How do you feel about your unit here going into the first game?
“You know, the thing that’s unique about the kicking game is the first time you really test it is the game, and we don’t have preseason games in college. So, I feel great about the practices we’ve had so far. We get 29 of them. We’ve had whatever, however many we’ve been allotted. The head coach has given us incredible meeting time, practice time, and availability and so to this point I like the focus of our players and what we’ve done and look forward to the contest, but you get to see what you’ve got when you play. It’s very hard to simulate a kickoff or a punt in practice and the intensity of the game.”
Who’s leading at the kicker spot?
“Well, you know, we’ve got three. This competition is going to go all the way up until pregame. And there’s really no need to pick one at this point because there’s none of them that have been in a game. Coach Harbaugh really believes in competitive excellence at every position, and those guys are duking it out. They’ve been taking- they took equal turns today in team. Each of them got four kicks. They’ve taken equal turns pretty much through camp.”
Who are the guys working there?
“Kyle Seychel and Kenny Allen and Andrew David- you know, the new guy, the freshman. They’ve done a nice job. Once again, we get the opportunity to practice 29 times so we’re going to take that opportunity. There’s not an established starter or whatever there, so…”
What about at punter?
“Well, at punter, Kenny Allen and Blake O’Neill are both punting. They will both punt, okay? They will both punt for Michigan this year. Blake has some skills Kenny doesn’t have, [and] Kenny has some skills Blake doesn’t have. And we’re a pro-style team on offense, defense, and kicking game, and Blake came here to want to be a pro in one year, and Kenny has really embraced being accurate. So here’s the thing: they’re both good. Kenny’s improved a lot. Blake adds some nice depth there, and they’ll both play. Don’t know how often you see a two-punter system, but we got one.”
[After THE JUMP: Kick and punt returners, and a personal connection]
I realize Strobel got one. Find a better photo then, pickers of nits.
This has to be talked about. Hoke left a roster that was in relatively good shape considering all the highly rated players who had to stick through some awful program degradation. He signed good classes, and those classes have by and large stuck around and fulfilled their academic duties. But an inordinate amount of them inexplicably didn't redshirt, and because of this there are some holes on the horizon.
I'm sure there are explanations in many of these cases that we are not party to. It's only the sheer volume of head-scratching non-redshirts under Hoke that gives us reason to call all of them into question. Like how I'm sure there are legit medical hardship waivers that occur at Alabama but [graph].
Some guys the coaches were forced to play early, and there's no need to discuss them beyond a mention as such, e.g. Jabrill Peppers. Mason Cole outcompeted a pile of guys to start at left tackle last season. That sort of thing gets a full pass. Beyond that, I've broken each Hoke class into categories of increasing argh:
- WTF. Wasting redshirts on special teams and dime back when last year's dime back is on the bench.
- Pick ONE. Needed bodies at this position, but not all the bodies. Battles for 2nd on the depth chart should be resolved in time for the ultimate loser to have a 5th year as consolation.
- Need the dudes (and other things I don't blame on the coaches). Immediate starters or guys who played because Michigan sorely needed his body and his pulse at that position.
Names that should have redshirted are in red.
Class of 2011
Did you really need both, 2011? [Upchurch]
Hoke arrived to an offensive machine with two years of eligibility remaining, and a nightmare defense of guys who couldn't displace recent departures like Jonas Mouton, Ray Vinopal, Adam Patterson, Greg Banks, and James Rogers. The immediate need was obvious and Hoke rightfully set about recruiting freshmen who could fill those roles. So I'll give him a pass for some of it.
|Hollowell's 2011 contribution was more than scooping up a fumbled kickoff against VT, but it was also more than Ray Taylor's. [Melanie Maxwell|AnnArbor.com]|
Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell. The year following the Never Forget defensive backfield, Hoke recruited five likely cornerbacks: Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Delonte Hollowell, Tamani Carter (redshirted, transferred before 2012), and Greg Brown (early enrollee, transferred before 2011 season). The roster still had J.T. Floyd, Courtney Avery and Terrence Talbott (left program summer before 2012 season), available. In a pinch, Troy Woolfolk could have converted back when Thomas Gordon won the free safety job. At least one, and probably two true freshmen would have to play.
It immediately became apparent that one would be Countess. So to fill out the two deep they would need to burn Taylor or Hollowell's shirt. Hollowell arrived as the quintessential Cass Tech mite corner. The guy was 164 pounds, but saw some action at dime back vs. Nebraska, and recovered the fumble at the end of the first half. Taylor had two tackles and a personal foul.
Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. Going into the season Beyer was a SAM and Clark a WDE. The difference between those positions in Michigan's 4-3 under was not very great, particularly because when Beyer was inserted it was for a 5-2 look. The WDE's depth chart was Craig Roh and Jibreel Black; SAM was Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon. The reason I say one would have played anyway is the rush end position has a lot rotation, and Black was already the starter in the nickel formation.
There wasn't much to differentiate the two in aggregate play; Beyer was the more consistent, Clark the more explosive. The coaches chose to have them compete through the year instead of preserving one. Had they done so Beyer was the obvious choice despite Clark's higher ceiling. Beyer was smaller and Michigan had Roh to be a more solid edge defender, but only Clark to be a merchant of chaos (remember the Sugar Bowl interception). On the other hand Frank had a rough history before Glenville, and could have used an adjustment season. Either way he would have been dismissed after last year's incident.
Needed dudes etc.
Blake Countess and Desmond Morgan won starting jobs on the 2011 defensive reclamation project. They also both would lose a season to injury so we have them back yay. Thomas Rawls I'm not broken up about, though he will be a pretty good MAC back this year. RBs usually have most of the "it" they ever will as freshmen, and if they do become long-term starters the toll it takes on their bodies means they're often better off moving through their careers early. A redshirt year can make a guy a better blocker, or put some distance between a good back and his heir, or let a smaller guy fill in. Matt Wile is a special pass even though they wasted his redshirt on kickoff duties (and punting during Hagerup's first suspension). I learned recently that Wile made it clear from the start he intended to graduate in four years and do engineering things.
[Save your anger for after the jump.]
Gentry vs Malzone: FIGHT
Quarterback recruiting policies.
I know that Harbaugh has every right to recruit his own personnel, but considering that Malzone is already on campus, did he just get royally screwed? If he never suits up, can he transfer without having to sit out?
The idea that a quarterback would be screwed over by the addition of another guy at his position in the same class is Hoke-era thinking that should be quickly discarded. Wilton Speight doesn't seem to mind:
Boom!! Loading the stable! #goblue
— Wilton Speight (@WiltonSpeight) January 25, 2015
sent in the immediate aftermath of Gentry's commit
Every other position sees fierce battles; QB should be no different. And even if Malzone is put off by the idea of sharing a spot in the class with Gentry, I think that's more than offset by the idea of getting coached by Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch.
FWIW, Malzone could transfer after his first semester at Michigan. He would have to redshirt and then would be a redshirt freshman wherever he ended up, as Steven Threet was when he fled Paul Johnson's triple option system at Georgia Tech.
The more likely exit scenario for the quarterbacks who find themselves down the depth chart in the midst of cutthroat competition is to get a degree in three years and then transfer with two years to play two. An increasing number of elite QB recruits are throwing themselves in grinders like Michigan's with that idea in their back pocket. If Michigan is going to take two QBs a year that should be part of the pitch: the least you leave here with is a Michigan degree and three years of kickass coaching. Malzone has a head start on that with his early enrollment.
By the way, with reports that elite CA QB KJ Costello is heavily interested in Michigan, this could be the respective first two QB recruiting years of Hoke and Harbaugh:
- Hoke: Russell Bellomy.
- Harbaugh: Malzone, Gentry, DeWeaver, Costello.
That's one three star previously committed to Purdue versus what is probably four four-star recruits. (Hoke did recruit Malzone but Malzone is a block-M true believer who stuck with his plan to enroll early despite Michigan not having a coach at that juncture.) One of the major reasons the Hoke list is so short is that in deference to Shane Morris they didn't take another quarterback in his year… or the year in front of him. That was a disastrous decision. Let's not do that any more.
Harbaugh won't: at Stanford he took an average of two QBs a year.
Two stars bad. More stars good.
@mgoblog with so many high end prospects out there showing interest,why are we pursuing 2 ⭐️players at any position right now?
— Tessmer (@TyTessmer) January 25, 2015
There are only a couple guys on the board who fit that description: recent OH OL commit Nolan Ulizio and as-yet-unoffered FL CB Markel Bush. Everyone else is at least a three star and—unlike many of the transitional Hoke recruits—courted by or committed to high level BCS schools. (Hoke got decommits from Indiana, Vanderbilt, and Minnesota; Harbaugh has flipped guys from Texas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.) So Harbaugh is already doing well.
As for the two stars, Bush is clearly a backup plan in case they don't get two of the four guys they've offered (Iman Marshall,
Will Lockett, Damon Arnette, and Jarius Adams). Ulizio is an offensive lineman. Offensive linemen are less likely to fulfill recruiting expectations than any other position, and as you say Michigan had opportunities to look at other, more highly-rated guys. They passed. Is that a concern?
…let's cool it on the judgy bits just yet.
[After THE JUMP: Marrow, length of tenure, Dymonte Thomas, sloxen, Gary Danielson email]
FORMATION NOTES: Not a whole lot was different, but Michigan did line up in a number of under fronts…
…so that was frustrating what with Ross playing SAM and Ryan at MLB, neither of them doing particularly well.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Usual rotation on the line except Charlton got the start and played about the same number of snaps as Beyer. Hurst continues to get a few snaps, which is a change from earlier. LBs same; corners generally Lewis and Countess with Taylor coming in for the nickel, pushing Countess inside.
Wilson went the whole way; Clark was the other starter at S with Thomas coming in regularly.
[After THE JUMP: the center cannot hold.]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||So.*||Dymonte Thomas||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Reon Dawson||Fr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
So, JARROD WILSON…
Okay, okay, Jarrod Wilson after the jump. Now…
ok, you're out of shoes, right
I've been talking about hybrid space players for years now, projecting that Michigan would acquire one of these important gentlemen since about a year after that, and resigning myself to yet another repurposed 5'9" corner four games into every season since. Two years ago:
The thing that kept me from playing nickel a lot last year – the nickel has to be able to blitz. He has to be able to change the math … some guys can blitz and some can’t.
Michigan didn't have that guy, and their defense was solid, but conservative.
Now… now Michigan has a hybrid space player. Sound the trumpets. Unfurl the banners. Roll the carpet forth unto the unworthy ground so that our prince can walk upon maize and blue! Fetch… fetch the Woodson comparison. Yes, from the vaults.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES [Fuller]
And so forth and so on. As to why Michigan is deploying its most hyped recruit ever at a spot historically reserved for a not-quite-starting cornerback on passing downs, let's revisit last year's preview:
The ideal nickelback is a corner/safety/linebacker hybrid who can cover slot receivers, blitz like a mofo, and fend off blockers to make tackles in space, and in the increasingly spread-oriented world of football they are essentially starters. This does not just apply to college football:
NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.
The QED here: that's an article on second-year player Casey Hayward, who replaced Charles friggin' Woodson as the Packers' nickel. In his time at that spot, Woodson picked up a Defensive Player of the Year award. The best nickels double as outside corners when teams are in a base package; others are just really important fifth defensive backs.
SI followed that Grantland article up with one this year asserting that the nickelback has risen in prominence as the NFL's "key battles move to the slot":
Teams ran base (with four defensive backs) 48 percent of the time in 2011, 45 percent in '12 and 40 percent in '13. Nickel sets increased from 40 to 44 to 49 percent over that same three-year span.
College is gradually following a similar pattern. One of the main reasons Michigan is moving to the over defense is that they were in it like half the time last year anyway, because that's how you have to respond to spread offenses. However, the motivations are somewhat different. In college if you get spread out there's a better than even chance they are spreading to run, an innovation still mostly on the sidelines in a league where you can pick the 30 most accurate passers in the world and whoever the Browns have this year.
But the idea remains the same: triple threat.
"To play nickel now? I think it's really hard. You have to play the two-way go [option routes in which the receiver can turn inside or outside based on coverage] inside the numbers, you have to be able to tackle, and you have to be able to blitz. And blitz is a technique, just like playing man-to-man or running routes. You need practice at that. You can't run in there straight up and down like a pencil, or you'll get decapitated. Because as the nickel, sometimes you blitz, and the tackle is set up on you. How do you beat him? You've got to get him back on his heels -- you set him up, almost like a basketball player driving to the hole.
You have to cover, you have to play the run, and you have to murder the quarterback. Come on down, JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile].
Since Peppers is a true freshman, and since he is Jabrill Peppers, I can't tell you anything you don't already know if you've read that profile. Selected, mouth-watering highlights:
"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
This one is particularly apt given Peppers's spot in the defense:
"…could play four to five different positions and excel at them. He is a strong running back. He is as fluid as a good corner. He hits like a linebacker. He could play safety. You could honestly take him and put him in an outside linebacker position and he would flourish.
USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
Scout's Scott Kennedy gets a gold star for his player comparison:
"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
Eric Berry was a nickel in college. People didn't quite know it at the time because everyone was just inventing the idea of putting your most badass guy there, but he was a nickel. He's a nickel in the NFL, acquiring 3.5 sacks in 2013 and going to the Pro Bowl every time he's been healthy.
That is the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or All Pro Charles Woodson, of course.
Can Peppers do it right away? I'm supposed to equivocate about freshmen here. I won't. He's got the size, he's got the speed, and he's blazed his way to the starting lineup essentially on day one. Sam Webb:
I know the Jabrill Peppers is hyped enough already but the word he is the real deal. You saw the pictures so you know where he is physically. But it’s the non-stop motor and tenacity that just put him on another level from most freshmen. … It’s often hard to keep expectations of freshmen subdued, but it’s especially hard when they’ve been as good as advertised in practice. They all say he is young and has a lot to learn, but also say he is as good as advertised.
I'm sure there will be some busts as he gets situated in the defense. That should be the primary issues. Go time: now.
[After the JUMP: the actual safeties, you shoe-throwing maniac.]
Dymonte Thomas (L) and Jourdan Lewis (R) both committed before receiving coveted offers.
It's been a long time since I did one of these, and after the Shaun Crawford decommitment the topic of discussion is Michigan's very simple policy: if a commit takes visits, the coaches will continue recruiting for that spot, and while they'll continue recruiting the prospect taking visits they'll no longer consider him a commit.
At this point, the policy itself is clear to the point that its particulars aren't up for debate. Its merits, on the other hand, have been questioned. Here's a great question that helps show why it works:
Two part question:
Have there been any Michigan signees that come to mind who benefited the most from the policy being in place? A guy who was locked in early before he blew up regionally or nationally and it kept him in Michigan’s camp maybe? Or a guy, maybe like Peppers, who by committing and not looking around was solely focused on his senior year and helping the recruiting effort.
And on the flip side can you think of a couple of specific names (not including Dawson and the guys who have decommitted this year) who were probably scared away by it and may otherwise have ended up in a Michigan class had it not been for the coach staffs visit rules?
Jabrill Peppers is a nice example to start with, as he considered taking visits a couple months before Signing Day, then reaffirmed his pledge after taking his official visit to Michigan and talking with both the coaches and his family. Who knows what would've happened if Brady Hoke had allowed him to remain committed and visit, say, Alabama? At best, it would've bothered a lot of the other commits. At worst, Peppers would've ended up in Crimson.
Two other current U-M defensive backs come to mind when answering the first part of the question. Dymonte Thomas committed nearly a year-and-a-half before signing his LOI; at the time, the Alliance, Ohio product didn't hold an Ohio State offer, which befuddled Buckeye recruitniks. Even though Thomas' cousin, Bri'onte Dunn, committed to OSU in the interim, when Urban Meyer extended an offer two months later Thomas laughed it off on Twitter. He'd committed, end of story, and he knew what a commitment to Michigan entailed—no trips to check out Columbus and see if he'd want to play with his cousin, something they'd discussed before their respective commitments.
There's also Jourdan Lewis, who eventually became an Army All-American but held this list of offers when he pledged during The Greatest Mid-February Weekend In The History Of Mid-February Weekends: Michigan and Toledo. That's it. Other schools tried to enter the fray, but Lewis remained firm in his pledge—again, in part because he knew the consequences if he started looking around. All he had to do was ask his teammate, David Dawson, the shining example of how the Damien Harris situation can still work out in Michigan's favor.
As for the flip side, there have been multiple prospects in recent years who very nearly committed to U-M while on visits, and in retrospect it's clear the policy helped avoid an eventual decommitment. Malik McDowell immediately comes to mind, as does Artavis Scott. If McDowell had committed, his journey to East Lansing—and I believe he'd have ended up there regardless—would've had even more twists and turns. Same goes for Scott, who took to Clemson's overtures so quickly it's difficult to imagine a Michigan pledge would've stuck.
The best example of the policy avoiding a major issue, however, is a prospect who did at one point commit to U-M: 2014 OT Denzel Ward. His recruitment requires bullet points:
- Committed to Michigan in October 2012, a week after receiving the U-M offer, his best to date. By the first week of January, he'd also hold offers from Arizona State, Florida, and Ohio State.
- Took an unofficial visit to Florida in January 2013 without informing the coaches; at this time, he also transferred high schools from the Chicago area to the IMG Academy in Florida, which also came as a surprise to Michigan's staff.
- Shortly thereafter, Michigan told Ward he was no longer a commit, and due to the lack of communication with the coaches they didn't plan to pursue him again.
- Ward named Florida as his leader in March. He picked up an Oklahoma offer around that time.
- Despite an impressive offer sheet, Ward committed to Purdue in June.
- Three days after an official visit to USF, Ward decommitted from Purdue in December.
- Less than a week after taking his final official visit to Syracuse, Ward committed to the Orange and signed his LOI.
When Michigan recognized Ward was a serious flight risk, they broke things off, and eventually replaced him in the class with a higher-rated, UA All-American tackle in Juwann Bushell-Beatty. If I had to guess whether JBB lasts longer at Michigan or Ward at Syracuse... well, I bet you can guess my answer.
This was going to be a full mailbag, but I got pretty wordy on this one, so I'll answer the rest of the questions in a separate post tomorrow.