Rule: Has to be over 4.5 stars on my database and a five-star to someone.
Cut-off: Had to commit (or transfer) to Michigan after 1989. If you want all-Bo teams talk to Dr. Sap, and anything earlier go to MVictors, because I’m not old enough to have strong opinions on anyone before the mid-1990s. Also my recruiting database only goes back to 1990 (yes, millennials, crootin existed before the Rivals database).
Quarterback: Chad Henne
No this entire post won’t be me posting gifs and slapping some words on it; I just wanted to try it once.
Four-year starter, his healthy junior season was the best by a Michigan quarterback under Lloyd Carr despite being up against a parade of NFL draft picks. Drew Henson at his best was the best, but as the owner of a Henson jersey I can vouch it was Henne who really rescued the value of that purchase.
Speaking of that parade, partly because the position gets ranked higher, Michigan has brought in a LOT of five-star quarterbacks. Brandon Peters didn’t get anyone’s 5th star but was a 4.60 for reference.
Other candidates: Shea Patterson, Shane Morris, Devin Gardner, Ryan Mallett, Clayton Richard, Matt Gutierrez, Drew Henson, Jason Kapsner
Running Back: Tyrone Wheatley, Anthony Thomas
The first time I learned that Michigan had to convince high-schoolers to play for them—rather than, I dunno, springing from midfield or something—was a Free Press article about Wheatley being the most perfect human-football specimen ever produced in the state. Wheatley is the but… response to “are our 5-star running backs cursed?” You youngsters probably don’t know what it feels like to have this massive pair of shoulder pads gliding away from smurfs (and Nits). To this day his signature shoulder-dip is my go-to move when trying to dodge a person in an enclosed space.
If you do have a frame of reference, it’s probably because A-Train was a near carbon copy of #6. Thomas didn’t have much of a pro career but he was a great college player, fast enough to return kicks and one of the best pass blocking RBs of the modern era. And he always. Fell. Forward.
Other candidates: Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, Derrick Green, Kevin Grady, Kelly Baraka, Justin Fargas, (okay okay we’re cursed!), Ricky Powers.
[After the JUMP: This all could have been (was) a Tweet. Happy June]
If Strobel/Pipkins/Godin/Wormley/Ojemudia had Mii's
Body Mass Index (metric weight divided by height-squared) isn't supposed to apply to athletes. It's a health heuristic used to calculate obesity, and according to the health professional I asked, it's not really that good at calling you fat because it doesn't say how much of that weight is muscle. It just guesses that your ratio is normal; for athletes that ratio is definitively not normal. Fortunately I'm not interested in whether our extant and incoming defensive linemen are in shape; I care about identifying which DL are what shape, how this applies to what positions the 5-man 2012 DL class* will likely play, and what the success/ failure/ mehness of similar looking players might suggest what we might expect out of next year's linemen.
* There's a chance Ojemudia may move but for now I'm counting him as a WDE.
The data. Thanks to Bentley we have an historical record of player weights: Google doc'ed here for your ease. For our purposes I'm taking the mid-'90s—when player size made its big leap—through the present. Height and weight data are bountiful, but making any use of them has been hard going. However the BMI seems to have one good use in determining who plays what spot in an unbalanced defensive line. Right away there's a noticeable difference among the playing BMIs at the four DL positions:
1T (Nose Tackle)
3T (Def. Tackle)
As you go from outside to inside height remains steady as weight goes up. Interestingly NTs are the shortest on the line as well as the largest, speaking to a certain shorter/stouter body type preferred at the position. Reported heights are not always accurate but the listed height on Rivals tends to match the freshman heights in Bentley's database, so I've used those across the board; the DL I expect has the least amount of height gain (most of these guys have more facial hair at 18 than I could produce at 22). It tells the story:
Lots of these guys moved about too, especially between SDE and DT, but you can kind of see why. What I'd like to do from here is take a position-by-position look at the size of all of these guys as freshmen versus the Class of 2012, and their growth over their careers (to test if hanging weight on a large frame can "build" a great DL) and finally put the playing BMIs versus the guys left on the roster to see if the 2012 DL at least looks like defensive lines of yore.
Renes talking down to lil bro | Bowman not being held | Watson being gravitational
Nose Tackle (NT, Nose Guard, 1-Tech) is the guy usually lined up shaded over the center. This job (most recently Mike Martin's) in a 4-3 under and 3-4 is similar in that the lineman must often stand up to double-teams or fight off a single-block lined up playside of him in order to cover two gaps. (Current players in bold, 2012 recruits in italics).
BMI as Fr.
Good news: Ondre Pipkins is as large as any NT to come in, in the top group with Watson, Kates and Ash. Watson and Ash both were asked to lose weight (Ash is now being rebuilt) while Kates lost his ability to play after adding another 4.1% to his body weight. The comparable here is something between freshman Gabe Watson (2002) and freshman Terrance Taylor (2005). The recruiting hype is in that range as well, but this is a kind of hard position to rank out of high school because most of these dudes just murder your typical suburban offensive linemen/future economics majors. They also get chopped a lot. Watson's high school career is responsible for at least three later shoulder surgeries I know of.
This is not necessarily such good news. Both Watson and Taylor played as true freshmen which suggests Pipkins's size should make him instantly plug-in-able. However they both had to wait to become starters; Watson was behind Lazarus and then Bowman before playing as a junior, and Taylor sat behind Watson (and Pat Massey at DT) for a year. The other guy with the same BMI as Pipkins—in fact he's almost identical—is current depth guy Richard Ash. But then here's where knowing the background of the players helps because Ash was kind of an out-of-shape flier expected to be Barwicized , while the book on Pipkins, like Watson and Taylor, is that he's carrying a lot college muscle already.
By BMI, Campbell is in the second group because of his height. Like OL/DL/Fck Lion Proprietor Marques Slocum, this method shows BWC's height as a disadvantage, making it harder for him to get his weight under offensive linemen. However his prodigious 5-star strength is still occasionally on display, and he admits part of his thing is effort. Quinton Washington, if he was an NT, would fit in this group.
The shorter guys in this part of the list finds some big successes among people coached by Hoke or Mattison: William Carr, Rob Renes and Mike Martin. But we don't have a guy like that right now.
The ones that had to be built—Bowman, Patterson, Wilson, Lazarus, Miller and Horn, came in about the size of Godin and Wormley and put on a lot of weight to be productive as upperclassmen (or in Patterson's case, a much needed body with functioning circulation and eligibility). Wormley could turn into a Lazarus or Wilson, who like Chris had the proverbial "frames" to put on a lot of muscle, and did so.
This was Brady Hoke's first year at Michigan. Music was awesome because a) I was a sophomore in high school, and b) it was just way better than the music when you were a sophomore in high school. Michigan players wore deep dark navy mesh jerseys that stretched tight over massive shoulder pads and neck rolls, and exposed their abs. Most of the incoming Class of 2012 was born. And in 1995, Lloyd Carr took over for Gary Moeller in a move most everybody thought was temporary.
Had the internet at the time been more than BBSs that you logged into over 14.4 baud modems the general fan meltdown might have been better saved for posterity. A lot of folks thought Bo oughtta step back in; I mean you don't go from Schembechler, to his longtime heir apparent, to the affable defensive backs coach with a penchant for quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. Some tweed jacket might have said it was like going from Henry (Plantagenet), to Richard, to John.*
* OT rules don't cover comments section, so if any of you want to talk Angevins, it's on!
As an officially interim guy (and not a candidate in the initial coaching search), Lloyd built his staff more like a Luke Fickell than an Urban Meyer: no big-name hires, no extra budget, just mostly everybody from the '92 shakeup moving up. The RB coach (Fred Jackson) became the offensive coordinator. The DL coach (Greg Mattison) became the DC. Longtime linebackers coach (really our recruiting guru before that was a coaching position) Bobby Morrison became OL coach, replacing the departed Les Miles. Oregon State DL coach Brady Hoke, hired only a few months ago by Moeller, whom Mattison knew from Western Michigan and Lloyd knew as the dude who was always hanging around Michigan's summer camps, was given just the DEs. Mattison retained the DTs. Carr's additions were DBs coach Vance Bedford out of Oklahoma State, and former Michigan receiver Erik Campbell, who had been an RBs coach with Ball State and Cuse but was given the receivers.
The cupboard at the time wasn't bare, but there were some key losses. Michigan would have to replace senior QB Todd Collins, starting RB Tyrone Wheatley, All-American CB Ty Law, and 1st round draft pick OT Trezelle Jenkins, as well as heart and soul linebacker Steve Morrison. Also gone was nose guard Tony Henderson, OLBs Trevor Pryce, Matt Dyson, and Kerwin Waldroup, and starting short corner Deon Johnson. Still, we were Michigan fans and expected better than 4-loss seasons.
It started in the Pigskin Classic, which back then was the only game that could be played Week 1, and the only way a team could play 12 regular season games. By some golden poop magic, Scott Dreisbach led Michigan back from down 17-0 to 17-12. That afternoon I was in driver's ed, doing the last training hours I needed to graduate, and we were listening to Brandstatter on the radio; at this point the instructor very kindly had me pull over in a Wendy's because I looked like I had to pee. Then on 4th down with 4 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Dreisbach found Mercury Hayes in the corner of the end-zone.
The rest of that year wasn't so 2011-ish. Dreisbach, a Henne-level recruit, was freshman-y maddening for five games, then he got hurt and a walk-on, Brian Griese, finished the last 9 games. Meanwhile the defense got so banged up that only one guy (Jarrett Irons) managed to start all 13 games (true freshman cornerback Charles Woodson, who earned his first start in Game 2, is the only other guy to start 12). We lost to Northwestern because Northwestern was weirdly doing that to everyone in those days (at the time I didn't feel this). We lost to Michigan State after MSU caught a late 4th down pass out of bounds and a yard shy of the marker, and this was ruled a 1st down. We lost to Penn State after they executed a perfect fake FG late. But Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards to beat No. 2 Ohio State (WH)…
…and it was good. Carr was given the job, and despite all expectations to the contrary just a year earlier, his assistants got to keep theirs. Over time he also won over most of the fans who'd doubted him.
Does this mean we'll have a functional DL? There's a story here that's not part of the Emerson-Quoting Good Guy Makes Good storyline, nor the Omigod-This-New-Cornerback(!) storyline. Behind the new Era of Good Feelings was some particularly good news coming from the defensive side of the ball. Michigan in '95 held opponents to 93.2 rushing yards per game, and 88.1 ypg in a Big Ten at its apex. This was an improvement from 112.3 ypg in 1994, which also happened to lead the Big Ten. Michigan in '95 also led the Big Ten in total defense (314.5 ypg) for the first time since 1990. Points per game dropped from 19.3 (38th) to 12.0 (14th). This was despite losing Law and much of the front seven, and changing formation. Carr in '94 was running something like the 3-4 thing that was in vogue during the late exposed-belly period, and looked more like a 5-2. Missing all those 3-4 OLBs, Mattison switched to something like a 4-3 over that let murderous dudes with names like Steele and Irons and Swett and Sword hunt down ballcarriers.
This plays out a bit in the percentage of Michigan's tackles made by position:
King, Sanders, Anderson, Thompson, Winters, Noble, Johnson, Law
King, Winters, Ray, Hankins, Thompson, Woodson
Since interior DL is where we're petrified this year, let's look there. Mattison turned William Carr into a double-team-demanding nose guard, freeing Jason Horn to go from All-Conference to All-American. Horn was the first of four All-American interior defensive linemen on that team: Carr in '96, Glen Steele in '97, and (then redshirting) Rob Renes in '99. From there they turned Bowens, and then James Hall into rush WDEs, and Ben Huff and Josh Williams into quiet pluggers on some of the great Michigan defenses. They recruited the next generation of specialty guys: Rumishek (who as All-Conference as a senior), Shawn Lazarus, Eric Wilson, Norman Heuer, and the chef doeuvre of the Hoke school for hard-nosed nobody DTs, Grant Bowman.
The positional tackle rates for the 2001-'02 defense is eerily similar to another of recent memory:
June, Curry, Drake, Shaw, Marlin, LeSueur, B.Williams, Howard
Obvious difference between future Jet Victor Hobson and Ryan/Beyer – it seems Demens, RVB and Kovacs split that difference. Maybe the SDE thing is a trend but this doesn't say very much; Dan Rumishek was All Big Ten in 2001, and yet wasn't the guy making tackles. From this however I think I'm starting to get an idea of what a Hoke defensive line is supposed to do. The defense pivots on the SDE and NT, and then everybody collapses toward the ball with the DT handling cutbacks and the WDE a common late arrival.
Mattison left in '96, and Hoke, who took over the whole D-line in '97, departed for Ball State after the 2002 season. By then he'd helped recruit planetoids Gabe Watson, Larry Harrison and Alex Ofili, as was as the too-high Pat Massey, but their generation didn't take over until 2004, when Bowman, Heuer and Stevens graduated and Michigan went with a 3-4 again to give LaMarr Woodley a running start (the only other time in memory before this year that Michigan replaced all three of its interior DL).
Unfortunately I can't provide any better evidence that the return of the 1995 D-Line staff will be enough to make a functional defensive line out of Q-Wash, Campbell, Ash, Brink, and some freshmen. But the track record is real.