Preview 2015: Defensive Tackle Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2015 at 1:18 PM

Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line.

Depth Chart
Chris Wormley Jr.* Ryan Glasgow Jr.* Willie Henry Jr.* Mario Ojemudia Sr.
Taco Charlton Jr. Maurice Hurst So.* Matt Godin Jr.* Lawrence Marshall Fr.*
Tom Strobel Jr.* Bryan Mone So. Jabrill Peppers Fr.* Royce Jenkins-Stone Sr.

Depth chart shows everybody just because.

The loss of Bryan Mone to injury hurts a depth chart that was looking quite excellent. They've still got a very solid two deep featuring two returning starters, the breakout guy from the spring game, and Matt Godin. With limited exceptions, those two starters were very good a year ago until Willie Henry got laid up with injury; this year they could be excellent.

The one catch here is because of Mone's absence. Without him, Michigan does not have a planetoid-style DT. Henry is a big dude but more of an explodes-in-either-direction kind of a guy; everyone else is decidedly a one-gap style of player. Michigan is going to have to play a lot of games when the backups are in, and might have some issues holding up against power that is powerful.


Rating: 4


Glasgow, right, exceeded all expectation [Bryan Fuller]

This got a 3 last year despite the fact that a walk-on had apparently locked the job down; that might have been pessimistic. By midseason RYAN GLASGOW had been awarded the Order Of St. Kovacs, indicating that his former walk-on status should no longer factor into any projections of his ability. Hell, by game two I was proclaiming him a major factor in Notre Dame's 53 yards rushing:

Glasgow was a penetrating, disruptive presence. Here he rips to the hole on a goal line play and just about gets a TFL:

That deserved better than a 1.5 yard gain after he nearly brought the back down in the backfield. Here he slants to the backfield effectively, forcing the back into traffic:Here he's got a full on double the whole play and puts it in the backfield, forcing a cutback.

Watching Glasgow clips from last year, his ability to zip through a gap and then actually do something jumps out. He's at his best when he's popping up in an unexpected gap.

A lot of nose tackles can get into that gap when the center goes to the second level without a bump; not many get all the way around the guard to make the tackle themselves.

Glasgow was also good at standing up single blocks. Sometimes it was at the line; sometimes he got a yard or two of depth to prevent cutbacks. He was adept at swatting his way through attempted momentary combos:

Consistently disruptive and hard to keep blocked, Glasgow was probably the most important part of Michigan's excellent run defense a year ago. I know the above clip is Indiana and thus prone to dismissal, but remember that Tevin Coleman guy? Yeah, Indiana could run the ball a bit last year.

One thing Glasgow is not is a pure 3-4 nose tackle. When opponents doubled him, one of two things generally happened: 1) he ripped one guy away and shot through a gap because it wasn't an extended double or 2) they both latched on and got motion on him.

Asking him to play a zero tech isn't going to go so well. Not many teams Michigan faced were able to take advantage of the fact Glasgow isn't a 330 pound man-mountain, but the two that did were kind of important: MSU and OSU. Glasgow in fact got yanked from big chunks of the MSU game because he just could not hold up against the Spartans mean and very good interior OL.

The other main issue with Glasgow's game seems fixable and was partially scheme-based anyway: pass rush. A lot of teams will leave their nose tackle on screen duty. He'll occupy a blocker or two with a token rush that keeps him near the line of scrimmage in case it's a trap. Glasgow got some of that duty a year ago. He also had a bunch of plays on which he attempted to get to the QB, and the results there weren't great. Glasgow wasn't so much as credited with half a sack last year. I know he got at least one because he had a sack/strip/recovery against Indiana (Michigan hasn't issued sacks for forced fumbles for a couple years now); one is still not many. Literally.

Given Glasgow's ability to warp past OL the lack of pass rush is a bit of a puzzle; that has undoubtedly been an offseason focus for him. If the 2015 edition of Ryan Glasgow can add a reasonable amount of that to his repertoire he'll go from Michigan fan's best-kept secret to a man of wider renown.

[After THE JUMP: Ogre, take two]


The fall camp injury to BRYAN MONE's [recruiting profile] ankle is a major downer for a position that otherwise looked like it had terrific depth. It's still not bad, but any more hits and things are going to get a little thin.



In his absence I'm going to guess that MAURICE HURST [recruiting profile] ends up the top backup at nose tackle. Hurst played all over the line in a spring game performance that had his name first off the lips of anyone projecting a breakout player based on it. My take:

As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.

He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.

Hurst was also the breakout star of last year's open scrimmage, where he destroyed the second-team OL. Then he disappeared, registering three tackles as a freshman. Clearly the step up in competition represented by bigger, better OL was a problem for him. At least this year he made a number of plays against Braden and Glasgow.

Playing Hurst at nose is not ideal. The roster still lists him at 282. But he does have the kind of lightning-quick first step that Mike Martin deployed to great profit. Here's the (proabable mis-)quote from his high school coach that won't die until Hurst's eligibility does because it makes him sound like My Little Pony:

“I think probably the first indication to me was my defensive coordinator Al Fornaro said, ‘You’ve got to see this guy come off the ball.’ I looked and went yay."

With Glasgow very durable for a NT the guess is that Hurst is a passing down specialist who spots Glasgow on regular downs when he needs a breather. Either that or he just stays at three tech and they try out the bigger Willie Henry, but Henry was playing at end when the students saw him, so… yeah.

Finally, Michigan bounced sleeper recruit BRADY PALLANTE [recruiting profile] to fullback and back this offseason. He's added a bunch of weight, but was coming from so far back (255) that he's still unlikely to be a factor this year.

Switching positions and then switching back right away is usually a bad sign for your career, but in year one of Harbaugh it just means that you're kind of shaped like a blocky/catchy guy. The one thing Hoke was excellent at was identifying defensive linemen; Pallante's got a chance despite the recruiting rankings.


Rating: 4


[Bryan Fuller]

It did not click for WILLIE HENRY a year ago. As a redshirt freshman in 2013 he tantalized with his raw, OL-hurling strength…

…which he often deployed after getting blown off the line because he was in desperate need of a visit from the Pad Level Fairy. Other times he just violently ripped people to the ground. From that and a highly encouraging freshman MGoChart it was pretty easy to chart a route to the kind of career that looks like it went through a couple rounds of blingee. The hypothesis went something like "Mutant Strength + Pad Level == All American."

It was a good hypothesis. I liked it a lot. Experimental data did not confirm it, but that might not have been entirely Henry's fault.

Henry missed two games entirely, only started six of the remaining ten, and had pedestrian numbers (20 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, Michigan's only touchdown against Utah). He did have fine games against Notre Dame and Utah, but by the end of the season he was a bit player. Why? He broke something in or around his hand, probably by smashing it against the helmet of a Rutgers player. Henry missed PSU and Indiana entirely; the rest of the season was mostly spent on the bench. Mattison said he had a knee issue right before the OSU game.

Before that he was a bit up and down but still capable of doing things like this:

Pad level issues were not gone—he occasionally got thunked back when he stood up too much—but he started blowing guys into the backfield, even veteran ND guys:

That was a fifth-year senior and captain on the other end of that.

When Henry was on the field he offered an indication that he had in fact progressed, but just when he was set to demonstrate that in earnest his season functionally ended. If you extrapolate Henry's 2014 from the six games it actually was, it looks quite a bit more impressive: double digit TFLs, six sacks, Piesman Trophy watch list. It looks like a guy rounding into the terror we hope he can be.

Tea leaves from spring and fall were thin on the ground, but Henry's deployment at end is probably a good sign for him even if they were just testing it out. (Given Henry's size versus the other options at three tech, they were almost certainly just testing it out.) This year has not featured the very public tut-tutting that Henry endured during last year's spring practice, when he was momentarily busted down to third string and the subject of quotes like

"Willie's a young man that has great potential. Willie can be as good as Willie wants to be.

"And when he decides that's the time, he will be."

Henry got right after that and has apparently kept his head on straight since. Sam Webb earlier this fall:

When asked who has looked good up front [Willie Henry's] name was mentioned without hesitation. At times he just seems to be able to do whatever he wants to do up front.  The question is will he be able to do that consistently?

Maybe? Probably? This preview expects Henry to have a breakout year, again. He might have been on his way to one last year when injury intervened; a year older and 15 pounds stronger than 2014 should mean that Henry goes from a hunk of potential to the hulk. He will probably still get blown up some because those issues don't disappear overnight; this preview projects an All Big Ten type season.


Strong possibility that MAURICE HURST also sees—or even exclusively sees—snaps here. Hurst and Henry could both play either DT spot and maybe even SDE. Which configuration ends up most attractive to the coaches is unknowable at the moment.


hipster cred still available if you buy #99 Matt Godin's first album [Fuller]

In terms of playing time, Mone's injury means the most to MATT GODIN [recruiting profile]. Godin might have been locked out if the two-deep in front of him looked as good during the season as it did during the spring. Now he is going to get a healthy number of snaps. During the open practice Michigan was in fact experimenting with a lineup in which he started.

This isn't as outlandish as it might seem. Most people, including myself, had stopped paying attention to the details late last season. This was the point when Henry got hurt and Godin emerged as a substantial contributor. He was mostly deployed as a pass-rush DT, something he was surprisingly effective at. He pressed the right angles on stunts and shed guys to get pressure right up the gut:

He had a major impact in the Maryland game on similar plays, acquiring a sack and a tackle for loss on offensive line confusion. His ability to create that confusion with his speed and capitalize on it with a solid understanding of where he should go are assets. He also had one of the ridiculous turnovers in the #M00N game.

This is going to sound familiar: at around 290 pounds, Godin is not going to stand up to double-team pressure very well. When he made plays last year they came when he was able to slice through opposition linemen, not overpower them. This makes him like virtually every other healthy lineman on the roster and presages ominous things when MSU and OSU roll into town. Harbaugh is going to have to roll with it.


Strobel's a lot bigger than this now but pictures of him are rare [Fuller]

TOM STROBEL [recruiting profile] is also kicking around. Like most of the guys shaped like him on the team, he was tried out at tight end this spring. Winovich and Poggi stuck; Strobel bounced back to the DL. At this point it's unlikely he sees much playing time—I don't think he's had one meaningful snap so far in his career—but he is up to a  DT-ish 282 pounds. In previous year's he was listed as a defensive tackle despite being under 270, which is rosterese for "try again next year."

This year? It's still hard to see it.



August 31st, 2015 at 1:39 PM ^

Hurst and Henry both caught my attention in their first spring games and have flashed tantilizing potential here and there ever since. If they can put it together finally, we should have a very, very solid run defense and maybe generate some organic pass rush with just 4. 


August 31st, 2015 at 3:36 PM ^

Did that NW center get called for holding on that play with Godin?  My goodness that was right in front of the ref who stared at them the entire time, didn't look like he was reaching for his flag. 

Harbaugh will tear that ref a new orifice and mean it.  Hoke, who always played nice with the refs and never profited from it, probably objected for a moment and relented.  Harbaugh won't relent. 

The MSU/OSU thing is ominous, but great analysis by Brian.  I like being prepared with that knowledge this far in advance of the games.  Maybe Henry gets the nod at NT for those games, and hopefully Glasgow has improved. 


August 31st, 2015 at 2:51 PM ^

Losing Mone sucks, because we expected big things from him and the DL this year.  But looking at the glass half full, this will help with DT depth moving forward.  This all based on him getting back to 100%. 

Wolverine fan …

August 31st, 2015 at 2:58 PM ^

don't provide the girth that I would like to see in a 0-tech NT, but I don't think that they will be asked to try and fill a role that is not suited for them. Maybe against overmatched, undersized lineman, but I don't think we will see much of either of them lined up directly over center. If this does occur, there will be LB/FS help walked up on the line for run support/blitz package deployment. Can't wait to see Durkin's scheme in action.

steve sharik

August 31st, 2015 at 5:25 PM ^

This will be a hybrid defense, with the Buck being the WDE in a 4-3 and the WOLB in the 3-4. This means that the 3-tech in the 4-3 will slide out to WDE in the 3-4.

I'll get a diagram going.


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