Spring Stuff 2016: Defense, Special Teams Comment Count

Brian April 5th, 2016 at 1:53 PM

Previously: offense.

Defensive line


SDE Charlton has been tough to handle [Eric Upchurch]

The most interesting thing about the configuration of the defense thus far is the weakside end. I thought they'd shift Taco Charlton over there and go with a very large and very fierce unit; instead Charlton looks set to start on the strongside and Chase Winovich is a tentative leader on the weakside. Chris Wormley spent most snaps I saw from him at three-tech.

While there's a chance that Michigan reconfigures once Ryan Glasgow gets re-added to the mix, right now it looks like Michigan will have a line that looks a lot like a traditional 4-3 under line instead of the mondo unit they could have had. One man's current guess at what a depth chart looks like in fall:

  • SDE: Charlton, Gary
  • NT: Glasgow, Mone, Hurst
  • 3T: Wormley, Godin
  • WDE: Winovich, Marshall

If they can get production out of Winovich that's an incredibly deep, veteran, and proven defensive line. If Winovich doesn't work out you can slide Charlton over and still have a great two-deep at the bigger spots, but this is Don Brown's first draft.

So… Winovich. After a rather wasted year spent at h-back he returned to defense, now bulked up to 245 pounds. That's light, but if he can get up to 250 or 255 by fall—reasonable—it's not eye-poppingly so. And WDE does fit his talents. As a recruit he was reputed to be Jake Ryan 2.0, and weakside end is a spot Ryan definitely could have played. Winovich has started gathering some hype himself:

Chase Winovich had himself a day at defensive end.  We’d said all week that he was a bigger, stronger version of his former self. Grant Newsome definitely learned that Friday.  Winovich won their one on one match-up, and was one of the best edge rushers on the day.  On one play he literally flattened Newsome with a bull rush to get into the backfield.

Whether that's hooray Winovich or a collar pull about Newsome is in the eye of the beholder. On the downside from that report: on "more than one occasion" Winovich got edged and lost contain. (Yes, just like Jake Ryan.) He's going to have to cause a lot of havoc to make up for what projects to be a serious downgrade in run efficacy from the much larger and more experienced Charlton.

Meanwhile, apparently all that irrational Bryan Mone hype last year was shared by the coaching staff:

"He was one of our top players last year," Mone said. "We ranked the team going into training camp from one to 125 and Mone was three."

I have many questions about that assertion. They will never be answered.

Mone seems to have picked up where he left off before his injury, but to be honest I didn't see much from him in either practice I observed. I wasn't looking for him much since nose tackle is just about dead last on my list of concerns for 2016; even so last year you saw Maurice Hurst blow through an assortment of players, including Graham Glasgow, en route to spring hype and a very productive season. Mone didn't deliver that when in front of fans. He did draw a tough matchup against Mason Cole, to be fair. I'm still waiting for him to indicate that he's going to be better than Glasgow was a year ago.

That said, Mone was very impressive in Florida:

He was rarely blocked one-on-one, and managed to still be effective against the double team. Twice in the early portion of 11-on-11 action he engaged Ben Braden, tossed the 322 lb. offensive lineman to the side with relative ease, and then got in on the play in the backfield. On another play he split Braden and Mason Cole with great off-snap quickness and nailed Ty Isaac in the backfield.

I'd have liked to see that myself; it's good that someone did.


Godin's playing time might get squeezed [Upchurch]

Chris Wormley is still Chris Wormley. He'll probably be incrementally stronger and better and this will be a very good thing indeed. Matt Godin had an impressive spring game, blowing through a number of second-string OL. I thought he'd be a better fit at SDE, where he was on relatively level footing with Wormley early last season, than three-tech but Michigan looks set to play him on the interior. That might make it tough for him to get a lot of time—he is not likely to pass any of the other four DTs. The current Taco/Winovich DE setup steps on his toes more than anyone else.

Carlo Kemp and Reuben Jones played a lot as DEs on the white team and mostly got beat up. That's not a huge surprise since Kemp is a freshman and Jones is still listed at 222 pounds on the (possibly outdated) roster. I wouldn't expect either to break through this year.



McCray is a thumper [Upchurch]

Mike McCray is obviously the story of the spring here, and it was appropriate that he was one of the main reasons his team stuffed Henry Poggi on the goal line to end the Spring Game. McCray brings a load. At Ford Field he hammered a number of lead blocks like James Ross playing a Penn State OL. He is a tough customer.

What remains to be seen is whether he's a two-down backer or if he's fast enough to be an asset in coverage. Noises coming out of practice are positive. Per Lorenz Michigan is "quietly excited and optimistic"; Webb observed him have a lights out practice down in Florida:

Early in 11-on-11 action he met Ty Isaac in the hole and brought him down for no gain. A few plays later he showed nice feel in coverage and would have de-cleated Jack Wangler on a crossing pattern.  His best play came later on in the practice when he timed a blitz perfectly and tagged Kareem Walker in the backfield. 

While McCray ended up chasing a lot of completed mesh routes in the spring game I wouldn't read too much into that: mesh is designed to hang up man-to-man defenders trying to cover those drag routes. It did so with McCray. I'm assuming Michigan has better answers for mesh that they declined to show the public.

McCray did get juked by O'Korn on the final touchdown, but he was in a ton of space and did force the play back to his help. That help did not arrive in time. Ideally you get an open-field tackle like those Delano Hill turned in a couple times last year, but failing that McCray at least mitigated damage insofar as that was possible. 

Ben Gedeon remains just as much of a default starter as he was before the spring. Harbaugh is saying all the right things about him, calling him a "stud" amongst other praise. When you've got a guy who hasn't quite established himself but will start because there are no other options save freshmen your floor can be very low—Johnny Sears is the canonical example. There was never going to be a way for Gedeon to disprove that this spring.

At least we have seen enough of Gedeon to estimate that he'll be all right—he was more or less a starter for a game in the middle of the season when Michigan was suffering through their ridiculous targeting call period, and he did fine. As long as he doesn't run upfield of blocks I'm good.

McCray's emergence allows the Devin Bush Jr project to have a more reasonable timeframe. Going into spring everyone was assuming he'd end up starting out of necessity; exiting it he's probably in the same position Gedeon was last year: a rotation player who spots both starters. That's still not ideal, but neither is it starting a freshman. Bush didn't generate a ton of buzz other than the occasional mention of a big hit and he didn't leap out at me. He was of course victimized by Ty Wheatley on that one play, but when you force a one-handed attempt to catch a pass you've done your job.

Noah Furbush did not play in the spring game, which is unfortunate since he came in for a reasonable amount of hype himself as Jabrill Peppers's main competition at SAM. Sam related that Harbaugh "loves" Furbush's attitude and general guy-ness, and he did have a number of impressive special teams plays a year ago. Obviously Furbush and Peppers are not particularly similar players—Furbush coming into his own would allow Michigan to move Peppers around.

Jared Wangler was out with a meniscus injury.



Thomas is fast [Bryan Fuller]

Another reason I wouldn't read too much into the crossing routes that were wide open all day: somehow the top six defensive backs* all ended up on the white team, and after the opening series we saw little of Lewis and Stribling. Victims on the crossing routes were often walk-ons.

Most downfield passes were attempted against guys who don't project to see the field much this year. Ken Stross was this year's version of Norfleet: a converted WR who gets bombed all day.

There were a couple of plays of note for projected contributors, this one the most impressive:

Dymonte Thomas came from the dead center of the field to get over the top of a reasonably well-thrown ball near the back corner of the endzone. He took off as soon as Morris committed to one side of the field, which is encouraging.

Jarrod Wilson, blessed be his boring name, is not making that play. I can't imagine many people do. If Thomas can reliably execute his assignments he has the potential to be something Michigan hasn't seen since Marcus Ray**: a bonafide playmaking safety.

The other play of note was discussed yesterday when we talked about Drake Harris and can be seen briefly at the 52 second mark of the above highlights: Jeremy Clark with fantastic coverage on Harris. I don't doubt that Channing Stribling's had an impressive spring, especially since he got the sure-starter yoink on Friday and this vote of confidence from Harbaugh…

“Channing Stribling. He’s a starter. It’s cold. It’s in stone.:"

…but at Ford Field and the Spring Game it's been Jeremy Clark who looks like the guy.

Per Webb, down in Florida it was the other way, with Stribling on fire:

Channing Stribling was given the game ball by Jim Harbaugh after practice #4 and with good reason. … His route recognition led to numerous plays including two interceptions. His first pick came while covering Drake Harris and seemed to run the pattern better than his offensive counterpart before jumping it and intercepting the ball. He nearly picked off another pass… a deep out to Harris… where he also seem to run that route better than Harris also before knocking it away.  His second interception occurred when the Sean McKeon beat Noah Furbush down the seam and Stribling slid over the top to help, skied for the ball, and picked it off. 

I expect that competition to be hot and heavy this fall. TBH I'd be perfectly happy with another year just like the one Clark turned in, minus some of the absurdly bad luck he suffered. For Stribling to surge past is a potentially excellent sign.


Kinnel is hugely important for 2017 [Upchurch]

Tyree Kinnel was the other name of note. He turned in a pick-six at Ford Field and looked very comfortable in a box safety role in the spring game. Despite that, Harbaugh made it clear that the two starters have "nobody really pushing them right now."

*[minus Peppers, if he's more of a linebacker.]

**[Ernest Shazor's candidacy here was rejected since he made as many plays for the opposition as his own team. ]

Special teams?

Michigan didn't run any full-go, but there was the occasional thing of note:

  • At Ford Field it looked like Michigan was trying to find folks other than Peppers to take kickoffs back. They can get similar production from some of their other fast guys and lighten the load on their two-way star.
  • They did practice both NFL and spread punting; in the game they went entirely spread.
  • Kenny Allen had a booming conventional punt. This does not surprise since he's been blasting them in practice for years. It is unlikely he has the precision that Blake O'Neill did but if Michigan needs to send it 60 yards he's more than capable.
  • Andrew David has been tasked with rugby punting. He had a pooch punt that was relatively effective.
  • Can't judge return units since nothing was full contact.
  • Chris Partridge appears to be the main guy on special teams, with little help from other people, at least on the practice field.
  • David was shaky on field goals.

I expect Allen to take the large bulk of the kicking jobs. Surprise!



April 5th, 2016 at 2:09 PM ^

There is a 0% chance the starting DL has Chase Winovich on it and not Rashan Gary. Gary is a Nkemdechie/Clowney like talent. He's starting Day 1 somwehere.

Space Coyote

April 5th, 2016 at 2:36 PM ^

So Wormley and Godin work at DT and SDE. Taco works at SDE and WDE. Hurst works at DT and NT. Being able to do both gives them options. In my opinion, all of those guys need more work at the position they played in the spring game.

Also, without Glasgow, you are essentially forced to kick a guy down a spot each to adequately fill out the rosters. If you have Godin and Wormley at SDE and Taco at WDE, then Winovich and Marshall are getting limited PT, you essentially only have a single DT, and you have a single NT. For spring, it made more sense to play each one more spot inside.

Now, I disagree that Gary is starting somewhere on the line. I think he gets plenty of snaps, probably starter level snaps, but it's no small task to displace any of the established starters on the DL. I think it makes more sense to bring him in a little later when the OL isn't as fresh, the game has slowed down a little bit, and he can get away with just being a freak athlete that doesn't have the technique of the more established guys. Winovich will also probably play a role, but I'd have concerns about him holding up against the run in Michigan's base D. He is a package player.


April 5th, 2016 at 3:38 PM ^

Rashan Gary is starting Day 1. Charlton and Winovich didn't start last year, so I have no idea what you're talking about in terms of displacing "established starters." This is a once in a decade type player. They aren't going to "bring him in later." I laugh at the thought that you think this kid relies on only his athleticism. His technique is so far advanced for his age he probably could have been playing in college as a high school sophomore. No ifs, ands, or buts. Sam Webb said people in the Michigan program are expecting Gary to reach double digit sacks this year. He's that good.



April 5th, 2016 at 3:46 PM ^

I'm with Space Coyote on this. Gary is really good, and will be better than Taco, but I don't know if he will be there this fall. I'm sure the staff is super excited about him, but Taco is already an NFL-level player. I don't doubt Gary will surpass him, but I don't know if it will be in 2016.

Space Coyote

April 5th, 2016 at 4:44 PM ^

Gary will be a good player for Michigan next year. His technique is very advanced for an incoming player. It is still that of an incoming player though (and not that of guys that have had college level coaching for three plus years, from two of the best DL coaches in the nation to boot). The leap from high school to college is huge. You can rarely lapse on your technique and still succeed, because the guy across from you is better than any guy he's faced before. I have no doubt that Gary can use his technique and athletic ability to win some matchups this upcoming season, that's why I think he still gets starter level snaps. I do doubt he comes in immediately and utilizes with the consistency that is needed, because that rarely ever happens, because of just how big that leap is. And to go against guys when they are most focused and most energized, that's going to result in worse results if the technique isn't consistent. And it's not just about how good Gary is. It's about how good he is relative to the other guys already on the roster. Essentially any other Michigan DL, there's a good chance Gary is starting immediately. This is one of, if not the best DL in Michigan history from top to bottom.

I have little doubt that Gary will ultimately be a better player than Taco, and perhaps any player on the DL. That's down the road. That's after at least a year of college level coaching, of which Gary currently has zero (compared to three for the other guys that are essentially already starters, hence "established" based on past performance). Gary will get a lot of run, but to expect him to just pass up every other guy on the roster is a little disrespectful to the guys on the roster. They aren't slouches. The difference between the best athletes and the really good athletes at the college level is small (it shrinks even more at the NFL level), where technique and experience (he will see a ton of things he has never seen before on a football field when he plays next year) are of the utmost importance, especially on the line of scrimmage.

PS. I wouldn't be shocked if Gary ended up starting in 2016, but I would be surprised. I don't expect him to, frankly. I do expect him to be a very good player in 2016. But Michigan has very good players on the roster right now. It won't just be handed to him, he'll have to earn it over guys that have been through 3.5 years of practice and turned out to be very good players in their own right, that's no small task.

PPS. "being a freak athlete that doesn't have the technique of the more established guys" =/= has no technique.


April 5th, 2016 at 7:04 PM ^

and I must agree, this is the best DL since 2006. However, as good as they are, I  think he makes them better. It was consensus, no  outliers. He is  the best  prep DL they've seen in over a decade, better than both Clowney and Nkemdice.

As you said, he will learn nothing will be handed to him; therein lies the big difference. The other two were considered, probably rightfully so, the best DL men on their respective teams from the time they showed up. But this is going to be good for all. He is so advanced, especially with the use of his hands, that there will be some learning going on both ways.

But absoultely solid points. Should be productive by so many and Oh, just so damn much fun to watch.



April 6th, 2016 at 8:00 AM ^

I think it all depends if Wormley plays DE or DT.  If Wormley is our SDE that kicks Charlton over to WDE, both of which are great options.  If however they want to keep Wormley inside then IMO that leaves Winovich, Gary, and Godin all competing for the SDE position.  I really don't think it matters who starts as all will play a lot.  Typically freshman don't start day one.  They contribute early and if they prove themselves in their games snaps they turn into a starter a few games down the road.  I'd personally be surprised if Gary proves himself enough to start the first game.  But, if he does well in the first few games it wouldn't surprise me to see him start withen the first 3-4 games.


April 6th, 2016 at 10:28 AM ^

Stop the press...... holy wow... they expect Gary with DOUBLE DIGIT sacks this season?  I had to read that twice... if this is expected by those in the know within the program, then there is no question... he will be starting day 1.  I've never heard such a high expectation for an incoming freshman, ever.


April 6th, 2016 at 8:13 AM ^

Agreed. The only concern I have with a 270 lb. defensive end is whether he'll be able to drop back in coverage, and that's only *if* that's a big part of your defensive scheme. There are plenty of 270 lb. weakside ends in the NFL, so it should be an advantage that we have one in college. 

Space Coyote

April 6th, 2016 at 8:41 AM ^

Particularly at the college level, Taco has maintained enough speed and athleticism to threaten the speed rush as a counter to his bull rush. He may struggle a bit dropping into coverage, but that will be rare, plus he has length to his advantage, plus, in packages that ask for the WDE to cover, they'll probably bring in a guy like Winovich and kick Taco to SDE or remove him from the field.

I think the bigger concern for Taco is how it translates at the pro level. I don't necessarily think it's too much to carry for a DE, but he needs to be able to move well. I think Taco is a bit of a man without a position to NFL teams. Technically speaking, he's better as a DE, size, he's probably better bulking up and playing a 3-4 DE.


April 6th, 2016 at 2:12 PM ^

I'm primarily concerned about when he's the end guy on the LOS and has to handle a read option. Ojemudia excelled at this, but seemed lighter and faster than Charlton.  Can he patiently wait on the read and then chase the QB or RB?


April 6th, 2016 at 2:20 PM ^

It's easy to say a guy can get pulled as needed, but that can make you more predictable.  Same concept applies to having TEs who can block and catch, RBs who are dangerous receivers in space, QBs who can run, etc.

Charlton's length will help but it seems like there's not a lot of WDE/OLB, even in the NFL that are his height/weight.

Space Coyote

April 6th, 2016 at 2:51 PM ^

But I don't think they are going to ask him to be. Yes, it does tend to make you more predictable not to be able to do those things, but you also have different packages for different situations for a reason. Taco won't be asked to drop into coverage often, he won't be asked to be a WDE/OLB often, he'll be asked to be a WDE, which I think he'll be fine at.

As far as the read option, he needs to be more disciplined at defending it, but his length gives him a huge advantage there. His wingspan really forces the ball to go wide if the QB keeps and allows him to defend a lot at the mesh point. It's all about being disciplined though to allow that to happen.


April 6th, 2016 at 2:17 PM ^

Clark started off at 220 and then kep growing.  By the time he was 270 he and Beyer were played DE opposite each other and the defense changed scheme to accomodate them. The WDE and SDE were more or less the same in that D.

Normally, the WDE is a significantly different position from SDE.  Like last year - Ojemudia vs Wormley are totally different players.

Clark was also an athletic freight, recruited as an OLB.  Charlton has great athleticism "for his size" but he's moving from DT (in HS and his freshman year) out.  Clark did the opposite, in relationship to his weight gain.  Clark moved down with a weight gain, Charlton is moving up with a weight gain.


April 5th, 2016 at 6:50 PM ^

I must believe I am not  the only here who immediately though of the Ray hit against Boston when you mentioned a "possible play maker at safety since Marcus Ray."  One of  my favorite plays of all-time, based on the claims of a  certain brash talking man from Columbus all damn  week. There was no doubt he got that message.

Furbush, too, I thought gave indications in his tapes that he'd be a Jake Ryan type player. Have been hoping and Coach Brown's words give me hope we'll get something out of that young man.

Oracle, I hope you are right, because having Peppers or even someone I'm overlooking come in at no. 2 would not be a bad thing at all. I do hope as consistent as Wormley has been the past couple of years, with just a minor slide, he enjoys a statistically producing season similar to the play on the field he's been giving us. Last season he posted some fine numbers. Hoping they  get better just to up his worth in the draft. Has been a much better player than  I ever imagined. Great job Coach M.

And Taco. Sounds good. Freak. Appears to be ready to go out leaving nothing behind. Could be special.


April 5th, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

I can't believe they'd throw away the chance for such an unfair dline.

I have to believe Taco starts at Weakside (with Gary splitting snaps with him) and Wormley spends at least half the time at strongside DE come fall.


April 5th, 2016 at 5:29 PM ^

Because Glasgow was out for Spring and Gary hasn't arrived, I think they decided to go with a 2 deep to give all of the guys equal run in terms of playing time and opportunity. Probably the best move to maximize the DLine improvement/development during spring Football. 

But Fall camp is less about learning/development and more about preparing for the season, so I'd imagine they may shift things around and we get the jumbo D Line that we've all been salivating about. At least this is my hope. I could see using a smaller WDE on passing downs but against the run I'd prefer the JUMBO package of 4 NFL huge guys. 




April 5th, 2016 at 8:02 PM ^

I don't know if that was allowed by everyone or Mone just took liberties. I can only imagine about what Jabrill would have to say about Jabrill, especially with that big ole smile saying, "And your fastest defender plays linebacker!!!"  These young men should be a riot. Thank goodness all the experience to keep them in check. Of course when the goal is shared and everyone believes, things tend to take care of themselves.


April 5th, 2016 at 2:23 PM ^

The walk-on cornerback is Kenneth Sloss, not Stross. He may have lost his dignity in getting beaten by Drake Harris and overrun by Kareem Walker, but I'll stand up for the spelling of his name. 


April 5th, 2016 at 2:47 PM ^

I don't agree with your Mone take here. Maybe I have the wrong conception of him, but I wouldn't expect him to be the slashing pass rusher Mo Hurst is, so I was perfectly pleased with what I did see Friday - him consistently beating Mason Cole, with the exception of the long run. 

He discarded him while rushing the passer, consistently held up to double teams without moving an inch, and hulk slammed Cole onto his ass on (I believe) a sprint-out. The bust on the Isaac long run was notable, but I'm not sure you could point to a single other play where Cole really beat Mone


April 5th, 2016 at 11:31 PM ^

I agree, he consistently owned the spot and ripped aside his man when he wanted, ready to make the tackle. The ball just went away from him on a lot of those plays. I think Cole did get him buried on a blindside down block (to the extent a NT can be blindsided), but he won that game vs his competition. Though oddly he doesn't seem to be able to push the pocket on passing downs. He seems very ordinary then, needs to be lower or get better technique, though perhaps his job is just to maintain the pocket front and not get lost.


April 5th, 2016 at 2:47 PM ^

Hurst is not going to be 3rd string.  He will play over Godin at any interior line position.

I thought Carlos Kemp was excellent considering he was a freshmen.  He diagnosed several plays like he was a veteran and I thought he held up well.   I expect him to be an excellent player in 2017.  He's not needed this year.

I was happy to see Marshall making plays.  Nothing earth shattering but I thought he was very active.

I think Brian was being a little hard on Bush.  I think he has has looked excellent considering how much he has had to learn in 2 months.  I expect him to make huge strides over the next 4 months and playing behind those monsters on the line it should make all the linebackers look like stars.  All they need to do is do clean up.



April 5th, 2016 at 3:23 PM ^

I personally would love to see Wormley, Glasgow, Mone, Hurst, and Charlton as our 5-2 line, but even if Gary isn't a soul-destroying Dementor on Day 1 Winovich seems like he is at best our sixth lineman.

And that's a great thing! A line so good the #1 overall recruit can't crack it yet? Yes, please, and seconds if you would ...


April 5th, 2016 at 3:47 PM ^

could it be Taco was playing mostly Anchor because the teams were split and we had nobody else at Anchor for the spring game? Was Winovich starting out of necessity?