Michigan Wolverines: Josh Furman

Fresh ideas: Safety 

July, 19, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier to do so at one position than another? WolverineNation is breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position by position. Today, we look at safety.

What it takes for a true freshman safety to play:
A lot. Less than a handful of true freshmen made a strong impact in the last line of the Michigan defense. And even then, they didn’t have great success. One moved to receiver. One transferred soon after his freshman success.

That said, safety is a spot where freshmen could end up getting significant playing time in the future, especially as Michigan employs more nickel packages to combat spread offenses. It will be a position to watch.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- While Michigan’s offense has a bunch of questions surrounding who will play where and how much time freshmen might see, the Wolverines’ defense has other issues.

These, though, aren’t so bad.

Michigan has significant depth -- albeit some inexperience -- at every spot on its defense. This allows the Wolverines to come closer to reaching defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s goal of being able to rotate players at both defensive line and linebacker to keep them fresh for later in games and later on in the season.

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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 begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.

Depth chart analysis: Free safety 

January, 22, 2013
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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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3 Up, 3 Down: Michigan 45, Illinois 0 

October, 14, 2012
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan put together its second consecutive dominating performance Saturday, shutting out Illinois 45-0 and putting together what Michigan coach Brady Hoke called the most complete game of his team’s season.

[+] EnlargeRawls
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireThomas Rawls rushed for a season-high 90 yards, a nice complement to Denard Robinson's running.
Almost everything worked for the Wolverines. The offense had more passing (174) and rushing (353) yards than Illinois had total yards (134). The Wolverines’ defense held Illinois to 29 passing yards and was dominant for the majority of the game.

THREE UP

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan has done what it expected to do in the first half, having dominated on both offense and defense to take a 17-0 lead at halftime over Illinois.

Stat of the half: 185 yards. That is Denard Robinson’s combined rushing and passing yardage Saturday despite that he missed almost a quarter’s worth of time with an injury before returning in the second quarter. Robinson outgained Illinois all by himself.

Player of the half: Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan. The Wolverines’ best defender had a team-high eight tackles during the first half and covered sideline to sideline quite well. He also got good pressure on Illinois’ quarterbacks. Ryan also had two tackles for loss and was the catalyst for a defense which held Illinois to 121 yards.

What’s working for Michigan: Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines have been extremely stout the entire first half, holding Illinois to four yards passing in the first quarter and 43 yards overall. Michigan put good pressure on Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and the defensive line was very effective against the Illini front.

What’s not working for Michigan: A couple of penalties here and there, including a punt catch interference call on Josh Furman during coverage, will likely frustrate Brady Hoke, but the Wolverines had a pretty strong half on both offense and defense.

WolverineNation Mailbag 

August, 8, 2012
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Football season has officially started as Michigan began camp for this season Monday in preparation for its season-opening matchup with defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 1.

So who stands out in the secondary? Among the freshmen? These questions and more inhabit this week’s WolverineNation Mailbag. Remember, the Mailbag is only as strong as the questions you ask, so send ones for next week to jenningsespn@gmail.com or @chanteljennings on Twitter.

On to your questions:

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s the question and saying that won’t go away.

Ohio may have beaten Michigan in the NCAA tournament. The Athens, Ohio-based school expressed its displeasure with Wolverines coaches and players referring to Ohio State just as ‘Ohio’ -- a battle those two schools have gone through themselves.

Yet when Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs was asked about Ohio State on Tuesday, he referred to the Buckeyes as ‘Ohio.’ When a reporter joked that Kovacs couldn’t say Ohio State, he laughed.

Then responded: “I can’t.”

(Read full post)

Safety Josh Furman suspended 

April, 9, 2012
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Safety Josh Furman has been suspended from the Michigan football team for undisclosed reasons, a Michigan spokesman confirmed Monday.

Furman, a redshirt sophomore from Annapolis, Md., played mostly on special teams last season and was one of Michigan’s primary gunners on punt coverage. He was expected to compete for a spot in the two-deep at safety this spring along with returning starters Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon, reserve Marvin Robinson and early enrollee freshman Jarrod Wilson.

Furman made 10 tackles last season, including a career-high three stops against Minnesota.

Michigan declined to release any details about the suspension. When asked about Furman on Thursday, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison referred the question to head coach Brady Hoke, who speaks Tuesday on a teleconference.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For a position that used to come under much scrutiny at Michigan the past few seasons, the Wolverines have now found themselves with a better problem to have.

A lot of good cornerbacks. Only a few places to play them all.

The latest cornerback to make a potential move up the depth chart is Terrence Talbott, a 5-foot-11 junior who has started to push this spring for real playing time this fall after playing only special teams as a sophomore.

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MichiganAP Photo/Gerald HerbertStarting safeties Jordan Kovacs (32) and Thomas Gordon both return for Michigan.
He missed the team at first. Then he made it, eventually started and now, the story of former walk-on turned leader Jordan Kovacs is very well known.

But now, Kovacs has only one year left at Michigan and he'll be looked at as a stabilizing force on a defense that returns a lot of starters and contributors, but few of its leaders.

This is where Kovacs, who could finish his college career among the best tacklers in Michigan history, now stands. He is likely going to be the leader on the Wolverines defense next season.

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Loss Impact: DB Troy Woolfolk 

February, 14, 2012
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Paired with our 'Exit Interview' series, Loss Impact looks at departing starters/major contributors to assess how much his loss will mean to Michigan.

Previous Loss Impact: DL Will Heininger; TE Kevin Koger; WR Martavious Odoms; DL Mike Martin; OL Mark Huyge

Troy Woolfolk bounced around the Michigan secondary throughout his career -- always fighting for playing time. Whenever it seemed like he was about to break through as a full-fledged starter, he would get injured. It wore on him, too, as he mentioned to WolverineNation in his exit interview.

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WolverineNation Roundtable 

January, 19, 2012
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Thomas GordonAP Photo/Carlos OsorioDon't be surprised if Thomas Gordon gets pushed by incoming freshman Jarrod Wilson for the starting spot at free safety.
Welcome to the WolverineNation roundtable, where staffers Chantel Jennings, Michael Rothstein and Tom VanHaaren discuss pressing issues and topics surrounding the Michigan sports landscape.

1. Where will the biggest position battles happen for the Michigan football team next season?

TV: This is a good question, and I think it should be along the defensive line. With Will Heininger, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen leaving, there is plenty of opportunity for competition, mainly among Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, Richard Ash, Nathan Brink, and some of the other guys already on the roster.

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This series will look at five players who played either a little or not at all during this Michigan football season but will be, by the time the end of next season rolls around, names you'll know.

No. 5 -- Chris Bryant
No. 4 -- Josh Furman


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