don't we all
Jourdan Lewis emerged as Michigan’s best corner in 2014, demonstrating that he was well-suited to the man press style they wanted to play. That same style is back in 2015, and Lewis talked about that as well as the difference in the defense’s mindset, Wayne Lyons joining the secondary, and Jabrill. This was part of a scrum; my questions are marked.
Most of you guys grew up together and kind of emerged together, then Wayne [Lyons] just sort of gets dropped in your lap. What’s it like when someone has experience but at the same time is trying to compete with you?
“You’ve got to bring him in. You’ve got to bring him in just like one of our brothers. He is one of our brothers now and we’ve just got to bring him in and come together and compete. That’s what’s going to make a great defense.”
When someone comes from a different program they have done things before. Did he have anything or did you say, ‘This is the way we did it here’?
“No, he came in and he wanted to listen. He wanted to learn. That was great. He wanted to learn from us and we wanted to learn from what he had. We learned some things from him and he learned some things from us.”
“Yeah. It was just a collaboration between both of us. It wasn’t ever ‘This is how we do things.’ It wasn’t ever- it was all love as soon as he got here.”
There’s a lot of attention on Jabrill, as there always is. Do you see strides in him even though he’s at a different position than last year? Have you seen him make a lot of progress this summer?
“He’s going to compete and he’s going to be aggressive and he’s going to make plays, always. That’s always Jabrill’s mindset and I love it. That’s what’s going to make us a great defense is just his mindset and his enthusiasm and him flying around, so he’s just always the same Jabrill.”
[More after THE JUMP]
I've written in various places, and Brian said again just yesterday, that Blake Countess is a very good zone cornerback who was exposed last year by being asked to do things outside of his comfort zone. Or outside his natural abilities. Or outside the capabilities of a guy his size.
The tape is the best evidence that he's not a fit for the aggressive man-to-man stuff Michigan switched to early last season, and will almost certainly try again this year. The best evidence against it was produced by Countess this spring, when he generated above the usual level of comments for controllable things like his work ethic, his knowledge of the defense, his toughness, etc.
But his size is a thing Blake can't change, and that plus the inability to shut down Tyler Lockett or William Fuller downgraded our hopes for a next-Woodson (leave him on an island) ceiling even before we discovered he's no MC5:
(you forgot to kick out the jams.)
That kind of thing can be mitigated by not lining him up so close—you give up that lock-down mentality for either soft coverage that lets the QB complete short stuff, or puts a safety over the top so Countess can break on that stuff.
Is Countess too small?
His size is below average for a guy who registered a play on a Power 5 roster, though not debilitatingly so. Here's how the CB depth chart stacks up against cornerbacks on all Power 5 rosters from 2010-2013 (#6 is Lyons):
Bubble size is more guys with that listed ht/wt. Avg height was 5'11", and weight was 183. Year-to-year differences were negligible.
If you need a roster refresher I put the tentative depth chart below-right. Our guys are generally on the line of distribution, with Richardson a wee little dude and Stribling and Dawson (and Keith Washington) on the edges of lankiness. I included Peppers to show just how different he is from most cornerbacks on this level of football, even as a redshirt freshman whose conditioning was hurt by a year of injury.
There were also quite a few teams who list all safeties and cornerbacks as "DBs"; indeed the cornerback sample we did get seems like it wouldn't change much. If you care here's Michigan's expected 2015 backfield rotation against the distribution of one year's Power 5 cornerbacks.
Interesting side-note: Florida's cornerbacks last year under Durkin were the smallest of any school in the Power 5. Using the formula from the chart above, Auburn and Minnesota were by far the biggest defensive backfields—both teams were about 6'0/200 with their cornerbacks. I know Minnesota at least is a man-all-day-long team. Nebraska and Ohio State were top five biggest, Iowa and Notre Dame around there and Stanford relatively big. Michigan was smallish—right around FSU and LSU. TCU was the second-smallest at CB.
Anyway Countess isn't the little guy according to the rosters; Lewis is. Jourdan's game is based on his recovery speed. He is just okay at jamming a guy at the line, but is so fast on a dead run and so quick to change direction that he doesn't have to stonewall his guy.
[Jump for what we've got in Lyons]
Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]
“Well, everybody alright? I’m good. Who wants to start?”
You have a couple of players who are new to the position in Brandon Watson and Ross Douglas, though Ross Douglas has played it before. How are they adjusting to that change?
“They’re doing well. It’s a whole different deal for everybody. It’s a different defense, so everybody’s making a lot of adjustments but those two guys are coming along just like the rest of them.”
We’ve heard it said that you’ve played a lot more press coverage than they’re used to. How have they adjusted and how much work is that?
“It’s a lot of work. It’s a new total concept for the defense, for these guys who haven’t played- for Jourdan [Lewis] two or three years, for Blake [Countess] four years- so it is a new concept. It’s a whole new technique they’re learning so it’s taking time but they’re working their butts off. They’re working extremely hard at it and in time we’re going to get it done.”
Press was something they tried last year and did a little bit of it and struggled with it. Are you guys totally committed to it?
“Well, that’s coach Durkin’s defense, yes. So yes, we are totally, 100 % committed. We’ve just got to find the guys who catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best.”
Most cornerbacks are really excited about the chance to do that. Has that been the case here?
“Absolutely for us, and in recruiting they’re very excited to hear we’re aggressive on the outside and they want to see and hear what they’d have to do, so I think it will help us in that respect as far as getting some other corners in here.”
Can you talk about Lewis and Countess in particular and their ability to do that?
“Yeah, Blake’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very focused. Jourdan’s a natural at it. He’s probably our most natural corner for what we’re asking him to do. He does it pretty good but he’s still got some things to get better at because of the fact that it’s something they haven’t done all the time as far as last season goes. But those two are definitely, as far as technique-sound and even athletically and mentally, more experienced in that way.”
[After THE JUMP: Skills needed to play press, a transfer from Stanford confirmed-ish, and depth chart discussion]
Tremendous Lloyd quote!
That's a young-looking Lloyd Carr from the 1990 recruiting pamphlet that Bauglieve found on Ebay. In case the photos come down from there eventually I put them on the MGoServer for posterity (click for each):
The comments have mined all sorts of nuggets from these. Count my vote with those who want to see Harbaugh bring back one-handed, shirtless pushups on the Diag. The football fans would feel more connected to the players, and I'm sure the student body would appreciate the peck show way more than the usual entertainment in that space.
Team 138 offers its sarcastic gratitude. Originally posted in the forums, I moved Qmatic's walk through the wasted redshirts on Michigan's roster to the diaries because this is something we're going to be referencing all too often for the next few years. Morris is on there although he had to play once Bellomy tore his ACL because Gardner's ribs were becoming…you know what, let's not get into what Hoke did with Gardner.
I can show you how Hoke's redshirting practices compared to his predecessors because it's tracked on my spreadsheet:
Circumstances played a role in this certainly, but by Hoke's third year the rate of redshirting should have shown a climb into the 70s that a healthy program has. I'll probably address this in a Jimmystats sometime this offseason.
How to Man Your Baughlls
Just a glance at his formations screams old-school, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SPARTAAAA:
Thing is, these offenses are notorious for being predictable in an era of S&C parity. So why does it work?
Tell us, dragonchild.
Deep head trauma is bad. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a horrible, progressive, degenerative disease of the brain long known to the sports world as "punch drunk." The provable link between it and repetitive brain trauma (specifically deep trauma, i.e. not all concussions) is meaningful to football especially because there is a clear moral dilemma in rooting for people to do a thing that can do that to them.
Neurologists released a study awhile ago that linked the age of first exposure to football and cognitive impairment. As happens with released studies, a few people who read the peer reviewed journals pour over it, and media folk read the title, decided if it fit their favorite narrative, and either canonized it or ripped it.
TSS wrote a diary this week to walk you through the study and what it actually says, which is that the progression of CTE is suggestively linear from the point you started playing football.
Best of the Board
BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE ITS OWN LOGO
Over the last couple of weeks it came out that the extremity of the student body's distribution of doucheiness is trying to Create the Future™ of Michigan-themed game day music. What I mean by that:
My best friend was not being hyperbolic about his freshman roommate.
Wolverine Devotee decided to use this as a reminder that we have traditional songs beyond The Victors. Hot Time might have been relegated to history, but we still sing Varsity during the pre-game, and Let's Go Blue!, and the cowbell cheer, as well as several covers the band has adopted (Blues Brothers, Temptation, Hawaiian War Chant), and the alma mater. If, like me, you've been singing "Denard Robinson, Robinson oh Robinson" to Varsity since Brian suggested it, maybe it's time we all learn the lyrics. They are (music):
Men of Michigan onto victory, Ev'ry man in ev'ry play.
Michigan expects her Varsity to win today!
Rah! Rah! Rah-rah-rah! Win for Michigan!
Varsity, Down the field.
Never yield, Raise high our shield.
March on to victory for Michigan,
(And the Maize and Blue)
Oh Varsity, We're for you,
Here for you to cheer for you.
We have no fear for you. Oh Varsity! (repeat)
At the risk of moving myself incrementally rightward in the douchechart, I posit that Michigan's second fight song is a better composition than 90% of fight songs.
COYLE V. SCHEMBECHLER
Michigan House '75 has a brother in law who played from '69 to '73 with, among other legends, 1972 captain and right guard Tom Coyle, who passed away in 2012. This was how Coyle was recruited to Michigan:
He and Tommy had just gotten back from a job and were covered in paint. This and twelve other kids running around when Bo and Malony arrive. Old Man Coyle proceeds to pass beers around to everyone including Tommy. Bo is shocked, turns to Mrs. Coyle and says, "Excuse me Mrs. Coyle," and then turns to Tommy - "If you drink that beer, I'm going to kick your ass!"
Bo was no teetotaler, but he did refuse to do Michigan Replay if Budweiser was sponsoring it. So guess what happens then, or read on.
Your Moment of Zen:
via Dr. Sap
"I think we'll always run the option because what it can do to defenses." –Jim Harbaugh
This has been the worst-kept secret in Michigan football for a month or two now, but I think this from Rivals is the first official confirmation that Michigan is indeed bringing in Stanford defensive back Wayne Lyons as a graduate transfer this fall:
Lyons confirmed his plans to transfer to Michigan.
"Midterms have my attention, but yes, there is some truth to the rumors," Lyons said via text Feb. 9, adding he planned to report June after graduation. "I'm looking into taking a visit before then."
I'm going to ignore the "some truth" bit since everyone's been discussing it sotto voce for a month and his mom got hired and he's planning to report in June.
Lyons was a touted recruit out of Fort Lauderdale, a top 100 player on the composite and the #4 safety in the country. He broke his foot two games into his freshman year and has been a contributor since as a cornerback. He moved into the starting lineup as a junior, finishing fifth on the team in tackles and picking off Notre Dame twice. He was less involved last year, and Stanford fans are kind of eh about him:
He's a decent corner. I've heard that he'd be better as a safety (or maybe nickel corner, which is how we used him a lot this year), and supposedly we wanted to move him that way.
I think the consensus would be that he never quite played up to his expectations, but I'd be sad to see him go.
With Jabrill Peppers moving to safety, Michigan has more of a need at corner. Michigan lost Raymon Taylor and returns Blake Countess and Jourdan Lewis; there is an opportunity to be a nickel corner or to beat out Countess, who had a shaky junior year.
Michigan's walk-on situation makes it difficult to determine exactly how many scholarships are available. Lyons's arrival would hypothetically deprive Kerridge or maybe Kenny Allen of a scholarship, but in all likelihood someone leaves before September. In practice, it's moot. FYI: Michigan has filled 16 slots with their recruiting class and the transfers of O'Korn and Lyons, which is approximately the number they had to give.
UPDATE: there's an excellent diary from alum96 with more background on Lyons. It doesn't sound like he's a world-beater, but sometimes kids get a lot better as seniors. And the alternative here is leaving a scholarship open.