Gallon's levitation skills translated to the college game just fine.
Finishing out the series looking back on the 2009 recruiting class, here's a look at the non-quarterback offensive players, as described in Brian's recruiting posts of yore. But first...
My Bad, Cam
While I remembered to include then-OL, future-NT Quinton Washington on the defensive side of the ball, I forgot to do the same for Cam Gordon, the future defensive positional nomad who came to Michigan with most recruiting services considering him a wide receiver. As Gordon's recruitment wore on, it became more clear that his best spot may actually be in the defensive back seven, and thus we got one of the odder player comps I've seen:
Jason Avant, or maybe Prescott Burgess
Why Avant or Burgess? Bulky 6'2" wide receiver who will push 215 and lacks deep speed == Avant. Rangy linebacker who needs to put on 20 pounds, switch positions (sort of) and probably struggle with the mental part of being a college linebacker for a while == Burgess.
Free safety wasn't mentioned, because only an insane, desperate person would put a player matching that profile on the last line of defen--AAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHHHH. (Thank you, Denard, forever and always.)
Gordon ended his career as a backup outside linebacker and situational defensive end. Fire Tony Gibson again, just in case.
The Blue Darter
As for prospects who actually ended up at receiver, Michigan had two: consensus top-200 prospect Je'Ron Stokes, and a high school single-wing quarterback who—despite being an Army All-American—earned four-star status on just one site due to his diminutive stature.
PEAK MIXTAPE WEEZY WITH A KEVIN FEDERLINE REFERENCE.
HOW DID IT GET SO LATE SO SOON?
Though everyone pegged Jeremy Gallon as a pure slot ninja—he'd prove to be much more, obviously—the eye-opening highlights and strong Army week performance earned him plenty of hype:
Gallon is a Swiss Army knife of a player: pocket-sized, versatile, capable of surprising feats, and… uh… hard to tackle. (If you've ever tried to tackle a Swiss Army knife you know what I'm talking about. They're pointy.) It's hard to envision a scenario in which one of his diverse and sundry talents doesn't find him on the field, if not this fall than next.
Brian, I'd like to hear more about your past attempts to ... tackle ... pocket knives.
As for Stokes...
When Je'Ron Stokes committed to Michigan I was in an airport about to board a plane for Egypt by way of Germany, and as soon as he did I logged off and forgot all about him. Ever since when something reminds me of that commitment, it's like a weird bonus: oh, yeah, that universally-praised wide receiver in the class I never remember. He's like a ghost recruit.
Yeah, that was for the best.
Oh Damn, Fitz
From 2008-09, I worked as an intern at The Wolverine, and one of my primary tasks during football season was posting the stats of Michigan's commits each week. A back from Ohio's Division V Youngstown Liberty by the name of Fitzgerald Toussaint committed a few months before I got that job, so week after week that fall I'd look up his stats, bug out my eyes, and get incrementally more excited for him to see the field at U-M:
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Youngstown Liberty: Senior RB and Michigan recruit went over 250 yards for the seventh week in a row in a 33-28 win over Hubbard. After generating 16 yards on four carries in the first half, Toussaint erupted for 235 yards in the second half and scored two TDs. He has 1,950 yards in eight games.
He'd finish the season with over 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns. Between those numbers and his excellently soundtracked highlights, I thought he'd be the next great Michigan running back:
That wasn't to be, at least in large part for reasons outside his control, but when remembering where Toussaint came from...
It wasn't all flowers and 90-yard touchdowns for Toussaint, though. His dad—also named Fitzgerald Toussaint—ended up in jail after stabbing his ex-wife's boyfriend… at a football scrimmage. Nasty business.
...I'd say 32 career starts, graduating from U-M, and getting a shot to make an NFL roster constitutes a very successful college career.
Vincent Smith's profile started out with similar recounting of a tough upbringing in Pahokee, then mostly waffled between excitement about his highlights/fit in the scheme and trepidation about his size, which was the subject of an awkwardly written ESPN scouting report:
ESPN says Smith lacks size "on paper"—which uh what about real life too—and says he runs "low to the ground," as if he has a choice.
Michigan rounded out a three-man running back class with Cass Tech product Teric Jones, who recorded the fastest time at the Army combine after his junior year but didn't receive much at all in the way of recruiting hype. By the time he got to campus the coaches were already considering a position switch:
In fact, Michigan might be shooting Jones into lots of space as a slot receiver. Rodriguez said Jones was a slot receiver who "may also get reps at running back" at the signing day press conference, and Jones did have some nice receiving numbers as a junior: 24 catches for 306 yards.
Jones ended up playing special teams as a true freshman, bounced between running back and cornerback as the thin roster dictated need, then left the team and went on medical scholarship before the 2011 season after a sophomore-year knee injury.
If You Just Take Two Linemen...
...you might as well make them NFL linemen, and that's exactly what happened with U-M's 2009 O-line class of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Lewan, especially, was quite the steal; he was a total unknown until moving from defensive line to offensive line before his senior season, then vaulted into the top 300 recruits on all three recruiting services and played in the Under Armour AA Game in his first year playing the position. Michigan had a nice in with Lewan—his teammate at Chaparral High, Craig Roh, had been committed to U-M for months when Lewan decided to also head to Ann Arbor.
While this usually doesn't happen, Lewan's high school coach ended up giving the most accurate forecast of his player's potential:
“Michigan is getting, in my opinion, the steal of this year's recruiting class in the country,” Ragle said. “I know that's a bold statement to make, (but) this kid’s ability on the field won't be questioned. He's as good an athlete on the offensive line as I've ever seen.”
"He's as good athletically as any guy I have ever coached," Ragle said. "The thing that makes him so special is his upside when you think he's only been coached at the position for about eight months. But the one intangible that's most impressive is his nastiness --Taylor wants to burry [sic] someone on every play, and you can't coach that."
On point, Coach Ragle.
Schofield's rankings were in a similar range as Lewan's after a strong senior season. What stood out about him most was his athleticism—which translated to the college game, as he seamlessly transition from being Michigan's best pulling guard to a nimble pass-protector at tackle—and considering he's now 6'7" and 300+ pounds this is rather astounding:
In his first two years at Sandburg, Schofield ran the 110 high hurdles for the Eagles’ track team, winning a conference title his freshman year and finishing second his sophomore season. He also moved up to the varsity team for the state tournament during his sophomore year, finishing sixth in sectionals.
Unfortunately, there's no video of this, as the age of someone-on-a-smartphone-will-film-literally-anything hadn't hit yet.
So, with that exercise out of the way, who's ready to go over the 2010 class?
On second thought, let's save that for next summer. Or perhaps never. Leaning towards never.
Yesterday's release of the 2011 media guide brought up a few questions about some guys not on the roster. I just got my answers from Athletic Dept. spokesman David Ablauf and they're un-good:
"Kellen Jones is no longer an enrolled student at the University."
Reason was neither asked for nor given. This is the end. One of you who doesn't like me gets to be the one to tell Brian we chose to post his 2011 Recruiting Profile right before some of the rumors hit the Twitters.
Impact: Kellen was considered one of the few 2011 recruits who might contribute immediately, and was expected to challenge for a spot on the two-deep at WLB. Short-term this will mean one of the other freshmen linebackers has a shot to play early. MLB/WLB depth chart currently reads Demens and ???s. Down the road it shouldn't matter so much once the 2012 class of Ross, Jenkins-Stone, Bolden and Ringer arrive.
As for some other roster incongruities, why was Christian Pace left off the roster, and did Teric Jones get listed with no number while two other guys switched to his 14? Because the gods hath no mercy:
"Christian Pace was medicaled; meaning his playing career is over due to an injury ... [answers other questions] ... Teric is also medicaled."
Impact of Losing Teric: Minimal. Jones is a 2009 scat-back who came in behind several guys in the '08 and '09 classes. He was part of the Cass Tech clan who re-established that pipeline. Teric did what he could to help, bouncing to DB when warm bodies were needed, but he made only a Darnell Hood-ian impact and moved back to RB, where he was a spare part behind 6-7 other guys. Teric lost the end of the 2010 season to a knee injury against Illinois.*
Impact Christian: Bloody Argh. Pace was the only OL recruit of the 2010 class, and those of us in bloggerland were ludicrously excited about him because he was an under the radar recruit whom smart coaches were hard after. Also he's as much of a David Molk clone as Taylor Lewan was a Jake Long clone coming out of high school. There's a huge difference between proto-Molk and Molk, but Pace's high school tape (as in just watch every play) is a series of the ball being snapped followed by something being shot out of a cannon and ending 4 yards downfield on top of a pitiable fool. He was perfect for the spread 'n shred, which suggests he's not perfect for non-spread-and-shred. I still had unreasonable hope, but even general hope for Pace in a Hoke Manball offense was pretty high. This year he was behind Molk and Khoury, who has been serviceable. Down the line this opens the path for Miller, or else one of the big guards-like objects from 2011 and 2012. Further injuries to the undermanned OL will result in wanton trotting out of an Angry-[Position]-Hating God tag.
Last piece of info, which isn't any info.
No change on Darryl Stonum's status.
I'll let Tim follow up with specifics since everyone I would call will be at his presser anyway.
* I hate to throw this into a post about one of Michigan's best academic performers and team players losing the 2nd half of his career, but considering the staff plans to sign the full 26 in 2012, this feels a little…convenient. #oversigning fears. EDIT: This is NOT an accusation and as posters have pointed out it would be a bad idea for the coaches to pull a "convenient" move with a kid from our biggest in-state pipeline. It bears mentioning only because it would arch an eyebrow at another school, and because this space has been critical of those other schools when there's even a whiff. Discussion cont'd in the comments.
Losing Pace and Jones is decidedly inconvenient.
Notes from Brady Hoke's meeting with the press today.
- "Floyd won't play as much this spring because he's coming off surgery."
- "Woolfolk is getting better, but at the same time it wouldn't be very intelligent of us to have him doing a whole lot out there."
- "Kenny Demens will be a little bit limited because of the shoulder surgery he had."
- "Teric Jones is out for sure. Mike Shaw broke his hand the other day, falling on the turf and trying to catch himself. So he'll be limited on Saturday for sure," but will play with a cast after that. Teric Jones's injury is a "significant" one to his knee. It's too early to say whether he'll be out or limited in the fall.
Position changes: Will Campbell will play 3-tech. He's bounced back and forth, but has done a good job with conditioning this spring. "It would be too early for us to make any [other] changes, because we don't know what they can do anyway, to be honest with you."
There will be no update on Devin Gardner's redshirt status until his fourth year. (So stop asking about it).
MSU and OSU countdown clocks: "Those are pretty important games. And we want to think about those important games every day." Some outside his office, some down by the locker room "That's it for now, I think."
Scholarship numbers: "We should be at 84, I believe."
General Spring Notes
Spring game - "Wait until we get there and see. We'd like to play a true, competitive 'seniors draft the teams' Spring Game." Not sure if there's enough depth to do that.
Spring success: "It won't ever be a success," because here's always something that they can do better. Need to improve on field, in classroom, in community. Installation of offense, etc.
There will be a few practices open to the media this spring, but none have been determined yet.
Excited to get started. Only seen guys in conditioning and the weight room so far. Still won't see them with pads until after Monday - that's when they'll know what they have. 3 non-padded practices, including first 2 and the day of the coaches' clinic.
"We're gonna hit a lot. And then we'll see where we're at as a team." Have to get a look at the team, and at the players. If guys prove themselves, they might not hit as much to avoid injury.
"Spring is always important because I think it gives you an ability to have competition. The one thing you'll find out is this is competition on a daily basis." Even the guys who have already played need to continue to compete because other guys will step up.
First things to evaluate: attitude, effort, toughness, accountability. Everything starts with mentality and toughness. A lot of unknowns "Try and create an environment that's going to have toughness with it and effort with it and a mentality of how you play." Need to develop guys from a fundamental and technique standpoint.
Will go back to what he's done at last two stops when coming in. "It all starts there. And it's worked." Players need to learn how the practice runs, etc.
Strength and conditioning is not only to develop physically, but also develop an attitude: "No one's going to beat us. And it's an earned attitude."
The Team (The Team, The Team)
Hasn't watched a lot of film on past performances. Doesn't want preconceived notions of how guys play. You don't know how they've been coached, so you don't want a bad impression in case the coaching wasn't up to par.
Denard - "He's a kid who loves to play the game, he's hungry to play the game. There's some things at that position, because of the offense, he's going to have to get comfortable in." Mostly under center, not exclusively. Both QBs have done a good job learning the intricacies of the new O, but they still have a lot to learn. "Taking a snap from center, I know they've worked on that little bit out their on their own." Borges has enough experience to properly manage what the QBs do.
RBs - "I think right now, we've gotta see who can run the power play. Get downhill and do the things we want them to do as an offensive player." Haven't used TEs and fullbacks as much, need to develop them as well.
OL - Molk has played a lot of football, is a good player. He'll start on the first play of the spring, along with most of the guys who have played a lot. If they don't play with toughness and effort "they can always move down." Funk will find top 7-8 guys.
Some positions have guys who have played a lot of football, such as Mike Martin at DT. Need to continue improving his game even though he's played.
Hoke will coach a lot of special teams with Coach Ferrigno. Will also coach the Sam 'backer during some parts of practice. Wants to be hands-on, and can also offer something there.
Woolfolk position - "I can't answer that position question] for sure. Until we get to really watch him run around and what he can do." Right now, likely stays at corner. "Safeties, we're not bad. Corners, not as good" depth-wise.
FG kicking - "Part of it is a confidence level that guys have or don't have." Getting more reps with the expectation of doing it perfectly will help.
Chris Barnett's relationship with Baron Flenory - "I'm not going to get into a kid's personal life. If he wants to talk about it, he can talk about it." He was mature about how he visited and went through the recruiting process.
Future recruiting: "We're making progress. We've had quite a few kids on unofficials, and will continue through the spring."
Helmet stickers - hasn't given it any further thought.
Not worried about finalizing his contract.
Relationships with players - "I think it's always evolving." It's been positive, and he has very good communication with them.
Oversigning: "I think the Big Ten's policy is probably one that everyone should be able to live with." Can't speak for other coaches, or claim they mislead kids.
The current scoreboards will be fully taken down within the next week or so, and the Athletic Department will announce around that time which company has been awarded the contract for the new scoreboards. Once they make that announcement, artist's renderings will be available. The scoreboards will be completed in August.
Rating: 4 of 5.
|Vincent Smith||So.||John McColgan||So.*|
|Mike Shaw||Jr.||Anonymous Walk-on||----|
…is probably Vincent Smith, who seems completely healthy despite tearing his ACL in the Ohio State game in November. During the fall scrimmage he was the guy who started out with the #1 offensive line and Denard Robinson, and in a derby this confused that's as good of an indication as any that he's the man with a slight edge.
We also have the tail end of last year as corroboration. When Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor came down with their entirely predictable injury extravaganzas, it was Smith, not Shaw or Cox, who got the bulk of the work. By the end of the year I was pretty enthused about the little guy. Baby Seal U impressions:
Vincent Smith showed top-end shiftiness and looks like he'll be a solid back. I compared him to Mike Hart on Monday, and think that remains a pretty good comparison. He's also got a little Noel Devine in him; the way he darts through crevices and effortlessly shifts around traffic is reminiscent of the WVU star. He appears to lack Devine's fifth—or eighth—gear, but he's delivered more pop to defenders in one game than Devine has in three years. He'll be something less than a star but he can be very productive.
What can I say? You listen to Fred Jackson long enough and that stuff starts rubbing off. As long as we're on the topic, Jackson on Smith after last year's spring game:
“Small guy, but a big back. He plays big. The way he blocks you and the way he’ll run over you. I’m going to bet that he’s 170 pounds, I don’t know exactly. But I’m going to say he’s 170 pounds and he runs like he’s 200 pounds.”
He was 168, actually, and now he's 180 after a productive summer. And while Jackson's hype above was based on air and mine essentially air, when forced into the lineup against Wisconsin he was productive out of the backfield. What went down on the ground was not his fault:
Yeah, pretty much. The last time I broke out the Vincent Smith praise a commenter said he's not Mike Hart, but he might kind of be Mike Hart:
How many times did Hart do exactly that against Wisconsin to turn a three yard loss into a moderate gain? It seems like a thousand times. He will not grind piles forward like Hart did but I don't recall Hart having this sort of instant acceleration:
I will not be dissuaded on this: Smith performed pretty well in his first two quasi-starts against Wisconsin and Ohio State, scoring receiving touchdowns in each game and grinding out respectable YPC numbers against two of the country's best rushing defenses. He is probably going to start next year and he is going to be good.
Tangent: I think the threat of Smith on these screens and wheels may have had some impact on the line's ability to pass block. When there's a guy out there who can punish you for getting too far upfield, you adjust so that you are not useless when they screen it out.
|should get crushed by the DE|
|smoothly cutting past it|
|juke on the LB.|
|linemen head straight upfield|
|great, Hart-like run|
|like every Hart run against UW|
|manages to fall forward|
|into the endzone|
|extra flare screens|
|too much of a jackrabbit|
Smith's ability out of he backfield was one of the team's major weapons against the Badgers, as he was targeted eight(!) times, six of them as something other than a safety valve. Despite playing sparingly, by the end of the year he'd been targeted more than any other Michigan running back, finishing with 10 catches for 82 yards in the final two games alone, and he left the Ohio State game in the first half with the ACL tear. With Michigan focused on the short passing game, he could get 30, 40, maybe 50 catches this year.
The ACL does remain a worry. Rodriguez proclaimed him 100% as early as the opening of fall camp and he seemed fine in the scrimmage, but the conventional wisdom on knee surgery is that while you can be "back" within 6-9 months, it takes twice as long to be truly comfortable doing all the things you used to do. That and Smith's general lack of size will probably put a cap on his touches this season even if he is a crazy hybrid of Mike Hart and Noel Devine, which seems somewhat optimistic.
If you're going to slot Smith into a role, it's third down back for his ability out of the backfield and his blocking—Smith's first playing time last year came when the starters were too banged up to spend their snaps on obvious pass blocking situations, so he drew into the lineup. Pahokee, man.
Extremely Nominal Backups
Judging on the same standard we judged Smith—prominence in the spring and fall plus random quotes that may not mean much—junior Michael Shaw is going to be the first guy off the bench. He looked lethal when Michigan emptied the bench against Eastern Michigan:
Farther down the road, Michigan looks in excellent shape next year at tailback, where all three backups performed well. Shaw was especially impressive; you could tell that all the stuff about being slowed by a sports hernia was no BS. Guy looked Brown fast. Maybe even faster.
Like Denard Robinson, Shaw has track cred to back that up. As a senior in high school he won the 200 at the Penn Relays and anchored the winning 4x100 and 4x200 relays. He's fast; memories of Shaw getting tracked down from behind by a Minnesota defender as a freshman should come with a reminder that he was suffering through a sports hernia—ew—and saw his own mortality afterwards:
"I broke a long run and got dragged from behind. It was then that I was like, 'I'm really hurting. I've never not been able to run, not been able to explode.' "
|a good, but not explosive, gain.|
|jet for the endzone|
|Shaw into the endzone|
|gashing people on this|
|trying to go inside of Grady|
|forcing a cutback.|
|makes him look stupid|
So he's fast. This is established. His problem has been with everything else so far. Shaw's been fumble- and mistake-prone for the duration of his Michigan career, which allowed Smith to pass him late. He and Smith were the only backs to cough up fumbles in the fall scrimmage. If he hadn't narrowly escaped academic ineligibility it would have kind of been typical.
On the other hand, he was just as effective as Brandon Minor in 2008 and considerably better than Sam McGuffie and Carlos Brown. Whereas Brown tended to fall over if whispered upon, Shaw's balance has caused me to say he "falls over weird" three or four times. During these weird falls he picks up some extra yards. Beyond the obvious, Huyge thinks he's got some plowhorse in him…
“Very quick guy. He’ll run hard. I don’t know how much he weighs, but it doesn’t matter. He’ll still put his head down and try to run through people, too. He’s real shifty. But that’s how our running backs are. He’s shifty and at the same time, he can turn it up and try to run someone over.”
…but that's not something I've seen. If Michigan's going to run inside it seems they've got several better options. Shaw's role: guy who you put in the game in case he runs 80 yards, a la Carlos Brown. He's a first down kind of guy.
Redshirt sophomore Michael Cox is a much heftier runner than Shaw but has most of his speed…and probably even more frustration to him. His physical prowess has been noted far and wide. Here's Fitzgerald Toussaint on Cox:
“He got the ability over everybody. You never know what he is going to hit you with.”
Over everyone at the position?
“Over everyone at the position, Mike Cox.”
Steve Schilling is also positive about his physical attributes:
“He’s fun to watch. He’s a big guy, so he’s powerful, but he’s also one of the quickest we have. So some of these jump cuts he’s able to make and the balance he has is pretty crazy. It’s pretty exciting to see him run. One play that could get stuck in the backfield turns into a 40-yard run for him.”
|damp wet smearin'|
Cox flashed impressive balance in his limited attempts last year, and while they were against the dregs of the schedule Cox's impressive combination of size and speed to go with that balance invites questions about why he hardly saw the field last year and is seemingly third string this year. A hint was on offer during the fall scrimmage:
Mike Cox continued to show that he might be the best athlete amongst the running backs, but on two separate instances he caused Rodriguez to "lose it" by cutting way back against the grain, turning a modest gain into nothing by dancing at the line of scrimmage. On one "there was a gap on the frontside but he cut all the way behind the backside tackle," losing yardage and causing RR to chew him out; on the second "RR just dropped his headset in disgust."
The story was much the same in spring, when Cox alternated impressive days that lent themselves to a thirteen-year-old's idea of the perfect headline with more of that stuff. Cox is the opposite of Mike Hart right now, a guy who has a ton of physical gifts but little idea how to use them. Michigan will have to put him on the field to see if he can use that upside. Whether or not he takes advantage is a mystery. His career could go like Chris Perry—a frustrating waste of obvious physical gifts until the light goes on and then BAM. Or it could just never go on. Cox is the Darryl Stonum of the running back corps; the difference here is that Michigan has a bevy of options instead of just the one potential deep threat. His role is crazy frustrating guy.
We've been hedging on roles so far, but Stephen Hopkins has an obvious one: angry mooseback. He was one of the stories of the spring after enrolling early and breaking out the truck stick on anyone with the temerity to get in front of him. His late-breaking recruiting profile encompasses the spring hype. Blockquote ahoy:
The guy is just a freaking monster and he breaks tackles. Now, I can’t say he can block, or knows the offense or can catch the ball. Plus, he fumbled twice (once he was hit at the handoff, on the other instance it might have been the QB’s issue). But man is he a tough tackle on the belly if he can get (even) a yard of momentum.
Hopkins continued to gather hype to himself in fall after losing 10 pounds and that distinct aura of cheese curds:
Hopkins was the name on everyone's tongue after a day spent running through arm tackles and showing surprising shiftiness. He "hit the holes and was a load to take down." Trusted Observer said he had a hard time picking out Hopkins before the scrimmage, as he looked like PJ Hill in the spring but after losing ten pounds and reshaping maybe a dozen others into muscle "now looks like a tailback" instead of a moonlighting fullback.
Rodriguez hardly needed to say that when Michigan needs two yards that Hopkins will be placed in front of a fullback and directed to run over anyone in his way, but he has, repeatedly. At a minimum Hopkins will be the short yardage back; once he learns the offense sufficiently he'll be great to pair with Smith or Shaw so Michigan can run the option with a dangerous downhill threat.
And finally there's redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint came in with a ton of yards, a reasonable amount of recruiting hype, and an 0.8 McGuffie highlight reel, then promptly broke his shoulder (how does that even happen?) in fall camp last year and sat out the season. This year he's been ruled out of the UConn game with an ankle injury and established local insider FormerWolve says his return for Notre Dame is a "MAYBE," which sounds like a "probably not" to these ears. For his part Toussaint says it's "feeling good" and "working out real well," so hopefully this isn't a Minor type situation where it lingers on and on.
FormerWolve also says he is the "clear #1" here, and while I doubt anything's particularly clear in this five-way shootout, Fred Jackson did call him Mike Hart… but fast! No, seriously:
"Michael Hart ability with speed. The kind of guy that can do Michael's cuts, he can sit down, sink his hips and explode by making steps. He's faster than Mike and a very, very tough guy, like Mike was. He's very similar to Mike. He's not the type of inside runner Mike was -- but he's going to get there."
Even Toussaint laughs at that:
“I ain’t ready for that statement (laughter). Mike Hart is something else. I’m just not ready for that. I’ve still got a ways too go.”
But that's not all. He's like Chris Perry… but fast!
"He's got great feet, acceleration, strength, power," Jackson said. "I can compare him to somebody -- he's like a fast Chris Perry. He's going to be very good."
Fred Jackson has puffed up a lot of guys in his twenty years at Michigan, but I think Fitzgerald Toussaint is the new king of the hill. It's interesting that Schilling's quote on Toussaint is pretty Hart-like:
“He’s a tough runner. He’s a guy that hits it up in there. He’s not afraid to go up the middle and get the extra yards, make a 4-yard run into a 6- or-7-yard run and makes some easier down-and-distance for us.”
If that's true, FormerWolve's assertion that he's the #1 guy becomes almost certain, because he was a high school track star (his 60 meter dash is about a tenth slower than Denard's)—the "fast" bit of Fred Jackson's fever dreams has been established by stopwatches. If either of the first parts are accurate… hello, nurse.
But wait! There's more! Teric Jones came in as a slot receiver/running back and was immediately thrown to the wolves at corner. His only playing time in '09 came against Delaware State, where he was repeatedly victimized on out routes late. In the aftermath he came in for a mention:
Teric Jones got torn up by DSU, which isn't a surprise since he's a true freshman who was a tailback in high school and never saw a snap on defense. I'm shocked he's not redshirting.
He moved to safety, and then back to corner, and is now on offense. That and the state of Michigan' secondary should tell you all you need to know about his potential on defense. On offense his claim to fame is simple: speed. As a junior he turned in a 4.37 40 at the Army All-American combine, and while that's pretty FAKE it was the best time turned in by anyone in attendance at the most star-laden combine in the country. He showed a glimpse of that during the spring game when he didn't quite catch Roy Roundtree despite his ten-yard head start but came awfully close (and dusted Vlad Emilien in the process).
With the positional confusion and five viable options in front of him, Jones will probably take a redshirt year, but he's down here, waiting.
With Moundros's switch to defense, John McColgan should find himself inheriting the job here. A couple years ago I suggested Moundros could see his role in the offense grow to Owen Schmitt levels, but that never happened. He was targeted on some passes out of the backfield, never got a carry, and saw opportunity elsewhere. McColgan won't be much more of a factor, especially with Stephen Hopkins claiming the RAGE as an alternative to Mike-Hart-but-fast carries.
But: that same arrival makes I-form short yardage pounding a highly viable strategy and Michigan will deploy McColgan when the downs get late and the field compressed. He's currently 230, up five pounds from last year.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
|Boubacar Cissoko||So.||Troy Woolfolk||Jr.||Michael Williams||So.*||Donovan Warren||Jr.|
|JT Floyd||Fr.*||Jared Van Slyke||So*.||Vlad Emilien||Fr.||Justin Turner||Fr.|
Christ, just look at this. Seniors: zero. Freshman starter: check. Converted corner starting at safety: check. One player with more than returning starts: check. Two, maybe three viable backups, only one of whom has ever stepped on a collegiate field before: check.
I don't want to talk about it. Brightside: no Stevie Brown?
This is two guys who should be nasty in-your-face press corners, one 6'2" corner recruit hyped to the moon, and a deep pit of terror and dismay after it. Verifying the press nasty business first:
"Boubacar and Donovan are outstanding cover guys," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Some corners don’t like to play press and get in your face. You want ones that want and relish that and want to get in and play some press one-on-one man coverage, be aggressive on the edge. And both those guys have that kind of mentality."
|Defending the edge|
|Snuffs a screen|
|UW buffalo stampede|
|BONUS: Incredulous Bielema|
|Tough press cover|
Second, the men who press nasty. Man the first is Donovan Warren, a true junior out of California whose hyped stardom track (be an awesome recruit, start as a freshman, blow up as a sophomore) fell prey to the injuries and schizophrenic coaching that befell virtually everyone on the defense last year. By the Penn State game I was actively hoping/speculating that Warren was laid up:
Donovan Warren. I really, really hope he's had one of those injuries that's just not quite bad enough to knock you out of the game, and I hope he's had that most of the year. Because he hasn't made a single play, and a lot of Penn State's success was going right at him.
This was the case. Warren had offseason surgery to remove bone chips and enters the fall healthier than he was at any point last year:
"Talking with trainers and Donovan, he's as good as he's ever felt," Gibson said this summer. "Nobody really knows it except (us what he endured). He wasn't healthy at all. There wasn't one game he was healthy. We had to sit him out of drills to get him healthy. We'd never get him right."
So Warren's plateau has a reason behind it and fans can again hope that the promise that got him rated five stars and saw him leap directly into the starting lineup will pay off. Even with the bone chips, Warren turned in most of the good plays the secondary deigned to provide Michigan last year, including a certain jumped slant that turned into a Johnny Thompson buffalo stampede and, eventually, one of Michigan's precious wins.
|Running a guy's route|
|Doing it again|
|FROWNS: losing leverage|
Sophomore Boubacar Cissoko is the other starter at corner. A highly rated recruit out of Cass Tech, Cissoko was reputed to be one of those feisty dwarf corners who just sits in your pocket all day and dares you to make a break. Gibson's impression of Cissoko heaven is 80 press man calls. And indeed, a couple of the highlights at right demonstrate his ability to run your route for you, thanks very much.
My go-to (and now rapidly aging) comparison was Arkansas corner Chris Houston, who I once saw battle the South Carolina star receiver before Kenny McKinley (his name escapes me) in a pitched Thursday night battle. Houston lined up two inches from his cover's grill and rode him into fades all night, some of which the opponent brought in spectacularly. That's life with feisty dwarves.
Cissoko got a start against Purdue because of Michigan's (insane!) shift to the 3-3-5 and struggled with it. Boubacar Cissoko, this is your abridged Purdue UFR:
This is just sickeningly open, with Cissoko(-1) offering an eight yard cushion and moving backward on the snap. He's nowhere near this, but is it bad play or is that just the coverage? (Cover -2) … Cissoko(-1) overruns the play and guys recover to tackle at the two. … Mouton(-1) gets too far inside and gives up the outside bounce, which Sheets takes. Good job by Cissoko(+1) to mitigate the damage. … Just to switch it up, this time it's Cissoko(-1) a couple yards off the wide receiver. Same technique as the earlier Trent thing. Purdue can run this route every damn down. … This guy is covered by Cissoko(+1) and he's got his head around looking for the ball … it looks like Orton is streaking for a touchdown until Cissoko(+1) makes it back to the ball, knocking it away. (Cover +1) Orton was open because he pulled Cissoko's facemask, FWIW. They call it; Michigan declines. … Cissoko(-1) is set up to tackle after two yards or whatever; Cissoko misses the tackle and Michigan ends up yielding six. … They're in man on this one but Cissoko gets lost, turning outside and leaving the initial hitch wide, wide open (-1, cover -2); the lateral isn't covered.
How much of this was actually his fault? Not much. Morgan Trent was doing the exact same "sickeningly" open bit on the other side, as noted above. It was clear the corners were doing what they were told, even when it made no goddamn sense.
Gibson, for his part says, Cissoko "has got to have a great year"—encouraging!—and that he loves his aggressiveness but "you kind of have to have him back up from that a little bit." It does sound as if the light has gone on a bit, if I can extrapolate:
We grade every rep that these kids take every day. The thing about him is that he is all over the field. We use him in the run game. He’s supporting the run, he’s playing man coverage. He’s playing zone coverage. You know just all those things and he’s getting them. That’s a relief for me. He’s figuring it all out and he’s feeling comfortable as he goes.”
That inexperience and aggression was the culprit on two of Michigan State's big gainers last year. In Cissoko Michigan is likely to find a source of big plays for and against; the balance will go a long way towards determining how good the team is. The prediction here: a rough start and strong finish.
Backups and Whatnot
This position was so thin in the spring that walk-on Floyd Simmons was on the two-deep, and there was nearly disastrous attrition from the reinforcements before they even arrived on campus. Both Adrian Witty and Justin Turner had clearinghouse issues; as of this writing, Witty is still in limbo after a test retake. Even if he makes it in at this point he's a guaranteed redshirt.
Turner, though, is in. And thank God for that. He was the #1 player in Ohio last year and a near five-star who showed up at the Army All-America game seeking to prove he could operate on the corner despite checking in at 6'2". Skeptics were converted and by the time he left Turner was ranked amongst the top corners in the nation. Turner's recruiting profile has his full dossier. Here's one of a half-dozen panting quotes in the aftermath of the Army Game:
“He played his way up the charts. We knew he was good. Everyone knew what a tremendous player he was before his senior year in high school, but he separated himself in the U.S. Army game. He was arguably the best player on the field, not just in the game, but in practices as well. ... It’s exciting to see how big he’s gonna be for the Wolverines."
The Clearinghouse troubles cost him a week of practice and he may start the year behind redshirt freshman JT Floyd, about whom more in a bit, but moon-hyped Michigan cornerbacks traditionally see the field after their first few games. Turner will be no exception given the crying lack of depth in the secondary. He's already started working in with the ones a bit. Tony Gibson:
He’s having a really good camp. He ran with the ones yesterday for a couple of series at the end and made some plays. I think he got 30 total plays in the scrimmage yesterday. … That’s the first time we’ve put him in there just to see what he would do. He did really well with them. We played him a lot of man coverage yesterday and that’s kind of his thing. He’s so long, he can get his arms on people and hands on people. I like the way he’s progressing.
Unlike OMG shirtless Michigan cornerbacks past, Turner has to contend with two players who have more experience and essentially equal recruiting hype. He is not likely to start, and with Stevie Brown's presence at linebacker dedicated nickel packages might be less frequent, but he's the best bet to come off the bench on passing downs.
JT Floyd, meanwhile, arrived at Michigan with little hype and redshirted. He was originally a Tennessee commit but it didn't seem like Fulmer & Co pursued him that hard when he started to look around. With Tennessee's recruiting class that year ranking amongst the country's most disappointing, that says something. What it says is that Floyd is physically deficient. Ask Gibson:
From a mental standpoint he is really good. Physically, he is a little behind, but he is faster now going through Coach Barwis’ strength and conditioning stuff. Mentally, he has it from day one but physically is where he has had to catch up and I think he is doing that.
If that sounds like a future safety to you, it does to me, too, but they moved Woolfolk instead so I don't know. Floyd's recruiting rankings and that Gibson quote peg him squarely in the realm of low-upside overachiever; with the hyped corners all around he'll probably be a career nickel/dime guy. Think maybe Grant Mason?
The last scholarship player before we get to the aforementioned Simmons—who this preview will not discuss due to a lack of information and desire to avoid contemplating a walk-on cornerback—is converted tailback/slot receiver Teric Jones, a true freshman from Cass Tech. His recruiting profile isn't particularly useful since it assumes Jones will play offense but it does point out that Jones ran the fastest 40 at the Army Junior Combine last year; if he can learn the position he's got the speed and agility to play it. Gibson says he's been one of the pleasant surprises of camp:
We got him the day before camp started. We had a staff meeting and talked about some guys that we could move over and he was the first guy we had mentioned. He’s been in the two deep the last couple of practices. He had a good day yesterday, had an interception. He’s playing well and learning the system. He still has a lot to learn obviously, but he’s getting better.
That's encouraging, but Jones didn't play a snap of defense in high school and if this isn't a redshirt year for him we'll be cursing Angry Michigan Cornerback-Hating God, because at least two corners will be laid up.
Stevie Brown and his reel of lowlights interspersed with good man coverage are off to the linebackers section, leaving Michigan's safety situation at the exact spot you would expect given that Brown was an unchallenged starter all last year despite stuff like this being a regular occurrence. But that's another show.
The remaining folk at this position are:
- a junior who was a cornerback halfway through fall practice
- a redshirt sophomore who did not challenge Brown or equally poor Charles Stewart for (much) playing time last year
- a true freshman who missed his senior year of high school with a knee injury
- a true freshman who was a quarterback until Michigan told him they'd offer if they saw him at safety as a senior
At least it can't get worse, right? I just checked all the defensive UFRs from last year and I can assure you that it cannot. Except that's what I said two years ago when Brown replaced Ryan Mundy, a guy with his own unflattering stat named after him and "the worst safety I have ever seen in a Michigan uniform." Brown was directly responsible for 14 points during The Horror and Mundy got drafted. By an NFL team.
Of course it can get worse. Do not doubt the power of Angry Michigan Safety-Hating God. Of all the gods that are randomly angered by various college football position groups only Angry Iowa Tailback-Hating God is as wroth.
Michigan was going with Mike Williams and Brandon Smith early in spring until their performance was clearly substandard. They moved Smith to linebacker, Troy Woolfolk to safety, and Vlad Emilien into the starting lineup.
Of the above options, one stands above the rest and it's the cornerback. Junior Troy Woolfolk, yes still the son of Butch Woolfolk and a man who will probably retain that status next year, has locked down a starting spot since he moved from corner just before the spring game.
Longtime readers of the blog will know this trips one of MGoBlog's heuristics for season prediction: any guy you swap from one position to another and then expect to start will be bad, and given that this guy moved and is your best option that probably goes for the whole unit as well. Now, this is considerably stronger when the player in question is flipping from one side of the ball to another or going from a position that's usually considered easier to play to one that's tougher. Last year's John Ferrara move from DT to guard was an obvious reason to groan at the state of the offensive line; a corner moving to safety is more likely to be a non-disaster. But it's still not good.
Maybe Woolfolk's history at the position—he played it his senior year of high school in an attempt to take advantage of his speed—will help out. Maybe the aforementioned speed, which is considerable, will. It won't take much to make Michigan fans, or Obi Ezeh, happy:
"Less so than last year is the play culminating in a 50-yard bomb, you know," linebacker Obi Ezeh said. "That's always a good thing when you don't have to worry about that."
What a remarkable quote. It says so many things. Some are about Stevie Brown. Some are about the recent history of Michigan safeties not named Jamar Adams. Some are about Troy Woolfolk. And some are abut life. There's never been a more appropriate spot to say this: so, yeah, we've got that going for us.
And for a throwaway quote with odd syntax it's pretty encouraging. Less so than last year is the 50 yard touchdown culmination. If we close our eyes and say it over and over again everything will be black and white and someone nice and matronly will be pressing a cold compress to our forehead as we detail the strange dream wherein our favorite football team went 3-9.
For his part, Woolfolk:
"You can be the fastest person in the world, but if you're not making the right keys, it can happen," Woolfolk said. "Like on playaction and not picking up the tight end, it's not only speed but also being smart and I'm working on the intelligence aspect of the game.
"But I think the speed will help as well."
I dunno. He could be okay. He's an upperclassman who put a death grip on the job as soon as he got it and safety is less physically demanding than cornerback. And though he's got the weight of history and heuristics against him, when I sat in for Sam Webb on WTKA both Craig Ross and AnnArbor.com's Michael Rothstein brought up their strange, unjustified confidence in Woolfolk based on their readings of practice tea leaves and the confidence both Woolfolk and his teammates had in him.
On Media Day, Tony Gibson called Woolfolk "his eraser"; if that's all he does this year he'll vastly improve Michigan's defense. It is too much to hope, and yet…
…there it is. Hope.
The player opposite Woolfolk is yet to be determined. True freshman Vlad Emilien, an early enroller who promises to have an MGoShirt (THE IMPALER!) sooner rather than later if he pans out, was the tentative leader at the spring game. He played opposite Woolfolk and didn't do anything particularly embarrassing. The other candidate is Mike Williams, the erstwhile leader before the spring switch and is the designated starter for Western; he's not big but has a reputation as a ferocious hitter. A ferocious, irresponsible hitter.
Emilien's been the presumed starter here and elsewhere but no one's really had much to go on since the spring position switch and there's at least one guy who's been taking in what practice he can who expects the (relatively) veteran player to get the nod. He's AnnArbor.com's Dave Birkett:
"I know I'm going to have a little jitters playing in front of 110,000," Emilien said. "But I’m looking forward to just showing my aggression, just getting out there and playing to my full potential." …
A January enrollee, Emilien is healthy now and has shown enough in spring practice and fall camp to crack the playing group at the thin safety position. Converted cornerback Troy Woolfolk and sophomore Mike Williams are the projected starters, with Emilien and Jared Van Slyke pushing for time as backups.
Here's something to shiver your spine: Van Slyke's one of them walk-on folk. Beatwriter depth-chart guessing is just above blogger deduction in terms of accuracy—not much to be found in either—but it's something at a murky, touchdown-scoring-shark infested position.
Back to people with scholarships: Emilien is a wild card after his senior year of high school was wiped out by a knee injury (recruiting profile for you). Before that he was on the verge of committing to Ohio State; after it Ohio State backed off and Emilien lost interest. When the Buckeyes came back in late, they were told to talk to the hand. This was the main factor in his decision:
"It meant a lot to me that U-M stayed loyal to me after I hurt my knee ... others stopped recruiting me at that time and that hurt. Michigan stayed with me; they showed me they will still be with me in tough times as well as good."
So Emilien's a risk because of injury and resultant inexperience but he's got four stars despite the senior-year injury and offers from Ohio State, which has a frustrating excellent safety factory right next to their frustrating excellent kicker factory, and a number of other high-profile schools. He arrived in spring and his knee is healthy. As a natural safety it's a matter of time before he sees the field in some capacity. There's reason for significant optimism for his career… but he remains a freshman. And never again shall I say "Player X couldn't possibly be worse than impossibly bad Safety Y."
Backups And Whatnot
What backups? It appears that Jared Van Slyke is on the two-deep for serious. Now, you can get away with the occasional walk-on safety—Jon Chait had the best zinger of a three-hour block on WTKA when he said Wisconsin had an "endowed chair" for walk-on safeties—but raise your hand if you're enthusiastic about that prospect given Michigan's safety play of late. Right: no one.
He's important enough to video but even Van Slyke admits he's "surprised" to be in a position to play before doing a 180 and declaring he's always expected it. I've got nothing on him other than what the coaches say, so Tony Gibson:
Jared has done a nice job. The deal with Jared, he was a quarterback at Southeast Missouri, transferred in here, was a wide receiver until right before spring ball and we moved Jared in right now. He’s battling obviously Troy for some playing time back there…. I kind of like my depth at safety. They’re young kids, but I like coaching them and they’re aggressive to learn and all that. I like what their doing.
That makes one of us, Tony Gibson.
He sat out last year in his redshirt year, but he’s been very active at safety for us. He’s a smart football player. He’s involved in a lot of the special teams. He’s going to get a chance to play next weekend.
I assume that's just on special teams. Also hope. BONUS biographical note: Van Slyke is the son of longtime baseball pro and Tigers assistant Andy Van Slyke.
The guy behind Slyke is true freshman Thomas Gordon, also from Cass Tech. (If Dior Mathis and 2011 CB Delonte Hollowell sign on, Michigan will be able to field an entire nickel package from one high school.) He was a high school quarterback who showed at summer camp, was told to play safety in the fall to get an offer, got one, and committed. So he's raw. He was also nicknamed "prison abs" by Rodriguez—causing several Free Press writers to faint—and therefore can be expected to have a good work ethic.
Like Jones, an appearance by Gordon this year means several players have been struck by lightning and bodes very unwell. A redshirt is best here, plz k thx. Here is Gordon's recruiting profile, by the way.
And that's it.
Previously: S Vlad Emilien, S Thomas Gordon, CB Justin Turner, CB Adrian Witty, LB Isaiah Bell, LB Mike Jones, LB Brandin Hawthorne, DT Will Campbell, DE Anthony LaLota, DE Craig Roh, OL Michael Schofield, OL Taylor Lewan, OL Quinton Washington, WR Cameron Gordon, WR Je'Ron Stokes, and WR Jeremy Gallon.
|Detroit, Michigan - 5'8" 186
|Scout||3*, #44 RB|
|Rivals||3*, #37 RB|
|ESPN||78, #48 RB|
|Other Suitors||Iowa, Minnesota|
|Hello: Teric Jones|
|Notes||Cass Tech (Cissoko, Campbell, Gordon)|
Teric Jones, the third member of Michigan's 2009 class to graduate from Cass Tech, went from Indiana recruit Cortez Smith's backup to the sort of player who would net and accept an early Michigan offer over the course of a single combine in January of his junior year. Jones went down to San Antonio to participate in the Army All-American junior combine, where he was "one of the biggest stars" after knocking out a smokin' hot 4.37 40. Even if that trips your FAKE sensors, that was the fastest time at the event, and that's no mean feat. (Maybe it should trip those sensors, as that time is often reported as a 4.47; either way he was the fastest guy there.) Jim Stefani has more detail:
Very impressive at the 2008 U.S. Army Combine, running the fastest forty at the event (4.37), putting up 20 bench reps and looking great in drills, scurrying past LBs and showing soft hands catching the ball. An All-Combine performer.
Although small in stature, running back Teric Jones came up big everywhere else. His 4.47 40-yard dash time was the fastest heard about all day and he put those numbers to practice in the one-on-one drills, catching several long passes down the sidelines after leaving defenders behind.
"I wanted to let everyone know that I am one of the top backs in the nation," Jones said. "I wanted to show my speed and agility and show that I am a big playmaker."
USC was calling($), Michigan was offering, the track was still smoking, and after he committed there was sure to be a rankings surge…
…that totally failed to materialize. Jones ended the year a middling three star everywhere. Oh well. It's not like he hid, either, showing up at the Penn State Nike camp and racking up over 1,600 yards as a senior. Here are many of those yards in a nine-minute highlight reel (youtube killed the audio due to copyright stuff):
Despite this, the recruiting sites took a long look and said "meh."
ESPN did have some kind words, though:
Jones is a major sleeper in this class if he can land in an offense that utilizes his good speed and elusiveness in space. … Can attack a defense in a number of ways as a runner. Perimeter speed to take it the distance on the outside, suddenness and body-tilt to slice through the small creases in-line and deceptive strength breaking tackles. Has a natural smoothness and fluidity to him as a runner and shows good body control. A true weapon and homerun threat in space with his great burst and acceleration. Loses little speed when coming out of his cuts and squares up quickly assisting his power as a runner.
ESPN's main problem was a McGuffian lack of yards after contact "despite a strong frame". Despite that he's a "great one-cut-and-go slasher" that shows "spurts of great top-end speed"; they say he's a huge mismatch in a wide-open spread offense.
Hey! We've got one of those!
GAME MVP- Teric Jones, Cass Tech Jones finished with 161 yards and two TDs and constantly picked up chunks of 20 yards. He is just sick in the open field with great cut back ability and field vision.
NGS also took in Cass Tech's season-ending loss to Southeastern, during which Jones was "solid" (20 carries, 97 yards, TD) but "held in check."
In fact, Michigan might be shooting Jones into lots of space as a slot receiver. Rodriguez said Jones was a slot receiver who "may also get reps at running back" at the signing day press conference, and Jones did have some nice receiving numbers as a junior: 24 catches for 306 yards.
Why DeAndra Cobb? You may remember Cobb from such touchdowns as "What are you doing, Ernest Shazor?" and "Goddammit, Shazor!" during the Michigan State game that would turn into Braylonfest. He was a lightly-recruited JUCO jet engine who was mostly a kick return threat, so this comparison isn't particularly tight. I'm having a hard time coming up with a Michigan player main asset was his ability to make one cut and hit warp 9 without resorting to Tyrone Wheatley, which is obviously not the right comparison.
Guru Reliability: High. Combine, camp, healthy senior year on a team with Will Campbell. And they're all in agreement.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. This was trending towards low just because everyone's so eh about him, but Lord he's fast and that ESPN scouting report makes it sound like he's a guy better suited for the spread 'n' shred than the general population.
Projection: Whether he's a tailback or a slot receiver he's destined for a redshirt to add weight and not waste time.