2013 Wrap: D-Line

Submitted by Ron Utah on December 16th, 2013 at 5:56 PM

2013 will be remembered as "The Season of Infinite Pain" for me, and for many others, I suspect.  High expectations have a way of making even good seasons frustrating; 2013 has been well-below "good."  Not only did we fail to compete for a B1G Championship, we had our expectations boosted after a magical performance against Notre Dame, only to be crushed by consecutive weeks of struggling to beat two of the worst programs in college football.

I was going to wait until after the bowl game to write this diary, but this lull is killing me and let's face it--the BWW Bowl isn't going to change much.

This series is something of a follow-up to my diary re-ranking players based on Rivals ratings.  Reading the beginning of that diary will help explain the player's rankings (as well as the Rivals ranking system).  Additionally, I've added letter grades, which are explained more thoroughly at the end of the post, so that we can get down to business with the first position group in the series:


Defensive Line

Season Grade: C+  Overall, it was a less-than-stellar year on the defensive front.  My pre-season predictions said the fate of our season rested on the offensive and defensive lines, and I believe that turned out to be the case.  The D-Line produced just 13.5 sacks, and only one player on the line had more than 2.5.  The "right to rush four" was never earned, and the season suffered because of it.  

That said, there were some positive signs.  Frank Clark showed marked improvement, and Willie Henry emerged as a viable option to replace either QWash or Black in 2014.  Wormley started to emerge in limited snaps, and other young guns like Ojemudia and Charlton showed flashes.

Big things were expected of Frank Clark in 2013

Tkl Solo Asst TFL Sacks QBH FF INT PBU
42 19 23 12.5 5.0 7 0 0 1
Rivals Pre-Ssn Current
5.6 5.8 5.9

Season Grade: B+  To say Frank Clark made a big jump this year would be an understatement: he had 17 more tackles, 3.5 more TFLs, and 3.0 more sacks than in 2012.  More importantly, he played much more consistently and held down his job as the WDE all season.  He led the team in TFLs by a whopping 5.0, and many of those came against some strong opposition (2.5 vs. Iowa, 2.5 vs. MSU).

That said, the off-season hype and reports of him besting Taylor Lewan in practice pushed expectations to a probably unreasonable level, and he did not come through. I predicted that we would need at least eight sacks from Frank Clark if our defense was going to get the requisite amount of pressure on opposing passers to make 2013 a successful (B1G Champs) season.  Not only did he fall far short of that number, his five sacks all came in three games: UConn, Penn State, and Indiana.  In hindsight, we sure needed those sacks against UConn and PSU, but they weren't enough to win the game.  His pass-rushing was pretty quiet--even though he deserved a few more QBH's, he only finished the season with seven (which led the team), and had just three in B1G play.

2014 outlook:  It says here (again) that without significant production from Frank Clark (or a surprise at WDE), the whole 2014 team's ceiling is limited.  It is vital for every 4-3 team to be able to produce consistent pressure from their front four, and the WDE is the guy with the best opportunities in our system.  If Clark can't get to eight sacks in '14, we'll once again find ourselves in the middle-of-the-pack (#67 nationally in 2013 with 23.0 total) in sacks.  That is not a good place to be.

Jibreel Black will be missed

Tkl Solo Asst TFL Sacks QBH FF INT PBU
26 13 13 7.5 2.5 3 1 0 2
Rivals Pre-Ssn Current
5.7 5.7 5.8

Season Grade: B  Jibreel Black is the kind of player you like more every time you see him play.  I believe he was our most consistent performer on the line this year, even plugging-in at NT despite his 278 lb. frame.  Black, by far, produced the most pressure from the interior of the line, and probably produced the most consistent pass-rush of anyone on the team.

Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough.  He was tied for second (Cam Gordon) on the team with 7.5 TFLs and third (Chris Wormley) with 2.5 sacks.  On the defensive line, only Clark and Willie Henry had more tackles.  Yes, he was a productive player, but this needs to be the baseline for DTs if we are going to achieve our potential as an elite program.  For Jibreel Black, I see a guy who maxed his potential and deserves to be remembered for his worthy contribution.  But I also see a guy who stood out more than he should have because of pretty poor production by the D-Line as a unit.

NFL draft outlook:  Black is a fringe prospect, IMO, with a minimal chance of being a FA pick-up.

Quinton Washington's 2013 was a bit of a mystery

Tkl Solo Asst TFL Sacks QBH FF INT PBU
19 5 14 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Rivals Pre-Ssn Current
5.6 5.8 5.7

Season Grade: C+  I call shenanigans.  QWash finished the 2012 season strong--he had ten tackles in our last three games and a sack in the Outback Bowl--and appeared poised to be one of the team's most important pieces in 2013.  While no confirmed injuries were reported that I am aware of, I believe there were some physcial issues that held him back this year.  But that's just speculation.

What is certain is that his season was just mediocre.  We needed him to eat blocks and make a few plays each game; he didn't do enough of either, registered zero TFLs on the season and just five solo stops.  Expectations probably hovered around 35 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, and 3.0 sacks; he was far short of all of those marks.  Sure, part of it was that we frequently had smaller DL packages out there, but if QWash had been playing up to his potential, I don't think Mattison would have kept him on the sideline.  He was serviceable while he was in, but that's about the best I can say.

NFL draft outlook:  Not happening.  He appeared poised to be a late-round pick after last year, but a completely lackluster senior season seems to have erased that possibility.


Other notables

Player Tkl Solo Asst TFL Sks QBH FF INT PBU Grd Rvls Pre Now
Henry 28 12 13 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0 B 5.6 5.7 5.8
Beyer 25 15 10 4.0 2.0 5 1 1 1 B 5.8 5.7 5.8
Ojemudia 20 12 8 1.5 1.5 1 0 0 0 B- 5.7 5.7 5.7
Wormley 17 8 9 4.5 2.5 0 0 0 1 B- 5.7 5.7 5.8
Heitzman 8 3 5 0.5 0.0 1 0 0 0 C- 5.5 5.7 5.6
Pipkins 7 1 6 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0 Inc 6.1 5.8 Inc
Godin 3 2 1 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0 C- 5.7 5.7 5.6
Ash 3 1 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 D+ 5.8 5.6 5.5
Charlton 2 1 1 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0 C 5.8 Unr 5.7
Strobel 2 1 1 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 D+ 5.8 5.7 5.5
Glasgow 2 1 1 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 D+ 5.2 Unr 5.5

It's remarkable that we never established a starter at SDE.  Keith Heitzman was the presumed and nominal guy, but only started seven times and didn't even play in one of our games.  Brennen Beyer is currently listed as the starter at SDE, and he spent most of the season playing SLB with his 250 lb. frame.  It is not good that he is our best option at that position.  Chris Wormely showed signs that he can play up to his lofty potential, but did not produce consistently.  Matt Godin was sometimes on the field.

Willie Henry figures to start at either DT or NT in 2014.  Despite playing in only nine games (and missing stat-boosters CMU and Akron) and starting just five, Henry racked-up 28 tackles and 2.5 TFLs.  13 of those tackles came in the final three games.  QWash's 2013 fade gives me pause, but I will go ahead and predict a big 2014 for Henry anyway, in the 40 tackle range with about 10 TFLs.  Tom Strobel (whom I wrongly predicted would have a breakout 2013) will also figure into the rotation here, and perhaps Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst.

Beyer is the presumed starter at SDE, and, as Brian says, will likely fulfill his Roh 2.0 destiny.  He will add 20-30 lbs. in the off-seasn and be solid but not spectacular, just as he has been this year.  He will be reviewed again in the LB wrap-up.

Ondre Pipkins will probably be our starting NT if he can get healthy; that is a big "if" for a 300-plus pounder who's had trouble staying in shape when his legs worked properly.  If it's not him, please feel free to panic as Richard Ash is currently listed as the #2 option at NT.  After that?  Ryan Glasgow is the only other guy with the requisite size (and the aforementioned Henry, which requires plugging someone else in at DT) to play the position.  Perhaps Hurst will become a NT; Bryan Mone will be a true freshman and is likely to get some snaps.

Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton represent what I believe to be the most talented group of back-ups on the roster, and I expect both to contribute.  Charlton may very well be big enough to play SDE and even DT on passing downs, and I hope we find a combination of players that can get pressure on third down without blitzing, which may put Ojemudia at the SDE.


2014 Outlook

The line will lose its interior starters in Qwash and Black, but both are replaceable.  Henry is likely to be an upgrade at either position, and in the other spot...well, we may miss Jibreel Black if someone doesn't step-up.  At SDE, I expect Beyer to be an upgrade over the platoon this year.  Even if he's not, I'd expect Wormley to be an upgrade.

To be an elite defensive front, we need our line to produce around 20 sacks.  That's 50% more than this year's group could manage.  While I believe Clark will take another step forward, Beyer will be solid, and I am excited about the future for Henry and Wormley, 2015 is when Hoke's recruiting will have the D-Line up to snuff.  I expect a "B/B-" season in 2014...quite a bit better than this year, but not yet elite.

Grading System:

  • A+   Consensus All-American.  One of the best players in the country regardless of position.
  • A  Likely Second-tem All-American/First-team All-B1G.  A hugely impactful player that affects every snap for which he is on the field and is one of the better players at his position in the country.
  • A-  Likely All-B1G selection.  A play-maker that forces other teams to adjust their gameplan.
  • B+  An impact player who is a big factor in the team's success.
  • B  "The expectation for the position."  At Michigan, this means you are doing your job well enough to get us to at least 10 wins and to challege for the B1G title.
  • B-  Not quite up to par.  A player who may start, but an upgrade would be helpful.
  • C+ Significant snaps for a C+ player will hold the team back from achieving its goals: 10 wins and a B1G championship.
  • C  An average college football player on an average team.  Picture an average starter at Washington State.
  • C-  A player that is consistently unproductive and should only be on the field in an emergency situation or for garbage time.
  • D+  A player whose performance hurts the team.
  • D  A player that should not be on the field for any reason at Michigan.
  • F  Pure disaster.

Please note that these grades are NOT representative of what I believe to be a player's future potential.  I am not assuming anyone with a low grade will turn out to be an unproductive player at Michigan.



December 16th, 2013 at 8:37 PM ^

While the SDE depth isn't huge, what is the advantage to having Beyer put on 20 or 30 pounds and playing there? Wouldn't Wormley, Heitzman, and either Strobel or Poggi provide enough depth?

The downside to me seems like it subtracts experience at the SAM and WDE for the upside of Beyer playing his third position in three years. Not saying it is impossible or taking a shot at Beyer, I am just looking at the numbers.

I guess in my mind it would make more sense to move Clark to SDE than Beyer as Clark is already around the size of a 4-3 SDE but I am probably looking at this too simplistically.

Ron Utah

December 17th, 2013 at 11:45 AM ^

Beyer is already our starter at SDE, and DE is definitely his more natural position.  The fact that a 250 lb. guy that's been practicing and playing most of the season at SAM is an upgrade at SDE is very telling: no one else is ready.

This is happening; Beyer was only a SAM this year because of JMFR's injury.  He will be back at DE next year, and I imagine he'll play SDE.

Clark is more athletic and it has taken him a LONG time to learn the WDE position.  He's just starting to play it well and looked good down the stretch.  I hope he plays there again next year.


December 16th, 2013 at 8:54 PM ^

Eh I think you're being too hard on them with a C+.  We had a big plus defense in terms of yards per rush, and looking at pure TFL and sack numbers obscures this.  Case in point is your overly harsh view on QWash, who while he did not tally many big plays himself, kept the middle LBs clean enough to deliver on those rush defense numbers.  He made lots of 'silent' plays IMO this year.  I would give the unit more like a B/B+ if it were me...

Ron Utah

December 17th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

Really?  Remember, a "B" is a 10-win defense.  B+ means the defense is carrying us to a B1G title...to get into the "A" range you have to be great.

This year's defense is #8 in the B1G, allowing 26.5 pts/game.  Only Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana were worse.  Nationally, we were 65th in scoring defense.

That great yds/rush you talked about?  Yeah, we were fifth in the B1G in that category.  We were seventh in passing yds/game, and were 61st nationally in passing yards/game.

We were seventh in sacks in the B1G.

The ONLY impressive stat for us this season was interceptions, where we were second in the B1G and 13th nationally.

This was a defense that was just average in the B1G.  For Michigan, a "B" grade is being a top-three defense in the conference, top 20 nationally.

But let's forget about just stats for a second.  The defense did not play well against Notre Dame, Penn State, or the second half against Iowa, and was terrible against Akron, Ohio State, and Indiana.  That's half our games.

I think if you take off the maize-colored glasses, you'll see a defense that was just average nationally that could just as easily have cost us a few more games if our offense hadn't come through.

Compared to our offense, it looks like a "B", but this is Michigan, and this year's defense was not good enough.  Not even close.



December 16th, 2013 at 11:18 PM ^

I think your grade is influenced by the team's W-L record. The team could be 10-1 with a slightly better offense, in which case I think you'd have given them an A- for doing the exact same stuff.  The OL's F grade doesn't need to spillover.  I'd give the DL a B+.

I'd bet QWash gets drafted.  It's strange to say he had injury issues and then dismiss his NFL stock entirely.  They draft on potential production, not senior year performance, and he remains a large athletic dude with good potential and no character issues.  People like him will always get a shot.

Beyer and Clark should make a nice DE duo next year.  I think too much is made out of the SDE/WDE differences at times.WDE is probably closer to SLB and SDE to DT, but ultimately it's about football players and beyer has seen the field wherever he lines up.  Charlton and Ojemudia will be better as backups too.  Heitzman can eat some snaps as well.

Inside is a little harder to project, but let's assume a worst case scenario of Pipkins being not ready.  Does anyone think we can't find a solid 4-man rotation out of Henry, Mone, Ash, Glasgow, Wormley, Hurst, Godin, Strobel? with this coaching staff?  Add in McDowell and Pipkins if you want to be optimistic, but even if you don't - we'll be fine to very good.

Ron Utah

December 17th, 2013 at 12:26 PM ^

I appreciate the compliment about the enjoyable read.

My grade is absolutely influenced by our record (and it should be), but even moreso by our stats and my eyes.  Looking at my grading system, keep in mind that a "B" is a 10-win defense.  Do you really believe this was a 10-win defensive line?  We had a relatively easy schedule, and the defense did not do its job in six of our twelve games (see above) IMO.  It wasn't a horrible defense, but it was just an average B1G defense, and I expect much better from a Michigan defense.  I bet Hoke and Mattison would agree.

The LBs and DBs are going to get higher grades, FWIW.  I believe the D-Line was the weak link this season, mostly because of its inability to get pressure on opposing QBs, but also its general lack of plays.

As for QWash, I just don't see it.  My injury speculation is just specualtion, and NFL scouts aren't going to look at half a good season in 2012 and take a flier on him.  There were only 18 DTs selected in the 2013 draft...do you really believe QWash is one of the top 18 DTs in the country?

I like your optimisim for next season, but with how our youth performed this year, I'm a little worried about whomever plays next to Henry.  I think the line will improve, but I don't think it will be something we can hang our hat on.  I hope you're right.


December 17th, 2013 at 12:24 AM ^

get the D-Line guys to get their frigging hands up and tip/block a few passes, PLEASE!

Back in the day of Navarre, we could count on at least one pass being batted down by the opponent's D-Line. 

If we can't get push, at least make the guy throw through a sea of hands.


December 17th, 2013 at 9:23 AM ^

I thought Mario made some really athletic plays in his limited opportunities. It's too bad he didn't get a RS, because his ceiling as a pass-rusher seems pretty high, but he'll only have a year left after Clark leaves.


December 17th, 2013 at 11:19 AM ^

I, like alot of people, thought that because there was 2-3 deep at every position that the rotation would wear out alot of teams and the D Line would be pretty good this year. That really never was a factor this season. Currently the make up of the D lineman seems to consist of alot of average/good players. There really isn't one guy that is a huge playmaker. That's not to say that guys like Ojemudia and Charlton can't develop into big playmakers, they are just currently works in progress.

I believe there is enough potetial talent either on the team or coming in 2014 (Charlton, Ojemudia, Pipkins, Poggi, Hurst, Mone, Henry, McDowell??) that the future looks bright for these positions.

Ron Utah

December 17th, 2013 at 12:29 PM ^

And our depth should have shown late in games, when our defense seemed to be at its worst.  PSU, Akron (!), Notre Dame, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska...our defense did not perform well at the end of games.

The talent is there, but it's still young.  I hope they have a great off-season and spring and start to prove their potential next year.


December 18th, 2013 at 2:01 AM ^

Agree.  Hopefully, some of these guys have breakout seasons.  It's a little frustrating watching OSU's dline (made up almost entirely of underclassmen) have a decent amount of success and show the potential to be pretty darn good next year and beyond. 

I realize OSU's defense wasn't it's strong suit and their dline wasn't dominating but in the games I watched, they were a disruptive force at times.  Michigan's dline hasn't really been disruptive since Martin graduated.

Ron Utah

December 18th, 2013 at 4:25 PM ^

Although our first truly disruptive recruits for the D-Line really arrived this year, excepting Ondre Pipkins.  Most of our pick-ups are the solid-but-not-spectacular guys that win games by not making mistakes, rather than the play-makers.

There is Joey Bosa player; Taco is probably the closest, and I do think we'll see dividends from him next year.  But none of our guys had Bosa's tools when they arrived.