"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
Black and Gordon are the only two starters departing. [Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller]
- DT Jibreel Black. Went from average-sized SDE to undersized three-tech to massively incredibly undersized NT over course of the season; effective pass rusher; clubbed by double teams a lot, especially late; NFL FA camp cut type.
- S Thomas Gordon. Inexplicably futzed with midseason as coaches were dissatisfied with him for reasons obscure to me; was that one touchdown on which he was a step late against MSU really that bad? Never a playmaker, but rarely busted large; a solid performer; coaches don't think they'll miss him, I guess.
- SAM Cam Gordon. Michigan's leader in sacks on the season, which says a lot about the Michigan pass rush, no offense Mr. Gordon; beat out first by Beyer and then by Ryan once he returned; did provide quality depth.
- NT Quinton Washington. Lack of utilization only explained by nagging injury, disease, or vampirism, assuming that really bright stadium lights also qualify in this version of vampirism. Like seriously they played Jibreel Black at NT over this guy after he was very good as a junior. Inexplicable. I guess they won't miss him much because they didn't play him?
- Nickelback/S Courtney Avery. Pushed out of corner rotation by freshmen; relegated to rotating in at safety, where he blew coverages because he played them like he was a nickelback. Missed a tackle on Braxton Miller spectacularly.
- SLB Jake Ryan. Was not the barbarian he was as a sophomore with just 4.5 TFLs in his eight games played, but came back from ACL tear in about three weeks so was probably not full-go. Michigan really needs him to return to his terrorizing ways as a senior.
- MLB Desmond Morgan. Better player than he's given credit for; had to deal with way too many free-releasing Gs who saw Michigan's DTs as no threat late; thumper; coverage was pretty solid, at least insofar as when someone tried to dump a ball over Morgan's head he was inches away from making a play.
- CB Blake Countess. Ruthlessly exposed by Tyler Lockett in bowl game; prior to that, largely avoided because when not avoided he was picking off six passes. When not put up against Tyler Lockett, very good, and as a redshirt sophomore. A step up would maybe put him somewhere in the vicinity of All Big Ten.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Targeted extensively; won some; lost some; four INTs of his own, most of them impressive. Run support a problem. Probably good! Probably.
- S Jarrod Wilson. Inexplicably benched midseason like Gordon, then explicably so in the OSU game because he had a huge cast on his hand. Not a playmaker, not a source of WHY DID YOU NO OUCH touchdowns, which is pretty good for a sophomore. Will be relied upon heavily in secondary with little experience other than his person.
- WLB James Ross III. Year lacked impact thanks to poor DT play in front of him; still second on the team in tackles with 85. Never going to be a big guy; needs the defense to shape itself around his abilities by having big ol' absorbers in front so he can slash. Prognosis: maybe.
- SDE Brennen Beyer. Impact rusher early in the year—at least in the context of Michigan's pass rush—faded later; when Ryan came back was shuffled from SAM to SDE, where he was wildly undersized. Hoping for a Roh 2.0 senior season.
- WDE Frank Clark. Total non-factor for first half of season, and just when everyone had given up turned it on and turned in a Tim Jamison-as-a-senior year with 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Somehow became second team All Big Ten with those numbers and 43 total tackles; next year may deserve that.
- DT Willie Henry. When Willie Henry says he trusts a man as far as he can throw them, he means it as a compliment. Massively strong freshman alternated person-hurlin' with guys getting under his pads and blowing him up. Needs technique badly; if he gets it will be fantastic.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Making some progress when he tore his ACL midseason, complicating many things. Can a very large man keep up the conditioning and recover in time to be effective by fall? Let's hope so.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Sophomore essentially a third starter behind Ross and Morgan; still tends to take hits rather than deliver them; blew a lot of coverages early in the season; figures to reprise role next year.
- SDE/DT Chris Wormley. Tall guy; made a few plays; mostly a nonfactor; freshman.
- An Enormous Pile Of Returning, Undifferentiated Defensive Linemen. Ojemudia, Charlton, Glasgow, Godin, Heitzman, etc.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Pipkins and Henry are big boys. [Fuller]
A nose tackle! Probably. Also, more size. Michigan's line went from somewhat undersized to massively so when Pipkins went out and Beyer moved from SAM to SDE, giving you a line that often read: Beyer(250 lbs), Black (285), Henry (306), Clark (280). In retrospect, that was asking for it, and Ohio State gave us what we asked for.
Next year Black is out, replaced by some combination of Pipkins, Henry, Maurice Hurst, and maybe Richard Ash. If Henry does get drafted into the nose rotation, Godin and Wormley will probably man the three-tech at 300-ish pounds each. Beyer, meanwhile, will embark on the bacon smoothie diet Craig Roh did as he prepared to play his senior year as an undersized SDE, and while he's still going to be less than ideal at that spot he'll be a lot more plausible at 280.
Jabrill Peppers. Is it too much to hype Jabrill Peppers up as a potential program-changing dude? In year one, probably. But there's an obvious role for him on this defense: boundary corner. Michigan's DBs are generally tiny dudes, and the guys who aren't, like Channing Stribling, are skinny. Michigan could use a 210 pound corner, especially since that pushes Taylor to the nickel package, and that seems like a pretty good nickel package.
Someone next to Wilson. The greatest uncertainty on the defense is who takes over for Thomas Gordon. Josh Furman is an option after getting some playing time late last year; he does not seem like a good one. The other candidates:
- Delano Hill. Claim to fame is being in the middle of OSU fracas that got a couple of contributors booted. Supposedly a guy with a good understanding of safety; definitely a quality athlete.
- Jeremy Clark. 6'4" potential ballhawk will be a redshirt sophomore.
- Dymonte Thomas. Supposed lock starter after spring marginalized; blocked a punt in the opener and missed a tackle when forced into the lineup in the Nebraska game by Countess's concussion.
- Converted Corner. There are a lot of corners and one may get a look further back. Stribling and Reon Dawson are the most likely, because they're not 5'10".
It's nice to have four options instead of two, or one, or zero; there is no indicator who's going to get the nod. Something to watch in spring.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Veterans. I've piled the various returning DL into one bullet point and glossed over Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis; Michigan loses just two starters and three contributors while returning everyone else. They'll have three year starters at CB (two, in fact), LB (also two), and on the DL (possibly two, depending on how you classify Brennen Beyer).
Depth. Five guys go out the door, and in compensation Michigan gets to age 14 defensive linemen and welcome in Bryan Mone early. Michigan has a solid two deep everywhere on the line save NT, which is still in the air; they return three ILBs with a lot of experience; they may be bumping a senior three year starter to nickel depending on Peppers, and where do Lewis and Stribling go this year, let alone the two corners they redshirted a year ago?
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Pass rush. Michigan was 70th in sack percentage (sacks / (passing attempts + sacks)) this year, which is worlds better than it felt like. It is still not good. A half step forward from Frank Clark gets him to 8 or 10, and then a full year of a healthy Jake Ryan adds another 5 or 6, and… actually, you're getting towards pretty good already there. There is the potential for this to move into the 30s, which would be a huge boost to every unit's pass defense.
Getting crushed by spread 'n' shreds. This post was going to be a lot sunnier before the last two games of the year, in which Michigan was bludgeoned. Before that they'd turned in a lot of good performances in which they gave up the ghost late. Their one truly bad performance was getting smoked by Indiana, and that was seemingly more for reasons of unfamiliarity and lack of preparation than out-and-out talent.
Then OSU and KSU laid waste. Now you go back and look at Northwestern clubbing Michigan last year only to lose on a Hail Mary and South Carolina's crew of 5'9" speedsters slicing up M's secondary as South Carolina used their QB to paper over the fact their OL couldn't block for their tailback. Or Ohio State putting up 34 in their lost 6-7 year. There seems to be a developing narrative of Michigan failing to contain spread-to-run offenses more often than not. For every 2013 Minnesota there are two 2011 Ohio States. I would say this is reminiscent of the Carr era, but Michigan would have to be a lot better for that to be true.
Getting crushed generally, up the middle. I want to move Henry to nose tackle in my mind, but then 3-tech becomes this jumble of Wormley/Godin/Strobel/Poggi and I'm not sure how confident I am in that. But then: can you rely on Pipkins, and who is your 0.5 starter at nose? Hurst? Ash? I don't want to move Henry out of the starting lineup, but I don't want him trying to play two positions, and I don't want a questionable Pipkins backed up by a freshman.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Are the corners actually good? Now we get to extend this argument about Taylor to a larger stage. PRO: between them the two starting CBs had ten interceptions, virtually all of them the impressive sort where the corner makes a play. No batted balls here. CON: Michigan was 49th in YPA allowed at 6.9. PRO: with a crappy pass rush and safety issues. CON: what safety issues?
I'll take 10 INTs and slightly above average pass defense with that pass rush and those huge chunks of yards Stribling and Lewis gave up because of phasing/gypsy issues. Yes, Tyler Lockett annihilated them. Tyler Lockett does that to everybody. Every-damn-body. Against mortals, I would expect Taylor/Countess to be a high quality pairing. But, you know… Lockett.
What about James Ross? He was supposed to be the bees' knees according to someone. Oh, right, me. He was kind of eh, his year bookended by passing spread after passing spread in which he was mostly dropping into zones effectively and injury. More than anyone else he was hurt by having Black and Henry as DTs, as those guys tended to dart into the backfield to do something and get all the credit or get blown up. In the first case there was a guy releasing into him free; in the second he had to try to pick around three guys moving the wrong way to make his read worth anything.
I think Ross will be good if Michigan can keep him clean.
Oh good another new safety. I hate new safeties.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
Despite the alarming trend at the end of the year, the arrow does point up for this outfit, which loses very few contributors and has a ton of guys competing to break through into the starting lineup. There are something like five cornerbacks I'd be relatively confident to see on the field, which is 3-5 more than usual. The linebackers return almost entirely intact; the line does as well. They should be better—possibly a lot better.
The major looming issue is defensive tackle. The Pipkins injury was the worst possible one for the defense to suffer, as they have scant options right now a position on the field where you need at least 1.5 starters.
I don't think I can predict this is a top 10-ish defense without one elite DL, and I don't think I see that happening. Clark and Henry both have potential; I don't think either is going to truly blow up. But plenty of depth and experience everywhere should provide Michigan an opportunity to cut down on the mistakes significantly and ramp it up against everyone who can't just maul them on the line. How many teams will be able to do that… let's say two? Two.
I still think this is a unit that takes a leap forward next year. It's a leap forward from ten spots further back now, but a legit top 20 outfit is my median expectation.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- LT Taylor Lewan. Four year starter took all kinds of heat for performance of Michigan OL as if he was able to play four positions at once or he had some sort of deficiency in his Leadership Aura and was not communicating enough Leadership to the rag-tag interior line. Was in fact the same player he was as a junior—a great one—and NFL draft slot in the first round will reflect this.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Michigan's all-time single season receiving yards record is now his, so at least I was right about one thing in the preseason. Short, but good at fades; eviscerated Notre Dame; eviscerated Indiana; eviscerated Ohio State; best pound for pound WR in country not named Lockett.
- RT Michael Schofield. Overshadowed by Lewan his entire career but emerged into a complete run/pass tackle as a senior. I know there was so much pressure up the middle that there were fewer opportunities than normal for tackles to biff, but when's the last time you remember Schofield getting beat by a pass rusher? That one time he miscommunicated with Toussaint doesn't count. I mean straight-up beat. It's hard to remember. Will be missed; will be drafted.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome sort of epitomized 2013 with ill-time drops, but was a reliable chain-mover and special teams tool. Will miss calling him "sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome" because obviously.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Final game saw him receive two carries; entire career one long comedown from explosive junior season; horrible, horrible pass blocker. Had mostly been replaced by end of year.
- WRs Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds. Little-used backups were good program guys but should be replaceable.
I may have reused these pictures. The numbers may be a give away.
- QB Devin Gardner. Chaos machine seemed to reduce interceptions as season went along, but how much that perception changes if some guys catch some passes in their guts is up for debate. Excellent YPA despite having most of his body ground into paste by year's end. Should take step forward as senior; still major X-factor.
- WR Devin Funchess. For the love of God, world, stop pretending this man is a tight end. Looking at you, Big Ten awards committee. Michigan's second-leading receiver with 49 catches for 748 yards and six TDs; works just fine as a jumbo WR, thanks. Hands issues late after fine start to career. Go-to WR next year.
- OL Graham Glasgow. Only returning OL to have and hold a job all year; had some struggles after move to center; has the size and athleticism for the major college level of competition, as ESPN is wont to say; will play somewhere but Michigan probably hoping Patrick Kugler bounces him out to guard.
- TE Jake Butt. Site tagline does not refer to him. Productive freshman season saw him add 45 pounds and catch 20 balls for 235 yards; was probably M's best blocker at the spot; 15 more pounds and he is the dual threat Borges has wanted from day one.
- OL Erik Magnuson. Entered on second line shuffle of year and stuck; now obviously moving out to tackle and must be quality, because options other than him are scanty indeed.
- OL Kyle Kalis. Recruiting sheen severely reduced after painful redshirt freshman season saw him benched, supposedly for an undisclosed ankle injury. Performance even before that was middling at best. But was FR OL.
- OL Kyle Bosch. True freshman showed some promise; showed a lot of true freshman business. Momentarily replaced Kalis but then lost his job to Kalis once again. Tentatively penciled in as a starter
- WR Jehu Chesson. Nominal starter hardly targeted in first few games and then saw Funchess eat his job; did grab 15 balls for 221 yards and crushed a few dudes, whether it was on special teams or after the catch. Probably still the #3 WR with Amara Darboh's return but a promising freshman year should see him eat up some of Gallon's targets.
- TE AJ Williams. Blocking TE seemed to regress after freshman year; could not block. Major issue needs repairing STAT.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Your primary blocking back. May be drafted as pass protector again, but hopefully not.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Kugler and Braden may step in
One or two or three guys on the offensive line. At this instant your leaders on the offensive line are probably Magnuson-Bosch-Glasgow-Kalis mentioned above and Ben Braden at RT, but that is the shakiest depth chart in the history of the concept. Magnuson is the only certainty, as Michigan isn't going to trust anyone else to be their left tackle a year after Braden went from sure starter to ghost because he didn't have the foot quickness to hack it at guard. Glasgow is also pretty safe, as he didn't get pulled from the lineup last year and can play any of the three interior spots.
Everyone else is 50/50 at best with Michigan getting five guys off redshirts and having a few veterans also competing. Will Patrick Kugler be the man from day one at center? Will Chris Bryant get it together? Will David Dawson beat someone out whether it's at guard or right tackle, where I've heard they expect him to compete? The answers to these questions will start trickling in during spring and not have a full resolution until Michigan's first offensive snap… if then.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball, again. I'm lumping Michigan's four returning tailbacks into the "new" category for reasons both obvious and hopeful:
- Drake Johnson tore his ACL covering a kick after two carries.
- Justice Hayes had two carries last year; De'Veon Smith had 26.
- Derrick Green did get 83 carries, normally enough to put him into the returning category, but with so many of those doomed by the OL in front of him and the hope that he goes from kind of plodding to the lean brute that impressed recruiting analysts, those 83 carries don't mean much.
For the third straight year Michigan will be looking for anything that works on the ground other than Denard Robinson, and what Michigan can expect from its tailbacks is still in doubt.
"The single greatest catch I've ever seen in person" –Devin Gardner
African refugee wide receivers, again. Amara Darboh's debut was delayed by a foot injury suffered late in fall camp; this year he should debut as something between an uninspiring chain mover and Jason Avant (but fast)! Darboh had buckets of practice hype after a series of spectacular catches put him on everyone's lips in press conferences. He was clearly ahead of Chesson at the time and probably still is after Chesson had a decent but not paradigm-shifting debut.
And we can throw in Chesson here, too: he figures to absorb a lot of snaps not just from Gallon but Dileo, Jackson, and Reynolds. With Gallon's targets spreading across the offense he'll get a shot to be an impact player he didn't this year.
Dennis Norfleet, for pants' sake. I swear on this bible factory that if Michigan can't find a productive role for Dennis Norfleet in this offense I am going to break every rule in the factory of bibles I have just sworn upon. This does not mean bringing him in motion every time he's on the field. It means looking at him as a slot receiver instead of a tiny bouncy freak show, which okay yeah he is but seriously people just imagine what West Virginia would do with the guy and do it.
More TE-ish guys. Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman come off redshirts and should bring blocky/catchy/runny aspects to the guys on the field who aren't WRs or RBs, whatever you'd like to call them. With Butt and Williams aging and hopefully improving, Michigan might have some options here to do tricky things, particularly in the redzone. If any of them can block.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Funchess. This was Gardner to Gallon last year. This year it is pretty obvious what replaces that: Devin Funchess blew up after his move to WR, taking end-arounds and leaping over people both before and after he acquired the ball. They even threw him a couple fades late in the year when it occurred to them that maybe that was a good idea.
Unfortunately, after a very strong start to his career in the catching department drops became an issue around the Michigan State game. The overall picture is still a guy with very good hands and a huge catching radius, though.
He's already the Big Ten's second-leading returning receiver, behind only Hoosier Cody Latimer, and Latimer plays in a light-speed offense that inflates basic counting stats. With a full season at WR and Gallon off to the NFL, a thousand-yard season is a certainty. The only question is at what point television accepts the fact that he's a wideout.
What happens if Gardner gets injured, at least relative to usual. Michigan seems to have itself a legit backup QB in Shane Morris for the first time in forever.
Passing weapons writ large. There is some projection in saying this, but it doesn't seem like Gallon's departure is going to leave Gardner bereft of options. He's got a #1 guy ready to step into that role and then you've got Darboh, Chesson, Butt, Norfleet, and possibly contributors from either the three-man 2013 class or Drake Harris/Moe Ways/Freddy Canteen in 2014. Five veterans plus six young options looks like a lot of options to me.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Pass protection. This was horrendous and doesn't figure to get a lot better with both tackles out the door. Magnuson still needs to add 15-20 pounds to hold up against bull rushes and the question mark at right tackle is highly ominous. Maybe I'm making too much of Braden's swift disappearance from the two deep in fall, but… man, to swiftly disappear from that two-deep would seem to bode unwell. If it's not Braden then it seems like Michigan is trying to shoehorn a guy who would be better at guard into the RT spot, whether it's Dan Samuelson or David Dawson or even Bosch. Add to that continuing uncertainty on the interior and it's easy to see Michigan QBs get harassed as much as they were this year.
The seeming certainty that there will be three (or more!) brutal clunkers from this unit. Three years in and Borges's crew has thrown up at least three horrendous games a year, every year, as whatever mad scientist stuff Borges throws at the wall backfires spectacularly when his team can't execute the new stuff and can't execute anything else because the offense is a chameleon from game to game with the exception of throwback screens.
How far they have to go and how much time they have to do it in. Discussed more in the next section, but it seems like the best case scenario next year is improvement by default that gives us little insight into what Michigan should do going forward. Regression to the mean should see Michigan uptick in many categories in which they set dubious records. Hooray, but if Michigan is 70th in TFLs allowed in year four that just puts us in an uncertain netherworld. Your options here:
- Michigan has a near repeat of last year. PRO: No uncertainty here as everyone is put on a donkey and ridden out of town. CON: Michigan has a near repeat of last year.
- Michigan is below mediocre on the line, but not a completely unwatchable tire fire. PRO: Manage to avoid stabbing other eye out. CON: No idea whether to stay the course and hope for further improvement in year five or move on after third consecutive mediocre at best season.
- Michigan is good! PRO: Michigan is good. CON: Drugs are expensive.
It's hard to see anything definitively good happening next year.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? This is a repeat from last year, because the offensive line was worse and now the offensive line is losing two NFL tackles. This year… they literally cannot be worse. Michigan finished 123rd of 123 in tackles for loss allowed and turned Devin Gardner into hamburger. So we've got that going for us. The offensive line can't be worse, because they're already at the bottom.
Okay but can they be massively better? That is the real question here. Michigan has to be vastly better on the offensive line next year or it's firing time: for Funk definitely, for Borges definitely, and after (hypothetically) three straight years of non-Denard utter incompetence on the ground probably Hoke.
And… yikes. Frankly, writing this bit makes me think they should just throw everyone over right now because how can you go from that to average in one year while losing your two best guys? These kind of reclamation projects are two-year deals, usually, and that's if they get reclaimed at all.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? This is also a repeat from last year, because the answer was NO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NO. For perspective, Michigan rushed for 3.9 yards a carry in 2008, with Brandon Minor leading the way at 5.2 yards a pop. Last year, Michigan had 3.3. This rushing offense was tons worse than the 2008 outfit despite having some very threatening weapons on the outside. No offense to Nick Sheridan, Steven Threet, Greg Mathews or Martavious Odoms, but in terms of loosening up a defense… uh… does this sentence need to continue? Nope. It ended right there.
Michigan must have a function running back for the first time in three years or it's head-lopping time.
Can Gardner get his interceptions down to a reasonable rate? You'd think this would improve what with experience and not getting annihilated all the time, but 1) he might get annihilated all the time, and 2) we saw with Denard that sometimes guys just don't get better at taking care of the ball as they acquire experience. This is pretty much another do or die here for Borges: have one of your quarterback show major improvement or GTFO.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Oh hell, I don't know. Things should get better on the ground and the pass protection won't be great… could be just as bad. Gardner's experience and a lot of options in the passing game should result in something more tolerable than 2013. How much and how much impact that has on the wins and losses I just don't know anymore man.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
- S Jordan Kovacs. Long time safety blanket specialized in open-field tackles, especially on fourth down, and was rarely victimized by his brain. Speed exposed by speedy South Carolina receivers, but you'll miss him early when someone screws up and you remember what it's like to have a safety biff a tackle and turn not much into lots.
- SDE Craig Roh. Journeyman switched positions every year, finally finding a home at SDE. Four sacks were second on the team to Jake Ryan; did a lot of non-boxscore stuff. Quality player; never quite panned out into the QB terror he was purported to be. Production should be replaceable.
- MLB Kenny Demens. Started every game, finished second on team with 82 tackles, 50 of them solo. Surprisingly quality in coverage; never great; guy you can win with.
- DT Will Campbell. Long-time disappointment got serious in 2012 and turned in adequate, blocker-absorbing season. Not an impact player—1.5 TFLs on the year. May go late in NFL draft thanks to sheer size.
- CB JT Floyd. Three-year starter turned career around after debacle of 2010, but was always kind of a sore spot as teams went after him and his lack of speed over and over again. Rarely cracked; had to be covered for at times. Iffy run defender. NFL FA type.
- WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Nonfactor.
Ryan, Ross, QWASH
- SLB Jake Ryan. Barbarian was Michigan's sole impact player on defense; shut down screens consistently, explosive rusher led team with 16 TFLs and four forced fumbles. Remember that thing he did? Yeah.
- MLB Desmond Morgan [probably]. With James Ross champing at the bit to enter the starting lineup, the stout Morgan is likely to move over to middle linebacker, allowing Ross to flow freely. Morgan was third on the team in tackles last year—M's linebackers were 1-2-3 like nature intended, with Gordon and Kovacs next—and displayed tackling prowess. He'll get pushed; he'll have to be forcibly unseated.
- NT Quinton Washington. Season surprise turned nose tackle from looming liability to actually kind of a strength. Not a Martin-type penetrator but ended up powerful and difficult to block. Range spans from merely okay to All Big Ten. Has future as wrestler named QWASH if football doesn't work out.
- CB Blake Countess. Freshman starter was hyped up as next great Michigan corner before being hewed down in the first game covering a punt. Will likely return to the field corner spot he locked down in the offseason.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Stepped in for Countess after Courtney Avery didn't seem up to the task and held his own for the most part. Teams mostly went after Floyd, leaving him alone. Did get burned for a touchdown in the bowl game. Tendency to get lost on zones should attenuate; has better size than any other experienced corner and will probably end up at boundary with Floyd's departure.
- WLB James Ross III. Bloodhound as a true freshman but too slight to take on blockers and big tailbacks effectively. With a season in the weight room should go from promising to excellent. 2012 : Jake Ryan :: 2013 : James Ross.
- FS Thomas Gordon. Unsung counterpart to Kovacs has not made as many flashy TFLs but is part of the Michigan defense's remarkable ability to prevent big plays over the last couple years. Probably takes over Kovacs's frequent blitzes.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Played a lot as a true freshman and will push Morgan and Ross equally. Survey says he loses the starting job but gets so much time he's essentially a third ILB starter. Needs to get a little meaner, work on pass drops, all that freshman business. Will be quality.
- Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
- DT Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
- WDE Brennen Beyer. Best of the three WDEs at run D; nonfactor getting to the QB. Let's all focus our Heininger Certainty Principle at him.
- WDE Frank Clark. Co-starter at WDE made more plays behind the line (9 TFLs) and batted down a lot of passes, but had trouble beating blocks—thus all the batted passes—and still blows contain responsibility on the read option a maddening amount. Up or out for him.
- SDE Keith Heitzman. Redshirt freshman flashed a couple things in the spring game and came on as a rotation guy about halfway through the year, grading out okay. Could emerge into SDE starter or could maintain that rotation thing another year.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Massively hyped recruit was rotation partner with Washington. Got knocked over by a running back once; did bull his way into the backfield impressively a couple times. DTs need time; Pipkins should make a leap in the offseason.
- WDE Mario Ojemudia. Hilariously undersized high school DT promised to be mini-Martin… still working on that. Needed size, technique; may burst past WDE competitors with strong offseason.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
A couple guys on the DL. Last season this post focused on the three departures from the line, found only Washington and Campbell and what seemed like a woefully undersized Roh, and was pushing any button available whether it was marked "PANIC" or not. A year later, Roh was good, Washington dang good, Campbell at least serviceable, and we're all like COME AT ME ATTRITION BRO.
The problems here are insignificant compared to last year. Michigan gets Matt Godin, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Tom Strobel off redshirts. They'll add an early-enrollee in Taco Charlton plus a couple of guys who just showed very well at their respective all star games in Maurice Hurst and Henry Poggi. They return Washington, Pipkins, Black, Heitzman, and three guys who saw time at WDE. They will find folks to fill in the gaps.
They do have to figure that out. First up: dollars to donuts Black moves to SDE. It's a better fit with his size, he spent that fateful final drive of the Outback Bowl running around the South Carolina left tackle, and even if it's a horde of redshirt freshmen who would hypothetically replace him, there is a horde.
At the now-vacated three-tech spot, pick from Wormley, Henry, and Godin. I bet Wormley is the winner there. There will be rotation, and improvement, and you will feel fuzzily positive about this in September.
Lineback—nevermind. Demens was missed in said bowl game, but with another offseason behind Morgan, Bolden, and Ross the ILBs should actually get better next year.
Not having an utterly reliable tiny linebacker at safety bailing your ass out for four years. Miss you, small guy xoxo.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Keith Heitzman is like a living breathing miracle of having a two deep
DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH WOOOOO! We covered the line. Each positions has a two-deep of non-true freshmen, many of them proven or hyped. At linebacker there are three quasi-starters plus a solid rotation at SLB. The secondary is a bit dodgier but Terry Richardson should be serviceable as a sophomore.
Experience. Michigan loses five starters, yeah, but that's almost literally all they lose. Mike Jones may or may not return for another season of staring from the bench, other than that the only player they lose is Brandin Hawthorne, who was exclusively special teams as a senior. They return 16 heavy contributors to the D, 17 if you count Jarrod Wilson.
Linebackers. Ryan, of course, and then you've got Ross/Bolden/Morgan returning in the middle. Many people will pine for Michigan's linebacking corps next year.
My difficulty in thinking about bullets for the following two sections. Only got two in each.
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
looks good; was Mattison getting a free rusher at Miller's backside
Getting to the quarterback. Mattison generates lots of free blitzers with his schemes; other than that the only guy to consistently generate pass rush was Ryan. WDE, the glamor spot in a 4-3 under, barely produced. Three guys had three sacks between them last year. All of those guys are back, and Charlton gets added in. The time for someone to step up is now.
Matters should be a bit better on the interior, as whoever replaces Campbell is going to be a leaner, quicker guy who can get more penetration than he did.
A lack of outright stars. You've got Ryan, and I think Ross will get there next year, and then… maybe Countess, but that's asking for a lot after an injury like he had, and… dot dot dot.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Will not having Jordan Kovacs doom Michigan to a Yards After Safety kind of life? I don't think so but the parade of incompetents (and Jamar Adams) before him makes me leery.
Can anyone step in right away and be a QB terror? Looking at you, Taco Charlton. He and Ojemudia seem like the best bets for a truly fearsome edge rusher—we've seen a lot of Frank Clark this year and he just hasn't done much.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
I was worried about a backslide last year. If there was one, it was exceedingly minor. In 2011 Michigan was 17th in yardage, 6th in scoring defense, 36th in pass efficiency D, and 39th in rushing D. Last year those numbers were 13th/20th/50th/51st, and if you'd added Blake Countess for the whole year, well…
I tend to trust the poorer numbers there since Michigan moves at such a slow pace and their YPC average allowed—3.8—is pretty meh. Pre-Outback Bowl, FEI has them 20th, and that feels about right.
Michigan is probably still a year away from being capital E elite, but you could see how they get there ahead of schedule. It requires three things:
Countess comes back and is a "war daddy," to use super secret football lingo.
Someone emerges as as serious pass rush threat at WDE.
Kovacs, peace be unto him, is adequately replaced by Jarrod Wilson.
#1 is possible. #2 seems doubtful, and #3… I hesitate to predict anything about that because it will blow up all over.
Anyway. Michigan tightens up its run D, moving from around 3.8 YPC allowed to under 3.5. The pass defense looks worse superficially because the Big Ten isn't as terrible at throwing the ball next year (right?) but is actually better since neither starting corner spends the entire year getting balls thrown over his head. The D moves up to around tenth in the advanced stats, stays static in yardage and improves pass D efficiency.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
goodnight sweet prince
- QB Denard Robinson. Michigan's career leader for yards per carry (6.3, tied with Jon Vaughn, would best it if sacks were accounted for properly). All-time national record-holder for most rushing yards by a quarterback. Three-year starter. Only player who could run for more than two inches per carry behind last year's offensive line. Kind of a big deal. Did not start last five games at QB, which mitigates blow significantly since Gardner was a revelation.
- LT Taylor Lewan [assumed]. Future first-round pick was near flawless in pass pro his last two years. Penalties returned after refinement as a sophomore; got beat painfully against OSU, but nearly shut out Clowney in the bowl game.
- WR Roy Roundtree. Never really recovered his prominence after rampant 2010. Did bounce up to 31 catches as a senior at a nice YPC clip. Had clearly become the #2 option by the end of the year.
- OG Patrick Omameh. Four year starter was probably Michigan's best interior OL. Lacked desired power for manball run game. Pass protection was solid. Probably replaceable. Probably not getting drafted.
- TE Mike Kwiatkowski. Don't-call-him-a-walk-on tight end was Michigan's most effective blocker at the spot; not targeted much in the pass game.
- OC Elliott Mealer. Last minute switch to center didn't smooth over issues; seemed to mess up a bunch of line calls starting in the Nebraska game; graded out as an extensive downgrade from Molk.
- OG Ricky Barnum. Not very good. Got run over a lot.
RB Vincent Smith. Throwback screen merchant and pass-protector extraordinaire was never a great runner but leaves a hole at third down back. Admirably managed to not dissolve into component atoms after Clowney hit.
- FB Stephen Hopkins. Seemed to lose his job to Joe Kerridge and left the team after the OSU game.
- TE Brandon Moore. Barely played.
we gon' throw
- QB Devin Gardner. Blew in from wide receiver after Nebraska debacle to start final five games of the season, completing nearly 60% of his passes for 9.7 yards a pop with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. Added a couple hundred yards on the ground, sacks excluded. Those were mostly on scrambles. Fluctuating accuracy a concern.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Gardner's favorite target was on pace for 80 catches and 1300 yards once Denard hurt his elbow. Diminutive but capable of leaping past defensive backs; quick enough to get open against almost anyone.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Gruesome break of both bones in his leg should actually be healed by fall. If available, Michigan needs the 2011 version of him badly.
- LT (presumably) Michael Schofield. Early struggles as he transitioned back to tackle did not last; established himself a good pass protector and adequate run blocker. With freshmen populating the depth chart everywhere on the OL, will likely move over to Gardner's blindside, allowing a burlier kid to play RT.
- TE Devin Funchess. After breakout Air Force game use steadily declined; he finished with only 15 catches for 234 yards. Did lead the team in receiving TDs with five. Passing game priority one needs to be getting the Devins on the same page.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome should have been targeted more. Catches quickly, gets upfield, small target but extremely reliable.
- TE AJ Williams. High school tackle was supposed to be Michigan's blocking TE but displayed horrendous technique and probably would have redshirted if Michigan had any options. Needs a big step forward with Kwiatkowski out the door.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Thumping fullback of the walk-on variety will be frequently used as Michigan transitions back to pro-style.
- RB Thomas Rawls. Flashed some tackle-breaking power in garbage time against Purdue and Illinois; proceeded to average under two yards a carry once forced into the lineup late in the year. Passed by Justice Hayes in bowl game and will likely fall behind freshmen when they arrive on campus.
- WR Jeremy Jackson. Lumbering possession receiver can't get separation from DBs.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
The offensive line. With Lewan taking his twosie to the next level, Michigan is left with Michael Schofield and a bunch of guys who haven't seen the field. Two fellows seem like locks to start:
- Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center. It's possible Blake Bars moves over to challenge, and vaguely possible that Patrick Kugler—son of former Steelers OL coach and new UTEP head coach Sean—enters ready to play on day one. Miller has to be considered the heavy favorite. The coaches love his nasty, Molk-like disposition; they may not love his Molk-like size. He does have the asset of being a center from the get go, unlike the candidates in 2012.
- Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at guard. I bet if Michigan had to do it over they would have put Kalis in the mix to start from day one. Instead they preserved a year of eligibility for him, which will benefit them down the road. If Kalis, a proverbially nasty road grader, doesn't win a job with ease, it's time to start worrying about living up to the hype.
A third is not quite a lock but has a healthy lead in my head:
- Redshirt freshman Ben Braden at right tackle. Braden is a mountain of a man better suited to crubberate people off the ball than classmate Erik Magnuson, who's more of a left tackle type. Scuttlebutt reaching my ears is that the coaches are extremely high on him. Magnuson does have a shot.
The fourth is up in the air between these folk:
- Redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, who remains a 320, 330-pound mauler. He missed the season with a leg fracture. Availability in spring will be key.
- Redshirt freshman Blake Bars, who's a lot smaller than Bryant and will probably have to wait a bit longer for a shot at the starting job. He was a 3/4 star borderline kid.
- True freshman Kyle Bosch, this year's edition of Kalis. While he's not quite as hyped, he's enrolling early and should find himself on the two-deep immediately. He could push through.
- Redshirt junior Joey Burzynski. I'd be surprised if a 6'1" kid can move past the aforementioned trio and into the starting lineup. That said, he's got the most on-field experience in this grouping.
Breaking in four new OL, three of them likely to be freshmen, is scary. On the other hand, it's not like they can be worse at run blocking.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball. Maybe this is Toussaint. It seems more likely it's either DeVeon Smith or Derrick Green, particularly the latter guy if he does indeed end up in Ann Arbor like it seems the world expects him to. Running backs don't need a lot of seasoning, and Green is college-sized and then some.
Also here's my candle for Dennis Norfleet, third down back kthx. Get some Muck in you, kid, and there's a job waiting.
African refugee wide receivers. Amarah Darboh pointlessly burned a redshirt; Jehu Chesson kept his. With no immediate help from this WR class likely, last year's folk will have to break in. I was pretty high on both those dudes, with Chesson a co-MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year with Braden. They both provide relatively big targets, and Chesson might have deep speed.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Gallon. As mentioned above, that connection was red-hot over the last five games of the season, and not just against tomato cans. Gallon's best game of the year was the nine-catch, 145-yard, two-TD outing against a top-shelf SEC defense in the bowl game. Those guys are in tune.
Just running one offense, thanks. No longer will Michigan be at war with itself about what it wants to do. A section a bit later in this post hopes they'll run the QB some; this should not detract from the fact that Michigan moves from a system Borges never quite got the hang of to his bread and butter. Gallon's performance once Michigan had a quarterback who could stand in the pocket and deliver entices.
Presumably large improvement from the tight ends. Devin Funchess and AJ Williams got thrown into the fire a year too early; now they can add 20 pounds each and learn how to block and add a couple new guys in the hopes of Stanfordizing this offense.
Funchess seemed like a matchup issue last year, but if you were a defensive coordinator considering him a wide receiver, how wrong would you have been? Not very. Getting him to a point where he is a credible blocker is what'll get him open on seams and whatnot.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Offensive line depth x2. This isn't quite as bad as it was last year, when there were essentially no backups—the sixth OL was a walk-on. It is still not good. If you make the reasonable assumptions that the freshman class redshirts and Bryant wins the other guard job, Michigan has Burzynski, Bars, and Magnuson available. Freshmen and that walk-on. Suboptimal.
But hey at least next year this problem goes away: Schofield's gone; everyone else returns.
Offensive line starters, probably. Four new ones; asking a lot for all of them to be good from day one.
WR depth? I'm not entirely sure this is a huge problem with Gallon stepping up and Dileo presumably establishing himself an excellent slot option. But they need some other guys; the incoming class provides little immediate help, so then it's down to Darboh and Chesson. Either or both could break out—Michigan needs one to.
QB depth. Bellomy or a true freshman.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? The running backs didn't help sure but when you return a thousand-yard rusher and his YPC average dips almost two yards a carry, the finger points squarely at the blocking. Lewan will be missed. The other guys are replaceable.
But replacing them is not a great thing. Michigan needs an upgrade.
How accurate is Devin really, and how much progress can he make in one offseason as the man? The overall numbers are good; his last two games left a bit to be desired. Hopefully he can refine down those misses by 20-30%, at which point Michigan is in the proverbial business.
How hard are we jamming the pro-style pedal down? Petrified at the prospect of having Gardner go down when it seemed like the alternative was Jack Kennedy, Michigan all but dumped quarterback runs from its playbook once Gardner entered the game. Was that circumstance or preference? And if it was the former, how comfortable will Michigan be incorporating Gardner's legs as an intentional part of the gameplan if the alternative is Shane Morris?
We won't know that until fall. I'm hoping Michigan keeps the inverted veer around, because that's a pretty good play.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? Freshmen will get opportunities, yes. Toussaint may be back. The youngsters will be a bit older, and at least Hayes and Norfleet came with some scatback hype—though I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Hayes move to slot receiver since there's no one on the roster who won't be a senior next year. Only the seeming likelihood that Michigan acquires Derrick Green prevents this from going in the Rod Stewart 2013 category.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Improvement as long as Gardner stays on the field. This edition of Michigan limped to middling numbers everywhere. Next year's offense figures to have a better fit with the offensive coordinator, a better offensive line if only because of reversion to the mean and having non-walk-on options outside of the starters, and at least equivalent playmakers at the skill positions with an outside shot at much better if the running back situation gets an injection of talent.
So then, how are you feeling about Denard Robinson's legs versus Devin Gardner's arm+legs? I'm thinking that's a push once turnovers are accounted for and we bake in an offseason of Gardner improvement. Guy was the #1 dual threat QB of his class, after all, and displayed some excellent potential on the ground in his tenure as a starter. And in a Borges offense, there's no comparison in the passing game*.
A lot rides on Jack Miller and the tackles; I figure the guards will be an upgrade. I'd guess we see an improvement—not that it'll take much to get that with Alabama sliding off the schedule and hopefully not having a half against Nebraska where the offense goes to die. Gardner bails Michigan out from some tough times.
*[Let's say we had that argument about the spread 'n' shred and not have it, okay?]