IS NOT NAMED DENNIS "NORTHFLEET" LET'S NOT WOLFORK THIS OKAY
I got way behind on these thanks to book stuff and knee stuff, so I apologize that this is going to sound like a broken record a day after I mentioned Michigan's acquisition of offensive weapons in all shapes and sizes for the third time in little over a week. But…
Dennis Norfleet is another guy who Michigan can plug into their offense to jar opponents out of comfort zones and exploit weaknesses. Whipsaw, Swiss army knife, etc., the null offense, whatever you want to call it, Norfleet is a guy who fulfills a role. He is a specialist.
That specialty is being in space, where the bugger is impossible to catch. Norfleet rose to prominence as a wildly productive midget RB as a sophomore but really caught recruiting services' eyes when he annihilated a swathe of 7-on-7 competitions last summer. He was the MVP of the IMG Madden tourney and the NLA tourney, both attended by legions of top recruits. How does a 5'6" guy do that($)?
There are a select few players who can make defenders in position totally whiff in one-hand touch, 7-on-7 football. There may be only one Dennis Norfleet who seems to make a play or two like that every game. On one particular play, Norfleet put a move on two defenders at one time, splitting the pair and taking the ball in for a touchdown. He is electric with the football in his hands.
By splitting defenders in one-hand touch.
If 7 on 7 was football, Norfleet would have been the top prospect in the country. I've waded through rapturous report after rapturous report to assemble this post. A sampling:
"…so explosive, incredibly elusive and runs with an energy that you don’t often see. Even in the one-hand-touch setting, Norfleet was making multiple players grasp at air, sometimes many in the same play."
"…just keeps showing up at events and making people take notice. He is without a doubt one of the most exciting players in this 2012 class."
"…in 100-degree plus weather, he never subbed out on offense and defense. He demanded the ball on offense on every snap. He has a relentless motor."
The NLA MVP "really wasn’t even a difficult call" because Norfleet "was demanding the football on offense, was nearly uncoverable in man-to-man and then wouldn’t miss a beat as a lock-down cornerback on defense."
"…is actually an outstanding receiver, and defensive backs could not hang with his speed. After creating separation, Norfleet also displays excellent hands to finish the play."
"…Norfleet and Morris [yes that Morris] were running neck and neck for the MVP for the tournament, but Norfleet separated himself from his teammate after elevating for a pass that was well over thrown and landing on a brick lined sidewalk with an audible thud.
Sione Houma was pigeonholed as a fullback and came out of lightly-recruited Utah, so there isn't much out there about him aside from the occasional basic scouting report and one pretty fanciful comparison($) to Stanley Havili, the former USC fullback who specialized in turning basic wheel routes into touchdowns in the era when Trojan opponents were going 11-on-1 versus Reggie Bush. That:
…reminds me of former USC fullback Stanley Havili, who also is from the Salt Lake City, Utah, area. Houma has great hands catching passes out of the backfield and enough speed to get the corner. He has a great frame to add weight to as well.
Havili had offers from USC, Oregon, Nebraska, and others, a four-star ranking from most places, and was universally the top guy in Utah that year. Houma's down the list, and didn't have any other offers from power-type programs. So probably not Havili.
That's not to say Houma is just another roughneck who moves like a dump truck when he gets the ball. His high school team ran a flexbone triple option in which Houma was the A-back—the guy who plunges up the middle over and over again. He got the plurality of carries in that offense, and he has the potential to be a ball carrier if things break that way. Hey, let's hear from Fred Jackson!
"He is the real deal. He can run the football. He is powerful. He is going to be a very good football player. he is very physical for a guy his size," Jackson said. "And you know he is around 220 (pounds). He is a very physical and has great skill. He is really a half-back on film, but he will play fullback."
Houma is a tweener fullback/tailback prospect …durable and tough but will need to add bulk to adjust if recruited to play fullback. Has better burst than top-end speed but is just fast enough at the high school level to not get caught from behind on long runs. … lacks great cutback vision and patience. … Quickly gains north-south momentum through the hole; little hesitation. … Physical downhill runner with good lower-body power and balance. Breaks through consistent first contact. …Minimal elusiveness in the openfield. … Will not be a perimeter threat at the major college level. …brings valued versatility to a two-back offense.
"Just from what I have seen from last year to this year, he's got some speed, quickness and niftiness to him that it would not surprise me to see him in a bigger tailback spot where maybe they need to pound a little bit. I think he could fit that role as well."
"I think he could be 235 in a heartbeat and still retain a lot of that speed and quickness," Benson said. "I've seen him increase [his speed] just over the past year and he's gained 10-12 pounds in that time."
Elsewhere his coach notes "great hands" and the fact that he's a "good blocker" before mentioning this:
"Like when he runs, he keeps his feet moving, and that's always key; he lowers his pad level and will really hit you."
"…a real nifty runner as far as being as big as he is, but he can also just lower his shoulder and run right over the top of you. He has got some power, some agility, definitely got some quickness and speed to him.
…what makes him so tough in our offense is that he does hit north and south and once he gets his shoulders turned, people have a hard time stopping him.”
Offer: explained. Rawls may have that sort of pile-pushing, leg churning short-yardage power but no one else on the roster is that kind of burrower and Michigan would like a guy that can do that and block and catch besides.
I'm serious about this Whipsaw Offense stuff. Houma is another piece, and one that Borges has proven he'll use in the past if it seems like a good idea($):
The fullback in Borges' previous offense at San Diego State accounted for the most fourth rushing yards and third most receiving yards on the team in 2010.
And that was the good SDSU year under Hoke, so that wasn't an "oh crap toss it short" thing. A guy like Houma is a viable target when you're flippin' your jibbers. TTB strikes on his real appeal to the coaches:
He's not huge and he's not particularly fast, but he's got a little bit of this and a little bit of that. He shows an ability to adjust to the ball in the air on short passes, he has a little bit of vision, he breaks away for an occasional long run, and he breaks some tackles in the process. …runs with a great forward lean when going through traffic. Since he's not particularly tall, that means anybody who hits him in the shoulder pads is bound to go backwards. …probably doesn't have the speed to break 50-yard runs or receptions, but he does have the ability to outrun linebackers and turn a 4-yard swing pass into a 10- or 15-yard swing passes.
Each of these guys covered in the big athlete category is a slightly different big athlete doing slightly different things, and we're about to hit Dennis Norfleet, who is by no means a "big athlete" but also promises to be a guy who does slightly different things than anyone else on the roster. Then next year you've got Butt and Hill coming in to add to the fun. Whipsaw, yo.
Houma, resembles a muscle car: It gains momentum as it accelerates, but with handling capable of diverting contact and racing to the end zone.
Why Matt Asiata? I don't keep a close eye on fullbacks around the world and there is no real comparable I can think of at Michigan. He's not at all BJ Askew-sized, he should be more than a Dudley-esque thumper, he's more likely to beat a linebacker on a wheel than Hopkins, and Aaron Shea is all wrong, too. (Also I'm saving Shea for Khalid Hill.) I thought about Brandon Minor, who's about the same size, but "great forward lean" and Brandon Minor are diametrically opposed concepts.
I do remember a squat, thick dude who went up the middle over and over again at Michigan Stadium a few years back… it's just that he was playing for Utah. Matt Asiata was a crunching FB/RB for the Utes and gashed Michigan for almost six yards a carry in that 2008 game just by running through tackles. I thought it was a little dubious to pull him up since I remember him being enormous, but apparently he was 5'11", 220. If Houma ends up contributing at a max level for M it'll be as a short-yardage, grinding change of pace back and thumping blocker, like Asiata.
If we really want to get crazy with the whole Whipsaw Offense thing, Asiata saw a ton of his carries as a wildcat QB.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Agreement, but fullback from Utah.
Variance: Moderate. Realistically will be a role player, but has pretty-important-role-player upside.
Ceiling: Low-plus. Role player of some variety, possibly important
General Excitement Level: Low-plus. Fullback, but a guy who they recruited to do more than dump truck people. While I generally hate fullback offers I can understand this one as part of Michigan assembling a Swiss Army Knife roster for Borges to do diabolical things with.
Projection: With Hopkins and redshirt freshman Joe Kerridge around, a redshirt beckons. After that it's another year behind Hopkins before sort of battling for the job as a redshirt sophomore. I say "sort of" because there's probably two slightly different roles for fullbacks in the new Michigan offense, one a traditional walk-on cruncher who leaves "two inches shorter than they came in" as Brady Hoke requested on Signing Day, the other more of a Shea/Havili/Asiata versatile H-back type who can take on a linebacker in the hole or flare out, etc. He's likely to play 15-30% of Michigan's snaps for his final three years, may end up a short yardage back, and will be a redzone option on play action.
Amara Darboh is prime Rinaldi tear-jerkin' steak #2, a refugee who landed in Iowa and grew into a college-level wide receiver. He comes to Michigan with more recruiting hype, muscle, and sweet offers than Chesson, but lacks the lanky leaping ability that could turn Chesson into a premiere downfield threat if Michigan gets lucky. Darboh is less of a wildcard… but that doesn't mean he can't be a high quality option.
"He runs 4.42 but I wouldn't say that he's a burner by any stretch of the imagination," said Wilson. "He's a reliable guy that can make the tough catches for you. … he's a bigger physical presence. He's not a make you miss kinda guy."
That a kid can run a low 4.4 according to his coach and get called "not a burner by any stretch of the imagination" by his coach shows you the tao of FAKE 40 times. On the high school level these guys usually are burners, and coaches call 'em that, and call 'em that even if they aren't burners. Allen Trieu is also in the anti-Trogdor camp, or is he?
Body Control / Elusiveness with Catch / Hands and Concentration
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Above average size and speed ratio. Maybe not a burner, but has solid deep speed. Excellent hands, ball skills, and ability to go up and get the ball in traffic. He tracks the ball well and has good body control. After the catch he has good ability and is a pretty strong kid that can break tackles in the open field.
Speed is a negative, deep speed is "solid." Searching for negatives is a good sign, or just a confusing one.
A couple of other recruiting guys give the impression that Darboh could be one of those weapon things. Irish Illustrated's Tim Prister got hyped($) after ND's extremely early($)—like October of his junior year early—offer:
Excellent size and length help accentuate his deer-like athleticism with the football in the air. Shows nice balance maintaining his feet and running after catches for which he leaves the ground to make. Very fast - probably in the low-to-mid 4.4s - with an effortless running motion. Shows a consistent ability to run away from the crowd in pursuit.
We seem to be in disagreement about whether 4.4 is fast (hell yes unless you're hand timing Denard to run 3.8).
I loved Darboh's highlight film the first time I saw it. He is big, he is fast and he is a playmaker. Unfortunately film is the only thing I have seen on Darboh. …
Who does he remind me of? I'll go with a poorer man's version of Fred Rouse circa 2005. Both good-sized receivers with that wiggle to turn a screen pass into a big gainer. Let's hope Darboh has a better head on his shoulders.
Rouse was a five star who flamed out before ever seeing the field, so exactly no one has any idea what that's supposed to mean. But it's good, right? Five star.
Darboh shows exceptional speed as a bigger receiver and has another gear once he gets free from a defensive back. Quickness is another aspect that separates Darboh from his competition, as he consistently picks up big gains from short screens or pass patterns. Darboh shows excellent strength and athleticism by breaking tackles from smaller corners and staying up-right.
…combination of strength and quickness as a big receiver with a sturdy build, long arms and nice height… will be at his best working against zone and soft-man coverage. Is adept at finding soft spots in zone and creating passing windows for his quarterback when working out of the slot. Not afraid to go over the middle and will make the tough catch in traffic. …does an excellent job of adjusting to the poorly thrown ball …Has some wiggle in the open field …real upside as a red area target on slants and fades as he knows how to position himself and use his size. We are somewhat concerned about Darboh's top end speed.
They also knock his route-running skills; Brewster did the same. That flaw is easily explainable. According to his coach he came to his high school program a blank slate:
“He was very raw,” Wilson said. “He could run and catch the ball, but he didn’t know anything about running routes or blocking. He had little knowledge of football. We got the chance to teach him from ground zero, and that might have worked to our benefit.”
It certainly benefited Darboh.
“He didn’t have any habits,” Wilson continued. “He was like a sponge. He would take in everything and he wanted to learn and become better. He never shied away from the work.”
Darboh was focused on soccer until high school, FWIW.
Like Chesson, Darboh comes to Michigan with a horde of people chasing after him saying great things about his work ethic, character, and academics, and thus seems like a good bet to stick and a good bet to become whatever his potential will allow him to be. Like Chesson, Darboh picked up football late and has some work to do before he has the little things positions coaches obsess over. Also: refugee.
Unlike Chesson, Darboh is approximately the size the coaches want him to be already, which will ease his glide path onto the field. Both guys will be primarily outside receivers, with Chesson more likely to end up on the backside of a play running those one-on-one cuts that Junior Hemingway went deep on this year. Darboh will be the guy running square-ins under him, for the most part.
“I think he’s a passionate kid that’s working to become the best he can be,” Wilson said. “I think he’s willing to push himself. I know the coaches are going to push to make Amara the best player he can be, and the best person he can be. Amara takes a lot of pride in what he does, and I know he’s not going to settle in doing anything less than his best.”
As a senior Darboh brought in 48 passes for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns in just seven games (a dislocated shoulder cost him four), which is high-quality production, albeit against Iowa competition.
Why Jason Avant? I know, I know: I drag out the Jason Avant comparison and nobody ever ends up much like him. It is impossible to project those hands onto anyone else. But Amara Darboh is a bulky four-star type with good not great speed and a reputation for going over the middle. He is not regarded as the ultimate jump ball artist, he is well-regarded despite that, and he seems to have the sort of A+ character that Avant had.
It's either Avant or Greg Mathews, but it's hard to know how well Mathews would have done if he had real quarterbacks. His coach has another suggestion:
"He's a big, physical player," Dowling coach Tom Wilson said of his 6-2, 200-pounder. "I've seen him compared to Roddy White of the Falcons — a bigger guy that can run very well."
Roddy White's actually a couple inches shorter than Darboh and smaller as an NFL player, FWIW. Another comparison that seems plausible: recently departed Iowa WR Marvin McNutt, a 6'3", 220 pound guy who was killer on slants, generally unjammable, and a bit of a late bloomer after coming to Iowa at QB.
Guru Reliability: Moderate-plus. They're all in agreement except for ESPN's off-the-wall GTFO that I don't care about because this is the geographical area ESPN couldn't give two craps about. OTOH, no camps, it appears, and no All Star appearance, plus an injury his senior year.
Variance: Low-plus. Already college-sized, character is sterling. Does need to learn the craft; seems like the kind of kid where that's just a matter of time.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. "Not a burner," but looks like a high quality #2 in an ideal situation.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. If I could guarantee those Avant hands it would be MASSIVE, but those have proven elusive.
Projection: Getting some early practice buzz and likely to play with the uncertain state of the WR corps. Sounds like he'll have to work his way into the lineup with better routes and blocking, but has a reasonable shot at displacing second-string guys for playing time at midseason.
In 2013 will fight with Jeremy Jackson and Ricardo Miller for the move-the-chains spot. I don't think Miller will be much of a threat given his interlude at TE, and Darboh has a huge advantage in athleticism. I'd give him the edge.
Prepare yourself. "Michigan receivers are refugees from war-torn African countries" is going to be a local "did you know Tom Zbikowski is a boxer?" for the next four years. Up-next Amara Darboh is a guy whose twitter handle references his hometown in Sierra Leone. This post covers Jehu Chesson, whose family fled Liberia when he was a kid. They plan on rooming together, and are guaranteed to be featured in at least one sepia-toned Tom Rinaldi segment.
Sam Webb: Pretend you’re a coach for a second… give me a little scouting report on your game.
Jehu Chesson: “First off, if I was the coach, I would look at the little details that he would do when he goes to the huddle… like what’s he doing? Is he paying attention? Does he walk to the line of scrimmage, which I do not walk because we’re disciplined like you have to run up to the line of scrimmage. Then getting off the ball, your first three steps have to always look like a fade unless you doing a one step plant. Then does he stalk block and how well does he block? I would say that he blocks pretty well. When he drops a pass, what does he do after? Does he come back and does he put his head down? Because for me it is not just in football, when something goes bad you got to keep your head up and everything. As far as what he does, like what the corner, whatever the corner like man, cover-1 or cover-2. You have to make sure what the outside backer is doing if you run a slant… does he handle that well? Does he find the open zone where he can run like a post or like a dig? He does do that. It is just like a little checklist that I have to keep to myself.”
Holy crap. Jehu Chesson is 1000 years old. For the next four years he will take over for Jeff Hecklinski as the WR coach so Hecklinski can pursue his childhood dream of owning an ice cream shop. In a past life he is still Jehu Chesson, because he is 1000 years old.
I mean, the guy's talking to Kyle Meinke about stuff and references the placebo effect and calculus. I've seen a lot of high school football players tell a lot of reporters a lot of things and that is a first. I just…
"There are some things I haven’t seen before, but it's not anything I can’t learn if I really put my mind to it," Chesson said. "It's kind of like calculus, in that way. You just got to work at it. Just have to get used to the language."
…I'm just not expecting that. Nor am I expecting someone to declare his "pregame planning($)" his biggest strength.
"He really loves the physical game. He doesn't just want to be a guy that runs his route and catches a few passes. He wants to be involved in every play because he wants to be a great teammate.
"Sometimes those kind of intangibles get lost or overlooked by people that rank kids, but if you talk to coaches, they want those kids that believe they are one of 11 with a job to do, whether running a route, being a decoy, blocking downfield or at the point of attack. Jehu is that kind of selfless kid dedicated completely to the team."
Can't say enough good things about Jehu as a person. He's extremely humble, and has an insane work ethic. He's in all AP and Honors classes, and barely ever sleeps because he's always studying. For a football recruit like him, he doesn't need to do that at all. But he's just all about excellence, and he's a winner. I think he'll be a heck of a player for the Wolverines, but if for some reason he isn't, he'll still make Michigan fans proud of what he does off the field.
Jehu Chesson is 600 years old and the opposite of Terrelle Pryor.
I'm just, like… okay. Breathe. The catch is he is slow. Right? He's slow.
Michigan football commit Jehu Chesson ran a 10.7-second 100-meter dash over the weekend, which was fast enough to win him a Missouri Class 4 track and field state championship.
He did it only 15 minutes after placing runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles (14.15 seconds). He also added a state title in the 300-meter hurdles (37.77 seconds).
Er. For comparison, Denard ran a 10.44 100 in high school, and didn't do it 15 minutes after running a 110M hurdles final.
And it's not like Chesson is a Bolt-like long strider who doesn't have good explosion. When he showed up at the Army Combine just after his junior year he bashed out a 4.56, good for eighth among wide receivers and almost two tenths better than Stephon Diggs's 4.75. Chesson's vertical leap was also good for eighth amongst WRs and tied with Diggs and Davonte Neal, but Diggs is three inches and Neal five inches shorter than Chesson. Amongst players who ended up at big schools Chesson's Army combine was the best. A few months later he put up a 4.54 at Florida, causing a few Gator sites to buzz about a potential offer.
Maybe he doesn't look cool when running?
There goes that idea. I don't know, man. I look at his video above and it's not like he seems slow.
If production is the catch, I'm not seeing that either. Chesson caught 53 balls for 605 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior and the same number for 757 yards and six touchdowns as a senior. In run-heavy high school football that is more than solid.
There are some repeated, not-directly-contradicted-by-numbers concerns. More than one scouting report mentions that he's pretty raw at the moment, which will happen when you play three sports. You can read it between the lines($) of some of his coach's comments…
"I think the big upside that I've talked the most with people about is his overall understanding of route running," said Tarpey. "You can have all the ability in the world, but if you don't have a feel for that, you're only going to be so good. I think that's something that will come with him, because he's extremely coachable."
"His upside is not unlike a lot of high school players that didn't grow up on football," Tarpey said. "He hasn't been playing it since he was five or six, so he's only at the beginning stages of understanding and learning the game. And because of his personality, his coachability, his physical tools, he will excel. He's a true sleeper.
"He could easily be a 6-4, 215-pound guy someday that is just a nightmare to match up with. Will that happen? It's up to him, but I'd expect it because Jehu is a hard worker. Academics don't come easy to him yet he gets good grades. Getting bigger is a struggle, but he's added muscle and weight every year with us. He's the kind of kid that always applies himself, so the sky is the limit."
Competitiveness / Hands and Concentration / Toughness
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Elusiveness with Catch / Strength
Tall, lanky receiver who can go up and get the ball. Snatches it easily out of the air, but lets too many underneath passes get into his body. Great natural athlete with good leaping ability and straight line speed, but is not an elusive guy after the catch. Must add some bulk and strength, but is tough and willing to go over the middle and make catches.
Trieu mentions the beanpole thing, which was the main complaint after Chesson put his name on the map($) at the Miami Nike camp:
STRENGTHS: Chesson made a splash Sunday in Coral Gables by running crisp routes and catching seemingly every pass thrown in his vicinity. He's tall and lean, was quicker than most receivers on hand, and got in and out of his breaks quite well. A hurdler in high school, his leaping ability showed up often during position drills. WEAKNESSES: Because Chesson is a bit wiry, getting stronger is a must so college corners can't push him around at the line of scrimmage.
Once he gets there, he seems like he'll be at least Junior Hemingway. "Tall" and "rangy" are near-requirements in any Chesson scouting report; most mention his long arms, huge catching radius, and ability to go and get the ball. This coach quote($) is archetypical:
"…before you even line up, he creates some matchup problems because of his height and length," Tarpey said. "He's got real long arms, he does a great job of catching the ball away from his body."
There is disagreement about his ability as a YAC guy, with Trieu above and TTB saying "not good" but 247's Greg Powers($)…
…tall, rangy wide receiver who shows a unique ability to be nimble on his feet and can definitely make moves in the open field. His speed is deceptive, because he is the type of guy that just seems to glide all over the field… makes good adjustments to the ball in the air and will be the perfect guy to match-up one one with defensive backs in the red-zone.
…comes off the ball with explosion and a nice stride. Gets into routes quickly and can eat up cushion with an imposing charge upfield. He has some value as a vertical target due to his frame/speed combination, but we are not convinced he is a great speed guy…can really elevate and adjust to the jump ball. Positions himself nicely and will high point the ball with good extension. …consistently catches the ball well and wastes little time getting upfield to make things happen. …a big target and wide catch radius. …some wiggle to not only make you miss, but also stiff arm and lower his shoulder to power through would be tacklers. He is not a huge homerun threat in space, but given his size he is pretty nifty and can gain valuable YAC and move the chains.
…while of course talking about his tallness and ranginess. Tom Lemming loves the guy, FWIW:
He is one of the hardest working WR's I've seen in getting off the line, finding the open seam, and catching everything within reach. He has tremendous work ethic and is not satisfied with being just a good player. Like the above mentioned receivers, he's a tall, athletic, and agile WR with soft, natural hands. He catches the ball away from his body and normally in full stride, adjusts well to poorly thrown balls, and catches the ball in traffic on a regular basis.
Chesson may not be a finished product, but it seems like A) he is extremely likely to become one due to being 1000 years old and B) once that happens Michigan has a 6'3", 215-pound leaper who will be some kind of cross between Adrian Arrington, Braylon Edwards, and Junior Hemingway.
Chesson asked the Michigan players why Brady Hoke has been more successful thus far than Rich Rodriguez was, and liked their response.
“They said it’s what (Hoke) stands for,” Chesson said. “With Coach Rodriguez, they felt like they were playing for his job. With Coach Hoke, it feels like they’re playing for Michigan.”
Why Adrian Arrington? Okay, he can't be that fast or the recruiting sites would have noticed. Probably, anyway. He still seems pretty fast, and lanky, and able to be that intermediate threat with a side of goin' deep that Adrian Arrington came into late in his career. Size is about right, down to the height and somewhat distressing lack of mass.
I also considered Braylon, because no one thought he was that good coming out of high school and he's exactly the right frame. But Braylon put up a 4.38 at his Michigan pro day. Chesson is most likely a step or two down from that kind of speed.
Guru Reliability: Low. I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU RECRUITING SITES.
Variance: Low. Barring injury, Chesson will asymptotically approach his ceiling. That ceiling is something of a question because he has to add weight.
Ceiling: High. Probably lacks the elite speed or change of direction to be the third pick in the NFL draft. Can easily become a 70-80 catch intermediate to long security blanket.
General Excitement Level: High. Yeah… I know I already gave this out but screw it, I forgot just how old Chesson was: co-MGoBlog sleeper of the year right here.
Projection: Both freshman wideouts have a good shot at the field play. There's enough of a need at the spot that Devin Gardner is going to see a good chunk of time there and if you squint the right way, Michigan's going to lose their top three guys (Roundtree, Gallon, and Gardner) after the season, two to graduation and the other to quarterback. Darboh and Chesson will need to be ready to go next year… if not this year.
Darboh is a lock to play, and Chesson is 50/50 depending on how Jerald Robinson comes through and how prepared he is right now. Either way Chesson doesn't figure to make much impact in year one. In year two, nights in the film room and weight room and days with Hecklinski should make him a lot better. If he can run—and I think he can do so well enough to be a downfield threat—he is in line for a three-year starting run as a major target.
Michigan's other tight end in the class of 2012 is as much of an outlier as their first—quasi-OL AJ Williams—but in the opposite direction. Farmington Hills Harrison's Devin Funchess is essentially a large wide receiver right now, a 6'5", 230 pounder who needs to fill out before he'll be able to block anybody but promises to outmatch any linebacker who is unfortunate enough to be put in one-on-one coverage with him.
To give you an idea of the kind of player we're talking about here:
Touch The Bannercompares him to Ben Troupe, the former Florida TE who received his way to All-American status as a "wide receiver with a tight end frame."
TTB then follows that up with a "Carson Butler but sane" comparison, which is kind of like comparing someone to "Vincent Smith but tall."
He's a flex TE, a standup outside guy who can jump-ball a corner or outrun a linebacker or flip sides of the line and gamely fend off a linebacker maybe (but probably not yet).
The trick with these guys is having them get up to a weight where they can block a linebacker while still being faster than that guy, and that's hard to predict. Funchess has a shot at it, though. Multiple scouting reports project that he will easily hit the 240-250 pound range that most of the splashy NFL tight ends mentioned above end up at. Josh Helmholdt:
…has a frame that will easily allow him to play at 240 pounds - or heavier - in college without losing any of his speed or athleticism. He has an impressive presence running down the middle of the field and is a big, inviting target for his quarterback. A long and rangy athlete, Funchess is very fluid in his movements and has great ball skills.
"I think Devin Funchess is going to be a star. When they put weight on him, he is a long 6-5 guy, but he's just a boy. They'll put 40 pounds of muscle on him. He has great hands, runs great. He had a great attitude. He's going to be a great player - not just a good player, a great player."
"He looks like a wide out. He runs great. For a tight end, he has tremendous speed," Specht said. "The thing that really impressed me about Devin is how much bigger he's going to get. I said something to him when we were in Austin. I said, 'In a few years, when you get that weight on you, you're going to be special.' "
…and then mentioned that Funchess weighed all of 210—eight pounds less than WR Amara Darboh—at the game. He's listed at 229 on Michigan's roster, which seems like one of the more dubious weights available this time around.
…a kid who will contribute best as a pass catcher. He has very good hands and consistently uses those long arms to extend and pluck the ball out of the air. He displays very good body control and concentration to be able to adjust to the ball and make the catch in traffic. His height makes him a nice sized target, but he will also go up and high-point the ball which can make him a tough match-up for smaller defenders and potentially a nice target in the red-zone. He is not a kid that displays elite top end speed to run away from defenders and is a kid who seems to need to build speed, but he does have long strides and can cover some ground when runs and can help stretch the middle of the field.
He's an athlete who can get up. I mean…
…if NFL tight ends are now 6'5" Brent Petways, check. When Rivals caught him at the Midwest Showcase, the power forward reference came out:
The football does not melt into Funchess' hands quite the way it does for [Ron] Thompson, but the Farmington Hills Harrison product showed an unmatched level of athleticism. His background in basketball is apparent, especially when he is battling defenders for jump balls. Funchess goes up for a pass like a power forward pulling down a rebound, and at 6-4 with an impressive vertical, there are few defensive backs who will challenge him.
A couple of Funchess's catches from the International Bowl were balls that would have been filed "Tacopants" if thrown to a Martavious Odoms or even a Roy Roundtree. Check out 1:20 below for a McGuffie attempt that gets major air, and 2:00 for back-to-back catches that demonstrate how big of a target the kids is:
Funchess displayed great hands and concentration, making his first reception on a tipped pass… ran a great route up the seam, plucked the ball out of the air, and showed nice speed getting into the end zone on the 31-yard scoring play. His other catch also came when he found a hole in the middle of the defense – from limited viewing, I like what I see in his route-running, hands, and athleticism.
At worst he'll be a hell of a security blanket. He could be a guy announcers call a "weapon."
Funchess might be as different from AJ Williams as it is possible for one tight end to be from another, but together they further reinforce two themes, one a flipping obvious Brady Hoke goal, the other an admittedly speculative but exciting guess at how Al Borges sees his offense in three or four years.
The flipping obvious bit: Michigan is going to be big. They're going to be big on the line, they're going to be big at tight end and have a number of tight ends, they're going to have big wide receivers. While Funchess is not big for a tight end, as a second tight end or a spread TE he makes Michigan's formations big.
The admittedly speculative bit is something first broached in the Williams piece: having guys like Funchess and Williams and Jake Butt and Khalid Hill plus fullbacks and spread backs like Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet allows you to whipsaw defenses back and forth between radically different formations, to poke at defensive weaknesses, to give your offense the sort of unpredictable variety that's made Boise State and Stanford so difficult to defend in recent years. Funchess makes you versatile($)…
… a kid that lines up at tight end, he lines up in the slot, he lines up at wide receiver… He does a lot of motion. He does a lot of things offensively, but also plays defense - kind of a defensive end/outside linebacker. He's very versatile, does a lot of things and is very athletic. He's got great size. He's a nice young man to have on your football team."
"Michigan told me today that they were talking just last night about different formations they could put me in," Funchess said. "When I came up there today, they were telling me how they could spread me out and use me as a stand-up receiver."
Increasingly, the meaning of "pro-style" offense is "whatever works against you (except running the quarterback)." See Tom Brady's shotgun-mad Patriots offense morphing into Tom Brady's dual-TE Patriots offense, or Drew Brees hitting Darren Sproles in space, or the Detroit Lions saying "huh, Megatron." Funchess is a key part of that kind of approach.
I involuntarily wince when I hear Michigan coaches talk about a pro-style offense because the last time that was in place around here the offensive coordinator literally ran the same #$*@ing play at the beginning of every game, but watching old SDSU tapes reassures.
Etc.:Thirty Devins agree: "we love bucket hats." Fun with chess! Someone once called him "The Funchise." I'm not sure if that's awful or something we should steal so hard. Tremendousinterview. Drew Henson($) says "wow, first impression, looks like the real deal" and "will be an instant mismatch on LBs," whether underneath or vertically.
Why a less existentially depressed Jake Stoneburner or Kevin Koger? Why tight ends went to Ohio State under Jim Tressel was unclear. Well, not that unclear: they went to win, and to block. And do nothing at all else. Stoneburner is the most recent example of a lanky, leaping tight end in the league, even if he is an amazingly underused weapon half of his 14 catches last year—more impressive when you consider that tied him for #1 amongst OSU receivers last year—went for touchdowns.
As for Koger, Funchess comes in with about the same hype and athleticism—Koger speared a couple of incredible catches in his time. Funchess will hopefully be less prone to dropping the easy ones.
The NFL guys listed above are also pretty good comparables but Michigan has not had a guy with his combination of receiving skills and athleticism in a long time. Maybe Jerame Tuman, maybe Bennie Jopppru but neither of those guys seemed to have the leaping; Koger didn't have the catching skills; Massaquoi didn't have the athleticism. Funchess could turn into any of those, really, but I don't think Michigan will be as crappy at throwing productive bulk onto big athletes these days as they were in the mid-aughts.
Guru Reliability: High. They all basically say the same thing.
Variance: Moderate. Going from 210-229 to a rippling 240-250 is always a process that leaves some exciting high school athletes plodding shells of their former selves. Other than that, seems good to go.
Ceiling: High. NFL potential is clear.
General Excitement Level: High. Poised to be Michigan's most productive TE since the waggle days, not only because of the shift in offense but because of his flexibility. He can play in big sets, spread sets, regular sets, etc. A ton of playing time beckons from day one.
Projection: The idea of a TE redshirt is fanciful, especially with Michigan hurting for receiving depth. He'll play. At first that will probably be in the redzone, where big sets are common and his length and leaping ability will make him an attractive target in crowded goal-line endzones. Will also feature as a Koger-esque H-back between the 20s.
Likely to be a four-year starter, or starter-ish type player in the vein of Courtney Avery, who may not "start" but plays just as much as anyone else on the defense not named Kovacs. I wouldn't put it past him to challenge Jim Mandich's all time TE receiving yardage (1489) given the situation he finds himself in.
So, AJ Williams. The first thing you should know about AJ Williams is that the "holes" thing is about noodling:
Q: I heard you used the term, “noodling.” I’ve been watching this show “Hillbilly Hand Fishin’”….
A: “Hillbilly Hand Fishin’”! (says simultaneously)
Q: I’d like to see A.J. Williams on that show doing that.
A: It’s always been a dream of mine to go noodling. I can’t wait to do it. I have family down in Whitesville, Ga. We’ve got some pretty nice lakes down there. Hopefully, I can go down there and get some noodling done.
The second thing you should know is that noodling is sticking your hands into dank watery holes in the ground in search of catfish.
The third thing you should know is that AJ Williams is an improbably-sized tight end, one who arrives in Ann Arbor the same height and two pounds lighter than tackle recruit Erik Magnuson, one who played right tackle for his high school team last year and did so well at it that Scout bumped him into their top 300 based on his potential there. He's here to block you, weakside defensive end who he has motioned over to. No, it doesn't seem fair, does it? Get used to it. It's called life.
Anyway, Williams's size makes him an awkward fit for TE at the services who continued to rank him there and his (still hypothetical but highly, highly probable) inability to scream down the seam for big yardage makes him a generic three star. But like a Matt Godin or a Martavious Odoms, just because you're not an NFL prototype doesn't mean you don't fill an important role.
At Michigan, that role is obvious. His ESPN profile($) is almost exclusively about his blocking:
Williams is a big in-line tight end. He possesses good size for a high school tight end and is/can be big enough to be like an extra lineman on the field. … He is not the dominating drive blocker that his size might suggest… He is more a positional stick-and-stay type blocker. … You would like to see him throw his size around a little more and deliver more of an initial pop and better create push off the ball in the run game. He is adequate working up to second level and getting a piece of moving targets and needs to do a better job of utilizing angles.
And they're kind of meh about it, which fair enough. Scout's positive take is based on more recent data, though:
Power And Strength
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Williams showed as a senior that he is capable of being a high level offensive tackle. He could potentially stay at tight end, but we like his upside more if he were to stay at tackle. He's a strong kid who keeps his feet nicely and finishes his blocks. He does well when asked to move, pull, and work in the second level. He will have to continue to refine his technique and playing with better pad level.
Again you notice nothing about this "passing" business. This is because his high school team all but refused to do it. In 2010 Sycamore passed for 489 yards. In 2011 that fell to 300-some. Williams had two catches as a junior, and none as a senior (because he was an offensive lineman). So about the only thing we know about AJ Williams is how he is as a run blocker.
"The obvious thing that sticks out is it is so rare to be that big and be that athletic," Commins said. "A testament to his athletic ability is he was one of the leading scorers and rebounders in our conference during the basketball season and he just has terrific feet around the basket that are on display on the football field too.
"He's strong and powerful. I've seen him collapse an entire side of the defensive line, sealing off the outside running lane without any help from the tackle or guard on that side. He's a special talent."
“He played tackle this year in an offense that runs the ball 97% of the time about so he wasn’t going to catch any balls but he’s a skilled athlete,” said Ferrigno. “You watch him, like I have, run up and down the basketball court and he is a skilled guy. Now, is he going to run like a wide receiver? No, but he’s got a role on our football team. He’s going to run well enough to do the things that we need to do in the passing game.”
…the three-star rankings make all the sense in the world. He'll have a role, he'll fill it ably, he will not ever garner any hype unless it's that of the "unsung hero" variety.
AJ Williams. He is listed as a TE and I wondered about the “talk” that he will end up at tackle. I asked Funk. He was definitive. “He’s a tight end.” Funk said “he can catch the ball, but we really need help at the point of attack at the TE spot and he’s a guy who might have some opportunity to play right away.” The message was clear (a) we need help at TE now, especially in the run game, (b) we sure as hell hope this kid can step up there soon and (c) no, we don’t have any thought of moving him away from the TE spot.
…and the depth chart is even steelier with its assertions. Fifth-year senior Brandon Moore is the only scholarship TE on the roster other than the freshmen and Jordan Paskorz, who just flipped from defense. Classmate Devin Funchess is about sixty pounds lighter than Williams.
He has a role at TE that is obvious and will persist through his career. He may have one at tackle, too—it's just that the need is far more obvious further outside. Michigan is about to be flush with highly-rated tackles. If Williams ends up competing there it is because an unexpectedly high number of them washed out. It's a backup plan for the program.
“I’ll catch some passes at Michigan,” Williams said. “I’ve got 4.8 or 4.9 speed in the 40.”
Why Reid Fragel? Fragel came out of Michigan when Rodriguez was running things; Michigan offered him as an OL and was told to talk to the hand. Now listed at 6'8", 298, OSU's moved him to tackle largely because they have no other options. He's played in every OSU game since his redshirt came off and has a total of 14 catches, about one every three games. Fragel is a lot taller (6'8") but, yeah, Reid Fragel.
Guru Reliability: Low. Healthy, but no one really has any idea how he'll do at TE and only Scout seemed to pay attention to his senior year.
Variance: Low. Seems like a lock for major playing time and will dutifully block guys trying to do things and catch a ball about every third game.
Ceiling: Low-plus. Is not Gronkowski. Maybe has some upside to surprise since he's been playing on a team that runs 97% of the time, though.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. I am very even keeled about this dude. He seems like a nice piece to have in the redzone and on short yardage. Very hard to see him ending up the sort of multi-level threat you'd like out of your hybrid offensive players, but can be a key bit of one of those multiple pro-style offenses that whipsaw you from GRAAAGGHHG 3TE SMASH to wispy three and four wide shotgun eeeeee. You know, like Stanford last year or SDSU under Borges.
Having that extra tackle TE gives you options; I remember OSU just saying "screw it" and lining up with literally an extra tackle for the large bulk of one of their streak games, and that going poorly for M. If he gives Michigan that option and provides a steady stream of quotes about noodling he'll be well worth the roster slot.
Projection: Won't redshirt. Will probably start the year behind Brandon Moore, but could pass him by midseason given how much Moore has played so far in his career. Will be used as an inline blocker and won't be catching much other than play action flares and short stuff, at least at first.
As his career develops it will be much the same thing. He'll be on the line, doing stuff and running outlet routes. There's a slight possibility he would move to tackle eventually, but unlike Fragel he's on a team that has been recruiting their pants off at that position and there probably won't be any need.
Kyle Kalis is one of many presents left under Michigan's Christmas Tree by Tatgate. While others may be sweeter (streak-breaking win, bowl ban, 6-7 OSU season, Brady Hoke raiding Ohio for more OSU-offered players in 18 months than Michigan had acquired in the previous decade), none is more important for Michigan's 2012 fate than an offensive lineman universally marveled at for his immediate readiness.
"In 10 years of covering recruiting, Kalis is one of the most college-ready offensive linemen I have seen. Physically he appears able to step on a college field right now, and his technique is advanced beyond his years."
"I don't remember seeing many better high school offensive linemen than Kalis. Alan Faneca, who played for me at LSU, an All-Pro for a long-time, was a great high school, great college, and great pro player. (Kalis) reminds me of Faneca." …
"He's a developed player. He's further along than a lot of high school players. He's a good athlete, not a great athlete. I believe he's one of the guys that could play as a freshman. He's never on the ground, which is a critical evaluation when you're evaluating offensive linemen."
"Physically he's probably on the same wavelength as a collegiate sophomore," he said. "He came in at 290 pounds, and we have him down to 280 pounds right now. We're going to work him back up into the 295- to 300-pound range. He'll probably look about 310 pounds, though, because his body fat is so low."
Michigan's considering a walk-on at left guard and the two deep at tackle reads "Lewan, Schofield, bottomless pit"—Michigan needs Kyle Kalis, and they need him now. Thanks, Tatgate!
So Kalis is developed. He also goes to 11 in a couple other categories, most prominently proverbial mean streak and murders run blocking. Darryl Funk talked about Kalis on Signing Day:
"He just wants to tear your head off," Funk said. "He plays like that all the time and practices like that all the time, and we need that. You can Xs and Os all you want, and that’s important, but at the end of the day, it starts up front.
"Everyone thinks it’s coachspeak, but (winning) starts with knocking the heck out of the guy in front of you, and that’s one thing Kyle does real well."
Funk laughed when he described one sequence of film in which Kalis knocks over an umpire “when he was throwing someone around” and couldn’t decide whether to help the guy up or find someone else to hit.
The beastliness/power theme runs through every report you get on the guy, and there are dozens. A selection of quotes about Kalis's beastliness:
Allen Trieu: "whoever's across from him is destined to spend most of the day picking themselves off the ground."
Bill Greene: "A true power plant on the offensive line."
Helmholdt: "appears to derive great pleasure from punishing the man across the ball."
Bentley: "me and two other guys that saw him, and all three of us said the same thing: that's Jake Long as a guard."
The excitable Duane Long: "Kalis should not be allowed to play against high school players. What he does to opponents borders on assault."
The not-very-excitable-after-Isaiah Bell ESPN($): "…capable of mauling defenders and getting good movement when drive blocking…a tough customer; displays a nasty finishing attitude while dominating his present level of competition. … tools to become a dominant run blocker at the BCS level of play."
…aaaand Kalis himself: "When people watch my film they can easily see that I’m one of the nastiest linemen they’ve ever seen.”
The caveats offered are usually along the lines of "not the greatest athlete" in his high school class, which a couple of the Scout guys mention. Scout's profile also lists "arm length" as an "area for improvement," which… uh. Bucknuts dropped him from 2nd to 11th in their state rankings after the year but provided little explanation.
On the positive side of the ledger, Helmholdt noted($) that Kalis "brings the same level of intensity on every play and in every game" and hypes up his intangibles after a St Ed's game versus St. Ignatius. He also thinks the guy didn't get enough credit for his athleticism because he's more filled out that most high school OL.
At the Army game the coaches moved Kalis inside to guard, where he was a bit uncomfortable at first but still held up better than anyone else against the hulking interior linemen they faced:
The 6-5, 305-pound Kalis has been the most consistent performer on the East offensive line this week…. was one of the few offensive linemen who wasn't victimized by the powerful bodies across the line.
… came out of his stance low and with power and was aggressive in team run drills. In one-on-ones, he engaged, locked up and rode his opponents out of the play consistently. He could play either tackle or guard in college with equal effectiveness and his ability in run and pass protection is balanced. He went against some big defensive tackles and excelled while other interior linemen for the East squad struggled noticeably.
… best suited as an interior offensive lineman, but that isn't meant in a disparaging way at all. He's so powerful and he's such a great road grader in that spot, that he can just really move a lot of bodies… has a chance to move inside and become a real force on the next level, particularly in the run game.
In addition, there's the Army game stuff and many other mentions of a move to the interior above.
Now, Michigan has to endure this season with no tackle depth and since Kalis is the five star who spent his entire high school career at right tackle, he seems like the best guy to turn to in an emergency. When Craig Ross talked to Darryl Funk on Signing Day, that was the tentative plan:
KyleKalis: looks like an initial shot at RT according to Darrell Funk. No particular reason, he might end up elsewhere, but my impression is that Funk thinks this might be the best place for him to push for PT this year.
As soon as there's reasonable tackle depth, he's a guard. And possibly even before it, as Borges just announced that Kalis was competing at the left guard slot that is currently the only question mark in the starting five.
“Kyle in our opinion is the top tackle in the country,” Finotti stated. “He could have gone anywhere, but really embraced the tradition and everything at Michigan. There are not too many tackles out there with his work ethic, size and ability and will to succeed. He’s a strong-willed young man.”
Why Steve Hutchinson? Michigan's guards deviated from powerful sonsabitches who would put you in the turf and steal your girlfriend before third down a sorrowfully long time ago. Michigan has had a series of guys who get all conference recognition because they're multi-year starters and seniors at Michigan but hasn't had a really great guard-type player since David Baas in 2005, and he was a center his senior year. Before that you have to reach back to the ridiculously loaded OLs from around the turn of the century to find the sort of players that match up with the Kalis hype above.
Like Steve Hutchinson. Yeah…
…that'll do. Sometimes you have to pull the big guns out. For what it's worth, both Drew Henson($)…
Dominates his comapetition more than any other OL prospect. ... Physical beast, a great run blocker, with a dare I say Steve Hutchinson mentality. Almost like he takes it personally.
…and the anonymous former Wolverine evaluators at Rivals who give eBay ratings to everyone (A+++++++, would recruit again) also dug up Hutchinson as a comparable($). Henson went so far as to call him a "probable All-American." As far as frame goes, Hutchinson is 6'5" and topped out around 310-315, where Kalis will end up as well.
Guru Reliability: Very high. Close to universal agreement. All star appearance.
Variance: Low, OL variance be damned. I'll break out "low" for a guy who is widely regarded as a college sophomore-ish player and the most advanced OL in analysts X years of covering stuff.
Ceiling: Massive. If healthy has a good shot at being the top rated guard in his draft year.
General Excitement Level: Massive. XOXO, Tatgate.
Projection: If he's as college-ready as he's supposed to be, Michigan has a tough choice between tossing him in the mix for an uncertain left guard spot or giving him a crash course on playing right tackle so he can be somewhat kind of okay in the event Lewan or Schofield gets hurt. Initial returns indicate the former.
I don't think they can redshirt him; the chances both starting tackles take every snap this year are very low and there's literally no veteran on the roster who is a plausible tackle. So he'll get spot minutes in blowouts and for (hopefully just) dings to the starters.
Next year the tackles come back and redshirt freshman versions of Braden and Magnuson seem poised to back them up; meanwhile Patrick Omameh and Elliott Mealer graduate. Kalis will be a full-time guard then and crubberate people there for three additional years.
Blake Bars takes the title for greatest discrepancy between recruiting rankings and offer list in the class. One of the four sites thought he warranted four stars; Michigan, LSU, Florida, and a pre-crater Penn State thought he warranted an offer. That's weird. It's less weird because Bars is an offensive lineman with a golden bloodline, but it's still a little weird. What did Les Miles and Will Muschamp see in the guy that the recruiting sites mostly didn't? No idea. Why would in-state Tennessee ignore the guy? No idea. These things happen from time to time, I guess.
Compounding the confusion is a lack of scouting out there. In comparison to a guy like Magnuson—who hit every camp he possibly could and had me deleting thousands of words of scouting reports just because they were repetitive—Bars was a recluse. He didn't appear to hit any camps at all and he even turned down the Army game($) when they approached him late. (He'd already scheduled an in-home with Michigan coaches that day, FWIW.) His low profile most places didn't help: he didn't warrant one of those Scout breakdowns that go on their player pages, and Rivals didn't report on him in their "From The Road" segments. So there's not a ton out there.
What is out there is what you'd expect for a guy with Bars's rankings. ESPN's evaluation reads positive for most of it before dropping the "too small" item:
…although we don't see overwhelming playing strength, this prospect consistently gets movement as a result of his blocking base and good leg drive. Does a good job handling quickness and is a very effective as a down and double team blocker. … We see the athleticism to reach and gain leverage on shaded defenders showing the quickness necessary to consistently get a hat on active 1st and 2nd level defenders. Although we see the need for refinement in all areas of pass protection this guy possesses the long arms and nimble feet which should be assets… Bars doesn't appear to be an early starter at the major level of competition however his athleticism is a real positive. Once body mass is added to his frame he should have a long and productive career.
That makes Bars sound like a guy Rich Rodriguez would have chased all over the country to play guard, except he's already 290 pounds.
…not as tall as some of the other UM commits and could possibly end up on the interior, or with lack of depth at center at UM he could find a home there. He shows excellent balance, punch in his blocking, and the athleticism in run blocking. He plays with excellent knee-bend and keeps his pads low because he understands his position and trench war execution. … plays with that nasty streak that you like to see.
Darryl Funk told reporters on Signing Day that they didn't see anyone in the class as a center, but if they're going to change their mind on that it will be Bars who does it. He's got the intelligence—football family, Vandy, BC, Virginia offers to go with M—and Michigan's center is going to be 6'5" once the Hoke generation of lineman ascends into the starting lineup. Any leverage issues you might bring forward would be shared with his competitors. It's a viable plan B or C.
His toity prep school brought NFL lineman Kevin Mawae around to help coach linemen, and Rivals talked to him about Bars's strengths and weaknesses. Mawae started off by implying he was a bit of a project($)…
"He's going to have to work on his pass blocking technique. It's easy to beat guys when you're 6-6, 280 or whatever … the higher level you go, the more technique's going to be a bigger issue as far as pass protection and stuff like that. All in all, Blake did okay this year, but I thought he could have been even better. He relied a lot on size as opposed to just learning and understanding the technique, which is probably indicative of a lot of high school kids."
..and called him "definitely an outside guy" at 6'5" or 6'6" unless you've got one of those toolsy 6'7" guys, in which case he would be a viable option on the inside. Left tackle is a stretch since he's "not as athletic as you'd want your left tackles to be"… from an NFL perspective. Touch The Banner returned with a similar assessment, and his head coach also projected a move to right tackle or inside($).
"He's extremely athletic for his size, with really good feet, and maybe the thing that goes unnoticed but I can tell you is he has flexibility - he bends really well for a kid that size."
The elusive "bend" is a priority for all linemen as it allows them to get pad level, and pad level is the most important thing ever. When you don't have bend, you are "stiff" and transfer to Western Michigan after a year like Dann O'Neill (and then carve out a pretty good career for yourself anyway). Funk likes the bend of the class as a whole.
Aaand the final piece of Bars scouting is the proverbial mean streak. Barton Simmons($):
What stands out as much as anything when watching Bars is his tenacity. He likes to get after, he plays until the whistle blows, and he looks complete each block. He plays with that nasty streak that you like to see in offensive linemen. He has the frame you like as well.
This also makes a move to guard more likely, as they get to deploy the proverbial mean streak more liberally in the run game than tackles. If it matters that much. I mean… these "mean streak" assessments are about blocking a guy even more after you've already blocked him. Blocking him first seems to be 95% of offensive linesmanship, but everyone focuses on the proverbial mean streak. It's a meme and therefore unkillable. I wonder if Funk gives two dangs about it.
We've come to the time on Sprockets were we evaluated the guardiness of the offensive lineman, and Bars is guardy. The evaluations call him a tackle, the recruiting services rank him at tackle, but by virtue of not being 6'7" and not being a universal blue chip, Bars is more likely to slide inside than either of the OL previously covered in this series.
"Michigan wants me to play left tackle," said Bars. "That’s where they said they’d start me out at and go from there. I’m willing to play wherever on the line for a chance to get in."
…and there's no doubt Michigan will evaluate everyone they brought in for that spot. Chances are someone else is a better fit and Bars will be placed in the guard repechage.
Etc.: Empty. This used to happen a lot when these reports focused on guys like DJ Williamson. Not so much now. The googling, oh the googling.
Why Patrick Omameh? Omameh was initially supposed to be a tackle prospect before being moved inside, whereupon he was a second-level-reaching Te'o destroyer before the power-blocking Hoke revamp made him a fish out of water. He got better towards the end of last year and enters his senior year at around 305, still ready to be mobile at you.
Omameh came in with less recruiting hype but a much more plausible claim to being a sleeper after a late growth spurt took him from Big East TE recruit to Big Ten OL recruit. Bars is bigger coming in.
Guru Reliability: Low. OL, no camps, offers defy ranking.
Variance: Medium. Character related issues seem a very remote possibility and he's pretty close to playing weight already. Still needs to develop. Is OL.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. Athletic, good frame, seems like he could be a high quality guard playing at 310. Probably doesn't have the sheer length to be an elite tackle.
General Excitement Level:. Moderate-plus. The least hyped of the OL but he has great bloodlines and offers and despite the ratings the scouting reports are pretty good.
Projection: Redshirt. Then… whoah, has a very good shot at starting as a redshirt freshman. Even if you assume Kyle Kalis grabs one of the interior spots, Omameh, Mealer, and Barnum will be gone, leaving Jack Miller and Chris Bryant as the only other experienced scholarship interior linemen on the team.
Now that you're done shaking your fist at Rodriguez's one-man OL class from a few years back, Bars just has to be a better idea than one of those two guys to start in 2013. That's a 50-50 shot, more if Bryant doesn't lose enough weight to be effective. If he does grab that spot he'll have heat from behind as he tries to hold it; still, four years starting is not a remote possibility at all. Year one and two might be a little shaky.
Not related to Magnus Magunsson. I may accidentally call him "Kevin" from time to time due to obscure old hockey defender.
Ace didn't go to CA to scout Magnuson but a site called Sports On The Side did basically what Ace does, returning with five minutes of footage from La Costa Canyon's state quarterfinal:
The opponent alternates chopping Magnuson at the knees and getting clubbed. He's also got a standard highlight reel from his junior year. Also, local news on his commit.
Just-covered Ben Braden was the first guy to jump aboard a Hoke recruiting class, but it was Erik Magnuson that first indicated Hoke might have the recruiting mojo that sees him ripping dudes away from Ohio State and Notre Dame like it is not even a thing. A highly touted kid who had offers from virtually the entire Pac-12 (USC did offer, but well after his commitment), Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and others, Magnuson ignored everything within 2000 miles of home for one reason:
Choosing Michigan: "Well, it's pretty simple. It was coach Hoke. I wouldn't have much interest in Michigan if it weren't for Coach Hoke going there from San Diego State. So I had a relationship with him and I was pretty close with him. He started recruiting me early my sophomore year, and I had a good relationship with him all that year, and then he moved, and then I called and said, 'Get me on board. I want to play for you.'"
And so it began.
The reasons Magnuson could have gone anywhere are the usual ones when you're talking about a position with the exacting physical specifications required for a left tackle. 247's Clint Brewster)$):
…has everything you look for in a Big Ten offensive tackle in size, strength, quickness, toughness, and smarts. … Magnuson’s best attributes are his feet and his arms. He has a lightning quick kick-step when pass blocking so that his defender has no chance to get the edge on a speed rush. Once Magnuson gets his long arms on his opponent on a run block, you are caught in his web and are not a factor from then on… Magnuson plays with determination and passion as he doesn’t let up on a play until his man is buried beneath the turf.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound left tackle prospect has the kind of athleticism, size and tenacity that make him a great option to protect a quarterback's blind side. Magnuson displays quick feet, long arms and excellent technique in his pass-pro sets, but can seal the edge on weak side running plays.
Magnuson has an excellent frame, good feet and plays with a nasty streak. He was dominant in one-on-ones and looked good athletically moving around in position drills.
And Michigan's own Courtney Morgan(!), who was a position coach at one of the many camps Magnuson impressed at:
"Magnuson is a superior athlete," Morgan said. "He's 275 pounds, if he was 250, he could be a tight end. He has great feet. I could see him playing on the left side.
"Early on, he was overextending himself with his kick, he wasn't taking a short kick, he shortened it up in the second practice and I'm looking forward to showing him the film because he's a totally different player. …He really wants to learn."
247's Adam Gorney was at that camp scouting and came back with effusive praise; this is a take from an event that featured Zach Banner amongst others :
Magnuson was arguably the top offensive tackle at the event - and it was loaded with outstanding linemen. The recent Michigan commit is aggressive, tough, not afraid of anyone and also has great technique, extends his arms out and doesn't let defensive ends move and has great feet where he can move and block people out of the way. Magnuson continues to prove he's one of the nation's elite offensive tackles.
Those are the strengths; the weaknesses consist solely of the stuff Morgan coached out of him in a day and are declared "nitpicky." If we're trying to place all the guys labeled "tackle" into the right two-deep bin; Magnuson slots in on the blindside, fending off speed rushers and defeating pass rush arsenals. That's what Darryl Funk told him:
"Eventually I'll end up playing left tackle. . . . As far as anything he [Coach Funk] has ever said to me is that I could project to right tackle so I can play early, but eventually he wants me playing left tackle. That's what they recruited me as, and that's what they want me to play."
Magnuson was a mainstay along the offensive line, sitting out only one drive and playing both guard and tackle. According to Magnuson, the West's ability to handle pressure up front was the difference in the game.
…and drew praise for his technique but knocks for his lack of hugeness—they were listing him at 275. Rivals named him an "Unsung Standout($)" in one article and listed him as a guy for whom there was a "Bear Market($)" in another. So… uh. Their final verdict was slightly on the negative side, as they dropped him about 40 slots after his commitment. They did leave him solidly in their top 100.
Also weird are the some of the other scouting reports, which directly contradict the stuff you see above. TTB noted his technique and mean streak but wasn't that impressed with his athleticism:
Something Magnuson lacks is truly elite athleticism. Although he has the traits I mentioned above, his feet aren't particularly quick. …seems like a LT/RT tweener to me. He doesn't have the elite quickness that I'd like to see in a left tackle, but he doesn't have the mass (right now) or run blocking technique to be great at right tackle.
"He's one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the country," he said. "That's his big selling point is that he's a real athlete. At that size, a full 6-foot-6 and 280 plus pounds he can run with just about everybody on the team. It's ridiculous how athletic he is."
Meanwhile, Scott Kennedy praises his "power and strength"… something no one else did, and knocks his pass protection, something no one else did. This Rivals report from the Stanford Nike camp is 180 degrees in the other direction:
…Magnuson did the best in one-one drills, showing great lateral movement and balance in his kick step. At only 270-pounds, he is prone to being bull rushed, but that's not a problem coaching and weight won't solve.
I just don't know, man. The impression I get is that Magnuson needs a year, probably two, to get up to 290-300 and that plus quality coaching is about all he'll need.
We already did this bit about where he goes: left tackle, or right when Shane Morris ascends to the throne. There's some possibility he goes on the right if Braden works out really well or one of the 2013 guys ends up being Lewan/Long good, but not much of one. Guard doesn't seem likely given his size since Michigan probably won't be in need of any Schofield-like stopgaps during his time on the roster.
"That's a man right here," Pankey said. "He's a man. He has the mentality, he listens, he's a ballplayer. He's going to do well wherever he goes."
Why Michael Schofield? Man, it is tough to come up with a Michigan comparable here. We want a left tackle. Jake Long is pretty much verboten and probably too big anyway, Adam Stenavich is too small and lacked Magnuson's hype and ceiling, I don't remember Tony Pape really being that good, and don't remember Thomas Guynes at all.
So how about a guy who probably would be a left tackle if Michigan didn't have an All-American there? Michael Schofield has demonstrated the versatility to play guard at 6'6" or 6'7" and now moves outside to pass protect opposite Taylor Lewan. One of the recruitin' tidbits about him coming out of high school was that he was a high school hurdler, and this tidbit doesn't sound that different:
"He's big, but he's a trim big," Sovacool said. "Some big guys are big and sloppy, but there isn't anything sloppy about him. We were running on the track, doing some accelerated runs, and he was running as well as the secondary kids. On top of that he's dedicated. He hasn't missed one morning workout since the start of the semester. He's not afraid of hard work."
Schofield got approximately the same amount of recruiting hype (though Magnuson does pip him there) and came to Michigan an athletic, undersized guy with a reputation for meanstreakery. It took him a couple years to get up to the required size and strength, but now that he's there the expectations are high.
Jeff Backus is also a decent comparable.
Guru Reliability: High. All Star appearance, ton of camps. Some varying opinions.
Variance: Moderate. A solid bet to be a starter-level player with good upside. OL unpredictability factors in.
Ceiling: High. Short of very high; he doesn't quite seem to have that Long/Lewan length that would make him a truly elite tackle. A notch or two down from that is possible.
General Excitement Level: High-minus. All conference potential; is OL, so hard to project.
Projection: Should redshirt unless there's an injury disaster at tackle. Kyle Kalis is likely the first freshman OL off the bench, and Michigan may shuffle their line to avoid putting any freshman on the field, let alone the guy seemingly second in the pecking order. He may even be third since Braden is so much bigger at the moment.
After his probable redshirt, he'll have another year to learn the position and get stronger unless Lewan enters the draft early; assuming that doesn't happen Magnuson's first shot at starting will be as a redshirt sophomore. He'll be fighting Braden and redshirt freshman versions of this year's recruiting class; I'd peg him as the slight favorite on the blindside but it's going to be a rock-em-sock-em affair.
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."
"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."
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.
…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.
#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.