Jimmystats: A Racket of Running Backs

Jimmystats: A Racket of Running Backs

Submitted by Seth on May 25th, 2018 at 12:00 PM

image

[Paul Sherman]

Earlier this week Ace ran into an article on the Saquon Barkley pick and why, despite sabr-conventional wisdom, it might not have been such a bad idea after all. The article is Michigan-relevant for two reasons. One because he brings up the play where Barkley got manned up as a slot receiver on McCray and smoked him for the 4th quarter touchdown that officially made it a rout. Since that’s already seared into your memory and most everyone involved is now well out of Michigan’s sphere you don’t have to relive that part.

The second reason is because Michigan is stockpiling running backs again. At first blush you might dismiss that as an emphasis on running the football, but…

In 2017, according to Sharp’s data, the Patriots used “11” personnel on just 44 percent of their plays—tied for the fourth-fewest total in the league. New England’s second most-common personnel grouping? “21,” or two running backs, one tight end, and two wideouts, which the Pats used on 24 percent of their plays, second only to the 49ers’ 28 percent. Per Sharp, the Pats’ success rate out of “11” personnel was 47 percent. Out of “21” personnel, it was 60 percent.

…it also might be a sign that Harbaugh is staying at the head of the curve in the latest countermove of offensive progression.

IS MICHIGAN REALLY INVESTING IN RUNNING BACKS THAT MUCH?

The data say yes. Michigan returned five running backs this season and brought in three freshman. Next year they graduate one (Higdon), and are still in full pursuit of multiple targets, and not in the “we just need one of you” kind of way.

image

Nine running backs is over 10 percent of your scholarships. That is indeed a major investment. And when you look over Michigan’s history such an emphasis is indeed out of whack with the needs of Harbaugh’s modern predecessors. I was on the Daily when they peaked at seven in 2000 because they didn’t think they’d get both Chris Perry and Reggie Benton (and Carr held up his promise to Tim Bracken). And then it just turned out they had known, though didn’t say, that Justin Fargas and Ryan Beard weren’t going to be around for 2001; proving the anomaly, in two seasons they were down to just four.

The other example is Rich Rod’s first two years, though that includes Kevin Grady who moved to fullback. Still: Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Mike Cox, Teric Jones, Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, and Fitz Toussaint were all on a roster together. We’ll come back to that one.

[After THE JUMP: Why all the backs?]

Jimmystats: Carries in the Time of Fred

Jimmystats: Carries in the Time of Fred

Submitted by Seth on January 21st, 2015 at 4:25 PM

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Backs-all

Fred Jackson has been a fixture at Michigan going back not one but two undefeated seasons. He arrived in 1992 to join Gary Moeller's staff. Since then, including a two-season stint as Lloyd Carr's first offensive coordinator, Jackson coached (and showered superfluous praise upon) over 100 running backs.

This site has correctly pointed out numerous flaws in the RBs over the last few seasons. It's difficult to diagnose what's coaching and what's just a certain back's ability. Every time we run into Vincent Smith, which is often, either Brian or I have pestered him about why nobody else can block like he could, and Vince just smiles and says "it's hard." Jackson himself has said that vision and ability are nature, blocking is a mentality, and the most he can really do is teach them whom to block.

Best Backs of the Jackson Era
Player Yds YPA
Mike Hart 5,040 4.97
Anthony Thomas 4,472 4.84
Chris Perry 3,696 4.56
Tyrone Wheatley 3,630 5.28
Tshimanga Biakabutuka 2,810 5.95
Ricky Powers* 2,554 4.86
Fitzgerald Toussaint 2,290 4.49
Clarence Williams 1,986 4.25
Chris Howard 1,876 4.49
Brandon Minor 1,658 5.01
B.J. Askew 1,580 4.61
*Powers had another 1,945 yds at
5.07 YPA prior to Jackson's arrival

His results are mixed; Jackson coached four of the top ten leading rushers in school history (and his guys blocked for a fifth). On the other hand only two of his guys—Wheatley and Biakubutuka—cracked 5 yards per carry for their careers, a feat accomplished by nine of the guys coached by Jackson's predecessor Tirrell Burton.

What isn't hard to find is effusive praise about Jackson as a person and as a coach, from his former wards to high school coaches across Michigan. Like the coaches of Canham's era, Fred is a permanent fixture of the Michigan Athletic Department, a relationship that goes back to when Fred was Rick Leach's quarterbacks coach in high school.

The thing that really kept Jackson here through the tenure of four coaches was his ability to recruit the state of Michigan. There was a time when Michigan barely had to work to get homegrown kids, when Michigan Replay was the best access most local coaches had to any college football program, and the local press ignored anyone else. Today the in-state rival is on a roll, and there are as many Saban/Perles/Duffy/Dantonio guys in the state's coaching ranks as there are Michigan dudes. While Michigan's mainstream beat has four Rosenbergs trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the program for every Angelique, the Spartans own an army of slappies. The current generation of recruits were born after the peak of Carr, and can only remember a few crazy 4-point wins over Notre Dame as great Michigan moments.

Michigan has veritably owned Michigan regardless.

This month, Jackson retired, the position he held for 23 years going to one of his first acolytes at Michigan. I choose not to let such a career pass quietly. I also choose not to review his career statistically, or at least not by utter performance. Rather, I'd like to chart our way through this long career in simple carries. Full data is here.

The bar graphs after the jump don't tell a story; they're there help jog the stories of so many storied running backs and fullbacks to come through here since I was 12.

[After the jump, a review of the backs in the Time of Jackson and the carry distribution between them from game to game.]

Hello: Tyrone Wheatley, Running Backs

Hello: Tyrone Wheatley, Running Backs

Submitted by Brian on January 12th, 2015 at 11:02 AM

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PENS

You don't need to be told that much about Tyrone Wheatley's origin story. If you're a pup, here you go:

Wheatley's career rushing average is second only to Denard Robinson at Michigan.

After that, Wheatley was a first round pick of the Raiders who had a decade-long NFL career during which he morphed from the fastest damn guy you've ever seen to a reliable pounder. A couple years after he retired he went into coaching, first at his high school alma mater, then as a running backs coach at an increasingly prestigious series of institutions: Ohio Northern, Eastern Michigan, Syracuse, and then the Bills. When Doug Marrone opted out of his Bills contract, Wheatley was on the open market and came home.

Here is the most spectacularly short coaching bio in history:

Tyrone Wheatley, a former NFL running back, will enter his second season as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and continues to oversee the team’s running backs.

Good job, good effort, Bills.

I have no idea if Wheatley's a good coach. I mean, he probably is, but it is hard to tell anything from stats. Football Outsiders has some running back stats in which the Bills two main backs fare poorly, but they're undrafted 33-year-old journeymanFred Jackson (not that Fred Jackson) and sixth-rounder Anthony Dixon operating behind an offensive line that FO's stats don't like much either.

His tenure at Syracuse seems relatively successful:

  • In 2010, Wheatley arrives. Returning starter Delone Carter is coming off a season in which he barely cracked a thousand yards at 4.3 a pop; his final season sees his YPC jump a full yard.
  • In 2011, senior Antwon Bailey ascends to the top job with grim results.
  • In 2012, juniors Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley both have excellent production, collectively rushing for almost 2,000 yards at 5.2 a pop.

How much of that is due to tailback talent versus tailback coaching is hard to figure out, and then there's the whole blocking business that's important. I can just barely use stats to say a DBs coach is pretty good—with running backs it's hopeless. One year tenures at small schools aren't going to tell us much of anything, either.

Unfortunately, Tyrone Wheatley's kid is also named Tyrone Wheatley so attempts to track down anything about the elder's recruiting are swamped by articles about the younger. (Fortunately, the younger Wheatley is a four-star recruit with offers from the likes of Alabama who is now expected to end up at Michigan.)

TALKING

Wheatley after his last game at 'Cuse, a Pinstripe Bowl win over WVU:

Also, an article on Wheatley's move to Syracuse:

So, is Syracuse home?

"Syracuse is a great opportunity...Michigan is home."

Wheatley’s ultimate dream is running his own team, but doesn't plan on Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon calling his number soon, or ever.

"Sometimes, as a human being, you have to know your limitations,” Wheatley said. “I've played in the Big House, and I know what it would take to run a program in the Big House. That is too much of a monster for me."

That's a sort of humility uncommon in coaches, though the reason Dave Brandon didn't call his number wasn't so much about Wheatley. He's also got a unique perspective on loyalty:

"Some coaches forget that they played,” Wheatley said. “When one of my players walks into the room, I can generally guess what's wrong--I've been down that road. Not just about X's and O's, it's about caring about the person. One of the great things Gary Moeller did for me is caring about me as a person. Can't get to the football player without getting to the person."

Wheatley is also intensely loyal to the idea of tradition.

"When I become a head coach, that's it, I plan on retiring there," he said. …

"I want to see 15, 20 graduating classes,” he said. “I want my players, who have fertilized that field with their blood, sweat, and tears, to come back and know they always have a place at the school, and that I'm going to be there."

That passion bodes well for the recruiting trail for as long as Michigan can hold on to Wheatley.

PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE

RB coaches are often recruiters first because tailback is a spot where you've either got it or you don't. Wheatley promises to bring buckets of that as a famous program alum with a deep-seated passion for Michigan; he's also focused on being a head coach someday and the best way to get there is to kill it at Michigan. He's almost certainly going to be lights-out wherever they deploy him. The bet here is in-state and in the New York area.

As a coach… I don't think anyone could tell you. He's got all the experience you could want there, at least, and his quick rise to the NFL and then Michigan is encouraging. Yeah, his name helps. It's not everything. There are a number of other ex-Michigan guys who wanted to coach who didn't catch on so quickly.

And there is a coaching aspect. Michigan's seen a lot of wrong holes chosen and pass pickups airballed of late. Hopefully Michigan's backs will start improving at Michigan instead of after they leave now. For example: Mike Cox, Fitz Toussaint, Thomas Rawls.

UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE COACHING STAFF

We're in the home stretch here with everyone save Jimmie Dougherty and Roy Manning confirmed. Tolbert has just been officially anointed; we should hear about the other two guys in the near future here.

OFFENSE COACH confidence DEFENSE COACH confidence
OC Tim Drevno lock DC DJ Durkin lock
QB Jim Harbaugh lock DL Greg Mattison lock
RB Ty Wheatley lock LB Durkin lock
WR Jedd Fisch lock DB Greg Jackson lock
OL Drevno lock OLB/DE Roy Manning probable
TE Jimmie Dougherty probable ST John Baxter lock

S&C: Kevin Tolbert.

If either of the unconfirmed guys gets knocked out it'll be for a subject matter expert. In Dougherty's case he might get passed over for a guy with more TE/OL experience; in Manning's that would be for a CBs coach.

Dear Diary Happened

Dear Diary Happened

Submitted by Seth on January 2nd, 2015 at 5:18 PM

kakusei.

So yesterday was the first time we really got to try out my brother's new double-TV basement setup. The plan was to watch all of the football for 14 straight hours, but once the Wisconsin game ended the kinderfolk had taken over TV2 and put on the movie that the current generation of kinderfolk cannot stop watching: Frozen. During one lengthy halftime, we acquiesced to a volume swap, and soon enough here's this room full of men in MSU and Alabama and Michigan gear intently watching a (double-) princess flick.

HARBAUGH
This won the internet' in December. By Red_Lee

From what I've managed to piece together of the plot from 30+ partial viewings, there's a snowy kingdom with a rich shipping and ice manufacturing industrial base that comes to be ruled by a princess with magical ice powers. As a kid she shoots her sister with it. Later the sister gets engaged to a prince she doesn't bother to scout, and as a result ice princess accidentally locks her country in a polar vortex. Ice princess then runs off, sings "eff it all" and builds ice castles until her sister shows up, at which point she shoots her sister again. So now she has to come back and make things right, which leads to her shooting her sister a third time, and this slowly turns sis into an ice statue. Then ice princess hugs the statue and cries, and everything suddenly goes back to summer because all along she had the ability to de-ice everything by loving something other than herself.

Message received, Disney. Now that Michigan's leadership is actually focusing on the realm instead of the realm's perception of its leadership, it turns out our wealthy little Nordic fantasy land doesn't have to be a barren, frozen waste-tundra after all.

Bronxblue gave the whole coaching search his Best and Worst treatment. Like the rest of us, he found the whole thing refreshingly sensical, like Michigan was acknowledging factors that created bad decisions in the past, and was approaching the pursuit of Harbaugh and Plan B with a zeal for deliberation and responsibility that Dave Brandon put into presenting himself as deliberate and responsible.

He also got into the meta of reporting on this process. As a rule of thumb, the more a media person is saying "trust ME" instead of "trust THIS INFORMATION" the less you should believe him.

[After the jump, a long discussion of the running game next year, and a moment of zen you don't want to miss]

Dear Diary Does the Michigan Drill

Dear Diary Does the Michigan Drill

Submitted by Seth on August 22nd, 2014 at 10:30 AM

The highlight of the pre-season, right here:

At the link LSA Superstar broke down every rep from the above, though the times seem off. I don't know why De'Veon Smith wasn't in them at all. There's one where Ross is going against Samuelson with Ty Isaac the RB, and…

REP 15 @ 1:43

O: D. Samuelson (OL)
D: J. Ross III (LB)
T: T. Isaac (RB)

Ross pops into Samuelson, who is slow to react.  Ross is in control but HOLY SHIT Isaac squares and totally buries Ross with a shoulder shiver.  Isaac is running with extreme power here - Ross didn't have a chance.

That happens at 1:16 actually. Takeaways from a single drill that the offense is supposed to win: Samuelson is still a ways away from figuring (that's totally expected), Ross is what he is (smart, great at anticipating, still smallish), and whoa Ty Isaac; I'm not 100% sure the outcome would have been different if you replaced Ross with Pipkins there.

14694783437_ff2a775458_z (1)
Guessing we'll be doing a lot of RB rating this season as Michigan tries to settle on which of the four backs is more effective. [Fuller]

FYI yes it's Isaac; Smith wears #4 and for some reason that could be "don't injure the starter" he doesn't appear in the drill. By the way his nickname is "Honey Badger" now.

Speaking of rating rushers. Hero of the diaries MCalibur graced us with 2,800 words to create a metric for rating rushers—RBs/QBs/FBs/etc.—by mixing the touchdown rate and fumble rate with adjusted yards per attempt. I was particularly impressed by how he elegantly challenged the longstanding arbitrary assumption that 20 yards was a "big" play by showing the standard deviation on runs is 7.5 and the average run is about 4 yards, so a "big" play can be defined as one that goes beyond the standard deviation, i.e. 12 yards or more should be the standard for a  breakaway run.

The result is something like a passer rating for RBs, and a chart with the contributing factors broken out. Unfortunately scheme and opponent and skill around the player etc. have a major influence: Toussaint's 68% went-forward rate is probably 15% his fault. Ameer Abdullah's fumble rate and low TD rate appeared to damage him, but how much of that is on Nebraska being so bend-don't-break and then trying to Abdullah their way across the 50 yard line before letting Tommy pass?

So it's not ready to enter the pantheon of stats yet, but it's still a remarkable example of what people will accomplish when you give them free stats to work with.

Speaking of tons of fascinating and useful data, for free… MCalibur mentioned cfbstats as his resource but I'm guessing he downloaded his data awhile ago, since going there now just sends you to data hoarding company Marty now works for.

The good news is last time I mentioned that in this space a reader offered to help us scrub NCAA data and reproduce that, and Mathlete jumped on the project, and there's now a very long email chain that I'm CC'ed on but has gotten way beyond my comprehension that should sometime in the coming months result in a comprehensive stats page on this site, with all of our base data available to download for free. Finally there will be a place you can go on the internet to get free, sane football stats (other than FO) that treat sacks as passing plays and tempo as something that exists. It also converts "ATH"s to positions, and will classify an Arizona "SB" as a running back and a Northwestern "SB" as a tight end. That place will be here. #ilovemyreaders!

There's a thread on the board about other changes that are coming to the site this season, what you'd like to see.

Etc. Ace is tracking the blowout tour of Italy. Lanyard Program is cutting back on the programs. Get your off-topic topics out of your system by tomorrow. Remember the Hindenberg and the other thing like it wallpaper. A more elegant wallpaper.

[Jump for the best of the board]

This Week's Obsession: Tyssac Goesblue

This Week's Obsession: Tyssac Goesblue

Submitted by Seth on June 18th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

With the least amount of fanfare to ever accompany a 5-star athlete to Michigan, Ty Isaac committed here a few weeks ago. Where does Ty fit in among the RBs on the roster, in a zone running offense? What's the chances he has to redshirt his year? Are we, you know, rooting for this? What effect does this have on the RBs Michigan's pursuing for the 2015 class? Can he block a safety blitz? Can anyone?

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

BiSB: Well, any time you have someone transfer, that's going to hurt overall depth, but they still have...

...wait, really? TO Michigan? And this is permitted?

Cool.

Ty Blue
We are way too good of a photoshopping community to get this few transfers.

 

If what John Infante and others have said is true, it seems unlikely Isaac will be eligible this season. Maybe the NCAA will try to show how SUPER DUPER FLEXIBLE AND PRO-STUDENT WE ARE YOU GUYS given the ongoing legal troubles and grant a waiver where they normally wouldn't, though this is the NCAA so who wants odds. But that works out just fine; Michigan retroactively took a five star back for the '14 class. And because neither DeVeon Smith nor Derrick Green redshirted (and neither destroyed the planet as a freshman), having now taken a running back last year is currently a good plan. Take THAT, space-time continuum.

I'm going to disagree with what Brian said shortly after Isaac committed; I think his game film looks really good. We're used to seeing recruiting tape against high schoolers, so you expect a certain amount of physical dominance and sending-home-of-competition-to-acquire-shinebox. And normally they are actual highlights, not every touch. But for a true freshman against real college competition, he showed flashes of the stuff you like to see from a freshman for whom you have high hopes:  he broke tackles, found extra yardage, fell forward, and showed good speed for his size. He also caught the ball well out of the backfield, which is something Michigan hasn't had in a back over 5'8" in quite some time. If any Michigan back looked like that last year, we would have all been much pleased. Okay, okay, that's probably not the best standard to use. But you get my point.

I think he's a great fit for an inside/outsize zone running scheme, because he's definitely a one-cut-and-go back but still a downhill guy. It's hard to know whether he's better suited than Green or Smith, largely because those two spent last year in a "run toward that pile of angry dudes" rushing scheme. Bottom line is that regardless of what happens with Damien Harris or Mikey Weber or Jacques Patrick, the running back depth chart looks pretty good for '15 and '16. We can worry about '17 later.

[jump. And run. And other superhuman abilities!]

Preview 2013: Running Back

Preview 2013: Running Back

Submitted by Brian on August 26th, 2013 at 4:48 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback

IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST

Rating: 4 of 5. Yeah, I said it.

FEATURE BACK Yr. SHORT YARDAGE Yr. 3RD DOWN YR.
Fitzgerald Toussaint Sr.* Derrick Green Fr. Justice Hayes So.*
De'Veon Smith Fr. Thomas Rawls Jr. Fitzgerald Toussaint Sr.*
Drake Johnson Fr.* De'Veon Smith Fr. Drake Johnson Fr.*
Fitzgerald Toussaint returns from the horrific ankle injury that neatly summarized his 2012 season. Michigan adds horses in freshmen Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith, and (redshirted) Drake Johnson. They get back Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes.
Will any of it matter? Will Michigan be able to stare down a first and ten in a big set and expect two, even three yards? Will everything just melt into goo without Denard Robinson's 7.2(!!!) YPC holding things aloft? How much of last year was even on the running backs and how much was on never blocking anyone?
Ack! That's not even this preview! Come back for the offensive line!

The Man Comes Around

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer that could approach six yards a carry." –Albert Camus

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Bryan Fuller

FITZ TOUSSAINT
attributes a plenty
screen WOOP
good at tiptoeing sidelines
picks up feet smartly
A-/B+ speed
plus balance
picks through traffic 
DOOOOOOOM
notre doom
purdoom 
more purdoom
even more purdoom
are you friggin kidding me
are these STILL purdue clips?
YES YES THEY ARE WTF
MSU doom, finally
mother died today
or maybe yesterday
i can't be sure
I was assailed by memories of a life that wasn't mine anymore
one in which I'd found the simplest and most lasting joys
FITZGERALD TOUSSAINT was coming off a breakout sophomore year in which he cracked a thousand yards on just 187 carries, coming in at an impressive 5.6 yards a crack. That's good for 21st all-time (minimum 100 carries) and was the best YPC season from a Michigan running back since Tim Biakabatuka's 1995 campaign.  Yes. It had been nearly two decades since a Michigan back had been so efficient on the ground. People were hyped.
They got a resounding thud, and not the good kind that Derrick Green promises.
The first sign of trouble was an offseason DUI that cost him the opener and restricted him to eight carries in the Air Force game. Once returned to full service Toussaint was swarmed on play after play, losing an astounding amount of production. His YPC dipped to 3.9. At left there are six separate clips from the Purdue game alone in which Toussaint is swarmed by defenders in the backfield. Michigan won that game 44-13; Toussaint eked out 1.1 yards a carry. Yeah, man, eventually I just started quoting The Stranger. If there's anything Fitzgerald Toussaint needs it's a meditation on the absurdity of human existence. And maybe a block. Just one block. Is that too much to ask?
I suppose it is.
And just when it looked like he was turning the corner thanks to a 19-touch, 120-yard day against Northwestern, his lower leg turned into paste on his third carry of the Iowa game.
Poor damn Toussaint.

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

Toussaint rehabbed with a vengeance, and went into spring camp with a vengeance, and hopes to confront the Big Ten in superhero outfit and big guns this fall. His coaches have taken notice. Borges:

"Fitz has got fire in his eyes. I see no signs of any injury ... He is very hungry.

"One thing about running backs, it's not like the lines. You get to see them cut, even if it's not live or not with pads on. His stop and go ability looks to be right back where it was."

Fullback Joe Kerridge looks like a cross between a refrigerator and a bear (more on this in the Tight End And Friends section) and says Toussaint outworked even him over the summer:

"He busted his butt to get back before the start of camp. It seemed like every time I went in this summer to lift or do conditioning, Fitz was already there and he would still be there after I left."

When fall camp launched, the immediate and consistent buzz was that Toussaint was back to his old self—his old-old self. Tellingly, the coaches didn't dance around the topic like they do on most every other personnel battle. First he was back, then he was playing very well, then he was leading, and then it was his job, full stop.

So… what now?

[after THE JUMP: Yeah, what now? Freshmen are large men. A replacement for Vincent Smith, and veterans trying to hold off the youngsters.]

Dear Diary Believes in Progressions

Dear Diary Believes in Progressions

Submitted by Seth on August 23rd, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Another reminder: first-ever MGoTailgate on the Friday night (Sept 6) before Notre Dame. We'll be at the MGoPatio on Berkeley Street (second house on the right coming from the stadium), gathering at 7pm and Marlin arriving for a Q&A at 8.

Now onto the user content, where Denard still exists, although in weird colors:

"Superman never wore black." –Lois Lane

DGDestroys put every Robinson play from the Jacksonville/NYJets preseason game into that enjoyable but sad-in-the-same-kind-of-Johnny-RBUAS-way-that-Mike_Hart's-face-on-the-Colts-was-sad video. Also weird: David Harris with a late hit on Denard. Somewhere out there is an imaginary guy I argued with a lot in 2010 who reads something into that. I still hate that guy.

It's on-topic season again. How do we know? Because the diaries section is back to producing content on a level that Brian has to usually pay us to write. All Stars making their triumphant return this week include MCalibur, Eye of the Tiger, and ClearEyesFullHart.

pachelbel 
Johnny Pachelbel, offensive coordinator
for the Nuremberg Baroques

Let's start with MCalibur because he uses all the same references I know, starting with Canon in D, a classical chord arrangement you probably know from attending weddings or, like, half of all songs ever written.* This is all a setup for his new metric, an expectation of wins based off net yards per game and turnover margins. Significantly, Ohio State was the extreme outlier, winning four+ more games than the 7.8 they should have by their yardage and turnover margins. And this happens to them a lot. Michigan was a game better, Michigan State two games worse. Notre Dame, Nebraska and Northwestern won two more games than they should have.

Thing: the seven teams in his study whose defense was their better unit last year (ND, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, MSU, Iowa) were a net –2, while the six (OSU, Neb, NW, PSU, Purdue, Indiana) whose offense was its better unit were a net +7. Sample way too small but it doesn't say much for "Defense wins championships." I also compared special teams (by both FEI rank and field position rank) of over- vs under-performers and there was zero correlation there. Strength of schedule didn't explain it either (Michigan had the 3rd best SOS and finished +1).

Eye of the Tiger reprised his "Tea Leaves" prediction from last year. Last time it was "which Star Wars episode will we be?" This time it's "Which Song of Ice and Fire Novel?" ranging from the one where all the kings are finally waging war and surviving sieges to the one where GRRM just can't get over how useless nipples are on a breastplate.

[Jump for Diarist of the Week, Best of Board, Zen]

Hokepoints: Carries for All

Hokepoints: Carries for All

Submitted by Seth on August 13th, 2013 at 10:55 AM

rbshares

Running back carry splits: we went over them in last week's roundtable, argued them in the practice tweet post, and then Brian answered a question about it in his mailbag. This horse has been very bad; perhaps it needs one more lesson.

What I'd like to do is illustrate this point of Brian's from the mailbox:

Even if Fitzgerald Toussaint is 100% healthy, someone else is going to get a lot of carries. Michigan ran 502 times last year, and even carry-magnet LeVeon Bell only scooped up 382 for Michigan State. Meanwhile, Toussaint has 130 and 187 carries the last two years. There are going to be 200 to 300 carries, minimum, handed out to other players, and with the situation at quarterback only a handful will be Devin Gardner's.

Last year, yes, but last year was a weird one for rushing and I'd like to see what's really been out there. And here we go:

RB Sharing

(Blig enclickens)

[Jump for splits by depth and discussion]

Mailbag: A Lot Of Running Back Stuff, Turning Five Star Recruits Into Five Star Players

Mailbag: A Lot Of Running Back Stuff, Turning Five Star Recruits Into Five Star Players

Submitted by Brian on August 12th, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Green redshirt? Er?

University-of-Michigan-player-Fitzgerald-Toussaint[1]

one dude is not enough

Brian,

I was wondering what your take on Green getting a redshirt would be.
I know it's an unusual concept to redshirt a blue chip running back, or
an uncommon practice. But with Fitz Tousaint at 100%, who has proven his
abilities as a top tier back, and Michigan having a fully loaded stable of
RB's, is it a better practice to allow a player that is already this good
another year to develop before he is unleashed on the world for mayhem and destruction?

Is Michigan in THAT much need of another RB that Green should play immediately, or is offering him the redshirt the way to go? Will
offering him a redshirt cause atrophy in the competition between the backs
for the starting spot? Also, would Derrick Green transfer if he was
redshirted? Any insight you could give would be appreciated.

Even if Fitzgerald Toussaint is 100% healthy, someone else is going to get a lot of carries. Michigan ran 502 times last year, and even carry-magnet LeVeon Bell only scooped up 382 for Michigan State. Meanwhile, Toussaint has 130 and 187 carries the last two years. There are going to be 200 to 300 carries, minimum, handed out to other players, and with the situation at quarterback only a handful will be Devin Gardner's.

So someone's got to play. If Green is the second-best back on the roster it should be him, because:

  1. Michigan has a very legit shot to win their division
  2. Green is likely to start next year if he is the #2 back on the roster
  3. blue-chip freshman like to go places they play early
  4. with De'Veon Smith and Damien Harris waiting in the wings Michigan won't miss a hypothetical fifth year from Green much, and…
  5. if Green ends up being of interest to the NFL he will almost certainly not be around for year #5. Tailbacks have short shelf lives, especially when they're moosebacks.

Add in the uncertainty generated by Toussaint's miserable year and injury and there is absolutely no case to redshirt Derrick Green unless De'Veon Smith is obviously better.

What goes down at running back generally?

Hey guys,

With all of the weapons that Hoke is stockpiling, I was wondering if you guys know the plan going forward at the running back position.

Running back seems the most interesting to me with Borges' pro style making a big return. That said, how will the staff balance Fitz and Derrick Green? Has Rawls proven to the staff he can be a 3rd down bruiser that can get the 1 yard when we need it? Are there roles for Justice Hayes, Drake Johnson, and Norfleet in the backfield this season? With the full stable back there is there any chance any of them convert to other positions?

I've been dying to know anything about the running backs and would love some insight.

Thanks,
Matt

These are many questions. The last one is the easiest: yes. Dennis Norfleet has apparently already been moved to slot receiver, which is fine by me as long as they use him.

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Hayes, too, is likely to end up in the slot at some point. That's not insider information, it's just a guy looking at the depth chart, thinking about what Michigan clearly wants to do, and extrapolating. Hayes was regarded a guy who could move to wideout coming out of high school, and Michigan is about to be short on slots. Johnson is pretty much RB-or-bust; he'll stay where he is.

Answering the last question answers the second to last: not really. Hayes was nominally at the top of the depth chart after spring and Johnson was getting some practice hype, but I expect both to be marginalized. Third down back is up for grabs—my advice to those guys is to get really good at pass blocking.

Apparently I'm going backwards: no, Rawls has not proven he can be a third down bruiser. If anything he's proven the opposite, repeatedly going down on contact on short yardage plays. It's likely that not only Derrick Green but De'Veon Smith, Wyatt Shallman, and Sione Houma are better options for short yardage this season.

The first question is pretty much the thing. I expect Green to immediately take over short yardage duties, where his power is welcome and his potentially iffy pass blocking (freshman) is not relevant. Fitz should be fully healthy and he is a damn good back when he gets a little blocking, so the bet here is he starts the year getting the plurality of the carries. As things move along Green should come more and more into the offense, like TJ Yeldon last year, until they're about splitting carries evenly.

Making elite players elite… uh… players?

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Graham and Martin were indisputably elite.

Brian,

I was wondering about Michigan and player development.  I completely understand the Heininger Certainty Principle, and how Mattison can take a average player and make him good.  I also know that they can take a good player and make him great. 

However, with getting Peppers and the possibility of getting Hand, is there any recent evidence from Mattison or Hoke that they can mold elite recruits into elite players.  Or should I change my definition of elite from first round draft and successful NFL career.

Thanks,
Chris

That's a pretty high bar to clear. Mike Martin was indisputably elite in his senior season but does not meet the criteria as a third round pick. After one year he's being touted as a potential breakout player by people who have obviously never seen Martin play. But is it on Mattison and Hoke that NFL teams are sometimes dumb? I say it is not.

The thing about evidence that Hoke and Mattison can take a guy like Hand and make him into an elite player is that I know for a fact Hoke has never had a Hand-level guy to mold. Mattison did have a number of five stars to deal with at Florida, and we'll get into that.

First, Hoke. He was Michigan's defensive line coach from 1995 to 2002. During that period Michigan had the following players drafted from the DL:

  • Will Carr (7th round, 1997)
  • Glen Steele (4th round, 1998)
  • Rob Renes (7th round, 2000)
  • Josh Williams (4th round, 2000)

That, uh, isn't great. But how much of that was on Hoke and how much was on the fact that Michigan was recruiting and playing guys like Dan Rumishek, Norman Heuer, and Shawn Lazarus in 2001? While those guys were all quality pluggers, Hoke wasn't exactly working with Brandon Graham and Lamarr Woodley there.

Michigan's defensive philosophy in the late 90s and early aughts was to hold up offensive linemen with RVB types and let their athletic linebackers wreak havoc. They recruited NFL linebackers and put many of them in the league for long periods of time: Dhani Jones, Ian Gold, Larry Foote, and Victor Hobson all launched long NFL careers in a four-year span in the early aughts. They recruited blue-collar guys out of the Midwest on the line without regard to their rush abilities or hugeness: all three of the DL mentioned above were 6'4" and around 290. No matter how technically adept they were, the NFL wasn't going to be interested because they don't fit anywhere in an NFL 4-3 under.

The much-traveled Greg Mattison had a similar track record until he tapped into a geyser of talent:

  • Renaldo Wynn (1st round, 1997, ND)
  • Anthony Weaver (2nd round, 2002, ND)
  • Justin Tuck (3rd round, 2005, which was the year Mattison left for Florida but he's worth mentioning.)
  • Joe Cohen (4th round, 2007, Florida)
  • Marcus Thomas (4th round, 2007, Florida)
  • Ray McDonald (3rd round, 2007, Florida)
  • Jarvis Moss (1st round, 2007, Florida)
  • Derrick Harvey (1st round, 2008, again Mattison had departed)

At Florida it went: nothing, nothing, entire defensive line off the board before the fourth round ended. That tells you that the level of talent he was working with took off—he's pretty much the same coach at that point. Instead of coaching up blue-collar pluggers he was teaching explosive large versions of same to do the same things the blue collar guys did. And lo, they wrecked things.

Despite the rankings, Michigan has very rarely brought in the kind of top-tier guys they have lined up the next couple years, and when they did sometimes they were crazy. The touted Germany/McKinney/Slocum/Taylor recruiting class turned out to have three guys in it that couldn't stay enrolled for whatever reason. But other than that, Michigan's track record with five-star-ish defensive linemen has been good: Woodley, Graham, Branch, and Taylor were all quality college players and high NFL draft picks. Gabe Watson, popularly derided a guy as who never lived up to the hype, was still two-time All Big Ten and a mid-round pick. Pure talent busts are limited to Will Campbell, who should have been an offensive lineman all along… and still got drafted.

Player development is inherently difficult. Every year half of the first round of the NFL draft is comprised of relatively unheralded players. Busts are inevitable, talent is talent, and you just have to get piles of it to have a Florida-type DL. Michigan is going to approach that level of talent in the next few years.