Kevin Goheen/Land of 10
Linebacker Cameron McGrone, a 2018 Michigan signee, got bumped up to a 5-star rating by 247Sports in its final recruiting rankings for the class. One Land of 10 reader wants to know if he deserves it.

Michigan recruiting mailbag: Getting down to 85 scholarships; Cameron McGrone sparkling like a 5-star prospect

Kevin Goheen

Have Michigan football recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Michigan recruiting mailbag to discuss Wolverines recruiting. This week, the question of how Michigan squeezes down to 85 scholarships leads us off. 

Q: Who will be leaving to get to 85 scholarships? — Terry Klee via Facebook

A: This is a touchy subject, and one that lends itself to a lot of speculation.

The NCAA limit for football scholarships at Division I programs is 85. Land of 10’s unofficial count has Michigan at the 85-player limit before National Signing Day next Wednesday, Feb. 7, when it is expected the Wolverines could add as many as five new players to a 2018 class that currently stands at 16. Michigan is expected to add defensive back Casey Hughes as a grad transfer from Utah and would like to add offensive tackle Calvin Anderson from Rice in the same capacity. That’s as many as seven players who had scholarships last year who won’t be returning in 2018.

Tight end Ian Bunting announced Tuesday that he would be seeking a grad transfer. Bunting leaves Michigan with his undergraduate degree and a fifth year of eligibility remaining. His playing time decreased as the 2017 season progressed; Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry became starters with Tyrone Wheatley Jr. in a key reserve role. Michigan has Nick Eubanks set to return after missing the final nine games with an unspecified injury sustained at Purdue on Sept. 23, plus it has signed a highly touted tight end in Mustapha Muhammad as well as Luke Schoonmaker to the 2018 class.

Michigan has seven other players who have fifth-year eligibility available to them: defensive linemen Chase Winovich, Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall, linebacker Noah Furbush, cornerback Brandon Watson, fullback Jared Wangler and tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Winovich has announced he will be returning, but the others are candidates to transfer, as Bunting did. Michigan has until the first day of preseason practice to get down to the 85-scholarship limit.

Until a player or the team comes out and announces he is leaving the program via transfer or another avenue, I’ve found it unfair to that player to put out a report that they won’t be back. The situation that recently occurred with running back Kareem Walker is a prime example. A report surfaced that Walker had been dismissed from the team for repeated violations of team rules. Michigan fervently denied the report and Walker received support from his alma mater, DePaul Catholic High School in New Jersey, in disputing the report.

Q: Why are they recruiting so many defensive backs? — Noah Ayoub via Facebook

A: The simple answer is: you can never have enough players to cover receivers. As offenses go more and more to the passing game, it is essential to have defensive backs to cover all those receivers. Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme demands that the cornerbacks be able to play bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage. The same goes for the safeties, who will be asked to cover routes.

RELATED: 2018 Michigan recruiting big board

Since 2016, Michigan has signed 13 defensive backs. That includes Khaleke Hudson, who plays the safety/linebacker hybrid position of viper, and Brad Hawkins, who was signed originally as a wide receiver but switched to defense last season. It doesn’t include 2018 commit Vincent Gray or committed grad transfer Casey Hughes.

Your observation is correct, that Michigan is indeed recruiting a lot of defensive backs. It’s for good reason.

Q: Does not having a Signing of the Stars send a bad message to the recruits of this class? ― Jason Lawrence via Facebook

A: Michigan announced its last two recruiting classes with an extravagant display called Signing of the Stars. The events featured celebrity alumni, including former players such as Tom Brady, and were streamed live by The Players’ Tribune, an online media site owned by former New York Yankees shortstop and Kalamazoo native Derek Jeter.

There will not be a similar event this year, but it is had more to do with lining up sponsors and putting the show ― face it, that’s what it was ― together. True, the class isn’t as highly rated as the last two (this one is currently ranked No. 15 by the 247Sports composite, while the last two were both in the top 10) but I don’t think it’s as much a reflection on this class. To me it’s more about this is going to be Harbaugh’s fourth season. The hyperbole has to be replaced with more substance. I think that’s something Michigan and Harbaugh have focused on this recruiting cycle.

Q: Is Cameron McGrone a legit 5-star? ― Jason Milliman via Facebook 

A: Linebacker Cameron McGrone is, according to the evaluators at 247Sports, who have him rated with 5 stars and ranked as the No. 24 overall player in the country. They like the Michigan signee’s size (6-foot-1, 225 pounds), speed and game knowledge. McGrone came back from an ACL injury late in his junior season at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis to have a standout senior campaign that culminated with him playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. It is an event run in conjunction with 247Sports.

The 247Sports composite rates him as a 4-star because other recruiting sites and evaluators don’t have him ranked as high as 247Sports does. Take that for what you will. The bottom line is he is one heck of a player. I got to see him play in person last season and he made one of the most remarkable plays to help his team preserve a victory. McGrone got caught peeking into the backfield and briefly lost contact with the receiver he was supposed to be covering. A well-thrown pass found its target over McGrone, but he never gave up on the play. He tracked the receiver down and forced a fumble that his team recovered late in the fourth quarter.

For all the star ratings players receive, it’s plays like that that stand out on film. He made a mistake but he didn’t let it get him down and instead quickly made up for the miscue.

Q: Why is it that Michigan has had better success recruiting and developing defensive players than offensive players under Harbaugh? ― Zo Eastwood via Facebook

A: Excellent question, Zo. I think it points to the defensive coaching staff led by coordinator Don Brown. Defensive line coach Greg Mattison is as good as there is in the country at teaching and developing linemen. Chris Partridge, who coached linebackers last season and is moving to coach safeties this year, is a highly regarded recruiter. Cornerbacks coach Michael Zordich coaches with the same passion he played with in college at Penn State and in the NFL for 12 seasons. They are all very genuine individuals and run an aggressive system that players love to play.

That’s not to say the offensive staff isn’t genuine or as passionate but, on the whole, the defense has found its identity in the Harbaugh era while the offense has struggled to capture one of its own.

Have a question about Michigan recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10MICH or follow on the Land of 10/Michigan Facebook page and ask us there. We’ll try to answer in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Michigan recruiting mailbags here.