2021 Season Countdown: #5 Mazi Smith

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30Aug 2021
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2021 Season Countdown: #5 Mazi Smith

Mazi Smith (image via Maize ‘n’ Brew)

Name: Mazi Smith
Height:
6’3″
Weight:
326 lbs.
High school:
Grand Rapids (MI) East Kentwood
Position:
Nose tackle
Class:
Redshirt sophomore
Jersey number:
#58
Last year:
I ranked Smith #28 and said he would be a backup defensive tackle (LINK). He made 3 tackles and 1 tackle for loss.
TTB Rating:
86

Michigan fans have been longing for an impact defensive tackle basically since Maurice Hurst, Jr. moved on to the NFL. For the past few seasons, the Wolverines have been lacking true defensive tackles, resulting in the team playing people like former linebacker Carlo Kemp on the interior. In the class of 2019, Michigan recruited a couple highly regarded, beefy tackle types, and fans have been salivating for them to play. Unfortunately, it’s been some slow going with Smith and Chris Hinton, Jr. Smith played in a couple games in 2019 but didn’t do much, and last season he made just 3 tackles in five games as a backup.

With the move to more of a 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, Michigan needs a nose tackle to step up. Smith is the obvious top choice considering his size and recruiting pedigree. The concern continues to be his conditioning. How long can he play at one time or in any one game before his performance falls off drastically? Michigan did bring in help in the form of Oregon State nose tackle Jordan Whittley, but reports coming out of practice are saying he’s probably not going to help much. (Whittley sat out the 2020 season and is in the 350 lb. range.) Beyond those two players, Michigan is looking at the likes of Donovan Jeter, Jess Speight, and Jack Stewart. Ideally, Smith and Whittley would provide a nice 1-2 punch on standard downs, perhaps with a sub package coming in on passing downs to get a better pass rusher on the field.

Prediction: Starting nose tackle; 15 tackles, 3 tackles for loss

30Aug 2021
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2021 Season Countdown: #6 Hassan Haskins

Nov 21, 2020; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins (25) carries the ball as Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Christian Izien (0) pursues during overtime at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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Name: Hassan Haskins
Height:
6’1″
Weight:
220 lbs.
High school:
St. Louis (MO) Eureka
Position:
Running back
Class:
Redshirt junior
Jersey number:
#25
Last year:
I ranked Haskins #40 and said he would be a backup running back (LINK). He led the team with 61 carries for 375 yards (6.1 yards/carry) and 6 touchdowns; he also caught 0 passes for 0 yards.
TTB Rating:
74

I have to admit to being a Hassan Haskins doubter. Not that I ever thought he would be an abject failure (I gave a TTB Rating of 74), but I thought he would get stuck behind Zach Charbonnet. Or Chris Evans. But like a horror movie villain, you try to run away, you stumble, you look up, and he’s always there. Looming. Lurking.

Charbonnet (since transferred to UCLA) was the first victim, and Evans (held to just 25 touches in 2020) was the second. Haskins broke a ton of tackles, ran the Wildcat, and seemed to cement his place as the #1 running back on the team. He made some long runs (66 yards vs. Minnesota, 59 vs. Penn State) and squeaked out yardage when it seemed like there was nowhere to go. As a somewhat taller back, he has shown a surprising ability to sink his hips and make people miss.

Now Haskins appears to be the top guy with Blake Corum as his tag team buddy. Michigan has always rotated backs heavily during the Jim Harbaugh era, and not just when Jay Harbaugh was the running backs coach from 2017-2020. Tyrone Wheatley also rotated through guys in 2015-2016, with five players having 30+ carries in 2015 and four guys notching 70+ carries in 2016. The rotation won’t be quite as liberal in 2021 since Michigan has just four scholarship running backs on the roster, but both Haskins and Corum should get a fair number of opportunities. I don’t think Haskins will have an explosive year on the ground, but if Michigan’s line can gel this season, I think he could approach 900 yards.

Prediction: Starting running back; 900 yards, 9 touchdowns

29Aug 2021
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2021 Season Countdown: #7 Jake Moody

Michigan kicker Jake Moody (2) kicks a field goal to go up 3-0 in the first quarter of their college football game against Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, on Saturday, October 26, 2019. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Name: Jake Moody
Height:
6’1″
Weight:
211 lbs.
High school:
Northville (MI) Northville
Position:
Kicker
Class:
Senior
Jersey number:
#13
Last year:
I ranked Moody #30 and said he would be the starting kickoff specialist and the part-time placekicker (LINK). He was the kickoff specialist and made 1/4 field goals.
TTB Rating:
N/A

Moody had a season to forget in 2020. And really that forgettable stretch began in the middle of 2019. After making just 2/5 field goals to end that campaign, Moody made just 1/4 field goals last season – including going 0/3 against Minnesota in the season opener. The confidence for Michigan’s kickers has been shaky for the past few seasons, as Moody and Quinn Nordin (now with the Patriots) have alternated. One iffy kicker would be benched for another iffy kicker.

Now there’s only one iffy scholarship kicker on the roster, and it’s Moody. Michigan does have walk-on Cole Hussung and freshman punter/kicker Tommy Doman. Both have potential, but guessing at kicker talent based on highlights is a fool’s errand. Every well regarded kicker/punter has the potential to kick 50-yard field goals and average 45 yards per punt, but do they have the consistent technique and emotional stability to handle the job?

I’m not convinced that Moody can handle the ups and downs of kicking at Michigan, but options are limited. Perhaps with Nordin out of the way, he can settle in and be more consistent. I struggled with where to place Moody because of his inconsistency, but with an offense that may lack explosiveness, it would really help to have a guy who can put the ball through the uprights regularly and prevent too many empty trips into opponent territory.

Predictions: Starting kickoff specialist and placekicker

29Aug 2021
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2021 Ex-Wolverine Updates: Week 0

Zach Charbonnet (image via Yahoo! News)

I’m calling this Week Zero because if Michigan isn’t playing, then has the football season really started?

FORMER PLAYERS

RB Zach Charbonnet (UCLA): Charbonnet was third on the team in rushing attempts (6), but he led the team in yardage (106 yards), touchdowns (3), and rushing average (17.7). That rushing average was boosted by a 46-yard touchdown on which he broke several tackle attempts. Here are all three of his scores:

Hit the jump for more.

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29Aug 2021
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2021 Season Countdown: #8 Ronnie Bell

Ronnie Bell (image via MLive)

Name: Ronnie Bell
Height:
6’0″
Weight:
192 lbs.
High school:
Kansas City (MO) Park Hill
Position:
Wide receiver
Class:
Senior
Jersey number:
#8
Last year:
I ranked Bell #12 and said he would be a starting wide receiver (LINK). He caught 26 passes for 401 yards and 1 touchdown.
TTB Rating:
71

We have reached the point in the countdown where I think any major injury in the top eight could be devastating for Michigan’s season. In this case, I hemmed and hawed about who should be ranked the lowest of the tier, and I finally settled on Bell. Bell still gets a lot of flak for not being good enough, which is odd to me because he has led the team in receiving for two consecutive years. He has also repeatedly shown that he’s the only receiver who can consistently gain yards after the catch. That led to him averaging a respectable 15.8 and 15.9 yards per reception in each of the past two seasons. But when you’re an afterthought as a recruit with no high-level offers, I guess that stigma sticks with you.

The 2020 season saw him make 4 receptions in five games and 6 against Indiana, a game in which he totaled 149 yards and 1 touchdown, including a 52-yard catch and run. Bell has decent hands and isn’t afraid to venture over the middle. He can break tackles and maintain his balance well, but what he lacks is top-end speed. His leadership and toughness have led to him being named a captain for the 2021 season, so I don’t think he’s getting passed up on the depth chart. There’s a chance that another receiver will take over the lead in receptions or yards this fall, but I’m putting my figurative money on Bell to once again lead the team. With other talented receivers on the roster, I don’t think the passing game would fall apart if Bell were to get injured, but I don’t know that any other receiver can take a bubble screen or RPO slant, break a couple tackles, and gain 40-50 yards after the catch.

Prediction: Starting wide receiver; 43 catches, 670 yards, 4 touchdowns