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.]
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Previously: Last year's profiles.
|Elkton, MD – 5'11" 185|
||Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#60 CB, #20 MD
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#52 CB, #22 MD
|24/7||3*, NR overall
#64 CB, #20 MD
|Other Suitors||BC, UConn, Rutgers, Maryland, Tenn(?), USC(?)|
|YMRMFSPA||poor man's DeMarcus Milliner|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace|
|Notes||Eastern Christian (Freddy Canteen)|
Given the choice between kicking off this series with the most celebrated recruit in the history of Michigan football—seriously, Michigan has never recruited a player as highly ranked as Jabrill Peppers in the ten or so years people have been celebrating recruits—and one of the few players eligible for sleeper status, let's go with the sleeper.
He is Brandon Watson, and he's not only overshadowed by Jabrill Peppers but his own danged teammate pressing to start despite being fresh off the turnip truck. But even though Watson is a holy lock to redshirt, his recruitment does have implications for Michigan's 2014 season.
That's because Watson is a man-to-man pressing machine. Give him your suit and it will come back so flat it looks two dimensional. Give him a wide receiver and he will jam him into the sidelines, possibly no matter what the call is.
You get the impression he and Brady Hoke could play a hilarious joke on the media one day where they switch places and nobody notices. Here's Watson dropping Hoke's second or third favorite word three times in a brief window:
At Michigan camp, I showed off my physicality," he said. "I was a bigger corner than most of the guys there. I was teachable I think. I think I did everything to the best of my abilities, and coach noticed and liked it.
"I'm physical at the line. If the quarterback's looking for a route that's deep, and the receiver can't get off the line, that's definitely noticeable. I think I'm just real physical, but I'm fast so I can keep up with people as well."
Watson will pull off the Brady Hoke half of the switcheroo perfectly. The hard part is the other bit.
Thanks to the unusual nature of Eastern Christian Academy, Watson's junior year consisted of three games before the local authorities pulled the rug out. As a result the meticulously assembled junior film that is the backbone of internet clips does not exist. The pickings are slim. The clip above is a minute long and consists of clips from a single game in which he's not even thrown at.
Even so it does confirm that ECA lined Watson up one inch from the receiver's nose consistently and dared the opponent to do anything about it. Usually they did not. It is probably not a coincidence that the clip looks like an even more aggressive version of Michigan's spring game.
While the abbreviated 2012 ECA season limited scouting opportunities for Watson, ECA did hit up a few 7 on 7 events and most recruiting services did stop by an ECA game in 2013 to fill in data they did not have.
Watson's best moment was a 7-on-7 dubbed SWAG in which he was a main reason his team reached the title game. Rivals named him the best player in attendance:
1. CB BRANDON WATSON, ELKTON (MD.) EASTERN CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Whenever the football was in the vicinity of Watson, it was either getting intercepted or it was going to be an incompletion. … dominant in coverage. He consistently got a good punch at the line of scrimmage in man coverage, and when playing off he closed quickly on the football. As receivers attempted double moves, Watson ran with the opposition step for step, showing great change of direction. The most impressive part of Watson's day was successfully defending a number of jump balls in the end zone against taller receivers.
2) CB Brandon Watson – Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian
The 6-foot-0, 187-pounds cornerback rarely got beat and won the matchup against Godwin in the semi-finals. He displayed terrific ball skills, great speed and excellent footwork.
Watson also drew mention from Rivals in a 7-on-7 as a rising sophomore:
[Touted guy opposite Watson gave] Watson his opportunity to make a statement, and he did just that by recording several interceptions on the day, including two in one game.
When sites got around to see him play actual football, they sounded impressed. 247 caught ECA versus Maplewood (TN), which ended in a 60-20 ECA blowout. Watson had a spectacular over-the-shoulder-and-then-break-11-tackles pick six called back on a "questionable" pass interference call and generally shut off whoever he lined up against. A catch was detected, though not of the receiving variety:
Watson played bump man coverage all night and was physical on the line of scrimmage. His receiver did not have a catch all game. Watson showed good speed and quickness, as well as a fluid hip-turn. He has been coached well. Watson has a nice break on the ball and showed good reactive quickness. He has a nice build and looked to have excellent strength. Watson’s only concern is his height, standing about 5-foot-10.
"But he was six foot not two blockquotes ago!" you angrily exclaim. I know, man. I know. We'll get through it.
Scout, the source of the quick clips above, saw ECA versus the seemingly-misspelled Champagnat Catholic in their season opener:
… physical and was able to flip his hips and run with the receivers. He was comfortable playing press coverage, and he rarely let the receiver release and get into his route with any kind of rhythm. He also had a very good interception (not on tape) in which he closed very quickly on a ball thrown 20 yards down the field over the middle.
…definitely a kid who looks better in a game than in 7-on-7 contests. He was sensational, and by the end of the game it wasn’t even a question of whether Champagnat would challenge him. Receivers had no shot against him.
Elided, unfortunately, was the note that Champagnat (is it a champagne with gnats in it? Or a gnat addled with champagne, making a scene?) didn't have much of a passing game, as high school teams are wont to not have.
ESPN mentions his "good height and size" and praises him for being a "long, rangy defender"—"WELL, WHICH IS IT?" you thunder from a pulpit of stone and lightning—and generally praises his play:
Shows a long stride with good speed. Flashes recovery quickness to close separation.… Can turn and run with receiver but does show some tightness in the hips when having to make a sudden change of direction if in off man coverage. Will generally maintain balance and mirror receivers with his length from a trail position. … Displays the ability to match up and mirror receivers out on an island.
Sounds pretty good, and then…
Will most likely see recruitment from mid level BCS programs.
You really just cannot tell how much ESPN likes a guy not at the very top of their rankings by their scouting report.
2014 Elkton (Md.) ECA CB Brandon Watson -- Watson was by far the most physical corner at the camp Tuesday and brings physical tools to the table that most high school defensive backs just aren’t privy to. 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, it’s hard to believe Watson only had four offers to his name heading into Michigan’s camp, but with several pass break-ups made throughout the day, the Wolverines threw their name into the hat. Watson showed nice discipline against the wide receivers, timing his break in order to avoid a penalty and never being burned deep in press coverage, adding speed to his above average size.
This concludes scouting done by unbiased sources. The rest comes from ECA's coach, Dwayne Thomas, who gets in our The Pattern quote of the day, one that includes Canteen:
“They’re kids that you’re never going to read about in the paper in a negative way. They’re kids that are not going to miss class. Kids that are not going to be a disruption to any program. Kids that are extremely positive and extremely focused on being the best that they could possibly be in every aspect of their life. Kids that I would let date my daughter if she was of age. So you’re getting high quality individuals with extremely extremely high work ethic.”
That's a full Date My Daughter coach quote.
On the field, Thomas echoes the bits about bumping and physicality and whatnot:
“…. extremely extremely gifted athlete who can run and is physical. He can run with the quickest receivers and can be physical and bump it up with the big receivers."
Another Thomas quote:
Brandon has this unique combination of speed, strength and hip flexibility that will allow him to be physical with the big receivers, and he’s agile enough to run and defend the smaller receivers as well.”
Since Watson enrolled early, we have another slab of data to look at… or at least we would if anyone talked about him. Watson mostly popped up in spring to talk about Canteen.
"He's a confident player, but that's good," Watson says. "The only time he trash talks, though, is when we're playing (video games)."
He spent the spring mostly playing nickel behind Countess, and was quiet during the game-type substance. 247's Steve Lorenz has said Watson had moved to safety a few times, but in the spring game the non-Jarrod Wilson role was fought over by the Hill/Thomas/Clark trio; that nickelback spot is kind of between the two. Positional clarity is going to be a ways off for Watson.
Anything that takes him away from his jam is going to require an adjustment period. At no point in his recruitment did the word "zone" surface. He'll probably have to learn what to do when you're more than a millimeter from the wide receiver.
Etc.: Thomas has a bit of Fred Jackson in him:
Sam Webb: Is there a player in college or the pros that you can kind of compare him to?
Dwayne Thomas: “Brandon would be a cross between Deion Sanders type that can run with any receiver. But he is a physical guy like some of the physical corners that have played on the NFL and the college levels.
Deion Sanders, but physical!
Why a poor man's DeMarcus Milliner? I have to depart not only Michigan but the Big Ten for the most press-mad corner Michigan has encountered in recent times.
Milliner is the 6'2" five-star spider-beast who hurled Roy Roundtree into the first row during the Alabama game that started 2012 with a thud. He was a top ten pick several months later, and then turned out to be six-foot-even in the NFL. Watson is probably 6'0" like Milliner was 6'2", and he will try to duplicate the things Milliner did… probably with less success.
Guru Reliability: Low. Limited exposure due to junior year scheduling snafu, and while there are a couple 7 on 7s it doesn't appear like he was at Nike camps or the like.
Variance: Moderate. Played the position he projects to, got a lot of coaching, healthy. High floor. Ceiling, though…
Ceiling: Moderate. Did not wow anyone with that size and speed; big differrence between 6'1" and 5'10" here that seems to be on the shorter side.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Watson should at least be a capable player. Stardom doesn't seem super likely due to profile and lack of spring buzz.
Projection: With both starters and both backups from last year returning, Peppers incoming, and guys like Delonte Hollowell around, Watson should be the lockiest lock on the roster to redshirt. The only way he plays is if he gets drafted onto special teams, and that seems wasteful even for this redshirt-averse staff.
It doesn't get much easier in the near future. Michigan loses only Taylor and Hollowell from the secondary after this year, and even two years down the road Watson is likely trying to pass Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, or Peppers to get significant playing time. This is of course possible; more likely is Watson putting in his special teams time until he can emerge as an upperclassman.
Watson is plausible, if not ideal, at safety and may get looks there if Michigan finds itself a bit short in the future.
Weekend Visitors: Goddag, Hr. Froholdt
Hjalte Froholdt (photo via 247)
The list of visitors for the Indiana game is short, though it's headlined by a very important potential member of the 2015 class who could be deciding quite soon. DT Hjalte Froholdt, who's currently playing semi-pro football for a year in his native Denmark, will be in attendance and tells Brandon that a list of top schools will shortly follow his visit:
Froholdt will release a version of his top list after his visit to Ann Arbor Saturday, but he already told me that Michigan will probably be toward the top of his list.
Froholdt has a very strong relationship with Greg Mattison, and as of now his recruitment looks like a classic Michigan/OSU battle, with the Wolverines possibly out in front. The picture may not be that clear, however, as Froholdt is in the midst of a country-wide recruiting tour that's included Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida State; he pulled in an offer from the Tide following his visit and already had one from the Razorbacks. With a decision planned within the next couple months, this is a very important visit for Michigan, especially with 'Bama now very much on the radar.
As noted in this week's previous recruiting roundup, the other big-time visitor for this weekend is 2015 Cass Tech RB Mike Weber. I said in that roundup that Michigan probably wouldn't take another back given the small class size and commitment of Damien Harris, but I may have been mistaken; with no running back committed in the 2014 class (which is unlikely to change), a second would be a high priority, and the Wolverines are also still heavily recruiting '15 FL RB Jacques Patrick. Weber still has significant interest in Michigan and has repeatedly said that he's not averse to competing with Harris; Michigan State, Ohio State, and Tennessee are all strong contenders, as well.
A couple younger brothers of current Michigan players will also be in attendance: 2016 Cass Tech DB Lavert Hill, brother of Delano, and 2017 OLSM LB Joshua Ross, brother of James, are slated to visit according to Tim Sullivan ($). Both are very talented prospects in their own right and have been steady presences in Ann Arbor; offers may not come imminently, but both could be Michigan-caliber players.
[Hit THE JUMP for updates on Malik McDowell and JuJu Smith, the latest commits to ink their LOIs for 2014, and more.]
The Foolproof Way To Avoid Senioritis
Michigan has its first official signee of the 2014 class. Impossible, you say? Not if you're Michael Ferns, who can sign because he graduated from high school in three years, according to WRTF.com. Ferns is finishing his senior season of football at St. Clairsville while taking classes at Ohio University-Eastern and will enroll at Michigan next semester—the normal time for early enrollees to hit campus.
Other recruits planning to enroll early include Wilton Speight, Bryan Mone, Drake Harris, Mason Cole, and the ECA duo of Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson.
Froholdt, Weber To Visit This Weekend
The M Block's Eric Rutter caught up with 2015 DL Hjalte Froholdt, who's playing his junior season in a semi-pro league in Denmark; he's been able to come back across the Atlantic for visits, however, and after visiting Arkansas last week he'll be in attendance at the Big House this weekend—it'll be a big one, as he's getting close to a decision:
Froholdt has already announced a final top group of Arkansas, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State and intends to choose from those schools soon- as in within the next couple months, although an official date has not been set. Froholdt visited Arkansas on Saturday to watch the Razorbacks host South Carolina for a 52-7 beating. Michigan will get the next crack at impressing Froholdt as he will be in Ann Arbor on October 19 to watch the Wolverines host the Indiana Hoosiers.
Head on over to the original post to read Froholdt's comments about his relationship with Greg Mattison, his primary recruiter. SPOILER: He likes Greg Mattison. Michigan is very much in the hunt to land Froholdt and an impressive visit experience this weekend could put them in the driver's seat.
2015 Cass Tech RB Mike Weber talked to The Wolverine's Branden Hunter about his relationship with Michigan and upcoming visit ($):
"His commitment really didn't affect me at all," Weber said of [Damien] Harris' pledge. "I grew up liking Michigan, and I'm not scared of competition, so if that college is the best fit for me, that's were I'm going.
"I talk to Michigan a lot," Weber said. "I'm supposed to go to their next home game I believe, and coach Singletary wished me luck before the game. Michigan always shows love."
Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Tennessee are also mentioned as teams showing serious interest in Weber. The issue with his recruitment may not be one of interest as much as it is space in the class; with Harris already committed, I'd be surprised if Michigan takes two running backs unless more spots open up, and by that point they may have a hard time catching up to schools that have the room to tell Weber they can take him at any time.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest 2015 offer and the weekly commit stat wrapup.]
Overkill Is Underrated
You've seen the run. You've seen it twice. You've seen it a thousand times. You've seen the picture pages. Now let's see the analysis; 247's JC Shurburtt gives his take on where Michigan should play cornerback/safety/tailback/receiver/savior Jabrill Peppers, per Steve Lorenz ($):
"We think he's probably as good or better at defensive back, but there aren't a lot of teams that want to test him in that manner, so there's not as big of a sample size," he said. "That doesn't mean he won't turn out to be Patrick Peterson or Jimmy Williams, but those guys are exceptions to the rules and because of the unknown factor, it's hard to project him higher on defense [than running back]. We saw Peterson, for example, in high school cover and cover and cover some more. There was no doubt about it. With Peppers, we just don't know. What does it for me, though, and why I say offense is this- if he's a safety (which I think he will be- and probably one of the best in college football from the moment he steps on the field if that's what happens), then you have to think Michigan will have or can go find other great safeties."
Shurburtt goes on to say that Peppers is a more "electric and dynamic" running back than Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith (no argument here), and that's why the Wolverines should play him on offense—go for the Auburn-under-Borges embarrassment of riches strategy.
I think Shurburtt is hampered here by a lack of knowledge of Michigan's defensive depth chart, as I read the last part of the above blockquote and thought, well, they have these two great running back recruits—and another coming in Damien Harris, an explosive big-play threat—and much less certainty at safety (and corner, as well), so Peppers could help the team out more in the defensive backfield. The difference between Peppers and Green/Smith/Harris is probably not going to be as great as the difference between Peppers and his competition at safety or corner, and that's no knock on Michigan's defensive backs—the talent level at running back is just getting a little ridiculous.
Then there's the fact that an all-world safety—or a lockdown corner—is more rare and valuable than even a great running back, and I think Michigan is doing the right thing by planning to start Peppers on defense. Plus, it's not like they won't let him see a few snaps on offense, not to mention as a returner, and putting the ball in his hands just a few times a game may be enough for him to make the desired impact on the scoreboard while still being a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. I'd rather see him paired with Dymonte Thomas at safety for every defensive snap, or locking down half the field across from Blake Countess or Raymon Taylor or Channing Stribling, than getting 10-15 touches a game in a running back platoon, especially since he should still get his hands on the ball anyway a la Charles Woodson.
Regardless, this is, like, the best of problems. Hoke über alles. Swag Mattison fo' life. Etc.
Speaking of Finding Safeties...
Michigan appears much less likely to do so in the 2014 class after telling PA S Montae Nicholson—long thought to be a very likely candidate to end up in the class—that they're no longer actively recruiting him because (and this part strikes me as odd) injuries have affected the numbers for this class, per The M Block. Unless Courtney Avery's injury is much more serious than expected, or the coaches aren't telling us about a season-ender for another player—even for The Fort, that seems unlikely—then I'm not sure what's really going on, because the current listed injuries shouldn't affect next year's scholarship count.
Sam Webb posted on The Victors Board($) that Michigan hit a numbers crunch, and while they're not currently pursuing Nicholson they're still leaving the door open if the scholarship situation changes—though, given Nicholson's impression that he's essentially being dropped, it could be tough to get back in the race. Webb also debunked a rumor that Nicholson's situation was affected by any changes in 2015 defensive back recruiting; there was a Twitter rumor going around this week that five-star junior corner Minkah Fitzpatrick was transferring to Paramus Catholic, Jabrill Peppers' school—and that was taken as a good sign for Michigan—but that transfer isn't happening.
At this point, it looks like Michigan's 2014 class will wrap up with Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell, and they'll try to grab a safety if another spot opens up or one of those two players goes elsewhere. With Nicholson looking to make an earlier decision, that could mean Michigan's top priorities at safety are now CA ATH JuJu Smith and OH S Erick Smith, who are planning to choose later in the recruiting cycle; by then, Michigan should know if they've got the space to take another defensive back.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Leonard Fournette's official visit plans, game film (finally!) of Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson, unoffered four-star juniors coming out of the woodwork with plans to visit, and more.]