Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: LaMarr Woodley

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley had 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 pass break-up in a 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Honorable mention: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Patriots beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 35-7.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Richard Ash, Wolverine

Michigan's new defensive lineman.

Richard Ash, a defensive lineman from Pahokee High School (Pahokee, FL), has committed to Michigan. He had been committed to West Virginia University until he realized that he would have to live in West Virginia, where the women look like they came straight out of The Hills Have Eyes.

Ash is listed at 6'4" and 263 lbs. At that size, one would think that he would bulk up a little bit to play the 3-tech defensive tackle position recently occupied by Ryan Van Bergen. However, he has a bit of chub on him that will be whittled away by Mike Barwis, and 263 lbs. isn't a bad size for a strong-side defensive end. After all, that's about the same size as Brandon Graham.

Watching Ash's film, he's a good athlete who's going to require a lot of refinement. Although he's a 4-star recruit to Rivals, he's raw. He has good explosion off the ball, and he possesses good lateral quickness as well. There's also one play where he sniffs out a middle screen, tips the ball to himself, and runs the other way with it. Like I said, he's an athlete.

But when he finally earns playing time at Michigan, I'm sure we'll see a very different player. He has kind of an awkward stance where his butt sits lower than his shoulders, which forces him to stand straight up as soon as the ball is snapped. As a high schooler who is physically dominant, he can get away with belly-bumping offensive linemen out of his way, but he will get absolutely mauled if he plays like that in college. When he learns to play lower, he'll probably also learn to use his hands better to disengage from blockers. He tends to play "patty cake" with blockers and sometimes stops his feet on contact. In order to see the field at Michigan, he'll need to learn to go hard on every single play.

Ash will give Michigan four players from the same high school; he'll join sophomore running back Vincent Smith, sophomore linebacker Brandin Hawthorne, and junior slot receiver Martavious Odoms on the Michigan campus. The Wolverines have also offered Chris Dunkley, a 4-star slot receiver who transferred from Royal Palm Beach, FL, but Dunkley's recruitment probably won't be affected by Ash's commitment.

I expect Ash to end up at 5-tech defensive end, Brandon Graham's old position. I think he could easily transform his body into a 265 lb. strongside end, whereas I see Terry Talbott as a 3-tech DT. We could still see Michigan add a couple more defensive linemen in the 2010 class, particularly NT prospect Johnathan Hankins from Detroit and DE Clarence Murphy from Florida.

P.S. The picture appeared because it popped up when I did a Google image search for "Richard Ash." I'm not sure what Richard Ash has to do with Kim Jong-Il, but I'm guessing the FBI is checking into that right this very moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Chad Henne

Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, 22-21. Henne was 29-for-52 with 335 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.

Honorable mention: Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley had 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 quarterback hurries. Unfortunately for him, the Steelers lost to the Oakland Raiders, 27-24.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Recruiting Roundup: Tight Ends

Alex Smith wrinkles his nose as he watches Mike Barwis eat an opposing band member whole.

Michigan's coaches aren't particularly intent on getting a tight end in this class. Only three have been offered, and Michigan hasn't put up much of a fight with any of them except Alex Smith. Alex Smith is a bit wishy-washy. He committed to Cincinnati then sorta decommitted but not really and then really decommitted and, inexplicably, when it became clear that Cincinnati was turning into a powerhouse, he committed to North Carolina.

In 2009, many fans had a crazy notion that it would be the "Year of the Tight End" for Michigan. I had a spirited discussion with several Michigan fanatics that insisted Kevin Koger would approximate Missouri's Chase Coffman or Oklahoma's Jemaine Gresham. Instead, Koger ended the year with 16 catches for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those numbers aren't chump change, but they're certainly not indicative of Rich Rodriguez becoming enthralled with the tight end position.

Koger will be a junior in 2010 and his backup, Martell Webb, will be a senior. The only other tight end on the roster will be redshirt sophomore Brandon Moore, so I think the coaching staff will recruit tight ends more heavily in 2011.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Recruiting Roundup: Wide Receivers and Slot Receivers

Kenny Shaw

So far the most successfully recruited position group for the 2010 class has been wide receivers and slot receivers. In total, Michigan's coaches have secured six commitments from that group. Four of them are wideouts (Ricardo Miller, Jeremy Jackson, D.J. Williamson, and Jerald Robinson); the other two are slots (Drew Dileo and Tony Drake).

Five of those commitments came very early on in the process, and I have maintained since then that not all of these wide receivers would end up signing with Michigan in February. Whether someone is slow-played into decommitting, doesn't qualify, or chooses another school instead, not all six of these kids will end up wearing a Michigan uniform. Fitting with that theory, recent rumors suggest that slot receiver Tony Drake has yet to qualify for admission to the University of Michigan. Although cornerback Adrian Witty from the Class of 2009 did eventually qualify, he had to sit out the 2009 season; the coaches will surely try to avoid a similar situation in 2010.

The only two uncommitted receivers who have Michigan offers are Kenny Shaw (Orlando, FL) and Chris Dunkley (Pahokee, FL). Dunkley received an early offer from Michigan, but he never had much interest in coming to Ann Arbor. Shaw, on the other hand, is still being actively recruited by the Wolverines. His former teammate is none other than Ricardo Miller, who has perhaps been Michigan's best recruiter. I expect that Shaw will end up staying down south, but there's a possibility that he could take the spot of Drake (if the latter fails to qualify) or another wide receiver who might decommit.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ray Vinopal, Wolverine

Ray Vinopal
Cardinal Mooney (Youngstown, OH) safety Ray Vinopal celebrated today's state championship victory by announcing that he had committed to Michigan. He called the coaches on Wednesday to let them know about the commitment, but it was kept quiet so Vinopal could concentrate on beating DeSales High School (Columbus, OH) in the championship, which he and his teammates did with a 35-7 win.

Vinopal is a 5'10", 178 lb. high school free safety/running back who will most likely play strong safety in Greg Robinson's defense. (Remember, the strong safety for Robinson is usually the deep safety.) Cardinal Mooney is a traditional powerhouse, having produced players like Penn State RB Brandon Beachum, Ohio State DT John Simon, and Notre Dame safeties Dan and Kyle McCarthy in recent years.

I have been lukewarm on Michigan's pursuit of Vinopal since he was offered. He's a 2-star recruit to each of the three recruiting services (Rivals, Scout, ESPN), but more than that, I'm just not that impressed with the film I've seen. Vinopal has some physical limitations. He's listed at 5'10" or 5'11" and anywhere from 170 to 178 lbs., but he looks small on the field. His 40-yard dash time is listed at 4.56, which you know is a lie, considering the fact that Pat White ran a 4.55 at the NFL Combine last year. Vinopal's other scholarship offers came from the likes of Bowling Green, Kent State, and Air Force.

When I read Bruce Feldman's Meat Market last year, I read an interesting quote from former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron. When he and his coaches were looking at a prospect's film, he said something along the lines of, "You can't knock a kid for technical faults. As a coach, you have to believe you can fix that." From reading that book and using that philosophy, I've taken that advice and applied it, not only to my reviews of recruits, but to my coaching.

And that's the problem I have with the Vinopal offer and commitment. When I watch him, I don't see a whole lot to fix. He's pretty technically sound. He reads plays well, he accelerates well, and you can see that he goes full-speed. He goes all out . . . and I'm still not impressed. He's not a great tackler. He's not extremely fast. He's going to get overpowered in the run game, outrun in open space, and outjumped in the passing game. When he gets to full speed, his running form goes completely out of whack, although that's something that may be able to be fixed.

Meanwhile, Michigan still has two somewhat realistic options for 4-star safeties Sean Parker (Narbonne, CA) and Rashad Knight (Jacksonville, FL). They're also recruiting Glenville, OH, safety Latwan Anderson, although he's almost surely ticketed for Ohio State. The Vinopal commitment also puts the Wolverines at 23 commitments for the 2010 class, a class in which Michigan can only take 25 scholarship players. There are still uncommitted players at other positions out there, such as Maryland linebacker Josh Furman, Florida cornerback Tony Grimes, and Grimes's teammate, defensive end Clarence Murphy.

Something has to give. Perhaps Michigan's offer to Vinopal is as a grayshirt player, someone who will pay for his first semester of college until a scholarship opens up. Perhaps Michigan knows that one of their commitments isn't going to qualify; linebacker Antonio Kinard and slot receiver Tony Drake are rumored to be on the verge of not qualifying.

Either way, I'm not excited about Vinopal's commitment. Michigan already has Vinopal's brother on the roster - his name is Jordan Kovacs. Both are short on speed and talent, and both are undersized. I hope Vinopal turns out to be Michigan's version of former Iowa safety Bob Sanders or even former Minnesota safety Tyrone Carter, but I just don't see that happening. Vinopal looks like a career special teamer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson could beat the Lions by himself.

On Thanksgiving Day, Charles Woodson had an excellent day against the Detroit Lions. Woodson had 7 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 4 pass breakups in a 34-12 victory. If he keeps up his current pace, he could end up being the Defensive MVP of the entire league.

Honorable mention: Lamarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers had 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 quarterback hurry, but the Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 20-17.