|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Matt Wile||Sr||Will Hagerup||Sr*||Kenny Allen||So*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr||Dennis Norfleet||Jr|
|Alex Mitropoulos-Rundus||Jr*||Kenny Allen||So*||Matt Wile||Sr||Dennis Norfleet||Jr||Raymon Taylor||Sr|
MATT WILE finally ascends to the starting job at kicker after a patient three-year apprenticeship while filling in at punter and kickoff specialist. We have very little to go on when it comes to field goals; he's spent the last couple years as the long-range specialist, hitting 50% from ranges such as 48, 49, and 52 before hitting a couple chip shots in the bowl game.
Kickers are weird and I can't predict kickers, because you can't predict molecules of air. That said, Wile will probably be fine. He's done a lot of kicking-type activities that didn't include field goals over the course of his time at Michigan and he's been consistently effective. Once you get past the bare physical minimums, consistency is your watchword and lifeblood; Wile has that. As the kickoff guy last year he eschewed blasting 'em through the endzone, instead trying to leave them high, short, and to one sideline. That ended up not being a great idea, but it wasn't because of Wile. That effort speaks well to his ability to put footballs in specific places after they come off his foot and is the closest thing to analysis you can get for a kicker no one has seen.
This section very well could have been "dunno; is kicker," I know. He should be fine to very good. But is kicker, dunno.
Unlike last year, Michigan is short on options after Wile. JJ McGrath transferred to Mississippi State this offseason, leaving previously obscure walk-on ALEX MITROPOULUS-RUNDUS as the second option. He was not real good in the closed spring scrimmage; when they brought him out to kick a few field goals he missed a bunch in a row. It got to the point that when he hit one it felt like a bronx cheer erupted from the rest of the team. Viva Wile.
[After THE JUMP: Norfleet! Peppers! I hope they matter!]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||So.*||Dymonte Thomas||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Reon Dawson||Fr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
So, JARROD WILSON…
Okay, okay, Jarrod Wilson after the jump. Now…
ok, you're out of shoes, right
I've been talking about hybrid space players for years now, projecting that Michigan would acquire one of these important gentlemen since about a year after that, and resigning myself to yet another repurposed 5'9" corner four games into every season since. Two years ago:
The thing that kept me from playing nickel a lot last year – the nickel has to be able to blitz. He has to be able to change the math … some guys can blitz and some can’t.
Michigan didn't have that guy, and their defense was solid, but conservative.
Now… now Michigan has a hybrid space player. Sound the trumpets. Unfurl the banners. Roll the carpet forth unto the unworthy ground so that our prince can walk upon maize and blue! Fetch… fetch the Woodson comparison. Yes, from the vaults.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES [Fuller]
And so forth and so on. As to why Michigan is deploying its most hyped recruit ever at a spot historically reserved for a not-quite-starting cornerback on passing downs, let's revisit last year's preview:
The ideal nickelback is a corner/safety/linebacker hybrid who can cover slot receivers, blitz like a mofo, and fend off blockers to make tackles in space, and in the increasingly spread-oriented world of football they are essentially starters. This does not just apply to college football:
NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.
The QED here: that's an article on second-year player Casey Hayward, who replaced Charles friggin' Woodson as the Packers' nickel. In his time at that spot, Woodson picked up a Defensive Player of the Year award. The best nickels double as outside corners when teams are in a base package; others are just really important fifth defensive backs.
SI followed that Grantland article up with one this year asserting that the nickelback has risen in prominence as the NFL's "key battles move to the slot":
Teams ran base (with four defensive backs) 48 percent of the time in 2011, 45 percent in '12 and 40 percent in '13. Nickel sets increased from 40 to 44 to 49 percent over that same three-year span.
College is gradually following a similar pattern. One of the main reasons Michigan is moving to the over defense is that they were in it like half the time last year anyway, because that's how you have to respond to spread offenses. However, the motivations are somewhat different. In college if you get spread out there's a better than even chance they are spreading to run, an innovation still mostly on the sidelines in a league where you can pick the 30 most accurate passers in the world and whoever the Browns have this year.
But the idea remains the same: triple threat.
"To play nickel now? I think it's really hard. You have to play the two-way go [option routes in which the receiver can turn inside or outside based on coverage] inside the numbers, you have to be able to tackle, and you have to be able to blitz. And blitz is a technique, just like playing man-to-man or running routes. You need practice at that. You can't run in there straight up and down like a pencil, or you'll get decapitated. Because as the nickel, sometimes you blitz, and the tackle is set up on you. How do you beat him? You've got to get him back on his heels -- you set him up, almost like a basketball player driving to the hole.
You have to cover, you have to play the run, and you have to murder the quarterback. Come on down, JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile].
Since Peppers is a true freshman, and since he is Jabrill Peppers, I can't tell you anything you don't already know if you've read that profile. Selected, mouth-watering highlights:
"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
This one is particularly apt given Peppers's spot in the defense:
"…could play four to five different positions and excel at them. He is a strong running back. He is as fluid as a good corner. He hits like a linebacker. He could play safety. You could honestly take him and put him in an outside linebacker position and he would flourish.
USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
Scout's Scott Kennedy gets a gold star for his player comparison:
"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
Eric Berry was a nickel in college. People didn't quite know it at the time because everyone was just inventing the idea of putting your most badass guy there, but he was a nickel. He's a nickel in the NFL, acquiring 3.5 sacks in 2013 and going to the Pro Bowl every time he's been healthy.
That is the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or All Pro Charles Woodson, of course.
Can Peppers do it right away? I'm supposed to equivocate about freshmen here. I won't. He's got the size, he's got the speed, and he's blazed his way to the starting lineup essentially on day one. Sam Webb:
I know the Jabrill Peppers is hyped enough already but the word he is the real deal. You saw the pictures so you know where he is physically. But it’s the non-stop motor and tenacity that just put him on another level from most freshmen. … It’s often hard to keep expectations of freshmen subdued, but it’s especially hard when they’ve been as good as advertised in practice. They all say he is young and has a lot to learn, but also say he is as good as advertised.
I'm sure there will be some busts as he gets situated in the defense. That should be the primary issues. Go time: now.
[After the JUMP: the actual safeties, you shoe-throwing maniac.]
“Hello, everybody. Hope you had a good summer. Time to get going I guess, huh? I don't know if you want me to start out with an opening statement but I guess my opening statement would be that I'm really, really excited about this season, excited about this defense and excited about the young men that we've had the opportunity to work with. Every day we are around them through camp I feel more excited. I really like the direction it's going. So, any questions?”
The defensive staff was shuffled in the offseason. What prompted that and what has been the response and progress from the players and the defensive coaches?
“First thing is I thought long and hard about it and in today's football you've got to make a lot of adjustments during a game and you got to make a lot of spur of the moment things where you have the right way to do something and all of a sudden a team does something different and you need to be able to tweak a blitz or be able to bring pressure or change something, and I just felt being with the defensive line you're not with two thirds of your defense at all times and all the other times I've coordinated, or most of the other times I've coordinated, I was with the linebackers, I was in the middle and I just felt that was the way to go. We also felt very, very strongly that in today's football with so many spread offenses you need two guys on the backend. That was really a big part of it. There's times where we have six defensive backs on the field and you can't ask one person to coach six guys that are all a little bit different so it was something that I felt was important for us to do.”
What's been the response from players?
“It's been tremendous. First of all, every coach accepted it with open arms because it was not anything to do with how anybody was being coached or anything like that. It had nothing to do with that. It was about making your defense better and what was the best way to make our defense better and we thought that's what it was. Mark Smith's done a tremendous job with the defensive line and I've seen tremendous growth in them and obviously I'll always watch the defensive line because I've been with them for a long time. I'm really excited about that. And then to see Roy [Manning] and Curt [Mallory] in the backend, that was really neat. That was something I think we really had to do and they get so much more individual attention. Now let's just hope we don't screw up the linebackers, you know, that's the biggest thing but it's going good. It's going good.
[After THE JUMP: depth depth depth, the obligatory Jabrill Peppers question, and Greg Mattison will make you excited about this defense]
News bullets and other items:
Blake Countess and Ray Taylor would be the starting corners if the season started today
Ryan Glasgow would be the starting nose tackle and Willie Henry the starting three technique if the season started today
Jabrill Peppers will be returning punts
Dennis Norfleet is the starting slot receiver, though Freddy Canteen has gotten better as camp has gone on
“Number one, thanks for coming out. We’ll break camp tomorrow. We've had two really good practices after taking Wednesday just to get them a little back healthy and rest and all that kind of stuff. Guys have done a nice job. Those two practices were spirited obviously. We had some humidity which was good because that's really the first time and then yesterday we were inside because we were thinking that we were going to get the storm that we finally got and it was good because it was nice and hot in there so they got to work through that a little bit.
Their mindset has been awfully good and the competition level, competing in challenging each other every day I think has been really good for us and I think our coaches and players would say the same thing. The competition has been very positive at every position. I'm excited about how they've come out and competed. Today for us was a Wednesday, Tomorrow will be a Thursday in how we manufacture the practice time. Will give them some rest on Sunday, give them some rest on Monday. That would almost normal for what a school– getting them ready and acclimated to the school times of practice.
We should be healthy as we can be right now. Still don't know about Delano [Hill]. He's been practicing as far as no contact. He feels good. The doctors will still evaluate him one more time and let us know if he will be ready for Appalachian State or not. Jake Butt has come a long way but I would say were still on the timetable we talked about and we’ll get with the doctors on that a little bit more.
The leadership on this team has really been throughout the team. I think when they voted for guys out of each class it's been really a positive and those guys--you can see it just in how they've treated each other--came out and competed and the things you want to see. It's been really a good camp. We're going to finish that tomorrow morning. Most of that will be a lot of kicking up at the stadium and a little bit of some of the scout team work that we want to continue to do but we won't be there but an hour and 15 minutes. A little bit of a preview of game day. How we approach it, who goes out when, all the mechanics with that. We've done it once so far but this will give us another chance. We have new guys on the team who weren’t here before and we made a couple changes so I think those are all positives.”
We haven't talked a lot about special-teams. You talked about Matt Wile. How confident are you that he's going to go from being your long-range guy to being your every-field-goal guy?
“Well, you know, Matt was always consistent from long-range or from every-field-goal guy. He's done a nice job. We rushed him a little bit because he's been doing kickoffs and that the last two days but I'm sure that tomorrow we might not kick him just for the simple fact that he probably wouldn't be at his best. He had a little bit of a foot [injury] which wasn’t his plant foot but that's fine but we just want to make sure that we’re resting him enough.”
So it's his kicking foot then?
“Yeah, which I've never heard of. You'd think it would be a plant foot. I'd be more worried if it was the plant foot.”
Kyle Kalis – is he healthy now and which positions is he working yet and does he have a chance to start?
“Well, I think he has a chance. I think we're still going through that a little bit with him. He's practiced the last two days which is the positive. I think between him and the way we been running it over there, you know, we've got [Kyle] Bosch over there working some, Joe Burzynski has been over there working some but, you know, getting Kyle back out is a real plus. Gives you some more… a little more of different people that we can play with.”
Who's going to be returning punts?
“That would be Jabrill.”
[After THE JUMP: corner shuffling, your starters on the interior defensive line, and another non-answer regarding captains]
MGoQuestion: Who's competing at nose tackle and who's at three tech?
“Oh boy. I’ll tell ya, Ryan Glasgow has had a really good fall camp, Ondre Pipkins has had a really good fall camp, Mone, Bryan Mone. There's all four of them at the nose, they’ve played really well. Ryan would be the starter. At the three technique I think Wille Henry, Chris Wormley, and Matt Godin and Tom Strobel have all really done a nice job but if we started today Willie would be the guy up first.”
You said you're working with Jabrill on punt returns. You guys haven't had much from the punt return. I mean, you had some sure-handed guys but is that an area that you need to get more out of?
“Well, I think that number one we’re putting a lot of our best guys out on the field and I think that's a plus. I think we've had some in the last three years that have been decent, some that maybe we haven't fielded the ball as well as we should have sometimes and I think that's all true – every special teams you want to get improvement.”
Is Norfleet still in at kick returner?
“Yeah. Oh yeah.”
What were the two or three things when you opened camp that you felt you absolutely had to accomplish and did you?
“I think yeah, we did accomplish it. The first thing which you guys all love to ask is the offensive line and I think that the progress that's been made there is really positive. Do I think that we're where we need to be as we get through the season? No, not yet but there's been a lot of progress. I think at the corner position we’ve had a great competition out there and I think all those guys have improved and that’s huge. I think up front defensively I think being a defensive line coach the noses and the three techniques, who is going to separate themselves and I think I said that the other day and Willie has done that at the three and I would say Ryan has right now at the nose position so those things were all – I think how the group of linebackers has worked together, and then the receivers. Who is going to come on and where Darboh’s health was. All of those things were part of what we wanted to see.”
You said you were going to work Jabrill more at the nickel but does Jourdan [Lewis] have that other spot? Is he a starter?
I think if we went out today it would be Ray [Taylor] and Blake [Countess]. Jourdan’s had a good fall camp. [Channing] Strib[ling]’s had a good fall camp, need a little more consistency. Delonte Hollowell’s had a good fall camp so I think that if we started the game today though it would be Blake and Ray.
Is that an experience thing?
“No, they've played well. The competition has been very heated.”
When you talk about the group of linebackers working together, how’s that come together with Jake [Ryan] changing positions and all of that and how are they working together?
“Well, I think that whole group has really worked well together and you can throw Ben Gedeon in there, Royce [Jenkins-Stone], James Ross, [Joe] Bolden, Desmond Morgan, and Jake. Mike McCray’s had a good fall camp. He's got to be a little more consistent but we like what we’ve seen of him so far. I think Jake had a little apprehension coming into camp even though he was over there all spring but I really think that he did a very good job of asserting himself in the position.”
You guys really liked Jarrod Wilson coming out of the spring. Has he solidified that free safety spot for you and what do you like about having him back there?
“Yeah, he has. I like his range, Like his intelligence, like his toughness, his ball skills and the abilities that he has.”
You mentioned the corners. What kind of rotating could you do at that point? You mentioned Ray and Blake but are Jordan and Jabrill going to be outside too?
“They can. They can. We haven't sat down yet to say we're gonna play this guy so many reps, this guy so many reps.”
But you don't mind shuffling them at those spots? I know Greg [Mattison] didn't like shuffling safeties...
“…as much last year. I think there were different reasons why. I think sometimes it’s just a comfort level with guys. You know everybody's going to get you in the right positions.”
So maybe there'll be more of it this year?
“Yeah, I would think so.”
What kind of weapon is Hagerup? We haven't seen him in a while. What does he add?
“Well, as far as Hagerup, what I like about Will is how he's come back, how he's taken some – that's hard to go through what he's gone through. I'm proud of him. You know, when he's on, which two years ago he was on most of the time, he's very effective in changing the field.”
“You know, we've got great leadership throughout.”
We heard a lot about Freddy [Canteen] in the spring and saw a lot of him in the spring scrimmage. Is he the slot guy or is Dennis [Norfleet] the slot guy?
“Dennis right now. I think one thing, Freddy, he started a little slower but he's finished very well.’
So you think that’s a shared position?
“Yeah, I think that personnel groups and formationally it makes a difference.”
News bullets and other items:
Today’s starting offensive line would be Mason Cole- LT; Erik Magnuson- LG; Jack Miller- C; Burzynski/Bosch/Kalis- RG; Ben Braden- RT
Jabrill Peppers will start at nickel but has picked up the defense fast enough that he’s taking some snaps at boundary corner
Hoke can’t remember Devin Funchess dropping a single pass in fall camp which, like, eeeeee
Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith are considered the downhill backs, while Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes are the third-down backs
Preparation for that game on the 30th against that one team begins Thursday
Brady Hoke “Well,…” count: 6
"Thanks for coming out. I think we haven't spoken to each other since Saturday. We've had good practices, good energy, good competition. I think that's one thing we've talked about every time is to compete and challenge each other and I think this team has done that. I think there's leadership throughout the team in all classes which has been good to see. If you're good enough, you're old enough and that's been part of what we talked about. I think that's very good. Starting to get...we are starting to get prepared for Appalachian State here in the next couple days. We'll do some things with switch [?] teams and really have some good competition with that part of it and also keep the speed of how we want to play the game, so there will always be situational ones on ones, twos on twos. Tomorrow is Tuesday, the next day is Wednesday and Saturday is a Thursday how we look at it and next week we'll take Sunday and do some walk-throughs, get the tape reviewed. Next Tuesday will be a Tuesday, Wednesday will be a Wednesday, and Thursday will be Thursday so you've got to figure it out on my end sometimes. But it's been a good camp. I guess we'll break on Saturday morning – about 1 PM on Saturday after we go up to the stadium, have a good practice there. We'll do a lot of game rehearsal things, trying to put the players in situations that they will be in. I think that's important. So… excited. I think we're all excited. Are we ready? Not yet, so we have a lot of work ahead of us but at the same time I like how we go about our business every day."
You said this was the day you start preparing for App State. Do you have a set offensive line?
“Well, I think there's still some competition but I think Ben Braden has been a very steady performer at right tackle. I think Mason Cole has been very, very steady at the left tackle position. I always get asked – not just by you guys but Mason Cole, you don't notice him so you don't notice any mistakes. He's not a guy who's been a guy who killed plays and that's the kind of stuff… Jack will be the center, Kugler will back him up. We'll be without Graham as you all know. Mags will be the left guard if we were playing today and at the right guard I think there's good competition. Joe Burzynski, Kyle Bosch, Kalis is getting work at both guards, he's just getting back into things yesterday so I think we're still– I have an idea, but I don't think we're set at that right guard position right now.”
What did the film from Saturday show you as far as the offensive line goes?
“You know, there were some holes and there were some holes we have to take advantage of and there's also times where the back’s got to make it right, you know, quarterback drifting out of his ball handling knocks a back out of his A gap. We had some of those. Still not enough of them. We still got to move the line of scrimmage better and that's a constant that we'll have. I thought that yesterday the backs did a nice job. I think that Fred [Jackson] definitely had an effect on how they need to approach it and so I think we're making really good progress there.”
To clarify something from Saturday, did you say that in a 4-3 defense, your base, Jabrill [Peppers] would be a corner and then slide into the nickel spot?
“Yeah, I mean he would slide inside. We're going to really try and make sure that he’s set at the nickel before we get too far out there being a boundary corner. I mean, we played him at boundary corner some the other night with the first group. There's some things that are different when you're playing one-third than when you're playing a nickel position so right now, yes, he's playing some corner but we are going to focus in on nickel with him in there.”
You said that you wanted him just to be practicing in one position to get really comfortable there. What have you seen out of him that you feel comfortable, obviously, giving him more responsibility?
“Well, he's learned fast. I think the way he's engrossed himself in the playbook. I think from a fundamental/technique standpoint he's come a long way. Just think he's done a nice job overall.”
[After THE JUMP: sorting out the running back situation, Devin Gardner’s leadership, and my inaugural MGoQuestion]
Shooting for the "most times a single GIF hits the front page" record.
Michigan lost one of the most genuinely enjoyable players to watch in recent memory with the graduation of Jeremy Gallon, and unfortunately, I don't think we'll be seeing a 5'8" dude with rocket boots and a cloaking device breaking school receiving records again anytime soon.
That said, the Wolverines don't lack players that can make your jaw drop. Inspired by this Matt Hinton piece on college football's most exciting players, here's my list of the Wolverines who should provide the most entertainment this season. Take note: this isn't a rundown of the best players, but a subjective list of who I think will be the most fun to watch—it's ordered by position, since what constitutes "fun to watch" varies wildly from person to person.
QB Devin Gardner
An obvious choice, especially since some of Gardner's bad habits—namely, reversing field when under pressure—can still produce spectacular results. He's an electric runner even when not at full health. He's got a heck of an arm; this throw against Notre Dame last year simply defies explanation. He continued the grand tradition of Michigan quarterbacks hilariously punking Tanner Miller. His ability to improvise has bailed out the offense on many occasions. Yes, this sometimes gets him into trouble—I know another throw from that otherwise amazing Notre Dame performance is going through your head right now—but it also poses a threat to opponents that is extremely difficult to defend, and it's sure fun to watch when everything clicks.
WR Devin Funchess
Again, an obvious choice is obvious, as evidenced by the GIF that graces the top of this post—and that wasn't the first time Funchess leaped over an oncoming defender:
The whole "hurdles defensive backs on the run" thing is pretty great, but that's just a small part of what makes Funchess so remarkable. He's a 6'5", 230-pound former tight end with legitimate top-end speed; his movements bear the grace of a much smaller player. Even when he slips, he seamlessly recovers, and the average defensive back is going to have a very difficult time contending with his ball skills or bringing him down once he makes the catch. Oh, and having oven-mitt-sized hands allows for him to make catches like this while on a dead sprint.
If Funchess isn't on the team in 2015, it'll be because he turned in a monster year and justifiably went pro, and I don't think anybody could begrudge him that move.
[Hit THE JUMP for eight exciting players not named Devin.]