Midseason Re-Eval: Defensive Line

Midseason Re-Eval: Defensive Line

Submitted by Brian on October 28th, 2010 at 2:21 PM

Previously: Secondary, Linebackers.

Preseason

mike-martin-enormous-bicep ryan-van-bergen-msu-sack

This was the one beacon of hope on the defense, provided mostly 4s. The preview was extremely high on one Mike Martin:

… it's time for Martin to make the same leap Brandon Graham did between his junior and senior years. I can't offer anything more powerful than this wonderfully ungrammatical assessment from Jibreel Black:

You look at the rest of this defensive line and there’s a lot of talent there, but is there anyone in particular that you look at and say, ‘wow man this dude is better than I thought he was? ‘

“Not necessarily better than I thought he was, because I know all of them are good, but when I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”

I hope to be like dang for large sections of the season. … I'm not sure if Martin will be on All Big Ten teams after the year, especially at a position at which statistics don't always tell the tale, but I'm confident in asserting he should be on them.

The preview misidentified the Banks/Sagesse combination as the other defensive tackle when it's primarily been Banks on the field and he's always a defensive end when Michigan goes to its four man front. The two were regarded as meh interchangeable pieces on par with Rondell Biggs, the Other Guy on Michigan's ridiculous '06 line. In sum:

Michigan's formations will go some way to determining which player gets more time. In three-man lines Sagesse is clearly going to be a pass-rush liability as a defensive end, but when Michigan goes to four (or brings in the "double eagle" package with the DEs lined up over the opposition guards) Sagesse's got more heft. I wouldn't be surprised to see both lifted for Jibreel Black or maybe Craig Roh on passing downs.

Take your pick of adjectives: workmanlike, yeoman, gritty, etc. Expect something okay here; the upside is low, but so is the downside.

Backups were not encouraging: "Everyone is worried" about Will Campbell's ability to stick after getting lit up in limited time as a freshman and falling behind Adam Patterson on the depth chart. Patterson was not projected to be good:

He'll play; I don't think he'll be much good. The dropoff after Martin will be similar to that Michigan experienced when Graham came off the field, though less severe since Martin won't be Graham and the backup is at least a senior.

Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh were treated as defensive ends, something that's been true for them about 50% of the time. When Michigan goes to a four-man line Roh is the weakside DE; he's a linebacker otherwise. When they're in a three man line Van Bergen is the strongside DE; he's still a three-tech DT otherwise. RVB in a nutshell:

Van Bergen knows the position [DE], was recruited to play it, and is entering his fourth year on campus with a season as a solid starter under his belt. Least useful phrase ever: he's not going to be Brandon Graham. Mitigating phrase: but he should be solid. At a spot more amenable to pass rush and with more experience, RVB should brush up against double-digit sacks and see his UFRs climb into the consistently good realm inhabited by, say, Tim Jamison as a senior.

Roh was given a 3 as the deathbacker and dubbed "the Denard Robinson of the defense," which was true last year but cannot be true this year since Roh hasn't decapitated three opponents.

The catch in the Craig Roh explosion is this niggling move to the 3-3-5, where he's a strongside linebacker. …No one's sure how much Michigan will be running a three man line this fall but it will be some, which will give Roh the ability to attack from surprising angles and use his vertical speed to get into the backfield. It will also expose him to play action, counters, and other plays he's not used to dealing with much that can take advantage of the inability to change direction that had everyone projecting him as a defensive end despite being linebacker size. Now, you could just say he'll blitz all the time but that would get predictable; it would also impinge on Jonas Mouton's ability to do the same thing, and Mouton's a guy who has the exact same strengths Roh does. They'll have to split the fun bits where they tear into the backfield.

All this makes it difficult to project what Roh will do this season. A guess: doubling his 7.5 TFLs and significantly adding to his two sacks is a good bet. I don't think he'll be a crazy star just yet, but I expect to be saying the same things about him next year that I'm saying about Mike Martin this year.

Fast forward to NOW!

I be like dang about Mike Martin. Fears about turning him into a mediocre nose tackle proved unfounded. The move to the 3-3-5 has actually freed him up to slant past offensive linemen and splatter running plays or unleash thumping pass rush up the middle. Despite essentially missing the Iowa game he's amongst the team leaders in TFLs with 5.5 and has 2.5 sacks. He's got 23 tackles, as well, an impressive 16 of those solos. He went into beast mode against Notre Dame, racking up an 11.5 and proving himself too quick for one guy to do anything with:

He followed that up with an +8.5 in his toughest matchup to date against Michigan State:

At the end of that game he got hit with a cheap block and sprained an ankle that saw him play like a ghost of himself in the Iowa game. He eventually missed the second half.

Van Bergen has also checked in around expectations. He wouldn't look out of place on Michigan defensive lines of yore when the defense was actually good. He's not making a ton of tackles (just twelve) but has two sacks and four of Michigan's eleven QB hurries on the season. He's been hovering around the +4/+5 area that's a decent to good day for a 4-3 DE, and since he's not a 4-3 DE those numbers point towards an above-average player. He was even an impact player against MSU with a drive-killing sack and solid play against the run. He tied Martin's numbers on the day.

The Banks/Sagesse combination has disappointed. Sagesse hardly sees the field. Moving him to the outside when he seemed like a functional DT last year is and was a strange move. It's hard to imagine he'd be less effective than Patterson, and with Michigan moving towards four-man lines against pro style offenses he could have reprised his role from last year as an okay backup to Martin. Though Banks leads the team in sacks that's because Ricky Stanzi inexplicably ran out of bounds, Indiana busted a protection, and one of the nonconference snackycakes was a nonconference snackycakes. He delivers no pass rush and often finds himself single-blocked effectively. Michigan's been trying to get freshman Jibreel Black more playing time in response; they're finding it hard to keep him on the field because right now he's horrendous against the run.

Finally, Craig Roh has not made the hoped for leap in production. This is largely not his fault. He's not a linebacker, he's a weakside defensive end, and when you put him in space he makes a lot of bad zone drops and is often beaten in one-on-one situations by far more agile receivers. He's okay in man coverage against a tight end, but he's hovering around 250 pounds—he is the wrong kind of mismatch against a WR.

Michigan put his hand on the ground against Notre Dame to good effect…

…until Brandon Herron went out with injury and Michigan felt forced to put him at linebacker. Roh had a +11 on the day; Herron hasn't seen the field since and Roh's been stuck at LB in Michigan's 3-3-5. As a result, he ended up solidly negative against Indiana. The pro-style attacks of MSU and Iowa saw him put his hand on the ground 70-80% of the time; Roh ended up in the +4/+5 RVB zone after both games.

Fast forward to LATER!

craig-roh-umass

At this point it's obvious that Will Campbell is not going to have an impact on the defense this year, so things are settled and relatively static at three positions.

Martin's ankle is 90% of the variance in future performances from the Michigan defensive line. Since he was healthy enough to at least try against Iowa and has had a bye week the assumption/hope is that he's shaken it off and can resume his backfield-terrorizing ways. He should continue to perform at an all conference level; his numbers will probably come up short because no one can cover long enough for Michigan to get sacks.

Roh and Van Bergen are a level of play down from Martin; at this point in their careers they're both good Big Ten players but not stars. Roh should be improving more quickly than anyone else on the line because of his relative youth. Hopefully by the end of the year he can make more impact in the pass rush and Michigan can reliably get pressure with four.

The strongside DE spot currently manned by Banks could see a late switch as Michigan coaches keep trying to get Black playing time. Unfortunately, he's an obvious liability in the run game and opponents will have scouted this by now. They've already installed a run/pass platoon there, so all that's left is to throw Black in the game and hope.

Prediction accuracy to date: Complicated by the error when it comes to positions. RVB is about a 4, as is the combination of Martin and Banks. Roh is about a 3. If I'm ranking them by actual position the strongside DE is a weak 2, the DTs a 5, and Roh still a 3.
Level of play relative to prediction: About right; main error was being too optimistic about the Banks/Sagesse combo.
Expected level of play for remainder of season: No change unless Michigan manages to get Herron back and decides to roll with Roh as a 3-3-5 DE, something that will only be relevant against Purdue and maybe Illinois.

Preview 2010: Defensive Line

Preview 2010: Defensive Line

Submitted by Brian on August 31st, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Previously: The story, the secondary, and the linebackers.

Note: the confusion about if Michigan is actually running a 3-3-5 this fall or if it's more of the 4-3 with deathbacker hybrid, or if it's "multiple" or whatever leaves the previewer at a loss when attempting to slot players into familiar roles. I've decided to take Greg Robinson and Rich Rodriguez at their word and will treat Craig Roh like a defensive lineman who frequently fakes playing linebacker and occasionally (or more than occassionally) does. This may be off.

Defensive Line

Rating: 4.

Depth Chart
Deathbacker Yr. NT Yr. DT Yr. SDE Yr.
Craig Roh So. Mike Martin Jr. Greg Banks Sr.* Ryan Van Bergen Jr.*
Brandon Herron Jr.* Will Campbell So. Renaldo Sagesse Sr.* Jibreel Black Fr.
JB Fitzgerald Jr.* Richard Ash Fr. Terry Talbott Fr. Anthony LaLota Fr.*
 
The absence of Brandon Graham is immensely depressing but if you survey the above you'll see interesting things: seniors! Returning starters! Backups! A curious lack of walk-ons! Players with good recruiting rankings and promising careers to date! I totally went with the most depressing parts of the team first! Put away the gun!

Defensive Tackle

Rating: 4

(caption) Wisconsin center Gabe Carimi knocks heads with Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin across the line of scrimmage in the second half.  ***  For the fourth week in a row, Michigan's defense gave up too many points in the second half, as the Wisconsin Badgers rolled to a 45-24 victory over the Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison Wisconsin. The loss, Michigan's sixth straight in the Big Ten, drops the Wolverines to 5-6 overall, after starting the season 4-0.  Photos taken on Saturday, November 14, 2009.   ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

MIKE MARTIN

GET IN THE CAR
sacks authoritatively
splits a double team
blows past the down-block attempt
zips around the center
SLASHING PAST OL
forces bounce
deep into the backfield
wholesale destruction
darts past attempted down-block
does attack on this one
DRIVING BACK
drives blockers backwards
drives the opposing center back
SEALED OFF
scooped

Martin blew up against Wisconsin, not that it ended up mattering.

Mike Martin was a promising freshman backup and promising sophomore starter. Now entering his true junior season, it's time for Martin to shed the promise and become the beast he has to be if Michigan's defense is going to tread water this season. With a position switch starter behind him at linebacker and Brandon Graham elsewhere, he goes from sidekick to superhero.

As you can see at right, Mike Martin is at his best using his agility and strength to zip past opposing offensive linemen and do mean things to ballcarriers in the backfield. The clips have a distinct lack of Watson-esque offensive lineman crushing; similarly, much of Martin's high school highlight video features him zipping around, not through overmatched kids. Though he can fight through opposition blockers from time to time and doesn't get blown back often, deploying him as a one-technique nose tackle exposes him to a ton of double teams—most of the highlights above feature him splitting two guys trying to zone him—and limits what he's able to accomplish. A switch to more of a 3-3-5, if that actually happens, will either mitigate this or provide outside linebackers windows to exploit; Martin's iron grip on the NT job is an indication that could be the plan. (More scheme discussion will take place later in the week.)

A quick survey of his UFR results from last year shows a guy who doesn't often end up in the minus column but also doesn't consistently produce like the star he has to be if Michigan's defensive line is going to maintain their productivity of a year ago:

UFR '09: Mike Martin
Opponent + - T Notes
WMU 5.5 1 4.5 Two great pass rush moves on the interior are most of those points.
Notre Dame 2.5 - 2.5 Decent tracking down the run but zero pass rush.
EMU 7 1.5 5.5 Much better job getting off blocks this week and more active; this is probably because of the competition. Still, he's promising. Probably needs another year before he's truly an anchor.
Indiana 4.5 - 4.5 Indiana could not move him.
Michigan State 7 5.5 1.5 Mental issues on the Cousins run and the final Caper run.
Iowa 9 4.5 4.5 Demonstrated great agility several times and had a couple good pass rush moves but got crushed off the ball four times, too.
Penn State 2.5 2.5 0 Off day.
Illinois 7 1 6 No frontside creases all day; too bad about the linebackers.
Purdue 4.5 0.5 4 Relatively quiet; not getting much pass rush this year.
Wisconsin 12.5 2 10.5 Huge day, especially early.

This, and the brief snippets of talent from Martin's freshman year when he was a backup to Will Johnson (after he snuffed out Wisconsin's second two-point attempt in 2008 I said he was "already kind of great" as a pass rusher), has seen this blog suggest/push/plead for Martin to slide to the three-tech spot made famous by Warren Sapp and occupied by backfield inhabitants Ryan Van Bergen and Alan Branch recently. In his third year in a college program, Martin has the potential to put up serious numbers if he can find himself one-on-one with sluggish guards. This requires a move away from the nose. It's also not going to happen, so you can put away your fancy dreams about Martin going all Babineaux on the Big Ten and dropping 28 TFLs.

Even so, it's time for Martin to make the same leap Brandon Graham did between his junior and senior years. I can't offer anything more powerful than this wonderfully ungrammatical assessment from Jibreel Black:

You look at the rest of this defensive line and there’s a lot of talent there, but is there anyone in particular that you look at and say, ‘wow man this dude is better than I thought he was? ‘

“Not necessarily better than I thought he was, because I know all of them are good, but when I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”

I hope to be like dang for large sections of the season.

Martin's reached the point where he's being held out of hitting because he's Mike Martin…

“Defensively, Mike Martin has had a tremendous camp. We limited him yesterday because we know what he can. He has been really good and probably our most consistent defensive player since camp started.”

…he's in good enough shape to crush the rest of his position group when Michigan does post-practice runs, he's an upperclassman with a year of starting experience under his belt… now is the time. I'm not sure if Martin will be on All Big Ten teams after the year, especially at a position at which statistics don't always tell the tale, but I'm confident in asserting he should be on them.

(caption) Michigan defensive tackle Greg Banks (92) clobbers Eastern Michigan running back Dominique Sherrer after a one-yard gain in the fourth quarter. *** Michigan defeated Eastern Michigan 45-17 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, rushing for 380 yards, but passing for just 68 yards. Photos taken on Saturday, September 19, 2009. ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )



renaldo-sagesse

Banks left; Sagesse right

GREG BANKS

OCCASIONAL NOTABILITY
burst past blockers
knifed through the line
cuts under his blocker

The other tackle spot will be manned by the two seniors. Michigan lists Greg Banks first on its UConn depth chart but moved 289-pound Renaldo Sagesse away from the nose tackle spot he played decently at a year ago to back him up; to me this signals an intent to wear Martin out and keep the three-tech/DE spot fresh with constant platooning. We'll address the two as co-starters.

Sagesse and Banks are like senior versions of the two 5'10 freshman corners. They were middling recruits; they've established themselves solid but uninspiring Big Ten players. The closest comparison I can think of in the recent history of Michigan linemen is Rondell Biggs, the other guy on the ridiculous 2006 line.

RENALDO SAGESSE

GENERAL COMPETENCE
blasts the LT back
forcing a cutback
shoots past the center's block
both blow into the backfield

Last year Sagesse was a "mysterious entity locked on the bench" after arriving at Michigan from the wild hinterlands of Quebec pegged to provide "functional depth." He actually did a bit better than that, as the clip reel shows: nothing negative enough to be worthy of pulling off, a few impressive plays, albeit against lower-level competition. The worst thing I've seen Sagesse do to date is get sealed and pancaked by Patrick Omameh in the spring game but we'll just chalk that up to Omameh being wicked sweet.

I was openly campaigning for Sagesse to get more playing time:

So this Sagesse guy is okay?

He hasn't seen much time but I have him down for +5 in that time with no minuses. Given the depth situation at DE and RVB's seeming inability to hold up—not surprising at 6'5" 270 something—doesn't it make sense to try Sagesse out as a starting NT and slide Martin over to the 3-tech? RVB can then back up the 3-tech and Graham. The line adds 30-40 pounds and doesn't have to roll out a walk-on when Graham needs a blow.

Van Bergen found his footing on the interior and that never came to fruition, but I remained on Sagesse's side to the point where I was campaigning for him to start this year, again so Martin could slide out.

Last year both started out well, with Sagesse picking up a total of 9.5 to the good against just one minus in the three nonconference games before Indiana; Banks had plus 6.5 and minus 0.5 in the same timespan. But from there both went radio silent, playing regularly but getting little in the way of up or down recognition. Sample reactions from the Big Ten schedule: "quiet," "meh," "played little," "also played little," and "one nice play for naught."

This isn't a terrible thing for a sparely-used defensive tackle, especially the nose spot Sagesse was at. Ideally you'd like some plays from the interior, but if Mike Martin is going to provide those you can deal with the other spot being functional. On the '06 Line of Doom, sophomore Terrance Taylor wasn't a star and that worked out okay. It is concerning that I didn't see either play in the Purdue game and Sagesse remained totally absent for Wisconsin.

Michigan's formations will go some way to determining which player gets more time. In three-man lines Sagesse is clearly going to be a pass-rush liability as a defensive end, but when Michigan goes to four (or brings in the "double eagle" package with the DEs lined up over the opposition guards) Sagesse's got more heft. I wouldn't be surprised to see both lifted for Jibreel Black or maybe Craig Roh on passing downs.

Take your pick of adjectives: workmanlike, yeoman, gritty, etc. Expect something okay here; the upside is low, but so is the downside.

Backups

And now everyone's worried about Will Campbell since his '09 cameos were unimpressive and he's stuck behind Adam Patterson on the depth chart. He's back on the upswing with his weight after losing a ton between the end of his senior year and fall camp, adding 15 pounds from '09 to '10. He now checks in at 333, the heaviest guy on the roster.

That could be good as Michigan starts putting good weight back on Campbell after his freshman year slim-down. It could be bad. Rodriguez complained about the conditioning of a "small handful," and Campbell seemed like an obvious candidate for the wingless doghouse. He wasn't in it, but that doesn't mean Rodriguez is pleased with his conditioning:

"He got a lot of reps in the spring with Mike Martin [out], and I think he got better. he's still got some things to work on, but he's a big, strong guy. Depending on what kind of shape he's in when we start will determine how quickly he can battle for that job.

"If he's in great shape when we come in, he can battle to start. If he's not, he'll struggle until he gets in shape."

On the field, Campbell lived up to his reputation as a very large guy in need of serious technique work. I've seen a lot of zone stretches by now and rarely has a nose tackle eaten it like he did against Iowa:

I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?

That happened about midway through the year and Campbell virtually disappeared after it; the only other clip I've got on him is what seems in retrospect to be an excessively harsh evaluation of a big Baby Seal U run on which Vlad Emilien got pancaked and Kevin Leach blasted out of the play, too. But even so he did get sealed by the BSU center all too easily. There wasn't a lot of buzz about Campbell coming out of spring, and he failed to live up to this blog's expectation of a regular job in the rotation with an "an eye on maybe starting when Michigan goes bulky for games against ground-pounders like Michigan State and Wisconsin." As the Iowa cameo showed, that would have been a bad idea.

HOWEVA, planet-spanning defensive tackles take time, as West Texas Blue demonstrated in a diary running down the fates of Campbell's DT classmates. None of them did anything save OU's Jamarcus McFarland and (sigh) Arkansas's Dequinta Jones. Most redshirted, like Campbell should have. Since he's third team right now don't expect much more than short-yardage duty early in the year, with the hope being he can emerge into a competent Martin backup by midseason,

Meanwhile, Adam Patterson's odd Michigan career has taken another turn in his fifth and final year: he's now a nose tackle. An easy top-100 recruit out of South Carolina whose selection of Michigan was almost as surprising as Carlos Brown's, Patterson's been locked on the bench his entire career. My assumption was that the nose move ended any chance he had at regular playing time, but he's now second on the depth chart at a position that sees a lot of rotation. He'll play; I don't think he'll be much good. The dropoff after Martin will be similar to that Michigan experienced when Graham came off the field, though less severe since Martin won't be Graham and the backup is at least a senior.

There are a couple freshmen, about whom we know nothing that hasn't been covered by their recruiting profiles. Pahokee native Richard Ash went from 263 pounds about a year ago to 320 on the fall roster; with concerns about his fitness and drive dogging his recruitment he is a guaranteed redshirt as Barwis attempts to whittle him down to something approximating the player who briefly had Florida and USC offers before the weight got too sloppy. Everything the blog compiled on Ash is located at his recruiting profile.

Finally, Terry Talbott is a three-tech in the making. He's got the inverse issue: listed at 248 on Michigan's roster, he'll need a year and 20 pounds before he's viable. Neither appeared on the UConn depth chart; redshirts beckon.

Strongside Defensive End

Rating: 4.

ryan-van-bergen-vs-wmu 110709_SPT_UM v Purdue_MRM

RYAN VAN BERGEN

DRIVING BACK OTHERS
blows the RG back,
gets under Stewart
gets playside of his guy
tearing around the corner
drives LG three yards back
blows into the RG
blasts into the backfield
CRUSHED BACK HIMSELF
drives RVB out of the hole
Tackle blocks down on RVB
Ezeh(?!?!) follows him
trouble holding up
AGILITY FOR DE? POSSIBLE
deep into the backfield
slices through two blockers
again through the line
splits a double team
gets playside of his guy
tackling(+1) at the LOS

Brandon Graham is currently racking up defensive rookie of the year hype in Philadelphia, but the position is seemingly in good hands. Redshirt junior Ryan Van Bergen slides outside after a year starting at the three-tech defensive tackle spot. He was productive there, acquiring 40 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and five sacks in his first year as a starter. He even tacked on four pass breakups, presumably on bat-downs at the line of scrimmage.

His season in UFR was okay for a DT:

UFR '09: Ryan Van Bergen
Opponent + - T Notes
WMU 5 0.5 4.5 More effective on review; did not give ground, albeit against a MAC team.
Notre Dame 2.5 3 -0.5 Looked a lot like an out of position DE.
EMU 1 2.5 -1.5 Not holding up very well against doubles.
Indiana 8 1 7 Did virtually nothing until the 85-yard run, then single-handedly killed the next drive.
Michigan State 9 4.5 4.5 Great day against an MSU OL that planned to turn him into dust and could not, but irresponsible pass rushing cost Michigan more than once.
Iowa 5 - 5 Very competent against a day of single blocking, which got him a lot of half points.
Penn State 4 3 1 Also not a great day.
Illinois 2 - 2 Not a major factor. [here this just becomes true so i say it again]
Purdue 2 2 0 Not a major factor.
Wisconsin 1 1 0 Not a major factor.

Disclaimers about UFR being a DL-friendly grading system apply; even so, that's pretty good for a redshirt sophomore entering the lineup for the first time. The drive after Indiana's "doomed from the start" 85-yard touchdown you may have seen on the sidebar when Jordan Kovacs or JT Floyd was discussed was probably my favorite series in last year's UFR process. Michigan desperately needed a stop and RVB provided:

Do you know what I did when Indiana had that 85 yard run?

No.

I thought to myself "I bet Ryan Van Bergen missed a check and will spend the rest of the game personally destroying the Indiana offense."

Really?

No. I threw the cat at the TV and vowed to find Jim Herrmann and find a way to blame it on him.

Ah so.

His hulk up after that play continued through Michigan State (when he was "going from a non-entity to a guy who's making plays") and Iowa, when he "only got a +5" because of an array of half-points. Unfortunatley it evaporated on a meh day against Penn State and for the rest of the year Van Bergen was hovering around the zero that is not a good day for a DL. I think some of that has to do with the rest of the defense: Illinois just kept going outside and Wisconsin passing over the middle, leaving few opportunities for him to make plays.

The move outside is a complicating factor, though it remains to be seen just how much of one it is. In the clips at left there's a section in which RVB gets MASSEY'D back; understandable since at 6'6", 271 there's only so much you can do to avoid getting blown back on every play. The ratio of good to bad there is encouraging, but more encouraging for his future as a defensive end is the section on agility and those five sacks. As a bonus, before he slid into the starting lineup he was Graham's backup.

Van Bergen knows the position, was recruited to play it, and is entering his fourth year on campus with a season as a solid starter under his belt. Least useful phrase ever: he's not going to be Brandon Graham. Mitigating phrase: but he should be solid. At a spot more amenable to pass rush and with more experience, RVB should brush up against double-digit sacks and see his UFRs climb into the consistently good realm inhabited by, say, Tim Jamison as a senior.

jibreel-black-sackingBackups

Here's a change: instead of massive attrition and injury bringing a walk-on into play, at this spot a walk-on's unavailability is a problem. Will Heininger tore his knee up in spring practice and will miss the season, leaving Van Bergen backed up by… some guys… I guess.

The guy who most prominent in the fall practice was true freshman Jibreel Black, a stocky 6'1" 262 pound pass-rush specialist who was issued the just-vacated 55 and has a special section in his recruiting profile in which people either say things that sound like Brandon Graham or just flat-out compare him to probably the best defensive end ever to play at Michigan. Here's Rodriguez:

“He wears No. 55 and looks a little like BG at times. But he’s got a burst and some natural athletic ability. I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”

No pressure, kid. 

Rodriguez further called out Black as "the freshman lineman most likely to have a chance to play." Black won't be much of a factor as a true freshman; hope for a year in which he holds his own when RVB needs a breather and maybe makes a couple of MAC offensive tackles look silly.

Redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota is also in the mix for playing time behind Van Bergen; he was a high four-star to the recruiting sites (recruiting profile) before a disappointing week at the Army game saw his rankings take a significant hit. He still checked in as a Rivals 250 guy and was just outside the Scout 100, so it wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, his height and weight were significantly overstated by the same sites and when he hit campus two inches and 30 pounds short of expectations, he was destined for a redshirt. He got that redshirt, got up to 256 by fall of last year, and is now listed at 270—possibly time to play, possibly in need of another 15 pounds since he's a couple inches taller than Black. The coaches have been radio silent on LaLota (a Google news search turns up zero, whereas Black is getting some pub), so it might be the latter.

Former tight end Steve Watson is also here, but he's pretty much David Cone on defense. I imagine if push comes to shove LaLota will see the field before he does despite the initial depth chart. That seems like a nod to seniority.

Deathbacker

 craig-roh-versus-purdue

CRAIG ROH

IRRESPONSIBLE BUT EFFECTIVE
blows up WMU draw
making an ankle tackle
JUST THE FORMER
cavernous gap
dropping into coverage
spinning inside of the OT
Incredibly open dig/seam
SPEED
hit Cousins as he throws
excellent on the stunt here
murders this dead
VETERANISH
reads the pull
gets outside and avoids a cut
SMALL
two guys double Roh

Roh against Purdue.

Rating: 3.

Craig Roh is the Denard Robinson of the defense: a highly touted recruit that should have spent his freshman year redshirting and sucking up Breaston-level practice hype before debuting as a promising but still so raw redshirt freshman in 2010. Since it's the Age of Doom, Roh had to start as a 225 pound defensive end in the Big Ten.

The results were mixed, trending towards negative. When opponents got a solid block on him he was done, something Michigan tried to prevent by slanting him extensively. That worked well enough, but since there's only so much you can do with a defensive end that small his pass rush repertoire shrunk from the Swiss Army Knife set that saw Roh rise to become a top 50 prospect on at least one site to the hope he could run around guys.

There was one major positive the clips at right don't show: he was seemingly better in coverage than Michigan veteran linebackers, able to track tight ends up to 20 yards downfield and surprisingly capable of doing something about it if and when the ball arrived. The hope at linebacker is that Roh's advanced coverage skills were Greg Robinson's doing.

But without further adieu, Roh's '09 numbers, keeping in mind that UFRs are slanted towards defensive ends and getting a small positive is treading water there:

UFR '09: Craig Roh
Opponent + - T Notes
WMU 5.5 1 4.5 Pretty good debut; showed a variety of pass-rush moves including a sick spin.
Notre Dame 2 3 -1 Drew a key hold but mostly neutralized. Looked like a freshman.
EMU 6.5 3 3.5 A couple of nice plays when EMU put him on the edge and tried to fool or read him. Athleticism should be an asset against zone read teams.
Indiana 3 1 2 Not really in on much.
Michigan State 4.5 0.5 4 Not getting as much pressure as you'd like, though.
Iowa 5.5 1 4.5 Had a couple hurries, used his athleticism well from the backside on a couple runs.
Penn State 4 1 3 Got a sack against the real side of the PSU D.
Illinois 7 2.5 4.5 Effective slanting all day; not great in pass rush yet.
Purdue 6 4.5 1.5 Extensive discussion below.
Wisconsin 4 6 -2 Wisconsin was always going to be the team to own him.

The Purdue game exposed Roh's limitations more obviously than any other. The Boilers lined up in an array of 3x1 sets and got big gains by running right at Roh when he lined up to the open side of the field:

Michigan flipped Graham to that side of the field and Purdue started rolling away from him to the receiver-heavy side of the field, completing a bunch of wide open passes. Michigan flipped back and Roh was again unable to fight through blockers to maintain his edge:

As the UFR made clear, there are a lot of reasons Michigan's defense was so porous last year but running out a freshman defensive end was one of them. The end result:

Roh did some good stuff on slants and was responsible when he had an opportunity to overrun plays, which gives him that modest positive score above, but big minuses in pressure fall mostly on the shoulders of the DEs and when one of the DEs is Brandon Graham they fall mostly on the shoulders of the DE who isn't Brandon Graham. So if you apply a chunk of that pressure metric to Roh, you get a solidly negative day.

This year Roh is better prepared for the rigors of the Big Ten. Rodriguez:

“He played last year at about 225 as a true freshman and did a good job. Now, he is probably closer to 240 to 245 and running just as well if not better. I think that and the experience that he has been out there before, you can see. He’s guy that we want to move around a little bit. Craig is a very active, high-motor player and being able 245-250 pounds is going to let him hold up…especially with those big physical team, starting with the first game.”

Going from 225 to 245 and from freshman to sophomore means Roh should make a greater leap than anyone else on the defense. He came to Michigan with a mountain of recruiting hype based on his diabolical array of pass rush moves and dominating Under Armor Game performance. He's got the hype; he's got the weight; he's got the experience…

Sort of! The catch in the Craig Roh explosion is this niggling move to the 3-3-5, where he's a strongside linebacker:

As Michigan's defense worked more in the 3-3-5 set during spring ball, Roh divided his time between linebacker and defensive line.
"There’s some changes," he said. "I’ve never been in a linebacker [position], second-level, setting up there. Some guys are playing basically the same position they played last year. For me, this is something new and different.

"[Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson] is helping me a lot with the learning curve."

No one's sure how much Michigan will be running a three man line this fall but it will be some, which will give Roh the ability to attack from surprising angles and use his vertical speed to get into the backfield. It will also expose him to play action, counters, and other plays he's not used to dealing with much that can take advantage of the inability to change direction that had everyone projecting him as a defensive end despite being linebacker size. Now, you could just say he'll blitz all the time but that would get predictable; it would also impinge on Jonas Mouton's ability to do the same thing, and Mouton's a guy who has the exact same strengths Roh does. They'll have to split the fun bits where they tear into the backfield.

All this makes it difficult to project what Roh will do this season. A guess: doubling his 7.5 TFLs and significantly adding to his two sacks is a good bet. I don't think he'll be a crazy star just yet, but I expect to be saying the same things about him next year that I'm saying about Mike Martin this year.

Backups

It's here more than anywhere else that confusion about exactly how "multiple" the defense is going to be wreaks havoc with position projections. One man's guess at the setup here: Roh will be able to flip from linebacker to defensive end with some aplomb, but his backups are likely to be one or the other.

The defensive-end-ish backup will probably be redshirt junior Brandon Herron, Roh's backup last year. Though he lost his job to the touted freshman he got a regular shift like Sagesse or Banks; unlike Sagesse or Banks his performance didn't register even the brief slices of notability the aforementioned seniors managed. The only clip I got that involves him is a single passing play against Indiana on which he successfully walls off a TE seam, and his UFR notes read "did make one good tackle," "eh," "some good run defense," "nonfactor," "meh," and "eh, ok." You get the idea.

That's not good because of Herron's position, which is supposed to be a source of big plays. As long as a guy like Sagesse holds the fort at his position things are pretty much good. If Herron does nothing positive or negative that's a much greater opportunity spurned. Gradual improvement is likely; Herron will remain a guy Michigan kills time with until Roh can get back in there.

While Herron was out in spring and Michigan was running something approximating a 3-3-5, JB Fitzgerald acted as Roh's backup. The linebacker preview already addressed his shaky '09 performance. As a backup here I imagine Michigan will always be in a three-man line so Fitzgerald can play linebacker; he's never played DE. His best shot at playing time is if Michigan has a passing-down package that sees Roh put his hand down.

Unverified Voracity No Longer The Size Of Sixth-Graders

Unverified Voracity No Longer The Size Of Sixth-Graders

Submitted by Brian on July 2nd, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Bigger, grungier, made of scraped anger. I've been guessing somewhat wildly that Mike Martin will move away from the nose tackle spot he gamely tackled a year ago. It makes sense in a ton of different ways; Adam Patterson's weird move inside also provides circumstantial evidence. If that guess is correct, there's good* news about the defense's stoutness. FSU blog Tomahawk Nation took a look at the general relationship between enormous angry men close to the opponent quarterback an defensive success, finding quite a bit of it. They then draw an arbitrary line at 1780 pounds (which they say 'one' might argue is arbitrary, so chalk me up as one of the ones) and suggest that being below that line is bad.

They then commit a superior act of link-baiting by relating this post directly to the readers here:

I broke down the Wolverines separately.  Michigan comes in at 1828 lbs, which really bodes well for their defense performance this season.  Last year they had a front 7 of 1720 lbs.  Extremely impressive improvement and the second largest we have seen (Mississippi State +120).  Even more so considering the move to a 3-3-5 hybrid.

Best,
Bud Elliott

That does assume that Brandon Graham is getting replaced by Will Campbell. (The three returning starters adding about twenty pounds each seems assured.) If that's the case, Michigan's front 3.5 can hang with anyone on a pure beef level; with Barwis's emphasis on good weight they should be even better on the BEEFCAKE level.

The secondary? Ask again later. Maybe Tomahawk Nation will come up with a way to make me feel better about that other than closing my eyes and hoping really hard.

*(Correlation does not equal causation but after the last two years give me a break here.)

Tom Crean: anti-Brewster. Brewster's twitter machinations establish the TRY FIGHT WIN endpoint of the CFB head coach twitter continuum. And while Crean isn't quite at the Weis point that marks the other end (Went to Bon Jovi concert with son/full stop/advised offensive linemen on awesomest Baskin Robbins flavors/full stop/story continues in next thirty-six tweets/full stop), he's not far off. Watch him bash anonymous opponent skeeze-merchant assistants, then entirely fail to repent and hit up the head men:

“Frankly some of the assistants we go against I wouldnt let valet my car. They either would lose the keys or drive away with it.” – June 29, 3:18 PM

“In all honesty there are some Head coaches that would be the same way. The ones that wake up on 3rd base and think they hit a triple kill me.” – June 29, 3:20 PM

There's no way Crean's talking about anyone related to the Michigan program, which is good and bad.

Broken resistance. Dennis Dodd is already on the list of people who I try not to talk about on the blog because I've already called them horrible names for writing dumb things, but come on:

Given certain NCAA limitations -- talking to you, Trojans -- we're more likely to see a Big 12 North rivalry in Pasadena in the near term (Colorado-Nebraska) than Michigan-USC.

Even if USC is be facing down a two-year bowl ban, they're more likely to to end up in the Rose Bowl than a team that lost to Toledo by 16 and couldn't fire their coach because they didn't have enough money. That's only part of an extended section about how the Rose Bowl is just horrified that Utah might end up in it when the new Rose Bowl contract already all but guaranteed that a mid-major would be selected for the game sometime before 2014.

Dodd then goes on to wildly praise Larry Scott for adding Colorado and Utah to his conference, a move that is extremely debatable financially and athletically, because he had big ideas, and caps that by proposing Big Ten divisions that split Michigan and Ohio State. These are dubbed "lessons."

Skinflint. These numbers on football spending rounded up by Fanhouse and broken down into a convenient Big Ten list by Fight For Iowa…

  1. Ohio State - $32.30 million
  2. Iowa - $26.90 million
  3. Wisconsin - $22.71 million
  4. Penn State - $19.13 million
  5. Michigan - $18.03 million

…are so crazy as to be suspicious. Michigan's enormous renovation of Michigan Stadium was in its first year. They'd just hired Rich Rodriguez , paid most of his buyout, and were still on the hook for the Carr assistants who did not take other jobs. Despite all this, Michigan checks in fifth in Big Ten spending and barely manages half of Ohio State's outlay. Clearly, these numbers all come from a big database and have not been sanity checked. I wouldn't put much faith in them.

Irony ironically un-ironic. This is not ironic:

The major sticking point everyone points to is the quarterback situation. In fact, some people are calling it a disaster. Once you get past the irony of a Michigan blogger calling the Penn State quarterback situation a "disaster", step back and ask yourself, "Is it really that bad?" Yeah, ok, we have to break in a new quarterback this year. Welcome to college football where you have to break in a new quarterback every other year. Lots of teams plug in a new quarterback and have very successful seasons.

Irony is a fanbase that roars when Beaver Stadium's chintzy pregame hype-up declares "WE ARE PENN STATE… AND THEY'RE NOT" perpetually accusing another fanbase of arrogance. (Will Michigan EVER make a bowl again, BSD asks, totally oblivious.) Someone with grand recent experience when it comes to disastrous quarterback situations declaring a setup with a walk-on, a couple true freshmen, and Kevin Newsome—who even BSD admits "looked terrible" in the spring game—is not.

100% committed until tomorrow. An update on the status of 2011 hockey commit Alex Guptill from the man himself:

For the time being, Alex is committed to play for the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League next season before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall of 2011. However, that may or may not change, following his meeting with Stars management in Texas today (June 30).

“Right now, I’m committed 100 per cent to the Waterloo Blackhawks,” Alex said. “I’m looking forward to stepping up in a little bit higher of a league and improving my game.”

Maybe "100 per cent" is not the best thing to immediately follow "right now," but it sounds like Guptill's strong preference is to play for Michigan next year. If the Kings had drafted him, that quote would be reason to worry. Dallas less so. Haven't had an update since, so we'll see.

Slightly good news? I'm not sure how much this helps but it certainly doesn't help. SEMO, one of the schools that's recently run into trouble for violating NCAA practice guidelines in a similar fashion to Michigan, saw an appeal shot down. But in the midst of saying nein they did also say this:

The presence of a coach before or after an otherwise voluntary workout may be inadvertent, or occur with no intent by the coach to confirm the student-athletes’ attendance or to otherwise engage the student- athlete in countable athletically related activities. Thus, while this committee does not set aside this finding, we note that this general statement in the report should not be construed as the mandatory interpretation of the relevant NCAA legislation without reference to coaches’ intent and other pertinent facts in a given case.3

The Bylaw Blog suggests that Michigan may argue that some of the impermissible events were still voluntary, though they'd obviously have to show that the presence of coaching-type folk had a legitimate purpose. Since they've already responded to the NCAA, that's not likely. It may be a further indication that Michigan won't get anything tacked on in August, not that Michigan seems to expect any additions.

Etc.: Six Zero interrogates MGoShoe, the poster with the highest signal to noise ratio in the history of MGoBlog. (SERIOUSLY)

Preview 2009: Defensive Line

Preview 2009: Defensive Line

Submitted by Brian on September 4th, 2009 at 9:54 AM

Part eight of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009, quarterbacks, tailbacks, receivers, offensive line, and secondary, and linebackers.

Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.

A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because 1) there are actual returning players and 2) there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.

Defensive Line

Rating: 4.

Depth Chart
Deathbacker Yr. NT Yr. DT Yr. SDE Yr.
Brandon Herron So.* Mike Martin So. Ryan Van Bergen So.* Brandon Graham Sr.
Craig Roh Fr. Renaldo Sagesse Jr. Greg Banks Jr.* Adam Patterson Jr.*
Steve Watson Fr.* Will Campbell Fr. -- -- Anthony LaLota Fr.

Three starters depart but the big guy is back: Brandon Graham returns as Michigan's best player and a serious candidate for post-season honors. Joining him is a wildly unbalanced collection of players. At nose tackle there are two hugely promising underclassmen. At defensive tackle there's a potentially solid starter and then Some Guy. And at a new position no one knows what to call, what it does, or who plays there there's virtually nothing.

With the changes, this preview is going to treat the defensive ends as separate entities. Defensive tackles remain bunched.

Defensive Tackle

mike-martin-line mike-martin-wrestling

Rating: 4

Mike Martin
2008
Sam-owned
Sam-owns against UW
Saves UW game
"Big time from frosh"
Sacking M(NTM)

Last year, Mike Martin had the luxury of playing behind two productive veterans. In his limited time, he impressed. Everyone expects he will be the breakout star on defense this year; expectations are higher for him than they are for even Mouton. But… well. Here's a bunch of praise and some trepidation wrapped into one package. It's from the Wisconsin game:

Man, Mike Martin is kind of sweet.

Yeah, man, he's kind of great as an interior pass-rusher already. I'm a little leery that he's going to be a true sophomore starter on the line next year just because he came in so in-shape that he's probably not going to improve drastically, and therefore his sophomore year will seem disappointing, but the kid should be gangbusters (yea, see?) as an upperclassman. Now about the other guys at DT…

Martin might slightly disappoint people who expect him to be 100% awesome right now, but people pegging him at 80% are probably going to see their expectations met.

As a recruit, Mike Martin was a slightly smaller version of immovable fireplug Terrance Taylor. Both were state champions in wrestling and powerlifting. Both were in-state. Both were defensive tackles at or near the tail end of top 100 lists. HOWEVA, on the field the two played very differently. Taylor is a bull of a defensive tackle who will get under your pads and shove you backwards; Martin is more of a penetrator. His high school highlights often saw him slice through the line and tackle like a linebacker, and last year much of his deployment was as part of Michigan's three-man line pass rush Okie package. You can see the penetration in the highlights at right, and that sort of activity was the reason Martin picked up a steady stream of 3-0-3 lines in UFR.

This is why I'm a mite concerned, though:

Opponent + - Total Notes
Penn State 1.5 4 -2.5 A lot of negatives late when he was in as a 4-3 DT; unsurprising he took a beating from Shipley & Co; he's just a freshman.

That was Martin's longest exposure as a true 4-3 DT and he suffered at the hands of Penn State's excellent, veteran line. This could be a blip that has no impact going forward. Martin was, after all, a freshman going up against fifth-year seniors, and good ones. And there could be considerable difference between the role he was asked to play in that game—absorb two blocks—and the one he'll be asked to play in the light, quick, slashing defense Greg Robinson has apparently installed.

This year, Martin will be the only true defensive tackle in the lineup and is backed up by a to-date anonymous Canadian and a true freshman. Even if that true freshman may be enormous and highly touted, Martin's responsibility takes a more severe uptick than anyone else's this year. He might struggle a bit early; by the end of the year he should be very good.

At the other spot, redshirt sophomore Ryan Van Bergen enters the starting lineup. Van Bergen was a moderately shirtless recruit—he was ranked at about the same level Will Johnson was—who spent his first couple years backing up Brandon Graham at strongside defensive end. Michigan's moved him to their three-technique defensive tackle, a position that's traditionally been occupied by the nimble penetrating sort of defensive tackle instead of lumbering goo-beasts.

So he might to be too out of position at his new spot; he was something of a DE/DT tweener as a recruit. He still is at 6'5", 275. And he'll be one on the field: multiple people from the coaches who pop up from time to time on this site to the Michigan coaches to Van Bergen himself have noted that RVB will flare out from time to time and act as a five-tech defensive end, either on passing downs or when Michigan flips the deathbacker to Brandon Graham's side of the field.

There's not a whole lot of data on RVB to be had, unfortunately, and he seems a little tall and light for the spot he's at. With few reasonable backups, chances are production here isn't much better than okay.

Backups and Whatnot

Unlike… uh… everywhere else on the defensive line, there are a couple reasonable backups here. True freshman Will Campbell is the one with the recruiting hype, and lord almighty:

will-campbell-armywill-campbell-skinny 

Dude put in work after enrolling early. His rep is enormous, agile, and strong—he's not a five star for nothing—but deficient in technique in all the ways that 350-pound men who can hurl high school offensive linemen into low Earth orbit usually are. In short: he needs to learn how to play low. He'll get that opportunity, as he should rotate in for Martin frequently with an eye on maybe starting when Michigan goes bulky for games against ground-pounders like Michigan State and Wisconsin. (The assumption in this case is that Martin slides over to DT and Michigan goes with a more conventional 4-3 look.) His recruiting profile also exists if you want to hear an awful lot about a large man.

Campbell will probably have a freshman year much like Mike Martin's, where he rotates in frequently and mostly does well with the occasional "yep, that's a freshman" play mixed in.

Meanwhile, junior Renaldo Sagesse remains a mysterious entity locked on the bench his first few years after coming to Michigan out of Quebec. Yes, that Quebec. In Canada. He probably doesn't have much upside but there's no shame in behind behind Taylor, Johnson, and Martin and should provide functional depth.

Redshirt junior Greg Banks backs up Van Bergen; Banks has seen the occasional snap as part of the rotation but hasn't done much with them. If he can give RVB breathers without drawing attention to himself, that's a win.

Strongside Defensive End

brandon-graham-is-bad brandon-graham-northwestern

Rating: 5.

Brandon Graham
2007
Snuffing a draw
Sacking Painter
Hates Gophers
2008
Sack wsgs Mouton, Brown
Crushing backwards
Beats double to sack
"Sacks authoritatively"
Sack wsg Mouton
Disrupts screen
frowns: not infallible
Sack +3 Pressure +2
Hates Gophers

The most striking thing from my tour of last year's defensive UFR was how preposterous Brandon Graham was. Here's his Big Ten season minus Ohio State (which did not get UFRed for obvious reasons):

Opponent + - Total Notes
Wisconsin 10.5 1 9.5 +6 of this comes from two sacks late when he got to the QB on three-man rushes, killing one drive and damaging another.
Illinois 7 4 3 More effective in the run game than others, but was exploited a couple times.
Penn State 9 4.5 4.5 Best player on defense without question.
Michigan State 12 1 11 He backed up his prediction as much as he could.
Purdue 9.5 2 7.5 Would have had some sacks if anyone was ever covered.
Minnesota 8 - 8 Le beast
Northwestern 10.5 - 10.5 Excellent

The note above points out that defensive linemen tend to do better than the back seven in UFR ratings but once you start getting into the 7.5, 8, 9.5, 10.5, 11(!) range that is elite, elite production. Graham's impressive statistics—10 sacks, 20 TFLs—back that up. Graham is an unquestioned star, a lock for All Big Ten, a probable first round NFL draft pick, and the team's best player.

What's more, Graham's production took a major step forward last year. As a sophomore, Graham was impressive but mostly as a pass rusher. He had 8.5 sacks but just one other tackle for loss and 15 tackles outside of that. Last year a newly slimmed Graham added 36 tackles on people other than the quarterback, fully ten of them behind the line of scrimmage.

The best way to see Graham's transformation into a complete terror is to compare Michigan State games. In '07 Michigan State turned its run game around by attacking a tired Graham in the second half, and he came in for some clucking:

He's got a -2 up there, by far his worst total of his career, and it was largely because he got booted out of the line by double teams frequently.

In '08 Graham unwisely guaranteed victory and then went about attempting to make that happen singlehandedly. An abridged run-game-only Michigan State UFR:

Graham crashes inside in an attempt to jam the play up and force it to bounce outside but ends up shoved past the play, opening up a small hole Ringer can squeeze through. … Graham(-1) needs to shoot inside on this to take out the pulling guard and the fullback, which would delay Ringer and force him to bounce it into unblocked players; instead he stays outside and the resulting carry goes for six yards.

That's it in a game where Javon Ringer ran 37 times. The rest of the UFR that isn't "oh look it's another mass of bodies play for 2-4 yards" is Michigan State running at Tim Jamison over and over and over and over. Michigan State had seen the film, and they didn't even bother with that side of the line.

As far as the passing game, just look at the numbers and the highlights to your right. Brandon Graham is a bad man.

Backups and Whatnot

There are none. The opening depth chart has walk-on Will Heininger actually ahead of redshirt junior Adam Patterson, which… wow. Patterson was a top 100 recruit in this day and is currently behind a walk-on who's younger than him. Michigan acquired an injury redshirt for Patterson after he missed most of last year, but will they actually offer a fifth year to him?

When that's the relevant question instead of "can he reasonably replace the best player on the team?" it's time to light a candle for Graham's various ligaments, tendons, bones, and so forth and so on.

Ryan Van Bergen
2006
ND sack
Easy PSU sack
Indiana sack

Deathbacker

brandon-herron-citrus

Rating: 1.

AKA "quick" or "elephant" or any number of other things, the deathbacker and what he is has been discussed ad nauseum throughout the offseason. One final recap: the deathbacker is half man, half machine, half defensive end, half linebacker, and 200% awesome. Robinson's defense has the flexibility to flip him from weakside—where he operates as an out-wide dispenser of havoc with a practiced sack dance—to the strong, where he becomes a human shield for an undersized strong-side linebacker and general threat to penetrate into a running play. In spring practice, Michigan mostly used him as the latter in order to better single up terror defensive end Brandon Graham.

Your one and only option at this spot is redshirt sophomore Brandon Herron, who has not been heard nor seen from except on special teams so far. Herron was only a middling recruit—Nebraska was his best other offer—and wandered around a man without a position his first couple years. He, along with linebacker Marell Evans and tight end Steve Watson, were thrown in at the position during spring practice. Evans transferred and Watson's initial buzz gave way to the sort of radio silence that sees you drop behind a true freshman, about whom more later, leaving Herron the starter by default.

As you can tell by the decidedly non-action photo above, Herron hasn't seen much time on the field. The only pictures in Mike DeSimone's insanely comprehensive Michigan picture database that feature Herron on the field are fuzzy shots of the field goal block team. So… yeah. I've never seen the player in question play. I've never seen Michigan deploy the position in question. There's considerable debate as to what, exactly, this position is even going to entail when it hits the field. Any projection here is the purest guesswork.

Here's my guesswork: Herron hasn't seen action despite Michigan's paper-thin depth chart at linebacker the last couple years and has the position by virtual default. He wasn't a big recruit. He's getting talked up, but that talk has the distinct whiff of Johnny Sears. Remember that brief window before The Horror when Only Reasonable Corner Option Johnny Sears was getting talked up left and right? Yeah… about that.

Herron does have one thing going for him: his teammates were throwing around ridiculous numbers about weights lifted and pounds (235) and 40 times (4.4). You take FAKE physical attributes at your peril, though.

Backups and Whatnot

craig-roh-crazy-ninja-stanceGood thing this positional preview is the last one to drop: this site's message board has an unconfirmed report that true freshman Craig Roh is actually going to get the start tomorrow. This would be bad, as it would thrust a true freshman who's been called "wiry" so many times that he bristled at it when someone dropped it at Media Day into the starting lineup, but it might not be that bad. Roh was a big-time recruit who picked Michigan over USC and many others, and I was ape about him when it came time to hit up his recruiting profile:

He should get immediate use as a situational pass rusher and could move into the starting line up by midseason. It might take longer but I don't think Evans, Watson, or Herron is going to keep him off the field for much more than a year.

So were Texas fans who watched him go up against one of their commits at the UA allstar game, in which he's pictured at right in his crazy Crab People stance:

Craig Roh DE (Michigan)
Straight baller that showed a Dwight Freeney spin on Kelley for a sack and sacked/tackled Russel Shepard in space. Had a handful of QB pressures over the course of the game. Rich Rod got himself a good one.

When Rodriguez started talking about how Roh will play immediately upon his arrival, the general tone of it was "…as a situational pass rusher." That's definitely in the cards, but I've been advocating the idea Roh will end up something more, and soon… I wouldn't be surprised if the unconfirmed report was true.

There is also redshirt freshman Steve Watson, who moved from tight end after it became clear his lack of athleticism would see him permanently buried behind Koger, Webb, and Moore on offense at a position that's strictly optional in the spread 'n' shred. As mentioned, there were  some positive notes coming out of spring practice about him, but Roh quickly passed him. Watson's career arc looks like Coner on defense.

All Big Ten 2006: Defense

All Big Ten 2006: Defense

Submitted by Brian on November 28th, 2006 at 4:58 PM

The official teams just bucket players into three categories: line, LB, and DB. I think this is dumb. For instance, all four first-team DBs are cornerbacks. Uh... okay. This list breaks the line down into DT and DE and the defensive backs into CB and S. Linebackers are still one big bin.

Remember: Notre Dame worthies are included, though this is way less funny for the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive End

1. Lamarr Woodley, Michigan

If you read this blog, you know about Woodley. He has 11.5 sacks and equal-if-not-greater contributions that only show up in OCD game charting. He is the face of the Michigan defense that was so magnificent for 11 of Michigan's 12 games and one of the premiere defensive ends in the country. Justifying his inclusion is like justifying Troy Smith's.

1. Anthony Spencer, Purdue

If Spencer's luck holds -- and let's hope it doesn't -- he'll be playing for the Detroit Lions next year. He was a capital-M Man without a defense in 2006. Anything the Boilermakers managed to do right on that side of the ball was a direct result of something Spencer did. And lord, he did a lot: a Matt-Rothian 26.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. His most impressive/depressing statistic, though was his 86 tackles, second on the team. At defensive end! Spencer was the Kevin Garnett of the Big Ten in 2006. Like Garnett, he should be commended for not snapping and breaking the neck of any of his incompetent teammates.

2. Vernon Gholston, Ohio State

Alternated terrifying edge rushes with equally terrifying (to Ohio State fans) wild run irresponsibility early. As the season wore on the former remained and the latter dwindled, making Gholston scary to only one set of fans. I don't like the idea of him next year, and that's what this list is: Michigan players I love and opposing players I hate. So, yeah. I hate Gholston. Congratulations.

2. Brian Mattison, Iowa

Doesn't have the stats a few others do, but what can I say? I just like the guy. Uh... hate the guy. You know what I mean. When I UFRed the Iowa-Michigan game, he was all over Michigan's zone running game. When I did a tape review of the Iowa-Ohio State game, he was the only guy with a concept of containment and the only guy capable of getting to Troy Smith. Those were Iowa's two biggest games of the year, and he was one of the best players on the field in both

Defensive Tackle

1. Alan Branch, Michigan

Mountain of a defensive tackle who didn't rack up a ton of flashy stats except this one: #1, as in Michigan's rushing defense (despite those, uh, hiccups versus Ohio State, which only served to bring that defense back down into the realms of the mortal). Branch is a disruptor on the interior and a guy you single block at your peril, just like...

1. Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State

A sure first-rounder in April's NFL draft, Pitcock was far and away the best player on Ohio State's defense, crashing through interior lines like they were made of the slightest cotton en route to eight sacks, eleven tackles for loss, and a lot of easy plays for his linebackers.

2. Ed Johnson, Penn State

I know Alford had more sacks and tackles for loss, but when I watched Penn State it was Johnson who was the more consistent of the two Penn State tackles. Alford is a penetrator who relies a lot on quickness and runs himself out of plays here and there, while Johnson is one of those 6'0", 310 pound fireplugs that drives people into the backfield with remarkable regularity. Johnson made more plays than his partner, but fewer of them showed up in his statistics.

2. David Patterson/Terrance Taylor/Jay Alford, OSU/UM/PSU

Yes, this is a cop out. Each benefited from playing next to the above terrors. Alford is a penetrator and a playmaker like Pitcock, while Patterson and Taylor are more in the mold of Johnson. Each filled the space next to their partner with a second playmaking defensive tackle and created havoc in opposing offenses.

Linebacker

1. David Harris, Michigan

Made the leap from pretty good to outstanding his senior year, tracking down backs sideline-to-sideline on all manner of run and pass plays. Other than Branch, he was the man most responsible for Michigan's #1 rush defense. Criminally left off the Butkus finalist list, he's the best Michigan linebacker I can remember (this extends only back to Jarrett Irons, freaked out 40-something Michigan fans). He played nearly every snap Michigan's defense faced and made only one glaring error, a busted coverage that led to Wisconsin's touchdown. I hate the idea of a middle linebacker other than him.

1. J Leman, Illinois

Does anyone remember how awful the Illinois defense was a year ago? Probably not. If you have data about the 2005 Fighting Illini in your head, you are wasting space that could be more productively used with something like the jeans preferences of squirrels. Well, I know nothing about the sartorial splendor of squirrels (imagine Lou Holth thaying that five timeth fath), but I do remember that the 2005 Illinois defense was an abomination.

So if I told you that the 2006 version of same was above average, you'd want to hand out a medal. Well: here's the medal. Leman racked up 152 tackles, 19 for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles as the Illini shot up to 40th in total defense. He was the guy running around against Ohio State stuffing the Buckeye's six million second-half runs. He was... good. Which is weird to say about an Illinois player, let me tell you.

Also: his first name is "J". No period. No abbreviation. Just a letter. He is also unmistakably rocking a mullet in that headshot. Rocking a mullet and wearing an American flag tie. He is Joe Dirt, linebacker. That demands recognition.

1. Dan Connor, Penn State

Outperformed his more touted partner in the opinion of most Penn State fans, and that's good enough for me. He was a force in the PSU games I watched, slightly more likley to burst into the backfield and maul an unsuspecting running back. His 103 tackles came from an outside linebacker position, while Posluszny's 108 came in the middle: slight advantage Connor.

2. Paul Posluszny, Penn State

Probably didn't deserve the Butkus last year (AJ Hawk) or his finalist status this year (arrrrgh David Harris), but still a damn good linebacker. Against Michigan he refused to stay blocked on the second level, slanting and shedding his way to bottle up Mike Hart time and again. Though Hart would finish with 112 yards, they would be his toughest of the season.

2. Mark Zalewski, Wisconsin

I'm mildly upset at my own list here, which is virtually ignoring the Big Ten's fourth badass defense: Wisconsin. They have a couple first-teamers in the secondary, but hardly any representation up front, largely because they suffer from the same problem Ohio State wide receivers do: too much balance. Zalewski doesn't have a million tackles but he does have a mohawk and a bad attitude. (I was briefly tempted to have the second team linebackers be Zalewski, Prescott Burgess, and Shawn Crable so I could make some comment about pityi ng the fool who tries to run on them, but I was quickly tackled and injected with sedatives when I mentioned it. And thank God for that.)

2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State

My position on Laurinaitis and his magic, leather-magnetized hands has been made clear: dude is way overrated and belongs nowhere near the Butkus finalist list or the All-American teams he'll no doubt feature on. I blame two people: Troy Smith and Brent Musberger. Smith is the primary motor for Ohio State's #1 ranking and Musberger's intolerable boosterism of him during the Texas game, Iowa game, and every other game was repeated so often that it became true in the minds of the brainwashed masses.

...but he does have his good points. He is fast, able in zone drops -- to get Drew Tate to throw the ball right at you you have to be in good position -- and a good blitzer. If he's kept clean he will fill and tackle ably. He's not bad by any stretch of the imagination and... sigh... deserves a place on this team. But on the second team, dammit, until he defeats a block. Any block.

Cornerback

1. Leon Hall, Michigan

I was confused about the Hall hype -- top corner in the draft, Playboy All-American -- going into the season, thinking him more a Jeremy Lesueur type who would be first or second team all conference and a second or third round pick. I was wrong. Hall is the best Michigan corner since Woodson, solid against both the run and the pass, a superb tackler and technician. He does not have the outrageous athleticism of someone like Justin King, but makes up for it with instincts and smarts. A probable top-ten pick in April's draft.

1. Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin

By all rights should be playing for Purdue with that last name, but the Badgers are glad to have him. Ikegwuonu's matchup with Manningham was the most difficult the Michigan sophomore faced all year -- his long touchdown victimized Allen Langford -- as he found his outs, slants, and the like blanketed, leaving Michigan almost no margin for error on those throws. That's all you can do as a cornerback.

2. Justin King, Penn State

Let's get this out of the way: he can't tackle worth a lick. Run at him and he may as well be a ballerina. But in pure coverage terms, he might be the best in the league. Living up to the recruiting hype, as corners tend to do, his athleticism is NFL-caliber and his instincts are good. Hard to beat deep and hard to sit down in front of, King is a thorn in the side of opposing passing games.

2. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State

A jam artist and a tough customer in run support, Jenkins is an up-and-comer in the league. If he manages to rein in his aggression and be smarter about when to back off, he'll be a complete corner. As of now he still gets burnt-crispy deep with some regularity. This year it wasn't relevant since Ohio State got so many sacks and faced so many hobbled or plain bad quarterbacks.

Safety

1. Roderick Rogers, Wisconsin

Rogers didn't have to do much against the run thanks to the imposing Wisconsin front seven (their absence from this team should not reflect poorly on them -- it's a tough year to get on this team up there). Free to play centerfield, Rogers picked off two passes, broke up seven others, and was key in Wisconsin's #1 ranked pass efficiency defense -- a number that's overstated due to the Badgers' Minnesota-worthy schedule but still damn impressive.

1. Brandon Mitchell, Ohio State

Ohio State safeties are beginning to bother me like Ohio State kickers do. Where do they unearth these people, and do they have a patent? I bet there's a lab somewhere.

2. Anthony Scirroto, Penn State

I give up and give in to five interceptions. I don't like doing this, but I begin to understand why there are four cornerbacks on the All Big Ten first teams.

2. Jamar Adams, Michigan

Michigan rotated four safeties all year, but what they really did is rotate three guys through free safety and have them play next to Adams, a solid run defender who's comptetent-ish in pass coverage. Yes, it's a weak year for safeties.

Recruiting Summary: Defensive Line

Recruiting Summary: Defensive Line

Submitted by Brian on February 2nd, 2005 at 4:38 PM

MARQUES SLOCUM - DT - West Catholic(PA)
Height: 6'5" Weight: 310
Lemming: #78 overall, #6 G
Rivals: ****, #37 overall, #1 G
Scout.com: ****, #87 overall
Projected Role: Gabe Watson 2.0

Slocum managed 75 tackles this season--an extremely high number for an interior lineman--despite playing part of the season with a hairline ankle fracture. Then he went down to the Army-All American game slimmed down and pissed off that he had to play guard. When an East DL went down with injury, though, Slocum stepped in on the defensive line and "beat the hell out of" one Alex Boone, five star OSU commit. During the game, he was man the West's offensive line focused on, doubling him almost every play.

Part of the reason that Slocum impressed so many at the Army game is that Slocum showed up at a relatively svelte 310 pounds, down from the 330 he played at in high school. He's clearly preparing himself to play early and should be better prepared than Gabe Watson was coming into college. He'll probably see the field quickly as part of the DT rotation, and in time should end up as good as Watson.

TERRANCE TAYLOR - DT - Muskegon(MI)

Height: 6'1" Weight: 285
Lemming: #85 overall, #6 DT
Rivals: ****, #98 overall, #8 DT, #3 MI
Scout.com: ****, #12 DT
Projected Role: Extremely large ball of hate

Terrance Taylor is a little bit like Grady, a player who was dominant from the start and earmarked for Michigan for a long time--except for a brief period where he declared LSU his leader and scared the pants off Michigan recruitniks everywhere. Taylor was all-state honorable mention.

As a freshman.

As a senior, Taylor made 47 tackles, 16 for loss, and lead his Muskegon team to their first Division 2 state championship since 1989, wasting OLSM 31-7 in the final. Taylor and Muskegon held OLSM to 56 yards of offense. Did I mention he won his weight class in powerlifting... three times? And that he set state records doing it?

So Taylor is a) a freak athlete who b) has tons and tons of high school experience. Taylor seems like he's underrated, even though he is a top-100 player according to Rivals. He has a (relatively) short, compact, powerful body with long arms, the perfect recipe for a penetrating, disruptive interior lineman. If he can add 15 or 20 productive pounds and get even a little stronger, he will be a monster.

JAMES MCKINNEY - DE - Louisville Central(KY)

Height: 6'2" Weight: 277
Lemming: #78 overall, #8 DE

Rivals: ****, #99 overall, #9 DT, #2 KY
Scout.com: ****, #97 overall, #11 DT
Projected Role: Bad cop

McKinney is your runaway winner in this year's "weirdest recruiting process" category. McKinney originally committed to Michigan a year ago as a junior, but backed out of that commitment and began his long, strange journey, which culminated when McKinney took an official visit to Louisville and was asked to leave. He also rated his Michigan official visit a "6", mentioning that there wasn't much to do in Ann Arbor during finals week and that he was bored. Then he committed to the Wolverines anyway, but not before flirting with Clemson, Nebraska, Florida, Kentucky, Angelina Jolie, and my sister.

So we went from enthralled enough to commit early to traipsing about everywhere else to bored with Ann Arbor to getting sent home from an official to Michigan commitment once more. So we've established that McKinney might be a little eccentric. Fortunately, he's also extremely good at football. McKinney was primarily a defensive end and tight end in high school but moonlit at fullback and middle linebacker when the situation called for it. He is a natural for the defensive end position, a 270 to 280 pound athlete who can get the edge or burst inside with his strength, making 70 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior.

But my favorite thing about James McKinney is that he always looks angry. Every picture I've ever seen of him, and I've probably seen all of the ones that made it to the internet in my somewhat-disturbing scouring thereof, feature James McKinney, Mean Looking Hombre (see above). I figure there's a significant chance McKinney spends at least a year in the doghouse, but he's a natural for the defensive end spot who's been performing at a high level for a long time. He'll bring some attitude to the defense. Hopefully he doesn't bring too much to get himself on the field.

EUGENE GERMANY - DE - Pomona(CA)

Height: 6'4" Weight: 275
Lemming: #88 overall (2004)
Rivals: ****, #86 overall, #3 DE, #9 CA (2004)
Scout.com: ***, #20 DE (2004)

Projected Role: DE/DT tweener

Germany is the first-runner up in the aforementioned "weirdest recruiting process" category. Germany was long considered a heavy lean to Michigan last year, but when USC got involved with him in the days leading up to signing day, Pete Carroll's siren song was too powerful to resist. Germany disregarded the advice of his coaches --who counselled him to consider the amount of respect the Trojans paid him earlier in the year--and became Carroll's twenty-fifth or -sixth #1 guy.

At least, that is, until Petey needed to free up some scholarships. Germany came down with some NCAA clearinghouse issues that prevented his enrollment as a part of the 2004 class and pushed his scholarship offer back to 2005. But as winter rolled around, Carroll made Germany's scholarship contigent on him taking and performing well in three classes in the winter semester... an unheard of move and one pretty transparently calculated to inform Eugene that he wasn't really wanted. Germany took the hint, reopened his recruitment, and eventually committed to Michigan after considering various Pac-10 schools and Kansas State.

So what does Michigan have in Germany? A pissed off 275-pound defensive lineman who was a top-100 recruit in 2004. Germany actually played middle linebacker in high school, racking up over 300 tackles in his final two years to go with 14 sacks. He's a big, big guy who will start out at defensive end but may move inside.

Germany participated in a number of practices with USC before coming down with his case of noscholarshipforyou-itis and there is some confusion as to whether Germany will be able to enroll and play at Michigan without counting as a transfer. If the NCAA declares him to be a transfer expect Michigan to appeal.

MGOBLOG Editorial Stance

A+. Are you kidding me? Four top-100 recruits? This class is silly good, the strongest defensive-line class Michigan has ever had in the Lemming era of recruiting. No offense to the Bowmans, Stevens, and Heuers of the world, but these guys are on another level of potential. Gone are the days of 260-pound bulked up LBs at DT and 230 pound converted safeties playing DE. Michigan has had occasional NFL prospects on the line--James Hall, Will Carr, Shantee Orr, Josh Williams--but never the kind of players that could go in the first or second round. Now they have an entire defensive line of them.

I'm most excited about the defensive tackles. Taylor seems like the kind of player who may be underrated because he doesn't have the leviathan size that is en vogue for interior linemen to have these days, but he has a compact and powerful frame that will make him a huge problem for opposing linemen to handle. Slocum is 6'5" or 6'6" and massively powerful and nimble... plus he had never seriously started a weight program until last year. He was extremely effective at the Army All-American game practices against the top offensive linemen in the country and has only begun to scratch the surface of what he can do. I expect both of these guys to be impact players.

Both Germany and McKinney are reportedly around 270 or 280 right now, so there is some concern one or both could outgrow the defensive end position and have to slide inside. McKinney is explosive for a player his size and would be best on the outside. There was actually some talk he would play OLB if Michigan retains the 3-4. Germany has already added 15 pounds from where he was as a high school senior and will probably get even bigger at UM. He could actually end up inside at some point, but defensive tackle is a position where four or even five players will see significant time--as DTs have gotten larger their stamina has declined proportionally. Replacing a tired Watson with a fresh equivalent is a luxury few teams have. Michigan has the opportunity to have a deep, talented line, perhaps the deepest in a long, long time.

It, of course, remains to be seen whether Michigan can actually take advantage of these athletes, but this is a recruiting summary, not (yet another) coaching diatribe. The raw material is here. Molding it into a dominating force... well, let's keep those fingers crossed.