Via his instagram:
My past four years here at the University of Michigan have been great! Nothing but love and appreciation for Ann Arbor, the faculty, the coaches, the support staff and the great fans but after many sleepless nights and much prayer I have decided to play my final year of eligibility elsewhere. I truly thank those that have been there for me and hope you would continue to do so. #ForeverGoBlue
That is a blow to Michigan's secondary. Countess was the leading candidate to start opposite Jourdan Lewis, give or take a Wayne Lyons, and even in the event he lost the job he figured to see considerable playing time spotting various guys in the secondary.
Countess struggled mightily last year as Michigan transitioned to a man press style, but was an All Big Ten performer as a sophomore in a zone system. It is possible that Michigan apparently rededicating themselves to the aggressive system they had to ditch midseason last year may have precipitated a transfer. Either that or the usual transition stuff compounded by the availability of immediate eligibility elsewhere.
Other than Lyons, the main beneficiaries of Countess's departure figure to be Brandon Watson and Channing Stribling. Watson was impressive in the spring game and has a ton of experience as a press corner; Stribling was promising as a freshman before a relatively anonymous sophomore year.
Countess was set to be a fifth year senior so this doesn't impact recruiting classes going forward; it does end any questions about if any contributing walk-ons would get stiffed. If anyone else leaves Michigan would have a spot to add another fifth year transfer.
Godspeed, Mr. Countess.
It's apparently that arbitrary down time in the offseason when I take a look back at Brian's recruiting profiles for the class that just finished their time at Michigan. In this case, that class is the infamous 2010 group, the last full class brought in by Rich Rodriguez during his time at Michigan.
So, uh, you've been forewarned.
I'll start with the nine offensive players in the class, five of whom were wide receivers. If that sounds like a strange and dangerous way to contruct a roster, you may be a longtime reader of this here blog. Or maybe you just watched the offensive line the last few years. Either/or, really.
We're Really Sorry About The Coaching Thing
As a Pioneer grad, I have no idea how Pioneer won this game.
By the time Brian wrote up Devin Gardner's profile, he'd already enrolled at Michigan and participated in the spring game. The comparison that came up the most in his profile—and, really, the most reasonable one to make at the time—is a pretty good indication of the level of expectation for Gardner's college career:
Why Vince Young? The combination of size, speed, a wonky throwing motion, and the multiple comparisons from gurus tips the balance over to Young, who redshirted despite being the top prospect in the country and didn't come into his own as a passer until he played Michigan in the Rose Bowl—awesome timing!
Guru Reliability: High. Ton of exposure to him. Elite 11 camp, UA game, all that stuff.
General Excitement Level: Towering. Vast. Expansive.
Gardner, of course, stayed on track—except for the cameo at wide receiver—by looking like a future star when he took the reins after Denard Robinson's injury in 2012, and while he had some disappointing outings in 2013, those were largely chalked up to the O-line and playcalling. It came off the rails last year for a host of reasons covered so thoroughly they're not worth bringing up again. Needless to say, reading through his profile leaves one with serious what-could've-been feels.
[Hit THE JUMP for Dramatic Cupcake Hopkins and, well, mostly disappointment.]
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.