Preview 2015: Safety

Preview 2015: Safety

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

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


we have very reasonable expectations [Fuller]

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



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




[Eric Upchurch]

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

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

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

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

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

Harbaugh again in this fall:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. That's in the past.

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

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


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

And this player comparison is a damn good one.

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

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

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

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

H4: Finding Ed Reed

H4: Finding Ed Reed

Submitted by Seth on January 27th, 2015 at 11:34 AM


Five on five. [Upchurch]

When news broke recently that Jabrill Peppers was moving to safety, Brian threw up a quick explanatory post, Why Peppers Might Be A Safety, talking about how modern spread offenses dictate modern quarters defenses, which in turn dictate that the safety over the slot is the glamour position du jour.

An offensive innovation like the zone read will open up the entire book again as coaches figure out ways of running all the things they already like out of new looks, new play-action, etc. But defensive innovation, with a few notable exceptions, is much more reactive.

Often what we call a "new defense" is just rediscovering an old, unsound thing that takes away the thing offenses are doing these days. The 46 defense was bringing a safety down. The zone blitz was having a defensive end playing coverage. The Tampa 2 had a middle linebacker responsible for deep middle coverage. The 3-4 made three linemen responsible for six gaps. And the hybrid man/zones of today put your deep coverage into the middle of the run-stopping game.

The way a defensive innovation becomes a sustainably great defense is great players. Dantonio's quarters dominated college football with a string of NFL-bound defensive backs. The 3-4's proliferation through the NFL was accompanied by a rush on anything that looked like Vince Wilfork. The Steel Curtain (the first Tampa 2) was built around Jack Lambert. Miami (NFL Miami)'s "No Name" zone blitz defense had a 6'5/248 lb. track star named Bill Stanfill at WDE. And the '80s Bears could pull off this crap:46 defense

…because that "46" was the jersey number of one Doug Plank.

You don't need to be a football guru to see what made the 46 defense tough: there are eight dudes in the box, six of whom are just a few steps from the quarterback. Running into a stacked box is futile (DO YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU HEAR ME, AL?!?). You can try to identify who's blitzing and throw to holes in the coverage before they arrive, but you'd better have Dan Marino.

[After the jump: how to 46 a modern offense]

Why Peppers Might Be A Safety

Why Peppers Might Be A Safety

Submitted by Brian on January 21st, 2015 at 12:31 PM


coming to a slot seam matchup near you?

I'm a tiny bit skeptical here since the source right now is recruit Iman Marshall (and Freddy Canteen if Canteen isn't just reacting to that) and Michigan's coaches other than Mattison haven't seen Peppers take a snap, but it's out there:

Michigan does return Countess and Lewis at corner, plus Channing Stribling, Terry Richardson, and Brandon Watson. If they find a third guy there's enough depth there to make the move. Meanwhile Michigan never settled on a safety opposite Jarrod Wilson last year, rotating through Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark, and Dymonte Thomas with middling success.

"But why?", you ask?

We have seen a lot of defenses move to a quarters system of varying aggressiveness as a response to the spread, and depending on how good and deep your safeties are that's either gone really well (Michigan State two years ago) or gotten you blazed down the slot whenever you run up against a good offense (Michigan State last year). OSU is also playing quarters for the most part, and when they're not they're putting a lot of pressure on a single high safety.

This trend comes from the NFL, where passing offenses were more advanced and you could unearth a freak of nature more often at safety. Chris Brown on quarters:

At first glance, Cover 4 looks like an anti-pass “prevent” formation, with four secondary defenders playing deep. But therein lies its magic. The four defenders are actually playing a matchup zone concept, in which the safety reads the tight end or inside receiver. If an offensive player lined up inside releases on a short pass route or doesn’t release into the route, the safety can help double-team the outside receiver. If the inside receiver breaks straight downfield, it becomes more like man coverage. This variance keeps quarterbacks guessing and prevents defenses from being exploited by common pass plays like four verticals, which killed eight-man fronts. The real key to Cover 4, however, is that against the run both safeties become rush defenders (remember, the outside cornerbacks play deep). This allows defenses to play nine men in the box against the run — a hat-tip to the 46’s overwhelming force.

The problem college teams often face is what happens when that man coverage from a vertical receiver comes from the offense's best WR against your third-best cover guy: the touchdowns linked above.

In a spread-oriented world, a safety has to be a corner and a linebacker at the same time. This is very hard, and modern offenses are targeting them more than anyone else for their big plays. After decades in which cornerbacks were the glamor players in any given secondary, the way many teams are playing and the shortcomings against slot receivers exposed this year demands a new, crazy athlete safety, even at the college level.

That's Peppers. If Michigan is set on quarters coverage, he's a guy who can sit over that "slot" receiver and not give up a major athleticism mismatch. 

UPDATE: Peppers seems to confirm on the twitters.

Having An Average Weekend

Having An Average Weekend

Submitted by Brian on October 6th, 2014 at 12:13 PM

10/4/2014 – Michigan 24, Rutgers 26 – 2-4, 0-2 Big Ten


Adam Glanzman

Growing up, you latch on to whatever hipster sketch comedy troupe is of the moment and think they just understand everything. If this is no longer true, I submit that this is why The Youth are going to be The Downfall Of Our Society.

Anyway, as I was pupating there were two: The State, which you may have heard about around here because of the tacos sketch, and Kids In The Hall. The Kids In The Hall defined my main problem in two minutes amongst other terribly funny things, but the thing about them is that their sketches frequently came with this air of unquenchable sadness. Like this thing I retweeted last week that I'd never actually seen before:

Half their sketches were just absurdity; the other half were the kind of thing popular amongst the adolescent-cry-for-help-amongst-the-clutches-of-suburbia crowd I was a part of.

I still think more highly of them than I do things like American Beauty. That's why I went back and edited the previous sentence to make the crowd the active thing instead of them. A large part of why is "Having An Average Weekend."

"Having An Average Weekend" was the theme song of the Kids In The Hall. They'd use it whenever a commercial break was incoming or outgoing paired with black and white shots of the hoi polloi of Toronto, and every time I watched a KITH episode I just wanted those interstitials to last forever.

I struggle to explain why. I actually bought a Shadowy Men On Shadowy Planet album because of this feeling the combination of the instrumental and those cinema vérité shots had on me, in between sketches about crushing your head. All those songs were boring. I even find the full version of Having An Average Weekend a little bit boring. In the context I found it was arresting. And I didn't even know the name of the song at the time.

When I found out… hoo boy.


Football happened, in the usual way.


The Kids In The Hall were awkward. SNL had Eddie Murphy, even The State had Michael Ian Black and actual girl Kerri Kenney. The Kids In The Hall were painfully awkward Canadians, girls not allowed. Not because of the usual reasons, because all of them were terrified of girls. So they were sad funny bastard teenagers who got on TV, being absurd about life.

This is a good answer!

I submit to you that when things look pretty bleak that the thing to do is laugh. This goes double for things you have no control over. I spent Saturday yelling at my friend to not pull a Dave Brandon by going to get a Little Caesar's "pretzel crust pizza," which he did anyway to the regret of all.

Instead of sauce this thing has nacho cheese. With cheese on top. I know that sounds like it could be magnificent, but once you add in the Little Caesars you may as well be eating an oil spill. I was impersonating that one guy in the athletic department who must have pled with Brandon "don't do this, please don't do this!" He did it. It was terrible, but it was funny.

We watched the rest of college football burn until 7:20, then dully took in the game. Each day we shovel fuel. We work in silence, etc.

I've gotten a lot of emails about how to stay positive in the midst of the towering blackness. One: I do not understand why you would ask me this question. I do not seem like a good person to answer. Phil Brabbs would be a good person. Two: life has been given to you in a context where you are evolutionarily programmed to both die and really really not want to die. The only thing to do at a funeral is laugh.

Really. I mean, not the funeral-funeral—have some decorum!—but the bits before and after that are the real thing. I was just in high school when my grandfather died but after he was in the ground his wife and children and those of us old enough to also be there sat around, talking about all the dumb and funny stuff he used to do in the present tense. And laughing.


Saturday we bought Combos and actual non-Little Caesars' food and watched college football burn down. Despite the funeral in the middle of it, we managed to have a pretty average weekend.

[After THE JUMP: if you're going to call me out just do it.]

Mailbag: Turkmenistan, Safety Moves, Recruiting Feels, Toughness

Mailbag: Turkmenistan, Safety Moves, Recruiting Feels, Toughness

Submitted by Brian on August 21st, 2014 at 12:33 PM

I'm in Turkmenistan. Seriously.


My name is Matan (Michigan '09) and I am a huge fan of MGoBlog.  I am currently driving 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia in a beat up little car as part of a for-charity roadtrip. 

A couple months ago (and two years ago), you posted a picture of the "Door to Hell" in Turkmenistan on the blog.  We figured we'd put the Michigan flag on it and claim it for the MGoBlog community. 

The second picture...well...when starring hell in the face, you might as well have some fun.

Go Blue!




It's always nice when someone explains why we got that one hit from Turkmenistan. Papua New Guinea, you're next.

Hey Brian,

I am of the type that I really don't care about ANY info about the skill positions that is coming out of camp because it is pretty clear that this team will only go as far as the offensive line will take them. The chemistry issues on the team last season were well documented and some have been more specific and direct, that there were chemistry issues and a lack of cohesion on the O-Line. With that being said, is there any truth to this and may it be better for this team to have an entire O-Line with youth so that they collectively progress together?


That's a bit of a stretch. I'd think that having an older guy next to you who could explain why you screwed up would accelerate the learning process for the younger folk. Where that kind of thing might pay off is a year or two down the road; this year it's just going to add to struggles.

I've dismissed "chemistry issues" as they may apply to last year's line, but there's two kinds of assertion in that bucket and I'd like to disavow one but not the other. The one I think is pretty unlikely to have had a major impact: Taylor Lewan supposedly being a jerk. At worst this slowed the ability of younger linemen to progress, and probably not much.

However, if by "chemistry issues" you mean the offensive linemen not having a good idea of what the guy next to him is going to do, I very much buy that as an explanation for why Michigan couldn't get yard one on the ground. So what I can offer is this: if the line remains stable through the year and reps the same offense throughout they will get better as we go, and possibly much better. Their relative youth should mean they improve faster than older players.

Meanwhile, moving guys around is going to be less of an issue if Michigan does focus on inside zone as their base play. Positional responsibilities are a lot closer in zone offenses—nobody pulls, everybody frequently executes doubles that send one or the other OL to the LB level depending on what the player in front of you does.

Unfortunately they're probably going to start as a pile of suck. Judge them by what their pile looks like at the end of the year. Maybe it'll be okay!

[After THE JUMP: safety moves, a guy who is not taking this mailbag as seriously as he should, recruiting feels]

Mailbag: We Should Have Been Screwed, Funk Position Paper

Mailbag: We Should Have Been Screwed, Funk Position Paper

Submitted by Brian on November 19th, 2013 at 11:28 AM


"I hope we're all up on the latest changes to the NCAA rule book." [Fuller]

Wait, substitution. Wait. Wait, what?

Yo Brian,

So when the bearded lady rushed into the center ring to launch the football out of the cannon through the flaming uprights at the end of the Evanston Circus, Michigan obviously made a substitution.  Northwestern did not make a substitution, but they, according to the Rules, could have.  If they did, it seems like that would have taken more time before the official gave the ready for play, and potentially wasted enough time to run the clock out.  In this parallel universe game which is crazier than the actual circus which unfolded, does Michigan get to attempt the field goal? How are the rules applied in that situation (which thankfully did not happen)?


UPDATE: NEVERMIND the below, as I missed this section in the rulebook:

Late in the first half Team A is out of timeouts. A pass play on third down ends inbounds at the B-25 short of the line to gain with the game clock showing 0:10. Facing fourth down and three, Team A immediately hurries its field goal team onto the field. RULING: Team B should reasonably expect that Team A will attempt a field goal in this situationand should have its field-goal defense unit ready. The umpire will not stand over the ball, as there should be no issue of the defense being uncertain about the next play.

Thanks to Maize and Blue Wahoo. I will self-immolate now like a Northwestern fan observing his team playing football.


We should have been screwed. The NCAA rulebook has a specific mention of this very scenario:

Late in the first half Team A is out of timeouts. A pass play on third down ends inbounds at the B-25 short of the line to gain with the game clock showing 0:30. Facing fourth down and three, Team A gives no indication as to its next play until the game clock reads 0:10. They then rush their field goal unit onto the field, and Team B then hurries to respond.

RULING: The umpire moves to the ball to prevent the snap until Team B has had a reasonable opportunity to get its field-goal defense unit onto the field. The umpire will step away when he judges that the defense has had enough time. If the game clock reads 0:00 before the ball is snapped after the umpire steps away, the half is over.

That is in blue along with various other new rules (like "minimum time for spiking the ball") this year, so it must have just been added. If Fitz tried to substitute, the rulebook says that the refs have to let him and the clock would then run out.

This is of course terrible since it prevents the sort of exciting thing that happened against Northwestern and replaces it with the clock running out because the defense can't get aligned in time and should be immediately stricken in the name of fun… except maybe it doesn't exist?

Game ref Bill LeMonnier:

“When a team is coming out and it’s the last play of the game and they substitute with their field-goal team, the defense is not given the opportunity,” referee Bill LeMonnier said. “Usually there’s match-up time on substitutions. When it’s the field-goal attempt like that on the last play of the half, then there’s no match-up given.”

This is in direct contradiction of the rulebook. So… yeah. I don't know. The only thing that may reconcile these two points of view is the rulebook stating that the team getting the FG unit out there spent 20 seconds doing nothing, whereas Michigan was clearly going GO GO GO as soon as Gallon was tackled.

Spiritually, if you can't get your FG block team on the field in that situation and the other team can get the play off, screw your field goal block team. Fire drills forever.

[After THE JUMP: talking Funk, safety rotation, and the latest bizarre email.]


GIS throws this at you when you google for Darrell Funk, so congrats Firstbase

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Defense

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Defense

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.

1. Novacs?

Michigan St Michigan Football

Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster

It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either

  1. the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
  2. a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.

Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.

Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.

It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.

Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.

Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.

[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]

Vlad Emilien to Transfer

Vlad Emilien to Transfer

Submitted by Brian on September 8th, 2010 at 10:34 AM


time for an update

Well-played, Angry Michigan Secondary-Hating God: Scout is reporting that Vlad Emilien is leaving Michigan. This is their Ohio recruiting analyst, FWIW, so it's not someone super-close to the program but he's not a random guy on the internet or bikini model. Details in the header:

Sophomore safety Vlad Emilien has left the Michigan football team, learned Wednesday morning. Emilien, out of Plantation, Florida, requested, and was granted, his release Tuesday in a meeting with head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Emilien got some playing time against UConn on their final drive when Michigan went to a prevent package but did not play before that and may not have played at all if Jared Van Slyke had been healthy.

When you're on the depth chart behind a walk-on the writing is on the wall, I guess, but that walk-on is now out for the season, so the depth chart at free safety now reads

  1. Cam Gordon
  2. The Howling Nothingness of the Void

Realistically, it means any injury to a safety will see Marvin Robinson move into the starting lineup either at FS or bandit, with Kovacs moving to the deep safety spot that was not such a good idea a year ago. This may have already been the case, but losing Emilien just makes the secondary even flimsier than it is right now.

If I had to guess, this was just an injury/playing time washout. I'd heard persistent rumors that the knee injury never healed right and the Roundtree/Emilien/Jones sprint in the spring game was an eye opener. Hard to believe Michigan's secondary can suffer a PT transfer, but behind a walk-on and all that.

In addition: ARGH.

UPDATE: Tom confirms.

An Interview with Ron Tanner

An Interview with Ron Tanner

Submitted by TomVH on January 8th, 2010 at 12:13 AM

Ron Tanner(video) is a junior safety prospect from Columbus, Ohio (I know). Tanner is participating in the US Army All American Junior Combine this week. The combine for juniors starts tomorrow, and Ron will be running a 40, shuttle, vertical jump, and doing some one on one drills. I caught up with him after the check in, and here's what he had to say.

TOM: You’re at the Army combine, did you just check in today?

RON: Yes sir, we checked in tonight, and our performance is tomorrow. We checked in today, and had to fill out a sheet with our top ranked schools on it. I ranked Michigan number one right now, then Northwestern, WVU, Pitt, Ohio State, Miami, and I didn’t put them on there, but Alabama is up there, too.

TOM: So, Michigan is number one for you right now?

RON: Yes, sir.

TOM: What about Michigan makes them number one?

RON: I feel like I could get good playing time up there, and Rich Rodriguez is an excellent coach. He’s rebuilding the program, and I see that. Being at West Virginia, it took him a couple years there to build it up, too. Now he’s recruiting the way he wants to, and they’ll be back at the top. Also, academically, they are at the top.

TOM: A recruit from Columbus always makes Michigan fans nervous. Is Ohio State going to be in the picture soon?

RON: I was a fan of Ohio State growing up as a kid, but I can’t look at my recruitment as a fan. I have to put all that aside, and choose what’s best for me. I really want to look at all the schools, and see where I feel the best, no matter where it is.

TOM: Who’s recruiting you the hardest right now, and how do you see your recruitment playing out?

RON: Northwestern is probably coming at me the hardest right now, but Michigan and West Virginia are showing a lot of interest, a long with Ohio State. I’m going to try to take some visits early on. If I feel comfortable with a decision, I’ll end it, but it could drag out a bit. I’m just going to play it by ear.