Michigan Museday: Demens vs. Worf
So my favorite way to learn things is to start an argument with someone who knows more than I do about that subject and see if my take can take the onslaught. On Sunday Magnus put an interesting question to the board about the current MGoTake on Kenny Demens:
I've seen many references to this in recent times, including when I was reading HTTV. There seems to be some sentiment around here that Kenny Demens is better than Obi Ezeh but he won't make anyone forget about David Harris. I'm kind of confused why people are down on Demens in that way. He's not Ray Lewis, but David Harris wasn't Ray Lewis, either.
As a junior, David Harris had 88 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.
In a comparison of junior seasons, Kenny Demens had 94 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 2 pass breakups.
Those are pretty similar statistics, and while Harris did more in the turnover department, I'm not sure why people are insisting that David Harris was so much better. Demens still has a year to get to that level. He may or may not get there, but I don't think it's really a fair argument to compare the two careers right now.
Harris is special to Brian because he was the first great player uncovered in UFR. He's special to me because when I crossed that line between being someone who knows Michigan football and is truly
informed obsessed about Michigan football, I began going around telling people that David Harris (not Henne, Hart, Manningham or Long) was the most important guy on the team. In both cases that was in 2005, about the same time in his career that Demens was getting his unit dinged (vs. MSU et al.) for not being reactive enough. This has resulted in a bit of a bias on these pages from Brian and those principally informed by Brian to speak of Harris in near-Woodsonian terms. Whether you regard that as a weakness in our coverage, it fortunately leaves plenty of room for Demens to be both "worse than David Harris" and "a damn good Big Ten linebacker."
Here's the part of Brian's summation on Demens from HTTV that I am almost certain Magnus is responding to:
We got some clarity in 2011, when Demens was just okay. While he led the team in tackles, he managed just two TFLs against running plays. He barely beat blocks and was such a mediocre blitzer that Greg Mattison started playing him at nose tackle so he could send Mike Martin at the quarterback. On the plus side of the ledger, Demens was a surpisingly high-quality cover guy, sticking with players well down seams he didn't have much business covering.
First let's clarify that nobody's suggesting Demens is an average of 45s. The Unofficial MGoBlog Harris-Ezeh Scale of Linebackeritude...
...sees Demens firmly on the Harris end of the ledger.
That is a comedown from post-2010, when this site fell in love with Demens for being not-Ezeh and because most of his struggles were schematically blameable on GERG (plus the threat of a Dr. Vorax the Stuffed Beaver facewash if he did something good). He is a pretty good tackler. He stands up well to blocks. And he is one of the guys who helped make us stout in short situations last year. We like him.
Let's compare that to the feeling on David Harris going into 2006:
Harris was a player. He led the team in tackles, making a fair number of them near or behind the line of scrimmage. He was tasked with spying Drew Stanton during the Michigan State game and flashed his speed against Penn State when he tracked down Derrick F-ing Williams on an end around. His UFR number was +8 that game, a monster. Though Harris tailed off towards the end of the year, he's established himself as one of the Big Ten's better linebackers and certainly the best Michigan has.
Over the course of his senior season Harris went from a budding star that bloggers were into before it was cool, to a player of the decade who could diagnose the blocking assignments of a given play before people in the huddle did:
The difference I find is the instincts. Harris was great because he could read a play, make his decision, and shoot to where he needed to be. Having rewatched the late '90s games with new eyes I can see Dhani Jones had this to set him apart as well. Kovacs is the obvious modern example.
Ironically, "good in coverage, needs to be more instinctive" is the opposite of what we said in the 2011 preview:
It's clear by the rating above that I'm a Demens believer. I liked what I saw last year and I've seen MLBs who are pretty good to compare him to. David Harris, for one. He's not Harris but I think Demens is closer to him than Ezeh already. He just has a knack for getting to where the play is going. Though his coverage still needs some work he was decently effective in short zones last year.
There's no direct post-sophomore comparison for Harris because he had a knee injury that took two seasons to return from. Before that, freshman versions of Harris were the recipients of an a-normal amount of positive chatter. Spring chatter is just that and not worth putting that much stock into, however there's too many old copies of The Wolverine gushing about him to discount entirely. As soon as Harris was healthy he displaced the returning starter (McClintock) and never came off the field.
Demens before Iowa 2010 is equally hard to pin down. There was some trouble for which the entirety of Demen's culpability essentially came down to "is bad at choosing roommates." When he dropped behind Ezeh and position switching Moundros early his RS sophomore year the expectations were downgraded, only to be rekindled when it turned out this was just the work of the nefarious Dr. Vorax.
As for their respective junior seasons, the basis of the claim that Demens=Harris is in the tackling stats. Because the team can face radically different numbers of plays I like to use % of team tackles for this; though it doesn't change the point Magnus was making:
|2005 Season||52||36||88||2011 Season||49||45||94|
|TEAM 2005||539||269||808||TEAM 2011||481||380||861|
|% of 2005||9.6%||13.4%||10.9%||% of 2011||10.2%||11.8%||10.9%|
On the surface this seems to support your assertion that their respective RS Jr seasons were pretty comparable. Harris had a greater % of his tackles solo because the team was less into gang-tackling.
My memory said Michigan faced more passing offenses in 2005 than this year. However the stats say that 2005 and 2011 were almost identical in number of live plays:
|Live Defensive Plays||2005||2011|
|Opp. Rushing Attempts||430||429|
|Opp. Pass Completions||223||221|
The biggest difference seems to be the cornerbacks and LaMarr Woodley made the tackles that Kovacs and T.Gordon took for 2011. If you take the view that tackles missed by linebackers go to the safeties then:
|W. Barringer||10||29||14||Jordan Kovacs||12||51||24|
|Brandent Englemon||11||26||16||Thomas Gordon||13||41||26|
|Jamar Adams||12||21||6||Courtney Avery||13||17||9|
|B. Harrison||12||15||9||Carvin Johnson||8||9||5|
(I included Courtney Avery because some of Harrison's season was at nickel and it's hard to separate that.)
There's also a moderate difference in rushing yards/attempt between the seasons that you have to imagine the leading tackler had something to do with: Opponents in 2005 were held to 3.8 YPA; in 2011 it was 4.0 YPA. However this is a very flimsy statistical case. Magnus is correct that the numbers do not show a major difference between Demens and Harris's junior seasons.
For that we have to go to the realm of the individual games and plays. Here's the UFR comparison of their respective junior seasons:
|Notre Dame||5||1||4||Night and day from McClintock.|
|Eastern Michigan||5||0||5||Reading and reacting in the short zone.|
|Wisconsin||4||3||1||Reading and reacting in the short zone.|
|Michigan State||6||0||6||Playing very, very well. Entrusted with spying Stanton all day; shows the faith they have in him.|
|Minnesota||8||2||6||Well, we've got one linebacker.|
|Penn State||9||1||8||Biggest scrub to star transformation since...?|
|Northwestern||4||1||3||Unbelievably deep drops in coverage.|
|Iowa||3||3||0||Worst game since he became a starter. Still did okay.|
|Western Michigan||7.5||5||2.5||Kind of a rough start but played in odd conditions.|
|Notre Dame||13||4.5||8.5||Twelve tackles and few errors.|
|Eastern Michigan||3.5||4.5||-1||Slow to diagnose some things.|
|San Diego State||9.5||2.5||7||Not sure what to do with his Howard-esque coverage but I liked it.|
|Minnesota||4.5||2.5||2||Not many plays even got to him.|
|Northwestern||5.5||9.5||-4||Did not get outside even on speed options.|
|Michigan State||4.5||6.5||-2||Michigan's linebackers are not nearly as reactive as MSU/ND, even Northwestern, and it costs them.|
|Purdue||3||3||0||Not much got to him thanks to Martin.|
|Iowa||10||6||4||Stuck Coker cold a half yard from a critical third down conversion. I be like dang.|
|Illinois||7.5||3.5||4||Second consecutive solid game. Pretty good in coverage.|
|Nebraska||9.5||5.5||4||Three straight +4s. Surprisingly good in coverage for MLB.|
|Ohio State||5.5||4||1.5||Ate some blocks.|
Harris 2005: +35 in nine games (+3.9/game)
Demens 2011: +26.5 in twelve games (+2.2/game)
[EDIT: A copy error from 2005 screwed up my arithmetic. It is corrected now]
Now I realize UFR has changed a bit since then and that opportunities might be different and etc. etc. etc. etc. this is not scientific at all. What I'm really going by is the record in the comments. So those numbers probably don't mean anything.
What does mean things are the notes. In Demens you see "slow to diagnose some things" and "Michigan's linebackers are not nearly as reactive as MSU/ND, even Northwestern, and it costs them," and "Ate some blocks." Is it a weakness? I'm sure the coaching carousel Demens has had in his career is a big part of that. I'm also sure that among the most important attributes for a defensive player, perhaps even more important than his size or his speed or his tackling technique (though all matter a lot), is how many micro-seconds it takes him to react correctly to the play. In this Harris as a junior was outstanding, and Demens as a junior was "area for improvement."
Does this constitute a low ceiling for Demens? If you put a gun to my head: yes, I'd say he's RVB to David Harris's Mike Martin.
This is the first year that he is playing in the same system and has continuity around him.
But this brings up a more important questions: Is Obi Ezeh the worst linebacker to ever start for Michigan? At least, in the modern era? Last ten years?
If Rex Ryan wants to sign you to a 4 year $36 million dollar extension to be one of the cogs of his defense, it means that you're a damn good linebacker. Saying that Demens is not the next Harris is not all that insulting.
That said, hopefully he takes a similar senior jump to Harris. We should not necesarrily be hoping for the same type of MIKE as Harris (Run stopper v. coverage) but hopefully one that amazes us in UFR just as much.
This all looks vaguely familiar...
Yeah, part of this was originally a response to his thread, then I accidentally put on front page on monday when I was uploading.
If it's any consolation, I enjoyed reading it both times.
I would have really liked to see a player tell GERG to go sit down with that damn stuffed animal. I mean seriously, grow the hell up. What was that thing?!? I will never understand that in all my years. I will think about how entirely insane that was when I am watching Michigan Football with my three year old grandchild at some point in the distant future. I hold an intense amount of hatred for GERG and his incredible lack of competence.
As a Browns fan I've been trying to decide for his whole career whether or not D'qwell Jackson is good. He's always near the top in total tackles, the problem is that most of those tackles come after a 5-10 yard gain.
I completely agree. That's why I want to tell all Ohio fans to settle down about the freshman year that Ryan Shazier had. At best he was making a few plays based on raw athleticism and at worst he was a huge liability that missed a large chunk of his assignments and over pursued. I get their excitement as he should be very, very good, but I just don't understand why they were so excited about his freshman year. Yes, he made tackles. He is a linebacker after all, but he was responsible for a lot of yards.
On the chart above, shouldn't Harris have a +6 vs MSU instead of the 0 he was given? That would put him at +35 for those games instead of +29, for a 3.88 average.
("Nothing scientific" noted in the following paragraph, but still was curious).
Love Demens and looking for great things from him.
You are, I believe, correct, but that puts him at 33. I have no idea where the 29 comes from, as the numbers given add up to 27.
Great math somewhat spoiled by poor arithmetic.
I haven't been able to read past the point where it says "...Demens was getting his unit dinged for not being reactive enough."
What are your thoughts on this?
is there a Magnus, Mangus & a Mangos on this board?
So.. the one who purports to know about football & adds shots of
hotties to his site is Magnus?
The one who includes links to Kate wet t-shirt photos is Mangus?
Who is mango then? What are you contributing, sir/madam?
Thanks Magnus and Seth for a discussion and article I can sink my teeth into. I think hanging your hat on subjective summary comments from the UFR is still a weak argument, but it is the only other analysis to put against the stats. Don't forget that the coaches set expectations for the position, not the players. In my 30+ years of watching Michigan Football, that has been the truest thing of all. Every year the media creates a story about the Names of those who left, and scratch their heads about the names coming in, but by mid season it seems like the LBs are being LBs and the DLs are being DLs. Yes there was a break in that coaching chain, but last year shows it's back. Demens very likely will improve his reaction time, at least from a subjective eye. If for some reason he doesn't, then some other name will be put on the field who does meet the expectation of the position.
Don't get me wrong, I love the richness of a subjective and player personal viewpoint, but if you are as old/wise as me, you'll realize each of these players are more similar than different.
uhhh, isn't it Worf? like with an O?
I was just going to say the same thing.
Fixed. I'm a bad trekkie.
When you fix the title for something it doesn't fix the link:
this is michigan, fergodsakes
what was there before? please say "ha".
Seth, I don't know if your data go this deep, but one interesting though not conclusinve comparison would be to look at the distribution of yards gained per tackle for these guys. If Harris is more instinctive and decisive, then all else being equal he should be tackling the ballcarrier after shorter gains. Maybe to remove some confounding factors it'd be best to look only at tackles within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, or some such. That'd be a very intriguing stat not just for this argument, but possibly as a metric for evaluating linebackers in general.
Sadly building the database to put out such information would take a VERY long time. Mathlete has done so -- perhaps he can show that. My guess is there's so many factors it's hard to tell.
Calling this a difference;
Harris 2005: +29 in nine games (+3.2/game)
Demens 2011: +26.5 in twelve games (+2.2/game)
Strains the credibility of a somewhat arbitrary system that was embrionic in 2005.
Dinging Demens for being slow to react in his first year in a new system compared to the continuity that Harris experienced is not terribly compelling.
Those numbers look the same to me. Pet players aside, Magnus has a point and we should wait until the end of the season to decide between Demens and Harris.
The revisions to UFR over the years are mainly Brian's expertise level and an inkling that he should try to tone down the DL a bit and award more +/- to the back 7. It's hard to say what the former would do, but the latter makes it somewhat likely that Demens is actually worse than in 2005 terms.
he couldn't understand the lukewarm expectations for Demens' senior year, and that based on his performance last year, we should be excited about Demens this coming year. (Not to start a Demens v. Harris comparison per se).
On the other hand, how well Demens can play this year is probably the most dependent on how well the defensive line plays...
If you don't like the quantification, you could still look at # of games with a positive score:
Harris: 8 out of 9
Demens: 8 out of 12
I don't think that this shows a huge difference between them, but it indicates a difference.
Kenny is one of the many guys I hope will fully blossum this year. I am thinking last year was more like a Sophomore year for him based on 1) GERG before then and 2) change in scheme / learning the new one.
I remember player quotes from the Lloyd Carr days where the middle linebacker was considered a leader of the defense. (I know Kovacs is a key leader in the backfield.) With a full off season to learn, and practice (in player organized 7on7), and with the added maturity coming from being a year older, I am hopefull Demens breaks through a barrier and really takes off.
This analysis: I be like dang!
One of the key points of the UFR comparison was the ding that Demens got for not being as aggressive as the MSU/ND linebackers. Yet I distinctly remember Brian also ripping those same linebackers for over-pursuit. Teo, as one example, could be exploited because he was so hyper aggressive.
For those of you who are smarter football minds, I'm sure there is a balance between "responsible" and "aggressive", is there any way to explain that better to the rest of us?
My take is that Demens is less likely to make a jaw dropping play like Teo but he's also far less likely to be caught running the wrong direction on a play. When comparing him to an all-time great like Harris that probably means his ceiling is lower but he's still got the potential to be very good.
The fact that we're even having a debate about whether our senior MLB is going to be "pretty good" or "pretty great" is a fun thing to experience.
There's really three things we're talking about in this:
1. Being "aggressive." This means you identify the play and start heading where you need to be to stop that play. This isn't always right at the football, in fact usually it's going somewhere to cut off an escape route for the football or taking out a lead blocker before he's gotten to a place where his block can be effective, so that pursuit can run him down. In this I'm only speaking of reaction time to the play. The opposite of aggressive is Ezeh, who would sit on the balls of his feet waiting until he could figure out where the ball is going, and by then be too late.
2. Being "over-aggressive" as it related to Te'o was schematic, not reactiveness. What ND was doing was similar to what MSU was doing, except Michigan was prepared for it and used it against the Irish while we were consistently caught off guard against MSU. Mostly this means they kept sending extra linebackers in as rushers off the snap.
3. Over-pursuit. This is aftter you've identified where the ball is going, but then you misjudge where you need to get to, or try to "MAKE PLAYS" instead of going to the right spot for the defense. Say you're the MLB and you see the H-back is moving toward the weak side of the formation a little bit before the snap. This is a key that the play is going left so you shoot directly at the Y-Tight End in order to be in the backfield the same time the blockers get there. If you try to blow up the running back yourself right here, you're going to leave a huge cutback lane where you just came from. If you get to the spot and pop that U-back, you've taken out the blocking on the play and you're still in position for the cutback. You now just have to trust the linebacker to the playside of you to make the play.
A classic example of over-pursuit is when a linebacker gets isolated in space with a receiver. If you read it quickly you can shoot at the receiver and arrive shortly after the ball to make a tackle for no gain. If you didn't read it quickly, or you were aligned too far inside, then high-tailing it to where the WR just caught the ball is setting yourself up for over-pursuit -- he's ready to go whichever direction you're not and you have all of your momentum committed to the way he won't go. Instead it's your job to either cut off the option that's furthest from the rest of your defense, or better yet, if possible, to get into position to play chicken with him, since every second he's in one place the rest of the defense is closing in.
What Demens and Ryan weren't doing well in the MSU and NW games was a reaction thing. The defensive call expected them to read the direction of the pulls and quickly get into positions on that side of the field to take out the blockers early and make sure the ball does not get outside of them. If they tried to cut Le'Veon Bell off too far upfield, that risks giving Bell the corner or allowing him to slip the tackle. That would have been overpursuit. If Mattison had sent Ryan and Demens both on a blitz to the backside of the play and Bell plus two blockers were speeding to the frontside, that would be over-aggressiveness a la Notre Dame. It wasn't those things--it was Demens still being on the hashmark by the time the ballcarrier had gotten outside of the ends and turned his momentum upfield.
Thanks for the response, Seth. While I do view Harris as a more instinctive linebacker (and I wasn't extremely high on Demens coming out of high school), it's tough to remember 2005/2006 and what I thought of him *then.*
It's a little easier to trust stats than memories from 6 or 7 years ago. But as some have said, this is just Demens' second year in the system. Jim Herrman and Ron English essentially ran the same defense, even though Michigan switched coordinators from 2005 to 2006.
Anyway, this is a more in depth response than I expected, but I obviously appreciate someone taking the time to discuss it in detail. Some variables here that aren't easy to sift through are a) the evolution of Brian's UFR and b) missed tackles by linebackers. Brian also dinged Michigan's defense, and Jake Ryan in particular, for the failure to stop the outside run consistently. So are Kovacs' tackle stats because tailbacks slipped past Demens...or because they got outside of Ryan? Obviously, a sweep getting stifled by Jordan Kovacs/Thomas Gordon is more relevant to the play of Ryan/Roh than the inside linebackers.
Anyway, thanks. These are some interesting thoughts. Hopefully Demens can work his way closer to being David Harris.
I independently agree with the Mgobloggers on D Harris and always thought he was one of the quickest (east west) and most efficient tacklers ive seen at Michigan.