Friday, December 4, 2009

What a Warren-less defense looks like

As everyone now knows, Donovan Warren said that he is "heavily" leaning toward going pro. With the departure of Stevie Brown and Brandon Graham due to graduation, the loss of Warren would mean Michigan loses the three best players off of it's terrible defense from 2009. Ugh. But what does this really mean for the defense going forward?

For much of the year, I wasn't nearly as high on Warren as many around the Michigan blogosphere were. He was a good corner and undeniably our best player in the secondary, but he was never able to truly shut receivers down. Teams threw at Warren less than at other corners, but I think that's as much a function of Michigan's other corners being terribly inept as opposed to brilliance on Warren's behalf. So while Warren's departure--if he decides to go--will have an impact on the defense, I don't think it'll be nearly as catastrophic as some might feel.

But without Warren, Michigan is tossed back into the Horrifying Depth Chart-ness that they inhabited this past year. You can probably expect the corner depth chart to look something like this:

Left Cornerback
Right Cornerback
1st string
Justin Turner
Troy Woolfolk
2nd string
Cullen Christian
J.T. Floyd
3rd string
Teric Jones
Courtney Avery
4th string
Terrence Talbot
James Rogers

So the depth there doesn't look completely hopeless, but how many of those players would you actually want to see on the field? Three? Pray there are no injuries. Given Rodriguez's decision to redshirt Turner, it's my guess that, at least early in the season, Woolfolk stays at corner and they try to redshirt Cullen. This does however, mean a few other things for the secondary, namely, more Kovacs at safety (and not linebacker, his obvious position) and an unproven Vlad Emilien playing deep. Michigan has Marvin Robinson coming in the 2010 class, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Kovacs move to linebacker and Robinson take over sometime in the Big Ten schedule.

Free Safety
Strong Safety
1st string
Vlad Emilien
Jordan Kovacs
2nd string
Mike Williams
Marvin Robinson
3rd string
Carvin Johnson (expect redshirt)
Jared Van Slyke

We've seen worse looking depth charts than that, but it's still kind of OMG THEY'RE ALL FRESHMAN AND WALKONS involved.

The upshot is this: Warren is going to be a loss, but probably not a significant one. The secondary gets a little younger and a little less experienced than they otherwise would've been. That's about it. Warren wasn't an interception machine last year (he led the team with four for the entire season), and his production started to dwindle as the season went on. Woolfolk will likely take over as the most effective corner--he was nearing it toward the end of 2009--and Michigan will just have to roll the dice with the young'uns. It's going to be very touch and go early, but if some of these young, guru-approved recruits start to pan out early, the loss of Warren will be minimal.


Subrosa said...

There's also a chance that Witty plays into things at corner, provided he ends up with the team. The coaches seemed pretty high on him last year.

If we're lucky Turner and SOMEONE else are decent enough for us to be able to move Woolfolk back to safety.

EastCoastBlue said...

Turner, Vlad, and Marvin have to step up. Yea, those are 3 guys who have not proven anything, but Kovacs has proven that he doesn't have the speed or the anticipation to play in the secondary. I also don't see him as a LB at all.

As terrible as his career has been, it is a sad state of affairs that Stevie Brown was voted best LB. Obi Ezeh needs to wake up.

Here's to a year of gaining, all be it difficult, experience. Hopefully the mental approach to 2010 is more comfortable for the entire squad.

Dave H said...

I'm not sure how you go through all that analysis and then conclude that Warren isn't going to be a significant loss. Sure he MIGHT not be, but on paper it's looking rather grim.

Lankownia said...

Agree with Dave H. The conclusion doesn't add up with the analysis.

I think it would be a major benefit to have Woolfolk move back to safety. He said himself that Safety requires a far greater understanding and that is going to come through experience.

With Warren,you'd have one corner spot up for grabs between inexperienced (Turner, Christian, Witty, etc.) or unimpressive (Floyd) guys and one safety spot for inexperienced (Robinson, Johnson, Emilien) or unimpressive (Williams, Kovacs) guys. Instead, we have a 3 spot jumble with Woolfolk playing CB out of need instead of safety.

Good post though. I think those depth charts look pretty realistic.

....At least the three incoming freshman safeties played the position in HS and we aren't dealing with position changes for them.

Chris Gaerig said...

I think my lack of fear stems from the fact that I wasn't ever real high on Warren's play this year. He was good not great. Warren is not Graham of the secondary. He was an above-average corner that couldn't really shut down elite receivers in the league. His tackling was good and he never committed any massive screw ups, but if this is the standard that we hold for great players, than we're in a worse spot than I thought.

It would be good to have Warren. But I'd be surprised if the secondary didn't improve next year, with or without him.

Anonymous said...

If you want respect as a blogger, you may want to start spelling these players' names correctly. As soon as I saw James Rodgers (Hint: there's no "d") and Christian Cullen (Hint: his name is Cullen Christian), I decided not to read any further.

Chris Gaerig said...

Is that how you get respect as a blogger? Thanks for the insight.

Typos and mistakes happen. I'm sorry they offend you so much.

Steve said...

Someone else mentioned him, but don't forget about Adrian Witty. He is now part of the 2010 class.

Brandon said...

I'm not sure that you can count on Marvin Robinson as the answer at strong safety. Everything that I've read on him suggests that he doesn't have the speed to stay at safety and will probably move to linebacker at Michigan.

Chris Gaerig said...

It may be a little pie in the sky. Michigan needs help in both spots and I'm generally of the belief that safety should be addressed first. There are a few more players expected to come into this class, and I'll update the charts when the recruiting class finally closes.

At this point, leaving Kovacs at safety is a daunting reality for me. I may be looking at any and all possible avenues for putting someone else back there.

WolverBean said...

I agree that Warren's production seemed to drop off late in the season, but I think there's a good reason for it. As it became increasingly obvious that we needed help in the secondary, Warren's role became increasingly that of a safety. He still lined up at corner, but you'd often see him start 10 yards back and move backward or toward the center of the field while the safety behind him played downhill. His production looked poorer because teams were able to complete a lot of 5-yard outs in front of him. If he were playing press, man coverage as a shutdown corner, this would have been of some concern, but since he was almost perpetually in zone, and responsible for more than just the receiver in front of him, it's understandable (or perhaps even unavoidable) that some passes were completed to his side.
What I think we'll miss most about Warren is that he was the best tackler on the defense.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing about people switching positions due to lack of speed or some other deficit is thrown around way too much. If you have ever played football you know that it takes 4 years of high school ball to really learn your position and do it well. Sure there is the occasional athlete that can be switched when there is a huge need but corners are not linebackers are not safeties. We need players that are good at their position and not hope to bring in some guy and magically throw him at some other position and expect him to perform. Fuck me.

swolf1981 said...

I think Warren could be a shut down corner, but don't think that the defense had the personnel to let him be that. There were enough holes in the defense, that they couldn't just tell him to "cover that guy like a blanket" and stop everyone else with regularity.

My thesis in a sentence: This defense needed a marginal/good safety more than they needed a shut-down corner, and Warren was Michigan's best safety.

Matt said...

Gotta say that I normally like what you write, but this sadly isn't going to be one of those times. Warren definitely is a shut-down corner. He sadly had to do what Marlin Jackson did when he slid to safety. He played out of position and still did a commendable job.

Right now we need to hope the NFL and the NFLPA gets the new CBA done soon and it has a slotting system in it. That might keep Warren in school one more year. With the possibility of actual safeties behind him, he might come back and put in a season like Marlin's final year.

I don't think anyone expects him to be Woodson, but he could definitely be in the conversation for the 2nd or 3rd best corner out of Michigan.

Anonymous said...

Comparing Marlin Jackson to Donovan Warren is absurd... Jackson was the incoming pre-season Big 10 POY in his senior year, Warren won't even be on the preseason first team defense should he decide to return.
The state of the program was also slightly different in 2003... Jackson had already been to three bowl games and was part of a defense that featured several future NFL stars.
Like it or not, this Michigan team has entered uncharted waters. Any comparison to 2007 and before is a waste of time.
You know it's FUBAR when the clear returning leader of the Michigan defense would rather bail on his senior campaign in exchange for probable free agency.
I've almost given up on this team... I'll probably just bury my head in the sand like I had to do with the basketball program for the past decade.
I just wish I gave a crap about swimming, softball or some other irrelevant sport in which Michigan typically excels.
BTW, any update on the pending NCAA sanctions for too much practice? Would this give us a reason to fire RR without paying him off? God, I wish we had taken a chance on Brian Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Man, I'd feel a lot better about this depth chart if the coaching staff had given Vlad and Turner more playing time in 09. That's a massive wasted opportunity; if you're going to go 4-7, you might as well get your youngest guys some run.

Anonymous said...

Quality generally takes time and patience.The programme needs to develop consistency through repetition and that requires you stick with your coaches for awhile. Give Greg Robinson 3-4 years then evaluate. Has there been improvement with the offence after two years with RR? I would say absolutely!The most important position on a football team is quarterback and in this area the Michigan offence is clearly developing with a "rookie" quarterback. Seriously, ask yourself will Forcier or Robinson be better next year? Would you bet some momey? Of course you would. This team will improve if you allow it to.

Patience said...

I hope that our Safety depth chart is much different than that. What about Thomas Gordon? I hope I don't see Carvin Johnson ahead of Gordon right out of high school. While I'm trusting RichRod that Vinopal and Carvin will be solid contributors in the future, we need to get to point where only 4 or 5 stars don't automatically get redshirted. I'm really hoping all those redshirted OL and some of these guys like Thomas Gordon, Brandin Hawthorne, Isaiah Bell, etc really make a big difference next year. I am really counting on some unproven commodities....because many of the guys at LB and in the secondary have proven they can't play.

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