Into the maelstrom of crippled quarterbacks and generalized flailing steps CESAR RUIZ [recruiting profile], the best center prospect to hit college football in a decade. Last year's preview:
Ruiz dominated his opposition at the Opening ("looked like a total star… dominant … only lost a couple reps the entire weekend") and the UA game (“shined … displayed impressive extension and solid power"), enrolled early, and started generating college-level hype soon thereafter.
This is in part because Ruiz played at IMG, the Florida all-sports academy that sucks in a full team of D-I recruits annually. His transfer there allowed him to play center when most D-I prospects of any variety get thrown out to tackle for obvious reasons, and this was a very good idea:
…he’s made to play center. I don’t remember the kid ever having a bad snap. … He’s got the right mentality and the perfect personality for the position. … He’s a real student of the game and then he has the physical skills to go with it. … He’s been making line calls and he can really step and snap. … Most guys we bring in we try to cross train them as guard-centers but we didn’t really do it much with him because he was just the ultimate center and we knew he’d be there.
Michigan probably would have been better off just rolling with him from the drop but college coaches be college coaches and he started the year on the bench. When Onwenu got hurt before the Minnesota game, he entered the starting lineup. He exited it mid-game after a comically freshman moment that resulted in yet another thunder-sack of a Michigan quarterback—okay maybe college coaches know something—but returned the game after and locked down the spot for the rest of the year. Even in that first Minnesota game it was clear he was going to be a dude:
Ruiz is already a mauler. There was little difference between him and Onwenu. The big obvious bad thing was big, obvious, and bad, but aside from that he ejected people. Excellent sign for Ruiz's presumed ascension to the starting C job next year.
Ruiz is a player. Like... now. Another excellent day from him, this time without a QB destruction that's his fault. Onwenu's obviously earned the right to his starting job but I don't think center is going to be a problem next year.
Those two starts featured +7 and +8.5 UFR days with one negative run grade of any description. Post-Minnesota:
How was our first extended look at Cesar Ruiz?
... he was whoopin' up on people. His kickout blocks were usually huge. Here he pulls to a DE and that guy reacts like he's a defensive back trying to hold up:
#51 RG pulling
I usually give relevant kickouts a half point because they're often a mutual agreement between offense and defense that the ball will go in a gap. Something that big is a full point because on certain runs that extra room is going to be worth yards. Not so much in this game, because everything was going further inside. But sometimes. Ruiz was consistently moving whoever he impacted.
This was more relevant on the Evans bounce play. He gets surprised as the guy he's pulling to is trying to dive inside him instead of accepting a kickout; his ability to stall and then drive that guy saves Evans a critical yard or two on his bend to the outside and helps give him the corner:
#51 RG pulling
Poor damn safety #8.
That couldn't and didn't last, as Ruiz got a harsh wake-up call against Wisconsin and TJ Edwards in particular. Twice Ruiz pulled to find Edwards his target, and twice Edwards knifed past him for a run stuff:
That'll happen when you're a freshman who may have been spending a lot of time at center and not pulling to All-American linebackers.
When not getting a harsh lesson from Edwards or getting Peters thunder-sacked that one time, Ruiz was excellent. Everything about his recruiting profile and first year in the program points to stardom. Immediate stardom.
In addition to his upside as a person who moves other persons, Ruiz promises to help fix Michigan massive organizational issues. Michigan's pass protection was borked all year by not knowing what to do. The ground game was up and down but always prone to plays I threw my hands up at because it seemed like half the line was running one thing and half the line something else. A fuller take on these issues and how they get repaired is in the upcoming offensive overview post. For Ruiz purposes it's sufficient to note that these are words being said about a true sophmore center:
“How it was last year, it’s like, no matter what, if he comes, you gotta block him,” Evans explained. “Now Cesar’s in there and he can adjust it and you can go at it like that."
That says volumes.
[After THE JUMP: redshirts! And probably All Big Ten sorts?]
Early in his Michigan tenure, Harbaugh pulled Speight aside and told him not to eat chicken, a protein that is considered fairly safe by nutritionists. When Speight asked why, Harbaugh said, "because it's a nervous bird."
"He thinks some type of sickness injected its way into the human population when people began eating white meats instead of beef and pork," Speight says. "And he believes it, 100 percent."
The Pork Advisory Council just spiked its glove into the dirt and walked away, fading into oblivion before it exited the outfield.
But what's even better is Matt Hayes's attempt to pivot from Harbaugh's crypto-Lamarckian theory of nutrition to his banal-to-the-point-of-narcolepsy response to questions about his starting QB:
That wasn't any less strange than the way Harbaugh responded to questions about Patterson during Big Ten media days. How he insisted the best quarterback on his roster—and the one guy who can save the program—is just one of four quarterbacks available.
That's right, he said available.
Well, folks. I'm baffled. I have no way to connect the dots between Jim Harbaugh Thinks Eating Lobster Makes You Grow Claws and Jim Harbaugh Said "Available" In A Press Conference being equally odd. I mean, I get that Patterson is a lock to start, but surely Hayes has been around the block enough to know that coaches play coy about their starters about 90% of the time they don't have a returning player.
Jim said this morning that Cesar [Ruiz] and Mike [Onwenu] might play together. How would that work?
“Well, you know Mike is working through some things, his back… gosh, there’s three more days of practice left so we’ll kind of see how it all shakes down and like every day, we’ll roll the balls out and see who the best guys are and the best guy for us to win. Could both share time. We’ll just see as we go. Still too early to tell.”
Even if Mike’s healthy, do you feel like Cesar’s one of your best five right now?
“Cesar does a nice job. His athleticism, his initial quickness, the way he can recover on a block. I mean, both of them bring great things to the party, but to say he’s one of the best five right now, that’s just a little too early to tell just because of where we are. He’s played two games. Did a nice job in there. There’s things that all of them need to work on, just as Cesar needs to work on some things, but he’s doing a good job.”
Enough to make you think about it, though?
“Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you think about it. Every day you’re thinking about, hey, how can I change this lineup, how can I make it better? Every day is a day in here is—you want to make sure you’re working, that you’re unsettled. You don’t want to become content. Content becomes laziness, and that’s not a good thing, is it?”
Why are you looking at me?
“I’m not. My wife sometimes says that: ‘This isn’t the Marriott, pick up your stuff around here.’”
[After THE JUMP: scouting Wisconsin’s defense, why Drevno went back to coaching from the field, where Ruiz and Bredeson won’t play, and more evidence Drevno should always listen to his wife]
[Ed. note: Newsome is actually a true junior but we are assuming he redshirts this season so the listed year is more accurate spiritually. Also Paea is probably a DT this year but I ran out of OL anyone's heard of.]
Michigan lost three starters to graduation and will be without left tackle Grant Newsome after his scary injury midway through last season. And… eh. By the time the graduated had played out their eligibility it was clear that there wasn't much anyone could do to turn them into a crew of firebreathers. Ben Braden (-9.4 to PFF) was willing but the very definition of stiff. Kyle Kalis(-6.3) was a missed assignment machine to the last. Erik Magnuson(+9.1) was a solid player but never an impactful one. None were drafted, and they collectively plateaued three years ago:
Adj Line Yards
Adj Sack Rate
Advanced line stats are a bit wonky because they also depend on the running back and style of offense, but the whole set tells a story. That story: mediocre players hitting their ceiling.
At some point it was clear they were playing mostly because Michigan didn't have any alternatives. When Newsome went out there was a brief dalliance with Juwann Bushell-Beatty at left tackle that went so poorly that Michigan flipped Braden out and brought in a true freshman in his stead. Everyone else other than Patrick Kugler, who was stuck behind Mason Cole, was some flavor of freshman as well.
So, they're gone and the replacements are incapable of voting. It's the end of the Hoke as we know it, and I feel fine. Except about the Newsome thing. That sucks.
TACKLE: COLE AND THE RANDOS
there and back again [Eric Upchurch]
Last year MASON COLE moved to center because it was clear he was not a tackle. This year he returns to tackle because it's clear nobody else is.
Despite the somewhat awkward fit with Cole's body type, this foray should be mostly successful. At tackle, Cole was a near-elite run blocker, capable of overpowering and outmaneuvering defensive ends and linebackers. At center Cole's lack of oomph left him vulnerable to planet-sized nose tackles he couldn't move and gents like Malik McDowell who just wanted to bulldoze him.
Cole was better at the mental aspects of being a center. At the same time he was getting plowed by McDowell he was instrumental when MSU turned to their double A gap twist blitz. That blitz bedeviled Michigan for years under less competent coaches; Cole (and Harbaugh) throttled it:
The trademark MSU defensive playcall was comprehensively beaten. Finally. All of these plays feature the extreme aggression of the MSU linebackers being used against them, something that Michigan hasn't been able to do in forever. Can't block 'em? Run right by 'em.
The line just about maintained its very good adjusted sack rate with Cole at center despite suffering an injury to Newsome they simply could not afford. A large part of that goes back to Cole's ability to make the line calls. Bredeson's freshman biffs aren't on Cole's ability to organize, and Michigan was pretty dang organized in pass pro:
Zone running not so much, but more about that in Five Question and Five Answers. Michigan's frustrating inability to identify first level blocks on stretch plays all but removed those from the offense, so we never got to see if Cole could get his David Molk on. Getting a reach block is really hard and really good if you manage it and Cole had some promising upside in that department that never came to fruition.
[After THE JUMP: LARGE ADULT SONS, except not quite adult.]
The rest of the tackles in this class are all long, lean guys who need to get up to face mashin' weight. Chuck Filiaga is emphatically not that. Chuck Filiaga is a house on legs. An angry house:
Brandon Brown, Rivals: "…a mountain of a young man and has one of the strongest initial punches of any linemen in the class. He's not quite as bouncy and light on his feet as some offensive tackles in the class but if he gets his hands on a defender it's all over. … will have to improve as a pass blocker."
Gabe Brooks, Scout: "…great strength and close-quarters power as a drive-blocker. … high motor and finishe[s] blocks with tenacity. … can improve his body control and balance."
Nick Kreuger, Rivals: "…one of the more dominant offensive linemen in the state … carries next to no bad weight and is as athletic as he is large, making it a near-impossible task to simply get around him. …versatile enough to plug in at either tackle or guard."
Greg Powers, Scout: "plays with a chip on his shoulder and has the size and dominant nature to enforce his will … massiveright now … still has a very high upside frame . He is going to be an absolute beast in a year or two from now." Also: "punishing blocker who plays through the whistle with a noticeable mean streak. "
Steve Wiltfong, 24/7: "pancake machine … powerful player … good feet and a finisher’s mentality. … brings the toughness Harbaugh and his staff covet … I could also see Filiaga being a road-grader on the interior"
Tim Drevno, Michigan OL coach: "a tall tackle with long arms and good size, he has great measurables, great turnover speed and is very, very physical."
This is a different kind of Michigan OT. This is a throwback to the days when men wore hats in the shower and passing games were so primitive they did not have a distinct nucleus. I struggled to come up with a relevant comparable in the last 20 years and eventually gave up. This is a man who hates donkeys, and has a very specific disease where everyone in a helmet looks like a donkey.
…outstanding combination of height and bulk on a big frame. … physical tools to protect the edge. … good arm length and flashes ability to deliver a strong punch … possesses the lateral agility to mirror rushers, but needs to work on set and keep feet moving. … needs to improve technique to better utilize athleticism. … can smother and overwhelm defenders … needs to improve hand placement as well as pad level as can tend to lunge or get tall and narrow and fall off blocks. … Can work to second level and be effective for size, but needs to sharpen angles. … doesn't always seem to have his foot completely pressed down on the gas pedal … very nice upside and many deficiencies are coachable things
…a massive, physical offensive lineman… exceptional 6-foot-6, 335-pound frame and wears his weight well. He's a powerful run-blocker who can maul opponents in the ground game. Filiaga will take defenders to the ground if he can. He blocks through the whistle and with a mean streak. He can improve his foot quickness and technical aspects of pass pro, but his height and length give him a high ceiling as a pass-blocker.
Long kid with a thick lower body, well proportioned frame with good knee bend and flexibility. Athletic specimen … good athleticism, size, quickness and agility for a big kid. Good bounce with good feet and mobility. Shows good hand placement, can lock out defenders, steer and control. Plays with excellent leverage and leg drive … ability to punish defensive tackles when he is asked to secure a down block. Excellent athlete with good upside.
In addition to being an absurdly huge person, Filiaga has the proverbial Mean Streak. (At least, so says everyone other than ESPN.) Lots of those evaluations above reference his ability to finish plays. Scout:
"… will simply punish his opponent. While his size sticks out for obvious reason, his "motor" or "drive" is by far best feature. He will knock you out and then look for some more. On multiple plays on Saturday, Filiaga took care of his first opponent then traveled down field to hit someone else. His willingness to work and instincts to make solid contact should help him see the field early on his college career."
Sometimes I think sites put too much emphasis onto this kind of stuff for OL—I'd rather have a guy like Cole who isn't a punishing blocker than a guy like Kalis who misses a bunch of assignments—but it's better to have people praising someone for it than not.
The potential doesn't quite match the ranking and that's because Filiaga has a ways to go. He was a 275-pound defensive end early in his high school career and then he blew up even further, so his junior year was his first in which he focused on the OL. Early takes on him are heavy on caveats related to that move: "extremely raw … length and size are both elite"; "extremely raw … athleticism and movement skills are there" and so forth and so on. Chris Hummer evaluating Filiaga's junior season pass protection:
"doesn't have a true kick slide, most of the time he just mirrors his opponent at the line of scrimmage. Does not play with great technique."
There are a number of evaluations that mention his potential at guard, which is 1) understandable because dude is enormous and 2) kind of seem like nice ways to worry about his pass protection.
While those worries were largely submerged by Filiaga's dominant high school season—thus the reports above—they re-emerged the Army game. As you might expect from the scouting reports above, he had some struggles in pass protection:
"…can look like the most dominant player on the field any given week at the high school level. As a run-blocker, if he gets his hands on a defender, that’s typically the end of the play for him. … struggled mightily against top-flight competition - particularly while pass-blocking - and in many cases had issues just staying on his feet. He’s still a great offensive line prospect, but last week showcased some weaknesses.”
Lorenz noted that Filiaga got flipped to right tackle and his footwork was rough as a result. His take on Filiaga's performance ("mostly dominant but did lose a couple … one looked bad in particular") was less harsh than the above, as well. Even so, expectations were dialed back almost across the board. Lorenz did admit that after watching him in person that Filiaga "has a bit of development ahead of him" and might not be the instant-impact prospect that Michigan fans—and coaches—are hoping for.
These concerns were still relatively minor in the grand, 335-pound scheme of things. Filiaga slid only slightly after the Army game, going from 98th to 113th on the composite. The physical package here is too rare for a little thing like not being able to block edge rushers right now to matter much.
“Coach Drevno is a mellow chill dude,” Filiaga said. “He loves reggae and he loves his Poly dudes, so that’s kind of a plus for me.”
Why Jon Runyan Sr? More or less by default. Michigan hasn't had a successful planet-sized OL in a while. Chris Bryant got hurt; Quinton Washington moved to defense. Michigan had six straight classes where they were looking for Molk/Cole types and just about all of Hoke's OL bombed out. Runyan is the archetypical Michigan right tackle steamroller and will remain so until someone else claims the crown.
So… I guess Mike Onwenu is all have for other comparables, because Mike Onwenu is also made of superdense neutrons. If Filiaga ends up moving inside he projects as the kind of pummeling road grader we hope Onwenu is. Taylor Lewan minus elite pass pro is also another option. Lewan is the only OT in the last decade who was a punishing run blocker. (Cole is also a great OT run blocker but in a different way.)
Guru Reliability: High. Tight band and almost total consensus in the scouting reports. Heavily scouted Texas kid who went to the Army game.
Variance: Moderate-minus. OL. No questions about size; questions about technique and whether he'll be able to make his frame count. Attitude right.
Ceiling: Vast. Filiaga has the highest upside in the class outside of the five star gentlemen.
General Excitement Level: High. Pass pro concerns are real but the backup plan where Filiaga becomes a 330-pound athletic guard is almost as good as Filiaga sticking at tackle and becoming Runyan 2.
Projection: Given the Army scouting it seems likely that Filiaga needs a year of refinement before anyone's willing to put him on the field on a passing down. Basically everyone in this class is going to get a shot at the starting RT job; this preview's guess is that Filiaga ends up third in the pecking order behind some combo of Runyan and Stueber and redshirts.
Broken record time: major opportunity for a redshirt freshman in this class to claim a starting job next year. If it's Filiaga it'll be at right tackle, not left, with (presumably) Stueber or Honigford on the other side. Anyone who doesn't find themselves in the starting lineup in 2018 will have a two year wait, knock on wood, before guys start graduating.
Filiaga has a second path as an OG. If Michigan feels comfortable flipping Ben Bredeson out to tackle an interior line of Filiaga, Ruiz, and Onwenu would be something to behold. From a distance.
Michigan added a huge piece to their 2017 class in four-star Aledo (TX) offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga, who announced his commitment to the Wolverines over fellow finalists Nebraska and Oklahoma live at the Army All-American Bowl this afternoon.
Filiaga is Michigan's 27th commit in the 2017 class and the sixth along the offensive line. Given Michigan's depth at offensive tackle, he'll have the chance to make an immediate impact as a freshman.
4*, #15 OT,
4*, #16 OT,
4*, 83, #14 OT,
4*, 94, #13 OT,
4*, #14 OT,
Filiaga's rankings are in a remarkably tight bunch; all four sites place him within a four-spot range in the offensive tackle position rankings and just outside the top 100 overall prospects.
The strength and conditioning program at Aledo High School has served Chuck well. He's trimmed down from the summer and he's looking lean at 326 pounds. He's massive at 6-foot-5 1/8 with 36-inch arms and the biggest hands in attendance at 10 3/4 inches. Oklahoma, Michigan and Nebraska are finalists.
6'5", 326 with long arms (second-longest at the Army Bowl) and big hands screams tackle, which is almost certainly where Filiaga will play at Michigan.
Filiaga was initially regarded as a two-way prospect. The first scouting report on him, from his sophomore year at Vista Murrieta (CA), mentions he played both offensive tackle spots and was a "powerful" run blocker. At the RCS and Opening Los Angeles regionals the next spring, however, he worked out at DT; 247's Barton Simmons said he was "extremely raw" but with "elite" length and size.
After his junior year, Filiaga began focusing exclusively on the offensive side of the ball, at least in camp settings. While still quite raw, he stood out to Simmons at this year's Opening LA regional because of his size and potential:
While Chuck Filiaga didn't make the final five on the offensive line, he remains one of the most intriguing prospects out west. He's gained 60 pounds in the last year and is embracing offensive tackle but he's extremely raw. The athleticism and movement skills are there, as is the size.
Filiaga has an excellent frame to play offensive tackle and the Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta four-star is physical, has tree-trunk legs and a powerful base. Sometimes, he lets defensive ends get into his body too much, but because Filiaga is so strong that usually doesn’t matter and he wins with power and technique.
247's Texas outlet did detailed film evaluation of their top offensive line targets and continued the theme—Filiaga showed great size and potential in his junior film but has a ways to go to reach that potential, especially in pass protection:
STRENGTHS: Shows good athleticism, size, quickness and agility for a big kid. Good bounce with good feet and mobility. Shows good hand placement, can lock out defenders, steer and control. Plays with excellent leverage and leg drive to overpower defenders. Has the ability to punish defensive tackles when he is asked to secure a down block. Excellent athlete with good upside.
AREA TO IMPROVE: Pass protection. Lines up in the back field at times and doesn't have a true kick slide, most of the time he just mirrors his opponent at the line of scrimmage. Does not play with great technique.
They mentioned that he has "good knee bend and flexibility," which is encouraging to hear; that can be a significant issue with bigger OL prospects and it's not something that's easy to develop.
You'd struggle to find a bigger player inside the GeorgiaDome but Filiaga isn't just a huge mauler. He didn't take many reps but when he did he showed an ability to move his feetand battle players on the edge though clearly he is a guy best built to operate with his hands locked onto a defender and running his feet.
That suggests he could be better-suited for guard.
The big man who transferred in from California plays with a chip on his shoulder and has the size and dominant nature to enforce his will and that is why you quickly see why there are so many top-tier college trying to convince him to come to their campus. What I really like about his game is that even though he is massive right now he still has a very high upside from a frame potential. He is going to be an absolute beast in a year or two from now.
On his senior tape, he has shown great strength and close-quarters power as a drive-blocker. He plays with a high motor and finishes blocks with his unusual tenacity. He could still improve his body control and balance, but that's a common trait for prospects who are as massive as Filiaga is.
At the Army Bowl, Filiaga has had some trouble in practice with elite edge-rusher Jaelen Phillips, the #5 player in the composite rankings, but otherwise performed well on day one, per TMI's Josh Henschke:
He has all the tools to be a good one at the next level. The first thing that stood out was how massive of a kid he is. He lined up versus five-star defensive end and UCLA commit Jaelan Phillips for several reps, winning only twice. Phillips is a monster, and beat Filiaga with his speed. Our scouts are bullish in their opinions that Filiaga is a great run blocker (mauler), but suggest his technique needs to improve as a pass blocker. Now don't get things twisted, he dominated in all his other reps. Again, it’s just a matter of him learning to play with consistent technique. The coaches had Filiaga pulling and trapping, so that kind of gives you an indication that he moves well.
There hasn't been much else on Filiaga from this week but there should be more to come after today's game. Based on the above, this week has confirmed the scouting reports: while Filiaga has the requisite physical ability to be a dominant tackle, he's going to need to improve his technique before he's going to be reliable in pass protection. While that's not at all unusual for a high school prospect with Filiaga's build, it could be an issue if he's pressed into immediate playing time.
Filiaga took his other official visits to Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Oregon, and he also held notable offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, BYU, Cal, Colorado, Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA, USC, Utah, and Washington, among others.
Filiaga is a California native who transferred to Aledo (TX) for his senior season, so this isn't your normal recruitment from that state. Filiaga is the second-highest-ranked prospect to come out of Aledo in the Rivals era (2002-present) after 2012 five-star RB Johnathan Gray, who signed with Texas. Filiaga is the first Aledo prospect with a three-star or better rating to go to a school outside of Texas/Oklahoma.
OL, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
Filiaga has a SPARQ-measured 40 time of 5.59 seconds, which gets zero FAKEs out of five. He did relatively well in the more relevant testing results for an offensive tackle with a 4.66 20-yard shuttle and 39-foot powerball throw.
As we discussed extensively on Thursday, Michigan's razor-thin depth on the offensive line is going to provide Filiaga the opportunity to see the field right away, especially if Grant Newsome isn't healthy enough to play. If Michigan wants to keep Mason Cole at center, the only other competitors at tackle will be Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, perhaps Ben Bredeson (if M can find another starting guard), and Filiaga's fellow freshmen. Filiaga is the incoming freshman most likely to be college-ready from a size and strength standpoint; he and Andrew Stueber have the best chance among the current commits of cracking the 2017 starting lineup. That battle should come down to how far Filiaga has progressed with his pass pro technique; if it's at an acceptable level, he should win the job.
Even if Filiaga doesn't earn a starting job, Michigan may have no choice but to play him as an extra tackle in 2017, much like they did with Newsome, in preparation for a potential starting role as a sophomore.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Filiaga is Michigan's 27th commit in the class and the sixth along the offensive line, joining Cesar Ruiz, Kai-Leon Herbert, JaRaymond Hall, Andrew Stueber, and Joel Honigford. Herbert's standing in the class is far from certain; he's taking visits to Auburn, Florida, and Miami (YTM) this month, with the Gators emerging as a serious threat to flip him. Expect the Wolverines to go after at least one more lineman in the class, with Virginia three-star OT Mekhi Becton the most likely addition to the class.
Other top targets include CA RB Najee Harris, GA DT Aubrey Solomon, UT DT Jay Tufele, AL WR Nico Collins, MS OLB Willie Gay, and CT CB Brandon Sebastian. With Georgia making a strong push for Collins, none of those guys are locks to Michigan, so expect some new names (and/or some old names with renewed interest) to emerge on the board, especially if M can't bring in one of the two DTs.
Brian is out sick so this is my first shot at one of these. I’m not as plugged in as the other guys so if I missed something important leave it in the comments. Mostly this is going to be Army Game practice stuff.
No Blind Siding
Michigan target Chuck Filiaga, with normal-sized humans [U.S. Army All-American Bowl, via USA Today]
Let’s start with the good news: Crystal balls to Michigan are still flying in for 4* TX OT Chuck Filiaga, who’s a 6’6/335 pound shot at a starting left tackle that Michigan desperately needs. Filiaga will be at right tackle during the Army Game because his team is full of LTs. His decision, between Michigan, Oklahoma, and Nebraska is scheduled for noon.
Even if Filiaga enters the fold, Michigan is not done recruiting potential tackles. Next likeliest target, 3* OT Mekhi Becton, told Maize and Brew that Michigan remains “definitely high on my list.” Michigan also make the top three for AL 3* OT Toryque Bateman, though grades and the likelihood of other commits coming/sticking makes that seem unlikely now.
Obligatory Najee Section: We are linebackers
You have been a good recruiting follower so you’ve so far managed to refrain from watching the parade of ankleless linebackers following 5* CA RB Najee Harris to various endzones. The recruiting industry is finding him just as slippery. We are now officially past the Flight Aware segment of the recruitment and on to Flight Plan Aware. 247’s Bart Simmons first wrote yesterday that Army Bowl people said they’re flying Harris back home after the game, but then said a source told him Harris had requested a change to the wrong Birmingham:
Per a source, Harris has requested a flight change — asking to land in Birmingham now, instead of back home in California (Oakland). That would put the running back on Alabama's campus by Sunday evening at the latest as an early-enrollee, ending a dizzying back-and-forth between Alabama and Michigan that's worn on for months.
I maintain that you should ignore virtually everything until Harris is literally on campus at one school or the other on Monday, since that is quite apparently his preferred method of announcement. Bama people seem confident, Michigan people seem confident. Rivals had their national analysts weigh in, with votes going 2-1 in favor of the Tide. Harris has denied everything. Look closely at anyone new in your freshman seminar Monday.
"Really all of my schools are even. LSU has probably got a little bit high, a little bit. I don't know where I'm going to go yet but LSU has moved up a little bit higher."
…but reported that Gay’s family is still heavily favoring Michigan, and this doesn’t sound like someone who’s moved on:
"They didn't move down,” he said. “When I went to Michigan it was like, perfect. Everything I ever wanted in a school… academics, I feel like I was at home still (and) the weather wasn't that bad to me. I was cool with the cold weather. I loved it."
Gay called the report that LSU leads “kind of accurate.” Call me a homer but I think this one has a lot of elements of a guy who’s messing with reporters. Michigan does still have to weather an official visit to down-the-street Mississippi State in addition to that to LSU on the 20th. I doubt it’s done.
LSU is courting Gay as a WILL linebacker to help pad the team’s depth at a crucial position.
If you remember your Wisconsin previews, Aranda’s 3-4 has a WILL that’s a second middle linebacker—think Mike McCray’s job—so no they’re not trying to make him Vince Biegel, but neither are they calling him a slot overhang guy. Michigan has made it clear he would play the multifarious Peppers SAM spot.
Possibly unrelatedly, this got tweeted:
Y'all gotta think... a kid will press one school to then choose the other for the surprise ... just think
You would think if there is only one word in the English language that an uncommitted prospect can put before “Michigan” to erase any doubt about his intentions, it’s “F---.” Well, 5* GA DT Aubrey Solomon dropped just that particular bomb this week in a Periscope to fellow former Michigan commit WR Jeremiah Holloman (now a 4* UGA commit). A day later Solomon apologized on twitter to Michigan fans.
I guess there are two ways to look at it: On one hand perhaps Aubrey was consoling a friend who apparently got pushed out of the class by higher-rated receivers. The other way to look at it is “What is literally the last thing you want to hear from a guy Michigan is recruiting?”. The likelihood of Option B is the likelihood this is officially happy trails. If you’re holding out for the sympathy words excuse, Michigan still has a lot of ground to make up.
That leaves Michigan’s hopes for a guy who can instantly spell Mone next year down to just UT 4* DT Jay Tufele. While Ohio State was a major factor earlier in this recruitment, lately the sense has been that hometown Utah has moved ahead of both Midwestern rivals. Michigan’s former director of player personnel Tony Tuioti leaving to become DL coach at Fresno State could not have helped the Wolverines’ chances. However Tufele told Sam at the Army Game practices today that at least distance won’t be a deciding factor:
“It was never a factor,” he reiterated. “For me going away or going home… it’s either one. It’s just at the end of the day it is going to be wherever best fits me… that’s where I’m going to go.”
While painting the picture of a Ryan Glasgow-like player, Sam noted the relationship with Bryan Mone. Official visits to USC and Utah loom for a now-crucial recruitment that could go a lot of ways. Scout…uh scout Brandon Huffman also chimed in on why Tufele’s a big deal:
Through the first part of the week, Tufele has been the MVP of the defense. He's yet to lose rep in the one-on-ones and when he went against the East interior offensive linemen during Tuesday's practice, he was beating them repeatedly just as he was the O-linemen for the West team. Tufele has a cat-quick first step and grown man strength. Tufele is considering BYU, Michigan, Ohio State, USC and Utah.
While BYU and USC are probably placeholders, Michigan has at best as good a chance as the other two, which equals not a great chance.
At least our scouting works. Once again solid Oregon commit Rutger Reitmaier is making everybody’s lists for top performers at the Army practices. 247’s Bart Simmons’s East team update depressingly mentioned two names familiar to Michigan fans this cycle as standout defensive tackles: Reitmaier, and OG prospect Tedarrell Slaton, who’s expected to commit to Florida. Slaton was also the largest prospect in attendance, weighing in at 363 lbs.
The Sabanification of Georgia is Not a Good Development
A source close to Clay-Chalkville Top247 receiver Nico Collins told 247Sports this week he thinks Michigan and Georgia are on top.
He added he thinks will be the Bulldogs and not the Wolverines that ultimately sign the four-star recruit.
That would indeed be an upset of greater magnitude than turning around Isaiah Wilson, since Collins made multiple visits to Michigan on his own dime. He’ll announce on national signing day.
The Dawgs showing some bite on the recruiting trail after Kirby Smart’s first season ended 8-5 in the Liberty Bowl has caused some people in our community to wonder what’s going on down there. The answer is that it was far more extraordinary that Richt had Georgia at merely Lloyd Carr level in the Age of the SEC. Georgia is twice the recruiting ground of any other SEC state save Florida, and in-state rival GT is less of a threat than Michigan State is to us. Plus, Athens is gorgeous, admittedly as nice a town/campus as Ann Arbor; I can personally attest that their gameday atmosphere is unreal. And Georgia's not a bad school either.
I’m sure some Bama stuff is going on there, but the real reason they’re a threat to Michigan now is because Michigan has chosen to invade SEC territory and compete against the best the SEC has to offer.
Scouting Updates on Committed Recruits
Sam Webb did a feature this morning on WTKA on the Michigan guys he’s watched and spoken to down in San Antonio, and while I couldn’t get the Audioboom recording to work MGoUser ColelsCorky kindly summarized it on our board. Among tidbits in there that weren’t mentioned already, Ambry Thomas looks like an early contributor, Deron Irving-Bey is unrefined but also Young Taco-like off the edge, and Tarik Black has been a “revelation.” Huffman’s scouting report agreed on the last:
The Michigan commit has consistently made plays all week and impressed with his smooth route running for being a bigger framed kid. He has shown good, reliable hands and ball skills as well.
Sam and Josh Newkirk caught up with Black on Wednesday and asked him to name his (homer) pick for top cornerback he’s faced, which offers us a nice segue into MI 4* CB Ambry Thomas:
“I’m not being biased or anything like that cause he’s a Michigan commit. But I do think he’s the best corner out here.”
Adding: “He’s a technician, a long ranging guy and has a lot of speed. You've got to work him to get open.”
Another Michigan recruit who could challenge for early playing time, DE/DT Donovan Jeter got a new eval from Brian Dohn, and it sounds like one of those that could accompany a ratings bump:
Final Thought: Jeter offers position flexibility, which is a great thing for a staff and a player. He can be a defensive end, particularly on the weakside where he can use his length and quickness in his first two steps, or he can add weight and strength and move inside. His body can easily handle 290 pounds, and keeping his quickness is not a concern. His hand speed will also allow him to be successful on the interior of the defensive line.
At 6’6/261 Jeter seems large enough to be in the mix for some standard-down spelling of Chase Winovich as a more Taco-shaped WDE, or Rashan Gary’s backup at SDE immediately. Since Gary is expected to take off some of Hurst’s load at tackle this year, the Anchor position has plenty of snaps available.
The Distant Future 2018
After talking up SEC football 6’6 NJ TE Elijah McAllister told Steve Wiltfong he grew up a Michigan fan and that Michigan has been in contact. I may have posted that just for this quote:
“I liked the SEC culture, everyone is great down South. Growing up in New Jersey, a lot of fast-moving people, not everyone is nice. Down South everyone is nice.
MGoBlog’s official Southern correspondent BiSB reports that “Bless your heart” is actually Tennesseean for “F--- you!”, but as we noted above that doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you.
Michigan had its sights set on three NT sorts and hoped to get two; 3.5* TN DT Rutger Reitmaier decided to stick with Oregon, and now 5* GA DT Aubrey Solomon has a defined leader that is not Michigan:
“No doubt about it,” Solomon told BamaOnLine when asked if Alabama was his leader. “They stand by themselves right now. Huge lead.”
Solomon's had a tendency to change his mind during the process, but that does not sound good. It sounds... bad. This also sounds bad:
“I believe it is a huge lead and it is really I will say it is a SEC fight,” Solomon said. “That’s how I feel. It is a big SEC fight.”
Steve Lorenz caught up with him as well and that take sounds much more optimistic; there is an element of Solomon telling people what they want to here in a lot of his quotes. Publicly stating a huge Alabama lead is something that people usually do when they are going to commit to Alabama, unfortunately.
Meanwhile UT DT Jay Tufele is publicly favoring nobody and has scheduled officials to USC, BYU, and Utah in January. He is tough to read because he says everything is awesome.
Michigan: "Michigan is really awesome. When I took my trip, it's a real college town and I loved everything about it and it was awesome." ...
Ohio State: "Ohio State is a really great program.... Urban Meyer is an awesome coach too.
If you want to know who was close to about half a dozen sacks, it would be this guy. Vilain got around the corner and pressure the quarterback numerous times. He also flushed the quarterback out of the pocket and set the edge against the run a couple of times too.
Now how can a player ranked as a four-star and No. 181 in the country be the biggest surprise? Well, at least to me, I felt Vilain was a bit overrated and I didn’t expect he would hold up physically as he has so far this week. Vilain has been using his length well in one-on-ones and especially team play, and he’s been stronger than expected.
We'll see if that's enough for a move up. Farrell said he's "not a five star talent", but there's a lot of room between that and #181.
Michigan's other commits didn't come in for much evaluation. RI DE Kwity Paye got in through a fan vote and was tasked with some rushing drills as a DT, which is not his skillset. It doesn't look like his showing will result in a four-star surge for him; he was kind of lost in the wash. Farrell got in a brief mention ("Kwity Paye also had a few key hurries in addition to his tackle for a loss"); 247 doesn't have anything on him except some photos. Ditto FL OL Kai-Leon Herbert and MI S Jaylen Kelly-Powell. (NJ LB Drew Singleton was also named to the game but is still recovering from an ACL tear.)
None of those gentlemen got mentioned as disappointments by Farrell, so they'll probably be static.
“When I went to Michigan I felt like I was still in Starkville, Miss.,” Gay said. “The only thing different was the weather, and even that wasn't that bad to me. I fell in love with Michigan when I went up there.”
I haven't ever been to Starkville. Maybe it has a botanical garden too?
Gay does have an official scheduled to LSU later this month. He'll probably say various things before he commits that may or may not mean anything. There's a reason that nobody pulled the trigger on a crystal ball even after Gay proclaimed Michigan a strong leader after his trip to Ann Arbor, and this is the reason. Mississippi black hole, man. Gay told Lorenz that his "mind feels like it's changing every day."
The balls roll in for Filiaga; other OL bits
For a brief moment after TX OL Chuck Filiaga announced a top three of OU, Nebraska, and Michigan there was a thought that OU was the pick. That moment seems to have passed after Filiaga arrived at the Army game and started talking to people. Steve Wiltfong, the main guy talking up Oklahoma, put in a crystal ball for Filiaga to Michigan and a bunch of people followed, including Lorenz. Lorenz interviewed Filiaga—likely the impetus for his pick—recently:
"I've had Coach Harbaugh come to my house and come to my school," he said. "He talked to our team before our game against Poteet and talked to all of us and gave us a speech. Coach Drevno came two times. He came once to be the ears for Coach Harbaugh and the second time they both came, so I think I got the OK. He really has made me a priority."
That's quite a contrast from Michigan's approach with Aaron Banks, which was "send Jay Harbaugh a couple times." Filiaga told Lorenz he "has an idea" where he's going; it appears everyone at 247 does as well. Sam Webb also got an interview in which Filiaga said he had an idea of where he was going; he re-iterated that the distance won't be an issue:
“Mom and dad… family really… they don’t mind where I go to college,” said Filiaga.
Brandon Brown is reporting that mom is on board and Michigan should get Filiaga, as well.
Two bits of circumstantial evidence:
I haven't seen anything from OU or Nebraska writers, and that is almost always a good sign for the team whose reporters are getting interviews.
When various 247 staff writers with no Michigan/OU/Nebraska track record put in picks they're looking for cheap CB points.
It would appear that the Filiaga commit will be low drama.
Michigan will still pursue OL even if they get Filiaga; giant VA OL Mekhi Becton now seems like Michigan's biggest priority going forward. He gave a pretty generic update to Scout. One thing of note: his only official thus far has been to Michigan. He plans on making some trips in January; those will give an indication of which schools in his top five (M, MSU, Louisville, VT, and UVA) are actual competition and which are just hats on the table.
5* AZ OL Austin Jackson told 247 that it was "kind of likely" he'd make a January official visit to Michigan. That would be his last of the process. Jackson is widely reputed to be a USC lock, get him on campus, puncher's chance, etc.
Meanwhile, 4.5* FL OL Tedarrell Slaton says that he wants to play DT and that Kentucky and Florida are his top two because they're recruiting him at that spot. He'd later name UF his outright leader. Michigan is still drawing mentions, but those feel more perfunctory by the day.
“Urban Meyer called my dad, and he told him he should stop recruiting me because it’s not going to happen,” Thorpe said. “After I got my Penn State offer, Urban called my dad and then he fell off the face of the earth. I didn’t know what happened and thought Ohio State was just not offering me, but I talked to my dad a year after the call, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I told him he can’t recruit you.’”
Thorpe's dad was a PSU football player.
Weird guy watch
As mentioned in the previous roundup, Michigan's rapid-fire commit burst leaves them with few players on the board who seem likely to join the class. They're at 26, can take up to 32, and will probably suffer a decommit or two because this is crootin'.
Meanwhile things appear to be trending in the wrong direction for the most familiar names on the board. The DTs were discussed above. Sam relays that optimism on Elijah Hicks has "faded dramatically"; Slaton's barely on the board. So Michigan's going to have some spots to fill.
One is obvious: CT CB Brandon Sebastian, a BC commit, appears to be the next man up as Michigan searches for a fifth DB in the class. His official was pushed back; Marich reports it is back on for the 13th. Sebastian's a teammate of Tarik Black and will have his parents on the visit. That's spatula city, baby, as the weirdly heated BC-Michigan decommit battle of 2016 rages on.
If it looks like Gay is going to end up somewhere else, keep an eye on 4* VA LB Ellis Brooks. Brooks has already been on campus twice and tells Brandon Brown that Michigan is a definite possibility for a January official:
"That last official visit is very potentially for Michigan. I’ve been talking with Coach [Don] Brown seeing how things are going. Coach Brown is my man and Coach [Chris] Partridge is my man. I really like both of those guys a lot. I know they like me as a player and also as a kid. I have a really solid relationship with both of them. It’s cool with them."
Brooks is a high-academic kid who's more of an ILB type, whereas Gay can play the VIPER(!!!) position that Peppers manned this year. The fit is thus maybe not great, but if Jordan Anthony is a potential VIPER(!!!) it could work out.
Rivals currently has MI DE Aidan Hutchinson a nondescript three-star but their most recent piece on him projects that he "will absolutely begin to travel up the Rivals rankings and should be a Top 250 if not a Top 100 guy when it's over"; he's a Michigan legacy.
There. Anyway, Gary-esque recruiting panic based on a rumor that DPJ was down to OSU and FSU posted literally during his official visit to Michigan. A last-second in-home from OSU only amped up the fainting couch wing of Michigan fandom further.
It is worth noting that DPJ, like Harris, doesn't talk to people much or at all and thus most of these assertions are less than iron-clad. I mentioned this last week: this is not a recruitment where anyone is sure what will happen because the recruit is so quiet, and in those circumstances you can have the proverbial shocker. It would still be a shock.
Obligatory Najee Harris section
Nobody knows. The end.
[After the JUMP: a real Najee Harris section! That is no more informative than the first one!]