Story by Eugene Hankerson
The second day of practice was very spirited due to the East and West squads converging at Heroes Stadium for 1-on-1’s and a skeleton scrimmage. Michigan commitments and recruiting targets continued to make waves on and off the field.
Let’s start with the player who has been the center of attention since arriving in San Antonio, Najee Harris. TMI didn’t see the number one player in the country take many reps, but was on the scene after practice for a rather interesting session with the media in which Harris continued his stance of no interviews. Some in the media pool quickly grew sour with Harris (ridiculously) when the five-star back stated, “I’ll answer any questions that don’t have anything to do with Michigan or Alabama.” Now some folks believe Harris not talking only furthers the drama surrounding his recruitment, but like the kid told us, “this ain’t nothing new, I’ve been doing this (not talking.)" While that’s true, it certainly adds significantly to the intrigue surrounding his forthcoming decision. It has grown increasingly clear that both sides have ample reason to be confident about their chances. Could it be that the young man really is still going back & forth on his final decision? That’s what Michigan commit Donovan Peoples-Jones thinks could be happening. More on that later in this recap.
For the latest on Harris check out the following links:
Moving on, former Michigan defensive tackle commit Aubrey Solomon did spend some time chatting with TMI. His comments were surprisingly more optimistic than I expected, saying Michigan’s academics and the relationships he’s built with people in Ann Arbor still attract him. Now we’ll find out soon enough if Solomon is just giving lip service, but I’d expect the Wolverine coaching staff to continue to pursue him with vigor. The Georgia native has proven to be one of the top players here through two days of practice. Solomon is the total package, he’s explosive, has good technique, and has a motor.
One player we were happy to see for the first time this week is longtime Michigan commit Dylan McCaffrey. He finally arrived in San Antonio after accepting the prestigious “Golden Helmet” award during a ceremony Sunday afternoon during halftime of the Denver Broncos game. McCaffrey realizes he’s a bit behind and just got the playbook, but it is eager to get up to speed with the rest of his West teammates. The signal caller struggled a bit on the first day, never really settling into a rhythm with his receivers. We expect that to improve as the week progresses. McCaffrey is a pretty athletic kid, and he is a threat in the running game.
One of the targets he wishes he could throw to this week is future teammate Donovan Peoples-Jones. I’m not sure how a five star receiver can fly underneath the radar, but we get that feeling at times with the five-star standout. A big part of that perception is that he makes a spectacular catch look ordinary. The Cass Tech star has been impressive, but hasn’t had as many opportunities with the ball in his hands as some others have. Peoples-Jones is a big play threat, but showed great patience in finding the soft spots in the defense's zone coverage. Despite have a great relationship with Najee Harris, he’s not looking to add any more pressure than what he’s already dealing with. Peoples-Jones said he went back and forth on his own decision until a couple of hours before his announcement and revealed he was very close to choosing Florida State. (Stay tuned to TMI for that interview in the coming days.)
A Michigan commit that has been more, perhaps expectedly, under the radar is Deron Irving-Bey. Rival fans and analysts speculated that the Army All-American game would too big of stage for him. Through two days of practice, the opinion is he absolutely belongs. DIB is really quick off the ball, shows good speed off the edge for his size and has made some plays. There is room for improvement in his technique and he needs to get stronger at the point of attack, but the Fint Southwestern star won a bunch of 1-on-1 reps. The only lineman that gave him significant trouble was five-star offensive line target Tedarrell Slaton Jr.
Speaking of Slaton, he has looked really good so far. He has a chance to be special. He moves like a polar bear on ice despite his massive size. Slaton was lights out when competing against the West, doing a great job of just stonewalling defenders at the line of scrimmage and driving speed rushers outside the pocket. Slaton told us that he still likes Michigan, but that other schools have emerged specifically Kentucky and Florida because of their willingness to recruit him as a defensive tackle. He and Michigan commitment Kai-Leon Herbert are still a package deal.
I ran across the parents of Michigan commit Tarik Black before practice. They were in full Maize & Blue attire just like they did when I saw them previously back in the summer at the Cheshire Academy satellite camp. They are thrilled with their son;s decision to become a Wolverine and Michigan fans should too. The smooth and cerebral receiver has been a major standout. Whether running by defensive backs or jumping over them, he has caught almost every ball thrown his way. He has just been too much physically for some of the best defensive backs in the country. A few Scout analysts suggested he was the top performer regardless of position for the East team on day one. Particularly impressive have been his match-ups with defenders slated to take the field for Ohio State in the coming years. If trends we’ve seen develop here continue, Black is not a player the Buckeyes are going to want to see coming during the next three to four years of “The Game.”
Michigan recently completed a superb run on linebacker commits, but I’m not sure if any of them posses the speed and overall athleticism of Starkville, Mississippi linebacker target Willie Gay. The four star backer has shown the ability to play in space and be step for step in pass coverage with the plethora of five star running backs here. Gay is every bit the player he’s been hyped to be, and could step in and compete immediately for playing time at the Wolverines ‘“Viper” position. Michigan remains a significant factor in his recruitment but will have to continue fighting of the allure of southern schools such as LSU who recently had a linebacker commit flip to the Georgia Bulldogs. Playing time and coaches that can develop him are at the top of his list of criteria. Those will have to be Michigan’s talking points. The Wolverines will be locked in a major recruiting battle for his services over the next month, but have a few major allies in his family circle helping their cause. Stay tuned to TMI for more on that later today.