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Zach Gentry: Eyes Off Texas?
In recent days, Texas has turned up the heat on their pursuit of 2015 five-star QB Kyler Murray, a Texas A&M commit, even getting him to take an unofficial visit to Austin.
What does this have to do with Michigan? Well, Texas already has a 2015 QB commit: 6'7", 230-pound NM four-star Zach Gentry, who pledged to the Longhorns last May and has turned down overtures from the likes of Alabama and Tennessee since. With Texas eyeing Murray, Jim Harbaugh visited Gentry in Albuquerque on Monday, and things are moving quickly. Gentry removed "committed to Texas" from his Twitter bio, and multiple outlets, including Wolverine247, report that he'll take an official visit to Ann Arbor this weekend.
Just like that, Michigan may very well be the favorite to end up with him:
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) January 22, 2015
What would the Wolverines be getting? Scout's free evaluation makes him sound like an ideal fit for a Harbaugh offense:
Gentry is an intriguing quarterback with NFL size but surprising mobility for a big man. He has a downfield arm and can make every throw but also shows the ability, when flushed out of the pocket, to run for positive yards. He looks to have a good feel in the pocket and doesn't panic when the rush comes at him. He can keep his eyes down the field and throws an accurate ball whether in or outside of the pocket-Biggins
The film backs that up; other than some mechanical issues with his delivery, there's little not to like there.
Jay Harbaugh checked out another under-the-radar QB, California prospect Anthony Gordon. Gordon, like McLane Carter, was very productive in high school on a title-winning team but hasn't generated much in the way of college interest or attention from the recruiting services.
[Hit THE JUMP for a couple impending announcements, a rundown of weekend official visitors, and much more.]
Ace: Michigan's basketball season is almost certainly lost, but there's always the prospect of seeing one or two players transform under Beilein's continued tutelage, especially now that most of the freshmen have bee n thrust into major roles. Which freshman do you expect to show the most improvement over the rest of the season, and which do you want to see show the most improvement?
|Nnanna nnanna, nnanna nnanna, hey hey hey, that's pretty high. [photo: Upchurch]|
Dave Nasternack: Expect: Ricky Doyle. I think this is probably the most obvious choice. First, he's been starting for awhile, now, and has already shown improvement in various areas. I'm guessing he's leading in 'freshman minutes played?' If not, he's got to be close. So, just due to experience on the floor, he's got the be as comfortable in his role as any of the other contenders. Plus, the areas of improvement for Doyle are closely related to experience and mental understanding: positional awareness and some body control (almost always for bigs) vs. increased shooting %s, building muscle, better technique, etc. In addition to a couple of post moves, Doyle has shown patience inside and flashes of passion/GAF, which is exactly what you want to see to fuel his improvement. It would also be ideal if he could grab a few more rebounds.
Hope: While there is definitely something to be said for Aubrey Dawkins, I'm going to go with Kam Chatman. Chatman came into school with a ton of hype and excitement—not to mention a little more hair—but has only showed flashes of his potential in short bursts. While Chatman has looked lost both offensively and defensively for long stretches of this year, I do believe that he has the highest ceiling of any freshman on the roster. Plus, unless Donnal were to move down a position, Chatman is the ideal 4 on this roster. His length, size, and athleticism would make him the most ideal fit for the position that Beilein has had in his M tenure. Chatman will definitely have to improve his court awareness, positioning, and definitely his shooting consistency in order to do so, however. Based on losing his starting spot, a further decrease in minutes, and the eyeball test when he was playing more consistently, I'm guessing that his "growth jump" will come over the summer or in 15/16 rather than in the next couple of months.
urgent request: re-grow the hair
After a week or so of expecting Roy Manning to continue at Michigan, Mike Zordich's name came out of nowhere to lock down a job in the secondary. The former Penn State and NFL safety seemed kind of surprised himself:
“I was very content and happy with what I was doing,” Zordich said. “I didn’t initiate anything.”
Zordich called up John Harbaugh to chat about the Ravens' playoff game against the Steelers, John relayed his name to Jim, and soon after he was moving on from Youngstown State.
Zordich had another advantage: he literally played next to Greg Jackson in the NFL. The two were the starting safeties for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994 and 1995.
"Really, there wasn't much said," said Zordich. "Everyone knew what they had to do and they just stuck together and hung in there."
"I think we're coming along well," said Jackson. "We're still growing into the system, me and Mike, (but) every week we're getting better and better out there."
That has to be rare: a college team hiring two guys who played together in the NFL to coach the same position group. Also rare: two twelve-year NFL veterans coaching a single position group.
Because of Zordich's long playing career his coaching career took a while to get off the ground. It started with six years at Cardinal Mooney, the Youngstown high school that must be the country's #1 per capita generator of football coaches. In 2009 he moved up to the Eagles as a quality control coach; two years later he was the safeties coach. Andy Reid then got axed in favor of Chip Kelly and Zordich was not retained.
In the aftermath he took one of those one-year sabbaticals you frequently see when an assistant is suddenly turned loose when his head coach gets axed. He resurfaced as the safeties coach and special teams coordinator for YSU last year and was set to be retained by Bo Pelini when Harbaugh called.
That is admittedly not a huge coaching resume. It's a few years as an NFL position coach surrounded by high school and I-AA jobs. I could go dig up stats for the Eagles during those two years, but that seems like it's beside the point.
It's tough with guys who have been in the NFL for a long time. Their day-to-day experience is clearly a major help (especially at a QB-of-the-D position like safety) but it necessarily means that they get hired for jobs before they have much of an opportunity to erect a flashing neon sign that says GOOD IDEA.
Zordich hasn't done that, but then again neither had Greg Jackson when Harbaugh hired him away from a single year as a nickel DB coach at Wisconsin. Harbaugh's earned a lot of trust in terms of his hires, and since this is a guy who comes from outside the tree there's little reason to think he's not qualified. Michigan was also looking at alums Roy Manning, a guy Mattison is obviously familiar with, and Chuck Heater, who's been a college coach for a million years and has a good amount of DC experience—Harbaugh picked Zordich over the Michigan Man options.
No track record yet.
Zordich does have a big name in Youngstown and Pennsylvania. He starred for Penn State in the mid-80s and his kid, a fullback, followed suit 30 years later. That should help him recruit. Michigan has done good work in PA over the years but did not have an obvious guy to hit that state; now they do. Zordich's presence in Ohio may also free DJ Durkin up to hit the deep south more than he might otherwise.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
I'm not able to venture one with evidence so thin here. He should be fine; I like the fact that he worked with Jackson so well before.
Fred Jackson has been a fixture at Michigan going back not one but two undefeated seasons. He arrived in 1992 to join Gary Moeller's staff. Since then, including a two-season stint as Lloyd Carr's first offensive coordinator, Jackson coached (and showered superfluous praise upon) over 100 running backs.
This site has correctly pointed out numerous flaws in the RBs over the last few seasons. It's difficult to diagnose what's coaching and what's just a certain back's ability. Every time we run into Vincent Smith, which is often, either Brian or I have pestered him about why nobody else can block like he could, and Vince just smiles and says "it's hard." Jackson himself has said that vision and ability are nature, blocking is a mentality, and the most he can really do is teach them whom to block.
|Best Backs of the Jackson Era|
|*Powers had another 1,945 yds at
5.07 YPA prior to Jackson's arrival
His results are mixed; Jackson coached four of the top ten leading rushers in school history (and his guys blocked for a fifth). On the other hand only two of his guys—Wheatley and Biakubutuka—cracked 5 yards per carry for their careers, a feat accomplished by nine of the guys coached by Jackson's predecessor Tirrell Burton.
What isn't hard to find is effusive praise about Jackson as a person and as a coach, from his former wards to high school coaches across Michigan. Like the coaches of Canham's era, Fred is a permanent fixture of the Michigan Athletic Department, a relationship that goes back to when Fred was Rick Leach's quarterbacks coach in high school.
The thing that really kept Jackson here through the tenure of four coaches was his ability to recruit the state of Michigan. There was a time when Michigan barely had to work to get homegrown kids, when Michigan Replay was the best access most local coaches had to any college football program, and the local press ignored anyone else. Today the in-state rival is on a roll, and there are as many Saban/Perles/Duffy/Dantonio guys in the state's coaching ranks as there are Michigan dudes. While Michigan's mainstream beat has four Rosenbergs trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the program for every Angelique, the Spartans own an army of slappies. The current generation of recruits were born after the peak of Carr, and can only remember a few crazy 4-point wins over Notre Dame as great Michigan moments.
Michigan has veritably owned Michigan regardless.
This month, Jackson retired, the position he held for 23 years going to one of his first acolytes at Michigan. I choose not to let such a career pass quietly. I also choose not to review his career statistically, or at least not by utter performance. Rather, I'd like to chart our way through this long career in simple carries. Full data is here.
The bar graphs after the jump don't tell a story; they're there help jog the stories of so many storied running backs and fullbacks to come through here since I was 12.
[After the jump, a review of the backs in the Time of Jackson and the carry distribution between them from game to game.]
1/20/2014 – Michigan 54, Rutgers 50 – 12-7, 5-2 Big Ten
BENCH MOB NO MORE [Bryan Fuller]
At one point last night Michigan's lineup consisted of two walkons, two freshmen who had been snatched off the who-dat heap right before the late signing period, and redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. At another point it was Walton, three freshmen, and 6'7" center Max Bielfeldt. To paraphrase the increasingly rat-faced gentleman to the west, Michigan was playing a lot of weird guys. This is how weird: they yoinked a redshirt off a walk-on. It's not going to plan, you guys.
And they won! They won because Rutgers is a basketball team in the same way North Korea is a tourist destination, but Sean Lonergan played 13 more minutes than Caris LeVert did. Michigan is a basketball team in the same way London after the black plague was a city. I'll take it.
In fact Michigan is a zombie in the same way a zombie is a zombie: lurching forward despite taking a staggering amount of damage. They've got their grobbly little teeth into five Big Ten teams already largely because Beilein has deep experience taking the undersized and faintly ridiculous farther than seems possible. I bet a small part of him thinks it's kind of fun he's throwing out a zillion different zones and deploying a rotation that occasionally grabs chemistry students out of Orgo lab. A part much smaller than the eyerolling demon that controls most of his precincts, but an extant one nonetheless.
It is this tiny part of our rage-filled selves we should seek to cultivate.
Against teams that don't yield 25 uncontested threes against a team that barely hints at activity in the paint, the projection is rougher. Michigan's projected to win four of their remaining 11 games on Kenpom and it's hard to dispute that as pessimistic, what with Kenpom unaware that Caris has gone away.
It's going to be ugly. And… I guess, fine, let's just get to it and move on. Michigan saw Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas depart for the NBA. Jon Horford followed his family's insane NBA dream to 18 minutes a game on a 10-8 SEC Team. (Note to Michigan basketball: if Tito Horford shows up with a babe in swaddling clothes, put it in the river and run.) Caris is kaput and there's obviously something bothering Walton when he's not rebounding his ass off. Irvin is not quite in a Hardaway-esque sophomore funk (still 35% from three) but he's rarely able to generate anything that isn't provided.
You can rip that pile of talent away from a Duke or a Kentucky and they will plug it back in because the next wave of seven-footers from the Nike tanks is just around the corner. Michigan, not so much.
It's a minor miracle that they've done what they have over the last few years without recruiting one-and-done types. Michigan effective experience over the last five years, out of about 350: 335, 207, 342, 330, 326. The only team in that bunch to not win an NCAA game was the 207 squad, which went out early against Ohio. They went to a national title game and nearly another final four in there. And the NBA swooped in on guys who nobody had heard of before they put on the block M.
At some point the wrong combination of guys was going to pop out and Michigan would be pretty bleah. That's this.
Thanks to the two horrendous nonconference losses Michigan would probably have to get to 11, maybe 12 conference wins to get a bid. I guess that's not impossible, but neither is it likely. Against the easiest part of their Big Ten schedule Michigan has five wins that were one-basket games sometime in the last five minutes and two decisive losses.
The only reason anyone is holding out a faint modicum of hope is that 1-6 team that wandered into Breslin and sprayed blood all over the place. If that happens, great. I'm resigned to the NIT and looking for blips of improvement whenever Dawkins skies over everyone or Doyle, like, plays. I was throwing things earlier this year when this improbable scaffold collapsed on itself; now I'm trying to have fun watching it go back up.
Oy. I guess it evened out a little by the end but man, the three point shooting was something else. Rutgers somehow conspired to give Michigan open look after open look and Michigan could not convert. Walton hit a couple key late ones to get Michigan to 8 of 26, 31%.
That's much less of a problem than going 39% from within the arc, but if that happens against non-Rutgers teams it's curtains. Most of them aren't going to give up anywhere near as many open looks, though.
Rutgers. Just fire Eddie Jordan now. To be that disorganized with two seniors and two juniors in your starting lineup is a spectacular condemnation of coaching ability even in year two.
Two pointers. There aren't any. Doyle is getting an acceptable number up at a good rate (66%), and that is it. Irvin is at 42%, Chatman a stunning 34%, Walton even worse at 33%… it's night and day from last year when Michigan got a ton of good looks and converted them.
Why that might be. Walton's inability to step forward and become a high-usage, high-efficiency guy is killing the offense. I don't think anyone really expected Irvin to drive a lot of shot-generating, so the burden from the departed Stauskas was bound to fall on LeVert and Walton. LeVert stepped up insofar as he could—big usage, big assist rate, poor efficiency inside the arc. Walton's TO rate is almost as high as his assist rate and he's not effective as a shooter.
I believe that turf toe is a major problem, but we'd better hope so because any renaissance starts with Walton being an all-conference level player.
Chatman versus Dawkins. If you had no idea who was the touted recruit you would pick Dawkins 100 times out of 100. He can leap out of the building, he's decently efficient shooting, and he does not do the very strange things Chatman does multiple times per game. And yet Dawkins was picking between Michigan and Dayton while Chatman was a top 50 recruit everywhere. Very strange.
We're going to explore the boundaries of what Dawkins can do now over the rest of th season, as he's showing some promise. He even had a take to the basket last game out.
This is how you know it's not your year. Spike's TO rate is over 20, and the second highest on the team. Last year he went through a big chunk of the Big Ten season with an infinite A:TO ratio.
coming to a slot seam matchup near you?
I'm a tiny bit skeptical here since the source right now is recruit Iman Marshall (and Freddy Canteen if Canteen isn't just reacting to that) and Michigan's coaches other than Mattison haven't seen Peppers take a snap, but it's out there:
@JabrillPeppers moving to safety is good, can scrape the field left to right .. And is 2nd to none at it, peppy pep
— OneSeven (@FreddCanteen_) January 21, 2015
Michigan does return Countess and Lewis at corner, plus Channing Stribling, Terry Richardson, and Brandon Watson. If they find a third guy there's enough depth there to make the move. Meanwhile Michigan never settled on a safety opposite Jarrod Wilson last year, rotating through Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark, and Dymonte Thomas with middling success.
"But why?", you ask?
We have seen a lot of defenses move to a quarters system of varying aggressiveness as a response to the spread, and depending on how good and deep your safeties are that's either gone really well (Michigan State two years ago) or gotten you blazed down the slot whenever you run up against a good offense (Michigan State last year). OSU is also playing quarters for the most part, and when they're not they're putting a lot of pressure on a single high safety.
This trend comes from the NFL, where passing offenses were more advanced and you could unearth a freak of nature more often at safety. Chris Brown on quarters:
At first glance, Cover 4 looks like an anti-pass “prevent” formation, with four secondary defenders playing deep. But therein lies its magic. The four defenders are actually playing a matchup zone concept, in which the safety reads the tight end or inside receiver. If an offensive player lined up inside releases on a short pass route or doesn’t release into the route, the safety can help double-team the outside receiver. If the inside receiver breaks straight downfield, it becomes more like man coverage. This variance keeps quarterbacks guessing and prevents defenses from being exploited by common pass plays like four verticals, which killed eight-man fronts. The real key to Cover 4, however, is that against the run both safeties become rush defenders (remember, the outside cornerbacks play deep). This allows defenses to play nine men in the box against the run — a hat-tip to the 46’s overwhelming force.
The problem college teams often face is what happens when that man coverage from a vertical receiver comes from the offense's best WR against your third-best cover guy: the touchdowns linked above.
In a spread-oriented world, a safety has to be a corner and a linebacker at the same time. This is very hard, and modern offenses are targeting them more than anyone else for their big plays. After decades in which cornerbacks were the glamor players in any given secondary, the way many teams are playing and the shortcomings against slot receivers exposed this year demands a new, crazy athlete safety, even at the college level.
That's Peppers. If Michigan is set on quarters coverage, he's a guy who can sit over that "slot" receiver and not give up a major athleticism mismatch.
UPDATE: Peppers seems to confirm on the twitters.