Rules: He had to play at least a season or a snap at a significantly different position at the college level (so no ATHs), and BEFORE this position. Jake Ryan’s move from quasi-DE in a 4-3 under to the Mike in an 4-3 over counts; Matt Godin going from 5-tech to DT does not. Neither does moving between safety positions unless you’re a FS who became half-linebacker. Also no pro moves (sorry Cato June), or playing a second, non-primary position (sorry Charles Woodson) even if you won the Heisman (sorry, Tennessee fans, but he did).
Cutoff Point: Recruited Post-Bo, so I don’t have to remember positions from when I was ten (sorry Tripp Welborne).
Quarterback: Devin Gardner
“Wonky throwing motion” indeed. [Eric Upchurch]
In between the times he wore 7 and that awful Nebraska day, Michigan of the Denard era couldn’t resist getting one of their best athletes on the field. So despite no backup quarterback plan other than Russell Bellomy for Denard Robinson (who’d been knocked out for that nerve in the elbow before), for 2012 Mr. Gardner was shipped off to receiver. At first it looked to be a good idea: Gardner had touchdown passes in his first three games (Bama, Air Force, and UMass). He wasn’t a great route runner but with Denard getting the ball every play the receivers got a lot of one-on-one matchups, and Gardner was a big dude. Then Denard went out and we had to wait until the following week before the Devin at QB era could begin. The receiver experiment thus ended at 16 receptions, 266 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
As for quarterback, the end of that 2012 season was magnificent enough to portend great things, but the offensive line was never enough. Two virtuoso performances against Ohio State and Notre Dame as a redshirt junior, then a senior year of a lot of heart but a broken body and a coaching situation. If we do a “man I feel sorry for that guy” team he’ll be back.
Other candidates: Nope.
[Hit THE JUMP unless you’re an Iowa safety then you probably don’t want to know what’s next]
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“Scrambly and herping body control as a pass protection”
Ace: That killed me.
Seth: We should…
THE NFL DRAFT ROUNDTABLE!
1. Where do you think the Michigan guys (Hurst, Cole, McCray) will go? Best fit? Anyone else you think might catch on an NFL roster?
Ace: Mo Hurst should absolutely go in the first round now that his health is no longer a concern. One big shift in both college and the NFL recently is how much you need pass-rushing out of your defensive tackles; quarterbacks get the ball out so fast these days that having that much less ground to cover to generate pressure really makes a difference. Hurst may be the best pass-rushing DT in the draft and he’s no slouch against the run; the only thing that may keep him from going in the top half of the first round is he’s a touch undersized. I expect teams to regret passing on him for that reason.
Brian: NFL is such a passing league that Hurst should be the first DT off the board, but probably won't be.
Ace: Yeah, I’m surprised that Vita Vea—a 340-pound nose—is getting mocked higher in most places. I mean, I’m a homer, but I don’t think you really need those so much these days.
If you’d rather have Mone we’ve got one but we think you’ll like Mo. [Fuller]
Brian: And since people are apparently going to take all the meh quarterbacks, I'll say he goes 14th to Walla Walla.
Seth: The "he'll be a third rounder because of his heart" story is debunked but still getting passed around, and I don't trust NFL execs to be smart enough to see past it. Which means he'll go to a smarter team but also might end up a very value pick in the late 1st.
Ace: I’m holding out sick hope the Lions take him and reel me back in. They could really use him, too.
Seth: What about Mason Cole? There's a lot of tape of him at left tackle, where he won't play, but not great tape of him at center.
Ace: I’m guessing Cole is going to go on the last day, somewhere in the 4-6 round range. He’s limited to center and didn’t really blow away the combine.
Also, NFL DTs are stronk.
Brian: And he has not displayed any stretch ability, which should be his calling card.
Ace: NFL teams will take on serious OL projects. Problem with Cole is there’s an obvious ceiling and I’m not sure it’s much higher than backup center.
Brian: I think teams are going to see his film at C against McDowell and Colorado's Josh Tupou and knock him down their boards.
Ace: Same here.
[After THE JUMP: we are hard on the Lions, harder on the Browns, hardest on the NFL]
A big thanks to our sponsors. The show is presented by UGP & Moe's and frankly would not be happening without them; Rishi and company have been on board here from almost the beginning. Shopping with them helps us and supports good dudes. Check out the new Bo Store on Main.
Ace was stuck in that M14 traffic so Seth jumped on to talk post-Illinois thoughts. This means we talked mostly about Higdon and interior line play, specifically Mason Cole’s just okay transition to center. Ace arrives to talk about ceilings with vs-Illinois Speight, and Michigan’s 3-3-5 defensive package. Say McCray jumps to the NFL—and we’re not saying he will—would Michigan’s entire defense get drafted?
2. Across the Crooked Blue Line with Steve Lorenz
starts at 23:05
Amoeba Class continues with two more commitments. Losses for rivals are good when tracking national guys—need Washington to go. Michigan still in it for Jordan Elliott? Najee Harris decision won’t be until December but seems trending Michigan-Alabama. This class probably won’t come together until the Army Game.
3. Michigan State Offense
starts at 49:42
Piesman voters take heed: there’s going to be some trick plays here. Quarterback trio should be O’Connor, who’s better than Lewerke and far far better than Terry. State’s offensive line is breaking down. They do have Donnie Corley, who’s going to be trouble down the line. And then there’s those running backs, who’d be a factor if they ever get a block.
4. Michigan State Defense/Special Teams
starts at 1:09:07
The defensive line had some red flags but man are they bad. We tracked one guy against Maryland who had three plays and got blown back like seven yards each time. Linebackers miss Reschke at star (their version of WLB/hybrid space player). Chris Frey is good. Riley Bullough picks up a ton of penalties. Ed Davis is behind Frey and the guy in for Reschke (Dowell). has barely seen the field. The secondary grades out positively except Demetrius Cox, who is good against the run, and the worst player in PFF history against the pass. Hicks and Copeland are eh at corner. MSU has been trying to replace them; Justin Layne was starting at corner vs. Northwestern and looks alright as a freshman. Not getting much from their special teams.
Michigan's line took a quantum leap in 2014, going from a flaccid crew of confused gibbons to pleasingly mediocre. Last year's edition of this post positively marveled at the fact that these gentlemen got in the way of the opposition frequently enough to be average-ish:
It got better. It really did. The OL nadir is in the past. We can come out of the bunker and rebuild society now.
That assertion was based both on my charting and a bunch of stats, many of them of the advanced line variety. Advanced line stats make total guesses about assigning credit and blame between tailback and line but they're worth peeking at in case they tell a story. Michigan's 2015 stats are mostly about treading water:
Adj Line Yards
Adj Sack Rate
Michigan was less likely to get tackled for loss and less likely to get the 5+ yard carries that opportunity rate tracks. Those were a wash as Michigan's line yards stayed static. Contrary to your memories of the OSU game, pass protection took a big leap forward.
A certain level of treading water is expected when a new coach with a new, complicated system arrives. With four starters back and Mason Cole moving to his natural position, a step forward is likely. It's just that fifth guy who gives pause…
An Editor's Note About Charts
With four returning starters you're going to see a bunch of charts derived from last year's UFRs. Here's how to read them:
Guy did X
Game and opponent are self-explanatory. The +, –, and TOT columns are my evaluations of how the player did when run blocking. Keep in mind that zero is not good, or even average. It is the nature of the beast that any successful run has many successful blocks; many unsuccessful ones are submarined by a single error. We're looking for a 2:1 positive-negative ratio to be decently successful. A future pro might be more like 3:1 or 4:1.
"Pass –" is derived from the protection minuses in UFR. Two protection minuses are approximately equivalent to one sack or severe hurry. "Error rate" is the number of protection minuses divided by the number of available protection points. The above line is Ben Braden's from the Utah game, in which he was almost 1:2 in run plus/minus and had protection errors on 8% of snaps. That's terrible; the good news is that Braden got better.
TACKLE: JUST A GUY WOULD BE FINE THANKS
present, he said [Brian Fuller]
Senior ERIK MAGNUSON was thrust into the lineup too early as one the umpteen guys tossed into the maelstrom of the 2013 offensive line. He was a guard then; the next year he played some there and, after an injury cost him his job, as a blocking tight end. Last year he got flipped out to tackle.
There he... well, he was there. He was neither forceful nor overrun. He didn't shut down elite pass rushers or get blown through by mediocre ones. His UFR chart from last year is decidedly sparse when compared to Cole's:
Not as involved as others but got his job done.
Clean positive sweep from the OL.
M clearly left-handed when it wants to rely on tackles.
Clear left handed bias again.
End of game was pretty.
A little frustrated with his second level blocking.
Good day for him although M is clearly left-handed.
Not real good on perimeter.
Also took advantage of weak edge.
65% run blocking
It's not so much that Magnuson didn't execute, it's that he wasn't called on to do much. He's right around our run-blocking Mendoza line thanks to some good days against the overmatched bit of the nonconference schedule. 24 pass protection minuses over the course of a season isn't anything to write home about, but Cole's maturation and Magnuson's move to tackle are the top two reasons Michigan's pass blocking got a lot better a year ago. When I started to talk about the OL individually in the middle of last year this was the conclusion:
Magnuson is [just a guy] right now. He's okay at blocking. They don't run to him very much. There are not many plays on which he has a big role and that seems to be about half Cole and half Magnuson. He is the Jarrod Wilson of the offensive line.
He's boring. We appreciate this immensely, because we are well aware of the alternatives to boring after the past half-decade.
It's maybe a little disappointing that Magnuson seems to be topping out at boring. I usually pick out the particularly good or bad plays to embed in these previews; Magnuson doesn't have anything to embed either way. On the ground I had him for zero +2 blocks a year ago and one –2 block. Part of the reason he doesn't have a lot of magnitude in that chart above is that he usually does something completely adequate and not that notable. When he does score a plus it's frequently for excellent awareness. Here he reads a blitz and manages to redirect enough to hit the linebacker who would otherwise be burying Smith in the backfield:
This is a power play but it's the same principle and from a camera angle that makes it very clear:
The other times Magnuson moves a guy is because he's already engaged with Kalis:
Magnuson was effective at doubling a guy and popping out to the second level.
These are all real assets. They are offset by what I described as a "lack of oomph" after the Indiana game. Magnuson is not likely to get drive in a one-on-one block, and occasionally he ends up looking a bit… finesse.
That play was an outlier but I don't have anything in the way of a one-on-one drive block in an entire season of clips. This is an area he should get incrementally better in since he's got another year of weight training behind him; the time for big leaps forward is likely past.
Not everyone is as indifferent as this space was. CBS NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler called him a "legitimate NFL prospect" and "one of the top ten senior offensive tackles in the country."
...moves with a smooth shuffle and wide base, transferring his weight well in his kickslide to mirror edge rushers. He stays low off the snap and prefers to use his hands to control the point of attack to out-leverage and out-power defenders. Magnuson is able to secure downblocks and anchor at shallow depth, driving his legs to finish in the Wolverines' power offense.
Magnuson was relatively advanced mentally a year ago and will benefit less than some of his compatriots from increasing familiarity with the offense. Improvement should be clear but not transformative; a good goal is for Magnuson to move beyond Just A Guy status, get on the All Big Ten team in a very down year for the tackle spot conference-wide, and get drafted late.
[After the JUMP: the biggest question mark on the team. And Jabrill Peppers! (Not really. But maybe!)]
Chesson, as you’re well aware, had more close-but-not-quite moments than I care to recall in the first nine games of his junior year as he incrementally improved while waiting for Jake Rudock to calibrate his deep ball. The final four games, post-calibration, were a Wow Experience.
Indiana is bad and should feel bad, but those last two games came against a pair of first-round cornerbacks in Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves—the latter is still waiting for that hitch:
In addition to his downfield receiving prowess, he also provides big-play ability on end-arounds (8 rushes for 155 yards and 2 TDs last year) and kickoff returns, as well as great blocking for a receiver. Again, this pick is also a reflection of the other available talent; the next-best receiver on the board is probably one of PSU’s Chris Godwin, Nebraska’s Jordan Westerkamp, or Amara Darboh.
[After THE JUMP: We take the linemen Pro Football Focus tells us to. Not our fault if their helmets have wings]
Spring games are mostly useless because there are so many weird guys on the field. Most of the freshmen haven’t arrived yet, guys with injuries are held out, and those who’ve earned starting jobs appear briefly if at all.
But we did get to see one matchup all game that is of some interest: new starting center (probably) Mason Cole vs. returned from the dead NT Bryan Mone. Both are expected to be very good this year, but Cole is moving down from two years of playing left tackle, while Mone lost all of 2015 to injury. So I thought we might take a trip through the spring game, focusing solely on plays when they went at each other.
Please don’t take this as a UFR—Brian has his own system for that, and I’m not trying to recreate it here. We’re not looking at what Mone does to JBB or walk-ons, but who scored points against each other.
Pull & seal
Cole is pulling around the left guard (JBB), whom Mone put on skates at the snap. Cole correctly IDs that he has to deal with that and uses up his block, which means this play is about to be dead. Mone wins the point by pushing Cole backwards to cut off even the hope of a cutback, then tossing Cole to the side to close in on the back, leaving Godin totally free. Monster start for Mone.
Mone shows great hands as he works from a 2-tech (over the LG) to the A gap on the other side and remains clean. He doesn't pressure but the offense is using up 3 blockers, meaning the rest of the protection is 1-on-1 (including Isaac vs. Godin). That creates pressure and Speight's throw downfield is a bit too far OOB. Cole did his part though so this round has no victor, except Don Brown.
Step & seal backside
On a power play like this Cole is starting playside and just has to block down and seal, a job he is put in an advantageous position to do. We will see this a lot so I’m establishing a precedent that Cole doesn’t get a “win” for this even though he successfully blocked Mone. If Mone gets blocked down and beats it he gets double points. If Mone pushes Cole enough to bother the pulling guard, Mone gets a point. Here Mone tried to push Cole backwards to cut off running room but Cole stalemated him.
Cole got some help from JBB but didn't need it, keeping Mone at arm's length and giving Speight a pretty pocket to throw the Butt TD.
3rd and 10 and they're one on one. Cole absorbed the first punch then Mone tossed him aside. Cole did well to spin around and regain position between Mone and Speight, but by then the center's in the QB's knees.
Protect left A
Cole wins the arm war this time and keeps Mone at bay without help, leaving Peters a nice pocket to step into if he chooses.
Step & seal backside
They're running power away from Mone again so Cole just has to block down. He erases Mone and then releases downfield, nearly taking out a linebacker and setting up to cut off pursuit. Point Cole.
Protect left A
This pass (the one Wheatley dropped) got off, but Cole got shoved deep into the pocket by Mone before handing the NT off to Pliska and picking up another rusher. No pocket equals point Mone.
Standings are at 4-3-2 in favor of Cole at this point. Obviously the white/maize team was game-planning to run at Godin (at 3-tech) instead of Mone.