Sponsor note. Hey, if you happen to be in Philadelphia and punched a police horse last night, you need a lawyer. Please don't call Richard Hoeg, who does not handle that kind of law at all.
But if you had the idea for a company that sells football helmets for police horses, then you would call Richard Hoeg, who does do that kind of law: contracts, LLCs, S corps, and the like, for entrepreneurial sorts who can survey the urban chaos our Super Bowl inflicts on local communities and finds a way to make it slightly better. For horses. Or people, I guess. If you have a company that helps people, Hoeg Law will also help you. I've never heard Richard say "we only handle horse companies." And that's the sort of thing that I think you'd bring up. Right?
The Gang Wins The Super Bowl, thanks to Brandon Graham. Obligatory Philly chaos:
Congratulations to Brandon Graham, who was one of the few bright spots on the whole dang team when he was an upperclassman. I remember doing the UFRs for his senior year and pleading with anyone to listen to me that dude was an All-American. Nobody did except maybe Matt Hinton(?). Graham worked his ass off despite the very Rich Rod carnage all around him and was deservedly drafted in the first round; took him a minute to find his footing but that'll do. Everyone who's met him also thinks he's the best dude ever.
In other Super Bowl takes, this article from SBN was extremely prescient after watching that Big 12-ass game:
Last September, Sonny Dykes sat to watch the NFL’s season-opening game between the Chiefs and Patriots. Dykes, recently the head coach at Cal and then an offensive analyst at TCU, has coached college football since he was a graduate assistant at Kentucky in 1997. He noticed something about the pro game he was watching.
“Watching that game, I remember thinking, ‘This looks like a college football game,’” Dykes tells SB Nation. “They were both playing kind of college offenses, were really diverse in what they were doing, were using a lot of misdirection, were using some quarterback run, both teams. I thought, ‘Wow, this is kind of fun to watch.’”
The Chiefs used a series of misdirection and option plays that have long been common in the college game. They conned New England’s defense all night and scored 42 points in a surprising win. The Chiefs were near the tip of a spear that now includes pretty much the whole league, including the team they beat that night and the Eagles team the Patriots will play in Super Bowl 52.
“Ten years ago or maybe eight years ago, even, everybody in the NFL ran the same offense,” Dykes, now SMU’s head coach, says. “It was all kind of an I-formation, under center, you know; everybody ran the same stuff. All of a sudden, you started seeing a little bit of the college game proliferate a little bit in the NFL.”
New England didn't punt, gained 600 yards, and lost. Oh and there were multiple missed extra points. Big 12? Big 12.
The other thing that jumped out at me as I watched the second of two NFL games I consume annually: holy hell that catch rule. Philly's winning touchdown saw the WR catch the ball, get two feet down, and then take a full step to the endzone before he hit the ground. Both Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were absolutely convinced it was not a catch.
Which is nuts, because... uh, that's nuts. I will repeat my previous assertion: once you get foot #3 down by taking a step you're a runner and have caught the ball. That's a catch, and the Pittsburgh play earlier isn't.
Also, in the fourth quarter of a tight, all offense Super Bowl, Cris Collinsworth marveled that the football game he was watching could possibly live up to the halftime show. This was after several hundred plain old play action passes were dubbed "RPOs," like—just hypothetically—a two year old who had just discovered the word "wine" at Thanksgiving and may have repeated it at maximum volume for the sheer delight several hundred times.
I just dunno man.
Sample size! I have maybe been googling David DeJulius's free throw stats, for no reason, really. This is what I have found.
DeJulius continued his strong play in the second half and was extremely efficient, finishing with 49 points on 13-of-19, including 9-of-11 from deep range in the 92-82 victory. He also converted 14-of-15 free throws and had seven assists and three turnovers.
I get nervous when they show him shooting just one free throw in the highlight videos but apparently that's just because free throws are boring. May they again be boring.
Miller said he runs a motion offense and moves Castleton around the court to try and make it harder for teams to focus on him. "We let him back screen, we get him on the perimeter and let him flare and curl to the basket," Miller said. "We're perfectly fine with him shooting 3s." In fact, Castleton is his team's best 3-point shooter at 38 percent.
...after a year of eating nothing but meatballs.
Michigan commit Adrien Nunez had a solid 2 outings here at the National Prep Invitational. The 6-5 SG can really knock down shots from 3. Great shot mechanics.
Boiled up. Purdue AD Mitch Daniels writes an op-ed for the Washington Post about the one-and-done rule being bad and dumb, and while he's necessarily compromised by being the head of an organization that doesn't actually pay its most important labor, he still brings more heat at the NCAA than I've seen from someone inside the sausage factory:
When the FBI revealed its findings about the corrupt connections among shoe companies, agents, a few big-time college programs and coaches, and the Amateur Athletic Union or AAU (the first “A” increasingly looks like a misnomer), no one near the sport was shocked. The existence of this part of the cesspool has been in plain view for years. Those in a position to stop the scandals spawned by the “one-and-done” era — in which many top-tier players were required to enroll in college for one year before bolting for the NBA — have been either powerless to do so or actively interested in perpetuating the status quo.
When it was discovered that, at what we’ve always considered an academically admirable school, championships had been won by teams loaded with players who took completely phony classes, most of us were sincerely shocked. We were stunned again when, after years of cogitation, the NCAA delivered a penalty of . . . nothing. It was a final confession of futility, confirming the necessity of this special commission, if any meaningful change is going to happen from the collegiate end.
Unfortunately none of his policy solutions—removing freshman eligibility, leaving early entry scholarships filled for four years, or adopting the college baseball zero-or-three model—are, like, good. Or even implementable, in the baseball case. I still fail to see how one-and-done stands up legally since the collective bargaining of the NBAPA is taking away rights from people who aren't members; IANAL but I'm surprised one-and-done hasn't been sued into oblivion by some Lavar Ball sort.
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.
Good lord, this was brutal. Hockey had a pretty clear cutoff that sat nicely at five, and getting to five in basketball was a stretch. I left Steve Breaston, Leon Hall, Allan Branch, and Zoltan Mesko outhere. Jebus.
PROS: Tough-talking no-neck was a four year starter at center perfectly suited for Michigan's zone running game; won the Rimington as a senior. Hilarious interview with absolutely no regard for cliché. High fantangibles rating. At times seemed to be the difference between doom and success in the Michigan ground game. Broke something serious in his foot in the Sugar Bowl, watched Rocko Khoury make some panic snaps on Michigan's first series, and played the rest of the game seriously damaged.
Experienced both coaching changes and was one of the seniors Who Stayed™. A huge factor in the locker room uniting behind Hoke.
CONS: Had some injury problems. Inexplicably had his snap count jumped against MSU and only MSU for like three straight years.
PROS: Four-year contributor and three-year starter who always teetered on the edge of being great. Finally accelerated down the senior-year stretch into a dominant nose tackle. During this period forced a pitch on a Nebraska speed option.
This is about all you need to know. You could not block him. Michigan's insanely good third/fourth and short defense started with him (and ended with Kovacs).
But wait, there's more: with Michigan's already-thin defensive line depth shattered by injury before the Sugar Bowl, Martin and Van Bergen faced off with future first-round pick David Wilson in a game where getting a stop meant you got four snaps before you were back on the field. They singlehandedly kept Michigan in the game despite dying halfway through the second quarter. A performance that should pass into legend the same way Hunwick's North Dakota game will.
Also a member of Those Who Stayed™. Along with Molk and Van Bergen, Martin got the Full Andy Dufresne from his time at Michigan.
CONS: Seemingly endorses "In The Big House." Not as highly regarded by the NFL as a few other guys on this list.
PROS: Third and final member of Those Who Stayed™ on the list. Also a four-year contributor and longtime starter, underrated because of his lack of playmaking but still the TFL leader on last year's team. The other guy holding Michigan's defensive line together through sheer force of will in the Sugar Bowl. Virtually impossible to knock down. Screwed up a check in the 2009 Indiana game, leading to an 85-yard touchdown, then singlehandedly annihilated the next IU drive, giving Michigan a chance to pull it out.
CONS: Probably the least-great player on this list. Here as a tribute to Michigan's phoenix act in 2011. Not enticing to NFL. Still… look at that. This is not a list of the best players ever, so…
PROS: The best player on an awful Michigan defense and awful Michigan teams. Did not get the Full Andy Dufresne since his career ended halfway through the sewage tube. Still bore all of this with a Denard-like beatific smile. Just killed people, all the time.
NFL did really like him, drafting him in the top half of the first round.
CONS: Unfortunately his impact was limited because the team around him was terrible.
PROS: Sideline-to-sideline missile was cerebral to the point of near-genius. Always there. Always. Made a habit out of juking(!) offensive linemen in zone schemes, making them think the play was going one way, then exploding into the ballcarrier when this was not the case. Junior year was tremendously underrated thanks to chaos around him; was major lynchpin and possibly the best player on Michigan's monster 2006 defense. Yes, I mean that seriously.
Early and still prime example of the usefulness of UFRing makes him near to my heart; not sure if you care. Validated all praise from Michigan fans by instantly becoming NFL tackling machine upon entry to the league.
Kind of looks like Worf.
CONS: Lacks iconic wow play. Others started longer than he did.
PROS: Emphatically does not have David Harris's problem since he was the target on two of the most iconic plays of the aughts: Oh, Wide Open and Lloyd Carr's Last Second. An electric playmaker the rest of the time, a guy who wasn't the biggest but was the fastest and hardest to keep track of. Had that brilliant slow-up-to-stall-the-DB-then-extend-for-the-TD move down pat. More of a technician than given credit for. Whenever I think of Manningham, I think of that Citrus Bowl when DeBord said "screw it, spread time" and Holly Rowe reporting that Florida deathbacker Brandon Spikes was chasing Manningham all over the field on his incessant end-arounds, saying "damn, boy, you good."
CONS: Got suspended for the weed, something that took some doing in the mid-aughts. Widely regarded as kind of maybe not the nicest guy to ever make it through the program.
PROS: Amongst the nicest guys to ever make it through the program. Skillet-sized hands are made of industrial-strength adhesive. An elite-level possession receiver who was everyone's safety blanket. Targeted all the time and made all the catches. Probably the most common ex-player to be referenced in "You May Remember Me From Such Players As," to the point where I actively try to avoid it now.
That about sums it up.
CONS: Did drop that one pass once, you know, that one. Never a huge deep threat.
PROS: Four year starter with great backstory and running style burned into your brain. No speed at all but capable of juking in a phone booth and grinding out two, three, four yards after contact. Got a standing ovation for a particular eight yard run against Penn State once. Came out of a tiny school in upstate New York with outlandish rushing stats and a youtube clip in which he jukes every player on the opposing team twice.
Never, ever fumbled except twice inside the five against Florida in his last game. Pretty much the only thing standing between Michigan and a yards per carry under three during his time at Michigan.
CONS: Injury prone. Started this incredibly annoying "little brother" business. Spice added by mouth often backfired; went 0-fer against OSU.
PROS: Kills people. Brandon Graham was Woodley 2.0, a devastating defensive end who could not be blocked one-on-one. Has enormous Wolverine tattoo on arm. Finished off the Oh Wide Open game with the Yakety-sax-capping scoop and score. Fighting with David Harris and Allan Branch for title of best player on 2006 defense.
CONS: OSU 0-fer does not quite apply but really kind of does since he did not contribute much in 2003. That's about it. Kind of think maybe Graham was better since he had way less help and still produced.
PROS: Is he a man or a block-long wall? Only his mother knows, and these days she's not even sure. Four-year starter who rolled off the NFL left tackle prototype line and let exactly zero guys not roid-raging get to the quarterback when he was on the field. The first overall pick his draft year, all-American everywhere, etc, etc, etc, you get the idea.
CONS: Fantangibles low. Another Michigan great who had to suffer through the indignity of 0-fer OSU. Hurt most of the 2005 season. Not sure what I'd write about him.
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…
Are coaches too conservative on the goal line? This was something I wondered on Monday. The Mathlete did some research into it. Survey says:
This one was a bit surprising to me as I dug in. Turns out coaches call this one about right. Existing playcalling from the 1 is worth on average +.10 in expected value. Going to a base playcalling set reduces that slightly to +.06. The difference is entirely in the magnified value of lost yardage. The 2 point loss weights negative yardage plays so strongly that the 11.2% of plays for loss on normal downs drive the value too low compared to the 2.1% of plays that go for a loss from the 1. I think the bigger takeaway is once you get a couple yards away from the 1. Once you have a little bit of space you might as well open it up but at the 1 or 2 you do have to be very careful.
All that being said, the numbers are fairly close and depending on score and time opening it up, even from the 1 could be a good decision.
In this instance, the conventional wisdom seems to be right. The next time your coach calls for a two-yard dive on first and goal ten from the one, grit your teeth and know it's the percentage play.
Let's wonder about Zach Banner playing everything for us.
It seems that Zach Banner really enjoyed his visit, so why not get ahead of myself and assume for a minute he's going to go Blue... If that happens, and if he wants to play hoops as well, how does that affect our basketball scholarship situation? Would that fill the last spot that we are praying is filled by Mitch McGary? (I would assume that a 2 sport scholarship player counts as a scholarship against both sports, doesn't it? If not, why wouldn't schools start over-signing and stashing players on the water polo team.)
Anyone who plays football counts for football if they are on scholarship. Banner would be a walk-on for basketball, as a few MSU football players have been in the recent past. You can keep up your dual Banner/McGary fantasies. Yeah… that's the stuff.
Mancrushes of the author.
With all the talk about best games for the under thirty-two crowd (i'm 31), I started thinking about a ranking of players that the under thirty two crowd adores. Your MANCRUSH with Denard led me to think that he's one. But who are the rest of your top five? Hart? Graham? Woodley?
It's hard to tell with Denard's career barely more than a third completed, but it's equally hard to deny that he's #1 with a bullet right now. Strictly in terms of the amount of EEEEEE I would feel if put in a room with a current or former Michigan football player and was expected to interact with them:
Brandon Graham. Essentially Denard as a world-crushing defensive end. The combination of his performance, the defense he was on making that performance more difficult, and his ability to work through all the crap he had to deal with during the transition makes him an easy #2.
Mike Hart. Equally obvious.
David Harris. He looked like Worf and played like Worf. I have a special affection for him because I was very high on him in the UFRs and his pro career has borne that out.
David Molk. Also I guy I loved very early, and then he drops f-bombs and says things like he'll "try to be nicer to the media" and is perfectly blunt.
The thing about a list like this is I want to extend it to a top 25 because hey, I left out Charles Freakin' Woodson. It's apparent that the guys I've reviewed every play of are higher up on my list.
On your podcast, you said that Denard is a pretty accurate quarterback. I have a suspicion that might be wrong.
As I think you've astutely pointed out, Denard racked up completions to wide open receivers because of his running ability. This likely props up his completion percentages without requiring him to be all that accurate. I distinctly remember last year's Michigan State UFR, for example. You made a comment about Denard's difficulty fitting the ball into tighter spaces. This just might just be my lexical confusion about 'accuracy.' In any case, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
This was discussed in the first couple offensive UFR and I agree to some extent. Denard was helped by a lot of screens, short throws, and blitheringly wide open seams. His major issue last year was missing wide receivers by miles; his major issue thus far has been missing wide receivers by miles, and a lot of his completions have been on deep punt-type things where underthrowing the guy is a good strategy but not a particularly difficult one.
That said, he at least seemed more accurate last year. Was that because he was rarely throwing in to tight coverage? That's probably some of it. If Denard's in a favorable down and distance and Michigan runs convincing play action his INT against EMU is a first down because there's no defensive back to intercept; I mark the exact same throw CA.
All the more reason to go back to the Denard or die offense.
Roh + Black plz
I was wondering what is so different about the responsibilities of the 2 defensive end spots in this defense that we cannot play Roh and Black at the same time?
In most defenses that I'm familiar with the two DE spots are relatively interchangeable. My limited understanding is that you generally want the better run defender on the strong side because teams often run that way because they have an extra blocker, and you generally want your faster, quicker, pass rusher on the weakside to make it easier to sack the QB. Besides those minor differences, I don't understand what is so gravely different about the 2 positions in our defense that we wouldn't want our 2 best DEs (Roh and Black, counting Van Bergen as a DT) in the game at the same time?
I suppose that if Will Campbell man's up and takes over at DT, and we slide Van Vergen back out to DE, this question is moot, but I still would like to better understand the major differences between the two positions.
Thanks for clearing this up, Daniel
In a 4-3 even the two DE spots are relatively interchangeable. In a 4-3 under they're significantly different.
The strongside defensive end:
is essentially alone next to the strongside G and T
takes a lot of doubles
has to hold up
doesn't get many opportunities to get a speed rush off the edge
is kind of a defensive tackle but not quite unless you've got a really good one
The weakside defensive end:
almost always gets single blocking
rarely, if ever, gets doubled
can speed rush all day on passing plays
often drops into short zones on zone blitzes
is kind of a linebacker sometimes
There are players who are great at both of these. Brandon Graham flipped back and forth and was still Brandon Graham. But in general they are meaningfully different players.
HOWEVA, as mentioned in the defensive UFR I'm advocating both of those guys on the field at the same time, especially against spread formations where the relative lack of bulk won't be too killer. Someone's playing out of position on this line and maybe it's time to try an extremely slanty DL featuring no real anchor but four fast guys (or three fast guys and average Ryan Van Bergen) who can one-gap into the backfield all day. It's not ideal; it's still worth a shot.
Denard / Tom Brady, first and goal from the two: shotgun
I have a different conventional wisdom.
Assuming perfect execution and the right personnel, why is it widely accepted that operating from under center is superior to the shotgun? Are the physics such that the extra downfield head start of 2 yards for a RB that much more effective in a running game as a base set (with shotgun draw type plays serving as the offbeat counterpoint)? What about from a passing perspective? I would think that the shotgun allows the QB (any QB) to see the field better at the outset of the play...so does it all come back to the running game?
Posed another way, given <insert current top tier NFL QB>, why is under-center better than shotgun? I'm trying to remove Denard from the argument to get a sense of what we'll be trying to do with Gardner/Morris/et al.
Hope this question makes sense - would appreciate any thoughts (or links to others' thoughts) you've got.
I think it may be accepted, but that acceptance seems to be shifting in the NFL. For one, see Tom Brady. The league is just now dealing with the injury faking brought on by no-huddle spreads. Shotgun plays are generally more efficient than plays under center even there, though the main reason there is passing, not running.
I mentioned this on the podcast, but the NFL scouts' constant whining about the spread killing the footwork of college QBs has always seemed like a selling point for the shotgun. If footwork is so important and so deficient in a spread option system that seems like a lot of time spent working on something else. This goes both for little ninjas like Denard and artillery pieces like Ryan Mallett, who spent no time under center in high school and couldn't even take a snap half the time as a freshman in college. If footwork is really hard, stop doing footwork. Just start where you're going to be.
This thinking is now becoming popular since a bunch of spread QBs have been instantly successful. Don Banks:
"People have kind of gotten away from the stereotypical thinking we used to see about the spread. I remember when [Florida State's Heisman winner] Charlie Ward came out and they said, 'Oh, he plays in the shotgun.' There were all these different reasons why he couldn't succeed, and it just baffled me. I said 'Do you see what the guy is doing? He's making plays to win games. He's making decisions, he's throwing the ball, he's on target, he's moving away from the rush, all the things you have to do in the NFL. Taking a snap from the center is the easiest thing to learn, all those other things are hard. But I think we've kind of gotten away from that kind of thinking, and we're looking at what these guys do positively. They can make decisions, they can throw on the move, and they can get out of the pocket. So you say, OK, let me build off of what their strengths are.''
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
Clearly, NFL teams have figured the importance of the Shotgun out for themselves. Over the past four seasons, the average team has gone from using Shotgun 19 percent of the time to 36 percent of the time, not even counting the Wildcat and other college-style option plays that have become popular in recent years. Before 2007, no team had ever used Shotgun on more than half its offensive plays. In the past two seasons, five different teams have used Shotgun over half the time. It is likely that if teams continue to increase their usage of the Shotgun, defenses will adapt and the benefit of the formation will become less pronounced.
Under center has a few advantages: it does not tip plays based on the position of the running back (unless you're shuffling the fullback argh). The tailback can run north and south more easily. If you do not have a running quarterback it is hard to get safeties to massively misplay play action based on a shotgun running game. And that's all I've got.
So… the answer to your question is "people have not caught up with the new reality."
The recent spate of instate commits and the buzz that Michigan has two or three more likely on the way in the near future caused me to wonder if Michigan hypothetically pulling eight of the top ten players in the state was unprecedented in the star era of recruiting. As almost always happens when I do something like this it got long, then got longer, and then I split it into two parts. This part covers the late Carr period from 2003 to 2008*; tomorrow's bit will cover what happened under Rodriguez and how Hoke appears to be doing so far.
*[By the time Carr announced his retirement in late 2007 Michigan had acquired all the instate prospects they were going to. Rodriguez didn't lose any, so there aren't any ambiguities there.]
2003-2004: The Old Boss Is The Old Boss
Lamarr Woodley, Jake Long, Will Johnson (with hair!)
Head To Head
1, 3, 6, 7, 8
1, 2, 3, 7, 8
4, 5, 10, 13-16, 25
(MSU H2H win: TE Kellen Freeman-Davis.)
Yea, the long long ago when Michigan had a half-dozen four stars on an annual basis and Michigan picked who they wanted unless they were a bit weird. In 2003 Michigan locked down the top eight with the exceptions of Illinois-bound Lonnie Hurst and Purdue-bound Doug Van Dyke and Garret Bushong. Bushong would later find fame as the "'we run this place" [Ed-M: link was broken, hope I got it right] guy; Van Dyke would have some sort of freakout and leave school to work construction; Hurst had three career catches after a nice freshman year. Meanwhile, Michigan State's haul consisted of Kaleb Thornhill, Derek Outlaw, and a couple of guys who didn't make the top 25. (One, Will Cooper, was a former Michigan commit who didn't qualify.)
The next year was much the same. Michigan got five of the top eight. The escapees did not have Michigan offers and didn't do much in college. Carl Grimes had seven career catches; Justin Hoskins transferred to CMU from Notre Dame; Dwayne Holmes bounced from TE to DE and finished his career with a 14-tackle season.
This year did see instate #10 Kellen Freeman-Davis pick MSU over a Michigan offer; in college he dropped the "Freeman" and was honorable mention All Big Ten as a senior. You may remember him as a two-way player—he was a pass-rush specialist DE, too. Michigan's main whiff in this class, though, was physical freak Vernon Gholston. Michigan was tardy with an offer and lost him to Ohio State, whereupon he turned into a monster until people started testing him for steroids.
This period and the many years before it in which recruiting rankings weren't as codified represent Michigan fans' opinion of The Natural Way Of Things. Michigan gets who they want. When they pass over a four star sort they're generally right about it. Every once in a while something slips through their fingers, but that's life.
2005-2006: The Great Wasteland
Brandon Graham, Patrick Rigan, Antonio Bass
Head To Head
1, 2, 3, 7, 12
4, 5, 8, 11, 13
1, 6, 11, 12
2, 3, 4, 15
This period of relative fecundity was followed by a couple years in which no one wanted anyone. In 2005 only three players picked up four stars and it's not like the offers defy that. #4 Ryan Allison had a smattering of mid-level BCS offers of which MSU, BC, and Wisconsin were the best; #5 Andrew Hawken had only MSU, Wisconsin, and Indiana; #6 Evan Sharpley ended up at Notre Dame, but this was during the Great Willinghamming when a Notre Dame offer was more indicative your ability to caddy than anything else. The rankings were largely borne out—thanks to Antonio Bass's mysterious leg explosion only #3 Terrance Taylor and #11 Otis Wiley were all-conference-ish players.
2006 was probably worse. After Brandon Graham the top three players in the state were Charlie Gantt, Eric Gordon, and Patrick Rigan. All went to Michigan State. Michigan didn't offer any, and neither did anyone else. Gordon had one other BCS offer, that from Missouri. Rigan had one from Indiana. Gantt had Duke and UNC. While Michigan screwed up their talent evaluation by taking Obi Ezeh and Quintin Patilla over Gordon, it's not like there were a bunch of other schools who were vying to prove Michigan wrong. Talent evaluators were again validated: other than Graham, Gantt, and Gordon the only player to start in at a BCS school was Ezeh, and we know all about him.
These years sucked, but Michigan got everyone they wanted and picked off a few sleepers here and there. That their sleepers were not useful may have been the first sign of the degradation the program was to endure over the next half-decade. "Trust the coaches" was no longer in effect. The Natural Way Of Things seemed to be, however.
Ronald Johnson, Dionte Allen, Joseph Barksdale
Head To Head
10, 12, 19, 23, 25
7, 21, 24, 27
The next year Michigan rebounded massively with 13 four-star-or-better guys. Michigan got all of two: #10 Ryan Van Bergen and #12 Martell Webb. Michigan State did worse with one. While both would eventually reclaim four-star QB prospects from the class when Keith Nichol and Steven Threet transferred home, Nichol eventually ended up a WR and Threet a Sun Devil. Everyone else was all like "I'm GTFO."
Michigan botched the recruitments of Joseph Barksdale, Mark Dell (who didn't even get offered because Michigan was after Zion Babb and Toney Clemons, although FWIW Clemons was highly ranked), Ronald Johnson, Dionte Allen, and Chris Colasanti. They wisely avoided Taurian Washington and Cedric Everson and never really had a shot at Nichol, who didn't fit Carr's offense, or Darris Sawtelle, a third generation Vol. They filled in their class with sleepers who did not pan out. Meanwhile, Michigan State grabbed #27-ranked Kirk Cousins.
The end result for Michigan was the infamous class that's been dissected ever since. Four years later it's clear this was the moment when Wile E. Coyote ran off the cliff. While the legs still pumped a while longer, inexorable gravity was now in control.
Fred Smith, Mike Martin, Nick Perry
Head To Head
1, 2, 7, 8, 11
5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17-20, 25, 26
(MSU H2H wins: Fred Smith and Tyler Hoover, though Hoover is disputed.)
Michigan maintained most of its gains in the evaluators' eyes the next year with seven four-stars and a number of additional guys with solid BCS offers. Michigan grabbed their usual number of four stars. They passed on Jonas Gray in favor of Mike Cox, lost Nick Perry to USC, and lost Southeastern WR Fred Smith in a "shocker"—yes, people can be surprised by high schoolers with hats on the table—that was the first indication Detroit Southeastern had been colonized by Spartans.
When Rodriguez came aboard he had to re-recruit Mike Martin; everyone else stuck around. Gray is in about the same place on Notre Dame's depth chart as Cox is on Michigan's. Smith decided he liked ham more than football and is now a fullback or something. Perry was a freshman All-American but has only played part-time since because of concerns about his size.
While Perry represented the continuing bleed of talent outside state borders and Smith was a harbinger of things to come, this wasn't too far off the early years. The problem was that instead of getting great players at the top Michigan's guys blew up: Boubacar Cissoko hates cabbies and Dann O'Neill was massively overrated and transferred to WMU. Meanwhile, Michigan ignored Mark Ingram and Keshawn Martin, and probably passed on Hoover. Michigan was got no one of note from the bowels of the Michigan rankings except for the occasional interior OL.
But whatever combination of bad luck, bad scouting, and bad recruiting affected Michigan in 2007 and 2008 was nothing with the rain of hellfire* Michigan would experience in 2009.
Newsbits of importance from Tom. Dark I'm-not-saying-I'm-just-saying rumors about Craig Roh and Demetrius Hart have been flying around the internets this week. Tom clarifies. On Craig Roh:
My source told me that Craig has been concerned with his position switch to linebacker, and believes he is much more effective as a defensive end.
Craig actually vocalized his concern about his position to the coaches after the Penn State game, and my source says that he has been playing much more on the defensive line during practice this week.
Roh's apparently been handed to Bruce Tall and will no longer be mostly a linebacker. This is both good and another instance of players coaching themselves. Meanwhile, Demetrius Hart decommit rumors are false:
There was a slight mix up with Demetrius' enrollment with Michigan, but it has been cleared up. That was the issue, it wasn't that anyone was recruiting him harder, or anything along those lines. Everything has been straightened out, and his mom says Demetrius will be at Michigan in January.
Insert the usual CYA boilerplate about how anything can happen, but you can focus your panic elsewhere.
Crowded. JT Floyd is officially out for the year with "freak" ligament damage in his ankle. Hooray.
The Never Forget banner guy has updated it, and if any further members of the secondary wish to make themselves unavailable they'd advised to do it quickly because we're running out of room:
New additions are Michael Williams (concussions), JT Floyd (ligament damage), Jared Van Slyke (leg injury), and Vlad Emilien (transfer). Available locations are limited to that patch of maize underneath the crying wolverine. Given the state of the secondary this is getting considerably more RR-fault-ridden as the year goes along. Justin Turner and Vlad Emilien's transfers are big deals with the free safety depth chart reading "Ray Vinopal" and the corner depth chart reading "Random Three Star Freshman Projects and James Rogers."
So we've got that going for us. Courtney Avery will draw into the lineup for Floyd.
Okay, a final final final word or two. It's unfortunate that Anchorman references are vastly overused because sometimes there's nothing you can say except…
…I'm not even mad, I'm impressed. That is amazing. I'm sitting on this pile of ninja corpses, covered in blood. As the sun rises over a scene of indescribable gore I laugh, because what else is there to do?
I’m surprised they didn’t stick with what Coach Robinson was running,” Graham said of the 3-4 the team deployed in 2009, its first year under Robinson. … “Let Coach Robinson play his defense,” Graham said. “Let him do what he knows. He was thrown off, I would say. I know the 3-3-5 is what he (Rodriguez) has been doing for so long. He’s just got to adjust to the Big Ten.”
Michigan ran a 4-3 under last year but that's beside the point. Those quotes from a guy who was in the program last year indicate that no one who doesn't know a 3-3-5 like the back of his hand is ever going to be comfortable as a defensive coordinator at Michigan as long as the WVU guys are around saying things like "hey it's a bye week, I've got this great idea."
While everyone says "scheme is overrated," Michigan's offense puts the lie to that. It's not necessarily the 3-3-5 itself—this is not a BLANK can't work in the Big Ten argument—but attempting to run an exotic niche defense with a guy who doesn't know it (and evidence suggests is a terrible coach anyway).
Much has been made about Michigan's defense, which is near the bottom of several national categories, including total defense. Illinois was in a similar spot last year, but has made strides under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning:
Scoring defense: 30.2 (96th) in 2009, 16.8 (12th) in 2010
Total defense: 403.3 (91st) in 2009, 301.4 (15th) in 2010
Pass defense: 248.8 (100th) in 2009, 183.9 (19th) in 2010
Rush defense: 154.4 (76th) in 2009, 117.5 (26th) in 2010
That certainly reads like a "hint, hint."
Defensive antidote. Via Wolverine Historian:
Penn State jerkos. As an internet fanbase, Penn State has a remarkable knack for accusing others of pathologies they're displaying literally within the accusation itself. The latest example is a piece at Black Shoe Diaries the author probably thinks is Swiftian satire that takes a sentence from the game recap, some random comment I don't recognize and didn't make about the Terrence Talbott whiffed PBU that turned into 40 yards, a somewhat maudlin paragraph from Maize and Brew supporting Rodriguez, and a random quote from pissed off David Molk. It combines these to show how self-centered Michigan fans are… in a post whining that Michigan fans didn't give Penn State its proper respect.
BSD can talk about self-centered behavior when they do this:
Indiana has a legitimately very good pass offense. They had 41 opportunities to make catches and made 40. Chappell almost never went to the wrong guy and missed on maybe five of his 65 attempts. Their receivers are tall and fast and shifty. One dollar they're the most productive pass offense in the conference at the end of the year.
Michigan State has somehow acquired the without-question best stable of tailbacks in the league; Iowa's Adam Robinson isn't bad but he's not the equivalent of Baker/Bell/Caper, and there's only one of him.
Indiana imploded and Michigan State's run game is pretty mediocre. We tried the credit-the-opponent bit and then all of the opponents turned out to be much worse on offense than Michigan made them look. Doing it now against your gritty moxie ginger neckbeard quarterback would be delusional. Penn State sucks and Michigan is worse. But I said Ogbu is a beast, so your pathetic insecurities can be a tiny bit less pathetic. Let's hold hands.
Now go talk about how arrogant we are as you caress each other's soft places while whispering "what if Michigan never comes back" and we discuss whether we should keep Rich Rodriguez and worry about falling into a Notre Dame-like fallow period. Tim was right to describe BSD as a place utterly incapable of recognizing irony.
Learn from the master. Not to be outdone by some twit in a hat, Nick Saban dropped the boom on two players on the eve of fall camp. One learned he'd "failed a physical" and is either going to be medially disqualified by Alabama's doctors and placed on a scammy hardship scholarship (someone should figure out how many kids have been placed on medical scholarships since Saban arrived; I'm willing to bet it's triple the rate of a sampling of representative schools) or transfer. The other was just straight up deferred because the wrong number of kids got eligible. The usual goes here.
Something unusual: it looks like we're at a turning point as far as media attention goes to this stuff. In the last week both SI's Andy Staples and CBS screedmaster Gregg Doyel have taken up the baton. If you've ever read a Doyel piece you can Mad Libs the nouns between the bombast but at least this time he's struck on something worthy of some portion of the usual outrage. The thrust of his piece is actually too kind since he focuses on exceeding the 25 player limit, which these days you can only do by three, instead of the disparity between some incoming recruiting classes and the number of scholarships available for them. Those can hit double-digits. In LSU's case, they had 27 signees and two early enrollees so they could have gotten everyone on campus if not for the 85 cap. I'll take any attention this issue gets but Doyel's got a lot of his facts wrong.
Meanwhile, Staples has been SI's main recruiting reporter for a few years now. He knows the field, and I'm not just saying that because he's on board with the idea that you shouldn't be able to sign a player unless you can show where the scholarship is coming from. A note on that—Staples says:
Yahoo!'s Matt Hinton and MGoBlog's Brian Cook, two people who have written thoughtfully on this subject in the past, had a brilliant suggestion so simple that even a heavy-handed bureaucracy should be able to bring it to fruition: Make a rule that requires schools to give an actual scholarship to every player they sign to a letter-of-intent.
Cook even suggested raising scholarship limits if necessary. I disagree. If a school has 22 slots on Feb. 2, 2011, it should sign 22 players. If three of those players don't qualify, that's the coach's fault for not recruiting more academically sound prospects. He can play the season with 82 players on scholarship and sign more next year.
I don't think I was clear enough when I suggested the same thing I always suggest. Two scenarios I think would be good for college football:
LOIs are binding both ways for one year. If you sign a player and he does not qualify or you can't fulfill the promise made, you don't get to use that scholarship the next year.
LOIs are actually binding for two years. If you lose a player like above, you can't use the scholarship for the next two recruiting classes. Since this one is more punitive I'd give schools the leeway of an extra scholarship or two.
Either one is fine by me; in scenario 1 I don't think you need more scholarships.
As this gets on the radar of more reporters, coaches across the country will have to start justifying departures from their program, and maybe in a year or two the noise will be enough to force the NCAA to take action. Coaches will caterwaul, but what are they going to do, quit?
Captains. I forewent retweeting the RR tweet announcing your 2010 permanent captains because if I had it eight times in my feed chances are everyone else had it at least twice already. For those opposed to societal ADD, the guys are Steve Schilling and Mark Moundros. Moundros is representing the defense. The official site's much less horrible video page has reactions from Schilling and Moundros on the honor; Michigan will still pick two additional game captains throughout the season.
This is undoubtedly overreacting to a tiny slice of information, but it's the day after the first fall football practice. If there's a national day of Overreacting To Tiny Slices of Information, it's today. So: guuuuh linebackers. Michigan's got a couple of fifth-year multi-year starters and they get squeezed out of the official captaincy by a walk-on who was a fullback until spring practice. This is the most circumstantial of evidence but since we have three years of direct evidence that the linebackers aren't very good, it does not make me feel awesome.
Who wants to bet that someone at a newspaper or in sports radio declares this a repudiation of Rodriguez? We should start a pool. I've got Jeff DeFran.
“We have quite a few guys in very good shape, a handful who are in OK shape and a small handful not ready to play Division I football,” he said.
Rodriguez specifically omitted freshmen from his crap list, so Richard Ash—listed at a flabby 320 on the fall roster—is not one of those guys. I'm afraid he might be making a pointed statement directed at Will Campbell, who is the biggest guy on the team at 333 (mark of the half-beast!). This would crush my dream of having a Sagesse/Campbell rotation at the nose free Mike Martin to wreak havoc as a 3-tech DT/5-tech 3-3-5 DE.
Graham is destroying. A steady stream of articles declaring Brandon Graham the next Dwight Freeney, except better, have hit the sidebar, and now here's some main column action:
"I look at him as another (Dwight) Freeney deal," said Cole, referring to the Colts' five-time Pro Bowler. "He's a great player and just keep watching because he's going to be pretty good."
Also Andy Reid dropped a quote that may lend some credence to both EEEE Barwis and a hopefully burgeoning EEEE Bruce Tall contingent:
"He's done very well with that," said Reid. "He's very strong in the lower body; he's very strong in the upper body, too. His lower body, he's got a nice anchor there and good core strength and understands how to use his hands and arms and plays with separation on the linemen."
If we see Roh and Van Bergen do this consistently this year, Tall will enter the pantheon of assistant coaches Michigan fans can't bitch about currently inhabited by Greg Frey, Calvin Magee, and maybe Rod Smith.
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.
Ever since Lou Holtz retired, it's been something of a Michigan tradition to get a small boost to the recruiting class whenever Notre Dame's coach gets the axe. When Bob Davie got the axe, Michigan picked up Jeremy Van Alstyne. When Willingham followed three years later, Michigan grabbed Brandon Harrison.
But when Charlie Weis went to the great Dunkin' Donuts in the sky, it looked like a battered Michigan program would not have the opportunity to cash in with a four-star-ish prospect. Then Notre Dame hired Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly and Jibreel Black finally took the visit Michigan coaches had been trying to get him to take for a solid year. A weekend later, he flipped his commitment from hometown Cincinnati to the Wolverines, keeping Michigan's opportunistic streak alive. (If only Notre Dame had hired a coach as clueless as their last three, but that's another show.)
The flip was actually Black's second of his recruitment. He originally committed to Indiana—where his brother Larry is a starter—last June before decommitting to sign up with the BCS-bound Bearcats in November. Along the twisting path of his recruitment he also grabbed offers from South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, NC State, Illinois, and South Florida, amongst others—a solid selection of programs outside the top tier.
Black was named to the South team in the Ohio North-South All Star game, whereupon he unleashed his inner beast upon the poor Northerners. He had three sacks, a number of additional QB hurries, and was named his team's defensive MVP after killing the North's last threat with a fourth-and-goal sack. OSU site The O-Zone on his performance:
The star of the night, however, was Jibreel Black. He was constantly in the backfield and pretty much controlled the entire second half. He’s not the biggest guy (6’2” 255) in the world, but then neither was Brandon Graham. And when pressed for what was going to happen the next time he plays in the Horseshoe as a Wolverine, Black didn’t hesitate to answer.
“I’ll be doing the same thing,” he laughed. “Pryor better watch out.”
Every bit as deserving of the honor were the South's quick and nasty defensive linemen, who worked over the North's huge counterparts in dictating the tone of the game. North quarterbacks were on the run all night, resulting in turnovers and impossible third-and-long situations.
"From watching practices I wasn't sure whether we'd be able to handle them up front," South coach Mark Crabtree of Dublin Coffman said. "Our guys on the D-line are not gigantic, but they're powerful and explosive and play with a mean streak. We were really hard to block, and we gave our offense some pretty good opportunities."
In the aftermath, a few Ohio State fans were regretting the Buckeyes lack of interest. The kicker: Black did all this playing as a three-technique defensive tackle after spending his high school career at defensive end. To get that kind of pass rush from an interior spot is doubly impressive.
Given that performance it's not a surprise that Black is often described as a DE/3-tech tweener who could play either spot in college. Scout's Dave Berk:
"Black is a player who could line up as a defensive end or at the tackle position," said Scout.com Midwest analyst Dave Berk. "He's got great burst and will give all out effort on each play. He does a good job going lateral and shows great strength and toughness. With good size and speed, Black is still learning techniques and moves that will take his game to another level."
On film, he has kind of a thick and squatty build with less-than-ideal height. He almost looks like a defensive tackle, but plays the end position well. He has a good get-off and though we would like to see a little more consistency he can get moving quickly.
This makes him doubly interesting given Michigan's increasing desire to be multiple on the defensive front. Michigan has a guy in Van Bergen with the flexibility to line up inside and out and that versatility, combined with the versatility of Mike Martin, should give Michigan the ability to flip through three or four fronts without missing much of a beat this fall. If that works out well, Black will be part of a second generation of DE/DT tweener folk whose flexibility is part of their attractiveness to the staff.
And now here's a bunch of stuff that makes you think Brandon Graham. The direct comparison from Touch The Banner:
When watching his film, he looks almost like a clone of Graham. He's short-ish and thickly built. Perhaps the best thing I see on film is the way he keeps his shoulders square to the line. Too many talented athletes in high school fire off the ball and shoot straight for the ball carrier, but college opponents will take advantage of that lack of discipline. His fundamentally sound positioning shows that not only is he coachable, but the biggest obstacle for him might be his strength and conditioning. He does play a little upright, but at only 6'2" and going up against tackles who are three to five inches taller than him, leverage shouldn't be a major issue. I'm sure Michigan's coaches will work with him on staying lower, being explosive, and using that leverage to the best of his ability, but that's not a big concern.
The indirect comparison via a guy who was basically Brandon Graham on a good defense from Black himself:
“I have good quickness and speed off the ball. I have good athletic ability too. I play kind of like (former Michigan linebacker and current Pittsburgh Steeler) Lamar Woodley - fast, strong and powerful.”
“I want to work on my moves off the ball,” he said. “And I want to get faster overall. I’m also working on my hips and flexibility.”
The things that aren't actually comparisons but just sound a hell of a lot like Brandon Graham, first from his coach:
“He was great for us, I’ll tell you that,” Barre said. “He’s extremely quick, cat-like quickness I feel like, and he’ll get after the passer. He’s physical, strong, relentless, has got one of those motors that’s always going. I think they got a great player.”
He plays with natural leverage and balance and can shed blocks. Strong enough to anchor against verses the run and explosive enough to rush the passer. Does a good job a feeling blocks and fighting pressure.
Displays the ability to stay low and is very active with his hands. He can punch, separate and shed from blocks. He is able to work laterally and stretch the play. He is tough at the point of attack. Does a good job of playing from the backside, though we would like to see him squeeze down more. He is very aware and is able to take on and strong-arm pulling linemen. As a pass-rusher, he is ready to face and defeat backs once he gets into the backfield. He has good speed and a solid closing burst. … He works to attack that outside shoulder and use his weapons to knock the blockers hands down and turn the corner.
If there was one move Brandon Graham trademarked it was blasting the OT's hands down as he and his squat frame got underneath the pads of the opposition and blew into the backfield.
"It's extremely important to have kids like that who work hard and set a good example," he said. "Some of the kids we have now who are getting looks from college programs have benefited greatly from the role model that Jibreel has been."
"I ran into the coach of that team [the South All-Star Team], Mark Crabtree, and he let me know how much he enjoyed Jibreel and what a great kid he was and what a great leader he was for their all-star team," Barre said. "As soon as he got there for practice, he took over a leadership role and was named one of the captains." …
"It's tough to compare his position to a quarterback or a cornerback like Ahmed Plummer, but he was certainly the best defensive lineman I've ever coached," Barre said.
We're about to get into this section, but: it would be preposterous to declare anyone to be the second coming of Brandon Graham after he became the bar-none best defensive lineman I've ever seen at Michigan, especially given Graham's monster recruiting profile, Black's middling-to-good version of the same, and a lack of interest from other Midwest powers. That said, Black sounds an awful lot like Graham, stem to stern, and that's something to get excited about. If he's 80% as good as Graham and goes in the second round, everyone will be delighted with the kid's career, and that seems like a distinct possibility.
Indiana assistant coach Mike Yeager, Black’s lead recruiter, told Black earlier Monday that he will make a difference at Indiana.
“I can be the Michael Vick of Indiana University,” Black said.
Why Brandon Graham? Slightly undersized strongside defensive end with outstanding character and a tendency to make quarterbacks run screaming from his frequent appearances in the backfield. Now… obviously Black is considerably short of Graham's recruiting hype and Black is not likely to be a first round pick in four years. A poor man's Brandon Graham, then, which would be fine by me.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Healthy kid but one who played at a small school, and one facing a significant split in opinion between ESPN and Rivals on one hand and Scout and the local evaluators on the other. General Excitement Level: High-ish. Here's betting the negative evaluations would be more positive if they'd been made in the aftermath of Black's all-star game performance. He battled questions about level of competition through his recruitment and while he wasn't going up against BCS kids in the N/S game he was going up against the college bound, and he answered spectacularly. Projection: Could play some this fall as Michigan will need someone to step into the rotation next year with the imminent departure of Greg Banks; could also redshirt given the two-deep at DE seems decent enough. If I had to bet I would say he plays as a backup to Van Bergen an occasional pass-rush threat in long yardage situations.