Criticism of Shaun Nua and Michigan’s ability to recruit interior defensive linemen should be put on pause.
After the Wolverines failed to land a defensive tackle during the early signing period in December, a problem after they went the entire 2020 recruiting class without one, they made a splash on Wednesday by signing three. And scored more recruiting points over their in-state rival, Michigan State.
The highlight of the day for Michigan came early, with four-star tackle Rayshaun Benny of Oak Park (Mich.) going from a verbal commitment to the Spartans to a signed player at Michigan. The about-face happened rather suddenly, and the reason behind Benny’s change of heart remains unclear. He hasn’t done any public interviews since making the decision.
But you have to wonder whether Jim Harbaugh’s recent staff shakeup is already beginning to pay dividends on the recruiting trail. Benny is already the highest-rated defensive recruit in Michigan’s 2021 class, which took a hit in December over uncertainty with the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Don Brown was later dismissed and the contract for long-time defensive backs coach Mike Zordich was not renewed.
A look at Michigan’s previous recruiting classes could tell you that Brown, who wants his defenses getting to the quarterback as quick and often as possible, valued speed and athleticism over size. Traditional defensive tackles were not always a priority, evident in the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Benny’s decision to originally play in East Lansing.
That appears to have changed under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who elected to retain Nua despite his contract also expiring. And the push for traditional tackles was made almost immediately.
Michigan was also able to convince Ikechuckwu “Ike” Iwunnah, a three-star tackle from Garland, Texas, to flip his commitment to Colorado and sign with the Wolverines. Iwunnah appears to be more of a long-term project, but like Benny, has the size and wherewithal to play the position.
Meanwhile, it was George Rooks who started this comeback with his commitment last week. The four-star tackle from Jersey City, N.J., is considered a top-20 tackle nationally by the 247Sports composite rankings and, when paired with Benny, gives Michigan a strong base with which to grow. While neither player is poised for immediate playing time, the cupboard is no longer bare.
Assuming there are no other surprises, Michigan will conclude the 2021 recruiting class with four of the state of Michigan’s top seven prospects. That rate had been trending in the other direction in recent years, and Harbaugh’s staff took criticism for not recruiting their backyard better. But the recent addition of Ron Bellamy (West Bloomfield) and Mike Hart should play a factor here.
Finally, Michigan continues to snatch recruits from Mel Tucker and the Spartans. Over the summer, Michigan State went from thinking three-star wideout Andrel Anthony Jr. (of East Lansing High School) was going to play there to pulling a 180 and picking Michigan. Now, Benny has done the same. The Spartans have zero of the top-15 in-state players in the 2021 recruiting class, and just two in the top 20, and have effectively been boxed out of recruiting the state.
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