Spring Items: Defense

Submitted by Brian on April 12th, 2017 at 11:47 AM

Defensive line

30897044350_cd30178939_z

[Bryan Fuller]

Headline news is not at all surprising: Rashan Gary is like dang. Palpable excitement from the coaches about getting to line up Gary next to Maurice Hurst and God help anyone assigned to block those guys on a stunt. Or not on a stunt. Gary remains extremely coachable and is on track to deliver on that #1 overall recruit hype. The end. Gary talk this year == Peppers talk last year. Everyone knows he's coming so it's almost beside the point to mention it.

Carlo Kemp looks set to back Gary up at strongside end:

"Rashan's a great person to definitely model your game after and follow up," Kemp said. "Especially because he goes in there, sets the tempo. For me, backing him up, I want to be as close as I can that there's no dropoff. When Rashan's in, we already know what he can do, and then when I come in I try to mimic his game a lot, so that when he's in and I'm in, it looks the exact same."

That would be nice. Kemp has impressed the coaches after a rough start that was partially because he was being played out of position at linebacker. (Remember that Michigan had a crisis at LB before the emergence of McCray last year.) Kemp on his interactions with Don Brown:

"He said when we first started spring ball 'I don't even know who this guy is anymore, last year I'd have traded him away for two used footballs' " Kemp said. "So that felt good. Last year I might have done the same thing, traded me away for two used footballs.

"Maybe we're up to three this year."

Kemp has the bloodlines and good size (265 now, probably approaching 280 by fall) so backup snaps at the anchor should be relatively productive. Early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter is also impressing, and right now he and Kemp are both wearing #2. Winner gets to keep it, I guess?

At the other end, Chase Winovich has added another chunk of weight as he attempts to replace Taco Charlton; hopefully this will allow him to hold up against the run while not sapping his ability to get around the corner. All weight gain or loss is good in the spring. Haven't gotten anything about the folks pushing Winovich on the depth chart so that might be a spot of worry. Jeter is probably more of a SDE/3T than a weakside end.

DT starters are established and I cannot tell you anything about them that you don't already know. Mo Hurst should be an All-American with increased playing time and the shiny stats he racks up. Everyone is waiting for Bryan Mone to finally display the potential people have chattered about for years. Chatter remains the same on Mone, and he did flash talent late in the year. If he can stay healthy dot dot dot.

Very thin on the interior with few of the freshmen on campus yet and Michael Dwumfour frequently limited with minor issues. As a result Michigan is experimenting with redshirt freshman Ron Johnson on the interior, which is very much a work in progress. Johnson arrived as a 245-pound edge rush type. I would interpret that as distress about backup DTs. Lawrence Marshall is also on the interior and has not drawn much buzz.

Depth is a concern. Starters should be bonkers.

Linebacker

31847299312_21d5fcf9eb_z

[Fuller]

Mike McCray is an obvious starter and looks like you'd expect. Leader, thumper. Michigan's offense isn't of the variety that frequently tests McCray's main 2016 weakness—operating in space—so I assume you're going to get a lot of very positive reports on him that are about the stuff he was already excellent at, and we'll have to wait for live fire this fall to see if he's made progress on the downsides.

The other spot was presumed to be Devin Bush, but don't sleep on Mike Wroblewski, who keeps getting brought up by Don Brown for a reason. Wroblewski is an "A-gap player," which means he's a guy to take on fullbacks and hammer the interior run game but might be limited in sideline-to-sideline range. He's taken over some of the calls from McCray, which is quite a thing to do when you're taking them from a returning starter and fifth year senior who is presumably going to be a captain. He is on the two deep, legitimately.

Bush is also very much in the mix and will at least rotate through a la Gedeon when he was the third guy behind Morgan and Bolden. He could start, as well—he seems a much more natural fit for Michigan's forays against spread offenses.

FWIW, one report that Ben Mason "looks the part" at LB, so they are giving him his shot there and he may yet defy this site's oft-stated opinion that he's destined for fullback. Redshirt freshman Josh Uche Is "laying the wood" a lot and should get some playing time this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist, with a productive career in the offing.

The VIPER(!!!) spot is addressed in the next section because it should be.

Safety

Michigan looks set to go with a three safety look again—the defense is a bonafide 4-2-5 and we should get used to it—in a slightly different configuration than last year. This is not insider chatter but rather something the coaches have directly stated:

"We'll see in the Spring Game how those guys line up in live competition, but right now Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, those guys are leaders of the pack [at safety] in my eyes," Smith said. "They've done a good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."

Tyree Kinnel is your free safety and will play the Dymonte Thomas role; Josh Metellus is the strong safety and will replace Delano Hill. Both are heady and "kind of going Jarrod Wilson," which is music to your author's ears. All hail boring safeties, with a side of Metellus thumping people in their earholes.

Meanwhile many reports have it that Khaleke Hudson is your leader at VIPER(!!!) and will seek to replicate Jabrill Peppers. Hudson was a bit slow picking up coverages per a couple people; he is physically capable of the slot coverage that Hill was so good at a year ago, and as he gets increasingly comfortable people in his vicinity have a tendency to get "jacked up," as the kids say. One report notes he's making a number of spectacular, freaky plays. As we've asserted about Hudson since he popped up on our radar, he's not Peppers but he's basically Peppers. The emergence of Metellus gives Michigan the opportunity to use him in that spacebacker spot he was born to man.

Meanwhile in news I find very important indeed, people think J'Marick Woods has a nickname but he does not.

This aggression against nicknames will not stand. That is just his name. Hockey nicknames that are "last name followed by -y" are bad enough. Come back when you've named him "Scooter" or "Booger" or "Dump Truck." Preferably all three.

Cornerback

All systems go for David Long and Lavert Hill, who have been gathering extensive praise as physical, sticky corners. Hill is currently stickier but Long isn't far off. When the projected starters are in it's been difficult for Michigan's receivers to get separation.

There is a significant dropoff after those two, with Brandon Watson and Ambry Thomas currently drawing the most mention. There's no such thing as a second unit yet, of course; those two guys are a nose ahead of the pack after the starters. Watson was meh as a slot corner a year ago and is past the age where rapid progress is likely; I assume he'll have a role similar to last year's unless he gets passed by Thomas right out of the gate. Survey says: possible.

Overall, practice insiders are positive about Michigan's ability to weather all the departures. Don Brown's said as much publicly, and privately he's saying basically the same things: there's no reason this defense shouldn't be in the same ballpark as last year's. #1 is a tough ask because of randomness and whatnot, but Don Brown has put together top end defenses without having a guy like Rashan Gary. He remains a hard-boiled cop one day from retirement in a candy store.

Comments

Amaizing Blue

April 12th, 2017 at 11:57 AM ^

Rashan Gar-y is off the hook, "Woods" looking strong, Mike "Mc"Cray building off his performance last year-all the signs point to another great D.  Another underrated part of nicknames is that they allow us to have more hyphens on the roster-we want all the hyphens.

getsome

April 12th, 2017 at 12:47 PM ^

id be shocked if mason redshirts, he should play a lot of ball in his 4 years starting with backup / rotational / ST reps this fall.  mason came across as "a harbaugh guy" through and through during signing day interviews, etc - smart, versatile athlete with insane energy level, loves contact and loves football.  should be interesting player to watch

Magnus

April 12th, 2017 at 1:17 PM ^

I agree here. He came in physically in very good shape, and he's ready to play from that standpoint. There's going to be room at FB (Hill and Poggi both graduate) and LB (McCray and Wroblewski both graduate), so I think he's bound to play somewhere in 2018. It's probably good to get him some experience this year.

corundum

April 12th, 2017 at 12:04 PM ^

Sounds like position battles have settled out relatively quickly as far as the 1s and 2s. Hopefully this will allow for the coaches to focus on substantially developing depth in the fall, especially in the secondary and defensive line.

GhostofJermain…

April 12th, 2017 at 12:11 PM ^

He is the nephew of a legacy Wolverine who is very tied to the program.  Therefore Coach Mattison and Coach Brown have personally reached out to let uncle know that Myers is in the 2 deep and will play!  Supposedly he's just an enormous man and Harbaugh along with the coaches on defense love his physciality and strength.  Additionally like stated a few months ago that Hudson had passed Metellius as Viper, it's been said that Bush is struggling and both him and Walker seemed to get yelled at the most.  However they are both praised for their work with special teams and expected to be contributors there, if nothing else.  Lastly, Jordan Glasgow makes plays every practice;  him, Robo, and Myers have all played their way into game action as of today. 

Ron Utah

April 12th, 2017 at 3:30 PM ^

I don't buy the "Bush is struggling" chatter.  He was the fourth pick of the spring draft, and my guess is that he is not only a starter but plays on a level equivalent to Gedeon's '16 season.

We'll see what happens with Robo, but my money is that the only walk-on making a significant contribution (barring injury) on the field during games on defense is Myers.  Glasgow will show-up on special teams

mGrowOld

April 12th, 2017 at 12:29 PM ^

I spoke to Gedeon's high school coach yesterday and he was playing the "what if" game regarding Ben's potential draft status if he been able to go back to Michigan for a 5th year.  Everytime I think about Hoke burning his redshirt in for a few meaningless plays in 2013 and then not giving the kid consistent playing time in 14 & 15 it makes me want to scream.

Ben will prolly get drafted in the 4th or 5th round IMO.  If he was coming back as a 5th year Senior our defense would be a lot better and I think his draft status would improve as well.  Same thing for Dymonte Thomas FWIW except he prolly wont get drafted at all.  A few meaningless snaps in a blow-out and a whole year gone.

Lose-lose proposition.  But hey...at least he and Dymonte will always have the CMU game to remember.

mGrowOld

April 12th, 2017 at 12:59 PM ^

As did every single other Freshman that's ever stepped foot on campus since redshirting began.  But it's the HC JOB to weigh out the up and downside of saying no and deferring gratification until later.   I don't know if you've noticed this or not but young people tend to be terrible at deferring small short-term gains for huge future payoffs (hence the insanely low number of 20 somethings that fund their 401K at work).

The bigger issue though wasnt really even that.  It was after his RS was burned the lack of quality PT in 2014 & 15 and the randomness by which he played or didnt.  That's why he was packed and ready to transfer after the 2015 season - frustration at Hoke's substitution patterns and his inability to understand what put him on the field and what made Hoke pull him off.

mGrowOld

April 12th, 2017 at 1:44 PM ^

I dont lift weights with any of their high school head coaches so I wont have any idea if they are upset or not at what happened.  I'll leave those updates to someone else.

FWIW I completely disagree with you that the position coaches make the redshirt/burn redshitrt decisions.  That's on the HC.  And his issue, with Hoke - not his position coach - was nobody could tell him why he was playing or got pulled after the game.  The communication wasnt there (or at least it wasnt for Ben) and THAT, not the RS decision, is what was so upsetting to him.  

He didnt get consistent, qualtity PT until last year.  Sporadic playing time yes but nothing more than that amd whether you like hearing it or not it didnt make him very happy because he didnt know why.

mGrowOld

April 12th, 2017 at 2:20 PM ^

1. Ben took a relatively small number of snaps in 2013 and his redshirt was burned.

2. In 2014 & 2015 he would get playing time or get pulled from games for reasons he did not fully understand (I dont know if his questions were made to the position coach or the Head Coach).

3. When he asked the Head Coach why this was happening to him the Head Coach either couldnt or wouldnt give him an answer.   I do know this for a fact.

4. Because he couldnt get an answer he obviously couldnt improve or get on the field enough to improve and his development was stunted for two years.

5. He was ready to transfer at the end of 2015 due to his frustrations with the Head Coach and his unwillingness or inability to tell him what he had to improve upon to stay on the field.

6. The Head Coach was terminated.

7. Ben stayed and got a lot better.  Would he get even better with a 5th year?  He seems to think so.

What exactly are you defending here?  Hoke's communication skills?

Bodogblog

April 12th, 2017 at 2:58 PM ^

Your OP is lamenting a lack of a redhsirt, a fairly tiresome argument that relies entirely on hindsight.

Only point 1. of your seven points above addresses the redshirt issue.  And I'd argue that "relatively small number of snaps" is misleading or at least the wrong way to look at it.  He vs. Ohio State and played well in a very winnable game.  His sporadic playing time earlier in the year likely prepared him for that.  A possible win vs. OSU is something you have to burn a redshirt for, as a Michigan coach. 

The rest of this post addresses his concerns about lack of playing time.  That would be frustrating and I get it, I always liked him more than Bolden.  But playing time concerns from second stringers are old as the game itself. 

reshp1

April 12th, 2017 at 2:42 PM ^

Point 2 is the one I have a problem with. His position coach should be the one explaining it to him. If Gedeon didn't bother asking him, that's on him, if the position coach couldn't give him an answer then that's on the position coach. Should Hoke also be able to give him an answer? Sure, but that's a secondary failure. 

stephenrjking

April 12th, 2017 at 2:22 PM ^

I think I'm seeing your issue with this and I might agree with you. Gedeon and Thomas got super-early playing time, the idea apparently being "you come on campus, you get a shot." But then there was no real long-term development plan attached here. Like Hoke knew playing freshmen was a good idea, especially in recruiting, but couldn't think past that to how it helped the team.

So you get Dymonte Thomas blocking a punt and then basically disappearing for the next 2 years without contributing at all. Sure he and Gedeon wanted to play--they wanted to play and learn and get better and play more. Instead, they played and then sat and stagnated. And, based on what we've learned about the Hoke admin, it appears that they weren't getting a truly fair shot to compete for jobs. 

So now we have a situation where they could have been huge assets to the defense this year and they're gone so that Hoke could say that he gave freshmen a chance to play.

In contrast, Harbaugh plays freshmen, but he has a coherent personnel strategy and uses their assets to help the team. Sure, Eddie McDoom was only able to perform meaningfully in one area, but Michigan used his end sweeps at big moments in big games. Chris Evans scored the go-ahead TD against FSU. That sort of thing. And now, instead of sitting, these guys are all looking at serious playing time or starting positions when the team needs them.

And the strategy goes even further--Harbaugh is getting the best out of his players now because not everybody is going to stay. Guys are being encouraged to graduate in 3 years and are doing so, and the ones that are getting passed by the younger talent are transferring with the blessing, good wishes, and valuable training and experience of Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan family.

What's funny about the Hoke-Harbaugh transition is that they espoused a lot of the same ideas. "Competing" in practice, giving the freshmen a chance, power running, etc. But Harbaugh is actually executing on these ideas, whereas with Hoke a lot of it was just lipservice.

reshp1

April 12th, 2017 at 2:47 PM ^

In contrast, Harbaugh plays freshmen, but he has a coherent personnel strategy and uses their assets to help the team.

 

How so? A ton of the 17 burned redshirts that played against Hawaii hardly played another snap. 

For every Chris Evans and Eddie McDoom, you have a Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon.

stephenrjking

April 12th, 2017 at 3:20 PM ^

I may be giving Harbaugh some benefit of the doubt regarding our personnel situation, but a couple of factors at work here:

1. Harbaugh was approaching a graduation cliff, so he needs young guys ready earlier than usual to work with this season. Eubanks and McKeon? Sure, but also Long and Hill. 

2. Not every guy is going to work out, you need to give a wider swath of players a chance to play to figure out which ones will work out. As discussed later in this thread, for example, Metellus wasn't initially highly thought of by pundits and now he's the presumptive starting strong safety, because he got a shot and ran with it. If you only play the few best, a guy like Metellus might stay under the radar and not be ready.

3. Harbaugh, unlike Hoke, is prepared for aggressive turnover. Guys will compete with younger players and get passed over, and a large number of those will transfer. He is, frankly, going to wind up cycling 25% more players through from which he can continue to pick the best players. We already have some solid evidence of this in QB recruiting--Speight could be a three-year starter. We've already heard Malzone is likely to transfer, and he continues to recruit a QB a year. He knows they won't all stay.

4. I think Harbaugh finds the prospect of finding more guys better than the prospect of hanging onto a couple extra fifth-years that can make it. A fair number of these guys will become good enough to go pro. He recruits as if he expects to pull in classes like the best in college football, which means a fair number of the guys he's cycling through could leave after three years anyway (does anybody expect Rashan Gary to be on the roster in 2019?) and the guys playing where a fifth year could play are NFL caliber themselves.

My thoughts, anyway.

EDIT: 

5. I could be wrong and Harbaugh could be, too. But I think Hoke envisioned himself as a Pete Carroll type where every job was always open and there was always competition, but in actuality ran a program that prized experience and "getting a turn." His efforts to be an "always compete" program were clumsy, like the Carr staff's attempt at a spread punt in 2003. Thus you have Gedeon showing real promise early and then getting glued to the bench.

In contrast, Harbaugh is ACTUALLY doing this. Perhaps somewhat by necessity, but if guys can play, they're getting on the field.

reshp1

April 12th, 2017 at 3:42 PM ^

1. Hoke was facing a RR recruiting effort that was absolute shit. He had the same roster issues to deal with.

2. Exactly why playing Gedeon and Thomas right away isn't a bad idea. The fact they didn't contribute consistently for a long time after that is a matter of hindsight. 

3. and 4. Meh, Hoke protected Morris from competition by not taking another QB, but I really can't think of another case of that. I think it's pretty dubious to claim Hoke wasn't trying to recruit the best players possible with the expectation of them leaving in 3 years. Jabrill Peppers says hi.  

5. Keep in mind Gedeon and Thomas both played sparingly under year 1 of Harbaugh too. This wasn't a wait your turn situation. They just weren't ready or there were better options.

stephenrjking

April 12th, 2017 at 5:05 PM ^

Fair enough on your rebuttals. I could be off-base here. But then, I'm not arguing that Hoke's ideas were bad, just that he did not properly implement them. The anecdotal evidence about problems with development and proper intensity and drive in practices seems to suggest that there's something there. 

If there is frustration from recently graduated players with the Hoke regime (and there certainly seems to be from various quotes) it doesn't seem to be philosophical so much as an issue of how things were actually implemented. Bad training and/or inadequate reps for younger guys (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if rep issues were a serious handicap, given how notoriously slow Hoke's practices were) or the fact that he was burning redshirts as if he were going to go through a lot of players but instead hung on to everybody even if they didn't contribute at all, handicapping the roster.

With all this said, while I would enjoy having Gedeon and Thomas on the field this year, I'm not that frustrated by it and I think this will be the status quo going forward. Someone like Hill or Bush or Higdon will reach the end of their eligibility in that sweet spot where they're a serious contributing player but not a serious draft prospect, and it would be nice to have another year from them...

And instead they'll be replaced by a younger guy who can get the job done and is there in part because Harbaugh is drawing from such a large net. 

Jtre1212

April 12th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

Harbaugh played almost all the freshman against hawaii but the majority of their playing time got cut off around the 3rd game which insured that they could apply for a medical hardship if needed. From what we know 13 freshman played over 30%. 10 those 13 are projected starters right now. the remaining 3 were N. Johnson, Devil Gill, and Mbem-Bosse. Harbaugh had a strategy an knew what he was doing in terms of which guys played on which didnt. 

mGrowOld

April 12th, 2017 at 2:49 PM ^

You put it in far better terms than I was able to.

But on a funny note I cant help but notice the same guys who defended Hoke until the day he was let go are the ones to jump into this thread to defend him again.  It's like talking about the civil war with a bunch of guys from Alabama.  To them the war never ended.

Rebel yell boys.  The Hoke shall rise again!