Film Comp: Erik Swenson vs. Stephen Spanellis
Well, this has been an interesting recruiting week. Hell has frozen over, fans from around the country are dialed in on the tiniest details of what Harbaugh has said to recruits when, and Michigan is hated again. It'll take me a week to get used to it.
Dodging some of the larger issues regarding Michigan's recruiting and college recruiting in general, I wanted to take another look at the film and see where Michigan stands with its Swenson-for-Spanellis swap. After all, the offensive line has been one of my talking points for a while, far from a glamorous position unit but one that builds winning football. Also, I wanted to throw in my two cents on Erik Swenson's senior film. Here we go.
Erik Swenson (6'7", 285)
I hadn't gone through it with a fine-tooth comb, but comments throwing shade at Erik Swenson's senior film definitely took me by surprise. Here are the highlights from his senior year:
I'll cut to the chase: there's a lot of good stuff here. He's a massive guy, has a nice shuffle and light feet, and seems in tune with what what the offense needs from him. There is no higher mark of an offensive lineman than one who (to use a tired metaphor) acts like a coach in a polished 300-pound body, always making the right blocks and doing the right things given the situation. Linemen like that make life really easy for an offense, and Swenson has that.
On the flip side, Swenson's junior film does look a little better, and that's understandably disconcerting. It also looks like Swenson might have lost a little strength from his junior to senior year, and that's a no-no. For situations like this, you'd rely on the coaching staff to make a judgment about the kid's work ethic and motivation. Also, the Michigan staff will have had more information, and more film, than we currently have to work with. It's easy enough to piece together five minutes of highlights, and especially easy for someone as talented as Swenson. But what about the whole rest of the season? Tough to say.
Stephen Spanellis (6'5", 330)
Once again, I'll cut to the chase: Spanellis has pretty good feet, but lacks the hips to be a successful tackle prospect. I was trying to talk myself into maybe him being a right tackle with a tight end at his side (hey, Harbaugh loves tight ends, they'll be there all the time), but the coaches seemed to confirm what I was seeing, as he will strictly be an interior lineman at Michigan. Spanellis also has good balance, hustles hard, and is a load to handle when he gets to attack the man right across from him. He's also got a pretty good awareness, like Swenson, of what he can do to help a play succeed.
A couple of critiques, and they're not much for a 'mere' three-star recruit. He's big and strong, but not freakishly strong for a guy his size. So, he'll benefit from working with Kevin Tolbert over the next few years. Also, I think he'll be at his best when taking on other linemen; speedy guys will give him some problems (not exactly a surprise here), though he does try valiantly when he reaches the second level and does a pretty good job if he can square up his body. For the most part, I think Spanellis could turn into a guy who you can leave one-on-one against a nose tackle, rather than someone who pulls and gets out in space like the staff has done with Kyle Kalis. On the flip side there, though, he's a wide body who could wall off a lane for a charging Kareem Walker.
In the end, has Michigan taken a step back by switching Swenson for Spanellis? Just looking at the film, actually, no, not a whole lot. Spanellis will take a different role in Michigan's offense, but he's a pretty amazing pick-up for this staff given how late in the cycle we are and the fact that Spanellis was not one of our top choices. Given that Michigan took three linemen in 2015, they certainly couldn't afford to take only three in this cycle as well. Whatever the issues Michigan's staff had with Erik Swenson, they managed what could have been a disaster to the recruiting class very well on their end.
Hitting the Links Is Unsure
There was a rough minute for Michigan in the Broncos-Steelers game, when Fitz Toussaint (who looked really good overall) fumbled the ball for Pittsburgh and then a big run was called back because of a Michael Schofield hold. And I can't believe I'm rooting for Bradley Roby now.
Alright, pull up a chair, I'm going to talk first-person here for a minute. A few years ago, before the rape accusations with Brendan Gibbons became headline news, a friend I'd known for a while told me about the incident and how nobody in the media was covering it. I didn't believe him because of pure, pure naivete - 'somebody would be covering it,' was my reaction. So I didn't really take my friend seriously, and didn't really look into it. And I still think about that, and I think I tend to overreact now as opposed to under-reacting because of it.
I don't care what Florida State does. I mean, actually I do, quite a lot, but if doing things the right way means setting an example when a Michigan Man does something wrong, then I'm fine with that. You can't control the world, but you can run your family the right way. And I care a lot about Michigan doing things the right way. It is eye-opening to look at all the college football national champions of the last decade, and how much those coaches skirted and broke rules to get to that pinnacle. I believe in competition. But I believe in decorum.
What this means, I don't know. What Michigan is doing with its recruiting, I'm going to sit back and do more listening and thinking and watching than talking. But there's a discussion in all of this that matters, and it's a shame that petty trolls like Greenstein are hijacking what should be an intelligent conversation about doing things the right way in a competitive (or non-competitive) environment, and turning it into mud-slinging.
Rutgers opens next season at Washington, then has some home games against Howard and New Mexico before conference play starts (with Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan). If Rutgers makes a dent in 2016, it will be thanks to some improved offensive line play and a reliance on their running backs - the bread and butter stuff.
A three-star running back and a zero-star defensive end both committed to Wisconsin this week, and I'm a little more excited about the lineman. Vopal may be a 2017 guy, and a quiet, local guy to boot, but he's a big, athletic body that will fun to watch develop next year.
Meanwhile, the running back that committed, Sam Brodner, is Wisconsin's first running back commit in the 2016 class. With all respect in the world to Brodner, who could turn out to be a fine running back, and will certainly be a punishing load for opposing defenses, Wisconsin needs to step up its recruiting game from here on out. If there's one position Wisconsin should dominate, if there's one position where the Badgers should be able to swoop down into Louisiana or Florida and grab a 6'2", 200-pound speed demon, it's this one, after all the success of MG3, Montee Ball, and most recently with James "Sweet Feet" White carrying the New England Patriots' offense against Denver this past weekend.
Wisconsin backs have had a reputation of not performing in the NFL, but the Badgers can start to change that with some long-term thinking and high-effort recruiting. And if Brodner, this week's commit, makes it in the League, it'll be as a fullback. That's not good enough for a whole recruiting cycle.
In some other Wisconsin news, Paul Chryst's contract has been extended by Wisconsin's athletic board for another year, to 2021. I'm not extremely critical of the move or of Chryst, but I also think you'd need to surround Chryst with some great assistants and players for him to be really successful. Somebody has to help rev the engine, so to speak, and Wisconsin is stubbornly driving in the slow lane.
I'll have grades for the Big Ten West coaching changes on Thursday (it will be thrilling, to be sure), but this is an interesting read regardless.
Northwestern's done a very underrated job of scouting and grooming defensive linemen. The first-stringers won't blow you away, but the depth is some of the best in the Big Ten. Miller is a nice grab as well.
A couple other recruiting headlines: Maryland and Rutgers both got two-star tight ends this week - Noah Barnes for the Terps, and Korab Idrizi for the Knights - and both look like nice pick-ups. Credit to the Maryland staff for getting someone from the state of Alabama, and credit to Idrizi for looking really menacing in a dark room with red light.
Hmm. That's.... hmm.
Teams currently higher in the 2016 FB recruiting rankings: UAB, Iowa State, WMU, Georgia Southern.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 25, 2016
In some better news, Illinois also saw a string of commitments this past week: five in all. Illinois has now gotten eight commitments in the month of January, all but two of whom are two-star recruits. Let's do a speed-dating round, shall we?
Tight end Andrew Trainer is a big body (6'7", 235) with good hands, but his low-three-star rating feels right. Offensive lineman Darta Lee is fun to watch, but a major project as well (and might be a long snapper). Georgia DB Evan Jones is a nice, rangy athlete with long arms who will need to bulk up. Tymir Oliver (6'3", 265), a defensive end out of Philly, is like early Rocky - raw but has potential. And lastly, Christion Abercrombie is a really nice pick-up for them, a 6'2", 220-pound linebacker out of Georgia with speed and coverage skills. Overall, I'd give Bill Cubit's recent recruiting results a C or a C- grade. We'll see what goes on with the attrition side, and what stories emerge.
Ohio State fans were leery when Urban Meyer drifted away a little from dominating the state of Ohio to chasing more national recruits. That also opened the door for teams like Michigan State to grab guys like Shane Jones and Darian Hicks. Now, Michigan is reaching into New Jersey, Cali, Florida, Texas, Alabama, and anywhere else there are talented players interested in coming to Michigan. That's just what Michigan needs, but I'm sure Dantonio isn't complaining.
Ohio State got a pledge this week from Rodjay Burns, a cornerback prospect and a flip from Louisville who makes me feel slightly better about Jordan Fuller. I will say again that Fuller is an electric talent who was riding below the radar for most of this recruiting cycle, but for this next week, at least, Jordan will own the limelight.
Also, this is a pretty good resume.
This was a fun read about a Michigan Daily writer trying out for the football team this past weekend. Not much luck for the Jewish Jordan, unfortunately.
We'll close out with something relaxing. There's not much out there that's better than Tommy Armstrong when his game is clicking, so here are some of his best plays.