Thursday, October 29, 2009

Where does the defense go from here?

With the dismissal of Boubacar Cissoko from the team, an already terrifying secondary depth chart seems to have taken the final plunge. With the problems the secondary has had all year, this sort of kills any chance that they would look competent. Also, man coverage is mostly a thing of the past. So now, you're depth chart looks something like this:

Left Cornerback
Right Cornerback
1st string
Donovan Warren
Troy Woolfolk
2nd string
Teric Jones
J.T. Floyd
3rd string
Justin Turner (redshirt)
James Rodgers

That's... not good. Especially when you take into account that J.T. Floyd has looked mostly awful this year, Turner is redshirting, and James Rodgers is a converted wide receiver. At safety, as we all know, Michigan is similarly crippled, starting a walk-on at strong safety and having little to no depth at all. So on the surface, Michigan is thick in it.

But when I started thinking about it, barring injuries to Warren and Woolfolk, the loss of Cissoko doesn't really affect the defense at all this year. Maybe Cissoko would've eventually lived up to his considerable recruiting hype, but that wasn't happening this year. And since, for the last few games, he's seen about five snaps, this doesn't really hurt Michigan at all. If they continue with the situational defenses they ran against Penn State, J.T. Floyd becomes the third CB in the game and likely will end up either with dedicated safety help (please, someone teach Jordan Kovacs how play in coverage) or in the various zones that we saw Donovan Warren playing in.

What surprises me most about all of the horror expressed that Cissoko is off the team, is that he was patently awful this year. Have we all forgotten about the Notre Dame game already? He dropped a dead-on interception that would've locked the game up without the last-second heroics by Forcier. He was shredded time and again in man coverage. He was slow breaking to the ball when he dropped back into zones. Etc. This happened repeatedly when he was playing. Hell, that's why J.T. Floyd replaced him as the starter and Robinson eventually moved Woolfolk to corner. MGoBlog is decidedly more pessimistic about the defense, regardless of Cissoko's presence:

Kovacs as a deep safety (oddly, in Michigan's system this is the "strong" safety) doesn't work, Williams as a deep safety doesn't work, Floyd as a cornerback doesn't work, Michigan has two Big Ten level secondary members and guys who might not start for a good MAC team elsewhere. There is no hope for that the rest of the season.

But, like, how was this any different with Cissoko on the team? What about his play this season has made anyone think, "Yeah, he looks like a high-quality D-I player. I'm glad he's in our secondary." Frankly, Cissoko hasn't looked much better than J.T. Floyd this year. And given how little we use a third cornerback anyway, Cissoko's loss looks to be exactly zero. If Warren or Woolfolk go down for any extended period of time, that will be a problem, but it would've been a problem anyway. Sure, Cissoko's upside was probably way higher than that of Floyd's, but that doesn't help this year, and per Rodriguez's unfortunate situation, we were likely to see a freshman playing at corner next year anyway (either the redshirted Turner or one of the many high-profile CBs Michigan is currently recruiting).

It's possible that I'm too optimistic about this defense going forward, but I really liked that Robinson was working with different schemes against Penn State to try and hide some of our problems, whether or not they worked in their first attempt. A commentor said, "Your peppiness about our defense makes me think you're confusing your ability to correctly diagnose what went wrong with our ability to ever fix it." To which I can only respond that it also looks like Robinson sees what's wrong and is attempting to fix it. I honestly believe that Robinson might actually be able to turn this defense into a reasonable Big Ten squad by the year's end, with or without Cissoko.

Now it's just time to pray that Donovan Warren sticks around for one more year.


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