Patrick Hruby is doing God's work.
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]
One of these is Jamar Adams, the other Jarrod Wilson (by Fuller)
Here's a little tradition from around these parts that you're not happy to bring back: who's going to be the new safety starter? Yeah, remember that conversation? Remember how it went around picking up all the we-hope-he's-at-least-an-Englemons out of Gibson'ed secondaries?
The best of all that. This last bout of hand wringing finally ended with the best safety tandem we've had in the Cover-2 era. In their two years together Kovacs and Gordon were the first capable pair since Brandent and Jamar, easily the best since Marlin and Ernest, and probably ranked higher than any since Marcus and Tommy or earlier. We can actually chart the stuff since '07, thanks to Brian's Upon Further Review charts (which total up the plusses and minuses accrued in each game into a rough net contribution stat). I've got my UFR database now updated that far (any further and the knowledge isn't really there to make it relevant or comparable). Remember this is a game-by-game exercise that wasn't meant to remain standard across the ages; that said the Chart?-Chart! chart totals for Michigan safeties in these six seasons very much fit your recollections:
|Jared Van Slyke||0||0|
Chart notes: maize is positive, blue negative so that can stand out more. Time spent at the Spur in the 3-3-5 years was counted as linebacker, likewise Brandon Harrison's 2007 at nickel, which was a starting position on the English defenses. I tried to separate Woolfolk's corner games from his safety games; for the record here's the breakdown for 2009:
…when he was obviously a better corner than a safety but as you can see from above, was needed more at the latter.
Still the totals at the bottom tell a story of a moderately positive '07 (Stevie Brown—0/-8/-8 in The Horror) did most of his damage in one game, which itself did plenty of damage to that season), three years of atrociousness, and dramatic improvement under the new staff. If you remember 2010 as worse than '09 that's because the cornerbacks were just as bad. The disparity between Kovacs 2011 and 2012 is easy enough to explain by there being far fewer opportunities for him to make those Kovacsian stops after 7 yards as Michigan faced either Alabama or teams who either didn't test or schemed against him (Air Force, Nebraska).
Also I had to chart The Horror myself because Brian didn't at the time. Thanks Brian.* Anyway the charting says Thomas Gordon (!) was the best safety at Michigan in the last six seasons. Should we be talking about all-conference stuff for ol' Prison Abs in addition to the leadership stuff? Gee, maybe. He had a spectacular spring game, which I don't think many people noticed.
As for what's opposite him Michigan has to find something out of the blues above plus another year of progression.
*Had this been done under modern UFR standards it would have doubled any record for RPS debacles. Just to know I tried doing that, handing out the remainder of expected points for any play that weren't on the players as Brian does in UFR-ing and came out with this staggering figure of +23/-46/-23. RPS is never that much of a variable, except in this game it was the alignment of linebackers, stunts (!), not stacking the box, and not responding to the QB draw even though they only ever ran one play out of that alignment.
[After the jump: Candidates]
“We’re so proud of those guys. We’re so proud of that basketball program. I mean, what they’ve done with that young team is so special. We’re pulling for them just like everybody else.”
What do you see from Jarrod Wilson?
“I’ve seen him since the day he got here, and he’s one of the first we brought in at semester. He’s very mature. He’s a young man that studies the books, studies exactly what he’s supposed to do by position, has great pride in the way he plays, and he’s a very good athlete. All he needs now is just continued reps in game-like situations, and that’s what we do in practice a lot. He’s a very consistent football player, too. A lot of times young guys will show flashes of why you recruited them, and then you say ‘Aw man’ when you step back.”
- RS Fr Brian Cleary is now the backup quarterback. Yes, he's a walk-on, but Al Borges talked him up at the NSD presser as someone who might contribute regardless. Said he "looks like a scholarship QB."
- Hoke has not spoken to Shane Morris since Bellomy's injury, but Borges has.
- With Bellomy out, a real spring game is looking less and less likely.
- Justice Hayes is looking good at RB.
- Jarrod Wilson is standing out at safety.
- Will Hagerup is still suspended.
- Brendan Gibbons has been kicking off a little bit in practice whenever Matt Wile can't make it on account of class.
- When Brady Hoke says "Mitch McGary" five times really fast he gets "Rob Gronkowski."
- Brady Hoke has the hiccups from saying "Mitch McGary" too many times.
“We’ve had good practices. The tempo’s been good. I think the competition level has been good. We’ve got to play faster as a team. I think some of that is some young guys getting used to playing a lot, when you get a number of reps, but we’ve done a pretty good job of being competitive. We need to continue that.”
How has Russell Bellomy’s injury impacted the offense?
“I think the impact is how you feel, number one. You feel terrible for him. The impact as far as depth always hurts you when anyone gets out of the lineup. As far as that’s concerned, we’ll move forward and keep developing Brian Cleary and those guys who are behind Devin.”
How’s Bellomy doing?
“He’s doing fine. He’s disappointed, like we all are. We can all imagine how he’d feel, but he’s doing fine.”
I don't either. See Brady Hoke's century-long tenure. What do you mean I posted it Monday? Get out of town.
This been all banners and Never Forget and all that business for a long time. Michigan's secondary woes didn't start with Rich Rodriguez, who merely carved out a crevasse of hopeless abyssal despair previously unknown to man from a moderately deep trench of hopeless abyssal despair. The secondary has not been good for a long, long time.
But it was last year. I'm about to put up the "coverage" metric the blog tracks. Points are awarded for DBs close enough to receivers to make a play on the ball (even if the ball is caught) and subtracted when guys are open enough to get YAC or easily convert first downs on third and medium situations. If you're batting .500 here you're doing pretty well. Drum roll:
|1||WMU||6||11||-5||A lot of this was Herron, frankly.|
|2||ND||17||18||-1||Good deep in press man.|
|5||MINN||10||5||5||Tony Gibson –6.02 x 10^23|
|6||NW||13||15||-2||Not bad. Some issues getting RPSed.|
|7||MSU||9||12||-3||That's not too bad against a senior QB.|
|8||Purdue||11||6||5||Excellent number given the ratio.|
|9||Iowa||11||14||-3||Good recovery after weak start.|
|12||OSU||11||30||-19||Not so much.|
The OSU number stands out as the only truly bad day of the year not easily explained away by a linebacker who hit the bench after the game in question. That was not entirely on the secondary. Greg Mattison NFLed himself, changing up Michigan's scheme and putting his charges in positions that were untenable or close to it. Even so Michigan's pass efficiency defense rocketed from 103rd to 36th in a single year.
How did this happen? EXCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVE MUST CREDIT MGOBLOG.
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||Sr.*||Blake Countess||So.||Courtney Avery||Jr.|
|Raymon Taylor||So.||Terry Richardson||Fr.||Delonte Hollowell||So.|
I know. I know. This ish be cray. I have no idea what that means. I saw Ace tweet it at some point and thought about crayfish probably.
|step for step|
|all over this dude|
|beats Jenkins block|
|the oh shiiiiiii|
Michigan returns their top three corners from a year ago, all of whom were pretty good. The depth has been whittled down by the departures of Terry Talbott and Tamani Carter, but they've got a couple sophomores and a touted freshman and should be okay unless they get a flood of injuries. Give them a year and it'll be time to forget Never Forget.
JT Floyd is the headliner in so many ways. After the Penn State game pictured above I said he'd run "three of the worst coverages I've ever seen," and time has done nothing to change that opinion. He got yanked after that game; his last two games UFRed in 2010 were a –8.5 against Iowa ("oh my God the slants") and the –9 against PSU ("awful, awful, awful"). Everyone was openly petrified that he would play; this space predicted Courtney Avery would start and Countess would usurp Floyd's spot posthaste. Instead Countess usurped Avery's spot and Floyd developed into a pretty good Big Ten corner.
The highlight was his game-sealing interception against AJ Jenkins…
…and Floyd was no one-trick pony. I kept an owlish watch on him as he played to the point where I checked his coverage on plays that didn't go anywhere near him. The results were pure Ripley's. He may have sucked containing runs/screen to his side but…
…I still think he's the best corner Michigan has right now. I base this off plays when opponents run twinned routes and I can see a Woolfolk or Countess cover the same slant on the same call; almost invariably Floyd is hugging the receiver tighter. This is not the best example because the QB set him up for this one but whether it's in man or zone Floyd seems to get more plays on the ball than anyone else in the secondary:
Meanwhile, count the long receptions Floyd's given up this year… I've got one, an undefendable Michael Floyd fade on which he had a rake at the ball. When they go after Michigan deep it was Woolfolk and Countess getting most of the exposure. That's good enough for me when trying to figure out who's good in an area of the field you only see when someone hasn't been good (or one of Michigan's quarterbacks has decided they're tired of being on the field).
I know. OMG. Floyd stands alone as the most soaring, magnificent demonstration of the differences between the last staff and this one.
This is not to say he turned into Charles Woodson. He was consistently subpar on bubble screens and other run-support tasks, which was especially frustrating since he is the boundary corner. He, like everyone else, got smoked by Posey in the OSU game, and he still seems to lack a certain something when it comes to deep speed. When I broke down Michigan's "NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE BALL" coverage, a few different coaches got in touch with me to tell me this was something commonly called "trail" coverage. Trail is something you do when you get beat and can't look for the ball; it's supposed to be a plan B when you're really good. For Floyd, it was plan A.
Which, fine. More than fine. Hallelujah. The guy can play. He's got flaws, only some of which will get worked out, and his top end is a stray All Big Ten vote or two and a seventh-round pick, and who cares about any of that when JT Floyd can play football.
TONY GIBSON MINUS ALL OF THE POINTS
Minus all of the points.
[After THE JUMP: Kovacs! A lack of long touchdowns! Depth!]
Starting to look more and more like Sgt. Pepper's. Less depressing now. Legend*
♪ Oho a good secondary is a-comin' down the street
Oh please let it be for real
Oho the best safety tandem since like '80-something!
I wish I wish I knew that it could be.
I've got an FS and two tiny backs from Cass Tech
I've got safety-like safeties from Ohio
I've even got a two-deep filled with juniors!
And Curtice Clay out near Toledo sent a bona fide star!
Oho a good defensive backfield is a-comin' down the street
Don't look now but "shut-down" might apply to our J.T.!
Oho a good secondary is a-comin' down the street
And M-Robinson might finally be ready!
I'm particularly excited for Blake Countess
He's everything a sophomore phenom ought to be.
When minus every Gibson from this unit,
Well they could be (yes they could be) yes you're right they surely could be…
Something special (not a Woodson, but perhaps Leon-like special)
Yes we could have… something special… at D.B.!!! ♫
Also: Do do do do do do do do the worst is over.
This is Part IV of the thing predicting the reaction and drop-off if any 2012 starter goes down. Actually I wasn't sure I wanted to complete this series. I did the offense and Toussaint got a DUI; I did the DEs and Frank Clark got charged for stealing a laptop; I did the linebackers and it leaked that Antonio Poole's injury is at least Fall Camp-missing worthy. And well, before I could nix the series and wipe it from the interwebs Terrence Talbott preemptively took the bullet for the DBs, so I guess we can have that now. But if you folks want special teams I'm going to need written confirmation that Hagerup/Gibbons/Wile have come nowhere near the M on the Diag.
These days it's best to think of defensive back as five positions. To demonstrate, here's a preview chart from a Museday in the works (click enhances largetation):
To coaches this is "duh" but the more receivers the offense puts out there, the more DBs the defense counters with. While I mean to eventually include how teams played Michigan as well, and I won't make the mistake of treating anything GERG did as canon unless it involves hair product, the preliminary chart meshes with what coaches tell me about matching personnel. The Shafer line suggests heavy nickel use is more the norm while the outlier of 2009 stands as a reminder of what happens to those who mock the need for corner depth. This is important to us because the teams we play use 3-receiver sets more often than they used to, and this chart (made from UFRs so it's not perfect) says Mattison's defense used almost exactly as many five-DB sets as the 2010 defense, a base 3-3-5! Typical shotgun personnel is RB, 1TE, and 3WR; that is the formation we will face the most vs. every team but Air Force (Triple-Option) and Iowa (the I is for ISO).
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
In case of emergency: Was it only a few years ago we were really down about having an emergency redshirt freshman with questionable athleticism thrust into the starting lineup? I re-watched what portions of the Indiana 2009 game are left on the youtubes yesterday to confirm he wasn't a guy you'd think would be getting five Saturn-punting Zoltans; those Zoltans now come confirmed by opponents. To imagine where we might be without him means figuring out what we have now in Marvin Robinson. He was one of those recruits who blew up early in his high school career thanks to an early growth spurt then fell down the rankings as other kids his age caught up. Frankly after similar tweeners like Burgess/Mouton/S. Brown/I. Bell became various types of linebacker I'm excited to see one of these dudes actually stick at safety.
M-Rob probably won't hit his half-SHIRTLESS recruiting expectations, but half-way through his Michigan career the possibility is at least still intact. It's weird to still be relying on his recruiting profile this far into a high-interest career; the off-campus incident may at least alleviate questions of whether the talent was overvalued. Technical problems evident in previous springs were still present but much reduced over a strong spring, and after several years of tutelage under the best, what we probably have is something between the anti-Kovacs and Ernest Shazor. He's a perfect "bandit" safety in a 3-3-5, and that's kind of what we've been doing with Kovacs. Lacking Kovacsian instincts he'll be a downgrade, but he'll make up parts of that with superior athleticism.
In case of dire emergency: Allen Gant may be as ready to go later this year as anyone else of his class, including Kalis. He's a big guy for a freshman, comes with as many work ethic and weight room credentials as Mike Martin did, and has the bloodlines. You'd usually redshirt a guy like this since safety is a tough position to learn, but there are two other safeties in his class and Dymonte Thomas is on the way. Then again he may not bring any more right now than 5th year senior Floyd Simmons, a former walk-on who has been on special teams a lot. He has never made it higher than the two-deep even when a hater god put most of that depth chart on the Never Forget banner. That might be because he was a Spinner (backing up Stevie Brown) at the time. You should also know he has three forced fumbles on kickoffs, suggesting he shares some of T.Gordon's weird fumble-causing voodoo. He's the same size as Kovacs (we have multiple pics of them standing together) and foremost a run defender—his route to regular playing time would be in a platoon situation with M-Rob or one of the free safety types.
Since the likely backups at free safety are pretty much free safeties (Furman's calling card is speed; Jarrod Wilson is the proverbial "rangy" player), a disaster at strong safety is as likely to make one of them a starter as Gant. In such a scenario Thomas Gordon takes on more of the run stopping duties and Furman/Wilson drawn in as an entirely nominal "strong" safety.
Safety: home of the scrumptious abdomen HT M&B
In case of emergency: This is where things get more interesting. After letting us spend years praying for the next Ed Reed to appear as a 5-star Campbellian Hero with angel wings (and trying to believe the other Gordon was that) Thomas Gordon spent 2011 doing his best impersonation of Brandent Englemon. It was like coming back from trying to sleep around New York and finding the girl next door, if the girl next door was once called "Prison Abs" and had a weird (spectacular) ability to cause game-changing turnovers by waving his hands at people.
If we lose him, we hope this has all been some giant lead-up to the Superhero reveal scene. Potential heroes begin with Josh Furman. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a … dammit I just looked up at the damn picture again. Due to a spurious arrest over the summer (he was innocent, the result of a misunderstanding, but suspended while it got sorted out) Furman missed precious practice time. At last sight he still needed to leap a few levels in a single bound to be ready for Big Ten play. The beneficiary of Furman's misfortune was early enrollee Jarrod Wilson, who is safety-shaped and safety-like and is actually a safety, which I realize is kind of a novelty around here since Jamar Adams graduated. He made some freshman mistakes along with mostly solid play and is probably the first to see playing time among his classmates, especially early.
In case of dire emergency: The position that inspired the BLANK-Hating God meme was free safety. This was in 2005 when Michigan was forced to burn the redshirt of Brandon Harrison (and in turn burn down a good part of the 2009 secondary).
Today there's at least Furman/Wilson, one or both of whom should be plausible by mid-season. The other freshman is Jeremy Clark, a big guy whose grayshirt was upgraded to full-ride as his star rose, but who probably needs some time to develop. Clark's future is at strong safety, but he's a tweener. While the talent atop the depth chart is mostly specialized, Mattison does want the safeties to eventually be interchangeable (the better to screw up quarterback reads my dear) and an injury plague at one safety spot might trigger that.
Center: from the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, courtesy of the Freep
In case of emergency: The depth recovery program managed to get a bunch of little corners, however since Michigan makes a distinction between "Field" and "Boundary" we may as well try to see where the early returns fit. The former can supposedly sacrifice some size for coverage ability/athleticism. The latter has less area to cover, is more involved in run support since he's generally on the weak side of the formation (offenses typically align to the field since it gives them more room to string out the run defense), and ends up matched with other teams' big receivers on an island. At this last year Floyd was spectacular. A list of guys he covered who are now in the NFL:
Receiver 2011 Team NFL Team Rnd-Overall Catches Yards TDs Michael Floyd ND Cardinals 1-13 13 159 0 A.J. Jenkins Illini 49ers 1-30 4 103 0 DeVier Posey OSU Texans 5-68 3 58 1 B.J. Cunningham MSU Dolphins 6-183 4 39 0 Marvin McNutt Iowa Eagles 6-194 9 101 0 Jeremy Ebert NW Patriots 7-235 11 86 0 Jordan White WMU Jets 7-244 12 119 0 *******Total******* - - 56 665 1 *****Average****** - - 8.0 95.0 0.1
*VT's Danny Coale and MSU's Keyshawn Martin were also drafted this year, but Floyd was primarily covering Jarrett Boykin and BJ Cunningham, respectively, in those games. Boykin had 4 catches for 30 yards and 0 TD; he went undrafted and unsigned.
The lack of touchdowns from seven leaping touchdown machines earns Floyd that 4th star. DeVier Posey did demonstrate the hole in Floyd's game—he can't keep up with the elite athletes—and better passes from Braxton Miller easily could have added two TDs and 120 yards to DeVier's single day of 2011 eligibility. That guy, at least, is gone, as are the rest of the Big Ten's 2011 embarrassment of WR riches. Of those who remain on our schedule, Keenan Davis (Iowa) might be a Posey-like (read: bad) matchup, however I would trust him against Northwestern's (now-eligible) Kyle Prater.
Which brings me to the point: there isn't another Floyd on the roster. Even in the hilariously height-overestimating world of college football rosters, J.T. is the only CB who the FAKErs thought could even plausibly be listed at 6'0.
Talbott was the guy making noise to be the #1 backup to Floyd during spring ball, but since he's gone that means a ding to J.T. puts us back in the midget bucket. I think what happens is Courtney Avery reprises his role as starting corner, which this being his junior year I think we can now get past the original excitement of his one good game and the bitterness of that tackle he missed against Iowa, and remember he ended the Ohio State counter. Avery has been ahead of Talbott his whole career thus far, despite being a quarterback until fall practice of his freshman year, so while Floyd to Avery is a downgrade, I don't think the effect of losing the second Talbott will be felt unless we get to…
In case of dire emergency: This is still a work in progress. Of last year's freshmen Tamani Carter is the biggest—that's why he was listed with the safeties in the first place. He's been hanging out on safety depth charts due to hips that do not fluid swivel or whatever they call a cornerback nowadays who's not twitchy enough, and his forte is supposedly the jump-ball. This is why I've mentally moved Carter to boundary since Talbott's departure. Magnus says he likes Carter in a role where he sits out in the flat, and he missed spring practices, so you're hoping he can just be a nickel back and not have to play significant snaps on the island. Then there's Ramon Taylor. He dreamed of going to Michigan, and that came true when Hoke was putting together a last-minute class and wondered, as we all had, what Indiana was doing with a 4-star...yoink. He's another mite who is listed now at 183 (up from 167 last year), a plausible weight for a Big Ten cornerback. He's also listed at 5'10 which he's not. But he likes to hit and also doesn't have Robot Hips. As a recruit he drew a comparison to a shorter James Rogers; make of that what you will but I say it suggests he fits into Rogers's position. Taylor played early last year (that photo's from EMU), mostly at nickel, and I think he too is destined to be that more than either outer corner spot.
Blake Countess isn't huge, and you want your better guy at the field, but this distinction can be overstated. In the event of an Avery-Floyd injury combo, Michigan will probably lean on Countess to cover the other team's best receiver and whichever mini Cass Tech kid is most ready will be in a better position to start than either of the young nickelbacks. Next year the cavalry arrives.
In case of emergency: This spot is young. They're also not-big. What they lack in being young and non-big however, they make up for by being "good" and "extant." That begins with Countess, whom I gave 4 stars because that was the level he was playing at (about equal with Floyd) by the end of last year. The upside is tantalizing for us now, though it remains upside. Making Woolfolk obsolete last year was one hell of a statement, and it's because of that entrance that I'm more filled with trepidation over losing Blake than I reasonably should be.
The reason not to be in total fear is the little we've seen and heard about the other remaining corners from his class (Greg Brown has joined the banner on top of this post) is that they're good, in the way little mite corners are supposedly good everywhere else but here because seriously we have been burned on this so many times.
Every year I involuntarily pick a guy on the team nobody's talking about to get overly excited about for no reason, and this year that somebody is Delonte Hollowell. That's him in the Nebraska photo above and the reason he was playing on special teams against Nebraska when we had all sorts of other corners eating eligibility is he played his way out of a redshirt. I don't yet know what's Hoke's baseline for doing such a thing, however either the coaches are so sure they will be able to find plenty of great CBs to fill the 2015 depth chart (which their 2013 class seems to suggest they were right), or more likely, Hollowell met some standard of what he needs to do to play.
That standard can be few other things than "is 2nd on the depth chart" and there my reasoning stands. Courtney Avery would be here if something happens early I guess. I think you'll be seeing Hollowell spelling Countess either way.
In case of dire emergency: Terry Richardson is the mite-iest Cass Tech dust mite yet. He has the power to shrink to the size of a neutrino and hide out among the other atoms that make up a receiver's garments, reappearing in time to make a crucial interception. However being only a handful of planks has its drawbacks, like accidentally passing through the Earth's gravitational field, and Whitley/Howard syndrome. The true freshman comes with high recruiting bona fides, so if you see him jumping up the depth chart we may have another Countess here.
In case of emergency: For most teams the nickel corner will replace the SLB (Jake Ryan), though in Michigan's case we seem to pull the Will (Desmond Morgan) just as often. Later in the year that became more usual as Michigan went with an aggressive nickel package featuring a nickelback and Ryan/Beyer/Clark with a hand down (a 5-1-5 look with 4-2-5 personnel that we called Michigan's "Okie."). The nickel will cover the slot, usually has help over the top, and must be there to tackle in space when spread outfits isolate him against the slot or RB. Michigan played a lot of nickel in 2003 (Leon Hall) and 2006 (Brandon Harrison), and it led to some 38-0 scores against various Indiana teams. You'll remember we came out in mostly 4-2-5 personnel against Northwestern last year, but it didn't work; in the second half Jake Ryan was inserted and allowed to terrorize (at this point he dished it out equally to friend and foe). Early in the season T.Gordon and Avery split duties at nickel, and Carvin Johnson was the free safety. This year Avery is again the designated nickel guy, however expect others from the safety and CB corps to rotate in there.
The nominal "other" is Raymon Taylor (see above), who played a good bit last year at this spot. He is small but so was Harrison. You also might as well pencil in RS Freshman Tamani Carter here since his long-term future is at nickel.
In case of dire emergency: Nickel draws from the CB depth charts (and can from the safety ones as well) so if Avery and a backup are hurt there's an endless parade of other guys. You'll see moonlights of most of the backups here regardless, as it's a way to get a young cornerback playing time and tackling experience without exposing to deep responsibility. If The Dude in Section 2 Eating Fat Free Pretzels is tapped, well, so long as the pretzels are fat free and he stayed in a Holiday Inn Express and whatnot. The 2009 depth chart across the secondary really was unprecedented; if it happens again then it is 2009 and we can all go punch each other in the dong.
* Never Forget Legend (years in parentheses are the last season the guy would have helped had he not left/gone down/whatever).
TOP ROW: T-Wolf (2010), Mike Williams (2011), Boubacar Cissoko (2011), Adrian Witty (2011), Vladimir Emilien (2013), Jared Van Slyke (2011).
SECOND ROW: J.T. Turner (2013), Terrence Talbott (2013), Carvin Johnson (2013), Cullen Christian (2013), Demar Dorsey (2013), Ray Vinopal (2013).
BOTTOM ROW: Greg Brown (2014 or '15), Crying Biff the Wolverine, Donovan Warren (2010), Never Forget Guy.