Big Ten: Cullen Christian

Big Ten lunch links

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
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Let's begin with the teams that played spring games Saturday and then move on from there ...
My apologies for posting this late -- flying to California to visit family and actually posting this from somewhere over Iowa -- but Michigan reportedly has lost another cornerback.

Cullen Christian told Superprep.com that he's requested a transfer and will play football elsewhere. Christian appeared in 10 games last season as a true freshman, recording six tackles.
"Coach [Brady] Hoke is a great guy and I have no issues with him at all," Christian told Superprep.com. "I had meetings with my other coaches and I just didn't like the direction that they had me going in. I think it is best that I move on and finish my career elsewhere."

He said he felt he performed well in spring practice until a back injury sidelined him for a scrimmage and the spring game.

Christian is the second player to depart since Hoke became coach. Safety Ray Vinopal transferred to Pittsburgh.

Although Michigan could be fine at cornerback if Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd get healthy and perform to their capabilities, it's amazing what has happened to this position in recent years. Here's a look at all the issues the Wolverines have had at cornerback.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan built its 5-0 record on big plays, especially those involving Denard Robinson.

But through the first two-plus quarters today, Michigan State is making all the noise.

All three of the Spartans' touchdowns have stretched longer than 40 yards, the last a 41-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell to put Michigan State up 23-10. The Spartans made a statement on the first drive of the second half, continuing to exploit the holes in Michigan's defense.

Cousins stayed in the pocket nicely despite pressure from Craig Roh and made a beautiful throw to Dell, who beat true freshman Cullen Christian. Christian had entered the game after an injury to James Rogers.

Michigan needs to resurrect its big-play offense before it's too late. The Spartans lead 24-10 early in the third quarter, but Michigan is driving.
If you asked me Tuesday morning to form a short list of players Michigan must have on the field this fall, Troy Woolfolk's name would be right at the top.

Woolfolk isn't Michigan's best player, nor is he the team's most talented. By most measures, he was an average Big Ten cornerback for the half season he spent there in 2009.

[+] EnlargeTroy Woolfolk
Eric Bronson/Icon SMITroy Woolfolk, who was in line to be Michigan's No. 1 cornerback, reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his leg in practice on Tuesday.
But Woolfolk brought leadership and experience to a secondary that severely lacks both. Plus, he eased some concern (not all) at a position that has gone through a major talent drain in the last 10 months.

That's why the news that Woolfolk reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken bone in his leg at Tuesday's practice is so painful for Michigan to endure. Head coach Rich Rodriguez hasn't said much about the situation, only that it was a lower body injury and that Woolfolk went to the hospital from practice.

But Woolfolk's high school coach, Jim Creech, told colleague Joe Schad that "it looks like [Woolfolk will] miss the season." Woolfolk was treated and released from University Hospital on Tuesday night, and his father told multiple media outlets that a decision on surgery will be made later.

Woolfolk posted on his Twitter page late Tuesday night: "Even though T-Woolf will be absent, Troy will be on sidelines coaching&cheering for Michigan till all air has vacated my lungs." T-Woolf, for those who don't know, is Woolfolk's alter ego.

Fortunately, Woolfolk has a redshirt season and could return in 2011, but his injury leaves Michigan young and thin at cornerback. Considering how well Michigan has recruited the cornerback spot in recent years, it's amazing to think that the program could get to this point.

Remember these guys?

  • Donovan Warren: First-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 declared for the NFL as a junior but wasn't drafted in April.
  • Boubacar Cissoko: Blue chip recruit started the first four games in 2009, missed two games because of a suspension, returned for a game and then was dismissed for violating team rules. In a truly sad story, Cissoko is now in jail serving time for his role in multiple robberies.
  • Demar Dorsey: The Big Ten's top-rated recruit signed with Michigan in February but was denied admission in June, a decision that didn't sit well with the coaching staff. Dorsey is still waiting to see whether he gets admitted to Louisville.
  • Adrian Witty: Signed with Michigan in 2009 but never made it to Ann Arbor because of academic issues. He eventually landed at Cincinnati, where he has been impressive in training camp.
  • J.T. Turner: Decorated recruit was granted his release from the team last week and intends to transfer.

It's quite a list, and Michigan certainly could use the help this fall.

I wonder if Pacman Jones has any eligibility left. Or Charles Woodson.

Michigan feels good about J.T. Floyd at one corner spot, but the other spot is a mystery and the overall depth is very shaky. The Wolverines have been fighting a numbers game on defense since Rodriguez's arrival, and the situation at cornerback has exacerbated the problem.

One thing is clear: youth will be served in 2010, and freshmen like Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery had better grow up fast.

Opening camp: Michigan

August, 9, 2010
8/09/10
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Schedule: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines are on the field right now in Ann Arbor for their first preseason practice.

What's new: After losing linebackers coach Jay Hopson to Memphis, Rodriguez promoted Adam Braithwaite to safeties and outside linebackers coach. He also added special teams to the plate of secondary coach Tony Gibson, who will continue to work with free safeties and cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will work with the linebackers. There was a lot of talk this spring about the 3-3-5 defensive alignment, as Michigan must replace standouts Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren.

Sidelined: Defensive lineman Will Heininger (knee) is the only player out because of injury, and he might not play this season. Running back Vincent Smith is expected to be 100 percent for camp after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Running back Mike Shaw appears on the team's 2010 roster, although he had some eligibility issues to clear up with summer school.

Key battle: You might have heard, but Michigan's quarterback spot is undecided and Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson resume the competition today. The Wolverines also need to identify a featured running back or two, and Smith, Shaw, Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint are in the mix. Kenny Demens will push Obi Ezeh at middle linebacker, and J.T. Floyd looks to cement himself as a starting cornerback opposite Troy Woolfolk. Both kick specialist jobs also are up for grabs.

New on the scene: Michigan still needs its freshmen to play, especially on defense. Look out for defensive back Cullen Christian, defensive lineman Richard Ash and linebacker Marvin Robinson, among others. In a perfect world, Michigan could redshirt quarterback Devin Gardner, but if he's the best option, Rodriguez won't hesitate to play the freshman.

Back in the fold: Center David Molk was Michigan's best offensive lineman before knee problems cut short his 2009 season. After a strong offseason, Molk will boost a line that has enough talent and depth to be the team's biggest strength this fall. Receiver Junior Hemingway, who had a strong start last fall before being sidelined by mononucleosis, also returns to the mix.

Breaking out: If Denard Robinson builds on his spring performance, he could be the difference maker for Michigan's offense this fall. Receiver Roy Roundtree could be on the verge of bigger things after leading the team in receptions (32), receiving yards (434) and receiving touchdowns (3) last year. Hopes are high for defensive end/linebacker Craig Roh, who recorded 7.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman in 2009. Safety Cam Gordon was the star of spring practice and could be poised for a big year.

Quotable: "There's a lot of hungry football players up in Ann Arbor, and I think they're as excited as I am to get going. We have some questions, certainly, on both sides of the ball." -- head coach Rich Rodriguez

The Revolving Door: Michigan

June, 17, 2010
6/17/10
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Tenth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools in 2010.

Going ...

Brandon Graham, DE: Graham didn't win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall, but no defender in the league looked more dominant than No. 55. His numbers were simply insane: 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, one recovery of a blocked punt for a touchdown. Graham's stats and leadership will be sorely missed up front.

Donovan Warren, CB: Michigan's secondary wasn't good in 2009, but it could have been even worse without Warren's contributions. He led the team with four interceptions, including a pick-six at Iowa, and also topped the chart in passes defended with seven. Warren earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.


Staying ...

Stephen Schilling, G: Schilling has been through it all at Michigan, and he'll help anchor a line that should be one of the Wolverines' strengths this fall. An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2009, Schilling has started 36 of his 37 career games at tackle or guard. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks him as the No. 4 senior guard for the 2011 NFL draft.

Troy Woolfolk, CB: If Michigan's defense turns things around this fall, Woolfolk figures to play a major role. The converted safety has built up his confidence at the cornerback position and brings both experience and talent to the secondary. After a strong spring, Woolfolk will step into Warren's spot and cover the Big Ten's top receivers.


Coming ...

Cullen Christian, CB: Michigan has an obvious need in the secondary, and Christian should see the field this season, especially since Demar Dorsey isn't coming to Ann Arbor. Christian is an intelligent player with good size who can read quarterbacks and understands coverage schemes.

Will Hagerup, P/K: Graham and Warren are major losses, but Michigan really will miss All-American punter Zoltan Mesko this fall. The Wolverines also lose kicker Jason Olesnavage, so Hagerup will make a major impact in 2010. Like Mesko, Hagerup has excellent size (6-4, 210) and was heavily recruited coming out of high school. Michigan's specialists struggled this spring, so Rich Rodriguez will turn to Hagerup.

More revolving door ...

During his two-plus seasons at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez often has mentioned the numbers game on defense, a game that the Wolverines have been losing.

Rodriguez isn't talking about numbers of points allowed or yards allowed, although it's all connected to the larger problem the Wolverines' defense has endured. Michigan simply hasn't had enough capable players to succeed on that side of the ball. And without the numbers, or adequate depth at certain positions, the defense has plummeted. In the last two seasons, the Wolverines have finished 67th and 82nd in yards allowed, and 84th and 77th in points allowed, respectively.

[+] EnlargeDemar Dorsey
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIThe Wolverines will likely be counting on highly touted cornerback Demar Dorsey to contribute right away as a freshman.
High attrition has certainly played a major role, and of those who left, many were top defensive prospects. Recruiting also has played a significant role, much of it before Rodriguez's arrival, as Michigan signed small classes with not enough defensive recruits. Mgoblog has a great breakdown of the problems here and here.

Heading into a pivotal season, can Michigan survive the numbers situation on defense?

"It's still limited, to an extent, this spring," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson told me earlier this month. "Now there's going to be 14, 15 guys walking in the door [in the summer]. How many can you count on as freshmen? Time will tell that. Craig Roh played as a freshman [in 2009].

"So it can be done."

Michigan's incoming freshman class will be a huge factor in the defense's results, one way or another. Unlike past classes, the 2010 crop is both sizable and filled with defensive players.

Cornerback Demar Dorsey, the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit according to ESPN recruiting, will contribute right away as long as he qualifies for admission. Other defensive recruits like Cullen Christian and Marvin Robinson also are good bets to see the field this fall.

"We may have some young guys come in this fall and provide some competition, which is a little scary when you're talking about true freshmen," Rodriguez said. "But we want to play more people defensively and offensively."

Several defenders who stepped up this spring also should help in the numbers game.

Safety Cameron Gordon, a converted wide receiver, was arguably Michigan's top spring performer. The coaches also singled out linebacker Kenny Demens, cornerback J.T. Floyd, Teric Jones, defensive linemen Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse and others for their play. Redshirt freshmen like Cameron Gordon and safety Thomas Gordon drew more attention during the spring session.

"You notice them," Robinson said, "and that is good. It's just the numbers aren't there yet. There will be a real infusion in August. We're going to get it done, but I know where the work is. It's about developing young players as quickly as we can. You've really got to count on 18, 19 guys, so the depth is what we have to establish."

Robinson admits Michigan never truly had adequate depth in 2009, and the results showed.

"We lacked depth, we lacked maturity at times," he said. "But that's last year. It doesn't really matter. There's no reason to be putting rose-colored glasses on it. At the same time, can it be an improved defense? Yep. It's the year 2010 and it's the 131st defense to perform here at Michigan.

"And doggone it, we're going to find a way to be better."

Michigan recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Michigan Wolverines

The class

Recruits: 27 (all high school seniors, seven early enrollees)

Top prospects: Safety Demar Dorsey is the top-ranked recruit in the Big Ten, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. Quarterback Devin Gardner, an ESPNU 150 selection, will compete for snaps right away. Defensive recruits like Marvin Robinson, Cullen Christian and Richard Ash might be able to help the beleaguered unit early on.

Sleepers: Safety is a huge need for Michigan in 2010, and Ray Vinopal and Carvin Johnson both could factor into the mix there. Linebacker Jake Ryan, a late bloomer during recruiting, also is a player to watch.

Needs met: Arguably no Big Ten team needed to bolster a particular position like Michigan needed to bolster its secondary. The addition of Dorsey gives the Wolverines a possible immediate contributor in the back four. Rich Rodriguez added the quarterback he needs in Gardner, and Michigan also stocked up at wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker.

Analysis: Michigan started quickly, lost a bit of ground with elite prospects and then finished strong by adding Dorsey on National Signing Day. Rodriguez signed a large and important class that must help a struggling defense this fall. Gardner will push Tate Forcier at quarterback, and the early enrollees at both wide receiver and running back will be fun to watch this spring. If this class doesn't bolster Michigan's defense immediately, the Wolverines will be in trouble.

Scouts Inc. grade: B-plus

What Rich Rodriguez said:
  • "Demar is a very athletic guy. Very fast. Has indicated he may run track as well. So it will be good news for our track program. A fast guy. He can play corner and safety. We'll probably start him at corner first, eventually teach him the back end stuff as well. Also returns kicks. Runs very well."
  • (on Devin Gardner) "It helps he got in early. I don't know if 15 spring practices can really give you a whole thing. But I know it helped Tate [Forcier] last year. Devin is going to have pieces around, veterans that know what we're trying to do offensively and all that. But again, until I see him at spring practice and how quickly he picks up the plays and all that, I couldn't tell you. I know he's very competitive. He's one of those guys eager to learn."
  • "Our back-end guys, linebackers and safeties and corners, are guys we felt we needed to play in space. And so we tried to address that with the athleticism. Again, these guys are young. Let's not put too much on too soon. They have to come and earn a spot and all that. But immediately the competition has risen on the defensive side of the football."
My in-season responsibilities prevented me from updating the scorecard for quite a while, but it's back now. And with recruiting season heating up and several big prizes (Seantrel Henderson, Jordan Hicks) still out there, this is the perfect time to see how teams are doing.

For all your recruiting needs, go here and here.

ILLINOIS

  • 2010 verbal commits: 8
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: 0
  • Comment: Another disappointing season finally cost Illinois on the recruiting trail, as tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, an ESPNU 150 prospect, switched his verbal to Iowa. The Illini still boast several good prospects, including quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who remains in Ron Zook's corner. Illinois hasn't had a verbal commitment since early August, so Zook really needs to work his magic in the coming weeks.
INDIANA

  • 2010 verbal commits: 21
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: 0
  • Comment: Jibreel Black's decommitment and switch to Cincinnati stings the Hoosiers, but IU still brings in a sizable class that includes some solid players. Indiana hasn't had a verbal commitment since late August, but the class looks pretty complete.
IOWA

  • 2010 verbal commits: 20
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz
  • Comment: The Hawkeyes' success on the field has translated very well to recruiting, as the team added several excellent players during the fall. Fiedorowicz headlines a class that also includes Iowa prep star A.J. Derby. Iowa has received six verbals since the start of the season.
MICHIGAN

  • 2010 verbal commits: 21
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: QB Devin Gardner
  • Comment: Gardner hasn't wavered in his commitment to head coach Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines, and the lure of early playing time likely has kept the class in place. Michigan got a big commitment from cornerback Cullen Christian days after the season ended, though things have been fairly quiet since the summer.
MICHIGAN STATE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 15
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: DE William Gholston
  • Comment: Gholston could reopen his recruitment, which would leave Spartans fans holding their breath. The top-rated player in the state of Michigan would be a major boost for MSU. Mark Dantonio's team picked up three verbals during the season, including one from wide receiver Keith Mumphery.
MINNESOTA

  • 2010 verbal commits: 22
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: 0
  • Comment: Tim Brewster and his staff continue to recruit at a high level and landed several solid prospects during the season. Among them is wide receiver Chris Hawkins, who could make an immediate impact in 2010. Running back Josh Huff from Texas also is a solid addition. Minnesota picked up 11 verbals during the season, tops among Big Ten teams.
NORTHWESTERN

  • 2010 verbal commits: 15
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: 0
  • Comment: After a slow start, Northwestern is putting together a solid 2010 class. The Wildcats recently added running back Ibraheim Campbell, the fifth player to commit during the season. The class seems heavy on defensive tackles and offensive skill players, both areas of need.
OHIO STATE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 13
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: RB Roderick Smith, WR James Louis, DE Darryl Baldwin, WR Corey Brown
  • Comment: Offensive firepower might be an issue in Columbus right now, but help is certainly on the way. Brown has been Ohio State's only in-season commit, but other big names soon could follow. Ohio State has bolstered the wide receiver and defensive end/linebacker spots.
PENN STATE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 20
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: DE Dominique Easley, LB Khairi Fortt, DT Evan Hailes, DE Dakota Royer, WR Adrian Coxson, QB Robert Bolden, C Miles Dieffenbach, DE C.J. Olaniyan
  • Comment: Penn State entered the season with the Big Ten's best recruiting class and has only made it better. The Nittany Lions staff has done a fabulous job with this class, landing Fortt, Easley, Olaniyan and two other prospects during the season. Penn State has addressed almost every position and should be very pleased on national signing day.
PURDUE

  • 2010 verbal commits: 20
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: 0
  • Comment: Danny Hope and his assistants continue to raid the state of Florida, and now they're bringing in more coveted prospects to Purdue. Wide receiver O.J. Ross from Daytona Beach, Fla., headlines a class that already includes seven Floridians. Purdue added eight verbals during the season, including cornerback Ricardo Allen.
WISCONSIN

  • 2010 verbal commits: 18
  • ESPNU 150 prospects: 0
  • Comment: Wisconsin has a tradition of turning solid players into stars and should have ample opportunities with this class. The Badgers added six verbals during the season, including safety/linebacker Manasseh Garner and offensive tackle Rob Havenstein.

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