Today we we'll take a look at what 2012 holds in store for a couple of linebackers, Brandin Hawthorne and Antonio Poole. Hawthorne, a senior, and Poole, a redshirt freshman, naturally carry very different expectations going into the upcoming season. Hawthorne, a 2009 recruit, seemed to be the perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's 3-3-5, which, in
non-Communist defensive formation PAWWLLLL traditional 4-3 defense would go by the dreaded "tweener" descriptor (Hawthorne is listed at 6'0'' 214). Also, Hawthorne had that whole "being from Pahokee" thing going for him--joining Martavious Odoms, Richard Ash, and Vincent Smith--a concept which inspired hysteria very nearly on par with what went down when people heard Mike Barwis talk.*
In his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, Hawthorne spent most of his time doing the yeoman's work of a special teamer. It was not until last season that he really got an opportunity to make his mark. Early on in the season, he was a productive, if still extremely undersized, Big Ten linebacker. If you will all remember, after the Hopkins fumble/Denard touchdown, Hawthorne had arguably the best series of his career to date:
A nice display of coverage skills on first down and a key TFL on third down allowed Michigan to force the Irish to go three and out, which helped keep the momentum on Michigan's side in addition to winning the field position game. Ever since then, Hawthorne's M.O. has been the "undersized guy that can zip and slash his way through the wash en route to TFLs." Unfortunately, the other side of the coin reared its head as the season went on; once blockers latched on to Hawthorne, it was almost as if the playing surface had magically transformed into ice.
Recruiting Highlights, General Hype, and Rampant Extrapolation
So, what does this all mean for 2012? I already mentioned Poole's recruiting rantings, but as far as his offer sheet goes...Michigan was by far his best option. He also held offers from Pitt, Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, Cincinatti, and Syracuse, in addition to B1G schools Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue. This article from MaxPreps also notes that a Michigan State offer came his way. Winton Woods, Poole's high school, plays in Ohio's Division II (i.e. Ohio's 2nd-largest division vis-a-vis student population size), the same division as Trotwood-Madison. Winton Woods won state in 2009 and was one of the top Division II teams in 2010 before falling back down to earth in 2011, so it isn't as if WW is some unknown, un-scouted school. Everybody knew who Poole was, and he was considered one of the top players in the state. His offer list was just about the perfect reflection of the solid to solid+ prospect that he probably was/is.
It's almost impossible to know how much a given player weighs at any time, but MGoBlue currently lists him at 212, which I hope is either inaccurate or yet to be updated because that is just about what Poole came in weighing. Once guys like Brandon Herron, Mike Jones, and Hawthorne saw time before Desmond Morgan eventually locked down the WLB, it was pretty obvious that the coaches didn't feel comfortable burning a redshirt in order to get a safety-sized linebacker out on the field.
Once you get past the fact that he needs to put on some weight, Poole's speed and overall athleticism make him seem like a guy that will incubate for a while before emerging as a serious contender for the starting spot by his junior/senior year. I'm not sure if this is entirely accurate, but he reminds me of what Stevie Brown would look like if he played on the weak side instead of the strong side (as he did in 2009). Either way, it does not appear that he's in for a whole lot of playing time this year; Morgan seems to at least nominally have the rights to the starting role, Joe Bolden will be a serious challenger, and Brandin Hawthorne is a senior with some meaningful game experience. I won't lie, the fact that Poole didn't seem to generate any fall camp rumblings last year might not necessarily mean much, but it's probably not a good thing. In any case, it indicates that Poole has a long, long way to go.
As for Hawthorne, he's a senior and there isn't much use in running through his recruiting profile in great detail. In short, he was a generic 3-star sort that was meant for a different system. A few years later, it's hard to truly remember what the expectations for Hawthorne were, but if I remember the early RR era, it was probably some combination of "AHH ANOTHER THREE STAR WHYYY" and "BUT BUT BARWIS WILL TURN HIM INTO BO JACKSON IT'S COOL GUYS." Luckily, we have MGoBlog "Hello" posts, which sort of serve as a snapshot in time with respect to recruit hype gauging:
One other note: though Hawthorne may be undersized in the realm of traditional run-stuffing linebacker sorts, one way in which teams are defending the spread is by stockpiling these OLB/S hybrids. Hawthorne sounds like that sort of player.
I don’t want to see Hawthorne on the field for at least two years, but I think he’s got a better shot at being a major contributor than your run-of-the-mill three star.
Well, there you go. He didn't play--other than ST duties--for two years and then started contributing last season (his MGoBlue profile credits him with 5 starts in 2011). If you could somehow give Hawthorne 15-20 pounds of good weight while also allowing him to keep his current skill set, you're looking at a guy that is an NFL draft pick without question. Of course, if I was 7'0'' tall then I would be playing in the NBA and not writing on this blog.
Hawthorne also made his signature play, slashing into the backfield to completely level Justice Hayes in the backfield. Forgetting the fact that Hawthorne was not playing with/against the 1s, he had a very productive day.
Poole, on the other hand, didn't do much of note (although he definitely was out there).
If you either gave Hawthorne 20 pounds or shaved a couple tenths of a second off of his 40 time, you'd have a killer WLB or strong safety. Alas, that is not how things work; at this point, Hawthorne is what he is, which sounds like an insult but really isn't. For a 3-star tweener sort, he did well to capitalize on a fairly weak linebacking two-deep last season, and should be in contention for playing time again this year. Brandon Herron has moved on, but Des Morgan returns, and Joe Bolden joins the fray at the WLB spot. Antonio Poole is there too, but seems to be nowhere near meaningful playing time.
For 2012, I'd like to see Poole get some playing time against the weaker opponents on the schedule, particularly since Hawthorne will be done after this season, and I'm not sure that Mike Jones will be brought back for a 5th year. Seeing as he is only a redshirt freshman, this is perfectly okay for his immediate future.
Hawthorne, on the other hand, is a much more intriguing piece of the 2012 Michigan linebacking corps. He's not quite a guy that can hold the starting role from the Alabama game through the bowl game, but he definitely needs to see the field in certain situations, IMO. In nickel formations, I like Hawthorne out there covering receivers and rushing the passer a little better than I do Morgan. Hawthorne probably doesn't start 5 games like he did last year, so my prediction is that he has a season somewhat similar to 2011: decent amount of playing time, some big plays (TFLs, an INT or two), and a nearly equal amount of plays in which he gets blown back by a guard/fullback.