Previously: CB Greg Brown, CB/S Tamani Carter, CB Blake Countess, CB Delonte Hollowell, CB Raymon Taylor, and LB Antonio Poole.
Desmond Morgan joins the legion of Michigan defensive players who were high school quarterbacks. When Pharaoh Brown arrives next year Michigan will have former QBs at DE (Brown), LB (Morgan), and DB (Courtney Avery). Missing on "Big Tex" Beachum is the only thing between Michigan and a full set of QB-on-D-Pokemon.
As a result, Morgan's highlights are a little weird, alternating thumping tackles from a linebacker with thumping stiffarms from a linebacker who happens to be taking snaps from center. They're weird, but not exactly bad—while taking highlight video at face value is silly, man does Morgan light some dudes up. When Desmond Morgan impacts a high school football player that player suddenly starts going in the same direction Morgan is.
Michigan saw this, scouted a couple games, and extended an offer at the tail end of his senior season. Morgan, a lifelong Michigan fan, flipped out…
“I don’t remember a time I haven’t watched Michigan football,” said Morgan, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound defensive standout. “I always idolized them as a kid. I’ve had the dream of playing in front of 112,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon.”
…and committed soon after. This prompted the recruiting sites to find out who the heck this guy was and offer the usual generic three stars provided most random sleepers who commit to a big school. Before that he had an offer from Northwestern and a few MAC schools. He has the profile of just a guy…
…but the scouting reports are kind of awesome. Scout's profile declares his positives to be "instincts," "hitting ability," and "lateral movement"—yes please—while knocking his size:
Smart, instinctive linebacker who fills gaps and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Has good lateral movement, solid foot speed, and has shown he can play sideline to sideline. Gets good depth in his drops in coverage and makes receivers think twice before coming across the middle. Good pop as a tackler, hits low and drives. Will need to add some weight when he gets to the next level. - Allen Trieu
I'm not sure about that downside. Morgan may not be 6'3" but he is a thick, punishing dude on both sides of the ball. Virtually all freshman have to put on weight; Morgan has to put on a lot less than, say, Antonio Poole and his 195-ish pounds.
Touch The Banner is also positive but isn't clamoring for extra stars:
… I fully expect Morgan to play middle linebacker at the next level. He has the prototypical body type for the position. He flows well to the ball and keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. And when he hits, he puts some force behind it. You can tell by the way he runs the ball and the way he tackles that he understands leverage and getting underneath his opponent. He also times his blitzes well and stays under control when attacking.
I understand why he's a 3-star kid. He's not a quick-twitch athlete. He looks like the type of player who will fill out to be about 245 lbs., plug his gap, make a bunch of tackles, contribute as a blocker or wedge buster on special teams, and just be a solid overall player.
ESPN($) liked him more than anyone else, rating him the #9 player in the state and the #24 MLB. Their evaluation reflects that:
Morgan is a very tough run stopper; displays dominant playing strength at the point of attack. Has the size and athleticism for the inside linebacker position at the major level of competition. His tough knock'em back tackling ability suggests very good potential as a special team's coverage player…. This prospect does a very good job with K&D recognition skills against the run; gets a good jump on the play, demonstrating tough, downhill stacking ability against the inside run. We like his hand use, showing the physical playing strength to take on and defeat blockers at the point; demonstrates the ability to play low and keep his feet free when moving laterally vs. the outside run. Flashes good underneath screen recognition ability however all area of coverage will need refinement; man coverage assignments must be carefully evaluated. This guy plays with the intensity and motor we look for when evaluating the ILB position; his tough tackling ability makes runners pay the price.
Other scouting reports are much in the same vein. Allen Trieu calls him a "throwback($)" who "will fill gaps and strike ballcarriers with bad intentions" while remaining coachable. He got his Michigan offer by proving his ability to pursue and get to the sideline as a senior:
Morgan has had a fantastic senior year. We knew coming into the year that he was a physical player with good instincts, toughness and tackling technique. The rise in the ranking is due to him showing the athleticism he has throughout the year. At quarterback, his agility and speed have proven to us that he can be an every down, sideline to sideline linebacker. Even though it was his offensive highlights that we saw this on, he has raised his game on defense as well, making play after play against the state's best teams.
The concern with linebacker highlights is they might obscure a large number of brainfarts where the guy ends up on the other side of the field from the ball, but the scouting reports—and Morgan's 4.0 GPA and 27 ACT, he probably could have gotten in without football—specifically praise his smarts. It's obvious why. Listen to either of the interviews above and compare to yourself at 17, and then there's this from a Touch The Banner interview:
"What are my greatest weaknesses? I'll be honest; I have quite a few of them. I'd say my biggest one would be my pass coverage and recognizing when two receivers are crossing, which one is the biggest threat, and [recognizing] which DB needs the most help picking up a guy coming across, things like that. So I'm working on that, getting depth and recognizing the different routes and being able to get underneath, making a play on the ball. In high school, we didn't have to do that as much, especially with all of the man coverage that we ran. And with line backing, I'd say we were usually more focused on the run. So the biggest thing I'm working on is helping my pass coverage game out."
Um… so… that's extremely specific and encouraging in a Zen sense. Desmond Morgan, like Brady Hoke, appears to know what he does not know. That has a lot to do with his dad, a longtime high school coach who taught him much of what he knows:
It was [father] Scott who helped teach the game to Desmond from his experience of playing and coaching at Ferris State University, followed by many years in the High School coaching ranks. Mr. Morgan still helps his son break down film at home and provides another set of eyes through which to see the opposition. It was clear how much Desmond has learned and appreciates from his father, “Everything I’ve learned has been from my Dad, he’s had a great impact on my life, as well as the rest of my family,” Morgan said. “Going off to college it will be different because you won’t have that guy to lean on anymore, that guy to point out stuff when you might not see it.”
[note: above article comes from a site called "West Michigan All Star" that kicks out a ton of excellent content if you're into preps and whatnot on that side of the state.]
His senior stats (72 tackles, 4 FF) were a little depressed by a shoulder injury that kept him out of one game and forced him to only play QB in a couple others. That doesn't make him injury prone—he only missed three games in four years on varsity, and as a senior he played both ways most of the time. When healthy and exclusively a defender, Morgan made 120 tackles as a junior.
And now for the parade of fawning quotes. His athletic director:
“His work ethic is second to none,” Marsman said. “He’s a very, very hard worker and an excellent leader. He’s a great kid, very humble and not cocky at all, but confident. And he’s a great student (4.0 GPA, 27 ACT). He takes his academics very seriously.”
“He knows where everybody is supposed to be. He makes the calls on defense and just his presence out there makes other guys around him better as well,” Caserta said. “… When you gameplan against us, you have to put at least a couple guys on him, and it makes the guys around him better.”
An opposing coach (link ibid):
“Desmond Morgan playing sideline to sideline, that kid can play at any college right now and I’ve admired that kid,” Fairfield said after his team won 28-14. “That kid has inspired our defense, just watching him on film. “He comes out here and runs like he’s Ironman. I’m glad our linebackers had a chance to play against him, because he made us grow up and realize how to play linebacker.”
And Brady Hoke dropping not one but two instances of "tremendous":
“I mentioned how tailbacks usually are the best athletes on the team. Well in this sense, he was a quarterback and a linebacker and a tremendous athlete,” Hoke said about Morgan on the first day coaches are allowed by the NCAA to comment on the year’s recruiting class. “A lot of things they did offensively with the ball in his hands, decision making, all those things, and then how he liked to attack the line of scrimmage from a defensive perspective is something that got us excited, and he’s a tremendous young man, and we’re excited about him.”
Etc.: "vampireguy33" is not his twitter account. Will wear #44. Blizzards don't shut down fax machines in West Michigan. Photo gallery. Commit article from the Sentinel.
Why Carl Diggs? If you disqualify David Harris on the grounds that it's unreasonable to expect a random three-star to turn into one of the best MLBs in the NFL you have to go back a ways to find a Michigan middle linebacker who made a habit of thumping, evil tackles. You have to go all the way back to Diggs.
Diggs didn't quite have the athleticism to be a star and wasn't a great cover guy but he was a three-year starter who was a fringe All Big Ten sort and a captain as a senior. Random scouting report($) on Diggs from a Bears site:
Pos: Tough, versatile linebacker best in the box. Quickly diagnoses the action, knifes up the field and forceful making in run defense. Breaks down well, strong at the point of attack and wraps the ball handler. Goes sideline-to-sideline, displays an adequate change of direction and gets depth on drops in zone coverage.
Neg: Lacks overall instincts in pass defense and skill in man coverage. Does not always play under great control and takes himself from the action at times
That is almost a replica of the ESPN report above.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Fairly large spread, but a sleeper sort who improved a lot as a senior and isn't from the most heavily scouted area of the world. Seeming disconnect between scouting reports and rankings, though ESPN does that all the time.
General Excitement Level: Irrationally high. Most of the time I try to stick to offers and scouting reports and rankings when formulating this section but sometimes random three stars get me pumped up. Here we've got a punishing 225-pound coach's kid with excellent intelligence and enough athleticism to play quarterback. Everyone already moving him to fullback (as the emailer does, not Magnus) is doing him a disservice. Desmond Morgan is this year's MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year.
Projection: Kenny Demens presumably has MLB locked down the next two years; Morgan should redshirt, apprentice, and then battle for the job as a redshirt sophomore. Unless Jake Ryan moves to the middle because he's too good to keep off the field he's as good a bet as anyone to win that competition. Classmate Kellen Jones and this year's linebacker flood will be the main competition.