Roster Report Card - Defense

Submitted by AC1997 on December 22nd, 2010 at 9:57 PM

Previously I did the offense, now for the scarier side of the ball.  I don’t recommend reading for at least 30 minutes after eating a meal. 

To repeat from the earlier post, this Diary is intended to be a “state of the roster” type of summary heading into the final recruiting stretch.   It is meant to be a diversion from coaching rumors, general recruiting chatter, or Miss St. preview posts.   Obviously all bets are off if a coaching change is made and this summary will change (hopefully for the better) when signing day rolls around.  In general,  I thought this would generate some good discussion and that’s what this website is all about.  Refer to Brian’s Depth Chart By Classfor a list of the relevant players.

Defensive Tackle – C+

This grade avoids being lower thanks to Mike Martin’s awesomeness.   He’s by far the best player on the defensive side of the ball and without him this grade would have been an F.  The problem is that there are so few people behind him.   If Michigan wanted to run a 4-3 they would slide VanBergen over to DT rather than trust the position to anyone else on the depth chart behind Martin.  Maybe Washington will turn out to be more than goal-life beef, maybe Ash lives up to some practice hype that’s been out there, or maybe Talbott surpasses low expectations.  But there is almost no depth and no one projects as anything close to all-big ten.   Since losing two recruits on signing day a couple of years ago and having Will Campbell prove ESPN to be right about his talents, this position has been a horror show.   This is the #1 priority in recruiting for years to come.

Defensive End – B-

Craig Roh still projects as an above average Big Ten player once he’s in his natural position and RVB is steady at the other spot (even if I’d rather see him in the middle of a 4-3 base defense).    Jibreel Black played a lot as a true-freshman and showed flashes of talent – he could match Roh’s potential.  Paskorz, Wilkins, Rock, and Beyer provide adequate depth without much star potential.   There is enough talent and depth here to be solid but unspectacular – hence the grade.

Linebacker – C

Sigh… long has it been since we had optimism with this position?  Demens looks like he will be a solid two-year starter with a chance to be above average.  But who else will start?  The roster is a weird collection of over-sized safeties and undersized linebackers.  Mike Jones and Brandon Herron have played but are still unknowns.  Fitzgerald and Leach have never shown the ability to play more than special teams.   Isiah Bell and Jake Ryan seem like MLB material, but have been invisible to practice buzz.  Kellen Jones and Desmond Morgan are very solid signings in this recruiting class but hopefully get a year of seasoning.  I expect Cam Gordon to essentially be a linebacker for this defense and don’t be surprised to see Thomas Gordon, Marvin Robinson, Josh Furman, or even Carvin Johnson play some too.  Depth is not an issue – talent and finding the right role for people are the issue.

Corner – C+

Are you surprised this isn’t a lower grade?  After a horrific series of events led to this position being a black hole for too long (8 players that would have had eligibility were unable to contribute in 2010 for various reasons), there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Floyd was erratic but returns as a veteran.  Avery saw extensive time long before he should have and that should help him develop into a solid starter.   Talbott got some time and could be a solid bench player.  (I’m considering Christian a Free Safety.)  Troy Woolfolk’s position for 2011 is unknown, but if it is corner he’ll bring valuable experience to let the young guys develop.  The current recruiting class may be “short” on stars but has a lot of depth to bolster the biggest weakness on the D. 

Strong Safety – C+

Kovacs is the sort of guy you love having on your team, but not really as a 4-year starter.  None the less, he’ll be his reliable but limited self next year.  Expect a push from Carvin Johnson or possibly Marvin Robinson or Josh Furman if they stick at this position.   Finding the right balance between brains and brawn at this position will be critical, and signing a blue-chip recruit would be spectacular.

Free Safety – D

The good news is that the people on the roster are young and have some experience.  The bad news is that there’s almost zero depth, the players on the roster have obvious limitations, and it isn’t clear if help is on the way.  I suppose Vinopal is your default starter with Cullen Christian the likely back-up.  I would like to see Woolfolk shore up this position for a year, but he might play corner instead.  Carvin Johnson might convert to this position, but he seems better suited for Strong Safety.  I fully expect one of the incoming recruits to move to this position, probably Brown or Crawford.  There is flexibility with some of these players, but this is a position where you want a savvy veteran who knows the position. 

Punter – B

Hagerup had some freshman moments, but overall was reliable when rushed into service.  Expect him only to improve and perhaps even challenge some of the Space Emperor’s milestones….okay, maybe not – but he’ll  be fine.

Punt Returner – D

As with the Kick Return position, there should be plenty of viable candidates who could do well but the results don’t prove that out.  Gallon was a mess for much of the year, Hemmingway offers little upside and is too injury prone, and hardly anyone else got a chance.  Expect Drew Dileo to get the first chance and he might prove to be valuable. 


A note on scheme for a moment….

I have no qualifications that let me comment intelligently on scheme or tactics, but I have common sense and 25 years of watching this team.  I think the 3-3-5 is a way to use scheme to confuse the offense when it is run correctly.  In that way it can help offset a lack of talent – but it requires the players to know it and run it well.  Given that Michigan’s D combines a lack of top talent with a dose of inexperience and a dash of lack-of-depth, this is not a recipe for success as we’ve seen.  I would much rather stick to a simple defense and run it well – living with the consequences. 

For that reason I would like to see a 4-3 base defense with Black-RVB-Martin-Roh as the line.  That seems to be a solid starting unit with a decent number of back-ups.  Demens and company can sort out the linebackers.  I would put Floyd and Avery at corner (and let the entire depth chart fight it out for those two starting spots), Kovacs at strong safety if he can hold off Johnson and Robinson, and then let Woolfolk be the free safety. 



December 22nd, 2010 at 10:28 PM ^

B is appropriate for the first 11 games of the season but getting suspended before OSU takes you to a D at best.  Sorry Hagerup.

As for the hypothetical 4-3 lineup, Woolfolk should definitely play FS.  He's our best and most experienced DB and we need a serious playmaker at that spot no matter if we're in a 3-3-5 or a 4-3.  The line should be better with age and recovery from injuries, but we have to sign a DT in this class to keep building depth.  I'm still rooting for a new DC in the new year.


December 22nd, 2010 at 10:31 PM ^

Thought the DTs did a much better job than the ends on the line.  Still think Roh is better as an OLB as his "natural position" than DE, so I am confused by that part.  I think he is capable of more than 6 tackles in a game (which was his highest tackle total of the year against Illinois)

Punter B....I must be missing something here?

OMG Shirtless

December 23rd, 2010 at 11:43 AM ^

I think part of the problm is that the OP's grading is confusing he says he's grading depth/talent going forward but he's also basing it on past performance.  If you look at the performance this season it is easy to say that the DTs were better.  If you are looking at the depth/talent going forward, an argument can be made that the DE position is better situated.

Your comment also implies that you agreed with Irish that Roh was a better OL than a DE, that's what Nosce Te Ipsum's took issue with, he never said that Roh was better than Martin.


December 23rd, 2010 at 3:03 PM ^

Really didn't think he was as effective this year with his hand down than a year ago when he was in the hybrid role.  I am sure he benefitted from graham being on the other side but didn't expect this type of season from him after his freshman year.  


December 23rd, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

Well, although the DTs played better than DEs I guess that what the OP is grading is also the depth of the position, he clearly says(writes) that if DTs are graded that way is because of Martin, and Martin will be a senior next year with no foreseeable replacement, that's why he gave DTs a lower grade.

Roh is by far better suited to play DE, he's just too skinny (if weighing 250 pounds is skinny) yet, but covering receivers and RB's made him look slow, he has good pass rush movements and plays better attacking the QB from a 3 point stance.

The DE position has much more depth and both RVB and Roh were steady when playing at that position, granted kind of lackluster and unespectacular, however above the average from the entire defense (wich makes me a sad panda)

Hagerup?, well I'd give him a B if it wasn't for that game he missed against tOSU, his first starts were iffy, but later in the season he was booming kicks, IIRC he averaged above 50yds per punt in a couple of games and against Purdue(?), he got a 70ish yard punt and the second longest punt in school history according to the network guys.


December 22nd, 2010 at 11:12 PM ^ the team will finish with an 8-4 record. More likely 7-5 than 9-3.

It does not matter who is coaching, the lack of skilled and experienced players on defense is going to hurt the team.

I think most of the improvement next year will show on the offensive side of the ball.

I hope they prove me wrong and do better.

On edit; I forgot to add in the other reason I am pessimistic for next season: we are going to still be hurting for kick-offs and field goals. I expect that will cost us at least one game we would have been able to win otherwise.


December 23rd, 2010 at 12:19 PM ^

Seriously, who do you project for losses? tOSU & Nebraska I can understand. Of the remaining, do you see losses to ND? MSU? Iowa? If those teams were at the same level as this year, I could agree. But our experience is way up, and they are going down in experience, if the graduation rates are correct. Of course, this is why they play the games, but I am much more optimistic for next year.

Fuzzy Dunlop

December 23rd, 2010 at 3:33 PM ^

Blind optimism is not something to be lauded.

We were 7-5 this year by teh skin of our teeth, and very easily could have lost three of our wins.  Yet once the offseason comes, people become delusional and start thinking things like "no way we only go 8-4 next year, we're definitely at least a 9-win team!"

Unless and until we see a defense that is not one of the 10 worst in college football, 8-4 is a fair prediction.


December 22nd, 2010 at 10:46 PM ^

NO matter who the coach is...i prefer RR to JH....he will know how to use the available talent!! I agree with 8-4 / 9-3 for next year unless we catch fire and and a few lucky rolls. Granted it may be too soon to even start talking about next year but when you have an explosive offense like we do..when healthy...we can out score anyone!! Mark my words no matter what we will have a top 3 ranked O....DRob will be at Heisman ceremony...and if we get those lucky rolls a BCS bowl...but nothing less than Cap One bowl! One would also think the amount of bowls we have attended in Fla over the years has impacted our recruiting for the positive... GO BLUE!!


December 22nd, 2010 at 11:28 PM ^

Who do you think we are going to lose against? We do have a pretty nice schedule next year.  I think we have 8 home games.  I'm not going to predict anything for next year.  A lot can happen between now and then.  Some players could really develop for our defense during the off season.  Plus we will have Woolfolk back and all the young guys that gained experience from this year. 


December 23rd, 2010 at 12:05 AM ^

I think Iowa is going to be a wreck next year, so I wouldn't count them as a loss quite yet.  As for MSU, they have been playing with borrowed time against UM for a couple of years now, and I expect the tide to turn as Greg Jones leaves and they lose some guys on both lines and in the secondary.  Still a good team, but they may be one of the least impressive 11-1 teams I've seen in recent memory.  They'll regress back next year, and UM should be surging.

OSU will always be tough, and who knows how Nebraska will play esp. given the uncertainty with Pelini.  Things like that can screw up a team, especially one that is moving to a completely new conference.

I see this team getting to 10 wins next year with a bowl win.


December 23rd, 2010 at 8:52 AM ^

I think it's very possible to get one against either Iowa or MSU.  I personally think that Notre Dame will be tougher than either of those two teams.  We won't have the benefit of playing a team without a quarterback for half the game, they'll be in the second year in their system instead of their first, and they have always recruited well and have talent.

With the favorable schedule, my two goals for next year are: 9 wins (including the 13th game, the bowl game) and no blow-out losses (nothing more than 10 points.)


December 23rd, 2010 at 1:14 AM ^

of the season, it's tough to give passing grades to almost any of the "positions".  Every player, played his heart out all season long and that is commendable.  The positions on the other hand, aside from DT and some DEs and Mouton some times, were atrocious.  The worst D in Michigan history after saying the same thing last year, I can't honestly give any position a passing grade.  The players played hard and did their best.  The perfomances of the positions aside from the line were bad at best, abissmal at worst.


December 23rd, 2010 at 11:21 AM ^

It seems the last couple of years the talk about the defense in the off-season has been 'it can't get any worse'.  But the defense has gotten worse.

Even if this is a 'state of the roster' heading into the homestretch until I see consistent improvement from the defense on saturday's it's hard to believe that all of the grades handed out are C or better.  Most of these grades should be D's or F's.


December 23rd, 2010 at 8:44 AM ^

The defense will be young, but I hope the D shows some real improvement through the 2011 season.  The Offense should improve next season.  I'm looking at an 8-4 record, an improvement over this season.  I think 2012 will be our break out year where we take out both sparty and the buckeyes at home, and finish with 10 wins and a BCS game.


December 23rd, 2010 at 9:23 AM ^

Your post is a joke, right?

First off, 8-4 would be a terrible year in 2011.

Second off, learn your home/away splits before posting again. Michigan never plays Ohio State and Michigan State at home in the same year. And if you meant just Ohio State at home, you're still wrong.

Greg McMurtry

December 23rd, 2010 at 9:40 AM ^

The defense will not be young in 2011. In fact, both sides of the ball will have a majority of upper classmen. I agree with the grades considering 2010. However, I would grade the positions higher if this is forward looking assessment. The upper classmen would be: Roh, Martin, RVB, Demens, Woolfolk, Floyd, Kovacs, Fitzgerald and Jones.


December 23rd, 2010 at 10:41 AM ^

-- I know that the prevailing thinking is that it's more about "Jimmy's and Joe's than X's and O's" -- But I think our scheme this year was horrible. I really don't like all the DB's on the field when: 1. that's our weakest link 2. That's our youngest, most inexperienced spot on the team 3. We play in the Big Ten

We need a DC that has a good history of stopping the run in big time Div 1 football. I would love to snag somebody from the SEC or a coach who has experience in the Big Ten.  I agree with the OP that 4-3 base would be nice. I will go even further and say that I think a 4-3 cover 2 man defense would be a good fit for our guys. It's a simple defense that lets you run up and make plays in groups. Who knows what our defensive staff will look like in a few weeks, but I just hope they're all new coaches. Time to let go friends of RR's that have sucked since they first arrived in AA.

If UM could just muster a solid running defense, we would probably beat MSU, Wisc & OSU next year. That would be something, right?  

Dallas Wolverine

December 23rd, 2010 at 2:31 PM ^

I watched the Illini game with my dad and my oldest son and all I remember my dad saying over and over is how he had never seen a Michigan defense this bad in his 70 plus years. I hold out hope that this is a very young D and they will mature and get better in 2011. I hope my dad stays around one more year for that.


December 23rd, 2010 at 3:38 PM ^

I've been thinking about Floyd at FS and was curious what others thought.  He seems to be steady but not spectacular at CB.  He's just about big enough for FS, and if he has the speed for CB he should be fast enough for FS.  Plus, with 3 years of experience, he should do pretty well reading where the plays are going.  

Not sure about his tackling.  I don't recall anything spectacular good or bad.

If he can play FS next year, then Woolfolk-Avery would be solid at CB if Woolfolk is all the way back. 


December 24th, 2010 at 9:47 AM ^

I like the sound of that.  Any news about depth at FS is good news.  My concern on Robinson is whether or not he has the speed for FS.  Here's my take on the strengths of Robinson-Floyd-Vinopal for next year.


Potential strength:  size/tackling  

Potential weaknesses:  speed, reading plays/experience (2nd yr at U-M, no FS experience)


Potential strengths:  speed, reading plays/experience (4th yr at U-M but little to no FS time)

Potential weekness:  tackling (with a little added 'good' weight size is ok, not sure on tackling)



Potential strengths:  speed, reading plays/experience (2nd yr at U-M, experienced at FS)

Potential weekness:  size/tackling (Barwis will help some, but he will always be small for FS) 

My theory on preferring Floyd is that you can't teach speed, but you can teach tackling.  Downside is that he could also start at CB.  Not ideal, but if he doesn't win the starting FS job, he could go back to CB.

Painter Smurf

December 24th, 2010 at 5:01 PM ^

This season was year three in the program for Floyd and he is still a very poor tackler.  I cannot see him ever making those tough open field tackles after the RB gets past the LB's.  FS would expose his weaknesses even more.  If he gets beat out at corner, I see him as more of a nickel.  Vinopal actually looked like a decent tackler to me as a freshman who would normally redshirt - certainly better at getting people on the ground than Floyd or Cam Gordon.  Not sure if Vinopal will ever be great in coverage.  He is short, but so are some of the best safeties in the NFL (polamalu, sanders, reed, etc.).


December 23rd, 2010 at 6:20 PM ^

for Talbott at DT this year?  I've read other folks say that he's kind of athlete RR likes on the Dline and could be a good player for UM given a couple of years to develop.


December 24th, 2010 at 1:26 AM ^

I see our lack of depth at DT making a switch to a 3-4 more plausable.  I would like to see Q. washington and Will campbell playing NT...  I know Will moved to guard... Also have martin and RVB at DE.  This would add bulk to the Dline and i think this will be martin's nfl position with his size and quickness.  I would like to see a nose tackle who just eats up blocks and creates massive piles in the middle of LOS rather than the quick NT who shucks blocks and lets guards get to our linebackers. 

At Outside backer i would like to see Roh and Mike Jones.  I think Roh could be used like Woodley is used with the stealers.  he is either blitzing or covering the flats and Mike jones because i don't know who else to put at the other Outside backer.  I would like to see Demens and Desmond playing inside backer.  Watching Desmond destory opponents on his highlight real makes me feel all warm inside. Demens is solid and has some experience.  I feel this line up would make us a good run stoping team. 

At FS i would like to see Twolf because if needed he could match up man to man on a reciever.  SS  i would like to see Cam Gorden playing, but i wouldn't i wouldn't be against Carvin or any of the other 10 safties it feels like this team has.  At CB i'm open to whoever performs the best in the offseason.


December 24th, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

This team gives up the most yards in the history of Michigan football and every position save FS and PR get passing grades?  I guess one could give them some benefit of the doubt if these grades are somewhat foreward-looking, but I think you gotta drop more than one of these groups down.  DE...what plays did these guys make even with Roh as a true edge guy?  Not nearly enough IMO.  LB...OK Demens looking like a pretty good player but after that, what have we got?  Oh and Cam, WRAP YOUR DAMN ARMS FOR ONCE.  SS...I can't give Kovacs too much credit, I mean, unless your team gives up a TD every play, someone is going to rack up a bunch of tackles when the other team averages 73.5 plays a game and your D-line is mostly just occupying blockers.


December 27th, 2010 at 10:28 PM ^

For next year, how about Woolfolk?  Also, further improved Van Bergen, and I'm hoping for a big jump from Roh with another offseason of Barwis and sticking on the line.

Best case is we have a dominant d-line with no injuries that can make the rest of our D look much better.  Need step up from Q Washington and/or Black.

Dr. Funkenstein

December 29th, 2010 at 3:22 AM ^

So this is the worst defense in our 100+ year history.  How is this not an F at nearly every position.  Other than Martin, is there is a single NFL calibre player on our roster?  Part of the blame goes to Robinson and his blah style of non aggressive defense, but still.... Please tell me this is getting better....


December 29th, 2010 at 11:15 AM ^

I don't think it is fair to judge someone NFL or not NFL caliber until they have played part of their junior year.  Your post is asking about getting better so I assume you are looking to next year, this leaves us with only current juniors to judge.

Projected starters next year who juniors now:  Martin, RVB, Woolfolk, Fitzgerald/Herron.

NFL Caliber:  Martin-Yes, RVB and Woolfolk--Maybe, Fitzgerald/Herron--Most likely not.

Potential NFL caliber too early to tell:  Roh, Black, Q Washington, Demens, C Gordon, Carvin Johnson, possibly M Robinson, C Christian