I hope nobody ever refers to Kovacs as a "walkon" ever again. Dude is a great football player!
"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."
Brandon Herron (on the fumble-TD):
"First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."
Made a check, huh? Okay, let's go to 16:15 and see who was doing the pointing…
… or don't and guess.
Kovacs entered the Michigan canon two years ago this week, when Michael Williams cramped up versus Notre Dame's two towers of evil, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. His former coach:
"Here it is in crunch time, the second half of the game, they've got some of their four- and five-stars -- and they're really good players," said Rodriguez in his postgame press conference. "And then we got Jordan Kovacs, who was a school-start walk-on, second time. First time he didn't make it because he was injured, and he went and got his knee fixed. We told him to come back again to try out with the general student body, and not only does he try out and make the team, now he's in there playing at safety, in the middle of crunch time, national TV, against Notre Dame. To me, that's pretty special. I'm awfully proud of him."
Kovacs had his number called for three reasons. One, the position was under-recruited for several years prior, leaving only the starters, Steve Brown and Williams, as the only upperclassman safeties. Second, despite not having even played football since high school, his ball skills and tackling were such that he was clearly a better option than the freshman DBs. The third reason they called his number is GERG didn't know his name.
Since Kovacs took the job from Williams for good after the incident with the trolls in East Lansing, only 18 guys on BCS teams recorded more tackles. He's tied for 19th* according to NCAA stats (counting assists as 0.5) with the guy in this photo…
… whom Michigan fans, Notre Dame fans, and anyone who will listen to Notre Dame fans will tell you made this tackle.
|1||LUKE KUECHLY||Boston College||269||25||2.5|
|4||GREG JONES||Michigan St.||188||24||10|
|19||MANTI TE'O||Notre Dame||145.5||16||2|
How Kovacs and Te'o got to 145.5 tackles and fairly equivalent backfield stats are two very different stories. Te'o was a 5-star LB in the 2009 class. When Patrick Omameh isn't plowing him into safeties 15 yards downfield … (Compliance:
… he has been one of the best linebackers in the nation, using his uncanny combination of football sense, size, speed, athleticism, and power to shed blocks, pick through traffic, and run down plays. Kovacs meanwhile has used his stunning combination of just the first one to blow up screens and swings, and otherwise prevent 9 yard gains from turning into 40. Notre Dame's defense is designed to funnel every play into Moria, where the Balrog can clean up. Michigan's in '09-'10 was about a bunch of dwarves waiting around outside while the hobbit goes and burgles something.
This was true when they were freshmen in '09 and it's true now: the physical factors that made Te'o a star are the same that give Kovacs a ceiling not far from where he seems to be right now. He is still slower than an Indiana running back on a dead run (so it's a good thing his angles have markedly improved since freshman year). He's still too small to beat a block from a fullback or guard (so it's a good thing he can diagnose a play and get there before they do). And he's just not athletic enough to close off holes in the zone, so despite his reflexes there will always be a hole in a Cover 2 which accurate QBs can exploit. What you should appreciate about Kovacs is that almost nobody makes it as close to their ceiling as he has.
Kovac had a hell of a game against Western. Early on he ran down a few plays that might have gone for TDs on drives that ended in the Herron interception and the missed field goal. He was excellent in run support, made several key PBUs, brought pressure when called upon to blitz, and had that fumble/TD-causing hit heard even in the deep nether regions of the press box where Michigan banishes authors of unflattering books, and disturbed asshats.
Herron gets to do the talk show circuit this week as the blankety-blank defensive player of the blank and I don't want to take away from that, while Kovacs gets named to the watch list for this year's Scrappy White Guy Trophy they created for Harrison Smith. Here his adventure has come full circle, facing Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium, two years removed from having to remember his number is 32 not 22 because his coach can't remember his name is Kovacs not Cavanaugh. In a race to the open receiver or the hole where this year's feel-good walk-on stories have been crushed out of, Marvin Robinson might be better than Kovacs. But in the time before the snap, which may count more than we ever realized, I'd rather have Kovacs than Te'o.
Even Herron says the real defensive MVP of the Western game and maybe this season is the guy who's telling everyone where to be, the guy calling audibles that result in 14-point swings: the walk-on, making the most out of the skills and talents that only he possesses.
Note: During the season I plan to post this kind of stuff on Tuesdays but since Aug. 30 set a new MGoRecord for total words on the front page, I waited.
On Monday Brian posted the secondary preview for 2011. It had its share of woe, and the "Never Forget" poster again. But among the now-usual fits of "this can't go well" at FS, tiptoeing around Kovacs's Ecksteininess, and general radioactive fallout from when having a pulse put you on the cornerback 2-deep, there were things that are not so familiar: a capable senior cornerback rescued from a bunker, returning starters, a few guys here and there playing positions that suited them.
Attrition was hell (see: Google doc) but the unit has begun the slow climb back:
|Team||Recruited||Diff v '09||Retention||Diff v '09|
The retention % is that of total defensive recruits '07-'11 still on the roster. Under two thirds is still bad but it's not worse than a team which signs five guys for every four available scholarships, like it used to be. Also when I first did this Michigan had lost 2 of 5 guys from a starting position more like Penn State. We needed dudes. As the secondary depth chart says, we now have dudes.
That's not to say everything's hunky dory in Hiroshima '46. Most of the casualties were upperclassmen and Michigan's more highly rated players.
|Team||Best 22||Best 22 left||Diff.|
I'll explain what these are in a second but you're meant to read it thus: imagine the two-deep of each team is made up of all upperclassmen with the above rivals ratings. So attrition has taken Alabama from a team full of Top 100 guys to a team of Top 250 players.
This is my attempt at taking the noise out and looking just at how much performance loss is caused just by attrition itself. It's a hack combination of Rivals Rating with the value of underclassmen adjusted down so that a 6.1 (5-star) is worth 5.7 (= a high three star) as a freshman, 5.9 as a sophomore, 6.0 as a junior, his full ranking thereafter, and on down. Then I just took the highest 22 scores for each team before and after attrition. It's a cheap formula that rates a player 80% by his rivals rating and the rest on account of his age but the image at right shows the concept works: the higher up the depth chart, the higher the ratings.
The thwack that Michigan took is more visible when you look at it from a depth chart perspective:
Click that to get it readable if you can't see it all from a glance. Also note the scales are a bit off; Bama goes up to 6.1 but OSU and ND stop at 6.0, PSU and MSU at 5.9. The visual here is you want your secondary color (attrition) to the left (see the devastation wrought on Bama 3-stars) and your starters to the right.
Bama took some big hits to its 4-stars but retains the highest value among starters. Michigan meanwhile seems like we were facing that guy with the unlimited airstrikes hell bent on killing any worm named "Safety*".
The result is a two-deep that doesn't really have options until the 3-star level whereas the other guys only have a few odd dudes who weren't heavily recruited on the field:
(Again, click = big). That's not…terrible. Given the players who've made it far enough to likely see the field, even with all the attrition Michigan could be expected to field a defense not so different from that of MSU, who should be…okay. Okay is better than we're predicting now. Then again, don't confuse this year's young MSU defense with last year's Greg Jones-inclusive defense:
Yes that's Michigan (demonstrating perfect pad level) with more 5th year seniors than anybody save Penn State, whose starting 11 have been around long enough to remember when their coach built the pyramids. And that's MSU starting a lot of sophomores and true freshmen. Bama, OSU and ND are mostly upperclassmen (ND is weird about redshirting still). Michigan leans much more sophomoric. This is a huge improvement from last year when the seniors were few and the freshmen were legion. Young means high variance—some days may go very well, others very not well.
..and there's the cheap flight. You can't blame Kovacs; I took out the walk-ons for this specifically because his walk-on-iness isn't the glaring problem. Sophomore 3-stars are. Now guess where Michigan was hit the hardest by attrition?
That shows the sum total of the projected value of middle-3 stars (5.6 to rivals) and higher recruited for each position. The primary color bits are the guys who are still around; the maize those who are gone. The Ohio Bobcats' colors are green and peach I think.
Unlike some other peoples' versions, my N.F. poster has Cullen and Vinopal on it!
Did we learn anything here, other than that you can print a chart to pdf in excel? Well yeah: attrition was a great big nuclear blast that will take years to recover from. Even if the talent on hand doesn't regress or get hurt, thus exposing further weaknesses, the starting point for this Michigan defense is that of a Same old Spartans unit.
Blame is a bit less easy to assign, though some of the flameouts and underclassman transfers in '09-'10 were either directly or indirectly pinnable on the old staff.** Two years of recruiting after bad years (2008 didn't seem to have the same effect) and some resulting recruiting holes at MLB and WDE make any climb back among elite D's a long-term project—probably not until 2015.
Yet there is hope all over the place, thanks to there being dudes. To some degree players retain most of the traits that went into their rating (Jordan Kovacs can't develop into Marcus Ray), but there will always be 3-stars who grow into defenders more than capable of playing, as Hoke/Mattison call it, "Michigan defense." The chances that 2/3 of Christian/Talbott/ Avery would be capable last year of said 'Michigan defense' was near nil. The chances that one or two decent players emerge opposite T-Woolf among five 3- and 4-star-ish freshmen, two 3-star sophomores and a 5th year walk-on is much higher. Eight shots in the dark (several after practice shots) are better than three.
And next year more dudes arrive. Hugely hyped, turned-down-offers-from-all-of-the-above dudes at defensive end and middle linebacker, and a smattering of the same at the other spots so that 2014 gets a nice selection (MOAR DTs please, kthx).
And though the odds be against us, you never know: Michigan could not have its best two defensive players knocked out by injury this year. Maybe (a planetary version of) Heininger or Brink will be the next Kovacs. Maybe Greg Mattison is a wonderful teacher who, like Pelini in '08 and Dantonio in '07, gets a few lights to go on from previously unheard of sources.
* Pro Tip: Don't name your worms for Michigan Heisman winners unless you want your MSU alum opponents to gang up on you (as if Desmond hasn't had enough harassment from that ilk!)
** Things you can blame on RR & Co.: 1) Not getting enough interior linemen after the two soft guys flipped in '09, 2) Recruiting four guys (Witty, Dorsey, D.Rogers, and Kinard) who couldn't get past the NCAA Clearinghouse or M's higher standards, 3) sucking so hard that by the Class of '11 the top regional recruits were looking elsewhere, and 4) A string of the worst LB coaches in M history and a manic concept of positional switching so that the guys on hand were hardly given opportunity to improve at any one position in one defense.
Photo from Media Day 2010 by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com.
LtoR: Phil Monolo, Stephen Hopkins, Michael Shaw, Fred Jackson, Fitgerald Toussaint, John McColgan, Vincent Smith. Not pictured: Cox.
Scheduling note: I'm gonna start separating the Dear Diary and rambling musings/studies/logorrhea stuff into two separate weekly posts. DD is moving to Friday to service your weekend reading demands, with the other stuff (name suggestions?) on Tuesdays. Also I'm going to try to make these ramblings less wordy, starting…uh, next time.
By now you know the meme: Fred Jackson likes to hyperbolize his running backs. This being the most active position battle, I figured a review of Jackson's current stud stable of studly running studs, half-studs and tail-studs might be in order.
Close your eyes, think of your favorite Michigan back of all time, and then imagine he's FASTER:
Mike Hart/Jamie Morris, Except Faster and More Agile!
Alias: #2 Vincent Smith (Jr/Jr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
This is not the greatest song in the world; this is just a tribute.
Omameh and Molk do the hard stuff but watch Smith do a Hart-y shoulder thing then almost get caught by a Hoosier DB.
Style: Pahokeean scat-back who can catch. Vincent is small, like Hart, and plays with ♥, like Hart, but when Smith tries to burrow the pile forward like Hart he looks like a 6-year-old trying with all his might to batter 10-year-olds, ie he ends up earning more respect than yards. And there's this:
* Yeah right.
Darren Sproles would be more accurate. I just can't think of another jackrabbit, and honestly I think he's more Hart than Jamie, except Hart is more like Jamie than Smith. Before his injury Smith was a vintage spread scatty RB who could also be a devastating receiver in the flat. He can jump out of a run into a big lateral juke and accelerate faster than any other back from a dead stop.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: It's 3rd and 8, and that nickel back needs some strong incentive to keep him from blitzing or dropping back to help cover the slant.
Is he THE ONE? Smith's nominally the returning starter and also the leader in rushes, career yards, and receptions/rec yards among the RBs. But probably not, since he's leeeetle, and physics. If the Spring Game is any evidence I-form man-ball means sending the RB into the 2nd level with Force, which is acceleration times something Smith lacks. Jackson says he's chosen a 3rd down back and inference leads to obviously Smith, therefore Smith's not the every-down back.
Mike Hart, Except Faster, and Bigger, and like Chris Perry…
Or Lawrence Ricks. Except Faster.
Alias: #28 Fitzgerald Toussaint (So/Jr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
Just a freshman…
Having trouble with time stamps. There's a good one of Ricks at 38 seconds, but the whole day's basically Ricks rushes broken up by great defense and AC highlights so deal.
FWIW that BG defensive back is actually pretty fast.
"Michael Hart ability with speed. The kind of guy that can do Michael's cuts, he can sit down, sink his hips and explode by making steps. He's faster than Mike and a very, very tough guy, like Mike was. He's very similar to Mike. He's not the type of inside runner Mike was -- but he's going to get there."
"He's got great feet, acceleration, strength, power," Jackson said. "I can compare him to somebody -- he's like a fast Chris Perry. He's going to be very good."
Style: I keep hearing people say Hart and I see it in that Fitz has those same thick, powerful legs that put his center of gravity lower than Pat Massey can bend. But Hart was sly with subtle plants that threw off tackle attempts. Fitz's highlight reel is full of knee-poppers and sideways slides he used to make lower-division Ohio high schoolers look like fools the way Barry Sanders made NFL players look like fools. Makes great moves and great cuts. Vision is unknown – he ran and reacted in high school. Then he goes to plaid.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: The practice hype (it started swelling last year at this time as well) turns into Fitz Toussaint atop the roster.
Is he THE ONE? The shift to I-formations and man blocking seems to favor him over Brown or Smith, but he's still a guy made for picking through zone, not taking on linebackers with his face.
Carlos Brown, Except Faster
Alias: #20 Michael Shaw (Sr/Sr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
Style: Glider who runs upright and a little leaned back, waiting to unleash a ridiculous gashing move from which he accelerates like an overused metaphor at the Woodward Dream Cruise. The move can be used to clear traffic or cutback, but with Shaw, like Brown, you only get to press the juke button once, and then you're mashing speed boost. Track star speed plus that move make him murder on bad teams.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: The playside hole is blocked perfectly and the backside DE for whatever reason (out of position, MACrificial) might not get there in time to fill before it's open green to the end zone.
Is he THE ONE? Probably not, but when you say "change of pace" back, Shaw is exactly what you're talking about. The kill-shot or bust nature of the slasher means they usually come paired with a softening agent: Carlos Brown & Brandon Minor, Tony Boles & Leroy Hoard (& Morris), Butch Woolfolk & Stan Edwards, Woody Allen & Bette Midler. Shaw will push a pile a bit and isn't as shoelace trippy as Brown was, but other guys can do much more with less. My sense is he's best deployed when the defense is way overmatched against Michigan's blocking, either because they're exhausted from chasing Smith/Toussaint and being battered by Hopkins, or because they aren't so good to begin with.
Jerome Bettis/Leroy Hoard, Except Faster
Alias: #33 Stephen Hopkins (So/So)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
FF to 1:28 for Hoard. Optional: stand out in the middle of U.S. 23.
Where's Keith Jackson with his rising"He's a HOSS!" when you need him?
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when:
Also when the offensive line has done its job, but so has the defense, and that means there's a linebacker headed for the same, only hole the running back can go through, and physics takes over.
Is he THE ONE? Well he might not be available early, and in a crowd that could hurt. Hopkins earned more carries as his freshman season went on. The offense seems to 'liek mudkipz' (I have no idea if I got this reference right). Count me among those holding back on visions of Wheatley (who was a bona fide track star as well as bruiser) or A-Train, who ran high and fell forward for those extra yards. Hoard but faster could be accurate, and not at all a bad thing.
Tshimanga Biakabutuka & Chris Perry, Except Faster & Stronger
Alias: #15 Michael Cox (Jr/Sr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
You knew this was coming.
Just flip to a random spot, it's probably Perry running for 8 yards.
Somebody's been messing with the sliders on Junior Varsity mode.
Style: Like Shaw/Brown he waits for the opponent to make a mistake he can exploit before hitting the gas pedal (Perry would just go). But Cox is built much thicker than the pure speed guys, and while he can burn in his way, he can also use his thick build for power. His main asset is great balance, which makes him hard to take down without crazy moves, and that's where the Biakabutuka reference comes in. Plus I wanted to link that video of him tearing apart Ohio State again because I was 15 when that happened and not yet sure if it's okay to develop strong feelings for people who dismantle Ohio State. I am pretty sure it's not okay to do so for people who dismantle Delaware State.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: You're drafting your 3-on-3 basketball team.
Is he THE ONE? Practice word since freshman year is he's the most naturally gifted, but practice hype from teammates et al. is refuted by observer reports mentioning Cox running the wrong direction, and missing his lanes. Latest is he's learning the playbook and might challenge later on. OTOH the guy does have ridiculous balance, and has broken a long one in every game he's appeared. On the other-other hand, most of his career yards were gained with Cone in at QB making DO throws to LaTerryal Savoy and Anthony Reyes. Unless he makes his move this year, this former camp offer from nowhere likely ends up a running back Notorious C.O.N.E.
Mark Ingram, Except Faster
Alias: #38 Thomas Rawls (Fr/Fr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
Look how slow highlight reels were before high school coaches learned about 1.2x playback.
Hurray for "Higlights!"
Style: He's 5'10 and almost 230 lbs. as a freshman. That means lots of mass relatively low to the ground. He makes that lower, giving Rawls the same P.J. Hill-ishness that makes guys bounce off him.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: This guy was born to run between the tackles.
Is he THE ONE? Thickly built backs like him tend to be early-playable since their game is pretty straightforward. Watch Ingram's highlight reel – or Clarett's – as underclassmen. Such men are immune to arm tackling. To anyone not from Flint or with the last name Jackson, Rawls is almost certainly a lite version of those guys. How lite will determine how useful he is this year, and down the line.
Bobby 'Bomber' Nussbaumer, Except Faster
Alias: #5 Justice Hayes (Fr/Fr)
Evidence of reincarnation:
Actually in Nussbaumer's day bloggers got our video feeds from buying packs of chewing gum with cardboard prints of badly-colored newspaper clippings. Then we swished the cards around so it looked like their subjects were moving…
Reverse from 1948 card:
Halfback – Washington Redskins
Weight—170 lbs. Age—24
…Set all-time Redskin pass-catching record, finishing 2nd in league play to Bud Keane of Bears with 47 passes good for 597 yards. Named All-Big Ten halfback in 1945 while starring for Michigan. Is all-around athlete. Plays baseball, basketball and participates in track.
Style: Kind of like a less hyped McGuffie, no? And like McGuff, he hurdled some fool, and lost most of his senior year to injury.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: It's January 2014, Heisman-winning QB Devin Gardner takes the snap and suddenly Tennesse's defense is through the line and coming toward him – but WAIT, it's a screen to Michigan's playmaker Justice Mercury Willie Mays Hayes. He's loose in the open field with just one man – 7'2 safety JAWS – to beat…Hayes leaps OVER him. Touchdown Michigan! Michigan has put this game out of reach and barring a miracle Gardner and Hayes and the Wolverines are going to be your 2013 season National Champions! Hi dad!
Is he THE ONE? As in can he lead us to victory over the machines and free us from the Matrix? Yes. As in will he claim the job in 2011? No. But next year Shaw's gone and then Smith's gone, and Hayes should be a more filled out sophomore.
The smart money says all of these guys except Hayes will probably touch the ball this year. So if you really want to know what Michigan's backs will look like this year, put this on fast forward..
…or watch lots of games from 1980: