Thanks to head coach Brady Hoke's relentless efforts on the recruiting trail, the Michigan football program is a serious threat to land some of the top prospects in the 2014 class, including 5-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.).
If the Wolverines eventually get Hand to fax a signed national letter of intent to Ann Arbor, there is a good chance he will crack the starting lineup as a true freshman.
Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are not afraid to play talented youngsters, which will give Hand a legitimate chance to see the field immediately. The depth chart is not exactly loaded at strong-side defensive end either.
According to early projections from TheWolverine.com, Keith Heitzman, Matthew Godin and Tom Strobel are the top three strong-side ends. None has made much of an impact yet.
Now, one of the three might have a breakout season in 2013, but as of now, the door seems as though it would be wide open for Hand next year. The nation's No. 1 overall prospect has all of the physical tools to seize the opportunity.
Given the fact Hand is already checking in at 6'4", 245 pounds, he doesn't need to add much extra weight to his frame. Being physically ready is half the battle when it comes to starting as a freshman. Hand has nothing to worry about in that department.
What separates Hand from the rest of the talented defensive line recruits is his intelligence. An ESPN analyst raved about Hand's ability to diagnose blocking schemes in a scouting report.
"Hand demonstrates the ability to read and react to what is going on in front of him and can quickly get himself in position," the analyst noted.
Combine Hand's football IQ with his ability to physically and technically dominate opponents, and the result is a monster on the edge. Hand still needs to improve as a pass-rusher, but his explosive first step is unteachable. All Hand requires is a coach with the ability to maximize his talents, and Mattison is the perfect man for the job.
One of the only knocks on Hand is the fact his pad level is too high. Do not expect that to remain a weakness for long once Mattison begins working with him.
Besides the natural talent and size Hand possesses, the Woodbridge High School standout has a burning desire to improve. Woodbridge's assistant coach John Harris spoke highly of Hand's work ethic.
"He's a big weight room guy," Harris told Tim Sullivan of TheWolverine.com. "He watches those drill tapes like a coach. He's into that more than people think. That's why he cares who coaches him because he's a kid who really wants to get better. He doesn't buy into the hype...He doesn't interview a lot, he doesn't talk a lot, he just works."
Hand's skills are similar to the class of 2011's top recruit, Jadeveon Clowney. Both have the length and strength to wreak havoc on the edge. The two defensive ends are quick off the ball, which winds up being their best trait when it is paired with their physicality.
Circumstances have turned out well for South Carolina's Clowney. Being named the SEC Freshman of the Year, a freshman All-American and an All-SEC second-teamer put Clowney in a class of his own. Hand will have the opportunity to dominate in the same fashion in the significantly weaker Big Ten Conference.
This prediction will not mean anything, however, unless Hoke and his staff are able to beat out the stiff competition for Hand's signature. Michigan is among Hand's top five schools, though, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Virginia Tech are in the hunt, too.
Everything appears to be even at this point among Hand's favorites. If the Wolverines are able to hold off the competition, they will secure a three-year starter in Hand.
Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam.
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