Mike Lantry, 1972
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.
McDowell's: Still Open For Business
Malik McDowell committed to Michigan State last Wednesday, so why is he leading off another recruiting roundup? Well, his mother still refuses to sign a LOI that will send him to East Lansing, leaving his recruitment at an impasse. Now it appears McDowell may not end up a Spartan after all; 247's Steve Wiltfong has the latest ($):
The elder McDowell says all four schools remain in play and that they are in the process of scheduling unofficial visits back to the Buckeyes, Seminoles and Wolverines campuses. He added a return trip to Michigan State is not necessary for the family.
“He wants Michigan State, he wants that,” Greg McDowell said. “I know he wants that.”
Greg McDowell says he’s fine with his son attending Michigan State if that’s what he truly wants, while McDowell’s mother Joya Crowe has yet to come around on the Spartans.
In case matters weren't complicated enough, the News' Tom Markowski caught up with McDowell's high school coach, who said the visits are "something his dad is wishing for, but Malik hasn’t said anything but MSU."
It still looks like Michigan is on the outside looking in, but it also looks a lot less likely McDowell will end up at Michigan State than it did just a few days ago.
New 2015 and 2016 Offers
A couple more offers went out in recent days as Michigan continues to go after more and more underclassmen targets.
Four-star 2015 IN ILB Josh Barajas (junior highlights) told Wiltfong he was "still in shock" shortly after receiving his Michigan offer ($). UPDATE: Brandon spoke to him. The Wolverines appear to have timed this offer well; despite fielding recent interest from Michigan State and Notre Dame, only Illinois and Purdue offered Barajas before Michigan. He's got visits scheduled to U-M, MSU, and ND in the next month.
Michigan also offered 2016 TX OL Greg Little, who's quickly transition from tight end to burgeoning tackle prospect, per Steve Lorenz ($). His offer list—which includes the likes of Arizona State, Baylor, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech—suggests he's one of the top tackle prospects in his class; while Little says he will try to visit Michigan, he could be a very tough pull.
PSA: Phones Can (And Should) Film Horizontally
Jabrill Peppers released the first of an unspecified number of YouTube videos documenting his visit to Michigan and why he chose the Wolverines. I haven't had the chance to go through the 15-minute episode above, but a quick scan reveals that arrrrrgghhh vertical video whyyyyyyyyy. Aside from that poor choice, however, this should be a very interesting watch.
In other commit news, here's a fun quote from 2015 CB Shaun Crawford:
On Wednesday, during an interview with Cleveland.com, Crawford was once again asked about his Buckeye offer and what it meant to him.
Without much hesitation, Crawford reached for a Michigan hat, put it atop his head and fully declared where his heart resides at the moment.
"I'm Michigan all the way," Crawford said. "Picking up the Ohio State offer was great.
"But they were a little too late."
Ali-esque rhyming dig right there. I like it.
Recently offered four-star NJ OT Grant Newsome told Sam Webb he will "definitely" visit Michigan and placed the Wolverines among the top schools he plans to visit ($):
Sam Webb: Aside from Michigan, do you know off the top of your head some of the other schools that you for sure are going to visit?
Grant Newsome: “I haven’t really set the list yet. I will probably be taking a visit to Penn State and Northwestern, maybe South Carolina. I think those are four I will probably take visits to but I really haven’t set the list.”
Newsome wants to make a decision before his senior year; with his recruitment picking up steam, Michigan looks to be a strong contender.
Another recent OL offer, 2015 PA four-star Ryan Bates, told Webb that new offers from Michigan and Michigan State will be compared to his current favorites, Penn State and South Carolina; that should happen soon, as he plans to decide in the spring or early summer ($).
Michigan made the top ten for four-star TX dual-threat QB Jarrett Stidham, though Texas Tech is still regarded as his early leader.
Scout updated their top 300 for the 2015 class. Shaun Crawford comes in at #65 (#8 CB), Tyree Kinnel at #220 (#27 CB), and Jon Runyan Jr. at #294 (#20 OG).
Soady two-holer > Sochi two-holer
One of the mods already put this in a thread but a front page reminder can't hurt: don't post scores or spoilers of Olympic events on delayed telecasts. This goes especially for the results of hockey games that will be broadcast in primetime. Laughing at the myriad (mostly toilet-related) follies of bored and pampered journalists with nothing else to talk about for four days is fine.
The NHL kindly added the hockey games to its schedule, and I Bleed Maize N Blue put up a list of Michigan folk. Your Wolverines are hockey players Carl Hagelin (Sweden), Brian Lebler (Austria), and Max Pacioretty (USA), and U.S. figure skaters Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Maia & Alex Shibutani, and Evan Bates.
|Fri 2/7||Opening Ceremony||7:30 PM||NBC||All|
|Sat 2/8||Ice Dancing||9:30 AM||NBC||Davis & White|
|Wed 2/12||Hky: Czech-Sweden||12:00 PM||USA||Hagelin|
|Thu 2/13||Hky: Finland-Austria||3:00 AM||NBCSN||Lebler|
|Thu 2/13||Hky: Slovakia-USA||7:30 AM||NBCSN||Pacioretty|
|Fri 2/14||Hky: Sweden-Switzerland||7:30 AM||NBCSN||Hagelin|
|Fri 2/14||Hky: Canada-Austria||12:00 PM||USA||Brian Lebler|
|Sat 2/15||Hky: USA-Russia||7:30 AM||NBCSN||Pacioretty|
|Sat 2/15||Hky: Sweden-Latvia||12:00 PM||USA||Hagelin|
|Sun 2/16||Hky: Austria-Norway||3:00 AM||USA||Lebler|
|Sun 2/16||Hky: Slovenia-USA||7:30 AM||NBCSN||Pacioretty|
Makes M's Happy
Sara Driesenga pitched 263 innings with an ERA of 1.89 last year [Terra Molengraff/Daily]
Softball is my chosen sport for following without obsessing. Carol Hutchins is one of the best coaches the sport's ever had, and the team still exudes a spirit that's so so enjoyable. Just don't think too hard about the competitive aspects, or how large a role a pitcher plays in the outcome versus the rest of the team.
If you'd like to know how this team looks, the answer is "very good" again. Like the Tigers, they return ridiculous pitching—Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga are both aces, and they're joined this year by highly touted freshman Megan Betsa—and one of the game's best hitting infielders (shortstop Sierra Romero), but lost their cleanup hitter. Also like the Tigers they're not a very good defensive team.
Etc. Survey results for RunTheFootball's expectations thing says Michigan's not living up to those. Your weekly goal by goal analysis covers the tallies vs. Wisconsin last weekend. Michigan is still shooting the lights out in conference play except against Indiana, not updated with Nebraska game yet. Lacrosse. Softball.
Best of the Board
NATIONAL SIGNING EVE WAS LONG AND FULL OF TERRORS
The night before signing day I got an email from a source who's been spot-on before that Peppers was thinking about holding off signing his LOI the next day—nobody else had that info so I didn't publish it, but it appears he was correct and that Peppers's coach talked him down off the ledge. Since this source has been right about everything so far, I'll share the reason he gave for the wavering: another program's coach, claiming knowledge from an NCAA source, was in Peppers's ear about "possible major sanctions at Michigan," presumably for the Gibbons thing. Crutin, man.
Clarification Update: He didn't say which coach, and guesses are just that since virtually every coach goes around flingin' B.S. on signing eve. Playing defense keeps other coaches from going on the offensive against your class. It's just Crutin' man.
TIDBITS FROM THE SIGNING DAY PRESSER
- Clarity on LB recruit positions: Winovich is a Jake Ryan-style SAM, Ferns is a MIKE, Furbush is a MIKE or WILL, Wangler is a WILL or Stevie Brown-style SAM.
- Dymonte Thomas will just be a safety, no more nickel and diming
- Canteen is a slot guy
- Furbush cut his own cast off using a hedge trimmer.
Thanks to Every Roh Has Its Thorn for collating these.
PUNTING: NOW FAME-WORTHY
Monte Robbins [source] / Zoltan Mesko [Scout] / Adam Finley [Desimone]
Now that the stat-heads have shown the punt is the least important play in football, the NFL Hall of Fame, which is the second-least meaningful of all Hall of Fames (they're heavy on skill players and big names, light on understanding the game; the college football one is worse), has finally decided to let in the Guy (ha!) they named the punting award for.
This got me wondering if there's a punter in Michigan history who could surpass those I can personally recall. Punting stats have been kept only since 2000 by the NCAA, and Bentley only goes a few years further back. They're very wonky stats when they're good, and very badly curated, and the most accessible ones are more suggestive of a terrible offense than a great leg. Zoltan is the obvious if-memory-serves candidate for best Michigan punter ever. I remember thinking Adam Finley was underrated because he could pow it very high or place it out of bounds, and that Hayden Epstein was overrated because all he did was thwack it.
Great Grandpa Alfonse used ta say if you're lookin' back at the tings you missed you won't know what hit ya.
As for how Wile did I can pull 2013 conference data from cfbstats if you like:
|Player||Team||Atts||Net YPA||% Ret|
|Cameron Johnston||Ohio State||49||41.7||16%|
|Mike Sadler||Michigan State||76||41.0||25%|
|Alex Butterworth||Penn State||51||38.5||22%|
That 46% of punts returned (ie didn't end with a fair catch, downed, out of bounds, or touchback) is the dinosaur punting. This is enough about punting for today.
CRASH TESTING HELMETS
UM Engineers are getting into the helmet-improvement game to understand the biomechanics of football hits.
Your Moment of Zen:
Gonna start around 10 a.m.
“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or god, convince a thousand cats to do read the liveblog chaos mitigation post before entering.”
― Neil Gaiman
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Schembechler Hall will be buzzing all morning as National Letter’s of Intent arrive in the football offices via fax machine. Team 135 plans to add nine new members as the remaining verbal commits make it official and put pen to paper.
We checked in with each of them last night:
CB Jabrill Peppers – Paramus Catholic High School – Paramus, NJ
With coaches trying to persuade Peppers away from the Wolverines into the eve of National Signing Day I wasn’t surprised that Jabrill didn’t respond to me, but I think his tweet was enough to put Wolverine fans at ease about his final decision.
Y'all know what I say!! #GoBlizzyBlueManeeee
— Breez (@JabrillPeppers) February 5, 2014
Paramus Catholic is closed due to heavy snowfall but according to TomVH, Jabrill plans to sign his letter of intent anyway with the actual celebratory ceremony being moved to Thursday.
DE Lawrence Marshall – Southfield High School – Southfield, MI
Marshall’s recruitment was one of the more eventful processes in the class with an initial commitment to the Buckeyes followed by a decommitment and then a presumed new commitment to Michigan State which never happened, only to actually wind up a Wolverine.
Marshall had a simple yet heartfelt message about tomorrow, “Man, I just can’t wait to be a Wolverine.” Marshall will sign his letter of intent at Southfield High School at 9:30 a.m., followed by a 3 o’clock interview with Sam Webb, and finally another commitment ceremony at 6 p.m.
LB Chase Winovich – Thomas Jefferson High School – Clairton, PA
Long thought to be a Buckeye lean, Winovich decided to pledge to the Wolverines on the first day of June last summer. Last night Winovich sent some people into a frenzy when he cryptically tweeted, “Decisions, decisions, decisions.”
I asked Chase about that and he said with a laugh, “That was just to rouse everyone out. Figured I’d have some fun with a situation that is obviously very serious.” He confirmed that he was all Michigan shortly after that. “Just need to let the committee of sleep do the rest of the shoring up tonight.” Winovich is a different kind of cat and his comments didn’t change that perception.
TE Ian Bunting – Hinsdale Central High School – Hinsdale, IL
A lot of people are enamored with a 6’7” tight end who played mostly wide receiver in high school. Ian Bunting is just that and will be another big target for future Michigan quarterbacks to throw to. Ian could barely contain his excitement about tomorrow.
“I can’t wait! Today went by really slowly. I’m excited to start this new chapter and I’m proud to be a part of the Michigan family and Team 135.”
Bunting will sign his letter of intent at 7:15 a.m. and the plan is to fax them immediately after. Once the paperwork is done Bunting knows that he’s still several months away from being in Ann Arbor. “I plan to do a lot of lifting and yoga. I’m going to start lifting a lot once basketball is over and doing a lot of yoga to get in tip-top shape. Other than that, I’m just going to enjoy the rest of my senior year with all of my friends and family.”
OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty – Paramus Catholic High School – Paramus, NJ
While maybe not as famous as his Paramus teammate Jabrill Peppers, Juwann Bushell-Beatty reeled in some very solid offers before committing to Michigan almost a year ago. JBB expressed his readiness for National Signing Day.
“I’m excited! It’s been almost a year now waiting for this day. Being able to finally solidify this is going to be great. It just motivates me more to be great.” Juwann was actually the one who told me of Paramus being out of school due to the snowstorm and the rescheduling of his signing ceremony. Even with school being cancelled Juwann plans to sign his letter early and get it sent in around 8 or 9.
WR Moe Ways – Detroit Country Day School – Franklin, MI
Out of all of the prospects I’ve ever talked to, Moe Ways might’ve been the one who seemed to want to be a Michigan Man more than anyone else. He reinforced that notion when I asked him about signing his letter. “Man I’m just so blessed and excited to make everything official and officially become a Michigan Man and Wolverine.” Moe will sign his letter around noon and then will celebrate the rest of the day with his family.
LB Noah Furbush – Kenton High School – Kenton, OH
Furbush is one of the very few recruits I’ve never had any actual contact with. He has managed to stay under the radar and out of the spotlight throughout his entire recruitment and even when he committed there weren’t many fireworks involved. He comes in at almost 250 lbs. and people who have seen him play in person and know his body type suspect he’ll play with his hand in the dirt at some point in college.
S Jared Wangler – De La Salle Collegiate – Warren, MI
Son of legendary Michigan quarterback Johnny Wangler, Jared Wangler was once committed to Penn State but once the Wolverines came a’callin’ it was inevitable that he’d be part of this class. As you’d expect his final decision is one that holds a special place in his heart for obvious reasons. “It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid. I’m excited to officially become a Michigan Wolverine.”
Wangler actually has a busy morning scheduled before his letter will be signed. He’s got a 5 a.m. wake-up planned in order to play in his intramural basketball game at 6 a.m. at DLS. After hoopin’ he’ll head home to clean up and prepare for his 9 a.m. signing ceremony. I asked Jared if anything noteworthy happened during his recruitment from other coaching staffs and he had a rather interesting reply. “It was pretty funny that Bill O’Brien swore to me that he’d be at Penn State for all of my four years.” Yeah…about that.
DT Brady Pallante – Barron Collier High School – Naples, FL
Not everyone was a fan of the Brady Pallante commitment, but when a guy is almost a clone size and story-wise of Mike Martin, I’d say let’s at least give him a chance first. Given the fact that Pallante was first thought of as a greyshirt commit, his emotion toward tomorrow was easily detected. “I’m truly blessed to have this opportunity. Not many people can say they’re going to college on a full ride. Honestly, I’m still amazed at the opportunity I was given.” Pallante will sign his letter first thing in the morning and plans to have it faxed by 7:30 a.m.
Of course the elephant in the room is the decision of DL Malik McDowell. I personally don’t think he’s choosing Michigan and I haven’t in a long time. It’s been made pretty clear that Malik himself wants to go to Michigan State, but his parents don’t want him in East Lansing. Does that mean they’ll keep him in-state and he’ll go Blue? I don’t think so, but I honestly don’t know. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised by him choosing any of his four finalists. McDowell will be a Wolverine, a Spartan, a Seminole, or a Buckeye and at this point your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Finally, will there be any Norfleet-like surprises on signing day this year? I haven’t heard anything but when I asked that exact question to one of the coaches, he replied with “You never know.” Coach speak? Really not knowing? Hoping? We shall see.
As recently as yesterday, it appeared all but assured that Michigan would take a running back in the 2014 class, whether it be Jeff Jones or newly offered Marlon Mack or perhaps a reinterested Kalen Ballage.
Not so fast, my friends. This morning, Sam Webb said on his WTKA recruiting segment* that he doesn't expect Jones or Mack to end up in the class—a change from his earlier stance—and he reiterated that in a board post on GBW (link $). 247's Steve Lorenz confirmed that report this afternoon and added that he believes it also applies to Ballage ($).
As of now, the reasoning behind this shift from the coaching staff is unclear. There's an optimistic take out there, though; Doug Nussmeier visited 2015 RB commit Damien Harris last week in the midst of rampant speculation—including from his fellow commits—that a decommitment was on the horizon. Harris has been quiet of late; it's possible that Nussmeier felt more comfortable with Harris' status—and Michigan's depth chart at RB—after the visit and felt a scholarship could be better used at another position (or in the 2015 class). It may also help Harris' commitment status if he's reassured that there won't be extra competition from a running back in the class ahead of him.
It appears it's Malik McDowell or bust to round out the 2014 class; given the needs already filled and the small projected class size for 2015, banking a scholarship or two isn't a bad idea, even if it means a less exciting Signing Day (again) this year. For what it's worth, while Sam Webb continues to be optimistic that McDowell will stay close to home, at least one reliable Florida State insider likes their chances after McDowell took his official to Tallahassee last weekend.
[Hit THE JUMP for info on Michigan's two most recent 2015 offers, the final Rivals 100, the DetNews Blue Chip list, and more.]