"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
Sponsor note! If you're coming into town with a big group for, say, the Notre Dame game, your options are limited. You can drive a while, you can pay out the nose, or you can rent a whole dang house for about what it would cost for four to six hotel rooms at Gameday Housing. Hotel rooms don't come with yards to tailgate in and aren't within walking distance of the stadium, and they're all booked anyway.
Roy Manning is with it. Vine is the greatest.
Connolly on M. SBN's resident numbers-massager Bill Connolly has dropped ten items about Michigan's upcoming season. A Connolly post is always worth your time; he's very good at explaining what his numbers mean and is happy to deviate from them if he feels they're not capturing something. Michigan's not looking too good right now because of recent program history and that ugly recruiting gap that's coming home to roost right about now, but Connolly's like "eh":
That the Wolverines held steady at 20th overall last year is a positive sign, and I do think that there is some addition-by-subtraction going on in substituting a little explosiveness for a lot of efficiency on offense. They are still a few ifs away from a truly elite season, but I like their chances of getting to 10 wins overall, much more than the numbers do, anyway.
An interesting bit on the receivers:
Roy Roundtree and the receiver Devin Gardner combined for a rather awful 49 percent catch rate. Roundtree was all-or-nothing for his entire career, and Gardner was far too raw to make a significantly positive impact, and while the big-play ability could be missed (the two combined to average 18.0 yards per catch last year), the explosiveness-for-efficiency tradeoff could be welcome. Big plays are still a grave necessity, but Michigan still has Jeremy Gallon (16.9 yards per catch, 62 percent catch rate) and Drew Dileo (16.6, 67 percent) for that. To be sure, there will be bombs. They're built into the system. But Roundtree's and Gardner's catch rates were just too low; that Michigan ranked 21st in overall Success Rate+ despite the low completion rates is an incredibly encouraging sign of what may be to come.
Throw it to Dileo. Whole thing recommended.
(Not our) Kickstarter update. Pahokee and Michigan alums Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith are featured in the Palm Beach Post:
Odoms met with Roger Horne, the director of food security initiatives at nonprofit Urban GreenWorks, and studied GreenWorks’ five urban gardens in Miami. Urban GreenWorks sells some of its urban-garden products to local vendors, something H.O.P.E. would like to do, too.
They’re hoping to build the garden just off 4th Street in Pahokee, between Barfield Highway and Lake Avenue.
“We want it to be in a place where people can see it,” Smith said.
(The article is a little old but I hadn't seen it yet.)
(Not our) walk-on down. Michigan State loses wide receiver AJ Troup for the season. While Troup didn't play last year, he was getting some hype as a potentially useful piece in State's Burbridge-and-the-handsless receiving corps after a 46-yard touchdown in the spring game.
Nope not getting excited. Nope. Okay a little. Jerry Meyer on WI PF Kevon Looney:
"Some pretty reliable local word in Milwaukee is Duke or Michigan for Kevon Looney,"247sports.com's Jerry Meyer tweeted last week. "Just what I'm hearing."
If Glenn Robinson blows up like he says he will that'll help quite a bit, as the guy wants to be in the NBA and likely will be sooner rather than later.
In other basketball recruiting news that I'll probably repeat in a week or two when there's enough stuff in the slow-moving barge to assemble into a post, California wing Kameron Chatman says he will "probably" return to Ann Arbor for an official visit.
Six more years. John Beilein says he wants to be around for a while longer:
"My plan was to at least coach six more years," he said. "So that the 2015 class, that's the class we're recruiting now -- along with the 2014s -- I wanted to coach all those guys.
"That was sort of the plan we put in mind. Obviously you had to dot some 'I's' and cross some 'T's' and there was no rush, but I was really pleased we were able to work it out."
He'll be 66 when his new contract extension expires, FWIW, and will evaluate his status then. If Alexander and/or Jordan are still around then I'd expect an internal transition.
Saban talks actual football on ESPN. Nick Saban breaks down a few plays from the title game blowout for ESPN, and Smart Football translates. Instructive for Michigan fans since Michigan is moving to an Alabama-style offense.
This in particular reminded me of something Michigan got caught in:
S: “We picked up on the fact that they weren’t real sound in coverage here. Their inside linebacker has to flow over and take the tight-end but he actually has a run/pass conflict when we fake the ball at him.” — Translation: Notre Dame has eight defenders lined up with their hand in the ground on the goal line, with only three players at the second level, including Manti Te’o, the “inside linebacker” Saban refers to. At its simplest, the purpose of the play was to pull Te’o up with a run fake and then throw behind him. Saban makes clear that it was the coverage scheme that was an issue as much with Te’o's play here — it’s just a tough assignment — and he says that when they face play-action teams they try not to put their linebackers in positions like this. He then gets a little more specific about specifically how they attacked Te’o.
Michigan put itself in the same situation against Air Force by using Jordan Kovacs as a single high safety who both had to cover one of AF's wing backs out of the backfield and clean up the pitch man on the option.
As soon as Kovacs started getting aggressive enough to beat the wingback to the outside and clean up before the play picked up ten yards, Air Force burned him over the top and would have had a 62-yard touchdown except the receiver fell down after about 30. Option football is mean, and Michigan probably shouldn't sign up to play an option team right after Alabama again, not that they'll play Alabama on purpose any time in the near future.
Paging Tom Rinaldi. Kid who named his tumor "Michigan" 1) needs a snappier name and 2) will be going to the Michigan-OSU game thanks to Brady Hoke, who hopes to make him miserable at it. Uncomfortable thought about that South Park episode in which Stan coaches a youth hockey team happening… now. Okay, now it's over.
Tweaking Ohio. Dropping the "State" from "Ohio State" makes a move to Florida:
Then, after Muschamp referred to Ohio State as “Ohio,” Muschamp deadpanned: “I’ve always been a Brady Hoke fan.”
If "Ohio" becomes, like, a nationwide thing people use to tweak The Ohio State University I think we need a parade for Hoke.
The worst scouting report ever. I don't know who Aaron Schatz is talking about here, but it's not Mike Martin:
Martin, a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, led all Titans defensive tackles last year with 8.5 hurries. That's surprising considering he's more of a classic nose tackle rather than a penetrating three-technique. Scouts considered Martin a blue-collar grinder whose best strength was his solid base. But in his first year in Tennessee, he was faster than advertised and showed a variety of pass-rush moves. Martin was considered a possible first-round pick until he really struggled during his senior year at Michigan. That was partly due to a scheme change, although oddly, the new scheme he struggled in was actually more similar to what he's playing now in Tennessee. He should be in line for a jump in playing time despite the signing of Sammie Lee Hill.
All of those bolded things are the opposite of true. The third bolded thing may be accurate if you only look at stats… for a nose tackle, which… who does that? And wait a minute right here.
Wait a minute.
This is a NOSE TACKLE who finished fourth on his team in tackles with 64. That is an incredible stat. He did this on a defense that had no high draft picks and completed an insane one-year turnaround. Nothing about this makes sense.
no tackles for this
This is the worst paragraph ever written. Not this one. That one. In the block quote. That one that asserts Mike Martin is a blue-collar guy whose main strength is holding up offensive linemen and that he was not an all-crushing force of nature as a senior who was hurt in the NFL draft by the fact that Michigan played him out of position out of necessity. "Really struggled." Okay guy.
Etc.: NCAA is trying to prevent for-profit schools from joining it, which makes my irony meters tingle all over. Wetzel on Buckeye arrest blitz. Bob Stoops encourages Oklahoma fans to tweet recruits. DO NOT TWEET RECRUITS. Shouldn't it be "Division Zero"?
Roy Manning return? With Jerry Montgomery gone to Oklahoma, Michigan needs to fill a spot on their coaching staff. No, it will not be Mike Hart or Ty Wheatley. It'll be a defensive guy. But there is another dude floating out there who is a young former Michigan player: Roy Manning.
Manning was a little-regarded recruit who came seemingly out of nowhere to start as a senior and did well enough to get drafted and have a few years in the NFL. Like Montgomery, he's become a hot name hopping to and fro. He was hired at Cincinnati in February, got a standing ovation for doing so, and had just landed at NIU after Jones took the Tennessee job. Fluff bits:
He's got a Ron English basso going on.
Home ice and the future. Michigan finishes its regular season this weekend with a home and home against Ferris State needing a sweep and some help to secure a first-round home series in the playoffs. If they don't acquire the requisite points, Michigan's last home game in front of the students will have been the February 1st matchup with Michigan State. Which… wow. Just another way in which this season has been bizarre and disappointing.
It's senior day for the, uh, seniors, and it looks like a pretty manageable class to replace:
- Lee Moffie: Michigan's #4 or #5 defenseman in the unlikely event everyone is healthy.
- AJ Treais: Tied for second in scoring with 11-12-23; had excellent start to the year and tailed off as guys like Sinelli and Copp moved onto his wing because they did that skating hard stuff. Copp has actually produced decently, but not having a reliable offensive option on the other wing has hampered production from him.
- Kevin Lynch: I have no idea what line he's on; ideally would have become a Rust-like shutdown center. Instead is anonymous middle-of-lineup guy with 6-13-19.
- Lindsay Sparks: diminutive winger will go down as Craig Murray 2010 for me, a player on the third line who I liked more than is rational and spent four years expecting a breakout from that never came. 4-4-8 in 16 games this year.
- Jeff Rohrkemper: fourth line jack of all trades.
The key, of course, is what happens with Michigan's offseason defections. There are a ton of guys who are departure threats, starting with the dream D pairing of Merrill and Trouba and extending to Nieves, Guptill, Bennett, and Di Giuseppe. While none of those extended guys seems NHL-ready, Guptill was left at home for a series this year and is a third-rounder. He seems like a candidate for the Chris Brown "really?" departure.
A goalie will be scoured for, of course.
Welcome to the team. Here is pack of raving dingoes. Enjoy. From ESPN's exit interview series comes this nugget from Mike Kwiatkowski($):
My lowest moment of my career was probably be my first year, [Rich Rodriguez'] last season, when I was playing scout team left guard. I had thought about if this decision was right for me. I wasn’t playing my position and going against Mike Martin all the time.
Despite being a freshman walk-on tight end, he did not die. I'm using Mike Kwiatkowski as a bomb shelter in the event we teleport back to 1980 and there is a nuclear war on.
No more flyovers? Step A in any debate about cutting spending is to go right to the stuff that people notice no matter how small. Like flyovers:
Federal budget cuts would end flyovers at sports events
Of course, they have to fly the planes at some point—can't have a war with a bunch of crop dusters flying F-16s unless you can start cloning Randy Quaid—so the net additional cost of having some of those flights buzz stadiums is, um…
“It’s no additional cost to the government for support of any public events. Typically, if you see a unit fly over a football game, that is 90 seconds out of a several hour training sortie that they’re flying.”
Zero? Here is someone's attempt to explain why this is a thing:
"We just have a reduced number of those training hours, and so everything is being dedicated to just preparing for that overseas deployment and for flying that's actually happening overseas," Varhegyi said.
Not very good. Later they mention that Army/Navy/Air Force sports could get hit despite 95% of Navy's funding coming from sources other than the government. Filed under scare tactic—dollars to donuts the flyovers continue.
Something that is not true at all. Drew Henson talks about his brief baseball career in a non-bylined article that prevents me from hammering whatever intern wrote this:
But he always had his sights set on baseball — simply, he said it was more fun — and even signed with the Yankees after they made him a third-round pick in 1998. They agreed to let him finish his college football career, and he played summer ball in the Yankees system while still at U-M.
John Navarre would not be a divisive figure if this was true. Oh, and Michigan probably would have been awesome in 2001. Also that article is based on another article, which it links right at the end of the piece in a non-underlined URL link. Bad intern.
Etc.: Derrick Walton is a Mr. Basketball finalist, puts up 31 on Taylor Truman for senior day. WTKA afternoon show is kaput. Recruits' 40s are lies. Does the recruiting deregulation need to be salvaged? If so, suggestions to do so.
[Ed-H: Bump. There, I did it. No more Urban Meyer.]
I got a little busy at work during the winter, and then recruiting magic was happening, and then I figured it was too late for this post. But finally I got a day off, and it's raining, and I've had these screencaps online for 6 months, and I've got literally nothing better to do for a few hours on this sunday. So here is the Nebraska game wrap (with pics!)
That was kind of unexpected. AND AWESOME! It was without a doubt our best game of the year. Heck it was our best game IN YEARS. It was maybe the best team performance since the 1997 PSU game, although I'm probably forgetting some good ones in between.
During the game, I remember thinking the score was pretty close and anything could happen until the turnovers made it a laugher. But after watching it a few times since then, we really did dominate in all phases of the game.
By the end of the 3rd, the stat sheet was pretty one-sided. They really only had 2 great plays all game. (Two plays that I highlighted in the preview post.... so maybe I'm not completely stupid. Still, I did rag on MSU's O-line which gelled pretty strongly by mid-season. ooops.)
Defending the option
Like most of the Michigan fan base, I have huge man crush on Mattison. The things he and his staff are doing, and the performances they're getting from our players are out of this world. I would love to just sit at his feet, follow him around, and absorb as much football knowledge as possible.
If you've accomplished as much as this man, people won't make a big deal out of you using your moobs to signal the playcall. (This GA knowns that peripheral vision is sometimes a weird thing.)
Defending the option is so simple, yet so hard. You need your players to know their assignments and play with decisiveness.Here is Jake Ryan demonstrating the textbook definition of "forcing the pitch".
Nebraska has this play blocked pretty much as you would draw it up. Ryan is the 'optioned' man who is unblocked. Martinez doesn't see the whole open up on the backside, but he's running to where the play is called. He's supposed to read Ryan and "make him wrong".
Jake's first step is lateral as if he's going to squeeze the zone on the slot receiver. But when he sees the option motion coming towards him, he cuts upfield with authority. Martinez reads him correctly, and it looks like this should be a decent gain for the Huskers.
Meanwhile, Mike Martin has beaten his block and is pursuing to stop cutbacks, and the secondary is coming up in run support.
Ryan's change of direction is so fast that Martinez can't get a good pitch off with his left hand. Burkhead managed to fall on the loose ball, but if he hadn't we had two guys coming up quickly and there would have been no way for Martinez to get it with his face planted in the ground. The moral of the story is that one way to defend the option is to make those options keep the ball and get killed, or pitch the ball and get killed.
Another way to stop the option is to get an unexpected defender free. Nebraska comes out in a 4-wide set to try to get a good personnel matchup. But we just stay in our base 4-3 so it doesn't matter when the TE comes down to the line of scrimmage.
Mike Martin explodes through the line and forces the pitch FROM THE BACK SIDE. That's impressive.
Meanwhile, Kovacs is up in run support and all over his assignment as you would expect from a player of his intelligence. He reacts so quickly that the blocker whiffs on him. And the pursuit isn't giving Burkhead anywhere to go.
Getting a 5 yard TFL on first down against your opponent's bread and butter play ... that's a good a thing.
Getting off blocks
One of the stark differences between last year's defense and .... uh ... others... was how well they were getting off blocks and getting to the ball. I don't want to disparage former defensive coaches...BUT the improvement was remarkable.
We're in our zone blitz package with Martin dropping and Demens rushing. Demens gets doubled. That's a pretty big weight disadvantage for him.
So he squares up and gets some arm's length separation from the defenders, one of whom starts looking for someone else to block.
Martinez decides the coverage is too good and thinks he can squirt through that passing lane. But both Demens and Ryan see it, react to it, and clamp down on that hole.
Ryan slaps the ball out. Check out how far away from the ball Van Bergen is. But he's got his head up, he's disengaged from his blocker, and he's pursuing the ball.
One funny bounce later and it's in RVB's hands. Brian keeps saying that fumble recoveries are just luck and 50-50 propositions. I would disagree and say the fumble recovery percentage is more of a function of the number of each team's players near the ball when the fumble happens. In this case, we were a little lucky because Nebraska had more guys near the ball. But if RVB isn't hustling and getting off his blocker, our chances of getting that ball go from slim to none. So yes, luck plays a part, but I don't believe it's JUST luck or that it will always regress to the mean..
And lets not forget the good hustle and technique which caused the fumble in the first place. Strip that ball!
(The other 85% after the jump)
The Ballad of Boubacar is brief and unfortunate
This is the second part of an in-depth look at the 2008 recruiting class, and more specifically Brian's recruiting profiles for that class. You can find part one, covering the offense, here. If you'd like to peruse the recruiting profiles yourself—a highly recommended time-waster—you can find links to each position group here. Without further ado, let's look back at the eight-member defensive class of 2008. This one's not for the squeamish.
Mike Martin Wrestles Not Mike Martin, Which Goes As Expected
Let's start with the good, yes? Mike Martin not only stands as the clear-cut best player in the class, but outside of two-star Patrick Omameh may very well be the only player to surpass expectations from when he hit campus. Those expectations, at least from Brian, were pretty high:
Guru Reliability: High.
General Excitement Level: High. The highlight reel is totally impressive, there are zero questions about work ethic or how in shape he is, and he's got pretty good guru rankings.
Projection: Will play in the DT rotation immediately, and will probably leap past Ferrara, Kates (if Kates remains on the team), et al to claim a starting spot once Taylor and Johnson graduate.
The remarkable strength that helped Martin excel for four years at Michigan was also on full display during his high school wrestling career, and fortunately there is video evidence of a young Martin perfecting his Hulk Smash. A Simmons-style running diary follows:
0:00 — Martin and his opponent—"Mo" is his name, judging by the cheers from people around the cameraman—jog onto the mat.
0:07 — Mo removes what appears to be an ankle tether, so maybe this is just an elaborate criminal punishment that almost certainly violates the 8th Amendment.
0:14 — Martin shakes Mo's hand. Martin releases his grip and Mo's hand goes limp, never again to function properly.
0:16 — The match begins. Martin begins stalking his prey, who ignores his coach's cries to "circle, circle!" and instead backpedals furiously to avoid Martin's grasp. Within seconds, Mo finds himself out of bounds.
0:36 — At the restart, Mo goes for an ill-timed high-five. Martin ignores this desperate plea for peace and immediately dives for a single-leg takedown.
0:44 — Mo manages to ward off the takedown, but once again backs himself out of the ring. When facing Mike Martin, this is not cowardice, but simply a display of proper survival instincts.
0:56 — On the second restart, Mo lightly pats Martin on the head. If you consult page 56 of your Worst Case Scenario handbook, you know this is the last thing you want to do when encountering a Mike Martin in the wild.
1:12 — Martin gets his hands on the back of Mo's head then explodes for a takedown, knocking Mo to the very edge of the mat. Mo sees an opportunity for escape and frantically crawls for the exits. Mike Martin is having none of that:
1:20 — As Mo's compatriots cackle at his misfortune, Martin assumes control and pins his convulsing opponent, ending this match with relative humanity.
1:50 — The two shake hands as Martin is declared the winner. Martin goes on to star at Michigan. Mo reattaches his ankle tether, vows to straighten his life out, and hastily seeks both physical and emotional therapy.
This Did Not Go As Planned, Part I
The first, and highest-ranked, of the Cass Tech Lollipop Guild line of cornerbacks was Boubacar Cissoko, a top-50 overall recruit to every site save ESPN, where he was outrageously(!) pegged as the nation's #28 corner. Regrettable statement goes here:
Guru Reliability: Maximal. The unified chorus: this is a perfect cornerback except he's 5'8".
General Excitement Level: High. Obvious physical limitation aside, the perfect corner.
Projection: Plays as a freshman and is starting next to Warren by his sophomore year.
Cissoko flashed promise as a freshman in 2008, even starting two contests. Then Michael Floyd and Golden Tate lit him up again and again in 2009 before Cissoko went on a crime spree that quickly found him off the team and then incarcerated. While Cissoko obviously never reached anything close to the potential that had Brian so excited, his recruiting profile did feature one bit of eerie foreshadowing [emphasis mine]:
A couple years ago, I watched [current Detroit Lions CB Chris] Houston and Arkansas play South Carolina. Redshirt sophomore Sidney Rice was the Gamecock's big star and Houston lined up nose-to-nose with Rice in eff-you press man on every single play. Spurrier went after him again and again; sometimes he won and sometimes he lost, but usually because Rice reeled in a perfectly-thrown fade. It was a fantastic individual battle and I came away impressed with both players. So did the NFL: Houston went with the eighth pick in the second round; Rice went just four picks later.
Maybe this isn't the most reassuring comparison, as Rice did end up with 7 catches for 128 yards and Arkansas lost, but... hey... free second round pick!
Michael Floyd vs. Michigan, 2009: 7 catches, 131 yards, and a touchdown. Somehow, the Wolverines won anyway.
Instead of 3-4 years of Cissoko stardom, this was the guy who ended up as a multi-year starter at cornerback:
Guru Reliability: High. No reason he'd be under the radar; offers about commensurate with ranking.
General Excitement Level: Meh.
Projection: Though he's being brought in as a corner a move to safety is likely given the above, where he'll probably end up buried behind Stevie Brown, Artis Chambers, Stewart, and maybe Brandon Smith until his junior year, at which point he might develop into a contributor.
If you read that and went "sounds like J.T. Floyd," give yourself a cookie. At least, "meh" was most everyone's general impression of Floyd until last year's Illinois game; his emergence as a reliable starting corner means he's surpassed most reasonable expectations for his career.
The final secondary recruit was safety Brandon Smith, whose guru ratings took a Marvin Robinson-like dive for very similar reasons:
Smith looks like a prototypical collegian at a strapping 6'2", 210, but the lack of big time offers is telling. It's easy to believe Smith could lure the gurus in with his impressive frame at various combines and inflate his ranking while leaving college coaches relatively unmoved.
Excitement level was only "moderate" and a move to outside linebacker predicted. Smith moved to linebacker, then announced his intention to transfer before the end of the 2009 season. He landed at Temple and is not listed on the 2012 spring roster.
This Did Not Go As Planned, Part II
Michigan's recruiting haul included four linebackers rated as four-stars by Rivals, providing promise of much-needed depth and versatility for the position group going forward. The class included New Jersey's Marcus Witherspoon (Spoon!)...
An explosive edge rusher who's probably too small to be a fulltime defensive end in college? Add four inches and some chicken legs and that sounds like Shawn Crable, who actually spent quite a bit of time as a defensive end anyway.
...as well as Youngstown product Taylor Hill:
What does Michigan have in Hill? The comparison above, Larry Foote, is a strong one. Like Foote, Hill is an undersized WLB who played his high school ball as a defensive end and specialized in getting into the backfield.
As you know, the Wolverines did not end up with new versions of Crable and Foote. Instead, Witherspoon hit a snag with the NCAA Clearinghouse and eventually signed with Rutgers, while Hill was on the team for all of one game before transferring to Youngstown State.
Fellow linebacker recruit J.B. Fitzgerald—"a good bet to be a multi-year starter"—also joined the ranks of the disappointing. Kenny Demens is the only class of 2008 linebacker to make a significant impact despite being pegged as a "low upside sort" and getting a less-than-complimentary player comparison:
Chris Graham may not be the most appealing comparison, but the elements are all there: a little undersized (I am of the belief the 6'1" frequently thrown around as his height is overstated), has difficulting getting through traffic, praised for his short range burst and thumping tackling. Graham never figured out how to play in control or get to the right place at the right time and was thus a disappointing starter; if Demens can play smarter he could be anything from a decent starter to a borderline all Big Ten pick.
Admittedly, that's a pretty accurate assessment. Now let's try to forget about the carnage of this class, which featured the legal adventures of Justin Feagin and Cissoko, not nearly enough Sam McGuffie YouTube magic, transfers from several critical commits, the hope that Witherspoon could mitigate the loss of Nick Perry to USC, and no Terrelle Pryor. Though, on second thought, that last bit turned out just fine.
Good lord, this was brutal. Hockey had a pretty clear cutoff that sat nicely at five, and getting to five in basketball was a stretch. I left Steve Breaston, Leon Hall, Allan Branch, and Zoltan Mesko out here. Jebus.
PROS: Tough-talking no-neck was a four year starter at center perfectly suited for Michigan's zone running game; won the Rimington as a senior. Hilarious interview with absolutely no regard for cliché. High fantangibles rating. At times seemed to be the difference between doom and success in the Michigan ground game. Broke something serious in his foot in the Sugar Bowl, watched Rocko Khoury make some panic snaps on Michigan's first series, and played the rest of the game seriously damaged.
Experienced both coaching changes and was one of the seniors Who Stayed™. A huge factor in the locker room uniting behind Hoke.
CONS: Had some injury problems. Inexplicably had his snap count jumped against MSU and only MSU for like three straight years.
PROS: Four-year contributor and three-year starter who always teetered on the edge of being great. Finally accelerated down the senior-year stretch into a dominant nose tackle. During this period forced a pitch on a Nebraska speed option.
This is about all you need to know. You could not block him. Michigan's insanely good third/fourth and short defense started with him (and ended with Kovacs).
But wait, there's more: with Michigan's already-thin defensive line depth shattered by injury before the Sugar Bowl, Martin and Van Bergen faced off with future first-round pick David Wilson in a game where getting a stop meant you got four snaps before you were back on the field. They singlehandedly kept Michigan in the game despite dying halfway through the second quarter. A performance that should pass into legend the same way Hunwick's North Dakota game will.
Also a member of Those Who Stayed™. Along with Molk and Van Bergen, Martin got the Full Andy Dufresne from his time at Michigan.
CONS: Seemingly endorses "In The Big House." Not as highly regarded by the NFL as a few other guys on this list.
Ryan Van Bergen
PROS: Third and final member of Those Who Stayed™ on the list. Also a four-year contributor and longtime starter, underrated because of his lack of playmaking but still the TFL leader on last year's team. The other guy holding Michigan's defensive line together through sheer force of will in the Sugar Bowl. Virtually impossible to knock down. Screwed up a check in the 2009 Indiana game, leading to an 85-yard touchdown, then singlehandedly annihilated the next IU drive, giving Michigan a chance to pull it out.
CONS: Probably the least-great player on this list. Here as a tribute to Michigan's phoenix act in 2011. Not enticing to NFL. Still… look at that. This is not a list of the best players ever, so…
PROS: The best player on an awful Michigan defense and awful Michigan teams. Did not get the Full Andy Dufresne since his career ended halfway through the sewage tube. Still bore all of this with a Denard-like beatific smile. Just killed people, all the time.
NFL did really like him, drafting him in the top half of the first round.
CONS: Unfortunately his impact was limited because the team around him was terrible.
PROS: Sideline-to-sideline missile was cerebral to the point of near-genius. Always there. Always. Made a habit out of juking(!) offensive linemen in zone schemes, making them think the play was going one way, then exploding into the ballcarrier when this was not the case. Junior year was tremendously underrated thanks to chaos around him; was major lynchpin and possibly the best player on Michigan's monster 2006 defense. Yes, I mean that seriously.
Early and still prime example of the usefulness of UFRing makes him near to my heart; not sure if you care. Validated all praise from Michigan fans by instantly becoming NFL tackling machine upon entry to the league.
Kind of looks like Worf.
CONS: Lacks iconic wow play. Others started longer than he did.
PROS: Emphatically does not have David Harris's problem since he was the target on two of the most iconic plays of the aughts: Oh, Wide Open and Lloyd Carr's Last Second. An electric playmaker the rest of the time, a guy who wasn't the biggest but was the fastest and hardest to keep track of. Had that brilliant slow-up-to-stall-the-DB-then-extend-for-the-TD move down pat. More of a technician than given credit for. Whenever I think of Manningham, I think of that Citrus Bowl when DeBord said "screw it, spread time" and Holly Rowe reporting that Florida deathbacker Brandon Spikes was chasing Manningham all over the field on his incessant end-arounds, saying "damn, boy, you good."
Did the worm after the 2007 Penn State win.
CONS: Got suspended for the weed, something that took some doing in the mid-aughts. Widely regarded as kind of maybe not the nicest guy to ever make it through the program.
PROS: Amongst the nicest guys to ever make it through the program. Skillet-sized hands are made of industrial-strength adhesive. An elite-level possession receiver who was everyone's safety blanket. Targeted all the time and made all the catches. Probably the most common ex-player to be referenced in "You May Remember Me From Such Players As," to the point where I actively try to avoid it now.
That about sums it up.
CONS: Did drop that one pass once, you know, that one. Never a huge deep threat.
PROS: Four year starter with great backstory and running style burned into your brain. No speed at all but capable of juking in a phone booth and grinding out two, three, four yards after contact. Got a standing ovation for a particular eight yard run against Penn State once. Came out of a tiny school in upstate New York with outlandish rushing stats and a youtube clip in which he jukes every player on the opposing team twice.
Never, ever fumbled except twice inside the five against Florida in his last game. Pretty much the only thing standing between Michigan and a yards per carry under three during his time at Michigan.
CONS: Injury prone. Started this incredibly annoying "little brother" business. Spice added by mouth often backfired; went 0-fer against OSU.
PROS: Kills people. Brandon Graham was Woodley 2.0, a devastating defensive end who could not be blocked one-on-one. Has enormous Wolverine tattoo on arm. Finished off the Oh Wide Open game with the Yakety-sax-capping scoop and score. Fighting with David Harris and Allan Branch for title of best player on 2006 defense.
CONS: OSU 0-fer does not quite apply but really kind of does since he did not contribute much in 2003. That's about it. Kind of think maybe Graham was better since he had way less help and still produced.
PROS: Is he a man or a block-long wall? Only his mother knows, and these days she's not even sure. Four-year starter who rolled off the NFL left tackle prototype line and let exactly zero guys not roid-raging get to the quarterback when he was on the field. The first overall pick his draft year, all-American everywhere, etc, etc, etc, you get the idea.
CONS: Fantangibles low. Another Michigan great who had to suffer through the indignity of 0-fer OSU. Hurt most of the 2005 season. Not sure what I'd write about him.
Vastly underrated; properly rated
Previously: The Offense
My look back at Brian's epic 2011 football preview continues with the defense. This one got a lot more interesting than the offense, because despite all the warm fuzzies we felt from the GERG-to-Greg transition*, expecting a jump from the #110 total defense to #17 would have been outrageous. As in get-this-man-a-straitjacket outrageous.
Thankfully, the performance of the defense exceeded all reasonable expectations, and even most of the unreasonable ones. Let's peep last year's predictions, shall we?
*Not to mention the Tony-Gibson-to-Anyone-But-Tony-Gibson transition.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue [for Ryan Van Bergen]. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
RVB actually ended up at strongside DE, which probably helped him lead the team with 12.5 TFLs. He ended up earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from both the coaches and media and graduating as one of the most beloved Wolverines in recent memory.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
A year after inexplicably having to move past not just Obi Ezeh, but converted fullback Mark Moundros, on the depth chart at middle linebacker despite subsequently making it painfully obvious that he should've been the starter all along, Demens had his breakout season. He led the team with 94 tackles—second was Jordan Kovacs at 75—and saw his TFLs jump to a respectable five. Like Van Bergen, Demens was an all-conference honorable mention.
Even so, [Kovacs's] season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
This may still be underselling Kovacs, who took to competent coaching even better than expected and became the team's rock in the secondary, covering for his athletic limitations with usually-impeccable positioning. No, he's not Reggie Nelson, but I don't think you can find a remotely rational Michigan fan who harbors even the tiniest bit of ill will towards Kovacs. Michigan's shocking lack of big plays allowed—both against the pass and the run—can largely be attributed to his play; despite missing a game, Kovacs led the team with 51 solo tackles. He also notched 8 TFLs. All hail Kovacs.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
This time around, the optimism regarding the free safety position was justified. Thomas Gordon had his share of struggles, especially late in the season, but for the most part he was quite competent. Around here, safety competence is a luxury on par with consistent placekicking.
Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
Michigan finished with 2.3 sacks per game. That put them at... 29th. Tip o' the cap.
Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
Brian's continued insistence that turnover luck would someday go Michigan's way finally paid off; the Wolverines forced 29 turnovers. It also helped that this defense actually tackled people.
EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW RIGHT THIS WOULD BE.
Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
No full credit simply because Mike Jones was projected as the starter at WLB, a fact I had completely forgotten about until I looked back at the preview. Morgan ended up playing in 12 games, starting seven (the first being in week two against ND), and finished fifth on the team in tackles.
If [J.T. Floyd] gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
This wasn't really a prediction, but... yeah. Tony Gibson minus all of the points.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.)
Points for mentioning Countess as the most likely freshman to see the field. No points for giving him one sentence when he took over the starting job by midseason, especially considering the Christian caveat. As you'll see, the hype that should've surrounded Countess went—justifiably, in the preseason—to Courtney Avery.
Not So Much
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
I hate that I have to put this prediction in this category, but here it is. While Martin was the best player on the defense, his numbers were hampered by having to play the nose; he finished with six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Despite the lack of statistical production, Martin's efforts were recognized with second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also forced a pitch on a speed option. See you on Sundays, MM.
"Experience" was why [Will Heininger] got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
The biggest swing-and-a-miss on the list. Heininger swapped spots with RVB and started all 12 regular-season games at five-tech DT before missing the Sugar Bowl with a foot injury. He exceeded all expectations of a walk-on raised in the shadow of the Big House, proving he could hold his own against Big Ten competition and be a positive force on the interior. After the season, Brian ranked him as the third most siginificant departure on the defense, behind only Martin and Van Bergen. While part of that is due to the remaining depth along the defensive line, I don't think anyone thought Heininger's absence would be felt in such a way.
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
If you're saying "who?" you're probably not alone (though you read this blog, so you probably aren't saying "who?"). Walk-on Nathan Brink was penciled in as the starting SDE at one point in the fall, earning much preseason praise for his unlikely rise up the depth chart. After garnering all that hype, however, he made almost no impact, recording just one tackle while barely seeing the field. He's a prime example of why you must take all offseason practice hype with a grain of salt, especially when said hype involves previously-unknown walk-ons.
We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
Playing his third position in three seasons, Roh didn't quite go bonkers, tallying four sacks and eight TFLs. Roh's play still markedly improved from his previous two seasons, but he still hasn't lived up to the sky-high recruiting hype. Much of the blame for that can fall upon the shoulders of Greg Robinson and Co., and we'll see if one last position switch, this time to SDE, finally results in Roh producing double-digit sacks.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Ryan became a pleasant early-season surprise when he started against Western Michigan and made his presence felt by batting an Alex Carder pass that Brandon Herron would intercept and return 94 yards to the house. While certainly more of an asset against the pass than the run—his balls-to-the-wall approach was great on blitzes, but not always sound when keeping contain—Ryan proved that he was by far the best option on the strong side. Just one year later, all-conference honors are very much in play.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
Troy Woolfolk's return from the exploding ankle of doom wasn't as triumphant as we all hoped. While he started ten games—six at corner and four at safety—Woolfolk never looked fully comfortable on the field and was supplanted at each position by a younger player (Countess at corner, Gordon at safety). It would be quite a surprise to see him taken in this week's NFL draft.
Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
After showing much promise as a true freshman, Avery was the obvious candidate to grow into a big-time role as the team's top corner of the present and future. Instead, he started the first two games, then ceded that role to J.T. Floyd, Woolfolk, and eventually Countess. Avery was a solid nickel corner, and should reprise that role in 2012, but his progression wasn't as great as expected.
Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
Nein. Despite Michigan's impressive rise in team sacks, they were spread pretty evenly across both the D-line and the back seven thanks to Mattison's blitz-happy approach. Ryan Van Bergen paced the team with 5.5, with Jordan Kovacs actually tying Roh for second with four.
Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
I know Brian has no complaints about being so hilariously wrong on this one. As noted above, the Wolverines finished 17th in yardage allowed, and they also shot up to sixth (faints) in points allowed. Football Outsiders's FEI metric ranked them as the #16 defense in the country. Despite watching every second of the 2011 season (usually twice), I still have a hard time not believing I'm the victim of an elaborate hoax or a drug experiment gone horribly awry. If you see me waking up in a gutter and GERG is still the defensive coordinator, please do me a favor and run me over with an SUV. Make sure to double-tap, please.