OR: JABRILL PEPPERS AND COMFORTING UNCERTAINTY
Three receivers make this post. This guy isn't one of them.
For the first time in years, Michigan's depth chart isn't patched together with duct tape and hope, so the incoming freshmen of 2014 don't have as many opportunities for early playing time as past classes. This is worth celebrating, especially when one particular freshman is poised to make a big impact at a position with some experienced depth anyway.
After Jabrill Peppers, there isn't a clear role for any of the incoming freshmen, and getting this list up to five involved a few reach picks. Again, this is good. Without further ado, here's the list.
1. JABRILL PEPPERS, CB/KR/PR (6'1, 210; 5*, 247 Composite #1 ATH/CB)
Surprise! Despite the presence of four older cornerbacks with significant game experience (Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling), Peppers is simply too talented to keep off the field. He should see immediate time in Michigan's nickel package, either as the nickelback or playing on the outside with Countess in the slot, and as the season progresses he'll challenge Taylor for a starting spot—with his size, athleticism, and ability in run support, Peppers is an ideal fit on the boundary.
With apologies to Fearless Leader, I believe Peppers will make an instant impact in the return game, as well. While Dennis Norfleet consistently threatened to break long returns, they rarely materialized last year. Michigan had just one kickoff return of 40+ yards (T-89th nationally) and none of 50+; just two punt returns went for 20+ (T-58th), one 30+, and zero 40+. Averages were middling at best: 49th in kickoff returns and 91st in punt returns. Fielding kickoff returns, at the very least, would be a great way to get Peppers the ball without overwhelming him with too much responsibility. If he has a role on offense this year, it'll likely be limited to just a handful of plays.
2. FREDDY CANTEEN, SLOT (6'1, 170; 4*, #41 WR)
Canteen is the player going solo/the one with insanely quick feet
Slot receiver is one of a small number of spots with total uncertainly on the depth chart. Just two players return there: Norfleet (six career "catches" that were actually end-arounds) and sophomore Da'Mario Jones, who only saw time on special teams last year. While Doug Nussmeier may have a different outlook, thus far the coaches have been hesitant to give Norfleet a significant role. A relative unknown committed to Central Michigan before Michigan came calling, Jones never rose above middling three-star even after flipping his commitment. This spot is wide open.
Enter Freddy Canteen, who went from completely off the radar when his high school didn't play actual games in 2012 to a hot camp commodity with ever-rising rankings in 2013. At 6'1, he's got the size this coaching staff covets, and his route-running is very advanced for an incoming freshman. On top of that, he's got speed to burn and a phenomenal name. What more can one ask for? It wouldn't surprise me at all if Canteen, an early enrollee, is the starter in the slot from day one.
3. IAN BUNTING, TE/FUNCHESS (6'7, 233; 4*, #11 TE)
Photo credit: J. Geil/Chicago Sun-Times
Bunting wouldn't have cracked this list a couple weeks ago; then Jake Butt went down with a torn ACL. Now Michigan is down to one tight end that actually catches passes, and that's only if you believe Devin Funchess is still a tight end. AJ Williams is almost exclusively a blocker (and he's still working on that), while Jordan Paskorz is a former linebacker without a catch to his name. Khalid Hill comes off a redshirt and could factor in as an H-back, but that's about it as far as tight end depth goes. There's room for another pass-catcher.
The question is whether or not Bunting will be at all ready to put his hand in the dirt; even in high school, he did most of his damage split out wide. At 233 pounds (on a 6'7 frame), he needs to bulk up significantly to be able to hold his own as a blocker. As an enormous receiver with great hands, however, he can at least see the field as a third-down/red-zone specialist; putting him on the field with Funchess poses major matchup problems for opposing defenses.
4. BRYAN MONE, NT (6'4, 328; 4*, #8 DT)
Another player on the list due to injury on the current roster, Mone could be forced into duty at nose tackle if Ondre Pipkins is limited in his return from a torn ACL. The only other true NT on the roster is redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst, who was listed at 270 pounds on last year's roster.
Mone's stock fell from near-consensus top-50 player to borderline top-100 prospect (or, in Rivals' case, flat-out three-star) after he looked overweight and out of shape at the Under Armour game. Mone put on a ton of weight in a short period of time before his senior season and it clearly affected his conditioning. Luckily for Michigan, he's enrolled early, so efforts to turn bad weight into good are already underway. It's highly unlikely Mone is ready to play a major role, but Michigan might need him to hold his own in sporadic rotation snaps and short-yardage situations.
5. MICHAEL FERNS, ILB (6'3, 235; 4*, #6 ILB)
Another early enrollee, Ferns isn't likely to see much early action on defense. James Ross and Desmond Morgan have the two ILB spots locked down, and both have viable backups with playing experience in Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden. If there's an injury, however, Ferns is the incoming linebacker best suited to see the field with his size and status as an EE.
Ferns also fits right in on special teams—with his athleticism, he could make an immediate impact on coverage units. This will be a frustrating way to burn a redshirt if Ferns doesn't get some in-game experience at linebacker, but it's inevitable that the coaches will burn a linebacker's redshirt for special teams, and it may as well be the one most ready to see the field.
HONORABLE MENTION: WRs DRAKE HARRIS & MOE WAYS
Both Harris and Ways look like college-ready receivers; Harris benefits from enrolling early, while Ways has the bulk and blocking ability to see the field as a freshman. They'd be higher on the list if playing time on the outside wasn't so hard to come by. Funchess and Jehu Chesson should lock down the starting spots, Amara Darboh is another starting candidate now that he's healthy, and two other options come off redshirts in Jaron Dukes and Csont'e York.
Harris is coming off a hamstring injury that cost him his entire senior season. Ways made great strides from his junior to senior seasons but could still use some, er, seasoning. It'd be great if Michigan was able to redshirt both of these guys, especially if Canteen can also contribute on the outside.
Signing Day: It Happened, I Guess
OFFICIALLY OURS NOW
By the time I was able to get my laptop to start yesterday*, Michigan had already received LOIs from every committed prospect, and Malik McDowell had announced his intention to attend Michigan State. Brandon caught up with all the freshly inked signees on Tuesday night; other than the usual coachspeak-filled presser, there was little else of note to happen on the recruiting front yesterday for the Wolverines.
Of course, there's the McDowell situation, which is a mess. He committed to MSU in a ceremony at Southfield High School. His father attended, though he's still not a big fan of the decision; his mother did not. As of now, McDowell's LOI remains unsigned, and potentially could for a while:
“I’m not legally able to do it because I’m not the custodial parent,” Greg [McDowell, Malik's father] told The Detroit News, noting that Malik is only 17. “[Joya Crowe, Malik's mother] has to sign it and I have to sign it, too. I don’t know when it will happen. Malik has to handle that with his Mom. I’m willing to do whatever my son wants. It’s been a long process and an uneasy process.
“That’s something he’ll have to deal with, because at the end of the day it’s all about him and he has to work it out.”
State's coaches sounded confident that he'll be a Spartan eventually—if worst comes to worst, McDowell doesn't even need a LOI in order to get his scholarship and enroll in the fall, though that leaves MSU in the unenviable position of hoping he sticks to his commitment without any binding document.
Could Michigan potentially get back into his recruitment in the meantime? It's highly unlikely. Malik is obviously intent on going to MSU; if he's forced to compromise with his mother, FSU and OSU are also possibilities—and there's also the matter of whether or not the coaches would want a player who may not really want to be in the program. Usually in these types of situations, the prospect eventually gets his wish, and that's what I expect to happen here.
As for actual newsworthy bits regarding Michigan's commits, there's one worth reprinting: Drake Harris, who missed his senior season with a torn hamstring, is "feeling more and more 100 percent," according to Jeff Hecklinski, and should be healthy for spring practice.
[Hit THE JUMP for a great Bo Schembechler story, Bo Pelini's unusual recruiting methods, lolTimBeckman, actual evidence that tweeting at recruits doesn't work, and more.]
Left: The Perfect Spartan [Fuller]. Right: Drake Harris [Josh Hemholdt/Rivals]
Tomorrow is Signing Day. If you live in the state of Michigan, that means you'll be hearing from your nearest Spartan about their Top 25, better-than-Michigan's (on one of the four sites) class, and how they always get the best player in the state no matter how far the definition of that must be stretched to achieve it.
2012-'13: Return of the Normal
Left: Burbridge, Funchess and Ojemudia. Right: Shane Morris; yes we got him a better hat.
|Touted Recruits||Head to Head||Signee Rankings|
|2013||5||1||1||3||2||1,2,3,6,7,11,13, 17||4, 8, 14|
Michigan wins: James Ross, Ben Braden, Dennis Norfleet, Matt Godin, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Mario Ojemudia, Terry Richardson, Devin Funchess, Shane Morris (though extremely early), Wyatt Shallman, and David Dawson
MSU wins: Aaron Burbridge, Jon Reschke, Dennis Finley
Elsewhere: DT Danny O'Brien (Tennessee), OT Steve Elmer (ND)
MSU never got around to offering Jourdan Lewis before that legendary February commitment blitz. In both of these classes once Michigan was done with what they wanted there just wasn't much left.
MSU's solitary victory in 2012 was Burbridge, who tired of Michigan's wait-'n-see approach with his academic eligibility. Both of State's head-to-head 2013 wins were guys Michigan gave extremely cursory offers after they were already committed to MSU: legacy Jon Reschke, and OT Dennis Finley, a Cass Tech kid who was passed on earlier and then was offered during David Dawson's vision quest.
|Touted Recruits||Head to Head||Signee Rankings|
|2014||2||0 or 1||1 or 2||3||0 or 1||3,4,8,14||(1?),5,7,10,16,24,25|
This year the two mitten rivals had more than a few battles outside of the state. Montae Nicholson had lots of national offers and was a Michigan target until Michigan told him they were filled up at his position in August. Wisconsin DT Craig Evans, who flipped from the Badgers to the Spartans "not because of academics" yesterday, claimed a doubtable Michigan offer. On the flipside Michigan's entire LB class (Michael Ferns, Chase Winovich and Noah Furbush, plus our in-state legacy) and Juwaan Bushell-Beatty held unrequited offers to attend MSU.
But this isn't about that. It's about who owns the State of Michigan. And that is…
Head-to-Head Wins for MSU:
- If DL Malik McDowell chooses MSU (against his parents' wishes) they would have one.
Head-to-Head Wins for Michigan:
|Marshall on the sidelines during Seaholm's late playoff comeback. [Me!!!]|
- WR Drake Harris: Committed to MSU as 2-sport athlete, switched to Michigan when he decided on football.
- WDE Lawrence Marshall: Committed to OSU, then was thought an MSU lock, then switched to Michigan last spring. "The best players in Michigan go to Michigan" will go in bucket of all-time Sparty trolls. Other offers: Neb, Okla, Ole Miss. Bama and USC interest, but no offers.
- WLB Jared Wangler: A 2-star with offer from…LSU?--oh right, he's Johnny Wang's kid. Was first a Penn State commit over MSU (also Cincy and Yale), who flipped on the offer to dad's school.
Michigan Commit who Michigan State Didn't Offer:
- WR Mo Ways: MSU coaches visited, wanted him to camp again before extending their offer. ND coaches came that day too. He took an unofficial to M right after those meetings, got an offer, and pulled the trigger. Iowa, Rutgers were other offers, OSU, NWern were interested too.
Michigan State commits who Michigan didn't offer:
- ATH (WR/CB) Jalen Watts-Jackson: SMSB camp offer, previously just had EMU and CMU interest. My neighbor's kid plays with Jalen at OLSM, and apparently he was the kid throwing the ball around on my street all the time; I didn't pay attention because I had no idea he was a D-I recruit before it got too cold, so I have nothing to offer.
- LB Byron Bullough: Is a Bullough.
- NT David Beedle: MAC offers, committed on offer after SMSB camp.
- LB Deon Drake: Cass Tech kid Michigan passed on. Knee issues last summer.
- OL Nick Padla: Illinois, MAC offers. M never showed interest.
- TE Matt Sokol: Illinois and Wisconsin sent offers, Michigan never got involved.
Guys who went somewhere else:
CB Damon Webb: Urban getting the top-rated Cass Tech kid would be like Michigan doing the same from Glenville.
- OL Tommy Doles: Academic-minded, early on looked like a Michigan lock; seems like there was a mutual parting last spring. MSU was interested, but never in it.
- If Malik chooses OSU or FSU he goes here.
- DE Jhonathan Williams: MSU was involved as a two-sport before he committed to Mizzou. ND flipped him in late November. Michigan had an offer in after losing Hand.
2015: The Year of Hover Cars and Mr. Fusion
Is next year! Great heavy this is scott.
Power laces: alright!
So far MSU has commitments from OT/DT Kyonta Stallworth, CB Tyson Smith, and Jayru Campbell if he can right himself, but none of those were really Michigan targets. Campbell's Cass Tech teammates RB Michael Weber and OT Joshua Alabi both seem to be MSU leans at this point; again, Michigan hasn't been as involved. The big battle will be over Brian Cole, one of the country's top cornerbacks, and Michigan State seems to be in good position there right now. The other in-stater being fought over is SAM-like object Tyriq Thompson. I reiterate my completely non-professional preference that they offer Brother Rice QB Alex Malzone now.
Damien Harris Fallout: Back In It For Mike Weber?
2015 five-star RB Damien Harris decommitted from Michigan this week. After Al Borges—his primary recruiter—was fired, Harris decided he needed to take a step back and explore his options, though his mother says Michigan is still on top, per Sam Webb ($):
“The reason he came to this decision is he felt like when he committed, at the time, we felt like it was the right decision even though it was early,” she explained. “Months later he has been thinking and thinking, ‘I didn’t really go and look at other places probably like I should have. I didn’t consider other places like I should have.’ Even though Michigan is #1, and that hasn’t changed, he just wants to make sure he doesn’t have any regrets when he gets ready to enroll. He just wants to make sure that he didn’t leave any stone unturned and wants to make sure he didn’t miss out on anything, even though he knows Michigan is still his #1. That’s all. He is just making sure that if he was to visit other places, he wasn’t going to regret not taking the full experience.”
Meanwhile, a certain despicable portion of the fanbase* isn't helping Michigan's cause. Harris has taken a lot of heat on Twitter for his decommitment and his coach told TomVH that could be a factor in his ultimate decision ($):
“People need to back off of him [on Twitter]. He’s a 16-year-old kid. People are attacking him on there,” [Madison Southern coach Jon] Clark said. “You have grown men who are way out of line, and Michigan fans better ease up or they’re going to push him away from Michigan. The coaches aren’t; the fans are.
“The only impact a fan ever has on a kid is a negative one; that’s it. There’s not a fan out there that has a positive impact on this kid.”
To state the blitheringly obvious: DON'T DO THIS. I realize/hope this doesn't apply to 99% of you, but nothing you're going to do as a fan—positive or negative, in person or on social media—is going to make a positive difference in a prospect's recruitment. Leave the recruiting to the coaches and, as a general life rule, leave harassing high school students to... nobody. Nobody should do that.
Anyway, with Harris opening up his recruitment, Michigan has rekindled their interest in 2015 four-star Cass Tech RB Mike Weber, per GBW's Josh Newkirk ($):
“I talked with (Nussmeier) for a half-hour on the phone. He is real excited about recruiting me,” Weber told GoBlueWolverine. “He told me it was crazy that Michigan stopped recruiting me. So when he got there he was telling me how he really wanted me (at Michigan). It made me open my eyes back up to Michigan.
“Michigan is back on the radar.”
Weber named a top five of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Tennessee (in no particular order); the Spartans and Vols have been the presumed favorites for a while now, though the renewed Michigan interest could change that. It didn't take long for Weber to recipricate that interest, too—he was the only prospect in attendance at last night's Iowa game, which he seemed to appreciate. Whether or not things work out with Harris, Weber would be a great addition to the class; he's been very productive against solid competition for the last two years and looks great on film.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Malik McDowell, new 2015 offers—including a long-awaited one to a California DE—the final Rivals250, and more.]
Thanks to multiple sources including Tim Sullivan, 247, and multiple Twitter accounts of recruits themselves, the visitor list for today’s game has been assembled and is pretty respectable. I was able to touch base with some of the players leading up to today’s game.
Grand Rapids (MI) Christian WR Drake Harris – Harris has been hampered by a hamstring injury throughout his senior season and he told me it’s been horrible having to just watch his team. He’s enjoyed watching his team succeed but obviously would rather be on the field. He will be in attendance for the Nebraska game and will be wearing his recruiting hat.
Kenton (OH) LB Noah Furbush – Furbush is a very keep-to-himself kind of kid. He is one of the few recruits I have never had any contact with. He doesn’t do much as far as interviews go and also isn’t much for social media. He just does work on the field, which is actually sort of refreshing.
Warren (MI) De La Salle LB Jared Wangler – Wangler is obviously very familiar with Ann Arbor and The Big House, but a game against Nebraska is a nice draw. He’ll be in attendance with his high school teammate, quarterback Giovanni Rescigno, and his father, John.
Southfield (MI) DE Lawrence Marshall – Marshall’s season was unexpectedly cut short by an upset loss to Seaholm in the first round of the playoffs, so Lawrence can now turn all of his football attention to becoming a Wolverine. That will include checking out his future team taking on the Huskers today.
Southfield (MI) DL Malik McDowell – Like Marshall, McDowell unexpectedly has extra free time now to focus on his recruitment. He has taken some surprise visits, like one to Ohio State a couple of weeks ago, and also to East Lansing. He’ll be in Ann Arbor today, a place he’s visited most frequently, to check out Michigan’s defensive line play.
Warren (MI) De La Salle WR Brent Morris – Brent, the younger brother of current Michigan quarterback Shane Morris, will be at the game today to hopefully see big bro’s squad get a win. The younger Morris doesn’t hold any offers yet, and probably won’t receive one from Michigan, but with no offers to weigh, a preferred walk-on is a possibility for him.
Warren (MI) De La Salle QB Giovanni Rescigno – There seems to be a De La Salle theme among this visitors list and Rescigno is another Pilot that will be in attendance. Rescigno currently has no offers.
Kenton (OH) QB Grant Sherman – Sherman is the high school teammate of current Michigan commit Noah Furbush and while he currently has no offers he comes from a polished program that produced the Mauk brothers.
Jackson (MI) Lumen Christi RB Khari Willis – Willis will be taking his first visit to Ann Arbor today a week after a record breaking performance of 303 rushing yards with 5 touchdowns. Willis has a few offers from Division II schools but that will more than likely change over the next year.
Indianapolis (IN) Lawrence Central LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. – I spoke with Kirkland Jr. and he sounded very excited to check out a game at The Big House. Coach Smith checked out Kirkland in action a few weeks ago and Kirkland can’t wait to meet the rest of the coaching staff today. He really wants to tour campus and check out Michigan Stadium as much as he’s allowed to. He really hopes an offer comes at some point even if it’s not today.
Grand Blanc (MI) DB Trevon Avery – The younger brother of Courtney Avery will be in attendance today, nothing new for him as he visits regularly. He doesn’t hold any offers right now but has good size and athleticism. He’s merely a name to watch at this point.
Brownsburg (IN) OL Evan Mallory – I introduced Mallory as a name to watch back during my M Block days and he is a pretty big Michigan fan. He told me he wants to try and talk with the coaches and watch Michigan win. He feels pretty good about his relationship with the coaches so far and wants a Michigan offer above all others.
Northville (MI) OL David Moorman – I’ve spoken with Moorman before, but wasn’t able to contact him before his visit today. The last time we spoke he talked about how strong his relationship was with Coach Funk and that an offer from Michigan would be beyond special. When I asked him if a commitment would follow he level-headedly answered, “Let’s just see if they offer first.”, with a laugh.
Bloomfield Hills (MI) Brother Rice QB Alex Malzone – Malzone’s name continues to pop up among 2015 signal callers and will visit today and for the Ohio State game at the end of the month. He’s in regular contact with Coach Borges and is looking more and more like a possibility for an offer at some point.
Clinton Township (MI) Chippewa Valley DB Stefan Claiborne
Orchard Lake (MI) St. Mary’s LB Daelin Hayes
Saline (MI) QB Joshua Jackson (son of RB coach Fred Jackson)
St. Joseph (MI) DE Corey Malone-Hatcher
Orchard Lake (MI) St. Mary’s LB Joshua Ross (brother of current LB James Ross)
This GIS went much better than expected.
This feature on Wilton Speight has perhaps the least informative headline ever; that's okay, though, because it comes from The Goochland Gazette, and [keels over laughing].
Okay, pull yourself together, post rapturous blockquote:
Standing in a huddle on the sideline with his teammates just before kickoff, he towers over his running backs and offensive line by a good five inches. He gestures confidently, like a conductor fully in charge of an orchestra, wholly in tune with and in charge of his surroundings.
The next thing that strikes your attention is that beautiful spiral. Tight and wind-resistance, he hums the pigskin all over the yard, from sideline-to-sideline, completing every route in the playbook - hitches, curls, posts, outs, you name it — with uniform ease. Comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger are a given, not only because of his 6’6, 230 pound frame, but also due to his surprisingly nimble feet and his innate ability to prolong plays and spin productive downs out of would-be sacks.
CA ATH JuJu Smith was always considered a longshot to end up at Michigan, even though he'd previously scheduled an official visit for the Ohio State game. After very positive visits to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and new contender Oregon, Smith dropped the Wolverines from his list, citing their less-than-stellar performance:
JuJu Smith said he thinks Michigan is a great school, but not a fit for him. Cancelled his visit said losses caused them to drop on his list
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) November 5, 2013
Before PANIC sets in, please note that this is relatively unusual; yes, of course winning helps recruiting, but normally a team's win/loss record affects the next class more than the current one (in this case, Michigan isn't doing itself any favors for 2015). If you click through to Tom's tweet, you'll note that he responds to someone stating that Da'Shawn Hand may feel the same way with a straightforward "No, I don't think that." Along those same lines...
There is no way that I would change my mind over 1 loss, the future is bright! Go blue 〽
— Drake Harris (@drizzygetbusy01) November 5, 2013
Now, does Michigan's demoralizing loss to State potentially affect 2015 in-state recruits like Mike Weber, Josh Alabi, and Brian Cole? Absolutely. To Michigan kids who've now seen MSU take five of the last six games, the Spartans are now the state's top football program—and the most stable one. That doesn't mean they won't consider U-M—the flip side to this is a recruit sees plenty of opportunity to help bring a traditionally strong program back to the top—but at the same time, it obviously doesn't help.
Hand's Final Visit
Da'Shawn Hand's final official visit comes on Saturday when he watches 4-4 Florida take on Vanderbilt; while the Gators were once considered a potential dark horse, a season even uglier than Michigan's has robbed them of any momentum, especially with coach Will Muschamp squarely on the hot seat (while a team's record doesn't have a huge effect on most recruits, the coach recruiting them potentially not having a job next year usually does). Rivals's Mike Farrell, who's the recruiting reporter in closest regular contact with Hand, says in his latest column that he thinks Michigan holds a slight edge over Alabama ($). It's hard to see Florida jumping into the mix with Hand's announcement coming a week from today.
The M Block's Eric Rutter pens a lengthy, quote-filled feature on 2014 commit Chase Winovich, covering his season, playing both ways this year, his friendship with fellow Pennsylvanian Sterling Jenkins (both plan to visit for the OSU game), and his feelings on Hand and Malik McDowell:
Chase then went on to share his thoughts on how Michigan will close the 2014 class, focusing specifically on defensive line prospects Malik McDowell and DaShawn Hand. "I have a gut feeling that Malik McDowell will go to Michigan. I'm not to sold on [DaShawn] Hand yet, but people seem pretty, pretty, really, really confident that they know their stuff and say he's headed to Michigan. So I'm going to trust them and say, yeah, I hope he's going to Michigan. But like I said, I definitely have that gut feeling on Malik McDowell." This would put the finishing touches on a strong class that ranks among the best in the country for 2014.
Winovich is apparently taking his recruiting guru cues from Sam Webb.
If you've got a 247 subscription, Clint Brewster looks at five candidates to be Michigan's next 2015 commit ($).
247 released their Crystal Ball rankings; I'm currently ranked #40 (out of 194, so... I'll take it!) for 2014 and, thanks to Michigan's early efforts, am all the way up at #16 for the class of 2015.