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you can rent from XFINITY I guess you have to get from NASA.
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Bolded alter-ego, sometimes I just…
Can we get on with the preview?
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Dymonte Thomas||Sr.||Delano Hill||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Tyree Kinnel||So.||Khaleke Hudson||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.|
|Josh Metellus||Fr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Brandon Watson||So.*|
The Pax Wilsonica is over and Michigan moves into a less boring era, for better or worse. While the depth here gets scary quickly, Michigan returns two guys who were prominent contributors to a very good secondary. Both are touted recruits and seniors; both played better than they might be getting credit for. I was actually surprised at how many good things I had clipped and how few bad things there were other than the ones that stand out in memory.
Both starters are going to have a tougher job than they did a year ago as Michigan moves away from one super deep safety most of the time. They'll have to cover guys man to man, make checks, that sort of thing. So far, so good? When Delano Hill isn't trying to punch the ball out from behind, yes.
We're splitting the safety designation into defined "free" and "strong" halves instead of a single unified section. This would have been mandatory if DJ Durkin was still around since Jarrod Wilson and Not Jarrod Wilson were deployed very differently a year ago; since Don Brown will mix in one-high coverages with a designated FS, it's still appropriate.
So. For years this space called Jarrod Wilson a boring safety. We barely ever saw him on the screen because he was doing his job. When he did see him it was generally fine. He made tackles. He did not separate receivers from the ball or intercept passes or force fumbles. He was there to put out fires, not start them. Now he's gone, and more interesting times may beckon.
That's because DYMONTE THOMAS is still a bit of a wild card after a career that's been frustrating in more ways than one so far. Thomas was a high school linebacker and running back who Michigan first played at nickel, then at one safety spot, then another, then back to nickel, etc. Webb discussed the situation before last season:
The issue for him has been the fact that he's been moved around so consistently and hasn't been focused or told to focus on only one position.
Despite having no business on a football field as a freshman he set his redshirt on fire blocking a punt against Central Michigan; meanwhile the positional switching and Thomas's rawness made his brief cameos depressing. Last year's preview slotted him as a backup and mostly focused on various goofs, bemoaned the redshirt, and clucked about player development:
This kind of errant run fill isn't something we've seen from Wilson or Hill.
For big portions of last year it looked like he didn't quite know what he was seeing. He'd run a zone, see nobody anywhere near him, and just kind of stand around instead of trying to adapt his coverage to the situation. … He's far behind the other guys when it comes to understanding what the defense is trying to accomplish.
That take held for half the year. Against Oregon State, Thomas had a huge bust on a tunnel screen that could have resulted in a touchdown against a team better than the Beavers. Then he disappeared for three games. When he re-emerged it was in garbage time against Maryland and Northwestern; he played well enough for a couple of Delano Hill issues to open the door for live-fire snaps.
He did unreasonably well with them. One of my primary memories of Thomas's 2015 was that time he got shook big time against Minnesota in his first extended playing time:
I was prepared to talk about how his coverage was a mixed bag as a result. It wasn't. After this play, which I issued an excessively harsh –3 (it's –2, easy completion but he does tackle immediately) I didn't have a coverage minus for him the rest of the year.
And he was tested with some frequency. He's in press man to the top of the field on this play:
To try to chuck one receiver, have to bail to the other guy, and then have the speed to catch up is impressive. A better throw is probably a completion there, but to even be in a position to contest a reasonably good one is something not a lot of safeties can manage. Thomas drove on outs and shoved fades into the sideline and impressively mirrored wheels (while picking up ridiculous PI flags) and raked out near completions and on this play I misclassified him as Jourdan Lewis until I saw it for the third time:
Strange but true: Dymonte Thomas was good in coverage last year.
In addition to burgeoning man-to-man skills, Thomas has capital-R Range. He's always been fast as hell. See that punt block that burned his redshirt:
Not only does that hit his foot, it hits his foot before the punter can even strike it.
Late last year his newfound knowledge of what direction to go finally saw that speed start paying off. If you hesitate slightly even go routes down the sidelines become dangerous:
Thomas was lined up on the near hash on that one. In the spring game he intercepted a reasonably well thrown ball in the corner of the endzone despite being in the dead center of the field:
Jarrod Wilson does not make either of those plays. Thomas could have five or so interceptions if he carries that kind of thing over to 2016.
Even some of Thomas's bad plays were kind of good. There was that interception against Minnesota that not only clanged off his hands but went directly to a Gopher WR, and he managed to jet through a bunch of traffic against Rutgers only to turn a TFL into… not that:
I liked that ability to pick through traffic but not the missed tackle, and there were a couple other instances of bad play against the run. Shannon Brooks spun through another tackle attempt in the Minnesota game, and I thought Thomas overran the one long run Rutgers had. On the other hand, Thomas had a couple of extremely impressive open-field tackles against Ohio State:
His overall aura caused me to say he was "almost there" after Rutgers:
Dymonte Thomas could be putting it together. I don't think he's ever going to be a guy who's particularly good at preventing 20 yard plays from going 50, but with his athleticism he provides a suite of capabilities that can make up for that deficiency. He is a guy who you can put in man coverage relatively confidently, that Minnesota play nonwithstanding. He's come a long way this year; he has a moderate way to go. Cross your fingers.
With a season's worth of data, it maybe kind of sort of feels like he has arrived.
Thomas was "productive" per PFF, and my charting agrees. With increased playing time and considerable upside left to plumb, Thomas could blow up. He's not a physical guy and won't suddenly become one this year; you can chalk up a few missed tackles that add chunks of yards to plays that have already broken somewhat big. Everything else looks like a strength. He's good in coverage, he's fast as the dickens, and he's still got a solid bit of upside left.
Thomas should be good. It's hard for me to judge safeties since they're so rarely on the screen, but whatever extra deep stuff Michigan gets hit with because Thomas isn't Jarrod Wilson should be offset by the plays Thomas makes because he isn't Jarrod Wilson.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers is briefly mentioned!]
This is a guess but we'll slot TYREE KINNEL [recruiting profile] in here since he's 1) probably the most coverage-oriented of the young safeties and 2) not Khaleke Hudson, who Michigan is all but certain to deploy in and around the box when that makes sense.
Thanks to various flameouts and the burned redshirts of the starters, Michigan really, really, really needs to hit on Kinnel. So far the returns are encouraging. While I strenuously objected to Kinnel burning his redshirt last year to get some meaningless special teams snaps, that is an indicator that they like him, and he's reputedly had both a very good spring and very good fall. Lorenz had three sources talk him up, one claiming he's the "future quarterback of the Michigan defense." I liked him in spring:
Happily, Kinnel looked pretty damn good here. He played a lot, often next toDymonte Thomas, and pick-sixed John O'Korn on a play where he flashed in front of the intended receiver in a way surprising not just to O'Korn but neutral observers.
Kinnel, meanwhile, looked great; he stuck with his mark in coverage and made a couple stops coming downhill against the run. If Michigan needs to put him out there at safety, he looks ready.
Other free safeties include "uh" and "…well." See above: Kinnel has to hit.
Also JABRILL PEPPERS could end up playing some safety when Michigan goes up against manball teams and Furbush draws into the lineup. Free or strong, whatever, man.
Hill's Greg Oden disease is acute [Eric Upchurch]
Like Thomas, senior DELANO HILL was up and down last year. He started up and kept Thomas on the bench; he had a midseason lull that opened the door, and then he finished relatively strong. PFF also dubbed him "productive."
Hill is the superior run defender of the pairing and will draw closer to the line of scrimmage when that is required. He had a number of impressive open-field tackles a year ago that shut down plays about to break for big chunks of yardage…
…or secured big losses the rest of the defense had set up:
Michigan would occasionally put him in the box when a spread team went to two backs, and he looked reasonably good in that role. On another roster he might be the hybrid space player.
Like Thomas, I was surprised that I had more positives for Hill in coverage than negatives. He of course crushed a slot's out route to win the Indiana game…
"Harbaugh thought that's where they were going to go, I thought that's where they were going to go, Sudfeld thought it, Wilson thought it, and Hill won it."
…and other times I clipped him in coverage things went pretty well. His tackling saved first downs on third and medium and he was occasionally able to separate guys from the ball. He was occasionally crafty:
The one fluttery moment when Mangum escaped the pocket and found a guy downfield was ably handled by Delano Hill:
Hill ends up in man coverage after a corner blitz and gets beat by a step but has the athleticism to make up the ground he's lost. Then he makes a play on the ball. Here I'd like to go back to a picture that featured in the game column, and one that just precedes it:
Hill's right hand is grabbing jersey [Bryan Fuller]
That grab is how Hill went from in trouble and trailing to advantageous position. It's also something Michigan is very clever about this year. You often see defensive backs wrap that hand around the waist of the receiver; 99% of the time this happens it draws a flag. Michigan has absorbed the MSU-fu of getting in numerous small jersey tugs that generally do not warrant flags and often go unseen. Neither ref near this play can see Hill's hand or what it's doing, and the side judge far away would have to have some major stones to throw this flag.
So that's all well and good, both in coverage and on the ground.
But while Thomas is the guy we were all worried about making big errors it was Hill who came in for some huge UFR minuses. The first was the infamous FB wheel route against MSU. The play design might have been good for 30 yards. Hill sucked up way too far. That turned it into 50, and then his futile attempt to punch the ball out from behind gave up the rest of the yardage, minus the academic final one:
The next week he completely blew a zone read and tried the same bullcrap with the punching as he chased Mitch Leidner to the endzone. He's no doubt been yelled at sufficiently to drop the punching, but he piled up significantly more mental errors than Thomas did. An assessment after that Minnesota game:
This is now the point at which we get a little worried. That happened. The FB wheel against MSU happened. The UNLV touchdown was set up by Hill getting beat and missing a tackle. BYU had a shot over the top on which Hill managed to recover, but that was dodgy for a bit. That's a trend.
Hill was spotty elsewhere, getting sealed inside on a crack block on which he offered no resistance. He didn't offer anything positive to offset his mistakes in this one.
On top of those things I forgot a big zone read keeper against Utah on which Hill got suckered and a screen against Indiana he didn't read until way too late. Those are the things that paved the way for Thomas to emerge, and unlike some of the big bad things that happened to Jeremy Clark these aren't being slain by bloody fate.
Hill appeared to get right late, with four straight good games to close the year. (I didn't UFR OSU but PFF thought both Thomas and Hill were amongst Michigan's top five performers in that game.) He hasn't been challenged by Kinnel or Hudson, he too gets some credit for the overall performance of the secondary, and he's got some upside left to explore.
Hill should be good enough to warrant some All Big Ten attention and maybe draftable; you can still figure on a couple plays where he ends up chasing a guy he shouldn't.
If you've read this blog for longer than a nanosecond since last year's Semper Fi game you are already aware that it is slightly more excited about KHALEKE HUDSON [recruiting profile] than Rashan Gary and the prospect of cold fusion. Hudson is rooming with Jabrill Peppers, and while he's not Peppers, I mean, he's kind of Peppers. Partridge:
"I don't think it's fair to compare anyone to Jabrill this early," linebackers coach Chris Partridge said on Sunday. Partridge coached "They're not exact replicas of each other, but they're kids who have the same attributes. Khaleke is the kind of guy that is going to do some things that are going to wow some people. I think we'll be looking at him to contribute sooner rather than later."
Hudson is without a doubt physically ready—the eyes emoji got a workout on Twitter after Hudson put up 25 reps of 225 on the bench press, an NFL combine number. Lorenz reports he's "already one of the most physically imposing players on Michigan's roster"; Webb says he's one of the top three freshmen he's hearing about (other than Gary) because he's "already a grown man."
So. He is rocked up, as they say, and has navigated the transition from high school to college well enough that everyone asked swears up and down he's going to play. That was about the only question left. Yeah, yeah, he's only a 3/4 star borderline guy to the recruiting sites, but nope. They whiffed on Hudson. Opposing coach John Ruane:
"He is the best combination of strength, speed and burst I've seen in a long time," said Ruane. "Every tackle, run and block is violent with him. He will be playing on Sundays someday. And I'm happy he's graduating."
His highlight film above is his collected effort in all of those departments plus his blocking, which appears to be a never-ending series of rim-rattling dunks on people. Highlight films can lie, but once they hit a tightly-edited 15 minutes they are far less likely to. And on top of that we saw him in the Semper Fi game, where he collected seven tackles, two forced fumbles, and four PBUs in about half a game after ripping up practice on both sides of the ball. Hudson is a FOOTBALL (period) PLAYER (period), as they say.
Hudson could play a half-dozen spots but safety is by far the least stocked on the current roster. He'll have an apprentice year and then start in 2017.
Fellow freshman JOSH METELLUS [recruiting profile] is far less hyped and will likely redshirt. He's one of the three Flanagan freshmen along with Devins Gil and Bush, and while he was virtually ignored by the recruiting sites he had the good fortune to not have an ESPN evaluation at all when he committed. When they looked at his film they saw a four-star nobody else had:
hybrid type SS/nickel CB. … Not always the most disciplined player when it comes to technique and position. … At his best near the box in coverage. Good range defender who closes quickly and covers a lot of ground fast. … Big-time hitter who looks to initiate contact and get downhill quickly on run support. … Closes fast with explosive burst that leads to big hits. … physical ball-hawk who can run and hit with top tier safeties in this class. Unrefined at times in man coverage.
While nobody's talking about him like they talk about Hudson, Metellus has come in for a couple of approving notes. Per Lorenz the coaching staff thinks he's a "steal"; Scout moderator DOTMAN says he's "underappreciated" and "brings a physicality and attitude" to safety.
Metellus is a guy they'll put on a shelf for a year or two and then see if they can polish his man coverage up. Getting their scouting right on him would be very nice.