SPONSOR NOTES: Homesure Lending returns to sponsor this post, and as a bonus he's sent the blog to Iowa by finding us a block of five together. This will create glorious road trip content. (Matt has stipulated that I clarify he is not to blame if the Iowa game turns out like that stupid triple overtime Penn State game; we have agreed to collectively blame the first commenter on this post.)
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS NOTES: Good news, everybody: we've purchased PFF's Michigan and opponent data for the season, which will allow us to do a bunch of things previously impractical. We've got snap counts, for one, and their grades, and some drill-down stuff I'll reference when it seems relevant to what I'm saying.
One important disclaimer: I'm not looking at this stuff until I go over the game myself, to prevent confirmation bias.
FORMATION NOTES: Normal Brian is super happy Don Brown is Michigan's defensive coordinator. UFR Brian is frickin' pissed. I'm going to split the next UFR's "Formation" column into "personnel" and "formation" because I give up trying to jam that all into a few words. Even that figures to be insufficient.
About halfway through this game I decided that:
- Michigan is a 4-2-5 defense.
- Sometimes they run a 3-2-6.
- I need a "box" column denoting persons in said box with maybe a .5 for gray area guys.
- I need to stop bothering with even-odd stuff since that's not actually important for this level of analysis.
And then momentum carried me through. You improve the most between week one and week two; I'll endeavor to do so.
Anyway. I'm going to try to call out safeties and depth, insofar as this is possible. This is nickel one-high:
And this was 4-3 over two high:
These are the same personnel packages. Hill is the gray area guy kind of over the slot and Stribling has dropped to be the nominal second safety. Everyone in this secondary has to be able to play multiple roles.
Nickel two high:
And honestly I don't know what to term this:
That is two "safeties" at like six yards. Peppers would bail into a deep zone until he read run, FWIW. Nickel two low, I called it. /shakes fist at Don Brown.
I don't even want to get into the various fronts yet.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Deep breath. The back seven was pretty static and has a clear depth chart. Without Lewis, Stribling (45 snaps) and Clark(51) went just about the whole way until garbage time. Ditto Thomas(54), Hill(54), Peppers(54), McCray(44), and Gedeon(54). Brandon Watson (28 snaps but most of those late) had scattered snaps as a nickel corner on passing downs. Usually Michigan lifted a DL when this happened. Tyree Kinnel did get five snaps before the backups came in en masse.
The backups at all these spots are also clear: Kinnel and Hudson at safety, Long and Lavert Hill at corner, Devin Bush and Wroblewski at LB, File Not Found for Peppers.
The line started out with Wormley, Glasgow, Mone, and Charlton across it. Once Mone was out Michigan played a lot of Matt Godin, and they yanked Chris Wormley early. Gary actually got 32 snaps to Wormley's 27. Winovich went the whole way after Taco exited and actually racked up more DL snaps than anyone else with 40.
About midway through the third quarter Michigan unearthed Lawrence Marshall, Michael Dwumfour, Michael Onwenu, and redshirt junior walk-on Garrett Miller. Miller actually played 21 snaps and graded out well per PFF but at 271 on the roster it is highly unlikely he's going to be a contributor going forward unless things are in the darkest timeline. I didn't grade him well, FWIW.
[After THE JUMP: Viking raiders from across the sea / they've come to plunder you and me / oh no i've been stabbed / but our defense makes me glad]
9/3/2016 – Michigan 63, Hawaii 3 – 1-0
this elevator goes all the way up buddy [Bryan Fuller]
I wonder if Michael Jordan has an internal insincerity meter for crowd reactions he gets. It's 50/50. Jordan is the kind of transcendent athlete who could legitimately go through life thinking that 100,000 nearly random people would burst into rapture at his mere presence. But to get to that level you have to be completely unstinting in your self-evaluations. To be Michael Jordan you cannot have anything but an infinitely precise vision of yourself in your head.
Anyone who went to North Carolina and was once pictured four feet tall next to Joe Dumars on a Sports Illustrated cover cannot have many misconceptions about the general feeling of southeast Michigan towards his person. So I wonder if Michael Jordan got thrown up on the big screen at Michigan Stadium and heard what the reaction was and thought to himself "I don't know what these people are one thousand percent rabid about, but it ain't me."
Because that happened. Michigan put Michael Jordan on the big board and people went nuts and if Michael Jeffery Jordan was any part of that you'd have to get down to the third derivative, where damn near everything is in the +c. Happy to have you and all that, but if you're not down with being an emblem for a bunch of other stuff we cannot help you. Emblem you are.
Same thing with all the Jumpman stuff a few weeks ago. Part of that may be genuine excitement that a different company is making tubes with holes for your arms, but most of it is because it's a place to put your enthusiasm. It is a tangible thing you can do
I mean, the students showed up on time.
Let us consider the situation. It is noon. Michigan is playing Hawaii, a 42-point underdog. The sun is unfettered in the sky, at maximum hangover-beatdown wattage. It is Welcome Week. And despite being the same age as Will Smith's kids, the students are in their section at kickoff.
Anywhere you look you'll find evidence that Michigan fans are amped for this season, including this here blog that predicted 12-0 like an idiot and sold out of its season preview magazine. I don't think anything can top assembling nearly 30,000 students in 2016. As a reminder, this is what MSU's stadium looked like at halftime of a Big Ten game last year:
MSU fans. They gone. pic.twitter.com/X8c8Fh9e9i
— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) October 3, 2015
Harbaugh's got a shot at canonization now, after The Miracle Of The Full Student Section At Noon During Welcome Week 2016.
The team did their best to keep the party going. Even Wilton Speight's interception gave the defense another three plays on which to establish that Hawaii was going nowhere, and tack on stats when Michigan got the ball back. Like when you're running punts back to the one in NCAA football so you can make your absurd numbers even more absurd.
Michigan did not punt, scored seven touchdowns on offense, and would have won this game by two scores if none of those counted. It took Hawaii 25 minutes to get a first down and about that long to scrape above zero yards of offense. Jabrill Peppers jumped over a guy for fun. The only time anyone booed was when Hawaii broke the shutout with an audacious 55-yard field goal.
There wasn't anything they could do against Hawaii that would change opinions positively; they held serve.
This allowed the crowd to continue losing their mind for flyovers and Charles Woodson and Lamarr Woodley and Jim Hackett, who got the biggest cheer of anyone they introduced because he did one thing very well. Never in the history of interim athletic directors has one been greeted so rapturously.
And even that was kind of cheering at something because it's there, not for something. The yelling in Michigan Stadium was about things yet to happen. It's on the way.
HIGHLIGHTS & SUCH
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Mike McCray led the way with 3.5 TFLs, two of them sacks, and a total of nine tackles. His impact is even a little understated by those numbers, as he also picked up a holding call on a play that still ended with the QB buried under a pile.
#2(tie) Delano Hill and Jabrill Peppers. Hill had a pick six, a nice PBU on a deep ball, and a TFL on which he displayed his trademark open-field tackling. Peppers had two TFLs, a sack, and an absurd punt return ending in a hurdle of a dude damn near standing up. I also think he was shorted a TFL on the first play of the game, as that went (very slightly) backward.
#3(tie) Chris Evans and Mason Cole. Evans cracked 100 yards on just 8 carries. Cole helped spring a big chunk of those with a lovely reach block and looked like a very good center indeed.
Honorable mention: Eddie McDooom; Ben Gedeon; Ryan Glasgow; all persons living and dead.
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii)
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Jabrill Peppers (T2, Hawaii).
0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
No I don't care that this was called back.
Any GIF requests? As always, noting the time is helpful if possible. This one's covered. pic.twitter.com/xGiOubHLJ4
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) September 4, 2016
Honorable mention: Evans bursts down the sideline; Evans bursts up the middle; various blitzes on which the only response was HALP; pick six; other pick six; Carl Grapentine pronouncing "McDoom"; Grant Perry's sinuous corner route; Michigan introducing Jim Hackett to thunderous approval as someone else plots a corporate Facebook page response.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Another Bryan Mone injury of some severity is the worst both for him and Michigan's DT depth.
Honorable mention: Wilton Speight momentarily panics everyone with a pick on his first snap; that one drive when Stribling was getting the business a bit; jerko Hawaii kicker ruins the shutout with a 55-yard FG.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
[After THE JUMP: and introducing Chris Evans]
Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.
1. Is The Don Brown thing really a big deal?
— Don Brown (@FBCoachDBrown) June 1, 2015
Yes. When he was hired a wide selection of ACC folk whooped with joy and Boston College fans put on their NIN, and the proof is in the pudding. At three different stops over the last seven years, Don Brown has turned middling or worse Power 5 defenses into top 20-ish units, with the most recent one at BC a straight up Murder Castle:
[metrics are yards per play, FEI, and S&P+; national ranks are presented. final column is the average of the three. Bolded years are Brown years.]
That is a hell of a track record. Not only does he improve units way beyond previous expectations, his departure also immediately deleterious to the school he's left. That is highly suggestive of a guy who is a cut above as a tactician and playcaller.
And not to dump on DJ Durkin excessively, but he had close to no track record before his hire at Michigan. Being defensive coordinator under Will Muschamp is an assistant (to the) regional manager job. I think Durkin's going to be a good head coach—he's recruiting like gangbusters already—but there is simply no comparison between Durkin and Brown if you're talking about putting a defense together.
This goes double for the Big Bad at the end of the schedule. Michigan's gotten gashed for years by Ohio State, and last year was no different. A lot of this went directly back to Durkin's simplistic and static approach: man free, man free, man free. Steve Sharik pointed this out after the Indiana gashing:
Why Michigan has been really successful on D this year is b/c it can lock up on receivers, put an excellent, smart safety deep, then play with a man advantage in the box b/c the QB was not a run threat. In some sense, it was throwing rock every single time, believing (like Mickey from Seinfeld) that nothing beats rock. They're not alone.
It is widely known among coaching circles that gurus Bill Belichick and Nick Saban believe that (all else being equal) man-free defense is the best in the game: you're strong up the middle, you're protected deep, and you have an extra defender in the box vs. run.
When you're facing option football (which the NFL never sees), this is a fallacy, and Michigan fell victim on defense last Saturday.
Long story short there was zero adaptation against Ohio State and after halftime it was all over but the grinding.
This will not happen to Don Brown, who has been fighting spread offenses with defenses made out of a sock, a paperclip, and some mint gum for years. Never in Don Brown's career has he been able to sit back with minus one in the box and watch his guys whip it up one-on-one. He's got a ton of different ways to deal with the perimeter issues that Michigan endured a year ago, and spent his entire presentation at Michigan's coaching clinic talking about how to defend the inverted veer and its brethren.
I was straight up terrified about all the rumors about NFL guys under consideration. Every single one of those guy would walk into the OSU game as unprepared as Durkin. Don Brown is the best possible hire for Michigan, not just because he is Don Brown, but because he is the best choice for the Game. Even Brown's average defenses over the past five years have been that because of the pass; five straight years Brown has had a top five rush defense. At UConn and BC.
Don Brown is a huge hire. Huge.
[After THE JUMP: additional strategically located Peppers talk.]
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Kenny Allen||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Sr*||Jabrill Peppers||So*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Quinn Nordin||Fr||Quinn Nordin||Fr||Quinn Nordin||Fr||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.||Jehu Chesson||Sr.*|
John Baxter fled back to California after one Michigan winter and will get what's coming to him in the next ice age. Baxter is a uniquely good special teams coach and there wasn't an obvious replacement available; also Rashan Gary existed. So Michigan promoted Chris Partridge to a full-fledged assistant spot and split special teams duties between him and Jay Harbaugh.
There's probably going to be a dropoff in effort applied. Last year Michigan took timeout in a squib situation so they could insert Dymonte Thomas; they lined him up at the spot a squib should go and lo, he returned it to midfield. If that creativity persists it's evidence Harbaugh is pushing every available angle. I don't expect it to. John Baxter appeared to be a rare commodity: a difference-making special teams coach.
Even so, this should be a strength.
The dread was palpable last year when scholarship freshman Andrew David wasn't even in the conversation. A couple of walk-ons vied for the job and were by all accounts somewhere between vexing and terrible. So of course when KENNY ALLEN locked the spot down he hit 18/22, with one miss a bad snap and a second due in large part to a downright supernatural gust of wind that pushed a probable make wide. Allen was also 46/46 on PATs.
The catch, such as it is, is that Allen rarely attempted a field goal from outside 40 yards. Just six of his attempts were in the zone of mild difficulty; he went 3/6. He did hit a 47 yarder and he's a booming punter so the leg strength is likely there.
Even if Allen is unproven at longer distances, I will take a #collegekicker who is near-automatic from 40 and in every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Some additional range is the only improvement required.
If that range is not forthcoming, QUINN NORDIN [recruiting profile] also lurks. Harbaugh is uncomfortable with having Allen take every last kicking duty so it's possible Nordin gets some longer kicks. If Michigan does decide to spread the load out, kickoffs are a more likely deployment for Nordin.
KENNY ALLEN, yes that Kenny Allen, figures to win this job too. Allen in fact came to Michigan a punter, and a booming one at that. He's had two punts in games, both of which went 50+ yards, and since Brady Hoke's reaction to "you have to have an open practice" was to turn it into a special teams exhibition your author has seen Allen punt a ton. He's really good. He could challenge Will Hagerup and Monte Robbins for the all-time gross average, which currently sits at 45 yards even.
One department that figures to have a decline is pooch punting. Blake O'Neil's feathery touch on punts inside the ten was remarkable and unlikely to be repeated by any non-Aussie. When I caught Michgian's open practice at Ford Field, Andrew David was tasked with that nose-down pooch punting stuff that's all the rage. David's left the team since; that might signify Allen's not great at pinning the opposition deep.
QUINN NORDIN is also an option here.
This post is also sponsored by XFINITY, which does not have any rockets or landers or even probes because, as it has been carefully explained to me, they are cable company. If you're on on-campus student they'll let you stream live sports and other shows for free on your phone, tablet, or moon lander
you can rent from XFINITY I guess you have to get from NASA.
Off campus students can get both TV and internet for $79.99 a month. Adults and adult-type persons (you know who you are) can get the X1 system and its voice-activated remote which is just like Hal 9000 AND THEREFORE XFINITY IS A SPACE COMPANY AFTER ALL.
Bolded alter-ego, sometimes I just…
Can we get on with the preview?
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Dymonte Thomas||Sr.||Delano Hill||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Tyree Kinnel||So.||Khaleke Hudson||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.|
|Josh Metellus||Fr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Brandon Watson||So.*|
The Pax Wilsonica is over and Michigan moves into a less boring era, for better or worse. While the depth here gets scary quickly, Michigan returns two guys who were prominent contributors to a very good secondary. Both are touted recruits and seniors; both played better than they might be getting credit for. I was actually surprised at how many good things I had clipped and how few bad things there were other than the ones that stand out in memory.
Both starters are going to have a tougher job than they did a year ago as Michigan moves away from one super deep safety most of the time. They'll have to cover guys man to man, make checks, that sort of thing. So far, so good? When Delano Hill isn't trying to punch the ball out from behind, yes.
We're splitting the safety designation into defined "free" and "strong" halves instead of a single unified section. This would have been mandatory if DJ Durkin was still around since Jarrod Wilson and Not Jarrod Wilson were deployed very differently a year ago; since Don Brown will mix in one-high coverages with a designated FS, it's still appropriate.
So. For years this space called Jarrod Wilson a boring safety. We barely ever saw him on the screen because he was doing his job. When he did see him it was generally fine. He made tackles. He did not separate receivers from the ball or intercept passes or force fumbles. He was there to put out fires, not start them. Now he's gone, and more interesting times may beckon.
That's because DYMONTE THOMAS is still a bit of a wild card after a career that's been frustrating in more ways than one so far. Thomas was a high school linebacker and running back who Michigan first played at nickel, then at one safety spot, then another, then back to nickel, etc. Webb discussed the situation before last season:
The issue for him has been the fact that he's been moved around so consistently and hasn't been focused or told to focus on only one position.
Despite having no business on a football field as a freshman he set his redshirt on fire blocking a punt against Central Michigan; meanwhile the positional switching and Thomas's rawness made his brief cameos depressing. Last year's preview slotted him as a backup and mostly focused on various goofs, bemoaned the redshirt, and clucked about player development:
This kind of errant run fill isn't something we've seen from Wilson or Hill.
For big portions of last year it looked like he didn't quite know what he was seeing. He'd run a zone, see nobody anywhere near him, and just kind of stand around instead of trying to adapt his coverage to the situation. … He's far behind the other guys when it comes to understanding what the defense is trying to accomplish.
That take held for half the year. Against Oregon State, Thomas had a huge bust on a tunnel screen that could have resulted in a touchdown against a team better than the Beavers. Then he disappeared for three games. When he re-emerged it was in garbage time against Maryland and Northwestern; he played well enough for a couple of Delano Hill issues to open the door for live-fire snaps.
He did unreasonably well with them. One of my primary memories of Thomas's 2015 was that time he got shook big time against Minnesota in his first extended playing time:
I was prepared to talk about how his coverage was a mixed bag as a result. It wasn't. After this play, which I issued an excessively harsh –3 (it's –2, easy completion but he does tackle immediately) I didn't have a coverage minus for him the rest of the year.
And he was tested with some frequency. He's in press man to the top of the field on this play:
To try to chuck one receiver, have to bail to the other guy, and then have the speed to catch up is impressive. A better throw is probably a completion there, but to even be in a position to contest a reasonably good one is something not a lot of safeties can manage. Thomas drove on outs and shoved fades into the sideline and impressively mirrored wheels (while picking up ridiculous PI flags) and raked out near completions and on this play I misclassified him as Jourdan Lewis until I saw it for the third time:
Strange but true: Dymonte Thomas was good in coverage last year.
In addition to burgeoning man-to-man skills, Thomas has capital-R Range. He's always been fast as hell. See that punt block that burned his redshirt:
Not only does that hit his foot, it hits his foot before the punter can even strike it.
Late last year his newfound knowledge of what direction to go finally saw that speed start paying off. If you hesitate slightly even go routes down the sidelines become dangerous:
Thomas was lined up on the near hash on that one. In the spring game he intercepted a reasonably well thrown ball in the corner of the endzone despite being in the dead center of the field:
Jarrod Wilson does not make either of those plays. Thomas could have five or so interceptions if he carries that kind of thing over to 2016.
Even some of Thomas's bad plays were kind of good. There was that interception against Minnesota that not only clanged off his hands but went directly to a Gopher WR, and he managed to jet through a bunch of traffic against Rutgers only to turn a TFL into… not that:
I liked that ability to pick through traffic but not the missed tackle, and there were a couple other instances of bad play against the run. Shannon Brooks spun through another tackle attempt in the Minnesota game, and I thought Thomas overran the one long run Rutgers had. On the other hand, Thomas had a couple of extremely impressive open-field tackles against Ohio State:
His overall aura caused me to say he was "almost there" after Rutgers:
Dymonte Thomas could be putting it together. I don't think he's ever going to be a guy who's particularly good at preventing 20 yard plays from going 50, but with his athleticism he provides a suite of capabilities that can make up for that deficiency. He is a guy who you can put in man coverage relatively confidently, that Minnesota play nonwithstanding. He's come a long way this year; he has a moderate way to go. Cross your fingers.
With a season's worth of data, it maybe kind of sort of feels like he has arrived.
Thomas was "productive" per PFF, and my charting agrees. With increased playing time and considerable upside left to plumb, Thomas could blow up. He's not a physical guy and won't suddenly become one this year; you can chalk up a few missed tackles that add chunks of yards to plays that have already broken somewhat big. Everything else looks like a strength. He's good in coverage, he's fast as the dickens, and he's still got a solid bit of upside left.
Thomas should be good. It's hard for me to judge safeties since they're so rarely on the screen, but whatever extra deep stuff Michigan gets hit with because Thomas isn't Jarrod Wilson should be offset by the plays Thomas makes because he isn't Jarrod Wilson.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers is briefly mentioned!]
Are you not entertained by PBUs? [Bryan Fuller]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Channing Stribling||Sr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Sr.*||David Long||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.|
|Keith Washington||Fr.*||LaVert Hill||Fr.||Brandon Watson||So.*|
Last year's secondary was sort of good. Michigan led the nation in yards per attempt allowed at 5.4 and opposition passer rating. S&P+ had them 11th nationally because Big Ten quarterbacks were double plus ungood a year ago, but that's still near-elite.
There's about to be some hedging about non-Jourdan Lewis corners because they weren't straight-up killers when they showed up on your television, but keep those numbers in mind when expectations are (slightly) tamped. Michigan gets back five of the six guys who spearheaded those stats. If you consider Jabrill Peppers a member of this unit, which you should, you have to back to 1997 for a comparable.
NOPE [Patrick Barron]
I'm about to write a lot about JOURDAN LEWIS, but you can skip it. The tl;dr version is "is Jourdan Lewis." He's an All-American. He's a perfect cover corner minus a few inches. He was all but impossible to escape a year ago:
He will be this again in 2016. The end.
Our probably unnecessary epilogue kicks off with an assertion from Don Brown that is both unexpected and extremely important:
Don Brown says of Jourdan Lewis on @SiriusXMCollege "may be one of the best run defenders at corner I've been around. Flat out"
— angelique (@chengelis) August 24, 2016
This is a weird thing for Jourdan Lewis to be since his run responsibilities a year ago were 404 file not found. Lewis was constantly locked in man coverage and almost never involved in the opposition's run game, which turned out to be much to Michigan's detriment against good spread offenses like Indiana and Ohio State.
As a result I don't have much of anything in which Lewis is active as run defender. He had a decent play against Florida when he was forced into the Peppers role:
And he ended up mirroring a WR in space effectively on a screen in the Maryland game. That's it. If that seems like an incredibly small sample size, it is. Lewis had probably under 20 tackles that weren't a direct result of a guy managing to catch the ball on him. We simply don't know how he's going to do when activated against the run.
Everything else is established. If you complete a pass on Lewis 90% of the time it's going to be like this:
Good luck creating an offense around that. For some reason, opponents kept testing Lewis despite this invariably being the result. PFF:
The top-graded cornerback in the nation last year at +22.3, Lewis broke out by leading the FBS with 15 passes defensed while surrendering only 36.7 percent of his targets to be completed, good for fifth-best. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to maintain his strong play from start to finish in 2015, despite facing 90 targets, 10th-most in the nation.
Lewis grades out like this because he is super quick and always in the pocket of whoever he's matched up against. By midseason I was clipping literally any completion on him that wasn't heavily contested for the sheer novelty. In addition to being impossible to shake, Lewis has mastered the craft of not quite interfering. One of his best traits is an sense of when to grab the receiver's hand such that his only option is to go up for a circus catch:
And that cat-quickness allows him to recover on routes that should be RPS minuses:
That should work. Lewis should not even be in position to get a little bit of hand on the waist and then extend through for a PBU. He is set up outside and has to make up a ton of ground in not much time. He does.
Lewis's main—only?—flaw is not being 6'1". A 6'1" version of Jourdan Lewis is a 15-year NFL All Pro. The 5'11" or 5'10" version is a good longterm starter. This didn't come up much last year. When Lewis was challenged by 6'5" quasi-TEs he won.
If it was a factor it was probably in Lewis's epic battle against Aaron Burbridge and Connor Cook. Lewis narrowly won that battle despite Burbridge going over 100 yards because it took almost 20 attempts to get there, but a hypothetical version of Lewis that is just as mobile and has another few inches of reach turns difficult completions into international-sign-of-no waving and punts.
Lewis's lack of size also occasionally figured in as opponents muscled through him, like on this completion in the bowl game:
Lewis has done an A+ job against lumbering 6'5" guys over the past two years but occasionally he will get ripped off balance by larger guys. That will continue.
Also in the tiny pile of areas for improvement is off coverage. Lewis wasn't bad at it, per se, but when opponents wriggled free it was often because they'd been issued breathing room.
Interceptions are not an issue. Some folks have asserted that Lewis got thrown at a bunch because he's not a threat to intercept the ball. He had just two a year ago, and one was against Maryland so that barely counts. I don't buy it; that feels like an answer to an unanswerable question. Q: Why do you do something that doesn't make sense? A: Well, here's something else that doesn't make sense.
Michigan's approach had a lot to do with the minimal INTs. Michigan rarely switched up their coverages and didn't run much zone, so opportunities to bait a quarterback a la Blake Countess were few and far between. Lewis ended up in a ton of trail coverage on which he could either secure a PBU or "get his head around" and potentially lose the plot.
It'll be fascinating to see how Don Brown changes this dynamic. Either way, Lewis is an All-American ticketed for the late first round of the NFL draft.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! Seriously this time!]