Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.
Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster
It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either
the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.
Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.
Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.
It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.
Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.
Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.
[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]
2. How do we paper over Novacs?
Getting to the quarterback. That's the only answer. If you don't have time to sit back and survey you cannot get it deep. While I am steeled to the idea that Michigan's going to blow it a lot more than they have in the recent past, if the opportunities to blow it are significantly reduced they can get by.
Assuming Mattison havoc is approximately equal and that Jake Ryan is Jake Ryan by the meat of the schedule, that comes down to:
- How much do Clark and Ojemudia improve?
- How much more rush does Michigan get out of the three tech and nickel spots?
- Can anyone else generate organic pass rush?
I think the answer to #1 is "significantly, but not as much as has been hyped." #2: "somewhat," and the answer to #3 is "maybe Quinton Washington." Improvement is a given; getting to elite is unlikely.
Actually, there is another thing. For Hail to the Victors I calculated some stats to give you an indication of how Michigan's safety play was over the last couple years:
According to CFBStats.com, Michigan was 49th—barely better than average—when it came to giving up plays of 10 yards or more. They gave up slightly more than 13 a game. (Alabama was under 6, with no other team under 9.) But they were increasingly elite at not letting those ten yard plays escalate as the distances got longer. They were 18th at preventing those plays from hitting 20 yards, 13th at preventing them from hitting 30, 8th at preventing them from hitting 40. That is a picture of safety reliability. …
The next year the story was a little different, as Blake Countess went down and Michigan had a tendency to give up long passing plays in one-on-one coverage, but Michigan was still better at keeping plays down than they were at preventing them from hitting 10 yards, finishing sixth in cutting down 10-yard plays before they reached 20.
Michigan exposed their safeties to a lot of opportunities to implode relative to elite defenses. If they can get that run defense working to the point where safety fills are coming after bounces, delays, and assorted whatnot, they can take pressure off of Avery/Wilson. That seems likely as long as they can get similar production out of the three-tech spot occupied by Will Campbell last year. Survey says… ask again after we see Black try it.
3. Do you have any similar philosophical concerns about the defense?
Michigan's defense has been hamstrung by a lack of hybrid space players early in Hoke's tenure. Hybrid space players (i.e., safety/LB hybrids who can play pass and run against spread offenses) are a major trend in modern football. See the nickelback section of the corner preview for more detail. In a nutshell, they are guys who can blitz because they're fast and shed anything other than an offensive lineman. They can constrict the screen game like Jake Ryan did last year without putting an awkward linebacker all that space; they can tackle buggers who pop out of the pack, they can get in a slot receiver's grill.
Hoke did not recruit one of those guys in his first class unless you want to count Allen Gant, and… yeah actually you might. He's been moved to SAM despite being 212, and he'll top out well below guys like Ryan and Beyer to be more of a Cam Gordon dude. Meanwhile, Michigan's larger freshman linebackers are slotted for the middle. Gant projects as a Stevie Brown sort of SAM, and Brown was highly effective as an HSP in his senior year.
In this year's class there is of course Dymonte Thomas, a prototype HSP, and if Delano Hill didn't seem badly needed at safety his combination of speed, hitting, and coverage would also be an excellent fit. The 2014 class features Jabrill Peppers*, who is a prototype boundary corner who can defend run and pass, plus Jared Wangler, a guy converting from safety to linebacker for his final year of high school, and Brandon Watson, a stocky 5'11" corner versed in press coverage who Michigan recruited because of his physicality. The nascent 2015 class has Shawn Crawford, who's short but has people calling him the best run support corner out of Ohio in years, and Tyree Kinnel, another physical safety type.
Throw all those guys in the mix and Michigan will have the nickel Mattison has proclaimed he wants whenever Thomas comes up: a blitzer, a thumper, an athlete. That guy, plus corners like Crawford who are excellent run defenders, are spread nerfers.
*[If you think it's ridiculous to fold Peppers inside in nickel packages, 1) Blake Countess is doing that this year for M, and 2) Charles Woodson was the Packers' nickel when they had five DBs on the field. QED.]
4. Surely there must be something else to PANIC about?
oh man I just meditated for six days and I feel amaaaaaaaazing
Uh… no? I guess Jibreel Black is far from an ideal three-tech. But the front seven has a solid, true-freshman-free two-deep. There are a number of spots at which there appear to be three legitimate players (WDE, SAM once Ryan is back, 3-tech); Michigan has the makings of a third starter at ILB and second at WDE, nose tackle, and SAM. Corner depth is a little dodgy with the Avery move, but Hollowell looks like a fine third option.
I look at the defense and I see two sore spots: free safety and SDE, and in SDE's case I just expect that Wormley and Heitzman will be a dull but okay duo. If they can get to the passer, they'll be fine. They will be a bear to run against what with Washington, Morgan, and Ross up the middle.
And then just wait until next year, when Michigan loses just Black, Washington, both Gordons, and Avery while returning an entire two deep across the front seven with the exception of NT, where Ondre Pipkins will be emerging into an upperclassman, plus every corner on the roster. Oh, and they'll probably have Da'Shawn Hand and Jabrill Peppers to play around with.
No, we can't fast-forward to 2014.
This will be less of a bend-but-don't-break outfit as the pass rush ramps up, the run defense gets stouter (leading to more third and longs) and the safety play gets less reliable. Overall, there is more talent and depth all over, and that'll only increase in future years.
As for this one, sign me up for a third straight year of good to very good but not elite. Michigan is coming off of years of 16th and 26th in the FEI rankings and 17th and 13th in total defense. They've done this despite having no dominant pass rusher (it's a tribute to Mattison that Michigan was in the top 30 in sacks his first year and his top pass rusher, Ryan Van Bergen, was an SDE with 5.5 to his name) and youth all over the place. They may get that rusher this year and the team is trending away from starting sixth-graders.
The advanced stats seem more useful here because of the weird nature of Michigan's season, with games against elite teams countered by the woeful Big Ten. They tell of a moderate dropoff occasioned by the lack of disruption provided by the line and Countess's injury. It says here Michigan gets most of that disruption back, along with Countess, and that the improved linebacker corps offsets the questions at safety as Michigan finishes in the mid-teens in advanced stats and total yardage again.
- Blake Countess > JT Floyd
- Raymon Taylor/Hollowell > younger Taylor
- Quinton Washington > younger Quinton Washington
- T. Gordon > younger T. Gordon
- James Ross > Kenny Demens
- Junior Desmond Morgan at MLB > sophomore Morgan at WLB
- WDE platoon with hype >> WDE platoon that does nossing
- Thomas Gordon == Thomas Gordon
- Jibreel Black/Willie Henry/Ryan Glasgow == Will Campbell
- Half season injured Ryan plus Beyer/Gordon < JMFR
- Heitzman/Wormley/Godin < Craig Roh
- Whatever <<< Kovacs
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Washington and Campbell are functional with Campbell leaning towards actually good as long as he's at three-tech and not tired.
Close, but I should have asserted Washington was the one who was actually good.
Fumbles are recovered at a 50.3% rate.
Michigan recovered exactly 50% of fumbles they forced last year.
The ILBs take a major leap forward as they understand the defense much better; UFR complaints about slowness are mitigated and evaporate by midseason. Morgan seems a little better than Demens by year's end.
Bang on, except I liked Demens enough to think he was the better LB.
Ryan hits eight sacks and twice that many TFLs.
Bang on with the TFLs (16.5), but only five sacks. Still… I mean, yeah.
WDE production is a major sore spot. Black ends up not very effective at either of his positions.
Check. Black lost a lot of PT midseason; Clark and Beyer combined for two sacks.
JT Floyd is better tackling on the edge and otherwise static.
JT Floyd was static. Not better on the edge.
Countess is a breakout star. Corner stats are dumb, so no predictions there, but his UFRs are an obvious step forward.
Total defense (17) and scoring defense (6) drop somewhat; advanced metrics like FEI (16) hold steady, if not rise a bit.
Total defense actually rose to 13th; scoring D dropped to 20th. Michigan dropped to 29th in the FEI rankings. I think M was overrated a year ago, but still, that's at best a push and maybe a half-miss.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- There is no single breakout player from the WDE spot but overall production there is greatly increased. Clark is pretty good; Ojemudia presses him, and Michigan gets ten sacks out of the spot plus twice that number of TFLs.
- Michigan suffers because they cannot adequately replace Kovacs. Avery becomes the free safety, and is run over a couple times to Michigan's detriment.
- James Ross explodes into an All Big Ten player.
- Quinton Washington should be All Big Ten and is drafted in the top three rounds in April.
- No one really takes hold of the SDE spot all year. It's a sore spot equivalent to WDE in 2012.
- Ryan comes back a week earlier than expected and is basically Jake Ryan by November; even before that Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer make that spot a pretty decent one.
- Michigan gets back to their 2011 numbers in advanced stats, has a top 20 yardage defense, seems to improve noticeably, and remains obviously short of elite.
- For now!