No need for speed?

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Last updated: 02/13/2013 2:23 AM
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Who Has a Need for Speed? Apparently Not Michigan
By Tony Gerdeman

Signing Day is the day when coaches reap the rewards for their hard work. Having seen the needs and shortfalls of their team for the past year, it is a day when they can fix those needs, and put an end to their shortfalls.

For Ohio State, one of the areas of concern was the lack of speed, and it wasn't new. On Signing Day 2012, Urban Meyer said that he wanted more speed in the class, but it just didn't happen.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Dan Harker
Urban Meyer

"Speed at the skill," he said, lamenting the one glaring need that went unfulfilled. 

"I would say some of the things we like to do offensively, you're going to hear us talk – we want the defense to defend the width and length of the field. There's only one way to defend the width, that's flat speed. We've tried it. There's no other way that you can make a defense defend the entire width of the field. In our offense, we're still lacking that game-changer that you can hand the ball to speed-wise. I think we got some bigger guys, but we're still looking for a difference maker in one of those 10.4 100-meter guys that can change the game."

If there is one thing that Meyer and his staff addressed in the 2013 class, it was speed. The Buckeyes signed playmakers Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott, Corey Smith, Dontre Wilson and James Clark. In one (year-long) fell swoop, Ohio State's overall speed was overhauled.

"We wanted  to get some playmakers, and we have two sub 10.5 100-meter players coming in, which is real fast," Meyer said last week.

"10.5 100 meters is a benchmark we'll use from here on out.  You have to have a couple of guys like that on your team – big plays are a problem for us – and we have Dontre and Jalin and James Clark, so we have actually three guys that we would put in that category."

One way to change the lack of big plays is through the new talent that is brought in, and the faster the better. This is Ohio State's philosophy when it comes to the need for speed. Now contrast that with Michigan's philosophy.

"Speed is overrated," is how Wolverines receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski described it to

"Obviously, it's something we have to have," he continued, "but speed is overrated. How can you truly judge the speed of a high school kid on the perimeter when maybe he touches the ball three times a game?"

Well, one way that Ohio State judges it is via 100-meter track times, apparently. Paul Brown judged it via the 40-yard dash, and the sport has been using it ever since. Others judge it the old fashioned way – with their own two eyes.

Michigan fans have been grousing for a while about Brady Hoke's inability to land a stud playmaker at receiver, and the 2013 class saw him bring in three more under-the-radar prospects, each rated as a three-star prospect by Scout.

None of the three – Da'Mario Jones, Csont'e York or Jaron Dukes – would be described as burners, but then that's not what Michigan was looking for.

"If you can't catch, we have issues, right? All of our guys, if you watch them on high school film, they have great hands, they extend, they adjust to the ball, they track the ball very well up in the air – they go up and they catch it. We can judge that on film. So, let's get the best hand-eye coordination guys – guys that can go catch the football – and let's bring them in here and then lets develop different areas."

I have a question, if you can judge all of that from high school film, how is it that you can't also judge speed? And if you have issues judging speed on tape, which is certainly valid at times, then why aren't you judging it during various camps when you can work one-on-one with prospects?

I agree that speed is overrated by talking heads, but there's no way that I can believe it is being overrated by coaches.

Where would Michigan have been the last three years without the speed of Denard Robinson?

And do you think these guys think speed is overrated?

Ted Ginn speeds by the Michigan bench on his way to a score.
Photo by Jim Davidson

Hecklinski begrudgingly admits that speed is something that they have to have, but at the same time essentially asks, "Well, what good is it if a kid can't catch?"

Um, but what if he can?

This isn't an either/or prospect. You don't have to give up one the other. This isn't Sophie's choice.

Fast players can catch the ball. They do it all the time. I would ask what good is a player with great hands if he can't get separation?

If you have the choice between two receivers of equal skill, speed is oftentimes the deciding factor, at least it is for most people.

Hecklinski and Brady Hoke, however, are apparently looking for something much more important.

"When he walks through that door, he should look like a Michigan wide receiver," Hecklinski said of all future prospective receivers.

"That thought, when a kid walks in and you say, 'Does he look like a Michigan Man?' That's important to us. That's very important to us because he represents us."

I can imagine the Michigan coaches having a discussion about prospective receivers. "Well, he ran a 4.8, but I loved his posture. He's a keeper."

Speed is overrated like water is overrated. Sure, a camel may agree, but I bet you'd get a different answer from a shark.

When Urban Meyer hears Hecklinski talking about speed, I'm not sure if he just shakes his head, or cracks open the champagne.

Now I will admit, some of the greatest wide receivers ever to play, like Jerry Rice and Cris Carter, weren't blazers, and Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith weren't the fastest running backs either. However, each of them made up for it by being some of the best players of all time.

So yeah, speed is overrated, provided your roster is littered with the greatest players to ever play the game.

If Hecklinski is currently coaching some of the greatest players of all-time, then good for him. He will soon show all of us.

Until that day, however, I have to say that speed, for lack of a better word, is good.

Whether Michigan agrees or not.

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