there would have to be some to wash away
Via Hail to the Blue in the comments, "The softball team is in action today, tomorrow, and Sunday in Lafayette, LA at the Ragin' Cajun Invitational. Follow @umichsoftball on Twitter for live updates. Couple of tough games against UL-Lafayette today and tomorrow down here."
Pitchers and Catchers! There used to be a day sometime in the late summer every year when I start to get really excited about football. This tingling would progress to a low hum when practices started up, and would be a spinal vibration by the time I'm racing into the stadium for whatever MACrifice we're starting against. I miss that. Last year we were doing the basketball book so August was just a bleary eyed gauntlet, and the year before the season started in Jerryworld. This year I already know that excitement will be damped down by a month's worth of reliving The Horror.
Pitchers and catchers reporting isn't so much an event, or even a day on the calendar, as it is a metaphor: It is the day that winter's back begins to break; a promise that day follows night.
|9||W All Track Combined||$141,452|
You can't dampen pitchers and catchers day, not when Omar Infante is the rookie you're praying will lead the offense, not you're seeing his back plus Prince Fielder's and your 4th best pitcher's because the expense of being so awesome has passed what awesome can net.
Sorry, this is supposed to be about Michigan not the Tigers. Ah but it is, for it's a lead-in to Raoul's comprehensive preview of Michigan's baseball team. It's still tough for a northern team to be more than a good mid-major in this sport, but Bakich seems to have Michigan heading in that direction.
When baseball is really good (e.g. their 2006 run) they're the fourth sport in these parts. Are they Michigan's true #4 sport? There was a interesting thread this week where the question of that sport's identity was posed by Wolverine Devotee. To that discussion I added the list at right from Michigan's Title IX reporting. Some of those teams (like lacrosse) are benefiting more from ticket sales/TV revenue generated by opponents' fans. I tried to compare where each stands among other universities, but many schools lie their asses off in those reports regarding women's sports revenues, for example West Virginia says their W Track & Field team takes in what Michigan's hockey team does. My guess is this gets them around a Title IX provision but I don't know which. Either way it makes the stats useless.
As for Michigan's fourth sport, I still think it's softball.
My bloody valentine. Sunday there will be a whole bunch of recruits who don't have drivers licenses yet watching the Wisconsin game at Crisler. Next week there will be a large and star-heavy group of those who can drive, and who can also say things like "I'm committing to Michigan," say, for example, if they were suddenly taken by a wave of euphoria that might accompany an effective conference title clinch over a rival. This is not crazy; it has happened before. Go make our football team good, basketball.
FWIW HopeInHoke's diary shows winning the conference from here is possible, but nowhere near a certainty. MSU's only road loss in-conference is to Wisconsin; remember when that was a thing we used to just chalk up to "happens to everyone"? LSA's weekly stats report shows Michigan's superior to an average of remaining opponents in everything but rebounding.
[After the jump: things Marcus Ray et al. say about Michigan's 2014 secondary]
Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.
Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster
It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either
the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.
Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.
Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.
It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.
Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.
Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.
[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.|
|Courtney Avery||Sr.||Thomas Gordon||Sr.*|
|Jarrod Wilson||So.||Josh Furman||Jr.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Fr.*||Delano Hill||Fr.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
Well, here it is. Michigan has lost Jordan Kovacs and the replacement derby has gone about as poorly as it could have. Jarrod Wilson was the guy they wanted to take the job and has not done so; Michigan moved a 5'9" slot cornerback back to safety because they had more faith in that guy knowing the defense than Wilson, and then that guy got hurt in a way that is not the way that he is perpetually hurt.
So… yeah, at least we'll have a good perspective on how valuable Jordan Kovacs was?
LET'S PULL THE BAND-AID OFF FIRST. The free safety slot is currently a competition between JARROD WILSON [recruiting profile] and COURTNEY AVERY that has gone to Wilson by default early because of arthroscopic surgery for Avery. Avery's only supposed to miss two games.
This preview projects that Avery will be the starter upon his healthy return, for various reasons. These are mostly about Wilson, so I guess we'll address him first. When Michigan moved him into the starting lineup last year in the bowl game, pain followed. Unless the entire rest of the defense was wrong on, Wilson was the culprit on a 70-yard South Carolina pass…
Wilson is on the numbers at the 40. He is supposed to be offscreen(!) to the right
…and the game winner…
it's called CENTER field
…in situations where it was just flat-out blowing simple centerfield assignments. We've made a lot of allowances for freshman whatsit in these previews, but Wilson hasn't done anything positive so far—literally. The only thing he charted on last year before infinite minuses in the bowl game was a critical, legit pass interference penalty on Tyler Eifert in the Notre Dame game. (That was third and goal. Ouch.)
And then there's the late move. When it leaked into the media, Hoke was of course asked about it:
MGoQuestion: What does Jarrod Wilson have to do to solidify his spot at safety?
"He's got to have production."
MGoFollowup: Have you been worried about his lack of production?
"No, we just think that we have good competition and there's guys having some production. He's got to have more."
This is terrifying because at safety, "production" means not doing things like those pictures above. Compounding the terror somewhat is that Wilson enrolled early and should be less raw, more familiar with the defense, etc.
You can hold onto this, I guess?
Do you have an idea who might start Saturday at this point?
"You know, I think Jarrod [Wilson]'s had a nice last two weeks of fall. I think the pressure that was put on him by other guys ... Josh Furman's improved. I would say Jarrod probably."
Does that make you feel good? If so, give me some of your enjoyment.
Okay, okay: Wilson does have some experience and safety is not a kind spot for freshmen. As a recruit, his frame and size got him a lot of nice offers, including Penn State, Notre Dame, and Stanford. Kovacs said he'd picked the defense up fast last year…
“He’s come in and picked up the defense really, really well. That’s one of the things he’s got the football smarts and as a defensive back you really need that,” Kovacs said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are things he needs to get cleaned up and improved on, but I’m definitely impressed with how much he’s progressed and how good of a ballplayer he is as a senior in high school. He has a lot more time here and I expect big things in the future.”
…and while that doesn't seem… you know… true, we are extrapolating from limited data here to wave our doomy fingers of doom. It could work out! Yeah!
[After THE JUMP: Courtney Avery trying to come back, Thomas Gordon definitely doing so, and dodgy depth.]
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]
A few rows in front of me at the Western game was one of those guys who exasperatedly yells out a piece of football wisdom he's picked up over the years whenever he is affronted by its lack. His wisdom was "turn around for the ball," which he yelled at Herron a couple times and the cornerbacks a couple times.
I was with him, but then a funny thing happened: no one could complete a fly route on these mediocre corners. Here's everything I've got marked fly/go/fade (which I am totally inconsistent about) from the first two weeks:
|Opp||Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|WMU||M25||2||12||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||6||Fly||Floyd||Inc|
|Demens's delayed blitz gets him in free(pressure +1, RPS +1) but I wonder if he didn't time it quite right. Another step and Carder is seriously harried. As it is he gets off an accurate deep ball on Floyd's guy, who's got a step. Floyd runs his ass off, starts tugging jersey early, and... I'll be damned. He strips the ball loose(+2, cover +1). That was textbook. Gibson -1.|
|WMU||M19||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel Eff It||7||Fly||Avery||Inc|
|Sends: house. Obviously something gets through(pressure +1); Carder chucks it deep to a fly route Avery(+2, cover +1) has step for step. He's right in the WR's chest as he goes up for the ball. WR leaps, then reaches out and low in an attempt to stab the ball. Avery rakes it out. Gibson -2. Demens(+1) leveled Carder, BTW.|
|Opp||Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|ND||O36||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||5||Fade||Woolfolk||Inc|
|Hawthorne as a standup DE-ish thing and Ryan as an MLB. Blitz telegraphed? I don't remember this play. Survey says... yes. Ryan blitzes, Hawthorne drops into coverage, ND picks it up. Rees wants Floyd on a fade covered by Woolfolk. Woolfolk(+2) is step for step and uses his club to knock the ball away as it arrives. Robinson(+0.5) was there to whack him, too. (Cover +1)|
|ND||O44||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||4||Fade||Avery||Inc (Pen 15)|
|No question about this. Avery shoves Floyd OOB on a very catchable fade (-2, cover -1).|
|Floyd on Floyd action. Floyd(+1, cover +1) has excellent, blanketing coverage on Floyd but the back shoulder throw is perfect and his hand is a half-second late. Floyd stabs a foot down and Floyd can't do much other than ride him out of bounds. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. This is one of those times. That is hard. That is why Floyd (not our Floyd) is going to be rich in about nine months.|
|ND||M21||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Okie||5||Fade||Van Bergen||Inc|
|They back out the MLBs this time and send the DL plus the OLBs. RVB(+1, pressure +2, RPS +2) is instantly past the G assigned to him because of a poor pickup; Rees chucks a ball off his back foot that's not catchable. Eifert gives it a go, though.|
|ND||M16||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||5||Fade||Floyd||Inc|
|Floyd(+2, cover +1) in press here and stays step-for-step with Floyd on the fade, breaking it up as it arrives. Fade is not well thrown, which helps.|
|ND||M22||2||2||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||5||Fade||Avery||Inc (Pen 15)|
|Kovacs rolls up; check. They take advantage of the man to man to take a shot at the endzone. Avery(+1, cover +1) is right in the WR's face as the ball comes in; it's low and to the outside and Avery can't do anything about the futile one-handed stab the WR makes, but it's a futile one-handed stab. Avery is hit with a terrible PI flag (refs -1)|
|ND||O39||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||5||Fade||Floyd||Inc (Pen 15)|
|Hawthorne(+1, pressure +1) gets a free run at Rees so he chucks it to Floyd, Floyd(-2, cover -2) is beaten instantly and starts yanking the jersey in a desperate bid to not be an instant goat.|
|Miscommunication between QB and receiver means pass is nowhere near anyone. Blitz was just getting home.|
Your score excluding the miscommunication: two legit pass interference penalties, one horsecrap call, one 26-yard completion to Michael Floyd, five incompletions. What's more, in each case save one pressure-forced incompletion and the two legit PI calls the corners are 1) there and 2) making a play on the ball.
That's seven out of nine legitimately good plays from the DBs on accurate deep balls. On all but one—the legit Avery PI—the corners were on an island as Mattison sent at least five. No bracket here. The Avery PI was a zone, the rest of it was man coverage, much of it press.
Michigan's press-ish coverage success in fly routes in 2011 including a game against Michael Floyd: 88%. The exception was virtually unstoppable and still drew a plus from the ol' softie who does these things. That's miraculous in last year's context. Hell, it's miraculous in a lot of contexts. How has this happened?
Michigan Press Coverage As Explained By Underpants Gnomes
STEP 1: Line up a yard off the LOS with inside leverage.
STEP 2: When receiver releases outside, turn hips and run with him real fast.
STEP 3: NOBODY CARES WHEN RECEIVER LOOKS FOR BALL
STEP 4: NOBODY CARES!
STEP 5: When receiver reaches up for ball, punch him in the face.
OPTIONAL: grab his jersey a bit and get away with it
OPTIONAL: scream SHORYUKEN.
STEP 6: Profit: arm-waving motions indicating that the pass was incomplete.
OPTIONAL: shake head to indicate "no."
OPTIONAL: pick up horsecrap pass interference call.
Floyd on Floyd action:
Avery on Jones action:
Why it works. That whole find-the-ball thing is hard. Todd Howard was coached to do it but always did it late, whipping his head around just in time to see the ball zing by. When you do that you've given yourself an even tougher job than the WR, who's been tracking the thing since it left the QB's hand. Lots can go wrong there. He can slow up and you bowl him over. He can slow up on a deliberately underthrown ball. He can slow, then extend a la Manningham. Or you can just not find the ball quickly enough.
In contrast, the shoryuken technique seems pretty easy. Focus on the WR's chest. When his arms go up, get your arms/head/body in between those arms. Faceguard the guy for bonus points. Net result: incompletion or spectacular Prothro-style catch. Mostly the former.
It's hard to get lost because you're following the WR's chest everywhere, and the only bomb you can't defend is the one that's just past your outstretched arms. That's hard to throw and hard to catch.
Gibson –8. Two games in I am a believer in Tony Gibson Was The Worst. These are the same guys as last year making these plays. Notre Dame clearly identified these fades as a weakness to exploit, especially in press coverage, but got little out of them. If you discount the Avery PI, on the eight fade attempts against press coverage opponents got 41 yards, just over five yards per attempt. Even if you count the Avery PI that hops up to 6.9 YPA—still worse than the NCAA average of 7.2 YPA.
Compare that to last year, when even doing something right meant you did something wrong:
Small sample size disclaimers apply, but Tony Gibson? The worst.
Downsides and low upsides. So this style of coverage seems pretty effective, obviously. There are two major downsides to my eyes:
- Low upside. Since you are never looking for the ball you are highly unlikely to intercept it.
- A tendency to pick up PI calls. Refs give you more leeway when you are looking for the ball. Bumping a guy with your back to the ball is always going to be an issue, but you can get away with "look and lean," as Spielman calls it.
I'm a little concerned about our corners' speed when asked to run real fast. Against Western Floyd gave up a yard or two of separation to a MAC receiver on his successful fly defense; in the second clip above it kind of feels like on a longer route Jones will pull away from Avery. Those are hypotheticals, though, and whatever limitations of Floyd and Avery have do not currently include a tendency to get burned deep.
This allows cool stuff. Michigan can press with one high safety because of this, which opens up the blitz possibilities that produce big plays. While the coverage style precludes big plays from the cornerbacks it allows them from other parts of the defense, and those big plays are bigger. What would you rather have, an interception 30 yards downfield or the quarterback fumbling the ball?
Tony Gibson. The worst!
Taking stock during the bye week.
People thought I was depressive when the secondary preview started "what's the point of anything?"
WHO'S DEPRESSIVE NOW!?!?! YEAHHHHH. Score one for cold-eyed realism. This could be the worst secondary in a BCS conference. It's definitely the worst in Michigan history.
Anyway, cornerback got a 1 and I thought about breaking the rules to go lower:
Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
Some vague hopes were offered for JT Floyd despite his ugly, brief tenure as the starter opposite Donovan Warren once Boubacar Cissoko went ham. These were based on constant positive reinforcement from the coaches and the occasional mysterious practice observer, with the latter given more credence because they didn't have an obvious ulterior motive. "Average" was the "best anyone could hope for," though.
Opposite Floyd I took a wild guess that Cullen Christian would end up starting—if not immediately by the time the Big Ten season hit—because he was the most highly-touted recruit and was not James Rogers. Avery and Talbott were regarded as basically identical recruits who needed a year and 20 pounds before seeing the field. They wouldn't be allowed that luxury.
At safety 2 was offered, "generously." Jordan Kovacs was said to be totally incapable of playing a deep half but "pretty good as a tiny linebacker." In sum:
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety, Cam Gordon was named the Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype. The usual accolades were relayed, the thing about how he should probably be a linebacker mentioned, and a projection of a sort offered:
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. … Repeating [Brandon Englemon's] +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Fast forward to NOW!
nothing really matters… anyone can see… that nothing really matters to meeeeeeeeeee
Depressingly accurate overall even considering the original depression that was depressing. Michigan is 118th in pass defense and 94th in efficiency.
Maybe the corners have been slightly less atrocious than expected, but Michigan's been limited when they try to play man coverage because things like Iowa's last touchdown happen when they do. On that play, Michigan sent the house and JT Floyd gave up a slant despite starting with inside leverage. They make plays on occasion, but lord they're not good. Michigan's defense is limited in the same way their offense was in 2008—with deficiencies that severe man coverage is a dangerous gamble every time it's deployed.
Floyd is significantly improved, so there's that. He's still below average. He's not a total liability. On the other side, Michigan hasn't been able to displace Rogers despite his tendency to go into anaphylactic shock whenever he comes within five yards of an opponent wide receiver…
OH MY GOD WHAT DID YOU DO BATHE IN CAT HAIR
…because the freshmen have been playing like typical three-star true freshmen: badly. They first started rotating into the lineup against BG; since then
- Cullen Christian was burned twice against BG and gave up an easy long touchdown against Michigan State,
- Terrence Talbott was primarily responsible for turning third and fifteen into first and ten on Michigan State's second touchdown drive and gave Indiana their last touchdown by dragging out of his zone, and
- Courtney Avery was personally responsible for large chunks of Indiana yards, gave up a touchdown on third and ten against Iowa by dragging out of his zone, and turned what should have been another third and ten stop into a whiffed tackle, 20 yards, and the field goal that was the final nail in Michigan's coffin.
This is disappointing, especially Christian's failure to beat out not only Rogers but apparently his classmates. Talbott and Avery feature in the nickel and dime packages while Christian backed up the outside guy; he has apparently lost that job. too—Avery came in against Iowa when JT Floyd missed a few plays.
At safety, Kovacs has been Kovacs. He's small, he's not very fast, but he's probably the team's best tackler and he's been in the right spot more often than anyone on the defense. This has resulted in a bunch of UFRs where he's got several half-points in each direction and comes out at zero. He could be the fifth-best player on a good defense.
Cam Gordon has been rough, honestly little better than the mess Michigan threw out last year. He racked up a double-digit negative day against Notre Dame and followed that up with another one against Michigan State. His angles have been too aggressive or too conservative with little porridge in-between, and he's failed to shake a nasty habit of not wrapping up his tackles. He's pretty good running downhill, and that's about it. Preseason hype has given way to cold reality. Gordon is a redshirt freshman converted wide receiver who should probably be playing linebacker. He plays safety like he's a bowling ball: he goes fast in one direction and hopes to knock over the pins with momentum because he has no arms.
Fast forward to LATER!
What can we expect the rest of the year? Pain, but less of it.
Rodriguez made an offhand comment about maybe moving someone from one safety spot to another when discussing the possibility of a Will Campbell move, but that would either be Jordan Kovacs or Marvin Robinson. Kovacs's tenure at deep safety last year was hardly less disastrous than that of Mike William or Gordon; Marvin Robinson is yet another freshman who is likely to make the same sorts of mistakes.
Gordon's it unless Michigan wants to turn to true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal, who picked off a pass from a third-string Bowling Green walk-on and has therefore made the best play by a Michigan safety in the last ten years. I'm not sure if that's a joke.
Floyd's not very good, Rogers is what he is at this point, and the freshmen are clearly not instant impact types, except insofar as they give up an extra touchdown per game than a Michigan secondary featuring Troy Woolfolk. That is an impact, just not the one you're hoping for.
Your best hopes the rest of the year:
- Courtney Avery learns WTF a zone is and how to play it.
- Cam Gordon's angles and tackling improve marginally.
- JT Floyd progresses towards average and at least gets basic things right.
Actually, your best hope is this: Michigan did okay against the two rookies and/or flat bad quarterbacks they've faced to date. Zack Fraser didn't do anything. ND's three-headed QB was contained. Bowling Green couldn't do much of anything. Michigan's next three opponents all feature freshmen at QB; they're ranked 104th (PSU), 105th (Illinois), and 107th (Purdue) in passing efficiency. They're bound to be less effective than the last three guys, a senior returning starter, junior returning starter, and senior returning starter who are all in the top 30 in passer efficiency. Tolzien will shred, but who knows what Terrelle Pryor will do? (Probably shred, actually—he has no problems against awful Ds this year.)
By the end of the year Michigan's numbers will be slightly less grim as the schedule eases and the freshmen learn WTF a zone is. They will still be grim.