The All-Rodriguez Team: Defense and Special Teams

Tag: Donovan Warren

13Jul 2019
Blog, homepage 8 comments

The All-Rodriguez Team: Defense and Special Teams

Brandon Graham

This is the second installment of the All-Rodriguez Team (offense here), the brightest and best of the players coached by Rich Rodriguez and his bumbling henchmen defensive colleagues.

And I’m choosing players for a 4-3, not that moronic 3-3-5* they tried to shoehorn in there.

DE: Brandon Graham (2009)
64 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
Graham was the single most dominant defensive player during Rodriguez’s tenure.  He put up ridiculous numbers for a bad defense, even though he was double-teamed frequently.  And the best thing about Graham was the way his motor improved throughout his career.  He ate his way into playing defensive tackle as a freshman, but by his senior year in 2009, he never stopped going 100%.  That year turned him into a first round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles.

DT: Mike Martin (2009)
51 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Martin seemed like a better player at the beginning of 2010 than in his sophomore year, but a couple sprained ankles slowed him down as a junior.  Even as a crippled junior, though, he would have deserved to be on this team.  Undersized for a nose tackle at 299 lbs., he still defeated double-teams on the regular.

DT: Ryan Van Bergen (2009)
38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown
Van Bergen’s production in 2010 was virtually the same as 2009, but technically, all thirteen games he started in 2010 were at the defensive end position.  I need a tackle, and he’s my man.  He’s another high-motor guy who played well at DT despite having the body of a strongside end.  I was tempted to choose Terrance Taylor here based on overall talent, but Taylor really didn’t produce much in his only season under Rodriguez (2008: 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks).

DE: Tim Jamison (2008)
50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Jamison didn’t really stand out in 2008, but I think Michigan fans were shell-shocked by how bad the team was overall.  And while Jamison wasn’t a huge difference maker, he would have fit in just as well on a good defense, too.

LB: Steve Brown (2009)
80 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
I don’t know if Brown was miscast as a safety or if he was just coached poorly in his first three years, but he took a quantum leap as a senior when he was moved to the SAM linebacker position.  Brown never came off the field, playing linebacker on first and second downs and then becoming the nickel back on third downs.  Brown’s position change was perhaps the best personnel move of Rodriguez’s tenure, and Brown parlayed it into being a late draft pick by the Oakland Raiders.

LB: Kenny Demens (2010)
82 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass breakup
I will be the first to admit that I was not enamored with Demens during his first couple years, but he made me a believer in the second half of the season.  He only started seven games after backing up Obi Ezeh for the first half of the year, but he still ended up third on the team in tackles.  I still think Demens makes some poor decisions due to being overaggressive in attacking the line of scrimmage, but that’s probably better than whatever Ezeh did from 2008-10.

LB: Jonas Mouton (2010)
117 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
Based on statistics alone, Mouton was borderline First Team All-Big Ten.  He averaged 9.8 tackles a game (which was .9 more than teammate Jordan Kovacs and 1.1 more than the next best Big Ten player, Indiana’s Tyler Replogle) and led the conference in tackles, despite playing in only twelve of Michigan’s thirteen contests.  But players on bad defenses don’t get much respect, especially when they make some inexplicably bad plays (see the long TD run by Illinois’s Jason Ford).  With a solid supporting cast, I think Mouton’s play would have stood out more.

CB: Donovan Warren (2009)
66 tackles, 4 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 1 touchdown
Warren thought his junior season would propel him to NFL stardom, but just like Ernest Shazor, he left early and didn’t even get drafted.  Four interceptions isn’t too shabby, and it helps that one (vs. Iowa) went for a touchdown and another (vs. Indiana) was a fantastic diving interception that preserved a victory for the Wolverines.

CB: Morgan Trent (2008)
41 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups
Michigan fans will hate me for this, but Trent beats out James Rogers.  This just shows how poor Michigan’s defense was over the past three years, because everybody’s whipping boy was the second-best cornerback.  The thing that bugged me about criticism of Trent was that he took a lot of heat on message boards for playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, but that was clearly a coaching decision.  I think Michigan fans realized this by 2010, and if Trent had played for Michigan a year or two later, he might not have drawn as much ire.  Trent wasn’t the most agile corner, but he did have good speed and was a better tackler than many gave him credit for.  All that being said, I would actually like to put Troy Woolfolk here, but I need a free safety.

FS: Troy Woolfolk (2009)
46 tackles, 1 pass breakup
Woolfolk could fit on this team at cornerback or safety, but Michigan’s horrible defense was horribler once Woolfolk moved to corner for the second half of the year.  The Wolverines gave up 23 points per game with him at safety, an average that ballooned to 37 points per game (not counting FCS soup can Delaware State) once he switched to cornerback.  His statistics aren’t great, but stats don’t tell the whole story.  He was a consistent presence, a solid tackler, and had the speed to prevent some big plays.

SS: Jordan Kovacs (2010)
116 tackles, 2 interceptions, 8.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
For two years, I’ve been hoping that someone more athletic would take Kovacs’s job.  But I’ve got to give credit where credit is due – Kovacs has been the best guy so far.  He rarely gets out of position, and I didn’t see a more dependable open field tackler on the team.  His 116 tackles (second only to Jonas Mouton in the Big Ten) speak for themselves, but he fills up the stat sheet in other ways, too.  You can’t help but love the guy.

P: Will Hagerup (2010)
33 punts, 1440 yards, 43.6 yards per punt, 11 punts inside the twenty
This was the most difficult choice of the entire All-Rodriguez team, a head-to-head matchup between Hagerup and Zoltan Mesko 2009.  Mesko averaged 44.5 yards per punt in 2009, but fully one-third of Hagerup’s punts were downed inside the twenty yard line (only 28% of Mesko’s were downed inside the twenty).  If you have a good offense (which this squad does), then you want a guy who can pin the opposing team deep.  It doesn’t matter if you can boom a punt when your offense moves the ball down the field before having to give it up.  But if you do need a long punt, Hagerup has a 72-yarder to his credit.  Both players would be good choices, though.

K: Jason Olesnavage (2009)
11-for-15 on field goals (73.3%), 42-for-43 on extra points (97.7%)
Special teams weren’t a strength under Rodriguez, but Olesnavage was pretty solid.  Along with being nearly perfect on extra points, he was 9-for-10 on field goals longer than 30 yards (only 2-for-5 from 29 yards in).

PR: Martavious Odoms (2008)
10 returns, 126 yards, 12.6 yards per return, 1 touchdown
Do I have to choose?  Seriously, this is painful.  Punt returns have been atrocious since 2008.  Odoms is really the only choice, even though he seemed to muff a punt every other game.  That’s not an exaggeration, either.  I wish it was.  I can either choose Odoms (who did have an exciting 73-yard touchdown against Purdue), or a handful of guys who averaged somewhere around two or four yards a return (Donovan Warren, Greg Mathews, Jeremy Gallon).  I would like to choose Drew Dileo, who looks like the best returner for the near future, but he only had 2 returns for 13 yards in 2010.

KR: Darryl Stonum (2009)
39 returns, 1001 yards, 25.7 yards per return, 1 touchdown
Partially due to the defense giving up a ton of points, Stonum had the most kickoff return yards in any season in Michigan history.  He beat Steve Breaston (2004: 28 returns for 689 yards) by 312 yards.  His 94-yard touchdown return against Notre Dame was one of the most exciting plays of the year.

*For clarification purposes, the 3-3-5 itself is not a moronic concept.  It can work, just not when your personnel is more suited for a 4-man front and your defensive coordinator is clueless about how to run it.

This content was originally posted on April 4, 2011.

20Mar 2012
Uncategorized no comments

Michigan Combine participation and Draft position since 1999

Marquise Walker
With the NFL Combine behind us and the Draft not too far away, now seems like a good time to take a look at the recent history of Wolverines in the NFL. Here’s a list of players who have participated in the combine since 1999, with draft position included in parentheses. It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of players who are invited to the Combine end up with NFL teams, even if they are not selected in the Draft.

2012 (3): DT Mike Martin (TBD), WR Junior Hemingway (TBD), David Molk (TBD)

2011 (2): LB Jonas Mouton (2nd), Stephen Schilling (6th)

2010 (5): OLB Brandon Graham (1st), P Zoltan Mesko (5th), S Stevie Brown (7th)*, CB Donovan Warren (undrafted), RB Brandon Minor (undrafted)

2009 (4): DT Terrance Taylor (4th), CB Morgan Trent (6th), LS Sean Griffin (undrafted), DE Tim Jamison (undrafted)

2008 (7): OT Jake Long (1st), QB Chad Henne (2nd), LB Shawn Crable (3rd), WR Mario Manningham (3rd), RB Mike Hart (6th), WR Adrian Arrington (7th), SS Jamar Adams (undrafted)

2007 (6): CB Leon Hall (1st), DT Alan Branch (2nd), LB LaMarr Woodley (2nd), LB David Harris (2nd ), WR Steve Breaston (5th), LB Prescott Burgess (6th)

2006 (5): DT Gabe Watson (4th), WR Jason Avant (4th), TE Tim Massaquai (7th), OL Adam Stenavich (undrafted), LB Pierre Woods (undrafted)

2005 (7): WR Braylon Edwards (1st), CB Marlin Jackson (1st), OG David Bass (2nd), CB Markus Curry (undrafted), FB Kevin Dudley (undrafted), P Adam Finley (undrafted), S Earnest Shazor (undrafted)
2004 (5): RB Chris Perry (1st), CB Jeremy LeSueur (3rd), QB John Navarre (7th), OT Tony Pape (7th), OL David Pearson (undrafted)

2003 (7): LB Victor Hobson (2nd), TE Bennie Joppru (2nd), FB B.J. Askew (3rd), QB Drew Henson (6th), SS Cato June (6th), FS Charles Drake (7th), WR Ronald Bellamy (undrafted)

2002 (4): WR Marquise Walker (3rd), LB Larry Foote (4th), OG Jonathan Goodwin (5th), K Hayden Epstein (7th)

2001 (6): OT Jeff Backus (1st), OL Steve Hutchinson (1st), WR David Terrell (1st), RB Anthony Thomas (2nd), OT Maurice Williams (2nd), CB James Whitley (undrafted)

2000 (7): LB Ian Gold (2nd), FB Aaron Shea (4th), DT Josh Williams (4th), LB Dhani Jones (6th), QB Tom Brady (6th), DE James Hall (undrafted), WR Marcus Knight (undrafted)

1999 (8): OT Jon Jansen (2nd), TE Jerame Tuman (5th), WR Tai Streets (6th), CB Andre Weathers (7th), RB Clarence Williams (undrafted), QB Scott Dreisbach (undrafted), SS Marcus Ray (undrafted), LB Sam Sword (undrafted)
*Not invited to the Combine
Average number of Michigan players participating in the Combine: 5.4
Average number of Michigan players selected in the Draft: 4.1

Average Draft position: 3.8th round
12Jan 2012
Uncategorized no comments

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Mario Manningham

It’s been a rough year for Mario Manningham, especially when considering his lofty preseason expectations. Manningham appeared in only 12 games and battled through a concussion and a lingering knee injury while putting up his worst statistical performance since his 2008 rookie season. But that now seems like the distant past after the Giants’ 24-2 NFC Wild Card game victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Manningham caught four passes for 68 yards in the contest, including a game-clinching touchdown grab midway through the fourth quarter. Super Mario looked impressive on the play (watch it here), beating two defensive backs for the 27 yard catch up the middle.
“The fact that Mario made plays was big,” said coach Tom Coughlin. That was something that we needed to have happen and I am certainly glad it did. When you look at tape of some of these games and you look at previous games of the teams that we are playing, you see [number] 82 making catches and running behind guys, and that’s a good thing”

Honorable Mention: Steelers’ starting free safety Ryan Clark nearly died due to a blood condition the last time he played at Mile High Stadium, so being an upstanding guy, Ryan Mundy kindly stepped into his role. Mundy played 60 minutes of good football, recording five tackles and forcing two fumbles, one of which was recovered by LaMarr Woodley. But unfortunately for Mundy, the game lasted 60 minutes and 11 seconds, and he was caught out of position on the first play of overtime, resulting in an 80-yard touchdown and the quickest end to overtime in NFL history. To be fair, it seemed as if the defensive game plan called for Mundy to stay close to the line of scrimmage, essentially daring Tebow to throw the ball, and Tebow surprisingly rose to the challenge. But still . . .
Miscellaneous: Donovan Warren joins former teammate, Perry Dorrestein, and tight ends coach Mike DeBord in Chicago with the Bears. Travelin’ man Martell Webb signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Adrian Arrington caught his third pass of the season in the Saints’ victory over…well, you know.
9Feb 2011
Uncategorized 18 comments

Mailbag: Where will Woolfolk play?

The demise of Troy Woolfolk’s ankle crippled Michigan’s defense in 2010.

Since we won’t have a chance to discuss this ad nauseum for the next eight months (sarcasm), I was wondering where you come down on Troy Woolfolk. Assuming he’s back in more or less the same shape, do you see him as a FS or CB? Last year he was playing CB seemingly out of depth concerns, but next year they’ll at the very least have a lot of bodies to throw out there, and FS would seem to be a role where his experience/leadership might be better leveraged. On the same front, do you think Marvin has the speed to play back there? We know he has the abs.

The deployment of Woolfolk has long been a hot topic with me because I don’t think a lot of people respect the role and importance of a free safety.  With a lot of coaches I know, they take their best overall athlete and put him at free safety.  That’s one reason why you see a lot of college cornerbacks who played free safety in high school, because they can make more plays from the middle of the field.  Who is Michigan’s best overall athlete (speed, size, coverage, tackling ability, and awareness) in the secondary?  I would say it’s Woolfolk.  He’s 6′ tall and 195 lbs. with high level Big Ten track speed (6.86 seconds in the 60 meters); a solid tackler; and the most experienced defensive back on the team. 

When Woolfolk moved from cornerback to free safety in the spring of 2009, his teammates nicknamed him “The Eraser” for how he cleaned up his defensive teammates’ mistakes.  When that season began, he and cornerback J.T. Floyd were burned for a long touchdown pass in the opener against Western Michigan.  After that Woolfolk was solid at free safety.  (Ed: And don’t even bother bringing up the missed tackle late in the 2009 Michigan State game.  Woolfolk suffered a sprained shoulder earlier in the game but stayed out there, only to have his bum shoulder fail him when trying to tackle Edwin Baker Larry Caper at a crucial point in the game.)  As the season wore on and the defense struggled, Michigan’s coaches moved him back to cornerback during Iowa week and kept him there for the remainder of the season.  While playing free safety, Michigan gave up 23 points per game.  Once he moved to cornerback, Michigan gave up 37 per game (minus the Delaware State drubbing).  Woolfolk was still playing cornerback during August practices in 2010 when he dislocated his ankle, despite the fact that Michigan had virtually no experience, athleticism, or depth – and not much talent – to play the free safety position behind him.

Michigan’s free safety depth chart at the beginning of 2010 looked like this:
1. Cameron Gordon (RS freshman), a 6’3″, 207 lb. converted wide receiver who many projected to be a linebacker in college
2. Jared Van Slyke (RS junior), a 6’2″, 196 lb. walk-on who transferred from Southeast Missouri State
3. Ray Vinopal (freshman), a 5’10”, 197 lb. borderline 3-star recruit straight out of high school
4. Vladimir Emilien (sophomore), a 6’1″, 204 lb. high school star who was hampered by knee problems since prior to his senior year of high school
5. Brandin Hawthorne (sophomore), a 6′, 205 lb. special teamer who most projected as a linebacker

We all know how that turned out – Gordon got burned repeatedly and became an outside linebacker, Van Slyke missed the season due to injury, Vinopal was elevated to starter, Emilien transferred, and Hawthorne contributed on special teams and at linebacker.

I can understand why some might feel that Woolfolk was needed at cornerback in 2010, because the cornerback depth chart was arguably worse than at free safety.  But Michigan suffered from horrible defensive back play all season long (outside of Jordan Kovacs), and the poor free safety play hurt Michigan more than the play of its cornerbacks.  Vinopal was an upgrade from Gordon at the deep safety position, but I’m not convinced that he’s the immediate or long-term answer.

As for what I would do with Woolfolk, I would put him back at . . . cornerback.  Yep, I said it.  I know this is a reversal of my previous stance, but it comes from a change in defensive philosophy.  Former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson ran a lot of Cover 3 out of the 3-3-5 defensive set, which meant that his cornerbacks didn’t need to be in man coverage often.  That’s why it would have been nice for Woolfolk to play centerfield, because he could have backed up his cornerbacks and made some plays on throws over the middle.

But go back and watch some film from the second half of the 2009 season.  Woolfolk was largely untested in those games, and opponents picked on then-junior cornerback Donovan Warren.  Woolfolk’s speed and hip swivel allowed him to stick closely to wide receivers in a defense that was geared more toward man coverage than the 2010 philosophy.  New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is going to run more man coverage than we saw in 2010, which means cornerback play will be emphasized.  The Wolverines have stocked cornerbacks in the past couple classes (Cullen Christian, Courtney Avery, and Terrence Talbott; plus the load of incoming 2011 freshmen), but none are ready at this point.  Avery looks to be the best of the returning sophomores, and a redshirt junior J.T. Floyd should return in the fall from his own ankle injury.  Woolfolk could team with Floyd (whose talent leaves something to be desired but now has the experience of being the #1 guy) or Avery (who has good coverage skills but needs to get in the weight room) for a solid cornerback combination.

Who’s going to play free safety?  My guess would be either sophomore Marvin Robinson or the incumbent in Vinopal.  Vinopal won’t wow anybody with his speed or physicality, but he’s essentially a second helping of Jordan Kovacs.  I don’t think Vinopal can be your free safety if you want to have an elite defense, but he’s not a disaster, either.  Robinson is the wild card.  Last summer he was reportedly wowing fellow players with his exploits as a free safety in voluntary 7-on-7s.  When the season rolled around, he was backing up Jordan Kovacs, playing defense sparingly, and covering kicks.  There were questions about his speed coming out of high school, but as I watched him chase down some plays on special teams this year, I don’t have serious questions about his speed.  Neither Vinopal or Robinson is Ed Reed, but Robinson’s closer.

18Aug 2010
Uncategorized 21 comments

Troy Woolfolk has an Ouchie

I hope this makes you feel better.

Reports and statements after practice today strongly suggest that senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk dislocated an ankle today. If that rumored prognosis is accurate, Woolfolk will most likely miss the entire 2010 season.

Who will take Woolfolk’s spot at cornerback?
This practically cements the starting cornerbacks as redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd and true freshman Cullen Christian. Floyd was probably set to be the #2 cornerback. Christian is the most talented of three incoming freshmen at the position, with more talent and potential than Terrence Talbott and Courtney Avery. Senior cornerback-turned-wideout-turned-cornerback James Rogers will also be in the mix.

Will any position changes occur to fill the void at cornerback?
Michigan doesn’t have the talent or depth at other positions to move many guys. Sophomore Teric Jones played cornerback last year but moved to Bandit in the spring. When redshirt freshman J.T. Turner decided to transfer last week, head coach Rich Rodriguez stated that Jones would get practice reps at Bandit and cornerback. I imagine that Jones will make a full-scale move to cornerback now. Another option is true freshman D.J. Williamson, a 6’1″, 170 lb. receiver who played a little defense in high school. Longshots to move include true freshman safety Ray Vinopal and redshirt junior safety Michael Williams, who has seemingly been squeezed out of the competition at Spur. None of these players should be considered as challengers for the starting cornerback job, however.

How did the depth at cornerback get so . . . shallow?
From the Class of 2007, wide receiver/cornerback Zion Babb ran off after Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor. Five-star cornerback recruit Donovan Warren entered the 2010 NFL Draft early, only to go undrafted. Cornerback/safety recruit Michael Williams suffered a knee injury and moved to safety full-time after Ron English was let go.

From the Class of 2008, Boubacar Cissoko took stupid pills once he arrived on campus and was booted from the team in mid-2009.

From the Class of 2009, athlete recruit Denard Robinson was pegged by some teams as a cornerback; he came to Michigan as a quarterback and has seemingly taken the lead in the race to be behind center in 2010. J.T. Turner arrived on campus out of shape and remained out of shape; he decided he’d had enough of Mike Barwis and his crazy “stay in shape” demands, so he received his transfer papers last week. Robinson’s high school teammate Adrian Witty failed to qualify initially, and then once he qualified, Michigan’s Admissions department failed to admit him for January 2010.

From the Class of 2010, prized defensive back recruit Demar Dorsey failed to meet Michigan’s admissions standards (and apparently Louisville’s, too). The late pursuit of Dorsey may have curtailed Michigan’s chase for a couple potential mid-level cornerback recruits, particularly Rashad Knight and Tony Grimes. Athlete recruit Conelius Jones failed to qualify.

Overall, that’s nine potential cornerbacks who are either playing other positions (Michael Williams, Denard Robinson) or no longer on the team. I can’t blame Lloyd Carr or Rodriguez for most of those position changes and such. However, the handling of the cases of Adrian Witty, Demar Dorsey, and Conelius Jones should come into question now. Why were those three allowed to sign Letters of Intent if they weren’t qualified? At such an important position – and one in such dire need – Rodriguez couldn’t afford to hand out scholarships to kids who would never play a down for Michigan. He did anyway. I hope I’m wrong, but this could be a major failure of the Rodriguez regime at Michigan.

Are there any positives that could come of this?
Well . . . uhhh . . . since Woolfolk played as a true freshman in 2007 (a waste of a redshirt at the time), he’s only a fourth year senior this season. He could possibly regain his health enough to play as a redshirt senior in 2011.

How much does this impair Michigan on the field in 2010?
Significantly. The likely starter at free safety is a true freshman who changed positions from wide receiver in the spring. One starting cornerback is a guy who many (including me) believed should be a safety . . . that is, if Michigan had enough depth at cornerback to move him. The other starting cornerback is either James Rogers, a senior who has barely seen the field in three years, or a true freshman. Michigan’s defense was going to be bad in 2010, anyway. The loss of Woolfolk not only affects the passing game negatively, but also exchanges a solid tackler for an 18-year-old kid who admittedly needs to improve his tackling (Christian). This injury probably lowers Michigan’s win total by one or two games.