Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
Depth chart shows everybody just because.
Michigan has promise, depth, and even experience at defensive tackle that reaches three-deep. Greg Mattison's spent fall camp telling people that he feels he can rotate three-deep everywhere across the line, and I almost believe him. Aside from nose tackle, where it's doubtful Richard Ash gets a lot of playing time, Michigan does have three guys who can play.
At nose they just have an above-average returning starter and the sophomore year of five-star Ondre Pipkins. That'll be an okay platoon, I think. Three-tech is dodgier, with 280-pound Jibreel Black trying to hold up a year after 280-pound Jibreel Black was flipped out to end late so that Washington could make his way into the lineup. Even there they've got two guys they seem to like a lot behind Black.
It's weird, I know. Get used to it: this is a preview of what it's like when Hoke's recruiting classes finally take hold.
Instructed and instructor [unknown/Upchurch]
Will Heininger's progression from guy getting blown up against EMU to serious contributor and guy you worry a bit about replacing established this site's "Heininger Certainty Principle," which states that because of Will Heininger Michigan fans should have confidence that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison will get every ounce of talent out of their charges. That hypothesis graduated to theory when QUINTON WASHINGTON chiseled it in stone over the course of last season.
Washington was a converted offensive lineman with maybe a half-dozen snaps to his name when he was suddenly (and perhaps accidentally) announced as the starter at nose tackle when the Big Ten Network visited Michigan's practice. This caused the usual round of animated emoticons running in circles and a big "I don't know" in last year's preview:
I have no idea how Washington will do. … Washington is a redshirt junior and former touted recruit, so this could work out. Totally. Maybe.
So of course he was one of the strengths of the defense. Heininger Certainty Principle, you guys.
Washington was flat good last year. When I went back to the UFRs I had nearly as many clips for him as I did Jake Ryan, and in approximately the same proportion of good to bad. He combined power with a fair amount of penetration, and while he wasn't Mike Martin in the UFR charts he was a consistently positive presence. He was the top performer on the defense in the Alabama game, was only negative against Air Force (weird option cutting business) and Nebraska (a –1), and usually ended up solidly positive. His Notre Dame performance was a revelation:
Washington in particular was impressive with his repeated penetration. He's probably as shocked as anyone about this, so he's continually overrunning things, but whatever, man, he's blowing up blocking. I told you this would happen after UMass!
In fact I said that Washington seemed to play well but would obviously not do that against Notre Dame.
While it wasn't a secret All Big Ten season, he was probably better than any nose tackle in the league other than Kawaan Short and Jonathan Hankins. (And maybe Penn State's Jordan Hill; I didn't UFR a Penn State game last year.) Not bad for a guy who caused people to twitch a little bit when he was named the starter.
Along the way he did a number of impressive things. Here he clobbers a Purdue guard into a puller, who ends up clobbering the running back. Unsatisfied, he tries to put the guy in the band:
He gets under guys, rocks them back, and then can rip through at the proper moment:
When he got negatives, they were usually for getting hacked to the ground or not being mobile on stretch plays. Given his plus-level penetration I don't think the latter issue is set in stone. The balance thing isn't a huge problem. He's okay, he's just not Ryan Van Bergen.
Incremental improvement as a senior should get Washington's performance level to All Big Ten. As a nose tackle he may not have the requisite stats to get there, but I'll be surprised if he's not amongst the top guys in the league and a mid-round NFL draftee.
[After THE JUMP: depth! Undersized Jibreel Black! More depth! Seriously!]
Depth here is… I know there's a word for this… I'm sure I can figure it out… oh God tip of my tongue…
Yeah. I guess. Excellent.
it's hard out there for a pimpkins
ONDRE PIPKINS [recruiting profile] arrived on a palanquin of hype, eating whatever he wanted. A year later, the palanquin is waiting patiently and Pipkins is decimating lean protein sources across the Midwest. There is much less of him to love this year:
"The biggest difference has been my weight, and the way my body's come together," Pipkins said Sunday. "I came in at 30 percent body fat, now I'm down to 24 percent, my weight's at 315 and I'm running to the ball.
"I'm more in shape now than I've ever been in my life."
If this bit is true…
"My running started changing a lot. I was the fastest big guy in the running groups. And it was like 'wow, this really worked.'"
…look out. Pipkins flashed his talent as early as the first game, when he blew up 'Bama All-American Barrett Jones on one of his first snaps at Michigan:
shoulda been a TFL if the backside was playing well.
But as ever with planetoid defensive tackles, stamina, mobility, and consistency held him back much of the year. His first year was by the book: flash immense talent, get winded, occasionally remind you that the line always takes time:
The blitz gets Pipkins(-1, pressure +1) a free run at the tailback, who blocks him and knocks him over! I do not want to be Pipkins when film review of this play comes up. –Minnesota UFR
Time, always time.
Hoke mentioned Pipkins first and foremost in one of those open-ended questions about conditioning:
Question: (Who are) your other guys who have made strides in addition to Kalis?
“Ondre has really done a nice job this summer when you look at the physical standpoint, conditioning standpoint. We’re big into body fat and comparisons and he has done a tremendous job in that part of it."
The not-so-dominating freshman year should be of little concern. User West Texas Blue took a look at blue chip defensive tackle recruits and concluded that lots of them redshirt and almost nobody has an impact. Year two is when they start making waves.
Pipkins will make his share this year. Washington will keep him on the bench a lot and it looks like they're going to remove the nose on passing downs so they can put another weakside end on the field, but he'll get around 30% of Michigan's snaps and tantalize with his potential.
Obligatory Pipkins Hoke impression goes here.
Michigan also returns RICHARD ASH, the last of the Pahokeeians. Ash hasn't seen but a few snaps so far in his career and though he shows up in the practice videos regularly, that's not likely to change. He was immediately passed by Pipkins this year, seems to be getting passed by Henry this year, and is running out of time. If Henry does get dragged over to three-tech full-time, Ash should get some run late in blowouts and maybe on occasion on a long drive in a competitive game. If one of the platoon guys goes down he is a not-terrible option to have—he did something good against Alabama. Yeah.
Next to Washington, it's hard to tell if Michigan should worry or anticipate. The graduation of Will Campbell moves JIBREEL BLACK into the starting lineup. Black is quite undersized for a three-tech at 278—a pound heavier than starting WDE Frank Clark.
This is ominous against the run. Against the pass it's promising. All you need to know about Campbell pass-rush skills is that the Jets drafted him to play offensive line. He was a total nonfactor; Black promises much more disruption.
On the ground, though, Black has some shoes to fill. After a rough start against Alabama and Air Force, Campbell became quite effective at preventing offensive linemen getting to the second level and could occasionally two-gap a guy. Black has driven some guys into the backfield but they were not good ones; when he does something in the run game it's usually in the same vein as the play that ended the Northwestern game:
Line him up over a gap and shoot him into that gap. Black's get off is pretty good, and he made some hay last year executing things like that. Eating doubles, not so much.
That is the reason that after a couple of good games against Air Force and UMass Black disappeared to the boonies for three games. He re-emerged against MSU in a fine performance (+3.5, no minuses) and then alternated good outings with zeros the rest of the year. When Michigan's gameplan called for a lot of three-man lines in the bowl game, he took up one of the end spots and was actually quite effective as a rusher. (South Carolina did not test Michigan on the ground.) Against Nebraska his mobility and balance made him the preferred option:
Why did Black suddenly get a lot of PT?
He seemed to be better at keeping his feet than Campbell, and Michigan was slanting a lot, which gave him the opportunity to use his superior speed to make some plays. This kind of thing was the thing we were hoping we'd get from him when his DT move was announced. It took half a year but there is some of it. He also drew a holding call against Nebraska on a similar quick upfield move, setting up the Roh donkeysack.
The catch, though:
Slight downer: Nebraska starting running some mashing inside zones at the end of the game, doubling both DTs for extended periods, and he got put on skates a little bit. Not a huge surprise since he's undersized for the position.
Black did progress over the course of the season from a guy who Michigan didn't trust very much to one they were comfortable playing for large chunks of time. He definitely got more time than Campbell in the bowl, and while that's a situational thing Michigan had other options at DE and went with him. As a freshman, his run defense was abject, and it got much better. As a sophomore, his pass rush was nonexistent, and it got… somewhat better. As a junior he was an okay all-around player. In his final year he should be all right. He has held off any whisper of a challenge from a couple of guys who Mattison has talked up quite a bit. It's a good combination to have a defensive coordinator who likes his depth at a spot and isn't thinking about changing starters.
It says here that Black 2013 == Roh 2012. A senior who's a bit of a wonky fit for his position on the defensive line but comes through it rather well, making a lot of plays that don't show up in the box score but do in UFR. At no point will anyone talk him up for postseason mention or the NFL, but he won't be much of a hole, especially if the backups can pick him up in situations where he might get doubled.
Finally, like Jeremy Gallon, we would be remiss if we did not mention Black's enduring contribution to the culture of MGoBlog:
"When I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
Here is the cat:
Did this get used in the Jabrill Peppers thread? It better have gotten used.
Willie Henry looks the part [Bryan Fuller]
WILLIE HENRY [recruiting profile] took a redshirt last year. A late pickup by Hoke from Cleveland Glenville, no one really expected much from Henry early. Those expectations may be changing. When Wolverine Nation interviewed the outgoing seniors($), it was Henry—not, say, Kyle Kalis or Ben Braden or Jehu Chesson—who won the "best redshirt freshman" derby. Responders called him "strong as an ox," "an animal," and "as talented as some of the guys I played against this year." Pipkins talked him up publicly, too:
“I’ve seen a lot of growth out of Willie Henry,” noted sophomore defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins. “Last year, people weren’t even talking about him. Now, everyone’s talking about him, because we see the potential and the ability that Willie Henry has.
“He’s just working hard, running to the ball, and making plays that normally you shouldn’t make as a defensive tackle. It’s something that’s maybe more designed for the linebackers to make."
With Washington and Pipkins in front of him, Henry has an uphill battle towards significant time at the nose even if that might be his best bet long term at 306 pounds and counting. This year he seems to be the number one option behind Black at three-tech. He should give Michigan a significant number of snaps, especially against grinding power teams like Michigan State.
Side note: Google image searches for "Willie Henry" are 90% mugshots.
Mrs. Henrys of the world, name your kid "Carlton" or something. Actually, don't. Willard? Yeah, that's the ticket.
Glasgow, Strobel (unknown, Fox Sports Next)
Also battling for snaps at three tech are two odd names. The first one has no recruiting profile because he's a walk-on, but he was a true freshman walk-on last year and this preview still noted his presence. He is RYAN GLASGOW, brother of Graham and excellent find. Last year:
And here's a weird one: I've heard that Michigan thinks they have something in walk-on Ryan Glasgow. … It would be a longshot for him to see the field this year, obviously, but he's listed at 294 already and is a guy to keep an eye out for in case that pans out.
He's on path to doing so. Glasgow has drawn praise from Mattison on one of those open-ended questions we like to put stock in:
Who's pushing Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington?
"Everybody that rotates in there has a day, you know? We had a competition yesterday where it was four-minute, so the defense has got to stop a team without getting a first down. Watching the tape, and you look, and all of a sudden Ryan Glasgow, from the three-technique position, makes two tackles on the line of scrimmage all the way down the line the other way. When we stopped it and showed our guys and said, 'Look, this is Glasgow making this play. This is a heck of a job.'"
He saw time in the nickel package defense in the Mott scrimmage at nose tackle, and various folk around the program believe he will get snaps. He was second on the initial depth chart. With Black, Henry, and Strobel available, this is a bit different situation than Michigan has with Glasgow's brother on the offensive line. If this Glasgow wasn't good, no one would be talking about him. Chatter here is an unalloyed positive.
The second odd name, TOM STROBEL [recruiting profile], is odd because he's listed at 265 and is playing inside despite two fellow redshirt freshmen who are much bigger (Wormley and Godin) duking it out at SDE. A couple of recruiting sites listed Strobel as a WDE, that's how weird we're talking here. While the three-tech and SDE spots are not hugely different, the position switch signals Strobel is a more developmental prospect than the other two guys. A week ago, Hoke said Henry and Glasgow were the guys backing up Black; Strobel's going to need another year.
What's this? There are more players? Is this the legendary "depth" we've heard so much about? Yes, it is. These guys are freshmen. MAURICE HURST, JR., [recruiting profile] is a nose tackle for the future; HENRY POGGI [recruiting profile] is a three-tech for the future. Though both are solid four-star recruits, they're listed at 270 and 260, respectively, and are locks to redshirt what with all the dudes already mentioned.