spoiler alert: i linked this
See also: 2016 offense
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- FS Jarrod Wilson. I have a terrible fear that one day I will run into Jarrod Wilson and he will know who I am and berate me for calling him "boring" for four years. I mean that as a compliment. I still have the Shazor burns, see? Forgive me, oh boring one. Yea, we give all praises unto you.
- LB Desmond Morgan. MGoBlog fave-rave. I will seriously fight you if you try to tell me that he was a detriment last year (except against Minnesota). Lunch-pail dude, thumper, not perfect or an NFL guy but a quality college player. Rocked back linemen consistently, mostly decent in coverage. (Except against Minnesota.)
- LB Joe Bolden. Frustrating player who killed it in spring practice and mostly got killed in live action. Bad at taking contact, tended to run around blocks, did make up for it with nice plays here and there, still fearful that his departure will be felt since LB is such a huge Q.
- WDE Mario Ojemudia. Only lower than the linebackers because he was knocked out of the lineup with an achilles injury the very instant he couldn't get a medical redshirt. Never a dynamic pass rusher but a quality run defender who was excellent when optioned.
- WDE Royce Jenkins-Stone. Converted LB did fine as Ojemudia's understudy, and then as his replacement. Like Ojemudia, not a dynamic player but a consistently positive impact.
- LB James Ross. Finally seemed to find his home just in time for Jabrill Peppers to legislate it out of the defense. When he did see the field tended to entertainingly obliterate lead blockers on the edge. That was infrequently.
- CB Jourdan Lewis. All American cornerback led nation in PBUs and was PFF fave-rave; also MGoBlog fave-rave. Lightning fast and agile, excellent at sneaky corner tricks, had epic battle with Aaron Burbridge, inexplicably left off Thorpe finalists list. Future first round pick.
- NT Ryan Glasgow. Went from "good for a walk-on" to Mike Martin reincarnated before an innocuous tackle against Rutgers knocked him out for the season, with devastating effect to the defense around him. Technician with violent hands will rip through you and follow you to the sideline. Pass rush a hair below Martin's but much improved; expecting monster senior season.
- NICKEL Jabrill Peppers. Fulfilled the hybrid space player prophecy by obliterating opponents' screen game to the point where they tried it once, if ever, and then gave up. Coverage was shaky early but improved considerably over the course of the year; still a work in progress. Don Brown promises to unleash him as a blitzer.
- SDE Chris Wormley. Had series of hilarious one-on-one matchups with tight ends that only ended one way. Major component of Michigan's stunt-focused pass rush, and a moderately successful rusher straight-up. A+ run defender, B rusher, should increment pleasingly in final season.
- 3TECH Willie Henry. Kind of had the breakout season we were all hoping for but had it overshadowed by the radical improvements Glasgow and Wormley made. Hulk strength was better paired with technique, leading Henry into a ton of opponent backfields. Area for improvement: did not do well avoiding cut blocks. NFL a possibility but currently expecting a return. If he does depart move him to #1 in the departing category.
- CB Jeremy Clark. Eased past Stribling midseason to be the primary starter opposite Lewis. Did well for the most part. Most completions on him were fluky or heavily contested with the exception of one deep-third bust against MSU. Combo of size and athleticism a bit like Richard Sherman.
- SS Delano Hill. Excellent open-field tackler had a number of hiccups last year that ceded big plays. Had a bad habit of trying to rake balls out from behind instead of just tackling guys, got replaced by Thomas briefly before injury put him right back in the lineup. Not as reliable as Wilson.
- FS Dymonte Thomas. Light seemed to go on midseason, after which Thomas finally put his explosive speed on display. Thomas was capable of getting over the top of deep ball on the sideline and sticking stride for stride with receivers. One on one coverage still a bit up and down, but moved from enigma to expected starter relatively smoothly.
- NT Maurice Hurst Jr. Quick-twitch nose tackle lived in opponent backfields for much of the year. Slightly exposed after Glasgow went out and his swashbuckling style was exploited by Indiana stretch plays; also lacks the pure bulk to stand up to double teams. Perhaps better suited as a three-tech, and with Bryan Mone returning don't be surprised if he gets the lion's share of his time there.
- SDE Taco Charlton. This space projects that Charlton will move to WDE next year, as there is a big hole at the spot. Charlton's 5.5 sacks and 8.5 TFLs are impressive given his relatively scant playing time, and he's almost certainly going to be a better run defender than the guy 40 pounds lighter than him who is the alternative.
- DT/DE Matt Godin. Had a lot of effective playing time early when he just about split time with the soon-to-be-dominant Wormley. Play and playing time suffered after Glasgow injury when he got sucked inside and had to take on double-teams he is ill-suited to combat. Will be an effective rotation guy at SDE if roster allows.
- CB Channing Stribling. Kept phasing out of reality at inopportune times, albeit less often than he did in 2014. Good enough to get significant snaps in most games and that should continue next year.
- LB Ben Gedeon. Only backup LB to get significant time, Gedeon seems a lot like Bolden.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
whenever I see a picture of Don Brown I ask myself did this NO NONSENSE COP take things TOO FAR THIS TIME pic.twitter.com/eJLjXASQns
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) December 21, 2015
The defensive coordinator. Don Brown comes over from Boston College after leading the Eagles to an astounding season given their talent level and dire offense. He should have a successful tenure at Michigan based on a 4-3 and hyper-aggressiveness.
Given Michigan's personnel and Brown's predilection for small quick linebackers you can just about bank on a 4-2-5 with very similar personnel to this year's defense; Brown favors man press as well so the transition should be smooth.
All the linebackers including pretty much Gedeon. The projected 4-2-5 is a lifesaver here since there is one linebacker on the roster who's had a meaningful snap, and even he's a bit of a mystery.
We've seen a fair bit of Ben Gedeon in his first three years. He could never unseat Bolden despite Bolden's consistently disappointing play, and seemed kind of like him when he did get on the field. The meat of the bell curve here is another year of Bolden, which isn't great but could be way worse.
The other spot is completely up for grabs. Walk-on Dan Liesman appeared to be the #4 LB last year if you're going by pregame skeleton drills; he'll be a fifth year senior and might be an able stopgap. The other main contenders are Noah Furbush—who had a fine year on kick coverage and reportedly impressed the coaches—and true freshman Devin Bush Jr, who is on campus now and brings the kind of instinctive speed Don Brown wants from his linebackers. Michigan also moved Rueben Jones, a projected weakside end, to ILB in bowl practices.
A distinct lack of boring safety blanket. Neither projected starting safety is new, per se, but the lack of Boring Safety Jarrod Wilson, Esq., is. Both Hill and Thomas are no strangers to busted assignments, and while they performed well to close out the year I might be waiting for them to explode during the first few games before I exhale. Thomas at least promises the ability to make up for the occasional biff with a big play of his own.
Maybe the weakside end unless they just shove an old dude over. The bet here is that your starting WDE next year is Taco Charlton. As mentioned above, his production in limited time last year is impressive, and Charlton was always going to be one of those guys who took some time to develop his ridiculous athleticism. He can hack WDE, and since other options there include doghouse resident Lawrence Marshall and an anthropomorphic question mark, Taco is going to be the man.
Bryan Mone. Mone was gathering mass practice hype that, in retrospect, was ridiculous. Mone was never going to supplant Ryan Glasgow. That it was even vaguely possible given what we know about Glasgow now tantalizes. A fully healthy Mone says he's down to 309 and ready to rock; he should play and play very well.
Please please please Rashan Gary. Other than Bush and whatever linebackers join him in the class, the only freshman on defense that projects to make the two deep would be national #1 recruit Rashan Gary. Gary would move into the rotation at multiple spots, likely becoming the primary backup at both DE spots and maybe even 3TECH. Yes, Rashan Gary can play WDE. Anyway, he would get as many snaps as anyone else on the line immediately.
WHAT'S TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON ONE
The defensive line. Wormley/Glasgow/Henry/Charlton is a defensive line that consists entirely of battle-tested seniors who anchored one of the best units in the country a year ago. All those dudes will get drafted. That is a monster, monster unit.
The second defensive line. Unless PSU, MSU, and OSU all reload big-time, Godin/Mone/Hurst/Gary would be a top three defensive line in the Big Ten. For real. That is huge for reasons anyone who watched the Indiana game can tell you. Or an Alabama game. Alabama's dominance starts with the fact that they have two elite defensive lines at all times.
Man press machines. In Jeremy Clark and Jourdan Lewis Michigan has two elite man press corners. Clark is not a guy you ever want to see anywhere near the slot but if you line him up on the outside and give him inside leverage he can recover and defend fades all damn day. Lewis is an All-American who can cover anyone anywhere.
The hybrid space prophecy is fulfilled. Jabrill Peppers murder-death-killed opposition screen games all year. It got to the point where teams didn't even try. In coverage he started off shaky and improved greatly. He's still going to get shook from time to time; if his improvement trajectory remains steady he will be insane by year's end.
WHAT'S THE FACT THAT I WATCHED THE LAST EPISODE OF TRUE DETECTIVE FIRST BECAUSE HBO GO IS DESIGNED BY MORONS
Linebacker. Ben Gedeon is certain to start by default. Default is never good. The spot next to him is a massive question mark and yes, twitter egg, replacing Desmond Morgan is kind of a big deal. Maybe not as much of a big deal as it could be given the defensive line, but Michigan had no faith in anyone other than Gedeon to get snaps last year… this could be a wild and woolly ride.
Compounding matters here is the schedule. Michigan gets Wisconsin and Iowa from the other conference next year. Combined with Michigan State and possibly Ohio State* that means a significant chunk of the schedule, and most of the really important bits, may demand the insertion of a third linebacker.
Or maybe not. Brown loves small guys and blitzes so they could just roll with Jabrill.
*[OSU used a bunch of 2 TE sets against M this year that M failed to respond to.]
WHAT'S THE UNKNOWABLE NATURE OF MAN, MAN
How boring with the safeties be? The swift emergence of Dymonte Thomas over the second half of the season seriously mitigates what was looking like a trouble spot. It does not entirely remove the possibility that Michigan blows a bunch of big plays because their safeties are interesting, thus sabotaging the first defensive line and the second defensive line.
I don't think we can continue the Pax Kovacs/Wilson. Hopefully it won't be too much of a drop.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Take this year, add Bryan Mone and Ryan Glasgow and (please baby recruiting Jesus) Rashan Gary, remove the world's dumbest OSU gameplan, and see what you get. What you get is another top-five-ish defense.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- QB Jake Rudock. Iowa transfer was a jittery mess for the first half and Andrew Luck Jr for the second. Cracked 3,000 passing yards with good efficiency and a solid TD/INT ratio; ended year by dicing up three top-ten pass defenses. Will be missed unless Harbaugh just Harbaughs himself another excellent QB, which is Harbaugh likely.
- C Graham Glasgow. Three year starter was always good even if it was near-impossible to tell without going into UFR-level depth. Stepped up as a senior and was, IMO, an All Big Ten-level performer. Michigan has a couple promising options to replace him; don't underrate his loss.
- TE AJ Williams. Went from symbol of the flaccid Hoke era to symbol of the player development Jim Harbaugh brings to the table. Improved his blocking immensely, quadrupled career receiving stats, was no longer a one-dimensional tight end who did not actually deliver on that dimension, blew guys off ball with consistency. I don't think I've ever seen a senior get that much better since… Bennie Joppru? Probably Bennie Joppru.
- FBs Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge. Treated as a unit. Solid to excellent blockers both with Kerridge a capable receiver and captain and Houma a promising mooseback capable of juking Florida linebackers. Normally a position met with a shrug these days, it's a much bigger deal under Harbaugh. Henry Poggi returns but hasn't touched a ball in anger yet.
- As of yet unknown attrition. Departures are on the way. Some of those will undoubtedly be on offense. Guys not playing at WR, RB, and QB are likely to be amongst the departures. None project to have significant 2016 roles unless the wild Rivals rumor about a starting OL not being asked back pans out. I'm skeptical about that.
- TE Jake Butt. 654 receiving yards a year ago with two-count-em-two drops all year. Blocking was finesse but relatively effective. Smoked touted Florida CB on route in bowl game. Should be nation's top receiving tight end and get that Mackey award he was inexplicably denied this year. A bit more oomph on the ground would be nice.
- OL Mason Cole. Emerged into a top-shelf run blocker in year two. Pass blocking was generally good but there were struggles against elite edge rushers like Yannick Ngakoue and Joey Bosa. Smart, technical player could get moved inside if Grant Newsome is Michigan's #5 OL.
- WR Jehu Chesson. Comparisons went from Stonum to Breaston to Manningham over the course of the season. Multi-use threat effective as a runner, blocker, and increasingly as a receiver. 764 yards and 9 TDs despite being chronically missed for the first half of the season, plus a KOR TD and a number of jet sweeps that went a long way. Has his shit together.
- WR Amara Darboh. Avant comparisons were on point, as he amply demonstrated on that catch. You know. That one. Solid intermediate threat with excellent hands and a large catching radius. Avant-esque. Like Avant. Reminiscent of Avant.
- RB De'Veon Smith. Nuclear-powered icebreaker back was frustrating much of the year but great against the Gators. If proverbial click has clicked and he knows where to go most of the time can be prototypical Harbaugh back. Superior blocker; may get drafted at fullback part-time a la BJ Askew.
- OLs Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden. All thrown into the same lump because they were more or less the same guy. All had their struggles, particularly the guards; all had their successes. All are likely to get incrementally better as senior returning starters, but it wouldn't be out of the question for one of them to get knocked out of the lineup if Kugler and Newsome emerge or Michigan picks up Texas grad transfer Jake Raulerson.
- FB/TE Henry Poggi. Last year's version of early AJ Williams. Had one catch for two yards, did not carry the ball, was a blocker and only a blocker. As a blocker he was generally effective when he made contact with a person. He failed to accomplish this with understandable frequency since he was flipped from the DL in spring. Should improve significantly in that department but must be more of a threat to have the ball.
- RB Drake Johnson. Michigan's quickest back by far but career has been limited by injury.
- RB/WR Jabrill Peppers. Oh right that guy. In year two under Harbaugh should emerge as a guy who gets ten touches a game on a variety of screens, sweeps, and straight-up runs and throws.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
O'Korn is generally considered the leader at QB [Fuller]
Probably John O'Korn. Michigan's QB derby is currently a five-way battle that will add a sixth contender in Brandon Peters and maybe a seventh if Harbaugh goes back to the grad-transfer well, but after a season of scout-team hype anyone other than Houston transfer O'Korn would be a moderate surprise.
O'Korn is the platonic opposite of Jake Rudock. He is Ryan Mallett, more or less, capable of throwing for 3,000 yards as a true freshman and equally capable of going full Hackenberg on WR screens in an increasingly frustrating situation and getting deservedly benched as a sophomore. He is a big, strapping fellow with good wheels who can uncork pinpoint 40-yard passes on the run. He threw an array of insane interceptions and made other mistakes in bunches at Houston, but given a year of understudy under Harbaugh both the natural maturation process and the coaching upgrade promise big things.
Half the running back rotation. This space projects that De'Veon Smith ends up absorbing most of the carries from the fullback spot and plays enough RB to remain Michigan's leading rusher. That will leave about half the total carries available. Peppers, Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, and freshmen Kareem Walker and Kingston Davis figure to scrap over the remainder.
Only Peppers is a lock to get a bunch of touches, because he is Peppers. The rest could go anywhere; Michigan fans are hoping the freshmen step up immediately. It could happen.
An offensive lineman, maybe two. Grant Newsome is a heavy favorite to be the fifth starter on the offensive line after Michigan burned his redshirt midseason so he could be a sixth OL in heavy packages. Newsome is an ideal left tackle, though, and Michigan has an incumbent. Look for Mason Cole to move inside, as his run blocking is considerably ahead of his pass protection.
It is possible that Michigan could mix things up more extensively if they feel their best five includes Patrick Kugler or Raulerson, potentially bumping Mason Cole to guard instead of center. If that happens it's probably a good thing.
Receivers and blocky/catchy types past the Big Three. We're filing Grant Perry as "new" since he made little impact last year except in the first and last games. In the former case that impact was massively negative; in the latter a pleasant surprise. Perry, Drake Harris, Moe Ways, and tight ends Ian Bunting and Khalid Hill will compete to fill snaps vacated by Williams and the departing fullbacks.
Unless there's an injury none will emerge into prime targets; the goal there is for Michigan to have guys ready to step in when Darboh, Chesson, and Butt all depart after next year.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1976
The peripheral nature of most of the previous section's bullet points. Michigan needs to find a QB, an OL, and half a running back. They have less to replace than 95% of D-I programs.
Three Amigos 2016. Butt, Darboh, and Chesson are a receiving trio that might be on par with the famous Braylon/Avant/Breaston set. If Chesson continues his development he is a legit #1; Butt probably would have been the second tight end off the board if he announced for the NFL draft; Darboh is a circus-catch wizard and burly possession guy to move the chains. Nobody in the league is going to have a set of pass-catchers like that.
Continuity. Hey look Michigan has the same coaching staff for the second consecutive year, running the same offense. They have the same players running it, for the most part. This has been a rare treasure of late.
Experience. Michigan projects to have seniors start at eight of eleven positions, and one of the exceptions is Mason Cole.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2016
how much better can these gentlemen get? [Upchurch]
Blocking upside. I thought Michigan had two very good offensive linemen and three guys who were meh. One of the very good guys is gone; the three meh guys are all going to be redshirt seniors. I'm not sure how much any of them will improve. I mean, they should improve, but the kind of leap Cole took last year from meh to very good is unlikely.
Similarly, I don't think Jake Butt is suddenly going to be a murderous blocker. This doesn't feel like a run game that gets amazing unless it was really all targeting issues.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The O'Kornininging, or Speightininging, or Whoeverining. New quarterback is always a worry, albeit less so when Jim Harbaugh is his quarterback coach. O'Korn has all the tools you could want and seemingly went to Houston because he was wild and unrefined. He could be Ryan Mallett or he could be Ryan Mallett, if you get my drift.
Will the tailbacks be any good? I'd give that position group a D for the year. Kareem Walker may not be the quick fix everyone was vaguely hoping for when they heard the #1 back in the country was going to decommit from OSU and flip to Michigan. Recruiting consensus on Walker has dipped to the point where he's a good, not great prospect. (This might actually be good for Michigan given the track record of five-star backs in Ann Arbor.)
Smith and Johnson gave a glimmer of hope in the bowl game, enough to bump this from bad to dunno.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
It all hinges on INSERT QB HERE. If he comes in hot and we get a year of Late Rudock production this should be an offense that takes a major step forward. Whoever does get the job is going to have a terrific receiving corps, solid or better pass protection, and Jabrill Peppers hanging around.
The run game is a bit of a question mark still. Michigan has no slam-dunk back and probably won't see their OL take a quantum leap forward. Real improvement is likely, though. Michigan gets four OL back and will have continuity, plus both returning tailbacks who played in the bowl showed major improvement.
For context, Michigan finished 30th in offensive S&P+ this year, 43rd on the ground and 8th(!!!) in the air. They should be able to push the ground number up 10 to 20 spots, and if O'Korn hits the ground running and maintains that passing number—somewhat tough but he'll be operating in a friendly environment—Michigan should get into the top 20 teams statistically.
I'd say maintaining the passing production is unlikely, but a quick glance at Jim Harbaugh's track record with quarterbacks suggests it is anything but.
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?]