Michigan loses two of three starters from last year and has a couple of start-by-default replacements. Unlike the secondary, though, expectations are high for both newbies after veritable torrents of offseason hype. Michigan now has a linebacker corps that Doctor Blitz can do nefarious things with. Youth will lead to mistakes; Brown will solve his problems with aggression. As one does when one is Doctor Blitz.
VIPER: DOCTOR WHO JUST HIT ME WITH A TRUCK
Hudson is wha ah ah ah ah down with the sickness [Barron]
Yeah, Jabrill Peppers is gone. I'm not sweating it. I'm wearing a KHALEKE HUDSON [recruiting profile] fez, waving a Khaleke Hudson flag, and writing a PhD dissertation about Khaleke Hudson's senior highlight reel. Anyone who's read this site for a hot second knows its staff comprises the biggest Hudson fan group outside of his immediate family, and if he takes off like Michigan hopes he will they're going to have to really up their game at Christmas.
So far, so good as Hudson tries to redeem our unseemly enthusiasm. All the overheated rhetoric from his recruiting profile is on track, whether it was from an opposing coach…
"He is the best combination of strength, speed and burst I've seen in a long time," said Ruane. "Every tackle, run and block is violent with him. He will be playing on Sundays someday. And I'm happy he's graduating."
…or your author:
A multiple-position star who is seemingly designed by man and God to punish people … I mean, he's not Peppers. But other than not being Peppers, he's basically Peppers.
The people saying these things are now his coaches and teammates, and that's one step closer to realizing his potential. Chris Partridge:
Khaleke Hudson and the skills that he brings to that position?
“Violence. Aggression. Hammerhead. He’s a guy that just loves contact. I think that people feed off that, too. He’s becoming very well rounded as a player so he’s going to be very enjoyable to watch.”
“Well, I love him. He’s a very physical guy. His learning at that position has been outstanding and he’s competing at a high level. … Some guys’ arrow is flat, some guys’ arrow is down -- his arrow is constantly going up.”
Brown doesn't just rattle off praise for everyone—see the CB spot. If he's a Hudson believer that's meaningful.
Hudson got his first action on Michigan's punt block, where he was sufficiently explosive and physical to drive through shield blocking and return two to sender. But he was clearly behind Metellus, who was getting more garbage time snaps and got the call when Peppers was unavailable for the bowl game. That's likely because Metellus picked up the defense faster. Don Brown calls him a "savant"; meanwhile a couple of insider reports I got asserted that Hudson was a bit slow to grasp Brown's intricate defense.
Spring, and a definitive move to viper, has cleared Hudson for liftoff. He says he's got the defense down now:
"I feel like I know it really well now," Hudson said. "I still go back and forth with Josh. We both get reps at viper, but I feel like it's starting to be a good position for me."
"He’s very physical, he’s low to the ground, he gets under people, he strikes people, he plays really hard, he’s very self-motivated."
He impressed in the spring game. Ace named him one of the standouts:
The hype here isn't going to slow one bit after today. Hudson was everywhere on defense, looking like the heavy-hitting player we expected against the run and proving equally formidable in coverage, where he broke up a couple passes and nearly came up with an interception. As is his wont, he came inches away from a blocked punt, too.
That heavy hitting was deployed against John O'Korn in the picture that leads this section. O'Korn broke the pocket and looked certain to punch the ball into the endzone until he met Hudson:
"I think he's going to be one of the best players in the nation this year, and in the future, because he can play linebacker, and he can play safety. If he wanted to, he could probably play corner. He's just a freak athlete, and he's really good."
Webb asserted that Hudson kept it up from his excellent spring and has "found his home" at viper(!), where his tendency to be a large hadron collider was a "revelation." Later he'd talk to JT Rogan, who concurred:
"Khaleke Hudson is a great downhill player. He is similar to Jabrill Peppers... man, is he strong and he's fast."
He's "a bull against the run game" and Rivals reports that Michigan tight ends are hugely productive... when Hudson is on the sideline. That about covers it.
Hudson's a perfect fit for the glamor spot in Michigan's defense and has all the arrows pointing the right way. He'll have his share of busts in year one as a starter; when not doing that he'll be turning in more TFLs, big hits, and PBUs. He won't be Peppers, but he's basically Peppers.
[After THE JUMP: fey Johnny Depp! Hhhhhhhyyyyaaaaarrr!]
Welp, the backup DTs are a problem. The mere presence of Ron Johnson, who arrived last year as a 245-pound weakside end, on the interior is indication enough. Johnson was bad because it is not possible for a person to go from 245 pounds to a plausible DT in a year. I assume that dalliance will end the moment Michigan's fleet of incoming DTs arrives.
It was slightly more disappointing that neither Carl Myers nor Lawrence Marshall showed much. Myers is a walk-on but hey maybe he was a spiritual Glasgow; that looks really doubtful. A Higdon TD run was largely on Myers getting buried by single blocking. (Spanellis, for what it's worth.) Meanwhile Marshall's added weight and added weight and gone from WDE to SDE to 3T and usually your second position switch is when it starts getting late early. It's late early for him.
Aubrey Solomon is going to walk right onto the two deep, and thank God for that recruiting heist. Mike Dwumfour is going to get playing time by default so let's hope some of that positive chatter is good, and then it would be very nice if another freshman—probably James Hudson—was ready to eat some snaps.
The starters are more or less established and performed as you'd expect. Pass blocking was a major issue not just because of Devin Bush, but these gentlemen. We know what Maurice Hurst looks like as a player. We've got a good idea about Chase Winovich—though he's looking much more DE-sized than a year ago—and Rashan Gary is a given. He stunted inside once on a play that should have caught Michigan's D dead to rights, with Kugler pulling right to him. Gary blew through him to tackle for minimal gain. Dude is scary.
Bryan Mone looked healthy and effective on the snaps he got, so hooray for that. He shed Bredeson a couple times, albeit after giving up some yardage. He is likely to be a downgrade from Ryan Glasgow but with the guys around him he just has to be good for the line to be excellent.
Now encase them in carbonite until fall.
Carlo Kemp looked okay; Rueben Jones didn't show much; Donovan Jeter looks like a guy who will eventually be a DT/3T swing guy a la Wormley.
Mike McCray did not get a starter hook and had significant playing time in which he looked like Mike McCray.
sidewinder has missile lock [Eric Upchurch]
We got extended looks at couple non-starters guys, most prominently Devin Bush. Bush looks like he's benefited a ton from a year of S&C; this has amped up his blitzing, and Don Brown took full advantage. His timing and burst got him through the line frequently, and he is a major problem for RB pickups. He's short, so he's hard to get under. He's thick, so he's got a lot of momentum. He's fast, so also momentum that's how momentum works. The result was a number of blitz pickups that looked good for a moment before falling apart.
Bush's recruiting profile is (for the moment) prophetic:
if you ever thought to yourself "I wonder what Don Brown would have done with James Ross," Bush will answer that question for you.
Hurl him pell-mell over the line of scrimmage to good effect, it seems.
In that context the talk about Mike Wroblewski is probably a positive instead of an indication Michigan has a desperate lack of depth. (See Moundros, Mark.) He looks the part of the heady gritty grit gym rat, but more importantly he plays like it. I can't tell you how many times I've seen linebackers fail to understand what the line slant in front of their face means; here Wroblewski knows that the Gary slant means the ball is likely coming to the gap outside of him, and he fills with aplomb:
It's a simple thing; again I cannot tell you how many times I've shaken a fist to the heavens because a linebacker does not understand the implication of the line call.
Wroblewski's prominence isn't great news for the other inside linebackers currently on the roster. (This exempts Noah Furbush and Josh Uche, who are at SAM.) I don't know what number Jared Wangler is even after my annual "who the hell is that /googles roster" spring game outing. Elysee Mbem-Bosse is 52, and I mostly know that because he got edged on the early Isaac touchdown run.
I assume from the way Don Brown talks that these are the things Robocop does not do. Again, simple thing where you've got to know that you get outside your blocker and funnel back to help, and a thing I've seen not executed time and again. By long-term starters.
I did catch a couple plays I liked from Devin Gil, so he may be an exception.
Meanwhile, Furbush and Uche... I don't know what Michigan's going to do with them. Furbush had one impressive Jake-Ryan-like play on a crack sweep where he blasted through a block to pick off another blocker, but I'm not sure how he fits in Don Brown's defense. We've heard some things about how Uche is going to get some run as a pass rush specialist.
Not a lot of action for David Long or Levert Hill, which is probably a sign they're solid leaders at cornerback. (Or dinged up. Long was out on some kickoffs, FWIW.) Between the two of them they combined for one tackle; when they were out there they were barely targeted.
Washington is now in the conversation [Eric Upchurch]
Amongst folks who played a bunch Keith Washington stood out. I was watching him during a brief period where he was matched up on Donovan Peoples-Jones. He had good coverage on an incompletion, made a tackle after a drag route for two yards, and generally looked in DPJ's league. He added an impressive downfield pass breakup and a couple of "who is that?!" edge tackles when Michigan tried to run it to his side of the field. He was credited for half a TFL on one of those. This one is impressive awareness; I've seen a lot of cornerbacks fail to fall off their WR this quickly and give up ten yards on the edge:
Spring caveats apply. Two years ago Brandon Watson had a press-heavy spring game that featured a couple of impressive PBUs on Moe Ways; since then he's faded to an occasionally-used nickel who usually tackles after a slant is completed on him. His pick six in this game was a very bad decision by Peters he took advantage of; it wasn't paired with other plays that might have moved the needle for him as he tries to battle his way up the depth chart.
Both early-enrolled freshmen looked like they could use some seasoning. Benjamin St-Juste was repeatedly victimized by Tarik Black on quick fades during the John O'Korn-led comeback section of the game. I kind of hated one of the PI calls on him but this is because I am adamantly opposed to underthrow-caused pass interference and cannot be trusted in these matters.
Meanwhile Ambry Thomas looked like a freshman in the way DPJ and Black did not. He's lankier than I expected—"high cut" is the jargon term I believe—and looked spindly. Problematically so. Kareem Walker's impressive touchdown featured Thomas being fended off with ease.
If Washington has made a move like it seems Michigan can afford to redshirt one or both.
here comes the BOOM like it or not now that song is stuck in your head [Barron]
I said in the spring game preview I didn't want Khaleke Hudson to end someone but if there was a walk-on or band member or random civilian who would volunteer to get in a car crash they would be remembered. John O'Korn is none of those; he will be remembered nonetheless.
Hudson also picked up a PBU and a sack in his time on the field and looked sufficiently Peppers-esque for this site's honor and prognostication cred to remain intact for the time being. The emergence of a couple legit safety options and the Khaleke-Hudson-shaped spot in a Don Brown defense means Hudson's found his spot, and I'm eager to see how that works out. Good start.
Those legit safety options are Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow, both of whom showed well. Both guys got over the top of sideline fade routes to get or assist on PBUs. Glasgow stepped in front of a Speight pass for a 101-yard pick six. Less spectacularly but probably more importantly, both guys tackled with authority when called upon to do so. There was one particular open-field Glasgow tackle that was Kovacsian in its textbook solidity. Assumed starter Tyree Kinnel got his share of action as well, leading all players with seven tackles.
The coverage bust on the Gentry touchdown couldn't be traced back to any of those guys since they weren't in the area or on the field, and something Ace mentioned on the podcast was clearest with these guys: there was way less pointing and confusion as Michigan enters year two under Brown. Like the offensive line, these are a bunch of new starters who could be expected to dorf a number of plays. This happened rarely, if at all.
Assertion: no position group put in a more reassuring performance than the safeties. Michigan clearly thinks they have a hidden gem in Metellus and Glasgow turns out to be a Glasgow, so Hudson can slide down, and Kinnel is there to quarterback the whole secondary. This position group looks set to reload, not rebuild.
Houston, we have liftoff [Barron]
It's night and day from two years ago at this time, when people were openly petrified of the kicking situation. Kenny Allen eventually locked that down for two years, and now that he's gone Michigan looks... fine? Very good, even? Kyle Seychel, Ryan Tice, and Quinn Nordin all popped in to blast some kickoffs and groove field goals down the middle. Nordin's 48-yarder was a highlight because it almost cleared the net; I've heard people say that would have been good from 60 and I think this radically undersells what a bomb it was. Look at this thing!
That is a 48 yard field goal that goes over the goalposts. Tailwind or no that is spectacular.
Small sample sizes, of course. One good thing that we haven't heard coming out of the practice rumbles: kicker concern. Maybe they'll be fine. (Maybe they will suffer #collegekickers.)
Punter Will Hart looked okay, averaging 40 yards a kick on 8 punts. He seemed to have excellent hang time and could have gotten some more distance but angled a couple to the sideline. My main concern with him was that it seemed to take a while for him to get the ball off. There were two or three punts on which the crowd went "oooh" because the defense almost returned one to sender.
OTOH, if that could be more about Michigan being consistently good at getting to punts now that would be real nice. Michigan had impact block units last year for the first time I can remember. Maybe they downloaded Jon Baxter's brain into Partridge during the one year he was here.
Returns are an open question and something of a concern after two muffs, one on a punt, one on a field goal. I have a feeling we might come to fully appreciate Peppers's ability to cleanly field all manner of junk fired in his direction when his successor is not Jabrill Peppers. Kickoffs should be fine; they've got enough athletes now that they can just put a DPJ or, heck, Keith Washington back there. Punts are much trickier and disaster-prone. FWIW, Oliver Martin arrives in fall with a reputation for being something of a punt-fielding maestro.
Headline news is not at all surprising: Rashan Gary is like dang. Palpable excitement from the coaches about getting to line up Gary next to Maurice Hurst and God help anyone assigned to block those guys on a stunt. Or not on a stunt. Gary remains extremely coachable and is on track to deliver on that #1 overall recruit hype. The end. Gary talk this year == Peppers talk last year. Everyone knows he's coming so it's almost beside the point to mention it.
"Rashan's a great person to definitely model your game after and follow up," Kemp said. "Especially because he goes in there, sets the tempo. For me, backing him up, I want to be as close as I can that there's no dropoff. When Rashan's in, we already know what he can do, and then when I come in I try to mimic his game a lot, so that when he's in and I'm in, it looks the exact same."
That would be nice. Kemp has impressed the coaches after a rough start that was partially because he was being played out of position at linebacker. (Remember that Michigan had a crisis at LB before the emergence of McCray last year.) Kemp on his interactions with Don Brown:
"He said when we first started spring ball 'I don't even know who this guy is anymore, last year I'd have traded him away for two used footballs' " Kemp said. "So that felt good. Last year I might have done the same thing, traded me away for two used footballs.
"Maybe we're up to three this year."
Kemp has the bloodlines and good size (265 now, probably approaching 280 by fall) so backup snaps at the anchor should be relatively productive. Early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter is also impressing, and right now he and Kemp are both wearing #2. Winner gets to keep it, I guess?
At the other end, Chase Winovich has added another chunk of weight as he attempts to replace Taco Charlton; hopefully this will allow him to hold up against the run while not sapping his ability to get around the corner. All weight gain or loss is good in the spring. Haven't gotten anything about the folks pushing Winovich on the depth chart so that might be a spot of worry. Jeter is probably more of a SDE/3T than a weakside end.
DT starters are established and I cannot tell you anything about them that you don't already know. Mo Hurst should be an All-American with increased playing time and the shiny stats he racks up. Everyone is waiting for Bryan Mone to finally display the potential people have chattered about for years. Chatter remains the same on Mone, and he did flash talent late in the year. If he can stay healthy dot dot dot.
Very thin on the interior with few of the freshmen on campus yet and Michael Dwumfour frequently limited with minor issues. As a result Michigan is experimenting with redshirt freshman Ron Johnson on the interior, which is very much a work in progress. Johnson arrived as a 245-pound edge rush type. I would interpret that as distress about backup DTs. Lawrence Marshall is also on the interior and has not drawn much buzz.
Depth is a concern. Starters should be bonkers.
Mike McCray is an obvious starter and looks like you'd expect. Leader, thumper. Michigan's offense isn't of the variety that frequently tests McCray's main 2016 weakness—operating in space—so I assume you're going to get a lot of very positive reports on him that are about the stuff he was already excellent at, and we'll have to wait for live fire this fall to see if he's made progress on the downsides.
The other spot was presumed to be Devin Bush, but don't sleep on Mike Wroblewski, who keeps getting brought up by Don Brown for a reason. Wroblewski is an "A-gap player," which means he's a guy to take on fullbacks and hammer the interior run game but might be limited in sideline-to-sideline range. He's taken over some of the calls from McCray, which is quite a thing to do when you're taking them from a returning starter and fifth year senior who is presumably going to be a captain. He is on the two deep, legitimately.
Bush is also very much in the mix and will at least rotate through a la Gedeon when he was the third guy behind Morgan and Bolden. He could start, as well—he seems a much more natural fit for Michigan's forays against spread offenses.
FWIW, one report that Ben Mason "looks the part" at LB, so they are giving him his shot there and he may yet defy this site's oft-stated opinion that he's destined for fullback. Redshirt freshman Josh Uche Is "laying the wood" a lot and should get some playing time this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist, with a productive career in the offing.
The VIPER(!!!) spot is addressed in the next section because it should be.
Michigan looks set to go with a three safety look again—the defense is a bonafide 4-2-5 and we should get used to it—in a slightly different configuration than last year. This is not insider chatter but rather something the coaches have directly stated:
"We'll see in the Spring Game how those guys line up in live competition, but right now Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, those guys are leaders of the pack [at safety] in my eyes," Smith said. "They've done a good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."
Tyree Kinnel is your free safety and will play the Dymonte Thomas role; Josh Metellus is the strong safety and will replace Delano Hill. Both are heady and "kind of going Jarrod Wilson," which is music to your author's ears. All hail boring safeties, with a side of Metellus thumping people in their earholes.
Meanwhile many reports have it that Khaleke Hudson is your leader at VIPER(!!!) and will seek to replicate Jabrill Peppers. Hudson was a bit slow picking up coverages per a couple people; he is physically capable of the slot coverage that Hill was so good at a year ago, and as he gets increasingly comfortable people in his vicinity have a tendency to get "jacked up," as the kids say. One report notes he's making a number of spectacular, freaky plays. As we've asserted about Hudson since he popped up on our radar, he's not Peppers but he's basically Peppers. The emergence of Metellus gives Michigan the opportunity to use him in that spacebacker spot he was born to man.
Meanwhile in news I find very important indeed, people think J'Marick Woods has a nickname but he does not.
Brian Smith says J'Marick Woods has stood out to him this spring. Says he's earned his nickname of "Woods" - is a big hitter
This aggression against nicknames will not stand. That is just his name. Hockey nicknames that are "last name followed by -y" are bad enough. Come back when you've named him "Scooter" or "Booger" or "Dump Truck." Preferably all three.
All systems go for David Long and Lavert Hill, who have been gathering extensive praise as physical, sticky corners. Hill is currently stickier but Long isn't far off. When the projected starters are in it's been difficult for Michigan's receivers to get separation.
There is a significant dropoff after those two, with Brandon Watson and Ambry Thomas currently drawing the most mention. There's no such thing as a second unit yet, of course; those two guys are a nose ahead of the pack after the starters. Watson was meh as a slot corner a year ago and is past the age where rapid progress is likely; I assume he'll have a role similar to last year's unless he gets passed by Thomas right out of the gate. Survey says: possible.
Overall, practice insiders are positive about Michigan's ability to weather all the departures. Don Brown's said as much publicly, and privately he's saying basically the same things: there's no reason this defense shouldn't be in the same ballpark as last year's. #1 is a tough ask because of randomness and whatnot, but Don Brown has put together top end defenses without having a guy like Rashan Gary. He remains a hard-boiled cop one day from retirement in a candy store.
Brown thinks Gary and Hurst are the best Anchor-3T combo in the nation
Mike Wroblewski was talked up as a guy who knows the scheme so well that he makes calls for not only his but other position groups; Brown has to tell him to let other guys make their calls, a first in his career
Current combatants at Peppers’s vacated VIPER spot: Khaleke Hudson, Jordan Glasgow, Josh Metellus
Hill and Long have first dibs on the corner spots, but the plan is to let everyone compete and see what happens
On the defense’s youth: “I’d rather be talented and young than not, than the alternative; have a bunch of veterans and you’re going, oh my god, what am I gonna do?”
Devin Bush is flipping between Mike and Will. Brown feels like he’s got three guys for two positions between McCray, Wroblewski, and Bush
“How are you guys?”
Good, how are you?
“Glad to be coaching ball, that’s all I know. Good first day. Guys worked hard, really did. The youth on our team…you know, you can look at it and say ‘Oh, we got a long way to go,’ which we do, but it’s just such an energizing feeling when you go out there and you’re actually walking off the field going ‘Damn, we functioned pretty well today.’ So, you know, excited about it.
“It’s a good group, but kind of an interesting blend. So there’s enough guys that have been around that will demand execution and demand effort and energy that I feel like we’ll be in great shape.”
Some of the guys at Pro Day today, Taco and Chris [Wormley], were saying that they think this defensive line group is maybe more athletic than the group that’s departed. Is that fair?
“I think with Rashan and Mo Hurst…I have to tilt my head back and think for a minute. [He really is tilting his head back.] I don’t know, I’m not sure there’s a better tandem Anchor-tackle in the country. I’m very confident with Bryan [Mone]—here’s the key: we played eight guys last year. Four are gone, but we’ve got a first team with Bryan Mone—and Chase Winovich is such a better player.
“I think back—I did a bad thing yesterday. I went back and watched practice #3 of spring last year. Hooooly moly. What was that? We’re just so different, and those first four guys are really, they’re setting the tone. We’ve got some youth there that I’m very excited about. I thought Donovan Jeter, his raw ability today, thought he showed some really good signs, which is good.
“The Sam-Mike-Will thing: getting Mike McCray back. (W)robo, Mike Wroblewski, there’s another guy where I’m watching him in practice last year [and] just can’t even believe it’s the same guy. You talk about a self-made football player, but a guy who knows it all. Here’s—I’ve never had to do this before. He’s telling the secondary, making their on-rights and lefts call, he’s making the tight call, he’s making the detach call for the outside linebacker and it’s finally like, ‘Hey Robo, you need to shut up and let those guys make those calls themselves.’ ‘Oh yeah, Coach, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That’s how well he knows the scheme. So him and Devin Bush and Mike McCray. Furbush was good.
“We got Uche goin’ at Sam and Khaleke Hudson was our VIPER today. Arrows up; really excited about him. Glasgow was a VIPER today and that young secondary, Lavert Hill, David Long, Josh Metellus, Tyree—Tyree Kinnel has just quietly done a nice job.
“So, we’ll see. There’s a lot of youth there. St. Juste, he’ll be an interesting guy as we move forward. Ambry Thomas, again, another interesting guy. J’Marick Woods and Jaylen Kelly-Powell, all those guys are good players. The nice thing is I don’t think there’s a lot of guys that are misplaced. They’re in the right place in terms of their level of competition.”
[After THE JUMP: on the concept of the VIPER and an excellent, in-depth response to criticisms of Peppers’ game]
Michigan represented in the real bracket. This Is March, and that means it's Name of the Year time. College football, which annually raises hundreds of names from obscurity, contributes five participants—at least five that I recognize—to this year's tournament:
1 seed Kobe Buffalomeat, an Illinois State signee. 15 seed Dredrick Snelson Jr, a UCF wide receiver. 11 seed Bumper Pool, a 2018 LB committed to Okie State (who Michigan pursued). 5 seed and Michigan signee Luiji Vilain(!). 1 seed Quindarious Monday, a 2018 safety out of Georgia recently offered by Michigan.
2 seed Sultan McDoom does not appear to be related to Eddie, FWIW. Also there is a Taco Dibbits who is presumably not related to Taco Charlton.
I believe Vilain is the first Michigan-affiliated participant since Iris Macadangdang made it to the final in 2009, losing to LSU DE Barkevious Mingo. Yes I knew that off the top of my head. Yes my brain is very good and full of useful things.
The NOTY bracket is always a magical one that different people will take different things from, like a diamond with 64 gleaming facets. Personally, I'm partial to Boats Botes. Boats.
Many, many spring practice(?) things. I was thinking about splitting out huge data dumps from Sam Webb and Steve Lorenz into a separate post but since they're mostly about winter workouts—ie not even practice—during the heart of NCAA tournment season maybe we'll just jam it in here.
Prepare for JAM:
Webb reports that Don Brown is bringing up Mike Wroblewski—who is apparently called "ROBO"—unprompted as the third ILB along with McCray and Bush. Sounds like Michigan will be rotating three guys for two spots.
Sam is asked which early enrollees are consistently drawing mention and responds with Cesar Ruiz and—surprise—Donovan Peoples-Jones. Lorenz also mentions Ruiz as "college ready" physically and broaches the possibility he'll be a four-year starter. That would necessarily kick either Mason Cole or Ben Bredeson out to tackle. Frey thinks he can bat Cole around this spring and it won't have a negative impact.
Lorenz also asserts that the coaching staff is pushing Juwann Bushell-Beatty because they think he can make it. They thought he was a reasonable option midseason, so he's got to be doing something right in practice.
Illinois State should have been in. Ken Pomeroy writes on the exclusion of Illinois State from the field. One reason I was mildly incensed about what the committee did this year is that they gave the numbers-literate a window for hope:
That discussion obviously went nowhere, as the Minnesota-Wisconsin seeding discrepancy and Illinois State exclusion demonstrate. Kenpom's take on the Redbirds:
Teams from a competitive mid-major conference like the Missouri Valley play a much different kind of schedule. Most games against teams outside the top 100 are conference games, which are just as likely to be on the road as they are at home. Also, very few of those “bad” opponents are going to be as bad as Howard or Western Carolina, whom Marquette played. Although it played many more teams outside the top 100, Illinois State still had fewer games (three) against teams in the bottom 100 than Marquette. As a consequence, a whole lot more of Illinois State’s games against poorer teams were potentially loseable, if the Redbirds had a particularly bad night or their opponent was feeling it. And the Redbirds did lose two of them—road games to Murray State and Tulsa. ...
If Marquette and Illinois State swapped schedules, the Golden Eagles would almost surely lose some games to teams outside the top 100. If you put Illinois State in the Big East, it would have earned some quality wins. No doubt, though, the Redbirds would do much worse than their 17-1 Missouri Valley Conference record when facing the tougher competition. But consider that Xavier went 8-10 against Big East teams not named DePaul and easily earned an at-large bid. The standard for small-conference teams is incredibly high, while the standard for major-conference teams is not as high as you think.
The "bad loss" mode of thinking fails to take into account the fact that when you play a high number of road games against teams with RPIs from 100 to 200, an NCAA quality team will be expected to lose some of them.
There are metrics that take this into account. "Wins Above Bubble"—defined as "the amount of wins you have - than the amount of wins an average bubble team would expect to have against the schedule you faced"—is an easy concept to grasp that ranks on overall resume instead of the distorted windows that arbitrary RPI bins provide. Illinois State was excluded despite being 1.5 WAB, ahead of 7-seed Dayton and 9-seeds MSU and Vandy*.
We blithely dismiss Illinois State's record because it came against "nobody", but anybody can be somebody on the road. Take Illinois State's game at Missouri State. On the day of the game, Missouri State was ranked #130 in Kenpom—bad loss territory if this was RPI. Illinois State was ranked #44, which is where nine-seed VT is ranked today and ahead of at-large picks VCU, Seton Hall, Providence, and USC. Kenpom gave Illinois State—which, again, was performing like a legit NCAA tournament team at the time—just a 63% shot at victory. Play nine road games against teams from 100 to 200 and an NCAA bubble team should lose a couple, as Illinois State did. Their record should have been enough to get them in the field.
*[I don't think WAB should be used for seeding; it's a selection metric. I mention the above teams because they were not only in the field but evidently not even on the bubble.]
New hockey coach maybe possibly. This gentleman appears to be Pavel Datsyuk's agent:
Obligatory disclaimer: agents are not always reliable sources, and the deletion of said tweet makes it even shakier. If, however, he is correct and Michigan has already moved to secure their next head coach that could mean they've gone off the board. IE: they hired Not Mel. It seems doubtful that this guy would be in the loop if it was Pearson.
The old guard had been around forever—Desmond Morgan started as a freshman and had an injury redshirt in there—and is now gone. In their stead there is… well, a guy. Michigan's linebacker recruiting in the Hoke era was a major failing, so after one guy they've mishandled and one guy who narrowly evaded a career-ending injury there's freshmen and the only non-Order-of-St.-Kovacs walk-on on the two deep.
Could get hairy if anyone can get to these guys on the ground or protect their quarterback long enough to get 'em in the air. So probably not that hairy. Still, along with the offensive line and quarterback, linebacker stands out as a position at which things could go pear-shaped.
On the other hand, Peppers. He's actually in this post!
And this year he hopes to refine his immense talent into a TFL and PBU machine.
One part of his game is already flawless and has been so from the drop. He was a bonafide hybrid space player from his first snaps against Utah. Any sort of swing, flare, or screen to the wide side of the field was going to die horribly. Peppers was truly, literally unblockable in space. He'd slow up, pick his moment, and just explode past the wide receiver who drew the short straw:
Three times in this game Peppers destroyed plays that attacked the wide open spaces he is set to patrol. If Michigan can rely on that, those passes across the middle that open up because of bubble fakes get removed along with the screens; it's kind of a big deal to be able to do that.
The utterconsistencywithwhichthishappened became a defensive bellwether. I eagerly awaited the moment when the offensive coordinator got fed up with having zero access to a big chunk of his playbook and said "screw it." One snap later the OC was reminded why he wasn't doing this:
Blocking someone with his explosiveness on the edge is a futile task. This is a screen that he turns in barely outside the hash and still gets a tackle in on, because he can wait until the proper moment and just explode past the guy who drew the short straw:
Peppers gets places fast and brings a pop when he gets there. Sometimes he makes the play himself and sometimes he allows others to rally to make it, because he's constricting space that other guys cannot.
I say "mostly" because Peppers does need to refine a few things. He has a bit of Brandon Harrison disease wherein he gets going so dang fast that he overruns his target, and his tackling form could use some work. But even when he missed a tackle last year he funneled things back to his teammates.
As Peppers moves inside more often this ability will serve him well. There was a spate of tiny linebacker articles over this offseason, and this one from The Ringer highlights that Peppers evasion thing:
The key to smaller linebackers surviving in a land of 330-pound giants isn’t taking them on in single combat; it’s anticipating movements to avoid combat altogether.
“Those guys seem to make their living not by getting off blocks, but by never getting blocked,” Snead says. “They’ve got to read things quickly so they can use their deficiency to their advantage.”
There was the occasional indicator that Peppers would be able to continue his uncanny ability to blow past blockers even as space gets constricted. Here he reads the play and simply redirects past a fullback assigned to him:
His explosion is such that he can dart around blockers to the "wrong" side so fast that he makes it right. He makes all that Joe Bolden stuff work, and that'll be key when he is faced with much larger opposition.
We have some evidence what Peppers will look like as a linebacker. He was in the box on scattered snaps. He was kept clean, for the most part, and Peppers showed an ability to read and react. This isn't hard, but we don't have much else to go on:
He was used as a blitzer very occasionally, and looked much like he did whilst erasing screen games nationwide. He's fast and brings a load and often comes in too hot to get a clean shot.
If he does get a free run at a blindside target an Oregon State receiver can tell you what the likely outcome is:
Peppers has the potential to force a ton of fumbles.
When Peppers is an actual SAM linebacker and not reprising his hybrid space player role, Plan A is keeping Peppers clean by demanding double teams for the SDE; Plan B is Peppers blowing the minds of linemen and blocky/catchy guys with his ability to do make something conventionally understood to be wrong work for him.
He was still a bit iffy in the slot but started making it difficult for guys to get in their routes, and he started making the occasional play in off man. The Penn State debacle is evidence enough that his coverage is still a work in progress, but in this case we really do mean "work in progress" instead of "permanent problem" as people so often do when they deploy that phrase. His improvement should be obvious. He won't be perfect but slot receivers aren't going to get the best of him for much longer.
Peppers can and will do a half-dozen different things on D. You'll see him as a SAM, as a nickel, as a strong safety, as a boundary corner as Michigan tries to put out fires and exploit mismatches. Boston College SAM Matt Milano is a good baseline: 60 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, and 3 PBUs a year ago. Peppers is around the same size and much more athletic. (I have no idea how athletic Matt Milano is and I'm sticking with that assertion.) I'd expect more pass defense stats and not so many TFLs since the DL will eat up their share, but as I said on the other side of the ball his omnipresence should lead to a bunch of stats both ways and a Heisman finalist slot.
Many people are saying things about Michigan's fall camp. Some are coaches, some are insiders, some are men wearing shoes as hats. Some of the things are true, some are maybe a bit misleading, some verge on balderdash. Let's evaluate things that people are saying for truthiness.
The quarterback battle is still up in the air
Thing: Nobody has ventured a strong opinion on Michigan's starter. You occasionally get a weak assertion that someone feels like a leader that's immediately followed with caveats. Tellingly, those assertions are split close to down the middle between the two main contenders.
Thing react: The coaches almost certainly have a good idea who it's going to be, but I believe that the race is tight enough that it might get overturned late and that there's genuine uncertainty amongst insiders. I'd strongly prefer an answer by now. I mean, it'll be fine since Harbaugh, but it's more likely that Michigan has one good QB than two.
Thing: Can't throw a rock on a message board without hitting an insider swearing up and down that Chris Evans is the truth. This has bled through to honest to God press conferences as well.
Thing react: It's tough to find snaps for Evans in an offense that's going to run a metric ton of tight ends onto the field along with Grant Perry and Jabrill Peppers. One thing Evans has going for him is Peppers's tendency to be the best at everything all the time: they'll want to keep his snaps down until they really need him. Evans is another spread H-back type. He'll slot into the Peppers role against the pushovers.
Still feeling like Evans hype is real but a year too early.
Thing: Ben Bredeson has been promoted into a bonafide 50/50 competition for the left tackle spot. Also impossible to throw rock on message board without hitting man enthused about Bredeson. He was the BTN's primary takeaway from their visit to practice, which says something about something.
Thing react: If you made me guess this instant I'd say he's the starting LT. I'm not entirely enthused about this either, but Bredeson is closer to the instant-start five star zone than Mason Cole was. Cole was the #127 recruit on the composite. Bredeson was #39. Bredeson's also 20 pounds heavier than Cole was as a freshman. He was the only OL at the loaded UA game who could annoy Rashan Gary, so maybe he is ready to take on mortals.
Cole managed to survive as a freshman. Bredeson can probably do better. The ceiling is probably something like Erik Magnuson's completely average 2015.
The freshman receivers are good
Thing: Michigan has already lost two of their five WR recruits, but initial reports on the three guys still on campus have been universally positive. All three are reputed to be explosive and dedicated.
None of these guys are going to play much this year, but if one or two emerges even a little bit that will ease everyone's mind about the 2017 receiving corps. I'm not worried. They can find three guys out of Ways, Harris, Perry, and the freshmen.
This defensive line is just… I mean…
Thing: All the usual suspects have come in for praise; the guys who have not been mentioned are guys who are taken for granted as really good players like Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Rashan Gary is mostly described with a blank look, a shake of the head, and a laugh because he is everything he's supposed to be. Chase Winovich and even Matt Godin are getting talked up as contributors.
Thing react: Yes to all of it. Godin suffered late last year because he played next to the third string NT and teams could double him with impunity; before that there was a period where he was keeping guys like Wormley and Henry on the bench to an extent. He's a good player and will see snaps. Charlton should blow up with increased playing time and his still-excellent upside.
Nobody says anything about the linebackers
Thing: Aside from the occasional direct response when a coach gets asked about them at a press conference, there is total radio silence about the inside linebackers. Brown keeps talking about redshirt junior walk-on Mike Wroblewski.
Thing react: I wouldn't take that as a sign either way. Linebacker play is difficult to get a read on. The last four years of Joe Bolden spring hype that petered out in to just okay play have made me suspicious of anything people say in this department.
One glance at the depth chart is enough to see that Wroblewski is going to play some. After the starters there is very little aside from freshmen. Devin Bush will play; Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Devin Gil are both very raw. Linebacker has more depth concerns than any position on the roster other than maybe safety.
Thing:David Long is very fast and takes notes and is Jehu Chesson, cornerback edition.
Thing react: If Long remains healthy he is a lock. He's going to play this year and start in 2017 and that's going to be very little dropoff from Jourdan Lewis. Maybe not immediately, but by the time he's a junior definitely.
Backup safeties can play
Thing: Praise all available deities. Angry Michigan Safety Hating God seems to be focusing on receivers who might get moved to safety these days—in the last year he's hewed down Brian Cole, Brad Hawkins, and Ahmir Mitchell—and spared the actual DBs. As long as we're keeping Chris Evans on offense that trend can continue.
Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson are both getting plugged as definite contributors this year and solid replacements down the line. Neither is much of a surprise—Kinnel had a strong spring and Hudson is our favorite non-Gary recruit in this class—but not having either guy derailed is important for 2016 and critical for beyond. Josh Metellus has even come in for the occasional mention; hitting on him would be very nice.
Thing react: I expected to hear these things, but actually hearing them is a step on the road to having a functioning secondary this year.
Most of these things are about 2017 more than 2016
Thing: The camp chatter glosses over big swathes of the team because you don't need to be told about them.
How much further along is your defense right now than when you started four weeks ago?
“We’ve come a long way. We are obviously 14 practices in. Starting from scratch really in essence for the third year in a row, so the challenges were there, you know, and obviously my hat’s off to our guys. I thought they approached it in a positive manner. I think they’ve got a pretty good handle on what we’re doing. We’ve got a number of pressures in. The bulk of our coverage concepts are in, and I was able to kind of at least get all the concepts in. Not all the patterns and so forth that accompany those, but there will be nothing now that’s brand new to the guys. It’ll be a concept that they can relate to as we move forward.”
Guys were talking about how most of the stuff’s the same [and] there’s just the one new coverage. Whatever new changes you are bringing to the system, how do you think they’re adjusting to them?
“Well, you know, one of those concepts is pretty involved and there’s a lot of moving pieces and the players have a lot of accountability because they have to handle all the checks and so forth, and I think we’ve done a really good job of handling the responsibility and accountability piece of it as well as functioning from a concept standpoint. So yeah, I’m pretty pleased. And it’s really—you know, football’s football. The reality is football’s football. But, you know, that concept’s pretty different and I think the guys have handled it really well.”
You talked about the linebackers earlier in Florida about some new guys and guys who hadn’t proven themselves. How have they progressed over the course of the month?
“Well, you know, I think Noah Furbush has done a good job at Sam. Obviously we’re doing a lot with Jabrill and he’s logging some minutes there and doing a very good job. Ben Gedeon has had an extremely positive spring, so I’m excited about his progress and where he’s at. Mike McCray has stayed healthy and continued to take steps moving forward, as has true freshman Devin Bush. And Mike Wroblewski, we moved him from defensive end to linebacker earlier on in the spring practice period and it seems to have been a good move for us. He’s still got some work ahead of him, but he’s doing a very, very good job.”
How much of Jabrill’s time is now spent at linebacker? How much are you dividing it?
“Eh, he’s probably 70/30, but he’s doing a lot of things. You won’t see it on display Friday, that’s for sure, but he’s doing enough stuff that keeps his plate full. There’s no question about that.”
Seventy [%] linebacker, thirty [%] other stuff?
“Yeah, I would say about that. But, you know, it’s not gonna stay that way. It’ll end up increasing as we move forward as we’re trying to do things package-wise to offset the other people.”
[After THE JUMP: D-line rotation, Jabrill, the art of the mustache. One of those things may not have actually come up.]
When he’s doing that and he’s at that position—you said you had a player last year that did the same thing. Can you see him pick it up that quickly?
“Yeah, he’s already picked it up. He’s playing at a high level there, so I’m happy with him. From a coverage standpoint it’s everything we expected. I think he’s picked up the linebacker pieces pretty well as well. So, you know, making good progress, but like everybody else he needs more time, more reps.”
Are you able to do more creative things or different things than what you’ve done in the past with a player like Jabrill?
“Yeah, we’ll be able to do some stuff but, you know, that position’s always been occupied—you know, the last three guys are all in the NFL that I’ve coached that have played that position so it’s a pretty—you expect a lot at that spot. We’re gonna get what we expect. There’s no question.”
Who else plays that spot? Is there another guy who can do what Jabrill does?
“We’re playing Noah there, Noah Furbush. He can’t do some of those things, but there’s a number of those things he can do and we can function as a defense with him being there if we had to.”
Will Devin Bush see the field this fall?
“Uh, yeah, I’m not really looking at—I mean, obviously that still remains to be seen, but I’m very happy with his progress at Will linebacker.”
Do you have a term for that position that Jabrill and Noah are playing?
Jim said the quarterbacks will be live on Friday. What do you want to see from your defensive line now that they can hit them?
“Well, you know, we gotta rush the passer. The reality is you gotta get better against the same color jerseys. That’s the reality. We’ve done a good job, and obviously there’ll be some limitations from what we’re gonna be able to do from a defensive perspective. Which is fine, because you wanna find out who can win the one-on-ones and those kind of things. Gotta go get ‘em!”
MGoQuestion: With guys like Winovich and Kemp, do you see them sticking at End or do think they could also play a little bit at Backer* or Sam?
“I think Winovich and Kemp are both in the right spot. Obviously Carlo’s been here for a short period of time. We fooled around with him standing up a little bit. I think he’s in the right position now. Now it’s just a matter of, you know, like every other freshman he’s got to get his feet wet. He’s got to go through the learning process, and, you know, we’ll let that run its course.
Winovich is playing well at End. Obviously techniques, fundamentals he needs to get better at but we think we got him in the right spot.”
*[Ed-A: It might sound like I’m using a super cool abbreviation for linebacker, but Backer’s a spot in Brown’s defense. See Seth’s great Don Brown glossaries here and here.]
We’ve seen a lot in the last couple years about the defensive line and rotating because they said that they had depth and then by the end of last year there wasn’t as much. How many guys do you trust in that defensive line to rotate?
“Well, we’d like to be seven or eight guys. I mean, you certainly want to be a pair and a spare. You’d like to be up to seven or eight guys, eight if possible.”
What are you at now do you think? That you trust.
“You know, I think we’re approaching that number. I really do. Once we get through summer workouts and get everybody back healthy there plus the influx of the young guys, I think we’ll be just fine.”
Good to work with Brian [Smith] again?
“Yeah, Brian’s a great guy. He was a tremendous player, tremendous leader. Won a national championship as a player and helped me coach a team that went to the national championship game. I still lay awake thinking of Armanti Edwards from App State on occasion [Ed-A: same], but I’m glad to be back with him. He’s a great dude.”