2013 Season Countdown: #20 Jarrod Wilson

Tag: 2013 season countdown

9Aug 2013
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2013 Season Countdown: #20 Jarrod Wilson

Jarrod Wilson

Name: Jarrod Wilson
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 200 lbs.
High school: Akron (OH) Buchtel
Position: Safety
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #22
Last year: I ranked Wilson #56 and said he would be a backup free safety. He had 8 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.

Wilson’s first season in a Michigan uniform was a little bit forgettable. He earned the role of the backup free safety, backing up Thomas Gordon for most of the year. He also played some in nickel situations when the coaches brought in a third safety instead of a third cornerback. However, there were some missed tackles, poor reads, etc. that allowed big plays. There was a bit of a flash against the South Carolina game when Wilson got caught too shallow but then showed great recovery speed. Rumors flowed during the spring that the coaches were working on helping Wilson regain some of the confidence he had lost during the season, but the physical skills are obviously there.

Wilson should be the starter at one of the safety spots this year, although the safeties were trading responsibilities at times during the spring game. His starting position is almost guaranteed at this point. I have always liked his speed, range, and ballhawking ability, and I think he can be a very good safety, but we’ll see how quickly that becomes true. Playing safety as a true freshman is always difficult, and I prefer when freshmen get redshirted at the position, but that wasn’t the case last year. Now that he has some experience, has watched himself on film, and knows how well he matches up athletically with other players around the Big Ten, he should be significantly improved this season.

Prediction: Starting free safety; 40 tackles, 2 interceptions

8Aug 2013
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2013 Season Countdown: #21 Dennis Norfleet

Dennis Norfleet

Name: Dennis Norfleet
Height: 5’7″
Weight: 169 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) King
Position: Running back/slot receiver/kick returner
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #23
Last year: I ranked Norfleet #57 and said he would be the starting returner by the end of the season. He returned 35 kickoffs for 827 yards (23.6 yards/return), 2 punts for 53 yards (26.5 yards/return), and had 2 carries for 13 yards (6.5 yards/carry).

Norfleet was indeed the starting kick returner by the end of the season, and I was pretty spot on with guessing he would average 23.0 yards per return. The trouble with my prediction was that he was also the starting kick returner at the beginning  of the year. He never became the full-time punt guy, but he did have a couple nice returns in blowouts against UMass and Illinois. Overall, Norfleet was the most exciting return man Michigan has put on the field in a few years, arguably going back to the days of Steve Breaston (although Darryl Stonum had one good year in there before the booze got to him). There were a couple times where he seemed this  close to breaking returns for touchdowns, but got dragged down or tripped up at the last second. For reasons that aren’t totally understood to me, Norfleet was only given two carries on the year, one of which he ripped for a 14-yard gain; that might be okay in a normal year, but Michigan lacked big plays at the running back position, especially once Toussaint broke his leg late in the year. For the bowl game, Norfleet was even moved to cornerback in case of emergency, but he only played on special teams.

This year it has been announced that Norfleet is a slot receiver, which is good and bad. It’s good in the sense that he provides some speed at a position that is mostly made up of possession guys. It’s bad in the sense that Michigan might still lack speed at running back. Oh well. Norfleet is most valuable as a return man, and those spots are likely his to lose. He should remain the kickoff returner, and last year’s starting punt returner, Jeremy Gallon, might be relieved of those duties now that he’ll be counted on as the top wide receiver. Norfleet is a big play waiting to happen, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in whatever capacity the coaches can get him on the field.

Prediction: Starting punt and kick returner; 25 yards per kick return, 11 yards per punt return; 5 receptions for 70 yards and 1 touchdown

8Aug 2013
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2013 Season Countdown: #22 Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Name: Brendan Gibbons
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 240 lbs.
High school: West Palm Beach (FL) Cardinal Newman
Position: Kicker
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #34
Last year: I ranked Gibbons #22 and said he would be the starting placekicker. He was 16/18 on field goal attempts and 45/45 on extra points.

Gibbons continued to grow in 2012 after having his breakout season in 2011. After hitting the game-winner in the Sugar Bowl following the 2011 season, he bolstered his resume with a game-winner against Michigan State, a game-tying kick against Northwestern (which forced overtime in an eventual victory), and a career long 52-yarder against Nebraska. All that was enough to turn him into an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention kicker.

Accounting for 93 of Michigan’s points last year is pretty important, so I might even be underrating him here. Gibbons has solidified the kicking job after Michigan really struggled at the position a few years ago, and I think the offense will need him this year more so than in past years. I have some doubts about whether Michigan’s replacements for Roy Roundtree can be effective, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is coming off a broken leg, and the interior offensive line is a question mark. The big plays from Denard Robinson won’t be there, and the only proven big-play receiver is Jeremy Gallon. While I do believe in Devin Gardner, Gallon, and Devin Funchess, Michigan might have to win some close games against the likes of Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc.

Prediction: Starting placekicker

7Aug 2013
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2013 Season Countdown: #23 Ben Braden

Ben Braden (image via Twitter)

Name: Ben Braden
Height: 6’6″
Weight: 318 lbs.
High school: Rockford (MI) Rockford
Position: Offensive guard
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #71
Last year: I ranked Braden #67 and said he would be a backup right tackle. He redshirted.

When Braden hit campus in 2012, he was a man mountain. Most high school offensive linemen need to add size, but not him. Despite being a good size already, Michigan’s linemen remained healthy throughout the year. He redshirted, but by the time spring rolled around, he was perhaps the most talked about replacement lineman entering the season. With both offensive tackles returning from 2013, Braden moved into the left guard spot for the spring and started the spring scrimmage there.

Taylor Lewan stated this summer that Braden is a freak athlete, and we’re likely to see his combination of athleticism and size starting at left guard; head coach Brady Hoke recently confirmed that he was the front-runner for that position. Any redshirt freshman lineman is bound to struggle at times, and there are some potentially viable backups, such as redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant. Braden should do okay as a run blocker, because he can stay pretty low for a 6’6″ guy, but pass protection is usually where young guys struggle. It will probably be an up-and-down year for the offensive line unit, and I expect Braden to play well against the lesser units and struggle against the Notre Dames and Ohio States of the world.

Prediction: Starting left guard

7Aug 2013
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2013 Season Countdown: #24 Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan

Name: Jake Ryan
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 240 lbs.
High school: Cleveland (OH) St. Ignatius
Position: Linebacker
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #47
Last year: I ranked Ryan #12 and said he would be the starting SAM with 45 tackles and 5 sacks. He had 88 tackles, 16 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 pass breakups.

Ryan went from a pretty good player in 2011 to a star in 2012. Opposing players recently stated at Big Ten Media Days that Ryan was the guy their offense always liked to identify before every snap. You can see why with statistics like that; while not out of this world, they’re certainly noteworthy, and he was named All-Big Ten Second Team because of his performance. Against Michigan’s two biggest conference foes (Michigan State and Ohio State, naturally), Ryan totaled 19 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL at the beginning of spring practices and missed the entire spring session.

If he were healthy, Ryan would be ranked quite a bit higher. I struggled with where to place him, because he’ll probably be out until sometime in October or perhaps November. How high or low do you rank your best defensive player . . . who’s bound to miss at least half the season? Michigan has a bunch of solid players on defense, but none of them are proven playmakers. Jordan Kovacs could make the big tackles, but he wasn’t a turnover machine. Blake Countess has yet to make an interception in college. Thomas Gordon made a bunch of turnovers two years ago, but he hasn’t been consistent. Someone will need to step up and make game-changing plays until Ryan returns from injury. Maybe it will be Countess or Gordon or Frank Clark or James Ross, but we know Ryan can be that guy when healthy. I expect to see a little bit of a drop-off in Ryan’s production when he returns, so he probably won’t be quite the same player this year; he was also a guy who could have been an early NFL Draft entrant after this season, but he’ll probably need to return in 2014 to showcase his talents. Still, if he comes back on schedule in October, I think he’ll be able to wreak a little bit of havoc here and there.

Prediction: Starting SAM when healthy; 35 tackles, 3 sacks