Was the cupboard bare (re: Defensive Backs)?

Submitted by Bosch on January 3rd, 2011 at 5:32 PM

This is not meant to take away from Misopogon's diary or Chait's article on this issue, both written over a year ago, but rather to provide a fresh update through this season.

There has been quite a bit of recent discussion in regards to the inexperience "excuse" including a suggestion that the idea that the "cupboard was bare" is nothing more than an unsubstantiated myth. I disagree.  The following is a list of every defensive back recruit since 2004, their star rating, and how they contributed at corner or safety over the past 3 years or, if they didn't contribute, why.

I go back as far as 2004 as those players would have had eligibility to play for RR in 2008 had they redshirted.  I continued through 2011 to evaluate RR's commitment to addressing the defensive back positions.  Also, I consider the three recruits from 2008 to be Carr recruits.  Even though they ultimately signed with RR, and both Smith and Floyd didn't officially commit until after RR was hired, they were both Carr targets and had U of M as a leader prior to the coaching change.


  • Keston Cheathem: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals (WR).  Switched to WR and then transferred to Oregon State before 2005 season
  • Jamar Adams: 3 star Scout, 3 Star Rivals.  Went Pro in 2008
  • Charles Stewart: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  RS Senior on 2008 team.  Played in 11 games, started 2, as Linebacker.


  • Brandon Harrison: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  Senior on 2008 team.  Started all 12 games at SS
  • Johnny Sears: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Kicked off team in 2007
  • Chris Richards: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Transferred to Stony Brook in 2007


  • Jonas Mouton: 5 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  RS Sophomore in 2008. Moved to LB under Carr and stayed there under RR through 2010.
  • Stevie Brown: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  Junior in 2008.  Started all 12 games as FS. In 2009, started all 12 games as LB.  Destroyed people.


  • Donovan Warren: 5 star Scout, 5 star Rivals. Sophomore in 2008.  Started 10 games at Corner and one at FS.  In 2009, started all 12 games at Corner.  Declared pro in 2010, convinced that he was an early round draft choice.
  • Michael Williams: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  RS Freshman in 2008.  Played in 11 games, 9 at S.  In 2009, started 9 games at FS.  Had some injury issues (Enter Kovacs).  In 2010, played in 2 games.  Sustained season ending injury in second game.                    
  • James Rogers: 4 star Scout, 3 star Rivals. Sophomore in 2008.  Played in 10 games on special teams and at WR.  In 2009, played in all 12 games, primarily on special teams and at WR.  In 2010, started all 12 games at CB.
  • Artis Chambers: 3 star Scout. 3 star Rivals.  Sophomore in 2008.  Played in 9 games, primarily on special teams.  Transferred after 2008 season, supposedly to Ball State but not listed on roster.
  • Troy Woolfolk: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Sophomore in 2008.  Played in all 12 games on special teams and at CB.  In 2009, made 6 starts at safety and 6 at CB.  Sustained season ending injury prior to start of 2010 season.


  • Boubacar Cissoko: 5 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  Played in all 12 games at CB as true Freshmen.  Started 4 games at CB in 2009, then....... downward spiral. 
  • Brandon Smith:  4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals. RS Freshman in 2009.  Played in all 12 games, primarily on special teams with some time at LB and Safety.  Transferred to Temple after 2009 season, although I don’t see him listed on the roster.
  • J.T. Floyd: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals. RS Freshman in 2009. Saw some action at CB.  In 2010, started 8 games at CB.  Suffered season ending injury prior to Illinois game.


  • Justin Turner: 5 star Scout, 4 star Rivals. DNP. Transferred to WVU prior to 2010 season but not on roster.
  • Vlad Emilien: 3 star Scout, 4 star Rivals. Played in 5 games as a true freshman. Left team after first game of 2010 season.  Vanished.
  • Mike Jones: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Played in 7 games on special teams as true freshmen. In 2010, played some LB against UConn.  Suffered season ending injury against Notre Dame.
  • Thomas Gordon: 2 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  RS Freshman in 2010.  Played in 9 games as Hybrid LB.  DNP last 3 games.
  • Adrian Witty: 2 star Scout, 2 star Rivals. Did not qualify.


  • Demar Dorsey: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  Did not qualify.
  • Josh Furman: 4 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Redshirted.  Projects at LB.
  • Marvin Robinson: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  Played in 10 games, primarily on special teams. Played some FS vs. OSU
  • Cullen Christian: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals.  Played in 10 games as a back up at CB.
  • Carvin Johnson: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Played in 8 games at hybrid and safety.  Missed 3 games due to injury.
  • Ray Vinopal: 3 star Scout, 2 star Rivals.  Played in all 12 games, 6 at safety with 5 starts.
  • Courtney Avery: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals.  Played in all 12 games, started 4 at CB.
  • Terrence Talbott: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals. Played in all 12 games, 10 at CB


  • Blake Countess: 4 star Scout, 4 star Rivals
  • DallasCrawford: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals
  • Delonte Hollowell: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals
  • Greg Brown: 3 star Scout, 3 star Rivals


  1. Little attention was paid to the position in 2004-2006 and only two of those players (Harrison, SR and Brown, JR) saw time in the 2008 secondary.
  2. In 2009, we had more experience amongst the starters but depth was still an issue, as we saw a walk on contribute major minutes after injuries.  It is notable that we did see improvements in the defensive stats for opponent passing yardage from 2008 to 2009.
  3. 2010 = Doom
  4. RR has recruited more players for the secondary in his 3 years than Carr did in his last 5. Some of RR's recruits didn't pan out and naysayers will certainly point this out.  We can only speculate as to what went down with Turner and Vlad.  What we do know is that they were both highly recruited (OSU wanted both.  JH wanted Vlad) and neither are currently on a roster.  Then there is the qualifying issues.  With Witty, there is an argument that he was only recruited to help land Denard.  Dorsey was a risk that probably should have been avoided.  RR tried to land a stud in the 11th hour in a position of dire need but, given other issues surrounding the program, he probably should have passed on him.  With that said, it is not like Carr didn't have issues with transfers (Cheathem, Richards) or character flaws (Sears, Cissoko).
  5. Barring attrition or injury, there will not be an excuse for lack of depth in the defensive backfield next year and the future seems to set up nicely for whomever is coaching the team.

sources:  rivals.com and scout.com for ratings and projected positions, mgoblue.com for player bios and season stats, and bentley.umich.edu for positional starts per year.

FTR:  This is not a plea to save RR's job. IMO, I think the data supports another year but, unfortunately, i do not see a way that can happen after "The Great Wait."  RR would continuously have to field questions in regards to his future, not just from the media, but also from the recruits who do care who their future coach will be.  More importantly, there is an irreparable rift between RR and a large contingent of the fan base and it is unlikely that he will ever have full support, no matter what he might accomplish next year.  Brandon better hope he can land JH or (insert higher being of your choice) help us.



January 3rd, 2011 at 5:38 PM ^

Very nicely put together post.  If star rankings really meant something we would be atleast decent.


EDIT - apparently I responded to my own post.  Fail.


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:40 PM ^

Michigan experienced an extraordinary amount of bad fortune with recruit flame outs (CISSOKO!) and injuries as well.   What Michigan has experienced in terms of recruiting yield since 2005 could continue, but the probability is low.  It's not normal to be left with only < or = 20% of your commitments.

Michigan's cupboard (roster) was full only in the minds of dain bramaged people like Beano Cook and Colin Cowherd.


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:42 PM ^

Since that 1997 squad, how many times have we had a team finish in the top 10 in defense?

Once. In 2006. This problem goes back further than most people seem to realize.

Bando Calrissian

January 3rd, 2011 at 6:52 PM ^

OK, you said we've been on the decline for around 10 years now.  I'll bite.

NCAA statistical rankings for total defense, as found on NCAA.com (only goes back to 1999, excludes bowl games):

1999:  32 (10-2)

2000:  74 (9-3)

2001:  12 (8-4)

2002:  42  (10-3)

2003:  11 (10-3)

2004:  33 (9-3)

2005:  36 (7-5)

2006:  10 (11-2)

2007:  24 (9-4)

2008:  67 (3-9)

2009:  82 (5-7)

2010:  110 (7-6)

So what does that tell us?  If you want to define Michigan's defense as being "on the decline for the past 10 years or so," you're wrong.  Aside from 2000, Michigan's defense was rather consistent until 2008, staying pretty firmly within the top 1/3 of defenses nationally.  If you're going to use the arbitrary cutoff of "top 10," sure, it's not going to give you the results you want, but those weren't bad defenses (aside from 2000).

So if you're going to define any time period for Michigan's defense being "on the decline," it's for "the past 3 years or so."  But don't use the top 10 cutoff as some indication that Michigan's previous defenses were bad, because the stats don't back that up in the least.


January 3rd, 2011 at 7:35 PM ^

I wouldnt say a decline for that long. To me, we had a star studded cast in 2006. In my whole life I have never seen so many Michigan defensive players taken in one draft.

Anyway, after 2006 we had some remnants left, but not much else, and so on each ensuing year.

We still havent come close to replacing those guys. Lloyd didnt do a good job setting that side of the ball up upon their departure. He certainly paid for it in 2007 as that single year dram near wiped out his legacy in a lot of people's minds. The program is still chasing and trying to replace that core of players.

I figure if you include recruiting as an equal part to on field performance, we have had a broken, not fully functional defensive program since approx 2004. Just look at Lloyd's defensive recruiting those last years.

Has Rich improved it? Not really. He realized too late in the game how behind the eight ball the program was on that side of the ball. His stud recruits on D in 2009? On signing day 2009, I am sure we all envisioned a 2010 with Campbell pushing folks around on the DL and Turner playing somewhere in the secondary.  I guess he's brought in a lot of numbers in 2010 and some guys from 2009 have been moved to D. Which is good. But, man, a lot of the guys are guys who need a couple years of development. We saw this year what happens when they're thrown out there too early

I figure we've had subpar defensive recruiting and retention for about six years and it took until that core from 2006 left for the program to begin paying for it


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:42 PM ^

Better questions:

  • How can you still ask that after looking at the 2004-2006 defensive back recruiting?
  • How could we have not seen this coming (look at the 2004-2006 recruits)?
  • What was Lloyd Carr smoking during 2004-2006 to think that those DB recruits would suffice?


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:52 PM ^

I agree it has to make you wonder what he was thinking and it may have been fuck it I am out of here soon anyway. He was thinking clearly when he got his assistants 2 year deals but his recruiting was pretty fucking awful. I was happy when RR was brought in primarily due to the final year of Carr. That team was loaded as we all know and it under achieved.

RR inherited a mess which no one could have imagined at the time because we are Michigan and that doesn't happen to us. I doubt many would have done much better the last couple of years and I am certain that the future is much brighter at Michigan thanks to the ground work that RR has laid. It's a shame he won't get to enjoy it.


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:53 PM ^

IIRC, we went into signing day in at least two of the years between 2004 and 2006 thinking we had highly rated prospects either silently or openly committed, who then either backed out of their commitments or surprised the staff with their choice. I'm thinking specifically of Justin King (silent) and Jai Eugene (who switched his verbal to LSU). Eugene, at least, had a good reason for doing so (young child), but having it happen in back to back years left the secondary short handed.


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:46 PM ^

I see three db's on your list recruited by Rich Rod who transfered or never made it through admitions. How do they have anything to do with Loyd Carr's recruiting classes. Allso if it is excusible that Rich Rod missed on these three do we have the lists of db's that Carr's staff went for and missed?

My point is a lot of people spend a lot of time on this board talking about if only Loyd had done a better job Rich Rod would be winning and we wouldn't be here. Well Loyd didn't recruit Dorsy,  Emelien or Witty. Maybe if Rich Rod had gone after different recruits Rich Rod wouldn't be in this spot.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

Did you read needs post above? Where he talks about Carr's staff thinking they had more db's committed than actually ended up coming? Why is whiffing on recruits acceptable for Rich Rod but not Carr? I am not saying Carr left him stacked. I just don't buy into the meme that Carr mailed it in on purpose and we can now beat him like a drum for all of Rich Rod'd ills.

If only Carr had recruited better. If only he would come out and talk nice about Rich Rod. Carr isn't talking publicly supporting Rich Rod so he must be hamstringing Rich Rod in private. Wow Carr sure does have a lot of power. Maybe just maybe RIch Rod is a big boy and neads to take some of the blame for this just like Carr deserves SOME but not all of the blame.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:10 PM ^

You are exactly right missing on recruits is an occupational hazard. It happens to all coaches. I think that is where the signal gets crossed between those who support RR and those who don't.

I would just like to see the same mishaps be afforded to our current coach just as every coach before him has.  If you really step back and look at all the shit RR has dealt with that Carr never had to, maybe it's fair that Carr get some of the blame. I mean the Dorsey thing alone was fucking absurd. Kids don't qualify all the time but this turned into a circus. Maybe RR supporters are a little too quick to make excuses but it has almost become a survival instinct.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:16 PM ^

It was tottaly unfair the way the whole Dorsey thing was handled in the press. Rich Rod has gotten a unfair shake on a lot of things. I tottaly agree on that. I actually want to see Rich Rod get another year. I just don't like to see the crap that is spewed at Carr by some in a attempt to help Rich Rod.


January 3rd, 2011 at 10:08 PM ^

Totally wrong. It's been well documented that the Dorsey fiasco resulted when RR offered a scholarship to a kid who clearly didn't have anywhere near the appropriate test scores or grades. RR did not vet the kid with admissions. The kid hadn't even filled out an application. Even Florida had said no way to the kid See the documentation by Brian et al. Richrod did not follow protocol and it bit him in the ass.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:00 PM ^

In all reality, those are irrelevant in terms of this years results. Even if RRs guys had made it, he still would be at an expected disadvantage Due to those guys playing in their first or second year at Michigan. Where are the 3rd and 4th year players in the secondary? There's two answers: Either they aren't there or they aren't good enough to beat out freshmen and sophomores. So then, in 2-3 classes you have Woolfolk, JT Floyd and Mike WIlliams who were all injured. Warren, I feel is a credit to Carr. I think that if we could have started Warren and Floyd at CB and Woolfolk at FS then all of a sudden this secondary would suffice. It wouldn't have been great, but it would have been leaps and bounds ahead of what it was. RR is to blame for the horrid defense, don't get me wrong, but to say he didn't get dealt a tough hand in terms of numbers is unfair. If we give RR the last two classes, like I feel is accurate and give Lloyd the 2 maybe 3 before, You have to look at the roster and ask where Lloyds guys are? I think it stands to reason when you have a bunch of 1st or second year guys back there alongside a guys who has no idea what position he is built to play but simply knows CB probably isn't it.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:05 PM ^

So your saying it wouldn't help to have a few more 2nd year guys on this defense? But isn't that everyones rational for improvement next year. They have all been around a year longer bigger stronger know the system better? Would they make this defense awsome no. But you can't say it wouldn't be better.


January 3rd, 2011 at 9:15 PM ^

I can say it wouldn't have changed outcomes. In fact I think I will. Having more sophomores wouldn't have changed outcomes. Well, maybe the Iowa game. Now, having Woolfolk and JT all year may have changed some things. Add in Warren and who knows. I just don't think you can hang RR out for not having more sophomores on the team, that's all. It also isn't his fault the ones we did get didn't turn out. WItty, Turner, Vlad all had troubles outside of RR's control. It shows by their current roster situations.


January 4th, 2011 at 8:52 AM ^

The problem is the numbers. Lloyd left the team with bad depth throughout the defense and offense. When I look at the roster RR inherited, all of the good players he had were upperclassmen. There was no young talent to develop throughout the roster. That is why in year 3, RR has had to rely on his young players to get the job done.

Name a coach that walked into this kind of situation. Harbaugh was loaded with young talent on his team when he took over the Stanford job. By year 3 more than half of his starters on both sides of the ball were recruited by the previous coaching staff.

Lloyd was a great person and coach, he did drop the ball on recruiting at the end of his tenure. That is not to say he wasn't an amazing coach for this university. That doesn't mean you can just ignore the poor depth he had established before RR took over. Any coach who knows anything about football would MUCH rather be walking into the situation RR has established over the situation Lloyd left. If Brandon is smart he gives RR a 4th year but if he doesn't the next coach has loads of young talent to work with.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:03 PM ^

The point is that there were no DB's left for Rodriguez. Who worked out in the last couple years is irrelevant to that point.  He didnt have any upperclassmen to work with so he had to bring in his own recruits and play them early.  The simple fact is that Lloyd didnt recruit enough DB's towards the end of his time here.


January 3rd, 2011 at 10:31 PM ^

Right, but Cissoko and JT were true Freshmen, and Warren and Woolfolk were Sophmores. He hasnt had a class yet where he has been able to play upperclassmen. He has had to start Freshman and Sophmores every year. It looked like we might have a chance this year witrh Warren and Woolfolk, but obviously that didnt work out. Before these last few years, it was very rare that  a single true Freshman started at Michigan, let alone this many of them.


January 3rd, 2011 at 5:55 PM ^

Vlad Emilien recently was told "thanks, but no thanks" by new CU head coach Jon Embree (along with a few Hawkins recruits who got their scholarship offers revoked by the new coach).  When asked about this, Embree basically said that recruiting mistakes aren't the guys you miss on, but the guys who stick around four years and never play or aren't very good and just waste a scholarship spot. 

Rodriguez took all kinds of heat for "forcing out" highly rated guys like Vlad and Turner, only to see both of them fail to land on their feet at a D-1 school due to injury or obesity (Turner washed out at WVU and is trying to catch on at Notre Dame College in Ohio and Vlad couldn't get a foot in the door at a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2005 and currently has four commitments in their 2011 recruiting class). 


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:05 PM ^

Look at that above list of Carr recruits and you'll see just as many guys who couldn't hack it in division one football (and plenty that weren't 4-star recruits with OSU offers).

The problem I have is with people bitching that Rodriguez ran off awesome players who totally could have helped the team (neither Turner or Vlad were close to the top of the depth chart before their departures) when in reality all that happened is two scholarships opened up.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:08 PM ^

But if you desperately need a CB, recruit only 1 in your class, and he can't make it at Notre Dame College, that's a failing. I understand players don't work out, but the coaching staff obviously did some calculus that put all their eggs in the basket of a kid who, by your accounts, isn't a Division One player. That's a failing. While trying to defend RR, you're just pointing out a different flaw.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:16 PM ^

If having a highly rated recruit not pan out is a flaw, then every single coach in the country is severely flawed because it happens all the time for a wide variety of reasons.  Some times the player can't stop smoking pot (Baraka).  Some times the player can't stop waiving his dick at people on campus (Harrison).  Some times the player just isn't as good as the hype (Kevin Grady).

I don't see why you can't understand that the "desperately needed a [freshman] CB" part of the equation is a much bigger problem (and one not of Rodriguez's doing) than the fact that Justin Turner and Vlad Emilien ended up not being very good at football.


January 3rd, 2011 at 6:22 PM ^

If you think I don't understand that, you're wrong.

If I were to answer the question in the subject like of this post, it would be "Yes, it was bare, and it was never re-stocked." If we were so desperate for CB's, why did Rodriguez recruit two in his first class and a half (Floyd, and Turner).


January 4th, 2011 at 9:02 AM ^

Why do you assume he only recruited two? It's not as easy as saying come to Michigan because we want you and we need secondary help. RR was left with an entirely bare roster. How could he address the glaring holes in the defense and offense all at the same time? You can only recruit so many playuers at once and even when you get them the players are still young.

This is why the previous coaching regime failed more than anything else. They left the whole team with poor depth. The offense was atrocious in every way, the defense had some players but they were all upperclassmen. There were no good, young players to develop and eventually have in the starting lineup by year  2 or 3.  This is all on the previous coaching staff. You have to leave the team with depth so that when players leave either as seniors or to the draft, you can plug new players in.

You can't just say well RR didn't restock the cupboard! Well if he restocked it all in the first year and a half recruiting he would be an absolute genius. No coach can rely on an entire team of freshman and sophomores and expect to be successful. It's ridiculous to assume the blame when you are forced to play all of the kids you just signed out of high school. Do you think Saban, Tressel, Harbaugh, Miles, Meyer, Carroll etc picked up the program they took over and were successful right away with a bunch of kids they recruited? No they didn't, they relied on the previous coaching staff having players to develop. Michigan did not have that luxury.


January 4th, 2011 at 9:31 AM ^

We know he recruited more than two, but what matters is that he only GOT two. Trying to recruit players isnt' the same as recruiting them, and trying to win isn't the same as winning. It's a results-oriented field, and the result is that he failed to fill his depth chart adequately.

I Blue Myself

January 3rd, 2011 at 6:48 PM ^

Every coach has recruits who flame out.  But some seem to have far more than others.  When Lloyd Carr had lots of 4* and 5* recruits flame out from 2004-07, people rightly criticized him for having criticized him for being somewhat checked out of the recruiting process.  You can also point to Miami, where some of the coaches admitted they recruited players basically according to their Rivals ratings.  Not surprisingly, Miami ended up with very highly rated classes and much less actual talent.

I don't think it's an accident that Rich Rod got such different results with his offensive and defensive recruits.  On offense, Rich Rod saw that Denard could be a D-1 quarterback in a way that no other coach did.  He found Stephan Hopkins, who was ridiculously low-rated within Texas, but turned out to be a very solid player.  There are so many players like that you can point to on offense, and very few flame outs.  Then compare that with the defense, where, as the OP shows, there's not that much of a difference between Lloyd's last classes and Rich Rod's classes.

Rich Rod started out with a big smoking crater where the offense should have been in 2008, and he's built it into something that could be great next year.  If he had done anything like that on defense, he would still have his job next year.


January 3rd, 2011 at 7:02 PM ^

Lloyd's last classes have gotten to play as juniors/seniors when players (espeically on defense) are at their best.  If you read my posts below you will see that Rodriguez's recruits on defense have made an enormous impact on the team already.  If you're going to mention Stephen Hopkins (who gained 151 yards and scored 4 TD's) without mentioning freshmen contributors like Avery, the two Gordons, Vinopal, and Johnson, promising young recruits like Black, Ash, Washington, Furman, Christian and Robinson, and talented young guys like Craig Roh and Kenny Demens, then the perception reflects your own bias and not an absence of quality young players on the defensive side of the ball.

I Blue Myself

January 3rd, 2011 at 7:48 PM ^

You're right that it's premature to judge just about anyone who's still a freshman or sophomore and is still in the program.  Avery, Vinopal, Johnson, Christian, etc., may turn out to be great players, or not, but it's too early to say one way or the other.  I'm not sure there's anyone you can point to and say with confidence that they're All-Big 10 caliber, though they may turn out to be.  Roh is probably the closest, but Rodriguez's defensive staff had him inexplicably playing linebacker for most of the season.  And had Demens playing behind Ezeh for half the season.

It is fair to judge Rodriguez for players who are no longer in the program or never made it in: Witty, Dorsey, Brandon Smith, Emilien, Turner, Anthony LaLota, etc.  It's probably fair to add Will Campbell, who apparently won't play on defense again.  That's in two and a half recruiting classes, and it's way too many, especially when so many of those guys were supposed to be highly rated.  

The defense is young largely because, by my count, there are four defensive recruits left on the roster from the recruiting class of 2008, and six from the class of 09.  In a normal year, there would be at least ten from each class, and the lack of numbers there will hobble the defense for the next two years no matter who the head coach is.  Some of it is bad luck, but the numbers are too large to say it's all luck.

There is "an absence of quality young players on the defensive side" simply because of the sheer number of defensive players who aren't there anymore.  You can't point to anything similar to that on offense.