How important is depth in a football program?

Submitted by Allin4Blue on November 19th, 2013 at 9:39 AM

I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that Michigan cannot develop its young talent.  We can use the excuse that we are young, but the issue of youth is much deeper than most think.  

Take for instance redshirts.  MSU has only burned 6 redshirts from their 3 deep rotations on offense and defense.  Only 3 of those guys are current starters.  Michigan has burned 29 redshirts from their 3-deep rotation and 6 of those guys are starters on defense.  Redshirts may be a bit overrated, but spending an additional year in the program surely cannot hurt.

Average weight gain for an FBS college football athlete is around 5-10 lbs per year*.  Combined strength for bench and squat usually increases by 20-30 lbs per year.  That doesn’t necessarily account for increase performance, but can definitely account for increase in strength.  Another obvious factor is the understanding of playbooks, schemes, reads, and overall football knowledge a player will gain in one year.

So what does this mean for the future of the program?

Next year gives us the ability to redshirt almost everyone, unlike the current year.  Guys like Peppers and Harris will most likely not, simply due to depth and talent.  We most likely will not improve by a whole lot next year. Our schedule is one of the toughest we’ve seen, aside from last year, but we will have some experience and depth that we have not seen since 2007. 

2015 seems to be the year Michigan will start to be a dominant program we all want it to be.  We will only be missing 8 players from the 2009 class and 8 from the 2010 class in 2015 (16 players is not even enough to field a team). We also will not lose a ton of players from the 2011 class and will have the Junior and Senior leadership we are lacking this year.  5 of our current offensive starters and 5 of our current defensive starters will be back in 2015 (assuming no attrition).  That’s 10 players that will be 3-4 year starters for the program, along with a plethora of other Sophomores and Freshman who are getting significant PT. 

*Obtained from Barwis Methods



November 19th, 2013 at 9:58 AM ^

Edit: Beaten on my original snarky comment.

To your point about redshirts, you're sort of implying a linear development every year, but no one would expect the same jump in growth (either physically or in skill set) between years 1 and 2 as years 4 and 5. Red shirting is important for fielding better 1st year players and helping with overall depth, but redshirting entire classes is probably more a symptom of continuity and good roster management.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:01 AM ^

Couldn't agree more. Our depth woes, and the recruiting classes that cratered, have had a huge negative affect on the team. Giving out all our scholarships every year, even an extra one (when you're likely to lose a couple from attrition) makes sense to me. Year after year of full recruiting classes, and full depth, will allow for more competition, scrimmages, plenty of red-shirting, and time for players to develop. Focusing on the OL, if there are consistently 3 - 4 recruits on a yearly basis, all your starters, with rare exceptions, should have had two years of time in the program before they even see the field. Virtually every recruit on the line would redshirt, would have a second year to develop, and might be a substitute in a blowout . . . in their 3rd year in the program.

This lack of depth and lack of redshirts and lack of experienced upper-classmen starting is one of the main reasons why I believe that the entire coaching staff should be given at least one if not two more years. I really want to see what Borges and Funk are doing with the team in 2015.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:06 AM ^

"Average weight gain for an FBS college football athlete is around 5-10 lbs per year*"

Isn't this kind of a meaningless stat? A 165 lb CB putting on 10 pounds is probably a good thing but a 320 lb. OT adding 10 pounds is bad. It may average out to 5-10 pounds, but some guys are bulking and some trim down. I think Hoke has talked about holding bodyfat % and other measureables as more important, especially on the lines.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:08 AM ^

but when you are trying to get from wherever UM is to stable, they are not

i am sure that when wisconsin was going from fun band time to rose bowl team, they burned plenty of redshirts to get the best talent on the field right away, but now they get, build them as redshirts and deploy them full grown every year.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:15 AM ^

Another, maybe more important aspect, is just plain having more chances to get a good player. Recruiting rankings aren't always accurate and you always have some busts and some sleepers. Having just enough scholarship guys to field a team means that you either have to have 100% success rate at identifying/developing talent, or you put guys in that didn't pan out in anyway because you have to.


November 19th, 2013 at 1:13 PM ^

Everyone assumes that a red-shirt is better, but you get 25% more players if you don't red-shirt anyone, vs if you red-shirt everyone.  That's 25% more chance you get an all-conference player. [overly simplistically assuming no attrition - everyone is either here for 4 years or 5 not realistic - but you get the point]

Red-shirts are valuable, obviously, but overrated by fans who don't acknowledge the opportunity cost of the scholarship year spent not contributing to the team.  And while, yes, you can always ask a non-contributer to not return for their 5th year, in practice this rarely happens.

To give a specific example - is anyone upset that Jeremy Jackson's red-shirt was burned?  He'd certainly be invited back for a 5th year, if he had the eligibility left.  But instead, we'll take an extra receiver in the '14 class (Freddy Canteen).

There's a lot of value to getting 4 years of contribution in 4 years (rather than 5).  The red-shirt is only valuable if the 5th year payoff is large enough to offset the cost.


November 19th, 2013 at 11:34 AM ^

That is a different type of program though. Alabama burns a lot of redshirts because they have hot freshmen coming in and they get a lot of playing time early. They normally have at least one freshman running back and wide receiver that gets a lot of in game reps if not even being a starter.

That is what happens though when you have a bunch of 5 stars that enroll early and get the gym time in.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:48 AM ^

We have had to use an unusally large amount of red shirts due in large part to the enormous amount of attrition we have had in prior classes.  I am sure the coaches when they arrived here would have preferred to red shirt all the freshman, but when the cupboard is literally bare what choice did they have?  State hasn't had to burn any red shirts because there recruiting classes have bee solid and attrition has been limited to the continuity of the coaching staff.  To compare the past few years because us and Sparty is very much like comparing Apples to Oranges.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:55 AM ^

One thing that many of the successful programs have had is continuity in offensive and defensive philosophy and continuity in coaching staffs.  It is for this reason that while I understand the frustration that some have with Borges, the effect of changing coordinators might cost us so much in terms of continuity that there is no long term benefit. 


November 19th, 2013 at 11:06 AM ^

"State hasn't had to burn any red shirts because there recruiting classes have bee solid and attrition has been limited to the continuity of the coaching staff.  To compare the past few years because us and Sparty is very much like comparing Apples to Oranges."

That's exactly my point. They can develop their players off the field, where is Michigan fans are seeing the development on the field. We are young and bc of coaching and philosphy changes, we don't have the stability as of yet the a program like State has.


November 19th, 2013 at 10:52 AM ^

I think that the lack of depth and inability to redshirt talent is cause of a lot of the problems that we are seeing.  Because of the cratered 2009 and 2010 classes, and relatively weak transition 2011 class, we are seriously lacking in depth at many spots.  More importantly, the kids that are getting much of the playing time are young, so there is a serious lack of senior leadership at several spots.  The result of our current situation is that we are watching these kids grow up on the field, as opposed to during a year or so of bench / mop-up / special teams time. 


November 19th, 2013 at 11:35 AM ^

When Hoke was hired, I think it was TomVH said '15 will be the year we will have the depth and schedule to win a championship. I agreed at the time, then I disagreed because I'm impatient, now I think he was probably right on. 


November 19th, 2013 at 12:47 PM ^

breaks out with some very experienced and talented football teams.  No matter how incompetent Borges might seem right now, the last thing Michigan football needs is staff turnover or regime change.

Ohio will be a very good team in 2015 too, by the way.

You don't really need a top 10 recruiting class to get to the BIG10 title game.

Case in point: MSU is going to finish 11-1 based on a friendly schedule and  recruiting classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011 that finished like this: 37th, 32nd and 27th.

It's worth noting that since 2007 Dantonio has NEVER had a class ranked higher than 27th

Michigan has a good staff. With program growth, consistency and good recruiting, the wins and championships will come.



MI Expat NY

November 19th, 2013 at 12:57 PM ^

I think the type of depth you're talking about is much more important for a Michigan State type program, than the type of program we have traditionally been.  When you're not landing top of the class recruits, you need every ounce of development out of them.  When you're piling top-10 class after top-10 class, your cream rises to the top quickly and more of your freshman play.  That "lost" year of eligibility at the end is replaced by an equally talented youngster climbing the ranks.  

I don't think we need to be like MSU with 6 non-redshirted players in the three-deep to win championships.  What we need is a two-deep filled with good to great players.  We're not there yet, and that's why we're not "deep."  Next year we're likely to still not be there, and it won't be because Dileo, Black and Avery aren't 5th year seniors.  Looking a year further into the future, I don't even think that 2015 would be much different with a couple of Morgan, Clark, Taylor and Hollowel around.  

Maybe by 2016 or 2017 there's some guys where we're saying, man, really wish we hadn't burned his redshirt freshman year.  But there's also a good chance that we won't even notice, depending on if the recruiting pipeline continues to be robust.  


November 19th, 2013 at 1:10 PM ^

recruiting when Bo retired in 1989 and even when Mo was replaced by Carr.  The talent kept pouring in regardless, mainly because all three personalities were still around and because Moeller and Carr had always been great recruiters.




November 19th, 2013 at 1:35 PM ^

But not every program suffered the kind of attrition we did in our upper classes, especially 2010 (where only nine of 27 recruits are still on the team).  Hoke's two classes have had next to no attrition and if that continues, we're going to have much improved depth in the future.



November 19th, 2013 at 1:56 PM ^

No. 1 ranked recruiting class of 2005.  Wolverines should have been laying waste to the BIG10 in 2007 and 2008, not losing to App State or finishing 3-9.

Yet back then everyone was just too busy screaming "NO EXCUSES!" and  "UNACCEPTABLE!"

I see we've evolved into a kinder, gentler, more forgiving fanbase. I guess.

Either that or our testicles are in a jar above the refrigerator.


November 19th, 2013 at 1:53 PM ^

depth is just slightly behind talent level in importance.  so yes very very important.  regarding redshirts, all depends on whether the coaches have a good eye for talent and predicting which players will make an impact immediately and which players will have good chance to make impact after redshirting.  if someone will not make strides or improvements during redshirt year then its pointless to keep them around for 5th yr....i.e the jeremy jackson example.  and someone metninoed bama - thats the goal, bring in beasts every single year and only play the 10-12 guys that will make an impact immediately or likely to start as sophmores.  and saban does not run  a charity....he would never offer 5th years to more than 1-2 guys....he understands you cannot have more than 1 mike jones on the roster if hes terrible, no matter how nice of a kid he is.  its a business and they get paid 2-5 million bucks per year to mold young men but above all to win as many games as possible.  i dont like how hoke plays bums on special teams especially since he preaches the 33% importance of ST unit - it shoudl neve be a reward for working hard in practice if another player has a better shot at making the big tackle on kick coverage or throwing the bick block, not a charity.  gotta throw starters in there with a mix of talented young kids.  hopefully hes just being flexible and charitable with his roster now since theyre not very talented etc because if in 2015 and 2016 theyre still offeing scholarships to joe kerridge, whos a FB that cannot block well at all (regardless of him being the only FB on roster hes not worth more than a 1 year throw away extra scholarship - point being he better be a walk on again next year since a freshman has better chance of reachinga  potential kerridge never will reach)  or guys like mike jones.  all 85 matter and its a cutthroat business if you truly want to preaching winning titles is the standard and expectation.....treat it like a charity and urban will smoke you.  yes depth is hugeeee but untalented or unathletic depth is worthless....the kids gotta be able to consistently make plus plays or impactful plays for it to be worthwhile


November 19th, 2013 at 2:16 PM ^

on the ability of a program like Michigan to compete since it's Michigan Fergodsakes! 

Except that, in fact, it is the lifeblood of any football program.  See Rodriguez still tormenting us from his perch atop a cactus in the desert.