this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Ah, I see you entrusted the future of your defensive backfield to Chris Richards
and Johnny Sears, and offered Carson Butler. You shouldn't have done that.
With the additions of two defensive tackles—the only sore spot really left in the class—the 2013 haul is starting to take shape, and this shape is looking pretty darn shapely. Granted we thought the same last year when thousands of 4-star linebackers and linemen burst out of their Ohio prisons to join the Wolverines, leaving—we thought—the staff several months to chase down a few 5-stars. Those didn't really materialize, and might not again. But it's just
November … August … Early JUNE (!) and there's 20 guys in the next class, and they're mostly blue chips, and unless ESPN has done something drastic to their scores I think an entire legion of superheroes just pledged to my alma mater.
If there's any doubt that Brady and Hokesters (this is a terrible name for our coaching staff) are killin' it on the recruiting trail, consider this is now the second year in a row that a board thread has been started to ask is this the Best Michigan Football Recruiting Class Ever?
M-Wolverine beat me to it, but the gold standard here is still 1995—in a word: CharlesWoodsonTomBradyeeeeeeeeee. Also Renes, the Williamses, James Hall, Tai Streets, Aaron Shea… That class was the core of the national championship squad and populated NFL rosters for the next decade. (SI Vault--->)
Putting Captain Hindsight on the sidelines for a moment, the anecdotal standard is 1998. That class was sterling at the top, headlined by Drew Henson (who had nine confirmed miracles by October of his senior year). Before pos-bang threads existed, the fanbase-wide giggle session from Henson playing catch with David Terrell in Central Park nearly toppled the young Internet. Marquise Walker (9th best player in the country overall according to Sporting News), Justin Fargas, Cato June, and Hayden Epstein were too considered Parade All Americans. LB/DL Dave Armstrong and LB Victor Hobson were close. Tom Lemming of Prep Football Report and Bobby Burton of the National Recruiting Advisor named Michigan 1st in the land; Allen Wallace of Superprep put us behind UCLA because they had DeShuan Foster.
(Also in 1998, 548-year-old Brooks MacCleod Bollinger beheaded the Kurgan, won the Prize, and signed as a freshman with Wisconsin.)
The 2013 class isn't expected to be so rich at the top, and thus is unlikely to win the same beauty contest, but it's deeper, still naming high-three star types at the point of the list where '98 was tapering off into French Canadians. The ratings are bound to shift—down as do most early commits as more of their classmates are evaluated and placed on the board, and various uncommitted Top 25 recruits leap toward this year's shiniest object—but at this point there's already enough of it to start, you know, thinking about what all that promise actually promises.
Since '98 and other successful classes occurred before humanity shifted its considerable intellect from inventing things and pondering the meaning of our existence so we could figure out how teenagers work, there is no easily accessible written record from that era with which to compare, except the little from DeSimone. Certainly 5-stars and whatnots existed before 2002, but that's where the Rivals and Scout databases begin, so we shall too.
2002 to 2013 to Various Scouting Systems
Again, I'm throwing out hindsight for now because the Class of 2013s are currently 75 percent of their way through high school, an accurate assessment of their actual abilities not available until 2017 or '18. The class before them hasn't stepped on campus yet. Half of the class before that are redshirt freshmen right now. As to the rest, yes, individual players often vastly under- or out-performed their rankings. Insert usual essay about recruiting in the aggregate is legit yo.
You've seen the way I like to represent this before, putting the classes beside each other with heat-colored levels. I'm not sure if I explained why they're lined up that way; the idea is you can see how many blue chips (4-star and higher) on the left side of the mid-line, and assess how many depth guys and fliers (3-star and lower) you're filling in with. The yellow-green guys (5.7 to Rivals, 79 to ESPN) seem to be 40-60 to become solid Big Ten-level starters or better; the ones over the 4-star threshold something more like 55-45, thus I'm trying to represent a kind of mid-point.
Clicking embiggens, but you can see what's causing the excitement already: Scout is very bullish on the recruits Michigan has verbals from already, and ESPN has either dramatically changed their ranking system or somebody slipped them a press release about Shane Morris taking practice shots at Jake Butt. The numbers are on a Googledoc if you can see if/where I went wrong with this.
At this point we allow Captain Hindsight back into the room…
The captain says 2008 is going to be rough.
This is that column on the spreadsheet where I tried to reassign star ratings based on each player's performance. A 5-star is a major-impact player who probably got drafted in the 3rd round or better; a 4-star is an All Big Ten sort—the RVBs of the world, or a player like Kovacs who's a star but has an exploitable hole in his game (yes, Kovacs was added to 2008). A 3-star is a contributor but in a just a guy way, a 2-star someone we didn't want in there (think Savoy or Banks). The "NR"s are mostly injuries or early early attrition but not the later stuff; if we got a good look at what a guy can do I rated him, e.g. Mallett is still in there for 2007, since coaching change losses aren't likely to apply to us any time soon. This isn't supposed to correlate with performance; it's meant to see what recruiting classes yield.
What struck me most is how long we seem to have been going without those 4-star-like dudes, exactly the type of guys these last two classes have been filled with, and which characterized '95. I too hope some of the more epic blue chips we're after sign up, but even if they don't, the 20 guys in this class are already among the better ones signed in the last decade, and it's not out of the question that they may some day be the best.
This was Brady Hoke's first year at Michigan. Music was awesome because a) I was a sophomore in high school, and b) it was just way better than the music when you were a sophomore in high school. Michigan players wore deep dark navy mesh jerseys that stretched tight over massive shoulder pads and neck rolls, and exposed their abs. Most of the incoming Class of 2012 was born. And in 1995, Lloyd Carr took over for Gary Moeller in a move most everybody thought was temporary.
Had the internet at the time been more than BBSs that you logged into over 14.4 baud modems the general fan meltdown might have been better saved for posterity. A lot of folks thought Bo oughtta step back in; I mean you don't go from Schembechler, to his longtime heir apparent, to the affable defensive backs coach with a penchant for quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. Some tweed jacket might have said it was like going from Henry (Plantagenet), to Richard, to John.*
* OT rules don't cover comments section, so if any of you want to talk Angevins, it's on!
As an officially interim guy (and not a candidate in the initial coaching search), Lloyd built his staff more like a Luke Fickell than an Urban Meyer: no big-name hires, no extra budget, just mostly everybody from the '92 shakeup moving up. The RB coach (Fred Jackson) became the offensive coordinator. The DL coach (Greg Mattison) became the DC. Longtime linebackers coach (really our recruiting guru before that was a coaching position) Bobby Morrison became OL coach, replacing the departed Les Miles. Oregon State DL coach Brady Hoke, hired only a few months ago by Moeller, whom Mattison knew from Western Michigan and Lloyd knew as the dude who was always hanging around Michigan's summer camps, was given just the DEs. Mattison retained the DTs. Carr's additions were DBs coach Vance Bedford out of Oklahoma State, and former Michigan receiver Erik Campbell, who had been an RBs coach with Ball State and Cuse but was given the receivers.
The cupboard at the time wasn't bare, but there were some key losses. Michigan would have to replace senior QB Todd Collins, starting RB Tyrone Wheatley, All-American CB Ty Law, and 1st round draft pick OT Trezelle Jenkins, as well as heart and soul linebacker Steve Morrison. Also gone was nose guard Tony Henderson, OLBs Trevor Pryce, Matt Dyson, and Kerwin Waldroup, and starting short corner Deon Johnson. Still, we were Michigan fans and expected better than 4-loss seasons.
It started in the Pigskin Classic, which back then was the only game that could be played Week 1, and the only way a team could play 12 regular season games. By some golden poop magic, Scott Dreisbach led Michigan back from down 17-0 to 17-12. That afternoon I was in driver's ed, doing the last training hours I needed to graduate, and we were listening to Brandstatter on the radio; at this point the instructor very kindly had me pull over in a Wendy's because I looked like I had to pee. Then on 4th down with 4 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Dreisbach found Mercury Hayes in the corner of the end-zone.
The rest of that year wasn't so 2011-ish. Dreisbach, a Henne-level recruit, was freshman-y maddening for five games, then he got hurt and a walk-on, Brian Griese, finished the last 9 games. Meanwhile the defense got so banged up that only one guy (Jarrett Irons) managed to start all 13 games (true freshman cornerback Charles Woodson, who earned his first start in Game 2, is the only other guy to start 12). We lost to Northwestern because Northwestern was weirdly doing that to everyone in those days (at the time I didn't feel this). We lost to Michigan State after MSU caught a late 4th down pass out of bounds and a yard shy of the marker, and this was ruled a 1st down. We lost to Penn State after they executed a perfect fake FG late. But Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards to beat No. 2 Ohio State (WH)…
…and it was good. Carr was given the job, and despite all expectations to the contrary just a year earlier, his assistants got to keep theirs. Over time he also won over most of the fans who'd doubted him.
Does this mean we'll have a functional DL? There's a story here that's not part of the Emerson-Quoting Good Guy Makes Good storyline, nor the Omigod-This-New-Cornerback(!) storyline. Behind the new Era of Good Feelings was some particularly good news coming from the defensive side of the ball. Michigan in '95 held opponents to 93.2 rushing yards per game, and 88.1 ypg in a Big Ten at its apex. This was an improvement from 112.3 ypg in 1994, which also happened to lead the Big Ten. Michigan in '95 also led the Big Ten in total defense (314.5 ypg) for the first time since 1990. Points per game dropped from 19.3 (38th) to 12.0 (14th). This was despite losing Law and much of the front seven, and changing formation. Carr in '94 was running something like the 3-4 thing that was in vogue during the late exposed-belly period, and looked more like a 5-2. Missing all those 3-4 OLBs, Mattison switched to something like a 4-3 over that let murderous dudes with names like Steele and Irons and Swett and Sword hunt down ballcarriers.
This plays out a bit in the percentage of Michigan's tackles made by position:
|DBs||King, Sanders, Anderson, Thompson, Winters, Noble, Johnson, Law||39.4%||King, Winters, Ray, Hankins, Thompson, Woodson||37.2%|
Since interior DL is where we're petrified this year, let's look there. Mattison turned William Carr into a double-team-demanding nose guard, freeing Jason Horn to go from All-Conference to All-American. Horn was the first of four All-American interior defensive linemen on that team: Carr in '96, Glen Steele in '97, and (then redshirting) Rob Renes in '99. From there they turned Bowens, and then James Hall into rush WDEs, and Ben Huff and Josh Williams into quiet pluggers on some of the great Michigan defenses. They recruited the next generation of specialty guys: Rumishek (who as All-Conference as a senior), Shawn Lazarus, Eric Wilson, Norman Heuer, and the chef doeuvre of the Hoke school for hard-nosed nobody DTs, Grant Bowman.
The positional tackle rates for the 2001-'02 defense is eerily similar to another of recent memory:
|8||DBs||June, Curry, Drake, Shaw, Marlin, LeSueur, B.Williams, Howard||44.7%||June, Shaw, Drake, Combs, Curry, LeSueur, M.Jackson||42.5%||Kovacs, T.Gordon, Carvin, Floyd, Avery, T-Woolf Countess||46.3%|
Obvious difference between future Jet Victor Hobson and Ryan/Beyer – it seems Demens, RVB and Kovacs split that difference. Maybe the SDE thing is a trend but this doesn't say very much; Dan Rumishek was All Big Ten in 2001, and yet wasn't the guy making tackles. From this however I think I'm starting to get an idea of what a Hoke defensive line is supposed to do. The defense pivots on the SDE and NT, and then everybody collapses toward the ball with the DT handling cutbacks and the WDE a common late arrival.
Mattison left in '96, and Hoke, who took over the whole D-line in '97, departed for Ball State after the 2002 season. By then he'd helped recruit planetoids Gabe Watson, Larry Harrison and Alex Ofili, as was as the too-high Pat Massey, but their generation didn't take over until 2004, when Bowman, Heuer and Stevens graduated and Michigan went with a 3-4 again to give LaMarr Woodley a running start (the only other time in memory before this year that Michigan replaced all three of its interior DL).
Unfortunately I can't provide any better evidence that the return of the 1995 D-Line staff will be enough to make a functional defensive line out of Q-Wash, Campbell, Ash, Brink, and some freshmen. But the track record is real.