to play football, not to play trumpet
Taylor Lewan on Kovacs: "He looks like an accountant."
The roundtable session at media days takes on a remarkably repetitive nature, a product of giving reporters two hours to move freely between tables and fire away questions. Inanity ensues. Perhaps no player serves as a better example of this than Jordan Kovacs, who in the 40 or so minutes that I spent at his table fielded approximately 7,432 questions about his journey from walk-on to All-Big Ten safety. I mean, of course this happened:
Reporter: Do you ever get tired of questions about being a walk-on?
Kovacs: [laughs] Yeah, I was just asked that.
Jordan Kovacs is tired of being asked if he's tired of being asked about being a walk-on, and would someone please help me out of this wormhole?
Anyway, here's some select quotes from his roundtable session. I'll post Taylor Lewan's later today, and Denard Robinson's will go up tomorrow.
RELEVANT FOOTBALL STUFF
MGoQuestion: Now that you’re in the second year under Greg Mattison, do you expect the defense schematically to change at all in terms of playcalling? Do you expect it to get more aggressive this year?
I think he’s going to be the same Coach Mattison. He’s always been aggressive, and I don’t know if you can get more aggressive [laughs]. But I think we’re all more comfortable with the scheme and he’s more comfortable with us. Like I’ve said before, we really look forward to this season with the defense because nobody on this defense has been in the same defense for two consecutive years, and that’s what we’ll have this year, so we really look forward to that and we really look forward to seeing how far we can take this defense.
MGoQuestion: When you’re looking at film of Alabama, what do you see out of A.J. McCarron? What does he bring that you guys are going to have to defend against?
He’s improved a lot. He’s improved tremendously. I think at the beginning of last year he was not nearly as good—I mean, that’s obviously when they were in the quarterback battle—but he was not nearly as good as he was at the end of the year. At the end of the year he was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, if not the best. Obviously he’s got a great arm, and I think that his running game helps him so much, I think that really opens up the passing game for him. He’s a tough quarterback, a tough kid, and I hope we can make him a little uncomfortable back there, but with their offensive line that’s not going to be anything easy.
MGoQuestion: There’s been a lot of roster turnover over the past few years, especially in the secondary. What kind of challenge does that pose to you guys as a team, especially in practice; is that tough when the guys behind you are constantly changing?
Yeah. That’s always happening. I know Coach Hoke always says it but it’s true that there are always expectations for the position and for the ballplayer. Whoever is at defensive tackle for us, there’s expectations to be great, not that they’re going to step in and be great but that they’re going to work hard this offseason and pick up right where Mike Martin or Ryan Van Bergen or Will Heininger or wherever those guys left off. Obviously those are going to be big shoes to fill but that’s how it is at Michigan.
MGoQuestion: The defense was really good last year at limiting big plays, but then against Ohio State and also against Virginia Tech, they were able to go over the top a little bit. Was that a schematic issue or a matchup issue—what happened over the last two games?
We didn’t play very well, from a defensive backs standpoint. Obviously against Ohio State we gave up quite a few big plays; Virginia Tech it wasn’t as many that cost us, we played a little bit more bend-but-don’t-break defense in that game. We did not play well enough from a defensive standpoint in either of those games, and it starts with the defensive backs. That’s something we worked on a lot in spring ball. It’s not an issue of athleticism or anything like that, it was just guys not being on the same page, and we’ll get that corrected.
So what you’re saying is it was a mental thing?
Yeah, there were more mental errors. A couple of the routes were tough. Ohio State kinda gave us a route that really cost us, it was a tough one to defend.
You know, I don’t remember exactly. It was tough to defend with our coverage; there was some miscommunication, we misplayed it.* Sometimes that’ll happen and you’ve just got to get it corrected and that’s what we did. We played a little better in the second half, as we did against Virginia Tech, and we ultimately won the game.
BEST DEFLECTION OF A STUPID QUESTION
I’m going to have you #1 on my AP ballot in the preseason. Is that a good call or a bad call?
I think that’s a call that doesn’t really matter. Where you start means nothing, it’s where you finish. So, tell me where we’ll finish at the end of the season, and I’ll tell you whether that’s a good or a bad call.
SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT
What is it like defending Denard in practice?
Yeah, it sucks.
How much do you follow the recruiting stuff?
I don’t really follow any rankings, but you meet the kids and you hear through word of mouth from the players. But at the end of the day, the whole rankings system—I didn’t have any stars, and I’m here today, right? Not one. So yeah, I don’t keep up with it too much.
Are you ever a player host?
I’ve hosted a couple. I think Taylor is the key recruiter, and Roy; we’ve got our go-to guys.
KOVACS VS. LEWAN, PART I
We talked a little bit about Denard and how he hasn’t changed. What about Taylor?
Unfortunately, Taylor, he hasn’t changed. I’m just joking, but you can write that. Taylor, I can’t describe how much I think he’s matured, and I’m sure you see that as reporters. He’s vanilla this weekend. He’s been told to be vanilla this weekend. I don’t even think he needed to be told that, because I think he’s more focused than ever before. I think he understands how far we can take this team, and he’s really harnessed it and he’s really looking forward to it. I can’t say enough about his leadership. He’s got those young offensive linemen in there and he’s really working hard with those guys.
Do you think the vanilla-ization of Taylor has taken away from his aggressiveness on the field?
No. I think we need him to be vanilla off the field. Taylor is one of those guys that… first of all, he’s ugly. But he’s a very aggressive ballplayer; he’s one of those offensive linemen that you hate to play against but you love to have him on your team, because he’s just nasty, he’s ugly—I don’t know if I said that—but he’s a mauler. What offensive linemen do is not pretty, but you love it when they do it for your team.
Just tell him I said that.**
*My guess at the time was Kovacs was thinking of OSU attacking the seam against Michigan's cover 2. Brian concurred when I chatted with him today; Michigan ran a cloud cover 2 where the corners had deep responsibility at the free safety defended underneath, a coverage they only used against the Buckeyes, which could explain the confusion.
**In case you're actually concerned about an offense-defense rift or something, this was entirely in jest. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion later this afternoon.
[Ed-H: Bump. There, I did it. No more Urban Meyer.]
I got a little busy at work during the winter, and then recruiting magic was happening, and then I figured it was too late for this post. But finally I got a day off, and it's raining, and I've had these screencaps online for 6 months, and I've got literally nothing better to do for a few hours on this sunday. So here is the Nebraska game wrap (with pics!)
That was kind of unexpected. AND AWESOME! It was without a doubt our best game of the year. Heck it was our best game IN YEARS. It was maybe the best team performance since the 1997 PSU game, although I'm probably forgetting some good ones in between.
During the game, I remember thinking the score was pretty close and anything could happen until the turnovers made it a laugher. But after watching it a few times since then, we really did dominate in all phases of the game.
By the end of the 3rd, the stat sheet was pretty one-sided. They really only had 2 great plays all game. (Two plays that I highlighted in the preview post.... so maybe I'm not completely stupid. Still, I did rag on MSU's O-line which gelled pretty strongly by mid-season. ooops.)
Defending the option
Like most of the Michigan fan base, I have huge man crush on Mattison. The things he and his staff are doing, and the performances they're getting from our players are out of this world. I would love to just sit at his feet, follow him around, and absorb as much football knowledge as possible.
If you've accomplished as much as this man, people won't make a big deal out of you using your moobs to signal the playcall. (This GA knowns that peripheral vision is sometimes a weird thing.)
Defending the option is so simple, yet so hard. You need your players to know their assignments and play with decisiveness.Here is Jake Ryan demonstrating the textbook definition of "forcing the pitch".
Nebraska has this play blocked pretty much as you would draw it up. Ryan is the 'optioned' man who is unblocked. Martinez doesn't see the whole open up on the backside, but he's running to where the play is called. He's supposed to read Ryan and "make him wrong".
Jake's first step is lateral as if he's going to squeeze the zone on the slot receiver. But when he sees the option motion coming towards him, he cuts upfield with authority. Martinez reads him correctly, and it looks like this should be a decent gain for the Huskers.
Meanwhile, Mike Martin has beaten his block and is pursuing to stop cutbacks, and the secondary is coming up in run support.
Ryan's change of direction is so fast that Martinez can't get a good pitch off with his left hand. Burkhead managed to fall on the loose ball, but if he hadn't we had two guys coming up quickly and there would have been no way for Martinez to get it with his face planted in the ground. The moral of the story is that one way to defend the option is to make those options keep the ball and get killed, or pitch the ball and get killed.
Another way to stop the option is to get an unexpected defender free. Nebraska comes out in a 4-wide set to try to get a good personnel matchup. But we just stay in our base 4-3 so it doesn't matter when the TE comes down to the line of scrimmage.
Mike Martin explodes through the line and forces the pitch FROM THE BACK SIDE. That's impressive.
Meanwhile, Kovacs is up in run support and all over his assignment as you would expect from a player of his intelligence. He reacts so quickly that the blocker whiffs on him. And the pursuit isn't giving Burkhead anywhere to go.
Getting a 5 yard TFL on first down against your opponent's bread and butter play ... that's a good a thing.
Getting off blocks
One of the stark differences between last year's defense and .... uh ... others... was how well they were getting off blocks and getting to the ball. I don't want to disparage former defensive coaches...BUT the improvement was remarkable.
We're in our zone blitz package with Martin dropping and Demens rushing. Demens gets doubled. That's a pretty big weight disadvantage for him.
So he squares up and gets some arm's length separation from the defenders, one of whom starts looking for someone else to block.
Martinez decides the coverage is too good and thinks he can squirt through that passing lane. But both Demens and Ryan see it, react to it, and clamp down on that hole.
Ryan slaps the ball out. Check out how far away from the ball Van Bergen is. But he's got his head up, he's disengaged from his blocker, and he's pursuing the ball.
One funny bounce later and it's in RVB's hands. Brian keeps saying that fumble recoveries are just luck and 50-50 propositions. I would disagree and say the fumble recovery percentage is more of a function of the number of each team's players near the ball when the fumble happens. In this case, we were a little lucky because Nebraska had more guys near the ball. But if RVB isn't hustling and getting off his blocker, our chances of getting that ball go from slim to none. So yes, luck plays a part, but I don't believe it's JUST luck or that it will always regress to the mean..
And lets not forget the good hustle and technique which caused the fumble in the first place. Strip that ball!
(The other 85% after the jump)
Looking way off into the future here, but is there any chance Shane Morris gets a redshirt in 2013? Would he accept one? Would we be in a position to sit him?
Redshirt or no, he would enter 2013 behind a redshirt junior Devin Gardner (should he actually receive a 5th year himself) and Russell Bellomy. I just keep thinking it would be nice to enter a 2017 season (told you I was thinking way off) with a senior QB when Notre Dame and Ohio would play us at home.
Your expressions are greatly appreciated.
If Gardner wins the job and has a strong season I think you would see Morris redshirted, especially if Gardner gets his redshirt (something about which I've heard conflicting information on). I don't think Morris would have a problem with it—he can see the large upside in 2017 as well as anyone—and with Bellomy an experienced-second stringer the only reason they'd have to put Morris on the field is in the event of a serious injury.
The most likely scenario in which Morris doesn't get the redshirt is the one in which Gardner is not getting his retroactively and Morris is far and away the second-best QB on the roster. In that situation you might see Michigan get Morris some playing time for grooming purposes, much like what everyone expects to see happen with Joe Bolden at MLB this year. I'm still rooting for a redshirt.
Utah road game sense making.
If the Utah series is true, this really makes no sense at all. Brandon has complained about playing @ Uconn in 2013 because "the Rent" only holds 40k (and to be fair to Brandon, this series was scheduled by Bill Martin). Utah's Stadium has a capacity of 46k. Doesn't DB's rationale to move the Uconn game hold no weight now in light of scheduling us to play at a 46k seat stadium on a Thursday night? I really dont believe an extra 6,000 seats makes enough of a difference for us to play this road game versus the Uconn road game.
I get scheduling is difficult, but this one is pretty frustrating. Wish we could have gotten a Pac-12 team we haven't seen recently.
In Dave Brandon's mind the 46k is okay as long as there is a synergistic marketeing campaign that brings the Wow Factor into the equation. By leveraging the increased mindshare acquired by being top-of-mind at the beginning of the college football season, Michigan can increase its brand awareness amongst decision-makers and trendsetters. By being the first team to play in a college football season, Michigan will find a competitive advantage to grow the digital audience and build brand loyalty. A pearlescent hipster sheen will descend upon the brand, whereupon Michigan will become the Apple of college football.
I think "pearlescent hipster sheen" was a misstep. Too many words people might use in a novel instead of a powerpoint presentation.
Anyway: Brandon's persistent complaints about UConn's desire to have a game against Michigan on their campus aren't really about capacity, they are about Wow Factor. Wow Factor can be acquired by doing something unusual that might get you attention, no matter how good of an idea it is. Flyovers, new uniforms, night games, really loud jet pack guys, full student sections, Special K, legends patches, field hashtags, rescheduling the Horror: these are all sources of Wow Factor. Some are neutral. Some are positive. Some are negative. All provide someone in the athletic department who needs to justify his existence a line in a performance evaluation. This is the heart of Wow Factor: it looks good on a performance evaluation.
The rumored Thursday night opener* provides Wow Factor, therefore playing in a 46k stadium is acceptable. If the on-campus UConn game was modified to provide wow factor—playing underwater, maybe—it would also be acceptable. A regular football game in a regular stadium at a regular time gives Brandon a rash.
*[Still just a rumor. Chris Balas, the source on this information, also mentioned difficulties for Utah in 2015 that could cause the return date to be delayed until 2016. If that happened 2016 would be another weak-looking six-game home slate thanks to the Big Ten's refusal to give Michigan a reasonable home/road split in conference.]
Legends numbers deployment.
LEAVE 32 ALONE
Completely agree with you, re: flipping seniors' numbers diminishes their own impact on the program as much, if not more, than it rewards them. The most extreme—and perhaps ludicrous—example is Desmond, who if he returns for his senior year could have been "rewarded" with the 1 jersey. Then there wouldn't be a 21 "Legends Jersey."
If they're really going to do this, it should almost be something that a guy "earns" during his freshman (or even redshirt) year. Then we can see if lives up to it. And guys that don't earn it can use the snub to become determined to make their own a number a future legend. Seems better than diluting (even in a superficial way) the career of guy between his two biggest years in the program.
Anyway, good to have something to discuss in June.
[Editor's note: Yesterday, Michigan officially announced they would un-retire not only Gerald Ford's number but also those of Ron Kramer and Bennie Oosterbaan. 48, 47, and 87 are back on the market and seemingly must be filled.]
The number-flipping thing seems like an extension of the trend with the #1 jersey, which was effectively mothballed once Braylon Edwards sponsored a scholarship requiring that it be earned after enrollment.
Unlike the #1, these legends jerseys seem like they must be filled every year, and if they're not filled they will flip someone to them, thus preventing many players who might turn themselves into legends wearing their own number into… not that. I think I'm having a strong negative reaction to this because DO YOU PEOPLE REALIZE WE HAVE A COMPETENT SAFETY WHO MAY HAVE TO CHANGE HIS NUMBER NO I DON'T THINK YOU DO I DON'T THINK YOU UNDERSTAND THE GRAVITY OF WHAT THIS MEANS TO THE FUTURE LEGACY OF THE #32 JERSEY, WHICH IS ON THE VERGE OF REMINDING ME OF A CRITICAL TACKLE IN SPACE THAT IS NOT MISSED, IS NEVER EVER MISSED.
/considers situation in which Denard Robinson would switch from 16 to 7 or something as a senior
Anyway: I hope Michigan uses them like the #1 used to be deployed, as a carrot to dangle in front of certain recruits. 87 is the tight end version of #1. 47 is the… er… wide receiver version of #1. 48 is… well, it's a roving version of #1 I assume will find itself on linebackers and safeties mostly. (Linemen can no longer wear 48.) Some of the guys you hand the uniforms to won't work out, and that's life. That seems better than moving a handful of seniors annually.
That doesn't get around the fact that Michigan has to give them out now. So… Michigan should hand 48 to Joe Bolden, 87 to AJ Williams or Devin Funchess, and 47 to Amarah Darboh or Jehu Chesson. Leave
Britney Kovacs alone, and if a kid with one of those jerseys does something naughty, take it away.
Interesting bits from the Women's Football Academy.
I volunteered at the Women's Football Academy and I asked all the coaches except Borges how they would feel about an early signing period in football. All except LB coach Mark Smith said they were all for it. Smith said he didn't like it because that would mean official visits in the summer and then coaches would get no time off, as opposed to the 3-4 weeks they now get in late June and July.
One of the things they pointed out as being a big advantage is that kids from lower economic families could take official visits during the summer. Mattison said this is very important because kids are committing so early now and by the time the poorer kids have a chance to take the official visits when their senior season starts, it is getting to be "too late."
Mattison specifically talked about kids who want to "put on a hat" at the Under Armour game. He tells those kids, "Then you won't be committing to Michigan because by that time, we won't have any scholarships left."
Your humble correspondent,
I think the official visit timing and an early signing day are separate matters—and still dislike the idea that a kid can sign before his coach might get fired—but I'm not posting this to argue, just to relate the emailed information. Love the hat thing. Down with hats.
Vastly underrated; properly rated
Previously: The Offense
My look back at Brian's epic 2011 football preview continues with the defense. This one got a lot more interesting than the offense, because despite all the warm fuzzies we felt from the GERG-to-Greg transition*, expecting a jump from the #110 total defense to #17 would have been outrageous. As in get-this-man-a-straitjacket outrageous.
Thankfully, the performance of the defense exceeded all reasonable expectations, and even most of the unreasonable ones. Let's peep last year's predictions, shall we?
*Not to mention the Tony-Gibson-to-Anyone-But-Tony-Gibson transition.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue [for Ryan Van Bergen]. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
RVB actually ended up at strongside DE, which probably helped him lead the team with 12.5 TFLs. He ended up earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from both the coaches and media and graduating as one of the most beloved Wolverines in recent memory.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
A year after inexplicably having to move past not just Obi Ezeh, but converted fullback Mark Moundros, on the depth chart at middle linebacker despite subsequently making it painfully obvious that he should've been the starter all along, Demens had his breakout season. He led the team with 94 tackles—second was Jordan Kovacs at 75—and saw his TFLs jump to a respectable five. Like Van Bergen, Demens was an all-conference honorable mention.
Even so, [Kovacs's] season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
This may still be underselling Kovacs, who took to competent coaching even better than expected and became the team's rock in the secondary, covering for his athletic limitations with usually-impeccable positioning. No, he's not Reggie Nelson, but I don't think you can find a remotely rational Michigan fan who harbors even the tiniest bit of ill will towards Kovacs. Michigan's shocking lack of big plays allowed—both against the pass and the run—can largely be attributed to his play; despite missing a game, Kovacs led the team with 51 solo tackles. He also notched 8 TFLs. All hail Kovacs.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
This time around, the optimism regarding the free safety position was justified. Thomas Gordon had his share of struggles, especially late in the season, but for the most part he was quite competent. Around here, safety competence is a luxury on par with consistent placekicking.
Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
Michigan finished with 2.3 sacks per game. That put them at... 29th. Tip o' the cap.
Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
Brian's continued insistence that turnover luck would someday go Michigan's way finally paid off; the Wolverines forced 29 turnovers. It also helped that this defense actually tackled people.
EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW RIGHT THIS WOULD BE.
Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
No full credit simply because Mike Jones was projected as the starter at WLB, a fact I had completely forgotten about until I looked back at the preview. Morgan ended up playing in 12 games, starting seven (the first being in week two against ND), and finished fifth on the team in tackles.
If [J.T. Floyd] gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
This wasn't really a prediction, but... yeah. Tony Gibson minus all of the points.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.)
Points for mentioning Countess as the most likely freshman to see the field. No points for giving him one sentence when he took over the starting job by midseason, especially considering the Christian caveat. As you'll see, the hype that should've surrounded Countess went—justifiably, in the preseason—to Courtney Avery.
Not So Much
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
I hate that I have to put this prediction in this category, but here it is. While Martin was the best player on the defense, his numbers were hampered by having to play the nose; he finished with six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Despite the lack of statistical production, Martin's efforts were recognized with second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also forced a pitch on a speed option. See you on Sundays, MM.
"Experience" was why [Will Heininger] got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
The biggest swing-and-a-miss on the list. Heininger swapped spots with RVB and started all 12 regular-season games at five-tech DT before missing the Sugar Bowl with a foot injury. He exceeded all expectations of a walk-on raised in the shadow of the Big House, proving he could hold his own against Big Ten competition and be a positive force on the interior. After the season, Brian ranked him as the third most siginificant departure on the defense, behind only Martin and Van Bergen. While part of that is due to the remaining depth along the defensive line, I don't think anyone thought Heininger's absence would be felt in such a way.
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
If you're saying "who?" you're probably not alone (though you read this blog, so you probably aren't saying "who?"). Walk-on Nathan Brink was penciled in as the starting SDE at one point in the fall, earning much preseason praise for his unlikely rise up the depth chart. After garnering all that hype, however, he made almost no impact, recording just one tackle while barely seeing the field. He's a prime example of why you must take all offseason practice hype with a grain of salt, especially when said hype involves previously-unknown walk-ons.
We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
Playing his third position in three seasons, Roh didn't quite go bonkers, tallying four sacks and eight TFLs. Roh's play still markedly improved from his previous two seasons, but he still hasn't lived up to the sky-high recruiting hype. Much of the blame for that can fall upon the shoulders of Greg Robinson and Co., and we'll see if one last position switch, this time to SDE, finally results in Roh producing double-digit sacks.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Ryan became a pleasant early-season surprise when he started against Western Michigan and made his presence felt by batting an Alex Carder pass that Brandon Herron would intercept and return 94 yards to the house. While certainly more of an asset against the pass than the run—his balls-to-the-wall approach was great on blitzes, but not always sound when keeping contain—Ryan proved that he was by far the best option on the strong side. Just one year later, all-conference honors are very much in play.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
Troy Woolfolk's return from the exploding ankle of doom wasn't as triumphant as we all hoped. While he started ten games—six at corner and four at safety—Woolfolk never looked fully comfortable on the field and was supplanted at each position by a younger player (Countess at corner, Gordon at safety). It would be quite a surprise to see him taken in this week's NFL draft.
Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
After showing much promise as a true freshman, Avery was the obvious candidate to grow into a big-time role as the team's top corner of the present and future. Instead, he started the first two games, then ceded that role to J.T. Floyd, Woolfolk, and eventually Countess. Avery was a solid nickel corner, and should reprise that role in 2012, but his progression wasn't as great as expected.
Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
Nein. Despite Michigan's impressive rise in team sacks, they were spread pretty evenly across both the D-line and the back seven thanks to Mattison's blitz-happy approach. Ryan Van Bergen paced the team with 5.5, with Jordan Kovacs actually tying Roh for second with four.
Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
I know Brian has no complaints about being so hilariously wrong on this one. As noted above, the Wolverines finished 17th in yardage allowed, and they also shot up to sixth (faints) in points allowed. Football Outsiders's FEI metric ranked them as the #16 defense in the country. Despite watching every second of the 2011 season (usually twice), I still have a hard time not believing I'm the victim of an elaborate hoax or a drug experiment gone horribly awry. If you see me waking up in a gutter and GERG is still the defensive coordinator, please do me a favor and run me over with an SUV. Make sure to double-tap, please.
How does it feel to be a senior?
“Man, college goes by fast, and right now I’m taking on a leadership role and trying to be the best quarterback I can be for the team and be the best leader I can be for the team. Right now just trying to get better at everything I can get better at: watching film, going in with teammates and throwing extra routes, whoever’s around me, if we’re lifting, trying to tell them ‘get better at this’ and ‘get better at that.’ These are the things that I’m trying to do as a leader and as the quarterback on the team.”
Borges said you’re holding more people accountable. Is that the next step of development for you as a leader?
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I wasn’t an outspoken person. I didn’t do a lot of yelling and telling people, patting them on the butt and doing stuff like that. That’s one of the things I need to start doing, and that’s what I’m taking on this spring. For practice right now, I’ve been pretty well lately and talking to people and telling them what they need to do. Russ [Bellomy] was with me yesterday when we had practice. I told him if he took his time he’d make a better, more accurate throw. Those were some things that I did.”
Do you have to be the bad guy sometimes?
“Oh yeah, sometimes you have to get up in them. Help them out, give them their encouragement, but you can’t always be nice to them. I can’t always have a smile on my face.”
Is that possible?
“Oh yeah that’s possible. It’s possible.”
What was this offseason like for you?
“Learning. I mean --”
I don’t even mean football. I mean the enormity of, kind of, everything.
“Oh. Everything. I am a student. I am a student-athlete. Student first. Being part of that student body was one of the best experiences I’ve ever experienced on this campus. I’ve been in the Maize Rage at the basketball games, I’ve been at a hockey game watching them play, I’ve been to track watching the girls run. That’s one of the things I could never stay away from. I love watching sports. I love watching people that I know do better.”
How many sporting events do you think you went to?
You were on TV for every single one of them.
“I don’t know. I just try to go to all of them. If I had the chance, if I had the time, I’d try to go.”
Are you trying to do anything different with your body in terms of weight and strength?
“Trying to gain weight … whatever happens happens with that. Hopefully I gain a little weight.”
Does Hoke want you to gain weight?
“No. They never tell me about gaining weight. I have to take it into my own hands to gain weight.”
How is it taking snaps from Ricky?
“I’ve been snapping with Ricky since Rich Rod was here. My freshman year I was snapping with Ricky. Ricky’s one of the guys from Florida, so we can relate to each other. When he makes a mistake I’m right on him and telling him, ‘Let’s go. I’m right behind you 100-percent.’ He stayed competing and all of us are competing right now and trying to get better at everything. We’ve got some growing to do.”
He speaks Florida?
“Oh yeah. He does speak it. He helps me a lot in the huddle. Sometimes he tells the other offensive linemen what the play is. When Molk and Patrick used to get on me all the time, Ricky would help me out.”
Has anything changed for you over the offseason with the Obama stuff, etc.?
“No, because I enjoy interacting with people. That’s one of the things that I always enjoy. I come from a big family. Meeting new people is not a problem for me. I would love to meet everybody. If I see anybody on the street, I want to say hi to you. My goal is to make somebody’s day everyday. Hopefully I can do that.”
Borges said one of the keys for you is to cut down on interceptions. What is the most important part of being able to accomplish that?
“I’m going to tell you this. I play quarterback, and the number one thing about the quarterback is always take care of the ball. That’s one of the things that I need to stop doing. Turnovers. I had 15 interceptions. That’s not acceptable as a quarterback and something that I need to work on. I was throwing off my back foot -- that’s one of the things that kind of got me in a lot of trouble and I need to stay away from that. Making the right reads is one of the things I need to work on, too. All offseason I’ve been watching film and seeing the reads I should have made and how many touchdowns I missed. This year hopefully I don’t have that many mistakes.”
Is Devin athletic enough to catch the ball?
“Right now … both of us just have the same mindset. Whatever it takes for the team to win, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
How are his hands?
“Both of us have good hands.”
What was meeting Obama like?
“Oh man. That’s one of the days that I’m going to sit down and tell my grandkids. I met the president. That’s one of the things I’ll always cherish. As soon as I got done meeting him I called my mom, my dad, my brothers, and I was just telling them, ‘I just met the president. I just met the president of the United States.”
Did it catch you off guard at all?
“Me and Patrick were just like, ‘What?’ Patrick was right next to me and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he just called your name.’ ”
Have you thought about what the expectations are going to be this fall?
“We already know our expectations. We’ve been working on that all offseason. We’re trying to get better. It starts now. Get prepared for September 1st. Our goal is to win the Big Ten every year. That’s one of the things we already said that’s set in stone. We just have to be ready to work for it and all offseason just keep working for it and working at it. Holding each other accountable. It’s right there. We have to take care of it.”
How does it change your mentality to actually know who your running back is this year?
“We don’t know anything. We don’t know who the quarterback’s going to be. I’m going to tell you this. We have to come out and compete every day. Every day. Nothing’s handed to you. And that’s better that you know that you have to compete every day.”
You really don’t think you’re going to be the quarterback this fall?
“We have to compete every day.”
Hoke has said you had a great attitude last year despite not getting as many catches or numbers. Can you talk about how you dealt with that and what you’re looking forward to this year moving outside?
“I was buying in, just listening to what the coaches were saying. I wasn’t going out there and looking at the numbers and stats each game. I was just going out there and competing. It played out well, going to the Sugar Bowl and winning it. That was a great season for us.”
Was it hard at all going through that transition?
“No, not at all, because any point in the game we can get the ball in and see the seniors doing well last year and leading this team. I was just looking up to them. Even though I probably had one catch a game, that one catch was made effective.”
Did you ever get frustrated not getting footballs thrown your way?
“No. Our goal during the season was knockdowns. Every game we were just trying to have more knockdowns than one another. We really weren’t worried about the ball because the quarterback is the one with the ball in his hand and he’s the one making the right decisions.”
Is there a transition in moving to flanker?
“More motion. We’ve been doing this since January. We always rotated Y’s in different formations last year. It’s something I’m used to now because the extra [work] that we’ve been putting in trying to learn new plays and new positions that everyone’s at. I’m getting comfortable with it. More motions and really have to stay in shape.”
Why is that?
“Oh man, because you’re moving around all the time. Lining up in the slot or lining up outside. Just something I’m taking in and learning through spring ball.”
Do you see any differences in Denard this spring?
“Yeah, yeah I do. The timing is there. He’s making better reads. Staying composed back there. Now he knows the offense. It’s fluid. Practice goes smoother. I don’t see him frustrated or anything. I really see that he’s composed.”
Is he more decisive?
“Yeah he’s reading the defenses well out there. Just taking his time. You can actually heard the play fluent in the huddle again. I talk about him all the time saying he’s so country you can barely hear him, but now we’ve been in the offense for a year, we like listening to him better.”
Last year he often threw balls that put you in a position to get crushed. Has there been less of that these days?
“I mean, he’s the quarterback. They’re going to have their ups and downs. The wide receivers, just know our time to make the plays. If it’s a low ball, go get the low ball. You can’t just blame everything on the quarterback because they might be getting rushed half the time while we’re coming out of our routes. You never know until you watch it on film. He’s really been fluid in his passing. Getting better. Seeing him healthy, seeing him composed back there just making things right.”
How has Brandon Moore been?
“Yeah, Brandon Moore’s my roommate. I just talk to him everyday and see how practice went because I’m only with them during skelly and team, not individually. Him being a senior. Leadership -- we always say that seniors have leadership. He’s been doing well. Catching the ball good and running great routes and blocking. This is his year, I feel like. If you go out there and practice and show the coaches you can be trusted out there, it’s really going to be an impact this season.”
What’s Brandon like off the field?
“Shy. Calm. Smart. He doesn’t really do anything. Half the time he’s playing with his dog. Big Doberman that he has.”
What’s its name?
“Kane. I don’t mess with dogs.”
“I got bit when I was younger, so I don’t mess with them.”
How has Denard progressed off the field?
“Oh, just speaking. He’s been outgoing this year. Being a quarterback, that’s what it takes because everybody’s looking up to the quarterback. Just seeing him become a senior. Now he just said, man this went by so fast. Now everybody’s going to be looking up to him. All our seniors. We take real great impact in being a senior and having leadership, just like Team 132 seniors did, trying to accomplish something better.”
Denard hasn’t always been a real vocal guy. How has that transition been for him?
“He was a shy kid coming in, but now he’s mature more. Just taking it day by day, like how we work out. We’d be partners half the time just pushing each other. Just seeing that from ‘Lace. That’s giving him extra points because he wasn’t like that at first.”
Does it get the receivers fired up when you hear things like ‘What is Michigan going to do without Junior Hemingway’?
“(Roundtree talked about something that sounded like “croop thick” or “group think.” I have no idea, so I’m not going to transcribe it) … It doesn’t matter who’s out there. Being blessed to play here, playing for Michigan. Coach Heck always said that we lost some great wide receivers, but being a senior -- I’m the only senior up here going through the ups and downs and learning from each class -- most of them look at me because I’ve played the most. But I feel like we have a nice group of kids now. Everybody you haven’t heard about, but most of them you will.”
Have you taken to mentoring any of the younger receivers?
“Oh yeah. Half the time they ask me questions it’s like I’m a teacher out there. It’s weird because I did the same thing when I was a freshman, asking the upperclassmen. But now I’m just schooling them.”
What kinds of things do they ask you?
“Just like how you read the coverage on this route, how to get off press coverage. Just simple stuff because coach Heck does a great job coaching us in different steps in the offense.”
Any of the younger guys impress you?
“I know Joe Reynolds, I know J.J. (Jeremy Jackson). I see a lot of them and go like, wow made a great catch or did something. That’s what I expect to hear, so it’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”
Do you talk to Junior about playing his position?
“Yeah I talk to Junior all the time. Me and Junior are still close friends. He just said stay in shape, you’re going to have a lot of motions and reading the defense. Something I was already used to, reading it from the slot position. I feel like I’m not back at slot, but it seems like I am because of all the motions and getting closer to the inside and whatnot. He just said just stay in shape.”
Does being a leader come naturally now for you?
“After being four years in the defense and on this team, I think it’s something that’s starting to come naturally. I think we have a lot of seniors that are stepping into that role, and that’s going to be huge for us this fall. Our senior leadership is going to be huge.”
Have you seen more consistency out of Will Campbell?
“Yeah, no doubt. It’s not just on the field. It’s off the field. He’s holding meetings for the defensive linemen to get in and watch film. He’s helping them out. We’ve got a lot of young guys on the defensive line, and he understands that and he understands he’s a senior and he has to be a leader. He’s really stepping into that role and filling that role nicely for us.”
How does Jarrod Wilson look?
“Good. I think he’s going to be a good ball player. At the same time, we’re only four practices in, only two in pads. He’s been impressive so far as have the other underclassmen. We’re going to need those guys to continue to get better.”
How does he compare with how you remember other freshman safeties playing in the past?
“He’s made quite a few plays so far. He’s had the opportunity because we’ve been somewhat thin at safety, so he’s been getting a good look and he’s been taking advantage of it. Like I said, he still has a ways to go. He’s still young. He’s got a bright future here. He’s going to get better in the spring and in the fall I look forward to how he can play.”
Is it weird returning so many guys in the secondary? That’s never happened for you before.
“Well I think what’s weird is I’m going to have the same defense for two years in a row. I don’t think I’ve ever had that in my four years here. I think that that’s something that’s going to help us a lot. We’re getting comfortable with the playcalling and with the different plays. We bring a lot of defensive players back. We bring a lot of seniors back. That’s going to be huge for us. It’s nice to be comfortable with the guys you’re out there with and the plays.”
Have you been able to sit back and marvel at how much better the defense got between 2010 and 2011?
“A little bit, but at the same time we’re already on to the next year and we’re looking forward to getting even better.”
Hoke talked about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in practice. Is that new to this spring or has he done that before?
“We’ve been competing since he’s gotten here in everything that we do. That’s something he brought with him, whether it’s in the weight room or out on the practice field in spring practice or even in fall camp. There’s winners and losers. Competition’s important and we thrive in that. That environment is important for us to be successful.”
What happens when you lose?
“Gassers or some sort of punishment.”
The weekend. Via MGoVideo:
The Axe effect. Remember these guys?
Since they executed the above, Michigan is 18-7 in the Big Ten. Thanks Axe guys! Thanks, Tony Gerdeman! (Attention Tony: please don't do that again in the next couple weeks. Ace's blood will be on your hands.)
A brief digression into faulty math. By the way, Gerdeman, your numbers are horsecrap since they include a bunch of players who list offers from Michigan who Michigan had ceased recruiting. No one buys your head fake about Tommy Schutt when you include a guy (Pittman) who tried to commit to M and was rebuffed plus a bunch of OL Michigan had moved on from by the time Meyer was hired. 2012 head to head Meyer wins: Armani Reeves. End of list.
Of course, the head to head thing is beside the point. Ohio State is always going to win most of its recruting battles with Michigan because most of them will be for Ohio kids. This has not prevented Michigan from being good at football.
And this will be the future. Via WH, the future of the M-MSU rivalry if recruiting keeps going like this:
Look at the mauling on the line. Also cough cough infinite Desmond Howard bubble screens.
The bracket of storyline. Lunardi's latest has Michigan on the three line playing the Drexel Dragons in the first round. After that, the bracket is all storylines:
- If high seeds win the second round opponent would be Notre Dame
- Hypothetical Sweet 16 matchups would be against Duke (played earlier, semi-rival), San Diego State (Steve Fisher), or Alabama (footbaw matchup).
He's got us in Nashville right now; Marquette is the protected seed in the other Columbus pod. I'd hope we land either there or Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Northwestern fans are pointing at tomorrow's game as perhaps their make-or-break moment for a first-ever NCAA bid. Bill Carmody is scoffing at the idea this is the biggest game in program history. Welsh-Ryan will be hyped.
Five star bump. Glenn Robinson is getting one. He's #1 on a recent Rivals list of the top ten players likely to move up when Rivals releases its final 2012 basketball rankings:
1. Glenn Robinson III
School: St. John (Ind.) Lake Central
The Buzz: The 6-foot-7 wing was knocking on the door of five-star status coming out of the summer. This winter, he appears to be well on his way to busting that door down. He has size, a complete game and high level athleticism that all translates at a high level. His impact at Michigan should be immediate and sizable.
Someone learned their lesson about John Beilein's talent evaluation skills after dropping Burke in their final rankings last year.
Brief position paper on "chink in the armor." ESPN fired the staffer who wrote the headline and suspended the anchor that spoke it aloud, causing some folks to question the inconsistency. I think it's the right call: a headline is something that is written down and considered. More importantly, it is also a place where double meanings and puns are crammed in as often as possible. A headline invites you to read it in all ways possible. If the staffer is too dumb to know this, he should be fired. If he's not, he should be fired.
The anchor probably should have gotten off with nothing other than a clarification that he was using the "chink in the armor" idiom in a way that is completely natural. They're talking about a big hole (turnovers) in Jeremy Lin's game. The idiom fits that conversation like a glove. These days a lot of folk use "unfortunate" to mean "awful" but in this case it is appropriate: the anchor's choice of words was unfortunate but not offensive.
How they do it. This Sporting News article on a mock bracket selection various members of the media went through is a fascinating insight into how the sausage gets made:
They stressed, time and time again, that there must be a way to organize the data — a true, valid point — and the RPI is just the way they chose. The relationship with the RPI dates back to 1981, when it was first used to provide “supplemental data” for the evaluation of potential at-large teams. As individuals, committee members have access to whatever ratings are available — including but not limited to the Pomeroy ratings, the Sagarin ratings and the LRMC results. But, the fact of the matter is everything dealing with ratings that was provided to the media members in the mock exercise was filtered through the RPI. The team sheets showed records vs. RPI top-50 teams, vs. teams ranked 51-100 in the RPI and so on. The RPI isn’t the gold standard and it might not even necessarily be the preferred ranking, but it’s the way the NCAA chooses to organize the information, so it’s definitely the most front-and-center data.
I think the committee generally does a good job at picking out serious RPI outliers; at points where they disagree with Kenpom seriously I tend to side with the committee. That Wisconsin bank shot last year was devastating because the committee mostly considers wins and losses. If it was just an infinitesimal hit to Michigan's defensive rating a lot of the drama gets sucked out of the season. Kenpom is designed to be predictive, which is not necessarily the best model for making a bracket that makes the sport entertaining.
Kovacs! Jordan Kovacs headlines Andy Staples's all-two-star (and under) team:
S Jordan Kovacs, Sr., Michigan (Zero stars in Class of 2008): Kovacs, another walk-on who came out of nowhere, joins Whaley as a co-captain. I first wrote about Kovacs in 2009 after he filled in admirably during the Wolverines' win against Notre Dame. Since then, Kovacs has developed into one of the Big Ten's best safeties. The kid who made the team from a student-body tryout has started 33 games, and he still has one more season to play.
Patrick Omameh and Nathan Brink also feature. Get your fill of this stuff now, because Michigan is about to be a rumor to this annual exercise.
Also let's keep the RR walk-on program going strong, yes? Even in a year where Michigan has a lot of guys on the line a Heininger would have ended up being a useful rotation piece. Kovacs starts on damn near every Michigan D in the past 20 years.
In your head. Michigan's weekend got not one but two coaching-type guys on the OSU staff to indirectly reference it. First someone who seems like their Singletary equivalent:
Slow and steady wins the race
Old coach told me one time... Don't trust false enthusiasm. Don't worry, I'm not. I trust
Again with the "these guys don't really mean to commit to Michigan." I'm sure it's an accident, yes. Don't forget "long way to signing day."
Program culture. Beilein on his seniors and the baseline they've established:
"I think in recruiting, people don’t understand the part about those four years, how much better they’ll get if they have really good work habits. Their work habits have not only made them better, it’s made the rest of our team better. Trey Burke comes into the gym and he sees Stu or Zack working extra before or working extra afterwards, he then realizes well, that’s what I’m supposed to do, and he’s always done that. But if he came in and saw two seniors that were late for practice or complaining about practice or didn’t work in the off-season, he may go more toward that way. They’ve helped us create a culture here that I hope is everlasting."
I cut the evaluators a break there because that's impossible to judge. Also it's not like a bunch of colleges were banging down Douglass's and Novak's doors. In any case, the point about the work ethic of the program is one that looms large in the aftermath of the Lee/Merritt departures blowing up the program. I think Burke will be a guy who helps keep that around this time. Morgan, too.
Etc.: SI declares the Big Ten the best conference in college basketball. DGDestroys has a miraculously-still-relevant recruiting post from before the weekend about the WR recruiting landscape. Surprise: Gordon Gee says something dumb.