How are you coming together?
"We're coming together. We are coming together. You know, every day is a work in progress because I think we're so critical and emphatic about doing everything right that when something gets corrected or something gets finally taught to these young guys, now you might spring a leak somewhere else. I guess what I'm saying is we're not ready to play today. I am really excited and really impressed with how, for the most part, we've come out every day and had energy and tried to get better. We've played with some physicality. i don't know that there's a position or a guy that you're looking to count on and say, 'Oh boy, that was bad.' You probably say, 'you've got to step this way' or 'your hands aren't here.' The next play they're going to do it right. That's what keeps you really excited about this group of kids."
- Brennen Beyer and Derrick Green have boo boos. They sound minor and are expected back as early as Saturday.
- Allen Gant's move to SAM has been confirmed.
- MGoLeadingQuestion reveals that Devin Gardner loves the pistol formation and that they are running read options out of it still.
"Day four, shoulder pads and helmets for the second day. Full pads tomorrow. Not doing any tackling or anything like that, but a lot of good competition. Hasn't changed much. Guys are competing, learning the system a little more, especially when you've got some guys who have only been here a year, so they're going through that process. Things happen fast, so they have to adjust. When you have to adjust on both sides, tracking the line of scrimmage as an offensive lineman, we have to do a better job of. Defensively, we have to make sure we're putting ourselves in position to feed the defense and leverage the defense. It's pretty easy against barrels when you do that, but when you start doing it with live bodies, we have to do a better job of that and not give up any big plays. I think all the guys are competing very well. It's really been physical. We'll be in full pads tomorrow. The first doubles on Saturday will be good for us."
<More after the jump>
"First one of the year, huh? Here we go."
Here we go.
"Well it seems like we've been practicing for two months already and we've only had three. I don't know if that's a sign of old age or just the intensity of how we're going, but it's really good to be out here. It's good to be practicing again."
There hasn't been a whole lot of yelling. It's a lot more instructing. Do the kids seem to be on message?
"Well our style of coaching is teaching. And I think if you compare our staff -- I don't think a lot of times you have to do a lot of yelling. This team that we have right now is trying to do it right in every way. When a team's trying to do that, whether they're really young or making mistakes because they're young, as long as they're showing the effort that they are, there's really no reason to yell at them. You just have to correct them. When you have a young team, you have to be a great teacher. That's what our staff is really working hard to do."
So the effort is there?
"Yes. I've been really pleased. Now we don't have pads on yet obviously, and a lot of times what happens with programs, when pads come on, sometimes some programs slow down. I don't think that's going to happen with this team. This team seems to really really embrace and has bought into 'we must play as hard as we can on every play, and we have to get 11 bodies to the football.' When you watch practice with not pads on, we're getting 11 bodies to the football. We're getting really really good effort, so that's been positive."
<No pads. Nothing to see after the jump.>
left: Upchurch, right: Fuller, not Jamar Adams.
After last week's roundtable, Heiko and I got into an argument over which safety position Gordon will play this year, and whether we've all been wrong to assume that the "Kovacs position" was indeed going straight to Jarrod Wilson. Let's investigate that.
Through various defenses this site has covered, I have kept defaulting to "free" to describe whatever guy is the deep man, and "strong" to refer to the one who typically plays up. With Mattison's—I'm sorry—Michigan's defense these days those terms are becoming such misnomers that we may want to stop using them.
Michigan aligns their safeties to the boundary, not the strength of the formation, so "strong" and "weak" stuff for Michigan's D usually means "field" and "boundary."
Using monuMental's program again. Beyer is at SAM just to avoid Gordonian confusion
With the offense on its left hash the "strong" side is to the field. Here's where you need your more athletic guys who can cover more ground. When the offense is on the opposite hash Michigan flips the personnel:
Everyone knows where to go as soon as the ball is placed, and then they'll move around to match what the offense shows. Whatever the offense may gain from constantly shifting the strength of their formation opposite what Michigan aligns to, the expectation is they'll lose that by squeezing their space.
The front seven isn't so predictable; most often they will align so that the strong side is with the Y tight end—usually the "strong" side of the formation—to preserve the appropriate matchups. However when the formation flips the safeties hardly ever go with it. The coaches have said they want the safeties to eventually be interchangeable, though with such a disparity in makeup between Kovacs and any other guy on the roster the roles have been more defined. The biggest change from 2011 to 2012 was Kovacs did progressively more and more in coverage. You could see it in the dramatic shift in Kovacsian tackles as the linebackers got better.
For the safeties this means the actual "strong" safety will align to the field. He'll have more space to cover and also more guys to deal with. He's more likely to end up one-on-one with a slot receiver. The boundary safety will be more likely to draw a tight end or someone out of the backfield.
What was Kovacs Last Year?
Kovacs was the boundary safety. He aligned to the weak side and usually lined up a few steps closer to the line of scrimmage than did Gordon. Here's screencaps from the first two plays of the Outback Bowl to illustrate:
That's not to say this was written in stone. Two snaps later SC aligned with trips to the strong side and Gordon came up to take away anything short and easy for the slot receiver:
No, the TE is not allowed to line up two yards behind the L.O.S. #SEC #CHEATERS
This screamingly illegal formation was a touchdown as Ryan and Gordon both followed the inside slot. Kovacs took the middle guy's post route and Raymon Taylor ended up 1-on-1 with the outside receiver and got burned.
This is a thing SC did a lot of in order to shift Michigan's defenders out of their core competencies. On the defensive last play of the game Kovacs again ended up the overhang guy where his speed deficiency could be exploited. You know how that ended. They weren't the only ones, though Michigan didn't always react the same way:
Same safety positions: Gordon is the deeper guy on the field side of the ball and the strong side of the formation—the position that's called "FS" on your EA Sports game—and Kovacs is the short, boundary guy that your game would call "SS." Note this time the front seven flipped so Morgan ended up over Eifert and Roh/Ryan were to the side of the Y tight end. So nothing is exact, but even when the formation flipped the safeties stuck to their roles. With the WLB to his side Gordon backed out to show Cov2 and ND ran a counter-right which picked on Clark; the linebackers shut it down.
Simple form: Kovacs was the boundary safety, Gordon was the field safety. What about this year?
What is Gordon This Year?
Sorry Heiko, but I think Gordon is still the nominal field safety. Here's the first snap of the 2013 Spring Game:
Gordon's the field, Wilson's the boundary. Jarrod Wilson has apparently inherited the Kovacs position while Gordon remains what he was. But something has changed. Spring Game play the fifth:
Yeah the front seven is flippy again but the safeties aren't: that is Gordon who has come up over the right TE (Williams) and is telling Wilson to "get back, get back!" Wilson then backed out of the screen. Now, the safeties switched roles plenty last year, but over the course of the Spring Game, I saw Wilson the overhang man more often than not, and this wasn't because the offense was overloading one side or another. I mean, this is a pretty straightforward Ace 2TE set.
So while Gordon's position hasn't changed, his role may have. Kovacs last year would often come down then have a deep cover responsibility. Or he'd be given complicated reads and be responsible for changing coverages on the fly much as an Air Raid offense changes receivers' routes based on what the defenders are doing after the snap. That's because he's Kovacs. The expectation this year is that Gordon will be doing much more of the fancy stuff while Wilson's job on most plays will be to not let anything over his head. The more Jarrod progresses, the more Michigan can have him do the fancy Ed Reed things and the less predictable the defense will be. Wilson may have taken Kovac's position, but for the most part Gordon has his job.
Orange indeed. (Title ref)
Every week we take this opportunity to do a roundtable obsessing about something, usually quarterback, center, non-Gallon receivers, and non-Gordon safety. This week we obsess about all those things.
The Depth Chart:
Center of everything: Brian Cook
Wide retweeter: Blue in South Bend
Fiddycentback: Seth Fisher
Left guardian of the database: Mathlete
Weaksnide lifehacker: Ace Anbender
Five-technical questions for you: Heiko Yang
And the question:
What position on each side will be most critical to the 2013 team's success?
Seth: We took this to mean the spot you're most focusing on with this team, not which is most important in general (otherwise everyone would say quarterback and associate editor/business manager). Also to avoid obvious things that are obvious, it is stipulated that all are agreed Gardner hurting ouches are the very worst things.
Brian: Even without the possibility of injury this is Gardner by a mile. On one hand, here's a guy who got moved to wide receiver last year and has five games under his belt. He was recruited as a dual threat guy and won't really be one.
On a couple others, dude would have had a top ten passer efficiency mark last year if he'd had enough attempts, and without any cupcakes padding out his stats. Except Iowa. He's spent the offseason hanging out with QB gurus from coast to coast, impressing NFL scouts as a top junior QB, not getting kicked out for boozing, that sort of thing.
Blue in South Bend: Outside of Devin Gardner (who remains the correct answer no matter how you phrase the question), I'm keeping an eye on the tight ends. The depth chart is really thin with the departures of Mike Kwiatkowski and Brandon Moore. They don't really have a game-ready "U" TE, and AJ Williams is the only guy on the roster who has shown the ability to kinda sorta sustain a block (and even that is... yeah). Michigan ran more 2+ TE sets and almost no 0 TE sets with Denard completely out of the lineup last year, and the odds are pretty good that Borges wants to get back to that this year.
|But can he kinda-sorta catch? (Fuller)
P.S. What do you think of my new caption macro? Captions!
He may either have to get creative (such as putting Dennis Norfleet on Terry Richardson's shoulders under a large trenchcoat jersey) or abandon some aspects of the playbook before even taking them for a test-drive. I think we'll see some position switching to deepen the ranks, and we'll see a guy or two (cough cough Wyatt Shallman cough) moved to a U-TE/H-back role to give them some more flexibility.
On the defensive side, the answer is Devin Gardner. Beyond that, strong safety is worth watching. I really like Jarrod Wilson, and he looks good in the back end, but I don't know whether he can fill Jordan Kovacs' slack in run support. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks he's more of a free safety. If you re-watch the spring game, you'll notice that Wilson made exactly one tackle, and it was him hopping on Funchess' back until the whistle blew. Neither his recruiting profile nor his 2012 play screams "omnipresent tackling machine." If it becomes a problem, will it force Mattison to run more 'even' coverage schemes (cover-2 or quarters)? Will Thomas Gordon's nose for the football be enough to compensate? Or will we just return to the days where 40 yard running plays are a thing that happen sometimes? SO MANY QUESTIONS AND ITS STILL JULY.
But seriously... Devin Gardner.
Seth: Yes, Gardner Gardner Gardevinygardner has to work out but I don't know what you guys are so worried about that occurring. Most fears have been answered. Why was he moved to receiver? Because they wanted his athleticism on the field, and you know he was taking QB reps all that time. What about the awful spring games? He had a good one. No experience? He started last year against four groups of relatively competent human beings plus Iowa and put up a 160 QB rating. Can he match Denard's production? In five starts against better competition last year his metrics were better than Robinson's. Can his superior passing ability make up for Denard's effect on the running game? In the three games Brian bothered to UFR the running plays with Devin at QB indeed weren't as effective but the passing made up the difference and then some:
[Hit the jump for the table, Mathlete, Heiko and Ace]
Heininger Certainty Principle passed its first two tests with QWash and Campbell (Upchurch)
It’s our weekly roundtable to talk about things that Michigan fans—and by Michigan fans I mean just me—are obsessing about. In honor of the family road trips you just got back from, this week’s it’s a great big “Are we there yet?” In the game:
PRESS AGENT #4
SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR #89
STATISTICAL ANALYST/THERAPIST #58
In 2011 Michigan was 6th in scoring defense, 17th in total defense, and 16th in defensive FEI. In 2012 Michigan finished 19th in scoring defense, 13th in total D, and 26th in defensive FEI. Do you consider that treading water, an expected fall given the DL graduations and tougher schedule, or a veiled improvement? And where do you see this trend going in 2013?
Seth: I admit this topic was a little brought on by panic after getting persistently torched in NCAA 14, which could just mean that Desmond Morgan is way better at playing as Desmond Morgan than I am.
Michigan didn't take a significant step back in 2012, which I would consider a victory. Replace WMU, SDSU, and Virginia Tech with Air Force, Alabama, and South Carolina, and you're gonna have a bad time. Factor in a regression to the mean on the fumble recoveries and the lack of Mike Martin, and those defensive numbers look pretty good to me. They actually gave up about 3 ppg fewer in conference in 2012 despite a tougher road/away split (though obvious BIG TENNNNN caveat applies). 2012 also felt more repeatable, though I have no objective means to demonstrate this.
I don't think 2013 is the Great Leap Forward, but I think we'll see continued progress. The numbers will probably look shinier if for no other reason than the easier schedule, but I'd bet on the defense being 'better' as well. The secondary will be more athletic, which should go a long way toward helping combat the 2012 struggles with spread teams. Hopefully Dymonte Thomas can indeed be deployed as the spread neutralizer. The ILBs will probably still have some struggles with the learning curve (and the training table), but last year's experience should lessen the pain. The meat of the schedule doesn't arrive until November, by which point Jake Ryan will hopefully be settling back onto his throne of skulls and flow. Questions remain on the D-Line, but Will Heininger. /Offers a small running back as a sacrifice to the Mattison. Praise be unto the Mattison. May his swag reign for a hundred seasons.
Mathlete: When I was preparing my pre-season projections, I compared the the 2013 Michigan defense profile to teams from the last several years, the nearest comparison, 2012 Michigan. In terms of production returning, recruiting profile and prior year performance this year's defense looks a lot like last year's squad. The turnover randomness could swing things a bit and with a strong group of underclassmen and Greg Mattison, there is certainly potential for upside.
The schedule should help mitigate the statistical rank downside risk, but if there was going to be a year where things took a step back, this looks like the only candidate. With that said, I don't see that happening. Defenses are a lot more stable and predictable in performance than offenses. Look at experience, look at recruiting profile, check to see that there are no stuffed animals on the sidelines and you should have a pretty good idea where your defense will end up. I rank this year's defense as the 10th most talented (based on age and recruiting profiles) in the country and they return nearly three quarters of their production from last year's squad. It appears we caught a break with the schedule and the timing of Jake Ryan's ACL tear with a Tommy Rees led Notre Dame offense the only major game he should miss. There is always a chance things don't turn out, but I don't see anything that says this year will be a major step back and if anything a few areas that could be signs that 2013 could be a step forward.
Seth: You guys keep denigrating my skills at videogame defense, as if you're not just mashing the "plow" button with Quinton Washington every play while trusting Gibson to run your defensive backs. To answer my question above, I thought Washington's emergence was very significant. The drop-off from Martin and Van Bergen to not them was going to be steep, and it happened but the linebackers improved to such a degree as to make it null. I blame the schedule and losing Countess early to any discrepancy (J.T. Floyd wasn't as solid against the Kenny Bells as he had been in 2011 vs. the big leapers). I also blame offensive regression for the difference in scoring D.
Things are still coming along. Other than Air Force—blessedly we don't face one of those again—the defense didn't have any game where they performed significantly below expectations. Mattison didn't like the Nebraska game but raise of hands who thinks that was on the D? Northwestern is a legitimately good offense, even when Trevor Siemian isn't turning into an unstoppable throw god.
I'm less concerned about who rotates in at 5-tech since there's a lot of meat for the meat god there, and Heitzman wasn't so bad last year. What worries me is what we'll look like early. Jibreel Black versus Notre Dame's offensive line, and Jarrod Wilson versus a Brian Kelly passing attack: those are what scare me. Wilson will be good one day but right now he appears to be a big dropoff from Kovacs and needs some starts in a bad way. Later in the year I think we'll have more faces appearing at the 3- and 5-tech rotations, with contributions from Wormley, Henry, Godin, Strobel, and backup options including a highly regarded true freshman, or the other Glasgow, or even some of that Washington-Pipkins action they keep denying. They'll be a much better defense when they face Ohio State than when Notre Dame comes to town; in the aggregate they’ll look better in yardage thanks to competition but tread water otherwise.
Blue in South Bend: I think having Countess back will be huge. I'd remind you that with him in the game, we held Alabama to a three-and-out (miniscule sample size National Champions wooooo). I do worry about whether Wilson can prevent the home run plays the way Kovacs did, but overall I do think the secondary will be a surprising strength of this team.
/Offers a second small running back to a dormant but extant Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God.
/Mashes "plow" button.
Anyway: I spent a large chunk of last offseason fretting about that fumble recovery rate and expecting something less than impressive as a result, and that was kind of borne out. Michigan did take a half-step back last season, because that's the kind of thing that happens when you go from Mike Martin to one guy with the vague hope of beating a blocker one on one (Jake Ryan). Michigan explored the outer limits of how good a defense can be when you have almost no natural pass rush or athleticism in the secondary. Turns out the answer is "actually not that bad, at least compared to the GERG years."
I think Michigan will get back that half-step this year. There appear to be two major upgrades in the personnel turnover: Countess replaces JT Floyd and James Ross functionally replaces Kenny Demens. While I spent the duration of Demens's career talking about his surprisingly good coverage, Ross should blow by him as a player right now. Floyd spent most of his career on the edge of getting bombed; though he managed to come through repeated targetings mostly okay the fact that every offensive coordinator on the schedule decided to spin that slot machine was indicative. Meanwhile, Frank Clark and Jake Ryan post-injury should adequately replace Jake Ryan.
I'm still not seeing a great defense what with no pass rush from the interior three guys unless Jibreel Black blows up in a way that would frankly shock me. I don't see how a 280 pound three-tech holds up in the Big Ten, don't see much production out of SDE, and while those spots were not exactly gangbusters last year, a lack of developed talent on the defensive line remains a problem.
2014 is when this can get nasty. Michigan returns 8 starters, losing only five guys off the entire two deep: Washington, Black, Cam Gordon, Avery, Thomas Gordon. They add Jabrill Peppers, and Hoke's first recruiting class will finally be ready to infiltrate the starting lineup in earnest. A senior will have--get this--been in the same system his entire career. Craig Roh just started weeping uncontrollably and doesn't know why. He suspects why, he always does, though.
LATE BREAKING Heiko: Well, I guess I'll put in my two cents.
/Doesn't receive change.
I love the defense. I get weirdly excited when Michigan's defense takes the field, because I love watching a well-executed stop take the air out of the other team. The comforting thing about the defense over the past couple years is that they always seem to get better as the game goes on. In Michigan's seven losses since 2011, how many of them can be blamed primarily on the defense (i.e. defense let the offense down)? Only one: the Outback bowl vs. South Carolina, where Michigan was playing without its top two corners and therefore got bombed by SC's receivers.
In fact I think watching the defense improve last year after losing Martin and Van Bergen was something I clung to after it became apparent that the offense was in for a season-long struggle against good teams.
Are we ready to expand the Heininger Certainty Principle to apply to the entire defense? I think so. In contrast to last year's interior OL and tailbacks, no part of the defense has failed to improve over the course of the season. We already know about the D-line, but the linebackers and secondary each had question marks about their viability also at one point or another. Remember when "linebacker hesitancy" was a thing? Or when everyone panicked after Countess's ACL injury? I mean, here we are in 2013, and it's like we knew all along about Quinton Washington and Desmond Morgan and Raymon Taylor. High five.
Maybe it's because I've been primed to consider any defensive competency the best thing ever (I came to Michigan in 2008), but I think we're already at a place where we can count on Michigan smothering most opponents. Depending on how quickly guys like Chris Wormley, Dymonte Thomas, and Jarrod Wilson get up to starter speed, it'll be a question of whether Michigan ends up in the top 10 or top 20, and I think most of us will happily take that.