News bullets and other important items:
- Frank Clark's recent hearing has no impact on his status.
- Sounds like Courtney Avery will be 100% for Saturday.
- Blake Countess's surgery has not been schedule yet.
- Richard Ash is out this week with a boo boo, but will return next week hopefully.
- Brennen Beyer is also out this week.
- Barring further injury, no additional freshmen are likely to play.
“It’s an important week for us as a football team as far as how we come out to practice, the improvement we need to make in all areas. We had a good intense practice yesterday. I thought we came out with the right attitude and we have to follow that up again today, obviously. Frank Clark’s situation hasn’t changed. Won’t change. The judicial system obviously, he’s paying for that, and he’s paid a very heavy price with us. He’s a teammate, and he made some bad decisions -- a bad decision that is not what we want. But he is a teammate, and he’s part of our family. So.”
Frank Clark derpy derpy derp.
“I just made a statement on it.”
How have you seen Elliott Mealer settle into his position at center?
“You know, I think Elliott is really settled in, and I think he has a presence about him in there at center. I think the one thing he wants to do a little better job with is maybe some pad level at times and keep finishing on blocks, but I think he’s really been consistent when you look at what we ask that position to do.”
If you had to challenge him on the beard, could you do that?
“No. Not even close.”
News bullets and other important items:
- No status change with Beyer. Knee injury. Will be out for a week.
- Courtney Avery missed some plays late in the game due to a back problem.
- Richard Ash has a boo boo.
“It’s good to win a football game, obviously. That’s why you go out there and compete. I think when you evaluate and you see where we’re at, we’ve got to improve if we’re going to win the Big Ten Championship. We’ve got to improve at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. You’ve heard before, and that message won’t change. I think we went out with a mission offensively to get Denard very involved running the football. I thought he did a nice job of that. I think we did a nice job in the throwing game. The interception, I think Vince was fighting the umpire a little bit, but also it’s just one of those things that we have to execute that, but from that standpoint defensively, we played 98 plays. Way too much, we have to get off the field obviously, but at the same time those guys hung in there, and they hung in there when they had to at the end of the football game and made some plays. So that part of it is a very positive part of it. I think we adjusted to some things to some things they were doing, which helped in the second half. So all in all was it where we want to be? No. But at the same time, it was a good win to get.”
“It was great to win the football game, I can tell you that. It’s always good to win. Sometimes they’re not very pretty. This would be one, but you have to give Air Force a lot of credit. I think they do a tremendous job of coaching that offense and running that offense. I think they did a good job when you look at the counters they put in -- when you counter one way -- it’s a chess game a little bit. I thought Greg at the end really had some -- changed some things up that helped us. I think the stops by the end by the defense were timely and huge and needed to be there. We played an awful lot of plays on defense. That means you’re not doing a good enough job of getting them off the field, but their tempo was one of those things that’s good. And I think we learned a lot about it, and we played a lot of guys. We played a lot of young guys, freshmen, and I think that helps us as we continue throughout the season.”
Can you talk about Devin Gardner’s development as a receiver?
“Well I think he did a nice job. I think there were some -- you like to go to playmakers, so there were things set up for him. But he also makes plays. He’s coming along.”
What made you decide to go with Joe Bolden at linebacker during the second half?
“Well I think we were trying to play as many guys as we could. Joe had a pretty good feel for the option part of it. At Colerain high school that’s all that they run. He saw things maybe a little bit more than we were, but it is more just trying to keep guys fresh and trying to rotate them through.”
You talked a lot about offenses getting the edge on your defense last year.
What was Air Force doing to get the edge, and what do you need to improve on to defend it?
“Well it depends. There’s a whole series of -- do you get low, do you get arc? There’s a lot that goes into it. Are they T-blocking it or X-blocking it? And it’s who has the pitch. It varies depending on how they want to block it and attack it. Most of the time if we do a good job constricting the line of scrimmage, they can’t get a tackle up on your safety or they can’t get the tackle up on the linebacker who can continue to flow, and then your safety’s got a chance. So there’s a lot of different things that go along with it.”
You played a lot of freshmen. Are they outperforming the veterans at this point?
“We recruited them because they’re pretty good players. I think they’re all competing.”
What’s your assessment of your non-Denard run game and how your lines played today?
“You know, I think the non-Denard running game, I guess if we want to call it from now on, it wasn’t productive enough. Therefore I don’t think we played well enough up front. And then defensively, 290-some yards rushing, you didn’t play well enough up front.”
With your defense, do you chalk it up to “this is a unique offense” or do you have major weaknesses that you need to address?
“I would say there’s a uniqueness to the offense, to schemes, but at the same time I think we’re a work in progress. Quinton Washington’s getting better every time he plays. I think Ondre Pipkins, I think he’s getting better every time he plays. Heitzman -- Keith played a decent amount today. Then the four outside guys. Ojemudia. He’s getting better. Frank Clark, having him back. I think Craig and the guys who are the older guys are doing a pretty good job. I think we’re a work in progress on defense [overall].”
How big was the swing in momentum after the tipped pass interception and having to go into the half up just 14-10?
“Oh, it’s one of those things. I didn’t get a good look as I’d like to. I don’t know if it was a little high or what, but that’s football. When you’re called to play defense, you have to keep them out of the end zone, and we didn’t do that.”
A year and a half in, are you still wowed by Denard?
“Well, you know, I see a lot of it in practice. So yeah, I don’t know if you ever get used to it, but when he sticks his foot in the ground, he’s got an ability.”
Two games in, are you seeing enough out of this team that you’d want to see out of a B1G championship team?
“I think if we keep improving every week, that’s our expectation.”
Can you talk about putting No. 47 on Jake Ryan and his performance today?
“We looked at as a staff the guys who, from a character standpoint and from the standpoint of how he goes about his business every day. There wasn’t a better [decision] than to have Jake represent Bennie. So I think that was, as a staff, we came up with that. That’s the right guy. How he played ... I think he made some plays in there. I think he got on the ground sometimes. For me to say how he actually played, I couldn’t tell you. I know he played hard.”
He made a couple big plays at the end.
“Yeah he did. There’s no question about that. I think though what we’ll probably look at as much as anything is that they load blocked on him and he got chopped or he got arc’ed on him -- we didn’t have that pitch player you needed.”
Dialogue between you and Mattison re: late game adjustments?
“Greg and I think an awful lot alike. We knew we needed to do a little bit something different on the back end because we had three different possibilities, and two of them may have been too confusing to try and do on the sideline without them seeing those looks over and over again. So we kind of went back a little bit to base stuff on playing defense.”
Was Fitz rusty?
“I don’t think he ever got a chance to get started.”
“We didn’t block well enough.”
Did you see any rust or was it more up front?
“No … yeah. He’d been practicing the whole time.”
How do you prepare a defense for that insane tempo?
“It … really besides the tempo part, it takes you about a quarter to get used to the speed and how they execute that offense. We tried to mimic it. Our scout guys -- they’re playing with guards and tackles that are 255 pounds. We have Ben Braden who’s 315 pounds who’s trying to veer block, and he’s giving everything he’s got, but it’s a little different tempo, little different speed. Joe Reynolds did as good a job as anyone being Connor Dietz, but it takes you about a quarter. It really does. I thought we hung in there. We weren’t pretty. The thing we needed to do was get the ball on the ground a couple times, and we didn’t do that. It’ll be very interesting. I’ll talk to the kids tomorrow to see how they felt about the tempo. Because I never really -- I didn’t really see us not set and ready to go as a defense, which you’ll see. Believe it or not, that’s a big step that everybody’s on the same page.”
Brennen Beyer was in a cast. What’s his status?
“Well he strained his knee. I can’t -- I don’t know anything more than that right now, but that’s kind of what’s going on.”
Any other issues health wise?
“Not that I know of.”
“He should be ready next week.”
How many true freshmen have you played so far this season? And is that by design or by necessity?
“Um … I want to say 12. It’s by design and necessity. I’m being honest.”
What kind of matchup problems does Funchess cause for a defense?
“Well you know, he’s a tall guy. He’s rangy. He can run. The thing I like about him is he’s not afraid to block. Matchups on strong safeties, matchups on linebackers.”
What kind of game did Frank Clark have, especially on that last drive?
“I know Frank was active. I know he was disruptive, especially there at the end of the game. Now we’ll see how he played the other 80 plays.”
(player transcripts up later today)
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)]
[The Mott practice this year was not a punting exhibition (at which my internal monologue went WOOOOOO) so there are a few things to discuss.]
The biggest takeaway. Devin Gardner took zero QB snaps and was on the first team as a WR. I think they moved him full-time. Swingin' for the fences.
Gardner didn't do anything spectacular in his limited opportunities, dropping one long ball and not quite bringing in a high hard one, but he certainly looks the part. Seeing him in 12 is still weird, and now Dileo is 9, and if I was Brady Hoke I'd be all like "you get one number and that is your number" but he might have different priorities. Maybe.
Devin Funchess. As first impressions go… wow. He is lanky and doesn't look like he'll be much use as a blocker early, but man is that guy a big target. Looks all of 6'5" and has freaky long arms. He was the only TE to get targeted in their kind-of-actually-playing segment; he caught a touchdown on a corner route (it got raked out but after the catch was secured) and was targeted on a late-release wheel route. If he can catch, he is going to crush Mandich's TE receiving record.
Not a whole lot to decide. I expected to have a blizzard of things to try and figure out but when the first team defense came out in a nickel package I was like "oh, right, they return basically everyone." Other than the line, there were zero surprises except for a couple of Mario Ojemudia WDE cameos.
On offense, it was "is Mealer starting" and "OMG Gardner"… and that was it. Consistency is good.
DL starting Washington? This is tentative, but the first DL set they ran out there was Roh-Washington-Campbell-Black. (IE: Washington at the nose, Campbell at the three-tech.) Beyer also showed up at WDE; Brink was the backup SDE.) Apparently Jerry Montgomery told someone that those guys were the starters as of this instant, but I can't find it. People are talking about it on message boards like it's a real thing, though.
Anyway: they showed the usual nickel package where they lifted the nose tackle types and moved the SAM down to DE and the heavy package where both SAM linebackers are in the game. All was as expected except for a couple snaps in a dime package that they didn't show at all last year.
[UPDATE: Ace points out that this comes from Tom Dienhart's BTN coverage.]
James Ross. Ross was your backup WLB, which isn't much of a surprise with Poole and Ringer hurt. He'll play.
Richard Ash. I kept an eye out for Ash as I'm hoping he can give Michigan some snaps as a rotation DT after he made a couple of nice plays in the spring game. He didn't get in much, if at all, but he certainly looks a lot better conditioned. He used to look like a battleship that had no chance of moving; now he looks relatively trim.
Mealer started. Your first team LG was Mealer.
Chris Wormley. Hasn't had surgery yet for whatever reason.
No Rawls. No idea why. They ran some passing stuff with Justice Hayes that seemed to work pretty well, and did the Vincent Smith throwback screen that always works.
It was good to see football. You're just sitting in the stadium and there's actual snaps being taken in front of you and your lizard brain is going FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL and you're like "I know exactly how you feel, lizard brain."
Heiko takes. Are on the board. FWIW, they ran that hook and ladder a dozen times last year. I think it's just for show.
♪ 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.