"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Mike McCray's dad was a captain for Ohio State back in the day, and now he'll play for the other side of the rivalry. Anyone who remembers Anthony Gonzalez—a Michigan legacy who ended up at OSU, murdering Michigan—gives this development two thumbs up, especially when it comes with a side of "whoops" on Urban Meyer's part.
Meyer futzed around too long for the younger McCray's taste and Brady Hoke was after him hard for reasons of talent and middle fingers, so he dropped for M in March. Urban whiffed on some targets, came back hat (and offer) in hand a couple months later, and said pretty please. McCray didn't waver. But Urban is still on him hard.
Michigan has acquired a consensus four-star linebacker who is just outside the top 100 on three of the four sites, with Scout the primary, mild skeptic. McCray's main assets are size and smarts. At a strapping 230-ish as a high schooler, McCray should have no problem adding the ten or fifteen pounds he'll require to fend off tight ends and rush the passer as a strongside linebacker.
To go with that he's got great bloodlines and a ton of experience after playing nearly every snap on both sides of the ball for Trotwood the past three years, all of them at the positions he projects to (TE and LB) in college. Rivals had him in their top 50($) when he committed largely because he was one of the best players on the field in Trotwood's state title win:
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, McCray is one of the best playmaking defenders I have seen this year. He is always around the football, always playing at 100 miles per hour and never tiring despite going both ways. …his combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability should ensure a long career in football. … can add strength and definition to his body in the weight room this off-season, which should also improve what is already pretty good speed. If he takes another step forward with off-season preparation, McCray is going to be scary good a year from now.
He was not scary good, and moved down. He was just very good, which was not enough to offset an indifferent camp season in Rivals' eyes.
Overall, scouting reports are mixed, leaving two questions.
Question number one: how big is this dude? Heights and weights for high school recruits are haphazard and inaccurate, and McCray's are all over the place. For a guy who may or may not project to the SAM spot, it's a big deal if he's 6'4" (the maximum) or 6'1", which he apparently measured in at during the Rivals Five Star Challenge($):
McCray doesn't have the build of a player who is going to excel in a passing-oriented camp (especially one without pads), but he showed that he had the ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. He doesn't have the quickest feet among the linebackers at the Five-Star Challenge, but still manages to get the job done. He measured in at just 6-1 on Friday - much smaller than expected - but had a strong performance today.
Meanwhile here's McCray with an inch or two on Ben Gedeon, who may not be all of the 6'2" he's listed at but probably isn't 5'11", either.
Other places he's 6'2", sometimes 6'3", often 6'4". The average of all guesses is about 6'3", which I've listed above. For what it's worth, McCray told Scout Michigan was recruiting him at "inside linebacker," which I assume means either MLB or WLB. One glance at the depth chart and that picture with Gedeon suggests a change of plans as soon as fall camp rolls around, if that is in fact the plan right now.
Question two: how are his coverage skills? McCray is alternately praised and criticized for his ability to drop back. ESPN thinks he's the balls, saying he "has the versatility to play all three positions" in a traditional 4-3 and, well:
… tall, well-built with good, lean bulk and the frame to add more. Runs well on both sides of the ball and offers a lot of range. … very aware and smart football player which allows him to play fast. Makes lot of plays in coverage and in space. He may be more instinctive dropping back than coming forward, which is rare at this stage. He gets depth in his drop quickly, while reading the QB and feeling routes develop. He anticipates the pass, turns to run without much wasted motion and closes with good burst on the ball. Undercuts routes and has great ball skills. He shows the size and athleticism needed to match up on flexed tight ends in man-to-man. Will fill strong between the tackles as well. … He shows the lateral quicks and agility to clear traffic and make plays inside-out on the ball between the tackles, and the good range to make stops outside the hashes. Pursues with a motor. He's quick to fill downhill. … a great frame and matching athleticism and football smarts. He's ahead of the curve with his diagnosing skill and understanding of the game, which should allow for a smoother transition to the college level.
They want him to improve his explosiveness when he contacts ballcarriers and be more of an impact hitter; that's their only criticism.
Here it should be noted that ESPN's scouting is much more game-film heavy than most of the other sites, and McCray is a pads-on kind of guy. He attended The Opening but was sufficiently anonymous there that I could only find one minor comment about him:
Mike McCray II (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) is tall and looks great off the hoof, he's probably better suited between the tackles and going upfield.
On the other hand, McCray was the linebacker MVP for last year's Columbus NFTC because he could cover guys out of the backfield:
He was able to go stride-for-stride with all but the quickest tailbacks there, and showed the ability to not only blanket a receiver, but make plays on the ball as well. In edge-rush drills, he showed the ability to overpower running backs and tight ends, but also a quickness to go around them that's uncommon in a player his size.
On yet another hand, Rivals's Tim Sullivan wrote the above but also had a few articles in which he gave McCray a "meh" during the summer…
McCray had his share of won reps on Saturday, but also lost his share. He moved a little bit better than expected in drills, but also measured in at just 6-1. … Stock report: Down
…and (on probably a foot or a table someone grafted onto my face) was considerably more impressed once the pads went on for that uber-high-school-football event in Cincinnati that keeps changing its name. McCray was ill enough to miss most of the first half, and yet:
…looks night-and-day more fluid wearing shoulder pads. He was solid in coverage (another question he didn't answer this summer), though he did miss a couple assignments. …
Where McCray really made his mark, however, was pressuring the quarterback. Though he's a bigger linebacker, he's capable of finding small creases in the offensive line to exploit on the blitz. He was constantly harassing University's quarterback, including a few knockdowns and stripping the quarterback of the ball on one occasion. If that skillset sounds familiar, it should: he has a very similar game to starting Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan at this time.
Helmholdt's take from the same event calls him "not flashy" but praises his "exceptional instincts," which doesn't sound like Jake Ryan even a little bit. 247 said he "looked explosive rushing the passer." You see what I am saying about the mixed reports.
Elsewhere in mixed reports, McCray had a strong performance($) in Trotwood's most recent state title win thanks to his range but needs to work on his ability to shed…
… nine tackles in the first half. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound McCray was making plays all over the field, showing his range and ability to diagnose plays. … one of the most instinctual linebackers in the country, and he simply gets the job done. He needs to bulk up his upper body, though, which will help him get better at shedding blockers.
Physical size allows McCray to take on and defeat a block with the ability to step up and fill the hole. Struggles with hip turn and foot quickness, however, natural instincts put him in position to make plays.
So. McCray is large, has an advanced understanding of the game, needs to be little more violent, and may or may not have the kind of agility you'd like to see in someone who's going to try to cover guys downfield. Probably.
"He is not only one of the best kids we've ever had as a person, but he is the best athlete I've ever coached. He can play anywhere on the field you need him to play. You want the younger kids in your program to be like Mike McCray. He doesn't say a whole lot, but you know he's around, just by his presence."
"As a football player, he is a kid that will do whatever his coach asks him to do, and you love guys like that," he added. "…. He works his butt off, in the weight room, in the classroom, and on the football field. I love the kid like he's one of my own."
“I honestly think that he’ll be a tremendous linebacker at the next level,” his coach said. “He’ll be a Will or Sam for somebody because he can run and change directions, and get in and out of the breaks like they want him to."
McCray was picked for the Under Armor game but underwent surgery for a torn labrum and missed the game. He should be full-go by fall camp. He in fact played with the injury his entire senior year because he would have missed that year if he'd had surgery. Toughness: check.
Why Victor Hobson? Hobson was a touted recruit who developed into a long-term starter at SAM despite being a 6'1" guy who put up a 4.86 at the NFL combine; said NFL still drafted him in the second round and kept him around for five years because:
Quick thinker who immediately reads or anticipates the action, scrapes well laterally and redirects to the action. Breaks down well playing with leverage, effectively uses his hands to stay off blocks and goes sideline to sideline working to make a play. Disciplined, reads the QB and gets depth on his pass drops. Stays on his feet and finds his way through the traffic to the ball carrier.
As an NFL prospect his physical skills were "deficient"; for Michigan he was just fine because he could play over the tight end.
McCray is bigger and may be a bit more athletic, or he might lack the kind of explosion the NFL craves, I don't know, man. As a guy who projects to play SAM by using his brain faster than everyone else, Hobson's a better pick than, say, lunatic Jake Ryan.
Guru Reliability: Uh… well, they're all in the same range, basically, and McCray was a high profile guy who went to a lot of camps on a heavily scouted team. So why the pants can't anyone agree on his strengths? I dunno. Purple. That's my answer.
Variance: Moderate. Size issue plus potential he's an awkward fit at ILB could leave him a man without a position. Some bust factor. On the other hand, mentally advanced.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. The vibe I get from the conflicting reports is that McCray is not going to be a sower of doom and chaos on the college level. Athleticism a slight issue.
General Excitement Level: Oh hell, I don't know. I feel torn between the idea that McCray will top out as a guy who is a blue collar SAM who doesn't make many plays—the Craig Roh of SAM—and people above saying he will be the McCrayken:
I'm going moderate. And purple.
Projection: Like Gedeon, could redshirt since he's got a solid, veteran two-deep in front of him even without the presence of Jake Ryan for the first half of the season. Also like Gedeon, could be dragooned into special teams. In this case that might be okay since Gordon is a senior and the coaches keep saying they will move Brennen Beyer back to WDE, leaving only a senior Ryan, McCray, and whatever freshman they bring in at the spot. You might want to blood that guy.
Long term, he's got two years to develop before he'll be in a battle for a starting job. When that battle comes around he'll have an experience edge. Two years as a starter seem likely.
McCray in high school reminds of me of Roy Hibbert in college. All the physical assets, but a lack of athleticism/speed. Well we see what Hibbert's hard work has done for him, as now Hibbert > uber athletic Dwight Howard. I believe McCray's only chance at being impactful will be if he genuinely works his ass off to be the best he can be.
Loss will cause me to... Harbaugh?
Win will cause me to... HARBAUGH. - B. Cook
Thank you for this annual series on the incoming "lifeblood of the program". It gets us pumped for the June enrollments and the ever-exciting Summer weigh-ins.
As always you have anticipated all of my questions before I had the chance to ask them - the picture with Gedeon silences some people's 6'1" fears (as does his highlight film where he towers over most of his teamates). Totally agree that he doesn't jump out at you yet.... he could be really solid.
Funny that his height is all over the place. Reminds me of my football career.
Listed at 6'5" 290 lbs. Senior Year in High School
Walked on at the University of Toledo, and was measured in at 6'3 1/4
Was in the tunnel when my Alma Mater (post-playing days) Toledo played Ohio State and stood next to Andy Katzenmoyer. Granted, he had cleats on but he TOWERED over me. He goes to the NFL Combine and measures 6'3" barefoot.
Amazing how many conflicting measurements get out there as you progress through the ranks.
...it's that typically he's the only player on the field, for either team, that's playing both ways. It's not small-school football where everyone out there is just as tired--he's getting 100 snaps/game, the guy opposite has played maybe 40 or 50, and he's still beating him.
And it's more than that--he's not a WR who can relax occasionally on a running play to the other side and isn't involved in heavy contact on every snap, he was at the point of attack on probably the majority of their offensive plays this year. They had QB issues, wound up playing a freshman QB most of the year, so it was a very rush-oriented offense, a steady diet of off-tackle plays, mostly to McCray's side of the line, and he was cleaning people out play after play after play. If he's smaller than people thought, which I think is probably true, that just makes his blocking work that much more impressive.
Of course, from one point of view none of that's particularly relevant because it isn't what he'll be asked to do in college. On the other hand I think it's worth remembering, when you look at his film, that the fourth quarter is effectively his eighth.
Oh, and I hate to have to say this but Trotwood's "most recent state title win" was a loss.
typically he's the only player on the field, for either team, that's playing both ways.
Is this really true? Most high school teams I'm aware of have guys playing both ways. It's not only small high schools that do that. If you have an elite athlete, you'll generally play him on both sides of the ball.
They have other players you could probably describe as "elite athletes", but McCray was the only Trotwood player on both offense and defense last year. You'll occasionally see a player at that level playing both ways away from the LOS--their semifinal opponent had a QB doubling as a safety--but near the line of scrimmage it's strictly two-platoon football in D1 and high-level D2 in Ohio. (Trotwood plays up in the regular season--they're D2 but most of their conference is D1.)
I went to high school in central ohio in the mid-80's. Our high school football team was in the highest division and was pretty good (I didn't play). I think they made the playoffs every year I was in high school and made the state semi's my junior. No one on the team played both ways except maybe some lineman in the goal line/short yardage situations.