landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
How is the growing of a relationship with Brian Smith going? He’s new to you.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s great. He’s doing great. He’s learning the defense fast and we’re working together, working a lot more time together with the safeties and corners and spending a lot more time together. Everything’s going pretty smoothly.”
We talked to Jourdan [Lewis] in Florida and he seems really comfortable, maybe even more confident than he did a year ago. Where’s he at right now in your estimation in terms of his growth?
“He’s doing a hell of a job. Kid works hard, works his butt off. He’s been playing really well this spring. I think part of his comfort now is its year two in a system that he pretty much knows. Only new thing really [is] one new coverage that we put in that’s kind of changed things, but it’s a fun coverage for the corners. It’s a fun coverage for the secondary. I think the comfort level of playing press-man all last year and coming right back and doing it again this year really is comforting.”
Did he exceed your expectations at all last year from when you first got him?
“Well…being honest, watching the prior year on film, we watched all the games and he was impressive then. I was impressed with him, Strib[ling], Clark, those guys to be able to play man the way we wanted them to play man. To be able to handle that transition last year, that was impressive. All three of those guys. And now the carryover is very helpful.”
Where can he still get better?
“Jourdan? Woo, that’s a tough question. He’s pretty dang good at what he does. I think the biggest thing for him is just maintaining that level of play that he has, staying competitive. You know, maybe if I was being critical of him, use of his hands downfield. But he’s doing some really good things.”
I’m sure you’ve had other guys who are at the top of their game. How do you go approach them different than maybe a normal player?
“You don’t. You don’t. You just coach them the same, be consistent with all of them. At times you use guys like him and Strib as examples, but you gotta be consistent when you’re coaching. That’s what I try to do. I hope I’m doing that for those guys.”
Do you see him having an influence on Stribling and Clark?
“Well, you know, certainly his accolades from last year. His work ethic on the field. Very competitive guy. Those things, we all wish they rub off on a lot of guys and so in our room that can have an effect.”
Do you see him ever more vocally--
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He gets fired up on the field. Quiet off the field, but in between the lines he’s pretty vocal.”
[After THE JUMP: A new coverage, safety depth, the Glasgows, and Jabrill: not just an LB]
What did you think of the secondary against Utah?
“We expected more higher energy out of our players and more competitive spirit. I don’t think- I think they went into the game playing more cautiously than just relying on what they learned in camp. And I know with our older guys, you know, Jarrod Wilson and Jourdan Lewis, they’re going to make a difference for this week. I know they’re going to make sure that we up the tempo this week in playing the defense in the secondary.”
Were you pleased with your corners in coverage?
“I was. I mean, I was. Can it be better? Yes, it can be much better. Same with the safeties. One thing, I don’t try to divide it. I think corners and safeties should all be together, so if the corners look good the safeties look good, if the safeties looks good the corners look good. The coverage overall, I thought it was fair. It could have been much better than what it was. The one thing we strive on is not letting up a big play and we pretty much gave up one big play in the game. Sometimes you can’t give up those plays, so I think we have to be a more aggressive defense in the secondary, which our defense allows us to do that. We just have to get it done.”
Did you feel like Jabrill kind of trusted his instincts a little more in the second half?
“I did. I did. Jabrill came out [and] I think it was more nerves rather than just playing, because this was actually his third game. You know, so he’s still really a true freshman. One of the things Jabrill I think has to do is just trust his instincts, because he’s really very instinctive. One of the things I think he has to do a lot more is just play within himself. He’s trying to get out there and use his speed rather than thinking about the game, and I think that’s what got him in trouble early in the first half. I think he’ll bounce back, just like all our guys will.”
At the start of fall camp Jeremy Clark was a safety and Wayne Lyons was at corner. What’s the reason for that swap?
“Well, we just felt that Jeremy Clark could bring a lot more to the table at corner because he’s long, he’s tall, he’s quick. You know, he could use his hands a lot more and he can run with the big guys, the big receivers in the Big Ten and we felt Wayne was more instinctive as a safety, and he plays in space a lot better back there in the middle of the field so that was one of the reasons we made that change.”
[After THE JUMP: Aggressively pursuing aggressiveness and Freddy Canteen the WR?]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Channing Stribling||Jr.||Jourdan Lewis||Jr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Jr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.*||Wayne Lyons||Sr.*|
|Wayne Lyons||Sr.*||Terry Richardson||Jr.*||Dymonte Thomas||Jr.|
Peppers, and the nickelback spot in general, are addressed in the safeties section.
This is a spot of unexpected alarm. Michigan gets Jourdan Lewis back off an outstanding sophomore year and expected to pair him with either Blake Countess or Wayne Lyons. The winner of that battle was going to be a fifth year senior with a ton of experience and probably all right. Michigan was confident enough in the outcome of that battle to stick Jabrill Peppers at nickelback and never look back.
Fast forward to now and Countess is at Auburn, Lyons at safety, and the corner opposite Lewis is very much in flux.
But have I told you about Jourdan Lewis? And that the worst case here is probably just throwing Peppers out on the other side?
JOURDAN LEWIS spent a year watching balls scrape over his outstretched fingers.
The long outside completions were also a problem. Not the first one, as Lewis gave Akron's QB about a six-inch window, which he hit:
It's not perfect coverage—ideally Lewis forces the fade route closer to the sideline—but that's a one in a hundred throw from the QB.
He didn't like it much, so he went to the darkest parts of the swamp, seeking out the forbidden knowledge. He had heard Michigan State cornerbacks passed this way. The weird bronze scat they deposited in obscene patterns confirmed it. The hut loomed ahead.
In it, Lewis learned terrible and wonderful things.
When Raymon Taylor got hurt in the Notre Dame game, Lewis moved into the starting lineup. Lewis took a couple of quick pass interference calls—probably due to nerves more than anything else—and then locked down his spot. After ND I said he was "the best CB by some distance" despite the PI calls, and soon after that was not a remotely controversial opinion. Hell, after Lewis picked up a nice PBU in zone coverage Notre Dame decided they were done testing him:
…that was the end of targeting Jourdan Lewis. Literally. The only other UFR mention of him comes when he gets too deep on a zone and Golson dumps it off to a running back for profit. … Lewis committed two silly pass interference penalties on his first two tests and Notre Dame stopped targeting him three minutes into the second quarter.
With Will Fuller showing Blake Countess his own intestines the whole game that could have been interpreted as faint praise. Even if it was intended as such, by the end of the year it was clearly not.
That is Lewis against Michael Thomas, who Todd McShay has as the top available receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. That is probably ridiculous, but Thomas is a very large and leapy man who succumbed to swamp knowledge.
Here's Lewis against Leonte Caroo, the other popular pick for best wide receiver in the Big Ten:
Here's 6'5" Kyle Prater running a fade:
I've got more of these. Lots of them. Against Dres Anderson. Against anybody. Lewis would get beat from time to time because that happens to cornerbacks, but almost never deep and when opponents went at him he was alarming enough that even completions on him sent signals that maybe you should try the other guy.
By Big Ten Media Days, Lewis was on the receiving end of the best compliment a corner can receive…
On cornerback Jourdan Lewis: "Our receivers really thought he was pretty good. They said he got his hands on your really early in the route, but they were complaining to the officials all the time too because he never let go. He was messing with them the whole time. That's good if you can get away with it, but it'll probably cost you a couple flags every game also."
…bitching about interference. As a person who has done his fair share of bitching about interference, I can testify that means you have arrived as a cornerback.
This is the bit where I come up with problems, so: Lewis isn't the biggest guy. He could end up with his fair share of flags by the end of the year. There's not much else.
Are you worried that we might see a devolution similar to that of Countess? Doubtful. Countess went from a good, crafty zone corner to a guy exposed by man press coverage. Lewis excelled in that same scheme a year ago. As a bonus, the cornerbacks coach is not a former linebacker who'd never coached the position before.
Lewis just about maxed out expectations for him a year ago and doesn't have that much farther he can go without suddenly becoming Patrick Peterson. He should have another year like 2014, except now everybody knows about him and will avoid him more. Maybe he can aim for more interceptions—to go from a guy who is dangerous because he'll get a PBU to a guy who's dangerous because he will turn you over.
Either way, Lewis will be one of the best corners in the league.
[After THE JUMP: And now for something completely different.]
I say we call him "Quick Burst, Mo Hurts." Nobody is on board with me on this. [Fuller]
- The Question:
- Seth: After the spring game which player are you bullish on, and which are you hedging?
Ace: Brian and I did a segment on this during the podcast, so I'll keep this relatively brief. (That's called a teaser, folks.)
MAURICE HURST had arguably the best performance of anyone during the spring game, lining up at multiple spots and blowing up plays at all of them. His first step, which was his greatest strength coming out of high school, is still very quick after adding weight, and he looks very ready to see a significant role this fall.
Given that some practice reports had him as a potential starter, it's hard not to be a little disappointed in Logan Tuley-Tillman's showing, which featured three flags and a couple olés. He was a major project coming of high school, to the point that this year was the earliest he could feasibly see the field, so it's not a devastating blow that he doesn't look ready yet. He has so much upside, though, that it would've been really encouraging to see him push into that starting five.
Adam Schnepp: I was looking for a weakness. There had to be one; the practice reports had practically reached tall-tale status, but now I see why. It almost feels like I need to pick someone else because this is too easy, but I'm bullish on JABRILL PEPPERS. I know that we've been bullish on him since last August, but now it's like Raging Bull(ishness). Except not about boxing. Or self-destruction. I was really just going for the bull imagery here.
As a hybrid space player, Peppers is going to have to read run/pass and react immediately. On the Blue offense's first play Peppers peers into the backfield, reads the handoff from Morris, and comes off the edge to take out Shallman, limiting him to a one-yard gain.
While his run stopping was adequate for an HSP, I was more impressed with Peppers' coverage skills. He played almost exclusively with a seven-yard cushion and not only was able to jam guys who had already built up a head of steam but consistently re-routed them to the side he had a help defender. I can't find a good example of this on the video thanks to BTN's zoom-o-matic cameras, but Ace can confirm that if I tweeted the above as many times as I said it to him you'd all either unfollow me or think I accidentally set up a scheduled tweet.
I'm hedging on BRIAN COLE. It's important, however, to delineate "hedging" as separate from "disappointed with." It's hard to judge a receiver when they aren't targeted often, and doubly so as the offense's predilection for two- and three-wide sets often left Cole on the sideline. I expected him to compete for time with the known commodities; I did not expect him to have the same number of receptions and receiving yards as 5-9 walk-on fullback Joe Beneducci. I wouldn't rule him out as a contributor in the fall*, but I expected the ball to be thrown his way more often last Saturday.
*(I don't think any of the receivers have locked down a spot with the exception of maybe Darboh, who was lined up against a dude who'd been a corner for maybe four practices.)
[Jump for the defensive backs are gonna be good, even if the passing game makes them look so.]
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Previously: Last year's profiles.
|Elkton, MD – 5'11" 185|
||Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#60 CB, #20 MD
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#52 CB, #22 MD
|24/7||3*, NR overall
#64 CB, #20 MD
|Other Suitors||BC, UConn, Rutgers, Maryland, Tenn(?), USC(?)|
|YMRMFSPA||poor man's DeMarcus Milliner|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace|
|Notes||Eastern Christian (Freddy Canteen)|
Given the choice between kicking off this series with the most celebrated recruit in the history of Michigan football—seriously, Michigan has never recruited a player as highly ranked as Jabrill Peppers in the ten or so years people have been celebrating recruits—and one of the few players eligible for sleeper status, let's go with the sleeper.
He is Brandon Watson, and he's not only overshadowed by Jabrill Peppers but his own danged teammate pressing to start despite being fresh off the turnip truck. But even though Watson is a holy lock to redshirt, his recruitment does have implications for Michigan's 2014 season.
That's because Watson is a man-to-man pressing machine. Give him your suit and it will come back so flat it looks two dimensional. Give him a wide receiver and he will jam him into the sidelines, possibly no matter what the call is.
You get the impression he and Brady Hoke could play a hilarious joke on the media one day where they switch places and nobody notices. Here's Watson dropping Hoke's second or third favorite word three times in a brief window:
At Michigan camp, I showed off my physicality," he said. "I was a bigger corner than most of the guys there. I was teachable I think. I think I did everything to the best of my abilities, and coach noticed and liked it.
"I'm physical at the line. If the quarterback's looking for a route that's deep, and the receiver can't get off the line, that's definitely noticeable. I think I'm just real physical, but I'm fast so I can keep up with people as well."
Watson will pull off the Brady Hoke half of the switcheroo perfectly. The hard part is the other bit.
Thanks to the unusual nature of Eastern Christian Academy, Watson's junior year consisted of three games before the local authorities pulled the rug out. As a result the meticulously assembled junior film that is the backbone of internet clips does not exist. The pickings are slim. The clip above is a minute long and consists of clips from a single game in which he's not even thrown at.
Even so it does confirm that ECA lined Watson up one inch from the receiver's nose consistently and dared the opponent to do anything about it. Usually they did not. It is probably not a coincidence that the clip looks like an even more aggressive version of Michigan's spring game.
While the abbreviated 2012 ECA season limited scouting opportunities for Watson, ECA did hit up a few 7 on 7 events and most recruiting services did stop by an ECA game in 2013 to fill in data they did not have.
Watson's best moment was a 7-on-7 dubbed SWAG in which he was a main reason his team reached the title game. Rivals named him the best player in attendance:
1. CB BRANDON WATSON, ELKTON (MD.) EASTERN CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Whenever the football was in the vicinity of Watson, it was either getting intercepted or it was going to be an incompletion. … dominant in coverage. He consistently got a good punch at the line of scrimmage in man coverage, and when playing off he closed quickly on the football. As receivers attempted double moves, Watson ran with the opposition step for step, showing great change of direction. The most impressive part of Watson's day was successfully defending a number of jump balls in the end zone against taller receivers.
2) CB Brandon Watson – Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian
The 6-foot-0, 187-pounds cornerback rarely got beat and won the matchup against Godwin in the semi-finals. He displayed terrific ball skills, great speed and excellent footwork.
Watson also drew mention from Rivals in a 7-on-7 as a rising sophomore:
[Touted guy opposite Watson gave] Watson his opportunity to make a statement, and he did just that by recording several interceptions on the day, including two in one game.
When sites got around to see him play actual football, they sounded impressed. 247 caught ECA versus Maplewood (TN), which ended in a 60-20 ECA blowout. Watson had a spectacular over-the-shoulder-and-then-break-11-tackles pick six called back on a "questionable" pass interference call and generally shut off whoever he lined up against. A catch was detected, though not of the receiving variety:
Watson played bump man coverage all night and was physical on the line of scrimmage. His receiver did not have a catch all game. Watson showed good speed and quickness, as well as a fluid hip-turn. He has been coached well. Watson has a nice break on the ball and showed good reactive quickness. He has a nice build and looked to have excellent strength. Watson’s only concern is his height, standing about 5-foot-10.
"But he was six foot not two blockquotes ago!" you angrily exclaim. I know, man. I know. We'll get through it.
Scout, the source of the quick clips above, saw ECA versus the seemingly-misspelled Champagnat Catholic in their season opener:
… physical and was able to flip his hips and run with the receivers. He was comfortable playing press coverage, and he rarely let the receiver release and get into his route with any kind of rhythm. He also had a very good interception (not on tape) in which he closed very quickly on a ball thrown 20 yards down the field over the middle.
…definitely a kid who looks better in a game than in 7-on-7 contests. He was sensational, and by the end of the game it wasn’t even a question of whether Champagnat would challenge him. Receivers had no shot against him.
Elided, unfortunately, was the note that Champagnat (is it a champagne with gnats in it? Or a gnat addled with champagne, making a scene?) didn't have much of a passing game, as high school teams are wont to not have.
ESPN mentions his "good height and size" and praises him for being a "long, rangy defender"—"WELL, WHICH IS IT?" you thunder from a pulpit of stone and lightning—and generally praises his play:
Shows a long stride with good speed. Flashes recovery quickness to close separation.… Can turn and run with receiver but does show some tightness in the hips when having to make a sudden change of direction if in off man coverage. Will generally maintain balance and mirror receivers with his length from a trail position. … Displays the ability to match up and mirror receivers out on an island.
Sounds pretty good, and then…
Will most likely see recruitment from mid level BCS programs.
You really just cannot tell how much ESPN likes a guy not at the very top of their rankings by their scouting report.
2014 Elkton (Md.) ECA CB Brandon Watson -- Watson was by far the most physical corner at the camp Tuesday and brings physical tools to the table that most high school defensive backs just aren’t privy to. 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, it’s hard to believe Watson only had four offers to his name heading into Michigan’s camp, but with several pass break-ups made throughout the day, the Wolverines threw their name into the hat. Watson showed nice discipline against the wide receivers, timing his break in order to avoid a penalty and never being burned deep in press coverage, adding speed to his above average size.
This concludes scouting done by unbiased sources. The rest comes from ECA's coach, Dwayne Thomas, who gets in our The Pattern quote of the day, one that includes Canteen:
“They’re kids that you’re never going to read about in the paper in a negative way. They’re kids that are not going to miss class. Kids that are not going to be a disruption to any program. Kids that are extremely positive and extremely focused on being the best that they could possibly be in every aspect of their life. Kids that I would let date my daughter if she was of age. So you’re getting high quality individuals with extremely extremely high work ethic.”
That's a full Date My Daughter coach quote.
On the field, Thomas echoes the bits about bumping and physicality and whatnot:
“…. extremely extremely gifted athlete who can run and is physical. He can run with the quickest receivers and can be physical and bump it up with the big receivers."
Another Thomas quote:
Brandon has this unique combination of speed, strength and hip flexibility that will allow him to be physical with the big receivers, and he’s agile enough to run and defend the smaller receivers as well.”
Since Watson enrolled early, we have another slab of data to look at… or at least we would if anyone talked about him. Watson mostly popped up in spring to talk about Canteen.
"He's a confident player, but that's good," Watson says. "The only time he trash talks, though, is when we're playing (video games)."
He spent the spring mostly playing nickel behind Countess, and was quiet during the game-type substance. 247's Steve Lorenz has said Watson had moved to safety a few times, but in the spring game the non-Jarrod Wilson role was fought over by the Hill/Thomas/Clark trio; that nickelback spot is kind of between the two. Positional clarity is going to be a ways off for Watson.
Anything that takes him away from his jam is going to require an adjustment period. At no point in his recruitment did the word "zone" surface. He'll probably have to learn what to do when you're more than a millimeter from the wide receiver.
Etc.: Thomas has a bit of Fred Jackson in him:
Sam Webb: Is there a player in college or the pros that you can kind of compare him to?
Dwayne Thomas: “Brandon would be a cross between Deion Sanders type that can run with any receiver. But he is a physical guy like some of the physical corners that have played on the NFL and the college levels.
Deion Sanders, but physical!
Why a poor man's DeMarcus Milliner? I have to depart not only Michigan but the Big Ten for the most press-mad corner Michigan has encountered in recent times.
Milliner is the 6'2" five-star spider-beast who hurled Roy Roundtree into the first row during the Alabama game that started 2012 with a thud. He was a top ten pick several months later, and then turned out to be six-foot-even in the NFL. Watson is probably 6'0" like Milliner was 6'2", and he will try to duplicate the things Milliner did… probably with less success.
Guru Reliability: Low. Limited exposure due to junior year scheduling snafu, and while there are a couple 7 on 7s it doesn't appear like he was at Nike camps or the like.
Variance: Moderate. Played the position he projects to, got a lot of coaching, healthy. High floor. Ceiling, though…
Ceiling: Moderate. Did not wow anyone with that size and speed; big differrence between 6'1" and 5'10" here that seems to be on the shorter side.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Watson should at least be a capable player. Stardom doesn't seem super likely due to profile and lack of spring buzz.
Projection: With both starters and both backups from last year returning, Peppers incoming, and guys like Delonte Hollowell around, Watson should be the lockiest lock on the roster to redshirt. The only way he plays is if he gets drafted onto special teams, and that seems wasteful even for this redshirt-averse staff.
It doesn't get much easier in the near future. Michigan loses only Taylor and Hollowell from the secondary after this year, and even two years down the road Watson is likely trying to pass Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, or Peppers to get significant playing time. This is of course possible; more likely is Watson putting in his special teams time until he can emerge as an upperclassman.
Watson is plausible, if not ideal, at safety and may get looks there if Michigan finds itself a bit short in the future.