A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Brennen Beyer||Sr.||Ryan Glasgow||So.*#||Willie Henry||So.*||Frank Clark||Sr.|
|Taco Charlton||So.||Ondre Pipkins||Jr.||Chris Wormley||So.*||Mario Ojemudia||Jr.|
|Henry Poggi||Fr.*||Bryan Mone||Fr.||Maurice Hurst||Fr.*||Lawrence Marshall||Fr.|
It is time for Michigan to kick some ass on defense, and if they are going to do so it starts here: Michigan has two veteran, quality seniors playing defensive end spots they can hack this year. Both can really play; neither has broken through such that many people believe this.
It is go time for these gentlemen. Victory or death!
WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END
BEFORE PSU AFTER
hell yes I'm recycling this joke, because it was also Frank Clark's season
One of the more broadly correct bits of last year's preview was this section, which asked everyone to pump the breaks on the FRANK CLARK hype train:
The distance from Frank Clark 2012 to what he's supposed to be this year is immense. Too immense. I have to concede significant improvement to the chatter, but something along the lines of Tim Jamison (as a junior: 10 TFL, 5.5 sacks) would be a massive step forward.
Clark racked up 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Self high five. I was broadly correct.
But though the stats and overall Tim Jamison-esque B+ season were accurate, the shape of that season is really promising. Clark started the year making little impact against MAC teams; he ended it by straight-up whipping Brandon Scherff and CJ Fiedorowicz en route to his second career game with a double-digit positive UFR score. He was a C at best to start; by the end he was an A-.
[After the JUMP: Frank Clark beasts up, fitting Beyer into the front, DEATH STARE 2014]
The overall effect was like watching a time-lapse film of a tree. An attempted highlight film from his performance against Akron has a couple of times he made tackles after the QB rolled out and one thunderous hit that came after a stunt got him in unblocked. Then it ends unceremoniously. If you weren't looking for highlights but rather events, Clark's most notable contribution came on a couple of Keystone Kops plays where he knocked over his own teammates:
Y U NO LIKE FRANK CLARK
On two critical plays in the fourth quarter the Akron QB escaped into acres of space to Clark's side of the field, and on both he knocked over his fellow defenders. … You remember this play as the one that flipped you from "this isn't happening" to "THIS ISN'T HAPPENING" just before it became very clear that it was happening:
…Clark's just part of a larger problem, but part of that problem is the weakside end the world hyped up this year can't get a pass rush unless he's not blocked, so Michigan is fussing around with line stunts on almost every play. Three games in, Clark has zero sacks on 130 opponent attempts, and on maybe one or two of those has he gotten a hurry on something other than a free run. It's just not happening.
Then it happened. Not so much the next couple weeks: he did play well against UConn's backup RT but the level of competition there was so low it didn't mean anything, and he was back to anonymity the next week against Minnesota. But then:
|1||CMU||2.5||2||0.5||Does seem improved.|
|2||Notre Dame||7.5||3.5||4||Much better than I thought live but not exactly BG|
|3||Akron||2.5||5||-2.5||Knocking over his own guys.|
|4||UConn||9.5||3||6.5||Welcome to 2013. Please stay.|
|5||Minnesota||3.5||2||1.5||Not everyone is UConn's backup RT.|
|6||Penn State||10||3||7||Neither sack was a BG-style pillaging but made effort plays.|
|7||Indiana||3.5||3.5||0||Had a sack on final useless drive. Cost M four points with bust after fumble.|
|8||MSU||14||2||12||Probably his best game at M.|
|9||Nebraska||8||3||5||Another solid outing.|
|10||Northwestern||8||3||5||Duplicate of his NW numbers. Solidifying status as player.|
|11||Iowa||17.5||6||11.5||Had a really good day against tough opposition. Pressure number is mediocre though.|
Attribute the Indiana thing to exhaustion and tempo. Clark was not relevant against Ohio State because OSU obliterated every DT-shaped object on the roster, which he could do nothing about as the unblocked guy containing Braxton Miller.
That is a solid month of All Big Ten level production culminating in the aforementioned Iowa game. In that game he bailed Michigan's DTs out with a series of improbably excellent plays against a 265-pound senior TE destined for the third round of the NFL draft and Brandon Scherff, a first round lock this year. I just posted these clips, but I be like dang about them and you may not have paid attention, so here's Clark whipping Fiedorowicz:
And also Scherff:
And now I'm leaving another two or three impressive clips out; you get the idea. Clark absolutely crushed the toughest matchup he faced.
This was his best day at Michigan considering level of competition. He of course had the two flashy sacks and a touchdown. I'm more encouraged by Clark's consistency of performance. When he made plays in the past they were outliers; here he was on the verge of making various other plays when Hackenberg got rid of the ball. He was beating PSU's left tackle consistently, and if he's grabbing at the legs of the QB to no effect on some plays, his extended effort resulted in a coverage sack:
His other sack was also just an okay rush that took a lot of time but got there and in his lane. I'll take it.
I was surprised when Clark made second-team All Big Ten a year ago, but after going back and looking at his season as a whole I no longer am. Strip out the nonconference portion of the schedule and just focus on how good that guy was when he played your team and Clark is up there. It says something that he got picked out despite not having great stats in a year when the conference was absolutely loaded at DE.
Clark does still have some flaws in his game. He occasionally puts his head down and gets out of position on the backside of plays. He has a little Noah Spence in him where he'll vacate a responsibility to go chase something shiny—he's not nearly as bad as Spence, but it is still coming up semi-regularly. That's something that should continue improving; chances are it'll burn Michigan a few times even so.
Other than that, it's about taking the one final incremental step to being a badass. He's just got to get there a step earlier. When I picked Clark in the Draftageddon thing we did I used this Northwestern clip as an emblem of where is pass rush was at:
Clark was an almost guy. He made a lot of plays that don't show up in the box score because they only annoy the quarterback instead of obliterate him. Don't get me wrong: annoying the QB is good. No one else did much of that a year ago. But Michigan has to be praying that Clark can take another step forward. At that point he's a half-yard quicker and quarterbacks are picking turf out of their helmets.
If he does that, sky's the limit. Otherwise he'll be an ABT level guy in a crazy loaded year at the spot.
The move to the over has stripped Michigan of some of its depth here. Now that the DE spots are roughly equivalent, two former WDE types are now playing on the other end; a couple 4-3 under SDE types are now playing DT.
OJEMUDIA DEATH STARE 2014
Clark's main backup is junior MARIO OJEMUDIA. Ojemudia came to Michigan a deeply bizarre player. In high school he was a 215 pound version of Mike Martin; he played somewhat extensively as a freshman despite being barely ten pounds heavier than that. Last year he got up to 250, so he was much better at holding up against tackles. Occasionally Michigan would insert him when Clark was making mistakes on the edge and he'd make the play Clark hadn't, as when he strung this out:
Ojemudia is the DE to the bottom.
Clark didn't flare out the first time Iowa ran it; Ojemudia got it right. He got it right and mostly lost the battle against that tight end. He was 250. This year he's 251. It seems like he's close to physically maxed out.
What Ojemudia has not done so far is translate much of his high school penetration to a college field. There has been the occasional flash of the quickness that made him an appealing prospect, often against laughably overmatched blockers like whoever UConn's second tight end is. Penn State's Jesse James, a Funchess-ish TE, is also kind of in that category:
As the clip suggest, Ojemudia does redirect well in space. One of his best plays from his freshman year was a fourth-down stop late in the Purdue game where he played both halves of the inverted veer effectively. He can be useful on stunts, as well.
But if Ojemudia is going to progress he's got to get a lot more violent with his movement, as once tackles get a lock on he doesn't have the weight to hold up or disengage. I'm just looking for okay snaps behind Clark, as Ojemudia hasn't drawn much—any—practice mention and seems like he's going to top out as a rotation guy.
… an explosive weak-side defensive end that can really get after the quarterback. He has a quick first step and can close very well. Marshall shows great snap awareness, allowing him to get a jump on the opposing offensive tackle.
Marshall is kind of like Taco Charlton in that his potential did not turn into much production until his last year of high school. Even after that productive season most commentators thought he was a guy a long way from his considerable upside.
That doesn't necessarily mean he'll redshirt. Michigan has tended to play their third end under Hoke, and with Clark out the door after this year they may want to get Marshall some time, especially if they think he's going to pass Ojemudia because he can get into the 260-270 range. If the over is going to be the base defense going forward their DE depth is suddenly a bit shaky.
STRONGSIDE DEFENSIVE END: OVER MEANS LIGHTER
Down goes Rees [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan's move to the over is in no small part because they want to play BRENNEN BEYER. He's a pretty good football player… a pretty good 256-pound football player. Put him up against a potential double from a tight end and a tackle and that only ends one way.
Beyer, 97, top of line
While I thought Beyer was "okay" in that game because he could cope most of the time, he was clearly a stopgap solution—one that was no longer viable against Ohio State. When he didn't add any weight by spring the writing was on the wall.
And that's fine. Give him a one-on-one matchup and he does well. The over moves him outside the tight end in exchange for more pressure on the ILBs to take on blocks, and there's a clear point at which his production fell off last year:
|2||Notre Dame||5||3||2||Most of this at DE.|
|3||Akron||8.5||1.5||7||Still mostly a DE.|
|4||UConn||-||2.5||-2.5||No rush impact and got a little burned in space.|
|5||Minnesota||8.5||-||8.5||Ryan-like tackle in space. Major bounceback.|
|6||Penn State||2.5||1||1.5||Time decreased because of Ryan's return|
|9||Nebraska||2.5||1||1.5||Got pass rush to prevent 75 yard TD.|
|10||Northwestern||5||4||1||Needs more weight for SDE, but M is working with what they have.|
|11||Iowa||3||2||1||Not a strong day.|
When Jake Ryan came back he got moved down to SDE and gone were the +7, +8 days he was interspersing with some weaker performances, replaced by a steady string of just barely scraping above zero. Put him back in a situation similar to the first half of last year, stop bouncing him from position to position, and get incrementally better and Beyer should be an asset. Not a star.
Beyer has some pass rush upside if he's able to run at tackles from the edge, as he will in the over. His hands have always been an asset, and he, like Clark, has often threatened without actually getting there. Por ejemplo:
Unfortunately, not much of what I wrote last year was relevant since he was playing SAM and doing a lot of dropping into space, or he was playing SDE and living with double teams constantly. I do have the overall sense of Beyer as a smart player with good technique who will play his assignment and chip in the occasional play.
I kept pushing him as Craig Roh 2.0, and even though he's about 30 pounds lighter than Roh was as a senior the move to the over should allow him to have a similar role and impact.
Ludicrous man-mountain TACO CHARLTON [recruiting profile] remains a 6'6", 275 pound human who gets off the bus first just in case the sight of him causes the other team to run away. I probably would. I mean…
Charlton was all raw potential when he committed to Michigan and is still pretty much that. He had one of the more frustrating burned redshirts of a year ago when he saw time as a nickel DT late in the year. This was most prominent against Nebraska, when he was out there on the final, losing drive. He was in fact a major reason it was the losing drive:
On the winning drive back to back plays featured Charlton having the freshman blues; he got way upfield and out of his lane the QB draw Ross chopped down after six of the 30 yards it looked like it would get. With Nebraska's offense, first and fifteen is a high-alert QB draw down, and that stood in stark contrast to a Nebraska DT going straight back on an ill-fated Gardner draw in their two-minute drill. That was not so good.
The following play was painful. Michigan puts on another DT twist. Henry does an excellent job to bull back through the G and C, there's a big lane for Charlton to come around, and Clark beats the tackle around the edge. Charlton does not stunt.
Brutal missed assignment and probably the difference between a first down and third and long after a sack. Why you have a true freshman out there protecting a three point lead with five minutes left in the game is a mystery.
Why he was out there I don't know; he looked totally unprepared:
He should have redshirted, but that's life. He's likely to be a year away still since he was so raw; hopefully this year he can become an edge rush specialist, spotting Beyer on passing downs. His upside remains as vast as his torso.
I'm not entirely sure who the third guy is here. I think it may be HENRY POGGI [recruiting profile], who redshirted last year. He is an RVB-like recruit who is a more comfortable fit as an SDE in the under. He was a big deal kind of guy as a recruit and will be interesting to see develop over the next few years.