Preview 2015: Wrap

Preview 2015: Wrap

Submitted by Brian on September 3rd, 2015 at 11:08 AM

Hello. You have made it to the end. This year's preview checks in at 42,835 words.

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THE STORY

This Winter Hasn't Been So Rough. The bad man is gone, and a good one is here.

OFFENSE

Quarterback. Dry white toast. Glorious dry white toast. He should really be named "Elwood," though.

Running Back. IT PUTS THE FOOTBALL IN THE HOLE OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN

Wide Receiver. Don't spook the hamstring. In fact, don't even look at it. Or think about it.

Tight End And Friends. You have been moved to tight end as well.

Offensive Line. The nadir has passed. I swear.

5Q5A: Offense. The Harbauffense is, like its progenitor, tough and weird.

DEFENSE

Defensive Tackle. Veterans, and good ones, but not huge ones.

Defensive End. Or buck linebacker. Whatever. Can they get to the quarterback?

Linebacker. Seniors have leadership, which is why they don't join biker gangs.

Cornerback. Half awesome, half frayed thread upon which defense hangs.

Safety. JARROD WILS /is hit by shoe

5Q5A: Defense. It's pretty much the same, except Peppers.

MISCELLANEOUS

Special Teams. Aussie aussie aussie, field goal oy oy oy.

Podcast 7.0. Many people complimented the music selection, probably because I used a Beyonce breakup song.

Heuristics And Stupid Prediction. Could go a lot of ways. I've got 8-4 and "resembles football." Seeya, sludgefart.

ELSEWHERE

Preview at 2.

Holding The Rope comes out of the bunker:

For the first time last year, I found myself getting up during game action to grab something from the kitchen. There was once a time when, once the game started, I did not move from my sitting spot, as if tethered to it for eternity or the end of the game, whichever came first.

Last year, during the Indiana game, I vaguely remember falling asleep during a portion of the third quarter. It was a long week and a dreary day, and even the surprising success of Ann Arbor's own Drake Johnson couldn't fend off a doze.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe I'm getting older. Maybe it was something else: indifference, a dissipation of pointless resolve.

GQ drops a major article on Harbaugh. Hell of a lede:

The Big House, when empty, rises on all sides in limestone gray, like the machine-carved rock walls of a Midwestern quarry; on game days, the sold-out stadium—a hundred rows high, 110,000 fans in maize and blue—becomes the fourth-largest city in the state of Michigan. Here on the field this last official day of spring, 230 high school quarterbacks tune in to a former quarterback and current head coach in a block-M ball cap and a pair of slack khakis, extra-wide. This is Jim Harbaugh, and this is his dominion.

I talked to the author, Daniel Riley, at Frita Batidos one day this summer. Frita being jammed most hours of the day and night, it was loud. Loud to the point I worried that nothing from his tape would be useful. I'm glad it was, because his article reminded me about this part of our conversation about Jim Harbaugh:

“What he says now about football,” Cook says, “is that it’s worth it.”

Football's taken a ton of shit over the past few years because it is dangerous. Harbaugh knows this. I know it. You know it. But I say that life is not lived all at the same rate. Some days and weeks and months shrink away to tiny motes; some hours and minutes and moments expand to fill your consciousness.

Nice high kick, got a little wind under it and he runs Howard back—time inflates, you can pluck a dragonfly hanging in mid-flight in front of you out of the air—LOOK AT THAT oh my goodness ONE MAN GOODBYE HELLO HEISMAN

Football is dangerous. It is dangerous to play, and it is dangerous to love. And it is worth it.

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[Bryan Fuller]

Go Blue.

Preview 2015: Heuristics And Stupid Prediction

Preview 2015: Heuristics And Stupid Prediction

Submitted by Brian on September 2nd, 2015 at 5:43 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker.Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.

Heuristicland

Turnover Margin

NotreDame-Rees-fumble-vs.-Michigan[1]

The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.

Year Margin Int + Fumb + Sacks + Int - Fumb - Sacks -
2007 0.15 (41st) 14 15 2.46(33rd) 14 13 2.17 (67th)
2008 -.83 (104th) 9 11 2.42(33rd) 12 18 1.83 (57th)
2009 -1.00 (115th) 11 5 1.83(68th) 15 13 2.33 (83rd)
2010 -0.77(109th) 12 7 1.38(98th) 15 14 0.85(10th)
2011 +0.54 (25th) 9 20 2.31 (29th) 16 6 1.38 (33rd)
2012 -0.69 (99th) 7 11 1.69 (69th) 19 8 1.38 (28th)
2013 +0.38(33rd) 17 9 1.9 (64th) 13 8 2.77 (109th)
2014 -1.33 (124th) 5 5 2.4 (49th) 18 8 2.2 (63rd)

I'd say there's nowhere to go but up here, but I said that during the Rodriguez era and it never happened. /kicks dirt

But… seriously, this should be a place Michigan gets a ton better. Not only are they replacing Devin Gardner with a guy who had an interception rate a quarter of Gardner's, they had a turnover acquisition rate anomalously low for anybody, let alone a good defense. With a fifth-year senior quarterback this should at least be even and if opponents don't have option of throwing at the wide open guy on most snaps, both sacks and bad idea throws should increase.

Or, you know, they might not. Turnovers are low-incident, high-impact events and sometimes the don't make any sense.

Position Switch Starters

Jibreel Black Ohio State v Michigan 8THB4vo8SwAl[1]

Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.

The dossier:

Braden and Magnuson flip spots. A logical decision given Magnuson's left tackle frame and Braden's issues in pass protection. Braden is an awkward fit as a guard. Concern: moderate.

Poggi and Winovich move to TE. Poggi probably belonged there from the start. Winovich is odd. Speaks to concern about depth at TE. Concern: moderate.

Jeremy Clark moves to CB, Wayne Lyons to safety. Only possible interpretation is that Lyons is bad and they're scrambling a bit at the other corner. Concern: high.

Freddy Canteen moves to CB, sort of. Weird move, also speaks to concern at corner. Concern: high.

Willie Henry to SDE. The positions are similar, Wormley is a capable 3tech, seems to be looking for some extra pass rush. Concern: minimal.

Royce Jenkins-Stone to WDE. With Ojemudia and possibly/probably Lawrence Marshall in front RJS only plays if he's going to do okay. Concern: minimal.

An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt

Worst Case Barring Extreme Injury Scenarios

Michigan has a high-variance schedule this year with few outright tomato cans and few top 25 teams. The top 25 teams are both at home; Michigan has four road games (Utah, Maryland, Minnesota, and Penn State) against teams that project to be decent to good this year. Meanwhile they have a new coach. Many scenarios are plausible.

In the worst case, Michigan's second corner gets torched all year, they can't get to the QB, and the D tops out at the same good-but-not-great level they've been at for the last few years.

On offense, Rudock is a checkdown machine and Michigan is just Iowa instead of a Rich Man's Iowa. The Big Ten is weak and Michigan has a lot of experience and talent, so truly bad records are probably out of the question but it's not too hard to see them dropping two nonconference games and going 4-4 in conference to finish 6-6.

Best Case

On the other hand, there are only two games that particularly alarm. Both of those are at home. OSU is a unanimous number one and is probably intractable given anything short of a miracle, but Brady Hoke played them tight the last two years with teams that were miserable. MSU is good; they have a few leaks this year.

Even if they win one of those there's enough rickety in this boat to assume they drop another game, probably the opener or road games against Minnesota and Penn State. 10-2 could happen.

Final Verdict

I don't really know, man. I do expect a significant and immediate improvement in Michigan's play. They return almost the entire team. They plug Desmond Morgan, Jake Rudock, and Jabrill Peppers into three of the gaps—maybe up to five depending on if Peppers can hack 3-tech.

The only two guys who don't have immediate replacements or even upgrades are Frank Clark and Devin Funchess. Either would be great to have around; because of the way last season developed neither had as much impact on the field as their talent suggested they should.

Even if Brady Hoke was still around this would be a year in which the arrow should point the right way. Turnovers should head the right way. That swing should be large and could be huge. On a down to down basis Michigan was pretty good until their general derp kicked in.

Harbaugh's teams don't derp it much. That is worth a lot.

Residual chaos will still do Michigan in once or twice this year; the potential issue at kicker looms large for a team that figures to play a bunch of low-scoring slugfests. It'll look like football, though. That much we can promise.

OOC
9/3 @ Utah Tossup
9/12 Oregon State Lean to win
9/19 UNLV Must win
9/26 BYU Lean to win
Conference
10/3 @ Maryland Lean to win
10/4 Northwestern Must win
10/11 MSU Lean to loss
10/25 @ Minnesota Tossup
11/1 Rutgers Lean to win
11/8 @ Indiana Must win
11/22 @ Penn State Tossup
11/30 Ohio State Probable loss
Absent:

Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Nebraska

It says 8-4 here.

Five Questions And Five Answers: Defense 2015

Five Questions And Five Answers: Defense 2015

Submitted by Brian on September 2nd, 2015 at 3:52 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.

1. So what is this defense again?

Last year Michigan moved from the 4-3 under they deployed in Mattison's first three seasons in Ann Arbor to a 4-3 over. DJ Durkin seems set to return Michigan to a defense that's going to seem a lot like Mattison's earlier outfits. Whether you call this a 4-3 under or a 3-4 is mostly a semantic issue. However, it's one that's driving me nuts every time a writer for the Wolverine talks about Michigan's forthcoming 3-4 transition.

The disconnect here appears to be based on one spot, the "BUCK". Many, many teams have a fancy name for their weakside end. It often designates a guy who is a LB/DE hybrid:

"Watching film on Dante (Fowler) and experience this position has been a ton of fun," he said. " The BUCK is like the hybrid on the field. You're sometimes standing up and sometimes have your hand in the dirt. Wherever you're at at that position, you're expected to make plays. You gotta get to the quarterback as quickly as you can and make tackles."

fbz3gg1_thumb1[1]Durkin apparently calls his fancy spot the "buck linebacker." Therefore 3-4. Durkin's buck linebacker last year was 6'3", 260 pound Dante Fowler. Fowler almost always rushed the passer from a three-point stance. Sometimes he would drop into coverage or fold back into a run fit.

In this he is exactly—exactly—like what Michigan did with Frank Clark in the under. We even have a mascot for this, Slanty The Gecko. Slanty was inexplicably the first hit in Google Image Search for "line slant football" and has featured in multiple posts that describe Michigan's nominal weakside end going SYKE LINEBACKER MORPH and dropping back as the SAM plunges willy-nilly into the defensive line. Here is an example:

line-shift-2 - Copy

According to Mattison, Michigan did this on maybe 40% of its snaps from a 4-3 in his first year at Michigan. I'd say the BUCK concept is that only more so, but I don't think it can in fact be more so.

To me the real distinction between a 3-4 and a 4-3 is in your interior line. Are your guys planet-shaped gentlemen? Do you have Louis Nix? You're probably running a 3-4. Do you have Ryan Glasgow? You're probably running a 4-3. People will talk about multiple fronts, and Michigan will run multiple fronts. All of those will be efforts to confuse the offense as they inject their DTs into gaps and get penetration.

The upshot: this is not a big change, if it's even a change at all. It is a nomenclature tweak.

[After THE JUMP: additional strategically located Peppers talk.]

Five Questions And Five Answers: Offense 2015

Five Questions And Five Answers: Offense 2015

Submitted by Brian on September 2nd, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams.

1. I bet you're mad because this isn't a spread offense amirite?

I am a spread zealot, it's true. However, I am not crazy. Therefore I am happy that Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan no matter what offense he wants to run.

Meanwhile, the Harbauffense is not a spread but neither is it the old style "expectation is for the position" offense. Harbaugh's offense has a certain reputation…

image

…and it does live up to that. It goes beyond that. Whereas the late Carr offenses tended to drive one thing into the ground over and over until it settled into a 3.4 YPC groove, Harbaugh loves to troll defenses with constant motion, trap blocking, and—yep—spread elements.

The Sugar Bowl demolition of a Virginia Tech team that a year later would hold Brady Hoke's first team under 200 yards of offense is the canonical example of the motion. Stanford shifted, and shifted some more, and continued shifting until grand cracks developed in VT's run fits.

That relies on the opponent screwing up because of your shifts and is not always going to happen… but it does sometimes. After Stanford had blown it open, Harbaugh deployed a play that I've used at various MGoEvents over the past few months. At each it plays like stand-up comedy:

They practiced that, and then used it as a middle finger.

[After THE JUMP: building Rome, explosions, Rudock]

Preview 2015: Special Teams

Preview 2015: Special Teams

Submitted by Brian on September 2nd, 2015 at 11:54 AM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety.

Kicker Yr Punter Yr Kickoffs Yr Punt return Yr Kick return Yr
Kenny Allen Jr* Blake O'Neill Sr* Kenny Allen Jr* Jabrill Peppers Fr* Jabrill Peppers Fr*
Kyle Seychel Fr* Kenny Allen Jr* Andrew David Fr Jehu Chesson Jr* Jehu Chesson Jr*

No coaching upgrade on the team is steeper than special teams. Under Brady Hoke and Dan Ferrigno, Michigan featured adequate kicking and terrible everything else. Their usual MO was one blocked punt against an early tomato can, archaic punt coverage that was terrible even with 11 guys on the field, and return units that did little except take penalties when Dennis Norfleet finally managed to escape from ravenous packs of defenders.

John Baxter's Fresno State teams led the country in blocked kicks over the course of his tenure there—one that overlaps with Virginia Tech at its Beamerball peak—and in his only year at USC took their special teams units from nowhere to 2nd and 4th in the country in blocked punts and kicks, respectively. Special teams is a low data, high variance enterprise but if anyone's got the track record to suggest he's going to make an impact, it's Baxter.

Now about that scholarship kicker…

KICKER

Rating: 2

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The holder becomes the holdee [Fuller]

This is looking hairy all of a sudden. Scholarship freshman ANDREW DAVID was immediately dumped well down the depth chart, and Michigan must turn to the walk-ons that populate any D-I team's kicking roster. One, KENNY ALLEN [hello post], was the heir apparent at punter until John Baxter rolled into town with an Aussie in tow; the other, KYLE SEYCHEL, is a redshirt freshman who fans didn't even know was on the team until fall camp.

Reports out of said camp have been worried. Those coming out of the open practice were mixed, but guys who had been around for more than a few attempts were disquieted. There are reports Michigan is reconsidering their decision to forgo a scholarship guy in the 2016 class. That is not a good sign. Neither is that OR on the depth chart.

"I dunno, is kicker" is always a valid thing to say about kickers you have not seen much of; in this case I'm just hoping for a guy to bang them in from 40 yards and in.

PUNTER

Rating: 5

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wait isn't this guy in twilight or something [Eric Upchurch]

The OR is much more welcoming at this spot. Things are looking just fine at punter despite the departures of both Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Allen has been booming punts in practice for a few years now, and during the Hoke era we saw a lot of punts in practice.

And then there's that imported Aussie. BLAKE O'NEILL [g'day mate post] comes from a land down under where small children carry around football-shaped objects to punt at anything they run across that is poisonous. Everything in Australia is poisonous. (Yes, especially the koalas.) When the survivors reach adulthood, the resulting skills are impressive:

Asked if the 6-foot-2, 215-pound kicker is the type of special teams player who can change a game, Baxter nods, saying, "He's that."

"Listen," he continued, "if you put a trashcan out there 40 yards, he can usually hit it, OK? He's as accurate, and in some cases more accurate than, the quarterbacks."

O'Neill's first year in college football was last year, when he did this at Weber State:

O'Neill finished sixth nationally (Football Championship Subdivision) in punting during the 2014 season at Weber State. He played in all 12 games and averaged 44.1 yards per punt, setting a single-season punting average record for the Wildcats.

O'Neill tallied 62 punts for 2,737 yards with a long of 74 yards. He boomed 18 punts of 50-plus yards and notched 25 boots inside the opposition's 20-yard line. O'Neill ran for a first down on a fake punt and tossed a completion for a first down on another fake.

Are you ready for some punting highlights? Woo!

AUSSIE PUNTS: SKY TERRITORY sounds like a Chuck Norris movie

Not sure if he's going to be able to do the thing where he idles for a couple seconds before he punts at at D-I level, but Michigan now has a special teams coach with a terrific track record. If he can make it so, it will be so.

O'Neill can rugby punt with either foot and his directional kicking skills in the video above are creepy, Orin Incandenza-level stuff. Real life Blake O'Neill probably isn't going to be good as a fictional punter who is the highest paid player in the NFL. Probably.

[After THE JUMP: gratuitously placed Jabrill Peppers highlights designed to make you click through mooohahaha]

Preview 2015: Safety

Preview 2015: Safety

Submitted by Brian on September 1st, 2015 at 4:59 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback.

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we have very reasonable expectations [Fuller]

Free Safety Yr. Strong Safety Yr. Nickelback Yr.
Jarrod Wilson Sr. Jabrill Peppers Fr.* Jabrill Peppers Fr.*
Dymonte Thomas Jr. Delano Hill So.* Wayne Lyons Sr.*
Wayne Lyons Sr.* Jabrill Peppers Fr.* Dymonte Thomas Jr.

So, JARROD WILSON…

shoe-throw-o[1]

Never be too proud to recycle a joke, I say. I know what you animals want. You want the man I've listed on half the depth charts in this preview, most of them at least semi-seriously. You want…

HYBRID SPACE PLAYER: NICKELBACK WITHOUT THE NICKELBACK CONNOTATIONS, YOU KNOW, THE BAND, BOY DOES THAT BAND SUCK THEY'RE JUST NOT GOOD AT MUSIC OR BEING ALIVE

RATING: 4

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[Eric Upchurch]

Everyone all together now: the hybrid space player is a reaction to the spread offense. He must be a triple threat, capable of blitzing, playing the run, and covering. He is very very important. They made Charles Woodson into a hybrid space player right before he was the NFL's defensive MVP, because the NFL is basically a passing spread league:

NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.

Michigan State's lack of appropriate HSPs last year led their defense to get torched by every decent spread they came across, because said spreads would put their #1 receiver in the slot and run 'em at MSU's inexperienced safeties, who were not cornerbacks. This has been your hybrid space player preview review.

So… JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile]. This is a man that has been hyped to the moon. Tellingly, his coaches aren't trying to put the brakes on. They have in fact shoveled on a little more coal. Harbaugh in spring:

"He’s been A-plus, he really has, all spring. He was just out there taking reps. … A lot of times a guy’ll get in the front of a drill, which he would do, but he would go through the repetition of the drill and I’d see him back in the front again and then again. It’s like, ‘Hey, come on. Jabrill Peppers isn’t taking every rep in these drills.’ But that’s the kind of youngster he is."

Harbaugh again in this fall:

"He's been good, he's been all the things that have been advertised about him. He's a tremendous football player."

The spring game indicated that Michigan had in fact built its defense around him playing HSP/nickel/whatever:

Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.

Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.

That was the plan last year as well, but even before he got hurt Michigan was forced to adapt. Press coverage was a disaster in the Notre Dame game and Raymon Taylor was out, so Peppers was delployed as a boundary corner in the Miami (Not That Miami) game. (That's a spot he may resume if things don't go well with Stribling and Clark; he has been repping there a bit this fall.)

Miami did people wishing to have any useful scouting from Peppers's freshman year a favor by going at him over and over again on the usually-sound principle that freshmen seeing their first extended action should be slow-roasted until they can be pulled apart with forks. That didn't go the way the Redhawks thought it might.

They did get one completion on him, that a bullet skinny post against zone that Peppers still got a rake in on. His first extended playing time looked pretty damn exciting, and then his knee locked up and it was goodbye season. There are a ton of fascinating counterfactuals from the last year of Michigan football; "what if Jabrill Peppers is healthy?" is one of the best. Does he end up the starting running back halfway through the season? Does Michigan lose to Rutgers? (A: no.) Does Brady Hoke eke out his job at 7-5?

Anyway. That's in the past.

Also in the past is his high school scouting, but other than a bunch of talk and those clips above it's all we have to go on. Also it is fun to revisit, so let's revisit it.

"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."

Also

USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."

And this player comparison is a damn good one.

"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss.  He is that kind of a player.  Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”

That remains the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or Woodson. Judges will accept either.

I know it's a lot to heap on a dude who's barely seen the field but every indicator from the program is that this gentleman is the real deal both on and off the field. He will start living up to the hype this year.

[After THE JUMP: how many shoes are you wearing stop throwing them]

Preview 2015: Cornerback

Preview 2015: Cornerback

Submitted by Brian on September 1st, 2015 at 1:11 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker.

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[Bryan Fuller]

Boundary Corner Yr. Field Corner Yr. Nickelback Yr.
Channing Stribling Jr. Jourdan Lewis Jr. Jabrill Peppers Fr.*
Jeremy Clark Jr.* Brandon Watson Fr.* Wayne Lyons Sr.*
Wayne Lyons Sr.* Terry Richardson Jr.* Dymonte Thomas Jr.

Peppers, and the nickelback spot in general, are addressed in the safeties section.

This is a spot of unexpected alarm. Michigan gets Jourdan Lewis back off an outstanding sophomore year and expected to pair him with either Blake Countess or Wayne Lyons. The winner of that battle was going to be a fifth year senior with a ton of experience and probably all right. Michigan was confident enough in the outcome of that battle to stick Jabrill Peppers at nickelback and never look back.

Fast forward to now and Countess is at Auburn, Lyons at safety, and the corner opposite Lewis is very much in flux.

But have I told you about Jourdan Lewis? And that the worst case here is probably just throwing Peppers out on the other side?

CORNERBACK

RATING: 4.

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[Fuller]

JOURDAN LEWIS spent a year watching balls scrape over his outstretched fingers.

The long outside completions were also a problem. Not the first one, as Lewis gave Akron's QB about a six-inch window, which he hit:

                                                    ball

                                                     \/

ain't-even-mad2

It's not perfect coverage—ideally Lewis forces the fade route closer to the sideline—but that's a one in a hundred throw from the QB.

He didn't like it much, so he went to the darkest parts of the swamp, seeking out the forbidden knowledge. He had heard Michigan State cornerbacks passed this way. The weird bronze scat they deposited in obscene patterns confirmed it. The hut loomed ahead.

In it, Lewis learned terrible and wonderful things.

When Raymon Taylor got hurt in the Notre Dame game, Lewis moved into the starting lineup. Lewis took a couple of quick pass interference calls—probably due to nerves more than anything else—and then locked down his spot. After ND I said he was "the best CB by some distance" despite the PI calls, and soon after that was not a remotely controversial opinion. Hell, after Lewis picked up a nice PBU in zone coverage Notre Dame decided they were done testing him:

…that was the end of targeting Jourdan Lewis. Literally. The only other UFR mention of him comes when he gets too deep on a zone and Golson dumps it off to a running back for profit. … Lewis committed two silly pass interference penalties on his first two tests and Notre Dame stopped targeting him three minutes into the second quarter.

With Will Fuller showing Blake Countess his own intestines the whole game that could have been interpreted as faint praise. Even if it was intended as such, by the end of the year it was clearly not.

That is Lewis against Michael Thomas, who Todd McShay has as the top available receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. That is probably ridiculous, but Thomas is a very large and leapy man who succumbed to swamp knowledge.

Here's Lewis against Leonte Caroo, the other popular pick for best wide receiver in the Big Ten:

Here's 6'5" Kyle Prater running a fade:

I've got more of these. Lots of them. Against Dres Anderson. Against anybody. Lewis would get beat from time to time because that happens to cornerbacks, but almost never deep and when opponents went at him he was alarming enough that even completions on him sent signals that maybe you should try the other guy.

By Big Ten Media Days, Lewis was on the receiving end of the best compliment a corner can receive

On cornerback Jourdan Lewis: "Our receivers really thought he was pretty good. They said he got his hands on your really early in the route, but they were complaining to the officials all the time too because he never let go. He was messing with them the whole time. That's good if you can get away with it, but it'll probably cost you a couple flags every game also."

…bitching about interference. As a person who has done his fair share of bitching about interference, I can testify that means you have arrived as a cornerback.

This is the bit where I come up with problems, so: Lewis isn't the biggest guy. He could end up with his fair share of flags by the end of the year. There's not much else.

Are you worried that we might see a devolution similar to that of Countess? Doubtful. Countess went from a good, crafty zone corner to a guy exposed by man press coverage. Lewis excelled in that same scheme a year ago. As a bonus, the cornerbacks coach is not a former linebacker who'd never coached the position before.

Lewis just about maxed out expectations for him a year ago and doesn't have that much farther he can go without suddenly becoming Patrick Peterson. He should have another year like 2014, except now everybody knows about him and will avoid him more. Maybe he can aim for more interceptions—to go from a guy who is dangerous because he'll get a PBU to a guy who's dangerous because he will turn you over.

Either way, Lewis will be one of the best corners in the league.

[After THE JUMP: And now for something completely different.]

Preview 2015: Linebacker

Preview 2015: Linebacker

Submitted by Brian on September 1st, 2015 at 11:17 AM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End.

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[Eric Upchurch]

Depth Chart
STRONGSIDE  LB Yr. MIDDLE LB Yr. WEAKSIDE LB Yr.
James Ross Sr. Desmond Morgan Sr.* Joe Bolden Sr.
Allen Gant Jr.* Ben Gedeon Jr. Jared Wangler Fr.*
Jabrill Peppers Fr.* Mike McCray So.* Noah Furbush So.*

This is music to a new defensive coordinator's ear: Michigan sports an all-senior linebacker corps. All have started for multiple years, give or take a hand injury or benching here and there. They've even got a high-quality backup. Senior leadership is out of control, man!

INSIDE LINEBACKER:

RATING: 5

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[Upchurch]

Approximately the fourth-best* thing to happen to the 2015 team's chances over the last year was DESMOND MORGAN breaking his hand after the first game of the season. That didn't have much impact on where 2014 went; it gives this year's team a three-year starter to slot in the Jake Ryan-shaped hole at middle linebacker.

By this point you're probably tired of me extolling Morgan's virtues, and since he didn't do much last year other than fall behind Joe Bolden just long enough for me to eat a lemon this is going to be a rehash.

Morgan is a heady, athletic enough, stick-em tackler who's been yelling at the rest of the front seven to get in the correct spot for a few years now. He is your proverbial quarterback of the defense. That role will probably be lessened this year since the entire front seven consists of upperclassmen, but expect him to thwack Lawrence Marshall and maybe Mo Hurst should the need arise. Mike Spath got a great quote about Morgan's ability in that department:

On U-M's linebackers: "We played them two years ago and the guy that everyone seemed to listen to was [Desmond] Morgan. Those guys are invaluable. Everyone respects them.

"Last year, you didn't hear a lot of talk from the middle linebacker. I don't think Jake Ryan was a talker. He just wanted to do his own thing. He was very good at it, but he wasn't that guy in the middle of a defense that was taking care of the other 10 guys on the field."

When called into duty to make a tackle, he brings the wood.

During the 2014 Minnesota game he uncorked this ridiculous thing where he flew in on a blitz, had to leap over a guy, kept his feet, held up two blockers, and helped stuff a third and short.

When he's not making eye-popping plays he's keeping things going down-to-down. The one glimpse at him we got last year was enough for me to bring out a Picture Pages about Morgan's LB instincts.

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Morgan found himself in a bad stop here, taking on a free releasing lineman in a bunch of space. He popped that OL back; the RB ran into said OL, and Michigan saved some yards.

When Jake Ryan faced the exact same situation later on that drive, he tried to make a spectacular play. His attempt to teleport around that OL was an instinct that served him well as a chaos-sowing SAM linebacker; when moved to MLB that instinct meant he didn't delay the back at all. Instead of six yards, Michigan gave up 11.

That's Morgan in a nutshell. He will hit guys hard and funnel back to his help and drop into his zone. He'll make it difficult for a QB to get a completion on him; he'll make it difficult for a running back to get YAC on him; he'll make it difficult for an OL to stay attached to him. He's not going to turn in Ryan's Tarzan plays, but you don't have to do that to be a great middle linebacker.

As David Harris demonstrated, MLB is a thinking man's spot. Harris was just about flawless with his reads, and his understanding of the game extended to ways to get off blocks without even taking them—one of his trademarks was in effect juking OL by momentarily fighting to one side of a block and then cutting back once the OL took a false step. Morgan had some moments like that a year ago:

Do that consistently and you get to be David Harris too.

Morgan's coverage is good. Very rarely does he vacate big tracts of land, as both Ryan and Bolden were prone to last year. He of course saved Michigan's bacon in the 2013 UConn game (for all the good that did them in the long run) with a leaping spear of an interception. Add it up and you get a 2013 UFR in extended, trying circumstances that looks like a guy who is on the verge of stardom:

Game Opponent + - TOT Note
1 CMU 4 0.5 3.5 Crunch crunch bang bang
2 Notre Dame 7.5 4.5 3 Coped pretty well in coverage. Responsible for both EZ deflections.
3 Akron 6 3.5 2.5 Negative coverage number should be factored in here.
4 UConn 6.5 3.5 3 Saved the game.
5 Minnesota 11 3 8 First real test this year passed easily.
6 Penn State 9.5 4 4.5 Rough start, strong finish.
7 Indiana 4.5 2.5 2 Blitzed effectively.
8 MSU 5.5 4 1.5 Okay.
9 Nebraska 5 4.5 0.5 Blew one TFL big. Otherwise solid.
10 Northwestern 6 5 1 Drawn in by some misdirection.
11 Iowa 1 - 1 Pulled early with injury.

UFR is tough on linebackers, so anything above zero is good. To consistently go over it over the course of a season, generally on heavy usage is very difficult.

The main drawback here is explosiveness. Morgan doesn't rack up TFLs and sacks; he's not great at getting to the quarterback on blitzes. (Run blitzes, on the other hand, he is excellent at, especially on short yardage.) He is not the kind of athlete that is going to make the NFL salivate.

But there are few guys I'd rather have on third and one. Morgan should reprise his 2013 with some incremental improvements. That would make him an All Big Ten level guy even if the lack of fancy stats prevents that from happening in real life.

*[Your top three are Dave Brandon late night email sessions, Harbaugh, and Jake Rudock's transfer.]

[After THE JUMP: seniors are made of leadership]

Preview 2015: Defensive End

Preview 2015: Defensive End

Submitted by Brian on August 31st, 2015 at 4:57 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle.

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[Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

STRONG DE Yr. NOSE TACKLE Yr. 3-TECH Yr. WEAK DE Yr.
Chris Wormley Jr.* Ryan Glasgow Jr.* Willie Henry Jr.* Mario Ojemudia Sr.
Taco Charlton Jr. Maurice Hurst So.* Matt Godin Jr.* Lawrence Marshall Fr.*
Tom Strobel Jr.* Brady Pallante Fr.* Jabrill Peppers Fr.* Royce Jenkins-Stone Sr.

Whether Michigan's DJ Durkin defense is a 3-4 or a 4-3 is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder says it's a 4-3 under again with a weakside end who is a bit more likely to line up in a two point stance or drop into coverage than before. But he's still Dante Fowler, who's a dang end.

Adam did yeoman work with Royce Jenkins-Stone to get some kind of confirmation of this. First:

In your words, describe the Buck position in coach Durkin’s defense.

“Uh…exciting. Exciting.”

Hmm. Not quite specific enough.

Is it fair to say that it’s essentially a stand-up defensive end who can also do the things a linebacker might do?

“Yeah.”

Okay.  Maybe we can get him to say more than one word at a time.

So you’re going to rush the passer and drop into coverage too?

“Yes, and I’m going to put my hand in the dirt, too. Just depends on the type of formation.”

/confetti drops from sky

So we'll leave these previews as they are. Michigan's running Mattison's defense from the first three years. It's not like any of the DTs are liable to be unmovable two-gap mountains anyway.

By the way, this is the most alarming bit of the defense, and it's not all that alarming.

WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END/"BUCK" LINEBACKER

Rating: 3

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Ojemudia is still learning how to smile [Eric Upchurch]

Michigan has no proven options and only one guy who's got much touted-recruit upside left, but they should have someone who's at least solid. Prepare thyself for the last Ojemudia Death Stare Compilation.

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OJEMUDIA DEATH STARE 2015

MARIO OJEMUDIA is now a senior and is nominally ahead of the pack at WDE. This is going to be a platoon unless someone emerges; the bet here is that Ojemudia drives his coaches less crazy, especially early, and gets the most at-bats. He's seen the field on the regular for three straight years now, ascending to a starting spot once Frank Clark got booted. In that time he established that he's not the kind of tailback-leaping, OL-discarding athlete Clark was, but he's got his share of assets.

Ojemudia's a smart, disciplined player. He's excellent at splitting the difference on zone reads; by doing that he prevents them from escaping outside and remains relevant.

Multiple times last year he was the guy the zone is supposed to read and he made the tackle. That's good eats. Against Maryland he was heady enough to make a critical fourth and short stop when the Terrapins rushed to the line for one of those catch-you-off-guard QB sneaks. In general, whenever Clark would do something that caused his coaches to pull their hair out they'd throw Ojemudia out there for a bit and he would get that particular assignment correct.

Pass rush is the thing everyone is worried about. I neither can or want to dispel that entirely. Ojemudia did not have the same kind of impact Frank Clark did. (As the NFL reaction to Clark indicates, his stats badly underrated his play. Clark was robbed of a ton of sacks by poor lanes from the DTs and bad coverage by Blake Countess.) On occasion last year his lack of size and strength saw him blown down the line or pancaked in a way that Clark never suffered, because Clark was 280.

But he's not a total non-entity. He had 3.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs; not a bad total for a guy who spent much of the season locked behind a really good player. When he did emerge into a starter he made a reasonable impact:

He had another sack against Northwestern, and got a shout out from either Maryland or Ohio State in Mike Spath's annual Big Ten Media Day column:

On Michigan's defensive linemen: "The best kid they had was the kid that took over for Frank Clark [Mario Ojemudia]. We knew next to nothing about him because he was only getting 10-15 snaps per game and wasn't doing much but he was really hard to block and was in our backfield a lot. …

"I don't know what the plan is for him this year but [Ojemudia] is the guy that I think can be really good."

Chatter has actually focused on the two other guys competing for this spot, and both of them will play. The most likely outcome here is a platoon featuring Exciting Guy and Boring Guy; I don't know who Exciting Guy is. I do know who Boring Guy is.

And that's fine. Ojemudia's kind of like a defensive end version of Jake Rudock. That's a worse deal at DE, were a "game manager" is just a guy who doesn't pressure the QB much. But it's not the worst thing.

[After THE JUMP: Ghostly promise and a large man]

Preview 2015: Defensive Tackle

Preview 2015: Defensive Tackle

Submitted by Brian on August 31st, 2015 at 1:18 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line.

Depth Chart
STRONG DE Yr. NOSE TACKLE Yr. 3-TECH Yr. WEAK DE Yr.
Chris Wormley Jr.* Ryan Glasgow Jr.* Willie Henry Jr.* Mario Ojemudia Sr.
Taco Charlton Jr. Maurice Hurst So.* Matt Godin Jr.* Lawrence Marshall Fr.*
Tom Strobel Jr.* Bryan Mone So. Jabrill Peppers Fr.* Royce Jenkins-Stone Sr.

Depth chart shows everybody just because.

The loss of Bryan Mone to injury hurts a depth chart that was looking quite excellent. They've still got a very solid two deep featuring two returning starters, the breakout guy from the spring game, and Matt Godin. With limited exceptions, those two starters were very good a year ago until Willie Henry got laid up with injury; this year they could be excellent.

The one catch here is because of Mone's absence. Without him, Michigan does not have a planetoid-style DT. Henry is a big dude but more of an explodes-in-either-direction kind of a guy; everyone else is decidedly a one-gap style of player. Michigan is going to have to play a lot of games when the backups are in, and might have some issues holding up against power that is powerful.

NOSE TACKLE: THAT'S SIR GLASGOW TO YOU

Rating: 4

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Glasgow, right, exceeded all expectation [Bryan Fuller]

This got a 3 last year despite the fact that a walk-on had apparently locked the job down; that might have been pessimistic. By midseason RYAN GLASGOW had been awarded the Order Of St. Kovacs, indicating that his former walk-on status should no longer factor into any projections of his ability. Hell, by game two I was proclaiming him a major factor in Notre Dame's 53 yards rushing:

Glasgow was a penetrating, disruptive presence. Here he rips to the hole on a goal line play and just about gets a TFL:

That deserved better than a 1.5 yard gain after he nearly brought the back down in the backfield. Here he slants to the backfield effectively, forcing the back into traffic:Here he's got a full on double the whole play and puts it in the backfield, forcing a cutback.

Watching Glasgow clips from last year, his ability to zip through a gap and then actually do something jumps out. He's at his best when he's popping up in an unexpected gap.

A lot of nose tackles can get into that gap when the center goes to the second level without a bump; not many get all the way around the guard to make the tackle themselves.

Glasgow was also good at standing up single blocks. Sometimes it was at the line; sometimes he got a yard or two of depth to prevent cutbacks. He was adept at swatting his way through attempted momentary combos:

Consistently disruptive and hard to keep blocked, Glasgow was probably the most important part of Michigan's excellent run defense a year ago. I know the above clip is Indiana and thus prone to dismissal, but remember that Tevin Coleman guy? Yeah, Indiana could run the ball a bit last year.

One thing Glasgow is not is a pure 3-4 nose tackle. When opponents doubled him, one of two things generally happened: 1) he ripped one guy away and shot through a gap because it wasn't an extended double or 2) they both latched on and got motion on him.

Asking him to play a zero tech isn't going to go so well. Not many teams Michigan faced were able to take advantage of the fact Glasgow isn't a 330 pound man-mountain, but the two that did were kind of important: MSU and OSU. Glasgow in fact got yanked from big chunks of the MSU game because he just could not hold up against the Spartans mean and very good interior OL.

The other main issue with Glasgow's game seems fixable and was partially scheme-based anyway: pass rush. A lot of teams will leave their nose tackle on screen duty. He'll occupy a blocker or two with a token rush that keeps him near the line of scrimmage in case it's a trap. Glasgow got some of that duty a year ago. He also had a bunch of plays on which he attempted to get to the QB, and the results there weren't great. Glasgow wasn't so much as credited with half a sack last year. I know he got at least one because he had a sack/strip/recovery against Indiana (Michigan hasn't issued sacks for forced fumbles for a couple years now); one is still not many. Literally.

Given Glasgow's ability to warp past OL the lack of pass rush is a bit of a puzzle; that has undoubtedly been an offseason focus for him. If the 2015 edition of Ryan Glasgow can add a reasonable amount of that to his repertoire he'll go from Michigan fan's best-kept secret to a man of wider renown.

[After THE JUMP: Ogre, take two]