"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
Rating: 4 of 5. Yeah, I said it.
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Sr.*||Derrick Green||Fr.||Justice Hayes||So.*|
|De'Veon Smith||Fr.||Thomas Rawls||Jr.||Fitzgerald Toussaint||Sr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.*||De'Veon Smith||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Fr.*|
The Man Comes Around
"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer that could approach six yards a carry." –Albert Camus
Toussaint rehabbed with a vengeance, and went into spring camp with a vengeance, and hopes to confront the Big Ten in superhero outfit and big guns this fall. His coaches have taken notice. Borges:
"Fitz has got fire in his eyes. I see no signs of any injury ... He is very hungry.
"One thing about running backs, it's not like the lines. You get to see them cut, even if it's not live or not with pads on. His stop and go ability looks to be right back where it was."
Fullback Joe Kerridge looks like a cross between a refrigerator and a bear (more on this in the Tight End And Friends section) and says Toussaint outworked even him over the summer:
"He busted his butt to get back before the start of camp. It seemed like every time I went in this summer to lift or do conditioning, Fitz was already there and he would still be there after I left."
When fall camp launched, the immediate and consistent buzz was that Toussaint was back to his old self—his old-old self. Tellingly, the coaches didn't dance around the topic like they do on most every other personnel battle. First he was back, then he was playing very well, then he was leading, and then it was his job, full stop.
So… what now?
[after THE JUMP: Yeah, what now? Freshmen are large men. A replacement for Vincent Smith, and veterans trying to hold off the youngsters.]
CAN THEY ZOOM THIS THING ANY MORE? For pants' sake. Devin Gardner takes a shotgun snap and the only other guy in the frame is Justice Hayes. I think this is negatively affecting camera guy in games—the replays in Michigan Stadium are invariably pore-o-vision, too.
Jack Miller's hand is not broken. The video of Tom Brady's speech featured a guy saying "his left is broken" right at the end, and people thought it was Miller, and now there is an e-rumor to that effect. Obviously that is not the case. The MGoStaff has looked at the back of a lot of heads and we're pretty sure that's Tom Strobel, the redshirt freshman three-tech.
Lewan was held out. The line on the first snap is Schofield-Glasgow-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, and Lewan makes no appearance. Since the line is completely out of many shots it's hard to tell anything definitive about who's playing, but if Chris Bryant is pressing to start, where is Chris Bryant? He does get in on at least one snap here, FWIW, but if we're going by the scraps in these videos it looks like Glasgow is the leader.
I assume they also held Gallon and Fitz out for obvious reasons.
Wormley looking good. On one snap sure, but he beats Magnuson to the inside on a Justice Hayes carry.
Justice Hayes sure seems like your third down back. There have been few shotgun snaps in either of these that don't feature Hayes next to Gardner. There is a small chance it's actually Fitz and he's being held out because he doesn't need to prove anything, but with the Green injury and Toussaint obtaining a death lock on the starting job, Hayes is in a good spot to take snaps away.
Hey: Shane Morris. Man that hoser can hose. Throwing rope after rope, though dollars to donuts this video elides three terrible interceptions.
Hey: Channing Stribling. Gardner almost throws an ugly pick to Stribling. Stribling dives to break up a dig route. Stribling tackles Chesson after a hitch. Stribling breaks up a well-thrown fly route to Chesson.
Also, Hollowell is all over Da'Mario Jones.
Hey: De'Veon Smith. Flashes shades of that high school tape when he spins through three guys on his single carry and then drags Jourdan Lewis on his back for five or six more.
Also, Green makes a slick cut to the backside of a power play and runs through an arm tackle. His single carry looked a lot better than his single carry in the other video. #samplesize
Apparently Drake Johnson is now #20. This was news to me.
Slow-mo Reynolds catch is pretty good. First, Morris moves around the pocket like a pro before unleashing a rope, then the DB (never see a number) is a fingertip away from a PBU and may actually get a deflection, then Reynolds makes a diving catch.
Over the weekend Michigan had a scrimmage that simulated what they'll do for Notre Dame week. Michigan put some ULTRAZOOM highlights on the internet, some guy attempted to UFR them, Heiko attempted to forestall panic about what was contained therein to eagle-eyed watchers. First, let's examine the pore structure of various unidentified Michigan football players:
Graham Glasgow's playing left guard. More than that, Glasgow was playing left guard because Chris Bryant—not massively-hyped Ben Braden—was held out after having his knee drained. How do we feel about this?
On the one hand, Bryant is a massive human who is a natural guard, whereas Braden is a massive human who is maybe not the best fit on the inside. Having Bryant emerge as a contender at guard gives Michigan more line depth, and when he's been healthy he's drawn praise like this from Kenny Demens:
I’ve always been a fan of Chris Bryant. That has been my favorite offensive lineman since his freshman year. I remember his freshman year he was on scout team… whenever he pulled, I don’t care if you were Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, myself, whoever… when Chris Bryant pulled, you were nervous. You were nervous! Chris Bryant brings the pain.
On the other, Braden is supposedly the most physically talented guy Taylor Lewan has ever seen and line shifts in camp remind you of last year, when the flippin' and the floppin' made the line like jello, Rudy. A steady hand is always better. Plus, Bryant spent all of last year injured to the point where he wasn't really doing much in spring. I'd heard he had some lingering pain issues from that even now, and he just got his knee drained. Also, Bryant was a decent recruit but not as hyped as you might remember. Only Rivals gave him four stars, and they were so up on his recruitment they ranked a 6'4", 340 pound guy at tackle.
Do we like it? Do we hate it? I don't know man. I think I'd rather hear that Bryant is seriously pushing Braden, who is locked in, instead of a position switch that undoes a position switch from spring. The flippin' and the floppin'. On the other hand, Bryant was not available then and is now. It could just be that he is pretty good.
Braden does get some snaps at that LG spot, BTW. He was off and on, apparently hasn't been practicing much at guard, and struggled some against interior quickness in the spring game. (He also seems to get beat by Willie Henry on a Rawls iso that goes nowhere in the above video.) So… I bet he is the #1 backup at tackle when the season starts and it's Bryant at guard. If that happens I'm going to decrement Braden expectations from "Jake Long 3.0" to "plus right tackle."
Toussaint looks like Toussaint. In a good way, not Poor Damn Toussaint of last year. No one else did much at tailback except Justice Hayes, who slips out of the backfield from a shotgun set and makes a touchdown catch after Gardner buys some time. Other running back events are Toussaint juking guys, running tough north and south, and picking up yardage. People other than Toussaint get consumed. Sample size qualifiers, obviously, but Toussaint is also getting external validation from insider types and the coaches.
It's one or two carries each for other challengers, thus indicating who has the lead in the race at RB and giving us no other information. Green gets bounced outside and swarmed, looking a little ponderous. Hayes gets to the hole and nailed on by Cam Gordon on a nice play; Ross grabs him in the hole on his next carry. Rawls picks up negative one yards and zero yards (the latter on a play from the two)—picking up where he left off. De'Veon Smith finishes that drive off.
Meanwhile, Hayes: he was reputed to be a spread-oriented back and excellent receiver. Michigan needs a third down back with the graduation of Vincent Smith. Of late I've been asserting that Toussaint should grab that job but if he's entering the season as the out-and-out feature back (which seems likely given his buzz and Green's injury) Michigan will want someone else to pick up linebackers and slip into the flat. Hayes would obviously be that guy. The other backs on the roster are young or bulky.
It does seem like he's locking down that spot. He was the back in all the shotgun snaps, with that touchdown catch and a screen that Dymonte Thomas engulfs.
The first snap is Kalis pulling to Lewan on a power play. Get used to that, kids.
Chesson and Reynolds are the receiving stars. Gallon was held out, probably because he doesn't have anything to prove at this point.
Also, guy who apparently gets injury information no one else gets says Darboh has picked up a boo boo. (Injury guy has since deleted the tweet, undoubtedly after a visit from Biff the Wolverine Enforcer.) He shows up in the first snap of the video as a blocker and then not again. Assumption: boo boo, held out, don't read too much into it. Injury Guy was right about Derrick Green, FWIW. Michigan was being a little coy with how much he was doing; the two-week estimate was not off base much, if at all. Darboh's thing is supposed to be a rolled ankle, so keep your hands off the panic button.
While you don't want to read too much into a hand-picked collection of pore videos, pencil Chesson and Reynolds in ahead of Jackson and any freshmen when it comes to the #3 and #4 outside receivers. Chesson's catch is pretty dang good, especially as it comes over Blake Countess.
Courtney Avery's playing free safety. This one is negative, I think. Avery's run support has never been a big positive, he's never played the position at Michigan, and it says some not great things about the guys backing up the presumed starters that a "five-eleven", 175 pound guy is getting a look.
One thing it probably doesn't mean: Jarrod Wilson is losing the job. Assumption here is that Michigan is experimenting in case something happens. If it is Wilson losing his job, uh, at least my prediction that we'll miss Jordan Kovacs will have been correct?
Cam Gordon is begging someone to photoshop this.
There is a lot of Cam Gordon in here. Cam Gordon pressures and chases Fitz Toussaint and hits guys and blitzes and whatnot. Beyer's supposed to be pushing Gordon quite a bit, but you can't tell that from this video, not only in terms of appearances but also in terms of Cam Gordon play. Since Beyer was not held out, that would seem to mean something.
There is also a lot of Willie Henry. The mountain wearing 69 is Henry, and he shows up on a bunch of snaps. Black was held out, but there are other guys—Strobel and Ryan Glasgow—who do not feature nearly as much. Most notably Henry helps bury the one Derrick Green carry and engulfs Rawls in the backfield. Something to note, maybe: on that play Richard Ash is also in, playing nose. Henry's at the three-tech. That makes sense with a quality nose rotation in place and a notable lack of size at three-tech. We might see him in a short yardage package instead of Black/Strobel.
It would be something if after this year we look back at ten years of recruiting and Glenville has provided Michigan with as many or even more plus players than Cass Tech.
Man I like that Dymonte Thomas play. Can't see much except Thomas flying up at lightning speed to beat a block and tackle, but me gusta.
[Also in CTK:
And Jibreel Black says things.]
"Heiko, what's up? How's it going?"
MGo: Not bad. How are you?
"Good ... I'm supposed to give a shout out to Devin Gardner. Don't ask me what that's about. So I did it, okay?"
"Well this is pretty easy."
How comfortable has Devin Gardner looked in practice?
"Pretty comfortable, yeah. Like I said last time, he's pretty confident in nature. He's been in the system now for a while. Understands what we want. For the quarterback, if he thinks like the coaches, which I think he's doing more and more of, it really gives him a chance."
Have you seen specific elements that he improved on over the summer?
"Oh yeah. Yes. Just understanding route structure, decision-making. All that comes when you play more, obviously, but there's a big difference in terms of just knowing where to go with the ball, timing of the cuts, how we work ... we work a lot on improv stuff because he's athletic, but we would do this with any quarterback. We work a lot on when we break contain or push the pocket, when something doesn't happen by structure and he has to make something happen. So we work more and more on that kind of stuff. We work on the receivers and where they're supposed to be and all that stuff. He's getting a really good understanding of that, too."
Green redshirt? Er?
one dude is not enough
I was wondering what your take on Green getting a redshirt would be.
I know it's an unusual concept to redshirt a blue chip running back, or
an uncommon practice. But with Fitz Tousaint at 100%, who has proven his
abilities as a top tier back, and Michigan having a fully loaded stable of
RB's, is it a better practice to allow a player that is already this good
another year to develop before he is unleashed on the world for mayhem and destruction?
Is Michigan in THAT much need of another RB that Green should play immediately, or is offering him the redshirt the way to go? Will
offering him a redshirt cause atrophy in the competition between the backs
for the starting spot? Also, would Derrick Green transfer if he was
redshirted? Any insight you could give would be appreciated.
Even if Fitzgerald Toussaint is 100% healthy, someone else is going to get a lot of carries. Michigan ran 502 times last year, and even carry-magnet LeVeon Bell only scooped up 382 for Michigan State. Meanwhile, Toussaint has 130 and 187 carries the last two years. There are going to be 200 to 300 carries, minimum, handed out to other players, and with the situation at quarterback only a handful will be Devin Gardner's.
So someone's got to play. If Green is the second-best back on the roster it should be him, because:
- Michigan has a very legit shot to win their division
- Green is likely to start next year if he is the #2 back on the roster
- blue-chip freshman like to go places they play early
- with De'Veon Smith and Damien Harris waiting in the wings Michigan won't miss a hypothetical fifth year from Green much, and…
- if Green ends up being of interest to the NFL he will almost certainly not be around for year #5. Tailbacks have short shelf lives, especially when they're moosebacks.
Add in the uncertainty generated by Toussaint's miserable year and injury and there is absolutely no case to redshirt Derrick Green unless De'Veon Smith is obviously better.
What goes down at running back generally?
With all of the weapons that Hoke is stockpiling, I was wondering if you guys know the plan going forward at the running back position.
Running back seems the most interesting to me with Borges' pro style making a big return. That said, how will the staff balance Fitz and Derrick Green? Has Rawls proven to the staff he can be a 3rd down bruiser that can get the 1 yard when we need it? Are there roles for Justice Hayes, Drake Johnson, and Norfleet in the backfield this season? With the full stable back there is there any chance any of them convert to other positions?
I've been dying to know anything about the running backs and would love some insight.
These are many questions. The last one is the easiest: yes. Dennis Norfleet has apparently already been moved to slot receiver, which is fine by me as long as they use him.
Hayes, too, is likely to end up in the slot at some point. That's not insider information, it's just a guy looking at the depth chart, thinking about what Michigan clearly wants to do, and extrapolating. Hayes was regarded a guy who could move to wideout coming out of high school, and Michigan is about to be short on slots. Johnson is pretty much RB-or-bust; he'll stay where he is.
Answering the last question answers the second to last: not really. Hayes was nominally at the top of the depth chart after spring and Johnson was getting some practice hype, but I expect both to be marginalized. Third down back is up for grabs—my advice to those guys is to get really good at pass blocking.
Apparently I'm going backwards: no, Rawls has not proven he can be a third down bruiser. If anything he's proven the opposite, repeatedly going down on contact on short yardage plays. It's likely that not only Derrick Green but De'Veon Smith, Wyatt Shallman, and Sione Houma are better options for short yardage this season.
The first question is pretty much the thing. I expect Green to immediately take over short yardage duties, where his power is welcome and his potentially iffy pass blocking (freshman) is not relevant. Fitz should be fully healthy and he is a damn good back when he gets a little blocking, so the bet here is he starts the year getting the plurality of the carries. As things move along Green should come more and more into the offense, like TJ Yeldon last year, until they're about splitting carries evenly.
Making elite players elite… uh… players?
Graham and Martin were indisputably elite.
I was wondering about Michigan and player development. I completely understand the Heininger Certainty Principle, and how Mattison can take a average player and make him good. I also know that they can take a good player and make him great.
However, with getting Peppers and the possibility of getting Hand, is there any recent evidence from Mattison or Hoke that they can mold elite recruits into elite players. Or should I change my definition of elite from first round draft and successful NFL career.
That's a pretty high bar to clear. Mike Martin was indisputably elite in his senior season but does not meet the criteria as a third round pick. After one year he's being touted as a potential breakout player by people who have obviously never seen Martin play. But is it on Mattison and Hoke that NFL teams are sometimes dumb? I say it is not.
The thing about evidence that Hoke and Mattison can take a guy like Hand and make him into an elite player is that I know for a fact Hoke has never had a Hand-level guy to mold. Mattison did have a number of five stars to deal with at Florida, and we'll get into that.
First, Hoke. He was Michigan's defensive line coach from 1995 to 2002. During that period Michigan had the following players drafted from the DL:
- Will Carr (7th round, 1997)
- Glen Steele (4th round, 1998)
- Rob Renes (7th round, 2000)
- Josh Williams (4th round, 2000)
That, uh, isn't great. But how much of that was on Hoke and how much was on the fact that Michigan was recruiting and playing guys like Dan Rumishek, Norman Heuer, and Shawn Lazarus in 2001? While those guys were all quality pluggers, Hoke wasn't exactly working with Brandon Graham and Lamarr Woodley there.
Michigan's defensive philosophy in the late 90s and early aughts was to hold up offensive linemen with RVB types and let their athletic linebackers wreak havoc. They recruited NFL linebackers and put many of them in the league for long periods of time: Dhani Jones, Ian Gold, Larry Foote, and Victor Hobson all launched long NFL careers in a four-year span in the early aughts. They recruited blue-collar guys out of the Midwest on the line without regard to their rush abilities or hugeness: all three of the DL mentioned above were 6'4" and around 290. No matter how technically adept they were, the NFL wasn't going to be interested because they don't fit anywhere in an NFL 4-3 under.
The much-traveled Greg Mattison had a similar track record until he tapped into a geyser of talent:
- Renaldo Wynn (1st round, 1997, ND)
- Anthony Weaver (2nd round, 2002, ND)
- Justin Tuck (3rd round, 2005, which was the year Mattison left for Florida but he's worth mentioning.)
- Joe Cohen (4th round, 2007, Florida)
- Marcus Thomas (4th round, 2007, Florida)
- Ray McDonald (3rd round, 2007, Florida)
- Jarvis Moss (1st round, 2007, Florida)
- Derrick Harvey (1st round, 2008, again Mattison had departed)
At Florida it went: nothing, nothing, entire defensive line off the board before the fourth round ended. That tells you that the level of talent he was working with took off—he's pretty much the same coach at that point. Instead of coaching up blue-collar pluggers he was teaching explosive large versions of same to do the same things the blue collar guys did. And lo, they wrecked things.
Despite the rankings, Michigan has very rarely brought in the kind of top-tier guys they have lined up the next couple years, and when they did sometimes they were crazy. The touted Germany/McKinney/Slocum/Taylor recruiting class turned out to have three guys in it that couldn't stay enrolled for whatever reason. But other than that, Michigan's track record with five-star-ish defensive linemen has been good: Woodley, Graham, Branch, and Taylor were all quality college players and high NFL draft picks. Gabe Watson, popularly derided a guy as who never lived up to the hype, was still two-time All Big Ten and a mid-round pick. Pure talent busts are limited to Will Campbell, who should have been an offensive lineman all along… and still got drafted.
Player development is inherently difficult. Every year half of the first round of the NFL draft is comprised of relatively unheralded players. Busts are inevitable, talent is talent, and you just have to get piles of it to have a Florida-type DL. Michigan is going to approach that level of talent in the next few years.
UPDATE: NOW WITH 100% MORE BRANDON BROWN ANSWERS
It's that freshman you've all be waiting for. Michigan's new 5-star back was the highlight of this week's padless practice video. There are plenty more exciting carries to come, but just how many this year, and what's the expectation for sharing with the current starter? We try to tackle that. The backfield:
- Brian "Mike Hart except tall and hairy and into emo" Cook
- Seth "Anthony Thomas except more like a high-speed monorail" Fisher
- Ace "Tim Biakabutuka except better against Ohio State" Anbender
- Heiko "Dennis Norfleet except more Norfleet" Yang
- Blue "Brandon Minor in an alternate universe where he was forced to kick his way out of Charlie Weis's stomach" in South Bend
- Math- "Tom Harmon except more perspicacious" –lete , and introducing:
- Brandon "Like Jamie Morris if interviewed the linebackers as he ran by them" Brown
And the question:
Let's all make stupid predictions about running back carries this year. How many are there to go around? How many go to Toussaint, Green, guys down the batting order? Base expectations for YPC? Anybody cracking 1,000 yards this year? How about 10 TDs?
Seth: I believe Toussaint and the coaches that the senior RB who's proven he can torch defenses when given a reasonable amount of blocking will get the majority of carries this season. If I put us on a crappy graph (how do I make non-crappy graphs?) I'd be near the bullish Toussaint extreme and bearish on Green's yardage totals:
|Safe Prediction: Brian's YMRMFSPA for
Deveon Smith will be Brandon Minor
|2013 Seth's prediction:|
If the Green prediction in the above sound familiar you've been getting into the Chris Perry's freshman stats again. That year A-Train had a ludicrous 319 carries for 1733 yards and 18 TDs and Perry came on in the second half of the season as Thomas's No. 2 guy. They both got 5.4 YPC behind the best offensive line of my lifetime. No, this line won't be anywhere near that good; at best they're the 2000 line in 1997. That'll mean less to the No. 2 guy who gets the benefit of a softened defense and more trash time.
Regardless I'm going for a yard per carry better than last year thanks in part to more forgiving defenses, and a lot more attempts as QB carries (218 for 1455 yards with sacks removed last year) are halved in the world after Denard. When it's done Toussaint will emerge with a small majority of RB carries as he did last year, and increase his YPC to something under 5 but not that much.
I think Green will get more carries as the year progresses and he's worked into more two-back sets. In fact given the tight ends are still a developing thing, and Green's already 240 with reportedly advanced blocking techniques, and the fullbacks aren't anything special, why not make two-RB sets a regular feature in the Great Borgesian formation extravaganza? I was predicting something like that before Stephen Hopkins decided to
transfer [edit: give up football] and it didn't look so bad when it happened. I digress.
Green will severely eat into Rawls's opportunities, and unless they plan to redshirt Deveon Smith, last year's No. 2 back will have a tough battle to repeat half of last year's 57 carries. I'm of the mind that running backs don't change all that much (compared to other positions) over years in the program, and that Rawls won't suddenly develop the vision he didn't have last year. He remains what he is: Kevin Grady 2.0, albeit minus two stars of hype and any whiff of misbehavior. Having seen what we have in him, I'd like to see Smith pass him, since that would say nice things about Smith and set Michigan up nicely for the future.
I expect Justice Hayes will move into that 3rd down back role evacuated by Vincent Smith's graduation, and act as designated recipient of those fun throwback screens Borges loves. Obligatory Drake Johnson is on the roster note goes here. Maybe one of you guys know different but exactly zero hype on him from this spring made it my ears to corroborate the pre-bowl practice murmurs. Until I hear otherwise I'm figuring him for a non-factor.
Brian: Dennis Norfleet 500 carries for 5000 yards.
[After the jump: RB opinions from people like bloggers except more interesting]