Yesterday, Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr announced the 2002 recruiting class on National Signing Day. Ranked eighth in the nation by Tom Lemming, this class boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the country, several big and quick lineman, four athletic defensive backs and a trio of fast wide receivers. While they cannot rival Texas or Ohio State for big-name superstars, the Wolverines have hauled in a class that is sound at nearly every position.

The biggest catch of the group is 6 foot 4, 334 pound Gabriel Watson. Rated by many as the best player in the state, Watson”s most impressive attribute may be that he has quickness to play defensive line (4.96 in the 40- yard dash), and the strength to pancake opponents as an offensive lineman (400 pound maximum bench press).

“Gabe is a tremendous player, athlete. One of the most talented people that I”ve met,” said head coach Lloyd Carr. “He could play anywhere he wants to play. He wants to be a defensive player and I think he”ll be a great one.”

The other prize catch is 6-4 quarterback Matt Gutierez. Rated as the No. 26 player in the country by Tom Lemming of ESPN, Gutierez possesses exceptional poise, an accurate arm with decent strength and a reputation as a winner.

“He”s got a lot of the same qualities that Tom Brady has,” said Carr.

Recuiting analyst Allen Wallace describes Gutierez as an “incredibly poised youngster, the kind of guy who has figured out how to help his team the most. He”s very polished, doesn”t play with much of an ego, and can basically smartly direct an offense down the field. He doesn”t have a fantastic arm, but he”s accurate and doesn”t throw many picks. (Gutierez is) a fantastic prospect.”

Aside from Watson and Gutierez, this class is marked by having capable players at nearly every position. More importantly, it complements last year”s defense-heavy haul with a stronger emphasis at receiver, quarterback and defensive back.

This year, Carr and retiring recruiting coordinator Bobby Morrison were able to sign three receivers who should complement each other well on the field. Jason Avant, a 6-2, 195 pound prospect, gives Michigan an aggressive receiver with the size to exploit small defensive backs.

Carl Tabb brings blazing speed and great leaping ability. Tabb runs the 100 meters in 10.4 seconds, has been electronically timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40 yard dash, and boasts a 42 inch vertical leap.

The final wide receiver commitment, Steve Breaston, played quarterback in high school. But after Michigan coaches saw film of him returning punts, they were convinced he had the superior athleticism to play receiver. “You could see his athletic ability,” said Morrison on the decision to recruit him as a receiver. “The coach said that he”s the best athlete they”ve ever had there. That had a lot to do with it as well.” Breaston has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40 yard dash.

In the aftermath of the Citrus Bowl blowout to Tennessee, in which tight end Jason Witten outran both Michigan safeties to the end zone, speed appeared to be a concern in the secondary. Both cornerbacks recruited this year, Quinton McCoy and Willis Barringer, possess 4.3 speed in the 40- yard dash. McCoy has been labeled by some as the best athlete in the state of Arizona.

Barringer, at 6-1 and 185, could mark a return to the Ty Law/Charles Woodson days as a fast and physical bump-and-run corner, but his true position may end up elsewhere in the backfield.

“Barringer is a kid that runs extremely well yet he”s big enough that he could be a safety,” Carr said.

The Wolverines are also well-equipped at safety with big-hitters Greg Cooper and Jacob Stewart. Cooper, a prep All-American, can run the 40 in 4.5 seconds and has been rated as the No. 4 free safety prospect by MaxEmfingerRecruiting. com.

At linebacker, Carr is excited about Brian Thompson, brother of graduating captain Shawn Thompson.

“I”ve known Brian Thompson for five years,” said. Carr. “You watch this kid he”s got it. He”s a wonderful athlete, and he has tremendous quickness, intensity. He”s going to be an outstanding football player here.”

Jeremy Van Alstyne, rated as the No. 16 linebacker by Lemming, possesses the size at 6-4, 240 pounds to grow into a quick defensive end. He chose Michigan after de-committing from Notre Dame following former coach Bob Davie”s dismissal. Michigan has often converted big linebackers into pass-rushing defensive ends as it has done with Shantee Orr, Dan Rumishek, Jake Frysinger and others,.

For all of Michigan”s successful hits on the recruiting trail, there have been a few misses as well. Multi-threat quarterback James Banks chose Tennessee over Michigan. The athletic Banks had the Wolverines as his leader until pro-style quarterback Gutierez signed.

Other misses included prep-All American wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who chose the Fighting Irish and prep-All American David Horne, who chose Nebraska. As it stands, the Wolverines have recruited only two running backs. This may be because Michigan will be stacked at the position this fall with Kelly Baraka and Timmy Bracken beginning their four years of eligibility.

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