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“Senior captains for the 2016 season: offense, Jake Butt and defensively Chris Wormley. Thrilled with the leadership on our team right now. from the senior class and our younger classes. I think a lot of deserving candidates, but what a great honor for Jake Butt and Chris Wormley. I think they will represent our team very well.”
Game notes didn’t have a depth chart. Can you shed any light on the quarterback competition, at least?
“It’s been very good really from day one, the competition at the quarterback position. And the play at the quarterback position has been very good. I feel like it’s been improving as well, daily, weekly. All the quarterbacks are playing at a very high level.”
Just to follow up to that, do you know who your starting quarterback is right now? Do you expect to say before the game on Saturday?
“Yeah, I do—we know who our starting quarterback is, yes. And yeah, I’ll say who our starting quarterback is before Saturday. I didn’t say I was going to say it to you, who our starting quarterback is.”
What is it about Jake and Chris that you think will make them good captains?
“Well, they’re two of the hardest working guys. Two of the best players on the team. They both have a real great way of being good teammates. They don’t build themselves up and put others down around them. They both have that quality of building up other guys around them and making themselves smaller, and when you do that you make yourself very big indeed in the eyes of everybody, in the eyes of the whole world and the eyes of the people that are on your team.
“In so many ways: how they talk to the young players, how they coach the young players. I’ve caught Jake Butt in the act of helping the young tight ends on several occasions. Caught Chris Wormley giving advice and tips to the young defensive linemen, Rashan and Ron [Johnson], so that’s…I think that speaks volumes when I catch guys doing that.”
[Long pause as mic gets passed around. Just as someone’s about to ask a question, Harbaugh thinks of something else to add.]
“The good thing about our captain vote is it’s strictly voted by the players. All players that have been on the team for a year who really know the candidates for being captain. Coaches’ votes do not count and freshmen votes don’t count, so it’s the guys who’ve really been in the practices and the meetings and the trenches and the workouts year round that vote on the captains. That’s why it makes it such a great honor. That’s why it’s such a thing that means so much to all of us, to the team and to everybody involved. It’s your fellow teammates. It’s the players on your team, your peers, that are voting and making that assessment.”
When you have several worthy candidates for the quarterback position, what are the things that matter to you when you’re making that decision, when you’re trying to choose?
“Really all the guys haven’t played in the games in terms of game experience a whole lot. Each has game experience and has had game experience, but here game experience and…so, want to see the things that would really translate to the game in terms of moving the team, moving the offense, putting drives together, making first downs, converting third downs, getting the team into the end zone, avoiding the turnovers and the mistakes that hurt drives and keep points off the board.
“That’s been the major criteria. We’ve looked at everything, but that above all on the list is what we’ve been trying to evaluate in the practices. As I said, they’re all getting better and doing everything that we ask. Great understanding of the offense and what they need to do to be successful so been pleased.”
[After THE JUMP: the Kaepernick quote (including some important pauses), throwing gas on the Bredeson/freshmen hype fire, special teams info, and a little Hawaii scouting]
With the addition of Biff Poggi, I’m curious about his influence. Asked Jake Butt about it the other day and he said Biff hasn’t been around a whole lot right now, more behind the scenes. What do you anticipate is his role with you? What has his interaction with the team been like this week and what will it be leading up [to the game]?
“The way we think of everybody in our organization [is] there’s no little people. Everybody has a role, everybody is a professional, and we all have things that we’re good at. And we all have things that we’re medium good at. Then we all have things that we’re not so good at. What makes up the team is when you can recognize, ‘Hey, I need a little help here in this area. I’m really good at this. I’m not so good at this over here.’ That’s how it all comes together that everybody does a little and it adds up to a lot. On teams, I’ve experienced and found that to be the case on good teams and even great teams and championship teams.”
What would you say is Biff’s area of strength? What do you think you would approach him most about? Defense, offense, anything in general?
“Football-wise, he’s a line coach at heart so…has a great love and affection for line play. Biff’s one of those guys where you talk about strengths and medium strengths and then things you’re not so good at: he’s good at everything. He’s good across the board, so been a trusted agent and known friend.”
Last time we talked to you you mentioned Ben Bredeson. Does he still have a shot to win that job at left tackle? Tim [Drevno] talked about it last week. Is he still in the mix there at left tackle with Grant?
“Yeah. I mean, everybody’s in the mix, and there’s some…the unique thing about college football is there’s no preseason, there’s no spring training, there’s no exhibition season, there’s no warm-up games. It goes right into the season. I don’t think there’s any other sport in college athletics that’s like that. Certainly not in the professional series. College football is a stand-alone in that way. So, yeah, the practices rage on. The competitions rage on.
“You want guys putting themselves in the position to be ready for that opportunity. It’s even better to be ready for that opportunity and have that opportunity not come than to have that opportunity come and not be ready for the opportunity. That’s—Ben’s in that position. He’s very close. I certainly wouldn’t anticipate any kind of not playing for Ben Bredeson. He’s acquitting himself very well right now.”
Is it a bigger advantage for Hawaii to have worked out some of the kinks with the game[plan] or a bigger advantage to have film on them, and what did you see out of them?
“A lot of good things. Kevin Lempa, the defensive coordinator, has been with Don Brown the last five years, I believe. Three at Boston College, two at Maryland as secondary coach for Don. Outstanding coach. I know him. He was on the Chargers’ staff when I played in San Diego. Very, very similar, aggressive defense.
“And Hawaii, they’ve got a very good back. Very capable quarterback. Two really good receivers and a good football team. I think it’ll come down to what it’s come down to every game we’ve played here so far, which is when we play good we’re darn tough to beat. When we don’t, we’re susceptible to get beat. I think that’ll be the case in this game as well.”
You mentioned Bredeson. Which other players from the true freshmen class are knocking on the door?
“Well, it’s continuing right now. It’s raging on, really. I’ve kind of explained that with everything that our freshmen—every single freshman that we have was in summer school. It’s a great way to get their feet under them, get some credits, and take advantage of knowing the landscape and the rigor at the University of Michigan. So, we wanted them fully immersed in that over the summer. That’ll build a great foundation for themselves academically.
“Then football-wise, we didn’t spend a lot of time with them in classroom settings and meeting settings. Their classroom was in the actual classroom, and when they came to football practice that was about the only part of the day that they were involved in football was coming to a two-hour practice, three-hour practices.
“Obviously they didn’t know ten different blitzes or 75 pass concepts, but we wanted to see what they could do athletically. Could they track a ball, could a receiver catch, can they run, can they change direction, can they play with balance, could they play with vision, etc etc.
“So, we felt after going through the first two and a half weeks there were quite a few players who were tracking to be in the two-deep, in the three-deep, and since then, the last 10 days, we’ve tried to catch ‘em up. Catch ‘em up on the system and the schemes offensively, defensively, and the kicking game and they’re coming fast. There’s no question about it. To put an exact number on it, I can’t. But soon. Soon I think you’ll see them playing in games and it’ll be a good number of them.
“I saw David Long—I’ll tell you this, David Long covered a go route in yesterday’s practice as good as it can possibly be covered from press coverage to competing at the point of the catch. It’s as good as it can be covered. He’s going to be an outstanding, outstanding football player. There’s others, but…
“The waters have been hot all camp. There’s no question about that. The competitive waters have been almost boiling. It’s been…it’s been great.”
Wanted to clarify on the quarterbacks: you said you were going to tell them at some point. Do those guys know yet who the starter is?
“Yeah, they know.”
I wanted to ask you about Ben Gedeon as well. Don Brown said he’s gone from being a role player early in his career to now it’s his show on the defense at this point. How have you seen him grow into being the authority figure on a defense that’s loaded with talent?
“He’s a great player. Conscientious worker. He’s a football player. Authority figure, I don’t know. That was your word. Not one that comes to my mind. Heck of a good football player.”
On the topic of the competitive waters: the fact that there’s no actual depth chart out yet, does that mean there are still battles at position competitions, and is that a bad thing this close to the season beginning?
“Always thought of it as a good thing.”
“I love competition. Maybe just point to the Bible and looked at iron sharpening iron, that would…
“A very good thing. It’s written in the Bible, so from the Word of God it is a good thing.”
As someone who knows Colin Kaepernick, what do you think about his stance to sit during the Anthem, and do you think it will cost him his job with the 49ers?
“I acknowledge his right to do that, but…I don’t respect the…the motivation or the…or the action.”
A year ago at this time there were a lot of unknowns. You were probably still getting to know your roster and your team. A year later, do you feel like you have a good grasp of this team and how good they can be? The expectations are way up there. Do you think those expectations are meetable?
“I think the time for that discussion has been raging on and now it’s getting very close to playing games, so we’re looking forward to having that. Can’t wait to watch the guys compete.”
With the schedule starting how it is with Hawaii, Central Florida, and Colorado, is it hard not to look ahead to games like Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa? To bigger games like that?
“No. Football’s hard. Tough, rough sport. We believe in respecting it. Respecting each and every opponent. If we don’t, we will very likely lose the game with the way that our schedule is and the teams that we play. I think once the guys watch the tape and see it, they understand that. Deep down they realize that. And so we have a respectful approach to each and every game we play.”
Is Kenny [Allen] going to do all three? Going to be a starter at kickoff specialist and get all the kicking duties and the punting?
“He can. There’s nothing decided if he will.”
Who would be competing with him at the different spots, punter especially?
“Kenny’s pretty solid in that position but yeah, he’s a very good punter. And he’s a really good kickoff person. Right now, he’s been the best at all three: punting, kickoff, and field goals. And if that remains the case and he’s clearly the best then he’ll do all three. We’d like for him not to have to do all three. It’s just closer in the other areas, kickoffs and field goals.
“And Quinn Nordin is pushing in terms of the kickoffs and the field goals. Matt Tice—not Matt Tice, Ryan Tice. I went to school with Matt Tice, Ryan Tice’s uncle. Matt has been phenomenal. So he’s really, he…Matt is—I said Matt again? [laughs] I’ll tell you what, I’m remembering his name, Ryan, because he’s making a lot of field goals. He’s doing a good job, but we’ll see.”
How much have Jourdan and Jabrill, specifically Jabrill, in camp? He’s had to have practiced on offense, right?
That’s a yes.
How often has he practiced on offense?
“That’s something that we don’t go into, as you might understand why we don’t really tell people what somebody’s doing or what part of a scheme they’re in. Just understand that everything is available. Use your imagination, and we’d like our opponent to do the same thing. There’s options that are all on the table.”
Jourdan too, then? Yes for both?
[blankest of blank stares]
Anything you can share on injuries? No long-term injuries headed out of camp?
“No, nothing to really share for public consumption.”
Jim Harbaugh Is Different, Part 347
The San Francisco Chronicle has a lengthy feature on the number one prospect in the country, Antioch (CA) RB Najee Harris, an Alabama commit who's also considering Michigan. As he has throughout the process, Harris keeps the state of his recruitment under wraps, but he did put forth one of the better Harbaugh recruiting stories I've seen:
On one of his two visits this year to Antioch High, the former 49ers coach sat in Principal Louie Rocha’s office, his feet propped on Rocha’s desk and his cap pushed back from his forehead as he chewed on licorice.
When Harris walked into the office, Harbaugh animatedly declared, “You’re a beautiful young man!” The room burst into laughter. He subsequently told Harris he should pursue a career in movies.
“It was kind of funny how he said it,” Antioch head coach John Lucido says. “It made Najee comfortable and kind of broke the ice with everybody.
Harris had more to say about Harbaugh. While I wouldn't read too much into it, I'd definitely check out that full article.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
Is That Good
Michigan Commit O'maury Samuels rushes for 177-yards and 3 touchdowns... In the 1st Quarter #nmpreps Los Lunas leads Aztec 35-7 in the 2nd
— NMPreps (@nmpreps) August 27, 2016
After the soft opening last week, high school football season is in full swing. I have a handful of games to go through on the DVR, and Adam (who's taking over FBO this year because the live podcast now takes up my Friday nights) will have scouting and video this week on Ambry Thomas and Corey Malone-Hatcher.
247's Steve Lorenz drove over to Granville to watch commit Phil Paea, and like a handful of others who've seen Paea play on both sides of the ball, he liked him more on offense:
Paea also said he believed he played a better game offensively than on the defensive side of the ball. I agree with this, and after seeing him live it would not surprise me if he ended up playing on the interior of the offensive line in college. In this single game, he was much better on offense than he was on defense.
He showed enough lateral quickness to be a guy who could pull, and his team ran two long touchdowns behind him as a pulling guard. He was consistently able to grapple his defender and drive them to the ground (I counted seven pancakes in 2+ quarters of work). He did yield a sack on one play where he was supposed to kick out and block their end and wasn't even close to being there in time....it could have been miscommunication, but it didn't look like it in real time.
While Dylan McCaffrey's team suffered a blowout loss on national television, he still impressed Steve Wiltfong and the opposing coach:
“I thought he was as advertised,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said.
The 6-foot-5, 196-pound McCaffrey is a poised player, has great command in the pocket, can throw any route asked and puts nice touch and spin on the football. He certainly showed he’s athletic, can pull it down and make plays.
A good decision-maker, McCaffrey finished 18-of-24 for 205 yards passing and the one touchdown. He ran 13 times for 56 yards including a long of 17. His touchdown reception was a 24-yard gadget play where he was all alone.
“He was the real deal and Michigan is getting a great player,” Mohns added.
We'll have more from last weekend when Adam puts together this week's FBO.
Bama Out For Ruiz
TMI's Josh Newkirk caught up with four-star IMG OC Cesar Ruiz, and as many speculated a few weeks back, Alabama ran out of room for the top center on Michigan's board:
“I’ll put it like this, I’m not really considering ‘Bama like I used to, they haven’t even sent me an official offer, so I lost a connection with them really.” said Ruiz, moments after he helped lead Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy to a 26-7 victory against Loganville (Ga.) Grayson High.
So with Alabama out, where does that put Michigan exactly?
“It puts Michigan at a tie with Oklahoma, North Carolina, and those other schools on my list, everybody is tied now” Ruiz said, further adding: “One school left (my recruitment), just waiting on my options now. Now I’m just going to take my official visits and see what I can see.”
Ruiz is looking to set up an official, which is more difficult for him than many high school players because many of IMG's games are on Saturdays.
While I'm very skeptical anything major comes of this, it's never bad news when a five-star considers an official visit, and that's where Michigan is at with WA OT Foster Sarrell, who's set visits to Notre Dame and Stanford:
Sounds like Sarell could take all five officials before deciding.
"I know we're considering Alabama and UCLA and perhaps Michigan," Pam Sarell said. "I'm not sure on the other ones."
Washington is also a major player in his recruitment; they're close enough to home that he won't need to use an official on them.
Irvin's Exit, Explained
Newkirk spoke with recent 2018 decommit Jalil Irvin, who explained he left the class because Michigan fell out of comminication:
“The major reason was a lack of communication,” Irvin said. “I haven’t talked to the coaches in two months. I was thinking, ‘Why would I stay committed here, when I haven’t heard from them in two months?’ So I decommitted and I picked up two offers the same day actually.”
There doesn't seem to be hard feelings, however. Irvin added that he still plans to visit Michigan and they're "one of [his] dream schools." We'll see if that materializes; the two offers Irvin mentioned were from Georgia and Virginia Tech.
Allen Trieu runs down the list of potential Aubrey Solomon replacements for the Detroit News.
Four-star IMG OLB Jordan Anthony has Michigan in his top five and will take an official visit, per Newkirk.
Four-star FL ATH Christopher Henderson, a Miami commit, will take an official to Michigan for the Wisconsin game, per Lorenz.
Rivals dropped Kai-Leon Herbert down 167 spots to #228 overall in their latest re-rank due to his performance at the Rivals-only Five-Star Challenge camp. Earlier this year, they'd moved him up to that lofty perch because of a standout performance at the Rivals-only RCS Miami camp, ranking him far higher than any other site. He's now six spots below where he started. That's... very Rivals.
NOPE [Bryan Fuller]
[New bolded player rules: not necessarily returning starter, but someone we've seen enough of that I'm no longer talking about their recruiting profile. Extant contributor.]
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.||SPREAD H||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||Sr.||De'Veon Smith||Sr.||De'Veon Smith||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Ty Isaac||Jr.*||Kingston Davis||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Sr.*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Drake Johnson||Sr.*||Ty Isaac||Jr.*||Karan Higdon||So.||Drake Johnson||Sr.*|
|Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Kareem Walker||Fr.||Ty Isaac||Jr.*||Ty Isaac||Jr.*|
Last year was more of the same from a Michigan running back corps that had slowly devolved since the moment Mike Hart left. Upticks from Brandon Minor and Fitz Toussaint were more than offset by yards eschewed, random running, that year Toussaint couldn't pass block a soul, and a steady stream of Michigan discards who blew up as soon as they landed on another team.
Large sections of your author's time were spent fighting with people about how bad it was or was not, so here's Dane Brugler on De'Veon Smith:
His vision and run instincts tend to run hot/cold, leading to questionable decisions, and with his lack of explosive traits, Smith needs to be more decisive and trust what he sees. He tends to leave you wanting more due to his marginal burst and instincts, but there is a place at the next level for Smith due to his power, ball skills and upside as a blocker.
It was pretty bad… and then it got better. Smith's outstanding Citrus Bowl was the exclamation point on a mid-season turnaround that looks a lot like those Chesson and Rudock experienced. It wasn't as dramatic, but it was there. I'm going to whisper the next sentence: it almost kind of looked like someone had figured something out.
Running back coaching matters? I want to believe.
THE MAN THE MAN THE MAN
After consecutive years where this preview listed options at all three roles above in an almost but not quite entirely arbitrary fashion, Michigan enters the season knowing who their first-choice back is: DE'VEON SMITH. They know who their short-yardage back is: De'Veon Smith. They know who their third-down back is: De'Veon Smith. They think he's good enough to put him in the bin with Amara Darboh and Jourdan Lewis and all the other veterans who don't need spring contact.
Survey says... eh, maybe. Smith's bravura Citrus Bowl against some tough, if potentially disinterested, customers was the exclamation point to a rollercoaster season. If you don't want to read the rest of this section here it is in 15 seconds:
Smith abandoned his pulling guard, disappeared into a pile of bodies, was still upright seven yards later, got caught from behind, shook off a defensive back, got caught by the same guy again, and shrugged him off once more like so much lint on his varsity jacket. Few sixty yard touchdowns in the history of Michigan football have been as likely to cause the coaching box to exclaim "what are you DOING?" the instant before the breakthrough.
That was Smith's 2015. For every shattered defensive back left trembling in a puddle of his own making...
...there was a truck lane ignored.
Last year's UFRs invariably contained a book-length subsection on the running backs and the yards they made or, more often, set on fire. As the lead back Smith came in for the plurality of the discussion. Depending on the week this discussion was either generally positive and hopeful...
/spittle shields at 70% and dropping
Actually… I got nothing this week. I thought the backs did well. I complained about a lead zone run last week. Michigan didn't block it well; Smith mechanically ran into the gap he should go in if they in fact did block it well. He ate a DT for minimal yardage. I didn't care if Smith actually got anything on the play, I just wanted to see him see what was going on in front of him and put a foot in the ground to give himself a chance.
He did that on this one:
That cutback doesn't look like it'll amount to much when he makes it but Michigan gets on some blocks and Smith runs through some guys and it's a nice gain. If he'd gotten swallowed by an unblocked LB back there it's still the right cut.
...or blackly grim:
I feel like this is going to lead into another running back diatribe.
Are they really diatribes?
Large portions of last year's preview focused on Smith's tendency to run at random, which outlets other than the Michigan obsessive bits of the internet picked up on:
The hope was Harbaugh and Wheatley could get Smith moving in the right direction more often, and for most of the season that was dashed.
But the frustration I experienced was not limited to Smith. Everyone who took more than a dozen or so carries made at least one mindbogglingly bad cut, from Drake Johnson to Ty Isaac to Derrick Green to Sione Houma. That's widespread enough to seem like a coaching issue, and Smith's trajectory confirms:
[UFR charting for ballcarriers is another spot where zero is bad. Zero means you got what was blocked and nothing else.]
|1||Utah||5.5||7||-1.5||0||Cuts late let M down.|
|2||Oregon State||15.5||4||11.5||0||4||Brutal Legend|
|3||UNLV||2||8||-6||0||Two very bad plays and not much to make up for it.|
|6||Northwestern||7.5||1.5||6||0||On just 8 carries.|
|7||MSU||5||5||0||0||2||Grinder; a bit frustrating with the cuts again.|
|10||Indiana||4.5||2||2.5||2||2||Frustratingly slow sometimes but made up for it with power.|
|11||PSU||9.5||4||5.5||3||+2 blocking, +2 on catches, and then +3 late, which fits a pattern discussed below.|
|12||OSU||7.5||7.5||0||1||Made a significant number of yards himself. Zero pass pro minuses.|
|13||Florida||15||2||13||0||1||I be like dang|
That is a veritable late-season surge. Smith came in for some clucking after the PSU game since I didn't care for three of his 13 carries, but in the context of the last five games that's the outlier and being good at running is the trend.
This was clearest in the bowl game. Smith probed for holes, showed off a Mike Hart-level backfield stutter, and fired off a decisive backside cut on his first three carries. The stutter's probably the most impressive but the cut is the most important:
That's vision, and I was floored as it continued for an entire game against the #5 S&P run defense:
And this continued! Presented with a DL penetrating almost to the handoff point Smith cut off his OL's back and blew through an arm tackle. On the three, Smith turned negative two yards into two by juking two dudes and running through a couple tackles. Even on certain runs where it looked like he'd screwed up, the tape revealed he was trying to make the best of a bad situation only to find that there was no relief elsewhere. It took me a couple takes to realize that this was Smith avoiding a wholly unblocked LB in the hole:
As I said in the table above, he's probably better off running right at the guy for a few yards but I prefer Smith seeing trouble and adjusting even if it doesn't work out. Early in the second half Smith cut to the backside of the line and got hewed down early because a safety blitz prevented Darboh from getting to the guy. That's an RPS minus; without the playcall Smith is ripping off another backside cut. Even with it if Cole had cut off penetration a little better Smith can attack the S head-on, and that usually ends badly for the DB.
At that point I hadn't done the OSU game and wondered if that was a one-off; now that the entire picture is in view it's obviously not. I mean… it's kind of a Rudock trajectory. It wasn't quite as obvious since Michigan tried its hardest to avoid the defensive lines of PSU and OSU, but it's there. That's why Smith was placed amongst the revered elders during spring.
So. The dude remains a nuclear-powered icebreaker. The number of tackles he blew through was truly impressive, and even when he was in fact being tackled piles had a tendency to lurch two or three yards towards the endzone:
I have literally dozens of these clipped:
Smith grinds out yards after contact better than any back I've seen at Michigan. Yeah, he's slow. Yeah, he's not going to juke a guy in the open field. But in the right situation he can be a killer. That situation is surrounded by very good blocking that delivers him three yards downfield on a consistent basis. Smith will turn that into five or eight or eleven yards better than anyone not named Fournette. Is he going to have that this year? Maybe, maybe not. Michigan should get closer to it.
Smith's peripherals are unambiguously positive. He fumbled just once last year. He was also a strangely effective third-down back, to the point where I called him "King Hippo Vincent Smith." This is mostly because of his consistently excellent pass blocking:
Smith has the oomph to stand up linebackers like nobody since Mike Hart. This was a point of discussion after Penn State, a game in which Smith only got eight carries and still managed to stick out as an asset:
Smith has power and agility and can pick guys up. Even big guys. … Then in this game he added a couple of dumpoffs on which he displayed that fun Smith-vs-defensive backs stuff. On back to back plays at the end of the first half he turned nothing into something, first getting a few when Rudock got nailed, and then plastering a DB across his windshield for a first down:
This is something you can work with.
His eight protection minuses on the season are only twice what Ty Isaac managed to acquire in scattered snaps against Oregon State, and there was a distinct lack of the "team" minuses I hand out when I'm not sure who screwed up. 13 over the course of the season is a really low number and off the top of my head I'd guess that two-thirds could not be on Smith.
As a bonus, Smith is a solid outlet option because of this SAT analogy:
De'Veon Smith : defensive back :: windshield : insect
In limited opportunities he's shown that he's also an asset as a run blocker:
After that game I described him as a "low-to-the-ground 230-pound brick"; after the pass block above I broke my longstanding commitment to pooh-pooh all motivation/effort talk:
I usually assume everyone's going all out all the time and dismiss motivation stuff, but this week I got frustrated with a couple players for a lack of want-to. Smith never lacks that. Smith wants to end you. Even if he's slow and his vision is lacking, that's something.
He's the kind of guy willing to play through just about anything, and that's something Harbaugh has noticed.
Smith is a good bet to be Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Fitz Toussaint. He's got a half-season of being pretty good and has more upside than you'd expect because so many of his issues stemmed from an unfamiliarity with the offense and running back basics. Wheatley:
"(Now we're trying to) get guys like De'Veon and Ty Isaac (and Drake Johnson) to what I call a mastery level. Progressing past the things we did last year."
It says here that Smith's 2015 is a better version of his second half. Michigan will rotate him a bunch to keep him as healthy as possible—his pounding style is tough on him and caused him to miss chunks of multiple games—and this will keep his counting numbers from attracting national attention, but his YPC should take a big step forward along with his reputation amongst Michigan fans.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! And other guys, but also Peppers!]
THE ROTATION THE ROTATION THE ROTATION
While Smith figures to get a plurality of the carries a cast of thousands will chip in as well.
being able to run away from Peppers is a thing [Upchurch]
The most prominent figures to be USC transfer and former five-star TY ISAAC. Isaac saw his 2015 playing time come to an abrupt halt after two fumbles in short succession against Maryland, the second of which was due to an engaged DL gently wafting through the general area Isaac occupied. In between he ignored both the fullback and the guard pulling outside into acres of space. This was that game Matt Millen did...
"Follow the fullback" says Matt Millen for the millionth time. Nobody does. Not Maryland, not Ty Isaac. I know we all hate him because the Lions but this is a little much.
...so Isaac setting ten or thirty yards on fire by not doing so was especially grating. Isaac sat down, and did not get up again except to set another chunk of yards on fire against MSU.
As first impressions go it wasn't great. In addition to the last straw(s) above there were a number of busted blitz pickups that could only be on him:
This was a reasonable point for Michigan fans to write him off for good, and many did so. This space defended him against incessant accusations that he was "soft" in the Maryland UFR* only for Harbaugh to get excited about Isaac's spring because he was a "rougher, tougher" guy. So congratulations, internet. You win.
*["He's not getting worn down or blown up. He's just holding the football like it's a foot-tall Hitler clone someone is making him babysit. Don't do that. Hold the football like it's a foot-tall Denard clone. Hold it so tight you hurt your heart a little."]
Harbaugh was probably referring to Isaac's ability to stay on the field in camp more than any of the on-field issues internet complainers noticed. Going to the wrong guy on a blitz pickup isn't soft, but maybe he went to the wrong guy because he sat out most of last spring with a hamstring injury and then couldn't stay on the field through fall camp.
An Isaac that's on the field and on the same page with Harbaugh still offers a lot to work with. His 76-yard touchdown was against Just UNLV but featured a savvy cut upfield, a nasty stiff-arm, and the long speed to make those count:
His size allows him to move piles, and despite the two major biffs referenced above I thought he was amongst the least frustrating guys when it came to reading his blocks. Here his bounce comes after a threat inside and his stiffarm makes it count:
I asserted that he "makes the most reliably good cuts" amongst the RB corps early in the season, before Smith's light went on. The sample size was low but add in 40 carries from his freshman year at USC where he makes the most of what's in front of him and you've got enough to make some medium-confidence estimates.
All that is well and good and completely useless if Harbaugh doesn't trust Isaac enough to put him on the field. Isaac set to rebuilding that trust with a very positive spring. Harbaugh offered up his highest praise in an interview with Webb:
"(I've noticed) a harder rougher guy. He just does. There's never an excuse. Just harder. You watch him just get rougher and get harder right before your eyes. I'm really pleased. Really pleased the way he is doing that now."
That harder version of Isaac impressed onlookers at both Ford Field and the spring game, where he was the most prominent offensive player on either team. I declared him the most impressive back amongst those chasing Smith after the open practice:
He dropped a little weight and showed a wiggle through the line that wasn't present for much of last year. One run saw him lower the boom on a safety trying to tackle him. And Michigan used his ability out of the backfield—perhaps not by choice given the coverage, but they used him.
Isaac's spring production was a little too bounce-heavy to expect all of it to translate to actual games, but his cuts were decisive and correct, his speed remarkable, and his ball security good. He raised a lot of eyebrows when he managed to outdistance one Jabrill Peppers for an extra ten or fifteen yards:
That speed at 230. There is a five star still lurking in there.
And while we haven't seen much of this yet, Isaac's large frame and soft hands make him a natural receiver…
Very natural hands out of the backfield and won’t drop a pass. Runs really precise routes and is a mismatch against linebackers on third down.
Isaac can catch the ball extremely well, he’s great at putting his foot in the ground and making decisive cuts and he actually was one of the top performers in the open-field drill, a drill tailor-made for smaller backs. …may outgrow the position but has freakish ability.
…if he can get the protections down he can be an asset as a third down back.
By most accounts Isaac's followed up on his strong spring with a similar fall. Webb's mentioned him positively a couple times, stating that he's "making a strong case for the #2 running back." An early fumble or two could short-circuit his year, but if Isaac cuts out the mental errors and delivers on the spring promise he will get triple-digit carries. It says there that he establishes himself as the clear heir apparent in 2017.
please bless this back, Hartfairy [via Smoothitron]
Michigan will also deploy redshirt senior DRAKE JOHNSON when he is not busy dodging forklifts, fighting off harpies, and visiting the Baba Yaga in an attempt to find out what he must do to lift the curse on his bloodline. As you may have heard, Johnson narrowly escaped disaster when he was literally run over by a literal forklift this offseason. That bizarre incident followed ACL tears in consecutive years; on top of that he was asked to run behind Michigan's late-Hoke-era offensive line. One time he was meeting with Fred Jackson and his position coach tried to drink three different beverages at the same time. Drake Johnson has seen some things.
Johnson has a role on this team as an outside runner and yards-after-catch specialist. He's the fastest of Michigan's veteran backs, and he's produced whenever the storm clouds have cleared enough to provide an opportunity. Your author wasn't a huge fan when he first started playing because he looks like a dang flamingo out there, but has since come around somewhat. In the late Hoke era Johnson was able to shoot through the narrow gaps that edition of the OL could provide in a way it seemed doubtful Smith or Derrick Green could replicate:
As Michigan gets better at carving out gaps the pendulum swings more towards Smith and his ability to pile misery on would-be tacklers. Johnson's ability will still remain useful situationally, as he demonstrated on a burst through the line against Florida.
Johnson still looks like the high school track guy he was. Sometimes this is a good, like when he smoothly hurdles opposition and continues on his merry way:
Sometimes this is bad, like when he is asked to make a quick cut of any description. Johnson is not elusive in the least. His cuts are rounded; jukes are rare. This run against Minnesota is a good example of how Johnson takes a long time to change direction:
His speed once he does so is good enough for the first down but that cut isn't exactly Mike Hart. Johnson lacks that foot-in-the-ground ability that leaves linebackers in the dust when you pull it off. Neither is he a pounder. He runs fast until contact is made and then goes down. This against Oregon State was dubbed a "Carlos Brown/Derrick Green moment":
But he produces. This has long been baffling to me:
I'm still not quite sure what he does that well other than run fast
He still seems to change direction like a guy 50 pounds heavier than he is
It is still undeniable. By now I have come up with something I think Johnson's good at other than running fast: seeing the field in front of him. There were a zillion complaints about bad cuts in UFR last year and Johnson only got knocked for one of them. That's a much better rate than anyone else who saw significant carries.
Johnson should get a handful of touches a game, mostly when Michigan goes to shotgun and other spread-ish formations. If he makes the open field he'll eat up ground quickly and go down when he encounters opposition; he'll get what his blocking offers, hurdle a guy, and be generally effective, if not amazing.
WHAT ON EARTH IS "SPREAD H" AND CAN WE USE IT TO TALK ABOUT JABRILL PEPPERS
This Jabrill Peppers?
zooooom [Eric Upchurch]
Okay, then proceed.
As you might imagine, I struggled to classify JABRILL PEPPERS. He was mostly a running back but kind of a receiver; he never, ever pass blocked. Michigan used him all over the backfield, occasionally motioned him into the slot, and deployed a suite of exotic formations in which Peppers was anything from a FB to RB to H-back. He doesn't fit neatly into any of our categories.
But he does have an archetype. Spread 'n' shred offenses frequently use a WR/RB hybrid who they try to get in space with the ball whether via pass or run:
Meyer listed his tailbacks as Mike Weber/Curtis Samuel/Dontre Wilson. Reiterating that the H-back (slot WR) will be big part of OSU run game
— Ross Fulton (@RossRFulton) August 29, 2016
Percy Harvin was that guy. Tavon Austin was that guy. Last year OSU used Braxton Miller (and Jalin Marshall) in that role. Tavon Austin famously defenestrated the Clemson defense with a series of "touch passes" that were just end-arounds, adding a touchdown out of the slot late. He also famously defenestrated the Oklahoma defense, mostly as a running back.
They call these gentlemen H-backs. Clearly we can't do that because of Hill and Poggi and the million other blocky/catchy guys. So "spread H" it is.
Can we talk about Peppers now?
SPREAD H: PAGING ALL REGGIE BUSH IMPERSONATORS
Use the Force, Jabrill [Patrick Barron]
Oh hey look, it's JABRILL PEPPERS.
Peppers's first offensive touch didn't require him to do a ton on a well-conceived and executed play, but the way he blew past a safety with an angle was reminiscent of a certain play in Denard Robinson's oeuvre. Peppers is electrifying. By Minnesota I was theorizing that if he was a primarily offensive player he would probably be something approximating Reggie Bush, and I still think that. Bush was equally capable as a running back and receiver; Bush was also a ludicrous athlete; Bush made you stand up whenever he got the ball.
Peppers lined up anywhere and everywhere, sowing chaos whether he got the ball or not. Peppers's first offensive snap was the sweep above; it was immediately preceded by not one but two MSU timeouts. Michigan got an easy touchdown against Rutgers thanks to the Peppers effect:
(I know Matt Millen can be incredibly annoying but this is terrific analysis.) A reverse involving Peppers against Minnesota saw Chesson turn the corner with nobody in the same zip code:
You can veritably hear the tightening of sphincters when Peppers enters the field. This is why pessimists can cool it on worries that Peppers is a mirage. The way opposition coaches and players reacted to his mere presence is evidence enough that his athletic ability is gamebreaking.
And he's not bad when you actually provide him the ball.
Peppers wasn't just a space player. Michigan lined him up in the backfield and had him run plain old zone plays, on which he showed natural running instincts, good balance, and a surprising amount of power:
After Penn State I was struck by his ability: "But, I mean, he's just got it, you know? He has burst. When he gets hit he displays power and balance. He sees and hits holes." Combine that with his eyepopping acceleration and the fact that momentum is mass times velocity and you have quite an all-purpose offensive weapon.
The one area Peppers hasn't displayed his abilities yet is down the field. Michigan hit him with a few short passes; he was 3/3 on routine catches. The one time they tried to hit him deep he got run over by a linebacker before he had a shot at the ball (which was about 30 yards short). If Michigan can work a similar mismatch he's going to be wide open. Peppers will probably be able to track the ball expertly given his punt return work. Contested situations remain an unknown, if anyone should manage to force one.
So what can we expect this fall? Here's a brief accounting of where Peppers lines up in the various clips I took of him a year ago. I'm conflating all the various ways you can get a guy like him into an edge run by motioning him presnap into "sweep threat":
- running back: 7
- wildcat QB: 1
- offset H-back: 1
- slot receiver, no presnap motion: 2
- slot receiver, sweep threat motion: 1
- outside receiver, sweep threat motion: 1
That's probably a bit heavier on RB than you might expect; it's still close to 50/50. Since it was the last game Peppers played in last season, and the one in which he featured most heavily, his deployment against OSU is probably the most useful as we try to project Peppers in big games:
You mentioned Peppers Peppers Peppers?
This game was close to what I think we'll see this fall with Peppers. He wasn't quite fully weaponized but Michigan had him in on about 25% of their offensive snaps before the Rudock injury made things academic. They lined him up as a slot and hit him with a drag route; they used him as a plain-ol tailback; they got him in space with a couple of screens that deserved better blocking than they got; they pitched it to him with the intent of having him throw; they got some free yards despite bad blocking because a Peppers sweep with a throw attached dragged two guys to the endzone with Jake Butt; they busted out some truly exotic stuff:
He got nine touches in this game; while he didn't break anything big he demonstrated good vision and running instincts plus his trademark explosion. If his blockers get it sorted out this season he's going to score ten touchdowns.
Harbaugh told reporters earlier this fall that two-way players like Peppers could expect to see "90 to 100 snaps" if it's necessary. Figure Peppers is on punt return and no other special teams and that the defense sees 60 snaps and you've got 20-30 to play with on offense. That's against the likes of Penn State and Iowa and OSU—Peppers isn't going to get more than a cameo if Michigan thinks they're going to win a game by 20.
That's why I didn't issue this a 5, as some of you have no doubt already scurried into the comment to rend your clothes about. There's a cap on how much Peppers we can see. What we do see should combine with double-digit TFLs and some bonkers punt returns to get Peppers to NYC for the Heisman ceremony.
Evans is lightning in shoulder pads [Indy Star]
DRAKE JOHNSON is a natural fit for spread H stuff and could get some snaps in that role. Ditto TY ISAAC. Another guy to keep an eye on after a torrent of fall camp hype is freshman CHRIS EVANS [recruiting profile]. He is in fact the impetus for this positional designation after posting a screenshot of practice in which he's lined up as a spread H-back:
Evans was a divisive recruit with a huge split in his rankings lacking a definite position; if half the talk over the past few weeks pans out Evans will hit the upper end of his range. Jim Harbaugh was willing to say this about Evans just a couple weeks ago after being asked about the freshman class:
"Chris Evans is maybe one of the most outstanding of them all."
You know who else is in this class. That's a thing, there. In addition to Harbaugh's public disclosure, various insiders have been swearing up and down that Evans is the truth. When Steve Lorenz talked to six sources about early camp standouts, Evans was the first word out of four of their mouths. Sam Webb has mentioned him twice in his practice reports:
He has very quickly become their best open field player (at least in practice). On a daily basis he is juking guys out of their shorts.
Webb cautions that he is "very raw as a route runner" but that he's still going to see the field.
Evans's rep as a recruit was as a very, very fast person. Clint Brewster:
…excellent downfield speed and is a long strider. …excellent explosive quickness coming out of his breaks. …. mismatch on third down coming out of the backfield matched up against a linebacker. … Nice agility and plus balance. Feet keep moving in tight spaces.
Even caveat-prone ESPN said his "speed is better than anyone else on the field." That's backed up by his track exploits and 40 after 40 in the 4.4 range. Drake Johnson, a track star himself, is impressed:
"He's mad athletic. You just see some people and think 'yeah, he's an athlete.' He's an athlete, he just does stuff. He's smooth, he's real smooth. He's like butter smooth, we're just like 'ooh, wow.' He's like *sound effects* someone flips to the side, like he had no chance. Like, I'm sorry you could've tried but it sucks to suck. He just makes it look easy."
Johnson relates he's practicing at both running back and wide receiver, which further confirms our hypothesis. Evans performed both roles with equal aplomb in high school, rushing for over 2,300 yards and catching 91 passes during his final two seasons.
Also Evans might be Roast Beef.
"And I was like, 'Chris, you ready for camp?' And he's like, 'Yeah dog! I'm so ready!' And I'm like, 'No, you're not! You think you're ready, but you're not! Just give it a couple of days.'
So he's got that going for him.
Despite the fact that Webb has twice asserted that Evans has moved past Drake Johnson to be #3 on the RB depth chart, our bet is the Evans hype is likely to peter out into not very much this year. There are only so many snaps to go around and you know Smith, Isaac, and Peppers are going to get their cuts.
One advantage he has as he searches for playing time is the Peppers overlap. Michigan's not going to put Peppers on the field for 100 snaps against the UCFs of the world, but they will have his role in the offense. When Peppers is taking it easy, Evans will be getting those snaps. Also, here's to sticking him on kickoff returns.
BACKUPS: NEW BLOOD IN TOUGH FOR SNAPS
Higdon is slippery. [Upchurch]
Michigan's got younger options as well. The oldest of the young is sophomore KARAN HIGDON [recruiting profile]. Higdon burned his redshirt midseason for 11 carries on which we was almost always buried in the backfield by no fault of his own. His one opportunity to operate in space did feature a slick cut past a Northwestern linebacker:
This concludes useful information from his time on the field. Higdon was a signing day yoink from Iowa with one four-star ranking, that from 247, and while he's not shaped like a typical Harbaugh back coming out of high school he was regarded as a tough inside runner with good vision.
Walker and Davis probably won't be big factors this year. [Upchurch]
Freshmen KAREEM WALKER [recruiting profile] and KINGSTON DAVIS [recruiting profile] will also push for playing time after enrolling early. OSU decommit Walker was the most ballyhooed tailback in the 2016 class until a late slide. In the aftermath his rankings are all over the place, from five-star to fringe four-star; scouting reports are contradictory. My attempt to resolve the impasse:
Walker is a weird back with chicken legs and a wily ability to shoot into creases in the line, and the running back version of Denard Robinson we saw against South Carolina is the closest thing in the recent history of Michigan football. Both guys have excellent agility in tight spaces, the vision to make it count, and reasonable power largely dependent on not getting hit square and spinning through for a couple extra yards. Walker will end up bigger—he's got an inch or two on Robinson and is already around the same weight Robinson got up to his second year in the NFL—and slower—he is not Denard Robinson.
I started that profile ready to gently depress expectations and came out of it pretty positive about Walker and his future. He's not the consensus top back in the country who will immediately go Keyser Soze on the Big Ten like Fournette or Peterson or... uh... Green, but he's a very good prospect for a little down the road. Walker missed the team picture as a wake-up call after some iffy grades early. Webb says he is practicing, so the issue isn't that serious.
Davis is less controversial to recruitniks. He is a truck. He is not a fullback. This much has been made clear by Davis in every interview he gave. But I compared him to Sione Houma anyway, because he's that kind of not-a-fullback tailback, if you catch my drift. Despite Davis's low recruiting profile, Michigan pursued him with fervor. They offered an early enroll spot; they fended off offer-type substances from fellow manballers LSU, Florida, and Nebraska. He's a Harbaugh kind of guy.
At least one of the freshmen is going to play in anticipation for next year, when Johnson and Smith are gone. Ideally one would get a redshirt, but Higdon's experience last year suggests that may not be the case. Walker's issues may make Michigan inclined to give him one so he can take this year to get on solid academic footing.
IT JUST SO HAPPENS THAT YOUR QUARTERBACK HERE IS ONLY MOSTLY DEAD
The Law of Harbaugh: it doesn't matter who your QB is [Bryan Fuller]
Midway through last season this space was openly wondering if Jake Rudock had some sort of disease that prevented him from doing quarterback good. Many theories were theorized. Eastern Shriveled Limb. Leaf's Palsy. The Harrington Syndrome. Akili's Aphid Aphasia. Whatever it was, it warn't good. Headstones were prepared. Ornamental flowers were arranged. Tuxes were rented. Boyz II Men was booked to sing "End Of The Road."
Then Jake Rudock erupted flaming from his own corpse. Pro Football Focus's #150 quarterback out of 159 qualifiers through week nine put the sword to a series of pass defenses ranging from comical (Indiana) to Nazgul in helmets (OSU, Florida), pulled his team's ass out of the fire repeatedly, finished as the second most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten, and got drafted. By the time the smoke cleared last year's Rudock MGo-prediction had gone from a millstone I'd wear around my neck until the end of time to dead on, as it were:
Rudock starts the whole year and turns in a season like last year at Iowa except more efficient: 60% completions, 8 YPA, excellent TD/INT.
64%, 7.8 YPA, 20-9 TD/INT. Rack it? Is that what we say? Someone with a moist goatee tell me the etiquette here.
Anyway. Rudock's surge from Iowa leftovers to sixth-round pick now goes on the Harbaugh quarterback tote board:
- helped Rich Gannon(!) win the 2002 NFL MVP award,
- developed non-scholarship San Diego's Josh Johnson into a third-place finisher for the Walter Payton, the I-AA Heisman, and the first draft pick in school history,
- recruited and developed Andrew Luck,
- salvaged Alex Smith's NFL career and got him a huge contract despite the fact that he simultaneously...
- advocated for, drafted, and developed Colin Kaepernick into a legit starting NFL QB when few thought he could make the transition from the Nevada pistol, and
- molded would-be Iowa backup Jake Rudock into a sixth-round draft pick.
The only point in Harbaugh's coaching career that he didn't have a quarterback somewhere between good and great was his first two years at a 1-11 Stanford program that had been driven off several increasingly tall cliffs before his arrival. And one of those guys beat USC at the height of its Pete Carroll power.
On one level, "who is the starting quarterback?" is the single most critical question about the 2016 Michigan Wolverines. On another level, eh, it'll be fine.
[After THE JUMP: people on this year's roster!]
MY DEPTH CHART'S SO GUESSILICIOUS
best frenemies [Eric Upchurch]
So. This space had been projecting John O'Korn as the starter even after spring practice, when Speight inched ahead. So had most other people, but we were all guessing wildly. The decision as to the starter was very much a 51/49 kind of thing, with all projections surrounded by layers of hedging. Early in fall camp 247 surveyed various insiders and got approving mentions for both competitors; they also detailed the choice facing the coaching staff:
In June, we were told Speight was the leader heading into fall camp, and that if O'Korn could tone down the mistakes, he might be the player with the higher ceiling.
Gunslinger versus game manager. Fight.
The uncertainly abruptly resolved itself into a bonafide expectation on Friday, when Wilton Speight was anointed the starter on the internet. The internet is not Jim Harbaugh, and Speight was on point when he told assembled media members that "not many people know what goes on in coach Harbaugh's mind." Still, it seems like a thing.
You'll have to rely on my internet spidey-sense here because we're about to delve into anonymous internet insiders. So there's this guy who goes by UMBig11, give or take some caps, and he's been saying things on 247 and our comments for a bit; he also gives Rivals some of their stuff. In my opinion, he's credible, and just a few hours after Rivals said it was Speight he posted the same thing on our board. Since then various sites have confirmed that expectation.
FWIW, this was the vibe that multiple reporters got when Harbaugh put Speight, O'Korn, and Morris in front of the media a few days ago:
Reading between the lines here, but based on body language and the like I'd be surprised if Speight isn't the starting QB against Hawaii.
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) August 26, 2016
It would now be a surprise—but not a shock—if it wasn't Speight. So about him…
DOOR #1: THE GAME MANAGER(?)
manage manage manage [Patrick Barron]
WILTON SPEIGHT [recruiting profile] was the backup last year and neck and neck with O'Korn through spring. Speight's spring game performance was approximately on par with O'Korn's, for O'Korn truthers insistent on Speight's candidacy as motivational ploy even at this late date.
Speight did get in for chunks of the Minnesota and OSU games last year. His performance was what you might expect from a middling three-star redshirt freshman suddenly thrust into the fire. He looked overwhelmed. He was horrendous. He spurred tweets about Russell Bellomy.
Then he put together a game-winning drive. First off he hit Jake Butt near the first down marker, then Khalid Hill on a drag. Those were simple; a read and throw on a double post for a touchdown was less so:
The ensuing two point conversion turned out to be critical for Michigan's eventual victory and featured Speight moving around in the pocket and finding a tiny window for the points.
The grim three-and-out parade and unflattering comparisons melted away. Michigan won on a goal line stand that never should have happened for six different reasons; Rudock returned the next week and Speight faded into the background.
He re-emerged after Rudock was knocked out against Ohio State, and again looked completely overwhelmed for a half-dozen throws. After the shell-shock period he looked reasonably good. All of this was garbage time to be taken it with a grain of salt, but there was a nice anticipation throw in there:
That playing time was brief and unimpressive and totally expected for a redshirt freshman backup. He had a tendency to panic under pressure; a number of the throws I filed IN or BR against OSU came when he got sped up and threw it to nobody in particular.
Speight made a move obvious to anyone watching him in spring. His performance at the game itself was polished and confident, with just one errant throw, that a fade that took Grant Perry out of bounds. Hennechart:
[Note: I've rearranged the columns on the Hennechart so that they are now in approximate order of good play to bad.]
Obviously this is little to go on, but Speight shook that feeling of panic he showed early against both Minnesota and OSU. Ace:
When it came to the two main competitors for the starting job, the QBs were a bright spot. Wilton Speight looked like a different player than the one whose nerves seemed to affect his ability to throw a spiral when he came on against Minnesota last year. He missed a deep ball to Grant Perry; everything else was on-target, and he even made an impact with his legs. He’s making a legitimate push for the job.
“Wilton’s somebody that has really matured over a year. I think that going into last year’s camp, he’s a much different person than he is going into this year’s camp. He’s taken on the maturity, he’s taken on a lot of responsibility. The obvious game against Minnesota gave him a kind of confidence, you know. He’s excited about it. He’s excited that that’s not going to be the only touchdown he ever throws for Michigan, and I think that’s his mindset, that that’s not going to be my last touchdown.”
I made similar observations after seeing him a couple times in the spring. The occasional wobble on Speight's throws was gone and his arm strength seemed a lot better because he was getting throws out on time consistently. If the real Speight is the guy who led the winning Minnesota drive and was okay-ish after a rough start against OSU, that's a viable player. It looks like things are trending that way. So much so that when Speight tells this to assembled media…
"Because it's me, I can remember back to the same plays we ran last year. I watch film and I can remember a rep or a play and I remember thinking last year 'this is so fast, the game is so fast.' It looked like a blur," Speight says. "This year in camp, and in the spring, I drop back and the game is so much slower. I can see guys come open before they're open now, that's the biggest thing.
"Everything's slowed down now."
…it seems plausible.
You know that I have to say this bit: there probably hasn't been an offensive coordinator/QB coach in the history of college football with a recruiting touch as leaden as Al Borges. This quote from Speight during his recruitment is boggling now and will only get worse as time proceeds:
"In their eyes, myself, David Cornwell, and this kid from IMG Academy Michael O'Connor are the best quarterbacks in the nation in this class," Speight said.
Cornwell and O'Conner aren't even in the conversation at Alabama and Penn State, respectively; that recruiting class contained Brad Kaaya, Deshaun Watson, and DeShone Kizer. Kizer, a Toledo kid, was clamoring for a Michigan offer that never came. Not great, Bob.
Speight is the last hope that Borges will ever recruit a QB who finishes his career as the starting quarterback. (Only one Borges-recruited QB has ever been at the top of a depth chart, and Indiana's Cam Coffman moved to tight end after a single year as a starter.) Jim Harbaugh evidently has the ability to turn you or I into a fifth-round pick and Speight will no doubt be okay if he is indeed the guy, but his recruitment offers zero encouragement.
DOOR #2: THE GUNSLINGER
sling sling sling [Eric Upchurch]
Houston transfer JOHN O'KORN is without question the high-upside option. He's got a big arm and escapability Wilton Speight doesn't. He's great on the run, especially on plays that break down into improvisation. You couldn't throw a rock on a subscription message board last year without hitting an insider who swore up and down that O'Korn, not Jake Rudock, was the best quarterback on the roster. That might have been faint praise early. Late not so much.
He is also the high-downside option. He was thrust into the starting lineup at Houston as a true freshman and performed, completing 58% of his passes for a whopping 3117 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. However, there are a number of caveats in there that Bill Connelly struck upon when he previewed the Cougars going into 2014:
- The sheer quantity of passing he was called upon to do gave him an edge when it came to counting numbers. His 446 attempts are matched only by John Navarre in the annals of Michigan history; those 3000+ yards come out to a middling 7 yards a pop.
- Opponents got their hands on a ton of O'Korn's passes. 76 of his attempts were touched by the opposition. Ten were intercepted. On average you would expect a whopping 19 of those to get picked off.
- He faded badly late. His last five games: 98-for-199 (49%), 996 yards (5.0 per pass), six touchdowns, six interceptions.
That fade only got worse in 2015. Houston's offensive coordinator lit out for greener pastures, some jabroni was brought in to replace him, four offensive line starters graduated, and O'Korn and the rest of the Houston offense went off one of those cliffs Stanford had previously traversed. By the time he was permanently benched for Greg Ward, O'Korn was completing just 52% of his passes for 4.8 yards an attempt with 6 TDs and 8 INTs. PFF had him 133rd of 135 in their "adjusted completion percentage" metric.
The final straw was a horrendous game against Central Florida:
O'Korn looked like Christian Hackenberg trying to throw out of a paint shaker for the duration, went to the bench early in the third quarter, and never returned. A few months later he was in Ann Arbor.
Jim Harbaugh's goal here is to turn O'Korn from Ryan Mallett. Michigan edition, into Ryan Mallett, Arkansas edition. There were a lot of factors that helped O'Korn down the highway to hell. When O'Korn looked good, as he did against BYU a few weeks before his benching, he looked like a guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He suffered a lot of drops and his offensive coordinator basically never managed to work guys free like Harbaugh did for Rudock a year ago. It was all contested throws, obvious screens, and pop passes on which opposition safeties were obliterating his receivers as soon as the ball arrived.
O'Korn offers a lot to work with if you can just give him a valium and get to polishing, and his performance in the spring game was a major step in the right direction:
While a couple of those scrambles may have been premature, those were the only erroneous decisions on the day. O'Korn was accurate, decisive, and sane. His weird sidearm delivery and tendency to drift backwards like a dude who sucks at Madden were close to absent.
A look at a Hennechart of selected games might be illuminating here. A reminder that * means a particular bad event was an extremely bad version of that event and + is for a successful throw made under serious duress or after escaping the pocket.
|Spring Game 2015||2||6||4||2||2||3||2||71%|
You can see the wildness as a freshman. Lot of great throws in the Rice game on not a ton of attempts; four starred incidents.
You can see the oppressiveness of the 2014 Cougar offense versus BYU: six + throws, five snaps on which he was pressured so fast he could not realistically be expected to do anything. You don't see the gap between those successful throws and his stats as his receivers dropped a ton of balls.
You can see the total implosion as that season went along: against UCF O'Korn turfed three of seven screens and threw a boggling interception.
And then you get something that looks like a much more refined player. Nothing crazy either way. His accuracy is still a bit off, but most of those decisions to take off you remember from the spring game were correct. A year with Harbaugh seems to taken much of the wild-eyed berserking out of O'Korn. If he does end up playing he'll probably be fine, with a lingering tendency to throw balls up for grabs. At the same media availability that Speight offered the quote about things slowing down for him, O'Korn sounded like a guy who hadn't quite got there yet:
"I think you heard coach talk about eliminating the big mistake. That's something I felt I've done very well with in this camp," he said. "In spring ball, I wasn't as comfortable with the reads. I was still trying to feel out being back in the huddle, leading a team. I got all the kinks out in spring ball. I feel like that's been my biggest stride. Attention (to detail with) the offense and just being able to go out and play ball again."
He'll play in the first three games a bunch, and there's a nonzero chance he ends up emerging a la Kaepernick if Speight opens the door for him.
possibly the best QB on the roster still [Upchurch]
Whoever gets the starting nod will have one huge advantage over early-season Rudock: experience. Rudock only arrived in fall camp last year. Speight and O'Korn have as much experience with the Harbaugh offense as Rudock does even now. Fisch:
"It's a huge difference from when we had this conversation last year. ... A lot of it last year in those discussions was just guessing. Now, we have film on Wilton in the games he played last year. We had meetings with them all of last year, all spring and their preparation has been excellent.
"Now it's exciting. You can build off of last year without the approach of too much newness. ... Now we can show them film of Michigan people doing it, rather than someone else."
It's probably irrational to believe that the starter will be late-season Rudock. Despite Rudock's early struggles this is a guy who was a solid two-year starter at Iowa prior to his arrival. Speight has about two quarters of on-field experience, and O'Korn's season and a half ended in disaster.
But neither should start out as rough as Rudock did. The guy who wins the job has a fully weaponized Jehu Chesson, Jake Butt, and Amara Darboh, a slot receiver who's not going to conjure interceptions out of nowhere, and most of a good pass-blocking offensive line back. Also the opener is Hawaii, not Utah. The end result should be somewhere near last year's outcome: 60% completions, 8 YPA, 2:1 TD-INT. The ride there should be far less turbulent.
If it sounds crazy that I'm projecting a new starter to be amongst the most efficient QBs in the Big Ten, please keep in mind that this year's crop of QBs is CJ Beathard and zero other players who graded positively per PFF. (JT Barrett was positive overall but negative as a passer.) It's a very BIG TEN year. 8 YPA isn't gangbusters nationally.
The starter will be okay. He will not submarine the season; he will not carry the team. Unless, you know, Harbaugh.
Morris grew a beard, so yeah man[Upchurch/Fuller/Upchurch]
Redshirt junior SHANE MORRIS [recruiting profile] was definitively behind the two leaders per both Harbaugh press conference answers and spring game deployment—Morris mostly played slot receiver. In the aftermath he promised the press that he was still a quarterback, and he still is.
Without an injury crisis he is exceedingly unlikely to play. There's been some talk he's trying to get on special teams just so he can see the field. His odd mid-career redshirt a year ago looks like the result of a frank conversation between Morris and Harbaugh that not only was he miles behind Jake Rudock but also Speight, who was called upon in multiple games. No coach is going to redshirt his backup quarterback; despite approving chatter last year Morris apparently wasn't #2. At this point he's neither the present nor the future and is likely to take a grad transfer after the season.
A couple guys vying to be the future are already on campus. Early-enrolling freshman BRANDON PETERS [recruiting profile] comes with a boatload of hype and a certain resemblance to Andrew Luck. You don't even have to squint that hard. He's a little skinny and didn't play big-time competition in Indiana and is also a true freshman, so he needs some work. He started putting that in this spring, drawing repeated approval from Harbaugh:
“It’s impressive what he did, as young as he is, being out here for the first time,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got some real coolness about him. It showed up over and over each of the four days. He’s not a guy that panics. He’s a natural in a lot of ways. I was very excited about what he did.”
He's guaranteed a redshirt unless that injury crisis descends. Even Luck redshirted. As for the future, it could come sooner than you think. Webb reports that he's the "most talented quarterback on the roster" and that he will be a serious threat in 2017.
Redshirt freshman ALEX MALZONE [recruiting profile] dropped off everyone's radar after a freshman-like 2015 spring game performance placed him definitively behind Morris in the pecking order. This spring all the talk about young guys both public and private focused on Peters. Ominously, when Harbaugh extends the QB competition discussion past the two leaders Malzone doesn't get mentioned:
Harbaugh has maintained that both Speight and O'Korn were ahead of both Morris and true freshman Brandon Peters. But he did say that all four will get their chance to compete for the job this fall. The other quarterbacks -- redshirt freshmen Alex Malzone and the walk-ons -- will likely be working from behind.
Malzone is a short, relatively polished guy who's going to have to be Drew Brees or Tom Brady to make it, he's got a narrow window of opportunity to put himself in the 2018 conversation before Dylan McCaffrey and whoever else arrive.
DARK HELMET: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
SANDURZ: Now. You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening, now.
DH: What happened to then?
S: We passed it.
S: Just now. We're at now, now.
Here is a reasonable person, who says "but what about all these problems?" Here is combinatorial mathematics, which in combination with advanced stats says exactly zero college football teams have a better than even chance of winning 11 regular season games this year. Here is Ohio State, nemesis. Here is Gawker, which has nothing do with any of this but thinks it does. Here is a slightly off ham sandwich that we'll call Penn State. Here is everything that doesn't fit and says "no" and says "but what about before" and says "let's not let ourselves get too disappointed."
Fuck 'em. All of 'em. Year two is the year.
Year two is the year when the elite coach can build on what he did in year one. The first year isn't great because there's a reason the previous guy got fired, but if he could recruit—as Mike Shula and John Blake and Jim Tressel and Brady Hoke could—then the second year, when a lot of talent can build upon a foundation of elite coaching, results in fireworks. Year two is when the anchor that is learning a new system loosens its hold on your forward progress. If you have the dudes, year two is when you strap Denard Robinson in rocket boots to your Ford Pinto and see what happens.
In year one, Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe and went 7-6. The next year they were 12-2; the year after they were national champs. In year one, Bob Stoops was 7-5. In year two they were national champs. Pete Carroll was 6-6 in year one; the next year they were 11-2 Pac-12 champs and won the Orange Bowl. Urban Meyer… eh, nevermind. Same thing, except unimpressive and immoral. I draw dildoes on it! Something something murder tight end!
Now is now.
"We've always thought Detroit—Hockeytown, USA—was sort of Canadian"
Because I am from metro Detroit I am 100% American and 30% Canadian. I know that CBC coverage of the Olympics kicks ass. I vowed I would not get a cell phone until I could get the Hockey Night In Canada theme on it—the right HNIC theme—and kept that vow. One time I counted the number of Tim Hortons between the border and the Windsor airport less than 10km from said border; it was 9, 10 if you count the one in the airport itself. I know a truth about the countries' national anthems that I can only repeat in polite company within about 50 miles of the border, which is that O Canada is far superior. (Don't @ me.) Hell, the 2014 Story is based on hilariously-named Canadian margarine.
And because when I was in high school the most alternative station in Detroit was actually in Windsor, I got a steady dose of the coolest things in Canada. I will admit to you now that I own an Our Lady Peace album. Many times the coolest things in Canada are Nickelback. (I do not have a Nickelback album.) It happens. It's not that big a country.
The Tragically Hip were not Nickelback. They don't actually resemble anything but themselves. If you caught the recent spate of Tragically Hip explainers you probably saw a forced comparison along the lines of
imagine New Jersey is a country
yes, its own country
no we can't declare war on it
BECAUSE THIS IS A THOUGHT EXERCISE THAT'S WHY
Fine. Fine? Fine.
Okay. New Jersey, the country.
New Jersey : Bruce Springsteen :: Canada : The Tragically Hip
And that's kind of right but also completely wrong for a thousand reasons. The Tragically Hip once wrote a song about emperor penguins. I mean.
I digress. I liked the Tragically Hip, a lot. When Napster was a thing I spent most of my time on it downloading various Hip concert bootlegs during which Gordon Downie, the lead singer, went on tangential rants about having your arm eaten by an orca and the like. There were too many to actually listen to.
I still have them
I went to a number of their shows. At one the female friend who went with me said "I forgot how sexy Gordon Downie is" midway through the show, and I looked upon a spear-bald pug-faced mid-30s Canadian dude kicking the living shit out of the Cobo Center.
This was an ugly sexy man. I can do this, I thought. I can be competent enough to attract a live human female. Several years later I successfully engaged in voluntary sexual congress with a live human female. Thanks, Gord!
And then you drift away. Like Nickelback, it happens. I barely listened to the last Hip album I bought, in 2006, and hadn't given them much thought in the intervening decade until I stumbled across a Slate article explaining that Downie had incurable brain cancer and that their current tour would be their last. There was a concert. The last one.
DARK HELMET: Go back to then!
S: I can't.
S: We missed it.
S: Just now.
DH: When will then be now?
I was old before I was old and am now superold, so let's talk about "now." Now is really important. I ain't got time for a lot of things any more. My wife and I fail to remember this periodically and end up at a show, like a show-for-young-persons show, and grumble about how old we are and how stupid is that there are no chairs and that this band isn't going to go on for probably hours, hours that now cost us fifteen dollars a pop.
So when the thing happens, hoo boy is it chugging uphill. And that thinking infects many things. I'm about to die! Interest me. SOON.
Sometimes it does, and the things that manage it come to take on an outsized import. While this Last Concert didn't come with a commute and people bumping into you constantly and eight dollar beers, it did come with my wife in the room. You see: 1) we were watching CBC's Olympic coverage for previously explained reasons, 2) they kept talking about this upcoming Hip concert by cutting to Ron MacLean in a Hip t-shirt that he looked utterly ridiculous in, and 3) when I told her that I both knew about this concert and would cut her if anything happened to prevent me from watching it, she giggled and pointedly did not judge me.
Nonetheless, I felt judged.
The concert comes on, and for a while it's awkward. Gord has suffered. It's clear that there are monitors across the stage scrolling lyrics, and from time to time the damage done is apparent. Death stalks the room. Wife is still not judging me. I tell her I can see and feel the damage and it is infinitely depressing.
At some point I realize it is forty-five minutes later and I have just exhaled. The only thing I've done in the meantime is click on the relevant twitter hashtag and watch Canada rock/weep itself to sleep. Every time there's a mortality-relevant lyric, and there are many, the "new tweets" counter rockets upward. Downie at some point the cancer stops being relevant, and then at the end of one song he starts screaming. It is arresting. It is cancer-death screaming. It causes twitter to explode. He stops, winks… goddammit. Gordon Downie, you are a scoundrel, a dying asshole scoundrel. There is a reason he is a rockstar.
The concert was stunning because that was it. It was there and then it was over and gone. The Tragically Hip are no more. This band will self-destruct in ten seconds.
Usually I only get that feeling in fall. Every opportunity to win or lose is here and gone. Ask any Indiana fan about last year. Kyle Robbins of The Crimson Quarry probably did not think that college football could break him—what's the worst thing that can happen to an IU fan?—but it did. There is no more NOW sport than college football, in which redemption is impossible. Once each year is locked in amber we amputate most of the people who actually played. Jerome Jackson had an entire career one Saturday against Iowa.
I know. I know you want to be like this thing and that thing and obviously it will collapse in on itself and we will hold ourselves aloof and wait to invest ourselves, or at least try to. Don't. Then is over. That is over. The period where Michigan is digging out from the crypt it built itself has passed. We're at now, now.
Here is the situation. Michigan has a metric ton of NFL talent. They have one of the greatest football coaches of his generation. They have a mortal enemy at a historical peak, coached by one of the greatest football coaches of his generation. They will either set fire to the world and rewrite the landscape of college football, or blow a golden opportunity and let the jackals feast again. This is the last rodeo for Butt and Lewis and Wormley and etc., etc. They are set for amputation. Talk about Michigan being a "year away" is only issued by people who haven't looked at a roster or, like, history.
You have to let it happen to your body. I'm an engineer, man. I believe those bastard numbers that say there is a 36% chance Michigan wins 11+ games this year. I mean, 36% isn't the chance but it's not 80% like we want it to be. There's going to be a moment. Possibly six moments. It is going to be towering and terrifying thing and all I can tell you is to say yes, this is happening.
Now. No dress rehearsal. No "they're a year away." Now. This year is the year, and yeah, to some extent every year is the year. But this year is the year. Death and graduation are coming anyway, might as well get some glory in the interim.
What have the countdown weeks, countdown days been like over the past few years, and how does this one compare?
“They’re all kind of similar and different in their own ways. They’re unique in their own ways. The first week of camp you’re just going against your defense. You’re not really preparing against your opponent’s defense yet. But now, leading into that last week and a half [or] two weeks, you start locking in and studying film on your opponent and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
How, in your mind, is the offense shaping up? What are the things you think you’ll really do well?
“It’s coming together real nice right now. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been making plays all camp. The line’s been coming on strong; that’s an experienced group. We’ve had some young guys stepping up. Grant Perry’s been having an amazing camp. Chris Evans has been making plays left and right. It’s unbelievable to see these guys. So, it’s coming together real nice.”
Speaking of the young guys, as far as your room’s concerned, how have Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Zach Gentry been doing?
“They’ve both been doing pretty good. They’ve both been having a really good camp. They’re both specializing in different things. Obviously Zach’s more of a receiving tight end, Wheatley’s more of a blocking tight end, and they’ve taken on that role. From the beginning of camp to where they are now, they’ve made some big strides.”
The fact that you’ve had an entire year and spring ball, do you feel way more comfortable now than you did a year ago?
“I don’t know that I feel necesarily more comfortable but I think for some of the younger guys or guys that didn’t get a lot of the reps last year, they’re starting to feel a little bit more comfortable because they’re getting a better understanding of the offense and the way the coaches work where if you play a little bit more that comes a little bit sooner.”
You said one of the reasons you came back for your senior year was that you still had a lot of improvements to make. What have been those improvements you’ve made in the last six months?
“Yeah, cleaning up some things with my route running. I want to win every single route and that’s my goal, and that’s my job is to take some guys with me. I want to win and I think I’ve been doing a good job. It helps when you have Delano Hill and Jabrill Peppers manned up on you right on the line every single play this whole entire camp. I don’t really see it getting any harder than that this season. But blocking has been the biggest area of improvement for me. Just technically, pad level, I’ve added some strength this offseason, made some changes with my body, so that’s been the biggest area of improvement.”
When your assignment’s to go out there and block Jabrill, how is it different from blocking a normal Sam linebacker?
“He’s just as strong as probably any Sam linebacker. I mean, he’s really, really strong and explosive but he adds just such quickness and speed element to it that you’ve got to take into account.”
Handicap the quarterback race for us.
“Uh, yeah, everybody’s doing really good but there’s a dark horse in the battle. Erik Magnuson’s really been coming on strong toward the end of camp. He’s hitting the deep balls really well. Coaches have been really impressed with him.”
[After THE JUMP: which receivers are rotating at which spot, which NFL players Butt watches film of, and which receivers will redshirt]
Did he pay you to say that?
“No, it’s just—I mean, you turn on the film, you can see him popping up each and every day.”
What are the differences in John and Wilton from the beginning of camp until now?
“They’ve both made such great strides. They’ve both--
[Speight, who is standing nearby, interrupts: “I’m better looking.”]
“They’ve both just been coming into their own a little bit. Just getting more familiar with us as a receiving group, the line, the protections. I mean, you come in here at 6 in the morning and you don’t leave until 9 at night, there’s going to be improvement in a lot of areas. They’ve both made some great strides.”
Even if you don’t want to say who it is, do you have a feel for who the starting quarterback is?
“I really don’t. I really don’t. I just kind of go in there. Most of the time I’m so focused on my job I don’t even realize what’s going on. I just kind of worry about my job and leave the quarterback battle up to Coach Harbaugh and Fisch and Drevno.”
Would you like to know before kickoff? Does it matter at all?
“Not for me personally. I’m just going to continue to do my job [with] whoever’s under center, even if it is Erik or somebody like that. I mean, I trust both those guys and they’re both capable.”
Coaching staff question: how much is Biff [Poggi] around and has he had an influence? He’s supposed to be Jim’s right-hand man. How much has he been around and how much interaction has he had with the team throughout camp?
“I think Biff…Poggi’s my roommate, his son, so I get to see Biff from time to time. I haven’t seen him around Schem too much. I know he’s doing a lot of work behind the scenes but I don’t really get to see him too much.”
So he hasn’t been around a lot during camp where you guys could see him?
“Not where we could see him. I’m sure he’s been around, but yeah, he’s probably doing more work behind the scenes and stuff rather than out on the field.”
Offensively, do you like where you guys are at right now as opposed to where you were entering 2015?
“It’s hard to say, to compare the two, because they’re two different teams. We’ve added some new plays, added some new schemes. We’ve got some younger guys that are going to have a chance to make an impact this year. That being said, I really do like where we’re at. We’ve been making a lot of plays, and from the beginning of camp to where we are now we’ve improved so much and we’re starting to really jell together. It’s kind of like a beautiful picture that’s being painted right now.”
How much more confidence is there in the passing game?
“I don’t know. We never really lacked confidence there, and especially in the passing game you can’t ever really lack confidence. So, I think guys are just…there’s more confidence in themselves as we’ve got to work our technique and fundamentals and getting to go against one of the top defenses in the country every day, that builds confidence as well.”
How many days of practice with a true no. 1 do you need to feel balanced and comfortable going into a game?
“It’s hard for me to say. I think both these guys have been getting reps and this has been going on now since spring ball and throughout the summer where we’re confident in both guys. I think for them they’re both preparing as if they’re the starter, so it’s—every man just worries about—you just do your own job and we trust the guy next to us. That’s really the only way to succeed. You can’t worry about somebody else’s job. You just worry about your own job.”
When it comes to the competition aspect of it, what do you see in terms of ways guys can differentiate themselves form each other at quarterback?
“Leadership is a big part of it and how they—can you lead a group of guys? Can you make guys right when they’re wrong? If a guy’s running the wrong route, can you identify that? If a guy’s lined up wrong, can you make him right? Leadership’s a big part of it, and you’ve got to take care of the ball. Don’t turn the ball over. You don’t want to try and win the game all in one play, either. Just being smart with the football, and that’s something we saw with Jake [Rudock] last year and something both guys are taking pride in this camp.”
MGoQuestion: You talked about improving your route running. What specific routes are you most focused on improving this year?
“There aren’t really like specific routes, just routes in general. I watched a lot of Zach Ertz film, Travis Kelce, Tyler Eifert, Tony Gonzalez. We’ve watched a ton of film on those guys, so I’m just trying to incorporate some of the things that they’re doing into all my routes. It helps a lot. I’m not kidding, when I get in my stance Jabrill is on the line pressed up manned on me the whole entire camp, and if it’s not him it’s Delano. They’re either right in front of me or right to the side of me, so I really can’t see a situation where it would get any harder than that during the season.”
MGoQuestion: It looked like you took a big step forward in the Citrus Bowl in every area. Where do you feel you’ve made the biggest improvement from last year in Christmas camp to now?
“I definitely have to say just knowing what I’m doing every play. I know the playbook in and out this year. I’m telling the younger guys what to do, so that’s really helping me as well. And just playing, not worrying, not thinking. I think this camp I came in and I’ve just been playing. No mental errors [or] very minimal. Just been doing what the coaches say and it’s been going real well.”
MGoQuestion: Who has impressed you in the receiver corps throughout camp?
“Everyone, really. We’re all making huge plays. We have X plays, which are 18 yards+ on the catch, and I think all of us have at least five, including the young freshmen. I think we’re all really doing well. We’re picking it up well and it’s going really well.”
MGoQuestion: What have you seen from those guys, the freshmen, not only as far as physical talent but as far as learning the playbook?
“They’re all physically gifted, all of them. They’re all really fast, too. And they’re all picking up the playbook well. I think they’re all coming in at 6:30 trying to pick it up even more, so they’re spending a little extra time, which shows a lot about their leadership as young guys and their character. They want to pick it up and they want to do well. They’re definitely doing that.”
MGoQuestion: What are your individual goals for the season and what are your team goals?
“Individual goal is just catch more passes than I did last year, more touchdowns obviously, more yards. Team goal is just go out there and beat Hawaii. That’s the first goal. And just take it game by game. We want to be the best, but it takes week-to-week preparation to do that, so I think that’s the way we’re going to attack that.”
Do you feel like the competition at the position is more intense this year?
“Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Everyone knows Jehu and Darboh have got the X and Z locked up, so everyone’s battling for that third position. But it’s friendly competition. We’re all grinding, we’re all working to get an edge on each other. It’s a good competition.”
You knew what it was like to be thrown in there in the first game and try to figure things out. How hard is that as an adjustment and how much better are you now?
“I feel like I’ve made some huge strides so far, as the Citrus Bowl showed. And in just camp I feel like I’ve really improved as well. I’ve been trying to explain to these young guys that it’s a different ballgame out there once you actually hit the field and you’re not practicing. Just cleaning up the [inaudible] has helped me too. It’s helped me see things from a different aspect and just knowing the playbook a lot better this year helps as well.”
Are the balls different from the different quarterbacks?
“No. They’ve all been working hard and they all throw really good balls, even Shane. It comes off a little bit different as a lefty, but no major difference.”
MGoQuestion: You mentioned the X and Z and how you’ve got two very established guys there, but who else could rotate in there at those spots?
“I really could see just about everyone. Coaches said they’re planning on no redshirts. Everyone’s gonna play, so whoever knows what they’re doing the most and wants to be out there are going to be the ones that are out there.”
What’s impressed you about Chris Evans?
“Chris Evans, he’s a heck of an athlete. He’s been killing it at the running back position. Just his shiftiness. He picked up the playbook the fastest of the freshmen, I think, and that’s really propelled him to be able to really make an impact. He’s just been killing it in practice.”
Is he someone you don’t have on the roster other than that? Is he different than all the other backs?
“Um…what do you mean by that?”
Does he have some sort of other skills or something?
“I think he adds a good quickness to the game. De’Veon’s a good power back. So is Ty [Isaac]. But I think he adds that kind of Reggie Bush effect—quick, lightning kind of fast.”
[Shane Morris pokes his head in as he’s walking by] “I’d like to say congratulations to Garrett Moores on earning a scholarship.”
“Yeah, congrats to Garrett.”
What’s it like when those guys get a scholarship? Do they announce it in front of everyone?
“Last night they got offered, him, Pearson and Wroblewski. They all came in and we were jumping on them. We sprayed water on them. So, it was a real good feeling. Felt really good for them. They deserved it.”
What do you like about this offense?
“It’s an offense they run in the pros, so it’s good experience. Coach Harbaugh’s a great coach and he knows what he’s doing, so these plays are obviously--we’re going to win games.”
Are there facets of this offense that will stand out as real strong points?
“I think it’s pretty balanced all the way around. I think a good, balanced attack is what’s going to keep the defense on their toes.”
Are McDoom and Nate Johnson working at the same spot as you?
“Yeah. We’re all rotating at Z and F. Nate’s working F and Z. So is McDoom. So, they’re working Z and F together.”
What have you seen out of those two, as well as Crawford?
“McDoom is lightning fast. Guy’s got wheels. Nate’s really shifty and athletic. And Crawford, he’s a playmaker. He goes and gets the ball when we ask him to.”