national champs baby
The Decimated Defense, Part III: the Resuscitating
Why was I so feared, and you so loved? What was it? I was no less honorable. I wanted to do good. What betrayed me? My mind? My heart? Why do I condemn myself so? I swear, on the lives of my children: Give me a chance to redeem myself, and I will sin, no more.
If you have followed this series, you are now familiar with the message: light but focused recruiting plus really bad attrition equaled a defense with some really great players and some suicidal kittens.
Here's a question: based on recruiting and retention from 2006 to the present, how good will Michigan's defense be this year?
This diary will look at the talent on Michigan's roster in 2010 versus that of 2009, plus that of two rivals in that time, to try to get an idea of what kind of team we will be looking at this coming season.
In the first, we met the family.
In the second, we saw that family destroyed.
Today, I bring you Part III.
You know, the one that's chronologically incompatible with the other two, with the substantially lower production values, that rehashes old characters and plotlines from the previous flicks in order to squeeze more cachet out of the franchise.
In the third (and final?) installment of the Decimated Defense Trilogy, I will look to the future, comparing Michigan's 2010 defensive roster and attrition numbers against those of last year, and also against 2009 and 2010 for two relevant rivals: Ohio State and Michigan State.
Still interested? [ED: YES YOU ARE.]
Justify Your Existence
Here's an adage: "Defense wins championships."
Here's proof of that adage, thanks to MCalibur:
It's also about depth, because the weakness of your weakest link matters more than the awesomeness of your best link.
And it's about talent (whether athleticism or intellect). And that is what I shall attempt to quantify and qualify with regard to next season's defense in Ann Arbor.
Again, I used Rivals Ratings as the metric for measuring talent. It's not exact, but a highly ranked recruit is more likely to become a better player and vice versa, and over a large enough sample, e.g. several recruiting classes, we know that recruiting rankings do matter.
Recruiting rankings and hype, of course, go hand-in-hand. This is because recruit rating is a metric of potential, not performance. When a program signs more recruits of higher rating, what the program is getting is a better pool from which it must ultimately draw its level of performance.
Practical application: Michigan State didn't have a better defense than Michigan last year because Greg Jones is better than Brandon Graham, but because their worst player was the best that could be drawn from a large group of 3-stars, while our worst player was the best that could be drawn from L.S.A.
As before, you are welcome to have at my Excel file.
Great News Everybody: We Have … Dudes!
Attrition didn't end entirely. Here's what we lost from the 2006 (5th year seniors this year) through 2010 classes:
|Jason Kates||2006||DT||****||5.8||Left team|
|Cobrani Mixon||2006||LB||****||5.8||Left team|
|Quintin Patilla||2006||LB||***||5.7||Left team|
|Quintin Woods||2006||DE||***||5.6||Left team|
|Artis Chambers||2007||S||***||5.6||Left team|
|Marell Evans||2007||LB||**||5.2||Left team|
|Donovan Warren||2007||CB||*****||6.1||Early NFL|
|Boubacar Cissoko||2008||CB||****||6.0||Left team|
|Marcus Witherspoon||2008||LB||****||5.8||Did not qualify|
|Taylor Hill||2008||LB||****||5.8||Left team|
|Brandon Smith||2008||S/LB||****||5.9||Left team|
|Adrian Witty||2009||CB||**||5.3||Did not qualify (may return)|
The bold/italics are the guys lost since last November.
Speaking just for next year, all four were the worst kind of attrition: two thirds of the team's blue chips, and two more high-four stars. Where blame lies for them, well, Graham you can't blame on anyone since he was an important backup for the 2006 team as a freshman and became a mid-1st round NFL draft pick. Steve Brown could have benefited from a redshirt (and also four years of Greg Robinson).
Smith and Warren are on Rich Rod. From Warren's comments, through family, it seems he still kind of felt like he was part of a Michigan that wasn't there anymore, which, for better or worse, is Rich Rodriguez's fault. If ultimately his regime shift creates a leaner, stronger Michigan, it will be worth alienating some of the better legacy players. Smith was a Lloyd recruit who hung on until he didn't know why he was hanging on anymore.
That is the price you pay for the life you choose.
Remember how last year we only had 28 recruited players on the defensive roster? Now we are up to 43.
|Def. Recruits||On Roster||On Roster %|
This is just a handful fewer recruited defensive players on the roster than Ohio State and Michigan State had last season. It's the same amount that Dantonio will take into battle (bad choice of words?) this fall.
The notorious 58.33-percent attrition from last year has evaporated; we are now in about the same range as Ohio State for pure retention, leapfrogging Michigan State in the process.
The biggest difference – and this is also good news – comes from the 5th Year Seniors. The 2005 class left zero (0, zilch, nada, personne) players for the 2009 team. Despite the departures of Brown and Graham, the 2010 Michigan Defense will still have four returning 5th Year men. These are:
None of them are stars. Banks and Patterson will back up the defensive line, while Obi and Mouton are being pushed by others (one a walk-on) for their starting roles. But they're 5th year seniors, playing under the same defensive coordinator for a second year in a row, both luxuries we did not have last year.
Warm body count is simply depth. This year, there will be, on average, just under four scholarship players for each defensive position. If three out of every four of them was a 4-star recruit or better (and half of them were upperclassmen), this would be about as good as good as 2009 Ohio State.
So, are they that much better?
|Def. Recruits||4*+ Recruits||4-5* %||4*+ Retained||4*+ Ret %|
Kinda. No, not really.
The percentage of 2006-'10 recruits who are highly (4 or 5 stars) rated for Michigan are much better than Michigan State, and a bit under Ohio State. This actually went down from last year, as Rich Rod replaced the outgoing talent with whatever he could get his hands on. Michigan State improved, from about 15 percent to almost 20 percent, but anyone who tells you "Michigan State is just as big as Michigan" are kidding themselves.
Retention rates for the highly talented only went up a bit this year, with the four losses above keeping Michigan from Ohio State's 70- to 80-percent clip.
What this means: we have just two more players rated four stars or above on the roster this year over last. It helps. But we didn't get exponentially more talented. The gains came by filling with young 3-stars.
The recruiting distribution shows a bit of this story:
I figure you can guess which school is which by the colors.
Michigan State hasn't changed all that much in recruiting (their one major difference is Gholston). Ohio State is a bit below last year's high.
Remember last year how Michigan looked like Penn State on this graph? Now they look like Ohio State, i.e. Ohio State Lite (they have a big handful of top recruits that we don't).
Not as nice as Ohio State, because we haven't recruited as many of those really top echelon guys. But not really ugly. Against next year it looks better. And yeah, MSU looks about where it was last year: lots of 3-stars but precious few 4 and 5 stars.
Statement: Michigan has a fairly talented defense in 2010, and not in the "only a few talented guys and that's it" kind of way we were in 2009.
Your enemies always get strong on what you leave behind; Michigan State, you are Joey Zasa.
But talent's not the only story.
When I'm Dead, I'm Gonna Be Really Smart
"Maybe you should come with me for a few weeks. See what happens. See how much you learn. Then, we'll talk about your future."
Remember: experience matters (just ask the Mathlete!)
Any prediction for this year's defensive performance is thus predicated on how much time the guys have played. The Mathlete looked only at starts, but the experience metric that coaches talk most often about is "time in the system," not starts.
First, a review of the go-to chart from last year: talent distribution of upperclassmen.
…and the flipside:
Figure 3 is more relevant to next year's performance. As we can see, last year was very thin – one or two guys recruited at each level. All told, 11 recruits, meaning if everybody played up to their hype (which never ever happens), we would have had an upperclassman team with some really good players and some really mediocre players. This year, there's a little more play but it's not all that different. Specifically, the tradeoff in upperclass talent is a likely Brandon Graham (6.1) and Renaldo Sagesse (5.6) for two likely Ryan Van Bergens (5.8) and an Obi Ezeh (5.5).
Straight-up, it's probably not a difference, meaning the performance level that Michigan's defense gets from its upperclassmen in 2010 will probably be about what it got from its upperclassmen in 2009. It is still well below that of Ohio State, and like last year, is drawing from a significantly smaller but significantly more talented pool than Michigan State.
Figure 4 tells the other side: we now have a more-than-respectable pool of low 4- to high 3-star talent of young depth players. The 5.6 to 5.8 pool is where you find guys like Mike Martin, Troy Woolfolk, Michael Williams, Brandon Herron, Cobrani Mixon, et al. What I mean is they're a crapshoot: some might become NFL-potential stars right away (Martin), some might become good players as upperclassmen, a good many become mediocre or depth players, and others end up being unremarkable linebackers at Division II schools. For the future, this is a good sign, although the lack of underclassman blue chips – what happens when you win just 8 games in two years – makes a truly elite defense before 2013 unlikely. For this year, it seems there is a large enough pool of young guys to present, conservatively, one or two more solid-to-very-good starters.
Also: Michigan State's youth = Ohio State Lite.
Then again, that's only if the talent is spread out evenly between the various sub-units: line, linebackers, and backfield.
A tough guy? I don't need tough guys. I need more lawyers.
Sometime before this offseason mercifully ends, an MGoBlogger will write a Diary in which he runs down the expected starters and applies recruiting/spring hype to replacements in order to demonstrate why this team should be "solid." Whether or not the word "stud" is deployed in this hypothetical diary, it will assuredly include something like the following:
"Defensive Line: Brandon Graham's loss will be felt, but Roh, Martin and Van Bergen all return, with [prize horse metaphor] recruit William Campbell, a sophomore, ready to step in."
From there, in order to maintain this "solid" conclusion, I predict the optimism-to-realism of expectations ratio will rise exponentially as the position gets further from the line of scrimmage.
The units, we know, are not even, but they could perhaps be better than they were last year. And because this is MGoBlog, we way we look at this is…
How to read: The warmer the color, the better. For the Talent charts, Red is a 5-star, Orange is a 4-star, etc. For the Class charts, Red is a 5th Year Senior, Orange a Senior or RS Junior, Yellow a Junior or RS Soph, Green a Sophomore or RS Freshman, Blue an Incoming Freshman.
Defensive line loses Graham, yes, but it still looks mighty good, with very good talent, depth and experience. A dropoff from last year could be minimal.
Linebacker, which has one more scholarship player than it did in 2009, is now the least deep position (where it was the most). The talent level is okay-ish, a bit below last year, though bolstered with a few more low 4-stars it didn't have before. The experience level is better at the top, with two 5th year seniors (Obi and Mouton).
Defensive back is radically changed. The talent level is, on average, lower, but out of double the pool. Experience, even with a boatload of true freshmen and a junior starter leaving for the NFL, only went down slightly, though it did this partly by the squad acquiring players from the offensive side (Teric Jones and Cam Gordon). There is a bit more talent here than in the linebacking corps, but it is so darn-tootin' inexperienced, their 2010 season looks likely to elicit a certain, common pre-teen malady from sportswriters on multiple occasions.
Just so you know that all the blue on the right isn't normal, and all the orange on the left is pretty okay but not awesome, here's this year and last year for a couple of land grant state schools that we play every year:
Ohio State 2010:
Ohio State 2009:
Michigan State 2010:
Michigan State 2009:
- See what I mean by young? The 2009 and 2010 classes make up about half of each unit for our rivals; for us it's about 75 percent.
- Again, Michigan State's talent pool is way below that of Michigan and Ohio State.
- Ohio State last year should very well have had an exceptional defense (and did). They had plenty of both talent and experience.
- tOSU should experience a very small dropoff this year, but is still a little more talented than Michgian and much, much more experienced.
- Holy hell does Dantonio love defensive linemen or what?
- MSU needs a big linebacker recruiting haul this year. They are moderately talented, but not very deep.
- Michigan is relatively very young.
- Michigan's 2009 team was an outlier, especially at defensive back.
- Unless a true freshman cornerback is a once-in-a-decade wunderkind, the Warren loss is going to haunt us all year.
Your Life Could be Redeemed, But I Know You Don't Believe That
We haven't learned much you didn't already know. The defense in 2010 is likely to be better, but only a little bit better than its 2009 disaster version. The high attrition that wrecked the last three Carr classes has been better to players recruited under Rich Rodriguez and Greg Robinson. We are not Michigan State; we are a very young, slightly worse Ohio State.
There is potential here. One of the kids could emerge. The defensive line actually looks like a really good defensive line, with the caveat that no unit that loses a Brandon Graham can actually get better.
Best guess, this year's defense is not going to live up to the classic defenses of 2006, 1997-98. If you are waiting for the trilogy to end with the family finally legit, then you underestimate how hard it really is to find legitimacy.
Especially with the young secondary coming in on the heels of a unit that played a walk-on extensively, there is bound to be at least one Sophia Coppola ruining most every scene she appears in.
And that means there will be moments of excruciating pain.
But with this great big pool to choose from all of a sudden, there's got to be at least one player, maybe two or three, who will emerge and really, really entertain us. Many, if not all of our favorite, characters will return so that we can witness their ends. So for those already familiar with the franchise, for those looking for good drama rather than another installment of the greatest story on celluloid, Michigan's 2010 defense will be, dare I say it, watchable.
And that's progress.