good luck with that
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|James Ross||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.*||Joe Bolden||Sr.|
|Allen Gant||Jr.*||Ben Gedeon||Jr.||Jared Wangler||Fr.*|
|Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Mike McCray||So.*||Noah Furbush||So.*|
This is music to a new defensive coordinator's ear: Michigan sports an all-senior linebacker corps. All have started for multiple years, give or take a hand injury or benching here and there. They've even got a high-quality backup. Senior leadership is out of control, man!
Approximately the fourth-best* thing to happen to the 2015 team's chances over the last year was DESMOND MORGAN breaking his hand after the first game of the season. That didn't have much impact on where 2014 went; it gives this year's team a three-year starter to slot in the Jake Ryan-shaped hole at middle linebacker.
By this point you're probably tired of me extolling Morgan's virtues, and since he didn't do much last year other than fall behind Joe Bolden just long enough for me to eat a lemon this is going to be a rehash.
Morgan is a heady, athletic enough, stick-em tackler who's been yelling at the rest of the front seven to get in the correct spot for a few years now. He is your proverbial quarterback of the defense. That role will probably be lessened this year since the entire front seven consists of upperclassmen, but expect him to thwack Lawrence Marshall and maybe Mo Hurst should the need arise. Mike Spath got a great quote about Morgan's ability in that department:
On U-M's linebackers: "We played them two years ago and the guy that everyone seemed to listen to was [Desmond] Morgan. Those guys are invaluable. Everyone respects them.
"Last year, you didn't hear a lot of talk from the middle linebacker. I don't think Jake Ryan was a talker. He just wanted to do his own thing. He was very good at it, but he wasn't that guy in the middle of a defense that was taking care of the other 10 guys on the field."
When called into duty to make a tackle, he brings the wood.
During the 2014 Minnesota game he uncorked this ridiculous thing where he flew in on a blitz, had to leap over a guy, kept his feet, held up two blockers, and helped stuff a third and short.
When he's not making eye-popping plays he's keeping things going down-to-down. The one glimpse at him we got last year was enough for me to bring out a Picture Pages about Morgan's LB instincts.
Morgan found himself in a bad stop here, taking on a free releasing lineman in a bunch of space. He popped that OL back; the RB ran into said OL, and Michigan saved some yards.
When Jake Ryan faced the exact same situation later on that drive, he tried to make a spectacular play. His attempt to teleport around that OL was an instinct that served him well as a chaos-sowing SAM linebacker; when moved to MLB that instinct meant he didn't delay the back at all. Instead of six yards, Michigan gave up 11.
That's Morgan in a nutshell. He will hit guys hard and funnel back to his help and drop into his zone. He'll make it difficult for a QB to get a completion on him; he'll make it difficult for a running back to get YAC on him; he'll make it difficult for an OL to stay attached to him. He's not going to turn in Ryan's Tarzan plays, but you don't have to do that to be a great middle linebacker.
As David Harris demonstrated, MLB is a thinking man's spot. Harris was just about flawless with his reads, and his understanding of the game extended to ways to get off blocks without even taking them—one of his trademarks was in effect juking OL by momentarily fighting to one side of a block and then cutting back once the OL took a false step. Morgan had some moments like that a year ago:
Do that consistently and you get to be David Harris too.
Morgan's coverage is good. Very rarely does he vacate big tracts of land, as both Ryan and Bolden were prone to last year. He of course saved Michigan's bacon in the 2013 UConn game (for all the good that did them in the long run) with a leaping spear of an interception. Add it up and you get a 2013 UFR in extended, trying circumstances that looks like a guy who is on the verge of stardom:
|1||CMU||4||0.5||3.5||Crunch crunch bang bang|
|2||Notre Dame||7.5||4.5||3||Coped pretty well in coverage. Responsible for both EZ deflections.|
|3||Akron||6||3.5||2.5||Negative coverage number should be factored in here.|
|4||UConn||6.5||3.5||3||Saved the game.|
|5||Minnesota||11||3||8||First real test this year passed easily.|
|6||Penn State||9.5||4||4.5||Rough start, strong finish.|
|9||Nebraska||5||4.5||0.5||Blew one TFL big. Otherwise solid.|
|10||Northwestern||6||5||1||Drawn in by some misdirection.|
|11||Iowa||1||-||1||Pulled early with injury.|
UFR is tough on linebackers, so anything above zero is good. To consistently go over it over the course of a season, generally on heavy usage is very difficult.
The main drawback here is explosiveness. Morgan doesn't rack up TFLs and sacks; he's not great at getting to the quarterback on blitzes. (Run blitzes, on the other hand, he is excellent at, especially on short yardage.) He is not the kind of athlete that is going to make the NFL salivate.
But there are few guys I'd rather have on third and one. Morgan should reprise his 2013 with some incremental improvements. That would make him an All Big Ten level guy even if the lack of fancy stats prevents that from happening in real life.
*[Your top three are Dave Brandon late night email sessions, Harbaugh, and Jake Rudock's transfer.]
[After THE JUMP: seniors are made of leadership]
Via a Utah beat writer. I put it in a table. Returning starters are bolded.
|QB||Jake Rudock OR
|Alex Malzone OR
|RB||De'Veon Smith||Derrick Green OR
|Karan Higdon OR
|FB||Joe Kerridge||Sione Houma OR
|TE||Jake Butt||Khalid Hill OR
|WR||Amara Darboh OR
|WR||Jehu Chesson OR
|LT||Mason Cole||Logan Tuley-Tillman|
|LG||Ben Braden||David Dawson|
|C||Graham Glasgow||Patrick Kugler||Ben Pliska|
|RG||Kyle Kalis||Juwan Bushell-Beatty|
|RT||Eric Magnuson||Blake Bars|
|DE||Willie Henry||Taco Charlton|
|NT||Ryan Glasgow||Maurice Hurst|
|DT||Chris Wormley OR
|BUCK||Mario Ojemudia||Royce Jenkins-Stone||Lawrence Marshall|
|ILB||Desmond Morgan||Ben Gedeon||Mike McCray|
|ILB||Joe Bolden||James Ross|
|OLB||James Ross||Allen Gant|
|CB||Jourdan Lewis||Jeremy Clark|
|CB||Channing Stribling||Brandon Watson|
|FS||Jarrod Wilson||Delano Hill|
|SS||Jabrill Peppers||Dymonte Thomas OR
|K||Kenny Allen OR
|P||Kenny Allen OR
|LS||Scott Sypniewski||Andrew Robinson|
|H||Blake O'Neill OR
|KO||Kenny Allen OR
|KR||Jehu Chesson OR
|PR||Jehu Chesson OR
Uh, what? Part one. Willie Henry, strongside end, with Wormley back at DT. On the one hand, Henry has a lot of grrr arrgh pass rush upside. On the other, I thought he was better suited on the interior than Wormley for the reasons I posted today.
Uh, what? Part two. Channing Stribling is listed as the starter opposite Jourdan Lewis. This is odd for a number of reasons. One: Stribling didn't get a call last year even when Gary Nova was going off on Blake Countess. Two: we have heard nothing about him in about a year. Three: they moved Jeremy Clark to corner, and the assumption was that maybe that was not so much a good sign for Stribling.
If this is real, and all depth charts have to be looked at somewhat skeptically, I'm actually rather happy. Stribling looked about as good as Lewis as a freshman before evaporating.
Okay dot gif. The OR at QB. On the other hand, Smith had enough of the starting RB job that they didn't give him one at one of the most OR-tastic spots on the roster.
Poggi at FB. Weird. 266, reputed to be an inline blocking TE. Expected Hill and Poggi to be flipped. Good that Hill's done enough this fall to catch Harbaugh's eye.
No Drake Johnson. Still recovering from injury.
Grant Perry realness check. Good sign for his jitter and reliability that he's an option on returns.
The sweetest or. OR Drake Harris. I want to believe.
Ross an ILB backup and OLB starter. An indication that he will get snaps in the nickel.
The first rule of Draftageddon is "you must complain about Draftageddon." The second is "the four people drafting assemble teams of Big Ten players in an effort to seem the best at drafting."
THAT WHICH HAS COME BEFORE
Previously on Draftageddon:
- Adam takes a guy with a ~33% chance to start first overall! Joey Bosa lasts until pick 3! Seth is generally sensible! For him that counts as Heiko-ing, I think!
- Brian takes back to back QBs! Several additional Ohio State players go off the board! 24-12!
- Ace takes Braxton Miller as a QB and then shrugs expansively when he ends up a terrifying H-back!
- Seth takes a one-down pass rush specialist! Brian takes a kicker! These are both totally defensible selections! Big Tennnnnnnn!
- A run on Michigan players! Maybe people will stop hating this!
THAT WHICH IS THE CURRENT SITUATION
THAT WHICH IS HAPPENING CURRENTLY
ACE: Round 22, Pick 2: RJ Williamson, safety, Michigan State
OFFENSE: QB Jake Rudock (U-M), RB Josh Ferguson (IL), OW Braxton Miller (OSU), WR Michael Thomas (OSU), WR DaeSean Hamilton (PSU), H-back Kyle Carter (PSU), TE Adam Breneman (PSU), OT Jack Conklin (MSU), OG Billy Price (OSU), OG Kyle Kalis (U-M), OC Dan Voltz (UW)
DEFENSE: WDE Joey Bosa (OSU), SDE Darius Hamilton (RU), NT Austin Johnson (PSU), DT Willie Henry (U-M), OLB Darron Lee (OSU), MLB Riley Bullough (MSU), OLB Joshua Perry (OSU), CB Eli Apple (OSU), CB Darius Hillary (UW), S Tyvis Powell (OSU), S RJ Williamson (MSU)
Michigan State's defense took a slight step back last year as a few teams cracked the code on beating Pat Narduzzi's aggressive Cover 4 scheme. While they remained generally stout against the pass (16th in S&P+, 9th in Success Rate), big plays were an issue, especially against Oregon, Ohio State, and Baylor. That's almost certainly what's scared us off from selecting Williamson so far.
I think we've overcorrected. The aggressive scheme put the safeties in unenviable positions once opponents figured out the best plan of attack was to send a guy like Devin Smith flying up the seam. The cornerback play across from Trae Waynes underwhelmed. Kurtis Drummond tried to do too much and ended up victimized on several long passes as a result. After some early season issues, I thought Williamson rebounded pretty well, and now he's the senior leader of MSU's secondary, taking over the free safety spot from Drummond.
Williamson is a proven playmaker. He has six career interceptions—including some spectacular grabs—despite playing spot duty until last season, when he had three picks and added five pass breakups. He should be solid as a senior, especially if MSU makes some minor tweaks to their defense so opponents don't take so many shots over the top.
SETH: Round 22, Pick 3: Rafael Gaglianone, kicker, Wisconsin
OFFENSE: QB Connor Cook (MSU), RB Corey Clement (WIS), WR Leonte Carroo (Rut), WR Geronimo Allison (ILL), Slot Jalin Marshall (OSU), OC Jack Allen (MSU), OG Pat Elflein (OSU), OT Alex Lewis (Neb), OT Mason Cole (Mich), OG Graham Glasgow
DEFENSE: NT Ryan Glasgow, 3T Malik McDowell (MSU), DE/DT Lawrence Thomas (MSU), DE/OLB Kemoko Turay (RU), SAM Joe Schobert (Wis), MLB Desmond Morgan (Mich), WLB Steve Longa (RU), HSP Jabrill Peppers (Mich), DB Jordan Lucas (PSU), S Michael Caputo (WI), CB Will Likely (MD)
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Rafael Gaglianone (Wis)
Two reasons I'm taking the Brazilian they call "Meatball." The first:
He's no Craddock, but the next guy to draft a kicker gets Paul Griggs or something.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison: proud, strong, prepared, dancing fat guys.
[After THE JUMP: MORE HEFTY KICKER.]
DJ Durkin inherits a Michigan defense that’s both experienced and talented, with good depth in most position groups. Durkin has promised to mix up the fronts we’ll see this season, and he expanded on that while also talking about his pass rushers, linebackers, and more at Media Day.
[I jumped in while Durkin was in the middle of an answer]
“The thought is now we get into camp [and] a lot of it is now they’re hearing it for the second, the third, the fourth time of what we’re installing so you can master it and play fast.”
You talked at the beginning of spring about how you didn’t really know your team. What do you know about your personnel now?
“Yeah, I feel we know them much better. We had four-hour practices in the spring [so] we got a lot of reps with those guys. We saw them do a lot, so that’s a good thing. There’s not a lot of angst from me or our staff of ‘What’s this guy going to do in a game?’ or ‘[How will he] respond?’ We have, number one, experienced guys on defense for the most part. And then, like I said, we had really competitive practices in the spring where we put those guys in a lot of situations that they had to show what they could do so I feel like we have a good evaluation and awareness of where they’re at.
“And now it becomes let’s go into fall camp and see what guys come in with that right mindset and what they did over the summer, see how they prepared and go through it all over again and re-evaluate everyone and get ready for the first game.”
What are you most excited about for tomorrow and then fast-forwarding to September 3rd?
“Tomorrow, just getting out there. I mean, it’s one of those things that there’s a build up of it and when you finally get out there and hit that first period and start moving, it’s always…I don’t know. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. You just get that feeling like ‘Alright, we’re back out on the field.’ All this stuff is fun and everything but talking about it is not the same as going and doing it, so that’s what I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
And then the opener?
“Yeah, the opener. I mean, wow, what a great test as an opener on the road in an environment that’s really loud. They’re into it; they’ve had great success there, especially recently, with their football program. So we’ll be tested right there, week one. Our guys know that, they understand that and we’re going to keep working towards that as we get through camp.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]
James Ross III should find more playing time in 2015 as an inside and outside linebacker as opposed to 2014, when he was almost exclusively a SAM. He talked about this as well as what else we can expect from the defense this fall in our one-on-one interview.
First of all, what were you working on this summer?
“Well, we did a lot of individual practice as far as with the linebackers and then 7-on-7, stuff like that. Just more understanding of the defense, understanding my role and what I’m going to be playing, and how to attack that.”
And what do you know about your role going into fall camp? How is it different and how is it similar?
“Last year I was pretty much just at one area. I was playing SAM and I didn’t play much more than that, so this year I will be playing inside and outside because my freshman and sophomore year that’s what I was more accustomed to is inside. So I will be playing both this year.”
Is that just going to depend on the personnel you’re facing week-to-week or is that intended to mix looks on defense and keep your opponent guessing?
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on as far as our defense. We run multiple so we’ve got a couple different defenses we can throw at them. Also, just like you say personnel and things of that nature.”
When you say run multiple, what are some of the things that we can expect to see this season?
“You know, I’m pretty sure Coach Durkin’s talked about running 3-4 and things like that. Just running multiple defenses, different looks, things like that. Different ways of attacking things and making it tough for opposing offenses to play us.”
Who is someone who you’ve seen in practice who you think could have a breakout year this year?
“It’s tough to say. All I know is in the spring and the offseason a lot of people were putting in a lot of work. I feel like as a team as a whole everybody’s made a significant jump in what they can do and that’s why I’m excited for the first practice tomorrow to see how what we did helped us and contributed.”
I know you’ve only had spring ball and still have all of fall camp ahead, but how have the practices been different since Coach Harbaugh got here?
“Practice when we had Coach Hoke was just real intense, but you feel like when we have Coach Harbaugh it’s- it’s just structured…even though with Coach Hoke everything was structured- periods, squads, everything like that. In the spring one thing is we just had longer practices and it made us pay attention to finishing practice. That was the most important factor. So that’s what we’re planning on doing in these upcoming practices because that was our biggest problem last year was finishing games.”
Noooobody expects a Drake Johnson! [Uphchurch]
Scheduling note: Yeah we had one on Monday; that was last week's, pushed back by all the commitments.
Seth: Every year there's at least one guy from down the depth chart who emerges as a major contributor even though we barely talk about him in the season previews. Who's the surprise guy this year?
Ace: Provided he's healthy when the season starts, and it appears he's on track, I'll go with Khalid Hill. Michigan is going to need a second tight end option after Jake Butt in Jim Harbaugh's offense, and Hill flashed potential last year before he tore his ACL in October. Known as a smooth route-runner with good hands coming out of high school, Hill showed off a somewhat unexpected aspect of his game—bowling over defenders in the running game:
Hill is limited by his size—he's a pure H-back at this point—but he should still prove quite useful as a reliable receiver and very willing blocker.
Alex: I would go with somebody on the defensive line. I'm not sure if Durkin will be as liberal with his defensive line rotations as Hoke/Mattison were (and I don't know if Mattison will be given the leeway to rotate again, which seems like a good bet) but if he is, I think that we could certainly have some breakthrough candidates on the defensive line. There's plenty of opportunity at the end spots—Ojemudia hasn't gotten big enough to be a consistent performer and Charlton still hasn't approached his level of recruiting hype (and potential, theoretically). Glasgow has one DT spot locked down, and Willie Henry seems to have a stranglehold on the other.
But if he can get on the field, my surprise performer is Maurice Hurst. He has a lightning-quick first step for a man his size and if we can get him to generate pass rush from the DT position, that will allay one of our biggest prospective weaknesses on that side of the ball. Mone, Wormley, and Poggi (who's a SDE) could all also be huge surprises as well.
Adam: I also think we're going to be surprised by one of the tight ends, but my choice is Ian Bunting. We know about Harbaugh's affinity for blocky/catchy guys, and Bunting's well on his way to being one. He put on 16 pounds over the winter, bringing him to a respectable (and much more in line with the rest of his position group) 243 pounds. At that weight he should be able to line up, put a hand in the dirt, and not tip off a pass play.
The catching part of being a blocky/catchy guy was never going to be a problem for a dude who has opposable skillets attached to his arms. Blocking was always going to be the issue for a nominal tight end who spent most of his high school career lining up outside, and even then it was simply a matter of size rather than willingness; Bunting posted separate highlight film of his blocking on his Hudl page. Now that he's in the range of plausible weights for a D-I tight end I'm expecting him to be the kind of matchup nightmare the Harbaughfense thrives on.
Seth: Brian wrote in HTTV that James Ross III had plateaued from the incisive freshman we were so excited about. One implication of being a base nickel with Peppers as a strongside slot space monster is that lifts a linebacker. Or did last year, cutting heavily into Ross's snaps. I find this sufficient underratement to justify defining him as a "surprise" star on this year's defense.
The loss of snaps to nickels may not be such a big deal this year, depending on how much of the Florida defense is ported to the new platform. There Durkin loved a lean, mean attack piece. His SAM last year was Neiron Ball, now with the Raiders. For Florida Ball was a Ross-like object consistently deployed as field side LB, whether that was technically MLB, or a nickel, a meat-raw version of the aggressive safety in the other slot. Given Michigan's uncertain DE depth, that surfeit of 30 (three DL) fronts would be a welcome wrinkle in Ann Arbor, drawing Ross back into the lineup instead of an end.
I also think he's still a better player than Bolden—that gap seems to narrow when Bolden faces Michigan's own offense because knowing the plays lets him match the effect of Ross's intuitiveness. Ross came on later last year as Michigan left him in as a hybrid spacebacker, and while that job is now Peppers's, any configuration that takes Ross off the field seems worse than the +Ross option. Add a bit of havoc from the aggressive stuff and sharing a side with Peppers and Taco, and there's plenty of opportunity for Ross to build his NFL highlight reel this year.
Brian: My surprise contributor this year is Dennis Norflee—dammit.
My surprise contributor this year is Delano Hill. He is officially a backup at safety, but in practice my hunch is that we see an awful lot of him. Jabrill Peppers is all-time nickel and he's going to be at or near the LOS at all times. Michigan faces a number of spread teams; Hill will be a de facto starter against them. He will also play extensively in regular manball games, because those also feature lots of passing downs—especially against a run defense that should be very good. He will play, a lot.
When he does Michigan will have a very fast, hopefully instinctive safety. Marcus Ray has been pumping him up as the best guy there, and he's a dude who knows safety play. I've been impressed in limited snippets so far as well; the bet here is that he eats into linebacker snaps on the regular.