Spring Stuff: The Mostly Defense Bit

Submitted by Brian on April 15th, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Highlights Again

New Gentlemen

The early enrollees to catch my eye were Dymonte Thomas, Jake Butt and Taco Charlton. Thomas played exclusively at the nickel spot; with Countess still not taking contact Avery mostly played outside. Anyway, Thomas's presence at the nickel is not unprecedented. They've wanted bigger guys there for a while, it seems. Michigan wanted to go with Thomas Gordon there before they determined he was needed at safety; Ohio State actually calls the spot their "star" linebacker, and it's usually featured safety-sized clubbers. Their current guy, Christian Bryant, may not wrap up but he will thump you if he gets a chance.

It seems like it would be hard to replace a long-term starter like Courtney Avery. In this situation, rumors that Avery is dogged by a chronic injury lend it some plausibility. Nickel is a spot at which freshman screwups are usually first downs, not touchdowns.

As everyone's already said, Charlton looks the part and then some. He was struggling in a drill before the scrimmage where half the OL would play half the DL on zone running, getting blown out of his assigned lane; once he got some time against the backup OL he dominated. Unless Cam Gordon's really good, he and Ojemudia will duke it out for the nickel DE spot Ryan's injury has vacated.

Butt looks like Funchess, except not quite as long. A redshirt would be ideal.

The Line

Here's some credence for Jake Ryan's mid-October recovery timeline: Chris Wormley tore his ACL in mid-August. Eight months later he took a bunch of contact snaps in the spring game. Mid-October is 7 months from Ryan's ACL tear.

Jibreel Black looked bigger than 276 pounds, frankly not far off Quinton Washington's girth. Michigan likes stunting him a lot, which is partially a way to take advantage of his quickness and partially a way to mitigate his lack of size. A stunt got that safety on the second play, as Clark and Black swapped. Both got past their guys, with Ross finishing up. Black's pressure helped force the near-INT from Morgan, too; he got a sack by shooting past Ben Braden.

Frank Clark and Taco Charlton had a hard time against Lewan and Schofield—no shame in that—and then started crubberating the backups. Since most of those backups are freshmen or walk-ons it's hard to get a read on how they'll do against mortal starters. Clark had a big cast on one hand, so increment your opinion of his performance.

Richard Ash made a couple plays, swimming past Glasgow on a Rawls run that broke outside because of poor contain; Keith Heitzman was able to beat the walk-ons but didn't do much against the starters. Matt Godin looked the part but has a ways to go. The SDE spot looks a little weak.

I didn't notice much from the nose tackles. I assume Washington is fine; Pipkins has another year apprenticing.

Linebacker Skynet is online?

That James Ross stick on Drake Harris mentioned in the previous post is becoming the most-discussed play from the spring game. It's as surprised as any of you are. MGoUser Michael Scarn picture-paged it, making the same assumption I did when I saw it: the linebackers are headed to the line of scrimmage as quickly as they are because this is a blitz.

[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: according to mattison that wasn't an A-gap blitz
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: is that plausible?
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: what was it?
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: he said that was just them reading and reacting
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: they're that good
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: that's like skynet coming online

I don't think it's quite that. The blocking on this play is majorly screwed up. He's a screenshot from Mr. Scarn:

Screen_Shot_2013_04_15_at_12_37_28_PM[1]

Jack Miller is in space, blocking no one. AJ Williams, at the bottom of the shot, isn't really blocking anyone either. He's moving past Ojemudia and only decides to block him once he sees air in front of him. Ojemudia should have to account for the QB if unblocked, so I think there's a reasonable case that you have two extra guys on the backside who should not be there, which then gets you the two extra unblocked linebacker sorts.

Trying to figure out what's going on with the defense is hard, then, because the play they're up against is a debacle. Yes, that's a little ominous. Let's ignore it!

It is nice that Ross reacts basically the instant Kalis tilts to pull. If this isn't a blitz, it is a killer read.

Screen_Shot_2013_04_15_at_12_36_01_PM[1]

Whether this is over-aggression or Ross having magical pattern recognition is yet to be determined. What we've seen of him so far indicates the second.

Cam Gordon

Many eyes were on Gordon, including mine. I thought he did fine. In that aforementioned zone drill he was consistently getting the right amount of penetration into the backfield, holding the edge without opening up a crease inside of him. That ability to get the edge flashed on the negative Norfleet run. When deployed as a pass rusher, he was effective; nothing seemed to be on his head. Michigan will be fine at SAM.

FWIW, Brennen Beyer actually started. Gordon looked like a much better option, which isn't surprising since Beyer just got yanked back to SAM in the aftermath of the Ryan injury.

Secondary

The safeties were not important. They got beat on the long Funchess catch (against Jeremy Clark, FWIW) and the Butt TD; most of the rest of the gains were to the outside. As we enter the post-Kovacs era that's a good sign. Jarrod Wilson is your tentative leader at the vacated safety spot. You might want to make that "heavy"—it seemed like they were running him out all the time in an effort to prep him for fall. Clark got more PT than Furman or Robinson, it seemed.

On the outside, Raymon Taylor gave way early after playing well. Usually the early hook is a sign of confidence in your abilities, so mark his starting spot in pen. Avery, Hollowell, Richardson, and freshman Douglas were the guys getting tested. Courtney Avery got beat on the opening play. That was admittedly a perfect throw that he could do nothing about once he had failed to get Darboh close enough to the sideline to cut off that space. That's a size mismatch. A little less salutary is getting beat by Jackson a couple times on comebacks and such. One of the memorable plays from last year's spring game was Countess having Jackson in his pocket for an interception; Avery was some distance from a not particularly fleet receiver. He did get a PBU on a bad Gardner throw underneath. That appears to be his comfort zone.

I was surprised at how well Delonte Hollowell showed. He broke on a lot of balls, getting some breakups, and he stuck pretty close to the shifty Gallon. I'm not sure how much that means when Michigan was dead set against playing him in the bowl game. Gallon is the perfect matchup for the tiny Hollowell. Bigger receivers will cause issues, and it's clear what kind of corners the new staff is after: big ones.

Terry Richardson got run over by Rawls. Hard to see him getting PT outside of passing downs, and it looks like Avery and Thomas are ahead of him on the nickelback depth chart.

Ross Douglas didn't stand out to me. During the anthem he was next to Taylor and seemed to be exactly the same height, FWIW.

Special Teams

Nothing much to note except that redshirt freshman punter Kenny Allen looked pretty good. I've heard he's been impressive in practice, as well. I'd imagine Matt Wile will keep the job since he has been a B, B+ option; if Allen takes it that's a good sign. Michigan looks set at that spot for a while.

Elsewhere

Rittenberg notes that the fireworks were not on display:

Michigan fans didn't learn a ton about the 2013 team as the offense, as expected, was "very vanilla, very basic," as starting quarterback Devin Gardner put it.

If you're pining for the pistol, don't give up hope.

Also, Lewan noted some improvement from the line:

"We moved and established the line of scrimmage today, and I think that is one thing that we haven't seen in a while," senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "But what we do in the summer and do in fall camp is really going to define us as an offensive line."

Photos from Maize and Blue Nation, MLive, MVictors. Rothstein on vanilla. Jennings on the defense. Rothstein takeaways. Meinke's takeaways. Also a column on Gardner kind of being good.

Toussaint is still the leader at RB according to Borges:

"We went through half the year (in 2011), and we said, 'We're going through this doggone running back by committee deal.' And we finally decided, Let's put him in there, leave him in there and let's go,'" offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "Fitz came to the surface, and I think he will again (this year) before it's all said and done.

"He's certainly going to get a chance to prove it. I'll say that."

Magnusthoughts:

The starters were Brennen Beyer at SAM, Desmond Morgan at MIKE, and James Ross at WILL.  I don't think Beyer is a starter-quality linebacker, and he didn't really make any plays.  Morgan dropped an interception and failed to get depth on Jake Butt's touchdown catch, but he did look solid against the run.  Ross looked fantastic at weakside linebacker, chasing down plays near the sideline and hitting running backs at the line of scrimmage.  Cam Gordon looked like the superior player at SAM, made a nice tackle for loss on Dennis Norfleet, and blew up Butt on a Power.  Joe Bolden looked solid at MIKE, but I'm concerned about the backup WILL position.

I'm looking at Bolden as the first LB off the bench in any event, so they'd have to take two bullets to be in serious trouble at the ILB spots. Maize and Brew. Big House Blog. Maize and Blue Nation.

Comments

Michael Scarn

April 15th, 2013 at 4:14 PM ^

If that wasn't a run blitz James Ross either has a Jordan Kovacs level understanding of offensive tendencies, made a damn good guess, has incredible instincts, or his brain can process seeing Kyle Kalis' right earhole and make his legs work in about .6 seconds.

AtkinsDiet

April 15th, 2013 at 4:52 PM ^

Hollowell looked really nice in some of the highlight packages released throughout the fall as well, with some of those good plays against Darboh and Chesson.

Dailysportseditor

April 15th, 2013 at 5:03 PM ^

The post suggests a reshirt for Jake Butt would be "ideal."  I don't think so.  

 

Butt is at least 3rd on the depth chart now, behind true sophmores Funchess and Williams, and ahead of junior Jordan Paskorz.  

 

Butt was one of the top-rated tight ends last year (4th-ranked by ESPN, 5th-ranked on both Rivals and Scout).  Butt has been in school since January.  

 

He is listed at 6-6, 231 on the official Spring Roster and thus is bigger than Funchess right now.  

 

There is no way Borges is going to pass up using Butt this year in two- or three- tight end sets.

Mr. Yost

April 15th, 2013 at 9:40 PM ^

By August he could already be a better blocker than Funchess. And we need another TE that can stretch the field.

Funchess and Butt are a PROBLEM. Williams looked better blocking, but I wouldn't be surprised if Butt passed him so both he and Funchess can play together.

Regardless, we'll need all 3 this year. And the fun this is that we get them next year and probably the year after too. I love this recruiting quality talent thing.

Hill redshirts. Butt plays.

reshp1

April 15th, 2013 at 5:04 PM ^

I'm surprised there was no mention of Willie Henry. He seemed to be using his bull rush with good effect and I noticed him on several occasions hauling ass after a play that went the other way. I think he's going to be a good one for us in the future.

Magnus

April 15th, 2013 at 5:40 PM ^

Ross has perhaps the best recognition skills of any linebacker I've seen during my following of recruiting. Blitz or not, that play won't be out of the norm for him. That kid is practically a genius and has been since at least his junior year of high school.

FormerlyBigBlue71

April 15th, 2013 at 9:06 PM ^

Completeyly agree.  Ross is the most instinctive linebacker I have seen in a long time.  If you watch his OLSM tape it consists of James repeatedly diagnosing plays extremely quick and making the tackle within plus or minus 2 yards of the line of scrimmage.  That play has carried over to Michigan.  Barring injuries, he will be an All B1G linebacker and possibly an All American before his time is done at Michigan.  His NFL draft stock will never be high just because of his size but he will be an outstanding college linebacker.

Mr. Yost

April 15th, 2013 at 9:43 PM ^

The smarts + the talent + the willingness to hit/be physical...yikes.

I said this last season, but not this season, but next season we could have one of the best LBs groups in the nation with Ross, Morgan/Bolden and Ryan. Plus all of the young guys behind them providing depth.

No way to tell now, but you're talking about a group that has a chance to be mentioned in the same breath with the best groups in school history.

Add Hand and McDowell and you may be able to say the same about the DE position in 2 years.

Farnn

April 15th, 2013 at 5:50 PM ^

Really hoping Ryan can come back and reclaim his spot this season.  The prospect of Ryan and Ross on the field at the same time is really exciting.  Feels like it's been forever since Michigan had more than 1 game changer on the field at the same time.