"When I call somebody a midget, clearly I'm not trying to insult f---ing midgets. I'm just using basketball terminology."
Left: Walsh. Right: Wormley by Upchurch
A few weeks ago I stumbled onto a 1997 article by Bill Walsh where he explained how he evaluates talent at each position. I then applied those evaluations to Michigan’s offensive personnel, because Borges is supposedly transitioning us to Walsh’s WCO. People requested a defensive version so here you go.
It’s probably not as useful because the closest NFL comparison to the Mattison ideal is the Greg Mattison Ravens. But then when you read about the history of Mattison’s 4-3 under defense, you find (49ers DC under Walsh) George Seifert’s ideas peppered all over. And there’s a reason for that:
Offensive evolution doesn’t matter so much when you’re talking about going back to the offense that dominated 1997. The 4-3 under defense—or whatever you call what Michigan does by shifting the line toward the nearest sideline—is more akin to a 3-4 than the 46 defense Walsh used to deploy against the run-heavy offenses of his day, or the Tampa 2 stuff that owned the period which that article was written.
Walsh’s defensive opinions are geared toward a 3-4, and that’s perfect for our purposes, since the 4-3 under is similar in personnel. When you see it you can see why:
So in we go again. I'm moving right now so I can't do it all in one again. Here's the interior DL and I'll cover linebackers and defensive backs in later weeks.
Dana Stubblefield / Rob Renes / Pipkins via Upchurch
Walsh Says: 6’2, 290. As discussed in the article when I made all the DL recruits into Wii avatars, the NT should have his mass low; a pyramid is more difficult to move than a cube. Like Mattison, Walsh puts the hands at the very top:
Quick, strong hands to grab and pull are critical. This is common with the great tackles. The hands, the arms, the upper body strength and then the quick feet to take advantage of a moving man, just getting him off balance.
The Walsh ideal doesn’t necessarily have to take on doubles. What he looks for is the strength to not get knocked backwards, and the ability to move laterally without giving ground. The best can burrow forward and push a guard into the pocket.
Note that Walsh is inadvertently describing a 4-3 DT more than a 3-4 NT—he’s not asking for a two-gapper who sucks up doubles but a one-gapper who can’t be budged. However the first step to beating spread teams is an NT who requires doubles, since the spread 'n shred's base dive play is most dangerous when an interior OL is releasing into the linebackers.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Rob Renes. NFL scouts want everyone to be Wilfork, but active, stout, and sound come first.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: "Crab person" a la Mike Martin, i.e. he plays low and with great leverage. Strength—opponents can't move him. “Has excellent hands.” Athleticism: Walsh didn’t mention this but guys who are ranked basketball recruits as well seem to have a high success rate; that's obviously a mark of quickness/agility being important.
What you can learn on film: Nose tackle recruits are often so much bigger than the competition that they can terrify offenses without technique. You can learn more from the plays where he flows down the line of scrimmage then makes the play. Leverage. Hands maybe but this seems to be something most will learn in college. It's paywalled (and there's a lot that's 3-techy about him) but if you have a Rivals account go watch Ndamukong Suh's high school film and how he uses his arms to dominate guys off the ball.
What could signal bust potential: We’ve seen our share of planetary objects who get lots of hype because they’re 320-pound creatures who pop average teen OL like so many zits. This is an effort position that scales dramatically with the transition from high school to Big Ten. An athletic man-child has a massive ceiling but is as likely to follow the career path of Richard Ash as that of Johnathan Hankins.
How our guys compare: The expectation here is for Quinton Washington (above-right/Upchurch) to reprise his role at Nose with Ondre Pipkins figuring in as a rotation starter and making appearances at the 3-tech spot as well. Q came to Michigan as a spread-style offensive guard highly sought after by all the right people. His switch to the defensive line was initially a swap with Will Campbell, except Washington stuck with it. It was a painful year and change waiting for him to catch up, made worth it last year when he was a pleasant surprise at nose. Listed at 6'4-300 he's on the plus side of the size curve but not to the degree Campbell was (Suh as a senior was listed at the same size). Where this project is concerned, Hoke seems to have had success in every facet except his stated goal of making Quinton two inches shorter; I like to mention that one of my favorite DTs to watch is Kawaan Short, who was listed at 6'5 as a recruit and 6'3 as a draft prospect. That upper body strength that Walsh covets in his NTs is what made Washington stand out as a recruit and contributes to the success he's had across the line.
left: Q.Wash's UFR totals for 2012. right: Pipkins's. Clicking bigs them.
Ondre Pipkins arrived looking pretty much exactly like an NFL nose tackle—6'3-340—and played pretty much exactly like a true freshman, as you can make out from the UFR chart above. That's technique (i.e. hands) talking—he got minuses for getting scooped and buried and eating doubles, and plus'ed for flashes of mobility.
Richard Ash has two years of eligibility left so you can't write him off yet but he came in a non-mobile planet and had to lose a lot of weight to uncover his playing body. The Walsh measureables are not favorable, at least not yet. The freshman pegged for NT (though either could play either) is probably Maurice Hurst, since he checks nearly every one of Bill's boxes, right down to a listed height-weight of 6'2-290. Mike Farrell on Hurst:
"He has a nice frame that can still add weight but what really stands out about him is his quickness off the ball and his light feet. Hurst beat most of his opponents with his first step and he was able to win the leverage game most of the time as well."
Watching his film you can see the hands (start at 0:48). The knocks are he needs to get lower (on film you immediately see that butt sticking out) and I don't see strength mentioned much. He played running back for his high school and wasn't so big that he could get by on size so Hurst probably appreciates technique. I would guess he needs some time to put on muscle before he can contribute.
[After the jump, moving down the line]
News bullets and other important items:
- Desmond Morgan will play on Saturday and will start.
- Richard Ash and Stephen Hopkins are likely to play.
- Brandon Moore and Brennen Beyer are out.
“Thank you for showing up. I think we had a very good practice yesterday. The tempo was good. The learning was good. I think we played fast and we competed well against each other, so that’s a good sign. I think we’re excited, obviously, to play in a great venue and play great rivalry game. It started in 1887 and [we’ll] continue it and go from there.”
Does the intensity ebb and flow with the varying strength of opponents over the past few weeks or is it consistent?
“You’d like to have it consistent. I can’t say it’s always been consistent, but you’d like the consistency be there every week so you can improve.”
Has it been consistent?
“It’s been decent. I think it was very -- a little more intense, but we’ve been talking about that a lot. The intensity and your focus and your concentration is at a higher level. Your speed of playing the game’s at a higher level. So I think that part of it has been good.”
News bullets and other important things:
- Desmond Morgan and Richard Ash should return this week. Stephen Hopkins seems probable, Brennen Beyer is questionable, and Brandon Moore will be out.
This filter is called "file."
“Thanks for coming. It was good to win on Saturday, obviously. We have a lot that we need to keep doing better. I think we did some things better than we did a week before, but we’re still growing as a team in a lot of ways. We have to improve every week if we want to be the team that we want to be. So we just have to keep making progress from fundamentals, from techniques, everywhere across the board, do a better job up front on both sides of the ball. You’ve heard that many many times before, and you’ll probably continue to hear it. That’s where the game is played, and that’s where it starts, and for us going on the road playing a Notre Dame that’s 3-0 and has played very well -- they’ve been in tight games. They played in East Lansing well, they had a tight game with Purdue, won the football game at the end, so you look at them as a team and their front seven on defense is playing real well together. Disruptive. And offensively I think Everett Golson has done a nice job running the offense, managing it, a lot of tight ends involved, and they’re a good football team. We’re going to have our hands full, and we need to get a lot better as a football team.”
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)