The Question: Five things you want to hear coming out of spring practices?
1. De'Veon Smith is not missing holes that do exist. After struggling most of the year with hitting holes with consistency, Smith appeared to get 'Lasik Surgery' before the Citrus Bowl. He definitely had his best game of the season in terms of vision. Hopefully, it was not just against a defense that was checked out and it will be obvious as Spring Practice picks up. Also, hopefully, the offensive line, who has mostly been together for a few years, will give him something to see.
2. John O'Korn's decision-making is ahead of schedule. With Gentry apparently moving to TE and Peters taking his first reps as a collegian, it should be O'Korn's job to lose. He's always had the arm and measurables. The only question has been his head. Making the right reads and understanding the offense early in Spring will be a great sign.
3. Devin Bush Jr's reactions are impressive. With Ben Gedeon being the only LB left on the roster to see significant playing time, snaps at LB are wide open. DBJ fits Don Brown's LB profile very well. He also enrolled early for a reason. There's a good chance Michigan will need him to play right away. Usually the main issue with young players is the speed of the game. If he's reading and reacting well from the get-go, that will be a very encouraging sign.
4. No new serious injuries. Injuries in football are usually unavoidable. Two of the past 3 seasons Michigan has had a devastating Spring injury (Ryan in '13 and Butt in '14). It was very nice to not have one of those in 2015 -although, Mone was lost in Fall Camp. I would be happy with a major injury-free Spring.
5. The attitude around the program is not winning but dominating. Time for my #hottake. In Spring Training of '86, Davey Johnson told the Mets that he didn't expect them beat teams but to dominate them. The Mets put some pieces together in '84 and '85, but they didn't put together final piece or have the experience of knowing what to expect down the stretch. After keeping things close initially, the Mets blew the doors off the league in the 2nd half and had one of the most dominating teams in last half century.
This is the attitude that I expect from Team 137. They played well last season but were just not good enough in a few crucial moments. If you think that multiple guys turned down the NFL just for a B10 title, you're crazy. This team is talented enough, they're deep enough, they have the experience, now. There is no reason to think that anyone they play is legit better. I don't want to just see them beat the opposition. I'd like to see them dominate the game play.
back back back back not back (but there's another guy also back) [Bryan Fuller]
It got better. It really did. The OL nadir is in the past. We can come out of the bunker and rebuild society now.
By any reasonable metric it in fact got a lot better. Michigan's YPC leapt 1.3 yards, going from 11th in a 12-team league to 8th in a 14-team one. If you only look at Big Ten stats Michigan is still 8th, and that's in the division that had the MSU, OSU, and PSU defenses. Sacks allowed had a near-identical improvement, going from barely better than Purdue to a spot in the respectable midsection of the conference. Advanced stats saw something similar. Michigan finished 50th in adjusted line yards*, 32nd in power success rate, and 72nd in adjusted sack rate. And that's with the running backs going the wrong direction constantly.
None of these numbers stand out, but neither do they linger in the seedy parts of the list next to Temple and Penn State and Louisiana-Monroe. They were average-ish. Most of the time they felt average-ish.
That's not a bad place to be with zero seniors and just two upperclassmen. While the unexpected departure of Jack Miller puts a small dent in the front's depth, his likely replacement, Erik Magnuson, is a redshirt junior who came in as a touted recruit and has a season's worth of starts to his name already. If you're willing to fudge a bit, Michigan has five starters back from that okay line. They've replaced Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh and Darrell Funk with Tim Drevno.
Could they be… good?
*[A stat that weighs the first few yards you get heavily and discounts long runs in an attempt to get a feel for how the line is doing.]
Cole coped [Eric Upchurch]
Rating: 3 of 5
Last year I gave this a 1 because Michigan was staring down a starting lineup consisting of a true freshman and a third-year guy who didn't even get a sniff during the chaos of 2013. They seemed to acquire these positions almost by default since the only other tackles on the roster were freshmen (redshirt or true) regarded as huge projects. Or they were starting at guard.
The 2014 edition of this post took a quick gander at what happened when football teams started freshman tackles. It was almost universally ugly. The best case scenario was Ole Miss, which deployed ultra-blue-chip Laremy Tunsil as a true freshman and was middling in both YPC and sacks allowed. All others trundled their way to seasons that were more or less disastrous.
Michigan was not disastrous last year. In what is certainly a first for offensive line projections in recent history, that prediction was pessimistic. MASON COLE, the true freshman, just about hit the top end of reasonable projections, those being:
The occasional freshman tackle can cope. I think Cole is one of those guys. But is he going to blow a guy off the ball and provide a big ol' lane at 292 pounds? Probably not. Our hope here is that Cole is a solid, agile pass protector in year one who is a meh run blocker.
Mason Cole coped. This is what that looks like in the run game according to UFR:
A fine debut
Didn't seem overwhelmed at all.
Okay; also had one very bad pass pro.
Nice seal block ignored.
I'll take it.
Hull and Zettel bad matchup.
Overpowered a little but still okay day.
Didn't mess anything up.
It was rougher in pass protection, where I have had him for 16 protection minuses in 8 games. Those are worth about half a QB pressure/sack each. Otherwise things were pretty okay against non-elite defenses. Cole's debut season was… eh.
This was a game in which Cole's inexperience and lack of big skrongness really hurt. Here Butt gets an excellent shoulder spear on Zettel, knocking him off balance. This should provide ample opportunity for Cole to step around and wall Zettel off, creating a crease Smith will hit trying to beat a safety for a big gainer. Instead Zettel comprehensively wins:
Cole got whippedon the Norfleet catch that put Michigan in position for the winning field goal; Michigan was fortunate that ball went to the WR instead of getting knocked anywhere.
Ennui prevented me from charting him against Joey Bosa, but I've gone back and rewatched the OSU game. Cole was okay. By the second half of The Game Ohio State decided that they should either blitz outside of Bosa and send him against the interior line (which only kind of worked) or have him go at Ben Braden (which very much worked). Don't get me wrong, Cole did get beat. It was a struggle; it was not one in which he was completely overwhelmed.
All of that is terrific for a true freshman. Cole grabbed the job, held the job all season, and played reasonably well. There has been not a whisper that he would go anywhere except for a blip during spring practice when he was playing center, that because Glasgow was suspended and Michigan was figuring out if he could play there a la Barrett Jones. All practice reports have held that he is a sure thing, greatly improved, etc. 247 heard this from multiple people in a 24-hour window:
Mason Cole has unsurprisingly established himself as a rock at the left tackle spot, and is primed to be the next great four-year starter to play the position.
Cole's added 13 pounds and should make a major leap in year two, what with the rare true-freshman-to-true-sophomore OL transition coupled with the general HARBAUGH.
That will probably still leave him short of dominant. Michigan's most recent really good left tackle, Taylor Lewan, took off in his third year. In year two Cole should slash the protection issues considerably and do okay against the better defensive ends in the league. A year like early Graham Glasgow—reliable, somewhat short on raw power—would set Cole up to be excellent as an upperclassman.
[After THE JUMP: four-ish additional returning starters who happen to be upperclassmen already]
While I was chatting with Brian last week he happened to pull up the top 7 composite recruits from the 2013 season. I followed and…
Woof. Green has obvious vision problems and hasn't emerged from a pile of guys among whom the most statistically effective last year was Drake Johnson. Dymonte Thomas and Shane Morris are already juniors and to date still seem to be at least a year's worth of good coaching away from ready.
That leaves us the offensive line class. Kugler seems to be on track to start when Glasgow surrenders his job—I've heard the same suite of nice things you have. Bosch transferred after performing about how you'd expect a true freshman thrust into a Borges-coached OL would. Fox hasn't been mentioned since a staff ago. Dawson we have only a little more data, much of that getting owned by Maurice Hurst in the spring game (if Hurst does that against Utah's OL I'll happily rescind that as a criticism).
On the other hand we caution all the time about giving up on OL when they're too young.
So when do you know about an offensive lineman?
This is a question I've been interested in a long time, going back to an article one of my Daily colleagues did on OL recruiting to highlight the injuries plaguing the classes Michigan took while I was there. I could never find the article but in January 2013 I tried to recreate some of that information, plus a 12-year update. I did a thing about a year ago on growth tracks to reset expectations for those 2012 and 2013 line classes. Let's check in again, this time with columns.
The towers shrink because players currently on the roster are included in the data, and obviously our information on them is incomplete. "Not available" is a catch-all for transfers, dismissals, guys playing defense, injuries and medicals and whatnot. "Excellent" is basically all-conference-ish, "Solid" is that, "Liability" are guys who were starting but the fan consensus was they shouldn't be or wouldn't but for things like the 2008 depth chart or gross Borges incompetence.
This time I differentiated between "backups" and "two-deep" (an imperfect thing from memory and pouring through old Wolverine annuals). The former are guys buried on the depth chart and unlikely to play; the latter are only the top backups we are relatively certain would have played if they weren't behind an established starter. It's not about being technically on the two-deep, more like the first one or two guys in if an OL goes down—Erik Magnusson last year, or Leo Henige forever.
Redshirting is overwhelmingly the normal thing to do as a freshman.
Only a handful of players are capable of starting (shades of yellow) as redshirt freshmen. If you take the yellow chunk from there and size it against the 4th and 5th years you can see only about a third of the eventually useful players are demonstrably so at that age. Sing the praises of any 2014s already playing; don't give up on any who are not.
By RS Soph there is a big yellow expansion. The mysterious "backups" region has shrunk considerably. You have a fairly good sense of who these guys are by the end of this year.
There is very little difference—just a slight improvement—between RS Juniors and 5th year seniors. The backups disappear into unrenewed 5ths.
If you're using this imperfect data set of 82 players, many of whom didn't complete their careers for non-ability-related reasons, to get a feel for when to judge an offensive linemen, you could say it's a half-life. Don't judge a (redshirt) freshman unless he's already playing well, but after their third year in the program if he's not on the two-deep the chances of ever doing so decrease exponentially.
What this means for the 2012-'14 OL classes
Be excited for: Mason Cole.
Be extremely content with: Mags, Kalis and Braden if they seem to be playing well this year.
Keep an eye out for: Kugler, Logan Tuley-Tillman, and David Dawson. These are 2013 guys mentioned as probable two-deep contributors, though our current scouting has Kugler pretty much ready to play, LTT half-way there, and Dawson probably not ready yet. Further data received on them this year will speak volumes about their futures.
Be patient with: Juwann Bushell-Beatty. If he pops up this year he's probably going to be awesome; if he's buried there's plenty of time that this doesn't matter.
Getting late: Bars, Fox, Samuelson. With Bars at least we've heard past mentions of him competing, though he was always kind of the last guy in that 2012 class. He may be on the Huyge track; if he's not on the two-deep this (his redshirt junior) year it doesn't seem very likely he'll be a starter in 2016. Fox has been hurt so much in his career (just going off of game reports) if he's not medicaled he probably deserves some extra time to get caught up. Samuelson I've heard nothing about; even when I ask people with insider-y info I get nothing.
Offensive linemen are notoriously the hardest players to project. Enormous long-armed bodies might not be able to "bend" and end up at Western Michigan. 240-pound tight ends might balloon into the top pick in the NFL draft despite playing at Central Michigan. Relying on sleepers and development has been good enough to send Wisconsin to the last three Rose Bowls. Etc. There is no such thing as a sure thing on the offensive line.
But if there is, Patrick Kugler is it. Let us describe the ways:
SIZE: at 6'4", 280-ish as a freshman Kugler will easily approach the 300-pound range that NFL centers usually are.
PEDIGREE: his dad was the frigging Steelers' OL coach, and he was so good at that UTEP hired him to be their head coach. His older brother plays center at Purdue.
TOUGHNESS: played through a torn labrum to participate in a high school all-star game.
Sam Webb: … if you’re a scout in the stands, and you’re watching Patrick Kugler on the field, what do you see?
Patrick Kugler: “I would just say mean. I mean, people who I go against don’t like me very much. I try to be the meanest guy out there. My dad taught me that. Just, if anything, be mean. I just try to be mean all the time, and if you’re pounding them into the ground, they just don’t want to get back up. That’s my goal.”
Sam Webb: Have you ever been on the field against someone and done something to them, and said ‘oh man, I feel bad about that’.
Patrick Kugler: “One time. This guy, he kicked me the play before, and I just grabbed him by the face mask and ripped it off, but I mean, I felt bad about that afterwards, but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Asked what words of wisdom his father has shared with him, Pat said: "Be nasty. Don't let up until you hear the whistle."
Pat paused and added more sage advice he's picked up having spent his whole life around football:
"Maybe give 'em a little after the whistle. Kill 'em, basically."
When he committed to Michigan and word came out that he was going to play center that made so much sense to me, and then as this season developed with its missed blocking assignment fiesta I craved the presence of Kugler on campus as quickly as possible.
I'm weird. I love David Molk almost as much as anyone to come through this program not named Denard. I'm weird, but I'm not wrong. In the NFL, centers who can do all the things that make your offense work with their brains are a fungible commodity. In college, they are a treasure. See also: Michigan's with-and-without-Molk YPCs in the Denard era. I'm not wrong. It is only barely hyperbole to call Patrick Kugler the most important recruit in this class.
As you might expect from the son of an offensive line coach, Kugler is an advanced technician and nasty dude. Virtually every scouting report will start off praising his technique and IQ. A sampler:
Bob Lichtenfels, Scout: "Kugler is a technician and he is nasty. He finishes his blocks and always plays to the whistle. He has great feet and gets to the second level as well as anyone. Very dominant at the point of attack. … very cerebral and is rarely in bad position. Very good knee bend and deceptively athletic."
Allen Trieu, Scout: "great feet and gets into the second level very well. He's a technician and a smart player … bigger and more athletic than most center prospects. You essentially have a kid that could easily play tackle or guard for most schools at center. That is also a position where smarts and knowledge of the game come into play and this kid certainly has it."
An opposing coach: “He looks like an NFL guy playing with middle-school kids … You know he's a coach's kid. You can just tell. He's got great technique. He gets off the ball so hard. He does not look like he should run as fast as he does. You see kids that big and they're slow and gawky. But he's got great, great feet. I think he's in a class by himself. He stands alone.”
Anonymous Rivals evaluator: "comes off the ball strong with good blocking angles and shows very little hesitation before impact on the defender. He does a good job of lowering his 6-5 frame to get under the smaller high school opponents he faces. … shows that he likes to put defenders into the turf with violence."
Kugler is not only the son of an O-line coach, but also one tough dude. … not unreasonable to think he can't easily fill out into a 300-pound interior lineman. He is a physical and tenacious run blocker. He does need to watch his pad level at times, but is able to play with good leverage. He does a good job of getting placement with his hands and being able to control defenders. He can deliver a good initial pop, but looks to have much better drive once he is into a defender rather than initial explosion on contact. He is able to create and maintain push with sustained leg drive and looks to bury the defender every play. He displays a good understanding of combo blocks and good pull/trap ability. He moves well in space and can get a hat on active second level defenders. … mixes good ability and heady play with a tenacious style to get the job done.
A lot of these scouting evaluations expect these high school kids to be NFL-level players based on junior high school film, and that's never more true than it is for OL. That's a highly positive evaluation with some minor, obvious issues—"does need to watch his pad level at times" is something you could put in every OL evaluation ever without raising an eyebrow.
Kugler plays both sides of the ball for North Allegheny. He has excellent quickness and feet. He has good flexibility and change of direction which is displayed when playing defensive tackle. Kugler has the athleticism and reach to play tackle with the mentality of an interior lineman. He gets good leverage and push on both sides of the ball. Finishes blocks and easily gets to the second level - Scott Kennedy
I assume that area for improvement is based on the idea Kugler would end up as a tackle, which some of the sites projected him to early. All eventually came around to the idea he would be an interior lineman.
Importantly for a guy projected to center, all of those evaluations emphasize Kugler's ability to get to the second level. If your center can pull—and Kugler will be able to—that opens up additional options in the run game, and if he's good at moving to the second level your inside zone game ramps up its effectiveness. It's a key attribute for a center, and not necessarily one I've seen mentioned much in evaluations of offensive linemen.
"Intensity" is another word that comes up frequently. Tim Sullivan:
Kugler showed outstanding stamina, athleticism and effort while playing both ways, just about the entire night for North Allegheny…. In the second half, Kugler played like a man possessed. His intensity greatly improved and he showed his leadership skills while pushing his teammates to put the game away. He was displayed very good technique and footwork while pass blocking and he showed a very good burst when he was run blocking. Although he is most comfortable when pass blocking, he gets to the second level extremely quickly and looks like he will develop into an excellent run blocker.
“Once the game starts, he changes to a different level of intensity,” Walker said of Kugler. “One of the reasons why he was so focused on schools in the B1G is that he loves to run block. He’s a physical kid, and he wants to put people in the ground. He’s a very aggressive blocker.”
A Brady Hoke kind of guy.
As mentioned, Kugler drew heaps of praise at the UnderArmor game, where he was the headiest, most advanced OL there:
…easily the most technically sound offensive lineman in attendance. He adapted well to different pass-rushing moves used against him, knew where to place his hands, and listening to him talk to other offensive linemen and the coaches nearby, his high football IQ was apparent.
He quickly adapted to both interior OL positions, earning a start at guard while simultaneously being named the best center around.
Patrick Kugler, Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny The Michigan commitment has manned the toughest position on the line in the all-star setting better than anyone else. Taking into consideration that it’s fast paced, with new install, very little time for connectivity among a line and in a setting that most certainly favors defensive linemen, the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder has been reactive, fundamentally sound and shown excellent lateral quickness.
David Dawson- Dawson and Patrick Kugler might be the two best lineman overall on the white squad. … Patrick Kugler- Kugler was as good as advertised in the first day of practices. Kugler won the majority of his one on one reps and did a good job in the team periods. Kugler had outstanding technique and showed very good lateral quickness. Kugler had a mean streak and was able to move opposing defensive tackles in the run game.
Based on that performance and Kugler's all-around profile, 247 would name him (and David Dawson) to their All-America team, calling him the nation's top center.
Kugler is another opposite-of-character-issue guy what with his dad. (A pattern emerges.) His prep coach confirms:
“He’s a young man that loves the game,” Walker said of Kugler. “He loves to compete. He does a good job of getting himself prepared and taking on leadership responsibilities. He does all the little things off the field to prepare. He’s a student-athlete all the time. He does what he has to do in the classroom, and carries himself well. He’s a good kid to be around, he has the right kind of focus and he’s not taking anything for granted.”
I mean, Kugler told various sites he actively hopes to redshirt, something I have never ever seen. He backed off a hard stance either way a bit later, but the desire is clear:
"I have no idea if they want me to play next year, or not," Kugler stressed. "Personally, I'd love to redshirt and get that fifth year of education, but if the coaches need me to play that would be great. I'm a team guy first, so whatever they need from me is what I'll do."
Kugler further stated he hasn't even looked at the depth chart because "Michigan was the school I fell in love with, so that never mattered to me." As of January he was at 285, with a goal of arriving in the 295-300 range. (Area For Improvement: check.) He was also scheduled for surgery on his labrum. That must have slowed down his workouts, but with a four-month recovery timeline by the time he arrives on campus he will be full-go.
That depth chart is ripe with opportunity, with only Jack Miller and a couple of walk-ons currently competing at center. With the labrum injury and Glasgow showing he can be good depth for the interior spots, a redshirt is still in the cards. After that, it's going to be a war on the interior.
People might be surprised to know that ...? Me and my brother used to play ping-pong the morning before every game. It would be intense ping-pong. We would wake up in the morning and play before school on game days. I don't know why, but we would play at 6:30 or 7 in the morning.
Kugler popped up in a "Spartan Sizzling Seven" at the start of last year's cycle as one of the most likely players to end up at State. That list: Riley Norman (MSU, but for track and field), Jon Reschke (check), Kyle Bosch, Steven Elmer, Patrick Kugler, Ethan Pocic, and Greg Webb. One of seven is… well, it ain't good. Kugler in particular twisted the knife, visiting State a half-dozen times, then hitting Michigan once and abruptly ending his recruitment a day before he was scheduled to go to East Lansing again.
Why David Baas? High school tackle at 6'4" who moved to the inside, starting at guard before moving to center, where he was an Outland finalist, Rimington winner, All-American, and second-round draft pick. Topped out at 310 pounds, which is well within Kugler's range, and was a highly-regarded recruit who hit some high school All-American lists.
Guru Reliability: A shade less than exacting. Healthy, high profile player, All Star game, consensus. They are projecting a position move.
Variance: Low-plus. Only the facts that this is an offensive lineman and that there is a slight position adjustment—albeit one almost every interior lineman makes—hold this down from plain ol' low.
Ceiling: High. It is tough for centers to work their way into the first round of the NFL draft because they're just less rare than 6'8" guys just as agile. He could be a Rimington contender, though.
General Excitement Level: Very high. You guys.
Projection: Nonzero chance he emerges into a starting job in year one. Likely? No. Would I even regard that as a bad sign? Well… yeah probably. But not as much of one as you might think. It would be lovely if they could get a redshirt on Kugler and have Miller in front of him for two more years and get a couple of upperclass years from an eminently prepared guy.
If that does happen, Miller is going to be pretty good. If Miller does stay in front of Kugler, Kugler will likely compete at the guard spot opposite Kalis as a redshirt freshman. That will either be vacant (if Ben Braden wins the job and moves to tackle) or held by Graham Glasgow.
That I can't project this guy to definitely start until he's a redshirt junior says something about the burgeoning depth on the offensive line. Some of these guys will wash out from injury or lack of ability; this is inevitable. But the guys who do work out are going to be high four-star potential sorts who have lived up to it, and the competition to emerge is going to be brutal. That's how you build a kick-ass line.
It's an annual rite of fan dorkiness each year to try to be the first to guess which numbers the incoming freshmen will be given by obsessively google stalking them. Sometimes I have some inside knowledge from a recruit who was promised his digit, or tweeted his preferences or something. Here's how I did last year:
# in HS
7 and 14
84 or 68
21 if available, or 31
5 and 15
2 and 18
32 or 6 or 23
41 or 32
3 and 6 and 9
63 or 93 or 86
74 or 68
Four out of 22 ain't…well yes it is. It was bad. This article is useless. Let's continue it anyway; I swear to do better.
Getting to know you. Each coach has his own tendencies with this so we'll get better at it in time. With Hoke, he seems to like having consecutive numbers in the same position group, perhaps for mentoring purposes because they sit next to each other in the locker room. It's far from a rule, but it's a trend. Carr rarely let a player share a specialist's digit, but Hoke doesn't seem to have a problem with it, for example Wormley and Hagerup share a number, and walk-on tight end Alex Mitropoulus-Rundus (I'm gonna just start calling him "Alex M-R") has the same digit as backup punter Kenny Allen. Rich Rodriguez was far more apt to share numbers, and the single digits were nearly always doubled up; Hoke has said in the past that he doesn't like doing that, and the practice has been limited—as of spring just 5, 12 and 34 had scholarship recruits in both numbers, adding 54 and 56 to those double-occupied by players on the two-deep.
The roster lies. The official MGoBlue.com roster still doesn't have DeAnthony Hardison, that nifty RB you saw in the Spring Game. He's #18. Also a practice insider told me Anthony Capatina is playing slot receiver, not "DB" as he's listed on the depth chart. Also weirdly missing from that roster is #79 right tackle Dan Gibbs (a Seaholm Mape!!!), a 2012 preferred walk-on whose twitter profile pic is him riding an oliphant:
Legends/Special #s: 1 because Braylon's scholarship killed the fun, unless Gallon gets it. It won't come as much of a surprise to you that 2 will probably be entering the Legends program this season. There will also be some push for 16, and I doubt it'll be assigned to an offensive player immediately. 11 for the Wisterts, 21 for Desmond, and 87 for Ron Kramer are currently open; it is likely they'll be assigned to veterans whose digits might then be made available if it happens before the season. Bennie's 47 and Jerry's 48 remain occupied by current players and there's no way a second guy will get them. And I've been told they're still working on the Harmon family with 98. Anyway they won't go to freshmen.
Already worn on both sides: 5 (Courtney Avery and Justice Hayes), 6 (Raymon Taylor and Brian Cleary), 12 (Gardner and Allen Gant), 13 (Terry Richardson and Alex Swieca), 15 (James Ross and Shaun Austin), 34 (Jeremy Clark and Brendan Gibbons), 43 (Chris Wormley and Will Hagerup), 54 (Richard Ash and Jareth Glanda), 56 (Ondre Pipkins and Joey Burzynski), 69 (Willie Henry and Erik Gunderson), and 95 (Anthony Capatina and Michael Jocz).
Walk-ons with soft claims: Every year there's a Jon Keizer on the roster who thinks his number is safe, then some top running back recruit in the country (right: from Scout) runs him over with star power (dadada, didda-da diddadidda…). Scout teamers without scholarships often have their numbers taken, for example Charlie Zeller was 19 on the 2012 spring roster and Paul Gyarmati was sitting on 99, but Devin Funchess and Matt Godin nabbed those digits last fall. This year they are15 (Shaun Austin—note that Ross has it on D), 18 (DeAnthony Hardison—note that Countess has it on D), 27 (Jon Keizer), 36 (AJ Pearson—note that Kerridge has it on O), 42 (Dylan Esterline), 46 (Clark Grace), 49 (Brad Anlauf), 51 (Bobby Henderson), 59 (Mark Lawson), 63 (Ben Pliska), 66 (Dan Liesman), 70 (Kris Mateus), 79 (Dan Gibbs), (91 (Alex M-R, though Kenny Allen wears it too), and 95 (Anthony Capatina and Mike Jocz). The other walk-ons I didn't mention (Dever, Cleary, Glanda, Burzynski, Reynolds, Allen, Gunderson, Jocz and the Glasgows) are either on the two-deep already or in the mix.
You just said Pi. We're Michigan fergodsakes. All the constants—φ, ζ(3), α and δ, Euler's e, γ, λ, K, r, and Ω—ought to be fair game, and if someone takes √-1 and uses the nickname "Impossible" he will be my favorite for ever and ever.
It is Signing Day 2013, and if you weren't aware, Michigan has a pretty, pretty good class. With this post—and its accompanying defense post (coming tomorrow)—I'll attempt to give you a solid overview of the class, its strengths and weaknesses, and hand out a few superlatives. Let's start with a look at the offensive class as a whole and their final rankings from the recruiting services—click on each player's name to see their commitment post:
This offensive line class is arguably the best in the country, finding strength both in numbers (six) and quality (five of the six are consensus four-stars or above and made All-American teams). As Michigan continues to fill in the holes left by some disastrous offensive line recruiting under Rich Rodriguez, this couldn't have come at a better time.
Among the group, guard Kyle Bosch is the most likely to crack the two-deep early; he's on campus early and has college-ready size—Michigan lists him at 6'5", 311 lbs.—to go with a polished set of skills. He won't start right away (let's hope) but could factor in as a backup. Center Patrick Kugler—the son of longtime NFL OL coach and current UTEP head coach Sean Kugler—might be the best of the bunch, though. He'll hit campus as the most physically gifted Wolverine at the position, and while he shouldn't be forced to play right away, he should be a multi-year starter down the road.
Honorable Mention: Running Back, Quarterback.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: No elite receiver
Yes, this class lacks a blue-chip wideout. Csont'e York and Jaron Dukes are both big targets who can go up and get the ball, while Da'Mario Jones could be a playmaker in the slot, but none are can't-miss prospects. This issue is mitigated somewhat by Michigan's strong recruiting at tight end—get a couple playmakers there and the pressure comes off the receivers in the passing game—but you'd still like to see a top-flight guy on the outside.
Honorable Mention: The only other issue with the offensive side of the class is the lack of a second quarterback for depth purposes, something the coaches decided wasn't necessary. Otherwise, every need was filled.
MOST LIKELY TO START FROM DAY ONE: Derrick Green
Not only is Green the top-ranked recruit in the class, but he comes in at a position of great uncertainty and, as of late, middling production. He's got the body of an NFL running back as a high school senior and is a perfect fit for Al Borges's ideal offense. It's unknown whether Fitz Toussaint will be ready to start the season after his ugly leg injury and his production was lacking in 2012 anyway; Thomas Rawls failed to impress in his stead. Green's toughest competition for the bulk of the carries may even come from fellow 2013 commit DeVeon Smith, arguably the best back in the state of Ohio. Either way, expect a freshman (or two) to make a big impact in the backfield next season.
Honorable Mention: DeVeon Smith, Jake Butt
SUREST THING: Patrick Kugler
Covered in part above, Kugler is as close as you'll get to a can't-miss offensive line recruit. At 6'5", 280 lbs. before setting foot on campus, he's got better size than any Michigan center of recent vintage. His father spent nine years coaching offensive line in the NFL, and Patrick's film makes it apparent that he's absorbed a lot of his father's teaching—from a technical standpoint, he's very advanced for his age. He participated in the Under Armour AA Game and held up very well against some of the best defensive linemen in the country.
Kugler's only competition at center right now is Jack Miller, who's been groomed to take over the position for a couple years but was too undersized to see the field as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Miller should step in and start in 2013—it's unrealistic to expect Kugler to have enough command of the offense to make the O-line calls after a few weeks on campus—but it's going to be hard to keep Kugler off the field in 2014 and beyond.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Green, Kyle Bosch
BOOM OR BUST: Logan Tuley-Tillman
Offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman has the prototypical left tackle frame at 6'7", 307 pounds. He's also a relative newcomer to the game of football and spent his high school days overpowering opponents with sheer size and strength—as a result, he's got a long way to go from a technical standpoint. At last summer's Sound Mind Sound Body camp, Tuley-Tillman and David Dawson both got extensive work in with Michigan OL coach Darrell Funk—Funk used Dawson as an example for how to execute certain technical aspects of line play, then spent a good deal of time trying to get Tuley-Tillman to that level.
If Tuley-Tillman can put it all together, he's the future at left tackle and could even develop into an NFL prospect. With so much ground to cover, however, he could also get buried on the depth chart by more polished players. It should help that Tuley-Tillman is already on campus—with a redshirt year all but guaranteed, he'll have plenty of time to work on the fundamentals before worrying about seeing the field.
Honorable Mention: Shane Morris, Chris Fox
MGOSCOUTED STAMP OF APPROVAL: Jake Butt
Among the players I checked out last fall—on offense: Morris, Shallman, York, Dawson, Butt, and Hill—tight end Jake Butt really stood out with his performance on the field. Playing against cross-town rival Pickerington Central—featuring fellow Wolverine Taco Charlton—he hauled in nine catches for 93 yards and a TD while also making an impact at defensive end. Some of my impressions from that game:
Butt did a great job of snatching the ball away from his body and caught everything thrown his way. While he could be a little sharper out of his breaks, he runs crisp routes and positions his body well to give his quarterback a big target while warding off the defender. He was able to find space up the seam on multiple occasions but was also comfortable working on the perimeter, at one point catching back-to-back out routes when Central cheated to the inside in coverage. He's not going to juke past too many defenders after the catch, but he usually finds a way to fall forward for extra yardage.
At 6'6", 235 lbs., Butt has an ideal frame for the position, and his blocking really impressed me as well. He's another early enrollee, and I'd be surprised if he took a redshirt—he may not start from day one, but he's a better blocker than Devin Funchess and could give Michigan a scary one-two combo at tight end/H-back.
Honorable Mention: David Dawson, Shane Morris
THE SHANE MORRIS CATEGORY: Shane Morris
An overview of Michigan's 2013 class is incomplete without mentioning the team's quarterback of the future. Morris dropped from five-star status on Rivals and 247 after a senior season marred by mono and an uneven performance at the Under Armour AA Game, but he still has the highest ceiling of any of Michigan's commits.
The first thing that stands out about Morris is his arm strength—the ball explodes out of his hand with seemingly little effort. When he's on, it's a sight to behold. The problem—and ultimately why he dropped in the rankings—is that he's yet to show consistency; he still needs work reading defenses and relies too heavily on his arm strength to fit the ball into windows that sometimes aren't there.
Those expecting Morris to come in and take the starting job need to temper their expectations severely—the job is Devin Gardner's, and barring injury it'll stay that way. Morris could very well come in and earn the backup job over Russell Bellomy, however, and with a couple years of development he could be special.
Honorable Mention: Shane Morris
SLEEPER: Da'Mario Jones
Michigan snatched WR Da'Mario Jones, a Westland John Glenn product, away from Central Michigan, so he certainly flew under the radar for the bulk of the recruiting cycle. That may have been the product of playing in a league that doesn't get much exposure, however—Allen Trieu reported($) that UCLA, Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State, and Georgia all came to see him last week, though no offers came when he made it clear he was ticketed for Ann Arbor.
While the other two receivers in the class, Csont'e York and Jaron Dukes, are big guys who were on the receiving end of a lot of jump balls in high school, Jones is a guy who's shown his ability to work underneath and break big plays after the catch. With Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon back in 2013, he may not see the field right away, but down the road there's a clear role he can fill in the slot—a position that, granted, may be marginalized by the increased emphasis on tight ends—and nobody else on the roster who fits that mold after next season.
Today's recruiting roundup covers last weekend's All-American games, high profile names emerging (or re-emerging) as targets, and a potentially wavering 2014 commit.
Spill The Beans, Green
Five-star linebacker Reuben Foster: visit on tap?
Michigan didn't land one of their remaining high-profile targets over the weekend when FL S Leon McQuay III committed to USC. They appear poised to get better news regarding VA RB Derrick Green, however—the nation's top running back has maintained Michigan as his leader in recent weeks and told Rivals($) after the Army All-American Game, "I know where I'm going." Green plans to announce sometime this month and it's safe to expect good news barring a sudden change of heart.
While USC snagged a Michigan target, it's possible the Wolverines return the favor after CA WR Sebastian LaRue decommitted from the Trojans; the four-star told 247's Clint Brewster that he plans to talk to Coach Ferrigno about a potential visit to Ann Arbor ($). LaRue currently has a visit to Notre Dame scheduled and is also looking at Miami, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.
The Wolverines may also have suddenly found themselves in the mix for the nation's top linebacker recruit, Alabama prospect Reuben Foster, after he connected with commit Henry Poggi at the Under Armour game. Poggi reportedly alerted Foster to Michigan's potential interest and convinced him to get in touch with the coaches, and Foster looks to be following through, per Sam Webb ($):
Once Foster and Michigan begin having more conversations, the 6'1, 240 pounder says it’s likely he'll get up to Ann Arbor for a visit at some point before signing day.
"I don't know but the odds are pretty darn good cause I'm cool with [Poggi's] dad that I just met this week --- very cool with him," said Foster.
With a month to go until signing day, it's very late in the game to enter into the recruitment of such a high-profile player, but the former Auburn commit seems to have genuine interest. It's early yet to harbor serious hopes of a commitment, but if a visit materializes it would obviously be fantastic news for Michigan.
A more likely candidate for one of the final few spots is CA OL Cameron Hunt, who spent time with Michigan's contingent of commitments at the UA game. Hunt will take his official to Michigan next weekend, followed by visits to Oregon and Cal, and he told Sam Webb that those three schools comprise his leading trio ($).
[After THE JUMP, video and evaluations of Michigan's All-Americans, the latest on Denzel Ward, and more.]
Today's recruiting roundup covers the various All-American bowl practices, the latest on Derrick Green, and (debunked) rumors about a commit taking visits.
L to R: Jourdan Lewis, Dymonte Thomas, Derrick Green, Jake Butt, Chris Fox
Michigan has four commits at the Army All-American Game and many are wondering if they'll soon have a fifth after VA RB Derrick Green jumped into a picture with them (above, via). Green conducted a live chat on Rivals yesterday, reiterating that Michigan is his top school, holding a "small" lead over the field—Auburn, Tennessee, Miami, Florida State, and USC. He also got the Fred Jackson Seal of Approval for this quote:
Comment From Guest
Who would you compare your running style to?
Derrick Green: I compare my running style to a combination of Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker and Trent Richardson
Green mentioned the possibility of committing within the next week or so—though not at the Army game itself—but also stated a desire to take his two remaining official visits even after he commits; if his choice is Michigan, he'd obviously have to talk that out with the coaches.
FL S Leon McQuay III is set to announce on Friday and the sense from insiders is that Florida State—the presumed pick—and USC both hold an edge on Michigan, and quite possibly Vanderbilt does as well. If he holds off on making a decision, which Sam Webb has mentioned as a slight possibility, then the Wolverines could have hope; as it stands, not so much.
Matters are looking better for CA OL Cameron Hunt, at least if Patrick Kugler is to be believed:
Today's recruiting roundup covers last weekend's visitors, Laquon Treadwell's top three, and more.
More To Come?
Michigan's big recruiting weekend delivered as expected, with Cass Tech teammates David Dawson and Delano Hill becoming the 23rd and 24th members of the class of 2013. Dawson is very much a known commodity, Hill less so—Josh Helmholdt caught up to the latter to get some clarity on his future position ($):
"Their plans for me are I am going to start off playing corner," Hill said. "If I don't like playing corner, I can always go back to playing safety. I think I can play all positions in the secondary, so it doesn't matter to me."
Hill played safety in high school but has also displayed impressive cover skills on the camp circuit; at 6'1", he'd give Michigan a bigger corner to line up on the outside.
The Wolverines hosted a surprise visitor last weekend in IN OL Dan Samuelson, a Nebraska commit who recently received a Michigan offer, per Allen Trieu ($). While Samuelson played it coy about his interest in Michigan, a Scout article from last week indicates that he took a big step by making this visit ($) [emphasis mine]:
“I truly didn’t go and look for another offer though. [Michigan] came to me. There is very little interest from me to Michigan. I really don’t think that I will take a visit there. Nebraska said that they would view that as a decommitment. I don’t want to do that. I believe that is where that will stay.”
I doubt the situation changed from Nebraska's end in the span of a few days; it seems likely that Samuelson has given up his spot in their class to see Ann Arbor. And now, 247's Todd Worly reported today that Samuelson's situation could be resolved imminently ($):
Looks like the Wolverines have made an impression and Samuelson plans on having everything figured out by Monday evening.
"I'm going to start calling everyone around 5 (p.m. EST), after I talk to Nebraska and figure things out with them," Samuelson said.
With the recent rumblings that Michigan could take a sixth offensive lineman, plus the above chronology, well... stay tuned.
Michigan also made an impression on another visitor committed to a Big Ten school, linebacker recruit and Wisconsin pledge Marcus Ball. Ball told Todd Worly that Michigan is "a great place," though he's waiting to see who the Badgers hire to replace Bret Bielema before making any decisions about his status with the Badgers ($). For what it's worth, Dymonte Thomas—one of many Michigan commits taking his official visit last weekend—tells Sam Webb that he thinks Ball will make the switch ($):
“I just met [Ball] this weekend, but I think he is going to commit to Michigan too,” said Thomas. “I’m not 100% sure, but I think he really liked us. We’ll see what happens.”
Man, Bielema is going to flip out about that gentleman's agree-- oh, right.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Laquon Treadwell and more.]
Today's recruiting roundup covers the latest on David Dawson and Gareon Conley, new candidates to round out the 2013 class, the latest wave of 2014 offers, and more.
Guess Who's Back
Talk to me man
Yes, Brian stole my thunder on Friday, but here it is again: David Dawson was re-offered last week after having a "heart to heart"($) with Brady Hoke and will take an official visit to Ann Arbor on December 14th. This is, unequivocally, a good thing; Michigan needs one more offensive lineman in the class and Dawson is easily the best among the available options.
It's also a strike against critics of Hoke's nebulous "Policy"—one that's never been explicitly stated, mind you—as it's clear he deals with these matters on a case-by-case basis, as he should. A commitment taking visits doesn't necessarily mean he's gone from the class forever; it does mean he hold a spot while looking around. This ensures, as much as one can ensure with these things, that members of the class show the same level of commitment given to them by the school.
On that note: Gareon Conley will also take an official visit to Michigan on December 14th, according to ESPN's Brad Bournival ($). He'll also visit Ohio State this Thursday, and all indications are this is a two-horse race between the Wolverines and Buckeyes—Conley wanted an Oregon offer before he took a visit to Eugene and one has yet to materialize.
It seems very possible that both Dawson and Conley could end up back in the class when all is said and done. Dawson seems to regret parting ways with Michigan—there were rumors he tried to talk his way back into the fold shortly after the coaches dropped him—and I'd be surprised if Hoke would re-offer without a pretty good idea of where Dawson is headed. Conley looks to be more of a toss-up, but Michigan has his father in their corner.
[Hit THE JUMP for new 2013 and 2014 offers, the updated 2013 Rivals100, and BAYLE WOLF.]