Previously I did the offense, now for the scarier side of the ball. I don’t recommend reading for at least 30 minutes after eating a meal.
To repeat from the earlier post, this Diary is intended to be a “state of the roster” type of summary heading into the final recruiting stretch. It is meant to be a diversion from coaching rumors, general recruiting chatter, or Miss St. preview posts. Obviously all bets are off if a coaching change is made and this summary will change (hopefully for the better) when signing day rolls around. In general, I thought this would generate some good discussion and that’s what this website is all about. Refer to Brian’s Depth Chart By Classfor a list of the relevant players.
Defensive Tackle – C+
This grade avoids being lower thanks to Mike Martin’s awesomeness. He’s by far the best player on the defensive side of the ball and without him this grade would have been an F. The problem is that there are so few people behind him. If Michigan wanted to run a 4-3 they would slide VanBergen over to DT rather than trust the position to anyone else on the depth chart behind Martin. Maybe Washington will turn out to be more than goal-life beef, maybe Ash lives up to some practice hype that’s been out there, or maybe Talbott surpasses low expectations. But there is almost no depth and no one projects as anything close to all-big ten. Since losing two recruits on signing day a couple of years ago and having Will Campbell prove ESPN to be right about his talents, this position has been a horror show. This is the #1 priority in recruiting for years to come.
Defensive End – B-
Craig Roh still projects as an above average Big Ten player once he’s in his natural position and RVB is steady at the other spot (even if I’d rather see him in the middle of a 4-3 base defense). Jibreel Black played a lot as a true-freshman and showed flashes of talent – he could match Roh’s potential. Paskorz, Wilkins, Rock, and Beyer provide adequate depth without much star potential. There is enough talent and depth here to be solid but unspectacular – hence the grade.
Linebacker – C
Sigh…..how long has it been since we had optimism with this position? Demens looks like he will be a solid two-year starter with a chance to be above average. But who else will start? The roster is a weird collection of over-sized safeties and undersized linebackers. Mike Jones and Brandon Herron have played but are still unknowns. Fitzgerald and Leach have never shown the ability to play more than special teams. Isiah Bell and Jake Ryan seem like MLB material, but have been invisible to practice buzz. Kellen Jones and Desmond Morgan are very solid signings in this recruiting class but hopefully get a year of seasoning. I expect Cam Gordon to essentially be a linebacker for this defense and don’t be surprised to see Thomas Gordon, Marvin Robinson, Josh Furman, or even Carvin Johnson play some too. Depth is not an issue – talent and finding the right role for people are the issue.
Corner – C+
Are you surprised this isn’t a lower grade? After a horrific series of events led to this position being a black hole for too long (8 players that would have had eligibility were unable to contribute in 2010 for various reasons), there is light at the end of the tunnel. Floyd was erratic but returns as a veteran. Avery saw extensive time long before he should have and that should help him develop into a solid starter. Talbott got some time and could be a solid bench player. (I’m considering Christian a Free Safety.) Troy Woolfolk’s position for 2011 is unknown, but if it is corner he’ll bring valuable experience to let the young guys develop. The current recruiting class may be “short” on stars but has a lot of depth to bolster the biggest weakness on the D.
Strong Safety – C+
Kovacs is the sort of guy you love having on your team, but not really as a 4-year starter. None the less, he’ll be his reliable but limited self next year. Expect a push from Carvin Johnson or possibly Marvin Robinson or Josh Furman if they stick at this position. Finding the right balance between brains and brawn at this position will be critical, and signing a blue-chip recruit would be spectacular.
Free Safety – D
The good news is that the people on the roster are young and have some experience. The bad news is that there’s almost zero depth, the players on the roster have obvious limitations, and it isn’t clear if help is on the way. I suppose Vinopal is your default starter with Cullen Christian the likely back-up. I would like to see Woolfolk shore up this position for a year, but he might play corner instead. Carvin Johnson might convert to this position, but he seems better suited for Strong Safety. I fully expect one of the incoming recruits to move to this position, probably Brown or Crawford. There is flexibility with some of these players, but this is a position where you want a savvy veteran who knows the position.
Punter – B
Hagerup had some freshman moments, but overall was reliable when rushed into service. Expect him only to improve and perhaps even challenge some of the Space Emperor’s milestones….okay, maybe not – but he’ll be fine.
Punt Returner – D
As with the Kick Return position, there should be plenty of viable candidates who could do well but the results don’t prove that out. Gallon was a mess for much of the year, Hemmingway offers little upside and is too injury prone, and hardly anyone else got a chance. Expect Drew Dileo to get the first chance and he might prove to be valuable.
A note on scheme for a moment….
I have no qualifications that let me comment intelligently on scheme or tactics, but I have common sense and 25 years of watching this team. I think the 3-3-5 is a way to use scheme to confuse the offense when it is run correctly. In that way it can help offset a lack of talent – but it requires the players to know it and run it well. Given that Michigan’s D combines a lack of top talent with a dose of inexperience and a dash of lack-of-depth, this is not a recipe for success as we’ve seen. I would much rather stick to a simple defense and run it well – living with the consequences.
For that reason I would like to see a 4-3 base defense with Black-RVB-Martin-Roh as the line. That seems to be a solid starting unit with a decent number of back-ups. Demens and company can sort out the linebackers. I would put Floyd and Avery at corner (and let the entire depth chart fight it out for those two starting spots), Kovacs at strong safety if he can hold off Johnson and Robinson, and then let Woolfolk be the free safety.