Jabrill Peppers is off to the NFL — we know, perhaps the least shocking news of the offseason.
Peppers made his announcement via an exclusive with Sports Illustrated.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 11, 2017
He leaves behind one of the most interesting legacies in Michigan football history. There’s no doubting his athletic ability, and that was on full display as he did so much for the Maize ‘N Blue this past season alone.
Just how big of a player was Peppers to the Wolverines in 2016? Per the Sports Illustrated article:
According to Michigan, Peppers lined up in 15 different positions on his 933 snaps this season, including quarterback, tailback and receiver. On defense he also logged time at nickelback, safety and cornerback.
All of that production landed Peppers a trip to New York City as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Ultimately that award went to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, with Peppers finishing fifth in the final voting.
However, Peppers couldn’t be on the field for the final game of his collegiate career. A hamstring injury picked up in the final days leading up to the Orange Bowl against Florida State kept him out of a contest that could’ve used his versatility to help reverse a 33-32 loss.
Alas, the difficult decision is likely the right one for Peppers. There is literally nothing more he can do to increase his NFL prospects. Peppers informed head coach Jim Harbaugh of his decision on Monday, and the two had a good conversation according to SI.
“He thanked me and told me it was a pleasure to coach me,” Peppers said. “I told him it was a pleasure to play for him. He molded me for the next level, that’s how he operates. He runs his program like an NFL team. He’s done more than enough to prepare me for this moment.”
Peppers left it all on the field in his final season, becoming a key part to new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s plan as a hybrid linebacker/safety. It led him to end the year with 71 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception on the defensive end.
He also had 167 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. Add in another touchdown as a punt returner and a 26.0 yard per kick return average and you can see he affected the game plenty.
While Peppers is off the NFL Draft, just what his role would be in the NFL is far less certain. Some believe he’s a great fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker or hybrid safety. Others believe it is going to take a coach with some real imagination to get the best out of him as an every-down player.
Michigan Wolverines Football Preview: 5 Impact Players for 2017
We continue our preview of the 2017 edition of the Michigan Wolverines, and it’s time to focus on five impact players for the upcoming season.
Jim Harbaugh will have to deal with molding a team that has the fewest returning starters (5) in all of FBS, so there will be no shortage of players looking to make a statement on the field — in many cases for the first time.
Surely there will be a player or two jump out of nowhere to elbow their way into a star in Ann Arbor, but for now, here are the five that we see as all-important to some positive tweets coming from the fingers of captain Khakis.
Wilton Speight, Jr., QB
Speight broke onto the scene last year and showed a tremendous amount of poise for a new starter. He has a big arm, and stood tall and confident in the pocket most of the year. But that was with a very seasoned team, and a dynamic defense helping pull the weight.
Things will be different this year. Speight has to be more than just a game manager. Michigan is replacing 10 starters on the defensive side of the ball, so gone is the security blanket of covering up any field-position mistakes on offense. Gone too are playmaking receivers like TE Jake Butt and wide-receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson.
That means the 6-6, 243 lb. Junior will need to put the team on his shoulders from time to time and win some games of those tight games in a difficult division. He’ll need to be more of a leader on the field and move the chains with the vertical passing game against the better teams for the Wolverines to take the next step in the Big Ten East.
Mason Cole, Jr., OL
Did we mention that Michigan is replacing a lot of skill on both sides of the ball? Count the offensive line as a reclamation project as well. Because of that, Harbaugh is counting on the lone returning starter to help move along a line that will need to show improvement quickly.
Cole slid from tackle to center last year to help get the best five lineman on the field, and despite a bit of a learning curve, picked things up rather quickly. He may be asked to move back to a tackle position again this year for the same reason, but time will tell. It just depends on whether the coaching staff wants to upset the rhythm between Cole and Speight, and whether abled bodies are there to round out the other positions along the front.
Either way, Cole will be the main reason this line gels and becomes a force — if it gets there.
Chris Evans, So., RB
De’Veon Smith is also lost to graduation, so the need is there for someone to step up in the backfield as a featured option. If last year was any indication, that man should be sophomore running back Chris Evans. In limited action last year, Evans carried the ball just 88 times, but averaged 7.0 yards per carry.
With a rebuilt line, that type of production with a bigger sample size will be unlikely, but it’ll still be interesting to see what he can do as the main threat out of the backfield.
With so many weapons lost on the outside, Evans and his backfield mates need to be productive to take some of the pressure of of quarterback Wilton Speight and the passing game. Time will tell if Evans has what it takes.
Rashan Gary, So., DE
If you follow recruiting circles, you know that Rashan Gary was the most coveted recruit in the 2016 class. Michigan did well to land the talented 6-5, 290 lb. edge rusher, and he got immediate playing time on one of the best defenses in the country.
The stats weren’t overwhelming with 27 total tackles, including five for a loss (1 sack), but he showed flashes of the potential that so many pegged around his neck.
He’ll be a full-time starter in 2017 and should be a force on a defensive front looking to pick up where it left off last year with a bunch of new faces. Games in the Big Ten are often won up front on both lines, and the Wolverines need Gary to be a beast this year.
Mike McCray, Sr., LB
The lone returning starter on defense for Michigan is starting middle linebacker Mike McCray. Needless to say, he’ll be the quarterback of a defense that will be green and hungry to prove itself with so many departures.
The 6-4, 240 lb. senior gained time as a full-time starter last year and totaled 76 tackles, with 12.5 of those going for a loss — 4.5 of those as sacks. That’s decent production, but McCray will need to be in on even more plays in 2017 if Michigan has any hopes of being anything close to the defensive juggernaut it was last year.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh always puts a premium on tough and gritty defense, and no position most represents that culture more than middle linebacker. McCray needs to have wide shoulders to carry a lot of the burden of a retooled defense. I’m banking on him being up to the task.
Red Berenson announces retirement from Michigan hockey program
This was a long time coming, but for many in the Michigan Wolverines hockey family it will still hurt. On Monday, long-time U-M head coach Red Berenson announced that he will retire.
It comes after 33 seasons at the helm of the Wolverines hockey program. A 33-year span that included two national championships and 11 Frozen Four appearances on the national stage. Berenson also led his team to 11 CCHA regular season and nine CCHA tournament titles.
However, since the formation of the Big Ten conference things have gone down a bit for the Michigan program. Berenson’s team was successful at first, but as his teams got younger they also struggled to compete at the top of the conference.
This announcement at this time seemed just about right — and Berenson said so himself.
“I’ve thought about this for a long time and I think this is the right time and it’s the right thing to do for the Michigan hockey program,” said Berenson in a press release. “My heart will always be at Michigan and I look forward to the team taking the next step and making me proud as a former coach.”
To that end, Berenson will remain on with the program as a special advisor to athletic director Ward Manuel. He’ll likely play a key role in finding a successor, given his long history and success in the collegiate hockey game.
“Red Berenson is a legendary figure at the University of Michigan as well as in our ice hockey history,” said Manuel. “Throughout his career, Red has focused on the academic and athletic success of the young men who have come through our program while shaping the sport as we know it today. He has developed an astounding 73 NHL players but, more importantly, he has positively impacted hundreds of young men. We are forever grateful for his contributions to the University of Michigan and I look forward to continuing working with Red for years to come.”
The Wolverines were in shambles when Berenson took over at his alma mater, leading Michigan to a 848-426-92 (.654) record over the last 33 years.
He is just the fourth NCAA men’s hockey head coach to reach the 800-win plateau.
As for his replacement, one would have to look no further than his former assistant Mel Pearson. He’s turned once-dormant Michigan Tech in to a NCAA tournament team in his six years in Houghton, Mich.
However, today is about celebrating one of the greatest coaches to ever grace a collegiate hockey bench. The college hockey world certainly won’t be the same without him and the state of Michigan hockey has been forever changed by his 33-year run.
Michigan proves it is more than Derrick Walton in upset of Louisville
Derrick Walton has been a marvelous story so far in March. But, if anyone though the Wolverines were a one-man show, Sunday’s 73-69 upset of No. 2 seed Louisville should put those thoughts to rest.
On a day when most believed the senior point guard would need to carry this team on his back, Walton was largely ineffective for large swaths of this game. He had just 10 points on 3 of 13 shooting and hit just 2 of 7 three-point attempts on the day.
It should’ve been season over for a team that needs three-pointers to fall in order to win. That was allegedly the case against a long Louisville team as well, but instead Walton was picked up by teammates all game long.
That’s not to say he didn’t have any importance to the game, far from it. After all, he hit a crucial three-pointer to put the Wolverines up 61-57 with 5:50 to play. Walton also gave Michigan the crucial four-point lead at 69-65 with 31 seconds to play.
However, the Wolverines and Walton aren’t in position to pull the upset if it weren’t for the rest of the starting lineup coming up huge as Walton struggled.
As Michigan continues its incredible March run, this time it was the big men getting the job done.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner was the star of the show on Saturday, pouring in a career-high 26 points on an incredible 11 of 14 shooting from the field. It was all Wagner, all the time in the second half on Saturday.
Anything and everything he wanted down low, he got. That is good news for a player that was so important for most of Michigan’s February turnaround and had cooled off so much over the past two weeks.
Wagner put up 15 of his 26 points in the second half alone, leading his team to shooting 63 percent from the field in the second half.
He wasn’t the only big man to come up big in this contest either. D.J. Wilson also showed up huge in the second half, as he put up 11 of his 17 points in the second half as well.
Those 11 points also included four straight made free throws in the final 17 seconds of the game to salt the victory away for Michigan.
Michigan has now reeled off six straight victories, and it has managed to get it done in a variety of ways. No longer will teams see the Wolverines as just Derrick Walton and some others coming along for the ride.
This team is still finding a variety of ways to get it done heading in to the Sweet 16 in the Midwest regional.
It is only fitting that this miracle story is heading to Kansas City.
Derrick Walton’s magical March continues in Michigan’s win over Oklahoma State
Few stories were as good last week as that of the Michigan Wolverines and their run to the Big Ten tournament title. Could that magic extend to the NCAA tournament?
The answer was much the same as it was last week — ask Derrick Walton Jr.
After all, he lifted the Wolverines to a Big Ten tournament crown with some of the best individual play we’ve seen in the B1G tourney in some time. That led to a B1G tourney MVP honor for him and the tourney title trophy for his team.
Walton looked like he would cool off a bit on Friday, starting 1 of 6 from the field. However, that didn’t last long and every one of his 26 points were vital in a wild 92-91 victory over the Cowboys. He added 11 assists for another unconventional double double as well.
He credited the ability to slow down mentally and the confidence from his teammates at the half for the turnaround.
“It’s just the mindset and the trust these guys have in me, it makes me go out and just play much more free just knowing they have a lot of confidence in me,” Walton said following the game.
His six made three-pointers also helped propel the rest of the team to new heights behind the arc. Michigan went a crazy 11 of 15 from deep in the second half alone, finishing the game with a school record 16 made three-pointers for the game.
The volume was nice, but so was Michigan’s ability to do it efficiently. U-M shot a blazing 16 of 29 from beyond the arc on the day.
Naturally, Walton’s final made triple came at a very opportune time. He put the Wolverines up 76-68 with 6:47 to play. It was Michigan’s largest lead the entire game and certainly made the Pokes have to chase things the rest of the way.
Michigan also got some help from its defense in what wasn’t a very defensive game by the scoreboard. However, the Wolverines got the Pokes to turn over the ball 10 times and that led to 15 points on the other end of the court.
The reverse didn’t happen for the usually turnover-creating Oklahoma State defense, as Michigan only coughed it up for times on the day.
All of it combined to somehow overcome Oklahoma State pounding the Wolverines down low. The Cowboys not only owned the boards (40-21), but had a 50-20 advantage in points in the paint.
However, Walton simply wasn’t going to let his team lose this game. Not only did 19 of his 26 points come in the crazy second half, he put in what could be described as the final nail in the coffin with 54.6 seconds to play.
With the two teams trading the lead over the final 10 minutes of the game, Walton’s floater with just under a minute gave Michigan a three-possession lead. It also was a momentum killer, coming after Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.
D.J. Wilson, who had 19 points of his own in the win, grabbed the rebound and Walton finished at the other end. That basket made the Cowboys chase the rest of the game.
It also seemed to be yet another poetic finishing move for Walton Jr. in a magical postseason.
But, will Walton be able to continue his magical run when faced with No. 2 Louisville on Sunday? If so, don’t be surprised to see the Wolverines making more noise than ever thought possible in this tournament.