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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Wolverines’

M&GB season preview roundtable 2016

Friday, August 26th, 2016


Harbaugh(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

Last year at this time no one knew what to expect. Everyone was hopeful about Jim Harbaugh’s first season, but coming off of a disastrous 5-7 showing and seven years of very un-Michigan-like football, we were all nervous. Our season predictions ranged from 8-4 to 10-3, with the latter being right on. Even though we didn’t know what to expect, we were generally right about what happened.

This year is a little different. There actually are expectations. And they are big. Michigan is ranked in the top 10 and several national pundits have predicted the Wolverines to win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff. Are they just buying into the Harbaugh hype? Or could they be right? Here are our predictions for the season.

What are you most excited about this season?

Justin: When I think of the Michigan teams I grew up watching, I think defense. Sure, there were great offensive players that shouldn’t be overlooked — guys like Anthony Carter, Jamie Morris, and Tyrone Wheatley, to name a few. But a great defense, one that smothers opposing offenses, is what makes Michigan football in my opinion. Lloyd Carr rode the 1997 defense to a national championship. The 2006 defense was deadly until it ran into Ohio State and USC. And last year’s defense, which posted three straight shutouts, was fun to watch until it faltered late in the season.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to watch an upgraded version of last year’s defense with the addition of the number one recruit in the country and a blitz-crazy defensive coordinator. The biggest position battle in fall camp is at the quarterback position, but with the defense Michigan has, whoever wins the job will just need to be careful with the football and manage the game. And if the defense lives up to its billing, Michigan fans will be in for a special season.

Derick: The guy I’m most excited to watch is Rashan Gary, and it’s not even close. Gary is Michigan’s first ever No. 1 overall recruit, and he comes in as one of the most decorated commits since recruiting blew up several years ago.

Gary was the unanimous No. 1 player in the country on every major recruiting site, and comes into Ann Arbor to join a defensive line that’s already very good. Gary will line up with Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone and others as one of the best lines in the Big Ten. If he makes as much of an impact as guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Robert Nkemdiche — who were similarly ranked out of high school — he’ll be the most exciting player on the roster.

Sam: I just can’t stop thinking (and giddily laughing) about how dominant this defense could potentially be. The front four should be an absolute terror for any offensive line in the country, the secondary is athletic, veteran, and potentially another highlight waiting to happen (looking at you, Dymonte Thomas), and the linebacker group seems to be getting good reviews despite a relative lack of experience. And, oh yeah, Jabrill Peppers will be roaming all over the field and should be unleashed to wreak havoc in Don Brown’s system.

Josh: Another year of Harbaugh. If that’s not a decided schematic advantage, I don’t know what is!

Joe: I’m super excited to see a few things during this upcoming season. The first would be the new style of defense that Coach Brown is bringing onboard. This should be a fun defense to watch and bring a ton of pressure and new looks. They should be ELITE from day one. The second thing I’m looking for is how the incoming class plays and improves over the course of the year. If they are everything we’ve read over the last few months, the future is BRIGHT!

What worries you the most entering the season?

Justin: As I mentioned above, I’m not overly worried about the quarterback position. As long as Speight or O’Korn doesn’t become a turnover machine, Michigan will be okay. There are enough proven weapons — Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith — and a strong defense to lean back on. What worries me the most this season is the road schedule.

Michigan will be able to handle the non-conference portion of the schedule handily, and with Penn State and Wisconsin at home, I see those as wins. Then the Wolverines face Rutgers and Illinois, which should put them at 7-0 and very highly ranked. But that’s where things get tough. In the final five games of the season, Michigan has to travel to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus with home games against Maryland and Indiana sandwiched in between.

Michigan has struggled on the road the past several seasons. To make matters worse, they haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007, Iowa City since 2005, and Columbus since 2000. That’s nearly a decade without a road win over any of those teams. And to have a chance at the College Football Playoff this season they’ll likely have to win all three. To at least win the Big Ten they’ll have to win at least two of the three, as long as the one loss is at Big Ten West foe Iowa rather than the other two, who are in the same Big Ten East as Michigan. It’s hard to see that happening.

Derick: I’m most worried about the expectations. Michigan won 10 games last season when it was the underdog and nobody expected much in Jim Harbaugh’s first year. But now, as the team jumps from irrelevant to popular national championship pick, it seems like things have escalated a little too quickly. Michigan has three extremely difficult road games at the end of the season,and if they take care of business weeks one through seven, those games will hold a massive importance. Can a team that hasn’t played many nationally meaningful games handle that gauntlet down the stretch? It’s going to be tough.

Sam: This one is pretty easy for me – I’m still not sold on the quarterback position. Yes, I know that Jim Harbaugh is widely reputed to be one of the best quarterback whisperers in the country and has worked wonders in season after season. But this is a pretty important position, and there still seems to be some disagreement over who will start. That’s usually not a great sign with real football only a week away. We’ve all heard of O’Korn as the high-risk/high-reward type while Wilton Speight seems to be the more prototypical “game manager” quarterback, but neither has the whole package. At least not yet.

Josh: The media keeps saying quarterback or linebacker. Personally, I am not worried (nor will I ever be) about the quarterback position as long as James Joseph Harbaugh is patrolling our sidelines. Linebacker is a slight concern but the defensive line is so talented and so deep (8 or 9 guys) that I don’t see the need to actually worry about the LBs. Plus, it’s not like they lost any world beaters off last year’s crew anyway.

Offensive line (both its progression and health) is my main concern and it’s not even close. There isn’t much proven depth, or depth period, behind the starting five so a significant injury to the offensive line could derail the entire season.

Even IF injuries are avoided we still have the issue of breaking in a new left tackle. If Grant Newsome doesn’t work, who steps in for him? Go ahead, look at the depth chart: four freshmen, and a small cadre of former Brady Hoke guys who have limited game action and a total of ZERO starts. If this team is to compete for a B1G Ten title the offensive line needs to not only be better than last year but they ALL need to stay healthy the entire year.

Joe: It’s gotta be the quarterback play that worries me the most. I was hoping that O’Korn would separate himself from the pack but that hasn’t happened. This could be viewed as a positive or negative. I trust in Harbaugh and hope this gets settled soon.

Who will be the offensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Based on the hype coming out of fall camp, Ben Bredeson is probably the smart pick here. But I don’t like to trust true freshman offensive linemen. I know Mason Cole worked out pretty well two years ago, but that’s more the exception than the rule. To me, it’s between two players: tight end Ian Bunting and receiver Grant Perry. Everyone knows Jim Harbaugh’s affinity for tight ends, and just because he has Jake Butt it doesn’t mean no other tight ends will see the field. Bunting is huge at 6-foot-7, 252, and after two years learning the ropes, he’s poised for a bigger role.

But when push comes to shove, I’m going to go with Perry, the slot guy who caught 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown last season. He showed enough potential to get considerable playing time in the season opener at Utah, where he caught three passes for 41 yards, but was still raw and it showed with mistakes that lead to turnovers. By season’s end, he looked more comfortable, catching five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl win over Florida.

This season, Chesson, Darboh, and Butt are established threats and opposing defenses will try their best to match up with them. That leaves the potential for Perry to rack up a bunch of catches and yards. He caught 105 passes for 1,727  yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Brother Rice High School in 2014 and racked up 176 catches for 2,771 yards and 27 scores in three years of varsity football, so he knows how to be productive. Now, with a year of college ball under his belt, he’s ready to take on a bigger role.

Derick: The breakout player on offense will be Ben Bredeson. Word from summer camp has brought nothing but praise on the freshman lineman, who was one of the top commits in the country. If Bredeson is playing well enough to earn the starting left tackle position as a true freshman, we can expect a 2014 Mason Cole-like performance, which would be a huge lift to the offense. With four solid veteran linemen to his right, Bredeson would be in a perfect situation to succeed.

Sam: This is a tough call for me, as I’m never sure what people want to constitute “breaking out” as. As far as I see it, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt certainly can’t qualify for this, the majority of the offensive line is too veteran for me to see a true breakout coming, and De’Veon Smith is fairly proven as well. So while I do think all those guys will have nice years and I’m uncertain on the quarterback position, I will go with Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. By all accounts, Wheatley has the body type that will allow him to be a highly effective in-line blocker from the beginning while also possessing the speed and hands to be a legitimate (and legitimately terrifying) receiving threat. I think he’ll see a lot of action in two-TE sets and should be a major asset in both the running and passing games.

Josh: This one was tough, but I’m gonna go with Ben Bredeson. Yes, an offensive lineman. A freshman offensive lineman. I’m calling it now, Ben Bredeson will supplant either Grant Newsome, or more likely, Kyle Kalis before mid-season and perform at a (freshman) Mason Cole-esque leve

Joe: I want a running back to step up and take charge in a crowded backfield. We have some horses back there but I’d prefer a lead to get behind. I don’t care who it is, just make it happen.

Who will be the defensive breakout player this season?

Justin: Rashan Gary is the obvious choice here, but I’m going to go with Bryan Mone, who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg in fall camp. Prior to the injury he figured to play a major part in the defense, rotating with Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst. The injury meant more time for Glasgow, who shined in the role, but his season ended early with an injury of his own. Now, Mone says he’s in the best shape of his life, and with Michigan playing four linemen, he’ll get his chance to shine at nose tackle.

Derick: I want to say Jabrill Peppers, because he really hasn’t made a major defensive impact yet, but that feels like cheating. So I’ll go with Bryan Mone. Mone showed signs of being a solid defensive tackle as a true freshman, and expectations were sky high for his sophomore year. But after an injury ended his season before it even started, Mone fell out of the spotlight and has been flying under the radar since. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a huge piece in filling the gap left by Willie Henry in opposing backfields.

Sam: Everyone? Again, there are so many guys on that side of the ball that the field in my eyes is quite limited. You might make an argument for Taco Charlton on the line, but I think he’s proven enough already – he’s going to have an insane season. Bryan Mone could be an option here, as could the presumptive starting linebackers in Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray, but my pick is Dymonte Thomas. Thomas was a big-time recruit out of Ohio who is incredibly athletic, strong, and a sure tackler. The only question is whether he can be disciplined enough to prevent a big play here or there, but keep watching that interception he made in the Spring Game and tell me he doesn’t have the tools to be great.

Josh: Jabrill Peppers. Now hear me out first. Peppers’ impact was huge last year but his stats weren’t exactly something you brag about; 45 total tackles, 5.5 for loss. No picks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries. If Matt Milano, a former three-star safety for Boston College can rack up 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in Don Brown’s defense from that position what will the greatest athlete we’ve seen since Charles Woodson do? I’d be shocked if he didn’t have at least 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and a defensive touchdown or two.

Joe: It’s hard to say anyone on the defense will be a breakout player as they have a lot of studs coming back from last year. They are established and will carry this team from the get go.

Michigan will win the Big Ten if…

Justin: …they don’t suffer any key injuries. We all know that injuries are part of the game, but when the talent is there, a key piece of winning it all is staying healthy. Sure, Ohio State defied that logic two years ago when Braxton Miller got hurt, then J.T. Barrett got hurt, and Cardale Jones still lead them to the national title. But nine times out of ten, that scenario spells doom for a contender.

If Michigan stays healthy that means they’ll be at full strength all season. And with the talent they have, especially on the defensive side, that’s the recipe for a Big Ten title.

Derick: Michigan will win the Big Ten if freshmen linebackers like Devin Bush and Devin Gil can compliment a healthy Mike McCray and Peppers to give the defense a more solid anchor than last season. The secondary and defensive line will be tough, but the linebackers were the weak underbelly of the 2015 team. Left tackle will also be a position to watch. With the rest of the line already well established at the college level, the final piece to the offensive line will be crucial. Michigan has to run the ball much better to take a step forward in 2016. Finally, look for Jeremy Clark to either take a step forward as a fifth-year senior or a younger player to supplant him as the team’s third cornerback. Lewis and Channing Stribling were excellent in coverage last season, but Clark showed mixed results covering opposing No. 3 receivers. He got better toward the end of the season, but with possible championship expectations on the line, Harbaugh might not be so patient this year.

Sam: …they can stop Ohio State’s dynamic offense. The Buckeyes shredded Michigan’s once-stout defense in The Game last November and Urban Meyer always seems to find a way to move the ball (at least when he isn’t playing Michigan State in 2015). This season, I really think Michigan should be undefeated heading down to Columbus — there will certainly be challenges along the way, but no team on the schedule up to that point should be able to beat them on paper — and the days of The Game deciding the fate of the Big Ten race should return.

Josh: …there are no significant injuries, especially on the offensive line, the running game resembles what Harbaugh did at Stanford post Year 1 (200-plus yards per game) and Don Brown can finally be the one to figure out how to stop spread to run teams. Possible? Yes. Likely? Probably not yet. For the record I think Don Brown WILL figure out how to stop getting gashed by teams like Indiana and Ohio State.

Joe: The lines play at an elite level. They should be better and will lead this team to a Big 10 title if they play as advertised.

What is your prediction for the season (record, who will Michigan lose to, and what bowl game will they play in)?

Justin: Michigan topped last year’s prediction by one, though my prediction of a win over an SEC team in the bowl game was right. I had Michigan losing to Penn State, which was my only misstep. This year, I think we’re looking at an 11-2 team that will lose at Iowa and Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh will at least get past Michigan State in East Lansing and be 9-0 heading into Iowa City, but losses in two of the last three regular season games will be a disappointing end to a great season. Still, assuming Ohio State wins the conference and makes the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan and the Wolverines will head to Pasadena for the first time since 2007.

Derick: Last season I predicted Michigan would finish 9-4 and thought I was being “generous.” I didn’t know what to expect from Harbaugh’s team less than a year removed from a 5-7 campaign and certainly didn’t expect it to go into Happy Valley and push around Penn State. This season, expectations couldn’t be more different. Michigan is in everyone’s playoff discussion and Harbaugh is the biggest story in college football.

I don’t buy into hype, but I do draw conclusions based on facts and what my eyes tell me. Few teams have as many elite seniors who turned down NFL money to return to Michigan. Lewis, Butt, Chesson, Darboh, Wormley and others will play on Sundays, but here they are practicing in the Maize and Blue in August. As far as the incoming class goes, I don’ think Harbaugh has a top five class, I think he has the No. 1 class. Sure, other teams might have more five- and four-stars, but guys like Gary, Bredeson, Long and Hill could make an immediate impact as freshmen. Chris Evans is an offensive weapon who will almost certainly find himself a role in a stacked offense and Kekoa Crawford might, too.

Looking at the schedule, I think there’s no question Michigan will carve through its nonconference schedule. Maybe Colorado will turn out to be a little tougher than expected, but I don’t see any of that trio pulling off an upset in Ann Arbor. The pair of games nobody is talking about (but they should be) is Penn State and Wisconsin, who come to the Big House in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and I’m not a believer in the James Franklin experiment, but Wisconsin, as always, will be a tough team to knock out. If Michigan gets through those two games, it’s a leisurely walk to East Lansing at 7-0.

That’s where things get tough. Like, brutally tough. Few teams in the FBS will be asked to play three potential top 10 teams on the road in a five-game span. But that’s exactly what Michigan has to do. Unlike at this time last year, I think Michigan is a better team than Michigan State, especially with MSU’s defense trending steadily in the wrong direction since 2013. We all thought the Spartans would take a major step back when Kirk Cousins left, and Connor Cook stepped in to lead them to the playoff, so don’t discount MSU just because of the new starting quarterback.

Even though I think Michigan State will be very good, I think Michigan will go into East Lansing and pull out a win. Harbaugh will have “Oh, he has trouble with the snap!” playing on repeat all week, and Michigan will arrive at Spartan Stadium with a vengeance. Just no tent spikes, please. I would be worried about a post-MSU letdown if it wasn’t for Michigan’s Week 9 matchup with a pathetic Maryland team. The quarterback situation for new head coach D.J. Durkin is so grim, I’d be shocked if the Terps can find six wins on their schedule.

Unfortunately, the undefeated train will come to a stop at 9-0. Iowa is still extremely talented after an undefeated 2015 regular season and something about Iowa City has never been kind to strong Michigan teams. I think the No. 2 Wolverines will fall to the Hawkeyes in a slugfest and need a win over Ohio State to win the Big Ten East. After outscoring a sneaky good Indiana team in the final home game, Michigan will go to Columbus with the College Football Playoff still in its sights. The young Buckeyes won’t be young anymore, after 11 games to replace their 450 draft picks, or whatever it was. Michigan will be much more competitive than it was at home in 2015, but I think Ohio State will come away with a close, maybe 2006-esque victory that knocks Michigan out of the title talk. OSU will head to Indianapolis and Michigan will be done at 10-2.

I think 10 wins will be enough to land Michigan a long-awaited Rose Bowl appearance against UCLA. Just like it did in the Citrus Bowl, Michigan will show up better prepared after a month of practice with Harbaugh and take care of UCLA, 34-20. With 11 wins in Harbaugh’s second season and Michigan State and Ohio State at home in 2017, Michigan will begin the season ranked in the top five and have a legitimate chance to make the final four.

Sam: I really want to pick Michigan to go to the Playoff, but…well…fine. Give me Michigan to run the table in the regular season with a couple close calls at Iowa and at Ohio State before losing to Alabama or Clemson in the first round. By my count, that should equal a 13-1 season with a Big Ten championship and a loss in the Fiesta or Peach Bowl.

Josh: Michigan will probably be favored in every game they play, aside from Ohio State, and they should win all those games. Given the talent returning and the coaching staff we have I am very optimistic about their chances this year. However, football isn’t played on paper and numerous things can upset the balance.

They should have beaten Michigan State last year and they also would have lost to Minnesota were it not for some Hoke-ian clock (mis)management by Tracy Claeys at the end of that game. They almost lost to Indiana — yes Glasgow out was a big factor — but it proves my point; it’s tough to win all, or even most of, your games in college football because injuries and other stuff happen.

I just don’t see how Michigan can get through an entire season without a major injury, or some Halloween voodoo a la Minnesota last year, causing setbacks. I think a 10-2 season is very reasonable, and that should not be viewed as a disappointment (lest I remind you that we suffered losing seasons in three of the seven years prior to Harbaugh and only ONE year in which they lost fewer than five games).

Losses will be at Ohio State (they are far more talented than Michigan but more importantly have been in the same system their entire careers) and at Iowa, Kinnick Stadium at night scares me for some reason.

They’ll play in another New Year’s Day bowl and the ‘Michigan is overrated’ headed into 2017 will start all over again. But hey, I thought this was a seven or eight win team tops last year and they proved me wrong. Here’s to hoping they do it again!

Joe: I’m looking at 10-2 season with losses at two of the three big road games. I think they’re still a year away from the CFP but wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak in. They still have some work to do. Let’s put the good guys in the Cotton so I can see them play in person.

Predicting Michigan 2016: The defensive line

Thursday, August 25th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-DefensiveLine
Chris Wormley(Calros Osorio, AP)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line

For Michigan, the defensive line is the position group everybody wants to see. Thanks to a strong recruiting class and minimal attrition to the NFL, the Wolverines return a very deep defensive line that was excellent in 2015 until being struck by injury.

When Michigan sported a top five defense through the first half of the season, it was led by a defensive line that completely stuffed opposing running games and caused a little bit of mayhem in the backfield. Players like Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling enjoyed breakout seasons, but some of their success has to be attributed to the work done in the trenches.

Will Michigan be even better on the defensive line this year?

Major contributors:

Instead of naming starters, let’s take a look at all the defensive linemen who should play major minutes as starters or heavily-used backups this season.

Last season, everything started with defensive end Chris Wormley, who racked up an insane 14.5 tackles for loss. It wasn’t just sacks for Wormley – though he did have 6.5 – as he regularly got great jumps off the edge and stuff running backs behind the line.

Taco Charlton

Senior end Taco Charlton is getting first-round talk entering the season

Wormley has evolved into Michigan’s smartest defensive lineman and the Toledo, Ohio native should be just as productive as a fifth-year senior. Look for him to improve on his All Big Ten Third Team honors.

The other returning defensive end who saw major playing time in 2015 is Taco Charlton. Charlton was enjoying a solid season through 10 games, but really broke out against Penn State. He exploded for two sacks and three tackles for loss, including a bone-rattling hit on battered quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Charlton is a pure pass rusher who has quietly picked up 14 sacks the last two seasons. He’s only made four starts in his career 35 games, but this season he’ll see his role increase as a senior.

Then there’s Rashan Gary. We haven’t seen the freshman play a single snap at the college level, but I’m still expecting him to be an impact player wherever he lands on the defensive line. He’s listed as a defensive end, but Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown won’t be afraid to move him around and take advantage of his versatility. Gary is an elite pass rusher and an able run blocker, so he can play in any situation. He put on a clinic in the Under Armour All-America Game, tallying three sacks and taking home the MVP. Gary is one of the most highly-touted recruits ever, and the first No. 1 to come to Michigan. Fans should expect a special season.

Moving to the inside of the line, Michigan has one rock who holds the whole group together: Ryan Glasgow. The fifth-year senior won’t have much success rushing the quarterback, but he’s the best run stopper on the roster. Glasgow recorded five tackles for loss last season, but his real value came in plugging up the inside running lanes. When he went down with a chest injury, the run stopping game fell apart. Indiana and Ohio State absolutely shredded the Wolverines in the running game and D.J. Durkin had no answer without Glasgow anchoring the tackles. He’s not the flashiest lineman, but Glasgow is vitally important to the defense.

Maurice Hurst complimented Glasgow well on the inside of the defensive line, providing support against the run, but also recording three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Hurst played in every game last season but should see more snaps this season with Willie Henry off the roster.

One of the biggest wildcards for the entire Michigan team could be Bryan Mone, who was a solid run stopper for the Wolverines as a true freshman in 2014. Mone was expected to be a game-changing nose tackle last season, but a devastating ankle injury ended his year before it even started. Mone will get a chance to reestablish himself as a good defensive tackle and combine with Glasgow to stuff opposing running backs.

Career Stats – Wormley
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 44 39 83 12.0 24.0 1 1 0
Career Stats – Charlton
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 36 15 51 9.0 14.4 1 0 0
Career Stats – Glasgow
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
32 26 23 49 1.0 9.0 1 1 0
Career Stats – Hurst
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
21 20 18 38 3.0 7.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Mone
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 7 9 0.0 1.5 0 1 0
Other contributors:

With Gary and Mone joining the rotation and taking up snaps, I think Matthew Godin might see a bit of a decreased role. Godin was a less effective version of Glasgow last season, specializing in stopping the run but struggling to do so after Glasgow’s injury. Godin will still be a part of the rotation because he’s a solid, reliable tackle, but there are a few players with higher upside ahead of him.

Two other players to keep an eye on are Lawrence Marshall and Chase Winovich. Marshall played in only three games last season, but his potential to be a pass rusher off the edge gives him a chance to get into the rotation. Winovich played in six games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He should be a depth guy heading into his junior year.

Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 9 17 26 1.5 2.5 0 0 1
Career Stats – Marshall
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
3 1 0 1 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Winovich
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
6 2 0 2 0.0 0.0 0 0 0
New faces:

Gary stole the headlines for Michigan at defensive line, and for good reason. But there are two other commits from the line in the 2016 class.

Defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour is a valuable tackle who can get pressure up the middle. He racked up seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss in his high school senior season and could make an impact if he doesn’t redshirt in 2016.

Shelton Johnson is a less heralded commit from the 2015 class and is off to a rough start after being suspended by Harbaugh for an unknown issue. Johnson is a solid pass rusher off the edge, but took a step back during his senior season at Riverview High School in Florida, tallying only three sacks. He might not see much of the field in 2016.

Camden, N.J. native Ron Johnson was a 247 Composite four-star with offers from Alabama, Oregon, Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State and other major programs. The potential is there for the defensive end, but the depth Michigan has along the line will mean a likely redshirt season for him this fall.

Meet the rest:

Michael Wroblewski: Senior, 6-2, 242, from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit)
No career stats
Salim Makki: Junior, 6-0, 264, from Dearborn, Mich. (Fordson)
No career stats
Garrett Miller: Senior, 6-4, 271, from Adrian, Mich. (Sand Creek)
No career stats

Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say no

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016


Don Brown(Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone about the impact that Don Brown will have on the defense. He was saying with an extra aggressive scheme Michigan will probably force more turnovers but they’ll also end up giving up more big plays and that could cause them to regress and be even more susceptible to high powered offenses like Ohio State.

I hadn’t thought about it that way before — though I have heard the high risk/high reward narrative before — but it got me really thinking about it and I started looking into the stats from Don Brown’s previous defenses to see what Boston College did with this aggressive scheme and whether it really is a high risk one. Spoiler: it’s not.

““High risk? No. We don’t just throw this stuff against the wall … take it and say throw in this,” Brown said on Monday. “Come on. We’re not doing that. We look at the formations, the personnel groups. We lean to be on the aggressive side. Whether you’re running or passing the ball, we’re going to have the ability when we dictate to come. That’s what it’s all about.”

During my research one unfamiliar term came up several times: toxic differential, which measures big plays for/against, combined with turnover margin. So I dug deeper to compare what Boston College’s defense did the past few years versus what Michigan’s did and how Don Brown will impact Michigan’s defense this year and going forward.

But first a brief primer on toxic differential. We all know if you win the turnover battle you’re more likely to win the game and we all know that you would like your defense to prevent big plays. But until recently, I’ve never seen a metric that combined both turnover margin and big plays for/against ratio.

So what defines a big play? The NFL seems to regard any play gaining 20-plus yards as a big play, but it does not differentiate between rush and pass plays. I didn’t like that as it values runs and passes equally. Then Pete Carroll gave me what I was looking for. He regards big plays as 12 or more yards rushing and 16 or more yards passing. This is probably a much better measure of big plays.

Unfortunately, that data is not readily available for college stats, so for our purposes we will consider big plays to be any rush of 10 or more yards and any pass of 20 or more yards. What toxic differential seems to give us is a very intriguing look into how successful teams are successful.

Before we get to Brown’s defenses, let’s take a quick look at the playoff teams from both the past two seasons to see how those team ranked in this metric. Last year, Oklahoma ranked 12th, Clemson 16th, and Alabama 19th in toxic differential on a per game basis. (Note: I found that using a per-game number better illustrated these stats as some teams played only 12 games while most others play 13-14). So three of the final four ranked in the top 20 in toxic differential. Michigan State was the outlier at 45th, but when looking deeper you find that they were 10th in turnovers forced and fourth in turnover margin, so that explains that. And so does a lucky win at Michigan.

The season before that — 2014 — shows a very similar picture with national champion Ohio State ranking first, runner-up Oregon eighth and perennial top-5 team Alabama 11th. Three of the four playoff teams ranked in the top 11. Florida State was an extreme outlier at 77th — worse than even Michigan, which was 58th. Even stranger, and further proving stats do not tell all, FSU was 104th in turnover margin at minus-6. Let’s chalk it up to the Jameis Winston effect or something.

Now the fun stuff.

Don Brown defensive stats compared to Michigan in 2015
Year Big Run plays (rank) Big Pass plays (rank) Total Big plays (rank) Toxic Differential (rank)
2013 BC 4.6 (38th) 3.6 (87th) 8.2 (59th)
2014 BC 3.3 (5th) 2.8 (34th) 6.1 (6th)
2015 BC 3.5 (8th) 2.4 (13th) 5.9 (6th) 24 (33rd)
2015 UM 4.8 (56th) 2.4 (13th) 7.2 (25th) -3 (77th)

In 2015, the Boston College defense gave up 3.5 big run plays and 2.4 big pass plays per game, which was good for eighth and 13th fewest in the nation, respectively. Of all the plays in 2015, they gave up a big play (either pass or run) 9.47 percent of the time, which was good for 11th-best. BC gave up an average of 5.9 total big plays per game, good for sixth nationally. They came up plus-3 in turnover margin and their big play differential (percentage of big plays for minus percentage of big plays against) came in at 2.78 percent, good for 28th overall. Their total toxic differential was 24. On a per game basis this ranked them 33rd nationally.

Great, so what does that all mean? In a nutshell it means that Don Brown’s super aggressive scheme is not a high risk/high reward defense. In fact, the stats show that if anything this defense actually helps prevent big plays (sixth fewest big plays given up per game in the country). Brown himself calls his defense calculated, bringing different kinds of pressure from different spots depending not only on down and distance but also based on their scouting report of specific opponents.

Nov. 30, 2013 - Syracuse, New York, USA - November 30, 2013: Boston College Eagles defensive coordinator Don Brown calls a play during the first half of an NCAA Football game between the Boston College Eagles and the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse defeated Boston College 34-31. Rich Barnes/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

Don Brown turned BC’s defense into one of the nation’s best despite a 17-21 record in three seasons (Rich Barnes, Cal Sport Media)

Michigan had a top tier defense as well last year, so one might assume their numbers would be as good, if not better than BC’s. It turns out they weren’t. The Wolverines gave up an average of 4.8 big run plays per game (aided by an absent Ryan Glasgow against IU and OSU due to injury) and 2.4 big pass plays per game, good for 56th and 13th nationally. Based on total number of plays Michigan gave up a big play 11.49 percent of the time, 59th nationally. All told, Michigan gave up 7.2 big plays per game, good for 25th nationally, very good but just over one big play more per game than BC surrendered.

Turnover margin left a lot to be desired for Michigan at minus-4 and their big play differential came in at -1.01 percent, 88th nationally. That means that they gave up a higher percentage of big plays than they produced, despite averaging an almost identical 7.3 big plays for and 7.2 plays against. Where they really got hurt was their inability to force turnovers. Michigan ranked near the bottom of the country in forced turnovers. To put in perspective just how few turnovers Michigan actually forced, only six teams in the country forced less turnovers than Michigan did last year.

Michigan’s toxic differential total was minus-3, ranking them 77th on a per game basis. All but one metric — big pass plays against — was worse than BC’s ratings, and in that one they tied with 2.4 big pass plays given up per game.

Michigan’s defensive coordinator last season, D.J. Durkin, was not known as a blitz-crazed maniac and his defense only surrendered 2.4 big pass plays per game, which was very respectable. Don Brown, or Dr. Blitz as he has been called, brings pressure on a self-described 85 percent of his play calls. Yet, his defense gave up the exact same number of big pass plays and less big run plays per game.

Going back two Brown’s first two seasons at Boston College, there was a significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 and then 2015 maintained that success. In his first season in Chestnut Hill, Brown’s defense ranked 38th nationally with 4.6 big runs allowed per game — an improvement by one big run per game from the previous season –, 87th with 3.6 big pass plays allowed per game, and 59th with 8.2 total big plays allowed per game. In 2014, those numbers increased dramatically. The Eagles ranked fifth with 3.3 big runs allowed per game, 34th with 2.8 big pass plays allowed per game, and sixth with 6.1 total big plays allowed per game.

It seems reasonable to expect a moderate decrease in big plays allowed per game over Michigan’s totals from last year due to the superior athletes they have at their disposal (and incredible depth at defensive line) compared to the talent Brown had at BC. Keep in mind that BC’s two play decrease from 8.2 total big plays given up per game in 2013 to their 6.1 in 2015 was a percentile jump of 53 spots. So by moderate I think we should look for about one less big play per game.

While that may not seem like much, according to Pete Carroll, each drive in which a team has at least one big play they are about 75 percent more likely to score. It stands to reason then that eliminating just one big play per game could result in giving up three to seven fewer points. For a defense like Michigan’s, which only gave up 16.4 points per game in 2015, that could mean the difference between very good defense and one of the best ever. Dare I say, Don Brown’s defense this fall could give the 1997 squad a run for their money?

The conclusion I draw here is that Don Brown’s super aggressive defense is actually a low risk/high reward scheme. Michigan was a very good defense last year and they might be even better this year.

2016 non-conference opponent preview: Colorado

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016


2016 Opponent Preview - Colorado

Sefo Liufau(Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)

Over the past couple of weeks we have previewed Michigan’s first two opponents, Hawaii and UCF. Today we close out our non-conference opponent preview with Michigan’s third opponent, the Colorado Buffaloes.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 2 at Colorado State
Sept. 10 Idaho State
Sept. 17 at Michigan
Sept. 24 at Oregon
Oct. 1 Oregon State
Oct. 8 at USC
Oct. 15 Arizona State
Oct. 22 at Stanford
Nov. 3 UCLA
Nov. 12 at Arizona
Nov. 19 Washington State
Nov. 26 Utah

While Hawaii and UCF play in lesser conferences — the Mountain West and American Athletic Conference, respectively — Colorado is a member of the Power 5 conference the Pac-12. And the Buffaloes had the best 2015 record of the three, but that’s not saying much since it was just 4-9 overall and 1-8 in the conference.

Head coach Mike MacIntyre faces an important season if he wants to remain in Boulder beyond 2016. He inherited a team that went just 1-11 in 2012 and turned out four wins in his first season. But he regressed to 2-10 in 2014, and turned in the program’s the first winless conference record since 1915. Last season, Colorado doubled its 2014 win total with a 4-9 record, but that still means that he has only treaded water in his first three seasons at the helm. And that also means that Colorado has as many wins in the past four years combined — including Jim Embree’s final season — as Jim Harbaugh had in his first season at Michigan.

MacIntyre faced adversity last season, losing several key players to injuries, but with 76 percent of last year’s offensive production and 81 percent of last year’s defensive production returning this fall, the Buffaloes are one of the most experienced teams on Michigan’s schedule.

The once proud Colorado program has suffered 10 straight losing seasons since the successful Gary Barnett era concluded in 2005. Barnett guided the Buffaloes to a 10-3 season in 2001 and won the Pac-12 North in four of his five seasons. But since Dan Hawkins took over in 2006, they have finished no better than third in the North and have amassed a record of 35-88 overall and 17-68 in the Pac-12.

MacIntyre achieved a turnaround at his previous stop at San Jose State, where he inherited a 2-10 team, went 1-11 in his first season, improved to 5-7 in Year 2, and broke out with a 10-2 season in 2012, finishing the season ranked 24th in the BCS standings, AP Poll, and USA Today Coaches Poll. He hasn’t been able to work the same magic in Boulder and it will very likely end with his dismissal later this fall if he can’t turn it around in a hurry.

Offense
2015 National Rankings
Total Offense Scoring Offense Rushing Offense Passing Offense
67 97 86 49
Offensive FEI S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+
103 99 89 100
Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2015 Stats
QB Sefo Liufau (Sr.) 6’4″, 230 214-344 (62.2%) for 2,418 yds, 9 TD, 6 INT
RB Phillip Lindsay (Jr.) 5’8″, 190 140 rush for 653 yds (4.7 avg), 6 TD
WR Kabion Ento (Jr.) 6’3″, 180 38 rec for 607 yds (16.0 avg), 8 TD*
WR Shay Fields (Jr.) 5’11”, 180 42 rec for 598 yds (14.2 avg), 4 TD
WR Devin Ross (Jr.) 5’9″, 180 25 rec for 324 yds (13.0 avg), 2 TD
TE Sean Irwin (Sr.) 6’3″, 250 15 rec for 248 yds (19.1 avg), 0 TD
LT Jeromy Irwin (Jr.) 6’5″, 295 2 starts (13 career starts)
LG Gerrad Kough (Jr.) 6’4″, 295 10 starts (12 career starts)
C Alex Kelley (Sr.) 6’2″, 310 13 starts (25 career starts)
RG Tim Lynott (RS Fr.) 6’3″, 300 Redshirted
RT Sam Kronshage (Jr.) 6’6″, 295 6 starts (6 career starts)
*at East Central Community College

While Michigan’s first two opponents feature offenses that ranked near the bottom nationally last season, Colorado’s 2015 offense was slightly more respectable. The Buffaloes ranked 67th in total offense (396.8 yards per game), 97th in scoring (24.6 points per game), 86th in rushing (156.2 yards per game), and 49th in passing (240.6 yards per game). But advanced stats show that Colorado’s offense was worse than it looked on paper. It ranked just 103rd in FEI, which measures an offense per possession based on the strength of opposing defenses faced. And that 49th ranked passing offense ranked 100th in S&P+, which measures a number of factors on a play-by-play basis. With a national average passing S&P+ rating at 100.0, Colorado’s was 88.3, while Michigan’s was 124.5 last season.

Co-offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Brian Lindgren have just four full-time starters returning, but they welcome a productive junior college transfer and get back a starting offensive lineman who missed all of 2015 due to injury.

Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau has 29 games of starting experience and 32 games of playing experience under his belt, which is far more than Michigan’s starting candidates. However, he missed the final two games of 2015 and all of spring practice with a Lisfranc (foot) injury, so there’s always the risk of either reinjury 0r not healing completely. Liufau nearly had stiff competition for the job when Texas Tech grad transfer Davis Webb originally chose the Buffaloes before ultimately landing at Cal, where he it didn’t take long to be named the starter. But with the job firmly his, Liufau will look to build upon the 75 school records he currently holds.

Leading rusher Phillip Lindsay is back after rushing for 653 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He shared the backfield with Christian Powell, who graduated, so that opens the door for others to step up. Junior Donovan Lee and Patrick Carr got more reps as the season went on — Carr rushed for 100 yards against UCLA — but Carr transferred following the season. Lee was actually the most productive back in limited carries, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Junior Michael Adkins (5.0 yards per carry), junior H-back George Frazier (6-foot-2, 260), and freshman Beau Bisharat (a 247 Composite four-star who held offers from Oregon, Michigan State, Stanford, Nebraska, and others) will compete for carries.

The receiving corps suffered the biggest loss from last season in the form of graduating senior Nelson Spruce, who ranked second in the Pac-12 with 6.8 receptions per game and fifth with 81 yards per game, though he only found the end zone four times. The leading returning receiver is junior Shay Fields, who caught 42 passes for 598 yards and four scores. MacIntyre did add productive junior college receiver Kabion Ento from East Central (Miss.) Community College. Ento was a National Junior College Athletic Association first-team All-Region member after catching 38 passes for 607 yards and eight touchdowns. Four other pass catchers who caught at least one touchdown last season return, including junior Devin Ross, who ranked second on the team with two scores last season.

The offensive line returns three of last season’s opening day starters, though left tackle Jeromy Irwin suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the second quarter of the second game. He’s back to anchor the line after starting 11 games in 2014. The most experienced is senior center Alex Kelley, who has started 25 career games including all 13 a year ago. Left guard Gerrad Kough started 10 games last season while missing three with various injuries. The right side of the line is where the newcomers step in. While it’s not completely set in stone just yet, redshirt freshman Tim Lynott and junior Sam Kronshage started with the ones in an open scrimmage two weeks ago. Kronshage started six games last season, three at left tackle and three at right tackle.

Defense
2015 National Rankings
Total Defense Scoring Defense Rushing Defense Pass Efficiency D.
85 70 99 56
Defensive FEI S&P Rushing S&P Passing S&P
68 93 95 72
Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2015 Stats
DE Leo Jackson III (Jr.) 6’3″, 275 33 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF
DT Jordan Carrell (Sr.) 6’3″, 300 52 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 sack, 3 FF, 1 FR
DT Josh Tupou (Sr.) 6’3″, 325 Redshirted
OLB Derek McCartney (Jr.) 6’3″, 250 70 tackles, 10 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FF
MLB Addison Gillam (Jr.) 6’3″, 230 6 tackles
WLB Rick Gamboa (RS So.) 6’0″, 230 96 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU
OLB Jimmie Gilbert (Sr.) 6’5″, 230 47 tackle, 8 TFL, 6 sacks, 1 FF
CB Chidobe Awuzie (Sr.) 6’0″, 205 90 tackles, 13 TFL, 4 INT, 10 PBU
CB Isaiah Oliver (So.) 6’1″, 190 19 tackles, 6 PBU
FS Ryan Moeller (Jr.) 6’1″, 215 47 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF
SS Tedric Thompson (Sr.) 6’1″, 205 80 tackles, 5 TFL, 9 PBU

Colorado’s defense was pretty comparable to its offense last season, ranking slightly below average nationally, but not quite in the 100s. It ranked 85th in total defense (416.9 yards per game), 70th in scoring defense (27.5 points per game), 99th against the run (198.7 yards per game), 59th against the pass (218.2 yards per game), 56th in pass efficiency defense (123.79), and 68th in defensive FEI (-.09), which measures defensive efficiency on a per possession basis, based on strength of opponent.

When Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin left for the Maryland head coaching position after just one season, one of the names that came up as his replacement was former USF head coach Jim Leavitt. Harbaugh, of course, hired Boston College’s Don Brown instead, and Leavitt ended up in the same position at Colorado. In Boulder, he inherits a veteran defense that looks to take a step forward in his second season.

The defensive line has been a weakness the past few seasons, but has plenty of experience returning. Senior nose tackle Josh Tupou, who has started 31 career games, returns after redshirting in 2015 due to a violation of team rules. He was an honorable mention Freshman All-American in 2012 and honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2014, so his return will be a welcome addition for Leavitt. He’ll be joined on the line by senior tackle Jordan Carrell and junior end Leo Jackson III, who combined for 85 tackles, 10 for loss, and three sacks a year ago.

Like the defensive line and offensive line, the linebacking corps gets back a key piece that missed most of last season. Junior inside linebacker Addison Gillam started 10 games in 2014 and was a first-team Freshman All-American in 2013, but tore his meniscus in Week 2 last season. Weakside linebacker Rick Gamboa was the team’s leading tackler as a redshirt freshman a year ago, while senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert led the team with six sacks despite starting just three games. The other outside linebacker is junior Derek McCartney, who racked up 70 tackles, 10 for loss, and five sacks.

The secondary returns three starters including preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate Chidobe Awuzie, who tallied 90 tackles and a team-high 10 pass breakups in 2015. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 performer and has 22 career pass breakups. The other corner is the lone new starter, sophomore Isaiah Oliver, who performed well as a true freshman last season. Both safeties return. Junior free safety Ryan Moeller and senior strong safety Tedric Thompson combined for 127 tackles, 6 for loss, and 11 pass breakups a year ago.

Special Teams
2015 National Rankings
Kick Returns Punt Returns Net Punting ST Eff.
44 94 81 90
Kick Return D. Punt Return D. FG Efficiency Opp Field Pos.
82 39 105 57
Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2015 Stats
K Diego Gonzalez (Sr.) 6’0″, 215 18-of-29 (62.1%), Long 52
P Alex Kinney (So.) 6’1″, 205 66 punts, 40.1 avg, 1 TB, 23 in-20
KR Donovan Lee (Jr.) 5’9″, 180 22 ret, 24.5 avg
PR Jay MacIntyre (So.) 5’10”, 190 4 ret, 9.3 avg

Special teams was a bit lackluster for the Buffaloes last season, so MacIntyre brought in a pair of new coaches to oversee the unit. Former special teams coordinator Toby Neinas was dismissed and landed at Rutgers, and in his place step Daniel Da Prato and Matt Thompson. Da Prato was the special teams coordinator at Montana State the past three seasons, while Thompson was a private kicking instructor.

Senior kicker Diego Gonzalez made just 62.1 percent of his field goal attempts in his first season as the primary kicker last season, but he did show off a big leg with a long of 52. In fact, he went 2-of-3 from 50-plus yards. He struggled mightily from the left hash, making just 5-of-12, but made 13-of-17 everywhere else. Sophomore punter Alex Kinney ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with an average of 40.1 yards per punt as a true freshman.

Outlook

It’s a safe bet to assume Colorado will be better than last season’s 4-9 record. But will that turn into wins against a tough schedule? And will it be enough for MacIntyre to keep his job? Colorado should win its first two games against Colorado State and Idaho State, but then it faces a grueling slate of at Michigan and Oregon in back to back weeks, home against Oregon State, at USC, home against Arizona State, at Stanford, and home against UCLA. Then they get a “breather” against Arizona and Washington State before finishing with Utah. It’s hard to see more than four wins there, but if they can pull off five, MacIntyre deserves another year.

What it means for Michigan

Colorado will be the strongest of the three non-conference opponents Michigan faces and both teams should be 2-0 when the meet in Ann Arbor on Sept. 17. If Michigan hasn’t shored up its quarterback situation by then, an experienced secondary could be a problem. But don’t expect Colorado’s offense to be able to put up enough points to legitimately give Michigan a scare. Michigan heads into Big Ten play at 3-0.

Predicting Michigan 2016: The offensive line

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-OffensiveLine
Mason Cole(Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends

It’s not the most glamorous position on the football field, but no group will play a more important role than the offensive line for Michigan this season, especially with a new quarterback taking over and a heightened emphasis on running the ball.

Luckily for Michigan, it returns one of the most important qualities in an offensive line: experience. Four of the team’s five regular starters return for 2016 after Graham Glasgow was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.

The two unknowns heading into the offseason were who would take that fifth starting spot, and which reserves can step into a bigger rotational role.

Starting five

Four of Michigan’s five offensive linemen return after starting at least 12 games last season. The most solid, reliable player is fifth-year senior Kyle Kalis, who started all 13 games at right guard and elevated his play to near all-conference levels. Kalis has been a mainstay on the offensive line since his redshirt freshman season in 2013. Since settling in at right guard, Kalis has become a solid pass protector, but like much of the line, needs to take the next step to create the running game Jim Harbaugh envisions.

Grant Newsome played his way out of a redshirt as a true freshman in 2015 and now moves into the starting lineup (Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Grant Newsome played his way out of a redshirt as a true freshman in 2015 and now moves into the starting lineup (Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

Fellow fifth-year senior Ben Braden takes up the other guard slot, coming off a breakout season in which he started 13 games and quietly put up some of the best performances on the line. Recruited as a tackle, Braden was hailed as a strong run blocker coming into Ann Arbor, but he’s done a nice job to date stopping the inside pass rush.

Both starting tackles return for the 2016 season, but with a bit of a twist. Fifth-year senior Erik Magnuson will lock down his familiar right tackle spot and be a major contributor on the line for a fourth straight season. He’s slowly turned himself into a strong edge blocker and enjoyed his best season under Harbaugh a year go.

But former starting left tackle Mason Cole will step into a new role for his junior year, though he’ll be just as crucial to this veteran line. After becoming Michigan’s first true freshman to start a season opener on the offensive line in 2014, Cole played left tackle in each of his first 25 games at Michigan. Now, he’ll step into Glasgow’s empty shoes as the starting center, a role he’s embraced this summer.

Michigan went through a disastrous period at center under Brady Hoke, struggling with the center-quarterback exchange, and at times, allowing defenders to get huge jumps off the snap. Cole will be critical in picking up the running game this season and shoring up the inside of the line. He’s a smart player and has the physical tools for a smooth transition, but Cole will be a player to watch when the Wolverines take the field Sept. 3.

Four starters down, and one question mark to go. The new kid at the starters’ table will be sophomore Grant Newsome, who takes over the vitally important left tackle position. Newsome is one of the best natural two-way blockers on the roster, coming into college as an excellent pass blocker and an able run blocker. He’s strong and explosive, but the key will be consistency and moving his feet off the edge on a play-by-play basis. Newsome will have his gaffs, like any young player, but as the season goes on, he’ll benefit from playing next to such an experienced group.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Grant Newsome Ben Braden Mason Cole Kyle Kalis Erik Magnuson
2015 Starts 1 13 13 13 12
Career Starts 1 25 25 29 24
Likely contributors

The starting five played a ton of snaps for Michigan last season, but there are a few returning players who contributed in the rotation. Perhaps the most seasoned backup, and a candidate for a starting role as a redshirt senior next year, is David Dawson. Dawson shared some time with Braden at left guard last season and held his own, especially in pass blocking. He’ll be an important depth guy in 2016.

Senior Patrick Kugler is in a similar situation, though his ceiling was much higher coming into Ann Arbor. The former five-star recruit played a backup role in 2015 and could provide some insurance if Cole struggles at center, which seems unlikely. Either way, the senior will play a role.

An interesting player to watch will be junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who played in only four games as a reserve lineman last season. The Paramus, N.J. native was just getting his feet wet last season, and passed his first college test. He might not take on a huge role this season, but look for Bushell-Beatty to make moves up the depth chart for 2017.

Ben Pliska played in two games last season, so his role could grow as a fifth-year senior in 2016. He can fill in at multiple positions on the line and gives Harbaugh another option if one of these contributors struggles or goes down with an injury.

Two linemen who didn’t play last season but should figure into the mix as redshirt freshmen are Nolan Ulizio and Jon Runyan. Both members of Harbaugh’s first recruiting class at Michigan, Ulizio and Runyan committed as three-star prospects. Ulizio fits the fits the typical Harbaugh bill — a smart, physical player who plays the position with a chip on his shoulder. Runyan is a little different, as he’s more of a quick, explosive lineman who may be a little undersized, but compensates with great technique. Expect both players to find a home in the rotation off the bench.

New faces

Michigan pulled in three new offensive line recruits in its elite 2016 class, led by Wisconsin’s finest, Ben Bredeson. That’s right, Harbaugh managed to pull a Wisconsin lineman away from the Badgers, and Bredeson is exactly what you’d expect from that ilk. One of the top offensive linemen in his class, Bredeson projects as a guard or tackle and could probably step into a bigger role if Michigan wasn’t so stacked with veteran lineman. Bredeson has decent size, but his value comes from his athleticism, which makes him an excellent run blocker. If he can bring his pass protection up to par, he’ll be a familiar face on the line over the next several years.

Harbaugh pulled another gem from the offensive line crop, snagging Michael Onwenu out of Cass Tech in Detroit. Onwenu is an absolutely enormous human who will play guard at over 350 pounds. He can pass block well for a big guy, but his specialty should be run blocking as he matures. It’s all power and strength with Onwenu, so his ability to learn the intricacies of the position will dictate his success at Michigan.

The third – and sometimes forgotten – man from this group is Stephen Spanellis, who committed to Michigan out of nowhere in January. Spanellis is just another big, strong lineman to add to the mix, joining the team at 6-feet-6 inches tall and around 300 pounds. He probably won’t play much of a role as a freshman, but the Baltimore native could factor in down the line.

Michigan also welcomed preferred walk-ons Anthony Kay, Carl Myers and Andrew Vastardis to the offensive line group.

Meet the rest

Greg Froelich: Senior, 6-2, 257, from Maplewood, N.J. (Deerfield Academy)
Greg Robinson: Freshman, 6-6, 290, from Hudson, Ohio (Hudson)

2016 non-conference opponent preview: UCF

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016


2016 Opponent Preview - UCF

Scott Frost(D. Bradley Helton, UCF Athletics)

We kicked off our non-conference opponent preview series last week with Michigan’s first opponent, Hawaii. Today we continue with Michigan’s second opponent, the Central Florida Knights.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 3 South Carolina State
Sept. 10 at Michigan
Sept. 17 Maryland
Sept. 24 FIU
Oct. 1 at East Carolina
Oct. 7 Tulane
Oct. 15 Temple
Oct. 22 at UConn
Oct. 29 at Houston
Nov. 12 Cincinnati
Nov. 19 Tulsa
Nov. 26 at USF

Oh how far they’ve fallen so quickly. Two years ago, UCF knocked off sixth-ranked Baylor to win the Fiesta Bowl and cap a 12-1 season. They finished the season ranked 10th in the AP Poll, the highest in school history. But head coach George O’Leary was unable to adequately replace quarterback Blake Bortles, who was drafted third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After going 9-4 in 2014, the Knights sunk to 0-12 last season.

O’Leary resigned eight games into the season after posting a 81-68 record over 12 seasons in Orlando and quarterbacks coach Danny Barrett took over for the remainder of the season.

Enter Scott Frost. The former prolific Nebraska quarterback spent the past seven seasons on the coaching staff at Oregon, learning and then running one of the nation’s best offenses. From 2009-12, Frost served as wide receivers coach for the Ducks, and when head coach Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was promoted, Frost was named offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

In the past three seasons under Frost’s guidance, Oregon’s offense has ranked second, third, and fifth nationally in total offense and fourth, fourth, and fifth in scoring. He’ll bring a winning mentality to a program that desperately needs it. Oregon went 79-15 during Frost’s tenure in Eugene, finishing in the top four nationally four times and no worse than 19th.

Offense
2015 National Rankings
Total Offense Scoring Offense Rushing Offense Passing Offense
127 125 126 102
Offensive FEI S&P Rushing S&P Passing S&P
128 126 128 122
Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2015 Stats
QB Justin Holman (Sr.) 6’4″, 225 127-250 (50.8%) for 1,379 yds, 7 TD, 14 INT
RB Taj McGowan (So.) 6’1″, 202 85 rush for 262 yds (3.1 avg), 1 TD
WR Tristan Payton (So.) 6’0″, 186 21 rec for 264 yds (12.6 avg), 1 TD
WR Tre’Quan Smith (RS So.) 6’1″, 200 52 rec for 724 yds (13.9 avg), 4 TD
WR Dontravious Wilson (So.) 6’3″, 200 44 rush for 147 yds (3.3 avg), 0 TD
TE Jordan Akins (RS So.) 6’5″, 240 14 rec for 152 yds (10.9 avg), 2 TD
LT Aaron Evans (RS Jr.) 6’5″, 290 12 starts (13 career starts)
LG Tyler Hudanick (So.) 6’5″, 300 9 starts (9 career starts)
C Jason Rae (Sr.) 5’11”, 288 10 starts (17 career starts)
RG Chavis Dickey (Jr.) 6’4″, 330 3 starts (15 career starts)
RT Wyatt Miller (RS So.) 6’4″, 290 8 starts (8 career starts)

To say that Frost will have his work cut out for him is putting it lightly. While his Ducks ranked fifth nationally in total offense last season (538.2 yards per game) , UCF ranked dead last (268.4). While Oregon ranked fifth in scoring (43 points per game), UCF ranked 125th (13.9). While Oregon ranked fifth in rushing (279.9 yards per game) and 36th in passing (258.3), UCF ranked 126th (81.3) and 102nd (187.2).

It helps to have an athletic quarterback returning, even if he didn’t put up enviable numbers in 2015. Senior Justin Holman completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 1,379 yards, seven touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He’ll be pushed by senior Nick Patti, who converted from wide receiver, and freshman McKenzie Milton, a Hawaii native who originally committed to his home-state Rainbow Warriors before switching to UCF.

If there’s a sliver of hope for UCF’s offense it is that nearly every pass catcher is back, though Patti takes his 104 yards and one touchdowns over to the quarterback position. But he ranked ranked eighth on the team in receiving in 2015. Redshirt sophomore Tre’Quan Smith is clearly the leader at the receiver position after a debut season in which he caught 52 passes for 724 yard and four touchdowns. His 4.3 receptions per game were good enough to rank 10th in the American Athletic Conference despite UCF’s offense being the worst.

Sophomore Tristan Payton was the team’s second-leading receiver, although there was a big drop-off after Smith. Payton caught 21 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown. But he was a true freshman and a four-star recruit, so he could be due for a breakout season this fall.

The running game ranked third-to-last nationally in 2015, but last year’s leading rusher, C.J. Jones, has set his sights high for 2016.

“We want our whole backfield to lead the nation in rushing,” he said. “When you look at UCF and you look at rushing yards, we want to be at the top.”

When you look at the type of running game Frost guided at Oregon you can see that it’s not a completely unreasonable goal. But it’s certainly too much to ask for in Year 1. Jones led the Knights with 339 yards on 3.6 yards per carry last season with one touchdown. His backfield mate, sophomore Taj McGowan, rushed for 262 yards on 3.1 yards per carry and one score while battling injuries.

The offensive line returns 42 starts from last season. Senior center Jason Rae is the most experienced of the bunch with 17 career starts, while junior right guard Chavis Dickey — who started just three games in 2015 — is the second most experienced with 15 career starts. Dickey has the best size of any of them at 6-foot-4, 330. Redshirt junior left tackle started all 12 games a year ago.

Defense
2015 National Rankings
Total Defense Scoring Defense Rushing Defense Pass Efficiency D.
113 117 100 126
Defensive FEI S&P Rushing S&P Passing S&P
127 112 107 106
Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2015 Stats
DE Josh Odigie (Jr.) 6’3″, 236 51 tackles, 12 TFL, 4 sacks*
DT Jamiyus Pittman (Jr.) 6’0″, 295 45 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks
DT Tony Guerad (RS Jr.) 6’3″, 275 28 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks
LB Shaquem Griffin (RS Jr.) 6’1″, 213 9 tackles, 1 FR, 1 PBU
LB Chequan Burkett (RS Jr.) 6’2″, 230 56 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks
LB Mark Rucker (RS Sr.) 5’9″, 217 15 tackles, 1 TFL
LB Errol Clarke (RS Sr.) 6’3″, 230 9 tackles
CB Shaquill Griffin (Sr.) 6’1″, 200 50 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 INT, 13 PBU
CB D.J. Killings (Sr.) 6’0″, 185 32 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF
FS Drico Johnson (RS Sr.) 6’1″, 215 64 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR
SS T.J. Mutcherson (RS Sr.) 5’11”, 195 31 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU
*at Orange Coast College

While the offense has hope for improvement thanks to Frost’s offensive background, the defense returns just five starters from a unit that was one of the country’s worst last season. Frost brought Oregon outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander to Orlando with him. Chinander was a graduate assistant for the Ducks from 2010-12 and went to the Philadelphia Eagles with Chip Kelly, but came back to Oregon after the 2013 season. He promises to bring an “aggressive, high-energy, high-effort” defense to UCF.

The Knights ranked 113th nationally in total defense (464.1 yards per game), 117th in scoring defense (37.7 points per game), 100th against the run (199.2 yards per game), 109th against the pass (264.9 yards per game), and 126th in pass efficiency defense (166.95).

Frost added three junior college transfers to bolster the defensive line. However, two of them — projected starting end Chris Mulumbo as well as tackle Joe Sanders — are not on the fall camp roster. To add to the problems along the line, former three-star end Monte Taylor was dismissed from the team. Junior Josh Odigie, a transfer from Orange Coast College, where he recorded 51 tackles, 12 for loss, and four sacks, should lock down the starting end spot.

Junior tackle Jamiyus Pittman is the most experienced returning member of the line. The Moultrie, Ga. native started 11 games last season and ranked sixth on the team in tackles with 45. His seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks are the most of any returning Knight. The other tackle is likely to be redshirt junior Tony Guerad, who recorded 28 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks in seven games a year ago.

Like the defensive line, only one full-time starter returns at the linebacker position after the loss of leading tackler Domenic Spencer. Redshirt junior inside linebacker Chequan Burkett started all 12 games in 2015 and ranked third on the team with 56 tackles. He also led all players with five quarterback hurries. Joining him in the middle will be fifth-year senior Mark Rucker, who has recorded just 24 total tackles in his career — nine of which came in last year’s season opener against Florida International. The outside linebackers are likely to be redshirt junior Shaquim Griffin and fifth-year senior Errol Clarke. Both recorded just nine tackles last season in limited action.

The secondary is where the experience lies with four senior starters. Free safety Drico Johnson broke out last year as the team’s second-leading tackler with 64. He had eight or more tackles in five of the Knights’ 12 games. Seniors Shaquill Griffin and D.J. Killings are the starting corners. Griffin — the brother of linebacker Shaquim — recorded 50 tackles and led the team with 13 pass breakups, which ranked in the top 25 nationally. Killings started seven games last season while battling injuries and totaled 32 tackles.

Special Teams
2015 National Rankings
Kick Returns Punt Returns Net Punting ST Eff.
33 98 10 22
Kick Return D. Punt Return D. FG Efficiency Opp FG Eff.
50 57 43 114
Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2015 Stats
K Matthew Wright (RS So.) 6’0″, 185 13-of-17 (76.5%), Long 48
P Caleb Houston (RS Sr.) 6’1″, 225 65 punts, 44.2 avg, 2 TB, 28 in-20
KR Tristan Payton (So.) 6’0″, 186 30 ret, 24.2 avg
PR Tristan Payton (So.) 6’0″, 186 N/A

Like Michigan’s first opponent, Hawaii, UCF wasn’t bad on special teams last season, ranking in the top half nationally in most categories. They also have both their kicker and punter back. Redshirt sophomore kicker Matthew Wright connected on 13-of-17 field goal attempts in 2015 with a long of 48, while fifth-year senior punter Caleb Houston averaged 44.2 yards per punt with just two touchbacks and 28 downed inside the 20.

Sophomore receiver Tristan Payton is expected to handle both return duties. Last season he was the main kick returner, averaging 24.2 yards per return with a long of 35. He didn’t return a punt, however.

Outlook

With all the talent available in the state of Florida, it’s a certainty that Frost will be able to win some games at UCF before he moves up to a bigger and better gig. But don’t expect it to happen right away. He will certainly improve on last season’s record, and probably before he even reaches Ann Arbor. The Knights face South Carolina State, which went 7-4 last season in the Football Championship Subdivision, in the season opener. There are other wins available on the schedule, but the school-record 23,147 UCF fans who showed up to the team’s spring game should be patient this fall.

What it means for Michigan

Frost made news back in February with a tweak of Jim Harbaugh following Michigan’s Signing of the Stars event on National Signing Day.

“As long as I’m running this program, we’re not going to make a zoo out of National Signing Day,” he said during his post-signing day press conference.

That’s just fine with Harbaugh, who will always do things his own way. And that includes a big Week 2 win. Frost’s Oregon-style offense will give Michigan’s top-notch defense a good early-season look. UCF has even coined the moniker “UCFast” to describe the offense. It won’t be enough to scare Michigan, but will present a tougher test than Hawaii and it will be good to see how a Don Brown defense reacts to an uptempo, no-huddle offense.

Offensively, Michigan should have no problem moving the ball and scoring at will against a defense that allowed nearly 38 points per game in 2015. Look for offensive coordinator Tim Drevno to put on a clinic on the ground, taking advantage of an inexperienced and undersized front seven. Michigan wins big and moves on to Colorado.

Predicting Michigan: The tight ends

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016


Predicting Michgian 2016-TightEnds

Jake Butt(Patrick Semansky, AP)

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers

No position group saw its stock rise more than the tight ends when Jim Harbaugh took over in Ann Arbor. In Year 1, a handful of Michigan tight ends took on bigger roles in the offense, led by an All-American.

But the most obvious difference in Ann Arbor is the urgency with which Harbaugh is seeking out the best tight ends in the country. The 2016 recruiting class alone included three tight end commits and two preferred walk-ons.

Will the tight ends’ role in the offense continue to grow? All signs point to yes.

Returning Starters

One of Michigan’s best players and one of the best offensive weapons in the country decided to return to school for his senior year. When Jake Butt announced his intention to stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s offense gained one of the toughest offensive matchups in college football.

Butt exploded during his junior year, more than doubling his career receiving yards and receptions. His 51 catches were good for second on the team and he trailed only Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh with 654 receiving yards.

Though he finished with only three touchdowns on the season, Butt regularly demonstrated his knack for making the spectacular play. In the season opener, Butt’s fingertip catch over two Utah defenders was one of the best plays of the season. When Michigan needed every bit of offense it could get in Indiana, Butt came through with seven catches, 82 yards and a touchdown.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior will look to improve his play in big games this season after catching only six passes for 58 yards combined against Michigan State and Ohio State. Butt has the size, athleticism, and now, experience to be one of the best targets in the country.

Projected Stats – Butt
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
60 700 11.7 6 53.8
Career Stats
2015 51 654 12.8 56 3 50.3
2014 21 211 10.0 29 2 21.1
2013 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Totals 92 1,100 12.0 56 7 30.6
Returning contributors

Besides Butt, Michigan doesn’t have much on-field experience returning at the tight end position. A.J. Williams caught 12 passes for 129 yards as a senior, but no other Wolverine tight end caught more than five passes.

Ian Bunting

Ian Bunting could be poised for a breakout season (Tony Ding, AP)

One player who showed signs of breaking out early last season was Ian Bunting, who enters his junior season at 6-foot-7 inches tall and over 250 pounds.

Bunting began the 2015 season as Jake Rudock’s second favorite tight end target, catching four passes for 53 yards during the non-conference season. But once the Big Ten schedule arrived, Bunting disappeared for eight games, not catching a single pass, though he did have one 17-yard grab in the Citrus Bowl.

He doesn’t have as much natural receiving ability as some of the other tight ends on the roster, but Bunting is the most likely returning player to make some noise behind Butt this season. He has solid hands and has shown an ability to pick up yards after the catch. His enormous frame doesn’t hurt, either.

Speaking of huge frames, Michigan also has two big tight ends who didn’t catch a single pass last season, but figure to be in the offensive mix very soon. Tyrone Wheatley caused a stir at the spring game when he caught a pass over the middle and lumbered for a solid gain. The former four-star recruit is a strong, gifted athlete who has good hands for a 280-pound target.

Also a defensive lineman in high school, Wheatley has no issue doing the dirty work Harbaugh expects from tight ends in the trenches. His biggest hurdle is becoming a more comfortable offensive player who runs tight routes and gaining the awareness to make adjustments on the fly.

Another familiar name to watch is Zach Gentry, who was one of Harbaugh’s first commits at Michigan and transitioned from quarterback to tight end last season.

Gentry showed up in a few big plays during the spring game, but like Wheatley and Bunting, it’s his size that really stands out. If he grows more comfortable at the position, he will become a nice mismatch for Michigan in the short passing game.

Projected Stats – Bunting
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
20 180 9.0 1 13.8
Career Stats
2015 5 72 14.4 21 0 7.2
2014 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 5 72 14.4 21 0 7.2
Projected Stats – Wheatley
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
8 75 9.4 0 5.8
Career Stats
2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Projected Stats – Gentry
Receptions Yards YPC Long TD YPG
10 100 10.0 1 7.7
Career Stats
2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
New Faces

As I mentioned above, Michigan stacked its roster with young tight ends this offseason, highlighted by a trio of commits who have a chance to crack the rotation right away.

Devin Asiasi arrives in Ann Arbor as the most highly-ranked tight end commit. Asiasi brings Harbaugh the complete package as he can catch and run with the ball in the passing game and also block in the trenches. It’s well documented that offensive players from De La Salle High School in California spend time perfecting their blocking ability, and at nearly 300 pounds, Asiasi is a beast in that regard.

Michigan’s other two tight end commits, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks, both check in at 6-feet-5 inches tall and specialize as receivers. McKeon has been committed to the Wolverines since the summer of 2015 and is the purest downfield receiver of this group. He’s fast for a tight end and has wide receiver-type hands. Eubanks, on the other hand, should be more of a short game weapon. When Butt graduates, Eubanks will be a candidate for more red zone targets if he proves he can hang onto the ball.

Michigan also welcomes two preferred walk-ons to the roster in Dan Jokisch and Dane Drobocky.

Projected Stats – Asiasi
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
20 230 11.5 1 17.7
Projected Stats – McKeon
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
5 80 16.0 0 6.2
Projected Stats – Eubanks
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
Redshirt
Meet the Rest

Michael Jocz: Senior, 6-4, 239, from Novi, Mich. (Novi)
No career stats
Joseph Files: Sophomore, 6-4, 252, from Lake Orion, Mich. (Cranbrook Kingwood)
No career stats
Kenneth Ferris: Sophomore, 6-5, 237, from Fowlerville, Mich. (Fowlerville)
No career stats

Michigan quarterback competition highlights fall camp

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016


John O'Korn - media day(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Michigan opened fall camp on Monday which means the coaches and players went into a figurative submarine as head coach Jim Harbaugh described it last fall.

“Just to let you know, we’re going into a submarine,” Harbaugh said on the eve of last season’s fall camp. “You won’t hear from us. You won’t see us. We’ll be working. We’ll be in a bunker…until we decide we’re not.”

But there was plenty of talk at media day on Sunday and much of it centered around the most intriguing position battle that will take place over the next three-plus weeks.

Most expect redshirt junior John O’Korn and junior Wilton Speight to duel it out for the right to start behind center when Michigan hosts Hawaii on Sept. 3. And with an experienced team that doesn’t have many more questions entering the season all eyes will be on that quarterback battle.

Speight appeared in seven games last season, completing 9-of-25 passes for 73 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. His most notable outing came in relief of Jake Rudock when Rudock was injured in the third quarter of a tight game at Minnesota last October. Speight engineered the game-winning drive, connecting with Jehu Chesson for a go-ahead, 12-yard touchdown with five minutes remaining.

Speight hopes to build on his game-winning drive against Minnesota last season (Justin Potts, M&GB)

O’Korn has more playing experience, but has yet to take the field in the Maize and Blue. He began his career at Houston where he earned American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors in 2013. He started 11 games that season, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,117 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions. But he hit a sophomore slump in 2014, completing just 52 percent of his passes for 951 yards, six touchdowns, and eight interceptions in five starts. Following that season he transferred to Michigan and sat out 2015 per NCAA transfer rules.

Now, he will look to harness his starting experience under the man who helped Rudock blossom into an NFL draft pick in just a few short months.

“There’s no substitute for experience, not having to run out there and look at the crowd or worry about what a defense is doing,” O’Korn said on Sunday. “I’ve pretty much seen every defense that we’re going to face during my time at Houston on field in a game situation.”

O’Korn had the advantage of living with Rudock last season, learning from the starting quarterback on a daily basis. Despite a slow start as he struggled to get in sync with his receivers, Rudock compiled one of the best seasons for a quarterback in Michigan history. He ranked second all-time in completions (249), second in yards (3,017), and set the single-game touchdown record with six against Indiana. O’Korn gained a valuable perspective watching him in 2015.

“Jake’s a guy that’s not going to say a lot, but just watching him and how he operates. I lived with him so I saw what he was like every single day, in preparation for a game, that kind of stuff. He was a guy that just came in every day, kept his mouth shut, and worked his butt off, and that’s something that I want to try to do too.

“The thing about Jake is that all of us knew that he was going to be that good. It just took a few weeks to get everything in sync. Whoever plays (this season) is going to have the same success this year if not more.”

Like O’Korn, Speight is ready to call on his experience as he looks to win the job.

“That was huge,” Speight said of his performance in the Minnesota game last season. “To be able to go into a hostile environment on the road like that in a rivalry game. I built on that a lot. Coach Harbaugh kept reiterating that I was able to do that and why not again and why not this season. I felt good about that performance, but I know I can do more and hopefully this season I can kind of show that.”

Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch also sees a difference in Speight from a year ago and is challenging the Richmond, Va. native to continue to grow.

“Wilton is somebody who has really matured over a year,” Fisch said at media day. “I think that going into last year’s camp he was a much different person than he is going into this year’s camp. He’s mature, he’s taken on a lot of responsibility. The obvious game against Minnesota gave him a ton of confidence and he’s just excited about it. He’s excited about the fact that that’s not going to be the only touchdown he ever throws for Michigan. I think that’s his mindset — that that’s not going to be my last touchdown.”

But with all the talk of Speight and O’Korn, Fisch is quick to point out that there are other quarterbacks on the roster and they’ll all get a chance to earn the job.

Jedd Fish

Jedd Fisch was quick to point out that the QB battle isn’t limited to just Speight and O’Korn (Justin Potts, M&GB)

“I think we have two guys that are doing really well and another two guys that are right there continuing to compete for it. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that it’s in between just two guys. We’re not going in thinking that way. There’s an opportunity to go out there and take this job. Nothing’s given to anyone. They’ve had April 1 or 2 — whenever our spring game was — they had from that day to tomorrow on their own to figure out a way to go become the starting quarterback at Michigan. And that’s pretty cool.”

Senior Shane Morris is still vying for a chance and true freshman Brandon Peters — who enrolled early and participated in spring ball — has as much upside as any of them.

As of Sunday, Fisch was unsure of how the fall practice reps would be split, but he was sure about what he will be looking for out of the eventual starting quarterback.

“There’s a lot of things you have to look at, but the number one thing is can you lead the team to score? Can you lead the team in practice? Can you move the football? Can you not just have flashes but can you have consistent good days — one after another after another? Can you have a move the ball period that’s unscripted? Can you go from the 20 to the 20 or from the 50 to the goal line, wherever we start can you just make first downs?

“The guy that does the most of that will really give us a great chance. And then how they lead the team, how they command the huddle, how they act in meeting rooms, do they have a moxie about them? And what’s the end result?”

Yesterday, four guys began their quest to become Michigan’s starting quarterback. And while Fisch wouldn’t completely rule out the competition lasting into the season, he said he would be surprised if that happened. Speight, meanwhile, is ready for the healthy competition.

“Obviously it’s not all going to be daffodils and dandelions. It’s going to get competitive. It’s going to get heated. But at the end of the day we all respect each other.”

O’Korn agreed that the competition will be strong.

“The nature of our quarterback competition is that there are three of us that could probably be starters at 125 different schools across the country and for some reason it wound up that all three of us are here. So somebody’s got to play.”

And although the quarterback position is a question mark at this point, whoever wins the job will succeed, says O’Korn, for one key reason.

“We have the best coaches in the country with Coach Fisch with us every day, Coach Harbaugh — who played 14, 15 years in the NFL — and Coach Drevno with the running game and play calling,” O’Korn said. “The combination of those three is kind of a three-headed monster. We’re going to be prepared every week. We’re going to be ready to play.”

 

New in Blue: 2017 DT James Hudson

Monday, August 8th, 2016


James Hudson (Scout.com)

James Hudson – DT/SDE | 6-5, 280 | Toledo, Ohio (Central Catholic)
ESPN4-star, #30 DE Rivals: 4-star, #8 SDE 247: 4-star, #7 SDE Scout: 3-star, #28 DT
247 Composite: 3-star #13 SDE
Other top offers: Michigan State, Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa, Miami, WVU

On the heels of Michigan’s biggest recruiting event of the summer and on the day the current squad opened fall camp, the Wolverines picked up a commitment from 2017 defensive lineman James Hudson. He announced his decision on Twitter on Monday.

Three of the four major recruiting services rate Hudson a four star, while Scout is the outsider that gives him just three. 247 Sports ranks him the highest as the seventh-best strongside defensive end in the 2017 class, while Rivals ranks him eighth. ESPN has him lower as the 30th-best defensive end and Scout ranks him as the 28th-best defensive tackle. 247 and Rivals both rank Hudson nationally at 220th and 229th, respectively. The 247 Composite has Hudson as a three-star, the 13th-best SDE, and 340th nationally.

Scout likes Hudson’s ability to play anywhere on the defensive line.

“Big kid who offers some flexibility because he can play on the edge or move down inside depending on situation and package. Light on his feet for a big guy and naturally powerful. Can bend well enough to get the leverage needed to use that strength. As he’s gotten bigger, in our view, he’s transitioned from more of a pure edge guy to a five-tech or potentially even a true tackle depending on the scheme.”

The Toledo Central Catholic star recorded 82 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks as a junior last season.

Hudson chose Michigan over in-state rival Michigan State. He also held offers from Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa, Miami, Pitt, and West Virginia, to name a few. He’s the 19th commitment in Michigan’s 2017 class and the third defensive lineman, joining Phillip Paea and Aubrey Solomon.

Past struggles serve as motivation for upperclassmen as Michigan enters fall camp

Monday, August 8th, 2016


Peppers - media day(Justin Potts, M&GB)

There’s a noticeably different air surrounding the Michigan football team this year compared to last year.

Questions and uncertainty abounded a year ago, as Michigan was coming off of a 5-7 season with no postseason and a third head coach in seven years. Sure there was hope, solely because of the man hired, but nobody new what to expect in Jim Harbaugh’s first season.

This year, however, expectations are soaring after an 11-2 season, a Citrus Bowl blowout of SEC East champion Florida, and with most of the team returning. But don’t count on Harbaugh’s team to be overcome by the hype.

“We were just 5-7 so it’s not like we’re out there walking on red carpets and things like that,” said junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers. “We remember how bad it was, but that’s just motivation. We’ve seen what we were capable of last year. We let a few slip through our fingers that I don’t think we should have, but that’s all growing pains and that all comes with the territory.”

Chris Wormley - media day

Chris Wormley leads a deep and talented defensive line (Justin Potts, M&GB)

That refrain was echoed by players throughout Michigan football media day on Sunday, the day before fall camp gets underway.

“I always keep it in the back of my head to stay hungry, stay motivated,” Peppers said of the 2014 season. “Remember where you’ve come from. Days may seem good now, but you remember how it was when they were bad. That’s just a little mental reminder that I always give myself.”

Senior defensive tackle Chris Wormley was another upperclassman who echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve been through the highs and I’ve been through the lows. Hopefully this season I’ll be able to end on a high note,” Wormley said. “Keeping that in the back of your mind, knowing we weren’t good two years ago. That’s not a long time ago, so keeping that in the back of your mind, staying humble, staying ready to go through the highs and lows of a season is what it’s all about.

“A lot of the older guys, sometimes we sit around and talk about it. We’re obviously very thankful and very happy to be in the position that we’re in today when it comes to records and coaches and coaching styles and things like that. But I give a lot of the credit to the players too. A lot of us stuck through it, a lot of us stayed. We could have transferred or went somewhere else, but at the end of the day it’s about the players and how we change the situation.”

When fall camp kicks off today, Michigan has far fewer questions to answer than it did a year ago. One of the reasons the Wolverines are ranked in the top 10 in every preseason publication is the number of upperclassmen who returned. Harbaugh’s predecessor, Brady Hoke, didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare — if there was one thing he did well it was recruiting.

While quarterback is a question mark, whoever wins the battle over the next four weeks will have a lot of talent to give the ball to. Senior receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh return, as does senior running back De’Veon Smith. And senior tight end Jake Butt turned down a likely first round draft pick last April to give it one more go.

“I have an insurance policy that’s obviously a safety blanket, but you don’t really think about it once you get out there,” Butt said about the risk he took returning for his senior season. “You’re just playing football. Injuries do happen, that’s part of the game, but I didn’t come back just to mess around and worry about getting hurt. I came back to win some games, lead this team, and hopefully win some championships.”

Chesson, on the other hand, never seriously considered entering the draft, but did miss all of spring practice with an injury. He disclosed on Sunday afternoon that he partially tore his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in the third quarter of the Citrus Bowl win over Florida in which he caught five passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against one of the nation’s best secondaries. But he put to rest any question about his health entering camp.

“Yes,” he answered when asked if he was back to 100 percent.

“Yes sir,” he replied to the follow-up question asking if he will be full-go on Monday.

The time for talk is over. They’re healthy, humble, and motivated  — a great place to be as fall camp beckons.