Posts by All
[I sat down shortly after the start of Mattison's roundtable.]
"Watching them this summer, you know, we're not allowed to be around them but I'm hearing what they've done and they've really taken care of business. They've worked really hard this summer, which shows that they have the same goals for their group as we do."
How many different places are you going to use Taco, or are you going to center in on one spot for him? And talk about what he brings to the table.
"The entire group of guys by their positions, tackle and nose, end is called 'end' or 'anchor', those are the two outside guys, they know that they have to know both positions. The reason for that is teams that trade the tight end, when you're an end you become an anchor, anchor becomes an end, that kind of thing, nose and tackle—and it helps us with our rotation. We've found this out over the years and it's happened more and more—teams that run spread offense, really one of the reasons they do that is if you have a really good defensive line or experienced defensive line, they try to wear them out, they try to get that defensive line to not have the impact that it would have in a game by taking a little bit of their gas away. So we want to have the ability to plug a lot of guys into different positions.
"Also I think whenever you are at a position and you know the other positions, you know better how to play it. I think the days are over where 'I am a this position and that's all I do,' and you're going to get in trouble doing that because all of a sudden somebody goes down or gets nicked up and you need to take the next-best guy and put him in somewhere. Experience helps you with that. These kids have heard the same techniques, the same expectations for three and four years, it's easy for them to slip into another position."
And then Taco, talk about...
"Taco will start out—he played both the anchor and the end, but we'll play him more as the open-side end this year. With him playing that position will be Chase Winovich. Chase has showed some great things this spring, having never played the position, but he's a young man that we're looking for—he's got a lot of things going for him. He's very aggressive, very fast for his size, he's gotten bigger, and that gives us the two that you're looking for, at least, at that position."
And Taco, talk about his contributions, speed and size, what he brings...
"Taco's got great leverage. He's a six-foot-five guy, so he's got long leverage, which allows you to keep separation. He plays very physical. He can run. He's an athlete, he was an outstanding basketball player. And he's got great experience now. He's played a lot of football since he's been here and now I think he really feels about about—you know, he's ready to really go."
[Hit THE JUMP for Mattison answering many questions that aren't Taco talk-abouts.]
We've talked about this a lot before, but three or four years ago, when the guys you have now were coming in, you said you were looking forward to the days when they got this experience. They've played a lot of football and now those days are here. Are you as excited as you thought you would be to coach a group like this with this much experience?
"Yeah, and I make the point again, and they'll hear it the very first meeting: it doesn't matter what you've done before. We've got to prove ourselves every day. You hear all the stuff about how this group is the most experienced, this group is this and that. They haven't really done anything. What happened last year, what happened in the bowl game, the good things they did last year—that's all great, but the only thing that means is the bar is even set higher. One thing we say in our room, the defensive line, we've always said it, is that bar is higher [here] than most places. The expectations that come with playing defensive line at the University of Michigan will always be really, really high, and now they've happened to raise the bar even more. That's the excitement. The excitement is to see them get to that.
"And again, I go back to what I started out saying: what they've done this summer shows they want to go for that bar. They want to be as good as they can be. It's easy to say that and then if they don't do it in the summer, you say, well, what do you do. They have. They've done it. They've worked hard together. They've done individual drills. They've done technique drills together. They've become a close group over the years, and they really, really want to be as good as they can be."
With Mone and Glasgow, talk about the hunger and the ability that you're getting back with those two guys in the middle...
"Yeah, you have the guy who was voted by his team as the most valuable defensive lineman a year ago in Ryan Glasgow, who tore his pec, and then you've got Bryan Mone, who played a lot as a true freshman and never played at all last year because of the ankle. Both of them are very close to each other. They both feed off each other. They both want the guy who plays that position to be really, really good. They've heard me say it a hundred times, they know it, that you're only as strong as you are down the middle. You look at any great defense and you'll find out they have, down the middle they're strong. They want to prove that they deserve that. And again, we've really tried hard, and this group is allowing us to do this—there's probably a first-string and a second first-string.
"That's how we look at it, and that's how we looked at it last year. You earn the right to rotate. How you practice and how you played the game before will determine if you're going to rotate every four plays, if one guy is gonna go five and one guy is gonna go three. So the goal is let's all do what we're supposed to do, and therefore I can go out and I'm gonna play four plays as hard as I can possibly play, and then I'll come out and rest and my buddy is gonna go in for four and play as hard as he can play, and then I'm gonna go back in.
"So you kinda earn the right to be in that rotation, and when you have that kind of rotation—you know, guys want to be starters, guys want to play a lot and all that, but when the truth be known, they want to play real good. If you can go out there and say, 'Coach, alright, I'm gonna give you 35 plays so hard that you'll never have to say a word, and then my buddy is going to do the same thing,' then you've got a pretty strong thing going. And that's our goal, that's what we've been trying to work towards, and that's what they've been working for this summer."
How is Ryan? Is he ready to pick up where he left off?
"Yeah, Ryan's 100%. He's totally cleared. His bench press, which we don't really work more, but that's going to tell you about his pec, I think it's back to exactly where he was last year. So that's a great sign. He's ran and done that kind of thing. He's really done well. Bryan, on the other hand, has done the same thing, where he's got that ankle. He had a good spring, he went through all of spring, and the thing he's done is he's lost a little bit of weight to be able to not have to carry extra weight, and he's still strong. So the two of them together—and the guy nobody talks about is the guy who started in the bowl game, Mo Hurst. Mo Hurst has played a lot of football here. He also can play that position or play the three-technique position."
What's the plan for Rashan Gary?
"Rashan Gary is obviously very talented. He showed that in his high school [career]. He's showed that here. He's come early and he's done a very, very good job of blending in with the veterans and doing what is expected of a Michigan defensive lineman. His weight is great, he's worked very hard on his strength. You know how it is with us here: I don't care if a guy is a freshman or a fifth-year senior, the best players play. He's gonna have the opportunity early to show his ability and he'll play a lot of anchor, he'll play the strongside defensive end."
MGoQuestion: How many players have earned that right to rotate so far?
"Nobody. Nobody has. Like I said, last year doesn't really mean anything other than you have the opportunity to compete for that, but I'm looking for every guy, every player we have out there has earned the right."
MGoQuestion: Ideally, how big do you want that rotation to be once you hit the season?
"You'd love to have two guys, for sure, at each position. If we have a wild card, an extra guy in there, that helps you even more. You definitely want to have two at each position."
MGoQuestion: Matt Godin's name, I haven't heard that come up yet, but where's he playing right now?
"He's a defensive tackle. Matt will be playing the defensive tackle. Chris Wormley will be playing both the tackle and anchor. You've got Matt, Chris, and Mo Hurst, again, as the veterans that will be competing for that rotation."
You mentioned Wormley, obviously in his final year. What's his ceiling, not only this year but looking ahead?
"The thing that excited me about Chris is Chris has worked extremely hard. Chris has been the leader. He understands that he's the one who's probably played more than anybody in that group. I think Chris has really high goals, and he's showed he wants to achieve those goals by how he's worked. That's all I look at is what have you done since the season's over. One thing about Chris Wormley that people don't realize is he's an excellent student. He went to Israel with a group and the people said he was an unbelievable example of Michigan football. He's always been an unbelievably high-character young man. He's 305 pounds, I believe, and he's running as good as some linebackers. He's really put himself in a position to have a great senior year."
Talk about Chase and how he's moved around and where he's at right now, and how you've...
"Chase was a young man we recruited, and I remember when we recruited him that this guy's a very talented defensive player. Well, Coach Harbaugh, and he's always going to do what's best for the team, moved him to tight end and gave him an opportunity to get on the field earlier as a tight end. We found that we had enough tight ends and he moved him back to defense right before the bowl game. I was going to put him in, he'd done such a good job in bowl practice that I was going to get him in that game at the end, but the offense kept the ball. Then this spring, it was the first time he really was an open-side end, and it was all a new learning process for him, and he had a really good spring. He's gained probably ten pounds this summer of strength, worked extremely hard. I think there's a very high bar for him."
Do you see him maybe getting into the rotation this year?
"For sure. He's competing with Taco at the open end position."
[As new people came to the roundtable there were a bunch of repeat questions. I've edited this down to the stuff that wasn't already covered.]
What's Rashan Gary like personality-wise?
"He's a very humble, very confident—he really wants to prove or be really good. He really has high expectations for his level of play, to the point where he's been with some of our older kids learning the playbook already. He wants to do anything he can to be as good as what a lot of people say he is, so that's good coming in."
Is there kind of an extra bit of attention as far as preparing him for the hype that's surrounding him, just on campus, the attention he's going to get?
"I don't know if anybody's had to do anything with him on that. Our defensive line and our team has. He's blended in so well. Sometimes when guys are really, really publicized and everything like that, some guys check to see how it is—he got here, he went right in with our defensive line, listened to the veterans on what we're doing, did it that way, has been on time for everything. He's been very accountable, which shows a very young man that's mature."
Did Taco come back in the kind of shape you hoped he would?
"Yeah. I got back from our break and I got a chance to see the guys, just happened to see a bunch of them. I was very impressed with how they looked. They looked like a team that had really trained. Sometimes you come back where you're looking and go 'oh, he doesn't look as good.' Every one of them looked like they had really, really trained, and I was excited about that."
You talk about maturity, just talk about Jabrill and the evolution you've seen with him...
"(Chuckles.) I love him. I don't know if I can say anything about him. The only thing I can say is that I don't ever see him except on the practice field. The guy just loves football. He loves to play. He plays with high energy. For some guys, practice is practice. For him, practice is, man, this is a time to really go, it doesn't get more fun than this. That's the attitude he always has. And you know, I've noticed that about a lot of our guys. They look at workouts and they look at practice as, alright, this is the fun part. That's a good sign."
MGoQuestion: It seemed like last year most of the pressure was generated off of stunts. Is there an emphasis on finding more ways to get to the quarterback this year?
"I think we'll still take great pride in being a pressure defense. Hopefully you can get a lot more pressure out of a four-man front. You still may do some things innovative that way, but you're still only rushing four. I think there's some things like that."
How would you describe [Don Brown's] defense, his philosophies?
"The thing is it's not much different than what we had in the past as far as a four-man front. I think he takes great pride in having a good front. I think it starts there. And then from there, he helps the front have success [by] doing things with the front to allow them to get freed up one-on-one. And very aggressive, very enthusiastic about it, all of it good."
BTN preview. BTN had their day at Michigan and came back with some video and some nonsense—on the television a person said that Michigan would be running a lot more man coverage, which is a literal impossibility. I'm not doing a recap post this year since specifics were thin; MGoVideo has the show up if you missed it.
The most interesting bit was Howard Griffith and then the rest of the crew advocating for Ben Bredeson to start immediately at left tackle because he is "elite":
Dave Revsine did have a couple of things of interest, including a Rashan Gary-Bredeson battle:
Nation's top recruit Rashan Gary in action pic.twitter.com/uo1EAHQQ6F
— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 15, 2016
Bredeson got some rep at the UA game as the only guy who could even sort of slow Gary down, and here he sort of slows Gary down. Given the roster tackle reps for Bredeson are an inevitability—he can play it even if it's not an ideal spot and options past the starters are extremely questionable. Sufficient tackle reps to convince onlookers that Bredeson should play now are a bit of a surprise.
A bit more from Revsine:
Ben Bredeson has had a good day - has held his own against some talented guys.
— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 15, 2016
Freshmen showing up during team drills. Gary with a sack, then Eddie McDoom with a TD grab - really turned on the jets
— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 15, 2016
And yes Gerry DiNardo said some nice things. I can never take them seriously:
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage. It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
"How Michigan football returned to its smashmouth roots" was written before the 2013 season and remains the single least correct thing ever put on paper.
Let's infer things from this still shot. Via Chris Evans:
Two favorite things pic.twitter.com/NbFuIeDTaA
— Chris Evans (@Kidnplay_abc123) August 15, 2016
That appears to be ones versus ones. Items:
- David Dawson is at right guard. Kyle Kalis was spotted in a non-contact jersey earlier in fall camp so that's probably an injury issue rather than Dawson making a move past an established starter; he appears to be the top backup option at guard.
- Evans is in an H-back spot, not at tailback, His best fit on offense is as an OSU-style H-back in the vein of Jalin Marshall or last year's version Braxton Miller. While Michigan's offense doesn't have a dedicated spot like that, they did end up with a guy more or less in that role: Jabrill Peppers. With Evans impressing and Peppers around the offense figures to use a hybrid RB/WR guy on a lot of snaps, especially because you can do a lot worse than having De'Veon Smith block for you.
- Michigan is very spread out across the defensive line and features both Wormley and Gary at defensive end. Wormley is likely to split his snaps close to evenly between DT and DE; reports that Gary will start get another bit of weight to them.
- Pretty sure that's Peppers man up over a tight end I assume is Butt.
This is a good amount of data from a still shot.
It's a competition. All those #1 jerseys handed out? It's a competition like everything else:
“The one is not really given to me. Right now, I don’t really know what I’m wearing,” Crawford explained at Michigan’s Media Day. “I’m just wearing it right now, so we’ll see. There’s a couple players that want it. Whoever gets on the field first is going to get it.”
The hybrid space player breaks out. Excellent Andy Staples article on Jabrill Peppers and his ilk:
Since 2008, when the NCAA adopted the current clock rules and spawned an era of up-tempo offense, defensive coordinators have tried with little success to devise a system that can match up with an opponent who won't allow the defense time to substitute. The answer, it turns out, wasn't a scheme but a person. What those coordinators were seeking was a human Swiss Army knife, a player who can successfully operate on any of the defense's three levels and move effortlessly among them from play to play. With such a player on the field, a 4–3 base can morph into a 4–2–5 nickel without a single substitution or presnap move to tip off the quarterback. That 4–3 could also transform into (what appears to be) a blitzing 3–4 by walking the hybrid player to the line of scrimmage. Of course, the hybrid doesn't always have to blitz when he drops deep into the box (the area that encompasses the width of the offense's down linemen and extends about five yards beyond the line of scrimmage). He might bail and cover a receiver. Or he could come screaming off the edge faster than any defensive end or linebacker an offensive tackle has ever seen.
BC's Matt Milano, FSU's Derwin James, and Duke's Jeremy Cash are also this variety of hyper athletic linebacker/mean-ass safety. Read the whole thing for a picture of what Peppers's role will be this year.
Doctor Blitz. The Ringer's Jack McCluskey on Don Brown:
BC sent so many defenders into the backfield that it produced four players with at least 14.5 tackles for loss (no other team had more than two). Yet the Eagles failed to land a single player in the top 20 in that stat — they didn’t have transcendent talents like Clemson’s Shaq Lawson (25.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks) or Penn State’s Carl Nassib (19.5 TFL, 15.5 sacks) inflating their numbers. Their best pass rusher, Matt Milano, led the team with 17.5 TFLs (tied for no. 21 nationally) and just 6.5 sacks (tied for no. 72 nationally).
And though the Eagles had been vulnerable to giving up big plays on the back end in Brown’s first few seasons in Chestnut Hill, by Year 3 they got the personnel and the scheme to the point where they were solid on both ends. In 2013, Brown’s first year helming the defense, BC gave up 47 passing plays of more than 20 yards (tied for no. 97 nationally); in his last year, it gave up just 29 (tied for no. 10).
Someone is also using CFBStats.com, and well. That stat about 20 yard pass plays is clear evidence that Brown's reputation as an attack guy is warranted, and extends even to situations where his teams are getting burned on the back end as a result. Michigan probably won't have an issue as severe as BC 2013, but the Boring Old Jarrod Wilson days are probably behind us, for good and bad.
Hype hype hype hype. Michigan's gotten a lot of it this summer and there is naturally a tendency to check on this since Michigan hasn't been a truly elite team in a long time. (The Sugar Bowl was fun, sure, but if we're being honest that team was crazy lucky.) Dan Murphy analyzes the situation an article; he also gets a telling quote from Jake Butt:
“We were struggling with toughness our first few years,” Butt said about his underclassmen days under the former coaching staff. “Down the stretch of games when our backs were against the wall we struggled and we lost a lot of games. Coach Harbaugh identified this, and he made the changes necessary and it worked for us last year. I think it will continue to pay off for us going forward.”
Brady Hoke talked a lot about toughness but he wasn't having four-hour practices.
Injuries across the league. Michigan hasn't been hit yet, knock on wood. Others have not been so fortunate:
- Northwestern lost projected starting cornerback Keith Watkins II for the year.
- Indiana slot receiver J-Shun Harris is two thirds of the way to the Drake Johnson hat trick after tearing his second ACL in two years. Try to get the forklift incident out of the way quickly, I say.
- OSU DE Darius Slade tore his achilles and is out for the year; OL Malcolm Pridgeon is out three months with a knee issue. Neither guy was expected to start; both were likely on the two-deep. Let's get a newspaper commenter's take on the situation: "I BELEIVE THE BUCKS WILL BE VERY GOOD THEY ARE UNDER THE RADAR BECAUSE OF THE POTENIAL."
- All hell broke loose on the Iowa internets due to rumors of a CJ Beathard injury that remain unconfirmed. He was spotted in a knee brace.
Thing I don't care about anymore. Harbaugh blazing people on twitter was fun over the summer, but it's more or less football season now. Now we talk about football. I do not care about Harbaugh ending an interview early because Mark Snyder has the social grace of an autistic llama on PCP, or moistly goateed Jim Rome turning that into #content, or Harbaugh spending ten seconds of his life googling "Jim Rome Jim Everett".
It does not matter. Rich Rodriguez was nicer to the media than any Michigan coach ever has been or will be and they stabbed him in the back at every opportunity. The media read Goodnight Gorilla to Brady Hoke every night and Michigan fans still abandoned the stadium in droves rather than watch his offense-type substance. I don't think it's a negative. I don't think Ty Duffy's right when he says it's a positive:
Harbaugh has spent two years playing the pied piper and dropping the occasional crumb on social media. Every media member is talking about him. Every major college football coach is answering questions about him. He’s been forced to reveal nothing. He doesn’t demand media members go along with it. He knows they will.
Everyone is talking about Michigan. Harbaugh has kept everyone’s attention deflected away from Michigan’s quarterback battle, from Jabrill Peppers being poised for a breakout year, and from Rashan Gary arriving on campus as the No. 1 overall recruit.
Harbaugh has been “handling” the media, masterfully, since he arrived in Ann Arbor. The implication is that “the media” are going to turn on Harbaugh and somehow this fact will have some grave karmic implications for him. Spoiler: it won’t.
It's nothing. It is noise made by people who don't really understand what they're watching. Andy Staples doesn't care. He can write a thing about hybrid space players. Mark Snyder has nothing other than press conferences to live on because he's never cared to learn one thing about the sport he covers even after 20-some years.
Here's the thing: a large number of people like open contempt for sports press since so often they're contemptible.
This is not a problem for most fans because given the chance they'd stuff most of the media in a broom closet.
Anyway. This admittedly longish section is the last I'll mention it unless something really amazingly tone deaf happens.
[Ed-S: Bumped to remind you this diary is basically a front page feature]
So we’re back for another year of Michigan football, and with it another year of Best and Worst columns. For a number of reasons, chief amongst them increased work responsibilities and two kids under 3, I’m not sure how deep some of these columns will be this year. In years past I usually tried to knock out 5-6k words even during a bad game, since I felt like there were always storylines and discussion points. But now, if UM crushes Hawaii by 30 and we don’t see much, I’m (probably) not going to write 500 words comparing the win to the time the Rockers beat the Hart Foundation for the WWF tag titles but were never officially recognized because it was at a live show. Sorry.
As for this column, I’m going to attack the general themes of the offseason and the expectations for the year without necessarily diving into each position group. This is mostly due to the fact that (1) the vast majority of my information is from this site anyway, and I assume Brian and co. will have MUCH deeper articles in the coming weeks, and (2) I already read most of the recent HTTV and it would devolve to cribbing notes. As always, I welcome any and all comments (including ones that point out a much better writer at another site created the conceit of this diary series).
Best: Everybody’s Back*
I never know how to start these pre-season diaries, especially when it hasn’t been a particularly momentous off-season (and yes, I know that saying 2015 was “momentous” is like asking Mary Todd how the play was). But after almost a decade of upheaval and uncertainty, of a displaced legend, a dismissed vanguard, and a depressing totem of halcyon days, UM (seems) to be on a trajectory back to the top of college football with Harbaugh at the helm.
And in many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising; the last three coaches all embodied different characteristics of what fans hope makes Michigan “Michigan”. With Carr, you had a model of consistent, sustainable if-not-excellence-at-least-really-goodness. He led the team to their first title in half a century, mostly fought OSU to a draw, and held it all together with class and dignity. He had his flaws strategically (I think he still views mobile QBs as a fad) and definitely valued loyalty over competency with a lot of his staff, but he kept UM in the upper tier of college football when lots of other programs suffered various degrees of downfalls.
[After the JUMP: The story goes...]
But time and mobile QBs from the mountains wait for no man, and so Carr moved on. He was replaced with Rich Rodriguez, a dynamic offensive coach who felt a bit like an over-correction to the mystique of Carr. Where Carr was conservative and content to rely on hard-nosed defense and (increasingly prehistoric formation) punting, RR was focused on tearing defenses apart, spread punting, and expecting his defense to get the ball back a couple of times. Rodriguez was the outsider, the upstart, and (to some) a bit of a consolation prize after Bill Martin seemingly missed on guys like Les Miles in rather spectacularly-public fashion. And while he brought mountains of hype and dreams of blowing the doors off rivals offensively, for a multitude of reasons it never came to be. You know those reasons, so I won’t rehash them. But RR left UM with a losing record, some historically great offenses and equally-historically bad defenses, and a reputation in need of some restoration (which seems to be happening in Arizona).
So again, UM searched for the next evolutionary step in its history, the Pikachu to its Pichu, if you will (see, I can be hip and “with it”). RR proved too much of a shake-up at UM, too much a diversion from what had existed before. Carr wasn’t perfect, but that was closer to what a large contingent of Michigan fans wanted, not 67-65 wins over Illinois. But one of Carr’s most damning failures was building anything resembling a coaching tree; it’s a bit of hyperbole, but the two most viable options from his ranks were Ron English and Brady Hoke, and English was muddling his way through one of the worst coaching tenures I can remember at EMU.
The situation wasn’t helped by Dave Brandon’s piss-poor management of the search process, which seemingly eliminated stronger candidates like Harbaugh and Miles. Internal politics exist everywhere and strong egos can clash, but if you’ve read any number of John U Bacon’s books it’s pretty clear that Brandon’s athletic department was big on pomp and short on coherent plans. And so it came to be that Brady Hoke became the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. His first year was a rousing success on the field and off, though it was as much due to general horseshoe-from-ass ratios as it was good coaching. UM struggled offensively against most good teams, had amazing play from the defensive line and a heaping helping of turnover luck, and pulled out an 11-2 campaign in the end. But the downward spiral had begun, as the offense struggled to take advantage of the talents left behind by RR and failed to implement a coherent offense in its stead. It’s why Devin Gardner, one of the more physically gifted QBs UM has had, wound up farting around in rapidly-deflating pockets or leading with his ribs on designed runs that everyone knew was coming 2 weeks into the season, while no running back cracked 650 yards in any season after Hoke’s first.
And that didn’t even take into account Brandon’s emails, the Shane Morris concussion fiasco, and the myriad of little indignities UM fans had to deal with (constantly losing to hated rivals, shameless cash-grabs like putting a noodle in front of the stadium or not letting people bring in water on blistering days, ticket prices rising while the product on the field cratered with poor scheduling and even poorer performance). It was a clusterfuck following an earlier clusterfuck, and like most sequels, this one was even less entertaining.
The one thing Hoke did consistently was recruit (let’s remember that before Gary signed, Peppers may well have been the highest-ranked commit UM had gotten in the modern recruiting era), and those efforts formed the backbone of Harbaugh’s first two teams. And the guys Hoke recruited have largely stuck to the program, clearly loving their old coach but also buying into the mantra that Michigan is what matters, not the men not wearing headphones or donning khakis. Harbaugh supplemented the few deficient areas with position switches and grad transfers, most notable Jake Rudock.
2015 started off inauspiciously, and early on it seemed like Rudock had been passed over in Iowa for good reason. But about midway through the conference season, the offense started to click, with the passing offense finding its groove. This was fortuitous timing, as the defense, whose first half of the season was truly dominant, faltered as injuries took hold. The MSU game was…that…and OSU took UM to the woodshed after being semi-competitive at the half, but the team had found it way and you could see the team improving for the first time in what felt like decades. The year ended with UM running a pretty good Florida off the field, and entered 2016 with all the hype in the world. And unlike after Hoke’s first season, this feels sustainable at least for another season, as the vast majority of the defense returns and the offense has some cohesiveness despite having to replace the battery of Glasgow and Rudock at the center of it all. And that optimism is mostly due to…
* I didn’t realize Brian referenced the WTKA podcast post with the same song. Good to see a fellow 30-something father can’t escape the pull of late-90’s Boy Band pop.
Best/Worst: The Harbaugh of it All
Up front, I’m going to cop to being a hypocrite. I didn’t like Harbaugh all that much when he was getting into fights with Pete Carroll about whose deal was whose and slapping Jim Schwartz on his back after beating the Lions. I was suitably annoyed with his comments about Michigan's and Stanford's comparative scholar-athletes, not because they were necessarily wrong (though the Cardinal isn’t above making exceptions in their admissions for football players), but because it was both disingenuous for any coach to point out how athletes are treated differently when you are still collecting a check on their backs AND because it was basically a grown adult questioning the aptitude of college students and the majors they chose with a sweeping statement about a particular concentration. He always seemed to balance on that razor-thin edge between confident and smug, a man who doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him or his decisions. And while that characteristic is certainly prevalent in some of the most successful people in the world, it’s also the mindset of my 2 1/2-year-old in a grocery store and people who think telling people why they stopped masturbating** is interesting.
This is all meant to say that Jim Harbaugh can be “polarizing”, someone who “disrupts” the status quo and is happy doing it, who can “rub people the wrong way”, and all the other euphemisms the screeching heads on <insert sports show in cable/radio/internet/barstool> use because they can’t say “an asshole”. By his very nature, he sucks the air out of any room; rival fans complain about UM winning the summer championship because of all the media coverage these past two years, but it is absolutely true. Just this summer, he has gotten into Twitter beefs with about half of college football, saw multiple conferences and (briefly) the entire NCAA pass bans on satellite camps, and even made a sourpus out of normally-jovial Mark Dantonio.
And above all, Harbaugh is relentless in being, well, “Harbaugh”. He signs his emails with flair, he travels across the globe, and he even found time to add another lil’ Wolverine to the world. He seems to actively try to kill UM’s various SIDs with the death grip he has on his Twitter account (I mean, the guy gave a top-5 of Drake songs). Hell, he appeared with multiple rappists and met The Boss, all while recruiting his brains out and promoting the cult of Michigan to anyone willing to listen.
And so, if you are a fan of the 127 other D1 teams, especially those who have accomplished more on the field recently than UM, I get why this blowhard with a smirk coming off a 10-win season (that totally could have been 8 wins) with losses to 2 main rivals and the biggest scalp being an okay Florida team would stick in your craw. I get it, honestly, and if he didn’t coach in A2 I’d probably be rattling my own saber.
But he isn’t coaching any other team; he’s coaching Michigan. We’ve seen this brashness from him before, and he does have a track record of backing up his confidence on the field. He’s had Michigan in his DNA since he was born, and that kind of connection is impossible to repress for too long. And that’s why his fanaticism comes by naturally; in wrestling terms, he “lives the gimmick” because it isn’t one. Maybe he dials it up a bit for the cameras at times because it lets him do his job better, but he is the genuine article in a profession that drowns in sanctimony. While other coaches complain about having to earn their millions all year round (especially rich coming from guys like Hugh Freeze who are walking NCAA violations), Harbaugh is hosting camps for athletes in many cases with, at best, tangential benefits for recruiting, seemingly because he wants to spread the gospel of the sport.
And what tends to be overshadowed with all the drama is that the man is a fantastic coach; he’s an offensive innovator and a QB guru who identifies talent (both on the field and in the coaching booth) quickly and puts them in positions to succeed. Raise your hand if you thought Jake Rudock, Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt would be part of the most efficient passing offense in the conference by the end of the year, or a cast-off from Iowa (!!) would lead the conference in completion percentage and be second overall in passer rating? Or take a defensive unit full of good players and put together one of the more dominant stretches we’ve seen in decades? And when someone important moves on from the staff, he goes out and finds the best available replacement.
Harbaugh isn’t a snake-oil salesman, here to trick UM faithful into believing winning the spring and summer supersedes the fall. He’s an elite coach who wins spectacularly wherever he lands, and typically leaves the programs in a better place than when he arrived. At the same time, it can feel like his life is run 100% by his id at times, and that type of intensity has a knack of going from endearing/passionate to obnoxious very quickly. Replace him with Mark Dantonio or Urban Meyer, for example, and I think MGoBlog would have been a smoldering crater by mid-May. Coupled with the massive amount of hype UM has been receiving, there’s part of me that wishes Harbaugh would sometimes stay off the radar a bit. But then he wouldn’t be true to himself, and Harbaugh is the success he is because of it.
So yeah, I think I’ll always have a conflicted relationship with Harbaugh, which is fine. I’ve never loved a coach unconditionally, and in many ways Harbaugh is the embodiment of the three men who preceded him: he’s a resolute throwback to the Bo legacy like Carr, he’s an offensive innovator like Rodriguez with a bit of an outsider flare, and like Hoke, he bleeds this program in the purest way. 2016 looks to be a defining year in the history of this program, and it wouldn’t exist without this native son. I’m ready to enjoy the ride.
** I predict this will be the most-clicked on link in this entire post, perhaps in the entire history of my posts at MGoBlog.
Worst: The Hype
Up front, I’m not trying to be a contrarian here; I think UM is one of the best teams in the country. Most preseason rankings have them comfortably in the top 5-6, and they are the most popular bet to win the MNC and are a heavy favorite to at least make the playoffs. They return one of the best defenses in the country last year by basically any metric, and have experience on both lines and skill positions save for QB, a position under such heavy competition whoever emerges should be pretty good.
But at the same time, this level of excitement and expectation seems really dangerous. Heck, look no further than 2015 with OSU, a loaded team everyone expected to just roll over people like they had on the way to the title in 2014, only to see them struggle with questions at QB and put forth lackluster performances until the nadir against MSU. The fact they then turned it on to destroy UM and ND doesn’t remove the sting of a lost season.
UM isn’t as good as that team, and maybe that won’t matter. Harbaugh is adroit at hiding weaknesses wherever he’s been, and there isn’t anyone on the schedule before the last weekend of October who seems capable of challenging them save maybe Wisconsin (though I think Colorado is way better than some people are giving them credit for).
Yes, there will be a new QB, and both Speight and O’Korn have issues (O’Korn was exceedingly erratic the last time he was seen on the field before transferring, while Speight was just fine in the game against Minnesota and still has that thick Borges stank on him). And the less said about the linebackers and depth charts at safety and on the offensive line the better. And they are breaking in a new defensive coach for the third time in three years (though having Mattison as a throughline over the years helps), and no matter how good Brown is as a DC there will be integration issues.
But like I said, this a schedule with basically three important games on it, all on the road, and all three teams have at least as many questions to address as UM. If anything, UM has had to hear about their strengths and weaknesses for months now; this isn’t going to be a team unmoored by media scrutiny. And my guess is that this squad will sort of fade into the background as the season progresses, since beating PSU or Wisconsin won’t move the needle much nationally, so the growing pains won’t be front-and-center the way they might be for other clubs.
But that lump in the back of my throat isn’t getting any easier to swallow, and this remains a team full of potential but still not much to show for it beyond glossy magazine covers and breathless analysis. And it’s just that this attention feels somewhat unearned; UM is an historically great program, but over the past decade they’ve been profoundly mediocre (77-51 since 2006). I used to laugh whenever SI would come out with some article about Notre Dame’s “stirring the echoes” because they won 9 or 10 games one year, only to crash and burn after that, and a piece of me is scared UM is falling into that routine. I’m sure in 3-4 years we’ll all look back and wonder why everyone was so worried, but UM still hasn’t earned that assumed dominance I used to give it as a youngster, and while they don’t need to do anything to “earn” that back from me, I’m still going to be a bit gun shy about taking off the seatbelt on the bandwagon.
Best: So Many F***ing Walls
And now, onto the good stuf. Michigan’s defense is going to be really, really good this year. Like, “people from the SEC might be confused why Alabama switched to blue and yellow” good. On paper, it’s loaded with NFL-quality defensive linemen, a secondary full of athletes that can erase receivers, and a linebacker corps that…well, needs only be “not a flaming bag of poop” to be deemed a success.
And while I have my trepidation about the near-complete overhaul of the linebackers, it’s not like (a) Morgan, Bolden, and Ross were basking in glory every week, and (b) the people replacing them are (largely) well-regarded recruits. This isn’t a situation like you saw in years past where Johnny Sears is your #1 DB or a converted FB is expected to be a starting LB. These are people generally recruited to play the positions they are slotted for, and in Gedeon’s case saw a plurality of snaps last year and at least didn’t explode upon contact. Of course, the fact Gedeon couldn’t earn starter minutes from the three incumbents is mildly discouraging, but I reserve my panic until I see him chasing behind a bunch of Rainbow Warriors for the 10th time.
And there’s competition behind the starters with the freshmen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush worked his way into the rotation toward the end of the year. So it’s not great depth, but it does exist and should benefit from top-notch coaching. Plus, even if guys like McCray, Furbush, and Gedeon struggle at times, they are surrounded by a dominant defensive line and guys like Peppers, Hill, and Thomas in the defensive backfield to minimize breakdowns. Heck, even Lewis can lay into a RB or TE if necessary.
You’ve heard the stories about the defensive lines for months; even with a late-season swoon as the competition spread them out and guys like Glasgow and Ojemudia were lost to injuries, it was still a fantastic front line. This year, they lose Henry, Ojemudia, and Stone but return everyone else, and also add Mone and all-world Gary. Plus, guys like Taco Charlton seem poised to make even more of an impact with increased playing time. Even with the switch from Durkin to Brown, it’s safe to assume the line play will still be stupendous, especially if someone emerges as an edge rusher (come on Lawrence Marshall) or Don Brown’s preference for aggressive blitzing manufacturers chaos. And remember, this is a line that welcomes one of the best defensive line recruits in recent memory and nobody expects him to outright win a spot from anyone on the front 4. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the backups at each position would be a top-20 line nationally all by themselves. That’s pretty amazing.
The defensive backfield is similarly stacked, with a couple of All Americans in Lewis and Peppers roaming around while Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark, and Channing Stribling are all seniors with lots of experience. As long as there are no follow-up questions regarding the depth chart behind them, we are good. Losing super-boring Jarrod Wilson is going to hurt a bit, but even if UM busts a bit more than in the past, you’d like to think they’d compensate somewhat by generating more than the 9 INTs the unit picked up last year.
So yeah, this defense is great. Maybe not #1 in the country great, but I’d argue more dominant than the 2006 unit everyone raves about because they seem more adaptable to different offenses. You know it’s great when you have to replace an entire layer of it and everybody just sort of assumes running games aren’t going to be able to get past the front and receivers aren’t going to get any separation in the back. And again, the LBs are not a collection of lost souls; they are guys who couldn’t beat out 3 seniors and/or were injured for parts of the year. Now, 2017 is going to be interesting when the bulk of these players graduate, but that’s a concern for later.
Worst: Overrated depth concerns
I sort of touched on it above and I’ll mention it later when discussing the offensive line, but this team is sort of bi-modal in its distribution of players. It’s a team loaded with seniors and a large number of underclassmen, but there’s this chasm between the two where there are maybe 8-9 juniors who you’d expect to see the field at all this year or next. And while college football (like basketball) has become more receptive to freshmen stepping in and playing important minutes early on, you’d still rather see a 20-year-old out there than an 18-year-old who last played a game against other teenagers. Coupled with a switch to a new defensive approach that can be quite intricate, you hear the concerns that if UM suffers from poor injury luck, this team’s performance could drop precipitously.
To that, I say that’s true for virtually every team in America. It’s the reality of a sport with scholarship limits that relies on predicting the capabilities of high schoolers to fill out your roster for 3-4 seasons into the future. Glasgow went out last year and the run defense largely went with him, in part due to the fact UM was already dealing with limited depth at the tackle position. Connor Cook’s shoulder went from NFL-level to whatever it was at the end of the year and MSU’s offense largely went with it. If Deshaun Watson or Delvin Cook tears an ACL, those teams will probably not look anything like we expect them to. Heck, if Peppers goes down the defense would basically have to shift a decent part of their philosophy around to compensate. Great players getting hurt is part of the game, and sometimes your depth chart isn’t going to have a star replacement every year. I still think that UM goes deep enough at most positions that they could weather an injury or two, but it’s still a reality. It’s why I try to not get too worked up about the backups unless it is glaringly terrible, which isn’t really the case this season unless we have a “"Never Forget” situation again.
Worst: Big Okay Uglies
Now, I know I just ranted about not worrying too much about a particular unit, but I will say that the buzz around the offensive line feels a bit premature. It’s not that the offensive line was bad last year or anything, but it was basically average. That’s perfectly fine, but then I see them ranked in the top 10 a couple of places and I’m a little, what’s the expression…
Mason Cole, by far the most consistent performer these past two years, has been moved to center, which is great because somebody needs to fill in for the departed Glasgow but also leaves a whole lot of hope and prayers on Grant Newsome to fill in at left tackle. You know what you are getting with guys like Kalis, Magnuson, and Braden, but Newsome is a relative unknown with a lot of potential but also a lot riding on him. I guess if he really struggles you can always roll Cole back out there and hope Kugler can step in the middle, but it’s still a unit that averaged about 4.2 ypc last year, which would be the second-worst rushing offense of the Brady Hoke era or, more appropriately, the worst rushing year at Stanford under Harbaugh past his first season. Yes, blame falls on the running backs to an extent, but you have to hope another year under Tim Drevno will click for these guys.
And as I said, there is a new left tackle seeing his first consistent time at the position on a line that had some trouble protecting Rudock, especially early on in the year (a total of 17 sacks allowed, for a sack rate of 4.2%). Breaking in a new QB isn't going to make that job any easier, even though I do think some of Rudock's early sack issues were due to him learning the offense and holding the ball too long, something you'd hope O'Korn or Speight would have minimized by now. So while I'm expecting solid improvements by the line, it might be a bit premature to expect the type of jump in performance presaged by the rankings.
Best: A QB Battle Worth Having
We’ve seen QB battles around here before, but they tend to be one-sided: Long ago, in a time before most of us used message boards, there was the Henson vs. Brady conundrum, though it never turned out that Brady was under much of a threat by the upstart golden boy. Tate Forcier vs. Denard Robinson was debated heavily around these parts (I’ll admit to being on Forcier’s side following a solid freshman campaign), though looking back it probably was a foregone conclusion, especially when Forcier didn’t seem to prepare adequately for the season or keep up in the classroom. And who can forget the “competition” between Devin Gardner and Shane Morris that led to him starting against Minnesota? And even last year, few believed Jake Rudock came to UM without an expectation of beating out Morris for the starting job, and nothing happened during the year to dissuade that assumption.
But this is the first time in recent memory when there isn’t an incumbent or a clear-cut starter on the roster but a number of viable options. It’s actually sort of exciting, in that instead of the team defaulting to one player (somewhat regardless) of proven ability, the man who lines up under center to start the year will have competed and won the spot against game competition.
The buzz last year was John O’Korn probably could have started over Jake Rudock early on, and everyone sort of expected him to take the position easily in the spring. And yet, all I’ve seen and heard is that it’s a real battle between him and Wilton Speight. That’s good for this team because both of them have been in the system for a season and have been evaluated by Harbaugh and the staff. Last year, Harbaugh saw what was in the cupboard and went shopping; this year he seems content with his choices and didn’t pursue another grad transfer. And Harbaugh knows good QBs. So that gives me hope that either of these guys will be a suitable replacement for Rudock, and with years to eligibility remaining there should be some consistency at the position going forward.
Best: So Many Guys to Run and Catch the Ball
Michigan probably has the most complete group of receivers in the conference coming back this year, headlined by All American TE Jake Butt and All Conference Jehu Chesson. And as is apparently the running theme in this preview, I’m going to apologize for doubting players – in this case Chesson (and to an extent Darboh) - these past couple of seasons. Here’s me from last year’s preview:
With the departure of the much-maligned Devin Funchess, the receiving core is basically two semi-known commodities (Darboh and Chesson) who probably both top out at competent #2/#3 receivers, a track guy in Chesson who might just be fast and a great special teams blocker, and a bunch of potential that is either freshmen (Cole and Perry), coming off injuries (Harris), or Moe Ways, who will probably get the reputation for being great catching contested balls because he can’t get away from anyone. I know there’s been some buzz about Darboh stepping up, but he collected nearly half of his yards and 40% of his receptions against IU and Miami (NTM), struggling to get separation against anyone else even when Devin Funchess was healthy and, theoretically, drawing more attention from the defense.
I also once compared Chesson to Luis Mendoza from the Mighty Ducks 2 movie, so…yeah. I’m not expecting Chesson to have a Braylon/Manningham-type final season, but he’ll absolutely take the top off most defenses in this conference. Timing with the QBs, especially coming off the PCL injury, is a concern, but I’ve not heard anything particularly ominous thus far. Darboh should even be more of a handful this year, and if you get him in space on little flares and screens he’ll just grind down corners for those extra yards all day.
As noted above, Jake Butt is really, really good at catching the ball, and should be even better another year with Harbaugh. Ian Bunting is probably as much of a mismatch as Butt but will likely be seeing the guy who isn’t good enough to be blown away by Butt, which must be terrifying for defensive coaches when UM puts them both out there. And Wheatley is absolutely going to crush a couple of poor cornerbacks/safeties after he blows by linebackers trying to keep up with him.
Yes, you’d like to see Drake Harris or Moe Ways emerge to be the next wave of UM receivers, but there is a lot of talent ahead of them and so I assume we’ll see glimpses barring major injuries.
As for RB, it’s basically De’Veon Smith at the top, some buzz about Ty Isaac, plus a bunch of other pieces. I assume Drake Johnson won’t be run over by a forklift again so he’ll get some carries, and Hill and Poggi will have to fill in for the departed Houma and Kerridge at FB but (at least with Hill) they bring some offensive capabilities as receivers.
Smith’s style and physical limitations probably tap him out as a B+ back, but he’s the best Harbaugh “type” back on the roster and is an excellent blocker to boot. Isaac has all the tools in the world but I’ll believe it when I see him get carries and not stapled to the bench because he doesn’t hold onto the ball. I also assume Kareem Walker will work his way into the rotation; I know his recruiting star got dinged a bit last year, but the biggest complaints seemed to be “he’s consistent” and “he’s not that big”, which are probably issues Harbaugh can work with.
My one hope for the running game is that someone emerges and gives the team a bit of an identity. I mean, last year Purdue, Rutgers, and Maryland all had leading rushers with more yards than Smith, and hell Indiana had 2 1,000 rushers in Redding and Howard. I hate to be all “This is Michigan”, but FFS this is Michigan, a Harbaugh Michigan! Let’s run over a bunch of people and get some yards!
Basically, other little notes that aren’t worth a heading.
- Special teams should be fine. Losing Blake O’Neill will hurt in the field position battle (as will John Baxter going back to USC), but there are people with legs who can kick the ball far on this team, and as long as they don’t revert to dinosaur punting it should be manageable. As for kick returns, DON’T USE IMPORTANT PEOPLE LIKE PEPPERS AND LEWIS! There are fast people on this roster who aren’t All Americans. In big games, sure, put them back there to scare the crap out of MSU or OSU. But I think, I don’t know, Tyree Kinnell or Chris Evans are available to take a knee in the endzone or scamper out to the 25. But let Peppers stay on punt return duty, if for no other reason than I need the jolt of terror every time he fair-catches a ball with a dive.
- Plus, I’d much rather see Peppers on offense this year. I expect him to a hyperized version of Woodson in 2007; he’ll see the field more and won’t always be a novelty, but instead part of the offensive gameplan. Harbaugh is smart and will deploy him sparingly early on, but he’s a rare athlete who can beat anyone on the field in space. UM will take advantage of that.
- This schedule is all sorts of terrible, mostly because, again, Dave Brandon couldn't do his one job and make sure OSU and MSU alternated yearly. Those OOC games are always a crapshoot, as UCF was in a BCS bowl only a couple years ago, and at some point you have to assume Colorado figures it out. But it remains a home schedule that lacks a real marquee team save, I guess, PSU, and having to go to both rivals in a season is extremely daunting.
So yeah, you might have just skimmed down to here. I don’t blame you.
It’s isn’t breaking news that this season basically comes down to @MSU and @OSU. I’d add that winning in Iowa is just as hard, and while Ferentz’s club isn’t likely to pull off the same streak as last year, the Hawkeyes are still going to be a tough road game.
But yeah, if UM is going to earn a playoff bid, they have to beat MSU and OSU, or at least beat one of them and hope that the other stumbles just enough so that they make the conference title game. Personally, MSU seems more vulnerable; due to the placement of the OSU game, the Buckeyes will have weathered whatever transition bumps along the way by then, and should be about as dangerous as expected. MSU, though, is a team replacing a bunch of talent on their lines and at QB/WR, while also (I assume) suffering a bit of a reversion from the amazing TO ratio they enjoyed last year. And make no mistake about it; UM took MSU’s best shot last year. Cook and Burbridge were amazing, and while MSU had some injuries on the offensive line, they still had most of it intact (Jack Allen was the only player kept out). It will be a war as usual this season, but UM is the better team and even the most ardent MSU faithful sort of recognize that. Doesn’t assure a win by any means, but the distance between those two clubs has definitely shrunk.
As for OSU, I don’t know man. They lost 105 players to the first 4 rounds of the NFL draft***, but they also have lots of elite talent on that roster. Barrett returns and, while he struggled at times throwing the ball last year, is still incredibly dangerous. Losing Elliott to graduation is going to slow them down somewhat, and Dunn being dismissed takes another bullet from the chamber, but it’s OSU; they’ll find a way to pound people into the sand. Their defense will probably take a step back just because of attrition, but Schiano is a good DC and they have enough playmakers to round into form by November. It will be interesting to see if the defensive discipline remains; that was a major change you saw when Ash took over, guys didn’t just throw themselves at receivers and let plays bust big.
***[ citation necessary ]
My assumption is that UM is undefeated and 7-0 heading into East Lansing. The pessimist in me assumes UM will lose again to MSU by some equally random occurrence (like every UM running back gets mono and MSU returns 3 kickoffs back to TDs), and then UM stumbles against Iowa and OSU on their way to another double-digit-but-disappointing year. More realistically is that UM heads into Columbus undefeated and then loses a heart-breaker to the Buckeyes but get into the B1G championship game due to tiebreakers. From there, they crush, let’s say, Wisconsin again, and they are the 4th seed in the CFP.
But guess what? I’m an optimist. I am fine being wrong. I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
UM is going undefeated and playing Notre Dame(that’s right, Notre Dame! with all their crazy luck and the best offensive line in America) for the national title! This is an artist's rendering of everyone older than 40 and/or in sports media:
And if they get that far, you don’t need to ask who I’ll pick as the national champion.
This is a best players of the Big Ten preview. But rather than just name 100 guys in random order, Brian demands competition and four hours of research on each subject, which will then be trashed by your peers. This is the Harbaugh way.
And you can vote now. Competition!
Previously on Draftageddon:
Rounds 1-2: A Heisman candidate QB and the reigning Thorpe winner go after two members of Michigan's secondary. (M players: Peppers, Lewis, Butt)
Rounds 3-4: An underwhelming first swing through receivers, and lots of linemen. (Chesson, Cole, Wormley, Glasgow)
Rounds 5-6: A Michigan second-teamer goes before Purdue J.J. Watt. (Charlton, Hurst)
Rounds 7-8: Hodor. (Mone, Darboh)
Rounds 9-11: We go on a mini Iowa binge, and Brian takes a true freshman (YTTF).
Rounds 12-14: A grueling three-rounder with safeties, RBs, and MSU legacies flexing. (O'Korn, Braden).
Rounds 15-16: We break out laughing at Tommy Armstrong. (Dymonte, Kenny Allen)
Rounds 17-18: Cheese and tackles. (Magnuson, Delano Hill)
Rounds 19-20: Tight ends, a boring Iowa safety, and Brian finally believes a Michigan coach quote over his own eyes. (Stribling)
How things stand:
ACE: Round 21, Pick 1: Malik Hooker, safety, Ohio State
OFFENSE: QB CJ Beathard (IA), RB Saquon Barkley (PSU), WR Jehu Chesson (M), WR Noah Brown (OSU), SLOT Curtis Samuel (OSU), TE George Kittle (IA), OT Nick Gates (NE), OT Kodi Kieler (MSU), OG Jacob Bailey (IU), C Michael Dieter (UW), WEAPON Jabrill Peppers (M)
DEFENSE: NT Ryan Glasgow (M), DT Jake Replogle (PU), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), DE Demetrius Cooper (MSU), MLB Josey Jewell (IA), OLB Brandon Bell (PSU), OLB/NICKEL Jabrill Peppers (M), CB Jalen Myrick (MN), CB Vayante Copeland (MSU), S Nate Gerry (NE), S Malik Hooker (OSU)
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Jabrill Peppers (M), PR Jabrill Peppers (M)
Ohio State didn’t have much of a need for a third safety last fall due to the steady presences of Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell; when they did have one out there, it was Malik Hooker, who’s ready to step into a starting role as a redshirt sophomore. Hooker was one of the standout performers from OSU’s spring game, recording ten tackles and two picks. He’s in a race with three other Buckeyes (Cam Burrows, Erick Smith, and Damon Webb) for the two open safety spots; exiting the spring, he’d separated himself from the pack.
Hooker was an outstanding two-sport athlete in high school—as a senior, he was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette male athlete of the year, their basketball player of the year, and made their football “Fabulous 22”—and that athleticism should help cover for his inexperience as he settles into a starting job. I’ll take the unknown with big upside here instead of grabbing one of MSU’s liable-to-be-benched safeties.
Ace: Uh, hopefully taking Wolverines with three of my first four picks will offset the fact that I took Spartans or Buckeyes with my last five.
[After THE JUMP: Have you ever seen MGoBloggers rip on slot bugs? This totally happened.]
ADAM: Round 21, Pick 2: Janarion Grant, WR/PR/KR, Rutgers
OFFENSE: C Pat Elflein (OSU), OG Dan Feeney (IU), WR Amara Darboh (M), RB Justin Jackson (NW), WR Brandon Reilly (NEB), QB John O'Korn (M), OG Ben Braden (M), OT Erik Magnuson (M), OT Jamarco Jones (OSU), TE Josiah Price (MSU), WR Janarion Grant (RU)
DEFENSE: CB Jourdan Lewis (M), DE Dawuane Smoot (ILL), DE Taco Charlton (M), DT Maurice Hurst (M), OLB Vince Biegel (UW), CB Matthew Harris (NW), ILB Hardy Nickerson Jr. (ILL), S Marcus Allen (PSU), S Damarius Travis (MN), ILB Jason Cabinda (PSU)
SPECIAL TEAMS: PR/KR Janarion Grant (RU)
I'm as hesitant to pick a Rutgers player as the next guy, but after spending entirely too long deliberating I've decided that Grant's stats were good enough in an offense that can't possibly be as bad as last year to warrant drafting him. He also happens to be one of the best punt/kick returners in the country; Pro Football Focus thinks so highly of Grant's return skills that that's the thing they picked for Rutgers in their "Biggest Reason For Hope For Every Big Ten Team" article.
I realize there's a thin line between "man, he must be a_really_ good returner" and "that is a hilarious indictment of a football program," but PFF's grades have Grant behind only Christian McCaffrey among returning punt/kick returners. With four special teams touchdowns, a 13.9-yard punt return average, and a 24.6-yard kick return average it's not hard to see why.
Grant would be a Heisman contender if his receiving stats were anywhere near as impressive as his return stats, but they're not too shabby for a slot receiver. His 77.8% catch rate last season was excellent, and his 7.8 yards per target was solid. The departure of Leonte Carroo leaves Rutgers searching for a new no.1 receiver; which of Grant or Andre Patton takes on the role remains to be seen, but Grant will undoubtedly be targeted more often in 2016. Rutgers is installing an up-tempo spread offense this season, and with that necessarily comes the search for a dual-threat QB. If Rutgers can find one who's halfway competent Grant should be in for a big season considering the damage he could do on RPOs.
Brian: Catch rate > 70% == only used on bubble screens and the like
Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant frustrated as touches diminish
While many of Grant's touches come on low-risk plays like screens or jet sweeps, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said there is a danger in trying to force the ball to the elusive receiver.
And that was with Carroo out.
Adam: I don't expect him to be a deep threat. As long as he keeps catching those bubble screens and returning kicks and punts I'm happy. Also, I was digging through Bill Connelly's receiving data and the catch rates for other returning slot receivers was surprisingly ugly.
Ace: Mitchell Paige was at 71% and 8.6 YPT.
Adam: But he wasn't the second best returner in the country.
Seth: But then how much does that go down if an overturned targeting call doesn't accidentally erase a hold and a block in the back?
Ace: Take out the 67-yard return against us and he averaged 9.1 on punt returns last year. Dude still has seven career returns for scores, so...
Seth: Here's how I personally ranked the remaining slot receivers. Highlight colors indicate %-ile among Big Ten receivers last year (red is top 80th percentile/orange/yellow/green/blue):
|RJ Shelton||Michigan State||67%||7.9||62.3|
All slot receivers have high catch rates; Paige was more productive, but dropping over a quarter of passes is kind of a concern since they're rarely contested.
Given Grant's production on special teams I think it's a fine pick for this stage. I was trying to parse between various slot types earlier, and the biggest knock on Grant is he really doesn't get balls downfield. And the slot receiver position put up huge total yardage numbers wherever (new Rutgers OC) Mehringer was running Tom Herman's receivers.
Adam: That's why I made the RPO comment. I doubt they'll be able to stretch the field well enough to keep safeties out of the box, but package in a bubble screen to Grant on run plays and he should be able to put up similar catch rate and YPT numbers with more targets.
Seth: There's also De'Mornay Pierson-El out there, but he's like 50/50 to even play the first half of the season and a non-zero chance he might re-injure himself celebrating the fact he got drafted.
Adam: Yeah, I took Pierson-El last season and nope, not doing that again.
Seth: And Saeed Blacknall, but it's hard to judge a slot receiver when his quarterback regularly wings or turfs bubble screens.
Ace: I must say it’s hard for me to expect the same Rutgers team that spiked on fourth down last year to have RPOs down as an integral part of their offense this year.
Adam: When your OC comes from Houston there's at least a chance.
Seth: Rich Rodriguez could only do so much in 2008. And whatever NJ.com says, Mehringer isn't quite Rich Rodriguez.
Adam: We can't all agree on Grant's utility, but I think we can all agree that anyone's an upgrade over Kyle Flood.
Seth: Other than Curtis Samuel I didn't think the current crop of slots give you anything more than the next best receiver available. Some of the best would-be slot receivers are playing outside because that's where their teams need them. For example…
SETH: Round 21, Pick 3: Ricky Jones, WR, Indiana
OFFENSE: QB J.T. Barrett (OSU), RB Corey Clement (WI), WR Chris Godwin (PSU), WR Simmie Cobbs (IN), WR Ricky Jones (IN), TE Brandon Lingen (MN), OC Mason Cole (M), RG Sean Welsh (IA), LG Billy Price (OSU), LT Ryan Ramczyk (WI), RT Michael Dunn (MD)
DEFENSE: NT Bryan Mone (M), DT Darius Hamilton (RU), WLB Nyeem Wartman-White (PSU), MLB Riley Bullough (MSU), HSP Delano Hill (M), SS Godwin Igwebuike (NW), FS Dymonte Thomas (M), FCB Desmond King (IA) BCB Greg Mabin (IA)
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR/PR Desmond King, K/P Ryan Santoso (MN)
When drafting Brandon Reilly, Adam mentioned he was getting the last of the guys on his board in the nation's top 100 (Reilly was 95th) of RYPR, Bill Connelly's WR production stat. The guy Adam scrolled past, at 69th, is easy to overlook since Ricky is only 5'10 and mostly played cornerback until last year.
It's something of a coup that I managed to lock up 3 of the top 4 guys returning by pure production…
…let alone add 905 yards and 9.5 per target the same round Ace cast a die into OSU receiver roulette. The caveat here is that meh catch rate, which was partly on Jones, but was mostly due to being a 5'10 slot receiver drafted into duty as Indiana's #1 deep threat.
And that's the key for this pick: One of the best ways to attack those aggressively anti-spread Quarters safeties is to have a slot receiver who can blow by them and head for the corner. Ricky also contributed to actual-Indiana-slot-receiver Mitchell Paige's productive season with the kind of mountain goat blocking a Rodriguezian spread smurf could appreciate. He may be too good to play slot for the Hoosiers, but he's an excellent fit as a third target in my offense.
Ace: Jones is solid, though I think he hit his ceiling—I’ll be surprised if he matches last year’s numbers without Sudfeld at the helm unless that JuCo is the real deal. IU receiving numbers have to come with a grain of salt because of that offense.
Seth: He had the same # of targets as Darboh, and two more yards per target despite being the size Jeremy Gallon claimed to be.
BRIAN: Round 21, Pick 4: Matt VandeBerg, WR, Iowa
Another Big Ten West wide receiver guaranteed to be his team's number one option, VandeBerg is a quintessential Iowa possession receiver: extremely reliable hands--a 69% catch rate--and an unthrilling yards per catch (or target, either way). Whenever I caught an Iowa game last year he was making a diving catch to salvage a third and medium.
He busted out in a major way last year, going from 14 catches to 65 as Tevaun Smith struggled to remain healthy. Iowa lost Smith and Henry Kreiger-Coble; Vandeberg is about to get a ton of targets. Beathard on his main man:
“He’s a little undersized. But he does a great job of what he can do,” Beathard said. “He’s a really fast guy, and a guy with great hands. And he’s a guy that I love to see out there because I know he’s going to be where I want him to be at all times. He’s a smart guy. I can count on him. The way it’s been working, I’ve been getting it to him a lot.”
PFF had VandeBerg the #37 WR in the Power 5 last year, which isn't bad for my third WR. I in fact had to double-check that he was still on the board.
Also they call him "Meerkat." STEAL OF THE DRAFT RIGHT HERE BUDDY.
BRIAN: Round 22, Pick 1: Andrew Nelson, OL, Penn State
OFFENSE: QB Tommy Armstrong (NEB), RB LJ Scott(MSU), TE Jake Butt(M), WR Jordan Westerkamp (NEB), WR Rob Wheelwright(UW), WR Matt VandeBerg(IA), OL Cole Croston(IA), OL Brian Allen(MSU), OL Dan Voltz (UW), OL Andrew Nelson(PSU)
DEFENSE: DE Tyquan Lewis(OSU), DE Rashan Gary(M), DT Chris Wormley(M), DT Malik McDowell(MSU). LB Raekwon McMillan (OSU), LB Anthony Walker (NW), LB Jermaine Carter(MD), CB Gareon Conley(OSU), CB Will Likely (MD), CB Channing Stribling(M), S Miles Taylor (IA).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kenny Allen(K/P), Likely(PR/KR)
Gasps from around the country at a Penn State offensive lineman going in Draftageddeon. CNN breaks in live to survey the carnage.
1. Nelson is the only sure thing on this PSU line, a 6'6", 300 pound tackle with a lot of experience under his belt and an impressive physical package:
Franklin said his explosive and strength numbers are "unbelievable," adding that it's been two years since the redshirt junior has really been able to run the full offseason gauntlet.
It's just one of the reasons he is the only lineman that has separated himself, the head coach said, with all five offensive line spots seemingly up for grabs. "He looks like a guy that's played a bunch of football," Franklin said. "He looks like a guy that's able to do true offseason training this year. He's playing so much more confident and more physical. I would say the rest of the positions are still pretty much a battle."
2. It was an injury to Nelson against Buffalo that opened the floodgates named "Paris Palmer" a year ago. When he returned things got... less ungood.
3. PFF haaaaated Christian Hackenberg and the #1 thing they hated about him was his tendency to run himself into sacks, or sit and eat sacks long after his internal timer was supposed to go off. PSU could run a bit last year and will be able to run a bit this year--dollars to donuts this is the year "PSU OL" stops being a punchline. PSU imported former Minnesota OL coach and OC Matt Limegrover, who knows his way around the block.
4. Nelson is a top 20 OT prospect in 2018 per NFLDraftScout.
5. I watched all the clips I had for the PSU UFR and Nelson didn't get obliterated on any of them. There were some stunt issues but on those he seemed to be correct while the guard next to him was in la-la land. PSU bounced him from RT to LT and back as they strove to find anyone other than Nelson who could even vaguely hang.
6. A couple years back we all rushed to grab Donovan Smith, a gem lost in the Nittany morass, with BryMac getting the drop on us. Smith was a second round pick. It can happen.
7. You always make fun of my late OL picks only for those dudes to do well and get drafted. Nuts to you!
SETH: Round 22, Pick 2: Marcus Newby, OLB Nebraska
[Aaron Babcock/Hail Varsity]
OFFENSE: QB J.T. Barrett (OSU), RB Corey Clement (WI), WR Chris Godwin (PSU), WR Simmie Cobbs (IN), WR Ricky Jones (IN), TE Brandon Lingen (MN), OC Mason Cole (M), RG Sean Welsh (IA), LG Billy Price (OSU), LT Ryan Ramczyk (WI), RT Michael Dunn (MD)
DEFENSE: NT Bryan Mone (M), DT Darius Hamilton (RU), WLB Nyeem Wartman-White (PSU), MLB Riley Bullough (MSU), SAM Marcus Newby (NEB), HSP Delano Hill (M), SS Godwin Igwebuike (NW), FS Dymonte Thomas (M), FCB Desmond King (IA) BCB Greg Mabin (IA)
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR/PR Desmond King, K/P Ryan Santoso (MN)
One of the best kept cats in the Big Ten was let out of the bag when PFF had to pick four linebackers out of a ridiculously deep year for underclassman. McMillan and Jewell (+18.2) were first teamers. Second team was Jermaine Carter (+14.1) and Marcus Newby.
Who the hell is Marcus Newby? PFF before the bowl:
Seven of the eight players who played 200 or more snaps on their defensive line finished the year with a positive grade. At linebacker, Marcus Newby (+17.1) was the standout and though he was at his best against the run, he was solid in coverage too, with a grade of +3.5.
Basically he's what we want Josh Uche to be in 2-3 years: a dangerous edge rusher with ludicrous athleticism to fire upfield, close down space, and cover tight ends and anything out of the backfield. Newby dealt with some injuries last year so his 34 tackles and 5 TFLs in six starts are invisible in basic stats leaderboards. He began the year injured and didn't lock down his spot until mid-season. By the time he knocked down two crucial 3rd down passes against Wisconsin his coaches were gushing. Then he was hurt again for the bowl.
I re-watched the Nebraska-MSU game and saw him popping and shedding fullbacks, knocking down passes, shooting gaps, and teleporting around blocks with regularity. He posted a 1.60 ten-yard-dash (best on the team) this spring, to give you an idea of how fast space disappears in front of him, while the tape shows a guy who knows where to go and arrives under control. They'll line him up in space, over tight ends like a normal SAM, or bring him off the edge as a standup WDE. Give Newby a full junior season, and it won't just be the wonks saying he's good.
ADAM: Round 22, Pick 3: Azubuike Ukandu, NT, Maryland
OFFENSE: C Pat Elflein (OSU), OG Dan Feeney (IU), WR Amara Darboh (M), RB Justin Jackson (NW), WR Brandon Reilly (NEB), QB John O'Korn (M), OG Ben Braden (M), OT Erik Magnuson (M), OT Jamarco Jones (OSU), TE Josiah Price (MSU), WR Janarion Grant (RU)
DEFENSE: CB Jourdan Lewis (M), DE Dawuane Smoot (ILL), DE Taco Charlton (M), DT Maurice Hurst (M), OLB Vince Biegel (UW), CB Matthew Harris (NW), ILB Hardy Nickerson Jr. (ILL), S Marcus Allen (PSU), S Damarius Travis (MN), ILB Jason Cabinda (PSU), NT Azubuike Ukandu (MD)
SPECIAL TEAMS: PR Janarion Grant (RU), KR Janarion Grant (RU)
I've been sitting back and hoping that one of these yahoos wouldn't take a second nose, and as long as we're talking about guys who haven't played a full season but were very productive regardless it seems like the right time to finally draft Ukandu. My team needed a big dude who can occupy two defenders and stop the run if all these pass rushers are going to get to the QB, and that's Ukandu. He started 2015 on the bench, but an injury opened up a starting spot four games into the season
Ukandu made his first start against Michigan and did fairly well, holding his own against double teams and knocking Glasgow or Braden back when single-blocked. He got better in a hurry; a month later he was two-gapping with ease. Once he got into the starting lineup he never left, as he started the final eight games of the season and finished with 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6.5 TFLs, and a forced fumble.
After a performance like that Ukandu's name might as well be in ink on the depth chart as Maryland's starting nose tackle. I know nose is a position where a starter is more of a "starter," but Ukandu should be on the field for way more than the 364 snaps he got last season. If he's able to just maintain his level of production from last year he'll be in line for some kind of accolades after the season; he graded out as PFF's best nose tackle in the conference last season and was named to their All-Big Ten defensive first team.
Brian: That was very much the wrong answer at NT.
Adam: I didn't watch every game he started but I liked what I saw. Who was the right answer at NT?
Brian: Ain't tellin' until Seth has a fourth DL.
Seth: Ukandu's fine. Maryland's run defense before the Michigan game was awful. OTOH Glasgow had one of his best games vs. the Terps. Brian's talking about Jaleel Johnson.
Adam:Ah, yep. I had him just below Ukandu on my draft board.
Seth: Meanwhile in START THE SEASON ALREADY, here's our drafting by school:
Brian: There is an excessive amount of homer in us this year. Draftin' backup-ass michigan DL over linchpins of very good Ds.
Seth: We deserve a little flag waiving after the Great Depression.
Also defensive linemen are the one thing Brady Hoke can produce as well as Catlab videos.
BiSB: Ohio State is replacing everybody. Penn State is replacing pretty much everybody. Michigan State has a few biiiiig question marks and their second-best defender probably won't get cleared, and Iowa wasn't that great.
Michigan's lineup looks deep, but more importantly for Draftageddon purposes, it is pretty well set.
Seth: We did tap the second cornerback battle in Ann Arbor ahead of the one in Columbus, but that too was highly reasonable but for choosing motivational practice quotes over your eyes.
Brian: One of those situations has a returning starter getting passed by a senior. One of those situations is ???
[Seth and Ace fight about Nate Gerry. Short version: Seth saw a lot of bad plays while scouting Newby, Ace holds up two years of Top 100-level production according to PFF.]
Round 22, Pick 4: Mitchell Paige, slot receiver, Indiana
OFFENSE: QB CJ Beathard (IA), RB Saquon Barkley (PSU), WR Jehu Chesson (M), WR Noah Brown (OSU), SLOT Curtis Samuel (OSU), SLOT Mitchell Paige (IU), TE George Kittle (IA), OT Nick Gates (NE), OT Kodi Kieler (MSU), OG Jacob Bailey (IU), C Michael Dieter (UW), WEAPON Jabrill Peppers (M)
DEFENSE: NT Ryan Glasgow (M), DT Jake Replogle (PU), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), DE Demetrius Cooper (MSU), MLB Josey Jewell (IA), OLB Brandon Bell (PSU), OLB/NICKEL Jabrill Peppers (M), CB Jalen Myrick (MN), CB Vayante Copeland (MSU), S Nate Gerry (NE), S Malik Hooker (OSU)
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Jabrill Peppers (M), PR Jabrill Peppers (M)
At 5’7”, Paige isn’t the most physically imposing guy out there, but he certainly wasn’t short on production last year, catching 71% of his 80 targets at an impressive 8.6 yards per target. He blew up over the second half of the season, averaging a six-catch, 78-yard stat line with four touchdowns over the final seven games.
Paige does his best work over the middle of the field and he’s dangerous after the catch. His ability with the ball in his hands also extends to special teams, where he returned two punts for touchdowns last year. Paige is more than just a return man and short-throw target, however; he had the team’s best success rate and averaged 9.8 yards per target on passing downs. He’ll keep the chains moving while providing some big-play upside. As Indiana’s most reliable safety outlet, he’s the receiver most likely to maintain his 2015 production while the Hoosiers transition from Nate Sudfeld to, most likely, JuCo transfer Richard Lagow.
Seth: Did we seriously not draft any Michigan guys this time? Wow.
Where things stand:
Next time on Draftageddon (this Friday): The right NT. Brian adds Rutgers to the Penn State side of his offensive line. And we will most definitely draft some more Michigan guys.
You mentioned at media day that year two makes things so much easier—or more familiar, I should say. How’s it feeling?
“No, not easier. But feeling good right now. Coming off of a very good practice today, so feel good about the way our guys are working. Feel really good about the way we practiced today. There was quite a bit of good scrimmaging. Feel like our team is building a callus now that bodes very well for us. I mean, it was not. It was a little more [purulent] than about a week ago, but now it’s starting to harden. Feel good about that.”
Your quarterbacks now compared to a year ago: do you feel like they’re about where they were or in the system for a year, does that help them?
“Definitely has helped them. Right now we’re—I hate to compare—but we’re better. We’re better at that position than we were eight, nine days into camp last year.”
Have you narrowed it down? Is it down to two guys? Have a rank order?
“Yeah, not just two. I mean, Shane Morris is doing good, having a good camp. Wilton Speight’s having an outstanding camp. John O’Korn’s having a very good camp. The quarterback play’s been really good in camp, right from the first day. Been very pleased with that. They’ve…they’re completing balls, they’re running the team, they know what they’re doing. They’re competing at a good, high level. It’s been good. Yeah.
“I’m trying to think through different camps. I’ve said it to myself: this group of quarterbacks is playing really well. Better than most camps that I’ve seen from the start. Sometimes they struggle with their accuracy and struggle with different things, communicating, fumbled snaps on the ground. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing solid play that’s improving, too. It started good and it’s getting better every day. Hope we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today, but we had a good day today.”
Are there any other positions where you’re seeing as fierce a competitive battle as you are at quarterback?
“Uh, there’s…there’s some good play. Some good—young guys are playing very well. Devin Asiasi had a heck of a day today. Michael Onwenu is somebody I’m—you know, he’s one of my favorites. Doing a heck of a good job. Ben Bredeson is doing an outstanding job. Rashan Gary is a really good football player. The young linebackers are playing really well. The young receivers are doing a heck of a good job. Chris Evans is maybe one of the most outstanding of them all. Khaleke Hudson’s doing an outstanding job. Dylan Crawford’s doing a good job. So, yeah, it’s been good. Quinn Nordin’s doing an outstanding job. Those guys, some really good players in that class have heated some of the competitive waters at multiple positions. It’s a good thing.”
How many freshmen do you expect to play this year?
“Right now it’s competitive and I don’t see any of our older guys just giving their jobs away. Don’t see that happening. Not through the nine practices. Not saying that for one minute, so it’s still to be determined. There’s some competitive, heated-up waters. More than you see on really probably any team I’ve ever been on where a group of new guys…they’re showing that they’re on track to be either starters or backup players. It’s still to be determined.
“They’ve got to do it over the course of the next couple weeks, but it’ll be exciting to watch. Some of them will, some of them won’t. The best players are going to play, regardless of class year that they’re in. As I’ve said, we’ve got a lot of veteran players who like their starting jobs. It’ll be a battle.”
Last year you waited until the first snap at Utah to reveal the starting lineup. Do you imagine that’ll be the same this season, too, with the quarterbacks and rest of the roster?
“I haven’t decided yet.”
[After THE JUMP: I guess you could say this press conference was…[/puts on sunglasses] suspended.]
How do you like your fullbacks at this point?
“Good. Yeah. There’s…we can—nobody’s really taken that job over yet, but there’s the guys that are really competing at it: Hill, Poggi, Hirsch is doing a nice job, and so is Bobby Henderson. Yeah, just keep—Hirsch is improving every day. He’s getting his football legs back under him, but…caught a pass in the flat and took a nice hit on the boundary when he turned it up and got up with a smile on his face and a little cut on his nose and he was smiling, so I think he likes being back in football.
“It rages on. We’re still early. This is really a good nine practices in, so still 20 to go. Nothing’s been—there have been some things decided, but not everything.”
In terms of offensive line, Grant Newsome, you’ve talked about him a little bit and Mason Cole moving over to center—what have you noticed out of those guys? Before your arrival the offensive line was a work in progress. What’s the progress you’ve seen from those guys from last year up until now?
“It’s been improving. It’s a good group to work with because there’s that group that’s older and has played together for a long time, played in a lot of games. And then there’s another group that’s real young and showed that they have what it takes. And then there’s a good group of preferred walk-ons that came in with this class that are doing a really nice job: Robinson, Vastardis, Kay.
“So there’s a whole other group and a young group. Ben Bredenson is—did I mention Ben? I hope I did before because he has really been good and outstanding. Played guard, started at guard and now he’s playing tackle and he’s got a really bright future. Mike Onwenu—I mean, he could be a contributor on either side of the ball. I think he’s that good.”
Is he working on both?
“He is, yeah. He’s going to school, he’s taking tests, and he’s playing both ways. He might just be my favorite guy right now. He’s awesome. I love—I really like him a lot.”
What’s the thought process behind having players compete for jersey numbers? There are several with #1, several with #10. Why are you doing that?
“Multiple people wanted the same number and rather than be the person who promises somebody that they would get that number or try to be the picker of who will be the more deserving person to have their preferred number, any number that wasn’t already taken by somebody that was playing in games would compete for the right to wear that number and who’s ever going to play first, whosever is going to play in the first game first will get that number and the others will switch to a different number. I think it’s right. I think it’s fair.
“Told everybody that up front. Here’s the open numbers, and they can compete for that number if they want. There’s a few numbers that…there’s three, maybe. 10 is one, number 1 is one, couple guys wearing 2. They seem to like the lower numbers, which is interesting. Back when I played nobody really liked the single digits. Now the times have changed. People like the lower numbers.”
In the spring, you said you were happy with Moe Ways’ progress and then obviously had the foot injury. How does he look so far? Is he back to full speed, where you saw him before the injury?
“Yeah, Moe hasn’t missed a day. Moe’s done a nice job and doesn’t seem to be having any ill effects from the injury that he sustained in the spring. The play he got hurt was a touchdown pass. Then broke the fifth metacarpal in his foot, but he’s showing no signs of it lingering or it slowing him down.”
There were three freshmen missing from the team picture: Shelton Johnson, Kareem Walker, [Ahmir] Mitchell. Are they on the team? Is there any discipline with them and what’s the reason? Has the roster changed at all since we were given it?
“I don’t think you have your information right.”
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: Ah, football season is truly upon us now. The playful banter, the result of the never-ending cat and mouse game, is back.]
They weren’t in the photo.
“Who’d you say?”
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: He’s more receptive to straightening this out than you’d think he’d be.]
Kareem Walker, Shelton Johnson, and Ahmir Mitchell. Is there a reason for it?
“No, they were all invited to it.”
Are they all currently in good standing? Are they with the program?
“Uh, there’s…two of those players are suspended.”
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: That’s…that’s actually more than I thought he’d say. New season, new leaf, I guess.]
Who are they?
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: Oh no. No no no. Why is his brow furrowing? Wait, is that a brow furrow/smirk combo?]
“Uh…you know, I know you like to ask a lot of questions, but we’ll just handle that internally.”
How long of a suspension are those guys out for?
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: Whoahoho that is fire in his eyes, literal fire.]
“That’s why I don’t give you any information, because you’re never satisfied. You always want a second question, a third question, a fourth question. I just said we’d handle it internally. Thank you.
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: That looks like the way you shift your weight when you’re about to take a step forward but—]
“Good? Thanks a lot.”
[MGoStreamOfConsciousness: Oh, okay, yeah, that’s definitely a step forward and I’m directly in the path he’s trying to use to walk out better not turn this into an awkward left-right-left shuffle that middle-of-the-hallway walkers do when they run into each other turn sideways now Adam TURN SIDEWAYS welp he’s gone.]
Bama's Gain Is... Michigan's Gain, Too?
Alabama picked up two commits on the offensive line at the end of July, and they're expected to add five-star OT Jedrick Wills any day now. That may not seem like news that would lead a Michigan recruiting roundup, but word from multiple Bama insiders is the numbers crunch in Tuscaloosa will have a direct impact on at least one top Michigan target. Here's 247's Steve Lorenz on four-star IMG OC Cesar Ruiz:
I spoke with Hank South, our Alabama insider this morning, who confirmed that Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy Top100 offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz is NOT a take for the Crimson Tide, and barring more than one change to their current class, would not be regardless
When that news made its way over to the Scout board, their Bama insider, John Garcia Jr., confirmed he was hearing the same about Ruiz and added that four-star NY OT Isaiah Wilson could also get squeezed out by Wills:
Bama took in state OL Hunter Brannon on July 23, a kid who earned the offer at camp (UA wanted Ruiz to camp but he didn't make it). Numbers are tight and tackles are a much bigger need at this time. I'm not even sure they would take both Wills and Wilson should each want to join the class. Like with Nico Collins, a late spot may not be there for Wilson. Things can change but Bama feels good about each, the difference is Wills is much closer to ending his recruitment.
Alabama has been considered Michigan's primary competition for both Ruiz and Wilson. Ruiz said at the beginning of this month that Alabama, Michigan, and Oklahoma were tied at the top of his list; only a few days later, the Sooners landed four-star center Creed Humphrey. If Ruiz sticks to those top schools, his decision may have been made for him—he's also mentioned North Carolina as a school of interest recently but I haven't seen any indication they'd beat out Michigan.
— Zay (@_LayZay_) August 10, 2016
Wilson, meanwhile, set up official visits to Florida State (Nov. 11), Michigan (Nov. 19), and Alabama (Nov. 25), with dates for Georgia and USC to be decided based on his basketball schedule—we'll see if those latter two materialize, as Wilson plans to make a decison in December. In the aftermath of his BBQ visit, he told Sam Webb that Michigan's "family atmosphere" stood out and played it coy about where the Wolverines currently stand:
These most recent Michigan experiences reconfirmed for Wilson why he has the storied program in his top five. They’ve also caused those observing his recruitment to wonder if the Wolverines have moved up his list.
Said Wilson, “my response to that question is, Go Blue!’”
Take that how you will.
Yet another four-star lineman, CA OT Aaron Banks, is set to cut his list down to ten soon. After a better-than-expected BBQ visit, Michigan should make the cut:
"The trip to Michigan was cool," said Banks. "It was nice. It was better than I expected. The school was bigger than I expected it to be. I was with Coach (Tim) Drevno and one of his assistants. We met up with Coach (Jim) Harbaugh but didn't get to spend as much time with him. I met up with Jay Harbaugh some too. Then we went to one of the stores and got some of the new Jumpman gear."
Banks plans to enroll early. Getting him back for an official visit will be of great importance if Michigan wants to push for his commitment.
Oh, and Scout's main analyst in SEC country, Chad Simmons, is projecting that Michigan will get four-star OG TJ Slaton:
This is probably the toughest one out of this group. Slaton likes to keep to himself, a lot about his recruitment is unknown, and he could end up at a number of program. Today though, over six months out, Michigan is the favorite. The Wolverines landed his good friend, teammate Kai-Leon Herbert over the summer, and this only helps UM. Herbert made his mind up when him and Slaton were in Ann Arbor a couple of months ago. Clemson is in this, Florida State is there, and we will see what Slaton does this fall in terms of visits.
While Slaton isn't a lock, he's kept Michigan on top for a while now despite seeing other schools. There's a very real chance Michigan picks up three more elite O-line prospects, at which point one or two current commits might take a look around. No matter how it shakes out, it's hard to see a way in which Michigan doesn't have a great finish at OL.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
M-MSU Battle For Martin?
Four-star IA WR Oliver Martin had to wait to take visits because of baseball season, then saw the two schools considered the favorites to land him, Michigan and Michigan State, in quick succession earlier this month. 247's Steve Wiltfong caught up with Martin's father, who said he "really liked both of them for completely different reasons." Time to play the always-reliable* Quote Comparison Game:
"He feels really good about Michigan," the elder Martin said. "Felt really good about the whole experience. We stopped off at the M-Den and we kind of went crazy, got shirts, hats, coats for everybody."
"Coach (Mark) Dantonio is completely different than Coach Harbaugh, but is still likable and is respected," Martin said. "Oliver feels good about Coach (Terrence) Samuel the receivers coach there. They have a good rapport. Coach Samuel contacts him quite a bit and they've been able to establish a good rapport.
I think that's advantage: Michigan, but it's tough to tell; mostly I enjoyed the "but is still likable" qualification for Dantonio. Oregon is still a threat for Martin, who will take an official to Eugene in September, but at the moment this looks like a Michigan-MSU battle.
Four-star CT WR Tarik Black was considered a Notre Dame lean heading into the BBQ, but Michigan reportedly did quite well with him on his visit. Incidentally, Black set up his first official visit this week, and it's not to South Bend, per 247's Tom Loy:
While he has a top six picked out including Notre Dame, Michigan, Alabama, Auburn, Stanford and UCLA, only one of those schools is guaranteed an official visit at this point.
Black tells Irish247 that he will be in Ann Arbor on Sept. 3 for an official visit to Michigan. He will be on campus when the Wolverines open the season against Hawaii. That will be two consecutive trips to Michigan, as his final summer trip was to Ann Arbor for the annual BBQ in August.
Word after the BBQ that the coaches are considering taking four receivers in the class seems pretty relevant right now.
Hudson Now A Composite Four-Star
Here's a little 247 Composite quirk. When James Hudson committed to Michigan on August 8th, Scout ranked him as their #32 DE. Shortly after Hudson's commitment, Scout changed Hudson's position to DT to more accurately reflect where he'll play in college, and while they kept him in approximately the same overall position, he's their #28 DT because there are fewer four-star tackles on Scout.
Since Hudson's position ranking technically improved, his 247 Composite rating went from the wrong side to the right side of the 3/4-star fringe. It's a quirk of the formula instead of an indication Hudson's stock is on the rise, but we'll happily call him a four-star now.
Meanwhile, Steve Lorenz's latest at the Freep features Hudson going into detail on the roles for all the current defensive line commits:
"I'll be playing the three-technique as an interior pass rusher," he said of his role. "It's something I talked a lot about with Coach Mattison while I was in town over the weekend. I'd be playing next to Rashan Gary and would be the hammer on the inside. Corey (Malone-Hatcher) is a guy who can stand up or put his hand down. Phillip (Paea) is a bulldog in the middle. Aubrey (Solomon) is a 6-3 monster that will do some damage and Luiji (Vilain) is the quicker, longer guy around the edge. I think we're going to compliment [sic] each other really well."
While we've assumed Rashan Gary will eventually play extensive snaps on the interior, the way Michigan has recruited on the defensive line leaves open the possibility they can keep him on the edge at SDE—the spot where he might be the biggest matchup nightmare. Hudson is certainly DT-sized; The Wolverine saw him at a scrimmage last week, and while he didn't play much, he said he's now 6'6", ~290 pounds.
It's getting tougher and tougher to consider Leonard Taylor a real 2018 commit. The four-star TE/DL made a surprise pledge to Michigan at the spring game, but has since mentioned multiple times that he won't make a "final" decision until his senior year, and this is the list of games he told 247's Bill Kurelic he plans to see this fall:
“I’m going to go to Ohio State when they play Indiana,” Taylor said. “I’m going to Penn State-Ohio State (at Penn State). I’m going to Notre Dame-Michigan State (at Notre Dame), and I’m going to Michigan-Ohio State (at Ohio State). I’m going to try to get to a game at Tennessee too.”
That's a whole lot of Ohio State, and not one game at Michigan Stadium.
Instead of going through the get-off-my-lawn, what's-the-definition-of-commitment song and dance, let's acknowledge that Taylor is holding a spot for now—which both he and the coaches seem fine with—and, like M's coaches, will continue to stay open to the recruiting process. I'm guessing the coaches knew when they accepted Taylor's commitment that their best chance at ultimately landing him would be to get a commitment early and hang on for the inevitable pull back from OSU, where Taylor's uncle played his college ball. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, but this early in the process the strategy comes with minimal risk.
While there's a long way to go, I should note Michigan is recruiting 2019 blue chip Belleville OT Devontae Dobbs as a defensive lineman, according to the TMI staff. His dad, a huge Michigan fan, painted a rosy picture of M's outlook with the rising sophomore star:
Dobbs' dad, a noted Michigan fan, was thrilled with his son's newest offer.
"He was happy, he already in love with Michigan so he just fell deeper in love with it. He was ecstatic, happy and was telling Jim Harbaugh that he had one of his books."
We have a Crystal Ball pick in for Dobbs to Michigan.
Four-star MS OLB Willie Gay, an Ole Miss commit, has set an official visit to Michigan. Lorenz has been adamant that Gay is very unlikely to end up here, so we'll see if the visit even materializes.
Michigan is seemingly done recruiting weakside DEs, which makes the news that four-star UT WDE Langi Tuifua, an Oregon commit, is considering an official visit to Ann Arbor seem odd when taken at face value. Tuifua, however, is high school teammates with coveted four-star DT Jay Tufele; if they end up with enough spots, perhaps Michigan is trying to make a package deal to give them an edge over Tufele's other top schools, Ohio State and Utah.
*lol just kidding