clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nothin’ But Freshmen: Michigan Football 2010 Commitmas Defense Review


Michigan Safety Recruit Josh Furman,

Photo Joshua McKerrow, The Capital, Annapolis, MD

This analysis is quite late and for that I apologize. This delay reminded me of those times when I was a little kid and Halloween fell on a weekday, like a Tuesday or a Wednesday.  I would have to go to school the next day of course, so my mom would confiscate my pillow case full of sucrose-laden loot and hide it away from me until the coming weekend - or worse, since I had the attention span of a gnat -reveal those same Halloween spoils to me many weeks later in more manageable, bite-sized servings.  I wasn't even mad. Somehow it was more sweet and satisfying to devour later on than at the height of my joy and satisfaction.


"4 Safeties for Blue, None for MSU...3 DTs for Blue, none for........"

So here I am a full week later. I found the loot (no, I don't live with my mom anymore) and I'm pouring out Michigan's 2010 recruiting spoils on the floor, carefully checking through the fruits of the Michigan's recruiting labors. 

We'll start with Michigan's defense in this segment, because let's face it, any college football team that surrenders 28 points every time it tees off on Saturday afternoons and subsequently finishes 9th in their league by allowing opponents to march up and down the gridiron to the tune of 393 yards per game on average - well, let's just say major reinforcements are long overdue for Michigan's defensive unit.

While looking at the new recruiting class coming in, we recognize already that the Wolverines lose arguably three of their best defensive players, DE Brandon Graham, LB Stevie Brown and junior CB Donovan Warren, to graduation and the NFL.  Michigan returns around 7 starters on defense from the 2009 football season. Head coach Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and staff placed a ton of emphasis on defense for the 2010 recruiting class. They did a pretty good job too, it would seem as they landed the second best recruiting class in the Big Ten.


Defensive Tackle


"Football is not the DEVIL, Momma!"

"I AM the Devil!"

DT Richard Ash, Photo ESPN

Michigan has been thin at the down lineman positions for some time and preferably would have shored this up even more last year with commitments from DaQuinta Jones and Pearlie Graves alongside mammoth-sized 5-star commitment William Campbell.  It did not work out according to plan.  Rodriguez and Robinson must have thrown down the gauntlet last February because they certainly got their D-lineman this time around.

(All ratings from

DT Jibreel Black, 4-star, No. 15 DT, Wyoming, OH

DT Terry Talbott, 3-star, No. 44 DT, Huber Heights, OH

DT Richard Ash, 3-star, No. 54 DT, Pahokee, FL

Analysis: All three will come in averaging 6'3" and 265 pounds and 4.9 speed, which is rather smallish for the DT position by traditional UM standards (though rumors now point to Ash being well over 300 lbs!).  Nevertheless, these three make fine additions to Michigan's down-lineman depth chart with their agility and quickness.  Redshirting would be nice, but it should surprise nobody if any one or all of these players see the field in 2010 in some capacity.    

The One to Watch: Richard Ash. 

The future: My god is Michigan incredibly young here or what? And what will this crew look like when they've all grow up? If they can stay healthy, Michigan could have a very experienced defense in 2011. The Wolves lost no DT's to graduation last fall and just about everyone else in the lineup should be back again in 2011 AND 2012 as well.

2010 Position Outlook: The DT starters will probably be junior Mike Martin and highly regarded sophomore sensation William Campbell.  Senior Greg Banks and junior Renaldo Sagesse should also get into the rotation there, but after them we're looking at nothin' but freshman right now. 

Defensive End

How to replace Brandon Graham? 

Holy crap man, like if I only knew.  The thing is, you don't just replace Brandon Graham. Great college football teams just reload with other kids that have been building up experience waiting - or even playing - in the wings.  Actually Brandon Graham was one of the guys Michigan just "reloaded with" after losing some pretty good DE's finished their own careers at UM over the last 4 years like Lamar Woodley, Rondell Biggs, Tim Jamison and Shaun Crable.  This position was addressed a little last year with the addition of guys like Craig Roh and Anthony Lalota, but Rodriguez/Robinson hauled in three more this year. Some may play OLB:

(All ratings from

DE Kenny Wilkins, 3-star, No. 68 DE, Washington, PA

DE Jordan Paskorz, 3-star, No. 74 DE, Allison Park, PA

DE Antonio Kinard, 3-star, No. 94 DE, Youngstown, OH

Analysis: When Brandon Graham came to Michigan as a freshman in 2006 to play for Lloyd Carr, he was 6-2, 274 lbs. He finished his career at UM at 263 lbs following Barwis's choke and puke conditioning program. All three of these new dudes are taller and lighter, averaging 6' 4" and 221 lbs, but with 4.74 speed.  The emphasis on leanness and speed at the cost of immovable size is pretty obvious. Michigan's current backup for Brandon Graham?  It's walk-on junior DE Will Heininger followed by RS freshman Anthony Lalota and nothin' but true freshmen.   Rodriguez and Robinson may want to red shirt where they can, but 2010 is already a critical year for wins.  They'll pull out all the stops to get the best players on the field.  Defensive end will be one of the many unsettled positions in 2010 on defense, so once again I would not be surprised one iota to see one or all three of these recruits get a serious look.  Rodriguez is replacing Graham, a 5-star DE and LB from Detroit with three 3-star players.  Someone needs to explain to me why every single 4 and 5-star high school defensive end ignored overtures from Michigan's coaching staff, looked at Brandon Graham's final season, and then said to themselves "Nope, no playing time to be had at that position".  Someday hopefully soon I'll stop wasting time thinking about it.

The One to Watch: Jordan Paskorz.  

The future: The only guy with any seniority at DE position is junior Ryan van Bergen. 

The Wolverines are dangerously young here, losing very few players to graduation or the NFL in 2010. Michigan needs more DE's in the future, so this position should be a focal point once again in 2011 for top-tier playmakers.

2010 Position Outlook: The DE starters will be Ryan van Bergen and probably Craig Roh (who played some OLB/DE positions last fall).  RS freshman Anthony Lalota may also be an interesting one to watch at DE and/or DT here.  Steve Watson is a senior who played at the OLB position, and has a good frame to play DE.  There's senior Adam Patterson to consider too.  After that you're staring down the barrel of walk-on Will Heininger and "nothin' but freshman" again.




"You missed it by that much y'all! Just bring on the punt team!"

LB Davion Rogers, Photo

At DT and DE Michigan's problems are almost purely depth related: Not enough players and not enough experience.  At linebacker Michigan's problems are different.  This group is actually quite talented and experienced now, but player development and performance have proven elusive over the last three years for some reason.  Michigan badly needs consistency and a good linebacker coach like no tomorrow.  The Wolverines also need to find recruits that aren't switching over, and already know the fundamentals of how to play the linebacker position. Rodriguez recruited a good quantity of safeties the last three years that he intended all along to red shirt, beef up and re-release as demonically possessed speed linebackers.  Unfortunately, Michigan loses both Stevie Brown at SLB position as well as his predicted replacement for 2010, Brandon Smith (transfer).

(All ratings from

OLB Jake Ryan, 3-star, No. 80 OLB, Cleveland, OH

OLB Davion Rogers, 3-star, No. 101 OLB, Warren, OH

Analysis: DE and OLB are sort of interchangeable parts in Michigan's shifting 4-3 and 3-4 defensive sets.  Jake Ryan and Davion Rogers both have the required frame to contribute. They're tall (6 foot 5 inches), lean (213 lbs), fast (4.6 speed) and mean.  The MLB, WLB and SLB spots are going to be filled most likely from the gets at the safety position, because Michigan simply doesn't recruit meaty linebackers the profile of Erick Anderson, Jarrett Irons, Steve Morrison, and Matt Dyson anymore. Under Rich Rodriguez safeties eventually morph to play these SLB and WLB spots. Rogers and Ryan are talented players and might compete for playing time right away, despite the returning veteran linebackers for Michigan in 2010. Because Rodriguez badly needs wins in 2010 any way he can get them, and faces a pretty tough non-conference and conference road schedule, he cannot afford to do a whole lot of experimenting at linebacker.

The One to Watch: Jake Ryan is a textbook Rich Rodriguez recruit: He's way under everyone's radar, and a late blooming talent.  Ryan's senior season football accolades in the state of Ohio should raise the eyebrows of Michigan faithful.

The future: Michigan needs smart, physical players here to quarterback Greg Robinson's blitzing defense. Michigan was downright awful at stopping the run last year, and this was a function of hesitant linebacker play.  I don't think anyone's position is secure here. The new Michigan linebacker coach will have a mountain of work to do. Ezeh, Mouton, Herron and Fitzgerald are veterans now and should show improvement , but who ever coaches this group in 2010 will need to instill higher confidence and find a way to extract more violence on Saturday afternoons.

2010 Position Outlook: Returning MLBs include Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton, Brandon Herron, JB Fitzgerald and senior walk-on Kevin Leach.   New names like those of junior Kenny Demens, RS freshmen Mike Jones and Isaiha Bell should rotate into the mix at linebacker now that they're finally familiar with the defensive dogma of Greg Robinson.   While the loss of Stevie Brown and Brandon Smith at LB won't help matters, at least the "RED ALERT!" regarding the Michigan linebacker depth chart appears to be over - for now anyway.



CB Courtney Avery


Michigan had pretty bad secondary playlast year in the Big Ten with Donovan Warren pretty much owning one side of the field. Without Donovan Warren in 2010, and with secondary coach Tony Dews still permitting his corners to cover opposing receivers from 15 miles off the line of scrimmage, Michigan's 2010 equipment staff damn well better have a KANBAN of Maize britches setup on the sidelines, because UM's cornerbacks will likely return to the bench frequently with torched, charcoal gray ones. 

Thing have been really bad at cornerback for a number of years, even dating back to the 2006 season.  The problem is not just depth and experience, it's also talent, development and grasping of fundamentals. The fervor with which Rich Rodriguez, Greg Robinson and Tony Gibson recruited secondary players this last year is very instructive as to how serious Michigan's prognosis is here. It's pretty bad.  Eight players, or one-third of the 2010 class, are defensive secondary position players. All of them will get a serious shot at immediate playing time. The coaches did a decent job bringing in some talented players to play cornerback:

(All ratings from

Cullen Christian, 4-star, No. 3 CB, Pittsburgh, PA

Courtney Avery, 3-star, No. 35 CB, Lexington, OH

Terrance Talbott, 3-star, No. 107 CB, Huber Heights, OH

Analysis: The best all-around player in the entire Michigan secondary for 2010 will probably be junior cornerback Troy Woolfolk, a 3-star recruit from Texas in 2008. After Woolfolk, the position is a proverbial festival of red shirt freshmen, walk-ons and true freshmen.  Christian and Avery are exceptional athletes, and Talbott, while smaller in stature, fortifies this position with even more speed than usual.  However, speed has not really been an issue for Michigan, as much as man-to-man coverage skills, tackling and angles of pursuit have been.

The One To Watch: Courtney Avery. Not the highest rated player, but this kid has a remarkable resume chock full of big plays on both sides of the ball. If he carries this kind of mojo over to the college level, then whoa, look out.

The future: Michigan probably could have used one more cornerback in this class. This is not a particularly top-tier-level Michigan haul for cornerback, but combined with the 2009 class, Michigan is starting to fill up the empty slots in the roster nicely and create some productive competition in practice going forward.  One more solid recruiting class here and better control over player attrition should get Michigan back to where it needs to be.

2010 Position Outlook:

Troy Woolfolk will likely anchor the UM secondary in 2010. But like any anchor, there's a risk that they'll forget to pull it up before engaging the throttle, dragging it along the murky bottom until it catches on a rock, ripping the entire engine from its hinges and damaging the hull.

So who likes being the anchor?

Woolfolk has very nice speed, but he is not yet a "lockdown cover corner" like Warren became last fall.  Next to Woolfolk, JT Floyd is the only dude with any considerable playing time at corner. Teric Jones moves back to running back, which leaves all-star RS freshman Justin (JT) Turner entering the fold in 2010 to possibly start opposite Woolfolk.  Regardless, there are now seven scholarship players at cornerback competing for the 2 or 3 spots, which is probably a little better than the 2009 situation.  Michigan is going to be very young in the secondary for the next 2 years, so it's probably a good thing that charcoal-gray slacks go with just about everything.



Safety Recruit Carvin Johnson: Why the No. 1 Jersey May Not Be Reserved For Wide Receivers Anymore

In 2009 Michigan started a 4-star sophomore Michael Williams and a walk-on sophomore named Jordan Kovacs at the safety positions.  Sometimes Troy Woolfolk stepped in at safety as well, while JT Floyd then filled in a cornerback.  Michigan's defensive woes were pinned largely on poor safety play much of last season.  While it's still breathtaking to witness a completely unknown walk-on player blasting through a short list of scholarship players during weekly practice to earn a starting role for Michigan, this was something everyone should have seen coming as a possibility following Stevie Brown's move to SLB in 2009, Artis Chambers' departure, and the graduation of Charles Stewart and Brandon Harrison in 2008.  Nobody was left to play safety. This remains by far the scariest portion of the Michigan defensive roster right now.  Rodriguez, Robinson and Dews did a masterful job - actually their finest work yet - addressing needs at safety on the recruiting trail. Michigan beefed up its numbers and its talent quotient considerably with this part of the class:

(All ratings from

Josh Furman, 4-star, No. 7 safety, Millersville, MD

Marvin Robinson, 4-star, No. 18 safety, Eagle Lake, FL

Demar Dorsey, 4-star, No. 19 safety, Lauderdale Lakes, FL

Carvin Johnson, 3-star, No. 79 safety, Metaire, LA

Ray Vinopal, 3-star, No. 103 safety, Youngstown, OH



Safety Recruit Demar Dorsey, Photo from Miami Herald

This is hands down the best part of Michigan's 2010 class as it addresses Michigan's dire need for depth, talent, speed and size.  Furman and Robinson may get serious looks at the SLB position in the future, but there is plenty of work lined up just to play safety in 2010 and 2011 as it is. Dorsey is so talented, he will compete immediately for a starting role. Carvin Johnson had a spectacular high school career, while Ray Vinopal could be the next Chuck Cecil.

The One(s) To Watch:

Demar Dorsey and Carvin Johnson.

It's Dorsey because he is a freak-of-nature athlete who can play both ways, and has enough legal baggage to make his story a fascinating one for Michigan in the future.  Carvin Johnson is noted here too, but for different reasons.  Game after game in high school, Johnson was like Superman, frequently flying into harm's way with only seconds to go, always at the right place at the right time to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.  Carvin Johnson is not big, but the guy wears a cape and makes one huge play after another.

The Future:

Michael Williams is a junior and has the most experience at this position. Williams may not be big, but he's arguably one of the most punishing hitters in the Michigan secondary. He has not proven to be the best tackler, however, and was often observed allowing opponent receivers to get well behind him. Like most of UM's secondary depth chart, coverage skills need a lot of work.  Wolverine fans are placing much of their hope for better coverage play at the feet of RS freshman Vlad Emilien. Emilien is a bigger, stronger and faster player, who will finally enter the fray at the other safety position in 2010.  The other starting safety, Jordan Kovacs, was much maligned last year for his lack of size, speed and notably poor coverage skills.  But Kovacs is a smart football player, a good tackler, and a tireless worker. He also performed nicely on several blitz packages last fall for Michigan, racking up 39 solo tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles (tying Brandon Graham).  Yes, Jordan Kovacs is a walk on and was either easily blocked into tiny quark particles, or way out of position to make key tackles in the first place. But he's not Nick Sheridan, and he'll likely see significant playing time in 2010 if Rodriguez's love affair with walk-ons continues.  Senior James Rodgers and RS freshman Thomas Gordon also return. Both are converted wide receivers who will be given every opportunity to compete for playing time.

2010 Position Outlook:

The irrational exuberance meter is on empty here. Safety play at Michigan has been pretty poor the last three seasons. They've faced the brunt of the blame and criticism because of poor tackling, poor coverage skills and inexplicably hesitant linebacker play in front of them.  That all said, the safety position should show moderate improvement in 2010 with an injection of younger, faster players that may not know what they're doing or be able to cover like a blanket every time, but they should be able to  offer up much better support against the run. There's probably no way for Rodriguez, Robinson and Dews can escape the reality and necessity of playing freshmen again this fall.


Rodriguez and staff did a good job of recruiting this 2010 class: 2nd best in the Big Ten and 14th in the land according to Rodriguez said they needed to get their numbers up on the roster, and this huge class of 27 players (60% defensive players) helps achieve that much sooner rather than later. Whether Rodriguez is allowed to stick around long enough to employ all of their services is anyone's guess.  I hope he is around. The rest of the holes on defense (linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle) will need to be addressed as best as possible next February.