2010 Countdown: #67 Carvin Johnson

Tag: Troy Woolfolk

1Jul 2010
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2010 Countdown: #67 Carvin Johnson

Carvin Johnson (#1) makes a tackle

Name: Carvin Johnson
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 185 lbs.
High school: Rummel High School in Metairie, LA
Position: Strong safety
Class: Freshman
Jersey number: N/A
Prediction for 2010: Redshirt

As a high schooler, Johnson led his team to a second place finish in the state playoffs. He played free safety and wide receiver, although he was mainly a decoy on offense. Johnson is a prototypical strong safety in my mind, although Cameron Gordon seems like a strong safety to me, too, so what do I know? For now I’ll stick with that assessment, although it looks like Greg Robinson is tweaking this defense in ways we can’t fully grasp yet. We went from having a former cornerback and Big Ten sprinter (Troy Woolfolk) playing center field to a slow-ish wide receiver who many projected as a college linebacker (Cameron Gordon) playing free safety.

I think there’s a fair chance that we’ll see Carvin Johnson playing defense this year. The depth in the defensive backfield is thin, and walk-ons litter the depth chart (Floyd Simmons, Jared Van Slyke, Jordan Kovacs). I don’t expect Johnson to earn a starting job this year, and he’ll most likely redshirt. But I don’t think Rich Rodriguez can afford to throw too many former walk-ons out there this fall and expect to win a bunch of games. Either Johnson or Marvin Robinson will play this fall, and I give Robinson the edge due to superior athleticism.

29Jun 2010
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2010 Countdown: #70 Courtney Avery

Name: Courtney Avery
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 165 lbs.
High school: Lexington High School in Lexington, OH
Position: Cornerback
Class: Freshman
Jersey number: N/A
Prediction: Redshirt

Avery is a 3-star cornerback out of Ohio, who was also Lexington’s starting quarterback. And a very good quarterback, at that. There has been some talk from opposing coaches that if Avery were a few inches taller, he’d probably be playing quarterback in college. Avery is just a good overall athlete, and has a chance to be a very serviceable corner for the Wolverines.

But that probably won’t happen this year. The word is that the coaches really like his potential, but he’s probably not physically (165 lbs.) or mentally (he was the starting QB) ready to play just yet. I imagine he’ll have at least a year of sitting on the bench before earning some playing time. It’s important for him to get to a decent playing weight of 180-185 lbs., but with Troy Woolfolk graduating after this season, Avery could battle for a starting job as a redshirt freshman.

13Mar 2010
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What will Michigan’s defense look like in 2010?

News this past week has percolated from insiders to Michigan fans that safety Mike Williams will be changing positions from “safety” (he played both strong and free safety last year) to “spur.” This has caused some confusion for Michigan fans, some of whom are concerned that Michigan will employ the 3-3-5 stack look that Rich Rodriguez utilized in his time at West Virginia.

Let me assure you that this will not be the case, at least not in my opinion. I expect Michigan’s base defensive package in 2010 to be a 4-2-5 defense, and hopefully the remainder of my post will explain what personnel we should see this coming season and why.

First of all, the defensive line will likely be Michigan’s strength once again in 2010. Michigan’s best player (Brandon Graham) departs, but there are capable components remaining. I expect Ryan Van Bergen to slide over to the strongside defensive end from his old defensive tackle position. Mike Martin should become the 3-tech defensive tackle, who lines up on the guard’s outside shoulder; this will give him a chance to penetrate against slower guards and avoid the double-teams he faced at nose tackle. Either sophomore William Campbell or senior Renaldo Sagesse will play nose tackle, and sophomore Craig Roh will play weakside defensive end.

With only two “capable” (and I use that term loosely) linebackers returning, it would behoove Michigan to employ as few linebackers as possible. Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh are both fifth-year seniors, and while they both underperformed last season, their backups (Kevin Leach and J.B. Fitzgerald) weren’t much better, if at all. Last year’s starting SAM Steve Brown has moved on, and his replacements were to be one of two second-year players (Brandin Hawthorne, Mike Jones) or incoming freshman Josh Furman, who won’t arrive on campus until June. That’s a lot of youth and inexperience. Further evidence that last year’s SAM position will disappear lies in the fact that Mike Jones will be competing at the weakside linebacker position in the spring. I sincerely doubt the coaches would stock such an important position as the SAM with only Hawthorne and Furman.

Recent reports indicate that Troy Woolfolk, who played deep safety last year, will start spring ball at the cornerback position. While I don’t think that Woolfolk will remain at corner through the season, this makes sense for spring ball. Why? Michigan’s only returning scholarship cornerbacks are Justin Turner and J.T. Floyd, and Floyd would likely be a safety if the depth weren’t so shallow. Reinforcements arrive in the summer in the forms of freshmen Cullen Christian, Demar Dorsey, Courtney Avery, and Terrence Talbott. Unfortunately, no cornerbacks (or defensive players, period) enrolled in January.

I’m going to break this down into three components, since terminology and positioning will likely change for this season. If you remember, last year’s “free safety” was an in-the-box player, like Jordan Kovacs. The “strong safety” was the deep safety, which was manned by Troy Woolfolk before he moved to cornerback halfway through the season.

Spur is the name used to define a traditional strong safety-type player, someone who can play the role of a run-stopping outside linebacker but with better cover skills. However, the spur plays on the weak side of the defensive formation. Therefore, this year’s spur will be much like 2009’s free safety. As mentioned above, Mike Williams will play spur in the spring, and he could very well be our starter to begin the season. Other players who will likely play spur are redshirt freshmen Thomas Gordon and Brandin Hawthorne. He would usually have outside contain against the run. Both the spur and the boundary safety (see below) could have a deep zone against the pass, depending on the coverage called. In man coverage, he would have the #2 receiver (the second receiver from the sideline).

Deep safety
I hesitate to call this “free safety,” but that’s basically what it is. This is the safety who has the deep middle in a Cover 3, a deep half in Cover 2, etc. This spot will most likely be filled by Vladimir Emilien in the spring, but it’s also where I expect to see Troy Woolfolk in September. I also think Cameron Gordon will get a tryout at deep safety, although eventually he’ll likely play closer to the line. This is the safety who has the deep middle in a Cover 3, a deep half in Cover 2, etc. In straight-up man coverage, he could have the #3 receiver (the third receiver from the sideline) against a trips formation, but defensive coordinator Greg Robinson likely won’t put him in that kind of call.

Boundary safety
I hesitate to call this “strong safety,” but that’s basically what it is. Jordan Kovacs, Teric Jones, and others will get a shot at the strong safety position. This player will likely have outside contain against the run and the strongside flat in zone coverage. In man coverage, he would have the #2 receiver (the second receiver from the sideline), whether it’s a slot receiver or a tight end.

What does it all mean?
Well, what it all means is that the coaches are trying to get the best players on the field. They think that the team would be better off with someone like redshirt junior Mike Williams on the field than youngsters like Brandin Hawthorne and Josh Furman. And they also realize that there’s no point in removing a player from the most talented and experienced unit (the defensive line) to put in an extra defensive back, which they would have to do in a 3-3-5.

If you’re looking for further resources on the 4-2-5 defense, check out The Football-Defense Report, which is where I got the diagram above.

8Feb 2010
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Demar Dorsey, Wolverine

I will unleash my 175 lbs. of fury upon you!

This is a few days old, but that’s what happens when 25 inches of snow pour down and you have to retreat to safer shelter.

On National Signing Day, Demar Dorsey from Lauderdale Lakes, FL, committed to Michigan. In the overall rankings, Dorsey is #12 to ESPN, #162 to Rivals, and #203 to Scout; many would latch onto that #12 ranking, but ESPN proves over and over again that they know nothing about recruiting, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, Dorsey’s commitment was somewhat of a surprise, since he wasn’t on Michigan fans’ radar until about a month before NSD. Dorsey had been committed to Florida for over a year and seemingly visited just to have a good time with his cousin, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

According to Dorsey, though, he knew during his official visit (that coincided with Michigan’s basketball victory over Connecticut) that Michigan was The Place. It’s unclear whether Florida dropped Dorsey or vice versa, but either way, he also visited Florida State and USC late in the process, so he had the experts confused; most seemed to think he’d ultimately sign with FSU.

I would be remiss not to mention Dorsey’s issues as a minor. He had some trouble with the law, but was never found guilty of any wrongdoing and participated in a diversionary program. I will not go into details, as they have been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere. I’ll let it suffice to say that Rodriguez is taking a bit of a public relations risk with Dorsey, on the heels of the Justin Feagin situation last year; however, most football coaches taken chances on talented kids with checkered pasts. Hopefully, the diversionary program worked for Dorsey and he can move on to be a productive student and citizen at Michigan.

Back to football, though, Dorsey’s position is a bit up in the air. The coaches told him he could play some wide receiver, and he could probably help in the return game, but but he’s a defensive back of some sort. Some project him as a strong safety at Michigan; others predict he’ll be a cornerback. I feel fairly confident in predicting that Dorsey will battle for playing time at the cornerback position as a freshman in 2010. Michigan has zero experienced cornerbacks returning in 2010 with the departure of Donovan Warren to the NFL. Besides redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd, every other cornerback on the roster will have freshman eligibility – Justin Turner, Cullen Christian, Courtney Avery, and Terrence Talbott. Michigan needs to throw every available body at the cornerback spot and whichever one performs best should get the job.

Michigan’s most experienced cornerback isn’t really a cornerback, but a strong safety – Troy Woolfolk. Some have suggested that Woolfolk should move to cornerback and Michigan should play a freshman at strong safety, but that would be disastrous. The only time Woolfolk got burned at the strong safety position was in the 2009 opener when he and the aforementioned Floyd got burned against Western Michigan. In practice, Woolfolk earned the nickname “The Eraser” for his ability to cover up for everyone else’s mistakes. Experience is necessary on the back end of your defensive backfield, because young guys get out of position and get fooled by double moves, play action, etc. It’s no coincidence that Michigan’s defense went south once Woolfolk moved to corner in mid-2009.

With Woolfolk at strong safety and presumably Justin Turner at one cornerback position, the trio of Floyd, Christian, and Dorsey should fight it out for the other corner. Michigan’s coaches did everything they could to keep Floyd off the field in 2009 (they’d rather have Jordan Kovacs playing strong safety than have Floyd play corner), so I sincerely doubt he’ll start. Dorsey is a better athlete than Christian, but the latter’s coverage skills are more refined, so that’s kind of a toss-up.

Dorsey is a burner. As a junior, he finished second to Denard Robinson in the state 100 meter finals with a time of 10.60 seconds (compared to Robinson’s 10.44). He later ran a 10.55 and has even claimed to have run a 10.3, although I can find no recorded evidence of that time. This athleticism should allow him to run with just about every receiver he faces. It also would allow him to cover a lot of ground from the strong safety position.

However, we can see some of his rawness in the video below. First of all, he’s only 175 lbs. In the second still shot (the one from the Under Armour All American game), we can see his scrawny little leg; he has a decided lack of bulk. In the first highlight from the UA game, he causes a fumble on kick coverage. He does a good job of mirroring the returner, but then he reaches and grabs the jersey, flinging the ball carrier to the ground and causing the fumble; this is the tackling technique of a raw cornerback, not the strong safety who is supposed to be a team’s last line of defense. Later in the highlights, he plays a ball from the deep middle safety position. Unfortunately, he takes a bad angle to the football; instead of meeting the ball at its highest point or at least aiming to punish the receiver, he takes the path of least resistance and gets a hand on the ball after it gets past the receiver.

All of these factors lead me to believe that Dorsey will be better off starting his career at cornerback. Further evidence exists in that Rich Rodriguez said as much in his signing day press conference. This does not mean that Dorsey couldn’t move to strong safety eventually. He could probably be a pretty good strong safety with some technique and experience under his belt. But that won’t happen until at least 2011.

My projection for 2010:
CB: Justin Turner
CB: Cullen Christian
FS: Jordan Kovacs
SS: Troy Woolfolk

11Oct 2009
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Iowa 30, Michigan 28

Single wing QB Denard Robinson
Well, last night was frustrating. Not only because we lost, but because the loss was self-inflicted. Five turnovers, blown coverages, bad coaching decisions. Michigan clearly seemed to be the more talented team, but luckily for Iowa, talent doesn’t always win.
I would be remiss if I started this post with anything but a discussion of Rich Rodriguez’s decision to go with freshman Denard Robinson on the last drive in the fourth quarter. That was the biggest decision of the night – and the worst, in my opinion – and it might have cost Michigan the game.
Assuming Rodriguez benched starter Tate Forcier because of Forcier’s performance (8/19 for 94 yards and an INT, 8 carries for 26 yards), it was an indefensible decision. Two of Michigan’s victories this season (Notre Dame and Indiana) are the direct result of Forcier’s late-game heroics. Last week’s near-victory against Michigan State came after Michigan was down 20-6 halfway through the fourth quarter and Forcier directed two touchdown drives. Meanwhile, backup Denard Robinson has had a couple electrifying TD runs while failing to pass the ball efficiently in spot duty this season. Prior to last night, Robinson was 4/11 for 57 yards, zero touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
When Robinson entered the game in the second-to-last series last night, Forcier wasn’t performing well. Michigan needed a spark. I understand that. Robinson completed two short passes on that drive and ended the series with a short TD run. The offense needed a spark? Mission accomplished.
But with 1:30 left and Michigan needing to go 80 yards with no timeouts, Rodriguez shouldn’t have played the running quarterback, no matter how poorly Forcier had played to that point. Robinson is clearly a subpar passer and showed it when he badly overthrew a bracketed Junior Hemingway that resulted in the game-ending interception. Robinson finished the game 3/4 for 30 yards and 1 interception, which raised his passer efficiency rating to 55.39 on the season. By comparison, Forcier’s PER is 133.11. Furthermore, Nick Sheridan’s PER in 2008 was 81.08. That’s right – Robinson is a significantly worse passer than Nick Sheridan. So not only should Forcier have been in the game at the end, but one could make the argument that Sheridan should have been in there instead of Robinson, too.
Now, some theories suggest that Forcier got benched because he and Rodriguez had words on the sideline. I didn’t see evidence of that during the telecast, but it’s possible. If that’s true and Rodriguez was using the benching to teach Forcier a lesson, that might be a good reason. But if it was just based on their play, Forcier should have been on the field.
Otherwise, Michigan turned the ball over too much. The Wolverines fumbled, threw interceptions, muffed punts, etc. They achieved just about every method of turning the ball over. In between playing solid run defense (Iowa averaged 2.4 yards per rush), running the ball well (4.3 yards per carry), and playing decent pass coverage most of the time, Michigan gave the ball away too many times. You will rarely see a team win the game when they’ve turned the ball over four or five times.
Defensively, former starting cornerback Boubacar Cissoko was suspended for the game due to a violation of team rules. In his place, starting strong safety Troy Woolfolk moved over to cornerback. The starting safeties were walk-on Jordan Kovacs and redshirt sophomore Mike Williams. Woolfolk played better than either Cissoko or J.T. Floyd had earlier in the year, but Williams especially blew some coverages at key times. I can’t blame him too much, as he’s been playing close to the line for the past two years as almost a glorified outside linebacker. Michigan fans shouldn’t expect that he’ll be a great center fielder in his first extended playing time at the position, but he does have good speed and he’s a solid tackler. If Woolfolk can solidify the cornerback position, I think Williams and Kovacs might be sufficient at the safety spots.

Offensive game ball goes to…
the offensive line. The offensive line got destroyed last week against Michigan State, but center David Moosman (replacing the injured David Molk) made good snaps for the entire game and Michigan got a solid push from their undersized line against a strong Iowa front seven.

Defensive game ball goes to…
Donovan Warren. He opened the game with a pick six and played pretty well for the rest of the game. He did get beat on a 47-yard pass on a 3rd-and-24, but that was at least partly because Mike Williams was slow to help from his safety position.

Let’s see less of this guy on offense…
Denard Robinson. Please, God, do not allow Rodriguez to put him on the field to pass the ball in key situations. He has a lower PER than Nick Sheridan and he can’t run the full offense. Not only is he unable to pass the ball or even run the famed read option, but he also hasn’t taken a single snap from under center (if I recall correctly) in the I-formation, which is the best way to run Brandon Minor. A large portion of the playbook goes out the window with Robinson in the game, and it’s just QB draw, QB sweep right, QB draw, QB sweep left, QB draw, QB sweep right, onward to infinity.

Let’s see less of this guy on defense…
Boubacar Cissoko and J.T. Floyd. The rest of the defense played well except for the safeties, but there’s no help coming for them. Kovacs and Williams need to improve with more experience and more reps. Meanwhile, while Cissoko didn’t play at all and Floyd played sparingly, Woolfolk held his own at the cornerback position. Hopefully Greg Robinson keeps Woolfolk at corner and is able to coaches up those other safeties.