How are you coming together?
"We're coming together. We are coming together. You know, every day is a work in progress because I think we're so critical and emphatic about doing everything right that when something gets corrected or something gets finally taught to these young guys, now you might spring a leak somewhere else. I guess what I'm saying is we're not ready to play today. I am really excited and really impressed with how, for the most part, we've come out every day and had energy and tried to get better. We've played with some physicality. i don't know that there's a position or a guy that you're looking to count on and say, 'Oh boy, that was bad.' You probably say, 'you've got to step this way' or 'your hands aren't here.' The next play they're going to do it right. That's what keeps you really excited about this group of kids."
"First one of the year, huh? Here we go."
Here we go.
"Well it seems like we've been practicing for two months already and we've only had three. I don't know if that's a sign of old age or just the intensity of how we're going, but it's really good to be out here. It's good to be practicing again."
There hasn't been a whole lot of yelling. It's a lot more instructing. Do the kids seem to be on message?
"Well our style of coaching is teaching. And I think if you compare our staff -- I don't think a lot of times you have to do a lot of yelling. This team that we have right now is trying to do it right in every way. When a team's trying to do that, whether they're really young or making mistakes because they're young, as long as they're showing the effort that they are, there's really no reason to yell at them. You just have to correct them. When you have a young team, you have to be a great teacher. That's what our staff is really working hard to do."
So the effort is there?
"Yes. I've been really pleased. Now we don't have pads on yet obviously, and a lot of times what happens with programs, when pads come on, sometimes some programs slow down. I don't think that's going to happen with this team. This team seems to really really embrace and has bought into 'we must play as hard as we can on every play, and we have to get 11 bodies to the football.' When you watch practice with not pads on, we're getting 11 bodies to the football. We're getting really really good effort, so that's been positive."
<No pads. Nothing to see after the jump.>
Before we get to this, if you haven't yet go down to Heiko's Exclusive Interview with Borges. It is penetrating, and excellent, and kind of a coup that we got it.
I know what you were thinking. When spring practices meant there was actual FOOTBALL to pay attention to for a moment, you immediately sought the defensive back depth chart because:
- You are aware that the original X-hating god resides in our backfield
- You are aware that Jordan Kovacs isn't back there being your banky anymore
- You remember how you felt about things before Kovacs became your banky
- You remember we recruited a 5-star (to at least one service) this year and that he's enrolling early.
- You can't really name all the various Cass Tech dudes so you kinda have to check in every once in awhile to figure out which you actually have to learn.
This is likely when you discovered the aforementioned 5-star was at nickelback and you did a double-take because you read Dymonte's scouting report, and "is a cornerback" wasn't in it. I am supposing further that you think "nickelback" equals "cornerback" because by golly you've played that game with Woodson or Desmond or Denard or a handful of less important schmucks on the cover, and know that nickelback is the guy you put third on the cornerback depth chart who comes in on passing downs. Right Inigo?
Back when your grandpa was playing NCAA '06 or whatever, base defenses were 4-3 or 3-4, backfields had four dudes, and teams would cordially run on 1st and 2nd down and if it was still long on 3rd down they'd put another receiver on the field, you'd put another cornerback on the field, and because this was a 5th defensive back you called him the "nickel" and everything was nice and sense-y-make-y.
Then everything changed.
[Jump to understand]
Best ever. Wolverine Historian assembles 15 minutes of Keith Jackson clips, and it's as glorious as you'd think.
"my spine is still tingling" -Ace
WH's magnum opus? To date.
Get the brooms. Congrats to the softball team, which swept through their regional in three straight games. Michigan opened the weekend with a 5-0 shutout of Valpo, did the exact same thing to Cal the next day, and took out the Bears again to close out their 16th regional title.
Michigan gets Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend at Alumni for the right to go to the WCWS after the Ragin' Cajuns upset LSU. Michigan beat ULL earlier this season in Florida 3-1. That was ace vs ace as Driesenga faced off against ULL's Jordan Wallace, who was 31-7 this season with a 1.73 ERA and four Ks to every walk issued. A two run Ashley Lane homer was the difference.
ULL proceeded to stomp through the Sun Belt before falling into the elimination bracket early in their conference tourney; though they pushed through and took WKU to a winner-take-all final they could not get the job done in that. That didn't seem to affect them, as they also swept through their regional without giving up so much as a run.
Michigan should be favored, I'd guess.
Notable things said during the takeover. WTKA's annual Mott Takeover was Friday and raised almost 100k for the eponymous children's hospital. It also was an opportunity for people to say notable things on the radio. The reddest of the red meat came from Steve Everitt. Brady Hoke's pet viking took the opportunity to blast Kirk Cousins for something innocuous he said two years ago and dump on "Notre Shame," no doubt causing a tweed-jacketed Notre Dame alum driving through town to bite down so hard on his pipe that it cracked. Meat for the meat god!
In news-ish substances, Roy Manning reiterated that Jake Ryan was on track for a midseason recovery and talked up his potential replacements. On Beyer:
"He's done a great job, he really has," Manning said of Beyer. "The transition was seamless for him. He did the things that made him successful in the past. That kid really is a sharp kid. Probably one of the hardest working kids -- I think most people on the team -- hardest working kids on the entire team."
Curt Mallory noted that statements around here that nickel is really a 12th starting spot are neither balderdash nor horsehockey:
“He got the majority of the reps at the nickel back,” Mallory said of Thomas on Friday during the Mott Takeover on WTKA-AM (1050). “That position has been played in the past by not only Courtney, but also Thomas Gordon. That really is a position that’s a starting position. Our first year, I believe Courtney played 400-some snaps at that position alone.
"(Thomas is) going to be a contributor -- we’re expecting him to be a major contributor, more so at the nickel back position and we’ll see where he goes from there.”
Also, yeah, Thomas has already locked down a starting job. Borges talked up Kyle Kalis and did vaguely imply that Glasgow had a slight edge for the LG job:
"The depth chart is still in pencil there, but one guy who took the next step was Kyle Kalis," Borges said. "When he came in, he was just not ready to play yet. It was overwhelming from the systematic perspective. Not so much physically. Kyle from the first day to the last day (of spring practice) really improved his game. He's a powerful kid who can run-block and is learning the techniques better in the passing game.
"And Jack Miller, our center, did a really nice job. He's in a competitive battle with Graham Glasgow, but he kind of answered the call, so I think he's going to be a factor. Left guard, Graham Glasgow, will be part of the mix there, coupled with Ben Braden, who's as talented a lineman as we have."
Chances Michigan brings in a transfer QB are dim, so it's on Shane Morris and the other guys coaching him up:
"You can't coach him -- that's your problem, is you can't coach him," offensive coordinator Al Borges said last week. "But our kids can coach him. So if he goes out there in some offseason workouts, there's no rule against Devin Gardner showing Shane Morris what to do.
"He'll have to get it through osmosis a little bit."
This is kind of a strange thing, to think a Cass Tech player is underrated. If you'd like some confirmation that Delano Hill is pretty dang fast, he ran a 10.8 100 meter at state regionals a few days ago while also anchoring Cass's 4x100m and 4x200m relays, both of which finished first.
That is not quite Denard's 10.44 from his high school days, but it's not bad for a guy who's nearly 200 pounds and is likely to play safety. Add it to the pile of reasons to think the guy is being sold a little short.
The other ball and stick game. Baseball squeezed into the Big Ten tournament as the sixth seed, not a bad accomplishment for Erik Bakich's first year. Michigan takes on Nebraska at 3:30 Wednesday (BTN) just a few days after taking two of three from the Huskers to close out the regular season.
After all, what can go wrong with drafting a touted point guard out of your home state? In news not at all likely to make me start watching the Pistons regularly for the first time since they traded Chauncey Billups—which still kills me, I mean broke-ass inefficient Allen Iverson cumong man—the Pistons have not even talked to Trey Burke:
Later Thursday, Burke is slated for at least six more interviews with pro squads.
Does he have one with the Detroit Pistons?
"No, I don't," Burke said Thursday. "I was actually surprised. But talking to my father (and agent, Benji Burke), he said some teams do that just to not let other teams know that they're interested (in a player).
"I don't know. I don't think they're going to bring me in for an interview."
Burke measured at 6'1" at the combine, which is a couple inches taller than I thought he would. That further bolsters his case to go near the top of the draft, so the Pistons potential lack of interest is likely moot anyway. Instead, Joe Dumars will pick the guy with the fewest eyebrows.
Etc.: home video of Michigan folks stopping in at Mott. Peyton Siva tells Burke the best block ever was in fact a block and not a foul. Jeff Withey changes his tune on Mitch McGary. Michigan won't break its Adidas contract. Well… yeah.
|Alliance, OH – 6'1", 180|
|Scout||5*, #4 S, #39 overall, #2 OH|
|Rivals||4*, #12 S, #109 overall, #4 OH|
|ESPN||4*, #10 ATH, #93 overall, #4 OH|
|24/7||4*, #11 S, #80 overall, #4 OH|
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, Notre Dame|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Urban Meyer is still on him hard. Army AA. Early enrollee.|
Senior highlights can be found on hudl. They're mostly offense. Also they are impressive.
If there's one thing extensive googling of Dymonte Thomas assures you of, it's that at this very moment there is an Ohio State fan posting speculation about Dymonte Thomas opting out of his LOI to a twenty-page thread. Someone else will respond to him by pointing out Thomas is already on campus and never actually signed a LOI, and the original poster will respond "yeah, but…" and spin out his reasons for optimism in re: Dymonte Thomas. This is less speculation than dead statistical certainty.
This is kind of strange for a guy that liked Michigan so much he pulled the trigger right after the Denard After Dentist ND game, ie going on two years ago, and never gave any indication of wavering. Or at least it would for any other fanbase.
In any case, Michigan fans have been patiently waiting for and OSU fans derangedly pining for Thomas because he is an Electric Athlete. I do recommend those hudl highlights linked above, which consist mostly of Thomas putting the jets on at running back and leaving chasers yards in the dust. Despite missing most of three games he put up 1,270 yards at 7.3 a pop, largely by doing this:
What He Does Has the capability to score a touchdown anytime he touches the football. Five of Thomas’ touchdown runs went for 50 or more yards. His one TD catch was for 57 yards.
There's one where he decides to split the safeties and the safeties find out their angles have been calibrated so badly that neither gets within five yards of the kid. I expected at least one of 'em to take their helmet off, quit football forever, and fade away as he walks out of the stadium, but the clip doesn't extend long enough for me to test that hypothesis.
That's the kind of thing that gets this kind of quote deployed:
“He has given the program so much and carries himself the right way at all times on and off the field. I’ve heard so many other coaches and even college coaches say he’s one of the most electrifying athletes they’ve ever seen on a football field.” — Ed Miley
Did we mention that Thomas started as a freshman, was also a wrestler and picked up MLB draft interest? Guys like Thomas are the reason recruiting sites had to invent the "athlete" position. Merely seeing him on the other team causes fever dreams about maybe coaching that kid:
1, Dymonte Thomas, Marlington RB-LB-S
Strengths: Just about everything. He’s a great football player. He’s very explosive on both sides of the ball. He’s very aggressive. He has a nose for the football and he’s a great kid, too… When you play Marlington, you worry about taking Dymonte away on the perimeter and you take your chances inside, which wasn't a good option last year.
Weaknesses: I don’t know of any. If we had him, I often thought where would he play, and it’d be any number of positions. He does it all well and he’s such a great tackler.
— Opposing coach
More capital-A Athlete takes:
- Allen Trieu: "college-ready build already … one of his best assets is his speed … simply an excellent athlete."
- Bill Greene: "combines speed, quickness, and great athletic ability with the love of contact … should end his high school career as one of the greatest all-around athletes in Stark County's storied history."
- Coach Ed Miley: “I’ve seen big guys, physical players. I’ve seen kids that can run. He is a combination of size and speed. I know he’s 6-1, 190, 200, but he plays much bigger than that. He is very explosive.”
- Josh Helmholdt: "The first thing to know about Thomas is that he is fast… extremely fast."
And perhaps most remarkably, ESPN's evaluation of him does not state "he is more quick than fast" or "lacks a top gear," which damn near every evaluation of a non-lineman will throw in there at some point even if you are pretty damn fast. Instead($):
Thomas is a physically impressive looking athlete and overall football player. … Plays a hybrid type role … He is quick to read and react and flashes very good closing burst when he locates the football. Gets through the trash with good lateral agility. He plays the position fast and pursues with a high motor and little wasted motion to the ball. Has the range to make plays in all three levels of the defense and is a true ball-hawk. He closes hard and with impressive pop. Runs through and is a hitter who will force turnovers and bring an intimidating presence to the position. … has the size, athleticism and ball skills to develop as a coverage guy along with very good make-up speed.
When ESPN does not note you are not as fast as an NFL player, you are fast. QED.
The catch, such that it is, is that Thomas has not shown an ability to play safety yet. Marlington used him as a weakside linebacker. Thus many of the scouting reports on him mention an uncertainty about whether he has the coverage technique to get the stars his athleticism suggests he should. No one pounded on this more frequently than Josh Helmholdt, who declared three different times that he didn't want to "get too bullish on his ranking until we were able to more thoroughly assess his coverage skills" despite also joining the "extraordinary athlete" chorus. The big reveal($) after Thomas played safety at the Army All-American game:
…Dymonte Thomas was the prospect I felt had the most to prove at the all-star games because we had not seen him in coverage yet. Thomas started out with a rough first day of practices at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and his lack of experience in coverage was evident. But as the week progressed Thomas adjusted well, and by the Army Bowl he was in on a lot of plays and was able to show off his speed. At the end of the day, where we had Thomas ranked going into the Army Bowl was pretty accurate.
In one week he went from incapable to in on a lot of plays, so they ranked him correctly. Seems a little stubborn there.
Similar notes of concern come from Scout's Scott Kennedy, who lists "coverage awareness" as a weakness and says "coverage awareness and technique will come with experience on defense," which is the nice way to put it. Scout is the most bullish of the four sites, FWIW, probably because this is the good bit of their eval:
Change of Direction
…plays both sides of the ball with aggression. He attacks the defenders when he's running the ball, and he punishes ball carriers on defense. A strong safety type, Thomas has good acceleration and balance. He's good enough on offense to stay at running back similar to Matt Elam (UF) at the same stage.
ESPN notes that "he is not asked to defend a lot in space and man-to-man coverage skills are an area that will need some refinement" and says that he's not much for flipping the proverbial hips at this juncture.
Of course, Thomas has already been on campus for a semester. In that time he seems to have locked down the starting nickel spot. Michigan has been making do with small cover-oriented guys like Courtney Avery there ever since Thomas Gordon was needed deeper. As a result the nickel package has very rarely featured anything except coverage from the nickelback and has been limited to passing downs only. In modern football that is a bit of a problem. See Jake Ryan lining up over triple WR formations to murder screens. It works, but it would be nice to murder screens and have Jake Ryan rushing the passer.
Thomas brings a different skill package and can be deployed on nominal running downs. especially against the spread. Steve Wiltfong:
“He has a chance to be special at Michigan. …physically ready to go. He has the size and speed you’re looking for at the safety position. He can come down and play near the line of scrimmage and he can also cover and deliver the smack to ball carriers. He can force turnovers with his physical size of play. He is a fantastic get for Michigan there.”
His coach is talking about Thomas as a safety here but is even more so laying out the blueprint for a hybrid nickel defender:
"His advantage will be the time he has played linebacker in the box for us, because unlike a lot of high school defensive backs, Dymonte is used to the physical contact and loves it. He is used to coming up and thumping people, and he can close on the ball."
Greg Mattison declared him "definitely physically ready" and talked up his coachability:
“He’s very fast and he’s a young man that it’s not too big for him. He comes in everyday and you correct him, he doesn’t go in the tank. He immediately says, ‘ok what do I have to do?’ Very seldom does he do it wrong again.”
…“Based on the spring you’re going to see a guy that’s headed in the right direction to be there quite a bit this fall,” said Mattison.
“He’s a guy that, this summer, again, if he continues to do what he’s doing -- but we’ve been very happy with him.”
Thomas's attitude, cited just above, is another asset. I always perk up when I hear a kid's dad was in the military; Dymonte's dad is a former Marine who put his kids through "boot camp"($) if they slacked off. Thomas was also more than fine with splitting carries with eventual Tennessee recruit Alden Hill:
"Look, Dymonte is a one in a million type of player," Miley stated Friday. "We've had Division-I recruits here the past few years in Zach Higgins (Michigan State) and Alden Hill (Tennessee), but there's nobody like Dymonte. He has started for four years now for me, and I love the kid. Dymonte has never met a stranger, and he's the most personable kid on the team, yet he's a team player first."
"Everybody was worried about his stats last year but him," Miley added. "How many five-star recruits play scout-team tailback, to give the first defense a better look? Dymonte does. He will do whatever it takes to make himself and the team better. He will finish his career with over 5,000 yards rushing and 400 tackles. The 5,000 yards rushing will be amazing because he has split carries with Hill, who ended up with 4,973 yards. Imagine if Dymonte had the carries that Alden had the past few years? What would that yardage total look like? He will end up over 5,000 yards rushing as the second option most of his career. And he's the best defensive player in Stark County history, in my opinion."
It may take some time for Thomas to become a refined engine of death. It looks like it'll take less than the skeptics above predicted what with the instant starting job.
" Michigan will probably use him as a kickoff returner too, and Mattison said he could help out on offense."
I guess there are worse things to hear about a commit:
…came up in run support very well Tuesday and even when he struggled with guys like [Derrick] Green, he came back as physical as ever.
Hey, we got that kid too! /self high five
Why Stevie Brown? I know that probably made you break out in hives, but think about good late Stevie Brown: the kind of athlete who can pop a lead blocker and get out to the edge, who blitzes with speed and brings a load, who can cover underneath and down the seam. Who plays a hybrid LB/DB role. That's what Thomas is now, both as a high school linebacker and possibly—probably—Michigan's starting nickelback this fall.
Meanwhile, Brown finally figured out that whole safety thing en route to eight interceptions and a New York Giants interception return yardage record; Thomas has the same NFL-level athleticism and questions about his ability to translate that into reliable deep safety play. As a recruit, Brown was in the same range as Thomas; Dymonte's probably an inch or two taller. This comparison is a tight one.
Guru Reliability: Moderate-plus. Heavily scouted, Army guy, but positional questions and this review comes after we got a lot more information about the kid at Michigan's spring practice.
Variance: Moderate. Obviously brings all the athleticism you could want to the position and should be an okay starter at the very least.
Ceiling: Vast. Ripped a starting job away from a senior in no time flat, would be competitive in a race with Denard.
General Excitement Level: Just under vast. Smart kid with great personality and military dad should mean he scrapes his high ceiling; still, whenever you're projecting…
Projection: Um, seems to have already taken over the starting nickel position?
Down the road, Thomas may get a shot at replacing Thomas Gordon next year. In an ideal world I think he sticks at nickel for his career, operating as a frequently-deployed spread antidote and triple threat (rush the passer, defend the run, cover) in a system where he is as much of a starter as anyone else on the team. Michigan will of course cross-train the guy at deep safety to give them added flexibility and injury insurance. Like Gordon he may get dragged deeper because Michigan needs him, but that'll depend on Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark, and Jarrod Wilson… unless Thomas is just too good to ever take off the field, which you can't discount.
Also, I will not be surprised if Thomas ends up being the primary kick returner at some point. He has the raw Stonum-like speed to be a vertical threat there.
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]