First Look: 2017 Defense Comment Count

Brian January 13th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.

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[Paul Sherman]

  1. CB Jourdan Lewis. Two-time All-American has case for second-best cover corner in school history. Various excellent stats, none better than this: over his last two years throwing it in the dirt and throwing at Jourdan Lewis were equally productive in terms of QB rating.
  2. DE Taco Charlton. Rampant in the second half of the season against both run and pass and destined for the first round of the draft. Charlton was the rare WDE to play at 280 pounds and gave Michigan's run defense oomph it will miss even if his replacement keeps up the pass rush productivity.
  3. SAM Jabrill Peppers. Massively overrated nonentity will be mysteriously drafted in first round this April and have decade-long NFL career. Absence in bowl game went completely unnoticed and did not pave the way for almost all of Dalvin Cook's yards.
  4. NT Ryan Glasgow. Robot Viking finally started getting appropriately rated as a senior, when he was again an excellent penetrator and disruptor of all things run and pass.
  5. SDE Chris Wormley. TE obliterator and utterly steady; maybe a hair less than explosive. Pass rush not a huge strength, but that went unnoticed since everyone else was picking QB out of their teeth. Elite run defender capable of playing inside or out.
  6. CB Channing Stribling. Outstanding year in coverage; if he was any easier to hit with a completion than Lewis it was a narrow thing indeed. Run support an Area For Improvement, as they say. Should still go early in the NFL draft, as he's a legit 6-foot.
  7. Safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Close to interchangeable, so addressed together: capable of deep zones and slot coverage, these two kept Jabrill Peppers out of coverage almost all year. Tremendous luxury to be able to do that and flip 'em on motion. Thomas did bust a few times for big plays (most prominently against UCF and FSU), but as safety tandems go this might be tops in recent Michigan history.
  8. ILB Ben Gedeon. Sideline to sideline ILB who couldn't carry wheel routes downfield. Consistent tackler who showed up in the right spot almost every time; took on blocks with aplomb and shed them with authority. Lack of playing time early in career got more inexplicable every game.
  9. DT Matt Godin. Played well enough early in the season, when Hurst was laid up with a minor injury, to maintain that status for the duration. Was solid in his role; provided little pass rush but effective run defender. Least productive rotation DL by some distance but still meaningfully positive per PFF.

WHAT'S LEFT

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get in his belly [Fuller]

  1. DT Maurice Hurst. Technically not a starter but whatever man. Per PFF, the most productive interior pass rusher in the nation. Huge grades to both them and this sites UFR; with serious uptick in snaps should have breakout senior year and contend for AA status.
  2. ILB Mike McCray. Resurrected career after long-term injury threatened it and was about 80% revelation. Superior blitzer, tough customer on the inside. Struggled to contain edge runs for much of the year; late improvement in that department.
  3. CB Jeremy Clark. Injured in game four and Michigan will try to get a sixth year for him. If that comes through Clark is a bolt of experience in a secondary that will otherwise have almost none. Lost his starting job to Stribling but started anyway since Lewis was out for the first three games; has a year of solid starts under his belt and should be a draftable guy.
  4. DE Rashan Gary. Snaps limited by guys in front of him; impressive and productive when he did get on the field. Physical potential limitless, and should take The Leap as a sophomore.
  5. DE Chase Winovich. Crazy productive pass rusher who'd show up for a handful of snaps in big-time games and come away with a sack anyway. Per PFF had 27 pressure events in 277 snaps, which is almost precisely the same rate at which Charlton racked them up. Run D occasionally wobbly. Potential breakout player.
  6. DT Bryan Mone. Second straight injury-plagued year. As a result barely got over the 100-snap threshold that we're using to distinguish "new" from "what's left." Struggled when he did get snaps much of the year, hopefully because he was not 100%. Flashed ability against OSU.
  7. FS Tyree Kinnel. Promising safety candidate was dimeback for much of the year and did well in that role. Had a couple of Kovacsian TFLs where he'd fly up from outside the picture to kill a guy dead. Coverage, which was reputed to be a strength when he was a recruit, didn't get tested.
  8. CB Brandon Watson. Nickel corner was beat with some regularity when tested. Doesn't seem to have much upside.

WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY

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dread level: rising [Patrick Barron]

Everything! Almost everything, anyway. The DL has some guys who have established a certain level of performance, to the point where only one of them is even sort of "new," that a redshirt junior who would be old except for terrible injury luck. 

Dudes flanking McCray. Devin Bush figures to draw into the starting lineup next to McCray since he was the clear #3 ILB last year. That should push the bulkier McCray to MLB and give Bush WLB. Hopefully that would allow McCray to focus more on getting vertical instead of lateral. Bush is very much a spread ILB.

Meanwhile at SAM/Viper(!!!), many different things could happen. Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow got Don Brown praise for their work at Viper(!!!) during bowl practices; Noah Furbush is a more traditional LB option at the spot; Khaleke Hudson still seems like a perfect fit as an emphatically box safety; if Michigan can get Willie Gay, recruiting types report that he is an instant impact player.

Either all of the secondary or all but one guy in the secondary. Michigan has a ton of cornerback talent pushing through at a spot where you can get by decently on athleticism. Safety has guys with scattered snaps a year ago and really needs a couple of players to come through.

WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977

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omar comin' [Fuller]

Still the defensive line. Michigan graduates all four starters but this is very much a reload situation, not a rebuild. Michigan figures to start:

  • Maurice Hurst, who produced just as much as last year's top starters in 60-70% of their snaps. He is going to be elite.
  • Rashan Gary, who was +13 in about 300 snaps as a true freshman and is a holy lock to be real good as the #1 recruit in the country.
  • Chase Winovich, who would be coming off a double-digit sack season if he had as many snaps as Charlton, in his first year as a WDE.
  • Bryan Mone, who had a series of injury struggles the last two years but flashed his ability on a critical third and short stop against the Buckeyes.

Those guys are very much in contention for the best line in the conference.

Probably cornerback? If Michigan gets Clark back that's a veteran who will be of interest to the NFL as a Sherman-type jumbo CB; I thought he was a B+ guy in 2015 and should get better if allowed to return. Surely Michigan can find Lewis 2.0 from the pile of recruits in shiny wrapping paper they've accumulated.

Don Dang Brown. Brown lived up to the hype and then some. Michigan LBs totaled 43 TFLs as he solved problems with aggression; Michigan is at or near the top of any defensive metric you care to look at. While the copious talent had a lot to do with that, those guys were around last year and Brown still just about halved S&P+'s expected points allowed metric from 13.7 to 7.7.

While there's going to be some regression, Brown's defenses tend to take a year before kicking in to high gear. Increased familiarity with the system should help mitigate the personnel losses.

WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017

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Is Kemp ready to play? Is anyone? [Fuller]

Defensive line depth. Seven different guys saw 250+ snaps last year, with Bryan Mone getting 117 of his own. Four of those guys are gone. There is a shortage of gentlemen ready to step in. This site constantly says that nose tackle is a spot with two starters. Starter #2 at NT is...?

DE is probably fine. Between Reuben Jones, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall, and Ron Johnson Michigan can find a couple guys to spell the starters. The only DT on the roster other than the projected starters is Mike Dwumfour, a middling three star coming off an injury redshirt. Michigan's bringing in a ton of DT types in this recruiting class but even if they get a top guy like Jay Tufele or Aubrey Solomon, relying on a true freshman in the two deep is alarming. Michigan might have no choice but to move Gary to DT.

Going from Peppers to Not Peppers. The silver lining of his absence almost certainly costing Michigan the Orange Bowl is that I don't have to spend much time explaining why Peppers's departure will be costly. Yes, he tended to go on a ride when he got blocked. Michigan was delighted to take that tradeoff if it meant that you could not outrun Michigan's front seven with Usain Bolt.

WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY

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[Eric Upchurch]

Safety. You know, I'm almost sanguine about safety these days. After a solid decade of safeties topping out at "eh, he hasn't set his head on fire" and frequently dipping into "welp, he set his head on fire again," Michigan's on a run of guys who are actual positives. It is at this moment that we must have maximum vigilance, for this is when Angry Michigan Safety Hating God loves to strike. 

Michigan clearly likes Kinnel. Unfortunately they have few alternatives; it looks like both Hudson and Metellus are tracking towards hits, but are both of those guys box safeties who you don't want to see in deep coverage? I dunno. Mental issues for a couple of true sophomores could pop up as well.

Outside linebackering. Bush will probably be at least all right and could verge on good by the end of the season.  SAM/Viper(!!!) could see just about any level of performance and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS

What looks like another excellent starting DL and cornerbacks that should pick up the departed's mantle without too much trouble is a good baseline to work from. And while the unit is going to be young—just three seniors are currently projected in the starting lineup—it isn't going to be troublingly so. The only spots at which freshmen are likely to contend are backup DT and maybe somewhere in the secondary.

So while they aren't going to be this year's outfit, which was neck and neck with Alabama for the nation's best, neither are they going to drop off to average. Unfortunately, this is not a fully Harbaugh-ized program so there are some sore spots at which one injury could radically reshape the outlook—someone please wrap the DL starters in cotton until fall—so I reserve the right to repeal the prediction if the wrong guy goes down, but this should be a top 15 S&P+ defense and top 20-ish in YPP and the like.

Comments

Sopwith

January 13th, 2017 at 12:48 PM ^

and I can't wait for the gobbling of QBs to continue... but that pic above bothers me. He was up and rubbing his belly while the ball was still loose on the ground. Maurice, realize that when you hit people, the ball may tell that player "you're own your own, bud" and run away. Then you can have the ball for dessert.

Wait for the whistle, then rub the tummy. 

Cranky Dave

January 13th, 2017 at 12:52 PM ^

is  a bit more positive than I am.  CBs worry me, especially if Clark doesnt get his 6th year.  DT depth is lacking.  If Brown makes this a top 10 unit he deserves another raise

Trader Jack

January 13th, 2017 at 2:12 PM ^

This is incorrect. The NCAA makes the determination on a player's appeal for a 6th year of eligibility, not the Big Ten. If each individual conference made their own decisions with inconsistent criterias, a ton of problems would arise.

This link talks about the NCAA bylaws regarding appeals for a 6th year of eligibility: https://borderingonwisdom.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/ncaa-6th-year-of-eli…. Ironically enough, the relevant bit posted below is from a story about Ed Davis' appeal last year.

"That means two seasons ended by injury, and the player in question must be injured in the first half of the season and not participate in more than 30% of the season or three games, whichever is greater."

funkywolve

January 13th, 2017 at 1:48 PM ^

Even if he gets his 6th year, there's no guarantee how effective he'll be.  it's not like he had an upper body problem, it was his knee.  He plays a position where quickness, speed and burst are key.  I'm not sure why Chesson wasn't as effective this year, but my amateur guess is the knee injury played a big part.  The old rule of thumb was a player can come back from a knee injury in one year but it usually takes longer until they are back to pre-injury form.  

In terms of forecasting the 2017 season, I put Clark in with Newsome:  it'd be great if they are back, but I'm not planning on it and if they are back, the jury will be out on how quickly they can get back to pre-injury levels of play.

GoBlueinMN

January 13th, 2017 at 1:53 PM ^

I would think Clark would be ready to go quite a bit earlier than Newsome. Clark's injury was a "routine" ACL tear from all indications, whereas Newsome's injury was more significant and required an approximately month-long hospital stay following surgery.

TrueBlue2003

January 14th, 2017 at 1:01 AM ^

will CERTAINLY be able to play before Newsome, but the point is valid that he may not be 100% so how far under that remains to be seen.  Reconstructed ACLs heal just fine, often stronger than the original, but the ligament isn't the problem. The challenge is getting all the quickness, burst, speed and movement out of a knee that undergoes surgery, swelling, inactivity, etc.

reshp1

January 13th, 2017 at 4:11 PM ^

The old rule of thumb is just that: old. Guys come back in 6 months from ACL nowadays. He'll have all summer and fall camp to get back to game speed. Provided there were no complications or setbacks, it's pretty reasonable to expect him to be a contributer as long as the NCAA cooperates. 

reshp1

January 13th, 2017 at 4:16 PM ^

CB is like RB where you either have it or don't. Talent trumps experience there for the most part, and the guys penciled in all got at least some experience last year. 

DL is scary, but if Michigan dodges the injury bullet, we should be fine. Most teams would kill for our starting 4 and Gary has enough positional flexibility to cover up the thin DT depth a little. I'm sure we'll get gashed when we get stuck with unfavorable matchups on occasion, but there was pretty much nowhere to go from last year's line other than down anyway. Between Mattison coaching up the back-ups and Brown scheming around any gaps, I feel pretty good about it not being a major issue. I agree with Brian that we'll likely go from elite to just very good.

OwenGoBlue

January 13th, 2017 at 4:57 PM ^

I've got a small pit in my stomach if no Clark.

The depth chart will be as physically gifted as we've had in my memory with Lavert, Long, Ambry (who I'm really high on) and BSJ (height/length and quickness + a prep year in the US to help with adjustments). If you add in Clark, who has plus college athleticism and is enormous, I'm full on confident. Watson has looked like he belongs on the field in the B1G, at least enough that he's somewhere between serviceable and quality depth.

We probably won't be giggling at every fade attempt in 2017 and I'm sure inexperience leads to a few busts, but these guys are also only getting the Don Brown experience for the entirety of their Michigan careers. With Clark I'm totally confident this group will be good and I expect it to be great in 18, 19, 20, etc.

DL will be good; backup NT is the only spot that really worries me which is a pretty fine spot to be in. Between increased Hurst snaps, some Gary and other large humans on the roster I think 3T will be fine. Hopefully we create a ton of third and longs where we can go with a pass rusher instead of Mone/backup to Mone.

Zarniwoop

January 13th, 2017 at 12:52 PM ^

Dear Tufele and Solomon.

Instant playing time at a school much better than all your alternatives.

Much better D-Line coaching than all your alternatives.

Please come here.

Caille33

January 13th, 2017 at 12:59 PM ^

I was thinking this exact same thing while reading the DL portion of this post.

If the coaching staff needs any point of reference for playing time just point at Hand's situation at Bama.  (in Solomon's case of course)

Go to Bama and sit for 2 years, be a secondary player in year 3 and finally start in year 4.  Or come to Michigan and be part of the rotation year 1 and an almost guaranteed starter in year 2. 

SOLD!!

stephenrjking

January 13th, 2017 at 12:57 PM ^

There's a lot of talent here. It's very green talent. The second year of Brown has traditionally been where his defenses take off. That is mitigated by the loss of so much high quality experience, experience that also made adopting some of Brown's concepts quicker and easier IMO.

I think we'll see a lot of variance. A game or two where we wonder if they exist, a game or two where we are reminded of last season, and some head scratching bad plays that grind out teeth.

A lot to look forward to in 18. Hey, there's that again.

UMQuadz05

January 13th, 2017 at 12:57 PM ^

I think we're going to miss Hill more than we appreciate- both for his 45-year-old-looking self, but also his great open-field tackling and noted ability to not set himself on fire. 

DavidGoesBlue

January 13th, 2017 at 12:57 PM ^

Hoping to see David Long break out this year. If Clark doesn't get approved for his 6th year, him and Lavert Hill will most likely start if not Watson. I have faith in this staff so no worries for now.

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kehnonymous

January 13th, 2017 at 12:59 PM ^

What's the word on the street regarding David Long and Lavert Hill at cornerback?  I know they were both highly touted guys coming in.  Hill saw a handful of snaps this season and Long even less but I'm not going to ding them too much for that since the seniors in front of them were too good to keep off the field.  I remember Jourdan Lewis said the incoming freshmen were better than him, but there's the whole maxim of 'believe have of the good stuff you hear about practice and all of the bad stuff' - granted, there isn't any bad stuff per se here.

oriental andrew

January 13th, 2017 at 1:04 PM ^

but would love for him to avoid anything even bearing the resemblence of targeting. He was ejected once and had at least another 1-2 no-calls which could easily have gone the other way. I don't know if that was just bad luck or what, but gotta be careful out there. 

Indonacious

January 13th, 2017 at 1:12 PM ^

For some reason, I had felt that Clark getting a 6th year was more of a Hail Mary but this write up makes it seem more likely than that (not sure if that was the intention though).

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ScruffyTheJanitor

January 13th, 2017 at 1:14 PM ^

The more and more I think that Gary is going to Play DT at least 50 per cent of the time. While Dwumfor can (hopefully) be a space eaating, take on blocks NT when he's spelling Mone, It might be alot to ask him to do the same with Hurst. Gotta think that Gary is going to play passing downs at least on the inside, with the high probability of a few starts in the case of an injury.

Only thing that could prevent it is Tufele or Solomon going ham and providing good depth from the get-go. 

 

Also: Kinnel, Bush, Kemp, and Long are my predictions for players who join the ranks of the recently departed to become anchors for this defense.