The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
|Joe Kerridge||Sr.*||Khalid Hill||So.*||AJ Williams||Sr.||Jake Butt||Jr.|
|Sione Houma||Sr.||Chase Winovich||So.*||Henry Poggi||So.*||Ian Bunting||Fr.*|
|Nick Volk||Fr.*||Ty Isaac||So.*||TJ Wheatley||Fr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
"Tight End and Friends" debuted as a separate post in the preview a couple years ago when Al Borges started packing his roster with tons of slightly different blocky/catchy types; last year I went with it despite the OC changeover because there were a lot of dudes here anyway, and hooooo boy did that bet pay off when Harbaugh came into town.
Here is your now-annual reminder of what I mean by these various positions. (I've replaced the Borges-specific "U-back" terminology with the standard "H-back," FWIW.)
- FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
- H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
- TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker, Kevin Koger.
- FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Tyler Eifert, Devin Funchess if he could block.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
TIGHT END AND FLEX
"Jake is as good a prospect as we've coached at the college level," Harbaugh said. "We've produced a lot of great players in college at the spot and it's vital to our success."
Not only did Jim Harbaugh bring out a Ross-Perot-sized chart that said "BUTT == ERTZ == FLEENER," he talked the like the gotdanged queen of England while doing so. And then emphasized that if you, kid, if you are not Ertz/Fleener Voltron that the whole gotdanged enterprise is liable to collapse 'pon itself.
JAKE BUTT is like… okay.
Butt recovered from an ACL tear suffered in 2014 spring practice to play in ten games and make 21 catches as a true sophomore. Now fully healthy in an offense without Devin Funchess and with Jim Harbaugh, every Michigan fan expects him to blow up.
This preview concurs. Butt is the kind of player Harbaugh has used to befuddle opposing defenses for years: the flex tight end. Michigan hasn't really had one since I've been paying attention. They tried to make Funchess one but gave up and made him a receiver. Michigan fans will be most familiar with the endless parade of Notre Dame flex TEs who were equally comfortable lining up in-line, outside, or in the slot. They were all named "Tyler" or "Chad" or "Austin" or something and they posed tough questions for cornerbacks they dwarfed and safeties and linebackers they could outrun.
That's Butt. He is a huge-radius target with a number of one-handed stabs to his credit already and the athleticism to blaze for 70 yards on a screen against Ohio State as a freshman. After his freshman year, Mike Spath got this quote from an anonymous opponent:
"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands. There weren't a lot of great tight ends in our league last year, so he could be the best this season."
Sometimes he just hangs out on the ground catching footballs one handed and oh hey there ma'am I did not see you why yes I have been working out how nice of you to notice
A little work from today.. pic.twitter.com/jOmzgujgmg
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) July 9, 2015
Perhaps we could get some gelato.
[After THE JUMP: High expectations, lower expectations, and an endless parade of blocky/catchy.]
Noooobody expects a Drake Johnson! [Uphchurch]
Scheduling note: Yeah we had one on Monday; that was last week's, pushed back by all the commitments.
Seth: Every year there's at least one guy from down the depth chart who emerges as a major contributor even though we barely talk about him in the season previews. Who's the surprise guy this year?
Ace: Provided he's healthy when the season starts, and it appears he's on track, I'll go with Khalid Hill. Michigan is going to need a second tight end option after Jake Butt in Jim Harbaugh's offense, and Hill flashed potential last year before he tore his ACL in October. Known as a smooth route-runner with good hands coming out of high school, Hill showed off a somewhat unexpected aspect of his game—bowling over defenders in the running game:
Hill is limited by his size—he's a pure H-back at this point—but he should still prove quite useful as a reliable receiver and very willing blocker.
Alex: I would go with somebody on the defensive line. I'm not sure if Durkin will be as liberal with his defensive line rotations as Hoke/Mattison were (and I don't know if Mattison will be given the leeway to rotate again, which seems like a good bet) but if he is, I think that we could certainly have some breakthrough candidates on the defensive line. There's plenty of opportunity at the end spots—Ojemudia hasn't gotten big enough to be a consistent performer and Charlton still hasn't approached his level of recruiting hype (and potential, theoretically). Glasgow has one DT spot locked down, and Willie Henry seems to have a stranglehold on the other.
But if he can get on the field, my surprise performer is Maurice Hurst. He has a lightning-quick first step for a man his size and if we can get him to generate pass rush from the DT position, that will allay one of our biggest prospective weaknesses on that side of the ball. Mone, Wormley, and Poggi (who's a SDE) could all also be huge surprises as well.
Adam: I also think we're going to be surprised by one of the tight ends, but my choice is Ian Bunting. We know about Harbaugh's affinity for blocky/catchy guys, and Bunting's well on his way to being one. He put on 16 pounds over the winter, bringing him to a respectable (and much more in line with the rest of his position group) 243 pounds. At that weight he should be able to line up, put a hand in the dirt, and not tip off a pass play.
The catching part of being a blocky/catchy guy was never going to be a problem for a dude who has opposable skillets attached to his arms. Blocking was always going to be the issue for a nominal tight end who spent most of his high school career lining up outside, and even then it was simply a matter of size rather than willingness; Bunting posted separate highlight film of his blocking on his Hudl page. Now that he's in the range of plausible weights for a D-I tight end I'm expecting him to be the kind of matchup nightmare the Harbaughfense thrives on.
Seth: Brian wrote in HTTV that James Ross III had plateaued from the incisive freshman we were so excited about. One implication of being a base nickel with Peppers as a strongside slot space monster is that lifts a linebacker. Or did last year, cutting heavily into Ross's snaps. I find this sufficient underratement to justify defining him as a "surprise" star on this year's defense.
The loss of snaps to nickels may not be such a big deal this year, depending on how much of the Florida defense is ported to the new platform. There Durkin loved a lean, mean attack piece. His SAM last year was Neiron Ball, now with the Raiders. For Florida Ball was a Ross-like object consistently deployed as field side LB, whether that was technically MLB, or a nickel, a meat-raw version of the aggressive safety in the other slot. Given Michigan's uncertain DE depth, that surfeit of 30 (three DL) fronts would be a welcome wrinkle in Ann Arbor, drawing Ross back into the lineup instead of an end.
I also think he's still a better player than Bolden—that gap seems to narrow when Bolden faces Michigan's own offense because knowing the plays lets him match the effect of Ross's intuitiveness. Ross came on later last year as Michigan left him in as a hybrid spacebacker, and while that job is now Peppers's, any configuration that takes Ross off the field seems worse than the +Ross option. Add a bit of havoc from the aggressive stuff and sharing a side with Peppers and Taco, and there's plenty of opportunity for Ross to build his NFL highlight reel this year.
Brian: My surprise contributor this year is Dennis Norflee—dammit.
My surprise contributor this year is Delano Hill. He is officially a backup at safety, but in practice my hunch is that we see an awful lot of him. Jabrill Peppers is all-time nickel and he's going to be at or near the LOS at all times. Michigan faces a number of spread teams; Hill will be a de facto starter against them. He will also play extensively in regular manball games, because those also feature lots of passing downs—especially against a run defense that should be very good. He will play, a lot.
When he does Michigan will have a very fast, hopefully instinctive safety. Marcus Ray has been pumping him up as the best guy there, and he's a dude who knows safety play. I've been impressed in limited snippets so far as well; the bet here is that he eats into linebacker snaps on the regular.
Your recruiting tactics are pretty creative. What went into tracking down a recruit's girlfriend?
"Yeah, I'm not going to take any recruiting questions. Not allowed to talk about recruiting, unfortunately."
Talk about what you have with Jake Butt and how he's doing.
"Jake, he's doing well. He's a very well-rounded player, brings a lot to the table. Really excited about him. He's getting a lot better and doing a lot to improve the detail of his game throughout his whole game."
How involved has Khalid Hill been able to be?
"He's been very involved mentally in what we're doing and getting stronger and getting prepared to come back at some point. Not sure when that's going to be, but from a mental standpoint he'll be very much ready to go when that does happen."
Ian Bunting – what's he got to do to get on the field this year?
"Just keep growing. He's gotten a lot better. He's the guy who's probably improved the most as spring's gone on here. I've been very pleased with him. Just like all the other guys he brings a tremendous work ethic when he comes out there and just grinds. He goes out there for the entirety of practice and the focus is always on getting better. I really love that about him. So he's really coming along, just has to get better at everything just like everybody else does."
There's not much of an age gap between you and the players. What's it like being just five or six years older than some of them?
"Uh, I don't know. It's fun. They're fun to be around."
Is it like a big brother relationship that you have with some of them or do you hope that it gets to that?
"Uh, No. I don't know. I just feel like their coach. Last year I was with guys who were much older than me and I didn't feel like I was their little brother, So I don't know. They're fun to be around, though. Feel like we have a good professional relationship as far as coaching and I feel there is good mutual respect there, I hope, and I really like being around them."
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
- Sione Houma had a procedure done and will be recovering over the spring. He’s expected to be back for summer conditioning and fall camp.
- Khalid Hill and Drake Johnson are also injured and not participating in spring practices.
- The first practice went well; Harbaugh thought the whole day was great “with a capital G.”
- The coaching staff is still in the process of asking questions themselves; how to get better, what scheme fits the personnel, what players fit what position, etc.
- Harbaugh said nothing has been determined as far as players switching positions, so take the initial depth chart with a massive grain of salt.
- Harbaugh declined to comment on freshman ineligibility
“I have no opening statement. I wasn’t expecting a press conference. If anybody has any questions I’d be glad to attempt to answer them.”
How’d it go?
“Good. You know, it’s good to start. Feel like when you start you have- you can lay down a benchmark of where you are and it gives you a place to go forward from. It gives you a place to improve from [and] things to get better at.”
Talk about how you go about building competition in practice with some of the things you implement.
“Uh…some of the things we do to build competition? I mean, it’s football. It’s a very competitive sport.”
Are there things you do to encourage guys to…
“I’m sure there are. I’m sure there are. I don’t really have that list in front of me right now.”
You said you wanted to find out what their intent was in winter conditioning. Were you pleased with some of the results?
“Yes. Team’s in very good shape. Kevin Tolbert and his staff did a very nice job and the fellas did a nice job. You could see that throughout practice that the team’s in good condition and that gives us a fighting chance.”
Do you know how much of an install you want to do this spring versus just evaluating the guys and getting a feel for the team? Do you know how you’re going to balance that at this point?
“We’ll do both.”
How long is the evaluation process going to be?
“Daily. Every day there’ll be an evaluation process on every player in every drill. That’s on-going. That’s always.”
[After THE JUMP: the first day of spring practice, or New ThanksBirthMas]
FORMATION NOTES: Rutgers did some weird stuff. On a number of snaps they'd start off looking like an over, then move a LB down into a three-tech like spot while flaring a DE out. I called those under fronts, and since Rutgers is pretty small all over it was just a way to sow confusion. An example; Rutgers shifted from this:
There's a standup 3-tech and an "ILB" who is actually a cornerback. It's a bit weird.
They also ran some more conventional under looks.
For its part Michigan went back to a heavy dose of gun. Removing three goal line plays, Michigan had 42 shotgun snaps to 13 under center. (A couple of those were goal to go runs from the 5 and 2, respectively, FWIW). This was not a panacea but did happen to coincide with Michigan's best rushing output against a Power 5 team not named Indiana in a long time.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line was Cole/Glasgow/Miller/Kalis/Braden the whole way. Green got the bulk of the RB snaps until he was knocked out; Smith and Hayes got the rest. WRs and TEs as usual, though Butt is working his way into considerably more playing time as the season progresses.
[After THE JUMP: torchclowns, multiple torchclowns]
You might think downing a slow-rolling punt on the opponent's 11-yard line isn't much to celebrate, but that is why you are you and Dennis Norfleet is the best.
In case there was any doubt as to who won this week's otherwise-barren GIFs post, the BTN knew enough to put a camera on Norfleet before a Rutgers kickoff:
The adidas "what if we made one finger different?" gloves make this look a bit more obscene than I think was intended. Regardless, infinite eligibility for Norfleet, please—this, sadly didn't make it to the broadcast:
— Boom2daBoomBoom (@Boom2daBoomBoom) October 7, 2014
Infinite, I say, and I'll stand for nothing less.
[Hit THE JUMP for a couple sacks, a couple Devin Gardner TD runs, a catch and two steps and C'MON REFS, and more.]