Monday, June 27, 2011

Blake Bars, Wolverine

Blake Bars (#67)

Nashville, TN, offensive lineman Blake Bars committed to Michigan on Sunday.  He picked the Wolverines over offers from Boston College, Clemson, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Mississippi State, Penn State, Purdue, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Virginia, among others.  His other two finalists seemed to be Penn State, where his brother plays linebacker, or the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores.

Bars is a 4-star recruit to Rivals, but only a 3-star to the other three major services.  He's the #34 offensive tackle to Rivals, #38 to Scout, and #56 to ESPN.  He stands 6'5" and 275 lbs., benches 310 lbs., and squats 425.

I would be curious to find out how Bars appeared on Michigan's radar.  There are various ways that coaches find out about players (privately hired scouting services, word of mouth, the internet, high school coaches sending game film, etc.), but Bars has an aunt who lives in Ann Arbor and a grandmother who lives in metro Detroit.  It seems like more than a coincidence that Michigan ended up offering a kid from a state that Michigan hasn't recruited much.  Only two other players from Tennessee have Michigan offers: wide receiver Drae Bowles and running back I'Tavius Mathers.  The last Michigan players to come from the Volunteer State were the Brackins brothers (Eric and Phillip) and behemoth fullback Sean Sanderson a decade ago.

As for Bars' future, he stated that the coaches want to start him off at left tackle.  And who am I to argue with the coaches?

Well, I'm a blogger, and that's what bloggers do, dammit.  The kid looks like a guard to me.  Maybe a right tackle, but not a left tackle.  He doesn't have a great first step or a great initial punch, and those things concern me, period, let alone for a blindside protector.  There are times where it looks like he has a little too much weight on his heels coming out of his stance, and he could afford to lengthen his first step a couple of inches.  It seems like sometimes he takes a false step by picking his foot up and putting it right back down in almost the same place.  When engaged with defenders, he also tends to overextend himself and get himself off balance.  Good opponents, especially ends and tackles who practice these things, will toss him to the side if he tries that with them.

Hopping in my DeLorean, though, I have a fledgling theory that left tackle might NOT be a blindside protector by the time Bars sees the field.  Since freshman offensive lineman typically redshirt, he'll be a redshirt frosh in 2013.  That's the same year that highly touted quarterback Shane Morris will hit campus.  Highly touted left-handed quarterback Shane Morris.  Ah-ha!  So it's quite possible that when Bars is playing left tackle in 2013-16 (or something like that), Bars will be protecting Morris' front side.*

Frank and Joe Hardy ain't got nothin' on me.

I do think Bars is a solid addition, especially if Michigan can pick up one or two more highly touted linemen.  He's not at the head of the class, but he's a kid who likes to finish blocks, has the frame to play at well over 300 lbs., seems conscientious and well spoken, and has family connections in the area.  That ought to keep him around for the duration of a career that could see him develop into a solid starter at the tail end, as a redshirt junior or senior.

*I realize that Devin Gardner will still probably be around in 2013, Russell Bellomy might be the starter, etc.  Obviously, we're getting way ahead of ourselves when projecting the starting QB position three years down the road.

TTB Rating: 71


  1. Overall what is your opinion of the Offensive Line as a class as a whole-why don't you throw in Kalis or Diamond just for completeness sake because one of them will be in the class. Do you see this line, with Chris Bryant as great? Or are they still a piece at center or guard away?

  2. Is the position really 'blind-side tackle' or 'left tackle'? For example, if Jake Long played with a LH QB, wouldn't they have moved him to the right side where he would fill the same role he did with RH Henne?

  3. I think a big part of Hoke and Co's strategy is that when they said that first and foremost in their recruiting plan was the state of Michigan, they also meant to include the immediate and extended family members of the Michigan diaspora as if they were in-state. How they figured this out is beyond me. Looking at kids like this, big time football player whose aunt (whose cooking he loves) lives in Ann Arbor. I mean come-on, his film was not even released until just recently and they are already all over this. I'm super curious as to how they do it

  4. @ Anonymous 10:21 a.m.

    Braden got rave reviews at this past week's camp. I think he's pretty solid at RT, and I like Stacey more than the recruiting sites do. With Magnuson and Kalis (plus Bryant), this has the makings of a very good offensive line in the coming years.

    FWIW, I'd prefer Kalis over Diamond.

  5. @ Anonymous 10:21 a.m.

    The key position is actually "blind-side tackle" but so few quarterbacks are left-handed that "left tackle" is generally thought to be the premium position. Long probably would have been a RT if he had a left-handed QB.

    The key part is keeping the play-action pass open. A team with a right-handed quarterback needs to be able to run the ball to the right; that way the QB can fake a handoff to the right and still set up to throw without it being too awkward. A right-handed QB can still fake a handoff to the left, but it's tougher to throw from that position because he has to turn around and square his shoulders.

    So if Morris is the QB, then our dominant running and throwing side becomes the left...meaning our best pass protector should be on the right.

  6. Any time you can project a 16 year old to beat out a high 4-star or 5-star recruit entering his RS Junior year, you gotta do it...I know you admit this is 'getting ahead of ourselves', but that's an understatement in this case. Hopefully Lewan is still around in 2013 and protecting the starting QB, from one side or the other.

    Generally, projecting OL positions is fairly silly unless there is an obvious physical limitation (i.e. Molk was never going to be an OT and Long was never going to be an OC).

    Of the 4 OL that Michigan has, all of them seem to be guys that have flexibility at this stage and all are in a similar range physically (within 2 inches and 10 pounds according to Rivals). We can say Braden is more likely than Stacey to be a tackle, but in 2 years (after most of them red-shirt) who knows what their bodies and positions will be, let alone in 3 years when Lewan and Schofield are gone and the OT jobs are wide open.

    What we know is that Michigan has beaten some high level schools out for Bars and Magnuson, and that the staff was pretty high on Casey and Braden. They still haven't landed a prototypical LT, and even if/when they land Diamond and/or Kalis that may still be the case.

    What I'm saying is this: it's a particularly good group of OL to not bother trying to project 4 years out.

    Here's an added bit of discouragement on that front: Check out the '04 OL class...
    Alex Mitchell - 4 star 6'5 310 became a below-average depth player.
    Brett Gallimore - 4 star 6'5 290 total bust
    Grant DeBenedictis - 3 star 6'5 270 bust
    Jeremy Ciulla - 3 star 6'6 275 bust
    Alan Branch - 4 stat 6'6' 315 stud @ DT.

    Look back over the history of OL recruiting and you'll see that Michigan had tremendous success but that the overall 'hit' rate is something like 50%.

    That being the case, best to assume that this class, even if it gets to 6, will produce 3 quality starters or so - and that positions will be based on need as it arises. (i.e. we could have more tackles if Lewan goes pro or Schofield doesn't pan out, or we could need more interior guys if Bryant/Pace/Miller don't pan out.

  7. I'm very excited to land Bars. With all the recent OL commits, the number of candidates was getting a little thin. I know people are confident with Kalis and Diamond, but they've been to campus and still haven't committed. I think Bars is a good prospect and now Michigan can sit back and just keep the high end prospects in their sights, without a great deal of pressure to find backup plans. Hoke has done a great job with OL recruiting IMO - just have the close strong and land 1 or 2 of the elite guys left.

  8. @ Lankownia 11:48 a.m.

    I'm not predicting that Morris will beat out Gardner...just like I'm not predicting that Bars will be the starter in 2013. I'm simply saying that the coaches might figure, "Well, by the time Bars is good enough to play, Gardner will be gone and Morris will probably be our starter."

    I didn't follow recruiting much back in 2004. I know hindsight is 20/20, but going back and looking at highlights of Gallimore, DeBenedictis, Mitchell, and Ciulla on Rivals, I see a whole lot of big lugs who don't move their feet very well. You can look at the way they run and get off the ball and figure out that they're not very athletic.

    I can't say with 100% positivity that I would have knocked them for their lack of athleticism at the time or if they were being recruited today, but I will say that a lot of these guys being recruited now are better athletes overall. Whether recruiting has improved that much, whether high school coaching has improved that much, or whether the coaches are looking for different kinds of players, those guys you mentioned aren't on the same level as most of the guys we're recruiting.

    Like I said, it's hindsight, so take it FWIW.

    As far as position projections go, I'm not going to claim to be Nostradamus, but I think I do have a pretty good track record of projecting positions going forward. Keep in mind that part of my day job is to look at players and see what position(s) they will fit best. Granted, I'm not watching 6'7", 300 lb. high school kids on a daily basis, but I think I've been pretty accurate when it comes to projecting future positions of Michigan recruits. You're right that there's a lot of versatility for offensive linemen, but there are also some footwork and body type clues that lend themselves to a better fit at certain places.

    It's not a coincidence that a couple of Michigan's recruits in recent years seem to be panning out while Rodriguez/Frey were putting a premium on athleticism. Lewan and Omameh started at young ages because they were good athletes, not because they were big fatties like Lloyd used to recruit.

  9. I think you touched on a few important differences between '04 and '12 - information available, training regimens, speed of OL, etc. With hindsight, the weaknesses become obvious and the strengths marginalized. You've raised (probably legitimate) questions about each OL commit. These may be overcome...or not.

    The point was that professional scouts thought that was a pretty good OL haul, but many didn't pan out. '04 is just an example - '02 and '05 were the same thing. Even '08, a raging success of an OL class, had one of it's most hyped guys (O'Neill) not pan out.

    As for your assessments, I agree they're pretty good (or at least you make a convincing argument to back your claim). That's why I read. BUT, OL is notoriously hard to project and with recruiting trending towards earlier and earlier commitments (pre-senior year) that issues just going to be exacerbated, IMO.

    Interesting comments about Speed/Athleticism of OL. I was sort of thinking the emphasis was moving back towards size given the 'man ball' rep and all - do you think thats not the case? In other words, are RR and Hoke actually recruiting the same type of OL personnel?

    As for 'big fatties' - eh, Carr had a pretty stellar record with OL recruits, but there seemed to be an awkward transition there in the 2002-2007 era when the zone-blocking system was introduced. Maybe they just weren't quite as good at figuring out more athletic type of OL.

  10. Kentucky Players:
    Since the Brackens and Sanderson we have had two other scholarship players from the Volunteer state.
    Brandent Englemon (2003)very useful safety who started most of 2007.
    Brandon Logan (2005)undersized LB who played a bit on special teams

  11. @ Lankownia 12:43 p.m.

    We'll see about O'Neill. I realize he didn't pan out at Michigan, but he also wasn't a "Rodriguez style" offensive lineman. He was recruited by Carr and committed to Carr, and then he just held on after the change. Now he's a starting OT at WMU, and we'll see how he fares against Michigan in game #1 of the season. Just because he didn't pan out at Michigan doesn't mean he won't pan out in a general sense. He's going to be a redshirt junior this year, and for all we know, he could be the next Joe Staley (i.e. a MAC lineman who becomes a first rounder). I'm not saying that will happen, just that the book's not closed on him yet.

    I do think that the OL recruits are reverting a little bit to Carr-style recruits, but these seem to be somewhere between the Carr and Rodriguez recruits. These guys are pretty good athletes while being pretty big guys. Hoke isn't recruiting tall, thin guys like Taylor Lewan, Patrick Omameh, and Jake Fisher...but he's not recruiting big fat fatties, either.

    I know I mentioned this in the previous post, but you can't watch Alex Mitchell's high school tape and think you got anything but a fat guy who wasn't going to be able to move. And Jeremy Ciulla ran like a duck. It was just kind of embarrassing when I went back and watched those guys.

    I agree that the zone blocking thing might have thrown Carr for a loop. Perhaps he was recruiting the same old guys but not adjusting for the change in blocking system. I'm not sure.

    As I've mentioned before, one of the main reasons I started this blog was so that I/we could look back at my predictions in four years and see how close I was to being right. I won't claim to be great at what I do, but it's fun for me know...why the hell not?

    I can't wait for football season.

  12. @ jbibiza

    Englemon and Logan were from Kentucky.

    Bars, Sanderson, and the Brackinses were from Tennessee.

    Volunteer State = Tennessee

    Bluegrass State = Kentucky

  13. Good point about O'Neil. Will be interesting to see how he does.

    In fairness to Jbibiza the differences really are pretty insignificant...

  14. I don't doubt for a second the potential of the kids we already have on OLine in the 2012 class to succeed and start some day, I still sincerely worry that we don't have enough of them. If we take 2+more it looks like they'll be challenging our other 2012 commits for playing time. Still, by 2013 we'll only have 11 scholarship players on Oline as things stand (13 if we take 2 more.) While we can possibly get 2013 kids who could play as true freshmen and thus reinforce our depth chart, I hope we don't have to rely on that. I don't want too many kids taken in one year, but I feel like we need 2-3 more kids in this OLine class just for appropriate OLine depth. How many kids do we need on scholarship for our OLine?
    It's consensus that our current depth numbers (13) are shaky because we have true freshman forced into play time or walkons in the 2deep, but even with 6 kids taken in this class our numbers are the same (13) for 2013.

    Also, unless our coaches are happy with Wilkins as a DT (even though he looks like our starting DE in 2 years to me) we'll only have a 2deep at DT for the next 3 seasons (2012 includes a yet to be committed DT playing as a true freshman to achieve a 2 deep that year.) If the coaches only take 1 more int.DT this class then it seems like we need another DT to come from somewhere in case of injury. 3 years of one backup per DT just won't do. Will the coaches move Posada or another viable candidate to DT?
    My math may be shaky but I used Thunders 2011 eligibility chart for reference and asked this in a couple places. We have scholies 4 and 5 deep across the team and are taking more for 2012 at those spots, yet we only have an projected 2 deep across the OLine and at DT. Am I reading this right and is this a problem?

  15. This exchange reminds me of a Malcolm Gladwell talk on how entrance criteria is not excellence criteria in which he describes how once you have a sufficient amount of a quality which makes you qualified for an activity additional units of that quality don't necessarily make you any better.

    In this case, linemen must be a certain size to be qualified as legit D-1 lineman material however at that point additional units of size are not nearly as valuable as much as say, more quickness or toughness.

    Perhaps Carr should have realized this when he recruited certain linemen who had excess entrance qualities yet were devoid of excellence qualities.

  16. I'm kinda disappointed we filled one of our o-line spots with Bars. Just looking at his tape I think his movement is sloppy and slow. It seems like he has a hard time picking his feet up and I think he's just too slow to play outside in the Big 10.

    I think with 3 o-lineman committed already and the possibility to be in with Diamond, Kalis, or many other highly qualified o-lineman I'd rather we'd have said thanks but no thanks to Bars. I'm not saying I don't like Bars because he's a 3* and Kalis is a 5* but because I think as you hinted in this post he has major issues with his agility and footwork.

    We need to get more picky for the remaining spots. It'd be a real shame having to say no to an elite player.

  17. @ KB 2:04 p.m.

    I agree somewhat. If we still get Kalis, I'm okay with it. I don't think Diamond is necessarily a great recruit, though, so between Bars and Diamond...*shrug*.

  18. On the plus for Bars, he said that Kevin Mawae is a coach on his team. Playing OLine in Nashville has it's perks I guess. He's been coaching them in the weight room and teaching them better drills and techniques. That's got to have a serious impact on where Bars will be technique-wise once he gets to 2A.

  19. Thunder

    Why do you seem so down on Diamond?

  20. @ Anonymous 2:30 p.m.

    The thing with Diamond is, I think Michigan fans have been overrating him since he showed early interest. It's not so much that I think he's a bad player, but that Michigan fans toss him in with 5-star caliber players like Kalis, Peat, Garnett, etc., as if he's on their level. He's not (in my opinion). He's still a good player, and I wouldn't be upset if he committed. But whereas those other guys I mentioned seem like obvious all-conference players, Diamond has some work to do. I think I'm just trying to tamp down some of the expectations rather than suggest he's a bad player.

    As for technical stuff, I think he spends too much time "catching" defenders rather than attacking them aggressively. He's a good down blocker (i.e. blocking a defensive tackle lined up in the Tackle/Guard gap), but otherwise, his footwork and pad level are questionable. The athleticism is there, but sometimes guys who play too high just never learn how to use leverage. He's inconsistent in that respect, and you just never know whether he'll make it to the point where he's comfortable playing low or not.

  21. I trust offer lists more than anything else (though they can't always be verified). The coaching staffs at Florida, LSU, PSU, etc. think Bars is good and his offer list beats anyone besides Magnuson (and even that's debatable). Diamond's is even better. Kalis' is truly elite - he can basically go wherever he wants. Not that they can't all be wrong (Cullen Christian/Justin Turner), but in general, it's a good indicator.

    I'd be pretty shocked if the staff turned down any 5-star commit like Kalis. Then again...they did suddenly stop pursuing Morgan and Reeves...

  22. @ Lankownia 4:16 p.m.

    They stopped recruiting Morgan and Reeves because they were full at the position of cornerback, and they apparently didn't think either one could play safety. And if they can get Wilson, I don't have a problem with them backing off Morgan/Reeves, who are both a notch below Wilson.

    And as far as offer lists go, I trust them a little less than I did when having an offer meant getting a letter. These players can't even receive official offers for more than another month (August 1).