2017 Season Countdown: #3B Mason Cole

Tag: 2017 season countdown

29Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #3B Mason Cole

Mason Cole (#52, image via MGoBlue)

Name: Mason Cole
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 305 lbs.
High school: Tarpon Springs (FL) East Lake
Position: Offensive tackle
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #52
Last year: I ranked Cole #3 and said he would be the starting center and Second Team All-Big Ten. He started all thirteen games and was indeed Second Team All-Big Ten.
TTB Rating: 87

Cole has been busy making history since he entered college. He was the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Michigan, and after starting the first 25 games of his career there, the coaching staff moved him to center for 2016. Coming out of high school, he was thought to be more of an offensive guard, so center made some sense. With an eye toward his potential NFL career, it was a good idea for him to show off some positional versatility and reveal to the NFL that he could play that spot. He performed adequately enough at center to be named second team all-conference by both the coaches and the media. Even though he was not a mauler, he consistently did his job without getting beaten, which has been the story of his career at both positions.

Now Cole is back at left tackle. Last year’s starting tackle, Grant Newsome, is still out with a devastating knee injury, and his replacement, Ben Braden, graduated. The most logical option was to bump Cole back out, especially because Michigan has a fifth year senior (Patrick Kugler) and an elite recruit (Cesar Ruiz) at center. There’s not much reason to believe that he will become a superstar left tackle, but he should shore up a position that looked like it would otherwise be a glaring weakness; the other options were to play an overmatched Juwann Bushell-Beatty or a true freshman. Not only will he protect quarterback Wilton Speight’s blind side, but he could move back to center if something drastic were to happen, and he will provide leadership for an inexperienced offensive line. Earlier this week, he was named one of Michigan’s captains, along with linebacker Mike McCray II. This should be another good season for Cole, and he’ll probably be all-conference once again.

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

29Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #4 Tyree Kinnel

Name: Tyree Kinnel
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 206 lbs.
High school: Huber Heights (OH) Wayne
Position: Safety
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #23
Last year: I ranked Kinnel #35 and said he would be a backup safety. He made 17 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and and 1 forced fumble.
TTB Rating: 74

Kinnel was a solid player in 2016, but he was behind seniors Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill. He was valued as a key backup and special teamer, but unless an injury or two took place, he was not expected to be a huge contributor. He fared well throughout the season whenever called upon, and he made a very impressive tackle for loss against Maryland where it looked like he knew the play before the snap. In many years, Michigan’s starting safeties have looked comparable to or worse than Kinnel; yet he was #3 or #4 in 2016, depending on how you view Jabrill Peppers.

This year he’s the grizzled veteran in the safety group, and he has to start. In fact, he could have spent all off-season eating buffet dinners and lying on his couch, and he would still be the starter at free safety. Michigan lacks skill and depth at the safety positions. Sophomore Joshua Metellus, redshirt sophomore walk-on Jordan Glasgow (who just earned a scholarship, actually), and freshman J’Marick Woods are all on the two-deep at safety, and they’re all extremely inexperienced. It’s key for Kinnel to stay healthy and direct the back end of the defense, because things might get rather tense if he’s not out there in crunch time. He’s a smart, solid tackler with decent speed, and I’m not sure we can say that about those other guys yet.

Prediction: Starting free safety; 70 tackles, 1 interception

28Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #5A Bryan Mone

Bryan Mone (#90, image via MLive)

Name: Bryan Mone
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 330 lbs.
High school: Salt Lake City (UT) Highland
Position: Defensive tackle
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #90
Last year: I ranked Mone #15 and said he would be a backup nose tackle with 25 tackles and 3 sacks. He made 11 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 pass breakup.
TTB Rating: 88

Just prior to the 2015 season, Michigan’s coaching staff did a ranking of their own players, and Mone was considered to be the #3 guy on the whole team. That was a team that included two All-Americans in Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis, not to mention a whole host of other NFL talent. Then Mone broke his leg, and Michigan took a big hit to its defensive line depth.

In the summer of 2016, word came that Mone was in the best physical condition of his life, and there were videos posted of him on social media running around like a 330 lb. guy shouldn’t be able to do. He responded with a ho-hum football season. Maybe the injury was still bothering him during the year.

Now it’s the summer of 2017, and the past two seasons of hype have dimmed my hopes for him. I would love to be wrong, but I no longer have hopes or expectations that Mone can be a Dude for Don Brown. I’m simply hoping for a year of health and competence. Much of the nose tackle depth has dissipated from the past two years, and now Mone is expected to start. If injuries or fatigue get to him, the Wolverines will have to play unproven freshman Aubrey Solomon or unproven sophomore Michael Dwumfour; or they will have to move Maurice Hurst, Jr. back over from the 3-tech position, hurting depth there. It is imperative that Mone stays healthy this season, because while there is a lot of talent on the defensive line, there aren’t many guys who can replicate the stellar play of Ryan Glasgow. Hopefully Mone can at least command some double-teams while incrementally increasing his playmaking production.

Prediction: Starting nose tackle; 20 tackles, 1 sack

28Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #5b Mike McCray II

Mike McCray II (image via Medium)

Name: Mike McCray II
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 248 lbs.
High school: Trotwood (OH) Trotwood-Madison
Position: Linebacker
Class: Fifth year senior
Jersey number: #9
Last year: I ranked McCray #19 and said McCray would be the starting WILL linebacker with 60 tackles. He made 75 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 4 pass breakups, and 6 quarterback hurries.
TTB Rating: 74

McCray spent a lot of time a) playing special teams and b) being injured prior to 2016, and there was even a question about whether he would be able to continue his football career. A lingering shoulder injury has caused him problems, and he wears a harness over that shoulder to protect him from further injury. So when he solidified himself as Michigan’s starting weakside linebacker last season, there was some trepidation about whether that role would last.

He hit the ground running, though. At 6’4″ and 248 lbs., he’s a very large weakside linebacker, but he was impressive in coverage and on the blitz. Pro Football Focus names him the #3 returning linebacker in the Big Ten, #1 in pass rushing, and #2 in pass coverage (LINK). He struggled occasionally with finishing tackles in space, a problem that I think was overblown at times. Yes, the 6’4″, 248-pounder had trouble corralling scatbacks in open space, which shouldn’t be surprising. That’s like complaining that a 5’7″ cornerback struggles to cover a 6’6″ tight end. It’s his job to do that, but you know ahead of time that’s not his strength and throw him out there, anyway, because he’s good at other stuff.

Recently, McCray was named a captain for the 2017 unit, along with offensive tackle Mason Cole. As the only returning starter from 2016, McCray is looked at as a leader and highly competent player. He could very well be an All-Big Ten performer this year, especially if Wisconsin linebackers keep dropping like flies. Sometimes all-conference accolades are given out as lifetime achievement awards, and if McCray can produce like he did last year – or maybe just a bit better – I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him earn those honors.

Prediction: Starting weakside linebacker; Second Team All-Big Ten

27Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #6 Chase Winovich

Chase Winovich (image via MLive)

Name: Chase Winovich
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 245 lbs.
High school: Jefferson Hills (PA) Thomas Jefferson
Position: Defensive end
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #15
Last year: I ranked Winovich #37 and said he would be a backup weakside end. He started two games and made 35 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.
TTB Rating: 79

Winovich was an unknown quantity going into 2016 after spending 2014 as a linebacker and 2015 as a fullback/tight end. Jim Harbaugh liked his upside as an offensive player enough to move him to offense, but the high school quarterback didn’t seem to adjust to being a guy without the ball in his hands. But instead of moving back to linebacker, the staff bulked him up and plopped him at weakside end. I could see in the spring of 2016 that he was going to be quick enough and aggressive enough to pester offensive tackles and quarterbacks and be a contributor, and that came true. He backed up Taco Charlton at weakside end and finished the year with the second-most sacks on the team, despite being a backup.

Now that Charlton is with the Dallas Cowboys, Winovich’s spot is written in ink at weakside end. Some solid recruits back him up, but this is Winovich’s job. He should continue where he left off, and I expect an uptick in production now that he has been playing one spot for a second year in a row. He’s a smaller guy, but he plays with leverage and a non-stop motor. I think there’s a fair amount of talent in the Big Ten on the defensive line, but Winovich could be a second team all-conference guy this season.

Prediction: Starting weakside end; 40 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 9 sacks