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Thursday Morning Brews (7/23/15)

Talking more recruiting, plus a little bit of chatter about Week 1.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Can Wolverines Recruit Michigan Again?

"The best players in Michigan play at Michigan." It feels good, but for a while now, this hasn't been the case. The 2015 cycle's best player, Mike Weber, signed with Ohio State, and only two of the top ten players pledged to UM. In 2014, Malik McDowell and Damon Webb went to Michigan's rivals, and UM managed only three commitments out of the top ten in the state.

In 2012 and 2013, coming off the most successful part of Hoke's tenure, the Wolverines did manage to keep most of the state's best players - including Devin Funchess, Jourdan Lewis, Ben Braden, James Ross III and Shane Morris - but those were the only two years in the past decade that Michigan managed to grab half of its state's top players. Not only that, the last time the #1 player in the state came to Michigan was Will Campbell in 2009.

All due respect to the strategies of dipping into Ohio and making a name nationally, but that has to change - especially with the 2017 cycle coming up, which has six four-star recruits already including Donovan Peoples-Jones. Michigan has tried to reaffirm its roots in the state with the Youth Impact Program (something that's paid immediate dividends off the field), and it has also put Tyrone Wheatley as a primary recruiter for the state.

Wheatley is a great choice to start changing in-state recruiting. To start, one of his mantras is loyalty. After his playing days, he finished up his degree at Michigan and volunteered for the football program. Then, he worked as a high school head coach for one season, taking his alma mater - which had been winless the year before - and made them 9-2. Later he would work at nearby Eastern Michigan, where he reportedly said, "I got two deals at once," because he could stay close to Ann Arbor. And as he rose up the ranks, coaching at Syracuse, he told MLive that "Syracuse is a great opportunity.... [but] Michigan is home."

He also has an understanding about what it means to be a Michigan Man. In 2010, when asked about Rich Rodriguez, he had this to say: "Let me put it this way, and I'm going to get a little 'political' here: Even if a guy comes in and goes undefeated, wins the Rose Bowl, even a national championship, that doesn't make him a Michigan Man. I can't give that name away so easily.

"I don't care if you were brought in from the outside, unless you've been there (Ann Arbor) a certain amount of time, you can't be a Michigan Man."

The idea that people grow and train at Michigan, years before they reach the top of their field, the idea that Michigan gives them those tools and a sense of loyalty along with it - Tyrone knows about all of that well. He's been living it his whole life, ever since he was born - in Michigan.

Can 2015 Class Make Immediate Impact?

Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan's recruiting has amped up to new levels. The staff has put unprecedented levels of energy into finding talent across the country, and they've added more people to the athletic department to help with a larger workload for the coaches.

And, under Harbaugh, Michigan has also changed its recruiting philosophy in some subtle but important ways. Hoke's Michigan was a little bit like Ferentz's Iowa - build up players over several seasons, emphasize seniority, and do things the right way. It was restrictive enough that, in Hoke's last season, the players were adopting the slogan, "If you're good enough, you're old enough." Hoke could lead a veteran team, and he had good values to teach football players. But neither of those qualities helped him win the big games or revive a sinking ship.

Harbaugh's approach has been more pragmatic. Competition rules the day, just as it wins football games, and just as it hones players for the big moments. To that end, his recruiting approach has taken a more visceral tone. He has aimed for 'power programs,' offering teammates the chance to come play with each other again in college. He's gone down south and offered players a shot at getting noticed, for the first time, by a big school. He's let the 2016 class fill up quickly, because he expects attrition and poaching from other schools, and he demands that his players keep working to keep their spot.

With more players coming through Ann Arbor, the coaches have more chances to teach, scout, and plug weaknesses. They can keep around players who've carved out a key role, and move on quickly when a player doesn't work or develop. SEC schools have done this to the max, while others have relied on experience to build winning squads out of cohesiveness and football IQ. Harbaugh seems to be looking for a mix of both - smart players who can work in D.J. Durkin's advanced systems right away, but who also gel as a team and can develop.

Those are the expectations. That seems to be the plan. Whether that starts in 2015, though, is less certain. After 27 additions in 2013 and 16 more in 2014, the combined Hoke-Harbaugh class of 2015 was only fourteen bodies. Not only that, it comes after a year when 13 freshmen redshirted in 2014, almost the entire class. In the early going, spots will be tough to find on special teams, let alone actually starting. Competition is already there, and experience is already prevalent on the team, as well. Basically, the 2015 class might yet make an impact, but it doesn't need to make an impact.

So whose talent is so incredible that they can't be kept off the field? Zach Gentry comes to mind, and at a position of need, no less. Brian Cole showed flashes of incredible speed in high school, though he didn't play with effort and intensity often enough. Now, he's reportedly been struggling to excel in college as he rounds out his game.

Ty Wheatley, Jr. is another candidate to see a lot of playing time. He can split time at defensive end or tight end, but the coaching staff wants him to play on offense, where he brings college-ready toughness in the trenches and an athletic body downfield. He gives Michigan another contributor at the position to go along with a couple other lanky, muscular players, Jake Butt and Ian Bunting. Bunting received praised in spring ball for his catching abilities and incredible length, so he's likely in line for some playing time coming out of his redshirt season.

A surprise candidate, who will tell us a lot about Harbaugh's vision going forward, will be Reuben Jones. The first player to commit under Harbaugh, Reuben has largely flown under the radar since, but he's in a unique and interesting position. For one, his 6'4" frame looks college-ready, despite being listed at 225 pounds. He has a nice blend of pass-rushing skills and strength, and he has the right mindset.

"Sometimes his desire to be challenged drove me crazy as a football coach. There were some classes that he was taking and he was so locked into his honors classes and AP courses that he'd stay up to 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning to take care of homework and deal with everything in his life. Some of the AP classes were really kicking his butt but he would never get out of them.

"We talked to his mom and he was adamant that he was going to stay in those classes. Once his senior year rolled around he got out of the AP classes and hung in there with the honors classes to make it a little easier on him. His big thing is that he just loves a challenge. He wants to be challenged in everything he does. You can't tell Reuben that he can't do something. He will work hard enough to make sure to show you that he can do it."

Reuben also walks into a defense that's trying to switch to a different look around the edges of their front seven - and, being beefy enough to take on blocks, but fast enough to do some damage, Reuben fits that bill. If Harbaugh is as passionate as he seems about getting a steady number of players on the field early, and if Durkin does indeed toy around with the front seven, then Jones will be a candidate to bolster the linebacking corps.

Still, in general it's hard to see too many new faces coming in and holding key roles on such a veteran team. Tyree Kinnel is a great talent, but he's looking up at Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas as the back-ups at safety. Keith Washington will need to adjust to playing corner after spending much of his high school career at quarterback. Grant Perry is a fun slot receiver with a "baller" mentality that will help him hang in with taller, faster guys, but he's also a little green. Karan Higdon and Shelton Johnson will have to hit the weight room pretty hard.

It will be interesting to see what happens, both with positions and development. If this staff is indeed better than Hoke's regime at developing guys, as much as half this class could force its way onto the field in Year 1. That would be a great harbinger of things to come.

Hitting the Links Is Unrelated to Elephants

Ohio State Cleaning Up In 2017 Cycle

128 days. Also, fall camp opens in about two weeks.

Mailbag: Kentucky's Chances Against Florida, More

Stewart Mandel talks about a Pac-12 quarterback who's going under the radar, Fitz's tenure at Northwestern and the longest losing streak in the SEC.

Tennessee, Georgia Tech Will Open 2017 Season

A couple things. The Cowboys Classic (or whatever they're calling it these days) has competition now that the Falcons' stadium is being built, giving a high-tech venue (more on that in a second) in a football-crazy state. Also, this is something Stewart Mandel touched upon in his Mailbag. In the olden days, teams would decide the next year's schedules in the off-season, so a new coach would be able to decide who he'd want to play. Now, games are usually decided a decade in advance, making scheduling headlines (like this) less exciting.

Oh, and the cool gadgets in the New Atlanta Stadium: a 360º video board, retractable roof that opens up like a flower but still lets in light when closed, and a bar as long as the field with a good view.

With coverage and interest at all-time highs, these will be some of the off-season headlines. At least with Malzahn, I have to give his grumpiness a pass. His Auburn Tigers were the only team in the country last year to lose to two different opponents that had gotten blown out 59-0. Alabama blew out Texas A&M by that score before the Aggies handled Auburn in Jordan-Hare, and then Wisconsin picked themselves up off the mat with Auburn's help in their bowl game - in Florida, which should have been close to home-field advantage for Malzahn. If I were him, I'd be pretty grumpy too.

Adidas Releases Nebraska Alternate Uniforms

Reaction is mixed.

Wisconsin's Running Backs Preview | Tight Ends

I am confident Dare Ogunbowale will be a good player. So, news that he is competing hard for the back-up role with Taiwan Deal should be a little comforting for Wisconsin fans. Also, Troy Fumagalli is a nice player.

Breaking Down Minnesota's Defense

This was a great piece by Ian Boyd. A key take-away: Kill needs to find more athleticism on the DL to maximize what he's doing in the back seven. With the responsibilities and opportunities he gives to his defensive players, I have to assume recruiting on that side is pretty tantalizing.

Coverage Details For Big Ten Media Days

The event will probably get more national attention this year, and the format is getting tweaked just in time.

FOX Changes Color Analyst For Michigan-Utah

The Thursday debut for Harbaugh will still be called by the illustrious Gus Johnson, but his partner will not be Charles Davis any more. Instead, Joel Klatt will fill in.

Bill Simmons Headed To HBO

ESPN loses Bill Simmons, then Colin Cowherd, then word comes out that they dropped 3.2 million subscribers in the last year. Keith Olbermann, also, departed the network.

ESPN is now going through something that has plagued SI in recent times, as they have had a hard time holding onto faces like Stewart Mandel, Rick Reilly, or Jimmy Traina. This January, SI fired all of its photographers, which is sad considering its rich history of iconic photography. Losing talent is always harder to replace than it seems, which bodes poorly for a network long considered "the king."

Ray Watts Gets Ambitious

UAB football is back, and the man who tried to kill it is following a pretty good adage, 'go big or go home.'

Details Of Pat Fitzgerald's Contract

This is strange for a couple reasons. For one, I don't understand why Northwestern released their tax information, since they're not obligated to do so as a private university. Second, I've never heard of a coach getting loans from their university before. Ever.

SB Nation's Utah Preview | ...Sort Of Breaks Down Michigan-Utah

I hesitate to say their change in coordinators will be a weakness, since they promoted internally on offense and found a really great emergency option in John Pease, a former NFL defensive coordinator who retired from the game in 2010. It might turn out to be, though.

My favorite match-up of this game is the Wolverines' run defense against Devontae Booker. The Wolverines will face great runners (one of them a QB) in three of the four non-conference games, plus most of the Big Ten slate. If Michigan is to be Heisman-crushing, bone-crushing, and fun-crushing Michigan again, stopping Booker in Week 1 will be a great start.