|Henry Poggi||Jr.*||Khalid Hill||Jr.*||TJ Wheatley||Fr.*||Jake Butt||Sr.|
|Bobby Henderson||Sr.*||Henry Poggi||Jr.*||Devin Asiasi||Fr.||Ian Bunting||So.*|
|Michael Hirsch||Jr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Zach Gentry||Fr.*||Nick Eubanks||Fr.|
A few years ago we split tight ends from the WR post and fullbacks from the RB post, figuring that under Brady Hoke there would be enough of them to warrant it. We even split guys into various categories because a tight end is not just a tight end. Then Jim Harbaugh came in. After an internal struggle this site has decided not to split each one of these columns into its own post, but it was a near thing. Those columns are:
- FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets
two50 carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley, Sione Houma.
- H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
- TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: AJ Williams, Jerame Tuman.
- FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Tyler Eifert, Jake Butt.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
So. These are the categories. The men who, uh, man them are many and varied and in one case the bar-none best in all the land. Let's start with him.
TIGHT END AND FLEX
opponents will call Butt dastardly this year [Fuller/MGoBlue]
In keeping with this site's tradition of dignified reserve, last year's preview claimed Jim Harbaugh called Jake Butt an "Ertz/Fleener Voltron" based on this quote:
"Jake is as good a prospect as we've coached at the college level," Harbaugh said. "We've produced a lot of great players in college at the spot and it's vital to our success."
And lo, he pretty much was an Ertz/Fleener Voltron. Per Pro Football Focus he graded out better than any tight end in the country as a receiver. Survey says: yup. I sort catch opportunities into four bins: routine balls, challenging ones, crazy ones, and uncatchable ones. Butt was a perfect 36/36 on routine balls, an outstanding 10/12 on challenging balls, and 3/3 on circus catches. Meanwhile Butt's enormous catch radius and excellent route running tend to move opportunities into easier categories. Only eight times last year did a Jake Butt target get filed uncatchable. (I don't count balls thrown away in the general vicinity of a player.) That means 83% of the time Jake Rudock tried to hit Butt, Michigan moved the ball. Butt targets averaged over 11 yards a pop. Voltron achieved.
There's still no better example of Butt's prowess than the touchdown from the opener where Jake Rudock first explored the wonders of the #buttzone:
Unless it's this sensational one handed catch against Rutgers in 2014:
Jake Butt can make your wrong-ass wrong throws of wrongness into something so right.
Even so, after eight catches in the opener Butt's production fell off. Over the next six games a struggling Rudock only hit him 14 times downfield for a measly 133 yards—there was a 44-yard screen that Harbaugh conjured in there as well. Butt's a tight end. Sometimes he's covered, sort of, and Rudock didn't look for him.
Then Harbaugh beat the stone-cold fact that a covered Jake Butt still isn't covered into Rudock's brain and production took off. Butt had 28 catches in the final six games and 376 yards. That's double the catch rate and triple the yardage. Much of that production returned to the magical land where only Jake Butt frolics:
In addition to his pterodactyl-like catching radius and Wilt Chamberlain hands, Butt's athleticism allows him to shake safeties with his routes...
...and occasionally split them after the catch:
Or just flat outrun a corner. An Indiana corner, yes. Still, this is a guy who had a 70-yard screen against OSU as a freshman and drew this praise from an anonymous Big Ten player even before his breakout junior season:
"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands."
You could not draw up a better receiving tight end.
As a blocker... I mean... he's a great receiver. I say this somewhat seriously. Opponents have to treat him differently than a normal tight end, and the run game benefits from it. Against OSU Jabrill Peppers picked up a seven yard chunk largely because he looked like he'd throw to Butt for a moment and that was enough for two OSU players to freak out.
When it came to making actual contact with the opposition, Butt was decent. Middling. Okay. He was very much a finesse blocker, and this was good enough given the strictures his presence put on the opposing defense. This isn't a brutal finish; it's good enough:
[Butt is on the right side of the OL]
That is kind of the cap, though. Get him soloed up against a defensive end and it'll go like "tight end versus Chris Wormley" most of the time. In UFR his run contributions came out moderately positive against the lesser teams on the schedule and negative against likes of Utah, BYU, MSU, and... uh... Rutgers. The bowl was a nice step forward but repeatedly caving in the edge of Florida's defense could be interpreted as a motivation issue for the Gators. Pro Football Focus tastefully omits mention of his blocking when they reference him because he came out negative on the year.
Remaining upside in this department is limited since he's going from his third to his fourth year. What remains is probably more about the mental side of the game than a sudden surge in ability like AJ Williams had. He'll get a little stronger and a little wiser; what you see is close to what you're going to get.
That happens to be a guy who is going to break Jim Mandich's all-time TE receiving record, a guy guaranteed to be off the board by the end of the second round of the next NFL draft. Jake Butt is a captain on a team with Jehu Chesson. I mean. Harbaugh:
"From day one, Jake Butt is an A++ guy as a player. We're in a meeting or in an install and I see him on the edge of his seat sitting through a two-hour meeting and he's communicating with guys next to him. He's interpreting for the younger guys. He has pizzazz."
Butt's about to be the best tight end in Michigan history.
[After THE JUMP: Ol' Skillet Hands and friends.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Again, chances of this existing without Matt are somewhat less. I like to think this would be a thing in the world without the prod from Homesure Lending, but you never know. Matt's sponsoring another Football Eve this year, albeit on Thursday so it's Football Eve Eve. September 1st, 7:30,
Ashley's, first beer's on him.
[UPDATE: We've moved it to WOLVERINE STATE BREWING at 2019 West Stadium to accomodate more people]
FORMATION NOTES: I'm ready to give up on naming these things. A couple of attempts to clarify the lingo below:
This was a Peppers sweep to all the dudes. Michigan has six OL in the game and Cole is in a two point stance to the bottom of the line. This was "ace quad tight bunch" even though that doesn't encapsulate all the weirdness.
Here Michigan has two TEs and two WRs on the field, with Butt lined up in a two point stance and Chesson an inline TE:
I'm calling this "WR hide." If you see it below there's an "inline TE" named Darboh or Chesson or both.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Rudock, starting OL, and the starting WRs the whole way. Isaac did not play and Drake Johnson was limited to scattered snaps as Smith and Peppers took the large bulk of the RB snaps. Peppers also lined up in the slot, at H-back and as a wildcat QB. AJ Williams didn't get much time.
[After THE JUMP: one very big problem M tried to work around.]
It's submarine time. Yea, the beat writers will rend their garments and republish articles about Clayton Richard from ten years ago. Insider rumblings of wildly varying utility will leak out in drips and drabs. Half of them will be outright falsehoods. A quarter will be somewhat true. A quarter will be very true.
As per usual, I enter this month of the season frantically assembling data for the season preview; fall camp chatter will factor in as it always does. Here are the things I'm hoping to hear, the things that I'm hoping are never said, and ridiculous things I'll dismiss out of hand.
STATUS: Wilton Speight exited spring with a slight lead on John O'Korn, at least per spring draft and practice snap order. Even if that means more than "we want to motivate a guy" it's a 51/49 situation. It's all up for grabs.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Someone is taking the job forcefully. Which guy doesn't matter so much. One of them grabbing the job by the throat, whoever that happens to be, is preferable. I'd prefer that gent is O'Korn since I think his mobility and arm strength gives him greater upside but if Speight is going to defy the Curse of Borges with authority, fine. Authority. This is the goal.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "Brandon Peters really has a shot!" No offense intended, but the two leaders coming back to the pack would not be a good sign. Meanwhile true freshman anything is never great. I am open to hearing further encouraging things about Peters's future. Present not so much.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: "Shane Morris really has a shot!" Morris was at best equal to Speight going into last season when Michigan agreed to redshirt him; Speight now has an extra slice of on-field experience and should improve more since he's younger. Also they put him at WR in the spring game.
STATUS: It's De'Veon Smith's job. Not his job to lose, his job. Smith's injury history—he was banged up all last year—and Harbaugh's tendency to play multiple tailbacks at once mean that the #2 and #3 guys will still be important.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Ty Isaac remains on a rampage. With Smith getting he's-the-man rest, the story of spring practice was the emergence of a "rougher, tougher" Ty Isaac. His outside burst picked up piles of yards in the spring game, culminating in a run where he tacked on an extra 15 by outrunning Jabrill Peppers in the open field. That's something nobody managed all of last year, off balance or not. There's still a five star in there somewhere. The best possible news from camp would be Isaac looking like it.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Smith is banged up and not practicing. It's not a coincidence that Smith's killer Citrus Bowl came after a month off. He missed the Maryland game and was limited in a few others because his pounding style racks up nagging injuries. His absence in the spring was as much precaution as triumph.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Someone insisting that Drake Johnson did not have a) a house land on him, 2) a gang of radioactive bikers abduct his dog, c) a mouth that spews nothing but sass grow on his finger, or d) all of the above.
STATUS: Darboh, Chesson, and Perry are your dudes, with a side of Peppers no one will talk about.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: "Gotdang, Moe Ways can play." The two outside starters are established so nothing we hear about them will mean much relative to all the stuff we've seen on an actual field. Ways is coming off a lot of spring hype we didn't get to see ourselves thanks to a foot injury late in spring practice. He's the best bet for a solid #3 this year and a smooth transition to the next generation in 2017.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: There are lingering Chesson PCL issues. Chances of this are low since the injury happened eight months ago, but WR is one of a couple positions where an injured starter is a big big deal.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Freshman X is going to have a big role. He ain't. Darboh, Chesson, Perry, and Butt are back. Michigan had no slot receiver a year ago and Grant Perry caught 105 passes as a high school senior and it still took him until the bowl game to be a major contributor. Freshman wide receivers suck.
I will accept "Eddie McDoom looks like a guy who can play a lot in 2017."
STATUS: lol all the dudes
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: "Ian Bunting's Citrus Bowl was no fluke." Bunting flashed a surprising ability to whack dudes in the bowl game, and if he can continue that he'll be on the field with Jake Butt a lot. That is a tent-your-fingers situation there.
I have a runner up here, and that is "Ty Wheatley Jr has re-emerged from the sea after destroying Tokyo."
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "Henry Poggi is still missing blocks." To clarify, I expect to hear almost literally nothing about Poggi during fall camp because he is a fullback/H-back. I expect to hear even less about his specific ability to ID the man he should go hit in the chaos of camp. But if we were to hear that I would not be having a good time. Poggi has high upside as a blocker; the main thing that prevented him from hitting that a year ago was finding the right guy.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Further chatter about Sean McKeon playing this year. There was a consistent drumbeat that this was a possibility during spring; one glance at the depth chart should dispel all such notions.
STATUS: Harbaugh announced Grant Newsome as a sure starter at media day. Oddly, he still maintained that the rest of the line—three fifth year seniors and Mason Cole—wasn't set. But, I mean, it's basically set.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Year two in the same system with the same coaches is a revelation. Michigan had a lot of problems executing their assignments in front of the ever-shifting fronts defenses will throw at them. Some of this is expected. They've had three offensive coordinators over the last three years. This is the first time in their playing careers that they have an opportunity to build on something they already know.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "Rueben Jones is tearing Grant Newsome up." Newsome got worked this spring. Getting worked by Taco Charlton is one thing. Getting worked by a Chase Winovich freshly moved from offense is another. Both happened. Newsome has the frame and mental ability to get there at left tackle; there are going to be hairy moments. Newsome getting negative reviews would be alarming since it appears there are few or no alternatives.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: One of the three seniors is going to get benched. I know that possibility is the direct implication of Harbaugh's media day press conference, but I'd be flabbergasted if Dawson, Kugler or Bredeson managed to slide past any of them. Dawson and Kugler have had their shots the last few camps, and true freshmen are true freshmen. You can point to Mason Cole if you like but as a reminder, Mason Cole's main job as a freshman was to survive by the skin of his teeth. He did that; his performance wasn't any better than Kyle Kalis's projects to be this fall.
There is a version of this that wouldn't be dismissed and would be another thing you want to hear: a couple guys are pushing the seniors and are at least some threat to unseat a guy. Michigan's OL depth right now is questionable and it's more questionable going into next year. Being able to pencil someone in at a couple of the vacancies would be reassuring.
Scott Matzka has a very bad disease. Former Michigan hockey player Scott Matzka, who was a short-handed goal waiting to happen and took EECS 380 at the same time I did, has ALS. Please visit his site and help out if you can.
A Michigan Man does not jackknife powerbomb Kevin Nash.
— Henry Poggi (@The_Hank_Poggi) July 1, 2016
Apparent attrition. Brad Hawkins has not enrolled:
Hawkins' high school coach at Camden, Dwayne Savage, confirmed that Hawkins is not in school yet as he's still awaiting clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse -- now known as the NCAA Eligibility Center. Savage said that Hawkins still plans on playing football at Michigan this season and hopes to have his clearance at some point toward the middle of July.
"He's not in school yet," Savage said. "I believe it's a Clearinghouse situation. Right now everything's still a go for Michigan. He just has to get everything cleared before he can step on campus."
This doesn't happen often with Michigan recruits so I don't have a feel for how likely it is that things get resolved by fall. Sam Webb is saying he doesn't have high hopes Hawkins will enroll this fall. Michigan might pick him back up after a prep semester.
If you've read the recent recruiting profiles, you know that in my opinion this is more of an issue for the safety depth chart than receiver because I really like the two sleeper-ish guys they took and have yet to get to Dylan Crawford.
Speaking of those sleeper-ish guys. PSU, OSU, and MSU are all using a ton of cover four, so this Ian Boyd article on the route slot receivers have to get down to bust these Ds is of considerable relevance:
For teams with QBs that have enough arm, against cover 4 defenses that like to bracket the single side receiver, this is a really popular way to attack the field safety:
Defenses that either want to bracket the single-side receiver in cover 2 or else drop the boundary safety down to stuff the run love to play this coverage against trips formations. The outside corner is in straight man coverage on the "X" receiver while the space-backer (S), middle linebacker (M), and field safety (F) are playing zone over the two slot receivers.
This is variously called "flag" or "seven" or a "corner" route. I go with the latter in UFR, FWIW.
Impact on the game
Perhaps the biggest response to cover 4 that has come into vogue around the game is the use of vertical routes from the slot receiver with which to attack the safeties. There are other good route combinations for attacking cover 4 that don't include seven routes but they all generally involve sending a slot receiver down the field to either attack the safety or occupy him so the offense can isolate a corner.
Teams that don't have receivers they can use in the slot to attack safeties down the field are at a major disadvantage in stopping cover 4 teams from successfully bringing numbers to stop both their outside receivers AND their running backs.
Perhaps the biggest winner in all of this is the "undersized" outside receiver who's excellent in running a variety of routes from different areas on the field. Three of the top four receivers in Big 12 play in 2015 (statistically) were Sterling Shepard (5'10" 195), Corey Coleman (5'11" 185), and Jakeem Grant (5'7" 168). Each of them were wildly effective in part because of the seven route and the way that opening up space outside allows smaller receivers to move inside and still have opportunities to run vertical routes.
Eddie McDoom, Nate Johnson, and Dylan Crawford are all this guy. (Crawford's not undersized but he's not huge either.) Michigan appears to have recruited this year's class with a major emphasis on winning vertical matchups from the slot.
This can't be rational. Kenpom puts together a graph of playing time for starters depending on how many fouls they have and comes back with a very Beilein approach:
Two fouls: The player with two fouls has his minutes severely restricted for the entirety of the first half. There is some leniency given with 4-6 minutes until halftime, but there is very little opportunity for the player with two fouls to see the floor in the first half. There is odd unanimity among coaches that a player with two fouls should be protected with 20:01 remaining and should not be protected with 20:00 left in the game. If you are of the mindset that coaches are too aggressive benching guys with two fouls, this is a good piece of evidence that a herd mentality exists.
I am of that mindset and even more of that mindset when it comes to John Beilein teams, which have historically been top ten in foul avoidance. I have zero hope that Beilein will suddenly change his behavior in this department, so let's at least hope that Billy Donlon makes the defense way more handsy so that first-half autobench is at least somewhat more justified.
Large men: present. Michigan's basketball roster just got a lot more beef on it. One, Mo Wagner is no longer a chopstick:
My man Moe Wagner came in at 6'11" 211lbs this time last year. #238.6lbs pic.twitter.com/9hEL6mma05
— Jon Sanderson (@CampSanderson) June 29, 2016
Two, both Jon Teske and Austin Davis are listed at 240+ on Michigan's just-released roster. Both are physically viable this year. This will be a nice change from last year, when Wagner couldn't get off the bench for big chunks of the season and Mark Donnal was the default.
More persons of NFL interest. A couple of "interior linemen" make another one of those NFL.com top tens. Scare quotes because:
3. Taco Charlton, Michigan
There might not be much mention of Charlton in the preseason considering he has started just four games headed into his senior season, but film doesn't lie, and NFL scouts have Charlton pegged squarely on their radar. At 6-6, 285 with long arms and a muscular build, Charlton has the perfect frame to play as a 3-4 defensive end. However, he could also serve as a 4-3 base end with the ability to bump inside on rushing downs in the NFL. Charlton had 33 pressures and 5.5 sacks despite playing just 43 percent of the Wolverines' defense snaps and those numbers are getting ready to make another jump. Charlton has freaky athletic traits and functional power to go with them.
This 285 pound dude is likely Michigan's starting weakside end, because the rest of the line is two-deep with very good veterans or Rashan Gary. Anyway, this is what I am talking about when I mention Charlton as a big breakout candidate. His production in limited time last year was really good. Michigan's depth means he might jump from the rotation guy with the least playing time to the one with the most. With Lawrence Marshall moving to the strongside, Chase Winovich is the main and only competition at WDE.
Wormley also made the list a few spots lower:
6. Chris Wormley, Michigan
Wormley Has the frame and athleticism to be considered as either an interior lineman or defensive end in a 4-3 or at defensive end for an odd front. Wormley is powerful and can plow through the edges of blockers. While some rushers are content to try and whip the man in front of them, Wormley is able to dart left and right to create doubt and uncertainty for blockers. He combines his strength and foot quickness to generate a pass rush that is very translatable on the next level. Wormley is generating a good deal of buzz in the scouting community and that buzz will get much louder this year.
Wormley is apparently headed for three-tech this year if things go to plan. Gary will have to obliterate the TEs.
Recruiting is important, part infinity. PFF released a list of the top 101 players in college football that we mentioned in this space because it has five different Michigan defenders on it. Some dude on 247 ran it through some statistical analysis. Results:
Minimum: 1 ~ 1.000
First Quartile: 31.5 ~ 98.40
Median: 238 ~ 90.90
Third Quartile: 1000 ~ 84.19
Over 25% of players listed in PPFs player rankings were rated as 5* players coming out of high school by the composite. Over 50% were rated as 4* players. While recruiting rankings aren't perfect they are a strong correlate of future success.
Five star players are approximately 1-3% of the pool and four-stars about 10%. This is in line with findings about the NFL draft; applying this analysis to PFF's rankings of college players based on their performance right now is even stronger evidence that recruiting rankings matter.
How’s the running back group progressing through six practices?
“Progressing well. Just trying to get certain guys like De’Veon [Smith] and Ty Isaac to what I call a mastery level, meaning that it’s progressing past the things we did last year. Instead of going through the hole and getting tackled by a guy it’s really working some moves, try and improve your game.
“With the younger guys, they’re doing well. They’re right where I’d expect them to be. A little overloaded in some aspects in terms of the information coming in on them, but they all look good. They all look good.”
How do you keep De’Veon healthy for a whole year?
“How do I keep him healthy for a full year?”
Yeah. I mean, that was obviously the challenge last year.
”He was healthy. He was relatively healthy. I mean, any football guy who lines up and takes that first—it’s like a car. Once you take that car off the lot it depreciates. It’s never going to be 100% value. So in terms of De’Veon, I think he was healthy besides the toe. But in terms of being healthy, some of the things we’re talking about now: being able to not run down the middle of guys, taking so many hits, being able to make some guys miss. That will improve his health, but I think relatively compared to last year he was relatively healthy.”
WelpThisWasGoingToBeMyMGoQuestion: What’s a realistic expectation for the two freshmen?
“Expectation? They’re true freshmen.”
So how much would that be?
“They’re freshmen! We won’t know. Right now it’s too hard to put anything on it. I’ll just put it to you this way: it’s freshmen. They’re freshmen. I mean, they’re good freshmen, but the fact of the matter is they’re freshmen. So to put an expectation on it is really unfair right now.”
For Ty [Isaac], who probably didn’t see as many carries as he wanted to last year, getting to the mastery level, has he put in more work? Has he taken to that a little bit differently this year?
“Yeah. I mean, regardless the point of the snaps, it’s still just age and being around and hearing it, so trying to take his game to that next level. So yeah, I mean, he’s working. He worked last year. He’s working this year. Sometimes a guy may just outwork you. That’s just a thing. It’s not that he did anything wrong last year. But he’s working hard. Yes, he is. Putting in the work.”
Do you feel like Drake [Johnson] is finally back to finally maybe 100%? He’s running track, too. He said that’s helping his leg and knee strength.
“Well, unfortunate part about me, I never was here when Drake was Drake Drake. So what I saw last year and just seeing a guy who’s coming off an ACL, he looked pretty darn good. So if we can improve him and get him past that, we should be looking at a much improved Drake, and he is looking good. In terms of track, he has a little more burst to him. But just in terms of football-wise, we’re trying to get Drake to that mastery level as well. It’s moving past little things like getting tackled, little better in pass-pro, things of that nature. So he’s one of those guys we’re trying to get to that mastery level.”
[After THE JUMP: some good news re: fullbacks, more on achieving RB mastery level]
Upon Further Review still has a sponsor. I'm late today so I'm just going to tell you that Matt's a good guy and did my loan and Seth's loan and everything was easy and professional. We are associating our name with his and that is something we are very comfortable with.
FORMATION NOTES: The director was one of those guys who fancies himself Stanley Kubrick so we never got a proper shot of what M was doing presnap on the Peppers sweep:
You'll note that M only has four OL; Cole is lined up outside of DeVeon Smith. This was "shotgun empty tight" but that's insufficient to describe it, really.
This with 3TEs and a WR in a wing spot was "Ace tight":
And M pulled out another goofy split line setup. Cole is one of the WRs to the top; Williams is the "right tackle". "Emory 3-wide," I said, and took another antacid:
PERSONNEL NOTES: The usual at most of the spots except Michigan whittled down the number of guys who played at the skill positions. Johnson and Green are on the participation list but didn't get carries; I don't remember them playing at all. Higdon and Isaac did get carries, but sparingly.
At WR it was almost all Darboh and Chesson and then they added in Harris or Perry in 3 or 4 wide sets. TE was about the usual.
[After THE JUMP: opportunities untaken]