As DJ VIGIL continues we attempt to generate content that will hold your interest without taking too much effort because as soon as we have a stay or go on him you won't remember anything else that happened today. FWIW, Webb said he thinks DJ will return on WTKA this morning but declined to offer a gut feeling. This section should have been in Star Wars crawl format.
“I told one of our players, Ben Mason, who’s a freshman linebacker—he early enrolled, he went through spring practice. I’ve never seen anybody go forward and hit somebody better. I think this guy was just made to be a fullback.”
While the phrasing there is not 100%, Michigan did discuss FB with Mason during his recruitment and there is a serious need. Michigan does not have a scholarship fullback other than the two fifth year seniors currently manning the position. With Michigan adding Josh Ross, Drew Singleton, and Jordan Anthony at the ILB spots Mason is a candidate to play, this move had been anticipated for a while by the kind of people who anticipate moving people to fullback. (Read: us.)
In other news, Jim Harbaugh talked to PFT Commenter for an extended period of time. What a world.
I’ve been so enamored with Brown’s defense lately that we haven’t discussed Harbaugh’s run games, which is a shame because they’re brilliant. He kept the fancy stuff in the barn of course but the Spring Game did show a neat thing and got a big chunk out of it.
For completion’s sake here’s who’s on the field. Those likely to see extensive action in 2016 are in bold, and non-Kovacsian walk-ons have hashtags:
Only a few of those matchups can be at all enlightening, but I’d count the highlighted one among them.
1. THE PLAY: POWER WITHOUT THE PULLING
The defense is in a 71 (base over with the NT covering the center) front with the SAM (Peppers) up on the line to counteract that extra TE. The offense starts by motioning that TE.
The defense shows it’s in man, with the boundary CB (Washington) rolling with the motioning H-back (Butt). When Butt stops between the LT and LG, the WLB (Bush) comes up like he’s going to blitz that gap. That’s a good thing too because the called run goes right over his ass:
If you can picture it, the same blocks are happening as if it’s Power, but the fullback is doing the kickout block, and the H-back is the “puller” leading through the intended hole. The running back then picks a hole through the carnage, typically to whichever side of the H-back’s block that a defender isn’t in.
[After the jump: The defense solves this the Don Brown way, then breaks down]
So yesterday was the first time we really got to try out my brother's new double-TV basement setup. The plan was to watch all of the football for 14 straight hours, but once the Wisconsin game ended the kinderfolk had taken over TV2 and put on the movie that the current generation of kinderfolk cannot stop watching: Frozen. During one lengthy halftime, we acquiesced to a volume swap, and soon enough here's this room full of men in MSU and Alabama and Michigan gear intently watching a (double-) princess flick.
From what I've managed to piece together of the plot from 30+ partial viewings, there's a snowy kingdom with a rich shipping and ice manufacturing industrial base that comes to be ruled by a princess with magical ice powers. As a kid she shoots her sister with it. Later the sister gets engaged to a prince she doesn't bother to scout, and as a result ice princess accidentally locks her country in a polar vortex. Ice princess then runs off, sings "eff it all" and builds ice castles until her sister shows up, at which point she shoots her sister again. So now she has to come back and make things right, which leads to her shooting her sister a third time, and this slowly turns sis into an ice statue. Then ice princess hugs the statue and cries, and everything suddenly goes back to summer because all along she had the ability to de-ice everything by loving something other than herself.
Message received, Disney. Now that Michigan's leadership is actually focusing on the realm instead of the realm's perception of its leadership, it turns out our wealthy little Nordic fantasy land doesn't have to be a barren, frozen waste-tundra after all.
Bronxblue gave the whole coaching search his Best and Worst treatment. Like the rest of us, he found the whole thing refreshingly sensical, like Michigan was acknowledging factors that created bad decisions in the past, and was approaching the pursuit of Harbaugh and Plan B with a zeal for deliberation and responsibility that Dave Brandon put into presenting himself as deliberate and responsible.
He also got into the meta of reporting on this process. As a rule of thumb, the more a media person is saying "trust ME" instead of "trust THIS INFORMATION" the less you should believe him.
[After the jump, a long discussion of the running game next year, and a moment of zen you don't want to miss]
Just when we'd split out the various gradations in blocky-catchy guys into its own section of the preview, Al Borges had to go and get himself fired. Cumong, man.
They're all still on the roster and Michigan's going to try to use them so we're sticking with it. This section of the preview consists of everyone who isn't quite a skill position player and isn't quite an offensive linemen. Let's reprise last year's explanation of what is what to orient ourselves:
FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
U-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
TIGHT END: Larger that the U-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker.
FLEX: Sort of like the U-back in that he rarely lines up on the line of scrimmage itself, but if he motions away from his spot near the line, it's not to fullback but wide receiver. They get a billion catches and break Jim Mandich's record eventually. See: every ND tight end ever.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
Same guys, potentially less of a role. Doug Nussmeier comes from a one-back coaching tree, and one-back guys are usually a lot more interested in putting two tight ends on the field than a fullback, because fullbacks don't threaten vertically. Given the situation at tight end and the need to bash out a yard or three on the regular, these guys will still be involved. Just maybe not quite as much.
JOE KERRIDGE remains the starter here and should hold on to that designation. It seems like he's been around forever already and he's still got a year left after this one; now is the time for him to start imposing himself on opponents. He did a fair job of doing so last year:
FBs did well.
Isos were a high point.
Blocks got cut away from.
Not heavily involved.
Let some guys under him.
Blocks couldn't even become relevant.
Got good movement.
Soon to be a WR.
Good game, quasi third-down back.
When the blocking was good enough to make him relevant he did his job, and did it well. It was not all terrific, as he had some questionable plays against Minnesota:
But by the end of the year he was taking a bunch of snaps as a pass protector on throwing downs, acting as Gardner's lead back on occasion, and even catching things out of the backfield. I didn't chart the OSU game but I did review it and Kerridge had a quality day highlighted by this thunderous block:
My God man. I heard that this place's Heap of Smoked Linebacker was excellent, but the descriptions do not do it justice. That is Dudley-worthy there.
Nussmeier isn't likely to deviate from his belief that tight ends on or near the line of scrimmage are much more threatening to a defense than fullbacks, but when Michigan absolutely must scatter a linebacker's equipment across the field, Kerridge will be the weapon of choice.
[After THE JUMP: I googled Jake Butt's name so by god you are going to read the things I have to say about Jake Butt.]
Fuller didn't get a shot of Dileo that he put on Flickr, but he got this 6-yard catch by Butt on 2nd and 5, when Dileo was busy running off two defenders.
The primary complaint with Michigan's offense, rightly, has been with the blocking dudes' problems with blocking dudes. While gathering data on personnel changes throughout the Northwestern game I got an opportunity to look hard enough to have an idea where the UFR will lay blame for 9 points in regulation. Preview: Bosch didn't have a good game. However the freshman guards are a problem solved mostly by experience, i.e. we can't fix it this year.
But if Michigan is looking for an offensive boost it might find one by improving which parts they deploy among the five eligible receiver positions. Which personnel and how they're aligned come with various strengths. Generally the smaller and more spread out, the better to make space for you to operate; conversely the larger and tighter the better to block dudes. I put forth that our blocking dudes are currently pretty bad at blocking dudes, thus it's worth moving some of their snaps to 3rd and 4th receivers.
MANBALL isn't Borgesian
Here's Borges's offense being run at UCLA in 1998, a time when the spread offense was something that won games at Tulane:
Note the 3WR sets pop up plenty. I believe the goal here is to be multifarious, not just very large and good at something. He wants to be impossible to prepare for because at any moment you might put in your 4-4 personnel when you see him trotting out 3 tight ends, and then he'll spread them out and put a 6'6 monster on your tiniest cornerback. This is why they're recruiting Fifty Shades of Shea.
But That's a Long Way Away
Today, they have precious few developed parts to play these "skill" positions. The running backs can't block, either because they're really spread nutrinos (Toussaint, Hayes, Norfleet) or true freshmen (Green, Smith) who didn't need blocking lessons to run over high school fools. The fullbacks are a walk-on they've been developing for awhile but who still misses 1 in 5 blocking assignments, and a RS freshman they recruited out of Utah who needs work.
Off. Performance vs. NW'ern When Player is On Field (Only normal downs counted)
From a Borgesian perspective, the tight ends are in even worse shape. Funchess became a receiver because despite all that size he's not much of a blocker. That leaves his classmate A.J. Williams at the top of the depth chart despite the fact that he's not been a very good blocker, and his threat as a passing target fizzles out about three yards downfield. They've got Jake Butt, who like Funchess is more of a receiver at this stage in his career. And just so they have another body there, positional vagaband Jordan Paskorz has been getting a few drives here and there; after him it's burning a redshirt and air.
It would make sense, then, for the receivers to pick up the slack. If you can't block a guy with Williams, you can get that same block by putting a receiver far away from the play, so long as you threaten to go out there if a defender doesn't follow. But there's another problem with the receivers: Gallon is great but tiny, Funchess is great but still raw. Chesson is coming along. Dileo is himself.
And…? The coaches seem to have put every other receiver on the shelf: they've played Jeremy Jackson a lot and gotten little returns. Joe Reynolds seems to be not an option. So every time they go 4-wide, effectively the whole depth chart is out there. Exhaust those guys and the passing game goes away. Or at least this is the best reason I can imagine.
I'm not sure it's a good reason. It seems to me that they're pretty effective the more they spread 'em out, because you're essentially replacing a mediocre-to-bad FB or TE with a slot receiver who is pretty good at that job.
Did You See Dileo's Number in that Chart?
I spent much of yesterday and all night last night charting the personnel moves during last Saturday's game to be able to pull those numbers. The whole thing is here:
There's no way I can go back and do the whole season, unless Brian has a secret code hidden in the UFRs or something. Anyway: 9 YPA when Dileo is out there, and 4.5 to 5.5 when he's not. Here's some other things I found in there.
In this week's podcast Brian alluded again to his spectrum of blocky-hitty to catchy-outie or whatever. Most of this has been touched on before but I thought I might delve a little further into the Fullback/U-back/Tight end descriptors and what Borges means to do with his shiny new knife set.
The coaches call them fullback (Kerridge and Houma), U-back (Shallman and Hill) and Y-Tight End (Funchess, Williams, Butt and Paskorz). By now you ought to be familiar with all of them but just in case:
Fullback: lines up in the backfield in a position to receive a handoff; may be split, offset, or inline. Kerridge is your pure blocker type; he'll wander out to be a pass option out of the backfield but I've yet to see him run a route more than a few yards from the L.O.S. Houma is supposed to be more of a combo blocker-runner; his quick burst of acceleration and compact body force defenses to respect the threat of a quick dive from him.
U-back: lines up in the backfield but nearer to the edge of the line, usually outside the tackle opposite the Y-tight end. May also line up as an end (on the line) if the receiver to his side is not on it. This position really encompasses anybody between pure fullback and pure tight end. Wyatt Shallman is the more fullbackian as he's more of a running threat than a pass-catching option, though his size makes him a strong edge blocker. Khalid Hill is an interesting guy for the U since he's supposed to be an accomplished pass catcher and route runner, yet can still lay fullback-like blocks.
Y-Tight End: lines up on the line (and thus can't move before snap) next to the tackle. A guy whose skills lean receiver may "FLEX" out, which is a fancy way of saying he's playing possession slot receiver. A.J. Williams and to a lesser extent Jordan Paskorz represent the "more like another offensive tackle who may go out and catch something sometimes" end of the Y spectrum, while Funchess and Butt are both on the "more like another receiver who may block something sometimes" extreme. Getting production from this spot this year hinges on getting somebody to get adequate at the part he's not great at, the most likely candidate being Funchess's blocking.