Picture Pages: How Not To Defend Power, Part I

Picture Pages: How Not To Defend Power, Part I Comment Count

Brian September 7th, 2011 at 12:21 PM

People are worried about the defense, and with good reason. The worrying bit isn't so much the best quarterback in the state averaging 5.9 YPA and being forced into two turnovers by getting clobbered, but rather Western Michigan running for almost 5 YPC with guards they picked up at a yard sale in Jackson.

I have good news and bad news about this. The good news: a major reason for these issues was a true freshman in his first game who made obvious errors. He fixed some of those errors. The bad news: he fixed those errors so hard he made the opposite error. More bad news: he wasn't the only culprit.

We're looking at two successful first-half counters run by the Broncos. Here's the first. It's second and two on the Michigan 47 on Western's second drive of the day. Western's all like "look, ma, I'm the 2010 Michigan offense" and Michigan brings out its aggressive one-high press man for the first time:

counter-not-so-much-1

You see the 3-4 front with three tight corners. Kovacs is out of the picture deep. The slot "corner" is Thomas Gordon. The LBs from top to bottom are Herron Jones, Johnson, Demens, and Beyer, with Roh/Martin/Van Bergen the DL. Your key players are the bottom three guys in the front seven: Beyer, RVB, and Demens.

A moment after the snap:

counter-not-so-much-2

The tackle blocks down on RVB, leaving Beyer free to fly into the backfield. This is an Admiral Ackbar situation that Beyer is too pumped up on adrenaline and youthful stupidity to recognize. He's all like "gonna get me some QB."

Meanwhile, the RB is moving right, but check out that OL directly in front of the QB: he's pulling left. This is a counter.

counter-not-so-much-3

A moment later Beyer is recognizing his DERP far too late. He's already three yards into the backfield and his momentum is stopped as he tries to change direction now that the QB doesn't have the ball. the pulling G is going to hammer him.

Not all is lost, though: Demens has read it and is moving into the hole. And you see a lot more of Van Bergen's jersey, don't you?

counter-not-so-much-4

RVB has given about a yard but now has his helmet across his blocker. Beyer defeats the OG's block and would have a shot at a tackle if he hadn't flown upfield so fast. There's that lead blocker and a lot of room for Demens to close down but he could…

counter-not-so-much-5

…just about turn it back inside to RVB, who has now totally defeated his block, or he could…

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…turn into Jonas Mouton and lose leverage.

Zoom!

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That's 25 yards before Kovacs can come up and save the bacon.

Video, with annotation!

OBJECT LESSONS

I learned this from Spielman. There are two main ways to defend the power play: "squeeze" and "spill." Squeezing is getting into the guard upfield a bit so that the RB has to take it inside into a more restricted hole. Beyer would have to be a yard or two closer to the LOS and to the inside to be squeezing. From that spot he can make a play, or at least make it harder to burst outside that LB.

Spilling is kind of a scrape exchange type deal where the playside DE roars down the line at the pulling G and cuts his ass to the ground. This is intended to create a pile that takes out the other lead blocker and forces the running back to bounce outside, where a linebacker scraping over the top should clean stuff up. Beyer would have had to shoot directly at the G as soon as he reads the pull.

Obviously, he does neither and gets kicked out of a very large hole. If he's in the right position he's dealt with the block well enough to make a tackle. He's not.

Demens did Mouton it. He's got a tough job here with the fullback and a big hole, but letting the guy outside of you is a cardinal sin—unfortunately, one we're all too familiar with. If Demens gets outside that fullback WMU might get a big run anyway but "losing leverage" (the jargon) guarantees it.

Another quiet Van Bergen plus. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say RVB is good but the things he does often go for naught. Here he beats a downblock, which is tough, to show up in the hole and potentially rescue Johnson, who you may note ran ridiculously playside and ends up farther away from the play than double-teamed NT Martin. Demens loses the plot and Van Bergen's reward is just a UFR plus and a chase downfield.

Ugh Johnson. To reiterate: the guard directly in front of Johnson's face pulls and he ends up yards away from relevance.

Kovacs. He tackles. He does not not tackle. Here he sort of misses, but this was very rare. This may not hold up against Big Ten teams but there were plenty of opportunities for the Broncos to pick up a touchdown that they could not because Kovacs tackled them.

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Michigan Museday: There and Back Again, a Walk-On's Tale

Michigan Museday: There and Back Again, a Walk-On's Tale Comment Count

Seth September 6th, 2011 at 11:59 PM

Jordan-Kovacs-sacks-Western-Michigan-quarterback-Alex-Carder-in-third-quarterGICLEE203

Dude replying to the WMU presser:

I hope nobody ever refers to Kovacs as a "walkon" ever again. Dude is a great football player!

Brady Hoke:

"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."

Brandon Herron (on the fumble-TD):

"First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw  -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."

Made a check, huh? Okay, let's go to 16:15 and see who was doing the pointing…

At 16:15 -- Before the play is the play.

… or don't and guess.

Kovacs entered the Michigan canon two years ago this week, when Michael Williams cramped up versus Notre Dame's two towers of evil, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. His former coach:

"Here it is in crunch time, the second half of the game, they've got some of their four- and five-stars -- and they're really good players," said Rodriguez in his postgame press conference. "And then we got Jordan Kovacs, who was a school-start walk-on, second time. First time he didn't make it because he was injured, and he went and got his knee fixed. jordan-kovacsWe told him to come back again to try out with the general student body, and not only does he try out and make the team, now he's in there playing at safety, in the middle of crunch time, national TV, against Notre Dame. To me, that's pretty special. I'm awfully proud of him."

Kovacs had his number called for three reasons. One, the position was under-recruited for several years prior, leaving only the starters, Steve Brown and Williams, as the only upperclassman safeties. Second, despite not having even played football since high school, his ball skills and tackling were such that he was clearly a better option than the freshman DBs. The third reason they called his number is GERG didn't know his name.

Since Kovacs took the job from Williams for good after the incident with the trolls in East Lansing, only 18 guys on BCS teams recorded more tackles. He's tied for 19th* according to NCAA stats (counting assists as 0.5) with the guy in this photo…

robinsonx-large

… whom Michigan fans, Notre Dame fans, and anyone who will listen to Notre Dame fans will tell you made this tackle.

# Name School Tkls TFLs Sks
1 LUKE KUECHLY Boston College 269 25 2.5
2 LAWRENCE WILSON Connecticut 207 21 8.5
2 MASON FOSTER Washington 207 21.5 8.5
4 GREG JONES Michigan St. 188 24 10
5 DANNY TREVATHAN Kentucky 177 21 3
6 ALEX WUJCIAK Maryland 174.5 13.5 1
7 TRAVIS LEWIS Oklahoma 168.5 15 2.5
8 JK SCHAFFER Cincinnati 166 15 4.5
9 DERRELL SMITH Syracuse 164 19.5 8
10 KELVIN SHEPPARD LSU 161 19.5 5
19 JORDAN KOVACS Michigan 145.5 15 1
19 MANTI TE'O Notre Dame 145.5 16 2

How Kovacs and Te'o got to 145.5 tackles and fairly equivalent backfield stats are two very different stories. Te'o was a 5-star LB in the 2009 class. When Patrick Omameh isn't plowing him into safeties 15 yards downfield … (Compliance:

What's German for "Omameh tosses Te'o into the backfield…?"

)

… he has been one of the best linebackers in the nation, using his uncanny combination of football sense, size, speed, athleticism, and power to shed blocks, pick through traffic, and run down plays. Kovacs meanwhile has used his stunning combination of just the first one to blow up screens and swings, and otherwise prevent 9 yard gains from turning into 40. Notre Dame's defense is designed to funnel every play into Moria, where the Balrog can clean up. Michigan's in '09-'10 was about a bunch of dwarves waiting around outside while the hobbit goes and burgles something.

r_b___bilbo_with_stingThis was true when they were freshmen in '09 and it's true now: the physical factors that made Te'o a star are the same that give Kovacs a ceiling not far from where he seems to be right now. He is still slower than an Indiana running back on a dead run (so it's a good thing his angles have markedly improved since freshman year). He's still too small to beat a block from a fullback or guard (so it's a good thing he can diagnose a play and get there before they do). And he's just not athletic enough to close off holes in the zone, so despite his reflexes there will always be a hole in a Cover 2 which accurate QBs can exploit. What you should appreciate about Kovacs is that almost nobody makes it as close to their ceiling as he has.

Kovac had a hell of a game against Western. Early on he ran down a few plays that might have gone for TDs on drives that ended in the Herron interception and the missed field goal. He was excellent in run support, made several key PBUs, brought pressure when called upon to blitz, and had that fumble/TD-causing hit heard even in the deep nether regions of the press box where Michigan banishes authors of unflattering books, and disturbed asshats.

jordan-kovacs-murders

Herron gets to do the talk show circuit this week as the blankety-blank defensive player of the blank and I don't want to take away from that, while Kovacs gets named to the watch list for this year's Scrappy White Guy Trophy they created for Harrison Smith. Here his adventure has come full circle, facing Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium, two years removed from having to remember his number is 32 not 22 because his coach can't remember his name is Kovacs not Cavanaugh. In a race to the open receiver or the hole where this year's feel-good walk-on stories have been crushed out of, Marvin Robinson might be better than Kovacs. But in the time before the snap, which may count more than we ever realized, I'd rather have Kovacs than Te'o.

Even Herron says the real defensive MVP of the Western game and maybe this season is the guy who's telling everyone where to be, the guy calling audibles that result in 14-point swings: the walk-on, making the most out of the skills and talents that only he possesses.

Kovacs and Herron

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Tuesday Presser Transcript 9-6-11: Coordinators

Tuesday Presser Transcript 9-6-11: Coordinators Comment Count

Heiko September 6th, 2011 at 10:01 PM

News (and other important items) bullets:

  • Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
  • Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
  • Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
  • Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
  • Woolfolk will remain on special teams
  • Barnum will be back this week 
  • <3 Kovacs

Al Borges

Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”

How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”

Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”

The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”

Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”

This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”

Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”

What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”

Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”

How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”

Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”

Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”

How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”

Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”

Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”

Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”

Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”

Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”

Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”

Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”

Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”

(more after the jump)

Greg Mattison

A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.

Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”

Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”

Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.

“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”

Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.

“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”

Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."

How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”

Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”

What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”

Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”

Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”

Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “

How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”

Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”

Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”

Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”

Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”

What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.” 

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Monday Presser Transcript 9-5-11: Brady Hoke

Monday Presser Transcript 9-5-11: Brady Hoke Comment Count

Heiko September 5th, 2011 at 4:15 PM

(Ryan Van Bergen, David Molk, and Denard Robinson will be up tomorrow morning.)

Brady Hoke

News bullets:

  • Cam Gordon and Troy Woolfolk will play next Saturday
  • Fitz remains starting RB

Press Conference (filmed)

"It is a holiday, but in your profession -- in our profession -- you really don’t have holidays, but that’s okay."

Opening remarks: “As far as last Saturday, it was good to win. The weather is -- you can never anticipate what happens -- but it was good to win a football game, and we think we learned a lot team-wise when you look at where we need to really improve. It was good to get out and obviously play someone else besides yourselves because we did that for four weeks. There’s a lot that we can learn from the film, there’s a lot that we can continue to learn from the film and improve on, and hopefully we’re gonna make a big improvement because the test gets much bigger this week.

“This is a great rivalry game, and one that we’re excited about obviously. There’s some other things that go along with this game this year with playing at night, the first night game, and the throwback uniforms, and all those things, but the one thing we talked about as a team is we can’t get caught up and distracted. The field’s still going to be 120 yards long when you include the end-zones, and 53-point-something yards wide, and so that’s not going to change. That’s where our focus has to be and how we prepare this week to play our best football and make a lot of improvements.”

Talk about the injuries to Troy Woolfolk and Cam Gordon. “Troy, he just sprained his ankle—his other ankle. It felt better yesterday. I think emergency-wise, he could have gotten back in Saturday. He’s doing a good job, and Paul Schmidt, our trainer, is doing a good job treating all those things. Cam, he tweaked his back earlier in the week, felt better but still just didn’t feel good enough. There was no sense for us to try and put him out there where he could prolong the recovery process, I would say.”

Anyone else? “No.”

Do you anticipate them starting this Saturday against Notre Dame? “Yeah, I do.”

You didn’t allow very many big plays of 20+ yards. How would you evaluate your safeties? “Obviously I think Jordan played a terrific football game, when you look at his production and the things that we asked him to do. I thought he played very well. He did miss one tackle in there, but he played well.”

“Marvin was getting his feet wet a little more in game-atmosphere kinds of situations, there’s a lot with the communication we need to have more of back there. He’s got to be more vocal -- he’s not a real vocal guy anyway.

“I think Thomas [Gordon] played well, but there’s some things that I know that he wasn’t satisfied with that he needs to improve upon, but he’s had a tremendous camp. We asked him to do a lot because when Troy went down, he moved into nickel in that situation. I think we were okay there. I think there’s a lot that we need to do a heck of a lot better this week.”

ND’s QB situation is kind of up in the air. How does that affect how you prepare? “To me, it doesn’t change anything in our preparation. With the style of offense that Brian runs, I think they’re very talented. [Notre Dame] will make the decision that’s best for the team, and we can’t worry about that. I don’t think it changes the offense in any way at all.”

What’s the most memorable Michigan-Notre Dame game you’ve been involved in? “I was here kind of in those odd years. We played Washington two years and we didn’t play [Notre Dame]. And then we played UCLA two years and didn’t play [Notre Dame]. I think [what was memorable] in the ‘97 year was when [Notre Dame] was inside the red-zone three times, and defensively [Michigan’s] guys stood up and didn’t let them get any points.”

Earlier last week it didn’t look like Herron or Avery were going to start. But then they played a lot. How come? “Some of it has to do with what kind of defensive set we were in. Courtney was the third corner coming in. Troy goes to nickel, Courtney comes on the field. I don’t think the [depth chart] played a part in it. Just what subgroup you were in. The other one was when Cam started hitching up with his back a little bit, we had to get another guy with some experience some reps in the design of the defense that we were in, and I kept going back with that because it depends whether we’re in the dime or nickel or base, where we line up -- but that was the only reason.”

You have countdown clocks for MSU and Ohio. Is Notre Dame on a different level? “Those are Big Ten conference games, that’s always part of it. In-state rivalries and obviously the rivalry on the last Saturday in November is special. [The Notre Dame rivalry] is important as anything. This has always been a game where … I remember Coach Schembechler always talking about, you always get a gauge on where you’re at as a team, because it’s always going to take a national spotlight, and it is an environment where you have expectations of how your guys are going to play.”

Is there one thing you were really happy with from Saturday? “Well, there’s probably a lot of things I was very unhappy with, but we’ll leave that for later. But here’s what I thought: Rushing for 190 yards in three quarters of game -- that was a good thing. I think that once Greg Mattison and the defensive staff made some adjustments [with] the pressure on the quarterback … The man coverage, we have to be much better this week because of the talent that Notre Dame has. But I thought there was a flow to the game then. Herron takes the ball back, and we come back out, and it’s a three-and-out. So we were starting to get some flow and momentum.”

Can you elaborate on what else you need to improve? “We have to play better run defense, we have to play tighter coverage in zone, we have to be able to pressure the quarterback with four guys at times, or with three guys at times from a defensive perspective. We had some missed alignments that were based on communication that you can’t have, or lack of communication.

“From an offensive standpoint, we took care of the football, which was big and always will be big. But there were a couple decisions that we need to make better, and we have to do a better job staying on blocks down the field because there were several opportunities for other bigger plays in the run game. Our routes, where [receivers] broke a couple of them off early -- the receivers have to be more disciplined within the scheme, especially when you’re in the timing phase of your game.

“And then the kicking game -- our kickoff coverage will get a lot of attention from where we place the ball on the kick to how we get off blocks going down the field. So that’s huge. Obviously we’re going to give a lot of attention to PAT and field goal protection on the inside. You can’t get knocked back, and that was part of the one that got blocked. A big part of it was because we got knocked back too much. Another problem was that the snap was too high. It took Gibbons a little longer to approach the ball because of that.

“I could go to the punt team, I could go on and on … kickoff return -- better decision than taking the ball out of the end-zone, getting on guys a little better, I mean this could be a marathon, but I don’t have the time for it, and neither do you.”

Will we see some different personnel in kickoff coverage? Well you could. It’s competitive, and you’re evaluated, and if we’re not doing the job we think we need to have, from a competitive standpoint, because part of getting off blocks is getting competitive, and having an intensity of what you’re doing. That part of it, believe me, was addressed yesterday and will continue to be addressed this week. There could be some different faces on there. It’ll be a fun week, we’ll put it that way.

Do you feel like D-line led the defense? “I think we played okay. We weren’t – you guys have heard me talk about ‘hearing football.’ You also want to feel guys during the course of a game. I felt number 32 during the course of the game. An impact. To some degree, I thought J.T., you could feel him out there a little bit. I never felt our front like we need to. Not to be specific – I think we played okay, but I think we need to play at a higher level and a higher standard.”

You ran 39 offensive plays. Was that enough to answer some questions or are there still some things for which you need to see more in order to evaluate? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there are some things that are still out there. Talking to Al and the offensive staff, there are some things we didn’t get to in the offense that maybe we would like to have gotten to a little more. We also saw some things that we wanted to get done, too.”

(more after the jump)

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The Poseidon Adventure Begins

The Poseidon Adventure Begins Comment Count

Brian September 5th, 2011 at 10:55 AM

9/3/2011 – Michigan 34, Western Michigan 10 – 0.75-0

image

Melanie Maxwell / AnnArbor.com

Q: What is awesome about the above photograph?

A: Brady Hoke's Joe Paterno impression. Look, ma, no headset.

On a day that lacked much in the way of emotional import—Brock Mealer did not touch the banner, Denard Robinson did not introduce himself by plunging from the heavens, mostly I felt hot or wet—the thing to do was read too much into the future of Michigan football based on little. We're going on even less than the rest of college football is after their opening-weekend bludgeonings since Mother Nature and inflexible regulation prevented a full game from being played. Things are fuzzy.

They'll remain that way for most of the season. Hell, they'll remain that way until Michigan's OL/DL depth chart crisis passes in two to three years. But I got the things I wanted the most, the things I spent large sections of the offseason hoping for, arguing would be true, or declaring to be the only sane thing a sane person could do.

Those were:

BRADY HOKE IS NOT RICH RODRIGUEZ IN RE: COORDINATOR MEDDLING

Rodriguez's problem was never his selection of defensive coordinators, it was his refusal to trust them to do their jobs. The thing about Hoke is this: he does. At SDSU he hired Rocky Long to run a 3-3-5; Rocky Long ran a 3-3-5, and it was pretty good, and now he's the head coach. He hired Al Borges to run a passing-oriented West Coast offense; Borges ran a passing-oriented West Coast offense that wasn't quite as good as Michigan's in FEI's eyes but was still top 20. If he "gets" anything it's that he's a former defensive lineman with a narrowly defined set of assets that does not include being a genius of any variety—he's never been a coordinator. So he's hired two guys with very long, very successful resumes to do that stuff for him.

PRO STYLE IS INSANE STYLE

Switching to an actual pro-style offense would be doing exactly what Michigan did last year when it installed the 3-3-5 despite the total unsuitability of its personnel for the scheme.

DON'T FRIGGIN TOUCH ANYTHING OR I'LL CUT YOU

denard-shotgundenard-shotgundenard-shotgun

MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ

Check, check, good enough. Michigan was 70% shotgun.

The offseason was spent exploring the a disconnect between Brady Hoke's words and his teams' actions. The fear was that This being Michigan, for God's sake, would change his attitude from "whatever works" to "the expectation is for the position." That latter was the infamous Carr-era slogan that symbolized a stubborn adherence to out-executing the opposition. It led to things like a thousand Mike Hart zone stretches where he made four yards only after dodging guys in the backfield. I really, really did not want to go back to the days when Michigan's running plays could be described as "left" or "right."

Brady Hoke's words said the first play Saturday would be power; Brady Hoke's team ran the QB stretch that was amongst the most frequent playcalls a year ago. As the game progressed it was clear there had been quite a few modifications. It was also clear that there was enough of the Denard offense in there to go to it when Michigan needs to.

This would have been obvious to all if Denard hadn't chucked a QB Oh Noes well behind Drew Dileo on Michigan's final touchdown drive. If that's accurate Dileo scores on a play eerily similar to those of last year and everyone except Craig James is talking about how different the offense isn't.

That's good right now, and better down the road. It's been a long time since Michigan fans could say their head coach hired the best people for the job and let them get on with it.

Non-Bullets Not About Football

Brady Hoke knew this would happen. On the way back to the locker room his team speared themselves some dinner.

hoke-trident

Increment the Grimsrud meter. Last year when Michigan decided that terrorists were likely to explode the stadium with sealed, clear bottles of water, everyone complained until David Brandon rolled his eyes and offered the plebes a freebie for the opener because it was hot.

On Saturday it was ninety degrees and you could buy a not-even-cold bottle of water for four bucks, get a complimentary three-ounce dixie cup, or hit up the Absopure stations. At least until they ran out:

Connor Dean, a Michigan student working at one of the Absopure Hydration stations at the stadium, said his station had exhausted nearly its entire 450-gallon supply of water by halftime.

Dean said a hydration station would typically go through about 225 gallons of water for an entire game. “This is crazy for a normal game,” Dean said.

The athletic department got lucky as hell that the skies opened up shortly afterwards. Even as it was the number of people conking out because of the heat overwhelmed Huron Valley Ambulance:

With temperatures on the field reportedly reaching 120 degrees, the heat overwhelmed fans at Michigan Stadium. Huron Valley Ambulance says the high number of heat-related cases it handled caused it to call for backup from the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

HVA officials said a count of the number of fans who've been treated for heat-related concerns would not be available until later Saturday, and they were too busy to provide even an estimate.

"It's extremely busy at Michigan Stadium,'' said Terry Pappas, communications supervisor for HVA. "We have multiple heat-related incidents and the Ann Arbor Fire Department is helping.''

If it's really about safety, the Absopure stations should be handing out 25-ounce bottles of water that cost ten cents instead of providing little cups you have to wait for and can't get back to your seats effectively.  The athletic department's horseshit doublespeak about safety and convenience increased those issues so they could hawk some extra bottles of water. They're using 9/11 as cover. That's appalling.

Apparently posting We Are ND was the right idea for the wrong reasons. We have officially Freekbass'd ourselves, as the Dog Groomers' song was played three times to amaze and delight people who would rather hear these guys…

the-dog-groomers

we are… DOG GROOMERS
we will… SHAVE YOUR DOG'S HAIR INTO A PLEASING SHAPE
also we have a band!

…than the Michigan Marching Band.

We're worse. While they've got a rapping hobbit, We Are ND was an internet-only phenomenon quickly clarified as a student project. It aired once at some banquet or something. We're playing music from The Best of Hot Topic in the stadium. This is the inevitable result when middle-aged middle-managers from Middle America try to be cool: massive failure.

What was so bad about a guy in the band beating out a steady rhythm as the crowd chants "Let's Go Blue"? Why does "This is Michigan, for God's sake" apply to running power off-tackle but not keeping the stadium atmosphere intact? Is there someone in the athletic department who really wishes he was running a regional arena in Charlotte, NC, with an ECHL team and regular WWE visits? Why does the guy on the left still look like an accountant? Who is the guy on the right kidding? Is the bald guy in the middle just photobombing this shot? I fear these questions are unanswerable.

In the spirit of ND Nation banning "Michigan sucks" posts, I will end taunting ND about We Are ND until piped in music is excised from the stadium. We are We Are ND 

Meanwhile, our band is metal. Western's band said "screw this" and showed up in white T-shirts and shorts so they wouldn't die. Ten of them still had to be treated for heat issues. Michigan's band roared out of the tunnel in full dark-blue regalia; while we don't have casualty numbers for them the mere fact that none of them died before completing the anthem is metal. One firehorse for the band.

image

Analogy to mandatory minimum sentencing goes here. The NCAA's CYA guideline about lightning strikes was the reason Michigan couldn't finish (or all but finish) yesterday's game. The sun had already come out by the time the teams finished getting off the field for the first delay, and that was the reason there was more than a few minutes left on the clock when the seriously dangerous storm rolled in.

Anyone looking at the weather radar could tell you that by the time they delayed the game it was perfectly safe, but lawsuit avoidance rules everything around me, and thus we get a silly abbreviated game that makes the value proposition of a 70 dollar ticket to watch Western Michigan play even dodgier. Boo.

Argh. So last year I'd get to my seat and tweet personnel stuff I noticed in warmups. This year I did the same and just got a bunch of replies that can be summarized as "duh." This is because the U announced suspensions/unavailability an hour before the game. Next time it would be nice if M could do that earlier or not at all. kthxbye.

Non-Bullets About Football

Depth chart/practice rumor updates. The offense was as expected. Brandon Moore got some time as the second TE, which is good.

On defense, Frank Clark had gotten hyped up this fall but it was Brennen Beyer who got a ton of time as a rush end. His main contribution was opening a few cutback lanes for Western. Also infrequently seen: Brink and Heininger. I'm guessing that's an artifact of playing a passing spread… but we'll see a passing spread next week. I'm hoping the massive substitutions were because of the weather and that RVB/Martin/Roh will get way more time against ND. Herron was a surprise starter at WLB and Avery started opposite Woolfolk.

I received a bunch of tweets predicting Carvin Johnson would not score well in UFR, and then he was replaced by Marvin Robinson. Will be interesting to see if that works out.

So weird in so many ways. The game would have been short even if it was long, if you know what I mean. There were all of two drives in the first quarter and Brandon Herron robbed Michigan's offense of two opportunities. As a result the offense only had five and a half drives to work with. They scored 3.5 touchdowns and went three and out twice.

Short term prognosis: grimmer? Less grim? We'll have to see what the UFR looks like but Western went up and down the field against Michigan in a manner reminiscent of everyone against last year's D… and scored ten points. Michigan forced two turnovers with QB pressure and held the best quarterback in the state to 5.9 YPA.

Hack out the Kovacs sacks and WMU averaged 4.9 YPC, which is not good when you're playing a MAC team with two fresh JUCO transfer backups at guard. Also hoping that's a result of the heavy rotation.

The offense had those three and outs, and because of the weird nature of the game that was enough for their output to seem somewhat worrying. They did give the impression they were about to blow the doors off when the game got called, having just blown down the field in three plays and moved the ball into the Western half of the field when the game was called.

Pressure existed. When Mattison figured out rushing four wasn't getting home he turned things around by blitzing like mad. One series late in the first half saw him go cover zero three straight times. On each play a Michigan player would tear up the middle unblocked, forcing Carder to chuck it off his back foot. JT Floyd made a play on the first; the second two were hypothetically open but Carder couldn't get it right because he was busy eating someone's facemask.

Hurray lack of GERG.

Running backs. Toussaint's getting good reviews everywhere and it'll be no different here. To me his most exciting moment was an eight-yard run late when he was cutting behind the backside tackle. He momentarily looked like he'd head inside of Lewan, sucking the linebacker inside, then burst back behind him to pick up good yardage. That was a "whoah, he can do that?" moment reminiscent of his high school film.

My only complaint is that on his long run he tried to truck the safety instead of angling away from him and probably cost himself 10 more yards. That mentality is helpful when he's running up the middle, maybe.

Kovacs preview 2012 preview. There is a 100% chance this is one of the images used for Kovacs next year:

jordan-kovacs-murders

Via David Guralink @ the News. Also here is Alex Carderp and Taylor Lewan making nice with his second most hated enemy: referees.

Things I miss. A couple tactical decisions that seem suboptimal:

  • The spread punt. I thought it was remarkably effective at holding down return yardage because it gave you six gunners instead of two. When Michigan punted, if the returner got past the first two guys he had 15 yards before the next wave showed up. The only disadvantage is the near-impossibility of faking from it.
  • No huddle offense. I liked the concept of tempo as something you were capable of shifting on a regular basis, and it seemed like a good idea to remove the burden of calling audibles from the quarterback.

This is not an endorsement of Rich Rodriguez. Hoke uber alles.

COUCHDATE! Alex Carder, pictured above, just turned the ball over three times and averaged a terrible 5.9 YPA—more than a yard less than the national average—against last year's #108 defense. What do you think this means, Graham Couch?

This weekend — considering the performances of Carder, Denard Robinson and Kirk Cousins — in everyone's eyes, it should be a viable argument, even if not a certain one.

… Even though I truly believe Carder is the best college QB in the state, this column was an interesting social experiment alone, though it wasn't intended to be. … the argument against Carder by so many who had barely heard of him — and the manner in which they argued — was absurd.

It was an interesting social experiment: can a beat writer actually get criticized for being an embarrassing homer by a fan of the team he's covering? Survey says:

As a Western alum living 2k miles away, I really wish the Broncos had a better beat writer.

Sorry GC but I hate your style and you come off as a whiny, rambling, non-objective homer. I can appreciate the passion you have for defending our boys but just put the shovel down because you're digging a deeper hole for yourself. Just stick to the facts and give us information about our teams. You lose all credibility and professionalism as soon as you try to sell the reader your opinions.

Circle gets the square. /gameshow'd

Elsewhere

Slideshows from AnnArbor.com, MNB Nation, MNB Nation again, and the Detroit News. "Michigan Rewind" for WMU.

AnnArbor.com surveys the changes at the golf course and find people are happier this year but still a little peeved that there had to be any changes at all.

MVictors and John Kryk find previous times when Michigan games have ended before full time. They're mostly from the days when you could accidentally play a 23-minute third quarter before anyone noticed. Greg also explores whether or not Brandon Herron's interception return TD was the longest in Michigan history or if Tom Harmon has him beat.

Shooting Blue returns with a long gameday review. Pop Evil "could only be worse" if the lead singer clubbed seals while Godwinning himself. Maize and Go Blue hit up Oklahoma this weekend and returns with a trip report.

Column type things: Wojo references the "numbingly familiar" defense. Get Rid of the Seaward is enjoy its first Michigan season in a while with normal LDH levels, which means cancer remission. Denard on Toussaint. Maize And Go Blue recaps the game. Holdin' the Rope:

As the rain fell and Brady Hoke patrolled the field as if he'd been around for a while already, as if it was undeniably his field and his program and not one that had just been handed to him only 8 months ago, it was hard not to come away with certain vague feelings of goodness, that something that was more good than bad had just transpired, a feeling of warmth that may or may not be ephemeral. The Era of Good Feelings continues. James Monroe's got nothing on Brady Hoke.

Aaaaaand the Hoover Street Rag "writes under the influence of muscle relaxers and pain killers."

More bullets can be found at TTB

Apparently it doesn't matter who coaches the special teams, whether it's an offensive or defensive guy, etc.  Some Michigan fans hated that defensive backs coach Tony Gibson was in charge of special teams because he was one of only four defensive coaches under Rodriguez.  Now an offensive guy (tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno) is coaching special teams, and they're still bad.  Kick returner Kelvin Grady doesn't look like anything special and made a bad decision to leave the endzone.  Brendan Gibbons had a low extra point attempt blocked.  Western Michigan averaged 31 yards per kickoff return and consistently had excellent field position.

and The Wolverine Blog.

And if you're looking for a few bullets on Michigan State, A Beautiful Day For Football provides. Sounds like that OL is going to be a problem. Also Minnesota and Northwestern had meaningful outings—Heiko will debut a weekly thing covering opponents tomorrow.

Comments

WMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Jordan Kovacs, Brandon Herron, Denard Robinson, and Fitzgerald Toussaint

WMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Jordan Kovacs, Brandon Herron, Denard Robinson, and Fitzgerald Toussaint Comment Count

Heiko September 4th, 2011 at 12:19 AM

Jordan Kovacs and Brandon Herron

Kovacs and Herron are in serious mode.

What did you think about the two TDs you scored? Herron: "For one, I want to thank God -- Jesus Christ my lord and savior -- and I also want to thank my team. This is a team effort, this is about a team, and I thank a lot of my teammates because we all work together as one. This is not about me all. This is about the team."

What happened on the INT? Herron: "Jake Ryan tipped the ball, and I was just looking up, and my legs just carried me. and I grabbed it, and then I just -- I remember Aubrey [Pleasant], our GA, he tells us, 'Any time you get an interception, run it back to your sideline.' So after I caught the ball, I just looked straight ahead --obviously no ball security whatsoever -- but I was just trying to get to the endzone."

Did it change the game? Herron: "Yes and no. It did change the game, but obviously you can have a score or you can run it in, and a lot of teams that lose a game ... so it was just a well-fought game that we just weren’t trying to give up. We were just trying to pound them, each and every play."

Did you feel like defense needed to make a play because of WMU's success earlier in the game? Herron: "Yeah, well this is our first time playing defense under coach Mattison. A real game, so it was a little shaky at first. We were struggling with the communication a little bit. We talk about poise and having that poise, so we just needed to sit down and just have that poise and just talk. We have to be able to communicate if we want to be a good defense."

Kovacs, how are you being used differently? Kovacs: "It’s a completely different scheme. I think we’ve got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try and make a play."

How do you feel about blitz call, and can you describe your hit on Carder? Kovacs: "When you get the blitz call, you’re thinking, 'I gotta come hard and I gotta make a play.' I gotta give a lot of credit to the defnese. That was a defensive effort. I think the front did a great job of disguising it, and we had great coverage, and I just came clean and made a play."

How close do you feel to playing defense the way coaches want to play? Kovacs: "We’re getting there. It was shaky at first no doubt, but I think that this film will be pretty good to look at, so we can improve before next game."

Talk about how much more effective the defense was when you blitzed. Kovacs: "I think you gotta give a lot of credit to Western. I think they came out with a great scheme, but we kind of settled in, and we got some blitzes we hit home with, and I think Brandon’s play was a big gamechanger for us, so we did turn it around after a couple drives."

What was the reaction when game was ended? Herron: "Yeah, I wanted to continue to play. We still had a job to do."

Defense played better after lightning delay ... what did the coaches tell you? Kovacs: "I mean, we just kind of settled in I think. I don’t think that we did change too many things. I think we came out at halftime with a better scheme, and we just executed, and we played hard"

How did you spend that time during the delay? Kovacs: "It’s different. I’ve never been here during a game like that. Just kind of relaxing in the locker room, we just kept quiet and stayed focused, and we honed in."

Was it difficult to keep game mentality with start/stop? Kovacs: "I've never been through anything like that. I think we traveled up the tunnel several times. I’ve never done that before."

Hoke said he didn’t feel very good about D. What’s is his major concern? Kovacs: "I think we didn’t do a good job first few possessions. They were running the ball on us. We still have a lot of areas to improve in, and we’re going to do that with this film, and we’ll be ready by next week."

Did you do anything special for HC’s first victory? Kovacs: "We do what we do after every victory, and that’s singing 'The Victors.' "

Does this feel like any other win, or do you feel a little empty inside? Kovacs: "I mean, it’s different, but we’ll take it. It’s a win. A win is a win, and we’re happy with that.

Either of you on the kickoff team? Kovacs: "Both of us." Herron: "Obviously our kickoff needs to improve, which we’ll focus on that tomorrow or whatnot. We kind of let things get away from us a little bit."

Kovacs, have you ever hit a quarterback that hard? Kovacs: "That was my first one I guess. Herron: "It was loud, too."

How much of an emphasis is put on creating turnovers? Kovacs: "I think not only coach Mattison but coach Hoke emphasized that. That’s one of our team goals is to win the turnover battle because if you do that you’re likely going to win the game. That’s something we strive to do as every team does."

Did the mood change when Woolfolk went down? Kovacs: "We’ve got a lot of guys that can step up and play. It’s tough to see a guy like that go down again, but at the same time we knew somebody else was going to have an opportunity to step in and play. We have some experienced guys at corner."

Herron, how do you build off your performance today? Herron: "It’s just about taking one day at a time, with the involvement of my teammates. Like I said, we have to work together. This is not about an individual. This is about a team, and the team coming out here and practicing everyday and trying to get better, this is what it’s about."

When was the last time you scored a TD in organized football? Herron: "I’ve never scored a touchdown -- well, I take that back. It was probably in eighth grade when I was playing running back. Coach Jackson was not the coach." Tee hee. "It’s been a while since I’ve been in the endzone."

When you got INT, what did you see in front of you? Herron: "I saw the left tackle, then I thought he hit me, but after I got past him, I didn’t see anybody else."

What were you feeling at the 10-yard line? Herron: "Gassed."

In endzone? Herron: "Obviously my teammates jumped all over me, so that took everything out of me as well. But with the love and help of my teammates, that carried me back to the sideline."

Talk about your position switch during camp. Herron: "I was just playing my new position, the WILL and the dime. This is something I had been practicing all camp, so it was my new position."

During the fumble recovery -- did ball just come to you? Herron: "First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw  -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."

[Ed-M: emphasis mine. Eeeeeeee!]

Did you think about falling on it? Herron: "No. I just -- I don’t know. [It was] something that just happened in the moment, and [I] just picked it up and just took off."

Can you talk about anticipation of the night game next week? Herron: "I think the night game is going to be crazy. I think our fans are looking forward to next week, so with that being said, against Notre Dame, especially wearing our throwback jerseys, it’s going to be amazing next week."

What were the conditions like before the rain? Herron: "Oh, it was hot. I was drained coming off the kickoff and then having to go [play] defense. But having that camp, it mentally prepared us, and like Coach said, we’re going to have adversity. It just matters how you get through it."

Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint

Denard and a guy who has more rushing yards than Denard.

Ever been through a game like that before? Denard: "No."

It looked like you wanted to stay out there before the second break. Denard: "We were ready to go. We were ready to keep playing, I mean, we get to play against somebody else! So we were ready to play."

What was your reaction to finding out you won the game? Denard: "When coach Hoke told us we won the game, everybody got quiet. It was like, 'Seriously?' Everybody wanted to play still."

How would you assess your performance? Denard: "I still got some learning to do, but I gotta do better. I thought I did all right."

How come there was so much shotgun and spread in the beginning? Denard: "Coach Al called all the plays, and I was ready. That’s all."

Fitz, talk about your emergence as starting RB. Toussaint: "I think it all started at the beginning of the week, we were still all competing, we still all need to work. We had to work on a couple things, and we had make sure everything was good with timing. We were just competing. I actually found out when I was taking more reps with the ones."

Can you describe the breakout run? Toussaint: "I was just running to daylight."

Any former michigan running backs get in touch with you to talk to you about the tradition or responsibility of your position? Toussaint: "No, sir."

Denard, what's it like handing off to Fitz? Denard: "I don’t want to juice his head too much. Fitz is probably one of the best running backs I’ve played with. When he gets the ball, he runs hard and he makes guys miss. He’s fast. He’s a good back."

What’s it mean for you to get two TD’s out of defense? Denard: "That felt good. I was kind of bored on the sideline. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way, we were ready to get back on the field, and when we saw B. Herron take it to the house we were like, 'Ahh' and we were rooting on the sidelines, but then it was like, 'man I want to get back on the field.'

"But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed it."

Does this feel incomplete not finishing the game? Denard: "Yeah it feels different. Everybody wanted to go back out and finish the game, but it is what it is."

How did you spend your time during the first delay? Denard: “We treated it like a halftime, and everybody was just getting focused and getting ready for the game.”

How many of old (spread) plays vs. new (manball) plays were there? Denard: “I thought it was 50/50. We did both, and I enjoyed it.”

Is that kind of balance what you expected? Denard: “I didn’t know what to expect. We were just excited and ready to play. Weve been working on all plays, so whatever they threw at us, we had to be ready.”

Fitz, you’ve been injured a whole lot. How does it feel to finish an entire game (sort of)? Toussaint: "It’s still a little new for me. It’s a new experience for me. I just want to stay healthy and continue to keeping pushing on with my teammates, and keep the unity."

So they really didn’t tell you you were starting until Friday? Toussaint: "I mean, I kind of had a clue, but it was announced [on Friday]."

Denard, talk about Alex Carder? Denard: "He’s a great quarterback. He’s probably one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. I enjoy watching him play."

You were the third leading rusher on the team today. Is that ideal? Denard: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I enjoy seeing [Fitz] running the ball, and Mike Shaw get the ball, and Vince. I love seeing those guys getting out in space and making people miss."

How do you feel about short gains vs. long runs? Toussaint: "We just chip away until we get a long one. Credit to the offensive line, who keep doing their job, and eventually it’ll come."

When do you start preparing for Notre Dame? Denard: "After tomorrow, we’ll watch film on the game, and get ready for Notre Dame."

You've had some fast starts in the past but then fell off toward the end of the season. Why is this year different? Denard: "I don’t want to compare last year to this year. This is a new era, and we just want to keep going and win for Michigan."

Comments

Preview 2011: Secondary

Preview 2011: Secondary Comment Count

Brian August 29th, 2011 at 1:56 PM

Previously: The Story.

never-forget-updatedcourtney-avery-iowa

The existential crisis that was last year's secondary has been the subject of emo rehash and frequently-updated "Never Forget" banners in this space for going on a year now. In mid-August of 2010, Troy Woolfolk did something strange and painful to his ankle and I—and I assume a good chunk of the Michigan fanbase—decided ankle-exploding time was drankin' time. Twitter archived the results; read from the bottom.

image

The headache I had the next morning did not subside until Greg Mattison was hired.

Woolfolk wasn't going to cure last year's secondary issues by himself but he was going to be a decent returning starter in a secondary without any other than Jordan Kovacs. Without him this section of last year's preview started "What's the point of anything?" because everyone left was either a freshman, walk-on, or JT Floyd.

After a deceptively promising start courtesy of the vast incompetence of Zack Frazer and Notre Dame's backup quarterbacks, the doom took hold. Everyone who saw a snap last year contributed to it but if we have to pick a single moment that best represents Michigan's 2010 secondary it would have to be this:

death6.2

JT Floyd picking up a –3 against Penn State

That is how Matt McGloin tears you up for 41 points on nine drives. Let's never speak of this again.

While this year's secondary won't bring back memories of Charles Woodson, improvement is almost a given. It could be vast, even. Every contributor returns save James Rogers. Woolfolk is back and healthy, and there's a small horde of freshmen.

If you believe the message board chatter about Tony Gibson's coaching acumen, Curt Mallory is a huge upgrade. My favorite apocryphal story is that when Scot Shafer resigned he told Rodriguez he would take all the blame publicly if Rodriguez admitted to Shafer that Gibson was "the worst secondary coach in the country." Shortly after his resignation, Shafer did pop up in the News stating it was all his fault. Poppycock? Probably, but you can't rule it out.

Things are looking up. They could be okay. Not okay for Michigan, but okay for a mediocre Big Ten defense. They've got a cap—like everywhere on this attrition-wracked team the depth is a little scary. The starters still include a walk-on and the talent level as measured by stars is strictly second-rate. They haven't disproved that on the field, so expectations should be kept in check.

That there are any except doom is pretty cool. Bohemian Crapsody begone.

Cornerback

Rating: 3.

Corner #1 Yr. Corner #2 Yr.
Troy Woolfolk Sr.* Courtney Avery So.
JT Floyd Jr.* Tony Anderson Sr.*#
Terrence Talbott So. Blake Countess Fr.

[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]

safety Troy Woolfolk (29) plays during Michigan's 26-20 loss to Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday October 3, 2009 (ZACHARY MEISNER/Daily)

Woolfolk in T-Woolf mode

Unless something very depressing happens in the near future I will not need any power tools this year. Troy Woolfolk is healthy, and while he's probably not going to be All Big Ten he's fast and steady enough to get good reviews a couple of years ago when he split time between safety and corner. There is empirical evidence for this, and how: Woolfolk's absence from the safety spot marked the point the 2009 defense went off a cliff. Michigan went from giving up 23 points per game with Woolfolk at safety to 37 without.

Those reviews have moved from potentially ignorant bloggers to the head coach. Woolfolk was one of three defensive Wolverines to be named a starter by Hoke weeks before the season (Kovacs and Martin were the others) and is conspicuously first when Hoke talks about his corners:

"(Woolfolk is) is a guy who I think, as a senior, has taken some ownership and he's done everything," Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "J.T. is fighting. Courtney Avery is fighting, Terrence Talbott, they're all fighting with each other to see who's going to be the guy."

Mattison joined in as well:

What are your impressions of Troy Woolfolk? "I'm really, really impressed with a senior -- with a new staff, with a new system -- with a guy that comes out every day and says 'I'm going to do what you tell me to do, I'm going to do it how you tell me to do it, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to do it.' ... I think his technique is improving."

That bit at the end about his improving technique is a little ominous. Woolfolk's injury and position switches may leave him vulnerable to Morgan Trent-like deficiencies. The two are similar players: very fast, rangy corners who are tough to beat on a fade but can struggle when opponents are changing direction rapidly. Woolfolk's main advantage over Trent is want-to. Trent spent his senior year raging against the new regime and saw his play suffer. Woolfolk should have no such issues.

Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.

courtney-avery-coveragecourtney-avery-beaten

COURTNEY AVERY
cover corner
juuuuust evades the fingertips
jars the ball free
freshman
abandons zone
abandons zone
comes up too hard
Run Defense?
pwns a UW guard!

Opposite Woolfolk the battle is on between sophomore Courtney Avery and redshirt junior JT Floyd. The bet here is that Avery wins that battle. Avery drew into the starting lineup last year when Floyd exited with yet another injury and seemed to outplay the guy he was replacing.

What he brings to the table is still up in the air. He was seeing spot duty relieving Floyd and Rogers even before Floyd's injury; he also split time with Terry Talbott when Michigan went to nickel and dime packages. In that role he was erratic. He wasn't good, per se. But in the tire fire that was last year's secondary he showed a little spark. This spark allowed other portions of the tire fire to spew ever more pitch black tar smoke into the observers face, yes. The spark remained.

Here's an erratic UFR that might not mean that much because he's a corner and his playing time was highly variable:

Opponent ++ -- TOT Notes
Indiana - 6 -6

Zone vacancy II.

MSU - - - Didn't register. Yay?
Iowa - 5.5 -5.5 The whiff, the zone vacation, etc.
PSU - - - DNP, I think.
Illinois 3.5 0.5 3 Two key tackles.
Purdue 3 6 -3 Gave up the big screen.
Wisconsin 2.5 3 -0.5 Could have been harsher on him.

It's not great, though a big chunk of his Indiana negative might have been erroneously given. The blogosphere ferociously debated whether a particular frustrating Iowa touchdown was mostly on the head of Kenny Demens or Avery and eventually decided it was kind of both but maybe probably mostly Demens. The UFR still registers Avery as the victim.

Given the circumstances—tire fire—he did well to not get hammered on a consistent basis. Try to judge him as a freshman by comparing him to his classmates: the highly-touted Cullen Christian was a blinking "throw at me" sign whenever he was on the field. Terrance Talbott was clearly behind. His main issue was playing zone coverage too aggressively, vacating his zone as he chased receivers across the field.

His quickness and aggressiveness bodes well. This is just Bowling Green (see also: the brief blip of Ray Vinopal hope) but Michigan hasn't had a corner who's able to recover like this in a while:

Avery's two years younger than Floyd and was healthy through the entirety of last year and spring practice. He played quarterback in high school; nagging injuries scuppered plans to play him both ways as a senior. He was just learning the rudiments of playing corner when he was thrust onto the field last year. Even if Avery and Floyd were close a year ago—something that is generous to Floyd—Avery should improve much faster than his competition. Avery has never seemed to "transparently lack the speed to be a Big Ten cornerback."

With practice buzz generally talking up Avery, it would be a surprise if he was not the starter. If not now, then by the Big Ten season. He should make a big leap forward in year two.

Backups: Extant

The primary backup and presumed nickel/dimeback will be the loser of the Avery/Floyd battle. This preview presumes that will be JT Floyd. Our last glimpses of him were against Penn State, when he turned in the coverage-type substance at the top of this post and a few other howlers. Here's one:

The game before that, it was Floyd who gave up slant after slant on critical third downs against Iowa. Even before that this blog declared his coverage "only brushes up against adequate."

JT Floyd: UFR '10
Opp ++ -- T Notes
UConn 6 2 4 Guh?
ND 5 2.5 2.5 INT
UMass 2.5 8.5 -6 Run support.
BGSU 4.5 1 3.5 Solid.
IU 7.5 11.5 -4 Poor tackling
MSU 2.5 3 -0.5 Not victimized.
Iowa 2.5 11 -8.5 Oh my god the slants.
PSU 3 12 -9 Awful, awful, awful.

Floyd was so overmatched as a redshirt freshman that Rodriguez and Robinson pulled him off the field, moved Woolfolk from his duties as a fairly effective free safety, and inserted Mike Williams to disastrous effect. Yeah, that could be another symptom of the insanity that ruled decision-making on the D these last few years. But unlike Kenny Demens's debut, Floyd's return to the field didn't make anyone think his removal was a mistake.

As you can see at right, Floyd started off well enough against the incompetent quarterbacks of the nonconference schedule. A number of whiffed tackles and Mouton-like angles against UMass were cause for concern. That concern bloomed, then metastasized in the Big Ten schedule.

JT FLOYD
right
Nate Montana gift
breaks on to break up
blanketed
reads and attacks
nice tackle
ain't right
boxed out by Rudolph
sucks up on drag
allows Willis to drag him 15 yards

First he was amongst the many Wolverines who were too confused or too slow to keep those four-yard Indiana routes from becoming eight. While he wasn't a major factor in the Michigan State game, he imploded against Iowa and Penn State.

In context it seems like his relatively benign Michigan State game was because the Spartans had even easier prey elsewhere on the field. And maybe Michigan protected him in favor of that prey. Remember the sinfully easy 41-yard touchdown Cullen Christian yielded? Yeah:

Why the hell is Cullen Christian the guy in man coverage on a receiver running a fly route? Why isn't it Floyd? Christian(-3, cover –3, RPS -2) is smoked crispy as he bites on an out and up gives up the touchdown. Roh was about to hit Cousins but no matter.

After that it was the elevator straight down and the injury. If he gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.

terrance-talbott

Anderson, Talbott

If there are injuries, options past the top three are dicey. With Floyd and Woolfolk held out of spring practice the starting cornerbacks were Avery and Tony Anderson, who's one of many walk-ons threatening for playing time. Anderson played ahead of Cullen Christian and Terrance Talbott; Christian transferred soon after. Talbott remains.

The hope is that's motivational or Talbott can accelerate past Anderson's spot on the depth chart as his scholarship-having self surpasses Anderson's walk-on ceiling. Talbott got sporadic time last year and was okay for a freshman. He got lost on zone drops and was a weak tackler, etc. The book on him

The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.

…seemed pretty accurate. He can be a contributor down the road… if he sticks with football. There were widespread rumors Talbott was off the team, by choice, for a period this offseason.

Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.) Greg Brown [recruiting profile] enrolled early and was decent in the spring game. Those two feature on the first depth chart. Talbott does not.

The rest of the n00bs: Raymon Taylor [recruiting profile] is speedy, might not have the greatest change of direction, and got a fourth star from Rivals. Delonte Hollowell [recruiting profile] is yet another smurfy Cass Tech corner who can't be put on outside receivers; he'll probably have to wait for time to open up at nickelback. He is rooting hard for Thomas Gordon to win the safety job opposite Kovacs. Finally, Tamani Carter [recruiting profile] is probably a safety; as a guy Michigan hijacked from Minnesota it will be a bad callback to Ray Vinopal if he doesn't redshirt.

That's five dudes instead of three; if it turns out some of the guys ahead of them on the depth chart can't play the one who emerges as a contributor will probably be better than Talbott and Avery were last year.

Safety

Rating: 2.5

Free Safety Yr. Strong Safety Yr.
Jordan Kovacs Jr.*# Thomas Gordon So.*
Marvin Robinson So. Carvin Johnson So.
-- -- Josh Furman Fr.*

[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]

Is it possible that last year's Michigan defense actually one-upped the safety horror on display in 2009? Yes. It was actually worse than even the situation that gave rise to this in last year's preview:

Their [Kovacs and Mike Williams's] powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"

While the situation two years ago was never good it didn't drop off a cliff until Michigan moved Troy Woolfolk to corner. First Mike Williams and then Jordan Kovacs leisurely escorted opponents into the endzone for the remainder of the year, sure. But last year Michigan started out with this…

…and then pulled a similar switch by moving Cam Gordon to spur and inserting true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal. Vinopal wasn't quite as likely to take a terrible angle. Instead he was a 160-pound object in the way of Wisconsin's various house-sized Katamaris.

indykatamari

Artist's impression of Vinopal tackling Montee Ball

He also took some terrible angles. Kovacs was better but still kind of eh—he has not yet found that Iowa zen where the slow small white guy is always in the right place—and Michigan never got competent play from the other spot. Survey says increase doom panic victory 2010. And there was much rejoicing.

It can't be that bad again, right? I'm seriously asking this. Please, someone tell me it can't be that bad again. If no one else is willing to stand in front of that howitzer I guess it's up to me: they can't be that bad again.

jordan-kovacs-sackjordan-kovacs-floyd-nd

JORDAN KOVACS
blasted all over
blown back
annihilated
tiny linebacker
fends off the RT
shoots the gap
instant tackle on WR
blitzing untouched
tackles in the backfield
sacks Tolzien
smrt
leaking out into the flat
capable zone coverage
almost a 95-yard Rick Six
not so smrt
inexplicably slows up

It was already a foregone conclusion, but Brady Hoke explicitly confirmed that Jordan Kovacs will start for a third year this fall. He did so almost before anyone asked. The man once mistaken for Matt Cavanaugh by Greg Robinson is on track to becoming the first four-year starter at safety since Jamar Adams [Ed-M: Marcus Ray ('95-'98). Adams's RS Fr year was Shazor/Mundy]

Unfortunately, thanks to the defensive implosion of the last three years this does not necessarily mean he is any good. Whether he is or not is a subject of heated debate wherever Michigan's starting secondary is discussed. His freshman year he was solid as a box safety. His instincts and tackling made him an effective force player and blitzer. Then the whole Woolfolk-to-corner thing happened and he got switched into a deep half role. To say he struggled was an understatement. Some UFR comments from that portion of his freshman year:

Just can't play a deep half.

Again burned as a deep half safety.

Enormous bust #3.

So that didn't go so well.

Last year Michigan tried to move him back into the box by switching to a 3-3-5 in which he was the "bandit" (a strong safety that spends his time on or near the LOS), but then they spent a lot of time in a two deep shell that saw Kovacs's deep limitations tested again. He did not pass with flying colors but thanks to his awareness and solid tackling was not the flaming dump truck the rest of the secondary was. It's not a coincidence that the new coaching staff has been talking him up. Hoke:

"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."

Kovacs did improve last year, and significantly. Kovacs went from deep half dead meat to "the king of moderate-moderate-0". In three different games (ND, BGSU, and Indiana) he had plusses that exactly offset his minuses; in four more (UConn, UMass, Iowa, and Penn State) he was just above or below breaking even. He was excellent against MSU

…may have had his best game at Michigan. He's so reliable; on a day when Michigan couldn't find a tackle it didn't want to miss, Kovacs twice dragged down TEs in space to boot MSU off the field. Only one counted, unfortunately.

…but he broke down late, picking up negative days against Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

Even so, his season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.

He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.

thomas-gordon-abs

Thomas Gordon: prison abs, manages to look badass on last year's D

THOMAS GORDON
tackling
sends the house
makes a solid TFL in some space
get outside his blocker
moves up into the gap
not brandon harrison
search and destroy

The spot next to Kovacs is second to only weakside linebacker when it comes to mystery on this year's team. One candidate is sophomore Carvin Johnson, who had a plentiful helping of hype early and started in the spring game. The other is redshirt sophomore Thomas Gordon.

These two are familiar with each other since they spent last year duking it out with each other. The twist: they were doing so at Spur; Cam Gordon had locked down free safety. This year they're swapped.

The smaller Gordon has the advantage. He played at nickelback in the spring, swapping with the WLB on passing downs and covering slot receivers. He seemed well-suited for that spot. Moving him to safety signals some discontent with the options there, and since the move practice scuttlebutt has talked him up a bit more than Johnson. When Countdown to Kickoff flagged down DBs coach Curt Mallory he described the situation at safety like this:

It starts with Jordan right now. … He's done a great job, had a good two-a-days. Then we've got some younger guys in there. Thomas Gordon, I've been really pleased with how he's improved. [pause] And then with the two other guys…

That sounds like Johnson had eleven days to displace Gordon for Western Michigan. As of publication there's been no indication that switch has happened. Gordon was just named a starter by the WMU depth chart.

Gordon's 2010 was abbreviated. He started the season thanks to an injury to Johnson and played pretty well. Particularly impressive was his ability to roar off the edge without pulling a Brandon Harrison by zooming right by the quarterback. Gordon showed a knack for coming in at the fastest possible speed that would allow him to rope the QB to the ground, which accounted for many of his plus plays last year. Here's a good one against Notre Dame:

Outside of that it was minus half points here and there for poor coverage or missed tackles. He and Johnson displayed a knack for finishing his day with around three positive points and two negative ones. The spur was not a high-impact position either way last year until Cam Gordon switched to it and promptly got himself lost on flat zones he'd never been asked to play before.

Like Avery above, Gordon's ability to not be the most spectacularly flaming tire is encouraging. He came in with bler recruiting rankings but—again like Avery—he was a high school quarterback who got a Michigan camp offer and then did not play in his high school's secondary because of injury. He's beaten out some actual scholarship players and drawn praise from the coaches for his play. When I clipped something he did last year it was usually something positive.

I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.

Backups

carvin-johnson-thrilledcarvin-johnson-uconn

Carvin Johnson does not like losing.

Curt Mallory wants his safeties to be interchangeable, so this will probably be a situation like offensive line where there's a line behind the starters and whoever the top backup is will come off the bench no matter who exits. That is likely to be Carvin Johnson. Johnson shouldn't feel too down: what small tea leaves we've gotten from the defense suggest he will be the first defensive back off the bench when Michigan goes nickel—in the Saturday punting demo he was on the field plenty as Thomas Gordon played nickelback in Michigan's third down package.

His season was even more abbreviated than Gordon's due to injury. I clipped three events from him last year:

  1. A bad zone drop against UConn
  2. An Indiana touchdown on which he was playing some sort of weird ILB and got crushed.
  3. A nice open field tackle on Rob Henry.

#2 won't be an issue if he's playing a deep safety; #3 is an asset that was promised by his recruiting profile. One… maybe not so much. Though people talk him up Michigan felt it necessary to move Gordon back, whereupon he won the job. He's probably a little unreliable at the moment.

Past Johnson there are actual scholarship(!) players who weren't(!) in high school last year. One is Marvin Robinson [recruiting profile], he of the obligatory OMG shirtless pictures…

marvin-robinson-abs marvin-robinson-no-shirt
you're welcome, ladies

…and that thing he did in the spring game where he ran with a slant pattern while Mike Cox was waving at him en route to the endzone. Practice reports on Robinson alternate tales of massive here-comes-the-BOOM-type hits and equally massive touchdown-ceding errors. If you hit up that recruiting profile you'll see a lot of skepticism he can play safety; last year he spent a good chunk of his time at WLB. That may be his long term destination.

For now he's behind Kovacs. He seems to be the second guy in the pecking order; Michigan will try to avoid using him until he has that consistency thing every coach ever but especially Michigan's keep harping on.

The final scholarship guy is Josh Furman. Furman's a bit like Avery in that he was almost exclusively an offensive player in high school. (He put up some Rawls-like games in the Maryland state playoffs.) Michigan managed to redshirt him last year, so his recruiting profile is about all we know. He's reputed to be super athletic, like six FAKES out of five 40 athletic, and will have a role on special teams this year. When asked about the safeties for CTK, Mallory mentioned Kovacs, Gordon, Johnson, and Robinson but not Furman. He's still a year or two away from seeing the field on defense.

Comments

Unverified Voracity Has a Pile Of Meat

Unverified Voracity Has a Pile Of Meat Comment Count

Brian August 19th, 2011 at 5:10 PM

The Sandwich War. SI's Andy Staples was in town recently to cover something or another and took the opportunity to cast a vote in the ongoing blood war over the best deli sandwich in Ann Arbor. The contenders are Zingerman's and Maize 'n' Blue Deli:

zingermans-mnb

Staples goes for Maize 'n' Blue, citing price and having to unhinge his jaw as major considerations. Message board duly blows up in a way that makes me think I should put conversations about Zingerman's in the verboten category with politics and religion. Clearly sandwiches are both.

I'm hoping to flag Staples down the next time he's in town so I can take him to Frita Baditos in the hope his mind will be blown and Satchel's in the hope he gives Northern barbecue at least a C-.

No. Stop asking. Kudos to the Big Ten for reassuring everyone that they're not going to pick off half the Big East for no reason. Via a press release:

"In response to a number of recent media inquiries received by several Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors regarding the likelihood of further expansion by the Big Ten, the COP/C would like to reiterate that it will not be actively engaged in conference expansion at this time, or at any time in the foreseeable future."

Delany:

"We said that we will continue to monitor the landscape, but we have closed down active expansion and have no plans to seek new members."

Twelve and done and good.

Locks. In case this wasn't made explicitly clear by Tim's recap, Brady Hoke directly asserted three guys would be defensive starters. There are no real surprises in that group:

Hoke said he's filled "about two or three" starting spots on defense. When asked who they were, he responded:

"(Cornerback Troy) Woolfolk's had a nice camp, I think (nose tackle Mike) Martin's had a nice camp, (safety Jordan) Kovacs has had a nice camp."

If you were hoping Kovacs was overtaken by someone more athletic you can shelve that. I'm hoping he enters his Englemon phase where he doesn't do much that im- or de-presses anyone. Woolfolk shooting to the top of the cornerback depth chart isn't a surprise but there was a chance the lingering effects of his injury prevented him from being as effective; that apparently hasn't happened. Good news—in the secondary and everything.

I'm a little surprised Demens isn't on that list given the practice buzz. Bad sign? Overreaction? It can be both.

Snaps. Via Touch The Banner and AnnArbor.com, eeee it's football:

I'm getting the impression they might actually run more read option this year than they did last year.

You are feeling very sleepy. You are Desmond Howard. Jeff Hecklinski could have been a hypnotist if he wasn't a football coach. He also accuses Roy Roundtree of "prancing" and stands next to a short dreaded guy who's injured:

image

Unless I'm mistaken, that's Martavious Odoms getting his Bob Marley on. First the cast, now a shoulder injury—Junior Hemingway must have pressed a mysterious button that someone told him would make him resilient but turn someone else on the team into Glass Joe.

BIG TEN: STOP MAKING AND NAMING THINGS. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING US ALL. This is the new Cy-Hawk Trophy:

cy-hawk_trophy_top_medium

This is what "Iowa Corn" came up with instead of, like, a Hawk in an F16 launching a missile at a tornado that was reaching out a airy appendage of doom. That's a rivalry trophy. That thing above belongs at Art Fair. Adam Jacobi would like "a lot less of this effort to turn the conference into a bad Norman Rockwell painting." Co-sign.

It's not like they didn't know that was going to happen. Iowa Corn also came up with this:

iowa-corn

Oh, no. Dave Brandon: do not slap a winged helmet on that thing and put it on the sideline. Please.

Etc.: Maybe Darrell Funk is just like his mother. The NCAA hockey committee changes the common opponents category to something that makes more sense. The Stanley Cup hits Ann Arbor the 25th.

Comments

Football Media Day 2011: Brady Hoke Presser

Football Media Day 2011: Brady Hoke Presser Comment Count

Tim August 14th, 2011 at 2:18 PM

IMG_3588.JPG

Now seven practices in, the kids are "learning more with each practice." They're bringing energy to practice, but need to sustain that throughout to show they can compete late in games and in the season.

The team is healthy, and there's lots of competition

Two-a-days start tomorrow. The adversity of two-a-days can "teach you about who the leaders will be on the team."

On padded practice: "guys are willing, wanting." Need to see consistency between the morning and afternoon practices. Will be in full pads for 3 days of two-a-days this week. Guys are anxious to establish themselves. Want to prove to coaches and teammates how they've progressed since spring.

On kicker Matt Wile: "Obviously he's a San Diego guy. His dad was one of our orthopaedics at San Diego State." Lance Ortega was his kicking coach, the staff knew him. Matt is a 5th generation Michigan grad.

"He's doing well. I think this is a big stage. That mental part of going out there, until you get on Main Street and have 110,000, you've gotta see where the guy's at." He can do a good job coaching himself with fundamentals, etc. Doing punting, KOs, and FGs right now. "I'd be very comfortable" having a true freshman handle those duties.

On running backs: The young guys missed some time finishing up summer school. Rawls is talented, has done a good job. Backfield is unsettled. Need to show consistency from practice to practice. "We'd like to have one guy who could tote it 25 times." Maybe a couple situational guys, 7-10 carries for a secondary back.

"Our base run play will be the power play, and that's no secret." Denard's talents, and opposing defenses wil adjust what they do. 10-15 snaps running for Denard. "The objective is to win, and we've gotta do what it takes to help Michigan and this team win." He's fitting into the offensive system. "We're fortunate enough that he has some other things that he brings to the table."

Denard is a great kid. "Leadership qualities really start to stick out more and more [for upperclassmen]. That's what I've liked that he's done in camp."

On rooming, Koger: "Seniors are rooming with freshmen. Part of that is to get to know them. Set the example, set the expectation." Koger extensively praised for his demeanor and selflessness, the sacrifice he'll give for this team. "He's a tremendous guy. I'm talking about things not on the football field."

The offense question again: "You've got a system that you wanna run, but you're not going to be putting a square peg into a round hole either." Al Borges has a coaching pedigree that proves he can adapt to different personnel. He'll get playmakers the ball. "At the end of the day, we've still gotta block up front, and knock people off the football."

On Mattison: great coach, great integrity. Builds great relationships with players. "He's coached a lot of football, coached a lot of guys. He brings so much from a knowledge standpoint."

On captains:  "They won't get picked for 2 more weeks. The team will vote."

On countdown clocks: "Those are important football games. Those are big rivalries."

On the defense and standouts: "I don't think we've played to the standard that's going to be acceptable, to this point. We need to be more physical at the point of attack."

"Tom Gordon has had a good summer. Kovacs has really taken ownership." Kovacs is one of the guys who shows urgency in getting to the football. Kenny Demens also mentioned as a standout. Nathan Brink shows toughness as a DT/DE. JB Fitzgerald: "you talk about another guy who stands out as far as his leadership goes, and selflessness."

On the two-deep: They'll start penciling that in by the end of the week. "We're gonna scimmage pretty good in six days on Saturday. We'll put them in a lot of situations and see how they respond."

On Woolfolk: Troy Woolfolk has progressed well. Has taken some senior ownership of the team. Had a minor hamstring injury yesterday, there's enough competition at that position that they could afford to rest him and be cautious. JT Floyd and Courtney Avery competing at CB. "We don't have the greatest competition everywhere. I wish we did, because that makes us better."

On McColgan: a tough guy. "When you look at it, he's one of the true fullback bodies that you have." TEs will get a chance to play H-back as well.

On this still being Michigan [tremendous van river]: "I think I've made this comment before: This is Michigan. There won't be any excuses. If we don't win the Big Ten Championship, we've failed these kids, as coaches."

On the offensive line: Elliott Mealer: "He's competing." The rest of the guys: "Our left side of our line with Taylor back, and I think Ricky Barnum's done a nice job. Molk's back." Omameh at right guard. "Patrick and Elliott and Mike Schofield and Huyge - I think that's great competition."

On the backfield again: "I think there's some guys back there who can do it. All of them have shown signs of being able to run the ball like we'd like."

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