national champs baby
The Decimated Defense
[Editor's note: I was working on a post similar to this today that examined the past five years of defensive recruiting with a particular focus on the secondary. This is broader but I may as well not reinvent such a well-put-together wheel. I will take this opportunity at the top of the post to rephrase something I stuck in a mailbag. Here are the members of the secondary in the recruiting classes that comprise this year's team:
2005: None. (Harrison, Sears, Richards all gone.)
2006: None. (Mouton, Brown moved to LB.)
2007: Warren, Woolfolk, Williams, Rogers. (Chambers gone.)
2008: JT Floyd (Smith moved to LB, Cissoko is gone.)
Excluding true freshmen, Michigan has five scholarship players for four starting spots, none of whom are seniors and one of whom is a positional vagabond who was a huge reach even at WR. Attrition has something to do with it, but poor recruiting—the 2006 class didn't have a single corner, and the 2007 class had two reaches and one Notre Dame defection—had much more. With Woolfolk's move Michigan has one scholarship safety on the roster outside of true freshmen. Not to go all ND-fan-talking-about-Ty here, but lord I don't know if anyone could dig themselves out from that.]
[OP note: Part II lives here].
How did it ever come to this?
|NFL All-World Guy||Young Beast||Solid Guy|
|True Freshman Blue Chip or Serviceable backup guy||Old-guy bust who's kind of serviceable now|
|Former Infinite Safety Disaster, now above-average tweener guy||Young guy who's progressing but prone to massive young-guy mistakes||True freshman wunderkind who is still a true freshman|
|Long-time judgment-impaired starter who projected to possible Butkus Watch List but instead regressed and lost job to a walk-on||Nuclear missile equally likely to strike his own territory as his enemy's||Kind of this 3-star redshirt soph who plays exactly like that|
|NFL-ready junior guy||Current Infinite Safety Disaster, who is worse than the walk-on||Legacy who is halfway decent and was our FS until a few weeks ago|
|Dust mite true freshmah who was a running back until a few weeks ago||True freshman recovering from knee surgury who can't be that great if he hasn't seen the field||Redshirt freshman with clear talent deficiency to be serviceable|
(Where = Walk-on)
With Boubacar Cissoko's dismissal from the team, we now have a number that every Michigan fan might need to commit to memory:
Everybody got that?
Now, numbers without context are hard to understand. If it's a completion percentage, well, that's not horrible but it's not bad, right? If that's how many questions you got right on your Anthro-Bio mid-term, well, not so great.
The question we will try to answer in this Diary, is what does that number mean when it's the percentage of defensive recruits over the last five classes who are still on your team?
Really? 58.33 percent? How?
Defensive Recruits No Longer With the Team: 2005-2009
|Eugene Germany||2005||DE||****||6.0||Left team|
|James McKinney||2005||DT||****||5.9||Left team|
|Johnny Sears||2005||CB||***||5.6||Left team|
|Chris Richards||2005||ATH||***||5.5||Left team|
|Carson Butler||2005||DE||***||5.5||Moved to TE, left for NFL|
|Chris McLaurin||2005||DE||***||5.5||Left team (health)|
|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|
|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|
|Adrian Witty||2009||CB||**||5.3||Did not qualify (may return)|
That seems really bad. Like really really bad.
Is it bad?
It's obviously no surprise that Michigan has faced a lot of attrition since RR came on board. Each case is it's own particular. But all told, it seems to me that we are seeing something here that is way out of whack. And I'm not sure it's RR's doing. And though that seems like a lot of attrition, I'm not sure that's the whole story.
I'm going to break down this list by class. Perhaps in the micro we can see what happened to the macro...
(or perhaps you are already poised to scroll to comments and write "tl;dr" -- if so, get a sandwich and meet the rest of us down at the very long sub-header)
Class of 2005
|Eugene Germany||2005||DE||****||6.0||Left team||no|
|James McKinney||2005||DT||****||5.9||Left team||no|
|Johnny Sears||2005||CB||***||5.6||Left team||no|
|Chris Richards||2005||ATH||***||5.5||Left team||no|
|Carson Butler||2005||DE||***||5.5||Moved to TE, left for NFL||no|
|Chris McLaurin||2005||DE||***||5.5||Left team (health)||no|
Nothing left. This isn't just age -- you'd expect at least a couple of 5th year seniors to stick around. This class was decimated early and often, leaving Terrible Taylor as the only major defensive contributor. Harrison, who would be very nice to have around today, burned his redshirt during Safety Armageddon. Logan was the only other graduate. For Sir Carson Butler's career at Michigan, consult the minstrels.
Moral of this story: losing the top two recruits on defensive line made things dicey. In the first attempt at refilling the cornerback cabinet, Carr picked up Harrison and a couple of fliers (Sears, Richards) who didn't work. [More after the jump!]
Class of 2006
|Jonas Mouton||2006||S||****||6.0||MLB (backup)||yes|
|Adam Patterson||2006||DT||****||5.9||DE (backup)||yes|
|Jason Kates||2006||DT||****||5.8||Left team||no|
|Cobrani Mixon||2006||LB||****||5.8||Left team||no|
|Quintin Patilla||2006||LB||***||5.7||Left team||no|
|Greg Banks||2006||DE||***||5.6||DE (backup)||yes|
|John Ferrara||2006||DE||***||5.6||Moved to G||yes|
|Quintin Woods||2006||DE||***||5.6||Left team||no|
|Obi Ezeh||2006||RB||***||5.5||MLB (backup)||yes|
This was an excellent class of seniors and red shirt juniors, from which seven of 11 (63.63 percent) remain. Attrition came largely from the 3-stars and low 4-stars for depth issues -- of Kates, Mixon, Patilla and Woods, only Kates left from the transition, and none project to be a significant improvement over the current starters in their positions.
Brandon Graham has been every bit the blue chip. The upper four-stars are a bit more mixed: Mouton plays much younger than a guy who's the same age as Graham, has been responsible for a number of big plays, and in a recent development was benched in favor of a true sophomore. Brown spent several seasons as the safety whipping boy de jure before a fortuitous position switch to linebacker his senior year. Patterson's the big bust.
Ezeh turned out much better than we deserved from a basically unranked fullback, but was benched mid-way through his redshirt senior season in favor of a walk-on.
Overall, this defensive class, with a few exclamatory exceptions, seems to have been generally overrated.
It is also very very noticeably lacking in defensive backs. Brown and Mouton were safeties coming in, but at least Mouton's move to linebacker was anticipatory. It wasn't a great year in general for cornerbacks, and Michigan lost out on its prize recruit in Myron Rolle, but does anyone else think, with Sears and Richards and a burned shirt on Harrison your foreseeable future, what is up with the lack of defensive backs? This is doubly-WTF considering Michigan's former DB coach, Ron English, was now the DC.
Of note, senior RB Carlos Brown was an "athlete" in this class, but was promised and has remained at tailback from the get-go, so you can't really give defensive recruiting credit for him.
Class of 2007
|Ryan Van Bergen||2007||DE||****||5.8||DE||yes|
|Renaldo Sagesse||2007||DT||***||5.7||DT (backup)||yes|
|Brandon Herron||2007||LB||***||5.7||WLB (backup)||yes|
|Artis Chambers||2007||S||***||5.6||Left team||no|
|Marell Evans||2007||LB||**||5.2||Left team||no|
Six of the nine (66.67 percent) would-be juniors and red shirt sophomores are still around. This was Carr's last class, and going into the writing of this, I was already tempted to suggest that this one was an example of career-winding-down trying less.
This is the class you'd expect to see the most coaching change attrition from, since they were generally still young enough at the shift to start over somewhere else, and didn't get the coach (in this case, Ron English) they signed up for. But, no. Panter left because he was a rare junior transfer. The other guys departed citing depth chart issues.
From Marell Evans, okay. He was a 2-star recruit getting passed up by the 2008 class and likely would never earn long-term PT here. But Artis Chambers' decision, strange at the time, now seems absolutely ludicrous. He may not have been the answer at DB, but he certainly would have been given every opportunity to win the job from a walk-on and an under-performing classmate.
This class actually ended up underrated by scouts it seems. Warren is right on the Michigan 5-star CB track. RVB seems like he should have been higher up than the bottom of the 4-star ranks. Sagesse and Herron are the serviceable backups you'd expect from guys at their level. Williams has disappointed; once Troy Woolfolk (in BTN parlance: "Wool-fork") moved to corner this season, Williams was exposed as the latest safety whipping boy, minus speed.
This class did get a jolt from Woofolk (-fork), a 3-star legacy recruit whose emergence at both cornerback and safety this year has plugged at least one hole. Unfortunately, he can't plug two.
For all intents and purposes, after two classes of ignoring the position with Johnny Sears and Chris Richards the only option, Michigan's entire 2009 backfield had to come from this haul. Warren and Woolfolk are as much as you can rightfully expect from one class. Having Michael Williams pan out would be nice, but still, an entire backfield is too much to ask from one class.
Did Carr take this year off? It's hard to say. English did a good job getting some defensive backs, particularly Warren. But at this point linebacker was now past leaking (Mouton had moved but Brown hadn't) and they needed more than a junior transfer, a 3-star and a 2-star.
Class of 2008
|Brandon Smith||2008||S||****||5.9||WLB (backup)||yes|
|Kenny Demens||2008||LB||****||5.8||WLB (backup)||yes|
|Marcus Witherspoon||2008||LB||****||5.8||Did not qualify||no|
|Taylor Hill||2008||LB||****||5.8||Left team||no|
|J.T. Floyd||2008||ATH||***||5.5||CB (backup)||yes|
This is the hybrid class between Carr/English and Rich Rod/Shafer. With limited time, RR focused most of his first-year recruiting efforts on offense, so these guys are primarily Carr-era holdovers.
Considering the previous classes, holes were now springing all over the defense, but linebacker was dire, while defensive back was basically 2007's haul and a whole lot of nothing.
The lack of attention became evident early, as Hill and Witherspoon never arrived on campus. Smith proved to be a linebacker. Meaning DB was basically Boubacar and 3-star athlete J.T. Floyd.
If ending up with six of nine of your juniors was bad, coming to this point with five of eight sophomores is, well, demonstrative of the greater theme of this whole exercise.
As Brian said while discussing this class recently, Martin has been a beast, Fitzgerald is on pace (update post-Purdue: won starting job?), Demens looks buried on the depth chart, and Floyd justified his low ranking. They're young, but declaring "disaster" on this class may not be premature.
Class of 2009
|William Campbell||2009||DT||*****||6.1||DT (backup)||yes|
|Vladimir Emilien||2009||S||****||5.8||FS (backup)||yes|
|Brandin Hawthorne||2009||LB||***||5.7||MLB (backup)||yes|
|Isaiah Bell||2009||LB||***||5.7||SAM (backup)||yes|
|Teric Jones||2009||RB||***||5.7||CB (backup)||yes|
|Mike Jones||2009||S||***||5.7||MLB (backup)||yes|
|Adrian Witty||2009||CB||**||5.3||DNQ (may return)||no|
At this point, you're not supposed to have much attrition, and this has held true. Adrian Witty, who did not qualify academically, was Michigan's lowest-rated recruit, and got offered because it helped us reel in Denard Robinson. On the other hand, given the current state of things, every warm body at cornerback helps.
The 2009 class has considerably more star power at the top than we've seen from the waning Carr classes.
They're way too young to put against a track, but it is concerning that Campbell has looked lost, meaning his blue chip status may be overrated. To demonstrate what I mean by a 5-star's track, look at Brandon Graham: he didn't start as a freshman, but he did see significant time, and showed himself to be something special, behind LaMarr Woodley.
A closer analogue to Graham then would be Roh, who may have been underrated. Justin Turner's late arrival justified his red shirt. The coaches have been adamant that his red shirt status will not change.
Looking ahead, I have a personal fear of Emilien being slow after seeing him get torched this spring against Carlos Brown (I'm not married to that opinion), and Mike Jones we know is moving to linebacker, so safety remains a concern.
Safety and cornerback are now major priorities for 2010. Linebacker, which has benefited from more redshirts and an influx of erstwhile safeties, seems like less of a concern. Defensive line needs backup bodies, and lots of them, but the front seems like it can hold if Roh slides over to Graham's spot next year.
I Just Got a Sandwich and Then Skipped Down to This Part. Did You Learn Anything?
You mean conclusions? Already? Without contextualizing? No way! But I'll give you some hypotheses now:
- Small defensive class size seems to at least as culpable as attrition for the defense's depth issues.
- Very, very little of the overall attrition on defense seems to be related to the coaching change.
- The disastrous Class of 2005 is still leaving ripples through Michigan's program. If you discount the erstwhile 5th year seniors and true freshmen, our attrition rate is still like 1 out of 3, which is bad, but not as ludicrously bad-looking at you see here.
- RR's focus on offense in his limited time in 2008 may have resulted in a class just as disastrous.
- The English-to-Shafer-to-GERG shift is probably somewhat at fault for many of these players' seemingly retarded development (particularly the linebackers)
Some of these we have already discussed, if not completely digested. Some I think (like 1 and 2) are new. Of these, 4 and 5 are those easiest to pin on Rich Rod, particularly 4. It seems to me in retrospect that Rodriguez wasted too much time chasing Pryor and not enough on addressing defensive needs. The 2009 defensive class and its early returns are encouraging to that regard -- it seems he has learned his lesson and, even with 3-9 around his neck, managed to close a solid class.
The 2008 linebacker and DB hauls are a perfect microcosm of Michigan's bigger problems.
Linebacker: At a position that had zero depth left over from previous classes, we brought in four 4-star players: Marcus Witherspoon, Taylor Hill, J.B. Fitzgerald, and Kenny Demens. Of those, two (Witherspoon and Hill) were lost immediately to attrition. One (Fitzgerald) is on track to be a long-term contributor. One (Demens) seems to be a bust. In this case, Michigan fulfilled its recruitment needs, but was hit by double the expected attrition. Result: one serviceable player when we needed at least two.
Defensive back: At a position that had zero depth left over from previous classes, we brought in two 4-stars (Brandon Smith and Boubacar Cissoko) and one flier (J.T. Floyd). As with Mouton, Smith was immediately deemed a linebacker, and this was a known likelihood during the recruitment period, so really we brought in just a 4-star and a flier. The 4-star looked to be a bit behind track for his rating, until he got himself kicked off the team. The flier, as was the expected result, was not useful. Result: zero serviceable players when we needed at least two or three.
Linebacker is a clear-cut case of decimation due to attrition. Defensive back is a clear-cut case of decimation due to under-recruiting. Both of these factors have ravaged each class from 2005 to 2008. Along the way, there were some serviceable players picked up, but we are still generally <b>two</b> serviceable players short of the Michigan norm at several linebacker positions and all four defensive backfield positions, i.e. we are at least 12 good, useful, on-the-roster players away from a normal Michigan defense. That is HUGE!!!
Preview: The Decimated Defense, Part II
(Had to do it in two parts because my other spreadsheet I need is on another computer dammit)
See: Misopogon test the hypotheses above by showing what other major programs' class size and attrition rates over this period have been like.
See: Nice formatting that inexplicably seems beyond the capabilities of the Drupal editor
See: SPARTY. ON. ICE.!!!!
Tropp, Conboy, Winston...what are they teaching at these schools these days?