Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
Already strong desire to see Amedeo Della Valle wearing Michigan electric banana yellow: incremented. Also, here's 6'7" Bo Zeigler.
What to do with the extra options.
I'm curious what you think Michigan should do with their suddenly available basketball scholarships. I realize it is impossible to predict specific names since you don't know who is really out there or how they look outside their highlight films. But from a position stand-point, what do you think?
I ask because I've had a debate with Dylan at UMHoops the past few days about it. He's of the opinion that a combo guard like Della Valle would be the best choice because we don't need a true PG with Burke and Walton. My opinion is that the end of the bench is designed for people who fit a very specific role and are comfortable being a developmental prospect so I think we need a true PG who can back up Burke and Walton and be available in case of emergency.
I think Travis Trice (MSU) and Stilman White (UNC) are perfect examples of the type of player you want to provide depth. They were both undersized, low-ranked recruits coming into a full roster with many more heralded players but both played critical back-up roles for their teams when needed. To me, that is the first priority with these available scholarships and the second priority is either a combo guard with a lot of upside or a pure shooter to groom into the Vogrich role.
Michigan could take both a PG and a combo now and a third guy besides if he's a grad-year transfer. I think the ideal situation is a grad-year PG, Della Valle, and a full-court press on Bo Zeigler and Monte Morris as Michigan tries to add to its 2013 class.
If there isn't a suitable grad-year guy out there, then it comes down to what you think of your available point guard options. Michigan does need a second point guard at some point. Do you think Della Valle and/or Stauskas can give you backup minutes if Burke stays? Do you think Spike Albrecht or other random unsigned guy can play? How do you feel about your shot at doubling up with Walton and Morris in 2013? What is your contingency plan if Burke goes pro?
I can't answer any of those questions, but I don't think you want to take a guy just to take a guy. Christian was an example of that. He was going to Tulane and had little interest outside of that before Michigan swooped in. He ended up sitting on the bench before departing, and the limited utility he provided in his sparse minutes probably could have been handled by Corey Person without much problem.
Albrecht is a walking question mark right now. There's a big difference between Travis Trice—who had offers from Minnesota, Northwestern, Dayton, and Butler—and Albrecht, who doesn't even have profile at the major sites and has Vermont fans on the fence about taking him. Meanwhile, White had a BYU offer. I can't find a confirmed Albrecht offer from anyone—his profile is a lot closer to Christian than either of your four-year examples.
Unless you think Albrecht is the sort of guy who can give you ten minutes now and could start as a senior, I wouldn't take him. If he's as good as Dave Sobolewski, the guy Sam Webb compared him to, I would. But even a low profile guy like Sobocop got three stars from Rivals and shows a number of quality mid-major offers like Harvard, Northern Iowa, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In contrast, we know Della Valle has high-level suitors. If Michigan gets him they'll beat out Texas A&M, Arizona, Gonzaga, and others for him (AFAIK he does not have an official OSU offer). That's a guy you'd take any time.
This is my point guard decision matrix:
- If you can get a grad-year guy, take him.
- Otherwise, if you think Albrecht or other guy is as good as Sobolewski, take him.
- Otherwise, if Trey Burke stays just deal with 5-10 minutes a game with Stauskas or hopefully Della Valle at the point.
- If Trey Burke leaves, panic. Then reach for someone, anyone.
FWIW, A Trey Zeigler transfer—which doesn't seem to be on the table—doesn't fit well with Michigan's needs. They need another guard next year, when Zeigler won't be eligible, and he's probably more of a shooting guard. If you can get Della Valle he's preferable since he's available now.
Mmmm, roster fantasy.
I don't think it's possible...but we just think about the possibility of Burke and Hardaway staying for not one, but TWO years!?! How good could that team be assuming all the incoming freshmen stay?
[ED: This email came in before the attrition and the Burke news.]
Sure it's possible, but I'm not sure we want that to happen. If Hardaway has another year like his most recent one and Burke doesn't improve significantly they'll again be in that range of second-round-to-undrafted prospects and the calculus will dictate a return. I'd rather have Hardaway turn into a lottery pick both for roster reasons and, hey, NBA lottery pick driving team forward.
A hypothetical 2013-14 squad featuring everyone from the current roster and the next two incoming classes would be one-seed good even without Smotrycz. It would probably mean the upcoming season was a disappointment, though. I'd rather have a breakout year and deal with the consequences.
It's in the past.
So with the partnership between the B1G and PAC12 coming up in a few years to do some cross conference games some of the teams are getting a slight jump (i.e. Northwestern playing Stanford and Cal, as well as the recent announcement of Michigan State and Oregon). While I would love to see a home and home with USC, isn’t the most intriguing matchup with Arizona? It might be a lose-lose situation for us where if we win we were expected to win and if we lose then Rich Rod will have his moment of glory.
Who would you like to see?
Intriguing, yes. Annoying, God yes. I would like Michigan to stay away from any rehash of the Rodriguez era. This desire is on par with Michigan making a Rose Bowl: let us never speak of that again. Playing Arizona is like scheduling a rematch with Appalachian…
Oh, right. That.
If they zipper future matchups like they do for the Big Ten/ACC challenge (though I assume they'll do home-and-homes in this Pac-10 alliance), Michigan might not have a choice. It's hard to see the near future of both conferences panning out in such a way as to dictate the Arizona-Michigan matchup unless TV wants to get cute. I'd expect USC, Oregon, Stanford, etc. Arizona's been down forever for a reason.
On the philosophical shortcomings of the program expressed via the lens of running back recruiting.
The recent commit of Deveon Smith, which possibly excludes Ty Isaac, brought to the forefront an interesting inner debate I've had for a while. You have said that the Ohio State game is a microcosm of UM's season. I similarly have thought that Mike Hart was a microcosm of UM football in not only the late Carr years, but also the Bo years. (Disclaimer: do not read further if you think of the Bo years as the pinnacle of a college football program).
Anyway, Hart was so very good but just not quite fast enough to take it to the house after he hit the second level; often getting caught from behind. Similarly, the late Carr years, as well as Bo's years, resulted in very good teams which just couldn't reach an NC (or a very good bowl record). Obviously the leading all-time rusher in UM history is not to blame for UM's failure to win NC's, but rather a microcosm; just doesn't have that last little burst to become elite.
I see the same in Smith vs Isaac: one a more sure-fire prospect, but lacks the elite higher ceiling that great break-away speed gives (Smith), or a bigger risk in waiting for that elite size/speed combo (Isaac). I'm honestly not sure where I stand in the inner debate of whether I would rather risk a higher level ceiling (in prospects and program), or go a safer route, but with a lower ceiling that results in conference championships but not the elite national championships. I was curious to know your thoughts on the subject.
The tension here was on display in Hoke's first press conference when Drew Sharp managed to break away from the gentle grape-peeling-and-feeding session to ask a typically nasty question about Hoke's focus on winning the Big Ten, and how it wasn't a focus on winning national championships, and doesn't that make you some sort of jerk, Brady, and don't even think I'm projecting my failures on to you and everyone I write about I HAVE A VERY IMPORTANT JOB AT A NEWSPAPER.
Hoke looked at Sharp like his cool leather jacket was made out of baby skin—which, unbeknownst to him, it was—and mumbled something about how that opportunity would be there if they won the league. Sharp tried to press the point, but Hoke had already moved on to recruiting the 2015 class.
The idea that Michigan plays it safe was something I've felt as I watched good teams play in fear of what could go wrong instead of pressing their advantages and fall apart against teams they have no business doing so against. That was pretty much the only thing I thought when Hoke was hired: oh God this again, even further removed from the time period in which it was a good idea.
Hoke then set about annihilating that expectation, on and off the field. He hired Greg Mattison and brought along an honest-to-God offensive coordinator, he went for it—a lot—and told the media not to expect him to change after it didn't work out that one time against Illinois. And of course the recruiting. Brady Hoke's answer to Smith vs Isaac is "why not both?" I gingerly suggest that will also be his approach to Big Ten title vs National title. Hoke likes to win games, and tries to win all of them, and is recruiting at a level that will allow him to do so.
Wilson is needed at safety because Josh Furman's hair may be too spectacular for him to see the field.
Some Spring FB questions that so far I have not seen much about:
1) With the additions of Wilson and Clark as Free Safeties (and Dymonte in 2013) it would seem that moving Tamari Carter back to his HS position of CB would be logical given his size and our depth chart. I know there is talk of trying Wilson at CB but I don't buy it.
I haven't heard anything about Wilson at CB; I'd be surprised if he was not a safety all the way. As far as Carter goes, I'm looking at the depth chart and it seems like Michigan has three solid veterans plus a couple of true sophomore backups they liked enough to play last year. That seems like a position of less uncertainty than safety, partially because Marvin Robinson…
2) Any word on whether Marvin Robinson will get a medical red shirt for last year and also if that minor X Box spat has been cleared up? I still see Marvin as #2 on the depth chart and heir apparent to Kovacs at SS, so an extra year of eligibility would be nice. In other Red Shirt News I know it is futile to ask why we can't get a straight answer about Devin's possible wasted Freshman year... a riddle wrapped in a conundrum.
…does not seem like he's going to be a factor this year. I've gotten a report that he has not looked in shape at early spring practices. Obviously a lot of time left before fall; still not a good sign. If he's not in line for playing time Carter is one of only two guys with a year under his belt at safety. The other is Josh Furman, who has reportedly been absent for a few practices. Even if that's benign (class conflict?) it's not a good sign for potential Furman playing time. Things could go wrong a lot more quickly there than corner.
I don't know about Gardner. I've heard the opposite about the likelihood he ends up getting the extra year—e.g., it is a formality. I don't know what to believe there.
3) Is there any buzz at all about Ken Wilkins? He seems like a great possibility at SDE but I am starting to feel "Adam Patterson Syndrome" with regard to Mr. Wilkins.
Jerry In Ibiza
There hasn't been much buzz about Wilkins and the move of not one but two WDEs inside to positions he might play is not a good sign for him when it comes to seeing the field. The last we saw Wilkins he was getting annihilated by a walk-on as an undersized three-tech in the spring game; he did not surface at all last season even when the defensive line depth was whittled down to nothing in the Sugar Bowl.
He's got a shot at the rotation this year whether it's behind Black or Roh; if he doesn't do it now chances are he won't ever. If Patterson was on the sort of roster Wilkins will be as a fourth year player, he would have been buried.
Previously: The Story.
The existential crisis that was last year's secondary has been the subject of emo rehash and frequently-updated "Never Forget" banners in this space for going on a year now. In mid-August of 2010, Troy Woolfolk did something strange and painful to his ankle and I—and I assume a good chunk of the Michigan fanbase—decided ankle-exploding time was drankin' time. Twitter archived the results; read from the bottom.
The headache I had the next morning did not subside until Greg Mattison was hired.
Woolfolk wasn't going to cure last year's secondary issues by himself but he was going to be a decent returning starter in a secondary without any other than Jordan Kovacs. Without him this section of last year's preview started "What's the point of anything?" because everyone left was either a freshman, walk-on, or JT Floyd.
After a deceptively promising start courtesy of the vast incompetence of Zack Frazer and Notre Dame's backup quarterbacks, the doom took hold. Everyone who saw a snap last year contributed to it but if we have to pick a single moment that best represents Michigan's 2010 secondary it would have to be this:
JT Floyd picking up a –3 against Penn State
That is how Matt McGloin tears you up for 41 points on nine drives. Let's never speak of this again.
While this year's secondary won't bring back memories of Charles Woodson, improvement is almost a given. It could be vast, even. Every contributor returns save James Rogers. Woolfolk is back and healthy, and there's a small horde of freshmen.
If you believe the message board chatter about Tony Gibson's coaching acumen, Curt Mallory is a huge upgrade. My favorite apocryphal story is that when Scot Shafer resigned he told Rodriguez he would take all the blame publicly if Rodriguez admitted to Shafer that Gibson was "the worst secondary coach in the country." Shortly after his resignation, Shafer did pop up in the News stating it was all his fault. Poppycock? Probably, but you can't rule it out.
Things are looking up. They could be okay. Not okay for Michigan, but okay for a mediocre Big Ten defense. They've got a cap—like everywhere on this attrition-wracked team the depth is a little scary. The starters still include a walk-on and the talent level as measured by stars is strictly second-rate. They haven't disproved that on the field, so expectations should be kept in check.
That there are any except doom is pretty cool. Bohemian Crapsody begone.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|Troy Woolfolk||Sr.*||Courtney Avery||So.|
|JT Floyd||Jr.*||Tony Anderson||Sr.*#|
|Terrence Talbott||So.||Blake Countess||Fr.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Woolfolk in T-Woolf mode
Unless something very depressing happens in the near future I will not need any power tools this year. Troy Woolfolk is healthy, and while he's probably not going to be All Big Ten he's fast and steady enough to get good reviews a couple of years ago when he split time between safety and corner. There is empirical evidence for this, and how: Woolfolk's absence from the safety spot marked the point the 2009 defense went off a cliff. Michigan went from giving up 23 points per game with Woolfolk at safety to 37 without.
Those reviews have moved from potentially ignorant bloggers to the head coach. Woolfolk was one of three defensive Wolverines to be named a starter by Hoke weeks before the season (Kovacs and Martin were the others) and is conspicuously first when Hoke talks about his corners:
"(Woolfolk is) is a guy who I think, as a senior, has taken some ownership and he's done everything," Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "J.T. is fighting. Courtney Avery is fighting, Terrence Talbott, they're all fighting with each other to see who's going to be the guy."
Mattison joined in as well:
What are your impressions of Troy Woolfolk? "I'm really, really impressed with a senior -- with a new staff, with a new system -- with a guy that comes out every day and says 'I'm going to do what you tell me to do, I'm going to do it how you tell me to do it, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to do it.' ... I think his technique is improving."
That bit at the end about his improving technique is a little ominous. Woolfolk's injury and position switches may leave him vulnerable to Morgan Trent-like deficiencies. The two are similar players: very fast, rangy corners who are tough to beat on a fade but can struggle when opponents are changing direction rapidly. Woolfolk's main advantage over Trent is want-to. Trent spent his senior year raging against the new regime and saw his play suffer. Woolfolk should have no such issues.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
|juuuuust evades the fingertips|
|jars the ball free|
|comes up too hard|
|pwns a UW guard!|
Opposite Woolfolk the battle is on between sophomore Courtney Avery and redshirt junior JT Floyd. The bet here is that Avery wins that battle. Avery drew into the starting lineup last year when Floyd exited with yet another injury and seemed to outplay the guy he was replacing.
What he brings to the table is still up in the air. He was seeing spot duty relieving Floyd and Rogers even before Floyd's injury; he also split time with Terry Talbott when Michigan went to nickel and dime packages. In that role he was erratic. He wasn't good, per se. But in the tire fire that was last year's secondary he showed a little spark. This spark allowed other portions of the tire fire to spew ever more pitch black tar smoke into the observers face, yes. The spark remained.
Here's an erratic UFR that might not mean that much because he's a corner and his playing time was highly variable:
Zone vacancy II.
|MSU||-||-||-||Didn't register. Yay?|
|Iowa||-||5.5||-5.5||The whiff, the zone vacation, etc.|
|PSU||-||-||-||DNP, I think.|
|Illinois||3.5||0.5||3||Two key tackles.|
|Purdue||3||6||-3||Gave up the big screen.|
|Wisconsin||2.5||3||-0.5||Could have been harsher on him.|
It's not great, though a big chunk of his Indiana negative might have been erroneously given. The blogosphere ferociously debated whether a particular frustrating Iowa touchdown was mostly on the head of Kenny Demens or Avery and eventually decided it was kind of both but maybe probably mostly Demens. The UFR still registers Avery as the victim.
Given the circumstances—tire fire—he did well to not get hammered on a consistent basis. Try to judge him as a freshman by comparing him to his classmates: the highly-touted Cullen Christian was a blinking "throw at me" sign whenever he was on the field. Terrance Talbott was clearly behind. His main issue was playing zone coverage too aggressively, vacating his zone as he chased receivers across the field.
His quickness and aggressiveness bodes well. This is just Bowling Green (see also: the brief blip of Ray Vinopal hope) but Michigan hasn't had a corner who's able to recover like this in a while:
Avery's two years younger than Floyd and was healthy through the entirety of last year and spring practice. He played quarterback in high school; nagging injuries scuppered plans to play him both ways as a senior. He was just learning the rudiments of playing corner when he was thrust onto the field last year. Even if Avery and Floyd were close a year ago—something that is generous to Floyd—Avery should improve much faster than his competition. Avery has never seemed to "transparently lack the speed to be a Big Ten cornerback."
With practice buzz generally talking up Avery, it would be a surprise if he was not the starter. If not now, then by the Big Ten season. He should make a big leap forward in year two.
The primary backup and presumed nickel/dimeback will be the loser of the Avery/Floyd battle. This preview presumes that will be JT Floyd. Our last glimpses of him were against Penn State, when he turned in the coverage-type substance at the top of this post and a few other howlers. Here's one:
The game before that, it was Floyd who gave up slant after slant on critical third downs against Iowa. Even before that this blog declared his coverage "only brushes up against adequate."
|Iowa||2.5||11||-8.5||Oh my god the slants.|
|PSU||3||12||-9||Awful, awful, awful.|
Floyd was so overmatched as a redshirt freshman that Rodriguez and Robinson pulled him off the field, moved Woolfolk from his duties as a fairly effective free safety, and inserted Mike Williams to disastrous effect. Yeah, that could be another symptom of the insanity that ruled decision-making on the D these last few years. But unlike Kenny Demens's debut, Floyd's return to the field didn't make anyone think his removal was a mistake.
As you can see at right, Floyd started off well enough against the incompetent quarterbacks of the nonconference schedule. A number of whiffed tackles and Mouton-like angles against UMass were cause for concern. That concern bloomed, then metastasized in the Big Ten schedule.
|Nate Montana gift|
|breaks on to break up|
|reads and attacks|
|boxed out by Rudolph|
|sucks up on drag|
|allows Willis to drag him 15 yards|
First he was amongst the many Wolverines who were too confused or too slow to keep those four-yard Indiana routes from becoming eight. While he wasn't a major factor in the Michigan State game, he imploded against Iowa and Penn State.
In context it seems like his relatively benign Michigan State game was because the Spartans had even easier prey elsewhere on the field. And maybe Michigan protected him in favor of that prey. Remember the sinfully easy 41-yard touchdown Cullen Christian yielded? Yeah:
Why the hell is Cullen Christian the guy in man coverage on a receiver running a fly route? Why isn't it Floyd? Christian(-3, cover –3, RPS -2) is smoked crispy as he bites on an out and up gives up the touchdown. Roh was about to hit Cousins but no matter.
After that it was the elevator straight down and the injury. If he gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
If there are injuries, options past the top three are dicey. With Floyd and Woolfolk held out of spring practice the starting cornerbacks were Avery and Tony Anderson, who's one of many walk-ons threatening for playing time. Anderson played ahead of Cullen Christian and Terrance Talbott; Christian transferred soon after. Talbott remains.
The hope is that's motivational or Talbott can accelerate past Anderson's spot on the depth chart as his scholarship-having self surpasses Anderson's walk-on ceiling. Talbott got sporadic time last year and was okay for a freshman. He got lost on zone drops and was a weak tackler, etc. The book on him…
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
…seemed pretty accurate. He can be a contributor down the road… if he sticks with football. There were widespread rumors Talbott was off the team, by choice, for a period this offseason.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.) Greg Brown [recruiting profile] enrolled early and was decent in the spring game. Those two feature on the first depth chart. Talbott does not.
The rest of the n00bs: Raymon Taylor [recruiting profile] is speedy, might not have the greatest change of direction, and got a fourth star from Rivals. Delonte Hollowell [recruiting profile] is yet another smurfy Cass Tech corner who can't be put on outside receivers; he'll probably have to wait for time to open up at nickelback. He is rooting hard for Thomas Gordon to win the safety job opposite Kovacs. Finally, Tamani Carter [recruiting profile] is probably a safety; as a guy Michigan hijacked from Minnesota it will be a bad callback to Ray Vinopal if he doesn't redshirt.
That's five dudes instead of three; if it turns out some of the guys ahead of them on the depth chart can't play the one who emerges as a contributor will probably be better than Talbott and Avery were last year.
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.|
|Jordan Kovacs||Jr.*#||Thomas Gordon||So.*|
|Marvin Robinson||So.||Carvin Johnson||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Is it possible that last year's Michigan defense actually one-upped the safety horror on display in 2009? Yes. It was actually worse than even the situation that gave rise to this in last year's preview:
Their [Kovacs and Mike Williams's] powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
While the situation two years ago was never good it didn't drop off a cliff until Michigan moved Troy Woolfolk to corner. First Mike Williams and then Jordan Kovacs leisurely escorted opponents into the endzone for the remainder of the year, sure. But last year Michigan started out with this…
…and then pulled a similar switch by moving Cam Gordon to spur and inserting true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal. Vinopal wasn't quite as likely to take a terrible angle. Instead he was a 160-pound object in the way of Wisconsin's various house-sized Katamaris.
Artist's impression of Vinopal tackling Montee Ball
He also took some terrible angles. Kovacs was better but still kind of eh—he has not yet found that Iowa zen where the slow small white guy is always in the right place—and Michigan never got competent play from the other spot. Survey says increase doom panic victory 2010. And there was much rejoicing.
It can't be that bad again, right? I'm seriously asking this. Please, someone tell me it can't be that bad again. If no one else is willing to stand in front of that howitzer I guess it's up to me: they can't be that bad again.
|blasted all over|
|fends off the RT|
|shoots the gap|
|instant tackle on WR|
|tackles in the backfield|
|leaking out into the flat|
|capable zone coverage|
|almost a 95-yard Rick Six|
|not so smrt|
|inexplicably slows up|
It was already a foregone conclusion, but Brady Hoke explicitly confirmed that Jordan Kovacs will start for a third year this fall. He did so almost before anyone asked. The man once mistaken for Matt Cavanaugh by Greg Robinson is on track to becoming the first four-year starter at safety since
Jamar Adams [Ed-M: Marcus Ray ('95-'98). Adams's RS Fr year was Shazor/Mundy]
Unfortunately, thanks to the defensive implosion of the last three years this does not necessarily mean he is any good. Whether he is or not is a subject of heated debate wherever Michigan's starting secondary is discussed. His freshman year he was solid as a box safety. His instincts and tackling made him an effective force player and blitzer. Then the whole Woolfolk-to-corner thing happened and he got switched into a deep half role. To say he struggled was an understatement. Some UFR comments from that portion of his freshman year:
Just can't play a deep half.
Again burned as a deep half safety.
Enormous bust #3.
So that didn't go so well.
Last year Michigan tried to move him back into the box by switching to a 3-3-5 in which he was the "bandit" (a strong safety that spends his time on or near the LOS), but then they spent a lot of time in a two deep shell that saw Kovacs's deep limitations tested again. He did not pass with flying colors but thanks to his awareness and solid tackling was not the flaming dump truck the rest of the secondary was. It's not a coincidence that the new coaching staff has been talking him up. Hoke:
"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."
Kovacs did improve last year, and significantly. Kovacs went from deep half dead meat to "the king of moderate-moderate-0". In three different games (ND, BGSU, and Indiana) he had plusses that exactly offset his minuses; in four more (UConn, UMass, Iowa, and Penn State) he was just above or below breaking even. He was excellent against MSU…
…may have had his best game at Michigan. He's so reliable; on a day when Michigan couldn't find a tackle it didn't want to miss, Kovacs twice dragged down TEs in space to boot MSU off the field. Only one counted, unfortunately.
…but he broke down late, picking up negative days against Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
Even so, his season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
Thomas Gordon: prison abs, manages to look badass on last year's D
|sends the house|
|makes a solid TFL in some space|
|get outside his blocker|
|moves up into the gap|
|not brandon harrison|
|search and destroy|
The spot next to Kovacs is second to only weakside linebacker when it comes to mystery on this year's team. One candidate is sophomore Carvin Johnson, who had a plentiful helping of hype early and started in the spring game. The other is redshirt sophomore Thomas Gordon.
These two are familiar with each other since they spent last year duking it out with each other. The twist: they were doing so at Spur; Cam Gordon had locked down free safety. This year they're swapped.
The smaller Gordon has the advantage. He played at nickelback in the spring, swapping with the WLB on passing downs and covering slot receivers. He seemed well-suited for that spot. Moving him to safety signals some discontent with the options there, and since the move practice scuttlebutt has talked him up a bit more than Johnson. When Countdown to Kickoff flagged down DBs coach Curt Mallory he described the situation at safety like this:
It starts with Jordan right now. … He's done a great job, had a good two-a-days. Then we've got some younger guys in there. Thomas Gordon, I've been really pleased with how he's improved. [pause] And then with the two other guys…
That sounds like Johnson had eleven days to displace Gordon for Western Michigan. As of publication there's been no indication that switch has happened. Gordon was just named a starter by the WMU depth chart.
Gordon's 2010 was abbreviated. He started the season thanks to an injury to Johnson and played pretty well. Particularly impressive was his ability to roar off the edge without pulling a Brandon Harrison by zooming right by the quarterback. Gordon showed a knack for coming in at the fastest possible speed that would allow him to rope the QB to the ground, which accounted for many of his plus plays last year. Here's a good one against Notre Dame:
Outside of that it was minus half points here and there for poor coverage or missed tackles. He and Johnson displayed a knack for finishing his day with around three positive points and two negative ones. The spur was not a high-impact position either way last year until Cam Gordon switched to it and promptly got himself lost on flat zones he'd never been asked to play before.
Like Avery above, Gordon's ability to not be the most spectacularly flaming tire is encouraging. He came in with bler recruiting rankings but—again like Avery—he was a high school quarterback who got a Michigan camp offer and then did not play in his high school's secondary because of injury. He's beaten out some actual scholarship players and drawn praise from the coaches for his play. When I clipped something he did last year it was usually something positive.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
Carvin Johnson does not like losing.
Curt Mallory wants his safeties to be interchangeable, so this will probably be a situation like offensive line where there's a line behind the starters and whoever the top backup is will come off the bench no matter who exits. That is likely to be Carvin Johnson. Johnson shouldn't feel too down: what small tea leaves we've gotten from the defense suggest he will be the first defensive back off the bench when Michigan goes nickel—in the Saturday punting demo he was on the field plenty as Thomas Gordon played nickelback in Michigan's third down package.
His season was even more abbreviated than Gordon's due to injury. I clipped three events from him last year:
- A bad zone drop against UConn
- An Indiana touchdown on which he was playing some sort of weird ILB and got crushed.
- A nice open field tackle on Rob Henry.
#2 won't be an issue if he's playing a deep safety; #3 is an asset that was promised by his recruiting profile. One… maybe not so much. Though people talk him up Michigan felt it necessary to move Gordon back, whereupon he won the job. He's probably a little unreliable at the moment.
Past Johnson there are actual scholarship(!) players who weren't(!) in high school last year. One is Marvin Robinson [recruiting profile], he of the obligatory OMG shirtless pictures…
…and that thing he did in the spring game where he ran with a slant pattern while Mike Cox was waving at him en route to the endzone. Practice reports on Robinson alternate tales of massive here-comes-the-BOOM-type hits and equally massive touchdown-ceding errors. If you hit up that recruiting profile you'll see a lot of skepticism he can play safety; last year he spent a good chunk of his time at WLB. That may be his long term destination.
For now he's behind Kovacs. He seems to be the second guy in the pecking order; Michigan will try to avoid using him until he has that consistency thing every coach ever but especially Michigan's keep harping on.
The final scholarship guy is Josh Furman. Furman's a bit like Avery in that he was almost exclusively an offensive player in high school. (He put up some Rawls-like games in the Maryland state playoffs.) Michigan managed to redshirt him last year, so his recruiting profile is about all we know. He's reputed to be super athletic, like six FAKES out of five 40 athletic, and will have a role on special teams this year. When asked about the safeties for CTK, Mallory mentioned Kovacs, Gordon, Johnson, and Robinson but not Furman. He's still a year or two away from seeing the field on defense.
So… that happened. As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. Whether your reaction to Saturday was "woo defense" or "ugh offense" depends on your state of mind and may oscillate wildly.
Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. Denard completed 5 of 14 passes for 5 YPA—2008 numbers—and ran six times for 60 yards, averaging 1 YPC after his first attempt. Insert the usual spring caveats and add a bunch more besides for small sample size and an awkward transition, but that is a far cry from the last spring game, and very little of it can be attributed to awesome defense. The QBs sucked on their own.
Here are highlight-type substances (which also feature the Most Legendary Press Conference Ever):
The official site version:
Other vague impressions:
The worst part ever. That guy who sung the anthem. I don't know why events that aren't actual football games are accompanied by some never-was with vibrato Tourette's singing the national anthem. This happened at the Big Chill, too. This is the last drip of Michigan football for five months—give me the band.
Obviously not so good. Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it. Denard missed a couple times but was obviously better. Both performed poorly in the game itself, which fine. Denard doesn't need a more practice on running plays that were beaten into his head last year, sometimes literally. If you're installing new stuff now is the time to see if it works.
HOWEVA, man… it did not seem to work. They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.
Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.
Mike Cox was the most impressive, scoring the only legitimate touchdown of the day for the offense—the second was an uncalled offensive PI that outraged Charles Woodson even if he wasn't watching it—on a 68-yard rumble through the middle of the defense. A few runs later he powered through a couple diving arm tackles for a decent gain. Notably, no coach dropped his headset in disgust without even yelling at the guy, which totally happened at last year's fall scrimmage. That was a sign Cox was going to be buried on the bench all year. Light going on? Let's hope so.
Stephen Hopkins seemed like Stephen Hopkins. Everyone else was pretty eh. Hayes and Rawls will have a shot in the fall.
With all but five Michigan receptions leaders returning there wasn't much new here, especially since the quarterbacks had such an off day. Hard to show anything when you're chasing Carvin Johnson down instead of vice-versa. A few items:
- It seems like Drew Dileo has risen to second on the slot depth chart.
- Odoms is still outside.
- Moving Ricardo Miller to tight end is a very bad sign for him. Seeing him next to the other TEs is like seeing that tiny third-string FB in the game. He just doesn't have the frame for TE, especially in a manball offense, so… what does that say about his potential future as a WR?
- The much-touted involvement of the tight ends did not materialize. I don't remember a single catch [Ed-M: Koger got one] and I think they only targeted TEs once or twice. This has been an exceptionally overblown meme anyway. Last year Michigan TEs had 20 catches. In Carr's last year they had 24. When you've got talent you throw to it; Michigan's talent is in the slot.
Michigan needs a couple big receiver recruits this year because the cavalry does not appear to be coming. Jerald Robinson may develop into a decent option but Miller's not even at the spot anymore and DJ Williamson didn't look good in drills or exist in the game; Jeremy Jackson is probably the best of all the receivers brought in last year and his upside is strictly possession.
It's all but impossible to pick out anything specific live unless you're a savant, which I'm not, so… uh… yeah. Michigan's attempts to run power didn't go so well—a follower tweeted that Michigan's guards were the equivalent of Michigan's kickers when they tried to pull. Again, with a veteran line that's got zone blocking down it's okay to work on the stuff they don't know yet. It seems foolhardy to dump that entirely and we did see a couple examples of Rodriguez's QB stretch, so let's hope the playcalling is less slanted towards the unfamiliar in fall.
The second team OL was walk-on infested with injuries to Molk (played but sparingly) and Lewan (out). They could not block the second-team DL, which contributed to Gardner's issues. Late it seemed like Mattison called off the dogs specifically so Gardner could see what it was like to not have someone breathing down his neck two seconds after the snap.
One guy I did think looked pretty good was Schofield.
All eyes were on Will Campbell and Will Campbell was all right. He got single blocked the whole day, alternating his time between pushing into the backfield to force cutbacks on unsuccessful runs, getting blocked out of rushing lanes, and (on passing downs) sitting at the LOS being the guy who looks for screens and scrambles. Unsurprisingly, reports that Campbell was "unblockable" as a three-tech turned out to be fiction—Campbell didn't beat a block all day. His contributions were limited to getting a moderate amount of penetration when single blocked on running plays. It was far from dominant; it could have been worse. I'm still pretty worried about what happens on stretch plays.
As for the other guys, RVB was out, leaving Jibreel Black and walk-on Nate Brink alternating at SDE. We know what to expect out of Martin when his ankles exist, and now he's getting moved around on passing downs. Schofield seemed to win his battle with Craig Roh, but Roh made a couple of plays on runs and looks like an honest-to-God DE these days. Kenny Wilkins was the DE who got steamrolled on the Cox TD.
Everyone's talking about Jake Ryan after his pick six and constant pressure of Gardner, but his primary opponent was a redshirt freshman walk-on not very good at blocking people. Big difference between his setup and, say, Campbell taking on the starting guards on the regular. Cam Gordon's in front of him for a reason. Ryan does appear like he'll push for time.
On the whole this unit was surprisingly decent for one starting a guy who just transferred from Hampton after not getting any PT there. Often when I'd watch Campbell he'd get kicked out of the hole way too easily, but as I braced for a big run two linebackers would roar in from the backside and swallow the play. That's what a one-gap defense does as long as you get your "run fits" right, and it seemed like they were vastly improved over last year. I'm extremely leery of the depth when your best alternative to Demens is Marell Evans, but here it seemed like the transition was going smoothly. Caveats apply: could just be the OL not being any good at what they're being asked to do.
FWIW, it was Brandon Herron getting steamrolled on the Cox TD run.
With Floyd and Woolfolk out this was also a lot of walk-ons. It's not good for Terrance Talbott to be behind Tony Anderson; Cullen Christian was also behind Anderson but was apparently injured and did not play. This will be some combination of Avery/Floyd/Woolfolk this fall unless Blake Countess shows up extremely ready. Greg Brown showed better than most expected after he spent his senior year of high school at linebacker.
As for safety, Michigan certainly looks good there. Marvin Robinson, Josh Furman, and Carvin Johnson are physically reminiscent of NFL safeties. A dollar says that perception doesn't last into the Big Ten season, but in this game they only blew two plays—the Cox TD (overrun by a very confused Robinson) and Denard's game-opening 55-yarder (Johnson was understandably outrun). Oh, and there was that hopeless Gardner bomb that should have been intercepted but ended up a completion. I think that was also Robinson, but I don't remember exactly.
So… slightly encouraging here. While Johnson's interceptions were gifts he came up and put a lick on more than one tailback who had broken to the sideline. Robinson also bombed a couple tailbacks. Furman was in position to break up a couple of Gardner deep balls and could have had an interception or two if Gardner's passes had been a little more accurate. Unfortunately, I am constitutionally incapable of not panicking about safety play even if there is evidence I shouldn't.
Will Hagerup is sophomore Zoltan: still too inconsistent but if he gets hold of one look out. He's going to hit a 70-yard punt this year. He'll also hit some 35-yard dribblers, but he's getting there.
Kickers: aigh. [Ed-M: They say
Aslan Matt Wile is on the move.]
Other Video Type Objects
Important bit on Denard: “in the real world, he'll probably run more than you saw today.”
Photo galleries abound. AnnArbor.com:
If the spring game is any indication, Mattison is not afraid to bring the heat. One of the criticisms Ravens fans levied at Mattison was that he “didn’t blitz enough.” That is something that is said about just every defensive coordinator ever, so take it for what it’s worth. Still, the concern that Michigan is going to drop back into a cover-2 and rush four is something that I’ve been somewhat afraid of. I thought the 3-3-5 was going solve that, instead it proved to be the exact opposite of an aggressive, attacking defense.
As OHHW notes, rushing four would actually be an improvement on last year. Ace predicted and wanted ugly. Point Ace. The Big House Blog wonders where Roy Roundtree went. Hoke says Michigan has a "long way to go." Mattison says he "doesn't know if [Johnson] was responsible for" his big plays, which… yeah. Photos and bits from MVictors.
Yesterday we hit the offense; this is the other side of the ball.
Campbell Or Someone Else, Except There Isn't Anyone Else
All eyes not locked on Denard Robinson Saturday will be interpreting any signs of life from Will Campbell as prophecy of opposing offensive lines' impending doom. The facts are these: Michigan has three lock starters on the line, a big hole at three-technique, and a very big man who was a very big former recruit on his way to being a very big bust who is getting personal attention from no fewer than three Michigan coaches.
Michigan has put all their eggs in Campbell's basket. Quinton Washington is backing up Mike Martin—and doing so unevenly—and the only other options there are redshirt freshmen like Richard Ash (also probably an NT if he's anything) and Terry Talbott (probably another year away from being physically ready).
There's almost no way he's not going to start. This makes me nervous because it makes me think about Pat Massey. Massey was 6'8" and never should have been anywhere near DT, but he had a good amount of starting experience when he was inadvisably thrust inside after Michigan ended their one-year experiment with the 3-4. He still ended most plays in a crumpled mess several yards downfield. He was the three-tech next to Gabe Watson; hopefully Campbell doesn't go down as Martin's Massey.
Looking for: my skepticism about Campbell ever performing well is established. If the guy just holds his own and doesn't get blown up on the regular that will be major progress.
Fearing: The third string center getting under his pads and depositing him in Kovacs's lap.
Will only believe three games into the season: That Michigan's previous defensive coaches were even more incompetent than we already believe them to be.
Edge Terror: Yes, Please
Craig Roh is entering his junior year, and the clock has started ticking faster. As a freshman he was incredibly undersized; as a sophomore he was incredibly miscast. Now he's in an upperclassman in an under front as the weakside defensive end—this is his time and place. On a defense wholly devoid of established playmakers other than Martin he is the player most likely to blow up. Michigan needs him to or it's going to be another year in which opposing quarterbacks can finish their crumpets in the pocket before leisurely surveying to see which receiver is open by yards.
Here Michigan actually seems to have a decent second option: Jibreel Black was a complete disaster against the run as a true freshman but flashed disruptive ability when teams didn't run right at him. Like virtually everyone else on the team he should have redshirted; if he had everyone would be talking him up as the next coming because they hadn't seen his shortcomings. As it is a big post-frosh bump in performance can be expected.
Looking for: one-on-one pass rush from Roh against Schofield/Huyge/walk-on. He has to be able to beat those guys if he's going to take on the Big Ten this fall.
Fearing: Here I don't think we'll be too disappointed. There are two good options.
Will only believe three games into the season: That they can't get production out of this spot.
Michigan's veteran linebackers have shuffled off to their futures. Since Obi Ezeh was replaced at midseason by immediately obvious upgrade Kenny Demens, middle linebacker is set. Ready or not, Cam Gordon will be the strongside LB. That leaves Jonas Mouton's old spot as the only other in the front seven up for grabs. Despite collecting all manner of safety/LB tweeners answers are few. Candidates:
- Mike Jones. Jones was the primary backup to Mouton last spring and was getting hyped up as a playmaker; one season-ending injury later there are grumbles he is too small and does not fit the position in a 4-3 under.
- Brandin Hawthorne. Yeah… so… Brandin Hawthorne hasn't seen the field in any capacity other than special teams yet and seemed destined for a Darnell Hood sort of career and now he's kind of the only option other than Jones because all the rest of the guys are participating in a pitched battle elsewhere. Speaking of…
- Safety war losers. Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson, and Josh Furman all spent part of last year at linebacker and part at safety; this spring they're all trying to fill Michigan's perpetually gaping hole next to Jordan Kovacs. While they won't be playing WLB saturday, if someone establishes themselves as the guy they will probably throw one of these three back in the linebacker pool.
- Oh, and Thomas Gordon. Some reports put Gordon in the WLB battle while others think he's in a distinctly separate boat of guys playing a dedicated nickelback spot. Gordon was a pleasant surprise as the starting spur earlier in the year and if there are few other options at WLB he might inherit that spot by default, flexing out into the nickel when other teams go spread. That would have some obvious downsides—dude is not linebacker-sized—but Larry Foote is not walking through that door.
- Oh, and… um… Marell Evans? Apparently he's back on the team after not playing at Hampton, and while he's getting some practice buzz that's so far-fetched I'm not even going to list it under things I don't believe because obviously.
Hypothetically, the WLB is the best-protected linebacker in an under front and can be a little fast guy who pursues guys all over the field. More realistically you can shield him a bit but offenses will find ways to make your tiny guy go facemask to facemask with much larger folks, especially if the three-tech spot supposed to shield him is iffy.
Looking for: A weakside linebacker that does not blow outside contain constantly. If I had to guess right now I would say Gordon gets virtually all of the time against spread teams and eventually ends up dragged into the lineup against the coaches' better judgment simply because he can play.
Fearing: A major downgrade—Mouton also turned in his fair share of great individual plays.
Will only believe three games into the season: That having Hawthorne in the two-deep is not an ominous sign.
Squinting In The General Direction Of Safety
Well… at least they've got some athlete type substances. They're weakside linebackers mostly but they'd be really fast WLBs. As mentioned, Johnson, Robinson, and Furman are all fighting to be Michigan's scapegoat this fall; there is no clarity as to who will come out on top. Johnson has the initial edge since he's seen the field, but most of that was at linebacker and last year when he moved to safety he ended up behind the leetle tiny Vinopal despite his tendency to look like Jerry attempting to tackle Tom.
As per usual, brace yourselves.
Looking for: Johnson to be as reputed: a bit slow but reliable and an excellent tackler. Basically a scholarship version of Kovacs.
Fearing: Fear? There is no fear, only the cold hard certainty Michigan's safeties will suck.
Will only believe three games into the season: There are no hopes out there to deflate, so we can take a pass on this one.
Oh And Bonus
Looking for: Ball through uprights; more realistically, the matriculation of Matt Wile.
Fearing: Not through uprights.
Will only believe three games into the season: that I can watch a field goal attempt without throwing up.
Note: with Antonio Kinard's qualification status in doubt I'm going to hold off on him until we get an answer either way.
|Millersville, MD - 6'2" 195|
|Scout||4*, #7 S, #1 MD, #96 overall|
|Rivals||3*, #38 ATH, #10 MD|
|ESPN||3*, 78, #38 OLB|
|Other Suitors||Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Maryland|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post|
Furman on defense as a junior:
And this is from one game, Furman's ridiculous 414 yards against state #1 Arundel in the quarterfinals:
Thanks to youtube user fslade1267, you can check Furman highlights—mostly long runs—from virtually all games during his senior season.
The first thing on the Furman resume is ridiculous speed. Literally: the first Scout article written on him mentions "gaudy athleticism" in the headline. He clocked an electronic 4.36 at a Pittsburgh combine, causing Scout to declare his athleticism "off the charts"($) and ESPN to claim that his "elite testing marks … should help his recruiting stock continue to soar." The Washington Post cited another 4.36 from 2008, when Furman was just entering his junior year. He has the fakest 40 of anyone in this recruiting class by a mile.
More from ESPN on his ridiculous combine showing:
From a pure measurement standpoint, Josh Furman may have had the single best outing out of any prospect on this year's Under Armour combine tour. He posted a wind-aided 4.39 40-yard dash, a 42 inch vertical jump, a 4.12 short shuttle and a modest broad jump of 9 feet, 8 inches. His 16 reps of 185 pounds were also very impressive and a bit surprising given his longer, rangier frame (6-foot-2, 192 pounds). While he did look a bit lean, his great wingspan and overall body length suggest continued physical development. We believe he will eventually have a well-developed frame that will tip the scales in the 225-pound range while he'll maintain the great quick-twitch burst and speed we saw Friday night.
Hello, nurse. Quick-twitch 225 on a rangy frame is upside piled upon upside. Given the context, this quote from his coach seems more justified than most in its rapturous tone:
“The explosion and power this kid has, it’s phenomenal. I’ve seen kids with almost the same amount of speed like 5-10, 5-11. But being 6-2, 6-3, being able to run … I’ve never seen anything like him. He’s definitely a freak. Definitely a freak.”
Elsewhere his coach describes him as "lights out fast," as does the coach he victimized in the state semifinal, about which more later. For its part, Rivals echoed that assessment after he attended their Five Star Showdown, where he played offense:
His speed and burst jump out at you. He's fast and looks effortless when running. He's also very athletic and versatile, able to play many positions at the next level. … His effortless, galloping running style that simply outdistanced everyone who tried to cover him. You can't teach his combination of size and speed and he runs low despite being a bit tall for a tailback -- a good habit.
That athleticism bore itself out on the field, most spectacularly in a state quarterfinal game against #1 Arundel in which he ran for 414—not a typo—yards in a 58-55 double overtime win. The video is embedded above. He was as stunned as anyone about his stats at the end of that game:
“The only time you can run for that many yards is when you are playing the easy level on Madden,” he said referring to the popular video game. “Can you repeat my stats again? Did you say 414 yards and six touchdowns? I can’t even imagine doing that.”
In the aftermath his coach said Old Mill would "just keep feeding the beast" and the next week he ran for 201 yards, punching in the winning score with under a minute left in the state semifinal. He suffered a minor knee injury after just six carries in the state final but his team managed its first-ever state championship in a 17-16 thriller (highlights). By year's end he'd racked up 2,283 yards and 36 touchdowns, narrowly missing a state yardage record because of the knee injury. He was the local paper's blindingly obvious selection as the local athlete of the year.
With that combine pop and production it's a little surprising to see that two of the three services give him just three stars. ESPN rates him lower than Davion Rogers at OLB (though they end up with the same 78 grade). Their scouting($):
Furman is a big, rangy and physical football player with good vertical speed for such a lengthy athlete. Tall and physically intimidating as an outside linebacker. This guy is a real threat rushing from the outside. Has enough quickness to accelerate by an offensive tackle setting back to pass protect. Most running backs do no not want to take him on due to his size and strength. A very disruptive perimeter defender. Shows the speed and closing burst to run a ball carrier or quarterback down from the backside when rushing off the edge. … Furman is a very good football player that has size and quickness. The only area of physical concern may be flexibility in the lower body. A guy with a ton of upside and physical development left.
It's the "upside" bit that sees him rank lower than you might expect. In the same combine evaluation above, ESPN diplomatically says his performance was "a bit less extraordinary" when it came to football skills and that he was "a bit straight-lined" at times, displaying "some stiffness and inflexibility." Their prescription was for more bulk and improved technique. Touch The Banner has some specifics on those technique issues:
Tends to be undisciplined regarding his gap responsibility . . . Does a poor job of using his hands to disengage from blockers . . . Not a big hitter, more of a grabber . . . Does not bring his feet with him when he tackles
Rivals is basically in the same boat, naming him the #38 athlete—three spots off four stars.
On the other hand, Scout sneaks him in at the tail end of their top 100, and when Tom interviewed MaxPreps's Stephen Spiewak he cited Furman as possibly the second-best recruit in the class:
TOM: Besides Gardner, is there anyone in this class that you look at and say, Michigan really needed to get him, or they're going to be excited about him?
STEPHEN: I really, really like Josh Furman. I think he'd be able to contribute on offense, but I think he'll be a big boost to the linebacking unit. I have heard about Furman for a few years, and this year he really put it together and was flat out dominant. I know some people think he has NFL potential.
Opinion is decidedly split.
As far as offers go, West Virginia and Maryland were the first entrants. As early as signing day, Furman was being pursued by Clemson, Florida, FSU, Michigan, OSU, Tennessee and Virginia Tech and had a Pitt offer. By March, Virginia Tech had offered; they were followed shortly by Oklahoma and Michigan. The latter two made the unusual move of offering on nothing more than a highlight tape. Other prominent offers came from North Carolina, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue, and Miami (That Miami). Florida was interested enough to have him visit but never offered($), and frankly that Oklahoma offer is a little dubious given the fact he never visited and Oklahoma fans never really heard of him. It's in the Post, though:
Furman's first major offer from a school outside of the region set off a frenzy. Oklahoma requested Furman's highlight tape. The school received it on a Saturday, and Furman had an offer from the Sooners three days later.
Furman's offers are encouraging but not quite the sort that demand four stars. I'll take any linebacker sort that Virginia Tech is after, though.
Early in Furman's recruiting Michigan was behind his father's alma mater, but after visits to all of his suitors, Michigan was far and away the choice. Prepare for a double-helping of the most common cliché in recruiting from Papa Furman:
"My mind was made up that he was going to Maryland and follow in my footsteps," Tyler Furman said. "When we went to Michigan, I was blown away by the coaching staff and the facilities. I was blown away by everything they had to offer."
Furman delayed his announcement so he could do it at the Maryland Crab Bowl, but as soon as he left Michigan's campus his recruitment was over. His reasons why:
“Going through the recruiting process I came to realize that this is a business and I think out of all 13 scholarships I had, Michigan, the coaching staff and the recruiters were the most honest and realistic with me,” Furman said. “I went up there for the Michigan-Notre Dame game, I just loved the atmosphere. It just had so many positives toward the college. I know they had two bad season, but if you really look at it they’re not a bad team at all, and I think they’re going to be a good team for the next four or five years.”
Here's hoping that's true.
In Ann Arbor, Furman is ticketed for the spur/spinner slot occupied by Stevie Brown last year and tentatively assigned to redshirt freshman Thomas Gordon for 2010. This is, apropos of nothing but a West Virginia offer Furman didn't seem that interested in, the exact position Scout analyst Matt Alkire suggested would be his home:
Having watched his film personally, one position he could fit very well in is the “spur” safety position Rich Rodriguez used in his 3-3-5 at West Virginia. Mike Lorello was an excellent player for the Mountaineers in it and Furman has the range to cover the field and the power to hammer people as well.
ESPN concurs, saying he "projects best in a heavy-pressure defense in which he can attack vertically" similar to his high school defense… which is (surprise!) a 3-3-5:
"We play a 3-5 defense just like West Virginia and Coach Casteel could see me fitting into it. That's where they offered me," said Furman.
Interestingly enough, West Virginia's early interest was for outside linebacker, and Touch the Banner suggests that Furman's natural position is weakside linebacker, comparing him to Shawn Crable.
Why Stevie Brown? I already used Crable, who seems like a pretty good comparison, and Furman has the combination of athleticism and linebacker-tweener size that Brown did. Brown also took to the spur spot like John L. Smith to Michigan's recent repeal of an anti-dueling law. Brown, unfortunately, also had major tackling and coverage issues that were only mitigated by his senior-year move.
Etc.: Scout interview before his official. Early Scout article. Forcing a fumble. A Washington Post video feature that describes his six-sack half(!!!) as a freshman defensive end and features Ecstasy of Gold. Worth watching if only to see him make up 15 yards on some kid on a kickoff return tacle.
Guru Reliability: High despite the difference in opinion. Furman went to combines, suffered no injuries, and embarked on a crushing campaign that resulted in a state championship, and you can't poke an analyst about him without getting the "crazy athletic and raw" refrain. Look at the ranking difference as a reflection of his variability: he could be an All-American, or he could be a frustrating loose cannon who never develops.
General Excitement Level: Daddy needs a new pair of shoes. Roll them dice and hope Greg Robinson and Adam Braithwaite are the savants they're reputed to be. I will say that some of the skepticism at ESPN and Rivals appears to be based on questions about his fit in a 4-3 system and I lean towards the positive side since he'll be walking into (but not on to) a defense that plays to his strengths.
Projection: Man… I don't know. With Michigan currently running out a walk-on on the two deep at his position it's hard to imagine him redshirting, but it's also hard to project him contributing much as a true freshman given his offensive focus in high school, need to add weight, and technique deficiencies.
It's a good thing we have an almost direct comparable, down to the dreads: Furman is Denard Robinson on defense. Expect a mostly wince-worthy but occasionally tantalizing freshman year followed by a mountain of hype going into 2011. From there? Ask again later.
I'll be embarking on a project similar to last year's recruit profiles in the near future, but that effort will last into the summer—the final profile last year (Tate Forcier) didn't go up until June 25th—and some words about how Michigan did will be far less timely then.
The other side of the ball was examined last week.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
We'll throw quick end in here, too, and why not? Seemingly half the defensive recruits in the class said they were recruited to play the spot. Michigan has plenty of needs elsewhere so this intrepid reporter is going to put Jordan Paskorz, and only Jordan Paskorz, here. Antonio Kinard and Davion Rogers will be filed as linebackers; Ken Wilkins is already pushing 250 and will be filed as a strongside defensive end.
On Paskorz: he is a generic three star to the world, a guy who gets 5.6 on the Rivals scale—5.7 is a high three star, 5.6 a middling one—and had offers that reflected that. Michigan's main competitors were Pitt and Virginia. He won't have to play much until he's a redshirt sophomore—that's when when Craig Roh backup Brandon Herron graduates—and we're unlikely to see him until then.
The strongside guys have a bit more to recommend them. Jibreel Black (right)and Ken Wilkins are 4/3 star tweeners (e.g., one of Scout or Rivals has them at four, the other at three). Wilkins hails from the same high school that Ohio State recruit Andrew Sweat and Penn State recruit Mike Yancich attended, and his coach believes he's more athletic than either:
"He is an unbelievable physical talent," Dalton said. "And he is only going to get better. I have had some great players here, but nothing like Ken physically. I am not saying he is going to be better than Yancich and Sweat, but he is the most physically talented player I've had."
Black, meanwhile, was a guy Michigan was hot after all year but could never get on campus until late January. By then he'd already committed to Indiana (where his brother had an excellent season) and Cincinnati (which is approximately three minutes from home). He's got the same body type as Brandon Graham, albeit without most of his hype. The insider-type folk say, and Michigan's dogged pursuit implies, that whatever the guru folk thought Michigan wanted Black badly.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B+. They got about the right number of bodies to fill out two thin spots on defense and I like the long term potential of both strongside guys. A blue-chip would have been nice.
Impact This Year?
Hopefully little, but given the depth chart at SDE it seems like either Black or Wilkins will have to burn a redshirt as a backup unless Anthony LaLota got a lot bigger during his redshirt year.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
Michigan missed out on a true nose when Jonathan Hankins picked Ohio State. They did grab two promising three-tech recruits in Terry Talbott and Pahokee's Richard Ash. Both have size issues: Talbott is currently around 240 and is a guy some observers thought would end up at defensive end. According to Rod Smith, Ash is now over 300 pounds; given his recruitment that seems more like a problem to be fixed than a solution to Michigan's nose tackle issue. Teams backed away from Ash when he showed up to Florida's camp overweight.
On the other hand, both have talent. Talbott almost defected to North Carolina late; when Tim went down to catch a Wayne game this fall he was a wrecking ball in the backfield. He's an excellent, disruptive fit for the penetrating defensive tackle spot he's slated for. The teams backing away from Ash after his weight issues, meanwhile, were USC and Florida. Ash has upside for Barwis to extract, and he's got a host of Pahokee folk up here to help him adjust. If he puts in the work, Michigan will have a guy who could play for Florida's defensive line.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B-. No nose tackle is a downer. Michigan will have one guy there next year if Mike Martin moves unless Ash can actually handle that weight. Outside of that, though, both recruits seem like they might be underrated.
Impact This Year?
Assuming the RVB move, Michigan will have a veteran two-deep at defensive tackle but Talbott and Ash will be next in line after that. If there's an injury, one or both might be pressed to play. I imagine Michigan will try to redshirt both; they might not be able to.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
A late flurry of offers and a little snake oil turned this position group from a gaping sore into… well, a considerably less gaping sore. Late additions Davion Rogers and Jake Ryan are just three star sorts, but given Michigan's situation before they hopped aboard they're welcome. Rogers is a 6'6" birdman of a linebacker/DE prospect who everyone, including me, will compare to Shawn Crable. Michigan pirated him away from WVU once Doc Holliday left. Early in his career he'll probably play the weakside linebacker spot occupied by Jonas Mouton currently; if he puts on enough weight we'll see him at quick.
Ryan popped up late after an Omameh-like senior year where he grew two inches and twenty pounds and outplayed Ohio State commit, teammate, and fellow linebacker Scott McVey en route to a state championship. McVey was playing with a busted shoulder, FWIW, but Ryan is a heady kid who actually played linebacker in high school—a rarity for Michigan of late—and is at least a reasonable prospect to start in a year or two.
A couple players may end up at spinner, the strongside linebacker/safety position last occupied by Stevie Brown, but for right now the only guy in the class this blog places at the spot is uber-athlete Josh Furman, AKA Dhani Jones 2.0. Furman was a ridiculously productive safety and tailback in high school who hit camps and dropped electronically timed 4.3 40s. Scout thinks he's awesome; Rivals again goes "meh." He's clearly got a ton of upside.
Antonio Kinard got a super-early offer and committed to it, but did little during his senior season to assuage concerns he was an iffy bet. He, too, might end up at quick but will be filed a linebacker for the moment.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
C-. The late pickups salvaged this grade but the emphasis is on "salvage." The only inside linebacker Michigan picked up in the last class was Isaiah Bell and the guys in the class before that are gone (Witherspoon and Hill), seemingly locked into special teams forever (Demens), and JB Fitzgerald. Michigan needed numbers here, and they ended up with numbers, but they also needed a blue chip or two and they did not get one. Furman is a recruit you can get excited about, but that's 1/4.
Impact This Year?
Redshirts for everyone, in all likelihood, except possibly Furman. Even Furman will have to beat out two guys with almost two years of experience in fall camp if he's going to win a job.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
Michigan will bolster its roster with four cornerbacks this fall. They come in two flavors. Flavor one consists of short three-stars from Ohio. They are Courtney Avery and Terrance Talbott. Avery was a prolific, tiny high school quarterback who only moonlighted on defense. He made first team All-Ohio and chose Michigan over a Stanford decommit not because of grades but because he wanted to stay closer to home. Talbott is the other Talbott's brother and struggled through injuries most of his senior year but has received positive reviews from local observers. There's some reason for optimism on both.
Cullen Christian needs no ball security
Flavor two consists of blue-chips anyone and everyone wanted who held preposterously long press conferences. Cullen Christian is the #3 corner to Scout and in the Rivals 100; he picked Michigan over Ohio State and many others after a long period of favoring Michigan. 6'1" and physical, Christian's YMRMFSPA is a holy lock to be Marlin Jackson. Demar Dorsey you may have heard about. He picked Michigan over Florida State and USC after being a Florida commit for over a year. He's the #12 player overall to ESPN and a four-star to the other sites.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
A. Four players, two of them blue-chips, at a position of crying need.
Impact This Year?
One of these kids is guaranteed to play unless JT Floyd takes a huge leap forward. A second is likely to find his way into a nickel package. If one of them is really good right away, you could see him start immediately and Troy Woolfolk move to safety. Michigan will probably redshirt one; the other three will have to play.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
We'll put Marvin Robinson (OMG HALFSHIRT) here because he's likely to play the box safety* we've been discussing extensively. Robinson is the defense's Ricardo Miller, a hyped-to-the-moon Florida prospect who seemed likely to be a five-star (or thereabouts) only to experience a precipitous drop in ranking. Robinson's drop came after a few camps he participated in. In the aftermath, Rivals gurus trashed his coverage ability and said he was a linebacker and nothing else. He still held on to a fourth star, though, and fielded offers from Ohio State and several other power programs before going with the Michigan program that had led for him seemingly forever.
The class rounds out with two sleeper-type prospects. I'm considerably more bullish on Carvin Johnson, who apparently avoided the combine circuit entirely this summer, was the best player on his team, and prompted an unsolicited email of praise from local coach (not his) when this site's initial take on him was "meh." He also won the MVP award in a state championship game his team lost by a billion points. Late LSU interest was not reciprocated.
Ray Vinopal is the kind of recruit that everyone on the internet hates on, prompting articles in which he declares a desire to prove everyone wrong and press conferences where Rich Rodriguez justifies signing the guy. The internet is not necessarily wrong, though. At the time of his commitment Vinopal was a who-dat with no recruiting profile despite his presence in Ohio power Cardinal Mooney's secondary. He apparently picked up a couple of good offers late (Wisconsin was the biggest) but the heuristics indicate a marginal contributor.
*(MGoBlog is officially adopting "box" and "deep" as its chosen lingo for Michigan safeties in what appears to be a permanent 4-4 front similar to that Virginia Tech runs. The way Michigan aligns apparently does make the deep guy the "strong" safety but since that goes against the popular conception of free and strong, it's confusing.)
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
B-. One blue chip is nice and Carvin Johnson seems like the good kind of sleeper. Would have liked a true deep safety with more than two stars, but one of the cornerbacks could move back once the
Impact This Year?
If Robinson had managed to enroll early, as planned, we'd be anxiously observing him in the hopes he could lock down that box safety spot in spring. Things did not go to plan and we'll be anxiously waiting on his arrival instead. Even so, Robinson's main competition at the position he's slated for consists of a walk-on and a converted wide receiver. I don't think he'll start right away but Michigan isn't going to be able to redshirt him and he may find his way into the lineup by midseason.
Johnson and Vinopal are likely redshirts.
The Gentlemen Of Leisure
With Zoltan the Inconceivable exiting to a long and lucrative NFL career, Michigan needed a replacement. They took a pass on in-state punter and reputed Michigan fan Mike Sadler, who ended up at State, to chase WI P Will Hagerup, who had offers from all over the country and was the highest-rated punter at Rivals. (He's the #4 K but the specialists in front of him are all placekickers.) After a few visits, Hagerup picked Michigan and its wide open job over Wisconsin, Ohio State, and others.
Preposterously Early Letter Grade
A. Hagerup is either the country's top punter or in the top three to all ranking services.
Impact This Year?
Unless Michigan's offense is so awesome it never punts, Hagerup will be deployed this fall.
All Things Collected And Told
Numbers. That's the most important thing this class brings. Even if there are twice as many sleeper types as you'd like to see in an average Michigan class, getting two guys for every spot on the defense minus a few here and there puts Michigan in a position where the first guy off the bench when a starter gets dinged isn't a walk-on. He'll be a freshman, probably. But you can't recruit juniors.
And it's not all sleeper sorts. Michigan picked up two touted corners with blue chip offers, grabbed a linebacker from Virginia Tech, locked down Marvin Robinson's abs, and grabbed a collection of defensive linemen with considerable upside. It's a below average class, but it's not that far off. And given the context, it's fairly good.
A preposterously early letter grade: B+. For the class as a whole: B.