Hello. This post is sponsored by XFINITY, which is a space company. They'd like to take you to Mars—
It's a cable company.
Ah, so it is. Good catch. Back in my day we had to watch television on big stone tablets, but if you're an on campus student you can sign up for free(!) streaming of live sports, including BTN, to any of your gadgets. Off campus students can get both TV and internet service for $79.99 a month with no contract. Non-students, also known as "sad adults," can check out what's described by XFINITY as the "immersive X1 system"—are we sure this isn't a space company?
Fine. Can check out the immersive X1 system here.
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: challenging. 1: crazy. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
This is a 1. [Bryan Fuller]
|Amara Darboh||Sr.*||Jehu Chesson||Sr.*||Grant Perry||So.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Moe Ways||So.*||Drake Harris||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Eddie McDoom||Fr.||Kekoa Crawford||Fr.||Nate Johnson||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Sr.*|
Michigan returns the entirety of a receiving corps that was amongst the best in the country by the end of the year. Last year's preview issued both inside and outside receivers a "2" in one of a few posts that were insufficiently optimistic about Harbaugh player development. That was accurate for a bit what with Chesson's inability to get on the same page with Jake Rudock and Grant Perry's freshman deer-in-the-headlights start; by the end of the year Chesson was putting the Florida secondary to the sword and Perry was juking guys for touchdowns on the goal line.
I have no reason to put this in the post but refuse to delete it [Seth]
Chesson enters this year a player highly anticipated by NFL types, usually named one of the top five wide receivers in the country whenever someone deigns to put a list together. Meanwhile, Harbaugh has spent the last several months swearing up and down that Amara Darboh is the team's best receiver. Per anonymous Big Ten players they're kind of a big deal:
“two receivers that they have, I think they are arguably the best duo in the Big Ten.”
Also Jake Butt exists. Whoever ends up taking snaps at quarterback is going to have a good time.
OUTSIDE RECEIVER: OUT OF AFRICA, INTO ENDZONES
Time is rapidly dwindling for Tom Rinaldi's soft-focus feature on Michigan's all-African-refugee starting WR corps; it says here that by midseason their collective performance will demand one. I wish I could bet on things like this.
Let's start with JEHU CHESSON, whose single-season performance took off like no other Michigan receiver in recent memory. Last year's edition of this preview said it was "anyone's guess" who got receiver snaps other than Darboh and spent a big chunk of its time talking about Chesson's vicious run blocking. This was because Chesson was coming off a 14-catch season during which he was "imprecise" and had a Darryl-Stonum-like ability to turn reasonably well-thrown balls downfield into adventurous incompletions. Drake Harris was given nearly-equal billing based on a torrent of practice hype and a relative silence regarding Chesson.
A couple of games into the season it seemed like nothing much had changed. After the Oregon State game—in which Chesson failed to adjust to a deep ball and picked up a bad offensive pass interference call—I said he was "just not consistent enough."
Here began a parabolic upward curve that ended with The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson. Entering this season Chesson is hyped as a potential first round pick by CBS, NFL.com, and Sports on Earth. That is some kind of trajectory.
The breakout came in two stages. Against Maryland he had his first career four-reception game. He brought in a couple quick posts despite getting hit on or actually before the catch and burst open on another couple deep routes. He was overthrown on one and couldn't bring in a tough over the shoulder catch on the second. The latter was on Chesson—he didn't take the fastest path to the ball because he misjudged its flight—but all was forgiven on an eyepopping end-around:
Over the next few weeks Chesson established himself as a regular, productive receiver. From the Maryland game to Rutgers five weeks later Chesson had 16 catches, exceeding his previous season high. The 66-yard touchdown you see above was trumped by a kickoff return touchdown against Northwestern. I started comparing him to Steve Breaston. Chesson had a ton of catch-and-run chunk plays last year thanks to his speed; against Northwestern he impressively got the corner on Anthony Walker, the fastest LB in the Big Ten:
"I really feel like Jehu has everything it takes to be a great player, a great pro player," Harbaugh said ... "The only thing he was missing was tracking the deep ball and making those deep ball catches."
The lasting memory of the Utah game was a sure touchdown just evading Chesson's fingertips because he slowed down. While I thought that was the right play since he'd burned his man by yards, the lack of comfort and communication between QB and receiver was costly. There was a drop or two in there as well.
Chesson was the beneficiary of the Indiana defense and Jake Rudock's late season surge. He went off for over 200 yards, 64 of which were on a telepathic Rudock strike between four defenders. But even if you provide an Indiana discount, this was a new level for Chesson. He adjusted to a Rudock punt downfield...
...and on fourth and goal he went up and secured overtime despite getting nailed by two guys. Yes, that was just Indiana, but Chesson added 100-yard days against both Ohio State and Florida to end the year. The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson caught eyes nationally, and while yes it's nice that Chesson beat a top 15 NFL draft pick deep twice, for my money that wasn't even the best thing he did in that game. My vote goes to this incompletion:
Chesson also had a spectacular over the shoulder catch while getting interfered with. Reasonable people can disagree on which of the five spectacular things Chesson did against Florida is the best one, and there is your massive improvement in a nutshell.
How much of this was massive improvement and how much was simply being given opportunities Rudock was not affording him earlier in the year is unknown. You have to wonder what his season would have looked like with a locked-in Rudock from the drop. He wasn't any less open early:
Add in a few of those early bombs and expectations this year would be truly out of control.
Or possibly just plain accurate. Chesson has everything you want in an elite receiver. You can heap expectations on Chesson and he'll be fine with it. Chesson's an A+ dude committed to The Team The Team The Team:
Asked if he put in papers to seek information from the NFL draft advisory board this winter, Chesson nearly started laughing.
He says he's more focused on wrapping up his degree in May and finding a graduate program to enter for next year.
"Maybe it was naive, I don't know," Chesson said with a smile. "It's great to have individual success, but that's not where I get my happiness from. If I don't play and I see other guys being successful, that's great. If I feel I can help the team win, anyway I can help I'll do it."
His speed is unquestioned, and occasionally subject to absurd hype.
"People don’t realize just how fast Jehu is, said UM tight end Jake Butt. "He’s easily a 4.3 (40) guy. He might even run in the 4.2s in Indy.”
While that's only possible in the land of handheld stopwatches, Dane Brugler asserts that Chesson's a "loose athlete with galloping speed" and a "a legitimate fifth gear," and he's judging with an eye to playing in the NFL.
He's a terrific blocker. Chesson's proficiency in this department is such that you probably know what gif comes next...
...and there was little to no dropoff even as he emerged into Mario Manningham 2.0. Against Rutgers he wrecked a DE:
Michigan frequently motioned him closer to the tackle box and used him as a blocker against linebackers, generally with success. (They also lined him up as a tight end on occasion, but he almost never actually blocked in those cases.) He had 28.5 positive run points to just 8 negatives, and while a chunk of those positives were for what Chesson did with the ball in his hands every NFL scout goes out of their way to praise his work without the ball. ESPN:
Excellent effort as a blocker. Leaves it all on the field. Takes good angles and busts his tail to get into position. Big and strong enough to sustain blocks once in position. Throws his body around in order to make a block when he can't get into good initial positioning downfield. Love watching this guy play the game.
His hands are solid to good—36/38 on routine catches and 9/14 on challenging ones a year ago. He's 6'3". He's not a technician yet but if he continues on his current path it won't take him long to get there. (Brugler: "prone to body catches and needs to add polish to his route tree.") That's the last box to check.
His trajectory is straight up and he's got the physical and mental ability to scrape his ceiling. He's going to be great as long as someone's throwing it to him. All Big Ten and off the draft board by round two, it says here. The huge numbers required for postseason awards are probably off the table given the diversity of weapons Michigan has.
[After THE JUMP: Peppers! (Was addressed as a running back and is not in this post!)]
This is our weekly roundtable, brought back from its offseason slumber because you really don't want to know what we are obsessing about in the offseason. If you ever have any topic suggestions, send them to seth at mgoblog dot com.
Sleeper player of the year? Who are we not talking about that we'll be talking about?
Brian: So not Wheatley then.
Ace: I’m partway into an answer that starts with a mention of Ian Bunting (not my choice) being an option because of our constant Wheatley hype.
Brian: And not Hudson then.
Ace: Options on the ground are very limited unless we’re allowing anyone who hasn’t been a full-time starter already. I was going to go with Dymonte Thomas.
Brian: I don't think I can do this if I can't talk about Wheatley and Hudson.
Ace: I wouldn’t veto Wheatley/Hudson talk even if I could.
Brian: A man needs a code. Can't talk about guys we're talking about. I will persist.
BiSB: Allow me to parse the rule: you can't talk about Hudson and Wheatley in general because your feelings are well known, but you CAN talk about them in the specific context of 2016, as such things are NOT known.
Like, Khaleke Hudson will invade and overrun Persia by the time he's a Junior, but will we see him as a true freshman toppling some minor Greek city-state?
Ace: Please let it be Sparta. #ancientdisrespekt
Seth: This is This Week's Obsession, not Nam. There are rules.
[After THE JUMP we actually do answer the question]
[I jumped into the scrum mid-answer] “…I was behind both Worm and Earl [Willie Henry] both playing those. They were both great players and both playing the same position so making sure when I got my time I was making plays, got the sacks, the hurries, everything like that. I contributed a lot against the pass and made sure I was stout against the run also in that 3-4 defense. As an end I made strides and as I got more playing time I contributed more and made more plays for the team. That was something I was able to do and I’ve been waiting to do for a while. As my snaps increase as a senior and going back to [being] a 4-3 end, I believe my production is only going to skyrocket, also.”
What do you think of these new threads?
“Oh, I like them a lot. I grew up wearing Jordans since I was a little kid. My mom had me as a baby wearing Jordans. I like the look of it. Jordan’s an icon not just in a football aspect but as a mogul, as himself, he’s somebody who you can go anywhere in the world and somebody will know he’s Michael Jordan. So to have this brand paired with Michigan, which to me is also a brand iconic in itself, I feel like it’s the perfect fit.”
It still means a lot after 10 or 12 years? All that still carries something to you?
“Oh yeah. I know Jordan hasn’t played in a while but at the end of the day he’s still an icon and not only is he the greatest player of all time to play the sport of basketball but I feel the Jordan brand is not just basketball. It expanded to baseball, golf, whatever it is and now football, but NFL players have been wearing it for a while. It’s a brand where, I heard Charles Woodson say ‘excellence.’ It’s a brand you can be a part of that—it’s a small group that’s a part of the Jordan brand because of that excellence and what he stands for.”
We asked Don Brown about your weight loss. How much have you lost?
“I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I was 285. Today I weighed in about 275, so I lost about 10 pounds from last year which was because we were in a 3-4 end and now we’ve switched over to a 4-3. I’m allowed to get my speed back, get that motor going, which I felt better this spring training. It wasn’t necessarily bad weight that I had on last year, but it was baggage that I didn’t need and it allowed me to be a lot faster off the edge and get that speed that we’ve worked at.”
He said ‘Would you rather be a slug or a bullet?’ Did he say that to you?
[laughs] “Nah, I haven’t heard anything.”
So you’d rather be a bullet?
“Of course, of course. I need that speed coming off the edge. It’s something that our team needs. He wants me to be that pass rusher that we need.”
[After THE JUMP: the “Jabrill Peppers decking people” tag is more versatile than we imagined.]
With guidance from Jake Butt, Ian Bunting is poised for a breakout year. [Fuller]
MGoQuestion: This seems like the year where you're going to see the field a lot more. What's the biggest thing you're doing to prepare for that?
"Just getting the little tweaks I'd say is the most important thing, especially at—the higher level you get to, whatever you do, the distance between being good and being great gets smaller and smaller. So I think that little tweaks like footwork or just understanding more of the whole concept or of the whole play or the whole offense, it's the little things like that that I'm going and I have been focusing on to get better."
MGoQuestion: Working behind a guy like Jake Butt, what's he been able to impart on you as an All-American?
"He's been very influential. He's been a great teacher, a great role model since I've gotten here. I'm very appreciative of that. We are always competing, him and me and the rest of the tight ends. We compete with each other but we also help each other. We're not a selfish group, like our room is very close-knit, but we also understand that we're always going to be going up against each other and competing with each other, and that just brings out the best in everyone."
MGoQuestion: Does it help knowing that Jim Harbaugh is going to be happy to play two, three, four tight ends?
"Yeah, we love it. That's music to our ears. Last year we had four-TE sets, so we love that. In our opinion, the more tight ends we have on the field, the better. If there's any opportunity for us to get on the field and make a positive impact on the game and help us win, we're all for it."
[inaudible] ...with everything you guys have got going, the returning offensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers.
"I think we can be very, very dynamic, very explosive, and very smart football-wise, very intellectual. There are a lot of guys that have been here for a while. Coming into the season not having to learn a whole new offense, there's definitely something to be said about that. The sky's the limit."
Do you expect the ball to be thrown your way a decent amount this year?
"That is not up to me. I don't make those decisions. But I would not complain. As a tight end, you love blocking, and you love catching the ball and doing what you can with it after you catch it. That's what the tight end does, especially nowadays, it's kind of an evolving position. It's not as much a glorified, other lineman. It's really evolved. As you can see with Jake, he's been a big part of that evolution. I don't know how many catches he had last year but he had a lot of catches and he did a lot with the ball after he caught it. We want to improve on that and take that to a whole other level this year."
Is taking it to a whole other level making rap videos?
"(Laughs) Yeah, I love doing that stuff. I did a little bit of that in high school. One of my best friends who lived two blocks away from me, Pat Foley is his name, he actually started a production company in high school, it's called Hued Productions. They're down in Atlanta now going to school and also doing that. He's great at what he does. In high school he just had a makeshift little studio, so we were just like, yeah, let's mess around and make some music. We both love music, and we did it, made a few songs, made a music video right before we all left for college. I guess people like it."
MGoQuestion: What's the reception from the rest of the team?
"They all love it. A lot of the guys were in the video, too, so that was a lot of fun. It's just something that is a passion of mine outside of football and outside of school. For now, that's going to get pushed to the side and it's going to be football. It's going to be focusing on winning football games for a while now."
MGoQuestion: It seems like with Harbaugh that blocking is the path to get on the field. (Bunting: "Yeah!") What have you done to take that next step?
"A lot of blocking, in my opinion, is footwork. We work on that all the time with each other, on the field during practice or even just when we have seven-on-seven or something, just spend a little time afterwards just working on footwork, steps for different types of blocks. As much as we like to catch the ball, we love blocking too. It's just fun. It's fun to go and hit someone."
[Hit THE JUMP for Grant Newsome discussing the difficulty of facing M's defense in practice and John O'Korn crashing my interview with Moe Ways.]
It's submarine time. Yea, the beat writers will rend their garments and republish articles about Clayton Richard from ten years ago. Insider rumblings of wildly varying utility will leak out in drips and drabs. Half of them will be outright falsehoods. A quarter will be somewhat true. A quarter will be very true.
As per usual, I enter this month of the season frantically assembling data for the season preview; fall camp chatter will factor in as it always does. Here are the things I'm hoping to hear, the things that I'm hoping are never said, and ridiculous things I'll dismiss out of hand.
STATUS: Wilton Speight exited spring with a slight lead on John O'Korn, at least per spring draft and practice snap order. Even if that means more than "we want to motivate a guy" it's a 51/49 situation. It's all up for grabs.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Someone is taking the job forcefully. Which guy doesn't matter so much. One of them grabbing the job by the throat, whoever that happens to be, is preferable. I'd prefer that gent is O'Korn since I think his mobility and arm strength gives him greater upside but if Speight is going to defy the Curse of Borges with authority, fine. Authority. This is the goal.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "Brandon Peters really has a shot!" No offense intended, but the two leaders coming back to the pack would not be a good sign. Meanwhile true freshman anything is never great. I am open to hearing further encouraging things about Peters's future. Present not so much.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: "Shane Morris really has a shot!" Morris was at best equal to Speight going into last season when Michigan agreed to redshirt him; Speight now has an extra slice of on-field experience and should improve more since he's younger. Also they put him at WR in the spring game.
STATUS: It's De'Veon Smith's job. Not his job to lose, his job. Smith's injury history—he was banged up all last year—and Harbaugh's tendency to play multiple tailbacks at once mean that the #2 and #3 guys will still be important.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Ty Isaac remains on a rampage. With Smith getting he's-the-man rest, the story of spring practice was the emergence of a "rougher, tougher" Ty Isaac. His outside burst picked up piles of yards in the spring game, culminating in a run where he tacked on an extra 15 by outrunning Jabrill Peppers in the open field. That's something nobody managed all of last year, off balance or not. There's still a five star in there somewhere. The best possible news from camp would be Isaac looking like it.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: Smith is banged up and not practicing. It's not a coincidence that Smith's killer Citrus Bowl came after a month off. He missed the Maryland game and was limited in a few others because his pounding style racks up nagging injuries. His absence in the spring was as much precaution as triumph.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Someone insisting that Drake Johnson did not have a) a house land on him, 2) a gang of radioactive bikers abduct his dog, c) a mouth that spews nothing but sass grow on his finger, or d) all of the above.
STATUS: Darboh, Chesson, and Perry are your dudes, with a side of Peppers no one will talk about.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: "Gotdang, Moe Ways can play." The two outside starters are established so nothing we hear about them will mean much relative to all the stuff we've seen on an actual field. Ways is coming off a lot of spring hype we didn't get to see ourselves thanks to a foot injury late in spring practice. He's the best bet for a solid #3 this year and a smooth transition to the next generation in 2017.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: There are lingering Chesson PCL issues. Chances of this are low since the injury happened eight months ago, but WR is one of a couple positions where an injured starter is a big big deal.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Freshman X is going to have a big role. He ain't. Darboh, Chesson, Perry, and Butt are back. Michigan had no slot receiver a year ago and Grant Perry caught 105 passes as a high school senior and it still took him until the bowl game to be a major contributor. Freshman wide receivers suck.
I will accept "Eddie McDoom looks like a guy who can play a lot in 2017."
STATUS: lol all the dudes
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: "Ian Bunting's Citrus Bowl was no fluke." Bunting flashed a surprising ability to whack dudes in the bowl game, and if he can continue that he'll be on the field with Jake Butt a lot. That is a tent-your-fingers situation there.
I have a runner up here, and that is "Ty Wheatley Jr has re-emerged from the sea after destroying Tokyo."
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "Henry Poggi is still missing blocks." To clarify, I expect to hear almost literally nothing about Poggi during fall camp because he is a fullback/H-back. I expect to hear even less about his specific ability to ID the man he should go hit in the chaos of camp. But if we were to hear that I would not be having a good time. Poggi has high upside as a blocker; the main thing that prevented him from hitting that a year ago was finding the right guy.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: Further chatter about Sean McKeon playing this year. There was a consistent drumbeat that this was a possibility during spring; one glance at the depth chart should dispel all such notions.
STATUS: Harbaugh announced Grant Newsome as a sure starter at media day. Oddly, he still maintained that the rest of the line—three fifth year seniors and Mason Cole—wasn't set. But, I mean, it's basically set.
THING YOU WANT TO HEAR: Year two in the same system with the same coaches is a revelation. Michigan had a lot of problems executing their assignments in front of the ever-shifting fronts defenses will throw at them. Some of this is expected. They've had three offensive coordinators over the last three years. This is the first time in their playing careers that they have an opportunity to build on something they already know.
THING YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR: "Rueben Jones is tearing Grant Newsome up." Newsome got worked this spring. Getting worked by Taco Charlton is one thing. Getting worked by a Chase Winovich freshly moved from offense is another. Both happened. Newsome has the frame and mental ability to get there at left tackle; there are going to be hairy moments. Newsome getting negative reviews would be alarming since it appears there are few or no alternatives.
THING I WILL DISMISS OUT OF HAND: One of the three seniors is going to get benched. I know that possibility is the direct implication of Harbaugh's media day press conference, but I'd be flabbergasted if Dawson, Kugler or Bredeson managed to slide past any of them. Dawson and Kugler have had their shots the last few camps, and true freshmen are true freshmen. You can point to Mason Cole if you like but as a reminder, Mason Cole's main job as a freshman was to survive by the skin of his teeth. He did that; his performance wasn't any better than Kyle Kalis's projects to be this fall.
There is a version of this that wouldn't be dismissed and would be another thing you want to hear: a couple guys are pushing the seniors and are at least some threat to unseat a guy. Michigan's OL depth right now is questionable and it's more questionable going into next year. Being able to pencil someone in at a couple of the vacancies would be reassuring.
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]