Mike Lantry, 1972
Rimington: acquired. David Molk is your 2011 Rimington winner as the nation's best center:
I haven't watched every snap of every other center's career in detail, but I have watched Molk and I would have scoffed if he didn't win. Good move, Rimington award. The scoffing… you don't want this, son.
With the award and the first-team All-American status that goes with it, Molk will be one of the guys you randomly stumble across pages for on the Bentley site when trying to figure out all-decade teams. He'll show up in an endzone of Michigan Stadium at some point, grudgingly waving at the crowd. This makes me happy.
Future centers need not apply for the 2010s All-Decade team, by the way. Your application is as likely to be successful as Charlie Weis getting another head coaching—SKREEEEEEEEETCH
Carry on my Weighward son. So this happened:
I'm still waiting for Orson to email the Kansas AD asking "who are you and when did you think of this," thus exposing the brilliant hoax. Because that ain't real. Kansas did not just hire an old sociopath whose college tenure is spectacular failure at Notre Dame and leading the Florida offense into walrusball territory. They did not shell out three million a year for him. These are not things that happen without Batman villains intervening in the water supply.
In the unlikely event this is a real thing that really happened, Michigan needs to schedule an annual series with Kansas. That's how you create the future, by causing the media to reminisce about things that your fanbase remembers as awesome.
Weis II >>>>>>>> Horror II. EFACT.
And now a word from Orson.
YEAH THE REASONS YOU CAME HERE WHATEVER I DON'T CARE I ASSUME YOU CAME WITH A SKI MASK ON AND SHOULD LEAVE WITH ONE BECAUSE YOU STOLE MONEY AT NOTRE DAME AND YOU STOLE MONEY FROM FLORIDA AND NOW YOU'RE GOING TO KANSAS AND THAT MAKES YOU SOME KIND OF SUBTROPICAL DEPRESSION THAT GUSTS INTO PRESS CONFERENCES RAINS TURNOVERS ON AN OFFENSE AND THEN SUCKS THE CASH OUT OF THE AIR BEFORE BLOWING INTO THE NEXT STOP. WE BOUGHT THE MONORAIL. WE DIDN'T SEE A WICKED THING COMING THIS WAY. WE WROTE THE CHECK AND SAID SURE YOU SEEM TRUSTWORTHY PERSON WHO LOST TO GREG ROBINSON AT SYRACUSE ON YOUR OWN HALLOWED HOME FIELD.
THEN YOU LEAVE AND THAT'S GREAT. SERIOUSLY I WOULD HAVE THROWN BATTERIES AT YOU AT THE BOWL GAME. YOU THINK I'M JOKING BUT I'M NOT MY FRIEND JON SAID "I'M GOING TO THROW BATTERIES AT HIM" AND FOR ONCE THIS MADE SO MUCH EMOTIONAL SENSE TO ME. I WOULD HAVE FELT BETTER. MY HATE AND FRUSTRATION WOULD HAVE CHARGED THE BATTERY AND THEN LEFT ME IN ONE CATHARTIC JOLT IN A CLEAN TRANSFER OF ENERGY FROM ME TO THE BATTERY TO YOUR WORTHLESS CARCASS. I WOULD HAVE FELT BETTER EVEN WITH THE MISDEMEANOR ASSAULT CHARGE. I REALLY WOULD HAVE ESPECIALLY AFTER I WATCHED YOU MAKE UP THAT BULLSHIT PLAN FOR THE GEORGIA GAME AND WATCHED US DIE IN PERSON FOR THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF SERIOUSLY YOU OWE JOHN BRANTLEY SEVEN YEARS ON HIS LIFE.
And now let's reminisce.
"They're going to have to learn about us, OK? Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations. Let's see how they are going to do. They've had their advantage because I've come into recruiting late. Well, now it's Xs and Os time. Let's see who has the advantage now."
I wrote a thing after the above game with a photoshop Kansas fans may want to have handy.
The only wonder is that the media spent the better part of 2.5 years pumping him up as Weis E. Coyote, Certified Super Genius, largely because Weis spent every available moment telling the media that he and his ACME catalog of incredibly sophisticated devices were worth a foolproof touchdown every game. Somehow I doubt even Tyrone Willingham would have Notre Dame scoring -7 points per game.
The result of all these fantastic toys? Literally nothing. No touchdowns. No rushing yards. No hope.
No hope… no hope. [Kansas football flatlines.]
A witch! Find the witch! If you're wondering why the parents of former Michigan commits are telling recruiting reporters that their sons are qualified, yesterday Rivals claimed a current commit was not likely to make it past the clearinghouse and please don't speculate as to who, which worked as well as it always does: not at all. At least the Inquisition didn't last long. When Anthony Standifer decommitted soon after, two was added to two.
I'm not sure what the deal is here. Michigan's main competition for Standifer was Notre Dame, not often hot after kids who won't qualify. In the Trieu article above his mom doesn't sound mad, claiming it was a mutual breakup:
"Both parties have decided to go their separate ways."
So, whatever. For whatever reason Michigan is down one Standifer. This has two major impacts:
- Michigan probably wants another defensive back. Hot prospect is current PSU commit Armani Reeves, a four-star corner Michigan finished second for back when Penn State didn't have… events. He seems to be opening it back up; it appears M was ready to grab Yuri Wright even with Standifer in the class and would probably take both Wright and Reeves without thinking twice.
- If Michigan handled this poorly there could be some fallout with LaQuon Treadwell, the 2013 WR from Standifer's school who has visited multiple times and seems to favor M. FWIW, Ace has a report on that indicating it won't impact his decision.
And now: children who hate football. The father in the first one is kind of a jerk.
Try not to think of the latter one the next time Michigan loses a game.
The coming funpocalypse. Every report that BCS automatic qualifier status is probably gone further enhances the belief that BCS AQ status is probably gone. The bigger issue is if the cap on the number of teams per conference will be lifted, as that will determine who benefits from the AQ removal: Boise State or SEC #3? Actually, with Boise now moving to the Big East, they're hurt by this. They finally wrangle themselves an autobid just in time for them to go up in smoke. They have been trolled expertly.
Every report that an expanded playoff field is inevitable further enhances the belief that Jim Delany is a Centauri diplomat. Andy Staples quoting Stanford's AD:
"I happen to agree with my conference colleagues about the plus-one game," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday. "I think it's inevitable at this point."
That's the Pac-12, man. With the Big 12 having their Okie State hissy, the SEC and ACC already on board, and the Big East able to calculate the chances of one of their teams ever getting in a two-team playoff, the Big Ten is about to be dragged into an arrangement they don't want. As I said, Delany should have thought about the slippery slope in 1998, not now.
In other quotes that make me pump my fist:
[After complaining about the Sugar Bowl, Kansas State AD John] Currie then said something that should strike fear into the hearts of overpaid, underworked bowl directors everywhere, because while Currie may be the jilted, angry one now, he isn't the only administrator who feels this way. "College football doesn't need the bowls like it once did to build the brand of college football," Currie said. In other words, the schools and conferences can stage exhibition games on their own at a far lower cost, increasing their profits and cutting the bowls out of the equation entirely.
YES THIS YES. The NCAA needs goofballs in yellow jackets in no way whatsoever.
Staples also discusses a potential split in D-I between haves and have-nots, something I either don't care about (if the split does not prevent you from scheduling lower division teams) or adore (if it does).
Well, maybe. Meinke starts the fretting about next year's defensive line with some quotes from defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. This is the most interesting:
One question that likely will fester into fall camp: Will either Roh, who will be a senior fourth-year starter next year, or sophomore Jibreel Black be moved from weak-side to strong-side end to replace Van Bergen?
They both played well this season on the weak side, so splitting them could be a way of getting the best 11 on the field.
Montgomery's answer: "It could happen, but I’m telling you, Nathan Brink is going to be a good football player. To say anyone is going to pass him at five-technique (is premature)."
When Brink got hyped up in preseason camp, that was a sign the world was ending at the Will Campbell spot. When he immediately faded in favor of Will Heininger, that was a sign things were even worse than implied when one walk-on was in the conversation. And Heininger had some struggles early.
Then a funny thing happened: Heininger stopped getting beat up by Eastern Michigan…
If the rest of the line did this there'd be nothing. Unfortunately, this is Will Heininger's fate (second from the top in the first frame):
You can see the blue stripe. Roh has his helmet on it. Heininger ends up a yard behind it and sealed away. That middle frame is a butt-kicking, and the third frame is the result: two Michigan players with no hope of making a tackle.
…and settled into a brief period of anonymity before emerging into a pretty good player late in the year. Heininger has been consistently positive in UFRs since about the midpoint of the season, and while he's not Mike Martin or Ryan Van Bergen he's far more effective than folks like Banks and Patterson were last year.
This realigns our perceptions. Michigan has never been a place that could get mileage out of walk-ons like Iowa or Wisconsin, so the default assumption has been walkons == doom. In certain cases (say, inserting a freshman student-body walk-on into the starting lineup) that remains true. But if Brink fends off Roh and Black for a job at five-tech there's reason to believe he'll be able to hack it.
Given his brief windows of play so far he'll have to improve massively to get there, but, hey, Will Heininger.
This year, last year. Stolen from the depths of the internet, a man who goes only by "Jeff" posts Michigan's plays of X yards or more allowed this year and last year:
Plays of 80+ yards - 2010 3, 2011 0
Plays of 70+ yards - 2010 4, 2011 0
Plays of 60+ yards - 2010 7, 2011 0
Plays of 50+ yards - 2010 8, 2011 2
Plays of 40+ yards - 2010 15, 2011 6
Plays of 30+ yards - 2010 29, 2011 13
Plays of 20+ yards - 2010 64, 2011 41
Plays of 10+ yards - 2010 211, 2011 150
Note that these numbers include *all* plays of longer than 10+, 20+, not plays for 10-19 yards, plays for 20-29 yards, etc. - we didn't give up 7 plays for 70+ yards in 2010, we gave up 3 for 80-100 and 1 for 70-79.
That is slight improvement there. Safeties, safeties, safeties. The difference doesn't really kick into full force until you get to plays of 30 and 40 yards. Too bad the defense had a bit of a meltdown against OSU or that plays of >30 yards number would be ridiculously low.
Etc.: Video from the 1930s. Of Michigan Stadium. The Daily notes that there are two guys in lobster costumes in the student section calling themselves "Smotrycz's Lobstryczs," which is incredible. You men are heroes.
1. How does the shift back to the 4-3 under fit the personnel?
left: stack no blitzy. right: 4-3, though an even 4-3, not the under
Better than the 3-3-5-type-substance but it's not going to be a huge difference. Fits:
- BETTER: Roh (LB/DE to WDE), Demens (MLB to MLB with guys in front of him)
- SAME: RVB(DE to SDE/DT), Martin (NT to NT), Heininger (DE to SDE), Gordon (spur to SLB), Jones (WLB to WLB), Gordon (FS to FS), cornerbacks
- WORSE: Kovacs (bandit to SS)
Craig Roh and Jibreel Black were men without a position last year. Though Roh actually help up pretty well when he moved to the DL late, he was still miscast as a DE in a three-man line. Black just got crushed. This year both will be playing weakside DE, where they can get after one tackle.
Kenny Demens will be shielded by two senior defensive tackles, allowing him to flow to the ball like he did against Iowa. Michigan set of small, quick WLBs is better suited for the 4-3 since it will be harder for opponents to get a hat on them.
The major negative is not finding a way to keep the two safeties near the LOS. Both are effective blitzers who are a little dodgy in a deep half.
2. How big is the coaching upgrade? Will the transition hurt more than it?
The Mathlete's numbers suggest a coaching change is a drag on the improvement of very bad defenses worth about eight spots. It seems flabbergasting that that could be the case for this specific situation, however. dnak438 found a GERG effect of approximately negative 30(!) spots. While you should take that with a grain of salt because the sample size there is extremely small, each grain adds to a pile threatening to eclipse the Schwarzschild radius. Going from Greg Robinson not running a system he knows to Greg Mattison teaching exactly what he's taught for a zillion years has to be a positive even in the short term.
What causes that drag? Probably a system change. How long has Michigan been running its current system? Six games. They've probably got more experience running the under than the 3-3-5.
Then there are the position coaches: Adam Braithwaite was a grad assistant promoted to LB coach without the usual stops at East Nowhere State. Tony Gibson was reputed to be mostly a recruiter. Bruce Tall seemed pretty good but in his place Michigan has Hoke, Mattison, and Jerry Montgomery. That's an upgrade across the board.
3. Why is everybody so suicidal when the personnel doesn't look entirely doomy?
doug karsch interviewing popular perception about the defense. via firstbase
Slap me for saying this but the starting lineup isn't that scary save for two spots: SDE, where walk-ons Will Heininger and Nathan Brink are backed up by Nobody At All, and WLB, where four cats are fighting in a sack. You know what they say about WLBs: if you've got four you don't have any.
The rest of the line is Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh. Demens is promising at linebacker and they've got a couple of good options at SAM. And the secondary isn't awesome but Avery/Woolfolk/Kovacs/Gordon looks like it could be below average, which will seem like heaven. This year's edition of "Are You Experienced?" sees Michigan move towards average. There's still a gap, but it's narrowing. The Decimated Defense series also sees its Michigan number creep towards sane.
So why is everyone, including myself, afraid of going 7-5 this year with just about everyone back everywhere?
Well, there's depth. Once you get past those starters its scary. There are three backups I wouldn't wince upon seeing enter on the field: Black, Jake Ryan, and Carvin Johnson. I guess Brink fits in there as well but only because he'd be spotting another walk-on. Everyone else on the line has been beaten out by Brink and Heininger, I have little faith in JT Floyd, and even if Marell Evans was injured at Hampton he's done little in four years of football. When injuries happen the dropoff will be severe. It won't even take injuries for the defensive line to wane in effectiveness. Modern football rotates the DL. Michigan has a choice between tired starters and ineffective backups.
Even so I still can't work up the same sense of bowel-crippling panic I had last year when I believed the secondary would tread "horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water." Let's poke around at
PROJECTED FRESHMAN CONTRIBUTORS
2010: Black, Gordon, Gordon, Johnson, Avery, Talbott
2011: Maybe Ash
2010: 4-3 under, 3-4, 3-3-5
2011: 4-3 under
RADICAL MIDSEASON SWITCH TO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SYSTEM
2010: Third year running
2011: Hell no
2010: Rubbing a stuffed beaver in your face
2011: Navy SEAL tridents
Michigan wasn't just rocking an underclass two-deep, they were rocking a freshman-heavy two deep. This could work out! For a given definition of work out!
4. What is with Will Campbell? Isn't the situation at SDE just horrible?
Man, I don't know about Campbell. Maybe his center of gravity is just too high. Maybe he'll never learn technique in the same way Mike Cox can't remember to run into the hole.
The situation at SDE is caused by whatever it is with Will Campbell and will not be encouraging. Heininger was already a non-entity in the passing game and that was 28 pounds ago. And who the hell knows about Brink? I'm guessing Mattison is just trying to get that spot to hold up against double teams in the run game and will rely on Roh/Martin/Van Bergen to get the pass rush. If they can do that it's a win.
Can they do that? Why do I ask myself unanswerable questions?
Michigan will be much, much better this year. How much better depends on:
- The health of key, irreplaceable pieces. These are Martin, Demens, Van Bergen, and the starting corners.
- The improvement of last year's freshmen. Avery, both Gordons, and Black all have the potential to leap forward Darius Morris style.
- Nathan Brink. If Michigan's unearthed something here that not only makes SDE acceptable it means the guys he beat out are potentially serviceable.
- Craig Roh. He could be anything from Tim Jamison to James Hall.
The first bit is unknowable but I can hazard guesses on the latter three: two of the four freshmen above will be startlingly good. Two will be meh. I'm guessing Thomas Gordon and Avery are the former. Brink will not be as bad as everyone feared but that SDE spot is going to be averaging +2 for the season, which is bad. Roh will be in the 75th percentile of his range, a fringe All Big Ten guy.
When I wrote that the D should improve but "not enough" I didn't account for a GERG/RR effect that is real. They'll be better than 82nd in advanced metrics this year by a long shot.
Now, behold the greater-thans and less-thans!
- senior Mike Martin with ankles > Mike Martin
- junior Craig Roh playing his actual position >>> linebacker Craig Roh
- junior Demens >> sophomore Demens/Ezeh
- sophomore Cam Gordon > freshman Gordon/Gordon/Johnson
- Woolfolk >>> Rogers
- sophomore Avery >> freshman Avery/Floyd
- T. Gordon/Johnson >> Gordon/Vinopal
- senior RVB == junior RVB
- Kovacs == Kovacs
- Heininger/Brink == Banks
- Jones/Hawthorne/Herron/Morgan << Mouton
It's going to take two years to dig out of this hole completely but I think the defense will rebound more effectively than stats and conventional wisdom suggest.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Fumbles recovered double to ten.
Michigan recovered seven.
The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.
First sentence: false. Second: true.
Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.
Very accurate. Mouton led the team in tackles (117), was in a three-way tie for TFLs (8.5, Kovacs and RVB tied) and had two sacks. RVB (4) and Banks (3) beat him but not by much in a pathetic year for sacks.
Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.
This might have actually transpired if he hadn't gotten laid up with high ankle sprains. Before he was chopped down against MSU he was playing very, very well.
Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.
Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.
Not so much: Michigan dipped to 110th.
More accurate than anyone thought possible.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
- Kenny Demens leads the team in tackles with Northwestern-MLB-type numbers.
- Brink is a legitimate player, better than Greg Banks was last year. The biggest source of pain on the defense is the WLB.
- Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
- Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
- Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
- Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
- EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
Walk-on defensive lineman Nathan Brink [photo credit: Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com]
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Nathan Brink's emergence this fall as a walk-on in line for major playing time has come as a surprise for many, and
begs raises the question: Who is Nathan Brink? Perhaps more importantly, at least to Wolverine fans, can he make a positive contribution this year on the field? To help us learn more about the walk-on, who's currently slated to back up Will Heininger at strongside defensive end, Brad Hoffman, who was Nate's defensive line coach at Holland Christian, was kind enough to answer a few questions:
ACE: What was Nate's football game like as a high school player? What were his strong and weak points?
ACE: As his high school defensive line coach, did you think he had the potential to grow into a contributor for the Wolverines? How do you think he'll fare this year as part of the D-line rotation?
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||THREE-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Will Heininger||Sr.*||Mike Martin||Sr.||Ryan Van Bergen||Sr.*||Craig Roh||Jr.|
|Nate Brink||So.*||Richard Ash||Fr.*||Will Campbell||Jr.||Jibreel Black||So.|
|Chris Rock||Fr.||Quinton Washington||So*||Kenny Wilkins||Fr.*||Frank Clark||Fr.|
We'll start with the good. Last year, freshman Jibreel Black showed up and got an eyeful of what college defensive linemen were like when he laid eyes on Mike Martin. He came away from the experience with his eyes opened and his grammar damaged:
"When I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
|LOL single block|
|LOL zoning him|
|LOL double block|
|LOL triple block|
|blasts through line|
|driving the center|
|zips between the C and G|
|consumes Chappell's soul|
|made every play|
In the right situation (three-technique instead of the nose) with the right amount of healthy ankles (two instead of zero), Martin could make All-America selectors be like dang.
Unfortunately, it seems like Martin is never going to get to move to that three-tech spot it seems he was made for. It's not that he's a bad nose tackle. Martin is big and strong and can take on double teams just fine. But he's also amazingly quick for a 300-pound squat-beast, so much so that the first thing Greg Mattison thought when he saw him was "we should use him like Shawn Crable." In the spring game passing downs Martin was in on often featured him in a two-point stance, hopping around like a linebacker. This is not your typical nose tackle.
If permitted to go one-on-one with guards used to holding off slugs and the results could be spectacular, like Jonathan Babineaux 28-TFL spectacular. But with no one else on the roster who won't get annihilated at the nose, Martin will have to tough out the double teams.
If you flip through the videos at right you'll see an awful lot of Martin crushing people until the Michigan State game, and then hardly anything. That's because a Spartan lineman chop-blocked Martin at the end of a game that was well in hand. Martin limped off and was diagnosed with the dreaded high ankle sprain. From then on he was not himself.
Sometimes this manifested by not being on the field at all. Martin missed most of the Iowa and Penn State games, big chunks of Illinois, and didn't play at all against Purdue. He started to get his mojo back afterwards but only gradually. You can see the effect in his UFR chart:
|UConn||8||3||5||Late minuses for getting too pass-rush-y. Demands doubles. Good start.|
|Notre Dame||12||0.5||11.5||Beast mode. Best game of career.|
|UMass||25||-||25||I just write the numbers down!|
|BGSU||7||1||6||Quick passing offenses reduce DL impact; still did well when called upon.|
|Indiana||11.5||3||8.5||Actually got beat out by someone, also round this down to +7 or so.|
|MSU||8||1||7||A good performance, but coming down from his ridiculous nonconference level.|
|Penn State||-||1||-1||I'm going to throw myself off a bridge.|
|Illinois||8||1||7||Was more back than it looked live, but still out a lot more than usual.|
|Wisconsin||8.5||2||6.5||One old-style "I destroy this play" plus a few more scattered good bits and some half points.|
Martin was a nonfactor the next two weeks and only moderately effective against Illinois (remember that the wacky nature of that game meant more plays for DL to rack up points). To preserve my sanity I didn't UFR the dismal final two games of Rodriguez's career. Martin had two tackles and four assists against OSU and one measly assist in the bowl game; none of those were behind the LOS.
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
Ryan Van Bergen is your new starting three-tech. Great at nothing but consistent and durable, Van Bergen is a lot better than he gets credit for. As a put upon 3-3-5 DE last year he had 5 sacks and 9.5 TFLs despite getting very little help from the structure of the defense. He was often left by himself against two defenders, especially when it came to the passing game. GERG loved him some three-man rush.
Van Bergen graded out almost as well as Martin over the course of the season thanks to his steady acquisition of points and half points for standing his ground against doubles or pushing offensive linemen into places they don't want to be. The UFR chart is really impressive:
|UConn||3||-||3||Not exactly BG, but I don't think he has to be if it's a stack.|
|Notre Dame||4.5||3||1.5||Unproductive until late; irresponsible on midline zone read.|
|UMass||5||1.5||3.5||Lots of half points for doing decently on run plays.|
|BGSU||5.5||2||3.5||Decent impact in little opportunity.|
|Indiana||12||-||12||Excellent against the run, got some pass rush, mentally round this down to a +8.|
|MSU||9.5||1||8.5||One impact sack, some additional pressure, solid against the run. Good player.|
|Iowa||5.5||1||4.5||Best performance on the day but that's just average.|
|Penn State||10||3||7||The solitary player to have a good day.|
|Illinois||10.5||3.5||7||Developing into a fine player. Now consistently putting up points.|
|Purdue||7||3||4||May have been unfairly blamed for the big Henry keeper.|
|Wisconsin||3||6||-3||Did not make many plays; seemed to give up big cutback lanes easily. Maybe an RPS thing.|
Van Bergen got better as the season went along and kept playing well in the face of total annihilation. He produced, and then Martin went out and he kept producing. A lot of the things he did were not explosive look-at-me plays, but the meat-and-potatoes grunt work required to keep your linebackers clean. This is emblematic:
That's not even an assist but by slanting past his blocker and then holding his ground he occupies two blockers and closes the hole so far that the RB runs into one of the guys trying to block him.
There were also a few explosive look-at-me plays, like this one:
|RYAN VAN BERGEN|
|annihilates guy trying to downblock him|
|slants into the lane|
|swims past Iowa OL|
|bounces off to tackle|
|picks off a pulling guard|
|all too easy|
|needs more beef|
|Wisconsin too much|
That is Van Bergen lined up as a three-tech between Craig Roh and Mike Martin smoking MSU RT J'Michael Deane. Deane was apparently not much of a pass protector, but he's representative of the sort of guys RVB will be going up against this year—guards who are crushing run blockers but maybe not so good at pass pro.
His rushing isn't on Brandon Graham's level—last year's prediction he would "brush up against double digit sacks" fell three or four short. As the third-most-threatening guy on the line he's pretty good. If Michigan can get him single blocked by rushing more than three guys he might get there this year. He had five sacks from the three-tech spot as a sophomore; two years of experience and the luxury of being flanked by Martin and Roh will give him opportunities to slant past one-on-one blocking.
What's more, Van Bergen was an ironman last year. On a defense saddled with mediocre or worse backups at every spot, Van Bergen saw more snaps than any DL, often going entire games without being substituted. This year's line has no depth, either. That trait is going to be useful.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
Come On Backups
yes, I wrote this section when I thought he was going to start
Well… there's Will Campbell. The all-everything recruit (except to ESPN, where he was their #22 OT) has languished on the bench, bounced to OL, and then gotten bounced from the starting lineup by a walk-on.
ESPN's skepticism about Campbell's tendency to stand straight up turned out to be right. When placed on the field as a freshman he struggled badly. Canonical example recycled from last year:
Description recycled from last year:
I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?
You'll note that Campbell was playing a three-tech and got smoked one on one. The hype about how Campbell is an obvious three-tech and having him at the nose was another symptom of GERG's madness still has to combat Campbell's pad level, man.
At least his weight is back on the downswing. Last year he was listed at 333, significantly up from his freshman weight. Rodriguez was openly displeased with his conditioning last year, and he never saw the field outside of the goal line package. That's not good; it's even worse when Greg Banks and Renaldo Sagesse are the guys getting time instead of you. He's down eleven pounds this year and it's safe to say that's for the best. There is no good weight above 320.
Teammates and coaches have started talking Campbell up. While anyone who remembers the three weeks that Ron English spent talking up Johnny Sears knows that's not necessarily an assurance the player in question will be good, or even not-awful, at least this time around the conditioning grumblings are being directed elsewhere. Nose tackles do tend to take some time, as last year's West Texas Blue diary on Campbell's DT classmates demonstrated. Most redshirted as freshmen; few of the ones who didn't had any impact. (DeQuinta Jones was instantly productive for Arkansas, of course. That's just what happened under Rodriguez.)
He's further behind the curve now but even fellow uber recruits like LSU's Chris Davenport (one tackle), and Texas's Calvin Howell (two tackles) are struggling to find the field. They're not idling behind Greg Banks, sure, but Campbell's not dead yet.
He can be okay if protected. I spent large chunks of the spring game focused on him and he was mediocre:
All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.
A moderate amount of penetration is worlds better than that clip above. He'll feature in the goal line package and against teams that want to run.
Past Campbell the only player anyone's seen on the field is redshirt sophomore Quinton Washington, who Rodriguez flipped from guard during the bye week last year. Washington got in on a few goal line plays, proceeding to drive his guy back and fall over.
That's fine on a goal line play. Taking that limited skillset and expanding it to the point where he can play defensive tackle on the other 98 yards is going to be trickier.
With Terry Talbott's medical redshirt there are just two other options, both redshirt freshmen who have survived the harrowing that's befallen much of Rodriguez's recruiting classes. Richard Ash is a nose tackle sort from Pahokee who briefly featured offers from USC and Florida before abruptly losing those. Over the course of a year he went from 260 to 320, which scared a lot of people off. Last year his corpulence was notable even amongst the defensive tackles. He's back down to about 300 now and will have to see some time spelling Martin. The sum total of Ash knowledge other than his weight loss is still in his recruiting profile.
The other option is Kenny Wilkins, who was initially supposed to be a weakside DE but showed up at 270 and is now 280. He's now listed as a DT and presumably will back up the three-tech spot. Wilkins was memorably pwned by walkons in the spring game on Mike Cox's long touchdown and has been called out by the coaches as a guy who needs to get his act together; if he plays this year he probably won't play well.
Strongside Defensive End
This was Van Bergen until Campbell's failure to emerge sucked him back into the interior. Now you get your choice of walk-on. First on the depth chart is senior Will Heininger, who missed last year with an ACL tear and used that opportunity to expand alarmingly fast. After adding six pounds two years ago he threw on 28 over this offseason to end up at 295.
My assumption was that kind of weight gain from an injured guy who'd been in the program for years was a Posada-like sign, but after being all but ignored during fall camp he popped up on the two-deep as a starter and Hoke said that was a real thing. He must have spent every waking hour in the weight room.
"Experience" was why he got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
One mitigating factor here: Michigan showed a three-man line in their two-minute defense. That package removes the walk-ons in favor of a zone-blitzing 3-4. These guys aren't playing on passing downs and may not see a lot of time against spread outfits. All these guys have to do is not get pounded on the ground. Pass rush is a bonus.
Nate Brink; where Nate Brink came from
More walkons! Sexy. With Van Bergen held out, Nate Brink was the starter at SDE in the spring game. Everybody assumed that didn't mean anything and focused on Campbell, so no one can tell you word one about how he did.
He faded back into Bolivian until the Van Bergen move, whereupon press conferences started talking about him and insiders started dropping what knowledge they had. The insiders said their usual bits about Brink being a diamond in the rough—one report claimed Mattison said he'd be in the two deep of any college team he'd coached. The press conferences were similarly predictable. This bit from Mattison is the most encouraging:
He's played like a Michigan football player. I hate to talk about a young man because I think when I do that they go right down in the tubes but this guy has come out every day as tough as he can. He listens to Coach Montgomery on every word. When he tells him to step a certain way, he tries, and he's really, really physical.
I think he was probably 250 in the spring and we told him to get to 265 and when he was reporting, I yelled, 'What do you weigh?' He said, '265' and I told him to drink some water and sure enough he started drinking water. Now I think he's 267 or 268.
In the spring, his toughness showed up and he was only 250 at that time. But his want-to and toughness stuck out like crazy. And that's what we want - 11 guys that play with that kind of attitude.
He's a guy that if he keeps doing what he's doing, Michigan people are going to be very happy with him.
I know this will end in tears but that's actually coachspeak that seems meaningful.
Holding The Rope has the complete presser dossier and all of his other biographical information. It adds up to:
- is 265 pounds, up from 220 in high school
- is a redshirt sophomore
- coaches have said nice things about him
- named "Nate Brink"
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
There's obviously no depth when the first two guys are walkons. In the event injuries hit them, Michigan will grit its teeth and slide Van Bergen back outside. True freshmen Chris Rock (Not That Chris Rock) and Keith Heitzman should be headed for redshirts (Heitzman actually might be headed for TE). If they don't it's a Ray Vinopal situation.
Weakside Defensive End
Rating: a speculative 4.
what do you mean by "I don't want to play corner" again?
The only thing Michigan fans will miss about the deathbacker position is the name, and even then the group of people who know its true nomenclature is even smaller than the already-pretty-small group who know Craig Roh was a "spinner" and vastly smaller than the masses who know Roh is "that defensive end Michigan insists on pretending is a linebacker."
Craig Roh is not a linebacker. He has never been a linebacker, and this year he cranked himself up to 270 pounds to evaporate the last vestiges of confusion. Look at my giant skull crushing muscles, he says. Just try to put this in a two point stance.
|you can't see me|
|avoids a cut|
|speed rush for sack wsg Martin|
|smokes Illini T for holding call|
|sweet spin move|
|crunch, fumble, TD|
|not a lb|
|no depth on drops|
|dl run game|
|comes through TE|
|slants into lane|
|slants under TE|
|power right at him|
And the thing is, last year Roh wasn't that exploitable as a defensive end. He was certainly no more so than the other non-Van Bergen options, and when Michigan put his hand in the dirt against Notre Dame they got dividends from it:
Hit up those videos on the side to confirm. For a guy who was supposedly a liability he made his share of plays against the run in trying circumstances. Notable is that many of those were plays on the backside where he got under his blocker in a flash and sped down the line. On the weakside in the 4-3 under this is what he's going to be doing a lot.
Roh was so badly misserved by the previous defensive staff that he had to tell them what the hell he should be doing on defense. He requested a move back to the DL and got it, whereupon he was decent despite all this 3-3-5 business not suiting him at all. Talking about what happened to Roh last year makes me stabby. I called him the "Denard of the defense" because he was a uber-touted recruit forced on the field way too early by necessity; Denard became Denard and Roh dropped into short zones. Other than everything else, that was the clearest evidence GERG was sacrificing our defense to Xenu.
This year, though… this year Craig Roh is 270 pounds and will be playing the spot literally every scouting evaluation ever issued about him has begged—demanded—plead for him. This could yield one of those breakout year things. Here's what he did in the games Michigan played him mostly as a lineman:
|Notre Dame||11||-||11||By far best game of his career.|
|MSU||6||1.5||4.5||Wasn't a liability in the run game against a pounding team.|
|Iowa||5||1||4||Okay, but not making a big impact.|
|Illinois||10.5||8||2.5||Eventful; some minuses may be someone else's fault.|
|Wisconsin||3.5||2||1.5||Basically one nice play and then not much.|
He was much less a part of the tire fire when he had his hand in the dirt, and that was frequently as a 245-pound DE on a three man line. He is now 270 and going one-on-one with weakside tackles. He should improve from average-ish (remember that UFR slants towards the DL) to good.
At least good. We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
There is one. Hooray. The aforementioned Jibreel Black saw time spotting Roh last year; he showed some pass rush flair. His run defense was abject. He prominently featured on a Michigan State touchdown drive where cutback lanes were always open because Black wasn't flowing down the line. He was targeted for dismantling every time he hit the field, and more often than not opponents got exactly what they wanted. Except Penn State, weirdly.
- True freshman and all that, though. Black should be significantly better this year. Like Roh he'll benefit from the extra protection afforded the WDE in the 4-3 under and the triple threat DL coaches in the Hoke era. There is a significant downer, though. Black actually lost weight over the offseason, going from 265 to 260. This is one weight gain/loss that is not always good. After the spring Black was a guy who needed to change his body:
"Jibreel is a guy that, as his body composition changes a little bit, he's gonna be a good football player. I think him and Craig at the rush have had pretty good springs."
- Though I can't find the quote I'm thinking of, the coaches seemed irritated when he came into camp five pounds lighter than he was as a freshman. Early in camp, Mattison responded to a question about Black by highlighting his inconsistency:
“Jibreel has a lot of talent, but right now, Jibreel is a little inconsistent. … That’s not a knock on him, but he’s just like a lot of talented young guys. I’m not ready to say this guy is the next Terrell Suggs (of the Baltimore Ravens)."
- They have to play him; he might need another year to get his head right and muscles all powerful and stuff. Brandon Graham, who everyone has compared him to, took a couple years to get his head and body right, too.
Clark @ Glenville; the only extant photo of Paskorz on the field
But wait, there's more! On scholarship, even! True freshman Frank Clark defied his middling recruiting rankings and status as a WR/TE/LB/DE tweener to feature on the depth chart at WDE. He's supposed to be fast—very fast. An insider I've corresponded with noted that players say "he can catch Denard." He "just has a lot of athleticism" according to Van Bergen.
Clark's quick rise caught Mattison's eye when he was asked about freshman in general, not Clark specifically:
I think Frank Clark has a lot of ability. You can see a different speed at which he goes.
In his recruiting profile I said he had a long road ahead of him to productivity. Clark drove fast.
- Redshirt freshman Jordan Paskorz may as well have been in the witness protection program since he enrolled. Not a peep has been heard about him since he arrived, and I have no recollection of the guy even playing in the spring game. But he is totally a defensive player on the roster who is not a true freshman. So we've got that going for us.
- Paskorz was a generic three star coming out of high school; his recruiting profile is where the infos are. I wasn't that enthused about him a year ago but just by remaining on the roster he's ahead of a lot of his classmates. With Clark impressing and a serious need at TE he's another candidate to switch.
photo from file
Captains will be voted on Sunday.
Practice #20 done. Eleven days out from the first game [Ed-M: eeee foootbawwww!]. Starting scout team work for Western tomorrow. "I thought we moved the dial in every area." Need to improve consistency in competitive drills. Defense good one day, the next day it's the offense. You're neutral as head coach, but you want to see the consistency.
On the scrimmage: "Saturday, I thought we were physical. You could hear football being played." Great competition still going on. Saturday standouts: "I thought Troy played pretty well... Brandon Herron showed some signs that were real positive. Offensively, I thought Fitz [Toussaint] carried the ball well, Vince Smith carried the ball well, Michael Shaw has carried the ball well." It was a 120ish-play scrimmage.
Team needs to work on finishing, but goal line and 2-minutes drill had pretty good tempo and intensity.
On the two deep: Players will become aware of the 2-deep soon, but spots aren't locked in. "You can lose that [spot] pretty easily, because we're playing guys who can represent Michigan... They have to meet the expectations for that position every day."
On expectations: "We have high expectations. I really don't care what anybody else thinks." They want to help the kids succeed, both on and off the field. He doesn't worry about managing expectations. Gauging toughness starts during winter conditioning. Build mental toughness by making sure the locker room is disciplined, "mentally being tough enough to take care of that locker room."
"I think the jury's still out" on whether the team will be able to run the ball and stop the run to his satisfaction. They have some physical practices upcoming, but will taper that back as the season approaches.
Are they going to play a second QB in early games? "We haven't really talked about that yet." They may get Devin into early games, to get him experience. It also builds morale to get more guys in earlier.
On running back: Right now, Mike Shaw would be the starter. Toussaint has done good things, Hopkins was better today. "Vincent is a guy on third downs who can do an awful lot. He is a tough, tough guy." Shaw: "He's been more consistent on a daily basis. That's what he really shows the most."
Impressive position groups: The first five on the OL have good chemistry, and they play with good tempo.
Wide receivers: "Our wide receivers, I think they keep... [Ed-M: ?] Jeremy Gallon's a guy we think has done a pretty good job."
On OL depth: "Darrell's got six guys right now that can roll through, I think we're building the seventh." You want five top guys, then develop the young guys behind them as fast as you can. "I think Friday we'll get after it pretty good scrimmage-wise," putting together a couple different lineups.
On Brink: "If we play tomorrow, he'd be the starting 5-technique defensive end." He has great technique, and has to be because he's a little small. "You feel him a lot out on the field."
On the rest of the DL: "Will [Campbell] can play both the three and the 1, Heininger can play all three, and has." You want guys to settle into a comfortable position, but you also want versatility in their positions, so you have flexibility. "Will [Heininger] has the intelligence to do that, because of those different things."
On linebackers: "I think Desmond Morgan's a guy who we think is gonna play football for us. Mike Jones has played a little bit at MIKE and a little bit at WILL. I would say Kenny right now has a pretty solid lock on the MIKE linebacker. Cam is doing a good job. Jake Ryan and Brennen Beyer... All three of those guys are getting snaps." Desmond Morgan was limited today, but will be good. Brandin Hawthorne will be a good player.
On the secondary: "I can tell you that between Troy, JT Floyd, and Courtney Avery, there's tremendous competition." JT and Avery competing at one corner. "I think Thomas Gordan has had a really good camp... I think Kovacs has done a really nice job." He's smart, understands the concepts, can be a QB of the D. Carvin Johnson also good. "Three safeties and three corners right now that we have good competition with." Those guys are all on the field in the dime package.
On Matt Wile: "I think right now we're looking really at between him and Seth punting, and him doing the kickoffs, and between him and Brendan handling the field goals." They'll kick in the stadium Friday, Saturday, and know what they want by Sunday. Brendan Gibbons is kicking the best overall from distance.
On attrition: "It was the right thing for them and what they felt... Sometimes, kids move on for different reasons. Homesick, or whatever it might be." Too early to think if it will affect 2012 recruiting class.
Michigan had their first scrimmage over the weekend, and the internet was alive with reports. I've gotten a couple emails and the board had a few things I'm attempting to follow up on to determine if they're independent reports or just regurgitation. For now, a few items that seem to be reliable across the spectrum.
Will Campbell is not happening. The Nathan Brink hype was an early indication of that and reports from the scrimmage talk about him more than Campbell. It seems highly likely Ryan Van Bergen starts the year at three tech with Brink the starting SDE. According to one source Campbell is "barely playing with the twos." Maybe Rodriguez and company weren't wrong to move Campbell to offensive line last year.
Obviously, that's bad. The DL was paper thin even when Campbell was supposed to start. Now you've got a walk-on in the starting lineup and Campbell may not even be a plausible backup. At least Van Bergen is somewhere around 290—just fine for three-tech—and Brink is a redshirt sophomore. At 265 he's light for a strongside DE and as a walk-on he's probably not going to do much, but for now we can close our eyes real tight and imagine JJ Watt in a winged helmet.
Yeah… that's the stuff.
Brink appears to have beaten out a healthy, senior Will Heininger, so he's got that going for him. Van Bergen, meanwhile, often spent entire games on the field last year. He's going to have to play ironman again this year.
Fitzgerald Toussaint might be happening. The constant refrain from all practices until the Saturday scrimmage was "there is no running back, Shaw by default, Smith on third downs." Saturday the internet lit up with Toussaint-related exclamation marks.
Could this be a real thing? I think so. Toussaint had a pretty good recruiting rep and his struggles so far have been injury-related. It would be one thing if he was just buried on the depth chart behind meh competition. It's not. Even skeptics have to admit Tousssaint's high school highlights are pretty sweet:
Though his competition level was not good he has the track chops to prove that speed you see is not an illusion. He was the 60M Ohio state champ as senior in high school and put up a 10.59 100 meter. The guy can go.
He's more of a slashing zone runner than a horse to run power with, but I don't see any horses to run power with who aren't conspicuously omitted from all reports except dark mutterings about being in the doghouse and missing the WMU game via suspension. If Toussaint is the guy Borges might shrug and run a crapton of zone—it's not like the media will notice.
Roh skepticism ominous. I hope Craig Roh's sickness is the main reason he's come in for a round of "is that all there is?" from the internet, because Michigan needs him. There was one weird report that Roh was playing a three-tech in certain situations—passing downs, I'd hope. That might have been a bit garbled—possibly a three-man front with a very technical linebacker for deployment against the spread.
That's something I am 100% in favor of, BTW. Michigan never got a handle on spread teams under Herrmann and it might be a little worrying if Mattison wasn't reacting to the great trend in college football lo these many years.
Hype magnets. Freshman and new faces getting buzz include:
- WDE Frank Clark, who has been getting some first-team snaps in the passing down package. Seems like he'll be deployed as a situational rusher this year.
- WLBs Brandin Hawthorne and Desmond Morgan(?!). Hawthorne's been running with the ones in practice glimpses and there are scattered reports Morgan is also getting time there. If those are accurate, just moving Morgan to WLB when he seems much better suited for the middle is an indication neither Mike Jones or Brandon Herron is impressing and they are scrambling to fill the spot with someone, anyone. Aaigh Kellen Jones.
- WR Jeremy Gallon has made a move. I'm not sure how much room there is for him at WR since there are already two 5'9" guys ahead of him on the depth chart, though. And putting him back to return punts seems like asking for it after whatever that was last year.
- More Kenny Demens.
- Michigan's using Steve Watson as an H-back.
- Thomas Rawls has a shoulder injury.
- Courtney Avery seems to be maintaining his lead in the race to start opposite Woolfolk.
- I haven't been able to confirm this so no names, but a linebacker is reportedly not in camp and hasn't been all fall. That might be a prelude to a departure
Insider scuttlebutt espectacular scheduled Saturday. They'll have another one this weekend. This one is open to Motts donors and premium seat holders, which I'm sure Hoke loathes but sometimes dollah dollah bill y'all works in the fan's favor.
If last year is any indication there will be a flood of often-contradictory reports here and elsewhere; I'll pick through them and add impressions from the email.