Preview 2016: Wrap

Preview 2016: Wrap Comment Count

Brian September 2nd, 2016 at 3:59 PM

j2sMvgV[1]

Hello. You have made it to the end. This year's preview checks in at 54,543 words.

THE STORY

No Dress Rehearsal. When will then be now? Now.

OFFENSE

Quarterback. Eh, it'll be fine.

Running Back. Wild Thing, now with glasses?

Wide Receiver. African refugee special in 3… 2… 1…

Tight End And Friends. Jake Butt's vacuum hands and some Kaiju.

Offensive Line. Middling is the bet, but Drevno effect?

5Q5A: Offense. There is a schematic advantage and it will be felt this year.

DEFENSE

Defensive End. In Soviet Russia—[is sacked]

Defensive Tackle. Hahahahahah oh my God you guys.

Linebacker. Peppers Peppers Peppers. Release the McCrayken.

Cornerback. All-American and friends

Safety. When the weight comes down.

5Q5A: Defense. Just the sacks, ma'am.

MISCELLANEOUS

Special Teams. Kenny Allen is the Peppers of special teams.

Podcast 8.0. Stop 30 seconds from the end.

Heuristics and Stupid Prediction. Predicting 12-0 is an act of bravado and unserious.

ELSEWHERE

Genuinely Sarcastic posits Harbaugh as the counter-revolution in a post that you should really read:

A wise old political science professor once taught me that there are eight stages to a revolution:

  1. The existence of preconditions
  2. Fall of the old order
  3. The honeymoon phase
  4. Rule of the moderates
  5. A counter-revolution
  6. Rise of the radicals
  7. The reign of terror
  8. The Thermidor

The list very obviously follows the blueprint of the French Revolution - which makes sense, since most revolutions since the French Revolution have tried to follow that same blueprint.

Gazing back at the last 10 years or so of Michigan football, I see vague parallels that I the historian naturally blow out of proportion to try and make my point. I have to shuffle the order and tweak some things, but I think it fits, more or less.

Holdin' The Rope:

Each season begins with its own set of expectations, a reasonable subset of all possibilities. For Michigan, that subset was limited indeed for some time.

Now, though, the whole playbook of expectation is in play. The Jabrill Peppers carry is as much a part of it all as the handoff to De'Veon Smith or the deep throw to Jehu Chesson. Nothing is out of play, too farfetched, too crazy.

If this all sounds hyperbolic, well, maybe it is. But why hold back when it's so plainly obvious?

Robin Wright in the New Yorker:

In 1975, I moved to Mozambique, then a scenic colony on the Indian Ocean, where a ten-year guerilla war was ending a half millennium of Portuguese rule and, in turn, igniting challenges to white-minority regimes across southern Africa. It was a historic time, and I needed a telephone to report on it. Impossible, the post, telephone, and telegraph agency told me—the waiting list was nine years long. I worked through layers of bureaucracy at its headquarters—pleading, cajoling, pressing, and flirting—until I found someone who spoke English with an American accent. He, too, said no. I was about to leave his office when, in one last stab, I noted his accent and asked where he had learned English. “The University of Michigan,” he said. Bingo. I told him I was an Ann Arbor girl, born, raised, and educated.

“If you can sing ‘Hail to the Victors,’ ” he replied, skeptically, “I’ll give you a phone.” I stood on a chair and belted out the Michigan fight song. Then we talked Michigan football. He handed me a phone. I never got a bill, even when I turned the clunky black phone back in.

------------------------------

Just under a year ago I stepped out of my car and began my walk to my family's tailgate. The buzz of low-flying craft trailing banners was in the air. I smiled ear to ear like Jim Harbaugh at the spring game. The unusually cool morning had the tang of fall in the air. Every year this is my favorite time, the ritual before you enter your section and see that great bowl—the greatest anywhere—filling with people.

Last year's walk was the best. Forgive me if you think this unkind, but I thought about the fact that the Michigan fanbase had rose as one to eject Dave Brandon from its midst. I thought about Jim Harbaugh's walk. Just a few weeks before in Chicago he'd told the assembled press that his walk was Bo's walk. Told them the actual streets, all the better to stalk him by. And I thought about how one of these things led to the other, how the shape of the Michigan thing that led to the ejection also led Harbaugh back home where he plans to coach and die, God willing and the creek don't rise.

Several years earlier I'd been furious as the shape of the Michigan thing ate itself under Rich Rodriguez and then reaped its reward, so this is a double-edged sword. Hubris always wins eventually. But we've been down. We've been scuffed up, yelling more at each other than anyone else. If there's any hubris left after dead last in TFLs allowed and unable to either protect a guy with a concussion or prevent that story from turning into a week-long fiasco it's hardier than a cockroach. There's certainly none in this program, which is pushing every possible advantage it could ever have and working its fingers to the bone.

This has been a Queensbury's rules kind of program. No longer. Now we take the lessons learned at the bottom and shiv our way to the top.

15236640993_b0414d8a6b_z

[Bryan Fuller]

Go Blue.

Comments

Preview 2016: Heuristics And Stupid Prediction

Preview 2016: Heuristics And Stupid Prediction Comment Count

Brian September 2nd, 2016 at 3:06 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense. 5Q5A: Defense.

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)
2015 -0.31 (92nd) 10 2 2.5 (32nd) 10 6 1.4 (28th)

2015 was nothing like the other new-coach uptick in recent history. Michigan recovered and absurdly low 2 fumbles in 2015; Brady Hoke's first team hopped on 20. With very similar pass rush numbers that's just damned bad luck.

With De'Veon Smith back fumbles lost should remain low. Interceptions are an open question with a new QB and new left tackle. Takeaways should increase as Michigan moves to more zone, specifically sneaky disguised zones, and because of dumb luck on the fumbles. I'd be surprised if this doesn't end up in the top 30, except I'm never surprised by turnover numbers since they're so low sample.

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:

Chris Wormley to three-tech. Half the time he'll be playing SDE and he's already displayed an ability to play the spot. Concern level: zero.

Maurice Hurst to three-tech. His best spot. Concern level: zero.

Mason Cole to center. Also his best spot. Concern level: zero.

Jabrill Peppers to SAM. This is mostly a relabeling of his previous position and an acknowledgement of modern football. Concern level: zero.

Taco Charlton and Chase Winovich to WDE. Charlton actually moved their last year and got a few starts in. I'm not concerned about that. Winovich as a position-switch top backup who will see time is less than ideal. There have been some reports that he gets edged fairly routinely. But he is the backup. Concern level: slight.

And that's it. This is the fewest number of significant moves in the history of this preview series. It's basically Winovich, the end.

An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt

Worst Case Barring Extreme Injury Scenarios

There aren't many games on the schedule that will be single digit spreads for Michigan. They're favored at MSU and Iowa and only a significant dog at Ohio State; while they could stub their toe against PSU or Wisconsin both of those teams are taking new QBs on the road behind shaky offensive lines. Indiana looms because #CHAOSTEAM, but after seeing last night I'm guessing their offense takes a big step back.

They could lose the three big road games. 9-3.

Best Case

Michigan has more talent than anyone they face. Only Ohio State can argue otherwise, and they've got to replace a zillion starters. If they slip up 12-0 feels way more likely than it should.

Final Verdict

This team will be a national championship contender. Michigan is stacked everywhere except OL, LB, and QB. Those slots project to be average-ish, not season-ending debacles. Meanwhile, the schedule…

OOC
9/3 Hawaii Must win
9/10 Central Florida Must win
9/17 Colorado Must win
Conference
9/24 Penn State Must win
10/1 Wisconsin Must win
10/8 @ Rutgers Must win
10/22 Illinois Must win
10/29 @ MSU Lean to win
11/5 Maryland Must win
11/12 @ Iowa Lean to win
11/19 Indiana Must win
11/26 @ Ohio State Tossup
Absent:

Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska

…is super pliable.

Here's where I talk about combinatorial mathematics and how it's impossible to predict 12-0 seriously. Let's assume 3-0 in the nonconference. If Michigan has a 90% chance to win every conference game, the chance they go undefeated is 39%. Michigan does not have a 90% chance to win every conference game. There's literally no team in the country you should ever predict goes 12-0. Connelly's S&P rankings think that no team is even 50% likely to go 11-1.

This is why it's stupid to predict 12-0. I've never done it and never will, probably. Predicting 12-0 is an act of bravado not rooted in facts.

12-0.

Comments

Preview 2016: Five Questions And Five Answers On Offense

Preview 2016: Five Questions And Five Answers On Offense Comment Count

Brian September 2nd, 2016 at 12:09 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker.Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams.

1. Does Michigan have a decided schematic advantage and should I sue you for making me ask that question?

Last year's edition of this post had a question about how Harbaugh's ultra-manball ways fit in an increasingly spread world. Despite my long history of spread zealotry I was pretty sanguine. Harbaugh had a fantastic track record and when I went over some of his Stanford-era games and a couple things stood out. One was yes, this:

image

The other was that in certain ways the Harbaughffense and spread stuff ended up at the same place despite taking diametrically opposite paths to get there:

Harbaugh's offenses put mental pressure on the opposition in a way that previous manball offenses at Michigan did not. This came up constantly during the Al Borges's tenure; I said that having to dodge a safety near the line of scrimmage sucked while Borges's defenders said they'd take it all day and twice on Saturday. It's clear that Harbaugh is in the former category. Like spread offenses, Harbaugh loves to screw with opposition safeties.

Rich Rodriguez did that by playing 11-on-11 on the ground with Denard Robinson. Harbaugh does it by whiplashing the opposition between jumbo sets and four-wide, by flooding the field with big guys safeties have to get around, by constantly screwing with their keys, and by adding new stuff on the regular.

Last year's UFRs were a ton of fun to do because every week Michigan would come out with a new package of plays I hadn't seen before. The sheer diversity of Michigan's ground game fairly boggled the mind, and I say this as a person who has broken down six or seven seasons of pro style offense. Hell, Harbaugh changed offenses across the league. Michigan started facing down trap blocking at a far higher rate than they ever had before.

UFRs pretty quickly picked up a section about the "Stanfordization" of the offense that detailed the tweaks and new packages I picked up on weekly. After Maryland:

The most obvious new wrinkle was the T set, which Michigan used a couple different ways. A counter iso play was successful when Isaac was not fumbling:

The two ILBs went to entirely the wrong hole, buying Michigan a free blocker, and if the Kalis block had gone a little better Isaac is one on one with the last guy for six points. Harbaugh's ability to buy back the extra defender you have to deal with when you aren't running the spread is a consistent theme so far this year; this is yet another example.

Northwestern had been super successful with aggressive linebackers when they rolled into Ann Arbor, and Michigan had a number of plays that made them pay for it:

I did appreciate the Kerridge fullback dive. Here is the play just before it. Watch the linebackers.

Here is the dive. Linebackers again.

That play exploited the blitz-ball mentality to spring a big gain. It also gave us a brilliant still shot demonstrating how weird this offense is to players born and raised on the spread:

Kerr_4.0[1][5]

"Wait… he's got the ball? Can they even DO that?"

And I loved Harbaugh's ability to see what his team lacked and game plan around it. This was especially validating against Penn State. A few years ago the infamous 27 for 27 game featured snap after snap on which Michigan ignored the fact that Penn State was playing ten yards off Jeremy Gallon; in Harbaugh's first year he felt his OL was a bad matchup:

So this game was… okay.

It was. The default thing that happened seemed to be this:

And, like, I'll take it.

There weren't actually as many of those as it felt like there were. Michigan threw 8. Those picked up 48 yards, a solid 6 per attempt. One was called back on a ridiculous block below the waist call. One could easily have drawn a block in the back call on Perry.

Those eight screens had a minimum gain of three, that on second and four, and picked up four first downs. They also opened up a couple of actual runs when PSU had to get serious about putting their linebackers over slot receivers. They were successful and easy. PSU's defense wanted to give those yards up, and Michigan took them.

I love that Harbaugh is clear eyed enough to work around the limitations of his team—also a major theme against OSU. He doesn't think "the expectation is for the position," he thinks "we're going to get overrun, let's do something about it."

Michigan's offense was a rock paper scissors winner under Harbaugh. I had the UFR RPS metric positive in 11 games with slight negatives against Northwestern and Indiana, and that hasn't happened in a while. They've been pounded over and over in that metric (and everywhere else) by MSU; that was a slight win. And this is just the first, most screwup-prone version of the Harbauffense.

There's a reason he built Stanford into rushing powerhouse with a bunch of three star guys. Not only is Harbaugh a smart and creative football mind, but he surrounds himself with other guys like that. How many offensive coordinators does Michigan have? Three, maybe four. Harbaugh is one. Drevno is one. Jedd Fisch is one. Nick Baumgardner had an excellent article last year describing the way this works in practice:

"It's unique (compared) to what I've done before," Fisch said Wednesday. "But it's something I would always do from now on."

Instead of designating one person to serve as the team's chief offensive play caller, or limit the discussion to himself and one other coach, Harbaugh keeps an open dialogue going with his entire offensive staff from snap-to-snap on the sidelines during game days.

That is terrific.

So yes, Michigan can expect to win coaching battles now. Not every last one, but most of them. Lloyd Carr didn't even try to do this—congratulations to Mike Debord on narrowly escaping his nemesis last night by scoring 13 regulation points—and Brady Hoke was incapable of it. (RichRod was pretty good at it but let's not open that can of worms again.) They have a decided schematic advantage.

[After THE JUMP: QB theme fight, Smith sustainability, OL panic]

Comments

Preview 2016: Special Teams

Preview 2016: Special Teams Comment Count

Brian September 1st, 2016 at 4:47 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety.

21633577284_29261ec013_z

[Eric Upchurch]

Depth Chart

Kicker Yr Punter Yr Kickoffs Yr Punt return Yr Kick return Yr
Kenny Allen Sr* Kenny Allen Sr* Kenny Allen Sr* Jabrill Peppers So* Chris Evans Fr.
Quinn Nordin Fr Quinn Nordin Fr Quinn Nordin Fr Jourdan Lewis Sr. Jehu Chesson Sr.*

John Baxter fled back to California after one Michigan winter and will get what's coming to him in the next ice age. Baxter is a uniquely good special teams coach and there wasn't an obvious replacement available; also Rashan Gary existed. So Michigan promoted Chris Partridge to a full-fledged assistant spot and split special teams duties between him and Jay Harbaugh.

There's probably going to be a dropoff in effort applied. Last year Michigan took timeout in a squib situation so they could insert Dymonte Thomas; they lined him up at the spot a squib should go and lo, he returned it to midfield. If that creativity persists it's evidence Harbaugh is pushing every available angle. I don't expect it to. John Baxter appeared to be a rare commodity: a difference-making special teams coach.

Even so, this should be a strength.

KICKER

Rating: 4

22657699359_e2297f4039_z

[Bryan Fuller]

The dread was palpable last year when scholarship freshman Andrew David wasn't even in the conversation. A couple of walk-ons vied for the job and were by all accounts somewhere between vexing and terrible. So of course when KENNY ALLEN locked the spot down he hit 18/22, with one miss a bad snap and a second due in large part to a downright supernatural gust of wind that pushed a probable make wide. Allen was also 46/46 on PATs.

The catch, such as it is, is that Allen rarely attempted a field goal from outside 40 yards. Just six of his attempts were in the zone of mild difficulty; he went 3/6. He did hit a 47 yarder and he's a booming punter so the leg strength is likely there.

Even if Allen is unproven at longer distances, I will take a #collegekicker who is near-automatic from 40 and in every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Some additional range is the only improvement required.

If that range is not forthcoming, QUINN NORDIN [recruiting profile] also lurks. Harbaugh is uncomfortable with having Allen take every last kicking duty so it's possible Nordin gets some longer kicks. If Michigan does decide to spread the load out, kickoffs are a more likely deployment for Nordin.

PUNTER

Rating: 4.

10225985685_399670efaf_z

[Bryan Fuller]

KENNY ALLEN, yes that Kenny Allen, figures to win this job too. Allen in fact came to Michigan a punter, and a booming one at that. He's had two punts in games, both of which went 50+ yards, and since Brady Hoke's reaction to "you have to have an open practice" was to turn it into a special teams exhibition your author has seen Allen punt a ton. He's really good. He could challenge Will Hagerup and Monte Robbins for the all-time gross average, which currently sits at 45 yards even.

One department that figures to have a decline is pooch punting. Blake O'Neil's feathery touch on punts inside the ten was remarkable and unlikely to be repeated by any non-Aussie. When I caught Michgian's open practice at Ford Field, Andrew David was tasked with that nose-down pooch punting stuff that's all the rage. David's left the team since; that might signify Allen's not great at pinning the opposition deep.

QUINN NORDIN is also an option here.

Comments

Preview 2016: Safeties

Preview 2016: Safeties Comment Count

Brian September 1st, 2016 at 2:53 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback.

image

This post is also sponsored by XFINITY, which does not have any rockets or landers or even probes because, as it has been carefully explained to me, they are cable company. If you're on on-campus student they'll let you stream live sports and other shows for free on your phone, tablet, or moon lander you can rent from XFINITY I guess you have to get from NASA.

Off campus students can get both TV and internet for $79.99 a month. Adults and adult-type persons (you know who you are) can get the X1 system and its voice-activated remote which is just like Hal 9000 AND THEREFORE XFINITY IS A SPACE COMPANY AFTER ALL.

It's not.

Bolded alter-ego, sometimes I just…

Can we get on with the preview?

FINE

25786758350_3568acde99_z

[Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

Free Safety Yr. Strong Safety Yr. Nickelback Yr.
Dymonte Thomas Sr. Delano Hill Sr. Jabrill Peppers So.*
Tyree Kinnel So. Khaleke Hudson Fr. Jourdan Lewis Sr.
Josh Metellus Fr. Jabrill Peppers So.* Brandon Watson So.*

The Pax Wilsonica is over and Michigan moves into a less boring era, for better or worse. While the depth here gets scary quickly, Michigan returns two guys who were prominent contributors to a very good secondary. Both are touted recruits and seniors; both played better than they might be getting credit for. I was actually surprised at how many good things I had clipped and how few bad things there were other than the ones that stand out in memory.

Both starters are going to have a tougher job than they did a year ago as Michigan moves away from one super deep safety most of the time. They'll have to cover guys man to man, make checks, that sort of thing. So far, so good? When Delano Hill isn't trying to punch the ball out from behind, yes.

FREE SAFETY

RATING: 4.

We're splitting the safety designation into defined "free" and "strong" halves instead of a single unified section. This would have been mandatory if DJ Durkin was still around since Jarrod Wilson and Not Jarrod Wilson were deployed very differently a year ago; since Don Brown will mix in one-high coverages with a designated FS, it's still appropriate.

So. For years this space called Jarrod Wilson a boring safety. We barely ever saw him on the screen because he was doing his job. When he did see him it was generally fine. He made tackles. He did not separate receivers from the ball or intercept passes or force fumbles. He was there to put out fires, not start them. Now he's gone, and more interesting times may beckon.

22039513593_f5fa1cf756_z (1)

[Patrick Barron]

That's because DYMONTE THOMAS is still a bit of a wild card after a career that's been frustrating in more ways than one so far. Thomas was a high school linebacker and running back who Michigan first played at nickel, then at one safety spot, then another, then back to nickel, etc. Webb discussed the situation before last season:

The issue for him has been the fact that he's been moved around so consistently and hasn't been focused or told to focus on only one position.

Despite having no business on a football field as a freshman he set his redshirt on fire blocking a punt against Central Michigan; meanwhile the positional switching and Thomas's rawness made his brief cameos depressing. Last year's preview slotted him as a backup and mostly focused on various goofs, bemoaned the redshirt, and clucked about player development:

This kind of errant run fill isn't something we've seen from Wilson or Hill.

For big portions of last year it looked like he didn't quite know what he was seeing. He'd run a zone, see nobody anywhere near him, and just kind of stand around instead of trying to adapt his coverage to the situation. … He's far behind the other guys when it comes to understanding what the defense is trying to accomplish.

That take held for half the year. Against Oregon State, Thomas had a huge bust on a tunnel screen that could have resulted in a touchdown against a team better than the Beavers. Then he disappeared for three games. When he re-emerged it was in garbage time against Maryland and Northwestern; he played well enough for a couple of Delano Hill issues to open the door for live-fire snaps.

He did unreasonably well with them. One of my primary memories of Thomas's 2015 was that time he got shook big time against Minnesota in his first extended playing time:

I was prepared to talk about how his coverage was a mixed bag as a result. It wasn't. After this play, which I issued an excessively harsh –3 (it's –2, easy completion but he does tackle immediately) I didn't have a coverage minus for him the rest of the year.

And he was tested with some frequency. He's in press man to the top of the field on this play:

To try to chuck one receiver, have to bail to the other guy, and then have the speed to catch up is impressive. A better throw is probably a completion there, but to even be in a position to contest a reasonably good one is something not a lot of safeties can manage. Thomas drove on outs and shoved fades into the sideline and impressively mirrored wheels (while picking up ridiculous PI flags) and raked out near completions and on this play I misclassified him as Jourdan Lewis until I saw it for the third time:

Strange but true: Dymonte Thomas was good in coverage last year.

In addition to burgeoning man-to-man skills, Thomas has capital-R Range. He's always been fast as hell. See that punt block that burned his redshirt:

9650948388_2a476b928d_o[1]

Not only does that hit his foot, it hits his foot before the punter can even strike it.

Late last year his newfound knowledge of what direction to go finally saw that speed start paying off. If you hesitate slightly even go routes down the sidelines become dangerous:

Thomas was lined up on the near hash on that one. In the spring game he intercepted a reasonably well thrown ball in the corner of the endzone despite being in the dead center of the field:

Jarrod Wilson does not make either of those plays. Thomas could have five or so interceptions if he carries that kind of thing over to 2016.

Even some of Thomas's bad plays were kind of good. There was that interception against Minnesota that not only clanged off his hands but went directly to a Gopher WR, and he managed to jet through a bunch of traffic against Rutgers only to turn a TFL into… not that:

I liked that ability to pick through traffic but not the missed tackle, and there were a couple other instances of bad play against the run. Shannon Brooks spun through another tackle attempt in the Minnesota game, and I thought Thomas overran the one long run Rutgers had.  On the other hand, Thomas had a couple of extremely impressive open-field tackles against Ohio State:

His overall aura caused me to say he was "almost there" after Rutgers:

Dymonte Thomas could be putting it together. I don't think he's ever going to be a guy who's particularly good at preventing 20 yard plays from going 50, but with his athleticism he provides a suite of capabilities that can make up for that deficiency. He is a guy who you can put in man coverage relatively confidently, that Minnesota play nonwithstanding. He's come a long way this year; he has a moderate way to go. Cross your fingers.

With a season's worth of data, it maybe kind of sort of feels like he has arrived.

Thomas was "productive" per PFF, and my charting agrees. With increased playing time and considerable upside left to plumb, Thomas could blow up. He's not a physical guy and won't suddenly become one this year; you can chalk up a few missed tackles that add chunks of yards to plays that have already broken somewhat big. Everything else looks like a strength. He's good in coverage, he's fast as the dickens, and he's still got a solid bit of upside left.

Thomas should be good. It's hard for me to judge safeties since they're so rarely on the screen, but whatever extra deep stuff Michigan gets hit with because Thomas isn't Jarrod Wilson should be offset by the plays Thomas makes because he isn't Jarrod Wilson.

[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers is briefly mentioned!]

Comments

Preview 2016: Cornerback

Preview 2016: Cornerback Comment Count

Brian September 1st, 2016 at 10:58 AM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker.

22603882028_d560872092_z

Are you not entertained by PBUs? [Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

Boundary Corner Yr. Field Corner Yr. Nickelback Yr.
Channing Stribling Sr. Jourdan Lewis Sr. Jabrill Peppers So.*
Jeremy Clark Sr.* David Long Fr. Jourdan Lewis Sr.
Keith Washington Fr.* LaVert Hill Fr. Brandon Watson So.*

Last year's secondary was sort of good. Michigan led the nation in yards per attempt allowed at 5.4 and opposition passer rating. S&P+ had them 11th nationally because Big Ten quarterbacks were double plus ungood a year ago, but that's still near-elite.

There's about to be some hedging about non-Jourdan Lewis corners because they weren't straight-up killers when they showed up on your television, but keep those numbers in mind when expectations are (slightly) tamped. Michigan gets back five of the six guys who spearheaded those stats. If you consider Jabrill Peppers a member of this unit, which you should, you have to back to 1997 for a comparable.

CORNERBACK

RATING: 4.5.

22644741572_68c33a962f_z

NOPE [Patrick Barron]

I'm about to write a lot about JOURDAN LEWIS, but you can skip it. The tl;dr version is "is Jourdan Lewis." He's an All-American. He's a perfect cover corner minus a few inches. He was all but impossible to escape a year ago:

He will be this again in 2016. The end.

Our probably unnecessary epilogue kicks off with an assertion from Don Brown that is both unexpected and extremely important:

This is a weird thing for Jourdan Lewis to be since his run responsibilities a year ago were 404 file not found. Lewis was constantly locked in man coverage and almost never involved in the opposition's run game, which turned out to be much to Michigan's detriment against good spread offenses like Indiana and Ohio State.

As a result I don't have much of anything in which Lewis is active as run defender. He had a decent play against Florida when he was forced into the Peppers role:

And he ended up mirroring a WR in space effectively on a screen in the Maryland game. That's it. If that seems like an incredibly small sample size, it is. Lewis had probably under 20 tackles that weren't a direct result of a guy managing to catch the ball on him. We simply don't know how he's going to do when activated against the run. 

Everything else is established. If you complete a pass on Lewis 90% of the time it's going to be like this:

Good luck creating an offense around that. For some reason, opponents kept testing Lewis despite this invariably being the result. PFF:

The top-graded cornerback in the nation last year at +22.3, Lewis broke out by leading the FBS with 15 passes defensed while surrendering only 36.7 percent of his targets to be completed, good for fifth-best. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to maintain his strong play from start to finish in 2015, despite facing 90 targets, 10th-most in the nation.

Lewis grades out like this because he is super quick and always in the pocket of whoever he's matched up against. By midseason I was clipping literally any completion on him that wasn't heavily contested for the sheer novelty. In addition to being impossible to shake, Lewis has mastered the craft of not quite interfering. One of his best traits is an sense of when to grab the receiver's hand such that his only option is to go up for a circus catch:

And that cat-quickness allows him to recover on routes that should be RPS minuses:

That should work. Lewis should not even be in position to get a little bit of hand on the waist and then extend through for a PBU. He is set up outside and has to make up a ton of ground in not much time. He does.

Lewis's main—only?—flaw is not being 6'1". A 6'1" version of Jourdan Lewis is a 15-year NFL All Pro. The 5'11" or 5'10" version is a good longterm starter. This didn't come up much last year. When Lewis was challenged by 6'5" quasi-TEs he won.

No fade route thrown on Lewis a year ago was not heavily contested, and their success rate hovered around 10%.

If it was a factor it was probably in Lewis's epic battle against Aaron Burbridge and Connor Cook. Lewis narrowly won that battle despite Burbridge going over 100 yards because it took almost 20 attempts to get there, but a hypothetical version of Lewis that is just as mobile and has another few inches of reach turns difficult completions into international-sign-of-no waving and punts.

Lewis's lack of size also occasionally figured in as opponents muscled through him, like on this completion in the bowl game:

Lewis has done an A+ job against lumbering 6'5" guys over the past two years but occasionally he will get ripped off balance by larger guys. That will continue.

Also in the tiny pile of areas for improvement is off coverage. Lewis wasn't bad at it, per se, but when opponents wriggled free it was often because they'd been issued breathing room.

Interceptions are not an issue. Some folks have asserted that Lewis got thrown at a bunch because he's not a threat to intercept the ball. He had just two a year ago, and one was against Maryland so that barely counts. I don't buy it; that feels like an answer to an unanswerable question. Q: Why do you do something that doesn't make sense? A: Well, here's something else that doesn't make sense.

Michigan's approach had a lot to do with the minimal INTs. Michigan rarely switched up their coverages and didn't run much zone, so opportunities to bait a quarterback a la Blake Countess were few and far between. Lewis ended up in a ton of trail coverage on which he could either secure a PBU or "get his head around" and potentially lose the plot.

It'll be fascinating to see how Don Brown changes this dynamic. Either way, Lewis is an All-American ticketed for the late first round of the NFL draft.

[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! Seriously this time!]

Comments

Preview 2016: Linebacker

Preview 2016: Linebacker Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2016 at 4:25 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle.

21891590110_0c38c69bd4_z

[Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart
STRONGSIDE  LB Yr. MIDDLE LB Yr. WEAKSIDE LB Yr.
Jabrill Peppers So.* Ben Gedeon Sr. Mike McCray Jr.*
Noah Furbush So.* Mike Wroblewski Jr.* Devin Bush Fr.
Josh Uche Fr. Elysee Mbem-Bosse Fr. Jared Wangler So.*

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!

STRONGSIDE LB: HYBRID SPACE ASSASSIN

Rating: 5.

23008726762_0234b40f51_z

WOOOO! [Bryan Fuller]

Oh hey, it's JABRILL PEPPERS again. He's taken the baton from Jake Butt when it comes to posting shirtless jugs machine exploits:

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 utter consistency with which this happened 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:

There was an internet item purporting to show that Peppers missed 20% of his tackle attempts; you can mostly ignore that. A Peppers missed tackle was often something a lesser player wouldn't even get an attempt in on.

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:

Against UNLV he lined up as a Jake Ryan-style SAM on the line of scrimmage and did a good job to push the play back inside.

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.

Peppers's coverage is still somewhat in question. He had issues early trying to defend horizontal double moves. That first impression lingered, and then the big bad thing against Penn State hammered it home for a lot of folks:

Peppers was rough early, no question. He was much better at playing press man as an outside corner, where he could set up to the inside and just run with his dude.

He developed over the course of the year. By midseason he was racking up some physical PBUs, usually when he was allowed to set up in press:

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 also has upside as a safety. He's obviously kind of a big deal in run defense, and his speed allows him to get over the top of deep routes even when he lines up close to the line of scrimmage.

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.

[After the JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! Probably!]

Comments

Preview 2016: Defensive Tackle

Preview 2016: Defensive Tackle Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2016 at 1:35 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End.

21546952285_d675035ddf_z

[Eric Upchurch]

 
STRONG DE Yr. NOSE TACKLE Yr. 3-TECH Yr. WEAK DE Yr.
Rashan Gary Fr. Ryan Glasgow Sr.* Chris Wormley Sr.* Taco Charlton Sr.
Lawrence Marshall So.* Bryan Mone So.* Maurice Hurst Jr.* Chase Winovich So.*
Carlo Kemp Fr. Michael Dwumfour Fr. Matt Godin Sr.* Reuben Jones Fr.*

Holy pants, you guys. This is bar-none the best situation Michigan's had at defensive tackle since… I don't know. Probably since scholarship limits came into effect. Michigan has three guys who should go in the top few rounds of the NFL draft, plus a Tongan who was generating more hype than any of them before an injury robbed him of his 2015 season. And on top of that they've got a fifth-year senior who's been productive and would be a strong rotation contributor on any Michigan DL of the last ten years.

Just stay healthy. Knock on all available wood, ladies and gentlemen, that Michigan will get to the Ohio State game without having to unearth Michael Dwumfour.

NOSE TACKLE: DAMMIT IF YOU DOUBT A GLASGOW YOU HAVE ONLY YOURSELF TO BLAME

Rating: 5

22093216459_8886e7e237_z (2)

[Upchurch]

No. Shut up. Stop it. I know Harbaugh said that thing. I still insist that you cease flapping your mandibles about in some misguided attempt to denigrate the play of Ryan Glasgow, who yes was a walk-on upon his arrival but is no longer. Glasgow was long ago awarded the Order of St. Kovacs and if you insist on talking about Bryan Mone even an instant longer I will have no alternative but to unlock his cage. A cage for robot Vikings.

You still doubt, sir? Reap the pointy-helmeted whirlwind:

Glasgow was good as a sophomore, when he ascended to the top of the depth chart in front of former five-star Ondre Pipkins. Pipkins was coming off an injury, so people assumed that was a temporary thing. It was not. Glasgow held up in the run game excellently but provided close to zero pass rush, and that was fine with Frank Clark coming off the edge a ton. Michigan used Glasgow as a screen or draw spy frequently of the time, and coped with the fact that he wasn't having much impact in that department.

Then Glasgow got better, DJ Durkin deployed a ton of stunts, and dude blew up.

Game Opponent + - TOT Comment
1 Utah 7.5 2 5.5 Added interior pass rush.
2 Oregon State 6 2 4 Partially culpable on first big run, otherwise good.
3 UNLV 11   11 Two very impressive TFLs.
4 BYU 13   13 Just wrecked BYU's C.
5 Maryland 7.5 3 4.5 Slightly off day.
6 Northwestern 15 1 14 This poor damn center.
7 MSU 8.5 2 6.5 Blown out once, otherwise Glasgow.
8 Minnesota 17 1.5 15.5 This will be a trend.
9 Rutgers 2.5   2.5 Injured relatively early.

Glasgow alternated solid performances with center-wrecking exhibitions until leaving for good on a harmless-looking tackle early in the Rutgers game. The previously nonexistent pass rush showed up in a major way. Against Utah he ripped his way past their center more than once, and by Northwestern he'd started deploying a deeply unfair technique scouting sorts call "push-pull" where you blast the dude in front of you as hard as you can, then grab his jersey and rip him forward.

Glasgow wasn't quite dominant enough to rack up a ton of counting stats; no longer was he sitting back and waiting for screens. He forced a lot of scrambles and helped other guys get their numbers, especially as a dangerous man in Michigan's stunt game. Despite the lack of stats PFF had him the #18 pass rush DT in the country a year ago, a huge step up.

Meanwhile he was a rock as a run defender. He's explosive and he's smart as hell. After he and Hurst spearheaded the goal line stand against Minnesota, Adam got a brief one-on-one with him. Michigan won that game largely because Glasgow read the Gophers' intentions on the last two plays:

I really want to talk about isn’t the last play but the second to last. When they motioned what were you thinking, and did you expect that to happen?

“I mean, you can kind of tell by an offensive lineman’s demeanor what kind of play to expect, and they were all in loaded stances the whole game when they were coming off a run and they were sitting back. I was kind of confused at first when they were in their tight bunch set and everyone’s like really close splits but didn’t look like they were ready to fire out."

Over the course of the year guys will vacate their gaps or a rush lane and open it up for the opposition; I don't have a single clip from last year in which a Glasgow mental error was worth noting. Like his brother, Glasgow thinks the game at an advanced level.

While he's not 330 and occasionally succumbed to a double team his terrific technique allowed him to stack and shed most single blocking. Guys got hurled to the turf:

And not just jabronis from Minnesota:

With his stamina and lightning quick penetration I started comparing him to a star nose tackle of recent vintage. After BYU I compared him to Mike Martin thanks to plays like this:

I was chided for this take, and now I will have my revenge. Glasgow's Martin vibe only got stronger as the year went on and he blasted through and knifed past OL after OL. After Maryland:

Meanwhile, Glasgow did not have a day that was spectacular statistically (just one tackle) but contributed to the general defenestration of the Maryland offensive line. We talked about his crazy ability to pursue on that Delano Hill TFL. There was a also a screen on which he made a tackle outside the numbers after getting knocked over. His range and endurance are major assets.

The first play linked in that section is worth an embed:

That is simply absurd mobility from a 300-pound nose tackle. The only other guy I've seen play the spot and regularly involve himself with plays outside the hash marks was, yes, Mike Martin.

By midseason UFRs had a section in which Glasgow was praised in ever more fulsome terms. Oregon State:

Right now not so much. Glasgow has built on a promising first year as a starter and is now a highly consistent, disruptive interior DL. He's got a great feel for the game. Here he catches a downblock and rips through it almost automatically:

I don't think he even bothered to look at that guy.

Glasgow is capable of blowing guys up with raw power as well…He has terrific endurance and has even added a little pass rush this year. Michigan is lucky to have him.

Northwestern:

Dude is elite. … He is playing out of his damn mind. Last year he'd flash talent and battle most of the time; this year he is violently discarding anyone put in front of him.

Like Hurst, his explosive upfield motion was occasionally used against him, but as you can see in the chart above minuses for him were close to nonexistent.

Glasgow was the linchpin of a ridiculous run defense, and it drove off a cliff immediately after his injury. Michigan gave up 864 rushing yards in nine games with him and 725 in four games without him; their yards per carry plummeted from third nationally to 26th. That's partially on Durkin's inability to deal with spreads and is still a stark reminder of just how important Glasgow was to last year's team.

Goals for Glasgow this year include "stay healthy," which is 1-100, and then to get that increment better so that his rushes that were previously effective at making the quarterback uncomfortable become rushes that deposit Glasgow's helmet into the quarterback's midsection. He'll be elite against the run. I'm loathe to project postseason accolades for a position that often gets overlooked so people can throw four DEs on the All Big Ten team, but Glasgow will absolutely deserve them on his way to the second or third round of the draft.

[After the JUMP: four more potential/extant dudes. And Jabrill Peppers! Really! He's the very next thing!]

Comments

Preview 2016: Defensive End

Preview 2016: Defensive End Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2016 at 11:38 AM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line.

21555794959_a0b2b35afe_z

QB having a bad time [Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

STRONG DE Yr. NOSE TACKLE Yr. 3-TECH Yr. WEAK DE Yr.
Rashan Gary Fr. Ryan Glasgow Sr.* Chris Wormley Sr.* Taco Charlton Sr.
Lawrence Marshall So.* Bryan Mone So.* Maurice Hurst So.* Chase Winovich So.*
Carlo Kemp Fr. Michael Dwumfour Fr. Matt Godin Sr.* Reuben Jones Fr.*

Amongst other far more important things, DJ Durkin's departure means the end of the irritating "buck" terminology. Michigan spent all off-season talking about this crazy DE/LB hybrid who would do all sorts of things at the WDE spot. They tried that against Utah, discovered that Mario Ojemudia was as good a linebacker hybrid as Craig Roh, and settled into a completely standard 4-3 for the rest of the season. (Yes, Michigan was "multiple" as all defenses are; all non 4-3 sets were exotic changeups.)

Michigan will continue with a bog-standard 4-3 this year, especially after Taco Charlton officially moved to weakside end in fall camp. There's zero reason to drop any of Michigan's defensive ends into coverage except as a very rare curveball.

Because when they are in coverage they are not feasting on souls, as one does.

WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END: IN SOVIET RUSSIA, TACO EATS YOU

Ah, screw it.

Rating: 5

23013028959_a6c8570f33_z

a bad time [Eric Upchurch]

TACO CHARLTON doesn't have the kind of returning production that generally warrants a FIVE out of FIVE ranking in this here preview, but counting stats, man. Counting stats. Because of the "buck" dream, Charlton got locked behind Chris Wormley until late in the year despite performing excellently in limited opportunities. This persisted so deep into the season that James Ross was called on to play WDE against Minnesota. It went badly; Charlton finally got a run out at his destination this season in the aftermath.

So while Charlton acquired a modest 5.5 sacks and 8.5 TFLs, that was on just 43% of Michigan's snaps. A version of Charlton who gets 75% of Michigan's snaps instead of 43% has a 10 sack, 15 TFL season(!). And extrapolating those numbers linearly may actually understate his production: PFF has him the #1 returning end in pass-rush productivity. Number one. As in there are no better numbers to be:

After compiling only 11 pressures on 120 rushes in 2014, Charlton notched six sacks, nine QB hits, and 26 hurries (41 total pressures) on 229 rushes last season.

The #1 pass rush DE in the nation is almost certainly optimistic, but Charlton isn't an average player trying to get better. He's a very good player who is about to inherit a bunch more snaps.

In addition to already being pretty good, Charlton retains considerable upside. He didn't redshirt because reasons. He came to Michigan with a reputation as a sushi-raw moldable athlete, and despite making massive progress over the last three years the NFL still looks at him in the same way. Brugler:

Charlton certainly passes the eye test with a tall, long frame with a moldable body type to bulk up or slim down. … With his combination of strength, length and long-striding acceleration, there aren't many college offensive tackles who can control him, but scouts are looking for improved hand use at the top of his rush. Regardless, the traits make him a very attractive lump of clay that NFL teams will want to develop.

NFL.com listed Charlton amongst the top NFL prospects to watch going into this season because of his "freaky athletic traits and functional power to go with them".

Charlton can be capital-E Elite because his package of speed around the edge…

…and pocket-crushing strength…

…adds up to a tough handle for most OTs. Charlton's mostly a power rusher; the speed is more about getting to OL quickly and then using that power. He doesn't go around guys, but he's able to get upfield fast enough that a rip back inside is extremely viable.

He was also agile enough to deploy the occasional spin move in this situation. His combo of speed and power also made him a valuable bit of Michigan's stunt game a year ago. He was able to get to the point the drive man cleared out and power through an out of position OL with frequency.  Charlton brings raw power not far off Hurst and Wormley; many of his rushes last year featured him pushing the pocket closed.

ESPN has a good summary:

Power-based bass rusher that does a good job of using his long arms and explosive power to get into offensive linemen's pads, and then grinds through contact. Shows above average torso flexibility and strength to work through blockers while engaged. Keeps his feet and hands moving throughout. Flashes a quick inside move to cross the OT's face. Developing an effective push-pull move late in 2015. Lacks elite speed off the edge but shows above average closing burst. … Has some shock in hands. Should continue to improve array of pass rush moves because he has the required violent hands.

Brugler says he can "convert his edge speed to power before blockers are able to sink and anchor" and praises his overall strength and power before critiquing his hand usage. You can't teach the former. You can teach the latter.

The flip side of Charlton's remaining potential is the fact that he's not quite there yet. When we get to Ryan Glasgow in a bit I'll note that I didn't clip anything resembling a mental error from him over the course of the season. The same cannot be said for Charlton. Here he's to the top of the Michigan DL and seems to forget that he's part of a stunt and needs to contain Hackenberg:

He would occasionally hesitate, unsure of what to do, and get blocked as a result. He wasn't great at keeping smaller guys away from his knees. He was more prone to pick up a minus than Wormley or Glasgow. ESPN's profile notes that Charlton "needs to be more disciplined with gap assignments" and is "occasionally late locating the ball," and both of those critiques are on point. When NFL guys note his rawness they're not wrong.

Or at least they were not wrong when talking about Charlton's junior year. After a spring where he was close to unblockable and a fall camp that generated torrents of hype, it's clear everyone around the program expects him to blow up. That includes Charlton himself:

When you’re rushing against [Bredeson], not to say that he gives you problems, but is there anything that he does that maybe is a challenge for you, specifically?

[smiles wide]

I don’t want you to dog a guy, but what is it he does that’s good?

“He’s a guy who has good hands, strong hands. Once he latches on to you he does cause problems getting off. But for me…”

[smiles again]

Meanwhile the insiders are like dang. Lorenz says Charlton is "in line to blow up"; Webb has repeatedly referenced Charlton, not Wormley or Glasgow or Hurst or Mone, as Michigan's most impressive defensive lineman in fall camp. It's to the point where Webb is talking about Chris Wormley like this:

The newly crowned captain has taken his game up a notch, and after Charlton he has arguably been the top performing defensive lineman.

If Taco Charlton is better than Chris Wormley this year, quarterbacks might as well show up wearing a jersey that reads "MEAT PASTE."

It's tough to project Charlton's numbers since there are only so many counting stats to go around and Michigan's entire front seven will clamor for them. Really good DEs can get shut out through vagaries of circumstance—Bosa had just five sacks a year ago. Charlton should get a ton of pressures, many of which turn into numbers. Double digit sacks are a strong possibility, and those TFL numbers should easily crest double digits and approach 20. He won't last long in the draft.

[After THE JUMP: Some guy. Rashad? Something like that. ]

Comments

Preview 2016: Offensive Line

Preview 2016: Offensive Line Comment Count

Brian August 30th, 2016 at 4:21 PM

Previously: Podcast 8.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends.


21896566039_fa91afcae8_z

[Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart

LT Yr. LG Yr. C Yr. RG Yr. RT Yr.
Ben Bredeson Fr. Ben Braden Sr.* Mason Cole Jr. Kyle Kalis Sr.* Erik Magnuson Sr.*
Grant Newsome So. David Dawson Jr.* Patrick Kugler Jr.* Michael Onwenu Fr. Nolan Ulizio Fr.*

Michigan's line took a quantum leap in 2014, going from a flaccid crew of confused gibbons to pleasingly mediocre. Last year's edition of this post positively marveled at the fact that these gentlemen got in the way of the opposition frequently enough to be average-ish:

It got better. It really did. The OL nadir is in the past. We can come out of the bunker and rebuild society now.

That assertion was based both on my charting and a bunch of stats, many of them of the advanced line variety. Advanced line stats make total guesses about assigning credit and blame between tailback and line but they're worth peeking at in case they tell a story. Michigan's 2015 stats are mostly about treading water:

Year Adj Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Stuff Rate Adj Sack Rate
2013 118th 11th 120th 126th 112th
2014 50th 55th 32nd 67th 72nd
2015 53rd 107th 50th 33rd 13th

Michigan was less likely to get tackled for loss and less likely to get the 5+ yard carries that opportunity rate tracks. Those were a wash as Michigan's line yards stayed static. Contrary to your memories of the OSU game, pass protection took a big leap forward.

A certain level of treading water is expected when a new coach with a new, complicated system arrives. With four starters back and Mason Cole moving to his natural position, a step forward is likely. It's just that fifth guy who gives pause…

An Editor's Note About Charts

With four returning starters you're going to see a bunch of charts derived from last year's UFRs. Here's how to read them:

Game Opponent + - TOT Pass - Error Rate Comment
1 Utah 5 8 -3 5 8% Guy did X

Game and opponent are self-explanatory. The +, –, and TOT columns are my evaluations of how the player did when run blocking. Keep in mind that zero is not good, or even average. It is the nature of the beast that any successful run has many successful blocks; many unsuccessful ones are submarined by a single error. We're looking for a 2:1 positive-negative ratio to be decently successful. A future pro might be more like 3:1 or 4:1.

"Pass –" is derived from the protection minuses in UFR.  Two protection minuses are approximately equivalent to one sack or severe hurry. "Error rate" is the number of protection minuses divided by the number of available protection points. The above line is Ben Braden's from the Utah game, in which he was almost 1:2 in run plus/minus and had protection errors on 8% of snaps. That's terrible; the good news is that Braden got better.

TACKLE: JUST A GUY WOULD BE FINE THANKS

RATING: 3.

15217585256_3925ae89ae_z

present, he said [Brian Fuller]

Senior ERIK MAGNUSON was thrust into the lineup too early as one the umpteen guys tossed into the maelstrom of the 2013 offensive line. He was a guard then; the next year he played some there and, after an injury cost him his job, as a blocking tight end. Last year he got flipped out to tackle.

There he... well, he was there. He was neither forceful nor overrun. He didn't shut down elite pass rushers or get blown through by mediocre ones. His UFR chart from last year is decidedly sparse when compared to Cole's:

Game Opponent + - TOT Pass- Error Rate Comment
1 Utah 2.5   2.5 2 3% Hooray?
2 Oregon State 5 0.5 4.5 0 0% Not as involved as others but got his job done.
3 UNLV 6   6 0 0% Clean positive sweep from the OL.
4 BYU 2.5 3 -0.5 0 0% M clearly left-handed when it wants to rely on tackles.
5 Maryland 4 4 0 2 4% Clear left handed bias again.
6 Northwestern 6.5 1 5.5 4 10% End of game was pretty.
7 MSU 3 2 1 3 7% A little frustrated with his second level blocking.
8 Minnesota 5 1.5 3.5 1 2% Good day for him although M is clearly left-handed.
9 Rutgers 3 4.5 -1.5 0 0% Not real good on perimeter.
10 Indiana 6 4 2 2 2% Did okay.
11 PSU 3   3 4 6% Also took advantage of weak edge.
12 OSU 3 2 1 5 8% See Kalis.
13 Florida 5.5 6.5 -1 1 2% Iffy game.
  TOTALS 55 29 26 24 4% 65% run blocking

It's not so much that Magnuson didn't execute, it's that he wasn't called on to do much. He's right around our run-blocking Mendoza line thanks to some good days against the overmatched bit of the nonconference schedule. 24 pass protection minuses over the course of a season isn't anything to write home about, but Cole's maturation and Magnuson's move to tackle are the top two reasons Michigan's pass blocking got a lot better a year ago. When I started to talk about the OL individually in the middle of last year this was the conclusion:

Magnuson is [just a guy] right now. He's okay at blocking. They don't run to him very much. There are not many plays on which he has a big role and that seems to be about half Cole and half Magnuson. He is the Jarrod Wilson of the offensive line.

He's boring. We appreciate this immensely, because we are well aware of the alternatives to boring after the past half-decade.

It's maybe a little disappointing that Magnuson seems to be topping out at boring. I usually pick out the particularly good or bad plays to embed in these previews; Magnuson doesn't have anything to embed either way. On the ground I had him for zero +2 blocks a year ago and one –2 block. Part of the reason he doesn't have a lot of magnitude in that chart above is that he usually does something completely adequate and not that notable. When he does score a plus it's frequently for excellent awareness. Here he reads a blitz and manages to redirect enough to hit the linebacker who would otherwise be burying Smith in the backfield:

When Magnuson does move a guy it's usually because the guy is already moving. He was good at reading and staying attached on slants in Michigan's zone game; a bunch of cutbacks opened up last year because he was able to shove a guy past his intended destination.

This is a power play but it's the same principle and from a camera angle that makes it very clear:

The other times Magnuson moves a guy is because he's already engaged with Kalis:

Magnuson was effective at doubling a guy and popping out to the second level.

These are all real assets.  They are offset by what I described as a "lack of oomph" after the Indiana game. Magnuson is not likely to get drive in a one-on-one block, and occasionally he ends up looking a bit… finesse.

That play was an outlier but I don't have anything in the way of a one-on-one drive block in an entire season of clips. This is an area he should get incrementally better in since he's got another year of weight training behind him; the time for big leaps forward is likely past.

Not everyone is as indifferent as this space was. CBS NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler called him a "legitimate NFL prospect" and "one of the top ten senior offensive tackles in the country."

...moves with a smooth shuffle and wide base, transferring his weight well in his kickslide to mirror edge rushers. He stays low off the snap and prefers to use his hands to control the point of attack to out-leverage and out-power defenders. Magnuson is able to secure downblocks and anchor at shallow depth, driving his legs to finish in the Wolverines' power offense.

I disagree with this take, but it's out there. NFL.com's Chad Reuter told Mike Spath that Magnuson could work his way into the first or second round with a good 2016; I disagree with that take as well… but it's out there.

Magnuson was relatively advanced mentally a year ago and will benefit less than some of his compatriots from increasing familiarity with the offense. Improvement should be clear but not transformative; a good goal is for Magnuson to move beyond Just A Guy status, get on the All Big Ten team in a very down year for the tackle spot conference-wide, and get drafted late.

[After the JUMP: the biggest question mark on the team. And Jabrill Peppers! (Not really. But maybe!)]

Comments