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Posts Tagged ‘Ondre Pipkins’

Predicting Michigan: The defensive line

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Predicting Michigan-DL

Frank Clark

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

For much of the 2013 season, Michigan effectively stopped the running game with a defensive line that appeared to be the strongest unit for Greg Mattison. The defense dominated the rushing attack of weaker opponents and allowed an average of just 89.5 yards per game through six games.

But as the schedule got tougher, opponents found it much easier to bully Michigan’s line. Big Ten teams averaged nearly 190 rushing yards per game against the Wolverines in the final six regular season games, and Kansas State polished off the campaign with 149 yards on the ground in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Michigan returns most of its major contributors on the defensive line this season as Mattison tries to instill consistency into a group that showed flashes of greatness in 2013. Starting tackles Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington both graduated, but a wealth of talented young options will step in to fill the void.

The Starters

A pair of senior defensive ends will help anchor Michigan’s young defense as Frank Clark plays across from Brennen Beyer, who returns from a year in the linebacking core. Beyer was asked to fill the void that Jake Ryan left after tearing his ACL during the 2013 offseason. The versatile defensive lineman stepped into the role and became an important piece to an otherwise thin group of linebackers. This year he’ll move back to his position of strength, where he wreaked havoc for the Wolverines during much of the last three seasons.

Clark was Michigan’s most reliable defensive lineman last season, recording 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The junior earned second team all-Big Ten honors and figures to be one of the strongest lineman in the conference as a senior.

A host of defensive tackles earned time between the seniors at the spring game, but two standout sophomores are likely to get most of the snaps when the season begins on August 30. Chris Wormley showed his elite playmaking ability in limited time during his freshman season and looks primed for a bigger role in 2014. The Toledo native demonstrated that he can get into the backfield for a defense desperate to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Willie Henry has every opportunity to snatch a starting position despite seeing limited action during the spring game in April. Henry was named to the all-Big Ten freshman team in 2013 and started six games during the second half of the season for Mattison.

Career Stats – Clark
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
38 38 40 78 6.5 21.5 1 3 1
Career Stats – Beyer
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 30 27 57 2.0 4.5 2 0 1
Career Stats – Wormley
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 9 10 19 2.5 4.5 0 1 0
Career Stats – Henry
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 15 17 32 0.5 3.0 0 0 0

Veteran Depth

Ojemudia and Charlton give Mattison a pair of young, quick defensive ends

Ojemudia and Charlton give Mattison a pair of young, quick defensive ends (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Michigan owns an abundance of options at defensive line if the projected starters fail to stand out during fall camp.  Ryan Glasgow appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last year and played with the first team at nose tackle during the spring game. Glasgow has every opportunity to make an impact for Michigan alongside his classmate Wormley after earning the trust of the coaching staff with his steady run stopping in 2013.

Sophomore Matthew Godin will also play an increased role after appearing in six games as a redshirt freshman. Godin took first-team reps at defensive end during the spring game and gives Michigan a reliable lineman to mix in with playmakers like Clark and Wormley.

Mario Ojemudia played in all 13 games and registered 20 tackles for the defensive line last season and will likely see time behind Frank Clark this year. Taco Charlton took second team reps across from Ojemudia and should see increased minutes as the coaching staff takes advantage of Beyer’s versatility and moves him around the field.

Of course, we can’t forget about the highest-rated of the bunch, Ondre Pipkins, who tore his ACL against Minnesota last season and missed the rest of the season. The former five-star was expected to play a key role behind Quinton Washington in 2013, but the injury derailed his progress and allowed for the rise of Henry and Glasgow. If he’s fully healthy this fall, expect Pipkins to be a big part of the rotation in the middle.

Tom StrobelMaurice Hurst Jr., and Henry Poggi are a trio of young four-stars hoping to work their way into the rotation. Strobel saw action in one game as a redshirt freshman last season and recorded a pair of tackles. Hurst and Poggi both redshirted.

Career Stats – Glasgow
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
11 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Godin
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
7 2 1 3 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Ojemudia
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
22 20 11 31 2.5 4.0 1 2 1
Career Stats – Charlton
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
10 1 1 2 0.5 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Pipkins
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
18 3 11 14 0 1.0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Strobel
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
1 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Hurst Jr.
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Poggi
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Brady Hoke added one major piece to the defensive line in his fourth season in Ann Arbor, tackle Bryan Mone out of Salt Lake City. Mone joins a defensive line that features at least eight players hoping to see significant time on the field, but the coaches made sure the freshman also got some work during the spring game. The enormous 315-pound lineman demonstrated surprising quickness and spent most his time in the backfield during an outstanding high school career. The freshman recorded 144 tackles in three seasons en route to an invitation to the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game.

Predicting Michigan: The defensive line

Monday, August 19th, 2013

As we continue our position preview and prediction series, it’s time to move on to the defensive side of the ball. If you missed the offense, we looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, and tight ends over the past couple of weeks.

Shouldering The Load: A Critical Group

Since Greg Mattison has taken over as Defensive Coordinator, his unit has turned into one of the top in the Big Ten. A demoralized defense that struggled under Rich Rodriguez was turned around immediately because of Mattison’s presence. This season, he will have to work with the young defensive players that have made up the strong recruiting classes the past few seasons. Leaders like Jordan Kovacs have graduated and it will be critical to establish new veteran leaders to help the rest of the defense mature.

Jibreel Black gives the line a proven vet to rotate in

Head Coach Brady Hoke coached the defensive line during his days under legendary Bo Schembechler, and he obviously still takes pride in that group of players as the head man. In 2013, the defensive line will be absolutely critical. Great defenses are those that can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers or defensive backs. Michigan will need to get pressure from the pass rushers on the line to help a secondary that seems to have many questions at this point in the preseason.

Veterans: The Few

This season’s defensive line will be anchored by the few returning players that will likely play big minutes again this year. Frank Clark has had a nice camp and figures to play a bigger role on the line this season. He has played all over the field on defense during his time in Ann Arbor, but this year he will play predominantly at defensive end, where Hoke expects him to be an effective pass rusher and leader. Perhaps the most satisfying play of the entire 2012 season for the Wolverines was Clark’s hit on Braxton Miller when he came through untouched against the Buckeyes in Columbus. After that hit, it is unsurprising that Clark has been moved permanently to the defensive end position.

The interior line seemingly has more stability, as proven defensive tackles Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black return as candidates to start. Washington, a redshirt senior, was solid in 2012 recording 32 tackles but only one sack. He has been steady on defense since his move from offensive line midway in 2010 and will be crucial as one of the two seniors on the defensive line. Black, the other senior, was more of a big-play threat last season. Though he only had 20 total tackles, he recorded three sacks and five tackles for loss.

The only other upperclassman on the line is redshirt junior Richard Ash, who will be a role player at defensive tackle again this season. Players like Ash are crucial to having a strong line, because so many players contribute during the course of one game due to the number of substitutions in the trenches.

Career Stats – Clark
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
25 19 16 35 2.0 9.5 1 1 1
Career Stats – Washington
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
35 16 19 35 1.0 3.0 1 0 0
Career Stats – Black
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
39 28 17 45 4.5 6.5 2 0 0
Career Stats – Ash
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Filling In: Talented Youth

While the rest of the defensive line is largely unproven coming into 2013, there is no doubt the talent is there. Two strong recruiting classes in a row have helped establish depth at an important defensive position for the Wolverines. Freshman Taco Charlton could be one of the most important players on the defense, because of his standout ability as a pass rusher. Most of the returning players on the defensive line were adequate run-stoppers last season, but there is definitely a hole in the pass-rushing department. Charlton was recruited to fill that gap, and will likely get a chance to rush the quarterback in some meaningful games this season. Hoke likes what the true freshman has shown midway through camp.

Big things are expected from Taco Charlton

Another exciting young player is sophomore Ondre Pipkins. Pipkins played in every game as a true freshman, so he could be considered a veteran on an otherwise inexperienced defensive unit. Though he didn’t start any games last year, Hoke and Mattison showed great trust in Pipkins by giving him meaningful minutes in every game of the season. This year, the sophomore has an opportunity to move up into a starting position at defensive tackle.

Tom Strobel did not see any playing time last year, as he was given a redshirt to mature. However, he was a highly-ranked recruit and could be right in the mix to play big minutes as well this season. The Ohio native has a big body and is strong in the run-blocking category which is a strength of this unit.

Fellow redshirt freshman Mario Ojemudia has caught Hoke’s attention during the offseason with his ability to jump snaps and get quick pressure on the quarterback. Ojemudia is a smaller defensive lineman, at 6’2″, but he uses that to his advantage as a quicker defender and can get around bigger offensive lineman because of that. He was given a redshirt to work on his size and strength, since that seems to be the one issue that could stop Ojemudia from being a star.

Henry Poggi and Chris Wormley were recruits that also created some buzz. Wormley is a big athlete who moves very well for a player of his size. In high school he showed incredible disengaging skills and was able to overpower his opponents the majority of the time. Poggi, who was recruited as a four-star out of Baltimore, Maryland, may be the victim of Michigan’s depth at defensive tackle and take a redshirt this season. Players like Washington, Black and Pipkins figure to receive most of the snaps at defensive tackle, so coaches may take the opportunity to let Poggi mature for a season.

Career Stats – Pipkins
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
13 2 5 7 0 0.5 0 0 0
Career Stats – Ojemudia
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
9 8 3 11 1.0 2.5 1 1 1

Depth: An Exciting Future

Having too many good players is a nice problem to have, and Michigan may have difficulty finding time for some very good young players this season because of the traffic jam on the defensive line. True freshman Maurice Hurst Jr. comes to Ann Arbor after being labeled a very talented recruit, and can help fill in at defensive line this year if Michigan needs him. It is likely that Hurst could get a redshirt along with Poggi, and we’ll see them make a major impact in a few years.

Keith Heitzman has played 12 games as a backup defensive end in his short career so far, and will continue to contribute this season, potentially winning a starting role.

Redshirt freshman Matt Godin will likely pick up a similar role this year. Godin is one of the bigger lineman on the team at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. Godin’s classmate Willie Henry is also a huge interior lineman, listed just over 300 pounds. These players will see playing time throughout the course of the season, and will need to be solid while they give the more well-known players a breather. Luckily, Hoke and Mattison are the right coaches to have around a defensive line with so much potential.

Career Stats – Heitzman
Games Played Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF FR INT
12 2 5 7 0 1.0 0 1 0

Wrapping Up

Michigan’s defensive line is similar to many of the other groups on the 2013 team. Two outstanding recruiting classes have established important depth, and the few veteran players will need to be leaders to help those youngsters mature. Washington, Black and Clark will be the big name veterans on the line, but there’s a great chance that some of the newer players step up and make a name for themselves early as well. Fans in Ann Arbor should be excited to see players like Charlton and Pipkins play major minutes and cause havoc on the defensive line.

The rest of the defense has their own responsibility, but the line is the really crucial group to watch in 2013. If the young pass-rushers can keep quarterbacks from getting comfortable in the pocket, the rest of the defense should fall into place. Mattison will look to his defensive line to set the tone this season.

The Michigan Medley channels the Verve Pipe

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

We were merely freshmen

Rich Rodriguez’s first recruiting classes are now the team’s upperclassmen and they have produced some stars, most notably Denard Robinson. But there are considerable talent and depth deficiencies that Hoke’s first two classes are beginning to fill. On Saturday against Air Force, we saw eight freshmen play considerable roles for the Wolverines and their roles are going to continue to expand throughout the season.

Tight end Devin Funchess had a breakout game with four receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. Fellow freshman tight end A.J. Williams saw considerable time as a blocking tight end. The pair got thrust onto the field due to an injury to Brandon Moore, but they would have played eventually given the lack of depth at the position following the graduation of Kevin Koger. Funchess has a chance to be an outright star. Prior to the season, I predicted him to be the offensive breakout star this season. He has great length and athleticism to create a mismatch with a linebacker or safety every time he’s targeted. Williams has a much bigger frame, which is more suitable for blocking. My only concern is that opponents will eventually catch on to this and see run every time Williams is on the field an pass every time Funchess is. But Al Borges knows this and will have plays to counter this.

Devin Funchess gives Denard another great receiving threat (photo by Getty Images)

Another pair of freshmen that got significant playing time are linebackers James Ross and Joe Bolden who played much of the second half in the middle of Michigan’s defense. Ross saw time against Alabama, and Brady Hoke said Saturday that Bolden was in because his high school, Cincinnati Colerain, ran the option. Both have done well so far. Bolden was the team’s second-leading tackler on Saturday with 10 tackles, one behind Jake Ryan. Ross added four. Has Bolden supplanted last year’s leading tackler, Kenny Demens? Probably not. He played the whole second half because of his experience with the option, but Demens has several years of experience. If anything, it’s good for the team to have such talented freshmen pushing the upperclassmen for their spots and it creates great depth.

On the defensive line, another duo, Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia, saw action. Most expected Pipkins to see the field even before the season started, and possibly even work his way into a starting role, but most considered Ojemudia a year or two away. But due to an injury to Brennen Beyer, Ojemudia got in. Hoke and Greg Mattison like to rotate a lot of bodies on the line, so improving the depth with talented freshmen is a good thing.

In the defensive backfield, freshman safety Jarrod Wilson got in. He’s the future of the position for Michigan, but likely won’t supplant Thomas Gordon this season except in certain packages.

Another freshman who has impressed so far is kick returner Dennis Norfleet. He has flashed speed and shiftiness in the first two games, giving Michigan a kick return threat it hasn’t seen since Steve Breaston.

One position that hasn’t seen freshman action yet, but could before too long, is receiver. Devin Gardner has done well in the first two games, cementing his spot as a starter, but no one else has really impressed. Jeremy Gallon had a good game against Alabama, but Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Jackson, Drew Dileo, and Jerald Robinson have a combined seven catches for 64 yards. Roundtree is Roundtree and deserves a spot on the field, but Jackson and Robinson have left a lot to be desired. Freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson both have qualities that could earn them a chance to step in. Darboh has great size at 6’2″, 220 pounds and wowed teammates in fall camp, while Chesson has track star speed. Gardner will continue to be a threat and so will Funchess from the tight end spot, but Denard Robinson needs at least one more receiver to step up as a consistent threat to keep Michigan’s passing game effective and open up the running game.

As you can see, the amount of players seeing the field who were going to prom just five months ago is higher than most coaches would want it to be, but that’s where this team is at right now. It bodes well for the future since these guys are getting on the job training, but we’ll have to deal with the growing pains along the way.


Rival problems

With one-fourth of Michigan’s yearly schedule made up of bitter rivals, each season inevitably has the “which rival do I root for?” moments. This weekend is one of those. Michigan State hosts Notre Dame on Saturday night and many of us will flip channels or go back to our tailgate spot or find a bar with a TV in it after the Michigan game to do some advanced scouting of both teams. But who will we root for?

For many, the rule of thumb is to root for the Big Ten in out of conference match-ups. But that’s easy when it’s Iowa against Florida. It’s much harder when it involves a rival against a rival. So here’s my two cents: since both of them can’t lose on Saturday, root for Notre Dame.

First of all, Michigan plays Notre Dame next weekend. I wold rather have the Irish enter the game riding high with a 3-0 record and poised for a letdown than pulling together after defeat and looking to take it out on someone. Though Michigan hasn’t always dominated the Irish, it has in the won-loss column the past few years. The same can’t be said for Michigan State. I would rather face an undefeated Notre Dame team in Week 4 than an undefeated Michigan State team in Week 7.

Secondly, the game has implications in Michigan’s postseason. Last season, Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame was part of what helped Michigan earn a BCS bid. While the loss doesn’t outright affect the Big Ten title hopes since Notre Dame isn’t in the conference, it does even the playing field since Michigan already has one loss on the season.

So join me in rooting on the Irish on Saturday night, as hard as it may be.

Freshmen numbers and those who broke them in (Part 2)

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Last Friday, we released Part 1 of our three-part series on the numbers the freshmen will be wearing this fall and the previous Wolverines who have either worn them or made a name for themselves while wearing them. Today, we take a look at the second part of the series with a group of linebackers and linemen.

#49 – Kaleb Ringer

Bob Chappuis, All-American, Hall-of-Famer, and war hero

The most famous Wolverine to wear number 49 was Bob Chappuis in 1942, ’46-47. His Michigan career was interrupted by service in World War II. As a gunner and radio operator, his plane was shot down over Italy where he was rescued and remained until the war ended. He returned to Michigan to lead the “Mad Magicians” of 1947. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that year and was named All-American. To this day, he holds Michigan’s single-season passer rating (175.3) and single season record for yards per completion (18.8). When his Michigan playing days were done, he played pro football for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Hornets and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He passed away this June at the age of 89.

Richard Volk was Chappuis’ nephew and wore number 49 from 1964-66. He played halfback, fullback, quarterback, and defensive back positions during his time in the maize and blue and was named All-American following the 1966 season. He went on to a stellar career in the NFL that included three Pro Bowl selections, and he was inducted into Michigan’s Athletic Hall of Honor in 1989.

Other notables to wear number 49: Jay Feeley (1994-98), Ed Frutig (1937-39), Dhani Jones (1996), Andy Moeller (1982-86), Kirk Moundros (1999-2002), Chuck Ortmann (1948-50), Bob Ptacek (1956-58)


Otto Pommerening was an All-American tackle in #50

#50 – Tom Strobel

The first player in Big Ten history to play in every minute of every game in a season was Otto Pommerening, a tackle from 1926-28. A unanimous All-American in 1928, Pommerening was only 5’11”, 178 pounds, roughly the size of current Michigan defensive back Courtney Avery. Despite his small stature, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest linemen to every play at Michigan. Somehow he finished fourth for the Chicago Tribune Silver Football trophy, given annually to the Big Ten’s MVP.

Another star to wear number 50 is a guy whose number Strobel is replacing, center David Molk. Molk started 41 career games at center and won the Rimington Trophy last season as the nation’s best center. He was a consensus first-team All-American and team captain. His departure leaves a huge hole to fill, both on Michigan’s line and in senior leadership.

Other notables to wear number 50: Howie Auer (1929-31), Paul Girgash (1979-82), Mark Messner (1984), Jeremy Van Alstyne (2002-06)


#52 – Royce Jenkins-Stone

Rod Payne was an All-American center in #52

Jenkins-Stone will share number 52 with center Ricky Barnum this season, but the man who was best known for 52 was center Rod Payne. He started 40 games during his career in which he was named first team All-Big Ten twice and first team All-American in 1996. He was drafted in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and battled injuries throughout his career. He currently coaches Spanish River Community High School in Palm Beach, Fla.

Payne was, ironically, the last Michigan starting center to wear number 52 before Barnum this season. The last linebacker to wear the number prior to Jenkins-Stone was Kevin Leach (2007-10).

Other notables to wear number 52: Kevin Brooks (1981-84), James H. Lincoln (1935-37), Stephen Schilling (2006-10), Chris Ziemann (1997-99)


#53 – Mario Ojumedia

Archie Kodros blocked for Tom Harmon in the late 30s

No Michigan player has become an All-American while wearing number 53, but a very good one just graduated. Ryan Van Bergen started 38 games in his career and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention a year ago. He was an important part of Michigan’s success in 2012, teaming up with Mike Martin to form a formidable defensive line.

Another great number 53 was Archie Kodros in the late 1930s. He was a center paving the way for Tom Harmon for a couple of seasons. In 1939, one Ohio reporter said of Kodros, “One reason why Tom Harmon plays so sensationally each Saturday is shown here. The Michigan line, led by Captain Archie Kodros, No. 53, blocks beautifully and opens the way for Tom to get into the secondary where the star Wolverine back can peddle his own papers.” That’s pretty high praise. He also intercepted a pass against Ohio State to help Michigan win 21-14.

Other notables to wear number 53: Tom Cecchini (1963-65), Richard O’Schaughnessy (1951-53), Shantee Orr (1999-2002), Mel Owens (1977-80), Al Sincich (1981-84)


#56 – Ondre Pipkins

LaMarr Woodley won the Lombardi Award in #56

Pipkins will share number 56 this season with offensive lineman Joey Burzynski who is battling for the starting left guard spot. From 2008-10, Ricky Barnum wore 56 before switching to 52 last season. The most successful 56 in Michigan history was relatively recent, defensive end LaMarr Woodley. The Lombardi Award winner in 2006, Woodley led the Big Ten and ranked eighth nationally with 12 sacks that season. He also earned a unanimous first-team All-American selection and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He was drafted 46th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 and continues to be a dominant defensive end.

Other notables to wear number 56: Jim Brieske (1942-43, 46-47), Harold Goodwin (1992-94), James Hall (1995-99), Frank Maloney (1960-61)


Julius Franks was the first African-American All-American at Michigan

#62 Blake Bars

No Michigan player has earned All-American honors while wearing number 62, but one wore the number and became an All-American a year later after switching numbers. It was Julius Franks, who has the unique honor of being the first African-American All-American at Michigan. He was just the third African-American to play for Michigan and was said to be the hardest working player Fritz Crisler ever coached. He was named to the Michigan Hall of Honor in 1983.

Bars certainly isn’t the most highly-ranked incoming freshman, but he has a unique chance to become the first superstar to wear number 62 if he sticks with it his entire career.

Other notables to wear number 62: Tim McAvoy (2005-09), Quentin Sickels (1944-48)


Merv Pregulman was an All-American in 67 during the early 1940s

#67 – Kyle Kalis

Defensive tackle Nathan Brink will don 67 this season along with Kalis. Two former Wolverines have been All-Americans while wearing number 67. One is Merv Pregulman, a lineman who played all positions on the line from 1941-43. He was named a Grantland Rice All-American honorable mention his sophomore season and first-team his senior season. He played on a line with Julius Franks (above) and Al Wistert, whose number is getting Legend designation this fall. He was inducted into the College Sports Hall of Fame in 1982 and Michigan’s Hall of Honor in 1988.

The other All-American to wear 67 was John Vitale. A four-year starter, Vitale played guard his freshman year and center the other three. He was All-Big Ten twice and first team All-American in 1988.

Other notables to wear number 67: David Brandt (1997-2000), Matt Lentz (2001-05), Matt Patanelli (1935-36), Terrance Taylor (2005-08)


Stay tuned for part three next week: #71 Ben Braden, #78 Erik Magnuson, #82 Amara Darboh, #84 A.J. Williams, #86 Jehu Chesson, #99 Matthew Godin

Fall practice primer

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The season opener against Alabama is 26 days away, but today Michigan begins its final preparations as Team 133 hits the field for fall camp. Freshmen reported on Saturday and veterans on Sunday as the team takes the field today for the first of 29 practices. With 15 returning starters most starting spots are locked up, but some questions undoubtedly remain to be answered over the next four weeks. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Position battles:

Left guard

The main position battle offensively is at left guard, which was vacated by the graduation of Mark Hugye. Taylor Lewan, Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh and Michael Schofield are solidified are all set (though Barnum is moving from guard to center and Schofield from left guard to right tackle), but who will be the final member of the unit?

The battle for starting left guard is one to watch in fall camp

The battle is between walk-on Joey Burzynski and redshirt senior Elliot Mealer. With such an experienced other four, especially at a school like Michigan that has made a name for itself churning out offensive linemen, it’s somewhat unfathomable that a walk-on could be the fifth starter, but Burzynski impressed throughout the spring. He earned the starting spot for the spring game and Brady Hoke came away impressed.

“Joey worked hard. Joy’s got some leverage naturally that’s pretty good,” Hoke said. “He’s smart, he’s tough, so as they come into camp, it’ll be interesting. He’s got good fundamentals, good techniques. He’s got nice leverage. He’s a pain, which is good.”

Although Burzynski won the job in the spring, don’t count out Mealer as he has more in-game experience, having played in 37 career games.

The wild card in the equation is incoming freshman Kyle Kalis. The five-star from Lakewood, Ohio will get a chance to win the starting spot. No Michigan freshman has started on the line since Justin Boren in 2006, and here’s to hoping that if Kalis does start this season he doesn’t go the same route Boren did.

Offensive line is a position that almost always requires a redshirt season, not only to add pounds and strength but to learn what it takes to be a college lineman.

“You have to black all these different defenses, and know what our numbering system is, what our rules are – that’s a monster for a young guy,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “Some handle it better than others, and obviously, the ones that do are the ones that play faster. There’s not enough time in the day to tell you the challenges a young player has to come in and play on the offensive line.”

Defensive line

Craig Roh is the lone returning starter on the defensive line

The second question is who will replace Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger on the defensive line? William Campbell likely has one tackle spot wrapped up but will he finally live up to the expectations he arrived in Ann Arbor with? Of course Craig Roh will start at defensive end as the line’s only returning starter. He beefed up to 278 pounds to switch to the strong-side, taking over Van Bergen’s spot. With 38 consecutive starts, Roh will be the leader of the group.

The main questions arise at the other two spots. Jibreel Black should get the nod at the other tackle spot, moving over from weak-side end. He’s up from 260 to 276 and is still working to add more weight. The weak-side end spot was to be a battle between Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, but Clark’s legal woes look to keep him out of at least a game or two. Beyer played in nine games last year as a reserve linebacker but is transitioning to the end spot and Clark’s troubles raise the pressure for him. Lewan has been impressed with Beyer’s play throughout the spring.

“His technique has gotten a lot better,” Lewan said. “As an offensive tackle, you don’t want to get your shoulders turned, and he’s done a nice job of getting the tackles’ shoulders turned. I think he’s made a lot of gains.”

If and when Clark returns, he’ll be an instant help for the line. He’s a great athlete for the defensive end spot and made his presence felt in the Sugar Bowl when he recorded five tackles and picked off a pass to set up Michigan’s first touchdown.

Quinton Washington and incoming freshman Ondre Pipkins will also figure in to the middle of the line. Washington, a redshirt junior, is the kind of big body the defense needs and came into spring in better shape than ever. If he can carry that into the fall, he’ll surely earn some time. Pipkins is a highly-rated tackle and the only question is how early he works his way into the rotation.


Devin Gardner will see time at receiver; the question is how much?

The final major position battle is at receiver. Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon are locked in, but who will emerge alongside them? The most intriguing storyline will be how much Devin Gardner factors in. He was the talk of spring practice as rumors swirled, but Hoke and Borges downplayed it all spring. But in Big Ten Media Days last week, Hoke left the door open.

“We’ve got a chance to get Devin on the field as a wide receiver some because of his athleticism, and he’s a big guy,” Hoke said. “We’ve got all kinds of different things we look for with Devin.”

And how has he handled the adjustment from quarterback to receiver thus far?

“He handled it well,” Hoke said. “He’s a competitor, he wants to play and we all want to play. He also has grown. If he can help the team wherever, he’s figuring that out.”

As far as true receivers, Jerald Robinson was the starter in the spring game. He has yet to catch a pass thus far in his career, but he turned a lot of heads with his performance and consistency in spring practice. Jeremy Jackson has good size for a receiver but has caught just seven passes in his career.

The two incoming freshmen will also get a chance to earn some playing time. Amara Darboh already has the body to play right away, coming in at 6’2″, 218 pounds. Jehu Chesson is more of a speedster, having won the Missouri Class 4 state title in the 100-meter dash and 300-meter hurdles last year. At 6’3″, 180, he’s pretty thin but his straightline speed will make him a downfield threat. It’s safe to bet that at least one of the two will win some time as the fall progresses.

Other questions:

• A lot of talk in the spring centered around Denard’s progression. How much has his passing technique actually improved, and how will his second year in Borges’ offense increase his comfortability and production?

• Can Thomas Rawls ease concerns about the starting running back spot given Fitz Toussaint’s legal troubles?

• Freshman Joe Bolden enrolled early and participated in spring ball. How soon will he make an impact at linebacker?

• How will the Navy SEAL training pay off in Michigan’s preparation, conditioning and leadership?

All those and more will be played out over the next 26 days, and by the time Team 133 sets foot on the Cowboys Stadium turf on Sept. 1 Hoke will have the team ready to make a title run against the defending national champs. Stay tuned for more coverage throughout fall camp.

Meet your 2012 recruiting class: The defensive line

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

On Monday, we rounded out the offensive profiles with the receivers and tight ends, and last week we looked at the offensive line and the running backs. Today, it’s time to turn our focus towards the defensive side of the ball – the guys who will help Michigan’s defensive resurgence under the guidance of Greg Mattison.

This year’s defensive line haul contains three ends and three tackles, led by five-star tackle Ondre Pipkins. This is a very important position group to watch heading into fall camp as it will need to replace starters Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. There will be plenty of opportunity to step in and grab some playing time as Hoke and Mattison look for suitable replacements. Let’s take a look at the guys who may do so.

Stay tuned in the next day or two for the profile of Michigan’s linebacker class.

A Quick Look at Michigan’s 2012 Recruiting Class

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

National Signing Day came and went on Wednesday and when all was said and done, Head Coach Brady Hoke announced a 25-member recruiting class. The day started off well with a surprise commitment from four-star running back Dennis Norfleet from Martin Luther King High School in Detroit. The rest of the day went as expected with all 22 signed Letters of Intent arriving (three are already enrolled for spring semester).

There still remains a shot at Chicago Simeon offensive lineman Jordan Diamond, who makes his announcement on Friday, and Colorado offensive lineman Alex Kozan who verbally committed to Iowa on Sunday but didn’t fax in his LOI on Wednesday.

Below is a position-by-position breakdown as well as a location-based look at this year’s class. Stay tuned tomorrow for in-depth bios of each offensive recruit and then Saturday morning for the defensive side.

As you can see above, Michigan didn’t sign a quarterback in this year’s class, but has Shane Morris committed for next year’s class. He’ll enter as Denard Robinson graduates and battle for the starting spot with Devin Gardner. The four offensive linemen are all listed as tackles but in tomorrow’s individual breakdown, we’ll discuss where they project on the line. The same can be said for the four defensive backs. Terry Richardson is the only one listed as a cornerback; the other three as safeties. 
Michigan’s class is very Midwest-focused this year, as opposed to the classes we saw under Rich Rodriguez which pulled a bit more from the south, most notably Florida. Hoke didn’t get anyone south of Tennessee, and only ventured out west for two – Erik Magnuson from Carlsbad, Calif. and Sione Houma from Salt Lake City, Utah. If Kozan switches his commitment to Michigan, that will add another player from the west, as he hails from Colorado, but we won’t bet on that happening. If Diamond commits to Michigan on Friday, he will add yet another player from the Midwest.