Monday, August 17, 2009

Michigan Football Preview - Defense

Last year was a trying year (to say the least) for Michigan football fans. Among the litany of problems: horrible QB play, young offensive line, turnovers, confusion with the new system, poor tackling, bad pursuit angles, etc. Believe me, I could go on. And on. Anyway, 2009 is a new year, and with it comes renewed optimism. Last year I predicted a 9-3 season. I was correct with the numbers, but I had them in the wrong order. My prediction for this year will come later.

Since writer/director John Hughes passed away recently, I thought I'd use some quotes from some of his best films (as a writer and director) to help me preview this year's Michigan Wolverine football team. Earlier, I previewed the offense. Today, the defense:

Defensive Line
"The Breakfast Club"
Andrew Clark: If I lose my temper you're totaled, man.
John Bender: Totally?
Andrew Clark: Totally.

Brandon Graham is widely regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten. That's a good thing. He's the only returning starter on the defensive line. That's a bad thing. However, the cuboard is not exactly bare. Mike Martin played significant snaps last year - and played pretty well. He brings a year of backup experience to the line. It's hard to tell how they're going to line up - in a 3-man or 4-man line. If it's a 3-man line, the other starter will probably be Ryan Van Bergen. If it's a 4-man line, you might see freshman Will Campbell. After that, there's not a whole lot of depth. For some reason, I'm not too worried, because having Graham there makes it seem okay. Don't make him angry - you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

"Breakfast Club"
Andrew: Why do you have to insult everybody?
John Bender: I'm being honest, asshole. I would expect you to know the difference.

Ever since the departure of David Harris a couple years ago, linebacker has been, at least for me, a sore spot. Harris could go from sideline to sideline, he was a sure tackler, and he could hold his own in coverage. We got spoiled. Since then, we've been saddled with the likes of Chris Graham, John Thompson, Shawn Crable, and Obi Ezeh - who have all been inconsistent at best. Sure, Ezeh makes some plays, but he also misses tackles and doesn't seem to be proficient at shedding blockers. The MLB makes the defense go, and if Ezeh does not make significant improvement this year, the defense is doomed to another season of head-scratching mediocrity.The other LBs are intriguing. Jonas Mouton showed promise last year, his first as a starter. Stevie Brown will try his hand at LB after what could only be described as a horrible season at safety. Others who could contribute this season - sophomores Brandon Herron, Kenny Demens, and JB Fitzgerald, and freshman Craig Roh. While I remain optimistic in the overall defensive improvement, I am in a "wait-and-see" mode for the linebacking corps. Best case: Ezeh makes a huge Harris-like leap to all-conference level play, Stevie Brown finds his true position, and one playmaker emerges from the rest of the linebackers. Worst case: Ezeh does not improve, Brown proves once and for all that he's not a good football player, and no one else does anything of note.

"Mr. Mom"
Joan: Can I give you a hand?
Jack Butler: You can give me two. I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

This may not be the weakest position on the defensive side of the ball, but it's definitely the position with the least depth. The starters will probably be Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko ("It's the Donnie and Boobie Show!"), but with all the spread offenses and three WR sets that every team runs, all teams need at least three starter-quality CBs, or else they'll get shredded. The third CB will either be RS frosh JT Floyd or true frosh JT Turner. Teric Jones just moved over to CB from RB, and could help out as well. Any injuries at this position will further expose the lack of depth. However, after a semi-injured off-year, Warren is poised to fulfill his promise and to start becoming the shutdown corner he is capable of being. Hopefully, the front seven can get some pressure on the QBs and take some pressure off the thin defensive backfield.

"Weird Science"
Chet: [to Wyatt] Boy, I wouldn't give a squirt of piss for your ass right now.

Two years ago, the Michigan safeties were outrageously horrible. The opening game against that one Div. 1-AA team that we lost to? Lots of coverage problems. Last year? More of the same - coverage problems, bad pursuit angles, horrible tackling. This year, it's a clean slate, with two new starters in the safety spots. It looks like it might be Troy Woolfolk in one slot, and it's possible that true freshman Vlad Emilien might start in the other slot. No matter who starts, it will be two players who have never started a college football game. Due to the safety problems the last couple years, I am not terribly confident in the safety situation, to say the least. Other than Woolfolk and Vlad, others who could contribute this year include Michael Williams and Thomas Gordon. Hold your breath and cover your eyes - it could be ugly.

"National Lampoon's Vacation"
Clark: I think you're all fucked in the head. We're ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much fucking fun we'll need plastic surgeory to remove our god damn smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of you're assholes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!

If you read all the stuff I wrote up above, you might find my overview rather perplexing. Despite the less-than-rave reviews within the position groups, I am pretty confident that the defense will make significant improvements over last year. First of all, I think Greg Robinson, the new defensive coordinator, knows what he's doing. Sure he had a horrible team at Syracuse the last couple years, but all that tells you is that he was a bad head coach. He's been successful assistant in the NFL and at Texas, so I think he will have a positive effect on the defense. Secondly, the improvement in the offense has to help the defense. I can't count the number of times that the offense went 3-and-out and the defense had to get right back on the field again. Or how many times the kick return man fumbled the kick right back to the opponent. They had to be tired. Last year's defense gave up an average of almost 29 points per game. I expect it will be closer to 20 this year.

Next time: Special Teams, and overall season prediction

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