Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]
What do you know about your defense now that you didn't know six weeks ago?
"I think we have a pretty good handle on our personnel right now in terms of strengths and weaknesses of guys individually and I think as a unit, too. It's been a really good spring. We've had quite a bit of reps out there in practice, in four hour practices. I think the main thing that I figured out about our defense is that they are willing to work. The guys, they competed every day we've been out there and they've really put the time in."
You said you kind of have a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. Would you say what their strengths are right now?
"Yeah, no, not necessarily more than that. Like I said, I think our group is really willing to work. They’ve been great in terms of learning our scheme throughout the spring. They come to meetings prepared, they come to practice prepared. I think that anytime you've got a hungry group that way I think there's good things ahead."
You came out here about a month ago said you wanted to throw as much at them as you could and then sort of whittle it down from there. Have you started to figure out what you think is going to work?
"Yeah, we have a pretty good idea. Starting on Saturday and then today's practice we started to move that way and narrow it down and sort of hone in on some of the things we’ll be doing more of and they've really responded well to that, too. We probably got to a point there later in the spring where it was becoming overload for them, which was good. We pushed them to that limit and they saw we scaled back how they performed; a credit to them, They've grasped what we've thrown at them."
You said everyone would start with a clean slate. Who are the impact players?
"I think to name just a few guys – there are a lot of guys who really made strides throughout the spring. There are some guys we just pointed out the other day on film from day one of spring until now they've made huge strides. Lawrence Marshall is a guy who– he's a young guy, he's a freshman – the first two practices it didn't barely look like he could lineup. Now he's out there and he's playing really well for us. We expect him to help us. But there's a lot of guys. There's a whole group of guys that are veterans who’ve played a lot of football around here that have made those improvements as well. I just think that they're pushing each other really well and they’re in the mindset every day whether it's meetings or practice to come to get better."
You guys lost both ends. Who's at the head of the defensive ends this spring?
"We’ve got several guys playing there. Wormley's playing some end, I mentioned Lawrence, Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing some end, we've even moved Mo Hurst out there a little bit to play some end, so we've done a combination of a lot of things. I think one of the bonuses to what we do schematically is the concepts carry over in fit so we're moving guys in different spots so when you do get injuries, you get nicked up, that's part of football– we have some guys we can put in there."
[After THE JUMP: linebacker talk and your regularly scheduled batch of Jabrill Peppers questions]
Not fair comparing Peppers to humans. [Upchurch]
Ace: Since there's always at least one: Who do you think becomes this year's Spring Breakout Guy?
Alex Cook (hoops beat): Can I answer with Jabrill Peppers? Last year was a complete and unmitigated disaster -- even our best recruit (of the past decade and perhaps longer) went down with an injury and missed pretty much the whole season. It's going to be easy for the national media to forget about him: Peppers didn't make any noise last year -- because of injury -- and Michigan isn't expected to do a whole lot (though we do have Harbaugh, which will be a well-tracked national storyline).
|I like big butts and we cannot lie, when we’re building an offensive line. When a kid walks in with fleet-foot spin, and lower-body weight you get sprung! [Upchurch]|
I'm a True Believer when it comes to Jabrill Peppers, especially after the move to safety, where he can be in the box and play a coverage guy in equal turn. The guy has "future top ten pick" written all over him and I'm guessing we'll hear all about that as spring progresses.
Seth: Yeah it'll be Peppers though we've been stoking that flame so long it can't be that much of a surprise when it goes up. So in the spirit of the annual "hey look what we found" of Spring let's go for a surprise candidate.
Logan Tuley-Tillman is what NFL left tackles are supposed to look like at 20 years old. Here's a guy who dropped 20 lbs from high school, then built back 10. He also had a hand injury last year to explain why he couldn't compete with a true freshman.
Brian on Monday mentioned a practice observer said the light went on. When that happens to a guy whose build matches the Michael Oher description from Blind Side, that means a Jake Long is born.
For LTT to crack the starting lineup now would mean he beat out (probably) Magnuson and Braden, two guys with 23 starts between them. Word from practice so far seems to be emphasizing that Cole and Miller are the only two OL from last year's unit who've locked down a job, then peg Cole as maybe moving to guard or RT. Reading between the lines it seems somebody’s job’s under fire from one of underclassmen. It could as well be Dawson—perhaps he can pull?—pushing from behind, since I’ve also read nice things about him coming out of practice, but the Cole thing suggests it’s a tackle who’s upsetting the standard order, and if that tackle was Magnuson we’d be hearing they plan to find a spot for Mags. Fox is still hurt, so that leaves JBB or LTT, and people are talking about the latter.
[Jump for more things Harbaugh makes better]
We get excited about certain things around these parts. Like fun-to-size ratios. And new official rosters with updated weights. We've had 24 hours to parse the Spring data, and with Brian on the road today it's up to me to see how they've grown:
Things of [a Certain Definition of] Interest:
- Brady Pallante is a fullback
- Ross Douglas is listed as Ross Taylor-Douglas, and is back at corner
- Ian Bunting is up to 6'7/243
- A.J. Williams is up to offensive tackle size (6'6/285)
Weight Gain/Loss 2000
A reminder of internet policy on weight changes: all weight gain is muscle fiber, all weight lost was fat, and all static weight means fat was replaced with muscle fiber. I've highlighted things discussed after.
|Player||'11||'12||'13||S'14||F'14||Sp'15||'11- '12||'12-'13||'13-'14||'14- 15|
Fullback & Tight End
|Maurice Hurst Jr.||270||277||282||281||12||-1|
[Hit the jump for discussion on this and other bits I could glean.]
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Brennen Beyer||Sr.||Ryan Glasgow||So.*#||Willie Henry||So.*||Frank Clark||Sr.|
|Taco Charlton||So.||Ondre Pipkins||Jr.||Chris Wormley||So.*||Mario Ojemudia||Jr.|
|Henry Poggi||Fr.*||Bryan Mone||Fr.||Maurice Hurst||Fr.*||Lawrence Marshall||Fr.|
It is time for Michigan to kick some ass on defense, and if they are going to do so it starts here: Michigan has two veteran, quality seniors playing defensive end spots they can hack this year. Both can really play; neither has broken through such that many people believe this.
It is go time for these gentlemen. Victory or death!
WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END
BEFORE PSU AFTER
hell yes I'm recycling this joke, because it was also Frank Clark's season
One of the more broadly correct bits of last year's preview was this section, which asked everyone to pump the breaks on the FRANK CLARK hype train:
The distance from Frank Clark 2012 to what he's supposed to be this year is immense. Too immense. I have to concede significant improvement to the chatter, but something along the lines of Tim Jamison (as a junior: 10 TFL, 5.5 sacks) would be a massive step forward.
Clark racked up 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Self high five. I was broadly correct.
But though the stats and overall Tim Jamison-esque B+ season were accurate, the shape of that season is really promising. Clark started the year making little impact against MAC teams; he ended it by straight-up whipping Brandon Scherff and CJ Fiedorowicz en route to his second career game with a double-digit positive UFR score. He was a C at best to start; by the end he was an A-.
[After the JUMP: Frank Clark beasts up, fitting Beyer into the front, DEATH STARE 2014]
|Southfield, MI – 6'4", 245|
4*, #104 overall
#12 DE, #4 MI
3*, NR overall
#22 WDE, #7 MI
4*, #121 overall
#13 DE, #4 MI
4*, #221 overall
#11 WDE, #4 MI
|Other Suitors||OSU, MSU, Neb, Oklahoma, Tenn, Florida|
|YMRMFSPA||Taco Charlton/Frank Clark|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post.|
Via Maize and Blue News, single-game highlights of Marshall vs Farmington:
Despite twice fulfilling a lifelong dream to play for a prestigious football program, Lawrence Marshall had a rough, rough year. His father died from complications from diabetes; his grandfather followed a couple months later with heart issues. A few days after that, Marshall was on the field for Southfield, eye-black stickers under his eyes reading RIP.
Marshall soldiered on, and so will we. But, you know, keep it in mind.
About that "twice" bit in the previous paragraph: Marshall had one of the weirder recruitments in this class, as he leapt at an Ohio State offer on an early visit. That turned out to be a rather impulsive decision that he retracted a couple days after it happened; after opening up his recruitment he visited various places and eventually re-pulled the trigger in favor of Michigan, but not before picking up a number of impressive out-of-region offers, as listed above.
Those offers came because Marshall provides a physical package that promises an explosive edge rusher once he can fill out his frame. He'd already fielded Michigan and Michigan State offers by early in his junior year, when he was a relatively spindly 6'4", 205, because he can get in the backfield:
Marshall still has a lean frame, but he does not have issues with strength at the point of attack. He does a great job creating upfield momentum, which all starts with his explosive first step. Marshall comes off the line hard and low, and puts an exclamation point on his sacks by being a heavy hitter.
… an explosive weak-side defensive end that can really get after the quarterback. He has a quick first step and can close very well. Marshall shows great snap awareness, allowing him to get a jump on the opposing offensive tackle.
Marshall did not quite pull a Bryan Mone (MEEEEAAAAAAT), but he's filled out his frame relatively quickly. By the end of his senior season of high school he was 225; he told Mike Spath he was 240 at the Offense-Defense Bowl, the world's worst-named all star event; he's listed at 245 on Michigan's tentative roster. This process has apparently not damaged his quickness one bit. Marshall on Marshall:
"I didn't miss a step. Everything that I had before, I still had, but then my punches got stronger. I could feel myself beating the offensive linemen with better moves, with more power. And I think I actually got faster too because I added some explosion at the snap."
As the blockquotes below indicate, that is a consensus view.
Athleticism is Marshall's calling card, with everything else trailing behind. Trieu makes the case for:
Very long frame. Has great athleticism, change of direction and speed in pursuit. Has all of the tools to be an elite pass rusher, just needs continued work on his technique. …Has to add some weight, but all of the raw tools are there.
While the rankings above are nearly identical to Bryan Mone's—three sites around the 100 mark and Rivals shrugging—in this case Rivals has made its case thanks to the local reporters. Sullivan seemingly carpooled with Marshall to his games this year, and pointed out that while he's got upside he has trouble getting off blocks:
If his speed rush on the edge doesn't find home (and it only did on a couple occasions in this game), his counter moves are limited. … Most of Marshall's flaws are technique-related, and have little to do with his athletic ability (as is expected with someone in just his second year of varsity ball). In addition to limited use of his hands to fight off the blocker - which he did improve over the course of the game - he stands straight up on the snap too often, which is telegraphed by his stance.
Josh Helmholdt took in the Cass-Southfield opener:
He is best when he can line up outside at a seven- or nine-technique and use his speed to run by offensive tackles. He did that for a first-half sack and was tracking ball carriers to the other side of the field with his speed. Marshall has trouble releasing from offensive linemen once they get their hands on him. He shows flashes of explosive, athletic playmaking ability, but he needs to develop consistency to be an every-down defensive end at the college level.
That criticism was echoed by 247 after Lorenz attended the opener:
…still has difficulty disengaging blocks at points, but was very impressive physically and did not look even the slightest bit slower after putting on about 30 pounds since this time last season. He never quits on a play, and made a couple backside pursuit tackles that may have prevented Cass Tech touchdowns. He looked great.
Great is in the eye of the beholder, as always. As an athlete with potential develop, he looked great. As a technician, not so much. FWIW, ESPN's evaluation is surprisingly muted for a guy they have just outside their top 100, heavy on "flashes" and "can"; with a prospect like Marshall who adds a bunch of weight and improves a lot ESPN's fire and forget ratings and evals are ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The good news in that department is that Marshall's senior year saw him develop quite a bit as a footbaw player. Allen Trieu:
…more of a potential guy as a junior but he really put it together as a senior. He turned a great final season. He added weight and strength and now looks like a kid who could come in and contribute early. He's active and plays with a great motor. He still has to work on his technique, but all the physical tools are there and he improved by leaps and bounds from what was an already good junior year.
247 took another look at him towards the end of 2013, nothing that he's "already shown great improvement" and is "bigger, faster, stronger, and nastier":
… shows an even quicker first step and has improved his pass rush moves and technique. Marshall looks more comfortable in his stance and has a larger repertoire of moves. He has an elite swim move to get past the offensive tackle and can close on the quarterback in a flash. … Marshall has significant untapped potential and is an ascending talent whose best football is ahead of him.
You get a cookie if you can predict the next sentence. 247 lists pad level as an area to improve. They also mention that he "shows" violent hands but only erratically.
Meanwhile, Sullivan was impressed with his consistent improvement:
He defeated a couple blockers on the edge, and was much more disciplined in keeping contain than he was early in this season. His strength was overwhelming for Lathrup's right tackle, and is one area of his game that he has been developing as well. When he hits, the opponent is sure to feel it, and he had one particularly violent tackle along the sideline early in the game.
By late in the season he was suggesting that he was "likely" to get the fourth star over-eager message boarders had been badgering him about for six months despite the fact that he has no hand in the rankings; this was a departure from his previous stance that Marshall was ranked where he deserved to be and is probably more meaningful than the fact that he did not actually get that star.
By the time the O/D Bowl came around, Marshall was actually drafted to play DT(!) because of his increased size and power, and it was not a disaster.
Marshall looked comfortable and capable of taking on double teams by the center and guard, over powering them or standing his ground on nearly every rep. When it came time to showcase his athleticism, Marshall again didn't disappoint, able to blow by some of the stiff guards looking to slow him down and get directly to the running back in the back field.
The competition level there is a considerable step down from the UA and Army games, for what it's worth.
Etc.: His troll job is a little less awesome after the events of last year, but A for effort.
Why Taco Charlton? Both WDEs with NFL potential who were dogged by assertions that they were not any good at football as juniors who had breakout senior years. Those breakout years still found a number of skeptics about how far away from that hypothetical ceiling they were, and not without cause. Ranked in approximately the same fashion as well.
I know this isn't a comparison that really tells you much since Charlton has not established who he is as a player, so Frank Clark is another option. Clark came in a safety-sized DE and took a long time to turn his athleticism into enough DE-type footbaw knowledge.
Guru Reliability: High. Well-scouted, healthy player. Variance in rankings actually a reasonable reflection of his status as something of a boom-or-bust player.
Variance: High-minus. Still needs some weight and still needs a lot of technique work. If that 245 is accurate, though, he's put a lot of size concerns to bed. He'd already be five pounds away from where Ojemudia is without the benefit of a college S&C program.
Ceiling: High-minus. Doesn't have crazy blow-you-away athleticism or size, but he is probably an A- in those categories.
General Excitement Level: High-minus. Wish he was further along but the quick improvement suggests he's coachable and will get towards his ceiling. Unless, of course, he does not.
Projection: With a number of other WDE types on the roster and a couple linebackers who could put their hand down in pass rush situations, you'd hope Marshall could redshirt. He's probably going to be good, he didn't enroll early, he could use the extra time to get to 260-270, he's raw, and there's a high probability he's not going to be an early NFL entry. If they were still in the under I'd say it's highly probable.
They are not, though, and Taco Charlton has moved over to SDE for at least one year. That leaves Michigan two deep at WDE, a situation which has seen this coaching staff play freshmen consistently. So he'll be in the running for the WHY wasted redshirt of the year as he runs behind Clark and Ojemudia.
Marshall could see serious time as early as next year, depending on if the over sticks. If they go back to being a primarily under team, Charlton probably moves back and he's going to have to fight through a couple guys. If they stick with the over he'll at least be a platoon type with Ojemudia and will have an excellent chance at starting since Ojemudia seems near his physical ceiling and Marshall's got another 20 pounds to add.