Hero With a Thousand Faces, Part I: Of Legend and Myth

Submitted by Seth on August 5th, 2010 at 12:14 PM

 

Will Cameron Gordon bring balance to the force? Will Vlad the Impaler ever transition from psych to sang? Is Marvin the Marvelous Marvel just an empty OMG shirtless? Do 40-times matter at all? Will Misopogon exhaust his annual allotment of rhetorical questions before this deck is even finished? I dunno, but I was seriously freaking about about free safety, man, so I dipped into UFRs of yore and found….hope?

Question for you Cam: What has two thumbs, and is responsible for stopping the big play?

saveuscamgordon

3-3-5FSdisguyIf you have followed Michigan this last decade, you are now well aware of what bad free safety play looks like.*

Tthere are things that concern me very much about 2010. Chief among these, and that which I would like to now give the full Misopogonal logorrhea treatment in an attempt to allay those fears in my own head (and SLEEP dammit), is the position of Free Safety.

Or Deep Safety.

Or Deathbacking D-Back of Defensive Doom.

You know what I'm talking about: the middle safety who is supposed to play Cover 1, or center Cover 3, or clean up anything that runs by Obi Ezeh and whichever lineman Obi has affixed himself to for the duration of that play.

The position which, at least in our current defensive terminology, I believe is officially called the…

HEROmich

-------------------------------------------------

* Good news is none of those links are RickRolls. Bad news is they are all much, much worse.

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Heroes Alumnus/Emeritus:

To really grasp what kind of play to expect this season from the quarterback of the defense, and what kind of player tends to succeed in that position I felt it necessary to go over the kind of deep safety play that Michigan has had since, oh, 2005.

[Misopogon spends two full evenings in old UFRs]

Omigod guys, there's some seriously bad safety play in there. But I learned some things today… Fortify your stomach, then click to continue.

Google Spreadsheet lives here.

What we've seen is some very different types of safety play from various talents. I figure if we go back over their recruiting hype, and their respective experience before starting, that will give us a good baseline of expected play for current potential starters. Since this is a position-specific accounting, each player's performance at most other positions isn't charted, though I will include box safety performance.

Notes:

  1. The words "Free" and "Strong" were often misnomers in the Michigan defenses of this time, especially when Michigan went to a 3-3-5. What we are concerned with is which safety is "deep," and which safety is "box." Just to make everything easy for the EA Sports-addled brain, for our purposes I will use "free safety" to refer to the deep man, and "strong safety" to refer to the box man, even if that is technically incorrect.
  2. The Horror was UFR'ed but not charted, and after it was already Stevie Brown –9 after only a quarter I realized it wasn't worth charting anyway. After that game, Brown was yoinked for Brandent Englemon.
  3. Delaware State isn't counted either. NIU and Indiana were not charted in '05. A few Ohio State and Bowl games didn't get UFR'ed.
  4. I didn't track Harrison after he moved permanently to strong safety as a senior.
  5. I hesitate to include 2005 at all, since Brian was very stingy with negs his first year (e.g. nobody at all got dinged for a 32-yard completion on 3rd and 15 when Michigan rushed three v. MSU) – in 2009 that would not happen). Take 2005 numbers with a raised eyebrow, a grain of salt, and a spoon full of sugar.
  6. Quotes in Game Notes are all from Brian's UFRs.

Willis Barringer (Class of '02):

Vitals: 6'0 – 195 lbs. – 4.4 (40-yd. dash) – Toledo, OH
Hype: 3-star CB, Rival's 29th, Scout's 48th, FAKE FAKE-ITY FAKE FAKE FAKE 40 time.
Offers: ND, Wisc., GT, Wake and Purdue.
Projection: Your typical late-career upper Big Ten DB

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

Sr

10/1/2005

MSU

3

0

3

Made his presence felt

Sr

10/8/2005

Minnesota

2

0

2

Hello: Angry Michigan Safety Hating God

Sr

10/29/2005

Northwestern

0

2

-2

Had one monster bust

Sr

11/19/2005

Ohio State

1

0

1

-

Sr

9/10/2005

Notre Dame

0

0

0

Not tested at all

Sr

9/24/2005

Wisconsin

1

1

0

-

Sr

10/7/2006

MSU

0

2

-2

Missed tackle led to MSU TD

Sr

10/28/2006

Northwestern

1

0

1

-

Sr

11/4/2006

Indiana

0

1

-1

Played garbage time

2005 was a hodgepodge of play, but when Barringer was in and healthy, he generally made about 1 or 2 mistakes per game, along with 0 or 1 great plays. Willis (Willis!) had some positional issues, but mostly he was hampered later in his career by being hurt. He was supplanted by the talented Mundy in 2006. Willis Barringer as a redshirt freshman, when spelling Marlin in '03, looked okay at first but got burned deep several times by playing too close to the line. That line, of course, was so good that few teams even bothered going long against Michigan more than a few times per game.

We could use one of those right now.

You know what else we could use right now?


Brandent Englemon (Class of '03):

  ENGLEMONEY
Vitals: 6'0 – 180 lbs. - 4.5 forty – Covington, KY
Hype: QB at small school: 2-star ATH (NR) to Rivals, 2-star S (NR) to Scout. Not FAKE 4.0 GPA. Governor's Scholar, tutors kids, does charity work, saves old ladies using ACT scores.
Offers: NWern, Ky., Wake, Miami (NTM), Louisville, Marshall
Projection: 4x Academic All Big Ten, while fans pray he doesn't Anton Campbell a cool number onto the bench for 4 years.

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Eligibility

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

RS Jr 9/2/2006 Vanderbilt 2 0 2 -
RS Jr 9/9/2006 Central Mich 1 4 -3 Successful box safety struggles deep
RS Jr 9/23/2006 Wisconsin 0 1 -1 -
RS Jr 10/14/2006 Penn State 2 0 2 Did this in one play. Used only for short fields
RS Jr 10/21/2006 Iowa 1 0 1 Sat deep while DL ate people
RS Jr 10/28/2006 Northwestern 3 0 3 Good day spying screens
RS Jr 11/11/2006 Ohio State 1 0 1 Played in short situations

AS BOX SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

UFR-

TOTAL

Game Note

RS So

9/10/2005

Notre Dame

3

0

0

"Huggles"

RS So

9/17/2005

EMU

1

0

1

 

RS So

9/24/2005

Wisconsin

3

2

1

 

RS So

10/1/2005

MSU

1

0

1

 

RS So

10/8/2005

Minnesota

1

1

0

Injured

RS So

10/22/2005

Iowa

0

1

-1

-

RS So

10/29/2005

Northwestern

2

0

2

Didn't play much

RS So

11/19/2005

Ohio State

4

2

2

 

RS Jr

9/30/2006

Minnesota

1

0

1

Played for injured Adams

RS Jr

11/4/2006

Indiana

1

0

1

Was the "bandit" in 3-3-5 all day

Brandent Englemon, late in his career, became the most consistent player in UFR history, almost always putting in a blameless 1/0/1. Brandent emerged his redshirt sophomore season to the delight of UFRers everywhere, making all that happiness as a sure-tackling, mistake-free box safety until he met Angry Michigan Safety Hating God.

In 2006, Jamar Adams was given the box job (where he excelled) and the responsible-but-not-fast Englemon platooned with flashy recruit Ryan Mundy, with Englemon either handling short-field duties and obvious runs, or sitting back reading a book while the mosters up front made opposing linemen our turnstiles. Englemon liked books – he and Lloyd Carr would often be on the same page, even! When tasked with covering deep safety in long yardage situations, however, Englemon was not as useful. By '07, he and Adams had flipped again, with Jamar covering the deep spot and Brandent free to make the odd tackle that escaped David Harris and co. or – and this was his specialty – spy screens. Probably your prototypical box safety ("spur"/"spinner" being one or "bandit" another).


Ryan Mundy (Class of '03):

 freed_5F00_steelers120609_5F00_4
Vitals: 6'2 – 200 – 4.4 forty – Pittsburgh, PA
Hype: High 4-star. Rival's 6th-best safety, just cracked Top 100 overall. (Scout has an even FAKER 4.35).
Offers: PSU, Va., NC State, Pitt
Projection: Michigan fans were stoked, thinking we had landed one of the top DBs in the country after (finally!?!) years of post-'97 Marcus Ray mediocrity.

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

Jr

9/9/2006

CMU

2

3

-1

-

Jr

9/16/2006

Notre Dame

0

0

0

Pass platoon w/ Englemon?

Jr

9/23/2006

Wisconsin

0

1

-1

-

Jr

9/30/2006

Minnesota

0

3

-3

"Didn't really cover anyone"

Jr

10/14/2006

Penn State

3

1

2

-

Jr

11/4/2006

Indiana

0

0

0

-

Jr

11/11/2006

Ohio State

1

6

-5

Came in for serious rippage after

Mundy, who is responsible for the erratic pieces of 2005, as well as most of 2006, was remembered as a Mouton-type character: full of talent, but ready to shoot himself in the foot. Ultimately, I think the grades are soft on him, since Brian made the defensive UFRs in 2006 out of candy LaMarr Woodley valentine hearts. Why Mundy was a headache for Lloyd and his staff, then a star at WVU and then a guy who could play for his hometown Steelers, the typical Michigan fan response is "Idunno it's a mystery" and the non-Michigan fan response is "lolz SCuM sux!" The homer response is "Well, the staff that fixed Mundy is now at Michigan," and "eeee Barwis."


Charles Stewart (Class of '04)

   Chuckystewart
Vitals: 6'1 – 188 lbs. – 4.47 forty – Farmington Hills, MI
Hype: High 3-star. Rival's 17th-best CB, Scout's 22nd.
Offers: Wisc., MSU, Ind., Louisville, Ky.
Projection: Your typical MSU defensive back, even comes from Farmington Hills Harrison (Stanton, et al.). Ride bench unless M needs an emergency MSU defensive back.

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig. Date Opponent UFR+ URF- TOTAL Game Note
5th Sr 8/30/2008 Utah 1 2 -1 -
5th Sr 9/6/2008 Miami (NTM) 1 3 -2 Responsible for busts that weren't capitalized
5th Sr 9/27/2008 Wisconsin 2 0 2 -
5th Sr 10/4/2008 Illinois 0.5 6 -5.5 Was bad bad.
5th Sr 10/11/2008 Toledo 0.5 3.5 -3 -
5th Sr 10/18/2008 Penn State 0 1 -1 -
5th Sr 10/25/2008 MSU 1 3 -2 "Can't cover White receiver named White (We're from White!)"
5th Sr 11/1/2008 Purdue 1 1 0 -
5th Sr 11/8/2008 Minnesota 1 1 0 -
5th Sr 11/15/2008 Northwestern 0.5 1 -0.5 -

Stewart spent his youth on special teams and playing some sparing cornerback, moving to safety only after his redshirt soph campaign. At CB, he was decidedly not good: not good at coverage, not good at PBUs, not good at tackling. He was thrust into playing a platoon with Steve Brown in 2008 as a 5th year senior, getting more playing time when Brown was in one of his particularly self-destructive moods. Stewart was not much of an upgrade from Brown, and wracked up huge negatives in limited playing time. Against Illinois, Stewart's propensity for getting distracted by shiny things turned Juice Williams into Super-Ninja-Fake-Guy. In his last game as a Wolverine (Ohio State), Stewart had a sideline fight with a Guy Who Looks Like Morpheus. Exeunt.


Jamar Adams (Class of '04)

jamaradams
Vitals: 6'2 – 198 lbs. – 4.49 forty – Charlotte, NC
Hype: High 3-star, Scout's 21st safety, Rival's 18th.
Offers: UCLA, UNC, SC, FSU
Hype: Tall and rangy, Jamar was under the radar for M fans until coming in for Lloyd/English spring hype.

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig. Date Opponent UFR+ URF- TOTAL Game Note
So 9/17/2005 EMU 1 1 0 "Looks more like a linebacker"
Sr 9/8/2007 Oregon 1 7 -6 "Three! Three long touchdowns… ah ah ah"
Sr 9/15/2007 Notre Dame 1 0 1 -
Sr 9/22/2007 Penn State 6 1 5 -
Sr 10/6/2007 EMU 3 1 2 -
Sr 10/13/2007 Purdue 4 2 2 -
Sr 10/20/2007 Illinois 1 1 0 -
Sr 10/27/2007 Minnesota 2 0 2 -
Sr 11/3/2007 MSU 4 1 3 -
Sr 11/10/2007 Wisconsin 6 3 3 -
Sr 11/17/2007 Ohio State 2 3 -1 -

AS BOX SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

So

10/1/2005

MSU

1

2

-1

Did this in one series

So

10/8/2005

Minnesota

0

1

-1

-

So

10/15/2005

Penn State

4

4

0

-

So

10/22/2005

Iowa

2

4

-2

-

So

10/29/2005

Northwestern

0

2

-2

-

So

11/19/2005

Ohio State

0

2

-2

-

Jr

9/2/2006

Vanderbilt

2

2

0

-

Jr

9/9/2006

CMU

3

0

3

-

Jr

9/16/2006

Notre Dame

1

0

1

-

Jr

9/23/2006

Wisconsin

2

0

2

-

Jr

9/30/2006

Minnesota

1

0

1

Injured 2nd half

Jr

10/7/2006

MSU

3

4

-1

Iffy in coverage

Jr

10/14/2006

Penn State

3

2

1

-

Jr

10/21/2006

Iowa

1

0

1

-

Jr

10/28/2006

Northwestern

1

1

0

-

Jr

11/4/2006

Indiana

1

1

0

-

Jr

11/11/2006

Ohio State

2

2

0

-

Even with the more hyped players above him, Jamar was finding his way onto the field early, but as the strong (box) safety, where he was non-distinguishing and non-self-destructive (except for freshman-y things like overrunning a screen here and there). After Steve Brown set a new baseline for bad Free Safety play during the 1st quarter of the Horror, Brandent Englemon took over Jamar's strong role and Adams became the deep safety. He proceeded to not suck.

Jamar provides, if not what perfect free safety play should look like, a good idea of what adequate free safety play should look like. He earned plusses from PBUs and tackling, and as a senior made few mistakes. But it was a very rocky start.


Brandon Harrison (Class of '05)

brandonnisharssions
Vitals: 5'9 – 190 – 4.3 forty – Dayton, OH
Hype: 4-star CB, 16th to Rivals, 17th to Scout
Offers: Early Notre Dame commit until Ty left, Iowa
Projection: Actually 5'8.5. Electronically timed 4.25 forty was his raison d'etre. Mighty Mite who will buzz buzz buzz around everywhere because he is Mighty Mite!

AT DEEP SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

Fr

9/17/2005

EMU

0

1

-1

-

Fr

9/24/2005

Wisconsin

2

0

2

"Pressing Barringer"

Fr

10/1/2005

MSU

0

3

-3

One huge mistake on screen TD

Fr

10/8/2005

Minnesota

1

1

0

-

Fr

10/15/2005

Penn State

0

2

-2

-

Fr

10/22/2005

Iowa

0

0

0

Played Nickel Cover 3 all day

AT BOX SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

Fr 10/29/2005 Northwestern 3 0 3 -

Harrison's recruiting profile said he very short but very very fast; as it turned out he was very short and very not fast, his 4.25 40-yard dash the biggest FAKE in the history of FAKE.

I didn't show Harrison's later career at box safety and nickelback because we're focusing on the deep safety position, and he didn't play deep safety again after his freshman year. Harrison's redshirt was burned early during SAFETY ARMAGEDDON and he played well in run support, but not great against the pass when left as the deep man. The emergence of Englemon and Adams at safety made Harrison primarily a nickelback for the meat of his career, until becoming the box safety in RR's first year. This nickelback spot was actually pretty similar to the linebacker-ish (spinner to GERG, spur to Casteel) box safety role that Steve Brown played last year during 3-3-5 days. For that role, Harrison was undersized at taking on blockers, but mostly didn't have to, as Michigan had a good enough front 7 to play him in zone. In space he was a responsible tackler, but never anything special.


Steve Brown (Class of '06)

Inside you there was always a linebacker
Vitals: 6'0 – 197 – 4.39 forty – Columbus, IN
Hype: High 4-star, Scout's 10th best safety, Rival's 7th, didn't crack Top 150. Lemming's 99th overall. Rivals had him as a corner until later. Injuries depressed rankings.
Offers: ND, Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue, OSU offer was always coming but never materialized.
Projection: Your typical 4-star, U-M/OSU level safety which had been anything but typical for Michigan in recent years.

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

Jr 8/30/2008 Utah 4 4 0 -
Jr 9/6/2008 Miami (NTM) 1 5 -4 Is he the new Mundy?
Jr 9/13/2008 Notre Dame 2 5 -3 -
Jr 9/27/2008 Wisconsin 5 2.5 2.5 -
Jr 10/4/2008 Illinois 1.5 1 0.5 -
Jr 10/11/2008 Toledo 0.5 0 0.5 -
Jr 10/18/2008 Penn State 0 1 -1 -
Jr 10/25/2008 MSU 0 7.5 -7.5 Cost the game
Jr 11/1/2008 Purdue 1.5 3 -1.5 -
Jr 11/8/2008 Minnesota 3 0 3 -
Jr 11/15/2008 Northwestern 5.5 2 3.5 -

Brown's MGoBlog YMRMFSPA was a foreshadowing "Abstain so as to avoid tainting Brown with memories of safeties past." This gave way to spring hype when true sophomore (burned redshirt on '06 special teams, natch!) Brown won the starting Free Safety position over Brandon Harrison. In his first game, Steve put in the single worst performance by a Michigan player since some guy in 1885 who got buried in mud and spent the rest of the game pleasing himself. After three plays, against an FCS team, Brown was –5 and had given up a 68-yard touchdown. The next time App State did anything other than Zone Read Handoff, Brown got out of position on a slant and gave up another TD, leaving the game 5 minutes into the 2nd quarter with a 0/9/-9.

At one point in a 2008 UFR, Brian rhetorically asked if Steve Brown was the new Ryan Mundy. According to the Chart? Chart! above, Steve Brown was mucho more erratic than Mundy. Mundy's UFRs would say things like "0/1/-1 Didn't Cover Anybody;" Brown's would end with variations on "0.5/0/0.5 Not his fault" and "2/5/-3 Holy Hell Man!" Occasionally he would do something great like pick off Ohio State's opening drive. Then he would do something like trip over his dick and earn more scorn from InterWeb-types.

Brown ultimately found redemption by playing the "likes his meat raw" linebacker/safety hybrid position. Had his redshirt not been burned, he would be the third (and best) 5th year senior linebacker on this year's team. As a safety, he was emblematic of the disaster zone that position has been in Ann Arbor.


Michael Williams (Class of '07)

 Mickeywillwill
Vitals: 5'10 – 181 – 4.7 (NOT FAKE) forty – Ventura, CA
Hype: 4-star safety, 5th best to Scout, 15th to Rivals, 10th to ESPN (#94 overall). Height and lack of speed earned a YMRMFSPA Brandon Harrison.
Offers: ND, Zona, ASU
Projection: Another typical 4-star, and we were happy. Strangely, lack of FAKE forty time and size raised no red flags.

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig. Date Opponent UFR+ URF- TOTAL Game Note
RS So 10/10/2009 Iowa 2 8 -6 Why wasn't Woolfolk a corner? This guy, right here.

AS BOX SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

RS Fr

10/11/2008

Toledo

1.5

0

1.5

-

RS Fr

10/18/2008

Penn State

0.5

1

-0.5

-

RS Fr

11/8/2008

Minnesota

0

0

0

-

RS Fr

11/15/2008

Northwestern

0

0

0

-

RS So

9/5/2009

WMU

1

0

1

-

RS So

9/12/2009

Notre Dame

0

2

-2

-

RS So

9/19/2009

EMU

2.5

4

-1.5

-

RS So

10/3/2009

MSU

1

0

1

Pulled

RS So

10/24/2009

Penn State

1

5

-4

Can't play box safety either

RS So

10/31/2009

Illinois

2.5

14.5

-12

"DELICATELY PHRASED STATEMENT"

RS So

11/7/2009

Purdue

0

3

-3

-

Delicately phrased statement indeed. Coming out of high school, Williams was expected to play Ron English's "nickleback" official position, which is what Harrison was playing and apparently is like the "bandit" box safety position that Kovacs played well '09, except instead of lots of intelligence apparently it needs highly overrated short/slow guys.

At the time I couldn't justify his recruiting rankings beside his hype, but I wasn't going to argue with pros who tell me we have a Top 10 safety guy coming in, and figured he was just a really heady player. He isn't. Rather than call him a bust, I would say that he was overrated coming out of high school (Pac Ten playas UCLA and Oregon looked at him but didn't offer before he took the blue pill). At box safety, was just really bad. As deep safety was horrific. His best hope is to go the Stevie Brown route and beat out Thomas Gordon at the meat-raw ("spur") box safety position, but Brown was much better at this point of his career than Williams.


Troy Woolfolk (Class of '07):

 safety Troy Woolfolk (29) plays during Michigan's 26-20 loss to Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday October 3, 2009 (ZACHARY MEISNER/Daily)
Vitals: 5'10 – 170 – 4.5 forty – Sugarland, TX
Hype: Low 3-star CB, 44th to Rivals, 3-star CB, 44th to Scout.
Offers: Nebraska, Houston. Committed before Big Three in-state (TX) offered.
Projection: Special teams appearances that give Game Day Program publishers excuse to do a story on Butch at least once

AS DEEP SAFETY:

Elig. Date Opponent UFR+ URF- TOTAL Game Note
Jr 9/5/2009 WMU 1 3 -2 -
Jr 9/12/2009 Notre Dame 2 3.5 -1.5 Missed tackles
Jr 9/19/2009 EMU 0 1.5 -1.5 Was better than this says
Jr 9/26/2009 Indiana 0.5 3 -2.5 -
Jr 10/3/2009 MSU 0 3 -3 Wasn't tested deep, missed some cleanup
Jr 11/14/2009 Wisconsin 0 1 -1 Not tested much

Butch's son was the true 3-star gem, a legacy recruit listed at 5'10, 170 by Scout (he's now 6'1 at least) who hit a late growth spurt, then added that to his stride and became, by 2008, the fastest player on the team.

His redshirt burned on special teams in 2007, Troy made his own name for himself as a sophomore, earning playing time behind Morgan Trent in 2008. With lots of safeties injured, Troy, who had already secured the starting CB spot opposite Donovan Warren, filled in at free safety, where Woolfolk was a rangy deep guard who basically kept balls from being thrown center-deep and whiffed a tackle or two per game. An even more dire need for him at corner saw Troy return to that position, where he had greater success. If cornerback wasn't even more dire than safety, Troy would likely be the Hero this year. As it is, he will start 2010 (at corner) as the team's lone proven and trustworthy deep defensive back; if Troy gets hurt this year, the universe will probably end.


Jordan Kovacs (Walk-On, Class of '08)

  jordan-kovacs-fs

 

Vitals: 6'0 – 200 – bipedal primate of exceptional intelligence – Curtice, OH
Hype: First-team All-Toledo City League at WR.
Claim to Fame: By the end of Fall Practice, 2009, his position coach knew his name.
Projection: Palmer Field between History 220 and Comm 102

AT DEEP SAFETY:

Elig. Date Opponent UFR+ URF- TOTAL Game Note
RS Fr 10/24/2009 Penn State 1 6 -5 "Just can't play deep half"
RS Fr 10/31/2009 Illinois 0 3 -3 "Burned as deep safety."
RS Fr 11/7/2009 Purdue 1 5 -4 Obvious liability at deep position

AT BOX SAFETY:

Elig.

Date

Opponent

UFR+

URF-

TOTAL

Game Note

RS Fr

9/12/2009

Notre Dame

1

0

1

-

RS Fr

9/19/2009

EMU

2

1

1

-

RS Fr

9/26/2009

Indiana

3

4

-1

-

RS Fr

10/3/2009

MSU

7.5

3

4.5

Displayed knack for getting to ball

RS Fr

10/10/2009

Iowa

2.5

3

-0.5

"Good downhill box safety"

RS Fr

11/14/2009

Wisconsin

4

4

0

Undersized against Big Ten blockers but much better than Smith

Ladies and gentlemen, your top returning tackler for 2010. That Kovacs was a student body walk-on is well-tread territory. Also well-tread territory was that his speed is not anywhere close to being good enough to play deep safety, as Kovacs got burnt crispy during his 4-game stint there when Woolfolk was moved to try to plug the more dire (?)cornerback leak. At box safety, Kovacs turned in some of the best performances in five seasons, especially at tackling. He demonstrated a clear nose for the ball, a good head, and solid technique despite not-great speed – like a slightly larger version of Brandon Harrison actually.

His play at box safety, however, is not under review. At deep safety, Kovacs was smarter than Michael Williams, and for a freshman, surprisingly good at being in the right spot. The problem was in how long he took to get to that spot, i.e. pure speed, or the lack thereof. Kovacs didn't have the athleticism to chase down a Hoosier receiver or Hoosier tailback, let alone provide coverage assistance on a deep seam to an Ohio State receiver. With him in a deep safety, Michigan was at serious risk of four long TDs per game.


Coming up:

Hero With a Thousand Faces, Part II: A breakdown of the above info, plus candidates for the role in 2010, and how they may compare to the erstwhile heroes we just talked about.
EDIT: A complete re-imagining of the position with regards to new, important information as to the future of our defensive scheme, and what it requires from the free safety spot.

DARKSIDEcam VLADIMPALESthings

Cameron 'Dark Side' Gordon

Vladimir 'The Impaler' Emilien

'Marvelous' Marvin Robinson

Comments

Suavdaddy

August 5th, 2010 at 12:26 PM ^

That is one hell of an article.  Terrifying also.  I try my best to circulate these articles to people who say "its Michigan" we have great recruits there is no talent fall off, etc.  Glaringly awful. 

El Jeffe

August 5th, 2010 at 1:18 PM ^

To me there were two terrifying things:

  1. The fact that a lot of the FS recruits were pretty highly regarded, and still didn't pan out/weren't coached up properly; and
  2. The fact that due to poor recruiting in the latter Lloyd (Hallowed Be His Name) years and bad player development, we had to start Kovacs, a (1) freshman (2) non-preferred walk-on (3) who was physically totally ill-suited to play the FS position.

I end with a plea:

Dear Cam Gordon:

Please be good at football.

xoxo El Jeffe

ironman4579

August 5th, 2010 at 12:32 PM ^

I still say Jamar Adams was woefully underrated by most people.  He was at least average most of the time, and that's more than we've had at deep safety in a long time, before or since.

desmondintherough

August 5th, 2010 at 12:38 PM ^

Always enjoy your diaries, great read.  I don't know why I have an attachment to Mike Williams, but I really want that kid to do well.  Hard to see it from the evidence we have so far, but there's always the Stevie Brown comparison.

Michigan4Life

August 5th, 2010 at 12:57 PM ^

who are more suited to play in the box rather than deep.  Michigan need a true S who is rangy and can cover.  I guess it's why so many Michigan fans are excited about DD because of this characteristics.  He's fast, can cover and is rangy plus can hit a little bit.

 

I'm hoping that JT Turner can move to deep safety down the road because he clearly has outgrown CB position since he's about 6'3"(rumored to be 6'5" [!!!!!!!]).  He's the perfect deep safety.  He can cover, rangy and can fill in for run support.

langkyl

August 5th, 2010 at 1:04 PM ^

Suavdaddy....

I think you should go back to Michigan for a post-grad degree, and lineup at Deep Safety. You could deflect balls with your Toupe, and slick oiled up skin.

steve sharik

August 5th, 2010 at 1:08 PM ^

This:

Elig. Date Opponent UFR+ URF- TOTAL Game Note
RS Fr 10/24/2009 Penn State 1 6 -5 "Just can't play deep half"
RS Fr 10/31/2009 Illinois 0 3 -3 "Burned as deep safety."
RS Fr 11/7/2009 Purdue 1 5 -4 Obvious liability at deep position

is why I am concerned about him playing Bandit.  He will be good in the overhang position (box safety to you), but when teams line up in 1-back and a balanced formation, he will have to play a deep safety. 

If I know this, I'm betting that OC's who get paid thousands of dollars know our weak-side safety can't run and got burnt a lot last year when playing a deep zone.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but if I'm RichRod, this keeps me awake at night.

Seth

August 5th, 2010 at 1:25 PM ^

You know a lot more about this stuff than I do, but my understanding was that Kovacs wouldn't have to play a lot of deep safety against balanced formations. This is what I mean:

        HB        
                 
  SL     QB     SL  
WR   OT OG C OG OT   WR
------------- ------------- ------------- ------------- ------------- ------------- ------------- ------------- -------------
    RVB   Campbell   Martin    
                 
Floyd   Mouton   Ezeh   Roh   Woolfolk
                 
  T.Gordon           Kovacs  
        C.Gordon        

If there's a shift into a balanced formation, we shift along with them to maintain our balanced set. Right?

steve sharik

August 5th, 2010 at 3:46 PM ^

...cover the flat and all 4 vertical seams from that defensive alignment.  More specifically, cover bubble screen and 4 verts.  At the same time, defend the speed sweep.

Having coached this defense from 2001-2005, let me assure you that if you face 1-back and they know how to throw it (and I cannot empahsize this enough), you simply cannot play a 1-high defense all game long...unless you like getting torched, that is.

Seth

August 5th, 2010 at 4:43 PM ^

Well, I'm not exclusively in Cover 1 -- I have 4 more defensive backs who can drop into Cover 2 or 3 with Cam. I also can blitz them, or blitz linebackers, since the 4-wide without a running QB gives me 6-on-5 in the box.

This was the base defense for most of 2006 from the UFRs and videos I went through. Ostensibly, it was a Nickel defense, with two linebackers and four linemen, but look at the UFRs: you've got Woodley backing off and lining up in all sorts of places, very much like how GERG was using Roh. Michigan would leave one guy deep (Adams), and drop the two box safeties, which English then-called "Free Safety" (Englemon) and Nickelback (Harrison), deep as well. There was usually either one blitz or none from the linebackers, since five guys typically had a tough time matchup up against Woodley, Branch, Johnson, and Biggs/Jamison. Crable/Burgess would often be the extra blitzer, and the box safeties would play back and spy the screen, leaving Chris Graham and David Harris to cover the flat and track down runners.

What made it so effective was the d-line play: four rushers would out-man six (5 linemen and a QB) offensive players. The planned running gap was never there, and David Harris had his nose in every cut-back lane. Lloyd thus played the DBs super-conservative, so offenses had to make a lot of successful plays in a row to score (do an easy thing many times rather than a hard thing a few times). Because the D-Line was so dominant, that was pretty effective.

steve sharik

August 6th, 2010 at 12:29 AM ^

I have 4 more defensive backs who can drop into Cover 2 or 3 with Cam.

If you're dropping into Cover 2, it has to be either T. Gordon or Kovacs.  Um, not good.  Cover 3 is a 1-high coverage, technically, and is vulnerable to all the things I mentioned previously.

You then use star personnel to describe the soundness of the scheme.  You seem to be basing the success of this front on having Woodley, Branch, Crable, Burgess, and David Harris.  The 2006 squad also featured Leon Hall.  These were 6 players who would play in the NFL the following year.  Name one player on this defense who will be in an NFL uniform for the fall of 2011.

You cannot use "great players" to compensate for a poor scheme.  Sure, it works against inferior talent, but what happened to that defense against OSU and USC, two teams who could throw it and had talent to match?  Is that what you want for this defense?

Again, I'm not worried about the run defense anywhere near as worried as I am about defending the pass.

Don

August 6th, 2010 at 2:59 AM ^

Our run defense in conference games wasn't that great, either; we tied with Purdue for dead last in yard per carry allowed, and that was with BG. A whole lot of people are just assuming we're going to be better without him, and to me that's a big leap of faith. Couple that with the vulnerabilities in defending the pass you outline, and we're going to need a 2006 WVU-quality offense to keep up with the points we're going to be yielding on defense. I think our victories are going to be of the 41-39 variety.

steve sharik

August 6th, 2010 at 10:44 AM ^

Look at what strengths and weaknesses this team possesses, and to me it's clear that it's much better equipped to stop the run than the pass.

You run against the defensive front, and that's 3 returning starters at DL and 3 returning starters at LB.

You throw against the secondary, and that's 2 returning starters, one of which jumped b/w corner and safety and the other is a former walk-on. The other 3 are two brand new players and one corner who hasn't shown he can be successful.

If you were a team with the ability to throw it or run it, which would you rather attack us with?

Don

August 6th, 2010 at 1:26 PM ^

Given the disparity in experience you point out between the front seven and the secondary, it would make sense for an offense to target the latter more frequently.

However, some here say that our troubles last year in run defense were due in large measure to horrible LB play. If you agree with that view, do we know yet that our returning LBs are going to be appreciably better than last year?

Maybe it will come down to whether Greg Robinson is able to get the vastly better play out of the LBs that many seem to be assuming he can. If so, then we'll have a defense that can keep opposing offenses in check just enough to allow our offense to win games. If it doesn't happen, then we're going to be in a bunch of 42-38 games where the offense is going to have to consistently productive all game long.

Seth

August 6th, 2010 at 8:30 AM ^

I had Part II half-written (they were one diary to begin with) but I'm going to start watching a lot of Virginia Tech defense and see if I can pick out what defense, exactly, we are going to be running.

Thanks for helping me pick this stuff apart.

This isn't, ultimately, going to be a scheme-info diary. I just don't know enough about that kind of stuff to do scheme. My purpose in this exercise is to figure out what kinds of natural strengths each player needs to have in order to play this position well, and which weaknesses can be buried? Need he be big, or at least tall, or can a mighty mite do it? Must he have 4.3 speed, or is he protected by nature of being deeper? How about a sock-it-to-'em hitter, like Doss of OSU 2002, and to a lesser degree, Shazor -- is that the most important feature of this position?

Ultimately, I want an approximated way to weight various characteristics of free safeties based on past free safety play, then apply that based on what we know about those currently in contention for this position.

What I should have done -- and started doing but stopped mid-way -- was keep the coverage metrics for those games as well, to see if having one or another type of safety affected those numbers. Maybe I'll go back and do that again, but going through every D UFR from '05 through '09 is arduous.

What I'm not going to be able to do is explain the why, schematically,  this position requires any given ability more than another.

steve sharik

August 6th, 2010 at 12:07 PM ^

...but there is one immeasurable quality that is the key to safety play, and that is instinct. You have to have a coach who knows how to teach the safeties to use their eyes correctly, and that can improve their instincts, but some guys are just better at it than others.

Exhibit A: Sean Taylor

Exhibit B: Taylor Mays

Sean Taylor also played with and after a guy named Ed Reed. The man responsible for recruiting both of those individuals is Butch Davis. He is now at UNC and has a pair of future NFL safeties on his hands. Someone needs to go talk to Butch and learn about safety play. (Saban is a guru, too.)

BiSB

August 5th, 2010 at 1:32 PM ^

In that scenario, Kovacs would presumably be in some sort of halves/cover 2 alignment, in which he only has to cover half of the field.  That's a much better situation for him than last year, where as a true free/deep safety he would be responsible for a lot more territory.

When he GOT to the ball, he was fine... and while he's hardly a bedread dilithium-enhanced burner, I think he's fast enought to cover a deep half.

/Crosses fingers, knocks wood, throws salt over shoulder in general direction of Seabass.

steve sharik

August 5th, 2010 at 3:28 PM ^

...when Penn State got the long Quarless TD.  He wasn't at fault for the reception, but when a TE runs up the hash on your side of the field, there's no way he should score.  In fact, a good half safety would've tackled him soon after the reception, much less chase him down.

BiSB

August 5th, 2010 at 4:03 PM ^

Kovacs was never in position to make that tackle.  He was 15 yards outside of Quarless, and a step behind, and the TE was at full speed at the 30.  No one, not even Woolfolk, catches him there. 

FWIW, I wonder why he was that far towards the sideline.  Kovacs seemed to be playing a deep half, but Warren couldn't be counted on for anything deep (he had an oncovered receiver in front of him, and 90% of the time someone is going to take a route to the near sideline and take away any chance to provide deep help).  Hell, there wasn't a DB deeper than 10 yards between the numbers.  I share your concerns about the 4-verticals, but those concerns would exist if Kovacs ran a 4.2. 

steve sharik

August 6th, 2010 at 1:36 AM ^

...the TD was on Kovacs.  The position was originally named "safety" b/c the player was back there to save TDs.  If you're playing a deep half there is simply no excuse for a player on your half of the field to catch a ball behind you and beat you to the end zone.

Kovacs didn't properly recognize formation.  He had three receivers to his side.  His keys as a deep half player were #2 to #1.  Both ran hitches.  He should have continued to get depth and refocus his eyes to #3.  Not only did he not continue to get depth (he throttled down to be a factor on two hitches that were squatted on by the corner and the spur), he didn't look-up #3.  By the time he saw the ball thrown, it was too late.  He was way out of position and, thus, TD Nittany Lions.

BiSB

August 6th, 2010 at 11:03 AM ^

I'm just saying that it was a matter of positioning, scheme and recognition, and not of speed.  We ran that same coverage 400 times this season (see: OMG IOWA TEs), and got burned many, many times.

My point was merely that Jesus on a 4-wheeler couldn't have caught the TE on that play.

steve sharik

August 7th, 2010 at 9:00 AM ^

...made it a big play, but a fast safety probably catches him before it's a TD.

I believe that speed is more important in zone coverage than man coverage b/c a DB can use positioning and hands to slow a receiver down, but zone coverage requires a DB to cover a lot of ground quickly b/c there is more distance to close on a receiver.

To me, man coverage is mainly about technique and quickness, while zone coverage is mainly about discipline, instinct, and speed.

Blue in Seattle

August 10th, 2010 at 10:05 PM ^

but a talented (athletic skill) safety doubles up on the tight end in time to prevent the pass or knock it down.  So I expect with coaching and intelligent players (without desired athletic ability) that play ends up as first down, not touchdown.

But I don't think we'll see Kovacs helping Cam Gordon.  I'm not familiar with the other options, but I think they'll be trying them out at the beginning of the season.

Blue in Seattle

August 5th, 2010 at 1:23 PM ^

While your goal was just to focus on deep safety, you did mention how the awesome play of DL and LB helped cover over the average to below average skill at deep safety.  In general, the mindset and play of most Big Ten teams did not frequently exploit that weakness.  But what seems night and day to me from the 2006 season, was the difference between the Bowl Game against USC and all other games that year.  Initially USC attempted a balanced run/pass game, but then finally gave up when they realized that if they kept two running backs in the backfield, they gave the QB more than enough time to hit one of their two NFL level receivers.  Even up two scores they just continued throwing the ball since that was all that would work.  Reminded me quite a bit of Lisa and Bart Simpson playing Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Bart - "Good ole rock, nothin' beats that!", Lisa - "Poor Bart, always picks Rock", Bart - "Doh!"

(P.S. - Michigan D is Bart in this analogy)

In any case, with the Deep Safety skill not changing much, the biggest difference from 2009 was the entirely confused play of the LB core, and love the references at the beginning.  Now that most of the Big Ten is playing High Count (Spread?) receiver formations on offense, I'm not sure if the comparison to the years prior to 2008 are really representative.  In other words, if the LB's can't execute, we will continue to see the Deep Safety pulled out of position trying to patch the hole, leaving them much more vulnerable to fulfilling their true purpose.

That said, I'm still way eager to read part 2 and drink what ever flavor kool-aid you are offering.

Seth

August 5th, 2010 at 2:22 PM ^

Uh, well, let's check...

The title is the same as that of his opus...

I repeat themes of character over different ages and stories...

The overall theme is finding congruence in different story lines...

It's me...

I'd say there's a good chance.

Tacopants

August 5th, 2010 at 11:50 PM ^

Yeah yeah.  I know its you.  But you'd be surprised how many people know of his work but don't know about him.

That and his title is "The Hero with a Thousand Faces".  That's the only thing that made me possibly question the Campbell-ness.

Pea-Tear Gryphon

August 5th, 2010 at 3:04 PM ^

One question I didn't see asked yet, but when did Cam Gordon (picture at the top I presume)grow white man hands and get married. I think that concerns me more than anything else you mentioned in your diary.

As always though, nicely done.

BlueGoM

August 6th, 2010 at 7:12 AM ^

It seems to me that people keep ripping on the kid for being a walk-on.   Usually his name is followed with "OMG WALK ON!".   For some reason that really rubs me the wrong way.

I'm sure he probably doesn't have the speed to keep up with some (or most) of the B10 WR's, but he must be playing for a reason.  Either the other guys aren't ready or he's been out-working them, maybe both. 

Anyway I am rooting for the kid and I hope he gets to keep playing.  I'm sure the coaches will move him to a spot where he'll be most effective and his lack of top end speed will be less of a problem.   Call me crazy.

Oh and another good entry, Misopogon. +1