Michigan In The NFL: Who's Making The Cut?

Michigan In The NFL: Who's Making The Cut?

Submitted by Ace on August 13th, 2014 at 2:49 PM


wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

The NFL preseason is officially underway, and with mandatory roster cuts (down to 75) set for August 26th, now is a good time to check in with the former Wolverines currently playing in the league. After scouring the interwebs, here's my best guess at where each Michigan representative stands as we near the start of the season.

Locks To Make It

Jason Avant, WR, Carolina. After being relegated to decoy duty in Chip Kelly's offense for Philadelphia in 2013, Avant—who boasts the lowest drop percentage in the NFL over the last three years—should be one of Cam Newton's top targets with his move to the Panthers.

Tom Brady, QB, New England. Brady threw for over 4,300 yards with 25 touchdowns last season while working with a very raw receiving corps. It was universally considered a down year. I think he's gonna make it, y'all.

Alan Branch, DE, Buffalo. Branch was an integral member of the D-line rotation for the Bills last season, recording 39 tackles, and he should reprise that role working behind up-and-coming star Marcell Dareus again this year.

Stevie Brown, FS, New York Giants. After finishing second in the NFL with eight interceptions in 2012, Brown missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. He's back from the injury and expected to start at free safety.

Larry Foote, ILB, Arizona. The longtime Steeler—Foote has played 11 of his 12 NFL seasons in Pittsburgh—was cut in the offseason, but quickly found a home in Arizona, which lost both of their starting ILBs from last season. He's currently atop the depth chart, and even if he doesn't hold that spot, he should stick around to provide veteran leadership for a young position group.

Jonathan Goodwin, C/G, New Orleans. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Goodwin and Tim Lelito, the two players competing to start at center, are "certain to make the final roster." Goodwin's ability to play both center and guard gives him extra job security, even at 35 years old, as does his relatively cheap one-year deal.

Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati. While Hall tore his right Achilles tendon last season, just two seasons removed from tearing his left Achilles, he's back in the starting lineup as Cinci's slot corner, a spot he plays about as well as anybody in the league when healthy. Barring further injury, his spot is very much safe.

David Harris, ILB, New York Jets. Jets head coach Rex Ryan called Harris "the most underrated player in the league" after he was left of the NFL Network's top 100 players list for 2014. Yeah, he's safe.

Junior Hemingway, WR, Kansas City. Even though Hemingway missed a good deal of training camp with a hamstring injury, he came right back and was a prime target for QB Alex Smith out of the slot. This very thorough rundown of the Chiefs' roster situation has Hemingway safely on the team—in fact, he should start in the slot—and that doesn't look likely to change.

Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville. Though Jacksonville used the #3 overall pick on QB Blake Bortles, Henne started the first preseason game, and the Jaguars higher-ups insist there's no QB controversy. Bortles is the QB of the future; for now, however, this is Henne's job.

Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee. First-round picks don't get cut in their rookie seasons, especially when they're competing for starting jobs.

Jake Long, OT, St. Louis. Long is coming back from a torn ACL and MCL, so he's been held out so far in the preseason, but he's on track to make a surpringly quick return. Also, he's Jake Long, which should be enough.

Ryan Mundy, S, Chicago. Even though the Bears have shuffled their safeties around, Mundy has seen the most action on the first team of anyone, and he can play both free and strong safety in their system. He started the preseason strong, picking off a pass in the opener.

Michael Schofield, OG/OT, Denver. Third-round picks also don't get cut in their rookie season, except in very unusual circumstances. Considering Schofield is "in the mix" at both left guard and right tackle, it looks like he'll be a critical backup at the very least in Denver.

LaMarr Woodley, DE, Oakland. After seven productive years in Pittsburgh, Woodley was unceremoniously released by the Steelers over the offseason, and the Raiders were happy to get him. He provides a major upgrade from them at DE, a spot that may suit him better than 3-4 OLB, where he played in Pittsburgh.

Charles Woodson, S, Oakland. At 37, Woodson came back to Oakland, where he's beloved by the fanbase. He'll play safety there, and he is Charles Woodson, so he'll play well until he decides it's time to hang up the cleats.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the list.]

Basketballgasm 2014: Day 1 Liveblog

Basketballgasm 2014: Day 1 Liveblog

Submitted by Seth on March 20th, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Die, work productivity! Die before the might of The Great Thursday of the Basketballing (also: hockey), and the grilling of former football players on things of interest.

The Celebrity Mods: By seniority, Todd Howard (CB, 1998-'01); Brandon Williams (CB, 1999-'02), who wrangled them all together; Tim Massaquoi (WR/TE, 2001-'05); Jordan Kovacs# (S, 2009-'12); and Michael Schofield (OL, 2009-'13). They'll be in and out ds-main-logothroughout the day.

# = never gets to live it down.

The Sponsor: As they did last year, our official fantasy game partner DraftStreet stepped up. If you're getting bored between games today, head on over to their dashboard and sign up for any of their games. That link goes to the NBA one I just started. Or just check in on your team for the $40k (or $20k if you came late) tourney we've been on about all week.

The Cause: We've got a bunch of former players coming by today to answer your questions, yap about the ballgames with you, and support the Go Blue Bowl, on April 4.

GBB

Flier (click to see list of players attending, etc.):

14_GBB_flyer_v4

It's a series of evening flag football games at Pioneer between teams coached by former Michigan players. Two teams will be made up of sponsors and you can still get in on that. The event benefits Marlin Jackon's Fight for Life Foundation.

The Schedule: As we get going it'll be general discussion time while the Ohio State-Dayton (12:15) and Wisconsin-American (12:40) are on, continuing that through Pitt-Colorado (1:40), and Cincy-Harvard (2:10). At 3pm we'll switch to the hockey game vs Penn State, go to Michigan State's game after that, and that should carry us to the Michigan-Wofford game tonight.

The Mitigation of Liveblog Chaos: Read it. Know it. Love it. Be it.

GO BLUE! Always.

This Week's Obsession: Leaders Numbers

This Week's Obsession: Leaders Numbers

Submitted by Seth on September 11th, 2013 at 12:00 PM

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If they're going to do it, might as well be Gardner. [Fuller]

Schedule for roundtable Legends jerseys:

  • Akron: Brian Cook switches to #1
  • Minnesota: Seth Fisher will wear #2
  • Nebraska: Mathlete shall don #77
  • Ohio State: Blue in South Bend changes to #7
  • 30 seconds before the end of the season: Ace Anbender will change to #32

A question:

Brian started to mention this in the game column but I thought it warranted some obsession. So now that ol' 98 is unretired and #12 has once again been abandoned before reaching its seniority* I'd like your thoughts on the Luminaries Numbers. Would you run the Interesting Integer program differently? Which have you been happy with, and which annoyed you the most?

_MG_2494_1
To infinitely weird numbers and beyond!
[Photo sent in by Scott Rains]

Brian: I would cleave as closely to the old numbers' origins as I could. 98 would be a skill guy, as would 47 and 21, 11 would be on the defensive line, 2 would be a defensive back. Ford's number would be some sort of DL/LB since it can't be an OL and the front seven on D is a little thing. I'd avoid switching anyone to those numbers after they'd been established. You can get it after your freshman or sophomore year, but after that your number is your number. Kovacs is 32, dammit, and Gallon is 10.

I was most happy with Gardner as 98, because that is weird and weird is good. Weird makes Michigan not Generic Sporting Experience. I am least happy with Funchess switching to 87, because who has any association with 19? Well, you would have. And shouldn't 87 be a lot more rough and tumble? Yes. To get the 87 you should have to sass the president.

Wait. No. I was least happy with Kovacs switching to 11 with two games left in his career because I think Kovacs should have his jersey legend'd right now and handed to any walk-on who finds playing time outside of the offensive line. 32, man. 32.

3 - FORD LIBRARY Kramerandford

Actually it was Ford who sassed the tight end.
[Photo from HTTV Kramer article, courtesy of Gerald R Ford Presidential Library]

[After the jump: Un-retire 77!]

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Defense

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Defense

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.

1. Novacs?

Michigan St Michigan Football

Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster

It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either

  1. the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
  2. a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.

Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.

Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.

It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.

Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.

Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.

[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]

Hokepoints: Which Safety is Which?

Hokepoints: Which Safety is Which?

Submitted by Seth on July 30th, 2013 at 10:36 AM

IMG_4561Fuller - 8360039726_71067e5ee4_o

left: Upchurch, right: Fuller, not Jamar Adams.

After last week's roundtable, Heiko and I got into an argument over which safety position Gordon will play this year, and whether we've all been wrong to assume that the "Kovacs position" was indeed going straight to Jarrod Wilson. Let's investigate that.

Terminology

Through various defenses this site has covered, I have kept defaulting to "free" to describe whatever guy is the deep man, and "strong" to refer to the one who typically plays up. With Mattison's—I'm sorry—Michigan's defense these days those terms are becoming such misnomers that we may want to stop using them.

Michigan aligns their safeties to the boundary, not the strength of the formation, so "strong" and "weak" stuff for Michigan's D usually means "field" and "boundary."

IMG_0008

Using monuMental's program again. Beyer is at SAM just to avoid Gordonian confusion

With the offense on its left hash the "strong" side is to the field. Here's where you need your more athletic guys who can cover more ground. When the offense is on the opposite hash Michigan flips the personnel:

IMG_0009

Everyone knows where to go as soon as the ball is placed, and then they'll move around to match what the offense shows. Whatever the offense may gain from constantly shifting the strength of their formation opposite what Michigan aligns to, the expectation is they'll lose that by squeezing their space.

The front seven isn't so predictable; most often they will align so that the strong side is with the Y tight end—usually the "strong" side of the formation—to preserve the appropriate matchups. However when the formation flips the safeties hardly ever go with it. The coaches have said they want the safeties to eventually be interchangeable, though with such a disparity in makeup between Kovacs and any other guy on the roster the roles have been more defined. The biggest change from 2011 to 2012 was Kovacs did progressively more and more in coverage. You could see it in the dramatic shift in Kovacsian tackles as the linebackers got better.

For the safeties this means the actual "strong" safety will align to the field. He'll have more space to cover and also more guys to deal with. He's more likely to end up one-on-one with a slot receiver. The boundary safety will be more likely to draw a tight end or someone out of the backfield.

What was Kovacs Last Year?

Kovacs was the boundary safety. He aligned to the weak side and usually lined up a few steps closer to the line of scrimmage than did Gordon. Here's screencaps from the first two plays of the Outback Bowl to illustrate:

First snap:

FirstSnapOutbackbowl

Second snap:

SecondSnapOutbackbowl

That's not to say this was written in stone. Two snaps later SC aligned with trips to the strong side and Gordon came up to take away anything short and easy for the slot receiver:

4thSnapOutbackbowl

No, the TE is not allowed to line up two yards behind the L.O.S. #SEC #CHEATERS

This screamingly illegal formation was a touchdown as Ryan and Gordon both followed the inside slot. Kovacs took the middle guy's post route and Raymon Taylor ended up 1-on-1 with the outside receiver and got burned.

This is a thing SC did a lot of in order to shift Michigan's defenders out of their core competencies. On the defensive last play of the game Kovacs again ended up the overhang guy where his speed deficiency could be exploited. You know how that ended. They weren't the only ones, though Michigan didn't always react the same way:

ND1

Same safety positions: Gordon is the deeper guy on the field side of the ball and the strong side of the formation—the position that's called "FS" on your EA Sports game—and  Kovacs is the short, boundary guy that your game would call "SS." Note this time the front seven flipped so Morgan ended up over Eifert and Roh/Ryan were to the side of the Y tight end. So nothing is exact, but even when the formation flipped the safeties stuck to their roles. With the WLB to his side Gordon backed out to show Cov2 and ND ran a counter-right which picked on Clark; the linebackers shut it down.

Simple form: Kovacs was the boundary safety, Gordon was the field safety. What about this year?

What is Gordon This Year?

Sorry Heiko, but I think Gordon is still the nominal field safety. Here's the first snap of the 2013 Spring Game:

SpringGame1

Gordon's the field, Wilson's the boundary. Jarrod Wilson has apparently inherited the Kovacs position while Gordon remains what he was. But something has changed. Spring Game play the fifth:

SpringGame5thsnap

Yeah the front seven is flippy again but the safeties aren't: that is Gordon who has come up over the right TE (Williams) and is telling Wilson to "get back, get back!" Wilson then backed out of the screen. Now, the safeties switched roles plenty last year, but over the course of the Spring Game, I saw Wilson the overhang man more often than not, and this wasn't because the offense was overloading one side or another. I mean, this is a pretty straightforward Ace 2TE set.

So while Gordon's position hasn't changed, his role may have. Kovacs last year would often come down then have a deep cover responsibility. Or he'd be given complicated reads and be responsible for changing coverages on the fly much as an Air Raid offense changes receivers' routes based on what the defenders are doing after the snap. That's because he's Kovacs. The expectation this year is that Gordon will be doing much more of the fancy stuff while Wilson's job on most plays will be to not let anything over his head. The more Jarrod progresses, the more Michigan can have him do the fancy Ed Reed things and the less predictable the defense will be. Wilson may have taken Kovac's position, but for the most part Gordon has his job.

Media Day Things

Media Day Things

Submitted by Brian on July 26th, 2013 at 12:24 PM

It came and went with one piece of news—Antonio Poole's departure—and a lot of mean questions for Urban Meyer. Brady Hoke said Brady Hoke things, like eight wins is "unacceptable" and anything other than winning the Big Ten is "failure." The usual.

The interesting thing

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Gordon needs to be the new Kovacs

The most interesting thing to come out of the media day annually is Michael Spath asking the assembled players to talk about Michigan last year.

In there you've got Kovacs confirmation:

"[Jordan Kovacs] is a guy that on film doesn't look that special, not compared to some of the guys out there, but ask our coaches and there was no one they respected more. Our defensive coordinator said he could play for our team any day because he's just so smart, such a great leader, and he plays mistake-free football. Sure enough we play them and you just can't get anything past him. He doesn't go for ball-fakes, doesn't buy play-action, and every time you look downfield, he's there, just waiting for it."

Unfortunately, that's immediately followed by a statement that Thomas Gordon may be a better athlete but was "very average" and that it was all about Kovacs.

On Frank Clark:

"We saw some film of him from early in the season and then some stuff from the last few games, and he was a different player. When we saw him, he was motivated. He played pissed off, and he was really a force."

Come on, hype, be true. I don't know who that could be, since I don't remember Clark having a major impact in any game save Ohio State, and that impact was not exactly a block-shedding spectacular:

On the offensive side of the ball, here is something you probably already know but it's good to get it confirmed:

"The thing that really stood out to us was how bad their guards were at pulling. Half the time the running back would be the first guy to the hole and we had a linebacker waiting there. They're supposed to be paving the way but they were so sloppy and so out of position even when they were out ahead you could simply sidestep them or outmuscle them because they had lost their leverage."

Sad face. Michigan needs to improve drastically there, and probably well. In other news, Funchess is delicately called a finesse player and marveled at as a "freak". And yeah, we were weirded out by this Gallon thing too:

"I don't know how tall [Jeremy Gallon] is but that kid can really sky. We were watching film after a game we lost and our coaches were really hard on one of our guys because he lost a jump ball to Gallon, but then the next week he did it again, and then the next week again. That guy is little but he can play."

Offensive line: set-ish

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oblig "Ben Braden is preposterously large" picture via Tim Sullivan

The other thing emerging from the roundtables is that the battle to start at guard has been basically resolved—it's Braden along with Kalis.

Hoke confirmed Thursday that physical redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis have separated themselves at left and right guard, respectively. That development was anticipated.

"I don't know if you ever feel great until you get through a season with new guys, but I like the work ethic of Kalis and Braden and those two guys from a genetics standpoint, for what we're looking for in an offensive lineman," the coach said during the second day of Big Ten media days at the Chicago Hilton.

Graham Glasgow is now pushing Jack Miller at center:

At center, Lewan was quick to insist people shouldn't write off walk-on Graham Glasgow. "He's 6-6 and nasty. He does whatever you ask him to do. If it's the end of a long practice and they want us back out there, he's the first one."

Morris: prepping

Take what you will from this:

"(Morris) came to campus a little bit earlier than some of the guys," Hoke said during a breakout session during Big Ten media days at the Chicago Hilton. "From what I know, he's had a good summer to this point. I think he's done a nice job learning. I think Devin's done a nice job with him. I think (fellow QB candidate) Brian Cleary's done a nice job with him.

"He'll be in good shape coming into fall camp."

Hopefully he won't be needed to do anything more than mop up.

Can't be going to the bars with doctor pig

Mutant-Pig-Person---87563[1]

the internet has a hit for "gary busey pig." go internet

Lewan on Darrell Funk, who looks way too much like Gary Busey to be so relentlessly controlled:

"He has never told a joke in his entire life. The man has never told a joke, ever, but he is so funny. He's hilarious. He's so dry - he'll walk into a meeting and say, 'OK guys, couple of things - can't be going to the bars, guys. Can't be doing that. You like going to the bars, Bosch? Can't be doing that.' It's like, What? His delivery cracks me up."

More on the short lived run of Dr. Hamlet III:

Where do you find a pig? Craigslist, of course. The linemen pooled their money and spent $250 for a teacup pig. As for the robust name?

"I don't know," he said. "I just wanted my pig to have a Ph.D."

So say we all.

Unverified Voracity Unleashes Charity

Unverified Voracity Unleashes Charity

Submitted by Brian on May 7th, 2013 at 11:45 AM

On my signal, unleash charity. EDSBS's annual fundraiser for Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta is up. Michigan has won this thing back-to-back, crushing all comers, and I'm pretty sure if we win a third straight year we get the right of first refusal on any 7'3" Spiderman shot-blocking centers they might accidentally produce.

Orson suggests commemorating a past football game with your donation. I'm going SUMMER OF TATE!

image

I blame the Big Ten Network for this. And wheel routes, of course. The donation page can be reached directly here. Michigan State is currently leading.

Hagerup gets the Stonum treatment. Michigan has announced that Will Hagerup is reinstated and will be suspended for the entire 2013 season. He'll have one more year of eligibility in 2014 if he can survive the double secret probation period, which of course Stonum could not.

Q: would Michigan announce anything if their own players didn't spill the beans on social media? The timing of all these reports seems to be: "wait for someone on a message board to notice, announce once it starts getting wider attention."

If Hagerup is still on scholarship that would take Michigan's next recruiting class down one.

Kovacs doing his Kovacs thing. The NFL equivalent of a walk-on is the undrafted free agent, and Kovacs is doing his Kovacs things with the Dolphins. But first, awesome lead!

Jordan Kovacs is the rarest kind of three-time all-Big Ten player. The kind that is nearly $100,000 in debt.

That might be a first, actually. Kovacs came in for a profile on the Dolphins' site with this quote in it:

"Those within the Dolphins organization tell me that Kovacs has a legitimate shot," MiamiDolphins.com's Andy Cohen wrote, "that you aren’t as productive as he was at Michigan without having a chance at the next level."

Practice observers are united in stating he is small but impressive nonetheless. One:

Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs was the main guy who caught my attention. At first I noticed he's the runt of the litter, standing all of 5-foot-10, 205 pounds. Most NFL safeties are three inches taller, and maybe 10 pounds heavier.

"Then I noticed Kovacs has a knack for being around the ball," Kelly continued, "and plays with a feisty spirit. He pulled down one of the Friday session's two interceptions and was consistently around the ball. What does that mean? No clue at this point, but flashing is a good thing."

And two:

Former Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs, an undrafted rookie free agent signee, knows how to make an impression. He was a walk-on at Michigan and rose to prominence and had something of a cult following in Ann Arbor. He knows the way to draw attention and that's hit. He did plenty of that, taking some liberties at times in the defensive backfield. He also had an interception. So he's got my attention, at least.

Spiece means all of the scouting reports. There was an immense AAU tournament in Fort Wayne over the weekend that has resulted in an unusually large scouting dump even for the internet. Trevon Bluiett had a great weekend on both ends, filling it up and giving five-star Kevon Looney the business on defense:

Dylan on Bluiett:

We’ve been keeping tabs on Bluiett for a long time now so his offensive exploits don’t come as a big surprise. Bluiett can score the ball against just about anyone. He has a great jumpshot, can use his 6-foot-6 frame to get to the rim and even has a nice mid-range game. But it’s always encouraging when a guy that you’ve been following for a long time shows off something new. We already touched on Bluiett’s defensive exploits against Kevon Looney but his performance was very impressive – mostly because we haven’t seen that out of him. Five threes on the other end didn’t hurt, although this still wasn’t Bluiett’s best offensive game of the tournament, that would have been his 28 point outburst against Team Thad.

He told Rivals($) that Michigan and Butler are recruiting him "most vigorously" at the moment. Everyone who's ventured an opinion thinks Butler has a tentative lead, and time is running down. Bluiett wants to decide before his senior year begins.

UMHoops also put together a scouting reel on Looney. Which… wow. He doesn't have the quickness to drive on guys a lot shorter than him, but he's a 6'9" kid who blocks everything, runs the floor, has three point range, and is aggressive. I say, he might be a good player.

Scout also has extensive, uh, scouting($). Vince Edwards had a little bit of a rough outing as his teammate and OSU commit Jae'Sean Tate went to the basket over and over; everyone's now filing Looney as an "elite face-up power forward."

Oh. ESPN's Paul Biancardi puts Zak Irvin on his class of 2013 "dream team," describing him as an "alpha dog($)":

Every team needs some alpha dogs, and Irvin fits that category. He provides the luxury of having a big-time scorer who can stroke it from deep with excellent size or beat his defender off the bounce, pull up and nail it from the midrange. That scoring versatility is priceless. He also has high-level athleticism, and his frame is strong enough that he can take a hit and finish at the rim. Irvin is a competitor who can play the game up tempo or in the half court. Bottom line, he is a bucket getter who can put up big numbers.

Hardaway++?

Sports in which you attempt to throw a ball past a person with a stick. Softball clinched their sixth straight Big Ten title over the weekend with a narrow 2-1 win over Northwestern, then celebrated by clubbing the Wildcats into a fine paste 16-1 in a game I attended. I was just talking up how Sierra Romero was pretty good when she put one over the fence; later in the game they walked her with a base full. The next day, Northwestern walked her at every opportunity, plunking her the first time. Also she's the shortstop. She might be good.

Softball is the top seed for the Big Ten tourney, which is in… Nebraska. Does that make more or less sense than having the hockey tournament at neutral sites? Advanced math necessary to tell. In any case, it's a big tourney for Michigan, which currently sits on the edge of the top-eight spot that would not only guarantee them a regional but also a home super-regional should they advance.

The softball tourney is a twelve-team single elimination thing; Michigan's Friday opener won't be televised but their hypothetical semi would be at 3 Saturday and the final is 1 Sunday, both on BTN.

Meanwhile, the baseball team is fighting for the last spot in the six-team Big Ten tournament, taking two of three from Iowa over the weekend. They've got six conference games left, a home series against Purdue and a trip to Lincoln. Purdue is about as good as Iowa—not good—and Nebraska is just okay; Michigan has to keep ahead of Illinois for the last spot. They've got a game on the Illini.

Dollar dollar bill y'all. The Big Ten's distribution to its schools pops up over a million dollars to $25.7 million. The BTN is now putting out $7.6 million a year. Makes you wonder how they used to manage with just 15 million a year. Probably ate roof tiles, sat in a hot tub filled with dirt, used old batteries to decorate.

The irony of this bullet. The only good thing about the new flood of articles (YES IT'S A TWO-ARTICLE FLOOD GAWD) about Chris Webber is they're the ones spurred by the dissociation period imposed on him by the NCAA ending. So they should be the last, by God. Has anyone else ever been a subjection of this much discussion 20 years after he left his college team?

Canadian Football. Your names. I don't know what to do. There's a new Ottawa CFL team that just drafted a backup Iowa lineman in the first round because the CFL draft is only for Canadians. In any case, I bring this to your attention mostly because that team is considering the following names:

Wiki says they're choosing between the RedBlacks, the Nationals, the Raftsmen, the Voyageurs, or the Rush. Of course a Canadian team would consider "Rush" an appropriate nickname. Whatever they end up going with, they're always going to be The Fightin' Tom Sawyers to me. But I digress.

Canada. I think "RedBlacks" is actually the goofiest what with its connotations of a distant rollerball future where all things are named according to the colors that comprise them because the gubberment has confiscated nouns.

Knobwatch. When Bret Bielema isn't fighting with Wisconsin fans on twitter—seriously—he's dialing up the doublespeak to its maximum:

Coincidentally, "Transition is a process" is also what the noun-confiscating dystopian gubberment says when it takes your nouns.

One of those guys is a postgrad quarterback everyone will want Michigan to look at who will instead go somewhere he can play.

Barwis talking about Mealer. Via the latest TEDx event at M:

Etc.: Is the body of this article titled "Why B1G has no November night games" just "IT'S COLD"? It should be. Ringer departure official if you missed it yesterday. FWIW, I heard he'd had microfracture surgery a la Greg Oden. Where the O'Bannon case stands and is going in the near future. Ben McLemore stuff just makes me want agents to be cool wit the NCAA. Burke's got a shot at going #1.

Hokepoints: Would Bill Walsh Draft These DBs?

Hokepoints: Would Bill Walsh Draft These DBs?

Submitted by Seth on May 7th, 2013 at 10:46 AM

Upchurch -8646510666_fd8ba5d69f_o walsh_050736

left: Bryan Fuller

Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.

Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.

Strong Safety

plankamaluSHAZORVACSUpchurch -8645425559_026bcc0008_o

Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary

Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:

"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.

So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."

The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, DavidFulcher2.jpg.w180h258the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:

"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.

"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."

Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).46defense

It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears

This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.

College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).

Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.

Upchurch - 8173108160_66b1320817_oI don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).

He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.

Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!

SHAZORVACS

What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.

What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.

What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.

It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:

  • Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
  • Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
  • You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.

The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.

How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.

The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.

The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.

Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.

[The rest, after the leap.]

Hokepoints: Safety Spring Nits

Hokepoints: Safety Spring Nits

Submitted by Seth on April 23rd, 2013 at 11:03 AM

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One of these is Jamar Adams, the other Jarrod Wilson (by Fuller)

Here's a little tradition from around these parts that you're not happy to bring back: who's going to be the new safety starter? Yeah, remember that conversation? Remember how it went around picking up all the we-hope-he's-at-least-an-Englemons out of Gibson'ed secondaries?

The best of all that. This last bout of hand wringing finally ended with the best safety tandem we've had in the Cover-2 era. In their two years together Kovacs and Gordon were the first capable pair since Brandent and Jamar, easily the best since Marlin and Ernest, and probably ranked higher than any since Marcus and Tommy or earlier. We can actually chart the stuff since '07, thanks to Brian's Upon Further Review charts (which total up the plusses and minuses accrued in each game into a rough net contribution stat). I've got my UFR database now updated that far (any further and the knowledge isn't really there to make it relevant or comparable). Remember this is a game-by-game exercise that wasn't meant to remain standard across the ages; that said the Chart?-Chart! chart totals for Michigan safeties in these six seasons very much fit your recollections:

Player 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Career
Brandent Englemon 12 +12
Jamar Adams 9 +9
Charles Stewart -15   -15
Brandon Harrison 1.5   +1.5
Artis Chambers -1 -1
Stevie Brown -9 -7 -16
Michael Williams 2.5 -26.5 -24
Troy Woolfolk -10.5 0 -10.5
Jared Van Slyke         0   0
Brandon Smith -3.5 -3.5
Jordan Kovacs -7 -4.5 37 11 +36.5
Vladimir Emilien     0       0
Cam Gordon -26.5 -26.5
Thomas Gordon 17.5 24 +41.5
Carvin Johnson   -7.5 -7.5
Josh Furman -2 -2
Ray Vinopal -3.5 -3.5
Marvin Robinson   0 -9 0.5 -8.5
Jarrod Wilson -2 -2
Total 12 -19 -47.5 -34.5 38 31.5 -19.5

Chart notes: maize is positive, blue negative so that can stand out more. Time spent at the Spur in the 3-3-5 years was counted as linebacker, likewise Brandon Harrison's 2007 at nickel, which was a starting position on the English defenses. I tried to separate Woolfolk's corner games from his safety games; for the record here's the breakdown for 2009:

Position Gm + - Tot
Safety 5 3.5 14 -10.5
Cornerback 5 4 8.5 -4.5

…when he was obviously a better corner than a safety but as you can see from above, was needed more at the latter.

Still the totals at the bottom tell a story of a moderately positive '07 (Stevie Brown—0/-8/-8 in The Horror) did most of his damage in one game, which itself did plenty of damage to that season), three years of atrociousness, and dramatic improvement under the new staff. If you remember 2010 as worse than '09 that's because the cornerbacks were just as bad. The disparity between Kovacs 2011 and 2012 is easy enough to explain by there being far fewer opportunities for him to make those Kovacsian stops after 7 yards as Michigan faced either Alabama or teams who either didn't test or schemed against him (Air Force, Nebraska).

Also I had to chart The Horror myself because Brian didn't at the time. Thanks Brian.* Anyway the charting says Thomas Gordon (!) was the best safety at Michigan in the last six seasons. Should we be talking about all-conference stuff for ol' Prison Abs in addition to the leadership stuff? Gee, maybe. He had a spectacular spring game, which I don't think many people noticed.

As for what's opposite him Michigan has to find something out of the blues above plus another year of progression.

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*Had this been done under modern UFR standards it would have doubled any record for RPS debacles. Just to know I tried doing that, handing out the remainder of expected points for any play that weren't on the players as Brian does in UFR-ing and came out with this staggering figure of +23/-46/-23. RPS is never that much of a variable, except in this game it was the alignment of linebackers, stunts (!), not stacking the box, and not responding to the QB draw even though they only ever ran one play out of that alignment.

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[After the jump: Candidates]

Hokepoints: The Marlin-Brian Q&A

Hokepoints: The Marlin-Brian Q&A

Submitted by Seth on April 16th, 2013 at 10:43 AM

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photoshoppers, start your GNUs

So we did the meet and greet Q&A thing, and other than the liveblog portion being pretty much a disaster, A+++ would do again. I couldn't type fast enough to keep up with all the good info in the Q&A so below I've written up those answers plus some we answered after the fact via email. logo

We're tentatively talking another one the Friday night before the Notre Dame game, so calendar that. If you're coming in from out of town, Jared of Sports Power Weekends, who sponsored this whole thing, mentioned he's putting together a trip for that weekend that includes tickets for the game and a private tour of the Big House before we do drinks and ALL THE SHANE MORRIS.

Some things went way better than expected and other things not so much. Didn't go well: We had no way to plug our mic into the speaker system, fortunately remembering just in time that bartenders have friends with guitar amplifiers. The other thing that could have gone better is we forgot to warn Brian that Jehu Chesson was in the audience before your favorite blogger launched into his heuristic reasoning as to why Amara Darboh would be more effective this year because Chesson is still a waif.

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New heuristic: Chesson sitting = Heiko standing minus an inch.

Did go well: lots of luminaries showed up. Players current and former included Chesson, Countess, Donovan Warren, and John Duerr. An incomplete list of bloggers: Bryan Mac (aka BiSB), MGoPhotographers Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller, Burgeoning Wolverine Star, Lloyd Brady, M-Wolverine, Craig Ross, and LSAClassof2000. Epic shirts: Heiko's bubble screen smile, and a Branch-Morelli sweatshirt.

In things that surpassed all expectations, let me being with actual nicest guy in the universe Marlin Jackson himself. Walking out of the game to his car took about 25 minutes because he signed every hat, helmet, t-shirt or whatever thing put before him. We talked NBA decisions, how the Jake Butt TD was on Jarrod Wilson's as-yet-unadvanced field awareness, and that the biggest difference with this staff is they "teach football."

After being introduced by Brian as "the man who still has Reggie Williams in his back pocket," to kick off the Q&A Marlin talked about his Fight for Life Foundation. He was candid about his youth: Jackson grew up in the projects with a mother addicted to drugs and a father he never met. As you can imagine this isn't the best way to learn things like accountability, the value of an education, or even your own value and that of others. Marlin learned these things through Michigan; it's the goal of his foundation to give similarly underprivileged kids the opportunities he received because of his athletic talents.

Fight for Life runs three programs: Field of Dreams (link) is an in-school and after school program that basically helps get the kids back up to speed with their classmates. Seal the Deal (hyperlink) is a series of leagues and football camps for youth through high school with an educational/character-building component. R.A.P. (reach out and access your peers – url) is an SEL* program that gets kids to open up through, e.g. a discussion of their future aspirations or by presenting a paper on their favorite song lyrics. They need to raise about $200k per year to fund these programs.

fightforlife

* Social and Emotional Learning, the spread offense of education. Full context is linked above but you may cognate as learning that's the opposite of 'Another Brick in the Wall.'

We then talked about things like that one year the Colts paired Manning with a real defense, which receivers were the hardest to cover, and his impressions on the young defensive players at Michigan today. That after the jump. But first here's three generations of next-Woodsons:

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Fuller has a nicer version on the Flickr collection but this one I took on Countess's phone is superior for capturing our new official Robot Ace Anbender headshot.

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[jump]