D-III Williams College sharpshooter Duncan Robinson announced on Twitter moments ago that, as expected, he's transferring to Michigan:
I am proud to announce that I'll be transferring to the University of Michigan. Proud to be a Wolverine! #GoBlue
— Duncan Robinson (@D_Bo20) August 6, 2014
Robinson will sit out this year, then have three years of eligibility remaining when he suits up for the 2015-16 season.
As you might expect of a D-III player, Robinson didn't even have recruiting profiles on any of the major sites, let alone actual rankings. That's not to say he wasn't a D-I caliber prospect, however, as the New England Recruiting Report ranked him as the #12 recruit in New Hampshire and #47 in the New England region—ahead of several D-I commits—when he came out of high school in the 2013 class.
So how did Robinson not land at a D-I school? By choice:
A year ago he was a relative unknown coming out of Governor’s Academy. One year, two inches, and 20 pounds of muscle later now he’s a NEPSAC finals MVP and a huge steal for Williams College. While the masses are wondering how a sharp-shooting six-foot-seven forward could have slipped through the scholarship cracks, the reality is that he jumped through, spurning scholarship offers for the top ranked liberal arts school and one of the most storied Division III basketball programs in the country.
Academics should not be a concern.
So, yeah, you just read "sharp-shooting six-foot-seven forward" and now know why John Beilein coveted a D-III transfer. Here's more from the NERR from when Robinson committed to Williams:
One of the best pure shooters in all of New England, Robinson has a feathery stroke with range well beyond the three point line, a high basketball I.Q., and a long six-foot-seven frame that is just starting to add muscle mass.
Excellent use of "feathery" there.
Other scouting reports from his recruitment, as you might expect, are scant. What the heck, here's one from something called BallasTV, which included this blurb when they published the above video:
Duncan Robinson is probably the most under recruited kid in the NATION that we have seen this year! At 6'6 Duncan meets all the criteria for a low - mid major d1 G/F, he is tall, long, athletic, has guard skills and a GREAT student. Some times kids develop later then others and we think that is the case for Robinson, even from this summer to spring he looks to have added 10+ pounds of muscle to his lean frame.
They seemed pretty excited about him, also noting that "there isn't ONE" AAU coach who faced Robinson who wouldn't say he was a D-I level prospect. Seeing his shooting stroke, as well as some solid drives to the rim, the excitement is quite understandable.
Talking to the Freep's Mark Snyder, Robinson's AAU coach added a couple details beyond "shooter":
A dead eye shooter, hitting 45% from three-pint range while averaging 17 points per game, Robinson is nearly 6-foot-8 and weighs 195 pounds. With the redshirt year he would have to take if he transferred, “who’s to say he’s not 215 and Big Ten-ready?”
“He’s not just a standstill shooter, he can put it on the floor, he’s a smart cutter,” Crotty said. “He knows how to have patience and use angles as well.”
His ability as a cutter could play very well in Beilein's system, especially if his shot is dangerous enough that defenders are predisposed to closing out hard on the perimeter.
UMHoops got an exclusive scouting report from Nothing But NESCAC, which noted that he was comfortable and effective as both a spot-up and pull-up shooter, then pointed out some areas in need of improvement if Robinson is going to succeed against a much higher level of competition:
The defensive and rebounding parts of his game are really where Robinson will need to work on if he wants to be a contributor at Michigan. He currently lacks both the lateral quickness and strength in order to consistently stay in front of quicker shorter defenders who could use their leverage against him. Rebounding he used his size to average 6.5 rebounds per game, but he wasn’t very active on the offensive glass or ever really dominated in the paint.
If you're thinking "this guy sounds like a D-III Nik Stauskas," you're not alone, as NBN made that exact comparison. Robinson may actually be a bit taller: he told UMHoops that he's 6'8" and up to around 200 pounds. Unless he adds a good deal of bulk and strength, he's probably ticketed for the three at Michigan; regardless of what position he plays, he should at the very least stretch the floor offensively.
They are impressive. Via MLive:
As a freshman at Williams in 2013-14, he averaged 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in a school-record 1,110 minutes played (34.7 mpg), all while making 81-of-179 3-pointers (45.3 percent)
Shooting 45% from distance on a high volume of shots while being the team's star player is quite the feat for a freshman at any level. Robinson won D-III Freshman of the Year honors and was a fourth-team All-American on D3Hoops.com; not only was Robinson the only freshman among the four AA teams and five players who earned honorable mention, no sophomores were selected and only three juniors made the cut.
I can't find a high school offer sheet for Robinson, but he had plenty of interest when he announced his plans to transfer, per UMHoops:
“A whole bunch of schools that reached out,” Robinson said. “No other Big Ten schools, but a couple of ACC schools, Big 12, and then a lot of lower-conference and mid-majors. I’ve kind of narrowed it down to two. I’m going to take a visit to Davidson (this weekend) and I’m going to take a visit to Michigan (Monday).”
While Davidson isn't a high major school, they're in or around the KenPom top 100 on a very consistent basis from year to year, and they did produce that Steph Curry guy. Dylan also noted that Creighton, the most DEATH FROM ABOVE team in college basketball last season, also showed interest in landing Robinson.
UMHoops helpfully compiled a video of Robinson's Williams highlights:
Yup, dude can shoot.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Projected a D-III player to the Big Ten is a rather difficult endeavor, as a jump like that happens very rarely:
Matt Hart led Hamilton in scoring before transferring to George Washington as a walk on and Varun Ram left Trinity to walk on at Maryland and earned a scholarship, the 5-9 point guard played in 16 games last season.
Those were the two recent D-III to D-I examples UMHoops found; Hart is in the same boat as Robinson—sitting out 2014-15 after his transfer—so we don't know how the transition will go for him.
My best guess is Robinson works his way into being an off-the-bench gunner eventually; he does appear to be an ideal fit in Beilein's offense, and woe be upon the blogger who questions Beilein's talent evaluation. Beilein thought it was worth not just bringing in a D-III transfer, but using a scholarship spot on one, and just based on that I get the feeling Robinson will make an impact in his Michigan career, even if the constant influx of blue chip recruits* prevent him from grabbing a starting job.
*Man, was that sentence fun to write out.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Adding to the intrigue of Robinson's transfer is the fact that it likely quite possibly closes the book on guard/wing recruiting for the 2015 class. Though this is likely to change, Michigan has only one open scholarship for 2015-16 at the moment, and the priority is going to be landing a big man: Sam Webb posited on The Victors Board that five-star IN C Caleb Swanigan is going to be the main priority moving forward ($).
Oregon's Joseph Young reacts to the TV schedule [Photo: Steve Dykes/AP]
As is now tradition, apparently, Michigan will play in a non-conference basketball tournament in Brooklyn—this season, the "Legends Classic"—and the schedule, which includes a couple regional games at the Crisler Center, was released today:
Ann Arbor Regional
Crisler Center | Ann Arbor, Mich.
Nov. 17 vs. Bucknell
Nov. 20 vs. Detroit
Barclays Center | Brooklyn, N.Y.
Semifinal, Nov. 24
VCU vs. Villanova, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Michigan vs. Oregon, 9 p.m. (ESPN3)
Third-Place Game, Nov. 25
Loser VCU/Villanova vs. Loser Michigan/Oregon, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Championship, Nov. 25
Winner VCU/Villanova vs. Winner Michigan/Oregon, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Since television ratings rule the world, the regionals don't actually determine the semifinal matchups; the games against Bucknell and Detroit* simply serve as a warm-up round.
About those television ratings, though: you'll note that Michigan's semifinal against Oregon is being broadcast on ESPN3 (online stream only), since ESPN will show Monday Night Football that night and Alabama-Iowa State—a pretty solid non-conference matchup—received the 9 pm slot on ESPN2. For some reason, ESPNU apparently isn't an option, so here's hoping your home internet can hold it down for a night.
Then there's the title game, which should feature Michigan for reasons I'll get into later. Yes, that's a 10 pm (ET) tipoff. I get the feeling this tournament isn't ESPN's top priority.
As for the actual tournament part of the tournament, the Wolverines will face off against an Oregon team in turmoil. Three Oregon players were kicked off the team in May and eventually barred from campus after the release of a police report detailing an alleged rape at a party earlier in the year. One member of their incoming freshman class, forward Ray Kasongo, failed to pass admissions and will attend school elsewhere, while the centerpiece of that class, top-50 wing Jaquan Lyle, hasn't been admitted yet.
The Ducks were already slated to lose five senior contributors. Now they have just nine scholarship players (the NCAA limit is 13) featuring a lone returning starter; luckily for Oregon, that starter is leading scorer Joseph Young, but it's hard to imagine the Ducks will come close to replicating their run to a seven-seed in last season's NCAA Tournament.
The second game will be tough regardless of which team Michigan draws. Villanova finished last year #14 on KenPom, just four spots behind the Wolverines, and while they lose leading scorer James Bell, they return just about everyone else. VCU, as you well know by now, brings Shaka Smart's daunting full-court press—albeit one Michigan broke quite successfully the last time around—and though they lost two starters, KenPom's #17 team last season brings back plenty of talent.
The release of the Legends Classic bracket finalizes Michigan's non-conference schedule (via MGoBlue):
MLive's Brendan Quinn posted a thorough breakdown of the non-conference slate today if you feel like taking a deeper dive into the upcoming basketball schedule.
*#155 and #197, respectively, on KenPom last year (also #167 and #229 in RPI), so thankfully they shouldn't be a pair of schedule-strength anchors.
Previously: Last year's profiles, CB Brandon Watson, CB Jabrill Peppers, LB Jared Wangler, LB Chase Winovich, LB Noah Furbush, LB Michael Ferns, DL Brady Pallante, DL Bryan Mone, DL Lawrence Marshall, OL Mason Cole, OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty, WR Moe Ways.
|Elkton, MD – 6'1", 176|
||Scout||4*, #172 overall
|Rivals||4*, NR overall
#47 WR, #9 MD
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#168 WR, #26 MD
|24/7||3*, NR overall
#58 WR, #10 MD
|Other Suitors||Tenn, Rutgers, Maryland|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Eastern Christian Academy (Brandon Watson). Jungle beats.|
Yeah, still on that. There's not very much out there even now. Here's cutups from one game as a senior from Scout:
247 also posted clips from a game against Maplewood.
Welp. This series has always gone from the back of the defense to the skill positions on offense. This means any ability for this post to be prescient about Freddy Canteen is out the door. Y'all already expecting some rapture business this fall.
That is a shame, because hoo boy were Ace and I hyped about Freddy Canteen since about two seconds after his commitment. Ace said he thought Michigan got a "major steal" in his Hello post; I was repeating JUNGLE BEATS on twitter about every six seconds. The genesis was of course the video above, which remains as mesmerizing as it was when Canteen committed.
That what he did as a junior instead of play football. As you may remember, ECA is a weird school, a football version of basketball prospect factory Findlay Academy. Their first season was Canteen's junior year of high school; ECA got to play three games before Maryland's high school athletic association came down with a ruling that said no one could play them. Canteen locked himself in a gym for the next nine months trying to break as many fitbits as possible.
He joined a band called And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead Fitbits. He sent Louis CK several jokes about fitbits. &c
This left him off the radars of both recruiting site and college for a long time. Canteen's first BCS offers were from local schools that aren't really powerhouses: Rutgers and Maryland. ECA embarked on a summer-long tour of various summer camps, though, and when he hit Michigan an offer did not take long to get issued. Tennessee followed shortly after when ECA hit Knoxville, but Canteen was already headed for Ann Arbor. He announced a few days later.
Evaluations were thin on the ground then—I remember finding the Jungle Beats video was a major step forward at the moment—but the recruiting sites have filled in the gaps. Michigan has won a route artisan. This was as a 160-pound sophomore:
A terrific route runner with sneaky acceleration, Canteen gets separation easily and has sure hands. He catches the ball at its highest point often and he has the hops to go up and get it.
At the Rivals Camp Series the next year:
There may not have been a better route-runner on the field than Canteen. If he gets a clean release from the line, the defensive backs were rarely able to catch up and make a play on the ball. One of the things that stood out about Canteen was his explosiveness out of his breaks. One multiple occasions, Canteen fooled the defensive back with a hitch-and-go route and ending up with a wide open touchdown catch.
Scout's Brian Dohn took in an ECA game last year:
Canteen is fluid in and out of breaks and he did a nice job of setting up defensive backs with subtle moves before planting his foot and making his cut. …
Canteen has exceptional body control and very good footwork near the sideline, and not only can he go up and catch a ball, he tracks it low and can get down to the turf and get his hands under a low-thrown ball. …
Canteen is versatile and exciting. He has elusiveness in his ability after the catch, and he is an exceptional route runner who did not disappoint. He is good on film, but it doesn't do justice to the speed he plays at when watching him live.
Prior to that ECA game, Dohn saw Canteen at a local 7on7 at which ECA won the title:
He ran exceptional routes, there was no one who could cover him during the day, and he was effective in the short passing game and also getting behind the secondary time and again. The best way to describe Canteen's dominating day was the gasps when he actually dropped a pass. Yes, turns out he was human.
Scout's in-person evals caused them to move Canteen up about a hundred spots in their rankings.
Five-star Florida commit Jalen Tabor is from the same area, and the two had something of a camp rivalry going. Tabor is a fan:
"He’s got good routes. I definitely respect Freddy Canteen. We go at it all the time. That’s my man. We just had 7-on-7 at Maryland. The whole championship game it was just me and him. My coach said, ‘go get (Canteen).’ And they were testing me. We were going at each other. So I’ve definitely got a lot of respect for Freddy Canteen. He is going to be good in college.”
This may be why:
He has top-flight speed, above-average hands and shiftiness in his route running. Canteen beat Jalen Tabor deep for a touchdown on the first play of one game and, in another game, scored a touchdown leaping in the back of the end zone and on an out-and-up route.
So, like, at this point when his coach says something outlandish like…
“Freddy Canteen I think is the best receiver in the country. I know how (the recruiting services) operate. You have fit the measurable as far as size is concerned for them to give you a five-star rating. But if there is a better route runner in the country than Freddy Canteen, tell me who he is. I don’t think there is one. I think the expertise on the staff at Michigan allowed them to spot that rather quickly.”
…you're kind of like "seems in the ballpark of reasonable, at least." I mean, I've got a dozen more evaluations that I'm hacking down to snippets like so:
247: "Canteen understands how to get open and has slick moves after the catch. Runs very precise routes and can stick his foot in the ground and get separation from a defensive back. Tremendous hands and shows a great feel for the game."
Rivals: "…caught a wet, heavy football that was often off target with consistency and made some of the more impressive grabs downfield on jump balls."
His coach: "“He is such a gifted route runner. I guess I would compare Freddy to something like a Reggie Wayne type kid. He runs routes with the precision that allows him to be opened and allows him to finish off plays in the end zone because of his quickness."
You get the idea, surely. Freddy Canteen has been in a lab for the last few years, repeating route experiments with a control group and excellent sample size.
On the meh end of the scale, ESPN's evaluation says he's a nice underneath guy only:
Has an ability to make plays but does not possess the explosive speed that will scare defenses from any point on the field. Is more of a possession receiver than he is a big play guy.
As per usual I have no idea when this evaluation was issued or if ESPN did anything other than watch some cut-ups. That's especially relevant in Canteen's case. ESPN is an enormous outlier here—the next-most pessimistic site has him 110(!) spots higher in their position rankings—and there are many reasons Canteen would be mis-evaluated at a particular point in time. Take it FWIW: not much after spring. Speaking of…
And then he showed up for spring practice. The buzz he generated was immediate:
Teammates and coaches raved about Canteen's impact almost from the first day of spring camp. He's a player with 4.4 straight-line speed, he's agile and explosive enough with his feet to make things happen in the slot, and his general knowledge of football and the speed at which it needs to be played on the college level seems to be ahead of other players his age.
Michigan wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski remarked that Canteen brings a speed to the position that the staff hasn't had since it took over in 2011.
By the time the spring game-type substance rolled around he was the guy who started opposite Funchess. (FWIW, Darboh was held out.) He hauled in a 44-yard catch and would have had a second long bomb down the sideline except Gardner left the ball short, allowing Countess to recover. In the aftermath, there was one name on my lips:
Freddy Canteen went from freshman to Manningham in the space of 15 practices …
Also reminiscent of 86, at least as a freshman: people screaming at Canteen about where to line up pre-snap. There was one memorable play in Manningham's freshman year where Fred Jackson was having a conniption fit on the sideline trying to get Manningham to relocate himself; Manningham did not and scored a touchdown anyway. Canteen dredged that memory up on Saturday.
Injury issues for Darboh and Drake Harris removed them from the equation, and one or the other may end up in a prominent role (likely Darboh). Still, Canteen sped past the three guys in the class ahead of him and a guy (Jehu Chesson) coming off a promising redshirt freshman year. That indicates the kid is for real. When does Brady Hoke ever sound like this about a freshman?
"Once you watched him compete in winter conditioning and the things coaches are involved with and just his everyday approach to the game, you knew he had the work ethic and maybe the maturity to be beyond some other guys," head coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com in late March. "What he’s done out here, I don’t know if I expected it. But we have a lot of confidence in him."
Worth noting that Hoke said he may be either outside or in the slot when fall rolls around. Either way, he will make plays.
Etc.: I SAID MAKE PLAYS:
"He's a playmaker," Funchess said. "All playmakers go out there and make plays, and he's been making plays all spring."
"(I'm a ) playmaker, to be honest," he said. "I just want to make plays."
“He’s earned his respect out here,” said quarterback Devin Gardner. “He’s played well and made plays."
Why Mario Manningham? If there was one guy who was a death merchant at Michigan solely because of his routes and quickness, it was Manningham. He too leapt into the starting-ish lineup as a true freshman at about six-foot-even because he was able to get over the top of anyone at will.
It's easy to throw your quick guy in the slot, and hard for that quick guy to immediately say "bro but we could get 50 yards instead of 15"; Manningham did that. Canteen did it too; to start the spring game as an early-enrolled freshman over a returning contributor plus three guys in the class in front of you is an immediate indicator to upgrade expectations.
Also a viable comparison: Tyler Lockett. Not sure if he's as fast as Lockett.
Guru Reliability: Low. Canteen was mostly off the radar by the time he committed because of ECA's problems. Recruiting sites tried to make up for it by going to ECA games when they actually got to play, but they seemingly did not move him up enough.
Variance: Low. Technician already, has put himself in position to play immediately after strong spring practice. Slight size concerns but the guy is 6'1"; he'll fill out.
Ceiling: High. "Oh, wide open."
General Excitement Level: Very high. Again, narrative of this guy's spring is mondo exciting.
Projection: Obviously playing this year. I do think Darboh's return to full health will bash him to the #3 guy on the outside, and he'll have a slightly less impactful year than the current expectations. This is mostly because I think Darboh is real good and people are sleeping on him after his redshirt.
There is an opportunity in the slot, where Norfleet and (maybe) DaMario Jones are currently. Normally you'd be hesitant to bounce a freshman from one spot to the other but with a guy as advanced as Canteen it may work out.
Next year I expect Funchess to be in the NFL, paving the way for Canteen to start and have major impact.
I should have known you were temptation. [WH]
What's the first Michigan game you remember going to, or if that pre-dates memory, your earliest impressions of going to a Michigan game? And what would that kid/adult kid take away if he went to his first one this year?
Ace: I can't talk about my first Michigan game without discussing what was scheduled to be my first Michigan game. My family moved to Michigan in 1993, and my dad, an alum, got us a pair of season tickets low in the North end zone for the 1994 season—we apparently bypassed much of the waiting list due to a clerical error. My brother and I would switch off going to games with my dad; Jack took the first game, a win over Boston College. I was crestfallen to learn a couple weeks later that my dad would be on a business trip for the next game, and my mom had zero interest in going—at six years old, I wasn't going solo. Instead of getting my first taste of the Big House, I got my first taste of the secondary ticket market when my mom drove as close to the stadium as she dared on the day of the game and sold our tickets for face value.
A few hours later, Kordell Stewart connected with Michael Westbrook, and while I had a good cry on my couch, not being at Michigan Stadium that day probably saved my budding fanhood.
For some reason (ill-timed Rec&Ed soccer game, most likely), I couldn't make the next home game, so my first game ended up being a titanic matchup between #5 Michigan and #3 Penn State. Most of what I remember of that game is everything but the actual game. Walking to the stadium, hugging my dad's hip so the the sea of people with stomachs at eye-level wouldn't whisk me away. Huddling at the main gate, wondering how all these people could possibly fit in a building that barely crested above ground level. The most memorable moment, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, was the breathtaking step through the gate and into the stadium; if you haven't been to the Big House, it's tough to describe walking through a concrete tunnel and seeing the vast majority of 105,000+ seats laid out below you, when from the outside—at that time, at least—Michigan Stadium looked downright understated.
|Vague memories of going "Wheeeeeeeee!!!"|
I vaguely remember Tyrone Wheatley and Ki-Jana Carter playing very well. I definitely remember my immediate fascination with Tshimanga Biakabutuka, whose name I would repeat while running through my backyard for years to come. I remember being somewhat disappointed with the loss, but not crushed, in large part because my dad let us walk on the bleachers to get back up to the gate and out of the stadium, and it felt like we were getting away with something even though half our section took the same tack. I'd say I remember the walk home, but the many walks I made with my dad to and from Stadium and Main over the years run together into a blur of walking across the railroad tracks, cutting through the athletic campus, and passing that ever-changing pizza place on Dewey and Packard.
Despite the loss, I loved it. I loved that everyone in our section seemed to know each other, and even if they didn't they sure acted like it after touchdowns. I loved the pure electricity of a hundred thousand strong singing the same song. (A song I actually knew, even!) I loved how the laws of society seemed to loosen just a bit on those fall Saturdays—crosswalks became irrelevant (at six, this was a major development), lines were navigated with little regard for who arrived before whom, and standing on the seats was encouraged, not something that would lose me dessert privileges.
I don't think much would change for me today. While the additions to the stadium take away from the "hole in the ground is far bigger than I imagined" effect while walking in, that effect is by no means gone, and both Kid Me and Adult Me would/does love the updated concourse and overall look and feel of the Big House. The walk is still the same. The song remains the same. The camaraderie and feeling of connection, while perhaps not as strong after a trying decade, is still a big part of the experience. Seeing 100+ winged helmets fly under the barrier of the M Club banner still sends chills down my spine.
Kid Me probably wouldn't pay much attention to Special K, but he'd have been fascinated by the hype videos. They should play more of those.
[After the jump: fuzziness]
Hey guys! We have a flickr page. It has 5600 photos and counting, labeled with anyone who happens to be in them. Here's one. I call it "no pressure."
Here's a search for "Norfleet".
Go little guy, go.
All of our shots are Creative Commons licensed. We're using a no-commercial/attribution one, which means:
- You can use our photos… Go ahead. We like you.
- …as long as you don't sell them. Don't do that. You can make 'em into super dramatic art shots with lens flare and a rain of blood from the sky. But you do have to cut us in if you sell that to an art collector.
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Here's where it tells you who it is:
Unfortunately the guys have not always put full names, so just know that Fuller is Bryan Fuller and Upchurch is Eric Upchurch. Bill Rapai has done the hockey shots.
Are you interested in shooting for us? We have most football and home basketball games covered, but there are opportunities to shoot other sports—I am particularly appreciative when someone wants to shoot hockey—or road games. Email me at [email protected] and we'll see if we can get you to a game.
Where to start, really? [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
In Brady Hoke's fourth year at the helm, Michigan heads into fall camp with far fewer questions about the starting lineup than we're used to hearing this time of year; even the offensive line looks pretty much set, though of course concerns about their ability will follow this team well into the season. Today I'm taking a look at the five players—some penciled in as starters, some not—whose emergence is critical to Michigan's success in 2014, either due to the depth at their position, their potential to become a real difference-maker, or both.
You'll be shocked to see that the list begins with an offensive lineman.
RT Ben Braden
Braden is #1 with a bullet for me. He replaces an NFL draft pick at a critical spot on a line in need of a whole lot of improvement, and the options behind him are very limited. Braden has great potential due to his Lewan-wowing combination of size (6'6", 322 lbs.) and athleticism, but there are also significant concerns—that same Lewan article, from last August, stated the starting left guard spot was Braden's to lose, but even in a season when the guards rotated with alarming frequency he played just two games, both as a reserve.
While it's far too early to say a lineman heading into his redshirt sophomore season has panned out or not, the fact that a true freshman and a 6'1" walk-on—Kyle Bosch and Joey Burzynski, respectively—saw the field over Braden last year is certainly worrisome. Adding to that concern is the depth at tackle this season. If Braden can't lock down his spot at right tackle, the first tackle off the bench looks likely to be another true freshman, Mason Cole, if the spring is any indication. A trio of redshirt freshmen provide depth, but none are close to sure things: Logan Tuley-Tillman likely needs at least another year of development, Chris Fox mostly spent last year rehabbing an ACL tear, and David Dawson seems more suited to guard.
It's true that any of Michigan's O-linemen could be on this list—in fact, there's another later—but Braden's spot in the lineup appears the least certain, and he just happens to be in a spot that could cause a complete reshuffling of the line if he can't hold the job.
NT Ondre Pipkins
There are really four interior defensive linemen that could go here; Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Maurice Hurst were under serious consideration, but Henry seems like he'll be at least a passable starter, and the three-tech spot—where Wormley and Hurst are slated to play—doesn't have the same importance as the nose (while boasting more depth on this roster). Also, only one of these guys was a five-star All-American out of high school, and it's Pee Wee Pipkins.
Pipkins is, rather shockingly, already a true junior, and his time to make that five-star impact is quickly running out after he blew out an ACL against Minnesota last year, just as he was showing signs of reaching his potential. He's reportedly fully recovered from that injury, though there's no telling how it'll affect him until he's back playing in actual games. If he's healthy, he could develop into some unholy combination of Gabe Watson and Alan Branch; he could also be the next Will Campbell, and that's without accounting for the potential that he's not fully comfortable on that knee.
While Michigan doesn't necessarily need Pipkins in the starting lineup—Henry can start at the nose next to a three-tech platoon of Wormley/Hurst/others—they need him to be healthy and productive enough to rotate in a good deal, unless Bryan Mone is remarkably ahead of the curve for a true freshman nose tackle. It'd also, of course, be really nice to see the affable Pipkins return to the how-the-hell-is-that-blob-chasing-down-Stefon Diggs form he showed in his standout Army AA Game performance a couple years ago.
WR Amara Darboh
|"Today in practice I witnessed the single greatest catch I've ever seen in person." — Devin Gardner|
We got a couple tantalizing looks at Darboh before he missed the 2013 season with a foot injury: the amazing catch from a 2012 Outback Bowl practice (right) and a nice deep sideline grab in the 2013 Spring Game. While Jehu Chesson did a solid job as the #3 receiver last year, Darboh was considered the clear leader for that role—really the #2 receiver role at the time, before everyone figured out Devin Funchess was a tight end in name only—and he also garnered more hype as a recruit.
This admittedly isn't an area of significant need for Michigan; Freddy Canteen, Moe Ways, Jaron Dukes, and DaMario Jones provide plenty of depth and talent at receiver.* None of those guys possess the combination of talent, physical development, and knowledge of the offense that Darboh has right now, however, and the capable-of-catching-anything aspect to Darboh's game is something I'd like to see on the field.
Having a sure-handed possession receiver across from Devin Funchess could make Michigan's passing game downright scary, and early in the season it could also help cover for the absence of a receiving threat at tight end while Jake Butt recovers from his ACL injury. Darboh, who's now listed at 6'2", 211 pounds, potentially fits that bill better than anyone on the roster.
*I'd include Drake Harris, too, but he's coming off a lost senior season of high school due to a hamstring injury and he needs to gain weight, so a redshirt hopefully beckons.
RG Kyle Kalis
This should probably be Jake Butt's spot, but I'm going with Kalis here, since he's a five-star talent on a line in need of that, and after one rough year it appears he's been written off by many. I mean, this was in Brian's post-spring 27 Tickets, when he (ever so jinxfully) assumed now-Buckeye Chad Lindsay would transfer from Alabama to Michigan and take over the center spot:
27. G Kyle Bosch, So. [Last time: 25]
Under assumption that Lindsay comes in, Glasgow displaces one of Braden/Bosch/Kalis. Random guess here is that it's Kalis because Bosch should improve more as younger guy but your guess is as good as mine. So is Hoke's.
Kalis was left out of the top 27.
While I realize Kalis underperformed last year, and not all of that can be chalked up to coaching ... well, you all saw the mess on the line, and assigning individual blame for that tire fire is a difficult, if not impossible, endeavor. Kalis was thrust into a starting job as a redshirt freshman, then moved in and out of the lineup as the coaches tried (and failed) to find something that would work—not exactly a recipe for success for a first-year starter regardless of talent.
And boy, does Kalis have talent. Offensive linemen are the toughest prospects to project with much accuracy, but he looked like the surest of sure things out of high school. Many of his issues last year appeared to stem from uncertainty about his assignment; given his freshmandom and the sheer number of schemes Michigan tried to run last year, that's understandable. The simplified, inside zone-centric offense under Doug Nussmeier should suit him well; if he's confident enough in his knowledge of the playbook to stop thinking and starting clobbering, we could see a huge step forward from him this fall.
NICKEL/S/CB Jabrill Peppers
Braden is the #1 X-factor, in my opinion, because of his importance to the team's success this year; if you think of X-factors as players who can make an impact in a number of ways, however, the obvious choice is Peppers. Obviously.
The coaches maintain that they'll start him out at nickel, and he could make a huge difference there as a prototype hybrid space player who's equally adept in coverage and run support. He could very well start from day one at strong safety, the only spot in the secondary with any real uncertainty, and the way Greg Mattison utilized that spot in the Spring Game—aggressively rolling the SS into the box often—is ideally suited for a player like Peppers. He could even challenge Raymon Taylor at boundary corner, though with the rise of Jourdan Lewis the need for Peppers at corner appears less than the two other defensive positions he could play this year.
Personally, I'm hoping that sooner or later he starts at strong safety, where he could bring a level of playmaking Michigan hasn't had back there since... uh... let's go with "a while ago." I don't believe the coaches will ask Peppers to make an impact on offense this year, but special teams is another story—his potential as a return man is massive, and I have a hard time believing the coaches won't try to get the ball in his hands one way or another.