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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Football’

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Defense

Friday, July 29th, 2016


Don Brown Michigan

Yesterday we outlined how each team’s returning offensive production compares throughout the Big Ten. Today, it’s time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball and tie it all together.

A year ago, Ohio State returned the most defensive production with 74 percent of its 2014 tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and takeaways back. It paid off as the Buckeyes finished third in the Big Ten in total defense and second in scoring defense. However, the team right behind them with 71 percent returning — Illinois– finished just ninth in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. The top two defenses in the conference, Wisconsin and Michigan, began the year with just 61 percent (seventh-most) and 63 percent (fifth-most) of their 2014 production returning.

Aside from Illinois, the teams with the most returning defensive production fared better than those with the least. The seven worst defenses in the conference were the same seven that returned the least from 2014.

Interestingly, the opposite was true the previous season. Maryland, Indiana, and Rutgers returned the most production from 2013, but produced three of the four worst defenses in the conference. Conversely, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State returned the lease production and turned out four of the top six defenses. So what does that tell us? (Shrug).

Let’s take a look at what this season looks like.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Defense Rating
Purdue 79% 110
Indiana 77% 120
Nebraska 69% 64
Michigan State 65% 26
Wisconsin 64% 2
Northwestern 63% 13
Iowa 63% 22
Minnesota 60% 24
Penn State 59% 14
Rutgers 59% 111
Michigan 54% 4
Maryland 52% 90
Ohio State 46% 9
Illinois 40% 30

Entering this season, two of the three worst defenses in the Big Ten a year ago return the most production by far. Purdue, which ranked 110th nationally in total defense and 111th in scoring defense, returns 79 percent including a whopping 88 percent of its tackles for loss and 83 percent of its sacks. Indiana, which ranked 120th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, returns 77 percent including 80 percent of its total tackles and 19 of 22 takeaways. However, the Hoosiers do have to replace defensive end Nick Mangieri, who led the team in tackles for loss and sacks.

Nobody expects Purdue or Indiana to factor into the Big Ten race for obvious reasons, but the next few teams with the most returning defensive production certainly will. Nebraska returns 69 percent of its defense which ranked 64th nationally last season. Five of the top six tacklers return as do all but three takeaways. But the Cornhuskers ranked ahead of only Michigan in takeaways.

Michigan State (65 percent), Wisconsin (64 percent), Iowa (63 percent), and Northwestern (63 percent) were all ranked among the top 26 defenses in the country and return two-thirds of that production. Wisconsin has to replace linebacker Joe Schobert, who ranked second in the Big Ten with 19.5 tackles for loss and fourth with 9.5 sacks, and safety Tanner McEvoy, who ranked second in the conference with five interceptions and also added two fumble recoveries. Michigan State has to replace defensive end Shilique Calhoun’s 10.5 sacks and 15 TFLs but returns four of its top five tacklers. Iowa lost tackles for loss leader, defensive end Nate Meier, and three of its top four tacklers but returns all but three of its 27 takeaways — a number that ranked second only to MSU’s 28 a year ago. Northwestern returns leading tackler, linebacker Anthony Walker, who led the Big Ten in tackles for loss, but will have to make up for the loss of defensive end Deonte Gibson, its sack leader, and the next three leaders in TFLs.

Minnesota, Penn State, and Rutgers all return the same amount of production at 60, 59, and 59 percent, respectively, but one of these is not like the others. While Penn State’s defense ranked 14th nationally and Minnesota’s 24th, Rutgers’ was near the bottom at 111th. Minnesota brings back 70 percent of its tackles for loss, but lost two of the top three tacklers. Penn State has work cut out in replacing end Carl Nassib and tackle Austin Johnson, who combined for 34.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Rutgers, meanwhile, returns all but three of its sacks, though the Scarlet Knights ranked dead last in that category last season.

Michigan brings back 54 percent of its fourth-ranked defense but has to replace its top three tacklers, linebackers Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan and safety Jarrod Wilson. But replacing tackles is much easier than replacing impact plays, and the Wolverines bring back three of their top four tackles for loss leaders and two of their top three sack leaders from 2015.

Maryland returns just over half of its 90th-ranked defense but lost linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and tackle Quinton Jefferson who were the Terps’ top two leaders in tackles for loss and sacks.

Ohio State, which returns the least offensive production, returns the second least on the defensive side thanks to six NFL Draft picks from that side alone. But like on offense, the cupboard is far from bare. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis led the team with eight sacks and was second only to Joey Bosa in tackles for loss. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is a tackling machine who ranked fourth in the Big Ten last season. And while end Sam Hubbard only recorded 28 total tackles, 8 of them were behind the line of scrimmage, including 6.5 sacks.

Finally, Illinois returns just 40 percent of its 2015 defensive production, the least of any team in the Big Ten since at least 2014 when we started tracking. The Illini were a very respectable 30th a year ago, but lost the conference’s leading tackler, safety Clayton Fejedelem, as well as their next two leading tacklers. If there’s a silver lining it’s that 71 percent of their sacks are back, most notably linebacker Dawuane Smoot.

So what does it all mean? The following chart plots each team by both offensive and defensive production.

2015to2016 Returning Production Chart

If the trend of the past two seasons continues there are two teams in ideal position to win the Big Ten, plotting very similarly to Ohio State in 2014 and Michigan State in 2015. One is Penn State and the other is Michigan. And while both have room for optimism heading into the season Michigan is better positioned for two reasons: the two biggest weaknesses — quarterback and linebacker — have been addressed.

First, Jim Harbaugh did wonders for Jake Rudock in a short time a year ago and now he gets the luxury of having a quarterback — whether it be John O’Korn or Wilton Speight — who already has more than a year of his tutelage to build on. Looking at Harbaugh’s track record coaching quarterbacks, from Rich Gannon to Josh Johnson to Andrew Luck to Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick and most recently Rudock, it’s clear that he could essentially take a tackling dummy and turn it into a serviceable quarterback.

The second issue has been addressed by bringing in Don Brown, a.k.a. Dr. Blitz, to run the defense. He promptly moved the dynamic Jabrill Peppers to a hybrid linebacker position that perfectly complements Brown’s scheme and Michigan’s defensive strengths — the line and the secondary.

The biggest roadblock to Michigan’s title hopes is its schedule that takes the Wolverines to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus in a span of five weeks. The good news is that those all fall in the latter half of the season, after Michigan works out any kinks it may have at the start of the season.

Does this mean Michigan will win the Big Ten? Absolutely not. Since we just started tracking returning production in 2014, it’s a very small sample size to draw any definitive conclusions from. And just because Michigan falls right within the returning production sweet spot that produced Big Ten champions each of the last two seasons it doesn’t guarantee anything. After all, Rutgers and Minnesota were within that sweet spot last season as well. But it should at least provide a little extra dose of optimism for a Michigan team that already enters the season with plenty of it.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Offense

Thursday, July 28th, 2016


MSU 2015(Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

With less than six weeks remaining until college football returns the Michigan hype train is in full force entering Jim Harbaugh’s second season at the helm. The main questions the Wolverines face are at the quarterback position — Harbaugh’s specialty — and linebacker where do-it-all burgeoning superstar Jabrill Peppers will step in. But how does Michigan compare to the rest of the Big Ten in terms of who’s coming back?

It’s time to take our annual look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. Of course, this is just one metric to use to predict each team’s success in the upcoming season, not the be all end all, but we’ll take a look at how it panned out the past two years as well and see if we can make any predictions on outcomes this fall.

The first year we tracked this, 2014, eventual champion Ohio State returned 60 percent of both its offense and its defense from the previous season. Last season, Big Ten champion Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense, or just over 60 percent of its total returning production from 2014.

The teams with the most returning production both years — Maryland in 2014 with 90 percent and Ohio State in 2015 with 81 percent — both failed to reach the Big Ten championship game. Maryland finished third in the East with a 7-6 overall record and a 4-4 conference record, while Ohio State finished second in the East with a 12-1, 7-1 record.

Will this season follow the trend of the past two? Let’s take a look at this year’s returning offensive production.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Offense Ranking
Nebraska 88% 34
Minnesota 85% 103
Northwestern 82% 115
Rutgers 79% 84
Maryland 79% 87
Purdue 72% 95
Illinois 71% 88
Iowa 71% 72
Penn State 54% 105
Michigan 53% 69
Indiana 45% 14
Wisconsin 43% 79
Michigan State 38% 73
Ohio State 28% 41
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Scoring Offense Ranking
Nebraska 86% 43
Minnesota 85% 106
Maryland 78% 95
Northwestern 75% 114
Iowa 75% 54
Illinois 73% 103
Rutgers 72% 78
Purdue 69% 92
Wisconsin 60% 81
Penn State 54% 101
Michigan 54% 50
Michigan State 48% 60
Indiana 40% 24
Ohio State 32% 28

Nebraska is this year’s Maryland and Ohio State with the most returning production in the conference. That returning production falls in between the Terrapins and Buckeyes in terms of the previous season’s total offense rating (34th versus Ohio State’s 9th and Maryland’s 75th) and scoring offense rating (43rd versus OSU’s 5th and Maryland’s 84th). Both of those offensive units actually went backwards the following season even with so much returning production. Maryland slid 34 spots to 109th in total offense, while Ohio State slid seven spots to 41st. It is important to note that the Maryland comparison is apples to oranges since the Terps moved from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The good news for Nebraska is that the offense returns quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who ranked second in the Big Ten in passing last season. In 2014, Maryland had to replace quarterback CJ Brown. Last season Ohio State returned J.T. Barrett, but Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tim Beck played musical chairs with he and Cardale Jones, which held the offense back from what could have been much more potent.

Minnesota returns the second most offensive production (85 percent) and scoring (85 percent) but ranked near the bottom nationally in both categories a year ago at 103rd and 106th, respectively. Aside from leading receiver K.J. Maye, everyone of importance is back for the Gophers offense. However, the offensive line returns just one player who started all 13 games, right tackle Jonah Pirsig. That means 115 career starts are gone and only a combined 37 return.

The next four teams with the most returning production are all pretty much in the same both. Northwestern (82/75 percent), Rutgers (79/72), Maryland (79/78), Purdue (72/69), and Illinois (71/73) return a lot of offense, but all five ranked between 84th and 115th nationally in total offense in 2015. All five return their primary quarterback, so that’s good news, but they all have too big a hill to climb to make a serious challenge for the Big Ten title.

Iowa returns 71 percent of its offense that ranked 72nd last season and 75 percent of its 54th-ranked scoring offense. Quarterback CJ Beathard figures to be one of the best in a down year at the position in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes have to replace leading rusher Jordan Canzeri and two of their top three receivers. Like Minnesota, Iowa has major losses to replace along the line with All-Big Ten performers, right guard Jordan Walsh and center Austin Blythe, taking 86 career starts with them to the NFL.

Penn State and Michigan are neck-and-neck in terms of returning offensive production this season. Penn State returns 54 percent of its offense and 54 percent of its scoring, while Michigan returns 54 and 53 percent, respectively. The big difference, however, is what that production accomplished in 2015. Michigan’s offense ranked 69th nationally and 50th in scoring, while Penn State’s ranked 105th and 101st. Both have to replace their starting quarterbacks, but all bets should be on Harbaugh to produce a better one than James Franklin. Michigan returns 72 percent of its rushing and 92 percent of its receiving, while Penn State returns 78 and 85.

Indiana and Wisconsin both return approximately the same (45 percent and 43 percent of offense respectively). Offense has never really been an issue for the Hoosiers under Kevin Wilson and there’s no reason to think this year will be much different. Defense is another story. More on that later. Wisconsin has to replace quarterback Joel Stave, more than 50 percent of its receiving production, and second-team All-Big Ten left tackle Tyler Marz.

Michigan State and Ohio State round out the returning offensive production. The Spartans bring back 38 percent of the nation’s 73rd-best offensive unit and 48 percent of the 60th-best scoring offense. They have to replace quarterback Connor Cook, 65 percent of their receiving production, and center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin’s combined 85 career starts. The three-headed rushing attack of L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London will have to carry the load until the passing game finds its stride.

Ohio State’s mass exodus for the NFL leaves just 28 percent of its offense and 32 percent of its scoring behind. The good news for Meyer is that he still has Barrett behind center without Jones to muddle things and the Big Ten media picked Barrett as the preseason offensive player of the year. The other good news is that Meyer’s recruiting dominance over the past few seasons means he has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Just how well it will step up is the question. Only 132 rushing yards return from the running back position (Barrett is the returning leader with 727) and only 19 percent of last season’s receiving yards return.

Stay tuned for our defensive breakdown and conclusions coming soon.

New in Blue: 2017 OL Kai-Leon Herbert

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016


Kai-Leon Herbert (247 Sports)

Kai-Leon Herbert – OT | 6-5, 284| Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (American Heritage)
ESPN4-star, #15 OT Rivals: 4-star, #10 OT 247: 3-star, #72 OT Scout: 4-star, #22 OT
247 Composite: 4-star #22 OT
Other top offers: Florida, Miami, Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, UNC, WVU

Michigan’s 2017 recruiting momentum continued on Wednesday afternoon with a commitment from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. offensive tackle Kai-Leon Herbert. With commitment videos all the rage these days, Herbert may have topped them all with a zombie-themed video on Bleacher Report.

He followed that up with an announcement via Twitter.

Herbert is a four-star recruit according to Rivals, Scout, and ESPN, and a three-star according to 247. Rivals ranks him the highest as the 10th-best offensive tackle in the 2017 class. ESPN ranks him 15th, Scout 22nd, and 247 is the outlier at 72nd. Nationally, Rivals ranks him as the 61st overall prospect in the class, while ESPN has him 106th, Scout 183rd, and 247 683rd. Per the 247 Composite, he’s a four-star, ranked as the 22nd-best offensive tackle and 166th-best overall player in the class.

Scout compliments his arm length, body control and balance, feet, flexibility, and intelligence, while noting his areas to improve as pad level and power and strength. They expand on that as well.

“Herbert is an offensive tackle with a great frame. His length stands out immediately and he has good feet to go with that. He has the body that is developing and with that, he will add mass and more power to his game. He can really move and get into his pass sets well. From his sophomore year to the end of his junior year, he added good weight, he played with more aggression, and he has really started to separate himself as one of the best in Florida. He is a very smart player and he is always working to get better. His flexibility is good and his punch has improved a lot. He could be a true left tackle on the next level.”

Herbert chose Michigan over home-state Florida and Miami. He also held offers from LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, to name a few. Michigan originally offered the 6-foot-5, 284-pounder on May 1 of last year and he attended Michigan’s satellite camp at St. Thomas Aquinas High School last month. He followed that up with an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor the weekend of June 17 and from then on it was all Michigan.

Herbert is the 18th member of the 2017 class and the third offensive lineman to commit to Michigan in the past two weeks, joining Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford, as well as Ja’Raymond Hall, who committed in December. Herbert is currently in Oregon competing in The Opening finals.

Predicting Michigan 2016: The running backs

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-RunningBacks

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Previous: Quarterbacks

The Michigan rushing attack showed improvement in some areas under Jim Harbaugh in Year 1, but it still has a long way to go if the Wolverines hope to compete for a Big Ten East title.

Michigan returns each of its three most experienced running backs from last season, but none of them have an iron grip on the starting job.

Returning Starters

Barring something unforeseen, senior De’Veon Smith will top the running back depth chart when Michigan breaks camp. Smith spent most of the last two seasons as the starting running back and did a solid job, though he struggled in conference play.

Drake Johnson

(AP photo)

In five games against nonconference opponents last season, Smith thrice ran for over 100 yards and scored a combined four touchdowns. In seven conference matchups, he rushed for fewer than 45 yards per game and got shut down in big games like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.

There’s a reason Smith carried the ball 180 times last season. Because of Michigan’s struggles with run blocking, Smith gave the offense its best chance to break tackles and pick up yards after contact. He was extremely difficult to bring down in the open field and found the end zone in goal line situations.

But Smith’s big play potential is limited. There were times throughout the season when the offensive line created a hole and Smith wasn’t able to adjust in time to hit it, instead running into tacklers or even the backs of his linemen.

Smith is the all-around best proven option for Michigan this fall, but there are other players with more upside. Smith will likely be the starter against Hawaii, but he’ll need to keep earning that role to stay ahead of the pack.

Drake Johnson is the other running back with starting experience in the Maize and Blue. Johnson took the job from Smith late in 2014 and averaged six yards per carry despite sitting out against several of Michigan’s weaker opponents.

The Ann Arbor Pioneer product was carrying an undermanned Michigan offense in the Horseshoe on Nov. 29, 2014 before an injury cut his season a few minutes short. He picked up 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground against Ohio State and had the Wolverines in position for a massive upset.

When he went down, so did Michigan’s chances.

Johnson was an afterthought for much of the 2015 campaign despite showing promising signs when he did get in on the action. When Michigan struggled to run the ball against Maryland, Johnson earned 13 carries and turned them into 68 yards and a touchdown. He also took a screen pass 31 yards for a touchdown that basically put the game away.

Since his injury, Johnson has largely fallen off the radar. But in his final year of eligibility, he figures to play a significant role in the Michigan backfield.

Projected Stats – Smith
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG Receiving Yards
160 700 4.4 5 53.8 95
Career Stats
2015 180 753 4.2 6 57.9 159
2014 108 519 4.8 6 43.3 26
2013 26 117 4.5 0 9.8 0
Totals 314 1,389 4.4 12 37.5 185
Projected Stats – Johnson
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG Receiving Yards
50 300 6.0 3 23.1 2
Career Stats
2015 54 271 5.0 4 22.6 96
2014 60 361 6.0 4 30.1 11
2013 2 9 4.5 0 9.0 0
2012 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals 116 641 5.5 8 25.6 107
Returning contributors

Last season Michigan had two former five-star running backs on its roster. Neither of them have come anywhere near their expected potential and neither made a major impact on the 2015 season.

(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Now Derrick Green is gone and Ty Isaac is surrounded by uncertainty. He wasn’t bad last season, but he wasn’t good enough to stay in Harbaugh’s rotation.

Isaac’s first year in Ann Arbor was defined by one 76-yard touchdown dash against UNLV, but he also averaged a solid 4.4 yards per carry the other 29 times his number was called. He fell out of the rotation for one reason: fumbles.

Isaac’s role on the team basically evaporated after a near-disastrous goal line fumble in Maryland. Michigan was backed up inside its own five-yard line when Isaac coughed up the ball in a one-possession game. The Wolverines recovered, but it was the last straw for Harbaugh. Isaac received only four touches the rest of the season.

The talent is there, and there’s definitely a spot for Isaac in Michigan’s backfield. But he’s running out of time to make the most of it.

Karan Higdon is the only other returning running back who received double digit carries last season. As a true freshman, Higdon impressed Harbaugh enough to earn playing time against ranked opponents in Northwestern and Michigan State. He figures to be similarly buried on the depth chart this season, but with so many big, bruising running backs fighting for carries, Higdon will be a potential change of pace.

Projected Stats – Isaac
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG Receiving Yards
50 240 4.8 2 18.5 25
Career Stats
2015 30 205 6.8 1 29.3 0
2014 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2013 40 236 5.9 2 16.9 57
Totals 70 441 6.3 3 21.0 57
Projected Stats – Higdon
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG Receiving Yards
20 60 3.0 0 4.6 7
Career Stats
2015 11 19 1.7 0 6.3 3
Totals 11 19 1.7 0 6.3 3
New Faces

Michigan brought in a pair of huge running backs this offseason, including one of the top overall recruits in the nation.

Kareem Walker was one of the most valuable commitments in recent Michigan history after he flipped from Ohio State, not only because he helped recruit guys like Rashan Gary and Michael Dwumfour, but also because he’s a five-star talent who fits the Harbaugh offense perfectly.

Walker is a powerful inside runner and makes a living abusing tacklers one-on-one. Michigan fans got their first look at the freshman when he blew up two tacklers on a red zone run in the Spring Game.

Though he admits he doesn’t want to be a back who carries the ball 30 times per game, Walker expects to be in the rotation from Day 1. At this point, there’s no reason to doubt he will be.

The other, less heralded running back commit is Kingston Davis, who snubbed a handful of SEC schools to make the trip north to Ann Arbor. The Alabama native fits into the same category as Smith and Walker. He’s a huge body who welcomes contact and runs between the tackles.

Harbaugh loves big running backs. Now, he has plenty of them.

Projected Stats – Walker
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG Receiving Yards
70 350 5.0 5 26.9 35
Projected Stats – Davis
Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards YPC TDs YPG Receiving Yards
20 80 4.0 1 6.2 4
Meet the Rest

Wyatt Shallman: Senior, 6-3, 245, from Hartland, Mich. (Detroit Central Catholic)
Career stats: 4 attempts for 14 yards, 0 TDs
Joe Hewlett: Junior, 6-0, 195, from Novi, Mich. (Northville)
No career stats

Join Rent Like a Champion at Bar Louie this Thursday

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016


Do you live in Ann Arbor? Would you like to earn some money during Michigan football weekends? If so, join our partner, Rent Like a Champion, for a happy hour on the back patio of Bar Louie this Thursday to learn how.RLAC happy hour ad

The Rent Like a Champion team will be on hand with some appetizers, an open bar, and a casual meet-and-greet from 5pm to 8pm. They’ll be able to answer any questions you have about how to make money by renting out your home to Michigan fans and alums this fall. Current Rent Like a Champion homeowners will also be there to share their experience.

Rent Like a Champion runs a home rental platform similar to that of Airbnb, but focuses on college towns with major football programs. Homeowners can make an average of $1,300 per weekend to rent out their house to football fans, while fans and alums coming to town for fall football weekends can avoid the hassles and discomfort of hotels by renting homes that allow their entire party to stay together under one roof with all the amenities of home.

Rent Like a Champion won an investment from Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban and billionaire Chris Sacca on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2015.

If you have any questions, you can contact Rent Like a Champion at 312-720-2070 or email info@rentlikeachampion.com.

Predicting Michigan 2016: The quarterbacks

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-Quarterbacks
John O'Korn
(Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

The 2015 offseason turned over a new page for Michigan quarterbacks as a talented coaching staff came in and the team moved on from embattled signal caller Devin Gardner.

Most of last year’s candidates were relative unknowns. Shane Morris hadn’t shown much promise in his limited reps as a sophomore and Jake Rudock hadn’t arrived in Ann Arbor for the spring game. Fans really didn’t know what to expect.

It didn’t start off well. Rudock won the job late in the summer and made an awful first impression in Utah. He threw three interceptions — including a pick-six — in an opener that the Wolverines otherwise might have won. It was a rough start to the Jim Harbaugh era, but it didn’t last long.

By the end of the year, Rudock was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Just months after Iowa had tossed him in the recycling bin, Rudock heard his name called in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.

That’s what Harbaugh can do with a little bit of talent. This offseason, he has a wealth of it.

Starting candidates
Wilton Speight

(Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports)

While Michigan’s roster holds several capable players under center, there are only two serious candidates to start the season atop the depth chart. Heading into July, the frontrunner appears to be redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight (6-6, 239).

Speight served as Rudock’s backup in 2015, a role that turned out to be extremely important to Michigan’s season. On Halloween in Minnesota, with Rudock sidelined by injury, Speight inherited a five-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter. He looked shaky during his first few drives, but on Michigan’s last possession of the game, Speight completed all three of his passes for 29 yards and the eventual game-winning touchdown.

Speight’s contribution wasn’t entirely out of the blue. The former three-star prospect flashed great arm talent during the Elite 11 camp in San Francisco. His size and arm strength were, and still are, his primary calling cards. He wouldn’t be the frontrunner this late in the process without big time ability.

The other starting candidate is Houston transfer John O’Korn (6-4, 209), who announced his commitment to the Wolverines shortly after Harbaugh became head coach. O’Korn dazzled during his freshman campaign at Houston, throwing for over 3,000 yards, completing 58.1 percent of his passes and tossing 28 touchdowns compared to 10 picks.

But the sophomore slump hit O’Korn hard. He lost his starting job to Greg Ward Jr. just five games into the 2014 season after throwing eight interceptions and completing only 52 percent of his passes.

How could O’Korn save his career? He went to Harbaugh.

The redshirt junior impressed fans at the spring game on April Fool’s Day. He completed only six of 14 pass attempts, but showcased his downfield arm strength for a pair of big completions and finished with 93 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball exceptionally well on broken plays, scrambling seven times for 28 yards.

Who has the edge to start against Hawaii on Sept. 3? For now, I’ll go with O’Korn. Though he’s only thrown one live pass in the last 20 months, O’Korn appears to fit Michigan’s 2016 roster perfectly. He can throw the ball downfield to playmakers like Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt and he adds an extra dimension to the offense with his legs.

Speight has also proven his ability to jump in off the bench and help in a backup role, which might factor into the decision.

At this point in the summer, the battle appears to be neck and neck. No matter what happens, fans can be sure that Harbaugh will have both guys ready to go when September rolls around.

Projected Stats – O’Korn
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
2,500 22 10 59.5% 200 2
Career Stats
2014 951 6 8 52.0% 18 1
2013 3,117 28 10 58.1% 104 1
Totals 4,068 32 18 56.4% 122 2
*All at Houston
Projected Stats – Speight
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
500 3 1 62.0% 175 2
Career Stats
2015 73 1 1 65.7% 2 0
2014 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals 73 1 1 65.7% 2 0
Potential contributors

Below the top dogs on the depth chart, Michigan has a pair of quarterbacks who were once considered excellent prospects, but who have taken a back seat on the hype train since arriving in Ann Arbor.

(Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

(Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

The first, and most obvious, example is Shane Morris (6-3, 208), who defines the term ‘roller coaster career.’

Once an elite five-star prospect, Morris’ arrival at Michigan was somewhat dampened when he missed his senior season at De La Salle due to a battle with mononucleosis. From there, Morris played a reserve role behind Gardner until the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings bowl. The freshman started the bowl game and fared pretty well, completing 24 of 38 passes for 196 yards and an interception. Though offensive coordinator Al Borges didn’t really unleash Morris during the game, his arm strength shone through.

Unfortunately, 2014 was a disaster for Michigan and Morris. Not only did the sophomore complete just 14 of 40 passes for three picks and no touchdowns, he also found himself smack dab in the middle of a concussion protocol controversy when Brady Hoke left him in after a hard hit against Minnesota.

Since that game, Morris has thrown just one pass for the Wolverines. Harbaugh decided to redshirt the junior last season.

Morris frequently lined up at wide receiver in the spring game, and Michigan has shown a growing tendency to move players around and tinker with special packages. Guys like Jabrill Peppers have been used in unconventional roles and former quarterback recruit Zach Gentry has already made a switch to tight end.

Morris’ future will be one to watch closely.

Alex Malzone (6-1, 222) has similarly seen his stock fall since the beginning of his college career.

The former four-star recruit jumped right into the action last offseason, starting for the Maize Team in the 2015 spring game. Malzone completed 15 of 27 passes, but threw for only 95 yards and two picks in the 7-0 loss.

The redshirt freshman has recently been in the spotlight off the field for allegedly altering his driver’s license, an issue Harbaugh promised would be addressed.

Morris and Malzone are both very talented players, but Harbaugh is accruing an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position. The current plan doesn’t appear to have a major role in store for this duo. But if the injury bug hits hard, or something unforeseen pops up, Michigan has serviceable options lurking on the sideline.

Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
100 1 0 55.5% 12 0
Career Stats
2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2014 128 0 3 35.0% 28 0
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 389 0 5 49.4% 68 0
Projected Stats – Malzone
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
0 0 0 N/A 0 0
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2015
Newcomer

Michigan did bring in one quarterback recruit this offseason, and it’s one that fans should be extremely excited about: Brandon Peters (6-5, 205).

Peters has the highest upside of any quarterback on the roster despite never having taken a college snap.

A four-star recruit and one of the top five quarterbacks in his class, Peters committed to Harbaugh in April of 2015 and never wavered. The 6-foot-4 Avon, Ind. product is athletic and has a quick release, but his accuracy and arm strength stole the show at the spring game.

Peters didn’t look like a freshman during his reps, staying in the pocket and making accurate throws around the field. Two passes that really stood out were a 19-yard dart to Gentry over the middle and a rollout play in which he hit Grant Perry while on the run.

Harbaugh has the luxury of redshirting Peters this season, which will give him a year of tutelage and strength building. I think that’s the preferred plan for 2016. But by 2017, even with O’Korn and Speight returning and current commit Dylan McCaffrey likely joining the mix, look for Peters to have a say in the battle for the starting job.

Projected Stats – Peters
Redshirt
Meet the Rest

Garret Moores: Senior, 6-3, 214, from Northville, Mich. (Detroit Central Catholic). No career stats

New in Blue: 2017 DT Aubrey Solomon & 2018 S Otis Reese

Monday, June 20th, 2016


Aubrey Solomon(Chris Kirschner, AJC)

Aubrey Solomon – DT | 6-3, 305 | Leesburg, Ga. (Lee County)
ESPN4-star, #6 DT Rivals: 4-star, #4 DT 247: 4-star, #14 DT Scout: 4-star, #9 DT
247 Composite: 4-star #6 DT
Other top offers: Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Florida State, Georgia, Florida, UNC

Michigan picked up a pair of surprise commitments from SEC country over the weekend in the form of 2017 defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon and 2018 linebacker Otis Reese. Both were in attendance for Jim Harbaugh’s satellite camp at their high school in Leesburg, Ga. on June 2, and were also in Ann Arbor this weekend for Michigan’s annual summer football camp.

Solomon has long been considered a Georgia or Alabama lean as he lives less than 200 miles from Athens and 250 miles from Tuscaloosa, but the 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior-to-be decided to head north instead.

“I was in love with the football aspect of Georgia,” Solomon said. “I was cool with players there, but at the end of the day, it comes down to what will help me 10 years, 20 years after football and Michigan provides the best opportunities for me.”

Solomon is a consensus four-star recruit according to the four major recruiting services. Rivals ranks him the highest as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the 2017 class, while ESPN ranks him sixth, Scout ninth, and 247 14th. Nationally, ESPN has him the highest as the 61st-best recruit in the class. Rivals lists him 91st, Scout 127th, and 247 207th. The 247 Composite has Solomon 94th overall and sixth-best defensive tackle.

Scout lists his strengths as athleticism, lateral range, quickness off ball, and suddenness, while listing his area to improve as pad level. They elaborate on that as well.

“An athletic defensive lineman who knows how to get off the ball. He is most effective with his quickness. He has good anticipation and he reacts quickly in the trenches. Really gets up the field. Can make plays in the backfield. Gets consistent penetration. Can use his hands, but needs to improve that, and his moves to counter offensive linemen. When he struggles, he tends to play high, so he can work on bettering his pad level. Just a quick defensive lineman who can make plays. Plays hard and plays fast for a guy his size.”

Solomon boasted offers from most of the major powers in the south, including Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and more. He’s the second defensive tackle in the class, joining Phillip Paea, and the 15th commitment overall.

Otis Reese(Scout)

Otis Reese – S | 6-2, 195 | Leesburg, Ga. (Lee County)
ESPN: N/A RivalsN/A 247: 4-star, #11 S Scout: 4-star, N/A
247 Composite: N/A
Other top offers: LSU, UCLA, Louisville

Reese is Solomon’s teammate at Lee County High School in Leesburg, Ga., but is a year behind and will be entering his junior year this fall. He attended Michigan’s summer football camp over the weekend with Solomon.

Reese is a four-star recruit according to the only two recruiting services who have rated the 2018 class thus far, Scout and 247. Only 247 has ranked position groups and they have Reese as the 11th-best safety and the 117th-best overall player in the class.

Scout compliments Reese’s blitzing ability, closing speed, frame, size, and tackling ability while noting his areas to improve as backpedal quickness and hip flexibility. They expanded on that with a sophomore evaluation.

“Reese is a physical football player. He played varsity as a freshman and has improved regularly since. His size has stood out from the beginning, and by the time he reaches college, he may be playing inside the box on a regular basis as a linebacker. He is a real field general and he is used in coverage, in run support, and he blitzes off the edge as well. He is a little tight in the hips and he can improve in coverage. At his best when coming down hill in attack mode. He can close well and he makes solid tackles.”

Reese only shows offers from LSU, UCLA, Louisville, Troy, and Central Michigan at this time, but with two years of high school ball left to play he was surely on track to earn many more.

Michigan now has four members of its 2018 class, including fellow Georgian offensive guard Jalil Irvin and Springfield, Ohio teammates Leonard Taylor (DE/TE) and Antwuan Johnson (LB).

New in Blue: 2017 DE Luiji Vilain

Sunday, June 12th, 2016


Luiji Vilain(247 Sports)

Luiji Vilain – DE | 6-4, 240 | Alexandria, Va. (Episcopal)
ESPN4-star, #11 DE Rivals: 4-star, #10 WDE 247: 4-star, #5 WDE Scout: 4-star, #10 DE
247 Composite: 4-star #8 WDE
Other top offers: Alabama, OSU, MSU, Ole Miss, USC, Georgia, Florida, UCLA, UNC, Tennessee

Just 10 days after landing four-star defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher, Jim Harbaugh’s staff has secured a commitment from another one, this time Alexandria, Va. product Luiji Vilain. He announced his commitment to the Wolverines on Twitter via Sunday afternoon.

Vilain is a consensus four-star recruit in the 2017 class according to the four major recruiting services. 247 Sports ranks him the highest as the fifth-best weakside defensive end in the class. Rivals ranks him as the 10th-best, while Scout lists him as the 10th-best defensive end and ESPN as the 11th. Nationally, 247 and ESPN both have him inside their top 100 at 94th and 95th, respectively. Scout ranks him 138th and Rivals 180th. According to the 247 Sports Composite, Vilain is the eighth-best weakside end and 102nd-best player in the class.

Scout lists Vilain’s strengths as athleticism, speed, and strength — all of which are extremely desirable for a pass rusher — while noting his areas to improve as techniques and moves, which can be taught at the college level. Scout’s analysis will have Michigan fans salivating for his arrival on campus.

“Vilain is explosive off the edge. He’s extremely athletic and very strong. Vilian changes directions well, has great speed and is good in pursuit. He is very good against the run and the pass. Vilain also has a high motor and plays very hard. He needs to continue to work on his technique and develop some moves, but he has a very high ceiling and the potential to become a dominant player at the collegiate level.”

Vilain chose Michigan over USC and Virginia Tech, but he also held offers from most of the other major programs in the country including Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Georgia, and UCLA, to name a few. Originally from Canada, Vilain moved to Virginia prior to last season where he exploded onto the scene. He visited Michigan almost a year ago to the day while he was in town for Sound Mind Sound Body, and received an official offer this past March. He visited Ann Arbor again on May 21 and it was enough to solidify his decision to commit.

Vilain is the 14th member of the 2017 class, joining Malone-Hatcher, quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, running backs Kurt Taylor, O’Maury Samuels, A.J. Dillon, and Chase Lasater, tight end Carter Dunaway, offensive tackle JaRaymond Hall, defensive tackle Phillip Paea, linebacker Ben Mason, and defensive backs Benjamin St-Juste and J’Marick Woods. Vilain is the second-highest rated player in the class behind McCaffrey and his commitment vaults Michigan from seventh in the 247 Sports team rankings to fourth behind only Ohio State, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

New in Blue: 2017 DE Corey Malone-Hatcher

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016


Corey Malone-Hatcher(247 Sports)

Corey Malone-Hatcher – DE | 6-3, 246 | St. Joseph’s, Mich. (St. Joseph’s)
ESPN4-star, #20 DE Rivals: 4-star, #13 SDE 247: 4-star, #12 WDE Scout: 4-star, #24 DE
247 Composite: 4-star #16 WDE
Other top offers: Alabama, OSU, MSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Tennessee, UCLA, Iowa, Wisconsin

Jim Harbaugh’s summer satellite camp tour just started, but he has already picked up a commitment. Rather than coming as a result of a camp, it came from his own backyard in the form of St. Joseph’s, Mich. defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher. The 6-foot-3, 246-pound senior-to-be announced his commitment on Thursday afternoon.

Malone-Hatcher is a consensus four-star recruit accoridng to the four major recruiting services. 247 Sports ranks him the highest at his position as the 12th-best weakside defensive end, while Rivals has him as the 13th-best strongside end. ESPN and Scout list him 20th and 24th, respectively. Nationally, 247 has him the highest as the 169th-best overall player in the 2017 class. ESPN ranks him 254th, Scout 287th, and Rivals doesn’t have him in their top 300. According to the 247 Composite, he’s the 247th-best player, 16th-best weakside end, and sixth-best player in the state of Michigan.

Scout lists Malone-Hatcher’s strengths as backside pursuit, pass rushing skills, and techniques and moves, while noting his area to improve as injury history. A foot injury — and ultimately surgery — ended his junior season last fall. Scout expanded on their analysis.

“Great pass rusher who can dip his shoulders, bend the corner and get around offensive tackle. Agile kid who does a good job with his hands as well. Closes on quarterbacks quickly and has improved on his ability in coverage but can continue to work in that department. Main concern are a couple of injuries the last few years, but when he’s been on the field, he’s made an impact.”

Malone-Hatcher chose Michigan over a top ten that he released on Sunday that also included Ohio State, Michigan State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Tennessee, UCLA, Wisconsin, and Penn State. According to the 247 Crystal Ball, Michigan has always been the favorite, while Alabama had a few votes. But since he tweeted out his top ten, 10 crystal balls were given in Michigan’s favor and by Wednesday night the Wolverines were the 100 percent favorite.

Michigan already has two of the state of Michigan’s top six — offensive tackle JaRaymond Hall (third) and inside linebacker Josh Ross (fourth) — and Malone-Hatcher’s commitment would give them a third. The biggest prize, receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who ranks sixth nationally, is considered a Michigan lean, but the Wolverines still have to fight off Ohio State and Michigan State for his commitment.

Malone-Hatcher is the 13th commitment in the class, joining Hall, Ross, quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, running backs Kurt Taylor, O’Maury Samuels, A.J. Dillon, and Chase Lasater, tight end Carter Dunaway, defensive tackle Phillip Paea, linebacker Ben Mason, and defensive backs Benjamin St-Juste and J’Marick Woods.

42 years later: Steve Strinko recaps graduation, recalls 12-year old Harbaugh, and looks forward to helping others

Friday, May 13th, 2016


Strinko and Harbaugh

Forty-two years after leaving Michigan for the National Football League, Steve Strinko can finally call himself a Michigan graduate. On April 29, Strinko donned his cap and gown and joined current U of M seniors in receiving a diploma. But he looked a little bit different than the other 110 student-athletes that walked with him.

“I got this wild idea on Wednesday because I don’t use a walker that often — only when I’m traveling and might walk a long distance,” Strinko said. “I got this idea to paint it maize and blue. Then I found a way to stencil an M on the seat. So as I walked across the stage I was pushing my Michigan walker along.”

Strinko with his Michigan walker

Strinko with his Michigan walker

While the age difference — and the toll it has taken on his body — set him apart, the 1974 Michigan football most valuable player was welcomed with open arms by the current team.

“Jehu Chesson came over and tapped me on the shoulder while all the seniors were getting to their seats and said ‘hey man, did you play football?'” Strikno recalled. “I said yeah, and he said we’ve got a spot over here with the team. So I went over there and sat with him and his roommate (fullback Sione Houma, who recently signed an undrafted free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints). He’s Tongan and had a leather skirt underneath his gown, which I thought was hilarious. I said ‘you’ve got to be pretty confident about your sexuality to wear a dress around’ and he started laughing and said ‘yeah, I’m pretty confident.'”

Strinko relished the comradre he shared with the current players who were joining him in graduation on a weekend in which he also reunited with some of his former teammates.

I was humbled with the number of people that showed up. Both of my roommates from college were there. Dave Metz was my roommate the first two years and he played guard. Mark Elzinga was a backup quarterback; he was my roommate for my junior and senior year.”

After receiving his degree, Strinko, who once watched a Super Bowl in Woody Hayes’ living room, was courted by Bear Bryant, and played for Bo Schembechler, was greeted by current Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I went up to him and he said ‘Strinko, congratulations.’ And I said ‘better late than never. It only took me 42 years.'”

Strinko recalled his fondness of the Harbaughs, which spans nearly a half century. In 1969, Jim’s dad, Jack, tried to recruit Strinko to Bowling Green and was the first college coach to shake his hand and tell him he wanted him to come play for him. Strinko, of course, signed with Schembechler, and Harbaugh told him “you’re going to get lost in the shuffle because it’s such a huge school, such a big program.”

“The funny thing is in 1973, he shows up as an assistant,” Strinko said. “I will never forget going up to him and saying ‘coach, aren’t you afraid you’re going to get lost in the shuffle here?'”

As for Jim, Strinko remembers him as being a “12-year old kid bouncing off the walls when I played.”

“Jimmy was somewhat of a pest — he and his brother, both. I remember on several occasions when they duck-taped Jimmy to a locker just to curb his enthusiasm,” Strikno recalled, laughing. “It was clearly obvious at that age that he was passionate about the game. It was incredible.”

And here they are, decades later, at different stages in life, but both having returned to Ann Arbor. While Harbaugh is hard at work trying to bring Michigan back from years of malaise, Strinko can afford to pat himself on the back for overcoming hardship and achieving his degree.

Strinko and his brother, Greg, with Jehu Chesson

Strinko and his brother, Greg, with Jehu Chesson

“All my life, with what I had gone through with getting addicted to substances, it was a big deal for me to start at point A and have a point B out there somewhere in the future and actually get to that point. It gave me confidence that there may be some value to this old fart after all.”

Taking after Harbaugh’s enthusiasm unknown to mankind, Strinko isn’t stopping at just a Bachelor’s degree. He’s currently working on his Master’s degree via online courses through Liberty University. He admitted part of the reason for continuing his education was that he took so many classes that he wanted to make absolutely certain that he had enough credits to graduate from Michigan.

Strinko also looks forward to trying to help other former Michigan football players overcome the same types of struggles that tripped him up after his football career. His Foundation for Athletes in Need is in the process of obtaining 501c3 status in Missouri, where he currently lives, and he’s also in talks with fellow U-M football alum Jim Betts about pairing with the Michigan Football Alumni Network’s Team Big House, which Betts, Jim Brandstatter, and John Wanlger are organizing.

“I know we’ve got guys out there who are hurting,” Strikno said. “I know we’ve got guys out there addicted to Oxytoxins. I think it would be naive to think that kind of stuff isn’t happening on a regular basis, and if it’s happening with guys at Michigan that are former football players, then obviously it’s happening elsewhere.

“We want to create something at Michigan where we can have an organization that we get together when home games are in town and provide one free ticket to home games for all former players for the rest of their life and we step up to help when they’re struggling financially or otherwise.”

It has been a long and bumpy road for Strinko, but like the hard-hitting linebacker he once was, he prefers to charge ahead rather than dwell on the past. Now he can do so as a University of Michigan graduate.
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Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the backstory.