No Twitterverse this week. Instead, we shall plumb the depths of our collective sadness.
We live in some the headiest of times of modern Michigan fandom. The basketball team is coming off a NCAA runner-up season and it is bringing in another bumper crop of highly-ranked recruits. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison are in the early stages of assembling some sort of Megazord. Michigan’s facilities are new and shiny and fantastic. But to move to the future, it is important to understand the pain of the past.
So, with a few weeks before anything actually happens in the sports world, this seems like a good time to try to answer a simple, cathartic question: what was the worst moment to be a Michigan fan?
Like the Highlander, there can be only one. So I guess this is our search for the Lowlander. Use whatever criteria you wish, but bear in mind what we’re trying to determine. We’re limiting the competition to the 1990’s and on. Obviously crappy things happened before that, but many of us can’t remember too much farther back. The events in question have been divided into four regions:
- The Daggers Region: It was there. It was so close. WE COULDA HAD HIM, MAN. And then... lightning bolt blue screen of death.
- The What-Could-Have-Been Region: The quantum mechanical gateway to an alternate universe in which we were showered with glory and the heavens rained Pop-Tarts and pleasing music played throughout the land.
- The Well-That-Was-Thoroughly-Unenjoyable Region: These were the games or events that hurt your soul from start to finish. Nothing about them was pleasant. Hope was crushed consistently and repeatedly, and then The Fates really went to work on you.
- The General FML Region: Generic embarrassments. A catch-all for the stuff over the years that still has you saying, "ugh, don't even get me started on ______"
We’ll cover the first two regions this week, and the other two soon enough.
I’ve included some concise arguments for and against the thing in question being the worst thing ever. As a palate cleanser, for each entry I’ve also included a comparable event that went Michigan’s way. The wonderful Yang to the craptastic Yin, if you will. When you’re done reading, Vote HERE: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/99RQK2Y.
Again: read. THEN VOTE. Then cry a little.
Are you ready for this? I mean, we’re gonna pick at some serious wounds here. Okay. Let’s do this. (after the jump)
This week in football coaches make obvious statements about how recruiting rankings are not guarantees:
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio wary of star rating systems used to classify recruits
"If you come in as a four‑star recruit, really doesn't serve any purpose," Dantonio said.
Last year in football coach talking about a guy in his recruiting class:
"For the third straight year, Michigan State gets the top player, perceived top player by the media in the state of Michigan."
(This was Aaron Burbridge, who turned out to be MSU's only receiver not toting bricks around for hands. The previous two were Lawrence Thomas, last seen playing FB/TE/DL/horrible mutated fly-man, and the wildly overrated but still long-term starter and NFL draft pick Will Gholston.)
I mean you guys at some point we're going to get all the football coaches in a room and carefully explain to them that we don't think the rankings are iron-clad guarantees, either, and that if they could just take that as a given we could all talk about something else for once. In any case, Dantonio won't have to walk a fine line between being a hipster about rankings and trumpeting his acquisition of the top player in the state this year.
Heininger Certainty Principle passed its first two tests with QWash and Campbell (Upchurch)
It’s our weekly roundtable to talk about things that Michigan fans—and by Michigan fans I mean just me—are obsessing about. In honor of the family road trips you just got back from, this week’s it’s a great big “Are we there yet?” In the game:
PRESS AGENT #4
SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR #89
STATISTICAL ANALYST/THERAPIST #58
In 2011 Michigan was 6th in scoring defense, 17th in total defense, and 16th in defensive FEI. In 2012 Michigan finished 19th in scoring defense, 13th in total D, and 26th in defensive FEI. Do you consider that treading water, an expected fall given the DL graduations and tougher schedule, or a veiled improvement? And where do you see this trend going in 2013?
Seth: I admit this topic was a little brought on by panic after getting persistently torched in NCAA 14, which could just mean that Desmond Morgan is way better at playing as Desmond Morgan than I am.
Michigan didn't take a significant step back in 2012, which I would consider a victory. Replace WMU, SDSU, and Virginia Tech with Air Force, Alabama, and South Carolina, and you're gonna have a bad time. Factor in a regression to the mean on the fumble recoveries and the lack of Mike Martin, and those defensive numbers look pretty good to me. They actually gave up about 3 ppg fewer in conference in 2012 despite a tougher road/away split (though obvious BIG TENNNNN caveat applies). 2012 also felt more repeatable, though I have no objective means to demonstrate this.
I don't think 2013 is the Great Leap Forward, but I think we'll see continued progress. The numbers will probably look shinier if for no other reason than the easier schedule, but I'd bet on the defense being 'better' as well. The secondary will be more athletic, which should go a long way toward helping combat the 2012 struggles with spread teams. Hopefully Dymonte Thomas can indeed be deployed as the spread neutralizer. The ILBs will probably still have some struggles with the learning curve (and the training table), but last year's experience should lessen the pain. The meat of the schedule doesn't arrive until November, by which point Jake Ryan will hopefully be settling back onto his throne of skulls and flow. Questions remain on the D-Line, but Will Heininger. /Offers a small running back as a sacrifice to the Mattison. Praise be unto the Mattison. May his swag reign for a hundred seasons.
Mathlete: When I was preparing my pre-season projections, I compared the the 2013 Michigan defense profile to teams from the last several years, the nearest comparison, 2012 Michigan. In terms of production returning, recruiting profile and prior year performance this year's defense looks a lot like last year's squad. The turnover randomness could swing things a bit and with a strong group of underclassmen and Greg Mattison, there is certainly potential for upside.
The schedule should help mitigate the statistical rank downside risk, but if there was going to be a year where things took a step back, this looks like the only candidate. With that said, I don't see that happening. Defenses are a lot more stable and predictable in performance than offenses. Look at experience, look at recruiting profile, check to see that there are no stuffed animals on the sidelines and you should have a pretty good idea where your defense will end up. I rank this year's defense as the 10th most talented (based on age and recruiting profiles) in the country and they return nearly three quarters of their production from last year's squad. It appears we caught a break with the schedule and the timing of Jake Ryan's ACL tear with a Tommy Rees led Notre Dame offense the only major game he should miss. There is always a chance things don't turn out, but I don't see anything that says this year will be a major step back and if anything a few areas that could be signs that 2013 could be a step forward.
Seth: You guys keep denigrating my skills at videogame defense, as if you're not just mashing the "plow" button with Quinton Washington every play while trusting Gibson to run your defensive backs. To answer my question above, I thought Washington's emergence was very significant. The drop-off from Martin and Van Bergen to not them was going to be steep, and it happened but the linebackers improved to such a degree as to make it null. I blame the schedule and losing Countess early to any discrepancy (J.T. Floyd wasn't as solid against the Kenny Bells as he had been in 2011 vs. the big leapers). I also blame offensive regression for the difference in scoring D.
Things are still coming along. Other than Air Force—blessedly we don't face one of those again—the defense didn't have any game where they performed significantly below expectations. Mattison didn't like the Nebraska game but raise of hands who thinks that was on the D? Northwestern is a legitimately good offense, even when Trevor Siemian isn't turning into an unstoppable throw god.
I'm less concerned about who rotates in at 5-tech since there's a lot of meat for the meat god there, and Heitzman wasn't so bad last year. What worries me is what we'll look like early. Jibreel Black versus Notre Dame's offensive line, and Jarrod Wilson versus a Brian Kelly passing attack: those are what scare me. Wilson will be good one day but right now he appears to be a big dropoff from Kovacs and needs some starts in a bad way. Later in the year I think we'll have more faces appearing at the 3- and 5-tech rotations, with contributions from Wormley, Henry, Godin, Strobel, and backup options including a highly regarded true freshman, or the other Glasgow, or even some of that Washington-Pipkins action they keep denying. They'll be a much better defense when they face Ohio State than when Notre Dame comes to town; in the aggregate they’ll look better in yardage thanks to competition but tread water otherwise.
Blue in South Bend: I think having Countess back will be huge. I'd remind you that with him in the game, we held Alabama to a three-and-out (miniscule sample size National Champions wooooo). I do worry about whether Wilson can prevent the home run plays the way Kovacs did, but overall I do think the secondary will be a surprising strength of this team.
/Offers a second small running back to a dormant but extant Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God.
/Mashes "plow" button.
Anyway: I spent a large chunk of last offseason fretting about that fumble recovery rate and expecting something less than impressive as a result, and that was kind of borne out. Michigan did take a half-step back last season, because that's the kind of thing that happens when you go from Mike Martin to one guy with the vague hope of beating a blocker one on one (Jake Ryan). Michigan explored the outer limits of how good a defense can be when you have almost no natural pass rush or athleticism in the secondary. Turns out the answer is "actually not that bad, at least compared to the GERG years."
I think Michigan will get back that half-step this year. There appear to be two major upgrades in the personnel turnover: Countess replaces JT Floyd and James Ross functionally replaces Kenny Demens. While I spent the duration of Demens's career talking about his surprisingly good coverage, Ross should blow by him as a player right now. Floyd spent most of his career on the edge of getting bombed; though he managed to come through repeated targetings mostly okay the fact that every offensive coordinator on the schedule decided to spin that slot machine was indicative. Meanwhile, Frank Clark and Jake Ryan post-injury should adequately replace Jake Ryan.
I'm still not seeing a great defense what with no pass rush from the interior three guys unless Jibreel Black blows up in a way that would frankly shock me. I don't see how a 280 pound three-tech holds up in the Big Ten, don't see much production out of SDE, and while those spots were not exactly gangbusters last year, a lack of developed talent on the defensive line remains a problem.
2014 is when this can get nasty. Michigan returns 8 starters, losing only five guys off the entire two deep: Washington, Black, Cam Gordon, Avery, Thomas Gordon. They add Jabrill Peppers, and Hoke's first recruiting class will finally be ready to infiltrate the starting lineup in earnest. A senior will have--get this--been in the same system his entire career. Craig Roh just started weeping uncontrollably and doesn't know why. He suspects why, he always does, though.
LATE BREAKING Heiko: Well, I guess I'll put in my two cents.
/Doesn't receive change.
I love the defense. I get weirdly excited when Michigan's defense takes the field, because I love watching a well-executed stop take the air out of the other team. The comforting thing about the defense over the past couple years is that they always seem to get better as the game goes on. In Michigan's seven losses since 2011, how many of them can be blamed primarily on the defense (i.e. defense let the offense down)? Only one: the Outback bowl vs. South Carolina, where Michigan was playing without its top two corners and therefore got bombed by SC's receivers.
In fact I think watching the defense improve last year after losing Martin and Van Bergen was something I clung to after it became apparent that the offense was in for a season-long struggle against good teams.
Are we ready to expand the Heininger Certainty Principle to apply to the entire defense? I think so. In contrast to last year's interior OL and tailbacks, no part of the defense has failed to improve over the course of the season. We already know about the D-line, but the linebackers and secondary each had question marks about their viability also at one point or another. Remember when "linebacker hesitancy" was a thing? Or when everyone panicked after Countess's ACL injury? I mean, here we are in 2013, and it's like we knew all along about Quinton Washington and Desmond Morgan and Raymon Taylor. High five.
Maybe it's because I've been primed to consider any defensive competency the best thing ever (I came to Michigan in 2008), but I think we're already at a place where we can count on Michigan smothering most opponents. Depending on how quickly guys like Chris Wormley, Dymonte Thomas, and Jarrod Wilson get up to starter speed, it'll be a question of whether Michigan ends up in the top 10 or top 20, and I think most of us will happily take that.
Previously on MGoBlog: Seth's review of the same.
NCAA 14 hits the shelves today, and EA Sports was kind enough to give us an advance copy to review — for the last four days, I've dutifully ignored the lure of sunlight, company, and basic hygiene in order to cram in as many hours as possible with the game. The things I do for you people.
My review of last year's edition eschewed the normal overview of gameplay and the various modes, instead focusing on how to make another underwhelming, mostly-redundant NCAA an enjoyable gaming experience. For the last several years, the basic debate surrounding NCAA has been whether to drop $60 for a couple gameplay tweaks (and, inevitably, a few new gameplay bugs) or save the money and hope for a good roster update.
This year, EA finally made enough changes that it truly feels like a new game in most aspects. Dynasty Mode got a much-needed overhaul, the gameplay adjustments are mostly positive, and the game as a whole feels more realistic. There are gripes, to be sure, but overall I think this is the strongest NCAA in a while.
There have been enough changes to the gameplay (I know, right?) that even experienced players will want some time to learn the new features and hone their skills. Before doing anything else, I'd highly recommend going through the "Nike Skills Trainer"* — a series of tutorials/drills that covers all aspects of the game. Doing those not only helps you get used to some new controls, especially with the overhauled option (more on that later), but the drills are fun on their own — I found myself hitting "try again" several times to see if I could earn a gold medal in each drill, which unlocks a player for the online-only Ultimate Team mode. The skills trainer replaced the mini-games (option dash, tug of war, etc.), which I miss dearly — while the skills trainer is fun, you can't play against anyone else, and the mini-games were great for quick round-robins with a few friends — but it's certainly a worthy addition.
The biggest change once you're ready to hit the field is in the running game, where EA has implemented the physics engine that made last year's Madden so enjoyable. Running looks and feels much more like real life than in the past — setting up blocks is paramount, size matters in collisions, and there's a bevy of new animations that mostly look great (there are still kinks — a few tackles I've seen defied physics). With a good offensive line, running between the tackles can actually be effective.
More importantly, the option — and spread option — has been completely revamped, and I'd guess most players will find that running it in some form is their favorite way to play on offense. The game now helpfully points out the defender to read at the mesh point (for the read option or triple-option dive) or for the pitch (traditional option) before the snap, and variations like the mid-line option and inverted veer are now in the playbook. Backs maintain proper pitch relationship — an issue in years past — and quarterbacks can take hits without consistently getting injured or fumbling (this varies depending on ratings, of course, but QBs used to be outrageously brittle). The CPU can finally run an effective option, as well, with no more inexplicable pitches landing three yards behind the back; defending the option is hard, as it should be.
The passing game is mostly unchanged. Ill-advised throws are going to get picked off more often than not, which is realistic but also tough for gamers who don't know how to read defenses. There are still a few money routes — thank me later for recommending TE Trail in short- to mid-yardage situations — but I've found I can't predetermine where I'm throwing the ball unless the defense is completely misaligned given my playcall. Linebackers no longer are supermen, which helps; I wish receivers would do a better job on their own of adjusting to the ball in the air, though.
Defense is, one again, pretty damn difficult, especially if you want to play in the back seven. CPU quarterbacks are ruthlessly accurate; on All-American difficulty, my best hope of stopping a pass was to blitz and hope for a sack or throwaway, which along with the occasional drop appear to be the only ways to force incompletions. There are little-to-no mistimed routes, passes just out of a receiver's reach, or panicked chucks under pressure; even with a stellar secondary, interceptions and incompletions were very hard to come by, and instead I had to sell out with the pass rush or play conservative zones to keep YAC to a minimum.
Run defense is largely about calling the right play; from there, unless you're quite adept at linebacker or safety, the way your CPU teammates react is the biggest determining factor in a run play's success — this isn't unrealistic, but it doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable defensive experience. I've mostly lined up as a DT and focused on getting a big push into the backfield, which is more fun than it sounds (at least for me) and can have a big effect on both the pass and run games — collapsing the pocket on a QB is by far the most effective way to stop a passing play, as they often slide right into an awaiting DE.
The good news here is that EA now allows you to set separate difficulties for offense and defense. If you find yourself turning the ball over on half your possessions, you can knock the offensive difficulty down a notch; same goes for defense if you can't get a stop. This is an imperfect solution to a major problem — defensive gameplay is still quite frustrating — but it's still appreciated.
Now here's where things get really fun. Dynasty Mode finally got an overhaul, and it's a good one. First and foremost is the addition of "Coach Skills" — as you progress through your dynasty, you'll earn points for both on-field and recruiting accomplishments, and those points earn upgrades (the details of which can be found here). This adds a RPG-like angle to dynasty that makes it feel like you're really building towards something, not just running through the same season over and over again. You'll have to decide early on if you want to focus on earning in-game boosts (like Coachstradamus, which at its highest level gives you a 25% chance of identifying the opponent's play type before the snap) or an edge in recruiting (Kitchen Sink, for example, raises the cap on points you can spend recruiting individual players). Other coaches earn these same boosts, so you don't just lap the field as your dynasty wears on.
The second major change is the streamlined recruiting process. You get a certain number of points each week to spend on scouting, offering scholarships, and pitching players — those points aren't separate, so you have to find the right balance of scouting and recruiting early on. The critical change is that you don't have to unlock pitches or reset the number of points spent on a recruit each week — you know from day one which pitches a recruit likes and how many bonus points you'll get each week from them, then choose how many additional points to add from your pool. Those points don't change from week to week unless you change them; if you want, you can set your board in Week 1 and then forget about it (though I wouldn't recommend it). Even if you decide to spend time recruiting each week, the process goes much faster — including in the offseason, where the recruiting process has been cut down from a bloated five-week ordeal into a one-shot bidding war (you get a pool of 10,000 points and all caps for individual player spending go away).
The points system adds much more clarity to recruiting; you know exactly how far ahead or behind you are with a recruit, the bonus points your competition is getting each week, and the baseline number of points you'll earn on a given visit. This allows you to be much more strategic when it comes to targeting recruits, especially the longshots. With the roster cap still at 75 (ugh) and yearly scholarship caps at 25, I've found that narrowing down my recruiting board early and bringing in classes of 15-20 recruits gives me the best chance at landing a top class. Other recruiting tips:
- If you can, max out the Scouting coach skill as quickly as possible. There are plenty of "gems" and "busts" in the prospect field, and identifying those guys early is an easy way to cut down your board and focus on the best prospects. This is especially useful in preseason, when you get 1,000 points to spend solely on scouting.
- DO THE MATH. You can figure out precisely how many points you need to give a recruit based on the bonus points other teams are receiving and the weekly changes on a prospect's top schools board. Sometimes, even if you max out a recruit's weekly points, it's impossible for you to catch another program (usually Alabama). Drop those recruits like they're hot.
- After a certain amount of time, a recruit "locks" into a certain number of schools, and the rest are eliminated from contention — the numbers of schools locked in and how early this happens depends on the recruit. It's worth searching the board on occasion for prospects who are still <25% locked in the latter half of the season; even if the prospect doesn't have initial interest, you can often swoop in and pick these guys up late. This is a great fallback if you miss out on a prospect at a position of need.
- Pay attention to pipelines. Having a certain number of prospects from a specific state makes that state a pipeline, and you earn bonus points with a prospect if they hail from that state. Again, it's all about maximizing your limited number of points, so any edge you can find is helpful.
- The game gives extra points for scheduling visits late in the season — your goal with most prospects should be to get their final visit, and the game encourages you to schedule everyone as late as possible. DON'T ALWAYS DO THIS. Visits can cause huge swings in points, so if you have a comfortable lead for a prospect early, bring them in ASAP and you'll probably lock everyone else out and earn his commitment. Scheduling an early visit can also save you from being locked out, though you'll then have to sweat out the recruit's subsequent visits.
Other than recruiting and coach skills, dynasty mode is mostly the same, which is good — that's always been my go-to mode. My biggest gripe is that there is no playoff starting in 2014 — you're stuck with the BCS in perpetuity, which is especially unfortunate since the game occasionally produces some wonky title games. Exempli gratia:
Even worse: Stanford beat Washington by 30 in their simulated matchup.
EA is probably waiting to unveil the playoff (sorry: cofopoff) as a new "feature" in next year's game. This is pretty lame, EA.
Overall, though, the changes to dynasty mode are a big step in the right direction, making an already enjoyable game mode even better. My only gripe with the coach skills is they can sometimes make things too easy — if Coachstradamus tells me the defense is in a Cover 2, I know enough to audible to a play that will gain 15 yards at worst — but you can set how difficult it is to level up, which helps mitigate that issue. The RPG aspect is something I very much enjoy; I found myself tempted to race through seasons so I could pick up more bonuses and build a true juggernaut.
OTHER GAME MODES
Road To Glory — in which you take a player from high school recruit through his college career — is still in the game and, as EA admitted, is essentially untouched. If you liked the mode in years past, you'll still enjoy it. If you didn't — or found it less compelling than Dynasty Mode — then it's not worth trying again.
EA imported their popular Ultimate Team feature — in which you unlock players through in-game accomplishments, then use them in games against online opponents — to NCAA. You can use these players, which include several all-time greats and (until yesterday) one "oh shit, get him out of here", in head-to-head online seasons or solo challenges. I haven't had the chance to delve into this mode in depth, so I won't comment on its merits except to say that it'd be nice if there was an offline option.
If you're the type who just wants to play the game but still want to play for something, there's a new "2013 Season" mode, which is exactly what it sounds like — you play (or sim, though that seems to defeat the purpose) your way through the 2013 season without having to worry about recruiting and the like. This won't be a feature I use but I'm sure some of you will appreciate it.
It's pretty clear at this stage that EA has maxed out what they can do on the PS3 (oh, hey, just in time for the PS4!). There are some minor graphics improvements — players' muscles are more defined, for one — but the atmosphere falls flat at times; players on the sideline look like they're imported from a PS2, the field and crowd often look flat and dull. This isn't a big deal for me as much as the actual gameplay, especially since it's clear that EA has to hold back on minute details to ensure the game runs smoothy (and I'll take that over picture-perfect fieldturf).
In a long-overdue move, NCAA has new in-game camera angles, including a wide-angle view that allows you to see all 22 players on the field. I haven't toyed around with them much — on the first try, I found the wide angle to be a little too zoomed out — but at least there are options now.
As for the sound, you're still getting the same generic commentary in games, and the same repetitive marching band music in the menus (my first move is always to turn off the menu music and sound FX so I can listen to whatever I want while moving through my dynasty). EA has tried to add to the atmosphere by including piped-in music — yes, "Seven Nation Army" is in the game — which you'll either slightly appreciate or hate with the fury of a thousand suns. (Hi, Brian.)
Aside from the BCS tomfoolery, I've found the game pleasantly devoid of glitches or major issues with simulation. The only real glitch I noticed occurred once, when my CPU opponent went into the hurry-up and, with the rest of the offense set, the center stood over the ball until the play clock ran out. That hasn't happened since and the CPU loves to run the hurry-up, so that's hopefully an easy fix when EA releases the inevitable patch.
This isn't a bug, but a new recruiting feature is "complimentary" visits — no, this doesn't mean your coach heaps an excessive amount of flattery on a recruit, but instead that the player is visiting along with recruits of compatible positions (e.g. having a QB and WR visit in the same week). As a writer, or at least a person with a decent command of the English language, this drives me nuts.
This is my favorite edition of NCAA since they moved to the PS3. The run game is a lot of fun, especially the option, and unlike many I think the passing game is enjoyably challenging. Defense still needs plenty of work, especially in defending CPU quarterbacks, but I'm holding out hope that messing with the sliders — or perhaps a major patch — will alleviate some of the issues. (I didn't touch the sliders for this review so I could give a fair impression of the game right out of the box; if you're a serious gamer, I highly recommend checking the Operation Sports forums for tips on setting sliders.) With the improvements to Dynasty Mode, this is the first time in a while I've felt confident in saying a new edition of NCAA is worth the price tag.
Now if EA could just add the playoff and bring back the mini-games, baby, we'd really have a stew goin'.
*Product placement and ads for in-game extras are both quite prevalent. I found this fairly annoying — and I'm sure Ed O'Bannon does, too — especially when it comes to EA suggesting you purchase booster packs for a game that already costs $60. Long live capitalism, I guess.
Previously: CB Reon Dawson, CB Channing Stribling, S Delano Hill, S Dymonte Thomas, CB Ross Douglas, CB Jourdan Lewis, LB Ben Gedeon, LB Mike McCray, DE Taco Charlton, DT Maurice Hurst Jr., DT Henry Poggi, OL Patrick Kugler, OL David Dawson, OLLogan Tuley-Tillman, OL Kyle Bosch, OL Chris Fox, OL Dan Samuelson.
|Pickerington, OH – 6'6", 231|
4*, #145 overall
4*, #144 overall
4*, #179 overall
3*, NR overall
Stanford, UCLA, Wisconsin, NW, Tenn, Iowa, Notre Dame
|YMRMFSPA||Kyle Rudolph/Tyler Eifert|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post. Ace interviews him.|
Early enrollee. Army AA. Twitter.
Do you ever get the feeling that sometimes Al Borges sits in his basement watching film of the various tight ends and H-backs he's brought in and starts laughing maniacally? Dumb question. Better question: does Al Borges do anything but?
Yes. He goes to a lot of hockey games, for one. But anyway.
This site has proposed that Al Borges's goal as an offensive coordinator is to whipsaw defenses from one end of the spectrum to the other, and guys like Funchess and Jake Butt are key in this effort. You're a Michigan fan, so let me just mention the names Rudolph and Eifert. You get it. Tyler Eifert in particular was used as both a traditional tight end and a oh-god-I'm-5'9"-this-is-a-geological-feature-I'm-checking outside receiver in his last couple years at Notre Dame. Mismatch is the watchword here, and Michigan's going to keep bringing in and bulking up 6'6" guys until they get it. When Mark Porter needed a comparable, he went to the ND well:
“Jake reminds me a bit of Kyle Rudolph, who went to Notre Dame out of Cincinnati Elder. He’s long. He’s fast. He just needs to get into a college weight room and get bigger and stronger. He has the potential to be a great college tight end.”
In Butt Michigan has… well, that guy or Devin Funchess again. Scouting reports consistently praise his receiving skills before the end bit where they mention that he's a glorified wide receiver at the moment. ESPN:
…lean and will need to fill out his lengthy frame and add a good deal more mass. … He is not one of those receivers who just effortlessly plucks the ball from the air, but overall he does have a good pair of hands and will work to catch the ball away from his body when he can. … excellent arm length and demonstrates the ability to extend and catch the ball outside of his frame. He will do a good job of going up to get the ball and with his height he can be a tough matchup in jump ball situations. He displays above average straight-line speed, and while he needs to keep developing as a route runner he does display good movement skills in space. … will also need to contribute as an inline blocker and that will likely need some development in this area…. will need to continue to improve playing strength, lower pad level and work to deliver a pop with explosive hip roll on contact.
ESPN isn't as gushy as a couple other evaluators are about the receiving aspect to Butt's game. In an environment where erratic quarterback play can distort receiver stats extensively—especially for guys who make their living in the middle of the field, where interceptions lurk—Butt was crazy productive, with 68 catches for over 900 yards as a senior. While that's not quite Drake Harris carpet-bombing, I've been doing these a long time and usually tight end have stats like 15 catches for 200 yards because asking a high school quarterback to throw to a tight end is basically asking him to throw a pick-six.
Anyway, those stats come from a polished receiving package. Scout's eval notes body control, hands, and concentration as assets:
Has the height, athleticism and hands to be a real receiving threat from the tight end spot. Does a good job of tracking the ball in the air and can go up high to make grabs in traffic. Runs good routes and isn't afraid to run into traffic. Is a tough, aggressive and willing blocker who just needs to add some strength and bulk to improve in that department.
He earned an Opening invite off his performance at an NFTC in Champaign:
TE: Jake Butt, 6-6, 231, Pickerington North (Pickerington, Ohio)
Breakdown: Butt was unstoppable off the line and looked like a receiver in the open field. The Michigan commit is one of the most polished tight ends seen on the NFTC tour this year.
Rivals named him to their list of "Summer Standouts" after a "terrific" camp season and a performance at the Opening at which he "more than held his own."
Scout on the occasion of his Army selection:
He has excellent size and speed and shows the ability to run, showing excellent body control, concentration and field awareness. He has decent speed for a big receiver. Butt is dependable and showed at the The Opening that he can be a valuable target in the passing game.
Butt was picked for the Army game but missed most of the practice week and the event itself with a cartilage issue in his ankle. In the brief period of time he showed out, he impressed Helmholdt:
"He went Monday and looked outstanding, both in blocking drills and running patterns. He is so well rounded. He definitely has the ability to handle defensive ends from the tight end spot, blocking, then on pass patterns, he has great ability to go downfield and make catches.
"One time he was 40 yards downfield, and I swore the ball was overthrown. He never broke stride, caught it over his shoulder. He's going to be a very accomplished pass catcher."
247 was a voice of dissent, and since I don't think the national guys are crazy enough to let anyone from Bucknuts near their rankings (Butt dropped from 10th in their eyes to 21st over the course of that senior season in which he was putting up 900 receiving yards as a TE) I'm guessing that meh evaluation is based on this Todd Worly evaluation that evaluates him as a defensive player as much as an offensive one and knocks his "inconsistent" motor, which, like, come on: guy is on the field for every play. The tight end bit:
He wasn't forced to attempt any highlight-reel catches Friday night, but he clearly possesses reliable hands, as he's comfortable catching the ball outside his frame on a consistent basis.
Weaknesses: He is pretty raw at this point, and will need some time to develop in Ann Arbor. While he possesses the ability to bend, he doesn't consistently play with it.
…He is not a dominating blocker at the high school level because his get off isn't overly explosive, and he doesn't regularly play with the knee bend he's naturally capable of.
I didn't see anything else on their site to indicate why they were the outlier here. The focus there seems more on the blocking and his overall play, not his potential as a seam-stretching guy. FWIW.
Butt enrolled early and weighed in at around 230, so if Michigan deploys him this year that is suboptimal. As Funchess discovered last year, if you can't block a linebacker you're just a large, slow wide receiver instead of a matchup nightmare. Butt may find a role as the other tight end in certain sets. Let's let him explain it:
“They are going to play me at the “Y” and “U” positions on offense,” said Butt. “The “Y” is more like a traditional tight end on the line of scrimmage and the “U” position is more of a hybrid that can be moved around everywhere and even line up in the backfield. I’m really excited about it because that will give me a chance to show my versatility and also help out as a blocker.”
Michigan's tight ends on a continuum from Y to U: AJ Williams, Devin Funchess, Jake Butt, Khalid Hill. Insofar as the U position degenerates into a fullback-with-benefits situation you can add Shallman, Kerridge, and Houma to the U end of the list.
Early, Butt will moonlight as a passing-oriented U-TE, adding the capability to play inline as he moves into his upperclass years. Given the comments about his frame above, Funchess's surprisingly static weight, and Butt's trajectory…
"On offense, we use him as a tight end, we flex him out and use him in the backfield as an H-Back to block out counter plays," Phillips said. He's a terrific athlete. He's our starting outside linebacker as well, and we very rarely sub him out. He's in great shape. The thing about Jake is, he's only 16, he just turned 16. He's 225 pounds now, and he was 190 a year ago - he could easily be 245 a year from now."
…it won't be a surprise if Butt ends up being a bigger guy than Funchess as early as next year. That was February 2012; a year later Michigan listed him at 231, but get him in a college weight program and muscles expand.
"Jake is a tremendous worker, in the weight room and on the field," Phillips said. "I've coached numerous Division-I players and four guys that went to the NFL, and Jake is a harder worker than all of them."
Part of his production can be attributed to his natural athletic ability. Phillip adds that in his 25 years of coaching Phillips he has never had a player who works as hard.
"Jake competes every single play, every single practice," Phillips said. "From the stretches to the runs to the warmups to the drills to team sessions, he goes hard."
A pattern has ceased emerging and just sits there, impressing you with various aspects of its personality.
They really hoed me on NCAA! They made
@bigjakeyB_1 the same strength as me! Back to lifting tomorrow
I'm faster then
@TheSupremeTaco and stronger on NCAA guess we know who really ran picktown
I feel for the guys who didn't make it in at all though.
Why Rudolph/Eifert? Thought about Funchess, but we don't really know how that's going to end up yet, and Butt does not quite match Funchess's outrageous length.
For a better picture of what a guy like Butt might end up like, the ND guys are good comparables. Both came out of high school at 6'6", 220-230. Rudolph was an all-world recruit, Eifert a generic three-star. Split the difference and you get Butt. Both added 30 pounds over the course of their high school careers and went in the first couple rounds of the NFL draft.
Guru Reliability: High. Save the 247 outlier, basic consensus. Healthy, productive high school career, some camps, Army game performance was limited.
Variance: Moderate. Whenever you're talking about putting a bunch of pounds on a tight end you threaten to take away the receiving ability that would make him excellent.
Ceiling: High. NFL frame and athleticism.
General Excitement Level: High. Yup.
Projection: Is Al Borges tight-end mad enough to put Butt on the field this year? Survey says… maybe. If he wants a goal line blocker, a spare OL is going to be a better option; if he wants a Stanford-like package the problem with that is going to be similar to the problem Michigan had last year: dudes can't block well enough to put defenses in a bind. Meanwhile Borges has other options at that U spot and it would be nice to get another year of separation between Funchess and Funchess 2.0.
But the situation here is a bit like QB. With only two non-freshman TEs on the roster an injury would force a noob on the field, so you need to be prepared for that eventuality. I bet he plays.
Going forward he's always going to be battling with Funchess for the starting spot, but that's going to be a distinction without much of a difference as the two guys grow and become more complete players.
I got into an argument with a Michigan State fan—yes, right there is the problem—about our respective kickers last year. In true Michigan-Michigan State fashion the Spartan was making points using selective data (Dan Conroy has a better leg!) and the Michigan fan spent way too much time building data and constructing charts to demonstrate a nuanced and supportable conclusion (Dan Conroy has a better leg but Gibbons was money inside the 40).
I pulled kicking data from NCAA's game summaries and managed to get data points on 241 field goal attempts by Big Ten kickers last season. I also plugged each kicker's season into a Sabre.com formula for rating the position created by a guy named Jeff Yutzler, but his formula is WAY too kind in my opinion (as in there were 13 B1G kickers who scored in the A- range or above). For ease I've just ignored blocked FGAs since there's little the kicker can do about those. Table? Table.
|Big Ten Total||x||73/79||56/74||40/66||7/16||74.89%||94.3%|
Michigan: home of high yutz values
This says Michigan's kicking is was really darn good, though low sample size applies for Wile of course. Here's a chart of Michigan and Michigan State field goal attempts last year. X axis and size represent distance, Y axis is the order in which the kicks were attempted. Click bigginses:
Gibbons was perfect inside 42 yards, though in comparison to the Big Ten he took a lot of kicks in that sweet 25-35 yard range. Wile was obviously the long guy.
Conroy was deployed a lot, and here you see he seemed to have a big hole from 35-45 yards. Inside that he's great, outside of that he's great; for some reason the dude missed a ton of FGs from medium range. Sort him by distance and it reads 13 goods, whiff, whiff, whiff, whiff, whiff, whiff, good, good, whiff, good, whiff, good, good, good, good, whiff, good, good, good. Kickers: weird.
[The rest of the conference after the jump.]