Rounds 9-11: We go on a mini Iowa binge, and Brian takes a true freshman (YTTF).
Rounds 12-14: A grueling three-rounder with safeties, RBs, and MSU legacies flexing. (O'Korn, Braden).
How things stand:
We ran three rounds again last time, which was probably too much. Just trying to get these all out before the season; would you rather very long Draftageddons or multiple Draftageddons per week?
ACE: Round 15, Pick 1: Brandon Bell, linebacker, Penn State
OFFENSE: QB CJ Beathard (IA), RB Saquon Barkley (PSU), WR Jehu Chesson (M), SLOT Curtis Samuel (OSU), TE George Kittle (IA), OT Nick Gates (NE), OG Jacob Bailey (IU), WEAPON Jabrill Peppers (M)
DEFENSE: NT Ryan Glasgow (M), DT Jake Replogle (PU), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), MLB Josey Jewell (IA), OLB Brandon Bell (PSU), OLB/NICKEL Jabrill Peppers (M), CB Jalen Myrick (MN), S Nate Gerry (NE)
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Jabrill Peppers (M), PR Jabrill Peppers (M)
Seth, our resident PSU fan, chose Nyeem Wartman-White in the sixth round of this draft. Even when fully healthy, however, he’s not PSU’s best linebacker—that honor goes to Brandon Bell. Here is eight minutes of Bell doing every damn thing you’d want from a linebacker:
Bell is a prototype walkout linebacker, and at 6’1”, 231, he’s strong enough to play on the inside as well—there are several impressive snaps above where he lines up at WILL and makes a play between the tackles. In 11 games, he tallied 67 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He did all of this while playing much of the season injured:
That's because the New Jersey native played most of the season injured. A shoulder injury was obvious, and the defensive coordinator said there were lower body issues, as well.
"You look back at the year Brandon Bell had, despite missing a couple of games, playing with two bad wheels, a shoulder that kept popping out; when I go back and watch the cutups from the fall, just really impressed with the way Brandon plays," Pry said.
I’ll happily take Bell over the relatively interchangeable MIKEs who’ve gone off the board in the last couple rounds, especially since there are still a couple quality ILBs left on the board if I want to reconfigure my defense. For now, I’ll take a linebacker trio of Bell-Jewell-Peppers that will murder anything on the outside, provide great coverage, and allow my hypothetical squad to avoid having to substitute much against spread teams.
Seth: I would argue except "Well most Penn State fans think..." is the Alabama of bad ways to begin an argument.
Brian: You'd think Ace would know that after drafting nothing but PSU TEs for skill positions last year.
Ace: I’ve made some regrettable choices. Meanwhile, Wartman-White is in a battle just to get his MIKE spot back. Jason Cabinda is good, but nobody’s touched him yet in a draft heavy on ILBs.
Seth: That battle is the mother of offseason pablum. NWW will play wherever they want him, and Cabinda is more Desmond Morgan than Larry Foote.
Ace: They’re all going to start, but it’s tough to spin “ripped up his knee, is _still_ not fully healthy, might not be the QB of the defense anymore” as anything but a negative. I certainly don’t think he should’ve gone in the 6th round of a draft in which Jermaine Carter lasted until the 14th.
Brian: Yeah i mean how likely is it NWW is better than guys like Jewell and Carter? Possible, but not that likely. And the downside is kind of severe.
Ace: And Bell is a more versatile player than Jewell/Carter/NWW/Bullough. Figured someone would grab him as a spacebacker much earlier. I only waited this long because I already had Peppers.
Seth: When i did the Googling for that guy I had to sift through a Draftageddon's worth of articles from last year where teammates bemoaned his loss. It must have been a weekly feature. Meanwhile the list of guys I can watch live and immediately pick out that they're special is quite short. That meant a lot to me in choosing a linebacker, since draft rankings and all-X lists barely look past number of tackles.
And I was waiting to draft Bell because everybody had an outside linebacker already.
Ace: You say that like the rest of us haven’t watched film, too.
Seth: Live-live. Like you can see it from section 18. This is more explanation than argument. I develop sentimental attachments to players I personally identified
Ace: I rest my case, then.
Seth: There are also the guys I read about then watch tape and see just a guy *cough* Hardy Nickerson. (Also *cough* sometimes that guy is Jordan Howard *cough myself*)
Adam: Hey don't try to drag me into your mess. I waited until the 13th round to make my feelingsball-based reach.
Seth: Like I said, I gave up this fight when I realized the credibility of my source killed it before I got to the first predicate.
[After the jump: more self-refuting sentences involving Penn State]
Nothing is any of those colors except the helmet: urine when you're dehydrated. The helmet comes nowhere near anything else on the uniform. They've got as many design elements as you put on your rad-ass logo the first time you ever opened up your pirated copy of photoshop in seventh grade. Also:
2. "Authentic Irish Pub" in suburban upstate New York lookin' ass font. Guy who has never left his hometown but never shuts up about how Irish he is ass font. This font is so dumb, if you let your eyes lose focus, the letters automatically rearrange into "You know, the Guinness they have in Ireland is different and much better than here in the US."
These are the worst things Under Armour does annually.
I hesitate to suggest that Michigan won't do similar things under Harbaugh because not even he can stand against the tide by himself, but so far so good. Last year's all-white road uniforms were sharp and we haven't had uniformz announced or even rumored. It is possible. Texas, Alabama, and USC have largely or even entirely avoided uniforms that look like a wrestler's entrance video.
This is spending on guys like Erik Campbell, TJ Weist, Bam Richards, Devin Bush Sr, etc. Michigan almost doubled its spending on support staff in Harbaugh's first year, hitting 2.7 million. The number they landed on doesn't seem like a coincidence:
In its 2013-14 NCAA financial report, Alabama reported spending $2.7 million on football support staff. … Clemson reported spending $2.5 million on football support staff in 2013-14, up from $480,000 about a decade ago.
Harbaugh asked and got the same budget as the two teams who played for the national title this year.
Michigan's recruiting expenses also saw an uptick, but I don't know if these numbers account for Satellite Camp World Tour 1.0 or not; either way the financial impact of those tours is going to be a slight increase in a number best described as "piddling."
Michigan was good at kickoffs. Michigan was 17th nationally in opponent drives following a kickoff that started at the 25 or worse and 16th when they tried to return kickoffs past the 25 themselves. That success rate was only 57% despite ranking in the top 20—so much of the value in a kick return is the 50 yards at the end that almost never happen but sometimes do.
I think they'll be good in both departments this year. Kenny Allen got good hang time and a lot of touchbacks, and whoever Michigan opts for as a returner is going to be fast and mean.
More expansion, hooray. If the Big 12 is going to expand they should just take BYU and Houston and be done with it. Houston doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the same reason Pitt was never seriously considered by the Big Ten—footprint rules everything around me—but when the other options are Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn, and directional Floridas, Houston starts to look mighty appealing anyway. So of course a former president of CBS sports recommends UConn:
For that reason, Pilson advised the Big 12 to take a page from the Big Ten’s playbook. Much as the Big Ten, a traditionally Midwestern league, recently added Rutgers and Maryland to plant its flag near several East Coast population centers, the Big 12, whose members reside in Great Plains states and Texas (and West Virginia), ought to invite Connecticut to join, Pilson said.
“Having Texas and Oklahoma and the other major Big 12 schools playing in the Northeast would create additional revenue opportunities and make it a more attractive conference in terms of new sponsors and a better linear television deal,” Pilson said.
That seems nuts to me. The Big 12 does not have a network and won't have one unless Texas gives the LHN up, which no. If Texas really wants exposure in a different part of the country they'll blow the Big 12 up.
Invite Purdue and Rutgers to join the Big 12 conference.
Yep, you heard me. Purdue University and Rutgers University would be great fits for your fledgling conference, since they really round out and diversify what the conference needs most. And to help you out, I even made a pro/con list for each school and why they'd work in the Big 12. …
The only assurance Texas, or any school for that matter, could truly give to any newcomer is the "grant of rights" to the league that is currently in place. That grant for Texas and all of teams of the Big 12 extends to 2025.
Yet I don't see an extension of the grant of rights occurring based on my discussion with a high-ranking Texas official this morning.
"I do not like any of the choices," the official said. "(I) want to watch to see if there is a move to extend the grant of TV rights. I will fight that tooth and nail."
Per Burton, Texas's president and chancellor both prefer the Big Ten to the Pac-12 or SEC. Oddly, he says "expect Texas to ask for an annual trip to Chicago and to either of the East Coast markets," which almost certainly can't happen without making the division structure insane. Chicago they can manage since the West division in that event is going to be Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas, Northwestern, Illinois, and whichever other Big 12 refugee hypothetically comes along.
By the way, at that point you're back down to playing the other division 25% of the time even with nine conference games. Hooray expansion.
Hurst has been on the Uber clock this summer, logging miles and earning money, in addition to interning at Blue Lion Fitness in Ann Arbor.
“I’ve just done it for extra cash, pretty much that’s it,” the affable 6-foot-2, 282-pound lineman said. “I definitely like the flexibility. I can work whenever, which helps with my schedule with (football) workouts and working at Blue Lion Fitness.”
Once camp begins Aug. 8, however, Hurst’s Uber days will be over. But he’s enjoyed the experience, especially longer trips to the airport which net $22.
“Jake [Butt] is a character. We talk trash every day. He likes to get better. He knows in the NFL there are going to be DBs who are quick and fast and strong, kind of like me, who are going to cover him, and he’s going to have to get open. That’s why he likes the competition. He’ll go against the linebacker, but he knows if he can get open on a DB, he can get open on a linebacker, so Jake and I go at it every day.”
Thomas offered a Butt scouting report as well:
“Jake’s going to be probably a first-round pick,” Thomas said. “Jake has got strides. It’s not like he’s super fast, but he has long strides that make him fast. He’s really good with his double moves and he’s really good at sticking, stopping and going. If you don’t slow him down, he will leave you. He’s sneaky fast.”
The Question: What was your biggest revelation from the spring?
Adam: The biggest thing the spring game did for me was ease lingering fears about two defensive position groups. The linebackers were almost universally question marks heading into the spring (unless you count the snaps we saw Ben Gedeon play last season) and they played well enough to quell concerns heading into the fall. I don't remember noticing Gedeon live or in the three or four times I've rewatched the game, which is passable for the Mike position; he also didn't get many snaps, which is indicative of how the staff feels about him. Mike McCray looked good in the spring game, while Devin Bush Jr. looked good in the open practice at Ford Field. Jabrill's gonna Jabrill at Sam; it's unfortunate that Noah Furbush was on crutches considering the hype he received from the coaching staff, but at least there's an excellent starting option at that spot.
Even though we've seen Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas play quite a bit I was a little concerned about them, particularly Thomas taking over Wilson's free safety spot. Thomas lived up to the hype he'd received this spring whether he was jetting up to support the run or dropping and covering acres of space; his interception in the back of the end zone is a great example of what he can do with his athleticism. Thomas mentioned that he didn't feel like he hit his stride last season until he fully learned the playbook; it looks like he's learned this playbook very quickly. Tyree Kinnel looked like an excellent backup to Hill at SS, reading the field well and bumping receivers off routes regularly.
When I step back and take a 10,000-foot view of things, I find myself taking twisted joy in the things that cause hand wringing about the defense. Sure, some of the position switches on the defensive line are curious, and though I've written in this very space about trying Gary out at WDE (or End in Don Brown's defense) and keeping Wormley at SDE (or Anchor to Brown) it's fun to worry about how to best deploy an armory of Dudes who deserve significant snaps instead of whether there are any Dudes to be deployed. After the spring game, we know the latter isn't an issue for any defensive position group.
[Hit THE JUMP for more positive defense feels, Tyree Kinnel hype, quarterback reassurance, and a stunning reversal of course from Brian.]
SDE Charlton has been tough to handle [Eric Upchurch]
The most interesting thing about the configuration of the defense thus far is the weakside end. I thought they'd shift Taco Charlton over there and go with a very large and very fierce unit; instead Charlton looks set to start on the strongside and Chase Winovich is a tentative leader on the weakside. Chris Wormley spent most snaps I saw from him at three-tech.
While there's a chance that Michigan reconfigures once Ryan Glasgow gets re-added to the mix, right now it looks like Michigan will have a line that looks a lot like a traditional 4-3 under line instead of the mondo unit they could have had. One man's current guess at what a depth chart looks like in fall:
SDE: Charlton, Gary
NT: Glasgow, Mone, Hurst
3T: Wormley, Godin
WDE: Winovich, Marshall
If they can get production out of Winovich that's an incredibly deep, veteran, and proven defensive line. If Winovich doesn't work out you can slide Charlton over and still have a great two-deep at the bigger spots, but this is Don Brown's first draft.
So… Winovich. After a rather wasted year spent at h-back he returned to defense, now bulked up to 245 pounds. That's light, but if he can get up to 250 or 255 by fall—reasonable—it's not eye-poppingly so. And WDE does fit his talents. As a recruit he was reputed to be Jake Ryan 2.0, and weakside end is a spot Ryan definitely could have played. Winovich has started gathering some hype himself:
Chase Winovich had himself a day at defensive end. We’d said all week that he was a bigger, stronger version of his former self. Grant Newsome definitely learned that Friday. Winovich won their one on one match-up, and was one of the best edge rushers on the day. On one play he literally flattened Newsome with a bull rush to get into the backfield.
Whether that's hooray Winovich or a collar pull about Newsome is in the eye of the beholder. On the downside from that report: on "more than one occasion" Winovich got edged and lost contain. (Yes, just like Jake Ryan.) He's going to have to cause a lot of havoc to make up for what projects to be a serious downgrade in run efficacy from the much larger and more experienced Charlton.
"He was one of our top players last year," Mone said. "We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."
I have many questions about that assertion. They will never be answered.
Mone seems to have picked up where he left off before his injury, but to be honest I didn't see much from him in either practice I observed. I wasn't looking for him much since nose tackle is just about dead last on my list of concerns for 2016; even so last year you saw Maurice Hurst blow through an assortment of players, including Graham Glasgow, en route to spring hype and a very productive season. Mone didn't deliver that when in front of fans. He did draw a tough matchup against Mason Cole, to be fair. I'm still waiting for him to indicate that he's going to be better than Glasgow was a year ago.
He was rarely blocked one-on-one, and managed to still be effective against the double team. Twice in the early portion of 11-on-11 action he engaged Ben Braden, tossed the 322 lb. offensive lineman to the side with relative ease, and then got in on the play in the backfield. On another play he split Braden and Mason Cole with great off-snap quickness and nailed Ty Isaac in the backfield.
I'd have liked to see that myself; it's good that someone did.
Godin's playing time might get squeezed [Upchurch]
Chris Wormley is still Chris Wormley. He'll probably be incrementally stronger and better and this will be a very good thing indeed. Matt Godin had an impressive spring game, blowing through a number of second-string OL. I thought he'd be a better fit at SDE, where he was on relatively level footing with Wormley early last season, than three-tech but Michigan looks set to play him on the interior. That might make it tough for him to get a lot of time—he is not likely to pass any of the other four DTs. The current Taco/Winovich DE setup steps on his toes more than anyone else.
Carlo Kemp and Reuben Jones played a lot as DEs on the white team and mostly got beat up. That's not a huge surprise since Kemp is a freshman and Jones is still listed at 222 pounds on the (possibly outdated) roster. I wouldn't expect either to break through this year.
McCray is a thumper [Upchurch]
Mike McCray is obviously the story of the spring here, and it was appropriate that he was one of the main reasons his team stuffed Henry Poggi on the goal line to end the Spring Game. McCray brings a load. At Ford Field he hammered a number of lead blocks like James Ross playing a Penn State OL. He is a tough customer.
What remains to be seen is whether he's a two-down backer or if he's fast enough to be an asset in coverage. Noises coming out of practice are positive. Per Lorenz Michigan is "quietly excited and optimistic"; Webb observed him have a lights out practice down in Florida:
Early in 11-on-11 action he met Ty Isaac in the hole and brought him down for no gain. A few plays later he showed nice feel in coverage and would have de-cleated Jack Wangler on a crossing pattern. His best play came later on in the practice when he timed a blitz perfectly and tagged Kareem Walker in the backfield.
While McCray ended up chasing a lot of completed mesh routes in the spring game I wouldn't read too much into that: mesh is designed to hang up man-to-man defenders trying to cover those drag routes. It did so with McCray. I'm assuming Michigan has better answers for mesh that they declined to show the public.
McCray did get juked by O'Korn on the final touchdown, but he was in a ton of space and did force the play back to his help. That help did not arrive in time. Ideally you get an open-field tackle like those Delano Hill turned in a couple times last year, but failing that McCray at least mitigated damage insofar as that was possible.
Ben Gedeon remains just as much of a default starter as he was before the spring. Harbaugh is saying all the right things about him, calling him a "stud" amongst other praise. When you've got a guy who hasn't quite established himself but will start because there are no other options save freshmen your floor can be very low—Johnny Sears is the canonical example. There was never going to be a way for Gedeon to disprove that this spring.
At least we have seen enough of Gedeon to estimate that he'll be all right—he was more or less a starter for a game in the middle of the season when Michigan was suffering through their ridiculous targeting call period, and he did fine. As long as he doesn't run upfield of blocks I'm good.
McCray's emergence allows the Devin Bush Jr project to have a more reasonable timeframe. Going into spring everyone was assuming he'd end up starting out of necessity; exiting it he's probably in the same position Gedeon was last year: a rotation player who spots both starters. That's still not ideal, but neither is it starting a freshman. Bush didn't generate a ton of buzz other than the occasional mention of a big hit and he didn't leap out at me. He was of course victimized by Ty Wheatley on that one play, but when you force a one-handed attempt to catch a pass you've done your job.
Noah Furbush did not play in the spring game, which is unfortunate since he came in for a reasonable amount of hype himself as Jabrill Peppers's main competition at SAM. Sam related that Harbaugh "loves" Furbush's attitude and general guy-ness, and he did have a number of impressive special teams plays a year ago. Obviously Furbush and Peppers are not particularly similar players—Furbush coming into his own would allow Michigan to move Peppers around.
Another reason I wouldn't read too much into the crossing routes that were wide open all day: somehow the top six defensive backs* all ended up on the white team, and after the opening series we saw little of Lewis and Stribling. Victims on the crossing routes were often walk-ons.
Most downfield passes were attempted against guys who don't project to see the field much this year. Ken Stross was this year's version of Norfleet: a converted WR who gets bombed all day.
There were a couple of plays of note for projected contributors, this one the most impressive:
Dymonte Thomas came from the dead center of the field to get over the top of a reasonably well-thrown ball near the back corner of the endzone. He took off as soon as Morris committed to one side of the field, which is encouraging.
Jarrod Wilson, blessed be his boring name, is not making that play. I can't imagine many people do. If Thomas can reliably execute his assignments he has the potential to be something Michigan hasn't seen since Marcus Ray**: a bonafide playmaking safety.
The other play of note was discussed yesterday when we talked about Drake Harris and can be seen briefly at the 52 second mark of the above highlights: Jeremy Clark with fantastic coverage on Harris. I don't doubt that Channing Stribling's had an impressive spring, especially since he got the sure-starter yoink on Friday and this vote of confidence from Harbaugh…
“Channing Stribling. He’s a starter. It’s cold. It’s in stone.:"
…but at Ford Field and the Spring Game it's been Jeremy Clark who looks like the guy.
Channing Stribling was given the game ball by Jim Harbaugh after practice #4 and with good reason. … His route recognition led to numerous plays including two interceptions. His first pick came while covering Drake Harris and seemed to run the pattern better than his offensive counterpart before jumping it and intercepting the ball. He nearly picked off another pass… a deep out to Harris… where he also seem to run that route better than Harris also before knocking it away. His second interception occurred when the Sean McKeon beat Noah Furbush down the seam and Stribling slid over the top to help, skied for the ball, and picked it off.
I expect that competition to be hot and heavy this fall. TBH I'd be perfectly happy with another year just like the one Clark turned in, minus some of the absurdly bad luck he suffered. For Stribling to surge past is a potentially excellent sign.
Kinnel is hugely important for 2017 [Upchurch]
Tyree Kinnel was the other name of note. He turned in a pick-six at Ford Field and looked very comfortable in a box safety role in the spring game. Despite that, Harbaugh made it clear that the two starters have "nobody really pushing them right now."
*[minus Peppers, if he's more of a linebacker.]
**[Ernest Shazor's candidacy here was rejected since he made as many plays for the opposition as his own team. ]
Michigan didn't run any full-go, but there was the occasional thing of note:
At Ford Field it looked like Michigan was trying to find folks other than Peppers to take kickoffs back. They can get similar production from some of their other fast guys and lighten the load on their two-way star.
They did practice both NFL and spread punting; in the game they went entirely spread.
Kenny Allen had a booming conventional punt. This does not surprise since he's been blasting them in practice for years. It is unlikely he has the precision that Blake O'Neill did but if Michigan needs to send it 60 yards he's more than capable.
Andrew David has been tasked with rugby punting. He had a pooch punt that was relatively effective.
Can't judge return units since nothing was full contact.
Chris Partridge appears to be the main guy on special teams, with little help from other people, at least on the practice field.
David was shaky on field goals.
I expect Allen to take the large bulk of the kicking jobs. Surprise!
I guess I need to include a SPOILER ALERT for those who weren't able to watch the live stream. If for some reason you want the ending of the Spring Game to be a mystery, and yet you still are on this blog, stop reading now. The full game re-airs at 9:30 on BTN.
Ty Isaac had the best night among the RBs. [Eric Upchurch]
The Maize team prevailed, 14-13, after a stunningly exciting finish for a Spring Game. After John O'Korn juked Mike McCray to cap off an impressive last-gasp drive for the Blue team, but the Maize defense stuffed a fullback dive by Henry Poggi on the ensuing two-point attempt to preserve victory. Your player of the game is Wyatt Shallman. I require no further justification than this:
I won't bother with a full recap, because SPRING GAME, but here are a few players on each side of the ball that stood out to me on first viewing—it was tough to follow line play from the box, so this is mostly going to focus on the skill positions and the back seven.
John O'Korn was at his best when on the move. [Upchurch]
Ty Isaac tallied 78 yards on ten carries, breaking off a few big runs on a night when none of the other tailbacks found much room to operate behind split-squad offensive lines. He ran patiently and chose the right moments to bounce runs outside. He's a major big-play threat with his speed/size combo.
The quarterbacks were steady, which is about all you can ask in a Spring Game, especially since the O-lines—which split starters between the two squads—were inconsistent in protection. Wilton Speight hit 5/6 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown; he added a six-yard rushing touchdown on a waggle and gained a first down with a 13-yard scramble.
John O'Korn didn't put up as pretty of a passing line, completing 6/14 passes for 93 yards, but he rushed for 28 yards and the late touchdown on seven carries. O'Korn did a nice job of buying time by breaking the pocket and picking his spots to scramble downfield. He also avoided any major mistakes. Shane Morris had an up-and-down showing at quarterback, hitting some nice throws but also hucking a pick to Dymonte Thomas in the end zone (more on that later) when he had a receiver open underneath for a first down. Morris moonlighted at receiver and picked up a 25-yard gain on the final drive when he got wide open on a mesh concept.
With Jehu Chesson out and Amara Darboh taking it easy, Grant Perry played the role of #1 receiver for the Maize squad and aquitted himself well. He beat a defender with a nice deep route that left Speight plenty of room on the sideline, then made an impressive catch—unfortunately, Speight's throw took him out of bounds. He had three actual catches for 30 yards; the reserve corners had a tough time sticking with him on intermediate routes.
TJ Wheatley had a drop over the middle, but he later hauled in a nine-yard catch and had impressive blocks against both Mike McCray and Jabrill Peppers(!) to spring Isaac for big gains. The hype train continues unabated. Ian Bunting looked pretty athletic on a 49-yard jaunt down the sideline after his defender got picked on another mesh route. Zach Gentry had a late 19-yard catch, though he's still far from ready to see the field.
Tyree Kinnel played well against both the run and the pass. [Upchurch]
Matt Godin stood out among the defensive linemen who played most of the game, taking advantage of getting lined up across from Juwann Bushell-Beatty—who had a rough go at left guard—to work his way into the backfield consistently. Taco Charlton also deserves a mention for blowing Grant Newsome back a few yards to stuff Isaac's first run; Charlton and Wormley both looked good before exiting early along with several other established starters, including Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis.
I liked what I saw from Mike McCray, who teamed up with Tyree Kinnel for a TFL that forced a Maize punt on a third-and-short run to the outside. Kinnel, meanwhile, looked great; he stuck with his mark in coverage and made a couple stops coming downhill against the run. If Michigan needs to put him out there at safety, he looks ready.
Speaking of safeties, Dymonte Thomas was not boring in the best of ways. On the interception against Morris, he covered a ton of ground to get to a throw intended for Jack Wanger at the back pylon—a perfect throw if Thomas weren't there—then held on after leaping for the pick. I didn't notice any coverage busts from him.
Jeremy Clark doesn't look ready to cede a starting spot to Channing Stribling. He broke up a couple passes, including one after blanketing Wangler on a streak route and forcing him into the sideline; Wangler was so well-covered that he couldn't gain separation even with an obvious push-off.
That's the best I could muster from first viewing in the press box. We'll have a lot more coverage in the week to come.
What are you watching for in the Spring Game? What is there to learn?
David: Brian and Ace did a good job during the Podcast of pointing out some of the main things to watch for on Friday night. Here are some additional battles/guys that will grab my eyes:
No no the one on the right. [Fuller]
Not De'Veon Smith running backs. At this point, we know who Smith is and what he can do. After him, there is quite a race happening. Isaac has been hyped a little, but he was last year, as well. Kareem Walker is a big recruit, but as of a couple weeks ago, he was still with the Maize group. Also, I guess Joe Hewlett has gotten some nice run. Bobby Henderson at fullback. He's the only returning true fullback. They've moved a couple other guys (Hill and Poggi) back there, but I'm curious to see if Henderson will fend them off and be able to earn PT just because he will be more familiar with the position.
Dymonte Thomas and Tyree Kinnel at safety. Thomas blew up towards the end of 2015 and earned his spot on the field. He's a crazy athlete and a little more practice time could turn him into a dynamic deep safety. Tyree Kinnel is a guy I still wish they would have red-shirted, but he is also a guy to keep an eye on for not only next season but for the future. There's not a whole lot behind these guys. *We've seen Delano Hill before and mostly know what we'll get from him.
The rest of the tight ends. Jake Butt is YAY! There are also some interesting guys after him. Bunting, Wheatley, Jocz, and Gentry are all different kinds of players and each can create his own matchup problem. Seeing Wheatley slip out, Jocz block (ha), and Bunting/Gentry use their size against smaller DBs will be some things to keep an eye on that could get them on the field in the Fall...and very much diversify Michigan's tight end arsenal.
[Hit THE JUMP to find out who the coaches' thought their #3 overall player was at this time last year. Hint: he didn't play.]
“It was just a great opportunity to work with coach Harbaugh. He’s had a lot of success everywhere he’s been, so honestly I just wanted to be a part of that and learn from him. And also the chance to work with coach Brown, who I’ve worked with before and I’ve played with. It was a chance to meet up with him again and work side by side, so I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
Difficult transition at all going straight to Florida like that and not even knowing any of the player’s names at this point, it’s such a quick decision?
“Yeah, I mean, everything happened fast. The whole process, just learning names out on the field the first day. But like I said, I’ve worked with coach Brown before in the past so that made the transition a lot easier for me. But just spending extra time trying to get in the playbook myself, learning it along with the players, was a fun process.”
What was Jim’s pitch to you coming to Michigan?
“Well, he didn’t really have to pitch too much. Michigan kind of speaks for itself. It’s a great university and they’ve had a lot of success in the past, and just the opportunity to be here I couldn’t pass up.”
More enjoyable to play for coach Brown or to work with him?
“Well it was great to play for him in that defense that he has. It’s changed a little bit over the years but not much. It’s still the same philosophy, so as a player you love that style of defense.”
We’ve heard a lot about the front seven in his defense. How does that impact the back four?
“He always does a good job stopping the run and it makes teams one-dimensional, so it helps us out.”
MGoQuestion: What are the characteristics of the ideal free and strong safety in this defense?
“Well, we like guys that have length, that are athletic, that can play man-to-man. You know, those are some of the things that we look for. At the end of the day, football players- guys that are football players, tough, [and] love to play the game.”
[After THE JUMP: it’s a press conference of course Jabrill comes up]
11/28/2015 – Michigan 42, Ohio State 13 – 9-3, 6-2 Big Ten
I did not make a list of the things I was hoping to avoid thinking on Saturday, but if I had "This reminds me of Greg Robinson" would have been near the top of the list. It probably doesn't beat out "I hope I can find that limb again" or "so that's what a velociraptor looks like", but it's a close thing.
But there I was, watching 225-pound James Ross line up just behind a nose tackle and thinking about Kenny Demens. Poor damn Kenny Demens.
The last time Michigan installed a 3-3-5 on short notice that didn't look like the way other teams run a 3-3-5 it looked like that. Michigan gave up 41 points on just nine drives to Matt McGloin. I'm sure someone has run this at some point in the history of football and had it work, but I'm still at a loss to explain how that might happen. Whenever it's raised its head at Michigan it's been a debacle.
This was a debacle.
The 3-3-5 wasn't a constant and may have been a misguided attempt to save the DL's legs since they had been whittled down to the starters over the course of the year, but as potential game-changing responses to the Ohio State approach to footballin' go… well, it did change the game.
Michigan did need to have something in their back pocket. I spent big chunks of the preview speculating about what might happen if and when Michigan was forced to abandon the defense it has played for much of the season. Playing man coverage with a deep safety against a team with a heavy QB run game and a superior tailback is only viable if you can win one-on-one battles up front.
Michigan has won those all year, but when Ryan Glasgow got knocked out of the lineup, Indiana exposed the remaining guys with tempo and a bunch of stretch plays, but they were still individually dominant against inside zone. Ohio State runs a lot of inside zone. Michigan got ripped on it.
Since OSU uses their quarterback as a runner extensively, Michigan spent most of he day with one fewer guy in the box than Ohio State had blockers. Often they lined up with one DL between Ohio State's tackles. After a reasonable start they got gashed towards the end of the first half, just in time for adjustments.
There were no adjustments. Michigan got its face caved in. When Michigan put three DL out there they got locked on the field; when OSU faced a third and short they went tempo and ran inside zone. Michigan had no response for this OSU tactic that dates back to the dawn of the Urban Meyer era.
The overall narrative of this season is still a highly encouraging one, but here Michigan has a choice: wake up like OSU did after their own debacle a week ago, or keep showing up in the most important game of the year completely incapable of holding the opposition under 300 yards a game.
DJ Durkin is indeed a promising defensive coordinator but the failure to respond when Indiana was ripping Michigan late and during this entire game should have us pumping our brakes on just how good he is. This is a punch in the mouth. We'll have to wait a year before a response, if Durkin hasn't already left town for a head job elsewhere.
But hey, we're disappointed about 9-3 that isn't 10-2 because of a galactically unlikely outcome at the end of the Michigan State game. Since 99% of Michigan fans predicted 8-4 or worse, that's something. Turning Jake Rudock into a killer quarterback is something. Three consecutive shutouts are something, and Michigan goes into the offseason with a lot of anger to fuel improvement.
Forward, and never look back at this one.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
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#1 Jehu Chesson had 111 receiving yards and Michigan's touchdown on a series of catches ranging routine to excellent. Darboh struggled to get separation; Chesson was generally open. That's a great sign for his ability to shake anybody and hopefully presages a big-time senior year.
#2 Jake Rudock completed his incredible in-season turnaround with an 8.2 YPA day against one of the best pass defenses in the country, and that was without a whole lot of help after the catch. Rudock placed a bunch of throws just in front of the safeties, didn't throw anything approximating an interception, and dealt with a lot of pressure heroically. Just a stunning reversal, and a tribute to Harbaugh's QB coaching ability.
#3 Jake Butt caught five passes and further separated himself from the Big Ten tight end pack; he has still dropped just one vaguely reasonable pass all year. You might notice that all of these things are related to Michigan's passing battery, because that was the only good bit from the game.
Honorable mention: the refs for not calling holding a half-dozen times against whoever was trying to block Bosa. Peppers, I suppose.
Utah: circle route pick six. Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust. UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3. BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game. Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma. Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT MSU: Obvious. Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't. Rutgers: KO return given up. Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run. PSU: OSU's WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE gameplan against MSU. OSU: the second half
[After THE JUMP: Rudock exponential improvement path, box numbers, sad things.]
Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Thanksgiving? I'm trying not to accidentally have a war on Christmas here. Whichever Thanksgiving greeting you feel is appropriate appears in this space along with a reminder that Matt's good at making mortgages happen and a solid all-around dude, so if you're in the market you could do a lot worse.
FORMATION NOTES: Standard stuff from Michigan to the point where I forgot to take a screenshot. Here is a picture of Hackenberg getting swarmed instead.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Charlton moved to buck/WDE. With him there it's WDE. RJS backed him up an got a healthy number of snaps. Hurst, Henry, and Wormley got the vast bulk of the remaining DL snaps. Strobel got in for a few. Godin had a little bit more playing time than Strobel but maybe a dozen snaps total.
Gedeon rotated in for both Morgan and Bolden periodically. Bolden seemed to get more rest than Morgan. Gedeon might have been in there a quarter of the time. Ross played a reasonable amount as a SAM in 4-3 sets.
Secondary was as per usual now, with Hill the dime back behind Thomas. Stribling got scattered snaps. In the 4-3 Peppers and Lewis were the corners.
[After THE JUMP: diatribe! Three plays that went poorly! And then good stuff!]
11/21/2015 – Michigan 28, Penn State 16 – 9-2, 6-1 Big Ten
I have seen things when Michigan plays Penn State. I have seen boggling things. Things I should not repeat but am about to anyway.
I have seen a free Hail Mary handed the opposition. I have seen a timeout just before an intentional safety. I have seen 27 runs for 27 yards. I have seen Michigan's slot receiver left alone, all alone. I have seen a slot receiver wonder if any of these 100,000 people can see him, especially the offensive coordinator. I have seen a slot receiver's constituent atoms disperse as he convinces himself he must not exist after all. Then I saw some more runs for one yard. Somewhere in there Dennis Norfleet dances in a loop for all time, because sure that makes as much sense as anything.
I have been baffled. I have been enraged. I have been morbidly entertained. I have been stupefied, watching Michigan play Penn State.
Things have been a bit frustrating the past few weeks, what with an avalanche of procedure penalties, offsides calls, and special teams mishaps. But when presented with a situation where they did not expect to and could not run the ball much, Michigan did not repeatedly bang their collective head into a brick wall.
Michigan's final drive featured five De'Veon Smith runs and one kneel-down. Five Jake Rudock attempts were sacks or scrambles. Once those are put in the appropriate bins, Michigan ran just 19 times to 43 passes.
Two years ago in that very stadium a complete wreck of an offensive line took on an equally stout Penn State defense. They didn't throw one wide receiver screen. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards. This year before garbage time time, De'Veon Smith had 8 carries; 6 went to Chesson and Peppers.
Michigan's going to be a good rushing offense. Probably great. But even though that's what Harbaugh wants to do, he adapted to the situation he was presented with. That's terrific.
Coaching can be divided into a few different categories. Development, recruiting, and tactics seem to cover the bases. While Michigan is still struggling with the near-total lack of the former under the previous regime, the latter was totally on point here. Can't say that about two years ago. Or a year ago. While Michigan remains a bit wobbly, a bit rickety, the things they are doing make sense.
Michigan played Penn State on the road and the only stupefying things that happened came from reliable sources like Big Ten referees and James Franklin trying to manage a game. Meanwhile Ohio State played Michigan State in the most stupefying game of the year. Now is the time to sit back and appreciate the fact that things more or less make sense.
It ain't perfect and it'll never be, but Michigan tries a bunch of things and takes what the opposition gives and if something isn't going great they stop doing it. The only time I've gotten really twitchy about tactics was against Indiana when Michigan ran play action on second and twenty that led to an interception. (I was mildly twitchy about Michigan's passivity on Indiana's go-ahead touchdown drive.)
In a world where Ohio State throws 16 times against Michigan State, where Tim Beckman is seen as a viable hire for a position more involved than vending machine*, where every coach in America seems to need a 14-year-old kid who plays Madden nonstop on the sideline, "more or less makes sense most of the time" is gold. Michigan's coaching staff has not punched itself in the face for four hours on any given Saturday, and in the cold light of dawn two days after a stupefying weekend of college football that warms the ol' cockles right up.
#2 Chris Wormley was the most consistent and dangerous of Michigan's defensive linemen, racking up 1.5 sacks and another half TFL. Wormley and the rest of the DL gave up one big Saquon Barkley run (mostly on Willie Henry and the linebackers) and shut everything else down, leaving PSU relying on the tempestuous Christian Hackenberg to move the ball.
#3 Jake Rudock threw one ugly interception. When not doing that he completed two-thirds of his passes for 256 yards. 6.7 yards an attempt isn't electric but since a half-dozen or more of those were wide receiver screens that Michigan used in place of a running game that may understate things. Also, Penn State has had one of the best pass defenses in the country to date.
Honorable mention: Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson had 66 and 69 receiving yards, respectively, and along with Darboh have established Michigan's receiving corps as a very good one. Henry, Hurst, and Taco Charlton helped out immensely, minus the Henry cut. Jourdan Lewis remains Jourdan Lewis; his KO return also helped seal the game.
Jourdan Lewis rips off a 60-yard kickoff return after Penn State draws within five, setting up a short field that Michigan drives for a game-sealing TD. Better is that he called his shot with Harbaugh beforehand.
Honorable mention: Darboh's tip-toe catch. #Buttdown. Harbaugh strippin' rage. Any number of sacks and TFLs.
Ohio State tests Michigan State's secondary twice. In a game of football. Against Michigan State. What are you even doing?
Honorable mention: Punt blocked. Any number of offsides or false start penalties. The touchdown Peppers allowed. Any number of infuriatingly bad calls. That fourth and ten conversion against great Lewis coverage.
Utah: circle route pick six. Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust. UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3. BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game. Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma. Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT MSU: Obvious. Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't. Rutgers: KO return given up. Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run. PSU: OSU's WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE gameplan against MSU.
[After THE JUMP: defense back, Rudock maintaining.]