landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
When it came time to interview players at yesterday's media day, it wasn't hard to pick out which players would draw the biggest crowds. Denard Robinson, of course, was the center of attention. Thomas Rawls, thrust into the spotlight due to Fitzgerald Toussaint's legal troubles, fielded questions about stepping into the starter's role. Devin Gardner talked about taking snaps at wide receiver. Lewan and Campbell and Kovacs never had to look far for a reporter. Pick a paper and you won't have to look far to see their stories.
Instead of jumping into the fray around Denard or Rawls or Gardner, I thought my time would be better spent getting quotes you won't see anywhere else. So, I tracked down long snapper Jareth Glanda and fullback Stephen Hopkins for some one-on-one interviews, and the results are below:
How did you get into snapping? Was it something you did to get a spot on a college team or did you just pick it up?
When I played offensive line in youth ball, one of our line coaches ... it was just something that he taught me and I did through youth ball, I did through high school, and eventually with the help of Coach Fracassa at Brother Rice I was able to get a walk-on position here. It was something I learned early and I was able to earn a spot at a major school doing it.
When did you realize that you'd be able to make it onto Michigan's team through snapping? Was that something you realized when you started?
Absolutely not. It was something that I learned and I did because I was lucky my coach taught me what to do. I tried to teach myself different things as I progressed, but it was never something I'd think I would be doing at a school like Michigan. It was just one of those skills that I had that I could do; I played offense, and then I was able to do that too. It was something I was able to do.
Going to Brother Rice, did you grow up a Michigan fan?
I grew up a Michigan fan. I played hockey too, so I was a Michigan football fan and a Michigan hockey fan. A guy from my hometown of Rochester Hills, Peter Vanderkaay, we watched him in the Olympics. So yeah, I grew up being a Michigan fan.
Obviously, Tom [Pomarico] was also playing last year, and he's gone. You're taking on a little more responsibility. How have you handled that so far?
I was able to take on the field goal and PAT position last year. Through spring ball I've been working harder on the traditional punt; I have to block after I snap, which is something I was struggling with but I made some improvements in spring ball. Curt Graman is the same year as me, it's his fourth year too, we've been competing during fall camp and during spring ball with the punts and he's been pushing the competition with the field goal snaps, too. It's always good to get competition in practice and during those live reps it's important, too.
You mentioned blocking as something that was a little different in the long snap versus the short snap. What other technical differences do you run into between punts and field goals?
On a punt we snap it 14 yards, a field goal is seven. You have a smaller area that you want to put the ball when you snap PATs and field goals. The velocity of the ball might be a little slower so the holder can control it; with the laces on the PATs it always helps the kickers to be out. Punters like it in the hip or in the chest area. Punts, I'm not looking at the punter, I'm looking forward. PATs I'm always looking at the spot I want to snap. It's different, but it's the same. They both have their difficulties and similarities.
Do you have a greater comfort level with the short snapping because that's what you were doing last year?
I got a lot more reps, obviously, with the PATs and field goals. I've been working with Drew Dileo, he's the holder, and Brendan Gibbons, especially on those left-footed kicks—the left-footed kicks are different from the right-footed kicks with the holder's position. I'm definitely getting more reps; you always feel more comfortable with the more practice you get. I've been trying to get a lot more punt reps in practice on the sidelines with Curt and the rest of the punters. I feel like I've improved on that as well.
Can you take me through a typical practice day for you? You guys are kinda off to the side doing your own thing, right?
Yeah. Most of the time we work with each other. We coach each other; I've learned a little bit about kicking, I can help some of the kickers and punters. Seth Broekhuizen has helped me with different aspects of punt snapping and blocking and PAT snapping. At the beginning of practice we'll have a specialist period. Outside, we snap punts, we get that on film, PATs and field goals from different spots, about five or ten minutes, that's pre-practice. During practice, it depends on the day, if we're working on punts, if we're working on half-line or full-line punts; field goal period is towards the end of practice, maybe we get some live reps with different rushes depending on who we're playing that particular week. All the other time is spent on the sidelines or in Oosterbaan trying to get our own work and trying to get as many reps as we can so we can improve.
With kickers you always hear about guys having their own routine before they go on, they're getting in the zone or whatever. Is it the same for a snapper where you've got to get that kind of singular focus before you go out there?
Yeah, you definitely can't be—whether it's a big game or not, you can't get all hyped up, you've got to stay focused. I know during games I'm down on the sideline, kind of where the O-line sits; that's where Gibbons is, that's where the kicking net is for them to warm up. You try to stay focused, you try to get some reps on the sidelines. It's not always easy to get some warmup snaps for field goals because Dileo is usually playing some offense, but you stay focused and try to stay in the game and stay ready.
Can you take me through the play against Virginia Tech last year? Obviously, that didn't go as planned. Do you guys practice when something goes wrong, do you practice the scramble afterwards?
Yeah, if there's a bad snap or a bad you, you have guys in a route and different fire calls and backup plays like that. Then you have called fakes depending on what that PAT or field goal block team is doing in a particular week, you try to scheme some different stuff. On that play, we had a fake going and it didn't go as we planned. Drew just tried to throw the ball up and I was lucky enough to make the catch on that one.
Can you tell me your thought process on that play? It looked like you had to throw a block in there and the ball just kinda ended up...
Yeah, I knew Drew was rolling out to the right, and I tried to block some guys who were flowing that way. Then I saw the ball come over my head. It went off the guy's helmet and right into my hands, right into my hands. It was crazy how that happened.
Were you worried at all, being an ineligible receiver, about touching the ball illegally?
That was my first thought. If you ask Will Campbell, [I asked], "Was that okay? Was I supposed to make that catch?" It was off the helmet, so... I was worried about being downfield and all that, but it worked out for our team.
With the punters, you've got Matt [Wile] pushing Will [Hagerup] a little bit for the starting job. What do you see out of those two guys?
All the guys are competing. Matt Wile, Will Hagerup, we've got a new guy, Kenny [Allen], Kenny's in here, and they're all working each other and they all push each other. When a guy sees another guy doing well, they grab me and they want to get more snaps out during practice. The competition is great, during spring ball and during fall camp watching film upstairs, seeing what each other is doing. When the games start, it'll be the best for us.
Long snapper is a position where you're usually flying a little bit under the radar, if you're hearing your name it's usually because something went wrong. You got a little bit of attention last year after the Sugar Bowl. Was that a bit of an adjustment to all of a sudden be in the limelight and get that attention?
Yeah, it was a little strange. I had a feeling that I would have to answer some questions. But I'm back to doing what I do, flying under the radar again. It's a new season and that was a long time ago, so I've got to focus on improving on the punt snaps and keep working the field goal snaps so we can win the Big Ten championship this year.
You made the move to fullback last year and that obviously was a transition. Now that you've been there do you have a much greater comfort level with the position?
I'm getting there. Since I didn't have any reps [at fullback] other than in-season reps, definitely there's a lot of things I'm learning, little things I'm learning to get better at the position so I can play like a Michigan fullback this year.
What was the greatest adjustment for you going from halfback to fullback?
When you're a running back, you don't really shy away from contact, but at the same time you're not trying to get tackled. At fullback, you're looking for the contact; you've got to be the initiator, you've got to be the devastator. That's a big change, but I think I've adjusted pretty well.
Do you enjoy the physical aspect of it now?
I do, I do. At first it was taking some time to get used to, and now I actually really enjoy it, beating my man on a block and driving him back and doing those things I'm supposed to do.
Coach Jackson mentioned you possibly taking snaps at both halfback and fullback this year. Have you been doing work at both?
I probably always will work at both. Running back is my preferred position and I'll always be able to play that a little bit; that'll probably never change.
With Fitz's availability in question right now, do you feel ready if called upon to step up and take more carries?
Yeah. I'm a fullback, I play fullback, but at the same time I'm still a running back. I'll be ready if my number is called.
Coach Jackson mentioned B.J. Askew as a guy that you remind him of as a running back who made that transition. Is that a guy that you maybe look to, and have you talked to any former players about the switch?
I really haven't. I thought about during this camp trying to reach out and see what they'd have to say, some advice for someone in the same position, so I'm probably looking to do that. But I've seen some film on [Askew], he's obviously a really good player, he played in the league for a long time.
Askew was very good catching balls out of the backfield. Is that something that you've been working on?
Yeah, this summer I've been working on my hands, and in this spring I felt like I'll get more chances to show that part of my game. I'll be ready to do that as well.
Fumbling was a little bit of an issue. What have you done to work on holding onto the ball better?
It's crazy because I was never someone who ever fumbled before I got to college, ever. Then it happens once, and sometimes it gets in your mind or whatever, but you've got to let it go and relax and do fundamentally what you've been taught—that's what I'm working on. So far, so good.
Is that something—you know, it's one or two fumbles and you might get that reputation, where maybe it doesn't reflect your actual ability...
...is that something that's mentally tough to get over?
Yeah, definitely, because I've never really been accused of that. I was always someone you could trust to always keep the ball secure. It didn't really affect me too much, I just had to go and show that it wasn't me.
In your position group, there's a lot of different types of running backs, with Fitz and Rawls and Hayes and Norfleet and Smith. Do you like the collection that you guys have in terms of their versatility?
Yeah, we have a really talented group of running backs. Whoever's number gets called on September 1st is going to be ready.
It seems like that may very well be Thomas Rawls. What do you see out of him?
He's learning still, he's young, but he's also really talented—very physical, runs really hard, runs angry. I like what I see out of him as well.
Alabama is a tough first test. Does that add a little bit of an extra edge when you're getting ready for the first game?
Absolutely. Respect to all of our opponents, even Western Michigan last year, but this is the defending national champions, so every time you get on the field you know you've got to get better because you know they're getting better.
You get to go back home for this one [Hopkins hails from Flower Mound, Texas]. How big of an effect does that have on your excitement for this game?
I mean, the game itself is huge enough, but to make things better for me I get to play in front of my hometown, basically. It's going to be a great experience and a great opportunity as well.
Have you been to Cowboys Stadium or will this be a first for you?
Actually, my senior year, for playoff games we played there twice, so I've seen it and played in it twice.
Have teammates been asking you about what it's like to play there?
Yeah, they have. Besides the Big House, there's probably no other place I'd rather play.
PREVIOUSLY ON "MGOBLOG WRITERS DRAFT TEAMS COMPRISED OF BIG TEN PLAYERS IN AN EFFORT TO IMPRESS ONLOOKERS":
ACE started drafting Wisconsin players, then started drafting MSU players, then had a tiny Bret Bielema head sprout from his shoulder. He'll probably stop drafting Wisconsin players because this seems like a poor development for a single guy.
READERS inadvertently learned stuff about the league.
WE PICK UP OUR BRAVE DRAFTERS just after the start of ROUND EIGHT. HEIKO is on the clock in the PRESIDENTIAL SUITE of the ISHPEMING RED ROOF INN. He paces back and forth, remembering the horrible nightmares he had just hours ago. Nightmares about… about… Gibbons/Broekhuizen 2010.
ED-S: Google Doc lives here.
[ED: the following pre-pick comments are in re: my concern about a lack of Wolverines.]
Could be worse. We could be Nebraska, whose quarterback I turned into a running back and whose school record-setting running back is being coveted by nobody.
On the other hand...
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, UM), DeAnthony Arnett (WR, MSU)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL), Jordan Hill (DT, PSU)
KICKER(S): Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
BRIEF EXPLANATION: So I see we're supposed to take two kickers, huh (see first email). What if I only need one? That would totally free up a spot to take another player, like another quarterback, perhaps. Boy do I love me those quarterbacks, so that's why I'm going to go ahead and take Brett Maher right now before someone else steals my genius idea. Maher has the B1G's best leg, period. He can kick off, punt, and PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AHHHH. Last season he averaged 44.5 yards/punt (best in B1G) and made 19/23 FGs (2nd best % in B1G). Those performances got him first team All-America recognition in both kicking categories, and this season he's the favorite for both the Ray Guy Award (best punter in the nation) and the Lou Groza Award (best kicker in the nation). Shall I continue? He's really good, you guys.
SNARK: Don't waste your time -- there are no other dual-threat kickers in the league. I already looked. The closest thing you'll get is Michigan's Matt Wile (hypothetically), but just know that Matt Wile got beaten out for placekicker by Brendan Gibbons.
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW), Keenan Davis (WR, IA)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU), Mike Taylor (LB, UW)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Taylor led the conference with 150 tackles last season from his weakside spot, nine of those going for a loss. He and Borland should once again combine to flirt with 300 tackles and 30 TFL, helping to cover for potential interior D-line deficiencies, which is nice since I currently don't have an interior D-line. Also, Aceconsin.
SNARK: Heiko, your shenanigans started as cheeky and fun. Now they're just cruel and tragic.
Michigan fear? Well to be honest only MSU looks as good as Michigan on my draft board. And even if you have the 1997 Michigan defense (which they don't) you need at least a Brian Griese to run the table. So no, not worried.
CURRENT O: Denard Robinson (QB, MICH), Michael Schofield (OT, MICH) [I swear you'll get some friends soon guys, really]
CURRENT D: Kawann Short (3T, PUR), Johnathan Hankins (NT, OSU), Marcus Rush (DE, MSU), Jonathan Brown (MLB, ILL), Gerald Hodges (SLB, PSU), Jordan Kovacs (SS, MICH), Micah Hyde (CB, IOWA)
EXPLANATION (SCREW BREVITY): Purveyors of UFR and opponent previews can go gaga for various Larry Footes, but the speedster I had first on my draft board at OLB is the guy Penn State fans call the latest great Linebacker of Linebacklehem, and national pundits call a Butkus candidate. Give reality its standard Penn State Fan and national pundits discount and he's still a dude with 106 tackles (mostly solo) and totally non-FAKE 4.48 speed.
While he looks kind of like a safety, he put enough time in the weight room to be this offseason's second-most likely person to be mentioned in an article concerning State College athletic facilities. He also generated 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks, those backfield numbers coming mostly from plays where he was blowing up bubble screens (including one ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FIELD!). When he did blitz--not nearly often enough--he had a Shawn Crable-like ability to knife past blockers before they're out of their stances. On my defense he's going to be what we wish (in the wishiest of wishes) Cam Gordon could be: a tall, north-south-east-west SAM who shuts down the slot and also does the Crable things.
And Kovacs: The only possible explanation for the far and away best player (next is either Ibraheim Campbell or Christian Bryant) at such an important defensive position slipping this far is that he's a walk-on from some school nobody's ever heard of. A quick search of opponent message boards will teach you all you need know about Kovacs, which is that he's a walk-on who walked onto the team as a student body walk-on, and only played since his freshman year because his nowhere team didn't have any scholarship players after they all ran off because of Rich Rod.
He's probably short and white and slow and has to be carried in coverage, and is only on my team because I want journalists to have a feelgood Gritty McGritterson with LEADERSHIP™ story to write about after those games when I've held my opponent under 100 yards. That plus he's the best tackler in the Big Ten, and can diagnose the offense's play up to 3.2 milliseconds after they break the huddle.
SNARK: That's right, Ace, 150 tackles for Mike Taylor: 60 unassisted, and 90 when he leapt onto an already-coagulating pile of bodies because somebody told him there was cheese in there. In Soviet Russia every comrade get tackle assist.
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW), Keenan Davis (WR, IA)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU), Mike Taylor (LB, UW), Ricardo Allen (CB, PUR)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: With Johnny Adams providing strong run support for me on the boundary, I can go with the small (5'9", 186) but aggressive Allen, who has started every game for Purdue in his first two seasons. Despite his lack of size, Allen is known for his press coverage, and with three interceptions in each of his first two years—three of which he returned for touchdowns—he's got a knack for the big play. Allen is no slouch against the run, either, with 60 solo tackles in 2011; you could blame poor coverage for that high total, but I'll point to the non-Kawaan Short portion of the Purdue defense. I'd worry about this pick a bit if any team could field two big, playmaking wide receivers, but unless you're really drinking the DG Kool-Aid there aren't two in the entire conference, let alone on any one team in this draft.
SNARK: Interesting that you should point out the solo tackle numbers, Seth, since Borland and Taylor are first and third, respectively, among returning B1G players in that very statistic. Let's not blame them for happening to regularly converge on the ballcarrier at the same time.
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, UM), DeAnthony Arnett (WR, MSU)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL), Jordan Hill (DT, PSU), Isaiah Lewis (S, MSU)
KICKER(S): Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Not that you guys have any receivers to cover, but just to insure against some random walk-on (note that I did not say "white guy," though they do sound similar) running loose in the secondary, I'll take Isaiah Lewis. He's the best free safety in the B1G with 74 tackles and 4 INTs (two of which were returned for TDs) last season. More importantly I didn't want to get stuck with Ibraheim Campbell, whose stock is inflated because he intercepted two of Denard's backfoot throws. Whoopty-doo. I remember him more prominently as being on the losing end of a Junior Hemingway jump ball, but then again, who wasn't?
SNARK: You guys are so predictable. Brian's next two picks: Ibraheim Campbell and C.J. Barnett.
CJ Barnett is the safety guy futilely chasing Toussaint. I mention this on a whim only.
BONUS: yeah, that's Shazier behind Toussiant, too.
PICKS: Fitzgerald Toussaint, M, RB, and LeVeon Bell, HB/FB, Michigan State
CURRENT O: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, ILL), Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB, M), LeVeon Bell (HB/FB, MSU), Jared Abbrederis (WR, UW), Taylor Lewan(LT, M)
CURRENT D: John Simon (DE, OSU), Akeem Spence (DT, Illinois), Jake Ryan (LB, M), Denicos Allen (LB, MSU), Terry Hawthorne (CB, ILL)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Seth is probably going to be mad since he expected the two of us to play chicken with the tailbacks for a while longer, but I'm going to push Bell to my spread's "superback" slot—think Owen Schmitt—and pick up the two most productive runners in the league not being gently escorted to the endzone by Wisconsin's offensive line. I'd rather have the two guys averaging 5.2 YPC than Burkhead and his durable but incredibly boring production.
You probably know about Toussaint, who is Mike Hart but fast but not as powerful and more likely to be suspended. After battling through injuries for most of his career he took off after his inexplicable two carries against MSU. He cracked 100 yards in four of the final six games, only failing to make it against Iowa (when the offense devolved into an under-center I-form attack that Michigan couldn't block for) and Virginia Tech. That latter was an all-around collapse not traceable to Toussaint. When healthy, Toussaint can juke in a phone booth and set sail for the endzone after doing so. He's a natural fit for a spread and should go over 1000 yards easily this year as long as he calls a cab when he should. BONUS: Toussaint has not fumbled yet.
Bell provides the thunder to Toussaint's lightning. He may have had the most impressive season of any tailback in the Big Ten last year, averaging 5.2 YPC behind Michigan State's patchwork line and chasing Edwin Baker off to an NFL that wasn't really interested. The contrast between Bell and Baker's production is shocking: despite Baker lighting up the crappy edges of Michigan's defense to the tune of 167 yards, he could only manage 3.9 YPC on the season despite having more of his carries against the dregs of the schedule.
At 6'2", 237, Bell is definitely big enough to take on whatever blocking duties will be required, and as a bonus if you put him one in one in space with a linebacker or secondary guy he will run them over productively. He's also a good option out of the backfield with 35 catches a year ago--third most on the MSU roster. He's Brandon Minor, but bigger and more useful as a receiver.
EVIDENTLY REQUIRED SNARK ABOUT PREVIOUS PICKS: Ruling on taking a combo kicker: Heiko can use the extra slot on a quarterback as long as that quarterback is assigned to a spot on defense.
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL),
Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, UM), DeAnthony Arnett (WR,
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL), Jordan Hill (DT, PSU), Isaiah Lewis (FS, MSU), C.J. Barnett (SS, OSU)
KICKER(S): Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Fine, if Brian wants to spite me and not take C.J. Barnett, I'll take him. Just to be clear, Barnett -- not Christian Bryant -- is Ohio State's strong safety. I know this because I checked my own preview in HttV, which was coauthored by both Seth and Ramzy Nasrallah, and I trust this preview more than Phil Steele. Anyhow, Barnett is the strong safety version of Isaiah Lewis. He's fast, hard-hitting, has excellent ball skills, and is probably going to be some kind of All-B1G once the season is done. Last year he had 75 tackles and two interceptions.
Ohio State's entire defense returns this year, and they retain Luke Fickell as one of their defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. As such, the unit as a whole should improve and Barnett should be in much better position make plays this season.
I know, I know, taking Lewis and Barnett back to back isn't as sexy as my previous picks, but I just got myself the B1G's best safety tandem. Have fun deciding between Ibraheim Campbell and Tanner Miller or something while I go back to being sexy.
SNARK: Reaction to ruling on taking a combo kicker: Maybe I'll take a quarterback, maybe I won't. I just checked my roster and it seems I have pretty decent depth at that position. How are your quarterbacks doing?
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW), Keenan Davis (WR, IA)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU), Mike Taylor (LB, UW), Ricardo Allen (CB, PUR), Ibraheim Campbell (S, NW)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: All Campbell did as a redshirt freshman last year was record 100 tackles with 3.5 TFL, 2 INTs, and 4 PBUs en route to Freshman All-America honors. At 5'11", 205, he can come up and lay the wood from his safety spot, and he's lauded for his natural instincts. As a bonus, heading into his sophomore year, Campbell should improve at a greater rate than the upperclassmen comprising the lion's share of our rosters. In this league, I want a defense that can stop the run, and while I'm still lacking the DTs at least I have a lot of players who can cover for that weak spot. I'm pretty sure Michigan is banking on the same this season, and we think that can work out, right? Right?
SNARK: Yes, how are your quarterbacks doing, Brian?
CURRENT O: Denard Robinson (QB, M), Rex Burkhead (RB, NEB), Kofi Hughes (WR, IN), Michael Schofield (OT, M)
CURRENT D: Kawann Short (3T, PUR), Johnathan Hankins (NT, OSU), Marcus Rush (DE, MSU), Jonathan Brown (MLB, ILL), Gerald Hodges (SLB, PSU), Jordan Kovacs (SS, MICH), Micah Hyde (CB, IOWA)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: Seth is gonna be mad, huh? That you not only broke our unstated running back pact (which could have guaranteed us these same guys when Ace is down to drafting Muenster Emmentaler and Heiko is teaching Max Shortell to play tight end) but took two guys while doing it? Mad that I got stuck with...oh, look, two Heisman candidates in my backfield. Drat.
As forced consolation prizes go, Burkhead is no Scheelhaase. You call 1,357 rushing yards and 17 TDs boring? Well how about a guy who ran for 4.8 YPC against defenses who didn't have to wander more than 5 yards off the LOS with old Tyranno-arm at QB, and behind a busted up offensive line? He's got more career receiving yards than all of Heiko's All Star bin to go along with the ridiculous rushing totals, never goes down on first contact, and has a penchant for heroics against Michigan's rivals. If getting played means pairing my Denard Robinson action figure with Mike Hart except fewer fumbles and is more bothersome to Spartans, call me PLAYAH.
And while I'm under the gun I'd better get a receiver while there's some gettin' left. For this I've dug up junior Kofi Hughes, who's basically any of Heiko's wide receivers if any of Heiko's receivers played wide receiver in the Big Ten last year. Actually he's Junior Hemingway if Hemingway was an inch shorter and languishing in Indiana. Kofi is a big target and a leaping-type of deep threat (35 catches for 536 yards) who's never caught a ball he didn't have to fight for. Hughes gives me that downfield outlet to occasionally make something out of the occasional DENARD: NO!, and can otherwise block the snot out of puny CBs when TEAM HEISMAN is doing their thing. Downside: held out of one game for a violation of team rules, but that didn't stop Brian with Toussaint.
SNARK: Speaking of the must-draft rule, there's three strong safeties off the board now, so what's it gonna be Brian? Shelton Johnson? Suppo Sanni?
[ED: at this point it was mutually agreed on that 1) SS was too specific and positions for must-drafts were broken down like so: QB, RB, WR/TE(4), OL(5), DE(2), DT(2), LB(3), CB(3), S(2), with kickers and our FB/HB spot exempted and 2) we would extend the must-draft provision to three rounds from the original two. And by "mutually agreed on" I mean "decided by fiat."]
Our league commissioner
CURRENT O: Montee Ball (RB, UW), James Vandenberg (QB, IA), Ricky Wagner (OL, UW), Keenan Davis (WR, IA), Travis Frederick (C, UW)
CURRENT D: Chris Borland (LB, UW), William Gholston (DE, MSU), Johnny Adams (CB, MSU), Mike Taylor (LB, UW), Ricardo Allen (CB, PUR), Ibraheim Campbell (S, NW)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: I'll cop to a critical error in drafting, as I chose a strong safety before Seth's picks even though he had Kovacs, therefore losing my chance to stick Burkhead in the same backfield with Ball and run you all to death. Damn. So, I'll take Frederick, a behemoth of a center at 6'4", 338. In 2009, he became the first true freshman lineman in Wisconsin history to start on opening day, and he was a consensus All-B1G second team selection at guard last year. I'll stick Frederick at center for now, though I could flip him to guard depending on how the rest of the draft shakes out.
No snark here, just kicking myself for allowing Seth to have a running game.
Cool story, Hansel.
CURRENT O: Braxton Miller (QB, OSU), Taylor Martinez (QB/RB, UNL), Kyle Prater (WR, NW), Devin Gardner (QB/WR, UM), DeAnthony Arnett (WR, MSU)
CURRENT D: Michael Buchanan (DE, ILL), Jordan Hill (DT, PSU), Craig Roh (DE, UM), Isaiah Lewis (FS, MSU), C.J. Barnett (SS, OSU)
KICKER(S): Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
BRIEF EXPLANATION: I complete my collection of defensive ends with the selection of Craig Roh. At Michigan, Roh is making his final move to his natural position as a strong side defensive end. He's the highest rated B1G player at this position left on the board, so I thought I'd take him before someone else forces me to convert Cameron Meredith to an SDE. Roh is pretty enormous these days. His 6'5 frame carries 281 lbs of running back-crushing muscle and should hold up well to double teams. Last season he struggled with the pass rush (because he's a little on the slow side), but had 8 TFLs and 4 sacks nonetheless.
Opponents' runs to the weak side of Michigan's line always seemed to stop a yard or two behind the line of scrimmage due to Roh's ability to shed blocks in time to give ball carriers a big bear hug. Though his production at Michigan has been muted by GERG and various identity crises, I think he'll finally realize his potential in 2012. The NFL concurs.
SNORK: No, this is not the sexy pick I promised earlier (although Craig Roh's eyebrows are pretty sexy). Also, centers are boring, just like Aceconsin is boring. Have you like totally given up, man? Do you want one of my quarterbacks? I'll trade you Gardner for ... I don't know. Your players don't fit my system. Sorry.
CURRENT O: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, ILL), Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB, M), LeVeon Bell (HB/FB, MSU), Jared Abbrederis (WR, UW), Taylor Lewan(LT, M), Chris McDonald (RG, MSU), Jack Mewhort (RT, OSU).
CURRENT D: John Simon (DE, OSU), Akeem Spence (DT, Illinois), Jake Ryan (LB, M), Denicos Allen (LB, MSU), Terry Hawthorne (CB, ILL)
BRIEF EXPLANATION: MANBALL!
Also, I've solved my quarterback issues. No longer will Scheelhaase be known as "quarterback." Instead, I'm inventing a new position: guy-who-gets-the-snap-first-and-is-one-of-many-runny-type-guys. I'll work on the name.
Anyway, Jack Mewhort was a starter for Ohio State last year, flipping between both guard spots, and is now slated to be OSU's starting left tackle. Since Taylor Lewan isn't about to give that up around these parts, I'll slide him to right tackle, where his 6'6", 310 pounds will be used to grade roads. I mean, look at this guy:
QED. Biff Tanner. I just drafted Biff Tanner. This year he'll even get coached!
[SETH INTERJECTION: Biff TanneN! How did you get in my generation anyway? Are you like some Bieber-loving Millenial on stilts with a fake goatee or something?]
Slightly inside Biff I'll put McDonald, the one thing about last year's MSU line that was not makeshift. He's entering his third year as a starter, was honorable mention All Big Ten last year, is on just about everyone's first-team All Big Ten this year, and seems to be a draftable guy, which is pretty good for a guard. Mike Martin put up a –1 in last year's UFR because of McDonald hammering him lots, which… yeah, I'll take that guy.
Scheelhaase is going to be just fine since 100% of his passes will be off play action to Abbrederis.
EVIDENTLY REQUIRED SNARK ABOUT PREVIOUS PICKS: Wait wait wait, we're talking smack about Scheelhaase when Braxton Miller completed 54% of his passes last year? And Heiko followed that up by drafting 60 wide receivers? Also note that I am not adding players from, you know, Indiana.
NEXT UP ON DRAFTOSNARK:
HEIKO drafts a quarterback to be his backup punter, ACE finally admits that he's the unholy love child of Dantonio and Bielema, SETH falls asleep happily, secure in his Kovacs-assured lack of long touchdowns allowed, and BRIAN continues patching the Scheelhaase hole in his levee. Not like that, pervs.
Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DT Matt Godin, DT Willie Henry, and DT Ondre Pipkins.
|Rockford, MI – 6'6", 308|
|Scout||3*, #40 OT|
|Rivals||3*, #38 OT, #8 MI|
|ESPN||3*, #50 OT, #7 MI|
|24/7||3*, #40 OT, #10 MI|
|Other Suitors||Michigan State, Wisconsin, Syracuse|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim. Ace scouts Braden vs. East Kentwood. wresler120 does the same vs Lowell.|
Ace scouts Rockford v. East Kentwood:
There was a time long ago in a galaxy that seems far away but is actually this one that Brady Hoke's ability to recruit was a big question mark. Almost two months after Signing Day, other schools had started locking down their classes but Michigan was bereft. Ben Braden and Caleb Stacey changed that by committing on the same day. Stacey would later decommit and end up at Cincinnati, which is close to home; Braden had no such thoughts. Braden's commitment anniversary was noted by mgouser uniqenam on the message board:
I thought it interesting to note that a year ago today Michigan got its first 2012 commit, and by this time in 2013 we're already more than halway done with this class. Really highlights the speed with which this class has been built.
Now is not then. But that's not really about Ben Braden.
Things about Ben Braden: he is large, and raw, and raw, and large. I can't tell you how many articles I've waded through that note his late transition from hockey to football($) after a massive growth spurt turned him into Zdeno Chara and his skating couldn't keep up. He first drew attention when he showed up at Michigan's camp having never played a snap of high school football; when he committed he had all of one season on the OL($) under his belt.
So it's reasonable that the scouting services were a little cautious about ranking him highly, and reasonable that they'd make technique concerns a major issue in their analysis. Here's Allen Trieu:
Power And Strength
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
A kid who has really grown into his body and now has the type of body that could allow him to play early in college. Moves well at that size, showing surprising athleticism for a bigger kid. Naturally strong and a good drive blocker, he has improved as a pass blocker, but is still working on his technique.
We detect some lower body stiffness however his balance and agility allow him effectively play in space; from a three point stance this prospect comes off the ball low and hard when drive blocking; displays good initial quickness and explosion; his fit and pad level along with a sound blocking base and persistent leg drive usually results in immediate movement. … demonstrates the quickness and agility to gain leverage when reaching on shaded down linemen and we feel he is capable of consistently getting a hat on active 1st and 2nd level defenders. This is a tough aggressive finisher who should be able to successfully execute all the run blocks at the next level. His long arms should be an asset in pass protection… his overall posture and balance will need to improve. Although we like his upper body playing strength, all areas of hand use will need refinement.
And… that is fine by me. Technique is dead last on my list of things that are important to find in your offensive linemen. They all redshirt, very few get decent position coaching, and even fewer ever get rocked enough to have a Come To Technique moment. You get 90% of your technique in college.
More important in my book are—hey!—feet, power, strength, and size. The evaluations that come along with the three-star ratings offered by those scouting services sound downright great. If you're thinking there's a disconnect between those evaluations and his rankings, I'm with you. There's even a disconnect between the rankings and this awesome opposing coach quote:
"I've never seen a human being move as well as that Ben Braden at this level. I was standing on that field, and I didn't feel good about putting my kids in front of him. He's huge, and he's a really good player."
Or this nearly as awesome opposing coach quote($):
"He is a specimen. That guy is the best offensive lineman I've seen, hands down," Zengunis said. "He's phenomenal, and a rare occurrence where you get a 6-7, 300-pound kid that can move with that kind of athleticism."
Or this pretty good plain ol' coach quote:
Ben is just a massive people moving machine. His rare combination of size and strength that is growing by the month allows him to be a physically imposing presence. He is an aggressive force with great straight-ahead and lateral speed."
I have an operative theory: Braden only showed at Michigan's camp after his commitment, and while he did very well there the only guys who saw him were the local experts and they did not have enough pull to get him bumped once the season started and Braden started taking on iffy smallish West Michigan competition.
So here's the camp stuff. From Rivals' summer wrap series($):
…showed up in Ann Arbor for Michigan's summer camp at 6-7, 315 pounds with little fat and a lot of muscle. His increased strength was evident in one-on-ones where several Division I-caliber defensive linemen were stopped cold immediately after locking on with Braden.
The talk of the town so far has been Michigan commit Ben Braden. The Rockford product is now up to 319-lbs and moving well enough that we have changed our stance on him. Previously thought to be a right tackle or guard prospect, we believe he has a chance to be a college left tackle. He was excellent in 1-1s. He is very strong, evident in his initial punch and ability to lock on and control defensive linemen. He put more than a few guys in the dirt and was very very good today.
…dedicated himself in the weight room this offseason, adding good weight and getting up to 319-lbs. Even at that size, he was moving well enough to be considered a left tackle prospect. He's strong, technique is improving and he's more athletic than previously thought. He has a chance to move into the top 7-8 in-state and the four-star range when rankings are updated.
And here's what the local guys said during the season. Helmholdt($):
We continue to be amazed at how well put together physically Braden is. At 6-7 and 320 pounds he almost looks lean. His weight is proportioned well throughout his body, and he all muscle with very little extra weight. Trotting him out against high school competition is almost unfair. … He fires out fast and low, and is able to get into defensive linemen before they are able to react. From there, he simply overwhelms defensive linemen who either do their best to stay on their feet or concede and get pancaked.
Braden is not a complete lineman yet, though. While his initial burst is good, he is still a little heavy on his feet and this comes out in his pass pro. Speed rushers do have the ability to beat him around the outside, and as the game goes on his feet appear to slow down.
That scouting report had Braden above Terry Richardson and Shane Morris as Helmholdt ranked the most impressive players he'd seen over the past few weeks. (FWIW, a kid who signed with CMU was #1, so maybe not 100% predictive of college success.)
…had a great game out there, showing excellent feet, technique and strength, particularly in pass protection. … a people mover. A kid who's big enough, strong enough and athletic enough to lock on and drive defenders out of the play. As I've said before, the biggest thing I'd like to see him add is more of a mean streak. He has fantastic tools though, and he showed tonight that he is much farther along technically than most kids who have only been playing the position for two years. Wolverine fans should be excited about this one.
And here's the rating: unchanged, three stars, next OL we can't really predict that well. This is the point during hypothetical recruiting gymnastics where we pay up front for the judges to take a second look at things. I protest!
Okay, it's not all sunshine and roses. When Ace checked out Braden against East Kentwood he came back impressed with Braden's hugeness but a little worried about its relative lack of impact on the game:
Along with Braden's size, his quick feet appear to be his best asset. Rockford pulled Braden on many of their running plays, and he's very fast in getting off the ball, through the hole, and into the second level, where he can ideally crush the poor linebacker standing in his way. While the latter part happened a couple times, there were several instances in which Braden simply did not find a man to block—I am by no means an expert on offensive line play, but it was disconcerting how many plays ended with him running five or ten yards downfield looking for someone to hit.
This brings me to my biggest point of concern about Braden—one that has been voiced elsewhere—and that's the lack of the proverbial 'mean streak'. In a game in which Braden regularly was called upon to pull and block linebackers, all of whom he outweighed by at least 100 pounds, I counted exactly two plays in which he put a defender on his backside.
…Braden showed why he's a Michigan recruit—his combination of size and quickness is really tough to match—but he's definitely a work-in-progress.
Tim Sullivan scouted Braden's game against Lowell($), coming back with this hilarious picture…
#26: "I told you I was going to get my older brother to beat you up."
TomVH: "I'm totally taller than #26."
…and some Real Talk scouting:
He looked very solid as a pulling lineman and on outside zone running plays. For a guy as enormous as he is, the agility he demonstrated was outstanding.
… There were a few times he had a defensive lineman under control, and one big burst could have buried the kid. He only did that on a couple of occasions, and missed some opportunities to deliver a knockout blow.
His pass protection was also just okay. … [got] a little complacent in his protection, just leaning up against the kid to not give any ground. It did the trick last night, but against better competition, he's going to have to be sure to keep his blocking base underneath his upper body.
Trieu also noted a desire to see Braden display "a little more fire and nastiness" after seeing his as a senior amongst the usual slate of praise ("all the tools" physically, pass protection seems "effortless"). Maybe that's just an artifact of playing against guys a lot smaller than him.
These days Michigan's only recruiting guys that the services think are tackles—of the nine guys Michigan has acquired in the Hoke era, only David Dawson is listed as a guard by Rivals—so most of these OL evaluations are going to have to figure out how you fit all those guys in a line by judging each player's potential at guard. (Center seems taken care of between Jack Miller and Patrick Kugler.)
Braden's guard potential is low. While there were very occasional mentions of the possibility in my tab thicket, the guy is 6'7" with long arms and decent or better feet. He'll compete at both tackle positions first, with guard a plan B if that doesn't work out.
"He's kind of a brawler. He's big, powerful, and he's quick," Rockford coach Ralph Munger said. "He blocks well on the run inside and outside, and his pass protection technique is excellent. He's just a big old, rough, tough, lunch-pail type of young man."
Why Jon Runyan? There's a lot of conflicting information above about how mean Braden is, but everyone agrees he's an amazingly large person with good agility. He arrives at Michigan at 308, but the sort of 308 that will see coaches continue to put pounds on a not-at-all sloppy frame. So now we're searching for truly huge right tackle types, and 6'7", 330-pound John Runyan seems to fit the bill best. Braden will have to significantly amp up the mean streak and get his technique down to reach those heights, obviously.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. They all agree, but then they open their mouths and they don't agree with themselves.
Variance: High. Has the frame to be a star, but is a long way from that ceiling with just two years of football under his belt. Also as a general rule, OL are less predictable than any other spot.
Ceiling: High. Maybe doesn't have the agility to be a killer left tackle, but can be an All Conference type on the right. (Shane Morris lefty complications are ignored for purposes of not confusing people.)
General Excitement Level: High. A boom or bust type-ish but I like him better than the recruiting services do. Meh rankings offset by early Wisconsin offer, since Wisconsin knows what they're doing when it comes to OL, and the glabdanged recruiting analysts themselves, who talked about him like he was a much higher-rated guy.
Projection: Redshirt unless disaster strikes the tackles, and even then chances are Kalis is more likely to see the field this year. He concurs, FWIW. After that, another year of cooling his heels behind Schofield and Lewan unless Lewan changes his mind and enters the draft. We'll take him at his word and assume that doesn't happen.
In 2014 both tackle spots open up, then. Magnuson will be the top candidate on the left, and Kalis will either be the top candidate on the right or a returning starter at guard. If it's the latter, Braden will have a year on the various tackles Michigan has committed and seems like the favorite to lock down the spot. If not, he's probably stuck as a career backup. Anyone surveying the current depth chart finds that a reassuring prospect. The bet here is Kalis ends up at guard and Braden is a quality three-year starter.
I've changed my mind from earlier: Ben Braden is the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year.
News bullets and whatnot:
- Toussaint and Clark will start practicing Monday; still no determination for Alabama
- Tamani Carter has left the team
- Roy Roundtree had knee surgery on Friday, out two weeks
We appreciate your attendance today, coming out, and your time, and your interest in Michigan football. We've got seven practices that we've handled so far during fall camp. Our first full day in pads was on Friday. We had two padded practices yesterday and I think we're starting to get how this team is going to perform. It was nice to get into pads, it's nice to hear football, and I think for the most part we've done a pretty good job with that. We need to play a little bit with better leverage on both sides of the ball up front, that's a big part of playing the game of football. We've got a lot of fundamentals and techniques and work to do. I like the energy we've had. I think for the most part the guys have gone out there and understand that this is work, that it's hard; I like that part of it. We've just got to continue. It hasn't changed. You play football up front, and both our offensive front and our defensive front, that's where we've got to make great strides. At the same time, that's where we also need to, as we get further along, find out where our depth is going to be on both sides of the ball there.
A couple in-house things: Roy Roundtree had arthroscopic surgery on Friday. He had a little cartilage that he needed cleaned up. We expect him back in two weeks. Everything went great and he feels great; it was just one of those thing that he didn't do it practicing, he just needed to get it done, kinda felt it a little bit walking back to the huddle to be honest with you. With him, he's one of the great kids on this football team and as a senior he's been a guy where he'll do a great job of bouncing back.
With Fitz Toussaint and Frank Clark, they'll begin practicing with the team tomorrow. They are still obviously, the guys who as teammates, we love them, but there's consequences for their behavior, they're paying a price, and they will continue to pay that price for a little bit. I think both of them realize they have an outstanding opportunity to play at the University of Michigan and to get a great university degree, and they understand that there's a standard of performance from a community side and a standard of performance from an academic side and there's a standard of performance from a football side that they've got to do a great job an understand. As coaches, you're a teacher, and you get an opportunity to teach life lessons, and believe me they've paid a heavy price and will continue to pay a heavy price for actions unbecoming of a football player.
Tamani Carter has decided to leave Michigan. He's a great young man, tremendous kid, but he decided to leave. I'll leave it at that. Any questions?
Will Toussaint and Clark play against Alabama?
I haven't made any of that, and I won't make that decision for a while..
How is the start of Roundtree's season impacted?
Having a scope and a little bit of cartilege in there, a lot of guys come back in two weeks. Our docs did a tremendous job, we've got a great medical staff here, and they all do a great job. I think everything went well in talking with them, I think [head trainer] Paul [Schmidt] is very happy with how it went, and then you've got a guy like Roy who's a committed guy, he's going to do everything in his power to get back.
What are you most excited about for this season?
How we practice after we have media day done with. I'm being honest with you, seeing the development and how the leadership is, we'll find out a lot about ourselves continually every day. There's an expectation for them every day. It's part of growing up and maturing and all that, I think a lot of those guys have, so we'll see.
Do you see an increase in intensity in practice because you know the first opponent is Alabama?
You come to play football at Michigan to play in those kind of ballgames. You're expected to play and perform, and playing the defending national champs is a great challenge and a great opportunity. Going to play at a venue like Cowboys Stadium there in Arlington, I think that's going to be a lot of fun.
Are you concerned about the high expectations for the team?
Our expectations are always the same and that's to win the Big Ten championship, year in and year out, that's the expectation for the Michigan football team. You're right, we don't really care too much about the rankings. I think we were picked fifth in our division in the Big Ten a year ago; that's what those things mean. It's like life, it's not where you start, it's where you finish. We have to finish in everything we do to prepare to be the best Michigan team that we can.
How concerned are you about the offensive and defensive lines?
Believe me, we could have the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line and defensive line and I'd be concerned. Knowing the opponent that we're going to play against and watching them, I'm a defensive coach, watching that offensive line, that's a good an offensive line as I've seen in college football.
Does the defensive front have the potential to be as good as last year's?
I think so. I know we think so. I think Greg [Mattison] and Jerry [Montgomery] would tell you the same thing. They're hard-working kids. Talking about Will, you see the maturity that he's gone though and what he's done physically, from body fat to all those things, how he's worked—and it's hard—and he's really done a good job. Quinton Washington and Richard Ash and moving Jibreel inside gives us a little better depth inside at the three, and Craig inside and having Nate Brink back I think is all important.
Do you have confidence in Thomas Rawls to be the main guy if needed?
I have confidence in all our backs. Thomas is a guy who's been here. Vince Smith has played a lot of football at Michigan. Justice Hayes in a young guy who we redshirted a year ago. I think all three of those guys have had good camps to this point. We're just scratching the surface of where we're at with this team, but all three of those guys are doing a nice job.
Where have you seen Denard improve this offseason?
I think his maturity and leadership, how he approaches the game from being a quarterback, if that makes sense. What he's done in the offseason, watching football, watching technique, watching fundamentals, all that part of it, I've seen that growth. I've seen him take a more vocal, active role within that senior class. I think that's important. He's played a lot snaps. From a fundamental standpoint I think he's improved, but we're going to talk about that all the time. He's going to throw the ball off his back foot now and then, and probably shouldn't throw the ball over the middle late. He's improved. I'm really proud of him.
Is there a chance Toussaint and Clark play against Alabama?
You know, I wish I could tell you.
Can they earn that opportunity over the next couple weeks?
I'll make a decision sometime. They're part of this football team. They're guys who are 18-23, like some of us, who have not made great decisions, and they're paying for it. They're paying for the consequences of bad decisions.
What can you and the seniors do to replicate last year's success?
I think remembering what the expectations are, remembering where we failed and why we failed. I think that's a big part of it. As coaches, that's on us first; believe me, it's on me. We failed because I failed as the head coach. We've got to do a better job of coaching and a better job of preparing those guys on a weekly basis for playing the game of football and how we're going to prepare to play the game of football.
Does playing Alabama ratchet up the intensity?
It's a storied program with a lot of tradition, just like we have. I know one thing, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and our first impression of Team 133 is September 1st against Alabama.
Is is possible you'll have a better season with a worse record?
If we don't win the Big Ten championship ... we know what the goal is, and the expectations. If we don't meet it, then we fail. It's pretty cut and dry.
Do you think you have the ingredients to be a top ten team?
Ask me in two weeks.
You'll answer in two weeks?
Any more comfort level for you in year two?
It's about the same. To be honest with you, you think about those 115 kids. It's what our focus is as a staff and the people who work with them in this building. We've got a job to do as mentors, and we've got a job to be an extension of their families in helping them grow and mature. Does it feel any different? No, it probably doesn't. I've been here eight years before—well, I haven't been up here [points at podium]. It all is focused in on those kids.
Are there any freshmen that you think can help this year?
I'm not going to single anybody out because they're finishing classes, they've missed some time, they're trying to catch up a little bit mentally, and most importantly they've got to do a great job finishing those classes. Once we get that over with on Tuesday, we'll start seeing a little bit more and have a better idea. I think it's a very good class of guys. I like how their demeanor has been. Physically, genetically, they're a little different.
Do you like the kickoff changes and have you changed your approach to kickoffs because of them?
The safety issues are important. They've tried to help the kickoff return by not having three-man wedges anymore. I think moving it up, they moved it back and now they're moving it back up, the approach only being a five-yard approach; it all filters down a little bit from the NFL and what they do. I think it'll be interesting to see, now that the ball's coming out to the 25, which is a little different, to see how as a team how you approach and gameplan for your kickoff team and your kickoff return to some degree. I think the NFL a year ago, they had more kicks being returned when guys were catching them eight yards deep in the end zone. I think that depends, number one, on who your returner is, number two, who is on your kickoff return that can stay on blocks long enough. Kickoff-wise, can a guy put it eight yards deep? I think Matt [Wile] has done that at times. As we get through camp, we'll know a little more. But does it affect? Yes, no doubt.
What is the strength of the team?
I think, always, having a senior quarterback is a plus, because he's been in the big games, he's been in tough situations at home. You know, the Notre Dame game a year ago, how he handled the football game. Being on the road, and how we play on the road, I think that's a plus because there's a sense of confidence and composure and poise that's important for any position when you play in big football games. Other than that, I think the wide receiver group, to a degree. I think we have more depth at the linebacker group, in having Desmond back and Kenny back and some other guys, you know, Hawthorne has played some significant snaps from a defensive standpoint. Joe Bolden, who I know is a freshman, but coming in January gives us some depth there. The secondary, the core group is pretty good, but we've got to develop some guys for depth. That being said, our two fronts better play.
Think they will?
Yeah, I think they will, but we're nowhere near where we need to be with it.
Is the team where you want them to be physically?
The great thing about fall camp is it's a grind. It's a grind on coaches, it's a grind on our medical staff, taping and Falk and all that, the equipment, turning over laundry, and everything else, it's a grind on everybody. So you find out, when the adversity—the one thing I promised them is I'd put tremendous stress on them and get them out of their comfort zone, then see how they come together as a football team, who stands out, who steps up, who leads. Are we there? No. I like how we practiced with no pads. That usually comes around pretty good, but to be tough daily, tough every play, I can't answer that yet.
Does any part of you take delight that when you say, "This is Michigan," people respect you a little bit more a year later?
I don't know why anybody wouldn't respect whenever anybody says, "This is Michigan," you know? It's Michigan football. It's 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships. I don't know.
Since your first press conference you've been giving the media less to work with. Is that on purpose?
I don't know. I wouldn't do anything like that, probably.
Do you approach Alabama as a regular game or as more of a bowl atmosphere?
It's definitely not a bowl atmosphere. This is business. This is going down there, playing the reigning national champs, who've got a lot of great players. Coach Saban has done a tremendous job, obviously. We're preparing to play our best football on September 1st.
Talk about the defensive line.
Again, I think Will has done a good job from a leadership standpoint and from a standpoint—and this is usually what happens—of having self-pride in how he prepared himself to come into camp, and how he's taken the role of leader, how he's coaching guys up, and how he's come out to practice. Rich Ash has improved. Quinton Washington, there's some improvement from Quinton when it comes to fundamentals, in both those young kids. I think the moves of Roh and Black have both been positive for us. I think [Black] gives us a faster defensive line from Point A to Point B, to the football. I think the biggest thing is their weight gains have been pretty good and substantial, they've done it the right way. Now can they take the 70 plays of knock-them-back football, I think that's something that we're going to find out, and that's something we're working on every day.
Have you seen technique improvements from Will Campbell?
It's so important up front, the use of your hands. I think that part of it is probably where he's made the best growth. I think the last couple days, he's even played with a better leverage that he needs to play with. Will had a tendency to stand up and look for the ball instead of believing a visual key, a visual key that's going to take him to the football. I think he's improved in that area and just his overall demeanor when he takes the field. I could go on and on but it's probably kind of boring.
Do you like being picked to win the Big Ten? Do you talk about that with the team?
I'd lie to you if I said I didn't talk about it. We said that you guys really don't know much and it doesn't really matter.
Do you talk to the team about what a win against Alabama could do for the program?
I think the one thing we have talked about [is] the opportunity, because we get a chance to represent the Big Ten conference also, and that's important. We've got a great conference, a lot of great schools from the academic side of it, the football side and the athletic departments and all that. We have talked about that part of it. We're not just representing the University of Michigan, we've got a chance to go out and represent the Big Ten conference.
NEWS ITEM: Brady Hoke announced at Media Day that redshirt freshman Tamani Carter has left the program. Carter had obviously not seen the field. He was the first guy to ever commit to Brady Hoke, signing up as part of Michigan's late "oh crap we have a month before Signing Day and need ten guys" blitz. Michigan actually snatched him from Minnesota a mere eleven days after he'd committed to the Gophers. He also claimed Iowa and Stanford offers, though it seemed like they went off the board midway through his senior season.
No idea why the guy left yet but if I had to guess it's that he saw the writing on the wall about playing time. He was a non-entity in the spring when Allen Gant and Josh Furman weren't around and may have slipped further down the depth chart after their arrival/reinstatement.
Carter's departure takes Michigan down to 76 scholarship players this year and takes the open spots for the class of 2013 up to 22 plus any fifth years who don't return, though there are a couple of walk-ons (Burzynski and Brink) who might make a case for themselves as scholarship guys a la Kovacs. Sam Webb has been saying that Michigan is planning a class of 25 on WTKA; by my figuring Michigan is still two players over once fifth year decisions are factored in. That's not much of a concern six months from Signing Day, since things like injuries and depth charts and allegations happen to football players.
OTHER NEWS ITEMS: Clark and Toussaint will return to practice on Monday; no decision has yet been made about suspensions. Roy Roundtree had his knee scoped and will be out two weeks.
Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DT Matt Godin, and DT Willie Henry.
|Kansas City, MO – 6'3", 336|
|Scout||4*, #7 DT, #65 overall|
|Rivals||5*, #3 DT, #2 MO, #14 overall|
|ESPN||4*, #16 DT, #5 MO|
|24/7||4*, #6 DT, #2 MO, #51 overall|
|Other Suitors||Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, MSU|
|YMRMFSPA||Gabe Watson, but fast!|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim. I talk about how Pipkins might see Michigan move to a hybrid defense where he two-gaps while others one-gap.|
|Notes||Originally from Saginaw.|
Army Bowl stuffs:
And the already-legendary Hoke impression:
Also there is an hour of stuff on hudl.
The only thing larger than Ondre Pipkins himself may be his personality. I mean, the Hoke impression. It's right above these words. Click it. Again, if necessary. There's that, and then there's Pipkins running his mouth about OSU commit Tommy Schutt…
"Tommy Schutt ate turf," Pipkins said. "He ate turf the whole time."
…OSU commit Kyle Dodson…
"I gave a little bit to what's his name, Dodson," Pipkins said. "He ran away from me. That's what they do. They run their mouth, and then when they meet up with the belly of the beast -- I call myself that because I am -- then they run away. When it comes to reality, they want to run away."
…and OSU itself:
"Are you talking about those people down south? I don't want to give them the time of day."
He also opened up an interview with Mike Farrell by eating an ice cream cone symbolizing Ohio State or something. Hopefully you've got your fill of Pipkins wackiness, because now that he's on campus he'll be kept as far away from microphones as Brady Hoke can manage.
The reason Pipkins gets to demonstrate that personality at place like the Army All-American game is that a person his size should not be able to move in the way that he does. One of many scouting reports emphasizing this, this one from Allen Trieu:
"Pipkins is a big-bodied space-eater that can command double teams, but he's quick enough and light enough on his feet to penetrate and disrupt," said Trieu. "Once he learns to really use his hands and consistently play under people, he's going to be an even tougher guy to move and block. Right now he's rated the No. 16 defensive tackle nationally, but he does have a chance to move up higher. Big kids like him that are 320 pounds and move the way he does are very rare."
A little later in that Sam Webb article, Pipkins says Michigan State was recruiting him for three tech. Yeah.
Appropriately, then, Pipkins's main highlights in the Army game were a pair of sideline-to-sideline track-and-tackles, one of them on five star jitterbug WR Stephon Diggs. While those were aided by a goofy defensive scheme that saw Pipkins looping outside the tackle on almost every play, his ability to trundle at speed made him probably the breakout star in San Antonio. Everyone raved.
Incoming maize boxes. A practice report from Rivals($):
…continually drew praise from the coaching staff and was able to split double teams in line drills. He has a great combination of strength and speed and proved very tough to block.
Guy was compared to a couple of guys who went top ten in the NFL Draft after the first day:
1. ONDRE PIPKINS, DT, KANSAS CITY (MO.) PARK HILL
Pipkins is a monster physically - he already looks like B.J. Raji or Vince Wilfork. He is one of the most physically imposing defensive tackles we have seen in awhile. At the point of attack, he is impossible to get on his heels and he penetrates quickly and athletically for a big man. Pipkins is going to be a load for the East offensive line to handle; he was simply dominating a good group of West lineman in the early session of practice.
Further Rivals reports note that he "moves much, much better than a player his size should," noted his "nonstop motor," and named him the #1 riser from the game. They followed that up by putting him in the top 20.
Pipkins also stood out to a couple of 247 analysts…
…Pipkins had the best case for top performer honors. He is a wide-bodied, stout defensive lineman that is much more than a bull-rusher or space eater. When engaged with offensive linemen, Pipkins usually dictates the movement. He also beats interior linemen with his quickness on plenty of occasions.
… Pipkins was as disruptive as anybody in his ability to get in the backfield and blowup blockers and diagnose plays. Physically he's a very stout defender and he uses that frame to take up a lot of space while still showing quickness that is really rare in interior guys. He is a tough kid to block.
“The Ondre Pipkins kid in the middle has really been impressive but all of those kids have really done a good job of reading blocks and picking up what we’re trying to do. He’s the one guy that I think has been the most impressive of the group.”
That's unprompted, and suggests that Pipkins is The Ondre Pipkins. As in, there are no more Ondre Pipkinses around here. There is The Ondre. There are no other Ondres.
After all that, 247 and the rest of the services slid him up significantly. ESPN didn't bother because ESPN is a fire-and-forget service unless you go to the UA game; in situations where a kid surges on all the other sites I tend to ignore the static evaluation provided by the WWL. ESPN did bump him a bit; when he committed he was a generic three star to them.
There's a ton of additional stuff out there from the various camps Pipkins hit up before his senior year, all of it in the same vein as the stuff above:
- "power and quickness creates nearly unstoppable upfield momentum"
- "when he decided it was time to get upfield, no offensive lineman showed the ability to stop him."
- "…wide and powerful and he will demand multiple blockers and free up his linebackers behind him. On Saturday, Pipkins used that powerful frame and added good explosiveness, agility and power."
- "Ondre is strong and quick off the ball, and when he can latch onto an opponent and stay low, he can take care of some gaps for sure."
Ondre heard it himself:
Pipkins on what college coaches are telling him: "At 320 (pounds) you move. What I've been told is, 'I've never seen a kid who is 320 pounds move like you do.' I run a 5.1 (seconds) 40 (yard dash) and I bench 360 pounds. That's rare for a defensive tackle in his junior year. I'm very strong, very explosive and I have a lot of quickness and speed. It all ties into me being an athlete in the offseason and me working hard."
- You get the idea, and hope it will fling opposing guards backwards for four years.
So what's the catch? There must be a catch. Even the bluest of blue chips flame out regularly. I think you might find it between the lines of this high praise from an opposing coach:
"That kid has great explosion and punch off the ball. When he's tuned into the flow of the game, it's impressive the plays he makes. He'll chase players from gap to gap. He had a nice play on Evan - here's this 300-pounder chasing down a 160-pound running back, diving for him, getting him by the back of his jersey and throwing him to the ground.
"There are times where he chooses to go, go go and he's pretty destructive in the middle of the field. Almost unblockable, even with two or three kids. I can understand why everybody in the country is so enamored with him."
- I closed out one of my many many Ondre Pipkins tabs in a fit of "argh so much" that I wish I could locate again in which Pipkins's coach talks about how he had some frustrating times with the kid trying to get him to show effort.
- That's the best I've got, and it goes hand in hand with the fact he's a massive defensive tackle. It is, however, something that I think all Michigan fans were frustrated with during the above-mentioned Watson's career. He was really good, but when he decided to be great, he was great. And that wasn't often enough to be GREAT.
If Pipkins ends up in the same fan memory bin as Watson, the ability to give effort on every play will be the main reason… and he'll probably still be a multiple-time All Conference performer.
Tremendous (sort of interrupting): Michigan State is pretty close to home too though, right?
Ondre: I grew up a Michigan fan. They are not Michigan over there.
Pipkins features in the closest thing to Catlab that is not Catlab. Preps KC documents his nomadic high school life. Signing Day article from the KC Star. Long freebie sample of GBW magazine features Pipkins. AnnArbor.com profile notes the weirdest thing he heard during his recruitment:
"I like big, angry black guys on my D-line."
Two out of three, I guess?
Why Gabe Watson? Michigan nose tackles have not often been the run-clobbering battleship sorts who hover around 330 pounds and can play effectively at that weight. Gabe Watson is the only guy in program history who has. Terrance Taylor was a shorter fireplug sort, Alan Branch a 6'5" penetrator, Mike Martin a slab of quick-twitch muscle. Guys before Watson were never that big, either. He stands alone as a Michigan comparable.
People remember Watson as a disappointment but if he was one it wasn't much of one after being named first-team All Big Ten twice and getting drafted in the fourth round. His specialty was taking one on one blocks and depositing them on their ass many yards upfield, and that's what Pipkins will do if successful.
If you want to add a dash of Alan Branch, okay, since it seems Pipkins is a little smaller and more athletic than Watson.
Guru Reliability: High. All Star appearance.
Variance: Low-plus. With guys the size of Pipkins there's always a chance weight becomes a persistent issue. If that isn't a problem it's hard to see him not being a very good starter.
Ceiling: As massive as Pipkins himself. Potential NFL first rounder.
General Excitement Level: Very high. Obvs.
Projection: Won't redshirt with very little behind Campbell and Pipkins seemingly the obvious choice to replace him next year. Probably starts off a little slow due to conditioning issues and general freshmanhood, starts coming on midway through the year, and does some stuff towards the end of his freshman season that get everyone revved up about year two.
From there he's likely a three-year starter somewhere between pretty dang good and All-American.
Today's recruiting roundup discusses the Michael Ferns commitment, recruiting in Ohio, SEC sketchiness (surprise!), and more.
You Keep Toledo, We'll Just Take These Four-Stars, Thanks
The big news of the day is obviously the commitment of OH LB Michael Ferns, and the full Hello treatment went up this morning. If you were lurking on the board last night, you witnessed historic levels of excitement, at least if duplicate posts are any indicator:
(Screenshot via MGoUser a2_electricboogaloo)
Maybe it's best to sit the next couple plays out, kaykay. As for Professor X, well, no words do this justice.
Anyway, Sam Webb caught up to Ferns in the aftermath of his commitment, and the newest Wolverine explained his thought process in making an early decision:
“I think when I went back (to Ann Arbor) the second time for the barbecue, I felt good about making the decision,” Ferns admitted. “After that you just kind of look out for the academic stuff focusing on fixing my junior schedule up to graduate early my senior year. After that I was ready to go.”
“Michigan just stuck out to me. After that second visit up there it kind of really stuck out more. I felt good the whole time I was there. I felt great and I knew it was time to make the decision.”
Ferns is all set to enroll early, so he'll be on campus in... 16 months. Criminy.
Michigan's first 2014 commit doesn't just represent a four-star from Ohio, but a four-star from Ohio with an Ohio State offer. It's always great to see The Other Brian surface over at Genuinely Sarcastic, and he emerged last night to detail Brady Hoke's remarkable recruiting run:
Since June 10, 2011, basically 14 months, Brady Hoke has landed eight (8) players from the state of Ohio who held Ohio State offers:
- 2012 DE Tom Strobel
- 2012 OL Kyle Kalis
- 2012 DE Chris Wormley
- 2013 S Dymonte Thomas
- 2013 LB Mike McCray
- 2013 RB Deveon Smith
- 2013 LB Ben Gedeon
- 2014 LB Michael Ferns
In the previous TEN classes COMBINED, from 2002 to 2011, Michigan landed seven (7) players from Ohio with OSU offers:
- 2003 LB/DE Shawn Crable
- 2003 S/LB Prescott Burgess
- 2004 DE/TE Mike Massey
- 2005 WR Mario Manningham
- 2006 OL Justin Boren
- 2008 TE Kevin Koger
- 2009 DB Justin Turner
Well, then. Buckeye fans can somewhat justifiably point to Tressel's firing to explain the 2012 class, but with Urban Meyer fully in place by the time the 2013 cycle started, that line of reasoning only goes so far. There's no question Hoke is doing a better job on the recruiting trail than RichRod could manage at Michigan, and he's also in the process of blowing Lloyd Carr's classes out of the water, largely because of his unprecedented success in Ohio.
In a nice coincidence, Rivals released an article today breaking down which states do the best job of holding onto their five-star talent. When it comes to Rivals five-stars, Michigan is #2 in the country—behind only the black hole that is Mississippi—at keeping them in-state for college, with only Ronald Johnson (USC) escaping among the seven five-stars since 2002. Will Gholston was the only in-state five-star to head to MSU, so the Wolverines have historically done a stellar job of locking up the best local talent. When the list expands to include all Rivals100 recruits, Michigan (as a state, so including MSU) is fifth in the country at retention rate, behind Alabama, Louisiana, California, and Mississippi.
By comparison, Ohio has produced more than twice as many five-stars—17 compared to Michigan's seven—but have only held on to nine of those players, all of whom ended up in a Buckeye uniform. Of the eight that left the state, two—Prescott Burgess and Kyle Kalis—landed in Ann Arbor. Of course, a state that produces more high-end talent will naturally have more competition for those players, so the results of this study aren't exactly a surprise.
Nope, Nothing To See Here
This all sounds very legitimate indeed:
The Darius Paige case has entered the wait-and-see phase.
Paige, a senior defensive tackle who has verbally committed to play football at the University of Alabama, transferred to Foley High School in Alabama on Tuesday amid allegations that Crimson Tide assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt recommended he go to Foley because they could “take care of him academically.”
Paige was ineligible for spring ball at Washington High School in Penascola, Florida, and unless this is all just a remarkable coincidence it appears Alabama's coaches have encouraged him to transfer to a high school that gives him a better chance of qualifying. Alabama, of course, has no comment. Odds of the NCAA looking into this: slim. Blergh.
All I Need Is One Throw
MGoVideo has helpfully compiled all the Shane Morris bits from ESPNU's coverage of the Elite11 finals, which so far has focused on the first day of camp. Watch to see Trent Dilfer make Morris wait for the single throw that will determine the entire course of the rest of his career, or something:
Seriously, these guys make, like, 30 throws all camp. The relative rankings significance of an Elite11 throw versus a throw in a regular high school game is astronomically high, which is probably kinda dumb.
In other commit news, Gareon Conley and his Massilon squad scrimmaged against fellow Ohio power St. Edward (home of Kyle Kalis), and Scout's Bill Greene came away impressed:
Gareon Conley (Michigan commit) had opportunities to make big plays offensively, and just missed connecting with Kempt on several long throws. Defensively, Conley had great success locking up multiple offer wide receiver Anthony Young. Conley will play cornerback for the Wolverines, and could be ready to play early.
One of the most interesting recruits to watch this fall will be Conley, whose spot at #61 overall in the ESPN150 is far higher than at any of the other recruiting services; if his other rankings start to fall in line with ESPN, it'll be a great sign.
Not a whole lot of action on the recruiting trail this week, so this will be short and sweet.
The headline is more positive than the actual quote, but GBW reports that 2013 AZ WR Devon Allen is considering an official visit to Michigan ($). Allen was on campus the day before the BBQ and enjoyed his visit. While his father says they'd like to come up to Ann Arbor again in the fall, he also mentions the difficulty in arranging a flight that fits with Allen's schedule. We'll see where it goes from here.
2014 OH OL Jimmy Byrne told Tremendous's Mark that he has a top three of Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, in no particular order. Byrne is #3, one spot behind Ferns, on OhioPreps's top 25 prospects in the state of Ohio.
Two 2014 recruits have expressed interest in visiting for a game this fall: four-star OH ATH Dareian Watkins, a high school QB who could play either WR or DB in college($), and IN WR Dominique Booth, who camped at Michigan in June ($). Both players are hoping to earn an offer.
I'm not exactly sure why this is news as opposed to a foregone conclusion from birth.
News bullets and other important things:
- No word on Toussaint or Clark yet
- Full pads today
- Full scrimmage next week
“You know, fourth day, two days in shoulder pads and helmets, we have a lot of work to do. Tomorrow we get full pads, which we’ll obviously look forward to. We still have some guys, the freshmen with the bridge program coming in and out a little bit finishing up some classwork. I was happy with how we came out today. I thought we were pretty spirited and pretty physical, but when you look at the tape, you go back and you can tell it’s the fourth day in pads. Fundamentals are still a little rusty to some degree. We have to do a better job playing with leverage at the line of scrimmage. But the effort’s out there and the effort’s good.”
Toussaint and Clark?
“They’re still not practicing with the team.”
Are they at practice?
“They’re not at our practice, no.”
Are the in this building?
“I don’t know. Are they?”
I’m asking you. You would know better than I would.
Any better idea on a timetable?
Do you need five guys on the offensive line to gel or can you rotate a little bit?
“I think you can at times. You’d rather have five guys who understand each other and do a nice job with kind of that sixth sense that you have and how long he’s going to post a power scoop, those kinds of things. That’s part of it. But at the same time, ideally you’d like to have 8-9 guys that are pretty good football players for you.”
Is there any urgency to decide on the left guard position?
“You know, I don’t think so. I think Joey [Burzynski] has done a nice job, Elliott has done some pretty good things. I’d say it’d be urgent 10 days from now. ”
Is Chris Bryant still on the right side?
“Yeah. You know, Chris has done a nice job. He’s improved since last spring. I think he’s physically a little better off than he was before from a endurance, conditioning, weight, and all those things. He’s a guy that’s come along.”
How does Patrick Omameh look?
“Good. I’m happy with how Patrick has -- Patrick has changed his body a lot in my opinion. He’s one of the guys that you say, man he looks a little bigger, a little stronger.”
How are Craig Roh and Jibreel Black looking with the added weight?
“You know, pretty good. I think both of them, they’re pretty quick twitch guys, which helps, and it’s going to help them inside playing. They’re pretty athletic guys, probably more suited athleticism for playing inside, so I think both of them are doing real well.”
Does Jibreel have the ability to be a run stuffer?
“Well, we hope. We hope that becomes he has some athleticism and quickness that we have a chance to move him a little bit.”
How much have you worked on special teams, i.e. in the return game?
“We’ve worked hard. We always work hard on the punt team. That’s the most important play in football because the momentum shifts, the field positions and different things we believe can happen. So we’ve worked punting hard, and we’ve worked a little bit of punt return, and a lot of that is just getting some new guys accustomed to what you’re doing as far as your fundamentals. We’ve done some with our kickoff team.”
Have you identified a core group?
“It’s early still. I think Dan said there’s eight out of 11 a year ago on the punt team who are back. So you have to fill those holes, but you also have to have good depth, and that’s a big part of it.”
Have you noticed any of the seniors coaching up the freshmen during down time?
“Yeah. I think the seniors have really taken an active role in the young kids. We’ve got seniors living with freshmen at the hotel. We’ve got seniors who have mentored some, and juniors who have played a lot. I can specifically, because I work with Will Campbell -- how he goes about coaching those guys up and helping them out, has done a good job with it, but you see it all over the place.”
How much improvement have you seen from Denard?
“I think there’s a marketable [Ed: marked] improvement from the football standpoint, but probably as much as anything in my opinion is his leadership. I think that’s where he’s really taken a hold of it, and he’s playing a lot of snaps here. He’s been in a lot of games, a lot of big games, and I think the way he’s gone about his business, because he’s not one of those rah-rah guys. He’s got a lead in skin, but I think he’s done a nice job with it.”
How do you feel about your tight ends right now?
“Brandon [Moore] -- did some good things physically today. That’s one of the big things with Brandon that probably was his biggest weakness, was being physical all the time. I think he did that today pretty consistently. Kwiatkowski -- Mike is a guy who we can use a little bit as a second tight end. I think he’s better. There’s the two young guys who are getting some looks as much as we can right now. A.J. [Williams] is a 280-pound tight end. For 280 pounds, he does pretty well. A lot of people think we’re going to make him a tackle, but he can run. Funchess is a very athletic guy.”
Is 280 too big for a tight end?
“Depends on what you want him to do. And he runs well enough. I shouldn’t say surprisingly because we recruited him. We must have thought he ran well enough. But for moving that big body around, he’s not bad.”
Is that a place where a freshman might have to play due to your numbers?
“I think it depends personnel-group wise, because we can do a lot what we do with two backs and one tight end in the game, which is what we do with two tight ends in the game. Obviously in your short yardage and your heavier packages, you’d like to have two bigger guys. So it could be.”
Is there anyone who you’ve seen improve significantly from spring?
“I think Blake Countess continues to take a lot of pride in how he plays. He works awfully hard at it. There probably is more guys out there, but I get a little tunnel vision sometimes with the front, because that’s where the game’s played. I can see Patrick. I can see him. I can see Ricky. I think Will Campbell. I think Craig. I think Rich Ash has improved some. There’s multiple guys. Heitzman, who we redshirted, is playing a physical brand of football.”
Is that an attitude thing or a physical thing?
“I think it’s both. I think it all starts with attitude. In my opinion Blake is one of those guys who’s driven. He has a lot to prove yet. But he wants to be as good as he can be.”
How high are the expectations for the secondary with all four starters coming back, and where do they have to make the biggest improvement?
“Well I think we need to play tighter coverage when we’re playing coverage, whether it’d be playing zones in the different zones that we’ll play or when we’re playing man coverage. I thought at times we got too loose, especially on money downs -- third and four, third and five. The ball has to come out quick at times, depending on what you’re running defensively and understanding that part of it. I think Courtney being in there as a nickel, making sure we have enough depth there -- we have some guys who are back, but we need more depth.”
What have the seniors told you about their first couple years here?
“Really nothing much. I don’t ask. We don’t live in the past. We live in the future. So the only thing I really care about is what we’re doing daily.”
What kinds of transformations have you seen from Kenny Demens on and off the field?
“I think Kenny is a guy who’s probably more committed. Probably understands a little bit more about the team and accountability. I think he’s playing a little more consistently than he did. I know it’s only four days, but just from what I’ve seen.”
Is it a maturity thing with him?
“It always is. It is for all of them. Some guys, after a year, kind of get it and mature. Some guys it takes three years. Some guys it takes four years.”
What helped spur that change with Kenny?
“Well I think when you may be playing the last games of football that you ever play, I think that always affects a senior. So I think that’s part of it.”
How important is Kenny’s progress to the younger linebackers?
“I think from a leadership standpoint I think it’s awfully important. It’s nice to have a guy like Desmond back who’s played a lot of snaps. We don’t look at him as being a young guy. I think that helps. Hawthorne has made some plays in the past. I think that helps. And Joe Bolden coming in January. Because he’s a good football player. He’ll put some pressure on guys. ”
Is Demens understanding personnel formations better?
“I think they all do. A year ago, they’d line up early in the year where they probably wouldn’t understand where the strength of the defense was or the weakness of the defense and what you’re trying to accomplish. From a conceptual point, they understand better the concepts of why you call certain things defensively and why you align leverage-wise and those things.”
How important is it for Brennen Beyer to win the WDE spot outright so that you don’t have to put Jake Ryan there?
“I think it’d be great. I think it is important. Brennen’s doing a nice job. He’s changed his body dramatically since he arrived here. So I think that’s always a big part of it, but we’ll play Jake a lot in our sub packages … there’s a lot of similarities between them.”
How has the linebackers’ coverage improved since the spring?
“From four days into it, we thought the first three days, we thought they were doing a better job at the zone concepts we were using and breaking on the ball and getting themselves a little tighter to receivers.”
What do you want to see from your team tomorrow (full pads)?
“Well you always look forward to it. I want to hear football. I think that’s important because then the guys up front are getting off the ball and getting after each other, either creating some space for the back or we’re doing a good job of fitting the run. That part of it, and their attitude and how they come out and want to play for each other.”
Do you have a scrimmage situation tomorrow?
“I’m trying to think of the schedule. We probably have some situation. I don’t know which one it’ll be. But we’ll always have some situation. Look, these guys, the one thing they’ve learned is in no pads, they’ve learned to get after each other. They’re pretty physical. That’s a good thing.”
Do you know when your first full scrimmage will be?
“Probably not until middle of next week.”
Do you get a sense of a personality emerging in this team?
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. I haven’t looked at it that way. I believe that you find out probably sometime in camp. I can tell you last year’s team, when they really finally got it, in my opinion, was the week of the Illinois game. We had Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio. We were going to Champaign. [Illinois] had been playing pretty well. Lost a couple in a row before we got to them. I was going to take the pads off [the players] on Wednesday, and right before practice or before we meet, four of the seniors came up and said, ‘We practice in pads at Michigan.’ Once they said that, I knew we were going to be a physical football team the last three games.”
Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, and DT Matt Godin.
|Cleveland, OH– 6'2",
|Scout||3*, #38 DT|
|Rivals||3*, NR DT, #59 OH|
|ESPN||3*, #97 DT|
|24/7||3*, #74 DT, #54 OH|
|Other Suitors||Illinois, Pitt, Syracuse|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace|
|Notes||Cleveland Glenville (Pierre Woods, Frank Clark)|
He also has a junior reel.
Willie Henry was probably the second-happiest guy in the world that Michigan struck out with its A-list targets down the stretch, with fellow late pickup Dennis Norfleet #1. Both guys got offers out of nowhere and are now at Michigan. But while Norfleet was on Michigan fans' radar as a guy everyone wished would get an offer, Henry was no more than a name when he popped up.
Recruiting sites weren't much more up on Henry than Michigan fans if the massive discrepancy between the weights they had for him (around 270 pounds) and the number he popped up on the roster with (302, then 314). Rankings and scouting reports are similarly sparse. ESPN's evaluation($) was chucked up at the end of November and lists him at 265(!) pounds:
…at times he shows a nice burst at other times he can be a beat late and needs strive to be more consistent in his get-off. He can tend to play high and needs to work to keep his pad level down. When he does work to stay low he can get overextended and needs to do a better job of playing with better bend and generating more power from his lower body when he engages blockers. … Displays marginal short-area change-of-direction skills. Henry shows flashes of being able to occupy blocks and at times be disruptive and we also would not be surprised to see him land on the offensive line in college, but either way he needs to keep improving and developing his technique to allow him to get the most out of his abilities.
They also really do not like him. The ellipses up there are constantly repeated questions about whether the guy knows how to play football. I think coaching types make way too big a deal about a player's technique in high school, especially at a place like Glenville that specializes in winning by massive talent acquisition, but the concerns expressed in that report are above and beyond the usual.
Meanwhile, Trieu knocks Henry's size and praises his quickness and skills…
Pass Rushing Skills
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Henry is an athletic player who is light on his feet, has good coordination and closing speed. He is disruptive and gets good penetration because he has good get off. He shows a good motor and foot speed in pursuit. He has to add some bulk and strength to be able to anchor against the run, but he flashes, makes some big plays in the backfield and is a good interior pass rusher.
…and I'm just like "what's going on, man?"
It's possible ESPN was working off of junior film, when he wasn't doing that well:
"You watch his film and you go, 'why isn't he ranked higher?'" Trieu said. "You also go, 'Wow, why didn't he have a ton more offers?'" …
"He just didn’t play much, didn’t really make an impact as a junior, and that happens at talented schools like Glenville," Trieu added. "He was a kid who just completely stayed off the radar until late. But, once you saw him play, you could tell he can really play.
"Michigan's getting a very good player, even if he isn't ranked like it."
But since there apparently isn't much junior film, this may be just differing opinions about how much technique matters. It's worth noting that Scout was the highest on Henry by a large margin, too.
Other analysts agree with Trieu's take on Henry as a guy with some penetrating upside. Helmholdt:
“He’s a kid who can play the three-technique on U-M’s defensive line, and that’s important in their scheme,” rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “They need to add depth there, with Mike Martin leaving and no clear heir apparent. [ed: obviously Martin was not a 3T] He’s from a great program at Cleveland Glenville and shows good potential with a quick first step. That’s the first thing you notice. If he’s as big as he’s listed, he’d be plenty big enough. It’s just whether he can add strength and bulk. [ed: bulk is checked off] But from everything I see on film, he could be really solid.”
The quick defensive tackle boasts a 4.78 forty yard dash, and that is indeed his biggest strength - speed. I'm particularly impressed with how quickly Henry gets off the ball and penetrates into the backfield. There are multiple highlights where he sprints downfield when blocking. Not only does that show his speed, but it also shows effort. You can't teach speed, and when you combine that with desire, it's hard to stop. I like how hard he works and the way he celebrates after making good plays. It's pure excitement, but not the "look at me" variety.
The downside is the technique again—"very raw"—and a lack of recognition. Local scouting service MRS Ohio echoes:
Listed at 6'3-270, he uses his athleticism and quickness to beat offensive linemen. Really like the way he uses his hands to separate. Plays pad under pad. Needs to improve his change of direction, but his closing speed on his pass rush is excellent. He agrees that his quickness is his strength. A weakness is that he feels that he must play hard every down. Going both ways on a high level program is hard. He wants to play hard every play. Conditioning and pacing himself is important. Honestly, evaluating him, he does not take many plays "off."
Again we get some conflicting information about technique, but eh… it's technique. Finally, here's a random OSU fan:
I've seen Willie Henry play. He can be really really quick off the snap of the ball. He can penetrate into the backfield and be disruptive. He would not be good if you want him to just stand up and tie up blockers. A DC must allow him to penetrate and get into the backfield since that is his strength as a DT.
Excellent quickness and very very good speed for a DT. He also has a good motor.
You get the idea.
Henry entered the year with a smattering of Big East offers of which Pitt was the most impressive and added an Illinois offer during his senior year when he got a lot better. Steve Wiltfong noted Henry was Glenville's "most dominant" DL at the Herbstreit thing last year as he notched nine tackles, two behind the line, and said OSU was "monitoring him." Nothing came of that thanks to Penn State imploding and the incredible bounty of DL in Ohio last year.
When Henry committed people assumed he'd be a three-technique since he seemed to be around 270 and had a reputation as a penetrator. That assumption changed when he was listed on the roster 45 pounds heavier than anyone expected. At this point he's probably going to lose weight over the rest of his career, maybe to the point where he will be a viable three-tech. But the roster almost demands he plays at the nose.
There is Pipkins, of course, but the only other nose tackle on the roster next year will be Richard Ash, a guy who hasn't seen more than a handful of snaps yet and may never. Quinton Washington might slide down if he gets a fifth year, and Maurice Hurst might end up at nose tackle. Even if all those things happen, the roster makes more sense with Henry at NT than fighting Heitzman/Wormley/Strobel/Godin/Poggi/Brink/Wilkins for one of the two fairly interchangeable SDE/3T spots.
"Henry is a five-star player. But the three-star thing is somebody else's opinion of the kid. He was a five-star player for me for three years. Nothing kept him under the radar for me as a coach. To me, he was rated just as high as [four-star Ohio State wide receiver commit] De'Van Bogard. The recruiting thing is somebody else's opinion, and that's not the opinion that I had here."
Uh… but you didn't play him?
"Well the thing is we were looking at our numbers . We would like to have another defensive lineman and we watched the tape on him. This guy right here is a young man that really developed. His film jumped off the screen to us. This is a guy we want. "
Uh… but you thought Tommy Schutt was awful or something?
Not relevant but weird: if you do a Google Image Search for "Willie Henry" you get a lot of mugshots. Like… an unbelievable number of mugshots. Enough mugshots to make me want to start a "name with the greatest percentage of GIS results that are mugshots" competition.
Why Rob Renes? Renes was a nose tackle who made a living off of his ability to penetrate with a quick first step but was never the kind of annihilating force Mike Martin got to—at least probably not, I have not UFRed his career—and that's the prototype for a guy like Henry, who's not a battleship but seems suited for the nose more than the three-tech spot.
Martin is another comparable, but he came into Michigan a slab of muscle and exited looking like the Hulk. Henry isn't that sort of freaky wrestler guy. Another guy who he might remind you of if he hits the tippy top of his potential: Jerel Worthy.
Guru Reliability: Low. Henry had no profile before his senior year and emerged late. Apparently no camps.
Variance: High. The recruiting sites don't seem to have a good grip on him, the weight is variable, and Ohio State fans have noticed that Glenville kids frequently flame out or dance on the edge of doing so. Michigan's had a similar experience with Pierre Woods, who barely held onto his scholarship after a standout sophomore year, and Frank Clark, who's currently in alleged limbo. While not fate, it's a trend that can't be ignored.
Ceiling: Moderate. Sounds like he's got more penetrating upside than a Godin, and he's more naturally suited to a position as a squat 310-pounder. Not impossible to see him hitting an all conference level if Michigan rolls a natural 20.
General Excitement Level: Low-plus. Clear plan B recruit, comes from a place with a poor record of preparing kids for the rigors of college, and the extra weight is probably not a good sign. "Plus" since it does seem like he's an athlete and Michigan might be able to morph anyone into a pretty good DL these days.
Projection: Should redshirt. It's unlikely much of that 50 pounds is good weight, and there are a couple freshmen who should be ahead of him on the freshmen playing time pecking order. Past that, he's got a tough road. It's hard to see him surpassing Pipkins at the nose, but it's hard to see him starting elsewhere because Michigan really needs someone to rotate in for Pipkins when he tires, and he's the only other underclassman on the roster who seems to fit a nose tackle profile.
That's not all bad, since it seems likely he'll be a rotation guy. 2013 commit Maurice Hurst may end up at nose but seems more like a three-tech right now, which would leave Henry as clearly the best option for times when Pipkins is huffing on the sideline. Henry's not likely to start until he's a senior, but he's got a good shot at being the second guy in for a big chunk of his career.
As first reported by TomVH, St. Clairsville (OH) linebacker Michael Ferns committed to Michigan on Wednesday, becoming their first commit in the class of 2014. Ferns had recently named a top three that also included Notre Dame and Penn State, and a very positive unofficial visit for the BBQ at the Big House likely pushed him to make a pledge.
|NR MLB||NR ILB||NR ILB||
4*, 93, #5 ILB,
Only 247Sports has released rankings for the class of 2014, so our lone national data point for Ferns has him pegged inside the top 100 prospects overall and top five at his position. All save ESPN list him at 6'3", 235 pounds—ESPN has him 20 pounds lighter, likely an outdated figure—which has him easily on track to be a college-sized strongside linebacker by the time he hits campus.
While the national services aside from 247 have not released rankings, OhioPreps already has a top 25 list for the class of 2014. Ferns is second, behind only fellow linebacker Dante Booker, and Marc Givler suggests that those two have separated themselves from the rest of the class.
Other information on Ferns is scarce, as he hasn't hit the camp circuit and St. Clairsville is a small school that hasn't produced much in the way of D-I talent*. We do get one player comparison courtesy of Scout's Dave Berk ($):
Standing 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, Ferns reminds some of current Irish inside linebacker Jarrett Grace, at least in terms of his physical stature. However, Ferns shows a unique skill set for a player of his size.
While St. Clairsville High School is far from one of Ohio’s top big-school programs, Ferns athletic ability could easily transfer to a bigger program as he shows on film the ability to play several positions on both sides of the ball.
Grace was a 2011 recruit on the 3/4-star borderline; at 6'3", 240 lbs., he's very comparable in terms of size. Grace's ESPN scouting report($) praised his athleticism and play recognition, and as you'll see in his film those are also two areas of Ferns's game that stand out.
Besides the above, most of the articles on Ferns focus on his intelligence both on and off the field. He's made it clear from the beginning of his recruitment that academics are the top priority—which he backed up with a top three of Michigan, Notre Dame, and Penn State, as well as an offer from Stanford—and he plans to study pre-med. 247's Steve Wiltfong details this side of Ferns in an article rather unfortunately titled "Ferns Is Freaky On & Off Field"($):
Growing up, Ferns always saw his parents on the computer messing around with this new sensation known as the internet. The two-year old didn’t want to be left out.
“He wanted to play on the computer so bad, and he’d keep asking us what words were,” the elder Ferns said. “It just got to the point where he taught himself how to read so he didn’t keep asking us. He was in diapers. We bought him reading programs for kids ages 4-5, and it wasn’t three weeks later we were buying the programs for ages 6-8. Over the course of a month, he was on the internet. At that time it was dial up, but he wanted to do it so bad.”
“I was always a little ahead of the time,” Ferns added. “I remember being in diapers on the computer. I’d say I was a little advanced back in day.”
Ferns has grown a bit since then, and now his intellect is paying dividends on the football field [emphasis mine]:
“He’s 6-3, 230-pounds and runs like a deer,” McClean said.
“Besides just his size advantage, he can do a lot of different things. We lined him up at three different positions on offense. On defense he’s an intellectual person, he can handle things a lot of people couldn’t do. He’s like a coach on the field from his linebacker spot.”
That astute play, when combined with impressive athleticism, could make Ferns a candidate for early playing time. According to Scout's Allen Trieu, who posted a scouting report on Ferns after his commitment, the only thing stopping Ferns could be Michigan's depth chart ($):
Upshot: He's going to come in college ready in terms of size and speed. If he adjusts to the speed of the game and learns the defense, he has the tools to play early. Not sure if the depth chart will allow that because there are so many linebackers, but he has what you look for in an early impact guy.
Trieu compares Ferns to freshman Joe Bolden, a 2012 Under Armour All-American who's already pushing for playing time at WLB, and says he's a "pretty safe bet" for four stars.
Magnus broke down Ferns's sophomore film and came away impressed:
I really like what I see on Ferns's film. He plays both ways for his high school team, although keep in mind as you watch that St. Clairsville is a small school with fewer than 700 students enrolled; the competition is not excellent. Ferns plays some fullback, tight end, wide receiver, and linebacker. He shows very good instincts as a linebacker. Ferns the younger plays downhill nicely, showing quick initial reads and stepping up into holes that open. He keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and is a very solid tackler. He also does a nice job of side-stepping blockers and using his hands to shed when necessary. His change-of-direction skills are also apparent as an offensive player, where he swivels his hips pretty well to slither past defenders.
So, while scouting on Ferns is still limited, what we see suggests he's got the size, athleticism, and instincts to excel at the collegiate level.
*The only other St. Clairsville player in the Rivals database (dating back to 2002) is 2013 3-star WR Dan Monteroso, a Boston College commit.
Ferns built up an impressive offer list for a junior-to-be, choosing Michigan over Notre Dame, Penn State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Stanford, Virginia, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and a handful of MAC offers.
Ferns tallied 136 tackles as a sophomore while also chipping in 441 yards on 31(!) rushes and 301 yards on 15(!) catches. He had 88 tackles as a freshman in 2010.
FAKE 40 TIME
No 40 time is listed for Ferns on any of the four recruiting sites.
As you can see, there's little not to like in the film, though the lack of high-end competition is apparent.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
While Michigan has recruited extremely well at linebacker over the last couple classes, Ferns could have a relatively clear path to the two-deep if he lands at strongside linebacker. That spot is currently manned by Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon, and Ryan will be a senior (I know, right?) when Ferns steps on campus. Unless Royce Jenkins-Stone bulks up significantly, at that point Mike McCray will be the only player standing between Ferns and a spot in the rotation.
It's also possible that Ferns ends up at middle linebacker, a position where he can better show off his instincts. While Joe Bolden and potentially Jenkins-Stone stand in the way there, Ferns could get a three-year separation from those two if he takes a redshirt year (assuming Bolden and RJS play this year, a much safer assumption for the former).
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
At this early juncture, it looks like Michigan is in line for a relatively small class in 2014, but with a year-and-a-half before signing day a great deal can change. One thing we're pretty sure of is that the Wolverines can afford, once again, to be picky at linebacker; unless there's unexpected attrition, Ferns will likely be joined by one other linebacker recruit, likely a guy who projects to the middle.