Upon Further Review: Defense vs Western Michigan

Upon Further Review: Defense vs Western Michigan

Submitted by Brian on September 9th, 2009 at 2:43 PM

What in the hell is this? It's "Upon Further Review," MGoBlog's comprehensive, numbers-heavy breakdown of Michigan's previous game. It takes until Wednesday/Thursday because it's a lot of work.

A note on video: changes to the torrent format killed the thing I'd been using to cut clips out, unfortunately, and I haven't found a solution yet. I'm really trying to get this squared away and will add them to the post as soon as possible. For now, no video.

UPDATE! Video good to go thanks to askarpo.

A note before we start: attempted to assimilate the offseason knowledge I picked up about over, under, and 30 fronts and actually pick out which shift Michigan was in before every play. This did not go well, so take the below with something of a grain of salt. I do think I got the "Base 4-3" right but I was marking 30 fronts—two gap fronts akin to an NFL 3-4—4-3 under fronts most of the game. And I'm still a little hazy. This, I believe, is the 4-3 under we've talked about all offseason:

4-3-under-look

Roh is a stand-up guy outside the weakside tackle. RVB is in a 3 technique over the weakside guard. Martin is the NT, shaded slightly to the strongside of the center (a 1-tech). And Graham is in a 7 outside the strongside tackle. The linebackers have shifted to the strongside.

This is basically the same thing with Roh's hand in the dirt against an I-form tight formation; Michigan brings Mike Williams up for an eight-man front on short yardage:

4-4-even-look

And this is the under again against a balanced formation; you can see that Graham has taken a considerably more outside stance and the guard is "bubbled" over Ezeh, which means he can just run out and block him:

4-3-under-look-2

As for platooning: there was none. Michigan spent the entire game in a 4-3 if you count Roh a DE and Brown a safety. If you want to call it a 3.5-3-4.5 I wouldn't look at you funny. At least, not too funny. They did rotate in backups on the defensive line after the first few drives.

Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O17 1 10 Shotgun Empty Base 4-3 Pass Hitch Graham 3
Wow. Mike Patrick in HD. Wow. Anyway: Graham starts off with a bang, blowing through the RT and hitting Hiller as he throws. (+1, pressure +1.) Ball is accurate but a short dumpoff that Ezeh and company snuff out after a short gain. (Cover +1, Ezeh +0.5)
O20 2 7 Ace Unbalanced 4-3 Under Run Dive Roh 3
Roh(+1), in a two-point stance as Michigan moves to an under look, attacks the RT. RT doesn't look like he's attempting to block Roh, as the play is supposed to go up the middle. This is a mistake: Roh gets underneath the guy and blasts him back into the ballcarrier as he passes. An unblocked Ezeh—no Broncos got off their doubles—cleans up. Michigan was in a pure eight-man front here, BTW, with a blitz off the edge from Williams absorbing a pulling TE. Would like Ezeh to be a little more proactive here and shut this down closer to the LOS.
O22 3 5 Ace 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Out Brown Inc
Quick out intended to exploit Brown in man coverage; Graham(+0.5) busts through the line a bit but it shouldn't be enough to throw off Hiller. Ball is wide of the receiver and dropped. Brown(+1, cover +1) was close enough so that a catch was unlikely to pick up the first down anyway.
Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 13 min 1st Q. The payoff of switching from Thompson to Brown at SLB is immediately apparent.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O33 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Hitch Cissoko 6
Quick hitch against Cissoko, who backed out before the snap and wasn't in position to defend this. Immediate tackle, FWIW, assisted by Mouton. No cover +/-.
O39 2 4 Shotgun 4-wide Base 4-3 Run Inside zone RVB 4
An attempt to plow up the middle sees RVB doubled and blown back a couple yards. Martin holds the POA pretty decently and Roh fights to hold the space down but RVB's loss of ground allows a guy to get to Ezeh's knees. RVB fights through the double to tackle two yards downfield; the RB falls forward for the first. I think maybe a -0.5 to RVB.
O43 1 10 Ace trips 4-3 Under Run Zone left Graham 2
Initially an I-form with a WR at FB; he motions out. Woo Debord-level deception. Graham(+1) blows the playside guard back, which forces a cutback into Mike Martin(+0.5), who avoided a cut and is the first of three or four tacklers.
O45 2 8 I-form 3-wide 4-3 Under Pass Throwaway Brown Inc
Western goes max pro as Michigan blitzes, which could be bad. But Cissoko(+1) is jamming his man all the way downfield, Brown(+1) has read this guy's crossing route and is running it for him, and Hiller has nowhere to go when the pressure, stymied initially(-1), gets through. He chucks it away. (Cover +2)
O45 3 8 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Fly Graham Inc
Graham(+2) zips right around the right tackle and deposits his face in Hiller's chest just as he releases a ball he shouldn't throw. The pass is a skyward duck that somehow manages to find turf. (Pressure +2) Also watch Roh(+1) set the left tackle up inside and then pwn him with a spin move to get free. If Graham wasn't eating the right tackle's baby this would be his pressure.
Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 8 min 1st Q. There are many good plays happening here. On next drive Herron in for Roh, Banks in for RVB.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O40 1 10 Shotgun 2-back 4-3 Under Pass Fly Warren Inc
Williams rolled up on the short side as Brown takes the slot. Hiller drops back and attempts to bomb it deep; Warren(+1, cover +1) has position and gets a bump before the ball is in the air, disrupting the pattern.
O40 2 10 Wildcat Base 4-3 Run Zone read fake counter Mouton? 6
Wildcat play with a tailback at QB; Michigan responds by pulling Williams to the LOS for another man in the box. This play sees two players pull to the opposite site of a zone read fake. The QB pulls the ball out of the RB's belly and runs a counter, using the RB as a lead blocker. I'm not exactly sure what the responsibilities are here but: 1) I think Herron correctly cuts off the guard and bounces the play outside of him. I think Williams does okay to get outside; I think Mouton's over aggressive, and I know Ezeh(-1) is hesitant and blocked out of the play. It's only a desperation tackle from Herron that keeps this down; Ezeh was done.
O46 3 4 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Pass Slant Warren Inc
Hiller rifles it high and too hot for Nunez. Warren was in good position to make a tackle and make this a tough catch no matter what, but this is probably a first down if thrown better. No cover +/-.
Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 5 min 1st Q. Warren in people's shirts and it will continue, to effects both good and bad.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O42 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide Base 4-3 Pass Dumpoff -- 5
Four man rush gets nowhere against five blockers (pressure -2) and Hiller's given time to survey. With no one open (cover +1) he checks down.
O47 2 5 Ace Base 4-3 Pass Hitch Warren Inc
Simple five yard hitch open in front of sort of soft coverage from M; Warren comes up to belt just as the ball arrives, aided by the fact that Hiller's pass is a bit in front of the WR and leaves him out to dry. Warren(+1) has jarred the ball loose with his thumping hit.
O47 3 5 Shotgun Empty 3-3-5-ish Penalty False Start -- Pen -5
FWIW: Roh's been pulled off the line on this play and deployed as a Crable-esque freelance wreaker of havoc. He drops off into a short zone on this play. Which doesn't count.
O42 3 10 Shotgun 4-wide 3-3-5-ish Pass Comeback Cissoko Int
Michigan does the same thing, providing an accursed three-man rush. It works, though, as Hiller is forced to check down (cover +1) to a guy running a comeback with no chance at the first down because Brown(+1) has gotten a great drop. Hiller's throw is off and the ball deflect to Cissoko(+1), who intercepts.
Drive Notes: Interception, 7-0, 4 min 1st Q.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O27 1 10 I-Form Tight Base 4-3 Run Off tackle Ezeh 3
This is a little better from Ezeh(+1), as he dodges one blocker and then gets inside of another one, disengaging to tackle after a few yards. Roh(-1) had given up the edge, shooting inside for pressure that was irresponsible and yielding the gap that turned Ezeh's good play into damage mitigation.
O30 2 7 I-form 3-wide 4-3 Under Run Draw Roh -4
All right, so this time Roh does basically the exact same thing, only this time he's crushed the right tackle and single-handedly blown up a draw play. +2; results-based charting service. Note that Van Bergen(+1) had also beaten his guy and would have crushed this a little less forcefully if Roh hadn't done it first.
O26 3 11 Shotgun Empty 3-3-5-ish Pass Hitch Graham Inc
This is another three-man rush where Roh drops off into coverage; this time Graham(+2) again obliterates the RT and is in immediately, hitting Hiller as he throws and forcing a one-hopped throw to a guy who was going to get three yards anyway. (Pressure +2)
Drive Notes: Punt, 14-0, 2 min 1st Q.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O29 1 10 I-Form Tight 4-3 Under Run Iso Ezeh 7 (Pen -5)
Not a good situation from M from the snap as the Broncos have overloaded the wide side with two TEs and a FB and just run right at Stevie Brown and... uh... walk-on Will Heininger. Heininger(-1) gets swallowed by a double; Ezeh(-1) “catches” a block in the words of Steve Sharik, and it's up to Woolfolk to come up and tackle after a seven-yard gain. Play comes back for illegal formation.
O24 1 15 Shotgun trips Base 4-3 Pass Yakety Sax -- -14
Supposed to be a screen but Hiller pulls a Threet with it, losing the ball backwards for no particular reason and suffering a huge loss.
O10 2 29 Ace 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Hitch Cissoko 6
Okay, yeah, whatever. No problem with soft coverage on second and twenty nine. Cissoko makes a solid tackle.
O16 3 23 Shotgun trips 3-3-5-ish Pass Jailbreak screen Ezeh -1
Ezeh(+2) recognizes quickly, slashes past his supposed blocker before he can get out, and tackles immediately. (Cpver +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 21-0, 10 min 2nd Q. This was just Western shooting itself in the foot.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O26 1 10 ??? ??? Pass Rollout out Cissoko Inc
We don't get the start of the play because of a sideline reporter. When we come back, Hiller is rolling out. He pumps, then throws to a WR running an out that Cissoko(+1) has undercut and breaks up (cover +1).
O26 2 10 Ace 4-3 Under Pass Hitch Warren 5
Another one of those dinko passes; Hiller leaves this one a little upfield which probably costs Western a yard or two. Warren comes up and makes a solid tackle. No coverage; +0.5 for the tackle.
O31 3 5 Shotgun 4-wide 3-3-5-ish Pass Deflection Ezeh Inc
Roh lined up as a quasi standup DT a la Crable. He and Banks drop off into zones as Brown and Ezeh blitz from the other side. This gets Ezeh(+1) in unblocked; he leaps to deflect Hiller's pass, and Woolfolk nearly picks it off. Excellent coverage on the receivers Hiller was checking (Woolfolk +1, cover +1). Steve Sharik analyzed this play in a diary.
Drive Notes: Punt, 24-0, 6 min 2nd Q.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O20 1 10 I-Form Base 4-3 Pass Dumpoff Brown 2
Michigan doesn't get lined up quite in time before the snap but still defends this well. Initial hitch is pumped but decided against (Warren +1, cover +1) and then Hiller comes down to a checkdown that Brown(+1) tackles immediately on.
O22 2 8 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Tipped Hitch -- 6
Four man rush doesn't get much pressure(pressure -1) and Hiller can check down to the tailback. If he catches the ball he gains like two yards because JB Fitzgerald(+1) is going to crush him as the ball arrives. Instead he deflects the ball into the air, where another WMU receiver snags it for decent yardage. Unfortunate. (Cover +1)
O28 3 2 Ace 4-4 under Pass Hitch Warren 11
Okay, Michigan has done this a few times so I'm going to dub it something: 4-4 under. This is a balanced formation with Woolfolk a deep safety and Williams pulled up to the line as an extra OLB. Warren is in man against an outside receiver who runs a two-yard hitch which is too open; he compounds this by slipping a bit on his break and therefore not being there on the catch to tackle. He sets up outside and forces the receiver back into Brown. (-1 Warren, -1 cover.)
O39 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide 4-3 Under Pass Hitch -- Inc
No pressure(-1) from a four man rush; Hiller finds a guy on a littler hitch for what would be four or five but turfs it.
O39 2 10 Ace 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Slant Cissoko 6
A two or three yard delayed slant; Cissoko's in man but doesn't break well, allowing the receiver to pick up a few yards after the catch. (Cover -1, Cissoko -0.5)
O45 3 4 Shotgun 3-wide 4-3 Under Pass Out Cissoko 9
Hiller throws an out on-time and accurate in from of Cissoko (cover -1).
M46 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Run Zone left Mouton 7
RVB(+1) blows the RG back, cutting off the frontside and forcing the RB to almost stop; that should be the end of the play, but either Martin or Mouton has taken a poor angle and given up an unnecessary cutback lane. I think I blame Mouton(-1), but this could easily be on Martin. Help from the coaching gallery? Also check out Woolfolk's track and tackle.
M39 2 3 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Out Floyd 9
Super easy as Floyd(-1) is playing soft and is nowhere near this WR's route when the ball arrives. Three yards of YAC. (Cover -1)
M30 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide 3-3-5-ish Pass Hitch Warren 13
Warren bailing out into a three-deep zone that leaves a simple hitch wide open for a first down. Lot of irritating soft coverage on this drive. (Cover -1)
M17 1 10 Ace 3-wide Base 4-3 Run Zone left Graham -2
Graham(+1) blasts the LT back, causing a cutback, where Sagesse(+1) has burst through the line and tackle with an assist from Herron.
M19 2 12 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Scramble Graham 2
Hiller drops back and is looking for the endzone; first read covered(+1). Graham(+0.5) fights through a blocker eventually to flush Hiller, and on the rollout no one is open (cover +1); Mouton forces him out after a couple yards.
M17 3 10 Shotgun 3-wide Base 4-3 Pass Sack RVB -9
RVB(+2) gets a great move on the G and shoots up into the pocket, which means that Roh(+1), who 's plowed the LT back, can't be avoided; as Hiller attempts to scramble out Roh grabs him and sacks. (Pressure +2)
Drive Notes: Missed FG(44), 31-0, EOH.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O3 1 10 I-Form Tight Base 3-4 Run Iso Graham 2
They shoot it up the middle and everyone holds their ground pretty well. Graham(+1) bursts inside and comes from outside to tackle at the LOS; a whole bunch of bodies fall forward.
O5 2 8 I-Form Tight Base 3-4 Run Iso Herron 4
This is actually a nine-man front, but Michigan is a bit confused about who should go where. On the snap Herron(-1) is confused and slants inside, so there's no one to take out the pulling guard and bounce the play. He recovers to tackle with Mouton but the pile lurches forward thanks to the guard's momentum.
O9 3 4 Ace 4-wide 4-3 Under Pass Slant Cissoko 13
Cissoko(-1) burned on the quick slant (cover -1) and isn't even in position to tackle immediately; when he does close the receiver runs through the attempt. Woolfolk cleans up.
O22 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Pass Hitch Warren 5
Again with the short dinky stuff; this one features an immediate tackle from Warren.
O27 2 5 Shotgun 4-wide Base 4-3 Pass Drag -- 7
Four man rush doesn't get pressure(-1), leaving Hiller to check out his options. Finding no one open (cover +1) he comes to a checkdown on the crossing route that picks up a first. Decent enough reaction from the secondary. Very few missed tackles today.
O34 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Pass Flanker screen Brown 7
Brown, lined up in a blitz position, takes two beats before dropping off into a zone. This is called by Robinson no minus, but the delay allows the flanker screen to develop; Brown does track down to tackle eventually.
O43 2 3 Ace 3-wide 4-3 Under Pass Sack Martin -3
Martin(+3) blows right through the center and, when Hiller hesitates on his three step drop, sacks authoritatively. GET IN THE CAR. (Pressure +2) Replay.
O46 3 6 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Pass Fly Warren 23
Michigan sends a bunch and they're about to get to Hiller, Brown first, when he lofts one up to a guy that Warren has blanketed. As he turns upfield to find the ball and possibly intercept—he's got two steps on the receiver—the WR's feet get in his and he falls to the ground. I'm not going to minus this because it's pure bad luck on an otherwise great play. (Pressure +1)
M39 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Run Inside zone Ezeh 3
So, yeah, this is something Steve Sharik was talking about in his diary: the frontside of this play is completely jammed; the RB has nowhere to go, and Ezeh's watching the guy come right at him. He can attack this play for no gain or a loss. Instead, he's hesitant and allows the guy to get into the hole, then slip by him for four yards that should never have happened. (-1 Ezeh) Good play by Sagesse(+1) to close down that frontside.
M36 2 7 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Pass Slant Graham Inc
Graham(+1) avoids a cut, notices he's in the throwing lane, and bats the ball down. (Pressure +1)
M36 3 7 Shotgun 4-wide Base 3-4 Pass Drag Mouton 10
Graham's third near-sack of the day; he comes tearing around the corner(+2, pressure +2) instantly and has Hiller in his grasp about to sack when he dumps it off to a guy on a drag route in front of Mouton(-1) in man. Tough cover for a LB in man on a drag but results-based charting in most cases (cover -1).
M26 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide Base 3-4 Run Zone read dive Ezeh 9
I can't tell if this is on Patterson or Ezeh. It's a zone read dive on which Patterson is unblocked but takes an angle that makes him unable to track down the RB. It's a pretty quick-hitting play and he might have contain on the QB, though Hiller's not exactly Denard. Ezeh, meanwhile, gets free of the LT with a sweet spin move... that sees him completely out of position. Without knowing who's responsible for what I can't really render judgement. -1 for both, I guess.
M17 2 1 I-Form Tight ??? Pass Long handoff -- Inc
Don't know what this defense is supposed to be because it appears Herron doesn't either. He's still trying to find out where he goes when they snap the ball. Hiller just airmails a long handoff, though.
M17 3 1 Shotgun Tight Base 3-4 Run QB draw Mouton 0
WMU screws something up because Mouton just isn't blocked and the pulling guard has no chance to get to him by the time Hiller arrives. He submarines and tackles(+0.5). Actually, this is the backup QB.
M17 4 1 Ace 3-wide 4-3 Under Pass Rollout out Brown Inc
This is open in front of Brown in man; he didn't look totally prepared for the snap. Hiller again does Michigan a favor and wings it wide.
Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 31-0, 1 min 3rd Q. After a very solid first half there's some confusion on a number of plays here.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O37 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 Under Run Zone read keeper Mouton 11
Mouton(-2) crashes hard and this is no scrape, so Hiller just pulls it out and has tons of room.
O48 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide 3-4 base Pass Fly Warren Inc (Pen +15)
Martin(+2) again blows through the center; the center sort of grabs at him, which slows him down and draws a flag. Hiller has just enough time to get a pass away. Again it's to a receiver that Warren has blanketed, but Warren doesn't get his head around for the ball and the WR tries to run through him and he gets called. I hate flags like this. Bad call. Penalties offset (pressure +2, cover +1)
O48 1 10 I-form 3-wide Base 4-3 Run FB Dive Roh 4 + 15 Pen
WMU runs the FB-dive outside-pitch combo, giving it off on the dive. They catch Michigan in a stunt so there's no resistance until Roh(+0.5) comes around to tackle. Their rock, our scissors... a little. Not like this was a big gain. Warren(-2) picks up a personal foul afterwards.
M33 1 10 Ace 3-wide 4-3 Under Pass Yakety Sax Mouton Int
Corner/LB/S blitz from whatever the heck Williams is gets him in unblocked (+1, cover +1) after he slips by the RB coming out of the backfield. Hiller loads up to throw deep—FWIW this would have been a shot at Floyd and from what I can tell his coverage is pretty good as they run off the screen—but Threets it, fluttering a ball skyward that Mouton(+1) dives to grab.
Drive Notes: Interception, 31-0, 14 min 4th Q.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O15 1 10 Shotgun 2-back 4-3 Under Run Zone read keeper Mouton 3
Backup QB in. This has an option to pitch that the QB doesn't take. Good job by Mouton(+1) to wade through some trash, read the play, and tackle.
O18 2 7 Shotgun 4-wide Base 3-4 Pass Bubble screen -- Inc
Hiller back in and just overthrows this. He has not been good.
O18 3 7 Shotgun 4-wide Base 3-4 Pass Slant Warren Inc (Pen + 6)
Warren(-1, cover -1) is all over the receiver and gets a deserved flag.
O24 1 10 I-Form Tight Base 3-4 Run Iso Graham 3
Graham ends up fighting through a double but can't make a diving tackle attempt; his vacating the area leaves a bunch of linebacker sorts attempting to hold back a wave of OLs. The pile lurches forward for a bit and West can dive for a few. Em… nothing?
O27 2 7 I-Form Tight 4-3 Under Pass Post Floyd 73
The big touchdown. Floyd(-3) gets burned badly and Woolfolk(-3) is sucked up despite having the deep center of the field. Note that Graham was about to tear into Hiller, too. (Cover –3)
Drive Notes: Touchdown, 31-7, 12 min 4th Q.
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Play Player Yards
O20 1 10 I-Form 4-3 Under Pass Corner Floyd 29
Graham, Roh, Martin out FWIW, so it's getting pretty scrubby out there. I'm going to stop tracking pressure and cover at this point. Floyd(-1) gets burned on a corner route that Hiller hits.
O49 1 10 I-Form 4-3 Under Run FB Dive Sagesse 1
No push whatsoever from the line and no creases as Sagesse(+1) and RVB(+1) hold up against doubles. FB dive goes nowhere.
50 2 9 Shotgun 4-wide Base 4-3 Pass Out Brown 11
Ezeh comes on a blitz and spectacularly hurdles the RB who attempts to block him, but Hiller's got the ball away. Good timing, good accurate route against Brown(a harsh -0.5).
M39 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide Base 3-4 Run Dive Martin 4
Martin(-1) has come back in and is clearly trying to do one of his crazy ninja pass rush moves because he hops outside a guard just in time for WMU to run a dive where he would have been normally. Linebackers converge with Ezeh(+1) raking the ball free. Michigan recovers.
Drive Notes: Fumble, 31-7, 7 min 4th Q.

GERG!

Wait just a second, there's another caller on the line.

What do you make of the performance of the Michigan defense against Hiller and WMU?  My initial observation was that they just shut down a future NFL quarterback and that's a great sign for the rest of the year.  Upon further contemplation I got to wondering how much of a factor Hiller's health was.  He had off season knee surgery and when other players have ligament operations we tend to hear it takes them a full year to be completely confident in it again.  Is this the same for quarterbacks and if so, was this a contributing factor in Hiller's poor performance? 

Thanks,
Andy Heck

Hiller was not as advertised. He yakety-saxed a couple balls, airmailed a few others, and was considerably less accurate than Forcier. But the Michigan defense had something to do with that. They got a considerable amount of pressure for such a dink-and-dunk offense and usually covered Hiller's first read unless they were intentionally playing soft. And they tackled much better. It's a lot easier to see this in a—

Chart?

Chart.

Defensive Line
Player + - T Notes
Graham 12 - 12 Ended two drives  and should have caused two INTs with dominating pass rush; lack of a sack nearly inexplicable.
Heininger - 1 -1 Got one drive, maybe two IIRC.
Patterson - 1 -1 Came on after Heininger.
Roh 5.5 1 4.5 Pretty good debut; showed a variety of pass-rush moves including a sick spin.
Herron 0.5 1 -0.5 Did make one good tackle from behind to prevent a long gainer.
Martin 5.5 1 4.5 Two great pass rush moves on the interior are most of those points.
Van Bergen 5 0.5 4.5 More effective on review; did not give ground, albeit against a MAC team.
Sagesse 3 - 3 Functional. We haz depth?
TOTAL 31.5 5.5 26 Crushing; not surprising when Michigan picked up three sacks and should have had three more.
Linebacker
Player + - T Notes
Ezeh 5.5 4 1.5 Instincts did not seem vastly improved but wasn't exploited in coverage once, which is a major step forward.
Mouton 2.5 4 -1.5 Seemed irresponsible.
Brown 4 0.5 3.5 Way better than Thompson against the spread.
Fitzgerald 1 - 1
Demens - - - Don''t think he played.
TOTAL 13 8.5 4.5 Not a huge number but more on their coverage later.
Secondary
Player + - T Notes
Warren 3.5 4 -0.5 Special breakout on Warren later.
Cissoko 3 2.5 0.5 Solid, not spectacular.
Floyd - 5 -5 Yikes.
Turner - - - DNP
Woolfolk 1 3 -2 Harsh; breakout section
Williams 1 - 1 I love 1-0-1 days from safeties.
Emilien - - - DNP
Jones - - - DNP
TOTAL 8.5 14.5 -6 "Coverage" to mitigate.
Metrics
Pressure 16 6 10 A couple of instances where four man-rushes got slowed but a lot of pressure from little blitzing.
Coverage 16 10 6 A lot of the minuses came after the shouting was over.

So there you go: big plus days in both the metrics, and if I'd remembered I wanted to add "tackling" this year I can tell you that tackling would have been hugely positive as well. When you're looking at the numbers, keep in mind that a large section of the minuses are directly attributable to JT Floyd, which says a lot about Michigan's corner depth but not much about the starting eleven, and that Michigan got pretty soft late.

What about Brown at his new position?

As Greg—

GERG.

As GERG said, possibly apocryphally, he's "a hell of a lot better player there." Stripped of the requirement to find cosines and the like, Brown was free to be a super-athletic linebacker who's good in man and good at short zone drops without being a touchdown magnet. He's a modern OLB. We've yet to see if he can hold up against big pounders but with Notre Dame missing its starting fullback and starting a wisp of a pass-receiving TE, that potential weakness won't get tested just yet.

Speaking of, initial GERG review?

His defense makes a lot more sense than Shafer's even if it's almost the same formation. Michigan never got away from its base set but that's a lot less infuriating when the guy you're running out on third and long is Brown, not Johnny Thompson, and you've got the flexibility provided by a deathbacker. Michigan never, ever went to a three-man line except on obvious passing downs, never found themselves on the wrong end of a hugely speculative playcall, and rarely found themselves uncertain of what to do before the snap. GERG simplified the defense, made it flexible enough to function against spread teams without getting out of base, and put his players in positions to do what they do well.

Thumbs up after game one; game two will be a much stiffer test.

So Warren's day was… interesting. Argh Michael Floyd?

Short of being totally awesome in all ways I thought Warren's day was as encouraging as it could be given the three penalties and a couple plays that came at his expense. His game looked like that montage in a superhero movie where the hero performs a slapstick routine of smashing cars, punching through walls, and burning innocent pedestrians to death before he gets a handle on his newfound powers. Warren was hyper-aggressive in his first game free from bone chip soup in his ankle; the results were mixed-to-encouraging.

Plays marked "Warren" above:

  • Busts up long route with bump; has better position than the receiver.
  • Good position on a third and four slant that was fired too high and hard.
  • Thumps ball loose on a hitch. (Or, at least, helps a receiver who was already dropping the ball finish dropping the ball.)
  • Leaves two hitches open on Michigan's soft pre-half drive.
  • Immediate tackle on hitch.
  • Running a guy's route for him and going to be in position to intercept when receiver trips him (not in a penalty sort of way).
  • Running almost inside a guy's jersey and gets called for interference, which I think is a crappy call.
  • Gets deserved PI on a slant he was too aggressive on.

So… yeah, Warren had a couple incidents where Michigan gave up yards but the bulk of his day was running Juan Nunez's routes for him. Sometimes this got flagged and once he got tripped. But I'll take that sort of aggressive clamp-down coverage any day when the opponent is Michael Floyd. If Warren ends up a yard in front of Floyd the three to thirty times Notre Dame attempts to hit him deep, Michigan's going to be in good shape.

What happens when Notre Dame goes to three-wide?

Nothing. Michigan spent the entire day its base set and has no corner depth. They do have guys on the edge who can cover Robby "That's Racist" Parris or whoever; it's not like Notre Dame's backup WRs are speed demons.

Heroes?

Graham is the most obvious answer, and everyone shared in an all-around excellent performance before the D got backup- and vanilla-happy late.

Goats?

JT Floyd looked overmatched by a MAC team, which bodes very unwell for Michigan's corner depth. Jonas Mouton didn't have a strong game, though as mentioned it's tough to tell how good his zone drops were and the way the game went suggests they went pretty well.

What does it mean for Notre Dame?

I've sort of gone from thinking this is a bad matchup for Michigan to thinking it's an okay one or even good. Stick Warren on Floyd and Cissoko on Tate, give them deep halves help, spare the blitzing and let Michigan's diverse and sundry rushers attack the Notre Dame defensive line… I can see this working out. The prospect of a max-protect bomb still worries given what happened against Western, but if Warren's as ready to live up to the five-star hype—and he looked far more likely to in the Western game than any other to date—and Michigan can get away with shifting the coverage over to Tate and pulling up a safety into a robber zone to bracket Rudolph, I like Michigan's chances to hold Notre Dame into that 20-24 point range where victory seems a strong possibility. Notre Dame's run game has always been a finesse sort of thing heavy on screens and draws, which plays into the hypothetical strengths of Michigan's slimfast defense

I watched the Nevada game and a lot of ND's first half production was based on exploiting Nevada's "explosive pass rushers" at defensive end, which rushers also happened to be completely irresponsible. Graham isn't likely to be as exploitable, but Roh or Herron might be. I'd line up Graham on the strongside, which might induce ND to have Rudolph stay in to block, as they're going to double him lots anyway.

The key will be the safeties. Woolfolk is going to have to think deep first and not get caught flat-footed like he did on the Western touchdown; if Michigan loses to Notre Dame because of ND's ground game, well… that will be a surprise.

Preview 2009: Linebackers

Preview 2009: Linebackers

Submitted by Brian on September 3rd, 2009 at 2:33 PM

Part seven of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009, quarterbacks, tailbacks, receivers, offensive line, and the secondary.

Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.

A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.

obi-ezeh Linebackers

Rating: 3.5.

Depth Chart
WLB Yr. MLB Yr. SLB/Spinner Yr.
Jonas Mouton Jr.* Obi Ezeh Jr.* Stevie Brown Sr.
Kenny Demens Fr.* JB Fitzgerald So.* Mike Jones Fr.
Kevin Leach So.* Brandon Smith Fr.* Brandin Hawthorne Fr.

       

Here's where we have to start talking about the changes Greg Robinson hath wrought. In this defense there's a large distinction between the outside linebackers—"spinner" and deathbacker—and the inside linebackers. In this way it's more of a 3-4. Jay Hopson doesn't even coach the guys on the outside, he only gets the WLBs and MLBs. These guys will be operating off the line of scrimmage at all times and acting like conventional linebackers.

The outside guys are the hybrids, with the deathbacker somewhere between a defensive end and a linebacker and the "spinner"—a term that Greg Robinson claims does not exist—somewhere between a linebacker and a safety. On any particular play they could be tight to the line of scrimmage or dropped off. This helpful screenshot from diarist remdies should help clarify:

linebacker alignment

There's been a lot of debate on the blog about whether the base D is a 4-3 under or not; this alignment, for one, is pure 4-3 under. In any case, you can see the spinner and deathbacker at or near the line of scrimmage; Brown, if called to do so, can drop off onto the slot receiver. That's why he's on the strongside: to cover. I assume this will be the base formation against spreads, with adjustments for pounders.

Middle Linebacker(s)

Going into last year, Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense. Oh, hell, let me quote myself:

Obi Ezeh
2008
"Like David Harris"
Not like Harris
Frowns: read fail
Slashing blitz
Unblocked, manages good read
Hesitant, booted
Hesitant, booted x2
Blitzes into play
Suckered by PA
Blitz sack
Blowing up Juice
Not blowing up Juice
Nope, not here either
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
Good flow wsg Graham

Sophomore middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense in 2007: a redshirt freshman pressed into the starting lineup before his time, he was unprepared and often bad. Now he’s the “veteran” anchor of a shaky unit, counted upon to improve massively.

Going into this year, Obi Ezeh is still the Steve Schilling of the defense: a two-year starter entering his redshirt junior year without having done much to distinguish himself and rapidly running out of upside. Schilling's got a fresh start and bonus round of practice hype based on his position switch, but Ezeh's not been so lucky. Though he's been showing up on some preseason All Big Ten lists, that's strictly a Matt Lentz phenomenon. Lentz entered his third year as a Michigan starting guard in 2005 with a ton of accolades; he left without even getting drafted. Winged helmet momentum sometimes carries meh players to lofty preseaon heights; Ezeh appears to be one of these folk.

There's a theme in the videos at right: the good ones usually involve Ezeh shooting towards the line of scrimmage on a blitz. The bad ones see him getting lost: see "hesitant, booted" or "suckered by PA" or "WHERE ARE YOU GOING"; the theme is clear here.

A lot of Ezeh's issues at right came in the Illinois game so let's check that game's UFR:

The first of Williams's crazy ninja ballfakes. This one suckers an unblocked Ezeh(-2) despite the fact Mouton is racing up into the same hole, beating a blocker to tackle the guy. … Ezeh(-1) fails to read this, hesitating long enough for the C to get out on him on the second level. … Ezeh(-2) took an upfield angle around a blocker [on a 57-yard screen touchdown]. … Problem: Ezeh(-2) overruns the WR as he cuts back since Mouton has forced him back upfield. He whiffs a tackle, allowing Illinois to convert. … Ezeh(-1.5) completely overruns the play, turning two yards into first and goal.

Now, Ezeh did have +8.5 scattered across that game but it was outweighed by a –12.5, which whoah. Most of the plusses came when Ezeh was permitted to attack the line of scrimmage immediately on a blitz or Illinois decided not to go with misdirection; you have to set people up sometimes, right? When they weren't doing that, they confused Ezeh. A lot.

Part of that was uncertainty about just what the hell he was doing. After I slammed Johnny Thompson for his performance in the Notre Dame game, high school coach and excellent diarist Steve Sharik came to his defense by way of blamin' Obi:

The mistake was by Obi Ezeh.  By design, Ezeh is supposed to fast flow over the top and be outside of Thompson.  If the back sees this and cuts back, he does so into the waiting arms of Terrance Taylor.  Ezeh's used to the old way--which was played as you suggested.  If you re-examine "bad iso 3," Ezeh is flat-footed instead of screaming over the top, which is what the scheme calls for.  And that's why Thompson spilled the block again on the next play.  The bad part is that Ezeh messed it up again. 

It's not like Ezeh was the only one who had no idea what he was doing last year, but as the middle linebacker it's just way more apparent when you get lost because you're reading and reacting on every play.

Will it be better? Michigan, after all, has just switched schemes again. That will depend on Ezeh's increased experience giving him added flexibility and how much better Greg Robinson is compared to Scott Shafer at, you know, teaching people things. Everyone knows he's not David Harris but Harris didn't start until he was a redshirt junior; Ezeh will be one this fall. If he can just get his head on straight he should be average or slightly better.

mouton-toledo mouton-minnesota

will pop your lid

Jonas Mouton
2008
Smart read
Play action fail
Chasing down end around
Blitz TFL
Frowns: poor zone cover
Stands up FB, tackles
Stands up G, tackles
Improved coverage late
Destroys triple option

The other starting spot is technically an outside linebacker position but the two spots are far more similar than WLB is to spinner/SLB so I'll slot Jonas Mouton here. Mouton's star was fading rapidly after he arrived out of California a top-50 recruit. Despite Chris Graham's persistent mediocrity, Mouton never threatened to start after moving from safety. And when Michigan opened last season, Mouton was behind two-star recruit Marell Evans.

Evans fell by the wayside when Michigan revamped its linebacker corps after the Utah un derneath coverage fiasco, paving the way for Mouton to chip in a +7 in his first extended game action against Miami Of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio). Ah, but not so fast my friend:

Mouton was overrated by the numbers, IMO. I gave him credit for blitzing up into the heart of Miami plays over and over again; that credit should probably fall to Shafer and not Mouton. Overall, though, I did think he played well and was a major upgrade over Evans.

That he was. Evans fell into the background and hardly saw a defensive snap the rest of the season; Mouton dropped off from his dynamite debut into a series of performances that were only okay but promised better once Mouton found his feet. That he did. Amongst the debris of the Purdue disaster his "continued good play" was about the only positive I could find

The praise Mouton started picking up late last year in UFR is echoed by Hopson. No, scratch that. It is amplified considerably (further quotes in this piece from Hopson are all from this link):

I’ve been really pleased with Jonas. Jonas is a kid that has worked extremely hard. He’s a kid that’s an explosive player. He’s a kid…he’s my kind of guy. Jonas is a tough guy. He’s physical and we expect Jonas to make some plays for us. … I think he’s ready to have a big year. … I think he’s an NFL player all the way. I’ll sell him to anybody. I just love him.

This dedicated amateur concurs. Mouton's uptake last year was swift and by the end of the season he was easily Michigan's best linebacker. Chart? Chart.

Opponent + - Total Comments
Wisconsin 6 4.5 1.5 Had a tough time against Wisconsin's mondo players and is still learning; potential is there.
Illinois 5 2.5 2.5 Was better suited to defend this offense than the more lumbering guys. BONUS: “solid day”
Penn State 7 6 1 Still terrible in coverage; turning into a good blitzer.
Michigan State 5.5 3 2.5 Stood up MSU's fullback time and again, clearly surprising MSU. ... pleasantly surprised by both OLBs in this game.
Purdue 5.5 3.5 2 The closest thing M has to a player in the back seven right now.
Minnesota 2 5.5 -3.5 Off day from him; was culpable on one of the GDCDs.
Northwestern 9.5 1.5 8 Monster day, best of his career. Really got freed up to attack and constantly shot past guys trying to block him.

I could go through more of it but it's all the same in the comments: Mouton's an excellent, explosive blitzer and surprisingly stout when it comes to taking on fullbacks and even guards at the point of attack. He's still vulnerable to misdirection some and has coverage issues—though they weren't as severe as Ezeh's. He's got the athleticism to be a pass-rush threat and should get more capable in coverage this year. He'll be drawing easier assignments, for one, as Stevie Brown replaces Johnny Thompson in the lineup.

Mouton is poised for a breakout.

Backups and Whatnot

This is about the only spot on defense where there is reasonable depth. Two second-year players back up Ezeh and Mouton. Ezeh's primary backup is JB Fitzgerald, a sophomore who got special teams time a year ago. As a recruit, Fitzgerald was just outside the top 100 on the recruiting sites and has gotten the sporadic positive mention in practice reports and coach recaps. Hopson recently said that Fitzgerald is "really in a battle" for a starting job, and though that may be optimistic about his chances it says something about him that he's not just shoved into the background.

More from Hopson:

JB … knows both positions. JB is smart. He’s also very much like Obi. He is mentally sharp. He’s physical and JB is a competitor. He’s not going to give in. JB wants a job too. He’s going to work hard and I’m fortunate to have guys like that. … He might be a little bit further ahead at MIKE right now, but I probably practice him a lot more at MIKE right now.

He should be reasonably prepared should he be called upon, and his talent level seems high. He's probably the player outside the starting eleven you should be least terrified to see on the field.

Kenny Demens is a classmate of Fitzgerald's but got an injury redshirt last year after appearing on special teams in the first couple games. He wasn't a huge recruit or anything, but the practice buzz has been positive. He'll be Mouton's primary backup.

There is also converted safety Brandon Smith. Smith was a big recruit—about on par with Mouton, actually—who stayed at safety his first year mostly because Michigan had few other options. When it became clear he didn't have the speed to stay there in spring, he was moved to linebacker.

Hopson is very positive about him:

They have to have an awareness. … That’s the one thing that has impressed me about Brandon Smith, moving from defensive back. When you’re far away from the ball sometimes you have time and distant on your side, you have a little bit more time to decipher. Brandon came in and in two days, okay this kid has that ability. He can see right now. A lot of players are big, physical and fast, but they can't see all the stuff that a linebacker has to see. It is truly that natural instinct.

Question: Is Brandon Smith catching up?
Jay Hopson: “Yes, he really is. He is a kid that’s worked extremely hard. I see him making one more step every day."

Even so, it will take at least a year for Smith to get comfortable enough to be a viable option. If we see him this year the linebacking corps will look like a MASH unit. Look for Smith to idle away on the bench until Mouton and Ezeh graduate, then battle for a starting job as a redshirt junior. He should be a special teams mainstay.

Strongside Linebacker

stevie-brown

Steve Brown
2007
The Horror Begins
2008
Frowns: Utah overrrun
PBU leads to int
Blanket in man
FROWNS: Blown post
FROWNS: Slant = TD
FROWNS: tackle whiff
FROWNS: flat fail
Actually appears to be a safety here

I don't remember where I read this but it sounds like the sort of quote that must have been on a message board somewhere, penned by one of those insider-type folks. Wherever it was, it lodged in my head and won't leave. Here's a possibly apocryphal quote about Stevie Brown from Greg Robinson: "he's a hell of a lot better player where he is now."

For the love of God, let that be true. A brief tour of Stevie Brown's 2008 can be found at right, or you can just read this in-depth scouting report: ack.

You can check the Miami Of Ohio (NTMOO) UFR for an early laundry-list of concerns but it's the Michigan State one that gets right to the point:

Brown … seems hopeless. He was quiet for a few games, then returned with a vengeance in this one. Some guys just can't figure out how to play, and at this point it would be shocking if the light ever went on.

Oh and the Northwestern one:

that's quintessential Brown: poor angles and poor awareness of the situation on the field.

And some others but you get the point. Brown was a horror show at safety.

But he's no longer a safety and if you look at the few highlights at right that don't start with the word "frowns" you'll find the athleticism that made Brown a big recruit out of high school and some good examples of man coverage. If he's not the last line of defense and he's in a lot of man against tight ends or tailbacks coming out of the back and maybe a slot receiver or three, maybe this could be okay? It certainly addresses one of the dumbest traits of Scott Shafer's tenure as defensive coordinator: leaving dinosaur MLB Johnny Thompson on the field against spread teams and asking him to cover… well, anyone. At the very least, Brown is more suited for modern football than a guy with a neck roll. Who covered slot receivers. Argh! That's another post, though, and one for tomorrow.

Brown, for one, thinks his move is a good one:

“It’s been going well. It was a little different for me at camp having to actually hit the O-lineman and tight ends all day, every day. Thus far, it’s been fine. I’ve been able to adjust to it very well. Coach Robinson does a good job teaching it and I think it’s going to work out very well for me.”

I do too, but man that incident in the spring game where the Coner juked him out of his jock, combined with, you know, everything else in his history, makes me leery. I do think he'll be in position to make a lot of plays, and I love the flexibility and common sense of putting a virtual safety in a spot where he can blitz, play zone, or man up. I like putting him behind deathbeast Brandon Graham, which should make it harder for defenses to exploit his lack of size. And people get better as they age. Michigan's put Brown in a spot to maximize his assets and minimize his downside, and I kind of sort of think it will work out.

lucy-football

Backups and Whatnot

None with experience. Michigan brought in three safety/linebacker hybrid freshmen, though. No one's heard much about Isaiah Bell (recruiting profile) so far because IIRC he's been injured. Mike Jones (recruiting profile)is second on the depth chart after enrolling early; Brandin Hawthorne (recruiting profile) also enrolled early but is, for now, behind a walk-on. Jones will play in an effort to get someone ready for the spot once Brown graduates; Hawthorne and Bell are likely to redshirt.

Big Ten Players Favor Playoff, Money

Big Ten Players Favor Playoff, Money

Submitted by Brian on July 29th, 2009 at 11:28 AM

While in Chicago, Tim took the opportunity provided by the Big Ten's roundtable section to ask players a couple of survey questions that have been hot topics in college football for the past few years. He only got to 19 of the 33 players before time went kaput, but 19 opinions are better than zero. The following is an unscientific survey.

Should We Have a Playoff?

YES: 9
NO: 7
ABSTAIN: 3

Two of the abstentions were vaguely pro-playoff, with one stating "a playoff will happen soon either way because that's what fans want"—ah, if only college football worked like that—and the second saying "something other than what we have now, not necessarily a playoff."

Would A Playoff Negatively Affect Your Schoolwork?

YES: 2
(MOSTLY) NO: 17

The two who said yes were pro-BCS. The rest either said probably not, or "not enough that a playoff shouldn't happen."

Should Players Be Paid?

YES: 12
NO: 7

Most of the guys said something along the lines of "just a little bit more money, not really a salary or anything." Nobody had even thought about whether EA should have to pay them for using their likenesses, but most said they guess it makes sense.

Who's The Best Player In The Big Ten?

Amongst a sea of solitary votes three guys leapt out:

ARRELIOUS BENN: 8
JUICE WILLIAMS: 3
TERRELLE PRYOR: 2

Your unofficial, dominant players' Big Ten offensive POY is Arrelious Benn, which will no doubt please Dr. Saturday.

Other bits from Tim

Most everyone though Ohio State or Penn State would win the Big Ten, and White Michigan State Receiver Named White mentioned (without knowing which media organization Tim was with, no less!) that Michigan was a good darkhorse candidate. I'm not sure whether he was being serious, talking up a rival, making fun of a rival's recent struggles, etc.

I didn't ask this question, but I wrote down the answer because I thought it somewhat relevant to Michigan: OSU TE Jake Ballard mentioned that Justin Boren would win in an all-out fight of the Buckeyes' football team, because he's the toughest. [Editor's note: who asks the question "what would happen if you guys all took PCP and started beating the hell out of each other?"]

Stevie Brown was pretty non-specific about defensive scheme, mostly saying they'll play multiple formations and the "hybrid" terminology has been a little overblown. They're just out there playing defense.

On Tate, Rodriguez said "If we have multiple guys who can win football games at quarterback, they'll all get the chance to play" (paraphrase), nothing specific about limiting carries, though the implication seemed to be that there were viable backup options if a QB did get hurt.

Unverified Voracity Says Yes, Yes, Yes

Unverified Voracity Says Yes, Yes, Yes

Submitted by Brian on July 28th, 2009 at 10:45 AM

The point of the diaries! Leading off: a fantastic diary from MCalibur on the increased vulnerability of spread option quarterbacks, or, apparently, the lack thereof. "Do spread quarterbacks get injured more?" is a question I've abdicated on before, citing the lack of a reliable injury database that could provide a comprehensive answer without good old fashioned grunt work. MCalibur grunted his way to a money graf after splitting quarterbacks into four quartiles based on run/pass ratio, with group 3 your Pat White sorts and group 0* your John Navarre sorts:

On a percentage basis the only group that suffered an out of norm injury percentage were level 2 QBs which I think of as QBs that are used like running backs (Juice Williams) or QBs that are too slow to be running in the first place (Steven Threet). All other groups suffered injuries at about a 23% clip. Meaning about 1 out of every 4 QBs in a given category lost playing time due to injury in 2008.

Though I don't agree with totally dismissing the increased injury rate of "group 2" QBs, the numbers here are small enough that it seems like an outlier. The Pat Whites got injured at at the same rate as groups 1 and 2, and group one was by far the hardest hit in terms of man-games lost. There is definitely no clear correlation between lots of runs and injury.

Caveat: as noted, the sample size here is small. The numbers are suggestive but not definitive. It's not impossible a larger study would show a better correlation between runs and injury. It is, however, pretty unlikely. Outstanding work; I have bestowed a bonus 100 (meaningless!) points. Misopogon also picked up the bonus for the numbers post front-paged last night. At some point these will be useful, I swear.

*(Dollars to donuts this means MCalibur is a coder. He's zero-indexing his arrays.)

Meanwhile on the roster. Michigan applied for three medical redshirts last year and news reports had confirmed that two of them—Adam Patterson, now a redshirt junior, and Junior Hemingway, now a redshirt sophomore—had been approved. The third was Kenny Demens, who the roster now lists as a redshirt freshman. Obviously inference: Demens, too, got his redshirt.

The whole enchilada from Rich Rodriguez's appearance at Big Ten media days:

Transcript here if you don't want to bother with the video. I read it and decided against it; there is zero of value in there. There is also creepy dark cell-phone video from The Big Ten Network talking to Mark Ortmann and Stevie Brown:

Mesko doesn't talk, he just saves the planet. There is also more of Rodriguez talking.

Can we get in on that? Yankee Stadium is poised to host outstandingly competitive games between Notre Dame and Army—why do you hate America, Notre Dame?—starting in 2010. This has caused Army to sign up a half-dozen future Yankee Stadium games against other East Coast schools and Yankee Stadium to start thinking bigger and possibly more competitive:

The Daily News has learned that there have been discussions between the NCAA and high-ranking Yankee officials, including managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, about the possibility of establishing a postseason bowl game at Yankee Stadium, beginning in 2011.

And… hey… can we get in on that? And in a meaningful way, not a goofy Motor City Bowl sort of way? I would love the opportunity to watch some other Big Ten team freeze its ass off in New York against some warm-weather team and caveman their way to astounding victories. Hell, if Michigan ended up in it I might even go depending on just how Christmas-impinging the thing is. Why don't we boot the Alamo Bowl to the curb—cold or not, there is no comparison between San Antonio and New York—and take on any comers in the frozen northlands?

(HT: Doctor Saturday.)

Erm? I've never had the Erin Andrews-level obsession that much of the rest of the college football blogosphere has with stat ninja Phil Steele, but I do respect his research-mad ways and how he eschews the sort of punditry that can best be summed up with the word "Cowherd."

So, um, Phil, what?

7. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan – The Wolverines could be an underdog in as many as 7 games this year and they really must have a winning season. I think Rodriguez will get them to a decent bowl and make major strides just like he did in his 2nd year at West Virginia. Amazingly there are a lot of Michigan alumni who think Rodriguez runs a pass-happy spread offense! In his last 6 years at West Virginia his teams averaged 270 ypg rushing the football (148 ypg pass) while Michigan in that same span had 229 ypg PASSING and just 163 ypg rush.

Not only does that "7" represent Phil Steele's placement of Rich Rodriguez on his top 13 "hot seat" list—ahead of Charlie Freakin' Weis!—but I would like to meet the Michigan fan not in a coma that believes Rich Rodriguez piloted a pass-happy spread offense featuring Pat White.

Never fear, though. Sensing a threat to their hard-earned possession of 2009's Dumbest Statement About Michigan Football, CFN strikes back:

2009 Preseason All-Big Ten Defense

DB - Stevie Brown, Sr., Michigan
DB - Kurt Coleman, Sr., Ohio State
DB - Donsay Hardeman, Sr., Illinois
DB - Torri Williams, Sr., Purdue

That's right. Stevie Brown, who isn't a defensive back anymore, and oh by the way was mindbogglingly awful last year, is first-team All Big Ten. You win, CFN, you win.

(CFN HT: MattC87 around these parts. What, you think I read it?)

More scheduling bits. I have no idea about the veracity of any of these rumors, but the following five schools have been kicked about the internet in the wake of Rodriguez's announcement that Michigan would likely find a BCS school to have a home-and-home with. In ascending order of plausibility:

5. Duke. In a word: no. Michigan could get a Duke-level opponent without a return game, and has in the recent past when they scheduled Vandy. Duke's existence in the list of four teams batted about (all listed save UConn) reduces the plausibility of the rest of them.

4. UConn. UConn isn't Duke but they aren't a ton better from a program perspective. (They're obviously better on the field.) It's hard to envision Michigan playing at 40,000 seat Rentschler field. And it's hard to envision UConn agreeing to another neutral site game after their sellout series with Notre Dame was met with resistance from the state legislature and brokered down to six games from the original ten with a provision that the Huskies play at least six true home games each year. Also, they'd have to move or cancel a game with Northeastern. Also also, the recruiting exposure would be nil.

3. Pitt. This was addressed yesterday: in 2010 Pitt already has Miami and Notre Dame scheduled, with ND on the road. Even though they've got an extra nonconference game because they're in the Big East, that would be a foolishly challenging setup for either Wannstedt battling for his job or the new guy looking to get off on the right foot.

2. Oregon State. Oregon State is a plausible opponent, but they'd have to accept a nonconference schedule of @ M, Louisville, and @ Boise State to go with their nine-game conference schedule. Has any college football team not named USC (or Troy, I guess) been that ballsy since the adoption of the 12th game?

1. Virginia. Virginia is a plausible opponent and was #3 on my list from yesterday.

As far as Cal goes, one of the guys from Cal Golden Blogs emailed me to remind me about the latest update on a potential series from their perspective:

An attempt to schedule Michigan "fell through."  Not sure if that would have been for this year, and that's why we had to scramble to get Eastern Washington.  Tedford did say that he doesn't want to play too many good teams and prefers A, B, C scheduling.  He stressed he always wants a home-home series, and that they're "not interested" in playing somebody without a return game.  In regards to a suggestion that we play Notre Dame, Sandy Barbour, who used to work for Notre Dame, added, "The Irish are afraid."

Downgrade Cal in your betting pools.

Blunt. I was taken aback by a Rittenberg headline that read "Rodriguez sees chemistry built, entitlement vanish," but did indeed Rodriguez drop "entitlement" more than once:

"Are you hungry to prove yourself and not have a sense of entitlement? We talked quite a bit about not having the sense of entitlement," Rodriguez said. "It's good to have pride, but when that pride becomes too much, you're going to get humbled pretty quick. I think, in a sense, that happened to us."  

There have been gigabytes spilled about this very topic on Michigan message boards from one end of the internet to the other: had Michigan fallen into complacency as Carr aged and the spittle ceased to fleck? What is this program, who does it belong to, and what is "being Michigan"? At what point do people start to kick ass again? And by "people" we mean "us"? That's not a question.

Right: This is Barwis culture shock in a couple sentences from the head man, and speaks to the difficulty Rodriguez had adapting Carr's culture to his. This has to be better now; anyone who hasn't transferred should be in for the long haul.

Etc.: Three people emailed me this so it must be important: Kirk Herbstreit had someone burn down his house for a tax break. It was the fire department. It didn't work. AAU remains so far beyond sketchy it strains believability.

Spring Sprang Sprung

Spring Sprang Sprung

Submitted by Brian on April 13th, 2009 at 10:48 AM

Spring games don't lend themselves to narratives, so how about some bullet points? Bullet points.

Media explosion. If you missed it, there's a torrent. This would be a good moment to consider how vastly different the world is now than it was five years ago. There is a torrent of Michigan's spring game.

If you don't want to bother with that, four minutes of highlights from the Big Ten Network:

Also, Brandon Minor and his sweet beard talk to Shireen Saski: "that's like a real quarterback." Other interviews:

Photo galleries exist from the Free Press, Detroit News, Ann Arbor News, and various places on flickr: user dennisdolan3, the Daily's photostream, user snotzzz73, and Alex Karpowitsch. MVictors has photos of the locker room if you skipped the Line That Never Ends. Notice the U in "honour." Weird. Also from MVictors are alumni game photos.

Pleasantries dispensed, away we go:

Most encouraging development: The general existence of Tate Forcier. Forcier chucked one pass into a linebacker's pads but other than that was worlds better than anything Michigan's seen at quarterback since Lloyd Carr rode out of the Citrus Bowl on the shoulders of his team. Forcier was as advertised: quick and scrambly in the pocket, accurate on the run, worryingly small, &c.

He's not going to be great but his slipperiness and ability to operate out of a moving pocket—which should simplify reads, mitigate whatever issues his lack of height brings, and prevent his head from being taken off—should allow him to be effective without having total command of the playbook. Early competence beckons with the possibility for more down the road.

As always, you take intrasquad scrimmages seriously at your peril, but let's discount the effect of the defense and just look at the opportunities presented:

  • Roy Roundtree bursts open deep and Forcier hits him between the numbers for a touchdown.
  • Roundtree works free on a slant, upon which Forcier hits him between the numbers, on time.
  • Forcier throws an okay fade to Mathews, which he brings down.

There was one overthrown screen and the shoulda-been interception, but other than that he was dead on. Unofficial stats had him 11/14 for 130 or so yards. That's worlds different from last year's spring game, in which both quarterbacks threw multiple interceptions to legends like Artis Chambers and everyone started panicking in earnest about what fall would bring. Forcier's first excursion as Michigan's quarterback could not have been more reassuring.

The final word goes to Greg Mathews:

"The fans were cheering his name before the game, and I said, 'Don't get nervous, Tate,' and he said, 'I'm not nervous. There's some times he gets confused out there, but he's a high school senior. But his poise is definitely what stands out about him. His command when we huddle up, or on the sideline, he's focused in practices instead of goofing around."

A close second most encouraging development: Insert praise about Lloyd Carr here but, man, am I glad Rodriguez has done a 180 on the spring game. That felt like an event. It was fun, and though the 50k reported seemed a little generous—I and most around me thought it was 40k—it was probably about four times the number who attended Carr's last spring game. The line to see the locker room snaked all the way around Crisler and might have impeded traffic on Main.

Least encouraging development: Stevie Brown put a stake through the now annual "this is Stevie's year!" meme by getting juked out his jock by the Coner. Coner has mad flow, and since he was a 6'5" option QB with all the mobility of John Navarre in high school he must have a wicked option fake, but… yeesh, man. At least we're going into the fall with our eyes open.

A close second least encouraging development: the second-team offense, led by the aforementioned Coner, drove the field for touchdowns a couple times despite Cone amply demonstrating why anyone who talks about him starts his paragraph with "Cone is a terrific human being." They did this against the first team defense. Yerk.

This isn't totally unexpected. When the second team running backs are Grady and Brown and Vincent Smith and the second team defensive line includes 5'7", 249 pound Dominic Ware, the talent is not exactly balanced. Once Van Bergen went out with a knee injury (it's minor; six weeks and he'll be fine) the first team defense was missing four sure starters to injury (RVB, Warren, Martin, and Mouton) and using another sparingly to prevent injury (Brandon Graham), putting further pressure on that lack of depth. Said lack of depth is severe, though, and Michigan looks like it will be facing huge dropoffs from the first to second team if they can't remain unusually healthy next year.

What it is. Staying with the defense, the projection about the new scheme was that it would look like a 4-3 with a standup defensive end, and this was for the most part true. Like the spread 'n' shred they're going to look pretty limited early, what with the lack of talent and the missing starters and the new alignment, but GSimmons picked out even, under, and 3-4 fronts even this early. Also picked out: very bad linebacker play from walk-ons.

Obviously. Martavious Odoms fumbled Michigan's first punt return attempt of 2009.

Ok, Carlos, now it's time to pull a hamstring. Tantalize us one last time, Carlos Brown. For old time's sake.

I was going to fret about the defense on this play and then I was like "oh those guys are all walk-ons." So, yeah, if walk-ons play they will not be good. This lesson you have already burned into your brain, so we'll skip the rehash.

A first depth chart bitch of the year. Junior Hemingway, stuck on the second team, had ample opportunity to prove he has nice body control and hands by flagging down a number of Coner ducks. Meanwhile, Darryl Stonum made one spectacular leaping grab… and dropped a screen right in his hands. I'm betting Hemingway emerges as the #2 outside receiver early.

As long as we're on receiver depth chart stuff: Terrance Robinson was also as advertised, quick but with a significant case of the dropsies. Odoms didn't feature much, leaving much of the work in the slot to Roy Roundtree, who looked excellent, sure handed and good with his routes. His rep is as a fearless possession receiver lacking in the speed, so I don't know if we'll see a whole lot of deep seams unless he has the good fortune to be going up against walk-ons in Big Ten play, but a reliable receiver is a reliable receiver.

Also, if Roundtree doesn't already have a nickname

Roundtree had difficulty focusing on passes this Spring because he had trouble seeing the ball. The U-M staff ordered him contact lenses, which arrived just in time for the spring game. Roy put them in and then put on a show for the Michigan faithful, making big plays and catching a handful of touchdown passes, including a big 60-yard touchdown from Forcier.

"All Spring ball my coaches have been asking me when I'll get my contacts, when I'll get my contacts," laughed Roundtree. "I got my contacts today. I couldn't see the long balls in practice, but today I saw them just fine."

ricky-vaughn…he should be "Wild Thing". Rodriguez on this impossibility:

"In the first half of the spring, he was struggling catching some balls, and then we looked at him, and he'd squint at you," Rodriguez said Saturday.

"That was the first sign, 'You'd better get your eyes checked.' The doctor said he didn't know how he was walking a straight line."

How does a guy go an entire year at Michigan before anyone realizes he can't see? This is symptomatic of the chaos that went on last year. Deeply symptomatic.

Either that or Roundtree was afraid Carson Butler would give him a wedgie and leave him hanging on a bathroom hook.

Overly-optimistic post-spring chatter. (HT: Dr. Saturday.) I didn't watch Mark Huyge enough to confirm this for myself—and, honestly, I'm an amateur who needs to go over running plays a half-dozen times before I can form an opinion on who did what right—but the general opinion on his play was hugely (HA!) positive. Even without the benefit of tape review I can say this: if Huyge has surged in front of Perry Dorrestein, who was functional last year, and the much-hyped Patrick Omameh that bodes well for his future and for Michigan's line.

With the influx of the redshirt freshmen, maturation of John Ferrara, and healthy return of Huyge there are now a lot of lottery tickets on the line and chances are the guy who lays claim to the right tackle spot is going to be pretty good, at least eventually. This is a situation more akin to Chad Henne beating out Clayton Richard and Matt Gutierrez (sort of; labrum and all that) than Nick Sheridan beating out Steven Threet and No One.

Vincent Smith, on the other hand, was pretty easy to evaluate since he's a running back. He looked small and darty, tougher to tackle than you might imagine but not an instant impact sort. Smith has flashed Mike Hart's crazy ability to defy tackling in practice; too bad he didn't have some crazy spinning run for the crowd to ooh and aw at.

Vlad Emilien is the safety taking a poor angle and trailing Carlos Brown all the way to the endzone in the video above, but, again, people seem highly encouraged by his play. I've had Michigan safety skepticism beaten into me by Angry Michigan Safety Hating God and will remain skeptical until such time as I can't anymore.

Walk-on quarterback Jack Kennedy is so obscure that he sported a regular contact jersey and was used as cannon fodder repeatedly, but… uh… he looked way better than Cone.

The incoming and signed. Denard Robinson made his way up to check out the competition:

"I came up just for the spring game," Robinson said. "I wanted to see the game and the fans and stuff. It's good. It's got me speechless."

That article has an outstandingly FAKE 40 time for Robinson: 4.38. Justin Turner, Isaiah Bell, and Brendan Gibbons also stopped by to see the festivities.

The incoming but unsigned. This will get more coverage tomorrow in Tuesday Recruitin', but the recruiting weekend was a successful one. Thumping Texas back Stephen Hopkins committed. Four star Miami offensive lineman Torrian Wilson left saying Michigan was his leader. So did FL S Marvin Robinson. Unconfirmed chatter on MI CB Dior Mathis and—surprise!—presumed Spartan and MI RB Austin White was also highly positive.

Also hanging around was another Forcier: Jason, MGoBlog's favorite backup quarterback of all time. He's graduating from Stanford and plans to enroll in grad school at Michigan. Presumably he'll try to get on the football team, but he's only got one year of eligibility left and will have to jump through—or, more accurately, create—the proper NCAA hoops if he's going to be able to participate. If you recall Ryan Mundy's immediate playing time after his fifth-year transfer to West Virginia, also recall that the NCAA immediately repealed that rule after Florida pirated one of Utah's starting cornerbacks. He'll have to apply for some super secret waiver, which I don't think he'll get.

Spring Practice Tea Leaves

Spring Practice Tea Leaves

Submitted by Brian on April 6th, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Spring practice continues and there's the usual mix of unwarranted excitement and unwarranted doomsaying; that combined with the incestuous nature of the whole enterprise makes information wobbly. But wobbly is better than nothing.

A rundown of scuttlebutt received in my inbox and published elsewhere:

Tate Forcier

The conflicts start hot and heavy with Forcier, who has articles like this written about him:

"Coach Barwis, he's shown me a whole different life," Forcier said, chuckling. "But I'm getting a lot stronger, and that's a good thing."

On the field, Forcier, who is expected to compete with Nick Sheridan for the starting QB job, said one of the biggest challenges is adjusting to the snap, which he's had some trouble hanging onto during spring practices.

"It's just getting comfortable with how they snap it to you," he said. "In high school, you get these slow shotgun snaps. Here, these come back like rockets."

Yikes. There have been plenty of reports citing the usual harsh transition from college to high school, with balls zinged into linebackers' chests and hilariously arrogant attempts to reverse field resulting in 20-yard sacks.

On the other hand, multiple attendees have noted the positives to Forcier's game, especially in relation to Rodriguez's offense: he's elusive, extremely accurate on the run, and has enough zip to get the ball where it needs to go. Much of the practice time has been devoted to tougher passes—no bubble screens—and things the offense isn't good at yet, which makes them look worse than they might if they were operating with some of the easier stuff to execute.

At least that's the positive way to look at it. The other way to look at it is basically "we're going to die." One viewpoint is in relation to what happened last year—even skeptics have been very clear that the quarterback situation is vastly improved over DEATH. The other is comparing freshman Forcier to quarterbacks who are actually, like, good. The overall impression is that Forcier isn't a 9-3 QB, but neither is he a 3-9 one.

Vincent Smith

cone-smithIn addition to participating in the handoff with the greatest height disparity between participants in Michigan history (right), Smith is building quite a hype train for himself.

Brandon Minor:

"Out of the freshman, they're all doing good, doing what I expect them to do, but Vincent Smith is showing a lot of potential. He's not backing down ... He's got real used to hitting early on. He does that very well."

Forcier:

"Vince, whewwwww. Vince Smith, he can move, he can run. He's out there running like the wind. He makes a lot of guys miss. I think we might be able to use him this year."

(Note the assumption in Forcier's quote there.)

Rodriguez:

"He's really come along," Rodriguez said earlier this week. "He's still confused sometimes, as all the freshmen would be, but he's shown some flashes in (Tuesday's) practice and he's a guy that's probably going to play some as a true freshman. I love his attitude, he loves playing and he's a quick learner on the field and he's got some natural ability, so I'm pretty excited about him."

This isn't wholly surprising. Smith's initially lukewarm reviews gave way to a more positive take after his impressive senior season. Though he didn't scrape his way out of the three-star ghetto, he moved way up on both major sites as they refined their rankings and Smith powered Pahokee to another state title. A couple of Florida correspondents said he was a terrific back whose ratings were held back by his size and a lack of pure white-hot speed, much like Oregon State's Jacquizz Rogers without the Name of the Year potential. (Vote for Mingo!)

Smith's got a number of veterans in front of him and isn't going to be an instant feature back with Minor looking like a beast and Brown (mostly) healthy, but it sounds like he's hopped in front of Cox and Grady and will spend this year vying against Michael Shaw to see who starts next year.

Argh Safeties

brandon-smith

(At right: Brandon Smith tackling… uh… Brandon Smith? Is this like that A-Rod picture? Or one of those mirror universe episodes of any sci-fi show that goes on so long the writers get bored to tears with the characters?

One thing I definitely know: that's not some walk-on. Nope, it's definitely Brandon Smith in some sort of weird temporal vortex.)

This won't be surprising to anyone even vaguely familiar with Michigan football since Marcus Ray, but, yeah, argh safeties. Stevie Brown has been moved down into a nickel/OLB spot, much to the relief of everyone. This Free Press article says Brown "didn't have the impact many expected," which is a nice way of saying "had exactly the impact everyone feared." Now he's elsewhere:

"He's going to be a multipositional player for us," coach Rich Rodriguez said before practice Thursday. "Obviously, he's playing a lot of nickel back, in kind of a nickel-back situation. It's kind of a hybrid of an outside linebacker/strong safety position, which I think he's perfectly suited for."

Actually, he does seem well suited for that sort of role. Brown only got more frustrating last year when he started making the occasional sweet play to go with his free touchdown per game. Highly rated out of high school, Brown's a capital-a Athlete and seems an excellent fit for this coverage/blitz/tackle hybrid spot. An emailer reports back from the coaches' clinic:

Also there was some promising news on Stevie Brown.  Greg Robinson talking about Stevie Brown said “He’s a hell of an athlete and he’s a hell of a lot better football player where we have him now (strong side LB)."

So hurray for all that.

However, moving him leaves just two returning players at the position: Mike Williams, who saw some playing time a year ago and didn't do anything of note good or bad, and redshirt freshman Brandon Smith. That's a horrifying lack of depth at a position we're all well aware can be an instant 60-yard touchdown for the opposition.

That was ominous enough. Then various reports came back that neither was starting. Longtime Michigan insider Maizeman:

Starting safeties (Thursday) were Woolfolk and Vlad. Yes, Vlad as starter. He looked, on Thursday, to be our best safety -- not even close.

Oy. That's a true freshman and a position switch starter at a position where Yards After Mundy can rack up in a hurry. When I profiled Emilien I noted he was an early enroller, an honor-roll student, and had a serious flirtation with Ohio State (which unearths functional-to-excellent unhyped safeties on a frustratingly regular basis). All of these things point to a sunny future for Emilien and I think sooner or later he'll be a good safety for Michigan. But by "sooner or later" I mean "later".

Woolfolk, meanwhile, was running at corner as of a week ago. With his departure the current two deep there is:

  1. Cissoko and Warren
  2. JT Floyd and Floyd Simmons, redshirt freshman walk-on.

Argh. It's hard to see the position switch as anything other than a condemnation of the projected starters at safety. The chatter now has Smith moving to linebacker eventually due to a lack of speed. You can see a hint of that in this Rodriguez quote:

"He has not played, he's a redshirt freshman, but he's got a lot of ability," Rodriguez said. "He's still got to get in shape to be able to play on the back end, like our safeties have to do sometimes. You've got to be able to run a lot, a whole lot, and they're still adjusting to that. But I think he's going to be able to help us in a lot of spots this year."

With Brown a senior and Smith a little ponderous for safety we might see the latter move to this hybrid spot during the year if Emilien and Woolfolk work out.

About That Defense

I got a number of emails from people smarter than me about football in regards to this 4-3/3-4 distinction; happily, none of them call me an idiot. A coach who attended the clinic a few days ago:

The report that the defense would come to resemble a 3-4 seems a little off base.  After attending the Coaching Clinic and seeing the defense in action it is the same thing that you see at a lot of programs.  First it is considered a 4-3 but it is a multiple 40 defense where you are going to see numerous adjustments (the same as any college program).  They will slide into some 3-4 sets by dropping their Quick (strong side end speed rusher/lb hybrid)  This can be called for coverage or zone blitz scheme. 

The biggest improvement I believe you will see come in the form of tackling and angles.  Greg Robinson has already overhauled the pursuit angles and has really stressed proper body mechanics when tackling.  You could visibly notice the change in tackles and finish.  Jay Hopson also commented that “Greg has really made a huge improvement to how we tackle.  It’s night and day from last year.” 

This sounds much like what was mentioned in What Is It. Michigan is basically going with a 4-3 that has the flexibility to drop into a 3-4 when the situation warrants it or Robinson just wants to throw a curveball. To do this you need a chunky linebacker at the standup end spot, a guy who can hold up (or penetrate) against a tackle on a run to his side, rush the passer, and credibly drop into a short zone. Shawn Crable would be an excellent fit. So would prospective recruit Will Gholston. (HINT HINT, MR. GHOLSTON.)

The closest analogue to what Michigan appears to be installing is the defense of the Arizona Cardinals, who run a "4-3 under" most of the time with a weakside DE/LB they call the "predator," thereby soundly defeating Michigan's nomenclature. As hybrids go, it's hybrid-y:

…in the 4-3 “under” front, like the Cardinals use as their base defense, which looks similar to the 3-4 to the naked eye, the biggest difference is in the outside linebackers. The strong-side linebacker is still outside the tight end. But the other outside guy — the Cardinals call this player their “Predator” — is almost always rushing the passer, although the Cards will occasionally drop him into coverage to mix things up. Other differences: The nose tackle shades to the A-gap (in between the center and guard) on the tight end side, and the end on that side moves between the tackle and tight end.


Davis
explained that the 3-4 defense creates the most confusion for the offense in terms of which outside linebacker is doing what, and the standard 4-3 offers the least unpredictability. The Cardinals’ 4-3 “under” scheme is somewhere in between the two in terms of causing the offense to guess who is rushing and who is dropping.

There is one uncovered linebacker—eg, "man who must take on unblocked guard"—in the 4-3 under, which is different from the 4-3 (none) and the 3-4 (two). That's the MLB, meaning Obi Ezeh. Onus, meet third year starter who's been fairly disappointing so far. You'll be good friends all year.

Also, here's Tyler Sellhorn, who's sent in an email or two before and contributed to Doctor Saturday, on what the whole "rush end/linebacker" thing was:

FYI:

The Hermann era defense was better known in its day as a 5-2.  3 DTs and 2 DEs; however, the strongside and weakside specialized by personnel, tactics, or alignment.  The weakside DE was called the "drop end" an excellent deployment of a SS type player (Stevie Brown).  The strongside DE was called the "rush end", think Lawrence Taylor/Derrick Thomas.  Calling it a 3-4 is "sexier" because safeties and speedy big guys would be prefer to be called linebackers than defensive ends.  As an offensive line coach and former lineman, I hated playing "odd" fronts (with a nose guard).  The angles for your usual blocks change significantly and when the defense chooses it is easier to bring up support from the outside and from the safeties.  3-4 is more flexible in the secondary as well because linebackers can be put in coverage much easier.

IMO, I think the (very) early returns are good for GERG.

God Bless,

Tyler Sellhorn

So there you go.

A Brief Summary Of My State Of Mind

Look: we're not going to be good. There is a true freshman quarterback who, while as ready as he can be, is still not ready at all. The line is probably going to be okay, but not dominant. They're installing a new defensive package and holy God is the secondary thin. They'll get some reinforcements in the fall but it's like quarterback: when you've got six highly-rated options for two spots whoever wins that job is likely to be good. When you've got two, you're hoping that both pan out, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble.

Position switch starters—one of MGoBlog's primary "uh oh" heuristics—seem likely at safety (Woolfolk), DE/spinner (Herron), LB/SS (Brown), and LG (Schilling). None of those are huge deals in and of themselves as they don't involve flipping sides of the ball, like Ferrara did last year, and generally see players moving into spots where they are faster than the opposition or just plain better suited; together that's a lot of flux. Digging out of this hole is going to be a multi-year project, and I don't mean we'll only make the Alamo this year. Notre Dame went from 3-9 to 7-6 and though they had a bigger hole to dig out of they weren't starting over at quarterback. A similar improvement seems realistic.

Spring Practice Catchup

Spring Practice Catchup

Submitted by Brian on March 24th, 2009 at 12:55 PM

Normally the start of spring practice would have been a bigger deal around here, but the basketball team's late season push and 21st-century tourney debut relegated the football team to the back burner, which is a first for this blog.

Yes, spring practice has started. Get a load of our new savior at the gun show:

tate-forcier-gun-show

Vernon Gholston's got nothing on Tate Forcier. At some point this year when Michigan is flailing about in a fashion reminiscent of well, last year, keep this image in mind and think "he's just a freshman" to yourself over and over again. Apparently Forcier spent 100% of his time getting quarterback tutoring and 0% of it picking things up and putting them down, which is all well and good until someone snaps him in half.

But, hey, the news isn't all bad. Friend of blog and practice attendee Craig Ross:

Forcier’s arm is stronger than I thought it would be. Most of the balls he threw looked pretty crisp. He looked terrific in the drills. Running right or left he puts the ball on the money. I didn’t see him throw a poor ball.

And of course there's the other guy:

I felt Nick Sheridan looked better than last year at this time.

Woo! A roundup of other items:

Actual facts

  • Toney Clemons is gonzo. See the previous post.
  • So is Andre Criswell. He'll be a grad assistant. He was a fifth year senior, so that doesn't change your scholarship projections for the 2010 class.
  • Adam Patterson got his redshirt. He is now a junior, which removes a scholarship from the 2010 class and reduces the urgency at DT and DE. Michigan is still waiting on word about Kenny Demens. That should be a formality
  • Mouton and Shaw aren't participating. Also, Tim McAvoy has been out with an ankle issue. Ricky Barnum has a wrist issue he's playing through.
  • Steve Schilling is probably moving to guard and Patrick Omameh is legit. Intermittent friend of blog and general correspondent Craig Ross has attended some of the sections of practice open to the media and reports that the apparent first-team offensive line reads like so from left to right, with changes from last year bolded: Ortmann, Schilling, Molk, Moosman, Omameh.

    Ross elaborates: "I was told by one media guy that Schilling asked for the move and so far it has worked out. RR talked briefly to the media and said that it seems likely "Schilling will stay at guard." Barnum is running at LG with the second team---or was this AM at least."

    That fits with the practice buzz over the last year that had Barnum and Omameh closest to the field amongst the freshmen; you can pencil Omameh in at RG in 2010 if you want to get seriously premature.

Things That Are As Factual As Rosters Ever Get

Touch The Banner went over the spring roster for position switches and unexpected height/weight deviations, coming up with a few items of interest.

  • Anthony LaLota is pretty small. He's listed at 6'4", 235, which is not ready for primetime on the defensive line. Redshirt beckons.
  • Junior Hemingway is crushing your head. 6'1", 226. Dang, man, hope you can still run.
  • Vince Helmuth is on the Gabe Watson diet. Helmuth got up to 299, which probably bodes unwell for his shot at playing time. VB noted he looked "tiny for a DT," which means he'd be better served being quick instead of flabtacular. Rodriguez made a comment about his conditioning at the press conference. Sounds like he's unlikely to see the field.
  • Kenny Demens seems field-ready. The roster has him at 237; at 6'1" that's pretty hefty.
  • Smith: quarkback. We got ourselves another kid who can do a credible impression of Paper Mario: 5'6", 158 pound Vincent Smith. Hopefully this one doesn't get concussed into oblivion.

Position switches, or not position switches, or things that may or may not be position switches

  • Brandon Hawthorne is running with the defensive backs. I said he was safety-sized, but I didn't actually expect he would be a safety. Blip or serious "what?" moment? Eh… survey says blip. Varsity Blue attended a Rodriguez presser at which the headman said Hawthorne is expected to be an outside linebacker.

    This is more fuel for the fire of this spread-combating LB/S hybrid sort, FWIW.

  • Ferrara is still on the OL. Given the sudden reversal in depth on the two lines—the defense has seen two starters depart and two recruits fail to sign while the offense gets six-count-em-six redshirt freshmen to play with—this may not last. But word is the coaching staff likes Ferrara's potential on offense more than they do on defense; a switch back would be an ominous indicator about the defensive line.
  • Stevie Brown is sort of a linebacker. This will meet widespread joy, I'm sure, though it does beg the question "who the hell is going to play safety?"
  • Steve Watson is doing okay at DE. I still think he's a longshot to contribute what with the move and all, but he's a high motor individual.

Something Not Particularly Fact-Like

You might remember defensive ends like James Hall and Juaquin Feazell—who should be referenced whenever the opportunity arises just so you can say "Juaquin Feazell" as mellifluously as possible—being listed as the "RLB" or "rush linebacker" during the heyday of Jim Herrmann's tenure at defensive coordinator. These folks were no more linebackers than your average defensive end. That nomenclature was a holdover from days when Michigan did actually have a "rush linebacker" that lived on long after Michigan had departed from the land of the hybrid 3-4.

This style of defense has worked in the Big Ten recently. You may remember Penn State deploying one of its many, many talented linebackers as a standup DE in a year when injury and malfeasance had robbed them of their standard complement of edge-rushing terrors. I think it was 2006. Though it was an ad-hoc solution to a severe personnel deficiency, at the end of the year Penn State's defense occupied its customary position near the top of the Big Ten rankings.

Word around practice is that Michigan is going to adopt something similar, with a lighter DE dubbed the "spinner" who can move around and play with his hand down or up. Or at least they're practicing it to see if it's a good idea.

Persons you might see do this: Steve Watson is practicing there along with a couple of the thicker linebackers—Evans and LaLota have been mentioned. This corresponds with other rumors to the effect that Adam Patterson and Ryan Van Bergen may end up as three-tech (i.e., penetrating) DT sorts, if not permanently than on an occasional basis.

Of course, this could all be declared a bad idea and shelved before fall until the Purdue game. But it's worth knowing.

Elsewhere: