In which a recruit’s name is plugged into Google and the bits of information that trickle out–guru ratings, newspaper profiles, YouTube highlights, all that stuff–are synthesized in the hopes of getting a clearer picture of the player we’ll see at Auburn next fall. Previously: Jessel Curry, Craig Sanders, Roszell Gayden, Brandon Mosley, Demetruce McNeal, Jake Holland, Shaun Kitchens, Cody Parkey, Cameron Newton, Joel Bonomolo, LaDarius Owens, Antonio Goodwin, Kenneth Carter, Ryan White, Dakota Mosley, Trovon Reed, Ryan Smith, Chad Slade, Ladarious Phillips, Jawara White, Steven Clark, Jonathon Mincy, Jeffrey Whitaker, Corey Lemonier, and Chris Davis.
By the time a recruiting cycle ends, and certain recruits that were locks have gone places they weren’t supposed to and certain studs have wound up looking far less studly and Recruit X’s signing has made former must-get Recruit Y superfluous, there’s always going to be an avalanche of ironies. Fans get so excited about whatever shiny four-star gets dangled in front of them that there almost have to be.
One of the biggest of the 2010 cycle for Auburn: Michael Dyer was a bonus. Maybe even a fallback. At least, that was the opinion of a lot of Tiger fans in the wake of the 2009 Big Cat Weekend, when Lache Seastrunk seemed to have done everything but commit (and was rumored to have done that much anyway in secret) and Marcus Lattimore was already saying how he could see himself playing alongside another great back. We knew Dyer was interested, was incredible, was the kind of player the likes of which Auburn hadn’t signed in years, but … Seastrunk! Lattimore! If you’d asked Auburn fans to rank the three in terms of how excited they were about the possibility of their commitment, Dyer would have come in a comfortable third.
But then he took a midsummer visit and came away raving, ESPN ranked him the best running back in the country, word started leaking that Dyer was the No. 1 player on the coaches’ boards regardless of position, Seastrunk’s alternating periods of brashness and coyness began playing like immaturity … and by the time the whispers started that Dyer was the lock Seastrunk used to be–even more of one–Auburn fans had come around to universally believing he was going to be Auburn’s next great running back.
Fortunately, there’s nothing really ironic about that. That’s what a lot of us still believe.
BASICS: Even if you’ve moved on from recruiting to actual football, the AUfficial Signing Day bio sheet will always be there for you, to tell us:
RB, 5-8, 201
Little Rock, AR (Little Rock Christian Academy)
HIGH SCHOOL: Named to the 2010 Parade All-American Football Team … Was a participant in the 2010 Under Armour All-American game … Named the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year in the State of Arkansas … Named to the PrepStar Dream Team as the No. 10-ranked player in the nation … Ranked No. 14 overall and the No. 2 running back in the SuperPrep Elite 50 … Also ranked as the No. 1 player in Arkansas and an All-American by SuperPrep … No. 15-ranked player and No. 2-ranked tailback/slot back by Tom Lemming on Maxpreps.com … Selected to the 2009 ArkansasVarsity.com All-State Team… No. 3 on the Mobile Press Register’s Super Southeast 120 … Member of the Orlando Sentinel’s 2009 All-Southern First Team … 2009 EA SPORTS All-American … Finished his high school career with 8,097 yards rushing and 84 touchdowns … Rushed for 2,502 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior … Had 242 rushing attempts for 1,984 yards and 19 TDs while catching 12 passes for 219 yards and a TD as a junior … Had 279 carries for 2,710 yards and 28 TDs and caught 22 passes for 183 yards and 3 TDs as a sophomore … Rushed 131 times for 901 yards and 6 TDs while catching 7 passes for 61 yards and a TD as a freshman.
You kind of just have to shake your head at the numbers, don’t you? That’s the highest career rushing total in Arkansas high school history, by the way.
There is one set of numbers in there I can’t say I like that much: the astronomical number of carries Dyer amassed at Little Rock Christian. It’s probably impossible to get into the neighborhood of 900, 925 carries in four years and not experience some wear and tear.
RECRUITNIK HOO-HA: You can already get an idea of how much the gurus loved him from the newspaper and second-tier recruitnik sources listed above, but even if we were just looking at the three main services, Dyer would come to Auburn as not only the biggest prize of his class but that the Tigers have ever landed in the “modern” recruiting era. No one, not even Jason Campbell or Cadillac, has rated higher. So strap yourself in:
At Rivals: five stars; grade of 6.1, the highest-possible score; the No. 2 running back; No. 11 overall in the Rivals100; No. 1 in Arkansas; No. 5 “best in space” back, No. 2 “best inside runner.” Evaluation:
Dyer is one rocked-up ball of muscle that can bounce off of defenders like a pinball. He is a slightly taller Joe Morris, a two-time Pro-Bowler in the mid-80s for the Giants … Most big, thick backs are not as good of pass receivers as Dyer. His soft hands will help allow him to get more touches in space … If he can pick up college blitzes as a pass blocker, he should see time early and often. He is a difference maker and he needs to touch the ball as much as possible.
Barry Every, the evaluator, doesn’t even really offer something for Dyer to improve on; he just says that as stocky as he is, he needs to watch his weight. OK.
Dyer is a top tier back and he brings a lot out of the backfield. He runs low to the ground so he is extremely hard to tackle. He gets a lot of yards after contact and he catches the ball well also. The questions are his blocking ability and he can work on his acceleration a little as well. His top end speed is good, but he can improve his explosiveness. Overall, he is an elite back ready to make plays.
If you’re looking for a strong, downhill runner to carry the load at the next level — Dyer is your guy. He has great body composition for the position with his thick, compact build and low center of gravity. Dyer’s very quick to square up his shoulders and accelerate north-south. He shows the vision, jump-cut skill and lateral quicks to slide through the small creases. Dyer will surprise you with his suddenness and burst, at times, through the hole. Most of his production is earned after initial contact, and he runs with good lean. Dyer blends excellent balance with a wide/powerful lower-body — including thick thighs that never stop driving. Players are not going to arm tackle this guy at the high school level, and he is very determined to finish runs with great second efforts. Dyer displays good vision to bounce outside and avoid initial penetration as well as above average burst to the corner. Dyer shows good speed for a power-runner when he breaks free in the second level and a sneaky extra gear, but he is far from a burner. He’s not overly elusive and we do question his hip fluidity at times, particularly if he lands in a heavy outside zone offense where he will need to consistently pick and slide through the hole. Dyer is physically superior to his competition on film, but Dyer still projects very well at the next level as a featured back with the rare combination of speed and power to wear down a defense in a high-carry type role. Dyer’s polished hands and receiving skills out of the backfield add to his upside. This kid’s a great college prospect.
Hey! His hip fluidity is great! This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
So, yeah, not bad. The offers … well, just suffice it to say Dyer could have attended whatever school he wanted to.
EXCLUSIVE WBE SCOUTING REPORT
ESPN, as befitting their evaluation of Dyer as the top running back in the country, visited Little Rock last November to film Dyer’s commitment announcement and televise his final regular season game on ESPNU. Despite repeated requests from the Mrs. WBE to delete “that high school game” off our DVR, it’s been sitting there waiting patiently since then, and I finally watched it last night. Or at least, watched Little Rock Christian’s possessions. Impressions:
— Despite the (not inaccurate) rapturous praise of Dyer’s power and durability detailed above, the single most impressive aspect of his performance against Pulaski Academy was his remarkable change-of-direction skills, what analyst Craig Haubert repeatedly called his “lateral movement.” His first touchdown (of five on the night) came from about eight yards out; Dyer had a hole over the right side between the guard and tackle and picked the first three or four easily, but had a safety coming hard from his right. Dyer gave just the slightest, almost imperceptible lean to the left … then planted both feet and skipped–there’s no other word for how quick the movement was–back horizontally to his right and walked into the end zone untouched, as the poor safety flew past him. The suddenness and instinctiveness of it was, well, sort of amazing … not unlike something you’d make your “98 agility” running back do in PlayStation.
— That said, about the strength, yeah, guys at Dyer’s level were simply not going to tackle him by just falling over and trying to grab him. He had far too much power and balance for that. But that said … the level of football on display in that game was not especially high. Dyer was the most athletic player on the field by a factor of 10-to-the-1oth power, with Dakota Mosley the only other obvious potential college prospect on the field. Don’t think it matters much, and maybe some of LRCA’s other opponents are better, but just so you know.
Of course, Dyer completely dominated the game the way his talent suggested he should have–221 yards, 5 TDs, 7 yards a carry–so no complaints about him sinking to the level of his opposition.
— Worth mentioning that Dyer seemed very adept (and you’ll see it on the film in a second, too) at reading his downfield blocks. More than once he appeared to wait for a block to develop and then ran just behind the blockers’ rear end into open space. (That Mosley was the blocker in question on a couple of these runs was encouraging, though he didn’t have much else to do offensively.)
— If I hadn’t seen it mentioned elsewhere on the Interwebs, I’d have thought Dyer was nursing an injury … because he walked (and allegedly still walks) with a weird, loping gait that you could easily mistake for a limp. It didn’t seem to affect him at all once he took a handoff, and I haven’t seen it described as a problem anywhere, so I guess it’s just one of those things. But you should probably be ready the first time he returns to the huddle after a carry.
— I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but yeah, the burst through the hole was there. The top-end speed … well, I don’t think he’s going to have too many of those untouched 60-yard outside runs to paydirt like Mr. Tate last year. But he sure ain’t slow, either. Think someone like … well, I’ll save the comparison for the end of the post.
LINKS OF POTENTIAL INTEREST
There’s a thousand-and-one things to read and see on Michael Dyer and this is already getting long, so I’m restricting myself to just five links.
1. Of the many available, this is probably the definitive highlight clip. Try not to hurt your wrist pumping your fist (you’ll want to mute the audio until the highlights start, though for “University of Auburn” reasons rather than profanity):
2. We can be honest about this: it’s pretty fortunate one of the country’s best running back prospects just happened to hail from the same place our genius offensive coordinator hailed from:
The key to Dyer’s commitment to Auburn was his relationship with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. That bond started during Dyer’s sophomore year back when Malzahn was at Tulsa, but continued and strengthened after Malzahn joined Gene Chizik’s first Tigers staff this past spring.
“I have gotten to know him and his offense and everything he had to offer is amazing,” Dyer said. “Even when he was at Tulsa, I thought about Tulsa for the simple fact that playing for him would be great and I would have a great opportunity to do some work. You won’t meet too many people like him during this whole football process.”
Auburn, as it always does, did its part as well. Give yourself a pat on the back, waterlogged students!
Add in a game day atmosphere at Jordan-Hare Stadium that is one of the best not only in the Southeastern Conference, but in the country, and Dyer was hooked. From the fans to the scene to Spirit, the Auburn War Eagle, soaring around the stadium, Dyer knew it was something special.
“[Spirit] flies across and everybody is just so excited and happy,” Dyer said. “When you are sitting there in the stands, everybody has a bond, not just the team, but the fans and everybody.
“When I went to the game [a 41-30 Tigers win over West Virginia on Sept. 19)] it was pouring down rain and the game was delayed 30 minutes, but the fans were still there cheering and wet. People had paint all over their bodies and signs that they held out and they sat there throughout the game. They didn’t move. Those are true fans that I would like to play for and go out there and give 100 percent.”
What a coincidence: Michael Dyer is the sort of player the fans would love to watch and cheer 100 percent for.
3. Look, you’re not going to ever read a story about a recruit of Dyer’s stature (if any recruit, ever) where they’re described as me-first, selfish prima donnas who were only willing to do one thing for the team as opposed to the much-more standard “anything.” You have to take declarations of unselfishness with a lot of grains of salt.
But you know, getting back to that ESPNU performance, when the LRCA quarterback took off on a 30-some-odd yard touchdown for the Warriors’ second score … Dyer was clearly, genuinely happy for him, man. You could see it. Sure, the stakes of the game (playoff berth on the line, big rivals in town, national TV) meant it didn’t really matter who scored. But the congratulations and emotions were very, very real, and frankly more real than you usually see from a team’s undisputed star player.
So when I read something like this:
Michael Dyer’s football prowess is nationally known. College scouts drool over him, media members wait in line for interviews and fans try to persuade him to go to their school. But, he’s discovered the Little Rock Christian locker room is the one place he’s respected for more than his ability.
“We have a good relationship on this team,” Dyer said. “It doesn’t matter if it is Michael or Dakota (Mosley) or Jesse Stone. Everyone sticks together. We are all going to be there to help and support. We work together and do everything together” …
Dyer earns his respect by doing what’s best for the team. The past two years that meant playing linebacker. Even when he nursed an ankle injury the final six games last fall, he couldn’t be pried off the field by former coach Johnny Watson.
“On offense I do my part, and on defense I do my part,” he said. “It’s kind of tough balancing it, but I do my best. If you can do it, you can do it.”
It’s not uncommon for a player at school the size of Christian to platoon. However, it is rare for a national Top 10 recruit to extend himself.
“I do what is best for my team,” Dyer said. “I like hitting people, and I like running over people. I’ve always wanted to play both sides of the football. In high school is where you make memories. I want to go back and say, ‘Yeah, I hit that guy hard, or ‘Man, I really ran him over.’ That’s my favorite part.”
I tend to think you don’t need as much salt as usual.
4. Did Dyer raise his game when it mattered? As mentioned, the ESPNU game was to try and earn a playoff berth, and he was just about unstoppable. The following week, in the playoffs …
One week ago Michael Dyer turned in what may have been his best performance of his high school career …
On Friday, there were no television cameras but the stakes were just as high.
Little Rock Christian upset the 5A-East’s top seed Forrest City in a 29-27 victory at Mustang Field. The Warriors will travel to Greenbrier next week, after the Panthers defeated Little Rock Mills 42-35 …
The Warriors recovered the fumble and capitalized by scoring on a fourth-and-12 play when Stone hit Dyer on a screen pass for a 35-yard touchdown. The Warriors converted on the extra-point to take a 22-21 lead with 3:41 to go before halftime.
Dyer scored his second touchdown of the night on the Warriors’ first play of the second half when found room up the middle and scampered 70-yards for the score to push the lead to 29-21. He finished the night with 213 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries and also had three receptions for 51 yards and a score.
Will 264 total yards do?
5. One of the … interesting things about the Internet is that even when things go away, they don’t really go away. For instance, a story from the middle of the 2007 season detailing how he arrived at Little Rock Christian and how uncle cared for him after the untimely death of his father might have disappeared off its original website, but you can still read it as a cut-and-paste job at a New Orleans Saints fan forum. And I suggest you do.
But one thing it doesn’t mention is why he wears No. 5:
When Dyer was just 3 years old, his father was killed in a car wreck. Dyer admitted that in the years after, he was unsure of how to manage his emotions. But when he was asked to join a local football team, Dyer realized that football was a way to channel those feelings.
“From about age 4 to 9, I was so mad and angry,” Dyer said. “I needed something to do. I started playing and immediately loved it. After my first touchdown, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
When a recruit meets with a coach, a question that is usually asked by the coach is, “What do you want here?” When Dyer was asked that by Auburn’s staff, he had a few small requests, but there was one deal-breaker: Dyer wanted to wear the number 5 jersey.
His brother, Jonathan, was 5 years old when their father passed. Wearing No. 5 is Dyer’s way of honoring his big brother for becoming the person he looked up to while growing up.
WHAT CONCLUSIONS WE CAN DRAW IF ANY: The question with a recruit like Dyer is not: Will he be good? We know he’s going to be good.
The question is: How good? Brad Lester good? Stacy Danley good? Brent Fullwood good? Ronnie Brown good?
I think he has a chance, a good chance, to be right on the upper end of that scale. And if you are near the very topmost portions of the scale of Auburn running backs, then you will have had one hell of a career. But what’s interesting about hypothetically trying to fit Dyer into that scale is that, after watching his highlights a dozen times and he doesn’t exactly run like any of them. He’s got some Rudi Johnson the way he just bounces off of tacklers … but he’s also got some Cadillac the way he hits the hole with such fierceness … but he’s also got some Lionel James the way he’s capable of slithering out of ridiculously tight spots and through slim holes, the way he uses his “lateral movement.” (I’m of course not suggesting Dyer is already worthy of being compared to these kinds of backs … just that if that if we’re going to have this kind of stylistic conversation, I have to be able to reference styles you’re familiar with in the first place.) But you add them all together, and I’m not sure you have any perfect-fitting precedent at Auburn.
Which is why I feel like the back Dyer most reminds me of … you’re going to hate me for this … remember, I said he might not have even been the best Heisman candidate on his own team, much less the country … is Mark Ingram.
WAIT COME BACK! Just hear me out: we can agree that if Dyer has a career at Auburn like Ingram has had up in Tuscaloosa, we’ll all be very happy, right? Right. And the reason that notion isn’t entirely preposterous is because Dyer and Ingram–despite their wildly divergent recruiting profiles–have a lot in common. Neither boasts elite size–Dyer’s 5’8″ or 5’9″, Ingram 5’10”–but both are still plenty stout enough to shed tacklers by the dozens. Neither boasts elite, sprinter’s speed, but both are aggressive in the hole and can leave anyone not playing in the secondary in their dust. But what they do have is an elite pairing of vision and feet, of instincts and agility, that means that not only do they hit open spaces with all the power and speed they’ve got, but they find the right space. Their exceptional balance and control means that you can bring them down if you have the right angle, but that finding that angle is never easy. Put simply, what makes Ingram great against teams that are not Auburn and what we hope will make Dyer great, is the same thing: they’re just hard to tackle. The speed and power are just bonuses, their immense drive and motor the icing on the cake.
At least, we can say those things about Dyer at the high school level. The jury is technically still out on whether those descriptions will still apply in college. But we won’t have to wait long for the verdict, and I’m thinking we’ll like what we hear.