A roundup of Spring Practice happenings, all of which should be taken only somewhat seriously. Steve Breaston was "Black Jesus" before he even set foot on Michigan Stadium turf. Patrick Omameh was instantly the star of Michigan's six-member line class despite his status as the least-heralded of any of them. Meanwhile, the warnings about future Bronco Dann O'Neill were immediate. On the other hand, Grady Brooks was supposed to be a ninja and Kevin Grady a ball of knives. Practice rumblings seem to have the same predictive power as recruiting rankings: far from infallible but equally far from useless.
nooooo… oh, that guy looks open.
Erm, so… yeah. I will believe this two to three years after I see it but apparently Denard Robinson is running with the ones a lot and looks "radically improved," according to one emailer. Forcier seems to have struggled in comparison. I'm a little leery of spring practice reports at all times and that goes triple when it comes to using a few spring practices to overrule what we saw in twelve games last year. The improvement Robinson would have to undergo—and the lack thereof from Forcier—to be a viable threat to start is vast. I'm filing this under "motivational tactic" for now. Jon Chait is on the "it could happen" side of the fence.
By all accounts, Gardner is considerably behind the two sophomores. If Denard is a capable QB this year his redshirt seems assured.
Michigan evaluating running back Mike Cox closely this spring
Past the middle school bits is the picture of an emerging running back in Michigan's five-way spring derby. His high school coach hints at some of the practice reports coming from the usual sources:
“He’s tough as nails,” Driscoll said. “He’s very tough and they’re going to have a hard time with him because he’s a big guy that’s really fast. That’s the trouble. He’ll hit you, too. He’s not going to back down from anybody.”
Everyone else comes in for sporadic praise and criticism. There's no consensus on who might be emerging as a tentative (and largely ceremonial starter). Probably the biggest news is a lack of all-encompassing Fitzgerald Toussaint hype.
Wide Receiver And Tight End
With Junior Hemingway and Je'Ron Stokes out there's not much on the outside and Roy Roundtree has moved there intermittently in sets with Martavious Odoms and Jeremy Gallon at slot. When the outside guys return, Michigan will have three or four slots they'd like to work into the lineup.
Here's Odoms answering some questions:
Odoms remains an endearingly terrible interview, but the mention of more two-slot formations is something to pay attention to. Tight ends, like Toussaint, have been largely absent from the spring buzz thus far.
Jerald Robinson has been the most impressive freshman so far, but the outside receivers have been plagued by drops. Kelvin Grady has evaporated, for what that's worth.
On the offensive line, Schilling and Molk stand out to AnnArbor.com, which is not something I feel spectacular about since 1) Schilling is an established quantity entering his fourth year as a starter and 2) Molk is injured and not practicing.
Patrick Omameh is staying at guard for now, though I'm still holding out hope they shift him outside and let Ricky Barnum and Quinton Washington fight to the death for the spot. Four guys competing at tackle, two of them redshirt freshman and two of them upperclassmen who struggled badly in pass protection last year, is a sketchy situation. That has not come to pass, nor has either freshman pushed through into the nominal starting lineup.
I'm a little leery of a strapping 6'3", 208 pound kid who spent the brief duration of his Michigan career to date at wide receiver being the starting deep safety, but with Vlad Emilien out with a minor injury it's Cam Gordon who is the front-runner in the 2010 Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award chase. He comes in for mention by Rodriguez during a speech at a local football coaches' convention:
"Defensively, guys that have been impressive the last week or so, Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, Craig Roh’s had a couple good days. Renaldo Sagesse, we were teasing him, Thursday he had the best practice since I’ve been here. I asked him what he ate for breakfast. I didn’t know if it was Canadian bacon or something, but he’s had a terrific spring."
It has been Gordon this, Gordon that at deep safety. This may be largely due to a lack of bodies. Justin Turner is practicing at cornerback, Vlad Emilien is injured, and the three guys who played the spot last year are either box safeties (Williams, Kovacs) or corners (Woolfolk). It's gotten to the point where Brandin Hawthorne, who was a high school defensive end (albeit a tiny one), is splitting time back there.
On the defensive line there's been a consistent stream of positives about virtually everyone. Sagesse, Campbell, and Banks all came in for specific praise from Robinson at today's press conference. Even longtime non-entity Adam Patterson is getting some praise at the defensive end spot he and Greg Banks are keeping warm for Mike Martin. Perhaps the biggest news is the Sagesse praise. If Sagesse is a legit option at DT, Michigan doesn't have to think about sliding Martin inside to platoon with Campbell. I think he will be. I like him in UFRs last year.
Demens, meanwhile, has been the only linebacker to get a fair share of practice hype. Ezeh and Mouton have not been mentioned; Roh comes in for praise as a 250 pound outside linebacker but that's not a surprise. I'm not sure what to make of that: Demens was behind a walk-on last year and didn't see the field even when Michigan was rotating their linebackers so they could yell at them better. His only appearances were on special teams and Michigan's goal line package. Maybe he's a guy who is aided significantly by the move to the 3-3-5? If his issues were mental this defense allows you to do a lot of blitzing and play downhill.
And then there's corner, where Justin Turner still lags behind JT Floyd. No offense to Floyd, but I think that gives everyone hives. Even if Demar Dorsey comes in and is lights out as a true freshman, he's a true freshman and having a hyped guy like Turner struggle to break into the starting lineup in a secondary this chaotic is not a good sign.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
Here's where we have to start talking about the changes Greg Robinson hath wrought. In this defense there's a large distinction between the outside linebackers—"spinner" and deathbacker—and the inside linebackers. In this way it's more of a 3-4. Jay Hopson doesn't even coach the guys on the outside, he only gets the WLBs and MLBs. These guys will be operating off the line of scrimmage at all times and acting like conventional linebackers.
The outside guys are the hybrids, with the deathbacker somewhere between a defensive end and a linebacker and the "spinner"—a term that Greg Robinson claims does not exist—somewhere between a linebacker and a safety. On any particular play they could be tight to the line of scrimmage or dropped off. This helpful screenshot from diarist remdies should help clarify:
There's been a lot of debate on the blog about whether the base D is a 4-3 under or not; this alignment, for one, is pure 4-3 under. In any case, you can see the spinner and deathbacker at or near the line of scrimmage; Brown, if called to do so, can drop off onto the slot receiver. That's why he's on the strongside: to cover. I assume this will be the base formation against spreads, with adjustments for pounders.
Going into last year, Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense. Oh, hell, let me quote myself:
Sophomore middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense in 2007: a redshirt freshman pressed into the starting lineup before his time, he was unprepared and often bad. Now he’s the “veteran” anchor of a shaky unit, counted upon to improve massively.
Going into this year, Obi Ezeh is still the Steve Schilling of the defense: a two-year starter entering his redshirt junior year without having done much to distinguish himself and rapidly running out of upside. Schilling's got a fresh start and bonus round of practice hype based on his position switch, but Ezeh's not been so lucky. Though he's been showing up on some preseason All Big Ten lists, that's strictly a Matt Lentz phenomenon. Lentz entered his third year as a Michigan starting guard in 2005 with a ton of accolades; he left without even getting drafted. Winged helmet momentum sometimes carries meh players to lofty preseaon heights; Ezeh appears to be one of these folk.
There's a theme in the videos at right: the good ones usually involve Ezeh shooting towards the line of scrimmage on a blitz. The bad ones see him getting lost: see "hesitant, booted" or "suckered by PA" or "WHERE ARE YOU GOING"; the theme is clear here.
A lot of Ezeh's issues at right came in the Illinois game so let's check that game's UFR:
The first of Williams's crazy ninja ballfakes. This one suckers an unblockedEzeh(-2) despite the fact Mouton is racing up into the same hole, beating a blocker to tackle the guy. … Ezeh(-1) fails to read this, hesitating long enough for the C to get out on him on the second level. … Ezeh(-2) took an upfield angle around a blocker [on a 57-yard screen touchdown]. … Problem: Ezeh(-2) overruns the WR as he cuts back since Mouton has forced him back upfield. He whiffs a tackle, allowing Illinois to convert. … Ezeh(-1.5) completely overruns the play, turning two yards into first and goal.
Now, Ezeh did have +8.5 scattered across that game but it was outweighed by a –12.5, which whoah. Most of the plusses came when Ezeh was permitted to attack the line of scrimmage immediately on a blitz or Illinois decided not to go with misdirection; you have to set people up sometimes, right? When they weren't doing that, they confused Ezeh. A lot.
Part of that was uncertainty about just what the hell he was doing. After I slammed Johnny Thompson for his performance in the Notre Dame game, high school coach and excellent diarist Steve Sharik came to his defense by way of blamin' Obi:
The mistake was by Obi Ezeh. By design, Ezeh is supposed to fast flow over the top and be outside of Thompson. If the back sees this and cuts back, he does so into the waiting arms of Terrance Taylor. Ezeh's used to the old way--which was played as you suggested. If you re-examine "bad iso 3," Ezeh is flat-footed instead of screaming over the top, which is what the scheme calls for. And that's why Thompson spilled the block again on the next play. The bad part is that Ezeh messed it up again.
It's not like Ezeh was the only one who had no idea what he was doing last year, but as the middle linebacker it's just way more apparent when you get lost because you're reading and reacting on every play.
Will it be better? Michigan, after all, has just switched schemes again. That will depend on Ezeh's increased experience giving him added flexibility and how much better Greg Robinson is compared to Scott Shafer at, you know, teaching people things. Everyone knows he's not David Harris but Harris didn't start until he was a redshirt junior; Ezeh will be one this fall. If he can just get his head on straight he should be average or slightly better.
The other starting spot is technically an outside linebacker position but the two spots are far more similar than WLB is to spinner/SLB so I'll slot Jonas Mouton here. Mouton's star was fading rapidly after he arrived out of California a top-50 recruit. Despite Chris Graham's persistent mediocrity, Mouton never threatened to start after moving from safety. And when Michigan opened last season, Mouton was behind two-star recruit Marell Evans.
Evans fell by the wayside when Michigan revamped its linebacker corps after the Utah un derneath coverage fiasco, paving the way for Mouton to chip in a +7 in his first extended game action against Miami Of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio). Ah, but not so fast my friend:
Mouton was overrated by the numbers, IMO. I gave him credit for blitzing up into the heart of Miami plays over and over again; that credit should probably fall to Shafer and not Mouton. Overall, though, I did think he played well and was a major upgrade over Evans.
That he was. Evans fell into the background and hardly saw a defensive snap the rest of the season; Mouton dropped off from his dynamite debut into a series of performances that were only okay but promised better once Mouton found his feet. That he did. Amongst the debris of the Purdue disaster his "continued good play" was about the only positive I could find
The praise Mouton started picking up late last year in UFR is echoed by Hopson. No, scratch that. It is amplified considerably (further quotes in this piece from Hopson are all from this link):
I’ve been really pleased with Jonas. Jonas is a kid that has worked extremely hard. He’s a kid that’s an explosive player. He’s a kid…he’s my kind of guy. Jonas is a tough guy. He’s physical and we expect Jonas to make some plays for us. … I think he’s ready to have a big year. … I think he’s an NFL player all the way. I’ll sell him to anybody. I just love him.
This dedicated amateur concurs. Mouton's uptake last year was swift and by the end of the season he was easily Michigan's best linebacker. Chart? Chart.
Had a tough time against Wisconsin's mondo players and is still learning; potential is there.
Was better suited to defend this offense than the more lumbering guys. BONUS: “solid day”
Still terrible in coverage; turning into a good blitzer.
Stood up MSU's fullback time and again, clearly surprising MSU. ... pleasantly surprised by both OLBs in this game.
The closest thing M has to a player in the back seven right now.
Off day from him; was culpable on one of the GDCDs.
Monster day, best of his career. Really got freed up to attack and constantly shot past guys trying to block him.
I could go through more of it but it's all the same in the comments: Mouton's an excellent, explosive blitzer and surprisingly stout when it comes to taking on fullbacks and even guards at the point of attack. He's still vulnerable to misdirection some and has coverage issues—though they weren't as severe as Ezeh's. He's got the athleticism to be a pass-rush threat and should get more capable in coverage this year. He'll be drawing easier assignments, for one, as Stevie Brown replaces Johnny Thompson in the lineup.
Mouton is poised for a breakout.
Backups and Whatnot
This is about the only spot on defense where there is reasonable depth. Two second-year players back up Ezeh and Mouton. Ezeh's primary backup is JB Fitzgerald, a sophomore who got special teams time a year ago. As a recruit, Fitzgerald was just outside the top 100 on the recruiting sites and has gotten the sporadic positive mention in practice reports and coach recaps. Hopson recently said that Fitzgerald is "really in a battle" for a starting job, and though that may be optimistic about his chances it says something about him that he's not just shoved into the background.
More from Hopson:
JB … knows both positions. JB is smart. He’s also very much like Obi. He is mentally sharp. He’s physical and JB is a competitor. He’s not going to give in. JB wants a job too. He’s going to work hard and I’m fortunate to have guys like that. … He might be a little bit further ahead at MIKE right now, but I probably practice him a lot more at MIKE right now.
He should be reasonably prepared should he be called upon, and his talent level seems high. He's probably the player outside the starting eleven you should be least terrified to see on the field.
Kenny Demens is a classmate of Fitzgerald's but got an injury redshirt last year after appearing on special teams in the first couple games. He wasn't a huge recruit or anything, but the practice buzz has been positive. He'll be Mouton's primary backup.
There is also converted safety Brandon Smith. Smith was a big recruit—about on par with Mouton, actually—who stayed at safety his first year mostly because Michigan had few other options. When it became clear he didn't have the speed to stay there in spring, he was moved to linebacker.
Hopson is very positive about him:
They have to have an awareness. … That’s the one thing that has impressed me about Brandon Smith, moving from defensive back. When you’re far away from the ball sometimes you have time and distant on your side, you have a little bit more time to decipher. Brandon came in and in two days, okay this kid has that ability. He can see right now. A lot of players are big, physical and fast, but they can't see all the stuff that a linebacker has to see. It is truly that natural instinct.
Question: Is Brandon Smith catching up? Jay Hopson: “Yes, he really is. He is a kid that’s worked extremely hard. I see him making one more step every day."
Even so, it will take at least a year for Smith to get comfortable enough to be a viable option. If we see him this year the linebacking corps will look like a MASH unit. Look for Smith to idle away on the bench until Mouton and Ezeh graduate, then battle for a starting job as a redshirt junior. He should be a special teams mainstay.
I don't remember where I read this but it sounds like the sort of quote that must have been on a message board somewhere, penned by one of those insider-type folks. Wherever it was, it lodged in my head and won't leave. Here's a possibly apocryphal quote about Stevie Brown from Greg Robinson: "he's a hell of a lot better player where he is now."
For the love of God, let that be true. A brief tour of Stevie Brown's 2008 can be found at right, or you can just read this in-depth scouting report: ack.
You can check the Miami Of Ohio (NTMOO) UFR for an early laundry-list of concerns but it's the Michigan State one that gets right to the point:
Brown … seems hopeless. He was quiet for a few games, then returned with a vengeance in this one. Some guys just can't figure out how to play, and at this point it would be shocking if the light ever went on.
that's quintessential Brown: poor angles and poor awareness of the situation on the field.
And some others but you get the point. Brown was a horror show at safety.
But he's no longer a safety and if you look at the few highlights at right that don't start with the word "frowns" you'll find the athleticism that made Brown a big recruit out of high school and some good examples of man coverage. If he's not the last line of defense and he's in a lot of man against tight ends or tailbacks coming out of the back and maybe a slot receiver or three, maybe this could be okay? It certainly addresses one of the dumbest traits of Scott Shafer's tenure as defensive coordinator: leaving dinosaur MLB Johnny Thompson on the field against spread teams and asking him to cover… well, anyone. At the very least, Brown is more suited for modern football than a guy with a neck roll. Who covered slot receivers. Argh! That's another post, though, and one for tomorrow.
“It’s been going well. It was a little different for me at camp having to actually hit the O-lineman and tight ends all day, every day. Thus far, it’s been fine. I’ve been able to adjust to it very well. Coach Robinson does a good job teaching it and I think it’s going to work out very well for me.”
I do too, but man that incident in the spring game where the Coner juked him out of his jock, combined with, you know, everything else in his history, makes me leery. I do think he'll be in position to make a lot of plays, and I love the flexibility and common sense of putting a virtual safety in a spot where he can blitz, play zone, or man up. I like putting him behind deathbeast Brandon Graham, which should make it harder for defenses to exploit his lack of size. And people get better as they age. Michigan's put Brown in a spot to maximize his assets and minimize his downside, and I kind of sort of think it will work out.
Backups and Whatnot
None with experience. Michigan brought in three safety/linebacker hybrid freshmen, though. No one's heard much about Isaiah Bell (recruiting profile) so far because IIRC he's been injured. Mike Jones (recruiting profile)is second on the depth chart after enrolling early; Brandin Hawthorne (recruiting profile) also enrolled early but is, for now, behind a walk-on. Jones will play in an effort to get someone ready for the spot once Brown graduates; Hawthorne and Bell are likely to redshirt.
The point of the diaries! Leading off: a fantastic diary from MCalibur on the increased vulnerability of spread option quarterbacks, or, apparently, the lack thereof. "Do spread quarterbacks get injured more?" is a question I've abdicated on before, citing the lack of a reliable injury database that could provide a comprehensive answer without good old fashioned grunt work. MCalibur grunted his way to a money graf after splitting quarterbacks into four quartiles based on run/pass ratio, with group 3 your Pat White sorts and group 0* your John Navarre sorts:
On a percentage basis the only group that suffered an out of norm injury percentage were level 2 QBs which I think of as QBs that are used like running backs (Juice Williams) or QBs that are too slow to be running in the first place (Steven Threet). All other groups suffered injuries at about a 23% clip. Meaning about 1 out of every 4 QBs in a given category lost playing time due to injury in 2008.
Though I don't agree with totally dismissing the increased injury rate of "group 2" QBs, the numbers here are small enough that it seems like an outlier. The Pat Whites got injured at at the same rate as groups 1 and 2, and group one was by far the hardest hit in terms of man-games lost. There is definitely no clear correlation between lots of runs and injury.
Caveat: as noted, the sample size here is small. The numbers are suggestive but not definitive. It's not impossible a larger study would show a better correlation between runs and injury. It is, however, pretty unlikely. Outstanding work; I have bestowed a bonus 100 (meaningless!) points. Misopogon also picked up the bonus for the numbers post front-paged last night. At some point these will be useful, I swear.
*(Dollars to donuts this means MCalibur is a coder. He's zero-indexing his arrays.)
Meanwhile on the roster. Michigan applied for three medical redshirts last year and news reports had confirmed that two of them—Adam Patterson, now a redshirt junior, and Junior Hemingway, now a redshirt sophomore—had been approved. The third was Kenny Demens, who the roster now lists as a redshirt freshman. Obviously inference: Demens, too, got his redshirt.
The whole enchilada from Rich Rodriguez's appearance at Big Ten media days:
Transcript here if you don't want to bother with the video. I read it and decided against it; there is zero of value in there. There is also creepy dark cell-phone video from The Big Ten Network talking to Mark Ortmann and Stevie Brown:
Can we get in on that? Yankee Stadium is poised to host outstandingly competitive games between Notre Dame and Army—why do you hate America, Notre Dame?—starting in 2010. This has caused Army to sign up a half-dozen future Yankee Stadium games against other East Coast schools and Yankee Stadium to start thinking bigger and possibly more competitive:
The Daily News has learned that there have been discussions between the NCAA and high-ranking Yankee officials, including managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, about the possibility of establishing a postseason bowl game at Yankee Stadium, beginning in 2011.
And… hey… can we get in on that? And in a meaningful way, not a goofy Motor City Bowl sort of way? I would love the opportunity to watch some other Big Ten team freeze its ass off in New York against some warm-weather team and caveman their way to astounding victories. Hell, if Michigan ended up in it I might even go depending on just how Christmas-impinging the thing is. Why don't we boot the Alamo Bowl to the curb—cold or not, there is no comparison between San Antonio and New York—and take on any comers in the frozen northlands?
Erm? I've never had the Erin Andrews-level obsession that much of the rest of the college football blogosphere has with stat ninja Phil Steele, but I do respect his research-mad ways and how he eschews the sort of punditry that can best be summed up with the word "Cowherd."
7. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan – The Wolverines could be an underdog in as many as 7 games this year and they really must have a winning season. I think Rodriguez will get them to a decent bowl and make major strides just like he did in his 2nd year at West Virginia. Amazingly there are a lot of Michigan alumni who think Rodriguez runs a pass-happy spread offense! In his last 6 years at West Virginia his teams averaged 270 ypg rushing the football (148 ypg pass) while Michigan in that same span had 229 ypg PASSING and just 163 ypg rush.
Not only does that "7" represent Phil Steele's placement of Rich Rodriguez on his top 13 "hot seat" list—ahead of Charlie Freakin' Weis!—but I would like to meet the Michigan fan not in a coma that believes Rich Rodriguez piloted a pass-happy spread offense featuring Pat White.
Never fear, though. Sensing a threat to their hard-earned possession of 2009's Dumbest Statement About Michigan Football, CFN strikes back:
2009 Preseason All-Big Ten Defense
DB - Stevie Brown, Sr., Michigan DB - Kurt Coleman, Sr., Ohio State DB - Donsay Hardeman, Sr., Illinois DB - Torri Williams, Sr., Purdue
That's right. Stevie Brown, who isn't a defensive back anymore, and oh by the way was mindbogglingly awful last year, is first-team All Big Ten. You win, CFN, you win.
More scheduling bits. I have no idea about the veracity of any of these rumors, but the following five schools have been kicked about the internet in the wake of Rodriguez's announcement that Michigan would likely find a BCS school to have a home-and-home with. In ascending order of plausibility:
5. Duke. In a word: no. Michigan could get a Duke-level opponent without a return game, and has in the recent past when they scheduled Vandy. Duke's existence in the list of four teams batted about (all listed save UConn) reduces the plausibility of the rest of them.
4. UConn. UConn isn't Duke but they aren't a ton better from a program perspective. (They're obviously better on the field.) It's hard to envision Michigan playing at 40,000 seat Rentschler field. And it's hard to envision UConn agreeing to another neutral site game after their sellout series with Notre Dame was met with resistance from the state legislature and brokered down to six games from the original ten with a provision that the Huskies play at least six true home games each year. Also, they'd have to move or cancel a game with Northeastern. Also also, the recruiting exposure would be nil.
3. Pitt. This was addressed yesterday: in 2010 Pitt already has Miami and Notre Dame scheduled, with ND on the road. Even though they've got an extra nonconference game because they're in the Big East, that would be a foolishly challenging setup for either Wannstedt battling for his job or the new guy looking to get off on the right foot.
2. Oregon State. Oregon State is a plausible opponent, but they'd have to accept a nonconference schedule of @ M, Louisville, and @ Boise State to go with their nine-game conference schedule. Has any college football team not named USC (or Troy, I guess) been that ballsy since the adoption of the 12th game?
1. Virginia. Virginia is a plausible opponent and was #3 on my list from yesterday.
As far as Cal goes, one of the guys from Cal Golden Blogs emailed me to remind me about the latest update on a potential series from their perspective:
An attempt to schedule Michigan "fell through." Not sure if that would have been for this year, and that's why we had to scramble to get Eastern Washington. Tedford did say that he doesn't want to play too many good teams and prefers A, B, C scheduling. He stressed he always wants a home-home series, and that they're "not interested" in playing somebody without a return game. In regards to a suggestion that we play Notre Dame, Sandy Barbour, who used to work for Notre Dame, added, "The Irish are afraid."
"Are you hungry to prove yourself and not have a sense of entitlement? We talked quite a bit about not having the sense of entitlement," Rodriguez said. "It's good to have pride, but when that pride becomes too much, you're going to get humbled pretty quick. I think, in a sense, that happened to us."
There have been gigabytes spilled about this very topic on Michigan message boards from one end of the internet to the other: had Michigan fallen into complacency as Carr aged and the spittle ceased to fleck? What is this program, who does it belong to, and what is "being Michigan"? At what point do people start to kick ass again? And by "people" we mean "us"? That's not a question.
Right: This is Barwis culture shock in a couple sentences from the head man, and speaks to the difficulty Rodriguez had adapting Carr's culture to his. This has to be better now; anyone who hasn't transferred should be in for the long haul.
If you want to add Taylor Hill to the snake-oil bonanza, feel free. At one time Hill was committed to Oklahoma, and he had just committed to Rodriguez at West Virginia when Rodriguez left for Michigan. So he's a quasi-decommit. Even odder: Hill committed to Oklahoma before visiting the campus and didn't meet Bob Stoops until October. He promptly decommitted. (Joking!)
It's hard to decipher the split between Hill's offers and his ranking. He originally decided in June between the four suitors listed above, which means he had early offers from both LSU and Oklahoma. Normally when LSU and Oklahoma offer a kid from Ohio that's a strong indicator he's elite. In this case, both Bob Stoops and Bo Pelini are both Cardinal Mooney alums who had reason to know about Hill's existence, and when Hill told Oklahoma he was going to look around they yanked his offer. They weren't exactly desperate to hang on to him.
After Oklahoma and Hill parted ways, Hill verbaled to Rich Rodriguez two days before he took the Michigan job. He decommitted again, promising to open things up. A visit to Michigan State later, he committed to Michigan. So... do we believe the early LSU and Oklahoma offers or his second-wave recruitment, during which the big candidates were second-tier schools like West Virginia and Michigan State? Two of three gurus say the latter; Rivals is more optimistic.
What does Michigan have in Hill? The comparison above, Larry Foote, is a strong one. Like Foote, Hill is an undersized WLB who played his high school ball as a defensive end and specialized in getting into the backfield. A Scout.com report from Mooney's game against Pennsylvania power Gateway:
Taylor Hill is another player that helped change the game early on. He got a ton of pressure on the Gateway quarterback off of the edge. The Gators just never could get it going offensively due to the fact they could not establish a passing attack, and Hill played a huge role in the disruption.
While several other Cardinal defenders have got a lot of attention this year â€” specifically, junior linebacker Michael Zordich and senior defensive tackle Ishmaai'ly Kitchen â€” junior defensive end Taylor Hill has flown under the radar despite a terrific season.
"This kid causes a lot of havoc," said legendary Mooney coach Don Bucci, now the school's athletic director. "When you talk about that junior class, people always name the big three of McCarthy, Zordich and [running back Brandon Beachum], but he's in their class as far as an athlete."
A local columnist summed up Hill's season after Mooney's one-point loss to Coldwater in the state championship game: "Coldwater's game plan in the state finals was, basically, to get rid of the ball so quickly it wouldn't have to block Hill."
On the other hand, ESPN's scouting report notes that he's playing out of position and has some praise for his athleticism but spends most of its length saying things like "can be undisciplined" and "can run, but needs to improve instincts and feel for the game." It's an uncommonly negative piece for ESPN. Unsurprisingly, their rating of Hill is significantly lower than that of either Scout or Rivals.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. High profile player, but playing out of position. General Excitement Level: Moderate. A project that requires a lot of development both mentally and physically before he's ready to play, but Oklahoma and LSU offers are Oklahoma and LSU offers. High upside, high bust factor. Projection: Obvious redshirt candidate what with the position switch and being 180 or 190 pounds and all. After that will try to find a role as a blitzing linebacker a la Foote or Shawn Crable.
By the time Marcus Witherspoon committed in early June, I had a couple articles in which he claimed offers from BC, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, and 25 others... unfortunately, those have evaporated and I think maybe a couple of those are iffy. In any case, when Carr retired and Rodriguez was hired there was a minor panic as Witherspoon re-opened his recruiting, seriously considered Tennessee, and seemed headed there for a moment or two before re-committing.
Witherspoon was rated and recruited as a linebacker, but with no defensive ends in this class and just one in the previous year's, someone's likely to move. Witherspoon seems a likely candidate. Check it:
The Michigan commit definitely looks like a top DI prospect physically. Although he's listed as a linebacker, he spent most of the day at defensive end, and used an assortment of moves to harass the Immaculata quarterback and running g ame. He'll likely start off as a linebacker with the Wolverines, but don't be surprised if he grows out of that position after a year or two in their strength and conditioning program.
Witherspoon in the wild:
Last year Witherspoon racked up 27 sacks as his team went undefeated, winning the state championship as Witherspoon wreaked havoc on the edge. Witherspoon's coach before his junior season:
"We still consider him raw, so this (season) is going to be interesting," Holy Spirit coach Bill Walsh said. "At the high school level, he has the ability to take things into his own hands. We're looking forward to see what's going to happen this season. He's one of the special ones that make everyone else better.
"His first three steps are explosive and for a kid that big to run a legit 4.5 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), there are not too many kids who have his weight and size that run that legit speed. When you watch him on tape, he gets after it. But he still has a lot of growth."
An explosive edge rusher who's probably too small to be a fulltime defensive end in college? Add four inches and some chicken legs and that sounds like Shawn Crable, who actually spent quite a bit of time as a defensive end anyway. ESPN's scouting report reinforces that belief:
Natural pass rusher, who possesses the quick first step and lean to effectively get by offensive lineman. This excellent, vertical attacking ability is also evident in the run game. Very difficult to block him when trying to get the edge.
Concerns are expressed about Witherspoon being the product of an "attack-style defense" who might need some serious technique and responsibility work as a collegian... again, Crable.
Guru Reliability: High. They're all in the same ballpark; no sleeper marks. General Excitement Level: Moderate++. Michigan's probably better off if Witherspoon doesn't see serious time for a year or two and then develops into a weakside defensive end. He won't have to be an enormous guy if VanBergen, a much larger guy who projects on the strongside, works out. Projection: Obviously, this blog is projecting a move to DE. Or, rather, a non-move from DE.
Only CB Boubacar Cissoko has a set of guru ratings as consistent as JB Fitzgerald's: three separate services have Fitz from around the 140th to 150th-best player in the country, and all say he's an outside linebacker. Despite that the tentative plan is to play Fitzgerald in the middle.
Fitzgerald picked Michigan over Rutgers and a legit Florida offer in late August, then picked Michigan over Rutgers again on Signing Day. Other offers came from Cal, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and a wide variety of other school.
"Coach Smith had told me that at the end of his sophomore year, he took J.B.'s hand and put it on a photocopier machine," said David Fitzgerald, J.B.'s father. "He mailed it out to all these schools."
..."boy, those guys make good linebackers." And lo, the offers flowed. ESPN($):
Possesses the flat-out speed to turn and chase down backs to the sideline, rare and very impressive for size ... His overall read-and-reaction skills need improvement. We have yet to see great reactive athleticism and a good initial jump to the football. He is such a good short-range athlete that these weaknesses are often masked.
So he's a bit raw as a linebacker, but nowhere near as raw as either Hill or Witherspoon. In marked contrast to the sack-heavy statlines of Michigan's other linebacker recruits, Fitzgerald's numbers actually look like those of a linebacker: 125 tackles, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, and two sacks. He was picked the Gatorade player of the year and Newark Star-Ledger defensive player of the year in New Jersey over OMG shirtless Florida recruit Will Hill. (Side note: the "hands" article is enormous and enlightening.)
You'd think there would be more out there on Fitzgerald, but unfortunately that's all the info I could dig up. At least it's positive.
Guru Reliability: High. Not much of a position move, three-year starter, no injury concerns, consistent rankings. General Excitement Level: High. A good bet to be a multi-year starter. Projection: Gives Johnny Thompson a run for his playing time in the fall; ends up a frequently-used backup and is groomed for a starting spot starting his sophomore year. Ezeh will probably head out to SLB.
The high school teammate of top-ranked instate running back Jonas Gray, Kenny Demens found himself similarly ignored by Michigan for the first half of the recruiting year. By June he had picked up offers from West Virginia, Nebraska, and most of the Big Ten outside of Penn State and Ohio State.
Michigan didn't get serious about offering until Demens attended their summer camp and put in an impressive performance; the late-developing interest had them temporarily behind Nebraska and Michigan State.
ESPN spends much of its scouting report discussing his potential as a fullback; when they finally get around to the idea of Demens as a linebacker they note that his short-range closing speed "can match most of the elite linebackers in this 2008 class" -- it's too bad none of Demens' film was released into the free areas of the internet, because it's mostly him laying wood to people -- and that he has some trouble moving through the muck but is a "tough, physical tackling machine" before referencing his lack of ideal measurables and giving him about the same grade everyone else does: on the three-four star borderline.
Chris Graham may not be the most appealing comparison, but the elements are all there: a little undersized (I am of the belief the 6'1" frequently thrown around as his height is overstated), has difficulting getting through traffic, praised for his short range burst and thumping tackling. Graham never figured out how to play in control or get to the right place at the right time and was thus a disappointing starter; if Demens can play smarter he could be anything from a decent starter to a borderline all Big Ten pick.
Guru Reliability: High; they all agree and there's no reason he'd be particularly underrated. General Excitement Level: Moderate--. Offers and ratings are pretty much in agreement; Demens is a low upside sort. Projection: Think he's a little less likely to contribute than any of the other linebackers in the class, but not by much. It'll depend on how smart he is about maximizing his abilities.
Martin committed in early June, about a month after picking up his Michigan offer. By that time Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue, and a dozen other schools had offered, but there weren't any heavyweights on his list. IIRC, he was a late-emerging sort that no one mentioned until around April or May, at which point people began to catch on. Notre Dame offered and attempted to sway Martin after the coaching change, but Martin canceled a planned visit and stuck with his commitment.
In Martin, Michigan appears to have a player almost identical to current NT Terrance Taylor. Both are mildly undersized nose tackles who were terrifying heavyweight wrestlers and powerlifters with multiple state records to their credit. Taylor was generally ranked higher (IIRC, anywhere from around #60 to the tail end of top 100 lists) and entered college much larger.
Martin doesn't look much like your stereotypical pot-bellied defensive tackle; check this video of a Martin wrestling match:
That is a slab of muscle Mike Barwis would be mildly impressed with.
This extensive highlight reel covers Martin's senior season; it often features him running ballcarriers down like he's Shawn Crable (you might want to skip the first minute, which is all still shots):
Martin is the platonic opposite of Gabe Watson, a penetrator reminiscent of USC terror Sedrick Ellis. Ellis was an All-American because he can do the sort of things Martin does in the clips above at 305 pounds and hold up at the point of attack when doubled. Martin's usually listed at 280 and is obviously way more advanced in the tao of weightroom than 99% of high schoolers: there's a chance he's just not going to get any bigger.
Guru Reliability: High. General Excitement Level: High. The highlight reel is totally impressive, there are zero questions about work ethic or how in shape he is, and he's got pretty good guru rankings. Projection: Will play in the DT rotation immediately, and will probably leap past Ferrara, Kates (if Kates remains on the team), et al to claim a starting spot once Taylor and Johnson graduate.
Linebacker: B+. Michigan picked up its share of athletes and did well in an area they had to after a disappointing 2007 class with just two sleepers, but some immediate impact sorts were needed and other than maybe Fitzgerald there doesn't appear to be a guy who can compete for serious playing time as a freshman.
Defensive Line: C-. I really like Martin and think he's very likely to be a productive starter and eventually an All Big Ten sort. But... uh... that's it. A year after picking up just one DE, Michigan got zero; the position now looms as the far and away #2 area of need for the 2008 class (quarterback, obviously, is #1 ). Losing Nick Perry hurt badly on a Signing Day otherwise full of pleasant surprises.
We'll see if Witherspoon or Koger or both end up at DE, but given the way the class was announced this is the biggest issue with the class outside of the understandable QB fiasco.