this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Dennis Norfleet's murky situation has blown up into the first real PR crisis of the Harbaugh administration. Unfortunately for Michigan, it's one they're legally prohibited from saying much of anything about. FERPA restricts their ability to say much other than "he is on the team" or "he is off the team." Right now Michigan isn't saying either. They've gone with this:
A Michigan athletic department spokesman told The Detroit News that the situation was "an internal matter."
All right then.
Harvel added about Norfleet's situation: "If only one kid out of 120 is missing class, they must be the No. 1 program in the country (for football players' academic achievements)."
Harvel has repeatedly said things like "we're not going to let him be a victim," outed private conversations he had with Fred Jackson, publicly bemoaned his decision to switch away from a Cincinnati program on the verge of hiring Tommy Tuberville, and generally done everything in his power to make academic standards like "go to all your finals" seem nefarious. Usually when high school coaches blow up like this it's because their kid has seen his scholarship yanked for a dubious reason, or none at all.
It was Harvel who leaked the apparently erroneous information that Norfleet was gone, which turned the story from message board rumor* to something that every local news organization has dedicated big stories to. It was Harvel who went full steam ahead with the information that Norfleet was not doing things expected of him in the classroom. He is the #1 reason this is a thing. Because Norfleet is a "victim."
I mean, you know me. I just about challenged Brady Hoke to a fight about Norfleet's misuse during his tenure as head coach. But if Norfleet is no longer on the team because he missed several classes and did not attend at least one and possibly more finals, that is on one person: Dennis Norfleet.
And Jim Harbaugh cannot be concerned with just Norfleet here. It's his first semester as head coach and he's just going to let that slide? What kind of message does that send to the other 84 kids on scholarship? Is that likely to improve or degrade the overall academic performance of the program?
The answers to those rhetorical questions are obvious to everyone except Harvel. Privately resolving issues with the head coach—and there have been a number so far that have been so resolved—is more likely to create a positive outcome both in the short-term individual player level and for your relationship with a major school of interest to your players. But Harvel has decided that grandstanding without information that is, you know, correct is more important.
I hope Norfleet makes it back. His coach isn't helping.
*[Albeit one that was more credible than your garden-variety internet rando mutterings since it had the backing of John Borton, an editor at Rivals. It is not hard to trace the path here: Borton names Norfleet, Nick Baumgardner starts checking it out, hits upon the King coaches, and then the tempest takes over the teapot. This is why I don't report on potential transfers anymore. I would rather not spend a week with my head in an alligator's mouth, thanks.]
I've written in various places, and Brian said again just yesterday, that Blake Countess is a very good zone cornerback who was exposed last year by being asked to do things outside of his comfort zone. Or outside his natural abilities. Or outside the capabilities of a guy his size.
The tape is the best evidence that he's not a fit for the aggressive man-to-man stuff Michigan switched to early last season, and will almost certainly try again this year. The best evidence against it was produced by Countess this spring, when he generated above the usual level of comments for controllable things like his work ethic, his knowledge of the defense, his toughness, etc.
But his size is a thing Blake can't change, and that plus the inability to shut down Tyler Lockett or William Fuller downgraded our hopes for a next-Woodson (leave him on an island) ceiling even before we discovered he's no MC5:
(you forgot to kick out the jams.)
That kind of thing can be mitigated by not lining him up so close—you give up that lock-down mentality for either soft coverage that lets the QB complete short stuff, or puts a safety over the top so Countess can break on that stuff.
Is Countess too small?
His size is below average for a guy who registered a play on a Power 5 roster, though not debilitatingly so. Here's how the CB depth chart stacks up against cornerbacks on all Power 5 rosters from 2010-2013 (#6 is Lyons):
Bubble size is more guys with that listed ht/wt. Avg height was 5'11", and weight was 183. Year-to-year differences were negligible.
If you need a roster refresher I put the tentative depth chart below-right. Our guys are generally on the line of distribution, with Richardson a wee little dude and Stribling and Dawson (and Keith Washington) on the edges of lankiness. I included Peppers to show just how different he is from most cornerbacks on this level of football, even as a redshirt freshman whose conditioning was hurt by a year of injury.
There were also quite a few teams who list all safeties and cornerbacks as "DBs"; indeed the cornerback sample we did get seems like it wouldn't change much. If you care here's Michigan's expected 2015 backfield rotation against the distribution of one year's Power 5 cornerbacks.
Interesting side-note: Florida's cornerbacks last year under Durkin were the smallest of any school in the Power 5. Using the formula from the chart above, Auburn and Minnesota were by far the biggest defensive backfields—both teams were about 6'0/200 with their cornerbacks. I know Minnesota at least is a man-all-day-long team. Nebraska and Ohio State were top five biggest, Iowa and Notre Dame around there and Stanford relatively big. Michigan was smallish—right around FSU and LSU. TCU was the second-smallest at CB.
Anyway Countess isn't the little guy according to the rosters; Lewis is. Jourdan's game is based on his recovery speed. He is just okay at jamming a guy at the line, but is so fast on a dead run and so quick to change direction that he doesn't have to stonewall his guy.
[Jump for what we've got in Lyons]
Via Sam Webb this morning:
Contrary to multiple published reports citing comments for Norfleet’s high school coach, Detroit King headman Dale Harvel, the senior kick/punt returner has not been dismissed from the football team….
“He has been suspended for the past three weeks,” the source said.
He may or may not make it back.
A Detroit King assistant did tweet out something about trying to get Norfleet to graduate. That seemed to imply that Norfleet could be up for a graduate transfer; it also implies that if there's any damage to his transcript it's not so far gone that he's doomed.
Hello Hibbitts. Brent Hibbitts did decide to sign on with Michigan as a preferred walk-on over various MAC and other mid-major offers. This is more notable than most other walk-on acquisitions because Hibbits has intriguing size—he's 6'8"—and had a high level of interest from D-I programs. His skill set also fits in with Michigan:
Hibbitts averaged 17.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game as a senior at Hudsonville last season, earning Associated Press Class A All-State honorable mention status and leading the Eagles to a district championship.
"He has a really nice skill set," Hudsonville coach Eric Elliott told MLive last Wednesday. "He can handle the ball, is a great passer with court vision and has a nice shooting touch. Interested schools see him as a stretch four. That's his ideal position."
There's a lot of competition at that spot presently, but give Hibbitts some time and there's a nonzero chance he's a contributor late in his career. I mean, we all know where the Stain Train started.
Weirder things have happened.
This is about to change. It already has with Dennis Norfleet's exit, in fact. It is a breakdown of attrition in the Big Ten:
That is spectacular on Michigan's part. The 2011 class rivaled 2010 in flameouts, and then virtually nobody left for three years. There's about to be a major uptick, but at least Michigan retained the bulk of their prospects before the inevitable attrition that comes with a coaching turnover.
Iowa is pretty salty about what's going on there BTW:
In all of the non-Iowa seasons in which a program lost 10 or more players -- 2011 Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers -- a coach had left, with the new coach either cleaning house (Meyer, Hoke/Harbaugh) or failing to keep the last coach's guys (Flood). Iowa, of course, has no such impetus for big attrition.
That is especially galling when Wisconsin and Michigan State are quality redshirt-and-develop programs with recruiting approximately on Iowa's level. It seems impossible that Ferentz will get Iowa back to even B+ football before his buyout reaches plausibility.
DAYTON. ONLY DAYTON. I mean.
If Hibbitts had been offered by Dayton he would have gotten a full hello post, I think.
Overseas options hit hockey. I don't think this is going to be a trend since 18-year-olds can just go play in the NHL if they're that good, but uber-prospect Auston Matthews is at least considering the option of spending next year in Switzerland:
The Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League hold his junior rights after selecting him in the third round of the 2012 bantam draft. A report from Switzerland’s Blick News Service on Sunday said Matthews had signed a contract to play for the Zurich Lions in the Swiss A League.
He denied that report, but said he was keeping all options—including the A League—open. It was doubtful Matthews was going to sign on with Michigan, and more doubtful after the Copp stuff broke. It would have been fun to see him in college anyway.
HATIN' ASS MICHIGAN SPURRIER. The fruits of your labors, ladies and gentlemen:
Notre Dame players hit that "Play Like A Champion Today" sign, and dang if they don't look like a ten dollar sweatshirt you got in 1993.
Don't think Michigan fans should be torn up about the Notre Dame rivalry ending. If they want to play a religious school that goes .500 against USC, Boston College is free.
Rudy and The Lego Movie are basically the same story, except nobody pretends The Lego Movie is a documentary.
Bielfeldt is on the move. Any remaining hopes that Michigan might hang on to Max Bielfeldt are now gone, and it is definitely the coaching staff's choosing.
"I did tell the coaches that I did want to come back to Michigan," Bielfeldt said. "But at the end of the day things didn't work out and we both decided to move on."
Bielfedlt added, "I told (coaches) that I wanted to stay (and) Michigan was my first choice but as time went on I had to explore other options."
That is odd since it doesn't look like they are going to fill their 13th spot this year. I am more enthused about Ricky Doyle than most people but even I think Bielfeldt is a backup plan worth having when you have major questions about the guys behind him.
Etc.: Sierra Romero is ESPNW's softballist of the year. The Longhorn Network is a disaster. Jay Mariotti still has Jay Mariotti opinions. Rudock profiled. Remember this site calling the pursuit of Jim Harbaugh the "Harbaugh Hail Mary?" Here's a Harbaugh Hail Mary. On the shoe wars. Exposure U details.
the last of the famous international playboys
This rumor had been floating around for a couple weeks now, picked up steam on Rivals this morning, and has now been confirmed by Nick Baumgardner:
ANN ARBOR -- Dennis Norfleet is no longer a part of Michigan's football team, according to his former high school coach.
Martin Luther King High School football coach Dale Harvel told MLive on Tuesday that Norfleet has been dismissed from Michigan's program by coach Jim Harbaugh.
"Evidently he was dismissed from the team, Dennis informed us he was no longer on the team," Harvel said Tuesday afternoon. "Something about a disciplinary thing between him and coach Harbaugh. Whether it was academics or something internal, I'm not sure. He just said they had a disagreement and he was let go."
I have heard it was academic. Not sure if that's a slackness that is now verboten under the new regime or a Norfleet morale issue leading to breakdowns elsewhere. [UPDATE: Steve Lorenz says he skipped "more than one final."]
The writing was on the wall as far as Norfleet's career went when he featured as a tiny cornerback in the spring game and was mercilessly picked on for the only offense of the day. With that secondary and that WR corps, the fact he was on defense was a death knell. He may have continued returning kicks and punts; even that job was going to be put under major threat by Jabrill Peppers.
This does get Michigan to 85 scholarships, give or take a walk-on. With a couple of medical hardships likely to be on the way, there should be room to add a fifth-year WR or two, as Mike Spath has suggested might happen.
I will now go sit by myself in a dark room and listen to the Smiths.
skill position recruiting under Brady Hoke
Where is the talent?
Hoke's recruiting classes were consistently highly ranked, bringing in 4 and 5 star athletes coveted by other reputable football programs, yet I keep reading that we lag many Big Ten teams in talent. I find it hard to believe Hoke is this bad at talent evaluation and missed on this many athletes. What do you think of the innate talent on the roster? Is this a pure development issue, or was Hoke that unlucky or bad at identifying talent?
Peter from Horsham, PA
It could be there, but concealed by the Hoke chaos.
Last year's D was 14th in yards per play and returns eight or nine starters, depending on how you define the term. The only personnel losses were Raymon Taylor, Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, and Brennen Beyer; Michigan gets Desmond Morgan off an injury redshirt and adds Wayne Lyons.
It didn't feel like that good of a defense, though. Part of that was the quality of competition. Michigan is 41st in FEI despite having shiny regular stats. (MSU is one spot ahead of them in 40th.) Part of that was the offense putting the D out there so often in bad situations that they were going to crack eventually. Many, many games over the past two years have had a similar pattern. The defense scratches and claws to keep Michigan in it and then they collapse in the fourth quarter because they're out of juice.
The other part of that was Michigan going to a man press defense their team simply could not hack. Blake Countess was exposed for half the season before they went back to their old ways. Is that "talent"? In some ways. But Hoke took an All Big Ten sophomore and destroyed him because he couldn't see that he was being put in a terrible situation for his skill set.
Meanwhile on offense… I got nothing. With the exception of projected TE Devin Funchess, Michigan recruited horribly at QB and WR under Hoke. The Chesson/Darboh class was all right, but they appear to have missed on all three guys they took the next year and the jury is very much out on last year's class. QB… I want to throw a rock in Hoke's general direction every time I think about it.
Recruiting very badly at QB is a way to have your recruiting rankings far outstrip your ability to play football. It's only one spot. Michigan's piles of OL are five. Michigan has nothing to show from the Hoke era other than a three star they took early with little competition and Shane Morris, who it is now clear was wildly overrated by the services. Morris is the kind of boom-or-bust guy you can take happily in a Harbaugh context where the roster has five or six or seven QBs on it; he is a disaster waiting to happen if the two guys in front of him are Russell Bellomy and air and the guy behind him is a middling three star. Harbaugh set about fixing that, at least.
Meanwhile the places Hoke did best—the lines—are the ones where you have to wait the longest to get a return on your investment. OL are particularly unpredictable.
And, yes, I do think Hoke was pretty bad at IDing talent. Look at the Dukes/Jones/York WR class, or the performance of the tailbacks he brought in, or the Wangler/Ferns/Furbush/Winovich LB class. Do not get me started on the tailbacks. Look at the decision to move to press man.
Defensive line is an obvious exception, where Michigan's turned two three-star Glenville projects into real players, but that just re-confirms that Hoke was a pretty good DL coach who ended up in way over his head.
Uppity so-and-sos with their thesauri
Excuse me while I correct your nerdom with my (apparently) superior nerdom. Ferret Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson would not be the correct name. What you are looking for is Ferret Super Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson. In the first Tecmo Bowl, Bo Jackson was just a man. It is in Super Tecmo Bowl that he became an unstoppable run-circles-around-the-cpu-god. Surely you did not mean to name the ferret after the lesser of the two Bo Jacksons.
Bro. I said I would brook no criticism about my asymptotically perfect ferret names, and yet here you are, brooking your ass off. Well, BEN, clearly "Ferret Super Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson" is clunky and unwieldy and stupid, as any six-year-old child could see. It is obvious to any Tecmo Bowl connoisseur that we are talking about the destroyer of worlds Bo Jackson, "Super" or not. Humor, prose, and lovemaking are all about omitting unnecessary flourishes. So too are ferret names.
[After the JUMP: Ben gets commuppanced hrrrrrd]