spoiler alert: i linked this
greg robinson's stuffed beaver
Those Van Bergenian thighs. That Clarkian pass rush. That responsible chin…[Fuller]
Final reminder to settlers along Lake Erie: We're coming to your Cleveland on Monday to talk about…I dunno…basketball or kickers or something. We've now added "Big Ed" Muransky to the lineup. Here's some footage of Muransky (#72 right, sometimes left tackle) as a sophomore against MSU, courtesy of WH. The rest of "we" are Brian, John U. Bacon, [huge gap in how much you care] and myself.
We've got the area reserved behind the bar through 11, and there's about 100-120 people coming, which means when the Ohio State fans show up later to watch the national championship game there'll be this wall of Michigan fans to greet them. And a bearded blogger guy rooting loudly for Oregon…while standing behind Big Ed Muransky.
Huge thanks to this lemon-eater for setting it up.
OT don't care SVG is boss: The Pistons cut their best player then ripped off a seven-game win streak. To win #6 they had to preserve a 1-point lead from the defending champions on the road, so Van Gundy used the last rasps of his weakening voice to demand the stones "Just form a [bleep]-ing wall." So I formed an effin' t-shirt.
If you hate this one you're all fired. My "IT'S H4PPENING" shirt is gone now but we've got several other new offerings if you haven't been on the store lately:
Not this again! New coaches mean new schemes to learn and WMUKirk did an amazing job in two diaries of showing how Durkin likes to play chess. Part 1 got into the base stuff and Part 2 was about how he mixed those to stay one step ahead of Jameis Winston's reads. There's this from Part 1:
What I've noticed is he doesn't deviate from 4 basic coverages. Quarters, Cover 3 Press, Cover 1, and his favorite blitz is the Fire Blitz from the QB's blind side. He hardly ever runs Man Under, Tampa 2, or Cover 0. He values speed and isn't against running a 3-4 with 3-3-5 personnel.
Florida's 3-3-5 was lifting one of the middle linebackers for a safety/spur/hybrid space player dude, and looked thusly:
The WDE is a pass rusher type and is standing up. On 1st and 15 this is Xtreme speed.
That's a 3-3-5 but not a Casteel stack; it's more like one of Mattison's okies except the MLB is a LB, not Mike Martin.
[Cont. after the jump]
I agree with these men, whatever they happen to be saying. Would you like your Gallon touchdown in… Italian or something?
Les Miles is in a lot of trouble, unless he isn't in any. Sports Illustrated has published the first of five articles detailing NCAA malfeasance at Oklahoma State initiated during the Les Miles era and continuing today. This one is about players getting money from boosters—a lot of them:
In separate interviews seven other former Cowboys told SI they received cash payments; 29 other OSU players were named by teammates as having also taken money. Those payments, which stretched from 2001 to at least '11, were primarily delivered three ways: a de facto bonus system based on performances on the field, managed by an assistant coach; direct payments to players from boosters and coaches independent of performance; and no-show and sham jobs-- including work related to the renovation of Boone Pickens Stadium -- that involved at least one assistant coach and several boosters.
The moral outrage here is all gone…
One or two standouts bought a new car or expensive jewelry, team members say, but the vast majority of the players used the extra cash to purchase everyday items -- food, clothing, tickets to a movie. "There were some athletes who were almost starving," says Carter. "Wherever the money came from, they were like, Yeah, I'll take that."
…but flagrantly violating NCAA rules is, you know, not good. And if you're wondering why so many dudes are breaking omerta here; we may find out at the end of the series, which promises an article on:
One of the selling points of college football is that it changes lives, that young men have their character and fortunes enhanced by taking part in the sport, even if they remain on campus for only a short time. But in the past decade, player after player has been driven out of Stillwater, returning to worlds they had hoped to escape. Some have been incarcerated, others live on the streets, many have battled drug abuse, and a few have attempted suicide. COMING IN NEXT WEEK'S SI/ONLINE SEPT. 17
That does retain outrage.
I'm surprised, but not that surprised. Miles has left a trail of sketchy events in his wake that get overwhelmed by his nuttiness. I may have been 100% wrong about Hoke during the last coaching search, but at least I was right about Miles. Again, it's wonderful to look at Brady Hoke and know that he will neither choose a dumb punt nor turn purple on the sideline nor have a massive cadre of discontent former players who hate him so much to take him down.
Side note: I feel really bad for Brian Phillips. Squinky's revenge. I may feel less bad when Oklahoma State gets a warning squint from the NCAA.
You oughta have excellent medical insurance. Purdue football in two articles. One:
Purdue safety to play vs. Indiana St. with two broken hands
It's not unusual for a college football player to wrap up a broken hand and play with it, particularly for a big game. But Purdue safety Landon Feichter is preparing to play for his Boilermakers' home opener against Indiana State Saturday with two broken hands.
Purdue safety Landon Feichter breaks leg
Feichter was forced to leave Saturday's game in the first half with a leg injury and coach Darrell Hazell confirmed on Saturday night that Feichter had suffered a broken leg.
It's just a flesh wound.
The moral of the story is if you see Purdue football coming towards you, punch it in the nose and run away. Purdue football will have a broken nose, but won't be able to tell.
Jeremy Gallon presents. Okay, official Michigan tumblr, okay:
Gardner knows this is going on, and enjoys looking at the back of his own head.
So that explains it. Via Doug Karsch, Jeremy Gallon describes his game:
"That was a great performance. After the game, I asked him, 'How tall are you, and how tall do you play?' He said, 'I'm 5-8 and a half, but I play like I'm 5-9.'
Now is not then. Orson found this. It is Greg Robinson:
THE BEAVER IS OUT! THE BEAVER IS OUT!
This man was in charge of our defense. He is a weirdo who sets everything on fire. How does that guy get hired by anyone to do anything more complicated than clean gutters?
Saying a quarterback reminds you of Erik Ainge of Tennessee can be good and bad. It's good, because he's mobile, physically gifted, and often fearless. It's bad because sometimes that means Evil Erik Ainge, the one who threw interceptions when the team could least afford it. Gardner sort of reminds me of Ainge. Tommy Rees, however, might BE Erik Ainge, using a warm body as a spiritual proxy to replay his career in an alternate historical line.
Accuracy issues largely put aside, Gardner's main issue is Reesin' it too often.
Yes. Throw it to Dileo. From Michigan Monday:
Drew Dileo had three catches for 18 yards out of the slot, including the final touchdown of the game on a nice option route that left a defender reminiscing about where Dileo used to be and no longer was.
Get this man the ball.
LAZERS. Stewart Mandel:
That No. 17 Michigan beat the comparably ranked No. 14 Irish is not especially surprising. That it rolled up 41 points on a very talented Notre Dame defense, however, is eye-opening. In particular, quarterback Devin Gardner put all questions to rest about what Michigan's offense will look like post-Denard Robinson. It looks really darn explosive, primarily because Gardner -- who wore No. 98 this week in honor of 1940 Heisman winner Tom Harmon -- has asserted himself as a laser-armed passer.
…Gardner's skills were never more evident than on his last touchdown pass, which came on second-and-goal from the four-yard line with 4:18 remaining. With Notre Dame pass rushers Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo coming at him full bore from opposite sides, Gardner set his feet and threw a perfectly placed dart to receiver Drew Dileo in the end zone.
Probably not a rivalry. This is on the official Notre Dame football blog:
That Notre Dame was struggling against Michigan made me feel that void much more acutely than I would had we been winning, or even struggling against another opponent.
But this was Michigan.
I was shaking in the aftermath of the two fourth-quarter pass interference calls, completely enraged. “I can’t remember the last time I was this pissed,” I texted my dad, who replied, “2011.”
Oh, yeah. 2011.
Etc.: Michigan moves into BCS bowl projections. MVictors has everything you need to know about the Harmon stuff. USF dude impressed with M-ND. Gardner and Gallon postgame. NDMSPaint does Eminem. Northwestern QBs were rather good against Syracuse. Stuffing the Passer. Go. Partake.
Heininger Certainty Principle passed its first two tests with QWash and Campbell (Upchurch)
It’s our weekly roundtable to talk about things that Michigan fans—and by Michigan fans I mean just me—are obsessing about. In honor of the family road trips you just got back from, this week’s it’s a great big “Are we there yet?” In the game:
PRESS AGENT #4
SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR #89
STATISTICAL ANALYST/THERAPIST #58
In 2011 Michigan was 6th in scoring defense, 17th in total defense, and 16th in defensive FEI. In 2012 Michigan finished 19th in scoring defense, 13th in total D, and 26th in defensive FEI. Do you consider that treading water, an expected fall given the DL graduations and tougher schedule, or a veiled improvement? And where do you see this trend going in 2013?
Seth: I admit this topic was a little brought on by panic after getting persistently torched in NCAA 14, which could just mean that Desmond Morgan is way better at playing as Desmond Morgan than I am.
Michigan didn't take a significant step back in 2012, which I would consider a victory. Replace WMU, SDSU, and Virginia Tech with Air Force, Alabama, and South Carolina, and you're gonna have a bad time. Factor in a regression to the mean on the fumble recoveries and the lack of Mike Martin, and those defensive numbers look pretty good to me. They actually gave up about 3 ppg fewer in conference in 2012 despite a tougher road/away split (though obvious BIG TENNNNN caveat applies). 2012 also felt more repeatable, though I have no objective means to demonstrate this.
I don't think 2013 is the Great Leap Forward, but I think we'll see continued progress. The numbers will probably look shinier if for no other reason than the easier schedule, but I'd bet on the defense being 'better' as well. The secondary will be more athletic, which should go a long way toward helping combat the 2012 struggles with spread teams. Hopefully Dymonte Thomas can indeed be deployed as the spread neutralizer. The ILBs will probably still have some struggles with the learning curve (and the training table), but last year's experience should lessen the pain. The meat of the schedule doesn't arrive until November, by which point Jake Ryan will hopefully be settling back onto his throne of skulls and flow. Questions remain on the D-Line, but Will Heininger. /Offers a small running back as a sacrifice to the Mattison. Praise be unto the Mattison. May his swag reign for a hundred seasons.
Mathlete: When I was preparing my pre-season projections, I compared the the 2013 Michigan defense profile to teams from the last several years, the nearest comparison, 2012 Michigan. In terms of production returning, recruiting profile and prior year performance this year's defense looks a lot like last year's squad. The turnover randomness could swing things a bit and with a strong group of underclassmen and Greg Mattison, there is certainly potential for upside.
The schedule should help mitigate the statistical rank downside risk, but if there was going to be a year where things took a step back, this looks like the only candidate. With that said, I don't see that happening. Defenses are a lot more stable and predictable in performance than offenses. Look at experience, look at recruiting profile, check to see that there are no stuffed animals on the sidelines and you should have a pretty good idea where your defense will end up. I rank this year's defense as the 10th most talented (based on age and recruiting profiles) in the country and they return nearly three quarters of their production from last year's squad. It appears we caught a break with the schedule and the timing of Jake Ryan's ACL tear with a Tommy Rees led Notre Dame offense the only major game he should miss. There is always a chance things don't turn out, but I don't see anything that says this year will be a major step back and if anything a few areas that could be signs that 2013 could be a step forward.
Seth: You guys keep denigrating my skills at videogame defense, as if you're not just mashing the "plow" button with Quinton Washington every play while trusting Gibson to run your defensive backs. To answer my question above, I thought Washington's emergence was very significant. The drop-off from Martin and Van Bergen to not them was going to be steep, and it happened but the linebackers improved to such a degree as to make it null. I blame the schedule and losing Countess early to any discrepancy (J.T. Floyd wasn't as solid against the Kenny Bells as he had been in 2011 vs. the big leapers). I also blame offensive regression for the difference in scoring D.
Things are still coming along. Other than Air Force—blessedly we don't face one of those again—the defense didn't have any game where they performed significantly below expectations. Mattison didn't like the Nebraska game but raise of hands who thinks that was on the D? Northwestern is a legitimately good offense, even when Trevor Siemian isn't turning into an unstoppable throw god.
I'm less concerned about who rotates in at 5-tech since there's a lot of meat for the meat god there, and Heitzman wasn't so bad last year. What worries me is what we'll look like early. Jibreel Black versus Notre Dame's offensive line, and Jarrod Wilson versus a Brian Kelly passing attack: those are what scare me. Wilson will be good one day but right now he appears to be a big dropoff from Kovacs and needs some starts in a bad way. Later in the year I think we'll have more faces appearing at the 3- and 5-tech rotations, with contributions from Wormley, Henry, Godin, Strobel, and backup options including a highly regarded true freshman, or the other Glasgow, or even some of that Washington-Pipkins action they keep denying. They'll be a much better defense when they face Ohio State than when Notre Dame comes to town; in the aggregate they’ll look better in yardage thanks to competition but tread water otherwise.
Blue in South Bend: I think having Countess back will be huge. I'd remind you that with him in the game, we held Alabama to a three-and-out (miniscule sample size National Champions wooooo). I do worry about whether Wilson can prevent the home run plays the way Kovacs did, but overall I do think the secondary will be a surprising strength of this team.
/Offers a second small running back to a dormant but extant Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God.
/Mashes "plow" button.
Anyway: I spent a large chunk of last offseason fretting about that fumble recovery rate and expecting something less than impressive as a result, and that was kind of borne out. Michigan did take a half-step back last season, because that's the kind of thing that happens when you go from Mike Martin to one guy with the vague hope of beating a blocker one on one (Jake Ryan). Michigan explored the outer limits of how good a defense can be when you have almost no natural pass rush or athleticism in the secondary. Turns out the answer is "actually not that bad, at least compared to the GERG years."
I think Michigan will get back that half-step this year. There appear to be two major upgrades in the personnel turnover: Countess replaces JT Floyd and James Ross functionally replaces Kenny Demens. While I spent the duration of Demens's career talking about his surprisingly good coverage, Ross should blow by him as a player right now. Floyd spent most of his career on the edge of getting bombed; though he managed to come through repeated targetings mostly okay the fact that every offensive coordinator on the schedule decided to spin that slot machine was indicative. Meanwhile, Frank Clark and Jake Ryan post-injury should adequately replace Jake Ryan.
I'm still not seeing a great defense what with no pass rush from the interior three guys unless Jibreel Black blows up in a way that would frankly shock me. I don't see how a 280 pound three-tech holds up in the Big Ten, don't see much production out of SDE, and while those spots were not exactly gangbusters last year, a lack of developed talent on the defensive line remains a problem.
2014 is when this can get nasty. Michigan returns 8 starters, losing only five guys off the entire two deep: Washington, Black, Cam Gordon, Avery, Thomas Gordon. They add Jabrill Peppers, and Hoke's first recruiting class will finally be ready to infiltrate the starting lineup in earnest. A senior will have--get this--been in the same system his entire career. Craig Roh just started weeping uncontrollably and doesn't know why. He suspects why, he always does, though.
LATE BREAKING Heiko: Well, I guess I'll put in my two cents.
/Doesn't receive change.
I love the defense. I get weirdly excited when Michigan's defense takes the field, because I love watching a well-executed stop take the air out of the other team. The comforting thing about the defense over the past couple years is that they always seem to get better as the game goes on. In Michigan's seven losses since 2011, how many of them can be blamed primarily on the defense (i.e. defense let the offense down)? Only one: the Outback bowl vs. South Carolina, where Michigan was playing without its top two corners and therefore got bombed by SC's receivers.
In fact I think watching the defense improve last year after losing Martin and Van Bergen was something I clung to after it became apparent that the offense was in for a season-long struggle against good teams.
Are we ready to expand the Heininger Certainty Principle to apply to the entire defense? I think so. In contrast to last year's interior OL and tailbacks, no part of the defense has failed to improve over the course of the season. We already know about the D-line, but the linebackers and secondary each had question marks about their viability also at one point or another. Remember when "linebacker hesitancy" was a thing? Or when everyone panicked after Countess's ACL injury? I mean, here we are in 2013, and it's like we knew all along about Quinton Washington and Desmond Morgan and Raymon Taylor. High five.
Maybe it's because I've been primed to consider any defensive competency the best thing ever (I came to Michigan in 2008), but I think we're already at a place where we can count on Michigan smothering most opponents. Depending on how quickly guys like Chris Wormley, Dymonte Thomas, and Jarrod Wilson get up to starter speed, it'll be a question of whether Michigan ends up in the top 10 or top 20, and I think most of us will happily take that.
Sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero? But sometimes there's a man … and I'm talkin' about the Dude here… sometimes there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.
-The Stranger, The Big Lebowksi
I construct the preview every year from the bones of the previous one, and when I took my first stabs at organizing what I was going to say about the secondary I ran across this, because obviously:
How long ago was that? A hundred years.
Joe Paterno was still Penn State's coach, and wonderful. JT Floyd was unable to stay within ten yards of a receiver. Michigan's football program was riven with factionalism. Craig Roh was some sort of linebacker and Kenny Demens was lining up an inch from the nose tackle. Rich Rodriguez had hired Greg Robinson, and this was Greg Robinson burning the world in response.
How long ago was this?
Bathrooms had not yet been invented. Top hats were all the rage. Punting was a good idea. Pterodactyls were the hot new species. It was a long, long time ago, October of 2010. A long time ago.
It was college, so we did ridiculous things. In my sophomore year one of those was having a fight about who the "real William Carlos Williams" was. William Carlos Williams was obviously the real William Carlos Williams but somehow Kit and Sunil contrived to have a dispute about which one of them really was the real William Carlos Williams anyway. This was settled the way these things always are: with a poetry-off.
We met with great solemnity in Ryan's dorm room. One of us had found a recipe for a drink that supposedly tasted like apple pie. I was still in the phase where changing my state of mind with alcohol was something beneath me and did not partake. I do remember there being whipped cream from a can. It was drinking in a dorm room. Of course there was whipped cream.
Embarrassingly sweet drinks were consumed as the festivities progressed until the poetry-off. Kit and Sunil would be given a topic and asked to compose a poem on that theme in the style of William Carlos Williams. The topic—revealed with the allez cuisine flourish of an Iron Chef ingredient—was red-haired women.
When the allotted minutes had passed and time was called, Kit went first. Kit had prepared. His poem was a mélange of repurposed WCW lines that he'd memorized and crammed together into a surprisingly coherent Frankenstein of a poem.
Sunil was next. He'd had far too much to drink and was showing it. Sitting on Ryan's bed slumped over, he roused himself. He looked down at what he'd written, and started.
"I love red haired bitches
they say 'whatever' and 'like'
how easily we imbibe their terminology
At this juncture Sunil toppled over backward on the bed and said no more. The panel of judges unanimously declared him the Real William Carlos Williams. Sunil celebrated by throwing up into the trash.
I think about Sunil's poem whenever someone other than Brady Hoke calls the Great Eye of Columbus "Ohio." This is all the time. Kit assembled a frankenpoem from someone's else's mouth; Sunil just said stuff. One of these things stuck. There's an "imbibe this terminology" tag on this blog.
Brady Hoke dropped the "State" from Ohio and drove the Buckeyes to distraction to the point where the program—not just the fans—celebrated the return of "that school up north" like Terrelle Pryor welcoming an auto dealer into his tattoo-artist-sponsored apartment. Hoke dropped "This is Michigan" in his introductory press conference and tacked on the "fergodsakes" that made it immortal. He called last year's outfit Team 132, and now this year's outfit is team 133 and the ridiculous recruiting class that will enroll next year is shooting #team134 hashtags back and forth across twitter.
Hoke didn't seem to mean anything by any of it. He just talked, and though he tried to press-conference it things slipped out sideways. We imbibed them.
That's marketing. The rest is just repetition.
A year ago—or a hundred, whatever, I can't tell anymore—I wrote a story about the 2011 season that focused on how it was a damn good thing that Denard and Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen and Kevin Koger were around because I'd been in the stands when they were losing to Purdue and some guy kept screaming "they don't have any HEART" and heard tale after tale of shameful behavior directed at Rich Rodriguez—if you can't recall, he was the head coach at the time—by program alums.
A year later, Brady Hoke has every last Michigan fan marching behind him, not to mention Greg Mattison and a heaping handful of the country's best high school football players. This has just happened, you know? It is of course planned and difficult and meticulousness is required, but on one level Hoke just vacuumed everyone up because he is who he is.
Last February I was in a hotel in Grand Rapids where people had gathered to talk about football. I'm in the very corner of this room and I've got longer hair than any five other people in it put together and a goatee and I look like I do, you know. Like a guy who has trouble crossing borders sometimes. I could have been wearing a sequined dress and heels and not have looked less like a football coach than I did.
Hoke is standing two feet in front of me.
I have this completely insane fear that somehow Hoke will recognize me even though he knows nothing about me. He may not even know what the internet is. But this is an insane fear, remember. I don't want to make eye contact in case he says "you're the one who wrote a post called 'Profiles In Cronyism' about me, and several other uncomplimentary things besides" and this will spur the rest of the room to toss me bodily out of this hotel. But I'm staring at him all the same.
Borges is there, too. He's talking a couple rooms down but has stopped in for a visit. In an hour I'll sneak over to his talk and listen, enraptured, for an hour as he describes Michigan's passing concepts, and feel embittered when he has to stop instead of continuing on for another four. Before he gets into it he'll tell the room that it is great working for "Brady" because he trusts you to do your job, unlike some coaches he's worked under. When he says it, it sounds like he's saying no one will ever leave him, because why would you?
Right now Borges is surveying a room packed from stem to stern for Hoke and making a self-depreciating comment about the lack of people in his much smaller room. Brady grins, and says "Nobody cares about offense, Al. Who cares about offense?" He says it again. He laughs, and is completely at ease as myself and a half-dozen other star-struck folk file this interaction away in our brains. He walks away and we fall into line behind him, like so many others.
So my favorite way to learn things is to start an argument with someone who knows more than I do about that subject and see if my take can take the onslaught. On Sunday Magnus put an interesting question to the board about the current MGoTake on Kenny Demens:
I've seen many references to this in recent times, including when I was reading HTTV. There seems to be some sentiment around here that Kenny Demens is better than Obi Ezeh but he won't make anyone forget about David Harris. I'm kind of confused why people are down on Demens in that way. He's not Ray Lewis, but David Harris wasn't Ray Lewis, either.
As a junior, David Harris had 88 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.
In a comparison of junior seasons, Kenny Demens had 94 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 2 pass breakups.
Those are pretty similar statistics, and while Harris did more in the turnover department, I'm not sure why people are insisting that David Harris was so much better. Demens still has a year to get to that level. He may or may not get there, but I don't think it's really a fair argument to compare the two careers right now.
Harris is special to Brian because he was the first great player uncovered in UFR. He's special to me because when I crossed that line between being someone who knows Michigan football and is truly
informed obsessed about Michigan football, I began going around telling people that David Harris (not Henne, Hart, Manningham or Long) was the most important guy on the team. In both cases that was in 2005, about the same time in his career that Demens was getting his unit dinged (vs. MSU et al.) for not being reactive enough. This has resulted in a bit of a bias on these pages from Brian and those principally informed by Brian to speak of Harris in near-Woodsonian terms. Whether you regard that as a weakness in our coverage, it fortunately leaves plenty of room for Demens to be both "worse than David Harris" and "a damn good Big Ten linebacker."
Here's the part of Brian's summation on Demens from HTTV that I am almost certain Magnus is responding to:
We got some clarity in 2011, when Demens was just okay. While he led the team in tackles, he managed just two TFLs against running plays. He barely beat blocks and was such a mediocre blitzer that Greg Mattison started playing him at nose tackle so he could send Mike Martin at the quarterback. On the plus side of the ledger, Demens was a surpisingly high-quality cover guy, sticking with players well down seams he didn't have much business covering.
First let's clarify that nobody's suggesting Demens is an average of 45s. The Unofficial MGoBlog Harris-Ezeh Scale of Linebackeritude...
...sees Demens firmly on the Harris end of the ledger.
That is a comedown from post-2010, when this site fell in love with Demens for being not-Ezeh and because most of his struggles were schematically blameable on GERG (plus the threat of a Dr. Vorax the Stuffed Beaver facewash if he did something good). He is a pretty good tackler. He stands up well to blocks. And he is one of the guys who helped make us stout in short situations last year. We like him.
Let's compare that to the feeling on David Harris going into 2006:
Harris was a player. He led the team in tackles, making a fair number of them near or behind the line of scrimmage. He was tasked with spying Drew Stanton during the Michigan State game and flashed his speed against Penn State when he tracked down Derrick F-ing Williams on an end around. His UFR number was +8 that game, a monster. Though Harris tailed off towards the end of the year, he's established himself as one of the Big Ten's better linebackers and certainly the best Michigan has.
Over the course of his senior season Harris went from a budding star that bloggers were into before it was cool, to a player of the decade who could diagnose the blocking assignments of a given play before people in the huddle did:
The difference I find is the instincts. Harris was great because he could read a play, make his decision, and shoot to where he needed to be. Having rewatched the late '90s games with new eyes I can see Dhani Jones had this to set him apart as well. Kovacs is the obvious modern example.
Ironically, "good in coverage, needs to be more instinctive" is the opposite of what we said in the 2011 preview:
It's clear by the rating above that I'm a Demens believer. I liked what I saw last year and I've seen MLBs who are pretty good to compare him to. David Harris, for one. He's not Harris but I think Demens is closer to him than Ezeh already. He just has a knack for getting to where the play is going. Though his coverage still needs some work he was decently effective in short zones last year.
There's no direct post-sophomore comparison for Harris because he had a knee injury that took two seasons to return from. Before that, freshman versions of Harris were the recipients of an a-normal amount of positive chatter. Spring chatter is just that and not worth putting that much stock into, however there's too many old copies of The Wolverine gushing about him to discount entirely. As soon as Harris was healthy he displaced the returning starter (McClintock) and never came off the field.
Demens before Iowa 2010 is equally hard to pin down. There was some trouble for which the entirety of Demen's culpability essentially came down to "is bad at choosing roommates." When he dropped behind Ezeh and position switching Moundros early his RS sophomore year the expectations were downgraded, only to be rekindled when it turned out this was just the work of the nefarious Dr. Vorax.
As for their respective junior seasons, the basis of the claim that Demens=Harris is in the tackling stats. Because the team can face radically different numbers of plays I like to use % of team tackles for this; though it doesn't change the point Magnus was making:
|2005 Season||52||36||88||2011 Season||49||45||94|
|TEAM 2005||539||269||808||TEAM 2011||481||380||861|
|% of 2005||9.6%||13.4%||10.9%||% of 2011||10.2%||11.8%||10.9%|
On the surface this seems to support your assertion that their respective RS Jr seasons were pretty comparable. Harris had a greater % of his tackles solo because the team was less into gang-tackling.
My memory said Michigan faced more passing offenses in 2005 than this year. However the stats say that 2005 and 2011 were almost identical in number of live plays:
|Live Defensive Plays||2005||2011|
|Opp. Rushing Attempts||430||429|
|Opp. Pass Completions||223||221|
The biggest difference seems to be the cornerbacks and LaMarr Woodley made the tackles that Kovacs and T.Gordon took for 2011. If you take the view that tackles missed by linebackers go to the safeties then:
|W. Barringer||10||29||14||Jordan Kovacs||12||51||24|
|Brandent Englemon||11||26||16||Thomas Gordon||13||41||26|
|Jamar Adams||12||21||6||Courtney Avery||13||17||9|
|B. Harrison||12||15||9||Carvin Johnson||8||9||5|
(I included Courtney Avery because some of Harrison's season was at nickel and it's hard to separate that.)
There's also a moderate difference in rushing yards/attempt between the seasons that you have to imagine the leading tackler had something to do with: Opponents in 2005 were held to 3.8 YPA; in 2011 it was 4.0 YPA. However this is a very flimsy statistical case. Magnus is correct that the numbers do not show a major difference between Demens and Harris's junior seasons.
For that we have to go to the realm of the individual games and plays. Here's the UFR comparison of their respective junior seasons:
|Notre Dame||5||1||4||Night and day from McClintock.|
|Eastern Michigan||5||0||5||Reading and reacting in the short zone.|
|Wisconsin||4||3||1||Reading and reacting in the short zone.|
|Michigan State||6||0||6||Playing very, very well. Entrusted with spying Stanton all day; shows the faith they have in him.|
|Minnesota||8||2||6||Well, we've got one linebacker.|
|Penn State||9||1||8||Biggest scrub to star transformation since...?|
|Northwestern||4||1||3||Unbelievably deep drops in coverage.|
|Iowa||3||3||0||Worst game since he became a starter. Still did okay.|
|Western Michigan||7.5||5||2.5||Kind of a rough start but played in odd conditions.|
|Notre Dame||13||4.5||8.5||Twelve tackles and few errors.|
|Eastern Michigan||3.5||4.5||-1||Slow to diagnose some things.|
|San Diego State||9.5||2.5||7||Not sure what to do with his Howard-esque coverage but I liked it.|
|Minnesota||4.5||2.5||2||Not many plays even got to him.|
|Northwestern||5.5||9.5||-4||Did not get outside even on speed options.|
|Michigan State||4.5||6.5||-2||Michigan's linebackers are not nearly as reactive as MSU/ND, even Northwestern, and it costs them.|
|Purdue||3||3||0||Not much got to him thanks to Martin.|
|Iowa||10||6||4||Stuck Coker cold a half yard from a critical third down conversion. I be like dang.|
|Illinois||7.5||3.5||4||Second consecutive solid game. Pretty good in coverage.|
|Nebraska||9.5||5.5||4||Three straight +4s. Surprisingly good in coverage for MLB.|
|Ohio State||5.5||4||1.5||Ate some blocks.|
Harris 2005: +35 in nine games (+3.9/game)
Demens 2011: +26.5 in twelve games (+2.2/game)
[EDIT: A copy error from 2005 screwed up my arithmetic. It is corrected now]
Now I realize UFR has changed a bit since then and that opportunities might be different and etc. etc. etc. etc. this is not scientific at all. What I'm really going by is the record in the comments. So those numbers probably don't mean anything.
What does mean things are the notes. In Demens you see "slow to diagnose some things" and "Michigan's linebackers are not nearly as reactive as MSU/ND, even Northwestern, and it costs them," and "Ate some blocks." Is it a weakness? I'm sure the coaching carousel Demens has had in his career is a big part of that. I'm also sure that among the most important attributes for a defensive player, perhaps even more important than his size or his speed or his tackling technique (though all matter a lot), is how many micro-seconds it takes him to react correctly to the play. In this Harris as a junior was outstanding, and Demens as a junior was "area for improvement."
Does this constitute a low ceiling for Demens? If you put a gun to my head: yes, I'd say he's RVB to David Harris's Mike Martin.
This goes out to all those young linebackers out there who have given me your letters of intent:
♪ There was Bell, and a Hill, but I never saw them playing
No I never saw depth at all, 'till there was you.
There were safeties who gained weight, and a JUCO straight from Butler
But they were no Obianna Ezeh, 'till there was you.
Oh there were walk-ons, and converted fullbacks, they tell me,
And sweet freshman "Spinners," and Roh at "Quick"…
There was Ken-ny Demens, and a plush-toy Castor face-wash,
But no other linebackers at all, 'till there was you.
Till there was you! ♫
Linebacker depth: EXTANT!
This is Part III of the thing where I go over the depth chart and predict what will happen if the starter at any given position is hurt for an extended period of time in 2012: Who goes in?, What's the dropoff?, How do things shuffle?
And this time, there's goods here. There's depth in the SAMs and the WILLs and the MIKEs and the macks and the rovers. Whatayatalk whatayatalk: Where'd-we-get-it? With a Greg who knows the territory! With the jacks from the buckeyes, and the bucks from the mitten, and ROLBs from the overlooked, redshirted, 3-star, buck- and spart-passed over huckleberry bin. Whatayatalk, whatayatalk. Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker ya can talk, ya can bicker, bicker, bicker, ya can talk all ya want, but it's different than it was!
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
SAM (Strongside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Jake was a revelation last year as a redshirt freshman who as the season progressed kept giving the coaches less and less excuse to yank him. The nature of his position, which rotates often, and the nature of his cavalier game make it hard to quantify the effective difference of an injury here. By design he's the most replaceable guy on the defense; by the magnitude of his effect when he's in the game, there are few, if any, guys on the team who you'd less like to lose. He was far from perfect—his problems holding the edge led to some ugly things in the Northwestern-Michigan State part of the year—however there were also those times when a "running" quarterback would see this crazy freshman coming inside the edge blocker and think to himself "oh I'm so going around that idiot," only to end up flat on his back 20 yards in the backfield. Nothing was more satisfying to a fan base recovering from Passive 3-3-5 syndrome than seeing this crazed high-necked Viking bellowing something unintelligible at fast-retreating Logan Thomas.
Heiko took this
Cam Gordon is the nominal backup, and since the freshman who played ahead of him last year (Beyer) has made the move to WDE, you would imagine the onetime receiver, onetime epitome of ethereal spring optimism at free safety, and onetime 3-3-5 spinner will have finally settled into a useful something. He spent most of last year with a back injury that gives us precious little information on what he might become. So is C.Gordon a junior stunted by position switches, bad fundamental coaching and injury who's now ready to erupt, or a guy with bad fundamentals doomed to be remembered for that one time he was badly cast in the hero role of a box office flop?
What you want are his credentials for a position that rotates like a train of traveling salesmen; what I've got for you is a barbershop quartet of coaches singing songs about him. One thing they don't say is "platoon." Despite his safety pedigree and safety frame versus Jake Ryan's oft hand-down deployment, the coaches haven't indicated Gordon is a situational backup. The SLB in this defense is supposed to be more like a WDE than the other two linebacker spots, and Cam is not that. On the other hand he seems tailor-made for the side-job of the SLB: covering the guy in the slot.
So I'm saying if Ryan goes down, Michigan probably goes with Gordon and eases off the gas a bit, leaning less on pressure and more on coverage from the position. The real drop-off won't be too severe, as there are other guys who can blitz if the SLB becomes more coverage-oriented, and there are rush options extant. The apparent drop-off will feel like when we lost Marcus Ray—the defense is still the defense but that sense that somebody's about to lose an important body organ will be appreciably depreciated. You'll see Gordon plenty either way.
In case of dire emergency: Well like I said this position rotates. Don't know what will happen with Clark, but if he's in at WDE that means Brennan Beyer can easily reprise his 2011 role over here. Mario Ojemudia could be pressed into service. And any of the freshmen linebackers could end up here. Of the four, I picked Royce Jenkins-Stone as the SAM since Bolden already seems to be the two-deep man at Mike, and Ringer was here for spring practice at Mike, and scouting reports say Ross is a coverage-y WLB-type, while RJS has been described as a raw, blitz-loving knife. That's an SLB. It'd be best if he redshirts to learn how to be the second-most aggressive guy on the defense (WDE is the first) while holding the edge.
MIKE (Middle Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Responding to my size chart in last week's article, TSS started a thread about how Demens, who's listed at 248 on the spring roster (which is a copy of last fall's), has significantly more beef than the rest of the linebacking crew. The image above seems to reject the notion that he's the Carl Diggs among the Brackinses; the variability charts for the 2012 linebackers say he's huge (right, via TSS). So I checked the average listed size for a Michigan contributing linebacker since 1993, and it says he made big:
|2nd (Sophomore or RS Fr)||236||228|
|3rd (Junior or RS Soph)||246||232|
|4th (Senior or RS Junior)||248||233|
|5th year Senior||252||238|
Most of our starters played over 240 in their 4th or 5th years. Over 230 is where it seems the contributors need to be. And when you look at the depth chart for 2012 there are exactly three dudes who seem likely to fit that description:
|Kenny Demens||248||Jake Ryan||230||Desmond Morgan||220|
|Joe Bolden||230||Cam Gordon||222||Brandin Hawthorne||214|
|Mike Jones||224||Royce Jenkins-Stone||215||Antonio Poole||212|
|Kaleb Ringer||219||James Ross||209|
Knock-knock … Orange … yada yada … you have Joe Bolden, the 2012 recruit I am most giggity about, and for good reason. He had the kind of performance as the starter (Demens was wearing that club you see above) in the spring game that makes even the cautious prognosticators say "I think we have something here." Then they pull out the David Harris comparisons.
There's nothing I can really add to the recruiting profile or the lofty expectations except to focus on what he brings to the table right now. That is a guy with freshman-grade Kovacsian play-diagnosis skills that must be tempered by "is a true freshman," plus a lot of range and athleticism that must be tempered by "is probably not strong enough yet to get off blocks." I don't think Demens should be worried about losing his job this year unless he's banged up, however in that eventuality Michigan has something between what Desmond Morgan was last year and a freshman Manti Te'o on hand, and should be just fine. Orange you glad!
In case of dire emergency: The phrase "Who? MIKE JONES!" had a very short meme life on the MGoBoards, and it is the considered hope of every Michigan fan that it should never become the headline of an MGoInjury Roundup or uttered without irony inside Michigan Stadium ever. Before the injury that ruined his 2009 coaches were suggesting he might displace Mouton; alas that seems to have been motivational spring hokum. More hype/hokum was Mattison saying he's an unstoppable speed rusher. We saw Jones a bit while Michigan was killing clock against Minnesota and he looked, um, safety-ish. There is a job for a safety-ish linebacker in this defense—the Will—but there are so many other slight LBs on this roster that tripping the 220-something wire puts you into the mix at middle. I would think before we see Jones start, Morgan would slide down to MLB and Hawthorne become the full-time WLB. While time is running out for Jones, he's not ignorable.
WILL (Weakside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: You can argue about the stars being low for a sophomore whom I already said was at 3 stars when starting as a true freshman—that was at the end of last year and I expect Des should still be improving exponentially as this season goes on. I also predict this year you'll start seeing more Jake Ryan in him, since everyone from recruiting analysts to coaches have raved about grittiness, something we haven't had the opportunity to see much of just yet. If our next Eckstein McGritsalot loses that opportunity, the safety net is the the safety-like Brandin Hawthorne.
If you have the opportunity to give the coaches one suggestion for 2012, please join the MGoCrusade to have Hawthorne deployed as the WLB when Michigan goes to nickel. Until Morgan emerged in the second half of last year, Hawthorne had lain tenuous claim to defense's most open position. Brandon Herron, the beefy Yang to Brandin's Yin, dropped out of the race after the double-fumble touchdown rally and has graduated. Hawthorne was excellent in coverage, knifed into the backfield for a key stop against Notre Dame, and displayed Pahokeeian speed to all parts of the field … except when a blocker came near.
For you Tiger fans, Hawthorne is the Ramon Santiago of this defense. He is great at what he does, but playing him every down is going to expose his weakness against the run. So what does happen if Des goes down? It's probably Joe Bolden, but with more Hawthorne appearances.
In case of dire emergency: Trouble with capital T, rhymes with P, stands for…oh actually we don't know what we have in Antonio Poole except his name lends itself well to the Music Man theme. Really he's a redshirt freshman who was ignored by Rodriguez but picked up quickly by Hoke. His recruiting profile lists abilities of play diagnosis, tackling, and translating of the Facebook pages of CRex's in-laws. Third on the depth chart is where you'd want a redshirt freshman to be. Anyway if you see Poole that means he's better than expected, or that "dire emergency" includes the MLB depth chart too. Same goes for James Ross, who was at one point the highest rated linebacker of the 2012 uber-haul, and may yet have a long career beside Bolden (Orange!), however he's listed in the vicinity of 200 lbs. and would probably benefit from a redshirt more than Ringer, who was here for Spring ball. Since redshirting a consensus high 4-star is a luxury we haven't had around the linebacking parts in some time, I suggest we take advantage of it.