Poll results: Who will be Michigan’s starting WDE against Alabama?

Tag: Jake Ryan

18Apr 2012
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Poll results: Who will be Michigan’s starting WDE against Alabama?

Rising sophomore defensive end Brennen Beyer
(image via MGoBlog)

This question was asked prior to the spring game, but the last poll question was: Who will be Michigan’s starter at weakside end against Alabama?

Frank Clark: 62%
The 6’2″, 228 lb. sophomore played well in limited time last season, but at the end of spring practice, it seems he’s #2 on the depth chart.  He had 10 tackles, 1/2 a tackle for loss, and 1 interception.  He will surely compete into the fall, and barring an outstanding fall camp from a true freshman, the choice is going to come down to Clark or . . .

Brennen Beyer: 19%
Beyer, pictured above, got the start in last Saturday’s spring game.  He’s listed at 6’3″, 225 lbs. but he seems quite a bit bigger than last year.  Last season he had 11 tackles but seemed slightly miscast as the backup SAM linebacker.  Weakside end seems like a more natural position, but it’s a position change nonetheless.

Jake Ryan: 14%
Redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan, who is 6’3″ and 230 lbs., started at SAM linebacker in 2011.  He proved to be a playmaker by making 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries.  He started at SAM once again in the spring game.  Some people are clamoring for him to play defensive end in an effort to get backup SAM Cameron Gordon on the field at the same time, but since Ryan and Gordon are literally the only two strongside linebackers on the roster, that seems unlikely.

Mario Ojemudia: 1% (tie)
Incoming freshman Ojemudia is the only one of the four freshman defensive ends who seems to be slotted for weakside end.  The other three ends seem destined for strongside end or even defensive tackle.  He played defensive tackle at Farmington Hills Harrison and struggled a little bit playing defensive end in the Semper Fi All American Bowl, so I think he’s a long shot to be an immediate starter at the position.

Other: 1% (tie)
I don’t know who else would have earned a vote.  The only other possibility would seem to be incoming freshman Tom Strobel, who might be a weakside end right now but looks like he’ll eventually develop into a strongside end.

4Apr 2012
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Spring Practice Thoughts and Rumors – Defense

Cameron Gordon has impressed the coaches again this spring

If you missed yesterday’s discussion of the offense, here it is.  And now for the defense:

Defensive end: As we know by now, Craig Roh has switched to strongside end.  He has done fairly well at the position, but he’ll need to spend the next several months eating a ton and bulking up.  The coaches want him in the low 280s and right now he’s about 270.  Insiders say Frank Clark looks like the starter at weakside end for the upcoming season.  Brennen Beyer, who switched from SAM linebacker this offseason, also has reportedly fared well but looks to be a step behind Clark at the position.  Beyer’s a thicker, run-stopping sort and Clark will have to work on that aspect of his game.  Nathan Brink is the presumed backup at the 5-tech position but has been limited due to his late-season broken leg.  Keith Heitzman is also in the mix, which would be great for depth at the position.  I would not be surprised to see one or two of the freshman defensive ends get some action, such as Matt Godin at 5-tech and Mario Ojemudia on the weakside, although Heitzman’s emergence might preclude Godin from having to burn a redshirt.

Defensive tackle: The first team defensive tackles appear to be Will Campbell at nose tackle and Jibreel Black at the 3-tech.  Campbell looks fit and is being more consistent with his technique, but the coaches continue to work on that aspect.  Black needs to add weight, but he’s more athletic than most 3-techs (especially compared to Will Heininger), so he adds a different dimension.  Richard Ash appears to be the backup nose tackle.  Meanwhile, Ken Wilkins has supposedly taken a leap forward this spring.  He was mired on the bench last season and there were a lot of questions swirling about him, but it seems the light has gone on.  He could be the #2 defensive tackle going into the season.  Chris Rock has also earned a tiny bit of buzz and has put on a significant amount of weight to play the 3-tech.

Linebacker: I don’t mean to overstate things, but the competition between Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon appears to be neck-and-neck for the SAM position.  The coaches really like Gordon’s athleticism, and he’s done a good job in pass coverage, which makes sense because he’s a converted safety.  Ryan has continued to progress after having a solid redshirt freshman season.  There was a huge dropoff last season between Ryan and Beyer, but that won’t be the case this year (if Cam Gordon can stay healthy).  At the MIKE spot, Kenny Demens hasn’t necessarily taken the forward steps that the coaches want.  He has been hampered by a thumb injury, and the #1 middle linebacker in his absence has been freshman Joe Bolden.  Mike Jones is buried at the #3 spot.  The best linebacker this spring has been Desmond Morgan, according to several accounts.  He’s put on a decent amount of weight after playing at 225 last season, and insiders suggest he’s probably close to 240 now.  The backup to Morgan at WILL has been Antonio Poole, who redshirted last season.

Cornerback: Blake Countess has one cornerback position locked down.  At the boundary corner position, Terrence Talbott has stepped up to challenge J.T. Floyd.  Insiders say that Floyd’s “benching” is partly due to him underperforming and partly due to rewarding Talbott for hard work in the offseason.  It might be unlikely that Talbott takes a job from a fifth year senior, but the possibility exists.  He’s made his move not by being a great coverage guy but by supporting the run and turning into a very good tackler.  Those are the top three corners right there.  Raymon Taylor continues to earn buzz as perhaps the secondary’s best athlete, but he’s still not ready mentally and physically.  Courtney Avery is the nickel corner, where he did a great job last season and doesn’t seem to getting challenged this spring.

Safety: The starters here are pretty clear with Thomas Gordon at free safety and Jordan Kovacs at strong.  Freshman Jarrod Wilson has picked things up quickly, and he might be the #2 free safety.  Marvin Robinson has returned to the practice field this spring after disappearing last year with some legal issues.  Despite his absence, Robinson appears to have taken another step forward and should be the heir apparent to Kovacs. A couple backup safeties have been absent from practices so far this spring: Tamani Carter and Josh Furman.  I would have to assume that they will be buried a little bit if/when they return.  These coaches do not like guys who miss practice.

15Feb 2012
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2011 Season Grades: Defense

I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but Jordan Kovacs will be Michigan’s top returning defender, according to my grades
(image via Maize and Blue Nation)

Over the last three games of Michigan’s season, I took the time to grade the defense.  For individual games, you can look at the grades for Nebraska, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech.  The following shows each player’s cumulative grade:

MMartin: +36
RVanBergen: +24
JKovacs: +21
JRyan: +16
KDemens: +12
FClark: +11
WHeininger: +5
CAvery: +4
CRoh: +3
BBeyer: +1
JBlack: +1
WCampbell: +1
DMorgan: +1
JFurman: 0
DHollowell: 0
JVanSlyke: 0
QWashington: 0
MJones: -1
RTaylor: -1
NBrink: -2
BHawthorne: -2
TGordon: -2
BCountess: -3
TWoolfolk: -3
JFloyd: -16

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that defensive linemen seem to rocket to the top of the grading scale, while defensive backs linger toward the bottom.  By the nature of the sport of football (and the angles that television uses), defensive linemen and linebackers are more involved in the game.  And when the ball is in the air, roughly 60% of the time it’s going to result in a completion and an angry defensive back.

Obviously, this three-game sample is not indicative of the entire season.  For example, J.T. Floyd’s best game was probably against Illinois, which isn’t a game I graded.  On the flip side, Frank Clark ended up with a +11 largely because he was outstanding in the Virginia Tech game.

12Feb 2012
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Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech Grades – Defense

This interception was Frank Clark’s best play of the day, but not his only good one.

Just like post-Nebraska and post-Ohio State, I reviewed the film of the Sugar Bowl and graded out the defense for good/bad reads, filling/missing assignments, and physical superiority/inferiority.  Each time a player had a significant impact on a play, he was given a grade ranging from +3 to -3.


FClark: +10 . . . Too quick for offensive line to handle; made a great interception
JRyan: +10 . . . Pursuit and hustle were stellar; took great angles
MMartin: +9 . . . Seemed to get tired in second half, but too fast off the snap most of the time
RVanBergen: +9 . . . No spectacular plays but just disruptive enough to force Wilson to hesitate
JKovacs: +7 . . . Good tackler but also wades through trash well
CRoh: +3 . . . Got reach blocked a couple times, but mostly filled his assignments
BBeyer: +1 . . . Limited playing time
KDemens: +1 . . . Missed several tackles, but made a nice PBU and filled his gap
QWashington: +1 . . . Limited playing time
JBlack: 0 . . . Looks too slow for weakside end
CAvery: -1 . . . Had trouble fighting off blocks early, but supported run well after first quarter
WCampbell: -2 . . . Got reach blocked too easily; too passive mostly, but had a couple “wow” moments
TGordon: -2 . . . Had a rough first half but got better as the game went along
BCountess: -3 . . . Picked on especially in zone coverage, but fared better in man
DMorgan: -4 . . . Not bad for a freshman linebacker but looked like a freshman linebacker
JFloyd: -5 . . . Okay in pass coverage, poor against the run

The usual suspects were stellar for the most part, but sitting atop the list is a bit of a surprise: freshman defensive end Frank Clark.  Aside from the highlight-reel interception, Clark consistently beat Virginia Tech’s left tackle with slants and speed rushes.  Of course, part of the credit for Clark’s +10 goes to Greg Mattison, who used Clark to stunt more often than he did with Roh.  Hooray for using players’ strengths!

Redshirt freshman SAM linebacker Jake Ryan was also outstanding, receiving only one negative mark (for being a little slow in getting to the flat in pass coverage).  Mike Martin was great in the first half, mediocre in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, and outstanding in the last few minutes of the game.  Ryan Van Bergen was solid throughout, but you could tell by the fourth quarter that his foot was bothering him.  Jordan Kovacs also made some nice plays throughout the game, although he did make some uncharacteristic misses in run support.

Going to the bottom of the list, redshirt junior J.T. Floyd wasn’t picked on much in coverage, but he received most of his negatives in run support.  He just wasn’t physical at all when coming up to support the run and at times he looked to be running away from contact.  On the opposite side of the field, freshman cornerback Blake Countess was targeted throughout the game.  And while he was more effective than Floyd in supporting the run, the more experienced and bigger Hokie receivers took advantage of him a little bit.

Freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan alternated a couple bad plays with one very good play.  Virginia Tech frequently motioned tight ends across the formation to change the strength, putting Morgan on the strong side and running at him.  He reads the backfield pretty quickly, but when a tight end or slot receiver would come crashing down on him, he would be a split second late in reacting to the block; at least one time, his slowness caused middle linebacker Kenny Demens to get caught up in the trash.

Meanwhile, defensive tackle William Campbell continued his inconsistency by literally knocking an offensive guard on his ass . . . and then playing pattycake on other plays (not so literally).  He is virtually unblockable when he fires off the ball, but if he stands straight up, he’s very easy to block.  The problem with playing Campbell is that he oscillates between performing like Mike Martin and performing like Adam Patterson.  His ceiling is great, but his floor is terrible.

30Dec 2011
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Linebackers Preview: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

Kyle Fuller (#17) was a Second Team All-ACC pick despite starting at three different positions,
including weakside linebacker (image via Collegiate Times)

Starters: Redshirt freshman Jake Ryan (6’3″, 230 lbs.) started 10 games at strongside linebacker; he ended the season with 30 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries.  Redshirt junior middle linebacker Kenny Demens (6’1″, 248 lbs.) started every game and led the team in tackles; he finished with 86 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.  True freshman weakside linebacker Desmond Morgan (6’1″, 220 lbs.) took over the starting job midway through the year and started 6 games altogether; he ended the regular season with 53 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery.
Backups: True freshman Brennen Beyer (6’3″, 225 lbs.) is the backup SAM and made 11 total tackles.  Junior Brandin Hawthorne (6’0″, 214 lbs.) is the backup WILL (and started 5 games before losing his spot), finishing with 43 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 interception.  Demens rarely leaves the field.

Starters: Redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Jack Tyler (6’0″, 229 lbs.) made 3 starts on the season; he ended the year with 35 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery.  Redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Tariq Edwards (6’2″, 231 lbs.) started every game; he has 63 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 1 fumble recovery.  Sophomore cornerback Kyle Fuller (6’0″, 187 lbs.) has started the last 2 games at weakside linebacker due to injuries, but started the other 11 games in the defensive backfield and was a Second Team All-ACC selection; he has 64 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.  Tyler and Fuller are replacing injured starters Bruce Taylor and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, respectively, who will also miss the Sugar Bowl.
Backups: Fifth year senior middle linebacker Barquell Rivers (6’0″, 250 lbs.) has 16 tackles, 1/2 a sack, and 1 interception.  Redshirt junior outside linebacker Alonzo Tweedy (6’2″, 189 lbs.) has 20 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.

It’s tempting to say that Michigan has the advantage here, since all three starters have superior size and actually earned  their positions rather than stepping in due to injury.  Two of Virginia Tech’s starters are replacements, although Fuller has started every game this season at various positions.  But what Michigan has in game experience might be trumped by the playmaking ability of Edwards and Fuller, who have combined for 24 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 3 interceptions.  And despite the relative health of Michigan’s unit, two of those three starters are still just freshmen.

The Hokies are #37 in the country in tackles for loss, while Michigan ranks at #72.  Additionally, Virginia Tech has the #17 rushing defense, compared to Michigan’s #34 rushing D.  The Hokies might be small, but they’re quick and they get to the ball.  They have made their name on special teams and defense over the years, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster is a pretty good coordinator.  They won’t be able to keep up with Denard Robinson in a foot race, but they should create a nice challenge.

Advantage: Virginia Tech