This blog post has been pushed back multiple times. Normally I do a Signing Day Recap and a Spring Football post but clearly those two have fallen by the wayside with real life happening. So this post is now going to be a Spring Football Review/Signing Day Recap/Fall Camp Preview/etc.
Naturally, as I do fewer and fewer blog posts and have less time to pay attention to recruiting, Michigan keeps signing more and more recruits. A 30-person class is absolutely massive and at the time, it put them at 87 scholarships. But over the last 2-3 months, things have transpired that has allowed them to get down to 85. Drake Johnson did not get a 6th year, Wyatt Shallman left, Dave Dawson left, Asiasi transferred to be closer to home, etc. At any rate, rather than talk about every single prospect in-depth, let’s focus more on the Spring Game, Fall position competitions and which freshmen will play right away. It’ll probably be June by the time I publish this anyway.
Spring Football Recap
Well this turned out to be quite a spectacle. The trip to Rome looked awesome and got tons of great publicity and reviews, both of which were icing on the cake to providing these kids with a very cool once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But before they went on that incredible trip, they had the traditional spring game, something that I was actually able to attend in person. The immediate takeaway from this game, which has been discussed quite a bit, is that Wilton Speight was absolutely dreadful during the game. He did not have a ton of time in the pocket, but there’s no excuse for a guy with a season as the starter under his belt to perform like that. Throws were late, off-target and just generally erratic.
This one killed me. Late, terrible decision, off the back foot, forced into triple coverage. Unless it’s 4th down and there’s no time left on the clock and you’re being hit and the ball accidentally flies out of your hand, you cannot throw this ball to McDoom. Find a better option…if there isn’t one…run.
Conversely, Brandon Peters flashed a ton of talent. Peters looks like he has the ability to make every throw and showed off his athleticism on his touchdown run.
The bottom line is that last year’s quarterback battle was an absolutely farce; that much was clear when John O’Korn started. This year, not so much. I think Brandon Peters’ talent cannot be overlooked and Jim Harbaugh has made it clear that it is a meritocracy and that the best players will play. Experience and seniority counts for jack squat for him. Do I think Peters will end up starting? Right now, no. Speight will 100% start against Florida and what happens after that is anybody’s guess. My guess is that Speight starts the entire season and Peters will get to play quite a bit during any and all blowouts.
Runningbacks wise, I think it’s very clear that it’s a three-headed monster at the moment, with Chris Evans being the clear number one. Evans hardly saw any snaps and I think that’s a safe indicator that he’s going to be the starter. They know what he can do and there was no reason for him to take any hits. He’s got incredible burst and can make something out of nothing, something that Michigan has been desperate for the past couple of seasons. Karan Higdon looked good and so did Ty Isaac. Isaac showed some flashes last year but got in the dog house after he got a severe case of fumblitis in the Maryland game. Higdon is a great change of pace for Evans and he runs hard. Kareem Walker looked like he has improved but is still coming along slowly after having to redshirt last year with grade issues. Frankly, I was disappointed by his performance but he’s only in his second semester in college, so I’m not too worried about his future. It’s not as though there is no one in front of him and he’s going to have to carry the water next year.
Wide receiver and tight end are two very interesting position groups. Losing Jake Butt and Devin Asiasi is a big blow to the tight end group, but I think TJ Wheatley and Ian Bunting will be the two that step up for next year. I was a fan of Bunting last year and he provides the quarterback with a big receiving option. TJ Wheatley seems to be cut from the same cloth as Calvin Johnson in that he is a robot because a man that big should not be able to move that quickly. Wheatley is the best remaining blocking tight end so he’s going to play quite a bit. Zach Gentry and Nick Eubanks certainly were intriguing in the spring game. Gentry is not nearly big enough to block, but he obviously has the speed to be a mismatch in the passing game with his 55-yard TD catch. Eubanks seems to remind me of Eric Ebron. I think he will end up lining up in the slot more than he will actually line up in-line…but you never really know with Harbaugh. Both of them are athletic receiving options and I expect those two to get a fair amount of playing time in the fall.
At wide receiver it’s going to be the young bucks time to shine. Drake Harris was hurt and has now been moved to cornerback, paving the way for Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins to play immediately. Kekoa Crawford, like Chris Evans, did not play much and it’s clear he’s the team’s #1 receiver going into fall camp. DPJ was locked up for most of the spring game, but the significant playing time he got is only a sign of things to come. Tarik Black was majorly impressive during the game and showed fantastic separation. He literally caught everything and has apparently done so for the entire spring. Nico Collins has not enrolled yet, but he is an absolute monster at 6’4″ 185. I cannot wait to see what he can do in the fall.
Eddie McDoom was still doing what Eddie McDoom does and he clearly is going to keep his role heading into next year. I hope they work in a few more variations of the end around that was successful, or start using him as a decoy, because team’s will be ready for it next year. Incoming freshman Oliver Martin seems to be a lock to redshirt. They still have Moe Ways, Nate Johnson and walk-on Nate Schoenle, so no reason to rush him in. Johnson had struggled with dropping the ball on punt returns and on his loan target, so hopefully he gets that out of his system. Meanwhile, Schoenle was majorly impressive in the spring game and he’s a 6’2″ slot receiver that turned heads. I sat there wondering who he was for most of the game because he kept flashing and making plays. According to Harbaugh, Schoenle has been the top-graded WR the entire Spring…which should not be ignored. Even with losing Darboh and Chesson, I think this receiving core is promising for next year.
(Harbaugh has also said that Grant Perry is back practicing with the team, but he is a wildcard with his legal situation unresolved right now.)
The offensive line is going to be an interesting one. The best five players will end up starting, but it seems as though it could go a number of different ways at the moment. Grant Newsome will not play next year, so he’s not going to be your left tackle. The sort-of starting offensive line for the game was Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan. Cesar Ruiz was the second team center and did play some at guard. Given the depth that they have at the offensive line position, I’m not so sure that the offensive line will change going into the fall. Juwan Bushell-Beaty was hurt, so it’s possible that JBB/Bredeson/Cole/Onwenu/Runyan is your offensive line, but again, it’s up in the air. The offensive line did a great job run blocking, but if you watched the game, you saw Speight running for his life or getting popped when they missed on blitz pickups. Obviously it could be the running back or the quarterback’s fault (unless you know the playcall you have no clue), but it got messy. I think it will be something that will be fixed come the fall, especially because no defense blitzes like a Don Brown defense, but it’s most certainly a work in progress.
In year’s past, Michigan coaches might have worried about giving too much away during the Spring Game (*cough* Brady Hoke *cough*) and not even run true spring games. Well Harbaugh clearly has a different approach, even busting out this trick play. That’s not to say that Harbaugh is an open-book, because he is far from it, but he’s certainly not gun-shy about this kind of stuff.
The defense is always ahead of the offense in the spring game. Always. And this year was certainly no exception to that rule.
The starting defensive line looked good. Gary/Mone/Hurst/Winovich is a very, very nice group. The issue is that there is not any depth, particularly at defensive tackle. After what I watched in the spring game, I expect Aubrey Solomon to be in the rotation immediately. Lawrence Marshall was largely unimpressive after his position change. Carlo Kemp and Reuben Jones were just okay in the game and I think that Donovan Jeter will eventually move inside and play more 3T.
(Gary has proved that he is an absolutely freaky talent and he is going to be a force next year.)
The starting linebackers looked great during the game. Mike McCray and Devin Bush Jr caused absolute chaos the whole day with their blitzing and I was really pleased with what I saw. Mike Wroblewski was the backup at the MIKE spot and I think that Elyse MBem-Bosse has some work to do to pass him on the depth chart. Noah Furbush and Josh Uche are the backups at the SAM spot and Furbush turned in a solid day, but McCray needs to stay healthy.
The cornerback spot is an intriguing one entering fall camp. I expect David Long and LeVert Hill to be the two starters entering camp, both of whom have been dinged up on and off the past year. Keith Washington was a pleasant surprise during the game, locking up DPJ for a fair amount of the afternoon. Benjamin St. Juste and Ambry Thomas looked the part physically, but both looked like freshmen at times. St. Juste was torched by Tarik Black repeatedly but I think he has a bright future. You just cannot teach that size and athleticism.
Khaleke Hudson jumped into the Viper role to replace Jabrill Peppers and my goodness did he look good.
RIP John O’Korn
Hudson is going to be playing a lot next year with Jordan Glasgow backing him up. Both of them had impact plays during the day and this position is not a concern entering the fall. Hudson is physically more impressive than Jabrill (heigh and weight, not speed) and if he’s half as smart as Jabrill, his impact will be felt early and often. At safety, Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel were the two starters and I would expect that to stay the same entering fall camp. Both of them flew all over the field to make plays and Kinnel looked quite comfortable.
I mean the range that Metellus covered here is incredibly impressive.
The defense looked good. But it’s always misleading because as I said, the defense is further ahead than the offense at this time of year. I would say that the depth on the defensive line (especially tackle) is a big time concern entering the fall and you are just going to have to hope that everyone stays healthy. Frankly, I would not play any starters on the defensive line against Air Force because you cannot risk anyone getting injured on a cut block from the triple option offense…but that’s not going to happen.
After the spring game, Michigan went off to Rome and then the NFL Draft happened. Michigan proceeded to have 11 of their 19 draft eligible players get picked, a program record. I was a little disappointed that more were not picked, but the fact that the 8 that went undrafted ended up signing as UDFAs is huge for the program. Harbaugh and his staff can pitch to recruits that 100% of their players got an NFL contract. Now how long they stay is obviously up to them, but Harbaugh can show them that he can give them the tools to be given a shot. I could breakdown where everyone went and how I expect them to fit, but frankly, there are other outlets for that. I think each of the players went to a good team that is a scheme fit The 2018 will likely not be as kind to the Michigan team, with only 8 seniors, and a few juniors that could be drafted, I expect that number to dip. But starting from 2019 and on, I expect it to become a well-oiled draft pick producing school. So you might as well get over kids leaving early now because it’s going to happen. And no, these kids do not owe the school, or you, anything. I wish there was a way to get all of the dumb fans on social media to stop trashing kids for leaving early but hey, such is life.
Alright, now that the splurge of tweets is over, let’s take a look at the position battles heading into fall camp and which true freshmen will play right away.
The class size for this season is absolutely monumental. They’re saying that next year will be around 16 players, but I cannot seem to get past 13. At any rate, they certainly know what they’re doing at Schembechler Hall so we’ll leave the number crunching to them.
Having 11 Early Enrollees is the largest number I can remember in recent years and I would expect that at least 6 of them are on the two-deep to start next season.
I anticipate that of the 30 freshmen, 11-12 will end up playing next year for sure. Brad Hawkins will move from WR to safety, so I would expect that he will be a guaranteed redshirt next year. The only other freshman that I’m anticipating a position change for is Ben Mason. On Pardon My Take, Jim Harbaugh said that he played well at FB and that some of the running backs were asking for him to make the move. With two upperclassmen at FB and Kingston Davis transferring, I would expect Mason to end up there sooner rather than later.
So the freshmen I expect to play right away are: DPJ, Cesar Ruiz, Ambry Thomas, Tarik Black, Donovan Jeter, J’Marick Wood, Aubrey Solomon, Luiji Vilain, Drew Singleton, Nico Collins, James Hudson and Brad Robbins.
The guys that could play but are likely to redshirt are: Jaylen Kelly-Powell, Corey Malone-Hatcher, Jordan Anthony, Josh Ross, and Deron Irving-Bey.
And the guys I expect to redshirt unless something crazy happens: JaRaymond Hall, Benjamin St. Juste, Ben Mason, Chuck Filiaga, Dylan McCaffrey, Oliver Martin, O’Maury Samuels, Andrew Steuber, Brad Hawkins, Joel Honigford, Phillip Paea, Kwity Paye and Kurt Taylor.
Again, these are just my best guesses based on what I’ve heard/read and what the depth chart is looking like. At the end of the day, the best players will play at every position, regardless of age. The biggest takeaway from this recruiting class, and all of Harbaugh’s classes/future classes, is that he recruits athletes. He wants big players with athleticism that he can mold into football players. You can always teach someone to be a better football player or teach them a new position, you cannot teach 6’3″ 4.5 speed. Look for him to recruit as many athletes as he possibly can.
The key position battles going into the fall are first and foremost the offensive line. The best five players will play, but who will play at which spot is up in the air. I would say the only firm two spots are Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu at each guard spot. Mason Cole will either play center or left tackle depending on how well Patrick Kugler, Cesar Ruiz, and Juwan Bushell-Beatty perform in camp. After offensive line, I think that cornerback has the most intriguing position battle. They have a lot of athletic players, but experience is scarce. It would not shock me if cornerback was a revolving door each week to start the season. After those two positions though, it seems as though most of the other starting spots are solidified.
This is a quick depth chart I put together, and I’m sure that it’ll be wrong as soon as this post is eventually finished.
So that’s what I got for you. Hope that’s enough information, I cannot think of anything else to include at the moment. I would recommend picking up one of the MGoBlog Hail To the Victors Magazine though. Always a great read for Michigan fans.