Recruits In Retrospect: 2009 Defense

Recruits In Retrospect: 2009 Defense

Submitted by Ace on June 10th, 2014 at 3:44 PM


oh boy

A couple summers ago, I delved back into the blogspot days to look at Brian's 2008 recruiting posts and how well players lived up to expectations. There were high points, like Mike Martin wrestling Not Mike Martin. These were accompanied by lows such as "Dann O'Neill might be Michigan's most critical recruit." The McGuffie mixtape was rewatched, wistfully.

I forgot to continue the series last summer, so I'm picking it back up with the 2009 class; conveniently, all the players from that class have completed their time in the program, so it's easier to give a fair retrospective on their careers. If you want to go back and look though the old posts yourself, the Tate Forcier profile features links to every player.

While that last link is a nice teaser for the offense portion of this exercise, today I'll be looking at the 2009 defensive recruits. Brace yourselves.

Never Forget

I'm gonna go ahead and get the defensive back portion of this post over with, as the four commits in the secondary were Vlad Emilien, Thomas Gordon, Justin Turner, and Adrian Witty. Emilien's projection was a harbinger of doom for U-M's future situation at safety:

Projection: Either sparing special teams time as a freshman or (hopefully) a redshirt. In 2010 will be a major threat to start at strong safety, though he might have to fight Brandon Smith to get a job.

Brian, today, on this quote: "I was so innocent then."

Smith moved to outside linebacker, then announced his intention to transfer near the end of the 2009 season, ending up at Temple and never doing anything of consequence there. Emilien followed a similar path, playing a little special teams as a true freshman, then transferring after the first game in 2010 when Jordan Kovacs put a death grip on the strong safety spot. He ended up as, yup, an outside linebacker at Toledo, where he made 15 tackles as a senior last year.

omg shirtless heroin-laced carrot

Witty never actually made it onto the team due to academic issues, eventually landing at Cincinnati, where he's the top returner in the secondary this year. Not getting him through admissions may be viewed as a recruiting failure, but in context, it was totally worth it:

Adrian Witty, a teammate of Denard Robinson, is Denard Robinson's teammate. On this team, which they share, they play together. Also, Witty and Denard Robinson attended the same high school. At this high school, they played on a team which they shared and played together on: they were teammates.

That should be clear. Many, many folks regard Witty's offer as the heroin-laced carrot used to lure critical QB recruit Denard Robinson away from Urban Meyer's clutches and to Michigan's post-apocalyptic frozen wastes.

Even though Witty would've been, at worst, the second-best defensive back in this class for U-M, there are no hard feelings here. We salute you, heroin-laced carrot.

The most hyped recruit in the class was Massillon, Ohio's Justin Turner, a top-35 overall player to both Rivals and Scout.* It wasn't hard to see what all the excitement was about:

That excitement only grew after Turner tore it up at Army All-American Game, to the point that his recruitment post led off with a discussion of one of those B/R "[touted recruit] is [football titan]" posts:

If you're measuring by delusional expectations of internet denizens, Justin Turner may be the #1 recruit in the universe. You've got to have an avalanche of hype for some guy to write an article saying you're Charles Woodson and get this response:

"Good article, but i see justin turner being faster then charles woodson. I also see turner being a better saftey the woodson was but woodson will be a better return man."

IE: "Good article about some high school senior being the reincarnation of the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman, but don't you think you're selling him a little short? Also I have no recollection of Charles Woodson's return abilities, which were pretty much crap aside from one white hot moment." (Yes, this exchange happened on Bleacher Report. Where else could it?)

Brian took the conservative tack, comparing Turner to... Marlin Jackson. Let's just move along.

The one defensive back to actually make a positive impact on the field at U-M, Cass Tech's Thomas Gordon, came in as a relatively anonymous recruit. He got Brandent Englemon for his "YMRMFSPA" and this projection:

General Excitement Level: Well… he is the lowest-ranked non-kicker in the class, and that's probably for a reason. 
Projection: Obvious redshirt and will likely require at least two years before he's ready to see the field on defense. The most likely (but by no means assured) outcome is that he doesn't contribute much.

Yes, it's possible for a Cass Tech recruit to exceed expectations.

[*ESPN was a skeptical outlier, listing him as their #21 athlete. Point, ESPN.]

Who?

At least Mike Jones provided us this picture.

On to the linebackers: Isaiah Bell, Mike Jones, and Brandin Hawthorne. Brian's assessment of Jones' potential almost nailed it:

General Excitement Level: Eh; I'm expecting one of the OLB recruts to pan out in a big way, one to be okay, and one to wash out. 

Instead, nobody panned out big. Bell washed out before annarbor.com died, Jones saw the field sparingly before playing his fifth year at Western, and Hawthorne topped out as a nickel linebacker.

I won't spend much time on these guys simply because there isn't a whole lot to talk about, but I will note that when a search for a player comparison goes like this, there's a pretty good chance you've got a serious tweener on your hands:

So he's just like Shawn Crable, if Crable was six to eight inches shorter. So he's just like Chris Graham, if Hawthorne was a stiff, clunky guy incapable of shedding blockers and not much for changing direction. He's not like either, actually. I mean, just look at the guy. Linebacker? In college? Er. There's a reason Hawthorne is well down in the rankings.

Brian suggested Hawthorne "may be better suited for a 3-3-5 than a more traditional D," and hoo boy did some bad memories just come flooding back. Quick, to the defensive line!

THORQWASH & The Crab Person


Between this and the legendary hood slide, we're all good, Big Will.

Justin Turner wasn't the only five-star recruit to the established recruiting sites to get some major skepticism from ESPN. Will Campbell's rankings went #35 overall (Scout), #26 overall (Rivals), and... #21 offensive tackle (ESPN). Another point for the Worldwide Leader. Like Turner, an outstanding Army game performance added to the hype, as did pictures like this...

...and, for entirely different reasons, this:

WE GOT THOR.

In retrospect, however, maybe we should've seen Campbell's future weight issues coming:

Campbell is one of the biggest players in the Army game, but he's apparently not ready for the roller coasters when the teams visit Six Flags on Tuesday night.

"There's a weight limit on those things," he said. "I might be on the tea cups."

Even though he didn't have the desired impact until a solid, though not five-star-caliber, senior season, Campbell always gave a hell of a quote. Brian's Gabe Watson comparison was pretty on point; though Big Will didn't come close to Watson's production, they were similar players—jovial, wildly talented, bull-strong, big fans of food—with similar hype coming to Ann Arbor. 

craaaaaaab people craaaaaab people

Michigan landed two defensive ends in the top-100 range in the class: Craig Roh (right) and Anthony LaLota. While Roh never became an edge-rushing terror, he managed to consitently produce and improve despite boucing between positions—not to mention different defensive schemes that didn't necessarily fit his skill set—for his entire career due to factors outside his control. This comparison both worked and, well, didn't work:

Why Shawn Crable? Crable was a 6'6" athletic terror with chicken legs who spent his Michigan career bouncing from DE to OLB and would have been the perfect player to slot in this spinner spot. Crable was also rated right around where Roh is. The comparison here is very tight.

The tweener aspect of the comparison was spot-on, but Roh ended up being a very different player from Crable, more disciplined and able to hold the point of attack but far less explosive off the edge.

As for LaLota, he received one of the most random YMRMFSPA comps in this blog's history:

Alain Kashama… except good!

Kashama was a total project at Michigan, coming in with little football experience—as did LaLota, who played just 12 games of organized football before hitting campus—before settling in as a reserve pass-rushing specialist, eventually totaling six career sacks.

That ended up being six more career sacks than LaLota recorded, as he transferred back to home-state Rutgers two weeks into his sophomore season, where he quit football to focus on his education after a move to tight end saw him buried on the depth chart.

We end with the class curveball, Quinton Washington, whom everybody evaluated as an interior offensive lineman—with most saying he had a ton of potential there, this blog included:

General Excitement Level: High. It's clear the coaches were nuts about this guy and he's got the offers and recruiting mojo to back it up. 
Projection: Though the coaches have suggested Washington might see the field this year—they think he's that ready—a redshirt makes more sense with Schilling's move inside solidifying the interior line. He'll have to fight Ricky Barnum to replace Moosman next year; if he loses that battle he'll be the odds on favorite to replace Schilling in 2011.

Steve Schilling, in fact, was his player comparison. Washington instead moved to nose tackle early in the 2010 season, worked his way into a starting role as a junior, earned the nickname QWASH, and gave the defense a proficient space-eater until his role mysteriously diminished last season.

The real answer is Roh, but one could make a reasonable argument that Michigan's most critical 2009 defensive recruit was a guy who never played a down for the Wolverines: heroin-laced carrot (seriously, Brian, how the hell do you come up with these things?) Adrian Witty.

Unverified Voracity Meant To Do That

Unverified Voracity Meant To Do That

Submitted by Brian on August 12th, 2010 at 1:54 PM

Help a blog out. So Blogs With Balls is trying to get in on the next South By Southwest and needs internet help. If you could register with SWSX and then thumb-up the BWB topic idea, this would go some small distance towards helping this happen. Do it to it.

Turner return broached, unlikely. In the aftermath of Justin Turner's decision to transfer there have been rumors about a potential decision to reverse that decision once his family talks him off the ledge:

[WTKA's Sam] Webb says Turner spoke to his mom about the decision but not to other members of the family, some based here in Michigan.  They are coming up to talk to him and "see what was on his mind" including discussing "even up to and including whether or not he would entertain the thought of going back."

However, Webb thinks that outcome is unlikely. Even if Turner did decide to return his apparent lack of conditioning would probably make him useless this season.

It's a deke. Srsly. Michigan Hockey Net has been posting some old Michigan hockey clips of late; here's Brandon Kaleniecki breaking out the greatest deke in the history of hockey:

"He's got two and that was a weird one!"

And fin. Michigan goes in front of the infractions committee this weekend, at which point the final stories about practice (practice we're talking about practice) get written and attention returns to the stuff happening on the field. I have the vague hope some of the stories will have the perspective Bruce Feldman($), a guy who's travelled the country and seen the inside of dozens of programs, does:

If you've been to more than a handful of college campuses in the past decade or talked to any football coaches, you'd know that what the school was accused of are probably the most minor major violations you'll ever hear about.

Many folks cringe whenever they hear the excuse of "Well, everybody does it," but the reality here is this stuff goes on with top programs all over the country. Quite frankly, there's been much bigger offenders on these rules than what the NCAA has apparently caught in its net.

While it sucks that Michigan got dragged through this, nothing in the final report suggests anything except institutional incompetence and confusion about rules most people are confused about. My favorite evidence of the latter is the NCAA official site declaring the rules "nebulous," "difficult to understand," and "even harder to track."

Feldman is a guy who brings some authority when he says similar violations would be turned up just about anywhere; if he's right about that the main difference between Michigan and other schools is the attitude of the local paper.

Other numbers. Freshmen were omitted from this site's Fall Roster Overanalysis since they don't have a track record, but I did mean to link to Ace's focus on those freshmen. Most guys come in about where you'd expect except maybe the ever-expanding Richard Ash. At this rate, in two years we'll get to find out if having Norman Bombardini clog the middle is a good idea.

With Ace's post and a helpful reader sending a long a saved copy of the spring roster I  can highlight a couple additional interesting weight changes:

  • Stephen Hopkins is down from a Wisconsin-like 236 to a still-pretty-Wisconsin-like 227.
  • Christian Pace put on 21(!) pounds since the spring roster came out. I don't think it's possible for all of that to be good weight but if he's already 280 he should be physically ready to play center in the Big Ten when Molk graduates.

Sauce: weak. Les Miles defending the Elliott Porter oversigning fiasco:

He noted that Porter’s scholarship offer was still good, just postponed a semester. He said if somebody made the same offer to one of his sons, they would “certainly be disappointed that day, but recognize that, long-term, it’s not a bad thing.”

Miles said grayshirting can benefit players who could use time to allow their bodies to mature. “He might take his time to come in shape and to benefit his body and compete,” he said.

This is also called a "redshirt," except in that case you get to go to school like you were promised over a year ago. It's a simple choice between not signing that extra kid and taking the chance at going into 2010 with 83 or 84 scholarships or taking a kid who's been living in a dorm for a month and telling him GTFO.

Also note the headline on this thing "Miles defends grayshirt rule," as if there's some crazy NCAA mandate that requires him to dump Porter. The paper is attempting to move the responsibility for the thing from Miles to an NCAA bylaw. Since that bylaw is "you can only have 85 scholarships," fail.

(HT: Get the Picture.)

And so forth and so on. The cases of Noel Devine and Demar Dorsey aren't totally comparable—Devine never got into serious trouble—but his background was "Botswana-level" according to EDSBS:

When Devine was 3 months old, his father died of complications from AIDS.

When Devine was 11, his mother died of AIDS.

Devine's maternal grandmother assumed custody, but he often clashed with her and he eventually moved out. He moved in with the parents of one of his friends.

Devine was a witness to a shooting late in 2004 in which one of his closest friends was killed by a shot to the chest.

Devine had two children in high school in North Fort Myers, Fla., a girl and a boy, born seven months apart to different mothers.

When Devine was a high school senior, many programs backed off because they thought he'd never get into school; WVU seemed a little sleazy when they went after him and got him on campus. Now he's a senior-to-be forgoing the NFL—where his stock is at maximum since he's not going to grow three inches this year—for a degree. Will that degree have the general aura of jockishness? Almost certainly. Is it a better outcome for him than travelling the wilderness as a JUCO? Also almost certainly. I wish the media narrative about poor kids on football teams getting into trouble was less about scolding "win at all costs" coaches and more about what kind of outcomes various programs were achieving with the marginal players they acquire.

In related news, Demar Dorsey still isn't on Louisville's roster.

Maybe holistic and stuff. I'm pretty sure that Doctor Saturday is just reading the media zeitgeist when he suggests that the only thing that can repair the Big Ten's image problem is a national title, but he highlights a fact that's been true at least since Jim Delany's spectacularly ill-advised open letter bashing the SEC:

The Buckeyes' coast-to-coast run at No. 1 in 2006 in calamity, along with their surprising return to the top in '07, the two losses that still loom over the conference like a giant monolith that periodically drawls "S-E-C! S-E-C!" and has no input to receive data such as "the Big Ten and SEC have split their two annual bowl tie-in games 10 to 10 over the last decade."

When you bring this up to someone wearing SEC pajamas, they invariably respond with "bowl games don't matter except those two Ohio State humiliations." The Big Ten has been a bit down of late since Michigan and Penn State can seem to be good at the same time and USC has managed to lose a game against a Pac-10 also-ran yearly, but reports of the conference's demise have long been greatly exaggerated.

Etc.: A Steve Sharik comment on defending four verts with a three-deep gets front-paged at Smart Football. Holding the Rope UFRs Wisconsin's offense against Miami. I was planning on ranking the ten teams of the aughts for Of The Decade but MATW beat me to it so just consider that post part of the series. I didn't see this but a couple of different places on the internet are reporting that on Hard Knocks last night a Jets coach told Donovan Warren "if you'd played like that last year Michigan would have won some damned games," which is funny but not true. Michael Buckner appears in yet another story about Michigan's infractions—is there no other man on the planet with a law degree who can speculate darkly about possible outcomes?

And my "Michigan football" youtube subscription turned up… 60 Seconds With Taylor Lautner. Who is apparently in "Twilight." When I was a kid our vampire shows were full of smokin' hot chicks, not moody boy-toys. /get off my misogynist lawn.

Greg Robinson Presser Notes 8-11-10

Greg Robinson Presser Notes 8-11-10

Submitted by Tim on August 11th, 2010 at 1:54 PM

This actually comes from UM football spokesman Dave Ablauf, but it's certainly news nonetheless. Redshirt freshman corner JT Turner has asked for (and been granted) his transfer release from the University of Michigan. The request was made yesterday.

Now, onto the GERG:

Defense

The biggest questions for the defense on the whole are "How much can we develop by September 4th? How far can we take this defense by September 4th?" The goal is to be an excellent defense at that time. Robinson: "I like our movement on defense." Team success will come down to how the coaches are able to utilize people on that side of the ball.

The main changes in the defense this spring came in the usage of terminology. They went to some of the terminology that the defensive coaches (all of whom have been with Rodriguez since the West Virginia days) were familiar with. This was a suggestion that Rodriguez made that Robinson immediately thought was a good idea. Robinson had to take on a lot more terminology, but he's been around the block a few times, and had to do it before, including moving from defensive line coach to offensive coordinator at UCLA over the course of one offseason.

The change worked well in the spring, and by now "it's pretty much second nature for everybody." Prior to the terminology switch, there was potential for some messages to get lost somewhere in the chain, but now everyone's on the same page.

Robinson has used 3-3-5 and nickel concepts throughout his career, including in the NFL. With the prevalence of spread offenses in today's game, there's a need for a more athletic group of midrange players.

Robinson really likes coaching the linebackers, and this year's crop in particular. Linebackers are "the glue of the defense" between the defensive line (the heart of the defense - pumping everything) and secondary. Being right in the middle allows Robinson to work with all position groups more easily.

Personnel

There has been some change since spring, as the players have been through summer workouts. The coaches are able to get their full attention during the beginning of summer camp, because most of them aren't in school.

It's "too early" to single out any freshmen that have emerged as potential contributors. The team isn't even in pads yet. There are still some young guys that the staff feels good about.

Lots of guys came back from the summer in great shape. When asked how Will Campbell looks: "He's very handsome." Marvin Robinson "walks around the building looking pretty good." (Second GERG evaluation of a player's appearance. [Ed: I bet Will Campbell tells his teammates how awesome GERG's hair looks.]) Robinson is one of the freshmen who has intentions on getting onto the field right away.

The defensive line has plenty of experience. Craig Roh, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen, and Greg Banks (who has "played a good amount") were all singled out. Craig Roh is a good athlete. He can run, is a good pass rusher, and is also a smart player. His intelligence allows the coaches to give him a variety of responsibilities (of which a hybrid player has more) with confidence he'll be able to carry them out.

Obi Ezeh is working very hard. He has "good intentions" but is aware that he has a battle for a starting spot with Kenny Demens and Mark Moundros the other contenders. Robinson is a "real fan" of Jonas Mouton. He has the physical abilities, and can process information well. He really wants to up his game. Kenny Demens and Mike Jones are challenging for playing time. Jones was injured last year, which held his progress back.

Moundros was a good selection by his teammates as defensive captain, though the whole senior class is filled with leaders. It's easy to see why Moundros was selected, because he has great work ethic, he's smart, he's tough, he loves football, and has a giving mentality. When GERG first arrived at Michigan, he saw Mark Moundros and thought he might be a linebacker before being informed he was the team's fullback. The position switch will work well because "he has linebacker skills."

Kevin Leach, Floyd Simmons, Thomas Gordon, and Josh Furman are some of the players at safety/linebacker hybrid spots. That's a competitive situation, and far from a done deal yet. They're willing to give up a bit of size at the position as long as there's still physical play. Stevie Brown was a good example of this.

Jordan Kovacs is the guy who's taking first reps at his position right now. There's nothing set in stone this early, of course, and there hasn't been enough time for anyone to make a push for his job. He's the type of player who makes everyone around him better with his communication.

In the secondary, Woolfolk is the experienced guy, and they feel very good about JT Floyd "showing a lot of progress." His spring was good, and it seems like he had a good summer. Cameron Gordon is mature, and a hard worker. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean he's ever seen a live snap at this level. Vladimir Emilien and Jared Van Slyke have both gotten plenty of reps in practice, but even they don't have much game experience.

The backups at corner include two true freshmen, Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery, and walkon Tony Anderson. [Not sure if James Rogers was just an oversight, or if he's unlikely to contribute this year].

JT Turner - :glances at Dave Ablauf, Football Media Relations Guy: "I don't know what's going on there." [See top]

Justin Turner to Transfer

Justin Turner to Transfer

Submitted by Brian on August 11th, 2010 at 12:41 PM

justin-turner-independent

See? Grim.

That rumor metastasized quickly: Tim reports that Dave Ablauf has just read a statement that Justin Turner has asked for and received his release to transfer. I blame myself for suggesting that this offseason had been a relatively tranquil one when it came to things that mattered.

It sounds like the 11 pounds Turner put on in the offseason were not the good variety, and that he was never in a position where he was physically ready to play because of sheer lack of desire. Odd for that to happen with a corner—usually it's linemen battling to stay under 350 that wash out because they're not interested in keeping up with the work.

Impact on the team bit: losing Turner is a terrible blow to a secondary short on everything; beyond the starters at corner Michigan has three freshmen, one of them highly touted and the other two middling three-stars, and vagabond James Rogers. Corner's the worst spot on the team to suffer attrition. Turner was a near five-star coming out of high school who killed people at the Army game; his disappearance from Michigan without so much as playing a snap ranks up there with the most disappointing recruiting flameouts ever.

A Grim Start

A Grim Start

Submitted by Brian on August 11th, 2010 at 12:20 PM

092609_SPT_UN v IU_MRMIt's a plot device so well-worn it's hackneyed in even real life: kid on team mouths off publicly about something or another. The coach threatens castration privately; publicly he downplays the loose lips and denies the veracity of whatever claim has got the media atwitter. Hugs are shared, unity declared, and the incident forgotten.

So when Troy Woolfolk sort of called Tate Forcier a leper, but not really, to the point where he had to issue a twitter retraction, Rodriguez immediately leapt to his quarterback's defense:

"I'm glad our seniors are taking some ownership and leadership in this team. They want everyone to work as hard as they have."

And by "leapt to his quarterback's defense" I mean "obliquely agreed with Woolfolk." That's the blockquote equivalent of scratching a record, especially since he followed that up with "Tate has a lot of work to do to prove himself, and not just on the field but off the field" and deviated from his years-long obsession with finding "two guys you can win with" at quarterback, instead suggesting that if someone separates himself from the rest of the competition he will be The Guy. So much for this blog's Tate/Denard QB Voltron fever dreams, I guess.

Having one half of your hopes for a competent non-freshman quarterback damaged by that guy's seeming disinterest is bad. Worse: Rodriguez was moved to publicly declare a "handful" of players "not ready to play Division 1 football" after the first day of practice. The identities of the folk in this handful are largely unknown—please no corners please no corners—but today's premium internet chatter fingers Justin Turner—GODDAMMIT—as the most prominent member of the group. [Update: Greg Robinson on Turner: "I don't know what's going on there."] The trepidation that's built up the last year as Turner first failed to crack the worst Michigan secondary ever and then failed to beat out a guy who lost his spot in the worst Michigan secondary ever has now broken through the last frayed tendrils of hope born of his recruiting rankings; he's now solidly en route to epic bust status. "Dann O'Neill or Shawn Crable?" is a much less pleasant question to answer than "Charles Woodson or just Marlin Jackson?"

With Turner apparently 0/2 when it comes to showing up to camp with the ability to outrun Rod Smith, Michigan's corner depth chart now looks like this:

  1. Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd
  2. Freshmen
  3. Doom

If you're looking for damage mitigation, cornerback is a spot at which a freshman can hypothetically cope, but after so much hammering to one position group something's got to give touchdowns in bunches.

And since today's Turner PANIC is late-breaking, it doesn't even figure in Doctor Saturday's fair and totally depressing evaluation of the state of Michigan's defense:

michigan-d-2000s So… yeah. The feeling today is a grim one.

Unverified Voracity Opens The Gates

Unverified Voracity Opens The Gates

Submitted by Brian on April 29th, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Site updates. I've updated the Depth Chart By Class and added a new angle on the roster: the Unofficial Two-Deep. Folks with more than 500 points—"trusted users"—should be able to edit both these pages to reflect changes in them, though I'm getting the weird caching issues with the DCBC. Working on that.

Please no funny stuff, because then I will be sad.

deshawnsims2 simsharris

A pair of items to read. Run, don't walk to USA Today's profile of Deshawn Sims that reads like a Wire script:

DeShawn Sims graduates Saturday from the University of Michigan. His mother, sister, grandmother and aunt will be there to see him get his degree and hear President Obama speak.

His father and brothers will not be there. The men in his family are in prison or dead.

"The men are gone," Sims says. "I'm the last man."

As soon as you are done there stop immediately and run the opposite direction to Maize 'n' Brew's interview with Zoltan Mesko:

MnB: Do they ever stick you on the tackling squads or any other kind of full contact drills for special teams?

 

Z: You know... I think I've done two tackling drills in my whole career at Michigan. The first made the Carr staff realize this was pointless. The other made the Rodriguez staff realize that was pointless as well.

For extreme Justin Turner worriers, of which I count myself a tentative member, there is also this:

There are a lot of young guys that have the potential to be something unbelievable. Justin Turner, for instance. I only see bits and pieces of practice, because I'll do my own thing indoors with the other special teamers, but when I do watch practices, Justin Turner was like white-on-rice with the receivers. He's still learning, but if he was on the receiver, it was like he knew what the receiver was doing next.

Yes, please, with salsa. The interview continues on at epic length.

I say intent, you say "I'm sorry I didn't hear you come again whoops you're at JUCO." A couple days ago I posted something on the Sporting Blog about high-end college basketball players increasingly forgoing the letter of intent. I think this is a good idea for players, who are giving up all their leverage in exchange for little. I thought "little" was one year of scholarship, but even that morsel turns out to be a wild exaggeration of the benefits:

The problem with the NLI is that even for critics of varying degrees, as all three of these writers are, the benefits to a player of signing an NLI are overstated:

  • Signing an NLI does not guarantee a spot on the team. Nothing does. A coach can cut a player at any time.
  • Signing an NLI does not guarantee a scholarship for a year. Signing the athletic grant-in-aid agreement (i.e. the scholarship itself) binds the school to the player, without binding the player to the school.
  • Signing an NLI does not allow the school to start promoting you. Any written commitment to attend will.

The only benefit to prospects signing an NLI with a school is that it prevents other coaches from harassing the prospect and permits the coaches that signed the prospect to have unlimited contact with them, including by text message.

So there's virtually no reason to ever sign a letter of intent. BHGP argues that the cessation of hostilities from other coaches is a powerful incentive, but I imagine that saying "no, stop contacting me" will shut even the most persistent coach up lest his persistent annoyance damage his rep for little gain.  The Bylaw Blog, which is the source of the above clarification, points out that the NLI is essentially never enforced in the event of a coaching change (see: Alex Legion) and that this makes a trend towards signing only the grant-in-aid moot. This is mostly true. The stigma from holding a guy against his will is in most cases not worth the player. But there are instances in which a player is forced into a situation he's not a fan of: Iowa signee Ben Brust has been released from his LOI but as a result of his signing he cannot receive athletic aid from a Big Ten school. Also, it's widely suspected that Michael Beasley was not released when the Hugginsbot bolted for West Virginia—which is probably why Demarcus Cousins wanted that clause in his LOI that allowed him to  be released in the event of a coaching change.

We'll see one-and-dones, who are committing to a coach, pull the Knight trick more often than not starting now. You never know when your coach is going to have to get out of Dodge before the law rolls in.

The weirdest draft in the world. …is the OHL draft, where talent often has little to do with how high a player goes because of the omnipresent threat that your draft pick might not report if they've got a college option. It is this week, and with Michigan commits and targets peppering first round mock drafts it promises to be of interest. To pick a couple representative mock drafts at random:

  • #3-ish F Matia Marcantuoni. Marcantuoni is supposed to be the top overall pick in the drat but is widely rumored to have a deal with Oshawa under the table. The Wolverine has repeatedly said he will go to Michigan if he goes the college route. That looks doubtful.
  • #13-ish F Boo Nieves. (commit) The linked site says he's "likely" to play in the OHL next year but I doubt that intel given the extremely pro-college stance Nieves has maintained (there's "no question" he's going to college). A possible complication: Nieves did not get picked for the NTDP, which surprised many. With the USHL as strong as it is these days that shouldn't matter much, but if Nieves does go in the first round it's time to start fretting. Other sources leave him out as a "wildcard."
  • D Jacob Trouba. Trouba is a high end talent that would go in the first round if he had not committed to the NTDP. Michigan and Notre Dame are leading for him, with Michigan believed to have an edge.
  • D Connor Carrick (commit). Carrick was on a bunch of lists as a mid-first rounder earlier but does not appear in the latest mocks because his Michigan commitment is supposed to be solid. He is also committed to the NTDP.
  • G Dalton Izyk. Izyk doesn't appear either despite his status as one of the best available 2012 goaltenders; he is a Nieves teammate and someone Michigan will be pursuing heavily. His parents are reportedly adamantly pro-college.

Bonus hockey recruiting: The Hockey News has a profile of Stefan Matteau, the son of Stephane Matteau. Matteau has accepted a spot on the NTDP and is presumed to be on his way to college. There is mutual interest there. Cedar Rapids F and 2011 recruit Derek Deblois gets scouted; I'll have a fuller profile of Deblois and the incoming recruits later in the summer.

Etc.: Some TV station announced that Missouri to the Big Ten was a "done deal." It is not. Ironically, the twit who started the Pitt-to-Big-Ten panic by lending credibility to a Bleacher Report article has the gall to write a sarcastic piece about the "new journalism" of echo-chamber sources. Six Zero has started a series of mgouser profiles with the local recruiting demigod.

Unverified Voracity Opens The Gates

Unverified Voracity Opens The Gates

Site updates. I've updated the Depth Chart By Class and added a new angle on the roster: the Unofficial Two-Deep. Folks with more than 500 points—"trusted users"—should be able to edit both these pages to reflect changes in them, though I'm getting the weird caching issues with the DCBC. Working on that.

Please no funny stuff, because then I will be sad.

deshawnsims2 simsharris

A pair of items to read. Run, don't walk to USA Today's profile of Deshawn Sims that reads like a Wire script:

DeShawn Sims graduates Saturday from the University of Michigan. His mother, sister, grandmother and aunt will be there to see him get his degree and hear President Obama speak.

His father and brothers will not be there. The men in his family are in prison or dead.

"The men are gone," Sims says. "I'm the last man."

As soon as you are done there stop immediately and run the opposite direction to Maize 'n' Brew's interview with Zoltan Mesko:

MnB: Do they ever stick you on the tackling squads or any other kind of full contact drills for special teams?

 

Z: You know... I think I've done two tackling drills in my whole career at Michigan. The first made the Carr staff realize this was pointless. The other made the Rodriguez staff realize that was pointless as well.

For extreme Justin Turner worriers, of which I count myself a tentative member, there is also this:

There are a lot of young guys that have the potential to be something unbelievable. Justin Turner, for instance. I only see bits and pieces of practice, because I'll do my own thing indoors with the other special teamers, but when I do watch practices, Justin Turner was like white-on-rice with the receivers. He's still learning, but if he was on the receiver, it was like he knew what the receiver was doing next.

Yes, please, with salsa. The interview continues on at epic length.

I say intent, you say "I'm sorry I didn't hear you come again whoops you're at JUCO." A couple days ago I posted something on the Sporting Blog about high-end college basketball players increasingly forgoing the letter of intent. I think this is a good idea for players, who are giving up all their leverage in exchange for little. I thought "little" was one year of scholarship, but even that morsel turns out to be a wild exaggeration of the benefits:

The problem with the NLI is that even for critics of varying degrees, as all three of these writers are, the benefits to a player of signing an NLI are overstated:

  • Signing an NLI does not guarantee a spot on the team. Nothing does. A coach can cut a player at any time.
  • Signing an NLI does not guarantee a scholarship for a year. Signing the athletic grant-in-aid agreement (i.e. the scholarship itself) binds the school to the player, without binding the player to the school.
  • Signing an NLI does not allow the school to start promoting you. Any written commitment to attend will.

The only benefit to prospects signing an NLI with a school is that it prevents other coaches from harassing the prospect and permits the coaches that signed the prospect to have unlimited contact with them, including by text message.

So there's virtually no reason to ever sign a letter of intent. BHGP argues that the cessation of hostilities from other coaches is a powerful incentive, but I imagine that saying "no, stop contacting me" will shut even the most persistent coach up lest his persistent annoyance damage his rep for little gain.  The Bylaw Blog, which is the source of the above clarification, points out that the NLI is essentially never enforced in the event of a coaching change (see: Alex Legion) and that this makes a trend towards signing only the grant-in-aid moot. This is mostly true. The stigma from holding a guy against his will is in most cases not worth the player. But there are instances in which a player is forced into a situation he's not a fan of: Iowa signee Ben Brust has been released from his LOI but as a result of his signing he cannot receive athletic aid from a Big Ten school. Also, it's widely suspected that Michael Beasley was not released when the Hugginsbot bolted for West Virginia—which is probably why Demarcus Cousins wanted that clause in his LOI that allowed him to  be released in the event of a coaching change.

We'll see one-and-dones, who are committing to a coach, pull the Knight trick more often than not starting now. You never know when your coach is going to have to get out of Dodge before the law rolls in.

The weirdest draft in the world. …is the OHL draft, where talent often has little to do with how high a player goes because of the omnipresent threat that your draft pick might not report if they've got a college option. It is this week, and with Michigan commits and targets peppering first round mock drafts it promises to be of interest. To pick a couple representative mock drafts at random:

  • #3-ish F Matia Marcantuoni. Marcantuoni is supposed to be the top overall pick in the drat but is widely rumored to have a deal with Oshawa under the table. The Wolverine has repeatedly said he will go to Michigan if he goes the college route. That looks doubtful.
  • #13-ish F Boo Nieves. (commit) The linked site says he's "likely" to play in the OHL next year but I doubt that intel given the extremely pro-college stance Nieves has maintained (there's "no question" he's going to college). A possible complication: Nieves did not get picked for the NTDP, which surprised many. With the USHL as strong as it is these days that shouldn't matter much, but if Nieves does go in the first round it's time to start fretting. Other sources leave him out as a "wildcard."
  • D Jacob Trouba. Trouba is a high end talent that would go in the first round if he had not committed to the NTDP. Michigan and Notre Dame are leading for him, with Michigan believed to have an edge.
  • D Connor Carrick (commit). Carrick was on a bunch of lists as a mid-first rounder earlier but does not appear in the latest mocks because his Michigan commitment is supposed to be solid. He is also committed to the NTDP.
  • G Dalton Izyk. Izyk doesn't appear either despite his status as one of the best available 2012 goaltenders; he is a Nieves teammate and someone Michigan will be pursuing heavily. His parents are reportedly adamantly pro-college.

Bonus hockey recruiting: The Hockey News has a profile of Stefan Matteau, the son of Stephane Matteau. Matteau has accepted a spot on the NTDP and is presumed to be on his way to college. There is mutual interest there. Cedar Rapids F and 2011 recruit Derek Deblois gets scouted; I'll have a fuller profile of Deblois and the incoming recruits later in the summer.

Etc.: Some TV station announced that Missouri to the Big Ten was a "done deal." It is not. Ironically, the twit who started the Pitt-to-Big-Ten panic by lending credibility to a Bleacher Report article has the gall to write a sarcastic piece about the "new journalism" of echo-chamber sources. Six Zero has started a series of mgouser profiles with the local recruiting demigod.

Superficial Spring Bullets

Superficial Spring Bullets

Submitted by Brian on April 17th, 2010 at 4:29 PM

denard-robinson-signs-forehead

Get used to it, Denard?

I'll try to figure out some more stuff after the replay at 8 but for now, things I noticed. They are mostly about offensive skill position players, because I'm a person.

Denard! Denard! Denard! Disclaimer: It was all ones versus twos and whatnot, so Denard took the starting offense against a motley collection of walk-ons and Tate took a bunch of freshmen up against the first team defense. The playing field was far from level.

That said, holy crap. Robinson looks like a quarterback now. A running quarterback with rudimentary passing abilities, but a quarterback. There were zone reads and screens and rollout passes and a number of zippy seams that hit players between the numbers. When the offense broke down, Robinson made the concept of "pursuit angles" humorous. Putting him on the edge, as suggested by the coaches' clinic tea leaves, puts the defense in a bind. His throws were all on a line but they were accurate aside from a couple mediocre bubble screens. There were multiple times where I was thinking "just run why don't youuuu runnnnn" and he zipped a pass in for a first down or touchdown.

How close to Forcier's passing does Robinson have to get if he's going to start? If Forcier can't set up in the pocket and throw on rhythm, how far apart are they now? It'll be an interesting summer for both guys. Right now it looks like edge Denard.

As for Forcier: Hemingway's absence and the sparing use of Stokes saddled Tate with a couple of true freshmen at wideout, so it's hard to tell whether or not the helter-skelter offense Tate was running was just Tate doing what he does or the receivers screwing up the rhythm of the offense. Wild guess: some of both. Tate also fumbled (again) and chucked a pass that Mike Jones should have picked off. Robinson didn't have anything close to a turnover.

Meanwhile, Devin Gardner looked raw as hell, fumbling snaps, scrambling into trouble, and reverting to that ugly shotput motion whenever he was forced to throw on the run. He looked like a freshman, which is okay because he is a freshman. However, the torrent of spring hype that suggested Gardner would probably not redshirt because he would be Michigan's best quarterback by UConn… eh, not so much. Maybe it was just a bad day. Even if it was an off day, Robinson showed enough to relegate Gardner to the bench for the first couple games and hopefully his whole freshman year.

Gardner did show the his deep touch on a third and long seam to Odoms that was laid in perfectly. Odoms dropped it.

Flipside of all those seams. The concerns about things like four verticals expressed in the Coaches' Clinic Tea Leaves were amply demonstrated. Virtually all of Michigan's big yardage plays that weren't Robinson teleporting from place to place came on seams right up the hashes. Michigan's got to get that fixed.

Vlad… em? Vlad Emilien was wearing a knee brace of some sort so it's likely he's not 100%, but he got dusted by Roy Roundtree (who we last saw getting tracked down on a similar play) on Robinson's 97-yard touchdown. Roundtree tacked on five yards by the time they hit the endzone. Meanwhile, Teric Jones made up most of the ground. Thankfully, not all of it. Roundtree getting tackled at the one on that would have been a dark omen.

Further adventures in Justin Turner worry. It's one thing to be behind JT Floyd, who did look considerably more confident on the short stuff Michigan was trying to his side, but with Woolfolk out with a minor injury it was James Rogers who moved up to the ones. A position move beckons.

Tailback clarity. Nil. There weren't a whole lot of big plays from the tailbacks. Mike Cox had a nice touchdown and Stephen Hopkins lived up to his rep as a thunderous runner who should find himself staring down third and short most of the  year. Austin White is headed for a redshirt. Cox, Toussaint, and Shaw are all in a blender.

Defense thoughts. I did what everyone does and watched the ball more than anything, so I don't have a ton of useful stuff on the D yet. I thought Van Bergen looked like he'll be a pretty good defensive end, maybe all conference level. When Floyd came up on the short stuff he tackled solidly. Most of the stuff in the middle happened against the second team defense.

I did notice the bandit playing deep off the LOS frequently when Michigan went to the spread; Kovacs in deep coverage is going to be a scary issue all year.

We have field goal problems? I expected the placekicking to be a circus given the grim reports from spring, but other than a couple of misfires off of poor snaps from the backup longsnapper the two guys at the top of the depth chart looked solid.

Punter, meanwhile… it's Hagerup's job. If Hagerup tears an ACL it might be Tate Forcier's job. Spring started with speculation of a Robinson position move, but now it seems that Forcier moving (or, rather, pulling double duty) is a more realistic possibility. Not that either are particularly realistic.

Unverified Voracity About Other Things, Eventually

Unverified Voracity About Other Things, Eventually

Submitted by Brian on February 25th, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Talkin'. I'd actually scheduled this podcast appearance at The Solid Verbal last week and the kids over there just happened to hit the news cycle jackpot. So, yeah, there's a podcast of me talking to Ty and Dan about the shoe that just dropped, Tate Forcier, the future of the program, and Admiral Ackbar.

One clarification: I was just talking extemporaneously about a question I hadn't thought about before when I mentioned that I thought Rich Rodriguez probably had an idea of what was going on with the quality control assistants. After some more research, I think that's erroneous since one of the charges is a "failure to monitor" on Rodriguez's part. "Failure to monitor" appears to be something that precludes Rodriguez knowing about the violations.

Click for go:

icon for podpress  Michigan's Maze (2/24) [32:41m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download

The upshot. This is not changing until we know what happens in 2010:

At least no one will ask this until—aw, who am I kidding.

Obligatory item in which I offer an opinion about virtually everyone acting stupid. First, Brandon Graham:

Former Wolverine Brandon Graham said he didn't experience any of the alleged violations during his time at Michigan and that the NCAA report shouldn't sour anyone's view on Rodriguez.

"Coach Rod’s a good coach, and people are just trying to get him in trouble to me," Graham said.

The obvious contrast is with Morgan Trent, who sold out the program in a statement. One: now we have a pretty good explanation for why Trent is a successful NFL player but basically sucked at Michigan. He did not like the program change and didn't put in full effort. Two: while people going "lol Trent you suck" are not covering themselves in glory, you can dump Trent in with those guys in a barrel of people I don't want to get a beer with.

Trent is symptomatic of the problems resulting from the vast culture change Rodriguez brought with him, and each former Carr guy who just can't get over the change who goes out the door or transfers before their time is one more scholarship not being wasted. Trent doesn't know anything about the exact specifics of what GAs and QC assistants are allowed to do and didn't know that stretching time was CARA. He's just talking out of his ass because he dislikes RR, and I hereby excommunicate him.

Additional random takes. Some other takes I missed yesterday. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg:

Michigan will be hit with some penalties, and "major violations" are possible. But these allegations don't seem to be overly extreme, despite some harsh language in the report. Michigan could be hit with probation or scholarship losses, and it will need to be more careful on these issues going forward. I'll repeat what I've said all along: Rich Rodriguez's fate ultimately comes down to whether or not he wins games, not what the NCAA decides in August.

The Detroit News's John Niyo:

In the end, I'd guess a quality-control staffer probably will lose his job, and changes surely are in store for the compliance department. Beyond that, maybe not much more than institutional embarrassment, which is no small price to pay at Michigan.

But the real change better start with Rodriguez, who has to know the new athletic director, while offering his support privately and publicly, also is reserving final judgment.

The difference between the two papers is kind of amazing, isn't it?

Recent interviewee Compliance Guy also has a post at his home base. It's measured:

Many of Michigan’s violations involve slippery territory. Hire enough noncoaching staff members, give them enough coaching-like responsibilities, and leave them with student-athletes and these violations are bound to happen. It might sound incredulous that the coaches didn’t consider stretching and warm-up to be CARA, but other preventive measures like training room activities are not included. …

Michigan is likely not facing the same level of sanctions as USC. In addition to the absence of a lack of institutional control allegation, Michigan’s excess CARA was not the “two to three times” or “nine hour days” that the players originally alleged.

I would expect a hodgepodge of significant but not devastating penalties including reduced CARA limits (either through a shorter season or reduced hourly limits), reductions in coaching staff members, recruiting restrictions, and reductions in financial aid. That Michigan is a repeat violator might only mean a longer probation of three to four years rather than the minimum of two.

"Reductions in financial aid" means scholarship losses, but more on that in a bit.

Section With Nothing To Do With You-Know-What

So I've got all these tabs that have just… lingered since about Monday night when minor amounts of hell broke loose. Here they are.

Eeee Brandon? Dave Brandon gets a fairly massive profile in USA Today, complete with video. Random quote pulled out:

"This feels to me like just such an appropriate next step. It's leadership, but a different kind of leadership," said Brandon, 57, discussing the impending move during an interview at Domino's headquarters, a few miles from the university's main campus. "This has provided me with an opportunity to connect with a place that has been incredibly important to my life."

We might not win much, but by God we go to Kenpom. The amount of pride I find in this statement from the man formerly known as Big Ten Wonk is completely irrational:

Seems to me that this type of progressive thought would suit a fan base like Duke’s — intelligent fans with a successful program — really well. Are you aware of any fan bases that are particularly attuned to it?

Well, it’s more anecdotal, and it’s drawing a distinction between bloggers and actual fans who I hear from. But obviously, I hear a lot from Duke and North Carolina, both because those are great combinations of A. successful programs and B. smart fan bases. I definitely hear a lot from that region of North Carolina. I think the key might be smart and impassioned fan bases, even more than successful programs, because I would also point to a community like Michigan, which has had next to nothing in the way of recent success. I hear a lot from Michigan fans — however improbably, they definitely are hip to this stuff.

Excellent work, Michigan internets. Say anything you want about us, but by God we know when to divide.

Justin Turner doom mitigation. AnnArbor.com article on Justin Turner got lost in the shuffle. In it are some reasons Turner didn't play last year that mitgate your (read: my) panic that he might not live up to his massive recruiting reputation, which would be a disaster:

“He wasn’t here in the summer lifting and going to class and doing all those things, so it’s really a few months,” Gibson said.

Once Turner got settled, he showed why he was such a well-regarded recruit.

Gibson said Turner split time between the scout team and regular defense by midseason, and coaches salivated at the thought of getting him in the rotation.

“If we’d have got him in earlier last year with the NCAA stuff, I think he’d have played a little bit,” Gibson said. “He’s a good-looking kid. There’s a lot of guys I’m anxious to see back there, but he’s one that sticks out.”

If Turner and Devin Gardner are on the field at the same time during the spring game, I'm watching Turner. That's how important he is for the program. The article mentions a possibility that Turner could end up at safety if that's the thing that seems to make the most sense, FWIW.

There is also praise for JT Floyd, but I tend to file that under the Johnny Sears rule: you talk up whoever you've got in the vague hope confidence can carry them despite your lyin' eyes.

Walkin' on. Good article in the Grand Rapids Press on walk-ons, though it misidentifies what a grayshirt is*. It highlights a physically imposing offensive tackle from Forest Hills Central who joins Baquer Sayed as Michigan preferred walk-ons who picked M over MAC offers. Meet Kristian Mateus:

It’s not the same because of the scholarship, but everybody is treated as the same player at Michigan,” said the 6-foot-8, 285-pound offensive lineman. “I feel good about that.”It’s not the same because of the scholarship, but everybody is treated as the same player at Michigan,” said the 6-foot-8, 285-pound offensive lineman. “I feel good about that.”

“Coach (Rich) Rodriguez was a walk-on himself, so he has made a commitment to make a walk-on feel as comfortable as possible,” Mateus said. “I was recruited by Michigan, took a visit there, went to camp there last summer, and it’s the place I want to be.”

Mateus had a Central Michigan offer and interest from Western Michigan and… Notre Dame? Probably not that latter but in any case sometimes you get weird breakout offensive linemen and having a MAC prospect walk-on is a non-trivial chance at a contributor.

*(Article erroneously states that a grayshirt is an early enrollee a la Devin Gardner, Ricardo Miller, and company. Those folk are usually termed early enrollees. Grayshirts are the opposite: instead of accelerating and skipping their last semester of high school, a grayshirt (usually) signs a LOI and then waits an extra semester to join the team. Sometimes they enroll, sometimes they don't. They're not on scholarship if they do.)

Etc.: I plan on front-paging these when all hell is not breaking loose, but here's FA's recap of baseball's first weekend. There is a research-heavy argument about recruiting rankings going on in the diaries. Do they matter? Not really, definitely at Michigan, only when five stars are around.

Spring Position Battles: Defense

Spring Position Battles: Defense

Submitted by Brian on February 15th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

craig-roh-versus-purdue

Roh is certain. Everything else is chaos.

This is going to be extensive. It would be much, much quicker to rattle off a list of positions we know are set this fall:

  • Craig Roh at quick defensive end.

That is literally all. We do know that a few other guys are guaranteed starters, but Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Troy Woolfolk could all switch positions. I should have thought of that before I did the offense. Now I'm stuck with this format.

Anyway. On with show:

Not Brandon Graham

The Departed

Three defensive line starters return, but the best defensive lineman in the country does not.  Normally you'd be looking at Brandon Graham's platoon of ready-to-go backups for an inadequate but functional replacement. Since this is the 2009 Michigan defense we're talking about that platoon is walk-on Will Heininger. The other options at his spot are freshmen.

So it's time to get creative, maybe…

The Candidates

Count me amongst the chorus suggesting that Ryan Van Bergen might move outside. Dubbing this position "Not Brandon Graham" is a clever way to not write "Ryan Van Bergen might move" at three different spots.

will-campbell-osu Michigan has three veteran backups at defensive tackle in sophomore Will Campbell and seniors Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks. All played last year, the latter two decently. Campbell was raw as hell but was one of them OMG SHIRTLESS recruits and can be expected to make a major jump his sophomore year. Putting one of those guys in the starting lineup seems less likely to result in disaster than dropping an underweight freshman into the starting lineup. Craig Roh did okay last year, but Michigan isn't bringing in anyone as touted as Roh was this time around. Also, Mike Martin is more of a penetrating three-technique tackle than a leviathan space-eater and moving him to RVB's old spot figures to get more production out of him.

If RVB doesn't move, then you're going to choose from Heininger, redshirt junior Brandon Herron,—Roh's backup at quick last year—redshirt freshman Anthony LaLota, or true freshmen. Herron was a linebacker a year ago and is likely to still be undersized and LaLota showed up two inches and thirty pounds lighter than people expected him to. He probably needs another year.

The thing to watch for this spring is the RVB move. Past that, the developmental paths of Campbell, Roh, and LaLota are the main points of interest.

Hoping for… as the guy that is not Brandon Graham? Will Campbell. This assumes RVB ends up at DE and Martin moves over to RVBs spot. Moving RVB gets a bunch of veterans and a five-star sophomore more playing time. It puts Mike Martin in a position to be seriously disruptive. And it doesn't force a freshman into the starting lineup. So this is a hope for the move and a hope for Campbell to explode.

Expecting… RVB moves, Sagesse and Campbell platoon. I was puzzled by Michigan's periodic attempts to give Campbell playing time over Sagesse last year. Campbell got sealed on a number of successful runs against Iowa; Sagesse wasn't Alan Branch but usually ended up with a +1 in UFR. I assume Campbell will show considerable progress but I'm also betting that Sagesse is basically a co-starter.

Spinner

The Departed

Over the course of a year, Stevie Brown went from whipping boy to reliable outpost on a defense of chaos. Was it a position move? Greg Robinson's Just For Men magic?

The Candidates

103109_SPT_UM v Illinois_MRM They're young but they're not totally green. Michigan got both Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones in early last year and put them through their paces; by the UConn game next year they'll have been on campus for almost two years. Both saw special teams action only. Hawthorne will apply for a medical redshirt. Jones played too much for one. That's him burning his redshirt on the right.

Those two will be the main competitors in spring since I believe Isaiah Bell, who redshirted, is moving inside to ROL. This fall brings crazy athletic Josh Furman into the mix. He of the 4.3 electronic 40 is probably even faster than Brown and could press for playing time later in the season if Hawthorne and Jones aren't working out. He's unlikely to win the job outright immediately.

Hoping for… Hawthorne or Jones doesn't seem like it makes a difference since they have near-identical recruiting profiles and experience. I guess I'm pulling for Hawthorne since he's got a redshirt on him and I like the Pahokee kids.

Expecting… Again, Hawthorne and Jones have almost nothing separating them. One of those guys.

Regular Ol' Linebacker

The Departed

No one.

The Candidates

These two positions are here despite featuring two fifth-year seniors returning for their third years of starting because both Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton were yanked for performance reasons late last season. Indecision ruled the day:

No… seriously.

Mouton was pulled for JB Fitzgerald, a touted recruit entering his third year in the program. Ezeh was pulled for Kevin Leach, another walk-on. Both eventually won their jobs back when the replacements weren't much better.

Jay Hopson left to become the defensive coordinator at Memphis, and whether it was voluntary or not it's welcome. Ezeh went nowhere in two years under Hopson's tutelage and Mouton went backwards. If Greg Robinson can pull the same career revival magic he did with Stevie Brown on the two inside guys, he'll put to rest a large chunk of the skepticism at his hire and go a long way towards making the defense respectable again.

If he can't, then Fitzgerald and Leach will figure into the plans again, with potential assists from Kenny Demens and various freshmen. Demens hasn't gotten off special teams in his time at Michigan and got passed by a walk-on. That seems like a kiss of death there.

Ezeh and Mouton will be the main focus here.

Hoping for… I'd like Fitzgerald to emerge as a starter but in the place of Ezeh; last year the guy replacing Ezeh was Leach. Really I'd just like whoever plays at linebacker to look like he's got a clue. Obi-Wan Greg Robinson, you're our only hope.

Expecting… Ezeh and Mouton. They'll be better. Linebackers are the guys most screwed by Michigan's revolving door of defensive coordinators because they are almost always reading a play and executing a complicated assignment based on that. Also they've got a new coach who happens to be the defensive coordinator and thus knows exactly what he wants the guys to be doing.

Cornerback

The Departed

Donovan Warren took his budding skills and five-star hype to the middle rounds of the NFL draft. Boubacar Cissoko couldn't keep it together off the field and is no longer on the team.

The Candidates

(CAPTION INFORMATION)
Michigan State's Blair White leaps high for a first quarter reception over the top of Michigan's Troy Woolfolk, left, and J.T. Floyd.      Photos are of Michigan State University vs. the University of Michigan at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, October 3, 2009.   (The Detroit News / David Guralnick)
I'm assuming both spots are open because of the possibility Troy Woolfolk moves back to deep safety in spring. The defense started imploding for serious once he was moved to corner and Michigan's safety tandem became Kovacs and Williams

Outside of Woolfolk, the one guy with any experience is JT Floyd. Floyd was the guy the coaching staff turned to to replace Cissoko when he proved dreadful early in the year. He wasn't much better and Woolfolk eventually had to move despite the other options at safety being a freshman student-body walk-on and Mike Williams. In his brief time as a starter, Floyd played ten yards off wide receivers and looked totally overmatched. Maybe that's a mental thing, but he seemed just too slow for the Big Ten.

So… yeah. It's more freshmen, then. Super-hyped recruit Justin Turner got in late because of some difficulties with the Ohio Graduation Test and ended up out of shape and unprepared to play. He redshirted. Even if he came in looking like Will Campbell, if Turner couldn't play in that secondary by the end of the year people are right to be at least slightly concerned he may not pan out.

And then there's the flood of true freshmen. With Demar Dorsey starting out at corner, Michigan has four in the 2010 class: Dorsey, Courtney Avery, Cullen Christian, and Terry Talbott. None enrolled early—unfortunately, all of Michigan's early enrollees were on the offensive side of the ball—and they will be just rumors this spring.

We won't get a read on this position at all unless walk-on Floyd Simmons is ahead of someone on the depth chart. We will get a first look at Turner, the team's most important redshirt freshman.

Hoping for… Justin Turner and either Dorsey or Christian. No Woolfolk == considerably reduced panic at safety. One freshman is as good as any other at the other spot, I guess, but I'd rather have the higher-rated guys off to fast starts. No offense to Floyd, but he obviously wasn't ready last year and I'd be surprised if he was this year. Maybe 2011.

Expecting… Turner and Woolfolk.

Box Safety

The Departed

Brandon Smith transferred to Temple.

The Candidates

It's clear that this is going to be another hybrid safety/LB type player. Early in the year, it was Mike Williams. A little later it was Jordan Kovacs. When Woolfolk moved to corner it was Williams again, and when Williams played poorly Michigan moved Brandon Smith and threw him in the starting lineup; Smith liked it so much he immediately transferred.

Of the two returners, Kovacs was by far the superior option despite being a walk-on. He's got the proverbial nose for the ball and was the only guy at the spot last year to turn in enough good plays to offset his poor ones. And he did this as a freshman walk-on. (He was technically a redshirt freshman but since he was not on the team last year he is much closer to a true freshman.) He showed himself way too slow to play deep safety, but the grit fantastic he is possession of should keep him in the mix despite a couple of athletes pushing him hard.

Athlete the first is incoming freshman Marvin Robinson, who everyone thinks is destined for linebacker except Robinson. At Michigan he may be a linebacker in spirit if not in name. This is a spot he's a superior fit for athletically but it may require some adjustment.

Athlete the second is hypothetical, but Rodriguez mentioned in a Signing Day press conference: they're looking at moving wide receiver Cam Gordon to defense, but to safety. [Update: YEAH THAT HAPPENED.] That's another indicator that Michigan's base set is going to be an eight-man front, as Gordon is a strapping 6'2" fellow who everyone expected would end up at… wait for it… linebacker. If Gordon makes the move it will give Kovacs and Williams some competition from an NFL-sized guy right away.

This is also where Carvin Johnson goes, but I'm guessing he'll redshirt.

Hoping for… I don't really know, actually. I guess I'd like Robinson to win the starting job, but a true freshman over Kovacs and Gordon could bode unwell for immediate production. Maybe Kovacs to start and eventually giving way to Robinson.

Expecting… I have no idea. Truly.

Deep Safety

The Departed

No one.

The Candidates

As discussed above, if this is Kovacs Michigan is at least kind of screwed. I mean no offense to the guy, but…

(CAPTION INFORMATION)
Indiana's Darius Willis runs 90 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown.        Photos are of the University of Michigan vs. Indiana University at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, September 26, 2009.  (The Detroit News / David Guralnick)

…he is not a deep safety*. In an ideal world, two of the young corners would establish themselves quickly enough for Michigan to boot Troy Woolfolk back here. That world is much easier to envision if any of those guys had enrolled early.

If Woolfolk doesn't make the move back, Michigan has a couple options not fresh off the turnip truck. Vlad Emilien and Thomas Gordon are redshirt freshmen who will be given a shot at the job. Emilien was more highly touted and actually held the starting free safety job in spring until late, when Woolfolk took over and he was relegated to backup duty. He saw some special teams time in fall but will apply for an injury redshirt. Gordon was primarily a high school quarterback at Cass Tech—he only started playing DB as a senior-year audition for a Michigan scholarship—and never threatened to see the field last year.

Freshman Ray Vinopal will reinforce in fall, but as the lowest-rated player in the class he will probably redshirt.

Hoping for… Woolfolk. I'd rather have the freshmen playing at corner, where Woolfolk can tackle their mistakes.

Expecting… Emilien. I'm a little hesitant about him since he enrolled early last year and still wasn't good enough to crack last year's secondary, but maybe he had a lingering injury issue.

*(RVB owned up to a botched line check on that touchdown but it was a lack of footspeed from Kovacs and, more disturbingly, Floyd, that turned that play from 20 yards into 90.)

Others

What others? Apparently Teric Jones might stick on defense, apparently at box safety. I think I've mentioned every other scholarship defensive player on campus except Steve Watson and James Rogers.