May 13, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Welcome back, mailbag.
It’s been a while.
Thanks to everyone who participated this week. A few programming notes before we get started, though.
Remember: Next week’s podcast probably won’t happen until the end of the week due to scheduling conflicts. Also, if you’d like to win a “Wolverine Beat” T-shirt, listen to this week’s show and email myself or Brendan with your answer to the question in the final segment.
On we go with the mailbag.
Q: Is Harbaugh using the satellite camp blitz this June to build relationships for the long-term future as much as anything? — @cdbarker
A: We have evidence that this is a motivating factor, and perhaps the biggest motivator when it all boils down.
Harbaugh developed a bond with the staff at Prattville High School in Alabama almost immediately after taking the job. A year — two commitments and one satellite camp later — he hires Bam Richards as an offensive analyst. Richards has roots in Alabama, he’s a known commodity there. For Michigan, he’s an asset.
And he’s an asset that was gained through recruiting and camping.
Devin Bush Jr. and Sr., same thing. Harbaugh obviously started the satellite camp stuff last year to build stronger recruiting relationships, even if he’ll never admit that publicly. I’m not sure why he doesn’t, actually. There’s literally nothing wrong with it.
But either way. The camps give Harbaugh a chance to evaluate everyone in a given area. Not just players. He gets to know coaches and staffers who have dreams of being involved with a college program. It doesn’t always work out, of course, but it’s certainly a big part of the equation.
In some instances, like when a camp gets set up at the home of the top-ranked player in the country (Najee Harris), the motivation is obvious.
But when he makes various stops at high schools throughout the southeast, that’s not just about one player. It’s about building a lasting relationship that may turn into a pipeline, may produce a future coach — or both.
Now, the international stuff?
Well, why not?
Michigan has more money than just about every athletic department in America. If you’re serious about winning at an elite level, then you spend it. And if you believe there’s talent to mine in Samoa or Hawaii or Australia, then you do it.
Michigan picked its lane when it hired Harbaugh. Go big or don’t bother.
Q: Who is the player on the team no one is talking about now, but everyone will be talking about come November? — @Foltweet_
A: Tough question.
But I’m going to go with Ben Gedeon. I suppose we’ll have to define what “no one is talking about” really means, but I think Gedeon sort of qualifies. He was an obvious choice to be inserted at inside linebacker when spring ball began, and then Mike McCray and Devin Bush Jr. started to gain a lot of attention — for obvious reasons.
But Gedeon might have been Michigan’s steadiest defender in spring practice. Harbaugh raved about him quite a bit, actually. Called him a “stud” more than once and said he took more competitive reps than any other player on the team.
Which is obviously by design, as he really doesn’t have a backup.
It’s the last go-around for Gedeon, which can sometimes lead to a switch or two being turned for a player. He’s had some moments as a spot player here or there throughout his career, but it’s all there for the taking now.
An honorable mention, for me, would’ve been Maurice Ways — but he went down with a foot injury midway through spring ball. Ways drew rave reviews from just about everyone involved with the passing game for his improved hands and route running skills.
So with Ways out, I’ll give Grant Perry the honorable mention here. Perry had a really nice camp and will enter fall as the leader for Michigan’s No. 3 receiver spot.
Q: Who is the favorite in the B1G East? — @nezzy21
A: I suppose it depends on who you ask, but most have Michigan in that spot right now.
And I think that’s a fair expectation. Michigan returns more talent than Ohio State and Michigan State and will be entering year two in Harbaugh’s system — which can often mean a big jump if a team’s properly coached (Michigan is, of course).
If you put a knife to my back and told me I had to pick a winner, I’m not sure I’d pick Michigan right now. I still think Ohio State is loaded, even if the roster is unproven.
But for the sake of the summer argument, Michigan’s the favorite right now. It makes the most sense.
The Wolverines obviously need to make a determination at quarterback — but, really, where are the other holes on this roster?
Which brings me to the next question …
Q: Are expectations too high for this team? Most polls have (Michigan in the) preseason top 10. Do you think it is accurate? Why or why not? — @darrenJ19
A: I think expectations for this team are exactly where they should be.
It’s time for Michigan to win. There are zero excuses at this point.
Michigan returns three All-Americans (who all could’ve been high draft picks this spring), four veteran offensive linemen, all three of its top running backs, an All-Big Ten receiver and with a fifth-year senior on the other side, two senior safeties and the core of what should be one of the top defensive lines in the Big Ten.
There’s a lot of talent on this roster. We’ve been over that. Michigan should have its best NFL draft output in roughly a decade next spring and has veterans all over the roster.
Yes, the quarterback spot is unsettled. But, hey, your coach is Jim Harbaugh. And no team is perfect.
Is Michigan a lock to win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff? Certainly not. But with this roster and this coaching staff and this incoming recruiting class, it’s more than fair to say anything less than a Big Ten title game appearance would be a disappointment.
There’s also the whole second year under Harbaugh thing.
At every stop he’s made, his second year has featured noted improvement on some level. At San Diego, the team went from 7-4 to 11-1. At Stanford, the win total only increased by one, but the team was so much more competitive — with close decisions to Notre Dame, UCLA and Oregon. Two of those three go the other way and it’s a completely different season.
His second year with the 49ers ended in the Super Bowl with a team that went 6-10 just two years prior.
So, noted improvement across the board.
The expectations set by national talking heads for Michigan, right now, are fair.
It’s time for this program to start beating quality opponents on a consistent basis. And I know the quick defense from a trepidatious Michigan fan will be to remind me that Michigan plays Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa on the road this year. That’s tough, no question about it.
But it’s also time for this program to start beating quality teams on the road. When’s the last time Michigan truly won an elite-level road game? I’ll tell you: 2006. Week two at Notre Dame.
This team has everything it needs to be at a championship level. It has the right coach. It has the right staff. It’s time for them to put it together and do it.
Q: Chances Speight beats out O’Korn for the QB job? The staff and team seem to be real high on O’Korn. — @dfuhst
A: Probably better than you think.
Again, if asked to pick a guy right now, I’ll still predict that O’Korn takes the first snap of the season against Hawaii. Michigan knows he’s talented. The staff has been telling people this for months — many, many months, dating back to last season.
He’s more athletic than Speight, he’s more explosive, his arm is more than strong enough to make plays and he has the ability to get Michigan out of trouble with improvisation and instinct.
However, he was way too high-risk, high-reward this spring. Any type of big-time play was inevitably followed up with a mistake. Some of that was rust, some of that was O’Korn adjusting to heavy reps. Hell, he hasn’t actually run an offense out of a huddle since 2013. So the whole thing’s a process. But consistency is what kept him from taking the lead the way most expected him to.
Speight put himself on even footing — or maybe even slightly ahead — with Speight because he was more consistent. He completed passes. His drives ended with a touchdown or a kick. He moved the team down the field without shooting himself in the foot.
Was he explosive or flashy or dominant? I don’t think anyone’s willing to go that far. And he wasn’t without his own mistakes.
But right now, this thing’s pretty even. If Speight has a big summer and continues to improve, then this is going to be a tough decision for Michigan.
But, again, I think this ends up being a best-case scenario. The competition should improve both players. And in the end, you find yourself standing in a situation where you have a quality backup who can make something happen if his number is called.
Remember last year? It was literally Jake Rudock or bust. There were no other options. If he had suffered a significant injury during the early portion of the schedule that cost him multiple games, Michigan would’ve been in big-time trouble.
Speight and O’Korn going at it for eight months should improve the overall quarterback picture in the end.
Q: Does your gut tell you Harbaugh is a lifer at UM? Or does he head for the NFL? — @mattbbs3
A: The most popular question every week, always. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t have a direct line to Jim Harbaugh’s brain.
As long as he’s happy — like he is right now — he’ll be at Michigan for a long time. I’m not necessarily in the camp that believes he’ll take another shot at the NFL just because he feels like he has to.
But I also can’t realistically sit here and tell you he’ll coach here for 20 years.
And make no mistake, this guy is going to coach until he can’t stand on a sideline.
So, boring answer. But it’s really not a realistic question to ask at this point. It’s year two. He’s enjoying himself. Michigan looks like it’s improving.
So for now, if you’re a fan, just enjoy that.