Opening: Michigan Day 3 Recap

The Michigan Insider's Josh Newkirk and Sam Webb recaps Saturday's action at The Opening Finals focusing on Michigan commits and top prospects.

Detroit (Mich.) King’s Ambry Thomas had his coming out party this weekend at The Opening, and boy, did he show the football world he can play amongst the best. He already had a stellar Saturday showing at cornerback, but late in the evening he switched to offense due to injuries at wide receiver for Hypercool.

And the switch worked for Thomas, how well exactly? Well, the four-star standout caught four touchdowns of 40+ yards on simple go routes, he simply just out ran his opponent. It was one of the better performances you’ll ever see in a camp setting.

After his strong showing at The Opening Finals, Thomas is a legitimate two-way threat. And teams should consider recruiting him as a two-way threat as well; he’s just too talented not to have on the field as much as possible. Any team would be lucky to have Thomas in their class.

Sam’s take: Thomas was pressed into duty at wide receiver due to injuries at the positon, his ability to blow by defensive backs with relative ease seemed to go unnoticed by his team. It must have come to their attention after the fact, though, because when Sunday morning arrived the Detroit King two-way star became an integral part of his Team HyperCool’s attack. For a three-game stretch Thomas put on a show that was unquestionably one of the best runs in the short history of the event.  His performance was highlighted by four touchdown receptions all from fifty yards out.  The first was a beautiful over the shoulder grab on a post from future Michigan signal caller Dylan McCaffrey.  The second came on a corner route from the slot that he caught 20 yards down the field and then turned the corner to outrun the defense the rest of the way.  His third grab came on a seam route that was underthrown, but Thomas turned back to adjust to the ball, out-jumped the defensive back, then hauled the ball away and trotted into the end zone for the score.  His last one may have been even more improbable because it came on 3rd & 20. He ran another corner route from the slot, blew by the defensive back, hauled in another over the shoulder catch for six. It was as impressive a one-day showing as we’ve seen in five years of covering The Opening.  Defensive back remains Thomas’ primary position, but he made it clear that he wants an opportunity to play offense. His problem won’t be convincing his future coach to let him play both ways, it may be convincing them to wait to do so.   He wants to spend a couple of years honing his craft at corner before he takes on dual duties.  He’ll have that opportunity wherever he goes.  Right now Florida is a team surging, but after The Opening dialed back talk of the Gators leading.  He named Florida one of his leaders along with Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Arizona. Stay tuned for more from Thomas later today.

Dylan McCaffrey started off slow, finishing his first drive with an interception. Then, however, was able to counter with a flurry of deep balls down field showing off tremendous touch in his final day of action in Nike’s The Opening Finals.

McCaffrey, who rotated with LSU commit Myles Brennan on team Hypercool, led his team with two straight 40+ yard fade passes for touchdowns in his first game of the day. It would end bittersweet, as he threw an interception in overtime as his team fell to the losers bracket of the 7v7 tournament.

Moving forward, McCaffrey would throw two more touchdowns, -- all on deep fade passes – as is team would end up losing in the semifinals matchup.

That being said, the future Wolverine displayed tremendous touch on his fade passes He was arguably the best deep ball passer of the tournament. He was able to drop the ball in a bread basket as the receiver rarely had to break stride. He also showed good accuracy. He hit his receivers over the middle for multiple short passes. Like most of the quarterbacks, he could’ve been more aggressive with his receivers down the field. That might be a case of becoming more comfortable in the offense. While he’ll need to get stronger, McCaffrey still showed he’s an elite level QB and had overall a very solid showing at The Opening.

Sam’s take: They say it’s not always about how you start, it’s often about how you finish.  That definitely applies to McCaffrey.  The future Michigan signal caller started out slowly.  One of the last things to come was attacking down the football field.  In fairness to him, his high school offense in predicated upon short and intermediate throwing.  He hit those throws with great precision. But the name of the game at The Opening, and in college, is being able to connect on big plays when the opportunities present themselves.  Sunday McCaffrey did that.  Three of his touchdown throws went for over forty yards and he connected with three difference receivers (Jhamon Ausbon, Ambry Thomas, and Oliver Martin). Over the course of the week his most striking attribute was his accuracy.  That accuracy carried over to his downfield passing where each of his touchdown throws were perfectly placed in stride.  All told, The Opening was a positive experience for the talented youngster. The exciting thing for Michigan is as good as he is now, he is going to be a lot better as his body matures.  He will unquestionably get bigger and stronger in the coming years…probably to the tune of 20-30 pounds of additional muscle. That will open up his downfield passing game even more.

Iowa City (Iowa) West Senior WR Oliver Martin was Hypercool’s most consistent receiver throughout the weekend. If you needed a key first down, he was Hypercool’s man across the middle to make the play. He still showed enough speed to beat his opponent downfield, and a caught a nice over shoulder pass from McCafrey for 40+ yard score later in the playoffs.

Sam’s take: Martin just gets open. The kid works the slot with the precision of a New England Patriot. He is not a burner (4.57) and he wasn’t the biggest pass catcher in attendance (6-1, 189), but his combination of size, speed, quickness, and route running from the slot was tough for defensive backs to stop.  He very quickly became a quarterback-favorite for both signal callers on Team HyperCool.  His chemistry with McCaffrey was readily apparent on an over the shoulder throw 40 yards down the seam for a score in the semis. That was clearly Martin single biggest play, but where he consistently did damage was in the short and intermediate areas. He consistently moved the chains. Michigan fans should picture Grant Perry, but bigger, stronger, faster, and with more shake.  This isn’t a kid that the Wolverines were heavily involved with before The Opening, but they are now. Thanks to some not-so subtle suggestions from the Michigan commits at The Opening, the Maize & Blue offered Martin a scholarship Sunday night. He spoke to The Michigan Insider afterward and expressed his strong interest. Stay tuned for the interview with the talented youngster set to come later today.

Sam’s take: Cesar Ruiz came on in a huge way the final two days of The Opening and established himself as one of the top five linemen in attendance.  After witnessing him nullify the quickness possessed by South Jordan (Utah Bingham defensive tackle Jay Tufele in a one-on-one match up Saturday, we watched him stand up to the power of Bellaire (Tex.) five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson. Scout.com’s #1 defensive tackle was stopped cold in two of three reps.  The third and final rep could have gone either way. By the end of the event Ruiz had shown that he is arguably the top center prospect in the country.  He still has a long list of schools that he is considering, but he announced during The Opening that Alabama and Michigan are the two teams at the top.

Sam’s take: Foster Sarell made his case for being named the top player in the country regardless of positon. In three days he lost only a couple of reps. No other lineman in attendance had a record as good. Few have in the history of The Opening. There’s not really much to add to that which was stated after day two… this young man has the potential to be a big time player at one of the sport’s premiere position, and a first round draft pick in four to five years. He is that good.

Sam’s take: The only lineman better than Alex Leatherwood at The Opening 2016 was Foster Sarell, but the big Alabama commit showed he isn’t far behind.  This is a grown man playing with kids. That’s a nod both to his 35-year old appearance and to his imposing size. Leatherwood is a devastating drive blocker whose power is surpassed by his intensity and nastiness.  That part of his game wasn’t surprising, though.  The part of his game that did surprise onlookers was his pass pro.  Count Nike’s lead OL/DL coach among those that were really impressed.  “(Leatherwood is) really good,” said Huber.  “I put him some precarious positions. When I bring these kids in, the battle is do you take five centers and make it all even across the positions so it’s easy and they can play their position, or do you challenge kids? He has played left tackle, left guard, right tackle (and) right guard. (He) probably is a true left tackle at the next level, but (he was) a guy who stepped up to the challenge and just wants to pay ball.  (He has) a good nasty streak to that is controlled. He has got the same ability to control that nasty streak as a Cam Robinson.  That’s obviously an easy comparison with him going to Alabama. Very similar player. Alex is on that road. He is an awesome kid, wants to learn, and has been able to take things and apply them the next rep… and those are the unique traits. All these kids are really talented, but if you can take coaching and apply it the next rep, that’s when you’re special... and that’s what Cam had.” And that’s what Leatherwood has.  He also has a number of schools still chasing him despite his commitment, including Michigan.  He reiterated on a few different occasions his plan to take an official visit to Ann Arbor.  That gives the Wolverines a puncher’s chance at a kid who is a shoe-in to be bumped up to five-star status.


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