Spring Game Extrapolations: Defense

Submitted by Brian on April 13th, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Yesterday we hit the offense; this is the other side of the ball.

Campbell Or Someone Else, Except There Isn't Anyone Else


All eyes not locked on Denard Robinson Saturday will be interpreting any signs of life from Will Campbell as prophecy of opposing offensive lines' impending doom. The facts are these: Michigan has three lock starters on the line, a big hole at three-technique, and a very big man who was a very big former recruit on his way to being a very big bust who is getting personal attention from no fewer than three Michigan coaches.

Michigan has put all their eggs in Campbell's basket. Quinton Washington is backing up Mike Martin—and doing so unevenly—and the only other options there are redshirt freshmen like Richard Ash (also probably an NT if he's anything) and Terry Talbott (probably another year away from being physically ready).

There's almost no way he's not going to start. This makes me nervous because it makes me think about Pat Massey. Massey was 6'8" and never should have been anywhere near DT, but he had a good amount of starting experience when he was inadvisably thrust inside after Michigan ended their one-year experiment with the 3-4. He still ended most plays in a crumpled mess several yards downfield. He was the three-tech next to Gabe Watson; hopefully Campbell doesn't go down as Martin's Massey.

Looking for: my skepticism about Campbell ever performing well is established. If the guy just holds his own and doesn't get blown up on the regular that will be major progress.

Fearing: The third string center getting under his pads and depositing him in Kovacs's lap.

Will only believe three games into the season: That Michigan's previous defensive coaches were even more incompetent than we already believe them to be.

Edge Terror: Yes, Please


Craig Roh is entering his junior year, and the clock has started ticking faster. As a freshman he was incredibly undersized; as a sophomore he was incredibly miscast. Now he's in an upperclassman in an under front as the weakside defensive end—this is his time and place. On a defense wholly devoid of established playmakers other than Martin he is the player most likely to blow up. Michigan needs him to or it's going to be another year in which opposing quarterbacks can finish their crumpets in the pocket before leisurely surveying to see which receiver is open by yards.

Here Michigan actually seems to have a decent second option: Jibreel Black was a complete disaster against the run as a true freshman but flashed disruptive ability when teams didn't run right at him. Like virtually everyone else on the team he should have redshirted; if he had everyone would be talking him up as the next coming because they hadn't seen his shortcomings. As it is a big post-frosh bump in performance can be expected.

Looking for: one-on-one pass rush from Roh against Schofield/Huyge/walk-on. He has to be able to beat those guys if he's going to take on the Big Ten this fall.

Fearing: Here I don't think we'll be too disappointed. There are two good options.

Will only believe three games into the season: That they can't get production out of this spot.

simms-nantzJonas Newton


Michigan's veteran linebackers have shuffled off to their futures. Since Obi Ezeh was replaced at midseason by immediately obvious upgrade Kenny Demens, middle linebacker is set. Ready or not, Cam Gordon will be the strongside LB. That leaves Jonas Mouton's old spot as the only other in the front seven up for grabs. Despite collecting all manner of safety/LB tweeners answers are few. Candidates:

  • Mike Jones. Jones was the primary backup to Mouton last spring and was getting hyped up as a playmaker; one season-ending injury later there are grumbles he is too small and does not fit the position in a 4-3 under.
  • Brandin Hawthorne. Yeah… so… Brandin Hawthorne hasn't seen the field in any capacity other than special teams yet and seemed destined for a Darnell Hood sort of career and now he's kind of the only option other than Jones because all the rest of the guys are participating in a pitched battle elsewhere. Speaking of…
  • Safety war losers. Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson, and Josh Furman all spent part of last year at linebacker and part at safety; this spring they're all trying to fill Michigan's perpetually gaping hole next to Jordan Kovacs. While they won't be playing WLB saturday, if someone establishes themselves as the guy they will probably throw one of these three back in the linebacker pool.
  • Oh, and Thomas Gordon. Some reports put Gordon in the WLB battle while others think he's in a distinctly separate boat of guys playing a dedicated nickelback spot. Gordon was a pleasant surprise as the starting spur earlier in the year and if there are few other options at WLB he might inherit that spot by default, flexing out into the nickel when other teams go spread. That would have some obvious downsides—dude is not linebacker-sized—but Larry Foote is not walking through that door.
  • Oh, and… um… Marell Evans? Apparently he's back on the team after not playing at Hampton, and while he's getting some practice buzz that's so far-fetched I'm not even going to list it under things I don't believe because obviously.

Hypothetically, the WLB is the best-protected linebacker in an under front and can be a little fast guy who pursues guys all over the field. More realistically you can shield him a bit but offenses will find ways to make your tiny guy go facemask to facemask with much larger folks, especially if the three-tech spot supposed to shield him is iffy.

Looking for: A weakside linebacker that does not blow outside contain constantly. If I had to guess right now I would say Gordon gets virtually all of the time against spread teams and eventually ends up dragged into the lineup against the coaches' better judgment simply because he can play.

Fearing: A major downgrade—Mouton also turned in his fair share of great individual plays.

Will only believe three games into the season: That having Hawthorne in the two-deep is not an ominous sign.

Squinting In The General Direction Of Safety


Well… at least they've got some athlete type substances. They're weakside linebackers mostly but they'd be really fast WLBs. As mentioned, Johnson, Robinson, and Furman are all fighting to be Michigan's scapegoat this fall; there is no clarity as to who will come out on top. Johnson has the initial edge since he's seen the field, but most of that was at linebacker and last year when he moved to safety he ended up behind the leetle tiny Vinopal despite his tendency to look like Jerry attempting to tackle Tom.

As per usual, brace yourselves.

Looking for: Johnson to be as reputed: a bit slow but reliable and an excellent tackler. Basically a scholarship version of Kovacs.

Fearing: Fear? There is no fear, only the cold hard certainty Michigan's safeties will suck.

Will only believe three games into the season: There are no hopes out there to deflate, so we can take a pass on this one.

Oh And Bonus


Looking for: Ball through uprights; more realistically, the matriculation of Matt Wile.

Fearing: Not through uprights.

Will only believe three games into the season: that I can watch a field goal attempt without throwing up.



April 13th, 2011 at 1:02 PM ^

Sorry, But I feel Brian is overly critical and too pessimistic on Will Campbell.  Especially hearing some of the reports that we have on Big Will in camp.

Give the kid a chance.

Blue in Yarmouth

April 13th, 2011 at 1:21 PM ^

I would say what Brian is being is realistic. Sadly, Campbell has done nothing to this point to warrant optimism. I doubt Brian is the only one in wait and see mode when it comes to Campbell. In fact I know he isn't because I am there as well. It is pretty hard to be optimistic about a guy with Campbells hype who couldn't crack the two deep last year at his intended position and ended up getting move to offense.

I am not saying he can't end up being good. I just think it is a little crazy to believe that given the evidence at this point.


April 13th, 2011 at 1:36 PM ^

He did get a lot of playing time his true freshman year against Ohio State, and he did pretty well.  He blew up a couple of running plays when he manhandled the guy in front of him.  One of them was a short yardage play.  He wasn't in the game for any of OSU's big runs.  I wish that Brian had UFR'ed that game to get it on record.  I was really surprised that he got so buried in 2010.  I was optimistic about his progress at the end of 2009.

ND Sux

April 13th, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

corner too.  Brian may have stated it pointedly, but I don't see much departure from his comments and last year's reality on the field.  No real saviors entering the fray, either.

Big Will is no lost cause though.  He hasn't had all that much PT, and it seems these coaches (who I believe in btw) see potential. 

MI Expat NY

April 13th, 2011 at 1:39 PM ^

So we should be expecting miracles from guys who were part of the worst defense in Michigan history?

He's being pessimistic, but how would any reasonable fan feel differently.

Also, he seems positive about Demens, probably has reasonable expectations for RVB, and with our, arguably, top two corners out of action, there isn't much to look at there.  


April 13th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

I drank the Kool-Aid last year, this year I'm a little more grounded

Not insulting Brian, just observing his post - he's not giving anyone much of a chance.

But here are some reasons to expect improvement from worst evar: 
 - Scheme will be more sound - losing contain won't happen every play v. UMASS 
 - Black was a starter opposite Roh as a true freshman last year, which is kind of hilarious in retrospect.  Now he's a back-up at an appropriate position - WDE.  He can play this well.
 - Roh will not be a LB  
 - Carvin Johnson will not be a true freshman LB (which, again, hilarious)
 - Cam Gordon will be a LB
 - Demens will be a LB starting from day one
 - RVB is back at SDE
 - Martin is not hurt at the moment
 - If Avery starts, he has a year under his belt
 - Woolfolk will be back, though uncertain if he'll be what he was previously
 - Kovacs is back, or will be replaced by Furman, Robinson

None of these things are noted in the post.

MI Expat NY

April 13th, 2011 at 2:49 PM ^

His two posts on the spring game weren't intended to be all-inclusive season previews.  He will be much more thorough on all position groups as the season approaches.  With the last two days he has chosen to focus on things to look for in the spring game.  Doesn't it make sense to look at guys whose roles are changing due to scheme (mostly an offensive question) and question marks going forward?  Why would he write about Martin?  We know who he is.  The same goes for a host of other players on both sides of the ball.

And for the record, even in this post, Brian states that Roh was miscast last year, that Black should have been redshirted, that our safety prospects were playing LB last year, and that we're set at MLB with Demens.  He addresses four of your points in a non-comprehensive defensive post, yet he's still too pessimistic?  

As annoying as some find the references to Rich Rod not getting a chance (I agree that Brian should move on at this point), it's much more annoying that Brian can't write a post with a realistic perspective on the team withoug being bashed as a pessimistic Hoke hater.

Space Coyote

April 13th, 2011 at 9:15 PM ^

I'm not reading many comments on this post about Brian bashing on Hoke.  In previous comments, yes, but not in this one.  People are just saying he's overly pessimistic.  EDIT: There is a little below, but still less than usual.

I actually think Brian is a bit too optimistic about the DEs a maybe a little harsh on Will.  There is a chance in my mind that the WDE position isn't getting pressure though.  I hope that's not the case, but his "no chance" clause is a lot of pressure.

Also, Evans I believe was hurt for his time at Hampton, not because he wasn't good enough to play there.  I think he could actually be alright


April 13th, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

The first year, he shouldn't have been playing.

The second year, he was switched to offensive tackle during a bye week because the coaches' preferred defense at the time (well, the non GERG coaches' preference) was ill suited for him.

He's in a perfect position on this defensive line.


April 13th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

Would you prefer pessemism and come fall be mildly suprised by BWC's performance or would you rather Brian blow sunshine up his ass and then have BWC et al perform below expectations come fall? Personally I would rather take the former. Have you watched this D the last three years? It's going to take 2-3 years to get back to average IMO.


April 13th, 2011 at 2:23 PM ^

Considering we have a bunch of players that don't fit a position, I think we are going to need some recruits before the defense really gets going. Getting those recruits will take a couple of years. I expect us to jump 20 places this year and next, which would put us just below average going into year 3. Don't get me wrong if the improvement occurs faster than that, then I will be ecstatic.


April 13th, 2011 at 1:14 PM ^

pessimistic with Cambell, as well as couple of other positions that he mentioned. Would I expect the defense to be great or even good? Probally not. Who knows though, with the coaching on defense clearly being a huge upgrade. Some of these guys, at certain positions, might surprise us. I am not going to make definitative statements about specific players or positions, before I see what some of these guys can do with better coaching.

MI Expat NY

April 13th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

I'm pretty sure Brian feels the same way, after all, he's said all along that with the insane youth and a competent defensive staff, the defense is going to be better.

We're still going to be "bad" though, as compared to the Michigan norm.  We just don't have NFL talent on defense, outside of Martin.


April 13th, 2011 at 3:56 PM ^

Yes, but for this year, it's not unreasonable to think the offense isn't going to be nearly as productive.  A jump to to a 70-80 defense this year might not get us to 9 wins if the offense isn't gelling.  Not that it won't, but it's very possible that offensive production drops quite a bit.


April 13th, 2011 at 4:40 PM ^

was very inefficient at times in terms putting up points, despite alot of yards and had some costly turnovers. If those two things  are cleaned up and the RB'S are more productive  there is no reason why the offense can't be just as productive  or more productive, in terms of scoring points, despite the offensive scheme changing.

I would be very dissapointed if the offense production dropped significantly, if that happens the offensive coaches have done a very poor job at utilizing the players correctly, considering the talent on offense. This offense has too much talent and experience not be highly productive.


April 13th, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

suck, before the Spring game is even played not being pessmistic? That is not the same thing as if Brian were to say there is good chance this position will be bad. He is making a definitative statement about a position, before even seeing what any of the players at that position look like with better coaching.

And as far as Will Campbell goes, the primary defiency cited with him the last couple of years has been a lack of technique. Better coaches should be able to improve his technique. It is something that is correctable with coaching. Hence why I feel there should be some optimism about the guy, at least as somebody who could be a decent  or solid starter.


April 13th, 2011 at 1:56 PM ^

In Brian's defense, I think that a strong dose of pecimism is healthy when considering Will Campbell.  He is an upperclassman who has shown time and time again that he is not a reliable option.  Now, I am hopeful that better coaching, more attention to fundamentals, and the magic of a man name Mattison can change all of that. Stranger things have happened.  Nick Fairley was only a shadow of his 2010 self in 2009, so miracles do come true. But usually they don't. 


April 13th, 2011 at 1:59 PM ^


Again, Campbell should have been redshirted in 2009. I don't blame anything that season on him.

In 2010, he was moved to the offense after 6 games. While on the defense, he was being asked to do things in a supposed 3-3-5 that didn't suit him, which is why they moved him in the first place.

When has he ever been given a true opportunity, with good coaching and a solid scheme, to show what he can do? Being down on the player in this instance is insane.



April 13th, 2011 at 2:32 PM ^

I am not down on BWC. I want him to succeed; really, I do.  What I'm saying is that despite the old scheme, which has been bitched and bemoaned enough already, he didn't look all that promising. I will grant you that being a  lineman requires a ton of technique, more so than many skilled positions, so he for sure is not a refined product.  But we never even saw a glimpse of the player he was expected to be.


Again, I'm rooting for the kid. I will be watching how he does only slightly less than I will be watching Denard. I'm just saying there is nothing wrong with having doubts.


April 13th, 2011 at 6:10 PM ^

did Hoke say about BWC? That he needs to be "more consistent." Want to bet that was the same thing the old coaches said about him? There is no reason from his M career to date to be so optimistic that he will be good, other than he was a 5 star recruit. I'm NOT saying that he can't be good this year, just that the evidence that some say is there from his time here is not really there--at all. therefore Brian's stance seems just about right IMO.