Ranking Harbaugh's Commits, Pt. 2
It's not visible to the public, but one of the more important jobs when running a power program is building relationships with other coaches in the business - from the pros on down to the high school levels. Those relationships are important because they bear fruit five or ten years down the road, when a coach is in sudden need of an assistant or getting vexed by a certain scheme. In the college football world, relationships take life's curveballs and throw them right back. They provide sanity, and sometimes, a leg up.
Take Biff Poggi, for example. Biff is the father of Michigan's Henry Poggi, but he is also the head coach of the Gilman Greyhounds, a high school team out of Maryland. Gilman has produced a four-star recruit in every cycle since 2010 (including current Michigan commit Devery Hamilton), so a lot of Division-I coaches come knocking on Biff's door to make a good impression.
When Randy Edsall was hired to run Maryland's program, Poggi knew exactly what the Terps were getting. He had built up a relationship with Edsall since his days in Connecticut, and soon, Poggi was recommending players to play for him.
"He's got two guys in a year and a half, and it looks like he's going to get a lot more," Poggi said back in 2012. "We have really, really good young players in our program. Now, when we talk to our players and their families, we start with Maryland. It's our state school, and we really trust the coach, and it's a great education. There's some pretty good football being played at the top level in Maryland. I know Randy wants to keep those kids."
For coaches, it's often a matter of lining up philosophies. Poggi makes sure his players play hard, no matter what else they do; there is always a roster spot for someone who puts in the work. Other lessons are built on religion, diversity, and a humble appreciation. Also, Gilman is a school that balances elite academics and big-time athletics. Many alums tend to go on to produce big things, and many of his former players point back to Biff Poggi, in particular, as a reason for their success. Playing for him, they say, helped to forge the foundation of their approach.
"Playing for Coach Poggi was an incredible experience," said Henry Russell, a Naval Officer and Iraq War veteran who is now an assistant at Gilman. "The life lessons I learned and how to be a man and how to be a leader that I learned from Coach Poggi, I took with me to the Academy and then overseas in combat. Just the way Coach Poggi treated his players that played for him, that's how I tried to treat the sailors underneath me. I was kind of fortunate to have a great mentor. In trying times over there, I definitely leaned on lessons and his leadership style, and it helped out."
Now that Jim Harbaugh is coaching Henry Poggi and recruiting Devery Hamilton, Biff has had a good chance to see Harbaugh up close. If he is impressed with the work Harbaugh is doing, Michigan will find an easier time recruiting Maryland players in future seasons. It may have been overstated that Harbaugh is "giving away scholarships" to two-star players, but it's true that any scholarship, and any time put in, helps build a bridge back to Michigan. The first six months are the hard part. The real fruit will come later.
15. Sean McKeon (Rivals: 5.4) Tight End - 2016
Let's just start with the tape, shall we? This should be pretty self-explanatory.
The kid is terrific on film. There's the three shed tackles on the very first play, the overall athleticism on the next two plays, and various grabs ranging from shoestring catches to bombs down the field. He has balance, thickness, toughness and athleticism. Jim Harbaugh grabbed a steal of a two-star recruit here, and that will be a theme going through the rest of this list.
16. Dytarious Johnson (Rivals: 5.3) Linebacker - 2016
Johnson is a smooth, athletic linebacker prospect with great speed and good instincts. Rivals has Dytarious listed at 6'0", 215 right now, and he moves well enough to be a 'space' linebacker in the mold of Darron Lee. In theory, if he handled extra weight well, he could be a solid 235 and still keep his mobility, but given that Michigan has pledges from a couple run-thumping interior linebackers (David Reese and Dele Harding, a four-star 2016 commit who pledged to Brady Hoke), I think Johnson is being looked at as a Darron Lee-type havoc.
The odds are in his favor. For him to do that, though, he will need to improve his play diagnosis. I'm not very concerned about it, but that's an area to address.
17. Nolan Ulizio (Rivals: 5.3) Offensive Line - 2015
Let's get this out of the way: Ulizio is not a two-star recruit. He's somebody who slipped through the cracks, as recruits can sometimes do (even the 6'5", 293-pound ones). Ulizio is an interesting case because he was preferred by the coaching staff over a couple more highly ranked options, David Moorman (6'5", 291 pounds, Rivals 5.7) and Sam Madden (6'7", 328 pounds, Rivals 5.7) - both of whom showed interest in the Wolverines.
This, then, is a chance to look at what the staff is aiming for in their scouting. Madden has Wisconsin amounts of size and Moorman has particularly nice agility, but Ulizio stands out in his upper-body strength. Whereas the other two get by on being big and, thus, pretty strong, Ulizio packs an extra bit of juice in his upper body that allows him to get defenders off their balance and "on skates." And, because he can do this, he doesn't get caught 'leaning in' to other players to make them move. Plus, just like when a defensive end is surprisingly strong for their weight, this bodes well for what Ulizio could turn into as he packs on more muscle.
But Harbaugh is not really sacrificing the above-average footwork displayed by the other two, either. Ulizio can move well for a big man, either in space or laterally. That won't be very important, however, if Ulizio turns into a center prospect, which might be in the cards.
18. Reuben Jones (Rivals: 5.7) Defensive End - 2016
Jones is listed at 6'4", 225, but he looks thicker than that on his film. Reuben isn't fast enough to handle much work at linebacker, but he hustles plays down and works hard. If he's asked to attack the quarterback or stop the run, then Jones brings a lot to the table. Up on the line, he is able to bull-rush effectively and finds a way to blow some plays up. And while no one will confuse him for a true pass-rushing specialist, he does have a knack for getting open in the backfield. If he grows his understanding of the game, and doesn't get himself out of position, he could turn into a great run-stopper and effective pass-rusher at the next level.
19. Karan Higdon (Rivals: 5.7) Running Back - 2015
Higdon is a nice all-around prospect - a little slow, maybe, and a little small, but a really nice prospect. If these were grades, I might have been more generous if this was a commitment for Iowa, since it seems like he could step out of a weight room in a couple years and still carry the same shake and bake that Iowa's offense has been missing. So, Iowa loses one of its better prospects, and Michigan gets a security blanket.
I say 'security blanket,' but Higdon will have his shot at being a Big Ten starter. If he works hard, develops his game, and if some of that added muscle speeds him up rather than slows him down (which can happen), then Higdon could be Michigan's starter. He's very quick, great at changing direction, and has a good set of instincts. He'll check out of gaps at the right time, always keeps his needle pointed north, and will break a play outside to get more yardage (like Melvin Gordon, in that sense). He's comfortable burying his shoulder into a defender, and has some pop when he does so. And he plays with some recklessness.
20. Grant Perry (Rivals: 5.6) Wide Receiver - 2015
Perry has a good game. He's a 'Harbaugh commit' in the sense that, whatever speed and strength he is blessed with, he uses well. He competes and wins the little battles because he's conscious of what it takes to succeed. It's clear that he's comfortable on a football field, and scraps to get the best result out of any play.
And, while Perry isn't blessed with the most height (6'0", 183), he does have working speed for a slot receiver. No one will mistake him for De'Anthony Thomas, but he's thick enough and strong enough to hold up against brutal hits; he probably won't put the ball on the turf. His hands seem very good, as well.
21. David Reese (Rivals: 5.7) Linebacker, Fullback - 2016
David Reese is easy to like. He's a throwback Big Ten linebacker, an explosive, hard-hitting enforcer on the inside, and an effort guy whose hard work is contagious. Praise such as "constantly working to elevate his game," "always gives 100%," and "the tenacity you like inside the box" is often found in scouting reports of him.
Recently, Reese has been looked at as a candidate to de-commit from the Wolverines, due to his preference to play linebacker and the lack of a Michigan commitment from his friend and teammate, Desmond Fitzpatrick. But Jim Harbaugh has reportedly promised Reese that he will have a chance to compete at linebacker in addition to his spot at fullback, which was apparently good enough to quell any concerns about a possible exit.
The biggest issue facing Reese in his quest to be a starting Michigan linebacker will be that lack of speed. I'm not sure this is something he can ever fix, but the staff can hide it somewhat in their defense. He really is a terrific run-stopper, and he'll be able to bring that thump with him to the fullback spot. Anyway, it'll be something to keep an eye on going forward.
22. Antwaine Richardson (Rivals: 5.5) Defensive Back - 2016
Antwaine is one of those guys where, if he ends up succeeding in a big way, part of your brain just knew it was coming. The speed isn't elite, his hips aren't as fluid as elite prospects, and it takes a tiny extra moment for him to change direction. But he mitigates this with stifling press coverage, getting his hands on guys and muscling them, and knowing intuitively how to handle every play. He's in good position because he sees a play coming and knows how to handle it. Balance is very good. He is physical for someone under 170 pounds, and ... basically, this guy just competes. He does a good job. He's smart, works hard, and gets the job done.
23. Devin Gil (Rivals: 5.5) Safety - 2016
Gil, like several other DB commits under Harbaugh, has some great instincts when sniffing out plays. He gets a lot of interceptions and knows where he needs to be, and he's very physical when taking on blocks. Others have said he's slow enough to consider moving him up to linebacker (right now, he's 6'0", 204), but I like his speed. He does have experience scraping in the box, so he could certainly try to be a linebacker and do very well. But that takes away some of his ability to create turnovers and terrorize the skill players.
24. Josh Metellus (Rivals: 5.4) Safety - 2016
It's been said that Metellus and Gil were offered in the hope of swaying four-star linebacker Devin Bush. But honestly, I like both of these prospects regardless, and they fit the mold of what Harbaugh has brought in. Metellus is physical, unafraid to mix it up, and cleans up a lot of plays. His best traits, though, are his quick feet, smooth running and great eye-hand coordination. He can catch potential interceptions (something Harbaugh has seemed to emphasize), and take it the distance once he catches it.
Metellus is a little small for a potential safety (he's listed at 6'0", 195, but doesn't look that big), and yet that's probably his position at the next level. He doesn't show a lot of tight coverage, but rather the ability to track and stop the ball. He'd probably be a free safety at the next level.
25. Benjamin St-Juste (Rivals: 5.5) Cornerback - 2016
Film of Benjamin is definitely sparse, but there is some recent camp footage that shows great footwork, a very long frame and good reaction time. Harbaugh has shown that he wants instinctive play-makers who understand route trees, but in St-Juste and Washington he is going a slightly different direction - blankets who could prevent a ball from being thrown their way. St-Juste is not without flaws - his spatial awareness is not the best and he needs to learn to look back at the quarterback more (without losing his man). He is a raw prospect would could turn out to be a good player in a couple years. He will also have the 2015 season to continue preparing for college ball.
26. Keith Washington (Rivals: 5.7) Cornerback - 2015
Washington was a quarterback for his Prattville, Alabama football team, where he also played defensive back. The experience running an offense will probably help him adjust to corner, but as it stands right now he needs to refine his technique and get comfortable at the position.
Washington is very lanky at 6'2", 175, while the other main corner prospects under Harbaugh have been 6'3", 185 (St-Juste) and 6'0", 168 (Richardson). The height, obviously, is a plus, and so is his speed. He seems to have a lot of confidence, which is good for the corner position. Still, there's a lot of work ahead of him. He needs to get comfortable defending another athlete, while also learning some more instincts as a defender. He'll have to add a bit of muscle as well.
27. Carter Dunaway (Rivals: 5.5) Tight End - 2017
Carter Dunaway was unranked by all four services when he committed to Coach Harbaugh; that makes sense, since he was a sophomore back-up to a pair of seniors for Brother Rice and caught one pass all season long. Funnily enough, since he committed he is now a three-star tight end according to Rivals and 247.
There's not very much to go on here. Dunaway will likely play quite a bit in his junior year, so fans will know soon enough what they're getting. I'm sure Harbaugh is offering Carter in part based on his size (6'6", 230 as a sophomore) and also on his intelligence (he was looking at several Ivy League schools). Obviously he felt comfortable with Carter's work ethic and other intangibles, as well. If he does blow up on the recruiting scene, Carter is almost certainly a lock to stay committed to the Wolverines; after all, his older brother is a preferred walk-on, and his dad played for Michigan under Bo Schembechler.
If he doesn't work or continue to develop, Michigan can back out at a later time. But this is a marriage with a decent chance of working out. Age matters in high school even more than it does in college; there's always a lot of growth to be had from 14 to 18, and in many cases there are leaps and bounds between junior and senior year of high school. Worries that Carter hasn't built much of a resume by his sophomore year are, honestly, rather silly. The fact that Carter is a tight end prospect also mitigates some of that concern. Assuming Carter continues to grow (in any number of different ways), he could become a great prospect. But it's too far away to know very much more than that.
28. Rashad Weaver (Rivals: 5.4) Defensive Line, Tight End - 2016
I have to wonder what the staff is grooming Weaver for. He still has a senior year of high school to complete, and has lots of size at 6'5", 245. On the defensive line, he does a very good job of getting his hands up to deflect passes.
But this is one case where I don't see much to support enthusiasm. His tackling technique is poor, and he doesn't show anything 'extra' in his speed or strength. I'm hoping his body can handle the weight necessary to be an interior lineman, but he could also succeed as a blocking tight end. We'll see.
Hitting the Links Saw It Coming
Whose Touches Will Braxton Take?
If you were in Tibet for much of the last week, you may have missed that Braxton Miller officially announced a switch to wide receiver. Urban Meyer was of course trying to keep it quiet, but this will be a difficult offense to contend with anyway. (Look out for that double pass, safeties.)
Breaking Down J.T. Barrett vs. Cardale Jones
I think what Urban Meyer is going to do is use a quarterback platoon. Jones has reportedly done a great job of improving his accuracy and shoring up other weaknesses, and Urban Meyer will want to take advantage of his inside running ability at least some of the time. I think J.T. Barrett is a better all-around quarterback, who showed a terrific knowledge of the playbook during his record-setting campaign last year, and he's better than Cardale at the read option game.
Meyer will be able to take advantage of both skill sets, challenging defenses to prepare for an absurd amount of things while allowing his players to perfect their own game. It will also mitigate the health concerns caused by quarterback runs, since Meyer can split the carries between the two QBs.
And, all of these guys have shown the willingness to sacrifice for team success. Last year's Buckeyes had the most plays of any Buckeye offense in history, and that may go up again this year. More snaps means more offensive players are happy. I expect that Meyer will again try to limit the carries by Ezekiel Elliott in the early part of the season, using him as an ace in the hole and protecting him from wear and tear. The wide receivers and back-up running backs will get some early reps to develop their game.
Speaking of which, here are the Buckeyes' first six games: on the road against Virginia Tech, home games against Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan, then a road trip to take on Indiana and a home affair with Maryland. This will potentially come back to hurt them later, as they end with back-to-back games against Michigan State and Michigan. At least, Mark Dantonio will have a season to prepare and then D.J. Durkin will have some great Michigan State film to break down.
Ohio State has built its defense on five-star talent along the defensive line, and that continues with the younger Bosa. The 2016 class also features three other four-star D-linemen, bolstering the 2015 class which featured two.
Also, 123 days. Get working, guys.
Five Takeaways From Friday Night Lights
Oh hey, what happens when a blonde moves from Ann Arbor to Columbus? Both cities get smarter.
Delton Williams To Return To Michigan State
He will do so without a scholarship, and there is also a multi-game suspension coming.
Wisconsin Running Back Rejected By Admissions
Jordan Stevenson has since been courted by a number of schools, but he is reportedly down to Nebraska or Alabama. He prefers the Huskers; his mom likes the Tide.
Big Ten Flirted With Adding Texas A&M, Kansas, ISU, Oklahoma
Oklahoma has a home-and-home set up with Nebraska on the horizon, but rematches between Kansas-Missouri and Texas-Texas A&M are nowhere in sight.
Explaining Pat Fitzgerald's Loans
This was a great piece by Inside NU, who did some digging and came up with answers over Pat Fitzgerald's unusual contract with NU.
This is a retrospective look at where Rutgers fits in to college football, and also looks around at the rest of the Big Ten.
Five Best Players In Rutgers' History
From 2005-08, Rutgers fielded the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver that would become the all-time leader in their respective yardage categories. Ray Rice has 58% more rushing yards than the second-most successful running back in Knights' history.
Phair is the biggest X-factor for Illinois this year, outside of Wes Lunt. If he is excellent, Illinois will reach another level. If he is not up to par, however, Illinois will struggle with the Big Ten's elite rushing attacks.
TCR sees a bowl bid in the future for Illinois.
SI tours the Big 12 and hands out some "Most" awards.
As a casual fan, I didn't fully realize how unbelievable football success was, when it required so much work in a field where others worked just as hard. Football really challenges every aspect of a player, and in many ways, this is made doubly so at the college level. Classes are designed to challenge students in a range of different subject areas, while life outside of class is supposed to be similarly memorable and transformational. People can only change so much so fast, and they can only excel at so many things. It's not surprising, therefore, that the elite college football players will struggle more in academics and have fewer opportunities to join clubs, hang out, or do other normal things.
So it's commendable - in fact, it's incredible - when guys like Cardale Jones and Michael Thomas produce elite results on the football field, do well in class and also comment on larger social issues. You would be hard-pressed to find better, harder-working people, and yet a small but vocal number of fans will attack them for it. These 'fans' root for them to succeed, but only in one way where it suits them. It's unbelievably ridiculous and asinine. If you follow someone on Twitter, expect their opinions.
It didn't fix it, however.
Colin Cowherd Says Some Painfully Dumb Things
If the Cardinal struggle in Kevin Hogan's senior year, something tells me that 2016 and beyond will be better. Ryan Burns (Rivals 5.9) and Keller Chryst (Rivals 6.0) will be competing for starting time, and both are even bigger than Hogan's 6'4", 225.
Su'a Cravens has been an instant success, while Cody Kessler goes under the radar.
A lot of wild cards are in the Pac-12 this year - and a lot of potentially elite teams.
Division Rankings: Big Ten East In 5th
We haven't proven ourselves yet; that ranking will go up.
Ivy League Will Have Greater Prominence On NBCSN
SI's and ESPN's struggles have been mentioned before, and the biggest reason has been that there's more competition now. NBC is throwing its hat further into the ring, with Ivy League football on its sports channel on Friday nights in addition to Notre Dame football on its main channel.