this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Best ever. Wolverine Historian assembles 15 minutes of Keith Jackson clips, and it's as glorious as you'd think.
"my spine is still tingling" -Ace
WH's magnum opus? To date.
Get the brooms. Congrats to the softball team, which swept through their regional in three straight games. Michigan opened the weekend with a 5-0 shutout of Valpo, did the exact same thing to Cal the next day, and took out the Bears again to close out their 16th regional title.
Michigan gets Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend at Alumni for the right to go to the WCWS after the Ragin' Cajuns upset LSU. Michigan beat ULL earlier this season in Florida 3-1. That was ace vs ace as Driesenga faced off against ULL's Jordan Wallace, who was 31-7 this season with a 1.73 ERA and four Ks to every walk issued. A two run Ashley Lane homer was the difference.
ULL proceeded to stomp through the Sun Belt before falling into the elimination bracket early in their conference tourney; though they pushed through and took WKU to a winner-take-all final they could not get the job done in that. That didn't seem to affect them, as they also swept through their regional without giving up so much as a run.
Michigan should be favored, I'd guess.
Notable things said during the takeover. WTKA's annual Mott Takeover was Friday and raised almost 100k for the eponymous children's hospital. It also was an opportunity for people to say notable things on the radio. The reddest of the red meat came from Steve Everitt. Brady Hoke's pet viking took the opportunity to blast Kirk Cousins for something innocuous he said two years ago and dump on "Notre Shame," no doubt causing a tweed-jacketed Notre Dame alum driving through town to bite down so hard on his pipe that it cracked. Meat for the meat god!
In news-ish substances, Roy Manning reiterated that Jake Ryan was on track for a midseason recovery and talked up his potential replacements. On Beyer:
"He's done a great job, he really has," Manning said of Beyer. "The transition was seamless for him. He did the things that made him successful in the past. That kid really is a sharp kid. Probably one of the hardest working kids -- I think most people on the team -- hardest working kids on the entire team."
Curt Mallory noted that statements around here that nickel is really a 12th starting spot are neither balderdash nor horsehockey:
“He got the majority of the reps at the nickel back,” Mallory said of Thomas on Friday during the Mott Takeover on WTKA-AM (1050). “That position has been played in the past by not only Courtney, but also Thomas Gordon. That really is a position that’s a starting position. Our first year, I believe Courtney played 400-some snaps at that position alone.
"(Thomas is) going to be a contributor -- we’re expecting him to be a major contributor, more so at the nickel back position and we’ll see where he goes from there.”
Also, yeah, Thomas has already locked down a starting job. Borges talked up Kyle Kalis and did vaguely imply that Glasgow had a slight edge for the LG job:
"The depth chart is still in pencil there, but one guy who took the next step was Kyle Kalis," Borges said. "When he came in, he was just not ready to play yet. It was overwhelming from the systematic perspective. Not so much physically. Kyle from the first day to the last day (of spring practice) really improved his game. He's a powerful kid who can run-block and is learning the techniques better in the passing game.
"And Jack Miller, our center, did a really nice job. He's in a competitive battle with Graham Glasgow, but he kind of answered the call, so I think he's going to be a factor. Left guard, Graham Glasgow, will be part of the mix there, coupled with Ben Braden, who's as talented a lineman as we have."
Chances Michigan brings in a transfer QB are dim, so it's on Shane Morris and the other guys coaching him up:
"You can't coach him -- that's your problem, is you can't coach him," offensive coordinator Al Borges said last week. "But our kids can coach him. So if he goes out there in some offseason workouts, there's no rule against Devin Gardner showing Shane Morris what to do.
"He'll have to get it through osmosis a little bit."
This is kind of a strange thing, to think a Cass Tech player is underrated. If you'd like some confirmation that Delano Hill is pretty dang fast, he ran a 10.8 100 meter at state regionals a few days ago while also anchoring Cass's 4x100m and 4x200m relays, both of which finished first.
That is not quite Denard's 10.44 from his high school days, but it's not bad for a guy who's nearly 200 pounds and is likely to play safety. Add it to the pile of reasons to think the guy is being sold a little short.
The other ball and stick game. Baseball squeezed into the Big Ten tournament as the sixth seed, not a bad accomplishment for Erik Bakich's first year. Michigan takes on Nebraska at 3:30 Wednesday (BTN) just a few days after taking two of three from the Huskers to close out the regular season.
After all, what can go wrong with drafting a touted point guard out of your home state? In news not at all likely to make me start watching the Pistons regularly for the first time since they traded Chauncey Billups—which still kills me, I mean broke-ass inefficient Allen Iverson cumong man—the Pistons have not even talked to Trey Burke:
Later Thursday, Burke is slated for at least six more interviews with pro squads.
Does he have one with the Detroit Pistons?
"No, I don't," Burke said Thursday. "I was actually surprised. But talking to my father (and agent, Benji Burke), he said some teams do that just to not let other teams know that they're interested (in a player).
"I don't know. I don't think they're going to bring me in for an interview."
Burke measured at 6'1" at the combine, which is a couple inches taller than I thought he would. That further bolsters his case to go near the top of the draft, so the Pistons potential lack of interest is likely moot anyway. Instead, Joe Dumars will pick the guy with the fewest eyebrows.
Etc.: home video of Michigan folks stopping in at Mott. Peyton Siva tells Burke the best block ever was in fact a block and not a foul. Jeff Withey changes his tune on Mitch McGary. Michigan won't break its Adidas contract. Well… yeah.
|Alliance, OH – 6'1", 180|
|Scout||5*, #4 S, #39 overall, #2 OH|
|Rivals||4*, #12 S, #109 overall, #4 OH|
|ESPN||4*, #10 ATH, #93 overall, #4 OH|
|24/7||4*, #11 S, #80 overall, #4 OH|
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, Notre Dame|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Urban Meyer is still on him hard. Army AA. Early enrollee.|
Senior highlights can be found on hudl. They're mostly offense. Also they are impressive.
If there's one thing extensive googling of Dymonte Thomas assures you of, it's that at this very moment there is an Ohio State fan posting speculation about Dymonte Thomas opting out of his LOI to a twenty-page thread. Someone else will respond to him by pointing out Thomas is already on campus and never actually signed a LOI, and the original poster will respond "yeah, but…" and spin out his reasons for optimism in re: Dymonte Thomas. This is less speculation than dead statistical certainty.
This is kind of strange for a guy that liked Michigan so much he pulled the trigger right after the Denard After Dentist ND game, ie going on two years ago, and never gave any indication of wavering. Or at least it would for any other fanbase.
In any case, Michigan fans have been patiently waiting for and OSU fans derangedly pining for Thomas because he is an Electric Athlete. I do recommend those hudl highlights linked above, which consist mostly of Thomas putting the jets on at running back and leaving chasers yards in the dust. Despite missing most of three games he put up 1,270 yards at 7.3 a pop, largely by doing this:
What He Does Has the capability to score a touchdown anytime he touches the football. Five of Thomas’ touchdown runs went for 50 or more yards. His one TD catch was for 57 yards.
There's one where he decides to split the safeties and the safeties find out their angles have been calibrated so badly that neither gets within five yards of the kid. I expected at least one of 'em to take their helmet off, quit football forever, and fade away as he walks out of the stadium, but the clip doesn't extend long enough for me to test that hypothesis.
That's the kind of thing that gets this kind of quote deployed:
“He has given the program so much and carries himself the right way at all times on and off the field. I’ve heard so many other coaches and even college coaches say he’s one of the most electrifying athletes they’ve ever seen on a football field.” — Ed Miley
Did we mention that Thomas started as a freshman, was also a wrestler and picked up MLB draft interest? Guys like Thomas are the reason recruiting sites had to invent the "athlete" position. Merely seeing him on the other team causes fever dreams about maybe coaching that kid:
1, Dymonte Thomas, Marlington RB-LB-S
Strengths: Just about everything. He’s a great football player. He’s very explosive on both sides of the ball. He’s very aggressive. He has a nose for the football and he’s a great kid, too… When you play Marlington, you worry about taking Dymonte away on the perimeter and you take your chances inside, which wasn't a good option last year.
Weaknesses: I don’t know of any. If we had him, I often thought where would he play, and it’d be any number of positions. He does it all well and he’s such a great tackler.
— Opposing coach
More capital-A Athlete takes:
- Allen Trieu: "college-ready build already … one of his best assets is his speed … simply an excellent athlete."
- Bill Greene: "combines speed, quickness, and great athletic ability with the love of contact … should end his high school career as one of the greatest all-around athletes in Stark County's storied history."
- Coach Ed Miley: “I’ve seen big guys, physical players. I’ve seen kids that can run. He is a combination of size and speed. I know he’s 6-1, 190, 200, but he plays much bigger than that. He is very explosive.”
- Josh Helmholdt: "The first thing to know about Thomas is that he is fast… extremely fast."
And perhaps most remarkably, ESPN's evaluation of him does not state "he is more quick than fast" or "lacks a top gear," which damn near every evaluation of a non-lineman will throw in there at some point even if you are pretty damn fast. Instead($):
Thomas is a physically impressive looking athlete and overall football player. … Plays a hybrid type role … He is quick to read and react and flashes very good closing burst when he locates the football. Gets through the trash with good lateral agility. He plays the position fast and pursues with a high motor and little wasted motion to the ball. Has the range to make plays in all three levels of the defense and is a true ball-hawk. He closes hard and with impressive pop. Runs through and is a hitter who will force turnovers and bring an intimidating presence to the position. … has the size, athleticism and ball skills to develop as a coverage guy along with very good make-up speed.
When ESPN does not note you are not as fast as an NFL player, you are fast. QED.
The catch, such that it is, is that Thomas has not shown an ability to play safety yet. Marlington used him as a weakside linebacker. Thus many of the scouting reports on him mention an uncertainty about whether he has the coverage technique to get the stars his athleticism suggests he should. No one pounded on this more frequently than Josh Helmholdt, who declared three different times that he didn't want to "get too bullish on his ranking until we were able to more thoroughly assess his coverage skills" despite also joining the "extraordinary athlete" chorus. The big reveal($) after Thomas played safety at the Army All-American game:
…Dymonte Thomas was the prospect I felt had the most to prove at the all-star games because we had not seen him in coverage yet. Thomas started out with a rough first day of practices at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and his lack of experience in coverage was evident. But as the week progressed Thomas adjusted well, and by the Army Bowl he was in on a lot of plays and was able to show off his speed. At the end of the day, where we had Thomas ranked going into the Army Bowl was pretty accurate.
In one week he went from incapable to in on a lot of plays, so they ranked him correctly. Seems a little stubborn there.
Similar notes of concern come from Scout's Scott Kennedy, who lists "coverage awareness" as a weakness and says "coverage awareness and technique will come with experience on defense," which is the nice way to put it. Scout is the most bullish of the four sites, FWIW, probably because this is the good bit of their eval:
Change of Direction
…plays both sides of the ball with aggression. He attacks the defenders when he's running the ball, and he punishes ball carriers on defense. A strong safety type, Thomas has good acceleration and balance. He's good enough on offense to stay at running back similar to Matt Elam (UF) at the same stage.
ESPN notes that "he is not asked to defend a lot in space and man-to-man coverage skills are an area that will need some refinement" and says that he's not much for flipping the proverbial hips at this juncture.
Of course, Thomas has already been on campus for a semester. In that time he seems to have locked down the starting nickel spot. Michigan has been making do with small cover-oriented guys like Courtney Avery there ever since Thomas Gordon was needed deeper. As a result the nickel package has very rarely featured anything except coverage from the nickelback and has been limited to passing downs only. In modern football that is a bit of a problem. See Jake Ryan lining up over triple WR formations to murder screens. It works, but it would be nice to murder screens and have Jake Ryan rushing the passer.
Thomas brings a different skill package and can be deployed on nominal running downs. especially against the spread. Steve Wiltfong:
“He has a chance to be special at Michigan. …physically ready to go. He has the size and speed you’re looking for at the safety position. He can come down and play near the line of scrimmage and he can also cover and deliver the smack to ball carriers. He can force turnovers with his physical size of play. He is a fantastic get for Michigan there.”
His coach is talking about Thomas as a safety here but is even more so laying out the blueprint for a hybrid nickel defender:
"His advantage will be the time he has played linebacker in the box for us, because unlike a lot of high school defensive backs, Dymonte is used to the physical contact and loves it. He is used to coming up and thumping people, and he can close on the ball."
Greg Mattison declared him "definitely physically ready" and talked up his coachability:
“He’s very fast and he’s a young man that it’s not too big for him. He comes in everyday and you correct him, he doesn’t go in the tank. He immediately says, ‘ok what do I have to do?’ Very seldom does he do it wrong again.”
…“Based on the spring you’re going to see a guy that’s headed in the right direction to be there quite a bit this fall,” said Mattison.
“He’s a guy that, this summer, again, if he continues to do what he’s doing -- but we’ve been very happy with him.”
Thomas's attitude, cited just above, is another asset. I always perk up when I hear a kid's dad was in the military; Dymonte's dad is a former Marine who put his kids through "boot camp"($) if they slacked off. Thomas was also more than fine with splitting carries with eventual Tennessee recruit Alden Hill:
"Look, Dymonte is a one in a million type of player," Miley stated Friday. "We've had Division-I recruits here the past few years in Zach Higgins (Michigan State) and Alden Hill (Tennessee), but there's nobody like Dymonte. He has started for four years now for me, and I love the kid. Dymonte has never met a stranger, and he's the most personable kid on the team, yet he's a team player first."
"Everybody was worried about his stats last year but him," Miley added. "How many five-star recruits play scout-team tailback, to give the first defense a better look? Dymonte does. He will do whatever it takes to make himself and the team better. He will finish his career with over 5,000 yards rushing and 400 tackles. The 5,000 yards rushing will be amazing because he has split carries with Hill, who ended up with 4,973 yards. Imagine if Dymonte had the carries that Alden had the past few years? What would that yardage total look like? He will end up over 5,000 yards rushing as the second option most of his career. And he's the best defensive player in Stark County history, in my opinion."
It may take some time for Thomas to become a refined engine of death. It looks like it'll take less than the skeptics above predicted what with the instant starting job.
" Michigan will probably use him as a kickoff returner too, and Mattison said he could help out on offense."
I guess there are worse things to hear about a commit:
…came up in run support very well Tuesday and even when he struggled with guys like [Derrick] Green, he came back as physical as ever.
Hey, we got that kid too! /self high five
Why Stevie Brown? I know that probably made you break out in hives, but think about good late Stevie Brown: the kind of athlete who can pop a lead blocker and get out to the edge, who blitzes with speed and brings a load, who can cover underneath and down the seam. Who plays a hybrid LB/DB role. That's what Thomas is now, both as a high school linebacker and possibly—probably—Michigan's starting nickelback this fall.
Meanwhile, Brown finally figured out that whole safety thing en route to eight interceptions and a New York Giants interception return yardage record; Thomas has the same NFL-level athleticism and questions about his ability to translate that into reliable deep safety play. As a recruit, Brown was in the same range as Thomas; Dymonte's probably an inch or two taller. This comparison is a tight one.
Guru Reliability: Moderate-plus. Heavily scouted, Army guy, but positional questions and this review comes after we got a lot more information about the kid at Michigan's spring practice.
Variance: Moderate. Obviously brings all the athleticism you could want to the position and should be an okay starter at the very least.
Ceiling: Vast. Ripped a starting job away from a senior in no time flat, would be competitive in a race with Denard.
General Excitement Level: Just under vast. Smart kid with great personality and military dad should mean he scrapes his high ceiling; still, whenever you're projecting…
Projection: Um, seems to have already taken over the starting nickel position?
Down the road, Thomas may get a shot at replacing Thomas Gordon next year. In an ideal world I think he sticks at nickel for his career, operating as a frequently-deployed spread antidote and triple threat (rush the passer, defend the run, cover) in a system where he is as much of a starter as anyone else on the team. Michigan will of course cross-train the guy at deep safety to give them added flexibility and injury insurance. Like Gordon he may get dragged deeper because Michigan needs him, but that'll depend on Delano Hill, Jeremy Clark, and Jarrod Wilson… unless Thomas is just too good to ever take off the field, which you can't discount.
Also, I will not be surprised if Thomas ends up being the primary kick returner at some point. He has the raw Stonum-like speed to be a vertical threat there.
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]
“You guys get me McGary yet?”
Isn’t that your job?
“Heh, no. I’m done with recruiting.”
How consistent was your four-man rush this spring and what’s the potential?
“Well we worked very very hard on it. We made a definite [goal]: ‘We’re going to do that.’ We worked hard all spring on it. The thing about pass rush that makes it something that you can achieve is that’s a phase of football you can work on all summer. That’s something like catching passes, like throwing passes. You can’t go out and hit a guy one on one, you can’t do all that in a summer, but you can improve pass rush technique better than anything else. And with our belief of that being important and our kids believing that, I think that’s something we’ll just continue. They did show some signs in there, but they also showed why you have to be a technician when you do it, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. We’re kind of in the growing stages of it, but we’re growing in the right direction.”
The early enrollees to catch my eye were Dymonte Thomas, Jake Butt and Taco Charlton. Thomas played exclusively at the nickel spot; with Countess still not taking contact Avery mostly played outside. Anyway, Thomas's presence at the nickel is not unprecedented. They've wanted bigger guys there for a while, it seems. Michigan wanted to go with Thomas Gordon there before they determined he was needed at safety; Ohio State actually calls the spot their "star" linebacker, and it's usually featured safety-sized clubbers. Their current guy, Christian Bryant, may not wrap up but he will thump you if he gets a chance.
It seems like it would be hard to replace a long-term starter like Courtney Avery. In this situation, rumors that Avery is dogged by a chronic injury lend it some plausibility. Nickel is a spot at which freshman screwups are usually first downs, not touchdowns.
As everyone's already said, Charlton looks the part and then some. He was struggling in a drill before the scrimmage where half the OL would play half the DL on zone running, getting blown out of his assigned lane; once he got some time against the backup OL he dominated. Unless Cam Gordon's really good, he and Ojemudia will duke it out for the nickel DE spot Ryan's injury has vacated.
Butt looks like Funchess, except not quite as long. A redshirt would be ideal.
Here's some credence for Jake Ryan's mid-October recovery timeline: Chris Wormley tore his ACL in mid-August. Eight months later he took a bunch of contact snaps in the spring game. Mid-October is 7 months from Ryan's ACL tear.
Jibreel Black looked bigger than 276 pounds, frankly not far off Quinton Washington's girth. Michigan likes stunting him a lot, which is partially a way to take advantage of his quickness and partially a way to mitigate his lack of size. A stunt got that safety on the second play, as Clark and Black swapped. Both got past their guys, with Ross finishing up. Black's pressure helped force the near-INT from Morgan, too; he got a sack by shooting past Ben Braden.
Frank Clark and Taco Charlton had a hard time against Lewan and Schofield—no shame in that—and then started crubberating the backups. Since most of those backups are freshmen or walk-ons it's hard to get a read on how they'll do against mortal starters. Clark had a big cast on one hand, so increment your opinion of his performance.
Richard Ash made a couple plays, swimming past Glasgow on a Rawls run that broke outside because of poor contain; Keith Heitzman was able to beat the walk-ons but didn't do much against the starters. Matt Godin looked the part but has a ways to go. The SDE spot looks a little weak.
I didn't notice much from the nose tackles. I assume Washington is fine; Pipkins has another year apprenticing.
Linebacker Skynet is online?
That James Ross stick on Drake Harris mentioned in the previous post is becoming the most-discussed play from the spring game. It's as surprised as any of you are. MGoUser Michael Scarn picture-paged it, making the same assumption I did when I saw it: the linebackers are headed to the line of scrimmage as quickly as they are because this is a blitz.
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: according to mattison that wasn't an A-gap blitz
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: is that plausible?
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: what was it?
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: he said that was just them reading and reacting
[1:07 PM] Heiko Yang: they're that good
[1:07 PM] Brian Cook: that's like skynet coming online
I don't think it's quite that. The blocking on this play is majorly screwed up. He's a screenshot from Mr. Scarn:
Jack Miller is in space, blocking no one. AJ Williams, at the bottom of the shot, isn't really blocking anyone either. He's moving past Ojemudia and only decides to block him once he sees air in front of him. Ojemudia should have to account for the QB if unblocked, so I think there's a reasonable case that you have two extra guys on the backside who should not be there, which then gets you the two extra unblocked linebacker sorts.
Trying to figure out what's going on with the defense is hard, then, because the play they're up against is a debacle. Yes, that's a little ominous. Let's ignore it!
It is nice that Ross reacts basically the instant Kalis tilts to pull. If this isn't a blitz, it is a killer read.
Whether this is over-aggression or Ross having magical pattern recognition is yet to be determined. What we've seen of him so far indicates the second.
Many eyes were on Gordon, including mine. I thought he did fine. In that aforementioned zone drill he was consistently getting the right amount of penetration into the backfield, holding the edge without opening up a crease inside of him. That ability to get the edge flashed on the negative Norfleet run. When deployed as a pass rusher, he was effective; nothing seemed to be on his head. Michigan will be fine at SAM.
FWIW, Brennen Beyer actually started. Gordon looked like a much better option, which isn't surprising since Beyer just got yanked back to SAM in the aftermath of the Ryan injury.
The safeties were not important. They got beat on the long Funchess catch (against Jeremy Clark, FWIW) and the Butt TD; most of the rest of the gains were to the outside. As we enter the post-Kovacs era that's a good sign. Jarrod Wilson is your tentative leader at the vacated safety spot. You might want to make that "heavy"—it seemed like they were running him out all the time in an effort to prep him for fall. Clark got more PT than Furman or Robinson, it seemed.
On the outside, Raymon Taylor gave way early after playing well. Usually the early hook is a sign of confidence in your abilities, so mark his starting spot in pen. Avery, Hollowell, Richardson, and freshman Douglas were the guys getting tested. Courtney Avery got beat on the opening play. That was admittedly a perfect throw that he could do nothing about once he had failed to get Darboh close enough to the sideline to cut off that space. That's a size mismatch. A little less salutary is getting beat by Jackson a couple times on comebacks and such. One of the memorable plays from last year's spring game was Countess having Jackson in his pocket for an interception; Avery was some distance from a not particularly fleet receiver. He did get a PBU on a bad Gardner throw underneath. That appears to be his comfort zone.
I was surprised at how well Delonte Hollowell showed. He broke on a lot of balls, getting some breakups, and he stuck pretty close to the shifty Gallon. I'm not sure how much that means when Michigan was dead set against playing him in the bowl game. Gallon is the perfect matchup for the tiny Hollowell. Bigger receivers will cause issues, and it's clear what kind of corners the new staff is after: big ones.
Terry Richardson got run over by Rawls. Hard to see him getting PT outside of passing downs, and it looks like Avery and Thomas are ahead of him on the nickelback depth chart.
Ross Douglas didn't stand out to me. During the anthem he was next to Taylor and seemed to be exactly the same height, FWIW.
Nothing much to note except that redshirt freshman punter Kenny Allen looked pretty good. I've heard he's been impressive in practice, as well. I'd imagine Matt Wile will keep the job since he has been a B, B+ option; if Allen takes it that's a good sign. Michigan looks set at that spot for a while.
Rittenberg notes that the fireworks were not on display:
Michigan fans didn't learn a ton about the 2013 team as the offense, as expected, was "very vanilla, very basic," as starting quarterback Devin Gardner put it.
If you're pining for the pistol, don't give up hope.
Also, Lewan noted some improvement from the line:
"We moved and established the line of scrimmage today, and I think that is one thing that we haven't seen in a while," senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "But what we do in the summer and do in fall camp is really going to define us as an offensive line."
Toussaint is still the leader at RB according to Borges:
"We went through half the year (in 2011), and we said, 'We're going through this doggone running back by committee deal.' And we finally decided, Let's put him in there, leave him in there and let's go,'" offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "Fitz came to the surface, and I think he will again (this year) before it's all said and done.
"He's certainly going to get a chance to prove it. I'll say that."
The starters were Brennen Beyer at SAM, Desmond Morgan at MIKE, and James Ross at WILL. I don't think Beyer is a starter-quality linebacker, and he didn't really make any plays. Morgan dropped an interception and failed to get depth on Jake Butt's touchdown catch, but he did look solid against the run. Ross looked fantastic at weakside linebacker, chasing down plays near the sideline and hitting running backs at the line of scrimmage. Cam Gordon looked like the superior player at SAM, made a nice tackle for loss on Dennis Norfleet, and blew up Butt on a Power. Joe Bolden looked solid at MIKE, but I'm concerned about the backup WILL position.
PREVIOUSLY: The Offense
Following up yesterday's breakdown of the 2013 recruits on offense, here's a look at Michigan's defensive class—click each player's name to see their original commitment post:
|Maurice Hurst Jr.||DT||MA||3||4||4||3|
And now, some superlatives:
BEST POSITION GROUP: Linebacker
This class is pretty evenly spread across the position groups—an argument could be made for pretty much any group on the field. In an effort to avoid giving all of the awards to Dymonte Thomas, I'll go with the linebackers here. After 2012's big haul, Michigan only needed a couple of linebackers in the class, and they filled their two spots with a pair of very solid prospects in Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon.
The lone linebacker spot the 2012 class didn't cover was on the strong side, and McCray's size (6'4", 230 lbs.) and athleticism make him an ideal fit there. Gedeon, meanwhile, is a stellar athlete—he also starred at running back for Hudson—who should be able to cover the field sideline-to-sideline from the weakside linebacker position.
Honorable Mention: Safety, Cornerback
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Strongside DE
There isn't one, and that's the only hole in this class on the defensive side of the ball. After Michigan brought in three SDE-types in 2012—Matt Godin, Tom Strobel, and Chris Wormley—there wasn't a major need, especially with in-state standout Malik McDowell firmly in their sights for the 2014 class.
MOST LIKELY TO START FROM DAY ONE: Dymonte Thomas
Defensive highlights start at the 4:22 mark.*
It's distinctly possible that no member of the 2013 class starts on defense next season, and that's a very good thing for Michigan. If one will, however, it's safety Dymonte Thomas, a dominant force in the state of Ohio at both running back and safety for the last three seasons. Michigan has to replace Jordan Kovacs, and if Jarrod Wilson isn't ready to step in at free safety, it's likely that Thomas Gordon will play there while Thomas slides in at strong safety.
Thomas may be the best pure athlete in the class—if he wanted, he could've easily been a four-star running back recruit—and he brings a very physical presence to the secondary. He should be an asset in run support off the bat and he has all the tools necessary to be solid in coverage, as well. Down the road, I think Thomas will be an all-conference—or even All-American—player, and it may be tough to keep him off the field this fall.
Honorable Mention: The only other play I see having a shot to start this year is Taco Charlton—he's an impressive player and the weakside DE spot is open to competition. That said, I don't see that happening unless Michigan gets hit by the injury bug.
*Also of note: those are junior highlights. His senior reel is well worth a look.
SUREST THING: Dymonte Thomas
See above. Frankly, I'm surprised Scout was the only service to rank him as a five-star.
Honorable Mention: Henry Poggi. Poggi may not be a superstar—he doesn't always explode off the ball on film—but he seems like a guy who should at least be a solid starter down the road.
BOOM OR BUST: Jourdan Lewis
I've seen cornerback Jourdan Lewis play in either a game or camp setting over a half-dozen times at this point, and he's an outstanding athlete who could conceivably contribute in the return game or even at receiver. When he played across from current Wolverine Terry Richardson as a junior, I thought Lewis was flat-out the better player—he's a little taller and is extremely good at making a play on the ball. After giving him a closer look this year, however, I noticed a couple holes in his game:
There are a couple major concerns I have with Lewis, however, that were on display on Friday night. He does rely on that recovery speed far too much in man coverage—if OLSM's quarterback had thrown that hitch on time, for example, I don't think Lewis would've been able to break up the pass. Then there's run support, where Lewis is very limited by his small frame; at his size, he has to be completely committed to throwing his weight around and tackling with proper technique, and I don't see that at this point. He tends to dive for an ankle-tackle and shies away from major contact—there's a stark contrast between him and Webb, who's both bigger and more willing to lay a hit.
Lewis has all the athleticism necessary to be a very good cover corner, but he's going to need to add some weight, embrace the physicality of the run game, and refine his coverage skills if he wants to be a major contributor at cornerback. If that doesn't work out, he could flip to offense and be a playmaker in the slot, so his versatility gives him a lesser chance of flaming out, but there's no guarantee he'd stick there, either. I think Lewis is a prospect with a high ceiling, but he's going to have to work to get there.
Honorable Mention: Maurice Hurst Jr.—the athletic big man could wreak havoc on the interior, but he's got to learn to play low.
MGOSCOUTED STAMP OF APPROVAL: Taco Charlton
When I drove down to Pickerington to see defensive end Taco Charlton's Central squad take on crosstown rival North (and fellow commit Jake Butt), I expected to see a raw pass-rushing specialist. Instead, I saw him play an instrumental role in keeping North running back Godwin Igwebuike (Northwestern commit) well below his usual numbers, sacrificing his personal stats to key on the run—and he still came up with 1.5 sacks:
Despite having a reputation as a pass-rush specialist, Charlton was instrumental in limiting Igwebuike on the ground, finishing with ten tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was largely tasked with keeping contain, and I don't recall a single instance where a running play got outside of him if it went to his side. While he sometimes allows offensive linemen to get their hands into his chest off the snap, he did a solid job of engaging and using his hands to shed blocks. He played a very disciplined game against the run, showed off a very high motor—especially impressive since he also moonlighted at tight end and on special teams—and always seemed to end up around the football.
As a pass-rusher, Charlton showed off more of a power game than what I've seen from him on camp film, getting his hands inside the blocker and bull-rushing to great effect. He still has that impressive speed around the edge and got pressure on a couple of speed-rushes, but for the most part he went right at his blocker—likely due to his contain responsibilities against the run.
Charlton has also really begun to fill out; Michigan lists him at 6'6", 249 pounds after he enrolled early, and he's got the frame to easily get up to the 270-pound range without losing his impressive quickness. I think he could factor into the weakside DE rotation as soon as this fall, and down the road he could be the edge-rushing threat that Michigan has lacked at DE for some time.
Honorable Mention: Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill. I've covered Lewis; Hill wasn't a guy I really focused on while watching Cass Tech since he was a long-time Iowa commit and there were so many D-I prospects on the field, but it wasn't hard to notice him anyway—he always seemed to find his way to the football and was a solid tackler once he got there.
SLEEPER: Channing Stribling
When cornerback Channing Stribling earned an offer—and subsequently committed—at Michigan's camp over some more highly-touted prospects (including eventual teammate Reon Dawson), he was a complete unknown despite coming from a football powerhouse at Matthews (NC) Butler. He was immediately pegged as an underrated sleeper, and after a senior season spent making big play after big play, it seemed like he was on the verge of making a huge leap in the recruiting rankings.
That never quite happened—Stribling ended up as a three-star across the board, so the sleeper label still fits. At 6'2", 170 pounds, he's very tall for a cornerback, and his playmaking skills were on display all year—in one game last fall, he had two receiving touchdowns, a defensive touchdown, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. If Stribling can fill out his frame and refine his coverage skills, he could be a very good corner; he's also extremely raw, and maintaining the quickness to cover college receivers at that height is no easy task.
Honorable Mention: Delano Hill