photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Devin Funchess’

M&GB staff predictions: Appalachian State

Friday, August 29th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

The eight-month wait is finally ticking down into the final hours and I’m sure you can hardly contain yourself. Last night we got to watch the first real football of the season and tonight we get to watch our rivals in East Lansing feast on an inferior opponent. Tomorrow, it’s our turn. Seemingly everyone has made their predictions by now and now it’s time to make ours. We make it an internal competition throughout the season to see who is the most accurate. Derick won the title last season, so he will try to repeat. Here are our predictions:

Justin

As I said in this morning’s game preview, there’s not much good that can come out of this game. Win big: good, just as expected. Win close: uh oh. Lose: all hell will break loose. A dominating performance that leaves no doubt is needed, but just like in last season’s opener against Central Michigan, it won’t tell us much going forward. The most important thing for the offense is to get the offensive line some confidence, let Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith show what they can do, and enable Devin Gardner to begin developing chemistry between his talented but inexperienced receiving corps. And against a defense like App State’s all three should happen.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Central Michigan
Justin 52 10
Sam 45 7
Derick 45 14
Josh 52 9
Joe 48 17
M&GB Average 48 11

I’m most excited to see Greg Mattison’s new-look aggressive defense. Running back Marcus Cox is the danger man, but he can’t do it all. Quarterback Kam Bryant is going to have to try to make plays through the air with an inexperienced group of receivers. This has the makings of a big day for the secondary, and can you imagine the hype if Jabrill Peppers makes a big play? Michigan wins big, gives the starters a rest for much of the fourth quarter, and moves on to Notre Dame.

Michigan 52 – Appalachian State 10

Sam

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t watched much (OK, make that any) Appalachian State tape to prepare for my prediction. Hell, I don’t think I’ve seen a single Mountaineer play since that game-that-shall-not-be-named.

What I do know is that Michigan will play Appalachian State to kick off this season for some unknown and illogical reason. Lightning has struck twice before, but I would venture to say that this weekend should see clear skies and a return to normalcy…at least for the time being. Michigan’s depth and athleticism on offense paired with a potentially stout defense should prove to be far too much for Appalachian State (don’t worry, I just knocked on wood…twice). The Devin-to-Devin connection will reach paydirt twice while both Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith both score TDs along with the first career scoring reception from Amara Darboh. Michigan rolls.

Michigan 45 – Appalachian State 7

Derick

Will this year’s matchup with Appalachian State be redemption? No, of course Michigan can never erase that 2007 upset. But there certainly won’t be a repear oF that debacle, at least not this year.

Michigan should dominate defensively, and an inconsistent offense will flourish against a weak, new-to-FBS opponent. Devin Gardner is going to be the talk of the town on Saturday, leading Michigan to the win.

Michigan 45 – Appalachian State 14

Josh

It’s finally that time again. I’ll be honest, I’m not looking at this game as ‘revenge’ and I’m not even upset about 2007′s game. Yes, it was (utterly) disappointing but App State was a two-time defending champ that would go on to with a third straight and was loaded with talent. But neither of the teams that took the field back then are taking the field this Saturday.

On to 2014, we know App. State is not the ’07 version and it’s not even close. Yes, Michigan has many questions on offense but the defense will be very good (possibly elite). App. State wasn’t very good at stopping the run last year so I expect to see much of the same from them. Even with unknowns on Michigan’s offensive line I think the run game will get going early and often,while mostly unproven Michigan still has loads of talent. This, in turn, ‘should’ open up the play-action game and Michigan’s superior athletic talent should run (literally & figuratively) rampant over the Mountaineers. On defense I expect to see a lot of blitzes, from everywhere on the field, which should leave to some turnovers and easy scores for the offense.

I know we’ve all been waiting with baited breath for Jabrill Peppers to take the field and, unlike with Norfleet where I always just expected his next game to be the one he finally breaks a return touchdown, I actually DO think Peppers will find the end zone. We’ve all seen his highlights, and if you haven’t welcome back from under the rock from which you’ve been hiding for the past 12 months. The kid is just an absolute freak of nature, and apparently he comes with an ‘edge’ according to Hoke.

All in all I expect this to be a typical blowout against a lesser opponent. Turnovers will be forced by the defense and the offense shouldn’t have too much trouble putting up points.

Michigan 52 – Appalachian State 9

Joe

It’s time to get this season kicked off with a BANG and exorcise some demons in the process. I’m 100 percent certain there is not a player or coach on the maize and blue sideline that cares about the last meeting between these two programs. I’m also 100 percent certain that the entire 109,000-plus fans in attendance do. That’s what makes this game so interesting. I think the offense will look to establish the running game early and wear down a smaller Mountaineer defense. Ball control…ball control….ball control. The offense will be able to move the ball relatively easy through the air as well with Funchess being a beast in the middle. A beast!

I can’t wait to see em turn the defense loose. Lots of blitz packages early will rattle an inexperienced App State bunch and create some early turnovers. Jake Ryan will have these guys buzzing and should force four or five turnovers throughout the game. They don’t give up more than 17 points in this one. Because of the turnovers, Michigan will have plenty of short fields to work with and take advantage putting up 45-plus.

Michigan 48 – Appalachian State 17
_______________________________________________________________________________

Links: 

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Appalachian State game preview; a First Look at Appalachian State; our preseason Big Ten Power Rankings; this week’s BBQ/tailgate idea, Hot-’n-fast pulled pork with Carolina mustard slaw; end this week’s Five-Spot Challenge.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewMaize n Blue Nation, and Maize and Blue News. Also, a visitor list from MGoFish.

From the other side, some predictions from AppFan.com and a game preview from Big C’s Tailgate. Also, this is kind of….interesting.

M&GB season preview roundtable

Friday, August 22nd, 2014


Roundtable-banner

It has become our tradition at the beginning of each season to preview the upcoming season via a staff roundtable. We answer several questions with our predictions and expectations for what the season will bring. Drew has moved on, but we still have Justin, Sam, Derick, and Josh. We also invited our partner at MmmGoBluBBQ, Joe, to join us for the roundtable. We also invite you to give your answers in the comments below. Tell us what you agree with or disagree with. Next week we will begin our game week coverage.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: I’m most excited about what should be a very good defense. With so much talent and experience returning, it should be one of the top defenses in the Big Ten and may have to carry the team, at least in the early going. The best Michigan teams in recent history have featured stifling defenses — most notably 1997 and 2006 — and I think I can speak for most Michigan fans when I say I miss the days of Michigan having a dominating defense. It’s a major stretch to say this year’s unit could be as good as the 1997 one, but anywhere close would make for a very good season.

Michigan's defense won't be as good as the 1997 version, but it is one to be excited about

Michigan’s defense won’t be as good as the 1997 version, but it is one to be excited about

With most of the big questions on the offensive side of the ball, the defense is going to need to be very good, and if it is we have two recent examples that could foreshadow the upcoming season: Notre Dame in 2012 and Michigan State in 2013. Notre Dame’s offense ranked 80th nationally in scoring, 38th in rushing, and 72nd in passing that year but still made it to the national title game thanks to its defense. Last season, Michigan State’s offense ranked 63rd in scoring, 59th in rushing, and 84th in passing but still won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl thanks to its defense. I’m excited for the possibility that Michigan’s defense, which should be more aggressive this fall, could carry the Wolverines to a special season.

Sam: I’m most excited about…football! After last year’s dreadful, seemingly never-ending season, I never thought I’d be so excited to see the Maize and Blue on the field just a season later, but I suppose hope reigns eternal right now. As far specific excitement about this team goes, I am really looking forward to seeing the whole defense working to live up to its enormous expectations. Every single position has an extremely strong two-deep, and every unit has at least one potential game-changer. With names like Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, James Ross III, and Jabrill Peppers, there’s no telling how good this defense could be. A consistent pass rush could mean a top-10 or even top-five defense nationally.

Derick: The most exciting storyline has to be the beginning of Jabrill Peppers‘ career in Ann Arbor. The No. 2 overall recruit has a chance to be a difference maker on defense and revive a kick return game that has been dormant since Steve Breaston left Michigan.

Josh: The defense and its personnel and scheme changes. I’d much rather see an aggressive, menacing defense with an average offense than an average defense with a high octane/high scoring offense. Luckily for Michigan it appears as though we just might get that menacing defense in 2014. That is something to be very excited about after we had to watch last year’s ‘bend but don’t break’ defense sit back and give up big gain after big gain.

Joe: I have a feeling that Coach Nussmeier will focus on building a strong run game with Green and Smith and help control the ball a little more than in recent years. Michigan has the horses to build an above avg. run game with these 2 and it will be fun to see if we can get back to a little smash mouth football at the big house. I’m also looking forward to some great BBQ on “Tailgate Tuesdays”.

What worries you most entering the season?

Justin: Okay, so this question is pretty rhetorical this year. The offensive line has to be the answer after last year’s meltdown and the loss of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. If it’s as bad as last season, even a high-caliber defense won’t save the team. But I really don’t think it will be. Do I expect it to be a mauling, classic Michigan offensive line? Absolutely not. But I do think it will be more cohesive than last season and more sound with a simplified playbook. Even so, until we see it in action, the worry is there.

The huge question obviously lies with Erik Magnuson and the rest of the line (Matthew O'Haren, USA Today Sports)

The huge question obviously lies with Erik Magnuson and the rest of the line (Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports)

Sam: If anyone’s biggest concern at this point is not the offensive line, he or she may want a quick crash course in foot-ball (American style). I can say with a straight face that Michigan has some sort of chance of having a First Team All-Conference player at every single position on the field (yes, this is still optimistic, but it’s at least feasible in some universe) besides the offensive line, where Michigan may not have a single Third Team-caliber performer, feasibly. The line is replacing two senior tackles who will most likely start one day in the NFL; even with those stars, Michigan’s big uglies up front last year were atrocious. Most people have been taking the glass-half-full approach in saying that there’s no way it can get any worse; it’s hard for me to look at the names on paper and wonder how in the world it could get any better.

Derick: After watching the spring game and the ‘Under the Lights’ scrimmage, how can the offensive line not be the No. 1 concern? Michigan’s defensive line was average for much of 2013, but looked like an elite unit against their offensive teammates. If Doug Nussmeier can’t improve this group, it won’t matter how much Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith have progressed.

Josh: The entire offense. They say that on defense 10 guys can fail as long as one guy makes the play. But on offense 10 guys can be doing their job and if one fails, then the play is lost. While the o-line clearly needs to be a cohesive unit that plays well, it’s not all on them and there are too many variables to work out before they can be a solid unit. Devin Gardner needs to be consistent and the running backs (whomever they may be) need to run with vision and be decisive. I see Michigan in a similar situation as Michigan State was coming into 2013; a potentially great defense that would be enough to carry them but no identity on offense. Last year the defense played well but faded late in the season as it was completely worn down after carrying the offense all year and it really showed in losses to Ohio State and Kansas State I fear we’ll see more of the same this year.

Joe: The offensive line is a HUGE concern due to the loss of both Schofield and Lewan. It wasn’t exactly a strong point last year and now it looks even more troubling. This group needs to gel quickly and improve on the “tackles for loss” that plagued them last year. 114 is way too many!

Who will be the breakout player on offense?

Justin: I would absolutely love to look into the crystal ball and pick a lineman that breaks out and puts together an all-conference season, and while it’s certainly possible, it’s impossible to predict. I also think Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith will split the workload, keeping either from truly breaking out. Therefore, it has to be a pass-catcher, and I’m going to go with Jake Butt. He’s out for the first couple of games at least, but is progressing very well in his return form a torn ACL. We got a taste of what he’s capable of last season — 20 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns — and once he returns, he could put up some solid numbers.

We all know Devin Funchess will be the go-to receiver for Devin Gardner, but he’s going to have to find others to distribute the ball to so opposing defenses can’t simply game plan Funchess out. It’s very likely that either Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh breaks onto the scene, but as a tight end, I see Butt becoming a crutch for Gardner. Butt fits right into Nussmeier’s offensive system and could be primed for a big season as long as he fully recovers from his injury.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me. I don’t think the offensive line is going to be good enough for Michigan to have a star running back, so I immediately look to the outside. There I find Amara Darboh, a gentlemanly sized 6’2″, 211-pound redshirt sophomore wide receiver who was held out all of last season with a foot injury. Devin Funchess is the closest thing the Wolverines have to a sure thing this year, so Darboh should have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of cheating defenses, and his nice hands, solid size, and football IQ should make him a favorite of Devin Gardner.

Derick: Freddy Canteen will probably have one of the greatest impacts on the offense, but I think Devin Gardner will be the breakout player. Gardner struggled for much of the 2013 season, but pressure from the defense and a non-existent rushing attack made his job much harder. A healthy Gardner should take advantage of a deeper receiving core and become the quarterback fans saw for a few games at the end of 2012.

Josh: I’m really down on the offense heading into this season. True, I’m not in Schembechler Hall, but nothing I’ve seen or read since last season has given me any indication that this offense will be any better than last year’s. A simplified system and zone blocking schemes will help but they haven’t had much time with Nussmeier and development takes time and many reps. Plus the mere fact that a TRUE freshman is in line to start at left tackle tells me that this line is still in shambles and that could derail the entire offense, again. That said, I think Jake Butt (once he returns) is prime for a breakout season. I foresee Gardner looking for a safety valve as he runs for his life behind an inept line and Butt should be that safety valve. We saw glimpses of what Butt could do late in 2013 and I expect him to pick up where he left off.

Joe: I am hoping that an in shape and focused Derrick Green turns into the five-star tailback we recruited two years ago. If he can pound the ball and help control the clock, this offense can put up some big numbers. An effective Green would free up some young receivers and an elite Funchess down field.

Who will be the breakout player on defense?

Justin: Yeah, it’s a pretty generic answer that I’m sure others will give, but I’m going with Jourdan Lewis. The hype coming out of the spring and fall camp is too much to ignore. The coaching staff has talked about being more aggressive defensively, and Lewis fits that mold at corner. If he truly has beaten out either experienced corners like Raymon Taylor or Blake Countess, he’s earned it and it will only make the secondary better.

Can Jourdan Lewis live up to the hype he has garnered throughout the offseason?

Can Jourdan Lewis live up to the hype he has garnered throughout the offseason?

Sam: Defensive breakout players are a little bit harder for me to predict, and I admittedly don’t even know who would rightfully qualify as a “breakout” player this year. Would a senior Frank Clark, who has been solid but never great, qualify? How about a junior linebacker who has been playing plenty of snaps for two full seasons? I’ll assume I’d get picked on for taking either of those guys, so let me go with Jourdan Lewis, a 5’10″, 175-pound sophomore cornerback from Cass Tech. If preseason reports and practices are to be believed, it seems that Lewis has managed to wrestle away a starting spot from either senior Raymon Taylor or redshirt junior Blake Countess, both of whom were pretty solid contributors a season ago. The coaches have been emphasizing increased physicality and aggressiveness on defense, particularly from the cornerbacks, which fits right into Lewis’s strengths. If he indeed plays the first snap on defense against Appalachian State next week, Jourdan Lewis must have something going for him.

Derick: It has to be Jabrill Peppers. If he can’t contribute in the secondary then Michigan will be vulnerable to the pass all season, since Blake Countess is the only proven cornerback that can cover Big Ten recievers.

Josh: Jourdan Lewis, and it’s not even close. Yes, I do think Jabrill Peppers will show us why he was one of the best incoming recruits in recent memory but my money is on Lewis to really make massive strides from last season. He got his feet wet last year while relying on great athletic ability but now he has the technique and mental aspect to add to it. I fully expect him to be an All-Big Ten performer, and one of the best defenders in the conference, by season’s end.

Joe: Can I say Jake Ryan as my breakout player? I know he is a team captain and a stud at linebacker, but after missing five games last year due to a torn ACL, he will shine all season if healthy. He is a must for this team to keep pace defensively.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: The offensive line improves to simply average and the defense is as good as advertised. The defense will have to carry the team early on while the offense finds its feet, but I truly believe this is a team that has a lot of potential. It will all rely on improvement from the offensive line, but like I said above, if the defense lives up to the hype, a 2012 Notre Dame or 2013 Michigan State season is not out of question.

Sam: Michigan will win the Big Ten if the defense doesn’t allow a single point. In all seriousness, the defense has to be elite (probably allowing 15 or fewer points a game in Big Ten play) and the offensive line has to be above-average for Michigan to compete for their first conference championship since 2004. I think the defense can be elite, but I still think the offensive line is going to struggle a little bit too much for the team to reach Pasadena or beyond.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if the quarterback pressure we saw throughout camp was actually because of the elite defensive line Greg Mattison has assembled. If the offensive line can actually protect Gardner and create holes for the running game then the rest will fall in place.

Josh: Michigan State and Ohio State completely implode and each have multiple conference losses, a miracle happens with the offensive line’s development early on, Devin Gardner finally becomes the consistently good QB we know he can be all while Jabrill Peppers exceeds the hype, plays both sides of the ball and becomes the first true freshman to win the Heisman (read: I don’t think it’s even remotely possible for Michigan to win the B1G Ten this year). I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, Michigan won’t be ready to legitimately compete for the B1G Ten until 2015.

Joe: We can get strong and smart play up front, as well as from our quarterback position. We must eliminate the untimely sack or tackle for loss that killed us on important drives last season. C’mon O-line, make it happen!

What’s your prediction for the season? Record, who will Michigan lose to, what bowl game will Michigan play in?

Justin: Regardless of how much improvement the offensive line shows, I don’t see Michigan winning less than eight games this season. But I think they’ll win more than that and finish the regular season 10-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State. I don’t think Notre Dame will be that great this year, but early on Michigan will still be trying to get its offense up to speed, and despite a valiant effort from the defense, bad things just happen in South Bend. The latter because Michigan State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten this season and, while Michigan will play closer than they have the past two years, it will be extremely tough to pull one out in East Lansing.

I do think Michigan will go into Columbus at season’s end and pull off a big win, leaving a three-way tie atop the East Division, but Michigan State will get the nod into the Big Ten Championship game. Michigan will go to the Capital One Bowl. I never predict the outcome of bowl games before the season because so many variables come into play about who the opponent will be.

Our predictions range from 8-4 to 10-2 with the Capital One Bowl being the most likely destination

Our predictions range from 8-4 to 10-2 with the Capital One Bowl being the most likely destination

I’m optimistic about this season and think this team will be very close to having a really special season that will surprise some people, but in the end it will come up just short, setting up big expectations for 2015.

Sam: My final prediction for the 2014 Michigan football season is as follows:

Record: 10-2, losses at Michigan State and at Ohio State
Bowl game: Wherever generic 10-2 Big Ten teams end up this season (too many to keep track of).

I think it will be a successful season overall that falls just short of the ultimate goals of conference and national championships. Michigan State’s defense should be able to wreak havoc on the offensive line yet again, and though Ohio State will be without Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller all season, their backup will have enough time to gel by the end of the season that the Buckeyes will edge the Wolverines once again at home.

Derick: I think Michigan’s season should be pretty straightforward. The Maize and Blue are great in Ann Arbor, so an easy home schedule should translate into seven wins. But tough road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State make me shudder, and Brady Hoke’s resume on the road should turn all three games into losses. Michigan should take care of Northwestern and Rutgers on the road, giving it a 9-3 record for the season. Two Big Ten losses isn’t going to cut it for a trip to Indy, so Michigan will end up in the Capital One Bowl. Could Michigan win every single game on its schedule? Absolutely. But until fans see this team play solid football, there’s little reason to believe that more than nine wins are on tap.

Josh: My heart wants to be optimistic but my gut says this team’s lack of sufficient development spells doom in 2014. The offense has too many question marks for me to feel comfortable about having anything but very low expectations for them, which in turn puts more pressure on the defense to carry the team, again. The schedule does not set up in Michigan’s favor, with both MSU and OSU on the road (both of which are all but guaranteed losses in my mind). And as we’ve seen in the past Hoke’s teams consistently lose games they shouldn’t, mostly on the road (at Iowa in ’11, at ND and Nebraska in ’12 and atPSU, Nebraska and Iowa last year). They’ve gotten incredibly lucky against Northwestern the past two seasons and something tells me that luck may run out in 2014. Notre Dame, while losing several key players, is still on the road and that tilts the odds slightly in favor of the Irish. Utah could be a very dangerous trap game, sandwiched Miami (Ohio) and perennial bottom feeder Minnesota. Throw in the perennial inexplicable loss we’ve come to expect from Hoke’s Michigan teams and we’re sitting at 4 or 5 losses.

Right now I don’t see this team being better than 8-4, and not in the hunt for the East division. I see losses to MSU, OSU and then two more out of Notre Dame, Utah, Penn St. and Northwestern. They’ll still end up in a decent bowl because they’re Michigan, so something along the lines of the BWW Bowl like last year. Of course, I hope I’m completely wrong and the offense can come together and prove me horribly wrong but I won’t hold my breath.

Joe: I am predicting a 9-3 record for the Maize and Blue with losses at MSU, Northwestern and Ohio. Don’t ask me to explain the Northwestern loss, I just have a bad feeling. This will put them in the Outback bowl on Jan 1. 

M&GB Roundtable talks freshmen, but not THAT freshman

Friday, August 1st, 2014


Roundtable-Freshmen

Canteen

So far this offseason we have discussed the status of Hoke’s hot seat (we pretty much all agreed this is not a make or break season for him) and the Michigan Football Legends jerseys program (we’re all in agreement that we like them, but they need a few guidelines). As we continue our offseason staff roundtable series today, we’re providing our thoughts on freshmen. You may have heard about this incoming defensive back named Jabrill Peppers, but we’re not talking about him. Here’s the question:

Which freshman — true or redshirt — are you most excited about this season, not named Jabrill Peppers? Who, other than Peppers, do you think will have the biggest impact this fall, and why?

Justin-banner

Jabrill Peppers is undoubtedly the freshman everyone is excited about. At Big Ten Media Days, it seemed that every other question for Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, and Frank Clark was about Peppers. The amount of hype for an 18-year-old kid that hasn’t played a down of college football yet is unreal, and while we all hope it’s warranted, it was clear that Hoke and Michigan’s player representatives were tired of talking about it.

The only other freshman that has received a good amount of hype is receiver Freddy Canteen, and he’s who I’m most excited about. He was the talk of spring practice, showing off great speed, agility, and explosiveness — a combination Michigan has lacked at receiver for years. Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, and Junior Hemingway have been very good receivers the past few years, but they were all different types of receivers than Canteen. Michigan hasn’t had the Mario Manningham or Steve Breaston type of receiver (yes, I know Manningham played outside) that can complement the bigger possession receivers. And with the 6’5″, 230-pound Devin Funchess out wide, a speedy Canteen in the slot would be the perfect complement.

The big question mark for the receiving corps is redshirt sophomore Amara Darboh, who was the offseason hype machine and in line to start last season before breaking his foot in fall camp. That allowed Jehu Chesson, who was behind Darboh at the time, to work his way into the lineup. Chesson had an okay season (15 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown), but didn’t show the consistent playmaking ability. He flashed it — a catch-and-run across the middle touchdown against Akron and a jump ball in double coverage at Michigan State — but averaged barely over one catch a game. His blocking ability — a very important trait for a receiver, especially in Michigan’s offense — will keep him in the rotation, but he’ll likely battle with Darboh for the second outside spot opposite Funchess.

Canteen will likely battle with Dennis Norfleet for the slot job, and if they spring hype is accurate, has the leg up. Norfleet is just 5’7″, 169-pounds, and although shifty, has yet to fulfill the hype many expected of him. He was used sparingly on offense last season, and to mild success, because when he was on the field, it was a tell-tale sign that he was getting the ball on a trick play. Canteen’s size and game-breaking ability will allow him to stay on the field and be available for those trick plays without giving them away.

With Funchess playing the Gallon, Roundtree, and Hemingway role as The Man, Darboh and Chesson providing consistency and reliability on the other side, and Canteen giving big-play potential in the slot, this could be a very good receiving corps. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ but the potential is there, and for the first time in several years, there doesn’t appear to be a weak link in the group. The ideal situation would be for Darboh to return to the level he was pre-injury and start opposite Funchess with Canteen in the slot and Chesson rotating in for Darboh. Of course, the possibility exists that Canteen grabs the No. 2 receiver job on the outside — opposite Funchess — but that would leave Norfleet in the slot and both Darboh and Chesson coming off the bench, so that’s not ideal.

Drew-banner

There really are only a few legitimate candidates that can be considered. For the first time in a few seasons, Michigan finally will have experienced depth at most positions this fall thanks mostly to Brady Hoke’s work on the recruiting trail. In 2012 and 2013, the years he brought in his first two full recruiting classes, Hoke received commitments from 53 prospects. Currently, 52 of them still are on scholarship at Michigan, with only linebacker Kaleb Ringer transferring after he suffered a significant knee injury. The superb retention rate and lack of attrition in the 2012 and 2013 classes have allowed talented juniors and sophomores to flood Michigan’s depth chart. Accordingly, there are very few spots where Michigan needs freshmen—true or redshirt—to contribute immediately.

The only freshmen—other than Jabrill Peppers—that have an opportunity to start or see extensive playing time on either offense or defense are wide receiver Freddy Canteen and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr. There are a few other freshmen that could make notable contributions, though. Tight ends Khalid Hill and Ian Bunting may be valuable assets early in the season while Jake Butt completes his recovery from an ACL tear. Defensive tackle Bryan Mone, an early enrollee, may work his way into the defensive-line rotation by season’s end. And there are multiple offensive linemen with freshman eligibility that may be promoted to first string if the presumed starters—four sophomores and a junior—cannot improve upon what was arguably the nation’s worst offensive line last season, but Michigan fans are hoping this development does not come to fruition. Nevertheless, no freshman other than Peppers will have the impact that Canteen or Hurst, Jr. will have.

Although Hurst, Jr. may have a bigger impact as a plausible starter on the defensive line, the freshman not named Peppers that I am most excited about undoubtedly is Canteen. Canteen was a complete unknown when he committed to the Wolverines shortly after participating in Michigan’s summer camp in 2013. However, it was clear that he was unheralded only because his high school team played just three games his junior season. Once Michigan fans saw his game film and Vines of his terrific footwork, they started buzzing. Then, after he enrolled early last January, the coaching staff and his teammates began buzzing, too. Canteen provided a small taste of what he is capable of in the “spring game” when he flashed his swift speed and brisk footwork for what should have been two long completions, including one where he burned All-Big Ten first-team cornerback Blake Countess deep. With his crisp routes, he has the ability to be a playmaker immediately.

Canteen may not start, but he will play many snaps as a true freshman. Michigan lost four wide receivers, including record-setter Jeremy Gallon, to graduation in the offseason. Although the Wolverines still have arguably the Big Ten’s best wideout in Devin Funchess, they will need the younger guys to step up as the No. 2 and No. 3 options. Canteen will compete with sophomores Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson for those spots and already may have the edge on both. Plus, Michigan always could slide him in at slot receiver ahead of Dennis Norfleet. Either way, few freshmen will earn as much playing time in 2014 as Canteen, and he should dazzle all of us with his moves.

Josh-banner

In a perfect world we wouldn’t be asking this question. Personally, I would like to see ALL first year players get redshirted, sit and learn and pack on some weight without any pressure to perform. Sadly we don’t live in that world and so here we are. At first I wanted to say Freddy Canteen after his spring game showing. I mean c’mon it makes perfect sense, with Jeremy Gallon in the NFL and Jake Butt sidelined, someone has to catch the balls not thrown to Funchess. But after I thought about it a while a certain press conference came to mind, and to paraphrase of one of the greatest sports rants ever; “We talkin’ bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talkin’ about practice.”

I’m going to head to the other side of the ball and go with Bryan Mone. The defensive line struggles, as with all of Michigan’s struggles in ’13, were well documented. They didn’t generate sufficient pass pressure, didn’t stop the run (to put it lightly) and overall were just, well not that good. Mone is a big boy, a very big boy, and by all accounts the kid can move quite well. A guy who can eat up space and occupy more than one blocker can be devastating, and if he can get into the backfield all the better. Now I won’t go so far as to say I think he’ll be Vince Wilfork, he’s a once in a lifetime player, but I do think given the chance Mone can make some noise and help get Michigan’s defense back to being a Michigan defense.

Derick-banner

I’m hoping I don’t jinx him by choosing another wide receiver this year (Darboh didn’t exactly break out last season), but how can fans not be excited about Freddy Canteen? The freshman wide receiver stormed onto the stage during the Spring Game, offering one of the few bright spots in what turned out to be a sloppy performance.

Canteen separated himself from a loaded group of young wide receivers and should line up with the starters along with captain Devin Funchess. His speed will give the offense another dimension that it badly needed after the loss of both Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo to graduation.

Canteen isn’t the most talented freshman receiver in Ann Arbor, but unlike classmates Drake Harris and Maurice Ways, the youngster has the offensive coaching staff buzzing about his ability as the calendar turns to August. Look for Canteen to give quarterback Devin Gardner a second option to Funchess early in the nonconference season.

_________________________________________________________________________________

So what do you think? Is Canteen your guy as well, or are you more excited about another freshman? Do you think any other freshmen will make a big contribution to the team this fall? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

M&GB Roundtable discusses Michigan Football Legends jerseys

Friday, July 11th, 2014


Roundtable-Legends jerseys

Gardner legends jersey(USATSI)

Two weeks ago we debuted our M&GB Roundtable series that will run every couple weeks throughout the summer. Each of these roundtables will discuss a hot topic related to the upcoming season. Last time, we discussed the status of Brady Hoke’s hot seat and the consensus seemed to be that unless Michigan goes downhill once again this season, Hoke is safe heading into 2015. Today, we continue the series, this time giving our thoughts on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys. Here’s the question:

What’s your take on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys? Do you like or dislike them? Are they a good way to tie in tradition or are they too gimicky? Do you think they should be given out every year? If so, who should get numbers 11 and 21 this season? Finally, are there any other numbers you feel should be given legends status?

Justin banner

I really like the Legends jersey program because, even though it was started just a few years ago, it is unique to Michigan and it is a great way to tie in the glorious history of Michigan football. The majority of the numbers that have been given legends status thus far are great players from long ago that most Michigan fans today weren’t alive to see play. Sure, we have read about them and have maybe seen a few photos or video clips, but by and large, Tom Harmon, the Wistert brothers, and Gerald Ford were relics locked away in a time capsule. By bringing their numbers out of retirement, giving their families a pre-game ceremony, and designating the jerseys with their numbers on them with a patch, it’s a great way to both honor those legends and educate the younger generation of Michigan fans.

In addition to honoring the legends and their families and educating Michigan fans that weren’t around to see them play, the program is special and unique for current and future Michigan football players.

“It was an amazing feeling when I was awarded this number,” said Jeremy Gallon when he was given Desmond Howard’s No.21.

“I got it when I was a redshirt sophomore,” recalled Jake Ryan, who wears Bennie Oosterbaan’s No.47. “It was after the Alabama game and coach Hoke brought me in and it was a huge honor knowing that I was wearing the same jerseys as one of the legends who played for Michigan. I had to study up on him, to see what he did to represent this university. It was cool. I learned a lot.”

The current and future players that earn the numbers see it as an honor to get to wear a number that was made famous by a legend before them. Desmond Morgan got to meet Gerald Ford’s family and learn more about him when he was awarded No.48.

That said, I’m conflicted about when each number should be awarded. On one hand, it seems silly to switch a player’s number after he’s already made a name for himself in his current number. For example, Jordan Kovacs, who was No.32 for more than three seasons before switching to 11 for a handful of games. But then again, I like the way No.21 has been given to a top receiver each of the past three seasons, first Junior Hemingway, then Roy Roundtree, then Gallon. I feel like all three guys earned it and looked great in it. Unfortunately, the only receiver who fits that mold this season is Devin Funchess, but he already has Ron Kramer’s No.87. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I would switch Funchess to 21 and award 87 to Jake Butt. Funchess is a star receiver who could very well make the jump to the NFL following this season, which would open up 21 again next season for another star receiver should Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh or Freddy Canteen break out this fall.

No.11 is a tough one. Since the Wistert brothers were offensive tackles, but the number can’t be used for offensive linemen in modern college football, I like the idea of awarding it to a player on the defensive line. But so far it has been given to a safety (Kovacs) and a linebacker (Courtney Avery). I would bring it to the line this fall and give it to Frank Clark. Yes, he has an off-the-field issue from a couple years ago that could keep him from being awarded a legends number, but if Brady Hoke feels Clark has learned and grown from it, I’d be okay with him getting it. If he can’t get No.11 because of that, the only other player I’d give it to this fall would be linebacker James Ross.

Finally, I would give Charles Woodson’s No.2 legends status, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happened this fall. The staff already gave Blake Countess the number, and Woodson is in likely his final season of an outstanding NFL career. He has always given back to Michigan and represented himself and the university well. As Michigan’s latest Heisman Trophy winner, he would be a great player to honor.

Drew banner

When it was announced prior to the 2011 season that Michigan planned to implement the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Most college football programs honor their legends by retiring their numbers in perpetuity. This is a grand gesture, but then fans are unable to see the numbers of their favorite players on the field. Over time, the stories and memories of these legends become lost. Heck, in some cases, even the names are forgotten. According to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, “99 percent of [Michigan] fans couldn’t name the jerseys that were retired—either the numbers of the people.”

With the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, you get the best of both worlds. The legends still are honored. Each Michigan legend is the subject of a pre-game ceremony that commemorates their time at Michigan and showcases the debut of their Legends patch, which will forever be stitched upon the jersey of the number they wore so long ago. And the numbers those legends wore are reinserted into circulation for current and future players to don. For many Michigan fans that have been alive for decades, they had never seen a Wolverine wear Tom Harmon’s No. 98 or President Gerald Ford’s No. 48. Now? They can see those legendary numbers each week in the fall  and recall what made No. 98 and No. 48 so special. It is a great tie to Michigan football’s tradition and to the players that made the program so prestigious.

However, rarely is anything—no matter how great—flawless. I still have a positive view towards the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, but it has problems that must be addressed. The biggest problem I have is when Michigan’s best players switch to a Legends jersey when they are juniors or seniors. By then, those players have begun creating a legacy for the number they first wore as freshmen. But, by switching, their legacy instantly becomes overshadowed by the legend whose number they now wear. It prevents current players from establishing their own legacy. How can a player who wears a Legends jersey become a Michigan Football Legend on his own in the future? The answer: he cannot.

A great example is former safety Jordan Kovacs. In all likelihood, Kovacs will never be honored as a Michigan Football Legend. And that is okay. But I was frustrated when Kovacs switched from No. 32 to No. 11—one of the Legends jerseys—for the final three games of the 2012 season and his career. Before then, Kovacs had blazed his own trail as the unheralded walk-on everyone initially scoffed at that became one of Michigan’s most beloved players and its best safety in over a decade. And he did all of this as No. 32. This is the number with which he should have finished his career, not No. 11—no disrespect to the Wistert brothers. No. 32 was Kovacs’ legacy. He never should have worn another number.

Therefore, I propose that Legends jerseys only be offered to players prior to their freshman and sophomore seasons. Then those players can decide what number with which they want their legacy to be associated. It does not matter to me if the Legends jerseys are handed out every year. If they are, great. It would be a tribute to those Michigan Football Legends each season. If they are not, that works for me, too. It would make the offering of a Legends jersey more special in the eyes of the players and the fans. The only other number that deserves Legends status is No. 2. All three of Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winners then would be represented. I also would like No. 1 to receive Legends status, but, alas, that number essentially has gone into retirement thanks to Braylon Edwards. And it does not matter to me which players are offered available Legends jerseys this season. As long as they are freshmen or sophomores.

Josh banner

I really like the concept of the legends jerseys. It is not realistic to retire numbers in college and this allows the legends to still be honored without taking away all the numbers. However, I have not been a fan of how they’ve been given out. I’d like to see guys ‘earn’ these jerseys, the same way Hoke said Jabrill Peppers needs to ‘earn’ the coveted No.2 (even though it’s not a legends jersey). Jake Ryan earned his No.47 but other than that I haven’t seen much rhyme or reason with handing them out.

While I feel they deserve their legends jerseys now, Gardner and Funchess got them without making much noise in the previous season. If the Devin’s got their legends jerseys AFTER the 2013 season, rather than before, I’d have no problems with it. The fact that Courtney Avery got one upset me a bit, he was an average player at best and even that is being generous.

That said, I’m sure you can guess that I don’t think No.11 or No.21 should be given out this year. There are too many young and unproven guys on this roster to do so. This is not to say there isn’t anyone who could earn them, but no one has done anything to ‘earn’ the right yet. I’d like to see No.1 and No.2 be brought into legends status as well. No.1 for Anthony Carter and No.2 for Charles Woodson, as soon as he retires.

If we’re going to honor the legends of the past I’d prefer to see their numbers bestowed upon guys who have ‘earned’ it on and off the field, but mostly on it. If it has little to do with on-field performance, and middle of the road guys like Courtney Avery can get them, then I’d rather see the players vote on who gets them.

Derick banner
The legends jerseys have a chance to be a great tradition, but only if the players are forced to earn the honor of wearing them. If Michigan insists on giving out the numbers each year and the players wearing them aren’t stars, then the value of the legends jersey is lost. So far Michigan has given the jerseys to some players with lesser roles, and it has tainted the idea behind honoring these football legends.

With a young team taking the field in 2014, and a group of returning starters that largely underachieved in last year’s 7-6 effort, the Nos. 11 and 21 should be kept off the field until players earn them. If a wide receiver or cornerback steps up and leads the team to a great first half of the season, then a jersey should be awarded to that player.

If the program makes it clear that the numbers are earned, not given, then the legends jerseys will be a great tradition for Michigan football. If not, then it will represent just another gimmick put on by the athletic department.

Sam banner
While the NCAA is in turmoil right now and the future of college sports paints a somewhat murky picture, I think everyone can still rest assured that America loves watching our college athletes play far too much for these games to disappear completely. And in these beloved college sports, tradition reigns supreme. Every university tries to hold up their own traditions higher than any other institution’s. Alumni of the University of Michigan will be quick to defend the Maize and Blue in any battle, pointing out that we are the most winningest college football program in history, that Ann Arbor is the best college town God has ever created, that the Victors is the best fight song known to man, and that, quite simply, Michigan is unlike any other school out there.

One of the many ways Michigan has now decided to honor this glorious history is by assigning Legends numbers to a select few football players each year. I, for one, am a big fan. I don’t know of any other program in the country that reminisces over star players of the past in such a way, and though a small patch and a special plaque in the locker room might not seem like much, I really do think these legendary players and their families take great pride in seeing their legacies live on in the Big House. I also think it can’t hurt on the recruiting trail.

With that being said, there are a few “rules and regulations” that I would put into play if I oversaw the program. First, there needs to be some cap on the number of Legends numbers issued. There is no problem with designating a few players with the status every single year, but if the number of Legends jerseys continues to grow to 15, 20, 25 different players, it will lose its luster. I would cap the total number of jerseys in circulation at 10. In order to honor future Legends, however, there needs to be some room to make more though, right? Right. So every 50 years, every Legends number is officially put in the vault (or Schembechler Hall) and is available for re-circulation as a “regular” number. After those 50 years have passed, up to 10 more Legends, preferably representing as many different positions as possible, can be selected and issued with patches, plaques, and pictures and the cycle repeats. This way every Michigan football player will have the chance to earn this incredible honor; if it so happens that a player wearing a Legends jersey becomes a legend himself, that number will remain in issue but the patch will be replaced to honor the more recent standout.

I also think there needs to be some sort of regulation on when the jerseys are issued in relation to a player’s career. As it stands now, it seems that any player can earn the right to wear a Legends number at any point during his four years. Devin Gardner changed from No.12 to No.98 (Tom Harmon) early in his junior year. Jordan Kovacs mysteriously changed from No.32 to No.11 (Francis, Albert, and Alvin Wistert) well into his senior year. Going forward, I think the Legends jerseys should be designated to rising sophomores or redshirt freshmen. With this policy in place, the coaches have a full year to decide who is worthy of the honor based on their play on the field and their actions off it and the player will not have already established himself fully while wearing another number.

As far as the current available Legends jerseys go, I would like to see No.11 stay on the defensive side of the field and No.21 as a wide receiver for at least the near future. Sticking to my own rules, I will give No.11 to either Henry Poggi or Maurice Hurst, Jr., who apparently both impressed on the practice squad last year and will look to make an impact as redshirt freshmen this season, and No.21 to Jaron Dukes, an Ohioan just like Desmond Howard with great potential. When thinking of other potential Legends going forward, I can only think of one obvious one – No.2 for Charles Woodson.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Now that we’ve all given our answers, we’d like to hear from you. Do you like the legends jerseys? Do you agree or disagree with us? Give us your answer to the question in the comments below.

Countdown to kickoff: 53 days

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-53

Predicting Michigan: The tight ends

Monday, June 23rd, 2014


Predicting Michigan-TightEnds

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan

Michigan football made a few announcements this offseason that gutted the tight end depth for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The team’s top option throughout much of the last two seasons was Devin Funchess, who will be moved permanently to wide receiver for his junior season. Transitioning Funchess was much easier after the emergence of freshman Jake Butt, but a torn ACL sidelined the young star and left the Wolverines without their top two options at tight end, at least for the first few games of the season.

Brady Hoke opted against moving Funchess back to tight end, and will instead choose from a number of veteran options that have made smaller impacts during their Michigan careers.

The Starters

With the offense under construction after the hiring of Nussmeier, it remains to be seen what type of role the tight ends will play in 2014. During the spring game, the majority of Michigan’s sets featured one tight end, often junior A.J. Williams.

Williams played a very limited role in his sophomore campaign, catching just one pass for a two-yard touchdown in the loss at Iowa. The 6’6″ tight end started six games, but was rarely featured as an integral part of the offense. The junior will be asked to play a much bigger role in 2014, as he holds the No. 1 tight end spot on the depth chart and received the most reps during the spring game.

Fellow junior Keith Heitzman lineup up with Williams on the first team during double tight end sets at the spring game, revealing Nussmeier’s willingness to at least experiment with more than one tight end on the field.

Heitzman has played 23 games for the Wolverines in his career, but all of them have come on the defensive line. The 271-pound junior separated himself from the rest of the pack as the No. 2 tight end, but will likely be featured as a blocker and less of a receiving threat.

Butt, meanwhile, is expected to be out until Big Ten play, but when he returns, will slide back into a starting role. The 6’6″, 250-pound sophomore impressed as a true freshman in 2013, catching 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. That’s five more catches and one more yard than Funchess had in his freshman campaign. Butt saved his best performance of the season for the matchup against his hometown Buckeyes, recording five catches for 85 yards and a score. Butt won’t match Funchess’ 2013 numbers, but will play a major role in the offense once he returns.

Projected Stats – Williams
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
9 100 11.1 1 7.7
Career Stats
2013 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
Projected Stats – Butt
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
21 250 11.9 4 27.8
Career Stats
2013 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Totals 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Projected Stats – Heitzman
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
16 200 12.5 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2011 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Veteran Depth

Tight end remains one of the thinnest positions on the Michigan roster leading into the 2014 season, but quality recruits over the past two seasons have provided the Wolverines with some talented options. The struggle for Nussmeier in 2014 will be finding a tight end that can both protect the quarterback and hurt defenses in the passing game.

Redshirt freshman Khalid Hill figures to be an option if Williams and Heitzman struggle, as the former consensus three-star offers Michigan more of a receiving weapon. Hill is smaller than the other tight ends, but makes up for it with quickness and essential receiving skills like strong hands and great route running. Hill is more likely to be a difference-maker in the future, but a strong spring could put him on the radar for 2014.

Projected Stats – Hill
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
13 150 11.5 1 11.5
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Newcomers

Michigan welcomed one key tight end prospect in the 2014 recruiting class in Ian Bunting. Bunting is a tall, but athletic tight end that should evolve into Michigan’s top receiving threat from his position. The freshman played wide receiver throughout much of his high school career, which molded him into the offensive threat that Hoke recruited.

Bunting figures to compete for playing time as a true freshman, since the Wolverines could really use a receiving threat from the tight end position. His versatility can only improve his chances to crack the lineup, as Nussmeier owns the option to line him up in the slot or out wide.

If a largely unproven wide receiver unit struggles during the non-conference season, expect the coaching staff to consider awarding Bunting more time at tight end to give the offense more options. The freshman fits the mold of Funchess and Butt as a pseudo-receiver at tight end.

Projected Stats – Bunting
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
10 150 15.0 1 11.5

2014 Big Ten position rankings: Wide receivers (part two)

Friday, June 20th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-WR

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go blue are ranking who will be the best wide receivers in the Big Ten this upcoming season. The players listed are whom we believe will be the most successful in 2014, not necessarily the players who have had the most success in previous years. Part One of our wide receiver rankings was posted yesterday. It revealed who is in the bottom half of the Big Ten’s top 10 wideouts. If you have not had an opportunity to read it yet, I encourage you do so before proceeding. On that note, let’s unveil who will be the five best wide receivers in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously
Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two.
Running Backs: Part One, Part Two.
Wide Receivers: Part One

5. Deon Long, Maryland | Senior - 6’0”, 195 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 32 489 1 15.3 47 69.9
2012 (Iowa Western) 100 1,625 25 16.3 90 135.5
2011 (New Mexico) 47 809 4 17.2 80 80.9
Career Totals 179 2,923 30 16.3 90 100.8
(Tim Drummond, The Diamondback)

(Tim Drummond, The Diamondback)

Deon Long—a fifth-year senior—will play his final season of collegiate football in 2014, but he took the road less traveled to be here. Long did not start his career at Maryland. In high school in Washington, D.C., he committed to West Virginia, but exited four months after he enrolled. He wanted to be a Terrapin, but a provision in his scholarship release prevented such a move. So Long transferred to New Mexico instead, where he led the Lobos with 47 receptions, 809 receiving yards, and four touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2011. But Long was not satisfied at New Mexico, so he enrolled at Iowa Western, a junior college, with the hopes he would be able to transfer to a top FBS program. In his one season at Iowa Western, he led the NJCAA in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,625), and touchdowns (25) and captured the 2012 NJCAA national championship. Long became the No. 1 junior college recruit nationally as his performance swung open doors at the likes of Florida, Nebraska, and Illinois. But Long committed to the one place he had wanted to be for years: his home-state school, Maryland

It did not take very long for the former junior college star to make his mark in College Park. Long established himself as Maryland’s No. 2 receiver in his first seven games of 2013. In those contests, he was thrown at 55 times for a target rate of 24.66 percent—the third-highest among returning Big Ten receivers. Generally, more targets mean more receptions, and it was no different for Long. He caught 32 balls and never hauled in fewer than three in any of his first seven games. In addition to consistently getting open, Long exhibited the explosion which made him the best junior college player in the nation the previous year. Long averaged 15.28 yards per reception—the sixth-most among returning wideouts in the conference—and gained at least 15 yards 15 times. Through those first seven games, Long had 32 catches for 489 yards and one score, and appeared to be on his way to a 1,000-yard campaign.

However, in that seventh game against Wake Forest, Long broke his right leg, fracturing his tibia and fibula. It was a significant injury that forced him to miss the remained of the 2013 season. This is why Long’s statistical totals from last season are not impressive. But his averages paint a different picture. When Long is healthy, he is one of the best and most explosive wideouts in this conference. He may not have been completely healthy during spring practices, participating in drills only, but there is no doubt he will be full throttle when fall camp rolls around. Expect Long, who will once again be teamed up with underrated, dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, to finish his journeyman career on the highest of notes and near 1,000 receiving yards this season. Yet, he is only No. 5 on this list because he will not be Maryland’s No. 1 wideout—a player we will discuss further down.

4. Devin Smith, Ohio State | Senior – 6’1”, 197 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 44 660 8 15.0 90 47.1
2012 30 618 6 20.6 72 51.5
2011 14 294 4 21.0 40 22.6
Career Totals 88 1,572 18 17.9 90 40.3
(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

For the majority of his career at Ohio State, Devin Smith has been a one-trick pony. His trick: speed. Very few Big Ten wide receivers, if any, are faster than Smith. He is a speed demon. Have you ever heard the terms “track speed” and “football speed” thrown around when people discuss a football player’s physical abilities? Smith has track speed. So much so, in fact, that he actually spent one season sprinting with the Buckeyes’ track and field team. With this speed, Smith is able to repeatedly run past the secondary and get behind the defense for big plays. Just look at his yards per catch in his first two years. As a true freshman in 2011, Smith averaged an insane 21 yards per catch and needed only 14 catches to score four touchdowns. The following season, he averaged a 20.6 yards per catch, which was almost two yards per catch better than any other Big Ten receiver who averaged a minimum of two receptions per game. There is no deep threat in the Big Ten more dangerous than Smith.

In 2013, Smith began to round out his game. As quarterback Braxton Miller’s No. 2 option, he no longer relied solely on his speed to get open. Rather, he began to run better routes for short and intermediate gains. This caused his yards per catch to sink to a still-above average 15 as a junior, but he became more of a target for Miller. Accordingly, Smith set personal bests with 73 targets, a 21-percent target rate, and 44 receptions. This meant more chances for Smith to increase his production. He finished with career highs for receiving yards (660) and touchdown receptions (eight) in 2013. Smith still showcased his blazing wheels. Six of his eight touchdowns were longer than 20 yards. Half of them were longer than 40 yards. Nevertheless, Smith slowly redefined himself.

With the exit of Ohio State’s leading receiver from last season, Corey Brown, Smith will become the No. 1 wideout on the Buckeyes’ depth chart in 2014. This is an envious position in head coach Urban Meyer’s potent offense which amasses yards and points in a hurry. There is little doubt that Meyer will look to utilize Smith’s speed to land quick scoring strikes on opposing defenses. But, to be one of the best ball catchers in the conference, Smith will need to prove he has what it takes to be an all-around wideout. He needs to show he can run crisp routes. He needs to show he can move the sticks on critical third downs. He needs to show he can find open space in a crowded red zone. And he needs to show he can do this over and over again, especially since there are no other outside wide receivers nipping at his heels. It would be a surprise if Smith does not live up to the challenge.

3. Shane Wynn, Indiana | Senior – 5’7”, 167 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 46 633 11 13.8 68 52.8
2012 68 660 6 9.7 76 55.0
2011 19 197 0 10.4 32 16.4
Career Totals 133 1,490 17 11.2 76 41.4
(David Snodgress, Herald-Times)

(David Snodgress, Herald-Times)

Last season, Indiana had one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, let alone the Big Ten. The Hoosiers were ninth in the country in total offense and one of only 12 schools to average over 500 total yards per game. While Indiana was no slouch when it came to running ball (see: Tevin Coleman), the engine of its offense was its aerial attack. No Big Ten school attempted more passes than Indiana in 2013. Additionally, Indiana’s passing game was efficient, notching 7.8 yards per pass attempt. This was second in the conference behind only Michigan. Accordingly, the Hoosiers were the only Big Ten school to average over 300 passing yards per game.

The Hoosiers were so proficient through the air not only because it had two quality quarterbacks in pocket passer Nate Sudfeld and dual-threat Tre Roberson, but also because it had a wonderful cast of wide receivers. One of those cast members was slot receiver Shane Wynn. Wynn may be small in stature at only 5’7”, but he possesses many traits coaches want to see in their receivers. For example, he runs fantastic routes. Despite splitting targets with stud outside wideouts Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes and quality tight end Ted Bolser, Wynn still was targeted 65 times. This was the result of running tight routes and finding ways to create space between him and the defender. Wynn also has quite the grip. He caught 70.77 percent of the passes that came in his direction. This is the highest catch rate among returning Big Ten wideouts that were targeted at least 10 percent of the time. But, most importantly, Wynn is fast, explosive, and nimble. He is able to use his athleticism not only to gain yards after the catch, but to also slip behind the defense and get open for longer throws. Consequently, Wynn accumulated 46 receptions for 633 yards, 13.76 yards per catch, and 11 touchdowns—second-most in the conference.

And Wynn should improve those numbers this season. Indiana already had a strong inclination to air out the football, but it appears it will do so even more in 2014. Last year, the Hoosiers utilized a two-quarterback system with Sudfeld and Roberson. When Sudfeld was in, the Hoosiers relied more upon a passing spread offense. When Roberson was in, the Hoosiers relied more upon the running game and called read-options for Roberson. However, Roberson recently decided to transfer to another program that will allow him to be the full-time starter. This means that Sudfeld will be the Hoosiers’ full-time starter and that the passing spread will be a permanent fixture this fall.

This would be pleasant news for any Indiana wide receiver. Yet it is especially great news for Wynn because he is the only returning Hoosier that had at least 20 receptions last year. All three other key Indiana ball catchers from last season—Latimer, Hughes, and Bolser—have departed. Wynn’s role in this offense will expand substantially as he will be the best receiver on a pass-happy team. Wynn’s targets, catches, and yards should all surge in 2014, and it would not be a surprise if he scores double-digit touchdowns for the second straight season.

The only red flag is that whether Wynn will be able to make the leap from the No. 3 receiver to the No. 1 wideout in one season, especially as a slot receiver. The concern is that the presence of Latimer and Hughes kept the defense’s attention off of Wynn, allowing him to work one on one underneath. With Latimer and Hughes gone, and two inexperienced players about to assume the starting outside receiver spots, Wynn may not be as productive as defenses devise their coverages to contain him. Nonetheless, Wynn should still be one of the best wideouts due to his role in this offense, but the foregoing concern prevents from jumping ahead of the next two players on this list.

2. Devin Funchess, Michigan | Junior – 6’5”, 230 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 49 748 6 15.3 59 57.5
2012 15 234 5 15.6 30 18.0
Career Totals 64 982 11 15.3 59 37.8
(Tony Ding, AP)

(Tony Ding, AP)

When Devin Funchess signed his letter of intent with Michigan in 2012, he had been recruited by head coach Brady Hoke as a tight end. Initially, some thought that Funchess may need to redshirt his first season in Ann Arbor because, at 6’5” and 230 pounds, he was too skinny to be an effective tight end. The worry was that Funchess would be abused when trying to block when he lined up with a hand in the dirt. However, as reports from fall camp leaked, the word was that Funchess’ athletic ability and receiving prowess was too good to keep off the field. Subsequently, Funchess turned in a solid season as a true freshman, recording 15 catches, 234 receiving yards and a team-high five touchdown receptions.

However, the concerns about Funchess being too skinny were true. He really struggled to block opposing defensive ends and outside linebackers and was a turnstile of sorts. Michigan hoped that Funchess would be able to add some weight to his frame in the offseason, so he could develop into an all-around tight end in 2013. Yet, Funchess reported to fall camp at the same weight he did the previous year. And, once again, Funchess struggled to perform his duties as a tight end in Michigan’s four non-conference games. Not only was his blocking a mess, he also managed only eight catches for 145 yards and one touchdown in those first four contests. If Funchess was going to be more effective, a change needed to be made.

In Michigan’s first conference game against Minnesota, Funchess lined up on the outside as a wide receiver for the first time in his career. The result? It was a career game for Funchess. He had seven grabs for 151 receiving yards and a touchdown. The apprehension of moving Funchess to the outside had always been that he would not be able to create separation against cornerbacks that were much quicker and shiftier than linebackers he lined up against as a tight end. However, Funchess demonstrated that was not a problem for him. And, with his imposing height and leaping ability, Funchess became a nightmare matchup on the outside for Big Ten defenses. In his final nine games as an outside receiver, Funchess recorded 35 catches for 603 yards, 17.23 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. Even though he was Michigan’s No. 2 target behind senior Jeremy Gallon, Funchess transformed into one of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers.

This season, Funchess will step into the No. 1 role with Gallon graduating and moving onto the NFL. Although some continue to list Funchess as a tight end, there is no doubt in Michigan’s mind that he is a wide receiver. And Funchess will terrorize opposing defenses on the outside even more so this season than he did last season. Quarterback Devin Gardner tends to lock onto his No. 1 receiver rather than make his progressions when throwing the football. This means that Michigan’s one or two best receiver see the vast majority of Gardner’s passes thrown in their direction. Last season, Gallon was targeted 37.1 percent of the time, while Funchess was targeted 24.9 percent of the time. With Funchess as the No. 1 option with no clear-cut No. 2 behind him, he should see his target rate skyrocket to about 35 percent. There is no limit to what Funchess can produce this season with that many balls headed towards him.

Actually, there is one limit: his hands. Funchess suffers from a bad case of the dropsies. He was targeted 92 times last season, but caught only 49 passes. This calculated to a catch rate of 53.26 percent. This is far below average and a major eyebrow-raiser. While some of the missed catches can be blamed on Gardner for inaccurate throws made while under heavy pressure, too many of those missed grabs were the result of Funchess simply letting the ball slip through his hands. If Funchess can correct this issue this upcoming season, he very likely could be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. However, it is difficult to remedy a case of the dropsies, so he slides in at No. 2 behind the following Big Ten newcomer.

1. Stefon Diggs, Maryland | Junior – 6’0”, 195 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 34 587 3 17.3 66 83.9
2012 54 848 6 15.7 66 77.1
Career Totals 88 1,435 9 16.3 66 79.7
(Mitch Stringer, US Presswire)

(Mitch Stringer, US Presswire)

While Ohio State’s Devin Smith will be the most dangerous deep threat in the Big Ten next season, Maryland’s Stefon Diggs will be the most explosive all-around. As a high school recruit in 2012, Diggs was a consensus five-star prospect and considered to be one of the ten best players in his class. The reason he was held in such high regard was his athleticism and explosiveness. And Diggs demonstrated why as soon as he stepped on Maryland’s campus. As a true freshman, he led the Terrapins with 54 receptions, 848 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Although Diggs did not have the most yards per catch on the roster, his average of 15.70 yards is an average playmaking wide receivers register. His performance as true freshman earned him an honorable mention on the All-ACC team.

Last season, Diggs was on pace to improve upon his impressive debut. In his first seven games of 2013, Diggs had the highest target rate on the team at 25.11 percent, earning 56 targets. He turned this into 34 receptions, 587 receiving yards, 17.26 yards per catch, and three touchdowns. He averaged 4.9 catches and 83.9 receiving yards per game. If Diggs had maintained these averages through Maryland’s final six games of the season, he would have hauled in about 63 passes for 1,090 yards. Instead, like his teammate Deon Long, he suffered a broken leg in the seventh game against Wake Forest that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. And, yet, despite missing half the season, the ACC media and coaches still selected Diggs as an honorable mention on the All-ACC team. There is little doubt that he would have been a member of the first team if he had not been struck with an injury.

In 2014, Diggs should be fully recovered. Some may be concerned that Diggs will lose some of his explosiveness as a consequence of the injury, but this would be more of a worry if he had torn a muscle, like an ACL, rather than break a bone. Plus, Diggs participated in 7-on-7 drills during Maryland’s spring practices, and all reports indicate that he has full use of his speed and athleticism. When training camp opens in College Park in August, Diggs will be 100 percent and ready to go.

And a 100-percent Diggs means he is the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. Diggs may not have the height, but he excels at every other skill or trait the best wide receivers possess. He is explosive, has top-end speed, runs great routes, is explosive, has solid hands, can beat defenders one on one on screens, can beat the secondary over the top, and is explosive. Did I mention Diggs is explosive? With underrated sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown back for one more season, Maryland’s passing attack will be devastating in 2014. No one will be a bigger reason for this than Diggs. Expect Diggs to shine brightly on his new Big Ten stage and quickly assume the title as the best wideout in the conference.

So what do you think? Do you agree with out lists? Will Stefon Diggs be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten next season? Or will it be someone else? And what do you think about Devin Funchess’ rank at No. 2? Too high or too low? Please let us know in the comments below. Next week, we will rank the other pass catchers quarterbacks target: the tight ends.

New in Blue: Tight end Chris Clark

Thursday, June 19th, 2014


Chris Clark(247 Sports)

Chris Clark – TE | 6-6, 247 | Avon, Conn. – Avon Old Farms
ESPN: 4-star, #3 TE Rivals: 4-star, #4 TE 247: 4-star, #2 TE Scout: 5-star, #1 TE
Other top offers: Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Miami, South Carolina

Michigan seems to be gaining momentum on the recruiting trail, as just a day after picking up a commitment from 2016 quarterback Messiah deWeaver, the Wolverines got the nod from one of the top tight ends in the country, Chris Clark. After visiting Ohio State on Tuesday and Michigan State on Wednesday, the Avon, Conn. star pledged his commitment to Michigan on his visit this afternoon and announced it on Twitter.

Clark is rated four stars by Rivals, 247, and ESPN and five stars by Scout. Scout considers him the top tight end and 26th-best overall prospect in the 2015 class. 247 ranks him the second-best tight end and 101st overall prospect. ESPN has him as their third tight end and 108th-best overall prospect, while Rivals ranks him fourth and 146th, respectively. All but Rivals are in agreement about his height (6’6″) and weight (247-pounds). Rivals lists him six pounds heavier.

Scout lists Clarks’s strengths as blocking ability, hands, concentration, and size, and his weaknesses as downfield threat and elusiveness. Scout’s Brian Dohn had high praise for Clark.

“Clark is a complete tight end who can block, get out and catch the ball and also be a factor in the red zone,” said Dohn. “He has very good hands and is a red-zone threat. He does a nice job running routes and he is a big, physical player. He also embraces the blocking portion of the game, and does a good job getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly. All around, Clark is a complete tight end who should havea big impact quickly in college.”

Make no mistake about it, this is a big pick up for Hoke and staff. Clark held offers from nearly every major program in the country, including Alabama, and Michigan’s three main rivals, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame. He originally committed to North Carolina on March 16, but decommitted less than a month later and promptly visited Michigan and Ohio State.

On May 4, Clark tweeted that he would make his announcement at The Opening on July 8, but his visit to Michigan today, during which he met with quarterback commitment Alex Malzone, was enough to get him to end his recruitment a few weeks earlier. He’s the only current commit that will participate in The Opening, an invite-only competition for elite prospects at the Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, but he will join a pair of former commits — George Campbell and Shaun Crawford — as well as several targets.

Clark is the eighth member of the 2015 class and the only tight end. When he gets to Michigan next year — assuming his commitment holds through signing day — he will join a talented group that includes fellow four-stars Jake Butt and Ian Bunting and three star Khalid Hill. For what it’s worth, Devin Funchess was a three-star, though it’s a stretch to consider him a tight end at this point.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier likes to utilize tight ends, so the success Hoke and staff have had recruiting the position the past few years bodes well for the future. Clark has also said that he will do some recruiting for Michigan to try to lure other top prospects to join him in Ann Arbor.

Predicting Michigan: The wide receivers

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-Receivers

Devin Funchess, Jake ButtWhen wide receiver Jeremy Gallon walked off the field in Arizona after Michigan’s loss to Kansas State, the Wolverines lost 42.6 percent of their receiving yards for the season and the top playmaker on the team.

Michigan’s receiving corps was a one-man wrecking crew in 2013, with Gallon averaging 15.5 yards per catch and scoring nine times. His departure leaves room for a deep group of young wide outs to grow with the rest of the Wolverine offense.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs

The Starters

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Devin Funchess represents Michigan’s top returning receiver after transitioning from tight end to wide out during the 2013 season. Funchess was moved to receiver officially after playing a tight end-wide receiver hybrid position that highlighted the tall sophomore’s downfield skills.

As a junior, Funchess will be asked to show more consistency in the receiving game. Though he was one of the more explosive options for Devin Gardner in 2013, catching 49 passes for 748 yards, he struggled with concentration lapses that turned into dropped passes. Funchess holds all the tools to be a dominant receiver in the Big Ten, as his size and athleticism make him a mismatch for virtually every defender in the conference.

Funchess is more valuable to the Michigan offense as a wide receiver because of a 6’5″, 230 pound frame that makes him a huge red zone target. The former tight end has done his best work in the end zone for the Wolverines, catching 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Michigan entered spring camp with a second wide receiver position wide open until a true freshman charged out of the pack to grab the spot. Freddy Canteen dazzled the coaching staff the day he stepped on campus and has been the talk of the team ever since. The lightning-fast receiver turned heads with his quick feet and athleticism, leaving no doubt that he will line up opposite Funchess for the Wolverines on August 30.

Canteen and Funchess give Michigan a receiving duo with a remarkably high ceiling. Funchess can only benefit from an offseason exclusively dedicated to becoming a wide receiver, and Canteen’s quick rise up the depth chart offers him the opportunity to blossom with first-team reps.

Projected Stats – Funchess
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
65 900 13.8 8 69.2
Career Stats
2013 49 748 15.3 59 6 57.5
2012 15 234 15.6 30 5 18.0
Totals 64 982 15.3 59 11 37.8
Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
35 600 17.1 5 46.2

Veteran Depth

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Depth at wide receiver is one of the biggest questions facing the Michigan offense as it prepares for the 2014 season. Jehu Chesson is the only returning wide receiver that recorded over 100 yards in 2013, doing so on just 15 receptions.

Chesson was the forgotten man for much of his redshirt freshman season, playing in all 13 games but catching three or fewer passes in each one of them. Despite his inconsistency last season, the sophomore will be asked to provide stability to an otherwise young group of wide receivers in 2014.

Chesson’s struggles can be largely attributed to the circumstances that thrust him into the regular rotation last season. Amara Darboh was well on his way to earning a starting position last fall before suffering a foot injury in August and missing the entire season. The explosive sophomore has been rehabbing his injury throughout the past eight months and appears ready to make a return to a unit that sorely needs him.

Darboh sat out the spring game, but announced that he feels 100 percent and hopes to be a full participant in fall camp. If he regains his previous form, Darboh will be a huge asset to the offense, as his hands were the surest of the young receivers in camp last offseason. His pure catching ability offers Michigan a Junior Hemmingway-type player that can beat defenders to the ball.

If Doug Nussmeier decided to utilize a slot receiver, then junior Dennis Norfleet is the most likely candidate to earn that role. Michigan regularly features the speedy Norfleet as a kick returner because of his big-play potential; but the junior’s quickness could make him a valuable weapon in the passing game, in which he caught six passes for 46 yards last season.

Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 350 14.0 3 26.9
Career Stats
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
18 200 11.1 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Norfleet
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
12 100 8.3 0 7.7
Career Stats
2013 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5

Newcomers

Brady Hoke added a major piece to the receiving corps when Drake Harris committed to the Wolverines out of Grand Rapids. The consensus four-star turned heads during his junior season in high school, catching 91 passes for 2,016 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harris was considered one of the top recruits in his class before missing his entire senior season with a hamstring injury.

Harris sat alongside Darboh in the spring game, continuing a quiet offseason for the talented receiver. At 6’4″, Harris could be a valuable target during his freshman campaign, but health concerns will continue to surround the youngster until he steps foot on the field.

Michigan’s roster also features a host of young receivers hoping to crack the lineup this fall. Da’Mario Jones was blocked by Chesson last season after Darboh’s injury figured to bring him into the mix. Former three-star recruit Jaron Dukes is eligible in 2014 after redshirting his freshman season and could earn playing time with a strong spring.

Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
22 300 13.6 2 23.1

Countdown to kickoff: 80 days

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-80