photo via 247
Groton (MA) Lawrence Academy running back AJ Dillon is the grandson of former Notre Dame All-American Tom Gatewood. He made multiple visits to South Bend throughout the recruiting process, including one for their Junior Day within a couple weeks of his planned decision. According to Steve Lorenz, even the Irish had an uphill battle heading into Dillon's most recent round of visits, and Michigan had work to do as well:
Going into his visit last week, I posted that it was going to be a good barometer visit for both Michigan and Dillon, as we had the Wolverines possibly running fourth on his list. Wisconsin was the favorite, he was a Notre Dame legacy prospect, and Florida State was his childhood favorite.
However, this visit turned into somewhat of a home-run for both parties, as Michigan was really impressed with Dillon and what he brought to the table from an on and off the field standpoint. The same could be said on the other side, as we were told that the strong visit to Ann Arbor caught Dillon and his camp off-guard. A good indicator of this is the quick commitment not only post-visit, but also when seeing Wisconsin and Notre Dame after he saw Michigan last week.
A few days after Dillon's ND visit, he made his way to Ann Arbor, and that was enough to convince him to blaze his own trail and attend Michigan:
"I got that feel of the atmosphere, the people, and everything was clicking," Dillon said. "It's just a place I could see myself in the next three to four years. I know I'll develop as a young man, as a student and a great football player at the University of Michigan."
Dillon is the seventh commit in the 2017 class—AL S J'Marick Woods has since become the eighth—and the second at running back, joining Georgia three-star Kurt Taylor.
|3*, #41 RB||4*, #16 RB||3*, NR RB||
4*, 91, #18 RB,
4*, #19 RB,
Dillon's rankings are split between solid four-star (Rivals, 247) and generic three-star (Scout, ESPN), which isn't unusual at this stage for a prospect from a state not known for producing a ton of football talent. Michigan fans have seen this before with Massachusetts prospects; Mo Hurst's rankings belied his ability that was apparent on tape, the same could be said for incoming freshman Sean McKeon, and after watching his film I'd say that's the case with Dillon.
There's far less discrepancy in the listings of his size. Dillon is listed at 6'0", 228 on the low end (Rivals) and 6'1", 235 on the high end (Scout); he's got the build of an every-down back and could even be a linebacker if Michigan so chooses—though they've told Dillon they want him as a RB.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and more.]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis, Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
— ap (@plurjuice) March 26, 2016
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]
News bullets and other items:
Reon Dawson and Jaron Dukes are medically retiring.
Freddy Canteen and Moe Ways recently had shoulder and foot surgery, respectively. Canteen’s status with the program is in the air; Ways should be back in 3-4 months.
Speight, O’Korn, and Morris are getting more snaps than the other QBs, but they’re all still making at least one “big mistake” every practice.
Devin Bush Jr. had his best practice of the spring on Saturday.
Harbaugh responded to Gene Smith’s comments because he felt a shot was fired across Michigan’s bow and, after waiting many hours, thought he needed to do the same. Just never, ever tell him that he likes to get in twitter wars because it’s a form of competition.
Harbaugh said it doesn’t matter to him what time of day games are played; a night game or lack thereof doesn’t faze him.
What did you see out there from your group today, and what were you looking for specifically here today?
“Uh, you know, good, competitive football fight. Getting better: in a lot of areas we are and in a lot of other areas not bad and other and all areas we need to keep improving, so…the guys are grindin’.”
Did your quarterback rotation go about how you wanted, and what did you see out of those guys?
“Uh…you know, there’s—like I told them, there’s, you know…we’re looking for a quarterback to move the team and not make the big mistake. They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day, so we’re not—we’re just gonna keep plugging away and keep getting better, keep giving them things they can improve on, things they can take and use. Looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that’ll be another good test, but they’re getting a lot of tests right now. Strides are being made, but we’ve still got a long row to hoe.”
What does it do for your fans and for your team to come out here in this setting at Ford Field and open it up?
“I think it’s great in the way of sometimes spring practice can get monotonous. Some would even say boring. There’s no game that comes at the end of the week. It’s something different. Something to make it livelier, special—that’s what we get out of it. To have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even the cameras, even the TV cameras—even if they didn’t have film in them, you know?”
They don’t anymore.
“Touché. So even if you had a camera that wasn’t actually recording anything guys would work hard. Guys would enjoy it more. People are watching, so that’s a good thing for us.”
With the quarterbacks, are you still repping them evenly or are you changing that up some?
“I’d say there’s Wilton [Speight], John [O’Korn], Shane [Morris] getting more. It’s not dead even anymore, no.”
Would it be Wilton, John, Shane in that order?
“I can’t even make an order right now. It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them. You can tell in the way they play and just continuing to be able to play loose and play smart and continue to get repetitions. Continue to get looks and learn—that’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action. We’re going to make it game-like in the spring game. Everything’s going to be real tackle football live; the quarterbacks, everybody. There’ll be live bullets for them, so that’ll be a nice, good-size task for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
Top 250 running back and consensus 4-star A.J. Dillon has committed to Michigan according to ESPN's Brendan Hall:
Lawrence Academy RB AJ Dillon has committed to Michigan, per head coach Paul Zukauskas
— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) March 28, 2016
Dillon is already 6'1/230 so there's speculation he may wind up at linebacker or fullback or something, but Michigan clearly recruited him as a De'Veon Smith-style bruiseback. Ty Wheatley was his main contact. There's also this from the profile Lorenz put up, along with an officially sanctioned reaction I've bolded:
“The coaches have told me they plan to use me as a running back,” he stated. “They think I’m an every down back there. When I told them I committed they were very excited. Coach Harbaugh let out an excited scream when I told them!”
So…go ahead and do that. More informative update later.
Dukes caught the only TD of last year's spring game against Dennis Norfleet
Jaron Dukes and Reon Dawson are 'medically retiring,' per Harbaugh. Mo Ways suffered a broken bone in his foot recently. Out a few months.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 26, 2016
Per harbaugh Freddy canteen had surgery on his shoulder. Waiting for results to see if he can continue with his career
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 26, 2016
The departures of Dukes and Dawson bring Michigan to or under 85 depending on the status of the as-yet-unsigned Dytarious Johnson; if Canteen does not make it back they'd be at 84 and able to issue a scholarship to Ryan Glasgow.
|WHERE||Homesure Lending Arena
March 26th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan +180
North Dakota -220
Yes, I found a college hockey line.
North Dakota is a version of Michigan that plays in a much better league. They are 31-6-4 on the year, 19-4-1 in NCHC play, and have generally bombed opponents. Their top line features three guys who are all at least +38. Brock Boeser, Drake Caggiula, and Nick Schmaltz are their version of CCM, and while they aren't quite as prolific offensively they probably would have been if they got to play Michigan's schedule. Boeser is their Connor. The prolific freshman had 26-28-54 this year.
Here's a slight difference: North Dakota is really good at defense. So they're a version of Michigan that doesn't make you want to stab stabby stab stab.
North Dakota split against Wisconsin, somehow, and swept MSU 3-1 and 4-1.
Boeser is also a first round pick of a Canadian NHL club
North Dakota is 7th in scoring at 3.6 goals per game. The aforementioned "CBS" line drives much of the play; there's a solid second line and then you get a number of guys who have lines like 6-4-10 and 9-6-15—scrappers. There's a huge dropoff in +/- after the first line. If Michigan had a line that could be described as a "checking" line this would be a clear situation in which they should be deployed, but Bryan Rust ain't walking through that door.
The scoring down the roster gets even a little shallower when you consider that a guy like Luke Johnson (10-10-20) has half of his goals on the power play and is even on the season. This is not a team that should overwhelm Michigan's bottom six.
Do not sleep on the North Dakota defensemen. The impression I gathered from yesterdays game is they are not wilting flowers who pick up second assists by accident. They are supremely confident on the puck, willing to take major chances in their own defensive zone to break forechecking pressure and maintain possession. And they achieve this a shocking percentage of the time. The ice tilted towards Northeastern's goal in large part because of the D corps's ability to handle the puck. They have five different D with at least 15 points and get a bunch of goals out of the defense corps. Junior Troy Stecher leads the way with 8-19-27. He's not Werenski, but all of their guys are big and skilled.
The CBS line is very capable of the tic-tac-toe goals we've seen Michigan score big chunks of the year. Preventing the kind of odd man rushes that Notre Dame deployed to score their first goal yesterday is a major key. Can Michigan accomplish that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Again with the defensemen: North Dakota is #3 in scoring defense at just 1.85 goals per game. They split time between Matt Hrynkiw and Cam Johnson in goal, settling on Johnson midseason. That decision has paid off; Johnson's .934 save percentage is 7th nationally.
Part of that is North Dakota's ability to prevent quality scoring chances; part of the GAA is the fact that North Dakota is massively outshooting opponents. Their even-strength Corsi of 56% is fourth nationally. (Michigan's at 52%, FWIW.) Opponents are averaging just under 25 shots a game. North Dakota plays most of their games in the attacking end.
North Dakota's surprisingly meh on the power play, just 21st of 60 teams. Their penalty kill, however, is very good—6th and that's before you factor in their 8 short-handed goals. (Those are spread relatively evenly over the roster, FWIW.)
Let's try this again: Michigan's rampant power play is #1 nationally at 32%, having scored on an amazing 17 of 29 opportunities over their last
six seven games. Notre Dame, of course, did not take one single penalty during Friday's game. If Michigan wants to get chippy early, that might not be the worst idea.
A FEELING OTHER THAN TERROR?
Nope. North Dakota was extremely impressive in a 6-2 dismantling of previously red-hot Northeastern yesterday. That Northeastern team just swept Notre Dame, who Michigan struggled against for two solid periods before getting a grip on the game in the third. That line above is 2:1 in favor of North Dakota, and that feels about right.
The nature of the Northeastern win allowed the Fightin' Blanks to rotate four lines for most of the game. Meanwhile Michigan had to ditch the fourth line and heavily double-shift CCM; they also played a (mercifully brief) overtime period. UND will be fresher. That could be a pivotal difference.
This game is likely to go one of two ways: a repeat of the Northeastern game yesterday as Michigan finds out that playing a 19-4-1 NCHC team is not like playing Penn State, at all, or a relatively even battle where Michigan's speed and skill is enough to disrupt the puck-moving skills of the North Dakota defensemen. Or they could play both of those in one game, as they did yesterday.
The former is either a sad blowout or a rear-guard action like the one led by Tiny Jesus in 2011. The latter is likely to come down to which top line can put together more mindblowing goals, and whether Michigan's defense corps gives away a goal or two by doing something awful.
Either way North Dakota is an obvious favorite. But, hey, plinko is in our favor this time, especially if there are a bunch of penalties.