The All-Rodriguez Team: Defense and Special Teams

Tag: Ryan Van Bergen

13Jul 2019
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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.

23Mar 2017
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In his own words – Ryan Van Bergen

Last week I spoke to former Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen.  Ryan now runs his own gym in Ann Arbor.  In the interview we touch on everything from the difficulties of starting your own company to tacking Braxton Miller for a loss in front of the Michigan student section.  Ryan’s passion for Michigan, fitness, and football was obvious throughout the conversation.

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6Dec 2014
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The All-Hoke Team: Defense, Special Teams

Jake Ryan (image via MGoBlog)

I posted the offense yesterday (LINK), so here are the defenders and specialists. Since Michigan ran a 4-3 Under for three of Hoke’s four years, I’m going with that look for my all-star team.

SDE: Ryan Van Bergen (2011)

45 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 fumble recoveries, 4 pass breakups
Van Bergen was a stalwart defensive end for Michigan as a senior, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention but helping the entire defense by getting consistent penetration and having a great game in the win against Ohio State.

NT: Ryan Glasgow (2014)
24 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Glasgow made huge strides from his redshirt freshman to redshirt sophomore season, which propelled him past Quinton Washington for this spot. Glasgow was mostly able to hold his ground against double teams.

DT: Mike Martin (2011)
64 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks
Martin was named Second Team All-Big Ten for his performance in 2011, and he was consistently in the opponent’s backfield. Opposing centers couldn’t handle him one-on-one as a nose tackle, which allowed some young and/or mediocre linebackers behind him to make plays.

WDE: Frank Clark (2014)
42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 2 pass breakups
I hesitated to put Clark on here because he was kicked off the team for an (alleged) domestic violence transgression. But just looking at the on-field results, Clark was a force. He achieved the above numbers in just ten games before being booted, and they would have been higher if Michigan’s coverage in the secondary hadn’t been so poor in the early part of the season.

Hit the jump for linebackers, defensive backs, and specialists.

SLB: Jake Ryan (2012)
88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups
Ryan was a huge playmaker for the Wolverines coming off the edge, and he had an ability to keep faster players from breaking contain. He was a capable pass rusher who sometimes played defensive end or blitzed from the interior of the defense.

MLB: Desmond Morgan (2012)
81 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 2 pass breakups
Pick any year from 2011 to 2013, and Morgan was basically the same guy in each. Other than a superb one-handed interception against UConn in 2013, I thought he peaked as a sophomore (he has one year remaining after redshirting this past season). Just a steady presence in the middle of the field.

WLB: Joe Bolden (2014)
102 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup
This was a tough choice between Bolden and Kenny Demens, but I think Bolden has developed into a better tackler than Demens. Bolden looked a little out of place in his first two years, but he emerged as a junior under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who took over the linebacker position.

CB: Blake Countess (2013)
46 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions (1 touchdown), and 4 pass breakups
Playing a lot of nickel corner in 2013, Countess was outstanding. He was named First Team All-Big Ten and tied for the conference lead in interceptions.

CB: Jourdan Lewis (2014)
39 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 6 pass breakups
Lewis got called for a few pass interference penalties, but he almost never got cleanly beaten by defenders. He was the only defensive back to record an interception in 2014, and his hustle plays against Utah and Maryland saved a couple potential touchdowns.

S: Thomas Gordon (2011)
67 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 2 pass breakups
Surely it was a run of good luck, but Gordon was always around the ball as a redshirt sophomore in 2011. From his one-handed interception against Eastern Michigan to his four recoveries, he was a takeaway machine.

S: Jordan Kovacs (2011)
75 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass breakup
Kovacs was a revelation for Michigan fans who were used to predictable defense from 2008-2010. Often used as a blitzer, Kovacs would stunt off the edge and was very adept at keeping outside contain despite average speed.

PR: Jeremy Gallon (2011)
19 returns, 192 yards, 10.1 yards/return
In general, the returners were not good during Hoke’s tenure. Gallon was the only one able to manage over 10 yards/return, nobody returned a punt for a touchdown (blocked punts notwithstanding), and Hoke generally went for safety over big-play ability.

KR: Dennis Norfleet (2013)
40 kickoff returns, 938 yards, 23.5 yards/return
Norfleet is #1 all-time at Michigan in career returns (94) and return yardage (2,203). I thought his patience and vision were best in 2013, but all three seasons have seen him with between a 23.05 and 23.63 yard average with a long return of 38-44 yards, so his seasons are mostly indistinguishable from each other.

P: Will Hagerup (2012)
45.0 yards/punt, 3 inside the 20-yard line, 4 touchbacks, 4 fair catches, 13 punts of 50+ yards
It’s tough to pick a season for Hagerup. He was the Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2012, but the coaches in the conference voted him as Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. He showed a big leg, but he only pinned teams inside their own 20-yard line 3 times while having 4 touchbacks (by contrast, he landed 16 inside the 20-yard line in 2014 but also had 9 touchbacks while averaging 42.9 yards/attempt).

K: Brendan Gibbons (2012)
16/18 on field goals (88.9%) with a long of 52, 45/45 on extra points
Gibbons had some memorable kicks in each of his final three years, but he was clutch in 2012. He hit his career long of 52 against Nebraska, he knocked one through to send the Northwestern game to overtime, and he hit the game-winner against Michigan State.

LS: Jareth Glanda (2011)
1 catch for 11 yards
Glanda was only the short snapper (field goals, extra points) in 2011, leaving the long snapping duties (punts) to Tom Pomarico. But Pomarico never caught a pass like Glanda did in the Sugar Bowl. Neither one had a bad snap, and Glanda would go on to be the long snapper in 2012 and 2013, but I’m picking 2011 because it’s my blog, dammit.

H: Drew Dileo (2011 and 2013)
Once again, I’m breaking the rules because you can’t stop me. In 2011 Dileo converted three fake field goals – a 3-yard run against Michigan State, a 4-yard run against Nebraska, and a pass (which was tipped and ended up in the hands of Glanda). Then again, in 2013 he slid into the holding position for Brendan Gibbons’s game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, which helped turn a loss into an eventual victory.

17Oct 2014
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Review of 2007 Recruiting: Defensive Ends

Michigan recruited Devon Still back in the day (here pictured with his cancer-stricken daughter, Leah;
image via Christian Post)

Tim Jamison, Sr.
Brandon Graham, So.
Greg Banks, RS Fr.
Adam Patterson, RS Fr.
Will Heininger, Fr.

Ryan Van Bergen
High school: Whitehall (MI) Whitehall
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #18 SDE
College: Michigan
Other notable offers: Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue
Scoop: Van Bergen redshirted as a true freshman. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he started one game, made 13 tackles, and broke up 1 pass. He moved inside to start twelve games at defensive tackle in 2009, making 40 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery. Then as a redshirt junior in 2010, he moved back to defensive end and made 37 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 1 pass knockdown. He achieved all-conference Honorable Mention status in 2011 with 45 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 4 pass breakups, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 forced fumble. He signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent but never played a game in the NFL.

Kourtnei Brown
High school: Charlotte (NC) Victory Christian
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #12 WDE
College: Clemson
Other notable offers: Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia Tech
Scoop: Brown played in eleven games as a freshman and made 12 total tackles, including 1 sack. As a sophomore in 2008, he made 16 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Brown redshirted in 2009. Then in 2010, he made 17 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt junior. Finally, he finished his career with 22 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception returned 20 yards for a touchdown, 1 fumble recovery returned 26 yards for a touchdown, and 3 pass breakups. He went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft but found his way into the league with the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, and St. Louis Rams.

Jared Glover
High school: Bixby (OK) Bixby
Ratings: Rivals 3-star, #29 WDE
College: Oklahoma State
Other notable offers: Nebraska, Texas A&M
Scoop: Glover redshirted in 2007. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he was a backup linebacker and played in six games, making 5 total tackles. He left OSU prior to the 2009 season due to injury.

Everson Griffen
High school:
 Avondale (AZ) Agua Fria
Ratings: Rivals 5-star, #1 SDE, #6 overall
College: USC
Other notable offers: Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon
Scoop: As a freshman in 2007, Griffen started two games and finished with 21 tackes, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 pass deflections on the season; for his efforts he was a First Team Freshman All-America. In 2008 he made 18 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks as a backup. He earned the starter’s job in 2009 and responded with 45 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 pass deflection, for which he was named Second Team All-Pac 10. He left school after his junior year and entered the 2010 NFL Draft, where he was picked in the 4th round (#100 overall) by the Minnesota Vikings. Since becoming a pro, he has had a few run-ins with the law. However, he has totaled 85 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 1 interception (returned 29 yards for a touchdown), and 3 forced fumbles as a backup for the Vikings and was re-signed this past off-season.

Devon Still
High school:
 Wilmington (DE) Howard
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #10 SDE
College: Penn State
Other notable offers: Miami, Ohio State
Scoop: Still redshirted as a freshman in State College. Between a torn ACL and a broken ankle, he missed almost all of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. As a redshirt sophomore backup  in 2009, he made 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. When I attended a coaching clinic at Penn State in the spring of 2009, Still was physically the most impressive guy I saw in practice. He started twelve games at defensive tackle in 2010, making 39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 1 pass breakup. He came into his own as a 6’5″, 310 lb. senior in 2011, when he made 55 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass breakup; he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him in the 2nd round (#53 overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft. In two-plus professional seasons, he has made 28 tackles, .5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. The Bengals recently made news by signing him so that his daughter’s cancer treatments would be covered by their medical insurance.

John Stokes
High school:
 Memphis (TN) University School
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #13 WDE
College: Vanderbilt
Other notable offers: Alabama, Ole Miss, Stanford
Scoop: As a freshman in 2007, Stokes earned the long-snapper duties and made 7 tackles as a backup outside linebacker. He became the starting outside ‘backer in 2008 and finished with 31 tackles and 4 tackles for loss. He platooned at OLB in 2009 and made 44 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. As a senior in 2010, he won the job outright and made 78 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 3 pass breakups. He was not drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft but spent some time with the Tennessee Titans as a long snapper before getting cut before the season began. As far as I can gather, he has not played in a regular season game and his football career appears to be finished.

Chris Strong
High school:
 Batesville (MS) South Panola
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #3 SDE, #53 overall
College: Ole Miss
Other notable offers: Florida, Miami, Ohio State, USC
Scoop: Strong signed with Ole Miss in 2007 but had issues with his weight as he bounced back and forth between defensive end and middle linebacker. He started three games that year and made 19 tackles, but he quit football prior to the 2008 season and was not heard from again in the football world.

Martez Wilson
High school:
 Chicago (IL) Simeon
Ratings: Rivals 5-star, #2 WDE, #26 overall
College: Illinois
Other notable offers: Florida, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC
Scoop: Wilson was a backup outside linebacker in 2007 and made 29 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 1 pass breakup on the way to being named a Freshman All-America. He became a starter in 2008 and ended the year with 73 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 pass breakups. He suffered a herniated disc early in 2009 and was given a medical hardship waiver after making 9 tackles in limited time. He returned with a vengeance in 2010 and started at middle linebacker, where he made 112 tackles (4th in the Big Ten), 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 4 pass breakups, and 1 blocked kick. He was named First Team All-Big Ten and entered the NFL Draft after the year, foregoing his final year of eligibility. Wilson was picked in the 3rd round (#72 overall) by the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 NFL Draft and has played for the Saints, Oakland Raiders, and Dallas Cowboys since then, totaling 33 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups over the last three seasons. He was cut by the Cowboys in August and has not signed on with another team.

Defensive end always seems like a questionable position to recruit, because so many players end up outgrowing the position or never filling out their frames. You can see in this class that a few guys remained as outside linebackers, while Still turned into a huge defensive tackle.

Biggest miss: Devon Still. The lean Rich Rodriguez years may have been improved a little bit with someone like Still in the middle, pairing with a guy like Mike Martin. Imagine that duo in the center of those defensive lines. Michigan fans may not have had to deal with watching Adam Patterson play nose tackle.

Biggest bust: Chris Strong. Strong didn’t really have a position, and he was out of football after just a short college career. That’s underwhelming for the #53 player nationally.

Best in class: Von Miller. Miller attended Texas A&M, where he played 4-3 outside linebacker, 4-3 weakside end, and 3-4 outside linebacker. His ability to rush the passer never waned, though. He had 17 sacks as a junior in 2009 and another 10 sacks in 2010. He was a 1st round pick (#2 overall) by the Denver Broncos in 2011, for whom he has 191 tackles, 41 sacks, 1 interception, and 11 forced fumbles in two-plus seasons. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler and has 6 sacks so far this season.