In all likelihood, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is dreaming of September, October and November. Following this past Saturday’s spring game, he’s probably found himself envisioning a true-to-form Wolverines starting quarterback, a coach Tyrone Wheatley-certified running back, an ironclad secondary and loaded recruiting classes.
And why wouldn’t he?
He has the makings of something—something that’s yet to be defined—in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh, who replaced former coach Brady Hoke on Dec. 30, has the experience and track record to spark quick change. It won’t be instantaneous. It’s not like he can post a tweet, turn around and see immediate results.
Wait a minute…he can do that. Just not in football. Not yet, anyway. But back to football, which is Harbaugh’s realm of expertise. The former San Francisco 49ers coach realizes that his team has miles to go before it reaches desired levels.
He’s optimistic in regard to his team, but he’s not naive. The Wolverines must follow their spring game with a strong summer—that much is clear. Due to NCAA regulations, teams aren’t allowed to conduct practices after spring games. They have to wait out late May, June, July and early August—not to mention the dead week—before getting back to work.
Players are expected to report to camp in shape and ready to go. According to the new staff, work ethic doesn’t seem to be an issue at Michigan. For the Wolverines, it’ll be all about what they do—not if they do it—prior to the start of fall.
First and foremost, Michigan needs a quarterback.
At the moment, Shane Morris is the No. 1 guy; however, the junior’s job isn’t secure. In terms of the depth chart, he’s barely above true freshman Alex Malzone, who had a similarly average showing this past Saturday. But like Morris, he’s learning.
Once healthy, redshirt freshman Wilton Speight could factor into the race as well.
At the end of the day, they’ll compete for the starting job with Jake Rudock, a senior transfer from Iowa. Zach Gentry, a 4-star recruit, is also set to arrive in August. At 6’7” and 215 pounds, Gentry towers above offensive and defensive lines, and he also packs a powerful right arm.
Harbaugh will have quarterbacks upon quarterbacks in roughly four months, which means he’ll have three important decisions to make: 1. Name the starter, 2. Find the right backup, 3. Start grooming the next one. It all sounds simple. At one time or another, every coach in America faces the same process.
A wealth of quarterbacks isn’t a problem, but it’s worthy of Harbaugh’s immediate attention. Ultimately, discerning the top talent could end up being the difficult part—a hungry senior transfer from a Big Ten school versus a former hometown Golden Boy versus the new hometown Golden Boy versus the kid from Russell Wilson’s high school.
There’s a lot going on there.
Whether it’s Rudock, Morris, Malzone, Speight or Gentry, Harbaugh must get it right. The Wolverines haven’t had a legitimate pro-style threat since the days of Chad Henne, who was a senior in 2007, and they can’t afford another swing and miss or forced fit at the position.
By the sound of it, Michigan’s staff is eager to get its hands on Rudock, who has four years of ties with passing coordinator Jedd Fisch.
"I am excited for Jake to get here and compete with the quarterbacks that we already have in the program," Fisch said, per a release. "I've known Jake for a long time, since 2011, and I am excited to be a part of the staff that is now coaching him."
Fisch talked about Rudock's previous Big Ten days and the players he'll work with in Ann Arbor:
I think that Jake brings great maturity and experience to the program. He has 25 starts under his belt in the Big Ten and a winning record of 15-10. All of that, combined with the quarterbacks we currently have in the program and all the skill we are surrounding him with, we are excited about the things that Jake can do for our program.
Rudock’s arrival will rock the boat, but in a good way. Harbaugh is elevating levels across the board, and turning up the heat on the quarterbacks is a great way to start the show, which is in need of a star.
The running game is a concern, too. A top contender didn’t exactly jump up and raise his hand this past Saturday, but sophomores Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith appear to be the leaders.
In 2014, they combined for 988 yards and nine touchdowns. In fairness, Green, who had 471 of those yards and three touchdowns, was about to turn the corner before suffering a season-ending injury at Rutgers.
Unfortunately, breaking his clavicle shattered his momentum.
Had he not missed the final six games, there is possibility that he could have picked up the extra 529 yards needed to become a 1,000-yard rusher. Had that happened, he would have been Michigan’s first 1,000-yarder since 2011 (Fitz Toussaint; 1,064 yards).
Just like with quarterback, establishing depth should be a concern for Harbaugh. It concerns Wheatley, the running backs coach, much in the same way. They have pieces, but not one fell into place during the spring game.
In 2014, Drake Johnson bolted onto the scene with a late four-game flash that yielded 55 carries for 320 yards and four touchdowns, two of which came against Ohio State. And then he was hit by another ACL injury, essentially casting a dark cloud on his future in Ann Arbor.
It may be a bit soon to write off Johnson. But for the time being, the senior probably isn’t in the top-three conversation. Michigan will likely run a two-back set with a fullback, or rotate accordingly with Wyatt Shallman, a junior, and possibly 3-star freshman Karan Higdon, who arrives this fall.
Harbaugh’s staff will take over the No. 77-ranked rushing offense. It’ll be expected to at least crack the top 40 this fall. Restoring power on the ground is a key to the full, back-to-Michigan transformation.
The defensive backfield isn’t a major concern, which is a good thing for Harbaugh. Thanks to coaches Michael Zordich and Greg Jackson, the corners and safeties seem to be in good care.
Former 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers showed off some pop during the spring game with a walloping of Shallman behind the O-line. He also nearly had an interception.
Peppers is on track. He looked up to par this past Saturday and expressed an eagerness to display his real skill set this fall. When it comes to the secondary, the continued development of Peppers should be Harbaugh’s top priority.
Harbaugh’s received commitments from four high-end 2016 prospects since April 3, the date 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters got the ball rolling by saying yes to Michigan. Then 3-star linebacker/fullback David Reese jumped aboard. Then 3-star fullback Kingston Davis took the plunge, followed by 4-star running back Matthew Falcon.
Each player is ranked among the top 20 at his respective position.
With that said, Harbaugh can’t afford to take his foot off the pedal.
The rebuild starts with collecting fresh talent. Harbaugh’s good at that, evidenced by the way he picked up eight commits during his first month on the job.
Stacking the 2016 class with the best available is the goal, but it won’t be easy, as Harbaugh will certainly find himself in scrums with Mark Dantonio of Michigan State and Urban Meyer of Ohio State.
Those guys can recruit, too. In addition to a 2014 Rose Bowl title and 2015 Cotton Bowl victory, Dantonio’s won 55 games in the past five years. The Spartans have won six of their past eight meetings with the Wolverines. Harbaugh can gain ground by simply doing what he’s been doing—and that’s scouring every nook and cranny for guys who want to play football at Michigan.
According to 247Sports, the Wolverines have the No. 20-ranked 2016 class, or in other terms: the No. 3-ranked class in the Big Ten. Guess who’s at No. 1? That’s Meyer, who has eight commits compared to Harbaugh’s six.
At No. 9 in the league, Dantonio appears to be miles behind his contemporaries. But that’s not the case. His methodology slightly differs from that of Harbaugh and Meyer. His classes are silent killers, and signing the biggest-name athletes is rarely his goal.
Right now, for the sake of staying in the headlines, making lots of noise appears to be the best course of action for Harbaugh, who’ll want to snag every 4- and 5-star kid possible. He’s done that; now it’s time for more.
Actions speak louder than words. Michigan’s coach is living proof of that. It’s time for the team to approach things like Harbaugh does, and that starts with building on this past weekend’s exhibition and applying it to the offseason.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. All recruiting information comes via 247Sports.
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Living in Florida has been good to 4-star wide receiver Darnell Salomon. However, every baby bird must leave the nest sooner or later.
Salomon told Bleacher Report Thursday night that he has a top six of Oregon, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Auburn and LSU. The list came after Salomon, the nation's No. 12 receiver, picked up an offer from Texas earlier today.
Notice that all six of the schools are out-of-state programs.
"My mother is always telling me to go travel," Salomon said. "I've been in Florida all my life and haven't been to many other places. This will give me a chance to travel and see other things."
Salomon has 25 reported offers, including offers from Miami, Florida State, Florida and Central Florida, but on Thursday, none of the in-state schools made the cut. Salomon added that his process is still open.
LSU currently is the school trending for Salomon. According to his 247Sports Crystal Ball, 44 percent of prognosticators feel that he will sign with LSU, while 31 percent favor Alabama. The last five predictions swing to Alabama's advantage.
None of Salomon's top six holds a proximity edge, and with the in-state schools currently out of the race, the three SEC powers have to feel good about the positions they're in. Auburn is the closest school of the six, but the drive is roughly 10 hours away.
Salomon's top six all have rich college football histories, and he's been in contact with multiple members of the respective coaching staffs. He's looking forward to further building relationships during the spring and summer seasons.
"I've talked to these coaches the most," he said. "They tell me about the school, academics and how I could fit in their starting lineups. They've all been really truthful about their football team."
One of the six schools is expected to get a big receiver who can be a playmaker at the next level. He measured in at Nike's The Opening Miami regional at 6'2 ½" and 205 pounds. At the event, he ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, but he has been clocked as fast as 4.4 seconds in previous tests.
His combination of size and speed makes him a wanted individual. Texas, as the newest offer, is hoping to make a big enough splash on Salomon to get him to campus.
Salomon admitted that he isn't an expert on Longhorn knowledge, but he's heard a lot of positive things about head coach Charlie Strong, and he saw what Strong did with recruiting for the 2015 class, landing five players from the Sunshine State.
"I know a little bit about Texas, but I like how they got the South Florida kids, like [4-star defensive back] Davante Davis," Salomon said. "I haven't really read up on [Strong], but I've heard he's a real good coach and a real good mentor."
Salomon said he would like to visit Texas, Oklahoma and Oregon this summer, but nothing has been set in stone. He's been to Auburn, Alabama and LSU either for unofficial visits or for camps. He said he isn't planning on taking long trips during the spring.
As for a decision, Salomon noted that one of two things will happen.
"I put a little thought of making it during the summer or during the all-star game," said Salomon, who has committed to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. "We'll just see how it plays out."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles
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We've already seen Jim Harbaugh use a "promposal" as a recruiting tactic.
Boston College doesn't want to be left out of the fun.
The Eagles sent 3-star wide receiver Seth Dawkins a Drake-themed recruiting letter, which Dawkins then snapped a photo of and posted on his Twitter.
The letter spoofs the cover of the rapper's latest mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
It's not too late for you to commit, Seth.
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