One of these is Jamar Adams, the other Jarrod Wilson (by Fuller)
Here's a little tradition from around these parts that you're not happy to bring back: who's going to be the new safety starter? Yeah, remember that conversation? Remember how it went around picking up all the we-hope-he's-at-least-an-Englemons out of Gibson'ed secondaries?
The best of all that. This last bout of hand wringing finally ended with the best safety tandem we've had in the Cover-2 era. In their two years together Kovacs and Gordon were the first capable pair since Brandent and Jamar, easily the best since Marlin and Ernest, and probably ranked higher than any since Marcus and Tommy or earlier. We can actually chart the stuff since '07, thanks to Brian's Upon Further Review charts (which total up the plusses and minuses accrued in each game into a rough net contribution stat). I've got my UFR database now updated that far (any further and the knowledge isn't really there to make it relevant or comparable). Remember this is a game-by-game exercise that wasn't meant to remain standard across the ages; that said the Chart?-Chart! chart totals for Michigan safeties in these six seasons very much fit your recollections:
|Jared Van Slyke||0||0|
Chart notes: maize is positive, blue negative so that can stand out more. Time spent at the Spur in the 3-3-5 years was counted as linebacker, likewise Brandon Harrison's 2007 at nickel, which was a starting position on the English defenses. I tried to separate Woolfolk's corner games from his safety games; for the record here's the breakdown for 2009:
…when he was obviously a better corner than a safety but as you can see from above, was needed more at the latter.
Still the totals at the bottom tell a story of a moderately positive '07 (Stevie Brown—0/-8/-8 in The Horror) did most of his damage in one game, which itself did plenty of damage to that season), three years of atrociousness, and dramatic improvement under the new staff. If you remember 2010 as worse than '09 that's because the cornerbacks were just as bad. The disparity between Kovacs 2011 and 2012 is easy enough to explain by there being far fewer opportunities for him to make those Kovacsian stops after 7 yards as Michigan faced either Alabama or teams who either didn't test or schemed against him (Air Force, Nebraska).
Also I had to chart The Horror myself because Brian didn't at the time. Thanks Brian.* Anyway the charting says Thomas Gordon (!) was the best safety at Michigan in the last six seasons. Should we be talking about all-conference stuff for ol' Prison Abs in addition to the leadership stuff? Gee, maybe. He had a spectacular spring game, which I don't think many people noticed.
As for what's opposite him Michigan has to find something out of the blues above plus another year of progression.
*Had this been done under modern UFR standards it would have doubled any record for RPS debacles. Just to know I tried doing that, handing out the remainder of expected points for any play that weren't on the players as Brian does in UFR-ing and came out with this staggering figure of +23/-46/-23. RPS is never that much of a variable, except in this game it was the alignment of linebackers, stunts (!), not stacking the box, and not responding to the QB draw even though they only ever ran one play out of that alignment.
[After the jump: Candidates]
I downloaded the wrong torrent but fortunately mgovideo made an every snap video from the spring game that I was able to pick through for safety-related material.
Jarrod Wilson is still the presumptive favorite right now. He was with the ones in the Spring Game and burned his shirt last year in order to get some experience. When we were riding to the post-game event, I was talking to Marlin about Jarrod, whom he blamed for the Butt touchdown:
Elsewhere folks have blamed that on Desmond Morgan not getting enough depth on his drop, but Wilson is the overhang guy who, according to Marlin, didn't recognize his position on the field. Notice how Wilson cut deeper into the end zone while the ball was in the air, meaning his momentum is taking him away from the play. The catch is made several feet from the spot he just abandoned in order to cover territory that's out of bounds. According to Marlin, offenses usually attack the front of the end zone and safeties should seek to protect that line first and foremost, trusting in their athleticism to adjust if the ball is thrown over their heads. He also said it is one of those young mistakes that will be automatic after enough experience.
Here's Jarrod reacting to a quick toss to the tight end that Morgan left open:
You can see they're using him as the deep guy while Gordon plays strong side. Jamar Adams played that strongside but it's still a very Adams-like play by Wilson, who sat responsibly in his zone then reacted immediately and correctly to the pass. Beyer was only near that play because he was way slow guarding Funchess in the flat.
Jeremy Clark and Marvin Robinson got to play with the twos as the free and strong, respectively. A lot of their coverage stuff was thus spent against Cleary, who made it kinda easy. M-Rob got one such knock-down early on the first worrying duck of the day. Marlin said he liked his play better than Wilson's but I didn't get to see much of him against the first team; when they did I saw him getting cut by receivers because he didn't attack the run fast enough.
Against Michigan's D-I quarterback, Clark was culpable on the long Funchess grab:
…where you can see he's in the right spot in coverage but can't get over there in time to do much more than shove a guy to the turf and hope the ball comes loose. If you watch the next play you get to watch some bad safety play against the run from both Robinson and Clark, as both guys bit inside and opened up a long TD run. M-Rob's bite got him down-blocked by Darboh; Clark went hard to a hole that was filled and then tried to tackle Rawls by leaping back-first into him. The tackle was made by M-Rob who closed using his speed—save this for an example when somebody asks you why speed is good to have but is less important than skill. (Also watch this one again for the +2 Kerridge block on Jibreel Black).
Here's another run on the next drive against our 2nd string safeties:
In that play you can see M-Rob hitting Jeremy Jackson, which establishes his position against a cutback (which was good since the stunt to the backside meant there's no scraping DE to cover that) but also blocks himself out of the play. Now watch Clark, who got to the right spot to close it down, but not as fast as you'd want. The replay shows it better: he hesitated in case of a cutback but then accelerates to his top speed and goes off screen. When we see him again that top speed doesn't get him to the ballcarrier until Rawls is at the 50. Kovacs wasn't any faster, but you got used to him reading the RB's mind and arriving about the time Terry Richardson is holding the outside.
Later Clark is the safety juked out of equipment by Norfleet but you can only fault him so much for that. He also made this play, where he hesitated about a second more than a Kovacs might have but then attacked his hole and made a good tackle. It's nothing like the disasters of the Gibson era—these DBs are playing sound—but I don't expect Clark to be a very viable option just yet, and Marvin Robinson still appears very young despite being a senior.
Others. Right now I can't say what we'll get from true freshman Dymonte Thomas since he was at nickel. I did like Allen Gant's momentum-stopper during Swieca time. Josh Furman didn't seem to register.