February 5, 2014

SIGNING DAY: News & Views: Hoke on 2014 class

Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke met with the media on national signing day, rolling out the 2014 class. Here are some news items coming out of that session, Hoke's comments, and TheWolverine.com's take.

News: This represents Michigan's smallest incoming group of freshmen in at least the last quarter century. The Wolverines welcomed in 16 new players into the program.

Hoke: "This is a small class. I believe it's our smallest one to date. As you go through the process and the evaluation, you want to make sure, because you've got to be right.

"What our coaches have done and what we've done, when you look at needs for next year, or two years from now, the numbers that we used and how we came up with it really fits what we wanted to do."

Views: It's the price you pay by operating in an above-board fashion, and not running off non-performers in significant numbers, like some do. Every once in a while, a class simply won't hit the mid-20s in sheer bodies.

That, of course, cuts down on the misses a program can afford, and there are always misses. This will be an interesting class to track, in terms of its immediate impact, its long-term impact, its attrition rate and how that changes the overall effect. U-M needs a solid core of a dozen or so to become solid to standout contributors, eventually.

News: Jabrill Peppers, Rivals.com's No. 1 defensive back in the nation, headlines this group. Hoke found himself answering questions about the challenges of keeping Peppers in the fold from his commitment last May until signing day.

Hoke: "Here's the one thing I don't like, and I think this has gotten way out of whack. It isn't about the kids, it doesn't seem like, anymore. It's more about different services, the Internet, and all of the stuff that puts a lot more pressure on kids.

"It's harder for them as they continue to grow and go through the process. Every guy in every situation is different. The difference can be, yes, people are still going to try and contact kids. High school coaches play a role in that, because some of them won't let that happen."

Views: Peppers' coach at Paramus [N.J.] Catholic, Chris Partridge, definitely played a role. He screened Peppers' calls and shut down those who were attempting to get through in recent weeks, taking some of the pressure off the prep standout.

At the same time, he couldn't shield Peppers from all of the social media contacts and public in passing that decided to weigh in. Peppers had to wade through much of that himself, with ongoing assurances from Michigan coaches about his place in a program they're convinced is moving forward.

As recently as last week, Partridge opted not to comment when contacted about Peppers. So there's little doubt that Michigan securing him for a winged helmet represented a fight to the finish.

News: Now officially a Wolverine, Peppers brings the sorts of high-level skills that can make a difference early on. At the same time, Hoke will remain reluctant to add too extensively to the considerable build-up the incoming freshman has received.

Hoke: "His attitude [is excellent]. He's been gifted athletically. His competitive nature is another part of it.

"Let's get him in here and let him be a corner for a while. Let him get acclimated to everything about college football. Do I think he's very talented? There's no question. Can he return kicks? Yeah. I don't think there's any doubt about it.

"Could there be a plan for him somewhere offensively? There could be. But let's let the kid walk on campus, go to a class during the summer, and be a freshman. Let what he does speak for itself."

Views: The worst part of all the attention focused on the recruiting process involves kids being set up to fail. And failure, in this and many cases, remains in the eyes of the beholder.

If Peppers comes in and doesn't start game one in the Michigan secondary, there will be people demanding to know what went wrong. If he isn't All-Big Ten as a freshman, they'll be wondering why he wasn't developed or used properly.

It's too much, given the sort of transition that has to take place. Can Michigan fans rightly be excited about his future? Sure. But their greatest joy should come from watching it develop, not anticipating it so fervently that expectations can't be met.

News: Social media has made it easier to contact almost anyone, at any time. That includes football recruits, and Hoke dealt with that subject on signing day.

Hoke: "There's no question, it's changed. It will continue to change. It's probably easier in some ways, when you're talking about getting film over the networks, and Huddle, and those things. You get a little more access, which helps you a little more in some evaluations.

"At the same time, it's harder on the kids. Sometimes, yeah, kids probably ask for it a little bit. They like to tweet, and do all of those things. Also, there are a lot of adults who can be faceless and nameless."

Views: Lloyd Carr and Gary Moeller are probably looking at all this and thinking how glad they are to be removed from the whole process. Not just the part where they're chasing down 17- and 18-year-old kids and trying to convince them to come to their school, but the whirlwind afterwards.

They lived in a world that featured a certain wall that could be put up around Michigan football players, especially after they signed letters of intent. That's not the case anymore, and that's obviously not always a good development.

Embrace the technology where it works, like Hoke noted. As for the rest of it, Michigan coaches have their hands full.

News: Although Hoke didn't acknowledge that Peppers necessarily wavered in the process, he did say the incoming freshman "had to step away from it a little bit." Hoke also allowed that negative recruiting can come into play, particularly after a season in which the Wolverines struggled.

Hoke: "You know, 7-6 isn't good enough here. We know that. We've got to become better. But if you look at the class, they've stayed together the whole time."

Views: Michigan has a staff of great recruiters, and an elite venue, tradition, etc., to present. Everything remains in place, but perhaps Hoke's greatest recruiting tool in the fall of 2014 is simply this: win a lot of football games.

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