"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
i'm not an ombudsman but i play one on the internet
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.