[Ed. A—Pick your poison if you’re wondering why there aren’t any MGoQuestions: is it the GI bug that has kept me up and…uh, occupied since 4 AM, or is it that my wife could go into labor at any time? I’ll be back at Schembechler Hall as soon as I can. Thanks to MGoFriend Isaiah Hole for the video.]
Do you have the deepest position?
“Well, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know, we haven’t looked at it. I think the linebackers got some good depth, some good talent. I think there’s some good young kids all over that defense that are working to make the depth that we need.
“But up front, you know we want to always have enough depth to be able to rotate, and really, that’s what the spring is for us. We want our first group to get better and come out every practice to get better, and guys behind them gotta earn the right so that you say, ‘Okay, when we get in games, this guy can go in right now. I think you’re getting that. I think you’re seeing that.”
Who’s starting to earn that right?
“Well, Kwity Paye is having a really, really good spring. Michael Dwumfour, I think, is having one of the best springs that I can remember. I mean, he’s really playing hard, and Aubrey’s [Solomon] playing hard, and Carlo, Carlo Kemp every day comes out an gets a little better, and he’s playing a couple positions. I think we’ve got a number of kids that are doing good to try and get that first group [to] feel like they’re there.”
What distinguishes Dwumfour?
“Dwumfour, it’s been he’s so quick off the football. He has a lot of Mo Hurst in him. There’s times when you see him come off the ball and you just go, ‘Whoa, that’s really good,’ and he’s a little bit thicker and a little bit bigger.
“The other thing, it’s probably Rashan [Gary] and Chase [Winovich] and Bryan Mone’s leadership that have really gotten him to step up. He’s always shown flashes, but now all of a sudden he’s getting more mature. Times when he’d play really good, really good, really good, and then all of a sudden try to take a play off or he wasn’t ready to take that next play. He’s not doing that now. He’s pushing himself way past where he usually would, and that’s a real good sign for us.”
[After THE JUMP, a 275-pound man is referred to as “little Phillip.” Football!]
SPONSOR NOTE. You've had to deal with a lot of disappointment lately. Don't let that bleed over into getting mortgage, which should be a painless process executed with a beer in hand from the comfort of your own home. A fast quote from a guy we've heard nothing but excellent things about for the duration of his sponsorship is in the offing, and once that happens you no longer have to think about anything else other than your extremely pleasant experience with Matt.
Of this I assure you.
FORMATION NOTES. Nothing that unusual from Michigan, which alternated between one and two high, with a focus on one-high, and played most of the game in their 3-3-5. Penn State was a 3-wide shotgun literally the whole game, with occasional forays into empty or four-wide with the same personnel.
And then of course what I called the Sa-Gun, because I am a clever boy.
This was a gimmick that didn't really work but sort of did?
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. A lot more rotation on the DL in this game as Michigan either got tired or looked for answers. Kwity Paye got a significant amount of time; Winovich got pulled after a late hit for a bit and then he got some second-half run. Mone had some early struggles and Dwumfour was tried out; that didn't work much better. Solomon got some scattered snaps; Kemp saw a number in Gary's place.
The CB rotation was the same; I don't think Thomas got in on D. Glasgow got at least one snap for reasons unknown; otherwise it was the starting safeties the whole way. Bush, Furbush, and McCray got all available LB snaps. Hudson was the only viper.
[After THE JUMP: a slightly different outcome than we are used to.]
SPONSOR NOTE. Man, you know who would resign if circumstances demanded it? HomeSure Lending. Except that would never happen because HomeSure Lending is good at its job and not, say, Sunil Gulati. HomeSure Lending` just gets you fast mortgage quotes from the comfort of your own home.
FORMATION NOTES. Michigan did slide more heavily towards a four man front against a manball outfit. Michigan had 27 3-3-5 snaps; they had 35 in a four-man front, almost all of which feature Mone. Those 4-X snaps were split 15/20 between 4-2-5s featuring Hudson and 4-3-4s featuring Furbush.
They also had 3 dime snaps, one in a 3-2-6 and two in a 4-1-6.
Here is a picture.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. Formation notes prove spoiler: Michigan had about 35 Mone snaps, give or take a substitution. Michigan chose to put out two of Mone, Hudson, and Furbush depending on the situation and Don Brown's whim. Mone got about 60% of the snaps; Hudson and Furbush 70%.
The rest of the defense was almost entirely static. Winovich, Hurst, Bush, McCray, Metellus, and Kinnel did not leave the field. Gary got almost all the snaps with just a few for Kemp. The cornerbacks rotated through their top three of Hill, Long, and Watson.
The defense had zero margin for error in this game and they deployed like that was the case.
[After THE JUMP: the inverse Fielding Yost: a point per drive.]
10/7/2017 – Michigan 10, Michigan State 14 – 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten
a metaphor for somethin' [Bryan Fuller]
Don Brown is in one of those Progressive commercials where everything gradually turns white, except in his case everything is gradually turning back into Boston College. Someone walks by with a bunch of hockey sticks. Bill Simmons is on the television again. He swears he overhears a conversation about pahking the cah. Maroon filters into his peripheral vision.
On Wednesday at three fifteen PM there is going to be a knock on the door. Steve Addazio is going to walk in and sit down. Brown will summon all his willpower not to jam the nearest pen through his own eyesocket, to claw the power of sight from his face and evaporate from the world of men.
Jay Harbaugh, seated, will wonder if the slight twitch under Brown's eye means anything or if it's just something that happens to men of a certain age. He will not say something about "guys being dudes," and will never know how close he—how close all of us—came to Total Mustache Annihilation. He will tell Brown about Terrace House, a Japanese version of the Real World where everyone is very nice and considerate of each other's feelings.
Thus disabused of the Addazio specter, Brown will resume destroying all that opposes him until the inevitable knife in the back. He tries not to think of Sisyphus, and fails.
Michigan's main problem on offense is that they are bad at it. This is not a good problem. "Our right tackle sucks" is something you might be able to address. "Almost everyone is not good at football right now" leads to situations like Saturday. I brought up the Law Of Large Percentages Multiplied A Lot, which is something I just made up right now, in a brief twitter conversation with a reporter who wanted people to know one weird thing about Oklahoma football:
This is the 7th straight season Oklahoma has lost a game in which it was a double-digit favorite. Seventh.
That is a weird thing, but it's not as weird as it sounds. If OU was a 10 point favorite in eight games they'd get through unscathed just 12% of the time*. If they were a 14 point favorite they get up to 27%. You have to get up to 17.5—a 93.7% shot at victory!—before Hypothetical OU even hits 50%. The Law Of Large Percentages Multiplied A Lot is that even big ones fall off faster than you'd think.
Michigan's offense has 6-7-8 guys who have to execute on any particular play for it to be a success, and... let's just say many of them are not three-score favorites to do so on any particular play. They are an example of The Law Of Large Percentages And Some Quite Small Ones Multiplied A Lot. The results can be seen in the box score, or the haunted look on the face of a man who replaced ten starters and still has the #3 defense in the country.
And so today the Must brigade is out. "Must" is the worst word in sportswriting for a lot of reasons. Foremost among them is that whatever follows "must" is something so blindingly obvious Marcelo Balboa is probably talking about a replay of it as we speak. He must catch that ball. He must YES WE KNOW I HAVE EYES, AT LEAST FOR NOW, I'M CONSIDERING A CHANGE IN THAT DEPARTMENT, THANK YOU.
I spent most of the weekend trying and failing to get this column done because I couldn't wade into any commentary on the game that wasn't furious and over the top, and immediately made me want to go do something else. Weird shit happens in college football, especially when you're playing your backup QB, and there's a brief second-half monsoon, and on top of that you turn the ball over five times. Various dirt stupid people are now flogging a "Harbaugh is 1-4 versus rivals" thing as if that encapsulates the whole of his tenure, or even his career. Yeah, Michigan had the dumb thing happen on the punt and lost by a literal inch in Columbus last year. If you're ascribing that to something other than chance I cannot help you.
Whatever Harbaugh MUST do he's probably already doing. He has a track record, and he'll either follow that up with more of the same or not. We're oddly locked in: few coaches trying to establish themselves at a new school come with the pedigree that Harbaugh does, so he'll get a ton of time and a bunch of rope and we'll see where it goes. It'll probably go really well once they aren't carrying the baggage of someone else's screwups on top of their base rate.
But I mean, go ahead and yell about how unacceptable everything is, I guess. We are dying to hear about your feelings.
#1 Mo Hurst. Hurst got to play a lot of three tech this week and went from making good plays that someone else scoops up the glory on to wrecking the interior of the opposition offense himself. The fourth down stop stands out, because Hurst may have induced the fumble from a nervous center; Hurst whooped him anyway and the play was doomed either way.
#2 Lavert Hill. Hill's three PBUs were all excellent plays, and he was in the hip pocket of whoever his assignment was for the duration. MSU had... one open receiver? Maybe two? Lewerke averaged 4.3 YPA. Hill played the largest part in that.
#3 Brad Robbins. Averaged 43 yards a punt in often-difficult conditions and mindblasted the MSU returner on the muff; gave up just ten total return yards on seven attempts.
Honorable mention: Most of the rest of the defense. And... Grant Perry, I guess?
8: Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue) 5: Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue) 3: Mason Cole (#1, Cincinnati), Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU) 2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Lavert Hill (#2 MSU) 1: Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati), Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue), Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
MSU's punt returner dorfs on a bomb by Robbins, muffing it back to the two and setting up a short field that Michigan would use to get their touchdown.
Honorable mention: The first drive was pretty all right until the back-to-back fades.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Eddie McDoom drops a pass that would have taken Michigan down to the 25 with 13 seconds left.
Honorable mention: Pick a turnover but especially the first two, as they were key in Michigan's deficit by the time the rain arrived. Lewerke scrapes out a late first down because he lands on Michigan players. Michigan gets a touchdown wiped off the board on a Higdon holding call. Most offensive plays.
There is always a tipping point when something that probably won't happen becomes something that probably will happen. Sometimes this is nice, like when the entire NFL swears up and down that Jim Harbaugh wouldn't go back to Ann Arbor for love or money. Sometimes it is not nice.
If we aren't already at the tipping point where "Wilton Speight makes a lot of critical mistakes" is a reasonable, seemingly immutable theory, surely we are approaching it.
The weird thing is the way these critical mistakes are loosed into the world. Anybody can throw several passes into defenders' facemasks. Killing your team with a blizzard of boggling interceptions is almost common in college football, where injuries and the vagaries of rostering regularly see peach-fuzzed high schoolers thrown into a tank of piranhas. Sometimes people transfer from Tulane and are expected to stop throwing interceptions, for reasons unknown. Also apparently the NFL has this issue. Twitter informs me Scott Tolzien—yes, that guy—started a game this weekend. Twitter hastens to note that things did not go well. The hopelessly overmatched panic machine quarterback is so common it's a football trope.
Speight, on the other hand, has an air of cool control up until the moment he wings a pass so high that Donovan Peoples-Jones correctly decides his best bet is to spike it, or he turns around to hand air to his running back, or he does that again for the second time in one dang game. He does not seem overwhelmed. He hasn't thrown into coverage except on rare, understandable occasions*. He's yelling at his peach-fuzzed skill player crew about where to line up regularly. He makes a bunch of checks at the line. He is a man in command.
The very bad events are adding up. Everyone misses guys or makes bad reads or eats a sack on occasion. Speight's bad has been explosively bad, and maximally punished. Thus this column, which is lot like 2015's Jake Rudock is going to kill us column.
Rudock, of course, did not kill Michigan. He turned into a fine college player and Matt Stafford caddy, and even now it's not too hard to see Speight getting it together. His issues are fairly simple to correct; they jumped out at me, a layman, on a re-watch and Speight confirmed it in the postgame press conference:
“What it comes down to is, when there's something going on in my face – when I avoid the pressure – I've got to keep my base. Coach Pep is big on keeping my base. Staying loaded. And sometimes when I move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet and it causes the ball to sail or go a little low."
Speight was leaning back a bunch in this game and the resulting throws were high. Nick Baumgardner with a preview of what UFR is going to say:
Also he's dorfing handoffs because he's not listening to Harbaugh. Two seemingly simple fixes yet to make it to the field in year four. This cuts both ways: if Speight can fix his lingering issues Michigan has that commanding guy when he throws straight and does not fumble exchanges, and that seems pretty good.
deep shot hit rate: muchly [Bryan Fuller]
There are very good reasons that Speight is keeping his competition stapled to the bench, and it's that upside. Nobody else on the roster is going to walk on the field and know where everyone else has to be, a critical skill given the average age of Michigan's offense. Nobody else is going to have all the checks in his head, or the pocket presence.
The things Wilton Speight needs to fix are fixable in a timespan of weeks. John O'Korn and Brandon Peters do not have flaws (presence and youth, respectively) nearly as tractable, and so Michigan is going to ride with Speight and hope like hell these blips are just that, and not a pattern that will clobber a promising season like it did in Iowa City last year.
Until further notice, all dropbacks will be evaluated with a jaundiced eye and glance towards Columbus. Welcome to the John Navarre zone.
*[In this game he tried a deep shot to a bracketed Peoples-Jones because there were only two guys in the route and both were covered and what else was he going to do, which is fine.]
Inside Michigan Football:
mobile man mauls Mouhon [Fuller]
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Mason Cole. This is a bit of a guess but OL never get the proper amount of respect in this section because I haven't gone over things with a fine-toothed comb yet. Cole helped Michigan bust a lot of crack sweeps, and while Isaac got the yardage on the long one it was Cole's ability to ID the force defender, declare him harmless, and go wreck a safety that sprung the play. He gave up nothing in pass protection, as well.
#2(t) Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, and Tyree Kinnel. Michigan's bushel of short fast dudes on defense terrorized the Cincinnati backfield, collecting all of Michigan's sacks on the day. Each also had their moments in the ground game as well; Kinnel in particular had a couple of critical tackles. Oh, and a pick six. (That was a bit of a gift, yes.) I'm rounding up and giving each gent a point. The points are made up and don't matter, people!
#3 Ty Isaac. Isaac was Michigan's best back again, slaloming through waves of opponent players. He alternated bounces with interior runs that kept UC off guard and used his size and speed combination to excellent effect.
Honorable mention: Winovich, Hurst, and Gary were all effective in bursts. Brandon Watson was in the back pocket of many a wide receiver. Grant Perry was efficient, explosive, and dangit that third down was a catch. Zach Gentry had a couple of key receptions.
Honorable mention: This week the good section gets to talk about Pick Six #1 and Pick Six #2. You will like them better here, I imagine. Also: Ty Isaac rips a long one off down the sideline, Speight hits Kekoa Crawford with a bomb; Rashan Gary hulks up after nearly getting ejected and gets the crowd hyped.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Speight's second dorfed exchange ends a promising drive for Michigan and causes even the aggressively reasonable to think this guy has a long term issue.
Honorable mention: Cincinnati rips off a long touchdown drive to start the third quarter and create a period of squeaky bum time; Donovan Peoples-Jones turns out to be Not Jabrill Peppers on punt returns; various Speight overthrows; that one play where both guards pulled in opposite directions.
Here too the departures don't really start to bite until you dig down into backup snaps. Mo Hurst was the best interior DL on the team last year and one of the best in the nation despite being a very nominal backup; Bryan Mone was productive late and as a fourth-year player with plenty of recruiting and post-recruiting hype he projects as an above-average starter.
Backup snaps do happen, especially when your starting nose is a mountain, and those are all going to freshmen. The right kind of freshmen, at least.
NOSE TACKLE: TONGAAAAAAAAA
Now is the time for BRYAN MONE [recruiting profile]after two injury-hampered years. He missed the entirety of 2015 and went down in the opener last year. While he did return, he saw scanty snaps behind ironman Ryan Glasgow. When he did get in his play was indifferent for much of the season.
This was quite a comedown. Mone was famously—or infamously, depending on how this year goes—named one of Michigan's best three players at the dawn of Harbaugh's first season by the man himself:
"He was one of our top players last year. We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."
That's a great googly moogly right there. At the time it would have been totally rad if Mone was one of Michigan's three best defensive linemen, let alone players. Mone was so hyped up that last year's edition of this post had a fusty paragraph about how you should stop bothering the author when he projects Ryan Freakin' Glasgow as the starting NT.
One thing is for certain: Mone is a tank. Here's the starting DL:
Gary says he's 288, and Hurst is probably pushing 300. Mone has 30 pounds on those guys—maybe more. That could be good; it could be bad. It's probably fine. Last year he told Scout that he was 330 when he was hewed down the first time, i.e. at maximum hype volume. He can play at that weight. He probably can't play as much as Glasgow, though, and given Michigan's depth that's a little concerning. Michigan's saving grace may be the fact that if an opponent wants to test Mone's endurance first they'll have to stay on the field.
As befits a tank, when Mone got on the field he did one thing consistently: clobber single blocking backwards. He did it early, against Hawaii, midway through, against Rutgers, and late, against Ohio State. He personally kicked OSU off the field on a second-quarter drive, first shedding a block from freshman Michael Jordan to set up a third and short:
And then whoopin' Isaiah Prince to force a punt:
He returned to the bench soon after that because Glasgow was still around; he'd made his point. A healthy Bryan Mone is going to pick up opposing offensive linemen and dump them in someone's lap.
With the talent around him Mone's main job is to demand double teams. Early returns are positive there, obviously. Mone demonstrated his clobbering last last year and when Michigan provided a glimpse into this year's version of the Oklahoma drill he did it again:
he's battling Cesar Ruiz FWIW
Yeah, the running back went around the carnage; Greg Mattison doesn't care one bit about that, as his reaction to Mone's bulldozer approach demonstrates. If Mone deposits an interior OL yards in the backfield the linebackers will clean up for him.
He's not Glasgow. He's not going to be much of a pass rusher—he pretty much does the same bull rush thing no matter what—and he's not going to force the QB to pitch on speed option. That doesn't mean he can't be effective in his own way. Mone is in fact perfect for this DL, which is stacked with one-gap pass rush terrors already and could use a beef machine.
Mone needs to draw and then stand up to doubles; his ability to do so is still somewhat in question. Mone got blown out some last year. Sometimes he was not:
Mone is the player just below the box, not the player in the box
How much the injury was responsible for that, and how much Michigan can expect him to improve at full health, is unknown. FWIW Webb asserted Mone was "never 100% last year and it showed."
Fall chatter has been positive, thought not incessant. Webb:
Bryan Mone is looking like the pre-injury Mone… He not just a space eater. Right now he is making plays.
"I've just seen a lot of really great things out of Bryan Mone. I've seen power, I've seen quickness, and I've seen speed. I think I have seen what Michigan fans had hoped to see for a couple of years now."
Hurst told the media that Mone is "by far one of the best nose tackles I've seen play" at Michigan. He's been locked in as a starter just like everyone else, and radio silence there is just fine.
Mone certainly has the attitude necessary. When they asked him where he was playing a year ago he answered enthusiastically:
"Strictly nose, baby! I enjoy playing nose. It's the gutter! You've got to play like you're in the gutter. Really me and Glasgow started that. We call each other 'the gutter boys.' That's our motto: play like we're in the gutter."
The injuries are the only thing that's holding up the hype train here. Mone did play well late in the season against some high-end teams; he's got plenty of time in the program and the recruiting hype to expect a high ceiling. If he's not at least decent it'll be a major upset. He'll probably be better than that. He's not going to get any of the glory except in the nitty gritty numbers from PFF and this here site because everyone else will be racking up TFLs; he should be one of the better nose tackles in the Big Ten.
[After the JUMP: Mostly freshmen; also one 300-pound jetpack person.]
Draftageddon 2017: Annual Linemen of the Plains Edition
This is Part III. We are drafting Big Ten players to give you an overview of the guys and dudes around the conference. You come out of it with a four-deep preseason All-Big Ten. We come out of it with very strong opinions on Rutgers linemen.
Ohio State (9 players): DE Nick Bosa (3rd, Seth), QB JT Barrett (6th, Seth), DE Tyquan Lewis (8th, BiSB), CB Denzel Ward (11th, Seth), DT Dre’Mont Jones (13th, Ace), OC Billy Price (17th, BiSB), DE Sam Hubbard (20th, Ace), LB Jerome Baker (21st, Ace), OT Jamarco Jones (28th, Ace)
Michigan (5 players): DT Maurice Hurst (2nd, Brian), DE Rashan Gary (5th, Ace), QB Wilton Speight (a reluctant 7th, Brian), QB Brandon Peters (an obligatory 16th, BiSB), OT Mason Cole (26th, Brian)
Penn State (3 players): RB Saquon Barkley (1st, BiSB), QB Trace McSorley (4th, Ace), “TE” Mike Gesicki (25th, BiSB)
Off: QB Trace McSorley (PSU), WR Simmie Cobbs (IU), OT Jamarco Jones (OSU) Def: DE Rashan Gary (M), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), DT Dre’Mont Jones (OSU), LB Jerome Baker (OSU), S Marcus Allen (PSU)
Allen is projected 15th overall in the 2018 draft by B/R’s Matt Miller, who lists him as the most NFL-ready safety in the class, the best strong safety, and the best run-stopper (Igwebuike is fifth and listed as the biggest question-mark). He would’ve been drafted last year. While he doesn’t quite have the range of a Cover 1 free safety, he checks all the other boxes:
Allen may be strictly focused on the Rose Bowl at the moment, but after turning in his best collegiate season as a junior in 2016, it’s become a realistic option to forego his senior season as a Nittany Lion. The 6-2, 202-pound safety recorded 101 tackles, three passes defended, and a forced fumble through 13 games this season. Allen has decent size and great instincts, but may lack top-end speed which should place him as a day three selection.
Mattison seems very confident that his starting four is Gary, Hurst, Mone, and Winovich. They’re working to find the group behind them that will earn the right to rotate
Carlo Kemp and Donovan Jeter were mentioned as young guys who’ve been very impressive this spring
The guys competing at the tackle positions are Lawrence Marshall, Ron Johnson, Carl Myers, and Michael Dwumfour
Dwumfour is being held out of contact drills but is participating in non-contact portions of practice
Winovich has gotten much stronger and is now capable of being an every-down player.
“Here we go. That’s four hours out there; my knees feel really good. I feel great.”
Do you do conditioning for this?
“It’s conditioning every day we’re out there for me. But it’s going good. It’s going good.”
What do you like about the depth of your guys? Obviously not as many proven guys.
“Yeah, and that’s something we really are working on and the depth’s gonna be a real key because, as you know, we have a real belief in rotating guys. That was a big positive for us last year and really that’s why the first unit we’re very optimistic about because they played so much last year. Now we’ve got to develop another group to be able to come behind that new first group. They’re working very hard, but that’s gonna be a big key for us.”
What have you noticed out Rashan mentality-wise and intelligence-wise?
“Rashan comes out every day like he’s a senior, and he’s done that throughout the winter conditioning. You know, he came out and came off this last season and I really think it had a lot to do with Taco and Chris Wormley [and] the way they mentored him, and they set a great example for what you have to do to be successful.
“Rashan is a tremendously talented young man. He’s got great character, and he just stepped forward from the start of conditioning to right into spring practice. Every day he comes out and tries to lead by example. You would never be able to tell that the young man is going into his sophomore year. He’s having a real good spring.”
He said that he was looking forward to nitpicking himself a little bit more. He said he was hitting the film a lot harder. What have you noticed about him in that aspect?
“No question, he has. That’s why I say he acts almost like he’s a senior. A lot of times when you’re a sophomore coming off a good season as a freshman you’re kind of ‘Okay, I got it, I got it’ but he’s really critical of himself. He listens to every coaching point. I mean, when that happens, you’ve got a special, special young man.
“And he leads the other guys by that. They see him doing some really, really athletic things on the field and watch him do it and all of a sudden that’s like somebody saying this is how you do it. He’s been a very good example for everybody.”
[After THE JUMP: Kemp hype! Winovich hype! Mone hype! Carl Myers hype!]
CB Jourdan Lewis. Two-time All-American has case for second-best cover corner in school history. Various excellent stats, none better than this: over his last two years throwing it in the dirt and throwing at Jourdan Lewis were equally productive in terms of QB rating.
DE Taco Charlton. Rampant in the second half of the season against both run and pass and destined for the first round of the draft. Charlton was the rare WDE to play at 280 pounds and gave Michigan's run defense oomph it will miss even if his replacement keeps up the pass rush productivity.
SAM Jabrill Peppers. Massively overrated nonentity will be mysteriously drafted in first round this April and have decade-long NFL career. Absence in bowl game went completely unnoticed and did not pave the way for almost all of Dalvin Cook's yards.
NT Ryan Glasgow. Robot Viking finally started getting appropriately rated as a senior, when he was again an excellent penetrator and disruptor of all things run and pass.
SDE Chris Wormley. TE obliterator and utterly steady; maybe a hair less than explosive. Pass rush not a huge strength, but that went unnoticed since everyone else was picking QB out of their teeth. Elite run defender capable of playing inside or out.
CB Channing Stribling. Outstanding year in coverage; if he was any easier to hit with a completion than Lewis it was a narrow thing indeed. Run support an Area For Improvement, as they say. Should still go early in the NFL draft, as he's a legit 6-foot.
Safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Close to interchangeable, so addressed together: capable of deep zones and slot coverage, these two kept Jabrill Peppers out of coverage almost all year. Tremendous luxury to be able to do that and flip 'em on motion. Thomas did bust a few times for big plays (most prominently against UCF and FSU), but as safety tandems go this might be tops in recent Michigan history.
ILB Ben Gedeon. Sideline to sideline ILB who couldn't carry wheel routes downfield. Consistent tackler who showed up in the right spot almost every time; took on blocks with aplomb and shed them with authority. Lack of playing time early in career got more inexplicable every game.
DT Matt Godin. Played well enough early in the season, when Hurst was laid up with a minor injury, to maintain that status for the duration. Was solid in his role; provided little pass rush but effective run defender. Least productive rotation DL by some distance but still meaningfully positive per PFF.
get in his belly [Fuller]
DT Maurice Hurst. Technically not a starter but whatever man. Per PFF, the most productive interior pass rusher in the nation. Huge grades to both them and this sites UFR; with serious uptick in snaps should have breakout senior year and contend for AA status.
ILB Mike McCray. Resurrected career after long-term injury threatened it and was about 80% revelation. Superior blitzer, tough customer on the inside. Struggled to contain edge runs for much of the year; late improvement in that department.
CB Jeremy Clark. Injured in game four and Michigan will try to get a sixth year for him. If that comes through Clark is a bolt of experience in a secondary that will otherwise have almost none. Lost his starting job to Stribling but started anyway since Lewis was out for the first three games; has a year of solid starts under his belt and should be a draftable guy.
DE Rashan Gary. Snaps limited by guys in front of him; impressive and productive when he did get on the field. Physical potential limitless, and should take The Leap as a sophomore.
DE Chase Winovich. Crazy productive pass rusher who'd show up for a handful of snaps in big-time games and come away with a sack anyway. Per PFF had 27 pressure events in 277 snaps, which is almost precisely the same rate at which Charlton racked them up. Run D occasionally wobbly. Potential breakout player.
DT Bryan Mone. Second straight injury-plagued year. As a result barely got over the 100-snap threshold that we're using to distinguish "new" from "what's left." Struggled when he did get snaps much of the year, hopefully because he was not 100%. Flashed ability against OSU.
FS Tyree Kinnel. Promising safety candidate was dimeback for much of the year and did well in that role. Had a couple of Kovacsian TFLs where he'd fly up from outside the picture to kill a guy dead. Coverage, which was reputed to be a strength when he was a recruit, didn't get tested.
CB Brandon Watson. Nickel corner was beat with some regularity when tested. Doesn't seem to have much upside.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
dread level: rising [Patrick Barron]
Everything! Almost everything, anyway. The DL has some guys who have established a certain level of performance, to the point where only one of them is even sort of "new," that a redshirt junior who would be old except for terrible injury luck.
Dudes flanking McCray. Devin Bush figures to draw into the starting lineup next to McCray since he was the clear #3 ILB last year. That should push the bulkier McCray to MLB and give Bush WLB. Hopefully that would allow McCray to focus more on getting vertical instead of lateral. Bush is very much a spread ILB.
Meanwhile at SAM/Viper(!!!), many different things could happen. Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow got Don Brown praise for their work at Viper(!!!) during bowl practices; Noah Furbush is a more traditional LB option at the spot; Khaleke Hudson still seems like a perfect fit as an emphatically box safety; if Michigan can get Willie Gay, recruiting types report that he is an instant impact player.
Either all of the secondary or all but one guy in the secondary. Michigan has a ton of cornerback talent pushing through at a spot where you can get by decently on athleticism. Safety has guys with scattered snaps a year ago and really needs a couple of players to come through.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977
omar comin' [Fuller]
Still the defensive line. Michigan graduates all four starters but this is very much a reload situation, not a rebuild. Michigan figures to start:
Maurice Hurst, who produced just as much as last year's top starters in 60-70% of their snaps. He is going to be elite.
Rashan Gary, who was +13 in about 300 snaps as a true freshman and is a holy lock to be real good as the #1 recruit in the country.
Chase Winovich, who would be coming off a double-digit sack season if he had as many snaps as Charlton, in his first year as a WDE.
Bryan Mone, who had a series of injury struggles the last two years but flashed his ability on a critical third and short stop against the Buckeyes.
Those guys are very much in contention for the best line in the conference.
Probably cornerback? If Michigan gets Clark back that's a veteran who will be of interest to the NFL as a Sherman-type jumbo CB; I thought he was a B+ guy in 2015 and should get better if allowed to return. Surely Michigan can find Lewis 2.0 from the pile of recruits in shiny wrapping paper they've accumulated.
Don Dang Brown. Brown lived up to the hype and then some. Michigan LBs totaled 43 TFLs as he solved problems with aggression; Michigan is at or near the top of any defensive metric you care to look at. While the copious talent had a lot to do with that, those guys were around last year and Brown still just about halved S&P+'s expected points allowed metric from 13.7 to 7.7.
While there's going to be some regression, Brown's defenses tend to take a year before kicking in to high gear. Increased familiarity with the system should help mitigate the personnel losses.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017
Is Kemp ready to play? Is anyone? [Fuller]
Defensive line depth. Seven different guys saw 250+ snaps last year, with Bryan Mone getting 117 of his own. Four of those guys are gone. There is a shortage of gentlemen ready to step in. This site constantly says that nose tackle is a spot with two starters. Starter #2 at NT is...?
DE is probably fine. Between Reuben Jones, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall, and Ron Johnson Michigan can find a couple guys to spell the starters. The only DT on the roster other than the projected starters is Mike Dwumfour, a middling three star coming off an injury redshirt. Michigan's bringing in a ton of DT types in this recruiting class but even if they get a top guy like Jay Tufele or Aubrey Solomon, relying on a true freshman in the two deep is alarming. Michigan might have no choice but to move Gary to DT.
Going from Peppers to Not Peppers. The silver lining of his absence almost certainly costing Michigan the Orange Bowl is that I don't have to spend much time explaining why Peppers's departure will be costly. Yes, he tended to go on a ride when he got blocked. Michigan was delighted to take that tradeoff if it meant that you could not outrun Michigan's front seven with Usain Bolt.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
Safety. You know, I'm almost sanguine about safety these days. After a solid decade of safeties topping out at "eh, he hasn't set his head on fire" and frequently dipping into "welp, he set his head on fire again," Michigan's on a run of guys who are actual positives. It is at this moment that we must have maximum vigilance, for this is when Angry Michigan Safety Hating God loves to strike.
Michigan clearly likes Kinnel. Unfortunately they have few alternatives; it looks like both Hudson and Metellus are tracking towards hits, but are both of those guys box safeties who you don't want to see in deep coverage? I dunno. Mental issues for a couple of true sophomores could pop up as well.
Outside linebackering. Bush will probably be at least all right and could verge on good by the end of the season. SAM/Viper(!!!) could see just about any level of performance and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
What looks like another excellent starting DL and cornerbacks that should pick up the departed's mantle without too much trouble is a good baseline to work from. And while the unit is going to be young—just three seniors are currently projected in the starting lineup—it isn't going to be troublingly so. The only spots at which freshmen are likely to contend are backup DT and maybe somewhere in the secondary.
So while they aren't going to be this year's outfit, which was neck and neck with Alabama for the nation's best, neither are they going to drop off to average. Unfortunately, this is not a fully Harbaugh-ized program so there are some sore spots at which one injury could radically reshape the outlook—someone please wrap the DL starters in cotton until fall—so I reserve the right to repeal the prediction if the wrong guy goes down, but this should be a top 15 S&P+ defense and top 20-ish in YPP and the like.