Fall Camp Storylines: Defense And Special Teams

Submitted by Brian on August 10th, 2016 at 12:35 PM

Previously: offense.

It's submarine time. Yea, the beat writers will rend their garments and republish articles about Clayton Richard from ten years ago. Insider rumblings of wildly varying utility will leak out in drips and drabs. Half of them will be outright falsehoods. A quarter will be somewhat true. A quarter will be very true.

As per usual, I enter this month of the season frantically assembling data for the season preview; fall camp chatter will factor in as it always does. Here are the things I'm hoping to hear, the things that I'm hoping are never said again, and ridiculous things I'll dismiss out of hand.



if Charlton had a Happy Days spinoff it would be called Taco Loves Tacos [Eric Upchurch]

STATUS: Our tentative expectation is that the starting spots are manned by Taco Charlton and Rashan Gary. If Gary isn't ready to go you may see Wormley bounce out—I mean, you will see Wormley bounce out no matter what. But Michigan could start Hurst if Gary isn't quite ready to fight a bear. Probably not though.

THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Lawrence Marshall and Chase Winovich are going to get their fair share of time. That's right: I'm taking the starters for granted. One is Rashan Gary. The other is a near top-100 player as of last year per PFF and my own dang charting. For both this year and next it'll be real nice if the next generation is able to make their voices heard over that noise.

THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "I'm taking my talents to Clemson." Yes I know this is a literal impossibility now. I'm still keeping the ol' eye peeled.

ACTUAL THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Shelton Johnson's team picture absence ends up being about a thing that terminates his career.

THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND:  Any assertion Charlton will play SDE, as he did this spring. Even if Chase Winovich is a revelation there's still no depth at WDE without Charlton. Also he dropped a bunch of weight. He's your WDE.


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STATUS: Glasgow is back. Mone is back. Hurst is back. They're moving Wormley inside because they can. Michigan has a two deep of NFL players if Mone lives up to a quarter of the hype.

THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Maurice Hurst has leveled up his run defense. We've already heard all the things you can hear about Bryan Mone and I both know and expect the final boss version of Ryan Glasgow this fall. Chris Wormley is pretty much Chris Wormley, too. That leaves Hurst as the remaining wildcard amongst persons with a chance to play a bunch. Last year he was great when not met with mashing doubles or over-penetrating on stretch plays. If he can fix those two items dude will live up to the first-round expectations PFF put on him.

THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Both nose tackles are injured and they moved the OSU game to week one. A little sick of being down multiple DTs for the OSU game you guys. The injury thing is going to get a little repetitive in this post because Michigan has a lot of established guys. There's going to be little coming out of spring practices we don't already know or, in Bryan Mone's case, haven't heard before.

THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Mone will start over Glasgow. Going to hear it. Have been hearing it.

Listen to me now and believe me later: Ryan Glasgow is a goddamn robot Viking. Mone's probably real real good and is going to play this fall; Glasgow is proven beyond doubt. Except radio callers. And certain internet people.



[Bryan Fuller]

STATUS: The two ILB starters graduate and this is an area of concern... for a given definition of concern. The likely starters are fourth-year players who were highly touted recruits. While that's not a guarantee they'll be good, this is not like previous episodes of Michigan roster concern like "James Rogers is a starting cornerback" or "converted fullback and walk-on Mark Moundros might start at linebacker."

THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: "Gotdang, Mike McCray can play." A continued resurgence from McCray is the most likely way the linebacker corps is pretty all right this year. Furbush is playing outside, likely in preparation for the Iowas and MSUs and Wisconsins of the world. Devin Bush Jr is a freshman. Nobody is talking about Jared Wangler. It's gotta be McCray.

THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Any sort of injury rumor. Linebacker is another one of the spots on the team where there's a big drop from the projected starters to the backups.

THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Ben Gedeon hype. I am dreading this. Gedeon didn't beat out Joe Bolden, so I am worried he literally is Joe Bolden. Therefore people saying good things about Gedeon == annual overhyped Bolden offseason. (This is potentially irrational.) I'm not saying that Gedeon can't be good. I'm saying that I'll take all praise about him with a grain of salt because he's gotta play by default and he wasn't able to break through previously.




STATUS: Jourdan Lewis returns, not worth discussing, All-American. The other side is a fierce battle between seniors Jeremy Clark and Channing Stribling.

THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Channing Stribling is in this dimension to stay. Stribling moved ahead in his position battle this spring and like quarterback the best thing to hear is that someone is grabbing the job with authority. Since I think Jeremy Clark is pretty good I won't be upset if it's a real battle; unless Michigan gets really lucky they're not going to have three elite corners.

THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Anything about Brandon Watson playing corner or nickel or whatever. He spotted Peppers a bit last year; this year he won't be able to do that. Given the roster his best shot is at safety, where he should be moved posthaste.

THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: I'm still tempted to scoff at Stribling's emergence as the second corner but Michigan seems very serious about that. He might start. What I don't believe is that there won't be a role for the third corner. They're close enough and good enough that both will play.



[Patrick Barron]

STATUS: Two seniors with a fair amount of playing time and then a very scary drop to not many underclassmen.

THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Dymonte Thomas is Jarrod Wilson but fast. Wilson was a safety blanket for years; one of the few things that could disrupt what looks like a killer defense is a sudden vulnerability to big plays. If anyone can protect their quarterback long enough to test the safeties.

THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: The seniors are way way ahead of any pursuit. This was the case in spring despite the presence of Tyree Kinnel, a highly-regarded recruit who seems to fit the way Brown wants to play his safeties. Now Hudson and Metellus join the fray. Ideally someone comes through as a third option and penciled-in starter next year.

THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Khaleke Hudson didn't kill a guy. 




STATUS: Kenny Allen's back. Punter is up in the air. Return units should be Peppers Peppers Peppers, but they moved him off kickoffs late last year.

THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Allen is a Zoltan-level boomer as a punter. This is highly possible; as I've mentioned before I've seen more punts from Kenny Allen than anyone else has in the history of backup punters. They tend to go an enormously long way.

THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Jourdan Lewis is returning kicks. He's good at it, sure, but there are other guys who should be in his league at a not-very-important job. Those guys are not also All-American corners. Give the job to David Long or Ty Isaac or whoever.

On the other hand, Peppers returning punts is totally worth it. He saved so many yards last year just by fair catching a bunch of punts most people would have had to let drop, and he's been a hair's breadth away from busting loose for touchdowns. The gap between Peppers and the next best punt return guy is huge compared to the gap between Michigan's various kick return options.

THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Any Andrew David chatter that doesn't involve him pooch-punting. David was behind two walk-ons a year ago and Michigan took the unusual step of recruiting kickers in consecutive years.



August 10th, 2016 at 12:41 PM ^

To Brian or anyone who knows football better than me:

Chris Wormley was most effective as a destroyer of TEs last year. He'll still play some end, but since it seems like he's being moved inside, he won't be seeing as many TEs. Can Wormley hold up inside? Is this a good spot for him? Or should we temper our expectations for him.


August 10th, 2016 at 3:40 PM ^

I think opposing TEs are still going to get destroyed. It'll just be Gary doing most of the destroying instead of Wormley.

It's an excellent situation for Gary and the team. Even when he makes some rookie mistakes, occasionally vacates a rush lane, etc., he's lined up on the same side as Peppers, and that alone will mitigate damage.

Wormley won't get those eye-popping TFL numbers as a 3-tech, but I bet he ends up constricting lots of holes and in the backfield several times per game. He made very few errors last year and rarely ever got blown off the ball, per UFR.


August 10th, 2016 at 12:55 PM ^

Godin was not mentioned here. He was discussed as some type of contributor for this season in the Florida recap. Is that still happening, or has something happened that indicates he won't play much this year?


August 10th, 2016 at 1:44 PM ^

He is up to nearly 300 this year.  That should help him hold up better at DT than last year.  He'd start for many other teams and he is basically a 3rd stringer as a senior.  We have great depth on the DL.  He won't play as much only because of the talent and depth we have but he'll still be valuable. 


August 10th, 2016 at 12:57 PM ^

IIRC the story on Brandon Watson was his innate ability to get into wide receiver's grill and press them off their routes. I understand the lack of depth at safety but what's the advantage of moving him there now? That idea was often scoffed at in the past.


August 10th, 2016 at 1:16 PM ^

We have three very good corners when we only need two; we have two safeties and. . . ogod. . . please stay healthy everybody.

Watson's shot at safety has less to do with his ability and more a pressing need for anyone who can play safety.


August 10th, 2016 at 2:06 PM ^

It just seems like an about-face by Brian. Last year's cornerback preview was explicitily dubious of attempts to put Watson at safety, going so far as to chastise the previous staff for even considering that as an option.

"Watson's high school tape was literally all him lining up an inch from the wide receiver's nose and riding them into oblivion. So it was bizarre when the previous coaching staff moved him to safety."


August 10th, 2016 at 2:29 PM ^

Moving Watson to safety back then wasn't going to get him on the field because they were trying to run press man with few corners who could actually do it, and we had adequate safety depth at the time.  Since then, Wilson graduated and Peppers is the SLB (a HSP either way but now he's closer to the line).  This year, our corners look very good and we have paper-thin depth at safety.

Watson, meanwhile, is supposedly now up to over 200 pounds, which is a safety-ish weight.  I'm not convinced he'd make a good safety but right now he's barely seeing the field at all, and Harbaugh likes to move guys around anyway.

Situations change.  Picking on Brian here is kind of like saying, "In 2014 Brian said our HC was Hoke; last year he said it was Harbaugh.  Which is it, Brian?"


August 10th, 2016 at 9:33 PM ^

I'm not sure that's really a fair comparison but I understand what you're saying. I look at it as more of a Craig Roh situation. His skill set wasn't a good fit at linebacker and moving him there because of a lack of depth didn't make him a better linebacker and probably hurt the team more in long run.

I know that safety depth is currently thin, and will be even more dire in 2017, but that was fairly apparent last year as well. If he actually is a realistic option at safety it would have made more sense to move him last year so that he could be properly groomed in preparation for the 2017 season.

Also, while we have some highly touted recruits coming in this year, the future depth chart at cornerback doesn't really inspire too much confidence either. The defense is still going to play man press under Don Brown and having an experienced player on the outside is incredibly important as well.


August 10th, 2016 at 1:42 PM ^

It's just tiresome to hear from both coaches and press about how awesome a guy looks, and how the light's come on, and then, when the games start, they make the same mistakes over and over that they made as an underclassman. 

There also seemed to be something of a dismissal of Desmond Morgan with these sorts of comments, despite Morgan usually producing at a higher level.


August 10th, 2016 at 1:13 PM ^

This is refreshing. Things you don't want to hear are basically that the reserves aren't good enough to push the starters, which is cause for concern for next year. Going to be a fun season, you guys.

Perkis-Size Me

August 10th, 2016 at 1:40 PM ^

Surprised there wasn't much talk about Peppers moving to linebacker. While we're all hoping McCray becomes The Truth, if Peppers can still be Peppers at that position, the linebackers corps could be pretty darn good this year. 


August 10th, 2016 at 2:00 PM ^

I think the Peppers as a LB is kind of overblown. It's mostly the same position as last year but they are calling him a linebacker rather than a nickel back. He will blitz more but that's because it's a big part of Brown's scheme.

I'm more interested to see who gets replaced when they bring in Furbush for offenses like MSU or Iowa.


August 10th, 2016 at 1:53 PM ^

Positive rumblings about Marshall and Winovich would be really good as they will probably have major roles next season.

Is Hurst done after this season? It would be sweet if he returned next year. Because it looks like the D-line rotation is going to go from 8-9 sure guys this season to 5-6 sure guys next year. 


August 10th, 2016 at 2:09 PM ^

If Peppers or Lewis can't return kicks, then I want it to be (a healthy) Chesson. Uhhhh... nevermind. Maybe retract that. Gosh I'm terrified that he loses a leg on the field.

Ok, so I want Peppers returning kicks. If not him then maybe Dymonte?


August 10th, 2016 at 4:03 PM ^

I think with all the great athletes coming in at WR and CV, they should be able to find decent kick returners. McDoom, Johnson, Crawford, Long, & Evans. Draje Johnson and Harris could be backups who can contribute there as well. As Brian said, Peppers is worth so much just for what he fair catches that he needs to play there.


August 10th, 2016 at 4:10 PM ^

Keith Washington was always touted as being one of the fastest guys on the team so I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him returning kicks.  I think all of the frosh you mentioned could be good candidates as well, but I think I'd rather have Washington at least to start so we can keep redshirts on those guys until we know for sure they'll burn it anyway.  


August 10th, 2016 at 4:03 PM ^

I think with all the great athletes coming in at WR and CV, they should be able to find decent kick returners. McDoom, Johnson, Crawford, Long, & Evans. Draje Johnson and Harris could be backups who can contribute there as well. As Brian said, Peppers is worth so much just for what he fair catches that he needs to play there.


August 10th, 2016 at 3:54 PM ^

It would suck to lose both Mitchell and Johnson. If they (*the coaches) have to let them go, then I guess I understand, but Mitchell was thought of as a guy that was physically college ready right from the start. Johnson has some weight to put on before he sees the field but I think he is going to be a pretty good college player. I hope both play here. Both have athleticsm that can help this team in the future.


August 10th, 2016 at 2:20 PM ^

Bush is up to 232 according to the roster. He will be a factor on special teams at the very least. Non league games will give the young guys at LB and DB a shot to get a decent amount of snaps. 


August 10th, 2016 at 3:01 PM ^

in the hypothetical matchup of Gary versus the bear, my money's on Gary, unless the bear is named Harbaugh, Harbear, or Ditka, and then it's a push.