Peppers at 10, which seems low.
You Know The Drill
TRUE FACT: TomVH used to say "buckle up" all the time. You should remind him of this frequently.
On Wednesday morning, TomVH broke the news that five-star NJ CB Jabrill Peppers will announce his college decision live on ESPNU on May 26th*, when he'll choose between finalists LSU, Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers, and Stanford. Peppers
has a visit set to Penn State for tomorrow, and could make one more "surprise" visit—presumably Rutgers—before making his announcement.
[UPDATE: Scout's Brian Dohn just posted on the GBW message board that a source tells him Peppers has cancelled his Penn State visit ($).]
As for any concerns that those final visits could sway Peppers from a presumed pledge to Michigan—let's just say it doesn't sound likely, given this quote to a local paper:
“I know and feel very confident in the decision I’m going to make,” said Peppers.
Michigan commits feel very confident in that decision being for—you guessed it—Michigan:
— Drake Harris™ (@drizzygetbusy01) May 15, 2013
(If you're wondering why Speight and Harris will be in San Diego, quarterback guru George Whitfield—the guy with the broom who's worked with Devin Gardner—is hosting a camp that weekend.)
You have nine days until following proper safety protocol is strongly advised. I have eight days to decide whether pre-writing a post is worth the jinx-bait.
BONUS: In the wake of the MSU-Jay Harris mutual** parting of the ways so Harris can pursue a rap career, Peppers weighed in on his USA Today blog [emphasis mine]:
Peppers, who will choose between Michigan, Stanford, Penn State, Notre Dame, LSU and Rutgers on May 26, said that each school is well aware of his current rap career and long-term aspirations.
"They ask me about it all the time," Peppers said. "They're OK with it because my raps are clean. I just think if he (Harris) really wanted to pursue rap he could've gone about it a better way. I don't think anyone in their right mind would turn down a free education to a prestigious university to play football. It could only help your career."
Peppers said from broadening your vocabulary, to overwhelming exposure, to having an established fan base, "whether you're nice with your rap skills or not," college has "unlimited benefits" to boosting a career in the booth.
One key difference between Peppers and Harris, aside from the blunt-smoking and bailing on a free education: Peppers is nice on the mic, Harris... well, you've probably seen the video by now. I'm legitimately disappointed Leon McQuay III didn't sign on this year, both for the obvious reason—he's pretty good at football—and so he and Peppers could potentially form the elite defensive back version of JDK & Rey.
BONUS BONUS: Speaking of good defensive back recruits, IL CB Parrker Westphal could be approaching a commitment, per TomVH ($):
After his visit to Arizona State [this weekend] Westphal says he might take a trip to Tennessee, but nothing is set in stone. From there he will only focus on those schools on his list and continue to visit and evaluate what those programs have to offer. Westphal still says he is in no hurry to make a decision, but would like to get it done sooner than later.
“I want to make it before the season,” he said. “Games don’t start until August, but practice is in a few weeks so we’ll see when it happens.”
Michigan is "still the school he uses to compare other visits," and Westphal noted that his recent Florida visit went well... with the caveat that Michigan offers better academics. If he sticks to a summer decision timeline, it's hard to see him ending up elsewhere.
*Now a banner day for fans of Michigan football and Arrested Development. Peppers' announcement will hopefully ensure that I don't attempt to watch the entire fourth season in one sitting. (I probably will anyway.)
**Since Harris had signed a LOI, it's my understanding that State could not legally revoke his scholarship without consent, though the looming prospect of getting through admissions means Harris still didn't have much of a choice, in all likelihood.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on the linebacker situation, new offers, Michigan visiting the son of rap royalty, and more.]
Brace yourself. LSUFreek spent yesterday swapping rival coaches' hair. Paul Chryst/Dana Holgorsen:
Aaand our local rivals:
As Orson says, that makes Hoke look like a senator straight out of O Brother Where Art Thou.
Point Gene Smith. OSU's AD on the possibility of playing The Game at night.
"Are you crazy? What's wrong with you? It'll be noon. I have to be open to 3:30, but noon is my favorite time for that one."
Grudging respect meter: incremented.
Oh come on man. I'm gonna need some more detail on this($), Wyatt Shallman, before I agree this is a thing that actually happened:
In elementary school, he once caught a 10-pound bass using nothing more than a Spiderman fishing rod and a Lifesaver candy.
I wasn't born yesterday, Wyatt Shallman.
Goodbye, stupid o'clock bowl. The Big Ten has (likely) dumped the Insight.Chicken bowl in Arizona, not that Michigan ever showed up in it since any vaguely bowl-eligible Michigan program got snapped up as soon as the Big Ten bylaws allowed it and they were too far down the pecking order. I mean, that 7-5 outfit a couple of years ago got snapped up by the Outback.
For people looking for more variety in their bowl destinations, it's still grimly central Florida in the consolation prize area:
The Gator Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl previously had rotated the No. 3 Big Ten selection after the Rose Bowl. The Holiday Bowl is expected to get the No. 3 Big Ten pick, after Capital One and Outback. The next Big Ten team could go to the Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl, depending on the year.
They've only managed to insert the Holiday in there and lessen the big ten presence in the Gator Bowl. Meh. The Pinstripe and Please Change The Name Of The Bowl In San Francisco are likely to be added, but again so far down the pecking order that it's unlikely Michigan is around when those bowls are picking. Also slightly alleviating the central Florida malaise is the Orange Bowl, which will get a Big Ten team at least three times over the next twelve years. In those years the ACC will send a team to the Citrus. Miami, while inconvenient to get to, is essentially its own insane tinpot country that is at least interesting.
More helpful than the bowl switch up is the Big Ten taking back some of their autonomy as far as who goes where:
"We'll probably be somewhere in between (a bowl committee) selection and a conference placement," Delany said after the league's athletic director meetings in Chicago. "So what we'll do is give a lot of conditions to each bowl, and they will have to get conference approval for the selection that they choose.
"The goal is going to be that we keep these games fresh and also that the bowls create the best possible lineup. I think there's been some fatigue."
So if fanbase X that's been to central Florida six straight years ends up in a big pile of approximately equal teams they'd probably ship 'em to the Holiday or Music City.
Also in annoying things, the Holiday will feature the #2 Pac-12 team against the #3 Big Ten team. The Big Ten has a couple extra teams, yeah, but with the road-ish nature of that game that should be an even 2-for-2 or 3-for-3 if it's going to be even in the long run. The Big Ten doesn't help perception of itself much when its quest for maximum dollars continually puts them at a disadvantage in bowl matchups.
Weird thing I just thought of in relation to all this: if we do get a Ten Year War II going on the Rose Bowl is going to be the consolation prize for the loser of The Game. Ew.
Are we dumping the only incompetent Germans? This is admittedly a bit of a stretch that Drake Harris would be the one guy who knows what Michigan's plans are in re: their apparel contract, but he's tweeted out "when we got back to Nike, I hope we get [appalling uniforms that prove seventeen year olds are blind and/or insane]" and responded to a guy asking him about it that he thinks it'll go down in two more years. That's not accurate according to Angelique Chengelis, though the door is going to be open:
Brandon on WTKA says 3.5 years left on Adidas contact. Will honor contract. And then....negotiations begin
It is possible that they're telling recruits they plan to switch in an effort to assure them they won't end up having to play skins in a critical conference game. There are many, many reasons to do this, from Adidas's uniformly (ha!) appalling alternates to the labor kerfuffle to the fact that the only incompetent Germans can't supply Michigan with non-tearaway uniforms or replacements for the tearaway ones.
Well, yeah. Brandon says the 2014 Penn State game will likely be at night:
"That's a good hunch," Brandon said when asked the likelihood of a Michigan-Penn State night game at Michigan Stadium. "I would expect that Penn State game would be a terrific game in early October to have as a night game against a Big Ten opponent."
…because the other three are Maryland, Indiana, and Minnesota. Dave sounds a little defensive, must be getting a lot of heat for the Worst Home Schedule Ever. At least he acknowledges it's a problem:
"Football can be pretty boring in September if you've got all your teams playing down to competition," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "It's boring for the fans at the stadium and it's boring on television. We don't want to be boring, so we want to strengthen the schedule."
Also in October and November when you're playing Rutgers and Maryland every week. My mind is still struggling to interpret those as football games instead of extra byes.
Chrome it up! Death comes for us all. YOLO. Synergy. Brandon:
Michigan ended last season by making a rare alteration to its winged helmet, adding a matte finish for the Outback Bowl. That theoretically could open the door for more changes, including a chrome helmet, which many teams already employ for their alternate looks.
The idea surely would ruffle feathers in some corners of the fan base. But Michigan has also shown a willingness to push the envelop during the Brandon era.
So, would he do it?
Brandon said he is reluctant to alter the helmet so drastically -- but added, "never say never."
He cites "some polling done," which… I mean it's already locked in your brain or it's not. Also he calls college football "the platform" at some point. I hope MBA programs know they're killing the language.
/buys even more Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork stock.
I'm with Dave here though. The MSA president, still as useless as ever:
"The students are upset to say the least, they feel that the athletic department broke its long-held social contract with the students," said Michael Proppe, Central Student Government president for the 2013-14 academic year.
Oh I see they've changed the name to something more evocative of Stalin to emphasize their extreme lack of power. Anyway. Ahem.
YOU broke the "long-held social contract," Michael Proppe, by not showing up. You and lots of other people. The deal was: you get cheap tickets, show up, and be loud. You have altered the deal. Pray Dave Brandon doesn't alter it any further.
Etc.: Oh goody: "dead is a strong word" for expansion. Big Ten ADs want seven wins to be the minimum for bowl eligibility. Rutgers' new AD was on the wrong end of a lawsuit about discriminating against pregnant women. Kicker: is a woman.
|WHAT||NCAA Softball Regional|
|WHERE||Wilpon Complex/Alumni Field|
|WHEN||Friday-Sunday, May 17-19|
|LINE||Softball lines, junkie?|
|TV||ESPN3.com (all games)|
Right: Freshman slugger extraordinaire Sierra Romero.
The NCAA regional is a double-elimination tournament, so the only team Michigan is guaranteed to play is Valparaiso; if all goes chalk, Michigan would play Cal in Game 3 and go from there.
|Friday, May 17|
|4:30 p.m.||Game 1 -- Central Michigan vs. California|
|7 p.m.||Game 2 -- Michigan vs. Valparaiso|
|Saturday, May 18|
|Noon||Game 3 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner|
|2:30 p.m.||Game 4 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser|
|5 p.m.||Game 5 -- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner|
|Sunday, May 19|
|1 p.m.||Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner|
|3:30 p.m.||Game 7 -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary)|
All games will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.
First-team All-B1G pitcher Sara Driesenga
Record: 45-10 (20-2 Big Ten, 16-0 Home)
Rankings: #7 USA Today, #8 ESPN, #8 RPI
Good wins (RPI): #11 Arizona State, #29 Arizona, #16 Texas A&M
Bad losses (RPI): #179 LIU-Brooklyn
Michigan mostly dominated in the Big Ten this year and fared pretty well when it came to facing ranked non-conference opponents (5-4, including wins against both Arizona schools), though they unexpectedly fell to RPI #24 Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines are the #8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament (full bracket .pdf here)—as you'll see, however, they didn't get the easiest of draws.
The offense is led by shortstop Sierra Romero, who earned mention in this space last week after an astonishing freshman season earned her big-time accolades:
Kind of good, part two. Six(!) softball players were named first-team All Big Ten after Michigan roared through the league schedule 20-2. Sierra Romero was both the freshman and player of the year, Carol Hutchins coach of the year, etc.
Here is Romero's Big Ten slugging percentage.
Also her on-base percentage was .659. That is nuts.
Other batting standouts include 2B Ashley Lane (.385/.435/.698*), 1B Caitlin Blanchard (.399/.467/.534), and OF Sierra Lawrence (.347/.424/.578). Romero's full slash line for the season is a ridiculous .378/.514/.854—in other words, she reaches base on more than half of her plate appearances and hits with a ton of power (in 164 at-bats, she hit eight doubles, two triples, and 22 home runs, the last mark a school record). Leadoff hitter Lyndsay Doyle (.304/.429/.360) is a patient hitter with base-stealing speed (10/11 this year), while catcher Lauren Sweet (.267/.330/.545) provides some pop at the bottom of the order.
The pitching staff is very good but a step below dominant. Sophomore righty Sara Driesenga earned first-team All-B1G honors, posting a 26-6 record with a 1.81 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 205 innings pitched—her control (63 walks) keeps her from being totally dominant. Sophomore lefty Haylie Wagner is the #2 starter—she finished 18-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 119.1 innings. Wagner is more hittable than Driesenga but exhibits much better control (only 15 walks all season).
Cal star pitcher Jolene Henderson (via)
This is where I stop pretending to know anything about softball and let our mysterious softball source take over the scouting. All of the actual scouting content below comes from a source who's asked to remain anonymous; I've only done minor editing for brevity and provided the intro.
Record: 34-25 overall, 11-9 Horizon (that's bad)
Rankings: #186 RPI
Previous meeting: none
Good wins: ??? (win over Iowa State is only major conference victory, beat also-bad Youngstown State for tourney title)
Bad losses: Detroit (five wins this year, tied for second-least in NCAA)
Their lineup is pretty straightforward, with three girls to look out for and one that possibly might be an issue. Their top batter is Brittany Duncan (.349/.478/.514), who I'm told the key against is to go low—she's a big girl that can go long on anything up high, so anything other than a well-executed rise would be ill advised (Wagner seems to be known more for that type of pitch than Driesenga).
The next two to worry about are Janelle Bouchard (.333/.376/.548) and Kaitlyn Ranieri (.322/.429/.399), but they're both freshman and aren't anything [redacted source] has seen in person or on film. My recollection from seeing a game in person is that Amanda Korb (.387/.406/.613) is capable of hitting well, and more or less abused the freshman version of a good pitcher throwing mostly rise and curveballs, but she's only been at the plate 31 times, which makes a current injury or injury from earlier in the year possible. [ED-Ace: I can't find anything to indicate an injury, so I think Korb is just a potentially underutilized pinch-hitter.]
Expect them to start pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer (20-11, 2.29 ERA), who is also a freshman, and is "not fast but spinny with back door curve. [Throws] a lot of curves and off speed pitches," according to my source.
Record: 33-18 overall, 18-7 MAC (better than 11-9 Horizon, but Cal should win easily)
Rankings: #95 RPI
Previous meeting: M 11-0 (5-inning game)
Good wins: MSU and PSU are the only major conference wins, although the bottom of the B1G is not "major" for softball purposes.
Bad losses: Nothing really sticks out, but seven losses in the MAC doesn't indicate a consistently good team, few losses in the high 100's RPI.
The box score on MGoBlue should be your main guide here, but I'll provide some color substance. Michigan saw Kara Dornbos (15-11, 2.47 ERA) and Kristen Kuhlman (4-2, 3.82) as the 1-2 in their last outing; expect Dornbos to start. She was pulled after giving up 8 ER in three innings at Alumni Field.
Batting wise, Wagner held CMU to two hits and Cal's Jolene Henderson is a better pitcher than Wagner. Either team should shut down a fairly mediocre MAC offense with relative ease. CMU did finish the year on a bit of a hot streak, winning 7/8 and going undefeated in the MAC tournament.
Record: 36-17 overall, 10-14 Pac-12 (don't be fooled here—the Pac-12 has seven of the top 30 teams in the country based on RPI)
Rankings: #18 USA Today, #22 ESPN, #18 RPI
Previous meeting: none
Good wins: Won two of their three games against Arizona, beat #26 Baylor and #21 Hawaii in the same tournament. Otherwise struggled against top competition, going 3-12 against ranked Pac-12 teams when Arizona is excluded.
The only game that approached bad loss territory was a 1-0 loss to #77 Oregon State, but that came on the heels of two wins over the Beavers by a combined 11-1 score. As commenter Alton pointed out, I was looking at the wrong RPI sheet—Cal doesn't really have a bad loss this year.
Jolene Henderson's talent cannot be overstated, she is an absolute monster and will be up for Cal HoF or jersey retirement or whatever honors the AD over there gives out, with the only "dark spot" being that they were knocked out in the WCWS semifinal last year and she hasn't won a national title. She's arguably the number two pitcher in the nation (one is pretty well claimed), and that's where I would put her. Cal and LSU are the only teams through Super Regionals where Wagner and Driesenga will be outmatched talent-wise, in my opinion.
Henderson (30-9, 1.23 ERA) favors a curve, but has an excellent changeup when she can get her spots, and obviously can pitch just about anything. She does not have overwhelming (68-70mph in softball) speed, but obviously makes up for it in movement, accuracy and is praised universally for her poise. One thing that's very important to remember is that Henderson is coming off a knee injury; had she been healthy all year there would be a regional in Berkeley almost definitely.
[Addition from a later email: The better pitching evaluation for Jolene Henderson is that she does have top end speed (I've seen at least 70mph on the ticker, the world record for a single pitch is 75) and kills by pitching that in tandem with a killer changeup, 15mph difference at times. Curve evaluation would stay the same, excellent, probably above anything other than the fastball or the changeup, but her arsenal is deep and scary in general. This is me noting her confidence and poise again.]
Cal lacks the firepower to win a shootout with Michigan, which has a formidable batting lineup. If Michigan can score three or four, expect a win for M, although shutting down Cal completely is well within the abilities of either M pitcher if she can throw well that particular day, which will make a tough matchup for M's batting order much easier, obviously.
I'd also add that MGoBlog's resident seeding/RPI/NCAA expert Alton had an opinion on Ann Arbor's seeding, where 8 M got 17 Cal, and in exchange got the equivalent of two four seeds. Neither CMU nor Valpo is a credible threat to advance. (Valpo upset Louisville last year, but lost their pitcher and several hitters to graduation.) Cal is quite possibly more likely to advance than any other two-seed in the tournament, and definitely is among the top eight seeds.
ESPN has a broad overview of each of the regionals—here's their bit on Michigan, the proclaimed favorite to come out of Ann Arbor:
The favorite: No. 8 Michigan
Michigan stumbled on a couple of occasions down the stretch, but that didn't prevent it from clinching a coveted top-eight seed. A run-starved lineup that overachieved when it reached a super regional a season ago matured into a juggernaut, its slugging percentage climbing from .415 to .535. Some of that comes down to freshman star Sierra Romero (1.369 OPS), but five regulars are slugging at least .500, up from two a season ago. The difference between a team that can get to the World Series and one that can do something there may come down to what the Wolverines get from Sara Driesenga and Haylie Wagner in the circle. The staff's 2.92 Big Ten ERA is dicey.
Many thanks to our anonymous source for a remarkably informative preview—hopefully, if Michigan advances, we'll have much more coverage in the same vein.
*For those unfamiliar with baseball/softball slash lines, that's batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage.
Quite possibly M's second-best home opponent in 2014. No, not Wake Forest.
The Big Ten released the 2014 football conference schedule this afternoon, providing our first glance at how the conference slate looks when Rutgers and Maryland are added to the mix. The .pdf with every team's conference schedule can be found here, or you can just click the picture below to embiggen:
To make things a little simpler, here's a (chart?) chart of each team's crossover games:
|Indiana||at Iowa, Purdue|
|Maryland||Iowa, at Wisconsin|
|Michigan||Minnesota, at Northwestern|
|Michigan State||Nebraska, at Purdue|
|Ohio State||Illinois, at Minnesota|
|Penn State||Northwestern, at Illinois|
|Rutgers||at Nebraska, Wisconsin|
|Illinois||at Ohio State, Penn State|
|Iowa||Indiana, at Maryland|
|Minnesota||at Michigan, Ohio State|
|Nebraska||at Michigan State, Rutgers|
|Northwestern||at Penn State, Michigan|
|Purdue||Michigan State, at Indiana|
|Wisconsin||Maryland, at Rutgers|
Fans of the Little Brown Jug will be happy to see Minnesota as one of Michigan's crossovers; an ever-improving Northwestern squad should be a tough test. Ohio State, meanwhile, gets to feast on the conference's two worst programs—unless you want to make the case for Iowa, which... go right ahead, actually—and woe be upon the Gophers for drawing the Big Two.
Home games in ALL CAPS:
|Aug. 30||APPALACHIAN STATE|
|Sept. 6||at Notre Dame|
|Sept. 13||MIAMI (OH)|
|Oct. 4||at Rutgers|
|Oct. 11||PENN STATE|
|Oct. 25||at Michigan State|
|Nov. 8||at Northwestern|
|Nov. 29||at Ohio State|
Yeah, the home schedule suuuuuuucks. This is in part because...
THINGS OF NOTE
- The Michigan State series has flipped, so the Wolverines now travel to East Lansing in both 2013 and 2014. Michigan playing in East Lansing in back-to-back years is unprecedented, and the last time they faced both MSU and OSU on the road was in 1966.
- With the Notre Dame game in South Bend in 2014, that leaves Penn State—a team with 65 scholarship players—as the marquee home game. Utah isn't very good anymore, so the next-best game at the Big House is probably... Maryland? Ugh.
- In related news, it's very possible that Michigan will face their four toughest opponents on the road. That is less than ideal, though at least it sets up for 2015 to have a favorable schedule—especially sans Notre Dame—just as Hoke's juggernaut-laden recruiting classes really begin to take hold.
- It really can't be stressed enough how much Minnesota got screwed. Also getting unusually difficult crossover games: Illinois (at OSU, PSU) and Northwestern (at PSU, Michigan). The Illini will probably be bad no matter what, but that's an especially tough break for the Wildcats, which have a legitimate chance to contend in the West.
The biggest takeaways for me are the home schedule, which is the worst in the history of ever, and the unfortunate year-to-year imbalance created by playing MSU on the road for the second straight year. These are related, obviously—since the late '60s, Michigan fans could look forward to a home game against either MSU or OSU every year. Now there's a serious vested interest in Penn State's program somehow remaining strong through the sanctions, if only for the hopes of one interesting home game in even-numbered years.
All in all, things could be far worse for Michigan—the crossover games are reasonable, at least, and odd-numbered years are now set up for some great home slates and generous schedules overall. I can't help but look at that home schedule and feel deeply disappointed, however. Tougher non-conference scheduling can't kick in soon enough.
|Alliance, OH – 6'1", 180|
|Scout||5*, #4 S, #39 overall, #2 OH|
|Rivals||4*, #12 S, #109 overall, #4 OH|
|ESPN||4*, #10 ATH, #93 overall, #4 OH|
|24/7||4*, #11 S, #80 overall, #4 OH|
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, Notre Dame|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Urban Meyer is still on him hard. Army AA. Early enrollee.|
Senior highlights can be found on hudl. They're mostly offense. Also they are impressive.
If there's one thing extensive googling of Dymonte Thomas assures you of, it's that at this very moment there is an Ohio State fan posting speculation about Dymonte Thomas opting out of his LOI to a twenty-page thread. Someone else will respond to him by pointing out Thomas is already on campus and never actually signed a LOI, and the original poster will respond "yeah, but…" and spin out his reasons for optimism in re: Dymonte Thomas. This is less speculation than dead statistical certainty.
This is kind of strange for a guy that liked Michigan so much he pulled the trigger right after the Denard After Dentist ND game, ie going on two years ago, and never gave any indication of wavering. Or at least it would for any other fanbase.
In any case, Michigan fans have been patiently waiting for and OSU fans derangedly pining for Thomas because he is an Electric Athlete. I do recommend those hudl highlights linked above, which consist mostly of Thomas putting the jets on at running back and leaving chasers yards in the dust. Despite missing most of three games he put up 1,270 yards at 7.3 a pop, largely by doing this:
What He Does Has the capability to score a touchdown anytime he touches the football. Five of Thomas’ touchdown runs went for 50 or more yards. His one TD catch was for 57 yards.
There's one where he decides to split the safeties and the safeties find out their angles have been calibrated so badly that neither gets within five yards of the kid. I expected at least one of 'em to take their helmet off, quit football forever, and fade away as he walks out of the stadium, but the clip doesn't extend long enough for me to test that hypothesis.
That's the kind of thing that gets this kind of quote deployed:
“He has given the program so much and carries himself the right way at all times on and off the field. I’ve heard so many other coaches and even college coaches say he’s one of the most electrifying athletes they’ve ever seen on a football field.” — Ed Miley
Did we mention that Thomas started as a freshman, was also a wrestler and picked up MLB draft interest? Guys like Thomas are the reason recruiting sites had to invent the "athlete" position. Merely seeing him on the other team causes fever dreams about maybe coaching that kid:
1, Dymonte Thomas, Marlington RB-LB-S
Strengths: Just about everything. He’s a great football player. He’s very explosive on both sides of the ball. He’s very aggressive. He has a nose for the football and he’s a great kid, too… When you play Marlington, you worry about taking Dymonte away on the perimeter and you take your chances inside, which wasn't a good option last year.
Weaknesses: I don’t know of any. If we had him, I often thought where would he play, and it’d be any number of positions. He does it all well and he’s such a great tackler.
— Opposing coach
More capital-A Athlete takes:
- Allen Trieu: "college-ready build already … one of his best assets is his speed … simply an excellent athlete."
- Bill Greene: "combines speed, quickness, and great athletic ability with the love of contact … should end his high school career as one of the greatest all-around athletes in Stark County's storied history."
- Coach Ed Miley: “I’ve seen big guys, physical players. I’ve seen kids that can run. He is a combination of size and speed. I know he’s 6-1, 190, 200, but he plays much bigger than that. He is very explosive.”
- Josh Helmholdt: "The first thing to know about Thomas is that he is fast… extremely fast."
And perhaps most remarkably, ESPN's evaluation of him does not state "he is more quick than fast" or "lacks a top gear," which damn near every evaluation of a non-lineman will throw in there at some point even if you are pretty damn fast. Instead($):
Thomas is a physically impressive looking athlete and overall football player. … Plays a hybrid type role … He is quick to read and react and flashes very good closing burst when he locates the football. Gets through the trash with good lateral agility. He plays the position fast and pursues with a high motor and little wasted motion to the ball. Has the range to make plays in all three levels of the defense and is a true ball-hawk. He closes hard and with impressive pop. Runs through and is a hitter who will force turnovers and bring an intimidating presence to the position. … has the size, athleticism and ball skills to develop as a coverage guy along with very good make-up speed.
When ESPN does not note you are not as fast as an NFL player, you are fast. QED.
The catch, such that it is, is that Thomas has not shown an ability to play safety yet. Marlington used him as a weakside linebacker. Thus many of the scouting reports on him mention an uncertainty about whether he has the coverage technique to get the stars his athleticism suggests he should. No one pounded on this more frequently than Josh Helmholdt, who declared three different times that he didn't want to "get too bullish on his ranking until we were able to more thoroughly assess his coverage skills" despite also joining the "extraordinary athlete" chorus. The big reveal($) after Thomas played safety at the Army All-American game:
…Dymonte Thomas was the prospect I felt had the most to prove at the all-star games because we had not seen him in coverage yet. Thomas started out with a rough first day of practices at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and his lack of experience in coverage was evident. But as the week progressed Thomas adjusted well, and by the Army Bowl he was in on a lot of plays and was able to show off his speed. At the end of the day, where we had Thomas ranked going into the Army Bowl was pretty accurate.
In one week he went from incapable to in on a lot of plays, so they ranked him correctly. Seems a little stubborn there.
Similar notes of concern come from Scout's Scott Kennedy, who lists "coverage awareness" as a weakness and says "coverage awareness and technique will come with experience on defense," which is the nice way to put it. Scout is the most bullish of the four sites, FWIW, probably because this is the good bit of their eval:
Change of Direction
…plays both sides of the ball with aggression. He attacks the defenders when he's running the ball, and he punishes ball carriers on defense. A strong safety type, Thomas has good acceleration and balance. He's good enough on offense to stay at running back similar to Matt Elam (UF) at the same stage.
ESPN notes that "he is not asked to defend a lot in space and man-to-man coverage skills are an area that will need some refinement" and says that he's not much for flipping the proverbial hips at this juncture.
Of course, Thomas has already been on campus for a semester. In that time he seems to have locked down the starting nickel spot. Michigan has been making do with small cover-oriented guys like Courtney Avery there ever since Thomas Gordon was needed deeper. As a result the nickel package has very rarely featured anything except coverage from the nickelback and has been limited to passing downs only. In modern football that is a bit of a problem. See Jake Ryan lining up over triple WR formations to murder screens. It works, but it would be nice to murder screens and have Jake Ryan rushing the passer.
Thomas brings a different skill package and can be deployed on nominal running downs. especially against the spread. Steve Wiltfong:
“He has a chance to be special at Michigan. …physically ready to go. He has the size and speed you’re looking for at the safety position. He can come down and play near the line of scrimmage and he can also cover and deliver the smack to ball carriers. He can force turnovers with his physical size of play. He is a fantastic get for Michigan there.”
His coach is talking about Thomas as a safety here but is even more so laying out the blueprint for a hybrid nickel defender:
"His advantage will be the time he has played linebacker in the box for us, because unlike a lot of high school defensive backs, Dymonte is used to the physical contact and loves it. He is used to coming up and thumping people, and he can close on the ball."
Greg Mattison declared him "definitely physically ready" and talked up his coachability:
“He’s very fast and he’s a young man that it’s not too big for him. He comes in everyday and you correct him, he doesn’t go in the tank. He immediately says, ‘ok what do I have to do?’ Very seldom does he do it wrong again.”
…“Based on the spring you’re going to see a guy that’s headed in the right direction to be there quite a bit this fall,” said Mattison.
“He’s a guy that, this summer, again, if he continues to do what he’s doing -- but we’ve been very happy with him.”
Thomas's attitude, cited just above, is another asset. I always perk up when I hear a kid's dad was in the military; Dymonte's dad is a former Marine who put his kids through "boot camp"($) if they slacked off. Thomas was also more than fine with splitting carries with eventual Tennessee recruit Alden Hill:
"Look, Dymonte is a one in a million type of player," Miley stated Friday. "We've had Division-I recruits here the past few years in Zach Higgins (Michigan State) and Alden Hill (Tennessee), but there's nobody like Dymonte. He has started for four years now for me, and I love the kid. Dymonte has never met a stranger, and he's the most personable kid on the team, yet he's a team player first."
"Everybody was worried about his stats last year but him," Miley added. "How many five-star recruits play scout-team tailback, to give the first defense a better look? Dymonte does. He will do whatever it takes to make himself and the team better. He will finish his career with over 5,000 yards rushing and 400 tackles. The 5,000 yards rushing will be amazing because he has split carries with Hill, who ended up with 4,973 yards. Imagine if Dymonte had the carries that Alden had the past few years? What would that yardage total look like? He will end up over 5,000 yards rushing as the second option most of his career. And he's the best defensive player in Stark County history, in my opinion."
It may take some time for Thomas to become a refined engine of death. It looks like it'll take less than the skeptics above predicted what with the instant starting job.
" Michigan will probably use him as a kickoff returner too, and Mattison said he could help out on offense."
I guess there are worse things to hear about a commit:
…came up in run support very well Tuesday and even when he struggled with guys like [Derrick] Green, he came back as physical as ever.
Hey, we got that kid too! /self high five
Why Stevie Brown? I know that probably made you break out in hives, but think about good late Stevie Brown: the kind of athlete who can pop a lead blocker and get out to the edge, who blitzes with speed and brings a load, who can cover underneath and down the seam. Who plays a hybrid LB/DB role. That's what Thomas is now, both as a high school linebacker and possibly—probably—Michigan's starting nickelback this fall.
Meanwhile, Brown finally figured out that whole safety thing en route to eight interceptions and a New York Giants interception return yardage record; Thomas has the same NFL-level athleticism and questions about his ability to translate that into reliable deep safety play. As a recruit, Brown was in the same range as Thomas; Dymonte's probably an inch or two taller. This comparison is a tight one.
Guru Reliability: Moderate-plus. Heavily scouted, Army guy, but positional questions and this review comes after we got a lot more information about the kid at Michigan's spring practice.
Variance: Moderate. Obviously brings all the athleticism you could want to the position and should be an okay starter at the very least.
Ceiling: Vast. Ripped a starting job away from a senior in no time flat, would be competitive in a race with Denard.
General Excitement Level: Just under vast. Smart kid with great personality and military dad should mean he scrapes his high ceiling; still, whenever you're projecting…
Projection: Um, seems to have already taken over the starting nickel position?
Down the road, Thomas may get a shot at replacing Thomas Gordon next year. In an ideal world I think he sticks at nickel for his career, operating as a frequently-deployed spread antidote and triple threat (rush the passer, defend the run, cover) in a system where he is as much of a starter as anyone else on the team. Michigan will of course cross-train the guy at deep safety to give them added flexibility and injury insurance. Like Gordon he may get dragged deeper because Michigan needs him, but that'll depend on Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark, and Jarrod Wilson… unless Thomas is just too good to ever take off the field, which you can't discount.
Also, I will not be surprised if Thomas ends up being the primary kick returner at some point. He has the raw Stonum-like speed to be a vertical threat there.
Sparty Gonna No.
A list of things that people believe will make them more successful than a football scholarship to Michigan State University:
1. A football scholarship to the University of Michigan (obvs)
2. A football scholarship to Northwestern University
3. A music career with dese skillz:
(Heads up: video contains explicit lyrics and imagery, and really bad rap):
Mark Hollis did say yesterday that they're trying to make the Big Ten more hip, but then MSU admitted they dropped him weeks ago when the first blunt hit the YouTubes. Which is probably correct but doesn't make MSU's receiver recruiting any less hilarious.
Some Stuff the Other People Already Posted
I post once per week, and Brian posts daily, so sometimes he gets to the good stuff first. Now, I could put in the effort to go find other stuff. But I am exceedingly lazy, so we’ll all just pretend that he didn’t already post this stuff, and we will laugh at it anew. Good? Good.
With this week’s announcement of Marvin Robinson’s transfer, Michigan lost the quintessential OMG Shirtless player. M-Rob was the patriarch of the movement [Tyrece Butler is its godfather], and his loss will be deeply felt. But when Angry Michigan OMG Shirtless Hating God closes a door, He opens a window into some crazy stuff. Behold what AMOMGSHG has given us:
Maybe this is a response to the Abercrombie and Fitch CEO saying he didn’t want… uh… larger people wearing their clothing. Maybe they just honestly forgot to wear shirts that day. But I like to think that they were assuring the apprehensive Michigan faithful that the shirtless tradition would continue, albeit in a much more MANBALL fashion.
This also has the makings of a great ‘positive self-image’ campaign:
It doesn’t matter if you’re a little pasty white. Or if you’re carrying a few extra pounds around the midsection. Or if you don’t have what would be considered a “neck” by traditional standards. Or if you make questionable fashion and facial hair choices. As long as you can pancake a sumbitch or two, you are beautiful.
[One side note: Brian referred to this incident as “AmBearcrombie and Bearfitch.” I humbly submit “ManBearCrombie” as an alternate nickname. ]
Elsewhere in wonderfully poachable Twitter-related news, Greg Mattison sat in a truck.
[After the jump]