Previously: Last year's profiles. S J'Marick Woods, S Jaylen Kelly-Powell, S Brad Hawkins, CB Ambry Thomas, CB Benjamin St-Juste, LB Drew Singleton, LB Jordan Anthony, LB Josh Ross, DE Kwity Paye, DE Luiji Vilain,
DE Corey Malone-Hatcher, DE Deron Irving-Bey, DT Donovan Jeter, DT Phil Paea, DT James Hudson, DT Aubrey Solomon, C Cesar Ruiz, OT JaRaymond Hall, OT Joel Honigford, OT Andrew Stueber, OT Chuck Filiaga, WR Oliver Martin, WR Nico Collins, WR Tarik Black, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones.
|Newtown, CT – 6'3", 250|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#35 ILB,v #6 CT
|ESPN||4*, NR overall
#30 OLB, #3 CT
|24/7||3*, #933 overall
#36 ILB, #6 CT
|Other Suitors||Wisconsin, BC, UConn, Duke, Cal, Harvard, Navy|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Twitter. Man, it's a hot… nah j/k.|
Ben Mason is a big thumping guy who would have been middle linebacker classic 30 years ago. Under Don Brown his tenure there lasted one spring practice before he became the MLB's ancient enemy: a fullback. Jim Harbaugh is, to say the least, enthused:
"I’ve never seen anybody go forward and hit somebody better. I think this guy was just made to be a fullback.”
“That would be a great way to be described, right? That's grit, right there. Going forward and hitting somebody better than anybody I've ever seen – I'd like to be described that way. That's somebody's gravestone!”
That was an appearance during Pardon My Take's "Grit Week," and he'd repeat that nearly verbatim a few days later on WTKA:
“Ben Mason goes forward and hits people better than anybody I’ve ever seen and what a great thing to say about somebody that they go forward and hit people, and that’s the fullback position. Your identity is a lot on offense with the fullback. If there’s one guy that you say what’s our identity as an offense, the fullback’s carrying a lot of water there.
“Who would you rather have than Ben Mason? It looks like he was born to play the position. A lot of the running backs are clamoring for it, too. Chris Evans, ‘Can Ben Mason be a fullback? We want Ben Mason as a fullback.’ Other guys see it, too. He’s got a real enthusiasm for the game. He loves football. I’m excited to see where that goes. “
Michigan's need was obvious and… well, sometimes there's a man. I won't say a hero, cause what's a hero? But sometimes there's a man… and I'm talking about Ben Mason here… sometimes there's a man, well… he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's Ben Mason. At fullback.
Unfortunately, recruiting sites all but refuse to scout folks at fullback so the great bulk of information on Mason is about his play at linebacker, with the occasional evaluation throwing in an aside about how he's a "very good blocker." You will be unsurprised to learn he is a Hard Nosed Old School Throwback:
Mason is an extremely hard-nosed, old school throwback type of linebacker.
And an Old School Big Ten Linebacker:
Mason is an old-school, Big Ten middle linebacker.
Those are backhanded compliments these days; reports are accompanied by worries about change of direction, flexibility, and coverage:
…had his ups and downs. … clearly more comfortable playing downhill at this point. Mason did struggle in pass coverage … needs to continue to improve his flexibility and possibly drop some weight to play linebacker at the next level. …probably not done growing.
That last bit is a key one. He was already 247 pounds around the time of his commitment. What is he going to be in two years? Probably not a linebacker. Definitely not a linebacker you want chasing slot receivers or, like, Akrum Wadley. Wisconsin did offer him on defense, but they run a 3-4 and probably envisioned Mason as a standup quasi-DE. Either that or they were planning a bait-and-switch because of Mason's potential on O. (Wisconsin knows their way around a fullback.)
He has quite a bit of that potential. At fullback Mason's drawbacks are minimized and his strengths come to the forefront. Like his, er, strength. Don Brown:
"Ben, yeah, shoot -- strongest guy on the team. A tough guy, but -- if you ask me, I wouldn't want to face him in the B gap, coming at me at 60 miles an hour at 247 lbs. So, is that good for our team? I think it's very good for our team."
And his ability to diagnose holes and come downhill. The stuff he's really good at as a linebacker translates precisely to his job as a fullback, both when it comes to meeting someone in the hole…
“He’s an absolute thumper in the middle of the field," Friedman said. "He brings a physical presence, especially against the running game. He comes downhill, sheds blockers, and makes plays in the backfield."
"The one thing that separates me from all the other linebackers is the way I come downhill and fill the hole," Mason said. "When a running back tries to run through the hole, you don't want to meet me."
When Mason hits a ball-carrier, there will be no yards after contact. He brings plenty of force to his tackles. …a true, old-school run-stuffer, who is decisive and doesn’t lose ground with false steps."
…game is predicated on technique and instincts. His ability to diagnose run plays and get through the offensive line to meet the running back in the backfield is outstanding. He doesn’t take false steps and goes 110% once he makes up his mind where a play is going to go. His pre-snap reads and alignment put him in the right spots and he takes the proper angles to the ball. His size and physicality really stand out at the high school level.
…able to dominate because of his strength and explosive power. …could also play the fullback position at the next level with his ability to take on blockers and win in tight spaces. … a very good pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Savvy and disciplined … Fast downhill filler on full flow backfield action. Quick enough off the spot to beat blockers to the point of attack and makes stops with inside out angles. Can lineup at a variety of spots and is a very instinctive football player. A strong stack and shedder who can take on bigger linemen and hold his point. Shows great scraping ability in staying square to the line of scrimmage and keeping leverage to the ball carrier. A knock back thumper who limits yards after contact. … big, physical, football fast and has great game IQ.
That's a LB evaluation that sounds like an amazing fullback evaluation. "Savvy and disciplined" might be the best bit there. Even gap-blocked plays will frequently get disrupted by defenses slanting, forcing the fullback to make an instant, instinctual decision to move to another gap. Back when Harbaugh got hired I went back to poke around the Stanford offense and was extremely impressed by their fullback's ability to roll with the punches and insert himself into a useful spot no matter what chaos was going on in front of his face.
Not coincidentally, Owen Marecic was also a thumping middle linebacker.
FWIW, Mason did play fullback in high school, and productively. He had 67 touches as a junior—43 carries, 24 catches—for 647 yards and 15 touchdowns. As a senior he ran for 719 yards and added another 15 catches. His senior tape above is split about evenly between offense and defense, with the offensive tape featuring a couple of Khalid Hill destroy-and-destroy-again edge blocks and a lot of rampaging amongst the villagers. Dude was the Owen Schmitt of Connecticut high school football. His coach:
“Ben is an unusual kid because he has a lot of skills. We’ve used him everywhere on both sides of the ball. He’s very versatile, he has great hands, he blocks well, he tackles everything, he’s smart — he really understands offense and defense.”
How much of that translates to college is an open question—some of his opponents were tiny—but there's a decent chance Mason adds some value as a runner, a la Sione Houma. The traps that fell out of the offense last year because neither Poggi or Hill was a good target for them should return in force.
Even if he's not a plus runner on the college level, if Harbaugh says you're the thumper to end all thumpers that's something to hold onto.
Etc.: Spurred a great Don Brown-ism:
"Ben Mason at the MIKE position -- I mean, if you look in his eyeballs there’d be water in there because he’s swimming."
Why Joe Kerridge? I'd actually written this bit up before a reporter covering the Green Bay Packers exclaimed that Kerridge had "no regard for human life," and now feel vindicated about that. Kerridge was physically ready to go early in his career, starting as a redshirt freshman, and functioned as an all-purpose thumper for the duration of his career. Kevin Dudley and Houma are other options.
If Mason had stuck at linebacker comparables would be Johnny Thompson and Desmond Morgan. Obviously the latter is much more optimistic.
Guru Reliability: Low-plus. Connecticut, nobody ranked him at his college position, nobody cares about fullbacks. Consistent takes, at least.
Variance: Low. Lot of experience at his future position, already big enough for it, high-end football IQ.
Ceiling: High at fullback, low on D. Mason looks like a potential triple threat FB—block, run, catch—and is a plus athlete relative to the walk-ons and the like who often man fullback slots. Likely to be a man without a country on the other side of the ball.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. I mean… fullback. Michigan probably has a bunch of walk-ons who are candidates to hammer people in the face and would do so adequately. Mason does represent an upgrade on those guys physically. I will say this: usually I'm irritated about taking scholarship fullbacks but Mason is an exception.
Projection: Will be the third FB this year—watch out, Rutgers—as Michigan preps him for a three-year starting gig after Poggi and Hill graduate. Only real question about his career is whether any of the walk-ons will be rough and tough enough to be worthy of splitting snaps with him.