2017 Season Countdown: #16 Michael Onwenu

Tag: 2017 season countdown

16Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #16 Michael Onwenu

Michael Onwenu (image via MLive)

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Name: Michael Onwenu
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 350 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) Cass Tech
Position: Offensive guard
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #50
Last year: I ranked Onwenu #68 and said he would be a backup offensive guard. He played in nine games at offensive guard, defensive tackle, and on special teams.
TTB Rating: 78

In most years, take an overweight offensive guard as a true freshman, and you can slap a redshirt on him. Not for Michigan in 2016, though. Michigan’s coaching staff knew they were losing three seniors to graduation after the season (OG/OT Ben Braden, OG Kyle Kalis, and OT Erik Magnuson), and maybe they knew in their hearts that David Dawson wouldn’t be able to hack it in the program. That’s four offensive linemen gone from last year’s mediocre crew, not to mention that Patrick Kugler was a candidate to depart, too. Some seasoning was necessary. So they threw in Onwenu at offensive guard. And nose tackle. And on the field goal unit.

This year he will play a little less nose tackle and a lot more offensive guard. Onwenu is slated to take over Kyle Kalis’s right guard spot. Reviews have been mixed, however. Onwenu has always moved well for a big man (he was up around 370 lbs. for a while), but the caveat “for a big man” is necessary. He can get going in a straight line, but his lateral quickness can be an issue. That becomes apparent at times in pass protection and when trying to reach the second level. On the flip side, if he gets his hand on a defender, that defender turns into that poor little opossum you see on your way to work in the morning. Rumor has it that the coaching staff gave Onwenu some tough love and put him on a weight loss plan, and now Onwenu is down in the 350 lb. range. Hopefully that’s light enough to where he can last a whole game without getting too exhausted to play effectively.

Prediction: Starting right guard

15Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #17 Lavert Hill

Lavert Hill (#24) with Delano Hill (#44, image via MLive)

Name: Lavert Hill
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 168 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) King
Position: Cornerback
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #24
Last year: I ranked Hill #74 and said he would be a backup cornerback. He made 2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 pass breakup.
TTB Rating: 84

Hill was a very slight cornerback coming out of high school, so it was questionable whether he would play in 2016 or not. With three very good corners on the roster, how many redshirts would be worth burning? The answer: All of them. Of course, all three of those top corners were seniors, so the staff naturally wanted to develop guys to replace them. Hill was one of those guys. Early in the season, he was reportedly running behind David Long, Jr. to play, but an injury to Long pushed Hill to the forefront of that 2016 corner class. He ended up being the fourth (or fifth) cornerback behind Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Brandon Watson, and Jabrill Peppers (depending on your view of Peppers’s position).

This spring Michigan’s coaching staff suggested that Hill might be the most talented cornerback on the roster. Those are strong words, considering the presence of David Long and Ambry Thomas, among others. However, a constant theme with Hill has been “toughness” or perhaps a lack of it. The coaches publicly and gently suggested that Hill (and Long) needed to learn how tough the college game is and how to play through bumps and bruises, but I think we can be assured that such a sentiment was shared more strongly behind closed doors. Hill has the quickness to be a solid field corner and has some similarities to Jourdan Lewis, but there’s not a whole lot of experienced depth at cornerback. Normally, a fourth or fifth (or sixth if you go back to pre-Clark) corner won’t jump to #17 on the countdown, but the huge loss of talent at the position pushes Hill and a couple of these other guys into the top 20.

Prediction: Starting cornerback; 25 tackles, 2 interceptions

15Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #18 Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.

Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. (image via 247 Sports)

Name: Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
Height: 6’6″
Weight: 276 lbs.
High school: Buffalo (NY) Canisius
Position: Tight end
Class: Redshirt sophomore
Jersey number: #17
Last year: I ranked Wheatley #30 and said he would be a part-time starter at tight end. He made 3 catches for 35 yards and 1 touchdown.
TTB Rating: 82

Wheatley was a huge tight end and defensive end when he came out of high school, big enough to where many people thought he would grow into an offensive tackle. He was up around 290 lbs. prior to his freshman year, and was listed at 276 lbs. by the beginning of 2016. With Jake Butt at tight end, he was bound to be primarily a backup tight end battling with Devin Asiasi, Ian Bunting, and others for playing time. He got wide open for a 21-yard TD against Illinois, but he was mostly used as a blocker.

Despite his size, the biggest knock on Wheatley has been his blocking skills. He has reportedly dropped some more weight going into this season and should be in the 260 lb. range when the new fall roster is released. I expect him to be a second tight end this year, and while maybe he hasn’t reached his potential as a blocker, I think that’s where he holds the most value for this team. Ian Bunting is probably going to win the starting tight end position, but he struggles as a blocker, too, so the coaching staff needs to find a blocker out of Wheatley and Sean McKeon. I think Wheatley’s targets will increase this season, but he probably won’t be a breakout receiving star.

Prediction: Backup tight end

14Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #19 Carlo Kemp

Carlo Kemp (image via 247 Sports)

Name: Carlo Kemp
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 255 lbs.
High school: Boulder (CO) Fairview
Position: Defensive end
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #2
Last year: I ranked Kemp #64 and said he would be a backup weakside end. He played in two games.
TTB Rating: 84

Kemp was a recruit who flew a little bit under the radar. A fairly highly rated recruit, he didn’t play in any all-star games and didn’t get a lot of hype, even though he’s related to the Pagano clan. Michigan played around with him at SAM and MIKE linebacker before letting him settle in at defensive end last season, but he’s the definition of a burned redshirt. He played in just two games (Colorado, Rutgers), and he didn’t play much in those contests.

To an extent, Kemp is an unknown. He didn’t play enough last season to get a great idea of who he is as a player, but with all the players Michigan lost in the front seven, Kemp should become an integral part of the 2017 defense. He has the skills to play strongside or weakside end, and there aren’t many non-freshman options at those spots. Rashan Gary has the starting strongside end position locked down, but the hype for Kemp as his backup really started to build this spring. I liked what I saw from him, he stays low, and he plays with power. As a guy with a year of experience under his belt and a physically ready build, I have Kemp jumping up from #64 all the way to here at #19 because of how much backup defensive linemen rotate into the game. Gary has the ability to kick down to defensive tackle in certain packages, and we may see Kemp become this season’s Chase Winovich.

Prediction: Backup strongside end

14Aug 2017
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2017 Season Countdown: #20 Keith Washington

Keith Washington (image via Twitter)

Name: Keith Washington
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 170 lbs.
High school: Prattville (AL) Prattville
Position: Cornerback
Class: Redshirt sophomore
Jersey number: #6
Last year: I ranked Washington #54 and said he would be a backup cornerback. He made 3 tackles.
TTB Rating: 68

Washington entered college in 2015 with very little experience at defensive back. Instead, he was a standout dual-threat quarterback in high school. So the transition from high school QB to college CB was bound to take some time. He looked lost in the 2016 spring game, he got overpowered, he lost contain, and he didn’t look like he knew how to tackle very well. He was sprinkled in on special teams in 2016 and made a few tackles, but he largely went unnoticed.

Fast forward to the 2017 spring game, and everything may have changed. The first thing is that he looked noticeably larger than the 170 lbs. he had been listed at during his first two seasons on campus. Second, he looked like he knew what he was doing. His technique had improved, and he was playing faster. Washington is an example of why some people aren’t too concerned about an inexperienced defense under Don Brown, because a year of experience in a complicated defense can make a huge difference. In Washington’s case, he may have a bit of a breakout season. Hardcore Michigan fans know who he is, but a casual fan may wonder “Where did this guy come from?” when he takes the field this fall. I think Washington will take on a more prominent role, and to my eyes, he looked like the best cover corner on the team in the spring game.

Prediction: Starting cornerback; 20 tackles, 2 interceptions