What Happened To The Linebackers?

Submitted by Brian on October 7th, 2008 at 1:54 PM

Earlier in the year this space featured a post detailing the carnage that had been wrought on the offensive line by poor recruiting, player development, and retention. As I was watching two sophomores and a redshirt senior who's not exactly ticketed for pro stardom, it occurred to me that the situation at LB was equally dire.

A season-by-season accounting with available players in bold:

2004 (would be fifth year seniors)

  • Chris Graham didn't redshirt and is thus out of eligibility. Not that having him around would have helped much.
  • John Thompson is the current starting SLB. He was a low-three star recruit.

2005

  • Brandon Logan is the only LB recruit in the class. A meh three star recruit, he was clearly not going to be a player from day one.

2006

  • Cobrani Mixon transfers to Cincinnati after a semester.
  • Quintin Patilla moves to fullback, then transfers to GVSU.
  • Obi Ezeh, a meh recruit, is the starting MLB.
  • Jonas Mouton is a big recruit rated around #50 as a S. He is the starting WLB.

2007

  • Michigan's first JUCO in ten years, Austin Panter, arrives.
  • Marell Evans is an unrated two-star with other offers from Temple and Buffalo.
  • Brandon Herron is a meh three-star who redshirts; he hasn't been seen or heard from so far.

2008

  • Taylor Hill transfers.
  • Marcus Witherspoon has Clearinghouse issues and ends up at Rutgers.
  • JB Fitzgerald is playing on special teams as a freshman.
  • Kenny Demens is looking likely to redshirt.

So, yeah… of course they're bad. Michigan has one four-star recruit on the roster outside of a JUCO and a true freshman, and has all of four guys with more than a year of experience in the program, one of whom has never threatened to get off special teams. So you're relying on either 1) an unheralded recruit being really good really fast or 2) all three of your upperclassmen being hits.

Neither one nor two has occurred, and finding a strongside LB next year is going to be problematic; the losses of Hill and Witherspoon are going to be damaging.

Comments

tbliggins

October 7th, 2008 at 2:13 PM ^

Where does Fitzgerald project to play?  I actually feel fairly comfortable w/ Fitzgerald/Ezeh/Mouton for the next 2 years.  Mouton and Ezeh will have 1 and 2 years experience, respectively and Fitzgerald was touted similarly to Mouton coming out of high school, except he actually played LB so he is not learning a new position.  By '10, that unit *could* rival the '06 version.

CincyBlue

October 7th, 2008 at 2:28 PM ^

We all knew this was a huge need and we go out and get 4 pretty high profile guys, in the last class.  We lose two guys for being homesick and high school grades.  It seems we could have saved one or both of these guys if we really needed them. 

I'm hoping the Michigan staff knows something we don't about a LB recruit from Maryland in the 09 class.

baleedat

October 7th, 2008 at 2:32 PM ^

Losing Witherspoon just sucks. But why the hell did Taylor Hill leave? RR said he wanted to be closer to home, but isn't he from Youngstown, OH?  That's like a 3 hour drive. How much closer does he need to be?  And what other decent school is closer than UM.  He can't get a scholarship at OSU, or any other BigTen school.  Maybe Pitt?

pelforth

October 7th, 2008 at 2:34 PM ^

I too am hopeful for Ezeh/Fitz/Mouton in the next 1-2 years.

 

Also, it seems that Artis Chambers might be a future LB although the need at safety is pretty dire as well.  Chambers is listed on mgoblue at 6'0" 207lbs which sorta almost compares with Mouton who's 6'2" at 214 lbs...  

AnthonyC

October 7th, 2008 at 2:35 PM ^

...is that Lloyd's recruiting the last few years was approaching Willingham level at certain positions.  The OL, LBs and Safeties are killing the team.

 I don't want to pile on Lloyd, but this season is more his fault than anyone else's.  Playing with a MAC level OL, LB, and S will produce the results we've seen on the field this season.  The players at those positions just aren't talented.

Say what you want about Threet being the problem but he's better at his position than any of the OL, LBs and Safeties are at theirs, with the exception of Schilling and Harrison (who's really a nickle back)

Magnus

October 8th, 2008 at 9:28 AM ^

I might agree on the linebackers and maybe the safeties.  But the offensive line was recruited pretty well, with the exception of a couple years ago, when we only got about one guy.  Lloyd is the one who roped in 5-star Schilling and 4-star Boren, along with a bundle of other 4-stars and 3-stars.  Carr also brought in Fitzgerald and Witherspoon.  It's not Carr's fault that Taylor Hill departed (Hill didn't commit until Rodriguez came) and Witherspoon didn't qualify.  Last year's class was 3/4 Carr's doing, and it's a pretty good class.

Maize n Brew Dave

October 7th, 2008 at 3:16 PM ^

I'd be curious about the impact former LB coach steve Szabo had. I
was a big fan and was dissapointed he was let go. He only had two years
at Michigan and his first full time Linebacking class was supposed to
be the Hill/Weathspoon/Fitz/demons class. He had pretty good NFL
connections from what I recall, so I'm somewhat sceptical that he
wasn't too good a recruiter at that position.

Linebacker
recruiting took a dive up till 2007, but the 2008 class for linebackers
prior to transfers and clearinghouse issues was pretty good. Also
wasn't Mixon a 4*?

I'm curious how the constant shift in
coaches has affected recruiting that position as well. What is it three
new linebacker coaches in four to five years? That can't help.

Anyone got any thoughts on Szabo and shuffle since Herrrrrrrrrmannnnnnn left?

caup

October 7th, 2008 at 3:23 PM ^

We actually lost THREE LBs from the 2006 Class: 4-star Mixon, plus 3-stars Patilla, and Q. Woods.  The 5-star LB from that class is Graham, our resident monster DE.

If anyone is going to switch positions, it's maybe not the smaller, 3-star Chambers, but rather 6'-3", 210-lb 4-star Brandon Smith. That 6'-3" frame might fill-out into 220-230 pound OLB quite easily. The other possibility is to start either 4-star JB Fitz or 4-star Demens.

That's three 4-star studs, all with at least 1 year in the program, fighting to fill 1 open spot. Okay, not the ideal situation, but there might be something hopeful in there?

chitownblue (not verified)

October 7th, 2008 at 3:32 PM ^

It's hard to say the OL recruiting was "Willinghamesque".

Our Starters:

***** Steve Schilling

*** David Molk (offered by 75% of the Big 10, plus WVU and Arizona St.)

*** Perry Dorrestein (a Nebraska and Illinois offer)

**** David Mooseman

*** Mark Ortmann (solid offer list, featuring TX and Texas A&M)

*** Tim McAvoy (admittedly, midling offers)

Add in ****Cory Zirbel (a top 50 recruit, currently injured), ****Justin Schifano (quit football), *** Jeremy Ciulla (quit), **** Justin Boren (transfered), ****Brett Gallimore (quit), and **** Alex Mitchell (quit). Plus, two **** recruits that are now freshmen. That means, if Carr's recruits had stayed for RR, or stayed playing football, our team would have on roster:

1 5-star lineman

7 four star lineman (two, admittedly, freshmen)

8 3-star linemen (3, admittedly, freshmen)

And Mark Huyge.

The problem is that we had 3 4-star linemen quit the team, and a fourth get injured for the year.

The problem was not, at all, recruiting. It's the combination of the normal attrition associated with a coaching change, injury, and some freak "I don't wanna play anymore"'s.

maracle

October 7th, 2008 at 3:54 PM ^

I never heard why he quit.  I remember he was injured last year, was it a bad injury?  Did he graduate and decide to forgo his final year?  Or was he just not that into football anymore like Mitchell?

chitownblue (not verified)

October 7th, 2008 at 4:02 PM ^

As for safety - we have brought in a **** Safety every single season since 2002. Look it up - Brandon Smith this year, Michael Williams the year before, Stevie Brown, Brandon Harrison, Jamar Adams, Ryan Mundy....

Every four years we get a **** safety. That's ignoring ****Jonas Mouton who converted to LB and *****Prescott Burgess who converted to LB.

Seriously, it takes like 30 seconds to see if what you're saying is factualy accurate, why can't people take the time?

AnthonyC

October 7th, 2008 at 4:28 PM ^

...the recruiting rankings count for something, but performance also counts too.  Are any of the 4-star safeties you've mentioned good at all?  I know Williams and Smith can't be judged yet but the others you list are all average at best.

If you think I am factually inaccurate here, you're missing my point.  I know what the rankings are but I also know what the current roster looks like and what the results on the field are.  There are a lot of 'misses' and few hits at the positions I mentioned and that goes on the record of the staff that recruited them.  Its very apparent that the talent development and evaluation was tailing off at the end of Lloyd's tenure.  Go rewatch the last game if you think its factually inaccurate to say that.

caup

October 7th, 2008 at 4:17 PM ^

People can checkout the link on the left to Mike DeSimone's website. It's a very thorough catalogue of Michigan's recruting classes going back several years.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 7th, 2008 at 4:42 PM ^

Well, see, now you're moving the goal posts. You said:

The real problem with this years team is that Lloyd's recruiting the last few years was approaching Willingham level at certain positions.  The OL, LBs and Safeties are killing the team.
You specifically said recruiting. I pointed out that, actually, recruiting at those positions was good, if not excellent. O-Line would have a multitude of talent if Zirbel wasn't hurt, Boren hadn't transferred, and Schifano, Gallimore, and Mitchell hadn't quit. If you want to say the player development is lacking, make that case, but don't say that "recruiting approached Willingham levels" - especially when that connotes apathy on Carr's part, which is demonstrably untrue.
You need to realize, also, that not every 4-star player turns into a success. Sometimes kids quit, sometimes they're improperly evaluated (though, when you look at their rankings in offers, Michigan was by no means the only people to do so on some of these kids), and all those things aren't a coaching staff's fault. Just as there are two-starts who become studs (David Harris) there are super-recruits who fail.

AnthonyC

October 7th, 2008 at 5:29 PM ^

...Than why are those positions the weak points on the team?

I do realize that not every 4-star player is successful.  I did not bring up star ratings, you did.  In my original post I was referring to performance on the field.  I guess we're just evaluating the recruiting classes differently.

 

Look, there are going to be hits and misses, but when there are more misses than hits, its bad recruiting, no matter the ratings.

WolvinLA

October 7th, 2008 at 6:24 PM ^

Completely disagree.  When Michigan positively evaluates a player, other big time schools mirror that evaluation, as do the recruiting sites, then this player ends up falling short of expectations - that's not poor recruiting.  This means that either everyone was wrong about this kid (so you can't blame UM) or something happened after the recruiting process to cause the kid to bust.  Maybe he lost motivation.  Maybe the coaches are bad at developing potential talent.  Either way, that's not a recruiting problem. 

Jivas

October 7th, 2008 at 5:06 PM ^

Send this post to Jelani Jenkins?  Hopefully "depth chart availability" is one of the items on his father's mega-matrix.  And hopefully he and his family can read a depth chart better than Nick Perry.

Flatout

October 7th, 2008 at 5:26 PM ^

I dont know about looking TOO closely at stars...

There are two more important factors IMO:

1) Depth- There is simply not good depth. Even if Hill and Witherspoon had stayed, they were NOT gonna be serious contributors at LB this year (Hill was still way underdeveloped and Spoon was more of a pass rushing one trick pony out of HS who looked more like a Weakside DE). The combo of getting only three total LB's between 2004-2005 (with no super talented ones) hurt us badly but then losing Mixon and Patilla from '06 killed us.

2) Lack of talent (not necessarily as defined by stars) at OLB-  Ezeh and Thompson are decent to potential to be quite good and serviceable at MLB respectively.  Fitzgerald is widely considered to be a potential starter at MLB. That's not bad, lets look at OLB. Mixon, Patilla, and Logan all projected as OLB - all of them are busts. Mouton does have potential at OLB but is still a year away from being solid (I also have SOME doubts about his having a true mean streak but that's another story). Panter (JUCO) is an OLB (SLB actually), Herron (by all accounts a bust in waiting) is an OLB, and Evans who is athletic enough but only a RS Freshman is an OLB. We dont have any seniors/RS juniors at OLB, instead we have projects, journeymen, and a guy (Thompson) playing out of position. Next year our "experienced" OLB's will be Mouton, Evans, and Herron. That's weak and scary. 

Wat are we doing about it? Improving OLB depth by recruiting them like crazy. So far, we have 3 OLB recruits in this class (Hawthorne, Bell, and Jones), and one more MAYBE coming (Jenkins although nobody really knows). What do these four guys have that our past OLB's didn't?

- Speed and Athleticism: Bell plays safety, Jones played safety until this year, and Hawthorne IS pretty darn fast despite the "OMG he's a cow because he runs 4.7" listed 40 yard time. These guys have to be able to run to the sidelines and cover is space. The one's we've recruited can do this.  

-Mean streak and physicality: To me this, not "speed" or "size" or anything is what David Harris had that set him apart. This is something that IMHO out current starting LB's lack. Remember Harris in 2006 meeting PJ Hill in the hole and driving through him, putting him down for a loss or no gain? Now think of Ezeh or Thomspon meeting PJ Hill and tackling him but having HIM drive through THEM and fall foward for 2-3 yards more. That little difference says a lot. You need tough guys who give hits more than they take them. It takes guts to decide that you are gonna hit a 240 lb man running full speed at you harder than he is gonna hit you. That cant be taught. Juice is running the option? Rip his f'ing head off everytime he tries it whether he keeps it or not! Its legal, it just takes a little more effort and meanness. We need and I trust the staff is recruiting mean nasty guys who have the I dont give an F and want to hit people mindset and who can move. This is the most important thing for LB's and it is NOT reflected in star rankings.

After we solve this we can talk about the lack of penetration from the DT's but that's another story.

 

End of rant.

blueman

October 8th, 2008 at 1:20 PM ^

I agree with your assesments.  Our biggest problem is that there is nobody with the talent level of Harris or even an honorable mention Big 10 type.  Maybe OE gets there but he has a ways to go.  I do not understand why we are not playing Fitz at MLB and OE at SAM at least some of the time.  Fitz has burned his RS and we need to get him some LB PT.  In '09 we will have Mouton, OE and Fitz as the best available with not much behind them other than Frosh who are rarely ready from the get go.  This is a weak postion group with no cure in the sight.  Contrast this with what O$U has to reload with in '09.  Fair warning, it is scay.  We are no where near their talent level.

WolvinLA

October 7th, 2008 at 5:37 PM ^

I think that "meanness" is absolutely reflected in star rankings.  I often read scouting reports saying something along the lines of "this kid has a serious mean streak." 

Flatout

October 7th, 2008 at 6:07 PM ^

Let me clarify a bit because I got a little caught up in my rant and didn't explain this well enough. What I was implying (maybe I DIDN"T phrase it the right way) was that a kid can have that toughenes and meanness be undervalued relative to some of his measurables and other more tangible qualities. Odds are that a high 4-5 star LB WILL be tough and mean (that's true) but we don't have many of those on our roster (Fitz maybe, and Mouton who was rated as a safety). However, we CAN have 3-low 4 star guys who ARE mean and physical. Isiah Bell and Mike Jones are two of my binkies for this class. Watch their film.

I know being "mean", "tough", and "physical" might be cliches in this business to some but I insisit that especially for LB's these qualities are REAL, they are IMPORTANT, and they are not taught by coaches in college.

 

End of second rant.

WolvinLA

October 7th, 2008 at 6:20 PM ^

OK that I agree with.  I thought you meant that agression wasn't figured in at all, but I agree with you that a lot of immeasurable traits, such as aggression or instincts are often not given proper weight, or as is likely the case, just much harder to evaluate than a prospects weight and 40 time, therefore it's not always reflected well in the guru ratings.  David Harris is an example of this, and I think Obi is becoming one as well (since UM rarely ever starts 2 star guys, let alone during their RS freshman season).  Grand Rapids, what!

chitownblue (not verified)

October 7th, 2008 at 5:38 PM ^

I don't see how many more times I have to say it - we have had 4 4-star players just leave on the o-line. That's why we have no depth, that's why we are starting 3-star players.

ShockFX

October 7th, 2008 at 7:12 PM ^

I actually agree about the qualities we're describing for good LBs (toughness, agression, w/e).  I would probably call it decisiveness, quick response, will, controlled recklessness, but we're talking about the same thing.  In terms of measurables, David Harris had no business being as good as he is/was.  It's that swagger, that I'm tackling you and knocking you the fuck out that Michigan has lacked often at LB and S.  Crable was close, but as just reckless, not controlled recklessness.  Shazor was the same way, until he disappeared in some games.

David Harris, Charles Woodson, Mike Hart, Taylor and Graham this year, the great Miami LBs (Ray Lewis) and Safeties (Ed Reed), all these players HAVE to be accounted for at all times.  You didn't lead a WR into the air if Ray Lewis or Ed Reed was around, and if you did the WR sure as hell wasn't making that catch without being blasted.

This is what RR is talking about being tougher and playing faster.  There are some plays where you see Ezeh (occasionally) or Harrison (a lot) read and react so fast they destroy whoever is in their path.  I have yet to see this out of Stevie Brown in the sense he tackles hesitantly, not authoritatively.

This video is what I'm talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRMJuG_McoU

MJD had NO BUSINESS wrecking Merriman's shit like that.  He gave up like 6 inches and 40 pounds.  This isn't Massey or Butler waving at blocks, hesitant tackles on defense, this is straight up domination.  This is what wins championships in my mind.

This level of play has little to do with star rating sometimes.  Give me a safety/LB that is decisive (and decides correctly the majority of the time) and plays with that attitude any day.

Kolesar40

October 8th, 2008 at 9:23 AM ^

LBs have to be mean, tough, instinctive, quick, fearless, and smart? Thanks. I thought they could be passive, weak, slow, and scared. We all know what it takes to be a good linebacker, and it most of it are intagibles that can't be measured.

Quick poll: whose fumbles are more frustrating Mallet taking a snap, or Threet bringing his arm back to throw?

caup

October 8th, 2008 at 9:11 AM ^

He's a good example of a kid who was quite effective, especially for his measurables, because he was smart, decisive and liked to wallop people.

Englemon plays the whole game and The Horror doesn't happen. Period.

imafreak1

October 8th, 2008 at 9:17 AM ^

All this talk about being mean and tough is completely unnecessary because Michgan’s LBers haven’t gotten to that point yet. Virtually every analysis of the deficiencies of today’s LBers relative to David St. Harris revolves around recognition, technique, and confidence. Today’s LBers are slow to recognize the play, lack confidence in their recognition, and use bad technique when they arrive. Analysis of Harris’ great plays usually demonstrate him recognizing the play immediately, moving with confidence to the point of impact, and delivering a blow before the offense can neutralize him. That is what ‘playing fast’ means.