The joys and pains associated with football recruiting are tough to describe because of the recruiting process' uniqueness. Success is met with short-lived celebrations that are based on naive, optimistic thoughts tied to the future. Failure often feels like that stab to the heart fans in Ohio felt when LeBron James left the worst state ever to take his talents to Miami. After days, weeks, months, and even years, recruits will stun fan bases by choosing institutions that the experts never saw coming.
In a way, Michigan saw this one coming. Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison and Michigan recruiting analysts across the Midwest mostly believed Da'Shawn Hand was destined for Ann Arbor, but the cloud of depression hovering over the college town disagreed. Losses have piled up, and the scariest man in the game today smelled blood in the water. There Michigan's coaching staff was, selling academic prestige and playing time as it flopped around in the ocean, blood creating red clouds in the water. Nick Saban doesn't miss that target.
Saban's bite hurts, and it makes Michigan fans wonder if the program is completely dead in the water. But Michigan's program isn't dead in the water, and its coaching staff isn't wavering in its attempts to bring it back to life. Right now, Greg Mattison and the rest of his defensive staff are putting a board of defensive ends together. They aren't slouching, complaining or wondering what could have been. They're wondering where they can find the next Brandon Graham when the next Brandon Graham already told them off.
Finding a replacement for Da'Shawn Hand isn't easy, and it's probably not even possible. Five-star defensive ends aren't simply replaced in a recruiting class, which means that Hoke and company will lower the bar to find help at defensive end. The goal is to find athletic ends who show flashes of being great pass rushers; Michigan's pass rush has been lacking for quite some time now, making defensive end a priority.
Merely hours after Hand spurned Michigan for Alabama, Jhonathon Williams received his official offer from the University of Michigan. The three-star prospect is long, very long, standing at 6'6" and possessing the length to keep the longest of tackles at bay. The problem is his weight: Williams is 230 pounds and stick-thin, so he'll need at least a year to put on muscle mass. Athleticism isn't an issue here, but strength definitely is.
Jhonny's senior highlights (Hudl; no embed) show a player who has great potential and a long way to go to reach that potential. Independent of his weight issue, Williams is very raw in terms of technique. Pad level is an obvious issue, and he doesn't flash many advanced rush techniques. He would also be a liability in the run game if he were to play in his freshman season, which looks unlikely.
Another option, albeit extremely unlikely, is Georgia end prospect Andrew Williams, who is a slightly shorter, slightly stronger version of Jhonathan. Pad level is less of an issue with Andrew, and he's definitely more explosive, hence his four-star rating. His highlights show a fiery, Greg Mattison type of defensive end prospect:
Mattison was on Williams for quite some time, but communications have since dropped off. I doubt the staff pulls this one off, and they might not ever attempt it.
In-state strong-side prospect Malik McDowell also remains uncommitted. McDowell is huge, measuring in at 6'7" and pushing the scales to 290 pounds, making him a possible three-tech somewhere down the line. Michigan wanted Da'Shawn Hand to play the weak side, which is dubbed the 'rush' end because it's expected to supply the lion's share of the defensive line's pass rush. McDowell doesn't fit that bill, but landing him will allow Greg Mattison to toy around with other lineman in his arsenal, thus softening the blow.
The options don't stop there. Michigan can put more emphasis on the position in the class of 2015, where it's already in great shape with five-star weak side end Jashon Cornell. Cornell is the only weak side defensive end to hold a Michigan offer in his class; Mattison and company have used this as a major selling point for months now. If an end doesn't jump on board in 2014, expect more offers to come out in 2015. Clelin Ferrell, Keisean Lucier-South and many others could all pop up with fresh offers from the Wolverines.
The weak side isn't even a huge weakness on the roster when you take a deep look. Da'Shawn Hand, had he chosen Michigan, would have played beside Mario Ojemudia, Taco Charlton and Lawrence Marshall. Ojemudia hasn't been the breakout player some expected him to be; he's likely to play behind Charlton for the majority of his reps following this season. Marshall is Ojemudia plus a touch more of length.
Taco Charlton fought his way into a poor lineup this year, so he has taken the first required step in showing that he's an elite prospect. He jumped over tackling dummies in high school and has the length needed to become a dominating terror, which should supply a small amount of hope for the future. I fully expect him to make a leap forward next year under the tutelage of Greg Mattison.
Overall, the position and defense will be fine without Da'Shawn Hand. Michigan's program as a whole will be fine. The Wolverines just need one of these young players and another unknown recruit to step up and get to the passer.