Mailbag: QB Fight, Recruiting Worries, Dymonte Thomas Spot, Sloxen Comment Count

Brian January 27th, 2015 at 3:10 PM


Gentry vs Malzone: FIGHT

Quarterback recruiting policies.

I know that Harbaugh has every right to recruit his own personnel, but considering that Malzone is already on campus, did he just get royally screwed? If he never suits up, can he transfer without having to sit out?


The idea that a quarterback would be screwed over by the addition of another guy at his position in the same class is Hoke-era thinking that should be quickly discarded. Wilton Speight doesn't seem to mind:

sent in the immediate aftermath of Gentry's commit

Every other position sees fierce battles; QB should be no different. And even if Malzone is put off by the idea of sharing a spot in the class with Gentry, I think that's more than offset by the idea of getting coached by Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch.

FWIW, Malzone could transfer after his first semester at Michigan. He would have to redshirt and then would be a redshirt freshman wherever he ended up, as Steven Threet was when he fled Paul Johnson's triple option system at Georgia Tech.

The more likely exit scenario for the quarterbacks who find themselves down the depth chart in the midst of cutthroat competition is to get a degree in three years and then transfer with two years to play two. An increasing number of elite QB recruits are throwing themselves in grinders like Michigan's with that idea in their back pocket. If Michigan is going to take two QBs a year that should be part of the pitch: the least you leave here with is a Michigan degree and three years of kickass coaching. Malzone has a head start on that with his early enrollment.

By the way, with reports that elite CA QB KJ Costello is heavily interested in Michigan, this could be the respective first two QB recruiting years of Hoke and Harbaugh:

  • Hoke: Russell Bellomy.
  • Harbaugh: Malzone, Gentry, DeWeaver, Costello.

That's one three star previously committed to Purdue versus what is probably four four-star recruits. (Hoke did recruit Malzone but Malzone is a block-M true believer who stuck with his plan to enroll early despite Michigan not having a coach at that juncture.) One of the major reasons the Hoke list is so short is that in deference to Shane Morris they didn't take another quarterback in his year… or the year in front of him. That was a disastrous decision. Let's not do that any more.

Harbaugh won't: at Stanford he took an average of two QBs a year.

Two stars bad. More stars good.

There are only a couple guys on the board who fit that description: recent OH OL commit Nolan Ulizio and as-yet-unoffered FL CB Markel Bush. Everyone else is at least a three star and—unlike many of the transitional Hoke recruits—courted by or committed to high level BCS schools. (Hoke got decommits from Indiana, Vanderbilt, and Minnesota; Harbaugh has flipped guys from Texas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.) So Harbaugh is already doing well.

As for the two stars, Bush is clearly a backup plan in case they don't get two of the four guys they've offered (Iman Marshall, Will Lockett, Damon Arnette, and Jarius Adams). Ulizio is an offensive lineman. Offensive linemen are less likely to fulfill recruiting expectations than any other position, and as you say Michigan had opportunities to look at other, more highly-rated guys. They passed. Is that a concern?

Five different Stanford linemen were first team All Pac 10 players during Harbaugh's tenure at Stanford; all five were three stars. Harbaugh and Drevno could recruit Pokemon and I'd be okay with it.

Oh, and…


…let's cool it on the judgy bits just yet.

[After THE JUMP: Marrow, length of tenure, Dymonte Thomas, sloxen, Gary Danielson email]


Sad we missed on Vince Marrow, but oh well. Moving on, that was quite an interesting resume he had, yeah? Did his involvement in the search bring any talk of an interesting personality to match? The odd professional path seemed intentional and I was wondering if we missed out on a unique character as well as a quality recruiter.

Cheers and Harbaugh,

His resume was very weird. He got his job at Kentucky because he was personally connected to Stoops, though, and that's a highly conventional way to get any job. The recruting successes in Ohio were what got him a look from Michigan—and, if you believe reports out there, his own stumping for a job.

The way things played out certainly made it look like Marrow was taking advantage of Michigan's situation in order to grab a raise. Check. I don't think Michigan is going to miss him much.

Harbaugh tenure worries

Hey Brian,

As much as I love the Harbaugh hire (What sane/non-clinically depressed person wouldn't?) I am a bit worried about the potential length of his tenure.

Let's say Harbaugh is as successful as we expect, and brings the program back to national prominence within a few years. Chances are someone like Harbaugh would get restless and jump back into the NFL to win a Super Bowl forcing us to go back to doing laps in Hackett's swim lanes again. As much as we would all like to see Harbaugh make a Bo/Carr run of it here for a decade or two, that seems rather unlikely in the 21st Century football coaching

If that turns out to be the case perhaps Michigan should shift its hiring model and make the best coaching hire regardless of age? Also, I'm not advocating for Miles here but perhaps Michigan shouldn't immediately turn its nose up at someone with 10 years left in his coaching career when chances are a home run hire like Harbaugh is almost likely to leave in half that time?


I don't know how long Harbaugh's going to be around; I don't think he knows either. I'm not particularly worried about a short tenure for a number of reasons. One: the guy loves Michigan and wants to do the job right. Two: the vast majority of chatter about Harbaugh's heart blah blah blah was stated by NFL reporters who literally could not have been more wrong about him during the coaching search, with the remainder provided by the sour grapes of rival fans.

Three: in Harbaugh's specific case I don't care too much even if he does bolt back to the pros in short order. Stanford is not particularly displeased with their Harbaugh aftermath. And Michigan has an obvious internal hire on the staff in DJ Durkin. If Harbaugh does go early that means Michigan has just had a kick-ass season and should be set up for a period of success. I'd rather have Harbaugh around until he's 90, but the downside here is not so bad.

As far as changing your hiring model to go after whoever no matter how old they are, I think it pays to remember that coaches are not flat lines. We have all seen the pattern of extended decline in which a fanbase gets grumpier and grumpier with a long-term coach until there's a messy breakup: Joe Paterno, Don Nehlen, Mack Brown, Phil Fulmer, Frank Beamer… there is a point at which the guy no longer is what he was, and things get sloppy. Ohio State was in fact fortunate to have to get rid of Jim Tressel when they did, as they got to skip that period and go straight to Urban Meyer.

I also think there are a lot of coaches who will stick for long periods of time at single college programs, certainly enough that will hit ten or fifteen years to make hiring a guy who could hit that level of longevity worthwhile. Saban is going into year nine at Alabama, after all. Might as well give yourself that chance when things are relatively equal.

Wither Dymonte Thomas?

I have heard it said that it is tough to move back (ie linebacker to safety) then forward. Given that Dymonte Thomas played LB in high school and seems to struggle at safety, why not move him to LB? Peppers can shift to S as pointed out

Peter from Horsham

It's getting late early for Thomas thanks to the previous staff's decision to forgo a redshirt for a guy who was patently unprepared. Thomas spent his freshman year covering kickoffs that were headed to the endzone anyway. So that's a tough decision.

It's less of a tough one if Michigan sticks with the over system they moved to a year ago, in which the SAM linebacker is often walked out over the slot and has a diverse set of coverage and tackling responsibilities. Thomas's promise was that he could act as a Hybrid Space Player, whether you label that a linebacker, cornerback, safety, or give it its own designation like nickelback.

Michigan tried him there for a while and he didn't offer much—his tackling was extremely sub-par. They never got any traction with him afterwards. We're about to find out whether that's a function of poor coaching or just a guy who doesn't translate to college.

I'd keep him at safety, personally, with the intention of sliding Peppers down to the slot in nickel packages.

important lingo question

if Rodriguez had "slot ninjas", tiny dudes who can do everything - block, run, catch, what do we call Harbaugh's tight-end/h-back giant dudes that line up everywhere and do everything?  rhino-backs? slot-oxen? tank-ends?

Slot-oxen does pleasingly shorten itself to "sloxen," and it makes me think about Oregon Trail. I think that's the winner.

Spread blah

I was wondering if you could comment on Oregon's offensive performance [in the national championship game. Amongst those who prefer manball, the conventional wisdom is that fast paced spread offenses light up poor defenses but fall flat on their face against stout competition.  The national championship just added a lot of fuel to that fire.  Despite being the beneficiaries of 4 (FOUR!!) turnovers, they only managed to put up 20 points.  That's fewer than even Michigan managed.

It's tough to make that argument when the other team is a spread option as well, albeit one with a different orientation. To me the thing that happened to Oregon is the thing that usually does when someone shuts their offense down: their offensive line got whipped.

That's what happened earlier this year when Arizona upset them. Oregon was down something like four starters and it showed. Scooby Wright went nuts, Oregon bogged down, and Arizona took off. They got guys back for the Pac 12 title game and blew Arizona's doors off. Oregon-Stanford games have been Stanford wins when the Cardinal DL is winning the 4 on 5 matchup up front consistently.

That gives you back the extra guy the spread option takes away, and then Oregon looks mortal. Ohio State's DL featured an All American and a bunch of other guys the NFL is going to be all over; they beat up Oregon up front (and Oregon dropped a number of critical passes) and that was it.

The rest of your assertions are nonsense unless you're trying to draw a line between Ohio State and Oregon because Oregon is more focused on tempo. The key innovation of the spread option is bringing 11 on 11 football back to college without sacrificing a threatening vertical passing game, and if you're trying to define OSU out of that category that gets you an okay dot gif.

None of these things ever come with statistical backing so let me just reply with some anecdotes: Oregon 59, FSU 20. Oregon 46, MSU 27. Oregon 45, Stanford 16. OSU's third string QB 42, Alabama 35.

I'm just as hopeful about Jim Harbaugh as anybody but asserting that there's a fatal flaw in the spread in 2015 is some Gary Danielson level stuff.

Funchess and Butt red zone targets.

This is an old email from before the OSU game that got buried in a mailbag draft that never got fleshed out.

I couldn't sleep last night after drinking too much coffee. [So he compiled redzone passing attempts to the big guys.] As it turns out, it didn't take too long since Michigan only made the redzone 3 times combined between the Notre Dame, Utah, Penn State, and Minnesota games. I took out garbage time drives, the Penn State run/kneel down in the redzone, and two others where they got inside the 20y line on 3rd down, but not enough for a 1st down - resulting in FG attempts.

Devin Funchess - 6'5", 230lb // Jake Butt - 6'6", 249lb

2014 Combined Redzone Targets (20y to endzone): 8 of 64 plays. 7 for Funchess, 1 for Butt.

Of the 8 targets, only two were jump ball situations. One was the jump ball to Funchess over 2 defenders for a TD against App State. The other was a fade pattern against Michigan State that was nearly (should have been?) caught. 

2 jump balls on tiny corners for the entire season to this point! And to think what they would(n't) do with 6'7" Ian Bunting next year.

2014 Redzone Targets


Add it to the pile of things that made no sense about the last two years. Also: hooray that two of these games feature NO REDZONE PLAYS.



January 27th, 2015 at 3:44 PM ^

I watched the Oregon - OSU game and thought Mariota made OSU look very human and would have made OSU look even more human if his receivers could catch.  As best I can recall, he completed 17 of his first 21 passes, and 2 of the incompletions were outright drops that happened at really bad times.  One drop was a third-down pass of about 35 yards that would have given Oregon a first down deep in OSU territory, and the other drop was another third-down pass that would have kept a drive alive.  These happened while it still looked like Oregon had a chance.

In orther words, it was not the scheme that did Oregon in.  It was the fact that so many of its receivers were not able to play at all.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:31 PM ^

It was weird. Those two drops, although only two, were really important. Looking back at the game, Oregon's best chance to win would have been to jump to a big lead, early. Those two plays pretty much axed that chance. Ohio then could lean on them and wear them out, where if OSU had to play from several scores down and with turnovers, Oregon maybe could have held on.


January 27th, 2015 at 3:49 PM ^

"in deference to Shane Morris they didn't take another quarterback in his year… or the year in front of him."


I cringed so hard when I read that.   Although that is what 49.4% completion and 4.47 YPA will get you.  If you would have told me that Shane Morris would have more yards per attempt on the ground than in the air at this point in his career I would have laughed at you.


January 27th, 2015 at 8:01 PM ^

I cringed at this line too, but mainly because I wonder how Brian knows this was the reason Morris was the only QB taken two years in a row.  I thought Michigan was recruiting other QBs but struck out on their top choices and decided not to take just anybody.  

Having said that, lack of quality QB play did vex the Hoke years, and I do wonder if Borges' lack of desire to travel was a large part of the problem.


January 27th, 2015 at 3:51 PM ^

So does the whole jump ball fiasco fall on the OC for not calling the play or on Devin for not feeling comfortable throwing that pass? The above chart doesn't address how many times the play was actually called versus when the play was called but the pass was not attempted.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:00 PM ^

After reading the sloxen question it got me thinking about Chris Clark's recruitment.

I was curious about how many TE are on their roster (0, they are all listed "REC") and at the same time I wandered onto their coaches page. I quickly noticed they don't even have a TE coach listed. Not even as a add on to another position group.…

I know Michigan's TE coach is an unproven guy, but at least we have a position coach for his position.

I'm guessing having a TE coach in Harbaugh's offense is more important than having one in Mazonne's offense. 

Yostbound and Down

January 27th, 2015 at 6:40 PM ^

If Clark wants to play more of a Jimmy Graham/Gronkowski  style though, he might not care if he knows he's going to be split out as a receiving option primarily. In fact if he hates blocking that might be something that actually interests him more in UCLA. Also presumably he will have little competition there whereas we want to use lots of TEs/sloxen.


January 27th, 2015 at 7:35 PM ^

I could be wrong, but I don't see Clark being that guy who can dominate a game like Rob Gronkowski. I do think he can split out and do a few different things, but to me he looks like an in-line tight end. I think he's a decent blocker and he likes to block. I definitely don't see Jimmy Graham, and I can kind of see the Gronk comparison, but I believe he's a guy who needs to learn to play a true TE position.

True Blue Grit

January 27th, 2015 at 4:03 PM ^

For what it's worth, I ran into an older Michigan fan who seems well-connected here in Ann Arbor, and he believes from what he's heard that JH is here for the long term.  He wants a good stable home for his younger kids and feels very at home here.  His parents have already decided to move to Ann Arbor and bought a condo apparently.  Obviously, Jim has shown a degree of unpredictability and after being here 5 years, maybe the glow would have worn off.  Who knows?  But, it seems whenever he's been in public and from the pictures taken, that he seems really at ease and enjoying himself.  I'm optimistic that he's going to be here a long time. 


January 27th, 2015 at 4:22 PM ^

JH isn't going to leave AA without topping Ohio State.

Urbz has already hit the summit and will likely look around in the next few years as soon as something annoys him or the NCAA catches wind of some scandel.  No one thought Chip Kelly was going to leave either, and his relative success will only encourage Meyer.

JH has already seen the NFL and chose to go to college instead.  Meyer still has the "grass is greener" potential.


January 27th, 2015 at 5:23 PM ^

I dont think it will take that long for meyer to leave either.  I believe when there is a down year on the horizon he will make a move as he did at Florida when Tebow graduated.  The following year he had his medical episodes and then he left.  A loss to Michigan coupled with the prospects of losing again the following year to the maize and blue will be enough to get Meyer looking around.  I give it 2 years.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:13 PM ^

I don't know about a fatal flaw, at least not strategically, but I think the tempo thing makes 3rd down especially important. During the regular season, OSU was #3 and Oregon was #9 in 3rd down conversions. Against Alabama, OSU was 10-18 on 3rd down and Alabama was 2-13. Against Oregon, OSU was 8-15 and Oregon was 2-12. Oregon was only 4-14 vs. Arizona in the first game but 9-18 in the second.

It's not surprising that there is a positive correlation with conversions and winning however against a spread tempo team stopping drives gives not only eliminates the confusion/stamina problems on defense but it potentially flips that TOP. Stanford did it in 2012 and 2013. Virginia Tech did it vs. OSU this year.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:14 PM ^

We would be critical if Hoke (or Schiano) was our head coach and some of this stuff was happening. I think we should just be open about abondoning our normal analytical scrutiny and efforts at objectivity. Whatever happens we are going to shrug it off and say HARBAUGH.  Harbaugh has earned that faith, so...whatever.

But if some MSU or OSU wants to criticize the fact that we are taking two-stars, stealing recruits away from mid-range programs, or hiring underqualified coaches they are right to do so (as long as they also acknowledge the good stuff where we get NFL coordinators as position coaches and steal QB recruits from Texas). 


January 27th, 2015 at 7:06 PM ^

Agree With Your Points
Before Harbaugh, the best parts of the views from Brian and many regular posters were the no holds barred critical analysis. Now, Harbaugh gets a pass on everything, because Harbaugh. Would like to see objectivity return. I am disappointed that we lost Ferns, Bosch and Hayes and so far our recruiting has not been very impressive. The hiring of Harbaugh's son and Zordich(no D1 coaching experience on the field or recruiting) are troubling. Most of the coaches hired were out of work, coming from troubled programs in coaching transitions(e.g. Florida, Syracuse, 49ers). I might be wrong, but only Drevno was actually employed in D1 at the time of hiring to Michigan. Many posters have tried as hard as possible to paint this as only positive outcomes. I miss the days when everything got second guessed.

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January 27th, 2015 at 7:46 PM ^

Go back to the post where Brian compared position coaches against the Hoke team, and tell me where you think we're legitimately stepping down? Yeah, many of the guys are from "struggling" programs. That's why they are available! And why many of them are taking demotions to coach at Michigan.

Not impressed with recruiting? Jeebus, the guy's been the coach for less than a month, half of which was dead period. That he's gotten any new recruits at all is a minor miracle. Again compare to the equivalent Hoke transition class, not to Alabama's class.

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January 28th, 2015 at 2:17 AM ^

I guess I'm failing to see how he settled. One of the positions was bound to be a young coach/recruiter type. He happened to hire his son for that slot, who may turn out to be a disaster or may turn into someone of real value. Not every coaching scion in Jay Paterno. And Zordich coached in college last year and has NFL coaching and playing experience. As for th eothers they were left in the lurch either by seriously flawed management decisions not of their own making (the 49ers guys, Wheatley) or were on staffs where the issue was not their own side of the ball (Durkin). 


Who would you have liked to have seen, honestly?


January 28th, 2015 at 8:47 AM ^

Missed an opportunity how? Who are the better available coaches that he missed out on? Do you expect him to have Bill Belicheck for an OC and Pete Caroll coaching cornerbacks?

To me it looks like he snagged a bunch of talented guys of a quality that wouldn't normally be available (e.g. Durkin), many of whom he has had past positive connections to.

Are a couple of his staff picks fliers? Perhaps, but without knowing who else was willing to hear an offer we ought to err on the side of trusting the coach. And anyway, this is already a higher level of scrutiny than most coaches ever get for position coaches.

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January 28th, 2015 at 1:37 AM ^

to even consider.  If you start going down the line of thinking that Harbaugh is messing up things get dark very quickly...

There was a similar suspension of critical thinking with the 2013 OL.  Few wanted to consider how bad things looked and so it was "it can't get any worse LOL!".  Of course, it did.

I think we can't worry too much about recruiting right now.  Transition classes are always tough, no matter who you are.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:26 PM ^

There is a fourth reason why I think we shouldn't worry about Coach bolting to the NFL: he could have had his pick from a number of good options this year, so waiting doesn't make sense if the NFL were what he really wanted. Chicago is an obvious example; while things are bad with that team now, Chicago fans would have embraced Harbaugh's turnaround magic, and they have the history for a championship program. As another example, while Miami stayed out of the HC market this year, I suspect that wouldn't have been the case had Harbaugh leaned toward the NFL instead of Michigan.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:30 PM ^

To be fair you credited Harbaugh with DeWeaver when that is also a Hoke recruit, not a Harbaugh recruit.  So Harbaugh's 2 guys will be Gentry and "other guy in 2016" class - kind of difficult to give him credit for Malzone and DeWeaver.

That does not offset the clusterf*** that is Hoke QB recruiting.


January 27th, 2015 at 5:05 PM ^

Hoke made ONE bad decision wrt QB recruiting -- not taking anybody in the '12 class.  He probably should have done that in the '11 class instead, if he was ever going to.  For Morris, Speights, Malzone, and Weaver we have to wait and see.

I tend to give Hoke a pass on Bellomy and the '11 class, given the circumstances. Obviously Bellomy looks bad in hindsight, but that '11 class was a mad scramble and taking another QB made sense. This '15 class is going to have its share of Tamani Carters as well.

The real problem isn't QB recruiting as much as it is a failure to understand and recognize that Bellomy stunk. After he arrived on campus and had seen him play, they let Gardner move to WR and didn't recruit a '12 kid. They saw Bellomy as adequate depth behind Gardner.  If Bellomy is the QB they thought they had, we can keep a red-shirt on Morris and we're talking about a RS SO heading into his year.  The '11 miss combined with '12 pass put us into a really bad spot.




January 27th, 2015 at 5:43 PM ^

Yeah, not taking a QB in 2012 was a mistake, and a pretty big one. Then again, if Morris turns out to be the real deal, it will be forgotten.

I think we did a similar thing with Henson, and the only reason that wasn't a total disaster is because Navarre ended up being pretty damn good.

Always take a QB.


January 27th, 2015 at 6:19 PM ^

Certainly Agree With the QB Miss in 2012
However a lot of our problems must be O line and development related. At the time of signing, Gardner and Morris were top guys--from a recruiting standpoint, not from on subsequent field results. Gardner had some spectacular games vs. ND and OSU, and if he was consistent we would have won quite a few more games. Turnovers and poor decisions in the pocket got Hoke fired. Love him and glad he is a Michigan Man.

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January 27th, 2015 at 4:46 PM ^

"Wither Dymonte Thomas?" was a pun. Whence and whither are awesome words. Although I hate it when people say "from whence" which is nonsense as whence = from where/which place.


January 27th, 2015 at 4:54 PM ^

I don't think many people are arguing that the spread has a fatal flaw (even though the reader who sent the question is), just that it is not the end-all, be-all offense some are purporting it to be.

The spread is not the only way to be successful and it can be stopped. And as OSU showed, even Oregon's spread can be stopped. I think that Oregon's offense is amazing and I would be ecstatic if you told me that's what our offense would look like next year, but I am also fine with a Harbaugh Stanford-esque offense.

Just win.


January 27th, 2015 at 5:39 PM ^

The problem with your line of reasoning is that if our offense struggles at any point, we won't be able to gnash our teeth and rend our clothing at Borges for not running the bubble screen.

It's good to have a fool-proof plan in your head because that way your own team's problems can be blamed on the stupid OC. That is a comfortable mental position to be in. Its often very hard to square with the idea that no offense is perfect, that some defenses match up well against some offenses, that there are people under those jerseys, and that not everything that goes wrong is schematic.


January 27th, 2015 at 6:59 PM ^

I feel crummy for Thomas. This is why it screws up everything to play guys early who should be getting a red shirt. And Thomas isn't the only one who lost out this way. We have been so thin at some positions that both RR and Hoke put several guys on the field before they were ready, and they were shell shocked, and kind of ruined.

You can blame Hoke for plenty of things, but recruiting isn't one of them. Harbaugh is coming in with a fair amount of guys here who should be able to perform well, provided that these players can be "developed." In hindsight, the small recruiting class this year is an awesome thing:  Harbaugh doesn't get much time, but can you imagine the pain if we were trying to fill 25 - 28 spots on the roster? It would be much, much worse.

I half wonder if Thomas should take a redshirt this year. It isn't a good idea, but the whole thing is just crummy.

One other thing. WHITHER. Not WITHER. Spell check is not your friend sometimes. This is one of them.

The Barwis Effect

January 27th, 2015 at 9:43 PM ^

"If Harbaugh does go early that means Michigan has just had a kick-ass season and should be set up for a period of success."

I disagree with Brian's contention that the only way the NFL comes calling is if Harbaugh has a "kick-ass season."

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January 27th, 2015 at 11:00 PM ^

"We have all seen the pattern of extended decline in which a fanbase gets grumpier and grumpier with a long-term coach until there's a messy breakup: Joe Paterno, Don Nehlen, Mack Brown, Phil Fulmer, Frank Beamer…"

...Lloyd Carr...