Starting to look more and more like Sgt. Pepper's. Less depressing now. Legend*
♪ Oho a good secondary is a-comin' down the street
Oh please let it be for real
Oho the best safety tandem since like '80-something!
I wish I wish I knew that it could be.
I've got an FS and two tiny backs from Cass Tech
I've got safety-like safeties from Ohio
I've even got a two-deep filled with juniors!
And Curtice Clay out near Toledo sent a bona fide star!
Oho a good defensive backfield is a-comin' down the street
Don't look now but "shut-down" might apply to our J.T.!
Oho a good secondary is a-comin' down the street
And M-Robinson might finally be ready!
I'm particularly excited for Blake Countess
He's everything a sophomore phenom ought to be.
When minus every Gibson from this unit,
Well they could be (yes they could be) yes you're right they surely could be…
Something special (not a Woodson, but perhaps Leon-like special)
Yes we could have… something special… at D.B.!!! ♫
Also: Do do do do do do do do the worst is over.
This is Part IV of the thing predicting the reaction and drop-off if any 2012 starter goes down. Actually I wasn't sure I wanted to complete this series. I did the offense and Toussaint got a DUI; I did the DEs and Frank Clark got charged for stealing a laptop; I did the linebackers and it leaked that Antonio Poole's injury is at least Fall Camp-missing worthy. And well, before I could nix the series and wipe it from the interwebs Terrence Talbott preemptively took the bullet for the DBs, so I guess we can have that now. But if you folks want special teams I'm going to need written confirmation that Hagerup/Gibbons/Wile have come nowhere near the M on the Diag.
These days it's best to think of defensive back as five positions. To demonstrate, here's a preview chart from a Museday in the works (click enhances largetation):
To coaches this is "duh" but the more receivers the offense puts out there, the more DBs the defense counters with. While I mean to eventually include how teams played Michigan as well, and I won't make the mistake of treating anything GERG did as canon unless it involves hair product, the preliminary chart meshes with what coaches tell me about matching personnel. The Shafer line suggests heavy nickel use is more the norm while the outlier of 2009 stands as a reminder of what happens to those who mock the need for corner depth. This is important to us because the teams we play use 3-receiver sets more often than they used to, and this chart (made from UFRs so it's not perfect) says Mattison's defense used almost exactly as many five-DB sets as the 2010 defense, a base 3-3-5! Typical shotgun personnel is RB, 1TE, and 3WR; that is the formation we will face the most vs. every team but Air Force (Triple-Option) and Iowa (the I is for ISO).
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
Starter: Jordan Kovacs
Backups: Marvin Robinson .5, Floyd Simmons , Allen Gant ???, various FS
In case of emergency: Was it only a few years ago we were really down about having an emergency redshirt freshman with questionable athleticism thrust into the starting lineup? I re-watched what portions of the Indiana 2009 game are left on the youtubes yesterday to confirm he wasn't a guy you'd think would be getting five Saturn-punting Zoltans; those Zoltans now come confirmed by opponents. To imagine where we might be without him means figuring out what we have now in Marvin Robinson. He was one of those recruits who blew up early in his high school career thanks to an early growth spurt then fell down the rankings as other kids his age caught up. Frankly after similar tweeners like Burgess/Mouton/S. Brown/I. Bell became various types of linebacker I'm excited to see one of these dudes actually stick at safety.
M-Rob probably won't hit his half-SHIRTLESS recruiting expectations, but half-way through his Michigan career the possibility is at least still intact. It's weird to still be relying on his recruiting profile this far into a high-interest career; the off-campus incident may at least alleviate questions of whether the talent was overvalued. Technical problems evident in previous springs were still present but much reduced over a strong spring, and after several years of tutelage under the best, what we probably have is something between the anti-Kovacs and Ernest Shazor. He's a perfect "bandit" safety in a 3-3-5, and that's kind of what we've been doing with Kovacs. Lacking Kovacsian instincts he'll be a downgrade, but he'll make up parts of that with superior athleticism.
In case of dire emergency: Allen Gant may be as ready to go later this year as anyone else of his class, including Kalis. He's a big guy for a freshman, comes with as many work ethic and weight room credentials as Mike Martin did, and has the bloodlines. You'd usually redshirt a guy like this since safety is a tough position to learn, but there are two other safeties in his class and Dymonte Thomas is on the way. Then again he may not bring any more right now than 5th year senior Floyd Simmons, a former walk-on who has been on special teams a lot. He has never made it higher than the two-deep even when a hater god put most of that depth chart on the Never Forget banner. That might be because he was a Spinner (backing up Stevie Brown) at the time. You should also know he has three forced fumbles on kickoffs, suggesting he shares some of T.Gordon's weird fumble-causing voodoo. He's the same size as Kovacs (we have multiple pics of them standing together) and foremost a run defender—his route to regular playing time would be in a platoon situation with M-Rob or one of the free safety types.
Since the likely backups at free safety are pretty much free safeties (Furman's calling card is speed; Jarrod Wilson is the proverbial "rangy" player), a disaster at strong safety is as likely to make one of them a starter as Gant. In such a scenario Thomas Gordon takes on more of the run stopping duties and Furman/Wilson drawn in as an entirely nominal "strong" safety.
Safety: home of the scrumptious abdomen HT M&B
Starter: Thomas Gordon
Backups: Josh Furman , Jarrod Wilson .5, Jeremy Clark ???, various SS or nickels
In case of emergency: This is where things get more interesting. After letting us spend years praying for the next Ed Reed to appear as a 5-star Campbellian Hero with angel wings (and trying to believe the other Gordon was that) Thomas Gordon spent 2011 doing his best impersonation of Brandent Englemon. It was like coming back from trying to sleep around New York and finding the girl next door, if the girl next door was once called "Prison Abs" and had a weird (spectacular) ability to cause game-changing turnovers by waving his hands at people.
If we lose him, we hope this has all been some giant lead-up to the Superhero reveal scene. Potential heroes begin with Josh Furman. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a … dammit I just looked up at the damn picture again. Due to a spurious arrest over the summer (he was innocent, the result of a misunderstanding, but suspended while it got sorted out) Furman missed precious practice time. At last sight he still needed to leap a few levels in a single bound to be ready for Big Ten play. The beneficiary of Furman's misfortune was early enrollee Jarrod Wilson, who is safety-shaped and safety-like and is actually a safety, which I realize is kind of a novelty around here since Jamar Adams graduated. He made some freshman mistakes along with mostly solid play and is probably the first to see playing time among his classmates, especially early.
In case of dire emergency: The position that inspired the BLANK-Hating God meme was free safety. This was in 2005 when Michigan was forced to burn the redshirt of Brandon Harrison (and in turn burn down a good part of the 2009 secondary).
Today there's at least Furman/Wilson, one or both of whom should be plausible by mid-season. The other freshman is Jeremy Clark, a big guy whose grayshirt was upgraded to full-ride as his star rose, but who probably needs some time to develop. Clark's future is at strong safety, but he's a tweener. While the talent atop the depth chart is mostly specialized, Mattison does want the safeties to eventually be interchangeable (the better to screw up quarterback reads my dear) and an injury plague at one safety spot might trigger that.
Center: from the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, courtesy of the Freep
Starter: J.T. Floyd
Backups: Courtney Avery , Tamani Carter , Raymon Taylor other CBs
In case of emergency: The depth recovery program managed to get a bunch of little corners, however since Michigan makes a distinction between "Field" and "Boundary" we may as well try to see where the early returns fit. The former can supposedly sacrifice some size for coverage ability/athleticism. The latter has less area to cover, is more involved in run support since he's generally on the weak side of the formation (offenses typically align to the field since it gives them more room to string out the run defense), and ends up matched with other teams' big receivers on an island. At this last year Floyd was spectacular. A list of guys he covered who are now in the NFL:
*VT's Danny Coale and MSU's Keyshawn Martin were also drafted this year, but Floyd was primarily covering Jarrett Boykin and BJ Cunningham, respectively, in those games. Boykin had 4 catches for 30 yards and 0 TD; he went undrafted and unsigned.
The lack of touchdowns from seven leaping touchdown machines earns Floyd that 4th star. DeVier Posey did demonstrate the hole in Floyd's game—he can't keep up with the elite athletes—and better passes from Braxton Miller easily could have added two TDs and 120 yards to DeVier's single day of 2011 eligibility. That guy, at least, is gone, as are the rest of the Big Ten's 2011 embarrassment of WR riches. Of those who remain on our schedule, Keenan Davis (Iowa) might be a Posey-like (read: bad) matchup, however I would trust him against Northwestern's (now-eligible) Kyle Prater.
Which brings me to the point: there isn't another Floyd on the roster. Even in the hilariously height-overestimating world of college football rosters, J.T. is the only CB who the FAKErs thought could even plausibly be listed at 6'0.
Talbott was the guy making noise to be the #1 backup to Floyd during spring ball, but since he's gone that means a ding to J.T. puts us back in the midget bucket. I think what happens is Courtney Avery reprises his role as starting corner, which this being his junior year I think we can now get past the original excitement of his one good game and the bitterness of that tackle he missed against Iowa, and remember he ended the Ohio State counter. Avery has been ahead of Talbott his whole career thus far, despite being a quarterback until fall practice of his freshman year, so while Floyd to Avery is a downgrade, I don't think the effect of losing the second Talbott will be felt unless we get to…
In case of dire emergency: This is still a work in progress. Of last year's freshmen Tamani Carter is the biggest—that's why he was listed with the safeties in the first place. He's been hanging out on safety depth charts due to hips that do not fluid swivel or whatever they call a cornerback nowadays who's not twitchy enough, and his forte is supposedly the jump-ball. This is why I've mentally moved Carter to boundary since Talbott's departure. Magnus says he likes Carter in a role where he sits out in the flat, and he missed spring practices, so you're hoping he can just be a nickel back and not have to play significant snaps on the island. Then there's Ramon Taylor. He dreamed of going to Michigan, and that came true when Hoke was putting together a last-minute class and wondered, as we all had, what Indiana was doing with a 4-star...yoink. He's another mite who is listed now at 183 (up from 167 last year), a plausible weight for a Big Ten cornerback. He's also listed at 5'10 which he's not. But he likes to hit and also doesn't have Robot Hips. As a recruit he drew a comparison to a shorter James Rogers; make of that what you will but I say it suggests he fits into Rogers's position. Taylor played early last year (that photo's from EMU), mostly at nickel, and I think he too is destined to be that more than either outer corner spot.
Blake Countess isn't huge, and you want your better guy at the field, but this distinction can be overstated. In the event of an Avery-Floyd injury combo, Michigan will probably lean on Countess to cover the other team's best receiver and whichever mini Cass Tech kid is most ready will be in a better position to start than either of the young nickelbacks. Next year the cavalry arrives.
Heiko took the one of Hollowell (24)
Starter: Blake Countess
Backups: Delonte Hollowell .5, Terry Richardson , other CBs
In case of emergency: This spot is young. They're also not-big. What they lack in being young and non-big however, they make up for by being "good" and "extant." That begins with Countess, whom I gave 4 stars because that was the level he was playing at (about equal with Floyd) by the end of last year. The upside is tantalizing for us now, though it remains upside. Making Woolfolk obsolete last year was one hell of a statement, and it's because of that entrance that I'm more filled with trepidation over losing Blake than I reasonably should be.
The reason not to be in total fear is the little we've seen and heard about the other remaining corners from his class (Greg Brown has joined the banner on top of this post) is that they're good, in the way little mite corners are supposedly good everywhere else but here because seriously we have been burned on this so many times.
Every year I involuntarily pick a guy on the team nobody's talking about to get overly excited about for no reason, and this year that somebody is Delonte Hollowell. That's him in the Nebraska photo above and the reason he was playing on special teams against Nebraska when we had all sorts of other corners eating eligibility is he played his way out of a redshirt. I don't yet know what's Hoke's baseline for doing such a thing, however either the coaches are so sure they will be able to find plenty of great CBs to fill the 2015 depth chart (which their 2013 class seems to suggest they were right), or more likely, Hollowell met some standard of what he needs to do to play.
That standard can be few other things than "is 2nd on the depth chart" and there my reasoning stands. Courtney Avery would be here if something happens early I guess. I think you'll be seeing Hollowell spelling Countess either way.
In case of dire emergency: Terry Richardson is the mite-iest Cass Tech dust mite yet. He has the power to shrink to the size of a neutrino and hide out among the other atoms that make up a receiver's garments, reappearing in time to make a crucial interception. However being only a handful of planks has its drawbacks, like accidentally passing through the Earth's gravitational field, and Whitley/Howard syndrome. The true freshman comes with high recruiting bona fides, so if you see him jumping up the depth chart we may have another Countess here.
Starter: Courtney Avery .5
Backups: Ramon Taylor , Tamani Carter .5, other CBs and safeties
In case of emergency: For most teams the nickel corner will replace the SLB (Jake Ryan), though in Michigan's case we seem to pull the Will (Desmond Morgan) just as often. Later in the year that became more usual as Michigan went with an aggressive nickel package featuring a nickelback and Ryan/Beyer/Clark with a hand down (a 5-1-5 look with 4-2-5 personnel that we called Michigan's "Okie."). The nickel will cover the slot, usually has help over the top, and must be there to tackle in space when spread outfits isolate him against the slot or RB. Michigan played a lot of nickel in 2003 (Leon Hall) and 2006 (Brandon Harrison), and it led to some 38-0 scores against various Indiana teams. You'll remember we came out in mostly 4-2-5 personnel against Northwestern last year, but it didn't work; in the second half Jake Ryan was inserted and allowed to terrorize (at this point he dished it out equally to friend and foe). Early in the season T.Gordon and Avery split duties at nickel, and Carvin Johnson was the free safety. This year Avery is again the designated nickel guy, however expect others from the safety and CB corps to rotate in there.
The nominal "other" is Raymon Taylor (see above), who played a good bit last year at this spot. He is small but so was Harrison. You also might as well pencil in RS Freshman Tamani Carter here since his long-term future is at nickel.
In case of dire emergency: Nickel draws from the CB depth charts (and can from the safety ones as well) so if Avery and a backup are hurt there's an endless parade of other guys. You'll see moonlights of most of the backups here regardless, as it's a way to get a young cornerback playing time and tackling experience without exposing to deep responsibility. If The Dude in Section 2 Eating Fat Free Pretzels is tapped, well, so long as the pretzels are fat free and he stayed in a Holiday Inn Express and whatnot. The 2009 depth chart across the secondary really was unprecedented; if it happens again then it is 2009 and we can all go punch each other in the dong.
* Never Forget Legend (years in parentheses are the last season the guy would have helped had he not left/gone down/whatever).
TOP ROW: T-Wolf (2010), Mike Williams (2011), Boubacar Cissoko (2011), Adrian Witty (2011), Vladimir Emilien (2013), Jared Van Slyke (2011).
SECOND ROW: J.T. Turner (2013), Terrence Talbott (2013), Carvin Johnson (2013), Cullen Christian (2013), Demar Dorsey (2013), Ray Vinopal (2013).
BOTTOM ROW: Greg Brown (2014 or '15), Crying Biff the Wolverine, Donovan Warren (2010), Never Forget Guy.