This is maaaaybe premature there, ESPN. Maryland #1 FWIW.
- There were no new injuries coming out of the Michigan State game that will keep guys out of practice this week. In existing injuries, David Molk is out of his walking boot, and started lifting light weights again yesterday. Mike Williams wasn't 100% going into the game, but taking him out for Kovacs was a substitution issue, not an injury issue.
- Donovan Warren is a very intelligent player. Rodriguez said, "Some of our guys need to follow his lead as far as how he prepares for games." A bit of a calling-out, it seems. At the other corner position, JT Floyd and Boubacar Cissoko are still competing.
- The offense struggled in part because they didn't have the ball a whole lot in the first half. 1 mistake here and there was enough to destroy a drive. Missing Molk drops the intensity of the line a little bit. The team wasn't sharp, and they needed to be in order to win. The receivers usually don't drop that many passes, and they need to improve their concentration. The Stonum touchdown helped them get some momentum going for the offense, which sparked the comeback.
- Tate's leadership is improving from week to week. That's the sort of thing that comes in games, and can't be earned as much in practice. He was a little nicked up in the game, but he warmed up as the game went along. When asked if he's more poised than most freshmen, Rodriguez answered "No question." He'll be a little limited in practice today, but should be full-go for the rest of the week.
- The defense has tackled well most of the year, but there have been times that they haven't been able to make the tackles. Rodriguez isn't sure if that's a matter of their conditioning wearing down, or breakdowns in technique. The defensive line is the most consistent unit on the defense from game-to-game. As far as linebackers, Rodriguez said every position is up for grabs, but praised the play of Mouton, Ezeh, and especially Brown. "We can all play better," he said, meaning that it wasn't just the linebackers that are the problem.
- They've been doing the rugby punt for a number of years. Zoltan had the option to run or kick on that play, and for the first time, he made the wrong choice. "We need to make sure our guys understand the parameters."
- Iowa has one of the best front sevens on defense - particularly the front four - that Michigan will see this year. It should be a big challenge for the offensive line. They have to step up their intensity in Molk's absence.
- In the team's workouts this morning, everybody came in motivated. They know they must have great practices this week and keep on improving. The team was hoping for a great season, and the loss hurt because of all the work they put in.
- Mike is friends with David Molk, and he can tell that it's killing Molk to not be able to play. He was finally able to lift today, and was happy.
- It helps Martin to play next to Brandon Graham. He's a great athlete with good experience. He motivates the defense on the field, and keeps them pumped up between plays. He never said anything about it, but he was clearly upset to not have a sack on the year until finally getting one against the Spartans.
- Going against Iowa is tough because the Hawkeyes have a great defense. Since the Michigan offense might struggle, the defense will have to step up. Martin likes night games, because he's not much of a morning person.
- The long touchdown was a big play for the team, and for Stonum personally: "It was a big play for me. I let the team down with two fumbles earlier, so I needed to step up and make a big play for us."
- There hasn't been an adjustment to the way Tate throws the ball this year compared to the guys that they had last year. The only difference is that he keeps his eyes focused downfield to make a play, even when he's scrambling. The receivers have a lot more confidence this year, which has led to big games for JR Hemingway (Western Michigan), Greg Mathews (Notre Dame), and now Stonum.
- Stonum loves night games. That's all you play in Texas high school football.
- The offense can only ask the defense to do so much, because the offense has to capitalize when they have the opportunities. The defense has put them in position to win three times now, and they jut couldn't pull it off against Michigan State for the third win. Offensive rhythm is important for the team, and the run game drives that. Though he watched the film three times yesterday, Mark couldn't tell where the issues came from. State was just firing off the ball better.
- The difference between last year's losses and this year's is confidence. This year's team has it, though it was a little shaken by the first loss of the year.
- Molk is a leader on the line, so losing him is drastic. There are still plenty of capable guys, so losing one player is no excuse for a performance like Saturday's.
- Ortmann has never played at Iowa, nor even been in their stadium. They are a good defense, and it should be a tough challenge. Regardless of how long the trip is, each game should be treated like a business trip by the players. Ortmann doesn't like night games, because it allows tension to build all day, especially from the younger players.
- He's kicked well this year. The weather on Saturday made it tougher, but he was still able to kick pretty well. Too bad he didn't get a chance at a game-winner at the end.
- On game-ending drives, it helps to focus on how many times he's been successful. It's easy to say that you just need to concentrate, but to do it is tougher. The guys on the team really help him deal with that. A lot of guys tapped him on the helmet going into OT, knowing that everyone else is confident in you helps.
He will pull off your arm and beat you to death with it and then settle down for a meal, it will be just like "Alive" down to the sexy 70's hair. Dex's latest at the WLA is pretty great all around but possibly best for highlighting this Vernon Gholston-esque gun show photo:
So that's where the rest of Tate Forcier's biceps went. (reference)
Diaries jihad! With the advent of the season I am moving things from diary to board with extreme prejudice. Consider whether your diary has the same level of value as a typical jamiemac post or this thorough research from BlueSeoul (who you may remember as Odoms hater from the season preview…
…but he's contrite):
1st Stat Category: Yards per thrown at
This stat is better than yards per catch because it includes a penalty for players who drop the ball or loaf it on a play and don't get open. Yes they are penalized for having a bad QB but that would affect all the numbers across the board.
C. Brown 13
Stonum, Webb, Cox, Shaw, 0
I'm not so sure about including plays on which a guy is bracketed and the quarterback is just chucking the ball away in the general direction of the player, but that's an interesting metric to track throughout the season.
Back to the larger point: please read the guidelines before posting up a diary (they're right above the text entry area), and let's try to keep that area of the site extremely high-value. I'm moving anything that seems like it was dashed off in ten minutes without thought. FWIW.
Speaking of high-value diaries. Steve Sharik's got an initial defensive analysis:
Obi Ezeh made a very nice tackle on a WR screen, but he still has a ways to go. His reaction time needs to improve. Example, 2nd play of the game, the B gap window opens right in front of him and there is no lead blocker. This is LB 101. Open window = hit it. He should have hit the RB behind the LOS for, at worst, no gain and probably a 1-yard loss. Instead, he hit the RB at 2 yards and they ended up with a 3-yard gain.
I noticed this too and did not deploy a minus, but maybe I should go back and at least provide a –0.5. Sharik also mentions that Ezeh spent some time "catching" blockers, which is great lingo I will immediately imbibe for a frustratingly commonplace occurrence in the Life of Obi.
Stevie Brown is an OLB. He is not a hybrid player. The true hybrid player is the strong safety, Mike Williams. Sometimes he was at the LOS (line of scrimmage), and sometimes he was a deep safety.
No, Stevie Brown hasn't been playing anything except outside linebacker in anything I've gotten to in UFR, but one of the themes of the offseason was the multifaceted use of the word "hybrid" and how confusing everything got when you were trying to deploy it yourself. Brown's a hybrid in one sense because he's a tiny OLB who can reasonably cover a slot receiver, as he did on Western's first third-down attempt in the game, not because his position is particularly innovative. Maybe we can just call him a "mammal" instead, as opposed to ponderous, hibernation-prone dinosaur Johnny Thompson. (No offense meant to Thompson; he was just born 20 years too late to be an outside linebacker.)
Mwa ha ha ha. Yes, I am a sucker for teaching your children that the guy in the other uniform is evil and should be poisoned and then putting them on the internet in a fashion that will ruin their first dates for all time. Yes, doing this will get your video on MGoBlog:
You, out there with the kid: cute violence == pub.
Refutin'. More parents chime in on The Article In Question:
"Personally, knowing Coach Rod, I don't think there's any truth to it, I don't think there's any merit in it," Michael [Shaw, father of Mike Shaw] said.
Aand Carletta Moore, mother of redshirt freshman TE Brandon, FTW:
"First of all, it's wrong, because I went straight to the source -- I went straight to Brandon -- and it's a rumor," Carletta said. "My thought on it -- the devil has a job to do, too, you know? That's just the way I see things. I don't think there's truth to that story at all. Coming from my son, there's no truth to that story."
Hey, I didn't say it.
The Wolverines are carrying nine defensemen on the roster right now: Chris Summers, Steve Kampfer, Brandon Burlon, Chad Langlais, Tristin Llewellyn, Scooter Vaughan, Greg Pateryn, Lee Moffie, and Eric Elmblad. The first four are locks to be in the lineup every night, barring injury. There are fewer games to go around (at least in theory) for the third-pairing defensemen since Kampfer and Burlon are healthy after missing a combined 24 games a year ago.
Wow. Vaughn's been dogged with persistent rumors of a move to forward, but they could hypothetically redshirt Moffie if he wanted to be redshirted. (Moffie wasn't drafted by the NHL, FWIW, so he might be amenable to that in an effort to get more playing time overall.) The upshot is that Bryan Hogan is the hockey team's Brandon Graham—he cannot get injured—and that the team looks like it should own again, though hopefully with better luck in the tournament this time.
Michigan Monday is always more fun after Michigan does not soil itself:
True freshman Tate Forcier got the start at quarterback and looked…well…he looked…okay, I’ll just come out and say it, he looked really, really good. There, I said it. He finished the game 13-20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 11 times for 37 yards. Forcier looked completely comfortable throughout the entire game. He was poised and knew where to go with the ball just about every time.
Whole thing worth a read; skepticism expressed at what happens when Michigan gets "punched in the mouth" next week, which is fine metaphorically except for the fact that Notre Dame is not really a punch-you-in-the-mouth sort of team unless we get a –then-run-away-and-hide appended to it.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because 1) there are actual returning players and 2) 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.
|Brandon Herron||So.*||Mike Martin||So.||Ryan Van Bergen||So.*||Brandon Graham||Sr.|
|Craig Roh||Fr.||Renaldo Sagesse||Jr.||Greg Banks||Jr.*||Adam Patterson||Jr.*|
|Steve Watson||Fr.*||Will Campbell||Fr.||--||--||Anthony LaLota||Fr.|
Three starters depart but the big guy is back: Brandon Graham returns as Michigan's best player and a serious candidate for post-season honors. Joining him is a wildly unbalanced collection of players. At nose tackle there are two hugely promising underclassmen. At defensive tackle there's a potentially solid starter and then Some Guy. And at a new position no one knows what to call, what it does, or who plays there there's virtually nothing.
With the changes, this preview is going to treat the defensive ends as separate entities. Defensive tackles remain bunched.
|Sam-owns against UW|
|Saves UW game|
|"Big time from frosh"|
Last year, Mike Martin had the luxury of playing behind two productive veterans. In his limited time, he impressed. Everyone expects he will be the breakout star on defense this year; expectations are higher for him than they are for even Mouton. But… well. Here's a bunch of praise and some trepidation wrapped into one package. It's from the Wisconsin game:
Man, Mike Martin is kind of sweet.
Yeah, man, he's kind of great as an interior pass-rusher already. I'm a little leery that he's going to be a true sophomore starter on the line next year just because he came in so in-shape that he's probably not going to improve drastically, and therefore his sophomore year will seem disappointing, but the kid should be gangbusters (yea, see?) as an upperclassman. Now about the other guys at DT…
Martin might slightly disappoint people who expect him to be 100% awesome right now, but people pegging him at 80% are probably going to see their expectations met.
As a recruit, Mike Martin was a slightly smaller version of immovable fireplug Terrance Taylor. Both were state champions in wrestling and powerlifting. Both were in-state. Both were defensive tackles at or near the tail end of top 100 lists. HOWEVA, on the field the two played very differently. Taylor is a bull of a defensive tackle who will get under your pads and shove you backwards; Martin is more of a penetrator. His high school highlights often saw him slice through the line and tackle like a linebacker, and last year much of his deployment was as part of Michigan's three-man line pass rush Okie package. You can see the penetration in the highlights at right, and that sort of activity was the reason Martin picked up a steady stream of 3-0-3 lines in UFR.
This is why I'm a mite concerned, though:
|Penn State||1.5||4||-2.5||A lot of negatives late when he was in as a 4-3 DT; unsurprising he took a beating from Shipley & Co; he's just a freshman.|
That was Martin's longest exposure as a true 4-3 DT and he suffered at the hands of Penn State's excellent, veteran line. This could be a blip that has no impact going forward. Martin was, after all, a freshman going up against fifth-year seniors, and good ones. And there could be considerable difference between the role he was asked to play in that game—absorb two blocks—and the one he'll be asked to play in the light, quick, slashing defense Greg Robinson has apparently installed.
This year, Martin will be the only true defensive tackle in the lineup and is backed up by a to-date anonymous Canadian and a true freshman. Even if that true freshman may be enormous and highly touted, Martin's responsibility takes a more severe uptick than anyone else's this year. He might struggle a bit early; by the end of the year he should be very good.
At the other spot, redshirt sophomore Ryan Van Bergen enters the starting lineup. Van Bergen was a moderately shirtless recruit—he was ranked at about the same level Will Johnson was—who spent his first couple years backing up Brandon Graham at strongside defensive end. Michigan's moved him to their three-technique defensive tackle, a position that's traditionally been occupied by the nimble penetrating sort of defensive tackle instead of lumbering goo-beasts.
So he might to be too out of position at his new spot; he was something of a DE/DT tweener as a recruit. He still is at 6'5", 275. And he'll be one on the field: multiple people from the coaches who pop up from time to time on this site to the Michigan coaches to Van Bergen himself have noted that RVB will flare out from time to time and act as a five-tech defensive end, either on passing downs or when Michigan flips the deathbacker to Brandon Graham's side of the field.
There's not a whole lot of data on RVB to be had, unfortunately, and he seems a little tall and light for the spot he's at. With few reasonable backups, chances are production here isn't much better than okay.
Backups and Whatnot
Unlike… uh… everywhere else on the defensive line, there are a couple reasonable backups here. True freshman Will Campbell is the one with the recruiting hype, and lord almighty:
Dude put in work after enrolling early. His rep is enormous, agile, and strong—he's not a five star for nothing—but deficient in technique in all the ways that 350-pound men who can hurl high school offensive linemen into low Earth orbit usually are. In short: he needs to learn how to play low. He'll get that opportunity, as he should rotate in for Martin frequently with an eye on maybe starting when Michigan goes bulky for games against ground-pounders like Michigan State and Wisconsin. (The assumption in this case is that Martin slides over to DT and Michigan goes with a more conventional 4-3 look.) His recruiting profile also exists if you want to hear an awful lot about a large man.
Campbell will probably have a freshman year much like Mike Martin's, where he rotates in frequently and mostly does well with the occasional "yep, that's a freshman" play mixed in.
Meanwhile, junior Renaldo Sagesse remains a mysterious entity locked on the bench his first few years after coming to Michigan out of Quebec. Yes, that Quebec. In Canada. He probably doesn't have much upside but there's no shame in behind behind Taylor, Johnson, and Martin and should provide functional depth.
Redshirt junior Greg Banks backs up Van Bergen; Banks has seen the occasional snap as part of the rotation but hasn't done much with them. If he can give RVB breathers without drawing attention to himself, that's a win.
Strongside Defensive End
|Snuffing a draw|
|Sack wsgs Mouton, Brown|
|Beats double to sack|
|Sack wsg Mouton|
|frowns: not infallible|
|Sack +3 Pressure +2|
The most striking thing from my tour of last year's defensive UFR was how preposterous Brandon Graham was. Here's his Big Ten season minus Ohio State (which did not get UFRed for obvious reasons):
|Wisconsin||10.5||1||9.5||+6 of this comes from two sacks late when he got to the QB on three-man rushes, killing one drive and damaging another.|
|Illinois||7||4||3||More effective in the run game than others, but was exploited a couple times.|
|Penn State||9||4.5||4.5||Best player on defense without question.|
|Michigan State||12||1||11||He backed up his prediction as much as he could.|
|Purdue||9.5||2||7.5||Would have had some sacks if anyone was ever covered.|
The note above points out that defensive linemen tend to do better than the back seven in UFR ratings but once you start getting into the 7.5, 8, 9.5, 10.5, 11(!) range that is elite, elite production. Graham's impressive statistics—10 sacks, 20 TFLs—back that up. Graham is an unquestioned star, a lock for All Big Ten, a probable first round NFL draft pick, and the team's best player.
What's more, Graham's production took a major step forward last year. As a sophomore, Graham was impressive but mostly as a pass rusher. He had 8.5 sacks but just one other tackle for loss and 15 tackles outside of that. Last year a newly slimmed Graham added 36 tackles on people other than the quarterback, fully ten of them behind the line of scrimmage.
The best way to see Graham's transformation into a complete terror is to compare Michigan State games. In '07 Michigan State turned its run game around by attacking a tired Graham in the second half, and he came in for some clucking:
He's got a -2 up there, by far his worst total of his career, and it was largely because he got booted out of the line by double teams frequently.
In '08 Graham unwisely guaranteed victory and then went about attempting to make that happen singlehandedly. An abridged run-game-only Michigan State UFR:
Graham crashes inside in an attempt to jam the play up and force it to bounce outside but ends up shoved past the play, opening up a small hole Ringer can squeeze through. … Graham(-1) needs to shoot inside on this to take out the pulling guard and the fullback, which would delay Ringer and force him to bounce it into unblocked players; instead he stays outside and the resulting carry goes for six yards.
That's it in a game where Javon Ringer ran 37 times. The rest of the UFR that isn't "oh look it's another mass of bodies play for 2-4 yards" is Michigan State running at Tim Jamison over and over and over and over. Michigan State had seen the film, and they didn't even bother with that side of the line.
As far as the passing game, just look at the numbers and the highlights to your right. Brandon Graham is a bad man.
Backups and Whatnot
There are none. The opening depth chart has walk-on Will Heininger actually ahead of redshirt junior Adam Patterson, which… wow. Patterson was a top 100 recruit in this day and is currently behind a walk-on who's younger than him. Michigan acquired an injury redshirt for Patterson after he missed most of last year, but will they actually offer a fifth year to him?
When that's the relevant question instead of "can he reasonably replace the best player on the team?" it's time to light a candle for Graham's various ligaments, tendons, bones, and so forth and so on.
|Ryan Van Bergen|
|Easy PSU sack|
AKA "quick" or "elephant" or any number of other things, the deathbacker and what he is has been discussed ad nauseum throughout the offseason. One final recap: the deathbacker is half man, half machine, half defensive end, half linebacker, and 200% awesome. Robinson's defense has the flexibility to flip him from weakside—where he operates as an out-wide dispenser of havoc with a practiced sack dance—to the strong, where he becomes a human shield for an undersized strong-side linebacker and general threat to penetrate into a running play. In spring practice, Michigan mostly used him as the latter in order to better single up terror defensive end Brandon Graham.
Your one and only option at this spot is redshirt sophomore Brandon Herron, who has not been heard nor seen from except on special teams so far. Herron was only a middling recruit—Nebraska was his best other offer—and wandered around a man without a position his first couple years. He, along with linebacker Marell Evans and tight end Steve Watson, were thrown in at the position during spring practice. Evans transferred and Watson's initial buzz gave way to the sort of radio silence that sees you drop behind a true freshman, about whom more later, leaving Herron the starter by default.
As you can tell by the decidedly non-action photo above, Herron hasn't seen much time on the field. The only pictures in Mike DeSimone's insanely comprehensive Michigan picture database that feature Herron on the field are fuzzy shots of the field goal block team. So… yeah. I've never seen the player in question play. I've never seen Michigan deploy the position in question. There's considerable debate as to what, exactly, this position is even going to entail when it hits the field. Any projection here is the purest guesswork.
Here's my guesswork: Herron hasn't seen action despite Michigan's paper-thin depth chart at linebacker the last couple years and has the position by virtual default. He wasn't a big recruit. He's getting talked up, but that talk has the distinct whiff of Johnny Sears. Remember that brief window before The Horror when Only Reasonable Corner Option Johnny Sears was getting talked up left and right? Yeah… about that.
Herron does have one thing going for him: his teammates were throwing around ridiculous numbers about weights lifted and pounds (235) and 40 times (4.4). You take FAKE physical attributes at your peril, though.
Backups and Whatnot
Good thing this positional preview is the last one to drop: this site's message board has an unconfirmed report that true freshman Craig Roh is actually going to get the start tomorrow. This would be bad, as it would thrust a true freshman who's been called "wiry" so many times that he bristled at it when someone dropped it at Media Day into the starting lineup, but it might not be that bad. Roh was a big-time recruit who picked Michigan over USC and many others, and I was ape about him when it came time to hit up his recruiting profile:
He should get immediate use as a situational pass rusher and could move into the starting line up by midseason. It might take longer but I don't think Evans, Watson, or Herron is going to keep him off the field for much more than a year.
Craig Roh DE (Michigan)
Straight baller that showed a Dwight Freeney spin on Kelley for a sack and sacked/tackled Russel Shepard in space. Had a handful of QB pressures over the course of the game. Rich Rod got himself a good one.
When Rodriguez started talking about how Roh will play immediately upon his arrival, the general tone of it was "…as a situational pass rusher." That's definitely in the cards, but I've been advocating the idea Roh will end up something more, and soon… I wouldn't be surprised if the unconfirmed report was true.
There is also redshirt freshman Steve Watson, who moved from tight end after it became clear his lack of athleticism would see him permanently buried behind Koger, Webb, and Moore on offense at a position that's strictly optional in the spread 'n' shred. As mentioned, there were some positive notes coming out of spring practice about him, but Roh quickly passed him. Watson's career arc looks like Coner on defense.
The following article is a little old but I ripped it out of an Unverified Voracity a little ways back because Steve Sharik posted an excellent diary on what we can expect from the defense this fall and it felt like it would be a standalone post. (BTW: Sharik has posted another diary about the triple option, which Markus from Carcajous(!) has followed up on.)
So the quick/spinner lingo that we've been using ever since Greg Robinson was hired, confusion over which led to commenters on this here blog to coin the term "deathbacker" has been clarified. One term does not exist, and the other one has been superseded:
There’s not much hybrid about the linebacker-safety position Stevie Brown will play this year. Robinson said he doesn’t call the position “spinner” or anything else. “He’s our SAM,” or strong-side linebacker, Robinson said.
There is, however, new terminology for the defensive line. Robinson calls those positions the quick, power, nose and tackle. The “quick” is the hybrid linebacker-end you’ve heard about (Brandon Herron); the “power” is an old-school defensive end (Brandon Graham); the “nose” is your typical nosetackle (Mike Martin); and the “tackle” can sometimes flex out and play end in four-man fronts (Ryan Van Bergen).
Wait, so Stevie Brown is a strongside linebacker? Um. I had assumed he was the weakside linebacker, who is a protected player in a 4-3 under and gets "his meat cooked." (That's how Jeff Casteel described the weakside LB/S in the 3-3-5 DVD I purchased when I thought Casteel was going to be the DC around these parts. The strongside linebacker "got his meat raw," which meant he usually had to deal with a blocker. Those terms have been rattling around in my head for two years now, and now they'll be rattling around in yours. Mwa ha ha.)
A protected player doesn't usually have to take on blockers and can just run to the ball and (hopefully) make a tackle. This fits in well with a converted safety at linebacker, but I'm (and we are, right?) pretty leery about Brown even if he's not taking on blockers every play. This won't make much difference against spread teams—it'll be worlds better than pretending Johnny Thompson can cover anyone—but if Wisconsin and Michigan State don't suck I can see him getting run over consistently. That's assuming they don't make a change for power-running teams, which was an excellent assumption under Shafer (Johnny Thompson third and long what?) but hopefully won't be one under Robinson.
Sharik talks about what he expects the defense to be in the diaries, and it's not a 4-3 under. It's kind of a 4-3 under, actually, but it's flipped:
I assume that Graham will most often be the weakside 5 technique. Not only that, he'll probably be a "wide" 5, meaning he'll line up a yard outside the tackle, angled in at the tackle's nose. This means two things: one, he won't be inside (generally) and therefore two, it will be virtually impossible to double him in run situations. (He'll probably be doubled in pass situations, but that's likely to happen regardless of his alignment. This tends to happen when you are a freak of nature and can make QB's look like Beetle Bailey after an angry Sarge has gotten hold of him.)
Mike Martin will play a weakside shade or 1 technique (usually), meaning those two beasts will be on the same side of the DL most of the time. I would think opponents would run away from those two, which is where Michigan will have a numbers advantage. So, the offense will have to chose between:
A: running at two future NFL 1st round draft picks at DL, backed up by a potential 1st team all B10 middle LB (Obi Ezeh) and a former 5-star recruit at weakside OLB (Mouton)
B: running where the defense has superior numbers
Michigan showed this formation for most of the spring game… sort of. Van Bergen went out early and Graham played sparingly.
Ezeh as a potential first team all-conference player is a considerable stretch, but the rest of it sounds good. In a 4-3 under the deathbacker sits even farther outside the tackle and is used as a freelance sower of chaos a la Shawn Crable; this is something I assume you'll see on passing plays. Having all the hybrids around allows Michigan to flip which side of the line those guys show up on without revealing a personnel change:
The "quick" can play strong side or weak; so can the "spinner." The "quick" can play w/hand down or not. The "spinner" can play on the LOS, at LB depth, or even in the secondary. The "quick" can play on the LOS or at LB depth.
This jives with comments from Van Bergen that he's usually going to be a three-technique defensive tackle but will move out to a five-technique defensive end from time to time when Michigan either goes with a two-gap look (infrequently, IME) or flips the deathbacker to the other side of the formation.
It certainly sounds good. Sharik details the various packages his high school team ran last year, which are customized to the opponent's strength and provided considerable flexibility. I'll be terribly pleased to see a defensive back-type object heading out into the slot against spread sets instead of Johnny Thompson. And opposing teams are going to have to prepare for a multitude of looks. In theory, it's a defensive equivalent of Michigan's offense and when it's had talent in the past it's been excellent.
Whether or not the Michigan defense has "talent" in the overarching sense is yet to be determined.
BONUS HYPE: I've been talking up incoming freshman Craig Roh for a while now, saying that despite his wiry frame Michigan will be virtually forced to use him because of a lack of deathbacker depth. And lo, it is so. Rodriguez on the crab man:
"It’s only been one week, but he’s got some natural ability, pass-rush wise, and we’re teaching him some different things in the scheme of our defense. But I think he could help us at least in a pass-rush mode and then as he continues to learn the defense he’ll do more and more of it."
Van Bergen, meanwhile, says he's "raw" but is a "really skilled" pass rusher. It might take him a couple games but I'd be surprised if he's not a part of the nickel package, and soon. If he's not that means Brandon Herron is way better than he has any right to be.
Holy pants. YouTube HD, people!
Sweet. Someone lock Wolverine Historian in a room with a computer and a stack of videos. (This may be redundant, yes.)
Pah. The New York Times' bottom-to-top rundown of I-A football has reached Michigan at an uninspiring #57. The meandering glory of the thing has 100 words in German, mentions Elroy Hirsch, cites Varsity Blue, and desperately needs more paragraph breaks. It > CFN.
But the thing that sticks out to your correspondent:
Who is No. 56?: The name of its first president graces our next university’s football stadium and library. There is no memorial to Jimmy Bob, his ever-present parrot.
A commenter solves the riddle:
#56 is Western Michigan, home of Waldo Stadium and Waldo Library.
Awwww, come on. There is no way that's not a hook for the WMU preview.
Up-and-coming. This doesn't come as a surprise to me since the Doc pinged me to ask whether Boubacar Cissoko was a reasonable pick for the team—I replied "if you don't have anyone truly inspiring," to which he said "I do not"—but Michigan features twice on Dr. Saturday's up-and-coming defense. You'll be able to guess the other member without reading the post, but what the hell:
Defensive Tackle: Mike Martin • Michigan
Aside from punting, run defense was the only halfway respectable aspect of the entire Wolverine operation last year, and the best aspect of the run defense may have been that Martin held his own as a regular part of the rotation as a true freshman -- with both starters graduating, the middle of the line remains one of the team's many red sirens. Most importantly, Martin earned the MGoBlog seal of approval, which is no small feat.
Hey, now: the rushing offense was (very, very slightly) above-average. That linked caused me to return to the Wisconsin UFR, in which Martin thwarted Wisconsin's second attempt at a game-tying two-point conversion by escaping a double team and crushing the QB as he released the ball; he is kind of a great interior pass rusher already. I just hope he can hold up against the consistent pounding of the ground game.
The Doc's offensive team is hyah; call me skeptical about the inclusion of a no-block tight end from Ohio State on the list. Ohio State tight ends have to block because they do little else except get death threats. One dollar says that Kevin Koger has more catches than Jake Stoneburner at the end of the year. (Stoneburner, naturally, will blind more messiahs.)
Find Pierce Brosnan. Jewel Hampton is the tailback on that DocSat up-and-coming offense, but his knee may have up and left:
Multiple Web sites are reporting that Iowa football running back Jewel Hampton sustained a knee injury during non-contact drills Friday. If confirmed, that would put a damper on the 4th of July weekend for Hawkeye fans.
BHGP links to stuff that suggests the injury is a torn ACL, which would knock Hampton out for the year. Yea, if there is any Angry BLANK Hating God as wroth as Angry Michigan Safety-Hating God, it's Angry Iowa Tailback-Hating God.
However, the second-wave word on the thing is much friendlier to Iowa and Hampton:
"I'm OK," he said.
When the 5-foot-9, 210-pound sophomore-to-be from Indianapolis was asked whether he would play in the fall, Hampton said with a grin, "Don't know yet."
Dude NFW. You know what? I really don't want to get into this again. But I find it amazing that this happens to be true:
Almost there! With two graduated, third-team seniors predictably (and acceptably) having left the team over the past week, Bama Sports Report reports that the Tide only has ... 10 more scholarships to free up over the rest of the summer! That's not too bad! Here, here's a handy alphabetical run-down of how many scholarships each SEC team still has to clear off the existing roster to bring in their full signing class in fall camp:
Mississippi St.: 0
South Carolina: 0
Say what you want about the man, Saban stands by his principles, such as they are.
Etc.: You will be SHOCKED at the #1 players on Ace's list of the top 15 players on both sides of the ball from the past 15 years.
|Youngstown, Ohio - 6'2" 190|
|Scout||3*, #25 WLB|
|Rivals||4*, #21 OLB, Rivals 250|
|ESPN||75, #70 OLB|
|Other Suitors||Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan State, Pitt|
|Taylor Hill Commits?|
|Notes||Glenville-Mooney scrimmage video,|
If you want to add Taylor Hill to the snake-oil bonanza, feel free. At one time Hill was committed to Oklahoma, and he had just committed to Rodriguez at West Virginia when Rodriguez left for Michigan. So he's a quasi-decommit. Even odder: Hill committed to Oklahoma before visiting the campus and didn't meet Bob Stoops until October. He promptly decommitted. (Joking!)
It's hard to decipher the split between Hill's offers and his ranking. He originally decided in June between the four suitors listed above, which means he had early offers from both LSU and Oklahoma. Normally when LSU and Oklahoma offer a kid from Ohio that's a strong indicator he's elite. In this case, both Bob Stoops and Bo Pelini are both Cardinal Mooney alums who had reason to know about Hill's existence, and when Hill told Oklahoma he was going to look around they yanked his offer. They weren't exactly desperate to hang on to him.
After Oklahoma and Hill parted ways, Hill verbaled to Rich Rodriguez two days before he took the Michigan job. He decommitted again, promising to open things up. A visit to Michigan State later, he committed to Michigan. So... do we believe the early LSU and Oklahoma offers or his second-wave recruitment, during which the big candidates were second-tier schools like West Virginia and Michigan State? Two of three gurus say the latter; Rivals is more optimistic.
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. A Scout.com report from Mooney's game against Pennsylvania power Gateway:
Taylor Hill is another player that helped change the game early on. He got a ton of pressure on the Gateway quarterback off of the edge. The Gators just never could get it going offensively due to the fact they could not establish a passing attack, and Hill played a huge role in the disruption.
His athletic director echoes the thought in a piece from late in Hill's junior year:
While several other Cardinal defenders have got a lot of attention this year â€” specifically, junior linebacker Michael Zordich and senior defensive tackle Ishmaai'ly Kitchen â€” junior defensive end Taylor Hill has flown under the radar despite a terrific season.
"This kid causes a lot of havoc," said legendary Mooney coach Don Bucci, now the school's athletic director. "When you talk about that junior class, people always name the big three of McCarthy, Zordich and [running back Brandon Beachum], but he's in their class as far as an athlete."
A local columnist summed up Hill's season after Mooney's one-point loss to Coldwater in the state championship game: "Coldwater's game plan in the state finals was, basically, to get rid of the ball so quickly it wouldn't have to block Hill."
On the other hand, ESPN's scouting report notes that he's playing out of position and has some praise for his athleticism but spends most of its length saying things like "can be undisciplined" and "can run, but needs to improve instincts and feel for the game." It's an uncommonly negative piece for ESPN. Unsurprisingly, their rating of Hill is significantly lower than that of either Scout or Rivals.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. High profile player, but playing out of position.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. A project that requires a lot of development both mentally and physically before he's ready to play, but Oklahoma and LSU offers are Oklahoma and LSU offers. High upside, high bust factor.
Projection: Obvious redshirt candidate what with the position switch and being 180 or 190 pounds and all. After that will try to find a role as a blitzing linebacker a la Foote or Shawn Crable.
|Absecon, New Jersey - 6'2" 210|
|Scout||4*, #14 WLB, #212 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #20 OLB|
|ESPN||80, #23 OLB|
|Others||#91 overall to Takkle|
|Other Suitors||Rutgers, Tennessee|
By the time Marcus Witherspoon committed in early June, I had a couple articles in which he claimed offers from BC, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, and 25 others... unfortunately, those have evaporated and I think maybe a couple of those are iffy. In any case, when Carr retired and Rodriguez was hired there was a minor panic as Witherspoon re-opened his recruiting, seriously considered Tennessee, and seemed headed there for a moment or two before re-committing.
Witherspoon was rated and recruited as a linebacker, but with no defensive ends in this class and just one in the previous year's, someone's likely to move. Witherspoon seems a likely candidate. Check it:
The Michigan commit definitely looks like a top DI prospect physically. Although he's listed as a linebacker, he spent most of the day at defensive end, and used an assortment of moves to harass the Immaculata quarterback and running g ame. He'll likely start off as a linebacker with the Wolverines, but don't be surprised if he grows out of that position after a year or two in their strength and conditioning program.
Witherspoon in the wild:
Last year Witherspoon racked up 27 sacks as his team went undefeated, winning the state championship as Witherspoon wreaked havoc on the edge. Witherspoon's coach before his junior season:
"We still consider him raw, so this (season) is going to be interesting," Holy Spirit coach Bill Walsh said. "At the high school level, he has the ability to take things into his own hands. We're looking forward to see what's going to happen this season. He's one of the special ones that make everyone else better.
"His first three steps are explosive and for a kid that big to run a legit 4.5 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), there are not too many kids who have his weight and size that run that legit speed. When you watch him on tape, he gets after it. But he still has a lot of growth."
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. ESPN's scouting report reinforces that belief:
Natural pass rusher, who possesses the quick first step and lean to effectively get by offensive lineman. This excellent, vertical attacking ability is also evident in the run game. Very difficult to block him when trying to get the edge.
Concerns are expressed about Witherspoon being the product of an "attack-style defense" who might need some serious technique and responsibility work as a collegian... again, Crable.
Guru Reliability: High. They're all in the same ballpark; no sleeper marks.
General Excitement Level: Moderate++. Michigan's probably better off if Witherspoon doesn't see serious time for a year or two and then develops into a weakside defensive end. He won't have to be an enormous guy if VanBergen, a much larger guy who projects on the strongside, works out.
Projection: Obviously, this blog is projecting a move to DE. Or, rather, a non-move from DE.
|Princeton Junction, New Jersey - 6'3" 225|
|Scout||4*, #10 SLB, #152 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #18 OLB, #145 overall|
|ESPN||80, #14 OLB, #141 overall|
|Other Suitors||Florida, Rutgers|
|Notes||Greg Schiano followed this dude around in a helicopter.|
Only CB Boubacar Cissoko has a set of guru ratings as consistent as JB Fitzgerald's: three separate services have Fitz from around the 140th to 150th-best player in the country, and all say he's an outside linebacker. Despite that the tentative plan is to play Fitzgerald in the middle.
Fitzgerald picked Michigan over Rutgers and a legit Florida offer in late August, then picked Michigan over Rutgers again on Signing Day. Other offers came from Cal, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and a wide variety of other school.
Why did he get those offers? Well, you know what they say about a guy with huge hands...
"Coach Smith had told me that at the end of his sophomore year, he took J.B.'s hand and put it on a photocopier machine," said David Fitzgerald, J.B.'s father. "He mailed it out to all these schools."
..."boy, those guys make good linebackers." And lo, the offers flowed. ESPN($):
Possesses the flat-out speed to turn and chase down backs to the sideline, rare and very impressive for size ... His overall read-and-reaction skills need improvement. We have yet to see great reactive athleticism and a good initial jump to the football. He is such a good short-range athlete that these weaknesses are often masked.
So he's a bit raw as a linebacker, but nowhere near as raw as either Hill or Witherspoon. In marked contrast to the sack-heavy statlines of Michigan's other linebacker recruits, Fitzgerald's numbers actually look like those of a linebacker: 125 tackles, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, and two sacks. He was picked the Gatorade player of the year and Newark Star-Ledger defensive player of the year in New Jersey over OMG shirtless Florida recruit Will Hill. (Side note: the "hands" article is enormous and enlightening.)
You'd think there would be more out there on Fitzgerald, but unfortunately that's all the info I could dig up. At least it's positive.
Guru Reliability: High. Not much of a position move, three-year starter, no injury concerns, consistent rankings.
General Excitement Level: High. A good bet to be a multi-year starter.
Projection: Gives Johnny Thompson a run for his playing time in the fall; ends up a frequently-used backup and is groomed for a starting spot starting his sophomore year. Ezeh will probably head out to SLB.
|Beverly Hills, Michigan - 6'1" 220|
|Scout||3*, #23 WLB|
|Rivals||4*, #23 OLB|
|ESPN||78, #35 ATH|
|Other Suitors||Michigan State, Nebraska|
|Notes||The only youtube hit for "Kenny Demens" is so awesome. And Scandanavian. Commitment presser.|
The high school teammate of top-ranked instate running back Jonas Gray, Kenny Demens found himself similarly ignored by Michigan for the first half of the recruiting year. By June he had picked up offers from West Virginia, Nebraska, and most of the Big Ten outside of Penn State and Ohio State.
Michigan didn't get serious about offering until Demens attended their summer camp and put in an impressive performance; the late-developing interest had them temporarily behind Nebraska and Michigan State.
ESPN spends much of its scouting report discussing his potential as a fullback; when they finally get around to the idea of Demens as a linebacker they note that his short-range closing speed "can match most of the elite linebackers in this 2008 class" -- it's too bad none of Demens' film was released into the free areas of the internet, because it's mostly him laying wood to people -- and that he has some trouble moving through the muck but is a "tough, physical tackling machine" before referencing his lack of ideal measurables and giving him about the same grade everyone else does: on the three-four star borderline.
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.
Guru Reliability: High; they all agree and there's no reason he'd be particularly underrated.
General Excitement Level: Moderate--. Offers and ratings are pretty much in agreement; Demens is a low upside sort.
Projection: Think he's a little less likely to contribute than any of the other linebackers in the class, but not by much. It'll depend on how smart he is about maximizing his abilities.
|Novi, Michigan - 6'1" 285|
|Scout||4*, #12 DT, #196 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #16 DT|
|ESPN||80, #8 DT|
|Other Suitors||MSU, PSU, Notre Dame|
|Say Hello to Mike Martin, Crabman|
|Notes||Don't blame me. ESPN said it.|
Martin committed in early June, about a month after picking up his Michigan offer. By that time Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue, and a dozen other schools had offered, but there weren't any heavyweights on his list. IIRC, he was a late-emerging sort that no one mentioned until around April or May, at which point people began to catch on. Notre Dame offered and attempted to sway Martin after the coaching change, but Martin canceled a planned visit and stuck with his commitment.
In Martin, Michigan appears to have a player almost identical to current NT Terrance Taylor. Both are mildly undersized nose tackles who were terrifying heavyweight wrestlers and powerlifters with multiple state records to their credit. Taylor was generally ranked higher (IIRC, anywhere from around #60 to the tail end of top 100 lists) and entered college much larger.
Martin doesn't look much like your stereotypical pot-bellied defensive tackle; check this video of a Martin wrestling match:
That is a slab of muscle Mike Barwis would be mildly impressed with.
This extensive highlight reel covers Martin's senior season; it often features him running ballcarriers down like he's Shawn Crable (you might want to skip the first minute, which is all still shots):
Martin is the platonic opposite of Gabe Watson, a penetrator reminiscent of USC terror Sedrick Ellis. Ellis was an All-American because he can do the sort of things Martin does in the clips above at 305 pounds and hold up at the point of attack when doubled. Martin's usually listed at 280 and is obviously way more advanced in the tao of weightroom than 99% of high schoolers: there's a chance he's just not going to get any bigger.
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.
Linebacker: B+. Michigan picked up its share of athletes and did well in an area they had to after a disappointing 2007 class with just two sleepers, but some immediate impact sorts were needed and other than maybe Fitzgerald there doesn't appear to be a guy who can compete for serious playing time as a freshman.
Defensive Line: C-. I really like Martin and think he's very likely to be a productive starter and eventually an All Big Ten sort. But... uh... that's it. A year after picking up just one DE, Michigan got zero; the position now looms as the far and away #2 area of need for the 2008 class (quarterback, obviously, is #1 ). Losing Nick Perry hurt badly on a Signing Day otherwise full of pleasant surprises.
We'll see if Witherspoon or Koger or both end up at DE, but given the way the class was announced this is the biggest issue with the class outside of the understandable QB fiasco.