Dave really came through as the MGoRightHandMan last week, driving out to Saginaw to film Brian Cole's Heritage squad take on Flint Powers Catholic while I was at home, under the weather. Speaking of weather, Dave sat through a 50-minute lightning delay before the game kicked off, then watched as Powers dominated Heritage and shut down Cole's offensive production on their way to a 32-2 blowout win.
My bad on that one, Dave.
Cole eked out 31 yards on eight carries—as you'll see on film, that's probably the best he could do—didn't record a reception (ditto), and lost a late fumble. He did his damage on defense and special teams, with seven tackles, a pass breakup, a few nice punts (yes, he punts), and a spectacular block of an extra point when he jumped through the Powers line into the backfield. He recorded Heritage's only points of the night when he flew up from his free safety spot to haul down a ballcarrier in the end zone for a safety.
Even before I get to the scouting section, I'll say this: I'm not concerned about Cole's lack of offensive impact in this game. His team looked overmatched on tape, both in terms of players and coaching. Heritage made it clear when Cole was going to run the ball—he either motioned into obvious end-arounds that didn't seem to have a counter or just lined up at running back instead of his normal wideout spot. When he went out for a pass, his QB either didn't have the time or the arm strength to get the ball there. Much of that shows up on the film.
[Hit THE JUMP for extensive video highlights and the scouting report.]
- 1:08 — burns two defenders off the line, but QB flushed out of pocket and can't get him the ball
- 1:17 — perfect punt!
- 1:26 — darts up from the back to record a safety
- 1:44 — hits the circle button twice for his best run of the night
- 2:09 — pursues a ballcarrier who's about to reach the end zone and either knocks the ball out for a touchback or comes very close; the official ruled it a touchdown
- 2:18 — I be like dang blocked extra point
- 2:35 — throws perfect touch pass to wide open receiver on a fake punt; the result of the play pretty well sums up Heritage's evening
- 3:09 — jarring hit on tight end breaks up what would've been a solid gain and a first down
- 3:23 — entire near side of the defense bites on play-action; Cole makes a heads-up play just to cover the abandoned slot receiver, but Powers has a wide-open receiver over the top (and another screamingly wide-open guy in the flat) for a touchdown; some guy hits a pitch-perfect "AW, COME ON"
The video does a pretty good job of capturing what the game as a whole; Cole was far and away the best athlete on the field, made a few spectacular plays, a couple poor ones, and couldn't find any space to maneuver against a defense hell-bent on containing him. Unfortunately, the only half-decent look we got of him as a receiver—he's expected to play the slot at Michigan—came when he torched a corner off the line, got over the top of the safety, and... that's it, because his quarterback couldn't get the ball to him. He had one other play when his streak route opened up an easy completion on a comeback run by the other receiver to his side; otherwise, Heritage's passing game barely existed, even when they were down big.
Cole did display tantalizing moments of athletic prowess while trying to escape the cavalry as a ballcarrier, making a couple defenders look silly with jukes in tight spaces, but he couldn't get the blocking to break anything big—I thought his vision and decisiveness actually looked good despite the rather paltry numbers, especially for a player who had every excuse to try something ill-advised as soon as he got the ball. His ability to make players miss in tight spaces—not to mention jet right by them in the open field—should come in quite handy when he's a slot receiver; making one guy miss is often the difference between a three-yard bubble screen and a huge play that forces the defense to adjust their scheme.
On defense, Cole used that athletic ability to find his way to the football with regularity despite being the deep safety on every snap. He's got excellent closing speed. His tackling needs work, however, and he didn't appear to relish contact—he didn't reliably wrap up, his best hits came when he took out runners at the ankles, and on a few occasions he pulled up when he had the opportunity to hit the pile.
Dave texted me from the game saying Cole didn't look particularly engaged on several plays, and that showed up on tape on both sides of the ball. Offensively, when the play didn't go to his side, he'd often just stand still, making no effort to sell the defense on the possibility that he'd get the ball. On defense, he was better in this regard, but there were still multiple plays in which he seemed to give up on the play before the whistle blew, and a couple tackling efforts that can only be described as poor.
The caveat here, and an important one, is that Cole played just about every snap while on the wrong side of a blowout. Still, I'd like to see more snap-to-snap effort, especially since doing some little things on offense—like at least pretending to start a route on running plays going away from him—could help out his teammates against defenses primarily focused on stopping Cole, which in turn should open up a little more space for him, as well.
It's important to keep Cole's first game—in which he utterly dominated Saginaw Arthur Hill in all facets—in mind while looking at this one; the level of competition varies so wildly at the high school level that placing too much stock in one game or another can be dangerous. While it'd be nice to see Cole find a way to carry his team to the end zone, he certainly didn't get put in a position to succeed in this game, and he found a way to make what plays he could on defense and special teams.
Cole's athletic ability, especially with the ball in his hands, is special, and that comes through even when he's being bottled up. He might not have the elite size or power to be a five-star athlete, but even on a bad night what I saw here justified the considerable excitement about his potential.