Michigan Wolverines: Michael Ferns

The loss of freshman tight end Jake Butt to an ACL injury suffered during winter conditioning is obviously a huge blow to the Wolverines.

It hurts not only from a production standpoint, but it's a big disappointment for a young player who showed such potential in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJake Butt
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan will look for other options to replace Jake Butt's productivity (20 receptions, 235 yards and two TDs).
Butt’s diagnosis marks the ninth ACL injury during coach Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. The most impressive recovery came from linebacker Jake Ryan, who returned in six months, coming back midway through this past season. Players such as quarterback Russell Bellomy and offensive lineman Joey Burzynski have yet to play in a game after suffering their injuries. But cornerback Blake Countess and defensive lineman Chris Wormley both made solid recoveries as well.

That number (average of three per season under Hoke) seems quite high. Following running back Drake Johnson’s ACL tear, which happened in early September, Hoke said that there would be a self-assessment among the coaching staff. The general thought was that, essentially, sometimes these things just happen. It could be just bad luck.

“You know, I'm sure we'll look at it, but with Drake's -- he gets pushed in the back a little bit, he's busting his butt trying to make a tackle, guy kind of pushed him in the back. I mean, those things -- I don't know what else you can do about it,” Hoke said on Sept. 2. “But we will, because I know our strength coach and I know our training staff. They'll get their heads together on it.”

Outside of the larger issue of ACL injuries under Hoke, the Wolverines will regroup and try to figure out how to address this from a tight end production level.

Devin Funchess is still around and will lead the way at the position. He was the team’s second-leading receiver last season with 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns.

Butt had been the third-leading receiver with 20 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. However, outside of Funchess and Butt, the only other Michigan tight end to appear on the stat sheet was A.J. Williams (one catch).

So Michigan will dive into its depth now to find players who can block, catch and possibly do both. Williams is more of a blocking tight end, and while Funchess has progressed a bit in that category, he is obviously more talented as a pass-catching TE.

The Wolverines have other options, but are limited in experience.

Redshirt junior Dylan Esterline and redshirt freshman Michael Jocz both appeared in one game last fall. Freshman Khalid Hill redshirted, and redshirt junior Jordan Paskorz was a name that was mentioned during bowl season and during Williams’ one-game suspension. Paskorz played in seven games and recorded one start.

Michigan signed one tight end in the 2014 class, Ian Bunting. He has the height factor at 6-foot-6 and with experience in basketball and volleyball, he should be productive.

Another option would be early enrollee/linebacker Michael Ferns. Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier actually offered Ferns as a tight end at Alabama, so he clearly saw his potential.

Nussmeier should be able to find players to get some reps. And with six-and-a-half months until the season starts, it’s not completely outlandish to say that Butt could return before or during the Big Ten schedule. However, he is eligible for a medical redshirt, and with the ACL issues Michigan has had, it might want to give the young player a longer time to recover and make sure he doesn’t do any long-term damage.

Regardless, spring camp starts in less than two weeks and Nussmeier and Hoke, who already had their work cut out for them with this Michigan offense, were just given another challenge on top of that by losing Butt.
On the Michigan football team, the rich just keep getting richer.

The linebacking corps, which was arguably the deepest and most consistent position group this season, signed three more talented prospects on Wednesday and has an early enrollment already on campus in Michael Ferns.

Besides Ferns, the Wolverines picked up Noah Furbush, Chase Winovich and Jared Wangler.

Michael Ferns
John S ChristensenESPN 300 LB Michael Ferns leads a group of four linebacker signees that will make a position of strength even stronger.
Those four, in addition to the wealth the position already has, is very good news for the Wolverines. Between Desmond Morgan, James Ross III, Joe Bolden and Ben Gedeon at middle and weakside linebacker, and Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker, the 2014 class might not see a ton of early playing time, but it definitely gives the coaching staff plenty of options.

“I like their attitudes,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said of the 2014 signees. “I like how they attack the game.”

What he’ll really like, however, is how versatile each player seems to be. Hoke said he could see Furbush playing the middle or weakside linebacker position, while Ferns seems set at middle linebacker. Wangler, because of his athleticism and experience in high school (he also played safety) could play weakside linebacker or be moved over to strongside linebacker, which is where the staff anticipates Winovich will play.

However, all of this is just projection until the coaches are really able to spend time with each player. Ferns is on campus for spring football, so the coaches will have a good idea on his position, but the staff will have to wait for fall camp on the other three.

With how much the coaches relied on Ryan last season after returning from his ACL injury, and how much they expect him to improve during the offseason, that will be a very interesting position to watch. Brennen Beyer, who played the first few games at SAM, will be back and could take reps at the spot to give Ryan a break, but that job could also go to the youth.

“You can go about your SAM linebacker two different ways,” Hoke said. “You can go with a guy who has long arms and has a lot of range on him playing over a tight end. If you’re playing more 4-3 then you don’t have to have that kind of guy, or if you are still playing in an under front your SAM can play a bit wider, like the Vikings used to play. ... We have to see them running around a little bit and see what they do best.”

Furbush is the biggest of the signees at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds. Hoke recalled the story of how he played his senior season with a cast on his arms before cutting it off by himself with hedge trimmers. Like Furbush, Winovich is also 6-4, but he’s a bit lighter at 215 pounds. Though Winovich is lighter, Hoke said his physical build reminds him of Ryan.

Ferns is shorter still at 6-3, 228 pounds. He weighs in similarly to Ross and Morgan but is two inches taller than both of them. Wangler is 6-1, 215 pounds.

Combined, the linebacking corps this season accounted for 31 tackles for a loss, including 12.5 sacks. The group also tallied nine pass break ups and seven quarterback hurries.

With all but Cam Gordon returning there might not be a ton of reps available for the 2014 class, but the coaches will play younger players if they step up enough, and the coaches certainly feel confident about this class. Even if they aren’t going to be players that start or contribute immediately, this class brings a tremendous amount of depth to the linebackers.
Brady Hoke will sign his fourth Michigan recruiting class Wednesday. Currently, the class sits at 16 commitments and the only real question mark still out there is defensive end Malik McDowell, who will chose between Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

Hoke will address the media at 2 p.m. Wednesday, the first time he’ll be able to discuss these players publicly. Follow along on Twitter for updates throughout the day. Until then, here’s a primer to tide you over in your day-before-signing-day wait.

THE 2014 CLASS

Current ranking: No. 12 (16 commits)
Big Ten teams ahead of Michigan: Ohio State (No. 6, 22 commits)
Big Ten teams in the top 40: Penn State (No. 22, 24 commits), Wisconsin (No. 31, 27 commits), Northwestern (No. 35, 15 commits), Michigan State (No. 39, 20 commits)

Commits by position:

Quarterback: 1 | Wilton Speight*
Running back: 0
Wide receiver: 3 | Drake Harris*, Maurice Ways, Freddy Canteen*
Tight end: 1 | Ian Bunting
Offensive line: 2 | Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Mason Cole*
Defensive line: 3 | Bryan Mone*, Lawrence Marshall, Brady Pallante
Linebacker: 4 | Michael Ferns*, Noah Furbush, Chase Winovich, Jared Wangler
Defensive back: 2 | Jabrill Peppers, Brandon Watson
*denotes early enrollee, already signed letter of intent

WHAT TO KNOW

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNThe Wolverines have been able to hang on to top cornerback Jabrill Peppers, which is no easy feat.
Dry spell: Michigan hasn’t received a commitment since Aug. 8, 2013 (Wangler). At that point, the Wolverines recruiting class was ranked No. 6 in the Recruiting Nation rankings. Between the on-field play during a 7-6 season and other teams stepping up their recruiting games, the Wolverines missed out on several top targets.

No. 1 at one time: Last April, when the 2014 class rankings debuted, the Wolverines were ranked No. 6. In May, Michigan climbed to No. 1. At that point, Michigan had nine commits, eight of whom were ranked in the top 150. Since that point, several Wolverines commits dropped in the rankings, and now they have nine commits in the ESPN 300. And when Michigan was the No. 1 class, the Wolverines were still in on several top recruits in the 2014 class. Of those big-name prospects, the only one to commit to the Wolverines was Peppers, the No. 1 cornerback in the country.

The players who chose other schools over Michigan were defensive end Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama), wide receiver Corey Holmes (Notre Dame), Alex Bars (Notre Dame), wide receiver Artavis Scott (Clemson) and defensive back Parrker Westphal (Northwestern). The most troubling part of that is how the Wolverines had personal connections with so many of those players. Holmes grew up a die-hard Michigan fan. Bars’ older brother is on the Michigan roster. Scott is best friends with Cole. Westphal’s high school position coach played at Michigan. And yet, the Wolverines missed on all of them.

Top commit: Peppers. Not only is he the most important commit from an on-field standpoint -- he should be an immediate contributor for a struggling secondary -- but the fact that a 7-6 Michigan team could keep the commitment from the No. 1 cornerback in the nation says a lot about the relationships that were formed. He had offers from Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and almost everywhere else. He could have left for any school. But the fact that the Michigan coaches were able to keep Peppers during a tumultuous season can be considered more of a coup than getting Peppers committed in the first place.

Lineage: Wangler. The name should sound familiar to most Michigan fans. John Wangler was a quarterback for Michigan (1977-80) and is most remembered for his 45-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Carter that gave the Wolverines a victory over Indiana in 1979. Jared’s older brother Jack, a walk-on wide receiver on Michigan’s roster, will be a sophomore when Jared enrolls.

More and more depth: Linebackers. It looks as though the Michigan linebackers group is going to get stronger. This season, that group was the most consistent defensive position group for the Wolverines, and now they’ll add four more quality players. Among Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, James Ross, Joe Bolden and Ben Gedeon, there won’t be much playing time for the taking, which means these players are going to be able to learn behind some very talented guys while also competing against them in workouts. Greg Mattison just keeps adding talent to the well he already has at linebacker, so look for this group to continue being the most consistent for the Wolverines in seasons to come.

[+] EnlargeBryan Mone
Courtesy of IntersportBy enrolling early, defensive tackle Bryan Mone could be in line for early playing time.
Early enrollees: 6. This is the second season in a row that Hoke has had six early enrollees. Last season, offensive lineman Kyle Bosch, offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman, tight end Jake Butt, defensive end Taco Charlton, defensive back Ross Douglas and defensive back Dymonte Thomas enrolled early. Of those six, three were big contributors this past season, which bodes well for the six who came in early this year. Speight adds solid depth at quarterback, but he likely won’t need to contribute next season. Cole and Ferns are in similar positions in that they’re both talented, but because of the depth in front of them, it could take them longer to earn playing time. The two guys who could be the quickest to see playing time would be Harris or Mone, as both come in at positions that could use more bodies and talent. Both will have extra time with their position coaches and with the playbook.

No commits: Running back. The fact that the Wolverines aren’t bringing in a running back in this class isn’t a huge concern. Between Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith (and Drake Johnson, assuming he recovers well), the Wolverines are in good hands for the next few seasons. However, after losing the commitment of running back Damien Harris, the No. 1 running back in the 2015 class, there's a bit of a concern considering he was going to provide depth. Including Harris, Michigan has offered scholarships to three running backs in the 2015 class.
Michigan divides its linebackers in its meetings, so we’re doing the same here. Today, we’re looking at the middle linebackers and weakside linebackers. The unit was arguably the most consistent group of any -- on both sides of the ball --- this season for the Wolverines. For a team that went through a very up-and-down season, the linebackers were one of the few bright spots that remained bright (almost) all season.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bolden
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIJoe Bolden and the rest of the Michigan linebackers have a bright future.
THE GOOD: Three of the Wolverines’ top five tacklers this season were Will and Mike linebackers -- James Ross III, Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden. The three combined for 114 solo tackles and 14 tackles for a loss. They were the core of the defense and, behind a defensive line that didn’t get pressure consistently, they held their own. Freshman Ben Gedeon also got significant playing time late in the season and that experience will be huge for him moving forward. In his limited time he recorded 19 tackles and one sack and showed major potential. Additionally, this is a group that’ll have time to build chemistry during the spring and fall seasons as each member in the three-deep will return.

THE BAD: This isn’t completely the linebackers’ fault, but Michigan struggled against the run this season. The Wolverines’ 3.8 yards per rush allowed is actually the same as last season, and they allowed 10 rushing yards less per game in 2013 than in 2012. But it was the sixth best in the Big Ten behind Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. And if the Wolverines want to be elite and compete for Big Ten titles, stopping the run is key. Michigan allowed 64 runs for 10 or more yards and 36 percent of opponents’ runs against it went for at least five yards. Michigan allowed five more rushing touchdowns this season than it did last season, and in clutch games against Ohio State (8.5 yards per rush) and Kansas State (4.1 yards per rush), the Wolverines struggled against the run. Obviously if the defensive line was able to get more pressure, the linebackers wouldn’t be called upon to make as many plays as they needed to this season. But stopping the run falls on the linebackers and they didn’t live up to the “expectation of the position.”

THE FUTURE: All significant contributors from 2013 return next season so the future looks bright. On top of that, Michael Ferns enrolled early and at 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, he’s a player who doesn’t have to go through a huge physical change before he’s able to start competing for time. The Wolverines also have a 2014 commitment from linebacker Noah Furbush (6-4, 235 pounds), another prospect who is a physical, hard nosed linebacker. This is a position at which the Wolverines have built very good depth and a position that will continue to have skilled players through the next few seasons.

Previous posts:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line

Early enrollees set to hit Ann Arbor 

January, 5, 2014
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Michigan has seven early enrollees set to hit campus from its 2014 class.

Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian), Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School), Michael Ferns (St. Clairsville, Ohio/St. Clairsville), Mason Cole (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), Bryan Mone (Salt Lake City/Highland), Freddy Canteen (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) and teammate Brandon Watson are all headed up to Ann Arbor to begin their new journey.

Speight, Harris, Ferns and Canteen answered a few questions on enrolling early and what is next for them.

Q: What are you most nervous about?

Wilton Speight: "A lot of people say school, but I went to such a tough high school that I’m not too worried about that. More of the winter workouts and the conditioning is absurd."

Midyear signings: Michigan

December, 21, 2013
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According to ESPN's Tom VanHaaren, the following players have signed financial aid agreements with Michigan:

Bryan Mone DT Salt Lake City/Highland
HT: 6-4 WT: 315
Positional Rank: No. 5 DT
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 75)
Under Armour All-American

Drake Harris WR Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian
HT: 6-3 WT: 172
Positional Rank: No. 10 WR
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 85)
Under Armour All-American

Michael Ferns ILB St. Clairsville, Ohio/St. Clairsville
HT: 6-3 WT: 228
Positional Rank: No. 7 ILB
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 125)
Under Armour All-American

Wilton Speight QB-PP Richmond, Va./Collegiate
HT: 6-6 WT: 230
Positional Rank: No. 6 QB-PP
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 133)
Under Armour All-American

Mason Cole OT Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake
HT: 6-5 WT: 266
Positional Rank: No. 15 OT
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (No. 153)

Brandon Watson CB Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian
HT: 5-11 WT: 179
Positional Rank: No. 51 CB
Stars: 3

Freddy Canteen WR Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian
HT: 6-0 WT: 170
Positional Rank: No. 159 WR
Stars: 3

Michigan hosts big visitor weekend 

December, 16, 2013
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Michigan held a big visitor weekend just before the end of the contact period. Hosting most of the 2014 commitments, there were some big questions coming into the weekend.

The biggest came with defensive back commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) who caused an uproar when he tweeted that he would take official visits to other schools after his season.

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Under Armour game storylines: Big Ten 

December, 5, 2013
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The Under Armour All-America game is fast approaching and plenty of participants still have questions surrounding their recruitment.

The Big Ten has quite a few of those recruits in the game, so here is a look at five of the bigger storylines heading into the prestigious game.

Will Jabrill Peppers take visits?


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Recruits feel Michigan-Ohio State rivalry 

November, 27, 2013
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There is no bigger rivalry in the Big Ten than Michigan and Ohio State, two programs with a storied past. Tension and hatred between the schools can be seen and felt on the field, but those bitter feelings also carry over to the recruiting trail.

Both teams recruit similar prospects, so it’s only natural that recruiting battles between the rivals exist. The prospects get to experience what the rivalry is really like off the field during their process.


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With any conference there will always be battles on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten. Coaching changes, different philosophies and geographic location all factor in to who battles who.

Here is a look at the top five Big Ten recruiting rivalries.

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The Weekly Update: Recruiting notes 

July, 24, 2013
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The Weekly Update is a look at recruiting news and notes for Michigan.

MILES BOYKIN


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Summer recruit wrap: Michigan 

July, 23, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The summer camp season proved to be exciting, as it always is. Here are 10 things we learned through this summer.

1. Camp will always be a proving ground

The 2014 class will only have about 18 members, so when Michigan headed into this summer’s camp with 10 commitments, it was unsure how many camp offers would really exist (especially considering how many highly-ranked guys had, and still have, interest in Michigan). But for guys like Brandon Watson (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) and Freddy Canteen (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy), camp was all they needed. Their performances there were enough to garner offers. Sooner rather than later, those two turned those offers into commitments. And it wasn’t just true in the 2014 class. Offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr. (Philadelphia/St. Joseph’s Prep) became the Wolverines' third commitment in the 2015 class after he proved himself at camp and picked up and offer.

2. The barbecue in the Big House is still … big


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When Ohio State battles Michigan for players in the Buckeye state, it doesn’t lose too often. That said, it does happen.

Two of the biggest notables were Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard of Cleveland St. Joseph and Charles Woodson from Fremont Ross.


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Fresh Ideas: Linebackers 

July, 5, 2013
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier at one position than another? Over the summer WolverineNation has been breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position by position.

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison will experiment with different combinations at linebacker, which means some freshmen will be in the mix.
What it takes for a true freshman linebacker to play: The linebacker position seems to be a spot in which a true freshman can come in and contribute immediately. With the right combination of physicality, smarts and intensity, a freshman can rely on instinct and his foundation to make an impact on the field. That’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do, especially with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wanting his linebackers to be more and more physical, but with more advanced strength and conditioning programs in high schools across the country (as well as several prospects working with individual trainers), the physical hurdle -- which used to be one of the highest -- now seems much more manageable.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan had several areas of need in the 2014 class, chief among them being quarterback and linebacker, largely due to injuries both position groups have suffered. Here’s a look at the top five areas of need and what Michigan has done to address them so far.


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