Michigan Wolverines: Jordan Kovacs

Michigan season preview

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
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Can Michigan make the jump from the cusp to an actual Big Ten championship game? A look at the 2013 Wolverines:

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Coach: Brady Hoke (66-57, 19-7)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: QB/RB Denard Robinson; WR Roy Roundtree; RG Patrick Omameh; C Elliott Mealer; DE Craig Roh; DT Will Campbell; MLB Kenny Demens; CB J.T. Floyd; S Jordan Kovacs

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould running back Derrick Green be the key to Michigan's season? The touted freshman is expected to compete for the starting job right away.
Key returnees: QB Devin Gardner; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Jeremy Gallon; TE Devin Funchess; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DT Quinton Washington; DE Frank Clark; LB Jake Ryan (injured); LB Desmond Morgan; CB Blake Countess; CB Raymon Taylor; S Thomas Gordon

Newcomer to watch: There are a couple of freshmen who could see major snaps for Michigan, but the most notable is running back Derrick Green. He will push Toussaint for the starting job immediately and could end up as the featured back by the end of the season. The other two freshmen who could see major time are early enrollees: defensive back Dymonte Thomas and tight end Jake Butt. Neither will likely start, but both will be key reserves or used in subpackages.

Biggest games in 2013: Michigan had all of its key games on the road last season. This year, the Wolverines will have their two toughest games at home: Notre Dame on Sept. 7, and Ohio State on Nov. 30 in the regular-season closer. The Buckeyes, though, cap a difficult month for the Wolverines, who have trips to Michigan State on Nov. 2 and Northwestern on Nov. 16.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Who will run the ball? As the Wolverines complete their transition to a pro-style offense, they need a capable running back lining up behind quarterback Gardner. Considering the importance of play-action in what they will try to do offensively, they will need a back to gain yards to keep the whole offense balanced and a defense confused. The main candidates are Toussaint and Green, with freshman De'Veon Smith, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson and junior Thomas Rawls also pushing for time.

Forecast: Good. Like most teams that are near the end of a rebuilding phase, depth at certain positions is questionable, which means anything written here would be for naught if Gardner, Gallon or Lewan were injured for any length of time. Provided those three offensive stalwarts stay healthy, the Wolverines have a strong shot at making a run to the Big Ten championship game.

Michigan’s season could come down to whether it can beat Michigan State and Northwestern on the road. It is entirely possible that by the time the Wolverines and Buckeyes play in the regular-season finale that both will have wrapped up divisional titles and Big Ten title game trips. The best news for Michigan in all of this is how the schedule breaks down. After Notre Dame in Week 2, the Wolverines have only one real challenge -- at Penn State -- until November. This will allow a young offensive line to gain confidence and chemistry, and a young defensive line a chance to figure out how to beat Big Ten linemen.

A road win at any of those three places could lift Michigan into a different level, because one of the major issues with coach Brady Hoke has been his inability to win a game of any significance away from Michigan Stadium, where he has yet to lose.
Fitzgerald ToussaintLon Horwedell/Icon SMIFitzgerald Toussaint has been Michigan's starting tailback the last two seasons. But a broken leg suffered last year, along with talented youngsters behind him, has him in a fight for his job.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Denard Robinson adjusts to his new role as an offensive weapon playing a little bit of everywhere in Jacksonville, Michigan officially will begin its A.D. era as camp opens this weekend.

While Robinson’s replacement at quarterback, Devin Gardner, is set, much around him will be new or contested. Michigan will unveil a more fine-tuned version of the pro-style offense it ran last season with new linemen, new wide receivers and possibly a new running back to go with it.

The defense will be playing for the first time in the Brady Hoke era without Kenny Demens at middle linebacker and Jordan Kovacs at safety as the defensive anchors.

So here’s at some things to pay attention to over the next three weeks as Michigan prepares for its opener against Central Michigan on Aug. 31.

Top position battles

Running back: One of four positions on the Wolverines with no clear hierarchy entering camp, as any one of five players could potentially win the job. Redshirt senior Fitzgerald Toussaint is the incumbent, but is coming off a broken leg which ended his junior season. Freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith could both see playing time and will likely compete with Toussaint for the majority of the carries. Junior Thomas Rawls, who has yet to show a true burst in two seasons, is another possibility if he has improved. The wild card here might be redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, who has track speed -- he was an elite high school hurdler -- and a good frame. He likely won’t win the job but could end up stealing carries.

Strong side defensive end: Keith Heitzman is likely entering camp as the leader here, but that’s a very tenuous lead at best. He has the most experience of the players competing at end, but the youth behind him will likely at least win a share of playing time. Chris Wormley, who, like senior Jibreel Black, could play both inside and outside, is a candidate here. Wormley was a player who many thought could have played as a true freshman last year before tearing his ACL. Two other redshirt freshmen, Matt Godin and Tom Strobel, are also candidates here. Much like what could happen at rush end with Frank Clark, Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton, you could end up seeing a three-man rotation here unless someone stands out heavily.

Defensive tackle: Quinton Washington is set at one position. The other, like the strong side end, is wide open. Like at end, Wormley and Black could make big moves here -- and Black might be the presumptive starter entering camp. Watch for Willie Henry to make a move. The redshirt freshman impressed last season’s seniors and he has the size to be a large complement to Washington. When Michigan goes jumbo, sophomore Ondre Pipkins, who will likely be in a rotation with Washington, could see time next to him.

Five reasons for concern

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Thomas GordonLon Horwedell/Icon SMIThomas Gordon is one of the most experienced players on the Michigan roster and will be counted upon to lead in the secondary.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players that if Michigan lost them, the team would be in the most trouble.

Redshirt senior safety Thomas Gordon was one of three players sent to the Big Ten Media Days, which generally means he’s a guy we’ll hear from a lot this season (which means he’ll probably be playing quite a bit, too, when he’s not talking to the media).

Michigan spring wrap

May, 3, 2013
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2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The past two seasons have seen much of the same mantra when it came to the Michigan secondary. There would be Jordan Kovacs, the walk-on turned pro prospect who was the obvious leader of the secondary and almost the entire Wolverines defense.

Then there would be everyone else.

Not that they weren’t good players or didn’t make plays, but Kovacs had been such an unlikely story and such an obvious leader, everyone else was somewhat overshadowed.

[+] EnlargeThomas Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesThomas Gordon says he's comfortable sliding over to strong safety.
Thomas Gordon understood that to an extent. While Kovacs took many of the headlines, Gordon made nearly as many plays as an attacking safety with a penchant for forcing turnovers the past two seasons. Now, his role is shifting.

With Kovacs’ graduation and an ACL injury to linebacker Jake Ryan, Gordon is going to be the leader of Michigan’s defense, almost by default.

“I feel like guys tend to come to me for advice and stuff,” Gordon said. “I’m real natural at it.”

Natural or not, he wasn’t needed in that role in prior years. There was Kovacs, linebacker Kenny Demens and defensive end Craig Roh to handle those responsibilities. Gordon could be a voice, but he didn’t have to be the voice.

He could cede control of those things and just play. That is no longer an option, either in the secondary or on the defense as a whole. Michigan is replacing Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd in the secondary, leaving Gordon as the most experienced defensive back on the roster by far.

“A lot of the time last year, they went back and forth, but Kovacs was definitely more of a vocal leader and made a lot of calls for us,” linebacker Desmond Morgan said. “Tom has really stepped up and he knows what’s going on for sure.

“He’s making calls first, before other guys are.”

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Michigan fans are still lamenting the loss of star linebacker Jake Ryan to a torn ACL, but they'll like what they hear from another key defender recovering from the same injury.

"I'm doing everything they allow me to do, and I feel really good doing it," Wolverines cornerback Blake Countess told ESPN.com on Thursday. "That's always a plus, to get back in the swing of things. Everything is feeling good."

[+] EnlargeBlake Countess
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioBlake Countess, a promising cornerback who redshirted last season, will begin spring practice with a rejuvenated purpose.
Countess' recovery is on track after he tore the ACL in his left knee in the first quarter of Michigan's season-opening loss to Alabama last September. Although he's not taking contact in spring practice, he's participating in individual drills and has no limitations on his running and cutting.

Barring a setback, Countess should be completely cleared for the start of preseason camp.

"In spring ball, there's really no need for me to go out there and push it," he said. "As far as contact, I can't wait to get back into it, but I'm not going to rush anything."

The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Countess played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2011, starting the final six and recording 44 tackles with six pass breakups and a forced fumble. Pegged as one of the nation's top young cornerbacks entering 2012, Countess instead underwent surgery in early October and redshirted the season.

Countess felt optimistic about his progress since the start of his post-surgery rehab, but a return to the practice field this spring has provided another boost.

(Read full post)


The Wolverines look for replacements for two highly productive departed seniors in Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs.
Denard Robinson, Jordan KovacsIcon SMI, Getty ImagesDenard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs had a competiton at school's pro day on Thursday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jordan Kovacs didn’t need much more motivation for Michigan’s pro day on Thursday, but just in case, his workout partner Denard Robinson gave him some anyway.

Kovacs and Robinson set up a three-event competition for the pro day. Loser buys dinner at The Chop House, an expensive downtown Ann Arbor steakhouse.

This could come as a potential surprise, but Robinson will be the one paying.

“Oh man, stop. Stop bringing it up,” Robinson said, laughing. “He did great today and take my hat off to him. I knew he’d do great today.”

While the former Michigan quarterback turned wide receiver did not do much other than positional drills at wide receiver, running back and punt returner during the Michigan pro day, Kovacs stood out.

The former Michigan safety beat Robinson’s times in the 20-yard shuttle -- which he ran in 4.19 seconds -- and the three-cone drill, which he completed in 6.62 seconds. Robinson’s NFL combine times in those drills were 4.22 in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.09 seconds in the three-cone drill.

Robinson handled Kovacs in the 40-yard dash, running 4.43 seconds at the combine to Kovacs' 4.6 seconds at pro day.

Kovacs entered Thursday knowing he needed to prove his speed and athleticism. Beating Robinson in the competition, along with a good bench-press score for a safety (16 repetitions), helped to prove that.

The Curtice, Ohio, native maintained, though, that while doing well in drills was good for him, it is about what he can do on the field that matters more.

“It’s different. We’re training for the underwear Olympics today; it isn’t football,” Kovacs said. “Coach [Aaron] Wellman did a great job of not overdoing it. A lot of guys will go places and think you’ve got to kill yourselves.

“Coach Wellman, we worked on power. I’m not in great football shape right now. Conditioning-wise, I’m not where I need to be but we weren’t worried about that. I was worried about running 40 yards and I think I did that today.”

Robinson and Kovacs were the two Michigan players who chose to stay in Ann Arbor and the Michigan facilities to train for turning professional, yet another link the two have. Michigan’s two captains last season, they ended up training together while finishing their undergraduate classes in order to graduate in May.

Robinson would be the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college, and that is very important to him. He said he never considered leaving Ann Arbor without his degree in hand.

“I’m taking five classes and working out and putting in the time,” Robinson said. “I want to prove something. I want to get my degree.

“... I want to be a role model to my nieces and nephews to be a role model for them and school was important to me.”

Together they were diligent on both their workouts, where Robinson is converting to a receiver, and their diet. They were planning to celebrate being done by being able to eat their favorite guilty pleasures -- Oreo cookies for Kovacs and honey buns for Robinson.

They were planning on doing that -- and then eventually grabbing steak dinner as well. On Robinson.

Said Kovacs: “I’m going to enjoy that.”
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Roy Roundtree plans to treat tomorrow like he did so many fall weekends in Michigan. He’ll plan on going to bed early tonight.

[+] EnlargeRoy Roundtree
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesRoy Roundtree is looking forward to running the 40-yard dash at Michigan's Pro Day on Thursday.
Wake up early Thursday. Eat some breakfast and then head for one of the most critical days of his life.

Michigan’s pro day is Thursday and for most of the Wolverines participating, it is their first real chance to prove themselves in a Combine setting in front of scouts. Most of them plan on treating it just like they did when they played football games in Ann Arbor.

“I’m pretty focused on all of the drills because that’s what I’ve been working on since the Outback Bowl,” Roundtree said. “Also been working on my 40. Everybody wants to see if you run fast or run slow.

“The biggest thing is the 40.”

Most of Michigan’s prospects would agree. Only one, Denard Robinson, had the chance to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Others, such as Roundtree, defensive lineman Will Campbell and safety Jordan Kovacs, were able to show off for scouts in various all-star bowl games.

But for the majority of Michigan’s players, this is their first -- and potentially last -- chance to make any sort of impression on the men who will determine their professional futures.

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Exit Interview: S Charlie Zeller

February, 18, 2013
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‘Exit Interview’ is a concept started at WolverineNation last year where we chat with players leaving Michigan about their experiences with the Wolverines and in some cases, what’s next.

Safety Charlie Zeller played on the Michigan scout team during his entire walk-on career. According to the team website, he never recorded a statistic.

Zeller chatted about his Michigan career last month.

(Read full post)

Jordan Kovacs and Jibreel BlackLeon Halip/Getty ImagesMichigan will miss the leadership and on-field play of Jordan Kovacs (32).
Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

Jordan Kovacs is gone from Michigan and with him leaves one of the most productive walk-ons in school history. The Wolverines lose a lot there, from a reliable player who was good against the run to one of the better leaders the school has had in recent seasons.

Replacing him, though, could be someone who has both experience and a high level of talent.

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Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

Thomas Gordon has played here the past two seasons despite threats of competition from behind and occasionally having his play called into question by his coaches. But one thing can’t be denied: Gordon is a ball hawk.

Now, though, he could be on the move, opening up his free safety position for a newcomer. Jordan Kovacs’ graduation leaves Michigan with an intriguing question: Where does Gordon fit better -- at his old position, free safety, or a potential new one as a strong safety?

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Smiling for a second after processing the level of success for this season’s Michigan team, Brady Hoke stood on the podium after the Wolverines’ season ended with a loss in the Outback Bowl and gave the answer he always has given.

“You know what the answer is,” Hoke said. “It wasn’t successful. You compete to win championships.”

Yes, Michigan does, so using Hoke’s logic, no, this season was not a successful one. The only ones that will be to him, at least publicly, are ones which end in winning the Big Ten championship.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIDevin Gardner should be even better with a whole offseason knowing which position he'll play in 2013.
But staying away from Hoke’s champion-or-bust mentality, Michigan was successful in a lot of ways. While 8-5 after being touted as a preseason top-10 team doesn’t look like much, the Wolverines’ losses came to three teams in the top 10 -- including both teams in the national championship game -- another undefeated team in Ohio State and Nebraska when quarterback Denard Robinson was injured.

All of Michigan’s losses were on the road or at neutral sites.

“You never know what you’re going to get going into a season,” former Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. “You want to be Big Ten champions as a Michigan football player but it has had its ups-and-downs, it really has.

“You didn’t win the Big Ten championship but at the end of the day, as a captain, as a senior, as a leader on this team, I am forever proud to say I was a member of Team 133. Just the group of guys that we had. While we didn’t do what we set out to achieve this year and we didn’t finish how we wanted to finish, I have no doubt that this season will help those guys.”

Players such as Kovacs, Denard Robinson. Will Campbell and J.T. Floyd are gone. Those players helped lay groundwork for a potential future where Michigan will reach Hoke’s lofty, consistent standard.

They were the last playing vestiges to Michigan’s last non-bowl season, under Rich Rodriguez, and were the ones who helped the program slowly climb back from a 2008 season few were part of.

They set everything up for a successful future.

Michigan returns its quarterback, Devin Gardner, and its top receiver, Jeremy Gallon. The Wolverines return their best defender, linebacker Jake Ryan, and some other strong pieces throughout the defense.

There will still be major holes to fill -- notably at receiver alongside Gallon, at running back where the competition will likely be wide open, on the offensive line where either three or four new starters will play, and in the secondary, where Michigan needs to replace Floyd and Kovacs.

But there is talent and experience, combined with a favorable schedule which sees no Alabama and big opponents Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State all at home, for the Wolverines to continue the ascent started by this departing group.

And while this season might not have been a success in the eyes of the coaching staff and some of the players, their collective help might be what benefits Michigan over the next few seasons.

“This team, we have seniors in Team 134 that are willing to push guys regardless of how they feel or be afraid if, oh, is this guy not going to like me? Screw that,” said offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, who still is mulling leaving early for the NFL. “If guys are willing to step up and push guys, this team will win a Big Ten championship next year.

“If the seniors are willing to step up.”
TAMPA, Fla. -- Michigan has been in a bevy of close games over the past two seasons, from the Under The Lights insanity against Notre Dame to an overtime win over Northwestern and a field goal close to the buzzer against Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Gallon celebrates one of his two TD catches against South Carolina.
The theme, though, has usually been similar. Michigan has found a way, in those situations, to win the game.

Not Tuesday. Not in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, when the Gamecocks scored with 11 seconds left to give them a 33-28 win over Michigan, sending Denard Robinson out with a loss and the Wolverines with bookend defeats to the SEC this season.

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WolverineNation Mailbag 

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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Joe BoldenLon Horwedel/Icon SMIJake Ryan (47) and Joe Bolden (35) are part of an LB unit that will be among the B1G's best in 2013.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s football season will have concluded a week from today, the first full day of Michigan A.D.

And yes, life After Denard [Robinson] will look markedly different for the Wolverines, one of the topics hit on in this week’s WolverineNation Mailbag.

Have questions for the Mailbag? Send them to @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com. Now, on to what you want to know:

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