The Rodriguez Record Developing Defensive Talent at UM

The Rodriguez Record Developing Defensive Talent at UM

Submitted by PurpleStuff on November 17th, 2009 at 5:08 PM
After a few long board posts on the current and future talent level of the Michigan football team, I figured this is as good a time as any to make my first foray into the world of diaries.  Though short on awesome MS Paint, hopefully this post is long on useful information.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that this is a talent deficient team, especially on defense, people continue to gripe that the coaches must be doing something wrong because "we certainly have more talent than Illinois or Purdue" (which is of course completely untrue, as I document in the "current" board post linked above).  Rodriguez has also takent heat (or it has just been assumed) that he is "not a defensive coach."  So I decided to look player by player at what this team is working with on defense and just how well Rodriguez and his staff have developed players to give us some indication of what to expect when this staff is finally competing with a full deck.  The results are encouraging and eye opening.  I divided the players by Rivals star-rating to give some sense of what our realistic expectation levels for these players should be and I excluded any freshmen who haven't seen extensive game action to this point.

5-Star Players

Brandon Graham: In two years playing under Rodriguez, Graham has tallied 18.5 sacks and 41 TFL to go with 4 forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, and a defensive TD.  He will almost certainly be an early (if not first) round NFL Draft pick.

Donovan Warren: As a Junior playing in his 2nd season under Rodriguez, Warren leads the team with 4 INT's, as many as any Michigan DB since Todd Howard in 2000.  He projects to be a mid-to-high round NFL Draft pick (in part depending on whether or not he decides to leave school early).

Summary: The two non-freshman blue-chip prospects on the defensive roster have played as well as can be expected of any prospect.  Both are high level college football players who will play on Sundays.

4-Star Players

Stevie Brown: Signed as a safety, where he played his first three years at Michigan to much fan groaning, Rodriguez and his staff moved Brown to a more comfortable outside linebacker position where he has developed into a competent starter and the team's leading tackler during his senior season.

Adam Patterson: Patterson, a RS Junior, has struggled much of his career at Michigan and has spent much of this season behind a walk-on on the d-line depth chart.

Jonas Mouton: Signed as a safety, RS Junior Jonas Mouton continues to struggle with the mental aspect of the game in his second season as a starting inside linebacker and was benched in favor of RS Sophomore JB Fitzgerald during the Purdue game.

Mike Martin: A true Sophomore signed by Rodriguez, Martin is in his second year as a starting DT, where he is one of the best young players at the position in the country, despite playing out of position and being forced to eat double-teams due to roster limitations.  He will almost certainly be a four year starter on the defensive line.

Ryan Van Bergen: RVB has recorded 5 sacks and 4 PBU's in this his RS Sophomore season (both good for second on the team).  He will almost certainly be a three year starter on the defensive line.

JB Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald has started in one game at linebacker in this his Sophomore season after getting the nod over the much more experienced Jonas Mouton.  In that game he recorded 5 tackles including 2 TFL against Purdue.

Mike Williams: A RS Sophomore recruited as a nickle/fifth defensive back, Williams has struggled in his first year seeing extensive playing time as a starting safety.  He was forced into action this year because he is the only safety on scholarship in the Sophomore, Junior, or Senior classes.

Craig Roh: Roh has started every game this season as a true Freshman on the defensive line, recording 2 sacks, 7.5 TFL, and an interception.  He will almost certainly be a four year starter on the defensive line.

Summary: Out of eight players (one of whom is a true freshman), four are very solid contributors already (of whom three are underclassmen on the defensive line).  Two are sophomores who have either seen limited action so far (Fitzgerald) or have struggled after being thrust prematurely into the starting lineup (Williams).  If any one of Mouton, Fitzgerald, or Williams develop into solid contributors in their remaining years at UM, this staff will be batting well over 50% in turning 4-star recruits into high quality defensive players by the time they graduate.

3-Star Players
Troy Woolfolk has been a competent starter at CB after a mid-season position switch from safety (where he had been playing out of position due to roster limitations at that position). 

Sagesse, Banks, Watson and Herron provide solid if unspectacular depth along the defensive line.  All are behind productive and more heavily recruited players on the depth chart so should not be expected to crack the starting lineup.

Obi Ezeh has struggled as a veteran starter at linebacker and was benched in favor of walk-on Kevin Leach during games against Purdue and Illinois.

Summary: Of the two guys in a position to be asked to start, one has played admirably and one has struggled despite extensive playing experience. 

Jordan Kovacs, a RS Freshman coming off knee surgery, is third on the team with 66 tackles including 4.5 TFL.  He has also forced two fumbles (tied for the team lead with Brandon Graham) and intercepted a pass (tied for 2nd on the team).

Kevin Leach, a RS Sophomore, has seen extensive action at linebacker in two games (essentially playing starter minutes) and recorded 36 tackles on the season to go along with a sack and an interception.

Simmons, Van Slyke and Heininger have occupied spots on the two-deep throughout much of the season.

Summary: When forced to throw non-scholarship players out there, this staff has gotten a lot out of their less talented players.

What Now?
Click on the "future talent" board post I linked to earlier.  Compare that defensive depth chart with the current one that has only 16 non-freshmen on scholarship.  If current rates of development (which are still skewed against the current staff because of the youth of this team) hold true, Michigan should have a very good defense in just a couple of years.

For those who still want to criticize the coaching staff, I challenge you to find one example of a team with a more depleted depth chart that had success, or a coach with a better track record for developing the talent at his disposal.