Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
Show me the Peppers! [Fuller]
Ace: Aside from the quarterbacks, which position group and specific player will you be keeping the closest eye on during the Spring Game?
Seth: Safety, Peppers.
I have a pretty good idea of what the corners can do—Countess can zone like a boss but isn't sized or speedy enough for lockdown press man—and I can't really tell what happens on the OL or DL without video. Quarterback is missing one or two contenders. Where the slot side safety lines up will tell us how aggressive they think they can get, especially when it's Peppers in that spot.
|My recurring nightmare|
Also I'm anxious to see who among Dymonte, Clark, and Hill can play when Peppers comes down to nickel. Hill has a bad rap in my brain from getting so turned around against Lippett on the TD pass that debarked the end of the game and the beginning of Dantonio's Revenge for Imagined Slights Hour. I hate it when a bad play is what sticks out to me about a guy and I really want to start banking some nice thoughts. Same for Dymonte and Clark. One of those three or Stribling is going to be at least half a starter in the nickel, and if it's Stribling we are back to a nickel who's not a run defender (ie Countess). The floor on this defense is pretty okay; I want to see how high the cathedral can go.
Alex Cook: I feel like this is a somewhat obvious answer, but I'll be focused on our secondary, which projects to be the best unit on the team by a fair amount. The offensive line is compelling for an entirely different reason; I'd like to see some breakout performances on the D-Line; QB is a clear concern, of course; but I'm very excited about the secondary.
Jabrill Peppers is the headliner there and, after a freshman year ruined by injury, Michigan fans surely are going to be thrilled to see him out there. He's probably the best player on the team and -- depending on if he plays on offense / special teams units -- he could be the most important non-quarterback on the team. Beyond Peppers, there's Jourdan Lewis, who's very good in my opinion, locking down one of the corner spots; I'm most optimistic about he and Peppers of anyone on the squad this year. There's Jarrod Wilson, who's unremarkable in the best way possible; there's Blake Countess, who didn't play well after recovering from ACL surgery (but could be in for a rebound season); there's Channing Stribling, who stands out immediately because of his size; Wayne Lyons won't be there, but he could start. There's a lot of depth there and if you're looking for a group to get excited about, watch the secondary.
[After the jump: aggresssssssssssiveeeeeeeeeee]
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: moderate. 1: difficult. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
|Devin Funchess||Jr.||Amara Darboh||So.*||Dennis Norfleet||Jr.||Jake Butt||So.|
|Jehu Chesson||So.*||Freddy Canteen||Fr.||Bo Dever||So.*#||Khalid Hill||Fr.*|
|Da'Mario Jones||So.*||Moe Ways||Fr.||Ross Douglas||Fr.*||--||--|
[NOTE: though flex tight ends are listed above since they will fill some of the WR snaps they are addressed in the TE & Friends post, not here.]
It's not often you lose a guy who broke the single-season receiving record and think that things could get better, but it's not often you come across a guy like Devin Funchess, either. Behind Funchess there's not a whole lot that's proven but there are sufficient numbers and hype to believe that Michigan goes five or six deep in quality options, especially after Jake Butt gets back.
If things break right, this unit could hearken back to the Breaston/Edwards/Avant days where you had the NFL-level ludicrous deep threat, the possession ninja, and the screen merchant all in one receiving corps, getting all mother/maiden/crone in your face. It'll take some luck… but not that much luck.
everybody get up [Fuller]
The charade is over. Devin Funchess is a wide receiver, 100%. Not that you had to be told that after he spent 87% of last year split wide, faking bubble screens and occasionally catching them and oh right running downfield and leaping over dudes. Funchess put his hand in the dirt in passing situations only, and no one has tried to suggest he might do even that much this year.
This is pretty terrific. Michigan had a guy break Braylon Edwards's single-season receiving record and there was still enough left over for Funchess to rake in 49 catches for almost 750 yards. By the Big Ten opener he was just, like, running right by cornerbacks.
At the end of the year Michigan was handing him the ball on end-arounds and watching him nearly break them for touchdowns, if only Devin Gardner could ID the safety he needs to block. Oh, and this!
A man that large should not be able to move that fast. Take it from someone who played against him:
"I can't believe he's that big and that fast. He made us look silly. You can't get around him. He's just such a big body that he's going to block you from making a play on the football. …
"He could be like Calvin Johnson in the red zone. Just throw it up and let him go get it. I bet we see a lot more of that this year."
I didn't say it! I may have thought it, but I didn't say it. I did call him Minitron a few times, and I may have wondered privately about whether Funchess could be, like… him. But naw. I mean, Calvin Johnson ran a 4.35 at his NFL draft combine.
Funchess proved last season he's capable of being an elite-level receiver. There were some dropped passes here and there, but his combination of size and speed (he clocked a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash in the spring) remains unmatched on the U-M roster.
FAKE! FAKE, I say! That is not a real thing, because physics. Only… you know, it's only almost impossible. Because Calvin Johnson. And when you watch him go up against top corners like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a second round pick last year…
…or Trae Waynes, a projected first rounder this year…
…it's just like… maybe I should make this comparison I should not make. Because he is smoking those dudes. Not every time, because it never happens every time, but enough. A lot. At 6'5".
BUT WHAT ABOUT HANDS, the bits of the internet with short attention spans ask. Okay, yes. The one catch was a late-season spate of dropped balls. He derfed three in the Iowa game alone, greatly contributing to Michigan's inability to move the ball. One of those was a very conspicuous one on a screen, and that is currently playing an outsized role in people's brains. Because the last thing that's happened is the thing that is always going to happen, Funchess now has a rep for having shaky hands. Once you see the first derf it is a natural inclination to start judging harshly, like when he gets hit in the back by Gardner because of a bad blitz pickup.
This is why we track the numbers, and the numbers say Funchess is anything but a problem:
But once you get a reputation in this area people start looking at anything you don't catch as a drop. This is probably one of the plays that stick in skeptics' minds:
That's crazy tough! That's low and behind him and it's only his freaky long arms and Brad Nessler that even give that pass the semblance of a drop.
Until the Iowa game, Funchess's catching ability was unquestioned. Don't let one bad game in the bitter cold overwhelm a large sample size that indicates Funchess's hands are in fact an asset, especially when you consider that the chart above doesn't take the fact that he's 6'5" and can leap over defensive backs into account.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT CALVIN JOHNSON IS A UNIQUE UNREPLICABLE HUMAN WHO IS PROBABLY PART ALIEN AND BITTEN BY A RADIOACTIVE SPIDER, says the tiny bit of the internet with common sense. And… okay, well, yeah. You should never project anything at the extremes of possibility because probability is going to make you pay for that, son.
So Devin Funchess probably isn't Calvin Johnson. Michigan should try to prove that assertion wrong. Expect something between first team All Big Ten and an All-American followed by an early entry into the NFL draft. He may even win the Mackey award, because people don't pay attention.
[After THE JUMP: refugees, JUNGLE BEATS, and tiny dancer.]
[UPDATED 12:25p.m. Now with 100% more Ace]
The Q: Michigan graduated much of its 2013 receiver depth chart and did away with the fancy Borges stacks and routes. In this new world, after Funchess, who's going to be Gardner's favorite target this year? Who are we going to see more or less of among the receivers/tight ends?
Brian: 1. Amara Darboh. Darboh was going to start last year and the buzz there was palpable. He brings physicality against what I promise you will be the grabbiest set of Big Ten pass defenses you've ever seen—the MSU effect—and he's even got mutant muscles in his arms, which I assume will be the entirety of Ace's response. He should ease past Canteen for the starting job, at least to start, and Canteen will have a tough time catching up since he's not going to drop off the face of the earth.
2. Dennis Norfleet. This is an artifact of some assumptions about the rest of the offense. Namely, that they won't be able to run that well and the tight end situation is going to be suboptimal. With reports that Norfleet looks great in space and an offensive coordinator who's not afraid to throw to his WRs on the perimeter, Norfleet's catch volume should spike as Michigan looks to him for easy yards that get defenders out of the box.
3. Freddy Canteen. Yeah, he's probably Manningham again, but even Manningham had a bit of a slow start. It'll be close with Norfleet.
4. Jehu Chesson/Jake Butt. Your guess is as good as mine about relative frequency here. I have a hunch we're going to see tight ends stay in to block frequently this year what with the lack of NFL OTs, and Butt is going to miss at least a game or two after his ACL tear. But he's got a much clearer path to playing time than Chesson and already had more catches than Chesson did a year ago.
Everyone else gets scraps, maybe a dozen catches spread between AJ Williams, Keith Heitzman, Da'Mario Jones, and Jaron Dukes and another dozen to the tailbacks. I hope we don't see any of the true freshmen other than Canteen, because there's not much need either this year or next and all could use work.
[Jump for the rest of us twisting ourselves to not have the same responses]
Previously: Last year's profiles, CB Brandon Watson, CB Jabrill Peppers, LB Jared Wangler, LB Chase Winovich, LB Noah Furbush, LB Michael Ferns, DL Brady Pallante, DL Bryan Mone, DL Lawrence Marshall, OL Mason Cole, OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty.
|Beverly Hills, MI – 6'4", 195|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#61 WR. #6 MI
|ESPN||4*, NR overall
#59 WR, #5 MI
|24/7||3*, NR overall
#91 WR, #10 MI
|Other Suitors||Iowa, Kansas, Pitt, Rutgers|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from me(!).|
|Notes||Detroit Country Day (Kenny Demens).|
Also junior highlights.
If you listened to our recruiting podcast way back in February, you know that I'm super enthused about this class's wide receiving corps. Freddy Canteen's quick emergence into a guy to be excited about has already put the class ahead of the curve, and he is only #2 on my list of wide receivers I expect to exceed expectations.
Er. Other's expectations. I'm not trying to pull the he's-underrated-says-recruiting-ranker thing.
Anyway. #1 is Mo Ways, who only got three stars on most sites despite being 6'4", fast enough to take the top off a defense, and extremely productive. With future Iowa QB Tyler Wiegers throwing to him, Ways had 51 catches for almost 1,000 yards as a junior and upped his numbers to 55 and 1300 as a senior, with 25 touchdowns in there.
Let's get the bad bit out of the way first.
The primary issue with with Ways as a prospect is his hands. As a junior he had a tendency to make facepalm-worthy drops. This one was from his opener:
3. Maurice Ways, WR, Detroit Country Day (2014): Ways would have been in strong consideration for the top overall spot on this list except for a key drop on 4th and 15 with his team down a point. The pattern was a post and Ways had separated from the defensive back. His quarterback put it on his number, but he simply dropped it and U-D Jesuit went on for the win.
This was a pattern. Only the guys who were around consistently knew about it and they had to be diplomatic about it because they were around consistently. They gently suggested that Ways should catch the damn ball. Most of these assertions were on message boards, because message boards are ephemeral and that's the reasonable way to approach things.
But like this is some Real Talk from Tim Sullivan here:
"He's basically a high school version of Braylon Edwards, where he drops easy passes but then makes the astounding play. He's just inexperienced. But it'll come, and when it does, he'll be really, really good."
You can see an echo of that in this later Sullivan eval:
There has been a major question about Ways' hands in the past. There should not be anymore.
Inherent in that is the good news. Ways's senior season saw him leave the drops behind; that's why you can say "major questions" without getting exiled to the land of people who don't get interviews. Ways started making the easy plays while continuing his tendency to make crazy stabs on impossible balls. Sullivan again:
…he was catching balls high over the middle - including several behind him - without any bobbles or "fighting the ball." The accuracy of his quarterback Tyler Wiegers was only OK on this night, but Ways made him look excellent. Whether it's mastering the over-the-shoulder deep ball, a screen pass in traffic, or even a sideline route, Ways made every catch asked of him.
I'm generally skeptical of hands evaluations; once you get a reputation you're always considered iffy in that department because the frequency of drops is so low. See Steve Breaston, who got a rep as a guy who drops passes because he did drop a bunch over his shoulder but was otherwise excellent in his career. (Braylon absolutely deserved his rep, sadly.)
That skepticism tends towards favoring the player, but it's balanced out by the tendency of recruiting analysts to do the same. So let's go to the evaluations that are just looking at the guy as a senior. 247:
Ways has excellent hands. He catches the ball away from his body and really plucks it out of the air.
Very, very good. Has strong, big hands. Excels in a crowd or on the jump ball. Can elevate and shows body control and sideline awareness. Shows toughness in a crowd. Makes difficult grabs look easy. Consistently catches the ball in stride and away from his frame. Hands are soft and extremely reliable.
That's great. I love that pattern: guy gets a lot better, ratings hang on to some preconceived notions, people who pay close attention or who just look at him as a senior are like "wow." The reason this series exists is because I think assembling all the data on a guy with an eye towards the flaws in the rankings is a useful exercise; a guy like Ways is right in the heart of that.
Ways's inexperience helps us understand his trajectory. Ways arrived at Country Day a basketball player and only took up football because you're required to play two sports there. He didn't break through until he was a junior:
"This was actually my third year playing football and my first year playing varsity," Ways said.
He's been steadily improving since. The summer before his senior year he hit a bunch of the camps in an effort to up his game. The resulting articles were a bunch of "this guy is a lot better than he was when I saw him before":
- "really improved since his junior season and has made big strides in the areas he needed to"
- "noticeably improved in his overall grasp of the position"
- "much more sure-handed at the Chicago RCS than when we saw him in the fall"
- "I barely recognized him this summer at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp after seeing him in his junior season."
Michigan coaches are pleased, as Ways himself relates:
"Coach Hoke talked about how impressed they are with me and my development on the field and off the field physically. When talking with Coach Hecklinski, he alluded to the fact that my film this season really showed him that I improved on the things I got to work with him on at the camp this off-season and that it's really encouraging to know that I'm putting in the necessary work off the field in my free time."
+2 points for using "alluded"
-1 point for being unnecessarily fancy when Heck probably just said it instead of vaguely gestured in its direction
Ways may or may not be able to rip downfield a la Braylon. There is much conflict on this point. Well, part of it. Everyone thinks he's got the frame and basketball rebounding skills to sky over defensive backs productively. Kyle Bogenschutz reported from Ways's standout performance at Michigan's camp:
…he ran a straight-line deep streak down the sideline. The ball was very underthrown - and looked as though it would be intercepted. But Ways adjusted to the ball, twisting his body as he leapt toward the ball. He snagged it over the cornerback's head, falling to the five-yard line for a 35-yard gain.
Ways is a big, strong, outside receiver that can stretch the field and go up and get the deep ball. Athletic-looking frame with prototypical length and thickness. … Locates the ball in the air well and adjusts his body to position for the catch while shielding off the defender. Displays strong hands to secure high-velocity throws off his frame.
He is one of those guys who isn't particularly covered even when he's covered. "Huge target"; "wide catching radius"; that ESPN stuff I bolded above about playing in a crowd. On this there is no disagreement.
There is disagreement about how threatening Ways will be downfield. ESPN's evaluation says he's going to be more of an underneath guy…
Speed is above average, but he looks to be quicker than top end fast. …More of a possession type that will catch everything and has red zone upside. His size gives him big play ability when the ball is in the air in contested match-ups. May never be a guy that wins consistent foot races, but he is a smooth athlete who can extend plays.
…as does 247's eval immediately after his commit:
Ways isn’t the fastest kid on the field and some are concerned about his overall speed. He doesn’t have great moves to get past defenders after the catch but shows he can break tackles with good strength.
On the other side of the ledger is another section in that same ESPN scouting report:
Is a cut above this level of competition in this area. Is a smooth glider that can eat cushion quickly given his size. Can cut and shows burst into and out of the break. Will sink hips, but must be careful of pad level. Fluid stride makes speed tough to gauge for DBs.
Tim Sullivan was impressed after an in-person evaluation against Notre Dame prep:
Ways' initial burst off the line also looked improved. He has always had good speed, but it has taken him a few steps to build up a head of steam and really get moving. …was beating defensive backs in press or off-coverage with his speed, something he'd had trouble with in the past. Of course, that hasn't stopped him from being speedy after that burst, either. He was routinely burning the opposing defensive back downfield.
Some of this is probably an artifact of when you saw him. 247's evaluation notes that Ways "really improved his straight-line speed" since his junior year and pegs him as a 4.6 guy in a laser-timed 40—equivalent to 4.4 by the standards of FAKE that are generally applied to HS 40s.
As we've learned with Devin Funchess, when you're huge and leapy you don't have to have elite burst and quickness to be open enough downfield. Manningham works; Edwards works; Funchess works.
As a bonus, Ways is an excellent blocker on the edge. WR evaluations rarely mention anything about what happens when the kid doesn't have the ball, but Ways was impressive enough to get repeated mentions from the evaluators. Sullivan:
He was not just a capable blocker, but went the extra mile to take pride in his blocking in the run game. He has developed physically and should be a devastating player on the edge at the college level.
Brewster says he's got "great work effort" and is a "relentless" blocker. Add that to your list of reasons Ways isn't getting the hype he probably should.
Etc.: Really wanted to be at M:
"I think playing in front of 115,000 people on Saturdays," Ways said. "But not just that, the tradition. What it wins to wear the winged helmet and put that jersey on. Just being a Michigan Man. I'm looking forward to it all."
Okay one more description of a circus catch:
…had a few highlight plays throughout the day, reeling in a one handed grab in the morning session, corralling the football with one of his big mitts and bringing it into his body as he hit the turf, and catching a go route over both a corner and safety in the 7-on-7 skeleton.
Touch The Banner was a fan. Is a fan, I imagine.
Why Braylon Edwards? Yes, that is a big name to put on Ways. But he's an instate kid with a modest recruiting profile who has the size, speed, and leaping ability to be a top flight downfield threat. Ways also has the hands questions, though he seems to have put them to bed. Edwards ran a probably-FAKE 4.48 HS 40, FWIW.
Junior Hemingway is another comparable as a guy who absolutely excels in a crowd but didn't get consistent separation on deep routes. His hands were better; his speed was worse; he is three or four inches shorter than Ways.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. I think their rankings did not keep pace with Ways's improvement. Everyone was like "this is a different player" and no one made the adjustments. Ton of scouting, though—this post was 5k words before I cut a lot of stuff out—and he was at camp and healthy.
Variance: Moderate. Speed and hands questions may limit him to being a solid contributor; if he hits the high end of the upside he's a star.
Ceiling: High. Junior Hemingway plus four inches! Braylon Edwards with hands! Both of them put together so that he's got four hands to catch the ball with!
General Excitement Level: Due to Hoke's level of recruiting success it's been difficult to find anyone even qualified to be "Sleeper Of The Year" based on our previous criteria of no four-star rankings, so this year we're allowing guys with one four-star in. So, surprise! Mo Ways is our Sleeper Of The Year.
I love the guy's frame, I think his year-to-year improvement bodes very well, and watching him on film it seems like he does have the athleticism to give defensive backs a hard choice. He should be at least a solid #2 over the course of his career and I wouldn't put his ceiling there. This is an entirely different kind of three-star than the ones they brought in in the previous class.
Projection: Normally I'd think the guy plays, but Michigan does have a lot of depth on the outside this year: Funchess, Darboh, Chesson, Canteen, Dukes, and maybe Jones unless he's a slot. That's a lot of guys, and Ways may top out as the kind of receiver who the NFL likes but not enough to induce an early entry. 50/50 on a redshirt; getting one is no slight.
Schembechler Hall will be buzzing all morning as National Letter’s of Intent arrive in the football offices via fax machine. Team 135 plans to add nine new members as the remaining verbal commits make it official and put pen to paper.
We checked in with each of them last night:
CB Jabrill Peppers – Paramus Catholic High School – Paramus, NJ
With coaches trying to persuade Peppers away from the Wolverines into the eve of National Signing Day I wasn’t surprised that Jabrill didn’t respond to me, but I think his tweet was enough to put Wolverine fans at ease about his final decision.
Y'all know what I say!! #GoBlizzyBlueManeeee
— Breez (@JabrillPeppers) February 5, 2014
Paramus Catholic is closed due to heavy snowfall but according to TomVH, Jabrill plans to sign his letter of intent anyway with the actual celebratory ceremony being moved to Thursday.
DE Lawrence Marshall – Southfield High School – Southfield, MI
Marshall’s recruitment was one of the more eventful processes in the class with an initial commitment to the Buckeyes followed by a decommitment and then a presumed new commitment to Michigan State which never happened, only to actually wind up a Wolverine.
Marshall had a simple yet heartfelt message about tomorrow, “Man, I just can’t wait to be a Wolverine.” Marshall will sign his letter of intent at Southfield High School at 9:30 a.m., followed by a 3 o’clock interview with Sam Webb, and finally another commitment ceremony at 6 p.m.
LB Chase Winovich – Thomas Jefferson High School – Clairton, PA
Long thought to be a Buckeye lean, Winovich decided to pledge to the Wolverines on the first day of June last summer. Last night Winovich sent some people into a frenzy when he cryptically tweeted, “Decisions, decisions, decisions.”
I asked Chase about that and he said with a laugh, “That was just to rouse everyone out. Figured I’d have some fun with a situation that is obviously very serious.” He confirmed that he was all Michigan shortly after that. “Just need to let the committee of sleep do the rest of the shoring up tonight.” Winovich is a different kind of cat and his comments didn’t change that perception.
TE Ian Bunting – Hinsdale Central High School – Hinsdale, IL
A lot of people are enamored with a 6’7” tight end who played mostly wide receiver in high school. Ian Bunting is just that and will be another big target for future Michigan quarterbacks to throw to. Ian could barely contain his excitement about tomorrow.
“I can’t wait! Today went by really slowly. I’m excited to start this new chapter and I’m proud to be a part of the Michigan family and Team 135.”
Bunting will sign his letter of intent at 7:15 a.m. and the plan is to fax them immediately after. Once the paperwork is done Bunting knows that he’s still several months away from being in Ann Arbor. “I plan to do a lot of lifting and yoga. I’m going to start lifting a lot once basketball is over and doing a lot of yoga to get in tip-top shape. Other than that, I’m just going to enjoy the rest of my senior year with all of my friends and family.”
OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty – Paramus Catholic High School – Paramus, NJ
While maybe not as famous as his Paramus teammate Jabrill Peppers, Juwann Bushell-Beatty reeled in some very solid offers before committing to Michigan almost a year ago. JBB expressed his readiness for National Signing Day.
“I’m excited! It’s been almost a year now waiting for this day. Being able to finally solidify this is going to be great. It just motivates me more to be great.” Juwann was actually the one who told me of Paramus being out of school due to the snowstorm and the rescheduling of his signing ceremony. Even with school being cancelled Juwann plans to sign his letter early and get it sent in around 8 or 9.
WR Moe Ways – Detroit Country Day School – Franklin, MI
Out of all of the prospects I’ve ever talked to, Moe Ways might’ve been the one who seemed to want to be a Michigan Man more than anyone else. He reinforced that notion when I asked him about signing his letter. “Man I’m just so blessed and excited to make everything official and officially become a Michigan Man and Wolverine.” Moe will sign his letter around noon and then will celebrate the rest of the day with his family.
LB Noah Furbush – Kenton High School – Kenton, OH
Furbush is one of the very few recruits I’ve never had any actual contact with. He has managed to stay under the radar and out of the spotlight throughout his entire recruitment and even when he committed there weren’t many fireworks involved. He comes in at almost 250 lbs. and people who have seen him play in person and know his body type suspect he’ll play with his hand in the dirt at some point in college.
S Jared Wangler – De La Salle Collegiate – Warren, MI
Son of legendary Michigan quarterback Johnny Wangler, Jared Wangler was once committed to Penn State but once the Wolverines came a’callin’ it was inevitable that he’d be part of this class. As you’d expect his final decision is one that holds a special place in his heart for obvious reasons. “It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s been my dream since I was a little kid. I’m excited to officially become a Michigan Wolverine.”
Wangler actually has a busy morning scheduled before his letter will be signed. He’s got a 5 a.m. wake-up planned in order to play in his intramural basketball game at 6 a.m. at DLS. After hoopin’ he’ll head home to clean up and prepare for his 9 a.m. signing ceremony. I asked Jared if anything noteworthy happened during his recruitment from other coaching staffs and he had a rather interesting reply. “It was pretty funny that Bill O’Brien swore to me that he’d be at Penn State for all of my four years.” Yeah…about that.
DT Brady Pallante – Barron Collier High School – Naples, FL
Not everyone was a fan of the Brady Pallante commitment, but when a guy is almost a clone size and story-wise of Mike Martin, I’d say let’s at least give him a chance first. Given the fact that Pallante was first thought of as a greyshirt commit, his emotion toward tomorrow was easily detected. “I’m truly blessed to have this opportunity. Not many people can say they’re going to college on a full ride. Honestly, I’m still amazed at the opportunity I was given.” Pallante will sign his letter first thing in the morning and plans to have it faxed by 7:30 a.m.
Of course the elephant in the room is the decision of DL Malik McDowell. I personally don’t think he’s choosing Michigan and I haven’t in a long time. It’s been made pretty clear that Malik himself wants to go to Michigan State, but his parents don’t want him in East Lansing. Does that mean they’ll keep him in-state and he’ll go Blue? I don’t think so, but I honestly don’t know. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised by him choosing any of his four finalists. McDowell will be a Wolverine, a Spartan, a Seminole, or a Buckeye and at this point your guess is as good as anyone’s.
Finally, will there be any Norfleet-like surprises on signing day this year? I haven’t heard anything but when I asked that exact question to one of the coaches, he replied with “You never know.” Coach speak? Really not knowing? Hoping? We shall see.
Oh, Right ... That
There hasn't been a recruiting roundup since Jabrill Peppers tweeted his intention to take official visits after the season, catching not only Michigan fans off-guard, but also his fellow commits and even his own coach, Paramus Catholic's Chris Partridge—notably, the man who sets up all of Peppers' visits. After the tweet set fire to this corner of the internet, Peppers released a statement through Partrige:
I am still 100% committed to the University of Michigan and that is the place where I want to go to college. With the rumors about Coach Hoke possibly not being there I need to make sure that I have options and have seen other places in case the University of Michigan decides to go in a different direction. For the sake of my future I need to make sure I have other options. No need to look into it any further! Go Blue and beat TDS
Peppers reiterated that he's not decommiting and just wants to use any potential visits as a "security blanket," to Scout (via Sam Webb's latest column in the Detroit News).
Michigan has already begun efforts to assuage Peppers' fears, certainly with an eye on keeping him from taking any visits, which would put Brady Hoke in quite the bind as he balances the massive need to keep Peppers in the fold with the possibility of angering other commits—and displaying what could easily be interpreted as hypocricy by Michigan targets and their coaches—by not enforcing his no-visit policy. Dave Brandon's statement in support of Hoke specifically mentioned Michigan's national recruiting "from New Jersey to California, from Michigan to Florida." I don't believe New Jersey is in there by accident; in fact, the whole statement seems to be as much a response to the Peppers situation as it is to any fan discontent.
There are a few things working in Michigan's favor. Peppers and his Paramus Catholic squad play in the state championship game this weekend; the following weekend he's set to take his official visit to Michigan. Peppers didn't talk to Hoke when he made his statement last week—Hoke had a few other things to worry about—but he'll definitely find out where things stand when he's in Ann Arbor; if the coaches (and Brandon) can convince him that the program is on stable ground, it's entirely possible that this whole thing blows over without him ever setting foot on another school's campus.
Even if Peppers still wants to explore other schools after his Michigan official, the timing is tough; an NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period goes into effect after next week's visit, so he wouldn't be able to visit any school until mid-January, just a couple weeks before Signing Day.
For his part, Peppers certainly seemed committed to Michigan during The Game on Saturday, tweeting out his support multiple times during the game and indicating afterward that he'd be taking part in it next season, and not as a Buckeye. While the fact that Peppers even needs reassurance that Hoke will still be at Michigan next year isn't a good sign regarding his recruitment or the program, I don't think there's a lot to worry about here unless Peppers actually goes on other visits—for now, only his trip to Ann Arbor is set to go.
[After THE JUMP, Michigan drops the 'grey shirt' distinction for Brady Pallante, visit reactions from The Game, and a roundup of the latest on Michigan's commits who are still alive in the playoffs.]