Jordan Kovacs: Hero of the People


The scholarship players play a traditional game of Smear the Walk-on. Does anyone remember how this game went? Yeah, me neither.

Times are tough for Michigan football. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that–unless you found this site through a Google search for “assless chaps.” In which case, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The bad news is the players Michigan ran out last year weren’t good enough to earn a bowl bid. The good news is those players were, for the most part, very young and can be counted on to improve. As evidence of this, five Michigan players were voted to the Rivals Big Ten All Freshman team. Those players were Golden God Tate Forcier, Craig “Death” Roh, Roy Roundtree, Patrick Omameh, and Jordan Kovacs. What’s that you say—who was the last one? I’m sorry. I used a short version of his name. I should have said Walk-on Jordan Kovacs or maybe even Jordan “is decreasing the worth of my Michigan degree” Kovacs.

 While the exploits of Tate Forcier caused Matt Millen to compose an epic poem on national television, and Craig Roh was immortalized in MS Paint by an adoring fan, Jordan Kovacs has instead been vilified and blamed for all of Michigan’s defensive woes since Shawn Crable stopped whacking Troy Smith’s head. This is strange because at other Big Ten schools with actual good defenses often composed of faceless grinders, like Iowa and Wisconsin, those grit-masters that defy convention and make good are heralded as cult heroes. I can hear you. You’re saying, maybe there’s a coach’s son linebacker here or there, but not a safety. You can’t fake speed using grit and hustle. Walk-on, Wisconsin safety Jim Leonhard, who nearly put the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLIII with his huge punt return and fumble recovery in the AFC Championship game, just called and said “Hello.”

Now, I’m not saying that Jordan Kovacs is going to play for the Baltimore Ravens. That would be about as ridiculous as suggesting every 3 star recruit

Raise your hand if you were an All Big Ten Freshman. Mr. Woodson, did you take half the field away again?

 is going to be Mike Hart. And thank God, because think of all the trash talk! If I wanted to be a real douche bag, I’d mention that Chaz Woodson was also on the Big Ten All Freshman team in his day. While I won’t do that, I will put a pic of Woodson up so that ACTUAL douche bags, who just look at the pics and skim the text, will say, “Look at this douche bag. He thinks Kovacs is going to be Woodson.”

Let’s get down to it. Is Kovacs any good? Brain Cook likes to wave his e-hands in the air and mumble about how Kovacs’ accolades say more about Michigan’s defense than Kovacs or something. You know what, Brain Cook is plenty smart (he certainly has longer hair than I do.) Maybe he’s right. But let’s ignore the recruiting sites and trust our lying eyes for a moment (results based, yada yada.) Jordan Kovacs didn’t start because it was him or some goofy looking guy that raps about Febreeze. He started because he was better than other, guru approved, players like Mike Williams, Vlad Emilien, and Justin Turner. (I don’t want to keep poking Brain Cook but he is kind of the master of this corner of the e-verse so, whatev.) I’ve read Brain Cook say many times that the idea of recruiting is to collect as many lottery tickets as you can and hope that one hits. Well, Kovacs hit. He was second on the team in tackles and interceptions (which if you take away Stanzi-balls because, duh, random, puts him two off the lead) and had two forced fumbles. When RichRod needed to move a player back to deep safety so that Woolfolk replace Cissoko (who was off snatching pizza money), he picked Kovacs. RichRod moved Kovacs from a position where he was excelling to a new position, not because he was a fucking walk-on, but because he trusted him. Why can’t Michigan fans believe that Kovacs beat out those other blue chips recruits because he is, in fact, good and not because they are BUSTS?

Guess who else was a All Big Ten Freshman (hint: he has the ball.) The iconic play for Kovacs and the 2009 defense wasn't even Kovacs' fault. Blame fell to the more experienced, 4 star recruit on the defensive line.

I understand that Kovacs has come to represent all that is wrong with the Michigan defense. If recruiting works efficiently one would not expect to see walk-ons playing much of a role. We all agree that Michigan’s recruiting, player development, and retention have been a sore point and the presence of walk-ons on the two deep, depth chart is symptomatic of that problem. Don’t confuse that with thinking Kovacs, himself, is the problem. Jordan Kovacs is not the problem. He’s one of the few things that went right for the Michigan defense in 2009. If he suddenly contracted polio and became a cripple, the Michigan defense would not get better, it would get worse.

Brain Cook and I agree on one thing—Kovacs will probably be starting in 2010 at some box safety position called bandit or foreskin or something. Maybe in 2011 Michigan fans’ prayers will answered and Walk-on Jordan Kovacs will finally be deep sixed on the depth chart by some more Rivals friendly hotshot like Josh Furman. I won’t celebrate if that happens because I like Kovacs—he makes a good story and I prefer to cheer for the guys already in the Maize and Blue and not random high schoolers–but until then, he’s one of us and we might as well enjoy him.

14 thoughts on “Jordan Kovacs: Hero of the People

  1. “results-based” and all, but Kovacs was our 3rd leading tackler and 4th leading TFL’er while starting 8 games. He was one of the two most effective players on the field against MSU (17 tackles, 2.5 TFL), Iowa (11 tackles, 1 TFL). In the next non-babby-seal game (PSU), he was moved out of the box, and into the deep safety role. Against Illinois, he was sat for 4-star Brandon Smith (who played worse than him). When he was put back at the line against Wisconsin, he responded with 2 more games of 10+ tackles and sticks at the LOS galore.

    What am I saying? His results were good. Especially when he got to play his position.

  2. The unspoken e-fact that Michigan fans conveniently ignore:

    Had Jordan Kovacs not walked on to the Michigan team and played significant minutes in 2009, Justin Turner or Teric Jones could very well have been starting at CB, or Vlad Emilien’s gimp knee would have been playing box safety.

  3. Good write-up.

    You actually make a good observation that has been bothering me about the interpretation about my Decimated Defense series. The takeaway a lot of people seem to get from that is “we lost half our team and that’s why Kovacs is starting,” which, eh, it’s kinda true but is only a part of the greater point. The greater point: with such a small pool of retained talent, something somewhere was bound to break.

    It wasn’t just that Kovacs was starting, but that deep safety — the spot most decimated by the recruiting shortfalls, etc. — was in such dire shape that RR had to take the drastic action of filling it with his erst-effective box safety (who was a small, not-very-fast redshirt freshman student body walk-on). Jared Van Slyke, another walk-on, was listed on the FS two-deep before his injury. Kevin Leach and Will Heininger saw extensive playing time. Floyd Simmons was on the 2-deep and special teams until he got hurt. One walk-on making an impact is a good story; four is a symptom. Still, I’m glad you at least gave me the opportunity to point that out and exonerate Kovacs a bit. Brian Cook called him the Nick Sheridan of the 2009 defense, which was unfair, except with regards to his play at deep safety.

    Overall, you’re fighting a bit of a straw man here, though. The general consensus among the U-M Web community, as I understand it, is that Kovacs was a revelation at, um, “foreskin,” but was a disaster at deep safety. The rooting interest isn’t for him to be supplanted at Box Safety, but to never again see him patrolling the deep field in a Cover-1.

    You addressed that with the following:

    “RichRod moved Kovacs from a position where he was excelling to a new position, not because he was a fucking walk-on, but because he trusted him. Why can’t Michigan fans believe that Kovacs beat out those other blue chips recruits because he is, in fact, good and not because they are BUSTS?”

    The response to that is his play at deep safety was atrocious.

    Kovacs beat out Michael Williams for that job because Michael Williams has been, up to this point, a categorical bust. He beat out Ernest Shazor because, well, Shazor was probably playing worse than we saw him play in either Spring Game (and he was a freshman still not 100 percent from a devastating injury). Shazor was going to be a project no matter what. As for Turner, we had quotes from the coaches saying how tempted they were — right about the time Kovacs was at deep safety — to burn Justin’s redshirt, but stuck to their plan. I think that suggests Turner was ahead of Kovacs (for deep safety) at that point, but the coaches couldn’t justify losing a year of his eligibility for half a season of freshman play.

    Kovacs is a smart player and great tackler. He doesn’t have the physical ability of other guys. At box safety, those physical tools are of much less importance, thus he is more effective. If we actually see Josh Furman, a true freshman, supplant Kovacs at that position next year, well, that could mean that Kovacs either regressed sharply from his excellent play in that spot in 2009, or that Furman is so good that Kovacs couldn’t keep up, which is not a bad thing either.

    I like the PR aspect of it too. But mostly I want Michigan’s defense to be good enough that the offense can win games, and to be Bo (Pelini or Schembechler — take your pick)-awesome in three years. Whether that’s with a former student walk-on turned 4-year starter, or with a guru-approved NFL-bound snotbubble-production device, I don’t care.

  4. methinks if you replace “ernest shazor” with “vlad emilien” in Misopogon’s comment, you get what he’s saying.

  5. Yeah, Misopogon did hit the consensus on the nose, except for shazor. I think it is Emilien. Emilien was hurt last year too, I think and I’m not sure whether they want Turner at Corner or Safety. The number of walk-ons playing extensive minutes in our defense was alarming and telling of our depth issues. Chris would love to shout “KOVACS!” at me when he made a play because he knew I didn’t really approve of the guy. Looking back, he played the box safety/bandit well. He played better than the other walk-ons and he is a goodt tackler. The thing that never sat well with me about Kovacs is that he couldn’t cover. People always argue his play on the field by throwing around his tackling numbers, but nobody is arguing that he couldn’t tackle. They’re arguing that he couldn’t cover. They don’t keep stats for solid coverage or times a player gets burnt in coverage. When he moved to deep safety, he got exposed for his lack of elite athleticism that a deep safety must possess in this defense. Due to our injuries, our boneheads, and our overall lack of depth, Kovacs was the best option we had. I’m sure Rich Rod is proud of the kid because he battled, but it is quite obvious at the deep safety postion he was overmatched.

  6. And this would be why we are apparently switching to the 3-3-5 base, as opposed to “Richrod getting desperate. West Virginia 3-3-5 stack derp.” We have some safety/LB tweeners that would work for that system.

  7. Dammit. Vlad. I don’t know why I was saying Shazor. Vlad Vlad Vlad. Ernest the Impaler….dammiT!

    I may remember him from such players as…

  8. Thank you for your comments.

    I agree with most of what Misogopon and Beer’d Bombs said. It’s true that I am arguing a straw man, sort of, with regards to Brain Cook who usually couches his comments regarding Kovacs with “he’s the best Michigan had” etc. etc. However, he mentions Kovacs so frequently and in a negative light that the overall effect is Kovacs has become a whipping boy. I think it’s good to have some dissenting voices reminding people that Kovacs was pretty good at his original position because I think too much of the negativity is focused on the fact that he is a walk-on.

    Now, as to his play at deep safety. Sure it stunk. But did it stink that much worse than anyone else who played that position not named Woolfolk? Isn’t it likely that anyone who replaced Woolfolk would have been as bad or worse? Yet, Kovacs took one for the team and moved from a position he was good at to a new position where he was not as good because the other options were worse.

    Is it fair to hold that against Kovacs? I don’t think so.

    If Kovacs returns to box safety and plays well or gets replaced by someone else who plays well and everyone forgets that he’s a walk-on then everyone will be happy.

  9. I think it’s valid to look at it this way:

    Many think that the largest problem (or, one of them) was play at deep safety after Cissoko got hurt, fine.

    Part of that problem was Kovacs (the other, Mike Williams). They played there because Woolfolk, the deep safety, was moved to CB, not because it was their true position.

    If that’s the case, the “problem” isn’t one of Jordan Kovacs or Mike Williams, but one of a coaching decision. Was it wise to burn FS at the expense of CB?

  10. I thought we were done with the momentary confusion of the safety names. No, the “Free” safety is not the box safety. The “strong” safety is a misnomer in this defense because positions are not dictated by the offense’s alignment (it reacts to the play).

    To my understanding, this is the official current GERG terminology:

    The FREE safety:

    “Free” safety is what Cam Gordon will play this year. It is the rangy position that Woolfolk played effectively and Kovacs played exactly like a redshirt freshman student walk-on would be expected to play.

    The BOX safeties:

    “Bandit” is the position that Kovacs played effectively last season, and should start at this season, being pushed perhaps by Furman or Robinson. This is the most similar to the traditional “strong” safety position and that’s what I was referring to with it. Think of it as two parts safety and one part linebacker.

    “Spur” is the position that Stevie Brown played last year, and Thomas Gordon will likely take over this year. It is another hybrid position; think of it as one part safety and two parts linebacker.

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