The All-Rodriguez Team: Defense and Special Teams
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.