December 24, 2011

Pipkins looks to anchor Michigan's interior

From a physical standpoint, Kansas City (Mo.) Park Hill four-star defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins is a massive prospect. But when looking at the future of Michigan's defensive tackle spot, he may prove to be an even more colossal haul for Brady Hoke and staff.

Depth heading into the future is a concern for the position, but the 6-2, 325-pounder's combination of size and mobility is reminiscent of a former Wolverine currently making a living on Sundays.

Alan Branch was a monster in the middle for Michigan from 2004-2006, and helped anchor a memorable 2006 defense that yielded only 15.9 points per game. When looking at Pipkins' film, there are several striking similarities between the few.

Branch was a tad taller coming out of high school, at 6-6, but both are mammoth men - the heaviest Michigan commits in their respective classes - that utilize a powerful base to combat multiple blockers simultaneously, and occupy an exceptionally large gap-bubble.

While mucking up the middle of the line of scrimmage will prove to be an important role for Pipkins in a Greg Mattison defense designed to give linebackers and rush ends the space to fill gaps and create havoc in the backfield, the nation's No. 59 overall prospect has displayed the propensity to be a big-time playmaker throughout his high school career and summer-camp circuits, recording four sacks and 10 total tackles for loss among 60 stops this past season, with six forced fumbles and three pass deflections.

Like Branch, Pipkins possesses a quick first step off of the snap, a forceful initial punch, and is exceptionally mobile for a 300-plus pounder. He has shown the ability to not only shoot hard through gaps and infiltrate the backfield, but make plays down the line of scrimmage and in pursuit downfield.

He also shares the instinct to not only tackle opponents, but engulf them. When he catches up with opposing ballcarriers, he knows how to use his size and strength to get his money's worth - think Branch's hit on Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli in 2006.

Basically, like Branch, when Pipkins gets his momentum moving forward, there is little that can stop him.

But no prospect, or player, is perfect.

The biggest knock on Branch throughout his football career has been inconsistency. Alongside a reputation for being a mobile big man that thrives with the physicality involved in enforcing the interior, he has also been accused of losing focus and disappearing for extended periods of time.

While Pipkins' motor is not in question, there are some technical lapses he must continue to improve upon to be consistently effective at the collegiate level. From time-to-time, he can lose focus on his pad-level and reach the point of attack too high, losing leverage and allowing opposing blockers to push his 300-pound frame in the wrong direction

He will also have to focus on strength and conditioning to reach his maximum potential, something that was a work-in-progress for Branch throughout his time in Ann Arbor. While, Pipkins can overwhelm high-school opposition with his mobility and brute strength, Big Ten offensive linemen won't be as easily manhandled.

Still, Pipkins has a combination of size and athleticism you can't teach. By all accounts, Hoke remains a defensive line coach at heart, and appears to have found himself a pupil with enormous potential.

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