"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
"Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball." — Jourdan Lewis [Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan's 2014 roster includes six proud graduates of Detroit's Cass Tech High School, including four in the secondary alone and a fifth—Royce Jenkins-Stone, Class of 2012—also on the defensive side of the ball. Remarkably, all six are making a serious push for playing time this fall. At Media Day, I caught up with every former Technician on the team save for Delano Hill, who's recovering from a broken jaw, to discuss their current roles on the team, what it's like to be surrounded by their former high school teammates, and much more.
- The defensive backs, to a man, are excited about the new aggressive playing style, as well as the level of competition at corner.
- Terry Richardson feels physically prepared to be out there after adding "a quick 12 to 15 pounds" this offseason.
- Delonte Hollowell was wearing a small cast on his left hand due to an injury suffered from "practicing hard, you know?" He thinks it's just a sprain.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone says Greg Mattison "critiques the little things" more with his new charges at linebacker, and the group is better for it.
- David Dawson, man of mystery, does not want you to know what position he's playing.
- There's competition everywhere.
- Every single one lit up when talking about playing with a big group of other guys from Cass Tech—they clearly share a strong bond with their former and present teammates.
You made a big move in the spring. Heading into the fall, Coach Hoke talked about how you're one of the top three corners. How do you feel you've progressed since last year and what are your expectations for this season in terms of your performance?
Just be aggressive. Just play good. Just keep playing how I'm doing. Just keep the intensity up though the season, pretty much.
There's been a big emphasis on aggressiveness from the cornerbacks. How do you feel that fits in with your style of play, and what's been the biggest change since last year?
It's definitely a big emphasis on being physical, that's how all of us really like to play. Just doing that, just with how we like to play, it's really suiting us. We're actually better as a whole unit.
Because of how aggressive you guys are playing, has the level of competition been raised between the cornerbacks and the receivers right now?
It's just everybody. All of us just love to compete, and it's not even like—the competition, we don't see it [that way], we just see it as "we're gonna just lock this receiver up every chance we get."
There's a bunch of Cass Tech guys on the team, and a lot of them are competing for time. What's it like to be surrounded by your high school teammates at Michigan?
It's amazing. It's amazing just knowing that you've got somebody who has your back through anything. It's really amazing. It brings everybody together, even the ones that didn't go to Cass Tech, it actually helps us all be together and help us be tight as a unit.
[Note: This is where I wrapped up my Q&A; I caught the audio of a couple questions for Lewis from The Wolverine's Chris Balas.]
How much more confident are you from year one to year two?
Confident? I was about the same, but being consistent and comfortable is a key, really. Right now that's all I'm really worried about, just being consistent and being comfortable in my technique in everything we do.
How much more comfortable are you knowing what you know now compared to what you knew a year ago?
It was way faster last year. Now everything's just slowed down for me, and it's just me, I can just play ball.
[Hit THE JUMP for interviews with Terry Richardson, DELONTE HOLLOWELL, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and David Dawson.]
ROTATE [Bryan Fuller]
Per first spring presser:
James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone to SAM. Probably inevitable once Ryan move was announced. Obviously Michigan thinking more along the lines of the Stevie Brown style LB/S hybrid there, as Allen Gant is your other SAM at the moment.
And with this shift comes another:
Hoke said will run more Over defense as opposed to Under.
— Matt Pargoff (@MaizeBlueNews) February 25, 2014
That means the line shifts towards the tight end and the linebackers away. Instead of this:
Last year 5 was Clark, 3 Black, 1 Washington/Pipkins, 5 Heitzman/Beyer, LB Ryan, W Ross, M Morgan.
Michigan will run more of this:
Upshot is the MLB gets significantly more protection, the WLB has to be able to take on more blocks (everyone has to take on blocks) and the SAM can be a lighter player as long as the three-tech and SDE create trouble when single-teamed.
This is a significant change, as you can see by everyone flopping about on the depth charts. While it's not switching to a 3-3-5 and back six times in three years, it does signal uncertainty.
A move to the over does make the Ryan move make a bit more sense but either DE spot is probably a better location for him unless he's suddenly a savant.
Heitzman to TE. With Henry seemingly locking down three-tech that potentially bounces out one of Strobel/Wormley/Godin to SDE, where Brennen Beyer is probably your starter anyway. Heitzman gives Michigan a shot at blocking someone, anyone, and won't be missed.
This would be a good time to remind you that Hoke told the gathered folks at the Detroit Athletic Club that Jake Butt would be back by game three; even if that's a weirdly specific prediction this far out given Jake Ryan's recovery timeine that would be about right.
Shallman to H-back. He wasn't already at H-back?
Ross Douglas to RB. Supposedly had been running there on the scout team and impressing. Michigan does need another bullet there with the loss of Rawls and Toussaint and no recruits filling in the gaps, and meanwhile Ross was at best sixth on the CB depth chart. Kind of doubt he makes much impact this year with Hayes presumably a lot like him and more experienced.
David Dawson to (left) tackle. I'd been telling people Dawson was likely to be the G/T tweener thrust outside by a lack of depth, but even I thought he'd be assigned right tackle duties since he's 6'4". Nope. According to Hoke, the current and incredibly nominal first team line reads Dawson-Bosch-Glasgow-Kalis-Braden.
Erik Magnuson is all but certain to side into that LT spot when he returns, leaving Bosch and Dawson to duke it out on the right. You can read Dawson on the left as an endorsement since that's the most important spot, or you can read Braden on the right as an endorsement since they may expect him to start and want to get him settled in at the position he'll play.
The other guy to watch out for is Patrick Kugler, who could bounce Glasgow out to one of the guard spots and give Michigan some depth.
Logan Tuley-Tillman is out right now, FWIW.
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|Cam Gordon||Sr.*||Desmond Morgan||Jr.||James Ross||So.|
|Jake Ryan||Jr.*||Joe Bolden||So.||Royce Jenkins-Stone||So.|
|Brennen Beyer||Jr.||Mike McCray||Fr.||Ben Gedeon||Fr.|
Stupid ACL injuries wrecking everything… well… some things. Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation and Jake Ryan to cruel fate, but returns everyone else, adds Brennen Beyer from the stacked WDE spot, and welcomes two freshmen. They have a decent amount of experience, a decent amount of depth, and a ton of promise. James Ross figures to blow up; Desmond Morgan's improvement will be more incremental but now he's at a more comfortable position. Joe Bolden gives both a quality backup.
Even at the depleted SAM spot you've got a fifth year senior and true junior who Greg Mattison says are both playing like starters, and then Ryan is supposed to be back by mid-October… or sooner. Could be pretty good here.
These previews had previously split out the middle and weakside linebackers into their own sections, but the obvious interchangeability of the two spots (Desmond Morgan moves from one to the other, Bolden played both last year, supposed MLB Kenny Demens took the bulk of the TE-seam responsibilities) we're combining the two into an inside LB spot. Differences between the two spots exist, but are thin—according to Mattison, "inside is inside."
Morgan will hit ya [Upchurch/MGoBlue.com]
|hit and shed|
|gets in, gets upfield|
|sheds block, slows Bell|
|no more forward for you|
|comes from backside to tackle|
|kind of Ryan-like here|
|lost on counter|
|accepts a block|
|slashed to the ground|
|cut like a mofo|
|read and react|
|nerfs counter draw|
|takes on two blockers|
|sidles all the way|
|shuts down Martinez draw|
DESMOND MORGAN enters his third year as a starter by moving over from the weakside to the middle, as predicted by everyone in the world including myself. This is partly because James Ross demands entry into the starting lineup and partly because Morgan's skillset—thumpin'—was always more suited to the mike. Even when he was at WLB, it was Kenny Demens tasked with following tight ends down the seam. Morgan isn't quite a Sam Sword two-downs-and-out guy, but between he and Ross there's no question who you want dropping into coverage and who you want taking on fullbacks.
The best part of Morgan's game is how running backs stop when he contacts them. Morgan emerged into a bang-you're-dead tackler over the course of the year. Here he takes on a block, sheds it, gets an arm on LeVeon Bell(!), and robs him of most of his momentum:
Michigan would boot State off the field on the ensuing third and short. Having guys like Morgan around makes every first down a battle. Morgan also robbed a Minnesota power back of most of his momentum, amongst other events. Click play and HEAR FOOTBALL!
The guy is a brick.
After his first year this space criticized Morgan's hesitancy (mildly since he was a freshman), something that lasted through the first portion of last season. Michigan would slant the line and get gashed and I eventually pieced together a theory that the linebackers were uncomfortable predicting what would happen on that slant and late to the hole.
As the year progressed (and Washington and Campbell got more reliable with their angles), that tendency receded:
The linebackers are generally more decisive. The Demens see-gap-hit-gap-eat-soul is one part of it; also you can sense Morgan feeling the play behind that. He eases to the playside a bit to give him an edge on someone who might be releasing backside. He's reading the play through, and he shows up to help at the right spot. There's an air of "I am no longer a confused freshman" to him.
Morgan put a lot of previous worries about athleticism to bed last year as he got sideline to sideline effectively and made plays in space against tough customers like Taylor Martinez. Watching his read-and-explode is at times reminiscent of Jake Ryan. At times.
The UFR chart is reflective of this:
|Alabama||5.5||10||-4.5||And this was the best ILB play!|
|Air Force||8||10||-2||Faded late after strong start, thus setting up allfrosh.|
|Notre Dame||5||2||3||Solid tackling day, looked pretty athletic.|
|Purdue||5.5||3.5||2||Overshadowed with +2, is this real life?|
|Illinois||7.5||4.5||3||This is relatively bad!|
|MSU||9||2||7||Remember the athleticism worries with him?|
|Nebraska||11||4||7||Hit Y on leaping bat that became INT.|
|Minnesota||11||5.5||5.5||You stop when he hits you.|
|Northwestern||4||9.5||-5.5||Rough outing with blown assignments; Ross out there on critical last two drives speaks for itself.|
OSU not done, sorry. South Carolina not listed because it was impossible to tell who was who between Morgan and Bolden, and South Carolina ran the tailback five times anyway.
For inside linebackers, anything above zero is generally good. After getting 'Bama'd and having issues against Air Force's triple option, Morgan started a run of six straight positive games—some very much so.
Of course, a couple games after I proclaimed him a star in the Nebraska UFR he got edged and outran all day by Northwestern. Hey, he's just not the best guy to take on Venric Mark. It happens. Moving him to the middle should mitigate those issues.
In year three, Mattison believes that Morgan has the mental and physical ability to be top notch as long as he fixes one issue:
"He's so smart. He can make the checks, and he's strong. That allows him to be able to strike a blow, punch and get off blocks. One thing our linebackers have to work extremely hard on that was a negative for us was there were too many times they ran into blockers and didn't disengage. That's been a big emphasis."
Morgan got consistently better at this as the year rolled along. He's too much of a blue-collar guy to get the sexy TFL stats to be All Big Ten (also, Max Bullough exists) but he should be a consistently plus player who fends off Joe Bolden all year. He will be an asset.
[After THE JUMP: James Ross! Depth! Jake Ryan as Loki! Cam Gordon! More depth!]
Sinestral: Ross, Ryan and Clark|Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog. Dextral: Bill Walsh
First, a Chag Sameach to my fellow tribesmen and a Happy Turtleversary to the wingnuts.
We now continue with the Bill Walshian rundown of the 2013 roster. Since Michigan's offense and defense schemes are kindred spirits of the great 49er teams of the '80s, I've found it somewhat useful to re-scout Michigan's players on the same factors that the legendary coach used to evaluate his draft picks. How do we know what Walsh drafted on? Well wouldn'tchya know it, he provided it in a 1997 article for Pro Sports Exchange that Chris Brown (Smart Football) discovered.
Bruce Smith/ James Hall / Frank Clark by Upchurch
Walsh Says: 6'5/270 or 6'3/245 depending on type. It's complicated so I'm going to spend some extra time here. His DE descriptions bounced between what you want from 3-4 DEs, which is the 3- and 5-tech in Michigan's defense, and pure pass rushers. Ultimately Michigan's WDE is closer to the pass-rush-specialist-who-stops-runs-too job description of a Walshian 3-4 weakside linebacker than a blocker-sucking interior DL, so they go here with the LBs. Speed and quickness are now very much in play:
Must have explosive movement and the ability to cover ground quickly in three to five yards of space. The ability to get your shoulder past the shoulder of the tackle. This makes for a pass rusher. With that there is quickness because it sets up a lot of other things.
From the outside linebackers description we get this:
These pass rushing outside linebackers must have natural gifts, or instincts for dealing with offensive tackles who are up to 100 pounds heavier. Quickness is only part of it. They must know how to use leverage, how to get underneath the larger man's pads and work back toward the quarterback. And he must be strong enough to bounce off blocks and still make the play.
The rush DE needs to have some finesse. This site never misses an opportunity to knock on Will Gholston so I'll do that: Gholston has more than enough explosion and strength, and is an excellent tackler but the big hole in his game is he doesn't get leverage or bounce off blocks. This is why State deployed him mostly SDE this year while Marcus Rush was the premier pass rusher. Walsh says it's all the same if you can push a tackle as go around him, but being an okay jack of all trades here isn't as valuable as being super disruptive at one or the other.
Overall strength is important. You don't have to be a Mike Martin beastmonster in the weight room but a WDE has to be strong enough to not get turned by the tackle. This is also a technique issue though it's not a skill that needs years to develop—a big sophomore year leap is expected at this position as the kid gains weight, strength, and the footwork and balance to be able to keep his shoulders pointed toward the football.
As echoed in Mattison's statements in 2011 regarding WDEs, Walsh calls his rush DEs "the substance off the defensive team" since their ability to put pressure on the quarterback can make or break a defense. This is why great DEs are at such a premium in today's NFL.
The last piece is willpower, which in scouting parlance becomes "high motor." WDEs typically get rotated a lot because they burn a gazillion calories on each play. Because this spot is supposed to win 1-on-1 battles and kill plays himself, success on the second and third moves can make a huge difference.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: If James Hall and Larry Stevens had a baby, and that baby came out 6'5/260 and immediately ate the doctor. Michigan just hasn't had the freaks here unless you count Woodley and I'm saving him. Stevens didn't have the sacks but generated hurries. And Hall: because he's 6'2 every scout from the early recruiting years to modern NFL trade talkers underrates him, despite consistent production at every level. Hall is second (to Graham) in career sacks and 6th in TFLs among Wolverines and was the 1997 team's secret weapon. Both guys were often extolled for their virtues under the hood.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: EXPLOSIONS! I know I said this for SDE but even more so. You know these guys on sight because the innate quickness and strength makes them terrors against high schoolers. Skipping over the blue chips (or like Ra'Shede Hageman who would have been a blue chip if he accepted Florida's offer to play DE rather than Minnesota's offer of tight end) 3-stars who shine seem to have athletic tickmarks or the proverbial motor. I noticed some of the big performers from high school All-American games (Ray Drew, Alex Okafor, a million dudes who went to Florida) tend to fare well—about the worst among Army game standouts of yore was Victor Abiamiri, who was still pretty good. The pushers had ridiculous squats (Simon's was 700!)
What you can learn on film: How fast he gets into the backfield, adjusted for competition. You're looking for that quick burst. The great ones just look completely unblockable—like the guy blocking him doesn't seem to have any leverage.
What could signal bust potential: Size. Rivals tends to put its favorite DEs at "SDE" for this reason. If you browse through the five-stars you generally find two categories: high-effort guys who were early contributors and are or are on track to be NFL draft picks at defensive end, and Pierre Woods/Shawn Crable-like linebackers whose recruiting profiles said they would grow into Jevon Kearse. There's a reason they called Kearse "the freak."
How our guys compare: Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer are the two sides of the WDE coin. This refrain from MGoBlog is becoming tiresome but Beyer seems the stronger and more responsible one and Clark is the greater X-factor. We overplay this; both would still fall more into the finesse side than, say, John Simon, and both seem to top out as useful but not stars.
Ojemudia is kind of a James Hall but more akin to Shantee Orr. Where James Hall was small but had the size to stand up to a good shove when needed, here you have a dude with explosiveness and great hands for pass rushing but is going to be dead meat if doubled and run at, and is therefore best deployed as a 3rd down or [blank]-and-long specialist.
Early enrollee Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton, who's already 6'6/265 on Michigan's spring roster, is the closest thing to Walshian dreams. On film though a lot of times you just see him blowing something up because they didn't block him, and though this probably had a lot to do with being way bigger than high school tackles in Central Ohio he didn't play with much leverage after the snap. The reason for all the Tacoptimism is he blew up the camp circuit. He probably still needs a year to work on technique since he spent most of high school in a 2-point stance. Warning: he doesn't check the motor box.
[Linebackers, after a leap.]
- Jerald Robinson has left the team.
- Craig Roh had a bit of a "sore shoulder." Me too, although mine is from pipetting too much. Probably the same thing.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing middle linebacker, not SAM.
- Dennis Norfleet is playing corner, not safety.
- None of the redshirting freshmen OL have practiced at center. Right now the heir apparent to Elliott Mealer is Jack Miller, followed by Graham Glasgow.
“Before I get started talking about what we’re doing and everything, I think our thoughts and prayers go out to those in Connecticut, with that tragedy that happened. It’s unfortunate, and we just want to have them in our prayers, those families that were affected, and the senselessness of what happened.
“With that being said, we got back after today, we had a good practice. This time of year it gets a little dicey because you’re juggling some finals. There’s some guys who had finals but not very many of them that couldn’t be there, so you go through all those kinds of things, and find the times that we can. We’ll go tomorrow morning, and then we’ll go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I like how they’ve come out. I know they’ve had good weeks with lifting and running and technique work and those things, so it’s all be real positive.”
The media has made a big deal about the 12 freshmen that have already played this season, mainly viewing it as a sign that the team is in bad shape. I think it's mainly because the 2012 recruiting class was so good, not because the returning players are performing poorly.
Guys like Funchess, Norfleet and James Ross would find some playing time on most teams. I don't see many Ray Vinopals out there - players only burning a redshirt because the depth chart at the position is a tire fire. Yet another interpretation is that it is a reflection of Brady Hoke's philosophy which differs from past coaches. I recall that you didn't expect so many to play. How did you interpret the situation?
Class of 2005
The twelve who have seen the field grouped into categories:
JUST THAT GOOD: Norfleet (at least in the context of KR), Funchess.
STANDARD-ISSUE GROOMING: Darboh, Wilson, Pipkins
GROOMING TOO BUT PROMINENCE IS WORRYING: Bolden, Ross
BAD SIGNS: Williams, Ojemudia, Richardson.
WTF: Jenkins-Stone, Houma.
Ideally you wouldn't have Demens's job under threat in his third year as a starter, wouldn't be playing a true freshman blocking TE who was a tackle last year, and would tell Ojemudia and Richardson to eat a bunch of lard and talk to me when you've put on 30 pounds. Everyone else is about what you'd expect.
I'm not surprised most of these guys are all seeing time. I thought Ojemudia would be forced onto the field because of Clark's issues; those turned out to be less severe than they might have been but Beyer's injury still forced M's hand there. After I predicted a redshirt in Richardson's recruiting profile, Michigan saw two corners leave the team and a third go down for the year, plus Avery has/had back issues. They need to have him out there. With four corners in the next recruiting class they don't absolutely need to have him get that fifth year.
The two real surprises are RJS and Houma, but while they're irritatingly burning redshirts so they can watch Matt Wile pound kickoffs into the endzone their presence on special teams doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things.
[after the jump: more redshirts! sexy packaged plays! A dinosaur!]