Dear Diary Predicts the Past, Part II Comment Count

Seth June 19th, 2011 at 12:07 AM


Michigan's defensive backfield, 1879-2006 RIP – Upper left: Box Safety; Upper right: Free Safety; Upper middle: Dime; Lower left: Shortside CB; Lower Center: Nickel/Spur; Lower Right: Wideside CB.

"Every setback is a setup for bad cornerbacks."

---Anonymous, as amended after watching Michigan for a few years.

Dear Diary,

Since you all failed so miserably at convincing me not to do a follow-up for the defense, here is Part II of my Predicting the Past series, where we measure optimistic expectations during the summer against cold hard reality, which hates us. With defense it's going to be less useful – if Hoke and Mattison are as blitheringly incompetent defensively as their predecessors then there's no point to anything anymore – so I'll spare some of the detail.

Either way, we are foraying into the defense of 2007-2010, so this is going to get very ugly very quickly. Some of you in the comments thought that last week's tale of offensive destruction and redemption was depressing. Well if that's depressing, this is going to be more like the kind of torture that requires a large white room and lots of sharp-looking instruments. You will be stabbed, axed, shot, cut into a million tiny pieces, and those will be stomped on. Then we'll do the linebackers.

Let's just get the agonizing part over with.

Defensive Backs:


Inevitable, no. But as of June 2007, we were well on our way.

Depth Charts:

  • Cornerback: Morgan Trent (Jr/Sr), Johnny Sears (So/Jr), Donovan Warren (Fr/Fr), Doug Dutch (Jr/Sr), Troy Woolfolk (Fr/Fr), James Rogers (Fr/Fr), Anton Campbell (Sr/5th)
  • Nickel: Brandon Harrison (Jr/Jr)
  • Safety: Jamar Adams (Sr/Sr), Stevie Brown (So/So), Brandent Englemon (Sr/5th), Charles Stewart (Jr/Sr), Artis Chambers (Fr/Fr), Michael Williams (Fr/Fr)

Incoming: Boubacar Cissoko, Brandon Smith

Expected: I skipped NCAA 2007 and '08, mostly because I loved the cover of '06, so I don't know how they (over-) rated our DBs. I do very much remember trying to keep the rosters of my dynasty kind of accurate as the years progressed, but by '07 feeling really stupid when re-naming and re-sizing a 5-star recruit to Stevie Brown. Yes, Virginia, in June 2007 we knew we were in trouble. Not so much trouble that we freaked about losing Chris Richards to the St. Patrick's Day Nerd Massacre, but such that the need for talent and bodies at these positions was the main theme of MGoBlog recruiting boards in 2006 and 2007.

More after the jump

NCAA_Football_06_CoverartThe previous recruiting year whiffed on several layups (5-star in-staters Dionte Allen and Ronald Johnson) and couldn't get Jerimy Finch to decide what he wants for breakfast, but Carr & Co. did pull out a last-minute rabbit with 5-star Donovan Warren from California. The rest of the all-important '07 haul was a legacy overlooked by his hometown Texas schools (Woolfolk), a guy everyone thought was a receiver (Rogers), a 2-star safety (Chambers), and a 4-star safety from California (Mike Williams) with a 2-star offer sheet. This would have to replace NFL-bound Leon Hall, and graduating Ryan Mundy (who transferred to W.Va. rather than play his redshirt senior year). Trent was a decent No. 2, but Michigan would have to hit a thousand on its CB recruits to have any kind of depth chart in '07-'08. Meanwhile in the entire Lloyd era we had never sent a safety to play safety in the NFL.

Brian was even less optimistic. He maintained throughout 2006 that the safeties (Adams, Mundy, Englemon & Harrison) and Trent were various degrees of liabilities hidden behind a devastatingly effective front 7. This was exposed against Ohio State and USC, the only teams whose O-lines and backfields could go talent-for-talent with Harris/Burgess/Crable/Woodley/Branch.

Nobody but Ron English believed in Sears. Nobody knew why Steve Brown wasn't redshirted, but practice rumors said he'd passed the blameless Englemon so, hey, maybe we had a future NFL safety afterall? I was more sure of that than that Warren would be the next Marlin Jackson.

How Did That Work Out? A script for my DBs .gif:



  • The Horror: Adams, Brown, Trent, Harrison, and Sears. Disaster strikes Sears & Brown
  • Notre Dame: Englemon in for Brown
  • Penn State thru Purdue: Warren for Sears
  • Illinois thru MSU: Harrison Gone
  • Wisconsin thru Bowl game: Harrison Back



  • Utah & Miami (NTM): Stewart, Brown, Trent, Harrison, Warren
  • Notre Dame: Trent (becomes Cartman): Screw you guys.
  • Wisconsin: Stewart, Brown, Trent, Harrison, Warren
  • Illinois (DIME): Stewart, Williams, Brown, Trent, Harrison, Warren. Mike Williams discovers Juice Williams is a 500-foot robot and runs away, into Warren, who gets hurt.
  • Toledo: (DIME) Cissoko in, everyone says "Ow!"
  • Penn State: Stewart, Harrison, Trent, Williams, Warren
  • MSU: Stewart, Harrison, Trent, Brown, Warren, Brown goes nuclear
  • Purdue: Warren at FS for Stewart. All yell "3-3-5!" Trent and Cissoko go nuclear.
  • Minnesota thru OSU: Stewart, Brown, Trent, Harrison, Warren
  • GERG in at D.C., Brown turns into a unicorn and discovers he's actually a Spur.



  • WMich: M.Williams, Woolfolk, Cissoko/Floyd, Brown, Warren
  • ND: Kovacs for M.Williams, left side is so weak Warren's side is ignored and he starts reading Infinite Jest. Meanwhile Cissoko/Floyd go nuclear.
  • Indiana thru Iowa: M.Williams at box, Kovacs deep, Woolfolk at CB, Kovacs revealed to be suicidal kitten at deep safety.
  • INTERMISSION sponsored by Delaware St. and Baby Seals: SEEK COUNSELING.
  • Penn State & Illinois: Williams/Kovacs swap back. M.Williams encounters 500 foot robot Juice again, runs away.
  • Purdue thru OSU: Woolfolk at deep, Floyd at short CB.
  • Warren finishes I.J., believes David Foster Wallace is telling him to go pro.



  • Kovacs, C.Gordon, Floyd, T.Gordon, Woolfolk. All: "Let's go 3-3-5!"
  • Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God smites Woolfolk
  • UConn: Rogers in for Woolfolk
  • Notre Dame: C.Gordon goes nuclear
  • UMass: Kovacs, C.Gordon, Floyd, T.Gordon, Rogers
  • BG: Carvin J in for T.Gordon
  • Indiana-MSU: Carvin J/T.Gordon splitting
  • Iowa: Avery/Rogers splitting, Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God smites Carvin J, then smites Rogers, leaving Kovacs, C.Gordon, Avery, T.Gordon, Floyd.
  • Penn State: C.Gordon realizes he's a Spur (does not become unicorn). Vinopal at deep safety.
  • Illinois: Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God smites Floyd, Talbott in.
  • Purdue: Rogers returns (for Talbott).
  • Wisconsin thru Bowl: Everyone goes nuclear



  • Kovacs, C.Johnson, T.Gordon, Avery, Woolfolk

Sears was kicked off the team – for team violations, not as a fall-guy for losing to a I-AA team, in September. Warren seized the job and was immediately heralded as the next Law/Woodson/Marlin/Hall. Other than when he played hurt, was asked by his coaches to play a kind of deep safety from the cornerback position to cover his teammates' deficiencies, or left early for the NFL, he kind of lived up to that, though with a sophomore slump in '08. Mike Williams was an absolute bust who never saw a playfake he didn't bite on. Steve Brown was mostly a disaster – he lost his job back to Englemon after being the other culprit in the Horror, and later was personally responsible for losing to Michigan State in 2008. As a senior he moved to Spur and was fantastic at it. Cissoko imploded off the field after being completely miscast as a play-off zone-type young CB – he's now in jail. Brandon Smith was a linebackerish safety recruit (lawd knows we've had some of those) who gave up on RR's staff after being used basically as a 4th linebacker against Wisconsin in '09.

    The low-rated guys were exactly as advertised: Stewart was almost a stereotype of a 1990s MSU safety (slow, stiff, argumentative, uninspiring, from Farmington Hills Harrison). James Rogers should have been a receiver, and was, but came back to defense to be a stiff starting CB. He was never good but was an almost serviceable body when we were desperate for anything that looked serviceable, or like a body. Give the guy credit for playing out of position when Michigan needed him.Artis Chambers played a few downs as a freshman, but a recordkeeping error negated his eligibility (and almost wiped some M wins off the books in the process) and he transferred after Rodriguez's first fall to end up buried on the depth chart at Ball State. Only Troy Woolfolk, whose 40-time was FAKE the other way, performed at or above his billing.This is a very long way of saying the future at DB was expected to be Warren plus whatever the new guy could recruit. It's important to note, however, that the grumbling in 2007 about Carr's sub-par recruiting at defensive back was because we saw the backfield slipping to – god forbid – as low as bottom half of the conference. As it turned out it was Warren plus walk-ons, freshmen du jour, and nobody because the guys the new guy recruited were basically busts, transfers and linebackers too. When Warren left for the NFL and the only Big Ten-ish DB got hurt before last year, Michigan bottomed out to what would be a mediocre to bad FCS backfield.
      When things got really really dire there was in inflood of various types of 3-stars for two years – the hope is that good coaching can mold them into something that resembles serviceable.
      5 Point Scale of Expectation vs. Outcome: 2. If Carr, English, and Bedford left some smoldering coals on dry hay, it was Rich Rod, Gibson, and bad luck which let the whole barn county burn down.

    Figure this is depressing enough for now. Next week probably no post since out of town through the 4th. After that, linebackers, d-line.


    If you managed to make it this far, you probably are ready to hear some good news about the 2011 defense. One that says our troubles will go away. Like, for example, if someone came by this week and told you Michigan's defenders learned how to tackle. Say that red is tackling last year, and blue is tackling this year, and bigger bars are better.

That's from maizedandconfused, a revisiting of his painstaking work last year in going through every tackle made and grading it. This is not as useful as it's just from the Spring Game, and thus suffers from way too small sample size to be at all meaningful. If Avery is our best tackler this year we are probably in trouble. If Kovacs is worse that Fitz I'll eat my shorts. If all of these new guys can tackle that would be nice.

It's still easily Diarist of the Week.

In other analysis wolverine1987 tried to figure out if this year's recruiting class is that much better than a typical Lloyd Carr class. It was promoted from the board and Brian made a whole post discussing it. If you missed, the basic gist is we're not bringing in a USC or Alabama class for 2012, but saying % of 4-stars (there's no 5-stars…yet) at this juncture is underrating it.

I'll make my own comparison. In 2007 Michigan was just as desperate (actually more so) for linebackers and offensive linemen (for the '08 class). By June 18, ____, committed linebackers:



Marcus Witherspoon, 4-star (5.8) #219 overall to Rivals. Offers from FL, TN, Clemson, Pitt, BC, others.



Royce Jenkins-Stone is a 4-star and #87 overall, offers from Bama, Oklahoma, Florida, and lots more. James Ross is a 5.8 (#143) with USC, OSU, and Penn State offers, and is Rivals' No. 4 inside linebacker. Joe Bolden a 5.8 4-star (#167) with an offer sheet like Spoon's. Kaleb Ringer's a high 3-star with moderate Midwest offers (Iowa on top).

…and offensive line:



Elliott Mealer, a 4-star (5.8) to Rivals but MSU was his next best offer. And Kurt Wermers, a low 3-star whom ND passed on. To be fair, Khoury (a high 3-star) committed on 6/25. His other offers were MSU and the three directionals.



Erik Magnuson is Rival's No. 8 OT, a 5.9 4-star and #34 overall. Offers were the entire Pac 12 except USC, plus Oklahoma and ND. Ben Braden is a 5.7 3-star but had a Wisconsin offer. Caleb Stacey's a guard with Illinois, WVU, Indiana, BC, and most of the MAC. If you count Khoury for '07 I reserve the right to add any other O-line commits this month to my tally.*

My point: this isn't just your big brother's Lloyd class. It's short on the blue chips but


Brooks' front-paged diary introduces you to recruiting for our new varsity sport. Because the above isn't bad enough.

Michigantrumpet82 wrote down some notes from the UM Coaches Meet & Greet. I highly recommend you read them because there's a lot of interesting tidbits, but this stuck out:

DB doesn't read blogs, says they don't influence him. Underwear wearing basement dwellers. He says mostly they don't have all of the facts, he is in position to have all of the facts.

When it comes to my preferred blogging loc and lower body wear, you should not trust ADs speaking at private events. They don't have all the facts. I'm in position to have all the facts. Full disclosure: I am in my living room at a huge antique desk that spent 80 years in the DIA. In my underwear.

Finally, THE_KNOWLEDGE returned to predict OSU and MSU will face NCAA sanctions, while M goes 11-2. Dude, I predicted that in 2003.


* Note: I am not MGoBlog's recruiting guy. I don't have a Scout or Rivals subscription. I get my recruiting information from the same blogs, tweets, and "$ info in header"-s you do. If Sam Webb has a gut feeling, trust it; if I have a gut feeling, it's probably Thai food.



June 19th, 2011 at 1:49 AM ^

I know it happened but I don't know how it happened. I get the RR part in the way of offensive minded guy needing to recruit the types of players to fit his offense to prove himself and oh sort of forgetting the need for a full defense+a LOT of bad luck.

But I'm surprised things got as weak as they did under Lloyd recruiting. Rich Rod would probably still be coaching had Lloyd recruited a solid DB class and still hold his "genius" tag which he probably deserves for offense.

Reading this stuff would be painful but with the future looking very bright I'm excited for what's next.


June 19th, 2011 at 6:59 AM ^

1. Chambers didn't transfer after Rodriguez's first spring (April 2008) but during/after Rodriguez's first season (fall 2008).

2. I have a hard time identifying Michael Williams as a bust.  He was only a redshirt sophomore, and his bad defensive play was surrounded by other bad defensive play, too.  Then he didn't even make it to his redshirt junior year because of all the concussions.


June 19th, 2011 at 7:42 AM ^

Good catch on Chambers. That's fixed.

As for Mike Williams, I hate using the "bust" label for anyone, but if doesn't fit him, who then is a bust? In my head, I use the term for anyone who falls more than one star in performance behind their rating (5-star who plays like a 3-star, etc.)

I'll give you that he likely had his two best seasons lost to injury. However Williams as a redhsirt sophomore was so painfully bad at his position that he lost it almost right away to a redshirt freshman student body walk-on. Every time he was reinserted it was complete disaster. Here's a rundown of his UFR performances in '09:


Wmich: Englemonian 1/0/+1

ND: 0/2/-2 - "merph"

EMU: 2.5/4/-1.5

Indiana: Replaced by Kovacs

MSU: Concussion?

Iowa: 2/8/-6: The reason Woolfolk can't play his natural corner spot when we need corners desperately is that Williams at either safety spot is worse than Floyd/Cissoko at CB.

PSU: 1/5/-4: And that was generous because Brian didn't neg him into Bolivian for all the long handoffs that got Williams chewed out on the sideline all game.

Illinois: 2.5/14.5/-12!!! That's as a box safety because he was so bad at free safety that we moved Kovacs there. Remember Kovacs at deep safety? This is, by the way, the worst UFR rating in the history of UFRs. Stevie Brown never even came close to that.

Purdue: 0/3/-3  Not picked on because Purdue feasted on the linebackers all day.

Wisconsin: DNP (replaced by Brandon Smith).


In that defense, a redshirt sophomore 4-star would be expected to perform much better. A redshirt sophomore 3-star would be expected to perform much better. A redshirt sophomore 2-star would be expected to perform a little bit better. Thus: "bust."


June 19th, 2011 at 9:08 AM ^

Not to nit-pick but defining a "bust" as someone who performs one star worse than their initial ranking is just a way to obscure personal conjecture behind impartial-sounding terms - those "post-rankings" only exist in your head.

As to Magnus' point, I think it's hard to say what he was. He missed basically 2.5 years of his career.

Also, before we hold Stevie Brown up as a negative litmus test, let's remember that this was a kid that was whipped on these pages for the better part of his career - which proved so portentous that he started, in the NFL, as a rookie, in a decent team, AT THE POSITION BRIAN CONSTANTLY RAKED HIM OVER THE COALS AT.

Something tells me that the fact that virtually every safety since the advent of UFR has been flayed by the system says something more about the system than the quality of play. Personally, this is likely because when a safety messes up, it's 6 points, and most of their good plays tend to be downfield. When Mike Martin messes up, it may go for 6 yards, and his positive plays are TFLs.

I tend to think Williams is an " incomplete". If Jeremy Leseur didn't get to play his final two years, he'd be remembered as the worst CB in my memory at Michigan


June 19th, 2011 at 10:35 AM ^

I agree with the things said here.

To his credit Brian openly admits that the UFR is harsher on defensive backs than it is on defensive linemen and linebackers.  So while there is a flaw in the grading system, I don't really have too much of a problem with it, as long as it's used consistently.

However, as you said, Williams probably gets an incomplete on the whole "bust" scale.  I've said over and over again that I think experience at the safety positions (particularly FS) is an underrated aspect.  Those guys have to understand how the entire defense works, not just their own assignment.  It's not a coincidence that our worst safety play in recent memory has come when we had freshmen (Vinopal), redshirt freshman (Cam Gordon, Jordan Kovacs), sophomores (Steve Brown), and redshirt sophomores (Mike Williams) back there.

The best safety play in recent years?  Fifth year Brandent Englemon, junior Troy Woolfolk, and Jamar Adams (who was pretty consistently good throughout his career).  Even Brandon Harrison and Charles Stewart weren't OMG HORRIBLE back in 2008, probably because they were upperclassmen.

Just like I wouldn't call Antonio Bass a "bust" because he tore up his knee, I'm not going to identify Mike Williams as a "bust" because he took too many hits to the head.  He's just a casualty due to injury.


June 19th, 2011 at 11:12 AM ^

I largely agree that grading Williams for a whole career when he clearly didn't get to play out the string is fair, but at the same point you can usually identify whether or not a guy has "it" as a DB pretty early on.  Stevie Brown showed that he could tackle and was aggressive in certain contexts, just not as a safety.  When he was moved to Spur, I thought he'd be good.  He might have been a better safety in college with better coaching, but who knows.  It might just be confidence with him.

As for the rest of the safeties, at some point the fact UM hasn't sent one to the position in the pros for over a decade has to be explained somehow.  It's been a problem since Moeller's later years, and I'm not sure it will change under Hoke for at least a couple more years.


June 19th, 2011 at 9:17 AM ^

Lol at you using ufr as a definitive assessment of his play.

Calling Williams a bust, or whatever else this site has called that student athlete, without the opportunity to perform in his upperclassman years, without good coaching, is just ridiculous.

You might think you are doing something cool by denigrating student athletes while sitting around in your underwear, but in reality, it is off-putting.


June 19th, 2011 at 11:07 AM ^

Maybe in the NFL, but in college the guy, you know, won the Heisman.  That's like those idiots who say that because Achie Griffin was a mediocre pro, his 2-time Heisman-winning seasons were tarnished.  

I wouldn't call Williams a bust, but that's only because that word is thrown around way too much now.  I will say Williams was disappointing as a college player who might have been able to recover had he not been injured.  But when he was on the field, he definitely did not inspire confidence that he wasn't over his head, and for a decently-rated player you'd hope he would have shown a higher ceiling.



June 19th, 2011 at 3:32 PM ^

What exactly does accolades from the previous level have to do with a player being a bust or not on the following level?  A Gatorade Highschool Athlete of the Year Award winner (for instance) never earning quality minutes in college would be a bust.  If anything, those accolades add to the reasoning one would be considered a bust if they fail to produce results for whatever reason.


June 19th, 2011 at 3:03 PM ^

I don't know anything about Mike Williams the person, and it's not my business to know. My guess (from the way people who do know him defend him) is that he's a stand-up man who will be a source of pride for the University of Michigan wherever he goes. How well he plays football has zero to do with those things, and those things are the only things that would constitute "denigrating student athletes" as I understand it.

As a safety at 19 to 21 years of age, he's inarguably far worse than his recruiting hype. That's all a "bust" is in college, unless we're using widely different terminology.

The only thing I can judge is his football play from the perspective of a fan, and for whatever reason -- youth, coaching, talent -- it was not 4-star caliber. It wasn't 3-star either. Here's a guy in the same class and age as James Rogers, Donovan Warren, Woolfolk, Artis Chambers, RVB, Herron, Marrell Evans, Molk, Huyge, Steve Watson, Martell Webb and Junior Hemingway. Not everyone grows at the same rate, but by the end of 2009 I think it's fair to say we had a pretty good idea of what each guy in that class brings to the table, football-wise.

UFR doesn't have to be definitive to be valuable at assessing individual players' play. If you can make a case that bad coaching is very much at fault for what I think nobody is arguing was some bad bad years of backfield play, I strongly urge you to do that with a Diary. I would like nothing better than to lay everything on Gibson, partly because I've been biased against Gibson a long time, and mostly because I want to believe anything that suggests all of Michigan's defensive problems went out the door with the old coaching staff.

All that said, in the future please back off the "might think you are doing something cool ... while sitting around in your underwear" speak. Your football knowledge and opinions are valued in these parts as far beyond those of the average poster, but the tone's going to get  you hammered if I see it again.


June 19th, 2011 at 4:29 PM ^

a) I just think "bust" is a harsh word for a guy who gets injured and can't finish his career.  There's no rule book that says a player has to be a superstar, an average starter, a role player, a backup, or a bust.  You can label these guys any way you want, and calling him a "bust" is misleading, in my opinion.

b) If we judged everyone in the 2007 class by what had happened by the end of 2009, then James Rogers wouldn't have been an average starter who led the team in interceptions.  By the end of 2009, Rogers was seemingly a career backup and couldn't get on the field.  Stevie Brown made a leap in his fourth year.  Brandent Englemon made a leap in his fifth year.  We'll never know what Williams could have done, but there was room for improvement.

c) I agree that jg2112's comment was unnecessary.  He's often grumpy, and I've learned to disregard many of his "get off my lawn" comments.  However, threatening him with getting "hammered" for his tone is vengeful on your part.  Unless you're going to "hammer" anyone who says things like "Blah blah blah you don't know anything blah blah blah" to anyone, this seems like an overreaction.  People say stupid things on message boards.  As a mod, you can ignore it or react . . . but if he gets negged into Bolivian for that, then I would expect him to get negged into Bolivian for similar comments toward me or anyone else on the board.  My suggestion would be to refute his point intelligently (which you did with most of this post) and point out how grumpy and sad he seems to be.  He won't get the point, but at least you'll be speaking the truth.


June 19th, 2011 at 4:44 PM ^

b) I think you've got three bad examples. Rogers was a bit better in 2010 than I thought he would be by the end of 2009, but still wasn't anyone's idea of a typical Big Ten cornerback, or at least that's my understanding of him. He certainly wasn't 2 stars better than I had him pegged for. Stevie Brown's talent was always evident if the proverbial "switch" went on, and he switched positions his 4th year (to a spot that evidently is easier to grasp). As for Englemon, he was the same 1/0/1 blameless safety for all of 2006 as he was in 2007. He didn't have the speed/athleticism of Mundy but his thing was always brains.

Something you said earlier has been in my brain mostly all day today, about Free Safety being a hard position to grasp. The more I think about it, the more evident this seems to be. When I think of great college free safeties, some are just athletic freaks of nature but there's guys like Englemon and Dwayne Patmon who were kind of behind the other guys in pure talent but were known as brainy players. Not "instinctual" (that seems to be tied to middle linebackers I think?) so much as just pure smarts. Maybe it really is something about understanding the playbook, how it all fits together, and judging where the play will be immediately after something breaks. This is a very young theory here, but I imagine a guy like Englemon whose mind gives him a 1 second head start is more effective than a guy like (junior year version of...) Williams, Mundy, or S.Brown, who are by no means dumb people but neither as exceptionally quick as the other guys? 


June 19th, 2011 at 6:25 PM ^

I'm not saying Rogers overachieved, or that he deserved more than a 3-star rating.  I'm simply saying that what we got from his first three years (a couple tackles, a few receptions) hardly made us think that he could start for an entire season, play competently, and pick off 3 passes.  Hell, Donovan Warren was a 5-star recruit and I think his career high for INT's was 4.

So if Williams had been allowed to play 4 or 5 years and turned in a Rogers-like year in either 2010 or 2011 (40 tackles, 3 picks), would he be a huge "bust"?  My guess is that you would not have called Williams a bust if he had the same kind of career trajectory.  So essentially you're punishing* him for not having a chance to end his career in a Rogers- or Englemon-like fashion.

As for the second part of your post, I'm going to wander off into coachspeak, so if you're one of those people who hates that I talk about coaching...stop here or go screw yourself:

One of my fellow coaches has a favorite saying, that "The one thing that will get us beat every time on defense is being out of position."  It's the free safety and/or middle linebacker's job to make sure everyone is lined up properly.  Since they're in the middle of the fray, they can communicate to both sides of the defense the best.  So if your free safety and/or middle linebacker is young, inexperienced, or stupid, the defense just won't work. The free safety has to understand everyone's coverages, the pass rush, throwing alleys, route combinations, pursuit angles, etc.  Arguably the best free safety in the NFL (Ed Reed) is renowned for how much he studies film.  That's why it infuriated me when Michigan bumped Woolfolk over to cornerback for the second half of 2009 and handed the safety jobs to Williams and Kovacs.  The safeties were once again young in 2010 (although with Woolfolk hurt, there wasn't much of an option), and two of Michigan's worst defenses came in those two years.

I've also heard, read, and believe that a team ought to "draft" its own starting lineup in this way:

1. QB
2. RB
3. FS
4. MLB
5. Everyone else

The offensive coach gets his pick of the QB and RB, and the defense gets the next 11 best athletes.  This is a basic coaching tenet, in my opinion, and it irked me that Michigan wouldn't adhere to that standard for its safeties.  Instead, they trotted out inexperienced guys in 2009 (Kovacs, Williams) and MORE inexperienced guys in 2010 (Cam Gordon, Vinopal).  I know I've made that point multiple times in this thread, but it's worth repeating, in my mind.  I'd rather have 11 moderately good athletes who know what the hell they're doing than 11 good athletes who are clueless.

All that being said, I do think Michigan's defense will be better in 2011, not only because of the new coaching staff, but because we have a two-year starter, redshirt junior (Kovacs) and an athletic, heady, experienced sophomore (Carvin Johnson) back there at safety.

*And by "punishing" I mean "criticizing him in what I deem to be an unfair manner"


June 19th, 2011 at 10:02 PM ^

For future reference, I LOVE coach speak. Thanks for that. One problem I have with football analysis is that I never coached or played at a high enough level to have that kind of knowledge myself so I have to trust that guys who've been at this a long time generally know what they're doing, even if it makes no sense to me. When the coaches chime in on the blog, it's a treat for me because you have a much better idea than I do about what's going through the coaches' minds, and thus where they're probably just off their collective rocker. When I'm trying to do analysis, I can stick with what I saw plus analysis of others, but the hardest thing I can feel comfortable giving honest criticism is coaching except in obvious cases (like sitting in a deep nickel zone all day against spread-to-run teams).

Also: every coach I've met through MGo talks about Ed Reed. Or maybe that's just because I always seem to go back to "why don't we get good safeties" all the damn time.

As to Williams, we did see Englemon for a time in 2005 before he too fell to the safety apocalypse. Going by interceptions is not a very good metric in my opinion because a great cornerback will be game-planned away from (e.g. Woodson) while a terrible one will be thrown at more often. A better tribute to him was the day he had against Notre Dame's NFL-ish receiver. That day was hit and miss, more than I had hoped for but still far less than I would expect of a typical Michigan starting corner. It was the work of a 2.5-star senior I think it's fair to say. To get even to that level, Williams would have had to take a major, major leap from where he was in 2009. You are right that it could have happened, but that kind of jump I feel is so damn rare it can be mostly (but as you correctly point out not totally) discounted.


June 19th, 2011 at 10:55 PM ^

Yeah, I knew *you* wouldn't mind me referencing coaching, but there are some boogerheads out there who think I'm a tool for referencing it.  Oh well.

I guess I don't see a problem with giving James Rogers his 3-star rating.  You've probably done studies on the ratings and determined exactly how much an average 3-star recruit should contribute throughout his college career.  But I think getting 40 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups as a position-switching, one-season starter is what I might expect from a 3-star recruit.  Some are going to bomb out, some are going to be first round picks, and some are going to be forgettably average.  Considering that there are probably a thousand 3-stars every year, turning in a forgettably average senior season doesn't bump Rogers down to 2-star status or even 2.5-star status.  To me a 2-star would be expected to be a serious liability, and Rogers - though he has his faults - didn't seem to be that bad.  If we had a decent free safety and Woolfolk at the other corner, plus a defensive coordinator who had half a clue . . . that defensive backfield suddenly doesn't look so bad even with Rogers in it.


June 19th, 2011 at 10:04 PM ^

No offense, but Stevie Brown morphed from failed safety to whatever madeup position Rodriguez had him at, to STARTING NFL SAFETY in roughly 18 months. I think watching Morgan Trent, and Stevie Brown turn into quality players on successful clubs is about as big an indictment of the DB coaching they received I can imagine. They also rode a 5-star, freshman all-American (Donovan Warren) to safety, then out of the draft in two years, and transmogrified Brendan Harrison from heat-seeking missile to potted plant.

Trent and Brown proved instinctual enough to play major NFL snaps nearly immediately (admittedly, Trent was not a safety). We had a magical machine that turned talent into chum - calling the guy the received that coaching while trying to play with a closed-head injury a "bust" seems to be missing the point.


June 19th, 2011 at 9:18 AM ^

For the record, avery started when Floyd got hurt, not talbott.

This just happened along the Michigan football timeline. Heck of an error to make.


June 19th, 2011 at 10:36 AM ^

Why would we move Kovacs back to FS? Will the position be slightly different in a 4-3? Won't he still be the last man of defense? Wasn't he far more effective in the SS role? And why is Marvin projected for FS and not Furman? I thought Marvin's knock was speed and Furman is supposedly pretty fast and otherwise were both considered S/LB recruits.


June 19th, 2011 at 11:53 AM ^

The safeties are playing both positions, but in the spring game, the safeties were actually flip-flopped:

SS: Carvin Johnson/Josh Furman
FS: Jordan Kovacs/Marvin Robinson

Thomas Gordon is the nickel corner.


June 19th, 2011 at 1:00 PM ^

Honestly I wish we had the safeties to replace Kovacs.  Had we had the luxury of the option, I would have told Kovacs to hit the weight room and become the OLB he should have been.

I have a soft spot for underdogs and part of me loves to see a walkon get a starting spot and a scholarship, OTOH I think everyone here agrees Kovacs doesn't have the speed to be an effective B10 safety.

IMO he's been very good in run support, which makes me want him to move down to LB.



June 19th, 2011 at 8:04 PM ^

I'm not sure. Iowa just graduated a 4-year starting walk-on FS, who, while very dicey at the start of his career, was a perfectly solid player his final two years. Kovacs' pedigree is nearly identical, minus the epic difference in coaching quality between Norm Parker and his staff, and GERG and his.


June 20th, 2011 at 4:23 PM ^

I'm looking for honest thoughts from people who might have better perspective.  As I look at the DB roster, we still have Thomas Gordon, Marvin Robinson, Josh Furman, Brandin Hawthorne, and Floyd Simmons, who all seem to be "tweeners" (too small for LB, lacking ideal athleticism for safety). So how does this happen? Were we just unable to get any ideal safety types to sign? Did the coaching staff look for these guys specifically to be that 5th DB in the 3-3-5? Were there just higher expectations on either the quickness or ability to put on weight for these guys?


June 21st, 2011 at 8:15 AM ^

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