Weird line combinations and depth stuff have been coming out of practice. What should we believe, what's motivational, what's a boo boo, what's anything in this crazy world? We go under cover and bring you the NEWS that HITS the HARDEST (at least until Jake Ryan returns, because he hits harder than our news). The staff:
- Brian Woodward
- Seth Bernstein
- Ace Bradlee
- Heiko Felt, Sr.
- Blue in South Katherine Graham
- Deep Throw
And the question:
Heiko and I have been arguing about this on gchat and I thought I'd bring it to the team. We want to know where you think there are real positional battles going on right now, and how you're handicapping them. For example:
Center: 55% Glasgow, 40% Miller, 5% Kugler
SAM: 85% Gordon, 15% Beyer
Norfleet: 100% Norfleet, 400% Norfleet, Norfleet% Norfleet.
Mathlete: Shouldn't it be Norfleet: 75% Slot, 20% RB, 5% DB, 100% Awesome?
Ace: The lineup seems refreshingly settled at most spots (hooray depth!); the only positions I see having real competition are tailback, outside receiver, center, and strongside linebacker, though it'll be interesting to see if there are any surprises in the defensive backfield with the return of Blake Countess and Dymonte Thomas's potential early impact at nickel. I'm operating under the assumption that Keith Heitzman earns the nod at SDE and Jibreel Black starts at three-tech with Chris Wormley playing a key role as a backup.
Starting from the top, we've discussed the running back battle ad nauseam; Fitz Toussaint should start against CMU and Derrick Green will push for more and more carries as the season wears on. I'll go 99% Toussaint (barring injury) and a 1% chance that Dennis Norfleet gets the season's first carry as Al Borges epically trolls Brian.
[Surprising (and probably meaningless) revelations and scandal, minus the scandal, after the jump]
Sinestral: Ross, Ryan and Clark|Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog. Dextral: Bill Walsh
First, a Chag Sameach to my fellow tribesmen and a Happy Turtleversary to the wingnuts.
We now continue with the Bill Walshian rundown of the 2013 roster. Since Michigan's offense and defense schemes are kindred spirits of the great 49er teams of the '80s, I've found it somewhat useful to re-scout Michigan's players on the same factors that the legendary coach used to evaluate his draft picks. How do we know what Walsh drafted on? Well wouldn'tchya know it, he provided it in a 1997 article for Pro Sports Exchange that Chris Brown (Smart Football) discovered.
Bruce Smith/ James Hall / Frank Clark by Upchurch
Walsh Says: 6'5/270 or 6'3/245 depending on type. It's complicated so I'm going to spend some extra time here. His DE descriptions bounced between what you want from 3-4 DEs, which is the 3- and 5-tech in Michigan's defense, and pure pass rushers. Ultimately Michigan's WDE is closer to the pass-rush-specialist-who-stops-runs-too job description of a Walshian 3-4 weakside linebacker than a blocker-sucking interior DL, so they go here with the LBs. Speed and quickness are now very much in play:
Must have explosive movement and the ability to cover ground quickly in three to five yards of space. The ability to get your shoulder past the shoulder of the tackle. This makes for a pass rusher. With that there is quickness because it sets up a lot of other things.
From the outside linebackers description we get this:
These pass rushing outside linebackers must have natural gifts, or instincts for dealing with offensive tackles who are up to 100 pounds heavier. Quickness is only part of it. They must know how to use leverage, how to get underneath the larger man's pads and work back toward the quarterback. And he must be strong enough to bounce off blocks and still make the play.
The rush DE needs to have some finesse. This site never misses an opportunity to knock on Will Gholston so I'll do that: Gholston has more than enough explosion and strength, and is an excellent tackler but the big hole in his game is he doesn't get leverage or bounce off blocks. This is why State deployed him mostly SDE this year while Marcus Rush was the premier pass rusher. Walsh says it's all the same if you can push a tackle as go around him, but being an okay jack of all trades here isn't as valuable as being super disruptive at one or the other.
Overall strength is important. You don't have to be a Mike Martin beastmonster in the weight room but a WDE has to be strong enough to not get turned by the tackle. This is also a technique issue though it's not a skill that needs years to develop—a big sophomore year leap is expected at this position as the kid gains weight, strength, and the footwork and balance to be able to keep his shoulders pointed toward the football.
As echoed in Mattison's statements in 2011 regarding WDEs, Walsh calls his rush DEs "the substance off the defensive team" since their ability to put pressure on the quarterback can make or break a defense. This is why great DEs are at such a premium in today's NFL.
The last piece is willpower, which in scouting parlance becomes "high motor." WDEs typically get rotated a lot because they burn a gazillion calories on each play. Because this spot is supposed to win 1-on-1 battles and kill plays himself, success on the second and third moves can make a huge difference.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: If James Hall and Larry Stevens had a baby, and that baby came out 6'5/260 and immediately ate the doctor. Michigan just hasn't had the freaks here unless you count Woodley and I'm saving him. Stevens didn't have the sacks but generated hurries. And Hall: because he's 6'2 every scout from the early recruiting years to modern NFL trade talkers underrates him, despite consistent production at every level. Hall is second (to Graham) in career sacks and 6th in TFLs among Wolverines and was the 1997 team's secret weapon. Both guys were often extolled for their virtues under the hood.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: EXPLOSIONS! I know I said this for SDE but even more so. You know these guys on sight because the innate quickness and strength makes them terrors against high schoolers. Skipping over the blue chips (or like Ra'Shede Hageman who would have been a blue chip if he accepted Florida's offer to play DE rather than Minnesota's offer of tight end) 3-stars who shine seem to have athletic tickmarks or the proverbial motor. I noticed some of the big performers from high school All-American games (Ray Drew, Alex Okafor, a million dudes who went to Florida) tend to fare well—about the worst among Army game standouts of yore was Victor Abiamiri, who was still pretty good. The pushers had ridiculous squats (Simon's was 700!)
What you can learn on film: How fast he gets into the backfield, adjusted for competition. You're looking for that quick burst. The great ones just look completely unblockable—like the guy blocking him doesn't seem to have any leverage.
What could signal bust potential: Size. Rivals tends to put its favorite DEs at "SDE" for this reason. If you browse through the five-stars you generally find two categories: high-effort guys who were early contributors and are or are on track to be NFL draft picks at defensive end, and Pierre Woods/Shawn Crable-like linebackers whose recruiting profiles said they would grow into Jevon Kearse. There's a reason they called Kearse "the freak."
How our guys compare: Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer are the two sides of the WDE coin. This refrain from MGoBlog is becoming tiresome but Beyer seems the stronger and more responsible one and Clark is the greater X-factor. We overplay this; both would still fall more into the finesse side than, say, John Simon, and both seem to top out as useful but not stars.
Ojemudia is kind of a James Hall but more akin to Shantee Orr. Where James Hall was small but had the size to stand up to a good shove when needed, here you have a dude with explosiveness and great hands for pass rushing but is going to be dead meat if doubled and run at, and is therefore best deployed as a 3rd down or [blank]-and-long specialist.
Early enrollee Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton, who's already 6'6/265 on Michigan's spring roster, is the closest thing to Walshian dreams. On film though a lot of times you just see him blowing something up because they didn't block him, and though this probably had a lot to do with being way bigger than high school tackles in Central Ohio he didn't play with much leverage after the snap. The reason for all the Tacoptimism is he blew up the camp circuit. He probably still needs a year to work on technique since he spent most of high school in a 2-point stance. Warning: he doesn't check the motor box.
[Linebackers, after a leap.]
Eleven months ago I used this space to discuss Michigan's crazy success in defensive short situations. That was brought on by a staggering performance against Illinois, at which point Michigan had stopped 15 of 27 3rd- or 4th-and-one situations, and 13 of 19 against real competition. This was up from stopping less than a quarter of such plays the previous two years, and almost as far above the going rate for all defenses.
This was huge. Getting one yard for any offense is far easier that stopping it for any defense—one good block can usually do it. Forcing a 4th down situation from 3rd and 1 or a turnover on downs on 4th and 1 is worth half a turnover or more. Jamie Mac addressed this further in his HTTV article, showing that the stoppage situation was affecting the happy margin between our yards-ceded defense and scoring defense as much as having a ridiculous year in turnover luck.
Michigan last year was really good at stopping the short stuff, but folks chalked it up to Martin and Van Bergen playing to their strengths and figured it was a blip. Except it wasn't just those guys. Here's last year's chart for short situations, through OSU:
|Ryan Van Bergen||6.5||0|
|Craig Roh (right/Heiko)||6||0|
|Campbell, Hawthorne & Heinigner||2.5||0|
|Black, Morgan, and Woolfolk||1||0|
|Herron and Beyer||0||-1|
Two thirds of Michigan's short-down production from last year returned (as did bad refs). Demens, Roh, Ryan, Kovacs, and Campbell were all key role players in that ridiculous shutdown rate, and if the UFR can be trusted, they weren't getting it just because of things the Team 132 seniors were doing.
This doesn't even count things like stopping Ohio State on 3rd and goal from the 2. Actually it doesn't count goal line situations at all, though 1st and goal from the 1 is as hard to stop as 3rd and 1 from the 40. So I revisited when updating the UFR database. Get ready to be happy (through MSU):
|Year||--FCS and MAC removed--||--All Opponents--|
|Stopped!||They got it :(||Stop %||Stopped!||They got it :(||Stop %|
It's still happening. It's happening more. We replaced Martin and RVB with Washington and Campbell, and if anything got better! And like last year Michigan's short defense seems to be getting tougher as the season goes on. Since Big Ten play started, the non-stops have read thusly: Purdue converting with 16 seconds left in the half while down 18, Illinois benefiting from a terrible spot, two plays where Bell was forced to cut back into the pile and just managed to squeak through, and one bust.
[After the jump, what's causing it, and the plays vs. State]
|Jake Ryan||So.*||Kenny Demens||Sr.*||Desmond Morgan||So.|
|Cam Gordon||Jr.*||Joe Bolden||Fr.||Brandin Hawthorne||Sr.|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone||Fr.||Mike Jones||Jr.*||James Ross||Fr.|
It's step-up time for the linebacking corps. They return every contributor from a year ago and get freshman-to-sophomore transitions from Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan. Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, and Brandin Hawthorne are entering their second consecutive years in a sane defense for the first time in their careers and could/should see larger than average leaps in performance.
They will need to be much better. Mike Martin isn't going to bail them out on six plays a game anymore. Ryan Van Bergen isn't walking through that door. Ryan has to become an elite pass rush threat; Demens and Morgan need to take on blockers and funnel to help far more consistently than they did a year ago.
This is well within reach. Now about getting there.
|SLOWER THAN BLOCKS|
|eats MSU cut|
|eats OSU TE|
|eats him again|
|FASTER THAN BLOCKS|
|flow hard son|
|GOT SOME THUMP|
|Iowa FB denied|
|No Coker part 1|
|line to seam PBU|
In 2010, Kenny Demens was not Obi Ezeh, and this was enough. Expectations were sky-high for Demens in 2011 if only because he seemed so much better than Michigan's incumbent that he had to be pretty good. In retrospect, his somewhat disappointing output was always the likely outcome. Like almost everyone else on the defense, Demens had experienced position-coaching chaos and shifted from system to system on a semiannual basis.
Stepping into an entirely different coaching regime naturally meant hesitation, and hesitation was what we got. I put up this extremely scientific pie chart after Eastern Michigan put up 4.5 YPC despite throwing six times:
We'll talk about the Jake Ryan edge allowance below; here we're fixated on the big red thing labeled "hesitant linebacker play." This was the week after I'd watched Notre Dame's linebackers tear ass after anything that moved, so I may have had a view of proper linebacker play improperly biased towards running your balls off as soon as a guard gives you a direction.
I don't think so, though, as Michigan linebackers were exploited on the edge for much of the year. Blue Seoul captured a Kain Colter option TD in With Pics(!), and while I suppose Carvin Johnson, who Seoul criticizes, could have been more Kovacs-y on the play, he did follow the golden rule of leverage by keeping Colter well inside of him. It's just that there was no one to clean up afterwards:
Johnson's mistake should have been worth a few yards, but not enough for Northwestern to convert. Earlier he was unable to shut down an outside run that got turned up at the numbers:
He's even with Hawthorne, who was the backside LB, and well behind nose tackle Mike Martin in his attempt to shut the play down. This is because he took an angle upfield of a blocker on a perimeter run, which is one of those "you better make the damn play" decisions. Demens wasn't close.
Demens got a –4 in that game and was negative the next week against MSU as the Spartans pounded the edges and found Michigan LBs a step slow. Too often Demens did not do what Johnson is managing above, like on this Ed Baker run against MSU. Watch him eat a block and let Baker to the edge:
I know this is not an edge play, but it's symptomatic of the main issue.
You want edge biff? Edge biff.
State couldn't get out to the second level on Hawthorne and he is free. This is a quintessential example of what you hear about the WLB in the under: he often ends up the free hitter because of the configuration of the DL whereas the MLB has to take on a block. Demens takes on a block, loses leverage, does not funnel to his partner, and off Baker goes. This was 60-70% of all the complaining I did about the linebackers last year and my A-#1 bitch about Jonas Mouton. Michigan linebackers aren't good about keeping leverage. (Yet.)
Before and after that, Demens was pretty good between the tackles. He pounded ND for twelve tackles and a +8.5 and was consistently above average late in the year, picking up three straight +4s against Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska before falling back towards zero in the OSU game. Late he started playing faster. His third-and-one stick of Marcus Coker was hands down Michigan's tackle of the year:
Yeah, Kovacs collapsed Alex Carder's lung. He did not stop that truck dead in its tracks. Demens was also the second key on that Braxton Miller rollout against OSU, tracking him to the edge and forming up at the right spot to allow Black to come from behind.
For Demens, it's about playing fast and going hard. Last year Mattison literally played him at nose tackle because he'd rather have Mike Martin blitz; Demens needs to go when he goes, and decide to go more quickly. That should be in reach. He'll be a solid run defender and decent down the seam, but a lack of raw athleticism probably sees him top out at a bit above average.
[hit THE JUMP for Bolden as Samson, Jake Ryan(!), and Desmond Morgan]
This goes out to all those young linebackers out there who have given me your letters of intent:
♪ There was Bell, and a Hill, but I never saw them playing
No I never saw depth at all, 'till there was you.
There were safeties who gained weight, and a JUCO straight from Butler
But they were no Obianna Ezeh, 'till there was you.
Oh there were walk-ons, and converted fullbacks, they tell me,
And sweet freshman "Spinners," and Roh at "Quick"…
There was Ken-ny Demens, and a plush-toy Castor face-wash,
But no other linebackers at all, 'till there was you.
Till there was you! ♫
Linebacker depth: EXTANT!
This is Part III of the thing where I go over the depth chart and predict what will happen if the starter at any given position is hurt for an extended period of time in 2012: Who goes in?, What's the dropoff?, How do things shuffle?
And this time, there's goods here. There's depth in the SAMs and the WILLs and the MIKEs and the macks and the rovers. Whatayatalk whatayatalk: Where'd-we-get-it? With a Greg who knows the territory! With the jacks from the buckeyes, and the bucks from the mitten, and ROLBs from the overlooked, redshirted, 3-star, buck- and spart-passed over huckleberry bin. Whatayatalk, whatayatalk. Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker ya can talk, ya can bicker, bicker, bicker, ya can talk all ya want, but it's different than it was!
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
SAM (Strongside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Jake was a revelation last year as a redshirt freshman who as the season progressed kept giving the coaches less and less excuse to yank him. The nature of his position, which rotates often, and the nature of his cavalier game make it hard to quantify the effective difference of an injury here. By design he's the most replaceable guy on the defense; by the magnitude of his effect when he's in the game, there are few, if any, guys on the team who you'd less like to lose. He was far from perfect—his problems holding the edge led to some ugly things in the Northwestern-Michigan State part of the year—however there were also those times when a "running" quarterback would see this crazy freshman coming inside the edge blocker and think to himself "oh I'm so going around that idiot," only to end up flat on his back 20 yards in the backfield. Nothing was more satisfying to a fan base recovering from Passive 3-3-5 syndrome than seeing this crazed high-necked Viking bellowing something unintelligible at fast-retreating Logan Thomas.
Heiko took this
Cam Gordon is the nominal backup, and since the freshman who played ahead of him last year (Beyer) has made the move to WDE, you would imagine the onetime receiver, onetime epitome of ethereal spring optimism at free safety, and onetime 3-3-5 spinner will have finally settled into a useful something. He spent most of last year with a back injury that gives us precious little information on what he might become. So is C.Gordon a junior stunted by position switches, bad fundamental coaching and injury who's now ready to erupt, or a guy with bad fundamentals doomed to be remembered for that one time he was badly cast in the hero role of a box office flop?
What you want are his credentials for a position that rotates like a train of traveling salesmen; what I've got for you is a barbershop quartet of coaches singing songs about him. One thing they don't say is "platoon." Despite his safety pedigree and safety frame versus Jake Ryan's oft hand-down deployment, the coaches haven't indicated Gordon is a situational backup. The SLB in this defense is supposed to be more like a WDE than the other two linebacker spots, and Cam is not that. On the other hand he seems tailor-made for the side-job of the SLB: covering the guy in the slot.
So I'm saying if Ryan goes down, Michigan probably goes with Gordon and eases off the gas a bit, leaning less on pressure and more on coverage from the position. The real drop-off won't be too severe, as there are other guys who can blitz if the SLB becomes more coverage-oriented, and there are rush options extant. The apparent drop-off will feel like when we lost Marcus Ray—the defense is still the defense but that sense that somebody's about to lose an important body organ will be appreciably depreciated. You'll see Gordon plenty either way.
In case of dire emergency: Well like I said this position rotates. Don't know what will happen with Clark, but if he's in at WDE that means Brennan Beyer can easily reprise his 2011 role over here. Mario Ojemudia could be pressed into service. And any of the freshmen linebackers could end up here. Of the four, I picked Royce Jenkins-Stone as the SAM since Bolden already seems to be the two-deep man at Mike, and Ringer was here for spring practice at Mike, and scouting reports say Ross is a coverage-y WLB-type, while RJS has been described as a raw, blitz-loving knife. That's an SLB. It'd be best if he redshirts to learn how to be the second-most aggressive guy on the defense (WDE is the first) while holding the edge.
MIKE (Middle Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Responding to my size chart in last week's article, TSS started a thread about how Demens, who's listed at 248 on the spring roster (which is a copy of last fall's), has significantly more beef than the rest of the linebacking crew. The image above seems to reject the notion that he's the Carl Diggs among the Brackinses; the variability charts for the 2012 linebackers say he's huge (right, via TSS). So I checked the average listed size for a Michigan contributing linebacker since 1993, and it says he made big:
|2nd (Sophomore or RS Fr)||236||228|
|3rd (Junior or RS Soph)||246||232|
|4th (Senior or RS Junior)||248||233|
|5th year Senior||252||238|
Most of our starters played over 240 in their 4th or 5th years. Over 230 is where it seems the contributors need to be. And when you look at the depth chart for 2012 there are exactly three dudes who seem likely to fit that description:
|Kenny Demens||248||Jake Ryan||230||Desmond Morgan||220|
|Joe Bolden||230||Cam Gordon||222||Brandin Hawthorne||214|
|Mike Jones||224||Royce Jenkins-Stone||215||Antonio Poole||212|
|Kaleb Ringer||219||James Ross||209|
Knock-knock … Orange … yada yada … you have Joe Bolden, the 2012 recruit I am most giggity about, and for good reason. He had the kind of performance as the starter (Demens was wearing that club you see above) in the spring game that makes even the cautious prognosticators say "I think we have something here." Then they pull out the David Harris comparisons.
There's nothing I can really add to the recruiting profile or the lofty expectations except to focus on what he brings to the table right now. That is a guy with freshman-grade Kovacsian play-diagnosis skills that must be tempered by "is a true freshman," plus a lot of range and athleticism that must be tempered by "is probably not strong enough yet to get off blocks." I don't think Demens should be worried about losing his job this year unless he's banged up, however in that eventuality Michigan has something between what Desmond Morgan was last year and a freshman Manti Te'o on hand, and should be just fine. Orange you glad!
In case of dire emergency: The phrase "Who? MIKE JONES!" had a very short meme life on the MGoBoards, and it is the considered hope of every Michigan fan that it should never become the headline of an MGoInjury Roundup or uttered without irony inside Michigan Stadium ever. Before the injury that ruined his 2009 coaches were suggesting he might displace Mouton; alas that seems to have been motivational spring hokum. More hype/hokum was Mattison saying he's an unstoppable speed rusher. We saw Jones a bit while Michigan was killing clock against Minnesota and he looked, um, safety-ish. There is a job for a safety-ish linebacker in this defense—the Will—but there are so many other slight LBs on this roster that tripping the 220-something wire puts you into the mix at middle. I would think before we see Jones start, Morgan would slide down to MLB and Hawthorne become the full-time WLB. While time is running out for Jones, he's not ignorable.
WILL (Weakside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: You can argue about the stars being low for a sophomore whom I already said was at 3 stars when starting as a true freshman—that was at the end of last year and I expect Des should still be improving exponentially as this season goes on. I also predict this year you'll start seeing more Jake Ryan in him, since everyone from recruiting analysts to coaches have raved about grittiness, something we haven't had the opportunity to see much of just yet. If our next Eckstein McGritsalot loses that opportunity, the safety net is the the safety-like Brandin Hawthorne.
If you have the opportunity to give the coaches one suggestion for 2012, please join the MGoCrusade to have Hawthorne deployed as the WLB when Michigan goes to nickel. Until Morgan emerged in the second half of last year, Hawthorne had lain tenuous claim to defense's most open position. Brandon Herron, the beefy Yang to Brandin's Yin, dropped out of the race after the double-fumble touchdown rally and has graduated. Hawthorne was excellent in coverage, knifed into the backfield for a key stop against Notre Dame, and displayed Pahokeeian speed to all parts of the field … except when a blocker came near.
For you Tiger fans, Hawthorne is the Ramon Santiago of this defense. He is great at what he does, but playing him every down is going to expose his weakness against the run. So what does happen if Des goes down? It's probably Joe Bolden, but with more Hawthorne appearances.
In case of dire emergency: Trouble with capital T, rhymes with P, stands for…oh actually we don't know what we have in Antonio Poole except his name lends itself well to the Music Man theme. Really he's a redshirt freshman who was ignored by Rodriguez but picked up quickly by Hoke. His recruiting profile lists abilities of play diagnosis, tackling, and translating of the Facebook pages of CRex's in-laws. Third on the depth chart is where you'd want a redshirt freshman to be. Anyway if you see Poole that means he's better than expected, or that "dire emergency" includes the MLB depth chart too. Same goes for James Ross, who was at one point the highest rated linebacker of the 2012 uber-haul, and may yet have a long career beside Bolden (Orange!), however he's listed in the vicinity of 200 lbs. and would probably benefit from a redshirt more than Ringer, who was here for Spring ball. Since redshirting a consensus high 4-star is a luxury we haven't had around the linebacking parts in some time, I suggest we take advantage of it.