Seven interceptions, heat from the fans, lots of running to come. Sounds familiar, but it's 1982.
"Wild man" Mike Boren also features in the pregame. Via WH.
The lemon bet. A few weeks ago Mike Farrell tweeted that Yuri Wright's top two were Colorado and Michigan, to which I responded that I would eat a lemon and put it on the internet if Michigan lost Wright to CU*. I'd rather have a super athletic, if raw, corner than do this, so this quote($) from his trip to Boulder is a relief:
“I wish they would have picked a different weekend [ie, not finals] for me to come out there, but I still had a good time for the most part. I know it’s a good school.”
A small relief. I mean, I'll believe a guy with options like Michigan and Notre Dame going to Colorado several years after I see it.
*[FINE PRINT: Lemon will be consumed if Wright ends up signing with Colorado AND Michigan is still pursuing him at the time of his commitment. If M picks up Armani Reeves and stops going after corners, bet is void. To prevent this from being weaselly, this will have to be a direct quote to that effect or something from Sam Webb.]
Bust bits. The football bust transpired without hand-holding or weeping and with a minimum of Rodriguez hur hur that was made awkward when players thanked Rodriguez during speeches. There was one notable newsbit:
LIVONIA -- Michigan football coach Brady Hoke said at the team's annual bust Monday that he does not expect linebacker Marell Evans to return next year.
The fifth-year senior from Richmond, Va., has not played this year. Hoke, who declined throughout the season to elaborate on the situation, revealed at the banquet that Evans had eligibility issues because of "a twist of fate" resulting from his transfers.
You can remove the vague possibility Evans is on the team from your scholarship calculations. Also Molk made certain people feel bad:
"Going through what we did for five years … it's hard to put into words truly what it means and truly what we've been through," Molk said Monday night at the Laurel Manor. "Because frankly, I don't think there's many people in this room or in this country that understand. Unless you've been a fifth-year senior here, you don't know. You didn't live it you didn't feel it, you didn't see the pain, you didn't hear the anguish, you didn't hear the hate."
Take that, guy I threw an empty water bottle at after the Toledo game. You probably think Demanding Excellence is what got Michigan back on track. I hate you so much.
Q: How many times will people make the joke about Fred Jackson having coached Tom Harmon? IIRC, Rodriguez (of all people) was one of millions to get that zinger off. It is as traditional as Fred Jackson proclaiming all tailbacks to be Olympian gods.
No sale, literally. If you're still looking for Sugar Bowl tickets, Virginia Tech has a deal for you:
As of Monday evening, Virginia Tech had sold a little over 9,500 of its 17,500 ticket allotment to the Sugar Bowl, a number that is only slightly higher than the 9,200 the school announced last Friday. So it's clear ticket sales -- at least through the school -- are slowing to a crawl at this point.
I bet Kansas State would have done better.
I've seen many a tweet about Kansas State and Arkansas' rush on Cotton Bowl tickets as proof that the Wildcats should have been chose for the Sugar Bowl instead of the Hokies. Kansas State reportedly sold out its 12,500-ticket allotment before the bowl was announced. Tickets are so in demand for the Cotton Bowl that the cheapest on StubHub are going for $219.99. Only the BCS title game ($1,299 for the cheapest seat) is a tougher ticket right now of the bowl games.
Andy Bitter suggests that's a factor of the distances—Dallas is driveable for both fanbases, but they're enthused after a big year and VT is coming off a hammering in the ACC title game.
VT is struggling in part because resellers are currently undercutting VT by two to one. An interesting note from Bitter: the ACC now picks up the tab for unsold tickets once schools get over the 8k mark. At least the risk the bowls have migrated from themselves to the teams is being spread over a greater number of institutions these days. Still: scam, scam, scam.
First halves maybe some. Your impression that Tim Hardaway spends many first halfs chilling, relaxing, maxing all cool are accurate. Via Wolverine Nation, Hardaway averages 5.2 points in the first half and 11.2 in the second. That's… more scoring in the second, there. I'd be fine if M started every game with a possession on which Hardaway is given those double high screens and given the green light to shoot if he comes open for a three. There are points in the first half when it feels like the offense bogs down because Hardaway isn't being enough of an option.
This is going well. This has no relation to anything you care about except the tenuous connection I can make between all bad coaches and Charlie Weis, but man does Randy Edsall remind you of an even less accomplished Charlie Weis or what? One of the early warning signs that Weis's colossal dickishness wasn't a Parcell-style asset was when starting defensive end Ronald Talley, a guy with almost no competition on the depth chart, transferred. To Delaware.
In a move that surprised no one, D.J. Adams announced his intention to transfer. The controversial running back had the class to wish Edsall and the program luck in a statement. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for Edsall's thoughts on losing the most talented tailback the team had after Davin Meggett. Heck, we're still waiting to hear why Adams was benched for most of the year.
Offensive tackle R.J. Dill — a starter and one of the team's best linemen — is transferring, too. Not only does it hurt the team from a football standpoint in the short run, but it also begs the questions: Who else is leaving, and who is going to come to College Park now?
Edsall went 2-10. Meanwhile, Freidgen coach-in-waiting James Franklin had something of a breakthrough year at Vandy and Maryland is dropping a bunch of sports after paying massive buyouts all over the place to hire Edsall and Gary Crowton. The yutz at Tennessee resigned in June, so Maryland's Kevin Anderson is now Worst Athletic Director In The Country.
In case you haven't seen it. Tom Crean's expression after Indiana hits their game-winning three against Kentucky is priceless:
Court rush approved. Indiana has spent some time in the wilderness after their disastrous decision to hire Kelvin Sampson (speaking of yutz athletic directors…) and this was a "OMG we're back" moment. Also beating #1 on a buzzer beater… yeah. That court rush is the reason everyone's so upset when people rush for dumb reasons.
[Coordinator transcripts will be up shortly after I figure out how to turn .wma files into Quicktime compatible files.]
News bullets and other important things (forgot this earlier, sorry, FML):
Barnum and Lewan have been practicing, should be healthy.
Justice Hayes is getting a redshirt.
Coaches are working on getting Marell Evans a sixth year of eligibility.
Opening remarks: “I thought we had a good day yesterday. Thought we had a lot of spirit to us, a little chippiness to us that I always enjoy. I think we competed really hard. I thought we played fast on both sides of the ball.”
Will Heininger said he’s been focused on playing lower. How much has he improved? “Well anytime you play with good pad level, and I think Will played his [best] football game two weeks ago to this point in the season. That has to translate to him playing better this week and better next week. I think he’s playing with a little more authority, which you like to see out of a guy who’s a senior, but I was pleased with his performance.”
Would you like to see Will and Mike not just push the pocket but also get past their guys more? “Well yeah, I mean the name of the game is football. That’s the object. You always want to be able to -- not just your block, your initial protection if you want to call it that ... the ability to ragdoll off and get to the football or get to the quarterback is a critical issue … We want more pressure from them, no doubt about it.”
What does chippiness at practice tell you about your team’s mentality? “Usually, and I’m sure you’ve all done the same thing, when you have a little bit of edge to you, no matter what your’e doing, it seems there’s a little bit of energy in there, a little bit of focus, and a little bit of wanting to get back out there on the field or do it again.”
Is it fair to say that your running backs are never going to be as productive as you want because of what Denard’s able to do? “I don’t know about that. I think that there’s enough in the system -- either it’s out of the two backs or split backs, I-backs, one back -- I think there’s enough diversity to it. [What] we all know is this thing gets a little harder as you go because you’re playing better football teams. The defenses you’re going to play against in the Big Ten, they’re obviously well-coached and the athletes are out there.” But does it change things at all because your best runner is your quarterback? “I don’t think so. Not for where we need to get to.”
*What are the keys to improving linebacker hesitancy problems? “I think the biggest key is your focus on that key. I was an A-gap linebacker years ago, now I’m a nose tackle. I think the initial reaction, the play recognition, the aiming points when you’re going downhill, there’s a lot of things. Playing with the speed that you need to play with. If you’re hesitant at all, that half a step that you’re behind can cost you as a defense.”
*Is that something you emphasized this week in practice? “Yeah, I think, in fact after watching all the tape last night as a defensive staff, we played faster. We played more downhill. That’s going to be something that constantly we have to do a good job of coaching and focusing on.”
Is Ricky Barnum healthy enough to take his job back? “Yeah. Well, we’ll find out. It’s competition. But he’s healthy. Lewan’s healthy. They all practiced.”
How confident is this group? “You know, the way they practiced yesterday, I think there was a confidence that they have. I think that part of it was one thing you wanted to see as a coach. And they were good on Sunday. Sunday they came out and flew around, but there was even more physicalness to how we practiced yesterday.”
Any update on Marell Evans? “No. I tell you what, he busts his butt out there though as a scout team linebacker. On the scout team, with the kicking game, and everything else. He’s been a great teammate.” Does he have a chance of getting another year of eligibility? “There’s a lot of hoops to go through and it’s pretty daggone complicated trying to obtain a sixth year and all those things.” Is that what you’re trying to do? “That’s what we’re trying to work towards.”
Do you feel like you need to give the running backs a certain number of carries in order to establish them? “I think you do have a get a number of carries. We’ve talked about that as a staff, that carries are important, and that probably sounds really dumb, but it’s important to get a number of carries that you can get with them. That’s one thing that we all felt that we maybe should have had a little more touches for them two weeks ago.”
Is there a number of carries you try to hit every week? “At the end of the day, you want to win the football game, so whatever you can do or whatever you’re going to do, that’s going to help you offensively … in saying that, I would love to have between the two of them maybe 20-25 touches a game. Now every situation changes. You get down, you think you can exploit something else maybe, and you don’t execute it as well as you should have -- those things happen in the course of the game plan. One thing, we talked about this, I thought Al and Greg both have done a great job of adjusting game plans in the course of games. They’re both really good football coaches. I don’t know if I answered your question. I think I did. I just think, we’d like to run them, but we’ve got to be able to run them.”
Are Fitz Toussaint and Vince Smith the two running backs at this point, or is Shaw included? “Michael can be in there, too. You see who gets a little bit of the hot hand, to some degree. Vince is very multiple in what he can do. Not saying Fitz won’t be, but Fitz, he’s a young guy still.”
Could Thomas Rawls get more carries? “He could. We’re trying to get him some work on some of the kick game and all that, but he could.” What about Justice Hayes? At this point are you redshirting him? “Oh yeah. Yeah.”
Anyone else (Ed: I think this person means freshmen) who hasn’t played yet that might play, barring injury? “Barring injury, I don’t think so. I think what we’ve done so far, we’re at our limit.”
Re: Perimeter defense … How do you think Purdue’s going to attack you? “Well, I would attack our perimeter. The stretch play they run and all those things are ready made for it.” Similar to what Michigan State did? “Similar. Not quite the same. They’ll TGO (Ed: ?) pull it, or do some different things depending on if the tight end’s on the line, in location or not in location, depends if it’s weak back, strong backs -- there’s a lot of different ways you can get to it. They throw the bubble. They throw the rocket. They run the outside zone, the stretch play. Yeah, that’s where I would start.”
How are you doing in terms of containment? “Obviously it’s been something we’ve done a very good job of emphasizing. Our attacking the blocks, getting off blockers, all those things that go along with it, our inside-out pursuit, all those things.”
What do you see out of Caleb TerBush? “Well I think he’s been very active in a lot of different areas, but I think he’s been accurate. I think he’s got a good arm, throws the ball well. He’s taking care of the ball pretty well for them. You don’t see him panic. He’s elusive enough to get out of some problems. They’re going to look at what you’re doing a little bit defensively, and they’re going to check. He’s done a good job of getting them in and out of plays. I think he’s a pretty daggone good quarterback.”
Eastern Michigan is 2-0 and is averaging 331 yards rushing, which is scary to Hoke. Fear level now up to 2.
Fitz Toussaint (shoulder) will likely return this week.
Brandon Herron (unknown), and Cam Gordon (back) are questionable. Will need good week in practice to return.
Woolfolk had a bit of a nose injury, but re: his ankle -- "He's fine." Period.
Marell Evans still working on eligibility. Currently operating as scout team linebacker.
Jake Ryan playing with hand down primarily in nickel package.
Need to see more from Will Campbell in practice for more playing time.
Odoms working his way back into rotation.
No student-body tryouts until January.
No. 21 jersey will likely go to wide receivers in the future. Unknown whether Raymon Taylor is wearing the Desmond Howard patch.
Press Conference (filmed)
"Does that make sense? It does to me ..."
Opening remarks: “You guys ready? Thanks for coming.
“Saturday was obviously very exciting in a lot of ways. The crowd, the passion, how both teams played 60 minutes of football. It was a neat environment, fun, all those things. Obviously a record crowd to see a college football game, and it was good to have the outcome the way it did. It was hard fought, not a perfect game. When you look at it offensively and defensively, things that we need to get a lot better at before we’re going to be any kind of a football team -- we need to focus in on those things, and as a team, we’ve gotta do a good job of coaching, number one, and teaching, and then playing. Our expectations are high, and we won’t get that way if we don’t possess the ball offensively to help the defense, and if we don’t do a better job in third-down conversions from a defensive standpoint.”
What did you see from Brandin Hawthorne and Will Campbell? “I thought Brandin got in there and did a nice job and made some plays. I think it was good to see him be productive in that role. Part of it [was] he did a nice job reacting and seeing the ball and focusing in on keys and finishing plays. And that was good to see from him. He had been banged up about the last week of camp. He practiced, but he had an ankle problem and still does to some degree, but it was good to see him play full speed.”
Overcoming adversity, was it especially hard trying to overcome a 24-7 deficit or trying to score with 30 seconds left? “Probably both. Our team stayed together. At halftime, we went in, and we just talk about -- asked a pretty simple question, ‘Have we played our best football?’ … ‘Are we playing our best football?’ and ‘Are we coaching our best football?’ and it was a unanimous ‘No.’
“Al and the offensive staff did a good job in some adjusting that they did. You’ve got to get Notre Dame a lot of credit. They’re a pretty good football team. Their biggest Achilles heel is they’ve turned the ball over, and you can’t do that. I’m not coaching them, but I’m sure Brian is sick about that. I thought the guys complement each other as a team, and they stayed together.”
What did you say to the team yesterday to get them to move past Notre Dame? “We were going to spend Sunday talking about the things that we did [well] and didn’t do [well]. Eastern -- they’re 2-0. They’re a confident team. I think Ron’s done a nice job. They’re averaging 331 yards per game rushing the football. That’s pretty impressive -- I don’t care who you’re playing. I think you’ve got a staff over there of guys -- with Mike [Hart] and Kurt Anderson, Steve Morrison, who are all products of this program as players -- that understand about coaching hard and doing those things, and you know just from being around those guys that’s how they coach their kids. And you can tell, with Ron’s influence as a defensive coach and defensive minded guy and an aggressive personality guy -- that’s the way they’re playing football. They’re impressive. They’ve got 10 sacks in two games. They’re doing a lot of good things.”
Did Denard have a rough game, great game, or little of both? “Probably a little of both. Obviously he made some plays when we needed to have some plays made, which a guy of his capability and caliber can do, but we also needed to make better decisions at times. He was the first one to come off the field after one [bad play] and say, ‘My footwork was bad.’ So that’s good to see. The whole thing is a process to some degree, and we’re learning everyday.”
What is Fitz Toussaint’s status, and are there concerns about repeated injuries to him? “I don’t know much of his history. I think he’ll be okay. He just bumped up his shoulder a bit against Western. Didn’t see as much as we’d like to for him to be ready for the Notre Dame game.”
You’re blitzing a lot. Are you concerned that it’s taking the linebackers out of the running game? The middle of field did look pretty open. “Well … honestly it shouldn’t have been. It’s open for a second, and then we’ve got to execute a little better at closing it off. You can get hurt, no question. If they want to take that gamble depending on who they are, depending on down and distance, they can check into a run, and sometimes you want them to. But you got to execute the defense when you want them to.
“Does that make sense? It does to me …”
Do you need to blitz more based on pressure (or lack thereof) from the front four? “I think yes, we have had to be more aggressive. At the same time, you’ve got to look at your match-ups pretty hard, and what you want to do with your guys in the back end, and how you feel about that.”
What was postgame like for you? “I have a lot of family in the Midwest, believe me. We had 35 or 40 people at our house. Nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, and in-laws -- the whole deal. Everybody found a place on the floor and went to bed, but it was late. 3:30 maybe by the time you say hello and talk to everybody and be as gracious as I can be.”
Other health updates? Anybody definitely out for Saturday? “We’re pretty healthy. We’ve got some nicks and those kind of things, but I’m trying to think if, uh … Cam is gonna see what it feels like tomorrow. He feels better. Brandon Herron felt better but we’ll see what he’s like. I think Fitz is going to be fine. I don’t think we’re in too bad of shape.”
When you were down 17 points, was the offensive play-calling based more on Borges’ offense or 2010-Denard’s offense? “One of the key plays in the game was McColgan’s catch. Coming off the play-action, and we didn’t run a whole lot of play-action with I-backs and all that. A lot of the stuff was just being basic third-down offensive stuff and being in the gun anyway on third downs. It was a good mix, I would say.”
How much of last couple drives was within framework of offense, and how much of it was Denard making rainbows? “The rush lanes kind of went like this. And he did what he’s coached to do. Step up, step up in there, and keep pushing the pocket up when you feel it on the perimeter. It was pretty open. They were spying at times – one of the linebackers – but in that situation, they were playing pretty far off, so it bought time for Gallon. It really bought time for the sail routes, the cross, to take and suck their secondary that way, and Gallon was there by himself.”
Are you still trying to identify playmakers on defense? “I think we still are. Practice is one thing. Game time stuff is a little different. I think who plays with the lights on … we’ll see. It was good to give Will [Campbell] some snaps against good competition. Like I said, they’re a good football team, they’ve got good personnel. Right now the difference for them probably is turnover margin.”
What’s going on with Brandon Herron? “He’s got a little bit of a leg problem.”
Linebacker rotation/competition … how many linebackers are you comfortable with? “I think J.B. [Fitzgerald], all those guys, we feel pretty comfortable. I think it’s who you identify as taking most of the snaps. You work through. Kenny is pretty solid in what he does. J.B. has an opportunity to get in there and rest Kenny a little bit, which is important in the fourth quarter. There will be a rotation, and it really depends some on what package we’re in, if we’re playing out of our base front, or if we’re in our dimes and nickels.”
How would you assess D-line play? Are there things you see in practice that aren’t translating onto the field? “We’re not near to the expectations that we have. I think the kids feel the same way at that position. I think there are things that Ryan Van Bergen has done at times that are really well. I don’t want to get specific, but I think we have to feel those guys. We need to get a little big more pressure with four guys rushing the quarterback, so you don’t put J.T. or Courtney Avery out there on an island. I think we’re a work in progress in a lot of degrees. Some of it is because it’s a little different schematically, and how you attack the line of scrimmage, take on blocks, and get off blocks. We would think we’d be further along.”
Talk about efficiency of red-zone offense (Michigan was 5/5). “I think we’ve got a pretty good package down there, and the kids are executing. I don’t think it’s anything more than that. Certain teams, defensively, always are going to have certain teams they like in the red zone, and I think the kids have been executing what the plan has been.”
(we're bringing back the jump. so ... more after the jump!)
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
Well… they're gone. For better or worse the two linebacking stalwarts of the Rodriguez era are out the door, destined for San Diego or the real world. Though no one's going to memorialize Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton in song, they endured the transition from Ron English to Scot Shafer to Greg Robinson to Dr. Vorax, the stuffed wolverine Robinson insisted was the real coordinator of the insane 3-3-5 Rodriguez demanded. If anyone can feel hard done by the Rodriguez era it's them.
HOWEVA, Dr. Vorax and other assorted coaching indignities cannot explain away much of the horror Michigan suffered at their hands. Mouton was linebacker Janus, singlehandedly crushing fullbacks and even pulling guards en route to TFLs a few plays before losing contain yeta-goddamn-gain against opponents as meek as UMass.
Ezeh, for his part, was first amongst equals as this blog's whipping boy the last couple years until the Penn State game, when Greg Robinson became public enemy #1. His trademark move was sitting completely still until an offensive lineman screwed him into the ground.
Midyear, former Michigan linebackers were dropping the word "inexcusable." A fresh start is called for.
Right: Demens hangin' with Doctor Vorax
MICHIGAN PROVIDES THAT with three relatively new starters. The most established new blood is redshirt junior Kenny Demens, the man who inexplicably languished behind not only Ezeh but walk-on and converted fullback Mark Moundros at the start of last year. That seemed like plenty of evidence to write the kid off, so this blog did:
The enigmatic Kenny Demens is third string in the middle; after a seemingly productive spring he dropped off the map and has generated zero fall mentions as Moundros climbs the depth chart. He played sparingly in the fall scrimmage; last year he was passed over for walk-on Kevin Leach when it came time to replace Ezeh temporarily. He's spinning his wheels, seemingly on track to watch this year. Next year both of the guys above him will be gone and he'll get one last chance to step forward; the tea leaves are not encouraging at the moment.
Demens then watched as Ezeh played at his usual level until the Iowa game. Desperate for anything after being gashed by Michigan State, Robinson finally put Demens on the field. We finally saw what was keeping him from playing time:
Only the machinations of the traitorous Vorax. That's not a play Ray Lewis is going to have on his hall of fame reel but it stood out to me after years of watching Ezeh try to clunk his way through traffic. Demens steps to the right as Iowa runs a counter but reads it, steps around traffic, and is there to tackle once Mouton forces it inside. Demens did that on a consistent basis against all opposition (except Purdue, oddly). The sumptuous conversation about him after the Iowa game was excited:
Yeah. Watching the game live I thought that he was an obvious upgrade over Ezeh but expected that when I went over the game in detail I'd find he was at fault for some of the longer Iowa runs or third down conversions, or had messed up in some way that had gone unexploited. I didn't. I found little things that I thought were good plays I hadn't seen live …
How many times did Iowa RBs find themselves facing a line with no penetration and no holes in it? Several. How many times did previous Michigan opponents face this? Essentially never. Good DL play with crappy linebacker play yields a lot of penetration and a lot of lanes where the DL aren't. Crappy DL play with good LB play is this, a bunch of bodies on the line with no windows to squeeze through.
At least, he did when he was not subject to further machinations. Vorax saw his nemesis had escaped confinement and immediately upped his insanity level further. Below are Michigan's alignments in the first and second halves of the Penn State game two weeks later:
left: first half. right: second half.
After getting annihilated by a terrible run offense in the first half Demens actually had to ask the coaches to move him more than a yard away from the nose tackle's rear. He struggled, but who wouldn't when the only thing between you and two guards is Adam Patterson and far too little space?
Demens recovered from that to register as one of the "heroes" of the Illinois game—he managed a +8, leading to cries of Anyone But Ezeh favoritism from readers—before registering his first clunker against Purdue. Demens got hooked pretty badly on a play that, in retrospect, I should have been harsher to the DL on since Dan Dierking roared through a truck-sized hole. Later he got lost and let Rob Henry rip off a big gain. He was one of few Michigan defenders to come out of the Wisconsin game with something approximating dignity.
When everything was over Demens had racked up 82 tackles despite playing sparingly in the first five games. If he'd gotten the whole season he would have had numbers like that random Northwestern linebacker who ends up with 130 tackles at the end of the season because he's the guy roping down tailbacks after they pick up six yards.
It's clear by the rating above that I'm a Demens believer. I liked what I saw last year and I've seen MLBs who are pretty good to compare him to. David Harris, for one. He's not Harris but I think Demens is closer to him than Ezeh already. He just has a knack for getting to where the play is going. Though his coverage still needs some work he was decently effective in short zones last year. As a bonus, one of the few things practice reports have been consistent in is their Demens praise.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
I can't believe we had commemorative spring game jerseys
Also: Evans left, Fitzgerald right
Prodigal son Marell Evans returned from exile at I-AA Hampton to rejoin the team for his fifth and final year of eligibility. He probably wasn't expecting to see too much time after doing so, but there he was in the spring game, starting in Demens's stead. How well he did was in the eye of the beholder; around these parts I was "extremely leery" of the depth but offered up no reason as to why.
If forced into action Evans will be a wildcard. He hardly played at Hampton because of injury and hardly played at Michigan because of youth. He's probably not going to be that good. Over the course of the last month I received a couple of practice reports that slammed him pretty hard. Those aren't gospel, but that and his vagabond career to date are all we have to go on.
Fellow senior JB Fitzgerald is also hanging around this area of the depth chart, though no one knows exactly what linebacker spot he's backing up. It's never good when you've been around for four years and no one knows where you're supposed to play.
At least Fitzgerald is used to it by now. He's been kicked around since he arrived. On occasion he's even been drafted to play DE terribly when Greg Robinson runs out of ideas. When he pops up in UFRs doing something well, as he's done from time to time for years, I get all excited he might be finally breaking through. Then he never does. Fitzgerald's about out of time and there's no reason to think he's suddenly going to get it. He was passed by Evans as soon as he arrived; Jake Ryan emerged to back up Cam Gordon in spring; Michigan has a vicious melee for the WLB spot that Fitzgerald isn't even involved in. Without a plague of injuries he'll spend most of his final year providing leadership on special teams.
less deep half, more linebacker plz
Cam Gordon has finally found a home. He can buy a new couch and maybe a speaker system that attaches to the walls and everything. That it took this long is another symptom of the madness on defense last year. Gordon is linebacker sized and plays like a linebacker, except he was playing receiver as a freshman and thus tackled people in the same way a coke machine would: by running your bulk into a dude and hoping he falls over.
This was Michigan's last line of defense, and they paid for it many times over, starting against Michigan State:
His shoulder-block style of tackling was something he got away with before he faced Michigan State but against MSU he was bouncing off ballcarriers because they were big and strong enough to take the blow. Then he would try to drag them to the ground, which only worked sometimes and always gave up YAC.
Worse yet were Gordon's angles, which alternated between vastly too aggressive…
…and vastly too conservative…
…depending on which flaw he had just spent the week getting chewed out about in practice. And then there was that rainbow thing. I'm embarrassed to have pumped him up a bit after the Indiana game, though to be fair he did have an interception.
Gordon got shuffled to spur, a position roughly analogous to the strongside linebacker in a 4-3 under, for the Penn State game. Thrown into the fire at yet another position he had only the barest clue how to play, he struggled there as well. He was emblematic of that game's defensive implosion:
It's symbolic that this is the play where it all went to hell.
Demens has that dead to rights if he can just get some gang tackling help. Marvin Robinson whiffs, Cam Gordon vacates the only area Royster can go, and Royster makes a terrific play to spin outside for the first down. Great play, but you can't spin past three guys without something having gone horribly wrong. That's a true freshman and a redshirt freshman who was a wide receiver last year and a safety last week. FFFUUUUUUUU.
Cam Gordon had a rough freshman year. Worse for our purposes is how useless it is for projecting his future. With half of his season spent at a position he'll never play again and the other half spent in an incoherent defense at a spot he'd learned for literally two weeks, his UFR chart isn't even worth looking at.
If you insist, it's not pretty even after he moved to linebacker. He managed to stay on the positive side against Illinois by blitzing a ton. I did note that "Gordon brings a physical intimidation factor the other two spurs don't." He didn't do much other than scoop up a fumble and run a long way against Purdue. Against Wisconsin he failed to register even a positive half-point and picked up this note: "Not involved much and didn't do well when he was." After that the malaise took over. He did have some TFLs in the final two games.
That doesn't mean much, though. Bounced from position to position and ill-served by the coaching of Greg Robinson and Adam Braithwaite, Gordon was put in a position to fail. He did.
Now he's at a spot that makes sense being coached by people who make sense. Since he wasted a redshirt year playing offense and his freshman year trying to play safety he'll be farther behind the curve than an average third-year player. He's also pretty light for a strongside linebacker at 224. That will serve him well when he's asked to drop into coverage but will make fending off tight ends a struggle. A reasonable level of development gets him to a bit below average this year.
There is one. The spring game was a dreary, depressing thing mostly notable for the various ways in which the quarterbacks looked awful, but one of the certifiable bright spots was the rampaging play of redshirt freshman Jake Ryan. Ryan had a pick-six, sacked Devin Gardner at least a couple times—hard to tell exactly what would have happened if they were live—and generally gave second-string OT Kristian Mateus more than he could handle. Mateus is a walk-on and all spring impressions come with free grains of salt, but as of the moment Ryan Rob Lytle-ed his helmet in spring, the hype train has left the station and will build up steam until such time as there's another guy to get hyped about.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Third on the depth chart is true freshman Brennen Beyer, one of the most highly touted recruits in this year's class. His recruiting profile has the goods: excellent speed and lateral mobility on a frame that needs and can put on a lot of weight. He was expected to play WDE and flipped to SLB after Frank Clark showed very well in fall. He was 100% lineman in high school and will need some time to adjust to new responsibilities. Hopefully they can get a redshirt on him this year.
it's tough to find shots of Jones and Herron in the wild
This is the most uncertain thing about the defense. Mouton left no ready heir apparent thanks to an injury that forced Mike Jones out for the entirety of 2009. Top competition Brandon Herron also missed a big chunk of last year. When he returned he mostly sat.
Jones returns atop the depth chart out of little more than momentum. Michigan fans haven't seen much out of him other than a few redshirt-burning tackles on kickoff coverage, so his recruiting profile will have to stand in for actual knowledge.
For what it's worth he does seem well suited to be one of those blitzer guys Greg Mattison promises will exist this year:
Exceptional edge blitzer that has great timing and quickness; speed rushes by the offensive tackle before he can get set. Offensive backs can't or won't block him when blitzing off the edge; really creates havoc in the backfield. Does a great job of using his hands to shed blockers in order to get to the ball carrier.
As a bonus, he's beefed up from 208 to 224, which is reasonable WLB size. Folks were talking him up as a "playmaker" during spring practice last time around. Little's been heard since. That goes for all of his competitors as well.
Those competitors are serious threats for the job. Michigan spent much of the fall shoving every plausibly-shaped available body to WLB, suggesting they aren't confident in Jones. Either that or they actually think they have depth. Mattison was unusually positive when asked about the WLB spot a couple weeks into camp:
That position and again I hate to ever say anything positive, I love how those guys are playing at times. At times, they are playing with such energy and such speed and such explosiveness. One day one of them, I’ll go wow that’s what we’re looking for and the next day he may have not as good a day and the other guy will step up. I think that one is a battle. That one is a battle right now and it is kind of a good battle to have.
Reality or Johnny Sears airy pump-up? We won't know that for a while. There are three experienced scholarship options. Whoever ends up winning the job might be bad; they probably won't be awful. There are three upperclass options before we dig up a freshman.
The second guy on the depth chart is fifth-year senior Brandon Herron, who's bounced all over the front seven in his time in Ann Arbor without managing to see the field much. He's got thirty-four tackles to his name, many of them in garbage time or on special teams.
Just when it looked like he might have a role in the 3-3-5 he came down with an injury and forced Roh to move back to LB. As a recruit he was middle-of-the-road, reputed to be a raw athlete. He'll probably see some time and not do anything spectacular with it.
Junior Brandin Hawthorne and true freshman Desmond Morgan also feature on the depth chart. Hawthorne is one of the Pahokee crew. He was a hilariously undersized high school player and has been bouncing between linebacker and safety the past couple years. He's happy to be back in the front seven:
"I was actually recruited as a linebacker so to be back feels really natural to me," said Hawthorne. "This is the position I played my whole life until I got to Michigan so it's nothing new, but I've had to learn the system, my responsibilities, and that takes time." …
"I'm not a real physical player - I'm more finesse - but I'm fast and smart," he said. "You need a brain on defense and I'm smart enough to recognize formations, and help move guys around. And I think I'm pretty good at making plays. I know I'm not going to overpower someone but I'm pretty good at slipping through the cracks."
Now up to 214 pounds, Hawthorne was getting some time with the first team during the select plays the media was allowed to watch. If his self-scouting is accurate he may be more of an option against spread teams. The weakside linebacker does get protected in the 4-3, so if he's got the speed and smarts Michigan might deal with the size.
The Big Ten Network was told to watch out for Morgan when their tour hit Ann Arbor, so they did. Viewers were treated to a shot of Morgan getting plowed over and over again as Gerry DiNardo tried to convince them he was the new hotness on the weakside.
Hoke has been talking him up. When asked about the linebacker situation outside of Demens Hoke went to Morgan first:
I think Desmond Morgan is a guy who we think is going to play some football for us. Mike Jones, we’ve played a little bit of MIKE and a little bit of WILL. Marrell Evans is playing some in there.
That was just a few days ago. Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
I see you over there not caring. Discussion of the infamous, perpetually-closing "gap" between the basketball programs of Michigan and Michigan State descended into pure mockery of the Wolverines at some point during the Amaker era. Now it's popping up again what with the season sweep and Beilein snatching Derrick Walton before Izzo could even make a pitch, and this time it might actually have some merit.
The best way to check is through the actions of the rival. We've seen plenty of sarcastic congratulations for beating Michigan State's "worst team in a decade" (sounds familiar, that) and even more predictions of doom without Darius Morris, but have we reached the point where Michigan State fans might be protesting a bit too much about a lack of concern? Yes:
The upshot for Michigan State is that when you can hold off on offering a player like Derrick Walton only to lose him to a rival and still not have a major cause for concern, it's a testament to where your program and its recruiting have risen. So, again, great recruiting week for UM. "Boo-yah" to them, but, as Pete and others have suggested, there's more prospects like Jabari Parker, Drake Harris, Tyus Jones, Gary Harris, and James Young who should help to keep Michigan State's future recruiting success a likely proposition.
The upshot for Michigan is when you're causing the instate rival to reassure itself that everything is JUST FINE, THANK YOU, you are on the verge of having one of those… what do you call them… programs.
This hasn't actually impacted State much. Michigan's recent recruiting success has had little to do with MSU. Until Walton, no one in Michigan's 2011-2013 classes is a guy Michigan State had pursued. This was largely because it was MSU storming through the Midwest to pick up early commits from Costello/Kaminski/Valentine before Michigan could get a word in edgewise.
Now the pattern is reversed, but more importantly Michigan has put together a hell of a lot of talent over the next three years without having to overcome the Spartans. Both Michigan and Michigan State can be confident in their plan A recruiting by an established coach. Michigan is no longer under anyone's thumb.
Well, maybe. Early skepticism about Marell Evans's ability to contribute after not playing much at I-AA Hampton was muted by rumors he was injured, and via TTB Evans's coach confirms:
"That [lack of playing time] was definitely due to injury...he ended up re-injuring his foot. I think he actually first got injured up there [at Michigan] before he even came down [to Hampton], so he re-aggravated the injury...it was tough on him, as it would be for any young man."
Evans is even more important now without Kellen Jones. If he can be a capable backup for Demens that might give Desmond Morgan the luxury of a redshirt.
Godin is listed at 6'6" and 270 lbs, but he said he would like to get up to 290 pounds by the time he gets to Michigan.
Pencil him in at three-tech. Also, Godin is looking to double his 28 TFLs from a year ago.
It could have been marginally worse. From Scott Dochterman's epic ten-part series on the Big Ten's divisional breakdown, there were actually worse options than "Legends" and "Leaders" on the table for the Big Ten division names:
“By the time we were done, we were really down to two categories: one that sort of described our geography, Midwestern roots and one that described our characteristics and mission.”
The divisional names that centered on the Big Ten’s mission included Scholar/Athlete, Academics/Athletics and Legends/Leaders. The 115-year-old conference has a storied history of on-field success with 18 Heisman Trophy winners and more than 50 College Hall of Fame players. It also boasts former President Gerald Ford as an alum as well as thousands of political, business and civic leaders.
We should just skip the preliminaries and rename the divisions "Dungeons" and "Dragons." We are the nerds of college football.
Even if the division names weren't going to be Bo or Woody as they obviously should have been I would have preferred Kinnick/Paterno or Stagg/Grange even if Michigan didn't feature because we would at least seem less likely to get our lunch money stolen.
All this and NBA bloodlines. Glenn Robinson III displays a variety of dunks:
BONUS THING I NEVER POSTED FROM FOREVER AGO:
Maybe he's Tim Hardaway's son, too. For a guy mostly known as a shooter Nick Stauskas can break an ankle or two:
Highlight video disclaimers apply but the sheer variety of drives there is encouraging. Stauskas can go left or right, deploys a crossover somewhere between effective and sick depending on its success rate outside highlights, and can spin his way to the bucket. He appears to favor his right hand to finish but there are a couple of nice baskets with his left in there, too. I even like the music.
Add 6'6" and three-point shooting and that's a nice pickup to go with Glenn Robinson III, who's been garnering steady praise of his own this AAU season. If Beilein can weather Darius Morris's exit the talent pipeline is in place to rip off a run of NCAA appearances… and maybe more. [ed: and then Beilein put together his 2013 class in about a month.]
BONUS FROM FOREVER AGO II:
King Eckstein. I made a joke about this Zack Novak article in the sidebar yesterday but managed to miss this spectacularly clichéd description of Chesterton's favorite son:
Novak, who helped establish a hustling, scrappy work ethic on a team that lacked grit and toughness, has played in 100 games, averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.
That checks all the boxes, doesn't it? I guess he could have been described as "heady."
EVEN MORE NEWS FROM FOREVER AGO. If you missed it the first time around, a member of the Event Staff posted highlights from their annual meeting on the board about two seconds before I left for France. Items of interest to me:
The Stadium is no longer open to the public on non game days. This has been the during renovations but is now permanent policy. Tours can be arranged through the Athletic Dept.
Boo. I've been to the Stadium on non-gamedays a few times and it's always been fun, with kids and parents running around, trying to kick field goals, etc.
DB says night game is a test and it's for the fans and players. A bad experience would make this the only night game. Good experience = a night game per year.
If you hate night games you can do your part to never have them again by getting arrested.
DB confirms: design completed for filling out bleachers to top of scoreboard in south end. Capacity will raise to 120,000. Opponent tickets will be up at top next to scoreboard.
That latter bit is pure evil, or at least would be if the video board opposite you wasn't big enough to see. I'm a little skeptical they can sell 120k tickets consistently as long as the OSU/ND/Nebraska games are all home or away in the same season (and they refuse to schedule anyone interesting other than ND).
No number retirement due to large squads and number sharing issues.
Notes from Brady Hoke's final press conference before the Spring Game. Photo from file.
Spring game - not enough depth to have a draft "and that would be what we'd wanna do, have the seniors draft." 1s will go against 1s, 2s against 2s. "We'll keep a score of some sort, but there's no scoreboard anyway." Winners get steaks, loser get hot dogs. The teams tied last Saturday. Scrimmage - "It will go until I think we've done enough plays."
Offense and defense will both be on the field the whole time. Al will coach the offense, Greg defense. "So that they can get the mechanics of gameday and getting the plays and personnel in and all that," Borges has been away from the field in the last couple practices.
Alumni returning - "It's great to have all these guys back. I think they've got close to 85 for the flag game they're gonna play. We've got over 300 coming in Friday night for a team meeting."
Team meeting: "We're gonna have a conversation. You know. We're just gonna talk about Michigan football." Introduce the new staff to the former players, and talk about how they're accountable. Current players will not be present.
Held out Saturday - Woolfolk, Floyd, Lewan, Demens, that's about it. Shaw and Molk are both back. Woolfolk has done very little. "He's done some individual drills and stuff like that. He maybe has taken a few snaps in 1-on-1 and a few snaps in 7-on-7." Floyd is behind in his recovery compared to where Woolfolk is.
Hoke always participates in hands-on coaching "I couldn't just walk around and watch stuff."
"We're heading down the home stretch of spring, obviously. We've got two days left to keep evaluating." Mindset, mentality, etc. will still be evaluated in the final two days. "We've made some progress in some of those areas but we're a long way from being the football team we want to be in the fall."
Koger, Herron, RVB leaders. Hard for Molk to assert himself since he's been out so much. "Your definition of a leader can vary. It doesn't have to be a vocal guy."
There's better communication, especially on defense, at this point than there was at the beginning of spring. It starts with communicating changed fronts. "I think that there's a pride that those guys are starting to feel as a defense." Defensive communication - "I think Ryan [Van Bergen] has done a really good job. I think he gets it." Cam Gordon and JB Fitzgerald, Kovacs, Carvin Johnson have been vocal out there.
Defensive coaching chemistry: "It's great. It's like they've coached together forever... As soon as recruiting was over, we started those meetings, how you wanna coach it, how you coach it."
"I think we're OK" with how much they've gotten done this spring. Really depends on how the next two practice days go. "I usually like to compete in 2 minute offense/defense] 3 or 4 times throughout the spring." They'll work that in earlier in fall camp to make sure they get it done.
Individual evaluations with every player, with Hoke and their coordinator and their position coach. "Expectations, where they're at, what they need to do. Where their weight needs to be when they report. What their role right now will be in the fall... The evaluations at the end, believe me, they'll be very specific."
Freshmen contributing this fall: "Really haven't thought about it much yet." Depth concern at OL and DL might provide some opportunities, but it's too early to say. Corner? "Maybe. We'll see. Greg Brown's really, in the last week and a half he's really stepped up." Courtney Avery has stepped up as well.
Lloyd Carr - "He's been over. Hasn't been to a practice, but he's been in and we've talked a little bit. Coach Moeller has been around a little bit, and Coach Hanlon is here every day [laughing]."
Denard and Devin: "I think Devin is a very talented guy and I think he's learned the offense well. I think he's got a good handle on it. There's some consistency we've gotta coach better with." QBs will organize 7-on-7s in the summer. What will Denard take into the summer to work on? Footwork issues, ball mechanics, play action game. He needs to settle his feet on dropbacks. "The mental aspect of getting you in the right plays" based on safety alingment, defensive fronts, etc.
Running back - "I think Hop's had a pretty good spring... Toussaint's been pretty steady." Mike Cox hasn't practiced as much because he has a class during Tuesday practice time "so that doesn't help him." Smith has played well. Incoming freshmen will have a chance to step in. "Hopkins is a guy right now who has been probably the most consistent." He can also line up at FB and do some things there.
Tight ends - they have the guys to run what they want. Koger was out early in spring "but he didn't miss much." He's been good on the line, Ricardo's more of a "move guy" right now. "I think the 4 guys you mentioned [Moore and Watson] all have done a good job in the offense, and that will be an important part of what we do offensively."
Molk - "He's been doing some individual, and then yesterday he did more of some of the team stuff." With Lewan out, Huyge has played both tackle positions, Schofield has been good, Ricky Barnum has been kicked out to tackle a few times. "You have 7 or 8 guys who will form kinda the nucleus of the group."
Rocko Khoury has gotten a lot of good snaps. Omameh has taken most RG snaps, played a little bit at RT. "A guy like David who's played a lot of football, sometimes you need to give snaps to more of those other guys."
Barnum: "I tell ya, Ricky's a good football player. He's a tough kid, he's a smart kid, he plays with good technique. That's why he's a good football player." He's been as consistent as any player up front this spring.
Defensive Linemen: Mike Martin - "He's done a good job. We're doing a couple different things with him." "I think think Will Campbell has made strides, but the consistency has to be there. You know Quinton, I think he's going to be a good football payer here at Michigan."Jibreel Black "Jibreel is a guy that, as his body composition changes a little bit, he's gonna be a good football player. I think him and Craig at the rush have had pretty good springs." Roh has progressed better than they thought this spring.
Linebackers - "Marell's done a pretty good job. We moved Brandon Herron back to a Mike." Mike Jones and Brandin Hawthorne at Will. "Cam Gordon's getting better, and I think Cam will have a very good summer." Jake Ryan also at Sam. Those six plus JB Fitzgerlad who "has started to come along a little bit."
Safety situation is fluid. "Carvin Jonhson, I would say of anybody, and Kovacs" know the defense best. Marvin Robinson has also come in and made plays, along with Thomas Gordon.
Kicking game: "I think it's a work in progress." Everything from snapping, to punting, etc. needs to continue improving. Long snappers are competing. Placekicking is a "huge competition with 4 guys in there." Seth Broekhuizen, Kris Pauloski, Jeremy Ross, and Brendan Gibbons. They kicked 14 or 15 times during last week's competition at the stadium. "They haven't been there probably as much as we'd like for them to." The field is the same indoors, the elements are the only difference. "We've got a lot of work to do in that area of it." Wile will get a chance to compete when he comes in. [Author's note: those two statements weren't said back-to-back, so don't read too much into it. Hoke said every freshman has a chance to compete for playing time].
Also, Helmuth and Evans "may look to transfer" and did not practice today, which would be further blows to defensive depth, albeit ones that weren't looking to play unless there were no other options.
UPDATE: The Free Press is reporting that Evans and Helmuth are transferring:
“Good young men,” he said. “Sometimes that happens, guys think maybe I can (play elsewhere), I’m not getting a lot of reps and not up on the depth chart or something. I try to remind the guys the depth chart is not going to be solid until the first week.”
Also, Teric Jones has moved to cornerback.
Initial takes on that: once Helmuth moved from FB his chances of ever seeing the field without injury Armageddon were very low. Evans started the first game last year but was immediately displaced; neither were touted recruits and if the defense wasn't already very short on bodies it would be No Big Deal. But it is, and wow the number of scholarship players on D is vanishingly small. Jones' move, then, is a very good idea.
UPDATE UPDATE: News is saying "may"; next presser we'll be at so this interpretation dance won't be an issue:
Michigan's football team could be down two more players.
Junior linebacker Marell Evans and junior defensive tackle Vince Helmuth have asked to look in to playing at other programs, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez confirmed on Wednesday.