The fallout from a coaching change at a major college program is the typical player attrition that follows when a new coaching regime takes over.
The University of Michigan experienced that two years ago, when Rich Rodriguez was fired and replaced by Brady Hoke. With it, Rodriguez’s spread option offensive attack was also replaced by Hoke’s preferred Pro Style, with an emphasis on the power running game.
With a roster full of small but quick, slot-style wide receivers and lighter-than-average offensive and defensive lineman, Michigan’s recruiting strategy obviously changed dramatically. It resulted in a huge 25-player class last season and topped this year by a 27-player class —one of the largest classes in program history.
Now that Hoke is entering his third year at U-M and fulfilling needs in recruiting, the huge recruiting classes going forward will likely become an aberration.
“It’s clearly based on player attrition,” said Grand Haven native Tom Beaver, the founder of GoBlueWolverine.com, which covers Michigan recruiting for Scout.com. “This is the finishing stage of the coaching transition, that veer in the road that Michigan experienced.
“Going from the spread offense to a dramatic change back to the power program, which Michigan was known for before Rodriguez, it meant a lot of re-tooling, particularly on offense, but really on both sides of the ball. It’s just a different philosophy from the two coaching staffs.”
A positive to having so many players leave the program is Hoke has been able to stockpile talent that he covets, and in doing so, he’s fortified his reputation as one of the best recruiters in the Midwest. His class this season ranks as the No.1 haul in the country, according to Scout.com. Other recruiting services such as Rivals.com and ESPN don’t have the Wolverines as No. 1, but solidly in the top 10.
The headliner pledge for Hoke is the nation’s No. 1 running back, 5-foot-11, 220-pound Derrick Green from Hermitage High School in Richmond, Va.
“We’ve got him as the sixth-highest rated player in the country, and he’s probably the highest-rated recruit Michigan has got since (quarterback) Ryan Mallett,” Beaver said. “For the type of program that Brady Hoke is trying to build, he needs that type of back. With Green and DeVeon Smith (from Warren, Ohio), that’s two power backs coming on board and that’s two more power back than they have now. That’s a huge deal for Michigan.”
Another strength of the class is the abundance of highly-rated offensive linemen. Beaver said he was surprised Michigan signed six in the class, with the last being Plymouth, Ind., native Dan Samuelson, a player who switched his commitment from Nebraska.
“He wasn’t on our radar,” Beaver said.
The Wolverines also signed tackle Kyle Bosch (Wheaton, Ill.); guard Chris Fox (Parker, Colo.); tackle Logan Tuley-Tillman (Peoria, Ill.); center Patrick Kugler (Wexford, Pa.); and guard David Dawson (Detroit Cass Tech). Each are ranked 4 stars or higher (out of 5 stars).
“You saw a good group signed from 2012 and with this class, Michigan has really re-stocked the position,” Beaver said.
Aside from Green, the other big-name signee on offense is quarterback Shane Morris, the highest-rated recruit from Michigan. The left-hander from Warren De La Salle High School missed most of his senior season due to mononucleosis, but possesses a strong arm and is an above-average athlete at 6-3, 200 pounds.
A player to watch, Beaver said, is tight end Jake Butt. The 6-6, 220-pounder from Pickerington, Ohio, is a well-developed player physically, who has shown the ability to catch the ball in tight spaces, but also has great speed. With Michigan’s lack of players at the position, Butt could be a candidate for early playing time.
On defense, one of the headliners is safety prospect Dymonte Thomas, a 6-1, 190-pounder from Alliance, Ohio. Thomas turned down a strong recruiting push from Urban Meyer and Ohio State and stuck with the Wolverines. He is one of seven early-enrollees at Michigan, meaning he’s already on campus and will be available for spring football.
“He played linebacker throughout his high school career, so it remains to be seen if he can get on the field early,” Beaver said. “But with his athleticism, he’s a natural safety. I expect him to be in the two-deep next season and make an impact in 2014.”
Beaver also likes the addition of Butt’s high school teammate, defensive end Vidauntae Charlton, who goes by Taco, a nickname given by his grandmother.
“He’s raw, but has a very high ceiling,” Beaver said. “Here’s a kid who is one of the tallest defensive ends Michigan has recruited at 6-6, and he’ll go 250 or 260. He has such an athletic ability rushing the passer off the edge. And he has a vertical leap of 40 inches.”
Maybe the only thing lacking from Michigan’s class is a highly ranked receiver, although they did sign three 3-star prospects. The Wolverines missed out on Illinois standout Laquon Treadwell, who signed with Ole Miss, as well as one-time commit Gareon Conley, who flipped to rival Ohio State.
“It just wasn’t a good year for wide receivers in the Midwest,” Beaver said. “The best kid on their radar is a 2014 kid, Drake Harris, from Grand Rapids Christian. He has a lot of natural ability. Michigan is keeping its fingers crossed with him.”