We really have to stop forgetting about Kemp. [Bryan Fuller]
The annual question:
Player who made the biggest move this spring?
The annual responses:
Adam: I'd argue that a guy who looks like he could be a contributor yet doesn't have a headshot on the official site made a big move, so I'm going with Nate Schoenle. Prior to the game I knew of him because I glanced at the roster and figured he too must be familiar with people butchering his last name despite its relative simplicity. After the game I knew of him because he can do like, wide receiver things.
He's more of a downfield threat than a wiggly slot bug; he presents a matchup issue for safeties nevertheless. He lined up against legitimate competition and showed good speed as well as adequate hands and route-running. Schoenle may not see the field this fall--Michigan's bringing the Monstars of WR recruiting classes--but we now know that there's substantive competition in the slot.
David: I liked Keith Washington. He was always an intriguing prospect at 6'2" but came in very raw. After an obvious redshirt, he got onto the field a bit last year, covering kicks and grabbing a couple of tackles. With all of Michigan's 2016 starting secondary gone and most of the replacements being very young, Washington looks like he could make a run at some playing time. He had a fantastic PBU on a fade route down the sideline. He seemed to stay step-for-step with wunderkind DPJ and brought him down after limited gains a few times. Washington also flashed some solid run defense, coming off the edge to make a couple of nice tackles (one specifically on Higdon after Karan bounced it outside). From what I could tell, Keith has made strides in all areas and with that lengthy frame, he could work his way onto the field for more meaningful snaps, this Fall.
Plus, how can you doubt a guy who will offer to spontaneously backup his 40 time in a parking lot?
[After the JUMP: How long will we wait for Ace to take Peters?]
1 hour and 22 minutes
HomeSure Lending’s Schembechler conference room. Foreground: fancy vases
We Couldn’t Have One Without the Other
It was recorded in the Schembechler Room at Homesure Lending’s swanky new Ann Arbor office on State Street, where someone had put “Win the Game” on the whiteboard.
Our sponsors make this possible: The Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, Ann Arbor Elder Law, the the University of Michigan Alumni Association, Deo Bookkeeping, Michigan Law Grad, and Peak Wealth Management.
Starts at 0:55
While Ohio State played two-hand touch and charged fans for a show of fanservice, Harbaugh (with an assist from the weather) packed the Big House by making competitive football the spectacle. QB: Peters is the worst, Speight’s game was concerning. HB: Evans is coaching football. WRs: DPJ & Black look like NFL bodies, Schoenle is real. TE: Wheats can block, Eubanks looks like a TE, Gentry is a gazelle, McKeon has the QBs’ trust. OL: Vastardis is a viable guard. Right tackle is short on guys who can pass pro.
Starts at 33:10
Thanks O’Korn for taking the hit to show off how Hudson can dish them. LB: Devin Bush is gonna rock you—finally our own Denicos Allen. Robo can play. DL: Starters woo, backups woof. CBs: Let’s hope this was a real sign that Washington is good and not a Brandon Watson 2015 thing. St Juste looks like he could use a redshirt. S: Not worried—Metellus ranged out, Glasgow is another Glasgow, Kinnel is flat-out good. Special teams: Is depth at kicker a thing? That kick would be a home run in most ballparks, a double in Comerica. YOU CATCH THE DANG BALL.
3. Gimmicky Top Five Under the Radar Spring Takes
Starts at 53:43
Ace thinks this means “Things that are obvious.” Demo thinks Rashan Gary’s 19-year-old body looks fit. Brian thinks we need a device that delivers electric shocks to podcasters who misbehave. We all think Harbaugh needs a holster for his megaphone, that a Rich Rod package would be cool. Not on the podcast: Seth and David signaling to each other that the five-wide package was about not being able to block Don Brown’s dirty blitzes.
4. Salute to Red Hockey
Starts at 1:10:26
We are fussy because we were babies when Berenson made Michigan hockey awesome. Thank you for all the Comries, and for running the cleanest, most watchable, most likeable, most hateable, most spectacular experience in sports.
- “In The Air Tonight”—Phil Collins
- “I Aint Gonna Work Tomorrow”—Don Julin
- “Tea and Thorazine”—Andrew Bird
- “Across 110th Street”
THE USUAL LINKS
The following folks did not play and are thus unmentioned: Drake Harris, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, Ian Bunting, JaRaymond Hall.
In addition, a few guys got the you're-a-starter hook: Mason Cole, Chris Evans, and Kekoa Crawford were only out there briefly.
A little more feelingsball
HI [Bryan Fuller]
That was fun! I enjoyed it. The weather was terrific and the game was sort of an actual one insofar as OL depth permitted it and there was football to be observed and conclusions to be drawn from that football. At no point did anyone put on a little mesh hat so they could run an hour of kickoff drills.
Jim Harbaugh may be completely unpredictable in many things—he did not talk to reporters after the spring game, oddly—but he's made Michigan football very fun. I appreciated this on Saturday, sitting outside and watching the actual football. So, it seems, did many other people: I've usually just driven to the Crisler parking lot and parked. This would have been impossible on Saturday. The announced attendance (57,000 and change) was a totally made up number but it seemed plausible. What a nice change.
So... this might be a thing. If you recall, last year we entered the spring game expecting John O'Korn to be the starter; there had been some mumbles that Wilton Speight was right in the thick of it that most people discounted because of previous mumbles about how great O'Korn looked in practice. The spring game was an inflection point:
I am now convinced it's a real competition. Wilton Speight only had six attempts, but he completed five of them, confidently. I also had the benefit of observing the Ford Field practice, where nobody seemed clearly ahead of the pack at quarterback. Another piece of evidence in favor of a real competition: no quarterback got a quick you're-a-starter hook. John O'Korn is not a lock.
On Saturday Speight didn't get a you're-a-starter hook. He got a you-threw-a-101-yard-pick-six hook. John O'Korn took over for his team's final two drives, driving for touchdowns on both. Meanwhile, Brandon Peters did this:
One pick six marred an otherwise confident and accurate performance. The two best throws in there are probably the ones to Nate Schoenle, about whom more in a second. The first was a third and long conversion at 4:30 that looks a lot like the guy we saw on Peters's high school tape—unusually, I mean that as a compliment. He's got his guy, he knows it, and he tosses an accurate, catchable ball. Peters's ability to vary speeds is uncanny for a young quarterback, and it's good to see some of that is translating to college.
The second is the Schoenle wheel route to open the winning drive, which is just... dang, man. That's a hell of a throw, and Peters was making it most of the day despite a strong and swirling wind. (The earlier fade down the sideline that Jordan Glasgow got over the top on felt like it had been pushed by that wind.)
Peters moved decisively to get out of the pocket when necessary, scrambled for a touchdown, did not throw into coverage much, and was accurate on all but a couple throws. He looked very plausible at the same time Speight struggled.
As always you do not want to read too much into a disjointed, pressure-laden spring game. Unlike last year's QB competition this one has an incumbent. It's always hard to dislodge a guy who has a season under his belt, especially a guy who was reasonably good last year. Speight finished third in the league in passer rating and #2, Perry Hills, had 18 attempts a game. He's still the starter, probably. The spring game added "probably" to that sentence.
easy for Isaac [Eric Upchurch]
Chris Evans got three carries and then sat for the day, in case you were wondering if he was a sure-fire starter. That's the same playing time De'Veon Smith got last year. Evans looked as shifty as he did a year ago but may have added some extra YAC power; hard to tell in that brief glimpse.
So instead of that let me tell you a thing about Evans: he coaches a local kids flag football team. This in and of itself is odd and very, very Harbaugh. An acquaintance of mine relates that his kid is in this flag football league, and that his game was at 7:15 in the morning, with a potential second game at 9:30 if his kids' team won. Chris Evans is at this game. Not because his team is playing—his team is the one waiting for the winner at 9:30. Chris Evans is... taking notes? Watching intently? Is Chris Evans, starting Michigan running back, scouting a flag football game at 7 in the morning? Yes. Yes he is.
One other Evans-related note: while he didn't participate in much of it, I'd be surprised if the frequent five-wide shotgun looks weren't related to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Hopefully Michigan gets on the good side of that McCray-Dalvin Cook go route matchup this year.
In Evans's absence we got a lot of Karan Higdon (12 carries to lead everyone), Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, and walk-ons. Higdon and Isaac looked like Higdon and Isaac; both were the beneficiaries of the second-team DTs getting consistently gashed. I continue to like Higdon's combination of sharp cuts and low pad level and think he'll a productive #2. Isaac looks fine, but his touchdown was untouched and he didn't make a ton on his own. Walker didn't get a ton of opportunity he did have another run like he did last year where he bounced off some tackles to gain additional yards.
Your walk-on du jour here is Tru Wilson, who was quick through the hole and very small. Very little chance he breaks through the five scholarship guys who will be on campus this fall.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Black can go get it [Eric Upchurch]
The wide receivers are going to be young but that might not matter. Kekoa Crawford got a quick hook and can be penciled in as a starter. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black certainly look the part already. DPJ was held relatively in check by Keith Washington, and I'm already like "impressive job, Keith Washington" when he's been on campus for two years and DPJ has been on campus for two months.
Black played the part of Guy Opposite Dennis Norfleet on O'Korn's touchdown drives, running the same fade over and over against Benjamin St-Juste for completions and flags. Black is bouncy, 6'4", and adjusts well to balls in the air. He's all right. Meanwhile, Brandon Brown got a shot of Nico Collins veritably looming on the sidelines.
The guy behind him to the right is 6'2" Brad Hawkins. Collins is huge. Collins, Black, DPJ, and Hawkins are a veritable fleet of catching-radius guys who can go get contested balls and make quarterbacks right. That is one recruiting class. Also they got Oliver Martin. I'd managed to forget how ridiculous this WR class was.
In the slot, Eddie McDoom was doing McDoom things before an apparently ankle injury knocked him out. On replay that injury didn't seem too bad: there was no plant or twist. Ankle injuries generally don't keep guys out months and months, so he's probably going to be fine this year. Here's hoping, because I don't want to disappoint this guy.
— Jeffrey Quesnelle (@jquesnelle) April 15, 2017
Curse everything in the world that prevents us from selling that.
Also in the slot was walk-on Nate Schoenle, who was on the receiving end of Peters's best throws of the day. One was a tough diving catch on the game-winning drive. At 6'2" Schoenle gives you downfield ability a lot of slots lack and Peters is clearly comfortable with him; I mentioned him as a guy generating buzz before the game and he'll generate more of it now. Nate Johnson didn't get a target, IIRC. Schoenle looks like a real threat for slot PT.
[UPDATE: Johnson did make a catch, fumbling as he fought for extra yardage.]
So with all that it's getting late early for Drake Harris and Moe Ways. Harris did not participate, and for a guy with his injury history facing down this wide receiver class that is tough. Ways did play but not until the second half when the rotation was getting deep indeed. Two of his plays were questionable, as well. He ran a four yard route on third and five; he messed up his footwork so badly on a back-shoulder fade that both of his feet were out of bounds on a potential touchdown. (Ambry Thomas got hit with a flag for holding him, FWIW.)
Eubanks looks the part now [Patrick Barron]
At tight end Nick Eubanks appears to have made a move. He looks like a tight end now, which is step one. He was also targeted frequently. Michigan only found middling success doing so; the sheer number of balls he saw implies he's been making plays this spring. Here he only almost made a play, dropping a tough fade route from Peters after executing a textbook Manningham slow-and-extend to wall off the safety he'd gotten over the top of.
As a recruit Eubanks was regarded as a crazy athlete who needed seasoning. He's probably a year away from delivering on that athleticism; he certainly looks the part now.
Zach Gentry, meanwhile, both does and does not. Does he look like a tight end? No.
no [Bryan Fuller]
Does he look like Jeff Samardadjzijaadfh? Kind of. Except tall!
Zach Gentry is out here at the spring game putting the secondary on skates.
The Maize strikes first: https://t.co/BEyAQnfehF
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) April 15, 2017
That's a busted coverage and not exactly black-belt receivering but just look at the guy and his long loping strides and ability to shake enough to put not-Kovacs on his butt. Spring reports frequently noted that Gentry fielded a ton of targets, and sure if I'm a quarterback I'll look for the guy who puts Jake Butt's catching radius to shame. I feel a Funchess move coming on.
Ty Wheatley Jr is Michigan's sole remaining Kaiju, and that makes me sad. When I checked out his blocking that made me happy, though. He had another of his catches where he looks implausibly fast for a large man, and with Asiasi's departure he's going to get a ton of PT; he's Michigan's top blocking TE by a mile now and he brings a two-way ability that could be lethal. Just has to develop a bit.
if Runyan could be a real RT candidate that would be nice [Bryan Fuller]
The spring game format seemed designed to keep the defensive line from annihilating everyone and succeed in that regard. The starting line, or close to it, was kept together; the backups mostly got Michigan's second-team DL. And while those second-team DTs are huge alarm bells, that's another post.
This is for this post: I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of defenders swallowing a tailback two yards in the backfield. Setting aside five yards lost when Kareem Walker unwisely decided to reverse field, Michigan backs were TFLed for a total of six yards. That means that the OL was getting its assignments right virtually the whole day. I don't expect that when one OL is playing deep into the regular season; for two to mostly get it right in spring, with all the rotation they've been doing, is impressive. Steve Lorenz keeps bringing up the Ewing Theory in relation to the OL departures...
3. I'm sticking with my Ewing Theory belief on the offensive line's potential in 2017. Ace Anbender at MGoBlog picked out former PWO Andrew Vastardis as a guy who stood out today and I'm inclined to agree. Vastardis was one of three or four PWOs last cycle the staff believed would, not could, be a difference maker sooner rather than later. He's not going to start this season, but he was a good indicator that a lot of guys have improved this off-season. Cesar Ruiz is ready. The pieces still need to be shuffled out, mainly at right tackle, but holes were paved consistently today.
...and I can see that. If Michigan can field a line that doesn't have a guy who runs by first-level defenders on the regular that would be good for their YPC and my blood pressure.
Your starter-ish line was: Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan, with Cesar Ruiz and Andrew Vastardis from the second unit impressing both myself and Ace. Given the context...
Vastardis looks on another level from Myers and Marshall, necessary but not sufficient for PT.
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) April 15, 2017
...we shouldn't anoint the guy as Glasgow 4.0 just yet. Straight up dominating some bad players is a good first step, and he did that. Most of Michigan's big runs came when the second-team DL got caved in by the second-team OL.
Also in walk-ons I'd love to get lucky on: ominously-named Greg Robinson has plausible size at 6'6" 290, per a yet-to-be-updated roster, and played a bunch at left tackle. He got blown up on a couple runs and did not seem nearly as fluid as Vastardis.
Ruiz got some run at guard in the second half, FWIW, but Bredeson never kicked out to tackle. These things seem to be contradictory since the OL with Ruiz at guard necessarily has Bredeson at RT. Michigan either 1) thinks Bredeson can't play tackle, 2) thinks he needs all the time at guard he can get to get ready for the season, or 3) thinks a guy on the roster is a capable RT. That latter could be Bushell-Beatty, who we did not see because of injury, or Runyan. Your author is guessing that #2 is the truthiest here, after Bredeson's understandably error-prone freshman year.
Blitz pickups were pretty bad; unclear if that was a tailback issue or a QB issue or an OL issue. Probably some of all three. Blitz pickups in spring against Don Brown and squat missile dude Devin Bush were always going to be a problem. They are a problem. It would only be notable if they were not a problem.
Talk about the secondary, what with all the departures and the progression not only today but in the spring with the young guys.
Brown: “You know, I’m really happy with our young guys. I mean, they’re all young. Thought Brandon Watson did a good job today, but he’s done a good job all spring, so that’s not surprising. Lavert Hill’s been hurt a lot, so him getting back and getting repetitions was good. David Long made it for three quarters. Nothing serious, but he’s been fighting it as well so we really had to lean on the young guys: Ben St. Juste, Ambry Thomas, and a couple of our younger roster guys, Matt Mitchell.
“So, all those guys were well informed today. Thought we did a pretty good job for a good chunk of the time. Obviously there’s so much to learn as a young player the first time you come and play in front of an audience. It’s just different. I think it was an important task and we did it. Obviously we were challenged on both sides of the ball; I’m sure Drev would feel the same way. You know, neither of us unveiled our attacks, but at the same time, you just want to see your guys compete and play hard and see where we can go technique and fundamental-wise.”
I remember that Josh Uche wasn’t participating in bowl practices. He came pretty close to blocking a punt today, Devin was in the backfield a lot--
Brown: “Oh yeah, jeez. Josh has had some good days. We have a few things special for him, so when we let him do those things he’s been exceptional. But he’s got a long way to go. Again, he’s a guy who was a defensive end in high school who I absolutely loved because he was fast. Now we’re teaching him to play linebacker. That’s a huge challenge for him, so that’s a big deal.
“Devin Bush is exactly what we knew he’d be in this type of environment. You know, he played a year ago. He’s certainly right in form to stepping in to do a good job. Between him and Mike McCray and Robo helping out at times, I feel good about those three guys. We’re really looking for a fourth guy, and I’m not sure we know that yet. From a linebacker standpoint, that would be my huge task.”
Anything that jumps out at you as far as progression with Devin? Is he faster? Is he stronger?
Brown: “I mean, just look at him. You know, I teased him yesterday. He walked by me and didn’t have a shirt on; ‘Last year you were a short, pudgy guy,’ and he’s chiseled. He’s got a Division I body now. I’m asking him to play two positions. Played pretty much one today, and I’m very pleased with where he’s at, obviously.
“You know, this is a day about individual evaluation. Again, I think Drev would say the same thing. Guys are playing out of sorts in different units and spots and all that, but it’s about your performance individually and just see where you take it from that standpoint.”
[After THE JUMP: Don Brown’s Rome plans include scheming for Michigan’s week-three opponent]
I guess I need to include a SPOILER ALERT for those who weren't able to watch the live stream. If for some reason you want the ending of the Spring Game to be a mystery, and yet you still are on this blog, stop reading now. The full game is airing right now on tape delay on BTN and will be replayed several times this week.
Brandon Peters was the best quarterback on the day. [Eric Upchurch]
For the second straight year, the Spring Game came down to the final play. Kyle Seychel's 31-yard field goal gave the Brandon Peters-led Maize team a 31-29 victory over the Speight/O-Korn-piloted Blue team.
Newsy bits first: Juwann Bushell-Beatty was among the players sitting out, so the starting O-line from left to right was Cole-Bredeson-Kugler-Onwenu-Runyan. The coaches shuffled that combination quite a bit throughout the day even before Runyan exited with an apparent leg injury—he walked off under his own power. The other injury on the day was to Eddie McDoom, who went down awkwardly on the sideline after a deep catch in the fourth quarter; he needed help from the trainers to get to the sideline, eventually was carted into the tunnel, and was spotted walking around without assistance.
Here are a few initial standouts from each side of the ball; we'll have much more this week after a re-watch.
QB Brandon Peters. Peters had the best day of the quarterbacks, displaying good arm strength, touch on throws to all levels, and enough athleticism to repeatedly break the pocket and even scramble for a touchdown. While Peters had one ugly pick when he didn't see Brandon Watson waiting in the flat, Speight was worse in that regard. Caveats abound: it's one scrimmage and Peters got better protection from the line. That said, he looked like he could legitimately push Speight, especially if the incumbent starter doesn't clean up some of these sloppy mistakes.
RBs Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac. These two had the most complete days at running back, showing patience on impressive touchdown runs and breaking into the secondary multiple times. Chris Evans and Kareem Walker also looked good in less extended action; Evans looked bigger while still maintaining his ability to juke defenders in a phone booth, while Walker has an enticing combination of power and patience. There weren't always holes to hit, but when they were there, the backs made the most of them.
Tarik Black, not Donovan Peoples-Jones, had the best day of the freshman WRs. [Upchurch]
WRs Tarik Black and Nate Schoenle. Black dominated much of the second half, becoming John O'Korn's go-to guy on a touchdown drive in which he caught a fade over Benjamin St-Juste for a big gain, then beat St-Juste to the back corner to cap the drive. He managed to get over top of St-Juste on fly routes a couple times, and he provides a big target. Schoenle also had a couple long catches, including a ~50-yard throw from Peters that was perfectly executed on both ends. To stave off the inevitable questions, Donovan Peoples-Jones had a few short pickups on a relatively quiet day for him.
TEs Nick Eubanks and Zach Gentry. Gentry's inclusion here is based on one play, a long touchdown catch up the seam on a coverage bust; he's quite nimble for such a big dude. Eubanks had a more complete body of work, running a nice out route for a catch and nearly hauling in a deep throw from Peters on which he made a nice adjustment to the ball. Sean McKeon ended up with the most targets among the TE group but didn't get too much out of them.
OL Andrew Vastardis. I mostly have to punt on line play, as they shuffled around so much that it was tough to keep track of who was on the field from the press box. The right side of the starting line had a lot of trouble against the starting D-line—Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary dominated Runyan—but Vastardis stood out on the interior of the second unit, picking up a couple blitzes that were giving the other linemen trouble.
Devin Bush spent the afternoon in the backfield. [Bryan Fuller]
The starting D-line. As expected, the Winovich-Hurst-Mone-Gary line gave the offensive line a lot of trouble. Gary was flat-out dominant, Hurst batted down a couple passes, Mone held strong on the interior, and Winovich got multiple pressures off the edge.
ILB Devin Bush. Bush looked unblockable on A-gap blitzes; it was pretty much an automatic sack when he rushed up the middle. He looked equally capable at both inside linebacker spots. "It's so nice when you have a young guy like that who can play two spots," said Don Brown. "You can ask some guys to do that and they'd look at you like 'are you kidding me?' But he handled it really with ease. He's a really good player."
VIPER Khaleke Hudson. The hype here isn't going to slow one bit after today. Hudson was everywhere on defense, looking like the heavy-hitting player we expected against the run and proving equally formidable in coverage, where he broke up a couple passes and nearly came up with an interception. As is his wont, he came inches away from a blocked punt, too.
CB Keith Washington. Washington held his own one-on-one against DPJ, limiting him to minimal YAC after a couple short completions. Noticeably bigger than last year, Washington also played well against the run, making at least one stop in the backfield after extending an outside run to the sideline.
S Jordan Glasgow. Surprise! A Glasgow might see the field. Josh Metellus was limited due to injury today, so Glasgow started at safety alongside Tyree Kinnel and looked very viable. He came up strong against the run, stringing out plays to the sideline and finishing them off, and he undercut a (terrible) pass from Speight for a 100-yard pick-six in the second half.
K Quinn Nordin. There shouldn't be a kicking controversy this year if today's admittedly limited sample was any indication. Nordin booted a 48-yard field goal that would've been good from 60+, an impressive kick even with the wind at his back, and he was also strong on kickoffs.
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||1 PM Eastern
April 15th, 2017
|THE LINE||Michigan -1|
|TELEVISION||BTN (tape delay at 3 PM)|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-70s, 15% chance of rain|
It's the spring game, an annual exhibition in which Michigan plays itself. Under Jim Harbaugh it's been an actual game instead of a barely-tolerated punting exhibition, which has been nice. Offensive line depth issues may make this year's outing rather incomprehensible.
In lieu of the usual preview format, here's a number of storylines to track.
Brandon Peters unveiled
Wilton Speight is the expected starter and will probably see a minimal number of snaps, leaving most of them for backup John O'Korn and redshirt freshman Brandon Peters. Fifth-year senior O'Korn kind of is what he is at this point, and after the Indiana game it's safe to say expectations are modest.
Peters, on the other hand, is the first of what promises to be a long line of Harbaugh-recruited and groomed quarterbacks who are somewhere between Andrew Luck and Andrew Luck (except fast!). While he was on campus last spring he was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman in a five-way quarterback melee; this will be a much longer look at him, and one more indicative of the kind of quarterback he'll become.
BEST CASE: Internet legions clamor for Peters after every Speight incompletion because he goes 18/22 with a couple of pretty fade routes.
WORST CASE: Internet legions clamor for Peters after every Speight incompletion despite Peters looking like a shell-shocked youth in the jaws of Rashan Gary for the duration of the spring game.
Also unveiled: next-gen skill position players
Michigan lost four of their five skill-position starters to graduation. They're also missing Grant Perry due to a court issue and lost Devin Asiasi to a transfer. Questions abound.
They're least severe at tailback, where three of the four guys in last year's rotation are back. Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon, and Chris Evans have all demonstrated who they are over the course of the season and only minor tweaks are likely. Evans is the most likely to make a leap forward since he is going from a freshman to not that; he's also got two ways to impress. One is by adding a little De'Veon Smith to his game and breaking some arm tackles. The second is by adding a bunch of slot receiver snaps. Evans played slot a ton in high school, and was not just a screen threat. He was capable downfield as well. Getting that back on the college level would give Michigan's offense a ton of flexibility.
Isaac and Higdon are probably going to look like Isaac and Higdon, so the next-most intriguing guy is redshirt freshman Kareem Walker. Walker nearly transferred after some academic issues but stuck it out and started delivering on his recruiting hype during "Christmas Camp"; scattered reports have him continuing to impress. He figures to get extended run as Michigan sits veterans.
At wide receiver, the storyline is obvious: Donovan Peoples-Jones. The five-star has arrived to find an opportunity, and when the pads went on he immediately started people a-rumblin' about his freaky athleticism and relatively advanced knowledge of the playbook. He's very much a work in progress since Cass Tech had him run about three routes, one of which was "run faster than everyone"; maybe that still works though?
I'll also be interested to see how Michigan's sophomore WRs look. Kekoa Crawford got a fair amount of run last year and is assumed to be one of the starters. In those limited snaps he was a Darboh/Chesson-level blocker, had one bad drop, and one spectacular catch:
He's been gathering whatever buzz is left over after people stop talking about DPJ and is a good bet to emerge. Meanwhile, Eddie McDoom and Nate Johnson are both flashy slot types who will have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills as the enter year two. That's often a critical breakpoint for WRs.
At tight end it's really really time for Ian Bunting to emerge what with Jake Butt and Asiasi gone, and Ty Wheatley is another guy at a critical breakpoint: his blocking was half great, half terrible last year and he needs to start moving 10-20% of his terrible blocks into the other category.
BEST CASE: DPJ is Christian Kirk and Chris Evans is Captain Kirk.
WORST CASE: There's really no "worst case" for the tailbacks, who are more or less proven plus players as a unit. DPJ looking too raw to play and the tight ends having crappy blocking days would be bummers.
Can the tackles be salvaged?
It seems like Mason Cole returning to left tackle is a foregone conclusion at this point, and that makes him more interesting than an established starter usually is. Cole was an elite run-blocker as a sophomore but struggled against top-shelf pass rushers. Has that changed at all? Can he check Chase Winovich, who was extremely productive in limited snaps last year? Can he fend off Rashan Gary? Survey says maybe and probably not.
Everyone else playing tackle will be auditioning for a job. Juwann Bushell-Beatty is your tentative starter, and that's a worry. After Newsome went out JBB got some time at left tackle. Things went poorly, against, like, Rutgers.
Bushell-Beatty gave up pressure on 17% of his opportunities?
More or less. That protection number is alarming and Bushell-Beatty's performance was most of it. Other starting OL gave up one hurry-type substance when Braden had some difficulty with a blitzer. Bushell-Beatty was beat clean twice. One time he managed to hold a bit and get away with it on a pass that Speight missed on. The second time he did get hit with the hold.
That's two ole blocks on just 15 pass protection snaps against Rutgers. I am really skeptical he can put it together and strongly prefer a move back to Cole at LT with Kugler coming in. Cole did struggle against top end rushers last year. He did not struggle against Rutgers.
Rutgers is Rutgers and Rashan Gary is Rashan Gary. I'll be pleasantly surprised if JBB doesn't get overrun. I'm surprised that Michigan hasn't tried Ben Bredeson on the outside yet, because of all the guys on the roster he's the best combination of plausibility and experience; you could interpret that as JBB optimism but I'll have to see it to believe it.
Meanwhile all pursuers look to be well behind the curve. Nolan Ulizio might be your best bet amongst folks already on campus if only because he is tackle sized and was hit with mono a year ago, so he could have a major bounce.
BEST CASE: Cole looks very good and JBB is functional.
WORST CASE: Cole is still the sophomore version of himself in pass pro—which isn't the worst—and it's extremely obvious that Michigan is plugging in a true freshman at RT this fall.
BEST CASE: MEAT
WORST CASE: meat
An explanation of the previous section
You author is slightly unhinged about the possibility of a Ruiz/Onwenu pairing on the offensive line, which promises to deliver almost 700 pounds of meeaaaaaaaaat meatmeatmeat into the face of opposition defenders.
It's time for Rashan Gary to move into the starting lineup, which is good for Michigan and bad for opponents. Gary performed well enough in limited time last year that even if he remained totally static Michigan would have an honorable mention All Big Ten kind of player; he will not remain static. I'm at the point where I assume he'll be a beast and am hoping Cole can check him a bit, because that's more of an unknown.
BEST CASE: additional MEAT
WORST CASE: NFL draft eligibility suddenly changes
Anyone else on the defensive line?
y'all got any more of those Glasgows?
A starting lineup of Gary-Hurst-Mone-Winovich is going to be amongst the best in the nation, with two guys all but guaranteed to be performing at first-round-pick levels and Winovich, who had 5.5 sacks a year ago on maybe 20% of Michigan's snaps. Mone's still a bit of a mystery because of his injury issues but his floor is "all right, nothing special" and surrounded by these guys that'll be enough.
It's the dudes beyond the starters that cause some concern. There's been a little positive chatter about Carlo Kemp and early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter, and not much else. There's an APB out for Lawrence Marshall and Mike Dwumfour has missed much of the spring with some minor injuries. Projected WDE Ron Johnson playing on the interior this spring should give you an indication of what the depth looks like there.
A horde of guys arrive in the fall. Right now this looks like an opportunity for a Heininger or a Glasgow to emerge. If Michigan's renewed emphasis on their walk-on program could pay off here that would be real nice.
BEST CASE: Kemp looks like a legit SDE option. That wouldn't give Gary more rest, it would allow him to take snaps on the interior instead of "I dunno." Also a walk-on steps up?
WORST CASE: I mean maybe Michigan won't have to play backup DL because the starters get an infinite series of three-and-outs.
Is Wrobocop a real thing?
Linebacker is two spots and pretty simple: Mike McCray is one starter and the other will be either Devin Bush or walk-on Mike Wroblewski. Expect no clarity on this point coming out of the game because Bush and Robo—I'm done typing that whole thing out, sir—appear to be linebackers for different offenses. Bush can get sideline to sideline and cover downfield; Robo is the hard-nosed A-gap plugger that will come in handy against Wisconsin and MSU.
BEST CASE: We've got a new Glasgow/Kovacs.
WORST CASE: Robo is athletically limited and his prominence is a worrying thing about the LB corps.
Hudson(#7) blocked two punts last year
The best news coming out of spring practice from the perspective of bloggers who have been relentlessly hyping up one 3.5* LB/S for a year and a half is the configuration of the new secondary. This features Khaleke Hudson as your VIPER(!!!) and it's time to go get that quote from his recruiting profile again:
"He is the best combination of strength, speed and burst I've seen in a long time," said Ruane. "Every tackle, run and block is violent with him. He will be playing on Sundays someday. And I'm happy he's graduating."
I don't necessarily want Hudson to demonstrate that in an intrasquad scrimmage... but if there's a walk-on who wants to take a very large one for the team we will remember you.
Hudson is the exact same size as Peppers and showed similar burst as a high school player. He's not Peppers, but...
BEST CASE: ...he's basically Peppers.
WORST CASE: oh honey no, shhh, he's basically Peppers
Michigan is sending three CBs to the NFL this year if someone gets wise about Jeremy Clark, and into their shoes step three more—maybe four. David Long, Levert Hill, Ambry Thomas, and Benjamin St-Juste are all contending for that vacated playing time, and there's considerable hype for all four. Long and Hill are sophomores and the presumed starters. How sticky are they? How reliable? Survey says pretty damn sticky and ask again later.
BEST CASE: They're basically Lewis.
WORST CASE: Hill is still liable to bite too hard on double moves and ends up giving up a couple long ones; St-Juste and Thomas aren't ready; Long still pretty good.
Did not exist in last year's spring game. God bless Jim Harbaugh.