Big and fast: UM freshmen make vets take notice

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Kingston Davis

Ann Arbor – Kids will be kids, college freshmen will be college freshmen.

The same holds true for college football players.

At Michigan, senior tailback De’Veon Smith said the freshmen are, well, amusing.

“They’re a funny group of guys,” Smith said Wednesday night after practice. “They tried to storm the locker room (Tuesday) night, but we shut it down. I think they’re a close-knit group, but they have to understand the process of actually being in a camp. They have to get through that first – football and class and study hall.

“That class is an impressive class. Big, very huge class, and I’m excited to see what they bring to the table.”

By huge, Smith was referring to the number of freshmen – 28, not including walk-ons – not to mention their physical size. While defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the nation’s top-rated recruit, has been the most talked-about freshman and is expected to make an impact early, the new offensive linemen have impressed their teammates, as well. That includes 6-5, 310-pound Ben Bredeson. Bredeson also was singled out by the Big Ten Network crew, which watched Monday’s practice.

Michael Onwenu

Freshmen linemen Stephen Spanellis and Detroit Cass Tech’s Michael Onwenu are also earning praise.  Coach Jim Harbaugh said this week that Onwenu is practicing on the defensive line, as well.

“Very good player,” senior offensive lineman Erik Magnuson said of Bredeson. “He reminds me a lot of (junior center) Mason (Cole) when Mason first got here, and like Mason he had very good coaching in high school because his technique and fundamentals are spot on. He knows football very well. Some guys understand the game better than others, and he’s one of those guys. It’s been very impressive watching him. All the freshmen on the offensive line have been very impressive. It’s very strange to see how good they are.”

Magnuson explained that it’s strange because the freshmen linemen are already so advanced.

“I don’t know how they learn all this stuff,” he said. “I feel like if I learned this stuff in high school I would have been so much better. But I guess recruiting is getting younger and younger and they’re forced to learn it. They’re fundamentally sound and their technique is very good.”

UM teammates rave about Rashan Gary’s ‘tremendous’ ability

Drake Johnson, a senior running back, is rooming this camp with freshman running back Chris Evans. Johnson has taken Evans, 5-11, 200 pounds, under his wing and shared much wisdom.

“I talked to him the first day of camp and I was like, 'Hey Chris. You ready for camp?’” Johnson said. “He's like, 'Yeah, dog. I'm so ready.' And I was like, 'No, you're not. You think you're ready but you're not. Just give it a couple days.' I think all the freshmen are taking it well but you know definitely that first few days that they were like, 'What did I get myself into?' They're adjusting well now and everyone is doing well."

Chris Evans

Johnson describes Evans as “athletic, very athletic.” The freshman has been working at both running back and receiver.

“I kind of pay attention to him when he's with us because we're doing running back stuff,” he said. “You know we got off from our play and we kind of huddle up and talk about what had just happened. I haven't really seen him leave the running back huddle, but if he has, I'm typically not in the area when he would be there. I wouldn't be surprised if he has."

The older players are walking the freshmen through what’s expected and teaching them as much as possible.

“We're taking on that, ‘You guys have to be a part of this and just as competitive as we are because this whole room makes each other better,’” running back Ty Isaac said of the freshmen backs. “It's not just De'Veon or Drake, but Chris, Kareem (Walker), Kingston (Davis), Karan (Higdon).”

Evans has impressed Isaac, as well.

“When you got the guy who's real, real shifty, he's fast like you know he's fast but it's still deceptive,” Isaac said. “I think he's really good player. I think it's just like me, Drake and De'Veon, but Kingston, Kareem, Chris and Karan are all different players and are all good at what they do."

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The freshmen still have plenty to learn, the playbook in particular, but Isaac said the backs have made an impact and created an even greater competitive atmosphere.

Isaac said the class has “surprised” and overall have been “good” for the team. He also singled out the receivers, who have made big plays in camp.

"Yeah, they brought some dudes in that are fast and can run,” Isaac said. “I was kind of surprised on a few plays. Eddie McDoom – he can fly. Nate Johnson has been playing well.

“All the freshmen have come in and done a good job so far."