The NFL preseason is officially underway, and with mandatory roster cuts (down to 75) set for August 26th, now is a good time to check in with the former Wolverines currently playing in the league. After scouring the interwebs, here's my best guess at where each Michigan representative stands as we near the start of the season.
Locks To Make It
Jason Avant, WR, Carolina. After being relegated to decoy duty in Chip Kelly's offense for Philadelphia in 2013, Avant—who boasts the lowest drop percentage in the NFL over the last three years—should be one of Cam Newton's top targets with his move to the Panthers.
Tom Brady, QB, New England. Brady threw for over 4,300 yards with 25 touchdowns last season while working with a very raw receiving corps. It was universally considered a down year. I think he's gonna make it, y'all.
Alan Branch, DE, Buffalo. Branch was an integral member of the D-line rotation for the Bills last season, recording 39 tackles, and he should reprise that role working behind up-and-coming star Marcell Dareus again this year.
Stevie Brown, FS, New York Giants. After finishing second in the NFL with eight interceptions in 2012, Brown missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. He's back from the injury and expected to start at free safety.
Larry Foote, ILB, Arizona. The longtime Steeler—Foote has played 11 of his 12 NFL seasons in Pittsburgh—was cut in the offseason, but quickly found a home in Arizona, which lost both of their starting ILBs from last season. He's currently atop the depth chart, and even if he doesn't hold that spot, he should stick around to provide veteran leadership for a young position group.
Jonathan Goodwin, C/G, New Orleans. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Goodwin and Tim Lelito, the two players competing to start at center, are "certain to make the final roster." Goodwin's ability to play both center and guard gives him extra job security, even at 35 years old, as does his relatively cheap one-year deal.
Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati. While Hall tore his right Achilles tendon last season, just two seasons removed from tearing his left Achilles, he's back in the starting lineup as Cinci's slot corner, a spot he plays about as well as anybody in the league when healthy. Barring further injury, his spot is very much safe.
David Harris, ILB, New York Jets. Jets head coach Rex Ryan called Harris "the most underrated player in the league" after he was left of the NFL Network's top 100 players list for 2014. Yeah, he's safe.
Junior Hemingway, WR, Kansas City. Even though Hemingway missed a good deal of training camp with a hamstring injury, he came right back and was a prime target for QB Alex Smith out of the slot. This very thorough rundown of the Chiefs' roster situation has Hemingway safely on the team—in fact, he should start in the slot—and that doesn't look likely to change.
Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville. Though Jacksonville used the #3 overall pick on QB Blake Bortles, Henne started the first preseason game, and the Jaguars higher-ups insist there's no QB controversy. Bortles is the QB of the future; for now, however, this is Henne's job.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee. First-round picks don't get cut in their rookie seasons, especially when they're competing for starting jobs.
Jake Long, OT, St. Louis. Long is coming back from a torn ACL and MCL, so he's been held out so far in the preseason, but he's on track to make a surpringly quick return. Also, he's Jake Long, which should be enough.
Ryan Mundy, S, Chicago. Even though the Bears have shuffled their safeties around, Mundy has seen the most action on the first team of anyone, and he can play both free and strong safety in their system. He started the preseason strong, picking off a pass in the opener.
Michael Schofield, OG/OT, Denver. Third-round picks also don't get cut in their rookie season, except in very unusual circumstances. Considering Schofield is "in the mix" at both left guard and right tackle, it looks like he'll be a critical backup at the very least in Denver.
LaMarr Woodley, DE, Oakland. After seven productive years in Pittsburgh, Woodley was unceremoniously released by the Steelers over the offseason, and the Raiders were happy to get him. He provides a major upgrade from them at DE, a spot that may suit him better than 3-4 OLB, where he played in Pittsburgh.
Charles Woodson, S, Oakland. At 37, Woodson came back to Oakland, where he's beloved by the fanbase. He'll play safety there, and he is Charles Woodson, so he'll play well until he decides it's time to hang up the cleats.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the list.]
Die, work productivity! Die before the might of The Great Thursday of the Basketballing (also: hockey), and the grilling of former football players on things of interest.
The Celebrity Mods: By seniority, Todd Howard (CB, 1998-'01); Brandon Williams (CB, 1999-'02), who wrangled them all together; Tim Massaquoi (WR/TE, 2001-'05); Jordan Kovacs# (S, 2009-'12); and Michael Schofield (OL, 2009-'13). They'll be in and out throughout the day.
# = never gets to live it down.
The Sponsor: As they did last year, our official fantasy game partner DraftStreet stepped up. If you're getting bored between games today, head on over to their dashboard and sign up for any of their games. That link goes to the NBA one I just started. Or just check in on your team for the $40k (or $20k if you came late) tourney we've been on about all week.
The Cause: We've got a bunch of former players coming by today to answer your questions, yap about the ballgames with you, and support the Go Blue Bowl, on April 4.
Flier (click to see list of players attending, etc.):
It's a series of evening flag football games at Pioneer between teams coached by former Michigan players. Two teams will be made up of sponsors and you can still get in on that. The event benefits Marlin Jackon's Fight for Life Foundation.
The Schedule: As we get going it'll be general discussion time while the Ohio State-Dayton (12:15) and Wisconsin-American (12:40) are on, continuing that through Pitt-Colorado (1:40), and Cincy-Harvard (2:10). At 3pm we'll switch to the hockey game vs Penn State, go to Michigan State's game after that, and that should carry us to the Michigan-Wofford game tonight.
GO BLUE! Always.
If they're going to do it, might as well be Gardner. [Fuller]
Schedule for roundtable Legends jerseys:
Akron: Brian Cook switches to #1
Minnesota: Seth Fisher will wear #2
Nebraska: Mathlete shall don #77
Ohio State: Blue in South Bend changes to #7
30 seconds before the end of the season: Ace Anbender will change to #32
Brian started to mention this in the game column but I thought it warranted some obsession. So now that ol' 98 is unretired and #12 has once again been abandoned before reaching its seniority* I'd like your thoughts on the Luminaries Numbers. Would you run the Interesting Integer program differently? Which have you been happy with, and which annoyed you the most?
|To infinitely weird numbers and beyond!
[Photo sent in by Scott Rains]
Brian: I would cleave as closely to the old numbers' origins as I could. 98 would be a skill guy, as would 47 and 21, 11 would be on the defensive line, 2 would be a defensive back. Ford's number would be some sort of DL/LB since it can't be an OL and the front seven on D is a little thing. I'd avoid switching anyone to those numbers after they'd been established. You can get it after your freshman or sophomore year, but after that your number is your number. Kovacs is 32, dammit, and Gallon is 10.
I was most happy with Gardner as 98, because that is weird and weird is good. Weird makes Michigan not Generic Sporting Experience. I am least happy with Funchess switching to 87, because who has any association with 19? Well, you would have. And shouldn't 87 be a lot more rough and tumble? Yes. To get the 87 you should have to sass the president.
Wait. No. I was least happy with Kovacs switching to 11 with two games left in his career because I think Kovacs should have his jersey legend'd right now and handed to any walk-on who finds playing time outside of the offensive line. 32, man. 32.
Actually it was Ford who sassed the tight end.
[Photo from HTTV Kramer article, courtesy of Gerald R Ford Presidential Library]
[After the jump: Un-retire 77!]
Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.
Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster
It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either
the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.
Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.
Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.
It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.
Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.
Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.
[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]
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.
It came and went with one piece of news—Antonio Poole's departure—and a lot of mean questions for Urban Meyer. Brady Hoke said Brady Hoke things, like eight wins is "unacceptable" and anything other than winning the Big Ten is "failure." The usual.
The interesting thing
Gordon needs to be the new Kovacs
In there you've got Kovacs confirmation:
"[Jordan Kovacs] is a guy that on film doesn't look that special, not compared to some of the guys out there, but ask our coaches and there was no one they respected more. Our defensive coordinator said he could play for our team any day because he's just so smart, such a great leader, and he plays mistake-free football. Sure enough we play them and you just can't get anything past him. He doesn't go for ball-fakes, doesn't buy play-action, and every time you look downfield, he's there, just waiting for it."
Unfortunately, that's immediately followed by a statement that Thomas Gordon may be a better athlete but was "very average" and that it was all about Kovacs.
On Frank Clark:
"We saw some film of him from early in the season and then some stuff from the last few games, and he was a different player. When we saw him, he was motivated. He played pissed off, and he was really a force."
Come on, hype, be true. I don't know who that could be, since I don't remember Clark having a major impact in any game save Ohio State, and that impact was not exactly a block-shedding spectacular:
On the offensive side of the ball, here is something you probably already know but it's good to get it confirmed:
"The thing that really stood out to us was how bad their guards were at pulling. Half the time the running back would be the first guy to the hole and we had a linebacker waiting there. They're supposed to be paving the way but they were so sloppy and so out of position even when they were out ahead you could simply sidestep them or outmuscle them because they had lost their leverage."
Sad face. Michigan needs to improve drastically there, and probably well. In other news, Funchess is delicately called a finesse player and marveled at as a "freak". And yeah, we were weirded out by this Gallon thing too:
"I don't know how tall [Jeremy Gallon] is but that kid can really sky. We were watching film after a game we lost and our coaches were really hard on one of our guys because he lost a jump ball to Gallon, but then the next week he did it again, and then the next week again. That guy is little but he can play."
Offensive line: set-ish
oblig "Ben Braden is preposterously large" picture via Tim Sullivan
The other thing emerging from the roundtables is that the battle to start at guard has been basically resolved—it's Braden along with Kalis.
Hoke confirmed Thursday that physical redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis have separated themselves at left and right guard, respectively. That development was anticipated.
"I don't know if you ever feel great until you get through a season with new guys, but I like the work ethic of Kalis and Braden and those two guys from a genetics standpoint, for what we're looking for in an offensive lineman," the coach said during the second day of Big Ten media days at the Chicago Hilton.
Graham Glasgow is now pushing Jack Miller at center:
At center, Lewan was quick to insist people shouldn't write off walk-on Graham Glasgow. "He's 6-6 and nasty. He does whatever you ask him to do. If it's the end of a long practice and they want us back out there, he's the first one."
Take what you will from this:
"(Morris) came to campus a little bit earlier than some of the guys," Hoke said during a breakout session during Big Ten media days at the Chicago Hilton. "From what I know, he's had a good summer to this point. I think he's done a nice job learning. I think Devin's done a nice job with him. I think (fellow QB candidate) Brian Cleary's done a nice job with him.
"He'll be in good shape coming into fall camp."
Hopefully he won't be needed to do anything more than mop up.
Can't be going to the bars with doctor pig
the internet has a hit for "gary busey pig." go internet
Lewan on Darrell Funk, who looks way too much like Gary Busey to be so relentlessly controlled:
"He has never told a joke in his entire life. The man has never told a joke, ever, but he is so funny. He's hilarious. He's so dry - he'll walk into a meeting and say, 'OK guys, couple of things - can't be going to the bars, guys. Can't be doing that. You like going to the bars, Bosch? Can't be doing that.' It's like, What? His delivery cracks me up."
Where do you find a pig? Craigslist, of course. The linemen pooled their money and spent $250 for a teacup pig. As for the robust name?
"I don't know," he said. "I just wanted my pig to have a Ph.D."
So say we all.