Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
Dennis Norfleet's murky situation has blown up into the first real PR crisis of the Harbaugh administration. Unfortunately for Michigan, it's one they're legally prohibited from saying much of anything about. FERPA restricts their ability to say much other than "he is on the team" or "he is off the team." Right now Michigan isn't saying either. They've gone with this:
A Michigan athletic department spokesman told The Detroit News that the situation was "an internal matter."
All right then.
Harvel added about Norfleet's situation: "If only one kid out of 120 is missing class, they must be the No. 1 program in the country (for football players' academic achievements)."
Harvel has repeatedly said things like "we're not going to let him be a victim," outed private conversations he had with Fred Jackson, publicly bemoaned his decision to switch away from a Cincinnati program on the verge of hiring Tommy Tuberville, and generally done everything in his power to make academic standards like "go to all your finals" seem nefarious. Usually when high school coaches blow up like this it's because their kid has seen his scholarship yanked for a dubious reason, or none at all.
It was Harvel who leaked the apparently erroneous information that Norfleet was gone, which turned the story from message board rumor* to something that every local news organization has dedicated big stories to. It was Harvel who went full steam ahead with the information that Norfleet was not doing things expected of him in the classroom. He is the #1 reason this is a thing. Because Norfleet is a "victim."
I mean, you know me. I just about challenged Brady Hoke to a fight about Norfleet's misuse during his tenure as head coach. But if Norfleet is no longer on the team because he missed several classes and did not attend at least one and possibly more finals, that is on one person: Dennis Norfleet.
And Jim Harbaugh cannot be concerned with just Norfleet here. It's his first semester as head coach and he's just going to let that slide? What kind of message does that send to the other 84 kids on scholarship? Is that likely to improve or degrade the overall academic performance of the program?
The answers to those rhetorical questions are obvious to everyone except Harvel. Privately resolving issues with the head coach—and there have been a number so far that have been so resolved—is more likely to create a positive outcome both in the short-term individual player level and for your relationship with a major school of interest to your players. But Harvel has decided that grandstanding without information that is, you know, correct is more important.
I hope Norfleet makes it back. His coach isn't helping.
*[Albeit one that was more credible than your garden-variety internet rando mutterings since it had the backing of John Borton, an editor at Rivals. It is not hard to trace the path here: Borton names Norfleet, Nick Baumgardner starts checking it out, hits upon the King coaches, and then the tempest takes over the teapot. This is why I don't report on potential transfers anymore. I would rather not spend a week with my head in an alligator's mouth, thanks.]
Via Sam Webb this morning:
Contrary to multiple published reports citing comments for Norfleet’s high school coach, Detroit King headman Dale Harvel, the senior kick/punt returner has not been dismissed from the football team….
“He has been suspended for the past three weeks,” the source said.
He may or may not make it back.
A Detroit King assistant did tweet out something about trying to get Norfleet to graduate. That seemed to imply that Norfleet could be up for a graduate transfer; it also implies that if there's any damage to his transcript it's not so far gone that he's doomed.
the last of the famous international playboys
This rumor had been floating around for a couple weeks now, picked up steam on Rivals this morning, and has now been confirmed by Nick Baumgardner:
ANN ARBOR -- Dennis Norfleet is no longer a part of Michigan's football team, according to his former high school coach.
Martin Luther King High School football coach Dale Harvel told MLive on Tuesday that Norfleet has been dismissed from Michigan's program by coach Jim Harbaugh.
"Evidently he was dismissed from the team, Dennis informed us he was no longer on the team," Harvel said Tuesday afternoon. "Something about a disciplinary thing between him and coach Harbaugh. Whether it was academics or something internal, I'm not sure. He just said they had a disagreement and he was let go."
I have heard it was academic. Not sure if that's a slackness that is now verboten under the new regime or a Norfleet morale issue leading to breakdowns elsewhere. [UPDATE: Steve Lorenz says he skipped "more than one final."]
The writing was on the wall as far as Norfleet's career went when he featured as a tiny cornerback in the spring game and was mercilessly picked on for the only offense of the day. With that secondary and that WR corps, the fact he was on defense was a death knell. He may have continued returning kicks and punts; even that job was going to be put under major threat by Jabrill Peppers.
This does get Michigan to 85 scholarships, give or take a walk-on. With a couple of medical hardships likely to be on the way, there should be room to add a fifth-year WR or two, as Mike Spath has suggested might happen.
I will now go sit by myself in a dark room and listen to the Smiths.
I say we call him "Quick Burst, Mo Hurts." Nobody is on board with me on this. [Fuller]
- The Question:
- Seth: After the spring game which player are you bullish on, and which are you hedging?
Ace: Brian and I did a segment on this during the podcast, so I'll keep this relatively brief. (That's called a teaser, folks.)
MAURICE HURST had arguably the best performance of anyone during the spring game, lining up at multiple spots and blowing up plays at all of them. His first step, which was his greatest strength coming out of high school, is still very quick after adding weight, and he looks very ready to see a significant role this fall.
Given that some practice reports had him as a potential starter, it's hard not to be a little disappointed in Logan Tuley-Tillman's showing, which featured three flags and a couple olés. He was a major project coming of high school, to the point that this year was the earliest he could feasibly see the field, so it's not a devastating blow that he doesn't look ready yet. He has so much upside, though, that it would've been really encouraging to see him push into that starting five.
Adam Schnepp: I was looking for a weakness. There had to be one; the practice reports had practically reached tall-tale status, but now I see why. It almost feels like I need to pick someone else because this is too easy, but I'm bullish on JABRILL PEPPERS. I know that we've been bullish on him since last August, but now it's like Raging Bull(ishness). Except not about boxing. Or self-destruction. I was really just going for the bull imagery here.
As a hybrid space player, Peppers is going to have to read run/pass and react immediately. On the Blue offense's first play Peppers peers into the backfield, reads the handoff from Morris, and comes off the edge to take out Shallman, limiting him to a one-yard gain.
While his run stopping was adequate for an HSP, I was more impressed with Peppers' coverage skills. He played almost exclusively with a seven-yard cushion and not only was able to jam guys who had already built up a head of steam but consistently re-routed them to the side he had a help defender. I can't find a good example of this on the video thanks to BTN's zoom-o-matic cameras, but Ace can confirm that if I tweeted the above as many times as I said it to him you'd all either unfollow me or think I accidentally set up a scheduled tweet.
I'm hedging on BRIAN COLE. It's important, however, to delineate "hedging" as separate from "disappointed with." It's hard to judge a receiver when they aren't targeted often, and doubly so as the offense's predilection for two- and three-wide sets often left Cole on the sideline. I expected him to compete for time with the known commodities; I did not expect him to have the same number of receptions and receiving yards as 5-9 walk-on fullback Joe Beneducci. I wouldn't rule him out as a contributor in the fall*, but I expected the ball to be thrown his way more often last Saturday.
*(I don't think any of the receivers have locked down a spot with the exception of maybe Darboh, who was lined up against a dude who'd been a corner for maybe four practices.)
[Jump for the defensive backs are gonna be good, even if the passing game makes them look so.]
Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.
Missed it? It's on the tubes.
Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.
The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]
Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.
They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.
To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.
But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!
Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.
Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).
I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…
a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]
…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.
a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]
Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.
Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.
If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.
*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]
The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:
gif via Ace
If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.
L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]
OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.
Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.
A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:
He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]
If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.
Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.
Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.
Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.
There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.
Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.
I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that
punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.
BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?
This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.
He tries to sic these guys on you if you ask a dumb question [Eric Upchurch]
News bullets and other items:
Shane Morris is ahead of the other quarterbacks, though Harbaugh said the competition will “rage on”
Harbaugh liked the way the defense performed, singling out the secondary and inside pass rush. He also thought Shane Morris and Amara Darboh did a nice job.
He said there’s room for improvement in receivers learning to catch contested balls, the running game as a whole, and outside pass rushing.
Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr had a large part in designing the trick plays; Harbaugh said he was hands-off in that process
Harbaugh said the legal system has as much hanging over Graham Glasgow’s head as is possible, noting that it’s more than what the football program could do; it sounds like he won’t be suspended if there are no further incidents.
Players with long-term injuries noted were Joe Hewlett (unspecified), Mike McCray (surgery, not sure for what), and Michael Wroblewski (ACL).
Dennis Norfleet may play on offense, defense, and special teams in the fall
Your general takeaways from today? What did you like, what maybe obviously needs work still?
“Liked a lot of things. Mainly [the] thing I liked the most is we played a 40-minute game and there was no injuries that I could tell, none at least that aren’t the you-don’t-come-back-from-soon type, so I’m most pleased with that.
“There’s, uh, there’s- obviously the defense played extremely well. There’s been a lot of improvement in our secondary; that showed up again today. And pass rush, uh, pass rush is improving. Got some rush and push from our inside guys and we’ll continue to try and get the outside pass rush. That’s an area that we want to improve, especially when it’s a four-man rush, to be able to get pressure on the quarterback just with the four.
“I thought Shane Morris did a nice job. Amara Darboh made some nice catches and that’s an area that we need to keep working on, receivers that can make the catch when it’s contested, make the tough catch.
“Running game at times was okay. You know it’s not going to be real good in a spring game especially with the format that we had which was a draft, so offensive linemen are playing in different combinations than they’re used to. But overall we had the one fumble, we had the two turnovers, and with the interceptions but quarterback play I thought was good. Multiple errors [but] I thought it was good.
“To sum it all up I’m most pleased there weren’t any serious injuries today. Come out healthy, and that’ll propel us into April and May.”
I know it was just a spring game but for you to be back inside the Big House, what was it like for you personally?
“It was good. It was a great turnout, I thought. I mean, that’s a hundred-thousand-and-ten people seat stadium and to see that many seats filled was great. It really means a lot. Much appreciated. I know our players appreciate that, the turnout for the 2015 spring game. Added to it, you know. Really added to the atmosphere. Made it like a game. [I] don’t think of it just as a spring game, think of it as a game, and I know that our players had those feelings, those emotions of it being a game before the game and until they took their first hits so that’s something that’ll bode well for us.”
You had several players that were missing from the game: Taco Charlton, Mario Ojemudia, [Ondre] Pipkins. Are any of those long-term concerns or were they just players that were banged up?
“Yeah, we had multiple players that are working through something right now.”
Are any of them long-term, though?
“I’m not a doctor.”
“I did not get my medical degree at the University of Michigan.”
[After THE JUMP: Talkin’ about the ol’ depth chart]