Unit By Unit, Defense 2008

Submitted by Brian on August 28th, 2008 at 6:49 PM

A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because 1) there are actual returning players and 2) there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.

Defensive Line

Rating: 5.

Depth Chart
WDE Yr. NT Yr. DT Yr. SDE Yr.
Tim Jamison Sr.* Terrance Taylor Sr. Will Johnson Sr.* Brandon Graham Jr.
Adam Patterson Jr. Renaldo Sagesse So. Mike Martin Fr. Ryan Van Bergen Fr.*
Andre Criswell Jr* -- -- Jason Kates So.* Greg Banks So.*

With four starters returning, three of them seniors, defensive line should be the team's strong point. All are converts to the Church of Barwis. Terrance Taylor and Brandon Graham each dropped 30-some pounds; Will Johnson is lifting small cars for fun; Tim Jamison is noticeably less pudgy. They could be dominant. Let’s hope.

defensive line

Defensive Tackle

Terrance Taylor
2006
Plowing Central
Penetration
Shooting the gap
More penetration
2007
Holds up to double
PSU pressure
Unassisted TFL
Cut to the ground
Making plays

Much was expected from fireplug nose tackle Terrance Taylor last year, but Taylor was just okay. He was bad against Appalachian State’s spread ‘n shred and ineffective against Oregon’s spread ‘n shred ‘n impossibly-easy long touchdown, a weakness that recurred later in the season against Illinois:

Taylor and Johnson weren't much more effective against the zone read than they were in the first week of the season. Taylor did make a couple plays, but +2 is a weak day for a DT playing against a lot of interior run plays.

There was also an ignominious –2 against Eastern Michigan.

On the other hand, when teams lined up and attempted to grind down Michigan all traditional-like, Taylor was pretty dang good.

A compilation:

Team + - Tot Comments
Penn State 5 1 4 Probably thinking "hallelujah, someone who will run straight at me."
Michigan State 8 3 5 A couple diving tackles that really helped out the befuddled linebackers.
Wisconsin 11 3 8 I thought he was great, but grant you that you might be skeptical. Nine tackles is a hell of a number for a DT, though.
Ohio State 6 4 2 Positive day, but a disappointing one nonetheless. Given his status as Michigan's most consistently disruptive DT and the steady diet of iso plays, he should have had a bigger impact.

That’s three of four performances that were at least good; there were also big days against spread teams Purdue and Northwestern.

Michigan fans are banking on Taylor improving after his midseason conversion to the Church of Barwis. The gregarious fat man is now more gregarious and less fat after dropping 25 pounds over the summer. He claims his conditioning has improved:

"I'm going to be lean," he said, laughing, knowing what his 6-foot frame can handle. "I know doing that, being more flexible, doing the things they want and improving in the areas I can improve in, all working together, it's a blessing I stayed here and we got (strength coach) Mike Barwis."

Taylor’s ability to stay effective late in games will be extremely important with the loss of Marques Slocum and position switch of John Ferrara: the top backups are a freshman and a Canadian.  

Will Johnson
2006
ND third and one dies
Snuffing a draw
2007
Causing a sack
Third down vs Illini
Slowing the zone read
Forcing INT
Crushed by UW

If Taylor was a bit disappointing, Will Johnson was more so. After battling through a severe knee injury that forced a redshirt and lingered on, Johnson debuted as a redshirt sophomore backup to unholy terror Alan Branch in 2006. In that role, he was good. Sometimes they’d lift Branch on third and short in favor of Johnson and, remarkably, that turned out pretty well.

Unfortunately, when Johnson was pressed into full-time duty the results were meh. Stats don’t always tell the tale at defensive tackle, but 2.5 TFLs and half a sack does not indicate an impact player. UFRs indicate a strong game against Penn State, a rollercoaster performance against Wisconsin, a good day against Minnesota (BFD, maybe), a clunker against Ohio State, and unremarkable days otherwise.

Johnson also has tales of Barwis:

"I think I'm stronger and more explosive than I've been in a while," senior defensive tackle Will Johnson said. "(Barwis') staff is really good. They're really on top of everything. They know what you need to do and how to get you there.

"I love (Barwis) to death so far. He's a good guy. He really gets after you and wants you to do your best."

He owns many of the weightlifting records for the current team and is a fifth year senior; now is the time. He should be better, but probably not All Big Ten level.

Freshman Mike Martin is the top backup at defensive tackle. Out of high school he’s a smaller version of Terrance Taylor, a shortish but stocky NT sort who was a state champion wrestler and powerlifter. A true freshman at DT would normally be cause for concern but Martin is reputed to be a gym rat much better prepared for the rigors of a college weight program than most. His highlight film is pretty impressive, as he shoots through the line and drags down ballcarriers like he’s a middle linebacker.

No one knew what to expect from Renaldo Sagesse, as he is from Quebec and played mostly against 150 pound guys who got much, much sorrier they didn’t make the hockey team as soon as he wandered on the field. He saw sporadic snaps last year, but they were too few to glean any impression from. Jason Kates stuck around and stuck it out under Barwis a year after dropping from a listed 358 pounds to 318; he will probably start rotating in this year.

Defensive End

brandon-graham

Brandon Graham
2007
Snuffing a draw
Sacking Painter
Hates Gophers

Brandon Graham was injured or suspended or something for Michigan’s first two games of 2007. You probably don’t remember this because it’s not like it’s been brought up every 15 seconds since, but Michigan gave up a lot of points in those games. When Graham returned against Notre Dame, he racked up 3.5 sacks and Michigan gave up no points. From then on the defense dragged itself from dead last to 24th nationally, finishing second in the Big Ten. This looks like an important player.

In truth, Graham wasn’t the all-crushing destroyer of worlds the events of last year may have made him out to be. He did pick up 8.5 sacks and would likely have cracked double digits without the missed time, but in marked contrast to Lamarr Woodley, Graham added just one non-sack TFL and 15 non-sack regular tackles. Tim Jamison, in contrast, had about triple those numbers. Woodley was on another level yet.

Michigan State turned its run game around by attacking a tired Graham, and he came in for some clucking:

He's got a -2 up there, by far his worst total of his career, and it was largely because he got booted out of the line by double teams frequently.

Michigan needs Graham to take the next step forward in the pass game and start wreaking similar havoc against the run.

I tentatively suggest this will happen. Barwis broke Brandon Graham into his component molecules, examined every one individually, and reassembled Graham into a 16-foot-tall fire-breathing dinosaur robot. Or something like that:

…at 287 pounds, Brandon Graham did 315 pounds on the bench press. We cut him all the way down to 250 and then brought him back up to 269. At 269 today, he did 475 for two (repetitions) on the bench.

This quote is amazing for obvious reasons—Graham can now lift Charlie Weis twice—and more subtle ones: we had a 290-pound defensive end last year? Jebus.

We have a player who was already one of the better defensive ends in the league whilst carrying around 20 pounds of Cottage Inn one year more experienced and several times better conditioned. Also there is the cockpit-mounted flamethrower. Survey says: really, really good.

After three years of nonstop hype and the occasional flash of brilliance in a backup role, Tim Jamison debuted as a starting defensive end and was… eh… a little better than okay. Late in the season he was wildly inconsistent. Against Wisconsin he was a measly +1 as the DL as a whole turned in a –8 in the important “pressure” metric, but against Ohio State he turned in a +7 and was the best player on the defense.

Other than that though, Jamison’s porridge was boringly average. Earlier it was meh-plus—+4, +4, +5, that kind of thing—as the pressure metric wandered around the acceptable range. His stats were similarly unremarkable: 5.5 sacks, 52 tackles, ten TFLs. A point in his favor: that’s a lot of tackles and a decent number behind the line; he wasn’t really the issue in the run game.

Jamison enters his final year an established starter who should take another step forward this year. How much depends on how realistic the Barwis hype is, how crazy Scott Shafer is, and how much potential is yet untapped. Jamison’s entering his fifth year in college instead of his third and is thus less likely than Graham to blow up, but he was a slightly plus player a year ago and will probably be an honorable mention All Big Ten sort, maybe second team.

Tim Jamison
2006
ND sack
Easy PSU sack
Indiana sack
2007
He owns Penn State
Thumping a FB
Sacking EMU

Behind the starters it’s thin. Ryan Van Bergen was a moderately shirtless recruit reputed to have a nonstop motor; he redshirted a year ago and appears to be the top option behind Graham on the strongside. At 6’5” he’s a bit taller than optimal height for a defensive end. Greg Banks was a meh recruit; he’s seen some time here and there but hasn’t done anything of note. Adam Patterson was a major recruit but has done less than Banks so far, as a junior he’s rapidly running out of time.

Linebackers

 

Rating: 2.

Depth Chart
WLB Yr. MLB Yr. SLB Yr.
Marell Evans So. Obi Ezeh So.* Austin Panter Sr.
Jonas Mouton So.* Johnny Thompson Sr.* JB Fitzgerald Fr.*
Kenny Demens Fr. Brandon Logan Fr. Brandon Herron Fr.*

Obi Ezeh returns; Chris Graham and Shawn Crable do not. Crable will be missed. Unfortunately, available options here are few.

Middle Linebacker

obi-ezeh

Obi Ezeh
2007
Hesitant early
More decisive
Still decisive

Sophomore middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense in 2007: a redshirt freshman pressed into the starting lineup before his time, he was unprepared and often bad. Now he’s the “veteran” anchor of a shaky unit, counted upon to improve massively.

Though Ezeh doesn’t have the same plague of injuries to excuse his play, he was switched from strongside linebacker to the middle midway through fall camp and was significantly less touted as a recruit. There’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll get better.

He’ll have to. Michigan Sports Center put this video up to highlight Morgan Trent’s wicked speed but when I look at it all I see is horrible linebacker play:

This is a simple zone read handoff on which Ezeh is unblocked. Not only does Ezeh not read the play and the hole fast enough to make a tackle, he commits the cardinal sin of losing “leverage” on the ball by letting Harvin outside of him. The result is a big gainer.

This happened quite frequently last year, as Colin Johnston detailed in his piece on the differences between David Harris and Obi Ezeh for Hail To The Victors 2008. Ezeh was a freshman and he played like it, especially against Wisconsin when he turned in a –7.

That’s not to say there wasn’t good stuff mixed in there. Ezeh usually managed to stay on the positive side of the UFR ledger, which was more than Chris Graham could say. Ezeh is getting a lot of positive buzz, too. Here’s hoping it’s accurate.

Johnny Thompson
2007
He slices up well

Johnny Thompson backs up Ezeh. He’s a player damned by the shifting tides of football, a guy who could have been a starter back when second and eight was a running down. Our one glimpse of Thompson’s promise came during the 2005 Iowa game, when the ineptness of Chris Graham became too much to bear and he was inserted at weakside linebacker. I wrote this last year and it still holds true:

The first half was full of indecision and error; the second half he made a significant contribution to the win... in the run game. When he was asked to defend the pass, he overran plays and got clunkily out of position.

Though he did intercept Jimmah Clausen last year—raise your hand if you didn’t—put your hand down, Todd Howard—that limitation remains. He’s an outmoded player.

Thompson should see the field as a situation run-stopper on short yardage and goalline sets. If there’s a non-spread team on the schedule that really can’t throw you might see a lot of him in that particular game… maybe Wisconsin?

Outside Linebacker

On the outside things are tetchy. Marell Evans has won the weakside job from presumed heir apparent Jonas Mouton. Neither has seen the field much so we’re reduced to recruiting rankings, extrapolation, and practice whispers.

Evans first: he was a legit nobody (to the recruiting sites, at least) out of Varina High in Virginia a couple years back. Varina also happens to be the school that produced Brandon Minor, and Michigan internet legend has it that a primary reason Evans got his offer was Minor’s recommendation. Minor told the staff “this guy works harder than I do,” and this was suitably impressive. At the time of his commitment, Evans’ other offers were from Buffalo, Temple, and Middle Tennessee. Now he’s a true sophomore slated to start at Michigan. Dude.

Mouton, on the other hand, was a mondo recruit out of California, ranked in or around the top 50 by both sites. He moved down from safety and redshirted his first year; last year an ankle injury lingered into the season, limiting his time early. Nothing limited his time late, however, and Chris Graham was still tres ineffective as the starting WLB. Like Mark Ortmann’s struggles behind an unprepared Schilling, this is a disturbing indicator for his future.

Evans doesn’t exactly have the profile of a future star what with that recruiting story—even if you don’t believe in star ratings, that offer list is less than ideal—but at least he’s beaten out a touted guy and has an encouraging career path to date. I won’t venture a guess as to how it will work out. Mouton remains the better athlete and may see some time as a madman blitzer in Scott Shafer’s madman blitzing schemes.

Football

On the strongside, Austin Panter is the most unexpected starter on the defense, and that’s saying something given the science that was just dropped on Evans. Michigan’s first JUCO transfer since Russell Shaw, Panter arrived with a JUCO Defensive Player of the Year award and was immediately considered a total bust. He saw just enough time to rob him of a redshirt—yay—and seemed poised to languish in obscurity his final year. Exit Crable and enter Rodriguez and he’s a starter.

I have no idea what this portends. The only thing I’ve seen from Panter was a couple good plays in the 2007 spring game. Michigan never uses JUCOs so I don’t know if this is a reasonable thing to have happen. It seems like it might be since there’s a huge leap from some community college in Kansas to Michigan, but it also seems a little desperate. It’s not like this JUCO DPOY award has been a great predictor of I-A success: most of the guys who got it faded away into Bolivia without so much as a start.

This may work out; I lean towards not so good. It might not matter that much because Michigan will be in a nickel so often.

Brandon Logan exists but isn’t going to see time outside of special teams. A fleet of freshmen will probably rotate in at points. JB Fitzgerald has been the only freshman linebacker drawing direct praise from Rodriguez so far. He’s a middle linebacker by trade, though, so may get buried this year. Kenny Demens, Taylor Hill, and Brandon Herron have not drawn any mentions. Hill was the highest rated but was also a 210 pound DE. Marcus Witherspoon would probably have seen the field this year but a clearinghouse issue has him lingering around home. He certainly thinks he’s going to arrive; at this point a redshirt seems like a foregone conclusion.

Defensive Backs

Rating: 4.

Depth Chart
CB Yr. FS Yr. SS Yr. CB Yr.
Morgan Trent Sr.* Steve Brown Jr. Brandon Harrison Sr. Donovan Warren So.
Troy Woolfolk So. Charles Stewart Sr.* Artis Chambers So. Boubacar Cissoko Fr.
JT Floyd Fr. Brandon Smith Fr. Michael Williams Fr.* Doug Dutch Sr.*

The one unit that was a pleasant surprise on last year’s team, the secondary returns about three starters depending on how you classify oft-deployed nickelback and new starting safety Brandon Harrison. The starting corners return and are backed up by some promising young talent; Steve Brown… well, he’s going to play and God willing last year’s contribution to the Horror was an anomaly.

morgan-trent

Morgan Trent
2007
Jumping a slant

Senior cornerback Morgan Trent underwent a remarkable transformation last year. He was torched time and again in the Football Armageddon ‘06 Ohio State game and was #1 on the fan whipping boy charts until Appalachian State’s first drive. He proceeded to turn in an excellent year, emerging into one of the better corners in the Big Ten. Defenses avoided him in favor of Johnny Sears and, later, Donovan Warren. That might not say much when those two guys are baked out of their gourd and freshman, respectively, but this does:

PASS DEF EFFICIENCY      G   Att  Cmp  Int  Pct.  Yds TD Effic
--------------------------------------------------------------
1. Michigan............  8   252  134    8  53.2 1382  4  98.1
2. Ohio State..........  8   276  145    6  52.5 1355  8  99.0
3. Purdue..............  8   288  166    9  57.6 1783 10 114.9
4. Iowa................  8   290  167   10  57.6 1933 10 118.1

Michigan missed Jake Christensen's unconvincing impersonation of a man with arms and was still the top pass efficiency D in the conference. Morgan Trent was the best player in that secondary.

This year, NFL scouts are saying Trent is the most draftable prospect on the team, even ahead of the defensive linemen. I could only turn up one highlight for Trent because teams avoided him so much—there was also a “look what I found” interception or two, but those weren’t exactly testaments to his ability. He’s headed for an excellent senior season and some postseason award consideration.

76676721GS019_NOTRE_DAME_V_

Donovan Warren
2007
Jumping a hitch
Too hesitant tackling
Batting it away
And the whiff

Meanwhile, Donovan Warren is on the same stardom track followed by Jackson, Hall, and Woodson (praised be his name) before him: come in a highly touted recruit, start about half the year as a freshman, and blow up your sophomore year en route to the first round of the NFL draft. Warren actually has more recruiting accolades than anyone on that list—only Jackson was even close—and was a starter by the second half of The Horror.

As you might expect, Warren started off a little shaky. Though he was one of the few Wolverines to escape the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game without a tongue-lashing, he was one of the “goats” against Penn State. (“Goats” is probably the wrong term when you give up nine points, but whatever.) He was also responsible for a coverage bust against Illinois that led to a touchdown. But as I review the UFRs he’s always at 0 or –1 or +1, which is pretty good for a freshman in a system that has a hard time crediting secondary players for the times they don’t screw up. Most of Warren’s mentions go like this:

Warren(+1) reacts to this quickly and just manages to not screw up the tackle. I'm still pretty leery about his tackling ability, and frankly, this play, but we are a results-based charting service. (Cover +1)

Tackling was his main issue a year ago. And indecision. Tackling and indecision and etc Spanish Inquisition, except that tackling and indecision were about it. Those things should melt away with more experience; the expectation here is that Warren will be very good.

Top backups at corner are true freshman Boubacar Cissoko, a highly-rated player from Cass Tech in Detroit, and Michigan legacy Troy Woolfolk. Cissoko was well regarded by the recruiting services despite the fact he can’t get on any of the rides at Cedar Point, and this hilariously-scored highlight package gives an indication as to why:

There’s only one Black Jesus and he’s Steve Breaston.

Anyway, Cissoko’s short but he’ll get in your grill and jam your ass to the ground. My go-to comparison for him is former Arkansas corner Chris Houston, who spent his college career lined up six inches from his man and rode them all the way downfield. Sometimes this worked out great; sometimes it did not it was spectacular to watch either way.

Woolfolk, meanwhile, was a high school track star and is the son of Michigan legend Butch Woolfolk. He’s physically reminiscent of Trent, a long, lanky guy who can go fast in a straight line but doesn’t have the change of direction a dwarf like Cissoko does.

Safety

Steve Brown
2007
The Horror Begins

In a way, I blame myself. Mostly I blame other people with a direct hand in it, but in a way I am culpable. There’s the “Functional DNP” thing and then Angry Michigan Safety Hating God saw this arrogance re: Steve Brown in last year’s preview and struck us all down:

It's usually silly to expect a new starter to outperform a departed one, but in this case it would be nearly impossible for Brown not to. Ryan Mundy was the worst safety I have ever seen in a Michigan uniform.

Mundy, of course, transmogrified into a safety decent enough to actually get drafted by an actual NFL team in the actual NFL draft. Meanwhile, Brown’s first start caused in mass chaos, tragedy, and this:

our safeties remain way downfield holding their penises, or, in Stevie Brown's case, trying very hard to grab his penis but falling down and watching it score a touchdown.

I was a little cranky.

stevie-brown

Brown (right) was yanked halfway through The Horror and blameless Brandent Englemon occupied the starting job for the remainder of the year. Brown emerged from time to time when injury demanded it or just to spot a tired starter; in this time he made no big plays but neither did he give any up.

So now he’s the man, man, at free safety, and there are few other options available. (Maybe Artis Chambers is ready. Maybe not.) Brown’s still racking up the hype that caused such a sunny prediction in last year’s preview. He has full guru approval. He’s a junior now. He still scares the living daylights out of me.

This probably isn’t fair; I’m no doubt overrating two very bad plays from an inexperienced player in his first real action. If Brown had just sat behind a highly reliable Brandent Englemon, everyone would be terribly excited about him.

But, yeah, he didn’t.

Brandon Harrison
2007
Blowing up screen
Taking down Benn

Mighty mite Brandon Harrison has claimed the strong safety job. Though he’s technically not a returning starter, Harrison saw a ton of time last year as Michigan’s nickelback. From that spot he strung out options and attempted outside runs, provided underneath coverage, and blitzed quarterbacks. His proficiency at these things: excellent, average, and why don’t you run AT him instead of PAST him?

I’m a little disappointed Harrison will be giving up that spot as a quasi-linebacker, because he really was excellent at crushing outside runs last year. Three plays expound on a season:

Harrison(+2) jets in, fending of a blocker to chop this down in the backfield. Thompson(+1) also out there to help after a quick read. … Harrison(+2) reads and shoots into the backfield, making a huge TFL just as the ball arrives. … Harrison(-1) in unblocked but overruns the QB.

Those instincts will serve him well, though, and I expect he’ll be in that familiar spot over the slot receiver with frequency as Shafer brings another guy up to blitz.

Harrison’s coverage was been decent to good last year, though he missed an occasional tackle underneath; he should be acceptable to good in his final year.

Fifth-year senior Charles Stewart is the main backup at safety. His most extensive time on the field to date was as Morgan Trent’s ineffective replacement during the 2006 Minnesota game. After getting torched in a variety of ways there, he was buried on the bench and moved to safety. He’s been getting sporadic praise from the new regime and may see some time in nickel and time packages.

Artis Chambers was getting some time on special teams when the Big Ten dinged him for some eligibility snafu and forced him out for the remainder of the year. There are reports he’s playing some outside linebacker in a weird pass-down dime package. Whether that signals disaffection with the linebackers or a desire to get Chambers on the field is yet to be determined.

Brandon Smith is a high-rated true freshman who will see some time as he’s groomed to step in Harrison next year. He’s got wicked dreads.

Comments

medals

August 28th, 2008 at 8:26 PM ^

I think Ezeh will make a major leap.  He was basically QBing our D last year with no experience. 

I, too, have horrible memories of Steve Brown from The Horror.  However, IIRC, and I think I do, he played a Damn Strong game against Florida, making two plays in Florida's final drive to seal the game for us.  I am hopeful for a DSSB (Damn Strong Steve Brown) in '08.

jamiemac

August 29th, 2008 at 12:09 AM ^

Your memory is the same as mine. I can recall him breaking up a fourth down pass against the Gators basically by not quitting on the play. A great way for his season to end.

It really did symbolize his season. He was a goat. Deservedly so. Benched a half hour into his starting career. But, he did not mope. He sucked it up and focused on his new role. He made special teams plays and became an asset when they sent him as in extra DB packages. He also came up with a key stop when we needed to get the ball back for the MSU comeback.

I'm not too worried about him back there.......and I agree about Ezeh. He's going to be fun the next three years to watch.

 

gsimmons85

August 28th, 2008 at 9:00 PM ^

Is my pre-season pick to click... seems to have made the most headway this year....

Brian,

Not to nic-pick... Ezeh was terrible on that clip, he was terrible becasue he hesitated and gave space to a speedy back.. you have to attack and drive through the open gap, take the space away from the speed.  i want him to take his head across the ball cariers body when making the takle,getting to the outside, but i dont want him neccesarily forcing the ball carier back inside, i want him to attack that gap and make him move lateraly.   if he over pursuses,  its just as big as a play up the gut. the real f ups on that play are the terrible concieved , and horrible executed safety blitz, and the other lb on the number 2 reciver, not squeezing down that play and forcing it back inside.... 

jamiemac

August 29th, 2008 at 12:25 AM ^

Baylor sucks, but it was fascinating to watch Wake just pick them apart like nothing.

Not that I am breaking any news to you, but there aren't too many more fundamentally sound, prepared and gameday creativeteams   in the country than WF.

Big early season games at Florida State and home vs Clemson. If they can get a split there they will stay in the ACC race all the way until the end.

Nate-Dawg

August 28th, 2008 at 10:20 PM ^

Crap. I thought our D was gonna be our strength. Linebackers = could be terrible. Safeties = potential train wreck. And any depth anywhere is nonexistent. If we run into any sort of injuries this year at all, we're dead.

Tim

August 28th, 2008 at 10:21 PM ^

re: his height.

 Between last time I saw him (last fall) and media day, I would say he has grown at least a couple inches. Granted, that makes him 5-10 in cleats as of now, but there's always the hope that the growth spurt continues.

spartyNO

August 28th, 2008 at 11:27 PM ^

Wasn't Antoine Winfield only 5-9?  He turned out OK.  Small size isn't a death sentence. 

And wasn't this kid locking down some of the best receivers in the country at the Army-All America game?  I have faith he will be a good corner for us in the future.

Magnus

August 29th, 2008 at 12:23 AM ^

In a nutshell, this is one of the issues I have with many Michigan fans.  They take one or two bad plays and turn those into a player's legacy.

Steve Brown - in his first game as a starter, as a 19-year-old sophomore - made a bad play and that's all he's remembered for (so far). 

Shawn Crable allowed a blocked field goal, which completely overshadows his captaincy, shitty-life-turned-successful-life, and astronomical TFL total. 

Obi Ezeh - a redshirt freshman - got burned by one of the fastest, most elusive players in the nation (Harvin) and he takes heat for it 8 months later.  Morgan Trent is a demigod because his sprinter's speed and light frame helped him catch Harvin, but you expect a 240-lb. MLB with limited playing experience to make a play on Harvin in a gaping hole?

rlc

August 29th, 2008 at 9:57 AM ^

I agree, but since I am a Michigan Fan I will point out Crable's head-shot on T. Smith probably cost us the 06 OSU game.

I think when you're a team expected to do great, not exclusive to Michigan, good plays are devalued and mistakes magnified.

STW P. Brabbs

August 29th, 2008 at 11:18 AM ^

That was, and remains, a somewhat unfortunate call.  The only way Crable could have avoided hitting Smith's helmet is if he tried to force him out of bounds with some kind of pelvic thrust; to paraphrase Crable, he's 6'6" and Smith was like 5'8". This was not a personal foul SNAFU along the lines of Jeremy LeSeuer on Chuck Rogers, and Crable gets a lot of unfair stick for it.

chitownblue (not verified)

August 29th, 2008 at 12:37 AM ^

Agreed w/ Magnus. Brown's performance last year against Appalachian St. likely said little about how good he actually was last year. It says even less about how good he is now.

JeremyB

August 29th, 2008 at 10:19 AM ^

Brandon Graham's return from injury allowed Shawn Crable to stand up off the line and take his proper roving hybrid LB/DE spot. How much of his improvement was because of Crable's effectiveness on the interior?

2Blue4You

August 29th, 2008 at 10:23 AM ^

How does Ohio State's Doug Washington not get suspended after driving drunk, underage w/ the wrong plates in a Cadillac?  Tressel's program is so fing crooked

caup

August 29th, 2008 at 10:31 AM ^

I don't think Brian is being pessimistic, he's being REALISTIC. Guys, this defense was EIGTH (!) in the BIG TEN (!) against the rush last year. And now the D-Line will suddenly be some stalwart group that's going to crush all comers? Pshaw.

And the LBs were alomst always too slow to react last year.  This was not because of coaching, David Harris proves that much.  To expect a huge leap in effectiveness is to set yourself up for disappointment.

Maybe the reason our pass defense was decent last year was because teams didn't HAVE TO pass against Michigan to gain chunks of yards.

If the offense and/or special teams can't score 24+ points tomorrow, expect to lose.

 

Tim Waymen

August 29th, 2008 at 11:10 AM ^

In 2006, the defense went from absolutely sucking in 2005 (3.9 ypc IIRC vs. 4.0 last year) to being, well, the 2006 defense.  This doesn't mean that history will repeat itself though.  Brandon Graham may be the second coming of LaMarr Woodley (at least that's what Mike Hart says), but the 2006 defense was so unbelievably talented (not really).  Parallels include new DC, new defensive philosophy (sort of--still attacking), and improved conditioning (2006 members slimmed down from their 2005 selves, as part of the coaching staff's new strategy that lasted one year).

I'm not one to deify the new coaches and I really don't think this year's D will be the second coming of the 05 D, but it's possible, as I really do think that improved conditioning and elite defensive coaching, as opposed to English's "just attack the ball" philosophy, will really help.  (English was good, but he seemed to just be really good at taking advantage of the excellent talent he had.)  The LB corps is far from 06 caliber, but the secondary should be excellent and will be better than in 06. 

But really, as for whether the defense will be better/worse, you never know.  By reason, it should be very good although LB is a gray area.  We won't know until they hit the field.

Jay

August 29th, 2008 at 12:10 PM ^

Our '06 defense looked GREAT against the crappy competition we played in our first 11 games. We were absoluetly shredded by OSU & USC, which just happened to be the only two legitimate teams we faced that year.

Tim Waymen

August 29th, 2008 at 1:43 PM ^

So they just happened to suck much, much, much less.  Players on teams that played both OSU and UM said that UM was better (I don't have the exact quotes, but I remember reading them on MZone).  Vandy must have thought that UM was better than Florida, who struggled against Vandy.  The experts said that the Wolverines were a legitimately good team.  UM was playing against competition that was at least decent and had not changed all that much from the previous year.

More: USC didn't have much rushing vs. UM.  UM was unmotivated during the USC game, in my opinion and in that of a Big 10 coach quoted in SN.  Word has it that after the OSU loss, Jake Long had trouble keeping the other O-linemen motivated.  And OSU's crappy, previously-sodded turf completely distorted results for BOTH defenses.

It's just a stupid thing to say that Michigan's stats in 11 games against (on average) decent teams were just a facade and that they count for nothing.

Tim Waymen

August 29th, 2008 at 4:18 PM ^

Either you are saying that you don't need motivation to win, or that USC just outplayed UM.  I would assume that you agree that motivation is important, so I think the latter.  I didn't speak to each individual player and ask him how motivated he was, but I think I can tell when a team is playing at a lower level than usual. USC was very good, but that was not the same UM team that I had watched all season.  Playcalling was less imaginative, more stereotypical Lloyd coaching.  As good as USC was, Michigan also looked really flat.

Again, the crappy OSU turf distorted results for both teams. Both defenses were much better than on that day. The crappy turf at the Shoe turned the game into a shootout. OSU did give up a lot to Florida, but they looked flat in the BCS game too.

I am not delusional; I provided reasoning for what I said rather than just making ignorant blanket statements.

STW P. Brabbs

August 29th, 2008 at 11:14 AM ^

I'm not totally disagreeing with you - I'm very cautiously optimistic about this unit myself (although I am excited about the best corners we've had since '97 ... not that the bar was set very high since then.)

However, saying "Look, the coaching was fine - wasn't David Harris a beast?" is like saying "Andy Moeller was a terrific OL coach!  Just look at how Big Jake turned out!"  It is possible that the previous Michigan coaching staff could coach individual technique just fine (and I'm betting they could) but failed to utilize players' skills effectively within the unit as a whole.  It's also possible that the majority of players who were not as obsessively self-motivated in the weightroom as Harris and Long were will improve by virtue of decreased fatassery.

SFBayAreaBlue

August 29th, 2008 at 3:27 PM ^

"Guys, this defense was EIGTH (!) in the BIG TEN (!) against the rush
last year. And now the D-Line will suddenly be some stalwart group
that's going to crush all comers? Pshaw."

Are you sugesting that ND's offensive line which was the WORST(!) in HISTORY (!) won't be magically taking them to 9 wins this year? Pshaw.

S.G. Rice

August 29th, 2008 at 10:37 AM ^

I primarily remember Brown as an excellent special teams player.  That may be because I have blocked all memory of the Horror from my mind, but whatever.  Excellent special teams player and hopefully (HOPEFULLY) an adequate safety who has been taught how to take an angle unlike far too many of the AARGH SAFETY FAIL players in recent memory.

dex

August 29th, 2008 at 11:02 AM ^

This is how the view of the defense progressed from the beginning of the off season until now:

 

English Sucks -> They were ok -> OMG WE BEAT FLA -> They won't be that bad -> They will be ok -> They will be pretty good -> They could carry the offense -> They will be awesome -> In 1997 the D carried the O -> THEY WILL BE MONSTERS -> THIS IS THE BEST DEFENSE MICHIGAN HAS EVER SEEN

Interestingly, the upswing in confidence in the D occurred at the exact same time people started comprehending we might not score 87 points a game this year. 

In short, the echo chambers of Scout/Rivals/and (unfortunately) some people here created a swirling mass of delusional hope in this defense, where people become absolutely convinced they would be elite. 

Certainly, we all hope they are elite, but it's not a great bet.  

Jay

August 29th, 2008 at 12:20 PM ^

Every time I want to jump on the bandwagon and believe that our D-line will dominate, I am reminded of what happened the last 3 games of the regular season. To refresh all of our memories, MSU ran roughshot over the D-line in the second half of that game. A banged up Wisconsin team, ravaged by injuries, had their way with our defense with a 3rd string running back and Beanie Wells was, well, Beanie f'ing Wells in the final Big Ten game of the Carr era. I just don't believe that this defense will suddenly become great just because they've been Barwisized. It could be that these guys might not be as talented as we all originally thought.

wolverinekeith

August 29th, 2008 at 11:18 AM ^

Brian, be nice to BG.  Against MSU, RE had us lining up in that weird alignment for much of the second half with TJ, WJ & TT all lined up on the weakside and BG alone on the strongside, having to deal with the RG, the RT and the TE by himself.  He's get doubled & chipped by the other guy before they'd head to the second level.  Woodley would have gotten his ass kicked out numbered 3-1 too.  

  

caup

August 29th, 2008 at 11:49 AM ^

He looks AWESOME in practice.

My practice swing is sweet as hell, too.  A true Driving Range Hero.

Then I take, you know, actual golf shots out on the golf course.

I suck.

But hey, here's to hoping I'm wrong! And just another negative jerk who should shut up shut up shut up.