MEDIA DAY COMPLETES AN OUT STANDING NON PRACTICE OFFSEASON FOR COACH HARBAUGH AND HIS SECOND WOLVERINE TEAM, WITH PRACTICE DURING FALL CAMP PENDING. THE WORK WILL CONTINUE AS IT INTENSIFIES. EVEN IF GREAT EXPECTATIONS CAN SOON COLLIDE WITH FOOTBALL REALITIES, AND MIGHT BE TINGED BY THOSE REALITIES.
Some fans project the Wolverines to soar into the college football playoffs, and even the final National Championship game. Others just hope M can make it to the East Division Championship game and win to secure their first Big Ten Championship in years, finally earning the honor of playing in the Big Ten Championship game. Even playing that game sours if they lose it.
It seems embarrassing that the self-proclaimed “Leaders and Best” have never played in that game since its inception. Winning that game would be the achievement that the legendary Bo Schembechler would have fought for, with little look ahead. Get that and the other dominos can begin to fall.
A season presents a long football road, and there are many obstacles in the path of the Wolverines to the four team 2016 FBS playoff. There are questions to be answered and obstacles to be removed from the Wolverine’s path. There will be stiff competition. Harbaugh wants his Wolverines to savor competition, wants the thought of competition to raise the hair on the back of the Wolverine’s necks through delight.
The obstacles to football success prevail not only in Ann Arbor, but for each of the 13 other teams that comprise the misnamed Big Ten Conference.
Immediate past conference leaders, MSU and OSU, are rebuilding in more major respects than the Wolverines. Obviously this year presents opportunities. Harbaugh will have his Wolverines snarling and poised to leap over, dig under, go around, or bust down obstacles in the path of wins leading to championships.
The Big Ten Media days indicated that the Wolverines have been chosen to finish second in the East this year (to the Brutus Bunch). I am not buying that one unless and until the BB’s collar that Big Ten title. That is a long ways away. Earlier, in the schedule, the Badgers of Wisconsin will provide a litmus test at home. How M cages the Badgers could provide an omen of future battles.
The early schedule aides the Wolverine’s cause, but the late cluster of three tough away from home games (OSU, MSU, and Iowa) could be significant hindrances to the Wolverine’s season goals..
If M can’t finally find a couple road wins against their better opponents, they deservedly will not play for a Championship. The Wolverines current coaching staff will not tolerate intimidation on the road, and will harden them for the experience. Coach Harbaugh, according to his statements, is looking forward to the challenge, not trying to tweak the schedule, or crying.
As is true of all football teams, many of Michigan’s hurdles are intrinsic.
OFFENSIVE PROSPECTS: Will they have an effective running game? Will third and twos more closely resemble gimmes? Last season in their two toughest games, the Wolverines managed only 58 totes for 118-yards.
The offensive line may still pose a question. While the OL has improved in pass protection in recent seasons, the running game obviously has not been among the best in the Big Ten, and still needs to improve. Without question, the most important position on any OL is the center. Former Left Tackle Mason Cole is now the center. As talented as anyone on that line, he is the Wolverines best lineman. At least while he was at left tackle. That’s the upside. The downside is that he is inexperienced at the center position, at the OL’s most demanding position. Can Mason stand up to the large nose tackles that will attempt to dominate him, and will talented newcomer, Grant Newsome, add or detract to the line’s effectiveness as Cole’s replacement at left tackle.
While the rest of the OL is very experienced, it has not been overwhelming the past couple of years, even if it improved last year.
The cadre of running backs, still lead by DeVeon Smith, should be deeper and improved. Smith can hammer it out with the best of them, but his style risks injury. Some of the depth is experienced, some is not. There is better depth now then there has been for quite some time. Drake Johnson seems healthy and ready to bust out. He blossomed at the end of last year. RB Ty Isaac had a good spring and is now back in the pre-season conversation. Freshman RBs Kingston Davis, and Kareem Walker, are very talented. Harbaugh uses full backs and Sr. Wyatt Shallman (Jr. elig.), and Senior Henry Poggi (Jr. elig.) return. At 266 lbs., Poggi is the heaviest fullback, but Senior Kahlid Hill (Jr.elig.) is only a few lbs. lighter.
Again this year, worry warts, including me, are still confounded by the QB position, including me. Will it be frontrunners Wilton Speight or John O’Korn? Or will it be another, like Shane Morris?
It is consoling that Harbaugh is a master at preparing QBs. His track record and credentials are superb regarding that position. There is no doubt the Wolverines will field an effective QB.
O’Korn seems (to me) to have a little more upside now, but the best QB will start, and it will be a competition worth watching. I have no concern that Coach Harbaugh will not be able to produce an outstanding QB from the position group. There are few coaches out there with the QB credentials that Coach Harbaugh possesses, if there are any.
The receiver corps should be solid. Two great receivers return, both Amara Darboh, and Jehu Chesson. Amara was recently lauded by Harbaugh to be the best receiver on the team (at Chicago Media Days), which may be Harbaugh fostering competition as he is prone to do. Jehu Chesson is a great receiver in his own right, Jehu is returning from injury, and as of the date of this publishing it is unclear how near to 100% healthy he is. Everyone hopes he is100% for the season. Jehu also figures into the special teams, with his speed even garnering a fumble recovery last year.
Add Grant Perry, and Maurice Ways, plus Freshmen Dylan Crawford, Nate Johnson, and Ahmir Mitchell to name a few. All are talented. It is an imposing group without Eddie McDoom, and more so with him. His is the coolest name going. He’ll get a chance to prove his skills like the rest of them.
Blend them with a great group of Tight Ends, led by SI Pre-Season All American Jake Butt, and a head coach that values their use in quantity, and there should be more opportunity for then ever for this group. Ian Bunting has talent. Look out for Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. At 6 foot, 6 inches, and 280 pounds and athletic, he will probably break out this year. Several talented newcomers are in the wings, named Devin Assasi, Nick Eubanks, and Sean McKeon. The position group is loaded.
For me the most worrisome position group remains the offensive line and its lack of depth. They have been recruiting the position like mad, but that will probably not help this year.
DON BROWN’S DEFENSE: The Detroit News and others have recently referred to him as Dr. Blitz. That gives a good idea of Brown’s defensive proclivities. He replaces last season’s DC Durkin, now the Head Coach of the Maryland Terrapins. Brown is a newcomer to the Michigan family of coaches, but he is not a newcomer to the formation of outstanding college football defensives. He appears to be a perfect fit with Harbaugh as they are both over the top in fervor when it comes to coaching football.
Coach Brown will cut the Wolverines loose to attack, attack, and then attack!!! Perhaps he can help the Wolverines to develop an antidote for the spread which, in the past, has often acted on Wolverine defenses like a virulent virus.
There is outstanding talent throughout the defensive group. SI Pre-Season All American Jabril Peppers will now be employed sometimes as a pass rushing linebacker who can play nickel or safety as well as linebacker. He can return punts, play running back, catch passes out of the backfield or the slot, QB from the pony, and more. All productively! He will be an opposing DC’s nightmare as he lines up all over the place.
You don’t have to take my word for it regarding Pepper’s football worth. The usually taciturn Harbaugh addressed the subject of Peppers abilities in unusually laudatory terms at the recent 2016 Chicago Big Ten Media event. He flatly stated that he, Jabril, can rise to be, with hard work (always a part of the Harbaugh mantra), among the finest of that group of athletes which Harbaugh considers the best in the world, namely elite pro football players. High praise from an unlikely source, but there it was.
SI Pre-Season All American Corner Jourdan Lewis is not far behind, if at all. Outstanding last year, he should be even better this year. There are published reports that Lewis wants some snaps of offense, at receiver, so perhaps we can look forward to that, as well as his special team’s participation. Harbaugh says it might happen.
Recovered from injury, Ryan Glasgow is back at the nose, along with huge Bryan Mone, also returning recovered from an injury that kept him from playing much of last season. They are a fearsome twosome.
The M defensive line is recognized this preseason as the best Michigan has had in a long while. It has yet to prove that it is the best college football can afford this year, but it seems to be a contender for high honors. The Wolverines returned DE Chris Wormley, DE Taco Charlton, Nose Ryan Glasgow, and Nose Bryan Mone, while losing Willie Henry and Mario Oljeumudia. Mone will likely compete for a starting slot.
New to the defense this year are Rashan Gary, Carlo Kemp, DT Michael Dwumfour, and DE Ron Johnson. Deep and of more than adequate size, these talented athletes, under the experienced and talented tutelage of Coach Greg Mattison, can aid this position group to be the best on the team, especially if the highly hyped Freshman Defensive End Rashan Gary lives up to billing.
He should fit Brown’s system to a tee, and he appears to have a Big Ten ready physique. He should contribute this year, at a position where M has been so-so recently. The Wolverines need to bag bags of TFLs, and sacks. They have been in the need for speed at the position group.
The two deep is outstanding, and the depth takes care of fear of the injury bug for the group.
The DBs are not far behind with All American Jourdan Lewis forgoing pro ball to come back. He has it all: speed, athletic ability, work ethic and desire. Rapidly improving corners, Channing Stribling, and the improving Jeremy Clark will both play. The Safeties will be Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. It is time for Thomas to break-out.
As noted above, even without Jabril Peppers (to LB), the DBs are a very athletic group, and they have been targeted for preseason accolades naming them as possibly the best secondary in the Big Ten. The proof will be in the winning.
LB is the defensive area of concern that almost matches offensive line worry. A couple of things have muted that concern somewhat since the outstanding performance of previously frequently injured Senior Mike McCray, and the fact that Jabril is now a LB. Mike missed 2015 with an injured shoulder. I interviewed him today and he says he is 100% healthy. He also said that his Dad who was a Buckeye, also out lasted the injury bug. Senior Ben Gedeon returns, as does Junior Noah Furbush.
Freshmen Devin Bush, Elysee Mbem–Bosse, and Joshua Uche, are talent rich, and likely to see time, and there are others in the competition.
First year LB Coach, Chris Partridge will be up to the task.
THE CURRENT STATE OF THE MERITOCRACY: Coach Harbaugh is obviously enjoying himself more in his second year. Player confidence and fan enthusiasm have been restored. Fan enthusiasm and national recognition have reached unbelievable heights over the off season.
Harbaugh has managed to outshine many of the prominent college coaches in the country and out-staged them, especially a few stuffed shirts in the SEC. Over spring break the team tripped to Florida, spring practicing at IMG Academy, and weathering shouts of no, no, no from jealous competitors. Harbaugh prevailed and the team enjoyed a spring break trip, while Harbaugh spread his recruiting grasp into fertile Florida. This summer he staged numerous football camps, some of which were in both hemispheres. Recruiting has been above average this year, and will still yield additional results. The coaches have been all over the map all summer, and it seems that no one has burned out, or will be unprepared for the season. I did not attend Chicago Big Ten Media Days this year or last, but watched all the available video I could find. During the 2016 Big Ten Media days, I saw a great 15 minute video of a roundtable with Gerry Dinardo, and the usual members of the Big Ten crew, that was much better than anything I saw him do last year. He visited a range of subject’s including his rap video, with humor, and great aplomb, and found time to throw out the first pitch in a White Sox, Cubs baseball game at Wrigley.
Harbaugh topped off the off season by co-authoring a book celebrating the Wolverine’s 2015 season entitled “Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind”. An M grad, David Turnley, a noted photographer, was on the scene over the season. Proceeds go to a fund to benefit the weight room.
While he has become a nationwide coaching personality, Harbaugh has kept his focus. He is lasered in on the betterment of Michigan’s football fortunes, and the motor seems to never quit.
You can feel a miasma of mist (disdain, jealously? Is it a green mist?) arise from the swamps of some of the competition, as inventive Jackhammer Jim plies his trade inventively, on and on. How satisfying!
Harbaugh is now comfortably fitting into his Michigan shoes. Rest assured that they are now Jumpman Brand. Jumpman is an upscale and popular Nike derivative that since August 1, has furnished gear to M’s Football and Basketball teams. The Nike Swoosh is on the gear of the other sports
To me, the Jumpman logo appears too prominent on some of the new M gear as the M logo seems to be not always prominent enough. For example, on some great looking shoes, the block M is only on the sole of the shoe. The Jumpman logo is on the side of the shoe. What? Otherwise, the roll out of the new gear has been noteworthy and well received by those going to wear it on the field and in the crowd. The gear is a step above Addidas, and overall looks good. Harbaugh said he was very impressed by the State Street roll out celebration.
2016 MEDIA DAY: On Sunday morning, August 7, the players and coaches, excluding the Freshmen, were introduced to the press. In years past Youth Day was held in M Stadium on the afternoon of the same day. This year, it has been switched to the spring.
Media day this year consisted of a meeting at the Junge Center to introduce this year’s coaches and the team the media. First the coaches were available for interview by clusters of reporters, and then came comments by Harbaugh, and just before lunch offensive and defensive players were available in separate rooms for interview. Reporters get to place faces with names. Some players indicated that the “submarine” will again be called for camp. Some also indicated that the high Harbaugh profile deflects pressure from them, and that is much appreciated.
Coach Harbaugh discussed Jourdan Lewis playing receiver in addition to his CB duties, and indicated that he limits a player’s participation to 90-100 plays, depending on the player/situation. He said there could be additional two way players but he would only name Peppers and Lewis.
It should surprise no one that Coach Harbaugh did not name a QB as the real competition is just beginning. He lauded LT Grant Newsome, and said right now Grant would be the Left Tackle starter. None the less he will still have to compete for that status. Team expectations are high, which is good.
I sat in on an extensive interview of sly old fox, Greg Mattison, DL coach. He had kind words regarding Chase Winnovich, who is back to defense from TE. Chase is bigger and aggressive. He lauded Taco Charlton. Taco has great leverage, and is a great athlete. He is also big. Phil Callihan interviewed him, and thought at first he was TE size. Mattison emphasized that what you did the year before is not pertinent, and that what you do now is what counts. Despite competition, the defensive line is a close knit group. He stated Bryan Mone and Ryan Glasgow are competing hard at the nose, both want to get better. Ryan is 100% back to where he was before injury. Mattison mentioned Maurice Hurst can play either the three-technique or the nose, and Hurst confirmed it during interview. He said Matt Godin is a DT, and can also play nose. Chris Wormley is either three technique (DT) or strong side defensive end (Anchor). Since “best players” play, Rashan Gary has a chance of playing at the Anchor. Rashan is “very accountable”. He cited Rashan’s humility, eagerness for knowledge, and ability to learn from upper classmen and fit in. Gary has learned well. He also cited Chris Wormley’s leadership ability, high character, and the ability to run at 305 pounds.
Mattison is impressed with all and everything Peppers.
Conclusion: Over all, M football is heading in the right direction on all fronts as it prepares to submerge again for fall camp, but that perception continuing is contingent on winning either or both of its tough away games against MSU and OSU. To me MSU is most important because we need to dominate our own state. Of course both would be better, but at least one is a necessity.