One of your big focuses in coaching has always been on the defensive line. What’s the adjustment been like for you to coaching linebackers?
“Well, yeah, so no, it really hasn’t. I’ve been a linebacker coach pretty much my whole career. I played it and coached it. I spent a year coaching d-line is all. It’s been pretty smooth. In December, you know, getting prepared for the bowl and just being surrounded by those guys who played so much football here in Joe Bolden and Des [Morgan] and [James] Ross, they helped my transition there in December and it’s been real smooth.”
You’re at a position where there’ve been a lot of losses so it’s kind of a key focus for you to get that ready. What’s that been like so far?
“Oh, it’s awesome, you know. It’s a challenge. We got to get some young guys ready to go, and we’ve got some great guys that are coming back that have played a lot of football, too. Ben Gedeon has stepped in and been an incredible leader right off the bat. And then coach Brown, coach Brown’s right in there with me with the backers. He’s a seasoned, veteran coach that understands how to get guys ready to go so it’s been pretty smooth. We’re working hard.”
Has Mike McCray been full go? He’s had a lot of shoulder issues over the years. Is he doing alright with that?
“Yeah, he’s been incredible over the past first five practices. He’s a pleasant surprise. You know, you kind of knew he had it in him and just his first five practices have been phenomenal.”
And is Jabrill working with you, or is he working with the safeties coaches still? What’s that situation?
“Uh, Jabrill works with a lot of people. You know, he’s with me, he’s with the safeties coaches, he’s kind of everywhere. He’s a smart football player that can take on a lot and we’re going to ask him to take on a lot, so I think the sky’s the limit on what positions he can play. We might even line him up at nose tackle this year if we can.”
When he’s up close to the line, what’s the biggest threat he presents to an offense?
“He can get to the quarterback in under a second off the ball. He’s got quickness. He’s going to put some o-linemen in some tough situations coming off the edge, and he can also drop and get to the flat real quick. And he can cover a guy from the line of scrimmage, be it a tight end or a back out of the backfield, so he can do some real dynamic things for us there.”
[After THE JUMP: “It’s their third defense here in three years and they’ve picked it up really well. It’s exciting to see. It hasn’t been as hard a transition as people might think.”]
Johnson pictured before he was immolated by 73-degree temperatures [Patrick Barron]
The humanity. Michigan's Florida trip was just another step towards the destruction of collegiate athletics:
"It's been wonderful," running back Drake Johnson said. "I think the team bonding aspect was the best. Obviously, we're here to learn football, but I think being together this whole time, sometimes being on campus can kind of spread you away from your team because you're caught up in school life. Being here has allowed us to accelerate the process of learning."
They will never recover. I will play the world's tiniest violin for them.
Soon, but not yet. Harbaugh on one Brandon Peters:
"It's impressive what he did (this week), as young as he is, being out here for the first time, he's got some real coolness about him," Harbaugh said unprompted Friday evening after the team's final practice at IMG Academy. "It showed up over and over in each of the four days.
"He's not a guy that panics. He's a natural in a lot of ways."
I mean, that sounds like "very soon" but some of the praise on offer here is definitely of the "for a freshman" variety:
"A lot of times with freshman quarterbacks, let alone someone who is coming in at mid-year, you expect fumbled snaps or they can't get out of the huddle. But he was out of the huddle on every snap, every call."
So maybe we can pump the brakes on the inevitable Brandon Peters Is A Real Challenger chatter. Here's hoping he goes redshirt, backup, really good redshirt sophomore. If someone else doesn't pip him in two years.
Linebacker group taking shape. Harbaugh called Ben Gedeon a "stud" after four spring practices, so let's hang on to that when we're squeezing our worry balls about the linebacking corps over the offseason. Also:
“I think Noah Furbush is going to contribute,” Harbaugh said. “Devin Bush Jr. is going to be good (too). So we got some real good players in there. I feel much better about our linebacker situation after four days.”
On the one hand, awesome. On the other, four mostly unpadded days. Harbaugh also praised McCray but noted his injury history. He can hang out with Drake Harris in his dorm room made entirely from bubble wrap and soothing whale song.
Satellite camps are on. Michigan's got one scheduled in Alabama for June 6th, so those haven't been banned yet.
MAAR profiled. Or Rahk or whatevs man. Brendan Quinn talks to his dad about the origin of the name:
"Oh!" the 58-year-old booms. "I tell you, man, to this day, it was the most magnificent thing I've ever seen in my life."
It's a Saturday morning in Manhattan and Dawud Abdur-Rahkman — the former David Cody — is rolling. The busy coffee shop disappears as he smiles and squints, telling the story of how he met Muhammad Ali in 1978. His voice crackles like old vinyl.
Every memory is vivid: Ali's sweat flying as he sparred. Ali looking 10-feet tall. Ali taunting the kids in jest, "I told you chumps I'm the greatest!" He remembers meeting Ali one-on-one and only being able to muster, with a tremble, "How you doing, Champ?"
Hey, I remember getting blitzed by that dude. The New York Times has an article on Keith Frazier, former SMU player and walking academic red flag who serves as a poster child for the ridiculousness of the one-and-done rule imposed on the NCAA by the NBA:
Frazier’s educational track record was pockmarked with failure. His high school grades mysteriously and quickly improved whenever his eligibility to play was at stake. He most likely had too many absences and failing grades to graduate from high school. And top officials at S.M.U. ignored their own professors, who recommended that Frazier not be admitted to S.M.U., an academically tough university.
Frazier took an online summer course before enrolling in freshman classes. An S.M.U. team assistant secretly completed Frazier’s work, an N.C.A.A. report found.
Frazier played against Michigan, helped SMU torch us, and has since left school. He would have been better off in the NBA from the drop… and in this case, SMU would have been better off as well. But guys like Frazier are all over college basketball, because they have to be.
This isn't a situation like football where there is a legitimate safety concern for recent high schoolers being put in the shark tank against guys like JJ Watt; it's solely the NBA using the NCAA as a marketing arm. Unfortunately I don't see a solution since the NFL's rule was challenged in court and stood because it was part of a CBA. Jim Delany proposing the return of freshman ineligibility is the nuclear option that will never happen… and really seems like the only option, period.
See also: Ben Simmons, who was left off the Wooden list because of his GPA in his only semester of college.
NOPE. If you're wondering who secured an interview with Tom Anastos and managed to turn it into a sympathetic piece for a guy who has MSU hockey 42nd in RPI in year five, well, it's Graham Couch because of course it is. MSU is so bad at hockey that it makes me, a Michigan fan, upset. And it's worse when Anastos's solution to MSU's problems is to bring in overage players:
Q: What’s the timeline now for the turnaround, to be closer to what North Dakota and other elite programs are on the ice, where there’s a noticeable difference? You’ve got a heralded class coming in but those guys will be young next year.
Anastos: “Yeah, but we have some older kids coming in. We’re not getting to the point where we’re starting to be able to be more patient (in when we bring in a recruit). … To answer your question about North Dakota, I thought it would take a good eight or nine years to be able to get ourselves in a position where you’re competing for those most elite prospects, and you can build the depth in your roster."
Dude was supposed to be connected to every junior program in the state and he cannot compete for the same recruits Michigan does. I'll admit that I don't know a ton about MSU's incoming class but it doesn't seem "heralded" by anyone. It has zero NTDP players. Only one of their guys was even ranked in the midterm CSB rankings. It's not even that old, five years in. North Dakota mostly recruits like Michigan and BC do; the old dudes strategy is one that second-tier programs use to offset the fact they're not bringing in the Kyle Connors of the world.
Why Anastos thinks it would take twice as long as a player is eligible to turn around a program is obvious: it's the only possible justification for the guy keeping his job. Fire this dude, fire Mike Eaves, go to home series in the playoffs, Make the Big Ten Great for the First Time.
Also hire Mel Pearson, Michigan.
Etc.: This is a tradition I could do without. Further reminding us of the Amaker era, Michigan is the 8 seed in the Big Ten tourney and will play Northwestern at noon on Thursday. Big Ten hockey guy who isn't a hockey guy tries to defend league's sneaky rules ploy, fails. Calls removing eligibility from 21-year-old freshman a "modest proposal," unironically.
Ball screens not so much this year.
— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) March 1, 2016
I enjoy the guy yelling in the background.
Harbaugh has thrown the doors open down in Florida. There is a pile of stuff. So much stuff. Even before the open practice at 5PM today, there is so much stuff. Let's talk things and stuff.
First: yes, this is just technique work and mostly unpadded at that. Takes have largely been about throwing, catching, and defending said throws—there's not much you can take away on either line thus far. Oh and one other thing.
Jabrill Peppers, Linebacker
After @JabrillPeppers' heat in 30 yard speed drills he said , "your SAM backer is the fastest guy on the team! How does that feel?!" Lol
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 1, 2016
The most meaningful thing from the first few spring practices is the apparent move of Jabrill Peppers to strongside linebacker. Or, as they called it last year, "hybrid linebacker." While the nomenclature has changed it doesn't seem like a whole lot else has:
Through the first two days of camp, Peppers has played in the box almost exclusively. He's spent most of his time blitzing, supporting the run and covering tight ends underneath during 11 on 11 drills. In 7 on 7 workouts, he's drifted out to cover slot receivers, but he's never far away from the line of scrimmage.
That's more or less what Michigan did with him a year ago. The exception: against certain two-WR sets Peppers would slide out to boundary cornerback. Last year Don Brown rode with 6'1", 218-pound Matt Milano as his SAM, and all that dude did was lead the team in TFLs with 17.5 and add 6.5 sacks. Peppers is likely to be around that size, if a hair shorter, and obviously brings much more athleticism to the table. (I have no idea how athletic Matt Milano is. I am still comfortable making that assumption.)
Wolverine Devotee put together an every snap video from the BC-FSU game last year; Milano is 28. You'll see him lined up as an actual linebacker against heavier formations and often over the slot in lighter ones:
How does this change what everyone else does? One thing it likely signals is that the days where Michigan lined up a safety 15 yards back are over. To get away with the kind of light linebackers Brown favors you need to have all eleven guys potentially involved in the run game. You can expect Michigan to run "over" fronts most of the time, but that's not a change.
It also puts more pressure on the safeties to be able to defend man to man. Ian Boyd noted that the "ability of [BC] safeties to play deep overage is probably the strongest point" of Don Brown's most recent defense. I'm a bit leery of that given what we saw from Michigan last year—neither Delano Hill or Dymonte Thomas did a great job in those situations—but at least Thomas is fast enough to prevent a quick six points if he gets soloed up on a slot and things go badly for M.
Going forward, Tyree Kinnel will be very important. He entered Michigan with a reputation as a CB/S hybrid and that's exactly what Brown wants from his safeties.
The other SAM
we only have one Furbush picture so you might want to settle in with this shot [Patrick Barron]
Don Brown mentioned Noah Furbush as Michigan's other option at SAM linebacker:
Peppers finished last season with 45 tackles and 10 pass break ups. But this year, along with Noah Furbush, Peppers will be focusing more on playing SAM linebacker says Brown.
“Between Furbush and (Peppers), I think we can put those two guys together and create some dynamic ability out of that position. That’s what you are searching for,” said Brown.
Furbush is obviously a very different player than Peppers, and that might give you an indication of what Michigan is going to do when they do catch an Iowa or a Wisconsin. If Furbush fills out this year—his weight has been an ongoing mystery—he brings a lot more in the tight-end-whacking category than Peppers; meanwhile Michigan can move Peppers to CB or safety… or save some snaps in an effort to use him more on offense.
Also in "other SAM," Chase Winovich was recruited as Jake Ryan 2.0 and now sounds kind of like Jake Ryan 2.0:
He is all of 240 pounds and can still move as well as he did when he was 215. … If things go according to what looks to be the plan, expect to see Winovich playing standing up at times, and with his hand in the dirt at others. His non-stop motor and reckless abandon should help him when it comes to getting after opposing quarterbacks.
I'm not sure where Jake Ryan 2.0 fits in a Don Brown defense but am willing to find out.
While nobody is tipping their hand I continue to believe that Zach Gentry moving to tight end is a dead giveaway that John O'Korn is the guy and authoritatively so. Baumgardner:
When forced to throw the ball in traffic, O'Korn's accuracy was just more consistent. It wasn't perfect, but his touch was better and his ability to deliver throws on time looked superior to what we saw from Wilton Speight or Shane Morris.
That's probably not a shocker to anyone. But it was notable. The deep ball will be a work in progress for O'Korn and his wideouts, and it's still important to note that Jehu Chesson is still rehabbing an injury. But Jake Butt still catches everything underneath, and Amara Darboh can still haul in most anything thrown in his area. O'Korn is figuring that out.
Webb noted that O'Korn is "unquestionably the most athletic" of the QBs, which is a nice physical
intangible to have at 6'4". Speight and Malzone come in for mentions as well; Morris was probably at the other split squad practice so don't run to the hills with the news that he gone.
The hyped recruit has impressed as well. Brandon Peters was singled out by Harbaugh in a press conference after day two. Baumgardner made an effort to check him out during the brief time the media got to see him—he's been practicing mostly during the closed bit of Michigan's practices:
The main thing here: He's smooth and natural. When I spoke with a few scouts and analysts about Peters last summer, the first thing they all raved about was how he's nowhere near his potential. …
I've seen a lot of freshmen quarterbacks enter a program over the years and just look absolutely lost or panicked. Their feet are all over the place. They're throwing the thing as hard as they can on every rep. They're overwhelmed, basically.
Peters is far from a finished product, but he's not overwhelmed. That much is clear.
Here's hoping for two years of this kind of chatter before an epic showdown between Peters, McCaffrey, and whoever else survives the winnowing.
Recommend you hit up that Baumgardner article as he describes Harbaugh going through drills with the QBs; some excellent insight into what makes Harbaugh one of the best QB coaches in football.
Bunting has been impressing:
Ian Bunting didn’t have as good a day as Jake Butt, but he was close. The redshirt sophomore has terrific hands and showed trait on the play of the day. Bunting ran a skinny post. Coverage was decent, giving Alex Malzone a tight window to throw in. He fired a rope a little out front of his intended target where only Bunting had a shot. The ball was on him so quick that he only had time to extend one hand, but that was all he need to haul in the pass. He did so in stride and sprinted to the endzone to a series of oohs and aahs. It was his best play but definitely not the only one.
Also in there are takes on Wheatley (looking promising in the AJ Williams role, probably still needs to drop a little weight) and Gentry (upside, but needs time). Webb revisited Bunting after practice yesterday, asserting that he "looks like a guy poised to have a breakout season" because he is now blasting through linebackers on his routes and boxing them out. Here's to Ol' Skillet Hands making good on ridiculous MGoBlog hype.
Jake Butt is Jake Butt: he should win the dang Mackey this year.
Ty Wheatley hopes to be senior AJ Williams plus some athleticism:
"He's a big-bodied guy who can move people off the ball and when he goes out to run a pattern, he can work a guy," Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said Thursday. "Those short routes by the tight ends are kind of like (playing underneath) in basketball. He's a big target, put the ball (wherever) and he can run with it."
Michigan has an obvious hole to fill at inline tight end with Williams's departure and Hill's move to fullback. Wheatley is unusually well suited to fill that hole despite being a redshirt freshman. Meanwhile, Michigan "never seriously considered moving him" over the offseason despite rumors to that effect.
Zach Gentry "needs to add weight… a lot of it" per Webb; I think everyone's expectation is that he'll have to spend a year getting used to the position before issuing a serious challenge for playing time.
With Chesson sidelined, there is Amara Darboh and then there is everyone else.
There's been some chatter about Ahmir Mitchell's physical physicalness, and one creepy super slow mo video:
Good battle between Ahmir Mitchell and Reon Dawson pic.twitter.com/4oOrV8h8DE
— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) March 1, 2016
It's a creepy super slow mo video in which he loses a slant route to Reon Dawson, so maybe he won't break through immediately. Baumgardner says he's "pretty raw" and that was indeed his reputation as a recruit. He's likely to sit on the shelf a bit as he matures.
I kind of expected Channing Stribling to fade a bit as Jeremy Clark continued familiarizing himself with corner, but Webb's talked him up a few times:
Stribling continues to make plays against everyone except Amara darboh. Darboh having his way all week
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 3, 2016
Webb elaborated a bit later:
He has made some really acrobatic plays. At the same time he has given up a few plays. Darboh has been particularly troublesome due to his superior strength and great route technique. Stribling also gave up the aforementioned deep ball to Harris, but again, he made many more plays than he gave up during the time the media was at practice.
Jourdan Lewis remains good at football:
Jourdan Lewis was his vintage self. I noticed one ball caught on him (a comeback route by Amara Darboh. He seemed to bait John O’Korn into a bad throw on one occasion. After taking away his man on a short route he began drifting back into the secondary and picked off O’Korn’s attempt to complete an out cut (sounded like Jedd Fisch said he should’ve thrown it sooner).
Not much more than the occasional mention of Clark and others. Still expect Clark to contribute extensively.
Ryan Glasgow and Jehu Chesson are still working out on the sidelines, as injuries are slowing them down. Neither is much of a surprise, but one name amongst the guys who aren't full go does worry: Wyatt Shallman was once again on the side after being full-go in the first practice. Guy cannot get healthy.
In happier news, both Bryan Mone and Mike McCray have been full-go. McCray's status is of particular note since last year he made some ominous noises about his long-term future. Also he is a linebacker, and Michigan needs some of those. Here is a positive noise about McCray that we will all dearly wish is true despite the fact they aren't in pads yet:
“He looks really good out here,” said Lewis. “He is probably one of the guys we look up to as the guy that should step up this year at that linebacker position. I’m excited for Mike. He has great upside.”
Getting a healthy McCray back is huge for Michigan.
Nick Baumgardner with the depth chart nerd assist:
Second-team OL (best I can figure): LT Bushell-Beatty, LG Dawson, C Kugler, RG Runyan, RT Ulizio
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 1, 2016
That is more or less as expected without Blake Bars. Those guys are in fact the only other scholarship OL on the roster until this year's class arrives in fall.
Baumgardner also caught the fact that in the second half of practice, after the third and fourth stringers left, the only OL to remain other than the starters was Kugler. Given Cole's versatility I would expect Kugler to be the guy who enters on any injury, and if there's going to be a shakeup to the expected starting five it would be Kugler pushing through at C such that Cole displaces a returning starter.
It'll be a 4-3 defense that's fairly similar to what Michigan did a year ago.
in 2015 U-M ran a 4-3 defense that played a ton of man coverage on the outside.
That’s still the plan in 2016, however, with a little twist says Brown.
“We’ll start with the four down (lineman) scheme, but we are not exclusively that,” Brown said. “We’ll do it all. We’ll play a lot of man (coverage) tight. But we will also play some other things. That’s the new piece. And that’s the learning piece.”
There will be more linebacker blitzing. Probably a lot more—Durkin had a five-man pressure he liked to run a lot but instances of true maniacal blitzing were very rare.
Harbaugh also elaborated on the split squad stuff:
“That was new,” Harbaugh said. “More one on one coaching for reps for each guy. The rule is no player can practice more than four hours, which every player practiced for four hours and had a nice little overlap there. Coaches had a six-hour day, but it just flew by. Just felt like it flew by. Logic is pretty simple there to understand. More coaching and more football for everybody.”
Indeed it is but it's also another example of Harbaugh figuring out ways to get maximum efficiency from the allotted rules.
And we have a first name for Pratt Just Pratt:
Another player that has been working out on the side is 6-5, 268 lb. sophomore offensive lineman Logan Pratt. This is noteworthy only because Pratt is one of the most impressive looking walk-ons I’ve ever seen.
Pratt will remain Just Pratt, I think.
X spring tidbit so far that has you unreasonably excited about Y?
Brian: Well obviously I'm going to go with Ian Bunting making waves as an enormous skillet-handed dude. This is true to the spirit of this question because all we have is one tweet. But I like the tweet.
Bunting just snagged a fastball on skinny post with one hand. took it to the house. Drew raves from his teammates. Nice ball from malzone
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 1, 2016
Rivals recently had some team tidbits that oddly and explicitly trashed Bunting's ability. If that's accurate that makes me almost as much of a sad panda as Michigan ditching the spread punt, but it's unclear what that is even based on given the timing. Last year's offseason chatter—Morris is a real contender, watch out for Lawrence Marshall, this time Joe Bolden has put it together—had very little relationship with reality, so I'm hoping that gets put in the Big Bin Of Some Anonymous Guy Is Wrong.
I'm not even expecting Bunting to have a huge impact this year since he's a flex guy and one Jake Butt is still around, but I am hoping that we see him emerge into a clear heir apparent in preparation for a two-year run as an upperclassman. There isn't a tight end on the roster with quite the receiving upside of Bunting. I mean, maybe Gentry. But you know me and Ol' Skillet Hands.
[After the JUMP: more tweets that we treat as confirmation bias of good things]
News bullets and other items:
There’s no timetable for Jourdan Lewis’s return (though he was listed as a starter on the depth chart provided to the media today)
Chase Winovich, Ty Wheatley Jr., Mike McCray, and Wyatt Shallman are all injured, though three of those four could return to practice today.
Joe Kerridge was injured Saturday. Harbaugh said they’ll get more information on the injury today.
Redshirting Shane Morris is “a consideration.”
Tom Strobel switched to TE in the spring, then back to defense, then back to offense about a week ago. Harbaugh thinks he’ll stay on offense, but considers him a two-way player.
Jourdan [Lewis] exited the game with what was diagnosed as a concussion. Do you have an update on him, and how long do you think he’ll be out?
“I don’t know. Uh…never really gotten into the business of predicting, especially when it comes to concussions. He’ll be evaluated by the doctors.”
There’s been a lot of talk about progression from game one to game two. After you watched the film, what jumped out the most to you as far as steps taken between those two games?
“It was a positive step in a lot of areas. Biggest one was got the satisfaction of a win. Lot of hard work put in, and that will continue this week.”
Do you expect to have Jourdan on Saturday?
“Again, I’m just not in the…uh…predicting of that. Not my area.”
You mentioned Chris Wormley on Saturday as a guy you wanted to single out. He’s had kind of a breakout first couple games of the year. What’s been the big difference for him flipping the switch or whatever to get him where he is now?
“I think he’s a very talented player that’s, you know, improving and getting better every day. Very graphic on Saturday. Thought he played a tremendous game. Probably our best defensive performance was Chris Wormley.”
[After THE JUMP: The nervous system wages war on the body]
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|James Ross||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.*||Joe Bolden||Sr.|
|Allen Gant||Jr.*||Ben Gedeon||Jr.||Jared Wangler||Fr.*|
|Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Mike McCray||So.*||Noah Furbush||So.*|
This is music to a new defensive coordinator's ear: Michigan sports an all-senior linebacker corps. All have started for multiple years, give or take a hand injury or benching here and there. They've even got a high-quality backup. Senior leadership is out of control, man!
Approximately the fourth-best* thing to happen to the 2015 team's chances over the last year was DESMOND MORGAN breaking his hand after the first game of the season. That didn't have much impact on where 2014 went; it gives this year's team a three-year starter to slot in the Jake Ryan-shaped hole at middle linebacker.
By this point you're probably tired of me extolling Morgan's virtues, and since he didn't do much last year other than fall behind Joe Bolden just long enough for me to eat a lemon this is going to be a rehash.
Morgan is a heady, athletic enough, stick-em tackler who's been yelling at the rest of the front seven to get in the correct spot for a few years now. He is your proverbial quarterback of the defense. That role will probably be lessened this year since the entire front seven consists of upperclassmen, but expect him to thwack Lawrence Marshall and maybe Mo Hurst should the need arise. Mike Spath got a great quote about Morgan's ability in that department:
On U-M's linebackers: "We played them two years ago and the guy that everyone seemed to listen to was [Desmond] Morgan. Those guys are invaluable. Everyone respects them.
"Last year, you didn't hear a lot of talk from the middle linebacker. I don't think Jake Ryan was a talker. He just wanted to do his own thing. He was very good at it, but he wasn't that guy in the middle of a defense that was taking care of the other 10 guys on the field."
When called into duty to make a tackle, he brings the wood.
During the 2014 Minnesota game he uncorked this ridiculous thing where he flew in on a blitz, had to leap over a guy, kept his feet, held up two blockers, and helped stuff a third and short.
When he's not making eye-popping plays he's keeping things going down-to-down. The one glimpse at him we got last year was enough for me to bring out a Picture Pages about Morgan's LB instincts.
Morgan found himself in a bad stop here, taking on a free releasing lineman in a bunch of space. He popped that OL back; the RB ran into said OL, and Michigan saved some yards.
When Jake Ryan faced the exact same situation later on that drive, he tried to make a spectacular play. His attempt to teleport around that OL was an instinct that served him well as a chaos-sowing SAM linebacker; when moved to MLB that instinct meant he didn't delay the back at all. Instead of six yards, Michigan gave up 11.
That's Morgan in a nutshell. He will hit guys hard and funnel back to his help and drop into his zone. He'll make it difficult for a QB to get a completion on him; he'll make it difficult for a running back to get YAC on him; he'll make it difficult for an OL to stay attached to him. He's not going to turn in Ryan's Tarzan plays, but you don't have to do that to be a great middle linebacker.
As David Harris demonstrated, MLB is a thinking man's spot. Harris was just about flawless with his reads, and his understanding of the game extended to ways to get off blocks without even taking them—one of his trademarks was in effect juking OL by momentarily fighting to one side of a block and then cutting back once the OL took a false step. Morgan had some moments like that a year ago:
Do that consistently and you get to be David Harris too.
Morgan's coverage is good. Very rarely does he vacate big tracts of land, as both Ryan and Bolden were prone to last year. He of course saved Michigan's bacon in the 2013 UConn game (for all the good that did them in the long run) with a leaping spear of an interception. Add it up and you get a 2013 UFR in extended, trying circumstances that looks like a guy who is on the verge of stardom:
|1||CMU||4||0.5||3.5||Crunch crunch bang bang|
|2||Notre Dame||7.5||4.5||3||Coped pretty well in coverage. Responsible for both EZ deflections.|
|3||Akron||6||3.5||2.5||Negative coverage number should be factored in here.|
|4||UConn||6.5||3.5||3||Saved the game.|
|5||Minnesota||11||3||8||First real test this year passed easily.|
|6||Penn State||9.5||4||4.5||Rough start, strong finish.|
|9||Nebraska||5||4.5||0.5||Blew one TFL big. Otherwise solid.|
|10||Northwestern||6||5||1||Drawn in by some misdirection.|
|11||Iowa||1||-||1||Pulled early with injury.|
UFR is tough on linebackers, so anything above zero is good. To consistently go over it over the course of a season, generally on heavy usage is very difficult.
The main drawback here is explosiveness. Morgan doesn't rack up TFLs and sacks; he's not great at getting to the quarterback on blitzes. (Run blitzes, on the other hand, he is excellent at, especially on short yardage.) He is not the kind of athlete that is going to make the NFL salivate.
But there are few guys I'd rather have on third and one. Morgan should reprise his 2013 with some incremental improvements. That would make him an All Big Ten level guy even if the lack of fancy stats prevents that from happening in real life.
*[Your top three are Dave Brandon late night email sessions, Harbaugh, and Jake Rudock's transfer.]
[After THE JUMP: seniors are made of leadership]