|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Ben Gedeon||Sr.||Mike McCray||Jr.*|
|Noah Furbush||So.*||Mike Wroblewski||Jr.*||Devin Bush||Fr.|
|Josh Uche||Fr.||Elysee Mbem-Bosse||Fr.||Jared Wangler||So.*|
The old guard had been around forever—Desmond Morgan started as a freshman and had an injury redshirt in there—and is now gone. In their stead there is… well, a guy. Michigan's linebacker recruiting in the Hoke era was a major failing, so after one guy they've mishandled and one guy who narrowly evaded a career-ending injury there's freshmen and the only non-Order-of-St.-Kovacs walk-on on the two deep.
Could get hairy if anyone can get to these guys on the ground or protect their quarterback long enough to get 'em in the air. So probably not that hairy. Still, along with the offensive line and quarterback, linebacker stands out as a position at which things could go pear-shaped.
On the other hand, Peppers. He's actually in this post!
STRONGSIDE LB: HYBRID SPACE ASSASSIN
WOOOO! [Bryan Fuller]
Oh hey, it's JABRILL PEPPERS again. He's taken the baton from Jake Butt when it comes to posting shirtless jugs machine exploits:
Seen this on IG.. Had to try it lol harder than I thought pic.twitter.com/ZvLZRjfLhM
— JP5 (@JabrillPeppers) August 6, 2016
And this year he hopes to refine his immense talent into a TFL and PBU machine.
One part of his game is already flawless and has been so from the drop. He was a bonafide hybrid space player from his first snaps against Utah. Any sort of swing, flare, or screen to the wide side of the field was going to die horribly. Peppers was truly, literally unblockable in space. He'd slow up, pick his moment, and just explode past the wide receiver who drew the short straw:
Three times in this game Peppers destroyed plays that attacked the wide open spaces he is set to patrol. If Michigan can rely on that, those passes across the middle that open up because of bubble fakes get removed along with the screens; it's kind of a big deal to be able to do that.
The utter consistency with which this happened became a defensive bellwether. I eagerly awaited the moment when the offensive coordinator got fed up with having zero access to a big chunk of his playbook and said "screw it." One snap later the OC was reminded why he wasn't doing this:
There was an internet item purporting to show that Peppers missed 20% of his tackle attempts; you can mostly ignore that. A Peppers missed tackle was often something a lesser player wouldn't even get an attempt in on.
Blocking someone with his explosiveness on the edge is a futile task. This is a screen that he turns in barely outside the hash and still gets a tackle in on, because he can wait until the proper moment and just explode past the guy who drew the short straw:
Peppers gets places fast and brings a pop when he gets there. Sometimes he makes the play himself and sometimes he allows others to rally to make it, because he's constricting space that other guys cannot.
I say "mostly" because Peppers does need to refine a few things. He has a bit of Brandon Harrison disease wherein he gets going so dang fast that he overruns his target, and his tackling form could use some work. But even when he missed a tackle last year he funneled things back to his teammates.
As Peppers moves inside more often this ability will serve him well. There was a spate of tiny linebacker articles over this offseason, and this one from The Ringer highlights that Peppers evasion thing:
The key to smaller linebackers surviving in a land of 330-pound giants isn’t taking them on in single combat; it’s anticipating movements to avoid combat altogether.
“Those guys seem to make their living not by getting off blocks, but by never getting blocked,” Snead says. “They’ve got to read things quickly so they can use their deficiency to their advantage.”
There was the occasional indicator that Peppers would be able to continue his uncanny ability to blow past blockers even as space gets constricted. Here he reads the play and simply redirects past a fullback assigned to him:
His explosion is such that he can dart around blockers to the "wrong" side so fast that he makes it right. He makes all that Joe Bolden stuff work, and that'll be key when he is faced with much larger opposition.
We have some evidence what Peppers will look like as a linebacker. He was in the box on scattered snaps. He was kept clean, for the most part, and Peppers showed an ability to read and react. This isn't hard, but we don't have much else to go on:
Against UNLV he lined up as a Jake Ryan-style SAM on the line of scrimmage and did a good job to push the play back inside.
He was used as a blitzer very occasionally, and looked much like he did whilst erasing screen games nationwide. He's fast and brings a load and often comes in too hot to get a clean shot.
If he does get a free run at a blindside target an Oregon State receiver can tell you what the likely outcome is:
Peppers has the potential to force a ton of fumbles.
When Peppers is an actual SAM linebacker and not reprising his hybrid space player role, Plan A is keeping Peppers clean by demanding double teams for the SDE; Plan B is Peppers blowing the minds of linemen and blocky/catchy guys with his ability to do make something conventionally understood to be wrong work for him.
Peppers's coverage is still somewhat in question. He had issues early trying to defend horizontal double moves. That first impression lingered, and then the big bad thing against Penn State hammered it home for a lot of folks:
Peppers was rough early, no question. He was much better at playing press man as an outside corner, where he could set up to the inside and just run with his dude.
He developed over the course of the year. By midseason he was racking up some physical PBUs, usually when he was allowed to set up in press:
He was still a bit iffy in the slot but started making it difficult for guys to get in their routes, and he started making the occasional play in off man. The Penn State debacle is evidence enough that his coverage is still a work in progress, but in this case we really do mean "work in progress" instead of "permanent problem" as people so often do when they deploy that phrase. His improvement should be obvious. He won't be perfect but slot receivers aren't going to get the best of him for much longer.
Peppers also has upside as a safety. He's obviously kind of a big deal in run defense, and his speed allows him to get over the top of deep routes even when he lines up close to the line of scrimmage.
Peppers can and will do a half-dozen different things on D. You'll see him as a SAM, as a nickel, as a strong safety, as a boundary corner as Michigan tries to put out fires and exploit mismatches. Boston College SAM Matt Milano is a good baseline: 60 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, and 3 PBUs a year ago. Peppers is around the same size and much more athletic. (I have no idea how athletic Matt Milano is and I'm sticking with that assertion.) I'd expect more pass defense stats and not so many TFLs since the DL will eat up their share, but as I said on the other side of the ball his omnipresence should lead to a bunch of stats both ways and a Heisman finalist slot.
[After the JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! Probably!]
|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]
They don't know what kind of marsupial it is.
The internet helpfully pointed out that keeping wildlife, uh, a gravid marsupial, for uh, you know, domestic…
…ain't legal. Also, Mariaklots is correct. That thing is a wallaby. Shane Morris had zoobooks and knows.
— Shane Morris (@ShaneMorris_7) June 26, 2015
No word on the ferret, or which of the many splendiferous names I offered up was eventually chosen. (I have money on Ferret Bo Jackson.)
Never not funny. Every day is an entertaining day with Harbaugh. Bill Rapai shot the Sound Mind, Sound Body camp for us and returned with this set of photos that were taken within a few minutes of each other. Each one is magnificent. As a set…
…they are almost a Broadway play.
A titanic clash. You really need to read Zach Shaw's account of the IM softball final between the football and hockey teams.
“The T-shirt means everything to us,” said self-proclaimed team manager and owner Jared Wangler, who redshirted as a freshman linebacker on the football team last fall. “We lost out last year in the semi-finals, and didn’t come back for second place. We’re back with a vengeance.”
Motte, who was once a standout baseball player and teammate with Michigan baseball star Jacob Cronenworth before settling for sophomore forward on the hockey team, was slightly less enthused after the loss.
“To be totally honest, I didn’t know we got T-shirts,” he said.
Good news for a change. Phil Steele's published a ranking of teams based on experience in their two-deep and Michigan is not languishing at the bottom of the list, trying not to get its face punched in. Far from it, in fact:
|Pts||SR ST||SR 2D||JR ST||JR 2D||SO ST||SO 2D||FR ST||FR 2D|
(As per usual with Steele if you drill down on the team you know you're going to find a few assumptions that are off or not up to date, but he's broadly accurate.)
That is a combination of Rodriguez's extreme attrition followed by Hoke's almost total lack of same, and would normally bode well. When that team is coming off a coaching change caused by whatever that was last year the route to a good season is less clear; still, a veteran and pretty good defense returns almost everybody, as does the not-so-veteran and maybe-okay offensive line. Skill positions are the big question mark.
This is both true and infuriating to Notre Dame fans. It comes from Brian Kelly:
"I think we recognized that all of my football players are at-risk -- all of them -- really," Kelly told Notre Dame Insider. "Honestly, I don't know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship."
ND Nation reacted to this about as well as Roll Bama Roll reacted to a camp sleeper committing to Michigan, because ND Nation believes that when a student with a 2.5 arrives on campus the magical fairy dust on ND's campus makes them into a Serious Business major.
To its credit, ND does come down much harder on malfeasance than everywhere else. Nobody else suspends five players for a whole season for academic issues, and the kind of things those guys did are at least as common around the country.
More Austin Davis highlights. This appears to be from a camp a few weeks ago:
It's not much; it does look like Davis is getting big and stronk. He has nice footwork around the basket and finishes with both hands; the Jordan Morgan vibe is strong.
“He visited Kentucky, he just visited Oregon, he’s thinking about visiting Michigan and a couple of others. Will he do that? He’s not sure. Right now, it’s a two-and-a-half horse race, Michigan being the half. If they get the visit, you have to consider them a full-fledged threat."
Murray is a potential one-and-done—Draft Express has him 21st in their 2016 mock draft—who would jam pack the Michigan roster in the same way Jaylen Brown would have. Long way to go before anything comes of that, competing against Kentucky usually doesn't go well, other rosters are probably more attractive in terms of playing time available, etc.
Another hockey exit, this one before an entrance. Michigan lost a recruit to the OHL today: Sam Miletic. Miletic isn't being hyped as an impact player after a 12-15-27 line in 58 USHL games, which is both good and bad.
The good: Miletic wasn't slated for a scoring line as a freshman and Michigan should be able to replace him without a ton of trouble. The bad: Miletic, who dropped out of the final CSB rankings after being listed 192nd—probably undrafted—in the midterms, is exactly the kind of player who should avoid the OHL like the plague. In college he'd have four years to develop and a degree; in the OHL he's going to age out after two and then face a decision between trying to use the OHL's education package (which will cap at two years for him since he's not playing four years in the league) or trying to catch on in the pros somewhere.
In a vacuum this is pretty meh. In an offseason where it seems like anyone with an option is opting out, though…
And now you're nervous again even though it seems like everyone's already left. There was a lot of speculation that the player London was going to announce today was Zach Werenski, the freshman D who is likely to be a top-15 pick. That would be the cherry on the poop sundae that's been this hockey offseason. Why would that speculation exist when Werenski would be nuts to make any move before the draft?
Zach Werenski, a potential top 10 pick, is a perfect example. The Michigan Wolverines defenceman over the weekend admitted that he’s “open” to possibly leaving behind college hockey life for a chance to play major junior.
Development is paramount in a player’s late teens and Werenski’s future NHL team will have great influence on where he’ll be plying his trade during the 2015-16 season.
Werenski said he will not sign off on a transfer before the June 26 draft.
“I was really comfortable (in Michigan) and I had a good year,” the Grosse Point, Mich., native said at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo. “I plan on going back as of now.”
So there you go. The tone of this article ("development is paramount") suggests it was written by a juniors honk who badgered Werenski with some leading questions. But that departure is potentially another one on the horizon.
Hockey is officially this offseason's most depressing sport.
On expansion. Eleven Warriors surveys the 14-team Big Ten one year in. I'm mostly in agreement with their take—shortsighted, ham-handed, provides money. I don't think this bit is quite right:
One thing is for sure about Big Ten expansion: it made everyone in the conference a lot of money.
The Big Ten has expanded, and there is more money. I'm sure some of that is because of expansion. How much is an open question. Certainly not as much as the article implies:
In 2009, Big Ten schools each received about $19 million a year from the conference. It was a solid total, second to the SEC in per-school revenue, but not at its max. Adding Nebraska and Rutgers and Maryland to the conference made the Big Ten a whole lot more valuable. …
When the Big Ten signs its next TV deal in 2017, revenue distribution will be at least double what it was in 2009, $45 million or more per school. Ohio State's athletic department has been swimming in money since the move as well.
In terms of relative revenue the Big Ten has not increased its lead. It may have actually lost ground.The Big 12's largest payout in 2009 was $12 million to Kansas. By 2014, full members—of a conference that lost teams—grabbed $23 million. Average payouts were 21.4 million. Those numbers do not include school-specific rights that the larger leagues have bundled into networks. In 2014 the Big Ten distributed about 27 million. The gap is smaller in both percentages and raw numbers than it was five years ago.
The Big Ten is the last conference to have its rights come up and will get a bump to ever-more ludicrous numbers; that was going to happen with or without the two additions. The Big Ten would be swimming in dough either way; any benefit the Big Ten manages to extract from Maryland and Rutgers has zero impact on the ability of its teams to compete in major sports and a panoply of negatives for fans.
Etc.: I'm just talkin' bout Moe Ways. Tyus Battle has to pass on the USA U19 tryouts. Probable return to the court in July. Early signing period is happening for a test-run. Dan Beebe tried to tell 'em. They didn't listen. Caris will be good to go July 1st.
We get excited about certain things around these parts. Like fun-to-size ratios. And new official rosters with updated weights. We've had 24 hours to parse the Spring data, and with Brian on the road today it's up to me to see how they've grown:
Things of [a Certain Definition of] Interest:
- Brady Pallante is a fullback
- Ross Douglas is listed as Ross Taylor-Douglas, and is back at corner
- Ian Bunting is up to 6'7/243
- A.J. Williams is up to offensive tackle size (6'6/285)
Weight Gain/Loss 2000
A reminder of internet policy on weight changes: all weight gain is muscle fiber, all weight lost was fat, and all static weight means fat was replaced with muscle fiber. I've highlighted things discussed after.
|Player||'11||'12||'13||S'14||F'14||Sp'15||'11- '12||'12-'13||'13-'14||'14- 15|
Fullback & Tight End
|Maurice Hurst Jr.||270||277||282||281||12||-1|
[Hit the jump for discussion on this and other bits I could glean.]
News bullets and other items:
Hoke said that domestic violence is one of the first things they talk about in team meetings at the beginning of the year and they talk to the team about it at least four times per year
Hoke said after they had received all the necessary information the decision to dismiss Frank Clark from the program essentially made itself
Hoke has not spoken with Clark but does plan to speak with him at some point
Mario Ojemudia will start at WDE with Taco Charlton behind him
Henry Poggi moves to SDE to back up Brennen Beyer
"Obviously you all know and we put a statement out, I put a statement out, let's put it that way, we had a situation during the bye week with a young man making a bad decision and after getting all the facts that we could get and I could get I made the decision to dismiss Frank Clark from the program. What was reported and all those things, and I'm sure you've been through it with a fine-tooth comb, was unacceptable and it was not what we want here associated with our program. I know in the statement I talked about it being tragic and domestic abuse is tragic. It's tragic on a national scale. It's tragic. Obviously it's somewhere in our society and we all need to do something about it, and being a husband and being a father [and] having two sisters it's a message that I send strongly to our football team about how we will handle ourselves with women.
"That being said we're excited about Saturday. We're excited about playing Maryland, and the biggest excitement is that we've got 12 kids who are going to play their last home football game here at Michigan. We have 12 seniors. Two of them will have graduated. One of them will have his masters. The others will graduate either this fall at the end of fall or at the end of winter and we're very proud of what they've done representing the University of Michigan, and hopefully people will be in the stadium early so they can be honored and then we've got a great football game with Maryland."
Maryland on film, especially defensively: what have you seen from them?
"Well, they do a lot and they've got a pretty big package, especially when you get into third downs. They've done a nice job of attacking the quarterback. I think they are one sack above us in the league when you look at it from a defensive standpoint. I think they run very well [and] I think they obviously if you watched Saturday night's game, which I know I did, that game was a heckuva game for a little while and then kind of got out of hand with the interception for a touchdown. But they're very impressive with what they can do. I think they've won three or four games on the road so they've played well on the road also."
In light of how big an issue domestic violence has been mostly in the NFL this year have you spoken to the team before this weekend about that issue specifically?
"We speak about it constantly. Believe me, at least four times a year. We have people from the University come in. I've told our guys since day one that it won't be tolerated. It won't be tolerated in this program. All you have to do is think about I have a daughter who's 29. I have a wife. I have two sisters, And so that's always been probably one of the first things I talk about with our team least a couple times a year."
You probably just answered that, but did the current climate with how big this issue has been influence how quickly you guys made a decision?
"No, it really didn't. The decision was made after getting all the information that we could and that I could, and in doing that there really was no decision to be made. I don't know if that sounded right but…"
[After THE JUMP: More on the Clark situation and young players who impressed in the intrasquad scrimmage]