...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
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.
Damien Harris Fallout: Back In It For Mike Weber?
2015 five-star RB Damien Harris decommitted from Michigan this week. After Al Borges—his primary recruiter—was fired, Harris decided he needed to take a step back and explore his options, though his mother says Michigan is still on top, per Sam Webb ($):
“The reason he came to this decision is he felt like when he committed, at the time, we felt like it was the right decision even though it was early,” she explained. “Months later he has been thinking and thinking, ‘I didn’t really go and look at other places probably like I should have. I didn’t consider other places like I should have.’ Even though Michigan is #1, and that hasn’t changed, he just wants to make sure he doesn’t have any regrets when he gets ready to enroll. He just wants to make sure that he didn’t leave any stone unturned and wants to make sure he didn’t miss out on anything, even though he knows Michigan is still his #1. That’s all. He is just making sure that if he was to visit other places, he wasn’t going to regret not taking the full experience.”
Meanwhile, a certain despicable portion of the fanbase* isn't helping Michigan's cause. Harris has taken a lot of heat on Twitter for his decommitment and his coach told TomVH that could be a factor in his ultimate decision ($):
“People need to back off of him [on Twitter]. He’s a 16-year-old kid. People are attacking him on there,” [Madison Southern coach Jon] Clark said. “You have grown men who are way out of line, and Michigan fans better ease up or they’re going to push him away from Michigan. The coaches aren’t; the fans are.
“The only impact a fan ever has on a kid is a negative one; that’s it. There’s not a fan out there that has a positive impact on this kid.”
To state the blitheringly obvious: DON'T DO THIS. I realize/hope this doesn't apply to 99% of you, but nothing you're going to do as a fan—positive or negative, in person or on social media—is going to make a positive difference in a prospect's recruitment. Leave the recruiting to the coaches and, as a general life rule, leave harassing high school students to... nobody. Nobody should do that.
Anyway, with Harris opening up his recruitment, Michigan has rekindled their interest in 2015 four-star Cass Tech RB Mike Weber, per GBW's Josh Newkirk ($):
“I talked with (Nussmeier) for a half-hour on the phone. He is real excited about recruiting me,” Weber told GoBlueWolverine. “He told me it was crazy that Michigan stopped recruiting me. So when he got there he was telling me how he really wanted me (at Michigan). It made me open my eyes back up to Michigan.
“Michigan is back on the radar.”
Weber named a top five of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Tennessee (in no particular order); the Spartans and Vols have been the presumed favorites for a while now, though the renewed Michigan interest could change that. It didn't take long for Weber to recipricate that interest, too—he was the only prospect in attendance at last night's Iowa game, which he seemed to appreciate. Whether or not things work out with Harris, Weber would be a great addition to the class; he's been very productive against solid competition for the last two years and looks great on film.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Malik McDowell, new 2015 offers—including a long-awaited one to a California DE—the final Rivals250, and more.]
Keeping His Hand To Himself
This week's edition of "First and 17" features Da'Shawn Hand's coach telling Mike Farrell, "I don't know if he knows for sure for sure. I feel like he really likes Michigan. He's gonna go feel the flavor of the SEC because of everything everyone's talked about, but... you know, I don't even know. I think he knows. I don't even know if pops knows yet ... At this point, none of where he picks will surprise me, because they're all great schools." (2:25 mark.) He also tells Roy Manning, who stopped by Woodbridge during the bye week, that he thinks Hand is leaning towards Michigan—but also that he likes Alabama, and this is before Hand's official to Tuscaloosa. (7:25 mark.)
Later, Hand discusses why he likes to keep his thoughts to himself (9:44 mark): "When I take one visit, everyone thinks I'm committing to the college ... I just don't like showing people my full hand, because then everyone can pick out your every move. Everyone tries to get in my head, but that'll never happen."
So... your guess is as good as mine. We'll know in ten days when he makes his announcement.
Michigan Still In Mix For Glenville Duo
Rivals's Josh Helmholdt caught up with highly-touted 2014 Glenville teammates Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith to discuss their respective recruitments. Like Hand, both are playing it coy when it comes to naming a leader, even though Ohio State is the presumed destination for both (especially Lattimore; fitting Smith into the class could get difficult for OSU). Both have four official visits left to schedule—Alabama is already on the docket for each—and Michigan is in the running for both. Here's Lattimore ($):
"I am going to take all of my officials. I have to plan them with Marcelys Jones and Erick Smith," Lattimore said. "Ohio State, probably USC, I might try to get out to Oregon, probably Michigan and Louisville. I was always interested in all those schools, and will give them equal opportunity."
And Smith ($):
Alabama assistant coach Bobby Williams was at Glenville on Friday and Smith is looking at rescheduling that trip for sometime in December. He has a group of a half dozen schools who are in the mix for his remaining four official visits.
"I am not for sure, but I know Ohio State, Michigan, Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan State and Georgia Tech too - those are all up there," Smith said. "You could say those are the schools I am really looking at right now."
With Lattimore and Smith planning their trips together, it's fair to guess that OSU, Michigan, and Louisville (along with Bama) have an edge—those schools are mentioned by both prospects. It's tough to see Michigan beating out Alabama and Ohio State given how the season is playing out and the fact that neither are sure they'll take another trip to Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, four-star MI DL Malik McDowell has scheduled his official visit to Florida and tells GatorCountry.com that he's in frequent contact with head coach Will Muschamp. He's another prospect who's very difficult to read; the very frequent trips to Ann Arbor—and playing on the same line with commit Lawrence Marshall—suggest Michigan holds an edge, but it's clear that he's serious about looking around.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Sheriron Jones, a must-read feature on a current commit, and a roundup of last weekend's high school action as playoff season gets under way.]
The Foolproof Way To Avoid Senioritis
Michigan has its first official signee of the 2014 class. Impossible, you say? Not if you're Michael Ferns, who can sign because he graduated from high school in three years, according to WRTF.com. Ferns is finishing his senior season of football at St. Clairsville while taking classes at Ohio University-Eastern and will enroll at Michigan next semester—the normal time for early enrollees to hit campus.
Other recruits planning to enroll early include Wilton Speight, Bryan Mone, Drake Harris, Mason Cole, and the ECA duo of Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson.
Froholdt, Weber To Visit This Weekend
The M Block's Eric Rutter caught up with 2015 DL Hjalte Froholdt, who's playing his junior season in a semi-pro league in Denmark; he's been able to come back across the Atlantic for visits, however, and after visiting Arkansas last week he'll be in attendance at the Big House this weekend—it'll be a big one, as he's getting close to a decision:
Froholdt has already announced a final top group of Arkansas, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State and intends to choose from those schools soon- as in within the next couple months, although an official date has not been set. Froholdt visited Arkansas on Saturday to watch the Razorbacks host South Carolina for a 52-7 beating. Michigan will get the next crack at impressing Froholdt as he will be in Ann Arbor on October 19 to watch the Wolverines host the Indiana Hoosiers.
Head on over to the original post to read Froholdt's comments about his relationship with Greg Mattison, his primary recruiter. SPOILER: He likes Greg Mattison. Michigan is very much in the hunt to land Froholdt and an impressive visit experience this weekend could put them in the driver's seat.
2015 Cass Tech RB Mike Weber talked to The Wolverine's Branden Hunter about his relationship with Michigan and upcoming visit ($):
"His commitment really didn't affect me at all," Weber said of [Damien] Harris' pledge. "I grew up liking Michigan, and I'm not scared of competition, so if that college is the best fit for me, that's were I'm going.
"I talk to Michigan a lot," Weber said. "I'm supposed to go to their next home game I believe, and coach Singletary wished me luck before the game. Michigan always shows love."
Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Tennessee are also mentioned as teams showing serious interest in Weber. The issue with his recruitment may not be one of interest as much as it is space in the class; with Harris already committed, I'd be surprised if Michigan takes two running backs unless more spots open up, and by that point they may have a hard time catching up to schools that have the room to tell Weber they can take him at any time.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest 2015 offer and the weekly commit stat wrapup.]
Shaun Crawford, Mini-Jabrill
A much-anticipated matchup between Cleveland.com's top-ranked Cleveland St. Edward squad and #9 Cincinnati Elder didn't live up to the hype, as St. Eds ran away with a 48-7 victory. Much of the credit for the blowout goes to 2015 commit Shaun Crawford, whose stat line looks like one posted by a certain other defensive back headed for Ann Arbor:
@TomVH Shaun Crawford: 9 carries, 124 yds, 2 TDs 3 receptions, 28 yds, 1 punt return 63 yds, TD, 1 kick return 25 yds. 240 all-purpose yds
— Brad Bournival (@bbournival) September 22, 2013
Yes, it appears Michigan may have the best player on the best team in Ohio, and he's only a junior. This is nice.
Jabrill Peppers, Still Jabrill
2014 commit Jabrill Peppers, meanwhile, did a little bit of everything to lead Paramus Catholic to a 35-21 victory over DePaul. Peppers rushed seven times for 41 yards, caught four passes for 49 yards and a TD, returned a kickoff for 47 yards, tallied four solo tackles, recorded three pass defenses, and returned an interception 32 yards for another TD.
[Hit THE JUMP for more outstanding performances by Michigan commits, plus an interesting development in JuJu Smith's recruitment.]
Ed-Ace: Brian is out of pocket for the weekend and left this to post for today; it's worth adding that the athletic department announced that radio play-by-play broadcaster Frank Beckmann will retire following the 2013 season — full release can be found here. It contains quotes from the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics AND the VP of Audio for IMG College, but not Beckmann himself, strangely. (Beckmann has since given quotes to Angelique Chengelis, FWIW.)
The Michigan offer letter. From Michael Ferns:
No mention of four years, one erroneously capitalized "Championship."
Read this now. Smart Football breaks down Jason Witten, and there's a reason to read the article other than a desire to weep about that Citrus Bowl in dickety-six: Chris Brown talks in-depth about the "option" route that is a staple of the Dallas offense… and will hopefully be a staple of Michigan's soon.
At its base, the option route is "go get open underneath" for inside receivers—usually tight ends—who run out to 8 or 10 yards and then either break outside, break inside, or sit down depending on what the coverage is and where the defender is relative to him. Witten's quite good at this, to the tune of 110(!) catches a year ago.
The option route is one of six core elements of the Michigan passing offense and the thing should emerge into a weapon as long as someone can run it. Devin Funchess is obviously the best bet, but don't sleep on Khalid Hill, all 258 pounds of him.
Gardner hype. Warning: Fall Out Boy may cause allergic reaction in haterz.
(This may be Wiz Khalifa?)
A STRANGE MAN DOES NON THINGS ON THE INTERNET. Pretty sure this is Wiz Khalifa.
PROTIP: MAKE SURE YOU SPELL THAT WITH TWO Ps
He reminds me of Ed McCaffery and Wes Welker. Jon Kolesar gets the Wolverine Historian tribute:
Probably not Wiz Khalifa.
Anonymous and false boilerplate. You know, when Joe Tiller was around your anonymous quotes from Big Ten coaches features would have a heavy dose of bitchiness, thus making them interesting. These days no dice, as the opinions proffered are largely milquetoasty and sometimes flat out false:
"Their offensive line is very good, much like Ohio State and Wisconsin. Very physical up front, great defensive scheme. For two years, they were confusing us a little bit."
This is the most interesting thing:
"They have a great package defensively. Their third down package — (defensive coordinator) Greg Mattison gives the illusion of pressure every time. You never know when they are really coming or not coming. It’s the different stuff that he does." … -
"Nebraska is Nebraska — with people wearing those stupid hats."
Yes, I hope that is Brady. Very much.
Bring me a chicken, hold the dry white toast. Mike Rothstein has an interesting article on Taylor Lewan's nutrition reform:
“It sucks. It’s awful. The diet is rough,” Lewan said. “When you go out with your friends and they order pizzas and wings, I look at that and I’m salivating. I’m looking at it and am excited about it.
“I go to Buffalo Wild Wings and order a salad and five chicken breasts. I swear that’s what I do. They are like, ‘I don’t think we can do that.’ I’m like, ‘No, if you go to menu, there’s a button that says chicken breast.’ I found that out somehow.”
Lewan's dropped five percent body fat since last season and is doing complicated physical things at elite levels.
Etc.: Oh man, Michigan Hockey Net just put up the 2001 M-MSU hockey game at the Joe, an all time classic. Very good dude Bruce Madej to retire. Andrew Copp talks football. Congrats to Phil Brabbs, who's made it five years since his cancer diagnosis. CTK gets to Drew Dileo, and Dileo talks Norfleet(!). Desmond Howard considers joining the O'Bannon suit. MVictors has shots from practice.