Don't sleep on Joe Bolden.
First Look: 2013 Defense
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
- S Jordan Kovacs. Long time safety blanket specialized in open-field tackles, especially on fourth down, and was rarely victimized by his brain. Speed exposed by speedy South Carolina receivers, but you'll miss him early when someone screws up and you remember what it's like to have a safety biff a tackle and turn not much into lots.
- SDE Craig Roh. Journeyman switched positions every year, finally finding a home at SDE. Four sacks were second on the team to Jake Ryan; did a lot of non-boxscore stuff. Quality player; never quite panned out into the QB terror he was purported to be. Production should be replaceable.
- MLB Kenny Demens. Started every game, finished second on team with 82 tackles, 50 of them solo. Surprisingly quality in coverage; never great; guy you can win with.
- DT Will Campbell. Long-time disappointment got serious in 2012 and turned in adequate, blocker-absorbing season. Not an impact player—1.5 TFLs on the year. May go late in NFL draft thanks to sheer size.
- CB JT Floyd. Three-year starter turned career around after debacle of 2010, but was always kind of a sore spot as teams went after him and his lack of speed over and over again. Rarely cracked; had to be covered for at times. Iffy run defender. NFL FA type.
- WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Nonfactor.
Ryan, Ross, QWASH
- SLB Jake Ryan. Barbarian was Michigan's sole impact player on defense; shut down screens consistently, explosive rusher led team with 16 TFLs and four forced fumbles. Remember that thing he did? Yeah.
- MLB Desmond Morgan [probably]. With James Ross champing at the bit to enter the starting lineup, the stout Morgan is likely to move over to middle linebacker, allowing Ross to flow freely. Morgan was third on the team in tackles last year—M's linebackers were 1-2-3 like nature intended, with Gordon and Kovacs next—and displayed tackling prowess. He'll get pushed; he'll have to be forcibly unseated.
- NT Quinton Washington. Season surprise turned nose tackle from looming liability to actually kind of a strength. Not a Martin-type penetrator but ended up powerful and difficult to block. Range spans from merely okay to All Big Ten. Has future as wrestler named QWASH if football doesn't work out.
- CB Blake Countess. Freshman starter was hyped up as next great Michigan corner before being hewed down in the first game covering a punt. Will likely return to the field corner spot he locked down in the offseason.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Stepped in for Countess after Courtney Avery didn't seem up to the task and held his own for the most part. Teams mostly went after Floyd, leaving him alone. Did get burned for a touchdown in the bowl game. Tendency to get lost on zones should attenuate; has better size than any other experienced corner and will probably end up at boundary with Floyd's departure.
- WLB James Ross III. Bloodhound as a true freshman but too slight to take on blockers and big tailbacks effectively. With a season in the weight room should go from promising to excellent. 2012 : Jake Ryan :: 2013 : James Ross.
- FS Thomas Gordon. Unsung counterpart to Kovacs has not made as many flashy TFLs but is part of the Michigan defense's remarkable ability to prevent big plays over the last couple years. Probably takes over Kovacs's frequent blitzes.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Played a lot as a true freshman and will push Morgan and Ross equally. Survey says he loses the starting job but gets so much time he's essentially a third ILB starter. Needs to get a little meaner, work on pass drops, all that freshman business. Will be quality.
- Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
- DT Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
- WDE Brennen Beyer. Best of the three WDEs at run D; nonfactor getting to the QB. Let's all focus our Heininger Certainty Principle at him.
- WDE Frank Clark. Co-starter at WDE made more plays behind the line (9 TFLs) and batted down a lot of passes, but had trouble beating blocks—thus all the batted passes—and still blows contain responsibility on the read option a maddening amount. Up or out for him.
- SDE Keith Heitzman. Redshirt freshman flashed a couple things in the spring game and came on as a rotation guy about halfway through the year, grading out okay. Could emerge into SDE starter or could maintain that rotation thing another year.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Massively hyped recruit was rotation partner with Washington. Got knocked over by a running back once; did bull his way into the backfield impressively a couple times. DTs need time; Pipkins should make a leap in the offseason.
- WDE Mario Ojemudia. Hilariously undersized high school DT promised to be mini-Martin… still working on that. Needed size, technique; may burst past WDE competitors with strong offseason.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
A couple guys on the DL. Last season this post focused on the three departures from the line, found only Washington and Campbell and what seemed like a woefully undersized Roh, and was pushing any button available whether it was marked "PANIC" or not. A year later, Roh was good, Washington dang good, Campbell at least serviceable, and we're all like COME AT ME ATTRITION BRO.
The problems here are insignificant compared to last year. Michigan gets Matt Godin, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Tom Strobel off redshirts. They'll add an early-enrollee in Taco Charlton plus a couple of guys who just showed very well at their respective all star games in Maurice Hurst and Henry Poggi. They return Washington, Pipkins, Black, Heitzman, and three guys who saw time at WDE. They will find folks to fill in the gaps.
They do have to figure that out. First up: dollars to donuts Black moves to SDE. It's a better fit with his size, he spent that fateful final drive of the Outback Bowl running around the South Carolina left tackle, and even if it's a horde of redshirt freshmen who would hypothetically replace him, there is a horde.
At the now-vacated three-tech spot, pick from Wormley, Henry, and Godin. I bet Wormley is the winner there. There will be rotation, and improvement, and you will feel fuzzily positive about this in September.
Lineback—nevermind. Demens was missed in said bowl game, but with another offseason behind Morgan, Bolden, and Ross the ILBs should actually get better next year.
Not having an utterly reliable tiny linebacker at safety bailing your ass out for four years. Miss you, small guy xoxo.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Keith Heitzman is like a living breathing miracle of having a two deep
DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH WOOOOO! We covered the line. Each positions has a two-deep of non-true freshmen, many of them proven or hyped. At linebacker there are three quasi-starters plus a solid rotation at SLB. The secondary is a bit dodgier but Terry Richardson should be serviceable as a sophomore.
Experience. Michigan loses five starters, yeah, but that's almost literally all they lose. Mike Jones may or may not return for another season of staring from the bench, other than that the only player they lose is Brandin Hawthorne, who was exclusively special teams as a senior. They return 16 heavy contributors to the D, 17 if you count Jarrod Wilson.
Linebackers. Ryan, of course, and then you've got Ross/Bolden/Morgan returning in the middle. Many people will pine for Michigan's linebacking corps next year.
My difficulty in thinking about bullets for the following two sections. Only got two in each.
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
looks good; was Mattison getting a free rusher at Miller's backside
Getting to the quarterback. Mattison generates lots of free blitzers with his schemes; other than that the only guy to consistently generate pass rush was Ryan. WDE, the glamor spot in a 4-3 under, barely produced. Three guys had three sacks between them last year. All of those guys are back, and Charlton gets added in. The time for someone to step up is now.
Matters should be a bit better on the interior, as whoever replaces Campbell is going to be a leaner, quicker guy who can get more penetration than he did.
A lack of outright stars. You've got Ryan, and I think Ross will get there next year, and then… maybe Countess, but that's asking for a lot after an injury like he had, and… dot dot dot.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Will not having Jordan Kovacs doom Michigan to a Yards After Safety kind of life? I don't think so but the parade of incompetents (and Jamar Adams) before him makes me leery.
Can anyone step in right away and be a QB terror? Looking at you, Taco Charlton. He and Ojemudia seem like the best bets for a truly fearsome edge rusher—we've seen a lot of Frank Clark this year and he just hasn't done much.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
I was worried about a backslide last year. If there was one, it was exceedingly minor. In 2011 Michigan was 17th in yardage, 6th in scoring defense, 36th in pass efficiency D, and 39th in rushing D. Last year those numbers were 13th/20th/50th/51st, and if you'd added Blake Countess for the whole year, well…
I tend to trust the poorer numbers there since Michigan moves at such a slow pace and their YPC average allowed—3.8—is pretty meh. Pre-Outback Bowl, FEI has them 20th, and that feels about right.
Michigan is probably still a year away from being capital E elite, but you could see how they get there ahead of schedule. It requires three things:
Countess comes back and is a "war daddy," to use super secret football lingo.
Someone emerges as as serious pass rush threat at WDE.
Kovacs, peace be unto him, is adequately replaced by Jarrod Wilson.
#1 is possible. #2 seems doubtful, and #3… I hesitate to predict anything about that because it will blow up all over.
Anyway. Michigan tightens up its run D, moving from around 3.8 YPC allowed to under 3.5. The pass defense looks worse superficially because the Big Ten isn't as terrible at throwing the ball next year (right?) but is actually better since neither starting corner spends the entire year getting balls thrown over his head. The D moves up to around tenth in the advanced stats, stays static in yardage and improves pass D efficiency.
I expect Bolden to supplant Morgan by the time B1G season rolls around.
I don't see morgan strating at ILB all year. or at least I'd rather be get beat out by someone more athletic at least before we get to Nov. The OSU spread will be in full effect next year and UM will need athletes that can move. Bolden > Morgan. first offseason is usually the biggest leap right? Let's hope so.
Like others mentioned Ross will be a monster. The great one's hit the ground running their true freshman year or at least show flashes. Ross did this in bunches despite being undersided. He will not be undersized next year and will not be learning the playbook from scratch.
Ross and Ryan both All Big Ten. If UM can uncover an All Big Ten DL men then they will be in business.
I don't. I think some of you people are sleeping on Morgan because he's been playing WILL, but that's not the ideal spot for someone like him. He's a more natural fit at MIKE.
I think Bolden should get reps at MIKE and SAM and sub in wherever needed.
Next year's starters will probably be Ryan, Morgan, and Ross.
I agree that they will start the season with that trio. I am not sleeping on Morgan at all, I think he is a very serviceable to good LB and will get better at MIKE. My statement is more of a reflection of Bolden, who I thought made some very nice plays when he was on the field this year. He should get even better with more time in the weight room and around the program. The freshman mistakes should slowly dissipate as well. Either way I think it's a good problem to have all of these guys pushing each other for playing time.
Do you think Royce Jenkins-Stone sniffs some time at linebacker this next season?
I was wondering the same thing. I found it odd that Brian didn't even mention him, why is this?
Also, Cam Gordon, will he be given a 5th year? I've always wondered how he would have performed had he remained at WR, tall guy with strength might have been a real nice thing to have there and kept Devin at QB and the ND and Neb games might have been different had Hoke had the luxury of going to DG in a game where Denard struggled in one and got hurt in the other.
Yeah I think you will see him at some point but my gut feeling is that he will be a casualty of the quality of linebacker classes that have arrived post-RR. Is Kaleb Ringer still on the team?
It's hard to say what could've happened if DG was ready to play QB for the Nebraska game.
So, if Countess comes back and is recovered and improved (both are questionmarks) I think our secondary improves significantly next year even with Kovacs out. Brian is concerned about the bad Michigan safety history, but it is apparent to me that the secondary coaching in the 90s was a real Achilles heel for the program, and apparent that it is much better now.
When you see "five starters lost" it looks pretty bad, until you see who it is and who we bring back. I think the only loss we even notice is Roh. Now, Michigan needs another playmaker or two to emerge alongside Ryan, who is going to be dominant next year; if we can somehow develop a dangerous pass rusher, the defense will be hard to beat.
I'm nervous about the offense looking forward, but the defense is all kinds of exciting.
I'm counting on Ross being an impact player next year.
Agree. I think it's still a solid year away. In 2014, they should have everyone but Schofield returning on the line (including TE), The crazy thing is looking at the defense most of the guys Brian mentions above will be back in 2014.
Maybe. If Jake Ryan continues to grow as he has he will get NFL attention.
I said 'most of the defense' will be back in 2014.
Who was the safety coach during the death years at safety?
Looking forward to it (2013).
Luckily I have been pouring over old Jamaican voodoo texts and have found an incantation that will cause Dymonte Thomas to arrive on campus and immediately embody the second coming of Sean Taylor. Unfortunately the spell components are a bit difficult to obtain (still-pumping heart of a Borean Sun Bear, cheetah paw, etc.), but I'll be working on it.
I think we are all - especially Brian - still suffering from PTS from the emotional abuse we took throughout the latter Lloyd and the GERG eras in how poor the defensive coaching was, particularly in the secondary. Most of us are going to be surprised with the outcome of well-coached safeties, even ones who aren't all conference or all american caliber. Losing Kovacs hurts but we will survive it.
I've thought about starting a topic about this. Maybe someday.
But it's striking to me that this Michigan team, in an era of advanced passing attacks (albeit with mediocre B1G QBs), with injuries and attrition in the secondary, and fielding players that are either young or not particularly great prospects are both, is at least as sound against the pass as any of Lloyd's teams in the 90s. And I believe the difference is almost entirely due to coaching.
Let's not mince words: Michigan had national-championship caliber talent in the 90s and could never seal the deal. 2006 was the most disappointing, and the problem was partly in coaching scheme and a great deal in the secondary.
And this is a secondary that featured Leon Hall, a Pro Bowl level talent. We're not talking about a group of scrubs here. There may have been some depth issues, but the fact is that Michigan cycled lots of talent through its secondary in the 90s and it was almost all disappointing. Remember how Todd Howard, who came in with lots of potential, always seemed lost on deep balls? Contrast that with guys like Floyd and Avery, guys who Mel Kiper has never heard of, guys with real limitations, but who know exactly how to break up a pass when they're a step behind a superior receiver. How many times have we seen them make that play? Many, in the last two years.
We kind of overlooked it because the odd supertalent (Marlin Jackson, Leon Hall) succeeded anyway and because we had a leftover belief in the coaching staff in the wake of 1997. But I have concluded that we have misunderstood what really happened in 1997 and why the defense was so good.
Jim Herrmann took over the defense, introduced some new schemes, and rode Charles Woodson to one of the great defenses of all time. But we've forgotten where those players came from, and who taught them how to play.
Who taught them technique.
The 1996 Michigan defense, also quite good, was coordinated by Greg Mattison. The next season, using many things they already knew, some new schemes, and the numerical advantage that comes from being able to leave an all-world cornerback one-on-one with no help against the opposition's best receiver, Jim Herrmann produced a defense for the ages.
But Jim Herrmann did it with Greg Mattison's players.
I don't think we ever recovered from losing that teaching ability.
Beautifully written, Stephen King.
Correction: I said "90s" several times when I meant "00s." The 90s, with Ty Law and Woodson, were a different story.
I think this post is pretty astute, but I have a couple quibbles.
First, 1997. Obviously, when you're talking about "couldn't put it all together" in the 1990s, you're excising 1997, and from the latter part of your post, it seems you're mainly talking about post-1997. So the question is more accurately "why couldn't we maintain the excellence that team displayed against the pass"? The obvious answer is Woodson's ability to simplify the task by taking away half the field, but I do think you're correct that it's a bit more complicated than that. You point to Mattison's departure in 1996. I'd point to Vance Bedford's departure after 1998 as being even more important for the coaching of the defensive backfield. That's the point where the safety play, and more imporantly, I think, the depth of recruiting fell off.
Second, recruiting. What's really notable, I think, is that the coaches were unable to parlay the first and only defensive Heisman winner into a pattern of deep secondaries loaded with star recruits. (We got some great players -- Jackson, Hall -- just not enough of them). I think secondary depth was a much greater issue than you ackowledge, particularly in 2006. It's reductive to trace that team's two losses entirely to recruiting, but Michigan did lose two big time CB recruits that they believed were in the bag in Jai Eugene, who would have been a freshman in 2006, and more importantly Justin King, who would have been a soph or jr, and almost definitely would have started opposite Hall. Losing out on those two meant smaller than expected CB classes for two years in a row and a significant lack of depth in the secondary, that was that defense's only true weakness. Which got exposed against OSU when Adams, I believe, got hurt in the first quarter and the coaches had the options of Johnny Sears or Chris Graham at nickle. There is no correct answer there.
Three, the spread revolution. This is where Michigan's defensive coaching really fell off (and where the lack of secondary depth exerted a high price). No one on Michigan's staff really invested in studying how to combat the spread, even as it was embraced by increasing numbers of teams within the Big 10. Northwestern 2000 was a wake up call that was largely ignored.
In general, you are right that the teaching aspect of coaching gets too easily ignored and all signs point to this staff being perhaps Michigan's best defensive teaching staff since the late 1990s.
I don't know if it was ignored but after 2000 when UM lost to Purdue and Northwestern - both teams that were running 'spread' style offenses, UM never lost to either and for the most part shut down those teams in subsequent years.
As I mentioned in the correction post, a crucial flaw in my post is that I typed "90s" when I meant "00s," and did it several times. And, obviously, I didn't edit my post to check for accuracy there. I'm really talking about the 2000-2007 Lloyd era.
I agree with you about the coaches failing to adapt to modern spread schemes. Some of it was genuinely hard to adapt to, but there still should have been more done. That kind of correlates to my point, which is that the coaching failed the secondary in massive ways starting with the two galling collapses against Purdue and Northwestern in 2000, the year in which the 18-point lead became the worst in Michigan football.
We think of the 2008 Cap One bowl as a bittersweet experience--all the talent coming together, beating a loaded Florida team in a completely non-flukey way (the fluke is that the game was even close). But for true, after-the-fact bittersweet self-flagellation, watch the 2003 Purdue game again. Remember that game? A good Purdue team QB'd by Kyle Orton was ambushed with Jim Herrmann's surprisingly brilliant gameplan and was totally throttled. Herrmann just loaded everyone on the line of scrimmage (very okie-like in appearance in execution) and Orton never figured out how to deal with it. It was unexpected, brilliant, and never seen again.
Much of what was wrong with Michigan in the 00s (I almost typed 90s again; I think I know I'm talking about the "previous decade," but psychologically some part of me still thinks of the previous decade as the 90s. I think I need some caffeine) was exposed in the 2007 Rose Bowl, which I had the privilege of attending. You had a Michigan team that was loaded with NFL players on both sides of the ball, facing a good-but-not-great USC team that had great talent but not superior talent. You had Michigan trying, and failing, to establish its primary gameplan, and lacking much of an alternative. You had Michigan, with NFL talent on both lines (including future #1 overall Jake Long) losing the battle in the trenches.
And you had USC making a smart adjustment to their gameplan that made Michigan look foolish. They were totally unprepared for it and completely unable, on both offense and defense, to do anything to counter it.
As an added bonus, USC players were calling Michigan's offensive plays before they were run.
And that's Lloydball in the 2000s in a nutshell.
First, Michigan had one side of an O-line in '06, their talent in the trenches on offense outside of Long was young or not very good. Secondly, Michigan's D-line was very stout against USC in that Rose Bowl. The fact of the matter was, that, USC was very good at running the ball and Michigan thought it more important to focus run first and pray that teh DBs could cover. There just simply wasn't a lot of DB depth outside of Hall and with the safeties focused primarily on the run (which was USC's gameplan in the first half, it's difficult to make adjustments to a gameplan you don't know they're going to have for the second half) Michigan's lack of talent in the secondary got a bit exposed. I really don't think coaching was too much of an issue. Lloyd Carr was still the head coach and still knew how to coach DBs (which is what he did before becoming head coach, and he was obviously there in the 90s).
Now maybe English struggled a bit coaching the secondary and being a D-coordinator, and safeties seemed to be decent on talent but lost against the pass. A lot of this may have been because of much of the compitition they played, the types of teams, and the style Michigan ran in practice.
Either way, I think it's far too simplistic and not entirely accurate to simply say "DB coaching wasn't good during that time" when Carr himself stepped in at times to help out when the DBs were struggling, and Carr had a very good track record as a DB coach.
At the risk of being disrespectful to some Michigan Men, I'd say that UMich had one *position* (LT) of an O-line in '06. None of the guys other than Long, IIRC, played in the NFL.
I don't think it was just Mattison's players in '97. Looking back 15 years I recall with fond memory Michigan's attacking defense, a type of defense we would wait more than 10 years to see again. What have we been hearing these past two seasons? "Michigan has a unique attacking defense", "Mattison disguises well his blitzes." The reporting verbage is almost identical to that from 1997 so I'm inclined to believe Herrmann used Mattison's schemes in '97 but he wasn't talented enough to change them with the times and players in the out years.
Is Robinson coming back?
He is. But I think he's basically just a depth player at this point.
Mattison Uber Alles
You can safely bet the coaches do something strange, yet surprisingly effective, on the DLine. Heininger as a starter? Hey, that worked great! Washington at NT? Hey, that worked too! Wouldn't surprise me now if next year Ash or Heitzman or Ojemudia or one of the Wormley/Godin/Strobel trio end up coming out of nowhere to push starters for a place.
My only concern is next years secondary. This year was an outlier all around for them. Injured, untested, great on paper, suspended, and abused in the bowl game. No real idea what to expect in 2013, but I'll guess Countess and Taylor should be improved next year, and Gordon holds his own well enough replacing Kovacs. Maybe not as strong against the run, but maybe a touch better in coverage.
I think the front seven will improve in such a way as to make any run regression in the secondary irrelevant.
I'm not sure how much we can read into the SC air show; Raymon Taylor (he's a freshman!) got beat, a couple of zone blitzes got beaten when Michigan couldn't get to the QB fast enough, and neither of the CB starters from the beginning of the season were in the game. I think it will be fine, especially in the Big Ten.
I think so, too. I think Countess and Taylor should be fast enough to stop our secondary form being consistantly beat deep on big 3rd down plays. Taylor is gonna be a junior next year, and Countess a RS Sophomore, so they should have enough experience by then. Whenever the other teams qb chucks it deep in 2013 I don't want to have to cringe and keep repeating "please God no" like I've had to since 2008. It's the one thing on our defense we still need to fix.
I was just comparing Gordon to Kovacs with the run/pass thingy at the end. I'm pretty excited about our front next year. Possibly a Black-Washington-Pipkins-Beyer line with 13 returning players and 3 freshman behind them. Michigan should have the #1 D in the B1G next year.
Just as important as Countess and Taylor is the development of Terry Richardson and one of the incoming freshmen (or Hollowell but that ship seems close to sailing) to complement Avery. I think this year makes clear that you need to be able to go four competent CBs deep to truly feel secure, given injuries, suspensions, and the general need to put at least 3 CBs on the field a good portion of the time.
I've been wondering about TRich and Hollowell, and guessing Terry'll be best suited to play nickle-ninja like you do. It's tough to do much else with such short corners. I have the same feeling about Hollowell if he still hasn't seen the field, and we took 5 more DBs this year, nearly taking 6, plus promoted Norfleet for a game. Special teams might be Delontes ceiling at Michigan. I'd guess that even with our depth Dymonte Thomas, Jourdan Lewis, and either Stribling or Hill still don't redshirt (depending on which one of those two proves best at Boundary Corner.)
I hope Norfleet gets used back on offense now that V. Smith is gone.. he seems like a perfect replacement, depending on his blocking
The defensive coaches do seem able to pull a rabbit out of a hat every year on the DL; this year, actually two with a decent Big Will and a quite good Washington. I share your concern about the secondary, but more the corners than the safeties. You need three guys who can play corner well, and I don't think we have three. And if we have another major injury like this year's, we are screwed. It would be great to see us get a quality CB with one of our last scholarships (although I would prefer and elite RB or WR).
Please stay healthy Tom Gordon. I don't want two new safeties on the field at once.
I thought a "war daddy" was an NT who can handle two gaps? Is Countess bucking up? Is there another meaning? So many questions...
I read that as Brian hoping Countess will be, for all intents and purposes, a war daddy of a CB.
A mini Darelle Revis, if you will.
I wouldn't count this possibility out. He was looking pretty agile at Skeeps back in December. (Seriously, though)
war daddy is basically slang for any really good player. At the clinic last year Mattison referenced some defense where you could pull a safety down into the box but said "you'd better have a war daddy at field corner" if you did so.
I see uncovered receivers everywhere.
(And the two links on the left don't even work. What is this "Maple Street Press" you speak of?)
A question with injured players such as Countess/Wormley.. Do injured players still progress mentally football wise when they're not out there practicing live? Wormley is a freshman and I would like to see him on the field next year, but will he be ready or did his injury put him behind too far? Same goes with Countess will he still make the leap we all thought he would make in his sophmore season? or did his injury hurt him too much
Countess was already a starter in 2011, so even if he didn't advance in 2012, it seems like he should still be quality in 2013.
I hope so. He may have some rust, and more importantly he may not have confidence in his injury recovery yet. As we all recall, with the exception of Adrian Peterson, it takes another year after the initial recovery to feel "right" again.
Defensive backs are probably the least likely to overcome an ACL tear. They are constently changing directions, starting and stopping. Cornelius Ingram from Florida comes to mind as he was never right after tearing his ACL in the 2008 season and again in the 2009 NFL season. See also Broyles. Don't expect Countess to be the same this season.
Yes and no. Mentally, also progresses in regards to muscle/physical memory. Staying low, using proper technique, game experience are all factors to improving mentally which obviously they missed out on throughout the season. However, learning schemes and understanding the position can actually improve more since this is the only thing these kids could focus on. It is really player dependent but luckily both of them can use a redshirt for an extra year of eligibility.