[Ed—Seth: Every year, by tradition, Mike Spath (@MichaelSpath198), one of the best journalists on the Michigan beat and bar none the best source of Michigan hockey info, also generates the only content I ever care about from Big Ten Media Days, offering anonymity to opposing players in return for their unvarnished opinions on Michigan players.
Spath has departed The Wolverine, but he still went to Media Days and got those golden quotes. He was at WTKA this morning and shared some of them with Sam Webb. You can listen to the entire segment on WTKA's website here. With their permission, Adam and I transcribed the parts that were paraphrased from those players.
Note: "paraphrased." Note again: I SAID PARAPHRASED. On a lot of these Spath is combining several players' thoughts, and he was talking on the radio. Please don't construe that into misquotations that result in me being chased by a tall blond man who in turn is being chased by a Big Ten athlete.
If you want more Spath, he'll be contributing some at Badgerblitz.com, and is expected to become a regular contributor on WTKA.]
HOW THIS WORKS: So I’ve gotten some harsh feedback on Twitter saying “you know, if I was going to say something critical I’d put my name to it,” but that’s not the way that it goes. I don’t go up to them and say “Sam, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to put your name on it.” I’ll say “Sam, I want to ask you some really honest feedback about Michigan football,” and the only way you’re going to give it to me is if I don’t quote you—if I don’t use your name.”
And so that’s how I do it and I would say this: if you’re a pretty smart person you can probably figure out that I went up to Indiana players, I went to Minnesota players, Rutgers players, Illinois players … and Northwestern.
So those are the five teams I was able to approach. It was a little more difficult this year—Sam you were there, and they didn’t go into roundtables where you have a lot more one-on-one times. So you really had to wait these guys out, and I waited until the last five minutes when they were completely empty, or I wasn’t afraid to—when a guy was getting up and leaving the podium when he’s done with his hour, or walking down the hallway with him. Because that’s when you’re gonna get the good stuff: when there’s nobody else around, and you have to really assure him: “I’m NOT gonna use your name.” You can see the light bulb going on in their head for that first second like: “I don’t know about this...do I really wanna do this?”
But eventually, and here’s the thing too, is that when you ask these questions—and I’ve seen other people try to do it—I think if you ask generic questions you get generic answers. If you ask specific questions, you get specific answers. And so a lot of the time what I’ve focused on is specific players.
“The player that they played against in November: we had six games of film on him from earlier in the season, and who was that player? This was a guy that caught everything, was a big play waiting to happen. There’s a play where he caught the ball in the middle of the field against us, and we had two guys right there, and we thought we had the angle on him, and he pulled away!”
“There’s track speed and there’s football speed, and this guy’s got football speed. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably fast this guy was, and how much of a difference he made over the course of the second half of the season.”
I posted some of these things to Twitter and there’s already this Jourdan Lewis thing that blew up big time:
Note from rival on @JourdanJD, even though they didn't complete much throwing at him, he didn't have many INTs so there was no fear factor.
— Michael Spath (@MichaelSpath198) July 26, 2016
One guy said that the reason they throw at Jourdan Lewis is there’s not a fear factor. And I immediately got jumped on and ripped on. I think when you read the whole quote it’s a little more understanding.
The guy was talking about how they didn’t complete much last year—they only completed 36% of their passes that they threw at him. But they did throw at him, because he had 90 targets according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s the tenth most at any specific defensive back in the country. So I mean you’re talking about 127 teams, talking about four defensive backs for the most part on every team, so you’re looking at 400 players and he’s the tenth-most thrown-at? That’s pretty crazy for a guy who’s only giving up a 36% completion. And the guy said to me:
“You know we didn’t complete much, but he didn’t get many interceptions.” So I asked him a little bit more—why did you keep throwing at him, and he said “What did he have interceptions-wise compared to Desmond King? Two or three?” (The answer’s two). “You weren’t going to complete many passes if you threw his way, but he wasn’t going to pick you off either. You didn’t have to fear the turnover if you threw it.”
And I said “So you didn’t fear him?”
And he’s like “We didn’t fear him: no.”
So when I’m trying to present this as “there wasn’t a fear factor” that’s not really how the quote comes off. [Sam and Spath talked a bit about man-to-man versus cover 2. Upshot: the difference with Desmond King is cover 2 cornerbacks are facing the ball the whole play.]
[Hit THE JUMP for Victims of Glasgow and Wormley Anonymous, Glasgows, Guards, and Peppers]
It lives part II! When Homesure Lending sponsored these posts, Matt admonished me that his sponsorship was contingent on me actually doing all of them. So, yeah, next time you see him buy him a beer and get a mortgage. Matt just pinged me in case a refi made sense, demonstrating that 1) he's always on the lookout if he can save you money and 2) rates must be even more absurdly low than they were a couple years ago.
Formation notes: Michigan spent almost the entire game in nickel, as you would expect against a spread. There were only a few plays on which they deployed odd formations. Here RJS is a standup DT in a dime package on third and eleven:
This was "dime standup DT," because sometimes obvious is obvious. Michigan also had a couple plays where they walked out a bonafide linebacker over WR bunches:
But it was mostly standard stuff as Florida failed to threaten those formations.
Substitution notes: Peppers missed this game with a broken hand. Michigan moved Lewis inside and played Clark and Stribling on the outside. Thomas and Hill rotated at one safety spot next to Wilson. LB was the usual Morgan/Bolden pairing with both guys getting spotted by Gedeon.
DL was variable, with Wormley seeing time at three tech and SDE; Charlton was at WDE and SDE; RJS got a lot of WDE time. Hurst and Henry started at DT and got the bulk of the snaps. Marshall saw some snaps at WDE. Godin and Strobel saw scattered snaps on the interior. Brady Pallante even got a few plays in.
[After THE JUMP: way less data than the offense provided.]
I'm not in Chicago, but thanks to newfangled technology like interweb videos and this here word processin' program I'm still able to bring you a full transcript of Harbaugh's time at the podium. Football! It's almost here!
"Thank you very much. Great to see everybody here. Glad you all made it. Good to see people again I haven't seen in a while. It's been an enjoyable day. Having fun. Brought three wonderful players and youngsters with us today. I'd like to talk about each of them. I know them better now. Going into the second year, feel like more time with our players, [I] know our players well. We have a lot of top players as you mentioned there, but these three…
"Jake Butt, a outstanding six-foot-six-and-a-half tight end, one of the most gung-ho players I've ever been around. Can sit through a two-and-a-half hour, three-hour meeting and be interactive, be on the edge of his seat, walk out of that meeting with a bounce in his step, and put his football gear on, kind of the hair on the back of his neck is standing up, excited about getting out on to the field. And he practices, whether he's going out to hit a sled or rattle somebody's fillings, he's just as excited about doing that as he is running a post route or a corner route and catching a ball. Does all those things equally well as a route runner, as a blocker, as a teammate, and as a guy with some pizzazz. He's gung-ho. Enjoys the struggle of football. Really enjoy him as one of our top players.
"Also, Jourdan Lewis, who has been a every practice, every drill competitor who wants to get better every single day. He doesn't take time off, he doesn't diminish his effort at any time. He's an ascending player, an improving player. And then when he started to get the recognition of being a really good player--All-American, All-Big Ten, interceptions and acclaim--when he started getting the acclaim, he didn't change a bit. He went through the entire spring practice wanting to get better, wanting to improve every single day. And a high character individual. Has never been--has never said a disrespectful word to a professor, to a coach, to a teammate. He's just a pleasure to be around. He's...not one bit of incident or problem when it comes to Jourdan Lewis, and he's a likable guy. He's respected by everybody on the team, but he also has the personality of being very competitive but being very likable with his teammates because he doesn't act like the big man on campus. He doesn't act like the All-American. Just a very, very good person in all respects. Can't say enough good things about him.
"Amara Darboh, would say he's our top receiver right now. As we went through the season last year I thought it was Jehu Chesson, and then Amara surged during spring ball and they're in a very good-hearted competition there to be our best receiver. But again, as a gentleman, as a person, as a class act, a winner, a champion all the way, Amara Darboh. He went through our season last year and he became an American citizen. It was a great moment of pride for Amara and our team that he achieved American citizenship, and another player on our team that's a class act the entire way. Never an issue, never a problem, respectful to all that he comes in contact with. And not just respectful of people, he's respectful of their time, he's respectful of the game, just respectful in all forms and fashions. Feel very proud to have brought those three youngsters here to Chicago. Hope you're enjoying their company as well. And they're really good football players. Not just on our team, not just in the Big Ten, but also in the United States of America. Pleased to share them with you here in Chicago and I'd be glad to answer any of your questions.
It's been an entertaining offseason for yourself and Michigan football in terms of social media activity. How has this impacted the team and university during the offseason?
"I don't know that it has. I don't know how entertaining it's really been. Be glad to go through any of those specifics with you. Think it's been a very productive, healthy offseason for our football team. Was really pleased with our team, the way they went through spring practice. Thought it was extremely productive. Competition was very high for spots, for starting positions, for backup roles, for contributing roles, for specialty roles, so...and then, no real long-term injuries coming out of the season. None of the six-monthers. A few things here and there that we hope that the guys will be ready for the start of camp. Maybe one or two that may not, but our goal right now as we finish up the summer is the healthiest, most in shape, prepared team for August 8th and then we'll take our shot from there."
Something you've tried to instill in your players is to improve 1% each day with everything that they do. My question is what kind of improvements do you see from returning players and staff and new players and coaches in the fold as well?
"Thanks for that question, Trevor. Just the idea of can we get 1% better each day. Can we be better today than we were yesterday, can we be better tomorrow than we were today. The notion that improvement will lead to success, and that's the kind of improvement that really sticks. It's almost getting in shape. If you were going to get in shape, if you do it day after day, a little bit better, a little bit better each day, you may not see it in a day, you may not see it in a week, you may not even see it in a month but at some point you're going to see it and it's going to stick. That improvement is going to be there for the long run. So try to paint that picture. If it's one percent better each guy or we got one percent better as a team, then after 30 days that's 30% better. After 60 days it's 60% better. Even if it's .01% better each day then that would be something that's worthwhile, that would be something worth pursuing, aspiring to.
"Another way to say it is look at the NASCAR boys. They'll stay up all night long just to get one mile an hour faster. Can we get one mile an hour faster each day? That mentality simply put is better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today."
[After THE JUMP: at least a tenth of this presser is Harbaugh listing all the positions Peppers could play]
Harbaugh hanging out with Rich Eisen. 24 minutes:
Remarkable how much different Harbaugh is when he's talking with a person he's comfortable with.
Rashan hype. Jourdan Lewis is impressed:
“You should see Rashan move,” Lewis said this week. “He’s very, very light on his feet. He and (nose tackle) Bryan Mone, it’s crazy. You should see them on the ladder drills. Oh my goodness, it’s unbelievable. At that size, you can’t teach stuff like that. It’s mind-blowing.”
Mone is listed in the spring roster at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, while Gary is 6-5 and pushing 300 pounds.
The ladder drill develops footwork and quickness.
“It’s about how clean you are, and they barely touch that ladder,” Lewis said. “They are really fast on the ladder, and it’s really crazy.”
Hooray for that. Also hooray for quotes in the offseason. What sorcery is this?
Zordich's impact. We heard a ton about Greg Jackson a year ago but no so much about Zordich. Lewis offers up some praise for Michigan's second-year DBs coach:
“When Coach Zordich got here, he really broke it down for us. We have to know every formation by name. He has specific names for formations and we’ve got to know them. That’s the standard. Technique always has to be precise, because that’s the difference between a pick and a reception. I had knowledge of the game and knew when I could do certain things. But when he came in and he showed us these different formations and tricks when you see different looks, it has really helped my game. He’s been a huge part of our development as players.”
Before Zordich and Jackson came in Michigan's DBs coaches were a linebackers coach and
Mike Curt Mallory, who Michigan wanted to get rid of but Hoke held onto because he was excessively nice.
I have a lot of problems with you people. The Michigan Scout board recently had a kerfuffle about ranking in the aftermath of Dylan McCaffrey dropping out of their top 100 in aftermath of the Opening. I shrug at that, like, opinion, man. I think whoever doubts a guy with the last name McCaffrey playing quarterback for Jim Harbaugh is eventually going to look real dumb, but it's just one dude.
I do have a thing that bugs me about Scout's rankings.
That is a map of NFL players by home state. Scout's Midwest region consists of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky. Collectively those states provide 260 NFL players, 16% of the league's total membership. While college rankings aren't direct NFL projections, all the sites admit that it plays a large role since they're so often judged on their ability to project guys to the league. Meanwhile football players are generally good or not good; serious disagreements between spread-heavy colleges and the pros are mostly limited to 5'10" quarterbacks and slot receivers. For the other 95% of players NFL counts are an excellent proxy for ideal recruiting rankings.
Scout has a top 300; by NFL reckoning this means that approximately 48 players in the Midwest should make that list. This no longer happens. You have to go back to 2014 to get a representative sample of 47 Scout 300 members from their Midwest region. Since there has been a steady and unexplained decline. There were 39 Midwest Scout 300 players in 2015, 38 in 2016, 29 in 2017, and 27 in their early 2018 rankings. Scout has made no effort to explain why they believe the number of future NFL players in the Midwest has dropped 50% in just four years. Talent fluctuates year to year but that's not a fluctuation—it's four straight years of decline, a severe one in 2017 and 2018.
And while I'm on the subject of recruiting ranking things that bug me. Most every year sees 3-6 kickers and punters drafted. The top end guys should get four stars.
Other adventures in Michigan's turnover luck last year. Per LSU blog And The Valley Shook, PBUs convert into interceptions at a relatively reliable rate:
Interception rate is a lot more steady. Last year, defenses intercepted 19.14% of the passes they defended. The average team defended 63.07 passes and had 12.07 picks. The 2014 rate was 21.44%, so we're looking at a fairly constant twenty percent rate. Still, we'll use the 2015 average rate of 19.44%.
Michigan had 55 PBUs a year ago and ten interceptions so that's very close to on point. It's really the lack of fumbles forced that made Michigan's defense lag TO expectations a year ago.
Rule changes. There aren't many new rules this year. You've probably heard about coach ejections being a thing now. They're probably not an actual thing, though:
The NCAA Football Rules Committee has brought football in line with other intercollegiate sports and increased the accountability a coach has in maintaining decorum. Just as with a player, a coach is now disqualified if he collects two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls during a game.
IIRC Bo Pelini did get hit with two unsportsmanlike flags in one game. That's the only instance I can remember in which this rule would actually get deployed. Even the infamous Will Muschamp rage only resulted in a single flag.
The other change of interest to Michigan fans is a clarification of the rules on sliding to the ground:
Rules-makers continue to expand the scope of targeting. Now they will protect any ball carrier who slides feet-first, giving sliding players the kind of protection they've had in the NFL, as some have advocated. If a defender makes "forcible contact" to the head or neck of a runner who has "given himself up," the defender will incur a 15-yard penalty for his team and be disqualified for at least the remainder of the game.
Jake Rudock took two or three nasty head shots on feet-first slides a year ago. Harbaugh actually changed the way he taught sliding as a result, with Rudock falling forward a couple of times in the bowl game. This year anyone blowing up a QB who's going to the ground will get booted, which kind of sucks for defenders expecting to tackle a ball-carrier instead of a guy sliding into second. No word on whether getting blocked into the QB after a play is still an ejection.
I call it trips TE. MMQB breaks down the "Y-iso" formation. Y-iso isolates your pass-catching tight end:
That's Greg Olsen to the bottom of the screen, and he'll catch that corner route for a big chunk as Richard Sherman bails for the inside slot receiver's deep route.
Y-iso snaps have doubled in the last four years of the NFL and with Jake Butt on the roster and Harbaugh's million NFL contacts, not least his brother, there's a good chance you see a significant dose of this in 2016. The rationale given for the formation certainly applies:
“If a team played man, your tight end is gonna get a safety or a linebacker on him and all the corners are gonna go over there and match up on the receivers,” Smith explains. “The tight end has to be talented enough to win that. That has to be a match up you want, depending on the team you’re playing. There’s probably not many of those match-ups that we don’t look at as favorable with Kelce. He’s that kind of player.”
The number of players with the speed to keep up with Butt and the frame to challenge him on balls up high is vanishingly small.
FWIW, I don't think Michigan lined up with the TE split out like this last year; when they ran this it was Butt in a three-point stance.
Mostly right but when you're wrong whoah buddy. ESPN publishes an "all-century" team that cops out on QB by listing Denard Robinson as an all-purpose player. It's mostly right, though it does that annoying thing where you list two running backs, no fullbacks, and two wide receivers. Also they list three corners and one safety. Marlin Jackson is one of those corners and he did play safety as a junior so whatever man. Errors as I see them:
- Bennie Joppru over Jake Butt. Joppru did have a big senior season; Butt just about matched it last year and is set to shatter the all-time TE receiving mark held by Jim Mandich.
- Gabe Watson over Mike Martin. I defend Watson endlessly to people disappointed in his two-time All Big Ten first team career, but Martin was far more impactful. Watson occupied guys; Martin blew through them.
- Shawn Crable over David Harris. Harris is an all-timer MLB. Crable's nutty 28.5 TFL season in 2007 was as a defensive end, and I'm still taking Woodley and Graham over him.
- Ernest Shazor over most Michigan safeties in the past 16 years. Big play factory largely responsible for Braylonfest having to be Braylonfest. Did murder that Purdue WR, then fell off a cliff. Prefer Jarrod Wilson.
Etc.: Feldman names Michigan the #4 secondary in the country; no anonymous coach quotes this time. CU athletes refer to their academic center as "the Plantation" and CU's president is talking about why they do this and how to address their grievances. New letter jackets for female letterwinners have gone out. Jibreel Black doing a ton of volunteer work. "The Ballad of the Sloop John Belein."
Once again we are running our Big Ten preview with a fantasy draft gimmick. This serves three purposes: For you, it's a snarky, informative way to learn who's good in the conference; it cuts through bad hype and the murky waters of line play, and sets expectations for Michigan players against guys outside our biases.
For us the comments section never fails to be a sobering reminder that some of our wonky readership prefer having lives to infinite knowledge about Nebraska OL. For Brian, he gets to play Bo, turning his staff's natural competitiveness against each other to hone us into fine-tuned Big Ten football coverage machines. Summer vacation is for losers and Nick Saban.
Everyone drafts a team from available Big Ten players consisting of
- A QB, five OL, and six skill players on offense. Usually this breaks down in to a RB, three WR, a TE, and a wild card but things tend to get weird.
- 4 DL, 3 LB, 2 CB, 2 S and one wild card on defense.
- A punter and a kicker.
Standard serpentine fantasy draft.
Once three teams have filled a position group the final team must do so at most three rounds later. This is mostly intended to prevent someone from waiting on a QB until the end of the draft and occasionally results in hilarious things like "Nathan Scheelhaase goes in round 8".
Brian will make fun of me for taking a low-volume defensive player he will draft in the first round next year.
The winner will be the person with the most impressive team.
As randomly determined by RANDOM.ORG the order is
BiSB and Smoothitron are in the Slack thread to be spicy. Ace is on the clock.
Brian: JT Barrett is a much more reasonable selection this year.
BiSB: Over First Rounder Mitch Leidner?
Brian: I didn't say that.
BiSB: I mean, shit, sure… it's your funeral.
ACE: Round 1, Pick 1: Jabrill Peppers, Heisman Contender, Michigan
OFFENSE: WILDCAT Jabrill Peppers, RB Jabrill Peppers, WR Jabrill Peppers
DEFENSE: OLB Jabrill Peppers, CB Jabrill Peppers, NICKEL Jabrill Peppers, SS Jabrill Peppers
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Jabrill Peppers, PR Jabrill Peppers
I strongly considered JT Barrett because of the dearth of proven quarterbacks, but…
…yeah, I’ll take the third-year, Don Brown-coached version of that guy.
[HEY READERS ARE YOU ENJOYING THIS SO FAR? SERIOUSLY. TRY THE JUMP IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME.]
How is the growing of a relationship with Brian Smith going? He’s new to you.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s great. He’s doing great. He’s learning the defense fast and we’re working together, working a lot more time together with the safeties and corners and spending a lot more time together. Everything’s going pretty smoothly.”
We talked to Jourdan [Lewis] in Florida and he seems really comfortable, maybe even more confident than he did a year ago. Where’s he at right now in your estimation in terms of his growth?
“He’s doing a hell of a job. Kid works hard, works his butt off. He’s been playing really well this spring. I think part of his comfort now is its year two in a system that he pretty much knows. Only new thing really [is] one new coverage that we put in that’s kind of changed things, but it’s a fun coverage for the corners. It’s a fun coverage for the secondary. I think the comfort level of playing press-man all last year and coming right back and doing it again this year really is comforting.”
Did he exceed your expectations at all last year from when you first got him?
“Well…being honest, watching the prior year on film, we watched all the games and he was impressive then. I was impressed with him, Strib[ling], Clark, those guys to be able to play man the way we wanted them to play man. To be able to handle that transition last year, that was impressive. All three of those guys. And now the carryover is very helpful.”
Where can he still get better?
“Jourdan? Woo, that’s a tough question. He’s pretty dang good at what he does. I think the biggest thing for him is just maintaining that level of play that he has, staying competitive. You know, maybe if I was being critical of him, use of his hands downfield. But he’s doing some really good things.”
I’m sure you’ve had other guys who are at the top of their game. How do you go approach them different than maybe a normal player?
“You don’t. You don’t. You just coach them the same, be consistent with all of them. At times you use guys like him and Strib as examples, but you gotta be consistent when you’re coaching. That’s what I try to do. I hope I’m doing that for those guys.”
Do you see him having an influence on Stribling and Clark?
“Well, you know, certainly his accolades from last year. His work ethic on the field. Very competitive guy. Those things, we all wish they rub off on a lot of guys and so in our room that can have an effect.”
Do you see him ever more vocally--
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He gets fired up on the field. Quiet off the field, but in between the lines he’s pretty vocal.”
[After THE JUMP: A new coverage, safety depth, the Glasgows, and Jabrill: not just an LB]