This is going to be extensive. It would be much, much quicker to rattle off a list of positions we know are set this fall:
Craig Roh at quick defensive end.
That is literally all. We do know that a few other guys are guaranteed starters, but Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Troy Woolfolk could all switch positions. I should have thought of that before I did the offense. Now I'm stuck with this format.
Anyway. On with show:
Not Brandon Graham
Three defensive line starters return, but the best defensive lineman in the country does not. Normally you'd be looking at Brandon Graham's platoon of ready-to-go backups for an inadequate but functional replacement. Since this is the 2009 Michigan defense we're talking about that platoon is walk-on Will Heininger. The other options at his spot are freshmen.
So it's time to get creative, maybe…
Count me amongst the chorus suggesting that Ryan Van Bergen might move outside. Dubbing this position "Not Brandon Graham" is a clever way to not write "Ryan Van Bergen might move" at three different spots.
Michigan has three veteran backups at defensive tackle in sophomore Will Campbell and seniors Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks. All played last year, the latter two decently. Campbell was raw as hell but was one of them OMG SHIRTLESS recruits and can be expected to make a major jump his sophomore year. Putting one of those guys in the starting lineup seems less likely to result in disaster than dropping an underweight freshman into the starting lineup. Craig Roh did okay last year, but Michigan isn't bringing in anyone as touted as Roh was this time around. Also, Mike Martin is more of a penetrating three-technique tackle than a leviathan space-eater and moving him to RVB's old spot figures to get more production out of him.
If RVB doesn't move, then you're going to choose from Heininger, redshirt junior Brandon Herron,—Roh's backup at quick last year—redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota, or true freshmen. Herron was a linebacker a year ago and is likely to still be undersized and LaLota showed up two inches and thirty pounds lighter than people expected him to. He probably needs another year.
The thing to watch for this spring is the RVB move. Past that, the developmental paths of Campbell, Roh, and LaLota are the main points of interest.
Hoping for… as the guy that is not Brandon Graham? Will Campbell. This assumes RVB ends up at DE and Martin moves over to RVBs spot. Moving RVB gets a bunch of veterans and a five-star sophomore more playing time. It puts Mike Martin in a position to be seriously disruptive. And it doesn't force a freshman into the starting lineup. So this is a hope for the move and a hope for Campbell to explode.
Expecting… RVB moves, Sagesse and Campbell platoon. I was puzzled by Michigan's periodic attempts to give Campbell playing time over Sagesse last year. Campbell got sealed on a number of successful runs against Iowa; Sagesse wasn't Alan Branch but usually ended up with a +1 in UFR. I assume Campbell will show considerable progress but I'm also betting that Sagesse is basically a co-starter.
Over the course of a year, Stevie Brown went from whipping boy to reliable outpost on a defense of chaos. Was it a position move? Greg Robinson's Just For Men magic?
They're young but they're not totally green. Michigan got both Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones in early last year and put them through their paces; by the UConn game next year they'll have been on campus for almost two years. Both saw special teams action only. Hawthorne will apply for a medical redshirt. Jones played too much for one. That's him burning his redshirt on the right.
Those two will be the main competitors in spring since I believe Isaiah Bell, who redshirted, is moving inside to ROL. This fall brings crazy athletic Josh Furman into the mix. He of the 4.3 electronic 40 is probably even faster than Brown and could press for playing time later in the season if Hawthorne and Jones aren't working out. He's unlikely to win the job outright immediately.
Hoping for… Hawthorne or Jones doesn't seem like it makes a difference since they have near-identical recruiting profiles and experience. I guess I'm pulling for Hawthorne since he's got a redshirt on him and I like the Pahokee kids.
Expecting… Again, Hawthorne and Jones have almost nothing separating them. One of those guys.
Regular Ol' Linebacker
These two positions are here despite featuring two fifth-year seniors returning for their third years of starting because both Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were yanked for performance reasons late last season. Indecision ruled the day:
Mouton was pulled for JB Fitzgerald, a touted recruit entering his third year in the program. Ezeh was pulled for Kevin Leach, another walk-on. Both eventually won their jobs back when the replacements weren't much better.
Jay Hopson left to become the defensive coordinator at Memphis, and whether it was voluntary or not it's welcome. Ezeh went nowhere in two years under Hopson's tutelage and Mouton went backwards. If Greg Robinson can pull the same career revival magic he did with Stevie Brown on the two inside guys, he'll put to rest a large chunk of the skepticism at his hire and go a long way towards making the defense respectable again.
If he can't, then Fitzgerald and Leach will figure into the plans again, with potential assists from Kenny Demens and various freshmen. Demens hasn't gotten off special teams in his time at Michigan and got passed by a walk-on. That seems like a kiss of death there.
Ezeh and Mouton will be the main focus here.
Hoping for… I'd like Fitzgerald to emerge as a starter but in the place of Ezeh; last year the guy replacing Ezeh was Leach. Really I'd just like whoever plays at linebacker to look like he's got a clue. Obi-Wan Greg Robinson, you're our only hope.
Expecting… Ezeh and Mouton. They'll be better. Linebackers are the guys most screwed by Michigan's revolving door of defensive coordinators because they are almost always reading a play and executing a complicated assignment based on that. Also they've got a new coach who happens to be the defensive coordinator and thus knows exactly what he wants the guys to be doing.
Donovan Warren took his budding skills and five-star hype to the middle rounds of the NFL draft. Boubacar Cissoko couldn't keep it together off the field and is no longer on the team.
I'm assuming both spots are open because of the possibility Troy Woolfolk moves back to deep safety in spring. The defense started imploding for serious once he was moved to corner and Michigan's safety tandem became Kovacs and Williams
Outside of Woolfolk, the one guy with any experience is JT Floyd. Floyd was the guy the coaching staff turned to to replace Cissoko when he proved dreadful early in the year. He wasn't much better and Woolfolk eventually had to move despite the other options at safety being a freshman student-body walk-on and Mike Williams. In his brief time as a starter, Floyd played ten yards off wide receivers and looked totally overmatched. Maybe that's a mental thing, but he seemed just too slow for the Big Ten.
So… yeah. It's more freshmen, then. Super-hyped recruit Justin Turner got in late because of some difficulties with the Ohio Graduation Test and ended up out of shape and unprepared to play. He redshirted. Even if he came in looking like Will Campbell, if Turner couldn't play in that secondary by the end of the year people are right to be at least slightly concerned he may not pan out.
And then there's the flood of true freshmen. With Demar Dorsey starting out at corner, Michigan has four in the 2010 class: Dorsey, Courtney Avery, Cullen Christian, and Terry Talbott. None enrolled early—unfortunately, all of Michigan's early enrollees were on the offensive side of the ball—and they will be just rumors this spring.
We won't get a read on this position at all unless walk-on Floyd Simmons is ahead of someone on the depth chart. We will get a first look at Turner, the team's most important redshirt freshman.
Hoping for… Justin Turner and either Dorsey or Christian. No Woolfolk == considerably reduced panic at safety. One freshman is as good as any other at the other spot, I guess, but I'd rather have the higher-rated guys off to fast starts. No offense to Floyd, but he obviously wasn't ready last year and I'd be surprised if he was this year. Maybe 2011.
Expecting… Turner and Woolfolk.
Brandon Smith transferred to Temple.
It's clear that this is going to be another hybrid safety/LB type player. Early in the year, it was Mike Williams. A little later it was Jordan Kovacs. When Woolfolk moved to corner it was Williams again, and when Williams played poorly Michigan moved Brandon Smith and threw him in the starting lineup; Smith liked it so much he immediately transferred.
Of the two returners, Kovacs was by far the superior option despite being a walk-on. He's got the proverbial nose for the ball and was the only guy at the spot last year to turn in enough good plays to offset his poor ones. And he did this as a freshman walk-on. (He was technically a redshirt freshman but since he was not on the team last year he is much closer to a true freshman.) He showed himself way too slow to play deep safety, but the grit fantastic he is possession of should keep him in the mix despite a couple of athletes pushing him hard.
Athlete the first is incoming freshman Marvin Robinson, who everyone thinks is destined for linebacker except Robinson. At Michigan he may be a linebacker in spirit if not in name. This is a spot he's a superior fit for athletically but it may require some adjustment.
Athlete the second is hypothetical, but Rodriguez mentioned in a Signing Day press conference: they're looking at moving wide receiver Cam Gordon to defense, but to safety. [Update: YEAH THAT HAPPENED.] That's another indicator that Michigan's base set is going to be an eight-man front, as Gordon is a strapping 6'2" fellow who everyone expected would end up at… wait for it… linebacker. If Gordon makes the move it will give Kovacs and Williams some competition from an NFL-sized guy right away.
This is also where Carvin Johnson goes, but I'm guessing he'll redshirt.
Hoping for… I don't really know, actually. I guess I'd like Robinson to win the starting job, but a true freshman over Kovacs and Gordon could bode unwell for immediate production. Maybe Kovacs to start and eventually giving way to Robinson.
Expecting… I have no idea. Truly.
As discussed above, if this is Kovacs Michigan is at least kind of screwed. I mean no offense to the guy, but…
…he is not a deep safety*. In an ideal world, two of the young corners would establish themselves quickly enough for Michigan to boot Troy Woolfolk back here. That world is much easier to envision if any of those guys had enrolled early.
If Woolfolk doesn't make the move back, Michigan has a couple options not fresh off the turnip truck. Vlad Emilien and Thomas Gordon are redshirt freshmen who will be given a shot at the job. Emilien was more highly touted and actually held the starting free safety job in spring until late, when Woolfolk took over and he was relegated to backup duty. He saw some special teams time in fall but will apply for an injury redshirt. Gordon was primarily a high school quarterback at Cass Tech—he only started playing DB as a senior-year audition for a Michigan scholarship—and never threatened to see the field last year.
Freshman Ray Vinopal will reinforce in fall, but as the lowest-rated player in the class he will probably redshirt.
Hoping for… Woolfolk. I'd rather have the freshmen playing at corner, where Woolfolk can tackle their mistakes.
Expecting… Emilien. I'm a little hesitant about him since he enrolled early last year and still wasn't good enough to crack last year's secondary, but maybe he had a lingering injury issue.
*(RVB owned up to a botched line check on that touchdown but it was a lack of footspeed from Kovacs and, more disturbingly, Floyd, that turned that play from 20 yards into 90.)
What others? Apparently Teric Jones might stick on defense, apparently at box safety. I think I've mentioned every other scholarship defensive player on campus except Steve Watson and James Rogers.
left by Stevie Brown is not a magic fountain, where you put guys that can't play a lick at their current position, then all of a sudden, they become somewhat decent, like Stevie Brown did. Ezeh just sucks, and moving him won't take that fact away.
Cool it with the "Ezeh sucks" stuff. He's been good in the past, and he wasn't good under Hopson. This has been talked about a great deal. There's a chance that Greg Robinson will turn him into a solid MIKE.
You can have an opinion. That doesn't mean you have to voice it. Things like "Ezeh sucks" should be saved for when you're at home alone watching the game and yelling at the TV. There's no need to put down a kid who's devoting five years to the football program that we all love.
I sincerely apologize. I wasn't trying to imply that Obi Ezeh wasn't a good kid, I was simply judging his play on the field. If that offended anyone, thinking back on it tonight while bowling, I guess that's my fault. When it comes to Michigan football, I am the most optimistic person I know, and would love to stick around and discuss just that. However, if this is a site where there's a cool kid's table, and I am bein' serious, let me know. Again, I am sorry.
From all that I have seen over the past four years it is apparent that Obi Ezeh is a fine young man and a credit to our university. I would love to have seen him develop from his promising red shirt freshman form into the Mike that we all crave. Alas he has not, but that does not mean that he "sucks". Surely we can be mature enough to analyze a someone's play without reverting to childish and name calling. I'm all for Fitz or someone else starting this year with Obi moving to another role (perhaps back up to Roh), but if Obi starts and has a great senior year my surprise will only be surpassed by my happiness for him as a person.
Too bad Ezeh didn't make the move to DE last year. Very similar body style to Graham and less open space to get lost in. Then we might all happily be anticipating J.B. Fitzgerald in the middle with more than enough depth on the D-line in case it didn't work out.
"Anyone who isn't confused, really doesn't understand the situation." - Edward R. Murrow
It takes more than body type to be a defensive end
Graham was awesome because he had some serious quickness off the snap and DE is all about your first step. I'm not sure Ezeh has that type of first step and Graham played with such good leverage that he was almost always under the pads of the blockers. It's not easy to project to the defensive line and I think Ezeh has not dealt well with blockers to this point.
LaLota has great athleticism and should have added to his 6'4" 256lbs. from last fall - I wouldn't be surprised to see him at 275. He has been in the program for a full year now (EE last Jan.) and could be ready to be the back up to RVB at DE.
I'm curious whytere hasn't been much discussion of moving Floyd to deep safety. His main problem las year seemed liked a lack of speed at the cb postion whichakes me think a move to deep
safety would help him. That would at least give us the best chance of having a returning player starting everywhere in the secondary if mrob, culleen, Dorsey, et al, need a bit more time once try get on campus.
I think he might be a safety eventually, but you'd be moving the only cornerback with any experience to a new position. Putting him at SS would leave one redshirt freshman and four true freshmen to battle for two cornerback spots.
In my scenario we would keep woolfolk at cb so would minimize the need for the freshman to play right away. I thought woolfolk was solid at ss but was pretty impressed with him at cb so while mine seems to be a minority opinion, I would like to see him stay at cb if possbile. Though I can see it just might not be possible.
If there's a safety on the roster who can clean up other people's messes and not allow the big play himself, I'm all for playing Woolfolk at cornerback. The kid is a tremendous athlete and a good tackler. Unfortunately, I just don't think there's another player on the roster with the athleticism and intelligence/experience to play SS as well as he can.
Honestly, Woolfolk looked like a better corner than Donovan Warren at the end of last year.
IMO we should put as many freshmen on defense as we can.Most of the secondary are retreads anyway (including woolfolk) and we have studs that are waiting in the wings to play.Dorsey should be our deep guy and Turner ,Christian and Furman should get a look.Both Talbots would find some playing time especially Terry at DE.We can't depend on a zonal sceme, we need athletes that can play one vs one.It's just like Basketball"you take 34 and don't let him score". Just as you shake off screens you shake off blockers.This isn't brain surgery.
To an extent meanings and spellings have been fluid. But 'shit' and 'shirt', though spelled similarly, are not to be used interchangeably. I live in NY, and have to constantly correct clueless (very nice) folks who interchange Michigan and Michigan State because they have no frame of reference to understand having two similarly named but vastly different state institutions of higher learning. When I correct them, I try to do so in such a way that they can begin to grasp that a) there's a difference and b) it's a fairly important one.
By referring to the Platonic ideal, you subtlely hint at having an education. Isn't that part of what differentiates this forum from fan sites for OSU or MSU? Don't we value the ability to formulate and cogently express valid thoughts? Aren't corrections as an attempt to inform fairly common?
I may be fighting a losing battle, but I learned from Braylon Edwards' performance against MSU that losing doesn't mean giving up, it means trying that much harder.
What I mean when I say there's no Platonic ideal for the English language is that there's no abstract enduring truth to what the English language is and thus it's silly to try and protect it. If people in 1300 had successfully "protected" the language, we'd still be using "nice" to mean foolish or stupid. One day the distinction between adapt and adept will probably be lost because, as you showed, you can generally figure out if one means "skillful" or "to change" given the context. Notice in your example that shit and shirt are never confused and that's precisely because the distinction is important.
My doctor said that I should watch my salt intake and hope for a Michigan defense loaded not necessarily with speed and recruiting stars, but with guys who tackle. As in, not whiff, not hit and immediately fall to their knees, not hesitate indecisively so that blockers eat them, not take awful angles, et cetera. Be where you're supposed to be, hit, wrap, drive.
If this happens, I will live to see the ripe old age of 60. If not, all bets are off.
I like the idea of Ezeh becoming even marginally better with a year under GERG, though perhaps not at LB. Hopson's charges clearly underperformed while he was at the helm, and even Stevie showed great strides with a year under GERG. As others have mentioned, I wouldn't mind seeing Ezeh at least being considered as a replacement for Graham if the reconfigured line doesn't work in the spring. I know that there are immense differences due to new techniques and assignments involved, but as a 5th-year the value is in maximizing the player's benefit to the team right now, not necessarily undergoing further growing pains while he "learns" how to play position. If I'm going to see a LB being consistently occupied by a blocker at the second level, at least let it be a guy who will be back next year.
Beyond that, this was a great analysis of the defense, though a bit depressing. As optimistic as I have been about the power of consistency under another year of GERG, when you are praying for a bunch of first-year players to gel and a walk-on safety to keep his position, you are asking for trouble. I have faith that the offense will keep the games close, but I expect quite a few white-knuckle games late int the 4th quarter,