I Have To Praise You Like I Should
High School All-American week is officially over. Jabrill Peppers unofficially won the week. Just ask ESPN's Tom Luginbill, who wrote this in response to a question about the most impressive Under Armour practice performer [emphasis mine]:
[Peppers] is more than capable of playing both ways if needed, but as far as cover corners go, he is a more explosive version of Dee Milliner, and we love that he welcomes contact too. He is mature and knows that there are high expectations for him to perform.
Or ask his Team Nitro coach, former NFL head coach and defensive back Herm Edwards—and his friend, some guy named Deion:
"It’s not even close. He’s the best [UA All-American defensive back] I’ve coached. I called Deion [Sanders] over and said look at that guy, and Deion saw the same thing," Edwards said. "[Robert] Nkemdiche was really good last year, he was a big guy who could run and [Peppers] is comparable to that as far as skill level at the position he’s playing. I played that position and coached that position for a long time and he’s a special talent."
Or ask Scout, which named Peppers the top practice performer of the week on either team while noting that this year's crop of defensive backs was particularly strong.
Rivals stands as the least bullish outlet on Peppers after the UA game, and all they did was name him Sunday's #3 performer, Monday's #1 performer, and Tuesday's #5 performer, and the actual game's #9 performer for Team Nitro before giving him the third spot overall for Team Nitro on the week behind Da'Shawn Hand and Ermon Lane ($):
Playing in his first national-level event, Peppers was surrounded by intrigue from the moment he arrived in Florida. As it turned out, it didn't take him long to live up to his billing. Peppers, the No. 2 overall prospect in his class, was dominant in every practice and was as aggressive and spirited as any player on the field. He struggled a bit in Thursday's game but didn't allow a big play all week. Peppers also blocked a field goal that was ultimately negated because of an all-star-game specific rule.
In addition to the negated blocked field goal (above)—illegal because rushers on kicks weren't allowed to go inside their man in the UA Game, which... okay—Peppers had a couple passes defended, returned two kickoffs for 65 yards (one a 41-yard burst to midfield), and took a few snaps as a wildcat quarterback, though he couldn't break anything big offensively in a pretty ugly game overall, as high school all-star games tend to be.
Interestingly, Scout omitted both Hand and Lane from their top ten overall list, with neither cracking the top two of their respective position groups. It's safe to say Peppers made a strong argument that he deserves consideration for the top overall spot in the 2014 class.
[Hit THE JUMP for a whole lot of content from the All-American games, Michigan's latest 2014 offer, an update on George Campbell, a potential second quarterback in the '14 class, and more.]
Michigan Has Other Commits, Too!
Sorry, sometimes I have to remind myself of these things. After his strong week of practice, Peppers was named a Team Nitro captain; also receiving that honor was quarterback Wilton Speight, who also started the UA game. He didn't have the gaudiest stat-line—2-for-6, 63 yards, an interception, and eight rushing yards on three attempts—while spearheading the first couple possessions for Team Nitro; that interception, which came on a pass to the end zone that looked to be open, wasn't his fault, as noted by intended receiver (and former U-M target) Jeb Blazevich:
I still love u man RT“@JebBlazevich let me clear something up. Wilts's interception was MY FAULT! I slipped on the turf and wasn't there”
— Wilton Speight (@WiltonSpeight) January 3, 2014
As for the week of practice, Speight stood out in earning the captaincy and starting role, and Scout's Scott Kennedy noted his improvement from previous combine outings ($):
All the Elite 11 things kind of run together so I don’t remember which of the camps I saw him at, but I remember seeing him before and thinking, okay, solid, but I do not remember the tight spiral I am seeing this week. I remember it fluttering a little bit more. So everything that he is doing, he has gotten better at. That is all you ask out of a player, especially one that is 6’4” plus, 200 plus pounds with an arm like his. Is he going to keep improving? Yes, absolutely he has. He is setting his feet well. The ball is coming out. It is coming out hot. It is coming out with a tight spiral. It is coming out accurate. What more could you possible look for?
Speight even showed enough mobility to escape the pocket a couple times in the UA game and gain positive yards; he's no dual-threat, obviously, but he's also not John Navarre back there.
Bryan Mone had a relatively quiet game, though that didn't mean he played poorly; at the nose, he did his job, holding up against double-teams, displaying a good motor, and consistently moving linemen into the backfield, something he also did in practice one-on-ones:
Reports were mixed on tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who displayed a lot of raw talent but was beaten regularly in both practice and game settings, mostly by quick defensive ends beating him to the edge. It wasn't a wholly bad week for JBB, though; Team Nitro's offensive line coach told GBW's Kyle Bogenshutz that "he learns very fast," though he may not be a blindside protector at the next level ($):
“Definitely, in my opinion, he’s a right tackle,” Hegamin said. “He’s got that big, thick right tackle build, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see him at guard some because he’s a pretty big, stout guy.”
Michigan's other three commits named to the game—Drake Harris (torn hamstring), Michael Ferns (shoulder), and Jared Wangler (shoulder)—all had to sit out due to injury. Harris, who didn't even travel to the game, and Ferns should get a nice boost to their rehab after enrolling early at U-M this week, joining Freddy Canteen, Mason Cole, Mone, Speight, and Brandon Watson. All three injured commits should be healthy for fall camp; Harris has the most serious injury and he sat out his entire senior season to make sure he's ready for 2014, while Ferns and Wangler both considered giving it a go in the UA game ($).
Three other future Wolverines participated in postseason all-star games. Mason Cole's East team was on the wrong side of a 28-6 blowout in the Army All-American Game, though he stood out on an otherwise-struggling line to earn the #6 overall spot on Josh Helmholdt's list of the team's top performers of the week ($):
Cole was one of the East's best offensive line performers all week, and he capped it with a great performance in Saturday's Army Bowl. While his fellow linemates were having a tough time corralling the West defensive line, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Cole had not [sic] trouble handling his own assignments. He lined up at both left guard and right tackle, showing he was light on his feet, while also being strong enough to battle on the interior.
He had at least one pancake block, to the delight of his future quarterback (Cole is #52):
— Wilton Speight (@WiltonSpeight) January 4, 2014
Finally, Lawrence Marshall and Chase Winovich participated in the Offense-Defense Bowl. While Winovich didn't make the cut, Marshall made Rivals' list of the game's ten best players after recording a pair of TFLs and a quarterback hurry ($).
Michigan (Finally) Offers Jeff Jones
As Michigan has pursued (and offered) three-star Cal RB commit Vic Enwere, I've wondered if they'd consider going after four-star Minnesota commit Jeff Jones, whose stock has steadily risen while his commitment status has softened. After Jones—who visited campus last summer after participating in the Sound Mind Sound Body camp—won team MVP honors in the UA game with an outstanding performance as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, the Wolverines came through with that offer, and per Scout's Allen Trieu there's mutual interest ($):
"I like Michigan a lot," he said, "just knowing the history of the program."
When asked if he would visit Michigan again or give them a harder look in his recruitment, Jones said, "Yes, for sure."
The Wolverines have plenty of competition for Jones; he has an official set to Florida for January 24th and plans to visit Michigan State, while Iowa State is also a factor (though we'll see if that lasts now that he's pulling in more impressive offers). If a visit materializes—and it sure looks like that will happen—then I think the Wolverines are in a good position to flip his commitment.
George Campbell Update: So You're Saying People Overuse The "So You're Saying..." Line
It's never a good sign when a player decommits from a school, especially when said player resides in an entirely different area of the country that's chock-full of football powerhouses. That's the case with George Campbell, and I have very little in the way of optimism that he'll find his way back into the class. That said, he's still talking like Michigan is a contender for his services, per Tim Sullivan ($):
"Michigan is still in the mix. [With Mason Cole], that's something he does. Even though when I decommitted he was kind of upset, but at the same time he understood. As a friend, he's still pulling for me to come for Michigan. He pretty much gave me some good advice on that recruitment. Pretty much saying, 'hey, Go Blue,' and 'you know where home is.'"
Wilton Speight, albeit a biased source, believes Campbell will end up back in the fold, and shed a little light on why Campbell decommitted in the first place, per Sam Webb ($):
When asked if he believes the five-star pass catcher will eventually rejoin the Maize & Blue fold Speight didn’t hesitate.
“Oh I think for sure,” he quickly responded. “The relationship he has with Mason and his family, and then already with our recruiting class… it was, we thought special. I think that he still thinks that too, but it was a tough situation. His uncle wanted him to take some more visits and I think George thought it was best for him too because he is so young. We’ve got to let George do what he thinks is best for him and respect his decisions. We’re here for him if and when he decides to come back.”
While Speight's optimism is slightly encouraging, the meddling uncle aspect—especially given heavy interest in Campbell from SEC and ACC powerhouses—is pretty disconcerting if you're a Michigan fan, even more so after taking into account how fellow East Lake receiver Artavis Scott's recruitment went down.*
With Bill O'Brien off to the Houston Texans, Penn State now lacks a coach, which has put the commitment status of several 2014 prospects up in the air. That includes four-star FL QB Michael O'Connor, who remains committed to PSU but has heard from other programs according to his former high school coach, per TomVH ($):
O’Connor remains committed to Penn State, but other programs have reached out to gauge his status. Tedondo has spoken with Syracuse, Michigan State and even Michigan about O’Connor’s situation.
“I talked to Coach [Al] Borges and he told me that it was down to two guys. He liked Michael O’Connor a lot, but they were set on taking one quarterback in this class,” he said. “They’re off until Tuesday, so I sent him Michael’s film and they’re going to talk about it as a staff and get back to me. They were set on one quarterback, but they’re going to talk about it.”
If a scholarship is available, I don't think it'd be a bad idea at all for Michigan to try to add a second quarterback in this class, assuming Speight doesn't mind the competition. We've all witnessed in the past few years (okay, several years) how quickly QB depth can become an issue.
The Glenville duo of Erick Smith and Marshon Lattimore pulled something of a Will Campbell this week in the leadup to the Army game, with each saying they were re-thinking their respective decisions to announce their commitments during the game. Whether they legitimately had second thoughts or just wanted to drum up drama is now a moot point—both committed to Ohio State during the game, as expected.
Another Happy Trails goes out to CA LB Dwight Williams, once thought to have serious U-M interest, though he never ended up on campus—he committed to in-state school UCLA during the Army game.
*For those who don't remember, Scott was thought to be Michigan-bound until Clemson swooped in and nabbed him late.