Spring Stuff 2016: Defense, Special Teams Comment Count

Brian April 5th, 2016 at 1:53 PM

Previously: offense.

Defensive line

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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.

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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.

Linebackers

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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.

Secondary

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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.

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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!

Comments

gwkrlghl

April 5th, 2016 at 5:04 PM ^

but with the QBs, OL, and LBs all looking as good or better than maybe we expected, how good is this team?

MSU and OSU should both take a step back (how big a step is up for much discussion) soooooo I need August to be here is what I'm getting at

Michigan4Life

April 5th, 2016 at 10:49 PM ^

disappeared as a pass rusher last season is he has zero countermoves. Once you stonewall him at initial move, Wormley is pretty much done because he can't get off blocks to get to the ball carrier. 

I'm interested to see if he expand his pass rush repertoires with counter moves.

Wolfman

April 6th, 2016 at 12:13 AM ^

And more than just a little strange. I've noticed if for awhle, but until you  mentioned it, I thought everyone was happy with him -he has surpassed my expectations - but I will not  begin to argue it's a straight ahead move, no hand fighting, no swim moves, no lower body  moves either, and I just  came to the conclusion despite his size, strength and then what we heard about his speed, he does have limitations, but they are rare.

It's obvious he has received great coaching, and the linemen are going to  run the same drills. You caught it and you know damn well the coaches have caught it. I am not even going to speculate on what might be the problem, but inasmuch as there has been no change I just reserved myself to  the  fact he does have certain limitations because obviously going through a program for 4 years, coaches are going to preach the need for mixing things ups, and are going to push the  players to do so. But as you.

He did start off like he was going to set a record. Because I can think of no reason for additions to his game, I am just going to acceppt the fact that he never allows his man to take a down off. He keeps coming. But this was my point to Gary. That, I imagine is something we will notice quickly.  Well you read it. Gets more out of his hand that his trainer has ever seen. Hoperfully those that are capable will pick up on it.

Space Coyote

April 6th, 2016 at 8:49 AM ^

I don't think Wormley is overly limited in his repertoire. He can bull rush, he can stab and grab, he can rip, he can swim, he can do a hump move, and he can do a bull jerk. I think I've seen him try a spin move, but I'm not really a fan of 300 lb guys spinning anyway. That's 6 moves that he can go to initially.

The problem, like you say, is that once his first move gets shut down, he doesn't counter it well. He essentially goes to the bull jerk or swim and that's about it. Part of that may be the scheme Michgian ran last year, which was a ton of man coverage. They may have been asking the DL to try to first move, and if that gets shut down, just maintain lane discipline and eyes on the QB to not allow him to break the pocket. 

That initial repertoire is pretty good for a college player, and the lack of a strong counter move game pretty normal for college level players.

I also think there were two other factors: 1) teams started focusing on Wormley more, and actively running away from him; 2) He started going up against better players. He still dominated PSU, Rutgers, and MSU's walking injured. But he struggled against Indiana (Spriggs) and OSU (Taylor), both teams worked to get outside of him when they did attack his direction.

I think Wormley is a very natural and attractive 3-4 DE prospect. I think he's a mid-round guy come NFL draft time. 

MChem83

April 6th, 2016 at 6:59 AM ^

He's just not big enough, at least not in BT games.  I think he'll get more 3 tech snaps than Godin.  

And people shouldn't get too wedded to depth charts at this point.   Whatever staring lineup you put out there now, you have to figure that by the time the season starts, at least two or three guys that are projected as starters will be unavalable, due to injury, academics or other attrition.  It's realistic to look at each position group and project what it would be if a starter got knocked out for the season.  It always happens.

Mr. Yost

April 6th, 2016 at 9:47 PM ^

I tried to tell people about the Mone hype from the coaching staff last year. They LOVED him, thought he was basically Haloti Ngata 2.0 - I hurt when he got injured because he seemed to ready to have a All-B1G impact at NG.

I can wait to to see what we look like when he can Glasgow get back.