There is really no way to "sugar coat" this season in football recruiting; it ended up being the worst season in Michigan Wolverine Football Recruiting History! We did sign 16 good recruits, but overall our ranking was behind Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, and perhaps even Wisconsin to finish 4th or 5th in the Big Ten. It was the least amount of recruits signed, and lowest since 2003 when he signed 17. We were ranked as low as 31st by Rivals, 27th by Scout, 20th by Tom Lemming's 247Sports, and 18th by ESPN. We did not "close" well, and lost several "key" recruits including in-state recruits. We have taken a giant step backwards, and it continues to show in losing two 5 star recruits for the 2014 season already.
On the bright side, our top recruit, Jibreel Peppers is one of the Top 5 recruits in the nation, and he should contribute immediately. Let's begin on offense and review the recruiting season. At quarterback, we signed a 3 star prospect in Wilton Speight, a 6'6" drop back passer in the John Navarre mold, not mobile, but has a strong arm. He is expected to redshirt despite early enrollment. We passed on in-state Chance Stewart similarly built in the same mold as Speight. We changed quarterback coaches from Al Borges to Doug Nussmeier. Other quarterbacks we were interested in included Keller Chryst who committed to Stanford, David Cornwell to Alabama, Caleb Henderson to North Carolina, DeShone Kizer to Notre Dame, and Will Ulmer to Maryland. We also passed on in-state Tyler Weigers who committed to Rutgers, then eventually signed with Iowa. We really haven't been recruiting dual threat running quarterbacks, and that is a problem in my opinion.
At running back, we really dropped the ball; yes, we fumbled. We hoped Fred Jackson could work "his magic" with Leonard Fournette, the nation's top running back from Louisiana who signed with LSU. We offered Kallen Ballage of Colorado who signed with Arizona State, Vic Enwere of Texas who re-committed to California after visiting Ann Arbor, Jeff Jones of Minnesota who hasn't yet qualified, but re-committed to Minnesota, Marlon Mack, a UCLA and Louisville commitment who signed with South Florida. We also offered at least 8 other running backs including Marshone Lattimore who shyed away from visiting Ann Arbor; Lattimore signed with the Buckeyes as a defensive back, but speculation is that he'll get offensive reps as well. There was also speculation raised that Fred Jackson may not be retained towards the end of the season which hurt "closing." As a result of ending up with no running back, we now only have two scholarship freshmen, Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith plus Drake Johnson returning from ACL surgery. There is speculation we have moved Redshirt Freshman Defensive Back, Ross Douglass, who performed well on the scout team as a 3rd down back; he is listed as 5'10" 176 lbs. We also failed to recruit a fullback even as a walk-on. One reason why Michigan State's football program has been better than us over the last decade is that Dantonio continues to recruit and develop great fullbacks to lead the way for his running game; this year's edition is 252 lbs. Gerald Owens. Hopefully, Redshirt Wyatt Shallman will be the needed answer at H-Back this season. To say the coaches "whiffed" here is an understatement; it is quite disappointing for a lifetime Wolverine football fan.
We did strike gold at wide receiver and tight end! We signed 4 talented receivers with Drake Harris, Freddy Canteen, Maurice Ways, and Ian Bunting; perhaps all could see the field as true freshmen. Harris, 6'4" 170 lbs. decommitted from Michigan State, and could also help the Wolverine basketball team; however, he definitely needs to gain some weight to absorb the punishment for Big Ten Football. Freddy Canteen was seen by the coaches at Summer camp, and turned a lot of heads; he could see action at slot as well as kickoff returns, and he is an early enrollee so he'll be in the Spring game in April. Maurice Ways is big and strong enough to see action at wideout once he learns the routes, and 6'7" Ian Bunting's chances for action increased with Jake Butt tearing his ACL.
On the offensive line, we recruited early enrollee Mason Cole from Florida and Juwan Bushell-Beatty, Pepper's New Jersey teammate. We redshirted five offensive lineman, and return 5 others who started games in the past season so with continued weight training, conditioning and competition, we should be improved; however, the jury is till out on whether Coach Funk can develop these linemen into the type of offensive line we expect in Ann Arbor to run for 200+ yards per game against Big Ten competition. As a result of limited scholarships available for offensive linemen, we passed on several top prospects despite over 20 offers; we had Denzel Ward decommit, and he later pledged to Purdue, but signed with Syracuse after offers from many schools including Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.
On defense, we signed a big, highly rated Nose Tackle in Bryan Mone from Utah who could see immediate action since he's enrolled early, and Ondre Pipkins is coming off ACL rehabilitation. The other defensive linemen we signed were Florida's Brady Pallante and Southfield's Lawrence Marshall. We did get Marshall to "flip" from the Spartans. We offered 20 other prospects, and the biggest loss was when Virginia's DeShawn Hand picked Alabama over us in November. We also lost the state's top football recruit, Malik McDowell, to Michigan State. Another top in-state recruit, Jhonathan Williams, signed with Notre Dame as we thought we had Hand in the fold so we didn't offer him early. Michigan State had a great year recruiting the defensive line assuring their future as it is another priority for Dantonio and staff. While it was a disappointing result for Greg Mattison, and the defensive line, the big news came after signing day when Brady Hoke announced that he would know longer be coaching the defensive line; instead, he moved Mark Smith there, and Roy Manning will coach both inside and outside linebackers. Most fans may have missed the significance in this move, but it was a big one.
Another bright spot besides wide receiver was our linebacking haul! We gained commitments from Michael Ferns and Noah Furbush from Ohio, Chase Winovich from Pennsylvania, and Jared Wangler from Warren DeLaSalle. After signing those 4 early, we closed down following up on the 16+ others we offered (Ohio State signed 3 of those 16). Ferns has enrolled early and could see action in 2014 although we have three returning starters, and five guys who saw significant action while redshirting Michael McCray. Even Coach Mattison went on record by stating, "We need to get bigger there" as he assessed his linebacking corps.
In the backfield, there is no doubt that Peppers will see action; he claimed he is Charles Woodson 2.0. I wouldn't be surprised if early enrollee, Brandon Watson, also contributed on the 2014 Wolverine defense. The most competition will be at safety rather than cornerback where Blake Countess and Ramon Taylor return along with backups Delonte Hollowell, Jourden Lewis, and Channing Stribling. Peppers and Watson will look for playing time at Safety and Nickel while competing with Jarrod Wilson, Dymonte Thomas, Delano Hill, and Jeremy Clark along with redshirt Reon Dawson. We lost top in-state defensive back, Damon Webb, to Ohio State, and Ohio's best safety, Erich Smith, also pledged to the Buckeyes. The Spartans gained the pledge of Montae Nicholson after we told him we were out of scholarships. Overall, we signed two prospects out of 30+ offers. Curt Mallory did a great job in keeping Peppers in the fold, but didn't have enough scholarships available to secure more commitments and we apparently didn't want to take our chances with oversigning.
We did sign a preferred walk-on kicker with Kyle Seychel, but half of our 16 commitments for 2014 are receivers or linebackers, and those were our best areas of recruiting. Spring practice begins on February 28, and the Spring Game is on April 4. Go Blue!