Asiasi-asi! Oy! Oy! Oy! [Bryan Fuller]
Our weekly roundtable.
How are our pre-season predictions on new starters and heavy rotation guys holding up? Eligible players are anyone getting significantly more snaps this year than last.
I looked back through the last few defensive UFRs and he received increasingly more snaps, hovering around +1 while being relevant on only a few plays. After Clark got hurt Kinnel seemed to be the DB of choice to take his spot and shift others around as necessary. Kinnel has also been used on special teams and blocked a kick. While he's not going to be a starter just yet (hopefully), his work load should increase, and for the moment it looks like that will come without a drop-off. I'm not thinking that anyone ever has serious doubts about whether he could contribute on this team, but he's at least met expectations so far.
On the other end of the secondary spectrum appears to be Brandon Watson. He hasn't played a ton, but he definitely saw his snaps go up for the Hawaii and Colorado games. In the UFR he was -2 and -3, respectively, for those games. He was put in the slot against Colorado for the first couple of quarters and definitely looked overmatched. He's always been a guy who could potentially succeed if he got a good jam on a WR...however, when that does not happen, he looks lost in space. With Michigan's current and future set of CBs, its not looking like Watson will see too much extra time in close games, or not on defense anyway. It looks as if he could be destined for special teams duty for the long term.
[Hit THE JUMP for MGoBlog contributors trying very hard to find something that hasn’t gone right so far.]
Hello. This post is sponsored by XFINITY, which is a space company. They'd like to take you to Mars—
It's a cable company.
Ah, so it is. Good catch. Back in my day we had to watch television on big stone tablets, but if you're an on campus student you can sign up for free(!) streaming of live sports, including BTN, to any of your gadgets. Off campus students can get both TV and internet service for $79.99 a month with no contract. Non-students, also known as "sad adults," can check out what's described by XFINITY as the "immersive X1 system"—are we sure this isn't a space company?
Fine. Can check out the immersive X1 system here.
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: challenging. 1: crazy. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
This is a 1. [Bryan Fuller]
|Amara Darboh||Sr.*||Jehu Chesson||Sr.*||Grant Perry||So.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Moe Ways||So.*||Drake Harris||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Eddie McDoom||Fr.||Kekoa Crawford||Fr.||Nate Johnson||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Sr.*|
Michigan returns the entirety of a receiving corps that was amongst the best in the country by the end of the year. Last year's preview issued both inside and outside receivers a "2" in one of a few posts that were insufficiently optimistic about Harbaugh player development. That was accurate for a bit what with Chesson's inability to get on the same page with Jake Rudock and Grant Perry's freshman deer-in-the-headlights start; by the end of the year Chesson was putting the Florida secondary to the sword and Perry was juking guys for touchdowns on the goal line.
I have no reason to put this in the post but refuse to delete it [Seth]
Chesson enters this year a player highly anticipated by NFL types, usually named one of the top five wide receivers in the country whenever someone deigns to put a list together. Meanwhile, Harbaugh has spent the last several months swearing up and down that Amara Darboh is the team's best receiver. Per anonymous Big Ten players they're kind of a big deal:
“two receivers that they have, I think they are arguably the best duo in the Big Ten.”
Also Jake Butt exists. Whoever ends up taking snaps at quarterback is going to have a good time.
OUTSIDE RECEIVER: OUT OF AFRICA, INTO ENDZONES
Time is rapidly dwindling for Tom Rinaldi's soft-focus feature on Michigan's all-African-refugee starting WR corps; it says here that by midseason their collective performance will demand one. I wish I could bet on things like this.
Let's start with JEHU CHESSON, whose single-season performance took off like no other Michigan receiver in recent memory. Last year's edition of this preview said it was "anyone's guess" who got receiver snaps other than Darboh and spent a big chunk of its time talking about Chesson's vicious run blocking. This was because Chesson was coming off a 14-catch season during which he was "imprecise" and had a Darryl-Stonum-like ability to turn reasonably well-thrown balls downfield into adventurous incompletions. Drake Harris was given nearly-equal billing based on a torrent of practice hype and a relative silence regarding Chesson.
A couple of games into the season it seemed like nothing much had changed. After the Oregon State game—in which Chesson failed to adjust to a deep ball and picked up a bad offensive pass interference call—I said he was "just not consistent enough."
Here began a parabolic upward curve that ended with The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson. Entering this season Chesson is hyped as a potential first round pick by CBS, NFL.com, and Sports on Earth. That is some kind of trajectory.
The breakout came in two stages. Against Maryland he had his first career four-reception game. He brought in a couple quick posts despite getting hit on or actually before the catch and burst open on another couple deep routes. He was overthrown on one and couldn't bring in a tough over the shoulder catch on the second. The latter was on Chesson—he didn't take the fastest path to the ball because he misjudged its flight—but all was forgiven on an eyepopping end-around:
Over the next few weeks Chesson established himself as a regular, productive receiver. From the Maryland game to Rutgers five weeks later Chesson had 16 catches, exceeding his previous season high. The 66-yard touchdown you see above was trumped by a kickoff return touchdown against Northwestern. I started comparing him to Steve Breaston. Chesson had a ton of catch-and-run chunk plays last year thanks to his speed; against Northwestern he impressively got the corner on Anthony Walker, the fastest LB in the Big Ten:
"I really feel like Jehu has everything it takes to be a great player, a great pro player," Harbaugh said ... "The only thing he was missing was tracking the deep ball and making those deep ball catches."
The lasting memory of the Utah game was a sure touchdown just evading Chesson's fingertips because he slowed down. While I thought that was the right play since he'd burned his man by yards, the lack of comfort and communication between QB and receiver was costly. There was a drop or two in there as well.
Chesson was the beneficiary of the Indiana defense and Jake Rudock's late season surge. He went off for over 200 yards, 64 of which were on a telepathic Rudock strike between four defenders. But even if you provide an Indiana discount, this was a new level for Chesson. He adjusted to a Rudock punt downfield...
...and on fourth and goal he went up and secured overtime despite getting nailed by two guys. Yes, that was just Indiana, but Chesson added 100-yard days against both Ohio State and Florida to end the year. The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson caught eyes nationally, and while yes it's nice that Chesson beat a top 15 NFL draft pick deep twice, for my money that wasn't even the best thing he did in that game. My vote goes to this incompletion:
Chesson also had a spectacular over the shoulder catch while getting interfered with. Reasonable people can disagree on which of the five spectacular things Chesson did against Florida is the best one, and there is your massive improvement in a nutshell.
How much of this was massive improvement and how much was simply being given opportunities Rudock was not affording him earlier in the year is unknown. You have to wonder what his season would have looked like with a locked-in Rudock from the drop. He wasn't any less open early:
Add in a few of those early bombs and expectations this year would be truly out of control.
Or possibly just plain accurate. Chesson has everything you want in an elite receiver. You can heap expectations on Chesson and he'll be fine with it. Chesson's an A+ dude committed to The Team The Team The Team:
Asked if he put in papers to seek information from the NFL draft advisory board this winter, Chesson nearly started laughing.
He says he's more focused on wrapping up his degree in May and finding a graduate program to enter for next year.
"Maybe it was naive, I don't know," Chesson said with a smile. "It's great to have individual success, but that's not where I get my happiness from. If I don't play and I see other guys being successful, that's great. If I feel I can help the team win, anyway I can help I'll do it."
His speed is unquestioned, and occasionally subject to absurd hype.
"People don’t realize just how fast Jehu is, said UM tight end Jake Butt. "He’s easily a 4.3 (40) guy. He might even run in the 4.2s in Indy.”
While that's only possible in the land of handheld stopwatches, Dane Brugler asserts that Chesson's a "loose athlete with galloping speed" and a "a legitimate fifth gear," and he's judging with an eye to playing in the NFL.
He's a terrific blocker. Chesson's proficiency in this department is such that you probably know what gif comes next...
...and there was little to no dropoff even as he emerged into Mario Manningham 2.0. Against Rutgers he wrecked a DE:
Michigan frequently motioned him closer to the tackle box and used him as a blocker against linebackers, generally with success. (They also lined him up as a tight end on occasion, but he almost never actually blocked in those cases.) He had 28.5 positive run points to just 8 negatives, and while a chunk of those positives were for what Chesson did with the ball in his hands every NFL scout goes out of their way to praise his work without the ball. ESPN:
Excellent effort as a blocker. Leaves it all on the field. Takes good angles and busts his tail to get into position. Big and strong enough to sustain blocks once in position. Throws his body around in order to make a block when he can't get into good initial positioning downfield. Love watching this guy play the game.
His hands are solid to good—36/38 on routine catches and 9/14 on challenging ones a year ago. He's 6'3". He's not a technician yet but if he continues on his current path it won't take him long to get there. (Brugler: "prone to body catches and needs to add polish to his route tree.") That's the last box to check.
His trajectory is straight up and he's got the physical and mental ability to scrape his ceiling. He's going to be great as long as someone's throwing it to him. All Big Ten and off the draft board by round two, it says here. The huge numbers required for postseason awards are probably off the table given the diversity of weapons Michigan has.
[After THE JUMP: Peppers! (Was addressed as a running back and is not in this post!)]
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]
X spring tidbit so far that has you unreasonably excited about Y?
Brian: Well obviously I'm going to go with Ian Bunting making waves as an enormous skillet-handed dude. This is true to the spirit of this question because all we have is one tweet. But I like the tweet.
Bunting just snagged a fastball on skinny post with one hand. took it to the house. Drew raves from his teammates. Nice ball from malzone
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 1, 2016
Rivals recently had some team tidbits that oddly and explicitly trashed Bunting's ability. If that's accurate that makes me almost as much of a sad panda as Michigan ditching the spread punt, but it's unclear what that is even based on given the timing. Last year's offseason chatter—Morris is a real contender, watch out for Lawrence Marshall, this time Joe Bolden has put it together—had very little relationship with reality, so I'm hoping that gets put in the Big Bin Of Some Anonymous Guy Is Wrong.
I'm not even expecting Bunting to have a huge impact this year since he's a flex guy and one Jake Butt is still around, but I am hoping that we see him emerge into a clear heir apparent in preparation for a two-year run as an upperclassman. There isn't a tight end on the roster with quite the receiving upside of Bunting. I mean, maybe Gentry. But you know me and Ol' Skillet Hands.
[After the JUMP: more tweets that we treat as confirmation bias of good things]
Mission accomplished. They spent fifteen frickin' minutes talking about practice (practice!) on Sportscenter.
Michigan's first spring practice is receiving live coverage on SportsCenter. pic.twitter.com/b7LU9uIRHg
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) February 29, 2016
I mean, there are many missions. But this is one mission.
Also, Dick Vitale is there, I guess? He's putting it on periscope? This makes as much sense as anything else Harbaugh-related, which is complete sense and no sense all at once?
Also in brilliant moves that someone will try to ban. Player hours are limited. Coach hours are not. So why not maximize your ability to instruct by taking advantage of the latter:
Practice has two sessions... a maize & blue. Maize began at 8am and is done. One player said they're going to the beach a 1pm
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) February 29, 2016
That is twice the individual attention for each player. That might not be practical for every practice but when they're not in pads it's an obvious win, except I haven't heard of anyone else doing this so it's apparently not that obvious.
Roster items. Blake Bars and Damario Jones are off the roster and have left the program. Per Rivals, Bars is off to law school. Not sure what Jones's next stop is, but he announced he would grad transfer on Twitter. Pretty sure that the only player to leave the program without a degree this offseason is Brian Cole.
With those departures Michigan stands at 86 scholarships accounted for, plus walk-ons-you-really-expect-to-get-scholarships Kenny Allen and Ryan Glasgow. If Dytarious Johnson does end up enrolling they'd be at 87. I think that's pretty unlikely, as I can't remember a player who couldn't sign a letter of intent who managed to get to Michigan without a pit stop at a prep school. So Michigan needs to lose one more guy before fall.
There were a number of position switches and number changes:
- John O'Korn is wearing #8, so he doesn't conflict with Peppers.
- Chase Winovich is now listed as a defensive end(?!) because his career is designed to be that of an itinerant laborer. That may be a misprint or misunderstanding; Sam Webb tweeted that he was playing SAM. More on that in a bit.
- Freddy Canteen spent all his time at WR. This kind of bouncing back and forth without seeing the field is usually not a good sign for a player's future playing time. See: Ross Taylor-Douglas.
- Mason Cole took the first snaps as a center, with Newsome at LT.
- As Harbaugh mentioned earlier, Khalid Hill is playing FB and Zach Gentry is playing TE.
- Ty Wheatley Jr. is still a tight end. He is less enormous.
- Ahmir Mitchell is starting as a WR.
A coach roster item. Harbaugh confirmed the Brian Smith hire and said he'd coach safeties with Zordich remaining with cornerbacks. I was kind of hoping for that Viney dude but you have to let Don Brown make that call.
Cease ringing the Drake Harris injury klaxons. He missed practice today… with norovirus. He should be good to go for the next one. Webb says he's up to 185; was listed at 174 last year. (The roster as a whole has not been updated with new weights, thus the absence of a "phonebooks are here!" post.)
What is a linebacker, anyway? I'll be really interested to see how the defense configures itself during the spring game. Reports that Winovich is playing SAM don't mesh with the expectation that Taco Charlton will play WDE and Peppers will still be a nickel. Or, you know, something else:
Peppers worked a great deal w/ LBs today. If 1 practice is an indicator he'll play in the box even more this year. Time will tell of course
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) February 29, 2016
Those in possession of MGoCookies for remembering stuff will remember that a recent recruiting roundup pointed out that MI LB Antjuan Simmons was told he was being recruited as a SAM and then compared to, yes, Jabrill Peppers.
To me this implies that Michigan will be altering its defense to look more like the OSUs and MSUs and PSUs of the world. Those teams mostly run "quarters", which means they have two deep safeties. Varieties of this defense that roll the safeties close to the line of scrimmage often have a coverage-oriented linebacker called "star" who walks out over the slot. That's usually the strong side, thus he is a SAM linebacker… but not the kind of SAM linebacker Jake Ryan was. Same hybrid space player, different system around him?
O'Korn hype unabated. But first let's just marvel at this:
Ken Mastrole, a quarterback coach who has worked with Rudock and O’Korn, has described O’Korn as having “off-the-chart physical intangibles"
There is a reason the "intangibles" section of every preview is a picture of a cat.
Anyway, that's from an Angelique Chengelis article featuring O'Korn's parents:
“He’s been chomping at the bit, there’s no doubt,” his father, Gary O’Korn, said this week. “He had the right attitude coming in — ‘This isn’t taking a year off, this is a year to prepare.’ He’s done well and Michigan demands that. That’s not something you really have a choice, but mentally this was where you decide, ‘Am I going to go through the motions or put myself in position to get serious?’”
By all accounts it is the latter.
Important hair update. Reuben Jones is coming for De'Veon Smith's crown:
Hydration = pic.twitter.com/AG20TMKqjC
— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) February 29, 2016
Etc.: Dan Murphy article comes with Nick Baumgardner picture that captures his soul.
Via his instagram:
"Trust in the lord with all your heart and not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" Proverbs 3:5-6 It's game day and I can't wait to watch my brothers ball tonight! I wish I could be there, but unfortunately I can't. I'll be back soon though, but in the mean time I know they will hold it down! Let's get it tonight, go blue 〽️
We have a little inside information here: it's not his hamstring and it's probably just a one-week issue.