Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
Remember that one run that maize Michigan had against blue Michigan? It'll come to you: it was the one when the offense gained yards by running the ball. I mean forward yards, not the sideways stretch things. You know the one on the very first snap of the Spring Game that Ace giffed:
There wasn't much else from the Spring Game to pull out so I thought it would be fun to pick this one apart as a very vanilla example of Harbaugh's Power offense, and Durkin's gap-attacking with speed defense, and where various players are in it.
I also disagree with Brian on what caused this to happen. He gave RJS credit for fighting A.J. Williams to a draw and blamed Desmond Morgan for biting the running back's initial outside cut. Those things happened, but in the context of Durkin's defense I think Jenkins-Stone is mostly at fault for not being aggressive enough. In 4-3 world a tie is a loss.
What the offense was thinking. Here's the design:
This is Power O, the most base play of Harbaughffense, from a base formation for running it. The first play of the game, there was nothing tricky about it—the offense lined up where they snapped except (off camera) Chesson went in motion. You may remember this play from such offenses as Stanford under Harbaugh, and what Borges and Hoke wanted to run with two years of eligibility left on Denard Robinson. Well-defended it ends however far down the field the offense's bodies managed to move the defense's bodies. This wasn't well defended, as we shall see after…
3-4, 4-3, etc etc
I've said this before and I'll probably say it again several times before the season starts: Michigan is not likely to be moving to a traditional 3-4 system. Nor will they spend a lot of time implementing a traditional 3-4 to mix in with a 4-3. The time commitment to do so is prohibitive at the college level, and the kind of personnel who can effectively do both are too rare.
So what's with all the discussion about moving to a 3-4? It comes from the top, as this Sam Webb interview with Marcus Ray indicates:
Sam Webb: Michigan is telling kids that they are going to be basically 50/50 as far as 3-4, 4-3. As best you can without having a visual aid or a grease board, explain to people, how that will come to pass and why Michigan is saying that, why that makes sense.
Ray describes the 4-3 under as something that could be looked at as a 5-2…
Brennen Beyer, the stand-up SAM in this picture, bounced between SAM and DE for his career
…and says that a 3-4 can look a lot like the under. Both accurate, and as I've mentioned before you can look at the under as a defense halfway between the traditional Miami-style 4-3 even/over and a 3-4.
But I think the distinction here is a bit of a red herring. I asked Spencer Hall what Florida ran last year and he replied it was a 4-3 with a standup end (Dante Fowler); my observations of the Florida defense rarely encounter a nose tackle lined up directly over the center. He's almost always in a gap.
Could it shade to a 3-4? Sure, I guess. Why would they do that? There are two reasons:
- To run a 3-4! Obviously.
- To disguise their 4-3. Gap-sound unpredictability is a major goal of all defenses. Putting a nose tackle over the center gives him an advantage if he's going to slant one way or the other, but the idea is still the same: get in a gap.
"If you line up in that A gap or that center believes that they know you have this gap then it is easier for them to block you because you‘re more of a standing target, they know what gap you’re responsible for, but in that 30 front, you can slant and angle in either way. They don’t know which gap you are responsible for and they have to guess and try to figure it out once the ball is snapped, but it gives the D-lineman the flexibility to go either way. And then let the truth be told, in that same 30 front, if you have a noseguard that is lined up right over the center and he slants to the strong side, then that is technically going back to under. If that noseguard slants to the weak side, in the weak side A gap, then that technically puts you in an over front, because the entire front has to shift along with him, so now that gives you some 4-3 flexibility from a 30 front if you just slant and angle, it puts you right into a 4-3 defense.”
If you believe that Ryan Glasgow will hold the nose tackle job, a 30 front featuring him is an undeclared 4-3. Michigan doesn't have a Nix or a Gabe Watson to hold down the middle of that defense and two-gap the center unless Ondre Pipkins goes from afterthought to superstar in his final year or Bryan Mone is terrific as a sophomore.
Michigan may run a bunch of different fronts but at its heart the defense is probably a 4-3. And judging from Florida last year it's not going to seem that much different than Mattison's fronts.
Lawrence Marshall is a name to watch. [Bryan Fuller]
Anyway this is all a lead-in to an assertion that for now I'm still assuming Michigan has a traditional 4-3 look this fall and I won't be changing up the nomenclature yet.
If and when we get enough data to do so it looks like the first change will be at WDE, which Florida folks sometimes call "drop end." Reports hold that Mario Ojemudia and Lawrence Marshall are frequently in a two point stance—something Marshall had never done and was taking some time adjusting to—this fall. Again, this gives the impression of a 3-4. In my mind it's taking the Mattison 4-3 under a half-step towards a 3-4 but whatever.
Marshall is doing well. His athleticism stands out and he's already about as big as Ojemudia. Ojemudia had to put on a bunch of weight and topped out around 250; unfortunately he hasn't displayed the explosiveness he had in high school at the bulkier number. A platoon is certain… unless Marshall wrests the job away and Ojemudia is again called upon to be a guy who plays spot downs to rest the starter. Michigan is trying out the occasional linebacker there as well, with Royce Jenkins-Stone the most prominent.
The other three spots have seen a ton of rotation, some of it involuntary. Injuries have held out big chunks of the line for a practice or three. When present, Willie Henry has been impressive. Chris Wormley is playing SDE again($), which makes sense given the depth chart (especially with Henry Poggi trying his hand at TE, and double especially if Michigan is moving back to more of an under). 4-3 under SDE is a better fit for him, as he can be that RVB type with a bit more pass rush.
There's as of yet no movement away from the presumed lineup of senior starters: Ross, Morgan, Bolden. With Greg Mattison still around I'm not surprised. 247 does mention a competitor to the presumed starters($):
[Ben] Gedeon has popped out early as a potential contributor in this year's defense. He has potentially the best combination of size, athleticism and intelligence at the position and it might turn into a situation where it's difficult to keep him off the field. For the second straight season, linebacker may be Michigan's deepest position, so if he stays on the field consistently, it will be because he's turned into a good to great player.
Scout also mentioned Gedeon as a potential breakout performer.
True junior Gedeon is a prime member of Team Why U No Redshirt who needs to start making an impact now. Michigan has rotated extensively in the past—not so much last year—and I expect he'll get playing time almost in line with the starters.
That is about all the chatter, with Ross/Bolden/Morgan the presumed starters. They look good when the DL isn't having them catch blocks all day, which has been something of an issue since a lot of guys have been out.
There have been plenty of reports on Jabrill Peppers, who is looking like the Jabrill Peppers everyone dreamed about when he committed. Peppers bounces from safety to nickelback and looks like Jabrill Peppers should. He is taking ownership of his unit even as a sophomore:
"He's a high energy, high motor guy and he's going to talk trash," Countess said last week. "And he's going to get everybody going. He's been one of those guys you want on the field.
"Even if he has a bad play, he's going to let you know. And if he has a good play, he's definitely going to let you know."
Countess loves the energy and the intent. But when asked if there is ever a time when he'd like to have the ability to quiet his younger teammate, he's quick with an answer.
"I love it," he says with a smile. "He says the stuff that I don't say, but everybody's thinking."
As Michigan State demonstrated last year, one of the most important positions on the field as an aggressive defense going up against spread offenses is the slot-side safety. He often gets tested deep in cover four.
It'll be interesting to see how Michigan aligns. I'm guessing Peppers just gets the field side as they rely on the restricted space to help Jarrod Wilson out. An observer from the coaching clinic did note that Peppers is usually "aligning to pass strength," so that is encouraging in terms of keeping Wilson in a FS-ish role he's comfortable with and maximally utilizing Peppers's skills.
Jourdan Lewis is also drawing consistent praise. He was Michigan's #1 corner by midseason last year, passing both Countess and Taylor; it sounds like he has picked up where he left off plus a little bit of tackling strength. With Blake Countess set to be a four-year starter the top four guys in the secondary are pretty set. The main question is: can Countess bounce back from some rough times last year and play man to man? 247 has heard he is in "lockdown" mode, so there's that. I'm reserving judgment.
Freddy Canteen is getting a few reps at CB, so… that's odd. Harbaugh loves flipping guys around to see what they can do, and Canteen is a guy who could theoretically be a good corner. Doubt it sticks, but whatever.
I realize Strobel got one. Find a better photo then, pickers of nits.
This has to be talked about. Hoke left a roster that was in relatively good shape considering all the highly rated players who had to stick through some awful program degradation. He signed good classes, and those classes have by and large stuck around and fulfilled their academic duties. But an inordinate amount of them inexplicably didn't redshirt, and because of this there are some holes on the horizon.
I'm sure there are explanations in many of these cases that we are not party to. It's only the sheer volume of head-scratching non-redshirts under Hoke that gives us reason to call all of them into question. Like how I'm sure there are legit medical hardship waivers that occur at Alabama but [graph].
Some guys the coaches were forced to play early, and there's no need to discuss them beyond a mention as such, e.g. Jabrill Peppers. Mason Cole outcompeted a pile of guys to start at left tackle last season. That sort of thing gets a full pass. Beyond that, I've broken each Hoke class into categories of increasing argh:
- WTF. Wasting redshirts on special teams and dime back when last year's dime back is on the bench.
- Pick ONE. Needed bodies at this position, but not all the bodies. Battles for 2nd on the depth chart should be resolved in time for the ultimate loser to have a 5th year as consolation.
- Need the dudes (and other things I don't blame on the coaches). Immediate starters or guys who played because Michigan sorely needed his body and his pulse at that position.
Names that should have redshirted are in red.
Class of 2011
Did you really need both, 2011? [Upchurch]
Hoke arrived to an offensive machine with two years of eligibility remaining, and a nightmare defense of guys who couldn't displace recent departures like Jonas Mouton, Ray Vinopal, Adam Patterson, Greg Banks, and James Rogers. The immediate need was obvious and Hoke rightfully set about recruiting freshmen who could fill those roles. So I'll give him a pass for some of it.
|Hollowell's 2011 contribution was more than scooping up a fumbled kickoff against VT, but it was also more than Ray Taylor's. [Melanie Maxwell|AnnArbor.com]|
Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell. The year following the Never Forget defensive backfield, Hoke recruited five likely cornerbacks: Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Delonte Hollowell, Tamani Carter (redshirted, transferred before 2012), and Greg Brown (early enrollee, transferred before 2011 season). The roster still had J.T. Floyd, Courtney Avery and Terrence Talbott (left program summer before 2012 season), available. In a pinch, Troy Woolfolk could have converted back when Thomas Gordon won the free safety job. At least one, and probably two true freshmen would have to play.
It immediately became apparent that one would be Countess. So to fill out the two deep they would need to burn Taylor or Hollowell's shirt. Hollowell arrived as the quintessential Cass Tech mite corner. The guy was 164 pounds, but saw some action at dime back vs. Nebraska, and recovered the fumble at the end of the first half. Taylor had two tackles and a personal foul.
Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. Going into the season Beyer was a SAM and Clark a WDE. The difference between those positions in Michigan's 4-3 under was not very great, particularly because when Beyer was inserted it was for a 5-2 look. The WDE's depth chart was Craig Roh and Jibreel Black; SAM was Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon. The reason I say one would have played anyway is the rush end position has a lot rotation, and Black was already the starter in the nickel formation.
There wasn't much to differentiate the two in aggregate play; Beyer was the more consistent, Clark the more explosive. The coaches chose to have them compete through the year instead of preserving one. Had they done so Beyer was the obvious choice despite Clark's higher ceiling. Beyer was smaller and Michigan had Roh to be a more solid edge defender, but only Clark to be a merchant of chaos (remember the Sugar Bowl interception). On the other hand Frank had a rough history before Glenville, and could have used an adjustment season. Either way he would have been dismissed after last year's incident.
Needed dudes etc.
Blake Countess and Desmond Morgan won starting jobs on the 2011 defensive reclamation project. They also both would lose a season to injury so we have them back yay. Thomas Rawls I'm not broken up about, though he will be a pretty good MAC back this year. RBs usually have most of the "it" they ever will as freshmen, and if they do become long-term starters the toll it takes on their bodies means they're often better off moving through their careers early. A redshirt year can make a guy a better blocker, or put some distance between a good back and his heir, or let a smaller guy fill in. Matt Wile is a special pass even though they wasted his redshirt on kickoff duties (and punting during Hagerup's first suspension). I learned recently that Wile made it clear from the start he intended to graduate in four years and do engineering things.
[Save your anger for after the jump.]
"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!]