[Scheduling note: Brian is out today and tomorrow, I (Seth) am finishing up HTTV. There will be a softball and baseball post later this afternoon]
The Bill C preview. Bill Connelly's annual preview series now goes 128 programs deep; he hit Michigan on Friday. The long term:
Harbaugh is a weird dude who says baffling, Les Milesian things -- that they both played for Bo Schembechler probably isn't a coincidence -- and might be getting weirder with age. And no one is guaranteed success when taking on a new job. If previous history correlated with future success, the last two Michigan hires would have worked out.
But Harbaugh is as close to a sure thing as you can hire. In just 11 years, he has raised the standard at every stop. He hires hungry assistants, builds an ultra-competitive environment, and then wins. He has coaching in his bloodstream, and he's been successful just about everywhere.
The short term is far more uncertain. But you probably know this. You also know the thing that leaps off the page on this chart, but my god to see it quantified:
Adjusted pace. Good lord.
There is some good news. The numbers reflect the massive improvement in line play that I kept promising everyone existed no matter how implausible it seemed given the play of the offense overall:
The line started with just 34 career starts but improved to 50th in Adj. Line Yards and 72nd in Adj. Sack Rate. Considering the level of recruiting, this isn't great, but you can only improve so much in one year.
Both of those were deep into triple digits a year ago, and Michigan returns everyone except Jack Miller to that line instead of losing two NFL draft picks at tackle. I will always wonder how much of the crater was on Darrell Funk and how much was on Rodriguez's recruiting and Al Borges's mad scientist meddling.
Connelly notes that the schedule sets up to be highly swingy. They've only got two teams that project to be very good—OSU and MSU—and relatively few cupcakes. All but one of the good-to-middling teams comes to Ann Arbor, as well. With some luck Michigan could win an encouraging number of games… but there's not much slack in there.
A recommendation. I've had these tabs open in my browser for a while now because I don't want to just toss them off in a UV, but I don't seem to be getting around to the meaty post about them they deserve. So: if you want excellent annotated posts about football, head to James Light Football. He covers all kinds of things from college and pro levels, and he frequently strikes upon Michigan itself. He was at the coaches clinic and has a series of posts detailing things Jedd Fisch, John Baxter…
Why do we play so many starters on special teams? What is a starter? Only the 5 offensive lineman and quarterback are starters. The rest is personnel driven. We don’t have starters, we have football players. You don’t play a position on this team, you play a role. What down is so insignificant that you can afford to have less than your best players?
…and DJ Durkin. Durkin's priorities say a lot about the state of what worries a modern defensive coordinator:
First thing Durkin and his staff do when playing a team is identify these three things. Tempo, Run/Pass Conflicts (RPO’s), Who’s their QB?
(RPOs have mostly been known as "packaged plays" around here.) Michigan under Hoke threatened in none of these categories.
Another point guard option. Michigan is focused on in-state PG Cassius Winston for their (currently) final slot in the 2016 class. They are not laser-focused, however, as Winston has given little indication what direction he might be leaning. They're keeping an eye on other options, though. One of them is Bruce Brown, a composite top 50 player who is listed as a shooting guard by most services. Michigan doesn't see it like that:
On Michigan: “Michigan they want me to run the one. And me and Tyus Battle in the backcourt, that sounds good. He’s solid.”
Indiana is also recruiting him as a point guard; St. John's, North Carolina, and Texas are other names in his recruitment. Brown is currently at a prep school in Vermont but I think he grew up in Boston.
Where are they now: not currently on fire. Quinton Washington seems to have a cool job except for the parts where he catches on fire due to proximity to other fires.
That is "Will Power," who is apparently a real person and not a character in a freshman's screenplay.
Hello again: Moritz Wagner. It feels like we've welcomed Mortiz Wagner to the program a half-dozen times, but here's another one since Michigan signed him and officially announced him. There was a bit of an uncomfortable delay in there that conjured images of Robin Benzing—who did not qualify—but now that's all behind us and we can focus on what we've won:
"Moe is a long and versatile player," Michigan coach John Beilein said in the release. "He has a great understanding of the game with a tremendous upside. As a product of Germany, he has always played against men five to even 10 years older than him, which has only helped his growth as a player.
"As he continues in his development, Moe's skill and athleticism will allow him to eventually play multiple positions for us. He just turned 18 years old, so we are excited about his potential. Moe's engaging personality and passion for the game will make him a very valuable asset to our team now and in the years to come."
Interesting: Michigan listed him at a full 6'10" and they tend to be pretty accurate with roster numbers. Even Trey Burke, who everyone assumed was being handed an inch or two, measured out at just about what Michigan listed him at when he entered the draft. (Spike is likely an exception to this roster fidelity.)
Unless Wagner is a super prospect, he has an uphill path to playing time this year if Zak Irvin can handle the defense and rebounding aspects of the 4. John Beilein loves shooting and he's got a couple of prime wing options in Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins; if one of the forward-sized fours is going to wrest significant playing time away from those guys he's going to have to be really good.
Claiming poverty. Andy Staples on the "schools don't make a profit" argument put forth when people want to defend the NCAA's version of amateurism:
Athletic directors will claim their programs don’t make money, but that’s also a lie at most Power Five schools. They would make money if they weren’t giving their coaches huge raises and putting gold-plated waterfalls in their locker rooms. Do not confuse an inability to manage money with a lack of money, and don’t believe people who just got $10 million more when they say they can’t pay for the programs they were already funding with $10 million less.
At this point I think everyone understands this except the people charging hundreds of dollars an hour to not understand. October is the inconveniently-timed next potential NCAA-in-court bombshell, as the Jeffery Kessler case—that's the one that explicitly wants to blow the whole system up—will have its class certification hearing.
That lawsuit could put sufficient pressure on the NCAA to make certifying and negotiating with a union look like the best course of action.
Etc.: John Gasaway on deceased former NCAA head Walter Byers, and how he is often misunderstood.
State hockey loses Josh Jacobs to the OHL. That's a different league from guys signing OHL contracts. How long before MSU gets serious and replaces Tom Anastos with a hockey coach?
Offensive line from the start of fall camp to now: where’s it come and in what ways have you seen it grow?
“I think the biggest growth’s been in the communication. I see our guys on a day-to-day basis getting more comfortable and getting better at communicating. We’ve talked about it still as a point of emphasis. I think it always will be. I think you see that in really good football teams. If you watch the line play, if you just watch the trenches and you watch an offensive line play for a really good offensive team you’ll see both the verbal communication that goes on and then all the stuff that happens after the snap with the nonverbal stuff and how they pass games [Ed: I think that’s what he said] and all that type of stuff. But pleased with where we’re at as far as our focus and where we need to go. Once again, consistency.”
As far as focus goes offensively moving the ball, are you frustrated? Sometimes it looks like you’re moving the ball well. There’s other times you’re not moving it at all. There’s other times where not moving it well at all is an understatement. Is there a level of frustration for you right now? Is this offense coming together as planned or is it behind schedule?
“I don’t—I guess that’s kind of a difficult question to ask. I don’t really understand.”
Are you frustrated? Is this offense where it should be in your eyes?
“No, I’m not frustrated at all. Shoot, you look out there at the field at times- I look out there during the game and when you don’t have Funch out there and you have Amara Darboh catching his first touchdown, Da’Mario Jones comes in and catches his first pass [which was a] big third-down conversion, you look at a true freshman left tackle, Devin in his third game in a new system, at times we’re playing Khalid [Hill] at tight end. You just look at the youth out there [and] there is going to be a growth process. Our kids have worked extremely hard and take great pride in doing things right. Now, has it been perfect? No. And do we have a long way to go? Yes. But the attention is there, the focus is there, the want-to is there and we’ve just got to continue to improve.”
Last week you mentioned infancy stages. For another baby analogy, would you say it’s crawling now?
“Well, we took another step. We took a step in the right direction. Still we know as a group the consistency’s got to be better but at times you see us do some things very, very well.”
[After the THE JUMP: Nussmeier summarizes the offensive strategy against Miami and gives his thoughts on tempo]
The big one. With Braxton Miller out for the year, Ohio State needs a new quarterback. It looks like it is going to be JT Barrett, a well-regarded but not elite recruit out of Texas. His OC talked about him when he was declared the #2 recently:
"Gets the ball out quickly. Very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate. Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader. I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him."
"We've got to work on strengthening his arm. He's a distant third to Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don't have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I'm very pleased with his continuing growth."
He has sort of won the job by default, though. OSU has had surprising issues recruiting QBs. Cardale "I ain't come to play SCHOOL" Jones and middling true freshman Stephen Collier are OSU's other options.
Shaky QB play has not prevented OSU from beating Michigan lots in the recent past, unfortunately, and Meyer runs a system that's pretty forgiving to young guys because big chunks of it are "you: run".
Frank Clark profiled. Clark's background is highly improbable:
Frank Clark can't provide a last known address in Los Angeles. He and [his mother] Teneka, along with his two older siblings, were nomadic. They rambled around town, sleeping in a shelter one night, in a random friend’s house another night. Teneka had drug problems, Frank explains, and this was the fallout.
“I’d walk for hours with my mother, wondering where we were going next, what we were going to do next,” Clark said.
He was handed a plane ticket in 2003 and deposited with relatives in Cleveland, whereupon he grew large and went to Glenville:
“Frank wanted to do everything except what I wanted him to do,” Ginn said.
Ginn wanted Clark to play defensive end and the two locked horns.
“So I fought with Frank from his sophomore year to his senior year,” Ginn said. “In his senior year, he finally decided to listen.”
That is the flip side to Csont'e York. Clark had issues even at Michigan, stealing a laptop and getting a year of probation after being put in a diversionary program, but has come through them and stands on the verge of a Michigan degree and an NFL career. That is how you want it to work when you draw the NCAA up.
Making it work. The NFL has gone from dismissing Chip Kelly to imitating him, says Chris Brown at Grantland, and interestingly for Michigan fans he specifically cites a number of tackle over formations the Eagles went with a year ago as part of Kelly's success:
Why is this a component of Kelly's offensive genius and Borges's failure? Tempo. The Eagles run a high-paced no huddle system that only allows the defense to substitute when they do. The defense is under constant pressure to recognize and adjust to new formations on the fly. In this and another example the end result of going tackle over is confusion and blown assignments because of the pressure Philly's tempo puts on the opponents. Brown's key insight:
This breakdown occurred not because Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers doesn’t know how to match up against an unbalanced set. (He does. I think.) It happened because, against Kelly’s offense, it doesn’t matter what the other coaches know. The 11 defenders on the field need to be able to identify the unbalanced set and call the right adjustments, on the fly, at a super-fast tempo, while worrying about 50 other things.
When you go at Borges tempo, you get a different result:
4 DTs and an SDE with PSU's best player (Jones) lined up over your tackle over. Penn State did this only three or four times in that game but that they were able to do it at all is a condemnation; meanwhile there was absolutely no way that PSU was going to blow an assignment when Michigan was barely getting the play off before the clock expired.
High tempo takes defensive coordinators out of the game and puts the responsibilities they generally have on the players on the field—a big advantage at the NFL level and and even bigger one in college.
Meanwhile you hear dinosaur coach types talk about how the spread makes your defense soft, but you never hear them talk about how living at walking pace makes your defense unprepared to face teams like Indiana.
All of the shirts all of the shirts. Jared Shanker takes a look at how many kids redshirt at last year's conference champions, and comes back with the startling news that over the last three years all of seven MSU recruits have played as freshman—12%. Alabama and FSU are at 45%, with Oklahoma and Oregon at 33 and 35%, respectively. Other powers are closer to the FSU/Bama numbers than anything else, with only South Carolina coming anywhere near MSU—they play only a quarter of their freshmen.
A lot of this has to do with recruiting rankings. FSU and Bama tend to get freshmen who are physically ready to compete right away, and Bama in particular tends to toss guys out the door if they're not panning out. MSU has limited access* to high-level players and is trying to get the most out of each one. They've done so successfully.
What about Michigan? I went back and checked:
- 2011: 8 out of 20 played in the Hoke/RR emergency transition class by the standards of this study, but circumstances conspired to hew this class down before it even reached the opener. Three players (Kellen Jones, Chris Barnett, and Tony Posada) didn't even make it to game one; Greg Brown transferred midseason.
- 2012: 12 out of 25 played, with Terry Richardson and Amara Darboh redshirting their second years.
- 2013: 13 out of 26 played. (I'm not counting long snapper Scott Sypniewski for this purpose).
Michigan's numbers are skewed by the disastrous 2010 and sort of disastrous 2011 recruiting classes, but seriously about a third of those burned redshirts the last couple years were questionable at best: Dymonte Thomas, Da'Mario Jones, Csont'e York, Ben Gedeon, and Taco Charlton contributed little in 2013; Joe Bolden, Amara Darboh, Sione Houma, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and Terry Richardson did little in 2012.
How much of that is down to recruiting promises is unknown, but it just seems silly not to give yourself a fifth year option. Hopefully Michigan can start upping their redshirt percentage now that they have stabilized the roster.
*[This is changing somewhat this year, but for the period covered in this study it was certainly true.]
They had a competition, and now they don't. Utah names Travis Wilson its starting QB. Wilson had a rocky 2013, throwing 16 interceptions to 16 touchdowns and losing his job after a 6 for 21 performance against Arizona State. He did have a nice YPA for the year (7.7), but he also threw a Demetrius Brown-like six interceptions in a 34-27 loss to UCLA. Woof.
Wilson beat out Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, FWIW, so maybe he's improved.
I can't do better. Get The Picture nails the headline on this quote:
The NCAA has reached the point on unfavorable legal rulings that retiring University System of Maryland chancellor William Kirwan, co-chair of the reform-minded Knight Commission, said he now views Congress as “our last, best hope for getting anything right with intercollegiate athletics.”
Oh god the tedious Knight Commission, constantly seeking ways to divert the surplus of revenue athletes to the academic side of colleges, go away.
Etc.: Michigan's student advisory council rejection letter ain't come to play school either. Here's to hope, says the Hoover Street Rag. High school QBs now planning to graduate in three years so they can transfer without penalty if it doesn't work out at school #1. MSU loses OG Connor Kruse for a significant period of time, one that probably does not eliminate him from the M game.
Michigan crushes another Italian team.
We’ve heard you’re going to be a tougher defense. How will we see that on the field in the fall?
“Hopefully you see the aggressiveness in base defense as well as when we do pressure. And I think the way you see that, you’re going to see guys—it’s easier right now for our guys to run to the football than it has been in the past. In other words they understand that that’s how they’re going to play. The aggressive part of it is like, everybody kind of wants to get in on hits instead of saying you’re supposed to get over there on hits. The pressure, the way our secondary’s playing, they’re more aggressive, they’re trying to get on guys a little tighter, I think all those kind of things.”
Is this more the kind of defense you’ve always envisioned when you came to Michigan?
“Yeah, it definitely is. Offenses have made it difficult because they spread you out all over the place. If you’re going to sit and just let them take shots and take shots they’re going to have their success. On offense it’s just keep the ball moving, keep the ball moving but on defense I think you’ve got to change the math sometimes and you’ve got to say it’s not going to be, maybe, like it was in practice for you.”
Are you more comfortable with this defense than you have been maybe- is the transition finally over?
“No question. No question. The guys that are playing in this defense are ours. You know, I really respect the first group and the groups that we came in with. Anytime you come in and demand what we demand it’s hard, but these kids that are here now are all the ones that we brought in here. They’re the ones that we’re with every day of their lives. I mean, we spend so much time with these kids. You really are excited about their attitude. You’re excited about—you can coach them really, really hard and you don’t have to worry about, ‘Well, now do I have to go put my arm around them?’ No, they know that you are for them all the way. And I think our coaches have done a great job, and Brady from the top has done that where we’re going to coach you now, we’re going to make sure you do it the right way and sometimes it isn’t going to be pretty but the next play is the next play.”
What do you know about Jabrill [Peppers] today that you didn’t know seven days ago?
“I know that he’s a real good football player. Here’s what I didn’t know because you don’t know this because you’re not with him: he loves to play football. That’s what you didn’t know. You saw him in games be very, very aggressive and very talented but now that we’re with him, he just really loves to be out there playing and he brings it every play. He’s got to gain some maturity. You know, when you’re a guy who’s been as successful as he has I think you never, ever have heard someone say, ‘That’s wrong. You can’t do that.’ His coach is a tremendous high school coach, but he just brings a lot of fire.”
[Regarding Peppers] What went into the decision to finally settle on nickelback?
“Because the way offenses are nowadays you’ve got to play nickel so much more. The nickel position is a very, very important position on the defense now compared to what it was maybe five to ten years ago. You have to have a guy in there now that’s going to be playing a whole bunch in that game. If you put a guy at safety and then you need him at nickel he’s going to play two positions and he may not become as good as he could be at that time as a youngster.”
Brady has talked about talking to him [Peppers] about not getting wrapped up in how much attention he gets and all that stuff. What do you say to him about that and how do you think he’s handled it?
“I haven’t had to say a thing to him about that because we coach him really, really hard. There’s no pampering. You’re just a guy in our defense. Obviously, with what his success was in high school he’ll probably get attention. He’s been very mature about it. He understands it’s Michigan now. When you’re at Michigan you’re just one of the team and you’re responsible to do what the team’s asking you to do and that’s what he’s done.”
[After THE JUMP: more Peppers, improvement in the linebackers, and defensive philosophy]
In the half-hour we spent on the field talking to players at Sunday's Media Day, the theme of this offseason and fall camp was clear: change is here. For the offense, that means a change in coordinators, and with that a significant difference in how they practice. The tempo is being pushed like never before in Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan, and that also affects the defense, which is dealing with change of their own, as the coaching staff on that side shifts roles while the defense moves from a 4-3 under to a 4-3 over.
I caught up with Dennis Norfleet, Jake Ryan, and Wyatt Shallman to discuss these changes and more, including Ryan saying he feels fully recovered from the ACL tear that limited him to just five starts in 2013. Tomorrow, I'll have further player interviews with the significant portion of the team that hails from Cass Tech.
You're getting work in the slot now pretty much exclusively, it sounds like. How comfortable are you at that position right now?
I'm getting a lot better. The wide receiving crew is really helping me out a lot. Coach Hecklinski is a great coach, he's getting me to feel comfortable when I get in there and getting me comfortable with my plays, so I'm doing pretty well.
What's been the biggest difference with the new offensive coordinator, the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest change is we're moving faster, up-tempo. We're a lot better as an offensive crew, we're more than a team, we're a family, so that's what makes a big difference to us now.
With that big increase in tempo, it sounds like you guys are getting more reps in. How much of a difference has that made in terms of getting more comfortable in the offense?
It's a making a lot of difference. It's a big difference because we have a lot of rotation, everybody gets to know their plays, nobody's going out there not knowing what they're doing, and if they don't they have people to tell them if they go wrong. That's a big difference.
How do you see your role being this year? Obviously you're playing the slot, but there's a lot you can do, so how do you see yourself being utilized in the offense this year?
I'm just doing my job, you know. If I get open space, I do what I do best, you know. I'm also being a role model for the younger players that came in. We're basically working as a team in everything that we do.
At returner, you obviously have a lot of experience there. Coach Hoke said you're getting a lot of the reps there but that there are a couple freshmen who are also coming in and making a push. How do you feel at returner right now, and is that a place you feel you can make a really big impact?
Kick returning has always been something that I go into the game and everything, you know, willing that I want to return a kick [for a score] every game. We've been rotating a lot, we've got a lot of players that are competing, spots that's not really set out for who starts where, so we're just having fun in camp right now and competing.
It sounds like both at slot and returner that you're working a lot with Freddy Canteen. What have you seen out of him in the spring and fall so far?
Canteen's becoming a better young man, not just a football player, just in life. He's been looking up to the older receivers, like Devin Funchess, me, [redshirt senior walk-on Anthony] Capatina. It's just a lot of people he can look up to, to become a better person, both in our lives and football.
You keep mentioning how you guys have come together as a team. What's been the biggest change since last year, and do you feel like as an upperclassman now you're really grown into a leadership role?
When I came in, I did things that upperclassmen always told me was wrong that I didn't think were wrong, but now that I'm older I can see what they were talking about. You know, it's more than just a game. We're trying to win a championship, the Big Ten, so as we go along that's the focus of our days. That's what we're ready for.
[Hit THE JUMP for Jake Ryan discussing his transition to middle linebacker and his full recovery from the ACL tear, and Wyatt Shallman talking about his role in the offense and the changes in style under Doug Nussmeier.]
Cole and Clark impressed [Bryan Fuller]
Our annual attempt to glean useful things from the Big Ten's visit to fall camp is here. BTN analysts have a slight bias towards the positive, as Gerry DiNardo demonstrated before last season…
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage," BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
…so take overall tenor with a grain of salt. As per usual, I've translated these from twitterese. This year only DiNardo and Dienhart are reporting; Howard Griffith is there but just hangin' out yo. Dienhart has an article and everything. If there's no link, it's from the article.
"Much like last year a team with more talent than most teams in the B1G. Recruiting rankings are accurate in most cases." –Dinardo
"Long hard physical practice—they got a ton of reps, often times splitting staff and team in half to get more reps." –Dinardo
Rep rep rep is good news, as when Michigan does show bits of practice the pace is often not inspiring. Anything that seems to be oriented towards making Michigan competent at speed is welcome.
"Like a lot of places offensive scheme is starting to be blend of more than one offensive philosophy." –Dinardo
As long as that's running a lot of inside zone from shotgun and under center, okay.
"Jumped out: Gardner, Norfleet, Charlton, Poggi, Speight, Cole, Ojemudia, Pipkins, Clark, Henry, Mone, Glasgow." –DiNardo
That's a pretty long list of guys to jump out at you. Speight's inclusion is a little weird since in another tweet he says that Morris and Speight are pretty even for the backup QB job. Mone is the only freshman mentioned. (Peppers had to miss this practice for class.)
[AFTER the JUMP: shortin' out and dyin', De'Veon Smith credit plea, naggers.]