The impact that Hand would have on the Wolverines program is undeniable, and if he were to commit to Michigan, that decision alone could drastically impact the future of the football program—both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
He'll be visiting Ann Arbor this weekend, according to Steve Lorenz of 247Sports.com.
Here's an in-depth analysis on why Michigan desperately needs to land Hand.
If coach Hoke and his staff went out and got the No. 1 overall recruit for the 2014 class, it would essentially solidify both Hoke and Michigan as a current recruiting power. That commitment alone would put Hoke on the level of an Urban Meyer or Nick Saban, and that prestige would be huge for future classes.
Michigan is already looked at as a marquee school on the recruiting trail. The program is steeped in history, the fan base is excellent and the draw is national. Michigan football is respected and recognized, and now that Hoke has taken over, changed the culture and has started to win games, the argument could be made that the Wolverines are well on their way back to the apex of college football.
In every rise to the top there is a defining moment, though, and landing Hand could essentially be that moment for Michigan.
It would be a statement to the college football world that Michigan isn't just on the way back to the top, but is already back on top.
Not only that, but future elite recruits and even future No.1 recruits may start to look at Michigan a bit differently. After all, if Hand saw the potential to go there and be a star, what's stopping them from doing the same thing?
Michigan could very well take the step from a great recruiting team to an elite recruiting team if Hand were to come aboard.
He would also play a huge factor on the field, and that's the next area we'll break down...
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison likes to run a 4-3 defense (specifically a 4-3 under front), and Hand fits best in the 4-3. He's 6'5'' and 247 pounds, so he's not yet a 3-4 defensive end, but at his size and with his speed (4.60 40 according to 247Sports), he could be extremely effective as a 4-3 defensive end.
He'll be able to rush the passer at an extremely high level because of his speed and technique, and he'll play strong against the run and set the edge as a defensive end, which will be huge for Michigan.
Mattison likes to run a ton of blitz schemes, and that also suits Hand if the defensive end needs to drop back into coverage. He has great athleticism and should be comfortable in space. I don't see him having trouble covering the "hook to curl" zone—or even the flats—because of his speed.
Hand could end up being a true difference-maker for Michigan on defense.
For as improved as Michigan has been under Mattison, the need for an elite pass-rusher is still there. That could take Michigan's defense from good to great, especially with Mattison calling the plays.
Michigan sacked the quarterback 22 times during the 2012 season (cfbstats.com). Linebacker Jake Ryan was the leader in sacks with five, and senior defensive end Craig Roh followed him with four sacks.
Roh was a good defensive end, but he's moving on from the program now. Frank Clark could end up being a great replacement for Roh, and Mario Ojemudia has tremendous potential. 2013 signee and 4-star weak-side defensive end Taco Charlton is another player who could end up being productive as a defensive end for Michigan, and the Wolverines currently have a commitment from 4-star 2014 strong-side defensive end Bryan Mone.
That said, none of these players possess the type of game-changing superstar potential that Hand does.
Michigan needs to get more production in regards to getting after the quarterback if it wants to take the step from great to elite. Compare the 2012 sack numbers to a few other Big Ten programs and you'll see that there is quite a difference.
To break this down even further, take a look at the sack leaders. Defensive lineman John Simon led Ohio State with nine sacks, Wisconsin's sack leaders were defensive linemen Tyler Dippel and Brendan Kelly with five each. Defensive end Eric Martin led Nebraska with 8.5 sacks, and defensive lineman Tyler Scott notched nine sacks for Northwestern (cfbstats.com).
Michigan's sack leader was a linebacker. While that would make sense in Mattison's 4-3 under scheme, it would still be incredibly beneficial for the Wolverines to get much more production out of the defensive lineman as pass rushers.
A defensive end of Hand's quality could single-handedly put intense pressure on the edges of the line of scrimmage, and that would help out the two interior defensive linemen next to him in regards to their pass rush.
There's also the concern that when you blitz, you're taking a calculated risk. Good teams will know their hot reads and exploit blitzes, no matter who is calling the plays or how disguised it may be. Mattison will always bring pressure from the second level, but if his defense can get more push and pressure up front, specifically from the edges, it will only make the blitz game that much more effective.
Getting a strong pass rush from the front four would also help Michigan out in coverage, which is an area that the Wolverines have struggled with at times (though they undoubtedly are much better).
The simple concept of front-four pressure in regards to coverage is that if the defensive line can take care of getting pressure, that will allow Michigan to drop more players back into coverage. It also puts a strain on the passing game since the quarterback will be rushed into his reads and may make a bad decision or two.
The passing game is all about timing, and a good front four can really throw that off, especially in obvious passing situations.
Here's a play that will haunt Michigan fans for a while from the Outback Bowl:
When you break it down, you can see that Michigan is in a variation of the 4-3 under look with the "Sam," or strong-side linebacker, coming off the edge. The Gamecocks are in an open set with three wideouts to the left and two to the right. On the snap, the Sam will blitz while the right defensive end will drop back into coverage:
Due to the offensive set, Michigan brings the strong safety into the box and plays a cover 3 look, which means the corners are responsible for their deep thirds, and the free safety will rotate over deep middle. In this situation, the receiver is able to get a step on the in-box strong safety on his seam route, which gives the quarterback the window and leads to a big touchdown against Michigan's defense:
The blitz from the Sam wasn't effective here because the quarterback was able to make the read and get it out on time:
For the sake of argument, though, let's say Mattison had a defensive end like Hand who he knew he could get a "blitz-like" pass rush from on this play. Being confident in Hand's abilities to get after the quarterback, plus knowing how much his presence would help the rest of the defensive linemen, Mattison could elect to use a traditional 4-3 look against this open offense, and instead play, let's say a quarters/cover two combo coverage.
That would mean that on the two man side, the safety and the corner would both be responsible for their quarter of the field. The strong safety would be out of the box, and his responsibility would be the No. 2 receiver on the right side if he went vertical, which he does. Perhaps South Carolina would find a different option there, but that seam route that they scored on would be effectively gone because Mattison didn't need to bring an extra player into the box to blitz. On the three man side, Michigan could man up on the outside receiver and play a cover two on No. 2 and No. 3. This defense would have every zone covered besides the flats on the two man side, but at least you don't give up that touchdown:
Also consider that the Sam linebacker would then be at traditional linebacker depth and in his coverage zone, so he would be able to easily jam the seam route and throw off that timing. Either way, that ball won't be thrown, and if it was, Michigan would be in perfect opportunity to make a play on it.
That's the difference an elite pass-rusher can have on a defense—and specifically coverage—and that's the defensive impact Hand could have for Michigan.
Hand has the potential and the ability to be the catalyst of an incredible pass-rush for Michigan.
We've seen how Jadeveon Clowney has impacted opposing offenses from his defensive end position at South Carolina, and Hand projects to be the same type of player.
Having that type of game-changing, scheme changing player on defense would be a first for Michigan in a while, with the possible exception of Mike Martin. That said, Hand has the ability to be much more effective as a game-changer than Martin, and that's saying a lot.
Hand is a must-have recruit for Michigan, because his impact on the Wolverines program would be undeniable.
Michigan could potentially go from great, to elite.
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