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9/11/2010 – Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24 – 2-0
The Daily's Sam Wolson.
Sometimes even the corner of the endzone is a perfect vantage point to see something, and we were right on line to see Dayne Crist heave up what looked like a punt in the general direction of a covered Kyle Rudolph. We saw Cam Gordon take the wrong angle, backtrack desperately to take a futile swat at the ball, and twist his body around as quickly as possible to chase Rudolph. From there it's a dull haze as Notre Dame stadium erupted. The public address announcer, normally as staid and even-handed as Carl Grapentine, finished relating the details by exclaiming something about the rainbow Providence had directed to appear above the stadium at that exact moment.
Michigan fans are no strangers to this sort of thing. Ask anyone who's been around the block a couple times about Notre Dame Stadium and you'll get a recounting of injustices cosmic and otherwise perpetrated on not only Michigan but the idea of free will. Find them in a quiet moment in the dead of winter and get a couple drinks in them and you might hear a rigidly controlled statement about how the things that happen to Michigan's football team in South Bend make the speaker just… I don't know… unsure about certain things. Doesn't matter if they're religious or not. If they are, it's the existence of a just and loving God. If they aren't, it's the absence of a wrathful one. Either way the intensity with which your conversation partner is focusing on the rim of his glass will be unsettling.
The last time I went was 2002. Michigan fumbled four times, committed ten penalties, missed a 32-yard field goal, gave up a safety on a Courtney Morgan holding call, saw a Carlyle Holiday fumble at the two ruled a touchdown, and lost when Navarre's first pass on Michigan's last-ditch drive was batted directly to a Notre Dame defender. Michigan lost 25-23; in their previous two outings Notre Dame hadn't scored an offensive touchdown. I wrote two things about it in the aftermath:
- An Every Three Weekly article titled "John Navarre Blamed For Offense, Defense, Kicking Game, Iraq, 9/11, Everything Else."
- The other half of the infamous article exchange with Blue Gray Sky, in which a small child utterly defeats me by saying "good game, mister" as I attempt to trudge my way home.
The thesis statement of the latter:
To a Michigan fan, every Irish loss over the past ten years has been due to an unfortunate confluence of unlikely events: fumbles, ridiculous refereeing, blocked punts, hilarious deflected passes, etc. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not (though it is): that’s what it feels like. It feels like Michigan has nothing to gain and everything to lose, and everything gets lost on a biannual basis.
When Kyle Rudolph crossed the goal line the thing I thought was not an unprintable string of expletives. It was "of course."
Before the season a reporter from the Hartford Courant called me up for a story he was doing on the UConn game, probably because he saw me as a way to tap into the zeitgeist of the Michigan fan. As these things usually go, he only used one sentence from a fifteen minute conversation. This left out what seemed to me like the most interesting bit of the conversation, where he asked what I thought Michigan football stood for, what made it special and unique.
I had no answer to this. I said "that sounds like a question a Notre Dame fan would love to answer"—which caused the reporter to laugh a little more heartily than objectivity would approve of—and then launched into a narrative that won't be unfamiliar to anyone who's been around here a while. The post titles say it all, really: "Empire of the Fallen." "You Were Killed By A Bear And I Am Sad."
I told the guy that my inability to answer that question any more was kind of the point. The thing that was is dead, having expired from natural causes after a long illness. The thing that replaced it wasn't really anything except incompetent.
Basic understanding of the Michigan zeitgeist is understanding that now there is no answer to the question. Advanced understanding adds that until the Horror there was no program in the country with a more confident answer to it, and puts the two together to find a large number of sad pandas.
And then with 40 seconds left Denard Robinson stared down a blitzing, unblocked Manti Te'o and fired a dart to Roy Roundtree for fifteen yards on third and anything but a field goal attempt. Michigan had done its best to gaffe its way out of it like this uniquely frustrating rivalry demands, but after that it was academic. You try to stop Denard Robinson from going two yards, or seventy-two, or eighty-seven.
The rainbow was not Providence, except insofar as Denard Robinson might be it. It was the Shoelace bat signal, or rather one of many Shoelace bat signals: Flagpoles. Trees. Corned beef sandwiches. Damn near anything. Once summoned not even the vast historical juju of Notre Dame Stadium can do anything about him.
So this thing you dared not hope for starts to coalesce just from the things that happen on the field, and then yesterday morning I was struck by a sense of profound gratefulness when I watched the MGoBlue video of Denard's postgame presser:
I love how he smiles all the time and wears his heart on his sleeve and goes "AHHHH" when someone mentions Roundtree blocking for him and seems about as amazed as everyone else as what he's doing. I love how he drops to one knee after he scores in a way that seems genuine in a way I couldn't comprehend until I saw it. I love that if you ask him he'll sign your forehead. I was going to let my skepticism overwhelm, to wait until it was obvious that 2010 was not going to be 2009, but I lasted two games. I'm in the tank again.
That feeling Johnny identified in 2008 when it became clear that neither we nor Michigan had any idea what it was any more is obliterated. I've got an answer for the Courant now: Michigan is receivers blocking like tiny mountain goats 40 yards downfield because it matters, because if you set Denard free he'll go "AHHHH" at you afterwards. He'll smile and it will seem like the sun is poking through dark clouds, scattering colors in a circle all around you.
BULLETS ARE NO LONGER BULLETS
They're annoying. Now bold section titles. More room. Easier blockquoting. Win.
The unsung hero: Shavodrick Beaver, the backup at Tulsa. Does anyone else remember the sick feeling in your stomach when you found out that Michigan had lost a desperately-needed QB recruit to Tulsa? Funny old world, isn't it?
Denard is like a video game, but to Google it's NBA Jam:
HT to reader Apoorva Bansal.
Crist return. We were only getting the usual scattered texts that actually got through but by halftime it was clear that Crist had some sort of head injury that prevented him from seeing out of one eye. I laughed at my friend's concern that Crist might come back in the second half, reasoning that a head injury severe enough to keep someone out of a half of football is severe enough to keep someone out of a game of football. But lo, Crist rose after this:
Q. What play was it that you got dinged up on and what happened?
DAYNE CRIST: Just running the ball, just took a hit kind of on the side of the helmet. I had trouble seeing out of my right eye after that. Tried to get back into focus. …
Q. Was it your vision?
DAYNE CRIST: Just kind of dazed a little bit and couldn't really see out of my right eye. But that was really it.
How would you feel if Michigan's coach had done that after everything we've heard about concussions the past couple years? Apparently they "did the tests" on the sideline and determined he didn't have one, but it's hard to be comfortable with that decision when it's a debate about in what particular way Crist's brain was messed up.
Ref argh. There have been a lot of complaints about Michigan's many penalties and the lack of ND holding calls—especially after Mike Martin described Chris Stewart getting a "warning"—that I can't comment on yet since I haven't seen the tape, but we saw this live since our endzone was the one it happened in:
What is it with Notre Dame getting free touchdowns on a balls they fumble at the one? No one from Michigan jumped on it, unfortunately, or a review would have been uncomfortable for the home crowd. What happens if a player fumbles into the endzone and it just sits there forever? Does anyone know what the result would have been? You can't claim an inadvertent whistle ended the play until after the ball is out. Commenters seem to think it would have been ND's ball at the one.
Tailback argh. Thirty yards rushing is not so good for all your tailbacks, though as we'll see below Fred Jackson thinks Notre Dame made a bizarre decision to put it all on Denard's shoulders. I'll reserve judgment until I see the tape since the corner of the endzone isn't a great vantage point to draw conclusions, but with a couple of less challenging games coming up it seems like its time to pull the other three kids out of mothballs and see what they can do. Tousssaint's Mike Hart and Chris Perry except fast, after all. That sounds okay.
Flagpole argh. One thing that did not factor into my decision as to which tickets I'd use and which I'd give to my friends: whether or not the flag would be 1) in my LOS and 2) at half-mast. It was kind of hard to see stuff inside the 20 on the far side of the field; people twenty rows higher were probably steamed about Al Qaeda in a way they'd never thought possible.
Denard implosion argh. In the aftermath of another OMG Robinson day the questions about his durability continue. I think they're slightly overblown since Robinson takes way fewer hits from the pocket than most quarterbacks, and hits in the pocket to a stationary target are always the most dangerous. Even so they're not entirely so, which means Robinson should see a reduced workload over at least the next two weeks and hopefully three as Michigan tries to find some confidence in the backup quarterbacks and find a tailback. If it comes down to it, though, you have to put the ball in his hands when it's do or die.
The truly terrifying thing about Denard Robinson is how often he was one downfield block from being gone like he was on the 87-yarder. These blocks got missed way too often, but I guess it's a lot harder to make them when you don't have any idea where the runner is going to be.
Game theory stuff. I agree vigorously with this message board thread about how the Rudolph touchdown was a blessing in disguise since any Notre Dame touchdown drive of actual length would have pulled so much time off the clock its hard to see Robinson leading a drive to win. He can execute a three-minute drill now (obviously), but with one and a half minutes I keep going back to those seams to Roundtree in the third quarter. The first was thrown directly at a linebacker when lofting it was a touchdown; the second was lofted and would have been a touchdown except it was considerably overthrown.
Giving up a 95-yard touchdown is obviously bad, but I think the play once Rudolph is behind the secondary and around the 35 is to let him score. Michigan didn't do this intentionally, but they did prevent the same sort of agonizing touchdown drive they gave up against Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2005, where they soft-shell their way down the field and allow the opponent the opportunity to score for the win with vanishingly little time left.
While we're on the topic, Kelly's decision to go for it from the three at the end of the first half has come in for rampant bashing by Notre Dame fans because it didn't work out but to me it seems like one of those decisions that's so close there's no right or wrong answer. We happen to have a huge database of one-shot plays from the three because that's where two-point conversions are attempted from. The expected value of a field goal from there is basically 3 points. The expected value of going for it is 45% of 7, or 3.15 points… if you assume an average defense and offense. Michigan does not have an average defense but Notre Dame's offense while directed by a third-string walk-on is probably even further below average, so in terms of pure points expected I'm betting Kelly gave up a little when he went for it. On the other hand, when you're down 14 points and you might not get many opportunities to score because you're down to the third-string walk-on you take variance where you can; you should be willing to give up some expectation for it. My gut feeling was that I was unhappy with the decision to go, which means it's probably the right call.
Yardage bit. This has been noted elsewhere, but what a bizarre game. Over 1000 yards of total offense but a winning score of just 28 and 18 punts. In a game where yardage was dead even Michigan was +3 in turnover margin and barely won. This happened because they lost about 40 yards of field position on punt exchanges, missed two field goals, got away with giving up the bomb at the end of the first half, shot themselves not in the foot but the head with penalties, and intentionally gave away 50 yards on Notre Dame's final drive.
So… yeah, Michigan functionally outgained ND by 50 since they weren't trying to stop those first two passes to Floyd, which makes the second week they did that against a BCS opponent. That didn't happen until the Purdue game last year.
Defense? Caveats about the backups in the first half apply but the defense managed to hang in there. Cam Gordon is going to come in for some huge minuses in UFR, but the rest of the defense can't be blamed for 200, maybe 250 (Jones phantom TD, Rudolph TD, long pass @ end of first half, final drive) of ND's 500 yards. Given the number of drives in this game holding ND to 24 points is an accomplishment. After Crist came out of the locker room and led ND right down the field twice I thought we were doomed, but the D got a stop after first and goal and then got five straight stops after. Say what you want about rushing three but I'm pretty sure all three picks were thrown into a three-man rush when the QB could not find anyone open. I'll be adding a "players rushed" tracker to UFR to see if the thing everyone hates actually hurt M.
Field goal argh silver lining. Rodriguez may be forced to do mathematically correct things on fourth and three from the 25.
AnnArbor.com slideshow. Genuinely Sarcastic column makes a good point about Cam Gordon and a box safety spot: ideally that's where he'd be. Doctor Saturday says "at some point you begin to run out of perspective, and adjectives." HSR took video of postgame celebrations. Wolverine Historian has a three-part set of highlights up. USA-Algeria-style bar explosion video from NYC's Professor Thom's. MVictors bullets. The Daily ranks the greatest individual performances in Michigan history, slotting Denard #4 behind three guys who killed Ohio State singlehandedly.
MGoReader scores tickets at face when ND opens up wheelchair seating to the public, sits next to Brock Mealer, and gets told this story:
He told me and a couple of nearby patrons a story about Denard: last week, before the game, he asked our QB if he ever thought about cutting off his dreads in case someone tried to pull him down (a la Polamu). Denard's response?
"If they ever catch me, they can have 'em."
Amongst the great many articles using the above picture and declaring Robinson to be hotter than the surface of Mercury but deploying the same stats and quotes as all the others is Mike Rothstein's from AnnArbor.com, which quotes to Fred Jackson about all those carries:
Notre Dame (1-1) offered no choice. With the defensive fronts the Irish presented, it was Robinson’s ball to carry over and over again….
“A lot of times, his reads tell him to give the ball to the running backs,” Jackson said. “But this game, they were forcing him to run it. They were probably trying to beat him up. But he’s too quick to beat up.”
That's an… interesting decision on the part of the Notre Dame coaches there.
I missed a few of Ryan Terpstra's postgame videos. Here's Jordan Kovacs:
I tried this last year but then dropped off, but I'll try it again: when you write 15k words about a football game people who know more than you are going to point out errors. This will be a collection of items people send me about stuff they think I got wrong; if I'm sticking to my guns I'll mention why, but this is all very complicated so reasonable people will disagree at times.
Chris Brown of Smart Football added some stuff that's not actually a disagreement but it would be a shame for it to molder in the inbox:
1. Michigan ran this play a few times with good success:
It was probably the best "dropback" pass I saw Denard run. I saw him throw both to the outside receiver and to the RB. In your description you called it a "slant" and the RB's route as a "screen," but the concept is called the "snag" concept (or triangle). I'd say it's currently the most popular route combination in the Big 10, as Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State and now Michigan all feature it as a staple play. I discussed it on Smart Football.
On the backside Michigan has some kind of fade/out combo but we'll see if he gives the QB freedom to go that way. It's a good play for Denard (and Terrelle Pryor, for that matter) because it's easily completed.
[Ed: this was the first instance of this route combo in the game; as the game progressed I got a handle on the combo and how frequently it's used. Good to know it's widespread and effective. Robinson completed each instance of the snag for good yardage except once when he threw the flare route when the LB was charging it down, opening up the slant bit.]
2. Denard's worst pass of the game was the bootleg where Roy Roundtree gets lit up. I think you were right that it should have been thrown to the outside receiver in the hole before the safety could get over.
3. The really encouraging thing though is that he followed it up with his best pass of the night [to Grady on third and eleven]. The long fake bubble pass was fun, but this was a college throw. The best part? The play was four verticals (I think you said it was a deep hitch). This wasn't exactly a "read" route but clearly the receiver had freedom to bend it and find the hole, and Denard threw it in the open window -- this wasn't where he was told to throw it, he reacted to the coverage. Great throw.
[Ed: Part of the disconnect here is I usually put down the route instead of the concept; that's something to work on.]
Genuinely Sarcastic's run chart is up and it's mostly in line with mine, though it appears toBrian is less inclined to give out pluses and minuses. He's higher on Molk than Schilling but still high on both, thought Koger was way better than Webb, and gave Omameh a solidly negative –6. Also Denard picks up a –2 but toBrian admits "this is where the metric is flawed." FWIW, I'm handing out pluses when the tailback does something that gains yards past what the blocking sets up.
Some complaints in the comments that I've been too harsh on Ezeh, and a response from Burgeoning Wolverine Star about the play specifically highlighted:
He picture-pages the play, highlighting Kovacs dropping into the deep middle and thus taking himself out of position to fill the hole on the interior.
Here, you can see that Kovacs is still backpedaling, now 4 yards deeper than he was pre-snap. Mouton is being hit by the playside slot receiver. UConn's left guard has now pulled across the formation and is in perfect position to block Ezeh. Ezeh's job here is to plug the hole that Todman is supposed to run through. He does this by hitting that pulling guard. It's then Kovacs' job to come into the play and make the tackle. Unfortunately, Kovacs isn't done backpedaling yet.
I don't know about this one. I pulled the play to highlight a trend I saw all day—Ezeh getting put on his butt—and wasn't really focused on the action of the deep safety. I think BWS is right that I should have minused Kovacs for a late read, which turned this from four or five yards into nine, but a linebacker in that situation needs to keep his feet and look to come off his blocker and tackle, which is something Ezeh managed on UConn's last meaningful(-ish) snap but didn't do the rest of the day. Whatever the responsibilities of the MLB in the 3-3-5, they include staying on your feet.
MGoUser AAL sent in some clarifications as well:
- On a 15-yard dumpoff to the FB (UConn drive 2, play 4), which I said "looked like a busted coverage" but could not tell who it was on: A misalignment and a bust. Michigan is playing Cover 3 behind a weakside zone blitz. First, Kovacs has the boundary third and is absolutely toasted if this ball gets thrown his way. (You can see he was busy trying to get untoasted, too, when Gordon arrives in the frame toward the end before he does.) The de facto OLBs should have curl-to-flat responsibilities and they both take initial curl drops. The curl zone is a greater threat because a pass to the flat takes longer to arrive and the defense can use the sideline to help. For some reason Ezeh is lined up over the center, then aborts his drop at the curl. Roh would be the hook-to-hole guy and takes a really poor drop which is probably due to lack of experience in pass coverage. The #1 receiver to strength runs a hitch, but given how long that ball would take to arrive there is enough time for the CB to recover and for the OLB to rally to the ball.
- On the next play, a 20 yard power run: I’d give Floyd more credit. If he allows himself to be reached, there’s one OL left to block Kovacs and the RB is going to the endzone. On the other hand Ezeh does everything wrong. One of the first things you learn as a LB is not to go underneath blocks. If you do, you have zero chance of making the play. There is a point where Ezeh sees the WR(!) coming to block him and makes that decision anyway. It cannot be more easily demonstrated than the WR doing nothing, but inviting him to go underneath and barely even touching him as he flails to the ground. By doing this, his chance of making the play went from 30% to near 0. [Ed: I did not minus Ezeh at all on this play.]
- On the next play, which was the post thrown to the goal line but low and not dug out: Gordon was very disciplined here. He has the deep middle third and has two verts coming up the hashes. He’s dead center and favoring either is certain death. For some reason Floyd had plenty of depth and doesn’t close down on the WR with the ball in the air. Could be mental/freshman/other mistake. Impossible to say. [Ed: I didn't neg the coverage or Floyd here; I did think Gordon was in position for a potential killshot if the ball was better thrown.
- First play of drive three, the first ball over Carvin Johnson's head, the dropped one: Another manipulation of Cover 3. UConn was using a levels concept into the sideline (deep/intermediate/shallow) to put the deep third and flat defender in a bind. Lots of time to come open when rushing 3. No idea what Gordon is doing. Also, more importantly this: when M was in Cover 3 vs. no width (TE only), Kovacs was playing up on the line and responsible only for running w/ the TE. He is absolutely toasted. [Ed: I gave a –2 to Johnson there; I've heard from other people that even if there's going to be a window there in cover 3, it shouldn't be as large.]
The overall impression is one of deep fear about Kovacs against Notre Dame, especially in his effort of cover Rudolph, though elsewhere AAL says he's not that impressed with ND's TE… when it comes to the NFL. Okay. Relevancy against Kovacs? Eh… not so much.
Elsewhere, the UConn blog takes a look at their first offensive snap, which didn't go well thanks to Cam Gordon.
Previously: The Story.
What's the point of anything?
I ask this question for reasons existential and practical. Earlier this summer Eleven Warriors pinged me for some help previewing Michigan's defense, so I talked about Mike Martin and the rest of the promising defensive line and mentioned the trouble at linebacker; the section on the secondary was simply this: "rank them last." At this point Justin Turner was still on the team and Troy Woolfolk's ankle was unaware of what Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God had in store for it.
When it, he, and we found out AMSHG's true power in mid-August I started drinking immediately, resulting in a night where I finally used twitter as God intended by blathering about having a power drill, burning my elbow on tea, coughing, not coughing, and finally drinking a horrible concoction of Cointreau with anything (the whiskey had been exhausted) and eating cold squash pakora with a slice of American cheese while mournfully contemplating everything from Mike Floyd to whatever 5'8" guy UMass will throw out there this year. The next day Henri the Otter of Ennui made his earliest-ever appearance on the blog (setting a record that will probably stand for all time) while I enumerated the options left at corner, mentioning Richard Nixon twice before a nominal first-string player at the semi-public fall scrimmage. Even if I've calmed down since, and I have a little bit, that's the existential chunk.
The practical chunk: the probable starters at corner, safety, and the safety-ish position that was called spinner (except when Greg Robinson was denying such a concept ever existed) and is now called spur are:
- at free safety, a redshirt freshman
- at spur, a true freshman (who will be treated as a linebacker, FWIW)
- at bandit, a redshirt sophomore walk-on
- at one corner, a redshirt sophomore pulled in favor of Mike Williams last year, and
- at the other corner, a true freshman.
Meanwhile, literally every backup except the aforementioned Williams has never played a meaningful snap at Michigan because they arrived two months ago or, in the case of James Rogers, was just one of those guys who seems like they're never going to play from day one. I could just point you to their recruiting profiles, tell you they'll be in the conversation for worst secondary in the league, and resume cowering in a closet. Previewing this position group is almost totally pointless: I've never really seen anyone play. They're probably going to be bad.
If this is an insufficient description of the situation, though, well, here's all this stuff.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||So.*||Cullen Christian||Fr.|
|Courtney Avery||Fr.||James Rogers||Sr.*|
|Terrence Talbott||Fr.||Tony Anderson||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Technically, the position preview scale goes from one to five. Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
|SMOKED LIKE GANJA|
|The big touchdown.|
|doomed from the start|
|MADE A PLAY!|
|knocking it down|
The single person at this position who Michigan fans have seen on the field is redshirt sophomore JT Floyd. On the one hand, he was so overmatched last year that Michigan decided they should move Troy Woolfolk to his spot and unleash Mike Williams on the world; Williams promptly gave up a third-and-twenty-four conversion to Iowa and was subsequently swapped with freshman walk-on Jordan Kovacs, leaving a tiny, slow, inexperienced guy no one even recruited in the most critical spot on the defense. This went exactly as well as you might expect. The coaches thought this was preferable to having Floyd on the field.
For my part, the Indiana UFR waved a white flag even at 4-0:
Whatever lingering hopes you had that the corner spot opposite Warren could turn into a non-liability should be put in the corner and told to be quiet for a while. JT Floyd did better than I thought he did live but still remains a timid redshirt freshman who transparently lacks the speed to be an elite corner. Michigan is going to have to cover up for him.
So did the game column:
Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
Floyd held onto his job for the Michigan State game, but that game saw Michigan adopt a fundamentally unsound formation featuring Floyd in the parking lot. State exploited this with a ton of virtually uncontested wide receiver screens:
They then countered those with the outside pitches that were the only consistently successful running plays Michigan State managed all day (QB scrambles were another story). Floyd may not have gotten smoked deep but it was only because he was playing Hail Mary defense all game. Seeing how untenable that situation was, Michigan's coaches made the move to Woolfolk at corner, thus opening up the already pretty much wide open floodgates. Except for sporadic plays and special teams duty, thus ended Floyd's participation in the 2009 season.
On the other hand, the coaches have been talking up his improvement since spring and have continued to do so through fall. Rodriguez 4/13: Floyd has "played well." Rodriguez 8/2: Floyd is coming off "a great spring." Also on 8/2: Rodriguez expresses "particular confidence" in Floyd and drops the t-bomb—"tremendous." Greg Robinson 8/11: Floyd is showing "a lot of progress." A spring practice source: Floyd is "vastly improved." And Robinson and Gibson on 8/25:
"J.T. Floyd may have been the guy that made the biggest jump from last season to the end of spring ball in so many ways," Robinson said on Sunday. "There's nothing any different - he's just worked really hard. J.T. just has a way about him - he leads well and his work habits - he's just a harder worker than he was at this time last year."
Gibson concurs. "He's done such a complete turnaround. You just take last year at this time, and he was just a guy really trying to work to the point that he’s at right now, and he’s done it."
|Indiana||4.5||8||-3.5||Tries hard. Clearly
|MSU||3||3||0||I'll take it.|
How meaningful is any of this? The fear is not very. This is replica of the Johnny Sears hype down to the sweet dreads: after being largely responsible for that heart-stopping moment when Ball State had a first and goal with a shot to tie Michigan in the '06 season, Johnny Sears was in line for a starting cornerback job after the graduation of Leon Hall. Sears was talked up all offseason, failed miserably during the Horror, was quickly yanked for true freshman Donovan Warren, and was off the team a month into the 2007 season. While that outcome is an negative outlier even with Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God at full wroth, it goes to show that sometimes a coach praising a kid who's struggled and is being thrust into a prominent role is more hope than anything else. Our best hope may be that anonymous spring observer, who has no reason to pump up a kid in the hopes he'll keep it together.
Floyd was just a freshman last year and should improve significantly. The chatter's consistent enough and from enough sources that some of it is probably real. Average is about all anyone can hope for, though.
The other corner spot will probably (50.1%!) end up in the hands of freshman Cullen Christian. James Rogers had a tentative hold on the first string in the semi-public fall scrimmage that he maintained to the release of the fall depth chart, but since he hasn't played at all in his Michigan career—not even when the walls were falling in last year—he's likely to cede that by the time the season rolls around. If not by then, probably by the Big Ten season.
Christian gets the ultra-tentative nod here simply by virtue of his recruiting rankings, which were strong. He checked in a near five-star at Scout, a top 100 guy at Rivals, and hit three other top 100 lists. He's not a burner; his main assets are his size (6'1"), leaping ability, and excellent hips. ESPN praised his "coveted size, quickness, fluidity and savvy" and said he would enter college "ahead of the curve in terms of technique, understanding of coverages and size," and assessment basically echoed by Rivals and the rest of the chattering class. His main problem is tackling, at which he's pretty sucky.
How doomed is Michigan here? Still pretty doomed. But it is worth pointing out that if there's one spot on defense where a freshman can walk onto the field and not spoil everything, it's corner, where conservative play and safety help can mitigate the damage.
What, Me Backups?
The backups are unknowns or freshmen. The aforementioned James Rogers was a lanky high school tailback reputed to have great straight-line speed but no hips; Michigan took him as a flier recruit. He has not panned out, bouncing from wide receiver to cornerback for the duration of his career.
Rogers did come in for some fall fluff during Rodriguez's post-scrimmage presser:
James Rogers is a senior that has played over that position. He has had a really good camp. Some of the young freshman that are competing out there at that position … Again, James Rogers is a veteran. He has been around a little bit, so we have a little experience with James out there as well.
He has to play and may even get the bulk of the time early. The assumption here is that even if he's currently ahead of the freshmen he probably won't remain so for very long.
The two remaining freshmen are extremely similar. Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery are middling three-star types from Ohio; Avery is probably the better athlete, since he was a star quarterback; Talbott is more polished since he's been a full-time corner but spent a lot of his high school career injured. Both approached but did not get four stars on one of the big three recruiting sites; both got "meh" from the other two; both are generously listed at 5'10" and truthfully listed at 165 pounds. They need 20 pounds before they're anything approximating Big Ten corners. Instead they get thrown into the fire immediately.
Talbott in a sentence:
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
I don't have anything quite as neat on Avery but both Scout and ESPN praise his "exceptional athleticism" while calling him very, very small.
Reports out of fall camp have been conflicting, with certain folk claiming one or the other will play, possibly a lot, while the other is way too small and a guaranteed redshirt. There wasn't much to tell them apart during the scrimmage; whichever one does get drafted into playing this year is going to play a lot of conservative zone coverage and miss a lot of tackles.
There were rumors Kelvin Grady might get a shot at corner but with Martavious Odoms apparently moving outside full-time there's room for him to play at slot and he's been prominent this fall; if he does end up moving it will be a midseason panic thing. Teric Jones was moved back to offense after spending a year trying to learn cornerback, getting moved to safety, and then getting moved to cornerback again; obviously he's just not a D-I caliber player on D.
Rating: 2, generously
|Jordan Kovacs||So.*#||Cam Gordon||Fr.*|
|Marvin Robinson||Fr.||Jared Van Slyke||Jr.*#|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Safety has been the positional bête noir of the Michigan fan for going on a decade now but things had never been as black or beastly as they were last year, when Boubacar Cissoko's epic flameout forced Michigan to go with the doomed Jordan Kovacs-Mike Williams combination. Williams was the most confused, least useful player I've ever broken down film of; Kovacs was just slow and small. Their powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
Williams has been shuffled off to third- or fourth-team spur to cover punts for all eternity, but the situation here is hardly less bleak than it was a year ago. Jordan Kovacs is now a sophomore walk-on and probable starter. Last year he debuted against Notre Dame, was one of two Michigan secondary members to be blazed on the infamous 85-yard Indiana touchdown, and then actually started making a name for himself as a solid box safety in the Michigan State game:
Jordan Kovacs registered a +4.5 and is single-handedly responsible for about half of the + tackles Michigan saw yesterday … Kovacs provided hard-nosed run defense that makes me think he'll be a positive contributor going forward.
Williams imploded in the next game, Michigan dropped Kovacs to free safety, and the walls caved in. The dividing line was clear as day in UFR:
|Notre Dame||1||-||1||Nice story.|
|EMU||2||1||1||Hasn't cost Michigan anything yet..|
|Indiana||3||4||-1||Hardy, but slow.|
|Michigan State||7.5||3||4.5||Some of these were just backside blitzes that he tackled on, but he did tackle. At other times he displayed a real knack for getting to ballcarriers.|
|Iowa||2.5||3||-0.5||Missed one tackle, made another few, good downhill box safety.|
|Penn State||1||6||-5||Just can't play a deep half.|
|Illinois||-||3||-3||Again burned as a deep half safety.|
|Purdue||1||5||-4||Enormous bust #3.|
|Wisconsin||4||4||0||Did pretty okay. No idea why they moved him to deep safety; he's pretty effective in the box.|
The Mike Williams bit is handled in the linebackers and has more on just how disastrous a switch this was, but the morals of the story: Kovacs cannot play free safety and is pretty effective as a tiny linebacker when he doesn't have to take on linemen.
|EFFECTIVE RUN BLITZER|
|jet past blockers|
|tackles Caper from behind|
|takes down the RB|
|WOULD BE A GREAT LB IF HE WAS 50% BIGGER|
|shoot up through a gaping hole|
|doesn't bite on the bubble fake|
|doomed from the start|
|bails and bails|
Michigan moves him back to tiny linebacker this fall, but it's not that easy. When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety is this year's Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype award: Cam Gordon. Though Gordon was recruited as a wide receiver, everyone on the planet expected he'd get his token chance at the position and then get flipped to defense, where Michigan desperately needed bodies and he projects better anyway.
This duly happened, except when Gordon and his 6'3" frame moved it was to free safety, not linebacker. This was pretty weird, and it got weirder still when the hype machine starter cranking out superlative after superlative. A sampling follows. Rodriguez:
“Cam Gordon has been really consistent all spring,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. We’re “really getting some confidence with him.”
MGoBlog's own Tom Van Haaren reporting back from some conversations with players on the team:
Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
By the spring game he was the undisputed starter at free safety; he managed to get through that without anyone even noticing him. In the safety business this is a win.
Unfortunately, Gordon struggled in the fall scrimmage, failing to wrap up on a number of tackles. Rodriguez was sticking to his guns afterward:
"Yesterday was not his best day practice wise, but other than that, he has a really good camp. He is a very physical guy and the game is really important to him. Again, he has not played. He has not played in the big stage yet. There is going to be nerves and there are going to be some mistakes, but he has just got to limit them… we look for a big year for him even though he is a redshirt freshman.”
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. With his lack of blazing speed and inexperience, actually making plays seems out of the question. Misopogon dedicated a couple of his epically researched posts to the safety play and found that Brandent Englemon's traditional 1-0-1 as a junior was actually the second best performance of any safety in the UFR era (with Jamar Adams obviously finishing first).
Repeating that +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Marvin Robinson is the most shirtless recruit in the world
If you've been watching the Countdown to Kickoff videos frequently, you've probably experienced the same sort of cognitive dissonance I have when #3 comes roaring in from somewhere else and whacks a guy to the ground authoritatively or picks off an errant pass. This is not the competent-to-good LB hybrid version of Stevie Brown, it's Marvin Robinson, Michigan's first great hope for bandit. As a true freshman, the book on Robinson is contained in his recruiting profile, but you're probably familiar with the general outline by now: hyped Florida recruit enamored with Michigan since a freshman trip to Michigan's summer camp, early offers from USC, Florida, and the rest of the world, precipitous fall in the rankings, still a highly regarded prospect with athleticism Jordan Kovacs can only dream of.
Robinson's early performance has him pushing Kovacs. Woofolk noticed him even before practice started, and Greg Robinson knows a lady-killer when he sees one:
"I know this: he walks around the building looking really good."
His performance in fall was highlight-heavy and caught the attention of his teammates. He finished second to Jonas Mouton when AnnArbor.com media day poll asked who the hardest hitter on the team was. Ricardo Miller was one vote:
"When he comes to hit, everyone knows it. I think he's cracked his helmet twice this camp, and if that doesn't show you enough that he can, I don't know what could."
Robinson has huge size and speed advantages on Kovacs and will certainly play this fall, possibly as a passing-down replacement, possibly as something more. In an ideal world he would be so good he would ease Kovacs out of his starting role by midseason. I don't think that's likely since the bandit position is extremely complicated, but I do expect some sort of platoon where Robinson gets ahold of some parts of the playbook he executes better than Kovacs and is brought in regularly.
At deep safety, Vlad Emilien still seems like the first option behind Gordon but his initial returns have been discouraging. He enrolled early—giving him just as much experience as Kovacs—and then never played, Turner-style, despite the debacle going down on the field. Word was that the senior-year knee injury that cost him almost all of his senior season and his Ohio State offer lingered through the year. With that almost two years in the past now that can no longer be an excuse—any damage still lingering is permanent.
There may be some, as it was Emilien who was left in the dust by Roy Roundtree on the 97-yard strike from Denard Robinson in the spring game; Teric Jones caught and passed Emilien en route. Getting instantly passed by a position-switching guy the same class as you is a bad indicator, as is ending up behind a walk-on on the depth chart.
That walk-on is Jared Van Slyke, about whom nothing is known except his father is really good at baseball. True freshman Ray Vinopal (recruiting profile) is also at free safety. Rodriguez did mention him as a guy who has "a chance" to play this fall, he didn't show up on the first depth chart and he's probably going to redshirt.
The deep safety situation is grim past Gordon; if he doesn't work out you're either starting two walk-ons, moving up Emilien, who doesn't seem ready, or shuffling Robinson and or Kovacs around.
Continued from yesterday's extended look at the offense.
Scheme vs. Fundamentals: Fight
If you ask about the 3-3-5 and pull the string on a Michigan coach, this is what you get:
"Too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise," Rodriguez tells Ryan Terpstra on ESPN 96.1. "I mean, a lot of people are saying we're doing this or that, but basically, what we're doing this spring more than anything else is fundamentally trying to get better – trying to tackle better, trying to be able to react to the ball better so we get more people around the ball."
Greg Robinson said much the same thing to Adam Rittenberg and reiterated that to the folks at the coaches' clinic: "The fundamentals of leverage and angle and how a player uses his eyes and hands is more important than any scheme." I'm sure if you bugged any of Michigan's position coaches they would robotically intone a similar paean to fundamentals.
To this I say: 50% bollocks! It's not that fundamentals aren't important. Anyone who saw the performance of Craig Roh and Stevie Brown relative to expectations last year knows that how you tackle, cover, and read the opponent is a huge part of a football team's suck or lack thereof. You can ask Florida State about that. But I interpret "too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise" as "I would not like to talk about the details here; let's focus on platitudes." Certain defenses have strengths and weaknesses and fit other players better or worse, and while a defense that is robotically efficient is probably going to be decent that will depend on how well the players fit into the scheme.
The line should be the strength of the defense again. Will Campbell is rounding into a load, a true NT who requires a double team and holds up against it most of the time. At other times he gets too high, but they're working on that and by fall they hope he can be an anchor in there. Van Bergen is a redshirt junior who played well in a tough spot as a starter last year and is at a more natural position where he's doing well. No one's 100% sure that Mike Martin is going to be the other DE—the coaches will try him at both spots in fall—but Campbell "needs to be on the field" and Martin is likely to be Michigan's best defensive lineman, so that's the logical spot.
Michigan would like to get Campbell down another 10 pounds or so.
At end, Banks is starting in Martin's absence. Rodriguez mentioned yesterday that they've moved Adam Patterson to the nose, which 1) just about spells the end of Patterson as a potential contributor and 2) hints that Martin is going to start in the spot Banks currently occupies. I can't imagine a 272 pound senior is going to get substantial playing time as a zero-tech NT. He may be a situation substitution in pass-rush situations, but I kind of thought they might move Martin back inside and let Banks or even Roh take a crack at a speed rush when that happened.
The backups here are pretty sketchy without the freshman reinforcements, but Anthony Lalota was a regular entrant into the backfield against the second-string offensive line. He's RVB's backup with Heininger out.
There were some concerns about Craig Roh, who's a great athlete going directly upfield but doesn't have the lateral mobility to shuffle a step or two one way and then re-route his body in time to avoid blocking angles or get a proper zone drop. He'll be blitzing a ton; Michigan will be vulnerable when the opposition is running misdirection and Roh is being asked to execute linebacker responsibilities. Think waggles, counters, reverses, that sort of thing. He has displayed an aptitude in one-on-one coverage, though. He tracked a Michigan State tight end down and raked a ball free last year in a matchup that you'd think heavily favors the receiver; there were a couple other instances where his ability to cover a guy downfield was a surprising bonus.
There didn't seem to be a whole lot of progress with Ezeh and Mouton, though it's hard to tell with the move to the new system. Their responsibilities have changed and there's a learning curve that anyone would have. Moving to the 3-3-5 should allow Mouton to blitz almost as frequently as Roh; this is Mouton's main strength.
A surging Kenny Demens has been held out the last few days.
Observer A is a major believer in Robinson, though, citing that Roh play and a few others as an example of Robinson's ability to coach up players in a short amount of time. He was in charge of Roh and Brown last year; this year he's got all three linebackers. Robinson himself believes Mouton could be a breakout player. Here is a classic Robinson-ism that will make Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician delighted: "We just need to get him to slow down to play faster." Mouton overruns plays because he's "too instinctive" and doesn't always follows his keys, as anyone who remembers his 5-minus 8-minus 3 lines in UFR can tell you.
I've been pretty positive about the idea of running Jordan Kovacs out as a box safety since he was a heady kid and solid tackler and in the 3-3-5 DVD I have that is no longer a wasted purchase, Jeff Casteel repeatedly emphasizes that those characteristics are by far the most important when it comes to spurs and bandits. As a bonus, as the weakside guy Kovacs has the luxury of playing in space (usually) unblocked, so his size won't be a major hindrance.
HOWEVA, discussions with Observer A made it clear that running a 1-high defense* constantly is a recipe for getting four verticals in your face time and again and that teams could force Michigan into a two-deep alignment by formation or playcall. Jordan Kovacs being a walk-on sort of guy, they will do this constantly until Michigan proves they can deal with it.
Why not just deposit Marvin Robinson or Josh Furman at this spot in fall? Think about it: the bandit has to roll up to the line of scrimmage and act as a force player in the 3-3-5. Force players are important. It's their job to funnel everything inside of them. (This is often called "leveraging the football.") If they screw up, the runner is outside everyone and loping for a first down. In pass coverage they have to read and drop into flat zones, play something called "flat buzz" that I'm not quite clear on yet, and generally act as a cover two corner would. So there's all that. Then the bandit will have to rotate back into a two-deep on occasion, play a deep third when they switch up coverages, blitz, respond to motion, etc etc etc. It's probably the most complicated position on the defense. Throwing a freshman in there is asking for it.
Kovacs is Michigan's best option at the bandit, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a good option.
Spur is also sketchy. Mike Williams has plummeted down the depth chart and is now behind both walk-on Floyd Simmons and redshirt freshman (and scholarship possessor!) Thomas Gordon. Williams is healthy, FWIW. Gordon did get some daps/love/props from observers who thought he was aware and athletic enough to deal with the coverages he'll be asked to run—a "pleasant surprise"—but he's safety-sized and is going to be asked to play over a tight end. He's also a redshirt freshman. Simmons also made a few plays and might be an okay option as a backup.
Observer A evaluated this group of eight players as "slow, small, inexperienced, or injured." He didn't add "pick three," but my brain did. Michigan's got a couple of fantastic prospects for the future in Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson (plus Carvin Johnson), but a couple of painful years beckon before Michigan has any chance of getting a guy who has both athleticism and a clue on the field.
The combination of cluelessness and lack of crazy athleticism led to a couple plays were Michigan just ran a tight end straight down the seam without a bump and gave up 30-yard plays. Michigan has an adjustment they want to install, but they haven't done it yet.
*(A one-high defense has one safety in the middle of the field and is usually cover 1 or cover 3 unless the defense is playing a disguised coverage. A two high defense has two safeties approximately on the hashes and usually suggests cover 2 or 4.)
The three members of the secondary proper actually didn't scare Observer A very much. Woolfolk is pretty good, Floyd is improved—though he shared my skepticism he would ever be above average because of his speed deficiencies—and Turner, while rougher in drills, got the proverbial "just makes plays" endorsement. It's tough to tell a kid's playmaking rate based on limited observation, but the general impression I got was that Turner should be okay eventually. It seems logical that when the freshmen arrive, there might be some reshuffling with the spurs and safeties. Observer B also thought Turner "was OK."
James Rogers seemed to be doing well in drills, too. He's "beginning to learn the position," which is a sad thing to say about a
fifth year senior who's bounced around so much.
Cam Gordon is the guy at free safety, but you knew that.
Robinson's entire session at the coaches' clinic was on his tackling system, which is unusual in a couple ways: it uses different aiming points than conventional systems and doesn't ask the player to break down and wait for the ball carrier to arrive; you "shimmy" to the ballcarrier. It's also unusual because Robinson picked it up from a high school coach, something the old regime "wouldn't be caught dead" doing. Michigan's current group of guys seems far more likely to pick up an innovation being run by high schools or lower division schools than the old guys, who talked to the NFL and only the NFL, which is probably why they couldn't defend the option worth a damn for almost a decade.
Here's how Greg Robinson explains Braithwaite's hire:
Robinson used the new coach, Braithwhite as a demonstrator of technique. He said the “best demonstration” coach he ever saw in his life was Jim Colletto but he says that AB is every bit as good. The impression they give is that this guy was hired because a) he knows what he is doing and (b) he is great at demonstrating techniques to the players.
Observer B notes a difference between the offensive and defensive coaches: the offensive guys are "tireless" explaining and drawing their schemes, but it's hard to get anything out of Robinson. Where Robinson gets expansive is when it comes to the aforementioned fundamentals. There was a chalk talk in which Robinson spent a good deal of time illustrating the right way to do a "dip and rip"; Bruce Tall was also in the midst of an animated technique discussion that lasted two hours.
One of the best things about having a hybrid-laden defense is it minimizes situational substitutions in today's fast-paced modern football environment. You should be able to respond to whatever the offense throws at you without having crazy packages where non-starters get pushed into the lineup, and can adjust to bizarre formations (wildcat) on the fly.
Defense In Toto
I got a vastly different perspective from defensively-oriented observer than was provided by the posters here over the weekend. We're going to have to score some points. I think in objective "this is Michigan" terms the defense is going to be bad, but one of the main confusions batting about the internet at the moment is someone asking "is this defense going to be (as) bad (as last year)?" and someone answering "(in terms of what I have come to expect from years of watching Michigan play and taking that as a baseline) yes."
I had this same sort of foreboding Q&A with Observer A, but when I asked point-blank "will they be better" I got a pretty solid "yes," albeit with the caveat that the same guy thought they'd be considerably better than they were last year.
That doesn't mean the defense is in a spot where it will remind anyone of 2006, or even 2005. In the Saturday scrimmage the defense did well on the first couple series but "after that the carnage was brutal," with the offense moving the ball "almost regardless of what unit was facing what unit." You can get a hint of that in the quarterback stats provided by MGoBlue in the most recent Inside Michigan Football, which are 9/11, 9/12, 100 yards rushing, made a pony sort of things.
There aren't any walk-on punters who are serious threats to play; the best guys they currently have are averaging in the 30 to 35 yard range. This is Will Hagerup's job as soon as he steps on campus.
Placekicking will be an adventure. Brendan Gibbons has a big leg but is "erratic at best." Walk-on Justin Meram was the other kicker who participated in the scrimmage; he seemed accurate on short stuff but his range might top out at 40 yards on a good day.
Truth. From the message board: a post entitled "Jake Long is bigger than you" that is 100% truth.
The third guy in that line is a 6'1", 235 pound former D-III linebacker.
[David Chappelle racist white guy voice] "They have such animal passions." [/dcrwgv] One of the main tensions on the message boards around here is between people who reflexively attack people who write anything even slightly negative about Michigan and people who push back at them. I thought the latter group was more correct after the signing day press conference when Dave Birkett went into I Are Serious Reporter mode and latched onto Rodriguez's pant leg for a series of questions about Demar Dorsey.
Yeah, it was kind of a dick move, but if you're going to add every reporter who sees a piece of meat and goes after it to the enemies list there isn't going to be anyone left off that list in short order. QED: even Angelique Chengelis got knocked around after she said the Victors Rally was dumb. Birkett was one of the people pointing out that the ridiculous Freep story about Rodriguez invoking Hurricane Katrina left out that thing called context.
This from the latest chat on AnnArbor.com, however, is indefensible. Birkett is out and pops back in. He offers this apropos of nothing:
Dave Birkett: Sorry had to run for a more. A buddy came over to look at my home repair issue. I'm back.
Dave Birkett: If anyone needs any home improvement done, try Nelson Home Improvement. I've been using them for years.
Dave Birkett: And thanks Demar, I'll see you here shortly. No need to bring your crowbar.
There is absolutely no context for that. So… wow. Cheapshotting a kid who hasn't even enrolled, you've never talked to, and is trying to turn his life around. Classy. How about we wait for Dorsey to do something, maybe?
First in line. Due to a walk-on snafu, Michigan is only going to be able to enroll 26 of their 27 players this fall. This will leave at least one scholarship open, and the guy at the top of the list will surprise no one:
UM coach Rich Rodriguez maintained throughout the season that it's his intention to include Kovacs among his scholarship players. That process has seemingly progressed this offseason.
"He'll have the first one available in the fall, and it looks like one will be available," Rodriguez said. "I'm hoping it will be available for this summer because he's earned one."
I've seen a couple people react to this article as if Kovacs is now a full scholarship player, but that does not seem to be the case. If Michigan actually has 85 scholarship players on the roster in 2011, Kovacs will have to pay his way. Given the way Michigan recruits—not oversigning like a mother—that's not likely.
Also in that article is a rundown of the players who will be unavailable for spring: Brandon Herron, Mike Martin, Vincent Smith, and David Molk. Junior Hemingway has a minor injury and will miss a week or two.
No thanks. Chengelis suggests the spring game should be held at night. I'm not one of those guys who hates night games, but that seems like an epically bad idea. Reasons:
- In April it's often really nice out during the day and super cold at night. One of the main draws of the game is to have an excuse to sit outside in the spring sun after the traditional Michigan hibernation period.
- Attendance would be depressed since people aren't going to get a hotel room for the spring game.
- Michigan would have to shell out for portable lights.
- Any Michigan football game that starts after 3:30 is like feeding Gizmo after midnight. Do you want a zombie apocalypse?
I would like to see Michigan push the start time back to two or three so I can take the rare opportunity to tailgate properly.
In which you prove their point anyway. WLA tiff with the Buckeye Battle Cry, the new-ish SBNation Ohio State blog. In sum: WLA posts picture of Kevin from the Office on blog to imply that while the "writers" there are probably not handicapped that's something you would need careful examination and probably a DNA test to confirm. Kevin from the Office deletes, bans, and then contacts the poster's employer.
I'm not sure why SBN even has an Ohio State blog if that was the best one they could sign up. Talk about damaging your brand.
Etc.: Jimmy King interviewed by Lost Lettermen. New blog by a diarist around here is up: Wolverine Tactics opines on what to do with Denard. Discount tickets available for the CCHA Championships. Markus previews UConn. Yes, in March.
Roh is certain. Everything else is chaos.
This is going to be extensive. It would be much, much quicker to rattle off a list of positions we know are set this fall:
- Craig Roh at quick defensive end.
That is literally all. We do know that a few other guys are guaranteed starters, but Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Troy Woolfolk could all switch positions. I should have thought of that before I did the offense. Now I'm stuck with this format.
Anyway. On with show:
Not Brandon Graham
Three defensive line starters return, but the best defensive lineman in the country does not. Normally you'd be looking at Brandon Graham's platoon of ready-to-go backups for an inadequate but functional replacement. Since this is the 2009 Michigan defense we're talking about that platoon is walk-on Will Heininger. The other options at his spot are freshmen.
So it's time to get creative, maybe…
Count me amongst the chorus suggesting that Ryan Van Bergen might move outside. Dubbing this position "Not Brandon Graham" is a clever way to not write "Ryan Van Bergen might move" at three different spots.
Michigan has three veteran backups at defensive tackle in sophomore Will Campbell and seniors Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks. All played last year, the latter two decently. Campbell was raw as hell but was one of them OMG SHIRTLESS recruits and can be expected to make a major jump his sophomore year. Putting one of those guys in the starting lineup seems less likely to result in disaster than dropping an underweight freshman into the starting lineup. Craig Roh did okay last year, but Michigan isn't bringing in anyone as touted as Roh was this time around. Also, Mike Martin is more of a penetrating three-technique tackle than a leviathan space-eater and moving him to RVB's old spot figures to get more production out of him.
If RVB doesn't move, then you're going to choose from Heininger, redshirt junior Brandon Herron,—Roh's backup at quick last year—redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota, or true freshmen. Herron was a linebacker a year ago and is likely to still be undersized and LaLota showed up two inches and thirty pounds lighter than people expected him to. He probably needs another year.
The thing to watch for this spring is the RVB move. Past that, the developmental paths of Campbell, Roh, and LaLota are the main points of interest.
Hoping for… as the guy that is not Brandon Graham? Will Campbell. This assumes RVB ends up at DE and Martin moves over to RVBs spot. Moving RVB gets a bunch of veterans and a five-star sophomore more playing time. It puts Mike Martin in a position to be seriously disruptive. And it doesn't force a freshman into the starting lineup. So this is a hope for the move and a hope for Campbell to explode.
Expecting… RVB moves, Sagesse and Campbell platoon. I was puzzled by Michigan's periodic attempts to give Campbell playing time over Sagesse last year. Campbell got sealed on a number of successful runs against Iowa; Sagesse wasn't Alan Branch but usually ended up with a +1 in UFR. I assume Campbell will show considerable progress but I'm also betting that Sagesse is basically a co-starter.
Over the course of a year, Stevie Brown went from whipping boy to reliable outpost on a defense of chaos. Was it a position move? Greg Robinson's Just For Men magic?
They're young but they're not totally green. Michigan got both Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones in early last year and put them through their paces; by the UConn game next year they'll have been on campus for almost two years. Both saw special teams action only. Hawthorne will apply for a medical redshirt. Jones played too much for one. That's him burning his redshirt on the right.
Those two will be the main competitors in spring since I believe Isaiah Bell, who redshirted, is moving inside to ROL. This fall brings crazy athletic Josh Furman into the mix. He of the 4.3 electronic 40 is probably even faster than Brown and could press for playing time later in the season if Hawthorne and Jones aren't working out. He's unlikely to win the job outright immediately.
Hoping for… Hawthorne or Jones doesn't seem like it makes a difference since they have near-identical recruiting profiles and experience. I guess I'm pulling for Hawthorne since he's got a redshirt on him and I like the Pahokee kids.
Expecting… Again, Hawthorne and Jones have almost nothing separating them. One of those guys.
Regular Ol' Linebacker
These two positions are here despite featuring two fifth-year seniors returning for their third years of starting because both Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were yanked for performance reasons late last season. Indecision ruled the day:
Mouton was pulled for JB Fitzgerald, a touted recruit entering his third year in the program. Ezeh was pulled for Kevin Leach, another walk-on. Both eventually won their jobs back when the replacements weren't much better.
Jay Hopson left to become the defensive coordinator at Memphis, and whether it was voluntary or not it's welcome. Ezeh went nowhere in two years under Hopson's tutelage and Mouton went backwards. If Greg Robinson can pull the same career revival magic he did with Stevie Brown on the two inside guys, he'll put to rest a large chunk of the skepticism at his hire and go a long way towards making the defense respectable again.
If he can't, then Fitzgerald and Leach will figure into the plans again, with potential assists from Kenny Demens and various freshmen. Demens hasn't gotten off special teams in his time at Michigan and got passed by a walk-on. That seems like a kiss of death there.
Ezeh and Mouton will be the main focus here.
Hoping for… I'd like Fitzgerald to emerge as a starter but in the place of Ezeh; last year the guy replacing Ezeh was Leach. Really I'd just like whoever plays at linebacker to look like he's got a clue. Obi-Wan Greg Robinson, you're our only hope.
Expecting… Ezeh and Mouton. They'll be better. Linebackers are the guys most screwed by Michigan's revolving door of defensive coordinators because they are almost always reading a play and executing a complicated assignment based on that. Also they've got a new coach who happens to be the defensive coordinator and thus knows exactly what he wants the guys to be doing.
Donovan Warren took his budding skills and five-star hype to the middle rounds of the NFL draft. Boubacar Cissoko couldn't keep it together off the field and is no longer on the team.
I'm assuming both spots are open because of the possibility Troy Woolfolk moves back to deep safety in spring. The defense started imploding for serious once he was moved to corner and Michigan's safety tandem became Kovacs and Williams
Outside of Woolfolk, the one guy with any experience is JT Floyd. Floyd was the guy the coaching staff turned to to replace Cissoko when he proved dreadful early in the year. He wasn't much better and Woolfolk eventually had to move despite the other options at safety being a freshman student-body walk-on and Mike Williams. In his brief time as a starter, Floyd played ten yards off wide receivers and looked totally overmatched. Maybe that's a mental thing, but he seemed just too slow for the Big Ten.
So… yeah. It's more freshmen, then. Super-hyped recruit Justin Turner got in late because of some difficulties with the Ohio Graduation Test and ended up out of shape and unprepared to play. He redshirted. Even if he came in looking like Will Campbell, if Turner couldn't play in that secondary by the end of the year people are right to be at least slightly concerned he may not pan out.
And then there's the flood of true freshmen. With Demar Dorsey starting out at corner, Michigan has four in the 2010 class: Dorsey, Courtney Avery, Cullen Christian, and Terry Talbott. None enrolled early—unfortunately, all of Michigan's early enrollees were on the offensive side of the ball—and they will be just rumors this spring.
We won't get a read on this position at all unless walk-on Floyd Simmons is ahead of someone on the depth chart. We will get a first look at Turner, the team's most important redshirt freshman.
Hoping for… Justin Turner and either Dorsey or Christian. No Woolfolk == considerably reduced panic at safety. One freshman is as good as any other at the other spot, I guess, but I'd rather have the higher-rated guys off to fast starts. No offense to Floyd, but he obviously wasn't ready last year and I'd be surprised if he was this year. Maybe 2011.
Expecting… Turner and Woolfolk.
Brandon Smith transferred to Temple.
It's clear that this is going to be another hybrid safety/LB type player. Early in the year, it was Mike Williams. A little later it was Jordan Kovacs. When Woolfolk moved to corner it was Williams again, and when Williams played poorly Michigan moved Brandon Smith and threw him in the starting lineup; Smith liked it so much he immediately transferred.
Of the two returners, Kovacs was by far the superior option despite being a walk-on. He's got the proverbial nose for the ball and was the only guy at the spot last year to turn in enough good plays to offset his poor ones. And he did this as a freshman walk-on. (He was technically a redshirt freshman but since he was not on the team last year he is much closer to a true freshman.) He showed himself way too slow to play deep safety, but the grit fantastic he is possession of should keep him in the mix despite a couple of athletes pushing him hard.
Athlete the first is incoming freshman Marvin Robinson, who everyone thinks is destined for linebacker except Robinson. At Michigan he may be a linebacker in spirit if not in name. This is a spot he's a superior fit for athletically but it may require some adjustment.
Athlete the second is hypothetical, but Rodriguez mentioned in a Signing Day press conference: they're looking at moving wide receiver Cam Gordon to defense, but to safety. [Update: YEAH THAT HAPPENED.] That's another indicator that Michigan's base set is going to be an eight-man front, as Gordon is a strapping 6'2" fellow who everyone expected would end up at… wait for it… linebacker. If Gordon makes the move it will give Kovacs and Williams some competition from an NFL-sized guy right away.
This is also where Carvin Johnson goes, but I'm guessing he'll redshirt.
Hoping for… I don't really know, actually. I guess I'd like Robinson to win the starting job, but a true freshman over Kovacs and Gordon could bode unwell for immediate production. Maybe Kovacs to start and eventually giving way to Robinson.
Expecting… I have no idea. Truly.
As discussed above, if this is Kovacs Michigan is at least kind of screwed. I mean no offense to the guy, but…
…he is not a deep safety*. In an ideal world, two of the young corners would establish themselves quickly enough for Michigan to boot Troy Woolfolk back here. That world is much easier to envision if any of those guys had enrolled early.
If Woolfolk doesn't make the move back, Michigan has a couple options not fresh off the turnip truck. Vlad Emilien and Thomas Gordon are redshirt freshmen who will be given a shot at the job. Emilien was more highly touted and actually held the starting free safety job in spring until late, when Woolfolk took over and he was relegated to backup duty. He saw some special teams time in fall but will apply for an injury redshirt. Gordon was primarily a high school quarterback at Cass Tech—he only started playing DB as a senior-year audition for a Michigan scholarship—and never threatened to see the field last year.
Freshman Ray Vinopal will reinforce in fall, but as the lowest-rated player in the class he will probably redshirt.
Hoping for… Woolfolk. I'd rather have the freshmen playing at corner, where Woolfolk can tackle their mistakes.
Expecting… Emilien. I'm a little hesitant about him since he enrolled early last year and still wasn't good enough to crack last year's secondary, but maybe he had a lingering injury issue.
*(RVB owned up to a botched line check on that touchdown but it was a lack of footspeed from Kovacs and, more disturbingly, Floyd, that turned that play from 20 yards into 90.)
What others? Apparently Teric Jones might stick on defense, apparently at box safety. I think I've mentioned every other scholarship defensive player on campus except Steve Watson and James Rogers.