Preview 2012: Secondary
I don't either. See Brady Hoke's century-long tenure. What do you mean I posted it Monday? Get out of town.
This been all banners and Never Forget and all that business for a long time. Michigan's secondary woes didn't start with Rich Rodriguez, who merely carved out a crevasse of hopeless abyssal despair previously unknown to man from a moderately deep trench of hopeless abyssal despair. The secondary has not been good for a long, long time.
But it was last year. I'm about to put up the "coverage" metric the blog tracks. Points are awarded for DBs close enough to receivers to make a play on the ball (even if the ball is caught) and subtracted when guys are open enough to get YAC or easily convert first downs on third and medium situations. If you're batting .500 here you're doing pretty well. Drum roll:
|1||WMU||6||11||-5||A lot of this was Herron, frankly.|
|2||ND||17||18||-1||Good deep in press man.|
|5||MINN||10||5||5||Tony Gibson –6.02 x 10^23|
|6||NW||13||15||-2||Not bad. Some issues getting RPSed.|
|7||MSU||9||12||-3||That's not too bad against a senior QB.|
|8||Purdue||11||6||5||Excellent number given the ratio.|
|9||Iowa||11||14||-3||Good recovery after weak start.|
|12||OSU||11||30||-19||Not so much.|
The OSU number stands out as the only truly bad day of the year not easily explained away by a linebacker who hit the bench after the game in question. That was not entirely on the secondary. Greg Mattison NFLed himself, changing up Michigan's scheme and putting his charges in positions that were untenable or close to it. Even so Michigan's pass efficiency defense rocketed from 103rd to 36th in a single year.
How did this happen? EXCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVE MUST CREDIT MGOBLOG.
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|JT Floyd||Sr.*||Blake Countess||So.||Courtney Avery||Jr.|
|Raymon Taylor||So.||Terry Richardson||Fr.||Delonte Hollowell||So.|
I know. I know. This ish be cray. I have no idea what that means. I saw Ace tweet it at some point and thought about crayfish probably.
|step for step|
|all over this dude|
|beats Jenkins block|
|the oh shiiiiiii|
Michigan returns their top three corners from a year ago, all of whom were pretty good. The depth has been whittled down by the departures of Terry Talbott and Tamani Carter, but they've got a couple sophomores and a touted freshman and should be okay unless they get a flood of injuries. Give them a year and it'll be time to forget Never Forget.
JT Floyd is the headliner in so many ways. After the Penn State game pictured above I said he'd run "three of the worst coverages I've ever seen," and time has done nothing to change that opinion. He got yanked after that game; his last two games UFRed in 2010 were a –8.5 against Iowa ("oh my God the slants") and the –9 against PSU ("awful, awful, awful"). Everyone was openly petrified that he would play; this space predicted Courtney Avery would start and Countess would usurp Floyd's spot posthaste. Instead Countess usurped Avery's spot and Floyd developed into a pretty good Big Ten corner.
The highlight was his game-sealing interception against AJ Jenkins…
…and Floyd was no one-trick pony. I kept an owlish watch on him as he played to the point where I checked his coverage on plays that didn't go anywhere near him. The results were pure Ripley's. He may have sucked containing runs/screen to his side but…
…I still think he's the best corner Michigan has right now. I base this off plays when opponents run twinned routes and I can see a Woolfolk or Countess cover the same slant on the same call; almost invariably Floyd is hugging the receiver tighter. This is not the best example because the QB set him up for this one but whether it's in man or zone Floyd seems to get more plays on the ball than anyone else in the secondary:
Meanwhile, count the long receptions Floyd's given up this year… I've got one, an undefendable Michael Floyd fade on which he had a rake at the ball. When they go after Michigan deep it was Woolfolk and Countess getting most of the exposure. That's good enough for me when trying to figure out who's good in an area of the field you only see when someone hasn't been good (or one of Michigan's quarterbacks has decided they're tired of being on the field).
I know. OMG. Floyd stands alone as the most soaring, magnificent demonstration of the differences between the last staff and this one.
This is not to say he turned into Charles Woodson. He was consistently subpar on bubble screens and other run-support tasks, which was especially frustrating since he is the boundary corner. He, like everyone else, got smoked by Posey in the OSU game, and he still seems to lack a certain something when it comes to deep speed. When I broke down Michigan's "NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE BALL" coverage, a few different coaches got in touch with me to tell me this was something commonly called "trail" coverage. Trail is something you do when you get beat and can't look for the ball; it's supposed to be a plan B when you're really good. For Floyd, it was plan A.
Which, fine. More than fine. Hallelujah. The guy can play. He's got flaws, only some of which will get worked out, and his top end is a stray All Big Ten vote or two and a seventh-round pick, and who cares about any of that when JT Floyd can play football.
TONY GIBSON MINUS ALL OF THE POINTS
Minus all of the points.
[After THE JUMP: Kovacs! A lack of long touchdowns! Depth!]
|COVER AND STUFF|
|step for step|
|no yac for you|
|no slant for you|
|blows deep half|
|lets Posey inside|
|PBU wsg the willies|
Opposite Floyd is one of Michigan's top candidates for breakout player, Blake Countess. Countess followed the usual Star Michigan Corner track as a freshman. He watched for a while, started getting some playing time after a few games, got my uncle to call him the "next great Michigan corner" after he ran a bunch of SDSU's routes for him, and displaced a starter early in the conference season. This has been the path taken by Hall, Jackson, Woodson, and some other guys who aren't nearly as good as those guys but let's not dwell on that.
From there Countess held his own, but only just. As mentioned above, he seemed to be a step or two down from Floyd when opponents ran mirrored routes, and he got crushed like everyone else in the OSU game (-7.5). As you might expect, he had derp moments where he vacated a zone or was a freshman trying to tackle a guy. He also got a PBU on Marvin McNutt:
Expect the usual here: significant improvement as freshmen turn into sophomores. What little practice hype has escaped talks up Countess quite a bit, rumbles about being awesome, etc. He's got the recruiting pedigree and has already started turning that into reality. This year's goal is for him to be a B, B+ player like Floyd was a year ago with an eye on being elite as an upperclassman. Acceleration of that timeline isn't out of the question.
Courtney Avery may not have emerged into a starter, or he may have. Something like 50% of Michigan's defensive snaps were in the nickel, and he was the nickelback. Is he more or less of a starter than Will Heininger was or Quinton Washington will be? He's the same amount of starter.
As nickelbacks go, he's a good one. He only got serious negatives in the ND game, when he was still the starting field corner. After Countess emerged Avery slid down and put up a series of low numbers that are the sign of a good cornerback, then ended his year on something of a tear: +3 in the last three Big Ten games, 0 against Iowa, and +4 against Purdue. He may not be generating the All Big Ten buzz this preview predicted he would a year ago, but he's still a quality option as a third corner. I have no clips for him, which is good and bad.
Avery will remain a quality underneath option; in year three the occasional coverage busts should be reduced. A slight uptick beckons.
The departures of Tamani Carter and Terrance Talbott leave things slightly thin after Avery. Sophomore Raymon Taylor [recruiting profile] is likely next in line for PT. His most notable contribution last year was taking a personal foul, but the fact that they put him in at all is decently encouraging. He was a 3/4 star tweener as a recruit. Think Countess minus a good chunk of the recruiting hype and the spot on the depth chart.
After that it's a couple of Cass Tech mighty-mites. Sophomore Delonte Holowell [recruiting profile] is Michigan's version of @horse_ebooks; he's also a 5'8" corner whose main ambition should be claiming the nickel spot once Avery's done with it. Freshman Terry Richardson [recruiting profile] is slightly bigger than Hollowell and comes in with a bucket of additional hype and offers from everyone. Ideally he would get a year to add ten pounds and reduce the chances he gets trucked. Michigan may not be able to afford that, and they've got a ton of corners coming in next year anyway.
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.|
|Jordan Kovacs||Sr.*||Thomas Gordon||Jr.*|
|Marvin Robinson||Jr.||Jarrod Wilson||Fr.|
|Jeremy Clark||Fr.||Josh Furman||So.*|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
Jordan #$&*ing Kovacs will not be labeled a walk-on in this preview or ever again on MGoBlog except when it is necessary for his career encomium. I know you feel this way, too. Before Angry Iowa Running-Back-Hating God was AIRBHG he was Angry Michigan Safety-Hating God, and I know that if you're reading this you felt every prick as that prick guided Michigan safeties anywhere other than the guy with the ball.
When Kovacs hit the field as a freshman Greg Robinson thought was named Cavanaugh, he supplied more of the same, because obviously. But he progressed even though the defense around him did not, leading to last year's "is Jordan Kovacs actually good?" running offseason debate. This site was Provacs…
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
…but not Provacs enough. Not nearly.
WE ARE CLEAR
|delayed blitz sack|
|ANGLES IN SPACE|
|forces pitch, still tackles|
|speed option crushed|
|down goes Burkhead|
|crush your face Herron|
|GUY YOU CAN BLOCK|
Michigan didn't give up a long touchdown until a tunnel screen broke open in the Purdue game, which Kovacs missed with an injury. Until the bowl game, when Kovacs was in the game the only run over 30 yards they gave up all year was in the ND game, and that was this one:
Marvin Robinson(-3) then turns ten yards into many more by losing leverage. Kovacs had this covered at the sticks if Gray does not get outside.
David Wilson did get Kovacs in the Sugar once.
That was it. Literally. Gordon and Floyd got burned over the top against Nebraska and Posey did bad things to the secondary the next week, but with Kovacs rolled up in an eight man front all day that was not on him. I think Michigan had a starting safety last year who was not responsible for one single solitary derf that led to a touchdown. Yeah, he didn't have as many opportunities to derf because he often rolled up to the line but are you seriously arguing with me about this, imaginary person I try to persuade all the time? Get real, imaginary person.
If you need the numbers, Kovacs went from the moderate-moderate-zero that was his specialty as a sophomore to a year unprecedented for a safety in UFR: zero negative days and a +13 for making WMU QB Alex Carder concave. UFR is always hardest on the safeties because they can rack up huge minuses when they make mistakes. Kovacs simply didn't make those except once against a first-round NFL draft pick.
While rolled up Kovacs was productive, finishing second on the team in tackles, tying for third in TFLs (8) and second in sacks (4). He hangs out on the edge sometimes, waiting for a bounce, and then runs really fast at the exact right angle before it's time to tackle you. He'll time his blitzes excellently and deposit his helmet in your chest. He is Kovacs. I don't know what else to say. He is Kovacs.
The only downside of Kovacs being Kovacs is it's hard to figure out how he gets any better this year. He's fast enough, but not electric; he's big enough, but not intimidating. He has the angles and the tackling dead to rights already. If he busted last year it was vanishingly rare. He's just going to be the same guy this time around.
Which is wonderful.
Thomas Gordon returns at the nominally more free safety spot. I never got why Michigan started yanking him around in an effort to get Troy Woolfolk on the field. Gordon had all of one negative day in UFR (a –1 versus MSU) before he sat on the sidelines during the Iowa game. Woolfolk whiffed on some tackles but wasn't a big problem then and he had a decent game against Illinois. Then Gordon committed his one big boner of the year against Nebraska:
Woolfolk got the start in The Game, and you guys know how that went. Gordon came back in at halftime and helped staunch the bleeding; he gets off lighter than anyone else in the secondary for that business.
If Gordon wasn't quite Kovacs when it came to tackling ALL OF THE EVERYTHING, he also gets a chunk deal of credit for Michigan's stellar ability to prevent long touchdowns. When one Nebraska boner against that offense and a single tunnel screen are the wages of safety sin, you've got it good.
This year the desire is for… what now?
"I love Thomas Gordon," Mattison said. "But he must play faster. He must play more reckless."
Mr. Mattison sir I think I would like to protest this idea. I guess he wants quicker reads, like the linebackers, and more Making Plays, like Gordon's sick one-handed INT against Eastern Michigan. Me, I'll take a replica of last year: 60-some tackles, scattered stats elsewhere, a general lack of long touchdowns surrendered.
Michigan has actual backups here, too. Junior Marvin Robinson [recruiting profile] didn't do much last year other than whiff a couple assignments in the Notre Dame game and not be Ed Reed on that last ND touchdown. He ended up –7.5 and hardly played the rest of the year. That may not have been entirely due to his play. Michigan announced he had a "head thing" that later turned out to also be a "legal thing." That was pled down to the usual probation and Robinson was good to go for spring.
Robinson remains ripped…
…and I've heard a thing or two about the light going on for him. The only other tea leaf we have is a bit here and there from the spring practice videos—a nice fill, a leveling of Jordan Paskorz on a short toss. Robinson is reputed to be a punishing hitter, but an erratic one. Michigan will try to get him time in preparation for the tall task of replacing Kovacs in a year.
Fellow enigma Josh Furman [recruiting profile] was limited to special teams a year ago and missed spring practice for a whole bunch of nothing, so information on him is even scanter. He's won one of Michigan's kick return spots, which makes sense because his FAKE 40 times are truly epic:
The first Scout article written on him mentions "gaudy athleticism" in the headline. He clocked an electronic 4.36 at a Pittsburgh combine, causing Scout to declare his athleticism "off the charts"($) and ESPN to claim that his "elite testing marks … should help his recruiting stock continue to soar." The Washington Post cited another 4.36 from 2008, when Furman was just entering his junior year. He has the fakest 40 of anyone in this recruiting class by a mile.
He was also a high school tailback. He came to Michigan rawer than raw on defense, and with the suspension he hasn't progressed as much as he should have. Hopefully Michigan can start working him into the mix in low-pressure situations so they can find out what they've got other than a really fast dude.
Wilson, Gant, Clark
Three freshmen fill out the roster. Early-enrolling Jarrod Wilson [recruiting profile] showed well in spring and is actually the second-string FS already. He's a rangy guy who got four stars from everyone and picked Michigan over ND, Penn State, and Stanford, so there's a lot of promise there. He was a little late in the various spring videos and game-type substances, as you might expect. Michigan will try to work him in like they will Furman. He'll get a real shot at a starting job next year.
The timeline is a little longer for Allen Gant [recruiting profile] and Jeremy Clark [recruiting profile]. Both are lower rated guys who arrived in fall. Clark is extremely tall (6'4") and skinny; Michigan initially wanted to grayshirt him but upgraded him to a full offer after he performed well as a senior. Gant is a legacy guy, shorter and more of a strong safety type. He was supposed to be one of the top guys in Ohio as an underclassman; that did not pan out. Both are likely redshirts.