Mailbag: Redshirts, Bad Burned Ones, QB Oh Noes, Packaged Plays

Submitted by Brian on September 19th, 2012 at 4:30 PM



Hey Brian,

The media has made a big deal about the 12 freshmen that have already played this season, mainly viewing it as a sign that the team is in bad shape.  I think it's mainly because the 2012 recruiting class was so good, not because the returning players are performing poorly.

Guys like Funchess, Norfleet and James Ross would find some playing time on most teams.  I don't see many Ray Vinopals out there - players only burning a redshirt because the depth chart at the position is a tire fire.  Yet another interpretation is that it is a reflection of Brady Hoke's philosophy which differs from past coaches. I recall that you didn't expect so many to play.  How did you interpret the situation?

Mike Forster
Class of 2005

The twelve who have seen the field grouped into categories:

JUST THAT GOOD: Norfleet (at least in the context of KR), Funchess.
STANDARD-ISSUE GROOMING: Darboh, Wilson, Pipkins
BAD SIGNS: Williams, Ojemudia, Richardson.
WTF: Jenkins-Stone, Houma.

Ideally you wouldn't have Demens's job under threat in his third year as a starter, wouldn't be playing a true freshman blocking TE who was a tackle last year, and would tell Ojemudia and Richardson to eat a bunch of lard and talk to me when you've put on 30 pounds. Everyone else is about what you'd expect.

I'm not surprised most of these guys are all seeing time. I thought Ojemudia would be forced onto the field because of Clark's issues; those turned out to be less severe than they might have been but Beyer's injury still forced M's hand there. After I predicted a redshirt in Richardson's recruiting profile, Michigan saw two corners leave the team and a third go down for the year, plus Avery has/had back issues. They need to have him out there. With four corners in the next recruiting class they don't absolutely need to have him get that fifth year.

The two real surprises are RJS and Houma, but while they're irritatingly burning redshirts so they can watch Matt Wile pound kickoffs into the endzone their presence on special teams doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things.

[after the jump: more redshirts! sexy packaged plays! A dinosaur!]


1) Redshirts. What was the worst redshirt burned on Saturday? I'm thinking Darboh, but I also think he may have played before UMASS? But the point remains that it seems a little odd to burn his redshirt this year. The wide receivers are clearly Gardner, Roundtree, and Gallon, backed up by Dileo, JRobinson, and Jackson. I think we've seen Reynolds quite a bit already.

To burn his redshirt, the staff must think he will contribute/be in the rotation at some point this year, yes? Is it really worth it to see if he can replace Jackson by season's midpoint? Does he figure into the top 4/5 by the end of the year? Maybe they are not happy with either Robinson or Jackson and therefore the only "big" receiver is Gardner, so he needs a backup?

I don't get it. I don't think you burn redshirts for depth. JRob is already depth. All the other Freshman that have appeared seem to be playing real time, but not Darboh. 

Hey, hot topic. No one new played against UMass; all of the "he's not redshirting?!" guys had already gotten on the field on special teams in the first couple games.

But no question it's Royce Jenkins-Stone. Stone isn't in the two-deep at any of the three linebacker spots, needs weight, comes from a program that doesn't have a lot of resources to coach their kids up, and is only playing special teams. I think he may only be on kickoffs, too, which are now opportunities to get a nice jog in as Wile boots it into the endzone. Argh argh argh argh.

Darboh may end up forcing his way into playing time later this year and it's sensible to groom him when you are definitely losing Roundtree and may lose Gardner (to QB) after the season. He's already college-sized. He's probably not that far behind Robinson and Jackson as third tall guy option. He is likely to surpass them by next year and start, so you should groom him. I get it.

Houma's the other inexplicable one, but as a fullback I don't think it's going to be hugely important to get a fifth year out of him.

2) QB Oh Noes. So was the Funchess touchdown a QB Oh No? I couldn't tell from your comments, but I think it wasn't. A QB Oh No, or Denard self play-action, seemed to feature Denard actually running with the ball then stopping to throw. What happened against UMass seemed almost to be a read-option where Denard was reading hand-off/pass (and possibly keep?). Regardless, Denard faked the handoff, then set up to throw immediately after.  He didn't start to run, so I think that makes it a good old PA, not a QB Oh No. Thoughts?

Correct, not that it's hugely important. But the aspect of the Oh Noes that was so devastating is that it goes directly upfield right away, thus demanding an equally quick response from defenders. Since the QB is going upfield, you usually need to involve a safety as well.

football_dinosaur_blue_sticker-p217581607482130163envb3_400[1]The more traditional mesh-point-into-pass play action is obviously not awful, but to date it has not gotten a guy over the top. It's good for those 20 yard seams but does not seem to be quite as good at getting a safety to watch a 70 yard touchdown sail over his head.

FWIW, I don't think Michigan is reading anything when they run that play action. You can always tell if it's run or pass by watching the WRs either run routes or block. The only reads in the offense are at the mesh point on called running plays.

Speaking of…

Packaged plays. Not about UMass running backs.

Packaged plays are all the rage because Oklahoma State and WVU are annihilating people with them and Smart Football is explaining them. In short they're combo run/pass plays on which a defender—usually a linebacker—is read. Is he coming up to stop your iso? Toss a seam over his head. Is he staying on the seam? Run where he just vacated. Etc.

Dear Brian,

I don't know if you've seen this article on Air Raid disciples and how they are doing in Week 2. I was drawn to it by a tweet (maybe by Smart Football, maybe EDSBS) that cited it as evidence for Zook's comment during the LA Tech broadcast that “They’re going so fast there’s no time to explain what’s happening” – which captures Zook perfectly.

But in the article there are some actual plays drawn up that just look
super nasty, especially if Borges were ever to run them with the
players we have now -- although this is of course a pipe dream. Take a
gander, for instance, at this play, which packages a stretch zone read with a built-in option WR screen:


I know this is the kind of stuff that Smart Football has been talking
about for ages -- packaging runs with throws, although usually he's
not talking about screens -- but it did make me giddy just thinking
about Denard running it.

Toronto, ON

Rodriguez did dabble in something like the above by combining the zone read with a bubble on the outside. It never quite came off because they hadn't inverted that bubble to making the inside defender choose like the above play shows, and after a few attempts Michigan shelved it. They may have brought it back if they'd ever had a returning QB they felt was ready to move beyond the basics of the offense. They never got the chance.

As for Borges, I think Michigan may have taken a packaged concept for a test drive against MSU last year. This play features Michigan's line blocking the run and the slot receiver looking back for a potential pass. You can see Denard abort run, think about the pass, and then abort pass:

In that instance the package read may not be there there since the LB sucks in to defend run pre-snap and the safety is taking the slot guy in man to man coverage. In the ideal world that LB is supposed to cover the slot unless its' a run. Even so, it's kind of there. Once that LB comes in the seam is open for decent yardage or better with a broken tackle.

(While Molk ends up blocking downfield, we've seen this year that refs just aren't calling that. Until that becomes a point of emphasis, it's open season on these sorts of plays.)

Will we see this kind of stuff on Saturday or beyond? I don't know, but I hope so. This is a pretty simple read that I don't think anyone on the schedule has had occasion to develop countermeasures for. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State and West Virginia are running these plays incessantly and defensive coordinators are racking their brains in an effort to keep up; the initial deployment of packaged plays in the Big Ten will be like bringing smallpox to the Americas.

Borges is a tinkerer so I wouldn't put it past him, but Denard still has a ton on his plate. Do you want to slow down his development on those forward pass things so he can try this out? Can he reliably make the read here that he didn't against MSU? 

I give it 30-70 against we see something like this as a surprise in a big game, unless we do, in which case I knew it all along.



September 19th, 2012 at 4:52 PM ^

I remember MSU doing something with our snap count last year? Getting off the snap a second early or something? Something along those lines...yeah..I hope that doesn't happen again.


September 19th, 2012 at 4:54 PM ^

So Denard is doing pretty well on those forward-pass things. If there is a tactical adoption that can so hamstring a defense that it basically works for an entire game, wouldn't you want to see it? I would. Like, against ND. Or MSU. Or Ohio State.

Perhaps it's already there, waiting.  I hope so.


September 19th, 2012 at 4:54 PM ^

Didn't we all assume AJ Williams was going to play this year because of our lack of scholarship players at TE? 

I wonder what would of happened to Ojemudia's red shirt if Beyer didn't get injured. 

FWIW, Darboh has looked good at reading the field on kick off returns.  His two tackles on kick off coverage were nearly identical. 

Nate the Newt

September 19th, 2012 at 5:00 PM ^

Is it possible that Hoke and Co. already know what they have or see RJS's ceiling and have no problem burning tha redshirt if he's only going to be depth/special teams all four years?  That avoids the uncertainy of giving someone a fifth year and gets a guy's tenure on the move, so to speak.  Just trying to make sense of it.


September 19th, 2012 at 6:56 PM ^

I thought this same thing about Houma.  It seems like Hoke took a lot of (quality) low hanging fruit in the 2012 class. We needed depth everywhere, except maybe scholarship fullbacks.  Burning redshirts is fine (except along the lines maybe) if you have the horses, which it seems we will have going forward.  


September 19th, 2012 at 5:16 PM ^

They did something similar last year; can't remember which game, I think it was Nebraska game. Urban Meyer was the broadcaster, and made comments all game about the OL running downfield on passing plays and the refs not calling it. It sure looked like they were running a pass / run option that game.


September 19th, 2012 at 5:32 PM ^

RJS is by all accounts a freak athlete.  He'll add size over time, but plenty of teams have great linebackers who are undersized. He might see the field on defense sooner than we realize with one good offseason. Your point about the fact of his current position on the depth chart is well taken though.  It does make you wonder.


September 19th, 2012 at 6:14 PM ^

I think people are making too big a deal about burned redshirts.  Yes it may have hurt Michigan with Campbell, though at this point I don't know if he's every really going to get it.  And yes, when you redshirt players in NCAA13 they become super awesome as RS seniors.  But there are a lot of reasons in the real world to not RS so many players. They might be good enough that there's no way they stick around for 5 years, they might be better than other backups so you need to get them some playing time for next year, they might not want to stick around for 5 years, or they could just not be good enough to take up a scholarship for 5 years.  With the caliber of players Hoke is bringing in, I really don't think it's that big a deal if they burn half the classes redshirts as they bulid depth.  They've had some pretty big recruiting classes so far and I think they want to try to spread out the talent accross the classes a bit better as future classes won't be quite as big.


September 19th, 2012 at 6:31 PM ^

This may or may not be off topic, but Is Gardner getting his redshirt from the 2010 season that RichRod burned for him to play Bowling Green and Illinois? Or is it even a possibility?

Blue boy johnson

September 19th, 2012 at 6:32 PM ^

IMO, the reason RJS has played is he is one of the 11 best on special teams coverage. I don't claim to understand the thought process behind playing RJS, but clearly they think he is playing an important role. Blake Countess is lost for the season because of an injury sustained on special teams. If the coaches thought Jeremy Clark or Jehu Chesson or Drake Johnson, or Allen Gant, could have performed Countess' job on special teams, they would have been out there in his stead.

Mr. Yost

September 19th, 2012 at 6:49 PM ^

Special Teams, IMO lends itself to "Tweeners" your Josh Furmans and Brandin Hawthrone shine. Even Cam Gordon and Marvin Robinson to some extent.

Guys who have specific skill sets. In some of those cases they may be the fastest LB or fastest safety or an undersized DL.

I completely agree with Brian's assessment. It's not Darboh, we were going to play a freshman WR to get him experience. RJS is a tough one to swallow because he's so raw for his position...and he's tiny for his position as well. Houma isn't going to give us anything at FB that we don't already have, that one is just weird.

BUT...then again if you think about it. We don't have another "running FB" on the roster other than Hopkins and you're not going to play him, he starts...and he's hurt. All the other guys are BLOCKING guys. So maybe you're forced to play your running FB because it's what the special teams position calls for. You can't play James Ross there, he's starting/playing a ton.

Then you look at RJS, maybe the coaches have seen him and know he'll be more of a specialty player (ala Hawthorne). Remember, Ryan is a sophomore and we've got more freshman coming. Or, what if you just know that you're not going to be relying on this kid in 5 years (ala Mike Jones) and he can give you more early on in his career than he can give you late. ORRRR...what if you just feel it's best for him to play? You lose some kids mentally when they redshirt, and some of those guys even transfer.

In the end, I'm sure there was a reason to play these guys, on paper, it makes us scratch our heads...but in the end, we don't know them or see them every day.


September 19th, 2012 at 7:34 PM ^

I agree with your sentiment.  Here are a couple of my own:

I wonder what those conversations are like between Hoke and the freshman.  I have to imagine the player has some degree of say in whether or not he redshirts. We don't know every players personal goals.  RJS may have not wanted to redshirt and was totally fine in accepting his limited role.

I think it's a great sign that the coaches feel they can trust RJS on special teams.  Just because he was raw in HS and needs to add weight, doesn't mean he's not going to  get up to speed by next season.

I think it's fair for Brian to question the redshirt but I think he's undervaluing the way coaches view special teams.  College coaches (particularly Hoke) value that part of the game as much as offense/defense.

Mr. Yost

September 19th, 2012 at 6:55 PM ^

I forgot about that MSU play last year. We need to run that play more, it's just smart football. Denard has 1 passing read and he's still moving forward to run. Even though it's not run all the way, typically the worst you're talking about is a 2-3 yard gain. That's not bad because if you hit it, it could be a touchdown. Take this vs. a regular 1-read pass play, typically the worst that can happen is a 0 yard game (incompleted pass), maybe even a sack for a loss.

Denard has looked SO much more comfortable running this type of play (even under Rich Rod) than he has in the speed option (where he's been TERRIBLE his whole career)

Mr. Yost

September 19th, 2012 at 11:02 PM ^

He had no player to read...he just ran through a hole for a touchdown. No one forced him to keep or pitch, if any of us had Denard's running ability the same thing would've happened. Doesn't mean he's good at the option.

It's okay for him to be bad at something. The option is one of the very few things he's not good at, in fact it may be the only thing. He's below average going to his right, but he still predetermines his pitch or his keep and doesn't read anyone. When he does force a read, it's not in sync with the RB and he's fumbled twice that I can remember. Going to his left it's terrible. He may have improved, but last year he couldn't pitch with his left hand (most of us couldn't either)...and EVERY time the read was predetermined just like the UMass "read." He was just looking for a crease to try and squeeze through the entire time.

5th and Long

September 19th, 2012 at 8:14 PM ^

The coaches might not be as concerned about burning redshirts for some players since the '13 class is so loaded.  If they get the current kids playing time, which helps to add depth next year, then maybe they're less likely to burn redshirts from the class of '13.  

Eventually with great recruiting that number will drop significantly.  Last year they played 8 true freshman.




September 19th, 2012 at 10:27 PM ^

But I find any consternation over Houma having his redshirt burned funny considering most people didn't want him to get a scholarship offer in the first place. Now they're concerned he might not be filling it for 5 years. Sigh.

Mr. Yost

September 19th, 2012 at 11:07 PM ^

In the minds of most...everyone improves every year. So if Houma is a 70 in the minds of most, they're pissed because in year 4 he may be a 78, but in year 5 he would've been an 82. So we're losing out his best year.

It's silly. Especially for a player that wasn't recruited to be a blocking FB. He was recruited to be BJ Askew or even Stephan Hopkins. We've got Kerridge and I'm sure we'll get someone else in the coming years to crack heads. Also there's a kid by the name of Wyatt Shallman that everyone seems to be forgetting.


September 19th, 2012 at 11:17 PM ^

Don't ask to not be redshirted, don't get pissed off when they don't play, and team morale doesn't go down when the players performing best are saved for their 99 season, risking tanking a season because their friends, and teammates who just believe in fairness, see it happening lose faith.

They're real people, not the Mario Brothers.

steve sharik

September 19th, 2012 at 10:59 PM ^


The above can be defended by scrape exchange:

  • Backside DE squeezes, forcing QB to pull (keep)
  • Mike LB scrapes outside to play QB
  • Nickel is free to play the screen

OTOH, a good offensive adjustment would be to have the OT base block the DE and have the QB key the Mike LB.  Run the screen action to keep the nickel out of the play.

When Coach Rod ran this triple here, he used a bubble screen.  MSU didn't run scrape exchange, but they defended the bubble with the deep safety, who came screaming downhill if the slot bubbled.  The offensive adjustment to base the DE and key the Mike would be at least equally as effective.


September 20th, 2012 at 11:35 AM ^

In the above diagram, if the Lewan steps to the inside to block the MLB but the MLB is running to the outside for the scrape exchange, then that's an impossible block for Lewan to make.  The "M" in that diagram isn't a stationary target.