I did not make this headline up
Malik McDowell will play for MSU after all. [Fuller]
Finally, the book is closed on the 2014 recruiting class:
The recruiting saga of Malik McDowell is over.
The No. 5-rated defensive tackle in the Class of 2014 delivered a signed letter of intent Wednesday to Michigan State, the school to which he committed on signing day amid a flurry of confusion.
I think everyone is happy to move on at this point, and it's nice to see that Malik ultimately got his wish—this was, after all, his decision.
Spring Game Visitors: A Legacy On Campus?
Scout's Allen Trieu caught up with Tyrone Wheatley to discuss the recruitment of his son, 2015 TE/DE Tyrone Wheatley Jr., and the elder Wheatley revealed a visit to Ann Arbor could happen this weekend ($):
"There is a good chance we might hit the Michigan spring game this weekend and this summer, we're going to go to Miami (Fla.), Florida and we will try to catch Auburn. Coming up on spring break, we're going on a West Coast trip. We're going to go out to see UCLA and USC."
Wheatley is still considering many options, and it appears his recruitment won't end for a while; Michigan is the presumed favorite, however, and could cement that status with a good visit should Wheatley make it into town for the spring game.
Tim Sullivan posted a list of other weekend visitors ($). They include:
- Four-star 2015 IL WR Miles Boykin (unoffered)
- Four-star 2015 MO TE Hale Hentges (offered)
- Three-star 2015 Northville OL David Moorman (unoffered)
- 2016 OH LB Brendan Ferns (unoffered, brother of Michael Ferns)
- 2016 Orchard Lake St. Mary's LB Daelin Hayes (offered, cousin of Justice Hayes)
- 2016 Cass Tech DB Lavert Hill (unoffered, brother of Delano Hill)
- 2017 OLSM LB Joshua Ross (offered, brother of James Ross)
It'll be interesting to see if any of the unoffered prospects picks one up this weekend. Boykin holds offers from Notre Dame, Michigan State, and in-state Illinois, among several others; at 6'5", 208 pounds, he's the type of big wideout Michigan covets. Meanwhile, Brendan Ferns recently pulled in offers from Cincinnati, Kentucky, and West Virginia; if Michigan wants to get in on him early, now would be the time.
Four-star FL OT Jake Fruhmorgen visited Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State last weekend, and his father told 247's Steve Lorenz that the trip to Ann Arbor impressed his son the most ($):
"Michigan was definitely his favorite visit of the three schools he saw this weekend. I think they're in it still for sure; I haven't gotten to talk to him in-depth about it because he had to get back to school today after getting home late last night. I know he really liked the Michigan coaching staff and got along with the players really well too. Of course, the Big House was impressive too."
Before the visit, insiders expected Fruhmorgen to pick Clemson, and soon; it'll be good news if he decides to wait on making a decision.
Four-star FL RB Jacques Patrick will announce his decision on October 27th, per Scout's Jamie Newberg, and Michigan is still in the running:
“I like about ten schools,” Patrick said. “My favorites are Miami, FSU, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State, UCF, Notre Dame, Auburn and Alabama. I want to go visit Auburn, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and all the in-state schools this spring and summer.”
Florida State and Florida are the schools to beat right now; the planned spring/summer visit will be huge if Michigan wants to have a real shot here.
One option that can be taken off the board is four-star Texas RB Ronald Jones II, who narrowed his list to five schools and didn't include Michigan ($).
Either Mark Richt is spending a significant amount of time hand-drawing recruits or, well, somebody in Georgia's athletic department is, and either way it's in that gray area between impressive and creepy that recruitniks know all too well.
Rounding up the exit. Further takes on the end of Michigan's season come from Genuinely Sarcastic:
In three of the last four seasons, Michigan's season has come down to one final shot in the dying moments. That's actually pretty astonishing when you think about it. All the chaos and moving parts of a basketball game, boiling down to one shot on three separate occasions in three separate games. All three involved different circumstances, and a Michigan program at different stages of its evolution.
Sometimes you don't appreciate you have until it's gone. Which is why I am thankful we were able to send off Jordan Morgan on a high note. Morgan is exactly what we want our players to be, tenacious, hard-working, always working to be better, and, oh yeah, a pretty damn good student to boot. To see all of the #ThanksJMo tweets after the game is to know that we didn't lose sight of what was going to end when Stauskas's last shot fell short. We know we're probably also losing some other players, and we'll deal with that when the time comes, but for now, we appreciate what we had, because it was fun. It was just fun.
INDIANAPOLIS — Moments after the game, the sun is low in the sky and Lucas Oil Stadium casts a long shadow across Indianapolis as, inside, Michigan walks off the court for the last time together. Jordan Morgan is first, well before anyone else. Glenn Robinson III gives a quick wave to the crowd and puts his head down. Nik Stauskas is emotionless. Mitch McGary, who was never getting into the game, walks off wearing the uniform his teammates have insisted he wear.
Later, Morgan, held up by his press conference, is one of the last to enter the Michigan locker room. Most of the room is composed except for Zak Irvin, who is emotional in one corner of the room, and for Morgan. He wipes his face with his sleeve and cries in front of the television cameras.
His teammates have said the loss is all the more difficult because it means they’ll never play another game with Morgan. The senior doesn’t know how to respond.
He pauses to wipe his eyes.
“I didn’t expect it to be my last game,” Morgan says.
“It’s over. I don’t know what else to say.”
And Nick Baumgardner:
But while every team in this NCAA tournament, save for one, ends its season with a loss, they don't all end their season without regret.
This Michigan team earned the right to live -- forever -- with a clear conscience.
"You can be mad if you want," Michigan's Jon Horford said. "But if you make guys hit tough shots they don't normally hit.
"Then you shake their hand."
Draft stuff. NBA draft types seem to be in consensus about Michigan's three early entry candidates: Stauskas is out the door, but the other two should return. "Should" and "will" are two very different things, of course. Also, when NBA draft types talk about these things they talk about them from the perspective of the NBA, not the player.
Disclaimers aside, NBA type on Robinson:
Projecting where Robinson could be selected in this year's NBA draft is difficult. His potential is boundless, but his play has been erratic. The scout described his prospective draft position as "all over the board for some people."
He concluded saying Robinson should return to Ann Arbor to "develop some consistency in his game."
A guy the BTN talked to:
Glenn Robinson III
Why he should stay: Should finally emerge as Michigan’s star player. Showed flashes of what people expected as a sophomore, but not consistently. Should look better with Walton having a year under his belt as point guard.
Why he should leave: Teams still like his skill and athleticism. Could flourish enough in workout situations to alleviate NBA concerns.
As I mentioned in the post a couple days ago, Robinson's clear frustration at being forced to play the 4 is something that will weigh on him. This makes Mark Donnal the most important guy on the team from GRIII's perspective. If Mitch returns Donnal is free to play the 4 for basically all of his minutes, and if he's a 25 minute or 30 minute guy that means Robinson's spending almost all of his time on the wing.
As for Mitch, there is almost universal agreement that it would be hard to take the guy in the first round with the questions about his back and relatively thin resume. McGary would have to be confident in his ability to go full McGary in draft camps this month if he was going to make a leap. Anonymous NBA guy:
If he chooses to declare for the draft, McGary's health will be "picked apart in this process" due to an injury classified only as a lower-back condition, according to the scout.
It's clear both Robinson and McGary entered the year planning that this would be their last at Michigan, and that momentum will make deciding to stay more difficult than it otherwise even if it seems like the best idea to return for both.
These days there is no withdrawal, so the dates that matter are April 16th, when the Portsmouth Invitational starts and the 27th, which is the last day to declare. GRIII and McGary will almost certainly decide by the 16th, as Portsmouth is where a lot of first or second round decisions get hashed out.
Also in draft stuff. I'm not sure if this draft blogger the BTN talked to has anything solid or if he's just guessing based on the fact that everyone flees West Lafayette, but here's the hypothetical death knell for Matt Painter's career:
Why he should stay: Showed very little improvement in many ways from freshman to sophomore year. A dominant junior year could make him a first-round pick.
Why he should leave: Skilled big men and shot-blockers are always in demand at the NBA level and Hammons’ development may have stalled at Purdue.
Prediction: Enters Draft
Tom Dienhart also predicted a Hammons departure, FWIW. I know Hammons is a frustrating dude but he's all Purdue has right now.
Other decisions the Big Ten is waiting on include Sam Dekker and (now) Frank Kaminsky at Wisconsin plus Gary Harris and Branden Dawson at MSU. Gary Parrish reported that barring a 180 in the next couple days, Harris is out the door. Dawson is a bit of a surprising name, but he's got financial issues and pretty much is what he is at this point: a 20-minutes-a-game defensive specialist.
MSU is also offering firm handshakes to potential fifth-year players Alex Guana and Russell Byrd. The latter is a little sad, since he had the highest ratio of bark to bite in the Big Ten. From the spectator's position, it's always tough to lose a guy like that.
Freshman talk. Via MGoVideo:
Canteen made a catch! And he's wearing 17. Always enjoy guys wearing oddball numbers I have no association with. Looking forward to Canteen changing it six times over the course of his career.
Wrong move, buddy. Now we're going to try and beat you. Ohio State cockiness increments yearly these days. And one day super super soon they are going to regret it, I tell you. Until then, the prospect of random OSU assistant coaches spouting off about Michigan remains. Ed Warinner:
Ed Warinner: "If you're worried about Wolverine fans, just move to Pasadena. You'll never have to deal with 'em."
— Marcus Hartman (@marcushartman) April 2, 2014
Standard message board banter. Okay. And then:
Warinner on lost playbooks in Michigan: "I heard Brady was upset because he hadn't finished coloring them."
— Marcus Hartman (@marcushartman) April 2, 2014
From the People In Charge Of Things Are Just In Charge Of Them file. Texas has a new athletic director, who is in charge of Texas. He is also an idiot.
He sees Texas as being in a unique position to grow its international brand and said it's essential to use athletics as a platform to tell the university's story.
"They shouldn't be done for junketeering purposes," Patterson said. "They should be done in a fashion that grows the profile and the interest of the university of a broad scale internationally."
Patterson reportedly has expressed interest in playing a nonconference football game in Mexico City. Another possibility Patterson acknowledged Tuesday could be a future sporting event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This dude already scheduled a Texas basketball game in China, but will not even consider playing Texas A&M. The goal appears to be pissing off your core fanbase as much as possible. CEO types are just emperors running around naked as the day is long these days, searching for growth at all costs like their department is a publicly traded company.
Also… "junketeering." Just keep shooting bullets into the English language until it topples, guys.
It's on. The Michigan legislature passed a bill allowing Michigan to sell alcohol for that rumored Man U/Real Madrid friendly this summer, which was followed up by an announcement there would be an announcement tomorrow. Expect them to announce a series of announcements about announcements culminating in a soccer game.
In March, I posted Part 1, looking at the recruiting make-up of the last ten BCS Champion football teams. For those of you lost in the three week basketball coma, the key takeaways were:
- Defensive line is the position with the highest average rating (5th) of any position
- Offense (7th) and Defense (5th) are both important but defenses feature more highly rated recruits for national champions.
- No national champion has been crowned with a roster profile (Ratings + Age) outside of the top ten, a group Michigan will likely sit on the fringes of next year.
For Part 2, we’ll move to the on field performance. Looking at conversion rates and big play potential on both offense and defense as well as field position.
Some quick notes on methodology.
Conversion rate = [1st Downs gained]/[1st Down plays (including first play of drive)]. A three and out is 0/1. A one play touchdown is 1/1. Two first downs and then a stop is 2/3, etc.
Bonus Yards = [Yards gained beyond the first down line]/[Total plays from scrimmage]
This is an adjustment to how I have previously calculated, to account for the plays a team runs.
Field Position = The expected point difference per game for where a team’s offense starts and where a team’s defense starts. Each drive is given an expected value based on the start of scrimmage, all of the drives for the offense and defense are totaled and compared. This accounts for all elements of field position: turnovers, special teams, drive penetration etc.
I am only looking at teams from the BCS conferences since those are the only reasonably eligible team for the championship. To account for yearly rule changes and variations, I will use annual ranks for each season.
Median Rank: 5.5th, 76.0% conversion
Average Rank: 11th
Top 3: Texas 2005 (2), Auburn 2010 (3), Florida St 2013 (3)
Bottom 3: Florida 2006 (26), Alabama 2009 (23), Alabama 2011 (23)
2013 Michigan: 36th, 69.9%
Best Michigan Team: 2003, 3rd, 75.2%
Median Rank: 8th, 2.95 Bonus Yards per play
Average Rank: 11th
Top 3: Texas 2005 (1), Auburn 2010 (1), USC 2004 (3)
Bottom 3: LSU 2007 (26), Alabama 2011 (26), Florida 2006 (17)
2013 Michigan: 33rd, 2.35
Best Michigan Team: 2010, 3rd, 3.20
On the offensive side, there is a strong correlation between conversion rate and bonus yards among national champions. 6 of the 10 champions were in the top 8 in both categories while the other four champions where 13th or higher in both.
Median Rank: 10th, 59.9% conversion allowed
Average Rank: 12th
Top 3: Alabama 2009, Alabama 2011, Alabama 2012, Florida St 2013 (1)
Bottom 3: Auburn 2010 (52), Florida 2006 (18), LSU 2007 (13)
2013 Michigan: 24th, 68.9%
Best Michigan Team: 2006, 7th, 58.7%
Median Rank: 7.5, 1.75 Bonus Yards per play allowed
Average Rank: 11th
Top 3: Alabama 2011, Florida St 2013 (1), Alabama 2012 (3)
Bottom 3: Auburn 2010 (39), LSU 2007 (20), Alabama 2009 (12)
2013 Michigan: 12th, 1.98
Best Michigan Team: 2013
The last three champions have all been dominant on defense. Only 2012 Alabama wasn’t ranked first in both categories and they were first in conversion rate and third in bonus yards. Prior to that, the last seven champions have been ranked 10th or worse in at least one of the two categories.
Median Rank: 6th, +3.9 points per game
Average Rank: 8th
Runner-Up Average Rank: 11th
Top 3: Florida St 2013 (1), USC 2004, Texas 2005, Florida 2008 (2)
Bottom 3: Florida 2006 (21), Auburn 2010 (20), LSU 2007 (12)
2013 Michigan: 43rd, –0.9
Best Michigan Team: 2006, 4th, +4.5
Six of the top ten finished in the top 7 of field position. Field position is a pretty good approximation for offense, defense and special teams, with turnovers factored in. Other than a surprising 2006 Florida team and the 2010 offense-heavy Auburn teams haven’t been at the top end in overall field position.
While the last five Alabama driven years have pushed the needle toward the defensive side, the ten years as a whole are fairly balanced between offense and defense. One thing is clear, you have to be really good at least one side. Eight of the ten champions ranked in the top 2 in at least one of the five categories.
Five teams won the national championship with a higher rated defense than offense, three with a better offense than defense and two with units evenly matched. Overall the averages are roughly the same, largely thanks to the mediocre to bad Auburn defense from 2010 dragging down the averages.
Half of the teams that went on to win national championships were good at everything. 2004 USC, 2005 Texas, 2008 Florida, 2012 Alabama and 2013 Florida St all ranked in the top 10 in all five categories. 2009-2011 saw champions that were very strong on one side of the ball and 2006-2007 just saw a strange collection of champions. Since 2004 the only team to rank in the top 10 across the board and not win the championship was 2008 USC.
For Michigan, the roster look from Part 1 is a much more compelling case for Michigan’s readiness for the national elites than the on-field one. Only in defensive big play prevention was Michigan remotely at a national elite level last year. The other four categories are all several tiers away from the top teams. This is year probably won’t be a make or break year for the staff, that’s probably two years away barring a major disaster this season, but big strides will have to be made this season. The roster is there on the fringes of elite, 2014 will be the year the results should be ready to come into line, as well.
Name: Dre’Mont Jones
Position: Weakside Defensive End
Ht/Wt: 6'4" / 250 lbs.
Location: St. Ignatius – Cleveland, OH (2015)
Offers: Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio State
Rating: ★★★★ .8958 (247 Composite)
Ranking: #294 NAT / #14 SDE (247 Composite)
Michigan has been hosting a pretty large number of unofficial visitors each weekend throughout spring ball. Dre’Mont Jones, a 2015 defensive end prospect, had been on the radar of the coaching staff for a while and last Saturday while he was in Ann Arbor, the coaches decided it was time to offer him. Jones was on campus for about six hours and by the time he left he had an offer in hand.
I got to campus around 9 am. I was able to walk around and talked a lot about academics. I wasn’t there for very long but I wouldn’t call it just a quick little visit. (laughs) I watched a practice and, to make a long story short, Coach Hoke shook my hand and told me I had an offer while we were in Coach Mattison’s office. It was cool that the head coach did that. He told me it was for rush-end. That was toward the end of the visit and then I left at about 2:50.
Per the norm, Jones loved the way Michigan “felt”.
I liked the visit a lot. The coaching staff sees you as more than just a football player. They really show a family aspect to them.
Coach Mattison is Jones’s main recruiter and he, along with pretty much every other coach, has built a solid reputation for making recruits and their families feel welcome.
Michigan did well with Jones during his visit, but he didn’t pull any punches about the pecking order of his top schools.
Right now Michigan is one of my top choices. I have a top five right now of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Kentucky and that is in order. Ohio State is my straight up leader right now but I’m still very open to other schools. That’s the reason why I haven’t committed anywhere yet.
Jones seemed pretty firm on his top five and I’m not sure it will change much according to the plan he has moving forward.
I plan on visiting Michigan again, but I’m not sure when right now. I hope I can visit all of my top five schools at least one more time. I plan on committing in the beginning part of the summer, sometime in June or July.
Jones is a very talented player with good size and an exceptional burst. St. Ignatius has produced a lot of Division I talent over the years and contrary to popular belief, Ohio State doesn’t hog it all. In fact there are only two current Buckeyes from St. Ignatius, which is only one more than Michigan. Jones did openly say that he was favoring Ohio State and his planned decision is just a few months away. That being said, as soon as we finished talking, I submitted my Crystal Ball pick for the Buckeyes on 247sports.com and I’m not alone in that thought process as all 23 predictions see him wearing the scarlet and grey in the future. Unless Michigan can absolutely blow him away during a return visit, he’ll become a rival instead of member.
5 – Trending Blue
4 – Solidly in a top 2-3
3 – Contender in a top 3-7
2 – Among large (8-15) group under consideration
1 – Let’s see if he visits before we talk
0 – Passing interest or none
I have a copy of the Kentucky game. I went so far as to open it in the program I use to make GIFs, because despite the outcome I thought Caris LeVert's block/tie-up of Julius Randle was worth GIFing for future reference. Naturally, CBS showed one useless replay angle and cut off the second, useful angle halfway through the play.
There will be no Kentucky GIFs today.
Anyway, the Tennessee game worked out much better and also provided several great moments, none more important than the charge Jordan Morgan drew on Jarnell Stokes:
I know this is an utterly pointless exercise, but this call has been much-discussed—was it really a charge, or did Morgan just hit the deck at the first sign of contact?
Unless you want to argue that Morgan committed a blocking foul—dubious, in my opinion—then the answer is irrelevant. Watch Caris LeVert poke the ball away as the contact occurs; watch how the ball voodoo-spins and somehow stays inbounds, and LeVert making the heads up play to go after it until the whistle blows. If this had been a no-call, it would've been a steal, and the song remains the same.
Since Stokes lowered his shoulder like he was Marshawn Lynch in the open field against a safety, this whole aside was probably unnecessary.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bench mob ending the season in style, Nik Stauskas going Harlem Globetrotter, DEATH FROM ABOVE, and more.]
wait spring football is what again
It's this practice thing that we used to think was super super important because the basketball team was a wet cat and the spring game was in late April. Now we haven't even thought about it because the basketball team is IMPORTANT and also still playing and they've moved the spring game up despite having horrible weather for seemingly the last decade solid.
So… yeah. It is a glimpse into what the football team might be like next year.
So last year's was a constant parade of quotes about how everyone was getting tackled for loss?
Well… no. It is a Pravda-like glimpse weighted by both the program's desire to look good in the absence of actual games and your hope that the next football season will be a fulfilling exercise in fandom.
Consider that hope to be disposed of in a dumpster behind a Five Guys.
All right, then. Let's enter the realm of football with a properly jaundiced eye.
Things To Watch
Will they be a single thing? "Aggression" is the guaranteed defensive watchword every time a coordinator change is made, and "simple" is the equivalent on the offensive side of the ball.
Kyle Kalis says Doug Nussmeier is gradually installing the offense. Much simpler. 'Last year, you never knew what was going to be called.'
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 25, 2014
How much of this is standard boilerplate and how much of it is a real problem that Nussmeier is going to solve is pretty much the question for the season. (No, it is not "who is going to start at quarterback?" You are a silly person, person who thinks that.) Lord knows that this site spent most of last year—most of the last three years—blasting Al Borges for not having anything resembling a base offense in his time. Last year's wander from stretch to power to tackle over to inside zone and all things in between was particularly egregious.
It was hardly unprecedented. Michigan never figured out how to run play action off their best play, the inverted veer, never figured out that having mobile quarterbacks run the waggle is just asking them to eat defensive end as soon as they turn around, never figured out what, in fact, they were. Having an identifiable identity is step one towards having one of those offense things.
Let's try to keep me alive this play, gents [Bryan Fuller]
Is the offensive line… tolerable? Extant? Sieve sieve sieve sieve sieve? I can't say the good feelings are pouring out of spring. This is not a world in which claims that true freshman Mason Cole has a great chance to play the most important position on the line…
Another early enrollee opening eyes at Michigan is OL Mason Cole. Competing for starting LT job. Funk says Cole has great chance to play.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
…can be dismissed as so much spring hogwash. I mean, yeah, it's almost certainly spring hogwash. But given the situation that buzz comes off as a negative thing about people not named Mason Cole as much as it is a positive one about Cole.
Meanwhile Graham Glasgow, the one returning guy who had a job for the entirety of last season, got held out for a while due to an issue that will also see him suspended for The Horror II, and oh good now I'm thinking about what might happen in The Horror II without Michigan's best interior lineman.
Thinking: try not to do it.
Anyway, injuries have held near-sure-LT Erik Magnuson out and forced Michigan to try a parade of guys probably better suited to play guard at that spot. Reading the tea leaves, the most likely starting line for the spring game reads:
- LT David Dawson
- LG Kyle Bosch
- C [Glasgow placeholder]
- RG Kyle Kalis
- RT Ben Braden
And in a perfect world that would remain the line through fall camp except for the insertion of Magnuson. When pinged for offensive line data, Hoke was his usual recalcitrant self but did not seem super enthused all the same:
"The physicalness isn't where we want it yet. I couldn't point out one guy who has been a great finisher.
"Probably Graham (Glasgow), as much as anybody, in some ways. Ben (Braden) is getting better. But we're not near where we need to be."
Not that they could be near where they need to be a few months after whatever that was.
Here's to this being the "before" picture. [Fuller]
Are Are De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green any diff—. Previous sentence was tackled for loss. Green's been tweeting out pictures of his weight as he strives to get back down to the bowling ball that was the #1 overall tailback in the country to a couple of different services instead of the bowling ball he was last year. Here is a swathe of boilerplate.
"De'Veon's had a very good spring, Derrick's had a better spring than he did in the fall," Hoke said last week. "Justice Hayes has done some really good things, and I'm really proud of him. Both carrying the ball and in the protection game. It'd be nice to get Drake (Johnson) back and put him in the mix."
Chances are it will be hard to tell much what with the offensive line coming together and folks looking confused, but give me one cut from Green that he probably couldn't have managed last year and I'll be happy.
Is Ross Douglas viable at tailback? I kind of think no if only because the Hoke era has expressed a preference for large men running the ball even if they bring little else to the table other than size. Meanwhile, Douglas's bounce to offense comes in the context of Taylor/Countess/Peppers/Lewis/Stribling, a veritable bounty at corner that Douglas didn't figure to crack any time soon. He's also down the depth chart on offense:
"Justice, De'Veon and Derrick are a little bit ahead still, but I think Ross is giving us a little bit more depth and that's really good for us.
"We'll do this through spring and see how he does, and then make a determination if he'll go back to DB."
This kind of positional uncertainty is never a good sign for a prospect's future. If Douglas was in the mix at corner he'd be at corner. Instead he's fourth at best at tailback and probably fifth when Drake Johnson gets back.
But there is a new offensive coordinator who may do things like see what happens if you give Dennis Norfleet the ball, so you never know.
But that probably means the secondary is loaded, right? At first blush Michigan has more corner depth than I can remember. They return both starters from last year plus a couple of promising freshman who did the really hard part—sticking with your man—last year before wilting at the last minute. And then there's that Jabrill Peppers dude. Douglas's positional vagabondery would not be taking place if Michigan didn't go five deep in solid options at corner.
Wide receiver war. With Devin Funchess entrenched at wide receiver, playing time there is now at a premium. The departure of Jeremy Gallon opens up scads of catches, some of which will go to Funchess and Jehu Chesson. The rest will get spread out. While a number of those will go to Amara Darboh, who was building up steam with his play in practice last year before a season-ending foot injury, Michigan is still being cautious with him. You won't see him on Saturday:
“Right now I feel like I’m 100 percent, but they’re keeping me out,” Darboh said Thursday. “By the time fall camp comes around I should be 100 percent.”
One gentleman you will see, and possibly see a lot of, is Freddy Canteen. The freshman early enrollee has been this spring's easy winner of the Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award. Almost literally everyone who has gotten practice buzz or been there themselves has come away talking about his quickness and advanced technique. One example of many:
WR Freddy Canteen creating a buzz this spring at Michigan. Players, coaches very impressed with early enrollee. Getting run with the ones.
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) March 31, 2014
"Running with the ones" is a slightly overrated concept since in the course of a spring or fall practice just about everyone will get their shot on the top team to keep folks motivated and just to see what happens. Even so the Canteen drumbeat has been so consistent that he will be the guy everyone is watching for.
One guy you shouldn't expect anything from: Drake Harris. Harris has been shut down for the rest of spring with a hamstring issue. He had a similar problem for his senior year of high school and at this point it seems like he might be headed for a redshirt with Funchess/Darboh/Chesson/Canteen and last year's three-man class potentially ahead of him on the depth chart.
I'm looking at the man in the mirror. Middle. Whatever. [Fuller]
And then the weird thing. Jake Ryan, middle linebacker. I'm skeptical Ryan will be able to transition to a very different spot that asks him to read and react and then shed responsibly. If he does manage it, it seems like a part of his barbarian nature will be lost. Ryan is a shocking vertical attacker; middle linebackers are not generally tasked with that. When Ryan has been drafted into read and react situations by defensive alignment, it has gone poorly.
But they're going to try it, and spring will be an opportunity to see what's going on with that.
Safeties: we have them? Michigan was clearly dissatisfied with Thomas Gordon midway through last year, which just goes to show that Brady Hoke was in Muncie or San Diego for the decade of Michigan safety play between Marcus Ray and Jordan Kovacs. Great he may not have been; he was pretty much good enough, and when other guys got in the game the step down from pretty much good enough to not was obvious.
Now Gordon is gone and the list of potential replacements is short (inexplicably so given Michigan's apparent need): sophomores Jeremy Clark, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas. Michigan barely has enough dudes to put together a two deep, and there are few candidates to move from corner. Stribling's 176-pound frame would get him run over; ditto Lewis; they're not moving Countess; Taylor's run support is not a strength. That leaves Peppers (moving him away from boundary corner would be a travesty of justice) and redshirt freshman Reon Dawson, who's super super fast but raw and skinny.
So finding someone to play opposite Jarrod Wilson is an important target to hit with few bullets. Here's hoping Clark wins the job with ease; he's got the most experience.
Can a tight end hit something? One of the underrated problems with Michigan's offense a year ago was the tight end spot's total lack of progress. Devin Funchess proved that as a tight end, he was a good wide receiver; more worryingly, AJ Williams was hardly better despite not being, you know, a game changing receiver. Jake Butt was probably the best blocker Michigan had available, and he promptly tore his ACL. Jordan Paskorz left the program.
So. Michigan will hope Williams makes a step forward and turn to two guys coming off redshirt: Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman. They've also converted former SDE Keith Heitzman to that side of the ball. The freshmen are more H-back types than inline ones; Michigan may end up playing them both places just because they have to. Shallman's flirtation with tailback seems over:
Shallman has taken a few reps at running back this spring, but Hoke said he envisions him as a tight end-fullback hybrid.
Given the depth chart that makes sense. I'll be looking for anything resembling a block out of this crew.
Weather. Let's hope it's nice.