2016 Season Countdown: #28 Jeremy Clark

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14Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #28 Jeremy Clark

Jeremy Clark

Name: Jeremy Clark
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 206 lbs.
High school: Madisonville (KY) North Hopkins
Position: Cornerback
Class: Fifth year senior
Jersey number: #34
Last year: I ranked Clark #47 and said he would be a backup strong safety (LINK). He started seven games at cornerback, making 21 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups.

Clark was perhaps the biggest surprise on defense during the 2015 season. He didn’t play a great deal prior to last year, and he was thought to be a strong safety or perhaps a guy who could bulk up into an outside linebacker. Instead, he battled Channing Stribling for the starting boundary corner gig. Things were pretty even throughout the year, with Clark starting seven games and Stribling starting six. Clark was victimized by a couple excellent plays from offensive players, but mostly he was very solid. His large wingspan allowed him to blanket receivers who might have been open against smaller guys.

I thought Clark outplayed Stribling in 2015, but the Stribling hype train started once again this spring. Multiple reports said that Stribling had a great spring and sometimes looked like the best player on the whole defense. Meanwhile, defensive backs coach Mike Zordich said publicly that Clark is more physical and Stribling needs to get more involved in stopping the run. He also said that all three guys would play in certain packages. I’m giving the edge to Stribling in the countdown based on spring practice reports, but I don’t think Clark is far behind. He’s physical, covers well, and tackles well. I wasn’t a believer in his abilities as a corner prior to last season, but he has turned into a solid player.

Prediction: Backup cornerback

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13Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #29 Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson

Name: Drake Johnson
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 201 lbs.
High school: Ann Arbor (MI) Pioneer
Position: Running back
Class: Fifth year senior
Jersey number: #20
Last year: I ranked Johnson #50 and said he would be a backup running back (LINK). He had 54 carries for 271 yards (5.0 yards/carry) and 4 touchdowns, along with 6 catches for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Johnson has had a tough career so far, and you have to admire his mental fortitude. He tore his ACL after just 2 rushing attempts as a redshirt freshman. Then he suffered another ACL tear in the final game of 2014. This summer he was run over by a forklift while stretching at the indoor track facility. If Michigan and/or Johnson gets a national stage, you can imagine ESPN or a 30-for-30 making a big deal about these things. In between all those things, he has been a pretty good running back. After sitting out the opener last season while coming back from that second ACL tear, Johnson became more and more of an integral part of Michigan’s offense. He reached a season-high in carries and yardage against Maryland with 13 and 68, respectively, and added on a 31-yard touchdown catch-and-run. His usage after that was a bit odd. Perhaps it was coincidental, but against the top teams on the schedule, Johnson – the #2 back – would almost disappear at times. He didn’t play against #17 Utah, had 2 carries against #23 Northwestern, didn’t touch the ball against MSU or PSU, and notched just 2 touches (1 carry, 1 catch) against Ohio State. In those games against tough defensive fronts, the carries tended to go to starter De’Veon Smith (for obvious reasons) and combo fullback/tailback Sione Houma (13 carries, 64 yards, 3 TD’s in those games). Johnson did cap his season with an impressive game against Florida (6 carries for 58 yards, along with 2 catches for 10 yards, 2 total TD’s), but that was a 41-7 blowout win over a team that didn’t care.

I don’t know what to expect from Johnson this season. On the one hand, he was mostly productive when called upon. On the other hand, Jim Harbaugh and Co. didn’t want him out there much at crunch time. Without Sione Houma to suck up some of those carries, it will be interesting to see whether Johnson gets more opportunities, or if the coaching staff tries to involve Ty Isaac or the younger backs. Either way, we’ve seen that Michigan can do well without major contributions from Isaac, but we haven’t really seen that without Johnson. For being 6’1″, he’s pretty thin at 201 lbs. He’s not a great blocker or between-the-tackles runner, but he can catch screens and work off-tackle. He forms a nice complement to Smith’s bruising running style, so I expect Johnson to play quite a bit. Smith gives and takes a beating, so if he hurts an ankle or a shoulder, will it be Johnson or someone else who steps in to take the bulk of the touches?

Prediction: Backup running back; 60 carries for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns; 10 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns

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12Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #30 Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.

Tyrone Whealtey, Jr. (image via 247Sports)

Please feel free to check out and participate on the message board (LINK).

Name: Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
Height: 6’6″
Weight: 276 lbs.
High school: Buffalo (NY) Canisius
Position: Tight end
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #8
Last year: I ranked Wheatley #57 and said he would be a backup tight end (LINK). He redshirted.

I had the notion last season that Wheatley would play last season as a backup or complement to A.J. Williams, who had struggled for his first three seasons on campus. I should have known better about Williams, because Jim Harbaugh and his staff know how to coach tight ends. Williams improved as both a blocker and receiver, and Wheatley was able to redshirt. That may have been a good thing, because he was a little too bulked up last season (286 lbs.) and used the time to chisel himself into better shape.

This spring the most impressive play we saw from Wheatley was a long catch-and-run at Ford Field where he stabbed a pass one-handed against good coverage from Devin Bush, Jr. That showed his soft hands and ability to run. He also held his own as a blocker against some very good defensive linemen for Michigan. With All-American Jake Butt at tight end, Wheatley may not break out this season to be a star. But I do expect him to start in double-tight sets, and he should be a better receiver than Williams ever was. This appears to be the beginning of the Tight End Revolution in Ann Arbor.

Prediction: Part-time starting tight end

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11Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #31 Devin Bush, Jr.

Devin Bush with Ahmir Mitchell

Name: Devin Bush, Jr.
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 232 lbs.
High school: Pembroke Pines (FL) Flanagan
Position: Linebacker
Class: Freshman
Jersey number: #10
Last year: Bush was a senior in high school (LINK). He made 67 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Final TTB Rating: 85

Bush, who is the son of former Florida State and NFL safety Devin Bush, was a tough pull from the state of Florida. Michigan recruited him very hard once the new staff was hired, and that pushed them ahead of the pack. The Wolverines also went after a few of his teammates, including safety Josh Metellus and linebacker Devin Gil, both of whom committed in June. Bush held off until December, even though it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would join his teammates in Ann Arbor. The trio of high school teammates, coached by Devin Bush, Sr., won a state championship before Devin, Jr. enrolled at Michigan in January. He also played in the Under Armour All-American Game and was named First Team All-State in Florida’s 8A class both his junior and senior seasons.

I know some people have doubts about Bush because he’s a freshman and he’s short, but I like him. He moves well for being short and a bit stocky, and I think he’s the type of linebacker who can play both against run-heavy teams and spread teams. Linebacker is a position that needs rotation, and Bush – who was playing WILL in the spring – should be the next guy in the game behind the starters. The Wolverines are somewhat thin at the two inside linebacker positions, which makes Bush a key backup. If he can’t play, then you’re looking at less talented freshmen or a guy who has received zero practice buzz like Jared Wangler. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do over the next four years.

Prediction: Backup inside linebacker

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11Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #32 Grant Perry

Grant Perry 208x

Grant Perry (image via WUFT)

Name: Grant Perry
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 196 lbs.
High school: Bloomfield Hills (MI) Brother Rice
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #9
Last year: I ranked Perry #70 and said he would be a backup wide receiver (LINK). He caught 14 passes for 128 yards (9.1 yards/catch) and 1 touchdown.

From purely a numbers standpoint, I probably underrated Perry last year when I ranked him at #70. I predicted he would play and potentially be a possession guy, but he saw the field more than a lot of people expected, including me. However, he struggled early, as one would expect of a freshman. Thrown out there in the opener against a rabid Utah defense, Perry ran a couple routes incorrectly and ended up causing Jake Rudock to throw 2 interceptions (a third Rudock INT wasn’t Perry’s fault). It was an inauspicious debut, but the fact that he was on the field – and skipped over some older players – indicated how much the coaches believed in him. He saw a slight reduction of playing time until he got a better grasp on the offense, and he ended up fifth on the team in receptions. He capped the season with a Florida game that saw him make 5 catches for 51 yards and his first career touchdown.

Perry’s yards per catch were slightly lower than lumbering tight end A.J. Williams’ and slightly higher than lumbering running back De’Veon Smith’s, so the big-play ability is still a question mark. I maintain that he’s a possession slot guy rather than a dynamic slot guy, but you need both types of players. Perry’s playing time may not increase significantly this year, even with a year under his belt. The top two receivers return, and a handful of talented tight ends are itching to take over the spot left by Williams. On top of that, Michigan recruited several potential early-impact guys, including Kekoa Crawford, who is bigger, faster, and stronger than Perry. The coaching staff may not want to go through the same growing pains they had with Perry last year by sending out freshmen early in the year, and Perry’s time in the system will be to his advantage. His value lies in his reliability, though there are other guys with higher ceilings.

Prediction: Starting slot receiver; 20 catches, 190 yards, 2 touchdowns

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