"I love it that Ivy League coaches are coming to our camp and Big Ten coaches are coming to our camp. South Florida is coming. We've got about 70 schools that are coming to our camp."
Michigan football senior/junior defensive lineman Nathan Brink (Holland, Mich./Holland Christian) suffered an undisclosed injury during practice last week and will be out indefinitely. Brink has appeared in all four games this season and has two tackles, including 1.5 stops for losses
I take that to mean his season's over since The Fort doesn't release any injury information it absolutely doesn't have to. If they're telling people it's because they know word will get out anyway once Brink is spotted on crutches or whatever walking around campus or on gameday.
Brink's not a huge loss but Michigan's thin DL just got thinner. This means more playing time for Keith Heitzman and… well, Keith Heitzman. Also Jibreel Black, who will probably take some of the snaps Brink was getting as a rotation 3-tech.
UPDATE: Heritage Newspaper is saying it's a neck injury, so Brink will transfer to MSU and play next weekend because he's just had the wind knocked out of him.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||THREE-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Craig Roh||Sr.||Quinton Washington||Jr.*||Will Campbell||Sr.||Jibreel Black||Jr.|
|Nate Brink||Jr.*#||Richard Ash||So.*||Ryan Glasgow||Fr.#||Brennen Beyer||So.|
|Keith Heitzman||Fr.*||Ondre Pipkins||Fr.||Matt Godin||Fr.||Frank Clark||So.|
Okay okay okay. Breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the lung expand and contract, and feel a calmness wash over you. Yeah. Calm. Calm.
Michigan lost three starters, may be starting a 280-pound three-tech, moved the only returning starter, and has a walk-on seriously pressing for playing time. If they're not starting a 280-pound three-tech, they're starting a 280-pound WDE. Will Campbell inherits a starting spot essentially by default.
No no no no. Calm. Callllm.
The big piece of news that hit when the Big Ten Network was let inside the velvet rope at Michigan practice was Jerry Montgomery naming Quinton Washington one of his starters instead of Brennen Beyer. This was followed up by a depth chart confirming this fact.
Clarity came Monday when Hoke made an appearance at the UM Club of Greater Detroit's kickoff dinner that I was at, waiting for the Q&A session with Greg Dooley and Angelique Chengelis. Hoke took questions, someone asked him about the defensive line, and Hoke gave a straight answer. To paraphrase: Michigan is planning on rotating six guys. Washington will be the nose in certain packages with Campbell at three tech and Black at WDE. In other packages they'll remove Washington and slide everyone down, inserting Beyer at WDE and going with Roh-Campbell-Black-Beyer.
Who's the sixth guy? You got me. I'd guess it's Nate Brink, but it didn't come up.
this year he'll totally live up to this image. really! (probably not really.)
This time we mean it, Will Campbell: it's now or never. The one-time five-star recruit is now a senior. He's been handed a starting spot by the graduation of three DL starters and Rodriguez's crappy recruiting. This makes everyone nervous because obviously.
There is some good news on this front. After a couple years in which Campbell appearances were all but guaranteed to draw this sort of commentary…
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?
…his cameos were fairly effective last year. He got limited snaps, of course, but only ended up negative against Iowa, when he got cut twice on big Coker runs. He had a +5 against ND, a +3.5 against SDSU, a +4 against Minnesota, and a +4 against Illinois, three of which came when he blew up a third and one by himself:
Unfortunately, these positives and highlights are all against the worst offensive lines on the schedule (and ND, oddly). Michigan didn't put him out there much against tougher competition; now they've got no choice.
"The most dramatic change I've seen in a body on our team is Will Campbell," said left tackle Taylor Lewan. "His body is transformed. He was a sloppy 350 and now he's a toned down 308 kind of guy. He looks real good. His conditioning shows it. You should see him run. He's like a gazelle. It's unreal. I think Will is going to do some special things this year."
Come on, baby. He's getting the full-court press from Michigan's three-headed DL coaching staff, and I wished and hoped my way to thinking he was a lot better this spring:
Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.
You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.
While that hasn't kept the coaches from grousing about things, their expectations are not my expectations.
Finding out that Campbell will flip between three tech and the nose is probably a positive tea leaf. Leverage has always been a problem, and at 6'5" he's never going to be a great burrower. Get him one on one and he can deposit folks on their butts. That is what he'll generally be allowed to do at the three. His ability to do that on passing downs is going to be a huge factor in how effective that line configuration is—three techs can get good rush, and Michigan's ability to get pressure out of the WDE spot is very much in doubt.
What to expect here is a mystery. My WAG: adequate play that's on average a few points to the good on UFR charts (which is average for DL, as it measures MAKING PLAYS more than not doing so). Maybe a fringe draft pick if Michigan is pretty lucky. I don't think he'll be worse than Heininger, and he was pretty decent by the end of the year.
[hit THE JUMP for the GREAT MYSTERY beyond the KEN OF MAN (and Craig Roh)]
♪ Well a whole season played with the first string guy is usually quite lucky.
And a squad who plays with the second team out can be anything but fussy.
But a team whose seen an important guy down—head concussed, knee on the ground!
If they ain't got depth around, then all goes to poopie.
To poopie, to poopie, to poopie, but depth is hard to get!
To poopie, to poopie, to poopie, but we can get there yet! /♫
This is a continuation from last week when I went through the expected offensive depth chart and tried to predict what would happen—what's the dropoff? how do we react?—if each starter is injured for an extended time. Now, I'm not here trying to roll into town and stir up trouble, see? I'm a purveyor of portents and hedger of predictions only. What I seek to do is prepare us for any one of these dings, so that if one occurs we can say something intelligent like "it hurts to lose Roh but Black is probably the less replaceable!"
Why not all defense? Things slow down from here because the defense has a lot of intermeshing parts, and because there actually is depth in places to speak of.
Mattison's er Michigan's defense has been characterized by interchangeable positions but really each spot is more of a sliding scale from NT to field corner where each one overlaps the things on either side of it. The listed spring/recruiting weights play this out (click e-bigitates):
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
Nose Tackle (Avengers)
Geeks / O. Ryan Hussain|TheWolverine / 247 Sports
In case of emergency: I'll be honest; this one is impossible to call straight. The 4-3 under is like the 3-4 in that it leans on the nose to suck up double teams and create mismatches elsewhere. The ideal is a superhero, and for the last few years we've had one of the best (by Ghost of Bo).
Hulk is gone but the franchise must go on, and for now that means we are 100% committed to making Thor work.
If the old 5-star takes up the hammer he's the pivot point of a great defense. If he doesn't then one of two mystery men could be anything from serviceable to disasters, and most things in between.
The upside on all three of Michigan's nose tackles is mighty. Weirdly, we think we know more about the true freshman, Ondre Pipkins, than the redshirt sophomore. Pipkins was a 4 or 5 star whose huge, squat, Tongan frame and jovial, Hoke-impersonating character made him and Michigan's need for nose tackle a cosmic destiny. If he's got the goods we'll see Pipkins early in spells of Campbell. True freshmen (Martin, Gabe Watson) of his caliber have fared well enough in rotational duty. The later this season goes, the more comfortable you can feel about Pipkins when he's called upon. Caveat: until he's called upon you have no idea if he can hack it, and for every huge dude you can name who could play right away (Marcus Thomas, Suh, Ngata, [sigh] Johnathan Hankins, DeQuinta Jones) there's 30 who need to spend a year as Ben Grimm before being The Thing. /metaphor used up.
In case of dire emergency: …break glass on Richard Ash. Nobody knows on this guy, who was recruited by Rodriguez as the last Pahokeeian project for Barwis to tear down and rebuild. The tear-down went unnoticed through 2010 and '11 and we caught a glimpse of possible rebuild when, 20 lbs. svelter, he made a few plays nice in the backfield. Ash could be anything from ahead of Pipkins to Adam Patterson. If that's where we are I could see Quinton Washington sliding down.
Rush Tackle (3-Tech)
Right: Dell Callihan|UMGoBlog
In case of emergency: The coaches have made it clear that Jibreel Black can play, and moving him two slots down the size/speed slide chart of defensive positions means they want him on the field, and that they want 5-tech-ish skills at the 3-tech. This being a swing position means the backups could be different things.
Quinton Washington is a big dude who was an offensive guard until he and Will Campbell were swapped for each other in that experiment. He still looks like a guard, and has yet show much at tackle besides easily dismissible coach hokum right after the move in 2010 so it wouldn't look like Rodriguez was throwing substances at surfaces to see what sticks.
Q stuck although the OL he left is now about as leaky as the DL he came to save. That the coaches moved Roh and Black down the line tells you something about their faith that Washington is ready, and going into his redshirt junior year that might mean he'll never be. He's seen time on goal line situations and is likely to again. Early in the year I wouldn't be surprised if he or Ash—whichever wins—is backing up both interior line spots, and that later on we see some Pipkins and Campbell together time.
In case of dire emergency: Ken Wilkins has been absent enough from chatter that people email me asking if he's still on team. Yes he is on the damn team, and he's still just a RS sophomore, but yeah, there's room for true freshmen on the three deep. Those two seem to be Godin and Henry, the lesser heralded of the heralded class, both of whom would benefit from redshirts. Henry is the larger. Chris Wormley, whom I rate at 5-tech, seems a more likely backup.
Strongside End (5-Tech)
In case of emergency: Craig Roh has to be the hardest four-year starter to project in history, thanks to many different careers as too-small WDE in a 4-3, a miscast OLB in the 3-3-5, then as the edge rushing WDE in Mattison's 4-3 under. Now he moves to RVB's old spot.
The backup here is almost assuredly Nate Brink, whom the coaches love but the fans hardly know because he's been hurt (he missed Spring because of it). When the coaches talk about the one-time walk-on they make sure to hit all of the Ecksteinian points: "coachable", "hard worker", "toughness", "great technique", "great motor." To that I might add he's 6'5 and 263, which is normal for the position. He's not Heininger (who as a sophomore backed up Brandon Graham), except in that he's some of the things you wrongly thought about Heininger. Then again I remember Brady Hoke making all sorts of guys into effect tech linemen.
If you'd rather see stars, Keith Heitzman is your guy. The beneficiary of the spring time Brink missed, the redshirt fresham was rated higher at tight end out of high school yet apparently good enough at SDE that the coaches moved Jordan Paskorz instead of him. Either this was a promise made at the time of his last-minute recruitment—likely since Tim reacted strongly when I say him and the TE depth chart together—or an endorsement by Hoke that he can play, or both. Best guess is it's both.
In case of dire emergency: Any of the freshmen linemen but Pipkins and Ojemudia are ready built for 5-tech. Of these Chris Wormley was a longtime high school star, which tells me he is probably physically ahead of the other guys right now. Tom Strobel is the other proto-RVB here. One day I expect we'll see the two of them playing next to each other at 3- and 5- respectively.
Backups: Mario Ojemudia ???, plus 5-techs
In case of emergency: Well if one goes down the other starts. Following a trend, both Clark and Beyer were OLBs last season, while this spot was rotated between Black and Roh. Though technically a unit change, the job they did last year—outside rusher—and what they'll be called on to do this year are not all that dissimilar. It speaks well to both that they played as true freshmen ahead of once-touted Cam Gordon. Read less into that, since Gordon was hurt to give them the opening and their skillsets are different from his.
They're also different from each other. Beyer was the more highly regarded and will get called "solid" more often because he's less eventful than Clark. Clark has the greater athleticism (see: interception in Sugar Bowl) though has been convicted of multiple accounts of giving up the edge, a freshman mistake repeated in spring. The rest of the D-line by design is meant to free these guys up for sacks, thus I see both rotating. If one goes down we lose the rotation.
The only other designated WDE is freshman Ojemudia, who is about 200 lbs. right now and would be 2009 Craig Roh'ed by most of the OTs and TEs on our schedule. Far more likely, in the event we lose one of the sophomores, we'll see one of the 5-techs or SLBs move in before the shirt is lifted from Mario. Craig Roh has played WDE more than any other spot, and Brink has the coaches' trust to fill in at 5-tech.
In case of dire emergency: Packaging still covers but there's Ojemudia if you need him. Packaging means in pass situations you just put Jake Ryan here and have Cam Gordon or Brandin Hawthorne or a nickel corner come in; otherwise go "big" (for a certain definition of such) with Roh back to wide and whichever backup DT/SDE in the game instead.
Vastly underrated; properly rated
Previously: The Offense
My look back at Brian's epic 2011 football preview continues with the defense. This one got a lot more interesting than the offense, because despite all the warm fuzzies we felt from the GERG-to-Greg transition*, expecting a jump from the #110 total defense to #17 would have been outrageous. As in get-this-man-a-straitjacket outrageous.
Thankfully, the performance of the defense exceeded all reasonable expectations, and even most of the unreasonable ones. Let's peep last year's predictions, shall we?
*Not to mention the Tony-Gibson-to-Anyone-But-Tony-Gibson transition.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue [for Ryan Van Bergen]. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
RVB actually ended up at strongside DE, which probably helped him lead the team with 12.5 TFLs. He ended up earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from both the coaches and media and graduating as one of the most beloved Wolverines in recent memory.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
A year after inexplicably having to move past not just Obi Ezeh, but converted fullback Mark Moundros, on the depth chart at middle linebacker despite subsequently making it painfully obvious that he should've been the starter all along, Demens had his breakout season. He led the team with 94 tackles—second was Jordan Kovacs at 75—and saw his TFLs jump to a respectable five. Like Van Bergen, Demens was an all-conference honorable mention.
Even so, [Kovacs's] season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
This may still be underselling Kovacs, who took to competent coaching even better than expected and became the team's rock in the secondary, covering for his athletic limitations with usually-impeccable positioning. No, he's not Reggie Nelson, but I don't think you can find a remotely rational Michigan fan who harbors even the tiniest bit of ill will towards Kovacs. Michigan's shocking lack of big plays allowed—both against the pass and the run—can largely be attributed to his play; despite missing a game, Kovacs led the team with 51 solo tackles. He also notched 8 TFLs. All hail Kovacs.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
This time around, the optimism regarding the free safety position was justified. Thomas Gordon had his share of struggles, especially late in the season, but for the most part he was quite competent. Around here, safety competence is a luxury on par with consistent placekicking.
Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
Michigan finished with 2.3 sacks per game. That put them at... 29th. Tip o' the cap.
Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
Brian's continued insistence that turnover luck would someday go Michigan's way finally paid off; the Wolverines forced 29 turnovers. It also helped that this defense actually tackled people.
EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW RIGHT THIS WOULD BE.
Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
No full credit simply because Mike Jones was projected as the starter at WLB, a fact I had completely forgotten about until I looked back at the preview. Morgan ended up playing in 12 games, starting seven (the first being in week two against ND), and finished fifth on the team in tackles.
If [J.T. Floyd] gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
This wasn't really a prediction, but... yeah. Tony Gibson minus all of the points.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.)
Points for mentioning Countess as the most likely freshman to see the field. No points for giving him one sentence when he took over the starting job by midseason, especially considering the Christian caveat. As you'll see, the hype that should've surrounded Countess went—justifiably, in the preseason—to Courtney Avery.
Not So Much
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
I hate that I have to put this prediction in this category, but here it is. While Martin was the best player on the defense, his numbers were hampered by having to play the nose; he finished with six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Despite the lack of statistical production, Martin's efforts were recognized with second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also forced a pitch on a speed option. See you on Sundays, MM.
"Experience" was why [Will Heininger] got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
The biggest swing-and-a-miss on the list. Heininger swapped spots with RVB and started all 12 regular-season games at five-tech DT before missing the Sugar Bowl with a foot injury. He exceeded all expectations of a walk-on raised in the shadow of the Big House, proving he could hold his own against Big Ten competition and be a positive force on the interior. After the season, Brian ranked him as the third most siginificant departure on the defense, behind only Martin and Van Bergen. While part of that is due to the remaining depth along the defensive line, I don't think anyone thought Heininger's absence would be felt in such a way.
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
If you're saying "who?" you're probably not alone (though you read this blog, so you probably aren't saying "who?"). Walk-on Nathan Brink was penciled in as the starting SDE at one point in the fall, earning much preseason praise for his unlikely rise up the depth chart. After garnering all that hype, however, he made almost no impact, recording just one tackle while barely seeing the field. He's a prime example of why you must take all offseason practice hype with a grain of salt, especially when said hype involves previously-unknown walk-ons.
We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
Playing his third position in three seasons, Roh didn't quite go bonkers, tallying four sacks and eight TFLs. Roh's play still markedly improved from his previous two seasons, but he still hasn't lived up to the sky-high recruiting hype. Much of the blame for that can fall upon the shoulders of Greg Robinson and Co., and we'll see if one last position switch, this time to SDE, finally results in Roh producing double-digit sacks.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Ryan became a pleasant early-season surprise when he started against Western Michigan and made his presence felt by batting an Alex Carder pass that Brandon Herron would intercept and return 94 yards to the house. While certainly more of an asset against the pass than the run—his balls-to-the-wall approach was great on blitzes, but not always sound when keeping contain—Ryan proved that he was by far the best option on the strong side. Just one year later, all-conference honors are very much in play.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
Troy Woolfolk's return from the exploding ankle of doom wasn't as triumphant as we all hoped. While he started ten games—six at corner and four at safety—Woolfolk never looked fully comfortable on the field and was supplanted at each position by a younger player (Countess at corner, Gordon at safety). It would be quite a surprise to see him taken in this week's NFL draft.
Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
After showing much promise as a true freshman, Avery was the obvious candidate to grow into a big-time role as the team's top corner of the present and future. Instead, he started the first two games, then ceded that role to J.T. Floyd, Woolfolk, and eventually Countess. Avery was a solid nickel corner, and should reprise that role in 2012, but his progression wasn't as great as expected.
Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
Nein. Despite Michigan's impressive rise in team sacks, they were spread pretty evenly across both the D-line and the back seven thanks to Mattison's blitz-happy approach. Ryan Van Bergen paced the team with 5.5, with Jordan Kovacs actually tying Roh for second with four.
Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
I know Brian has no complaints about being so hilariously wrong on this one. As noted above, the Wolverines finished 17th in yardage allowed, and they also shot up to sixth (faints) in points allowed. Football Outsiders's FEI metric ranked them as the #16 defense in the country. Despite watching every second of the 2011 season (usually twice), I still have a hard time not believing I'm the victim of an elaborate hoax or a drug experiment gone horribly awry. If you see me waking up in a gutter and GERG is still the defensive coordinator, please do me a favor and run me over with an SUV. Make sure to double-tap, please.
NOTE: it proved impossible to communicate what OL coaches were like without swearing more than I usually would in a post not about backboards in the immediate aftermath of last year's Wisconsin game. Keep children and the mad away from this post.
Faced with a difficult choice between seeing the head coach give his stump speech and talk about defensive line coaching and Al Borges talking about creating a play sheet and Michigan's passing concepts, I split the difference: one hour each. If I'd known I was going to get an excellent event recap from the Hoke presentation in my inbox that night I would have gone 100% Borges, but better to have it 3/4ths covered than half.
The emailer's notes follow. I was in the room for the first half of this and will interject some asides where appropriate; first a few general impressions from me.
loafs = bad; offensive line coaches, basically
My first exposure to the football coaching subculture was sometimes fascinating, sometimes boring, and full of swearing.
To a certain extent all football coaches emphasize the same things, and they tell you about these things every time. I get it: "loafs" are not tolerated. They are to you as scrubs are to TLC. [blank stares] I would like to move on from this because I have never tried to teach anyone and do not understand that without relentless consistency you do not get the results you want. Football coaches know you would like to move on but the relentless consistency is so ingrained in their nature that they can't help themselves.
Hoke was the most explicit example of this amongst the coaches I've seen over the past couple weeks. His presentation is on proper defensive line technique* and he says "I respect guys who just get into football and won't do all that philosophy stuff," he does a large section on philosophy stuff, and then sort of apologizes for it—only sort of because Hoke has a friendly bravado to him. Very few coaches can escape it.
Most of those guys are offensive line coaches. In a field of insane, profanity-prone sticklers for detail, OL coaches stand out. Collectively they have an air of weary acceptance. The best way to communicate this: a couple of the guys who presented in Grand Rapids have their own OL-specific clinic. Their logo is a mushroom because they're "kept in the dark and eat shit all day."
Funk was the first OL coach I took in so I didn't know how much of an exception he was. He may be the most businesslike individual I've ever perceived. No jokes, no swearing, just explanations.
What Funk shares with the other guys is an arcane language that's half signing, half jargon, half grunting, and I know that adds up to more than 100%. Jets consultant Jim McNally spent an hour talking about where a center's first step should be against a one-technique. He'd put his foot somewhere, say that was horseshit, put his foot somewhere else that you could just perceive was different, and tell you that this would prevent the motherfucker lined up across from you from putting you in a world of shit as long as you did six dozen other things right. But then some other motherfucker would put you in a world of shit some other way so you had to STEP [GRUNT] in this other particular way. A ballet eventually emerged in this quarter-full room as McNally scribbled his hieroglyphics on an overhead projector: step, grunt, swear. Step, grunt, swear. And so on.
So… yeah. Offensive line coaches.
*[Again it's worth mentioning here that Hoke is an outlier amongst head coaches. He still coaches a position. Meanwhile, he seems to have relatively little input on the coordinator-level duties. He is high and low and nowhere in between.]
Brady Hoke commands a room. I'd been in The Presence once before, when The UM Club of Ann Arbor invited me to be a panelist for their season kickoff Q&A. He started off with the same call and response he gives the team:
He then jovially mocks you for being meek little things and asks you to do it again. It's probably the oldest motivational/attention gathering technique in the history of man. He did it to the infinite coaches in the room by saying "GOOD EVENING" until the response was involved enough for him to continue. He does this with the team, obviously.
Over the course of the hour I took in he grabbed a half-dozen people out of the crowd to demonstrate certain things, told everyone to get up and actually get in a stance—this did not work well since the room was packed—and used a former Ball State player he called by a stereotypically defensive line nickname I forget as a proficient dummy. He got his points across, kept attention to him, and tossed off laugh lines with the casual air of a guy in complete control of a room. Which he was. As I noodled on my phone in certain other talks, Hoke's charisma became a more notable thing.
A couple days later eight four-star recruits would agree.
Now on to the email report.
Last night I had the opportunity to hear Coach Hoke speak for 2 hours at a Glazier Clinic in Grand Rapids. Hoke took the first five minutes to talk a little program philosophy and motivational stuff, he then launched into a very detailed 110 minute talk about D-Line rules/technique/drills/responsibilities. I thought I would share some various bullets from the night.
Roh move. Although already mentioned on the Blog, Craig Roh is definitely moving to the 5 tech! Coach hit on this a couple times while discussing drills. Seemed to hint at Beyer and possibly Ryan moving to WDE?! [Hint means he mentioned these guys as he was discussing WDE position...again nothing for sure, but just passing along info.]
[ED: I assume Ryan isn't moving to WDE. He probably gets mentioned amongst them because the SLB has a lot of responsibilities similar to the WDE. At the previous clinic Mattison mentioned that M has a defense in which the SLB and WDE essentially swap responsibilities that they ran 80 times last year. As always, SLB and WDE in the 4-3 under aren't that different. Also Ryan was a DE in the even-front nickel package last year.]
Campbell. Big Will came in for a little praise for his size and strength and it sounds like he is a "tremendous" individual, but Hoke didn't make you feel great about Will's chances to contribute at a high level.
Jake Ryan. Came in for some high praise as Coach Hoke called him "an unorthodox football player" and also said he will be a key to the success of the defense here at Michigan. They showed the clip from the Sugar Bowl where Wilson tries to bounce at the goal line and runs 20 yards backwards then Ryan cleans up.
This was one of two late-season plays on which Ryan's shocking upfield acceleration resulted in a big loss. A Taylor Martinez zone read keeper that ended up a TFL was the other.]
Hoke smiles and says, "That's just fun, isn't it?" Hoke went on to tell a story about a connection to the Ryan family and that Jake was interested in SDSU, but Hoke and his staff there never offered. He then said something to the sound of, "times like this make you feel like a fool, glad we got him now!"
Obviously. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen came in for high praise as men who worked hard and set the tone as important Seniors on team #132. RVB was credited as one of the smartest players on the team, Hoke then said, "Mike is really strong!" That received a roar of laughs. (Quick side note: Hoke is a great comedian and has a natural feel for comedic timing. [ED: It's true. He called a guy up to the front of the room to get in a stance, started adjusting him, and then asked if his feet were square. The demonstrator said "more or less"; Hoke repeated it in just the right way and got a roaring laugh from the room. Comedy without a punchline is hard.])
Hoke talked specifically about Martin not getting enough push earlier in the year and how, once he was attacking more, he was unblockable.
Nathan Brink got a lot of love from Coach Hoke. He said, "he is a limited athlete, but a tough sucker." Maybe he can add some valuable depth?
Desmond Morgan received some high praise. However, every time they showed D-Line clips from game film, Des seemed to be out of place or getting killed! Coach Hoke talked about his smarts, strength, and instinct.
[ED: Morgan fared better in the clips from the Mattison session. I figure the bad bits are freshman being freshmen and they expect he'll be a lot better this year. Morgan will not go easily into the night what with the new kids around.]
Quinton Washington got some love from Coach. He talked about his strength and good feet. The only set back for Quinton is he is a "pincher bug!" Meaning he doesn't get his hands inside and get extension. With three D-Line coaches on staff, you have to get technique right or you will not see the field. He said "we need Quinton to get this right before September 1st!"
Stories and Comments
Cross is boss
The McNabb game. Coach Hoke talked about the 98' Syracuse game and mentioned that, "you guys know a guy by the name of Donovan McNabb? He is just a little bit of good!" He went on to say, "I told Coach Carr that I take all responsibility for the loss." Hoke talked about the fact that he didn't prepare his linemen properly and he let them down. Some of this is coach speak, but he is so effectual with his speaking that I felt like he let me down too. It was salt in the wounds man, salt in the wounds.
[ED: This was presented in the context of returning nine starters from the 1997 defense, which you may remember as pretty good. Hoke was discussing the algorithm he has his players go through to get to the ball and how he thought his guys had it down after '97; now he teaches it every year without fail. Again we got back to coaches repeating everything for a reason.
Jabs. Hoke kept throwing out light hearted jabs at his assistants. Gave you the feeling that these guys really like each other and work well together.
[ED: as I tweeted out, Borges was talking about how few people were in his clinic and Hoke was telling him "no one cares about offense" before they went on. In actuality both sessions were packed to the gills.]
T-Bone. I was surprised by how detailed he was in all the drills/technique portion. One of his GAs from Ball State was in attendance, so he had "T-Bone" come up and be his personal dummy for the night. Hoke repeatedly gave this guy huge shots on every demonstrated punch and extension. T-Bone was tough, but by the end, he was grimacing each time. I only include this to show how much Hoke is still a D-Line guy at heart. He can't hold back and was working up a sweat demonstrating this.
[ED: T-Bone. Of course.]
Ohio. Following the clinic someone was asking him a question about the "Akron State Golden Bobcats" and this gentleman used the full given name of that said team. Quickly Hoke corrected him and said, "You mean Ohio?" questioning which team the man meant. I know it might seem played up with the whole "Ohio" thing, but that little interaction made me a bit more proud that he is our coach.
Tremendous. Overall, there were 11 counts of "tremendous."
I was very much on the fence about Coach Hoke until his introductory press conference. Then I remained skeptical throughout the summer and even fall. After getting to witness this talk on a Thursday night in February with a bunch of overweight D-Line coaches, I am thankful that he is our coach. You can see why Mattison wanted to coach with him.
So that's Hoke.
The DL took a hit for the Sugar. Nate Brink is out, leaving I Don't Know behind RVB at strongside defensive end, and Will Heininger is "questionable" with a foot thing. No one expects him to play. Heininger's absence would probably mean a start for Will Campbell and more playing time for Quinton Washington, plus a tired Mike Martin since he won't have anything approximating a plausible backup:
"(We have) two other seniors up front that are going to play their last college game and their last game for Michigan," Hoke said. "Sometimes, you’ve got to be an iron man."
The line is thin.
MonuMental dropped wallpaper. It's uncommonly gorgeous even for MonuMental.
He also has a request for people who have enjoyed his work. Click through.
Denard got Sports Scienced. BIZANG
Virginia Tech's kicker got in jail. Like, jail-jail. I think I mentioned that already, but the new thing is VT's significant uncertainty at the spot:
Beamer said everyone made the trip except suspended place-kicker Cody Journell, who is facing a felony charge of entering a house with the intent to commit a felony. He spent six days in jail before being released this morning.
Beamer said senior Tyler Weiss will handle extra-point tries and field goals of less than 22 yards against Michigan, and senior Justin Myer will attempt longer kicks.
The Hokies have a guy who's deadly accurate from inside the five but can't get a 30-yarder over the bar. I look forward to seeing this strangely configured man.
The Big Ten and Pac 12 enjoyed a long, teary hug. Starting in 2017 the two conferences will have a scheduling alliance designed to "match teams of similar strength" in football, which is all that matters. The two leagues will also play in all other sports but in all other sports it's a matter of replacing one of your quality nonconference opponents with a Pac-12 school. Only in football does this make for real change.
While the move away from cupcake non-games is welcome, that was already on the docket as the Big Ten prepared to move to a nine-game conference schedule. That is now off the table:
The scheduling partnership means the Big Ten won't be moving from eight conference games to nine beginning in the 2017 season. The league had announced the increase in August.
"If it's not off the board, it's coming off the board," Delany said. "When this opportunity was raised, it's pretty much the understanding that it's in lieu of."
Instead of playing Wisconsin and Penn State more Michigan will play some Pac-10 teams. Honestly, I'd rather skip this business and expand the conference schedule. I'd rather have a more balanced conference schedule and more frequently revisited rivalries with the rest of the league than games Michigan could schedule anyway.
ANTI-BONUS: This hurts Michigan and Ohio State more than anyone else since they are locked into that cross-divisional protected rivalry. The other contenders in the West have annual matchups against Purdue (Iowa), Indiana (MSU), and the post-apocalypse version of Penn State (Nebraska). Michigan gets OSU annually. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes' main division rival's permanent crossover is… Minnesota. At least the Badgers won't be able to duck any and all plausible nonconference opponents anymore.
So it's a push leaning to not good right now. It will will be a total fail if Michigan takes the opportunity to ditch the ND series. Survey says… probably not($):
While Brandon said he wouldn’t want to predict anything in the long term -- and he said 2017 is not considered long term in his view of football scheduling -- if the current schedule were to remain the same, the Irish will remain on the schedule.
That schedule would be eight Big Ten games, a home or away game with the Big Ten/Pac-12 agreement, a home or away game against Notre Dame and two non-conference home games.
“They like to play us and we like to play them so that game continues to be on our schedule,” Brandon said. “As it relates to the long term, who knows. The long term is pretty hard to predict with the constant changes in college football, but for now we intend to play Notre Dame and they are on our schedule and we’ll be playing them for the next few years anyway.”
If the ND game stays in place that will take Michigan's interesting nonconference games from one to two in 2017, but you can say goodbye to the idea of playing anyone from the ACC, Big 12, or SEC in the nonconference unless Jerry Jones is throwing money around like a sad old lonely man. And that was going to happen in 2017 anyway with a move to a nine-game conference schedule.
The Big Ten got a lot of credit for envisioneering a multifaceted solution to the dynamic problems of college athletics. I don't get it. Not to pick on the MZone, but, uh:
And just like that, the SEC's addition of Mizzou and Texas A&M seems so...quaint. The Big East's addition of Boise State and...who again?... seems so 2011. As Scott points out, the B1G and Pac-12 gain a lot of the upside of expansion (broader reach, new markets and recruiting areas( without actually expanding. And with the conferences' TV deals with ESPN expiring in 2016, the BTN and the Pac-12 new network stand to make a financial killing.
The SEC diluting its product with Mizzou and A&M was never a good idea to begin with. This lacks any huge, stupid downsides like the SEC deal, so there's that, but at its heart it's one football game a year. Just because the man with the eyebrows says something doesn't mean it's true.
Michigan hired a soccer coach. He's from Providence, he's turned a nothing program into a consistent NCAA participant, he's not Caleb Porter, but he seems like a pretty good idea. More details in the board thread.
Tigerdroppings got cited by a newspaper. Tennessee WR DeAnthony Arnett is leaving Tennessee after Charlie Baggett's exit to be closer to his ailing father. You're probably wondering if Michigan will take a look after grabbing Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh in the last few weeks. There is a wild card spot open since Bri'onte Dunn decided to stick with the Golden Bobcats.
Michigan would be foolish not to explore the possibility. If he doesn't get a waiver he'd be coming off his redshirt year with three to play when Roundtree and Stonum exit. He fills a hole on the roster after Michigan didn't take any WRs last year. If Michigan doesn't hop on him his most likely destination is MSU. Since he's a transfer he doesn't have to be crammed into the 28 available LOI slots. His stock has not dropped over the last year: Arnett had 24 catches as a freshman. His timeline matches up well with Michigan's needs and he's got talent. I would grab him and see if Michigan suffers the one or two extra departures that would allow them to take 28 on Signing Day anyway.
That's beside the point. This is the point:
Arnett caught 24 passes for 242 as a true freshman for the Volunteers last season, but several factors have prompted Arnett to ask for a release from Tennesse, according to fan site tigerdroppings.com.
That link leads to a C&P of the Rivals article on his decision to exit.
OH TE Sam Grant is seeing Michigan's main competition fill up a bit. Kyle Kalis teammate Sam Grant just picked up an Oklahoma offer, which had the potential to significantly complicate what looked like a straightforward decision to avoid the tire fire that is BC football for Michigan. That offer may have just fell by the wayside with AZ TE Taylor McNamara's commitment to the Sooners($). McNamara was briefly a Michigan target before he decided Ann Arbor was too far from home.
That gives OU two tight ends in the last week, but Grant is still planning on a visit in January.
Josh Garnett said something reasonable. This was it.
Michigan recruit Josh Garnett: 'I'm like Suh, but on offense'
Also not sure if serious. Wait… what?
Despite his pro-style roots, Borges didn't shun the spread. After resigning from Auburn in December 2007, Borges took the next year off, his first since starting coaching, and made visits to college teams like Mississippi State, Florida and Cal as well as to the NFL's Detroit Lions.
Then, in preparation for Michigan's season, he consulted with spread-offense practitioners like Temple coach Steve Addazio.
Steve Addazio is a spread offense practitioner like Jim Tressel is an honesty practitioner.
Multi-year scholarships got overriden, too. That PDF only had 48 objections to the multi-year scholarship option so I thought it was in the clear. It is not:
More than 75 schools are asking to override a plan approved in October to allow multiyear athletic scholarships rather than the one-year renewable awards schools currently provide.
That's disappointing but at least the world is being alerted to the asshat factory that is the Indiana State athletic department. If it goes to an override vote, 5/8ths of the membership would have to vote it down to eliminate it.
Someone made Central Michigan's stadium in Minecraft. Srs.
CMU was not in my top ten "schools most likely to create 1:1 replica of their stadium in Minecraft." BOOM:
- Georgia Tech
- Washington State
- Notre Dame
Bowl lol continues. It's costing LSU and Alabama almost a million dollars to buy their band tickets for the SEC West title game. Clemson expects to eat 200k in losses for winning the ACC, too.
Michigan's uniforms were named the best in college football by, like, fashion people. WSJ:
Michigan: Of all the traditional uniforms, the Wolverines' maize-and-blue unis earned the highest marks from the panel. (Michigan also wore throwback uniforms this season that received mixed reviews, but our panel didn't evaluate them.)
American fashion designer Marc Ecko especially liked the color weight on the jersey, while graphic artist Josh Vanover praised the "bold, bright colors" and "clean" fonts.
But what really pushed Michigan to the top was its iconic winged helmet, which received near-universal praise for its creativity.
"Anyone that uses it, no matter what color you put it in, it's Michigan," said Anthony Coleman, the managing editor of the fashion and street culture blog SlamxHype. "You can use it, but realize that you're stealing from Michigan."
Maryland also came in for praise for their whatever that was, as did Oregon, so this is not a panel of get-off-my-lawn types. Michigan does their thing so well they don't have to resort to goofy things they've done so far this year.
Basketball had a scare against Bradley. A second-half run finally broke open an uncomfortable game as Michigan put the nonconference schedule (mostly) to bed. Holding the Rope has a holistic overview. Jon Horford's lingering stress fracture forced McLimans on the floor and there were a fair number of "OH COME ON" shots made by the Braves as they isolationed their way to a barrage of shots Kobe Bryant would find difficult. Still… Bradley went out and got annihilated 90-51 by a very good Witchita State team yesterday and the Big Ten is terrifying.
Without Horford it is even more critical for Morgan and Smotrycz to stay out of foul trouble. That is not likely. Michigan cannot drop tonight's game against Penn State. There's zero room for error in the league this year and there is a bright line between 9-9—tourney lock—and 8-10. This game against PSU is just one of seven Michigan has left against teams ranked below them in Kenpom (#143 PSU x2, #69 NW, #122 Iowa, #126 Nebraska, #93 Arkansas).
INSANE SMOTRYCZ SHOOTING UPDATE: 22 of 38 from 3 (58%), fifth nationally in eFG%. Novak is 16th with his 64%/42% shooting.
Etc.: Michigan scores best comeback on Doctor Saturday's year-end list of said comebacks. The Rees fumble that greatly aided that comeback leads off the list of gaffes. Penn State tire fire claims Drake, McGloin, Paul Jones, forces Bolden to start against Houston. Penn State still has no coach.