Poll Results: Michigan’s leading tackler in 2011?

Tag: Carvin Johnson

23Jun 2011
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Poll Results: Michigan’s leading tackler in 2011?

Kenny Demens (#25) wraps up the ballcarrier with help from safeties Ray Vinopal and Jordan Kovacs (#32).
Image via MichiganDaily.com

The results:

Kenny Demens, MLB: 64%
Cam Gordon, SLB: 15%
Jordan Kovacs, S: 7%
Jake Ryan, SLB: 6%
Marell Evans, LB: 2%
Carvin Johnson, S: 1%
Other: 1%

Well, Demens wins the poll in a landslide victory.  As the middle linebacker and the most likely starter to retain his position, he’s probably a good choice.  Demens was the third-leading tackler in 2010, accounting for 82 total stops in just 7 starts.  That’s 11.7 tackles per start, which admittedly isn’t a perfect measurement, since he did play a backup role to Obi Ezeh before usurping the MLB job.  Demens was my hoice.

I’m a little surprised that Cam Gordon finished #2 in the voting.  He was the fourth-leading tackler in 2010, with 77 total tackles.  He’s heavier than the 207 lbs. at which he played last season, but it might be a bit of a stretch to expect him to be a force at SAM for the upcoming year.  He’s going to face a stiff challenge from the larger redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, who earned rave reviews in the spring and had a solid spring game.  They might split the snaps there.

Safety Jordan Kovacs is the leading returning tackler (he finished just one tackle behind departed senior linebacker Jonas Mouton, 117 to 116).  Kovacs started 13 games last season, which gave him 8.9 tackles per start.  He has touted sophomore safety Marvin Robinson pushing him for playing time, but I would expect the two-year starter to retain his job, at least for the beginning of the season.  His overall number of tackles will almost certainly drop, though, due to a [hopefully] improved defense that will get off the field a little quicker.

Strongside ‘backer Jake Ryan finishes #4.  He had zero tackles last year, mostly because he watched from the sidelines.  I think he’ll be a force in stopping the run, but expecting a first-year starter and redshirt freshman to lead the team in tackles is a bit of a stretch for me, especially if he and Gordon are neck-and-neck for the job.

Fifth year senior Marell Evans picked up only a few votes, which was slightly surprising to me.  Evans started at MLB this spring when Demens had shoulder surgery, and he’s my bet to be the starting weakside linebacker on September 3, provided Demens is back at full strength.  Evans only has 4 tackles and half a sack in his college career, which consists of one start back in 2008 and a bunch of special teams action.  He transferred to Hampton after the 2008 season and didn’t see the field for the past two years, but he looked solid during spring practices.

Carvin Johnson, the other projected safety, got a few votes, too.  Johnson was the 16th-leading tackler in 2010 while starting only three games due to injury.  He had an impressive spring, though, looking comfortable in the new defense and picking off a couple passes in the spring game.

I would be interested to hear which player(s) were the reason for “Other” votes, since defensive linemen and cornerbacks rarely lead teams in tackles.  The only other possibilities seem to be safety Marvin Robinson or weakside linebacker Mike Jones, both of whom I project as backups.

10May 2011
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2011 Spring Game Statistics

I haven’t seen these posted anywhere and struggled to find them through a Google search, so here are the statistics from Michigan’s spring game on April 16, as tallied by The Wolverine:

Denard Robinson: 5/14, 71 yards
Devin Gardner: 5/10, 99 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
Steve Wilson: 0/2
Jack Kennedy: 1/2, 10 yards

Michael Cox: 4 carries, 82 yards, 1 TD
Denard Robinson: 6 carries, 48 yards
Michael Shaw: 3 carries, 39 yards
Stephen Hopkins: 6 carries, 17 yards
Fitzgerald Toussaint: 7 carries, 14 yards
Jihad Rasheed: 3 carries, 10 yards
O’Neil Swanson: 3 carries, 5 yards
Steve Wilson: 1 carry, 1 yard
Vincent Smith: 1 carry, 0 yards
Jack Kennedy: 1 carry, -3 yards
Devin Gardner: 4 carries, -9 yards

Jordan Barpal: 1 catch, 50 yards
Je’ron Stokes: 2 catches, 34 yards, 1 TD
Vincent Smith: 1 catch, 33 yards
Kelvin Grady: 1 catch, 10 yards
O’Neil Swanson: 1 catch, 10 yards
Kevin Koger: 1 catch, 7 yards

Jake Ryan: 2
Carvin Johnson: 1
Craig Roh: 1

Carvin Johnson: 2
Marell Evans: 1
Jake Ryan: 1 (returned for a TD)

Seth Broekhuizen: 0/1 (missed from 30 yards)
Brendan Gibbons: 0/1 (missed from 48 yards)

Will Hagerup: 2 punts, 79 yards

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21Apr 2011
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Welcome Back, 4-3 Under: The Defensive Backs

Would Ed Reed be too much to ask for?
(Hint: Not if you’re Auburn.)

In the last week, I’ve broken down the ideal qualities of defensive linemen and linebackers.  Now for the defensive backs:

Alignment:  Dependent on coverage
Gap responsibility:  Outside contain
What should he look like?  Cornerbacks come in different shapes and sizes, but one thing to keep in mind with the 4-3 Under defense is that these corners are going to be put on an island a lot.  This is no longer a bend-but-then-break defense that utilizes soft zones and eschews man coverage.  These cornerbacks need to be up in the receivers’ faces, often playing press man coverage.  Just like any defense, the strongside corner should be a little more adept at tackling and supporting the run.  The weakside corner should have excellent speed and ball skills.  Their job will typically be to force the receiver toward the sideline, maintaining inside leverage and forcing the quarterback to thread a ball between the defender and the sideline.
Best physical fits:  Troy Woolfolk (strongside; 6’0″, 195 lbs.), Courtney Avery (weakside; 5’11”, 167 lbs.)

Alignment:  Strong side of formation, but dependent on coverage
Gap responsibility:  Clean-up
What should he look like?  The strong safety is typically the bigger, more physical player of the two safeties.  He needs to be able to cover a wide range of athletes, from tight ends to wide receivers.  When it comes to run “fits,” he’s typically the clean-up man.  The free safety has responsibility for the weakside A gap, but the strong safety has no such commitment.  That means he should be the most reliable tackler of the defensive back group.  If anyone gets past the front seven, the strong safety should be fast enough to chase him down and strong enough to halt his progress.
Best physical fit:  Carvin Johnson (6’0″, 195 lbs.)

Alignment:  Weak side of formation, but dependent on coverage
Gap responsibility:  A gap or filling the alley
What should he look like?  Because of the unique way the 4-3 Under uses the free safety, this position is somewhat different from what many would expect.  He is heavily involved in supporting the run, and while he won’t have to take on many punishing blockers, he does need to stick his nose up where it doesn’t seem to belong.  He should have good ball skills and the ability to patrol the middle of the field, because he will often be the deep man in Cover 3 or Man Free coverages.  He doesn’t need to be the world’s best athlete, but he does have to be a very disciplined, fundamental player.
Best physical fit:  Marvin Robinson (6’1″, 200 lbs.)

13Apr 2011
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Five Questions for the Spring Game

Michigan fans should keep a close eye on sophomore safety
Carvin Johnson (#13) this Saturday

Everybody else is doing it, so I might as well join.  These are the five things I’m most interested to see on Saturday.

1. Who will play free safety?  And will they be any good at it?
I am on the record as thinking Ray Vinopal should be the starting free safety in 2011.  Of course, Vinopal transferred to Pitt a few weeks ago, and now there will be another brand new starter at FS this year.  Nobody appears to want the starting job; the punishment for earning the job is a broken ankle (Troy Woolfolk), transferring to a Big East school (Vinopal, Ryan Mundy), or public embarrassment and a forced position change to linebacker (Cam Gordon, Steve Brown).

Sophomore Carvin Johnson will be the likely starter at FS on Saturday.  He hasn’t quite earned the hype that Gordon earned in spring last year, but that didn’t turn out so well for Michigan, so maybe practice observers are showing some restraint when evaluating the safety position this year.  I have some questions about Johnson’s long-term viability at the FS position – he’s more of a strong safety, in my opinion – because of his speed.  But Brandent Englemon wasn’t particularly fast, either, and I would be ecstatic if Johnson played as well as Englemon did in 2007.

2. Which of the running backs emerges from the pile?
I’m also on the Michael Cox bandwagon, which you probably know if you’ve ever visited the site before.  Last year Cox was the most impressive runner in the spring game (unofficially, he had 6 carries, 38 yards, and a 22-yard TD run).  For some reason unbeknownst to me, the number of carries he got in the spring game matched his entire 2010 regular season total, too (6 carries, 56 yards).  In competitive situations, that gives Cox approximately 25 carries, 207 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 rushes of 20+ yards (I don’t have stats for the 2009 spring game).

But I’ve been touting Cox as the team’s best runner since late 2009, so my opinion clearly doesn’t carry much weight with the coaching staff.  Other options include Stephen Hopkins, who has reportedly shared first team duties this spring with Cox; Michael Shaw, who’s really fast and not much else; and Vincent Smith, who’s average at everything except height.  I don’t really know which one will come out of the spring looking the best, and the coaches have essentially stated that nobody has separated himself from the pack.  For now I’m expecting to see Cox have the most impressive day, but I’m trying to have an open mind.

3. Who’s going to play WILL?
Maybe I’m the only one, but I’m pretty nervous about the weakside linebacker position going into the 2011 season.  For all the criticism of Jonas Mouton the past couple seasons, I think he would have been perfect as an inside linebacker in this defense.  Unfortunately, he’s graduating just as a suitable defense and coaching staff gets installed.  Meanwhile, his potential replacements include converted safeties, a transfer, and a guy poking his head out of the doghouse.

The starting WILL seems to be redshirt sophomore Mike Jones, a 208-pounder who looks like a safety walked up to the line of scrimmage.  But no, really, he’s a linebacker.  In case you’re wondering, that’s approximately seven pounds lighter than Steve Brown was back in 2009 when he was an undersized outside linebacker.  Brandin Hawthorne, another converted safety, has seen some time at WILL but is even smaller at 203 lbs.  Marell Evans transferred back to Michigan from Hampton and has one year of eligibility left.  And finally, redshirt sophomore Isaiah Bell has seen a bit of playing time on the weakside, but he doesn’t seem to be like a viable option.

Evans might be your starting WILL in September, but with incumbent MIKE starter Kenny Demens out this spring with a shoulder injury, the Hampton transfer has reportedly been the #1 middle ‘backer.  I’ll be curious to see how Jones and the others stand up to linemen and fullbacks, but hopefully they can channel some Ian Gold and Larry Foote action.

4. Will we see any positive signs from William Campbell?
In all honesty, Campbell ought to have been a redshirt freshman in 2010.  If that were the case, it wouldn’t be quite so concerning that he hadn’t done much on the field yet.  But now he’s going to be a junior, and he had better start producing soon if it’s going to happen.  I really can’t think of a better staff in college football to get the most out of Campbell, so if it’s going to happen for the big guy, this is his chance.  I’m not that familiar with defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, but head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison both have outstanding track records with defensive linemen.

I mean no offense to Ricky Barnum – or whoever’s lined up opposite of Campbell – but if there’s anyone I hope to see get destroyed on Saturday, it’s him.  If Campbell can turn into a playmaker at the 3-tech DT position, that takes some of the pressure off Michigan’s rush ends and undersized weakside linebackers.  I have a hard time seeing someone with Campbell’s outsized body and personality fade into obscurity, so let’s hope his play matches his gusto.

5. Will Denard tie his shoelaces?  How close will the quarterback competition be?
I have no doubts that Denard Robinson will be the starting quarterback on Saturday.  You don’t bench a Heisman candidate that quickly, no matter how good the backup plays.  I didn’t believe the Devin Gardner hype in spring 2010 because true freshmen simply aren’t very good, but now . . . I might put some stock in it. Gardner has always seemed to be a better fit in a pro-style offense than the spread, so I think this offense suits him more than Robinson.  Denard’s decision-making and accuracy scare me a little bit, although I admit his improvement from 2009 to 2010 was pretty incredible.  There’s a possibility that he will make a similar leap in 2011, but last year’s spring practice reports about Denard were glowing.  This year’s . . . not so much.

Gardner has the stature, the arm, and the poise to be a franchise quarterback.  In the long run, I fully expect him to be a better signal caller than Robinson.  Whether that happens in 2011, 2012, or beyond, I think #7 will carry on the tradition of great Michigan quarterbacks.  The problem with the QB situation is that even if Gardner proves to be the best quarterback on Saturday (and in August practices), Michigan doesn’t have the depth at the position to move Robinson to running back or wide receiver.  Perhaps the two best athletes on the team are Michigan’s only two quarterbacks.  I can think of worse problems.

24Mar 2011
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Ray Vinopal, ex-Wolverine

Ray Vinopal makes a tackle against Illinois

Safety Ray Vinopal, who just finished his freshman season at Michigan, has left the team due to personal reasons.  Coach Brady Hoke did not elaborate on the reason for Vinopal’s departure.

When Vinopal was recruited out of Cardinal Mooney (Youngstown, OH) last year, I was not a fan.  I pegged him as a probable backup and special teamer, but Vinopal ascended to the starting free safety role halfway through the season.  His rapid ascension was at least partially due to the ineffectiveness of early-season starter Cam Gordon; the departures of Vlad Emilien and Justin Turner; and injuries to J.T. Floyd and Troy Woolfolk.  My guess is that one of the latter three would have moved ahead of Vinopal at free safety once Gordon proved he wasn’t up to the task.  And yet we saw #20, a 2-star recruit, find his way into the starting lineup.

Vinopal exceeded my expectations, but his play was nothing special.  He ended the season with 33 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 3 pass breakups.  He made a couple decent plays throughout the season (a pick against Bowling Green, a critical tackle on Mikel Leshoure of Illinois), but he was outmatched by the majority of Michigan’s 2010 opponents – too small, a step too slow, or both.

Regardless of his shortcomings, he may have been the frontrunner for the starting free safety job in 2011.  Now Michigan will probably be in the same position it has been for the past few seasons – starting a very inexperienced youngster at the secondary’s most critical position.  It was Jordan Kovacs, Mike Williams, and Woolfolk in 2009, Gordon and Vinopal in 2010, and . . . someone else in 2011.  Options include sophomores Carvin Johnson, Marvin Robinson, and Cullen Christian; freshman Tamani Carter; or a converted cornerback like Woolfolk or Floyd.  The situation is less than ideal.

As for the 2010 recruiting class, this is yet another blow to its quality and numbers.  Twenty-seven kids signed National Letters of Intent in February 2010, and only 21 remain.  Safety Demar Dorsey (now at Grand Rapids Community College), quarterback Conelius Jones (Marshall), linebacker Antonio Kinard (Miami), linebacker Davion Rogers (Youngstown State), and running back Austin White (Central Michigan) preceded Vinopal in leaving the program.

Vinopal has not announced a destination, although rumors have floated around that he might be headed to play at Pitt.  His former position coach at Michigan, Tony Gibson, is now the cornerbacks coach for the Panthers.  For those of you who are wondering, Pittsburgh is about one hour and fifteen minutes from Vinopal’s hometown of Youngstown.  Ann Arbor is three hours and thirty minutes away.