SPONSOR NOTE. You know what doesn't make me want to drink bleach? HomeSure Lending, obviously. HomeSure Lending has never missed the World Cup or turned the ball over five times in one game. HomeSure Lending just got me a good quote on a mortgage super fast, and that's no reason to imbibe a deadly household chemical. Unlike everything else in my sports life.
With limited exceptions Michigan was not inclined to (or able to) force MSU out of their 4-3 over with two safeties at 8-10 yards, and so this happened the whole game. This could have been okay, but it was not okay, but that's what all the stuff below is about.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. O'Korn the whole way at QB. OL was Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Ulizio until just before the half when JBB came in, and remained. No Runyan or Ruiz this time out. TE rotation was fairly even between Bunting, Wheatley, Gentry, and McKeon, but the latter two got the bulk of the at-bats. Wheatley is still mostly a blocking option since he's got a cast on.
WR was DPJ, Crawford, and Perry with a number of McDoom and Ways snaps. Schoenle did not play. Injury, I assume. FB alternated between Hill and Poggi, as per usual, but Mason got maybe a half-dozen snaps.
RB was about half Higdon, half Evans, with Isaac filling out the remaining snaps. Isaac's fumble obviously limited his playing time.
SPONSOR NOTES: oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
FORMATION NOTES: Ace trips tight bunch was the most relevant formation of the day.
Michigan invariably used two tight ends in the bunch.
Indiana's response to this was to have only six guys in the box with and OLB flared way out to the field. This is one of Michigan's favorite crack sweep formations; Michigan ran one crack sweep that got buried for a loss of five yards and repeatedly gashed IU up the middle.
Michigan also went with a lot of big formations; Indiana usually lined up with an even front, a SAM linebacker, and increasingly aggressive safeties. By the third quarter it was MSU out there:
This run performance was against a statistically good outfit in difficult conditions.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL per usual. O'Korn the QB save one Pepcat snap; Peppers got two other plays on offense. Butt (57 snaps) and Darboh(54) got the most run amongst the skill position players, with Chesson (43) running third.
RB snaps were about half Smith, with Evans in second place; Higdon and Isaac got slightly less than ten each. Wheatley(30 snaps) was suddenly preferred over Asiasi(8) as the second TE. Bunting(11) actually came in third. Poggi got 28 FB snaps to Hill's 18; Hill did have another very bad pass pickup that might explain that.
Crawford, Perry, McDoom, Bushell-Beatty, and Harris all got a few snaps.
[After THE JUMP: De'Veon Smith and a buncha nothin'.]
A few years ago we split tight ends from the WR post and fullbacks from the RB post, figuring that under Brady Hoke there would be enough of them to warrant it. We even split guys into various categories because a tight end is not just a tight end. Then Jim Harbaugh came in. After an internal struggle this site has decided not to split each one of these columns into its own post, but it was a near thing. Those columns are:
FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two 50 carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley, Sione Houma.
H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: AJ Williams, Jerame Tuman.
FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Tyler Eifert, Jake Butt.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
So. These are the categories. The men who, uh, man them are many and varied and in one case the bar-none best in all the land. Let's start with him.
TIGHT END AND FLEX
opponents will call Butt dastardly this year [Fuller/MGoBlue]
In keeping with this site's tradition of dignified reserve, last year's preview claimed Jim Harbaugh called Jake Butt an "Ertz/Fleener Voltron" based on this quote:
"Jake is as good a prospect as we've coached at the college level," Harbaugh said. "We've produced a lot of great players in college at the spot and it's vital to our success."
And lo, he pretty much was an Ertz/Fleener Voltron. Per Pro Football Focus he graded out better than any tight end in the country as a receiver. Survey says: yup. I sort catch opportunities into four bins: routine balls, challenging ones, crazy ones, and uncatchable ones. Butt was a perfect 36/36 on routine balls, an outstanding 10/12 on challenging balls, and 3/3 on circus catches. Meanwhile Butt's enormous catch radius and excellent route running tend to move opportunities into easier categories. Only eight times last year did a Jake Butt target get filed uncatchable. (I don't count balls thrown away in the general vicinity of a player.) That means 83% of the time Jake Rudock tried to hit Butt, Michigan moved the ball. Butt targets averaged over 11 yards a pop. Voltron achieved.
There's still no better example of Butt's prowess than the touchdown from the opener where Jake Rudock first explored the wonders of the #buttzone:
Unless it's this sensational one handed catch against Rutgers in 2014:
Jake Butt can make your wrong-ass wrong throws of wrongness into something so right.
Even so, after eight catches in the opener Butt's production fell off. Over the next six games a struggling Rudock only hit him 14 times downfield for a measly 133 yards—there was a 44-yard screen that Harbaugh conjured in there as well. Butt's a tight end. Sometimes he's covered, sort of, and Rudock didn't look for him.
Then Harbaugh beat the stone-cold fact that a covered Jake Butt still isn't covered into Rudock's brain and production took off. Butt had 28 catches in the final six games and 376 yards. That's double the catch rate and triple the yardage. Much of that production returned to the magical land where only Jake Butt frolics:
In addition to his pterodactyl-like catching radius and Wilt Chamberlain hands, Butt's athleticism allows him to shake safeties with his routes...
...and occasionally split them after the catch:
Or just flat outrun a corner. An Indiana corner, yes. Still, this is a guy who had a 70-yard screen against OSU as a freshman and drew this praise from an anonymous Big Ten player even before his breakout junior season:
"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands."
You could not draw up a better receiving tight end.
As a blocker... I mean... he's a great receiver. I say this somewhat seriously. Opponents have to treat him differently than a normal tight end, and the run game benefits from it. Against OSU Jabrill Peppers picked up a seven yard chunk largely because he looked like he'd throw to Butt for a moment and that was enough for two OSU players to freak out.
When it came to making actual contact with the opposition, Butt was decent. Middling. Okay. He was very much a finesse blocker, and this was good enough given the strictures his presence put on the opposing defense. This isn't a brutal finish; it's good enough:
That is kind of the cap, though. Get him soloed up against a defensive end and it'll go like "tight end versus Chris Wormley" most of the time. In UFR his run contributions came out moderately positive against the lesser teams on the schedule and negative against likes of Utah, BYU, MSU, and... uh... Rutgers. The bowl was a nice step forward but repeatedly caving in the edge of Florida's defense could be interpreted as a motivation issue for the Gators. Pro Football Focus tastefully omits mention of his blocking when they reference him because he came out negative on the year.
Remaining upside in this department is limited since he's going from his third to his fourth year. What remains is probably more about the mental side of the game than a sudden surge in ability like AJ Williams had. He'll get a little stronger and a little wiser; what you see is close to what you're going to get.
That happens to be a guy who is going to break Jim Mandich's all-time TE receiving record, a guy guaranteed to be off the board by the end of the second round of the next NFL draft. Jake Butt is a captain on a team with Jehu Chesson. I mean. Harbaugh:
"From day one, Jake Butt is an A++ guy as a player. We're in a meeting or in an install and I see him on the edge of his seat sitting through a two-hour meeting and he's communicating with guys next to him. He's interpreting for the younger guys. He has pizzazz."
Butt's about to be the best tight end in Michigan history.
The Question: What was your biggest revelation from the spring?
Adam: The biggest thing the spring game did for me was ease lingering fears about two defensive position groups. The linebackers were almost universally question marks heading into the spring (unless you count the snaps we saw Ben Gedeon play last season) and they played well enough to quell concerns heading into the fall. I don't remember noticing Gedeon live or in the three or four times I've rewatched the game, which is passable for the Mike position; he also didn't get many snaps, which is indicative of how the staff feels about him. Mike McCray looked good in the spring game, while Devin Bush Jr. looked good in the open practice at Ford Field. Jabrill's gonna Jabrill at Sam; it's unfortunate that Noah Furbush was on crutches considering the hype he received from the coaching staff, but at least there's an excellent starting option at that spot.
Even though we've seen Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas play quite a bit I was a little concerned about them, particularly Thomas taking over Wilson's free safety spot. Thomas lived up to the hype he'd received this spring whether he was jetting up to support the run or dropping and covering acres of space; his interception in the back of the end zone is a great example of what he can do with his athleticism. Thomas mentioned that he didn't feel like he hit his stride last season until he fully learned the playbook; it looks like he's learned this playbook very quickly. Tyree Kinnel looked like an excellent backup to Hill at SS, reading the field well and bumping receivers off routes regularly.
When I step back and take a 10,000-foot view of things, I find myself taking twisted joy in the things that cause hand wringing about the defense. Sure, some of the position switches on the defensive line are curious, and though I've written in this very space about trying Gary out at WDE (or End in Don Brown's defense) and keeping Wormley at SDE (or Anchor to Brown) it's fun to worry about how to best deploy an armory of Dudes who deserve significant snaps instead of whether there are any Dudes to be deployed. After the spring game, we know the latter isn't an issue for any defensive position group.
[Hit THE JUMP for more positive defense feels, Tyree Kinnel hype, quarterback reassurance, and a stunning reversal of course from Brian.]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis,Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]