The NFL preseason is officially underway, and with mandatory roster cuts (down to 75) set for August 26th, now is a good time to check in with the former Wolverines currently playing in the league. After scouring the interwebs, here's my best guess at where each Michigan representative stands as we near the start of the season.
Locks To Make It
Jason Avant, WR, Carolina. After being relegated to decoy duty in Chip Kelly's offense for Philadelphia in 2013, Avant—who boasts the lowest drop percentage in the NFL over the last three years—should be one of Cam Newton's top targets with his move to the Panthers.
Tom Brady, QB, New England. Brady threw for over 4,300 yards with 25 touchdowns last season while working with a very raw receiving corps. It was universally considered a down year. I think he's gonna make it, y'all.
Alan Branch, DE, Buffalo. Branch was an integral member of the D-line rotation for the Bills last season, recording 39 tackles, and he should reprise that role working behind up-and-coming star Marcell Dareus again this year.
Stevie Brown, FS, New York Giants. After finishing second in the NFL with eight interceptions in 2012, Brown missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. He's back from the injury and expected to start at free safety.
Larry Foote, ILB, Arizona. The longtime Steeler—Foote has played 11 of his 12 NFL seasons in Pittsburgh—was cut in the offseason, but quickly found a home in Arizona, which lost both of their starting ILBs from last season. He's currently atop the depth chart, and even if he doesn't hold that spot, he should stick around to provide veteran leadership for a young position group.
Jonathan Goodwin, C/G, New Orleans.According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Goodwin and Tim Lelito, the two players competing to start at center, are "certain to make the final roster." Goodwin's ability to play both center and guard gives him extra job security, even at 35 years old, as does his relatively cheap one-year deal.
Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati. While Hall tore his right Achilles tendon last season, just two seasons removed from tearing his left Achilles, he's back in the starting lineup as Cinci's slot corner, a spot he plays about as well as anybody in the league when healthy. Barring further injury, his spot is very much safe.
David Harris, ILB, New York Jets. Jets head coach Rex Ryan called Harris "the most underrated player in the league" after he was left of the NFL Network's top 100 players list for 2014. Yeah, he's safe.
Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville. Though Jacksonville used the #3 overall pick on QB Blake Bortles, Henne started the first preseason game, and the Jaguars higher-ups insist there's no QB controversy. Bortles is the QB of the future; for now, however, this is Henne's job.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee. First-round picks don't get cut in their rookie seasons, especially when they're competing for starting jobs.
Jake Long, OT, St. Louis. Long is coming back from a torn ACL and MCL, so he's been held out so far in the preseason, but he's on track to make a surpringly quick return. Also, he's Jake Long, which should be enough.
Michael Schofield, OG/OT, Denver. Third-round picks also don't get cut in their rookie season, except in very unusual circumstances. Considering Schofield is "in the mix" at both left guard and right tackle, it looks like he'll be a critical backup at the very least in Denver.
LaMarr Woodley, DE, Oakland. After seven productive years in Pittsburgh, Woodley was unceremoniously released by the Steelers over the offseason, and the Raiders were happy to get him. He provides a major upgrade from them at DE, a spot that may suit him better than 3-4 OLB, where he played in Pittsburgh.
Charles Woodson, S, Oakland. At 37, Woodson came back to Oakland, where he's beloved by the fanbase. He'll play safety there, and he is Charles Woodson, so he'll play well until he decides it's time to hang up the cleats.
This is the continuation of last week's glance at the defensive line prospects from the perspective of body size against M linemen of yore at the same age. The point was to try to project what a certain body size and shape becomes and use that to relate the huge DL crop of 2012 to players we're maybe more familiar with.
This came about when I figured tried sorting the BMI (metric weight divided by height squared) of past players and found similar guys of memory ended up beside each other. Again, BMI is really for assessing whether normal people who are not 18-year-old athletes are overweight; do not interpret the numbers as any measure of how "in shape" any of these guys are.
Mentally shift the "1" in a 4-3 under to shaded over the center. In Mattison's defense the 3-tech is the guy lined up in the "3" spot on the line, shaded on the outside shoulder of a guard. He's the "4-3 Pass Rush Tackle," and this defense is designed to let him be more of an attacker than a "plugger." Pursuant to our discussion, greater heights that create leverage problems at the nose are not so much of a problem at 3-tech, which makes this guy more of a 3-4 DE than your traditional over-the-guard tackle. And lo the heights climb—a good 2 inches more than NT among Michigan's DTs.
I thought about sprinkling in the SDEs since there's considerable overlap. Mentally start 5-techs around Willie Henry (B.Graham is above that). I'm leaving in the current players nominally slated for DT.
Ryan Van Bergen
You can see there's a lot of overlap, but in general the big dudes end up inside and the leaner guys are out. Latest recruit Willie Henry is right with Kenny Wilkins as kind of tweeners between NT and DT, comparable to Will Johnson, who maintained his weight (though it was much Barwicized), and Larry Harrison, who added a lot of it and played beside like-massed Watson in a more even front.
So long as Michigan runs a 4-3 under you need to stop looking at a 265-pound freshman "DT" and imagine him lifting his way to 300. The talk of "frame" and "carrying more weight" could matter if you're expecting Henry to be a breather for Pipkins (he might be) but not if he's a 3-tech.
After a drop-off you get to the RS freshmen Rock and Heitzman, and incoming Wormley and Godin. This is the Ryan Van Bergen/Norman Heuer*/Grant Bowman region which slowly drifts down a list of tweener 3- and 5-techs like Biggs, Zenkewicz, Banks, and Feazell, then Normal Heuer.*
Those guys were a little smaller than seems optional at the position, but they're also both quintessential Hoke DTs; if Wormley becomes RVB2 and Godin is Bowman, that would be win. Quinton Washington was a larger freshman than any of these guys, much larger than even Alan Branch or 22-year-old freshman Renaldo Sagesse. Q has dropped his BMI by 7.6% to reach a playing shape still large for 3-Tech but not as big as Branch (who was 6'6) played. A freakmonster like Branch or (pro comparison) Shaun Rogers/Tommy Kelly can do well here by bull-rushing hapless guards on a direct route to emptying a QB's alveoli…
2003 Minnesota: trailing 14-0, Michigan has driven to around midfield. John Navarre chucks a WR screen to Steve Breaston, who throws it back to Navarre. Forty yards later, we all have beards and Michigan is within seven points.
At some point in the 2003 Minnesota game I needed to get off the couch after something enraging had happened. I was on it with my girlfriend at the time and she sort of ended up on the ground as I executed my plan. The couch was low to the ground, she was unharmed, and in the aftermath the incident seemed funny. At the time all I could do was clench and unclench my fists.
Michigan would eventually deploy an all-shotgun offense in the fourth quarter that shredded Minnesota for 24 points and win the game on a Garrett Rivas 33-yarder, but at the time it was grim. It would have been more grim but for the trick play of the decade:
In the aftermath a friend immediately called me screaming "WHAT." It wasn't a question. It was just "WHAT." That. From seven year's distance it appears to be the slowest, most awkward touchdown convoy in school history.
Eventually it was key in Michigan's comeback win and Rose Bowl berth but really it's just here for its sheer improbability. It was one thing to run the transcontinental with Drew Henson; doing it with John Navarre—and getting a touchdown out of it—is pure audacity. This, by the way, is why Minnesota bloggers will never do a Worst Plays of the Decade list.
Penn State, 2006: it's second or third and long or something again, can't remember, doesn't matter, and I'm back in the pocket and I know I'm going to die. My offensive line has proven itself entirely hypothetical at this point. So I'm going to die, and it's not going to have any purpose. But this time I actually get a faint semblance of protection and I manage to find an open receiver—I'd forgotten those even existed—and I hurl it out there. And if Alan Branch hadn't driven his facemask into my shoulder and run through my tiny hoo-man body and left me in a concussed heap on the ground I would have gotten to see a first down. Which would have been nice.
But then I might have had to play the rest of the game instead of getting an emergency cup of pudding repurposed from JoePa's stash. So, yeah. I could go either direction, as long as it's 180 degrees from wherever Branch is going.
When Michigan fans are (unwisely, these days) attempting to tweak their Penn State coworkers this play, and the iconic image from its aftermath, is their go-to option. That's a meaningful statement when you've got most of a decade's worth of gloating to choose from, including another play on this list.
As for the significance of the play, Penn State had bounced back from its early decade malaise in a big way in 2005, going 11-1 with the only loss featured a bit higher on this list. By the time the PSU game rolled around in '06 it was obviously the only thing standing between Michigan and a 1-vs-2 matchup against Ohio State at the end of the season. Michigan's last four opponents would all finish with losing records; the only road game was against Indiana. When Anthony Morelli got blasted out of the game the decks were clear.
More than that, though, Alan Branch being in ur base is emblematic of the first ten games of 2006, when the Michigan defense was 1997 all over again and things were, briefly, back on course.
Notre Dame, 2006: Late in the first quarter, Michigan and Notre Dame are tied 7-7 after exchanging terrible interceptions when Chad Henne drops back to pass and launches one deep. Pat Haden breaks the suspense before the cameraman can catch up to a streaking Manningham by declaring "oh, wide open." When Manningham finally appears he is running under a perfectly thrown ball, all alone.
Michigan entered the 2006 game uncertain of its place in the college football universe after a frustrating 7-5 season this blog nicknamed the "Year of Infinite Pain," if only to highlight how sheltered the Michigan fanbase has been in the aftermath of the last couple years. And if Alan Branch sending Anthony Morelli to his happy place was emblematic of Michigan's run to Football Armageddon, Mario Manningham getting ten yards clear of the nearest Notre Dame cornerback was the moment the Year of Infinite Pain became part of the past:
Manningham would score twice more on deep balls as Michigan leapt out to a commanding lead. They didn't look back until the second quarter of the Ohio State game.
3. Braylonfest Part III
Michigan State, 2004: Braylon Edwards skies over yet another Michigan State defensive back, tying a game in which Michigan trailed by 17 with under nine minutes to go.
Braylon Edwards was the most frustrating great player in Michigan history, prone to terrible drops on easy throws and legendarily not "on the same page" as Lloyd Carr. But he was great, and never greater than the last eight minutes of regulation in the 2004 Michigan State game. If they gave out Heismans for a single game, they would have had to give Edwards two for this one.
It almost wasn't anything, though. In this game Michigan was driving in the third quarter, down 17-10, when Edwards fumbled around the 20. He was creeping towards the goat side of the ledger when DeAndra Cobb ran That Goddamned Counter Draw again and outran Ernest Shazor to the sideline and the endzone. But when you're down 17 with under eight minutes left, what is there to do other than chuck it up and tell the onside kick team that they should try really hard?
I remember many things about that game. I remember being cold as hell as the game dragged on and the heat fled from the stadium. I remember going over to a friend's house afterward and being told by his roommates that they had actually left immediately after the DeAndra Cobb TD. I remember another friend telling me that a State friend of his had turned the game off as soon as Michigan hit the field goal to get within 14—he didn't even wait for the onside kick. I remember turning around and jovially telling the State fans behind me that it was good that MSU missed their last-second 52-yard field goal attempt to win after a terrible PI call, because if it had gone in there was no way they were getting out of the stadium alive. But mostly I remember the shadows that gave the whole enterprise an otherworldly feel. It's without question the best game I've ever been to.
The pick here is the game-tying touchdown, as at that point victory seemed inevitable and the comeback was complete. Without it, the others are just coulda-been plays like the Mike Hart touchdown in the Horror.
2. Phil Brabbs is absolutely not going to make this field goal
Washington, 2002: Phil Brabbs hits a 44 yard field goal as time expires to beat Washington.
I've interacted with Phil Brabbs a little bit since he came down with cancer and I've read his blog and am wearing his bracelet, so I have a little insight here. The bracelet says DOMINATE and his blog has pictures of him DOMINATING various things from hospital ice cream to IVs to chemo drugs. Sometimes he makes his adorable children DOMINATE things. He's kind of like anthropomorphized Brawndo. So I'm betting that when Brabbs strolled onto the field after a preposterous sequence of events set him up with a potential game-winning field goal in the 2002 season opener, he was totally psyched to dominate himself some 44-yard field goal.
In this, he was utterly alone.
I'm sure his parents and wife tell him that they just knew he'd hit it, but after a career debut in which he missed 36 and 42 yard field goals badly enough for Michigan to send out Troy Neinberg on a 27-yarder that he shanked, no one in Michigan Stadium thought a 44-yard field goal with no time left on the clock was going in. This includes those nearest and dearest to him. I was just hoping it went forward.
Naturally, Brabbs did this:
Though Washington would end up one of the country's biggest disappointments at 7-6, they entered Michigan Stadium a top ten opponent. The moment the kick actually went through the actual uprights and everyone looked at the guy under the crossbar to make sure they hadn't hallucinated it, then looked at the other guy under the crossbar to make sure the first guy hadn't been hallucinating too, promised grand things. (That would fall apart in a ridiculous loss at Notre Dame in two weeks.)
Penn State, 2005: With one second on the clock, Mario Manningham catches a deep slant to beat Penn State 27-25. 86 = 1, as Michigan State would learn in 2007.
Why is this number one? It didn't end up mattering, and it was already clear it wouldn't since Michigan was already 3-3 and headed nowhere in 2005. It was the end of a classic game that swung dramatically from one side to the other, but other games were better and meant more.
I think it's that :01 on the clock, the knowledge that that second was precarious, fought for by Lloyd Carr after the clock ran after a Michigan timeout, preserved by Steve Breaston's best Tyrone Butterfield impression, and ironically Joe Paterno's fault for getting his team an extra two seconds on what they thought was their game-winning drive. Michigan was living on borrowed time. It seemed like they'd been given a chance to go back and right wrongs. Scott Bakula was at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Michigan was locked in an existential crisis unknown for decades. The 1984 season could be written off as a fluke since Jim Harbaugh's broken leg threw everything into disarray and Michigan bounced right back afterwards; 2005 was entirely different. Michigan had never been 3-3 in my recollection. My brother and I spent a large chunk of the game being bitterly cynical about everything. We felt justified about it after the killer Henne fumble/botched extra point for two combination. We'd collectively decided to dull the pain by withdrawing emotionally. This was working for a while, and then the team decided to give the middle finger to the cosmic middle finger, getting off the mat twice. The culmination:
In the end, the game served as a reminder that bitterness is no fun, faith is rewarded, the kids on the field are more resilient than we are, and sometimes they can let us borrow some of that. A lot of the plays on this list were diminished by subsequent events in which Michigan failed to live up to the promise they had in that one moment, but this one has been magnified by the awful last couple of years. It promises a light at the end of the tunnel.
Drew Henson bootlegs his way into the OSU endzone to seal the win (2000) … Chris Perry puts the OSU game beyond doubt with a slashing bounceout TD to make it 35-21 (2003) … Breaston returns a punt for a touchdown against Indiana … Northwestern … Illinois … etc … Manningham's worm after the ND game (2006) … Chris Perry punches it against Penn State in to seal a win in Michigan Stadium's first OT game (2002) … Ron Zook seals the Outback Bowl by calling a reverse pass that Victor Hobson intercepts (2002) … Alain Kashama beats the Sex Cannon to a fumbled ball in the endzone, finally fulfilling four years of Canadian Reggie White hype (2002 Outback) … Jacob Stewart picks off Asad Abdul-Kaliq in the Buffalo Stampede game and returns it for a touchdown (2002) … Garrett Rivas finishes the Buffalo Stampede game with a field goal (2002) … Chad Henne hits Tyler Ecker for a game-winning touchdown against Minnesota and executes nailcoeds.exe (2004) … Braylonfest Part I … Braylonfest Part II … Braylonfest Part IV … Brian Thompson recovers an onside kick, greatly aiding Braylonfest parts II through IV … Jason Avant's catch against Northwestern (2003) … Marquise Walker's catch against Iowa (2001) … Jerome Jackson pops through a nonexistent hole against Iowa to establish himself useful, then scores the game-winning TD (2005) … the snap sails over Jimmy Clausen's head on the first play of the game (2007) … Michigan cracks open the Battle of Who Could Care Less against Illinois with a reverse pass (2007) … Manningham outruns Justin King to tie Penn State (2005) … Mike Hart drags Penn State tacklers for five of the most impressive eight yards of his career (2005) … Lamarr Woodley kicks off Yakety Sax (2006) … Prescott Burgess returns a Brady Quinn interception for a TD(2006) … Mike Hart levels Sean Lee on a blitz pickup (2007) … Arrington's catch against Florida (2007) … A ludicrous Ryan Mallett decision—pitch it backwards to Carson Butler as he's being sacked—works out (2007) … Steven Threet takes off on a 60-yard jaunt against Wisconsin (2008) … Denard Robinson fumbles the first snap as Michigan's quarterback and WOOPs his way for a touchdown (2009) … Darryl Stonum returns a kickoff for a touchdown against Notre Dame (2009) … Forcier hits Greg Mathews on a circle route to win against Notre Dame (2009) … Tate Forcier hits Martavious Odoms on a perfect seam for the game-winning points against Indiana (2009) … Forcier's mansome final drive in the rain to tie Michigan State (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Glenn Winston (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Everybody (2009).
A major reason this series came together is the tireless effort of Wolverine Historian, who put together video for almost everything on the list. Also a hat tip to parkinggod, who had HD of last year's ND game, and akarpo, who helped out with some of the clipping last year.
Slam dunk locks and mirror images, Brandon Graham and Lamarr Woodley set the standard for Michigan quarterback terror in the aughts. Wildly hyped in-state recruits and five stars, both spent a couple of years as underclassmen playing here and there and making people wonder if and when they would live up to their billings; both did so emphatically as juniors and then managed to top those performances as seniors. A large portion of last year's defensive UFRs not given over to rending of garments was spent wondering whether Brandon Graham was actually better than Woodley.
I think Graham is better. I haven't gone over the UFR numbers yet—slightly busy this time of year—but I know Graham set a record against Michigan State earlier this year and has been owning offensive tackles all year. Woodley set standards by being consistently around +8 or +9 with forays up to 12; Graham's baseline is around 12 and ranges up to 18.
Though he didn't win the Lombardi like Woodley did his senior year, Graham led the nation in TFLs and was drafted about a full round higher by the NFL. While Woodley was more heralded in the award department, that had a lot to do with the other guys on defense. Woodley's compatriots will pepper the rest of this list. Graham's not so much. Woodley lined up next to Alan Branch, Terrance Taylor, and a senior Rondell Biggs; Graham's bookend was a true freshman and his other linemates were just sophomores.
Lamarr Woodley, meanwhile, did with the Lombardi in 2006, the first and to-date last time a Michigan player has won it. His season was statistically frustrating since, like Graham, he was close to a dozen additional sacks that a competent secondary would have seen him put up truly ludicrous numbers. Even so he had 12 sacks and 4 forced fumbles; outside TFLs were low (just three) but that can be chalked up to the rest of the defense taking up that burden. As mentioned above, he was the original gangsta of the UFR, averaging close to double-digit plus ratings on a weekly basis.
But all that pales in comparison to the play that finished the "Oh Wide Open" game in which Michigan established itself a contender. By scooping up an unforced Brady Quinn fumble and fending off ND tight end John Carlson all the way to the endzone, Woodley inaugurated the Yakety Sax era:
I just watched that three more times.
Second Team: Dan Rumishek (2001), Tim Jamison (2007 or 2008, take your pick)
It gets muddy past the slam dunks. Michigan's quasi 3-4 from the beginning of the decade makes decisions difficult, as does that one year Michigan switched to an actual 3-4. In 2001, Dan Rumishek was on the All Big Ten team with just 22 tackles. Seven were sacks, but man. That same year Shantee Orr managed 35 tackles with six sacks and 10 TFLs, but didn't show up on all conference teams. Later editions of defensive ends would have almost identical big play numbers but way more tackles. Tim Jamison had 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks as a junior and senior but had 52 and 50 tackles.
Past Rumishek, Orr, and Jamison pickings are slim. Rondell Biggs was the unheralded guy on the 2006 line, a decent plugger but nothing special. A post-career steroid bust also gives his career an unpleasant sheen. Larry Stevens's career was very long but largely anonymous. He's best remembered for being hog-tied on the Spartan Bob play.
We'll go with Dan Rumishek, the only other Michigan DE to get on an All Big Ten team this decade, and one of Tim Jamison's upperclass seasons. Which is entirely up to the reader since they are essentially identical; I lean towards '07 because Graham was not yet a beast and Jamison saw more attention.
Alan Branch (2006) & Gabe Watson (2005)
That will do.
His statistics were not ridiculous (25 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks in '06) but when he left for the NFL draft I thought to myself "this is a logical thing because he will go in the top five." Surprisingly he did not, falling to the top of the second round, but when you are primarily responsible for opponents going six of eighteen on third and one you get dropped onto the All Decade Team no questions asked.
Watson will be a more controversial choice but the guy was a two-time All Big Ten selection and is currently an NFL player. At Michigan he never quite lived up to his copious recruiting hype but he did have some pretty nice statistics for a nose tackle: 40 tackles, 6 TFLs, and 2 sacks as a senior with almost identical numbers from the year before. The primary issue with Michigan's run defense in '05 was that Watson would drive his guy yards into the backfield, forcing the tailback to cut upfield into the gaping hole left because Pat Massey was 6'8" and therefore getting crushed backwards as far as the guy futilely attempting to contain Watson.
The year before Michigan had their one-off experiment with the 3-4, leaving Watson all alone in the middle, where he dominated. In the aftermath of Watson's one-game suspension for being approximately spherical to start the '05 season, I attempted to adjust for Michigan's tendency to give up a lot of nothing and then a lot of huge runs in the spirit of Football Outsider's "adjusted line yards" and came up with the number 2.5, which was better than anyone in the NFL by three tenths of a yard. (Schedules are much more balanced there, FWIW.) Watson may have been an overrated recruit, but his Michigan career has been underrated.
Second Team: Terrance Taylor(2007), Grant Bowman (2003)
This is actually Taylor's junior season, when he lined up next to Will Johnson, a sophomore Brandon Graham, and Tim Jamison and managed impressive-for-a-DT numbers: 55 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks. He'd drop off considerably in his doomed senior year; whether that was a falloff in play or just collateral damage from the wholesale implosion around him is in the eye of the beholder. My opinion is the latter since Taylor tended to beat a lot of blocks only to see poor linebacker play rob him of opportunities in the run game; he was never much of a pass rusher.
We'll go with Taylor's statistically productive 2007 over 2008 because he was just about as good via the eyeball then and had more to show for it. Either way he is an easy pick.
The last spot is not easy. Early in the decade, Michigan defensive tackles were excruciatingly bored guys who spent football games blocking offensive lineman and letting linebackers take all the glory. In 2001 Shawn Lazarus started 12 games and managed 16 tackles. In the absence of accolades, statistics, or personal remembrances I can't put Lazarus or Eric Wilson or Norman Heuer in here even though I couldn't tell you whether or not those guys were even good. The guys not on the list who I do have personal remembrances of were not very good or are still on the team.
It's a debate between GrantBowman, who I don't remember much about other than his mother was attacked by the usual band of Columbus idiots one year, and… yeah, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Bowman's 2003 featured 36 tackles, 8 TFLs, and 3 sacks; Van Bergen had 40, 6, and 5; Martin 51, 8.5, and two sacks. Bowman's defense was infinitely better (22nd nationally in rush defense) than either Martin's or Van Bergen's but without the UFRs sitting around it's hard to tell how much of that had to do with Bowman and how much was the contributions of Pierre Woods, Carl Diggs, Lawrence Reid, and the profusion of non walk—ons in the secondary.
The tentative nod goes to Bowman if only because the rest of the line that year was Heuer, Massey, and someone the Bentley doesn't even bother to list but is surely Larry Stevens. Even if he had more help behind him, being the best player on a line that did pretty well against the run is a tiebreaker here.
David Harris (2006), Larry Foote (2001), Victor Hobson (2002)
A couple years ago I was editing a Hail to the Victors article about the considerable difference between David Harris and Obi Ezeh that referenced a couple plays from the '06 season. The diagrams, as diagrams are often wont to be, were confusing so I set about looking at the play myself so I could break the diagram out into three or four separate ones that would explain things in a more leisurely fashion. This was the result:
I swear to God I saw David Harris read not only the direction of a run play, the blocking scheme of that play, and which offensive lineman was assigned to him but modeled the lineman's brain and duped him into thinking the play had cut back. I found this terribly exciting.
That was just another boulder on the pile of reasons I love David Harris. He looks like Worf. He tackled everyone all the time and never did not tackle anyone. He was the first player I felt I was ahead of the curve on thanks to UFRing the games—like David Molk I think I was the first person in the media to recognize that this unheralded player was the balls, which made me feel like Dr. Z. And he kept tackling people. At some point in 2006 the Greek gods descended from the clouds and borrowed him for a while because the eagle that eats Prometheus's liver was on strike.
Then the Lions passed on him and Lamarr Woodley to take Drew Stanton, guaranteeing that the pair would instantly become two of the best defensive players in the league. Yeah. David Harris. I miss him so much.
Larry Foote had a less tangential connection to the worst franchise in sports, but outside of that one-off decision his career has been a good one. As an upperclassman he was an all-around terror, notching 19 TFLs in 2000 and 26 in 2001 at the same time as he picked up a total of 16 PBUs. In 2000 he actually had more of the latter than Todd Howard, and Todd Howard got some of his when the ball deflected off the back of his helmet. Foote was what Jonas Mouton was supposed to be.
We'll go with Foote's senior year when his sack total leapt from one to six and he was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year en route to a smattering of All-American honors. A fourth-round pick of the Steelers, Foote's NFL career has been long and productive; he gets a small dollop of bonus points for being one of the current NFL crew frequently seen hanging out with Barwis.
The final member of the first team had to beat out stiff competition but Victor Hobson gets the nod because he was by far the best player on his front seven (Rumishek, Bowman, Lazarus, Stevens, Orr, Diggs, and Zach Kaufman(!) were the other major conributors) in 2002 and racked up the best all-around numbers of any linebacker under consideration: 99 tackles, 13 for loss, 5.5 sacks, and two interceptions. One of those was the Outback-sealing reverse pass interception. Hobson was deservedly All Big Ten on a team that finished 9th in the final rankings and 31st in rushing defense despite having zero future NFL players other than Hobson and an injury-stricken Orr.
Second Team: Pierre Woods(2003), Shawn Crable(2007), Lawrence Reid(2004)
Pierre Woods did something almost but not quite bad enough to get booted off the team after his breakout sophomore season (68 tackles, 14 TFL, 7 sacks) and spent the rest of his career playing sparingly—probably the only thing that has infuriated both Ted Ginn Sr and myself—until injury forced Michigan to deploy him extensively in the '05 Iowa game, whereupon he totally saved Michigan's bacon. Though he'd moved to defensive end by then, his bust-out year was at linebacker so here he goes.
Poor star-crossed Shawn Crable will go down in history as the best player to ever put on a winged helmet who Michigan fans have exclusively terrible memories of. In the span of three games at the end of the 2006 season and beginning of 2007, Crable delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on a scrambling Troy Smith that turned a fourth-down punt into first down and eventually the winning points for OSU and failed to execute a simple blocking assignment on the field goal that could have turned The Horror into the worst win ever.
When he wasn't doing either of those things, though, he was a unique weapon. He is the current holder of Michigan's TFL record and spent his college days bouncing from linebacker to defensive end to crazy 6'6" chicken-legged defensive tackle in certain spread packages, finding ways into the backfield wherever he lined up. He also was the Ryan Mallett of defense as an underclassman, overran a bunch of plays even after he got his head on straight, and appears twice on the upcoming Worst Moments Of The Decade list. That disqualifies him from the first team, but not the second.
Finally, Lawrence Reid saw his career end prematurely as his back went out; late in the 2004 season it was clear he was laboring. Despite that he finished with 70 tackles, 12 for loss, 3 sacks, and an interception. Without the injury his senior season could have made it on to the first team… and seriously aided the 2005 team's efforts to not play the unready Shawn Crable.
Marlin Jackson(2002), Leon Hall(2006)
Leon Hall was sneaky great, one of the few players that the NFL ended up drafting well before I expected them to. Before Hall went halfway through the first round I'd pegged him as another LeSueur sort who'd go in the second and have a decent career; instead he's kind of ridiculously good. Hall leapt into the starting lineup midway through his freshman year an continued improving until he was a hidden beast on the '06 team. Hall's tackles declined from 61 to 45 as teams targeted neophyte Morgan Trent and whichever slot receiver Chris Graham had no hope of covering. At the same time his PBUs leapt from 5 to 15(!). That's impressive. Hall was a deserved Thorpe finalist.
Jackson, meanwhile, has the rare privilege of being the only sophomore to feature in the All-Decade first team. His opening-day matchup against Reggie Williams, Washington's star receiver and a player who had seriously considered Michigan before choosing to stay home, was electric. Jackson got in Williams's grill all day and the Huskies would not back off; by the third quarter he'd set an all-time Michigan record for pass breakups.
By the end of the year he was a second-team All-American to the AP, third team to Sporting News, and (whoopee!) first team to College Football News. He would spent his junior year at safety, battling injury, and though a return to corner as a senior found him on All-America teams again, Jackson never quite recaptured that sophomore magic.
Second team: Jeremy LeSueur (2003), Donovan Warren (2009)
LeSueur was a true rarity on the Michigan roster: a kid who managed to escape the state of Mississippi's immense gravitational pull. He started off slightly wonky—it was his face-mask penalty on Charles Rogers that extended Michigan State's final drive in 2001, setting up both the Spartan Bob play and Lloyd Carr's public dressing-down of Drew Sharp—but finally developed into the guy I thought Leon Hall was: an All-Big Ten type of player destined for a solid NFL career. That wasn't quite the case—LeSueur is currently playing for Bon Jovi, but no one else from the decade comes close.
The final spot is a tossup between Morgan Trent in the one year he wasn't clueless or unmotivated (2007), Donovan Warren this year, Grant Mason's year that exemplifies totally average play, and the nine starts James Whitley made in 2000 before succumbing to his personal demons. The vote here is for Warren, who I actually thought was good, over Trent, who I thought was okay trending towards good.
SAFETY… SORT OF
Jamar Adams (2007), Julius Curry (2000)
Michigan fans will be unsurprised to find a wasteland here after nine defensive positions occupied by world-wrecking All-Americans who have embarked on long NFL careers—everyone on the first team to this point is still in the NFL and almost all will start this year. Safety? Well, Cato June is still kicking around as a linebacker, but at Michigan he was a wreck thanks to an ACL tear that took years for him to fully recover from. And that's almost it.
The almost: Jamar Adams, bless his heart, was the closest thing to a star safety Michigan had in the aughts. He was actually good. Not good enough to get on the All Big Ten first team or get drafted, but good enough to be on the second team two years running and stick with the Seahawks long enough to actually get on the field in six games last year. This makes him a slam-dunk lock as the best safety in the last ten years of Michigan football.
And now: guh. After Adams it's a choice between the most massively overrated Michigan player of the decade—Ernest Shazor—or the guys towards the beginning of the aughts that no one remembers being specifically terrible. You can feel free to disagree but there is no way I'm putting Shazor here. While he did decapitate Dorien Bryant in that one Purdue game, his Michigan career ceased there unbeknownst to the coaches and most of the fans. He was about 80% of the reason Braylon Edwards had to hulk up and smash Michigan State in the Braylonfest game and when he entered the NFL draft he went from a projected second-round pick to totally undrafted, but not before various organizations made him a first-team All American. I will exercise my Minute Observer of Michigan Football privileges and say this: ha, ha, ha.
The problem then is that as I went through the names that vaguely occupied the safety spots for Michigan over the last decade I thought to myself "I should probably write down Willis Barringer and Brandent Englemon." Sadly, I cannot vouch for two guys who couldn't stay healthy or maintain their starting jobs, nor can I seriously support anyone I've seen take the field in the UFR era. So let's reach back into the long, long ago when memories are fuzzy and haul out easily the most unlikely member of the All Aughts: Julius Curry.
I can't tell you that I have detailed knowledge of Curry's play anymore, but I do remember liking the guy a lot and being seriously disappointed when his junior and senior years were wrecked by injury. As a sophomore in 2000, he put up an impressive collection of statistics: 59 tackles, 5 TFLs, 5 PBUs, and 3 forced fumbles, plus two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Ohio State in a 38-26 win. Michigan managed to scrape out the 49th-best pass efficiency defense despite deploying Todd Howard and a very confused James Whitley—this was the heart of the "suspects" era—thanks to Curry's unregarded efforts. Maybe he never decapitated anyone, but by God he definitely would have tackled DeAndra Cobb by the second time.
Second Team: DeWayne Patmon(2000), Ernest Shazor(2004)
Patmon was the second member of the safety unit I remember not being specifically terrified about; Shazor was discussed above. He does deserve to be here because even if he gave up a ton of big plays he made more big plays in Michigan's favor than the other safeties kicking around this decade, and those guys gave up about as many plays.
Garrett Rivas (2006)
Rivas never had a huge leg but he was good out to 47-48 yards and stands as the most accurate kicker of the decade, hitting 64 of 82 in his four years as Michigan's kicker. That's a 78% strike rate; in 2006 he checked in at 85%. He was reliable, and that's all you ask for in a college kicker.
Some Penn State Fan who works with Anonymous Blog Reader, you have been pwned:
A remote co-worker of mine is a PSU fan. I spent last week in his location, in his cube to be exact since he was on vacation. His entire cube is decorated in PSU memorabilia, quite nice if you're a PSU fan, however I am not
I took the liberty of modifying the August page of his official PSU calendar. My only regret is that I can't be there when he flips that page on August 1st and is greeted by one of the greatest college football pictures ever snapped.