Recruits In Retrospect: 2009 Defense Comment Count

Ace June 10th, 2014 at 3:44 PM

oh boy

A couple summers ago, I delved back into the blogspot days to look at Brian's 2008 recruiting posts and how well players lived up to expectations. There were high points, like Mike Martin wrestling Not Mike Martin. These were accompanied by lows such as "Dann O'Neill might be Michigan's most critical recruit." The McGuffie mixtape was rewatched, wistfully.

I forgot to continue the series last summer, so I'm picking it back up with the 2009 class; conveniently, all the players from that class have completed their time in the program, so it's easier to give a fair retrospective on their careers. If you want to go back and look though the old posts yourself, the Tate Forcier profile features links to every player.

While that last link is a nice teaser for the offense portion of this exercise, today I'll be looking at the 2009 defensive recruits. Brace yourselves.

Never Forget

I'm gonna go ahead and get the defensive back portion of this post over with, as the four commits in the secondary were Vlad Emilien, Thomas Gordon, Justin Turner, and Adrian Witty. Emilien's projection was a harbinger of doom for U-M's future situation at safety:

Projection: Either sparing special teams time as a freshman or (hopefully) a redshirt. In 2010 will be a major threat to start at strong safety, though he might have to fight Brandon Smith to get a job.

Brian, today, on this quote: "I was so innocent then."

Smith moved to outside linebacker, then announced his intention to transfer near the end of the 2009 season, ending up at Temple and never doing anything of consequence there. Emilien followed a similar path, playing a little special teams as a true freshman, then transferring after the first game in 2010 when Jordan Kovacs put a death grip on the strong safety spot. He ended up as, yup, an outside linebacker at Toledo, where he made 15 tackles as a senior last year.

omg shirtless heroin-laced carrot

Witty never actually made it onto the team due to academic issues, eventually landing at Cincinnati, where he's the top returner in the secondary this year. Not getting him through admissions may be viewed as a recruiting failure, but in context, it was totally worth it:

Adrian Witty, a teammate of Denard Robinson, is Denard Robinson's teammate. On this team, which they share, they play together. Also, Witty and Denard Robinson attended the same high school. At this high school, they played on a team which they shared and played together on: they were teammates.

That should be clear. Many, many folks regard Witty's offer as the heroin-laced carrot used to lure critical QB recruit Denard Robinson away from Urban Meyer's clutches and to Michigan's post-apocalyptic frozen wastes.

Even though Witty would've been, at worst, the second-best defensive back in this class for U-M, there are no hard feelings here. We salute you, heroin-laced carrot.

The most hyped recruit in the class was Massillon, Ohio's Justin Turner, a top-35 overall player to both Rivals and Scout.* It wasn't hard to see what all the excitement was about:

That excitement only grew after Turner tore it up at Army All-American Game, to the point that his recruitment post led off with a discussion of one of those B/R "[touted recruit] is [football titan]" posts:

If you're measuring by delusional expectations of internet denizens, Justin Turner may be the #1 recruit in the universe. You've got to have an avalanche of hype for some guy to write an article saying you're Charles Woodson and get this response:

"Good article, but i see justin turner being faster then charles woodson. I also see turner being a better saftey the woodson was but woodson will be a better return man."

IE: "Good article about some high school senior being the reincarnation of the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman, but don't you think you're selling him a little short? Also I have no recollection of Charles Woodson's return abilities, which were pretty much crap aside from one white hot moment." (Yes, this exchange happened on Bleacher Report. Where else could it?)

Brian took the conservative tack, comparing Turner to... Marlin Jackson. Let's just move along.

The one defensive back to actually make a positive impact on the field at U-M, Cass Tech's Thomas Gordon, came in as a relatively anonymous recruit. He got Brandent Englemon for his "YMRMFSPA" and this projection:

General Excitement Level: Well… he is the lowest-ranked non-kicker in the class, and that's probably for a reason. 
Projection: Obvious redshirt and will likely require at least two years before he's ready to see the field on defense. The most likely (but by no means assured) outcome is that he doesn't contribute much.

Yes, it's possible for a Cass Tech recruit to exceed expectations.

[*ESPN was a skeptical outlier, listing him as their #21 athlete. Point, ESPN.]


At least Mike Jones provided us this picture.

On to the linebackers: Isaiah Bell, Mike Jones, and Brandin Hawthorne. Brian's assessment of Jones' potential almost nailed it:

General Excitement Level: Eh; I'm expecting one of the OLB recruts to pan out in a big way, one to be okay, and one to wash out. 

Instead, nobody panned out big. Bell washed out before died, Jones saw the field sparingly before playing his fifth year at Western, and Hawthorne topped out as a nickel linebacker.

I won't spend much time on these guys simply because there isn't a whole lot to talk about, but I will note that when a search for a player comparison goes like this, there's a pretty good chance you've got a serious tweener on your hands:

So he's just like Shawn Crable, if Crable was six to eight inches shorter. So he's just like Chris Graham, if Hawthorne was a stiff, clunky guy incapable of shedding blockers and not much for changing direction. He's not like either, actually. I mean, just look at the guy. Linebacker? In college? Er. There's a reason Hawthorne is well down in the rankings.

Brian suggested Hawthorne "may be better suited for a 3-3-5 than a more traditional D," and hoo boy did some bad memories just come flooding back. Quick, to the defensive line!

THORQWASH & The Crab Person

Between this and the legendary hood slide, we're all good, Big Will.

Justin Turner wasn't the only five-star recruit to the established recruiting sites to get some major skepticism from ESPN. Will Campbell's rankings went #35 overall (Scout), #26 overall (Rivals), and... #21 offensive tackle (ESPN). Another point for the Worldwide Leader. Like Turner, an outstanding Army game performance added to the hype, as did pictures like this...

...and, for entirely different reasons, this:


In retrospect, however, maybe we should've seen Campbell's future weight issues coming:

Campbell is one of the biggest players in the Army game, but he's apparently not ready for the roller coasters when the teams visit Six Flags on Tuesday night.

"There's a weight limit on those things," he said. "I might be on the tea cups."

Even though he didn't have the desired impact until a solid, though not five-star-caliber, senior season, Campbell always gave a hell of a quote. Brian's Gabe Watson comparison was pretty on point; though Big Will didn't come close to Watson's production, they were similar players—jovial, wildly talented, bull-strong, big fans of food—with similar hype coming to Ann Arbor. 

craaaaaaab people craaaaaab people

Michigan landed two defensive ends in the top-100 range in the class: Craig Roh (right) and Anthony LaLota. While Roh never became an edge-rushing terror, he managed to consitently produce and improve despite boucing between positions—not to mention different defensive schemes that didn't necessarily fit his skill set—for his entire career due to factors outside his control. This comparison both worked and, well, didn't work:

Why Shawn Crable? Crable was a 6'6" athletic terror with chicken legs who spent his Michigan career bouncing from DE to OLB and would have been the perfect player to slot in this spinner spot. Crable was also rated right around where Roh is. The comparison here is very tight.

The tweener aspect of the comparison was spot-on, but Roh ended up being a very different player from Crable, more disciplined and able to hold the point of attack but far less explosive off the edge.

As for LaLota, he received one of the most random YMRMFSPA comps in this blog's history:

Alain Kashama… except good!

Kashama was a total project at Michigan, coming in with little football experience—as did LaLota, who played just 12 games of organized football before hitting campus—before settling in as a reserve pass-rushing specialist, eventually totaling six career sacks.

That ended up being six more career sacks than LaLota recorded, as he transferred back to home-state Rutgers two weeks into his sophomore season, where he quit football to focus on his education after a move to tight end saw him buried on the depth chart.

We end with the class curveball, Quinton Washington, whom everybody evaluated as an interior offensive lineman—with most saying he had a ton of potential there, this blog included:

General Excitement Level: High. It's clear the coaches were nuts about this guy and he's got the offers and recruiting mojo to back it up. 
Projection: Though the coaches have suggested Washington might see the field this year—they think he's that ready—a redshirt makes more sense with Schilling's move inside solidifying the interior line. He'll have to fight Ricky Barnum to replace Moosman next year; if he loses that battle he'll be the odds on favorite to replace Schilling in 2011.

Steve Schilling, in fact, was his player comparison. Washington instead moved to nose tackle early in the 2010 season, worked his way into a starting role as a junior, earned the nickname QWASH, and gave the defense a proficient space-eater until his role mysteriously diminished last season.

The real answer is Roh, but one could make a reasonable argument that Michigan's most critical 2009 defensive recruit was a guy who never played a down for the Wolverines: heroin-laced carrot (seriously, Brian, how the hell do you come up with these things?) Adrian Witty.



June 10th, 2014 at 4:04 PM ^

just blows my mind, still.  What a wasted talent.  Academic issues are one thing, but IIRC, he showed zero interest in getting in shape and playing football after he showed up for camp.


June 10th, 2014 at 6:07 PM ^

I shouldn't go there, but I will.

Justin Turner was broke because RichRod wanted to break him.   As a teacher I always abhorred the way the RichRod set out to destroy/break Turner;  I see Turner as a talent that needed to be tempered and taught to play within hisself...




June 10th, 2014 at 9:48 PM ^

That's why JT was such a big success at other less rigorous colleges after he transferred. On wait...

I think his track record after he transferred clearly showed that if you ware to place any blame on any one person, it would be on him.


June 11th, 2014 at 10:11 AM ^

As a "non fan" of RichRod, I'm always open to hear more about how he ruined the program, but how do you know how he treated Turner?  I don't think I've seen any press on it.  Seems pretty far fetched to just assume that Rich wanted to "break" any of his players.  I think the more likely situation is that Rich recruited some talented kids but didn't take the time (or lacked the insight) to see that they either weren't a good fit for Michigan or just weren't kids likely to pan out anywhere. 


June 10th, 2014 at 4:40 PM ^

Then after all that, Big Will is drafted as an offensive guard.  I'll think back to some of the issues we had on guard at times if I ever see Big Will develop in a reliable NFL starter as a guard,


June 10th, 2014 at 4:44 PM ^

Seriously, I forgot how bad this defensive class ended up being until I passed the point of no return for writing this post. The offense features 100% more dilithium, as well as a couple NFL tackles and a Jeremy Gallon, so that trip down memory lane will be a lot more fun.


June 10th, 2014 at 4:58 PM ^

Everything in his junior year pointed to him being a solid, sometimes great NT and we alllll expected him to be the anchor of the line last year....and he absolutely vanished. I just cannot fathom how that happens. If it was an injury thing, that sort of stuff typically would leak at the end of the it seems he was totally healthy and was just benched.

I just don't understand what happened


June 10th, 2014 at 5:10 PM ^

Could we have thrown darts, blindfolded, at a recruiting spreadsheet and ended up with more solid starters than this class produced?

Yes.  Sadly, the answer is yes.

Mr. Yost

June 11th, 2014 at 9:42 AM ^

Feel like they're smarter than coaches...and I don't blame them/us when you see stuff like this. It's atrocious. It's almost, dare I say...a fireable offense when a big part of your job is to recruit talent to play for the University of Michigan. 

I mean, no one could've imagined it would be this bad, but in the end...that's a big fat F, no matter how you slice it.

Outside of Jake Ryan, Devin Gardner, Mike Martin and a few other Omameh/Demens/Roundtree/Floyd types...2008 and 2010 were no better.

The best part of that 3 year period was what Ace is getting ready to do next, the offense of 2009. Denard, Lewan, Schofield, Gallon, Finger Pistols.

No wonder the NFL draft has been painful for us to watch the past 3 years.


June 11th, 2014 at 2:04 PM ^

Well, yeah...but if you look at the recruiting posts from Brian, they're also filled with superlatives and high expectations. It's not like Brian was saying "whoa whoa whoa let's slow down on this Justin Turner recruitment!"

This is the epitome of second-guessing. Right now we have the advantage of looking in hindsight at the 2009 class, but at the time it all went down, there were a fair number of people excited about Turner, Emilien, etc.

Mr. Yost

June 11th, 2014 at 5:12 PM ^

No one in their right mind would've been against that commitment.

But there were PLENTY of people who wanted the "old" Michigan way of recruiting and they old Michigan player.

If I asked "What is a Michigan QB, RB and WR"...Denard, Vince Smith and Tay Odoms wouldn't have been your answers.

Does that mean Carr didn't have a bunch of busts too? Nope. Does that mean Carr didn't have a bunch of busts from guys that looked like "Michigan QB, RB and WRs"? No.

I was simply saying that a number of people felt that the smaller guys from the warm weather weren't going to work in Ann Arbor, in the B1G, and in the cold weather.

Then you'd have the people defending saying "well, it worked in WVU just fine didn't it?"

I'm not defending it one bit, I'm not saying I was one of those people that can now sit back and say "see, I told you so"...because I wasn't and I'm not.

Of course we can ALL look back now and shake our fists...but even then, Rich Rod wasn't blowing the world away in recruiting.

And the answer was always "well he won a BCS bowl game with 3 star we shouldn't be worried."

THAT is what I'm talking about. Not particularly who was recruited, like Turner, but the level of recruiting.

Now Carr wasn't blowing the world away his last couple of years, but before that Michigan fans were pretty accustom to being top 10 in the final recruiting rankings...Rich Rod got here and started collecting the 3*'s from Florida and some people said "wait, hold one...This is Michigan" and others said "don't worry, he's done this before and won."

Sac Fly

June 10th, 2014 at 5:23 PM ^

The only reason I remember Emilien is because he transfered after being demoted to 3rd string behind Van Slyke, then after he left everyone on the safety depth chart got hurt and we had to start Ray Vinopal.

Ghost of BCook…

June 10th, 2014 at 5:56 PM ^

It's hard to believe Michigan was remotely competitive the last 4 years with a class like this. I see this post as a huge positive - even with this disaster, Michigan was at the very least competitive.  If the coaches were able to coax a "C minus" performance out of a defense that should have been relying on these guys the last two years, it makes me very hopeful of what they will do with the vastly better classes of '11 through present. 

A lot of you seem to see this as a sad post, it's totally not! 


June 10th, 2014 at 6:35 PM ^

This is kind of why I'd like to see Brady get at least 2 more years. I doubt many coaches could've done significantly better with how gutted the roster was. Now with several excellent recruiting classes in (and not leaving. Hallelujah), the program is built to surprise in the next 1-3 years.

I'm not saying Brady is 100% the guy for the job, but I just don't want us to blow it all up and gut the program for another 3-5 years. We've already been wandering in the wilderness for 6 years. Suck it up and survive another year or two (please)


June 10th, 2014 at 10:33 PM ^

People's expectation (including myself) was a tad too high last year with some of the youth. However, the Akron and UConn performance was inexcusable. The other thing was the team didn't better as the season went on and players gained experience. It's those things that shook my faith in Hoke. That said, this 2009 recap is horrifying and I beg Ace doesn't do something similar for 2010. 


June 10th, 2014 at 11:59 PM ^

In the 3 weeks after Michigan made them look like a future BCS buster, that "stacked" Akron team proceeded, in order, to:

lose 38-35 to Louisiana-Lafayette

lose 31-14 to Bowling Green

lose 43-3 to Ohio (no, not that Ohio)

followed by a respectable loss to Northern Illinois and a blowout to Ball St.

The Akron game was a disgrace however you slice it.




June 11th, 2014 at 5:23 AM ^

You people get to preoccupied with style points, you play to win the game and we did. Sure we looked bad against Akron and UConn but we won!!! This isn't the Horror part I or II. At this point I'll take W's anyway we can get them.