"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."
In this week's CVO, I finally got the chance to see Shane Morris play in person as his Warren De La Salle squad hit the road to play Orchard Lake St. Mary's, who happen to feature fellow Michigan commit James Ross at linebacker. The game was close in the first half, with Morris scampering 20 yards for a rushing touchdown to cut De La Salle's deficit to just 14-10 at halftime, but OLSM pulled away in the second stanza with three unanswered touchdowns to cap off a 35-10 victory.
The stat line for Morris differs depending on where youlook, but I had him down as completing 5-of-11 passes for right around 100 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, plus the one rushing touchdown and a couple short scrambles. Morris also punted for De La Salle, showing off a decent leg and delivering a huge (but late) hit after a return that drew a flag but also looked fairly awesome, especially coming from a quarterback. Ross, meanwhile, had a dominant effort across from Morris, finishing with seven tackles and three tackles for loss while regularly wreaking havoc in the Pilot backfield. Hello, highlights:
Shane Morris: I had several people ask me via Twitter whether or not Morris was really as good a prospect as advertised, given his rather pedestrian stat line, which wasn't the first of its kind this season. To answer that question, look at the first highlight in Morris's segment (0:45 mark)—in which he buys time, gets his body turned, and delivers a strike that should have gone for a touchdown if his receiver could just hold on—and the throw at the 1:00 mark in which he chucks an absolute laser on a 30-yard post route. There are absolutely no questions about his arm, and though he had a little bit of difficulty with the accuracy on his deep ball, for the most part he was right on target.
Unfortunately, Morris didn't have a lot of help—his offensive line allowed pressure all night, sacking Morris three times and forcing the junior into awkward dumpoff throws or desperation scrambles on several other plays, and there were a couple drops by his receivers, including an on-target pass that comically doinked right off a player's helmet in the flat. If I were to say one negative about Morris's play, it's that he held onto the ball too long at times, and on one occasion stepped up to avoid pressure, but moved up the pocked too far and shuffled right into a sack.
For the most part, however, Morris did everything you could reasonably ask of him in a game in which OLSM was just the better team. He's obviously got great size, and his ability to change speeds with his throws is already at a very advanced level—he knows when to bring the heat and when he needs to put some touch on the ball, which you can see in some of his shorter throws. He did seem to get a little overzealous when throwing the bomb, but he also didn't really have any open receivers when he threw far downfield, to the point where it was difficult to tell if he was inaccurate or just executing a functional throwaway.
As you can see on the touchdown run, Morris is decently mobile. Nobody is going to confuse him with Denard Robinson, but he can buy time in the pocket and burn defenses with his legs if given the space to do so. He's also clearly a tough guy who knows he's the emotional leader of his team—he was not going to be denied the end zone on his touchdown scramble, and his (yes, late, but still) hit on the sideline after a punt was the hardest blow any Pilot player laid on an Eaglet all night. He also delivered on a third-and-13 late after taking a hard hit on a sack the previous play, which I liked to see in a game that was clearly getting away from his team. I came away from this game just as impressed with Morris and I was by his highlights and accolades—give him talent on the line and at the skill positions, and I have little doubt he'll excel at the college level.
For the scouting report on Ross, photos from the game, and bonus highlights of Jordan Payton, hit the jump.
James Ross: I'll reiterate what I said when I saw Ross earlier this season—he's the most polished, college-ready prospect I've seen play this season with the possible exceptions of Aaron Burbridge and Matt Godin (to clarify, I'm not necessarily saying the most talented, but the players who are the most fundamentally sound and impactful right now). I counted seven tackles for Ross, but there's a distinct possibility that number is low, as he was seemingly in on every play.
Once again, Ross's ability to tackle in the open field really impressed me—he has great tackling form, and his superior range allows him to be in the best possible position to stop the ballcarrier. He diagnosed plays quickly and never seemed out of position, and his ability to make quick reads allowed him to shoot past blockers before they could even touch him, resulting in multiple tackles for loss. Ross isn't afraid to take on a block and does a good job of shedding after initial contact without losing his angle on the ballcarrier.
I didn't get much of a chance to see Ross in coverage, since my camera was firmly locked onto Morris for most of the game, but I didn't notice any plays in which he was victimized or out of position. After seeing Ross in two games, one against a weak Inkster team and the other against a much stronger De La Salle squad, I'm convinced he'll be a multi-year starter at middle linebacker and a player in the David Harris mold. Lofty praise, yes, but his ability to cover the field sideline-to-sideline in combination with his very sound tackling makes it tough for me to come to any other conclusion.
Not too many photos this week, as I got stuck in some serious traffic on the way to the game and was lucky to arrive in time for De La Salle's first possession. If you're curious about Morris's punting form, you'll like this slideshow:
A huge thanks to MGoReader MaizeNBlueJ for not only capping the Oaks Christian vs. Westlake game, which aired on Thursday night, but even cutting highlights of Oaks wide receiver Jordan Payton, who will be making his college choice later this month. Michigan is in good position to land a commit from Payton barring a surprising late move by Notre Dame, his last visit before his decision. Here's the clip:
Yeah, I'd take that guy.
[For more from Josh (aka MaizeNBlueJ), make sure to check out his company, IdeaFusion Media. He's clearly a lot more skilled at cutting videos than I am, so if you need one, check it out.]
I finally head beyond Toledo and into the depths of Ohio, as the plan is to head to Mentor (in the Cleveland area) to see Tom Strobel and the Cardinals take on Medina.
Thanks Ace. I agree about Ross. He seems to have the instincts to run through blockers and get to the ball carrier. Payton looks like a pretty sure handed receiver as showcased in that touchdown catch. Hopefully he announces to play for the good guys in a few weeks.
“What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve and those who stay will be champions.” - Bo
I'm a little concerned about the Notre Dame trip as well, but Payton has stated previously that Michigan was his leader and I don't think that stance has changed. Anything can happen, of course, but I think he'll end up in Maize and Blue.
I was not overly impressed by Morris on this day but his O line was overmatched and the OLSM D was relentless. Ross was great and they had a kid ( # 9) who seemd to be in Morris' hip pocket all night.
I was amazed at how often DeLasalle rolled Morris out to the right instead of left. I am sure this was to escape Ross but it was awkward and it wasn't working.
The De Lasalle receivers could not catch some of the balls Morris gunned at them and sometimes the throws were too low and hard for frankly anyone to catch.
In short with regard to Morris it was a small sample size but I did not get the sense I was witnessing anything "special." He completed less than 1/2 of his passes for something like 60 total yards... but was rushed all night long so it was hard t tell.
De Lasalle was not helped by Morris's punting either, but I don't think he'll have to do that at Michigan. :)
FWIW, I went to De La Salle and my little bro is a receiver on the team now. He says, and I quote, "Shane might not be as good as everyone thinks, but then again, he's only a junior and our O-line sucks ... He does almost break my hand every day in practice though."
I can't view the slideshow on my work computer, but from the one punt on the video it looks like Morris punts with his right foot -- is that correct? Strange -- reminds me of baseball players who bat left but throw right, e.g. George Brett.
As for Ross, he looks like a beast, albeit a small beast. He seems tiny out there at MLB -- but I'll take a smallish-guy w/obviously great football instincts and recognition skills over a prototype sized guy who plays passive (see: Obi Ezeh) any day. Being a little short/small certainly didn't hurt Jonathan Vilma or Dat Nguyen as college MLBs.