ANN ARBOR - What has been an unusual recruiting season for the Michigan Wolverines enters its home stretch with the biggest prize apparently secured, but a number of other targets were missed or uncertain.
One of Michigan's most pressing needs was at quarterback, where Chad Henne will start his fourth and final season this fall with no clear-cut heir working behind him. Michigan's coaches, and a number of recruiting experts around the country, think Texan Ryan Mallett is the guy.
According to Josh Helmholdt, recruiting editor for The Wolverine magazine and thewolverine.com Web site, at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Mallett reminds a lot of people of former Michigan quarterback John Navarre.
"That was their No. 1 need - the quarterback position - and Mallett was definitely the guy they wanted most on the board," Helmholdt said. "They took quarterbacks the last couple of years, but none of them has seemed to move into a solid position as the next starter. When Henne leaves, Mallett should be ready."
Mallett attended the Michigan football camp as a junior, and the program started a relationship with him at that point that allowed Michigan to beat out Texas and Texas A&M in the recruiting wars.
"He had a great camp and really impressed them, and it built from there," Helmholdt said. "With that size and physical strength, he's got the strongest arm of any kid I've seen."
Mallett passed for 2,994 yards and 31 touchdowns this season and led his Texas High School team in Texarkana to an undefeated regular season and into the state playoffs. He had 2,219 passing yards for 21 touchdowns as a junior and threw for 2,307 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Helmholdt's research shows Michigan likely to land a couple of prime targets for Mallett in 6-2, 202 pound J.R. Hemingway of Conway, S.C., and 6-3, 190 pound Toney Clemons of New Kensington, Pa.
"Hemingway has great speed and is very elusive in the open field, while Clemons is more of a possession-type receiver, similar to what Jason Avant was at Michigan a couple of years ago," he said. "With those two, they are surrounding Mallett with the right kind of talent."
On defense, the recruit who will likely make the most immediate impact is middle linebacker Austin Panter, a 6-4, 240-pounder from the junior college ranks who was the national junior college defensive player of the year this past season. Michigan rarely makes a foray into the juco arena, but Helmholdt said there was an urgent need to replace David Harris, and a comparable player was not in the program.
Another top defensive catch is 6-2, 185 pound safety Artis Chambers from Fort Wayne, Ind. "He is tall, fast, and athletic and could eventually end up at cornerback, despite his size," Helmholdt said. "Chambers committed to Michigan last January and is already enrolled in school, and with his skill set, he could contribute right away."
The Wolverines lost a couple of highly coveted recruits recently, including Indiana safety Jerimy Finch, who backed out of his earlier commitment and decided to stay home and play for the Hoosiers.
"Finch changing his mind leaves Michigan with probably 18 recruits right now, and they had been on target to pick up 25 kids, which would be a very large class," Helmholdt said.
"This year there are not as many kids from Ohio as you would normally see, but the overall talent available in Ohio is not as strong as it has been. Plus going up against Ohio State when they are in the national championship game, that's pretty formidable."
There are three weeks left until national signing day Feb. 6, the first day that a high school recruit can sign a letter of intent to attend a certain school. Up to that point, only nonbinding oral commitments have been made, some of them more than a year ago. NCAA regulations prevent Michigan's coaches from commenting on recruits until commitments are made on signing day.
Contact Matt Markey at: