there would have to be some to wash away
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Keith Heitzman||So.*||Quinton Washington||Sr.*||Jibreel Black||Sr.||Frank Clark||Jr.|
|Chris Wormley||Fr.*||Ondre Pipkins||So.||Willie Henry||Fr.*||Mario Ojemudia||So.|
|Matt Godin||Fr.*||Richard Ash||Jr.*||Ryan Glasgow||Fr.*#||Taco Charlton||Fr.|
Depth chart shows everybody just because.
Michigan has promise, depth, and even experience at defensive tackle that reaches three-deep. Greg Mattison's spent fall camp telling people that he feels he can rotate three-deep everywhere across the line, and I almost believe him. Aside from nose tackle, where it's doubtful Richard Ash gets a lot of playing time, Michigan does have three guys who can play.
At nose they just have an above-average returning starter and the sophomore year of five-star Ondre Pipkins. That'll be an okay platoon, I think. Three-tech is dodgier, with 280-pound Jibreel Black trying to hold up a year after 280-pound Jibreel Black was flipped out to end late so that Washington could make his way into the lineup. Even there they've got two guys they seem to like a lot behind Black.
It's weird, I know. Get used to it: this is a preview of what it's like when Hoke's recruiting classes finally take hold.
Instructed and instructor [unknown/Upchurch]
|slants for big TFL|
|painful looking tackle|
|and then SC never ran again|
|just UMass but still|
|pad level pt 2|
|refuses to get trapped|
|fights through scoop|
|sets up Ojemuda FF|
|pancaked vs ND|
|control and chuck|
|discards NEB OL|
|gets into the chest|
Will Heininger's progression from guy getting blown up against EMU to serious contributor and guy you worry a bit about replacing established this site's "Heininger Certainty Principle," which states that because of Will Heininger Michigan fans should have confidence that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison will get every ounce of talent out of their charges. That hypothesis graduated to theory when QUINTON WASHINGTON chiseled it in stone over the course of last season.
Washington was a converted offensive lineman with maybe a half-dozen snaps to his name when he was suddenly (and perhaps accidentally) announced as the starter at nose tackle when the Big Ten Network visited Michigan's practice. This caused the usual round of animated emoticons running in circles and a big "I don't know" in last year's preview:
I have no idea how Washington will do. … Washington is a redshirt junior and former touted recruit, so this could work out. Totally. Maybe.
So of course he was one of the strengths of the defense. Heininger Certainty Principle, you guys.
Washington was flat good last year. When I went back to the UFRs I had nearly as many clips for him as I did Jake Ryan, and in approximately the same proportion of good to bad. He combined power with a fair amount of penetration, and while he wasn't Mike Martin in the UFR charts he was a consistently positive presence. He was the top performer on the defense in the Alabama game, was only negative against Air Force (weird option cutting business) and Nebraska (a –1), and usually ended up solidly positive. His Notre Dame performance was a revelation:
Washington in particular was impressive with his repeated penetration. He's probably as shocked as anyone about this, so he's continually overrunning things, but whatever, man, he's blowing up blocking. I told you this would happen after UMass!
In fact I said that Washington seemed to play well but would obviously not do that against Notre Dame.
While it wasn't a secret All Big Ten season, he was probably better than any nose tackle in the league other than Kawaan Short and Jonathan Hankins. (And maybe Penn State's Jordan Hill; I didn't UFR a Penn State game last year.) Not bad for a guy who caused people to twitch a little bit when he was named the starter.
Along the way he did a number of impressive things. Here he clobbers a Purdue guard into a puller, who ends up clobbering the running back. Unsatisfied, he tries to put the guy in the band:
He gets under guys, rocks them back, and then can rip through at the proper moment:
When he got negatives, they were usually for getting hacked to the ground or not being mobile on stretch plays. Given his plus-level penetration I don't think the latter issue is set in stone. The balance thing isn't a huge problem. He's okay, he's just not Ryan Van Bergen.
Incremental improvement as a senior should get Washington's performance level to All Big Ten. As a nose tackle he may not have the requisite stats to get there, but I'll be surprised if he's not amongst the top guys in the league and a mid-round NFL draftee.
[After THE JUMP: depth! Undersized Jibreel Black! More depth! Seriously!]
GENERAL NOTE: I am not doing the chart because of Michigan's uniformz. It was just about possible to tell white guys from black ones and big ones from small ones but an awful lot of the time I had no idea if a player was Beyer or Roh, Morgan or Bolden, Pipkins or Washington, Clark or Black. I noted this early but eventually I just started going "eh." I did do the plus minuses in the chart but adding them up is an exercise in futility that people will take as gospel in a year. Nope.
It's not going to be that exciting anyway. Because of the nature of the game the linebackers and linemen all had very few opportunities to even get +/- and the secondary just got destroyed. If you want to imagine it: Black and Washington are good, Campbell was bad, Wilson got destroyed, as did Taylor, Kovacs and Gordon are moderately negative, and all the linebackers get 0-0-0.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan had some oddities going on but the exotic packages were kept to a minimum by their inability to substitute in the secondary and South Carolina consistently spreading the field. One thing of note was Michigan's frequent deployment of a 3-4, like so:
South Carolina was little threat to run—the starting tailback had 5 rushes for 6 yards and the only reason SC got anything on the ground was two Will Campbell busts on midline zone read plays—and Michigan used this to send four man rushes from a variety of angles. A GERG-like side effect was a large number of three- and even two-man rushes.
They did this a bit on passing downs. Note that the DT in there standing up is a linebacker:
As per usual I called this 3-3-5 nickel.
SUBTITUTION NOTES: Again because of the uniformz I'm partially guessing here. Mostly, actually. The line seemed to be the usual in four-man fronts but Michigan spent a big chunk of the game in that 3-4; when they did that it was Roh/Washington/Black as your first options on the line with Clark and sometimes Cam Gordon as the extra LB type. In the linebacking corps, Kenny Demens left early and never returned (probably), leaving Joe Bolden to pick up a ton of snaps.
The secondary lacked JT Floyd, of course, and Michigan responded by putting Avery and Taylor outside and really, really trying to avoid nickel packages. When they did run nickel—mostly on the last drive—they brought in Jarrod Wilson and shuffled Gordon or Kovacs down as the nickelback. This would end in disaster.
[After the jump: a big damn table and moaning about big plays.]
Were you pleased with your defense during the scrimmage on Saturday?
"I think there were some good things. I think we started off doing some real good things in the different situations that Brady put us in. The black zone, coming out, moving the ball. And then we had a kicking break and we did a lot of the kicking. I wasn't real happy with how we came back. It may seem like a little thing to a lot of people, but I relate that to coming out of the locker room at halftime. When you're a young team, all of those things have got to be addressed. You can't assume -- a veteran team, you'd know, 'Okay, let's turn it up guys. Here's the switch coming out.' You can see when you have a young team, they do a couple things good at times and then all of a sudden, you have to make sure they're hungry and they have to understand how to do it. They have to make sure they do their job every time."
- Boo boos are the worst.
- Fitz Toussaint has been named the starter at tailback. Act surprised.
- Ryan Glasgow and Willie Henry are backing up Jibreel Black at 3-tech. Wormley is strictly a 5-tech, and Tom Strobel has fallen off the depth chart it would appear.
- Heitzman, Wormley, and Godin are rotating at the 5-tech.
- Blake Countess is the nickel corner for the nickel package. That tentatively means Michigan is experimenting with a nickel package of Raymon Taylor (CB), Delonte Hollowell (CB), Blake Countess (NB), Thomas Gordon (S), and Courtney Avery (S).
- Cam Gordon has been proclaimed the No. 1 guy at SAM. I've been strongly predicting Beyer to beat out Cam Gordon, but perhaps this will not be case. We'll see what happens once game day rolls around, but for now I'll concede that I was wrong.
- In things I'm not so willing to concede, Hoke says that Ben Braden has moved to tackle (he and Magnuson are third in the tackle pecking order) yet remains a guard. While Braden certainly has the ability to play guard (and took snaps there in the scrimmage when Bryant was out), he has not been taking practice reps there for two weeks now, suggesting that Michigan wants him at tackle. Ultimately, none of this matters. It's Bryant or busted assignments.
"We had our last two-a-day practice. I thought we ended that part of it, as far as the two practices a day, in pretty good shape. Did a lot this morning. Physical this morning, physical this afternoon. I like how the kids are coming out and how they're competing with each other. We have 11 days until we kick the ball off, so we have to make sure our timing, playing with speed, playing fast, playing physical like we want to -- we get all those things accomplished. I like the leadership and where we're at."
Do you wish the weather had been this warm earlier in camp?
"Yeah. It would have been nice if it had a little more heat, and I think we'll get some more this week, which will be good for us."
Have you made any personnel decisions yet? Center? SDE?
"Jack [Miller] and Graham [Glasgow], obviously. Chris [Bryant] didn't participate the other night, but he's back out there today. We played Graham at a lot of guard, so today we played them both in there at center a little bit more. I think we're getting closer."
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.
The early enrollees to catch my eye were Dymonte Thomas, Jake Butt and Taco Charlton. Thomas played exclusively at the nickel spot; with Countess still not taking contact Avery mostly played outside. Anyway, Thomas's presence at the nickel is not unprecedented. They've wanted bigger guys there for a while, it seems. Michigan wanted to go with Thomas Gordon there before they determined he was needed at safety; Ohio State actually calls the spot their "star" linebacker, and it's usually featured safety-sized clubbers. Their current guy, Christian Bryant, may not wrap up but he will thump you if he gets a chance.
It seems like it would be hard to replace a long-term starter like Courtney Avery. In this situation, rumors that Avery is dogged by a chronic injury lend it some plausibility. Nickel is a spot at which freshman screwups are usually first downs, not touchdowns.
As everyone's already said, Charlton looks the part and then some. He was struggling in a drill before the scrimmage where half the OL would play half the DL on zone running, getting blown out of his assigned lane; once he got some time against the backup OL he dominated. Unless Cam Gordon's really good, he and Ojemudia will duke it out for the nickel DE spot Ryan's injury has vacated.
Butt looks like Funchess, except not quite as long. A redshirt would be ideal.
Here's some credence for Jake Ryan's mid-October recovery timeline: Chris Wormley tore his ACL in mid-August. Eight months later he took a bunch of contact snaps in the spring game. Mid-October is 7 months from Ryan's ACL tear.
Jibreel Black looked bigger than 276 pounds, frankly not far off Quinton Washington's girth. Michigan likes stunting him a lot, which is partially a way to take advantage of his quickness and partially a way to mitigate his lack of size. A stunt got that safety on the second play, as Clark and Black swapped. Both got past their guys, with Ross finishing up. Black's pressure helped force the near-INT from Morgan, too; he got a sack by shooting past Ben Braden.
Frank Clark and Taco Charlton had a hard time against Lewan and Schofield—no shame in that—and then started crubberating the backups. Since most of those backups are freshmen or walk-ons it's hard to get a read on how they'll do against mortal starters. Clark had a big cast on one hand, so increment your opinion of his performance.
Richard Ash made a couple plays, swimming past Glasgow on a Rawls run that broke outside because of poor contain; Keith Heitzman was able to beat the walk-ons but didn't do much against the starters. Matt Godin looked the part but has a ways to go. The SDE spot looks a little weak.
I didn't notice much from the nose tackles. I assume Washington is fine; Pipkins has another year apprenticing.
Linebacker Skynet is online?
That James Ross stick on Drake Harris mentioned in the previous post is becoming the most-discussed play from the spring game. It's as surprised as any of you are. MGoUser Michael Scarn picture-paged it, making the same assumption I did when I saw it: the linebackers are headed to the line of scrimmage as quickly as they are because this is a blitz.
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: according to mattison that wasn't an A-gap blitz
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: is that plausible?
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: what was it?
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: he said that was just them reading and reacting
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: they're that good
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: that's like skynet coming online
I don't think it's quite that. The blocking on this play is majorly screwed up. He's a screenshot from Mr. Scarn:
Jack Miller is in space, blocking no one. AJ Williams, at the bottom of the shot, isn't really blocking anyone either. He's moving past Ojemudia and only decides to block him once he sees air in front of him. Ojemudia should have to account for the QB if unblocked, so I think there's a reasonable case that you have two extra guys on the backside who should not be there, which then gets you the two extra unblocked linebacker sorts.
Trying to figure out what's going on with the defense is hard, then, because the play they're up against is a debacle. Yes, that's a little ominous. Let's ignore it!
It is nice that Ross reacts basically the instant Kalis tilts to pull. If this isn't a blitz, it is a killer read.
Whether this is over-aggression or Ross having magical pattern recognition is yet to be determined. What we've seen of him so far indicates the second.
Many eyes were on Gordon, including mine. I thought he did fine. In that aforementioned zone drill he was consistently getting the right amount of penetration into the backfield, holding the edge without opening up a crease inside of him. That ability to get the edge flashed on the negative Norfleet run. When deployed as a pass rusher, he was effective; nothing seemed to be on his head. Michigan will be fine at SAM.
FWIW, Brennen Beyer actually started. Gordon looked like a much better option, which isn't surprising since Beyer just got yanked back to SAM in the aftermath of the Ryan injury.
The safeties were not important. They got beat on the long Funchess catch (against Jeremy Clark, FWIW) and the Butt TD; most of the rest of the gains were to the outside. As we enter the post-Kovacs era that's a good sign. Jarrod Wilson is your tentative leader at the vacated safety spot. You might want to make that "heavy"—it seemed like they were running him out all the time in an effort to prep him for fall. Clark got more PT than Furman or Robinson, it seemed.
On the outside, Raymon Taylor gave way early after playing well. Usually the early hook is a sign of confidence in your abilities, so mark his starting spot in pen. Avery, Hollowell, Richardson, and freshman Douglas were the guys getting tested. Courtney Avery got beat on the opening play. That was admittedly a perfect throw that he could do nothing about once he had failed to get Darboh close enough to the sideline to cut off that space. That's a size mismatch. A little less salutary is getting beat by Jackson a couple times on comebacks and such. One of the memorable plays from last year's spring game was Countess having Jackson in his pocket for an interception; Avery was some distance from a not particularly fleet receiver. He did get a PBU on a bad Gardner throw underneath. That appears to be his comfort zone.
I was surprised at how well Delonte Hollowell showed. He broke on a lot of balls, getting some breakups, and he stuck pretty close to the shifty Gallon. I'm not sure how much that means when Michigan was dead set against playing him in the bowl game. Gallon is the perfect matchup for the tiny Hollowell. Bigger receivers will cause issues, and it's clear what kind of corners the new staff is after: big ones.
Terry Richardson got run over by Rawls. Hard to see him getting PT outside of passing downs, and it looks like Avery and Thomas are ahead of him on the nickelback depth chart.
Ross Douglas didn't stand out to me. During the anthem he was next to Taylor and seemed to be exactly the same height, FWIW.
Nothing much to note except that redshirt freshman punter Kenny Allen looked pretty good. I've heard he's been impressive in practice, as well. I'd imagine Matt Wile will keep the job since he has been a B, B+ option; if Allen takes it that's a good sign. Michigan looks set at that spot for a while.
Rittenberg notes that the fireworks were not on display:
Michigan fans didn't learn a ton about the 2013 team as the offense, as expected, was "very vanilla, very basic," as starting quarterback Devin Gardner put it.
If you're pining for the pistol, don't give up hope.
Also, Lewan noted some improvement from the line:
"We moved and established the line of scrimmage today, and I think that is one thing that we haven't seen in a while," senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "But what we do in the summer and do in fall camp is really going to define us as an offensive line."
Toussaint is still the leader at RB according to Borges:
"We went through half the year (in 2011), and we said, 'We're going through this doggone running back by committee deal.' And we finally decided, Let's put him in there, leave him in there and let's go,'" offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "Fitz came to the surface, and I think he will again (this year) before it's all said and done.
"He's certainly going to get a chance to prove it. I'll say that."
The starters were Brennen Beyer at SAM, Desmond Morgan at MIKE, and James Ross at WILL. I don't think Beyer is a starter-quality linebacker, and he didn't really make any plays. Morgan dropped an interception and failed to get depth on Jake Butt's touchdown catch, but he did look solid against the run. Ross looked fantastic at weakside linebacker, chasing down plays near the sideline and hitting running backs at the line of scrimmage. Cam Gordon looked like the superior player at SAM, made a nice tackle for loss on Dennis Norfleet, and blew up Butt on a Power. Joe Bolden looked solid at MIKE, but I'm concerned about the backup WILL position.