|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|Cam Gordon||Sr.*||Desmond Morgan||Jr.||James Ross||So.|
|Jake Ryan||Jr.*||Joe Bolden||So.||Royce Jenkins-Stone||So.|
|Brennen Beyer||Jr.||Mike McCray||Fr.||Ben Gedeon||Fr.|
Stupid ACL injuries wrecking everything… well… some things. Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation and Jake Ryan to cruel fate, but returns everyone else, adds Brennen Beyer from the stacked WDE spot, and welcomes two freshmen. They have a decent amount of experience, a decent amount of depth, and a ton of promise. James Ross figures to blow up; Desmond Morgan's improvement will be more incremental but now he's at a more comfortable position. Joe Bolden gives both a quality backup.
Even at the depleted SAM spot you've got a fifth year senior and true junior who Greg Mattison says are both playing like starters, and then Ryan is supposed to be back by mid-October… or sooner. Could be pretty good here.
These previews had previously split out the middle and weakside linebackers into their own sections, but the obvious interchangeability of the two spots (Desmond Morgan moves from one to the other, Bolden played both last year, supposed MLB Kenny Demens took the bulk of the TE-seam responsibilities) we're combining the two into an inside LB spot. Differences between the two spots exist, but are thin—according to Mattison, "inside is inside."
Morgan will hit ya [Upchurch/MGoBlue.com]
|hit and shed|
|gets in, gets upfield|
|sheds block, slows Bell|
|no more forward for you|
|comes from backside to tackle|
|kind of Ryan-like here|
|lost on counter|
|accepts a block|
|slashed to the ground|
|cut like a mofo|
|read and react|
|nerfs counter draw|
|takes on two blockers|
|sidles all the way|
|shuts down Martinez draw|
DESMOND MORGAN enters his third year as a starter by moving over from the weakside to the middle, as predicted by everyone in the world including myself. This is partly because James Ross demands entry into the starting lineup and partly because Morgan's skillset—thumpin'—was always more suited to the mike. Even when he was at WLB, it was Kenny Demens tasked with following tight ends down the seam. Morgan isn't quite a Sam Sword two-downs-and-out guy, but between he and Ross there's no question who you want dropping into coverage and who you want taking on fullbacks.
The best part of Morgan's game is how running backs stop when he contacts them. Morgan emerged into a bang-you're-dead tackler over the course of the year. Here he takes on a block, sheds it, gets an arm on LeVeon Bell(!), and robs him of most of his momentum:
Michigan would boot State off the field on the ensuing third and short. Having guys like Morgan around makes every first down a battle. Morgan also robbed a Minnesota power back of most of his momentum, amongst other events. Click play and HEAR FOOTBALL!
The guy is a brick.
After his first year this space criticized Morgan's hesitancy (mildly since he was a freshman), something that lasted through the first portion of last season. Michigan would slant the line and get gashed and I eventually pieced together a theory that the linebackers were uncomfortable predicting what would happen on that slant and late to the hole.
As the year progressed (and Washington and Campbell got more reliable with their angles), that tendency receded:
The linebackers are generally more decisive. The Demens see-gap-hit-gap-eat-soul is one part of it; also you can sense Morgan feeling the play behind that. He eases to the playside a bit to give him an edge on someone who might be releasing backside. He's reading the play through, and he shows up to help at the right spot. There's an air of "I am no longer a confused freshman" to him.
Morgan put a lot of previous worries about athleticism to bed last year as he got sideline to sideline effectively and made plays in space against tough customers like Taylor Martinez. Watching his read-and-explode is at times reminiscent of Jake Ryan. At times.
The UFR chart is reflective of this:
|Alabama||5.5||10||-4.5||And this was the best ILB play!|
|Air Force||8||10||-2||Faded late after strong start, thus setting up allfrosh.|
|Notre Dame||5||2||3||Solid tackling day, looked pretty athletic.|
|Purdue||5.5||3.5||2||Overshadowed with +2, is this real life?|
|Illinois||7.5||4.5||3||This is relatively bad!|
|MSU||9||2||7||Remember the athleticism worries with him?|
|Nebraska||11||4||7||Hit Y on leaping bat that became INT.|
|Minnesota||11||5.5||5.5||You stop when he hits you.|
|Northwestern||4||9.5||-5.5||Rough outing with blown assignments; Ross out there on critical last two drives speaks for itself.|
OSU not done, sorry. South Carolina not listed because it was impossible to tell who was who between Morgan and Bolden, and South Carolina ran the tailback five times anyway.
For inside linebackers, anything above zero is generally good. After getting 'Bama'd and having issues against Air Force's triple option, Morgan started a run of six straight positive games—some very much so.
Of course, a couple games after I proclaimed him a star in the Nebraska UFR he got edged and outran all day by Northwestern. Hey, he's just not the best guy to take on Venric Mark. It happens. Moving him to the middle should mitigate those issues.
In year three, Mattison believes that Morgan has the mental and physical ability to be top notch as long as he fixes one issue:
"He's so smart. He can make the checks, and he's strong. That allows him to be able to strike a blow, punch and get off blocks. One thing our linebackers have to work extremely hard on that was a negative for us was there were too many times they ran into blockers and didn't disengage. That's been a big emphasis."
Morgan got consistently better at this as the year rolled along. He's too much of a blue-collar guy to get the sexy TFL stats to be All Big Ten (also, Max Bullough exists) but he should be a consistently plus player who fends off Joe Bolden all year. He will be an asset.
[After THE JUMP: James Ross! Depth! Jake Ryan as Loki! Cam Gordon! More depth!]
Yes. Fun. Annual best CTK is just four minutes of the Michigan drill:
- Lewan buries Keith Heitzman on the first rep; Heitzman comes back and does much better against Schofield on the next one. Not entirely unexpected.
- Rawls absolutely runs over Ross Douglas on a rep, causing both guys to pop up and jut chests at each other threateningly.
- Washington looks good on both his reps, though he gave some ground on #1.
- Ross sheds very well on his single rep, as does Jarrod Wilson. Wormley does not and immediately gets a coach in his face repeating "escape, escape, escape" to him.
- A rather large-looking Mike McCray has interesting reps separated by 30 seconds or so. On the first one, Kyle Bosch drives him way out of the frame. On the second, he dumps Blake Bars to the ground and makes a tackle.
- Taco stands up Jake Butt, RB darts by, Mattison exclaims "HE WENT OUTSIDE THE CONE" in an effort to claim that one for the D.
- Strobel does a good job against walk-on Erik Gunderson.
- Jeremy Jackson locks up Richardson and waltzes him downfeld. Not a huge surprise, but an indicator as to why it's going to be hard for Richardson to get on the field this year.
- Pipkins wins a rep against Glasgow with authority.
Omar comin'? Frank Clark gets the CTK treatment:
Clark says he'd be competitive with Devin Gardner in a 40 yard dash… but not Denard. He says he 268, not 277, but a CTK a few days later they say he's 274. I dunno, pick one.
Also available: Aaron Wellman may get results, but does he sound like a gravel truck? Maybe a little. Jeremy Jackson's Day 18 is mostly a look into weirdass Navy Seal exercises like "kick a pole and wiggle forward on your butt" and "rub sand on your head." Jake Ryan is running and whatnot.
Hail Brady. Oh man Michigan's head coach has the same opinion on uniformz as sane people do:
"(The uniform issue is) bigger than it should be," Hoke said Monday during a radio interview with FoxSports' Jay Mohr. "But we’re traditional, and we have such a great tradition and legacies, we’re going to be staying pretty much standard.” …
“We had one uniform we wore once that we won’t wear again,” he said. "It’s something that you’re always trying to have that excitement with your kids, and that’s part of it."
Is that the ghost number outfit, the No Rain bumblebee one, or… actually the Sugar Bowl uniforms were hardly different from the usual and fine.
The times, they have changed. Ohio State picks up a 2015 PG commit from AJ Harris, a 5'8" kid who I'd never heard of. A quick check of the UMHoops page for him reveals nothing but a lot of scouting from various AAU tournaments, so that's why: no one had mentioned him in connection with a Michigan offer. This is interesting for a couple reasons:
- It likely removes OSU from the Jalen Brunson chase, but Harris is a AAU teammate of Luke Kennard.
- Harris's commitment was "shocking" because as of two weeks ago he said Michigan was at the top and he wanted to be Trey Burke.
Harris told Eleven Warriors that "it's true, I did want to hear from Michigan," but Michigan is focused on a half-dozen high profile targets. So… Ohio point guard picks Ohio State because Michigan showed no interest. Remember when the basketball program was 1-6 in the Big Ten? No? I don't either.
Meanwhile in silly things said on the internet:
What could make it sweeter? Beating out Michigan for a prospect that two weeks ago wanted to emulate Trey Burke.
To beat the man, the man has to be in the ring, or at least cognizant of the fact there is a ring.
Booker and Johnson do things. Elsewhere in basketball recruiting news—we are downshifting from occasional roundups as football season starts—Devin Booker releases a top five of Michigan, Kentucky, Michigan State, Missouri, and Florida. The latter two are not reputed to be strong contenders, especially Florida. Booker told Scout that he's set up officials with the other four schools and pull the trigger "whenever I feel whatever schools is right for me" and that he's not even sure he'll visit Florida.
You are rooting for Indiana decommit (and Kentucky legacy) James Blackmon to pick the Wildcats, as they seem to be the biggest threat at the moment. Indiana blog Inside The Hall thinks Blackmon is all but locked up for the Wildcats, so we've got that going for us. The primary way things could go pear-shaped if Blackmon takes Kentucky off the table is if Michigan gets a commit from Trevon Bluiett and Booker looks at Stauskas/Irvin/LeVert/Bluiett as a higher hill to climb than Michigan State's roster.
Also, Ypsi PF Jaylen Johnson, who recently took a visit to Michigan, is profiled by the Louisville paper:
“I love his activity,” Meyer said. “He’s athletic, he’s long, and he’s so active. He’s such an aggressive rebounder, one of those who is always fighting for position early. I love his feel for the game as a rebounder.”
Meyer thinks Johnson will end up at Louisville, so expect him to cut Louisville from his list immediately. YES I AM STILL BITTER.
Finally, touted 2015 PF Carlton Bragg plans a visit:
We talked about it a little,” Graves said. “I think Carlton would be a three, stretch four because he has the jumper to be 6-9 just like a forward that runs the floor, like a hybrid. We haven’t talked x’s and o’s but they can see him in their system, especially with the three’s that they shoot.”
Bragg is open at the moment; Ohio State will be a major player.
They were almost ready to throw in the towel last year. On the OL, that is. Apparently the debate as to whether to redshirt Kyle Kalis was being had within the walls of Schembechler Hall as well as without:
"It sucked," the redshirt freshman offensive lineman said Sunday. "It sucked. So many times, I was close to going in, but they didn't want to burn my redshirt.
"Everyone wants to play, and it sucks (when you don't get to). And I was mad about it."
So many times I was like "why aren't they playing Kalis." At least we know now there was much debate about it.
Prepare for WJC departures. The United States of Hockey handicaps the National Junior Evaluation Camp field, which includes four Michigan forwards. Chris Peters projects that Compher ("One of the better centers for most of the camp… really strong when playing a bottom-six role and playing an aggressive, grinding two-way style") and Copp ("A prime candidate to play the fourth-line shutdown role the U.S. will so badly need to succeed") will make the roster, while Motte and Nieves are question marks. Nieves's evaluation is pretty much the thing:
Nieves is one of those guys where if he finds that missing piece to his game, he could be really good. With size, speed and some truly remarkable puck skills, he’s got a lot of the tools going for him. He just couldn’t seem to finish the play out with the right decision or buy himself time when he needed it. That led to poor shots or turnovers and that’s going to be tough to do at the WJC level. The speed and skills are there, but I think he needs some more work.
Right now he's Milan Gajic, a guy who looks like he's got every skill you could want but doesn't put it together to blow up. He's got some more time to break out of that rut.
Meanwhile, Motte is sounding like something not very much like the midget puck wizard I'd assumed he would be:
Motte showed good quickness and some skill in a solid camp performance. He had some good two-way play and worked really well when playing with Compher and Fasching in the middle parts of the camp.
He might grab a lower-rung spot, especially if the brass thinks his long familiarity with Compher would make a good pairing.
Are they related to Wiz Khalifa? I don't know what this means.
For Gallon, there’s an added bonus there: He and Gardner are extremely tight. “Closer than Phineas and Ferb,” as Gallon puts it.
I am old.
Etc.: Big Ten building spree reaches 1.5 billion dollars. No M-OSU night games on the docket according to Jim Delany. Chengelis wants to futz with the tunnel. Michael Bradley profiled. Penn State fans no likey Hoke after the Wangler decommitment. Moeller and Lou Holtz break down The Catch.
hi bennie! /Upchurch
It's an annual rite of fan dorkiness each year to try to be the first to guess which numbers the incoming freshmen will be given by obsessively google stalking them. Sometimes I have some inside knowledge from a recruit who was promised his digit, or tweeted his preferences or something. Here's how I did last year:
|Name||Pos.||# in HS||2012 Guess||Actual|
|Allen Gant||S||7 and 14||14||12|
|Chris Wormley||DE||47||84 or 68||43|
|Dennis Norfleet||RB/KR||21||21 if available, or 31||26|
|Devin Funchess||TE||5 and 15||85||19|
|Drake Johnson||RB||2 and 18||32 or 6 or 23||29|
|Sione Houma||FB||35||41 or 32||39|
|Terry Richardson||CB||3 and 6 and 9||9||13|
|Tom Strobel||DE||36||63 or 93 or 86||50|
|Willie Henry||DT||74||74 or 68||69|
Four out of 22 ain't…well yes it is. It was bad. This article is useless. Let's continue it anyway; I swear to do better.
Getting to know you. Each coach has his own tendencies with this so we'll get better at it in time. With Hoke, he seems to like having consecutive numbers in the same position group, perhaps for mentoring purposes because they sit next to each other in the locker room. It's far from a rule, but it's a trend. Carr rarely let a player share a specialist's digit, but Hoke doesn't seem to have a problem with it, for example Wormley and Hagerup share a number, and walk-on tight end Alex Mitropoulus-Rundus (I'm gonna just start calling him "Alex M-R") has the same digit as backup punter Kenny Allen. Rich Rodriguez was far more apt to share numbers, and the single digits were nearly always doubled up; Hoke has said in the past that he doesn't like doing that, and the practice has been limited—as of spring just 5, 12 and 34 had scholarship recruits in both numbers, adding 54 and 56 to those double-occupied by players on the two-deep.
The roster lies. The official MGoBlue.com roster still doesn't have DeAnthony Hardison, that nifty RB you saw in the Spring Game. He's #18. Also a practice insider told me Anthony Capatina is playing slot receiver, not "DB" as he's listed on the depth chart. Also weirdly missing from that roster is #79 right tackle Dan Gibbs (a Seaholm Mape!!!), a 2012 preferred walk-on whose twitter profile pic is him riding an oliphant:
Legends/Special #s: 1 because Braylon's scholarship killed the fun, unless Gallon gets it. It won't come as much of a surprise to you that 2 will probably be entering the Legends program this season. There will also be some push for 16, and I doubt it'll be assigned to an offensive player immediately. 11 for the Wisterts, 21 for Desmond, and 87 for Ron Kramer are currently open; it is likely they'll be assigned to veterans whose digits might then be made available if it happens before the season. Bennie's 47 and Jerry's 48 remain occupied by current players and there's no way a second guy will get them. And I've been told they're still working on the Harmon family with 98. Anyway they won't go to freshmen.
Already worn on both sides: 5 (Courtney Avery and Justice Hayes), 6 (Raymon Taylor and Brian Cleary), 12 (Gardner and Allen Gant), 13 (Terry Richardson and Alex Swieca), 15 (James Ross and Shaun Austin), 34 (Jeremy Clark and Brendan Gibbons), 43 (Chris Wormley and Will Hagerup), 54 (Richard Ash and Jareth Glanda), 56 (Ondre Pipkins and Joey Burzynski), 69 (Willie Henry and Erik Gunderson), and 95 (Anthony Capatina and Michael Jocz).
Available on offense only: 4, 7, 14, 18, 22, 24, 25, 30, 33, 35, 40, 50, 52, 53, 55, 57, 59, 66, 76, 92, 96, 97, 99
Available on defense only: 3, 8, 9, 10, 17, 19, 26, 27, 28, 29, 38, 39, 42, 45, 46, 49, 51, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 67, 70, 71, 72, 75, 77, 78, 82, 84, 85, 86, 88, 94
Walk-ons with soft claims: Every year there's a Jon Keizer on the roster who thinks his number is safe, then some top running back recruit in the country (right: from Scout) runs him over with star power (dadada, didda-da diddadidda…). Scout teamers without scholarships often have their numbers taken, for example Charlie Zeller was 19 on the 2012 spring roster and Paul Gyarmati was sitting on 99, but Devin Funchess and Matt Godin nabbed those digits last fall. This year they are 15 (Shaun Austin—note that Ross has it on D), 18 (DeAnthony Hardison—note that Countess has it on D), 27 (Jon Keizer), 36 (AJ Pearson—note that Kerridge has it on O), 42 (Dylan Esterline), 46 (Clark Grace), 49 (Brad Anlauf), 51 (Bobby Henderson), 59 (Mark Lawson), 63 (Ben Pliska), 66 (Dan Liesman), 70 (Kris Mateus), 79 (Dan Gibbs), (91 (Alex M-R, though Kenny Allen wears it too), and 95 (Anthony Capatina and Mike Jocz). The other walk-ons I didn't mention (Dever, Cleary, Glanda, Burzynski, Reynolds, Allen, Gunderson, Jocz and the Glasgows) are either on the two-deep already or in the mix.
Currently unused: 20, 23, 31, 32, 37, 41, 44, 64, 68, 73, 74, 80, 81, 83, 89, 90, 93, π
You just said Pi. We're Michigan fergodsakes. All the constants—φ, ζ(3), α and δ, Euler's e, γ, λ, K, r, and Ω—ought to be fair game, and if someone takes √-1 and uses the nickname "Impossible" he will be my favorite for ever and ever.
EVERYBODY LET'S ALL BE #7!!!
|Name||Pos.||HS #||Tea Leaves||Best Guess|
|David Dawson||OG||71||Wore 55 in Under Armour game, 33 in Army AA game.||55* - His Twitter acct is David Dawson 5⃣5⃣|
|Reon Dawson||BCB||1||Wore 13, 24 and 1 in high school.||31 - seems to fit.|
|Jaron Dukes||WR||8||Twitter handle is @Jaron_Dukes8||83*
|Chris Fox||OL||73||Wore #13 (?) at Army AA game and #33 at Rivals 5-star challenge||73* - Guy likes #3|
|Greg Froelich||OG||77||Wore that and 75 in high school (preferred walk-on)||76 - Not exactly Steve Hutchinson.|
|Ben Gedeon||MLB||15||James Ross is already James Ross.||45 - David Harris's # but precludes punt coverage.|
|Derrick Green||RB||27||Wore 27 in Army AA game.||27* - call it a hunch. Sorry Keizer.|
|Delano Hill||Nk/FS||11||Looks like he's 40.||32 (Kovacs's other #) or 23|
|Khalid Hill||FB/TE||32||Very Kevin Dudley of him.||32 or 23|
|Maurice Hurst||NT||50||Wore #11 in Semper Fi Bowl.||68 - Mike Martin's #|
|Da'Mario Jones||WR||11||Wore #7 in that photo of recruits in white M jerseys. #15 at MSU camp. Same school as Tony Boles, who wore 42 at Michigan but had 18 touchdowns so...||14*
|Patrick Kugler||OC||57||Wore 57 at UA game. Dad and bro wore 57.||57 - O'KUGLER RULES!|
|Jourdan Lewis||CB||1||Also wore #17 at Cass Tech, #27 at Army AA game.||17 or 3 or 37.|
|Mike McCray||SAM||9||Wore #9 at UA game. Father wore 99 at OSU||9* - He and Dileo both likely to be on special teams, but not the same groups.|
|J.J. McGrath||K||13||preferred walk-on||35 - Or some kicker number.|
|Shane Morris||QB||12||Gardner switched, so...||7 - he already tweeted it.|
|Henry Poggi||3T||7||Wore 17 at UA game. Was given #7 locker in May. Plays jazz flute.||70 - Ross Douglass already took 7.|
|Dan Samuelson||OG||74||Photo out there of him wearing a Nebraska 74 jersey. Twitter handle is @dansamuelson74.||74 - it's available.|
|Wyatt Shallman||FB||49||49 is available on defense.||33* for his DCC teammate who passed away.
|Deveon Smith||RB||4||Is a 4-star?||4 - It's open.|
|Blaise Stearns||WR||1||Townie: Can't find what he wore at Huron before transferred. Preferred walk-on||89 - Doesn't exactly get 1st pick.|
|Channing Stribling||FS||8||#22 commit to the class.||8* - It's open|
|Scott Sypniewski||LS||56||Wore #45 at his long-snapper camp.||41 - Who cares.|
|Jack Wangler||WR||21||Dad wore #5 at Mich (preferred walk-on)||16*
|Csont'e York||WR||1||Was #667 at NFTC||81 - With an eye toward dropping the 8.|
Go ahead and make your guesses. We'll have our answers in a few weeks.
* UPDATE: After I posted this Magnus alerted me to his post of numbers that have already been revealed. I had some good guesses. I crossed out my comments if the guess was wrong.
|Trotwood, OH – 6'3", 230|
|Scout||4*, #24 OLB|
|Rivals||4*, #115 overall
#10 OLB, #5 OH
|ESPN||4*, #114 overall
#9 OLB, #6 OH
|24/7||4*, #194 overall
#6 ATH, #9 OH
|Other Suitors||OSU, PSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Carolina|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace. We have a "release the McCrayken" tag.|
|Notes||UA game. Trotwood Madison (Roundtree, Moore, Shaw). Urban is still on him hard. #63 to Lemming.|
Senior highights are on hudl.
Mike McCray's dad was a captain for Ohio State back in the day, and now he'll play for the other side of the rivalry. Anyone who remembers Anthony Gonzalez—a Michigan legacy who ended up at OSU, murdering Michigan—gives this development two thumbs up, especially when it comes with a side of "whoops" on Urban Meyer's part.
Meyer futzed around too long for the younger McCray's taste and Brady Hoke was after him hard for reasons of talent and middle fingers, so he dropped for M in March. Urban whiffed on some targets, came back hat (and offer) in hand a couple months later, and said pretty please. McCray didn't waver. But Urban is still on him hard.
Michigan has acquired a consensus four-star linebacker who is just outside the top 100 on three of the four sites, with Scout the primary, mild skeptic. McCray's main assets are size and smarts. At a strapping 230-ish as a high schooler, McCray should have no problem adding the ten or fifteen pounds he'll require to fend off tight ends and rush the passer as a strongside linebacker.
To go with that he's got great bloodlines and a ton of experience after playing nearly every snap on both sides of the ball for Trotwood the past three years, all of them at the positions he projects to (TE and LB) in college. Rivals had him in their top 50($) when he committed largely because he was one of the best players on the field in Trotwood's state title win:
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, McCray is one of the best playmaking defenders I have seen this year. He is always around the football, always playing at 100 miles per hour and never tiring despite going both ways. …his combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability should ensure a long career in football. … can add strength and definition to his body in the weight room this off-season, which should also improve what is already pretty good speed. If he takes another step forward with off-season preparation, McCray is going to be scary good a year from now.
He was not scary good, and moved down. He was just very good, which was not enough to offset an indifferent camp season in Rivals' eyes.
Overall, scouting reports are mixed, leaving two questions.
Question number one: how big is this dude? Heights and weights for high school recruits are haphazard and inaccurate, and McCray's are all over the place. For a guy who may or may not project to the SAM spot, it's a big deal if he's 6'4" (the maximum) or 6'1", which he apparently measured in at during the Rivals Five Star Challenge($):
McCray doesn't have the build of a player who is going to excel in a passing-oriented camp (especially one without pads), but he showed that he had the ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. He doesn't have the quickest feet among the linebackers at the Five-Star Challenge, but still manages to get the job done. He measured in at just 6-1 on Friday - much smaller than expected - but had a strong performance today.
Meanwhile here's McCray with an inch or two on Ben Gedeon, who may not be all of the 6'2" he's listed at but probably isn't 5'11", either.
Other places he's 6'2", sometimes 6'3", often 6'4". The average of all guesses is about 6'3", which I've listed above. For what it's worth, McCray told Scout Michigan was recruiting him at "inside linebacker," which I assume means either MLB or WLB. One glance at the depth chart and that picture with Gedeon suggests a change of plans as soon as fall camp rolls around, if that is in fact the plan right now.
Question two: how are his coverage skills? McCray is alternately praised and criticized for his ability to drop back. ESPN thinks he's the balls, saying he "has the versatility to play all three positions" in a traditional 4-3 and, well:
… tall, well-built with good, lean bulk and the frame to add more. Runs well on both sides of the ball and offers a lot of range. … very aware and smart football player which allows him to play fast. Makes lot of plays in coverage and in space. He may be more instinctive dropping back than coming forward, which is rare at this stage. He gets depth in his drop quickly, while reading the QB and feeling routes develop. He anticipates the pass, turns to run without much wasted motion and closes with good burst on the ball. Undercuts routes and has great ball skills. He shows the size and athleticism needed to match up on flexed tight ends in man-to-man. Will fill strong between the tackles as well. … He shows the lateral quicks and agility to clear traffic and make plays inside-out on the ball between the tackles, and the good range to make stops outside the hashes. Pursues with a motor. He's quick to fill downhill. … a great frame and matching athleticism and football smarts. He's ahead of the curve with his diagnosing skill and understanding of the game, which should allow for a smoother transition to the college level.
They want him to improve his explosiveness when he contacts ballcarriers and be more of an impact hitter; that's their only criticism.
Here it should be noted that ESPN's scouting is much more game-film heavy than most of the other sites, and McCray is a pads-on kind of guy. He attended The Opening but was sufficiently anonymous there that I could only find one minor comment about him:
Mike McCray II (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) is tall and looks great off the hoof, he's probably better suited between the tackles and going upfield.
On the other hand, McCray was the linebacker MVP for last year's Columbus NFTC because he could cover guys out of the backfield:
He was able to go stride-for-stride with all but the quickest tailbacks there, and showed the ability to not only blanket a receiver, but make plays on the ball as well. In edge-rush drills, he showed the ability to overpower running backs and tight ends, but also a quickness to go around them that's uncommon in a player his size.
On yet another hand, Rivals's Tim Sullivan wrote the above but also had a few articles in which he gave McCray a "meh" during the summer…
McCray had his share of won reps on Saturday, but also lost his share. He moved a little bit better than expected in drills, but also measured in at just 6-1. …
Stock report: Down
…and (on probably a foot or a table someone grafted onto my face) was considerably more impressed once the pads went on for that uber-high-school-football event in Cincinnati that keeps changing its name. McCray was ill enough to miss most of the first half, and yet:
…looks night-and-day more fluid wearing shoulder pads. He was solid in coverage (another question he didn't answer this summer), though he did miss a couple assignments. …
Where McCray really made his mark, however, was pressuring the quarterback. Though he's a bigger linebacker, he's capable of finding small creases in the offensive line to exploit on the blitz. He was constantly harassing University's quarterback, including a few knockdowns and stripping the quarterback of the ball on one occasion. If that skillset sounds familiar, it should: he has a very similar game to starting Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan at this time.
Helmholdt's take from the same event calls him "not flashy" but praises his "exceptional instincts," which doesn't sound like Jake Ryan even a little bit. 247 said he "looked explosive rushing the passer." You see what I am saying about the mixed reports.
Elsewhere in mixed reports, McCray had a strong performance($) in Trotwood's most recent state title win thanks to his range but needs to work on his ability to shed…
… nine tackles in the first half. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound McCray was making plays all over the field, showing his range and ability to diagnose plays. … one of the most instinctual linebackers in the country, and he simply gets the job done. He needs to bulk up his upper body, though, which will help him get better at shedding blockers.
…and also struggles to change direction and is awesome at shedding blockers:
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Change of Direction
Physical size allows McCray to take on and defeat a block with the ability to step up and fill the hole. Struggles with hip turn and foot quickness, however, natural instincts put him in position to make plays.
So. McCray is large, has an advanced understanding of the game, needs to be little more violent, and may or may not have the kind of agility you'd like to see in someone who's going to try to cover guys downfield. Probably.
Finally, this is the section on recruiting profile where the kid's coach speaks rapturously about his character.
"He is not only one of the best kids we've ever had as a person, but he is the best athlete I've ever coached. He can play anywhere on the field you need him to play. You want the younger kids in your program to be like Mike McCray. He doesn't say a whole lot, but you know he's around, just by his presence."
"As a football player, he is a kid that will do whatever his coach asks him to do, and you love guys like that," he added. "…. He works his butt off, in the weight room, in the classroom, and on the football field. I love the kid like he's one of my own."
A pattern emerges.
“I honestly think that he’ll be a tremendous linebacker at the next level,” his coach said. “He’ll be a Will or Sam for somebody because he can run and change directions, and get in and out of the breaks like they want him to."
McCray was picked for the Under Armor game but underwent surgery for a torn labrum and missed the game. He should be full-go by fall camp. He in fact played with the injury his entire senior year because he would have missed that year if he'd had surgery. Toughness: check.
Why Victor Hobson? Hobson was a touted recruit who developed into a long-term starter at SAM despite being a 6'1" guy who put up a 4.86 at the NFL combine; said NFL still drafted him in the second round and kept him around for five years because:
Quick thinker who immediately reads or anticipates the action, scrapes well laterally and redirects to the action. Breaks down well playing with leverage, effectively uses his hands to stay off blocks and goes sideline to sideline working to make a play. Disciplined, reads the QB and gets depth on his pass drops. Stays on his feet and finds his way through the traffic to the ball carrier.
As an NFL prospect his physical skills were "deficient"; for Michigan he was just fine because he could play over the tight end.
McCray is bigger and may be a bit more athletic, or he might lack the kind of explosion the NFL craves, I don't know, man. As a guy who projects to play SAM by using his brain faster than everyone else, Hobson's a better pick than, say, lunatic Jake Ryan.
Guru Reliability: Uh… well, they're all in the same range, basically, and McCray was a high profile guy who went to a lot of camps on a heavily scouted team. So why the pants can't anyone agree on his strengths? I dunno. Purple. That's my answer.
Variance: Moderate. Size issue plus potential he's an awkward fit at ILB could leave him a man without a position. Some bust factor. On the other hand, mentally advanced.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. The vibe I get from the conflicting reports is that McCray is not going to be a sower of doom and chaos on the college level. Athleticism a slight issue.
General Excitement Level: Oh hell, I don't know. I feel torn between the idea that McCray will top out as a guy who is a blue collar SAM who doesn't make many plays—the Craig Roh of SAM—and people above saying he will be the McCrayken:
I'm going moderate. And purple.
Projection: Like Gedeon, could redshirt since he's got a solid, veteran two-deep in front of him even without the presence of Jake Ryan for the first half of the season. Also like Gedeon, could be dragooned into special teams. In this case that might be okay since Gordon is a senior and the coaches keep saying they will move Brennen Beyer back to WDE, leaving only a senior Ryan, McCray, and whatever freshman they bring in at the spot. You might want to blood that guy.
Long term, he's got two years to develop before he'll be in a battle for a starting job. When that battle comes around he'll have an experience edge. Two years as a starter seem likely.
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
Today's recruiting roundup covers last weekend's All-American games, high profile names emerging (or re-emerging) as targets, and a potentially wavering 2014 commit.
Spill The Beans, Green
Five-star linebacker Reuben Foster: visit on tap?
Michigan didn't land one of their remaining high-profile targets over the weekend when FL S Leon McQuay III committed to USC. They appear poised to get better news regarding VA RB Derrick Green, however—the nation's top running back has maintained Michigan as his leader in recent weeks and told Rivals($) after the Army All-American Game, "I know where I'm going." Green plans to announce sometime this month and it's safe to expect good news barring a sudden change of heart.
While USC snagged a Michigan target, it's possible the Wolverines return the favor after CA WR Sebastian LaRue decommitted from the Trojans; the four-star told 247's Clint Brewster that he plans to talk to Coach Ferrigno about a potential visit to Ann Arbor ($). LaRue currently has a visit to Notre Dame scheduled and is also looking at Miami, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.
The Wolverines may also have suddenly found themselves in the mix for the nation's top linebacker recruit, Alabama prospect Reuben Foster, after he connected with commit Henry Poggi at the Under Armour game. Poggi reportedly alerted Foster to Michigan's potential interest and convinced him to get in touch with the coaches, and Foster looks to be following through, per Sam Webb ($):
Once Foster and Michigan begin having more conversations, the 6'1, 240 pounder says it’s likely he'll get up to Ann Arbor for a visit at some point before signing day.
"I don't know but the odds are pretty darn good cause I'm cool with [Poggi's] dad that I just met this week --- very cool with him," said Foster.
With a month to go until signing day, it's very late in the game to enter into the recruitment of such a high-profile player, but the former Auburn commit seems to have genuine interest. It's early yet to harbor serious hopes of a commitment, but if a visit materializes it would obviously be fantastic news for Michigan.
A more likely candidate for one of the final few spots is CA OL Cameron Hunt, who spent time with Michigan's contingent of commitments at the UA game. Hunt will take his official to Michigan next weekend, followed by visits to Oregon and Cal, and he told Sam Webb that those three schools comprise his leading trio ($).
[After THE JUMP, video and evaluations of Michigan's All-Americans, the latest on Denzel Ward, and more.]