Mailbag: Line Depth When, Ridiculous Lewan/Ryan Hybrid, Why Return Punts?

Submitted by Brian on October 8th, 2013 at 11:27 AM



it gets better

Hi Brian,

This whole Center situation has put me in a funk [ed: I see what you did there] and all I can see in the future is doom and gloom.  Aren't we going to be in the exact same position next year?  I was wondering if you could address on your site the future prospects of this position going forward.  Miller is not cutting it at the moment (or at least that's the popular opinion).  But is this a problem that he's still too young and needs to learn?  Or is it that he's just too undersized for the position?  I've heard zilch about the other Centers on the roster, Burzynski and Kugler.  So what is to happen next year?  Should I just blindfold myself and box my ears for the next year or two?


Sometimes guys just have it, and sometimes they get it eventually, and sometimes they never do. David Molk had no problem popping into a starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and being good immediately. Miller's been done few favors by Michigan's renewed emphasis on the stretch after barely running in the last two years and should become more consistent as he acquires experience with it, but Glasgow seems to be making fewer mistakes than he did at the same level of experience.

The good news is that this year and last should be the nadir for options on the Michigan line. Last year, Miller was literally the only scholarship option other than true freshmen Michigan could turn to if they wanted to make a switch. This year they're in a similar situation except the (formerly) backup option is the oft-injured Chris Bryant; Blake Bars is also an option but looked far from ready this fall.

Next year it's a whole different story. Michigan loses their two tackles and must find a left tackle from Magnuson or Braden; right tackle will be a battle between one of those two guys and any of a fleet of 6'5" guys who can play both tackle and guard. On the interior they'll suddenly be spoilt for choice with count-'em nine options give or take a guy who might be sucked out to tackle. That is worlds away from what Michigan's got now.

They will be young. Michigan will have no seniors on next year's offensive line save Burzynski. They should be able to paper over some concerns with depth in their options.

Wither Washington against spread to run?


In light of our defensive approach to use Black/Wormley as nominal DTs against passing spreads like ND and Akron, should we be concerned against the Buckeyes?  Watching how they call their plays at the line, I would think Urban would have Hyde pound it up the middle anytime we showed that alignment.  Do you see this meaning we will see more Washington than we would typically against a spread team?  Or is sacrificing some beef in the middle with Black worth the lateral speed we gain against their skill players?

The challenge posed by OSU is dealing with not only lateral speed from Miller and their little slot buggers but holding up against Carlos Hyde, who's more manball than any back Michigan has at its disposal. If the defensive line can't hold up against OSU double teams… well, you saw the Northwestern game. It's not pretty for a defense.

I'll be shocked if Michigan has a nickel package on the field against Ohio State on anything other than third and long. Washington is going to a be a key piece against all the spread-to-run teams on the docket, and there are plenty: OSU, Northwestern, and Nebraska plus certain packages Indiana might run with Tre Roberson. With the rest of the schedule filled out by PSU, MSU, and Iowa, we've seen the last of games where Washington is largely a spectator as opponents fling the ball about willy-nilly.

Why bother returning punts anyway?


this massively blocked punt was the difference in NW-OSU (via Eleven Warriors)

This question was prompted by watching Michigan try (and fail) to set up a return when Minnesota was punting from inside their 10 yard line today.

Why not always go for the block?  How is running 20 yards backwards, then trying to find and block someone better than making someone block you in their own backfield?  Best case, you block the punt; worst case, coverage team suffers from having to defend against punt block before focusing on coverage.  If the point of setting up a punt return is to keep would-be tacklers away from the returner, why not make those would-be tacklers deal with would-be punt blockers 40+ yards away from where the punt lands?  I really just don’t get it.


Going for a block is a high variance strategy that rarely brings any reward at all and often results in flags for hitting the punter; used too consistently it's asking to eat fake punts more often than you actually get to the punter. So you've got to set up returns at least some of the time: fourth and five or less, any punt safe situation, times when you don't care to risk roughing the punter because you're up, and enough other times to keep teams from planning a fake punt you'll get strafed by.

Meanwhile, with modern punting formations the only guys who have to dedicate themselves full time to blocking you are the three gentlemen in the shield. For the other seven players, a momentary delay on a guy at the line is good enough. If you're sending guys after the punter all the time that's not going to change the behavior of the punting team enough to help you on returns.

The only thing that will do that is blocking enough punts to force guys back into NFL-style punting, and dozens of coaches working over the course of a decade haven't been able to make shield punting seem more vulnerable than the NFL stuff. I'm with you somewhat, in that so few punts get returned effectively these days that you should slant your prep towards blocking them and go after punters more often* but never bothering with setting up a return is too far in the other direction.

*[especially since it's relatively easy to not get a roughing the kicker call: just avoid the guy's plant foot.]



Hello Brian, Brian's Hair, Ace, Seth and Heiko,

I was watching the network broadcast of the game yesterday and near the end, right around Countess' interception, the broadcast cut to a shot of Jon Falk preparing to open the mail bin that held the Jug. Taylor Lewan was standing next to the bin and I believe one of the announcers called him "Jake Lewan."

Alas, it was a misstatement. But could you imagine if this player existed? Huge. Crazy. Two-way. He pancake blocks linebackers and hurls chipping running backs to the ground. He both protects QBs and turns them into small smears on the ground. I would love to see a .gif of this being in action (destroying the skyline of Columbus Godzilla-style, consuming raw sides of beef lobbed at it by an approving Coach Mattison, charging into the interview room and ripping Heiko's head off after he asks Borges about bubble screens etc. ). I would love to see the Mathlete whip up some sophisticated simulation in R or Stata to project  this mythical player's stats. How many stars would he have gotten on the recruiting trail? (six?) What would his fake forty time be?  Could he eat more than Charlie Weiss? What sort of tattoos would he have? What pet would he own? The possibilities are both endless and fascinating.

Just thought I'd mention it.


The Mathlete started simulating this but desisted when he started noticing small glitches in reality. He swears that carbonation of beverages was rare until he started working on your question, Patrick. The initial results are a little rough, but your answers:

  1. COULD YOU IMAGINE IF THIS PLAYER EXISTED? No longer do I imagine or dream, as the act of doing so now brings things into reality. While I could use this for good, eventually the wrong thing would be thought about and Michigan would have two wins over Ohio State since OH GOD I DID IT DO YOU SEE PATRICK, DO YOU SEE?
  3. WHAT WOULD HIS FAKE 40 TIME BE? Zero point two seconds, to account for human stopwatch vagaries. This would be real, and thus break the concepts of fake 40 times and reality.
  4. COULD HE EAT MORE THAN CHARLIE WEIS(S)? If you are referring to the temporary head of the Kansas Jayhawks, he's had bariatric surgery so most nine-year-olds could do this. If you are referring to some random dude who has to keep correcting everyone who lols at him about decided schematic advantage, yes. This is a large man who is physically active. Charlie Weiss lifts a little bit but cannot compare.
  5. WHAT SORT OF TATTOOS WOULD HE HAVE? Animated ones depicting the rise and fall of Atlantis, both of which were his doing.
  6. WHAT PET WOULD HE OWN? His Excellency The Most Exalted Velocironald The Third The Fourth The Second, Jr.


Indiana Blue

October 8th, 2013 at 12:07 PM ^

did a good job defending ohio's running game and they play a 3 - 4.  With Ryan's return - I wonder if we might start to see more 3 - 4 schemes.  True Wisconsin's LB's are probably a better fit for that scheme ... but I like having that extra "quicker" guy when facing a running QB.

Go Blue!


October 8th, 2013 at 12:34 PM ^

This may be a dumb question (which, because I am prefacing it with that qualifier makes it so), but is replacing both takes likely to be as disruptive to the offense next year as the shakeups to three inside positions this year? Logically you would say yes, but it seems like Gardner would find it easier to run around pressure from the outside than inside because it is less in his immediate sight lines. Not saying it will be pretty, but is there any evidence or trends one way or the other?