the season has truly begun now
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||So.*||Dymonte Thomas||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Reon Dawson||Fr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
So, JARROD WILSON…
Okay, okay, Jarrod Wilson after the jump. Now…
ok, you're out of shoes, right
I've been talking about hybrid space players for years now, projecting that Michigan would acquire one of these important gentlemen since about a year after that, and resigning myself to yet another repurposed 5'9" corner four games into every season since. Two years ago:
The thing that kept me from playing nickel a lot last year – the nickel has to be able to blitz. He has to be able to change the math … some guys can blitz and some can’t.
Michigan didn't have that guy, and their defense was solid, but conservative.
Now… now Michigan has a hybrid space player. Sound the trumpets. Unfurl the banners. Roll the carpet forth unto the unworthy ground so that our prince can walk upon maize and blue! Fetch… fetch the Woodson comparison. Yes, from the vaults.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES [Fuller]
And so forth and so on. As to why Michigan is deploying its most hyped recruit ever at a spot historically reserved for a not-quite-starting cornerback on passing downs, let's revisit last year's preview:
The ideal nickelback is a corner/safety/linebacker hybrid who can cover slot receivers, blitz like a mofo, and fend off blockers to make tackles in space, and in the increasingly spread-oriented world of football they are essentially starters. This does not just apply to college football:
NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.
The QED here: that's an article on second-year player Casey Hayward, who replaced Charles friggin' Woodson as the Packers' nickel. In his time at that spot, Woodson picked up a Defensive Player of the Year award. The best nickels double as outside corners when teams are in a base package; others are just really important fifth defensive backs.
SI followed that Grantland article up with one this year asserting that the nickelback has risen in prominence as the NFL's "key battles move to the slot":
Teams ran base (with four defensive backs) 48 percent of the time in 2011, 45 percent in '12 and 40 percent in '13. Nickel sets increased from 40 to 44 to 49 percent over that same three-year span.
College is gradually following a similar pattern. One of the main reasons Michigan is moving to the over defense is that they were in it like half the time last year anyway, because that's how you have to respond to spread offenses. However, the motivations are somewhat different. In college if you get spread out there's a better than even chance they are spreading to run, an innovation still mostly on the sidelines in a league where you can pick the 30 most accurate passers in the world and whoever the Browns have this year.
But the idea remains the same: triple threat.
"To play nickel now? I think it's really hard. You have to play the two-way go [option routes in which the receiver can turn inside or outside based on coverage] inside the numbers, you have to be able to tackle, and you have to be able to blitz. And blitz is a technique, just like playing man-to-man or running routes. You need practice at that. You can't run in there straight up and down like a pencil, or you'll get decapitated. Because as the nickel, sometimes you blitz, and the tackle is set up on you. How do you beat him? You've got to get him back on his heels -- you set him up, almost like a basketball player driving to the hole.
You have to cover, you have to play the run, and you have to murder the quarterback. Come on down, JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile].
Since Peppers is a true freshman, and since he is Jabrill Peppers, I can't tell you anything you don't already know if you've read that profile. Selected, mouth-watering highlights:
"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
This one is particularly apt given Peppers's spot in the defense:
"…could play four to five different positions and excel at them. He is a strong running back. He is as fluid as a good corner. He hits like a linebacker. He could play safety. You could honestly take him and put him in an outside linebacker position and he would flourish.
USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
Scout's Scott Kennedy gets a gold star for his player comparison:
"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
Eric Berry was a nickel in college. People didn't quite know it at the time because everyone was just inventing the idea of putting your most badass guy there, but he was a nickel. He's a nickel in the NFL, acquiring 3.5 sacks in 2013 and going to the Pro Bowl every time he's been healthy.
That is the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or All Pro Charles Woodson, of course.
Can Peppers do it right away? I'm supposed to equivocate about freshmen here. I won't. He's got the size, he's got the speed, and he's blazed his way to the starting lineup essentially on day one. Sam Webb:
I know the Jabrill Peppers is hyped enough already but the word he is the real deal. You saw the pictures so you know where he is physically. But it’s the non-stop motor and tenacity that just put him on another level from most freshmen. … It’s often hard to keep expectations of freshmen subdued, but it’s especially hard when they’ve been as good as advertised in practice. They all say he is young and has a lot to learn, but also say he is as good as advertised.
I'm sure there will be some busts as he gets situated in the defense. That should be the primary issues. Go time: now.
[After the JUMP: the actual safeties, you shoe-throwing maniac.]
Dymonte Thomas (L) and Jourdan Lewis (R) both committed before receiving coveted offers.
It's been a long time since I did one of these, and after the Shaun Crawford decommitment the topic of discussion is Michigan's very simple policy: if a commit takes visits, the coaches will continue recruiting for that spot, and while they'll continue recruiting the prospect taking visits they'll no longer consider him a commit.
At this point, the policy itself is clear to the point that its particulars aren't up for debate. Its merits, on the other hand, have been questioned. Here's a great question that helps show why it works:
Two part question:
Have there been any Michigan signees that come to mind who benefited the most from the policy being in place? A guy who was locked in early before he blew up regionally or nationally and it kept him in Michigan’s camp maybe? Or a guy, maybe like Peppers, who by committing and not looking around was solely focused on his senior year and helping the recruiting effort.
And on the flip side can you think of a couple of specific names (not including Dawson and the guys who have decommitted this year) who were probably scared away by it and may otherwise have ended up in a Michigan class had it not been for the coach staffs visit rules?
Jabrill Peppers is a nice example to start with, as he considered taking visits a couple months before Signing Day, then reaffirmed his pledge after taking his official visit to Michigan and talking with both the coaches and his family. Who knows what would've happened if Brady Hoke had allowed him to remain committed and visit, say, Alabama? At best, it would've bothered a lot of the other commits. At worst, Peppers would've ended up in Crimson.
Two other current U-M defensive backs come to mind when answering the first part of the question. Dymonte Thomas committed nearly a year-and-a-half before signing his LOI; at the time, the Alliance, Ohio product didn't hold an Ohio State offer, which befuddled Buckeye recruitniks. Even though Thomas' cousin, Bri'onte Dunn, committed to OSU in the interim, when Urban Meyer extended an offer two months later Thomas laughed it off on Twitter. He'd committed, end of story, and he knew what a commitment to Michigan entailed—no trips to check out Columbus and see if he'd want to play with his cousin, something they'd discussed before their respective commitments.
There's also Jourdan Lewis, who eventually became an Army All-American but held this list of offers when he pledged during The Greatest Mid-February Weekend In The History Of Mid-February Weekends: Michigan and Toledo. That's it. Other schools tried to enter the fray, but Lewis remained firm in his pledge—again, in part because he knew the consequences if he started looking around. All he had to do was ask his teammate, David Dawson, the shining example of how the Damien Harris situation can still work out in Michigan's favor.
As for the flip side, there have been multiple prospects in recent years who very nearly committed to U-M while on visits, and in retrospect it's clear the policy helped avoid an eventual decommitment. Malik McDowell immediately comes to mind, as does Artavis Scott. If McDowell had committed, his journey to East Lansing—and I believe he'd have ended up there regardless—would've had even more twists and turns. Same goes for Scott, who took to Clemson's overtures so quickly it's difficult to imagine a Michigan pledge would've stuck.
The best example of the policy avoiding a major issue, however, is a prospect who did at one point commit to U-M: 2014 OT Denzel Ward. His recruitment requires bullet points:
- Committed to Michigan in October 2012, a week after receiving the U-M offer, his best to date. By the first week of January, he'd also hold offers from Arizona State, Florida, and Ohio State.
- Took an unofficial visit to Florida in January 2013 without informing the coaches; at this time, he also transferred high schools from the Chicago area to the IMG Academy in Florida, which also came as a surprise to Michigan's staff.
- Shortly thereafter, Michigan told Ward he was no longer a commit, and due to the lack of communication with the coaches they didn't plan to pursue him again.
- Ward named Florida as his leader in March. He picked up an Oklahoma offer around that time.
- Despite an impressive offer sheet, Ward committed to Purdue in June.
- Three days after an official visit to USF, Ward decommitted from Purdue in December.
- Less than a week after taking his final official visit to Syracuse, Ward committed to the Orange and signed his LOI.
When Michigan recognized Ward was a serious flight risk, they broke things off, and eventually replaced him in the class with a higher-rated, UA All-American tackle in Juwann Bushell-Beatty. If I had to guess whether JBB lasts longer at Michigan or Ward at Syracuse... well, I bet you can guess my answer.
This was going to be a full mailbag, but I got pretty wordy on this one, so I'll answer the rest of the questions in a separate post tomorrow.
This is how Brady Hoke sees an 'M'. [Upchurch]
Recruits: if you are reading this, do not believe the man in the red/crimson track suit telling you that criticism of Brady Hoke or his staff means Michigan is going to lose him anytime soon. Those are very bad men who are likely to have you downsized to Southern Alabama or regularly featured in photographs and articles that highlight how bad you are at tackling. You also should pay no attention to bloggers who suggest you should ride pine until 2016 and that your future coach needs to win X amount of games until then to even be his coach. Also I shouldn't be talking to you.
Fifth-year seniors >>>>>>> freshmen on special teams. That's why I strongly disagree with the conclusions of AC1997's assessment of this year's redshirting, while appreciating the hell out of the diary (quick read, too). The only one he's mad about is Da'Mario Jones, while Bosch and York are "questionable." I know we did this recently in a roundtable but my take is different:
- Obviously play him: Smith, Butt, Gedeon. All were effective and needed.
- Not mad but needed a shirt: Shane—we've discussed this. Green but you kind of have to play five-stars. Bosch but chances are good there's still two decent 2017 starting guards out of Samuelson, Dawson, and Mason Cole and other 2014/15 recruits.
Me in 2017 is (probably) very upset about this. [Fuller]
- Mad: The safeties and receivers and here's our big disagreement. Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill are perfect examples of the reason we have a tag about burning redshirts on special teams. Jones & York—Mathlete keeps telling us that returning experience at receiver is a strong indicator of a good offense and vice versa, and unless a receiver has a massive talent lead on the DBs trying to cover him WR effectiveness is about route running and blocking and reps reps reps.
- Pick ONE cursed freshman corner: Both Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling played, both were pretty good for freshmen, one was needed. Theory: Uber recruits tend to cast a shadow on recruiting their positions, so it's important to have good stocks ahead of them (see: Russell Bellomy/Shane Morris situation). Peppers doesn't fill a depth chart by himself, and if he really is Woodson reincarnate* he'll be gone to the NFL after winning the 2016 Heisman and then we're left with Whitley and Howard.**
At the risk of sounding like every NFL columnist who thinks every franchise needs to adopt the strategy of whichever team just won the Superbowl, the reason Michigan State and Wisconsin have been to Indianapolis twice apiece, despite recruiting classes that top out like our (mediocre-for-Michigan) 2011 haul, is because they redshirt almost everybody and keep them around.
It's a luxury of stable programs, and Michigan is still paying for not being one of those for the latter half of the 2000s. Denard would have been nice to have this year, obviously. How badly did you wish for Vincent Smith when the RBs were getting Gardner killed? How's Michigan's pass rush if you add fifth years from Roh and Campbell to it? Brandin Hawthorne could have let you put a shirt on Gedeon. Developed talent is good. Fifth year seniors are good. Leastways they're better than a marginal improvement in kickoff coverage for a team that rarely scores touchdowns.
*[Nobody is Woodson reincarnate. The thing about the greatest players in the history of the game is they don't grow on trees.]
** [I mean who wants 1998 Todd Howard starting? He's a true freshman. He's short. He doesn't know how to press yet. He's…he's right behind me isn't he?
Nope, he's over there by Brian.]
That's not what I expected. Okay, reader. Zoom out, cock your head sideways, and tell me with just a glance what you think this diary was about:
Turnover analysis? A deep look inside offensive stats? An estimated timetable for improvement? Nope: try a "when do we fire this guy" post.
Deep, statistical analysis to answer rhetorical fan questions that have simple answers not requiring statistics (Michigan isn't firing Brady Hoke anytime soon): these are my readers tag activated. Really it's a case of bad title—what he's doing is comparing Hoke's coaching stops to those of the most successful coaches in recent history, concluding that Michigan needs to win 20 games in the next two seasons (and probably a national championship) to have his name placed among that pantheon. Expectations are probably around 17, with the fanbase getting mighty grumpy if that number dips below 16.
Your regular etc. LSA tackles (ha!) the defense, which straddled the B+/A- line all year until it faced Miller-Hyde without its middle linebackers.
[After the jump: a very meta board]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan abandoned the two-high look for most of this game in favor of seven or seven and a half man fronts depending on whether Nebraska was in standard or three-wide personnel. Against 2TEs and a back:
Against three wide they would often go with a straight up 4-3 under on plausible run downs. This is a four-wide formation on which Michigan has 4-3 personnel on the field (that's Cam Gordon over the slot) and only gets out of their 4-3 under because Nebraska splits a TE.
This is a wide shot of a fairly typical one-high setup:
All of this was great for jamming up Nebraska's inside run game and very bad for option pitches.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Avery and Furman started at safety, with Wilson frequently subbing in. He was in the same role Bolden was, essentially a third starter. Thomas Gordon did not play. Countess went out in the first quarter, which put Dymonte Thomas on the field in the nickel and Stribling on the field on all downs. Lewis played only a little early and then was out.
Linebackers were the usual. Ryan/Gordon at SAM, Ross/Bolden/Morgan three guys for two spots at ILB. On the line, Jibreel Black(!) was your starting nose tackle with Washington rotating in. Henry and Glasgow were at the three tech, Clark went almost the whole way at WDE with Ojemudia in a clear backup role, and the same thing happened at SDE with Beyer and Wormley. On nickel packages, Taco Charlton came in as a DT. This was probably not a good move.
[After THE JUMP: 17 points should be good enough.]
Watch the birdie.
In my day freshmen appeared on the scene knocking down Bobby Hoying passes, shutting down Terry Glenn, and cleaving Eddie George. Then they'd switch to offense and fold Mike Vrabel in twain. What's the matter with kids today? The cast today:
- Ann-Margret as Brian Cook
- Dick Van Dyke as Seth Fisher
- Bobby Rydell as Ace Anbender
- Jesse Pearson as Brandon "Birdie" Brown
|Of the young linebackers, we've seen a lot of Bolden but not much from him. [Upchurch]|
It's an expectation (or a conceit) at Michigan that recruits follow a "track" of progression that should see them all-conference and worth drafting after four years in the program. Of the 2012 class and the few '13 guys who've seen action, who do you see as ahead of schedule, or worryingly behind?
Ace: I'm not even going to bother with the 2013 class because it's beyond too early to discuss their progression versus expectations; frankly, that's the case for the 2012 class as well, but they at least have a handful of guys who have broken through and seen extensive time.
Three players who are clearly ahead of schedule are Devin Funchess, James Ross, and Willie Henry. Funchess has gone from dangerous-but-terrible-at-blocking tight end to dangerous-and-oh-god-so-dangerous wide receiver, and he's got an NFL future even if his blocking never develops as much as we'd hope. Ross has had an up-and-down year but still has a stranglehold on the weakside LB starting job; he's a future all-conference player once he adds a little more weight to take on blocks—his instincts are already there. Henry's initial expectations weren't as high as the other two, nor has he played at their level consistently, but he's easily exceeded expectations for a late three-star pickup just by seeing the field and holding his own.
[Jump like a Funchess]
Unlike other UFRs you may have read, this one comes with about 20x the NORFLEET! Michigan kickoffs were on Tuesday. Here's kick returns.
Michigan's deep set is usually Gedeon, Houma and Rawls then Dileo as a lead blocker (sets up opposite side of the field in case it goes there), and Norfleet returning. Houma and Rawls double the first guy to arrive while Gedeon's job is to wall off the second arrival so there's a hole between them. Up high it's like everybody else: four guys start just past the 50, two on the 40. Their job is to run downfield, then find somebody to hit and sustain that block. I'm sure Space Coyote is going to have a name for this but here's what it looks like:
After his injury Drake Johnson was replaced by Ross (vs ND) or Furman (elsewise). They change it up a lot up front. When Funchess was hurt Jackson folded back there. Hayes and Chesson rotated in at times.
Ball arrives after the...