Recruiting rewards highlight Michigan offseason

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Rich Rodriguez still describes his first December without bowl preparation since 2001 as "miserable."

But the premature end to Michigan's football season didn't completely go to waste.

"Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourselves, it did give us time to work and try to identify our needs," Rodriguez told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "We were able to do that pretty quickly."

Rodriguez and his assistants hit the recruiting trail hard, and they're seeing the results pay off right now. Michigan already has 13 commitments for its 2010 recruiting class, six more than any other Big Ten school and eight more than top rival Ohio State.

Of those 13 commitments, five are ranked on the ESPNU 150 Watch List. No other Big Ten team has more than three ESPNU 150 prospects at this point.

After undoubtedly the worst season in team history, Michigan is putting together a pretty solid offseason, highlighted by the quick start to recruiting.

Sure, there have been setbacks, namely more player departures and quarterback Nick Sheridan's broken leg. But spring practice brought some encouraging signs, including the development of freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. Michigan quickly ended its flirtation with Greg Paulus and recruits continue to say yes to Rodriguez and his staff.

"Normally you wouldn't have 12, 13, 14 commitments at this point, but it seems that's more and more the trend," Rodriguez said. "For us, it's just happening. There may be another four or five commitments before the end of summer. I feel comfortable where we're at.

"Our message is getting out. We're filling up pretty quickly."

Michigan doesn't expect to sign a huge class in 2010, so the group could be finalized well before the end of the 2009 season.

Rodriguez partly attributes the fast start to the coaches having a better idea of their needs after going through a season in Ann Arbor. Recruits who watched Michigan trip all over itself last fall also sensed the chance to contribute right away.

"One thing about when you struggle a little bit, young men see opportunity," Rodriguez said. "We've got a lot of offensive skill guys that wanted to jump on board, and that's great. But we've got to make sure we recruit guys for defense. As a head coach and as a staff, we say, 'OK, we really like this guy, but can he help us at this position of need?'

"I wish we had 35 scholarships because we have certain needs and we want to try to build that depth at every position."

Michigan's first four commitments came from wide receivers and the first 10 came from skill players before two linemen joined the class several weeks ago. Quarterback Devin Gardner and wideouts Ricardo Miller and Jeremy Jackson all have been named to the ESPNU 150 Watch List.

"Guys look at the depth chart or they look at where we have less bodies at," said Rodriguez, who cannot discuss specific recruits until they have signed. "They've seen the history of the offense. Whether it's wide receivers or tight ends or running backs or quarterbacks, they all get an opportunity to show their skills."

The recruiting gains are part of what Rodriguez describes as a greater comfort level throughout the program.

While Michigan continues to recruit the South and Southeast hard, assistants are making more inroads in the Midwest to land commitments from players like Gardner (Inkster, Mich.), guard Christian Pace (Avon Lake, Ohio) and defensive end Jordan Paskorz (Allison Park, Pa.). Michigan already has eight commitments from recruits who grew up in Big Ten states. The entire 2009 recruiting classes included only seven.

Rodriguez also sees players settling in better during the offseason. They understand the scheme, and the results from the strength and conditioning program have been more encouraging, Rodriguez said.

Year 2 also has brought less chaos for Rodriguez, who
was still dealing with his ugly departure from West Virginia at this time last year.

"There was a whole lot of drama and things," he said. "We tried to stay focused on our job at hand and not pay too much attention to that, but it did make for a longer year in a lot of ways than I wanted it. But that's all in the past and everybody's moved on.

"We're all eager to prove ourselves."