First things first, let me take the opportunity to plug the beefed-up football roster I put together this past week, which you can access from the ‘Library’ dropdown at the top of the page (unless there are some issues with the new format that SB Nation is trotting out). I wanted to have a better and more helpful display of the information provided in the football roster, and (I humbly feel like) this accomplishes that. Feel free to check it out and tell me what you think.
While putting that together, I also found some interesting things that seemed worthy of a little more discussion. So, let’s jump right into it:
This staff is going to great lengths to build depth.
Recruiting is a big draw. We all follow who gets scholarship offers, who visits campus and what they think about it, and then who commits and why. The big exception to this, though, is anyone who falls in the general category of preferred walk-ons. Walk-ons of any kind get about as much attention as the women’s basketball team.
Still, just like the staff draws up a plan to land elite players and bring in guys like Rashan Gary, there is a coordinated approach to finding and adding meaningful non-scholarship players. The amount of coverage for these zero- and two-star recruits is next to nothing, including from the recruiting services. But their value to a team is significantly greater than that.
Take, for example, Andrew Vastardis. Vastardis is an incoming freshman this year, and he happens to be a 6’3”, 305-pound offensive lineman with offers from Northwestern, Air Force, and Old Dominion. Instead of pursuing those offers or trying to pull a scholarship out of Boston College or Virginia, Andrew chose to walk on at Michigan.
The star gazer in me would point out that both Vastardis and fellow incoming freshman Tru Wilson are composite two-star recruits - not bad for a pair of walk-ons. But then, the scout in me would also point to some other intriguing, albeit unranked, players: 6’6” receiver Simeon Smith has a lot of potential as a tight end, and freshman safety Tyler Cochran is an under-the-radar stud. Combined scholarships for all these players: zero.
Then, there’s the fact that Harbaugh has brought in a graduate transfer fullback from Harvard (Michael Hirsch) and a nose tackle who spent the last two years at Wayne State (Salim Makki). At some point this season, you will undoubtedly hear about Hirsch and his harrowing tale back to the gridiron; it’s sure to inspire both the football players themselves and the fans.
Staying a little old-fashioned.
There are a few places where this staff is going the old-fashioned route with their roster building. You might know of it as the Iowa way: take non-descript college kids and throw them into a weight room for a couple years, find out what happens. Unsurprisingly, this staff has a lot of indistinguishable faces at fullback and tight end, two positions where strength and conditioning can do a lot to help ‘manufacture’ or mask athleticism.
Furthermore, Harbaugh quietly brought in three offensive tackles in the 2016 class without using up one scholarship. (The aforementioned Vastardis, I should have mentioned, projects at guard, and maybe Carl Myers does too.) Carl Myers, Anthony Kay and Greg Robinson haven’t gotten a lot of attention, but they’re college-sized walk-ons (Kay, Robinson) or intriguing projects (Myers) and all have potential. If one of these guys puts in enough work, they can become a contributor somewhere.
Another position where Harbaugh seems to be building from the ground up, with strength and conditioning as much as recruiting, is at safety. Depth at that position is noticeably thin (or perilously thin, depending on who you ask), with Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas both graduating after this season. However, it’s also a position with some interesting walk-on talent: Glasgow, Cochran, and Grodman if he puts in a metric ton of work.
Okay, let's talk about scholarship players.
One of Michigan’s two clear weaknesses - linebacker depth - seems to be fading away. Don Brown is happy with where the second team is at, and one look at the roster reaffirms it.
In what’s felt like no time at all, Devin Bush is now up to 232 pounds, and he should be able to hold his own physically against most college competition. Devin Gil, his teammate at Flanagan, is up to 230. Furbush (238), McCray (248), and Wroblewski (242) look like solid contributors.
Plus, Harbaugh has moved Wyatt Shallman over to linebacker after a forgettable performance at fullback in the spring game. Shallman has bounced around his whole career, but he’s still a former blue-chip prospect who weighs in at 6’3”, 242. Yes, inexperience is an issue, but you’re talking about a very solid third-team player at your disposal.
One player who’s lost muscle that maybe shouldn’t have is Channing Stribling, who fell six pounds to 175. Stribling remains a fascinating cover corner prospect, though the senior is not guaranteed a starting job while Jeremy Clark is still in town. There may be a platoon at the position if Stribling can handle pass coverage better while Clark is able to use his weight (he’s 31 pounds heavier than Stribling) effectively in the run game.
One parting, and fairly benign, thought: holy cow, this offense is getting big. Michigan could be starting a 243-pound quarterback, a pair of 230-pounders at running back, and fullbacks and tight ends that get up to 263 and 287. The offensive line now has four guys who are 325 pounds or more, and Grant Newsome is approaching that figure at 318. Size helps clean up a lot of mistakes, and it also carves out a lot of holes when you’re playing Rutgers.