While the Michigan commits in Orlando impressed scouts and analysts in the practices that led up to last week’s Under Armour All-America Game, a group of three signees with arguably the best odds of playing early this side of Mazi Smith were doing the same in San Antonio. The Wolverine’s Brandon Brown published an interesting set of articles in which he got other players to scout GA DT Chris Hinton and OK S Dax Hill. On Hill, GA QB and South Carolina commit Ryan Hilinski articulated what Michigan fans hope is the general sentiment of Big Ten QBs for the next three years.
“I'm telling you, when I go up to the line of scrimmage I'm always looking away from him," Hilinski said. "He's just a guy that covers so much space with his speed and he's so fluid with all of his motions. He's long too. That's the hardest thing to judge. I'll try to throw and out route and he'll get a finger on it. I'll be like, 'Dang, I thought I had that.' He doesn't even look like he's trying that hard yet either and he's still balling out. When he really takes it up a level, what is he going to do? He's a beast.
Brown talked to two Ohio State signees about Hinton, and if the roster’s composition wasn’t already enough to get him a shot at early playing time, his advanced technique should do it. GA OG Harry Miller is quoted first in the article and brought up one natural skill and one technical element of Hinton’s that stood out in practice.
"He's a really hand technician. He's just really good at using his hands and being quick," Miller said. "As an offensive player I have to be very aware of my fundamentals and be very sound with that. He's not a guy that you can just go out and attack and expect to beat him. You have to be really smart with how you approach him."
WV OG Doug Nester corroborated Miller’s scouting report.
"He comes off the ball really hard and he's very good with his hand placement," Nester said. "He knows where to hit you correctly. He'll hit you right in the chest and he extends away from himself so that you can't get into his chest. He's good at that."
[After THE JUMP: more players and analysts weigh in, plus updates from the UA Future 50 camp]
I’m not the only one who thinks that Hinton and Hill will contribute early, as The Michigan Insider’s Josh Newkirk mentioned the possibility pretty much every time he wrote about the two. Hinton had a particularly good week of practice, and his skill set was on display more often than Hill’s thanks to the way his East squad practiced. (Brandon Brown wrote that the West team practiced in a “low key fashion,” and the video embedded in his article backs that up and then some.) Even so, the embedded video with day two practice highlights shows Hill’s incredible makeup speed and smoothness flipping his hips and changing direction. From the article, Newkirk’s take on Hill:
He simply can accelerate and catch up to a receiver when needed. You can see the way he closes on an opponent and would be in on a number of tackles if they were allowed. Numerous times he lined up in man-to-man converge and blanketed his receiver. He might as well have been part of their hip, he was locked in. And for that reason, he didn’t get tested much. He’s a legit talent and it’s hard not to think he won’t have a chance to play early this fall.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much in the way of practice reports or film on Hill, which isn’t a big surprise given the way the West practiced and Hilinski’s comments above. Hill missed a couple of tackles in the game, and afterward told TMI’s Sam Webb that he’s used to hitting with his shoulder and will have to improve his tackling, namely wrapping up, in the near future. Webb writes that Hill is the most game-ready of any Michigan player in the class, and that he will play through his mistakes en route to a major role on the defense at free safety. For now, at least; Hill told Webb that the coaching staff has talked about moving him to VIPER once he learns the defense. (Offensively, MLive’s Aaron McMann writes that TE coach Sherrone Moore has talked to Hill about playing receiver as well.)
Moving back to Hinton, I highly recommend you watch the videos included in this Newkirk article for highlights from the first two days of practice; it’s easy to see how well he uses his hands and his burst off the snap, and taken together he looks like a 3T with high pass-rushing upside to me. (According to Brandon Brown, there weren’t 1-on-1 drills on day three, so the videos linked in the prior sentence should give you a feel for what analysts are basing their opinions on.) Newkirk’s take on Hinton:
In the 1-on-1s he showed has the moves to be an effective pass rusher and won the majority of his reps again today. He also displayed his consistent motor that he showed on Tuesday, never taking plays off and his the willingness to get in the middle of the scrum as a rush defender.
The player who had arguably the biggest impact on the game also happens to be the last addition to Michigan’s 2019 class: CT WR Cornelius Johnson. He was targeted three times and caught two touchdown passes, including one where he did an excellent job selling the defender on a slant before cutting and running a corner route. Newkirk mentioned Johnson’s ability to get in and out of his breaks as something that impressed him, but Brown included a few quotes from other players in a piece and they were impressed with, uh, everything. Four-star GA S and Notre Dame commit Kyle Hamilton:
"I think he’s definitely [one of the best]. Technique wise, route running and speed — he has the full package. He has good size and hands too. He’s definitely one of the better receivers here."
All told, Johnson appears to be in line for a rankings bump thanks to his impressive week.
Meanwhile, in Orlando
The last real hurrah for 2019 recruits was paired with the first big camp of the year for 2020 recruits in the form of the Under Armour Future 50. Michigan had one current commit and plenty of targets on the roster, and the current commit did what he’s been doing for months: he recruited. Oh, and he earned an invite to participate in the 2020 UA All-America Game. (The first rep of the embedded video is particularly nice.) MI CB Andre Seldon then spoke with The Michigan Insider about who he’s recruiting and which players he thinks could end up committing to Michigan.
Webb asked Seldon specifically about players that might be leaning toward other schools at this time, and Seldon said that though MI S Makari Paige is looking around, he thinks the relationship between the two is strong enough that Michigan remains a possibility. Seldon seems far more optimistic about MI WR Rashawn Williams (which allows me to shamelessly plug my Future Blue Originals post from this past season); he went so far as to say he definitely thinks the four-star WR ends up with him in Ann Arbor.
Seldon seemed less optimistic about getting MI OL Justin Rogers, whom Greg Biggins named one of the top performers of the camp, to join the class. That’s entirely unsurprising given the trajectory of Rogers’ recruitment; at one point Michigan was essentially a non-factor. Rogers spoke to Webb and said that Ed Warinner has helped resuscitate Michigan’s chances, though he’s still leaning toward a Southern school at the moment; Georgia was a former presumed leader, but Alabama seems to be higher on Rogers’ list at the moment. His recruitment seems like it’s far from over, though, as Rogers told Webb he’s planning a trip to Ann Arbor to speak with Jim Harbaugh after the dead period ends January 10th. Rogers’ stated preference to start as a true freshman at right tackle when Michigan already has Trente Jones and Andrew Steuber on the roster might be too big a hurdle to clear.
There are a number of other top recruits who are also planning to visit Michigan in the near future. OH RB Mike Drennen is one of those, and he told 247’s Alen Trieu that even though he plans to visit schools across the country, Michigan and Penn State would have proverbial hats on the table if he had to decide now. His quote on Michigan checks the all-important “just feels right” box:
"Michigan, I just like Michigan, I don't know why -- I just do. Penn State probably because of running backs like Saquan Barkley, I just want to be like them," he explained.
Webb reports that the four-star back plans to visit Ann Arbor again later this month; he camped at Michigan last summer and started establishing a bond with Jim and Jay Harbaugh at that time.
Another player considering both Michigan and Penn State is PA WR Julian Fleming, currently ranked #5 overall in the 2020 class and the nation’s top-ranked receiver. Fleming told Webb that he’s started to talk to Michigan’s staff, which provided his first scholarship offer, on a daily basis. He went on to discuss how important education is to him since football doesn’t last forever, noting that he’s seen Michigan play enough that he knows their style but needs to visit to learn more about their facilities and academics. Take the part of the visit that Michigan routinely knocks out of the park and pair that with what he said about his home state—“(Penn State) is great, but part of me (is like), ‘it’s great it’s (Pennsylvania)… it’s close and everything’,” said Fleming. “But then the other me is like, ‘why stay in PA my whole life?’ There are just so many opportunities to get out of the area and be in such a whole new environment.”—and it seems that Michigan has a fair shot at getting an official visit from Fleming, bearing in mind he also told Webb that the three schools recruiting him the hardest right now are Penn State, Ohio State, and Florida.