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Way Down in the Hole: The Michigan Defense Through the Lens of The Wire

Is it still the bye week?

No?  Ok, well I suppose we can get back to meaningful football discu    wait a minute, Michigan didn't play a game last week, so there still isn't much to discuss unless you want to 1) rehash all the reasons everyone everywhere has always hated the BCS, 2) talk about the potential position switches and depth chart shakeups that have leaked out over the bye week and the impact that those switches might have on production this year, or 3) preview the uninjured portions of Penn State's roster in anticipation for Saturday's game.

Fortunately for you, my dear reader, option number one is played out and meaningless until December (which has never stopped the mainstream media, but I digress), option two is wild speculation that won't have any effect on the team until next year at the earliest, and option three is Beauford's job.

Thankfully we don't need football action to discuss this team, we just need loose comparisons to pop culture and time to kill.  Since I have both, let me present a strange amalgamation of two of my greatest obsessions:  Michigan football and The Wire.  If you have not seen The Wire yet you should not be reading this.  Not because it will spoil the series, but because you should immediately go out and buy the entire series and devote the next week of your life to television's crowning achievement.  However, some spoilers are included below, so read at your own risk if you still haven't seen The Wire but want to read a long post comparing Michigan players to characters from a TV series that you know nothing about.

(Note:  In a show with as much back story and development it isn't always easy to find a good fit, but I will do my best.  Also, some of these comparisons might be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.  Also, feedback will be greatly appreciated.  The only thing I love more than thinking about The Wire is talking about The Wire.  One with the show.)

The Defensive Line:  The Stanfield Crew

The Stanfield Crew runs the streets of Baltimore.  Slinging drugs, dropping bodies in vacants, and holding their corners.  Stanfield's crew is ruthlessly efficient in the way that it controls the streets, just like the UM defensive line is ruthlessly efficient in the way it controls the trenches.

Mike Martin as Marlo Stanfield - Martin isn't the most vocal of leaders for this defense, but he is the unquestioned kingpin of this group much like Marlo is the king of the West side.  Martin gets what he wants--sacks, TFLs--without allowing anything to get in his way, and he is swift and strong when he acts.  He is the centerpiece of the entire defensive line and is the catalyst for the success of everyone else on it.  Also, they are the two people you would least like to piss off.

Ryan Van Bergen as Chris Partlow - Second in command of the defensive line, he isn't the focal point of offensive schemes, but is instead more of the enforcer in the same way that Partlow is the enforcer of the Stanfield Crew.  Van Bergen feeds off of the success of Martin to his inside and they compliment each other well.  Both Van Bergen and Partlow are usually tactful, but both have been known to lose control--Van Bergen's demolition of Indiana last year after blowing an assignment on a long TD run and Partlow's brutal murder of Michael's abusive stepfather.

Greg Banks as Monk - Monk wasn't the biggest part of Marlo's crew, but he held an important role as a lieutenant and executed it sufficiently.  So far this year Banks has proven to be a solid third defensive lineman to compliment Martin and Van Bergen.  Banks won't blow you away, but he will hold his ground an execute his tasks most of the time with the occasional mistake.

Jabreel Black as Snoop - Snoop's role was small during season three.  She was involved with the drive-by attempt on Avon's life, and played a minor role in the rest of the season.  However, it was in the beginning of season four when Snoop really came into her own as a character.  She goes to the Hardware Barn and buys the nailgun after a long conversation with one of the sales clerks on the floor.  The conversation between the two flows back and forth both cordially and professionally despite the fact that they imagine a drastically different use for the nail gun.  Black may have a small role in the defense now as primarily a pass rusher, but I imagine that next year with some time in the weight room and a year under his belt, Black is going to step into a much larger role on the defensive line.  (Also nominated, Jeremy Gallon for, you know, an eerie resemblance to Snoop.)


Snoop, is that you?

Will Campbell as Cheese - Okay, so Cheese wasn't exactly part of Marlo's crew, but this one fits too well to change.  There may have been no more exhilarating moment in the entire series than when Slim Charles avenges Prop Joe's death by shooting Cheese in the head after his long, impassioned speech about how it is his time to run the streets.  Few shows have ever made me yell out loud in excitement, but that moment is a great example of how great The Wire is at drawing you in to the universe of the Baltimore drug trade.  I'd have shot Cheese myself if I would have been able to reach inside the screen.  Looks like ol' Will might just have gotten himself shot right off the defensive line.  After a year and a half struggling to keep his pad level low and develop his technique, the coaching staff has envisioned a move to the offensive line (where he was thought by some to have greater potential coming out of high school).  Unlike Cheese, we will all miss the contribution that Campbell might have made on the defensive side of the ball.

Renaldo Sagesse as Spider - Quick, name one thing you remember about Spider.  Now name one thing you remember that Sagesse has done on the field.  Both have gotten very little action and are bit players in the grand scheme of things.  Occasionally they will make a mistake (Sagesse getting effectively single blocked, Spider getting robbed), but they exist on the fringes of our minds.  That is probably for the best.

Adam Patterson as Little Kevin - A highly rated defensive tackle recruit when he stepped on to campus, the only similarity that Patterson shares with the late Little Kevin is that his recruiting hype is rotting away in a vacant house somewhere in Ann Arbor just like Little Kevin's corpse is rotting in a vacant in Baltimore.

Linebackers and Secondary:  The Police

Unorganized, ineffective, obsessed with statistics, and ultimately powerless to stop the rampant drug trade around Baltimore.  Could there be any better comparison for the back seven of the Michigan defense?

Craig Roh as Jimmy McNulty - Both of them are good at their jobs....when they aren't being used in the wrong place.  McNulty was one of the best and most dedicated detectives in the Baltimore P.D., but spent time wasting away in the Marine Unit after pissing Major Rawls off at the end of the first Barksdale investigation, only to then spent a season as a patrolman in the Western District trying to reform his life.  Roh in much the same way has been used ineffectively at times.  The shift to the 3-3-5 defense entailed that Roh take on a more traditional linebacker role in some of the defensive plays.  Roh doesn't possess the instincts in coverage of the sideline to sideline athleticism necessary.  However, put him into a three point stance (or crazy crab-person stance) on the line and he is one of the better pass rushers this team has.  As long as his career doesn't jump the shark--cough, serial killer plotline, cough--Roh should be an corner piece of the defense for the next two years.  Plus, the two could pass for brothers:


Obi Ezeh as Herc - Herc never quite got it.  His methods in Narcotics were hardly successful, and he lacked the tact and critical thinking necessary to excel in the larger investigations he was tasked with.  He didn't deserve the promotion to Sargent, and eventually washed out of the police force.  Sound familiar?  Obi had a lot of promise as a RS-Fr., but failed to make any headway as he got older.  He lacked the instincts to diagnose plays and ultimately proved to be a liability in both the running game and the passing game.  Many people even felt he did not deserve his promotion to the starting lineup this year, and that seems further confirmed by his recent demotion.  Sometimes these comparisons write themselves.

Jonas Mouton as Carver - What did you think of Carver in season one?  If you just said that you liked him you are a liar.  Carver was just as boneheaded as Herc and even more despicable because he was Burrell's source for information inside the Barksdale investigation.  But a funny thing happened.  Carver became real police.  Working under Bunny Colvin (GERG?) in the Western District, Carver began to learn the way to be a smart and effective police officer.  By season four he was one of the good guys.  He still made mistakes (just ask Randy), but the good he did seemed to outweigh his shortcomings.  Jonas Mouton has traveled a similar journey in the last couple years.  It was always apparent he had the athletic chops to be "real linebacker", but he let his head get in the way.  Now this year we are beginning to see a maturation by Mouton into the player we always wanted him to be.  There are still screw ups, but those are mostly overshadowed by the good things he does.

Kenny Demens as Bunk Moreland - Please?  Please, please, please, can Demens grow into this comparison.  Bunk was always one of the best characters The Wire had to offer.  He was good at his job and tireless in his work to clear cases and catch killers.  If Demens can establish himself as a solid MLB in this defense after replacing Obi, he could very well grow into a "Bunk" type role.  A hard working, effective, but not always perfect answer in the middle of this defense.  That would be music to everyone's ears.

Troy Woolfolk as Cedric Daniels - Daniels wasn't much help in season one.  He ran the task force, but he was still a career man who didn't want to step on toes.  Woolfolk isn't much help this year because of a bad ankle injury that sidelined him for the season.  However, just as Daniels grew into a large role as a leader in the investigation, I believe that when Woolfolk returns next year he could have a similar impact.  He is the most experienced member of the secondary and will be the backbone of the back four next year, as well as a leader for the team.

James Rogers as Patrick Mahon - Rogers has been a serviceable member of the secondary this year in the absence of any depth or experience, but just like Mahon he isn't really cut out for the job he is in.  After this year Rogers will retire from this secondary and nobody will think twice about it.  Incidentally, this makes every receiver in the Big Ten Bodie Broadus for delivering knockout punch after knockout punch to Rogers career.

Kevin Leach as Augustus Polk - Just like Rogers, Leach was never cut out to be a functional member of this defense.  He provides a little comic relief (if you can laugh at a linebacker being horribly out of position in zone defense) but will ultimately end up working in an evidence locker--the special teams duty of police work.

JT Floyd as Jay Landsman - We all knew Jay was a good guy who was trying to do the right thing, but sometimes it just didn't work out that way.  Floyd is much the same way.  He works hard and keeps the stats coming (3rd on the team in tackles) but sometimes he just screws the whole team over and gives up inside position to DJK on a slant route that has burned him all afternoon--no I'm not bitter about that.

Cam Gordon as Ken Dozerman - Dozerman was always a little like Herc, he embraced the hard nosed aspects of police work without the subtleties.  When it came to busting heads he was comfortable.  Wrapping cases?  Not so much.  And so Cam Gordon flies in as the best possible comparison to Dozerman.  Gordon is a heavy hitter who has no knack for wrapping up tackles, he should probably be in a different position (spur) just as Dozerman should still be in Narcotics rather than Major Crimes, and he is prone to huge mistakes (Kyle Rudolph sends his love to you Cam).  Gordon has a good chance to eventually become this defenses equivalent of "real police', but only if he knocks out the major mistakes (a la Dozerman losing his service weapon).

Jordan Kovacs as Lester Freamon - Nobody thought much of either Freamon or Kovacs in the beginning of their careers, but both have proven themselves to be invaluable over time.  Freamon spent most of the first season making doll house furniture at his desk, while Kovacs spent the beginning of his career doing the football equivalent of doll house furniture making:  being a white, undersized, slow, walk-on.  Yet, both of them were eventually called upon to step into larger roles, and both have performed high above any of our wildest dreams.  Freamon might be the best detective in the Baltimore P.D. just like Kovacs is the most natural football player on Michigan's defense.

Thomas Gordon as Kima Greggs - Kima was always a good in Narcotics, but she took a lot of time to get comfortable in Homicide.  She wasn't a liability, but simply wasn't someone that the rest of the unit was willing to count on.  Gordon is much the same way.  He hasn't proven to be a liability on the field, but he also isn't going to wow anyone with three or four game momentum shifting plays per game.

Carvin Johnson as Snydor - Snydor was briefly around in season one but did not have a very big impact.  However, he came back in later seasons and began to take on a larger and larger role, until by the end of the series it was hinted that he might be the next McNulty.  Johnson just seems like the kind of football player who is going to grow into a huge role in a couple of years.  He was underrated coming out of high school, and thrown into a starting role early that he eventually gave up to T. Gordon.  I have a good feeling that by the end of Johnson's career at Michigan he is going to be a very integral part of this defense.

The Freshman Secondary:  The Kids

This just seemed to fit too well.  Four secondary players who were forced into action too early, in the same way the four kids from season four are forced to deal with life on the streets.

Courtney Avery as Namond Brice - Namond was the kid everyone hated out of the season four group of friends.  He was a pain in the ass, a wannabe thug, and terrible to his friends and classmates.  Now Avery isn't all of those things, but he has come in for the most criticism after missing an important tackle at the end of the Iowa game.  Funny thing about Namond was that he found a way to get himself off the streets--with the help of Bunny Colvin--and I have a good feeling that Avery can find a way to become a very good cornerback in much the same way.  Avery is a smart kid who was thrown into a bad situation because of having almost no experience as a cornerback.  Given the right coaching and development he could turn things around and become very good by the end of his career.  Much like Namond, Avery just needs someone to believe in him.

Cullen Christian as Dukie - On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dukie is the one character that everyone rooted for.  We all wanted to see Dukie make it off the streets and into a solid home where all his natural talent could blossom.  Christian is much the same in our minds.  He was supposed to be the freshman that was most suited for immediate impact because of his high recruiting rank.  When he failed to step in immediately, many became disheartened in much the same way as when Dukie began to fall back into his old life.  We want great things for Christian, but what path will his career take?

Terrence Talbott as Randy Wagstaff - Both Terrence and Randy are in situations that they shouldn't be considering how young they are.  Terrence has been forced into backup duty and the nickel package as a true freshman, and Randy was forced to aid in the murder of Lex by Little Kevin.  Let's just hope Terrence's story doesn't end as tragically as Randy's.

Marvin Robinson as Michael Lee - Michael is a quiet in the beginning.  His potential is readily apparent to good guys like Cutty and bad ones like Marlo, but Michael keeps himself out  of the game early on.  Once he does get involved it becomes clear that he is a natural and by the end of the series he has developed into the second coming of Omar--high praise indeed.  Marvin Robinson has loads of potential, but has had a quiet year so far.  He hasn't seen much time on the field and other than reports from practice about his hitting ability there hasn't been much said about him.  Yet of all the kids in the freshman class, Marvin Robinson has the potential to grow into one of the best safeties that Michigan has seen in a long time.


(Credit where credit is due:  I got this idea when watching Around the Horn a week or so ago.  Tim Cowlishaw mentioned that on his way to a Yankee playoff game recently he was approached by a student from Fordham who asked his advice on writing a column comparing all 30 NBA teams to characters from The Wire.  I still haven't found the piece, but yesterday the comparison between Obi and Herc popped in my head and I ran with it.  So thanks to the unnamed Fordham student and Tim Cowlishaw for passing on the idea to keep my busy during the bye week lull.)