Mitchell got in serious trouble over the summer that warranted what was probably going to be a year-long suspension. He was also apparently in the habit of posting images of him partying at various late-night hours on Snapchat. By all reports he was not a good fit for the program.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-minus. Washout potential is high. Pure athlete at the moment.
And lo, it has come to pass. Dude could have sped it up a bit so that I didn't have to write that profile.
Even though he was nominally a receiver, Mitchell's departure is mostly a hit to the safety depth chart. Michigan really likes the McDoom/Crawford/Johnson trio and with Brad Hawkins an academic casualty both WR recruits who could play S have burned out before they could even get started.
That brings Michigan to 23 scholarships in a class we expect to reach 30.
You mentioned at media day that year two makes things so much easier—or more familiar, I should say. How’s it feeling?
“No, not easier. But feeling good right now. Coming off of a very good practice today, so feel good about the way our guys are working. Feel really good about the way we practiced today. There was quite a bit of good scrimmaging. Feel like our team is building a callus now that bodes very well for us. I mean, it was not. It was a little more [purulent] than about a week ago, but now it’s starting to harden. Feel good about that.”
Your quarterbacks now compared to a year ago: do you feel like they’re about where they were or in the system for a year, does that help them?
“Definitely has helped them. Right now we’re—I hate to compare—but we’re better. We’re better at that position than we were eight, nine days into camp last year.”
Have you narrowed it down? Is it down to two guys? Have a rank order?
“Yeah, not just two. I mean, Shane Morris is doing good, having a good camp. Wilton Speight’s having an outstanding camp. John O’Korn’s having a very good camp. The quarterback play’s been really good in camp, right from the first day. Been very pleased with that. They’ve…they’re completing balls, they’re running the team, they know what they’re doing. They’re competing at a good, high level. It’s been good. Yeah.
“I’m trying to think through different camps. I’ve said it to myself: this group of quarterbacks is playing really well. Better than most camps that I’ve seen from the start. Sometimes they struggle with their accuracy and struggle with different things, communicating, fumbled snaps on the ground. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing solid play that’s improving, too. It started good and it’s getting better every day. Hope we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today, but we had a good day today.”
Are there any other positions where you’re seeing as fierce a competitive battle as you are at quarterback?
“Uh, there’s…there’s some good play. Some good—young guys are playing very well. Devin Asiasi had a heck of a day today. Michael Onwenu is somebody I’m—you know, he’s one of my favorites. Doing a heck of a good job. Ben Bredeson is doing an outstanding job. Rashan Gary is a really good football player. The young linebackers are playing really well. The young receivers are doing a heck of a good job. Chris Evans is maybe one of the most outstanding of them all. Khaleke Hudson’s doing an outstanding job. Dylan Crawford’s doing a good job. So, yeah, it’s been good. Quinn Nordin’s doing an outstanding job. Those guys, some really good players in that class have heated some of the competitive waters at multiple positions. It’s a good thing.”
How many freshmen do you expect to play this year?
“Right now it’s competitive and I don’t see any of our older guys just giving their jobs away. Don’t see that happening. Not through the nine practices. Not saying that for one minute, so it’s still to be determined. There’s some competitive, heated-up waters. More than you see on really probably any team I’ve ever been on where a group of new guys…they’re showing that they’re on track to be either starters or backup players. It’s still to be determined.
“They’ve got to do it over the course of the next couple weeks, but it’ll be exciting to watch. Some of them will, some of them won’t. The best players are going to play, regardless of class year that they’re in. As I’ve said, we’ve got a lot of veteran players who like their starting jobs. It’ll be a battle.”
Last year you waited until the first snap at Utah to reveal the starting lineup. Do you imagine that’ll be the same this season, too, with the quarterbacks and rest of the roster?
“I haven’t decided yet.”
[After THE JUMP: I guess you could say this press conference was…[/puts on sunglasses] suspended.]
let me show you how we handle punks in the district, punk [Patrick Barron]
Everywhere I turn this offseason, it seems someone is writing another article lauding the aggression, complexity, blitzes, and disguises built into Don Brown's defense. These attributes have obvious upside, but are we overlooking what could be a very steep learning curve for this defense? Can we really expect these guys to flawlessly execute such a reportedly complex defense within the first year?
There will be transition costs; there always are. When you're real good and have real good players those can be overcome. Last year's offense had a bunch of transition costs and still rocketed from 82nd in S&P+ to 30th; in FEI they went from 100th(!) to 33rd. This leap occurred despite weekly UFR diatribes about how various people on Michigan's offense still didn't really know what they were doing.
It going to be tougher for the defense to have anything similar since they were already very good. It's hard to improve much from 20th (FEI) or 2nd (S&P+). The leap from DJ Durkin to Don Brown is probably extant; it is certainly less grand than the leap from Brady Hoke to Jim Harbaugh. Meanwhile Brown's defenses have tended to tread water in year one:
There's a ton of noise in that data since we're not accounting for returning starters and the like. It still suggests that a great leap forward should not be expected.
On the other hand, Don Brown has never been handed even half of the talent he's got this year and it's almost all very experienced. Michigan's starting D consists of eight seniors, a redshirt junior, Jabrill Peppers, and Rashan Gary. While these guys haven't worked on certain things Brown does, they've at least encountered them from time to time; they can also spend the bulk of their offseason working on that stuff since you can take it as read that they've got man free coverages down.
It is a concern, but the schedule is reassuring. I'll take a series of early biffs against teams Michigan beats by 21 instead of 28 if the payoff is a defense that is finally, finally, finally equipped with the state of the art in shutting down a spread n shred. The talent available should mitigate some of those hiccups—a coverage bust doesn't hurt you if the QB is running for his life—and once those get smoothed over, Michigan's ceiling is higher.
Let's go moo
In my travels throughout the internet I came a cross a rather unique rendition of 'Let's Go Blue' that I thought should be shared. There is a man named Farmer Derek, a high level Bard no doubt, who serenades his cattle and posts the songs on YouTube. At the end of his version of Royals by Lorde he goes into Let's Go Blue and the cattle respond in kind. I don't know what should be done with this video, if anything, but I believe it should be shared and thought you should be notified. Cheers.
Sincerely yours in football,
This is a great service to the fandom, Pinball Pete:
[After THE JUMP: not cows responding to Let's Go Blue so why even bother]
Like Chris Evans, Ahmir Mitchell might not actually be a wide receiver. He is one now and so here he goes, but all you have to do is look at the 2017 safety depth chart—Tyree Kinnel, a Khaleke Hudson who really needs to be taking over for Peppers at SAM, a couple question marks, and tumbleweeds—and then plug available safety-shaped objects in that hole. Meanwhile, Mitchell's stock as a wide receiver has been on a steady slide over the past year and a half. His rankings dropped from top 100, near top 50 in some cases, to outside of the top 100; 247's dramatic revision of his ranking saw him barely hold on to four-star status.
Mitchell is a safety-shaped object, and an intimidating one. Hypothetically. This post won't talk about that much because nobody evaluated him as a defensive player past brief mentions that his athleticism could lend itself to a switch. Don't rule out linebacker, either.
Let's start with the good bits. Mitchell's a grown-ass man already. His high school coach says he has an "NFL body right now and you can say he comes from special genetics"; Nick Baumgardner noted that Mitchell "looks nothing like a prospect who should still be in high school" after Michigan's trip to IMG this spring. ESPN's evaluation leads with Mitchell's impressive physical package:
Thickly built and sturdy with good height ... Moves and looks like a tall tailback. Displays power as a runner and top end speed is very competitive. May not be a jet or overly fluid speed guy, but he can accelerate on a straight-line.
…every wide receiver at Sunday's camp was tall and fast, but even in a physically impressive crowd like that, Mitchell stood out. With that physique, it should be no surprise that the 6-foot-2, 197-pound Mitchell has a powerful stride and he pops in and out of his breaks. Defensive backs that try to press him are going to lose either the strength or the quickness battle, but Mitchell even exploits off coverage with his ability to create separation in his routes and by using his body to shield defenders from the football.
Reports about Mitchell's speed vary. Some say it's "good for his size". 247:
…very impressive specimen and will arrive ready to play … Runs well for a young man his size (4.67 laser-timed 40-yard dash), Mitchell is a physical football player, catches the ball well and is another that could project at other positions including safety.
"I really like him as a player,” the source said. “He's big, he's strong, and he can move for a guy who's already 215 (pounds). That said, I know we're looking at him and asking if he'll grow out of wide receiver."
His physical ability lends itself to the strongest part of Mitchell's game: YAC. He is equipped with a nasty stiffarm and once he finds himself in space with the ball he's got enough wiggle to turn opposition tackle attempts into arm tackles, which he is strong enough to blow through. Touch The Banner:
…ability to run after the catch is probably his strongest attribute. He frequently uses his long wingspan and a stiff-arm to brush away smaller defenders.
…rugged wide receiver that is at his best running after the catch. like a running back after the catch … [picks] up tough yardage with his strength and explosiveness. He’s got strong hands and the ability to out-muscle defensive backs on jump balls or in close coverage. Mitchell… size, strength, toughness, and quick-twitch make him a coveted player. …thrives catching short passes underneath, as well as smoke-screens.
ESPN calls him a "power runner" and says he "makes most of his big plays … because he is so difficult to tackle in the open field":
he makes things happen with the ball in his hands especially when he can quickly transition after the catch as he is a one-cut, slashing type of runner. He is far more elusive that he is sudden, fluid or laterally agile. He builds to top end speed and when you think he's going to get walked down, he will somehow pull away. He's as fast as he needs to be.
He’s physically ready to play college football right now. … decent change of direction skills, but his straight line speed is the differentiator for him. His ability to accelerate and hit another gear is outstanding. …dynamic after the catch. …strength to run through tackles … really makes him great. He has a good stiff arm that compliments and his size and power. He looks very much like a running back after the catch.
There's not much question that Mitchell is an NFL athlete. There are some scattered concerns that he got too big as a senior and lost the necessary quicks to play wide receiver, but he's listed on Michigan's roster at 205. That should be fine even if he adds the usual 15-30 pounds players usually do once they hit college. Mitchell's game is never going to be separation. If he's going to stick at wide receiver and perform it's going to be as a guy who goes up and gets contested balls.
Reports about his ability to, you know, receive things are varied. Mitchell was a big-deal top 100 prospect to just about everyone when he went to that OSU camp and dropped a bunch of passes:
"The performance at Ohio State really killed him rankings-wise," Farrell said. "That was his first appearance where he was consistently dropping passes. I wasn't at Ohio State but there's video out there, and Josh Helmholdt was there, and he just had a lot of drops. That scared the heck out of some because wide receivers need to catch the ball."
"His hands are not a concern for me. They're really not," Farrell said. "I saw him at the Rivals Camp in New Jersey and he was very good."
While dropping a guy 50 spots based on one camp when he did this…
…really stood out during the drill portion of camp, separating himself with explosive speed and he made a bunch of tough one-handed catches. He is a big receiver with a lot of ranginess and he can create space against most defensive backs. Mitchell was a little too quiet during the one-on-one session.
…size, explosiveness, competitiveness and reliable hands were on full display on Saturday. Cornerbacks that tried to jam him at the line of scrimmage were quickly dispatched and errant passes were hauled in with ease. There was one pass that Mitchell hauled in with one hand between two defenders. He had to pin it against his body because the defender was holding onto his other arm.
…at various preceding ones is a bit of a hair trigger reaction, Mitchell didn't provide a counterpoint. He came off a reasonably productive junior year (47 catches, 872 yards) with a bunch of hype, and then his stats fell off a cliff. As of mid-November Mitchell had just 13 catches. Per MGoBlue he finished with 30; I'm guessing most of those were within five yards of the LOS. He averaged barely ten yards a catch, and his highlights have a ton of YAC in them. The half-season senior highlights above consist of a lot of handoffs on which he gains five yards and tackles made while he plays corner. While that's not necessarily Mitchell's fault—his QB manages to wobble a two-yard crossing route in that video—recruiting sites can only go on what they see, and they didn't have much data to go on after that camp.
Mitchell's overall polish and routes are also frequently questioned. Brewster notes he's a "raw player" and "still learning from a technical standpoint"; Son of a Coach says he's "not a sharp route runner at this time". After watching his highlights I have to agree. Mitchell appeared to run three routes in high school: bubble screens, crosses, and fades—mostly the former two. The fades that should be his bread and butter don't even see him leap most of the time. He doesn't high-point the ball, and there are only a couple of catches that are contested.
As a result I don't necessarily trust a lot of the praise in Mitchell's scouting reports. Given available evidence much of it reads like "here is a trope about a big receiver". Scout:
… good hands and knows how to use his body to gain position against smaller defensive backs. He comes out of breaks well but needs to be a bit more precise in his route running. He is a tremendous competitor, and it shows when the ball is in the air. He high-points the ball, and doesn't mind going over the middle.
Former ND QB Evan Sharpley praised Mitchell's "exceptional ball skills"; BGIsays the same thing. I guess this could be something he showed in camps. There's nothing in any of his highlight tapes to confirm or deny such a thing.
Mitchell enrolled early, but didn't leave much of an impression. When I saw him at Ford Field I thought he looked like a "big time athlete, very unpolished". He dropped a couple of quick passes. Meanwhile Michigan's official twitter feed tweeted out a video in which Mitchell loses a slant route to Reon Dawson because he misses his attempt to paw him away on his cut:
Despite a dearth of options that saw Shane Morris pressed into duty as a slot receiver, Mitchell wasn't targeted much in the spring game. That's not a ton of data, freshmen wide receivers are often behind, etc. Still some data, none of it pointing the right direction.
Compounding some iffy returns from Mitchell's first spring practice is an off-field incident that all the insiders have muttered about but nobody has detailed. Per Scout's Brian Dohn, Mitchell nearly decided to transfer afterwards. Some variety of suspension may be forthcoming. Whatever the issue was it was serious enough to imperil Mitchell's career at Michigan before it even started. That greatly increases the chance he ends up washing out for reasons other than his talent.
Why Greg Mathews or Jonas Mouton? Mathews was a tall, relatively burly mid-four star guy a while back. He was reasonably fast but didn't get a ton of separation; his hands were okay, but not great. He played early largely because Michigan didn't have a lot of other options shaped like him and topped out as a 30-catch receiver as a junior and senior. Mitchell is much more of a wild card than Mathews, who seemed boring and okay from the drop. Mitchell could be anything at all.
Other comparables include Junior Hemingway, a jump-ball maestro who played at 230 pounds one year, and—if Michigan gets very lucky—former Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd. BGI brought the latter comparison up in their film evaluation, so don't blame me for that one. Floyd ran a 4.4 40 at the NFL combine and Mitchell is unlikely to match that, but speed wasn't really Floyd's game in college.
As a safety, Mitchell's physical package is similar to Jarrod Wilson, who ran probably-generous 4.5s at Michigan's pro day at 6'1", 205… but Mitchell is already that size now. Jonas Mouton is a better fit. He entered a college a 210-pound safety and exited it a 240-pound WLB who alternated terrible plays with excellent ones for the duration of his career.
Guru Reliability: Low. Mitchell's high school is very small and their QB very limited; really no idea what he looks like in a college context. Many scouting reports seem arbitrary.
Variance: Very high. Lack of production, potential position switch, raw even at his main high school position, had early off-field incident of some variety.
Ceiling: High. NFL player lurking in there somewhere.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-minus. Washout potential is high. Pure athlete at the moment.
Projection: I'd redshirt the guy for the same reason we're all mad that neither starting safety redshirted: his ability to contribute this year is minimal and he's got a ton of upside. His early enrollment might complicate that; he would be a frustrating burned redshirt.
Either way this year is likely to be a learning experience for Mitchell at wide receiver, and then they'll poke around with him on defense during the bowl practices. Since I can read a depth chart and am high on the rest of this WR class and Moe Ways, I expect Mitchell to flip to defense at that point. There's another year of apprenticeship in there, and then maybe Mitchell can break through in year three or beyond as either a safety or linebacker.
Even with McCaffery behind him and plenty ahead, we're still seeing Brandon Peters in our futures. After a shirt. [Upchurch]
Who redshirts from the 2016 class? Which of those has the biggest impact down the road?*
Ace: Michigan is finally in a position where they can default to redshirting freshmen unless they’re too talented not to see the field (Rashan Gary), happen to fit at one of the couple positions in serious need of depth (Devin Bush), or auditioning for a starting job next year (David Long, LaVert Hill). As such, the list of players I expect to redshirt is long, especially on offense.
OFFENSE: QB Brandon Peters, RB Kingston Davis, RB/SLOT Chris Evans, WR Brad Hawkins, WR Eddie McDoom, TE Nick Eubanks, TE Sean McKeon, OL Ben Bredeson, OL Mike Onwenu, OL Stephen Spanellis, K Quinn Nordin
DEFENSE: DT Michael Dwumfour, DE Carlo Kemp, DE Ron Johnson, DE Josh Uche, LB Devin Gil, S Josh Metellus
A few of those guys might end up seeing spot snaps or special teams duty, and I guessed a bit with the receivers; Dylan Crawford, Nate Johnson, and Ahmir Mitchell aren’t locks to play, either, but it’s probably safe to assume the coaches won’t keep all six receiver-types in the same class. Even Devin Asiasi, who’d see the field right away under normal circumstances, might sit a year given TJ Wheatley’s emergence and the overall depth at tight end.
As for which redshirting freshman I expect to have the biggest impact, those who listen to the podcast probably won’t be surprised that I’m going with Brandon Peters, even with a few really talented linemen on this list. Peters was lights-out as a senior and is an ideal fit in Harbaugh’s offense. Even with Dylan McCaffrey coming in a year behind him, I have a really difficult time not seeing Peters as a very successful multi-year starter.
Where have you seen the biggest growth in your offense over the last couple of weeks?
“I just think that people understand the concepts. Really the passing game’s come along with the precision and timing. You know, making corrections. People understand what you’re trying to correct and they’re fixing it the next day you come out.”
Coach Harbaugh said that his quarterbacks were making ‘one big mistake’ per day right now. Is that still—I mean, what do you need to see from them this week and then going through the summer?
“I think just, you know, in terms of where they need to go with the ball, the progressions of their reads, when there’s no play to be made make a play. And that goes for any type of quarterback in any system. That’s not just this particular system here. That’s what you’re looking for.”
Have you seen a difference between John [O’Korn] being in his first year being in a competitive situation and the other two guys, Shane [Morris] and Wilton [Speight]?
“I think John’s a real competitor. I don’t think if he’s a redshirt it doesn’t matter to him. He’s a guy who comes out, wants to compete every day, and wants to be at his best.”
How do you distinguish between making a play when there isn’t one and trying to do too much? Where’s the line that gets drawn between those two?
“I think those guys just kind of naturally have it. They know when to make a play. They know when to step up and find a spot in the pocket. They know when to scramble. They know when to get rid of the ball not to take a sack. You know, I think it’s just kind of part of their DNA. It’s in there, you’ve just got to get it out of them.”
Was moving Mason [Cole] more about the importance of that center position or just getting the top five on the field?
“You know, you just really want to get the top five in however you do that. We’re still evaluating if that’s the best position for him. He’s done a very, very nice job this spring. That’s a hard thing to do is stand there with the ball in your hand and you’ve got a 300-pound guy breathing down your neck and you’ve got to snap it, you know. He’s really handled it beautifully. He’s done a really, really nice job with it.”
Do you guys feel like Newsome’s ready to start if need be?
“Yeah! When we played him last year as a true freshman we believed that he’s ready to do that if that’s how it all pans out.”
What’s different about him? You’ve talked about football lenses opening. Was his already a little more open than most?
“He’s very intelligent. He gets it. He can make a correction once [and] he can fix it. He understands what you’re talking about when you talk to him in the room. The screen doesn’t got fuzzy with him. He stays with you in a conversation.”
[After THE JUMP: Others in the OL rotation, Ty Isaac’s spring, and what Don Brown’s scheme does for the O-line]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis,Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]
Reon Dawson and Jaron Dukes are medically retiring.
Freddy Canteen and Moe Ways recently had shoulder and foot surgery, respectively. Canteen’s status with the program is in the air; Ways should be back in 3-4 months.
Speight, O’Korn, and Morris are getting more snaps than the other QBs, but they’re all still making at least one “big mistake” every practice.
Devin Bush Jr. had his best practice of the spring on Saturday.
Harbaugh responded to Gene Smith’s comments because he felt a shot was fired across Michigan’s bow and, after waiting many hours, thought he needed to do the same. Just never, ever tell him that he likes to get in twitter wars because it’s a form of competition.
Harbaugh said it doesn’t matter to him what time of day games are played; a night game or lack thereof doesn’t faze him.
What did you see out there from your group today, and what were you looking for specifically here today?
“Uh, you know, good, competitive football fight. Getting better: in a lot of areas we are and in a lot of other areas not bad and other and all areas we need to keep improving, so…the guys are grindin’.”
Did your quarterback rotation go about how you wanted, and what did you see out of those guys?
“Uh…you know, there’s—like I told them, there’s, you know…we’re looking for a quarterback to move the team and not make the big mistake. They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day, so we’re not—we’re just gonna keep plugging away and keep getting better, keep giving them things they can improve on, things they can take and use. Looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that’ll be another good test, but they’re getting a lot of tests right now. Strides are being made, but we’ve still got a long row to hoe.”
What does it do for your fans and for your team to come out here in this setting at Ford Field and open it up?
“I think it’s great in the way of sometimes spring practice can get monotonous. Some would even say boring. There’s no game that comes at the end of the week. It’s something different. Something to make it livelier, special—that’s what we get out of it. To have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even the cameras, even the TV cameras—even if they didn’t have film in them, you know?”
They don’t anymore.
“Touché. So even if you had a camera that wasn’t actually recording anything guys would work hard. Guys would enjoy it more. People are watching, so that’s a good thing for us.”
With the quarterbacks, are you still repping them evenly or are you changing that up some?
“I’d say there’s Wilton [Speight], John [O’Korn], Shane [Morris] getting more. It’s not dead even anymore, no.”
Would it be Wilton, John, Shane in that order?
“I can’t even make an order right now. It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them. You can tell in the way they play and just continuing to be able to play loose and play smart and continue to get repetitions. Continue to get looks and learn—that’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action. We’re going to make it game-like in the spring game. Everything’s going to be real tackle football live; the quarterbacks, everybody. There’ll be live bullets for them, so that’ll be a nice, good-size task for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
MGoQuestion: Which receivers have impressed you the most since spring started?
“Well, you know, we haven’t had Jehu [Chesson]. Amara [Darboh] has had a very good spring so far. Really working hard at his craft. I mean, just you would think—you know, it felt like he just picked up where he left off against Florida. Grant Perry, same thing. Really good spring so far. Picked up where he left off. Drake Harris had a really good last two days. Had his best day today. Really making some plays with his—we all know he’s a basketball player, right? But he’s shown that ability. And then Ahmir Mitchell’s come in and he’s competing. These guys are supposed to be in high school right now and he’s practicing as hard as he can. And Moe Ways has improved a lot. Moe Ways, I’m not sure I can remember a drop in spring. I think Moe Ways leads us with the least amount of drops, so it’s been a good—you know, those guys have all come in and they’ve all done a nice job coming back and kind of letting us pick up where we left off.”
What kind of things are you able to do with them this year now that you’re not building the foundation like last spring? How much further ahead?
“Yeah, well, we’re a little light on numbers until the next batch comes in in terms of we’ve got four or five guys coming in. So in terms of what we’re doing, we’re just building off of what we did and asking these guys to really push themselves and fight through it and they’ve become really well conditioned, and then you’re able to tweak a route or tweak a release or change some things up. ‘Hey, this is how we did it all of last fall. Here’s you on film’ rather than ‘Here’s Allen Robinson on film’ or ‘Here’s Brandon Marshall on film,’ [it’s] ‘Here’s you on film. How can we make that better?’”
With so few, are you able to do more individual tweaking?
“Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of where we’re at right now is you can really hone in and focus in and spend the time getting Ahmir caught up to speed, time getting Grant ready to play outside and inside, really focusing in on Moe Ways playing both spots on the perimeter and just kind of making those ‘Hey, in one-on-ones, here’s you running the route; here’s you last year running the route. Look at the difference.’”
After what Amara and Jehu gave you last year, what do you still need from a third wide receiver or a fourth wide receiver?
“Um, well, we need more production. We need someone else to be in that range of 40 or 50 catches. We need Amara and Jehu to be in the range of 75 catches. You know, they need to get up and the third receiver then needs to bring his numbers up. Maybe our third receiver had like 20 catches or something. Let’s get to 40. Let’s get to two more first downs a game. You know, give us two more first downs a game. Give us one more explosive play a game. Keep us on the field for one more drive, and then allow us to play with more guys. Let’s play with more receivers, you know, and get more guys ready to go. It’ll be fun to see what these guys can do.”
[After THE JUMP: if you would like to be considered for the starting quarterback position please leave your application at the front desk]
Harbaugh has thrown the doors open down in Florida. There is a pile of stuff. So much stuff. Even before the open practice at 5PM today, there is so much stuff. Let's talk things and stuff.
First: yes, this is just technique work and mostly unpadded at that. Takes have largely been about throwing, catching, and defending said throws—there's not much you can take away on either line thus far. Oh and one other thing.
Jabrill Peppers, Linebacker
After @JabrillPeppers' heat in 30 yard speed drills he said , "your SAM backer is the fastest guy on the team! How does that feel?!" Lol
The most meaningful thing from the first few spring practices is the apparent move of Jabrill Peppers to strongside linebacker. Or, as they called it last year, "hybrid linebacker." While the nomenclature has changed it doesn't seem like a whole lot else has:
Through the first two days of camp, Peppers has played in the box almost exclusively. He's spent most of his time blitzing, supporting the run and covering tight ends underneath during 11 on 11 drills. In 7 on 7 workouts, he's drifted out to cover slot receivers, but he's never far away from the line of scrimmage.
That's more or less what Michigan did with him a year ago. The exception: against certain two-WR sets Peppers would slide out to boundary cornerback. Last year Don Brown rode with 6'1", 218-pound Matt Milano as his SAM, and all that dude did was lead the team in TFLs with 17.5 and add 6.5 sacks. Peppers is likely to be around that size, if a hair shorter, and obviously brings much more athleticism to the table. (I have no idea how athletic Matt Milano is. I am still comfortable making that assumption.)
Wolverine Devotee put together an every snap video from the BC-FSU game last year; Milano is 28. You'll see him lined up as an actual linebacker against heavier formations and often over the slot in lighter ones:
How does this change what everyone else does? One thing it likely signals is that the days where Michigan lined up a safety 15 yards back are over. To get away with the kind of light linebackers Brown favors you need to have all eleven guys potentially involved in the run game. You can expect Michigan to run "over" fronts most of the time, but that's not a change.
It also puts more pressure on the safeties to be able to defend man to man. Ian Boyd noted that the "ability of [BC] safeties to play deep overage is probably the strongest point" of Don Brown's most recent defense. I'm a bit leery of that given what we saw from Michigan last year—neither Delano Hill or Dymonte Thomas did a great job in those situations—but at least Thomas is fast enough to prevent a quick six points if he gets soloed up on a slot and things go badly for M.
Going forward, Tyree Kinnel will be very important. He entered Michigan with a reputation as a CB/S hybrid and that's exactly what Brown wants from his safeties.
The other SAM
we only have one Furbush picture so you might want to settle in with this shot [Patrick Barron]
Peppers finished last season with 45 tackles and 10 pass break ups. But this year, along with Noah Furbush, Peppers will be focusing more on playing SAM linebacker says Brown.
“Between Furbush and (Peppers), I think we can put those two guys together and create some dynamic ability out of that position. That’s what you are searching for,” said Brown.
Furbush is obviously a very different player than Peppers, and that might give you an indication of what Michigan is going to do when they do catch an Iowa or a Wisconsin. If Furbush fills out this year—his weight has been an ongoing mystery—he brings a lot more in the tight-end-whacking category than Peppers; meanwhile Michigan can move Peppers to CB or safety… or save some snaps in an effort to use him more on offense.
He is all of 240 pounds and can still move as well as he did when he was 215. … If things go according to what looks to be the plan, expect to see Winovich playing standing up at times, and with his hand in the dirt at others. His non-stop motor and reckless abandon should help him when it comes to getting after opposing quarterbacks.
I'm not sure where Jake Ryan 2.0 fits in a Don Brown defense but am willing to find out.
While nobody is tipping their hand I continue to believe that Zach Gentry moving to tight end is a dead giveaway that John O'Korn is the guy and authoritatively so. Baumgardner:
When forced to throw the ball in traffic, O'Korn's accuracy was just more consistent. It wasn't perfect, but his touch was better and his ability to deliver throws on time looked superior to what we saw from Wilton Speight or Shane Morris.
That's probably not a shocker to anyone. But it was notable. The deep ball will be a work in progress for O'Korn and his wideouts, and it's still important to note that Jehu Chesson is still rehabbing an injury. But Jake Butt still catches everything underneath, and Amara Darboh can still haul in most anything thrown in his area. O'Korn is figuring that out.
Webb noted that O'Korn is "unquestionably the most athletic" of the QBs, which is a nice physical intangible to have at 6'4". Speight and Malzone come in for mentions as well; Morris was probably at the other split squad practice so don't run to the hills with the news that he gone.
The hyped recruit has impressed as well. Brandon Peters was singled out by Harbaugh in a press conference after day two. Baumgardner made an effort to check him out during the brief time the media got to see him—he's been practicing mostly during the closed bit of Michigan's practices:
The main thing here: He's smooth and natural. When I spoke with a few scouts and analysts about Peters last summer, the first thing they all raved about was how he's nowhere near his potential. …
I've seen a lot of freshmen quarterbacks enter a program over the years and just look absolutely lost or panicked. Their feet are all over the place. They're throwing the thing as hard as they can on every rep. They're overwhelmed, basically.
Peters is far from a finished product, but he's not overwhelmed. That much is clear.
Here's hoping for two years of this kind of chatter before an epic showdown between Peters, McCaffrey, and whoever else survives the winnowing.
Ian Bunting didn’t have as good a day as Jake Butt, but he was close. The redshirt sophomore has terrific hands and showed trait on the play of the day. Bunting ran a skinny post. Coverage was decent, giving Alex Malzone a tight window to throw in. He fired a rope a little out front of his intended target where only Bunting had a shot. The ball was on him so quick that he only had time to extend one hand, but that was all he need to haul in the pass. He did so in stride and sprinted to the endzone to a series of oohs and aahs. It was his best play but definitely not the only one.
Also in there are takes on Wheatley (looking promising in the AJ Williams role, probably still needs to drop a little weight) and Gentry (upside, but needs time). Webb revisited Bunting after practice yesterday, asserting that he "looks like a guy poised to have a breakout season" because he is now blasting through linebackers on his routes and boxing them out. Here's to Ol' Skillet Hands making good on ridiculous MGoBlog hype.
Jake Butt is Jake Butt: he should win the dang Mackey this year.
"He's a big-bodied guy who can move people off the ball and when he goes out to run a pattern, he can work a guy," Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said Thursday. "Those short routes by the tight ends are kind of like (playing underneath) in basketball. He's a big target, put the ball (wherever) and he can run with it."
Michigan has an obvious hole to fill at inline tight end with Williams's departure and Hill's move to fullback. Wheatley is unusually well suited to fill that hole despite being a redshirt freshman. Meanwhile, Michigan "never seriously considered moving him" over the offseason despite rumors to that effect.
Zach Gentry "needs to add weight… a lot of it" per Webb; I think everyone's expectation is that he'll have to spend a year getting used to the position before issuing a serious challenge for playing time.
It's a creepy super slow mo video in which he loses a slant route to Reon Dawson, so maybe he won't break through immediately. Baumgardner says he's "pretty raw" and that was indeed his reputation as a recruit. He's likely to sit on the shelf a bit as he matures.
I kind of expected Channing Stribling to fade a bit as Jeremy Clark continued familiarizing himself with corner, but Webb's talked him up a few times:
Stribling continues to make plays against everyone except Amara darboh. Darboh having his way all week
He has made some really acrobatic plays. At the same time he has given up a few plays. Darboh has been particularly troublesome due to his superior strength and great route technique. Stribling also gave up the aforementioned deep ball to Harris, but again, he made many more plays than he gave up during the time the media was at practice.
Jourdan Lewis was his vintage self. I noticed one ball caught on him (a comeback route by Amara Darboh. He seemed to bait John O’Korn into a bad throw on one occasion. After taking away his man on a short route he began drifting back into the secondary and picked off O’Korn’s attempt to complete an out cut (sounded like Jedd Fisch said he should’ve thrown it sooner).
Not much more than the occasional mention of Clark and others. Still expect Clark to contribute extensively.
Ryan Glasgow and Jehu Chesson are still working out on the sidelines, as injuries are slowing them down. Neither is much of a surprise, but one name amongst the guys who aren't full go does worry: Wyatt Shallman was once again on the side after being full-go in the first practice. Guy cannot get healthy.
In happier news, both Bryan Mone and Mike McCray have been full-go. McCray's status is of particular note since last year he made some ominous noises about his long-term future. Also he is a linebacker, and Michigan needs some of those. Here is a positive noise about McCray that we will all dearly wish is true despite the fact they aren't in pads yet:
“He looks really good out here,” said Lewis. “He is probably one of the guys we look up to as the guy that should step up this year at that linebacker position. I’m excited for Mike. He has great upside.”
Getting a healthy McCray back is huge for Michigan.
Nick Baumgardner with the depth chart nerd assist:
Second-team OL (best I can figure): LT Bushell-Beatty, LG Dawson, C Kugler, RG Runyan, RT Ulizio
That is more or less as expected without Blake Bars. Those guys are in fact the only other scholarship OL on the roster until this year's class arrives in fall.
Baumgardner also caught the fact that in the second half of practice, after the third and fourth stringers left, the only OL to remain other than the starters was Kugler. Given Cole's versatility I would expect Kugler to be the guy who enters on any injury, and if there's going to be a shakeup to the expected starting five it would be Kugler pushing through at C such that Cole displaces a returning starter.
in 2015 U-M ran a 4-3 defense that played a ton of man coverage on the outside.
That’s still the plan in 2016, however, with a little twist says Brown.
“We’ll start with the four down (lineman) scheme, but we are not exclusively that,” Brown said. “We’ll do it all. We’ll play a lot of man (coverage) tight. But we will also play some other things. That’s the new piece. And that’s the learning piece.”
There will be more linebacker blitzing. Probably a lot more—Durkin had a five-man pressure he liked to run a lot but instances of true maniacal blitzing were very rare.
“That was new,” Harbaugh said. “More one on one coaching for reps for each guy. The rule is no player can practice more than four hours, which every player practiced for four hours and had a nice little overlap there. Coaches had a six-hour day, but it just flew by. Just felt like it flew by. Logic is pretty simple there to understand. More coaching and more football for everybody.”
Indeed it is but it's also another example of Harbaugh figuring out ways to get maximum efficiency from the allotted rules.
And we have a first name for Pratt Just Pratt:
Another player that has been working out on the side is 6-5, 268 lb. sophomore offensive lineman Logan Pratt. This is noteworthy only because Pratt is one of the most impressive looking walk-ons I’ve ever seen.