHICH HAS COME BEFORE
Previously on Draftageddon:
- Adam takes a guy with a ~33% chance to start first overall! Joey Bosa lasts until pick 3! Seth is generally sensible! For him that counts as Heiko-ing, I think!
- Brian takes back to back QBs! Several additional Ohio State players go off the board! 24-12!
- Ace takes Braxton Miller as a QB and then shrugs expansively when he ends up a terrifying H-back!
THAT WHICH IS THE CURRENT SITUATION
THAT WHICH IS HAPPENING CURRENTLY
ACE: Round 12, Pick 2: Jake Rudock, actual quarterback, Michigan
OFFENSE: QB Jake Rudock (U-M), OW Braxton Miller (OSU), WR Michael Thomas (OSU), WR DaeSean Hamilton (PSU), OT Jack Conklin (MSU), OC Dan Voltz (UW)
DEFENSE: DE Joey Bosa (OSU), DT Darius Hamilton (RU), NT Austin Johnson (PSU), OLB Darron Lee (OSU), CB Eli Apple (OSU), S Tyvis Powell (OSU)
[ED: Since everyone else has QBs, Ace has to take one.]
Just after I submitted my last pick, SI's Pete Thamel broke the news: I have successfully gamed the system.
“For the most part, it’s going to be H-Back and punt return,” Miller said in a phone interview on Thursday night. “It’s a long process to get back totally to throwing and throwing every day. This is the smarter thing for right now, God blessed me with a lot of talent and different opportunities. I’m going to have fun with that and still score a lot of touchdowns and help the team out and be dominant at that.”
A reminder: H-back, in Urban Meyer's system, is the Percy Harvin position. Miller is as close to a Harvin-level athlete as Meyer has had since Harvin himself. While I'm forced to take a quarterback again here, the magnanimous Commissioner Brian offered the opportunity to release Miller back into the pool and take an additional compensatory selection; I will not be doing that, even with Jalin Marshall still on the board. Miller's potential in that role is too great for me to pass up on; it was one of the main reasons I drafted him in the first place.
So, anyway, an actual quarterback. Many would expect Indiana's Nate Sudfeld to go here, but I'm not convinced he can replicate his 2013 success. Sudfeld benefitted from both Kevin Wilson's wide open, lightning fast system and a great group of receivers (2014 2nd-rounder Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, Shane Wynn, Ted Bolser) that season. With Latimer, Hughes, and Bolser gone last year, Sudfeld had rough games against the two remotely viable defenses he faced—32/70, 378 yards (5.4 YPA), 1 TD, 1 INT combined vs. Mizzou and Maryland—before injuring his shoulder early on against Iowa. He had Tevin Coleman there to take a great deal of attention off of him and still didn't look all-conference caliber.
Jake Rudock, meanwhile, played for a program that considered Mark Weisman an acceptable three-year starter at running back. Brian's done the research legwork here. Rudock generally looked very good when afforded time and a reasonable gameplan despite working with a substandard group of receivers. He looked less good when victimized by a combination of coaching malpractice and a leaky offensive line. At the very least, Rudock should be efficient; even in a year when he eventually got benched, he posted the third-best passer efficiency in the Big Ten. If a lot of his perceived issues—namely, a propensity for checking down too often—were the product of his GERG-ian environment, he'll thrive under Jim Harbaugh. My guess is Rudock will serve as yet another reminder to Iowa fans that their coaching situation, um, sucks.
SETH: Round 12, Pick 3: Mason Cole, OL, Michigan
OFFENSE: QB Connor Cook (MSU), RB Corey Clement (WIS), WR Leonte Carroo (Rut), OC Jack Allen (MSU), OG Pat Elflein (OSU), OT Alex Lewis (Neb)
DEFENSE: Steve Longa (WLB), HSP Jabrill Peppers (Mich), DB Jordan Lucas (PSU), S Michael Caputo (Wis), CB Will Likely (Md)
Last year's offensive line preview gave Michigan a "1 of 5" for tackle, because in the history of true freshman tackles, the absolute ceiling is for some future superstar to be just okay. Brian even ran down the history of teams forced to put the blindside in the hands of an 18-year-old and found those who got to okay had a five-star recruit on the level of Peppers.
Mason Cole was okay.
Since competent true freshman LTs are so rare we're literally stuck with Laremy Tunsil as the only comparison, here is a list of Michigan redshirt freshman offensive lineman since the mid-'90s who were not obvious liabilities: Jansen, Hutchinson, Backus, Long, Molk, Lewan.
Cole's best years are still in the future, but I'll take last year plus the standard freshman-to-sophomore bump on my line any day.
ADAM: Round 12, Pick 4: Ed Davis, OLB, Michigan State
Round 13, Pick 1: Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
OFFENSE: QB J.T. Barrett (OSU), WR Jordan Westerkamp (Neb), OT Jason Spriggs, (IU), TE Jake Butt (UM), C Austin Blythe (Iowa), RB Justin Jackson (NW)
DEFENSE: DE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), DT Adolphus Washington (OSU), S Vonn Bell (OSU), CB Eric Murray (Minn), LB Raekwon McMillan (OSU), DE Drew Ott (Iowa), OLB Ed Davis (MSU)
My linebackers may not win the hearts of the Michigan faithful, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to add a SAM with pass-rush ability. Davis had 58 tackles, 12.0 TFL, and 7.0 sacks in his first season as a starter; you may remember him from his 6 tackle, 2 TFL performance against Michigan.
In his Hail to the Victors preview, Seth described Davis as "...an attack piece who will rack up a lot of sacks and otherwise match up against tight ends he's more athletic than." If that's what my twelfth round pick can do then that's fine by me. What's most noticeable on film is his lateral quickness, which allows him to easily cover the flat or crash inside to stop the run. He's also fast enough to line up wide and make tackles look absolutely ridiculous.
His skill set lends itself to being a SAM in a 4-3 under, which was what I was looking for. In McMillan I have a player who was certainly productive as a true freshman but whom I drafted in part because of his potential (i.e. recruiting profile); in Davis I have a two-year starter and fifth-year senior who's a more known commodity.
My next pick played in the M00N game- on offense, no less. And I made this pick voluntarily! Easily snarkable, and yet a likely record for longest it's taken for a Northwestern player to go off the board. Jackson's not a big back (5'11", 195) but he's quick and his vision is excellent. He's also a reliable receiver, catching 78.6% of passes when he was targeted and averaging 7.2 yards per target.
In 2014 Jackson rushed for 1,187 yards on 4.8 yards per carry despite playing behind a line that ranked 83rd in adjusted line yards and 117th (!) in opportunity rate. He's also the second-leading returning rusher in the Big Ten, behind only Ezekiel Elliott (who understandably went 11 rounds earlier). He put up 162 rushing yards on 33 carries and 106 on 22 (plus 4 catches for 50 receiving yards) against Wisconsin and Minnesota, ranked 29th and 36th in Rushing S&P+, respectively. Those two games were part of his end of season tear, in which he rushed for 100+ yards in six of the season's last eight games.
I can't recreate OSU's offense, but if Barrett's going to be effective he needs a run threat to keep defenses honest. I'm happy to have this one in what looks like an otherwise arid wasteland of Big Ten backs.
[After THE JUMP: CERTAINLY WE ARE OUT OF OSU PLAYERS AT THIS JUNCTURE]
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]
What do you know about your defense now that you didn't know six weeks ago?
"I think we have a pretty good handle on our personnel right now in terms of strengths and weaknesses of guys individually and I think as a unit, too. It's been a really good spring. We've had quite a bit of reps out there in practice, in four hour practices. I think the main thing that I figured out about our defense is that they are willing to work. The guys, they competed every day we've been out there and they've really put the time in."
You said you kind of have a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. Would you say what their strengths are right now?
"Yeah, no, not necessarily more than that. Like I said, I think our group is really willing to work. They’ve been great in terms of learning our scheme throughout the spring. They come to meetings prepared, they come to practice prepared. I think that anytime you've got a hungry group that way I think there's good things ahead."
You came out here about a month ago said you wanted to throw as much at them as you could and then sort of whittle it down from there. Have you started to figure out what you think is going to work?
"Yeah, we have a pretty good idea. Starting on Saturday and then today's practice we started to move that way and narrow it down and sort of hone in on some of the things we’ll be doing more of and they've really responded well to that, too. We probably got to a point there later in the spring where it was becoming overload for them, which was good. We pushed them to that limit and they saw we scaled back how they performed; a credit to them, They've grasped what we've thrown at them."
You said everyone would start with a clean slate. Who are the impact players?
"I think to name just a few guys – there are a lot of guys who really made strides throughout the spring. There are some guys we just pointed out the other day on film from day one of spring until now they've made huge strides. Lawrence Marshall is a guy who– he's a young guy, he's a freshman – the first two practices it didn't barely look like he could lineup. Now he's out there and he's playing really well for us. We expect him to help us. But there's a lot of guys. There's a whole group of guys that are veterans who’ve played a lot of football around here that have made those improvements as well. I just think that they're pushing each other really well and they’re in the mindset every day whether it's meetings or practice to come to get better."
You guys lost both ends. Who's at the head of the defensive ends this spring?
"We’ve got several guys playing there. Wormley's playing some end, I mentioned Lawrence, Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing some end, we've even moved Mo Hurst out there a little bit to play some end, so we've done a combination of a lot of things. I think one of the bonuses to what we do schematically is the concepts carry over in fit so we're moving guys in different spots so when you do get injuries, you get nicked up, that's part of football– we have some guys we can put in there."
[After THE JUMP: linebacker talk and your regularly scheduled batch of Jabrill Peppers questions]
News bullets and other items:
Desmond Morgan will be redshirted, allowing him to return next season as fifth-year senior
Jabrill Peppers was removed from the depth chart and will not “travel” with the team, but has not been ruled out for the season
The stake thing, according to Hoke, was not meant to disrespect anyone. Hoke called Dantonio to apologize for it.
Devin Gardner will start against Indiana
The team’s goals are still out there (because the new goal is to take it one game at a time and beat Indiana)
“Thanks for coming. Obviously we’re very disappointed in the outcome and the results last week. We came in as a team yesterday. We looked at it. We were critical constructively with each other about what we need to do. The opportunities that we had, because there were plenty of opportunities to make some plays on both sides and that's something that we weren’t very – executing the consistency with it, we need to be better. There's always a great emotion in a rivalry game. I think that always happens and we’re excited about the opportunity to have those rivalry games but win or lose you've got to move forward from them, and I think that's an important part for us with Indiana coming here for homecoming, with Tevin Coleman coming here as the leading rusher in the country. We have to play a lot better against the run defensively than we did the other day. One injury update: Desmond Morgan we're going to redshirt this year and then he'd be back as a fifth-year senior next year.
When you talk about consistency, you seem to hit a lot of the same themes each week. Is there something about the message to your team that isn't getting through?
“Well, I… one of the big things this week, which was a little different, was that we had seven drops and we haven't done that. We've caught the ball decently. When you look at it, and as you look at it as coaches, we're pretty much consistent on what is a drop and what's not but we had some opportunities. You move the chains, you have an opportunity to keep the flow going better. You also if you execute in those things you have a chance to change the mindset a little bit of how a guy calls defenses against you, and so those are the execution things that we've been pretty good [with]. Did we run the ball well enough? No. The offensive line was good enough, though, if we execute in some other areas.
On Saturday night you said you were going to think about what was going to happen with the starting quarterback. Have you made a determination there?
“Yeah, Devin will be our starter. I mean, Devin had some good throws the other day. Some of them we've got to come down with. And on the shovel pass, Justice gets knocked off. It's a timing play and so it looks like he flipped it to the linebacker, which is actually what happened, but we get knocked off on the shovel and so the timing of that. We've got to be better mechanically when we had the fumble. You get a fumble and then you fumble it right back. It was an opportunity that we had. But no, he'll be the starter.”
Talk about the run defense and what specifically has to get better team like Indiana that’s running the ball really well.
“Well, first let's go back so last week. Not that I don't want to talk about Indiana, but we've got to do a better job at the point of attack, and that was a disappointing thing. There were some double teams that we've got to hold on to a little better so the linebackers can run. At the same point, we missed some tackles and opportunities there, so from that standpoint we need to play a lot better and the same thing for Indiana. Block schemes are block schemes and we've got to do a better job of playing those.
[After THE JUMP: I’m askin’ bout practice]