2016 Season Countdown: #6 Jake Butt

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31Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #6 Jake Butt

Jake Butt (image via Michigan Daily)

Name: Jake Butt
Height: 6’6″
Weight: 250 lbs.
High school: Pickerington (OH) North
Position: Tight end
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #88
Last year: I ranked Butt #2 and said he would be the starting tight end with 40 catches for 550 yards and 6 touchdowns (LINK). He caught 51 passes for 654 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Butt was a sure bet to have a very good year in 2015, not only because of his prodigious talent, but because of a coach that values tight ends. While the season started off with a disappointing loss to Utah, it also included a spectacular Butt touchdown catch where he outjumped three defenders. He finished with 8 catches for 93 yards and that 1 touchdown. He broke the 80-yard mark twice more, against Rutgers and Indiana, and had a career-long 56-yard touchdown catch against the Scarlet Knights. He won Big Ten Tight End of the Year after outpacing other tight ends by 16 receptions and 226 yards. And he was a First Team All-American, although he lost the John Mackey Award to Hunter Henry of Arkansas (51 catches, 739 yards, 3 touchdowns).

This year I expect more of the same from Butt. He will be helping to break in a new quarterback, but he went through that in 2015 with Jake Rudock. In this year’s case, the new quarterback will be a guy he’s been practicing with for at least a year. Butt is a pre-season All-American and a captain for Michigan’s offense. His value diminishes slightly because of the additional depth and talent at the position. Even though blocking tight end A.J. Williams graduated, up-and-comers like Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., Ian Bunting, Devin Asiasi, Zach Gentry, and others can play ball, too. It’s perhaps the deepest position group on the team, which is why one could perhaps make the argument that a captain and All-American should be rated even lower than the #6 most important player on the squad. All that aside, though, it should be fun to watch Butt’s continued maturation in a tight end-friendly offense.

Prediction: Starting tight end; 50 catches, 700 yards, 5 touchdowns

29Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #8 Ben Gedeon

Ben Gedeon

Name: Ben Gedeon
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 247 lbs.
High school: Hudson (OH) Hudson
Position: Linebacker
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #42
Last year: I ranked Gedeon #28 and said he would be a backup linebacker with 35 tackles and 2 sacks (LINK). He started one game, making 34 tackles and 3 tackles for loss.

Gedeon should have been better than Joe Bolden last year. I don’t mean to turn a Ben Gedeon post into an anti-Joe Bolden post, but Bolden was kind of not very good. Both Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh seemed to like Bolden and put him on the field a lot, so Gedeon spent a lot of time looking on from the sideline. It’s not often that there’s a clamoring for a backup linebacker, but I was part of the clamor. Bolden burst onto the scene with a blocked punt return for a touchdown against Appalachian State two years ago, and he has looked pretty decent at times since. Not great, but decent. Meanwhile, Bolden looked consistently . . . replaceable.

Gedeon took some steps forward toward the end of last season. Early in the year, I thought he looked a little hesitant at times, and maybe it was the new defense. Maybe it was a lack of reps. But in the last three games (against Penn State, Ohio State, and Florida), he made 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. When he’s locked on, he’s a thumper and he has pretty good speed to boot.

Almost by default, this spring it was Gedeon’s show at inside linebacker. Michigan lost four senior linebackers (Bolden, Desmond Morgan, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and James Ross III), and Gedeon is the only experienced linebacker returning. He’s added six pounds and is up to a pretty imposing 6’3″, 247 lbs., and Don Brown likes big inside linebackers. There’s really no competition at MIKE linebacker. I thought Gedeon took charge this spring and looked good in the spring game. He’s a load to handle for blockers, and he can range from sideline to sideline. If he gets hurt – and I hope he doesn’t – I would expect to see WILL Mike McCray II move over from his spot. I expect to see walk-on Mike Wroblewski on the two-deep at MIKE linebacker, but he converted from defensive end and looked bad in the spring. If Wroblewski is needed in crunch time, I do not think things will go well. On one hand, I hesitated to put Gedeon this high on the list because he hasn’t looked consistently good in past seasons. On the other hand, I almost want to rank him higher because there is a void behind him. Regardless, as long as he stays healthy, I think we will see an improved, steadier Gedeon who will probably lead the team in tackles.

Prediction: Starting middle linebacker; 85 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception; Honorable Mention All-Big Ten

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29Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #9 Wilton Speight

Wilton Speight 312x

Wilton Speight (image via Michigan Daily)

Name: Wilton Speight
Height: 6’6″
Weight: 243 lbs.
High school: Richmond (VA) Collegiate
Position: Quarterback
Class: Redshirt sophomore
Jersey number: #14
Last year: I ranked Speight #86 and said he would be a backup quarterback (LINK). He completed 9/25 passes for 73 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception; he also ran 2 times for 2 yards.

Michigan’s quarterback situation was rather confounding, especially in the spring of 2015. Let us consider the following:

  • Jake Rudock was at Iowa. He ended up transferring to Michigan and starting every game.
  • Freshman Alex Malzone was the first QB picked in the spring game draft. He was at the bottom of the depth chart and redshirted.
  • Junior Shane Morris was the second QB picked in the spring game draft. The only experienced, eligible QB on the spring roster, he ended up redshirting and was third on the depth chart.
  • Redshirt freshman Wilton Speight was not picked to play in the spring game. Other than Rudock, he was the only QB to take a single regular season snap in 2015.
  • Redshirt sophomore John O’Korn sat out the year while transferring.

The in-season depth chart (Rudock-Speight-Morris-Malzone) looked totally different than the spring one (Malzone-Morris-Speight), and it might not be a good sign for a couple of those guys that they had a head start and still got passed by Speight. Even his 2015 season was mostly uninspiring, with just one decent drive to his credit. That drive ended in a game-winning touchdown throw to Jehu Chesson against Minnesota, but Jake Rudock – who was injured – returned the next week, and Speight went back to standing on the sideline until he mopped up against Ohio State in dreadful fashion (6/14, 44 yards, 1 INT).

Hit the jump for more on Speight.

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28Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #10 Ryan Glasgow

Saturday, November 22, 2014: Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow in action during UM's 23-16 loss to Maryland, Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Ryan Glasgow (image via Today’s U)

Name: Ryan Glasgow
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 299 lbs.
High school: Aurora (IL) Marmion Academy
Position: Nose tackle
Class: Fifth year senior
Jersey number: #96
Last year: I ranked Glasgow #25 and said he would be the starting nose tackle with 25 tackles (LINK). He started nine games and made 25 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.

Did you notice that I predicted Glasgow to make 25 tackles last year, and he made exactly 25 tackles? An old phrase comes to mind: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Anyway, Glasgow was indeed the starting nose tackle last season, but I underestimated him. He took a big step from 2014, in my opinion, and got more explosive off the football. Not only was he stalemating double teams, but he was splitting them and wreaking havoc in the backfield, forcing running backs to cut back and helping Michigan’s other high-quality defensive linemen and mediocre linebackers to make plays. Glasgow looked like a bona fide NFL draft pick. I probably would have ranked him higher than #25, of course, if I had known that backup Bryan Mone would break his leg in August practices. When Mone went down, that left 282 lb. Maurice Hurst, Jr. as the primary backup at nose tackle. That probably would have been okay until Glasgow tore his pectoral muscle in game nine, forcing Hurst into a starter’s role. Hurst had a breakout year, but he also struggled against teams that could handle his quickness. Meanwhile, an elite run-stopping defense absent its top two nose tackles was suddenly exposed against Indiana and Ohio State, getting gashed by running backs Jordan Howard and Ezekiel Elliott, respectively. Michigan eked out a win against the Hoosiers but got stomped by the Buckeyes as they wore down in the second half.

I almost wanted to put Glasgow in the top five this year because of what happened when Michigan lost him last year, but I keep having to remind myself that Mone is back and healthy. We haven’t seen what Mone has to offer, because the last time we saw him play was as a true freshman backup. Now the plan is to rotate Glasgow and Mone, while Hurst will be playing more 3-tech. I would expect Glasgow to be back to his old ways of tearing through centers and guards, though the pec injury concerns me. Will he have quite the same strength, or will he aggravate the injury? It’s impossible for us to say right now. If he can play like he did last year for a full season, I think he will earn some all-conference accolades.

Prediction: Starting nose tackle; Second Team All-Big Ten

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28Aug 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #11 Dymonte Thomas

01 January 2016: Michigan Wolverines safety Dymonte Thomas (25) during the 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Dymonte Thomas (image via Today’s U)

Name: Dymonte Thomas
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 199 lbs.
High school: Alliance (OH) Marlington
Position: Safety
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #25
Last year: I ranked Thomas #51 and said he would be a backup safety and special teamer (LINK). He started four games and made 24 tackles and 7 pass breakups.

When the season started in 2015, it appeared to be a third consecutive ho-hum season for Thomas. Brady Hoke had burned Thomas’s redshirt as a true freshman, when he didn’t seem to account for the transition costs of moving a high school linebacker to defensive back. So 2013 was mostly a wasted year, and 2014 brought playing time, but not at an effective level. Not having scratched his potential at the beginning of 2015, all eyes were on Jarrod Wilson and Jabrill Peppers at safety, along with a few sideways glances at Thomas and Delano Hill. He didn’t do anything special for the first few weeks, but the light seemed to come on midway through the year. From the Minnesota game onward, he made 20 of his 24 tackles and 4 of his 7 pass breakups. That doesn’t account for some nice plays against MSU, including an interception that was nullified by a penalty.

Thomas should have some established confidence in his game from last year, but my one concern – for the position as a whole – is the departure of excellent safeties coach Greg Jackson, who is now the defensive backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Michigan hired Don Brown over Jackson for defensive coordinator, and they brought in Brian Smith to coach defensive backs. Smith and incumbent cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich will split responsibility for the defensive backs, and while both have NFL experience in some form, there’s always concern when a proven coach is replaced by someone not so proven. Thomas made a very nice interception in the spring game when he covered a lot of ground to intercept Shane Morris, but it should be noted that Shane Morris-to-Jack Wangler is no Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.

I think Thomas got over the proverbial hump last season, and now I think he’s a more valuable asset than Hill, who seemed to be the more trusted safety last year. Michigan doesn’t have another safety with Thomas’s speed, and I think the Cover 2 defense employed by Don Brown will give him an opportunity to make a few more plays: the free safety at Boston College, Brown’s last stop, was Justin Simmons, who made 5 picks last season and became a 3rd round NFL Draft pick for the Denver Broncos. Furthermore, Michigan is very thin at the position group, with true freshmen and walk-ons filling out the two- and three-deep after primary backup Tyree Kinnel. Thomas should be a very valuable part of the defense this season.

Prediction: Starting free safety; 50 tackles, 3 interceptions

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