DEFENSIVE LINE: I doubt there is a dedicated Wolverine fan on the planet that was not aware of the fact that the Wolverines enjoyed and employed one of the best defenses in the world of college football last season. After all, as a defense, they stood Numero Uno in the nation at the close of the 2016 season.
They had great DL depth with the likes of Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton, and Ryan Glasgow. They had Matt Godin who developed later, but was extraordinary last year. They had a football “phenom” in Jabril Peppers.
They will be missed as those listed above and others have moved on to prospective NFL careers, where many of them will prosper.
Walk on Nose Tackle Glasgow showed his worth when he was injured for a good part of a recent season. The defense struggled at the nose without his talented play, and prospered at the position again last season with Ryan returned healthy at the nose.
Barring injuries, the heirs apparent that seem to lead in the competition for starting positions at this early point of the 2017 campaign, are Fifth year Senior DT Maurice Hurst, Redshirt Junior Bryan Mone, and DE Sophomore Rashan Gary. These three will anchor a DL that could approach last year’s starting DL in effectiveness.
All three are versatile, talented athletes, and there are talented additions to the line on deck. Don Brown is confident he can weld them into a cohesive and effective group. He has publically stated that he is not afraid of the process with this group, that it is worse to have an experienced group that is less talented than the opposite.
All three named above have the experience, motor, physique, and football smarts, to lead the Wolverines to defensive line success. While I take the reported timing of a super-fast big man run by Rashan with the proverbial grain of salt, there is no question he has extraordinary football gifts, including speed and motor skills. This year he will get sufficient snaps to showcase them.
The late recruitment of big DT Aubrey Solomon in the 2017 class will play an important part in prospective defensive line depth. Newcomer Lulji Villian has the body and skills to be felt at the rush end position. Freshman Deron Irving-Bey (6’5”, 271 lbs.) will also play an important part in the defensive line depth. The depth of the DL, and defensive depth in general, are important aspects of any defense, but especially in a Don Brown defense. Also known as Dr. Blitz, Brown calls a hell for leather game, all out every play. He needs fresh players for a game as fast and rough as college football. He needs skilled back up heavies to spell the hardworking first line.
Perhaps as many as a thousand snaps for the defense per season can provide an ugly opportunity for key injuries every season. It really is a next man up game. There are already reports of some injuries, and missed snaps (none of them season ending that I know of).
While the first line will approach the class of last season’s quality, the needed depth must still be engineered. At this point it appears they have the pieces to solve the quality puzzle, but developing youngsters takes time as they build experience. The DL newcomers are prime time athletes, and they will have to learn and ripen quickly. Chances are that under the tutelage of Brown, Mattison and Harbaugh they will succeed as a prime group overall, with some outstanding players, and play.
LINEBACKERS: The linebackers need to be rebuilt again, but this time there will be more speed if less experience than last season. An improving Fifth Year Senior Mike McCray is back. He will be the man in the middle (Mike). He returned an interception for a TD in the Orange Bowl, caused and recovered fumbles, as he improved over the season.
Some of the additional speed will belong to Devin Bush, Jr. (5’11”, 232 lbs.) His name keeps popping up favorably. A large load will be layered on his young shoulders. He could excel this season. He did that on special teams this past season, making 12 tackles. An experienced Redshirt Junior, Noah Furbush will compete. They need all the experience they can get to temper the loss of Jabrill Peppers, and Ben Gedeon.
Peppers talent can’t be duplicated but they can fill the “Viper” position (SAM) with talent sufficient to minimize the impact of the loss Peppers. There may be interchangeable players at the position, perhaps situational. The Viper is a hybrid LB- Safety position. Midway through the second week of practice Bush’s name was prominently connected with the Viper position. There will be others.
Sophomore Safety Khaleke Hudson has also been favorably been mentioned at Viper.
Sophomore Josh Metellus replaced Peppers in the Orange Bowl, and another one of the Glasgows, this time Jordan, walked on last season, and into consideration for playing time, by using good special teams play for initial notice.
In the wings are three Frosh of noted talent. Drew Singleton, is super talented, and will compete. Jordan Anthony is a five star recruit out of IMG. Maybe he will press others for a slot. Named last but not least is Josh Ross, brother of the graduated James. All have sterling defensive credentials, and may compete early.
All in all, this group seems to have extraordinary talent and the desire for success. As a position group they lack in depth and experience. With experience they will be faster to the edge etc., more athletic. The future looks good, but good how soon will it look good is a realistic question?
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Once you note that Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Delano Hill, and Dymonte Thomas are graduated and gone, the future seems shakier, and less predictable, for this position group. Someone has to step up fast.
It seems likely that Junior Tyree Kinnel will step up. He played in 13 games last year at safety, and excelled defensively on special teams.
Much is expected from Sophomore Lavert Hill. He will compete for one of the two starting CB positions. He played strongly in nine games last year. Can he grab a starting CB spot now? It seems likely he has a strong chance for a hot at a CB slot.
Sophomore David Long has healed from last season. He played well in four games at CB, and needs to build his fortunes this spring.
Khaleke Hudson fortunes seem to be rising. He played at safety some last year, and keeps getting mentioned. He will likely be solid competition for a safety spot this spring.
The time is now for DB development. If this safety position group reaches the season in crisis it will be a long one. Outside of the OL, this position group constitutes the biggest area of concern on this team.
There is some prospective help in the wings. From Canada comes Frosh Benjamin St-Juste. He is a tall cornerback at 6’3”. , and needs to add some weight. Talented yes, but how quick will he adjust the Wolverine’s game? He will have a chance to prove his case.
Freshman Ambry Thomas from MLK in Detroit enrolled in January. He seems likely to compete for some playing time this year. How much depends on what he can earn for a Wolverine position of need, but it seems he will be in the fray.
Another Safety prospect, Frosh J’Marick Woods, can lay the lumber at 6’3” and 205 lbs. He may play a role this year at this position of great need.
DEFENSIVE PROSPECTUS: It seems unlikely that the Wolverine’s team defense can reach the level of effectiveness that it reached last year, but I don’t think they will be a distant second to last year. They should be good. How good or bad only the season results can show. After the opener at Florida, we will have real football facts to evaluate. As usual, we certainly will not learn much from the spring results. What happens in the spring is not always what happens in the real world of actual football team competition, when the lights come on.
Only the season’s games reveal the depth of the team’s pluses and minuses, and enable answers to questions such as: Will the offense be robust enough to mask any early season short falls the defense might display this season? To put this idea another way, will the offense consistently be able to run the ball better than last year against their better competition?
It is going to be a blast to tune in, and find out as time progresses, just how good this Wolverine work in progress can become.
Meanwhile a different kind of learning experience looms for the team as they blast off for Italy after April 15th for more football practices, and some genuine culture shock. It should be a great college experience for the Wolverines.
Hope there is a large turnout for the spring “game”. It’ll be fun! After all it will be all Wolverines on the field.
It is time to move ahead from last year’s disappointing season. With all its high points on and off the field, the season ended with a painful thud. Three critical losses late in the season again provided no run at the B1G playoff or title. This and no national final four or title, together with no bowl victory, put to rest optimistic M fan expectations as they evaporated at seasons end.
LAST SEASON’S WOES, FINAL CALL: No matter that the Wolverine three late season losses were close. The Ohio State University victory drought continued at the hands of the Wolverines yet again, in what appeared a very winnable chance. The fact that this one occurred in double overtime did not alter the fact that it produced another very big ouch. That there was a controversial spot favoring the OSU offense didn’t matter either. The Wolverines did not score or defend well enough to win with everything on the line in crunch time in their most important outing of the season.
Then there was the final game in the Orange Bowl that ended with a controversial FSU off-side non call, perhaps preventing one more M offensive stab at victory. The real bugaboo was the Wolverine gift of the winning TD with 40 seconds on the clock. At clock zero, it was 33-32 for the wrong side. Another big ouch.
The season’s early promise became a miasma as those earlier promising season expectations evaporated. The harmful loss to Iowa that started the skid was simply inexplicable.
It is now time to drop kick our attention forward and attempt to estimate and evaluate what might lie ahead in this, Coach Harbaugh’s critical third year at the Michigan helm. It is the most critical of his Michigan tenure.
GOALS: Any attempted probe into the state of the football program early pre-season is always of questionable value, because the basis for much of its prognosis is what happened the prior season. Any prediction of a team’s future football fortunes is even more “iffy” for those programs attempting a spring to the top of the heap.
It is still true the Wolverines have made many significant steps forward under Harbaugh, with very few compensating steps backward, as their trajectory has mainly been forward and upward and all signs point to a continuance and improvement of rising fortune through achievement of goals.
It is easy to state goals pro-season. The difficult part is for the team to achieve them. The fun for fans is in watching them being achieved.
A LITTLE DEEPER INTO THE HARBAUGH ERA: It does not require too big a leap of one’s imagination to expect program progress to continue at an accelerating rate. High among those expectations are the things still unachieved, such as shots at a BIG Championship, and the pot of golden rewards that lie at the end of a successful National Championship Playoff rainbow. You know what they are. The team knows what they are. Harbaugh has established a culture and motivation that is superior. But first things come first. A critical first goal this year is participating in the Big Ten Championship Game. No Wolverine team heretofore has won the privilege.
Competing for these goals is boilerplate every year, but in Harbaugh’s third year expectations will rise.
These are his players, his coaches. They are not as experienced as last year’s edition, but it there are a number of sophomores with athletic talent, and college ready bodies, expected to contribute immediately. Foremost among that group is DE Rashan Gary who leads the group. He will be a prime time player this year. There are at least nine others in his class that played enough last season to be considered experienced this year. WR Eddie McDoom is an example. They will be bolstered by another fine recruiting class this year.
This year’s class had eleven early entries, with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones projected as perhaps the best athlete in the 2017 class, and perhaps even on the team. He will probably receive significant playing time this year if he can best the considerable competition in the position group. Cesar Ruiz is an able bodied, versatile OL that may be able to contribute, even fight for a starting spot. Many of this class will contribute to the two deep. We will get clues as to their identity as spring practice unfolds.
The perceived success of Wolverines this 2017 season to a large extent also depends on success in chasing the rainbows listed above, but this year it is overwhelmingly important that they whip OSU. It has to be done. There will again be a vapor of Scarlet and Gray smugness in the air this fall that can’t be tolerated in M Stadium. That has to be overcome this year. Hmm….maybe that aroma is more pungent than a sniff of smugness!
They must beat all three “States”: MSU and PSU and especially OSU in addition to competing for championships this season.
This is an important season for both this team and its coach. It is important that they surpass last season, which trended so well but finally failed in achievement of their prime goals, and it will be a difficult one. The schedule is tough, but MSU and OSU are at home.
All the aura of success that Harbaugh is managing off field must be equaled on the field to maintain. They must win against the best, home or away to compete for championships. There is work still to be done, and it won’t be easy. But we should expect additional success in year three.
THE QUARTERBACK POSITION: The QB positon has to continue to evolve, especially pass accuracy, and a total mastery of the long ball. This will have to happen with a brand new set of receivers. The fact that Wilton Speight threw for 2,538-yards last season, with 18 TDs, and only 7 interceptions, can’t be ignored.
Still he has to win the job again, and depth must be developed. Obviously, Speight is the experienced frontrunner, but Wilton Speight, Redshirt Brandon Peters, Jon O’Korn, and others will battle for the starting slot, and give no quarter. The QBs that do not achieve starter status may be asked to step in at a critical time during the season, after any offensive snap. It is very important every year that they are well schooled and ready.
This is Harbaugh’s forte. No doubt they will be ready. More Pep has been added to the mix
COACHING CHANGES AND COACHING RESPONSIBILITY CHANGES: I like the coaching additions and responsibility alterations they have made. Pep Hamilton has been added to the staff as Jed Fisch left. The additions and alteration are:
Pep Hamilton: Pep brings a wealth of QB coaching experience from the pro level as well as college as he replaces Jedd Fisch. I expect he will be solid there. He is M’s new Assistant Head Coach /Passing Game Coordinator.
Greg Frey: He was last at Michigan as Rich Rodriguez’s OL coach. He has been named Tackles and Tight Ends Coach. Does his presence mean some change in the blocking style of the OL, and maybe a little more spread? I like the split in the coaching of the OL. It may give the overburdened Drevno a little respite.
Jay Harbaugh: is now the Run Game Coordinator and Co-Special Teams Co-ordinator. Former RB coach Tyrone Wheatley has returned to the pros. There are some slings and arrows directed at Jay because he has no playing experience as a running back. My physician does not share my illnesses, but I expect help to effectively address the situation effectively through training. Jay will do the job.
Tim Drevno: He remains Offensive Coordinator/OL coach. He will coach the center and the two guards.
To accomplish their goals any year, the Wolverines have obstacles to surmount, and rebuilding an effective offensive line is one of them. It appears this task is at the top of the heap this season. Improved pass protection and a consistent running game are both necessary to success.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: This year the offensive and defensive lines are depleted. Experienced and versatile starters Sophomore Left Guard Ben Bredeson returns, as does Mason Cole. Right Guard may be manned by hefty and athletic Freshman Michael Onwenu (350 plus). It is possible that Freshman Cesar Ruiz vies for a spot on the in the two deep. Maybe can compete for a starting position. He has the physical tools. I doubt he will be at center because Mason Cole is experienced there. There is speculation Cole might vacate center. There will be a constant battle pre-season and maybe into the season as the search for the best five for the best five intensifies.
RUNNING BACKS: The style of the RBs will change with the graduation of the hammer that was DeVeon Smith at the position. It looks like the frontrunner at TB at this time is Sophomore Chris Evans. He gained 7-yards an attempt last season, and sometimes he is lightening in a bottle. Ty Isaac is back for his 5th year. He progressed last year and has size and talent. Junior Karan Higdon had six TDs last year and should be improved this year. Kingston Davis has transferred.
Kareem Walker will challenge for time. His light went on in the December Bowl practices. A healed Drake Johnson would be most interesting, but has not yet been cleared yet for a sixth year to the best of my knowledge.
Freshmen O’Maury Samuels is especially quick and Kurt Taylor. He had an outstanding junior year in HS (1,631-yards). At FB, Kahlid Hill will be back for his 5th year. He had 16 TDs last season. He can catch passes.
WIDE RECEIVERS: This is probably the most interesting position group on the team at this time. The oft injured and now recovered Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways have to find gold at the Last Chance Mine, or they will be passed by. They will be pressed by sophomore’s Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford. McDoom is fast and Crawford is faster. They are both now fairly experienced. Eddy McDoom had considerable experience last season, producing effective end arounds etc. Truth to tell he was more effective on the ground than receiving as that was the way he was utilized. But he can shine as a receiver, too.
The 2017 recruits are an outstanding group, with Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones considered by most to be hyper talented.
Tarik Black has star potential in this own right.
Brad Hawkins spent a year maturing in prep academy, where he put up outstanding receiving numbers. He is 6’2″ and 205 lbs. H
Martin and Collins also are gifted receivers.
If it turns out that the offensive line can effectively pass protect, I think that by the end of the season this wide receiver position group will be the strength of the offense.
Junior Grant Perry is missing a golden opportunity for football advancement by being in the doghouse for alleged transgressions after last season’s win in East Lansing. His football future remains in limbo. Hope he can work through it. The future looms exceedingly bright for this hyper talented group. Experience is coming their way to blend with their talent.
TIGHT ENDS: Redshirt Junior Ian Bunting will obviously get more opportunities for catches with the progression of Jake Butt to the pros. At 6’7″ and 250 lbs. Bunting is a talented load, along with stable mate Tyrone Wheatley. At 6’6″ and 276 lbs., Wheatley packs a punch, and owns good hands. I expect both these guys to explode this year.
And there is more. Sophomore Nick Eubanks, 6’5″ and 236, but will fight this spring for playing time.
The Wolverines did not land a TE recruit in 2017, but collared a talented 6′ 8″; 236 lb. walk on who has room to grow, Carter Selzer. After a pair of Glasgow walk on successes, and another one in progress, one not cannot help appreciating walk-ons. Besides Selzer, the Wolverines have a number of them this year. If one or more rises it will be noted.
Devin Asiasi, who saw extensive playing time last year as a freshman, has transferred to UCLA for personal reasons. He needs to be closer to home. There are no hard feelings on either side of this transfer.
Part 2 will present defensive comments later in the week.
The signing day festivities may have been missing those familiar faces of Derek Jeter and Tom Brady, due to his preparation for his 5th Super Bowl victory, but the amount of future star power that was there in attendance had the second annual Signing of the Stars event looking more star-studded than what most are expressing.
Last years event consisted of an all-around celebrity list including Ric Flair, Jim Leyland and even the popular Rap group, Migos. The university went all out for its first annual event. Jim Harbaugh wanted to do something different and amazing that no one was doing and simply just wow the new recruits, in other words to have celebration for their new future student athletes on furthering their education.
This years’ Signing of the Stars event was very much different from the previous. Harbaugh wanted to get away from those big name celebrities and put the spotlight truly on recruits and bring the community of the university together. After he was announced on to the stage by the Sklar brothers, he didn’t hold back about what could be his favorite word in the dictionary, family.
“Probably no better word in the English language.. to me, than family. ‘Cause we are tied at the hip, we are tied at the hip here at the University of Michigan. We are a family.”
It nearly took me a week just to process this event and how awesome it really was. There were so many factors that played into this event that made it simply special, entertaining, and downright hopeful for another great year of Michigan Football.
The Sklar Brother Tandem
Former Michigan Alum and masters of ceremony, Randy and Jason Sklar had everybody rolling as soon as they stepped onto the stage. Randy had the pleasure of hosting last years’ event but decided to bring his brother Jason along because he was “almost” as big as a Michigan fan as he was. Next thing you know, Jason reminisce when they slept outside Crisler Center for a Michigan vs Duke basketball game when a 2-year-old Grayson Allen decided to trip him on the way in. They even managed to get the crowd fired up with a reference of a certain Ohio referee thinking that joke came up 6 inches short. The two kept the show moving flawlessly and had everyone enjoying themselves till the very end. Hopefully, we can count on these guys being the host for years to come.
A Team Effort by the University
One of the many reasons I thought what made the event more special than last year was the element of having other coaches from other sports partake as presenters for the former alumni. From Carol Hutchins, the winningest softball coach in the NCAA history and Michigan Athletics to John Paul the head coach for the Mens Lacrosse team. In his 6th season, Paul has helped the club become new members of Division-1 Lacrosse and now is competing in the Big Ten Conference for the first time. The way that this was strategically set up was brilliant and idea of bring others coaches in for the presentation shows just how strong the Michigan community is and willing to cheer on for other athletic departments.
Back to Basics – Big Bodies
Whether it’s high school, college, or even the NFL, winning at the line of scrimmage is always a key to any football game. Nearly half of the 2017 recruits alone can be found playing on the line of scrimmage. Coach Drevno expressed how they wanted to get more athletic up front and wanted to bring in guys that can immediately compete on the offensive line and all 5 of them fits that bill. Jon Jansen expressed that he enjoys seeing the new recruits already being able to finish their blocks and doesn’t stop till the whistle is blown.
“That’s what I like to see, guys on their back and our guys on top of them.”
Caesar Ruiz, a 5-star Center out of IMG Academy had said that he had known for about two years that he was coming to Michigan after being asked about his popular commitment video and the whole process. Turned out he was just messing and was just saying that for the show purposes.
Graham Glasgow was asked about what kind of advice he could give to these young guys and his answer was perfect.
“Coach Drevno and Coach Harbaugh are always right, if you think you’re right.. you’re wrong.” He chuckled. “Just have faith in these guys and they’ll put theirs back in you.” He mentioned on a serious note.
One of the two biggest steals of the day that Michigan managed to grab was 5-star defensive tackle, Aubrey Solomon out of Georgia. He was a hard one to follow on what he was going to do. First, he committed, then de committed thanks to a miscommunication of a “thank you letter” for attending a BBQ held at the Big House in which he never attended and ultimately rubbed him the wrong way. But at the end of day, Harbaugh and company managed to solidify the defensive line for the next few years alongside with Rashan Gary. Those two together are going to be nasty to see.
The Amount of WR Depth
Detroit Lions Quarterback Jake Rudock mentioned that the offensive line creates the plays which allows the QB to hit those playmakers. We lost three huge offensive weapons in Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. But did we ever overachieve at the wide out position. We had known about Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, and Oliver Martin before the event.However, it wasn’t until roughly an hour and a half after the show that we officially went 2-2 on stealing another Alabama recruit right from underneath their nose in Nico Collins. Collins took his first trip when Michigan had played Maryland and It’s pretty damn amazing on why Collins chose Michigan over his second choice of Georgia followed by Alabama.
“It was very amazing,” Collins said. “There were 110,000 fans or something like that. They were live for all four quarters. When I walked in, I could see myself there. Going out under the tunnel under the ‘Go Blue’ sign, I could hear the fans yelling, ‘Nico, Nico!’
“That right there really meant a lot. That showed me they really care about players (yelling Nico). I’m from all the way down south, and they knew about me. That meant a lot.”
We really do have the best fans.
Mind you we still have Grant Perry, Kekoa Crawford, Eddie Mcdoom, Drake Harris and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. I still have goosebumps in thinking what this offense could look like. Pro Style? Spread? Both? I have no idea, but it’s hurting my brain.
Another Signing of the Stars has come and gone and it’s not hard to see and understand how Jim Harbaugh continues to change the environment at Michigan and why these young kids choose Ann Arbor. Three words. Family. Education. Football.