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Posts Tagged ‘Jibreel Black’

Countdown to kickoff: 73 days

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-73(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

A Thanksgiving salute to the seniors of Team 134

Thursday, November 28th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Thanksgiving is a time for all to remember what they are thankful for, and on Saturday 17 Wolverines will take the field for the final time in Michigan Stadium. They’ll play their hearts out, hoping to redeem an otherwise lost season and play spoiler to their most bitter rival’s perfect season. But before we get there, let’s take some time to thank those men of the maize and blue that made the decision to attend the University of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan
Career starts Consecutive starts Honors
46 39 All-Big Ten first team (2012), second team (2011), Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year (2012), Walter Camp first team All-American (2012), Rotary Lombardi Award semifinalist (2013)

Thank you Taylor Lewan for sticking it out for all five years. Thank you for forgoing sure millions in the 2012 NFL Draft to return to school, finish your career, and help mentor the young offensive linemen. Thank you for carrying on the tradition that so many linemen before you began. Your senior season hasn’t gone as planned, but you’ll go down as one of the all time Michigan great left tackles and while it doesn’t show right now, your leadership and guidance of the young guys will pay dividends in the coming years. May a long and productive career in the NFL await you.

Jeremy Gallon
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
155 2,440 16 15.7

Thank you Jeremy Gallon for working hard to improve for five straight years. You committed to Rich Rodriguez while he was in the process of recruiting smaller guys but didn’t really even get to play in his offense. Thank you for sticking with Michigan through the coaching change and forcing yourself into the leading role in an offense built for taller receivers. You’re on pace to finish in the top five in every career receiving category and top two in single season receiving yards, despite standing just 5’8″. Whether the NFL comes calling or not, thank you for being a bright spot in an otherwise down season and best of luck for your future.

Fitzgerald Toussaint
Career Rushes Career Rushing Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC
503 2,255 26 4.5

Thank you Fitzgerald Toussaint for bringing excitement back to the Michigan backfield for the first time since Mike Hart left. We’ll always have 2011 when you ran for 1,041 yards and, along with Denard Robinson, became the first Michigan tandem to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since the 1970s. This season has been tough and last season ended with a gruesome injury, but thank you for pushing hard to overcome the injury and work your way back into the starting role.

Brendan Gibbons
Career FG Attempted Career FG Made Career FG % Career PATs
60 45 75% 156-158 (98.7%)

Thank you Brendan Gibbons for your improvement throughout your five years in Ann Arbor. Your freshman struggles are a distant memory as you have become one of Michigan’s all-time best field goal kickers. Your game winning kicks against Virginia Tech in the 2012 bSugar Bowl and Michigan State in 2012 will always be remembered, as will your other game-tying kicks. You are proof that vast improvement can be made year-to-year.

Drew Dileo
Career Receptions Career Rec Yards Career Touchdowns Career YPC Career Punt Ret Career Yds/Ret
39 560 5 14.4 11 7.2

Thank you Drew Dileo for coming north to play for Michigan and providing a set of sure hands. You’ll always be remembered for your big plays in helping Michigan end its losing streak to Michigan State in 2012, but more so for your hard work and dependability. When Hoke needed sure hands at returning punts, you filled in. Your ability to hold for field goals has been steady and the slide into the hold for the game-tying field goal against Northwestern this season will go down in history.

Michael Schofield
Career Games Played Career Starts
50 34

Thank you Michael Schofield for giving this year’s squad a veteran presence on the offensive line along with Taylor Lewan. While the season hasn’t gone as planned, your guidance of the young linemen will pay off down the road. You started your career at guard and then held down the right tackle spot for two years. Although you don’t have the accolades of Lewan, you’ve been a steady contributor and may you find a spot at the next level.

Thomas Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
36 214 3 11.5 3 4 6

Thank you Thomas Gordon for holding down the secondary and providing a veteran presence while Hoke’s young guys work their way into the lineup. You were the team’s third-leading tackler in both 2011 and 2012 and currently rank sixth this year. Your interception ended this year’s Northwestern game in overtime and you led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries in 2011. Thank you for a productive career.

Cameron Gordon
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
15 132 4 14 1 2 3

Thank you Cam Gordon for your flexibility over the past five seasons and being willing to play wherever you were needed in order to see the field. You came in as a receiver, switched to safety and then to linebacker and were named to the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America second team in 2010. A back injury forced you to miss time in 2011 but you fought your way back in 2012 and have played a key reserve role at linebacker and even defensive end the last two seasons. Perhaps most importantly you were named Academic All-Big Ten each of the last three seasons, so big things are in store for you when your playing days are done.

Jibreel Black
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
14 69 7 14 3 0 0

Thank you Jibreel Black for an under the radar but productive career. You waited your turn, serving as an important reserve defensive lineman in 2011 and 2012 before working your way into the starting lineup this season. You recorded three sacks in the final four games of 2011 and made a key sack in overtime against Northwestern this season.

Quinton Washington
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
16 54 1 3 1 0 0

Thank you Quinton Washington for giving the team a veteran leader on the defensive line despite coming to Michigan on the other side of the ball. You started your career at right guard in 2010 before switching over to the defense. You blocked a kick against South Carolina in last season’s Outback Bowl and have held down the middle of the defense in the absence of Ondre Pipkins this season.

Courtney Avery
Games Started Tackles Sacks Tackles for Loss FF FR INT
18 109 1.5 5 3 3 2

Thank you Courtney Avery for outperforming your recruiting rankings and earning a spot as team captain this season. You’ll be remembered for your interception on Ohio State’s final drive in 2011 to seal the win, ending their winning streak. You tied a Michigan record for longest fumble recovery against Minnesota that same year. You’ve battled injuries but always found a way to get on the field. You were given the honor of wearing the No. 11 Legends jersey to honor the Wistert brothers, Francis, Albert, and Alvin, and that will be something you can be proud of when your playing days are over.

Thank you Joe Reynolds, Jeremy Jackson, Jareth Glanda, Erik Gunderson, Dylan Esterline, and Kristian Mateus for your contributions to the Michigan football program over the last four or five years. You helped prepare the team for battle week in and week out and can take pride in being able to don the maize and blue. Best of luck wherever your post football careers lead you.

These 17 young men will be honored prior to Saturday’s game, so regardless of how you view this season make sure to get there in time to give them the ovation they deserve. If you’re not happy with the way this season has gone, you can bet they feel it ten times worse, but all of them came in under a different head coach and, stuck out the transition, and have laid the foundation for Hoke’s future success.

Final Look: Minnesota

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan finally played a pretty good game that resulted in a convincing win just the way it should. Now, it has a chance to go on the road and prove it’s better than it played in the two games before the bye week. But before we get there, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 42-13 win over Minnesota.

Three big moments

1. Jibreel Black forces a fumble

Many were wondering how Michigan would respond coming out of the bye week that followed back-to-back poor performances against Akron and UConn. Just like in the first four games, Michigan kicked off to open the game, which meant the defense got a chance to set the tone. The kickoff went ominously out of bounds, giving Minnesota the ball at the 35.

On Minnesota’s first play quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for two yards. On the second Leidner completed a pass to tight end Maxx Williams for two more. On 3rd-and-6, Leidner dropped back to pass and then pulled it down to run a draw up the middle. At first it looked like he had a hole, but Jibreel Black came around and hit him at the 35. He got his right hand on the ball, knocking it loose and James Ross recovered, giving Michigan great field position. The Wolverines punched it in six plays later to take an early 7-0 lead.

2. Funchess diving catch

Blake Countess leads the nation in interceptions and INT return yards (MGoBlue.com)

While Michigan got off to a quick start thanks to Black’s forced fumble, Minnesota did a good job of keeping Michigan’s offense off the field the rest of the first half. The ensuing Gopher possession lasted 9:44 and Michigan only got to run 17 plays the rest of the half. With a 14-7 halftime lead, Michigan needed a strong second half to put the Gophers away.

On the first possession, Michigan looked to establish the run. Fitzgerald Toussaint took the first three carries for 14, five, and eight yards, respectively, and then Derrick Green ran for nine. At the Minnesota 44, Gardner connected with Jehu Chesson for a 22-yard gain to put Michigan in field goal position. On first down from the 22, Toussaint lost a yard. On second, Gardner threw an incomplete pass setting up a critical third down. On 3rd-and-11, Gardner dropped back to pass and fired a bullet across the field, towards the pylon at the front right corner of the end zone. Devin Funchess had to come back to get it and dove from the goal line, picking the ball off the turf at the 2-yard line. The play was reviewed and remained a catch and Green punched it in on the next play to give Michigan a 14-point lead. Without the great catch, Michigan would have faced a 40-yard field goal to go ahead 17-7, leaving Minnesota still in the ball game.

3. Countess takes it home

Michigan held a 35-13 lead after Gardner ran it in from two yards out with 2:36 to play. Minnesota got the ball back looking to possibly score once more, but Blake Countess had other plans. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 36, Leidner threw to the left side of the field and Countess stepped in front of the receiver, picking it off at the 28. He then raced 72 yards untouched for a touchdown to bring the final score to 42-13. It was his fourth interception of the season, tying for the most nationally, and the 72 return yards combined with his previous return yards to give him the most interception return yards in the country.

The numbers game

73-24-3: Michigan’s all-time record against Minnesota

86-27: Michigan’s all-time record in homecoming games

0: The number of turnovers by Devin Gardner, marking the first turnover-free game of his career to date

9: The number of consecutive games that Gardner has recorded a rushing touchdown

21: The number of Michigan players to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards. Fitz Toussaint became the 21st with his 78-yard game

0: The number of passes Michigan threw in the first quarter

72: The yards of Blake Countess’ interception return for touchdown, the sixth-longest in Michigan history

Drive chart
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
MN

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Starting strong

For the fifth consecutive game, Michigan started on defense, and for the fifth consecutive game the defense didn’t allow a point on the first possession. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 plays, 11.4 yards, and 1:35 per opening possession. What’s more is that Michigan’s offense has scored on four of the five ensuing possessions, including the blocked punt returned for touchdown following Central Michigan’s first possession. The only game that Michigan didn’t score right after holding the opponent to start the game was UConn when Devin Gardner threw an interception. Three of the four scores have been touchdowns. The other, against Akron, was a field goal. So that’s a combined 24-point lead that Michigan has taken right out of the bat despite not getting the ball to start the game.

2. Funchess out wide

Devin Funchess' move to the outside provides an instant upgrade to the receiving corps (MGoBlue.com)

Devin Funchess played much of the game lined up as a wide receiver and had the best game of his young career with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. His sheer athleticism and height make him an instant mismatch for opposing defensive backs, so it’s a logical move since Michigan hasn’t found a true downfield threat this season. Funchess provides that. The return of AJ Williams and the development of freshman Jake Butt has allowed Brady Hoke and Al Borges to make this move.

Funchess has struggled with his blocking, but excels at catching the ball. Part of his decline in production as the season went on last season was because opponents knew that whenever he was in the game it was a pass. Oftentimes Michigan used that as a decoy, but it resulted in seven receptions in the final nine games after eight in the first four. Now, with the move to the outside, he can do what he does best and the offense won’t sacrifice anything to get him the ball.

3. Offensive line shuffle

Chris Bryant stepped into the starting lineup, pushing Graham Glasgow to center and Jack Miller out. The numbers don’t show any improvement – Michigan rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry – but it seemed to passed the eye test. There seemed to be a noticeable improvement. Michigan did have four negative rushes, a sack, and a fumbled snap that resulted in a loss of five, but the four negative rushes were only one-yard losses and three of them were by Green.

More importantly, Michigan had just two short drives. Look at the drive chart above and then go back and look at the drive charts from the Akron and UConn games. Those two are littered with short maize lines. The Minnesota game had just two in which Michigan didn’t pick up a first down. That’s an improvement.

In addition, the coaches moved Taylor Lewan around the line on certain plays and ran all but two runs behind him. Whether that’s something they will continue to do the rest of the season or this was just a chance to test it out remains to be seen, but he’s the start of the team and it’s always a good bet to run behind him.

Minnesota’s defense certainly wasn’t a stern test, so the real test of how much this shake-up improves the line is still to come. Penn State will be much better defensively than Minnesota was, so before we go grading the offensive line shuffle let’s wait at least another week.

Escape from East Hartford: Michigan 24 – UConn 21

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

With the game hanging in the balance and the offense struggling to find any rhythm, Michigan needed someone, anyone to make a play. Momentum was fully in UConn’s favor and the frenzied, record-setting Rentschler Field crowd could sense a monumental upset in the making.

It was deja vu for a Michigan squad that had staved off the unthinkable against a similar opponent a week ago. Now it needed a game changing play to do it once more.

UConn stood 1st-and-15 at its own 32 with the lead and the ball, having just stopped Michigan on 4th-and-2. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer fired a pass across the middle, but linebacker Desmond Morgan leapt up and snagged it with one hand. He raced 29 yards to the Husky 12-yard line and on the very next play, Fitzgerald Toussaint carried it in to tie the game at 21.

It was a play reminiscent of Charles Woodson’s grab against Michigan State in 1997 and Morgan may as well have reached in and stolen the hearts right out of the Husky faithful – and those from Columbus and East Lansing as well. While Michigan still needed another score and another defensive stop or two, Morgan’s play singlehandedly changed the momentum of the game.

Final Stats
Michigan UConn
Score 24 21
Record 4-0 0-3
Total Yards 289 206
Net Rushing Yards 192 47
Net Passing Yards 97 159
First Downs 19 12
Turnovers 4 1
Penalties-Yards 5-45 6-70
Punts-Yards 5-212 8-305
Time of Possession 35:47 24:13
Third Down Conversions 7-of-17 1-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-31 3-24
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-1
PATs 3-for-3 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 2-of-2
Full Box Score

Following Toussaint’s touchdown, Michigan forced a three-and-out and Drew Dileo returned the punt the Husky 25-yards line. A 15-yard penalty on Jourdan Lewis brought the ball back to the 40, but Michigan was able to eat up half of the remaining time on the clock and add a 21-yard Brendan Gibbons field goal to take a 24-21 lead.

UConn took over with 4:36 remaining and got into Michigan territory before the offensive ineptitude bug struck them. On 3rd-and-12, a false start pushed the Huskies back five yards and on the ensuing play Frank Clark sacked Whitmer for a loss of 12. The last ditch effort to convert on 4th-and-29 fell three yards short and Michigan ran out the clock.

The game started out the way the previous three did, with Michigan’s defense forcing a punt on UConn’s first possession of the game. But unlike the previous three, Michigan wasn’t able to the first time it had the ball. Instead, a promising drive ended with an interception off a tipped pass.

After a UConn three-and-out, Michigan’s offense put together what would be its best drive of the night, going 69 yards in 11 plays. Devin Gardner ran it in from 17 yards out to put Michigan ahead 7-0.

UConn got on the board midway through the second quarter with an eight play, 56-yard drive to tie the game. On the first play of Michigan’s next possession, Gardner was intercepted again, this time on a deep ball to Jehu Chesson. UConn was unable to capitalize, but the Husky punt hit the leg of freshman receiver Da’Mario Jones and the Huskies recovered on the Michigan 9-yard line. They punched it in to grab a 14-7 lead.

Michigan opened the second half with the ball, but on 3rd-and-1, Gardner had the ball knocked out of his hands as he tried to pick up the first down. A UConn defender scooped it up and raced 34 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, Michigan found itself down by two touchdowns in the third quarter to a team it was favored to beat by 18 points.

Desmond Morgan got a kiss from Brady Hoke and a hug from Greg Mattison (MGoBlue.com)

On the first play of Michigan’s ensuing possession, Gardner scampered 39 yards to the UConn 25, but a holding penalty on Taylor Lewan brought it back and Michigan was unable to get anything going from there. The defense forced a Husky three-and-out and the offense finally struck once again. On 2nd-and-10 from the UConn 35, Gardner checked out of the shotgun and into the pistol, running an option to Toussaint who weaved through the Husky defense for a touchdown.

The win keeps Michigan unbeaten on the season, but concerns abound after a second straight scare at the hands of one of the worst teams in FBS. The defense, however, isn’t one of those questions. UConn gained just 206 total yards, gained just 12 first downs, averaged 1.9 yards per rush, and converted just 1-of-11 third downs. In reality, only seven points can be pinned on the defense since the second touchdown started on Michigan’s 9-yard line and the third was a UConn defensive score.

Frank Clark recorded a pair of sacks, his first of the season, while Raymon Taylor, Jibreel Black, Mario Ojemudia, and Chris Wormley each had half a sack. Blake Countess had a pair of tackles for loss.

Michigan’s offense gained 289 total yards, 192 of those on the ground. Toussaint had his best game of the season with 24 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Gardner completed 11-of-23 passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 19 times for a net of 64 yards, though when sacks are removed, he gained 106.

Michigan gets a bye week to heal up and work on the issues that have come about the past two weeks before returning home to face Minnesota on Oct. 5.

Stay tuned for more breakdown and analysis of Michigan’s escape from East Hartford in the days to come.

Predicting Michigan: The defensive line

Monday, August 19th, 2013


As we continue our position preview and prediction series, it’s time to move on to the defensive side of the ball. If you missed the offense, we looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, and tight ends over the past couple of weeks.

Shouldering The Load: A Critical Group

Since Greg Mattison has taken over as Defensive Coordinator, his unit has turned into one of the top in the Big Ten. A demoralized defense that struggled under Rich Rodriguez was turned around immediately because of Mattison’s presence. This season, he will have to work with the young defensive players that have made up the strong recruiting classes the past few seasons. Leaders like Jordan Kovacs have graduated and it will be critical to establish new veteran leaders to help the rest of the defense mature.

Jibreel Black gives the line a proven vet to rotate in

Head Coach Brady Hoke coached the defensive line during his days under legendary Bo Schembechler, and he obviously still takes pride in that group of players as the head man. In 2013, the defensive line will be absolutely critical. Great defenses are those that can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers or defensive backs. Michigan will need to get pressure from the pass rushers on the line to help a secondary that seems to have many questions at this point in the preseason.

Veterans: The Few

This season’s defensive line will be anchored by the few returning players that will likely play big minutes again this year. Frank Clark has had a nice camp and figures to play a bigger role on the line this season. He has played all over the field on defense during his time in Ann Arbor, but this year he will play predominantly at defensive end, where Hoke expects him to be an effective pass rusher and leader. Perhaps the most satisfying play of the entire 2012 season for the Wolverines was Clark’s hit on Braxton Miller when he came through untouched against the Buckeyes in Columbus. After that hit, it is unsurprising that Clark has been moved permanently to the defensive end position.

The interior line seemingly has more stability, as proven defensive tackles Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black return as candidates to start. Washington, a redshirt senior, was solid in 2012 recording 32 tackles but only one sack. He has been steady on defense since his move from offensive line midway in 2010 and will be crucial as one of the two seniors on the defensive line. Black, the other senior, was more of a big-play threat last season. Though he only had 20 total tackles, he recorded three sacks and five tackles for loss.

The only other upperclassman on the line is redshirt junior Richard Ash, who will be a role player at defensive tackle again this season. Players like Ash are crucial to having a strong line, because so many players contribute during the course of one game due to the number of substitutions in the trenches.

Career Stats – Clark
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 19 16 35 2.0 9.5 1 1 1
Career Stats – Washington
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 16 19 35 1.0 3.0 1 0 0
Career Stats – Black
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
39 28 17 45 4.5 6.5 2 0 0
Career Stats – Ash
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Filling In: Talented Youth

While the rest of the defensive line is largely unproven coming into 2013, there is no doubt the talent is there. Two strong recruiting classes in a row have helped establish depth at an important defensive position for the Wolverines. Freshman Taco Charlton could be one of the most important players on the defense, because of his standout ability as a pass rusher. Most of the returning players on the defensive line were adequate run-stoppers last season, but there is definitely a hole in the pass-rushing department. Charlton was recruited to fill that gap, and will likely get a chance to rush the quarterback in some meaningful games this season. Hoke likes what the true freshman has shown midway through camp.

Big things are expected from Taco Charlton

Another exciting young player is sophomore Ondre Pipkins. Pipkins played in every game as a true freshman, so he could be considered a veteran on an otherwise inexperienced defensive unit. Though he didn’t start any games last year, Hoke and Mattison showed great trust in Pipkins by giving him meaningful minutes in every game of the season. This year, the sophomore has an opportunity to move up into a starting position at defensive tackle.

Tom Strobel did not see any playing time last year, as he was given a redshirt to mature. However, he was a highly-ranked recruit and could be right in the mix to play big minutes as well this season. The Ohio native has a big body and is strong in the run-blocking category which is a strength of this unit.

Fellow redshirt freshman Mario Ojemudia has caught Hoke’s attention during the offseason with his ability to jump snaps and get quick pressure on the quarterback. Ojemudia is a smaller defensive lineman, at 6’2″, but he uses that to his advantage as a quicker defender and can get around bigger offensive lineman because of that. He was given a redshirt to work on his size and strength, since that seems to be the one issue that could stop Ojemudia from being a star.

Henry Poggi and Chris Wormley were recruits that also created some buzz. Wormley is a big athlete who moves very well for a player of his size. In high school he showed incredible disengaging skills and was able to overpower his opponents the majority of the time. Poggi, who was recruited as a four-star out of Baltimore, Maryland, may be the victim of Michigan’s depth at defensive tackle and take a redshirt this season. Players like Washington, Black and Pipkins figure to receive most of the snaps at defensive tackle, so coaches may take the opportunity to let Poggi mature for a season.

Career Stats – Pipkins
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 2 5 7 0 0.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Ojemudia
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
9 8 3 11 1.0 2.5 1 1 1

Depth: An Exciting Future

Having too many good players is a nice problem to have, and Michigan may have difficulty finding time for some very good young players this season because of the traffic jam on the defensive line. True freshman Maurice Hurst Jr. comes to Ann Arbor after being labeled a very talented recruit, and can help fill in at defensive line this year if Michigan needs him. It is likely that Hurst could get a redshirt along with Poggi, and we’ll see them make a major impact in a few years.

Keith Heitzman has played 12 games as a backup defensive end in his short career so far, and will continue to contribute this season, potentially winning a starting role.

Redshirt freshman Matt Godin will likely pick up a similar role this year. Godin is one of the bigger lineman on the team at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. Godin’s classmate Willie Henry is also a huge interior lineman, listed just over 300 pounds. These players will see playing time throughout the course of the season, and will need to be solid while they give the more well-known players a breather. Luckily, Hoke and Mattison are the right coaches to have around a defensive line with so much potential.

Career Stats – Heitzman
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 5 7 0 1.0 0 1 0

Wrapping Up

Michigan’s defensive line is similar to many of the other groups on the 2013 team. Two outstanding recruiting classes have established important depth, and the few veteran players will need to be leaders to help those youngsters mature. Washington, Black and Clark will be the big name veterans on the line, but there’s a great chance that some of the newer players step up and make a name for themselves early as well. Fans in Ann Arbor should be excited to see players like Charlton and Pipkins play major minutes and cause havoc on the defensive line.

The rest of the defense has their own responsibility, but the line is the really crucial group to watch in 2013. If the young pass-rushers can keep quarterbacks from getting comfortable in the pocket, the rest of the defense should fall into place. Mattison will look to his defensive line to set the tone this season.

2012 season preview: M&GB staff roundtable

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012


With a few days remaining before Michigan opens up against Alabama, the excitement is building. We decided to take some time to have a little roundtable discussion about how we think the season will play out. You already know myself, Chris, Josh, and Matt from last season, but please welcome our newcomers, Katie and Sam. Visit our Meet the Staff page to get to know them. Below we discuss who we think will be the breakout players on each side of the ball, which games will give Michigan the most trouble, where we expect the most progression or regression, and our predictions for how the season will play out.

Who will be the breakout player on offense and why?

With uncertainty surrounding Fitz Toussaint's status, Thomas Rawls will need to break out

Justin: This is kind of a shot in the dark, but I’m going to go with freshman tight end Devin Funchess. We already know what receivers like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon can do, and same with running back Fitz Toussaint. The offensive line is pretty well established, but tight end is a position that needs someone to step up following the graduation of Kevin Koger.

While Funchess doesn’t yet have the frame to be an in-line blocking tight end, he’s extremely well built from a pass catching standpoint. The biggest trend in football over the past couple of years is athletic tight ends such as Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski that can create matchup problems for a defense. Funchess has a chance to be just that. He’ll be a weapon in the red zone and will challenge the five touchdown catches that were posted by Benny Joppru in 2002, the most by a Michigan tight end since then.

Chris: Sophomore wide receiver Jerald Robinson. Robinson played in 11 games last year, primarily on special teams. He is a 6’1”, 206-pound prototype receiver more akin to the type of player Michigan fans are used to seeing out on the edge. He also has 4.5 speed in the 40 and is the second tallest receiver on the roster. With the departure of Daryl Stonum (who was dismissed), Robinson will likely be the third receiver, at a minimum, and I expect him to be a favorite target of Denard Robinson.

Josh: I think Thomas Rawls is primed to be the breakout player on offense. This is based on several factors and one major assumption. The assumption being Fitz Toussaint will be out at least a couple of games – I’m predicting three. In that case, Rawls is the “next guy” and will get the bulk of carries against Alabama, Air Force and UMass, and probably Notre Dame (or whomever Toussaint’s first game back is against).

We may not know much about Rawls on the field, but according to a friend of a friend who covered him while he was in high school in Flint, Rawls is a hard-working, humble kid who does not seem like the type to miss opportunities when given the chance. Fred Jackson has given high praise and Rawls has even drawn positive comparisons to another former Flint running back, Mark Ingram.

He is the type of back that Al Borges wants in this system – a powerful downhill runner who loves to dish out punishment as much as he relishes taking it from defenders. I think given the chance to be the number one guy, Rawls will make the most of it and not give it back once Toussaint returns. This quote by Borges sums it up for me and my case for Thomas Rawls:

“He’s reckless. He runs with a demeanor that’s aggressive,” Borges said. “That would probably be the best word. He looks like he’s mad when he runs sometimes. He’s a tough guy. You hit him, you’re going to feel him. I promise you that. You are going to feel him. There are times he is just simply not interested in avoiding you.”

Sounds like a true Michigan running back to me.

Matt: I think the offensive breakout star is going to be wide receiver Drew Dileo. With his speed and his ability to be able to pull in passes, watch him snag some great ones this year.

Katie: I’m going to go with receiver Drew Dileo.  He is the third returning wide receiver on the depth chart, and while he does not have the height, Gallon is smaller and had three times as many yards receiving last season. Denard will be on the lookout for sure hands, and I think that Dileo will provide some peace of mind for our veteran quarterback. Robinson can’t favor one receiver – he doesn’t have the arm to thread the needle to a favorite. So I’m hoping Drew will become a key component to the offense this season.

Sam: For this team to be successful, or rather to be great, one of our receivers is going to need to show some consistency. Roundtree is probably the biggest name and Devin Gardner is receiving a lot of hype before he has ever lined up out wide, but I’m going in a different direction. Jeremy Gallon has always struck me as being very reliable despite not seeing a ton of targets and catching only 35 balls in his two seasons of seeing the field. He’s also very small, listed generously at 5’8″, 187 pounds, earning him the “Tiny Gallon” nickname I have bestowed upon him. Yes, I know Keith “Tiny” Gallon, formerly of Oklahoma, already stole that nickname, but it REALLY fits Jeremy well. Having said that, coaches have pointed out before that he plays bigger than what he is and usually catches the ball if it’s anywhere near his hands. He’s not a burner but he has plenty of speed and should be a terror if Denard can find him often. Bonus: He sometimes returns punts and you never know what can happen there.

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Who will be the breakout player on defense and why?

Justin: I’m going to go with linebacker Desmond Morgan. Jake Ryan kind of had his coming out party last season and now it’s Morgan’s turn. Yes, he finished fifth on the team with 63 tackles, but I think this year he’s primed to dominate. Of his 63 tackles, 48 came in the final six games once he secured a starting spot. Project those over the full 13 game season and that’s 104 tackles. That’s more of what we can expect this year. Hoke had these kind words to say of Morgan in the spring:

Desmond Morgan is set to be a tackling machine

“I think he’s a very instinctive football player. As a linebacker, I think that’s critical. He’s a guy who’s got a nice burst, will be physical at the point of attack.”

In his second year, he’s more comfortable – he admitted that he was terrified last season as a true freshman – and he’s had another year in Greg Mattison’s defense. Remember, Mattison coached Ray Lewis and the Ravens’ dominant defense, and his teaching is some of the best in football. Watch out for Morgan this season.

Chris: Sophomore defensive end Brennen Beyer. Like my breakout player pick on offense, Beyer is also a sophomore who played in 11 games last season at linebacker and recorded 11 tackles. He also runs a 4.5 40, which should provide good speed off the edge for the Michigan pass rush. Senior defensive tackle William Campbell comes in at a close second place. Campbell has not yet lived up to his highly touted rating coming out of high school, but this year he seems to be more focused in offseason workouts and fall camp. The defense will need him to step after heavy losses on the defensive line due to graduation.

Josh: I was torn between Blake Countess and Ondre Pipkins (I have zero confidence Will Campbell does anything of note this year and feel strongly that Pipkins is the guy who will step in when that happens) for my breakout defensive player but I finally decided on Countess, though it was very close.

Countess plays well in space and has shown he is not afraid to mix it up and lay a hit on someone, something I love to see in my corners. He has a good work ethic and has said his struggles last season came from “bad eyes” (poor reads) and has made it a point to study more film in the offseason. The biggest knock on Countess might be his lack of “ideal” size, though at 5’10”, 180 pounds, he’s not exactly diminutive.

As a true freshman, Countess appeared in 12 games and started the last six at corner, joining the ranks of Donovan Warren, Marlin Jackson and the great Charles Woodson as freshman who started at CB for Michigan. He was second on the team with six pass breakups (most by a frosh since Jackson over a decade ago) and recorded five or more tackles six times, including a career high eight total (six solo) against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

Some games were good and some left something to be desired and he did not end the season on a high note against Ohio and Virginia Tech (despite his tackle total against VT). However, players often make large jumps from year one to year two, and I think Countess will be pushed enough by both himself and the staff to make a significant jump in his play. The fact that he got a lot of playing time and ended the season with six straight starts only fuels the fire of potential offseason improvement.

With questions abounding on the defensive line, Jibreel Black will need to make a big impact

Early in the spring, AnnArbor.com quoted Brady Hoke saying to Countess, “The dumbest guys on the team are the freshman, and the biggest problems are sophomores that played as freshman.”

Countess has taken that to heart and is using Hoke’s words as even more motivation to not become complacent.

I don’t expect him to be Charles Woodson, nor will I ever, but Countess should be much improved in year two, along with the rest of the defense, and I fully expect him to be a solid No. 1 CB for the next couple of years.

Matt: The defense is young, especially up front, and it’s going to be scary until it has gotten a couple of games under its belt, but the breakout star will be linebacker Jake Ryan. He’s a really good defensive player capable of racking up sacks and recovering fumbles. He hasn’t snagged an interception yet, but with his height, I would think it’s a good possibility that he can pull one or two in.

Katie: Defensive tackle William Campbell. He’s been a regular, but not as a starter. I think he’ll reach the potential we all saw in him when he came out of Cass Tech. We also need to bring pressure, and hopefully he will provide the burst we need in the middle.

Sam: I think Blake Countess or Desmond Morgan might be the popular choices here, and I have no qualms with that, but again I am looking at a position that should be crucial to Michigan’s defensive success – defensive line. And no, I’m not picking Craig Roh or Will Campbell. I am going with Jibreel Black. Black is big enough to take on blockers and quick enough to provide a good pass threat, but he has never really put together a string of successful games. I think that will change this year with his position move to the inside. Look for him to have a consistent impact on games this season with at least a few game-changing plays thrown in there.

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What game(s) on the schedule concern you and why?

Justin: The obvious is the opener against Alabama and the finale at Ohio State, but I think the midseason trip to Lincoln will be a pivotal game. It’s the week after a tough battle against Michigan State and it’s a night game. Nebraska is notoriously tough to beat at home, especially at night, so it will be tough for Michigan to come away with a win. Michigan State and Notre Dame certainly won’t be easy, but I do think those are two that Michigan should win. The Nebraska game could be the game that decides the Legends division title.

Chris: October 27 at Nebraska. Michigan will be coming off a highly emotional game against Michigan State (who it has lost to four times in a row) and the game is in Lincoln, which is always a tough place to play. Nebraska returns 14 starters from last year, including all of their primary skill position players, and, as is the standard at Nebraska in most seasons, their defense should be stout. September 22 at Notre Dame will also be tough as ND will be looking for revenge. November 24 at Ohio State is always a tough game no matter which year The Game is being played, but this will be OSU’s bowl game.

The road trip to Nebraska following the Michigan State game will be a tough one

Josh: Alabama is the obvious concern on the schedule so I won’t pick it. A loss wouldn’t particularly hurt Michigan’s season too much, if at all. We have Sparty at home this year and they will be tough, but I think these seniors will refuse to leave Michigan 0-4 against MSU. The game at Nebraska will be tough but I have little faith in Taylor Martinez and according to the Internet chatter, even Husker Nation is chalking this one up as a loss, for them!

At Ohio is my pick for game that concerns me the most. Not because they are a better team and definitely not because of Urban Meyer. I mean, the “greatest college recruiter” has been seriously lacking in his 2013 class while Michigan has completely raided all the best players in Ohio.

With no postseason in site because of “TatGate,” this will be Ohio’s bowl game. Both teams hate the other and always play hard, and no one wants to say they lost to their rival two years in a row. The ‘Shoe is a tough place to play for anyone and it is going to be a loud, raucous place come the end of November. I fully expect Ohio to come out and leave it all on the field. A win for Ohio could mean no Big Ten title game and BCS appearance for Michigan. Nothing would make Ohio fans happier than to dash Michigan’s hopes and leave Denard with no Big Ten titles in his four years.

This is Urban Meyer’s first Michigan game as head coach and he definitely understands the importance of The Game. I’m sure he will have his guys jacked up to beat Michigan at all costs, and that is what really scares me. This is a team with nothing to lose, against a hated rival who beat them last year. I’m not saying Ohio will play dirty, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Hoke will have his kids ready to play each and every week and more against Ohio, but playing a tough team in their house when they have nothing to lose worries me more than a little.

Matt: There are quite a few games of concern this season. Obviously, Alabama is a concern. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame will always be concerns. I also am a little worried about Iowa.

Katie: Ohio State and Michigan State. Ohio State is an away game and both teams have a long list of returning starters on defense. And, of course, both are huge rivalry games. Pride is on the line as well as a win or loss. I’m concerned also about the Meyer vs. Hoke culmination in The Game; will this be the start of another ten year war?

Sam: Obviously the schedule is quite a bit tougher this season than last, so this question isn’t too hard. Alabama scares me immensely right out of the gate, even though they did lose a ton of talent. Saban’s third string is probably good enough to win the Big East, and his first string will be faster, stronger, and tougher than just about any team out there. I just don’t know if we have the girth in the trenches or the talent everywhere else to play with them, but we shall see. Notre Dame will also be a tough game in South Bend, but it’s Notre Dame. Michigan State has beaten us four times in a row, but I expect us to have plenty of fire to put them back in their place. And Ohio State in Columbus will be no gimme.

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Where do you expect to see the most improvement or regression from last year?

Justin: I certainly don’t expect much regression, except in the win-loss column. An 11-2 season is too much to expect from a team with questions on the defensive line and one of the toughest schedules in the nation. As for improvements, I think the offense will be more crisp. It’s the second year in Al Borges’ system, so Denard Robinson and company will have more ability to make plays as opposed to thinking about the offense. There will be more room for expanding the playbook as well.

The consensus seems to be that the passing game should improve

Chris: I expect to see the most improvement on offense this season. This will be the second year in offensive coordinator Al Borges’ system and the players should be used to the terminology and play-calling. I also expect the running game to be even better and more developed as the running backs and linemen have had a year to better their skills in the power running game.

Josh: I think the offense will see the most progression over last year. Denard is not Tom Brady or Chad Henne and he will never be – he’s just not that type of quarterback and that’s fine. But the good thing is he doesn’t need to be. All he really needs to do is make better reads, not throw off his back foot, and just tuck and run when no one is open instead of waiting around. Better decision making and play recognition will do wonders for his passing game, and those will most assuredly come in year two under this system.

Denard Robinson is a smart young man, and he is not oblivious to the criticism about his passing game. He knows what areas need improvement. By all accounts, Denard has worked on those areas diligently. Much like I knew Michigan could only get better from 2010 to 2011, I am expecting the same from Denard and the offense. More experience in the system and an offseason to learn from your mistakes in year one bodes well for the Maize and Blue.

I don’t expect 50 points a game, but with an improvement in the passing game defenses will no longer be able to focus on stopping Denard’s running ability. And that my friends will open up the floodgates for Borges and his play calling.

Matt: I think the offense is going to only get better. As far as defense, we’ll really need the young guys to step up.

Katie: The passing game should improve with a senior Denard Robinson. I hope that Denard will finally show us that he is as capable a passer as a runner. Well, almost as capable, since comparing his scrambling and dashing skills to anything makes the order a tall one.

Sam: Probably another cookie-cutter answer from me here, but I think we will see the most improvement in Denard’s pass game and the biggest regression in the turnover battle. In his second year under Al Borges and his fourth season overall, Robinson is going to make better decisions and smarter throws. Or the other way around. Expect to see his interception totals dip just below double digits. Speaking of turnovers though, I just don’t see any way our plus-seven from last year holds up. And yes, I did just say I think our interception numbers will drop significantly. We recovered 20 fumbles and lost six fumbles in 13 games. While the former number probably had something to do with a better defense in general, I do not believe we will see more than 12 fumbles recovered this season. And, as much as it hurts to say, we could easily cough the ball up four or five more times than last season.

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What is your prediction for the season (record, finish in the Big Ten, bowl game)?

Justin: Although I certainly hope for the better, I think Michigan will finish 9-3 in the regular season with losses to Alabama, Nebraska, and Ohio State. Nebraska will lose at Michigan State, Ohio State, and one more – perhaps the season ending game against Iowa. Michigan State will lose to Michigan and either Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Iowa. That will set up a tie for the Legends division title between Michigan and Michigan State, sending Michigan to the title game thanks to a head-to-head win over the Spartans to face Wisconsin. With three losses, Michigan likely won’t wind up in a BCS game unless it wins the Big Ten title game, so either the Rose Bowl or the Capital One Bowl are the likely destinations.

Can Michigan reach the Big Ten Championship game?

Chris: Michigan certainly has a chance to win the Big Ten this year, but they face a tough conference slate of games (at Nebraska, at OSU, vs MSU). They also face the defending national champions Alabama (in Dallas) and must play Notre Dame in South Bend under the lights in a revenge game. I see the Wolverines losing to Alabama in the opener, but in a closer game than most people expect. I like Michigan at home against MSU, but if UM does win this game, they will need to re-focus quickly for a tough test at Nebraska. Playing in Columbus against OSU will also be extremely tough in what I already mentioned will be OSU’s bowl game.

Josh: Predicting this season is quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve done in a long time – sports-wise anyway. I think any number of things could happen and without knowing how much Denard has progressed and how the defensive line is going to look and play, I’m not sure I can give you anything more than a couple shots in the dark. But here goes…

IF Denard improves enough to make the defense respect his passing ability AND the defense picks up where it left off last season, I think this is an 11-1 team heading to the Big Ten title game and most likely the Rose Bowl.

If neither of those two happen or if just one happens, I think this is more of a 9-3 team, with no shot at the Big Ten title game.

No one in the out-of-conference schedule scares me other than Alabama, and I would honestly be shocked if Michigan returned to A2 from the Jerry Dome 1-0. Sparty, Nebraska and Ohio will all be tough games and if Michigan is not at the top of their game for all three then losing two out of three is entirely possible, though I think it is unlikely they lose more than one of them.

Given what I know and how I feel about Team 133, I’d have to say 10-2, with losses to Alabama and, please forgive me, Ohio, still going to the Big Ten title game but no Rose Bowl. Ever the pessimist, I just don’t think they’ll be quite stout enough on defense to stop Wisconsin’s running game.

But hey, this team defied the odds last year and played with some incredible passion and pride that hadn’t been seen since Mike Hart and Chad Henne were in the backfield. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong about the Ohio and Big Ten title games and they’re 12-1 headed to the Rose Bowl to dash Matt Barkley’s dreams.

Matt: I’m predicting a 10-2 record. Who will the two losses be? I’m not sure yet, but I can definitely see Michigan going to the Big Ten Championship and taking on defending champion Wisconsin.

Katie11-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big Ten. Hopefully a run for the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

Sam: I hate predicting football records. Period. I go through the games one at a time and have a hard time thinking Michigan will ever lose no matter how good our team is and how good the other team is. But if I must, I must. Without even looking at the schedule (or else the prediction would be 13-0), I am going to say 9-3 regular season with wins in the Big Ten Championship game and a win in a New Year’s Day bowl that is not also a BCS bowl. I just don’t see how we can get through a top-five SOS without a few chinks in the armor by season’s end. Whether we will have two losses in-conference or out-of-conference is anyone’s guess right now, but I think we will have at least one loss in Big Ten play and a loss to Alabama as well. Let’s all hope I’m wrong.

2012 preview: the defense

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012


When Brady Hoke took over in January 2011, he stressed that his team would be tougher and would get back to playing Michigan football. He inherited a very talented offense, but it was the defensive side of the ball that would make or break the season. Hoke hired Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to lead the charge and it was the first indication that Hoke was the right man for the job.

Mattison had a tall task at hand, trying to turn one of the worst defenses in Michigan history into something resembling a Michigan defense of the past. But he had years of experience at the highest levels to draw from, including a stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 1995-96, erecting what would become a year later one of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen.

All he did was transform a team that allowed 35.2 points and 450.8 total yards per game the previous year into the nation’s 17th-best total defense and sixth-best scoring defense, giving up just 17.4 points and 322.2 yards per game. Even the most die-hard of Michigan fans didn’t see that coming.

With the majority of starters returning this season, and an offense expected to take a leap forward, is there any room for the defense to improve on last year? Let’s examine the players who will man the Michigan defense.

Defensive Line

#73 – William Campbell
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
38/0 19 3.5 2 0 1
#55 – Jibreel Black
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
26/0 25 1.5 1.5 1 0
#88 – Craig Roh
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
38/38 112 21 6.5 3 0
#97 – Brennen Beyer
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
11/0 11 0 0 0 0

Projected Starters: DT William Campbell, DT Jibreel Black, DE Craig Roh, DE Brennen Beyer

By far, the biggest question on defense is the line. The graduation of the big three – Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Will Heininger – leave the Wolverines with just one player who has started a game on the line. That player is senior Craig Roh who has started every single game since he arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago.

This season, Roh is switching from weak-side to strong-side to fill the spot vacated by Van Bergen. Roh has put on about 20 pounds to get his weight up to 281, slightly less than what Van Bergen played at. He says it’s a more natural fit and he’ll need to have the same impact that RVB did for Michigan’s defense to be successful.

On the other side will be sophomore Brennen Beyer who is also new at the position. He played in 11 games at linebacker last season and is now taking over the weak-side end position. He was in a battle with Frank Clark for the spot, but Clark’s legal woes opened the door for Beyer.

In the middle, senior William Campbell’s time has finally come. He arrived at Michigan as a hyped-up five-star, but has disappointed so far. This offseason, he has trimmed down to a slim 308 pounds and has drawn praise from the coaches for his improvement and leadership. It’s probably too much to expect him to perform to Martin’s level, but if he can clog the middle well enough, it will go a long way towards forging a tough defensive line.

Joining Campbell is Jibreel Black, a junior who hasn’t yet started a game but has played in 26 career games. The last two seasons, he was a reserve defensive end, but Hoke asked him to add weight and move to the 3-tech position to replace Heininger. It has been a bit of an adjustment, moving from outside to inside, but after bulking up to 279, he still hasn’t lost his quickness.

“He’ll be the most quick 3-tech you’ll see in the Big Ten this year,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan.

If that’s the case, he’s in for a big year, but we’ll find out from the start when he goes up against what will likely be the best offensive line in the nation in week one.

Backups: The aforementioned Frank Clark is in line for major playing time at defensive end, but it largely depends on the outcome of his legal troubles. His pretrial date is Sept. 11 and it’s hard to imagine he’ll see the field before then. If and when he does, he’ll be a valuable asset. He played in 12 games as a freshman last season, recorded 10 tackles, and picked off a pass in the Sugar Bowl to set up Michigan’s second touchdown.

Richard Ash is a is a big bodied sophomore waiting to fill in in the middle. Freshman Ondre Pipkins is another. Pipkins was the subject of a scare last week when he had an apparent neck injury in practice and was taken to the hospital. It turned out to be nothing more than a stinger and he was back at practice a few days later. Both he and Ash have drawn praise throughout camp. Quinton Washington is another guy who will rotate in. He has about a dozen games worth of experience in his career.

Linebackers

#90 – Jake Ryan
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
13/11 37 11 3 1 2
#25 – Kenny Demens
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
38/20 13 80 0 80 0
#44 – Desmond Morgan
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
12/7 63 4 1 0 1

Projected Starters: SAM (strong-side) Jake Ryan, MIKE (middle) Kenny Demens, WILL (weak-side) Desmond Morgan

For the first time in years heading into the season linebacker will be a position of strength for the Michigan defense. It helps that the guys playing the position were recruited as linebackers rather than as defensive backs and converted to linebacker.

The leader is senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens. An All-Big Ten honorable mention performer last season, Demens became a stalwart in the middle. He had his share of struggles in his first year in Greg Mattison’s defense, but became more consistent as the year went on. This year, with a full understanding of the defense and a lighter frame, he should thrive.

Jake Ryan had a good season as a redshirt freshman last year and is poised to break out in 2012. He made 11 tackles for loss last season and added 12 pounds since then to help him shed more blocks.

Desmond Morgan will get the nod at the weak-side spot. He impressed as a true freshman in 2011 and despite being slightly undersized has a great football mind. Better consistency should be expected this season with a year under his belt.

Backups: Most of the backups that will play key roles are freshmen, but before we get to them, let’s talk about a couple of upperclassmen who have experience. Redshirt junior Cameron Gordon and senior Brandin Hawthorne both have plenty of experience. Gordon is a journeyman who went from receiver to safety to linebacker. He has played in 20 career games, starting 13. He has enough athleticism to give Michigan a solid backup to Ryan. Hawthorne is also a converted safety with good playmaking ability.

A host of freshmen will push for time. Joe Bolden, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, will see snaps at middle linebacker. He has great football instincts and great potential. Kaleb Ringer and James Ross will likely push for action at weak-side linebacker to spell Morgan. Ringer also enrolled early and has a ton of potential. Ross will likely redshirt but you never know.

Secondary

Projected Starters: CB Blake Countess, CB J.T. Floyd, FS Thomas Gordon, SS Jordan Kovacs

#18 – Blake Countess
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
12/6 44 1.5 0 6 0 1 0
#8 – J.T. Floyd
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
31/22 131 2 0 13 3 2 0
#32 – Jordan Kovacs
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
37/33 266 21 5 2 4 5 2
#30 – Thomas Gordon
Games/Starts Tackles TFL Sacks PBU INT FF FR
22/14 90 5.5 2 2 1 2 4

Michigan was known for putting out great defensive backs throughout the 90s and early 2000s, but the past few years have been a letdown due to a combination of injuries, poor recruiting, and attrition. This year, Michigan enters the season with the secondary full of veterans.

The leader is obviously Jordan Kovacs. You know his story – from walk-on to four-year starter. He’s on several preseason awards watch lists and has defied logic his entire career. He’s sure to be a team captain when Hoke announces them. He’s a great tackler, he’s smart, and he loves to blitz and disrupt the quarterback.

Thomas Gordon has started 14 games and is a hard-hitting safety who recovered a Big Ten-best four fumbles last season. He was the team’s third-leading tackler a year ago.

At the cornerback spot, Blake Countess is a rising star. He grabbed the starting job as a true freshman last year and had a great season all things considered. He struggled down the stretch against Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but the experience should help him grow this season.

J.T. Floyd has started 22 games and is the most veteran cornerback on the team. He had a surprisingly good season last year and will look to cap off a pretty good career this season.

Backups: Marvin Robinson and Jarrod Wilson are the main backups at safety. Robinson came in with a lot of hype but has yet to make his mark. Wilson is a freshman who, like Bolden and Ringer, enrolled early. He has a lot of upside even if he doesn’t see the field much this season. Josh Furman is also an option, though like Robinson, hasn’t lived up to his recruiting hype to date.

At cornerback, Courtney Avery, Raymon Taylor, and Delonte Hollowell are the main players. Avery started some games two years ago before the new coaching staff came in, so he’s a pretty good third option. Taylor and Hollowell don’t have much experience – just spot duty last year – but could develop into decent corners in the next couple of years.

For continued coverage of our season preview series, make sure to come back each day this week.

TomorrowRecord Watch
FridaySchedule Predictions

Meet Your 2010 Recruiting Class: The Defensive Line

Sunday, February 28th, 2010


National Signing Day came and went with Michigan making a huge late-minute splash, adding four-star safety Demar Dorsey from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. The 6’1″, 175lb. star originally committed to Florida before backing out and eventually choosing the Wolverines, giving Michigan a very solid safety class.

Who are the rest of the high school seniors that round out the class? Here’s a breakdown by position of the defensive side of the ball. Due to the size of the defensive class, this will be broken into four posts: the defensive line, the linebackers, the cornerbacks, and the safeties.

Defensive End (3)  

*Defensive End Jibreel Black

Defensive End Jibreel Black

JIBREEL BLACK
Height: 6-2
Weight: 253
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio (Wyoming)
Rivals Ranking: #25 DE (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #15 DT (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #45 DE (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Cincinnati, Indiana, Michigan State, Kentucky, West Virginia, Minnesota.
How He Fits In: Michigan was the third school to receive a commitment from Black during the recruiting process, but the only one that counts. He could be the biggest sleeper of the class as a guy who didn’t have many major offers, but has a great body type and good upside. He’s comparable to LaMarr Woodley or Brandon Graham at a very early stage, and given time to work on technique, strength, and quickness, could develop into Michigan’s next great rush end. That won’t happen for another couple of years, however, and his impact in 2010 will be virtually nonexistent as a redshirt is likely.

Defensive End Jordan Paskorz

Defensive End Jordan Paskorz

JORDAN PASKORZ
Height: 6-3
Weight: 225
Hometown: Allison Park, Penn. (Hampton)
Rivals Rank: #41 DE (3-star)
Scout Rank: #74 DE (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #52 DE (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Virginia, Bowling Green.
How He Fits In: Paskorz provides depth on the defensive line and is certain to redshirt in 2010. He’s a traditional defensive end, but could move to outside linebacker before his time in the maize and blue is over. There’s nothing overly special about Paskorz and he’ll need a couple of years to develop before he’ll see the field.

Ken Wilkins

Defensive End Ken Wilkins

KEN WILKINS
Height: 6-3
Weight: 244
Hometown: Washington, Penn. (Trinity)
Rivals Rank: #15 DE (4-star)
Scout Rank: #67 DE (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #42 OLB (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers.
How He Fits In: Wilkins has a bigger body than Black and Paskorz and may also redshirt. ESPN projects him as a linebacker, but he will most likely fill the strongside defensive end position for Michigan. He’s a high-motor guy with a nose for the ball and could be a solid contributor in a couple of years.
Defensive Tackles (2)  

Defensive Tackle Richard Ash

Defensive Tackle Richard Ash

RICHARD ASH
Height: 6-4
Weight: 263
Hometown: Pahokee, Fla. (Pahokee)
Rivals Rank: #25 DT (4-star)
Scout Rank: #52 DT (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #54 DT (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: West Virginia, S. Florida, Rutgers, USC, UCLA, Tennessee, Colorado State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma State, LSU.
How He Fits In: Ash originally committed to West Virginia, but decided to follow fellow Pahokee graduates Martavious Odoms, Vincent Smith, and Brandin Hawthorne to Ann Arbor. He was recruited by Florida and USC until he showed up at Florida’s camp overweight. Once he gets in Mike Barwis’ strength and conditioning program, that should change, and after a couple of years, Ash could be a monster in the middle.

Defensive Tackle Terry Talbott

Defensive Tackle Terry Talbott

TERRY TALBOT
Height: 6-4
Weight: 255
Hometown: Huber Heights, Ohio (Wayne)
Rivals Rank: #61 DT (3-star)
Scout Rank: #41 DT (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #95 DT (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Wisconsin, UCLA, Cincinnati, Michigan State, N.C. State, Arkansas, North Carolina.
How He Fits In: Talbot is a bit of a ‘tweener at this point, as his body is small for a tackle, but that’s most likely where he’ll play at Michigan. He’ll need some time to bulk up and add weight, but he has good athleticism and intensity. He needs a redshirt, but Michigan might not be afforded the luxury, given the lack of depth at the position.